Unlucky four

I learned today that in South Korea the number thirteen is not considered unlucky. Elevator buttons do not jump mysteriously from twelve to fourteen, because thirteen is just another number.

On the other hand, hospitals in South Korea do not have a fourth floor. Apparently, the number is four is associated with death. Not really where you want to be in a hospital.

So I assume that hospital evevator buttons jump from three to five. Which presumably solves the problem.

Except I wonder whether the people on the “fifth” floor of the hospital are just a little nervous.

Future privacy

The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that “privacy” in a world where XR glasses replace SmartPhones will be contextual. There won’t be a single concept of privacy, but rather multiple concepts, depending on where you are.

In particular, it might become illegal to walk around in public without your XR glasses — or even to remove them momentarily.

We already have this in many ways. For example, when you are home, you are free to walk around without any clothing. But don’t try that nearly anywhere else.

In a similar spirit, I think there will be situations where it will be considered inappropriate — or even illegal — to remove your XR glasses in public. In some contexts, people will start to assert their right to not be seen as they really are. You will only be allowed to see them through the filter of XR glasses. This is something I have been thinking about for a while.

I know this doesn’t sound natural. On the other hand, there is nothing natural about social constructs around privacy.

It is, after all, perfectly “natural” to walk around without clothing in public. It is also illegal, and liable to get you locked up.

Social norms form around whatever allows a society to function. And a society that relies on the power of “XR glasses for everyone” will inevitably develop different social norms.

The future concept of privacy might end up being startling different from our concept of privacy today.

Phrases in songs

Certain phrases recur in multiple songs. This suggests some interesting games to play.

For example, given a particular phrase, can you find all of the songs where it appears? Or, in a variation on this, given two songs, can you find the phrase they have in common?

For example, what phrase is found in both the song “Famous Blue Raincoat” by Leonard Cohen, and the song “Still Crazy After All These Years” by Paul Simon?

I think you get the idea.


When I was an undergrad at Harvard, the students in our class were given the opportunity to vote for commencement speaker. The winner, as it turned out was a request to get both Snoopy and Woodstock from the Peanuts comics.

The University declined that request, possibly for logistical reasons. But the choice got me thinking.

I remember telling a fellow classmate “It’s too bad that Snoopy and Woodstock did not give this year’s Commencement Address. We would finally have had a complete set of speakers.”

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“I mean,” I said, “that for the first time we would have had both a woofer and a tweeter.”

Dinosaurs and robots

Why are certain topics endlessly fascinating to kids, whereas other topics just make their eyes glaze over? Lots of kids love dinosaurs and robots and space ships and magic. Very few kids love politics (to give one example among many).

What is the quality that makes a topic particularly appealing to kids? Do these topics have some thread in common?

I don’t have a definitive answer, but I think it’s a good question to ask.

From 2D diagrams to 3D simulations

Continuing the thread from yesterday, it would be very valuable to be able to “lift” any 2D diagram from page or screen and show how it represents an animated 3D mechanism or process. But that would seem to call for a prohibitively large amount of production work.

Yet we now have A.I. tools that until recently were not available. Perhaps we can harness those tools to help automate this process. I can envision a near future in which you put on your XR glasses and use old media to learn new lessons.

You pick up any book — perhaps a volume of the Encyclopedia Britannica from 1957 — and look at a circuit diagram or a business chart or a schematic of an electric motor. As you watch, the diagram comes to life and begins to animate.

When you are ready for a more advanced lesson, the entire diagram lifts off the page and smoothly transitions into a 3D simulation. Since you will have advanced A.I. at your disposal, you will be able to ask questions of this simulation, and it will show you various transition states or sub-processes that interest you.

I don’t think this is all that far off.

In praise of 2D diagrams

I have been doing a lot of work with WebXR. That involves creating a lot of animated 3D representations of technical things.

Still, when I am trying to explain a mechanical thing, I find that a well placed 2D diagram is incredibly helpful. On reason for this is that people understand 2D diagrams. They are something that everyone grew up with and form a kind of visual language that we all know.

Another reason is that the constraint of 2D forces you to be clear. It’s like a visual haiku — when you need to describe everything within a plane, you learn how to show things with maximum clarity.

Ideally, it’s not one or the other. I would like my 2D diagrams to serve as entry points for encountering fully interactive and immersive animated 3D reprentations of the things I wish to describe.

We need more and better tools for helping people to do that.

Webb surfing

I just started reading Jimmy Webb’s Tunesmith. It is one of the most entertaining and informative books I’ve ever read. It is also one of the slowest, in a good way.

It is slow going for the best of reasons. On every page, as he talks with love and wisdom about the art and history of songwriting, Webb generously sprinkles examples of the craft.

So on any given page, I find myself stopping to listen to at least one great song on YouTube — often by a songwriter I’ve never heard of — and sometimes roaming through one or two Wikipedia articles as well.

All in all, a fantastic and deeply rewarding experience. If all education worked this way, everyone would be a straight A student.

Universal translator

One of the best fantasy technologies of Star Trek is the universal translator. When you are wearing one of these handy gadgets, then anything spoken to you in an alien language sounds just like English. And when you talk to your alien acquaintance in English, your speech is automatically translated into their language.

This is no longer a fantasy. We now have the technological capability to do this for real. In addition, immediate automatic translation of written text is now also a reality.

So sometime in the near future, you will be able to go anywhere in the world while wearing your fancy high-tech glasses, and be able to read any sign or menu or document, or talk fluently with someone who speaks any language.

I am not convinced that this is a good thing.

It was 50 years ago today

It was 50 years ago today that The United States House Committee on the Judiciary opened formal and public impeachment hearings against President Richard Nixon.

Apparently it never occurred to Nixon, nor to his lawyers, to claim that in his capacity as President of the United States, he could simply pardon himself.

It seems that back then there was this whole “rule of law” thing that people actually believed in. How quaint.