Fastest human

August 2nd, 2021

Now that there is a new current fastest human in the world, thanks to the recent Olympic performance in the 100m by Lamont Marcell Jacobs, the question comes up: How fast could a person possibly be, in theory, running on his or her own two feet?

The world record set by Usain Bolt in 2009, running the 100m in 9.58 seconds, still stands. So Bolt still keeps the record as the fastest human in recorded history.

I wonder whether there is some way of working out, from fundamental physics and biomechanics, what is the theoretical upper limit on human running speed. Somebody somewhere must have worked on this.

The last 5%

August 1st, 2021

Some people say that the last 5% of a project takes 95% of the work. I’m not sure I completely agree, but I am starting to see the point.

We’ve been working for months (in some ways, for years) to build toward a demo that we will show in about a week at the Siggraph conference. The work has gone through many phases.

But this last phase is different. It’s the polishing part, the part when we make final choices, when we time things out.

This is when we need to make the hard decisions about what to leave on the cutting room floor. No matter how much work we had put into things.

As Chekhov sort of said, creation is easy. Editing is hard.

New computer

July 31st, 2021

I just got a new computer to replace the one I have been using for the last four years. It’s amazing how much faster it is.

This is in line with my personal version of Moore’s law: A computer year is to a dog year as a dog year is to a human year.

Imagine if Moore’s law worked for people. Suppose every few years we could trade in our brain for a faster one. I wonder what that version of the human condition would be like.

Alas, I guess we will never know. In this universe at least, my brain seems, if anything, to be getting slower with time.

Personal pop song production

July 30th, 2021

We tend to think of pop songs as having discreet productions. There is the original song by the original artist, and then there are various covers by bands through the years.

Each one represents a certain set of discrete choices. Millions of people could listen to any one of those versions, but those are the only choices you have.

It seems to me that given recent advances in an artificial intelligence, we could tease apart those choices and allow people to create their own personal productions.

Maybe this song by some new band should have a little bit of a mix in of a favorite old band of yours. Or maybe you could mix different genres together and create something original for you or your friends.

Why shouldn’t pop song production become a personal choice, given the technological means to make it so?

Turning on a dime

July 29th, 2021

Life can still turn on a dime. But these days a dime does not get you very much.

Should I be worried?

The economics of time travel

July 28th, 2021

Suppose you could travel a year into the future and then come back again to the same moment when you had left. How much would you be willing to pay to do that?

Of course the question is loaded with potential paradoxes. After all, what happens if you go into the future, learning something there, and use that knowledge to do something that changes the future?

So let’s say that that’s ok. The future you are traveling into is the one where you had never had that knowledge.

So it’s a future that probably isn’t going to happen, since the knowledge you gain from your trip can alter the timeline. Maybe you can think of your trip to this possible future as a kind of insurance policy, a way to prevent bad things from happening.

In a sense, it would be your own personal alternate future. Nobody else would ever know that they were in a different future. For them, the timeline would still feel completely linear.

My question today is: How much would you pay for the privilege of doing that?

What if you could travel just one day into the future? How much would that be worth to you?

What about an hour? Or a minute? or a second?

Suppose trips to the future were regulated by a market. The cost of traveling any given distance into the future would be determined by the going market price — whatever people are willing to pay.

Some curve would soon emerge that represented price versus distance of time travel. I wonder what that price curve would look like.

Dipping a toe

July 27th, 2021

This morning I needed to make a fairly substantial change to the code that I will be demo-ing at the Siggraph computer graphics conference in two weeks. It was a large enough change that I wasn’t even sure it would work.

So I started out by dipping my toe in the water: I made a much smaller change to the code that functioned only as a feasibility study.

Should that turn out not to work, then I would know that there was no point in making the effort to implement the more massive change.

As it turned out, the first feasibility test showed that I would have been heading into a brick wall. So I regrouped and tried a different approach, which meant devising a new feasibility test for that.

The second test worked just fine, so I knew I could go ahead and start making the bigger changes to the code. Problem solved, crisis averted.

I like this idea of “dipping a toe” into the waters of potential change. I suspect that if I were to apply this principle more often to other parts of my life, I would have a lot less stress. 🙂

Your commercial

July 26th, 2021

Suppose you could make a commercial about any product, with you as the spokesperson. What product would you choose, and what would be your ideal commercial for it?

It’s perfectly valid to respond “nope, not going to do that.” But just as an exercise, suppose you were to say “sure, I know just the product that I’d like to represent.”

So what would be your perfect product to endorse, and how would you go about making a commercial for it? It could be something spiritual, or something that exists only in a science fiction universe. But whatever it is, the core of it would be you communicating to people “this is something you might want or need, and here is why.”

I realize that framing things in this way is slightly odd, but it may also be an interesting way to address the question “what are my core values?” I suspect that everybody, deep down, has their own perfect product, and their own unique way of selling that product.

Inside and outside the box

July 25th, 2021

As we start on any new project, I find myself writing two very different types of documents. One is for people with technical expertise. The other is for everyone else.

For example, if you are going to apply for a patent on something, you need to use very technical and specialized language. If you don’t, it will get rejected by the patent examiner.

The same thing goes for a paper for a technical conference. The people reviewing your paper have no patience for fuzzy language. They want to see exactly how you are doing what you are claim to accomplish.

But consequently, what you write for those audiences is nearly indecipherable to most people. You are employing highly arcane language, which in many cases includes commonly used English words that have an entirely different meaning in this context.

But also you need to explain to the world why you are doing the project, and what it will mean if you succeed. At that point you are essentially talking to millions of people.

What is weird is that in both cases you are talking about exactly the same thing. Only one is the view from inside the box, while the other is what the same thing looks like from outside the box.

Origin story

July 24th, 2021

One Friday afternoon when I was ten years old, just about to turn eleven, our teacher, Mrs. Lund, assigned us the first chapter of The Once and Future King to read over the weekend. That’s the cute and child-friendly chapter where Merlin teaches important values to young Wart (the future King Arthur) by temporarily turning him into different animals.

I liked it so much that I kept reading. And reading, and reading. At night I would read it under the covers by flashlight, so my mom wouldn’t know I was missing sleep.

By Monday morning, when I got to school bleary eyed, I had read all 632 pages of the paperback edition of T.H. White’s masterpiece. I had been through the life and death of King Arthur, the founding of the Round Table, the quest for the Holy Grail, the evil power grab of Morgan le Fay, the shocking betrayal of Arthur by Lancelot and Guinevere, the breathtaking rise and tragic fall of a beautiful dream.

But there was nobody to talk with about it. The class discussion that morning was just a nice chat about young Wart getting turned into various little animals, and the lessons he learned along the way.

It was my first “big book”, an experience that opened up a whole new world for me. It gave me the confidence to pick up and read long and challenging books, and changed how I looked at everything.

In a way, it’s my origin story.