Hypothetical question

July 18th, 2019

Given that our president’s grandfather emigrated to the U.S. by breaking the law, would it be reasonable at a Democratic rally for the crowd to start shouting “Send him back”?

And if they did that, suppose the Democratic candidate were to simply look on silently, allowing the chant to rise to a meme-creating crescendo.

And suppose the next day, when it was too late, the Democratic candidate were to finally disavow the “Send him back” chant, saying that the president should not have to answer to the unlawful way his grandfather came to our country.

Would we be ok with her doing that?

Human cuttlefish

July 17th, 2019

I’ve been working recently with some colleagues who study the behavior of cuttlefish. As you may know, cuttlefish, like many cephalopods, can change their skin pattern dynamically, based on their environment.

Among other things, they can transform their appearance to look like a sandy sea-bottom, a clump of rocks, or various other natural backgrounds. This is a very effective form of camouflage. A cuttlefish can, amazingly, seem to simply vanish from one moment to the next.

In my mind, I contrast their symmetry between visual input and visual output with our own asymmetry in this regard. A human can hear sounds and also generate sounds, yet while we can see visual images, our body cannot spontaneously generate visual images in response.

Yet imagine we could. Suppose we were able to visually display our thoughts.

I am not talking about the use of external screens, but rather a built-in visual display, under direct control of our mind. How would such a capability change the human experience?

I suspect we would find our social interactions with each other altered in profound ways. It might be very difficult for us to truly understand what those social interactions would be like, but it sure is fun to try.


July 16th, 2019

This evening I attended a VR/AR event in which I got to try various immersive experiences. One of them allowed its participants to experience a Tunisian Sufi ritual in VR.

There were only two of us, a colleague of myself and I, although the experience actually called for four participants. Since the creators had brought only two VR headsets to the event, the other two “participants” were actually simulations.

Afterward, when we had taken off our VR headsets, the creators asked us what we thought of it. I admit I was in a slightly altered state, having just experienced full immersion into Tunisian Sufi rituals.

“Well,” I said, “do you know what it’s called when you think you are in a ritual experience with many people, and somehow you forget that you’re actually in an experience with just the two of you?”

“No,” they answered. “What is it called?”

I had my answer ready. “It’s called,” I said, “Tunesia.”

The colleague I had just shared the VR experience then stared at me for a moment. “That,” she said, “was the biggest Dad joke ever.”

I felt rather proud.


Colorful blog post

July 15th, 2019

My post today for our Future Reality Lab was somewhat colorful. Even so, I was trying to be low key, while keeping everything in scale.

I think I may have succeeded in striking the right tone. You can read it and judge for yourself.

Thoughts on Bastille Day

July 14th, 2019

It’s hard not to discuss politics on Bastille Day, but I will try to resist the urge. So today let’s just celebrate liberty, equality and fraternity.

I realize that these principles are, as Hamlet said, more honored in the breach than in the observance. Yet they are noble principles nonetheless.

Which is why I am glad that I live in a country where we accept somebody as an equal even if he comes from an immigrant family. Even if his grandfather got here by sneaking out of Germany to evade military service, then ran brothels here in the U.S. and was later banned permanently from his birth country for being a draft dodger.

I imagine a guy from that sort of family would be very ashamed of his dodgy immigrant heritage. Oh well, I guess he can always just go back to where he came from. :-)

The answer is 42

July 13th, 2019

The question is: How many years between major electric power outages in Manhattan on July 13?

I suppose maybe you were expecting the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything.

I think the answer to that one is scheduled to arrive with the next major electric power outage in Manhattan. You just need to wait until July 13, 2061.

Manhattanhenge 2019

July 12th, 2019

I had completely forgotten that this weekend is Manhattanhenge. That’s the time every year when the direction of the setting sun exactly lines up with the direction of the streets in New York County.

Yet this evening as I was strolling down Park Avenue, I happened to look to the West. Fortunately, at exactly the right moment I managed to take out my phone and snap this picture.

I love living in Manhattan for so many reasons. This is just one of the more delightfully nerdy ones.

rainy days

July 11th, 2019

rainy days are filled
with umbrellas,
dripping people,
soggy shoes and socks
soaked through and through
and puddles like lakes
lying in wait
to ensnare you
at every curb

yet rainy days are filled
with cheerful trees,
happy flowers,
ecstatic philodendrons
with leaves uplifted,
gleaming with delight,
the delicious water
covering everything
with joy


July 10th, 2019

words never spoken
can be much more powerful
than the words we say

Spiderman VR game, then and now

July 9th, 2019

I saw today that somebody had up on a monitor a new VR game in which you could play Spiderman. The highlight was that you could shoot a web from your wrists up toward the top of a building, and then use that web to fly yourself up to the building rooftop.

It made me feel nostalgic, because one of my fondest VR experiences came during a visit to Randy Pausch at Georgia Tech around 1995. At the time he ran a VR class in which design students and CS students would collaborate on VR projects, which they would present together at the end of the semester.

During that visit, I put on a VR headset to try one of the VR games — a Spiderman game, as it turned out. The highlight was that you could shoot a web from your wrists up toward the top of a building, and then use that web to fly yourself up to the building rooftop.

Now I find myself wondering. Did the people who made this new VR game knew about that other very similar VR game, the one created about a quarter century ago?