Objects with code

There are mechanical things like engines and vacuum cleaners, and there are electronic things like TV sets and smartphones. And then there are the cross-over things which used to be purely mechanical but are becoming ever more digital, like clocks and ovens.

One thing that is interesting about the digital things is that behind everything digital there is running code. The behavior of these things (or at least aspects of these things) is not determined by gears and motors and pumps and valves, but rather by a program that somebody wrote.

We tend to think of the code that runs a refrigerator or an oven or a dimmable lighting fixture as hidden. We know it’s there, but we assume we cannot access it.

As extended reality starts to become a ubiquitous part of our lives, that may change. We may be able to “open up” an appliance virtually and change its behavior. A screen will pop up in the air, we will make changes to what we see on that screen, and the physical object in our home will then behave differently.

That all probably sounds very nerdy and a little scary. But the reality is that what is on those virtual screens will end up being friendly and accessible, because that will be part of how the people who sell those items will get you to buy them.

If you really want to dive deeper into the behavior of an appliance, there will be an option for that. Just like today you can pop open the trunk of your car and access all the components in there — but only if you want to.


Heisenberg was born today
In nineteen hundred one
And ever since, our Universe
Has been a lot more fun
What we thought was certainty
Turned out to be uncertain
As though a giant hand had come
And pulled aside a curtain
Revealing a much deeper world
Where everything’s in doubt
And much of what we thought we knew
Was all turned inside out
Heisenberg was born today
And everything’s now fuzzy
All ’cause Werner Heisenberg
Was born today — or was he?

O’Connor and the Doctrine of Discovery, part 2

In 1493, to make sure that Spain could lay claim to any lands discovered by Christopher Columbus, Pope Alexander VI issued the “Doctrine of Discovery.” It stated that any non-Christian land “discovered” by Christians belonged to the country of origin of the discoverer.

In the view of that doctrine, any non-Christians already living there were not really human. Therefore they didn’t have rights to own the land — any more than indigenous wolves or deer had such rights.

In 1823 the U.S. Supreme Court, in a decision written by Chief Justice John Marshall, used the Doctrine of Discovery as the legal basis of an important decision. It ruled that Native Americans have no right to own the land they were already on before the Christians came over from Europe and took over. They did indeed have the right to live there, but habitation does not imply ownership.

In 1988 the U.S. Supreme Court, in a decision written by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, essentially affirmed this precedent. The court ruled that the U.S. Government has an absolute right of ownership of Federal Land. Native Americans are allowed to live on Federal Land, but they cannot contest any decision the U.S. Government makes about what to do with that land, no matter how much hardship that decision causes to the land’s Native American inhabitants.

This is an important and little talked about part of the legacy of the recently deceased Supreme Court Justice. Effectively, she affirmed that the 1493 decree of Pope Alexander VI is enshrined in United States Law.

In short: We Christians came over and took your land and now it’s ours. And you can’t have it back, ever. Why? Because this is a Christian nation — circulus in probando.

O’Connor and the Doctrine of Discovery, part 1

I have been reading the various articles that are discussing the life and work of the recently deceased supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. Each article attempts to assess her judicial significance.

Curiously, nobody seems to have mentioned the one ruling of hers which perhaps had the most far-reaching impact, in terms of what it says about the very nature of our society.

I still need time to organize my thoughts about this, so more tomorrow.


Sometimes it feels as though software development is a process of enfolding. You start out with a fairly simple system, and then you think “Hey, what if I try to add this cool feature?”

So you build a demo of that feature using your system. But after you get it working, you realize that you want that capability to work everywhere within your system.

So you move it inward. Instead of a demo, it becomes a core capability, implemented in one of your system’s internal libraries.

What’s nice about this transition is that once something has become enfolded — made the transition from demo to core capability — it is then able to work together with all of your system’s other core capabilities. And that’s a lot more fun for everybody.

Wondrous things

There was a time before indoor plumbing, before electrical outlets in our walls, before wireless phone reception everywhere. What fascinates me when I think about this is the knowledge that nobody missed these things before they existed.

People didn’t think “Gee, I wish I could have clean running water magically appearing in my kitchen whenever I want it.” And people didn’t think “I wish I could just flip a switch and my home would suddenly be filled with light.” And people didn’t think “I wish that I could have a conversation right now with anyone, wherever they or I may be in the world.”

Yet it is now hard to think of living without these things. In the future, I wonder what wondrous things we will not be able to live without.

Dynamic furniture

There are two things we generally care about when it comes to furniture: How it looks and how it feels. Because of the limitations imposed by physical materials, these two are often linked.

However, there may come a point where we are mainly seeing the furniture in many rooms through the lens of extended reality. In public places, in particular, it may eventually be considered rude to remove one’s XR eyewear, and so in such places we will be “wearing” all the time.

When that happens, how a chair looks and how that same chair feels can be completely decoupled from one another. But is this a good thing or a bad thing?

In the words of Rufus E. Miles, “Where you stand depends on where you sit.”


I hate deadlines, but I admit that without them I would probably not get much done. So you could say it’s a love/hate relationship.

That final crunch can help you a bunch.
The thing you dread is what gets you ahead.
What makes you scream puts you on the team.
What drives you crazy helps you not be lazy.
What prods your ass makes you top of the class.

I deal with my fear, as deadlines near,
And the pressure climbs, by making rhymes. 🙂

Future board games

In order to play a board game like Monopoly or Chess or Scrabble, you need just the right equipment. Alas, most of the time when you are hanging out with friends, you don’t have a Monopoly or Chess or Scrabble board with you.

But soon that won’t be a problem. As soon as you and your friends put on your XR specs, the board will materialize on the table in front of you.

On the one hand, this seems like a step backward. Instead of a being tangible experience, these games will become ephemeral.

Yet there is another way of looking at it. Many more people will be able to play them. And that can’t be a bad thing, right?