Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Anniversaries

Friday, May 26th, 2017

So many anniversaries! Yesterday Star Wars turned 40, and today Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band turns 50 — at least in the U.K.

It’s strange to feel the tug of these cultural milestones from the past, and to ponder how powerfully their long reach continues to resonate. Film as a medium of popular entertainment fundamentally changed with the release of Star Wars.

And of course rock and roll was fundamentally altered the moment the Beatles released Sergeant Pepper. From the perspective of today, it’s almost hard to imagine the world that had existed before.

Before May 26, 1967, rock was just silly kid’s music, without any cultural caché. Then, in one fell swoop, it entered the pantheon of the Arts, alongside theatre, cinema, painting and opera.

Kind of cool, when you think about it.

A long…

Thursday, May 25th, 2017

Time ago, in a
Galaxy far far away.
Happy fortieth!

Manchester

Wednesday, May 24th, 2017

I hadn’t posted about the recent horrific events in Manchester because I needed time to process. It’s hard to conceive of something so monstrous as what ISIS is up to here: Deliberately killing little children to provoke your “enemy” into an escalated military response.

I think everyone on this side of the sanity divide is aware of this agenda, and of the need to avoid blindly playing into it. But when I think about the terrible tragedy of little children being sacrificed for political ends, I can’t help thinking of our own country.

On a far greater scale, the Trump budget is also targeting little children. If this monstrous budget were to actually pass, a very large number of American children would die of avoidable disease, because they would no longer have access to adequate health care. Also, under this budget, many American children would start to die slowly of inadequate nutrition.

As horrific as it was, the brutal attack by ISIS succeeded in killing or harming a relatively small number of innocent children. When someone does that, people call it a crime against humanity.

The Trump domestic budget, if passed, would kill or harm a vastly larger number of innocent children. When someone does that, people call it politics.

Theoretical limits of human intelligence

Tuesday, May 23rd, 2017

People today live longer than at any previous time in history. They can run faster, jump higher, and perform all sorts of feats that would have been thought incredible during earlier epochs.

Yet nobody has ever lived much beyond the age of 120 (122 is in fact the recorded limit), and nobody can jump 20 feet up in the air. In other words, there are limits.

I suspect there are similar limits on the potential of human intelligence. After all, the brain is a biological organ. As astonishing as it is, it is not infinite.

But what are those limits, at their theoretical extreme? And how would we ever know if we have reached those limits? What, exactly, is the intellectual equivalent of living to the ripe old age of 122?

Time turns upside down

Monday, May 22nd, 2017

Time turns upside down
Day is night and night is day
It must be jetlag

The funeral singer

Sunday, May 21st, 2017

I was discussing today with a friend the fact that Elton John repurposed his song Candle in the Wind for Lady Diana’s funeral. Our topic of discussion was: Is this legitimate?

In other words, can a writer cannibalize his own work? Is it ok to take a song that eulogizes Marilyn Monroe, change around a few lyrics, and end up with a song that eulogizes Princess Diana Spencer?

In this case the question is particularly fraught because the original lyrics were actually written by Bernie Taupin, not Elton John. But for now, let us gloss over that inconvenient fact.

Suppose we decide that it is ok to borrow a song you wrote honoring deceased person A, and re-purpose it to honor recently deceased person B. Are there any limits?

For example, could Elton John legitimately go on the road with variations of this song, performing custom versions for Micheal Jackson, George Michaels, Davy Jones, Prince? Would anybody have a problem with Candle and the Prince? I mean, you know, on ethical grounds.

If not, I see a rich future ahead for once top-charting singer / songwriters. Why not repurpose those old songs, and bring comfort to new generations of grieving fans?

I can see a whole new career ahead for Elton John and other intrepid troubadours, based on a sound and time tested business model. After all, one thing we know for sure about the future is that famous people will continue to die.

It is only prudent to have a song ready.

Chess to be another

Saturday, May 20th, 2017

In Paris I had a chance to try The Machine to be Another. This is a virtual reality empathy project that has been going on since 2012.

Two participants each wear a VR headset, with a camera attached to the front. The camera feed from the first person is routed to the VR headset of the second person, and vice-versa.

Essentially, you find yourself staring across a table at yourself, as though you are the other person. The feeling is as though you have swapped bodies.

The two participants are then asked to perform an exercise in which they both move their arms and hands very slowly, trying to match each others movements. The effect is that you look at the arms, hands and fingers in front of you, and it feels as though they are your arms, hands and fingers.

It is as though you are inhabiting the body of another person. And it is all very spooky and fascinating.

I was interested in seeing how this medium could be extended, so I asked whether we could extend the paradigm to the manipulation of physical objects. So at some point this afternoon I found myself sitting across a chessboard from myself, ready to play a game of chess.

One thing I soon realized was that it wasn’t clear which chess pieces I should play: The ones that were nearest to my point of view, or the ones nearest to my physical body.

I ended up opting for the ones nearest to my body. Perhaps this was because the muscle memory of pushing a pawn away from my body was stronger than the visual memory of seeing a pawn move away from my eyes. Maybe somebody should do a study to see whether different people make this choice differently.

We ended up running out of time, and I still had so many questions. Would it feel different to play “view-centered” rather than “body-centered”? What would happen if we rotated the chess board 90 degrees and we both played from the side?

Could you eventually learn to all sorts of physical tasks from a perspective outside your body? Play the piano? Shoot a basketball?

Now I want to try out all of these things.

A fundamental principle of computer science

Friday, May 19th, 2017

Tomorrow we are going to be giving a big demo of shared virtual reality here in Paris. So this evening I am working with colleagues here and grad students back in NY to get it all set up.

It’s one of the realities of the six hour time shift between New York and Paris that this must be done today not tomorrow. Right now, here in the early evening in Paris, it is mid-day in New York. That is a perfectly reasonable time of day for the folks back home to be working on this with us.

But tomorrow morning wouldn’t work out so well, since setting up then would require our grad students in NYC to wake up at 3AM. Our students are dedicated, but nobody should have to be that dedicated.

Here we are following a fundamental principle of computer science, which may generalize to other fields as well: Never make a grad student wake up early in the morning.

Double time

Thursday, May 18th, 2017

I am very much enjoying Paris, but I am also dancing around the difficulty of trying to field lots of remote meetings in NY, on a week where I am also doing lots of demos and workshops in Paris.

I have started scheduling Skype meetings in NY at very odd times, such as midnight in Paris, because that’s when I know I will be free here.

This feels a bit like a chronological version of measuring length in feet versus meters: At any given moment of the day or night, I need to keep two time zones in my head at once — always at a separation of six hours.

Not that I am complaining. Hey, I’m in Paris. :-)

Until we remember

Wednesday, May 17th, 2017

This is probably not going to make any sense to those of you who do not have children.

In the last day, in Paris, I spent some time with my friend and her two daughters — one of them seven, the other four. We had a picnic on the Seine, the four of us, enjoying the beautiful warm weather, and soaking in the astonishingly lovely Parisien surroundings.

What I came away with, more than anything else, was the sheer wonder of children. My friend’s two daughters, feisty, difficult, completely innocent and completely high on life, were a wonder to me.

Both of them had a will of life, a fierce determination to enjoy every second, that no adult could ever hope to match. Simply being in their company, in the presence of such a beautiful and cacaphonous celebration of the now, had the effect of resetting my compass.

I stand in awe of the sheer force of childhood, the sense of wonder it brings, its will to life that we adults find it all to easy to forget.

Until we remember.