Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Why not take a more direct approach?

Sunday, June 25th, 2017

Today I found myself pondering the astonishing horror show going on in Washington DC right now. I am speaking of Mitch McConnell’s so-called “healthcare” bill.

When I think of the very large number of American children, senior citizens, and people with pre-existing conditions who will needlessly die through loss of access to adequate healthcare if Mitch McConnell’s mean-spirited plan should pass, I find myself asking two questions:

(1) Exactly how many Americans would die each year once Medicaid has been gutted? (2) Just how much money would a few very wealthy Americans (the actual beneficiaries of this plan) thereby save in taxes each year?

Instead of going through such an elaborate song-and-dance, couldn’t we achieve the same result more directly? Why don’t we just let Mitch McConnell kill those people directly? Obviously it wouldn’t be fair to ask one man to personally shoot to death hundreds of thousands of people, so we’ll need to streamline the process.

Perhaps we could supply him with explosives, so he could blow up entire schools to kill the requisite number of young children en masse, with poison gas to exterminate large numbers of old people in group homes, and with plenty of automatic weapons and ammo so he can saunter through our towns and cities while shooting anyone with a pre-existing condition dead in the street.

For every one thousand Americans Mitch McConnell manages to kill, we would each agree to send an agreed-upon amount of money to our wealthiest citizens. If we get the numbers right, we would end up achieving exactly the same result as his proposed bill, but it would all be so much more direct.

On the other hand, maybe it isn’t fair to ask one man to personally exterminate hundreds of thousands of American men, women and children a year. After all, if Mitch McConnell were to fall behind on his daily quota, then our wealthiest citizens wouldn’t end up getting their cash.

And that wouldn’t be fair, would it?

A potential downside of Moore’s Law

Saturday, June 24th, 2017

It’s pretty wonderful that computers keep getting exponentially better. Sometimes Moore’s Law manifests itself in the form of faster computation, other times in larger storage, or greater communication bandwidth, or smaller size and weight, or lower prices. At any given time, some aspect of our computational world generally moves forward at a steadily exponential rate.

One would think this is an entirely good thing. Yet there is a potential downside. Professional tools may develop and become mature in an era when computation is relatively slow, and then an industry might become stuck with those tools during a later era when computation is much faster.

For example, there is now a very mature computer animation industry optimized for an era when “animation” meant animated films. This has led to a set of tools optimized for linear animation, and for non real-time computation. It has also led to successive generations of animators being trained for linear animation.

This is all well and good if you are making an animated film. But if you are creating a real-time experience such as a computer game, there is a potential mis-match between the real-time experience you are trying to create, and the production tools and animation talent generally available.

In this case, it is possible that a truly disruptive animated medium, such as immersive augmented reality, will force a more fundamental change in how we do animation production. I guess time will tell.

The history of “language”

Friday, June 23rd, 2017

In yesterday’s post I referred to language — in particular, I referred to people referring to language as “language”.

Latest research suggests that the species homo sapiens is at least 300,000 years old. (1) . It would be reasonable to presume that natural language is therefore much older than that. But when did we evolve a word for “language” in any natural language?

In order for a society to have the concept of a language, as opposed to having the language itself, it might be necessary to encounter another society that does not share their language. It seems a sure bet that once any such two ancient tribes were to encounter each other, a word for language itself would quickly enter their respective vocabularies.

But could such a word evolve in the absence of such an encounter? I wonder whether there is any way to answer this question empirically. Perhaps we would need to find a tribe of people who have remained culturally isolated, and learn their language quickly, before our own presence contaminated that language. Of course a number of such tribes have been encountered in the last two centuries. I wonder whether anyone checked their language for the word “language”.

(1) Callaway, Ewan “Oldest Homo sapiens fossil claim rewrites our species’ history”. Nature, June 7, 2017.

The history of virtual reality

Thursday, June 22nd, 2017

Early humans had
Virtual reality.
They called it “language”.


Wednesday, June 21st, 2017

I was asked by a friend whether I am still watching Buffy the Vampire on streaming Netflix. Alas, I replied, Netflix no longer offers Buffy as a streaming option (although you can still rent the series on DVD).

I told my friend that what would really be ideal, since I’ve seen Buffy so many times, would be to just play it from memory. If I could truly internalize the experience, I could just sit in a quiet meditative state and run any episode in my mind, like a movie in my head.

If I could do that, then I could even mix it up a bit. Maybe the third or fourth time through some episode I could enter the scene myself, back Buffy up in a fight against demons, or compare notes with Giles about a particularly fine edition of De Daemonibus.

There are many dystopian implications to a future in which direct neural communication will be possible. But there are also some happy possibilities. For me, the opportunity to dive full-on into the Buffyverse is one of them.


Tuesday, June 20th, 2017

There is a well-known schism in the world of computer graphics. People who create computer graphics for games tend to think differently from people who create computer graphics for movies and animation.

In a three dimensional X,Y,Z coordinate system, people who work in game development usually think of the Z coordinate as pointing up toward the sky. In contrast, people who create computer graphics for movies and animation often think of the Y coordinate as pointing up toward the sky.

I think this is due to the fundamental problem each is trying to solve. A person who is designing a computer game starts out by thinking about strategy: How does a character move about in the world? Does the character need to go over a bridge? Storm a castle? Escape from a room?

These are the sorts of questions you tend to ask while looking at a map. So the first two coordinates a game designer thinks about — the X and the Y — are the ones that describe the geography of the game world. The Z coordinate is then added later for height above the terrain, to create a 3D game experience.

In contrast, a filmmaker asks questions in terms of the final image: How will this composition look in my movie? Is this a head shot or an establishing shot? Are these two characters looking at each other?

These are the sorts of questions you tend to ask while looking at a movie screen. So the first two coordinates a film designer thinks about — the X and the Y — are the ones that describe the image on that screen. The Z coordinate is then added later for depth into and out of the screen, to add visual layers to the image.

Practically speaking, this has sometimes led to some difficulty in the business. Some software is designed with the “Z is up” convention and other software is designed with the “Y is up” convention.

Everything works great until you try to use these various software programs together. Then again, whoever said art was supposed to be easy?

Twenty first century haiku

Monday, June 19th, 2017

Unexpected time
Just for me and for my thoughts
Five hour flight delay

How to know you are in Seattle

Sunday, June 18th, 2017

If you’ve just seen a man
With a beard on his chin

And dark shades on his eyes
Who is crossing the street

Wearing dark capri pants
And a Starfleet dress shirt

Who texts as he carries
A large Sousaphone

Then you can be sure
That you’re in Seattle.

Future game control design

Saturday, June 17th, 2017

There is a tendency among computer gamers to find the most energy efficient way to play. For example, if you watch a beginner play Wii Tennis, you may see a lot of wild arm swinging. Yet an expert player will barely move the controller. For this particular game, as for most computer games, less movement enables greater control.

This suggests that the standard input control designs for computer games may not produce the best long term results for physically immersive Virtual and Mixed Reality games. To see why, we need to go back to earlier and more established forms of human entertainment.

Consider the guitar. In order to play the guitar properly, you need to use a mix of larger and smaller muscles. A proficient guitar player will use her body and arms to keep the guitar in an optimal position as well as for placing her left hand at the optimal location and orientation on the fret board. The fine motor control of her fingers are not tasked with any of this work, but rather are free to press against the fret board in the most energy efficient way, thereby allowing maximum control and dexterity.

A similar separation of tasks between large muscles and small muscles is seen in most musical instruments, from piano to trombone to viola. A well designed instrument allows its user to make optimal use of various parts of the body’s musculature, with the large muscles shouldering the burden of strength work, and the small muscles performing the fine motor tasks.

We see the same thing with well designed sports equipment, such as a tennis racket, or a football. An expert player will use complementary muscle groups at all times.

This suggests that if we are going to be evolving from the disembodies realm of games on screen to the more active and embodied realm of VR/MR, we should be designing games that make full use of the body. Those games may be more difficult to learn than “wrist flicking” games, but I suspect that in the long run they are going to be a lot more satisfying, and will have a better chance of becoming widely adopted in the years to come.

Death metal vegan

Friday, June 16th, 2017

I had dinner last night here in Seattle with an old friend at an excellent vegan Heavy Metal bar / restaurant called Highline. It was pretty awesome.

Diners around us were wearing punk clothes, and the restaurant played excellent death metal music while we ate yummy vegan comfort food. It was all delicious, but probably not healthy.

I ordered a giant vegan BBQ “pulled pork” po-boy made with Seitan. And lots of other yummy stuff too.

When the huge sandwich arrived, I took a moment to behold its decadent plant-sourced magnificence. Just before taking the first bite I told my friend: “It makes sense that in a vegan death metal restaurant, they would worship Seitan.”