Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

The unopened door, part 3

Sunday, November 4th, 2018

Before entering, I examined the rather large house key closely, though I fancy myself, at best, a gifted amateur at metalworking. The key was of a curious and archaic design. It had been crafted, I surmised, by some long ago master, one possessed of remarkable skill with punch and press.

Even more curious, though you may think me odd for noting such a thing, from this near distance the house itself appeared to possess a distinct, almost human, personality. By some curious arrangement of the window shutters and of the door itself, the house seemed to be, dare I say it, smiling. It was a strange, mocking smile, which played upon the entranceway as though some private joke were being shared.

But enough of such fancies. It was time to take possession of my rightful property. I inserted the key into the ancient lock. It turned easily, with a satisfying smoothness of motion. Yet the door would not budge. Push or pull as I might, the accursed door would not open — not an inch.

My immediate response to this unexpected turn of events was quite startling and unforeseen. I felt a sudden spasm of pure rage pass through me, quite unlike my generally even temperament. “You are my house now!” I heard myself shout, “I must be allowed entry!”

I took some moments to calm myself. “How absurd,” I thought with amusement, marveling at my own temporary madness. “It is, after all, only a house.” Restored thus to my usual rational state of mind, I set about methodically to discover alternate means of ingress.

The unopened door, part 2

Saturday, November 3rd, 2018

Through the agency of my solicitor, the deal was quickly done. Although there was, for a brief time, some opposition on the part of certain local officials, I was, as ever, persistent.

My success in this endeavor was also due, in no small part, to the considerable estate left to me by my late lamented bride. She was, alas, taken from this earthly coil far too soon. Not a day goes by, I hasten to assure you, that I fail to mourn her unfortunate and untimely passing.

Yet life goes on, and the wheels of fate will turn. There was a moment, I must duly confess, when I hesitated upon the occasion of my eccentric purchase, thinking upon that sainted memory.

I asked myself whether she, my late beloved, would have shared my strange fascination with this sepulchral abode. For she had been a creature of air and light, a luminous being from above, clearly put upon this earth by the angels themselves.

What then would my beloved have thought of my desire to take possession of this unholy abode? In the end I fancied that she would have approved, simply out of love for me and my quaint obsessions.

At least I assumed that this would have been her wish. Yet perhaps we should not assume too much of the dead.

The unopened door, part 1

Friday, November 2nd, 2018

It was the gloom about the unopened door, a sort of maleficent haze which hung upon the entranceway itself, which first caught my eye. I had been looking for a simple retreat, a quiet respite from the untamed energy of city living.

It had not been my intention to abandon entirely the great Metropolis, but merely to find some peaceable corner in which my tired soul could rest, a still and silent refuge beyond the harsh glare and exuberance of the collective urban hive.

I had been thinking of a cheerful cottage, something prim and proper, tended perhaps by some efficient local retainer, a simple dwelling that might catch the fancy of my eye. Yet in an instant, all such thoughts were thrown aside.

It was, I realize now, the gloom about the unopened door, the dark spectre of its mystery, which drew me in, and played at once upon my inquisitive fancy. At first sight of this apparition, an almost childlike curiosity took hold of me. In that very moment was my decision made.

Happy Birthday Sci Fi

Thursday, November 1st, 2018

It’s hard to believe it’s the 200th birthday of science fiction.

We tend to think of Sci Fi as something modern, up to date, cutting edge. But of course with a little thought you realize that it dates back to Regency England.

It was the era of Jane Austen, Edgar Allan Poe, the Romantic Poets. It was also the start — with a single publication in 1818 — of a monster of a genre that we now call science fiction.

It is a genre that can produce a galvanic response in its readers, a genre that has the ability to take parts from various other genres and assemble them in new ways, to reanimate ideas once thought long dead.

Together let us celebrate this 200th birthday of science fiction. For better or for worse, it is a magnificent and ungainly creature that we have birthed in our collective laboratory of ideas.

Halloween 2018

Wednesday, October 31st, 2018

Tonight I put on a silly hat and journeyed forth with a friend to wander the streets of the East Village. And once again I was reminded why New York City on Halloween is such a great place to be.

I stayed away from the parade on Sixth Avenue. That once joyful experience was forever ruined for us New Yorkers the year they brought in the TV cameras. As Yogi Berra once said about a suddenly trendy restaurant: “Nobody ever goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”

But the East Village is safely far from the corrupting effects of commercial attention. It’s just a lot of people wandering about wearing silly and wonderful costumes, enjoying each others’ company on a magical night.

I think about the paradoxical quality of Halloween in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer:” It’s the only night of the year when all the demons stay away from Sunnydale.

Halloween is like that for me. For one glorious evening we can put aside thoughts of the real scary monsters, like you-know-who and his best pal in Moscow.

On this evening we are all simply children playing dress-up, smiling at one another as we indulge in the fantasy of safely make-believe monsters.

Tomorrow we will again take up the good fight. But tonight we enjoy the innocence of childhood, and the joy of seeing a smile on a happy stranger’s painted face.

Stress management

Tuesday, October 30th, 2018

I’ve notice in recent conversations here in New York City that many people manage avoid saying a certain well known name, by substituting the phrase “The Idiot”. Everybody knows exactly who is being referred to, but avoiding the actual name seems to reduce the general stress level.

In addition to stress itself, there are a various other related emotions at play right now, including fear, anger, disgust and disbelief. And all of these are adding to the general level of stress.

Strangely, people don’t need to check with each other about this. They just spontaneously say “The Idiot” and everything is understood.

It’s nice to see people agreeing on something.

The Gumbinator

Monday, October 29th, 2018

I was thinking today about Gumby. In particular, how Art Clokey’s magical creations, Gumby and Pokey, had the ability to change their form at will.

They could transform into the appearance of any other creatures, roll up into a ball, flatten themselves into a sheet to scuttle under a closed door, and perform other feats of morphological legerdemain available only to beings made of clay.

But today, as I thought fondly of Gumby and his superpowers, my thoughts drifted to a different yet oddly related cultural phenomenon: The T9000 from Terminator 2. When that film was released, the spectre of Robert Patrick transforming himself at will was truly terrifying. Nobody was safe from such a fearsome enemy.

I found myself imagining Gumby as the foe of Sarah Connor, a deceptively friendly looking assassin. To the untrained eye, he is a goofy plaything made of clay. But to the initiated, he is revealed to be a highly sophisticated weapon from the future, a deadly robotic swarm, composed of millions of tiny nanobots.

There is some perverse part of me that wants to see that film. Join me as we watch with fascination and mounting dread as Sarah Connor bravely defends humanity from The Gumbinator!

Every once in a while you get lucky

Sunday, October 28th, 2018

Some years ago my cousin took me along to a party. His friend who was throwing the party was very well read, and there was a large bookshelf lining one wall of his apartment.

At some point, several beers into the evening, a guy at the party and I started to get into a debate about computer graphics. I was describing how a particular procedural texture algorithm works, and this guy was saying I had it wrong.

It was all a bit awkward, because I was describing my own algorithm, but I could think of no graceful way for me to say that. Until, that is, I spotted a book on the shelf that I had co-authored.

I casually pulled the book off the shelf. “Look,” I said, turning to the relevant page. “you can see right here how the algorithm works.” It definitely helped my argument that my name was on the cover of the book.

Every once in a while you get lucky.

It can happen here

Saturday, October 27th, 2018

The neighborhood, Squirrel Hill, where eleven people were killed today while at Saturday morning services in Pittsburgh is the very same neighborhood where my brother and his family live. On Saturday mornings my brother and his family go to the next synagogue over. My relatives are ok — and yet, there but for fortune.

A lot of people have been pretending that the dark and violent rhetoric of a certain occupant of the White House is of no consequence. But it is of consequence. Crazy people like the Florida bomber and the Squirrel Hill shooter don’t need much of a push.

Not that long ago, we lived in a country where people at the top didn’t promote violent bullying, didn’t publicly praise people who body-slammed journalists, didn’t brag that they could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and get away with it.

Don’t kid yourself, things could still get a lot worse. And we’re not talking about differences of policy here. We are talking about a fundamental question of human decency.

So ask yourself this — what sort of country do you want to live in? Then go out and vote.

Future friendly faces

Friday, October 26th, 2018

Some of us were talking yesterday about things that might be possible after everybody is wearing mixed reality glasses. The conversation touched on how we divide people into two categories: (1) People who are our friends and family, or are otherwise in our “tribe”, and (2) Everyone else.

We intuitively recognize the inherent humanity of people in the first category. We empathize with them, and generally have a great capacity to be nurturing and supportive toward them.

People in the second category, like the people we might encounter on the subway, tend to become a sort of blur. Intellectually we know that they have as much individuality and humanity as the people we know, but that fact does not always register with us on an emotional level.

Somebody in our conversational group suggested that we use our future wearables to map the faces of our friends and family onto the faces of the people we see on the street and in the subway. Whichever person we know who most resembles a particular stranger, that is the face we would see when we look at that stranger.

If we did that, maybe we would all be kinder to the people around us. In a few years it should be possible to try, and the we’ll know whether it works.