Archive for March, 2012

Rocket Punk

Saturday, March 31st, 2012

Every generation looks back several generations, mining earlier eras for cultural ideas to be reinvented in its own image. Such nostalgia+remixing tends to skip a generation. After all, in our youth we don’t follow the lead of our parents, because by definition they are not cool. But their parents’ culture is fair game for sampling.

This is probably why, say, the hip downtown bohemian New York poetry scene has reliably reemerged as a hot trend every forty years — first around 1922, then around 1962, then again around 2002. And why swing dance trends from the mid-1950s came back with a vengeance in the mid 1990s.

For some reason, trends that are about the future tend to reach further back in the past for source material. Steampunk, a vision of an alternate SciFi future, borrows from all the way back to the time of Jules Verne, who was writing his visions of tomorrow about 140 years ago.

In mid-20th century U.S.A, up until the early 1960s, there was another kind of optimistic vision of the future, exemplified by Walt Disney’s Tomorrowland and John F. Kennedy’s New Frontier, with their focus on the wonders of technology in the Atomic age, and on exploring the Universe (leading directly to Star Trek, which actually came out as this optimistic trend was already in its death throes).

I wonder whether there will be an attempt by some forthcoming youth generation to embrace that lost vision of a better tomorrow and “punk” it. That is, will future young people embrace America’s lost utopian futurism in order to recreate it as a kind of alternate fantasy vision of their own?

If such a trend were to emerge, I guess it could be called “Rocket Punk”.

Self-referential food

Friday, March 30th, 2012

It would be interesting if food referenced itself, in a kind of meta way.

Yesterday I saw that a friend was eating little gummy bears made with gelatin, and I thought that this represented a missed opportunity.

After all, from a certain perspective, the ideal shape for gelatin candies would be cute little horses’ hooves.

This may not, in fact, be a marketable idea. :-)

Talking about the future

Thursday, March 29th, 2012

Earlier this month I gave a talk at Google on the subject of one of my favorite places to visit — the future. I was invited to Google by my good friend Sharon, who often comments on this blog (thanks Sharon!!).

Today Google put the video up on YouTube. It has lots of embedded links to various cool research and resources, which I encourage you to check out.

Click on the evocative image below to see the video:



A measure of resistance

Wednesday, March 28th, 2012

I was talking to two colleagues today. One was telling me he’d solved the mysterious problem in the electronic circuit he was designing. It turned out that the resistance was several times higher than he had thought.

For some reason I was in a philosophical mood. “I guess circuit is like kind of like a relationship,” I said. “The fewer mysteries the better.”

That got a laugh.

“Come to think of it,” I continued, “in both cases, it’s always better to know if the actual resistance is higher than you had thought.”

That got a much bigger laugh.

Length of novels, plays and movies

Tuesday, March 27th, 2012

Why is a novel typically several hundred pages long, and a typical play or a movie around an hour and a half in duration?

Yes, there are many novels, plays and films that are longer or shorter, but there seems to be a remarkable adherence to this statistical norm.

My theory is that there is only a certain emotional bandwidth in any medium, and that these lengths represent the minimum informational budget required, using reasonable economy, to sketch out a certain kind of arc of human experience. In a short story or a half hour TV drama, there isn’t quite enough time to render a complete enough stand-alone portrait of a protagonist and his or her world to convey a powerfully transformational experience for reader or audience.

Disappointment insurance

Monday, March 26th, 2012

More often than I would like, I get myself into situations where a positive outcome for me depends on some choice of action by someone else. We’ve all been there, sad to say: “If only you would do this, it would be so great for me.”

In an ideal world, an outcome good for me would also be good for the other person, and everybody would end up happy. Alas, we do not live in an ideal world. I cannot decide what is good for somebody else, and it’s certainly not up to me to try. So sometimes I just end up disappointed and sad.

When my spidey-sense tells me I might be entering into such a situation, I often arrange a side-deal — one that is just between me and myself. If the sought-for positive outcome doesn’t pan out, I stand ready to reward myself in some other way, as a kind of “disappointment insurance”. This reward doesn’t need to be elaborate. It could as simple as treating myself to a movie, or buying myself a particular kind of fancy chocolate.

When I do this, I adhere to two important principles: (1) I plan this insurance ahead of time, before I know what the outcome will be, and (2) if the positive outcome does occur, I don’t give myself the disappointment insurance.

The net effect of all of this is that I’m not as focused on whether things that depend on other people will work out. Because no matter what the outcome, I’ll get something nice out of it that I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.

Take a moment to consider

Sunday, March 25th, 2012

I rarely comment on politics these days, but I’m really shaken up by what happened recently in Florida. A seventeen year old boy walking back home from a local candy store was shot dead by a man with a gun. The boy was unarmed. The man was not arrested for killing the boy.

The reason the man was not arrested was that he stated that he had felt threatened by the boy. It seems that under current Florida law, making such a statement is sufficient grounds to avoid being arrested for shooting, and killing, an unarmed boy or girl.

If you are reading this, and you have a son or daughter, you might take a moment to consider that there are places in the United States of America today where a stranger with a gun can legally shoot your child to death while your child is walking down the street, even right in your own neighborhood.

Until these last few days, I had not known that. I’m guessing you had not known that either.

A trail of flags

Saturday, March 24th, 2012

Upon traveling to a new land, it is traditional for an explorer to plant a flag in the soil (or, on occasion, moon dust), declaring, in essence “hey folks, I got here”.

A blog entry is a bit like a flag ceremony. You find a promising place in the rich virgin soil of a new day, and you plant your flag, in the form of a post. Whatever else your post signifies, you are also saying, one way or another, “here is where I was at this moment in my life.”

I have been planting such a flag into each day for well over four years. In a sense, I have been claiming a unique place in my life for each individual 24 hour period. When I think back on any of these little flags, I am reminded of where (and who) I was just then, and what was happening in the strange and ordinary happenstance of my life. Now, as I turn around to look behind me, I see that the trail spans a surprisingly long distance, stretching clear to the horizon.

It’s all good. As Proust understood, time examined is time better than time unexamined. Even now, going back to any individual post, my mind becomes filled with a flood of associations, sense memories, sweet precious moments of pride and regret.

Sometimes it’s good just to plant a flag.

Pride and Prejudice and spinoffs

Friday, March 23rd, 2012

The recent generalization of the popular lit-spoof “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” has gone broad, with such concepts as “Sense and Sensability and Sea Serpents” and “Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter”. But why not go deep instead? Herewith, some humble suggestions for spinning out Austen’s beloved classic:

“Pride and Prejudice and Wendy’s”:
The imperious and disapproving ways of the handsome Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, manager of the local fast food emporium, infuriates Miss Elizabeth Bennet, who runs the joint’s kitchen with a spirited independent-mindedness. The personable and handsome area manager, Mr. George Wickham, alerts Miss Bennet to the possiblity that Mr. Darcy has been skimming profits. Eventually our intrepid heroine realizes that Mr. Wickham was the actual thief all along. Elizabeth and Darcy live happily ever after.

“Pride and Prejudice and Saudis”:
Elizabeth Bennet is an attractive and independent-minded oil speculator traveling through this exotic Middle East emirate while angling to close a major petroleum deal. Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, the handsome yet imperious European representative of major multinational corporation Pemberley Oil, at first disapproves of Miss Bennet’s maverick ways. Eventually, over long walks and tea, they achieve a meeting of the minds, and together devise a clever scheme to corner the world’s entire supply of crude oil. The dashing couple’s ingenious plan is uncovered by charming yet dastardly reporter George Wickham of the Washington Post. A major political scandal ensues, which comes to be known as Pemberleak.

“Pride and Prejudice and Falsies”:
While frequenting a hot West Village drag club, Miss Elizabeth Bennet, who maintains a preference for the fairer sex, is delighted to ascertain that a fellow patron by the name of Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy is in reality a woman dressed as a man. They marry. Alas, Fitzwilliam (nee Fitzwilla), is devastated to discover, on their wedding night, that Miss Bennet is actually a man in drag.

Portable fish

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012

Oftentimes, as I am dashing around trying to get a million things done, I find myself reducing each item on my to-do list to some convenient catch-phrase. The last few days I have caught myself running around muttering “portable fish, must finish the portable fish”.

My friend Sharon, who reads this blog, knows what this phrase means, since it is a reference to a project we are working on together. But at some point it occurred to me that anybody else listening in might just think I’ve gone off my meds. :-)

I wonder how much of one’s inner focus becomes redacted into such catch-phrases, little mental PostIts that stand in for complete thoughts. If I hadn’t caught myself this time, I would probably never haver realized that I had stuck this particular mental PostIt up somewhere inside my head.

How many others have I got in there? And how long do they stay up after I no longer need them?