Long dead days

True tale, long told, from some dead bard,
Time past when life ’twas very hard:

Each year ’twas writ, this time long past,
Some rule, some game, till days flew fast.

That year they said each word must hold
Some self same size (true tale, long told).

Four, nary more, this pact thus made,
True lore, we’re sure, from long dead days.

The scariest thing of all

Today I started watching the second season of Grace and Frankie. I didn’t get very far before the first shot of Sam Waterston got me thinking about his earlier work, and that’s when I started going down the rabbit hole.

First I looked on Youtube to see if I could find the video recording of the 1973 Joseph Papp production of Much Ado about Nothing, starring Waterston as Benedick and Kathleen Widdoes as Beatrice. Turns out it’s not on Youtube. Fortunately, used copies of the videotape are available at Amazon for purchase.

Next I set my sights on Kathleen Widdoes. I wasn’t interested to learn more about what she’s been up to in recent years (she has mainly been a mainstay of the Soaps), but rather how she got her start.

I searched on Youtube and quickly got a hit on a 1961 TV show called Way Out, which I had never heard of. Widdoes, who at the time was only 22 years old, guest stars in one episode called “Dissolve to Black”. I watched it.

From that one episode, I think I got a good sense of the show. Like similar TV offerings of the era, such as One Step Beyond, and in the spirit of the much missed EC Comics, it mixed several surefire ingredients, including a love of the macabre, familiar from Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and a disturbing supernatural twist, in the style of The Twilight Zone.

It was all in shadowy black and white, with a very low production budget, like F. Murnau trying to shoot a film in his garage. The show is clearly aiming to scare you, but this episode at least did not succeed.

By the way, I’ve read on-line from still-traumatized baby boomers that episode 12, “Side Show”, is truly terrifying. I look forward to seeing it.

But the most surprising thing about the show is that its narrator each week is Roald Dahl! I had never actually seen the man speak before, and it was quite a revelation.

He is clearly aiming to imitate the style and diction of Alfred Hitchcock in Alfred Hitchcock Presents, a show that had started six years earlier, and in 1961 was still going strong. But far more disturbing than that, perhaps scariest thing of all, far more disturbing than anything about the show itself, is Roald Dahl himself.

For in a twist right out of a Freddy Krueger nightmare, the man looks and sounds exactly like William F. Buckley Jr. I may not be able to sleep for weeks.

That darned subconscious!

Two times in the last few days people close to me have done things that seemed to me, in the moment, really destructive, or aggressive, or self-destructive, or potentially self-sabotaging, or some combination of all of the above. In both cases I responded by feeling anger, but pretty much backing away from the situation in the moment, until I could find time to process my feelings.

It’s not so much that I am afraid of expressing anger. It’s more that I don’t want to say things that I don’t really mean, based on some unformed mental model of what’s going on. After all, it’s a lot easier to make situations worse than it is to make them better.

In both cases I eventually got to a place in my own head where I could separate myself from what had happened. One conclusion I’ve reached from this is that I often become angry at people when they act out of some subconscious directive that seems destructive or self-destructive. And that’s a mistake on my part.

It’s a mistake because I am generally assuming, in that moment, that they know what’s going on. “If it’s obvious even to me what game they are playing here,” I tell myself, “then surely it is obvious to them!”

But no, it is not obvious to them. They don’t know what game they are playing. They don’t even know they are playing a game. That’s the whole point with this subconscious thing.

We all sometimes do or say the most absurd things, and the people around us may be mortified, yet we yourselves may have no idea, in that moment, that we have crossed any boundaries. Because it’s our subconscious doing it, acting out of some important emotional need that our conscious mind cannot access.

Our subconscious, of course, really sucks as a long term planner. So when it decides to take action, it will often do so in ways that will come across to other people as very agressive or self-destructive, or at the very least unsettling.

On the other hand, these subconscious minds of ours are pretty darned awesome. For one thing, without them we probably wouldn’t fall in love all that much, and the human race would have died out long ago. So when they end up popping up in the darnedest places, I guess we should cut them some slack.

Reality is…

I was having a conversation today with some colleagues, where we were discussing a proposed virtual reality experience. As you may know, I am particularly keen on VR experiences that people share with each other, rather than ones they experience on their own.

So at some point in the conversation I said: “Reality is what we all agree it is.” After I said this, it struck me that this way of framing things is actually quite useful.

To be human is to be in a world of other humans. If your concept of reality differs in some essential way from everyone else’s, then you are alienated. Most people in that situation are quite unhappy, and find it hard to function.

When we are little children, we usually believe that “reality” is a fixed thing, tied mainly to the physical: This is a rock, that’s a tree. But as we grow up, we start to understand that the aspects of reality that really matter to us are the ones that allow us to interact with other people.

So as technology evolves, “reality” evolves along with it. In 2016, it is perfectly reasonable for you and me to have a conversational chat even when we are thousands of miles apart. In Shakespeare’s day that would not have been reasonable.

The same principle applies to all of the magical-sounding things that will soon become possible thanks to virtual and augmented reality. They won’t seem magical at all to people who grow up with them. They will simply be ordinary aspects of reality.

Because there is one thing about human existence that never changes: Reality is what we all agree it is.

The next line of dialog

I’ve gotten into a habit recently when I watch TV, and I can’t tell whether it’s a good thng or not. As I am viewing a show, several times an episode I will find myself saying the next line just before the actor says it. This seems to work pretty much every time, for high quality shows as well as for silly action shows.

Does this mean the shows are bad? I mean, if you can predict the next line of dialog, doesn’t that mean something’s wrong with how these shows are written?

I’m not so sure. In fact, I think that very predictability is deliberately written in. At the end of the day, TV shows are comfort food. We don’t watch them to change our life. We watch them as a source of reliable entertainment. What that little screen really wants to tell us is that our world makes sense.

Sure, bad things happen to people on TV. But they happen in a safely fictional universe. And next week our fictional friends are right back on that screen again to tell us more stories.

Note that this rhythm is quite different from that of cinema. A film can afford to shake you up, to mess with your head in the service of art. Nobody is expecting you to come back the following week to see the next episode.

And so that little voice in my head that tells me the next line of dialog is probably no accident. The writers of TV shows want you to feel at home, to believe that you are hanging out with old familiar friends, with people you know so well that you can finish their sentences.

If nothing else, that makes it a lot easier to sell you stuff. 🙂

2x2x2x2, part 2

If you look at the puzzle piece I showed yesterday within the Soma cube (the Soma cube was invented by Piet Hein in 1936), you can see that it takes up 4 out of the 27 positions in the assembled 3x3x3 cube:


I am showing each of the component cubes as transparent blue, except for those inside the puzzle piece, which I am showing as transparent white. You can see that the puzzle piece traces a path first right, then back, then down.

Showing the parts of a 4D hypercube puzzle is a little trickier. I don’t just want to show an exploded view, because I’d like the player to be able to see the puzzle as though it were a physical object, and rotate it interactively.

So in addition to left/right, down/up, and back/forward, I am adding the additional dimension of in/out. You can think of it as a kind of extra perspective dimension, as though things look smaller as they retreat away from us into this fourth dimension.

Looked at this way, here is a puzzle piece within the 4D hypercube puzzle. You can see that it takes up 5 out of the 16 positions in the assembled 4x4x4x4 hypercube:

Again, I am showing each of the component hypercubes as transparent blue, except for those inside the puzzle piece, which I am showing as transparent white. You can see that the puzzle piece traces a path first out, then right, then back, then down.


I have been playing around with creating a particular kind of simple four dimensional puzzle. And I’ve been trying to keep it as simple as possible,.

You may have seen those 3D puzzles where you need to assemble several pieces, each of which consists of several little cubes glued together, to form a single larger 3x3x3 cube. In that puzzle, the pieces can look something like the shape below (which consists of four little cubes):

I’m working on the same thing for four dimensions, except for a 2x2x2x2 hypercube. The equivalent of the above puzzle piece would consist of five hypercubes glued together, and the larger hypercube would consist of 16 little hypercubes altogether.

Of course you can’t build a 4D puzzle in the physical world, but you can build it in virtual reality. So that’s at least one thing VR is good for. 🙂