Archive for July, 2017

Channel surfing

Tuesday, July 11th, 2017

Yesterday I was asked by my friend Charles whether I would like to join him in a swim this morning, promptly at 8am, in the English Channel. I was hesitant to say yes, because according to my NYC subjective clock that would be 3am.

Yet sure enough, this morning promptly at 8am I went down to the beach. And then, here in Brighton, I happily went for a swim in the Channel.

To my surprise, it had turned out not to be difficult at all to make my appointment. Every fifteen minutes, starting at around 6:30am Brighton time, I had found myself waking up. I kept trying to go back to sleep, but would then find myself promptly reawakening every 15 minutes.

It would appear that some force deep within my soul really really wanted to wake up and swim in the English Channel. And so I did.

The water was far warmer than I had expected, but the waves were intimidatingly high. As I walked out from the shore, feeling wave after wave crashing against my body, I started to laugh in sheer glee.

I recognized that particular laugh: It was my five year old self, laughing aloud with sheer animalistic pleasure. There was something so crazy, so wonderfully beautiful, about walking straight into those crashing waves, that I was overcome with a completely irrational and childlike sense of joy.

Just before I plunged head first into the breaking waves, I realized that in its way, this experience reminded me of the one time I had gone sky diving. On that occasion, I had had exactly the same thought, which goes something like this:

Nature, in all of its lovely and infinite magnificence, probably doesn’t care about me at all. But it’s probably not going to kill me either.

A room with a view

Monday, July 10th, 2017

Today I arrived in Brighton England for the Develop computer games conference. The first decision to be made was in which room I would stay at the Hilton Metropole hotel.

Apparently there was a choice: Either I could have a really big room (which is what they assumed I would want), or I could have a really tiny room looking out over the beach and the sea (actually the English Channel).

I unhesitatingly opted for a room with a view. When I arrived at my room, it was indeed small — although I prefer the more upbeat appellation “cozy”.

Then when I opened the shades, a magnificent view of the beach and the water beyond stretched out before me. I was in heaven.

To me, it is obvious, given a choice between a large room with a view of the parking lot, and a small room with a room of the English Channel, that one should choose the latter. Yet it occurs to me that this may not be an opinion universally held.

Clearly I am one of those people who cares more about virtual space (space you can see), rather than physical space (space you can walk around in). Could it be that each human lies upon a spectrum? On one end you have the visual space lovers, and on the other end you have the physical space lovers.

I’m not sure we will ever be able to make both of these groups happy.

Instant lookup

Sunday, July 9th, 2017

Today I was reading an article that talked about espresso in a way that made me curious about the origins of espresso. Typing ‘espresso’ into Google took me to the Wikipedia page.

From there I learned that Angelo Mariando received an Italian patent for an early version of an espresso machine in 1884. Seventeen years later his invention was improved upon by Luigi Bezzera of Milan.

That patent was then purchased in 1905 by Desiderio Pavoni, and in 1906 La Pavoni became the first industrially manufactured espresso machine.

It occurs to me that at some point in the near future, through a combination of wearable technology and various applications of artificial intelligence, I will be able to acquire all that knowledge essentially in real time.

For example, suppose you and I are having a conversation about espresso, and I start to wonder where the underlying technology originated. I could easily pepper my conversation with some unobtrusive keywords, and combine those words with a few small hand gestures and eye movements to quickly look up the history of espresso.

By the time it is my turn to speak, I might already know the answer. I will then be able to use that knowledge in our conversation.

This won’t seem like some sort of magic power, since everyone else we know will be able to do the same sort of thing. Instant lookup will simply be normal, a aspect of everyday conversation that will be universally taken for granted.

It will be interesting to see what effect this will have on human discourse.

Economic matchmakers

Saturday, July 8th, 2017

There should be some sort of organized matchmaking organization. One the one hand there are brilliant creative individuals who create potential value, and on the other hand there are entrepreneurial individuals who would best understand how to convert that potential value into money within the marketplace.

Sometimes these people manage to find each other, but the process seems to be disorganized and haphazard. There are so many factors to consider, including geography, timing, personality, and sufficient shared technical understanding.

Even when you think you have found that “special business someone”, many things can go wrong. And then there is the possibility that you will never find anyone at all to complement your vision.

Shouldn’t there be a sort of equivalent of for creative geniuses and business development geniuses who want to pair up with just the right other half? Or does such a thing already exist?

After the demo goes well

Friday, July 7th, 2017

Today we gave a demo to some potential funders of our research. The demo went really well. I mean seriously really well.

But more important than that was what we learned from the reactions of the people we were demoing to. Suddenly a lot of things that had been fuzzy made a lot more sense.

You can spend weeks trying to figure out what direction to take your research, but there’s nothing quite like actually showing your work to people who might use it in the real world. In moments, a lot of things become crystal clear.

It’s not until you see those people watching your demo that you know — deep in your bones — what is important versus what is not important. Now we know exactly what to do to make our demo even better. And it’s a great feeling.

New computer!

Thursday, July 6th, 2017

Today my fancy new 2017 13″ Macbook Pro arrived. I had ordered it quite a while back, but because Apple has been changing over to newer models, the delivery was delayed, seemingly endlessly. A kindly grad student has been letting me use his computer in the meanwhile.

The new computer and I are still learning each other. Today I’m doing all the geeky stuff, like installing Chrome, and Homebrew, node.js, and various other words that will seem mysterious unless you program a lot.

The funny thing about upgrading to a newer model computer is that it’s kind of like moving from one house to another, but taking all of your stuff with you. You may have moved into a new place, but you pretty much have the same furniture, stuff in your closets, pictures on the walls, dishes and silverware.

Since I had prepared for this move, it was all pretty easy and painless. And now here I am, happily ensconced in my fancy new virtual digs.

Maybe I’ll start a garden. 🙂

Strategic failure

Wednesday, July 5th, 2017

Like most people I know, I am somewhat neurotic. We are each have our own particular neuroses, and we all learn to develop coping mechanisms to get around them.

One of my neuroses, which is not uncommon, is fear of failure in high stakes situations. The more that is on the line, the greater the chance I can get sidetracked by the possibility of failure.

Clearly this is counterproductive. After all, when a lot is at stake, clearly it is more effective to increase one’s focus, rather than becoming distracted by the possibility of a negative outcome.

Over time I have realized that when I am in such a high pressure situation, I arrange to fail at something else.

I don’t do this on purpose, exactly. It’s more that I end up finding something safe that I can fail at.

Once I have managed to fail at something else, my neurosis is satisfied: I have affirmed that I am indeed not perfect, so I no longer feel any pressure to pretend that I am.

My mind is then sufficiently liberated to focus on the other goal — the one with the higher stakes. And it all usually turns out well.

Sometimes there’s nothing like a little strategic failure to help you get through the week. 🙂

Sandra Magnus has a super power

Tuesday, July 4th, 2017

Hal Jordan was given a ring by a dying alien and became Green Lantern. Kal-El of Krypton traveled to another planet and became Superman.

But these are fantasies. In real life, encounters with outer space don’t confer super powers on anybody. Or do they?

If people are coming back to earth with super powers, you can be sure that sooner or later, the world will find out. And just this week, in a shocking development, one of these extraordinary individuals, Sandra Magnus, slipped up by revealing a long hidden super power to the world.

You may know Dr. Magnus as a respected American astronaut, a mainstay of the International Space Station, as well as a distinguished scientist with advanced degrees in physics, engineering and materials science.

Or perhaps you know her from her days as a designer of stealth aircraft at McDonnell Douglas. Or you might recognize Dr. Magnus in her highly prestigious current position as the Executive Director of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

But this week all of that fell by the wayside as Dr. Magnus finally revealed her true superhero identity: Invisible Girl!

In a ceremony at the White House, the President and Vice President honored three U.S. Astronauts: Buzz Aldrin, Alvin Drew and David Wolf. Each was thanked by name for his service to our country, and both the President and Vice President shook hands with all three men.

Yet somehow, fellow distinguished U.S. Astronaut Sandra Magnus was able to stand not five feet away from the President while all of this was taking place. In a flagrant violation of the laws of physics, she apparently deployed her super powers to make herself completely invisible to both the President and the Vice President.

During the entire ceremony, neither the President nor the Vice President appeared to acknowledge or even notice her presence in the room. What would cause two such high ranking politicians to fail to even see an American Astronaut during a ceremony to honor American Astronauts?

There can be only possible explanation: Dr. Magnus is, in reality, Invisible Girl!

Virtual family structure

Monday, July 3rd, 2017

When you analyze much of pop episodic narratives, you see patterns recurring. This is not at all surprising. After all, if a psychological pattern in storytelling is time tested and reliable, it will continue to be used.

One pattern that keeps cropping up is the virtual family structure: The writers gather a group of characters who are not related, and proceed to treat them as a virtual family, with a particular blend of personalities guaranteed to grab and hold an audience’s attention.

One of these patterns I like to call “Calm Dad / Edgy Mom”. This pattern, in its most common variant, contains six characters. In addition to the calm dad and edgy mom, you also need four kids: Two happy children, and two troublesome children.

Here are three examples of this structure in action. Two of them were architected by Joss Whedon, which is not surprising, since he is very good at this sort of thing:

  Agents of
Guardians of
the Galaxy
Buffy the
Vampire Slayer
Coulson Quill Giles
May Gamora Buffy

This sort of pattern only provides an initial framework, and over time characters can move all over the map. For example, by season six Willow has become both troubled and troublesome. Yet when her virtual family was first formed, she very much filled the role of a happy child.

The long dream

Sunday, July 2nd, 2017

This morning when I awoke I had a momentary feeling of disorientation. It seems I had had a very long dream.

You’ve probably had an experience like this at least once: You wake up in the morning, in your own bed, and feel as though you are in a strange place. The reason is that you had a long dream about a non-existent place, with non-existent people, which was so detailed and comprehensive that you had come to think of it as real.

For me the first moment of the experience was very jarring. Not only did I not recognize my own bedroom, but I started looking around for the people with whom I had been deep in conversation. After all, I had been their guests (or so I thought) for quite a long time, and there was still much to talk about.

The second moment of the experience was even more jarring. For it was only then that I realized that these people, men and women I felt I had come to know, would never return. Not only would I never again speak to them, but they had literally ceased to exist.

Over the course of the next several minutes, the details of this other world gradually faded from my mind. All I could remember was the intensity of the connections I had made, and the fondness I still felt for a world I could no longer quite remember.