Archive for October, 2018

Working on just one thing

Sunday, October 21st, 2018

Today I rolled into the lab at a very leisurely afternoon hour, and proceeded to work on just one thing. There were plenty of other things I could have worked on, but I thought it would be nice to narrow down for once.

Instead of my usual whirlwind style of round-robin multitasking, I honed in, polished, iterated, and otherwise focused on implementing and then improving a single piece of software — in particular, a new approach to pen based computer text entry.

So I didn’t exactly take the day off today. Yet in terms of simplicity and peace of mind my Sunday was exceedingly restful.

Tomorrow morning I will do all of those other things.

Gestation period

Saturday, October 20th, 2018

Over the three days of the UIST conference in Berlin I encountered literally hundreds of new ideas. Between the papers, the posters, the demos and all of the far ranging conversations with colleagues, my sense of what is possible was greatly expanded.

Yet for the last few days I have found myself reluctant to dive right into new programming projects. Instead of doing anything really new and ambitious, I’ve been polishing up my code, adding little features here and there, and in general going for low hanging fruit.

At first I thought that I was just dragging my feet, and I was feeling guilty about that. But I don’t think that anymore.

I now realize that I am simply in a period of gestation. Somewhere in the back of my mind, all of the wonderful new ideas and techniques I saw and heard and played with at UIST are being processed.

So rather than feeling guilty that I am not getting enough done, I am just going to chill, rest up, and enjoy a pleasant weekend. After this gestation period is over, I suspect there will be plenty to do.

Native blood

Friday, October 19th, 2018

Many on the political right think that Elizabeth Warren erred in resorting to actual science and evidence to prove that she indeed had native American ancestry, exactly as she had said. But of course there is a divergence of opinion here.

For example, many on the political left think that anybody who would try to demean someone else by calling them “Pocahontas” is a loathsome and pathetic racist creep, unfit to run for dog catcher, let alone higher office. Clearly there is room for disagreement here.

Yet one obvious point seems to have been missed in the general brouhaha. In this country pretty much everyone has native American blood.

Alas, the native blood is not in our veins. It’s on our hands.

Writing fiction

Thursday, October 18th, 2018

As problems go, the problem of writing fiction is perhaps unique. Often, when we look at the creative arts, we think in terms of solving a problem.

Yet writing good fiction is somewhat unique in the arts in that it requires solving a problem by creating problems.

Specifically, in order to solve our problem of creating a great story, we need to create problems for the characters in that story. Then we need to help those characters solve their problems.

In the process of our characters solving their problems, we have solved ours. The reader or viewer is pulled into our characters’ problem solving, and thereby becomes engaged with our story.

Things gets even more interesting when we are writing fiction involving a character who is herself a writer of fiction. In that case, we are called upon to solve our problem by creating the problem for our character of creating problems for her own characters.

We might even manage to create a loop. Somewhere down in the creative chain, one of the characters writes the top level character. What could be more fun?

Karaoke in Berlin

Wednesday, October 17th, 2018

For my last night in Berlin, I went with sone colleagues to a Karaoke bar, You have not lived until you have sung in a Karaoke bar in Berlin.

There is something wonderfully freeing about getting up front of a group of people and singing “Puff the Magic Dragon”. With original lyrics.

I admit it’s not an experience for everyone. But for me it was pretty good.

Vision talk

Tuesday, October 16th, 2018

Today I gave a “vision talk” here in Berlin. Vision talks are a new thing at the UIST conference — this is the first year they have it. The idea is to invite a few senior researchers to present their vision for the future.

My vision talk essentially boiled down to the proposition that augmented reality will create an opportunity to evolve natural language itself to include an expressive computer-enhanced visual component. This is important because the most powerful thing about humans, I argued, is our ability to communicate with each other.

I had only fifteen minutes to work with, so it was a bit challenging. Then again, constraints create opportunities.

I focused my thesis down to the essentials, and showed a few carefully chosen interactive examples of the possibilities. Being able to use my Chalktalk program to show a live demo of all these ideas helped a lot.

The feedback I got afterward was very positive. With any luck, I’ve helped to steer the conversation about augmented reality away from a misplaced focus on mere technology, and into a more nuanced, open ended and human-centered direction.


Monday, October 15th, 2018

At the opening session of the UIST conference, the conference chair talked about East Berlin. It’s where the conference is taking place, and it’s also where he grew up.

He showed us pictures from when he was born — when East Berlin was still under the thumb of the USSR. The difference was stark. In place of the vibrant Alexanderplatz of today, we saw something very bleak and desolate.

Then he showed a photo of the Berlin Wall, in the process of being torn down. He narrated the picture with these words:

“At this time in the century when people are talking about building walls, maybe we can use this as an example. Or at least, we have a spare wall if you need one.”

Everyone in the audience cheered. It was good to hear a voice of sanity.

In Berlin

Sunday, October 14th, 2018

I arrived today in Berlin for the UIST conference. I love Berlin — it is my second favorite city after New York. Maybe because it reminds me so much of New York. 🙂

Just arriving, I am greeting old friends, colleagues and acquaintances from years past. Time may changed me, but I can’t trace time.

As this day has progressed, memories have been coming back to me of earlier times in this wonderful city. Memories of people I knew, and of conversations I’ve had.

My first time in Berlin was in May 2001, and since then I have returned a number of times — most notably for an entire summer visit in 2006. In the days to come, I am going to let those recollections wash over me, and see which ones rise to the surface, in the magic eight ball of my memory.

Reading gothic horror stories

Saturday, October 13th, 2018

As part of our research for our SIGGRAPH 2019 project, my co-creator Kris and I have been reading lots of classic gothic horror stories. Yesterday morning I re-read Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher.

This morning I read Perdval Landon’s Thurnley Abbey and The Hanging Stranger by Philip K. Dick. The latter is most definitely gothic horror, despite having been first published in 1953 in a Science Fiction magazine.

When you read a lot of gothic horror in a short amount of time, its general theme really starts to resonate. There is a sense that reality itself — or what you thought was reality — turns out to be a mere veil. Once that veil falls way, something far darker and more terrifying is revealed.

The key here is that we’re not talking about anything as simple as a monster jumping out of the closet. The “monster” turns out to be reality itself. The emotion one feels is not mere fear of pain or of death, but true existential terror — the Universe itself has been compromised.

Very cool stuff. 🙂

Future selfie

Friday, October 12th, 2018

At our lab today we were discussing how various everyday activities will change when everybody has those future Augmented Reality wearable specs. I was speaking enthusiastically about all the cool things we will be able to do that we can’t do now.

“But what about selfies?” one of the students objected. “If you are wearing the camera on your face, how can you take a picture of you and your friend together?”

I took a small coin-sized object out of my pocket and held it up at arm’s length. “This is my future camera,” I said. “And I can also preview what the selfie will look like, because I can see anything I want through my wearables.”

The point was that a camera can be as small as you want, once it no longer needs to be attached to a physical screen. When you are wearing those future specs, the “screen” will be wherever you want it to be.