Dad’s advice

I was talking with a friend today who was sharing with me his thoughts about career plans. He explained that he no longer felt satisfied with what he had been doing professionally for years.

It was a familiar tale. He had been doing the same sort of thing year after year, working with the same sort of people each time. He was now quite good at it, and his skills were much in demand.

But he told me that he no longer enjoyed his work as much has he had before, and he was thinking of making a change. So I shared with him a bit of wisdom.

It was something my dad had told me back when I was a teenager: “If you’re no longer learning anything in your job, then you are in the wrong job.”

At this point in the conversation a woman at the next table jumped into our conversation. “I overheard what you just said,” she told us excitedly, “and that was really great advice.”

“Yes,” I nodded proudly, “my father was a very wise man.”

Disney, Verizon and the New York Times

Tonight I spent my evening in the company of three very interesting people. One represented the Walt Disney Company, another represented Verizon, and another was a reporter for the New York Times.

The conversation was fascinating, wide-ranging, deep and philosophical, roaming in many unexpected directions. Yet the entire time I was thinking: How can I combine the energies of Disney, Verizon, and the New York Times?

On the one hand you have content, on the other you have distribution, on the third you have our ground truth for reality. Are these mutually compatible? Or, when combined, do they create a fundamental contradiction, a rift in the fabric of reality itself?

In the end I decided that they were just really cool people to hang out with, and whatever happened would happen.

If ever I create a synthesis between these three powerful yet complementary forces, and find a way to bring them out into the world together, you will be the first to know.


A good friend of mine is generally unable to talk about a certain resident of the White House without becoming completely enraged.

This friend of mine is usually a very pleasant fellow. He is extremely intelligent and very well read, and the two us can happily spend hours speaking about many cultural topics of mutual interest.

But when the conversation turns to you-know-who, my friend loses all composure, and becomes utterly irate. Engaging with him on the subject is like waving a red cape in front of an angry bull.

The irony here is that I pretty much agree with my friend, in political terms. The difference is that I don’t allow myself to become emotionally overcome, no matter how distasteful I find this particular topic.

I think my refusal to rage and fume is itself a political act. In my view we currently have a troll in the White House, one who thrives by finding ways to reduce his critics to sputtering outrage. Declining to play along is part of my strategy of opposition.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to work for everyone. I think that my friend, like a lot of other people these days, is showing symptoms of *-aholism. Feel free to replace the “*” in the previous sentence by whatever creepy political figure springs to mind.

For now the two of us have agreed simply not to discuss politics. To me that’s just common sense. After all, if you suspect your friend may be an alcoholic, it’s probably a good idea not to invite him out for a beer.

A flash of intuition — then you go to work

I’ve been happily watching The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Many of my friends and family are watching it as well. At this point I think I would watch anything created by Amy Sherman Palladino.

There is one montage in the first season where the protagonist, a talented yet still budding comedienne, is observing everyday occurrences around her — in restaurants, on the subway, at dinner with her parents — and using those moments as seeds for jokes to put into her act.

We see, scene by scene, how she develops each such moment into a joke while performing for various audiences. The first few attempts fall flat, but then she figures out why the moment was funny, and how to turn that nugget of humor into a truly good joke.

It’s thrilling and delightful to see the process of creativity portrayed with such clarity. I also love Palladino’s underlying message about how creativity works.

It’s not all about some brilliant moment of intuition. Nor is it all about plodding away hour after hour. Yes, you need a flash of intuition — then you go to work.

Immersive media

The other day I posted about the exceedingly weird encounter a friend and I recently had with 4DX technology. The entire experience was so absurdly wrong-headed that it would have made a great parody.

As it happens, that parody was already done, about 43 years ago. The sublimely silly 1975 film Kentucky Fried Movie contains a very funny scene eerily similar to our 4DX experience. The difference being that KFM was trying to be funny.

Here, for your viewing pleasure, is the theater scene from Kentucky Fried Movie.


This weekend I read an article in the NY Times entitled A Vegetarian Reporter Explores a Hunting Dilemma. In order to get the story, the reporter went along on the hunt, but didn’t reveal that he was a vegetarian.

Which means, of course, that in order to blend in, he needed to eat meat while on the hunt. To help make sense of this, the reporter defines “vegetarian” as follows:

“I’ve been a vegetarian since college in what started as an experiment in healthier eating and morphed into concerns about the environmental impacts of a non-plant-based diet and a vague discomfort with killing animals. Mostly, this dietary habit stuck though I never lost my taste for meat; I succumb to the occasional pork chop and sometimes steal nibbles from my son’s morning bacon.”

To me this is a very interesting definition of the word “vegetarian”. It raises all sorts of fascinating questions.

For example, if you usually don’t eat people, but do indulge in the occasional meal of human flesh (say, in response to social pressure within your local cannibal community), can you legitimately claim that you are not a cannibal? According to this NY Times article, I think the answer would be yes.

Similarly, if you generally prefer to have sexual relations with adults, but do, when no grownups are available, indulge in the occasional act of fornication with small children, can you legitimately claim that you are not a pedophile? Again, according to the NY Times, the answer would be yes.

Who would have guessed that you could learn such fascinating and surprising things from the Newspaper of Record?

When entertainment technology goes wrong

A friend and I recently went to see Bohemian Rhapsody. Since neither of us had ever seen a film in 4DX, we decided to try it.

I won’t talk too much about the movie itself, because that topic is way too complicated to fit into a single blog post. Although you might try to imagine someone honoring Steven Spielberg by making a very entertaining movie that is also highly antisemitic.

But the 4DX. Ohhh, that 4DX. It was so amazingly wrongheaded, it was truly epic. Every time there was a camera move with a dutch angle — even on intimate interior shots — our chairs tilted and swooped as though we were being chased by ravenous velociraptors.

We came to dread any camera move on screen, because the bumping and rumbling and shaking would take the whole audience right out of the movie. Air would blow pffft into our faces any time somebody opened a door, and for long stretches it was nearly impossible to pay attention to what was happening on screen.

But the piece de resistance was a touching scene in the rain between Rami Malek and Lucy Boynton. The scene, taken on its own, is tragic and lovely, and is meant to relate a wonderfully intimate moment of quiet acceptance.

But it takes place in the rain, you see. So when the first squirt of water spritzed into our faces, we started to giggle. Then the water kept coming, and coming. Several times I had to wipe off my glasses just to be able to see the screen.

There were these two actors, emoting their heads off in a tender bittersweet moment, and the whole audience was getting drenched and laughing uncontrollably.

I feel bad for not just for the actors, but for everyone who worked on that movie before the 4DX people got their hands on the experience. Yet I have to admit that it was one of the funniest things I’ve ever experienced in a movie theater.

Even if the humor was entirely unintentional.

Generative visual grammars

I am fascinated by the idea of visual languages that arise as generative grammars from an initial set of visual icons. There is a rough analogy to the way that natural languages can be described as generative grammars according to Chompskyan theory.


To give a simple example, here is the visual symbol for Mars:
icon1This is can be used to represent “male”.


And here is the visual symbol for Venus:
icon2This is can be used to represent “female”.


We can generatively combine these, to obtain a visual symbol containing both “male” and “female” parts:
icon3This can be used to represent “hermaphrodite”.


Finally, we can create a grammatical construct that consists of two males dominating a single female, to form a “devil’s triangle”:
icon4This can be used to represent Brett Kavanaugh.

Inside the unopened door

I wrote this little story as an homage to Mary Shelley. As I noted in my post of Nov 1, this year marks the 200th anniversary of science fiction, a genre that she kicked off in spectacular style when Frankenstein was published anonymously in London in 1818.

In a spirit of fun, I tried to work lots of SciFi subgenres into the story, while employing a vaguely gothic style reminiscent of Shelley’s masterpiece, or Polidori’s The Vampyre, or pretty much anything by Poe.

I managed to cram quite a few science fiction themes into one little story. There are elements in there of time travel, telepathy and mind melds, alien visitors, robots, alternate realities and several others besides.

In keeping with my long-running White Mirror theme, I even threw in a happy ending. In these dark times we need as many happy endings as we can get.

For those of you who celebrate it, Happy Thanksgiving!

The unopened door, part 20

Delicately I lifted the little box, and held it out with the open end upwards. At once the tiny metallic creature flew inside. With a smile, I put the box gently down in the place where I had found it.

How marvelous, I found myself pondering, that a sentient being may be in two places at once, with the ability to inhabit multiple identities. This is perhaps the greatest of the gifts bestowed upon us by Nature, a consequence of our capacity for sentient thought.

For what is our memory of those we love, but a repository for their very soul? If we are truly loved, our essence continues onward, residing within the souls of those who have loved us.

But enough of philosophical musings. It was time, and I was ready.

I stood up and turned toward the house. I noted with little surprise that the shutters were once again drawn and closed to the world, as they had been when I had first arrived at this place.

Walking with resolute yet oddly light steps, I ascended the short stairway to the unopened door. I turned the doorknob and pulled. This time the door swung open easily.

There was my beloved, waiting for me, in the soft amber glow of the lamplight. We embraced, and shared a knowing smile, for we had conquered death itself.

With a little help from a friend.