Archive for January, 2019

Portrait of a friend

Monday, January 21st, 2019

This evening, on my last night in Paris, I went with friends to the Fondation Vuitton to see the amazing and very comprehensive Jean-Michel Basquiat retrospective.

All of the art was powerful and deeply moving, but one painting in particular jumped out at me, because it was so lighthearted compared with most of the other images on display. It was a portrait Basquiat did of a good friend.

What I find wonderful about this portrait is that when you see it, you immediately know exactly who the friend was. And also, it’s very funny. :-)

basquiat

This evening, at a dinner party in Paris

Sunday, January 20th, 2019

This evening, at a dinner party in Paris, I learned about Mary Oliver. I learned that she had existed, that she had been a poet whose work was beloved by several of the people in the room, and that she had passed away only three days ago.

So this evening I went on-line and read through much of her poetry, and found it to be deeply moving and inspirational. I will share with you this one, called “The Journey”, which speaks to me in a particularly profound way:

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice–
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save.

When I was twelve years old

Saturday, January 19th, 2019

When I was twelve years old I implemented my very first computer program. I didn’t have any knowledge of programming, and they didn’t teach any courses in our middle school, so I needed to figure it out for myself.

It was an odd little computer, that I just happened to come upon in the school library. It was really more of a programmable calculator with a paper tape that printed numerical results. Its programming language, such as it was, was a kind of weird assembly language — although I wouldn’t learn about the term “assembly language” until some years later.

I decided to write a program to play a game of tic-tac-toe. To do this, I needed to store which of the nine squares had an X, and which squares had an O. Except this little programmable calculator didn’t support arrays, so I had to figure out another way.

If I’d known more, I would have used some kind of binary encoding. But all I knew was that the calculator could store extremely large numbers. So instead I used what now seems like a really crazy scheme.

I figured out that if you multiply any the numbers from 61 through 69 together, you always get a result that isn’t a multiple of any of the numbers you didn’t use. For example, if 61*62*64*66*67 is not a multiple of 63 or 65 or 68 or 69.

This works for any such combination of the numbers 61 through 69. It doesn’t work for any consecutive run of numbers smaller than that — I checked.

I used that scheme to encode which squares had Xs and which squares had Os. After that, it was easy to program a tic-tac-toe game.

Now that I think back on it, this was a very weird approach to the problem of storing combinations of nine numbers in a computer. But hey, it worked!

A temporally altered state

Friday, January 18th, 2019

Spending the week in Paris, it can be inconvenient to schedule calls with my friends and colleagues back home. For example, it took three days for one of my colleagues and myself to find a really good time to Skype, given the nine hour difference between our respective time zones.

Yet I am also reminded of one of the magical things about time zones: Every 24 hour period contains an enormous amount of time when most of the people you know are asleep, so you have time alone to get things done. I love hanging out with people, yet I also like how being part-way around the globe gives me an opportunity to get some extra hours every day by myself.

For a limited time only, I have a whole bunch more breathing room around the edges of my day to catch up on things. I wouldn’t want to live my life in such a temporally altered state, but for a week or so it can be very convenient.

Oh, and also I get to be in Paris. :-)

Paris, rain, the moon was high

Thursday, January 17th, 2019

Paris, rain, the moon was high
Today I saw this, passing by
And had to stop, in sheer delight
On such a lovely Paris night

paris_in_the_rain

Mystery mustache

Wednesday, January 16th, 2019

When I was a senior in college, shortly before the end of our undergrad term, everybody was intensely studying for final exams. The atmosphere was fraught.

But then something odd and surprising happened which ended up helping to relieve the tension. One of our dorm-mates — a fellow senior — showed up one morning at breakfast sporting a mustache.

Everyone was confused. How could he possibly have grown an entire mustache over the course of a single night? This time of year was weird enough for everyone.

My classmate sat there, mustachioed and smug. Clearly he was enjoying our collective mystification, as well as being the focus of our collective attention.

Finally one student figured it out. “Oh,” he realized, “you shaved off your beard.”

Cross currents

Tuesday, January 15th, 2019

Why does “mutable” refer to all the things that we can change,
When it should mean “Can be silenced”? It all seems so very strange.

And when we say “inflammable” we sound a bit confused,
For it means the same as “flammable”. Consider me bemused.

And then there is “impregnable”, which means something specific
Except when it means something nearly opposite. Terrific.

And when a thing is “current” it is up-to-date, you know.
But also it’s … Oh never mind, let’s just go with the flow.

A conversation, a document and a shout-out

Monday, January 14th, 2019

Today in My blog post for the Future Reality Lab I discussed the evolving relationship between conversations and documents. Augmented Reality is going to give us the opportunity to bring those two modes of communication together in ways heretofore unimaginable.

This post also allowed me to give a shout-out to a really wonderful recent article about the future of Augmented Reality by my friend David Allan Smith. If you want to learn more, I guess you will just need to read my other blog post.

Consider it a conversation between two documents. :-)

A magical day

Sunday, January 13th, 2019

One wonderful thing about going on a trip out of town for a week is that you really absolutely need to do all of the things that you sincerely meant to get around to doing but somehow you never did and then time dragged on and that list got longer and you started to feel guilty yet still you didn’t get those things done and then it all just turned into an overwhelming cloud of confusion and darkness and you didn’t even want to think about any of it anymore.

But then you’re going away for a week, so you have to think about it. And that is awesome!!! Because now there is no choice, and you must magically get all of those things done.

Tomorrow I will head out of town, which means today was my last possible day for getting absolutely everything done. Which I did.

So today was a magical day. :-)

To love a person is to love a journey

Saturday, January 12th, 2019

I was having a conversation today with a close friend that touched on the nature of love. The question we were discussing boiled down to the following: When you love somebody, who is it exactly that you love?

After all, we all know that everybody changes over time. Not only do we each change our perspective as we get older, but we also have new life experiences that can deeply affect our view of reality itself, as well as our view of other people.

So to say simply that you love somebody is actually, truth be told, merely shorthand for something much more complex. I tried to convey this idea to my friend.

“To love a person,” I told her, “is to love a journey.” We agreed that this sounded about right.