Archive for July, 2019

rainy days

Thursday, July 11th, 2019

rainy days are filled
with umbrellas,
dripping people,
soggy shoes and socks
soaked through and through
and puddles like lakes
lying in wait
to ensnare you
at every curb

yet rainy days are filled
with cheerful trees,
happy flowers,
ecstatic philodendrons
with leaves uplifted,
gleaming with delight,
the delicious water
covering everything
with joy

words

Wednesday, July 10th, 2019

words never spoken
can be much more powerful
than the words we say

Spiderman VR game, then and now

Tuesday, July 9th, 2019

I saw today that somebody had up on a monitor a new VR game in which you could play Spiderman. The highlight was that you could shoot a web from your wrists up toward the top of a building, and then use that web to fly yourself up to the building rooftop.

It made me feel nostalgic, because one of my fondest VR experiences came during a visit to Randy Pausch at Georgia Tech around 1995. At the time he ran a VR class in which design students and CS students would collaborate on VR projects, which they would present together at the end of the semester.

During that visit, I put on a VR headset to try one of the VR games — a Spiderman game, as it turned out. The highlight was that you could shoot a web from your wrists up toward the top of a building, and then use that web to fly yourself up to the building rooftop.

Now I find myself wondering. Did the people who made this new VR game knew about that other very similar VR game, the one created about a quarter century ago?

Future car stuff

Monday, July 8th, 2019

People I know in the midwest swear by their cars. Unlike us urban dwellers, they partly live in their cars. In places where it takes 30 minutes to drive 30 miles, folks will casually drive distances that to us New Yorkers would seem amazing.

Which means they need a lot of stuff. And they keep all that stuff in their cars.

In the future, when we have self-driving cars, automobile ownership will become problematic. It will be far more economical and efficient for all if those little self-driving vehicles are enterchangeable.

But where does that leave all the people who carrying around their life in their car? I suspect that rather than own cars, people will just own wagons that hitch to cars.

The wagons will have wheels, but no engine or motor. They will be completely passive units, designed to be pulled from one place to another without it all becoming a big deal. And that is where people in the midwest will store their “car” stuff in the future.

Flags

Sunday, July 7th, 2019

I was emailing with a friend. The subject came around to national flags, and I found myself related to her this memory I had from childhood.

One day when I was a child, our family visited the United Nations building in New York City. In the gift shop, my parents got my brother and me lots of little flags from various countries.

The set of flags came with a little round black-painted wooden base with holes in it. You could insert the flags into the base.

It was entirely up to you what order you arranged the flags. My brother and I would spend hours in the basement in our how trying out different arrangements.

I didn’t know the politics, but I really loved the little flags. When I think back on all of this now, I realize that I still love them, even to this day.

and then we are lost

Saturday, July 6th, 2019

we walk together
a leaf trembles, softly falls
and then we are lost

After the Anthropocene

Friday, July 5th, 2019

The current geological age in our Earth’s history is sometimes called the “Anthropocene”. This is because human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment.

Of course our entire existence as a species is just a tiny blip in the lifetime of our planet. The earliest record of anatomically modern humans is only from about 190,000 years ago — a very small span of time indeed in geological terms.

So it wouldn’t be all that surprising if our species were to go extinct in another few hundred thousand years. After all, we don’t seem to be very good at keeping the state of the Earth’s climate or environment conducive to our own existence.

So let’s skip forward a few hundred thousand years. What is likely to be the next dominant species — the one that ends up having the greatest influence on the Earth’s climate and environment?

Personally I’m rooting for bonobos. Not because I really think the next geological age is likely to be the Bonobocene, but mostly because I like bonobos.

Given any particular species, you might find it fun to imagine what our planet would be like should that species rise to global dominance. I’m open to suggestions.

Tanks but no tanks

Thursday, July 4th, 2019

Today is Independence Day in the United States. This year, a certain spoiled child in Washington D.C. decided to celebrate by playing with toys.

Except the toys this idiot was playing with were from our actual military, and included a number of fighter jets as well as two fully armored tanks. The entire thing cost at least several million dollars, and not all of the costs have yet been counted. Many of the invited guests were large donors to said idiot’s re-election campaign.

Meanwhile thousands of innocent little children are without soap or toothbrushes on our southern border. These are kids whose parents have committed no crime, and have broken no laws.

Those parents have simply asked for political asylum after fleeing oppressive and murderous regimes. Their request for asylum was perfectly legal.

I wonder how many toothbrushes and bars of soap for imprisoned little children could have been paid for by one ITU. Oh right — I need to define my terms.

In this case an “ITU” represents the cost of diverting and transporting one military tank for a gratuitous and nakedly partisan political stunt. Literally, ITUs are “Idiot Tank Units”.

Future vision

Wednesday, July 3rd, 2019

The visual cortex in the occipital lobe of the human brain contains a very rich and dense set of neurons. Those neurons are activated by light hitting the retinas in our eyes.

The connection from our eyes to our visual cortex is the optic nerve, which is mainly just a fat data pipe. Most of the interesting processing happens only after the signals have reached our visual cortex.

One can imagine a future technological intervention in which information is sent directly to the visual cortex. It is interesting to consider a computer directly exciting the neurons in our visual cortex, because those neurons provide a super-set of the connections available through the retina.

In other words, a direct connect to the visual cortex could eventually provide us with a kind of super vision. Such a capability might be far richer, more detailed and sensually vivid than the signal we currently receive through our eyes.

We might be able to see colors that no human has yet experienced, to perceive textures and visual details so rich and powerful that new language will be needed to describe it.

To people with such an enhanced visual capability, our current visual system might seem woefully dull and primitive. Those future people might wonder how we ever got along with such dim and limited visual acuity.

How, they might ask, did we ever manage to get through the day in a state of constant near blindness?

Future mirrors

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2019

Sometimes when I look into a mirror, I think of it as a great model for what future teleconferencing should be. Unlike a flat screen, a mirror gives you a fully dimensional view.

Of course it is only providing a view of whatever is in front of the mirror. But eventually that might change, as technology evolves.

Imagine a future in which you and I could simply “swap reflections”. I could see whatever would normally be visible in your mirror, and vice versa.

Compared with our present day gleaming gadgets, this scenario feels oddly low-tech, which is how it should be. After all, the most successful technologies do not call attention to themselves. They simply blend into our everyday lives.