A sense of shared mission

After I posted my blog yesterday about the “coronawave”, I got an email from my cousin Ben, the coiner of the term. He had some very interesting insights on the subject.

He pointed out that the coronawave is not just a gesture of friendship. It is also a gesture of solidarity.

It is something that people are doing as a gesture of solidarity. Essentially, it is a way to say that “yes, we too are on mission.”

This sense that there is some extraordinary mission, and that we are all aligned with it, is generally found in times like these. We had it in NYC back in 2001, in the aftermath of the attack on the World Trade Center.

People in New York City were kind to each other in the months that followed that terrible tragedy, and would acknowledge one another on the street. There was a general sense of being in this together, and of the need to look out for one another.

Alas, if that is true, then this friendly smile and wave between strangers is a behavior destined to die away. After things return to normal, people will no longer feel the requisite sense of shared mission.

I for one am going to miss the coronawave.


My cousin Ben (whom I suspect is reading this) told me of an awesome word he recently coined. The word is “coronawave”.

It refers to a social phenomenon very specific to this pandemic. It happens when you are walking along the road, and a stranger is walking in the other direction.

Inevitably, one of you will cross to the other side of the road, to maintain social distancing. And that’s when it happens.

As the two you you pass each other, you both smile and give each other a big friendly wave. That’s the coronawave.

Here’s the interesting bit. If there had been no pandemic, the two of you would most likely have completely ignored each other. But now you’re all warm and friendly.

It makes sense. You both feel awkward that you are each making a wide berth around the other, and you want to do something to help make it ok. So you give each other a big friendly smile and wave.

As social rituals go, this one is actually rather sweet. Now let’s see whether we can all manage to keep the ritual going after this pandemic is over.

Pour On The Utterly Stupid

This is a difficult time for the entire world. People of all ages are dying everywhere. Here in America, our 50 governors are each trying to protect the citizens within their respective states.

Sometimes, amidst all of the bleak news, people just need a laugh. Fortunately, that need is being filled.

In an inspired act of public entertainment, our Federal Government has found a rather ingenious way to make everyone feel better. Every day they stage a kind of absurdist comedy, in which some guy from a TV show pretends that he knows how to make everything better.

The genius of the show is the way it is scripted. The words spoken by the TV personality have obviously been carefully chosen to make him appear as stupid as possible.

The writers have created the illusion that the guy at the podium is just making up random stuff as he goes along, as though he is speaking from some inane parallel universe. When you think about it, it’s rather brilliant as entertainment.

I especially like that they are calling the show “Pour On The Utterly Stupid”. It even makes for a cool sounding acronym: POTUS

Will social distancing return us to the physical?

Because of the COVID19 outbreak, I now teach all of my class lectures at NYU on-line. Our lab holds all of its meetings over Zoom or Google Hangouts. No two people are actually in the same room.

For all of the difficulties this has caused, it has created some positives. For example, I now record all of my lectures for later viewing. This is actually a necessity, since a number of the students are in Hong Kong or other parts of the Far East, half a world away from New York City.

Yet Zoom could never replace physical proximity. Many of the important subtleties of interpersonal communication involve body posture and movement, gaze direction, pointing and other hand gestures, and variations in inter-personal distance.

Inevitably, as we are forced to keep our distance from each other, our on-line tools will improve, providing ways for us to embrace our inherent physicality. As technology continues to advance, meeting on-line will inevitably evolve toward something that will feel quite a bit like meeting in-person.

Ironically, the need to social distance might have the paradoxical effect of making us feel closer to one another.

Developing tools for remote teaching

For obvious reasons, all of my class lectures are now given remotely. I use Zoom, set the share screen, and then use a variety of tools.

One of those tools is my Chalktalk drawing program. But this use case is different from my usual use case.

Usually I use Chalktalk to give invited talks. In those cases there is relatively little back and forth with my audience.

But teaching a class is different. There is a lot more room for surprise, for sudden shifts in topic and focus.

Which means that in my class lectures, I do a lot of improvising. And that means I need tools that are amenable to improvising.

And so I notice that Chalktalk itself is evolving. After every lecture, I add some features to it that will make it easier to improvise during the lectures that follow.

By the end of this semester, I suspect that Chalktalk will be a much better tool for improvisational off-the-cuff lectures. And I am very happy about that.

Why are Rom Coms so appealing?

I love good romantic comedies. If a Rom Com is well written, acted, directed and edited, I can’t get enough of it.

But the funny thing, all that said, is that a good Rom Com is extremely predictable. Right from the beginning, you know what’s going to happen. You even pretty much know when it’s going to happen, and often how.

Romantic comedies operate within very narrow constraints, like sonnets or haiku. Any real deviation from those narrow constraints creates dissonance and audience dissatisfaction.

That said, it’s not easy to create a really good Rom Com. The psychological twists and turns, reversals, plot reveals and key supporting characters all need to be well thought out.

This includes the inevitable betrayal of some unspoken code by one of the two lovers, leading to the nadir of despair at the end of the second act. If this moment is not truly earned, then the inevitable triumphant finale will seem unearned, and the audience will be left with a hollow feeling.

I suppose then that the answer lies in this very contradiction, which is common to so many art forms: The creators need to operate within a very narrow set of constraints, and yet the design and execution must be flawless.

Mutant Gardein burger package

When you are waiting out a global pandemic, you sometimes have food delivered. As it turns out, you don’t always know exactly what you will get.

This weekend I opened up a package of yummy Gardein brand frozen plant-sourced burgers, and did not see exactly what I expected to see. Below, you can see the label on the packaging:


Toward the bottom left, if you look carefully, you can see that the package states that you get four burgers per serving. I have purchased these burgers many times before, and that has always been a true and accurate statement.

But this time, when I opened the package, I got a surprise:


As you can clearly see, there are not four, but six frozen plant-sourced burgers inside. Somehow, two extra frozen plant-sourced burgers decided to come along for the ride.

It is a mystery wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a secure yet easily opened plastic wrapping. It seems that I am the recipient of a mutant Gardein burger package.

But I am not complaining. If providence wants to send me more of them, then to providence I just say thanks for the burgers.