Archive for July, 2020

Five second delay

Tuesday, July 21st, 2020

Ever since I was a child, whenever I see lightning I start to count. It all has to do with physics.

Sound travels through air at around 1,000 feet per second. So it takes about five seconds for sound to travel a mile (5280 feet).

Since light travels, well, at the speed of light, we see a lightning strike essentially instantaneously. But the accompanying sound of thunder takes longer.

For every mile of the distance between you and lightning, there will be about a five second delay before you hear the thunder. For example, a lightning strike two miles away will be accompanied by a clap of thunder after about ten seconds.

Late last night there was a thunder storm, so I started counting in my bed. Until, that is, I saw a flash of lightning and heard a clap of thunder at pretty much the same time.

That’s when I hid under the covers and wished I didn’t know so much physics.

Whether weather

Monday, July 20th, 2020

Sometimes I rail against the heat of summer. It can be incredibly annoying to try to get through the day when it is hot, humid and muggy.

Winters can be even worse, chilling you to the bone on really bad days. Then there are the various seasonal hazards: snowstorms, hurricanes, and the other varieties of extreme weather that Nature throws as us.

I have a cousin who lives in L.A. Like me, he was born in NYC, but unlike me, he has escaped to a paradise of perfect days. It’s never too hot or cold, there is little humidity to speak of, and snow is nonexistent.

I completely understand why he would make that choice. Yet I have a feeling that without the extremes of weather, my life would be somehow impoverished.

So there you have it, a fundamental choice: I choose weather, and my cousin chooses no weather, and neither of us is wrong.

Seems to me there is a metaphor lurking here somewhere.

Productively off balance

Sunday, July 19th, 2020

From time to time I like to switch up the tools I use to prototype things. It’s not that one tool is better than the other. It’s more that changing tools seems to keep me from falling into too much of a familiar rut.

Sometimes, for the same task, I will use 2D software tools, or 3D tools. Sometimes I will use commercial software, and other times my own home-grown code base.

And then at other times I will just pick up a number two pencil and a piece of blank paper and start sketching.

I think it’s not the particular tool that matters, but the greater awareness that comes from not taking your tools for granted. Ironically, it turns out that keeping yourself a little off balance can be good for your productivity.

Rhythm artists

Saturday, July 18th, 2020

I love poetry. And like most people, I place it in my mind into a category different from prose.

It seems to me that there is some connection with music here. The rhythmic aspect of poetry reaches us in an emotional place that has more connection with music than can be achieved by words alone.

Now that I’m thinking about this, I wonder whether there is a similar quality to montage in film. Can the rhythm of cuts within a scene be thought of as a kind of visual music?

Perhaps great composers, poets and film editors should be thought of as part of a large collective of what might be called rhythm artists.

Living near but not within cities

Friday, July 17th, 2020

I suggested yesterday that people will gradually move away from cities. Alistair countered that cities provide cultural advantages to proximity to culture.

So there is a distinction to make here. It comes down to why you want to be near a city.

Commuting in five times a week for a 9 to 5 job is one thing. Going to the city on a Saturday evening to meet friends for a concert and great restaurant experience is something else entirely.

If you assume that a city exists not as a place for everyone to work, but as a cultural resource, that changes how you organize the city and its surroundings. It would still make sense for people in service and entertainment industries, such as restauranteurs and actors, to live within the city itself.

But for everyone else, transportation to and from the city would not focus on a daily commute, but rather on after hours travel to and from the city once or twice a week.

If we start with this general model, I wonder what future cities would look like.

Moving away from cities

Thursday, July 16th, 2020

The pandemic is forcing much work to become more virtual. People are now centering their lives more on home and family, and social structures are rearranging.

It’s not clear that everyone will want to back to a world of commuting and office buildings. As people learn how to better work at home, they will gradually see advantages that outweigh the disadvantages.

If so, then after the pandemic is over, we may start to see a decisive and permanent shift. People will move away from geographic areas that privilege work life, toward areas that privilege home life.

There could therefore be a permanent drop in population places like New York City, which are all about the advantages of urban density, including access to high paying jobs. Instead, people might migrate to the midwest, where housing is both larger and cheaper.

If you can buy a big house for not so much money, and still hold down a high paying job while spending quality time with your family, why wouldn’t you?

Relationship between physical and virtual

Wednesday, July 15th, 2020

In a sense, to be human is to live a virtual life. We are, after all, creatures of language, which means that we think of everything symbolically.

Say the word “elephant”, and people picture an elephant in their heads. As far as we know, we are the only species with this particular superpower.

Now, during this time of pandemic, when things are moving from the physical to the virtual, it may seem as though our world is changing radically.

But maybe this is just one step — albeit a very sad one — in the relentless march of our species to become ever more virtual. I guess we’ll just need to see.


Tuesday, July 14th, 2020

There are certain assumptions we make about continuity: Things will continue the way they have been. The people we know will not surprise us too greatly.

These very challenging times have tested our assumptions about continuity to an extraordinary degree. Our individual lives, and the world itself, are rearranging themselves at a dizzying pace.

Human beings have highly adaptable, but there are limits on how much change we can rapidly absorb and integrate. I wonder whether there will be a breaking point, when everything happening during this crazy year just gets to be too much for everyone.

Or will we adapt? Will continual change and lack of continuity become the new normal? And after we have adapted to that, how much will we ourselves have changed?

Outsider culture

Monday, July 13th, 2020

I used to think there was such a thing as “mainstream culture”. But the more I observe people, the more I think that is a myth.

As you get to know people, you gradually realize that everybody is engaging in outside culture. People naturally cohere into groups that focus on the rejection of some form or other of mainstream thinking.

People generally don’t think of themselves as being part of an outsider culture. Rather, they think that some aspect of mainstream thinking is fundamentally flawed.

Generally there is some larger issue involved. The issue might be education, or the environment, or religion, or government, or individual rights. There are lots of issues to choose from.

The important thing is that people within any given social group all agree that in at least one particular way, most people in society are crazy. They comfort themselves — and each other — by knowing that at least they’ve got it right.

There is an irony here, and it is this: Being part of one outsider culture or another is the most mainstream thing there is.

Just one question

Sunday, July 12th, 2020

I have been watching Itaewon Class on Netflix. I’ve been pretty much glued to the TV, completely rapt and fascinated by every twist and turn of plot and surprising reveal of character.

And I find that I have just one question: Why can’t American drama be as good as Korean drama?