Sorry to see you go

I’ve finally been getting around to unsubscribing from all of the many email lists I am on. Until now I had just ignored them, but once you start noticing these things, they become hard to ignore.

It’s kind of like cleaning your house. Once you start to clean one room, you really want to finish the job and clean all of them.

Now that I’m finally noticing them, I am astonished at how many email lists I’ve ended up being on. They come from all sorts of places, from political groups to restaurants to hotels to airline to arts and theater organizations to professional societies I’ve never heard of.

All of these people clearly think that I need to be kept up to date on whatever they are selling. There is a part of me that is flattered, but another part of me that knows they are less interested in me than in my credit card.

And every time I hit “unsubscribe” I get the same message: Sorry to see you go.

I am starting to suspect that there is one company that sets up these things for everybody, which is why they all say goodbye in the same way. But how exactly then should I parse that message?

Just who, exactly, is sorry to see me go? Is it the restaurant or theater or airline, or is it the company that they are all paying to spam everyone?

If it’s the latter, then that would make me very happy. If I can do something to make those people sorry, that will make my day just a little bit brighter.


Certain personal goals are aspirational. Maybe you want to lose 15 pounds by the end of the year, or get into the habit of exercising at least twenty minutes each day.

Achieving such aspirational goals can be elusive. Both real life and our own flawed characters conspire to defeat us at every turn.

I was talking with some friends the other day, and the topic came around to those aspirational goals. In particular, we were discussing the moment when you finally admit to yourself that a particular aspirational goal will remain forever outside your reach.

We decided to give this phenomenon an apt name. So what do you call a former aspiration?

Our name for it: Exaspiration.

Creating your world

Something very few people have experience so far, but which will be come ever more common, is creating the physical world in which you live.

There have been ways to approximate this for centuries. For example, you can build a house and put whatever you want into it.

But there are limits to that. You can’t change the physics within the house, like making water run uphill, or having a useable seating area on the walls or ceiling, or instantly change the dimensions of various rooms.

But once we have achieved mature and universally accessible mixed reality, that will change. Anybody will be able to create their own physical environment, and will be able to modify it at well.

Tools that are designed for the lay consumer will start to emerge, just as in an earlier era the advent of YouTube prompted the rise of easy to use tools for video creation and editing.

I am not sure exactly what those future tools will look like. But I am excited to try them out, and hopefully to have a hand in developing them.

Seeing a movie again

There is a deep pleasure in seeing a movie for the first time. You don’t know what is going to happen, and you want to find out.

In the hands of a master filmmaker, a first time viewing is a completely thrilling experience. Even after many years, I can still vividly remember my first time viewing certain great films.

Yet there is a different pleasure to be gotten from watching a movie that you’ve seen before. The second time you see a film, you have the privilege of seeing the filmmaker at work.

There are so many fascinating things to observe: What surprises are revealed, and when, the crisscrossing character arcs, the way an entire world is gradually created and revealed through great lighting, editing and camera work.

I remember one time when I was about 13 years old, and I was home sick from school for a week. There was a TV station that would choose a movie to show every day in the early afternoon each week.

So that week I saw Inherit the Wind five times. The first time I was riveted. By Friday I felt I knew the film inside out, and I was getting things from it that I had completely missed on first viewing.

I can still vividly remember many of the powerful scenes in that film, even after all these years. I am sure that is because I had the privilege of seeing it five times on five successive days.

Folded house

I’ve been wondering what the possibilities are of living in a “folded house”. By this, I mean the following:

Imagine that when you are inside your home, you are wearing really good future virtual reality specs. You can see the entire physical space around you, but transformed in any way you want by virtue of software filters.

So your ceiling might actually only be seven feet high, but you might have things set up so that you see vaulting cathedral ceilings. Or you might have large virtual picture windows, which look out onto the landscape of your choice.

In addition, redirected walking would allow you to have the illusion of inhabiting a much larger space than you physically occupy. The same two or three modest sized rooms might, with the right software, feel like a large mansion.

You can also upgrade your house size entirely through software. Adding more “rooms” would be very easy, and rather inexpensive.

I’m not sure what the real limits are here, but I think it’s worth pursuing. In not too many years, VR technology will advance to the point where all of this may start to be relevant to millions of people.

Speaking fast

Today I was watching a video tutorial that had been sped up by a factor of two. Everything was perfectly comprehensible.

That experience leads me to an odd train of thought. Suppose, when the proper situation called for it, we could all learn to speak twice as fast in real life?

There are already special circumstances in which this was done. For example, we’ve all heard the rapid speech of auctioneers. And any fan of Gilbert and Sullivan knows all too well the pleasures of the sped-up patter song.

I would certainly not want to see rapid speech creep into ordinary social discourse, but it might prove useful under specialized circumstances. For example, I could imagine it being very useful during any rapid-response situation.

I wonder whether this is a skill that could be generally taught and learned. If so, it might lead to some interesting efficiencies, when properly applied.

Beyond the constraints of physical reality

There is something oddly literal about most science fiction representations of how people will be in a completely immersive shared virtual world. From TRON to The Matrix to Ready Player One, and countless others, the vision is pretty much a variant of our own physical world.

From the standpoint of human evolution, I guess this makes sense. Our brains evolved to support walking bipeds with rich facial expressions, human hands, and the presence of gravity. It is a safe bet that virtual worlds which incorporate those elements will make sense to the brains of future humans.

But what if it turns out that our brains are far more plastic and adaptable? Maybe the optimal shared virtual world, after we get used to things, will be very different from the physical world of our shared heritage.

The differences might eventually turn out to be radical. Perhaps even the concept of having a “body” will come to be seen as extraneous.

I wonder how we might best to start to explore these more radical visions for a completely immersive shared virtual world.

Immersive Zoom backgrounds

Right now Zoom and its rival products show up on a flat screen. But there will come a point, after a few technological advances, when the equivalent of Zoom will be all around you.

You and your conversants will have the experience of “beaming in” to a shared 3D space. When the conversation starts, you will all perceive each other as though you are in the same physical room.

That will open up an entire new industry for immersive backgrounds. Rather than static images or video loops, these will be fully immersive 3D environments.

Some will be scans of real places, and others will be constructed fantasies of places that do not exist. Which means there will be an entire industry of people creating those virtual meeting places.

Sounds to me like a really cool job.

Looking up a phrase

Today, following an obvious impulse, I looked up the phrase “Ich bin ein HongKonger” on Google. For completeness, I also checked the variant “Ich bin ein Hong Konger.”

So far, there are only dozens of hits between the two variants. I would have thought there would have been more by now.

I suspect that phrase will become more popular over time. This post will no doubt contribute.

On the other hand, if you click on Google images, you can see that they are already selling the t-shirts and tote bags.