The idea of a dogwhistle is that it is so high pitched that only a dog can hear it. When applied to politics, it generally refers to a message tailored to a narrow constituency that most people outside that constituency might not notice.

But sometimes a dogwhistle is pitched so low that everyone can hear it. Then that happens, things get decidedly weird.

Last night, at the presidential debate, our president pitched a dogwhistle so low it was essentially in the basement. He suggested to far right white-supremacists, in a very obvious way, that they should be ready to disrupt the election process by means of physical violence.

Never thought I would see something like that my lifetime.

Virtually expressed ethnicity

Many socially shared VR platforms do a very bad job of reflecting the ethnicity of participants. This is not so surprising. Avatar technology is still in a relatively primitive state, whereas actual people are very complex.

But that has gotten me thinking. If we do eventually get to the point where the sort of reality envisioned in Snow Crash becomes the norm, then questions surrounding ethnicity might become different.

Your literal appearance might matter less than your tribal identity. Ethnicity will be less about ill conceived responses to superficial genetical traits, and more about shared heritage and culture.

If that happens, I wonder what that will mean for social, cultural and economic interaction between people with different ethnic identities. I hope, among other things, that it will level the playing field.

The wisdom of kitchens

Like many people, since the start of the pandemic I have been spending a lot more time in the kitchen. I’ve learned more about the art of cooking in the last half year than I can even begin to describe.

One of the more valuable lessons has been the importance of a well designed cooking space, with ready access to tools. You want your counter tops, cooking utensils, spice rack, stoves and oven, dishes, refrigerator, and pantry to all be within easy reach.

Everything is about flow. While you’re working on one thing, it’s important to know how that the other thing you started is doing, and whether it needs to be tended to.

I think about this when I think about future tasks we might do in shared virtual reality. VR is fairly new, but kitchen design has been going on for many centuries.

Perhaps we can apply some of the wisdom of kitchens to the design and workflow of our future shared VR spaces. I would not be surprised if we were to find that the two have a lot in common.

Political signage

One of the salient features of the run-up to a major American election is the proliferation of political signage. Pretty much everywhere you go, somebody is relentlessly advertising for their favorite candidate.

Which is why I found it refreshing today to see a political advertisement of a different sort. It was clearly a reference to our upcoming presidential race, but one could infer that fact only from context.

Here is what the sign said:

Fully Functioning


Immersion and interactive narrative

In my experience, interactive narrative mostly has not worked. The results tend to fall uncomfortably into an uncanny valley between game and story.

The problem seems to center on the question of agency. Players of games have agency — they can affect the outcome. In contrast, readers and audiences of linear narratives have no agency.

As soon as you give your audience any agency, things quickly become far more gamelike and less like being told a story.

But I am wondering whether that will continue to hold true in an immersive medium such as virtual reality. Or will VR offer a way out of this?

Will a completely immersive world allow for audience choices while enabling the audience to feel that they are being told a compelling narrative rather than playing a game?

I think we will know the answer when somebody creates a truly successful example of an interactive immersive narrative in VR. I am looking forward to that!

Old fashioned pixels

Today an old friend of mine, a computer graphics pioneer, showed me a project he has been working on, to help make this pandemic easier to take. Every day, for the last 31 days, he has made a pencil drawing of an object he can place on his desk.

One day he draws a stapler, the next a pair of scissors, or maybe a bottle of perfume, or a small animal figurine. Each is highly realistic, and each is beautiful.

I admire this push against the relentless digitalization of expression. Just picking up a pencil and sketching on paper seems like a wonderful path to escaping the tyranny of the computer.

And he seemed so happy to show me his drawings. The whole time he was beaming like a little kid.

Come to think of it, maybe I will put down this computer and make some drawings. 🙂

Video pass-through

There are essentially two ways we might end up doing augmented reality with a future pair of AR glasses: Optical see-through and video pass-through. The first works a bit like Google Glass: Computer graphics are superimposed on the literal reality around you.

The second is a lot like today’s AR smartphone apps, and is sort of like watching the world around you on television: Two little video cameras capture what your left and right eye would normally see, computer graphics are superimposed, and when you look around, you end up seeing the resulting altered reality.

Optical see-through has the advantage that you literally see reality, just with virtual stuff superimposed on it. This is how Microsoft Hololens and Magic Leap do it.

Video pass-through has the advantage that you can transform the reality around you into literally anything at all, like the way smartphone AR apps can transform reality — except you will be able to do it just by looking with your eyes, rather than needing to peer into a little handheld screen.

I think that in the long run, the future will belong to video pass-through, because it is inherently far more powerful. In the short run it will suffer from lower resolution and other artifacts. But eventually, as technology advances, those artifacts will go away.

And that coming revolution just got a boost: Sometime next year, the forthcoming Oculus 2 VR headset will allow you to add video pass-through to the experiences you create. That will mark the real beginning of the revolution.