Archive for January, 2021

Capital baby names

Monday, January 11th, 2021

Columbia, Helena, Raleigh, Pierre,
So many cool baby names are in there.
Austin and Madison, Cheyenne and Lincoln,
Montgomery — these are great names, I am thinkin’.
Olympia’s regal, Frankfort’s exotic,
Phoenix is lovely, if somewhat quixotic.
Capital cities sure sound very pretty
But please do not name your next kid Carson City.

Scaffolded learning

Sunday, January 10th, 2021

Having recently memorized the list of 50 United States in alphabetical order, I thought it would be a good exercise to memorize the corresponding state capitals. It’s something I’d always wanted to do, and I remember being a bit jealous when growing up of those kids who could tell you the capital of any state.

So today I set about doing it, and I discovered the wonders of scaffolded learning. Since I already know the state names in order, it turned out to take very little time to memorize their corresponding state capitals.

Some of them I already knew (like Albany, since I come from New York). Others were surprising enough to me (like Dover, Delaware), that they were — ironically — particularly easy to remember.

It turned out to take no more than about 30 minutes to commit all the state capitals to memory. Now I can go through the states in my head in alphabetical order, from Alaska through Wyoming, and rattle off their respective capital cities with confidence, from Montgomery through Cheyenne.

But please don’t ask me to list the state capitals in alphabetical order. I guess there’s only so much you can get from scaffolded learning.

Issues with 1.5D

Saturday, January 9th, 2021

Like many people, when I was a kid I read Edwin Abbot’s wonderful novel Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions, written in 1884. Essentially, Abbot posits a universe that has only two dimensions, and then explores what it would be like to live in such a world.

I imagine that when people in Flatland eventually developed computers, their user interfaces would be one dimensional, since in 2D you can only see things along a line. But eventually somebody would start thinking about the crazy notion of providing fully 2D computer interfaces, in the spirit of our own recent ideas of immersive virtual reality.

When that happens, I wonder whether there would be pushback. Maybe people would think that going full 2D is just too crazy, and they would end up settling on something more practical, like 1.5D — perhaps lines with layers of depth.

Issues with 2.5D

Friday, January 8th, 2021

As long as we are discussing 2.5D interfaces, it’s only fair to talk about some of the issues with collaborating in 2.5D. In particular, imagine you are sitting across a virtual table from somebody in VR.

The two of you are in remote locations, but VR gives you both the illusion that you are physically face to face. Hiroshi Ishii published a technical paper nearly 30 years ago presenting a system called ClearBoard, in which the two people see each other as though they are looking through a mirror.

By showing the other person in mirror reversal, ClearBoard allowed both collaborators to properly read text on a screen that appears to hover in the space between them. This is something we can’t actually do in physical reality, because in the real world one of the two people would end up seeing the text backwards.

In our Future Reality Lab we’ve been playing with these sorts of interfaces. But as we have moved from 2D to 2.5D, we’ve encountered some issues.

In particular, what happens when we are both looking at a 3D object like a cube? Should we both be looking at the same face of the cube?

Or should you always be looking at the front face when I am looking at the rear face? And if I bring an object toward me to look at it more closely, should that object become more near to you as well, or further away from you as it would be in real life?

I don’t know that there is a single correct answer to these questions. One of the exciting things about doing research in this space is that we are forced to think hard about many things we’ve probably never thought about before.

Deadly clown convention

Thursday, January 7th, 2021

It was fascinating to watch the dueling headlines yesterday. Two wildly different realities were competing for our collective attention.

On the one hand, there was an historic turnabout in legislative power. Where the Republicans had dominated the Federal government, suddenly the Democrats were in control of the Senate, as well as the House of Representatives and the presidency.

Yet the competing narrative, based entirely on a fake narrative, ended up pushing reality right off the front page. For several hours, a sort of deadly clown convention grabbed the attention of an astonished and mortified world.

And the head clown, the one who called the circus into town in the first place, didn’t even have the courage to show up. Sad.

Hopefully the side show is now over, and grown-ups can get on with the serious business of cleaning up the mess we are now in. Unfortunately that may take a while, considering that this mess has been in the making for four years.

Storming the barricades

Wednesday, January 6th, 2021

Wow, it’s actually happening today. A group of people are trying to stop the democratic handover from one duly elected administration to the next.

They are literally trying to storm the barricades to invade the Capitol building. I would not have expected that anyone would be so stupid as to lightly throw away the democratic process. Democracy may be messy, but it’s a whole lot better than any of the alternatives.

These people may be under the impression that living in a functioning democracy is a natural right, rather than a hard-won privilege. If so, I invite them to try living in an actual fascist dictatorship, and find out first-hand about the alternative.


Tuesday, January 5th, 2021

In his comment on my post from the other day, Alan Kay raises in intriguing point. As we venture forth into wide scale adaption of virtual reality, is full 3D immersion a distraction for human/computer interfaces?

We could make an anthropological argument in support of his thesis. Consider the last several thousand years of human tool building.

Down through the ages we have developed many systems for recording and organizing, from cave paintings to stone tablets to papyri to books to computer screens to smart phones.

For all of that time we have had 3D sculptural media, yet we never turn to them as organizational structures. Instead, we consistently turn to arrangements of flat surfaces.

Perhaps there is something fundamental about how our brains work which privileges 2D, or at most 2.5D, for organizing information, regardless of the technology we use.

Unexpected political outcomes

Monday, January 4th, 2021

The Koch brothers, who have been very influential in supporting a rightward shift in American politics, worked very hard to kill the Film production industry in Miami. They did so by floating the misleading narrative that subsidies and tax breaks from the Florida state government in support of local film production were communist and un-American.

Of course the truth was that the tax revenue from film production and related industries (hotels, restaurants, transportation, etc) vastly outweighed the cost of the tax breaks that were luring the industry into the state. The film industry had for years been pouring money into Florida, and thereby enriching Florida taxpayers.

Alas for the state of Florida, the Koch brothers’ initiative was successful. Filming mainly shifted to Atlanta, where the Koch brothers are, not coincidentally, heavy investors. Florida tax payers lost, but the Koch brothers won, as they usually do.

But there is now an odd and unexpected consequence to all this. All those new jobs in Atlanta have contributed to a change in demographics in Georgia, accelerating a process of the state shifting politically from its redder rural regions to its bluer urban regions.

If Georgia ends up electing two Democrats to the U.S. Senate in the upcoming runoff election, the Republicans will lose control of the Senate. And the Koch brothers, of all people, will have made it possible.


Sunday, January 3rd, 2021

Today I told someone: “You know, nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.”

The person looked at me with a puzzled expression and said “What does that even mean?”

I admitted that I didn’t really know. But I am still glad I said it.

Palindromic month

Saturday, January 2nd, 2021

This is a palindromic month. If you write the month and then the year as a string of digits, you get 12021, which is a palindrome.

In fact, this month is the start of a run of nine palindromic months. The last one will be on September 2029, or 92029.

Enjoy it while it lasts. After this, there won’t be another palindromic month for a very long time.

Can you figure out when the next one will be?