Thresholds of ridiculous

We are all capable of acting in a way that others consider ridiculous. Sometimes we just lose it, or sometimes we have a view of reality that is, to put it politely, severely warped.

But every once in a while I encountered somebody whose reality is so outrageously off of the reasonable consensus that I am not even upset. I just look on in astonishment and say my own version of “There but for the grace of God go I.”


Today I took a flight for the first time in quite a while. It wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be.

Wearing a mask the entire time was less of a burden than I had imagined. All of the passengers were well behaved and polite.

Maybe this pandemic has convinced people to be better versions of themselves. But at a very high price.

Scaling up

Computer software is fairly easy when you are creating a simple example. But when you try to scale things up, everything changes.

The sad truth is that software simply does not scale up easily. Something that is very easy to demonstrate may be fiendishly difficult to execute at scale.

This translates into the cost of human effort in interesting ways. For example, I can create a compelling demo of a principle in a single day.

But if somebody were to see that idea and say “let’s make a commercial product to be used by millions of people”, the effort might take a team of five people a year or two. Depending on the product, it might even take a team of twenty people working for three to five years.

Fortunately for me, my job is mainly to make those compelling first demos. Bullet dodged. 🙂

Before the cover version

There is a phenomenon in pop culture that has bemused me ever since I was a little kid. It’s the relationship between the famous cover version of a song and the sincere original recording by the songwriter.

There are so many songs that have become iconic, sung by someone channeling someone else’s personal experience. At some point I started to track them down.

In some cases I had heard the original first. For example, I still associated “Angel from Montgomery” with John Prine, even though the cover by Bonnie Raitt has become iconic.

Even when the cover version is pure genius — such as Harry Nilsson’s cover of “Everybody’s Talkin'”, I still have a soft spot in my heart for the original version by Fred Neil, who wrote it — and you can tell.

In some cases, a great singer/songwriter can boost the career of a pop singer by giving them the material for a definitive cover version. That’s certainly the case for Dolly Parton’s brilliant song “I Will Always Love You”, famously covered by Whitney Houston.

And much as I love Janis Joplin’s cover of “Me and Bobby McGee”, I still prefer hearing Kris Kristofferson’s version, knowing that he wrote it. The same goes for Joni Mitchell’s original version of “Woodstock”, even though the cover by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young became the anthem for a generation.

And don’t even get me started on Jimmy Webb. Just listen once to his original version of “All I Know”, “By the Time I Get to Phoenix”, “Wichita Lineman” or “Galveston”, and you might end up renouncing cover versions forever.

Life is a fractal

The fact that our lives are finite — roughly limited to about a century at most — creates a kind of pressure on everything. Time has more meaning because we have a finite amount of it.

This pressure from the ends permeates down to every level, creating a kind of fractal. Every year becomes precious, and within that year every month.

In turn, each day becomes special because it receives that pressure. Within that day, we feel the importance of every hour, every minute and every second.

If we were to live forever, I wonder whether that pressure, pushing inward from the ends of life, would simply dissipate. Would each moment cease to be so precious?

Virtual preservation

A number of very smart people have been putting in valiant efforts to preserve ancient heritage. In many cases this involves high quality digital scans of priceless artifacts.

There is a complex relationship between the physical object itself and our record of it. No matter how high quality the copy, a copy is still not the real thing.

For example, we all understand that the original painting of the Mona Lisa is valuable in a way that no scan of it, no matter how accurate down to the last detail, could ever equal. And yet, were the original to be destroyed, we would be incredibly grateful to have that copy.

So the transaction here is interesting. We must never mistake our attempts to preserve the record of things with the things themselves, but we must never stop trying to preserve those records.

Virtual projection inflection point

There are currently great advantages in using projection onto real surfaces for shared ambient user interfaces. Participants are able to see literal reality, rather than reality transformed by any sort of head worn display.

There is a direct connection between us and the real world around us. I think this fully engages our brains in a way that any sort of head worn display cannot yet achieve.

But there will be a crossing point, as technology advances, when something that you can put on like a pair of glasses will allow you the same capability, without the need for a physical projector in the environment. This will be a sort of inflection point, whenever it occurs. I wonder whether there should be a special term for that transition.

I couldn’t resist

This evening a friend was talking about how when she was younger she used to raise rabbits. The problem was that rabbits multiply.

Before she knew it, she said, she had 88 rabbits. Suddenly she realized she needed to give them away, which took quite a while and a lot of good will on the part of people willing to take rabbits.

I couldn’t resist. That, I said, is a hare raising tale.

I’m not even a little sorry I said it. 🙂

Virtual and real travel

As it becomes ever easier to transport ourselves virtually into places other than where we are, what will that mean for travel?

Specifically, if you and I can put on a pair of glasses and find ourselves transported to, say, a bustling street in Rome, or the atrium of the Taj Mahal, what impact will that have on people’s choices for physical travel to far off places?

One possibility is that people will chose to stay at home and travel virtually, and travel will decrease. The opposite possibility is that visiting somewhere virtually will serve to whet our appetite for the real thing, and travel will increase.

We have been here before. With the rise of the internet (today is the 30th anniversary of the World Wide Web going public), pundits predicted that travel would decrease. In fact, the opposite happened.

As people had more immediate access to information about far off places, people began to fly more often. In fact, there is a strong correlation between increased use of the internet and the corresponding rise in air travel.

Let’s see if the same thing happens this time.