A slippery slope

I am concerned by the fact that some major companies are proposing that in on-line meetings we should all appear to each other as computer graphic avatars. It’s not just a philosophical issue — it’s also about the devil in the details.

One of the key elements of such an initiative is solving the latency problem. If I am going to appear to you as a synthetic avatar, then your computer needs to know what to do if there is any delay in network transmission.

For video-based interactions (like what you see over Zoom), this is not such a big issue. We understand that networks can be unreliable and that sometimes a video feed can stutter.

But you can’t quite do that with synthetic avatars. Instead you need to fill in the gaps with machine learning. You need to fake it.

In particular, you need to synthesize body movements and facial micro-expressions to fill in the gaps. And those movements and expressions don’t necessarily fully correspond to reality.

So that direction sends us down a slippery slope to a make believe reality in which the subtleties of people’s emotions are represented not faithfully, but rather as third party constructs.

That might not be such a good idea.

Tessering through the wardrobe

C.S. Lewis and Madeleine D’Engel were both born on November 29. In some ways it is hard to believe that this is a coincidence.

Both created memorable fantasy worlds that have been beloved by children for generations. And in both cases, those worlds had a very strong spiritual component.

To my young mind, there were two great ways to get from here to there: You could either crawl through the back of a wardrobe or you could tesser.

Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against tornadoes, platforms 9 3/4, or dilithium crystal powered transporters. Those are all fine in their way.

But as for me, just give me an old fashioned British dresser or a mathematical metaphor of four dimensions in a folded handkerchief.
Those are all I need to travel to worlds unknown.

Hybrid reality

When you are already living in a hybrid reality, where every second meeting is held virtually over Zoom, then physical travel takes on a different aspect. You are no longer separated by physical distance in the same way that you used to be.

You can start a face to face conversation from a thousand miles away, continue that face to face conversation later in the evening from two hundred miles away, and conclude the very next day in the same room as each other — literally face to face.

It is not that we couldn’t do these things before, it is that we didn’t do it so often that it felt like a single continuous conversation. And now it does.


It’s hard to believe he is gone. I last saw him a few years back in a lecture series. The depth of his humanity, grace and wry humor was palpable. His presence filled the lecture hall.

When I was just a teenager I was in a production of Forum. I look back on it as one of the highlights of my life. Another life highlight, somewhat later, was attending the astonishing production of Sweeney Todd with Angela Lansbury and Len Cariou. It’s amazing to realize that the same person wrote the lyrics and music for both of those shows.

So many Sondheim moments to remember in my life. And so much of the reason musicals are now taken seriously rests on the shoulders of this one man.

We need to keep learning from his words and we need to keep singing his songs. Children will listen.


Today I learned all about the Franksgiving controversy. From this we can immediately infer two things: (1) I am a student of American history, and (2) I clearly have too much time on my hands.

In any case, I encourage you two learn more about it. For one thing, it’s a fascinating episode in our nation’s history. For another, it is a good litmus test for whether you have too much time on your hands. 😉

Mixed emotions

I have mixed emotions about Thanksgiving. On the one hand, it’s a rare occasion for millions of Americans to simply enjoy being with their families.

The very idea of such a celebration cuts across all sorts of lines of political difference. And these days in particular, that is a very welcome respite.

On the other hand, on this day — of all days — it becomes impossible for me not to think about the people who lived here before anybody showed up from Europe, and how badly they have been treated (to put it mildly). Our history in that regard is an astonishing tale of betrayal and outright cruelty.

Maybe it’s good that I can’t get that out of my mind. The truth is a powerful disinfectant.

Working demo

I noticed that if I go up to just about anyone with a new idea, the response I get is usually “that’s a bad idea.” Either they say it can’t be done, or they say that it’s a waste of time, or some combination of the two.

But if I make a working demo, then everybody gets excited and becomes supportive. It’s the same idea. Only the presentation has changed.

People respond to working demos on a gut level, in a way that goes beyond rational assessment. So my advice, such as it is, is this: Don’t tell people your idea. Show them your working demo.

Long term goal

I was at the gym today working out. At one point I got into a conversation with the trainer about how to measure your progress.

There are many ways to measure fitness. It really depends a lot on what your goals are.

I was searching for a simple way to talk about it. And then I had an inspiration.

I pointed first to my belly, and then to the barbell. “I think the long term goal,” I said, “is to take weight off of here, and put it on there.”


One thing I would really like to see, is a dramatic reenactment of the Rittenhouse affair, faithful in every way but with one change. A 17-year-old grabs his unlawfully obtained AK-47, travels to another state to help defend the empty parking lot of s car dealership from participants in a protest event.

Some protesters chase the gun toting kid, who then fires his assault rifle, killing three of them. A jury acquits him of all charges.

The only thing that I would change is that I would make Rittenhouse black. I wonder what people would think.