Tap and go

Today I went to the store to buy something, and paid with my credit card. Instead of inserting my card into the slot, I used the newer “Tap and Go” feature.

Tap and Go is much more convenient, and I am still happily surprised at how well it works. I shared that thought with the guy behind the counter.

“Yes,” he replied, “We are going to get to the point where you just need to look at the machine.”

“Yeah,” I said. “The problem is that it will be looking back.”

He laughed, but maybe a little nervously.

Future theater

At this point in history, there is live theater and there are movies. Nobody would mistake the one for the other.

Movies offer unlimited special effects, but the thing about theater is that it is happening right now. You and the performers share a live intersubjective experience, one that can never again be exactly replicated.

But what if — given reasonable assumptions about where technology is going — we could one day add more elements of cinema into live theater? Suppose everyone in the audience were given a pair of glasses that would allow any magical effect to be added?

A performer on stage could appear to be twenty feet tall. Impossible flying creatures could wander through the aisles. The appearance of the set could change all around the audience, in the blink of an eye. The possibilities would be limitless.

It would still be live theater. If you took off your glasses you would still see actors performing — you just wouldn’t see the added effects.

Would this lead to some sort of new hybrid form? Or, at the end of the day, would it still be theater?


Just saw Company again, and appreciating all over again how different Sondheim is from anybody else. There is really no point of comparison.

When you think, in general, of musical theater, you think of broad strokes of the creative pen, crowd-pleasing numbers, singing, dancing, an old fashioned tug-at-the-heartstrings show.

But when you think of Sondheim, you think of something else entirely. The really hard problems of being an adult, the fractured hearts of humans that make relationships so challenging and yet so worthwhile. It’s a completely different beast.

If we had never had Sondheim, we wouldn’t have believed he was possible. How infinitely beautiful and astonishing is that?

The metaphysics of books

I’ve started reading David Chalmers’ new book Reality+: virtual words and the problems of philosophy. Among other things, Chalmers asks the question of whether our reality is just a simulation. And if it is, would we have any way of knowing?

But maybe I am just a simulation of me reading this book. Or perhaps I am a simulation of me reading a simulation of this book.

I’m ok with the first part of that, but that last part is where I get stuck. Is there any difference, really, between a book and a simulation of that book? Aren’t they, essentially, exactly the same thing?

I understand that we can remain uncertain that we ourselves are “real” in some metaphysical sense. But our books are absolutely real, as informational entities, no matter what metaphysical interpretation one has of reality itself.

When it comes to a book, it’s turtles all the way down.

Barriers to learning programming

I’ve been studying my musical “programming lesson” from yesterday’s post, and trying see it with a fresh pair of eyes. I’m trying to imagine what it would be like to look at that code if you had never before seen JavaScript.

I notice that some of the programming constructs are unnecessarily mysterious. That is, they do something simple, but you wouldn’t know it just by looking at them.

For example, look at these two lines of code:

      for (i = 0 ; i <= 7 ; i++)
         play(1/4, i);

All the first line does is count upwards: 0,1,2,3,4,5,6,7. Which is a pretty simple operation. But that would not be at all obvious to somebody who had never before seen JavaScript.

The problem, I think, is that a language like JavaScript is designed to be very flexible, so that experts can do all sorts of advanced things with it. Which is great if you are an expert, but not so great if you are a beginner.

Breaking that first line down into its component parts:

  i = 0   says “Start by setting the value of variable i to zero.”
  i <= 7 says “Keep looping while i is not more than seven.”
  i++       says “Each time through the loop, increment the value of i.”

Once you understand that, it’s not so bad. But getting past that is a lot to ask of somebody who is just beginning to learn programming.

I love the flexibility of JavaScript. But I wish there were a way to learn it that didn’t create so many barriers to entry for the beginner.

Widget Wednesdays #4

This one is brand new. I wrote it yesterday.

Here’s the story. The other day I got a call from my nephew, who is 14 years old and in the 9th grade. He wants to learn how to program computers.

I asked him what he is into these days, and he said music. So I put together a little on-line program where you use programming to compose music.

It’s still just a sketch — not yet ready for prime time. For one thing, I haven’t yet added a way to save your work.

But it’s definitely ready to play with. I’m curious whether my nephew will end up using it to learn about programming.

Here it is.

Iconic theater posters

I saw a theater poster the other day — just an image with no words. Yet I knew in an instant that the play was A Streetcar Named Desire.

To me this means that the poster was successful. It managed to boil down the essence of the play into a single image.

For some plays this is easy. A poster for Hamlet pretty much just needs a guy talking to a skull he’s holding in one hand.

In fact, it can be a gal holding the skull. Hamlet is so iconic, that we would know immediately that what is being advertised is a production of Hamlet with a female lead.

I wonder whether we could rank plays this way: For a given play, how amenable is it to being recognized by a single iconic image?

Let’s posit, for any given play, that we could come up with a poster consisting only of the optimal image to represent that play. Let’s further posit that are showing that poster only to people who have already seen the play.

Could we rate every play in order from “most iconic” to “least iconic”? It would be an interesting exercise.

Infinitely better

I was having breakfast at a cafe that had exactly one vegetarian option. My dining companion said to me, “It’s too bad they have only one thing for you on the menu.”

I replied, without really thinking about it, “Yes, but it’s infinitely better than if they had zero things for me on the menu.”

Then I realized that what I had just said was mathematically correct, in a very precise way. Somehow that made the breakfast taste better.

Links to galleries

When I look up today’s date on the Wikipedia, I mostly see a list of events, as well as births and deaths on this date. Each of these contains a link and a very brief summary.

If you mouse over the link, you often see a pop-up image. The image you see is the first image on the page being linked to, and it only shows up if that page contains an image.

Suppose I wanted to create an on-line gallery of all of those images. I could do it manually, cutting and pasting images one by one, but that would take a lot of work.

Or I could write a “robot” that simulates a user, hovering over each link in tern and capturing the image that results, if any.

Or I could write a script that interprets the HTML of the Wikipedia page, follows the links and looks for that first image tag.

But what I really want is software that would let me just say “Arrange all of the images that pop-up over links into a gallery, and make a web page of that.” Or something like that.

The software that does this for me wouldn’t need to be something that understands English. It could be some sort of graphic user interface that lets me create such requests by clicking and dragging on the screen.

Is that asking too much?

Non-colocated Olympics

With the Olympics in the news, and COVID in the news as well, I’ve been starting to wonder what it would be like to have a non-colocated Olympics competition.

One could imagine, with sufficiently advanced technology, people competing in the future in ways that will feel to them as though they are in the same physical location, while they are actually located at various places around the world.

This is not quite possible in any meaningful way today, outside of the relatively non-physical domain of computer games, but it may be a worthwhile question to ask. Is a non-colocated Olympics competition possible, given sufficiently advanced and achievable technology?

I am not suggesting that we should be planning to hold the Olympics remotely, but I think it might be an interesting thought experiment. As the Olympics competitions continue to test the limits of human physical achievement, could we achieve such a thing, given the right combination of virtual reality and robotic interfaces?