Future vision

I found myself explaining today to one of my grad students that he needs to separate his “vision for the future” from his “how I will implement things.” If you get those two things confused, it becomes very difficult to do effective research.

This is a concept that we understand very well in other contexts. For example, you might say “I’m taking my new girlfriend to Niagara Falls next week.” And that statement can be packed with all sorts of emotional meaning.

But you wouldn’t usually then add, “And I think it’s going to work out, because my car has a GP Sorensen Fuel Injector 800.” Unless, that is, you and your new girlfriend are both very unusual.

Similarly, we should describe our long term research goals in a relatively pure way, unburdened by technical details. The engineering steps that we need to take to move toward those goals are important, but they should not be confused with the vision itself.

Widget Wednesdays #26

For this week’s Widget Wednesday, I decided to iterate on last week’s. First I made them different colors.

Then, rather than just make a jumble of particles that are trying to stay away from each other in a confined space, I started to turn them into more of a swarm. In this iteration, each particle has its own set of likes and dislikes.

In particular, the red particles want to swarm toward wherever your cursor is, as though it’s a source of food, whereas the other particles are indifferent. To get nearer to their food source, the red particles need to navigate through all the other particles in the swarm.

You can check it out here.


Ketchup dripping down the wall. That may be the image I remember most.

Maybe because the alternative is to think of a grown man lunging at someone’s throat in a feral rage. I don’t think even SNL would have thought of portraying such an infantile creature, even as parody.

I guess we can all be thankful. Thanks to some honorable people doing the right thing in a very difficult situation, the only red liquid dripping down the walls was ketchup.


Why do we celebrate birthdays? Not that there’s anything wrong with celebrating birthdays.

But why a day, specifically? Why don’t we usually celebrate a birth week, or birth month, or a birth hour, or birth minute?

There is clearly something particular about the conjunction between, on the one hand, the time of year that a person was born, and, on the other hand, a day.

Both are shout-outs to periodic events. A year is the time it takes the Earth to rotate once about the Sun. A day is the time it takes the Earth to rotate once about its own axis.

But why not the time it takes the Moon to circle once about the Earth? What is it about days and years that makes us fit them together hand and glove, without really giving the matter much thought?


The Pride Parade is happening today in Greenwich Village in NYC. It consists mostly of young people, expressing their joy at being able to be their true selves, without needing to hide or to be afraid of our government just because of who they are.

The parade has been going on for many years now, and over time, like any institution, it has gradually shifted in tone. Where it used to be a cry of defiance, the parade has become more of a party.

Young people are now comfortable in their identities, in a way that their elders were never allowed to be. They have rights that they take for granted, rights that those elders once fought for. My worry is that comfort will lead to complacency.

We learned earlier this week that nobody is safe. Whether you are black or gay or Jewish or asian, or — as we saw a few days ago — whether you are simply guilty of the terrible crime of having been born female — sooner or later you can be stripped of rights that you have always taken for granted.

This is true even if those rights have been around since you were born. This is true even if those rights have been around since your mother was born.

I look at all of these happy people in their twenties celebrating in this parade, and I wonder whether they realize what might be coming. And I hope that they remember to vote.


For the first time, I am wondering whether our country is actually in danger of sliding into a theocracy. Given the events of recent days, it seems like a real possibility.

We’ve managed to avoid this in the past, for the most part. Although there have been exceptions — I believe Prohibition was mostly driven by religious fervor.

One issue with a country becoming a theocracy is that it generally privileges one religion over the others. And after a while, those other religions — or daring to embrace no religion — can come to be seen as somehow illegitimate.

Which is definitely not the vision for America that I grew up with.

Future lament by Clarence Thomas

First they came for women’s reproductive health, and I did not speak out — because I was not a woman.

Then they came for safe contraception, and I did not speak out — because I was no longer having sex.

Then they came for freedom to marry, and I did not speak out — because I was not Gay.

Then they came for interracial marriage — and there was no one left to speak for me.

My flying car

I first saw this image when I was in my young teens, and it made me very much want to own this car.

When I grew up, I forgot about it for a while. But then, years later, I was in a used bookstore where they were selling a very well preserved copy of this July 1957 issue of Popular Mechanics, wrapped in plastic.

I bought it, put it on a shelf in my office, still wrapped in plastic, and felt oddly satisfied. Then, just this evening, I came upon it again, and felt a surge of pure joy.

It felt as though I was communicating directly with the much younger version of me. And we were very happy together.

I think we still are.

Widget Wednesdays #25

For this week’s Widget Wednesday I decided to go with a classic exercise in computer graphics: Use a 2D rendering substrate to show something in 3D.

In particular, I’m simulating 1000 particles roiling around within a 3D sphere. But I’m using canvas2D to do it, and canvas2D is usually used for rendering 2D things, not 3D things.

The magic sauce here is that at every animation frame I sort everything from back to front. That’s because in order to make things look right, I need to paint each object on top of the previous one, to create the proper illusion of 3D depth.

You can check it out here.