Archive for June, 2022

Exploring the attic

Friday, June 10th, 2022

For many years (roughly from 1996 to mid-2013) I wrote lots and lots of programs in Java. Pretty much all of it was in the form of Java applets that ran on the Web, including my own handy-dandy interactive 3D modeler and renderer.

Then in 2013, Java applets stopped being a viable way of communicating with the public, since they didn’t fit with the agenda of Oracle, which had acquired Java from Sun Microsystems. So I pivoted that summer and started implementing everything in Javascript and WebGL.

Now that I am doing “Widget Wednesdays”, I find myself combing the attic, as it were, for some of my old Java programs. There are lots of things I implemented many years ago which I had forgotten all about.

Of course I’m going to need to reimplement them, but that’s ok. Every time you reimplement something, you learn something new. I’m looking forward to having fun with it.

That song in the musical

Thursday, June 9th, 2022

Sometimes we only really remember one song in a musical. Of course there are exceptions. The Sound of Music, for example, is just filled with one memorable song after another.

But in many cases, one song stands out so thoroughly that it essentially becomes identified with the musical itself. It’s the show stopping number the audience waits for each night.

In such cases, when we see a poster for the musical, that song can start to play in our head. Some examples that come to mind:

Man of La Mancha The Impossible Dream
Stop the World I Want to Get Off What Kind of Fool am I
The Music Man Seventy Six Trombones
Singin’ in the Rain Singin’ in the Rain
The Wizard of Oz Somewhere Over the Rainbow
Wicked Defying Gravity
A Little Night Music Send In The Clowns
Evita Don’t Cry For Me Argentina
Cats Memory
The Fantasticks Try To Remember
Hello Dolly Hello Dolly

You can probably think of other examples.

Widget Wednesdays #23

Wednesday, June 8th, 2022

Today I decided to make a fractal tree, just for fun. It’s a remarkably simple program. Turns out you can get a lot out of mileage from using recursion in your graphics programming.

I wanted something that would change shape in response to mouse movement, but would still remain tree-like, and I’m pretty happy with how it turned out.

You can play with it here.

Life stream

Tuesday, June 7th, 2022

Suppose you had instant access to your entire life stream — all of the conversations that you’ve ever had. You would only need to think back on a particular day and time, and everything you said or saw or heard in that moment would be right there for you to revisit and study at will.

Would this ability improve your quality of life? Or would you end up regretting having such a power?

Now suppose everybody had that same power. Would society be pretty much the same as it is now, or would it be radically different?

Not acting your age

Monday, June 6th, 2022

There is a trend in Hollywood to use digital make-up to dramatically reduce the apparent age of actors. Most recently, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent put Nick Cage on the screen with a simulacrum of his much younger self.

The technology is still not 100% mature, and the virtual Nick Cage looked slightly uncanny. So have other virtual younger representations, such as Carrie Fisher in Rogue One and DeNiro, Pacino and Pesci in The Irishman.

In the case of the Nick Cage film I think the uncanniness sort of worked, because the younger version of Cage was supposed to be an unreal fantasy figure. That covers a lot of sins.

There will come a time, as technology advances, when de-aging digital make-up will not only look perfectly real, but will become easy to do and inexpensive. When that happens, older actors will likely routinely take on much younger roles. This will simply become accepted as a normal part of the filmmaking process.

But the frontier after that, one which is far more difficult, is to use digital make-up to allow one actor to create a perfect impression of a different actor. This will also allow living actors to take on roles made iconic by actors already deceased.

I suspect that whenever that technology reaches maturity, it will involve not just CGI but also Machine Learning to model the dynamic facial musculature of the original actor. Fortunately those algorithms will have lots of good labeled data to work from, thanks to old movies.

Talking about the future

Sunday, June 5th, 2022

I am currently working on an article in which I am supposed to make some reasonable predictions about the future. And I am wrestling with the question of exactly what voice to use.

Should I talk about the future in definite terms, as though I have already been there? Or should I hedge my bets and say things like “This might happen,” or “That could come true”?

The first way is a lot more fun for both me and the reader. I’m basically saying “We are going on a wild ride together, and fasten your seatbelts.’

The second way is more responsible, but kind of boring. Plausible deniability is never sexy.

I will probably opt for the first approach. After all, if the reader is confused by that, they will probably be confused by anything I say.

You might as well just have fun with a topic like this. As Master Yoda said: “Difficult to see. Always in motion is the future.”

Defective / invective

Saturday, June 4th, 2022

There was a time in TV history when genius detectives needed to possess some quirk or defect. In one show our hero was in a wheelchair. In another he was blind.

Yet another show had a genius detective notable for being overweight, another for being well past retirement age. A more recent example was Monk, who was seriously OCD.

I am imagining an executive memo at the studio seeking ideas for quirky genius detectives, looking for that next hit show.

Some of these ideas would be accepted without hesitation, others met with indignation, perhaps in need of correction. I imagine, for example, that the idea for Dexter — a very effective sleuth who happened to be a sociopath — might have been met with some resistance.

You might say it was a case of defective effective detective directive selective corrective invective.

National Doughnut Day

Friday, June 3rd, 2022

Today is the first Friday in June, and you know what that means. Yes, it’s National Doughnut Day!

Which brings me back to one of my earliest memories of wrestling with a philosophical conundrum. It was a time when I was a little kid, and my dad bought us donuts.

I remember staring at the donut, and trying to figure something out. “Dad,” I asked, “when you eat a donut, what happens to the hole?”

“Don’t worry,” he explained. “the ghosts eat them.”

I found that to be an excellent answer. Ever since then, I feel good every time I eat a donut, because I’m also feeding a ghost.

So you can understand why National Doughnut Day is my very favorite holey day.

Days of future past

Thursday, June 2nd, 2022

I am simultaneously working on a proposal to the National Science Foundation and a paper for a forthcoming ACM publication on the topic of Interactions in Extended Reality. Both of these focus on questions about how we can shape the future of augmented and virtual reality, and how we can design interactions within that future.

There is a lot of overlap between the two endeavors, although they are different in many ways. For one thing, a proposal talks about what we plan to do, whereas a paper about the future talks about what everybody might plan to do.

But in both cases I am finding it really helpful to look back through this blog, and see what I had to say about the future on various days. In a way, it’s a sort of conversation with myself.

Which is weird, but also kind of fun. Especially whenever I find that I don’t agree with me.

Widget Wednesdays #22

Wednesday, June 1st, 2022

Yesterday I started with that little moving square program that I showed last week, and just started randomly playing with it. I wanted to add something that had a kind of autonomous behavior.

So I changed the square to a round dot, which you can still control. And then I added a thousand other dots around it, which respond to your presence. Kind of like you’re surrounded by a crowd.

But you don’t really feel like you are surrounded unless people are staring at you. So I added eyes to the other little dots. And then, to make sure all those dots felt alive, I made their eyes blink.

The result is kind of cool, if a little paranoid. You can play with it here.