Archive for August, 2022


Sunday, August 21st, 2022

I was picking up dog poop in the yard, an activity which gives you lots of time to think. It’s not a pleasant job, but dogs are worth it. And it turns out, alas, that you simply cannot teach them to do it themselves.

One problem with picking up poop is that it blends in really nicely with dirt, as both are a similar shade of brown. So you can’t really located the poop in your hard until you get fairly close. It can be slow going.

Like I said, this all gave me lots of time to think. And I found myself wondering whether it would be possible to invent a device that visually locates smelly things.

You just pop on your handy stinkoscopic specs, and you can immediately see where all the really smelly things are. Very convenient.

And there might be other uses as well for your stinkoscope. For example, in a pinch it could also be used to locate nearby cheese shops.


Saturday, August 20th, 2022

I have been spending a very productive few hours this morning sitting in a coffee shop, getting work done. It’s just me, my notebook computer, and my portable Wifi connection.

As people come and go, there is a constant and fairly pleasant buzz of human transit. My “rent” to hang out here is just the cost of a spiced matcha latte, which is also pleasant.

Presumably, as technology advances, we will be able to replicate that same pleasant buzz of human activity via wearable technology. I will be able to sit at home and work in the virtual coffee shop of my choice, as my personal roborista creates and serves my morning caffeinated drink.

I wonder whether this will ever happen. If it does, it will be very convenient, but I’m not sure that it will be a good thing.

Metaversal, part 6

Friday, August 19th, 2022

From an economic point of view, the most challenging question is about what will happen when mature lightweight wearables meet high bandwidth wireless infrastructure. The coming sea change is not really about the capability itself, but about what changes in response to that capability.

Going back to historical analogy, we could look at all of the jobs provided by the industry of building and servicing roads and automobiles. Yes, those sectors of the economy are indeed very large.

But those sectors are utterly dwarfed by other economic sectors that are able to exist only because we have roads and automobiles. Everything about our way of life changed as soon as ordinary citizens gained the superpower of individual travel across hundreds or even thousands of miles.

We see the same pattern for other infrastructural innovations. The book industry itself is huge, but is utterly dwarfed by the collective size and variety of industries that have been transformed or downright enabled by the existence of books.

This goes for the Web, for smart phones, and for pretty much anything else that changes the collective interplay between human minds and human bodies. Any serious analysis of the long term economic impact of “the wireless metaverse” needs to be looked at through a similar lens.

Metaversal, part 5

Thursday, August 18th, 2022

So in a way we’ve been dealing with this all of our lives. Books, then radio, movies, TV, the Web and smart phones are all manifestations of a changing relationship between our minds and our bodies.

And so are indoor plumbing, paved roads, airports, the electrical grid and central air conditioning. Each technological advancement allows us to change the way we use our bodies, both individually and collectively, to advance the goals of our minds.

And in each case, the “plumbing” is essential to whatever is enabled on top of it. Automobiles would be little more than a curiosity without both the system of roads and highways and the system of turning crude oil into gas at the pump.

Similarly, Atlanta Georgia could not be the economic powerhouse it is today without its downtown office buildings. And those were possible only after the introduction of central air conditioning.

The coming decade of wearables — based on an increased reliance on computation in the Cloud combined with a steady increase in wireless bandwidth — will follow a similar pattern. If you want to talk about what is going to grow in the Petri dish, you need to talk about the agar that will allow it to grow.

Widget Wednesdays #32

Wednesday, August 17th, 2022

In recent Widget Wednesdays I’ve been using noise to vary values in a graph paper grid. But what if we vary the grid itself?

Graph paper is the ultimate aesthetic expression of control, of regularity, of something conforming exactly to a standard of measurement. So I started to imagine what it might be like if graph paper felt rebellious, and decided to fight against its chains.

That led me to add noise to the positions of the squares in the graph paper, as though the regular pattern has started to roil in agitation.

You can see the result here. As usual you can see and edit the code by scrolling down to the bottom of the page and clicking on the word you see there.

I didn’t make this one interactive, because I wanted to keep the program simple, and therefore as easy as possible to understand. In a follow-up version, I might add interactivity, because it could be fun to see graph paper respond to the user.

Metaversal, part 4

Tuesday, August 16th, 2022

Both of the technology innovations I cited yesterday — indoor plumbing and the ability to text from anywhere at any time — were examples of ways that a change in technology allowed us to change our relationship to our bodies. We can look at many technologies through this same lens.

Books, for example, allowed people to convey their thoughts long after the original creator of the thought is dead and buried. Movies extended that power theatrical performance.

Consider air conditioning, radio, TV, automobiles, smart phones, the Web. Technology innovations tend to reconfigure the relationship between our minds and our bodies. And each technology does this in its own way.

So if you want to understand the significance of what people have been calling the “Metaverse”, it might be useful to think about
how it might reconfigure the relationship between our minds and our bodies.

Metaversal, part 3

Monday, August 15th, 2022

I might be useful here to take a little detour. Why do people do things? The problem, when it comes to new technologies, is that what people want to do is partly dependent on what they can do.

I had a conversation today with somebody who does not work at all with computers. He said to me “I know people who work with the cutting edge of computers, smart phones and advanced technologies, but don’t we already have everything we need?”

I responded by saying that in the eighteenth century, if you had asked people what they thought about indoor plumbing, most people would not even have heard of such a thing. They were not aware that they were missing anything — because they were not aware that it was even possible.

Similarly, I told him, back when I was in high school, if I was supposed to meet a friend in the park on a Sunday afternoon, and I needed to cancel at the last minute, I would have actually needed to go to the park to tell my friend that I was cancelling.

The important thing here is that I had no idea that this was problematic, and I didn’t feel that I was missing anything. The idea that you could cancel on a rendezvous in the park — without actually going to the park — wasn’t even something that anybody thought about.

We didn’t feel we were missing anything, because alternative possibilities from the future did not yet exist.

And that is what makes it difficult to think about why we might want the Metaverse. How can we feel the lack of something that we have never even experienced?

Metaversal, part 2

Sunday, August 14th, 2022

The problem I have with Tim Sweeney’s definition of the Metaverse is not that I disagree with it. In fact, I think it’s a good working definition.

Rather, the problem I have is that it is missing important parts of the story. It’s talking about the “how”, but not the “what” or “why”.

By analogy, imagine somebody is describing a restaurant. There are many things you might want to know about a restaurant. What sorts of food do they serve? How is it prepared? What does the theme of the decor?

Of course in order for a restaurant to function, it also has more basic needs. A very partial list might include walls, a roof, plumbing, electricity, various means to cook food or to keep food cold, and probably a way to lock the door when the restaurant is closed for business.

But none of those things, though essential for a restaurant to function, tell you anything about what kind of restaurant it is. Which means that many of the essential questions are being left out.

Why are people going to this restaurant? How do they feel about the experience? Will they become regulars? Will they recommend it to their friends?

Sweeney’s definition of the Metaverse gets at the plumbing level, but leaves out the essential human element. Why are people in the Metaverse at all? What exactly is happening there that is meaningful to them, to their life experience, to their various connections with family, friends and community?

I don’t have any problem at all with trying to define mechanical and operational layers. That is clearly a necessary task for any endeavor.

But I am hoping for a deeper dive into the higher layer questions — the cultural, social and psychological questions. Those are the questions that make it all interesting.

It might be that it’s too early to discuss such things. But I think it’s worth a try, even if only by analogy with genres and purposes in more established media.

Metaversal, part 1

Saturday, August 13th, 2022

According to Tim Sweeney (founder and CEO of Epic, which makes Fortnite), the “Metaverse” is essentially maintaining your persistent self across different digital places. In one sense this is already our reality.

For example, Google knows who you are, and persistently retains your preferences across different Websites. Amazon does as well, as do other providers of various on-line services.

What Sweeney is referring to is the way that our persistent identity will expand into other realms as more and more people find it convenient to represent themselves as digital avatars. When you walk through a digital “door”, say from an on-line museum to an on-line chat room, you will still be perceived by others as yourself, and you will have the same general capabilities.

This is the way things work in the physical world. When I go to a movie or to a grocery store, or enter a municipal courtroom, people can still identify me as myself, although I my behavior will likely change because each kind of place has its own social conventions.

In all of those cases, I have my smartphone and my wallet in my pocket, and I am easily able to verify that I am still me, with all of my various rights and obligations. The way Sweeney describes it, the “Metaverse” is the extension of that transactional reality into 3D on-line worlds.

Just what this means, in a practical sense, will change over time. More tomorrow.

Post conference post

Friday, August 12th, 2022

There are memories here I shall keep
And emotions that run very deep
      But all joy or sorrow
      Must wait till tomorrow
Today I am getting some sleep