Archive for November, 2022

Why and how

Sunday, November 27th, 2022

When I am explaining a new idea to somebody, I usually start out by explaining how it works. That is mostly because I’m excited by how it works and I want to share cool new techniques.

But in fact, that is generally the wrong way to do it. Most of the time, people won’t respond to your description of “how” until you explain “why”.

Problem is, I am usually already way too immersed in the “why” to remember that other people aren’t. I am already excited by all the things that I will be able to do with this new technique, so I forget that other people aren’t there yet.

I am guessing that I am not the only one with this problem.


Saturday, November 26th, 2022

Celebrations are mysterious things. On one level they are simple: People gather, eat food, drink wine, maybe dance and give speeches. Then it’s over.

But a celebration is never really over, and that is the mystery part. A good celebration marks a moment when a particular group of people were connected, when they formed themselves into a kind of collective tribe.

Decades later you can still easily recall some celebrations. You still feel connected to people you met there, even if they have long departed from this Earth.

I suspect that there is something deep in the evolution of humans that privileges celebrations. As lighthearted as they may seem on the surface, they help us to form and to affirm the powerful ties that bind us together. They may be one of the reasons that our species has survived so spectacularly well.

Primary source material

Friday, November 25th, 2022

Having finally gotten around to bingeing Andor, I am astonished by how good it is.

Finally, after 45 years, the Star Wars universe is beginning to rise to the level of its primary source material: Dune and the Foundation trilogy.

Universal dates

Thursday, November 24th, 2022

Yesterday’s discussion of a Fibonacci Day exposed a tension between how dates are written in different parts of the world. In the U.S., the date is written as month/day/year, whereas in lots of other places it is written as day/month/year.

This suggests that we might want to look for universal dates — dates that are interesting everywhere in the world. We had one of those just 13 days ago.

The date 11/11/22 was wonderful, because the month and day add up to the year. And this was true wherever you were in the world.

Another interesting pair of dates is due very soon. February 3, 2023 and March 2, 2023 are written as 2/3/23 and 3/2/23 in the U.S. and as 3/2/23 and 2/3/23 elsewhere. One of them is “23” written twice and the other is a palindrome.

Depending on where you are in the world, they swap places, yet both dates are numerically interesting everywhere. You can find lots of other interesting universal dates or universal date pairs on the calendar, once you start to look for them.

All of this might seem silly. But it’s a happier thing to do on Thanksgiving than read up on the sad history of the Doctrine of Discovery.

Fibonacci day

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2022

Today is the only day of the year in which the month and day digits form the beginning of the Fibonacci series.

At least that is true here in the US. In Europe, where the month is written after the day there is no such day.

Unfortunately, the only year in recent memory which the Fibonacci series could be written as a date beyond the first four digits was 1958. So you may have missed it.

Fortunately you don’t have all that long to wait, since there will be another one in 2058. Only another 36 years until the next 11/23 ’58!

No class on Thursday

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2022

This morning I taught my class, which I do on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Today as the class was ending, I reminded my students that there is no class this coming Thursday.

“We will be meeting again next Tuesday morning,” I told them. “Meanwhile, remember that there is no class on Thursday. I hope everybody has a happy Halloween.”

As soon as I said it, I realized that I had gotten the holiday wrong. But once you’ve said something, you can’t just unsay it. So I had no choice but to roll with it.

“Oops,” I continued. “I should have said Thanksgiving. Then again, I guess it depends on how scary your family is.”

Fortunately, that got a laugh.

Character arc

Monday, November 21st, 2022

When you read a novel or watch a movie that you really like, it can be difficult to think about why you really like it. You have the experience of having met some interesting people, and going on a great adventure with them.

The changes those people go through in the course of the story seem natural, just as such changes would be in real life. It all seems so simple and reasonable.

But when you read a bad novel, or watch a bad movie (like the one I discussed here the other day), you realize that crafting a good story is a serious skill. Characters don’t just magically appear and develop — they need to be constructed.

The better the story and its character arcs, the less you notice the handiwork of the artist. It is only when a story fails, when you see a lack of good character development, that the artistry behind good stories becomes clear.

This reminds me of something that Steven Spielberg said many years ago: “The best special effects are the ones you don’t see.”

How much more true this is of creating good stories and characters!

The Cat in the Rap

Sunday, November 20th, 2022

Today I found myself reciting rhymes from The Cat in the Hat. It just came to me out of nowhere, and I must say it was lots of fun to find that I remember those words and rhymes from childhood.

But then I started making associations, and one thing led to another. Surely I am not the only one who has fond memories of Dr. Seuss. And I can’t help but notice the similarity in form between his work and modern rap songs.

I wonder whether the rap stars of today were influenced, as small children, by the work of Theodore Geisel. I am guessing that it would not be considered cool for anyone to admit the connection.

But nonetheless, we were all exposed to his brilliant rhyming when we were little children. Maybe, in a way that people don’t care to admit, the man had a lot to do with the birth of hip hop.


Saturday, November 19th, 2022

Just saw Disenchanted, the sequel to Enchanted. I was looking forward to it because the latter is one of my favorite films of all time.

Enchanted was a pitch perfect take-down of Disney by Disney itself. Even just that one scene of Amy Adams magically calling on all the vermin in New York City to help her clean house is priceless.

But Disenchanted throws all of that away. The problem lies entirely with the screenplay.

The script of Disenchanted completely betrays its characters. It does this by structuring the story in a way that removes any possibility of any real character arcs.

Unfortunately, the engine of the story is to “magically” turn the main characters into cookie cutter live-action cartoon characters. When this happens, the wonderful premise of “realistic people dealing with the weirdness of a fairytale world” is simply discarded.

We don’t care about this version of these characters because they have been reduced to empty stereotypes. They no longer have any connection to the truly interesting characters and relationships that we had come to know.

In the first film, Alan Mencken’s songs were very effective, because they were used as clever ironic character commentary that matched the character arcs. In this film, his songs just seem pointless.

This it not the fault of the songs themselves. There is simply no dramatic tension, no emotional risk for the characters, nothing for the songs to play against.

It all reminds me of something Alfred Hitchcock once said: “To make a great film you need three things – the script, the script and the script.”

Design spec

Friday, November 18th, 2022

I gave a talk today about the future. It is not the first time I gave this talk. But it is the first time I gave this version of this talk.

The future that I was talking about hadn’t changed. But my audience had changed.

I wasn’t talking to a group of artists, or computer graphics researchers, or to a lay public. Today I was talking to a room full of engineers.

So I needed to think about what would matter to an engineer. And I concluded that one question really matters to an engineer: “How do we make this?”

I didn’t answer that question in my talk. That’s a question they would want to answer for themselves.

But it did help me in figuring out how to organize the talk. I basically structured it as a design spec.

A design spec for the future. I like the sound of that. 🙂