A demo is a promise

When you are creating a demo, there is the constant temptation to add more features. You need to resist this temptation.

A demo is not a product. It’s a promise that there could be a product, which is a very different thing.

A product needs an undo option, a way to connect to a database, compatibility with various file formats, and many other things besides. That takes time and money.

What the demo does is explain why that time and money should be expended. It is, more than anything else, a form of storytelling.

Building a aemo building and building a product are two very different endeavors. They are complementary yet quite different parts of a larger process. It is important not to confuse the one with the other.

On the security line

On the security line today at LaGuardia Airport, I saw a man carrying a box of Little Italy pizza.

“Somebody sure must really want genuine New York pizza,” I said. His wife laughed and said “Yes, it’s the only way they are going to be able to get it.”

“I know what you mean,” I said, “I’ve got fourteen Brooklyn Bagels in this backpack.”

Which was true.

Carbon cycle

Somebody told me today about an intriguing theory: That our planet’s carbon based lifeforms ultimate exist to figure out how to make silicon based life forms.

Perhaps we can follow this theory to its logical conclusion. One day, millions of years from now, creatures made of silicon will ponder where they came from. And while they are at it, they will also ponder the ultimate purpose of their existence.

Maybe some intrepid silicon based scientist will discover in the lab that there are certain advantages to creating life out of carbon, as crazy as that might sound to other silicon based individuals. Experiments will follow, and one thing will lead to another.

Eventually new carbon based species will arise, originally created by silicon based life forms, but ultimately supplanting them. Then one day those beings will begin to wonder about their own primal origins. And some of them will start to tinker in the lab, with silicon…

Somewhat irrationally

This evening, seemingly out of nowhere, I found myself trying to remember who was the female lead in Bernardo Bertolucci’s epic film The Last Emperor. Alas, the answer eluded me. Which is understandable, given that I have not seen that film in thirty six years.

Somewhat irrationally, the very next thing I did was go on Wikipedia and look at what famous people have birthdays today. It turns out that lots of famous people have birthdays today.

One of the people on the list was Joan Chen, whom I realized was the person I was thinking of. Which raises an interesting question.

Was this simply a total coincidence? Or has that knowledge been tucked away in my head for decades?


Seventy years ago today, on April 25, Watson and Crick published their paper about the double helix structure of DNA — “Molecular Structure of Nucleic Acids: A Structure for Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid”. That paper probably contains the best closing line of any scientific paper anywhere: “It has not escaped our notice that the specific pairing we have postulated immediately suggests a possible copying mechanism for the genetic material”.

It also hadn’t escaped the notice of Rosalind Franklin, the person who led the actual X-ray diffraction experiments that made this structure evident (which Watson and Crick were shown without her permission). But that’s another story.

Interestingly, exactly eight years later, on April 25, the first patent for a fully integrated circuit was issued to Robert Noyce. Perhaps one day our future robot overlords will look on this coincidence with amusement.

Wearable social media

Suppose, just as a thought experiment, that everybody could print their own message T-shirt. The technology might consist of an affordable home printer that deposits color-fast ink onto cloth, and a detergent additive that removes said ink in preparation for the next day’s message.

The result would be wearable social media. If such a thing were universally embraced by the culture, then millions of people would be walking around displaying their individual daily message.

I wonder what sorts of messages we might see. Would these messages be like tweets, with a competition to create the most quotable or eye catching text? Or would many people all download the same message on a given day, as a gesture of political or tribal unity?

It would be fun to make a movie in which this is a common reality, just to explore the various ways that it might play out. Imagine what a really good screenwriter could do with such an idea.

Exuberantly fascist

The main instrument of fascism is fear. A case in point is the ruling passed by the Florida School Board just this past Wednesday, April 19, 2023:

Schools “Shall not intentionally provide classroom instruction to students in grades 4 through 12 on spiritual beliefs or religious affiliation, unless such instruction is expressly required by state academic standards.”

Presumably the purpose of this ruling was to avoid having a topic as hotly contested and as potentially divisive as religion enter the minds of impressionable teenagers.

Yet think of the actual consequences. Any 18 year old high school senior with religious beliefs is now a potential danger, because even acknowledging that such a student exists might get a teacher fired.

Think about it. A young person’s very existence — something they have no way to avoid, short of suicide — has been officially declared to be toxic.

Hmm, what does that remind me of … wait, I almost have it. Oh right — laws about Jews in Germany in the 1930s.

I may have gotten one or two details wrong in the wording of the ruling. But I am confident that I have precisely captured its exuberantly fascist essence.

The upload fallacy

A recurring thing in science fiction, and in some non-fiction circles, is that one day we will be able to upload ourselves to the Cloud, and maybe live forever. This notion has been explored many times, The Matrix and Upload being two well-known examples.

But I think that the reality of recent chatbots such as ChatGPT has helped to wake people up from this wishful thinking. We are starting to realize that artificial intelligence, as intriguing as it might be, is not us.

A.I. is a completely separate thing, in its way as distinct from us as the octopus. Over time, as these A.I. engines gain proficiency, we will use them more and more. But we will not become them.

At the end of the day we are creatures of flesh, not of ones and zeroes. It is both our glory and our tragedy that we cannot escape the inevitable. Yet that ticking clock is exactly what spurs us to think more deeply, and to try to make sense of our existence by creating art.

Like the man said, the dread of something after death — the undiscovered country (from whose bourn no traveller returns) — puzzles the will and makes us rather bear those ills we have than fly to others that we know not of.


Recently I’ve been working more than usual with hardware components. One thing about hardware is that absolutely everything must be working properly.

If your Arduino board isn’t connected in exactly the right way to your IMU chip, then nothing happens. It doesn’t just fail a little — it fails completely.

Software isn’t like that. With software it’s much easier to build in back-ups and failsafe mechanisms.

Something might indeed go wrong, but you can detect it and recover from it. Often you can do this without affecting the people who use your program.

Of course you can build failsafe mechanisms into hardware. And for some applications, such as medical or aerospace, that is necessary.

But it’s a lot more expensive and difficult to do that well in hardware than it is to do in software. Maybe that’s one reason I work mostly with software. 🙂