Faërian Drama

October 12th, 2019

Today my good friend Andy suggested I read a wonderful and deeply thoughtful essay On Fairy Stories, written by JRR Tolkien in 1947. One paragraph in particular jumped out at me.

To clarify, “Secondary Belief” in the paragraph below is a literary term which refers to what a reader is asked to accept as real within a fictional world (eg: the existence of dragons).

“Faërian Drama”—those plays which according to abundant records the elves have often presented to men—can produce Fantasy with a realism and immediacy beyond the compass of any human mechanism. As a result their usual effect (upon a man) is to go beyond Secondary Belief. If you are present at a Faërian drama you yourself are, or think that you are, bodily inside its Secondary World. The experience may be very similar to Dreaming and has (it would seem) sometimes (by men) been confounded with it. But in Faërian drama you are in a dream that some other mind is weaving.

Note how Tolkien pairs storytelling with full body sensory immersion.

It has not escaped our notice that the specific pairing he has postulated immediately suggests a certain recently fashionable hi-tech medium.

Alternate super heroes

October 11th, 2019

Sometimes I like to imagine alternate super heroes with really weird super powers. One of my favorites is a guy I like to call “Popinjay”.

Popinjay’s only super power is that he can pop into a picture — whether a photo or painting — and then pop out of any other picture that depicts the same place.

If you were to meet his alter ego, a mild mannered sales clerk named Jay (of course) who works at a tourist shop, you would never suspect he is actually the mighty super hero Popinjay.

Of course the super powers of Popinjay are limited by whatever images happen to be around. You would think that if he wanted to jump into a scene, he could just pick up a pen and sketch something.

Alas, PopinJay, like all super heroes, has a tragic flaw. In his case, it’s that he cannot draw to save his life — literally.

I would be happy to hear of any other ideas for alternate super heroes with unusual powers.


October 10th, 2019

A friend told me today that her boyfriend has been playing Defense of the Ancients for many years. Considering that the first version of DotA came out in 2003 — 16 years ago — I can see how that was not an exaggeration.

She told me she expects him to continue playing it for many years to come. Assuming he plays for another 16 years, his total time with the game will add up impressively.

I found myself unable to resist the opportunity. I told her that at some point he might need to switch to Defense of the ancients, geriatric edition.

If only for the acronym.


October 9th, 2019

I was passing by the desk of a colleague today and I saw a tangle of wires that was so astonishing I just had to take this picture. And it made me wonder.

As computer technology continues to advance, will we ever get to the point where our modern high-tech world no longer requires this tangled undergrowth of artificial lianas?

Imagine a digital future without all those wires. That’s a future I would very much like to see!!!


Little squiggles

October 8th, 2019

If written language did not exist, and somebody asked you to explain what a novel was, I doubt your explanation would satisfy them.

“Let me get this straight,” I imagine your friend saying, “I look at these little squiggles on paper, and I am supposed supposed to imagine I am learning about people who don’t even exist. Why would I care about that?”

You try to explain. “Because you care about their struggles, their journey, the challenges they face and the obstacles they overcome.”

“Um, OK. But what do they even look like, these people who don’t exist? All I see are little black squiggles. Do they look like little black squiggles?”

Around this point you begin to realize that it is hopeless. “Yes,” you concede, “the whole idea is ridiculous. Forget I ever said anything.”

I think we might want to keep this in mind when we are faced with similar questions about any currently new medium, such as storytelling in immersive multi-participant mixed reality.

“How,” people might ask, “could you ever use such a thing to tell compelling stories about people who don’t even exist? I mean, won’t everyone realize that the whole thing is fake?”

Yes it’s fake. It’s all fake. That’s why they call it literature.

Writing about the future gig economy

October 7th, 2019

The future gig economy is coming soon. I decided to write about it today, because the topic resonates with so many people I know.

Without furher ado, here is a description of your future bartender.

Soup of the day

October 6th, 2019

One day, quite a few years ago, some friends and I went for lunch in the Empire Diner in New York City. Nowadays the Empire Diner is pretty much just a diner, but back then it was very different.

It wasn’t so much a diner as it was the performance of a diner, somewhat the way the Museum of Jurassic Technology is the performance of a museum. Everything about the Empire Diner was kind of in quotes, but in a subtle way.

For example, we noticed on the menu that there was a soup of the day for $3.00. There was also a soup du jour for $3.50.

We called over the waitress to inquire. What was the difference, we asked, between the soup of the day and the soup du jour.

Well, she said, if you order the soup of the day, it costs $3.00. If you order the soup du jour it costs $3.50.

Now we were curious. “Is there any difference other than price?” we asked.

“Yes,” she said, “the difference is that you order one in English and the other in French.”

“So we can just order the soup of the day and save $0.50, right?”

The waitress shrugged. “Your choice.”


October 5th, 2019

Here’s a history question:

When the first Europeans came over to what we now call the Americas, there were about 75,000,000 people already living here.

So what was it, exactly, that Christopher Columbus was supposed to have discovered?

Electronic billboard

October 4th, 2019

This week I saw one of those electronic billboards. Unlike traditional billboards, the electronic ones can show lots of different messages.

Which means that the same space can be multiplexed — used at different times by different advertisers, each with a targeted message.

Of course the people who put these things up need to make sure that there are enough advertisers to fill all 24 hours a day. Which means they need to convince advertisers to use their billboard.

This week, looking at an electronic billboard, I realized I was watching exactly that — an ad targeted at the advertisers themselves. But what caught my eye was how delightful the ad was.

The ad copy referred obliquely to the cultural trope of the young man who uses a billboard to convince his estranged girlfriend to come back to him. This ad riffed on that trope, in a very clever way.

It said, in big bold letters: “You can’t win her back, but you can be on a billboard.”

Future circus

October 3rd, 2019

Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus went out of business a little over two years ago. Not only were fewer people going to the circus, but our society also evolved.

Many people stopped looking at tiger and elephant acts and the like as innocent entertainment. Rather, the ways these animals were treated started to become a much discussed issue, as more people became attuned to questions of animal suffering.

The people who used to run the circus are now focused on creating shows involving life sized mechanical dinosaurs. You can now see a triceratops walking around, or a tyrannosaurus rex opening its mighty jaws.

Clearly there is no animal suffering, because there are no animals. Instead, people are being treated to the spectacle of highly detailed life sized puppets.

These events tend to take place in large venues such as sports stadiums. Stadium owners welcome such uses of their facilities, because they are sources of revenue between games.

I find this kind of large scale location based entertainment exciting, because it is one tick away from the vision Luc Besson showed us in Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. Someday soon, we will all be able to enter a giant sports arena together with thousands of other people, put on our XR glasses, and enter the future circus.

In that circus, we will be able to see and hear, all around us, spectacular entertainments and mind boggling visions far beyond the capabilities of even the most advanced puppetry. And no animals will need to suffer for our pleasure.