Soundtracks

September 12th, 2021

When we listen to music, whether while working or just hanging out, we are creating the soundtrack to our lives.

Some people like to listen to pop music, others prefer freeform jazz, still others like rap or classical.

Personally, I like all sorts of music. But if I’m really trying to get work done, the only music I can listen to is Schoenberg’s piano sonatas. I highly recommend them, but your mileage may vary.

How much do you think you could figure out about a person by learning their chosen soundtrack? Or is there any correlation at all between someone’s personality and the chosen soundtrack of their life?

Anniversary

September 11th, 2021

It is difficult to talk about the terrible tragedy that happened in New York 20 years ago today. But I suppose we must talk about it.

On the one level it was a moment when a nation’s culture changed overnight. Our arguably too self-satisfied country suddenly became aware of what everybody else already knew: That the world is a very scary and uncertain place.

On another level, it is a very sad and very expensive lesson in the cost of politics. If we had not made a national sport out of our President’s personal life 25 years ago, we wouldn’t have derailed that administration’s ability to protect our collective national security.

But you can’t go back and change history, or give people the retrospective wisdom to avoid playing dangerous political games. The consequences of willful stupidity are unforgiving.

To paraphrase Pete Seeger: When will we ever learn?

Questions

September 10th, 2021

Sometimes in order to get the right answers, you need to ask the right questions.

I just wish I knew the right questions.

Unpacking procedural shaders

September 9th, 2021

Today I demonstrated for my computer graphics students how I make various things with procedural shaders, like realistic looking marble and dramatic animated clouds. In each case, the key parts of the shader took up only a handful of code.

The fact that rich looking materials could be created in just a few lines of code might have seemed to them like magic. So on one level the experience was very satisfying for everyone.

But on another level it was very unsatisfying. Because there are deeper reasons why these shaders work, and those reasons are very difficult to teach.

Procedural shaders work because of a complex combination of art and math and human perception of physical phenomena. To unpack the full meaning contained within a few lines of code might require weeks of study.

So on some level it was fun to be able to say, “Hey, to make an amazing thing, you just need to do this.” But on another level, I know I wasn’t really able to teach them exactly what “this” is.

In person and maskless

September 8th, 2021

I had a work meeting today, for the first time in a long time, in which people were in person and maskless. We were able to do this because we chose to meet in a coffee shop where they let you go maskless if you have proof of vaccination.

It was a revelation. There was an enormous increase in productivity, compared with either meeting over Zoom or meeting in person with masks on.

I observed that during this meeting we were all really able to “get” each other — our interests, our emotions and our intentions — in ways that have been largely absent in the last year or so. There was a level of group bonding that had largely been missing.

This is a good thing for several reasons. One of them is that we really need those coffee shops to not go out of business. It’s great that they are getting the work. 🙂

Levels of non-presence

September 7th, 2021

I have been having some meetings recently in-person with everybody wearing a mask. I have also been having other meetings over Zoom with nobody wearing a mask.

And I’ve been trying to figure out the following question: Which one of these has the greater level of presence?

Or, to put it more the way it feels: Which one has the smaller level of non-presence?

Happy birthday R.M.P.

September 6th, 2021

Today is the birthday of Robert M Persig, who sadly died in 2017. He would have been 93 today. His classic book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, has had an enormous effect on my life and career.

Since childhood, I had always been trying to reconcile the two sides of my passion, the rational and the romantic. I loved art and literature, but I also loved the austere and rigorous beauty of mathematics.These seem to be irreconcilable opposites.

Persig talks about this dichotomy directly in his book, and leads us toward a way that they can be reconciled. I found and embraced the resonance of his philosophy within my work in computer graphics.

It is a field that requires rigor and precision both in creating the underlying mathematical models and the discipline of programming computers. Yet its goal is to create beauty, sometimes transcendent romantic beauty.

Many years ago his book helped to set me on a wonderful path, which I have happily traveled ever since. For that I will be eternally grateful.

Things going virtual

September 5th, 2021

Various things that we think of as being physical are gradually going virtual. Recorded music went virtual a number of years ago.

Many stores are gradually going virtual. Amazon has been leading the charge, and I suspect things will go a lot further. We are so used to ordering things on-line that we may soon forget we ever did anything else.

But what is next? Restaurants? Organized sports? Parties?

Your guess is as good as mine.

Too much power

September 4th, 2021

If someone said to you that you could have the power to read the minds of other people, would you take them up on it?

I sure as hell wouldn’t.

Height

September 3rd, 2021

I am now meeting in person, for the first time, some people with whom I have been meeting over Zoom for the last year or so. And in some cases, I have been surprised.

For one thing, people are not always the height I thought they would be. Some are taller, and some shorter. Sometimes by a lot.

I am wondering now how much my unconscious awareness of height may have influenced how I think about people in the past. In a year when people have been “heightless”, it has become clear how unimportant those sorts of things are.

I wonder, as the world move more and more to meeting on-line — even post-pandemic — whether those sorts of miscellaneous physical traits will simply fade into irrelevancy. As they should.