Storming the barricades

January 6th, 2021

Wow, it’s actually happening today. A group of people are trying to stop the democratic handover from one duly elected administration to the next.

They are literally trying to storm the barricades to invade the Capitol building. I would not have expected that anyone would be so stupid as to lightly throw away the democratic process. Democracy may be messy, but it’s a whole lot better than any of the alternatives.

These people may be under the impression that living in a functioning democracy is a natural right, rather than a hard-won privilege. If so, I invite them to try living in an actual fascist dictatorship, and find out first-hand about the alternative.

2.5D

January 5th, 2021

In his comment on my post from the other day, Alan Kay raises in intriguing point. As we venture forth into wide scale adaption of virtual reality, is full 3D immersion a distraction for human/computer interfaces?

We could make an anthropological argument in support of his thesis. Consider the last several thousand years of human tool building.

Down through the ages we have developed many systems for recording and organizing, from cave paintings to stone tablets to papyri to books to computer screens to smart phones.

For all of that time we have had 3D sculptural media, yet we never turn to them as organizational structures. Instead, we consistently turn to arrangements of flat surfaces.

Perhaps there is something fundamental about how our brains work which privileges 2D, or at most 2.5D, for organizing information, regardless of the technology we use.

Unexpected political outcomes

January 4th, 2021

The Koch brothers, who have been very influential in supporting a rightward shift in American politics, worked very hard to kill the Film production industry in Miami. They did so by floating the misleading narrative that subsidies and tax breaks from the Florida state government in support of local film production were communist and un-American.

Of course the truth was that the tax revenue from film production and related industries (hotels, restaurants, transportation, etc) vastly outweighed the cost of the tax breaks that were luring the industry into the state. The film industry had for years been pouring money into Florida, and thereby enriching Florida taxpayers.

Alas for the state of Florida, the Koch brothers’ initiative was successful. Filming mainly shifted to Atlanta, where the Koch brothers are, not coincidentally, heavy investors. Florida tax payers lost, but the Koch brothers won, as they usually do.

But there is now an odd and unexpected consequence to all this. All those new jobs in Atlanta have contributed to a change in demographics in Georgia, accelerating a process of the state shifting politically from its redder rural regions to its bluer urban regions.

If Georgia ends up electing two Democrats to the U.S. Senate in the upcoming runoff election, the Republicans will lose control of the Senate. And the Koch brothers, of all people, will have made it possible.

Nostalgia

January 3rd, 2021

Today I told someone: “You know, nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.”

The person looked at me with a puzzled expression and said “What does that even mean?”

I admitted that I didn’t really know. But I am still glad I said it.

Palindromic month

January 2nd, 2021

This is a palindromic month. If you write the month and then the year as a string of digits, you get 12021, which is a palindrome.

In fact, this month is the start of a run of nine palindromic months. The last one will be on September 2029, or 92029.

Enjoy it while it lasts. After this, there won’t be another palindromic month for a very long time.

Can you figure out when the next one will be?

10*98+765*4/3+21

January 1st, 2021

Happy New Year!

Let’s all hope 2021 is better than 2020.

Future coding in VR

December 31st, 2020

I’ve been doing a lot of computer programming for VR recently. Yet my software tools are still grounded in traditional screen-based methods.

I am starting to wonder whether the look and feel of computer programming itself will end up evolving, as we start to work more and more in VR. This question will make sense to anyone who remembers the era of punched cards.

Back then you needed to write an entire program, prepare a set of cards with one instruction per line, and submit your deck to compile and run. If you made an error, you had a chance to correct it the next day and try again.

Of course all of that changed after people could program interactively. Errors are now caught immediately, and the ability to rapidly iterate on your program design is simply taken for granted.

Might we see a similar sort of fundamental power-up once we replace screen-based software tools with completely immersive software tools? Will there be a new kind of power-up in productivity that we can as yet only vaguely imagine?

I guess this is a case for Alan Kay’s dictum: The best way to predict the future is to invent it.

Collaborative design by coding

December 30th, 2020

I have spent many years doing visual design by coding. I know I am far from the only person who designs this way.

There are very good programs out there, like Blender and SketchUp, to let people work with a graphical user interface to visually sketch out their ideas. But for me the power of working in code is just too great to ignore.

Using function calls and definitions, loops and conditionals, and a well-chosen set of primitives, I can quickly put together visual representations of what is in my head. The standard tools for visual artists just don’t give me the kind of procedural power I need.

But there is a problem when I want to collaborate: Other people don’t work the way I do, so what I do ends up seeming like a kind of black magic to collaborators and potential collaborators.

I wonder whether it would be possible to develop a kind of literacy in this style of “prototyping through code” for visual artists. It would be great to have a truly shared language for such things.

I know that p5.js (the successor to Processing) already does a version of that, but I find it to be limiting in its capabilities. Maybe it’s time to propose an alternative.

Green tree irony

December 29th, 2020

Ever since I was little I associated the color green with life-giving sunshine. This was natural I suppose. You look around and the world is covered in green trees and other plants, soaking up all of that yummy sunlight and using it to create the nutritious food that sustains all of life.

But then at some point I realized that I had it exactly wrong. The reason tree leaves are green is that green is the one color from which chlorophyl does not absorb energy. What cannot be absorbed is reflected.

So basically, when we look at a lush verdant forest, we are seeing sunlight’s reject. There is something kind of ironic about that.

But also kind of neat.

TV commercials

December 28th, 2020

Why do TV commercials work? I have been wondering this since I was a little child.

Nobody really seems to like them. When they show up on our phone we eagerly skip past them as soon as we can.

When we see them on TV they drive us crazy. They end up disrupting our experience of whatever movie or TV show we were watching.

Yet clearly we still go out and buy the products they are hawking. Why else would people spend so much time and money getting them in front of our faces?

There must be some rational explanation for the phenomenon of TV commercials. Has somebody actually figured out why they work?