Analogies

November 17th, 2022

One of the challenges in research is trying to predict the future. Of course you can’t really predict the future — but you can make some educated guesses.

A trick for doing this effectively is to look at analogies from the past. For example, when a disruptive communication technology becomes widely adopted, something not obviously related is often also affected.

One of my favorite examples of that is the relationship between the iPhone and hotels. In July 2008 the iPhone came out. About a year later, Uber was founded.

Eventually people figured out that when they went to out of town conferences or business meetings, they didn’t necessarily need to stay at a hotel. If the professional event happened to be in a place where they had family or close friends, they could visit those people instead.

This is because an app-based ride service, unlike a taxi, can quickly pick you up from wherever you are. And that includes a residential neighborhood far from the nearest hotel.

It’s not clear to me that we all could have predicted that the iPhone would lead to people spending more time with family and friends. Yet that is exactly what ended up happening.

Similarly, you can be sure that whenever those future smart glasses come out, something new and unexpected is bound to happen. But it can be a challenge to predict just what that will be.

A flower

November 16th, 2022

A flower is not trying to be beautiful. Yet we find it to be beautiful.

A cloud at sunset is not trying to be beautiful. Yet we find it to be beautiful.

A blanket of snowfall in a secluded forest is not trying to be beautiful. Yet we find it to be beautiful.

This list could clearly continue for quite a while. But I think you get the idea.

So what is going on here? Why are such things so beautiful? This is a serious question.

Scale

November 15th, 2022

The human body exists at only one scale. We are not six inches tall, and we are not seventy feet tall.

Certain operations are easy for us, because they match the natural scale of our bodies. We evolved as a species developing skills that work well at that scale.

We have evolved advanced tools that allow us to manipulate the world around us at very small scale as well as at very large scales. But those tools are not generally part of our everyday life.

But what will happen in the future, as mixed reality evolves? Perhaps we will start to see the rise of consumer level tools for manipulating the world at those other scale.

After all, if everyone is able to perceive that tiny thing sitting on their circuit board, or that giant tree in their lawn, as though it is human-sized, it changes the equation. In the long run, we all might just end up getting access to tools that will let us pick up those things and move them.

Overreach

November 14th, 2022

Like many people, I was alarmed when the Supreme Court overturned Roe versus Wade. It seemed like an act of extreme overreach by a highly activist court.

The decision radically changed the legal landscape. Long-standing civil protections for millions of Americans simply evaporated overnight.

I suspect that the radical nature of the Court’s decision had a lot to do with the fact that the Democrats won the Senate this past week. Americans are an ornery bunch, and when you mess with us, we vote.

We may disagree about many things, but there is one thing we agree upon: We hate to have the rug pulled out from under us.

Whenever there is judicial, legislative or executive overreach, whether on the Left or the Right, Americans will turn out on election day. And they will say enough is enough.

RedCom

November 13th, 2022

I love watching romantic comedies. They are highly formulaic, but the best ones do wonders with the formula.

One of my favorite kinds of RomCom is the redemption story. This is where one of the two lovers — generally the main character — has a serious character flaw.

This character is, at the start of the film, fundamentally unlikeable. But we know that he or she can be saved! All that is required is the love of the right person.

And sure enough, that person shows up. And eventually the inevitable happens. Love conquers all, our hero / heroine becomes a better person, and we all go home feeling better about ourselves and the world.

What I particularly like about a good RedCom is that it has all of the shamelessly pleasurable traits of a good RomCom, but in heightened form. It’s a fairy tale set in modern times.

And like all RomComs it is based loosely on reality. But in particular, it is based on the version of reality that our innermost selves are secretly wishing for.

Doors

November 12th, 2022

Sometimes I think of life as a series of doors. Metaphorically speaking, of course.

Wherever you are in life, there are various doors you can choose to try going through. That is, whenever you feel ready.

Some doors will turn out to be locked. Others won’t be doors at all — just parts of the wall cleverly painted to look like a door.

But others will open just fine. You can turn the knob, open the door a bit, and peek through to see what’s on the other side. And when you are ready, you go for it.

Sometimes you end up choosing the right door, and sometimes you don’t. But in any case, you now find yourself in a different room.

And not surprisingly, you find a whole new set of doors to try.

A bottle of wine

November 11th, 2022

There is a certain ritual to sharing a bottle of wine. The opening of the bottle, the pouring of the wine, the clinking together of glasses.

And then there is the aroma, and the flavor itself. Every bottle of wine is slightly different, and to share a bottle is to exist uniquely in the world at a certain moment in time.

All of which,bin a way, makes it a prime candidate for a remote social experience. When, if ever, will we be able to replicate that feeling while being in two separate geographic locations?

I know that it is a difficult question, but the process of asking it already tells us a lot about the nature of human connection.

Rings of silicon

November 10th, 2022

Having watched all of Rings of Power, I am struck in particular by the part where they race against a deadline to make those darned rings.

The whole thing seemed an awful lot like what happens in the software business. For corporate reasons that are a little bit beyond your understanding, you need to make a deadline because there is a shipping date.

Of course, it might turn out that whoever is behind product is not who you think they are. Their corporate agenda may not line up with your own personal moral compass. But hey, you’ve got stock options.

I wonder whether Tolkien knew that he was crafting a metaphor for Silicon Valley.

Liminal space

November 9th, 2022

I am fascinated by the liminal space between waking and dreaming. We’ve all been there.

You are having a dream, and you start to wake up, so you become aware that you are dreaming. But still you are obeying dream logic.

Objects might change shape, or you may suddenly find yourself in a different room. People from your life suddenly appear or disappear as companions on your journey.

There is something very beautiful about this space, because it is a space of no judgment. Notably, our ego is turned off, and we are not censoring our thoughts out of a belief that something or other is at stake.

If only we could bring that freedom from judgment into our waking life. Alas, that doesn’t seem to be how life works.

Oh well, one can always dream. 🙂

Complicated

November 8th, 2022

I’ve noticed that when people don’t completely understand a thing, they make it complicated. You can tell that somebody really understands what they are talking about because they make it sound simple.

Complication is the enemy of clarity, and therefore the enemy of real knowledge. There, that was simple, wasn’t it?