Ad-speak

February 13th, 2017

“That’s right,” he bragged. “I’m the guy who came up with that edgy TV ad which reimagines a sweater-wearing 50’s singing star as a gay icon, and it was all filmed in a single action shot.”

“Wow,” she said, “You’re the Po-Mo homo Como slomo promo domo!”

Picking up the guitar again

February 12th, 2017

Today I picked up my guitar again.*

To put this act in context, the first time I seriously picked up a guitar was many years ago. I was quite young back then, and had just had my heart broken by a beautiful and beguiling woman.

The young lady in question was learning to play the classical guitar at the time. So in a sort of psychic jiu jitsu, I dealt with my pain by going to her classical guitar teacher and asking to take lessons from him.

In the months that ensued I poured every drop of my heartache into learning that guitar. Practicing for several hours a day was easy, since the only times when I could feel any joy were the times when I was practicing my music.

In a remarkably short time I had become proficient at playing the classical guitar. Which just goes to show you what you can accomplish if you have sufficient motivation.

Now, after many years, I am circling back to the instrument. I’ve mainly been looking at on-line courses, and following along with the lessons.

I find that my fingers never really forgot how to play. My skills started to return after just a few minutes, almost as though they had never left.

Only this time I’m not doing it because a woman has broken my heart. Although I may be doing it now partly because my country is breaking my heart.

 

* In an earlier draft I started this post by talking about our current political situation. But I’ve decided it might be good to sometimes lower the volume on that topic, at least a little. :-)

Smell the Reichstag burning

February 11th, 2017

Let’s pretend for the moment that we lived in a hypothetical alternate universe in which Donald Trump actually gave a rat’s ass about preventing terrorism. In that alternate reality, what would he do?

Well, the first thing he would do is issue a travel ban against Saudi Arabia. After all, that’s where the terrorists who killed actual Americans came from in 2001.

But of course we don’t live in that Disney-esque fantasy. We live in a world in which Donald Trump has business interests in Saudi Arabia.

So why is he being so transparent? I think he actually wants us to know that he doesn’t give a damn about any real threat of terrorism. That is why he has pointedly, ostentatiously, excluded Saudi Arabia from his Potemkin travel ban. Instead of implementing an effective policy, the ban includes only hapless Islamic countries that have never posed any threat to the U.S.

The message is clear: It’s not about actual threats of terrorism. It’s about stoking American Islamophobia — even if Trump’s irresponsible policies allow actual terrorists to enter our shores.

I suspect it’s even worse than that. The Trump administration doesn’t really want to prevent international terrorism against the U.S. Otherwise, Saudi Arabia would have been first on their list.

Rather, they optimizing for an actual terrorist attack, because then they can declare a state of emergency — all in the name of defending our country. An effective policy to prevent errorist attacks would totally mess with that plan.

Put your nose in the air and inhale. You can practically smell the Reichstag burning.

Parallel lives

February 10th, 2017

My second question yesterday was rhetorical. Many die-hard science fiction fans know exactly who Kirk Acevedo is, and also know exactly who King Donovan was.

Among his many great dramatic roles, Kirk Acevedo played Charlie Francis on the cult sci-fi TV show Fringe. On that same show he also played another character: Charlie Francis.

Yes, same character, same name, played essentially the same way, with exactly the same voice, body language and mannerisms, but two quite different people. One of them you were supposed to like, the other you weren’t supposed to like.

There is a parallel here. Among his many great dramatic roles, King Donovan played Jack Belicec in Invasion of the Body Snatchers. In that same film he also played another character: Jack Belicec.

Yes, same character, same name, played essentially the same way, with exactly the same voice, body language and mannerisms, but two quite different people. One of them you were supposed to like, the other you weren’t supposed to like.

So here we have two actors who look eerily similar to each other, each playing a compelling character in a sci-fi cult classic, as well as that character’s essentially identical but also opposite doppelganger.

These two eerily parallel pop-cultural offerings were also separated from each other by roughly half a century. Who says there aren’t higher dimensions?

Two questions

February 9th, 2017

(1) Am I the only person who has noticed that Kirk Acevedo and King Donovan are essentially the same person?

(2) Am I the only person who even knows who both of those people are?

Women of the future

February 8th, 2017

Judging by today’s news, Mitch McConnell has apparently decided to do everything he can to help Elizabeth Warren become our 46th U.S. President. So I figure that “women of the future” would be an appropriate theme for the day.

Today we invited twenty five ten year old girls to experience shared immersive virtual reality in our brand new VR lab at NYU. They were a Brownie troop here in NYC that, when asked what they wanted for a field trip theme, had voted for “Entertainment Technology”.

When they arrived at our lab we invited them, four at a time, into our FLOCK shared VR piece, and I have never seen a group of kids more excited. In no time they were laughing, running around, pointing at things, holding hands and giggling like crazy.

The experience wasn’t something you can get commercially yet. So these kids were actually being treated to a rare glimpse of the future.

Maybe a few of them will end up thinking “Hey, creating shared experiences with cutting edge technology is cool, I want to do this when I grow up.” I am sure President Warren would approve.
 

Solidarity

February 7th, 2017

Today, in a remarkable show of solidarity, fifty of the fifty two Republican U.S. Senators abruptly resigned. It appears that they realized they were unsuited to their jobs for several reasons:

First, they had each had at least some experience in politics. Second, every one of them knew something about the work they were charged with doing. Third, not one was a rank beginner, lacking even the faintest idea of what the job required.

All of these faults made them, in the eyes of the President, hopelessly corrupt. After all, you can’t clear the swamp when you are the swamp.

There was many a moist eye in the room when Senator John McCain stepped up to the podium to issue the following heartfelt apology to the American people:

“My fellow Americans, I am deeply ashamed to have pretended to represent the great state of Arizona, given that I actually have experience in politics. One day I aspire to be like our great President, who comes into the office perfectly pure, with no political experience whatsoever. Or perhaps I can one day hope to be like our Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who is justifiably proud of the fact that she knows absolutely nothing about education, other than the fact that it involves shooting grizzly bears. To both of them, and to you, I apologize for the shameful competency that I have possessed all of these years. One day I too hope to be utterly unqualified for my job. When that day comes, I will be happy to once again serve this great nation of ours.”

Success!

February 6th, 2017

The last few days we showed our Holojam shared mixed reality experience at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, featuring my colleague David Lobser’s brilliant interactive audience participation piece FLOCK.

It was a complete triumph. Professional dancers, filmmakers, and all sorts of interesting people entered into an alternate world together, sharing another universe while in the same physical room.

The technology worked flawlessly, and people were clearly very moved by the experience.

Best of all we got to do it at Lincoln Center, so you could say that culturally speaking we have made it to the big time.

Yay!

Tools for students / tools for teachers

February 5th, 2017

The difference between my recent bubble shader and subsequent bubble breakdown is pedagogical: The first shows you the code for a bubble shader and lets you play with it to see what happens. The second takes you through the process of building that code, step by step.

We can think of these two artifacts as the first and second steps in a progression. A logical third step in this progression would be to provide support for people to author their own shader breakdowns.

In other words, the first advance is to create an example of a lesson for students. The next advance is to provide support for teachers to build their own lessons for students.

If the interface to build such code breakdowns is intuitive and friendly enough, it will open the door to more pedagogical content. Rather than such narratives being built only by people like me who already know all the gnarly bits underneath, those narratives can then be built by any teacher who has a story to tell.

None of this removes the need for good storytelling. Building a narrative is, fundamentally, a literary endeavor, however technical is the material being taught.

To build such narratives, it is not sufficient to merely understand your material. You need to have a reasonable mental model of the learner. You need to take that learner on an interesting journey, adding new material gradially as you go, and always keep things interesting.

But a good interactive authoring tool will go a long way toward helping to create good pedagogical narratives. Guess I should get to work on making that authoring tool. :-)

Notes on a native son

February 4th, 2017

Today I saw the new film “I Am Not Your Negro”, about James Baldwin. And I was completely blown away.

I found his clarity of thought to be breathtaking. I was astonished at how, half a century ago, he was able to articulate the problems at the core of American society — problems which remain very relevant today.

Fundamentally, he points out something that should be obvious to everyone (but sadly, isn’t): That the “black problem” is actually a white problem. When one group of people desperately clings to a fantasy that it is better than another group of people, what is really going on is that the first group of people is damaged.

He is also quite specific about the cause of this damage: White America’s desperate need to pretend to be innocent of its historical (and in many ways, ongoing) brutalities. Of course in reality you can never really run away from your sins. Sooner or later you must look at them square in the face and deal with them.

As the film shows, Baldwin warned us, fifty years ago, that this damage to the psyche of white America, if not corrected, would eventually cause our society to destroy itself from within. And now that is exactly what is happening.

The embarrassing idiot in the Whitehouse (or, to use his own language, the “So Called President”), is a symptom of exactly this sort of desperate denial. Fortunately, his very cartoonish incompetence is causing millions of Americans to wake up to the harmfulness of the fantasy of white superiority that helped get him elected.

A lot of damage is going to happen between today and the midterm elections two years from now, when Republicans will lose their congressional majority. But the outcome down the road may be net positive.

As James Baldwin predicted half a century ago, white America may eventually wake up and realize the true cost of living an absurd hateful fantasy: In the end, it is an act of pure self destruction.