Made words

One of the rules for the New York Times Spelling Bee is as follows:

Our word list does not include words that are offensive, obscure, hyphenated or proper nouns.

So you know that if a word starts with a capital letter, it’s not going to be in the word list. This knocks out a lot of words.

Yesterday, just for the hell of it, I tried “google”, since I saw that it had the requisite letters. Sure enough, it was accepted!

Which means, I assume, that google — as opposed to Google — is now a word in the English language. Presumably it is the verb form of the word that is being accepted here: I googled, you are googling, they will have been going to google.

I immediately thought of the Mafia. If you’re a “made man”, then you’re in the club, and your colleagues are less likely to whack you when you’re not looking.

It seems that “google” has now joined the exalted club of “made words”. No wonder Google’s stock has been going up.


There is a feature on the Meta Quest that allows you to “cast” everything you see within the headset, so that people can view it later as a video. It is very useful. My students regularly use it to show in class the things that they have created for homework.

It is possible that one day, given sufficiently advanced technology, we will be able to exactly this with our dreams. When you wake up in the morning, there will be a dreamcast file waiting for you, ready to play.

When you open that file, you will be able to review your dreams, edit them, and ultimately share them with whomever you wish. Or you can just delete them.

I am trying to decide whether this will be a good thing. I suspect that it might not be.

Tune Typing revisited

This evening I went ahead and added those new features to Tune Typing. Now, after typing a tune, you can use the left/right arrow keys on your keyboard to go back and forth to any given note. Once there, you can use the up/down arrow keys to change the note’s pitch.

If you have selected a note, then you can also build chords by playing another note on the keyboard. The new note will play at the same time as your selected note.

It’s still not fancy, but it gets the job done, and now it’s a little more useful. You can play with the new version here.

One more hidden feature for advanced users: If you hit RETURN, then the score data prints out on the Javascript console.

Potter’s Edge

I have experienced both the Harry Potter themed Diagon Alley experience at Universal Theme Park in Orlando and the Star Wars themed Galaxy’s Edge at Walt Disney World in the very same town. The two experiences beg for comparison.

Each is the tentpole branded immersive experience in its respective theme park, and each aims to completely immerse you in its respective fictional universe. On a surface level, they couldn’t be more different.

Diagon Alley is, like everything in the Harry Potter universe, musty and old-fashioned in a charming way. You are transported back to the make-believe and cozily out of date England of Goodbye Mr. Chips and similar offerings.

In contrast, Galaxy’s Edge is every inch a child of Foundation, Dune and Syd Mead, as is everything in the Star Wars universe. This is the DIY techno-punk “Wild West in the Galactic Future” of our very American fantasy.

Yet both experiences are, structurally speaking, exactly the same. Both are driven by the twin engines of good-versus-evil, with magic being the weapon of choice. In both cases, we root for the scrappy underdog good guys in their perpetual fight against, essentially, Nazis.

But beyond that, the two theme park experiences contain all of the same mechanical components. There is the town square, the array of character-themed gift shops, the cleverly themed in-world places to eat and drink, always served by people who appear to be of that world.

In one place you can pay lots of money to build your own wand. In the other you can pay lots of money to build your own lightsaber.

There are even special otherworldly drinks that you can get only in-world. In one place you get Butter Beer. In the other you get Blue Milk.

The more you look at them, the more you realize that Diagon Alley and Galaxy’s Edge are sourced from exactly the same “High-end Immersive Park Experience” (HIPE) playbook. The two places are essentially one place with two different “skins”.

If you take careful notes, you might be able to reconstruct the entirety of the HIPE playbook that both are working from. Which might be necessary, because as far as I know it is not for sale.

Looking out over the water

Today I spent a lot of time at the shore just looking out over the water. It was a lovely day, and that simple act put me in a perfectly calm and meditative mood.

What is it about bodies of water that causes them to have such a powerful effect on us? There must be some evolutionary connection, some reason for this phenomenon.

I can’t quite figure it out. Maybe you can.

Zen of coding

Of course, as soon as I posed yesterday’s Tune Typing program, I started thinking about ways to improve it. For example, right now there is no way to go back and edit a melody once you’ve played it — although one thing you can do is keep playing during playback to layer on more notes.

I’m thinking that in editing mode I will use the left/right arrow keys to move between notes, and the up/down arrow keys to modify the pitch of a note. That way I still keep the keyboard free to add and delete notes. And I suppose I should use the mouse to shift the position of a note, since that calls for a continuous adjustment.

And then there is the question of output. I should add the ability to print a score once you’re done creating it. And so far we haven’t even discussed a base clef.

On the other hand, there is something about a program being very simple, and just doing one thing really well. A sort of Zen of coding.

Tune Typing

Today I needed to take a break from proposal writing, and various other academic chores. So I decided to make something just for the fun of it.

Oftentimes I want to play a melody that’s running around in my head, but I don’t have a musical keyboard handy, especially when traveling. So today I wrote a little Javascript program that lets me use my computer keyboard to type melodies.

There is nothing particularly novel about it. It’s really more of a craft project, a labor of love.

But it’s free and it runs on the Web. So if you’ve got melodies running around in your head that you need to get out, you might find it useful.

You can play with it here.

Forgetting pill

There are movies, plays and works of art that I wish I had never seen, books that I wish I had never read, places that I wish I had never visited, and music that I wish I had never heard, so that I could experience them again for the first time. For all of these things, I will never again have that initial heady experience of discovery and wonder.

If only there were a forgetting pill that could make you selectively forget a particular memory. We can erase files on our computers with ease. Yet we are unable to do the same with our own memories.

I wonder how the world would change if somebody were to invent a forgetting pill. It probably wouldn’t be a good idea to simply release it out into the world. The inventors would likely want to do experiments to determine whether the net effect of selective forgetting was positive or negative.

Then again, maybe this has already happened. Perhaps in a research lab somewhere, an intrepid team has solved this very problem, and produced the perfect forgetting pill.

They may even have done controlled tests to see how such a thing would affect peoples’ lives. And maybe they didn’t like what they found.

So the entire team just did the safe and responsible thing. They took the pill and forgot all about it.

The Genie is out of the bottle

Very interesting article in the New York Times that advocates using ChatGPT in the classroom. Starting with the clearly true premise that the Genie is already out of the bottle, the author challenges us to try to imagine how we can educate better by incorporating the capabilities of ChatGPT (and its even more capable successors yet to come) into education.

I completely agree with this point of view, partly because we have no choice. About half a century ago, when affordable digital calculators came out, we lessened our collective focus on teaching the mechanics of arithmetic. And that, in turn, freed up precious classroom time to focus on teaching higher level mathematical concepts.

There are many similar examples that illustrate the same principle. Access to more powerful tools does not inherently destroy creative thinking. On the contrary, it can accelerate it.

For example, I no longer need to go to the library to look things up, because now I can access Google → Wikipedia → primary sources without leaving my desk. That change has allowed me to be more creative and productive in my professional life.

So now the real fun begins. Taking as a premise that ChatBots will be freely available to everyone, in ever more powerful incarnations, how do we rethink education to be even better?

The young minds in future generations will have far more knowledge at their fingertips than we had when we were kids. We should focus on harnessing that power to promote creativity and critical thinking.