Clapping for Tinkerbell

I wrote a post a little while back in which I talked about actors dancing n a play dancing down the aisles, and contrasted that with one’s experience at the cinema.

Recently I saw a production of Peter Pan, which only reinforces that difference in my mind. As you probably know, at a crucial point in the play, someone turns to the audience and asks them to clap to bring Tinkerbell, the beloved fairy of Neverland, back to life.

To me, this is one of the purest expressions of the difference between live theater and movies. It simply would not make sense to ask a movie audience to do anything to change the course of the movie. That is way outside of the implied contract between filmmakers and film audiences.

As someone pointed out in the comments recently, audiences can take it upon themselves to create their own show, has happens in the Rocky Horror Picture Show. But that seems to me to be an entirely different form of community engagement, a connection between audience members yes, but not between performers and audience.

As metaphors go

When I’m working on a software project, I notice that much of the effort consists of finding ways for different parts of the project to communicate with one another. Once I’ve got this thing working, and that thing working, I then need to get them to talk to one another.

So much of the time I am actually constructing little translators. It’s kind of like trying to give people an easy way to cross a world that consists of many tiny islands. You end up building lots and lots of bridges.

I guess there are worse things to spend your time on than building bridges of communication. As metaphors go, this one seems pretty life affirming.

Letter from Birmingham Jail

Today is the 60th anniversary of the publication of Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail”. It was arguably the most influential document by a political prisoner in modern times.

In these sobering days when fascism in the U.S. is again on the rise, that letter should be required reading in America’s public schools. For one thing, it would show schoolchildren what a well reasoned political argument truly looks like.

Of course that can’t happen in Florida, where even suggesting such a thing in a classroom can now get you arrested. The last thing a fascist like Ron DeSantis wants is for our future citizens to have the skills or the opportunity to think for themselves.

It’s scary what’s happening in that state. I wonder how long the creepy governor in Tallahassee will wait before he decides to grow a little mustache.

A Sunday month

I developed a trick years ago to keep track of which day of the week is which date on the calendar. The trick is to remember which day of the week is a multiple of seven.

Or, equivalently, which day of the week was the last day of the previous month.

For example this month, May 2023, is a Sunday month, since May 7th, 14th, 21st and 28th all fall on a Sunday. From there it is easy to get the exact date of any other day in the month.

For most practical purposes I only need to remember a few months out. So next month will be a Wednesday month, July a Friday month and August a Monday month.

After any given month has passed, I promptly forget about it, and focus on the next few months ahead. It’s a simple trick, but it makes a lot of things easier. And it sure beats needing to look at my phone all the time to check the date.

The cutting edge

Recently I was at a faculty gathering at NYU in which we discussed how we might promote ties with the tech industry. In particular, we discussed how we can make sure potential Silicon Valley employers are able to see the work that our best grad students are doing at the cutting edge of research.

Of course this is a weird time for that, because Silicon Valley has been laying people off right and left. Still, these things are cyclical, and it is always good to keep the door open for the whenever the next wave of hires arrives.

At some point one professor, bemoaning the current state of things, said “So basically we are helping them to find the next group of employees for them to lay off.”

“Maybe,” I said, “that’s why they call it the cutting edge.”

The future of books

If we extrapolate the capabilities of AI to another decade or so, the following scenario becomes quite plausible: A movie will simply be a way of visualizing a book.

Given the amount of talent and thought that goes into a well written novel, an AI trained on a sufficient richness of cultural knowledge should have everything it needs to work with to turn that novel into a compelling motion picture. Which will lead to a change not only of movies, but of books themselves.

Once authors begin to realize that their novel can convert directly into a movie, they will start to write with that goal in mind. We will see a new set of writing styles, optimized for feeding into AI visualizers.

After all, a lot more people are likely to see the film than to read the book. Which means that a novel which converts readily over into a compelling movie experience can be far more lucrative to an author than proceeds from the book itself.

This trend may very well be inevitable, and we already know why. Like Will Sutton said, because that’s where the money is.


A lot of people have been telling me that they are concerned that A.I. will eventually replace us. As ChatGPT and MidJourney advance by leaps and bounds, worried visions of SkyNet and Agent Smith are running through peoples’ heads.

The reality is that these large-data-model systems are merely reflectors of our own collective intelligence. The illusion of intelligence that they present is based entirely on mimicry.

These systems merely feed back to us iterated copies of the prodigious output of the collected fruits of our own human creativity. Without the actual data created by our human brains, they would be empty.

From a philosophical perspective, it could therefore be argued that these A.I. are parasites. They cannot exist independently of us. They exist only as a reflection of our own much weightier reality.

And that is why we should indeed be worried, but also why we don’t need to worry about the SkyNet and Agent Smith scenarios.

Parasites are perfectly capable of destroying their host. But they are not capable of becoming their host.

Birthday boys

Today is the birthday of George Lucas, Robert Zemeckis, and Mark Zuckerberg, three men whose mutual fascination with high tech toys has changed our very culture, and in some ways even how we look at reality itself.

Largely because of Lucas, we all have a sort of comfortable familiarity with robots, anti-gravity, bizarre alien races, and the casual intermixing of sci-fi with magic, in ways that otherwise would have remained largely on the fringes of our culture.

Largely because of Zemeckis, we take for granted that the actors in our movies will become ever more digital. Others more recently have taken up the charge, but it really started with him.

And you’ve probably heard of the third guy. Some people would argue that his fascination with high-tech toys has had an impact, for better or worse.


After managing to implement save/load in my demo, the next thing of course was to implement the undo function. Under the hood, the mechanism is the same — I encapsulate the entire current state of the demo, and then I stash it somewhere for whenever I need to get it back.

But from the perspective of a user, the implications are profound. An undo button frees you up to experiment, to try new things. You can make as many goofball mistakes as you want, because you know that you can always roll back time.

I remember visiting Walt Disney Animation studios some years back. The animators were all using data tablets to create their drawings.

I asked them whether they preferred the tablets to old-fashioned pencil and paper. “Oh no,” they all said. They explained that pencil and paper is far better — more expressive, more accurate, more personally satisfying — in every way but one.

When you draw on a tablet, you can hit the undo button. And when you are in the heat of production, that one detail is more important than everything else.

The undo button is one of the best things about computers. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could have an undo button in real life? I still recall that sad moment, in my early twenties, when I backed my dad’s car into a telephone pole…

The demo in the oven

I’ve been spending the last few weeks working on a software demo. It has a lot of cool features, but the implementation of one feature in particular continued to elude me — saving and loading.

Which meant that I could show a cool demo by building everything right then and there, but I couldn’t prepare anything beforehand. Sort of like if Julia Child didn’t have that other meal already prepared in the oven.

Today I finally got the save and load feature to work, after many failed attempts. And now I can finally prepare some really cool demo content beforehand to keep warm in the oven.