Day off

October 3rd, 2021

Today has been for me largely a day of rest. I decided to take a day off, after an intense week of non-stop work and activity.

Ironically, I suspect this is the most productive decision I have made all week.

Nick and Nora

October 2nd, 2021

I mentioned the names Nick and Nora at dinner this evening. The other people at the table had no idea what I was talking about. So I explained Nick and Nora Charles, The Thin Man, Dashiell Hammett’s novel.

I explained the fact that the characters played by William Powell and Myrna Loy were the most romantic couple in cinema history. I even touched on the surprising movie debut of Jimmy Stewart.

I am surprised that people don’t know the classics of cinematic history. It is so fundamental to who we are as a culture, and to how we got here.

Not bad for a calendar day

October 1st, 2021

So many things began on October 1. Here is an abbreviated list (I am leaving out a lot of things):

Yosemite National Park, Stanford University, the Ford Model T, the first Soviet Five Year Plan, the George Washington Bridge, the first U.S. superhighway, NASA, the Free Speech Movement, the Concorde’s first supersonic flight, the CT scanner, the compact disc, and the first legal recognition of gay partnerships.

Oh, and also the People’s Republic of China and Disney World.

Not bad for a calendar day.


September 30th, 2021

We can see the Sun set every day, and yet we still perceive a sunset as something wondrous and beautiful.

If this doesn’t convince you that life is filled with grandeur and mystery, then nothing will.

The perils of architecture

September 29th, 2021

Some years ago I was having drinks with a colleague, an artist, in an outdoor cafe at La Defense, near Paris. My colleague was very excited, because it was the first time that he had ever been there, and the Grand Arch reminded him of his own work which employed hypercubes.

He waxed rhapsodically about the architecture for quite some time. Then at one point he excused himself to go use the restroom. When he came back he had an excited glow in his eyes.

He told me that when he got there, he realized that even the restrooms employed a futuristic hypermodern architecture. For example, he marveled at the unusual and daring shape of the urinals.

Then, he said, he turned around and saw a perfectly ordinary looking urinal. That was when, he told me, he realized his mistake. That other thing wasn’t a urinal.


“But,” he added, “it should have been.”

Levels of reality

September 28th, 2021

We all know, on a gut level, what is real and what is fiction. For example, we know that Albert Einstein was a real person, but Hamlet was fictional.

What are there levels of fiction? For example, is Hamlet more real than a character that we only hear about in a play but who is never on stage?

Could we create a hierarchy of fictional realities, through some reasonably objective criteria? If so, what would those criteria be?

Those moments

September 27th, 2021

There are moments when the clouds part, the fog lifts, and everything becomes clear. In those moments you suddenly understand everything.

At the moment, I am waiting for one of those moments.

Breaking the fourth wall

September 26th, 2021

Continuing the theme from yesterday…

Movies rarely break the fourth wall. When they do, it usually doesn’t go well.

But amusement park rides do so regularly, as standard practice. And audiences seem to love it.

There seems to be something inherent in the nature of immersive entertainment that the the audience should be acknowledged, and in non-immersive entertainment that the audience generally should not be acknowledged.

I wonder whether this is really an inherent property, or is merely a consequence of the way these genres have historically developed. Does greater physical immersion necessarily correlate to greater acknowledgment of the audience?

Amusement park rides

September 25th, 2021

Anyone who has been on a moder amusement park ride knows that modern amusement park rides are a combination of the real and the virtual, a kind of sleight of hand trickery.

Physical movement on a motion platform is combined with cleverly constructed computer graphics to create the illusion that one is moving great distances, rising to great heights, or falling precipitously. In reality, you are pretty much in the same place, but the combination of visual and proprioceptic sensation tells you otherwise.

I wonder, in the far future, whether virtual reality will get to the point where messing with your visual system and your proprioceptic sense can become individualized and shrunk down. Can we be made to feel as though we are going on vast journeys without ever leaving home?

Magic in the real world

September 24th, 2021

We find Harry Potter charming because his world is non-threatening. We get an easy fix of retro charm, and a bit of magical realist Steampunk, without our universe ever being disturbed in any practical way.

But what if it were all real? What would be our relationship to it then?

Would we feel threatened by it, the way the Dursleys feel threatened by Harry and his world? Or would we embrace it, and collectively harness magic as a force for positive change?