Not nominated

When I think back on the three films I most enjoyed watching in 2019, I primarily think of The Farewell, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood and Little Women. There were other excellent films last year, but those three in particular stand out for their heart, their emotional depth, and the intelligent layers of psychological nuance in their visual presentation.

I am confident that all three of those films will become part of the cinematic cannon. They will be watched and rewatched by future generations of filmgoers, and their brilliant and original directorial choices will continue to be studied in film schools for many decades to come.

Yet here is something odd: Not one of the directors of those three astonishing films received a best director nomination from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Perhaps those three directors have something in common that has caused them to be devalued by the Academy, despite the astonishing brilliance and originality of their respective creative achievements. If so, I wonder whatever that could be.

Political asymmetry

I was discussing with a friend today the merits of the various contenders for Democratic presidential nominee. One issue that stood out had nothing to do with the political stance of each candidate, yet everything to do with politics.

It boils down to a very unfair reason to hope Sanders wins the nomination. Namely, he is the only Democratic candidate with fanatical followers.

If Sanders wins the nomination, the other candidates are likely to throw their support behind him, and effectively rally their supporters to vote for him. But that almost certainly would not work in the other direction.

Anyone who beats Bernie in the nomination is going to be perceived by hard-core Berners as The Enemy. This feeling will be so strong, they may very well forget who their real enemy is.

That asymmetry is not fair, but it does suggest why Sanders might be the most effective candidate. Berner fanaticism arises from the nature of the man’s own personality. He has a tenacious and very focused way of campaigning and of framing the issues. Bernie takes no prisoners.

That pitbull-like quality reminds me of one other U.S. politician — the guy he would ultimately be running against in the general election. Which means that Bernie Sanders, whether you like him or not, may be the only Democrat who can avoid getting eaten alive in November by He Who Must Not Be Reelected.

Dark animation

I attended part of an animation festival this evening. The program mainly consisted of a collection of award winning short animations.

Most of them were emotionally dark. Very very dark. The general tone was tragedy, nihilism, despair, the inevitable inability of one human to relate to another. Even some of the funny ones were filled to the brim with nihilism.

I loved it, the rest of the audience loved it, we all loved it. At the end of the evening everybody agreed that it had been a wonderful experience.

So what’s going on here? Why do we all find ourselves grooving on darkness and despair? Is there some strange gene that causes us to seek out tragedy in our entertainment — even in our animated entertainment?

I suspect two things: (1) This is not an easy question to answer, and (2) Whatever the answer should turn out to be, it would explain a lot about human nature.

The talk before the talk

Today I visited Yahoo New York, and gave a talk there. It was simultaneously broadcast to their other campus, so even though there were only about twenty of us in a little conference room, it might actually have been seen by about 150 people altogether.

Usually when I visit a company, I first give a talk and then meet with people. But this time they arranged it the other way, with my talk coming at the end of the visit.

Presumably this was because we were in NY, whereas the other campus is in California. Our afternoon lines up with their morning.

And that turned out to be a really great thing. As I spoke with different research groups, I kept modifying my talk, dropping a few slides here, adding some images there, to align with my emerging understanding of our common research interests.

By the time I gave the actual presentation, I was able to directly address very good questions that had come up in conversation only earlier that day. Which is really what everyone wanted out of the visit.

It’s so much better this way. There shouldn’t be a talk before everyone has had a chance to talk.

Last episode

I just binged the third season of The Thrilling Adventures of Sabrina. It was dark, it was dystopian, it broke all sorts of rules for television that I hadn’t even known existed. All that, and it had great musical numbers.

It takes a certain courage and clarity of vision to pull off a show like this. And I must say, there is something wonderfully transgressive about a coming-of-age teen dramedy in which Lucifer — the Dark Lord himself — is just one more problematic family member.

But my favorite thing about season three, more than anything, was the way they ended it. No spoilers, but by the time you get to the finale, the writers have pretty much dragged you through hell. All of your worst fears have come true, and then some.

And then they do something rather unexpected. The vary last episode is a completely insane and rather Dada-ist homage to nothing other than The Wizard of Oz.

It is something that needs to be seen to be believed. I highly recommend it.

Edible VR

Today I tried Mattia Casalegno’s Aerobanquets experience. Essentially, you enter VR and experience fantastical worlds, while being treated to an actual gourmet meal.

The experience was far more powerful than I had expected it to be. Somebody pointed out a key point about Aerobanquets: While in another world, you are letting something from the physical world enter through your mouth.

Intellectually, you wouldn’t think that this would make so much of a difference. But in practice, the effect is profound.

Eating is a extremely physical and sensual act. We do it so often that we can tend to forget this.

But when you are in an experience where you are otherwise disconnected from your physical body, it becomes easier to appreciate how primal it is to ingest food. That is particularly true of carefully curated and brilliantly prepared gourmet food, which this was.

I also had a good conversation with Mattia about the possibilities. There are obvious next steps to take which relate directly to the work in our own Future Reality Lab.

For one thing, the experience I had today did not afford a truly shared experience for multiple people of eating in VR. All participants remained in their individual isolated virtual world.

Clearly a next step would be to create a good shared VR dining experience for two or more people. It looks as though there might be an exciting opportunity for collaboration!

Animated sculpture

I still remember the first time I was taken to a great museum when I was a child. I loved everything, but the realist sculptures in particular really spoke to me.

As I got older, I realized that this was because a great realist sculpture is like a well chosen single frame in a fantastical movie. You can see, just from that one moment, a great story on display. Sometimes the story is comic, and sometimes tragic, but always character is revealed.

This has gotten me thinking, now that VR makes more things possible, what would it be like to have sculpture be animated? I don’t mean acting out an entire narrative, but rather having the sculpture be able to move and breathe, and perhaps even respond to you.

Visiting a museum while wearing those forthcoming wearables, we might be able to see a different kind of sculpture. Form would still suggest movement, but in addition, movement would suggest form.

Rather than being a single frame of a fantastical movie, it would be several frames of that movie, forming an animated presence. I’m not even sure whether such a thing would continue to count as sculpture.

But I think it would be interesting to try.


I love that the date today is a palindrome. We have not had one of those for about nine hundred years. I am going to write this post as a palindrome in two languages — English and ancient Venusian. To celebrate that the date reads the same with sides reversed is hti wema sehts!

Daere ta deht ta htet ar bel ecotnai sunevt neic nad. Nahsil gneseg a ugnal, owtni emord nil a pasa tsop. Sih tet irwot gniog, mais raey derd nuhen intu o baro. Fesoht foe no dah, tone vah e wemord. Nila pasi yado, tet a deht tah tevoli!

Silver lining

There is a silver lining to the Republicans in the U.S. Senate voting to conduct an impeachment “trial” without calling any witnesses. The silver lining is that such an outrageous act is going to get a lot of people angry.

In November 2016 a lot of people were angry, so they went to the polls and registered a protest vote. Many people who weren’t angry stayed home. Ever since, we have been living with the tragic outcome.

But when one party in the Senate essentially votes to spit in the nation’s face, a lot of people get angry on the other side. And those people are more likely to get out and vote.

It’s actually not the presidential election that is most important in November 2020 — it’s all the Senate seats that are up for grabs. The Republicans are hanging on by only a very slender majority.

Something as insulting to our democratic system as “a trial without any witnesses” is going to get a lot of people very angry. And those people will be moved in the coming election to contribute time and money to get Democrats elected to the Senate.

If you’re one of those people who feels that anger, this is your chance. Find out which Republican-held Senate seats are vulnerable, and start preparing to contribute however you can to the campaigns of their challengers.