Scrolling back during a Zoom meeting

I was at a Zoom meeting today, which was being recorded. In the middle of somebody’s screen-shared presentation, I got a phone call.

I didn’t pick up the call, but I needed to take a minute to send the caller a note telling them that I’d call them back after my meeting. In the meantime, I had completely missed whatever was said in that portion of the presentation.

What I really wanted to do in that moment was scroll back to look at the previous slide or two. But Zoom doesn’t let me do that.

Since the meeting was being recorded, there was clearly a record of what had transpired up to that moment in the meeting. But there was no way for me to see it.

Eventually, when the Zoom recording comes out, I will be able to review the presentation. And then I will know what I missed.

But by that point it will be far too late for me to ask useful questions in the meeting itself. Which makes me sad.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could have the option during a Zoom meeting of scrolling back through whatever was previously on screen? On the list of “useful features I would like added to Zoom” this is definitely one.

Identity, part 2

Continuing the thread from the other day…

Given that a photograph now suffices to officially identify you, all sorts of thoughts occur to me. Here is one.

When the current semester started, our department put my class in a room that was too small for the number of students who wanted to take the class. The number of students who can enroll is limited by the number of chairs in the classroom.

Which means a lot of students ended up on the wait list. Since there were not enough chairs to go around, the wait listed students needed to stand.

That is, I think those were the students who were standing — there was no way to be sure. Looking out at that first class, I realized that some of the waitlisted students may have taken a seat, and some the students who were actually registered were forced to stand.

In that moment, I wished I had a pair of glasses that could immediately identify who was who. I would then know right away whether the right people were sitting and the right people were standing.

I would also, incidentally, know everyone’s name, what their interests were, the date of their birth, and whether they played a musical instrument. In other words, I would be able to know far too much about them.

This is, in my opinion, not a good thing. And yet it might be the future we are about to go into headlong.

I think we should be giving this a lot of thought. We take for granted now that when people look at us, they don’t immediately know everything about us.

I’m not sure that particular right to privacy is something we should be willing to give up. No matter how convenient it may seem.

By the way, in case you were wondering, the department managed to find us a larger classroom. Now everybody who wanted to take my class is registered, and they all have a chair to sit in.

Widget Wednesdays #34

This week we go off in a new direction — an exploration of the classic 15 puzzle. Rather than do the entire thing in one week, I thought it might be fun to break it down, and add a little functionality each week.

Here, to begin, is a barebones minimal version, without even any labels on the squares. As usual, you can click on the word on the bottom to bring up the editable code.

In the weeks to come, I will continue adding to this in various ways.

Identity, part 1

Recently I was traveling internationally. I have the Global Traveller option, so I could just to a machine, put in my passport, put my face in front of a camera, and get a piece of paper to hand to the immigration officer.

But I was really tired from the flight. So I forgot to put my passport into the slot — I just posed for the camera.

And it worked anyway. The paper came out saying that I was me, I handed it to the immigration officer, and I was done. It seems that just my photo was enough to identify me.

Apparently sticking your passport into the slot is essentially theater. Your government can already tell who you are just from analyzing a photo of you, and they will let you into the country on that basis.

Needless to say, this is very thought provoking, and there are implications here. More soon.

3D printer

I hadn’t used a 3D printer for more than a decade. Then just recently I bought another one. The general principle is the same, but there have been a lot of improvements since 2010!

The particular model I purchased is a LulzBot Mini 2. It costs about $1500 and it is worth every penny. Also, the customer service is spectacular.

After more than a decade of having retreated to making purely virtual creations, I am now once again thinking about bringing purely imaginary objects out into the physical world. I noticed that it’ also changing the way I think.

When I am making something in software, things can go wrong out in the physical world (like my computer runs out of power, or my disk space fills up). At such times, I tend to think “Oh, that’s a hardware problem.”

But now the shoe is on the other foot. When my 3D print doesn’t turn out the way I wanted, I look at the physical part and I tell myself “Oh, that’s a software problem.”


A friend was complaining to me today about someone in their life who has narcissistic tendencies. “I keep forgetting,” they said, “that I’m dealing with a narcissist.”

It seemed like my friend was looking for advice. So I told them that they should be careful not to tussle with somebody who is a narcissist.

“Remember,” I said, “you are dealing with somebody who is in love. And you should never get between anyone and the person they love.”

Accessing a car

I was talking to some colleagues this week about the coming age of wearables. The combination of high bandwidth wireless connectivity with lightweight wearables with computation in the cloud is going to change a lot of things.

But it isn’t sufficient just to have the technology. There also needs to be a layer over that technology which makes it extremely easy and intuitive to use.

There is an analogy with cars. In the early days of automobiles, the fundamental technology was all there, including internal combustion engines, transmissions, suspensions, four tires, and paved roads, was well as a means of steering, accelerating and braking.

But you couldn’t just get in a car and drive. In order to get anywhere you needed to really know what you were doing.

The oil needed to be checked, the sparks had to heat up, and you needed to know just how to crank that engine to get her started. And if you did that last thing wrong, it could spin back and break your arm.

The interface was not really intuitive, because it was all new. Many millions of users and multiple iterations later, things finally settled down, and cars became a lot easier to drive.

The stuff you shouldn’t need to worry about all disappeared behind the scenes. Meanwhile, the stuff that you really should be worrying about — like not driving off the road or rear-ending the car in front of you — became a lot more streamlined and easier to manage.

The same thing is going to happen with those future wearables. At first they will be something you “access”, the way you now access the interface in a VR headset. There will be all sorts of controls that somebody thought would be important, but that will eventually turn out not to be.

And then one day it will all get sorted out. You won’t need to “access” your glasses, you will just put them on, like you put on a pair of prescription glasses today. They won’t vie for your attention, they will just make it easier and less stressful for you to get through your day.

But don’t expect that to happen right away.

Chrome at 14

Today is the 14th birthday of Google Chrome. It was launched on September 2, 2008.

I have much enjoyed using Chrome during its illustrious childhood. It works very well not only on my MacBook and Android phone, but also on my Quest 2 VR headset.

And of course it’s highly compatible with all of those great Google productivity tools. But now I’m getting worried.

You know what happens when somebody turns 14. They start to get complicated.

I’m worried that Chrome might begin to show signs of adolescence. It might become moody, or manic, or oddly attracted to other Web browsers in ways that it does not yet understand.

It might suddenly fly into fits of jealousy or rage, and refuse to serve pages. Or I might find my pages suddenly all transformed to a dark theme, with everything showing up in a gothic font.

What happens if my trusty Web browser just sits in the corner of my screen all day, munching on apples and peanut butter and wearing outfits with oversized sleeves that cover its hands? And then refuses to do anything but recite lyrics by The Cure and Fall Out Boy?

Oh well, all I can do is hope for the best. Maybe Google Chrome will immediately blossom into a mature adult Web Browser, without ever going through an awkward phase.

If not, I’m open to suggestions.

New beginnings

Today is both the first day of September and the first day of our Fall semester at NYU. Bright and early this morning I taught my very first class of the academic year.

Autumn has arrived, as though welcoming us into the coming year, the heat of the NY summer is gone at last, and it feels like a fresh start. Ready to start the future.

And the nice thing about the future is that anything is possible. Then again, the scary thing about the future is that anything is possible.