Future nostalgia

If the direction forged by the Apple Vision Pro succeeds, the now ubiquitous notebook computer might soon go away. Rather than hunching over a little computer with a limited screen size, people who need to do serious knowledge work will be able to access a truly expansive virtual computer with unlimited screen space upon which to see and organize their work.

In moments of future nostalgia, we might look back on the clamshell format with a wistful fondness. These memories might be somewhat akin to the way we now remember the old corded phone that used to be found in every kitchen and bedroom.

Eventually the entire concept of the notebook computer might fade from collective memory, other than as an historical curiosity. It will be seen only in old movies and TV shows, a quaint period detail forever preserved in amber.

Animation as philosophy, part 2

To sum up yesterday’s post, the great Disney animator told me that if you want to understand how a character moves, you need to understand how it gets its food. And it occurred to me that there is a very profound and generalizable truth in this statement.

Whenever you encounter anyone, whether in friendship, or professional relationship, or as a romantic partner, or as a family member, you would do well to understand what motivates them. At core, why do they do what they do, and what makes them believe what they believe?

All relationships are transactional, no matter how much our romantic view of the world might lead us to believe otherwise. Everybody has emotional needs, and their feelings and actions in the world are manifestations of those needs.

Whenever we are surprised by someone’s actions or beliefs, it is an indication that we do not understand that person’s core underlying needs. People with a high EQ (Emotional Quotient) are particularly good at understanding the core needs of others, even if those needs are hidden behind a veil of misdirection.

Peoples’ actions and beliefs, no matter how confusing, are always a consequence of what they really need, on an emotional and existential level. In other words, if you want to understand how a character moves, you need to understand how it gets its food.

Animation as philosophy, part 1

I once had the good fortune to have a conversation about character animation with a great Disney animator. He talk to me about the difference between animating cats and animating dogs.

Basically, he said, if you want to understand how a character moves, you need to think about how it gets its food. Dogs hunt in packs, which means they need to be fast and loud and they do not need to move gracefully.

Cats, in contrast, are solitary hunters who depend upon stealth to catch their prey. Everything about them is about graceful silence, from their slinking gait to their retractable claws.

It occurred to me afterward that this bit of advice has implications far beyond the field of animation. More tomorrow.


To me the most fascinating, and definitely most important, thing about the newly announced Apple Vision Pro is that they are aiming to connect people who are wearing with people in the same room who are not wearing, by showing the eyes of wearers to non-wearers when the wearer is in XR mode.

This produces a categorical difference, in a social sense, from previous VR efforts, since a characteristic feature of VR until now, which I believe has been the greatest factor in preventing mass adoption, has been the way it isolates wearers from non-wearers. After all, most consumers, other than dedicated gamers, do not want to be separated from other people when they are in the same room.

All information appliances that have achieved mass adoption, from phones to tablets to televisions to computers, allow us to remain aware of each other when we are in each other’s physical presence. This leads me to think that the Vision One is the first VR device that can speak to the general consumer.

Of course the price is very high now, and that is clearly deliberate. It makes sense for Apple not to do a large scale rollout until the second or third generation, so it can do iterative tuning within a limited market.

But the direction that Apple is aiming toward in the VR space is the first one which makes sense to me for a general audience.

Real-life replicator

What if the Star Trek replicator and transporter existed in real life? I don’t mean in the 23rd Century, but right now.

It seems to me that these technologies would be used very differently from the way they are used on the show. For one thing, many people would undoubtedly create infinite wealth for themselves.

This would immediately erase a large part of our current economic model, and replace it with something extremely different. The good news is that hunger would wiped out in one fell swoop.

Far more intriguing and troubling is the likelihood that many people would also opt to make clones of themselves. The very possibility of such a thing raises all sorts of deep and troubling ethical issues.

For example, if there are 10 of me, what rights to each of us have? Which of us, if any, is actually “me” — in any legal, moral or ethical sense?

It is interesting that these thorny ethical and existential questions do not dominate the Star Trek universe, even though these things are all quite attainable in that universe. Maybe the people on Star Trek are just better than we are.


I’ve been trying to create a user interface that is very easy to use. And as I work on it, I keep running into the same problem.

The easiest way to make something easy to use is to limit the user’s choices. If you only give people simple options, then everything is clear and easy to learn, and in fact pretty much self-evident.

But once you start empowering the user, it’s nearly impossible to keep things simple. Which is a shame.

For example, it’s easy to give people one representative object (say, a chair or a dog). But it’s hard to give them an easy way to have fine control over exactly what chair or dog they will get.

Which isn’t to say that easy/simple is better or more complex/powerful is better. They are both good.

I think the solution is to know your customer. You need to understand what they really want to do, and why they want to do it.

Sometimes people need a fighter jet, and sometimes they just need a bicycle. And if what you really need is a bicycle, you’re not going to be happy with even the best fighter jet in the world.

When all the world’s in tune

When ground is lost, and hope is tossed,
And fate inscribed in pen
As seas may roil, our blood, full boil,
Bemoans the fate of men
We dine on fear, for now we hear
That faint satanic laugh
When light grows dim, we offer him
The sacrificial calf
But for God’s sake, know when to make
That leap up to the moon
Do not despair, I’ll see you there
When all the world’s in tune

Time is relative

May was such a long and difficult month for me that today seems like a miracle. At long last June!

From an objective standpoint, time is completely linear. Every day has exactly 24 hours, and the arrow of time proceeds at a perfectly steady pace.

Yet there are times, depending on what is happening in your life, when everything seems to slow down to a crawl. And for some terribly unfair reason, those times generally turn out to be the worst times.

Well, here we are at a fresh brand new month, an opportunity for things to start looking up and being wonderful. But just my luck, if that happens, the whole month will probably go by way too fast.