• 2018

  • The Inevitable Uncanny Reality, or Truth’s Lament

  • From Nicholas Caar’s blog:

    For much of this year, I’ve been exploring the biases of digital media, trying to trace the pressures that the media exert on us as individuals and as a society. I’m far from done, but it’s clear to me that the biases exist and that at this point they have manifested themselves in unmistakable ways. Not only are we well beyond the beginning, but we can see where we’re heading — and where we’ll continue to head if we don’t consciously adjust our course.

    Is there an overarching bias to the advance of communication systems? Technology enthusiasts like Kelly would argue that there is — a bias toward greater freedom, democracy, and social harmony. As a society, we’ve largely embraced this sunny view. Harold Innis had a very different take. “Improvements in communication,” he wrote in The Bias of Communication, “make for increased difficulties of understanding.” He continued: “The large-scale mechanization of knowledge is characterized by imperfect competition and the active creation of monopolies in language which prevent understanding and hasten appeals to force.” Looking over recent events, I sense that Innis may turn out to be the more reliable prophet.

    I agree with Nicholas (and by extension, Innis’ thoughts). The natural progression moving forward will ultimately result in a complete and total rejection of communicated truths (and falsities alike). We’re certainly on the road there. Between Facebook and Fox News alone, we’re in the bad place. We’re essentially on a ship, in the middle of the ocean, without a sextant to correct course. If we don’t get it together now, we never will.

    So, what lies beyond this uncanny valley of communication? A haunting, morbid, unreliable, and utterly horrifying formless thing. It’s not truth. It’s not quite full of lies either. It’s, something else devoid of definition. A post-modern chimera. The closest thing I can form to describe the world of communication we may come to inhabit goes by another popular name: reality television.

  • The Onizuka Soccer Ball

  • Ellison Onizuka was a careered Air Force test pilot, flight engineer and American astronaut. He was born and raised in Kealakekua, Hawaii. He flew on Space Shuttle missions for the Discovery and Challenger.

    He, of course, was tragically killed in the Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster. El, as he was often referred to, was a warm and loving father. He was an assistant coach to The Lady Falcons, the Clear Lake High School girls soccer team. Tony Malinowski at ESPN writes:

    In January 1986, “Rocky IV” was in theaters, gas was 93 cents per gallon and Janelle Onizuka was sitting through her sophomore classes at Clear Lake, waiting to get to soccer practice. All week, the team had been passing around a ball to sign. It was just a practice ball, a little scuffed up and not the best brand. By all accounts it was unremarkable, except for one very remarkable fact: Janelle’s dad, Ellison, was going to take it into space.

    The mid-January evening that Ellison came to pick up the ball was one of those nights he was supposed to be in quarantine. Janelle hadn’t seen him for weeks; the astronauts were kept isolated before missions to avoid getting sick. But there he was, jogging across the practice field, and suddenly the whole evening buzzed with the electric feeling of being part of something special as a kid — literally, in this case, part of something far beyond your own small world.

    The players on the team presented Ellison with the ball, looking one last time at all their names and “Good Luck, Shuttle Crew!” written in careful strokes, knowing it was a way for each of them to be a part of the great human achievement of the time — a way to touch the heavens.

    Truly heartbreaking. But, brings joy to my heart that his daughter and her teammates got to see Ellison one last time before the disaster. Ultimately, the ball made it’s way to space after all. In 2016, on Expedition 49 the ball was whisked to the ISS. It spent 173 days aboard. A reminder of El’s determination and destiny, and personally a reminder of our frail mortality. A lovely gesture.

    It also turns out, Ellison gave a compelling and inspiring commencement to his high school alma mater in 1980 — his words have been honored and immortalized in millions of US passports.

    His expanded quotation reads:

    Every generation has the obligation to free men’s minds for a look at new worlds … to look out from a higher plateau than the last generation. Your vision is not limited by what your eye can see, but what your mind can imagine. If you accept these past accomplishments as commonplace, then think of the new horizons that you can explore. … Make your life count, and the world will be a better place because you tried.

    Per aspera ad astra 💫

  • A Generation’s Purpose

  • This has been a trying week.

    Hell, it's been a trying year. There's a seemingly growing divide across the country that feels unending. The festering mass of populist cynicism and the slew of horrible foreign (and domestic) policy decisions feel forever damaging and there is rarely a sign of hope that things will change for the better. If you're like me, you probably feel a little down — all the time.

    It's easy to feel defeated. It really doesn't take much.

    As a result, I regularly visit /r/eyebleach a subreddit dedicated to "no sad content." The purpose of the subreddit is for cleansing your eyes after seeing something horrible. But, my political anxieties require a regular eye-bleaching if you will. The comments on the posts are generally benign. If you've never visited /r/eyebleach, you should.

    I came across a comment in particular (thanks /u/stayalivechi) that really made me ponder, gave me a new perspective, and ultimately gave me a little bit of hope back. The context of this user's comment isn't important, but if you're feeling hopeless about the future, consider this:

    The point of each generation is to be better than the last; there is a great life waiting for you.

    If there is any hope in the future, it's you. ✊

  • A group photo of the band Page France

    An Interview With Page France

  • I really liked this interview. It’s also a shame to see this website go (thank you Internet Archive). I use to love surfing these music and band interview blogs.

    I was introduced to Page France at around the same time I began questioning my future, myself and my religious beliefs. You know, those formative teenage years. I remember everyone loving to dissect the (existent or non-existent) sentimental Christian symbols from their lyrics. Hell, even David Bazan is a victim of that.

    But, I thought this was such a great quote from Michael Nau (@naumichael) of Page France, I just had to share:

    “The ‘Christian band’ inquiry wears me out, to be honest,” Nau said in response to numerous articles which have painted Page France as just that. “As for the Christian symbols in my writing – sometimes I don’t even realize that they exist until someone points them out to me. There’s really no reason; it just rolled out that way.”

    While Page France is no longer producing music together, he continues to perform under his own name. 

  • John Carmack on Steve Jobs

  • This was initially posted on Facebook, which is subject to link-rot. So in the spirit of preservation, I thought I would share it here verbatim:

    Steve Jobs

    My wife once asked me “Why do you drop what you are doing when Steve Jobs asks you to do something? You don’t do that for anyone else.”

    It is worth thinking about.

    As a teenage Apple computer fan, Jobs and Wozniak were revered figures for me, and wanting an Apple 2 was a defining characteristic of several years of my childhood. Later on, seeing NeXT at a computer show just as I was selling my first commercial software felt like a vision into the future. (But $10k+, yikes!)

    As Id Software grew successful through Commander Keen and Wolfenstein 3D, the first major personal purchase I made wasn’t a car, but rather a NeXT computer. It turned out to be genuinely valuable for our software development, and we moved the entire company onto NeXT hardware.

    We loved our NeXTs, and we wanted to launch Doom with an explicit “Developed on NeXT computers” logo during the startup process, but when we asked, the request was denied.

    Some time after launch, when Doom had begun to make its cultural mark, we heard that Steve had changed his mind and would be happy to have NeXT branding on it, but that ship had sailed. I did think it was cool to trade a few emails with Steve Jobs.

    Several things over the years made me conclude that, at his core, Steve didn’t think very highly of games, and always wished they weren’t as important to his platforms as they turned out to be. I never took it personally.

    When NeXT managed to sort of reverse-acquire Apple and Steve was back in charge, I was excited by the possibilities of a resurgent Apple with the virtues of NeXT in a mainstream platform.

    I was brought in to talk about the needs of games in general, but I made it my mission to get Apple to adopt OpenGL as their 3D graphics API. I had a lot of arguments with Steve.

    Part of his method, at least with me, was to deride contemporary options and dare me to tell him differently. They might be pragmatic, but couldn’t actually be good. “I have Pixar. We will make something [an API] that is actually good.”

    It was often frustrating, because he could talk, with complete confidence, about things he was just plain wrong about, like the price of memory for video cards and the amount of system bandwidth exploitable by the AltiVec extensions.

    But when I knew what I was talking about, I would stand my ground against anyone.

    When Steve did make up his mind, he was decisive about it. Dictates were made, companies were acquired, keynotes were scheduled, and the reality distortion field kicked in, making everything else that was previously considered into obviously terrible ideas.

    I consider this one of the biggest indirect impacts on the industry that I have had. OpenGL never seriously threatened D3D on PC, but it was critical at Apple, and that meant that it remained enough of a going concern to be the clear choice when mobile devices started getting GPUs. While long in the tooth now, it was so much better than what we would have gotten if half a dozen SoC vendors rolled their own API back at the dawn of the mobile age.

    I wound up doing several keynotes with Steve, and it was always a crazy fire drill with not enough time to do things right, and generally requiring heroic effort from many people to make it happen at all. I tend to think this was also a calculated part of his method.

    My first impression of “Keynote Steve” was him berating the poor stage hands over “This Home Depot shit” that was rolling out the display stand with the new Mac, very much not to his satisfaction. His complaints had a valid point, and he improved the quality of the presentation by caring about details, but I wouldn’t have wanted to work for him in that capacity.

    One time, my wife, then fiancée, and I were meeting with Steve at Apple, and he wanted me to do a keynote that happened to be scheduled on the same day as our wedding. With a big smile and full of charm, he suggested that we postpone it. We declined, but he kept pressing. Eventually my wife countered with a suggestion that if he really wanted “her” John so much, he should loan John Lassiter to her media company for a day of consulting. Steve went from full charm to ice cold really damn quick. I didn’t do that keynote.

    When I was preparing an early technology demo of Doom 3 for a keynote in Japan, I was having a hard time dealing with some of the managers involved that were insisting that I change the demo because “Steve doesn’t like blood.” I knew that Doom 3 wasn’t to his taste, but that wasn’t the point of doing the demo.

    I brought it to Steve, with all the relevant people on the thread. He replied to everyone with:

    “I trust you John, do whatever you think is great.”

    That goes a long way, and nobody said a thing after that.

    When my wife and I later started building games for feature phones (DoomRPG! Orcs&Elves!), I advocated repeatedly to Steve that an Apple phone could be really great. Every time there was a rumor that Apple might be working on a phone, I would refine the pitch to him. Once he called me at home on a Sunday (How did he even get my number?) to ask a question, and I enthused at length about the possibilities.

    I never got brought into the fold, but I was excited when the iPhone actually did see the light of day. A giant (for the time) true color display with a GPU! We could do some amazing things with this!

    Steve first talked about application development for iPhone at the same keynote I was demonstrating the new ID Tech 5 rendering engine on Mac, so I was in the front row. When he started going on about “Web Apps”, I was (reasonably quietly) going “Booo!!!”.

    After the public cleared out and the rest of us were gathered in front of the stage, I started urgently going on about how web apps are terrible, and wouldn’t show the true potential of the device. We could do so much more with real native access!

    Steve responded with a line he had used before: “Bad apps could bring down cell phone towers.” I hated that line. He could have just said “We aren’t ready”, and that would have been fine.

    I was making some guesses, but I argued that the iPhone hardware and OS provided sufficient protection for native apps. I pointed at a nearby engineer and said “Don’t you have an MMU and process isolation on the iPhone now?” He had a wide eyed look of don’t-bring-me-into-this, but I eventually got a “yes” out of him.

    I said that OS-X was surely being used for things that were more security critical than a phone, and if Apple couldn’t provide enough security there, they had bigger problems. He came back with a snide “You’ve’re a smart guy John, why don’t you write a new OS?” At the time, my thought was, “Fuck you, Steve.”.

    People were backing away from us. If Steve was mad, Apple employees didn’t want him to associate the sight of them with the experience. Afterwards, one of the execs assured me that “Steve appreciates vigorous conversation”.

    Still deeply disappointed about it, I made some comments that got picked up by the press. Steve didn’t appreciate that.

    The Steve Jobs “ hero / shithead” rollercoaster was real, and after riding high for a long time, I was now on the down side. Someone told me that Steve explicitly instructed them to not give me access to the early iPhone SDK when it finally was ready.

    I wound up writing several successful iPhone apps on the side (all of which are now gone due to dropping 32 bit support, which saddens me), and I had many strong allies inside Apple, but I was on the outs with Steve.

    The last iOS product I worked on was Rage for iOS, which I thought set a new bar for visual richness on mobile, and also supported some brand new features like TV out. I heard that it was well received inside Apple.

    I was debriefing the team after the launch when I got a call. I was busy, so I declined it. A few minutes later someone came in and said that Steve was going to call me. Oops.

    Everyone had a chuckle about me “hanging up on Steve Jobs”, but that turned out to be my last interaction with him.

    As the public story of his failing health progressed, I started several emails to try to say something meaningful and positive to part on, but I never got through them, and I regret it.

    I corroborate many of the negative character traits that he was infamous for, but elements of the path that led to where I am today were contingent on the dents he left in the universe.

    I showed up for him.

  • From The (Previously) Richest Man In the World

  • From 2010 through 2013, Carlos Slim Helú held the title as the wealthiest man on Earth. Briefly overtaking Bill Gates title was a big deal at the time. Slim has a storied career. He grew his wealth investing in wide variety of Mexican industries when no one else would: construction, soft drink companies, printing, real estate, bottling and among other things, mining.

    The title of wealthiest person alive, as of writing this, is currently and unsurprisingly, Jeff Bezos.

    Slim’s website, available in English (y en español), is a bit dated but has some real nuggets. He once penned a letter to students (of university) regarding a variety of topics. From privilege, overcoming strife, risks, responsibility and success. It’s easy to dismiss words from monumentally entrepreneurs, but Slim is a expressively thankful, sagacious and dense like iron. It’s a beautiful read.

    The entirety of his letter, for posterity:

    Carlos Slim, in a letter to the university community, gives advise to the most outstanding students on what, in his opinión, are the most important things in life.

    Mexico City, June 1994

    I write to you this letter in order to share some of my life experiences, hoping it will contribute to your education, your way of thinking and living, your emotional well-being, your sense of responsibility to yourselves and to others, your maturity, and above all, to your happiness, which should be the result of your daily existence.

    You are privileged within society due to your talents and efforts, and for the best reason, your own worth.
    Success is not about doing things well or even very well, or being acknowledged by others. It is not an external opinion, but rather an internal status. It is the harmony between the soul and your emotions, which requires love, family, friendship, authenticity and integrity.

    To be as exceptional as you are is a privilege, but it also entails many risks that can have an impact on values that are much more important than professional, economic, social or political “success”. Emotional strength and stability are in the interior life, and in avoiding emotions that erode the soul such as envy, jealousy, arrogance, lust, selfishness, vengeance, greed and laziness, which are a poison that is ingested little by little.

    When you give, do not expect to receive. “Fragrance clings to the hand that gives the rose,” says a Chinese proverb. Do not allow negative feelings and emotions to control your mind. Emotional harm does not come from others; it is conceived and developed within ourselves.

    Do not mix up your values or betray your principles. Life’s road is very long, but it is traveled fast. Live the present intensely and fully, do not let the past be a burden, and let the future be an incentive. Each person forges his or her own destiny and it may influence reality. Do not ignore it.

    Live with positive feelings and emotions such as love, friendship, loyalty, courage, joy, good humor, enthusiasm, peace, serenity, patience, trust, tolerance, prudence and responsibility. Do not allow their opposites to invade your soul, may they pass quickly from your mind, do not allow them to stay there, banish them. You will make mistakes many times, it is normal and human; but try to make them small, then accept, correct and forget them. Do not be obsessed by them; heaven and hell are within us. What is most valuable in life does not cost anything but is very precious: love, friendship, nature and what man has been able to achieve with it; the forms, colors, sounds, smells that we perceive with our senses can only be appreciated when we are emotionally awake.

    Live without fear and guilt; fear is the worst feeling men can have, it weakens them, inhibits action and depresses them. Guilt is a tremendous burden in our lives, the way we think and act. Guilt and fear make the present difficult and obstruct the future. To fight them, let us have good sense and accept ourselves as we are, with our realities, our merits and our sorrows.

    Staying occupied displaces preoccupation and problems, and when we face our problems, they disappear. Thus, they make us stronger every day. We should learn from failure, and successes should be silent incentives. Act always as your conscience dictates, because it never lies. Fear and guilt will then be minimal. Do not block yourself in, do not ruin your life, live it with intelligence, with soul and senses aware and on the alert; get to know their manifestations and train yourselves to appreciate and enjoy life.

    Work well done is not only a responsibility to yourselves and society; it is also an emotional need.

    At the end we depart with nothing, we leave behind only our work, family and friends, and, perhaps, a positive influence which we have planted.

    My very best wishes,
    Carlos Slim Helú