There's a Giant Flock of Bagels Flying Around My Living Room!
Plus!! Eric Adams Watch #7! Reader Letter!
Welcome to Issue #39 of CAFÉ ANNE!
Last week’s issue, in which I investigated the proliferation of novel titles based on some variation of “The X’s Daughter,” generated a lot of feedback—most notably from readers who are also writers and mused about titles that might automatically produce a best seller: “The Winter of the Beekeeper’s Daughter’s Wife,” anyone?
Meanwhile, in response to my noting that I’m an accountant’s daughter—and that probably no one wants to read about that—my father emailed to declare, “I think that a book entitled the ‘Accountant's Daughter’ would be a big hit!”
In other news, I’m headed upstate next week for my annual no-phone, no-internet cabin vacation in Selkirk Shores State Park, a fantastic campground overlooking beautiful Lake Ontario and the awesome R.E .Ginna Nuclear Power Plant!
That means no CAFÉ ANNE for the next two Mondays. But the August 29 issue is sure to be a doozy, one way or the other. Haha!
Meanwhile, please enjoy this week’s issue which includes the latest edition of Eric Adams Watch, an intriguing letter from a subscriber and a feature in which I recount a visit from reader Stephen Black of Toledo, Ohio, who installed a virtual floating soda bread in my living room.
ERIC ADAMS WATCH
On Rush Hour, H2O and Enjoying Your Job!
I’m still enjoying the exploits of New York City’s newish mayor, Eric Adams. As a profile in Politico put it, “In a city of weird people and weird mayors, Adams is maybe the most idiosyncratic figure to ever hold the office.”
Here, round-up #7 of the mayor’s doings:
July 16: At a press conference, Mr. Adams declares he is “both parts of rush hour in one guy,” leaving reporters to wonder if he means Rush Hour, the buddy cop movie series, or rush hour, the daily traffic jam. This is not clarified.
July 20: With temperatures rising, the Mayor tweets a video promoting NYC’s municipal H2O: “It’s hot outside. I urge every New Yorker to drink up. Tap water is the best!” One commenter watching his performance wonders, “WTF did they put in the tap water??”
August 2: The Mayor, who has taken to wearing a tee-shirt that says “MAYOR” on the back (where can I get one of these?), comes clean about his true feelings about being mayor. “I start my day off saying, ‘Wow. I’m lucky to be the Mayor of New York City.’ You know?” he tells reporters at a press conference in Far Rockaway, Queens. “So I’m excited. I’m happy!”
Dear Dr. Kadet:
As a long-time reader of your little production, it seems to me we share many of the same concerns. One of these is public health in our city, and the monkeypox epidemic which threatens same.
I understand that there are extant concerns about the disease's problematic name. As a former marketing copywriter, I believe I am qualified to speak on the topic, and I agree: we can do better.
Though the formal concerns mention potential stigma, I see the opposite effect: “monkeypox” sounds unsavory but zany, like something you wouldn't mind contracting and telling people about over beverages and shishito peppers.
Our goal should be to make it sound undesirable yet serious and maybe a little dull. In New York, I believe the name "Jerseypox" would do this for a good swath of the high-risk population.
Under no circumstances should it be called “Cronutpox” or “Beyoncepox.”
Maybe your other readers have further suggestions?
AL in Brooklyn
Have a thought to share with CAFÉ ANNE readers? Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Please indicate that it’s a “Mailbox” item.
There’s a Giant Flock of Bagels Flying Around My Living Room!
I first heard from Stephen Black, a reader in Toledo, Ohio, on the 4th of July:
Hello Anne Kadet!
I used to live in NYC when it was as warm and cuddly as the CBGB’s bathroom.
Have lived in Asia mostly.
Am planning to move back to NYC, but for now I commute from Ohio…
His note, presented in several different font sizes and colors, included many photos and links. He went on to explain that he’d be in NYC later in the month to give a presentation on augmented reality (AR) at Columbia University. I was welcome to attend. Or perhaps I’d like to meet him at one of several locations in the city where he’d be doing some AR testing.
His note was signed “onwARd!”
I investigated the links he’d included. One stood out: a Youtube video highlighting a giant, floating virtual soda bread he created last year for the Irish Cultural Museum in New Orleans. The video showed the raisin-studded loaf hovering outside the museum’s storefront, menacing tourists.
I responded to tell Mr. Black: “I love the soda bread thing more than you can possibly imagine.”
His reply, the very next day, included an extremely tempting offer:
“If you like, I can install soda bread and anything else in a place of your choice. If you have an office or feel comfortable with me installing it in your home, that would be interesting.”
I immediately emailed my “friend” and “financial advisor,” Aharon, who I often consult on matters of great importance: “So a CAFÉ ANNE reader who lives in Ohio but will be visiting NYC on the 25th to give a presentation at Columbia about augmented reality has offered to come by and install a giant viritual floating soda bread in my apartment. Yes or no?”
Aharon’s reply: “Yes. What do you have to live for?”
Several weeks later, Mr. Black, who was staying at the Ace Hotel in Manhattan, arrived at my door at 9 am sharp, armed with a backpack, his laptop and an iPhone 11.
Before he got started installing the loaf, I asked him to sit at the kitchen counter and fill me in on his background. He declined a cup of coffee, opting for glass of delicious NYC tap water.
Mr. Black would be the first admit he speaks in rambling fashion that is not always perfectly intelligible. When I asked if my floating soda bread would have raisins, for example, his response involved an account of his mother’s trip to the dentist, a brief overview of how American Indians used potash, and his plans to create a digital soda bread pamphlet. But he had yet to answer the question.
Still, I got the general idea. After growing up in Toledo and studying photography and film at the Rochester Institute of Technology, he lived in cities around the globe including New York, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Bali and Bangkok teaching English, working in video production and doing “art stuff.”
I asked what he meant by “art stuff.”
“Photography, exhibitions, some installations where you're collaborating with theater people, dance people, you know, writing books…one became a best seller in Singapore!” he said. “I’ve a copy if you’d like.”
The book, “i ate tiong bahru,” is an account of his time living in the Singapore district of the same name. A blurb on the back of the book, from a fellow artist, states, “Stephen Black: after my first meeting with him I thought he was either a compulsive liar or a genius.”
“People say two things, ‘Is Black your real last name?’ and ‘Are you on drugs?’” Mr. Black told me.
It had not occurred to me that Mr. Black might be high, but I did suspect that perhaps he had done a lot of drugs in the past, so I asked about that.
“No, not really. I mean, chemicals, no. I’m not a chemical guy,” he said.
Now 61 years old and back in Toledo to enjoy his aging parents, he’s working part-time loading trucks at an Amazon warehouse. “I’m the son of a book salesman, so I grew up carrying boxes of books,” he said. “The way I see it, they’re paying me to work out.”
Entirely self-taught when it comes to the art and science of augmented reality, he also travels around the world creating AR installations. In addition to the floating soda breads in New Orleans, he’s created a virtual flock of bagels for a chain in Denver and cartoon chef character, Bubiko, which he flew in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. “And now I’m doing something with kways,” he said. “Do you know what kways are? Kways are Southeast Asian pastries. Often rice-based, coconut. They’re great for you.”
He’s also making presentations at places ranging from MIT to TechCrunch in Shenzhen. “I'm always the dumbest one in the room,” he said. “Everyone else is like the head of a company.”
Where he actually stands in the AR/VR industry hierarchy is another area in which I failed to much clarity. And really, who cares? It’s not like Mark Zuckerberg was offering to personally install an assortment of baked goods in my apartment.
“Let’s get to work!” I said.
The first step was scanning my living room. Mr. Black used his phone to take a series of 255 photos which he uploaded to the cloud-based
”spatial web.” My apartment is now, for better or worse, an official metaverse location.
It took about a half hour to upload the scan. Meanwhile, he had me download the free XRMasters app, which I would use to view the installations on my own phone.
Next step: I could choose from a menu of 3D objects to install in my apartment including a rainbow kway, a bottle of lilac gin or his Bubiko chef character riding in my choice of mango or bean blimp. I went for the soda bread, of course—requesting a rotating version, with raisins.
“Oops!” said Mr. Black. He had accidentally installed a clown fish swimming around my bookcase.
After deleting the fish, he called up the soda bread and asked me how big to make it.
“I could make this huge, to feed a family of ten!” he said.
I considered a loaf the size of my coffee table, but that felt overwhelming. I had him shrink it down to life size, and asked him to install it just in front of the sofa. He took my photo.
I used the app on my phone to view the soda bread myself. It was hovering gracefully and rotating slowly. I approached to examine it from every angle. Mesmerizing! “Watch out for chair behind you!” said Mr. Black.
I looked away from my phone and was surprised to see the bread was not actually in the room. I couldn’t stop laughing.
“Why is this so funny?” I asked.
“It’s so unusual and so new,” he said. ‘The word ‘augment’ means to add or improve. So we’re adding digital information to reality.”
“Do you think reality is improved with the addition of soda bread?” I asked.
“In the case of the Irish Cultural Museum, yes,” he said.
“But just in general—is reality better with more soda bread?” I pressed.
“I think in the case of Ireland, historically, they were pretty happy to have a cheap source of carbohydrates. But that was real soda bread,” said Mr. Black.
So what’s the end game? There’s actually a lot at stake here. Mr. Black serves as the spacial cinema artist for the nonprofit Open AR Cloud, a community of AR researchers, programmers and developers who want to ensure the metaverse continues as an open source platform to which everyone can contribute rather than see it controlled by handful of big companies.
“It's almost like a question of like, if we send people to Mars, who governs Mars, right?” I said. “I don’t quite understand it, but it’s very exciting.”
“I don’t understand it either, but somehow I’m doing it,” said Mr. Black.
On a personal level, he’s hoping to at least break even on his AR pursuits by landing some paying jobs, installing virtual objects for museums or small businesses. A sandwich shop, for instance, could have a virtual flock of bagels installed for customers to take selfies with.
Speaking of which!
Before he left, Mr. Black installed a cloud of several dozen bagels up near the ceiling. Now, whenever I view my living room through the phone app, I can see them dancing and swirling around to the goofy soundtrack that plays in the background. If you download the app and come by, you can see them too!
Later that day, I ran into my doorman John the drone pilot and my neighbor Shelly chatting in the lobby. I showed them the bagel photo.
“That’s stupid,” said Shelly, “What’s the point?”
“Wow,” said John. “That’s really cool.”
Shelly is correct, but I’m on John’s side, of course. Mr. Black, meanwhile, plans to return to NYC for the month of September for several events including BagelFest. He is available for AR gigs of all sorts.
CAFÉ ANNE is a free weekly newsletter created by Brooklyn journalist Anne Kadet. Subscribe to get the latest issue every Monday!