When I was a kid I would watch a cartoon called Tennessee Tuxedo and his Tales on Saturday morning TV. Tennessee Tuxedo, who was a penguin, would go on all sorts of adventures with his pal Chumley, who was a walrus.

Whenever they ran into a problem they couldn’t solve, they would go to their friend Mr. Whoopee, a professor who had a magical three dimensional blackboard, or 3dbb for short. Mr. Whoopee would open up his 3dbb and draw on it in three dimensions, and the drawings would then magically come to life and become animated explanations of all sorts of things.

From Mr. Whoopee’s 3dbb I learned how television works, the principle behind clouds and precipitation, how windmills convert sunlight into useful energy, and many other things beside. It was very educational, and — very important for a small child — just the right amount of silly.

Much of the research I’ve been drawn to as a grownup has been inflluenced by the idea of the 3dbb. In our lab we are creating future interfaces that are strongly influenced by ideas that Mr. Whoopee’s creators planted in my head all those years ago.

The ideas go beyond such distinctions as “virtual reality” versus “augmented reality”. The key takeaway for me was, and continues to be, that it’s all about communication between people, and great storytelling.

If we had a really good 3dbb, what I’d really want to do is use it to tell you a story,. And maybe you could tell me one too.

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