Best Films of 2018

David Ehrlich’s latest annual medley of imagery from The 25 Best Films Of 2018 demonstrates once more that there’s plenty of good work out there every year, it’s just a question of how hard you have to look to find it.

By virtue of this list being published towards the end of the calendar year, there’s invariably a bunch of the films on Ehrlich’s list that either haven’t opened in the UK yet or that I didn’t catch during their relatively brief release window outside London. Some I know I’ll not get to see any time soon because I refuse to fork out £10 a month to every streaming service out there, but a list like this at least focuses my attention on what might be worth making some effort to track down.

[Via kottke.org]

“What do you mean you’re not willing to electrocute your cat? It’s a cat! It would do the same to you in an instant!”

John Scalzi shares a story of an encounter with Automated Customer Service in the not too distant future:

Thank you for calling the customer service line of Vacuubot, purveyors of America’s finest automated vacuum cleaners! In order to more efficiently handle call volume, we rely on automated responses. To continue in English, press one. Para Espanol o prima dos. […]

That Purge Mode is a doozy!

[Via Metafilter]

Professionalism

Note to self: if you’re going into business with David Heinemeier Hansson have all your ducks lined up and know what you’re doing. Because otherwise, he’ll end up calling you out for your failings online:

[…] Now I’ve ended up writing a long tirade, and I completely accept that some people might gag with summary like: “So they gave you a bunch of money, fucked up a few things, but now the books are back in stock, so why do you care?”. Because I do care. Because we didn’t write this book primarily to make money, but because we had something urgent to say, and wanted as many people as could benefit from that message to hear it. But yes, I’m writing this to process my own frustration, if not outright rage, as well.

A bridge pretty thoroughly burned, I’d say.

The First

I suspect that Channel 4 might be a little disappointed that their screening of The First doesn’t seem to have captured the public’s imagination. I’d seen a couple of reviews after the first episode that tended to lean heavily on the “Sean Penn’s show fails to lift off” line, which is about the angle you’d expect a busy TV reviewer who had only seen the first episode to go with.1

The show was originally made for Hulu, and having looked around online I’ve found a number of reactions from critics who’ve seen all eight episodes in the first season. Clearly the show isn’t imminently going to find itself canonised as part of the Golden Age of Quality Television, but it sounds a lot more promising than you’d think from the reaction to the first couple of episodes. As Todd VanDerWerff puts it in his review of the show for Vox:

This is not a show about the people going to Mars. It’s a show about the people going to Mars.

As I understand it, the show’s only just going to start the journey to Mars at the end of the first season, which is not to say that it’s pointless prior to that. Sean Penn’s character, an experienced astronaut.2 He finds himself bonding with the relatives of the doomed crew (who had been his crew until his being unseated as the team’s leader for reasons we’ve not gone into as of episode 2) in the wake of the accident, and making the case through the media for a manned space programme earnestly but with a certain gravitas it seems he’s earned through his previous space exploits, all while he’s also dealing with the recent return into his life of his estranged daughter, who has had her share of problems and is still coming to terms with the disappearance of her mother, his wife, a few years ago.3 Penn is a more than capable lead for this show, and I suspect that by the time we get to episode eight he’ll have cemented himself as the rock against whom a good cast4 have assembled to tell a good, mature story. It probably won’t be the flashiest of stories, but it could be something special given time.

Stack Overflow at 10

There’s a certain amount of irony in the proposition that one response in the comments on Jeff Atwood’s post commemorating the 10th anniversary of the launch of Stack Overflow was to suggest that the post be marked as a duplicate of https://stackoverflow.blog/2018/09/27/stack-overflow-is-10/.

I think Jeff Atwood puts it best himself:

Interesting, so we can close posts as duplicates across completely different websites now? Fascinating. I hope all websites on the internet get the memo on this exciting new policy!

For what it’s worth I’m the most amateurish of programmers, and over the years I’ve found Stack Overflow immensely useful. Read the answers carefully and there’s an astounding amount of useful information in there.

STET

STET is a breathtakingly good story by Sarah Gailey, told as much in the footnotes as the body text, about the implications of letting Artificial Intelligence loose on the public roads.

Which is more chilling?

10 – Read: ‘Murder’. It was murder, the car had a choice, you can’t choose to kill someone and call it manslaughter.

Or,

13 – Per Foote, the neural network training for cultural understanding of identity is collected via social media, keystroke analysis, and pupillary response to images. They’re watching to see what’s important to you. You are responsible.

Brrr…

[Via MetaFilter]

Social Surveillance

Australia’s ABC News on China’s plans to leave no dark corner when it comes to monitoring the populace’s lives online:

Dandan doesn’t object to the prospect of life under the state’s all-seeing surveillance network. […] The 36-year-old knows social credit is not a perfect system but believes it’s the best way to manage a complex country with the world’s biggest population. […]
Under an existing financial credit scheme called Sesame Credit, Dandan has a very high score of 770 out of 800 – she is very much the loyal Chinese citizen.
Just for the record, I hated the visual style of this piece – way too much scrolling over images to get to the next piece of the text – but the content is decent. The really worrying prospect of this stuff is how easy a sell a European edition of the Social Credit software is going to be to a certain type of centrist politician.1

The term ‘social credit’ should be as despised as the term ‘meritocracy’, properly understood, deserves to be, but give it a decade or so and – barring a backlash against the level of surveillance and the consequences for ordinary citizens having brought down the Chinese government in the meantime – you’re going to see a huge bunfight as every careerist with half an eye on Number 10 decides that this is exactly what the UK needs to get the populace to shape up. We can but hope that they get the successors of the Government Digital Service to try to implement a UK version, so that with any luck it’ll show up years late and barely functional and the world will have moved on to the next big idea.

[Via Brettterpstra.com]

Weekend TV

Such a good weekend TV-wise.

Catching up with a new season of The Good Place was a delight. (Provided you could ignore Ted Danson/Michael’s attempt at an Australian accent when he was posing as a librarian to help nudge Chidi in the right direction at one crucial moment. It’s entirely possible that half a dozen episodes from now we’ll discover that there was a reason that accent was that bad.)

But of course the big TV event of the week came this evening when we got the debut of Jodie Whittaker in the Chris Chibnall-as-showrunner era of Doctor Who. I had my doubts, but they were more about Chibnall on the basis of how poor his past efforts at writing for the franchise had been than they were about his choice of an actor to play the lead role in his take on the show. 1

On the basis of the first episode of the new era, I think it’s going to be fine. The first episode spent much of the time showing us what the new Companions are like, which is fair enough, but still left plenty of time for Jodie Whittaker to show us that she’s got the chops to give us a memorable Doctor once she’s reunited with the TARDIS and she gets a couple more stories under her belt. At this early stage, that’s as much as we can reasonably expect.

Libraries

Susan Orlean tells a tale that starts out much like that of many bookworms, of Growing Up in the Library, but her story ends with her reconnecting with libraries later in life, after a long spell when she had both the money and the inclination to buy most of her reading material and ends up taking her to a very different place than I’d expected.

I grew up in libraries, or at least it feels that way. My family lived in the suburbs of Cleveland, about a mile from the brick-faced Bertram Woods Branch of the Shaker Heights Public Library system. Throughout my childhood, starting when I was very young, my mother drove me there a couple of times a week. We walked in together, but, as soon as we passed through the door, we split up, each heading to our favorite section. The library might have been the first place that I was ever given independence. Even when I was maybe four or five years old, I was allowed to go off on my own. Then, after a while, my mother and I reunited at the checkout counter with our finds. Together, we waited as the librarian pulled out each date card and, with a loud chunk-chunk, stamped a crooked due date on it, below a score of previous crooked due dates that belonged to other people, other times. […] I deliberately didn’t quote from the end of her article because it needs to be read in situ to have the impact it does. Trust me (or, much more to the point, trust Susan Orlean), it’s worth the read. 1

Of course, all this is nonsense because once we lose our attraction for all these strange notions about the usefulness of publicly-funded provision of access to reading materials then surely Amazon (or Facebook, or Apple) will have out best interests at heart and can be trusted to care of all our2 content needs. At worst, perhaps there may be some need for charitably-minded citizens to organise themselves to make access to content available to the indigent. The UK government thinks that the increasing role of Food Banks in feeding a small portion of the population is a good thing, so who could possibly object to extending that idea to the content market? Before we know it, we’ll have these things called “Book Banks.” Oh, hang on a minute…