Thought bubbles

To my mind, the most interesting point in this account of the producers of The Blacklist are finishing off their mostly-in-the-can-already season of TV with a little help from animators) comes towards the end:

Did you want to channel the comic-book aesthetic specifically?

EISENDRATH: […] In live action, you would have been able to read more of the emotional wheel turning in her head. We didn’t necessarily think that animation would be able to access her inner thinking, so we added a chyron.

BOKENKAMP: We realized, “Oh, wait! That’s within the rule book.” Comics can do thought bubbles. That was sort of a light bulb moment for us. We realized that as we went along that we should take advantage of every comic book trope that we could think of, to help the viewer.

EISENDRATH: Maybe we should keep the thought bubbles when we go back to live action! [Laughs]

“We should take advantage of every comic book trope that we could think of, to help the viewer.” Sounds so innocuous: chyrons signalling what the characters are thinking. What could possibly go wrong?1

Hopefully actors and screenwriters will join forces and reject the damn-fool idea out of hand.

[Via Scripting News Daily Links]

  1. I get that the producer is kidding. That’s the sort of joke that risks getting into the wrong hands and turning into an unstoppable blight on our TV. Kill it with fire, now! 

Social distancing

I found myself sat in our local bus interchange this morning, with every second seat holding a sticker reminding passengers to maintain social distancing. This is a much nicer1 approach:

The restaurant at Izu Shabonten Zoo in Shizuoka, Japan is crowded! But those seats aren’t occupied by people. They’re occupied by stuffed animal Capybaras that have been strategically placed throughout the restaurant to maintain appropriate social distancing.

Social Distancing with Capybaras

[Via swissmiss]

  1. Not clear on what the appropriate cute animal for the South Shields Interchange would be. 

They added WHAT to WHAT?

Intriguing idea…

That really doesn’t sound like a taste combination that should work, and yet…

Wish I could find out for myself.


This is What Peak Hello World Looks Like:

Everybody’s done a Hello World program before. But now that I’ve got a few years of experience with the language, I set out to ask one of the most pressing questions out there – how do we make Hello World in C as convoluted and hard to understand as possible? This post documents the final result of a sleep-deprived me trying to do exactly that.

Horrifying stuff.

[Via Scripting News]

The Machine Stopped

YouTube’s algorithm has been suggesting this video for a couple of days now but I’d been ignoring it until a comment at Charlie’s Diary gave me a nudge towards it.

Granted, the Current Situation provides comedians with a target-rich environment,1 so it’s more of a whistle-stop tour than the in-depth charge sheet that some of the individuals deserve, but it’s still a decent reminder of how keen so many incumbents are to rush past lockdown and rush into what comes afterwards. You know, the return of ‘normality’.

[Via Charlie’s Diary]

  1. In many respects the charge sheet probably needs expanding to cover every pusher of neoliberal bullshit over the last five decades or so, but it seems very reasonable to start with the current incumbents and work backwards from there as required until the job is done. 


I have to admit, this video is delightful:

The fact that there’s a vanishingly small prospect of my getting an opportunity to go to Kew Gardens and enjoy that scenery for myself any time soon is just one of those things everyone has to live with given the Current Situation, I guess. I can certainly add a task to do that one day to my to-do list, but somehow that’s falling rather a long way short…

[Via swissmiss]

Halted and Caught Fire

I’ve been filling some gaps in my TV viewing with Halt and Catch Fire, a show where I’ve enjoyed season one but I kept reading commentary that suggested that the show really got good once we got to season two. As I type this 1 I’m four episodes into season two and having to fight the temptation to binge watch the remainder of the season rather than work from home today like I’m supposed to.

They weren’t kidding: the characters I enjoyed so much are so much more fun in their new situation: watching Cameron start down the path towards learning how not to rely on her being the visionary/genius programmer who will save the day but rather a proper manager promises to be great fun. I have very deliberately not looked ahead to find out how the plot develops in the remaining seasons – I’ll get there soon enough, and I’m enjoying the ride enough not to want to be derailed by spoilers if I can help it – but I can’t help but wonder whether by the close of season four Cameron will realise that she also had a hell of a lot to learn from her partner in Mutiny, Donna. 2

To quote MeFi user prismatic7:

Everything I love about this show is encapsulated by the sequence in which Cameron and Donna talk tech at a dive bar and confront the bad guy while Gordon glams up and takes the kids for ice cream. Every TV – and computer industry – cliche subverted in one swoop, and without the showboating any other property on TV today would go for.

It’s a real shame that this show wasn’t a much bigger deal than it ended up being, but them’s the breaks when your show’s visibility is so dependent upon which distribution outlet handles your show. 3 When Halt and Catch Fire was new I missed it because a) I don’t think it made it to terrestrial TV or any of the digital services I had access to at the time, and b) in any case the portion of my brain that liked fictional TV shows about technology had already been captured by Silicon Valley, so who knows whether my mind could have coped with two such different pictures of how the tech business worked at the same time? Imagine if the time streams had merged and inserted Donna or Cameron in the room where a by the guys from Pied Piper led to the calculation of the the Mean Jerk Time and the D2F Ratio AND the formulation of the Middle-Out method of data compression that formed the basis of several seasons of triumph and disaster for everyone in that room. Obviously Cameron would have been tempted to use her baseball bat on everyone in the room, but who knows, perhaps the two shows would have ended with a crossover where – after wacky adventures as Richard ended up having to help Cameron to bury Erlich Bachman’s body 4 – Cameron and Richard ended up as a couple and omigod now I really wish someone had made this happen!

Anyway, time for me to catch some sleep. Short message: Halt and Catch Fire started well and then got better. If you’re anything like me, you might like it. (Ignore this if this is old news to you.)

I wonder where Cameron stands on Tabs-versus-Spaces?

[Via MetaFilter Fanfare]

  1. In the early hours of Thursday morning, because I took a long nap through much of late Wednesday evening after watching Halt and Catch Fire season 2 episode 4 and don’t feel sleepy again yet. 
  2. Even in season one it seemed to me that Kerry Bishé was the MVP of the show’s core cast and so far season two is piling on further evidence of that exalted status with every passing episode. Look at Cameron screwing up when she didn’t realise that a disparaging offhand remark she’d made about Donna on their nascent social network had gone to all users, cueing up the scene when Donna came into the office and everyone but her was waiting for the catfight that didn’t come because Donna is an adult. She dealt with it without use of a baseball bat or a loud tantrum in front of their coworkers, because she’s the adult in the room. Five minutes later the two of them were working together in the new team photo, having let off steam and reduced the tension. 
  3. A lesson I suspect we’ll all get to learn again in the forthcoming era of every-damn-studio-insisting-on-viewers-paying-a-monthly-subscription-to-their-streaming-service. Twenty years from now when someone finally declares themselves the winners of that battle and starts in on trying to get the rights to all sorts of shows that were scattered among the assets of how many different bundles of intellectual property rights, how many masterpieces will be waiting to be rediscovered by (or, very possibly, remade for) the mass audience they missed out on when they were new? 
  4. No way can they both survive in the same timestream, so I’m afraid he has to go. 

Social credit – a different view

[Executive Summary: Facebook-style Social Media needs to die now, before it gets a chance to grow into this monstrosity.]

Given the distinctly Big Brother-flavoured response to the notion of China introducing a highly automated social credit system, an academic who has spent 16 months in China exploring attitudes to the idea of an automated social credit system gives us the perspective from folks who would be affected by the system once China finishes rolling it out:

During my time there, I found that positive perceptions of the social credit system among ordinary Chinese people were more prevalent than negative ones. Some welcomed the introduction of the shehui xinyong system while others were indifferent, and a significant number could see its benefits.

The thing is, western eyes looking at social credit and worrying about how badly it could turn out might indeed be looking at the system while lacking a Chinese cultural perspective on the reasons why the Chinese state standing in for the ancient Chinese concept of ‘tian’1, but that’s not the really important issue here.

First, what’s being reported here from China is a view formed before the social credit system is anywhere close to being rolled out. By the time it’s been fully operational for half a decade who knows whether the system will in fact have a reputation with the Chinese populace as being good at delivering judgement on the behaviour of the populace?

Second, given the extent to which the Chinese state leans on those who do not conform to the ideals of the state even using low-tech means, isn’t the real issue less that Westerners fail to understand tian and more that the prospect of the Chinese state turning into Facebook-on-steroids-and-run-by-a-government-free-of-pesky-independent-media-providing-information-about-all-those-messy-edge-cases might just be the start of our problems.

Imagine social credit being pointed to by future populist politicians in the West, keen to divert attention from the way they screwed up their response to COVID-19. That’s a very scary concept. Consider how forty years ago – back when many people didn’t even have a credit card – most people didn’t worry too much about their credit rating, and how far that situation has changed now. Who’s to say that politicians eager for the state to step back and for the populace to behave themselves won’t find the concept behind social credit very appealing one day? Nobody’s saying out loud right now that maybe the Chinese have the right idea, but that doesn’t mean that the same concepts couldn’t be repackaged and a decade down the line it’ll seem like common sense to build on what’s already out there?

[Via @cityofsound]

  1. The author describes Tian as an entity that “resembles the sky in that it is distant to the point that it has given up on the task of reconciling the human world with itself, but nevertheless knows about everyone’s deeds and thoughts.”