This American Lear

July 28th, 2014

In the wake of This American Life host Ira Glass commenting that he found Shakespeare's plays difficult to relate to, loisbeckett brings us This American Lear:

Bravo! Author! More! More!

[Via kottke.org]

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Do not look for the sense in it.

July 2nd, 2014

Craig Mod answers the question – especially relevant in the light of yesterday's postHow are apps made?

stoke fire

The first pass should be ugly, the ugliest. Any brain cycle spent on pretty is self deception. If pretty is the point then please stop. Do not, I repeat, do not spent three months on the radial menu, impressive as it may be. It will not save your company. There is a time for that. That time is not now. Instead, make grand gestures. General gestures. Most importantly, innumerate the unknowns. Make a list. Making known the unknowns you now know will surface the other unknowns, the important unknowns, the truly devastating unknowns  –  you can't scrape our content! you can't monkey park here! a tiny antennae is not for rent! You want to unearth answers as quickly as possible. Nothing else matters if your question marks irrecoverably break you. Do not procrastinate in their excavation.

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Edge of Darkness

June 30th, 2014

A quick note for UK-based readers: BBC4 are starting a repeat run for Edge of Darkness later tonight at 10pm 11pm.1 Not the Mel Gibson remake: the original miniseries with Bob Peck (never better), lashings of paranoia, a bit of fringe environmentalism, and more than a dash of of sheer weirdness. Quite possibly the best miniseries produced by British television in the 1980s, rivalled only by Boys from the Blackstuff and The Beiderbecke Affair (if you don't disqualify the latter from the category of miniseries for having two followup series.)

I haven't seen Edge of Darkness since the original broadcast, and I'm curious as to how it'll look almost 30 years on. I have a horrible feeling that the answer will be "prescient."

[Via The Guardian]

  1. Sorry!

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MJT

June 3rd, 2014

This excerpt1 2 from Mike Judge's Silicon Valley is a beautiful illustration of what can happen when a bunch of geeks take an idea and run with it.

[Via More Words, Deeper Hole]

  1. Embedding not allowed, unfortunately – you'll have to follow the link to YouTube to see it.
  2. Dialogue and subject matter are probably NSFW.

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Watch the ray cats

May 14th, 2014

This week's 99% Invisible podcast discussed recent efforts to figure out how to warn our great-to-the-Nth grandchildren about the risks of nuclear waste being stored at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, given the distinct possibility that language will have drifted over the course of 10,000 years to the point where a sign saying 'DANGER: Radioactive waste!' may not be understood.

The most hands-down 99pi favorite solution, though, didn't come from the WIPP brainstorm – rather, it came out of the Human Interference Task Force, a similar panel that was pulled together in 1981 for the now-defunct Yucca Mountain project. It was proposed by two philosophers, Françoise Bastide and Paolo Fabbri.

Bastide and Fabbri came to the conclusion that the most durable thing that humanity has ever made is culture: religion, folklore, belief systems. They may morph over time, but an essential message can get pulled through over millennia. They proposed that we genetically engineer a species of cat that changes color in the presence of radiation, which would be released into the wild to serve as living Geiger counters. Then, we would create folklore and write songs and tell stories about these "ray cats," the moral being that when you see these cats change colors, run far, far away.

Makes you wonder if there's some bit of puzzling animal behaviour going on all around us right now about which the folklore has failed to be passed down or got distorted. Instead of pointing and laughing at all those Animals Sucking at Jumping as it becomes clear what terrible, long-forgotten threat they were trying to warn us about?

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In Your Eyes, on your PC / tablet / TV

April 30th, 2014

The Joss Whedon-scripted romance In Your Eyes has been getting a bit of attention for having been given a global, online release rather ending up in cinemas. You can argue whether this is because Whedon's production company couldn't find a distributor for a film with no big stars based on a story idea he had back in the 1990s or because Joss Whedon is being paid so much money for Avengers 2 that he can afford to bypass the big screen entirely and indulge his artistic whims.1 Does Whedon see this as the way forward for all his non-Marvel work over the next few years, or just as a way of claiming a bigger slice of the smaller pie when he's not telling stories of superheroes? Beats me.

All that stuff about distribution is fascinating and five or ten years from now we're all going to be able to see that obviously this was [insert phrase according to taste: "the way of the future" or "a folly that only someone whose main job was making US$150 million blockbusters could get away with".] The question that matters right now is, how's the film we're being invited to send Joss Whedon and friends $US5 for?

The answer is, not bad at all. The film wastes no time clueing the audience in about the supernatural (and never explained) twist that our two main characters have never met yet each can experience life through the other's eyes. They can't read one another's mind, so they have to verbalise their thoughts. As the two characters conducted conversations as they shopped or walked along the street or just did their household chores the logical part of my mind2 wondered why they didn't carry round a mobile phone or better yet a Bluetooth handset, since nowadays we're quite used to people carrying on one-sided, sometimes quite animated conversations with other people who aren't really there. The dominant part of my mind didn't care, because Zoe Kazan and Michael Stahl-David sold their delight in the conversation, and in the escape this new relationship brings from their daily cares, so well.

I won't go into detail about how their story develops, but let's just say that this is a romance and once the introduction of their mysterious connection is out of the way the story develops in ways that you might expect. But that's not a problem; the idea isn't to throw us all off the scent with unexpected plot twists every twenty minutes or so, it's to let us get to know a couple of basically likeable, yet very different characters and ride along as their lives are changed by this unusual means of communication.

Which brings me to the one respect in which I thought the film fell short. We get a reasonable sense of the personalities and priorities of our two lead characters, but there's not much time for us to get to know more about some of the peopke in their lives. Above all, Kazan's character's husband is just a sketch of a character, and given that she clearly loves him3 I think it hurts the story that we don't get to see more of his personality and their shared history. I know that he's cast in the thankless romance movie role of an obstacle to the story we're really watching, but given that from an objective angle his worries about his wife's behaviour looked not unreasonable and the actions he takes in response drive so much of the film I'd have liked the film to have been 20 minutes longer to give us some more time to see the shape of Kazan's character's life prior to the events that kick off the main storyline.

Still, my misgivings shouldn't be allowed to distract from the basic point: this is an enjoyable romance with a twist and whilst I wouldn't go as far as Stu and make it one of the five best films I've seen so far this year, I certainly got my money's-worth. I hope we'll see more such experiments from Joss Whedon. I mean, if Marvel will insist upon dumping truckload after truckload of money on his front lawn that man's got to do something to keep himself busy. It might as well be making little, witty novellas like this and making it easy for us to see them.

  1. In Your Eyes is the second release from Whedon's Bellwether Pictures, the first having been last year's adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing.
  2. Or was it the sceptical voice of another person whose presence I haven't acknowledged yet?
  3. Albeit in a somewhat dependent way, as someone who is afraid that she can't be trusted to manager her own life.

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Čumil

March 9th, 2014

Meet Čumil the Peeper:

His name is Čumil and he is either resting after cleaning the sewer or is looking under women's skirts. […]

Čumil

[Prompted by the header image of this New Statesman article about Slovakia]

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Tickle

March 9th, 2014

Tickle is another spoof app from the man who brought the world Jotly:

Tickle is a new app that will help you get out of awkward situations. Using your phone's accelerometer, Tickle will generate a phantom phone call when you touch your phone in an awkward manner. […]

Unlike Jotly, this is a spoof app that the world could definitely use.

[Via swissmiss]

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CloudWash

February 27th, 2014

My first instinct upon reading about BERG's Cloudwash prototype was to scoff at the idea of an internet-connected washing machine.

Cloudwash is a prototype washing machine. We created Cloudwash to explore how connectivity will change the appliances in our homes… and to figure out what new features will be possible.

I'm still not persuaded that the ability to schedule and reschedule washing jobs remotely is going to be on the feature list when next I'm looking to buy a washing machine. However, I'll concede that more localised uses of connectivity – like the ability to receive an alert via the net when a cycle is about to end and I'm going to need to go and unload the machine – would be worth having.1

I did like BERG's approach of putting as much of the intelligence as possible in the app you run on your connected device, where it's easy to update and enhance the functionality on offer without finding that your washing machine only has ROM version 1.3.234 and you need version 1.4.112 or better to allow you to store more than 3 favourite job configurations. It's perfectly logical, but you can bet that as manufacturers start doing internet-enabled production models we'll see all sorts of flashy touchscreen interfaces using a custom OS (which will probably be a heavily-customised Android or Linux variant under the skin) that will be scrapped or revised within six months.2

[Via Waxy.org/links]

  1. That last feature should really have occurred to me: I use Prowl to have my Mac send me Growl notifications about all sorts of things.
  2. See, for an example of this sort of thinking, Samsung's decision to ditch the Android OS they used in the first generation of Galaxy Gear smartwatches within six months of their launch in favour of their own OS.

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Just Ella

February 8th, 2014

Jim Munroe's short film Just Ella features "perhaps the first cinematic example of autocomplete used for a dramatic reveal." And yet it's still worth watching:

[Via jwz]

1 Comment »

Pong on Paper

January 4th, 2014

Paper Pong is a very strange, yet oddly appealing idea – a Choose Your Own Adventure-style implementation, on paper, of a very old video game. It almost seems like cheating to play a version of the book online…

As Sarah Werner observes in her musings on the alleged "death" of the "book":

I spent a lot of time as a kid playing Pong at home, so perhaps that's why I enjoy this book so much. But I love it, too, for its ridiculousness. It's a paper replication of a video game! Why would you do that? Why write lines of code to create a game of Pong that you then remediate in paper form? I don't know that there's a good reason to do that, other than you can. And, actually, that's a decent reason, one that drives more than a few novels.

[Via Snarkmarket]

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The Bible Tells Me So…

December 31st, 2013

The Bible Tells Me So:

Everything He said...

[Via Slacktivist]

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Run

December 28th, 2013

Run is a little beauty of a story.

It's just a vignette, but that's all it needs to be: there's absolutely no need for it to be expanded into a full length feature. What counts is the economy with which the story unfolds, and the creepiness of the idea.

Watch out for the name of run's writer/editor/director Mat Johns in years to come. With a bit of luck and a decent budget to work with, he might well be bringing us something well worth watching.

[Via The Dissolve]

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Subject: Re: 'Became a zombie' Life Event

November 22nd, 2013

Benjamin Rosenbaum has posted a sharp, blackly amusing short story about how Facebook's users and software developers would react to a zombie plague breaking out, called Feature Development for Social Networking.

Nice work, even though you just know this story isn't destined to end well for any of the characters.

[Via Subtraction.com]

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Definitely not the one you were expecting.

November 14th, 2013

Here's the thing. I'd call myself a Doctor Who fan, but I'm really just a lightweight. I watched the show growing up, starting with the tail end of the Patrick Troughton era and then watching right through the Pertwee and Tom Baker years and then bailing out when Tristan Farnon took on the role. I barely saw any of Six and Seven's episodes and didn't feel the loss. I watched the TV movie and disliked almost everything about it: the Doctor being half-human, the Master being nothing whatsoever like Roger Delgado, you name it.

I was intrigued at the prospect of the show returning, and deeply relieved that Christopher Eccleston was terrific and the show was confidently moving forward, even if some of the modern trappings irk me a bit.1 I've been happy to follow the show since: when it's good, it's very good indeed, and as the poor stories are mostly just a single episode long I'm willing to let the odd duff one go because I know a better one will be along shortly and in the meantime there'll be a nice character bit from Matt Smith or Rory will step up and do something remarkable or Donna will turn out to be the most important person in the entire universe.

Outside of the TV episodes, I've never been inclined to follow the tie-ins, beyond having read a few of the early novelisations back during that first spell watching the show, and I've never been tempted to look back into the seasons and Doctors I missed out on. As I say, a bit of a lightweight fan.

I say all this to explain why I shouldn't really be all that excited at The Night of the Doctor: A Mini Episode.

And yet, I am. Not as excited as Stu, for whom Eight is "his" Doctor, but still weirdly thrilled. Realising what I was watching immediately planted a huge grin on my face that still hasn't quite faded.

Seeing the producers pull something like this out of the bag makes me think that Moffat and co. might just blow all our socks off with the 50th anniversary story.2

  1. The whole idea that the default Companion is a young, attractive female who might well end up snogging the Doctor. The notion that the Doctor is famous. The sonic screwdriver being so much more capable, and being wielded like it's a magic wand. John Simm playing The Master when they should have kept Derek Jacobi around to be a properly scary contrast to David Tennant's Doctor. The need to tie every season into an arc story. Not show-stoppers, by any means.
  2. I know this almost certainly won't come to pass given the actor's misgivings about returning to the role, but wouldn't it be great if the appearance of the War Doctor in the special ended with his regenerating and Nine getting up just in time to go off to London and meet up with Rose.

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Was du heute kannst besorgen, das verschiebe nicht auf morgen.

November 10th, 2013

I'm probably the last filmgoer over the age of 30 in the western world to have heard about this particular example, but I still think it's worth sharing. It turns out that Stanley Kubrick was something of a stickler for detail when it came to preparing for one of the pivotal scenes in The Shining:

Never one to stint on artistic integrity and veracity, Kubrick used no shortcuts for the relatively simple scene. As artists Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin discovered during recent research in the Kubrick archives in London, instead of having the sentence typed on only the few sheets seen by viewers, the director asked his secretary Margaret Warrington to type it on each one of the 500-odd sheets in the stack. What's more, he also had Warrington type up an equivalent number of manuscript pages in four languages – French, German, Italian, Spanish – for foreign releases of the film. For these, he used idiomatic phrases with vaguely similar meanings:

Un "Tiens" vaut mieux que deux "Tu l'auras."
A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

Was du heute kannst besorgen, das verschiebe nicht auf morgen.
Don't put off until tomorrow what you can do today.

Il mattino ha l'oro in bocca.
The early bird gets the worm.

No por mucho madrugar amanece mas temprano.
Even if you rise early, dawn will not come any sooner.

To be fair, I can see Kubrick's point. What if Shelley Duvall had improvised during the scene, really nailing her character and the moment when Wendy Torrance found out what her husband had been up to in a barnstorming take that absolutely, positively had to make it into the final cut … only for the cool, cruel eye of the camera to reveal that Jack Torrance had only been obsessively typing for five sheets?

All of a sudden, he's not a weak man who has succumbed to madness in the middle of a long, cold winter of isolation but merely a writer undertaking a few minutes of loosening-up exercises at the keyboard before getting to work on his novel.

[Via The Millions]

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Escalator etiquette

July 31st, 2013

From an article in the BBC News Magazine about escalator etiquette:

"Able-bodied people standing on the downward escalator1 are in effect robbing the people behind them of time," says Hamilton Nolan, who writes for Gawker and regularly uses the New York subway.

"Their presumptuous need for leisure may cause everyone behind them to miss a train they would have otherwise caught. Then those people are forced to stand and wait on a subway platform for many extra minutes. Those are precious minutes of life that none of us will get back."

"Robbing"? "Forced to stand and wait"? "Presumptuous need for leisure"? It strikes me that Hamilton Nolan ought to to get his blood pressure checked, ASAP. If the behaviour of people who think differently to him causes him such stress, I have a feeling his future contains a stroke, probably striking as he strides purposefully down the escalator past a bunch of thieving slackers.2

[Via The Morning News]

  1. Are we to take it that standing on the upward escalator is OK? Does time work differently on the way up or something?
  2. It'd be ironic if he ended up crumpled in a heap at the bottom of the escalator, robbing the people behind him of their precious time as they walk around/step over his corpse.

1 Comment »

The Game Has Changed

June 6th, 2013

Yes, it's another time lapse video featuring lots of night skies and shining cities. But to my mind the way the images and the music1 combine makes The Game Has Changed a couple of steps up from the average nighttime time lapse video.

[Via Bad Astronomy]

  1. Daft Punk, from their soundtrack for TRON: Legacy.

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'I have absolutely no conscience about these things.'

June 5th, 2013

Prompted by a review of a couple of episodes of Aaron Sorkin's Sports Night at the AV Club, I found myself re-watching one of the best speeches Sorkin ever wrote, as delivered by William H Macy.

The context is that Macy's character, Sam Donovan, has recently joined the production team on 'Sports Night', the daily sports news show where the series is set. The three network executives Sam is talking to in this clip are unhappy that the show's current producer, Isaac Jaffe, has been ignoring the notes they've been sending him suggesting changes to the show's writing and presentation. After an unproductive meeting with Isaac which Sam also attended, the executives indicated to Sam that the job of producer was his if he wanted it. Following another unproductive meeting, this time with the show's production team and presenters, Sam wanders into the meeting room to resume the conversation with the suits…1

You can argue that Sorkin only has a limited number of tools in his bag,2 but the man knows how to use them. In the hands of the right actors, the results can be pretty damned satisfying.

[Via The A.V. Club]

  1. If you want to get the full flavour of all this, there's a longer clip here that includes the parts I described as well as the speech as above.
  2. Don't we all?

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Do you run with the rest of the group and hope there's someone slower than you, or break off on your own and hope the uninvited guest pursues the bigger group?

May 30th, 2013

Best wedding party picture. Ever! (Courtesy of photographers Quinn Miller.)

Run with your wife!

[Via More Words, Deeper Hole]

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