Having watched the highlights1 of Mark Zuckerberg’s announcement that Facebook are changing the name of the company to Meta and working towards a new platform that will combine Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality, I think Nick Heer sums it up best:

The metaverse is me making a list of chores to give to the staff of butlers and housekeepers and gardeners I am employing at my large country house I will have in ten years instead of vacuuming my apartment today.

How many of us2 talk about what Alphabet do rather than just talking about Google?

  1. Am I being unfair to Zuckerberg by not watching the entire 1hr 17min video? The thing is, nobody is paying me to spend time reporting on the whole Facebook/Meta story and I don’t pretend to be a journalist. This post is, like every post here, my opinion and readers are welcome to disagree with me in comments here or email me links to (hopefully more succinct) accounts from Facebook/Meta of what they’re doing and why. 
  2. Other than journalists quoting from a press release. 

On Foundation

Good to see Paul Krugman weigh in with his thoughts on the TV adaptation of Asimov’s Foundation series:

“Foundation” might seem unfilmable. It mostly involves people talking, and its narrative inverts the hero-saves-the-universe theme that burns many acres of CGI every year. The story spans centuries; in each episode everything appears to be on the brink, and it seems as if only desperate efforts by the protagonists can save the day. […]

So how does the Apple TV+ series turn this into a visually compelling tale? It doesn’t. What it does instead is remake “Star Wars” under another name. There are indispensable heroes, mystical powers, even a Death Star. These aren’t necessarily bad things to include in a TV series, but they’re completely antithetical to the spirit of Asimov’s writing. Pretending that this series has anything to do with the “Foundation” novels is fraudulent marketing, and I’ve stopped watching.

It strikes me that if showrunner David Goyer gets the full eight seasons he’s hoping for,1 Foundation is destined, at best, to be regarded as similar to the various films inspired by the works of Philip K Dick.2 Granted the show that’s rolled out so far has deviated wildly from a straight adaptation of Asimov’s story, but there’s still plenty of time for the story to cover a few hundred years of galactic history and end up in the vicinity of where Asimov’s story ended up.

It’s way too early to paint the story as aping Star Wars. If we get to season 5 and we’re still being shown a current storyline that features Gall Dornick and Hari Seldon and Lewis Pirenne as current protagonists (rather than featuring in flashbacks or as hologram recordings being consulted by the present day characters) then I’d be worried, but for all we know the plan is to give the current cast a couple of seasons and then move on to a new generation running the Foundation and facing a new set of challenges as the empire collapses.

Admittedly, David Goyer running things is by no means a guarantee that we’ll get a satisfactory adaptation, but none of us can really know how this project will go this early.

[Via FanFare]

  1. I’m doubtful that’ll happen, but it has to be said that Apple have the money to make it happen if anyone does. 
  2. Sticking closely to plot of the the Dick original isn’t necessarily the most productive approach. Better to grab a couple of ideas/plot devices and build a story around that. 


I bookmarked this piece by Clive Thompson but didn’t get round to reading it until now, but it’s still worth reading for the sense of perspective he brings to the topic:

[Whenever…] I’m tempted to be a little too pessimistic about modern digital media, I spend some time leafing through the big media panics of the 18th and 19th centuries. Back then, there was a new form of entertainment that was relentlessly blamed for driving society into the ditch. It was lurid, addictive, and mind-distorting. It turned young people into preening narcissists possessed of a delusional sense of grandiosity. It even made some kids into killers. Not least, it was a howling waste of time.

It was, of course, the novel. […]

The thing is (as Thompson concedes after having some fun ridiculing some of the wilder warnings about how the youth of the day were doomed to fall short of accepted standards of behaviour if they focussed on fiction delivered by the new medium) novels do change their readers:

Novels really do change you. They focus your attention on the deep interiority of the characters, letting you both empathize with human lives while also standing askance from them, studying them from a slightly alien perspective. They might make us more empathetic. They almost certainly attune us to the psychologies that propel everyday behavior.

Empathy. Dangerous stuff. Might give the proles all sorts of unrealistic ideas…

Surface Duo (one more time)

Continuing my obsession with Microsoft’s Surface Duo, interesting to read the thoughts of someone who took the plunge after a sharp price reduction:

When turned on, the Duo greets you with two separate displays, and that is exactly what you are meant to see. Unlike Samsung’s Fold series that gives you an iPad-ish display when opened, the Duo is never mistaken for anything other than two screens. In fact, it is built into how the device functions. Open an app and it will only appear on one screen, inviting you to do something else with the other.

Trying it out led to this conclusion:

Frankly, I think the problem isn’t the Duo itself, but it is how I interact with my technology these days. You see, I’ve always loved writing in Moleskine notebooks, but I haven’t done that in a good long while because my notes are more convenient when stored in the cloud. And because of that, I’ve been accustomed to writing my notes on my phone or my tablet. I’ve been accustomed to using one screen. The Surface Duo, for as excellent a device that it is, flies in the face of years of muscle memory. Sure, given time, I might be able to break that and really make the Surface Duo a useful gadget- and a strong part of me wants to give it that chance- but even at $400, and especially with an older version of Android and slow updates and lingering bugs and newer versions on the horizon, I just don’t think I can give it that chance right now.

A shame that Microsoft didn’t put their new form factor out there at a price that would encourage users to give it a try. Perhaps the Surface Duo experiment was the right idea (for users who were prepared to revise their working habits, at least) but at the wrong price point.

Apple Sounds

If you’re a frequent visitor to the Apple ecosystem, the first minute or so of the introductory video for this week’s Apple’s "Unleashed" event is comfy and familiar, a tribute to the way the sound of Apple’s devices have shaped our experience of modern technology.

I wasn’t watching the event, because I’m unlikely to buy an Apple device pricier than my current iPad Mini 4 any time soon, but as someone who Switched to Apple rather than follow Microsoft further down the path through Windows 98/Windows ME1 it definitely worked on me.2

I’m glad M.G. Siegler’s passing mention of the intro’s music led me to seek it out.

[Via 500ish]

  1. Of course Microsoft would – quite legitimately – point out that they abandoned that path themselves in favour of Dave Cutler’s Windows NT/Windows 2000, so I’m blaming them for a mistake they corrected 20 or so years ago. Then I contemplate the frustrating experience of using Microsoft Teams on my work PC under Windows 10 and I realise how little they changed. 
  2. If I were a journalist writing a story I’d probably feel obliged to hunt down the views of folks from the Windows/Android/Linux side of the divide, which I’m guessing might differ quite a bit in these days when everything is so tribal. But I’m not a journalist, so I’m content to reflect how it worked on me and leave it at that. 


Watching videos of moths taking flight at 6,000 frames per second turned out to be exactly what I needed on a lazy Sunday morning. I never thought of moths as cuddly, but how else can you describe these?

Seeing how ungainly some of those take-offs looked, I couldn’t help but think of Douglas Adams on the subject of flying (from Life, the Universe and Everything): "The Guide says there is an art to flying", said Ford, "or rather a knack. The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss."

[Via MetaFilter]

, 10 October 2021. Category: Uncategorized. Tagged: , .


And so it begins:

Influential sf sequence by Isaac Asimov (whom see for fuller discussion), initially a trilogy beginning with Foundation (May 1942-October 1944 Astounding; fixup 1951; cut vt The 1,000 Year Plan 1955 dos), in which Psychohistory predicts the fall of a Galactic Empire and points the way to a newer, more stable organization of galactic society.

After the first two episodes, it looks to me as if the Apple TV+ adaptation of Asimov’s Foundation trilogy is very much what you’d expect from an adaptation of a very old piece of speculative fiction that started out being written for the pulps and ended up being anointed as one of the greatest science fiction series of all time. Sumptuous looking, with a decent cast but fatally weakened by the way the plot is almost certainly going to deprive us of almost all1 the characters we meet in the opening episodes by the time the story gets going. I assume they’re hoping to hook us all with the look of the show so that we’ll ignore the jumps from one era/cast to the next.

Show-runner David S Goyer has indicated that the writers’ room are up for spending seven seasons telling this story, but I fear that three seasons in the show will be cancelled when audiences notice that suddenly this new character The Mule2 is getting all that screen time and where’s that nice Lee Pace3 gone? I do hope that David S Goyer has a backup plan for the moment when he’s informed that Apple are giving him funding for season 3 but that’ll be his lot, so now instead of showing us the fall of The Mule in the forthcoming season he’s going to have to fast-forward through the remainder of the Foundation saga in one go. The fanboy reaction to dropping the ball on the Foundation saga will make the roasting he got for stepping into the director’s chair for the third Blade film and alienating Wesley Snipes seem like a picnic.

To be fair, the writers may yet surprise me. I’ll certainly keep watching just because of the enjoyment I got from the original trilogy4 when I read it back in the early 1970s. There’s not so much good speculative fiction on TV right now that I can afford to discard a show that looks that good this early. I reserve judgement on the show overall because we’re just two episodes in and the events of that second episode suggest that things might just be about to take a turn. Let’s see…

  1. Is Jared Harris going to pop up as a hologram occasionally throughout the show? Will that be enough to keep everyone happy in the absence of every other character we thought we were getting to know? 
  2. Already name-dropped in the first episode. 
  3. Is it possible that the whole Emperor Cleon-cloning plot device, which doesn’t appear in the original trilogy, is a master stroke that will allow the writers to have the middle brother in the trio of Emperors played by Lee Pace throughout the story? Is this where one day we’re destined to look back and declare David S Goyer a genius as he gave Lee Pace the career-defining role that’ll allow him to play the same character several times over but with different personalities depending upon the pressures he faces as the Empire falls and rises and falls relative to the power of the Foundation and the Second Foundation and Galaxia over the centuries. Are we looking, even now, at Lee Pace’s Don Draper or Tony Soprano? Wouldn’t that be a thing… 
  4. For the record, I’ve never read the later additions to the series tying it into Asimov’s Robot stories: I have a very bad feeling about how poor a fit that would have been, and I get the impression that I’m not alone in that. 

Uncle Clive, R.I.P.

The news that Sir Clive Sinclair has passed away makes me sad, like a few million others who got the chance to own a microcomputer of their own for a ridiculously low price in the 1980s.

Sad that a quick search of the text in that obituary doesn’t even find a single instance of the letters "QL." Such a missed opportunity, launched right at the point when the computer-buying public was starting to look askance at the Sinclair model of launching really cheap hardware that it turned out cut a few too many corners. No denying it, for a few years in the early 1980s Sinclair’s machines hit a sweet spot and the limitations were bearable.

At one point I had expanded my Sinclair QL’s RAM capacity to a whopping 640KB and was running a utility that let me run multiple copies of Quill and Abacus and a RAM Disk and jump between them at a keystroke1 and it was GLORIOUS, particularly since there wasn’t a cat’s chance in hell that I could afford an Apple Mac.

I could have afforded a BBC Micro Model B and I’m sure I’d have liked BBC Basic, but SuperBASIC suited me nicely. Also, Quill and Abacus were really, really good home office software so I could make a Sinclair QL work for me until, a few years later, I upgraded to an Atari 520STM with a gorgeously sharp monochrome monitor. Uncle Clive started me down that road, and I suspect that an unusually high proportion of my contemporaries built a life-long interest in IT on the foundations the ZX-80, ZX-81 and ZX Spectrum provided.

Sinclair never got the second act that Steve Jobs did or the level of fame, but a lot of people like me in the UK owe him a huge debt for giving us a chance to get early hands-on experience with technology that dominated the 21st century.

  1. I forget which software that was. This is what I get for mentioning stuff I was using in the mid-late 1980s and haven’t thought about in almost forty years. Man, I’m getting old… 
, 16 September 2021. Category: Uncategorized. Tagged: .