A Tool Using Animal

Reading Wired’s Fans Are Better Than Tech at Organizing Information Online

At a time when we’re trying to figure out how to make the internet livable for humans, without exploiting other humans in the process, AO3 (AO3, to its friends) offers something the rest of tech could learn from.

… mostly served to remind me of how far the story was to some extent just echoing the story that Maciej Cegłowski told several years ago about the beautiful moment when Pinboard met fandom…

[In the wake of the owners of Del.icio.us deciding to redesign their user interface in such a way as to render Del.icio.us useless to a small but very important segment of fandom.] Being a canny businessman, I posted a gentle reminder that there was still a bookmarking site that let you search on a slash tag.

So fandom dispatched a probe to see if I was worth further study. The emissaries talked to me a bit and explained that my site was missing some features that fans relied on.

In my foolishness I asked, “Could you make me a list of those features? I’ll take a look, maybe some of it is easy to implement.”

Oh yes, they could make make a list.

I had summoned a very friendly Balrog.

Honestly, the full article/talk is very much worth reading.

[Via BrettTerpstra.com]

The Hooded Swan series

James Nicoll reminds us of Brian M. Stableford’s Hooded Swan series, which I adored back in the late 1970/early 1980s:

The Hooded Swan stories are gloomy and morose to the point of parody. If it were possible for space to be overcast and drizzling, it would be so everywhere Grainger goes.

I have to confess that I barely even noticed this. Then again, it was the 1970s and I was British.

[Stableford’s…] later work is more ambitious, but not always as enjoyable as these stories. Though perhaps “enjoyable” is not the right word. They’re readable. Perhaps they would have been more enjoyable if the protagonist hadn’t been an antisocial depressive.

If you are looking for morose space opera told from the point of view of a misanthrope, featuring puzzles with depressing answers, you might like this series.

I feel like being a fan of this series set me up to fully enjoy Ian M Banks’ Culture novels. The Banks novels were set in a very different universe and starred a very much more capable set of protagonists who would have looked on in amusement at the crudity of the technology that Grainger and co were blundering around using in their attempt to understand their little corner of the universe1 but it feels as if slumming it in the technological dark ages with Stableford’s crew was necessary for me to fully enjoy the very different view of the universe granted to the agents of the Culture.

Looking at history

Version Museum concentrates on the look of applications more than it does the story behind that redesign.

Version Museum showcases the visual history of popular websites, operating systems, applications, and games that have shaped our lives. Much like walking through a real-life museum, this site focuses on the design changes of historic versions of technology, rather than just the written history behind it.

It’s a pity the selection of applications is so limited right now, but what is there is covered pretty well.

Looking at the Microsoft Excel entry mostly reinforced how much I loathe the Ribbon interface. I don’t care how many studies Microsoft wave around proving that the average user prefers the way the Ribbon surfaces what Microsoft claim are the application’s most-used features. Taking away the user’s ability to add their most-used features to the Ribbon was (and remains to this day) a lousy idea.

[Via Daring Fireball]

I demand an Old Night spin-off

It’s a real shame that The OA reportedly won’t be returning for a third season:

Farewell to _The OA_, the Netflix series created by Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij and starring Marling, which lasted two ambitious, lopsided seasons. It told a story of alternate realities to which characters could travel by working through the rejected sections of a community mime class.

I had a horrible feeling that they were going to have a hell of a job moving on from the none-more-meta second season finale,1 but I’d have loved to see them try.

Stormy Weather

Vorticity 2 is one crazy impressive piece of work. Demands to be seen on the largest screen (with the most capable sound system) that you can get access to.

At times, as the lightning made an appearance, I full expected to see a mighty God of Thunder arriving, loudly demanding, “Bring me Thanos!”

[Via Kottke.org]

Enter Sandman (with kazoos)

I am indebted to MetaFilter user Slarty Bartfast for posting a link to this masterpiece in a thread about a (completely different) cover version of Metallica’s Enter Sandman.

Granted, it looks as if it’s going to be very silly, but somehow it really isn’t. Just keep an eye on the drummer. (You’ll soon realise which of them I mean by that. Trust me on this.)

Apparently this has been on the internet for years, but I somehow hadn’t clapped eyes on it until earlier this evening.

[Via MetaFilter]

Casting

It’d be nice to think that we live in the timeline where the most noteworthy effect of Deepfakes will be to swap one Hollywood actor for another but somehow I doubt we’re going to be that lucky:

In some parallel universe, there’s a version of Casino Royale with Hugh Jackman playing everyone’s favorite suave British agent, James Bond. And one in which Matthew McConaughey took the Leo role in Titanic. And DiCaprio and Brad Pitt co-starred in Brokeback Mountain. And Saved by the Bell’s Tiffani Thiessen played Rachel in Friends.

That being said, I have to confess that the biggest effect of my watching Neo-as-played-by-Bruce-Lee having Morpheus ask him if he thinks that’s air he’s breathing now in the digital dojo was a powerful urge to see the best film the Wachowskis ever made again, as it’s been way too long since I last saw The Matrix and it was definitely indisputably very good, whatever you might think of the two sequels plus The Animatrix 1 that followed it. So from Hollywood’s point of view that’s a success, insofar as right now The Matrix isn’t on Netflix and my DVD copies are long since gone so I’m going to have to go and pay someone some money to watch it again. Ka-ching!

[Via The RISKS Digest]

AutoCorrect for your face

Once iOS 13 gets rolled out later this year, I think the prospect of AutoCorrect for your face is going to prompt a great deal of debate:

Why should my phone decide where I should be looking?

Kevin Kelly in a slightly different context, looks forward to a future where the system gets that crucial 10% better at automagically adjusting what it shows the person you’re communicating with rather than faithfully presenting what the camera/microphone at your end of the connection are picking up. It’s all for your own good really:

When a colleague is teleporting in from a remote place to appear virtually, it is relatively easy to translate what they are saying in real time because all that information is being captured anyway. For even greater verisimilitude, their mouth movement can be reconfigured to match what they are saying in translation so it really feels they are speaking your language. It might be even be use[d] to overcome heavy accents in the same language. Going further, the same technology could simply translate your voice into one that was a different gender, or more musical, or improved in some way. It would be your “best” voice. Some relationships might prefer to meet this way all the time because the ease of communication was greater than in real life.

Ease of communication being greater than in real life may not be worth having if the price of that ease is accuracy. Kelly (and Apple, implicitly) assumes that technology can be trusted to be our intermediary, but our experience of AutoCorrect operating on plain text tends to suggest otherwise.

[Rachel Coldicutt tweet via [Interconnected)]

… to the Moon

By some margin the most welcome effect of the media blitz as the Apollo 11 anniversary has come round is that HBO’s From the Earth to the Moon has been rereleased in HD:

Throughout the miniseries, there are scenes where astronauts, engineers, NASA administrators, politicians, and more list all the challenges facing Kennedy’s promise to put American boots on the lunar surface before 1970. In a great scene in the debut episode – titled, plainly, “Can We Do This?” – flight director Chris Kraft (Stephen Root) lists all the tasks NASA must master before even considering a moon mission. And as happens throughout the series, Kraft puts complicated issues into plain English. Describing the process of spacecraft rendezvous, he says: “Come over to my house. You stand in the backyard, I stand in the front yard. You throw a tennis ball over the roof, I’ll try to hit it with a rock as it comes sailing over. That’s what we’re going to have to do.”

If I remember correctly the show was broadcast in the UK on Channel 4 on Saturday mornings, and it was must-watch TV for me. There’s no word of it showing up on UK terrestrial TV this time round, but assuming that doesn’t change any time soon I’m just going to have to pay £9.99 for the HD version because it was a great, great story very well told.1

[Edited to add: Part of what made the show work so well is that it adopted a strategy of changing the focus of the story being told each week. One episode was about the experience of the astronauts’ wives and how they felt being in the spotlight while their husbands were on missions, and another dealt with the requirement that those astronauts whose missions might involve time on the lunar surface needing to learn enough geology to be useful field workers when they found themselves standing on the moon and required to determine where they could take the next rock sample. Another one was focussed on an individual astronaut, Alan Shepard, needing to find a way back into space in the face of his inner-ear disorder. Not entirely a different cast every episode, but very different angles on the story from episode to episode and a cast of folks who spent the next couple of decades being familiar faces in the age of Prestige TV.]

[Via Six Colors]