'Make no mistake: She's a dancer.'

September 2nd, 2013

John Lahr profiles Claire Danes in The New Yorker.

Lahr's profile touches on many of the highs and lows of her career, with particular attention paid to Homeland for obvious reasons, but for me the highlight is – and probably always will be, no matter what she's cast in for the rest of her career – the role that made her famous, that of Angela Chase. Picture the scene, with My So-Called Life's producers Ed Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz and the show's writer Winnie Holzman auditioning two actresses for the role:

[Alicia] Silverstone auditioned first. Zwick, impressed, told Herskovitz, "It's done. Just cast her." But Herskovitz thought she was too pretty for Holzman's messy high-school universe, which included subplots about drug addiction, bullying, binge drinking, promiscuity, and homosexuality. "Alicia is so beautiful that that would have affected her experience of the world. People would have been telling her she was beautiful since she was six years old. You can't put that face in what's been written for this girl," he argued. Linda Lowy, the casting director, suggested that they see Danes before deciding. "From the minute she walked in the room, Claire was chilling, astounding, and silent," Lowy said. "There was so much power coming out of her without her doing much." One of the scenes that Danes read – which involved a nervy bathroom breakup with Angela's best friend, Sharon – required her to cry. "Tell me what I did, Angela. I mean, I would really like to know," Sharon says. "We get to that line and Claire's face turns entirely red," Herskovitz said. "Her body starts to vibrate and tears come into her eyes. You realize that she's having a physical experience that is beyond acting." Even then, Danes's defining quality as an actress – a combination of thoughtfulness and impulsiveness – was on display. "She seemed to have been born fully grown, you know, out of a seashell," Herskovitz said. Zwick claimed that Danes was his first sighting of a "wise child," a rare species that show business occasionally tosses up. As he put it later, "What she knows cannot be taught." Danes also satisfied another quality that Holzman's script called for: her face could transform in an instant from beautiful to ordinary.

Holzman's pilot for "My So-Called Life" (then titled "Someone Like Me") was meant to trap "a naked quality, not a person but a feeling of freedom and bondage, shyness and fearlessness," she said. Holzman found herself staring at this protean paradox in the flesh. Danes "was sexy and not sexy, free and bound up, open and closed, funny and frighteningly serious," Holzman recalled. Her performance freed Holzman's imagination. "We gave birth to each other," she said. "I was looking at someone who literally could do anything, and so I could, too." The novelist and television writer Richard Kramer, who worked on "My So-Called Life," places Holzman's writing for the show on a continuum of original television voices that leads from her to Mike White, Larry David, and Lena Dunham. "Winnie wouldn't be Winnie without Claire," he said. "And Claire wouldn't be Claire without Winnie. There was something mythological about their meeting."

After Danes left the audition room, Lowy recalled, "no one could really speak." In the excitement of the moment, the production team found themselves faced with a conundrum. Silverstone was sixteen and "emancipated," meaning, in Hollywood's piquant terminology, that she could work very long days. Danes was thirteen and, by law, had to go to school. If they cast Silverstone, they could move ahead with the show they'd written; if they opted for Danes, they'd have to adapt later scripts to accommodate her schedule. "We turned to Winnie," Herskovitz recalled. "Winnie said, 'Let's change the nature of the show.' " He added, "In that moment, we decided to include the lives of the parents more."

A fortunate day for everyone except Alicia Silverstone.1

[Via Longform]

  1. But then, had she been contracted to a TV show in 1994/5 and waiting to see if it would be renewed Silverstone might not have been free to play Cher Horowitz. Which would also have been a shame.

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Mesmerising

September 1st, 2013

For Once in My Life: James Jamerson's Bass Line Visualized:

Vulfpeck's Jack Stratton sent us this cool video he made saying, "[James] Jamerson belongs with Bach, Debussy and Mozart, and that includes graphical scores on Youtube."

We couldn't agree more. […]

[Via MetaFilter]

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Pretty picture

September 1st, 2013

Red Kite by Kulu40.

_DSC5420a

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Why The Sharing Economy Isn't

August 31st, 2013

Tom Slee is unimpressed by an attempt to hijack the 'sharing economy' for the benefit of venture capitalists:

So a couple of months ago Douglas Atkin, head of Community and E-staff Member at AirBnB, took to the stage of the Le Web conference in London (video) to announce the formation of Peers: "a grassroots organization that supports the sharing economy movement." I like grassroots organizations and I like the co-operative impulse, but this… Well here is his speech (in quotation marks) in its entirety with comments from yours truly.

[…]

Now why should you do this? Well it's the right thing to do. We literally stand on the brink of a new, better kind of economic system, that delivers social as well as economic benefits. In fact, social and economic benefits that the old economy promised but failed to deliver. As Julia, an AirBnB host, told me just last night, "the sharing economy saved my arse".

The sharing economy is not an alternative to capitalism, it's the ultimate end point of capitalism in which we are all reduced to temporary labourers and expected to smile about it because we are interested in the experience not the money. Jobs become "extra money" just like women's jobs used to be "extra money", and like those jobs they don't come with things like insurance protection, job security, benefits – none of that old economy stuff. But hey, you're not an employee, you're a micro-entrepreneur. And you're not doing it for the money, you're doing it for the experience. We just assume you're making a living some other way.

[…]

Well worth reading in full.

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WTF Visualizations

August 31st, 2013

WTF Visualizations collects examples of the terrible things people do with infographics.

My favourites are the many ways to abuse the humble pie chart. Like this:

Slices of pie?

… and this:

20%?

… and this:

Stacked pie slices

If you have no particular affection for the poor old pie chart, rest assured you'll find horrific things being done to your favourite graph type too.1

[Via Flowing Data]

  1. What do you mean you don't have a favourite type of graph? Next you'll be telling me you haven't spent hours tweaking Excel's options until it deigns to produce a PivotChart that's halfway usable.

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Noctilucent Clouds and Aurora Over Scotland

August 26th, 2013

Noctilucent Clouds and Aurora Over Scotland.

Best viewed in full screen mode at the highest available resolution.1

  1. Actually, that should read 'Best viewed in person.' But this video is the next best option.

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WildHelp App

August 26th, 2013

The WildHelp App is a really nice idea:

Every day, people encounter wild animals in need of help. Animals are found sick, injured, displaced, trapped, entangled, and in serious trouble, but, the task of finding help can be arduous.

Too often, finders must make multiple phone calls, using critical minutes, even hours, in search of the right person or organization that can help.

Delays in finding qualified help is one of the greatest, most pervasive issues faced by wildlife casualties and the people who find them.

There is a missing link. WildHelp is the missing link.

The WildHelp mobile application will streamline the reporting process, expediting aid to wild animals in need and the people who find them, helping save thousands of lives every year!

[Via Chuq Von Rospach]

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26. Who you are is what you do between notifications (or blog posts?)

August 26th, 2013

Nicholas Carr's Theses in tweetform (2nd series):

21. Recommendation engines are the best cure for hubris.

[…]

23. Hell is other selfies.

24. Twitter has revealed that brevity and verbosity are not always antonyms.

[…]

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Make some noise!

August 25th, 2013

Mike Relm: The Cornetto Megamix

If you listen to the first thirty seconds or so and find yourself thinking that it's not that great, stick with it; it takes off from around the 45 second mark, and gets downright amazing once Blue Monday gets a mention.

[Via The Onion AV Club]

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Pretty pictures

August 25th, 2013

[Boeing 747-256B via x planes; life via swissmiss]

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PRSM – coming to a network near you, whether you like it or not

August 22nd, 2013

PRSM – The Sharing Network:

Get PRSM

[Via Memex 1.1]

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Aliens

August 21st, 2013

The other day I came across UX designer Fred Nerby's mock up of his idea for a new look for Facebook.

Fred Nerby's Facebook concept

There's a lot more to it than that one screenshot, so I urge you to click on the link or the image to see the full presentation. It's neat and unquestionably it showcases one way to look at what 1.15 billion people want from a social network.1

I can't help looking at it and thinking that I'm never, ever going to want a Facebook account, because these people just aren't the same species as me.2 The thing is, this vision of the world seems to demand that everyone is constantly performing, living their lives on camera and incessantly telling anyone who'll listen about how awesome a time they're having and how fabulous their round of drinks looked when the light caught the glasses just so, and everyone seems to have a gallery of pictures of themselves looking smiley and sexy and fabulous. Doesn't all that performing for the camera just get a bit exhausting after a while?

Also, I assume that this is a proposal for some future version of Facebook that offers a paid-subscription option, because there's not an ad in sight and young Zuckerberg isn't going to be able to pay for all those servers without some source of income.3

  1. Or at any rate, what some people want and some people simply have to use if they want to remain in touch with some of their less IT literate friends and relations, whereas others moved to Facebook once they found there was nobody they knew left on MySpace and they don't want the hassle of moving to the next big thing and re-establishing their social graph all over again. Then there are all the spammers and scammers and people who don't use the site any more but never got round to deleting their account. Whatever: any way you look at the numbers, rather a lot of people use Facebook.
  2. Ignore the fact that the designer has populated his site with a bunch of youngish, attractive friends whose lives are filled with visits to picturesque locations: that's just a matter of showing his design in the best possible light.
  3. Unless of course this is a future where the NSA has taken to funding Facebook directly, because why go to the time and trouble to spy on people's online communications when they'll give out so much information about their whereabouts, their plans and their social circle gratis.

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Magic Beard

August 21st, 2013

Magic Beard:

Nothing creepy about that. Not at all.

Not until the shaving foam, anyway…

[Via MetaFilter]

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'Our security forces have it back'?!?

August 21st, 2013

Novelist and former MP Louise Mensch, demonstrating her deep understanding of how digital technology works:

Louise Mensch on data security

She probably thinks the Guardian no longer has access to the files on that laptop too.

Actually, cancel that. I'm sure she's perfectly well aware that digital data can be – and in this case, was – backed up. To my mind, she's just doing her bit to help the government to deflect the focus of the discussion away from the Guardian's story and the doings of the surveillance state and on to the government's preferred law-and-order/keeping-us-safe-from-terrorists/nothing-to-hide, nothing-to-fear agenda.

[Via Charlie's Diary]

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Pretty pictures

August 18th, 2013

[road to the north via swissmiss]

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The double bill from Hell

August 16th, 2013

My favourite fact I learned today, from a MetaFilter thread prompted by the release of an English-subtitled trailer for Hayao Miyazaki's The Wind Rises [Previously.]:

[…] Grave of the Fireflies and My Neighbor Totoro were released together as a double feature. Target audience: ?

posted by The Tensor at 5:39 PM on August 15

I can't imagine any way to sit through that pairing without ending up a sobbing wreck. One poster said that Totoro played second, possibly in an attempt to lift the audience's spirits after Fireflies had stomped them into the ground. Me, I doubt that even the appearance of a real-life catbus could make me feel good in the wake of the gut-punch Grave of the Fireflies delivers.

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Mesmerising

August 14th, 2013

Watching this Chocolate Mill in action, I was delighted at the variety and complexity of the patterns revealed as layer after layer was scraped away. I was also really peckish by the end of the video.1

[Via BLDGBLOG]

  1. It didn't help that there wasn't a bar of chocolate, or even so much as a single chocolate biscuit, in the house.

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Jaws: The Previous Generation

August 14th, 2013

Ever since seeing Jaws back in 1976, I'd taken it as read that Americans had always been afraid of shark attacks. Apparently this was not the case:

In 1891, Herman Oelrichs, a multimillionaire with a thirst for adventure, made a peculiar offer in the pages of the New York Sun. Oelrichs said he would provide a reward of five hundred dollars for "such proof as a court would accept that in temperate waters even one man, woman, or child, while alive, was ever attacked by a shark." Fond of diving off yachts to swim with whatever creatures might be lurking in the deep, Oelrichs conducted an annual "shark-chasing" swim off the coast of New Jersey's most fashionable resorts. Like his friend Theodore Roosevelt, Oelrichs believed sharks were merely part of a larger ecosystem that had been conquered by science and American enthusiasm. In a time when men could vacation in Africa and come back with hunting trophies twice their size, how could we have anything to fear from the natural world? […]

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The 39 stats

August 13th, 2013

The 39 stats:

Had he survived his three-steaks-a-sitting diet Alfred Hitchcock would have been all of 114 on 13 August. To celebrate, we're charting the great director's films in numbers – from character deaths to longest journeys – and finally answer the question: which is the most Hitchcockian Hitchcock of all?

The 39 Stats

Interesting to see that the biggest-selling Hitchcock on DVD was North by Northwest, which comes out on top and by some margin over the next best seller, The 39 Steps. I'd have assumed that Vertigo, Rear Window and Psycho would have been right up there. In fact, the raw data shows that there's a fairly steep drop-off in DVD sales after those two and third-placed Psycho.1

[Via MetaFilter]

  1. Of course, it may just be that some of those films had better DVD editions than others. Come to that, do these figures include sales as part of a themed collection of, say, Cary Grant or James Stewart's films. More research required.

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BUGGER

August 10th, 2013

Adam Curtis on the awful truth about spies:

The recent revelations by the whistleblower Edward Snowden were fascinating. But they – and all the reactions to them – had one enormous assumption at their heart.

That the spies know what they are doing.

It is a belief that has been central to much of the journalism about spying and spies over the past fifty years. That the anonymous figures in the intelligence world have a dark omniscience. That they know what's going on in ways that we don't.

It doesn't matter whether you hate the spies and believe they are corroding democracy, or if you think they are the noble guardians of the state. In both cases the assumption is that the secret agents know more than we do.

But the strange fact is that often when you look into the history of spies what you discover is something very different. […]

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