October 11th, 2013
GENEVA – Dissident writer Alice Munro was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature Thursday morning for her fiction critical of the Canadian regime.
While not overtly political, Munro is known for stories that capture the struggles of regular Canadians. Though tolerated by the government, her work is seen as a challenge to the country's rulers. She first gained international acclaim with her 1968 collection "Dance of the Happy Shades," which offered a tender portrait of life under the brutal reign of then-Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. [...]
[Via More Words, Deeper Hole]
October 7th, 2013
The order had come from the Dean of Dresden campus herself. In an effort to maximize classroom time (and justify expenditure budgets), lecture times would now be accurate to the second. IT would be responsible for the deployment of new, centrally synchronized clocks. [...]
Sometimes a high tech solution requires some distinctly low tech support.
October 7th, 2013
The makers of The Sleepover describe it as a 'proof of concept' for a longer film set in the same town.
Me, I'm happy enough with what they've got here: to-the-point, horrifying and with a punchline worthy of Sunnydale.
[Via The Dissolve]
October 6th, 2013
Nevermore by Stuart Gordon looks worth throwing a few dollars towards:
Master Horror director Stuart Gordon, brilliant actor Jeffrey Combs and inspired screenwriter Dennis Paoli – the team that brought you From Beyond and Re-Animator – team up again to bring you a brand new feature film – NEVERMORE
The incredible Jeffrey Combs stars as Edgar Allan Poe, haunted by spirits of the dead and the imp of the perverse as he attempts one last recitation of The Raven to save himself from a life of crushing poverty and soul destroying alcoholism. [...]
In a just world, Jeffrey Combs would be as well known to the non-geek public as Bruce Campbell.
[Via The Dissolve]
October 6th, 2013
I'm trying (and failing) to imagine a version of this that would work on Newcastle's Quayside on a Saturday night:
Perhaps we've been getting this nighttime noise thing all wrong. Cities don't need more police on the streets or tougher licensing laws to keep nightlife manageable. What they really need is a bunch of silent clowns to hush people with their fingers as they creep by on stilts. This is the approach being tried by Paris' Pierrots de la Nuits, at least.
Patrolling the city since March last year, this group of mute, sad-faced, black and white-clad mediators stalk the city's busy bar strips on weekend nights, gently encouraging people to drink, smoke and chat at a lower volume. Usually never uttering a word (though followed by leaflet-distributing "mediatisers"), the Pierrots work under a slogan not easy to translate snappily: "Create atmosphere without turning up the volume."
[Via feeling listless]
October 6th, 2013
First SkyNet came for the jellyfish…
[This] is a team of unmanned swimming robots designed to scour an area and grind up all the jellyfish they find. And they've got the chops (literally) to suck up jellyfish at a rate of 900 kilograms – nearly 2,000 pounds – an hour.
The invention comes from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology. Engineer Hyeon Myeong and colleagues developed it to help clear fishing waters of jellyfish blooms. [...]
September 29th, 2013
NASA's Earth Observatory posted a slideshow depicting Devastation and Recovery at Mt. St. Helens:
The 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens, which began with a series of small earthquakes in mid-March and peaked with a cataclysmic flank collapse, avalanche, and explosion on May 18, was not the largest nor longest-lasting eruption in the mountain's recent history. But as the first eruption in the continental United States during the era of modern scientific observation, it was uniquely significant.
In the three decades since the eruption, Mt. St. Helens has given scientists an unprecedented opportunity to witness the intricate steps through which life reclaims a devastated landscape. [...]
September 28th, 2013
Alexander Baxevanis thinks that in the face of the vast number of photos being uploaded every day we need to think harder about why and where people take photographs, what they're trying to accomplish when they share them online.
[Via Martin Belam]
September 26th, 2013
Nicholas Carr's latest entry in his Realtime Chronicles predicts where technology will lead us once we're enmeshed in the Internet of Things:
People are forever buttonholing me on the street and saying, "Nick, what comes after realtime?" It's a good question, and I happen to know the answer: Ambient Reality. Ambient Reality is the ultimate disruption, as it alters the actual fabric of the universe. We begin living in the prenow. Things happen before they happen. "Between the desire / And the spasm," wrote T. S. Eliot, "Falls the Shadow." In Ambient Reality, the Shadow goes away. Spasm precedes desire. In fact, it's all spasm. We enter what I call Uninterrupted Spasm State, or USS.
In Ambient Reality, there is no such thing as "a shopper." Indeed, the concept of "shopping" becomes anachronistic. Goods are delivered before the urge to buy them manifests itself in the conscious mind. Demand is ambient, as are pricing comparisons. They become streams in the cloud. [...]
Of course, this assumes that you have enough income to be worth providing goods and services to even before you even realise you might want them or even need them. Those with less impressive credit scores will find themselves on call 24/7, bidding every day in the hopes of landing an opportunity to spend a morning delivering the sandwiches and umbrellas to their betters.
[Zero Hours link via MetaFilter]
September 25th, 2013
Susan Faludi in The Baffler, on Leaning In:
The scene at the [Lean In event addressed by Sheryl Sandberg at the] Menlo Park auditorium, and its conflation of "believe in yourself" faith and material rewards, will be familiar to anyone who's ever spent a Sunday inside a prosperity-gospel megachurch or watched Reverend Ike's vintage "You Deserve the Best!" sermon on YouTube. But why is that same message now ascendant among the American feminists of the new millennium?
Sandberg's admirers would say that Lean In is using free-market beliefs to advance the cause of women's equality. Her detractors would say (and have) that her organization is using the desire for women's equality to advance the cause of the free market. And they would both be right. In embodying that contradiction, Sheryl Sandberg would not be alone and isn't so new. For the last two centuries, feminism, like evangelicalism, has been in a dance with capitalism.
September 24th, 2013
It's a pity that most reviews of Cold Comes the Night spent much of their time discussing the presence of Bryan Cranston and what a shame it was that this film didn't provide him with a part of the calibre of Breaking Bad's Walter White. No question about it, Cranston delivers a professional, solid performance as a Russian criminal undergoing something of a professional crisis even before he finds himself forced to improvise when his partner gets himself killed en route to delivering a large sum of cash to their bosses. The thing is, it's Alive Eve who excels here in the starring role as a single mother bringing up her daughter in an insalubrious part of town in a low-income job. The social services threaten that she'll lose her daughter to foster care within a fortnight if she doesn't take steps to improve her living situation, and then a volley of shots in the night brings Cranston's determined, ruthless but oddly vulnerable mobster to her door and everyone finds themselves doing what they must. What follows is a twisty ride through noirish territory as things go to hell for pretty much all our main characters over the next couple of days.
I've only seen Alice Eve in a couple of films but never got a sense before this that she was much more than another pretty blonde object of desire for the male protagonist to pursue, but in this she's easily the equal of Bryan Cranston, and of Logan Marshall-Green as a bent policeman with whom Eve's character shares a past. Actually, compared to the last time I saw them on screen, the performances from Eve and Marshall-Green served to remind me that even capable actors can only do so much in supporting roles when faced with a so-so script and a disappointing story.
Don't get me wrong, nobody on this film is likely to be drafting an Oscar acceptance speech next February as a consequence of their work here. Even so, a solid cast, a seedy storyline and a sharp script can still make for a quietly satisfying little story. Cold Comes the Night doesn't seem to be getting wide distribution at the moment, but it's certainly worth a look if it comes your way.
September 20th, 2013
From McSweeney's, Retail Therapy: Inside the Apple Store…
When Apple employees are asked what they love most about their job (and they are asked often) most invariably answer "the people." They mean their co-workers, not the customers.
Because the daily expectations for customer service go beyond anywhere else in retail, only those with managerial ambitions will invoke their commitment to helping people. Some thrive on that. Others get diagnosed with PTSD. Consider that the flagship store on Fifth Avenue in New York City is open 24 hours and has more annual foot traffic than Yankee Stadium, yet only one door. Every day, in every Apple Store, people flood to customer service, when what many truly need is therapy.
On the face of it, a typical set of retail customer service war stories. Until the last customer's story, which is something else entirely, a reminder of how personal our modern personal computers have become.
September 20th, 2013
Dammit, another book to add to the reading list. On the face of it, Clive Thompson's Smarter Than You Think: How Technology Is Changing Our Minds for the Better seems to capture somethng about the way I use tools like Evernote and Pinboard as an outboard brain. Here's an excerpt:
Is the Internet ruining our ability to remember facts? If you've ever lunged for your smartphone during a bar argument ("one-hit father of twerking pop star" – Billy Ray Cyrus!), then you've no doubt felt the nagging fear that your in-brain memory is slowly draining away. As even more fiendishly powerful search tools emerge – from IBM's Jeopardy!-playing Watson to the "predictive search" of Google Now – these worries are, let's face it, only going to grow.
So what's going on? Each time we reach for the mouse pad when we space out on the ingredients for a Tom Collins or the capital of Arkansas, are we losing the power to retain knowledge?
The short answer is: No. Machines aren't ruining our memory.
The longer answer: It's much, much weirder than that! [...]
September 19th, 2013
On the 20th anniversary of the premiere of Frasier, 20 Reasons "Frasier" Is The Best Sitcom Of All Time.
I'm not sure I'd crown it the very greatest of them all, but it was certainly a contender. See this 2004 post for my comments on the best ever UK sitcoms, including a few notes on US contenders for the global title. Other than not forgetting The Simpsons this time round, I don't know that I'd change a thing.
September 18th, 2013
The Wellcome Library blog tells the tale of the Common Cold Unit:
Volunteers were kept in strict isolation from the outside world and from others taking part in the trial. But as one CCU press release puts it, 'isolation is not as bad as it seems. All the flats are connected by phone so you can talk to that smashing blonde in the next flat'.
Another volunteer information sheet in the collection warns that 'chatting up other volunteers in a different flat can only be by telephone, or at a very long range outside.' Romances did bloom despite the isolation and blocked noses; on his ninth visit to the unit, one guitar-strumming volunteer wooed a neighbouring oboist by playing duets at 30 feet. Love in a cold climate.
I'm slightly surprised that nobody ever exploited such comedic gold for a sitcom. Probably made by the folks behind On the Buses or Mind Your Language or Man About the House.
September 18th, 2013
Reading Stephen Greenblatt's NYRB review of Joss Whedon's adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing makes me keen to see it again, despite it being a fairly odd story to modern eyes:
In a curious way the central figure in the splendid new film of Much Ado About Nothing, directed by Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Avengers), is the house in which the events unfold. Not that the house – Whedon's own – is particularly remarkable. It is a comfortable, sprawling Santa Monica McMansion, no doubt very expensive, with more than a touch of a suburb about it. But that is the point: we are not in faraway Sicily, where Shakespeare set the story, or in glorious, technicolor Tuscany, where Kenneth Branagh set his admirable film adaptation twenty years ago. We are rather on familiar ground, and, as if to conjure up the ordinary accoutrements of modern American upper-middle-class life, the camera dwells lovingly on the kitchen counter and the wine glasses and the piles of dishes and the stairs that lead up to the pleasant patio and, discreetly hidden, the video screens scanned by the bumbling employees of a security company – Whedon's clever incarnation of Messina's night watchmen.
All of this familiarity makes the circumstances that set the story in motion in Shakespeare and in his sources seem particularly discordant and weird. They were strange enough to begin with. [...]
September 18th, 2013
I'm indebted to Andrew Collins in his weekly Telly Addict video for the Guardian for pointing out how familiar one of the regulars in Bates Motel looks:
If I didn't know that Tony Perkins was long gone, I'd be thinking that he'd been invited to guest on the show as a bit of stunt casting. Spooky.
September 17th, 2013
Notes from scholar and social critic W W Crotch, written in 1933 for the New Statesman, on his occasional encounters over the preceding decade or so with the new German chancellor. No huge surprises as regards what a misfit Hitler was before he ascended to the national stage, but I couldn't help but boggle at this tale of what might just be the most woefully inadequate headline of the 20th century:
One thing that struck me about Hitler was his extreme abstemiousness. He ate every night a dish of vegetables, and mineral water was his only drink. He never smoked. This reminds me of an amusing incident when Hitler became Chancellor. The German vegetarians have a central organ of their league, and this paper came out with flaming headlines:
FIRST GREAT VICTORY OF GERMAN VEGETARIANS. HITLER BECOMES CHANCELLOR.