Month: January 2022
The New York Review of Books writes about the writing in Ted Lasso, and an Apple marketing executive checks off one more objective reached as Apple TV+ becomes strives to become known as the streaming age’s HBO.
Perhaps the greatest literary move of Season 2 is the redemption (that is, re-seeing) of Rick Astley’s 1987 “Never Gonna Give You Up.” The song is one of pop history’s most sentimental and most grating earworms, as well as the origin of the bait-and-switch Rickrolling Internet prank. Episode 10, though, revolving around the repercussions of Ted’s and Rebecca’s teenage traumas (a father’s suicide and a father’s adultery, respectively), finds a way to use the song in a wholly unfamiliar way. At the funeral of Rebecca’s philandering father, Rebecca is supposed to give his eulogy. “I don’t really know what to say…my father was….” she trails off. Then lightly, tenderly, she begins, “We’re no strangers to love/You know the rules and so do I…” and continues singing, in a stumbling yet lovely a cappella, the first verse of “Never Gonna Give You Up.” When she breaks down, Ted takes up the verse from the back row of the church. Soon all the mourners join in unison.
The song is re-seen, transformed from a saccharine teenage tonic to a strange elegy for a man whose adult daughter still struggles to reconcile her conflicting feelings about him. Such re-seeing or “making new again” gets a special name in literary studies: defamiliarization. It comes from a transliteration of a Russian word that the theorist and critic Viktor Shklovsky invented to describe those moments in literature that make a reader see something in a new light or from a wholly different angle, as if seeing it for the first time.
In fairness the article gives credit where it’s due, in an appreciation of just how carefully the show was written (not to mention how well it was acted by all involved.) Fine work all round.
Charlie Connelly1 on the author-turned terrorist who led the attack on the Nakatomi Plaza building…
Charismatic, cultured and hugely intelligent, Gruber was perfectly equipped to become a shining light in the reunified Germany that was only a matter of months away at his death. If the ambition, daring and meticulous planning employed in the Nakatomi heist could have been harnessed for good at an early age, who knows what he might have achieved after the new European dawn of the early 1990s.
Well, he was certainly cynical enough to have ended up going into politics. Imagine Hans Gruber, having spent the last couple of decades working his way to the top of the European Commission, facing off against the masterminds behind the Brexit negotiations. (Or don’t, please. So many smug bastards convinced of their own brilliance in one small room.)
[Via Happily Imperfect]
- NB: if you’re not a subscriber you might find it tough to see the whole piece behind the paywall. It’s worth digging out if you can. ↩
Following the conclusion of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine on television, the success of the series’ continuation in book form, known as the DS9 relaunch (about which I’ve written extensively in this space—see here for an overview and index to individual book reviews), inspired a shared continuity across almost all Trek novels being published at the time. Authors and editors worked closely to keep this continuity as tight as possible across twenty years (2001-2021) of multi-book series storytelling, in the process giving rise to a vast tapestry of interconnected stories that some fans refer to as the Trek Litverse.
That enormous Litverse, at least in its current form, is now concluding. In September, October and November we’ll see the publication of three volumes that will stand as the epic final chapter, called Star Trek: Coda, of the decades-long mega-story:
- Moments Asunder by Dayton Ward (September 28)
- The Ashes of Tomorrow by James Swallow (October 26)
- Oblivion’s Gate by David Mack (November 30)
Clearly I was about thirty years too late to start catching up2 with the Trek Litverse at this late stage in the game, but I decided that if they were just about to wind the whole thing up with a bang then it’d be a shame to miss out on the final round of fun for a bunch of characters I mostly greatly enjoyed in their original run.
Having finished the last of the Coda trilogy a couple of weeks ago, I think it’s fair to say that they wrapped up the story with WAY-more-than-one-bang. There was an awful lot of fanservice going on across three volumes of story, but given the nature of the story that was precisely what I was expecting. Not having folllowed the details of the Star Trek Litverse I was mildly taken aback at the number of familiar characters from the TV shows who turned out, several years after we last saw them in their respective TV shows, to be on hand in the vicinity of their former commanders when needed. The former Major Kira Nerys being a Vedek now, resident on Bajor, was no big surprise, but what led to Odo serving on the replacement Deep Space Nine, with Ro Laren (Ensign Ro when we last saw her in season 7 of TNG) as the DS9 station commander?3 That’s what I get for being a couple of decades behind in my reading, I guess…
The basic point being that for anyone who established some liking for the 1980s/1990s-era Star Trek universe over the years and isn’t put off by the but-this-isn’t-ever-what-we-saw-on-tv-or-the-big-screen premise,4 this trilogy is a fun ride. I’m not tempted right now to dive into two decades of Star Trek Litverse material, but I’m glad it’s there if I’m in the mood.
- What can I say? I was in the mood for something lightweight to distract me at a stressful time work-wise and otherwise. Also, I was exploring the pros and cons of an Audible subscription I’d acquired earlier last year to enjoy the first volume of the adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman stories (which, for what it’s worth, worked far better than I’d imagined they would when stripped of their visual component) and was in the mood to see how well a more conventional audiobook adaptation would work for me. Star Trek seemed to fit the bill. ↩
- My mid-2021 dip into the Trek Litverse consisted of a trilogy set in the TOS era consisting of Greg Cox’s Captain to Captain, David Mack’s Best Defense and Dayton Ward and Kevin Dillmore’s Purgatory’s Key, followed by a two-parter by Kirsten Beyer set in on Voyager in the Janeway-gets-sent-back-to-the-Delta-quadrant era, Architects of Infinity and To Lose the Earth. Not, by definition, a comprehensive picture of what’s happened in the Trek Litverse over a couple of decades, but sufficiently entertaining to persuade me that my earlier inclination to look down on material that never got near a TV or movie screen as inherently less satisfying might have been too harsh. ↩
- True, the plan was that her character might end up on the DS9 TV series, but that was – forgive the expression in this context – in a different timeline. ↩
- I used to think that novelisations based to filmed material were fine – perhaps influenced by the James Blish tie-ins back in the day but I always held the original material at arms’-length, uncomfortably aware that if it wasn’t on TV then by definition it hadn’t been in the mind of the show’s writers. ↩
Becorns are woodland creatures crafted from acorns, pine cones, sticks, and other natural materials, then photographed in nature with birds, squirrels, chipmunks, and other wildlife. The photography process usually involves a study of animal behavior, birdseed, and a lot of patience. My work evolved from my years as a designer for Lego, where I learned to build characters and tell stories with bricks. Now I do the same, but with sticks.
Delightful work. Here’s a video about his work process.
Reading this article about The lost history of the electric car – and what it tells us about the future of transport raises an interesting question:
[Aas more people bought private cars…] electric vehicles took on a new connotation: they were women’s cars. This association arose because they were suitable for short, local trips, did not require hand cranking to start or gear shifting to operate, and were extremely reliable by virtue of their simple design. As an advertisement for Babcock Electric vehicles put it in 1910, “She who drives a Babcock Electric has nothing to fear”. The implication was that women, unable to cope with the complexities of driving and maintaining petrol vehicles, should buy electric vehicles instead. Men, by contrast, were assumed to be more capable mechanics, for whom greater complexity and lower reliability were prices worth paying for powerful, manly petrol vehicles with superior performance and range.
Given that electric vehicles require less maintenance and don’t necessarily have to offer Insane and Ludicrous modes for acceleration, will future generations of car see manufacturers offering electric vehicle models optimised for local, urban journeys?1 Or will that particular marketing opportunity be overtaken by the whole notion of owning a car giving way to subscribing to a transport service, so that the very idea of sinking serious amounts of cash into owning a car will seem as outlandish as the proposition of urban streets piled high with horse shit?
[Via Memex 1.1]
- Let’s assume that genuine self-driving vehicles are several generations away yet, whatever Elon Musk’s fans would like to believe. ↩
Nick Parker brings us a story about when Zodiak Entertainment got creative about finding themselves a new corporate slogan:
The slogan shouldn’t just be like Little Richard’s scream. Little Richard’s scream should literally be the slogan.
Zodiak Entertainment: A-wop-bop-a-loo-bop-a-lop-bam-boom!
An instant classic. Totally unforgettable. A pure expression of joy and energy. A slogan with no literal meaning yet one that said everything. It was perfect and they knew it.
They kept riffing: perhaps every year at Cannes, Zodiak could hold karaoke competitions, where senior leaders would holler their own renditions? In fact, maybe asking people to do a full-throated a-wop-bop-a-loo-bop-a-lop-bam-boom! could even be part of people’s interviews and appraisals?!
"A full-throated a-wop-bop-a-loo-bop-a-lop-bam-boom! could even be part of people’s interviews and appraisals."
I realise that my lack of enthusiasm for this idea marks me out as someone doomed to a career as a dull pencil-pusher, a man with not a creative bone in his body, but I have to ask: are we absolutely certain this isn’t a rejected bit from a script for Succession season four? I can imagine at least two and possibly three of the Roy siblings thinking this was would be a genius idea to inflict on their underlings. A version of "Boar on the Floor" for the next generation of Roys?
Updating the outward-bound portion of Powers Of Ten to take account of a few more decades’-worth of data.
A worthwhile use of TV Licence payers’ money? I think so.
Dave Winer’s years of experience writing software has prepared him for life as a newbie Tesla owner:
I found out in the latest update. I had the temperature in the car set to 65 degrees, the same temperature I have my house thermostat set to. When I got into my updated car, the temperature was 72. It said so very clearly on the big display in the middle of the dash. So I did what I did before, touched the temperature, up pops the environment panel, but I couldn’t find any way to change the temp back to 65. I know how to scan a UI from left to right and top to bottom to find the thing that should be big, in the middle the display. A slider that sets the temperature. It wasn’t there. I sat in the car in my garage for a few minutes before I had a brilliant idea. Try doing it on the phone where the UI didn’t change. Voila. Back to comfort. I’m in good shape until they auto-update the phone UI. 😄
A bunch of other things were moved around. Why? Developers have their own insights into what users need, and they’re always wrong. What users want first and foremost is the UI of the fucking cars to not fucking change! I put the f-word in there twice to emphasize the importance of this idea.
I’m way out of practice as a driver – I haven’t driven a car on the public roads in more than 20 years – but I do remember the extent to which muscle memory helps you operate the car’s controls when you’re driving, and the notion of a driver’s attention being drawn to the central screen to on a Tesla to try to find and use a non-tactile control while driving is horrifying. One day, Tesla would say, their cars will have full self-driving capabilities built in and turned on by default so this won’t matter, but that day is not with us just yet.
Sure, logically the driver should know that tweaking the internal temperature is a much lower priority than steering the car and defer fiddling with the touchscreen until a more opportune moment. No doubt there’s small print covering this in the End User Licensing Agreement, but HUMANS ARE JUST NOT ALWAYS THAT LOGICAL.
I would imagine that a significant portion of Tesla’s funds is devoted to employing lawyers whose job is to shield Tesla from liability if lawsuits about their software updates to their user interface ever makes it to court. It’d be good to think that state regulation will pre-empt their efforts and Elon Musk will one day find himself having to answer for inflicting this sort of idiocy on road users, whether they’re driving Teslas or just unlucky enough to share the public roads with those who do.
After a few months of starting to get my head around what Obsidian can do, interesting to read a take on what it’s capable of from the viewpoint of someone who doesn’t want to build an outboard brain:
Not sold on the whole Knowledge Management bandwagon either. I use Obsidian to write everything. I am not creating a second brain or anything like that. I am writing in it. Everything. The goal is to write. Use it as the main text editor, and manage my schedule and tasks while I am in the program. It is my one-stop-shop for all my writing. The charm of the graph-view of my notes is lost on me. Not interested in that.
It’s refreshing to read a take on Obsidian that makes zero mentions of Zettelkasten.
My perspective on Obsidian chimes with this. The specifics are different – I value Obsidian because it makes a good successor to Evernote as an Everything Bucket that lets me capture notes from the web, store whatever details I feel a need to hang on to in the medium and long term and tag entries accordingly, and makes it easy for me to quickly search all that text content. Unlike Evernote1 I can extract content from it even after I’ve stopped using it. At heart, the strengths of Obsidian are that,
- It’s built on a bunch of Markdown files on my local storage that are not reliant upon anything in the Cloud; and,2
- The array of community plugins makes it easy to link and manage those files in ways that encourage linking to atomic notes about people and places I deal with frequently, rather than repeating references to the same person/place/event.
Both those strengths are things I could have made using Drafts or a local wiki3 but the big difference is that Obsidian lets me use plugins like Dataview to include live updates of to-do lists in my Daily Notes and – this is the bit that really appeals to my inner packrat – retain plain text lists of when I checked those items off. I was using Apple’s Reminders app for this sort of thing until an OS upgrade resulted in most of my lists and list items disappearing into the ether. If I’m ever going to lose my folders-full of Markdown files listing tasks I’ve done, it’ll be because I did something stupid with them, not because the OS/iCloud did it to me/for me/on my behalf.
Obsidian, supported by an army of plugin authors, is advancing rapidly and filling in gaps in functionality as the months go by. From my perspective, the biggest pain points of Obsidian are:
- Obsidian Mobile under iPadOS is subject to the customary iOS limitations on how long a non-media player app is allowed to stay alive in the background. The app is pretty good at restarting and reloading data from its’ local vault quickly – vastly quicker than the current Evernote client, for sure, if a tad slower than Drafts manages to recover from being automatically force-closed in the background by the OS – when I return to it after a few minutes away, but that’s not the fault of Obsidian.4
- Obsidian Mobile is not at all integrated with Apple’s Share menu. Obsidian can accept data copied-and-pasted into it, and some apps (like Drafts) can make use of URL schemas to feed data into Obsidian, but at present Obsidian operates at one remove from the Share menu5 and that does feel quite limiting. It’s amazing how much you can do with plain text if you must, but it’d be better if the Obsidian app for iPadOS wasn’t so reliant of the system clipboard and file system for transferring data.
- Obsidian on iPadOS just feels slightly clunky to use, at least compared to a native app like Drafts. It’ll be interesting to see a couple of years from now whether Drafts (another app which is comfortable using Markdown and has quite a user community churning out extensions) has reacted to Obsidian turning up on iOS by implementing the same feature set. In the end, it’s a race between multi-platform Obsidian (way more developers, but not necessarily focussed on dancing to Apple’s tune) and the smaller numbers of developers who focus on the Apple ecosystem and have no strong urge to accommodate other platforms. If we’re lucky, Obsidian’s base of Markdown documents will smooth the path between platforms and future iterations of the iPadOS client will fit in better with their surroundings.
Obsidian is proving to be an interesting journey so far.
I have a sneaky feeling that in a month or two I might give in to the long-standing temptation to compose and publish content for Sore Eyes using Markdown again.
- True, when I started with Evernote I was using the MacOS client and was reassured by the possibility of avoiding lock-in by being able to export data in ENEX format, from where it could be imported by other software. Nowadays I only have the Evernote client running on iPadOS and – sad to say – the current version of the Evernote client software doesn’t support ENEX export. Which is odd, given that ostensibly one of the drivers for their introducing version 10 of their client software was to finally solve the problem of the clients they offered on different platforms having historically offered different feature sets. Nowadays the web-based Evernote client does not offer ENEX export and nor does the iPadOS client, so here I am with several years of notes locked away in Evernote where I can’t extract it. ↩
- True, I do subscribe to Obsidian’s Sync service to take advantage of the backups of individual files, but the One True Copy of those files lives on my system, not theirs. An occasional backup of my entire Obsidian Vault to a folder in iCloud is sufficient, but not really necessary. ↩
- Like I did with VoodooPad some years ago. ↩
- It’s a pity that Apple still enforce that background app limitation even now that iPadOS is running on much more capable hardware than the first iPads had. ↩
- Some extensions like ReadItLater can pick up a URL from the iPadOS clipboard and download the web page’s content and then save a Markdown copy of the page to Obsidian, but passing data via the clipboard feels very 2012 and by modern standards Obsidian is not exactly a good iPadOS citizen. That’s a shame. ↩