Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Spending the week in LA, at SID (Society for Information Display), probably one of the few places where on eavesdropping the conversation at Starbucks, I would hear someone say of something he'd seen there, "It was pretty close...within 0.004 millimeters."
Here are some photos of the pretty part of town, i.e. not where the convention center is. The convention center is in Dossville, USA. I was surprised this morning at quite how many streams of urine emanated from doorways where people had evidently slept. I would have thought they'd try to keep the two activities separate. 

The third picture, the odd tunnel, is the 3rd Street tunnel, which has quite a history that I would have to recount some other time, but suffice to say it's a tunnel through the hill at 3rd street.
At first I walked up the hill (behind your back in the photo) and was prepared to walk down 3rd Street to the tunnel, but when I got to the bottom of the hill, there was no crossing. There was only a pedestrian subway of such Stygian aspect and such malodor that I literally did not dare go in. I walked back up the hill, up to 4th Street, down and back along to 3rd. When I got to the crossing there a homeless vet sprang out and pressed the crossing signal button for me and for a few seconds I was terrified that he was Charon, and therefore didn't give him any money. I walked to the middle of the street I got close enough to take the picture and got out of there, without Eurydice or indeed anyone else, following me. Charon had moved on, and so missed out on his payment.

Friday, May 18, 2018

You Are The Product

General wisdom states that "If you don't pay for this service, it means *you* are the product."

Google (among other heavyweights, including the Chinese government) seem to be evolving this paradigm to, "And we can make you into a *better* product!"

Neoliberalism means everything is for sale, and Google appears to be taking one concept behind that a step further. You may not actually want to sell your soul, but years of labor in capitalist workplaces have embedded the idea that Continuous Improvement applies to your inner being whether you do or don't.

PDCA cycle

We've used Lean in the workplace. We've used Kanban. We use Kaizen. We've even used that Marie-Kondo-for-manufacturers, 5S.  I'm a Six Sigma Green Belt, and could, if prompted, tell you the history of process improvement from Shewhart's Statistical Process Control, through the giant of the field Deming, to Motorola and DMAIIC, to the Lean techniques of today.

So much so that we feel a nagging sense that we should use these powerhouses on improving ourselves.

Well, be nagged no more. Google is in the process of developing a way we can ask ourselves what customer-related CTQs (issues that are Critical to Quality) we may have, measure the problem, analyze the problem, develop an improvement, implement a solution and continuously measure it to make sure our improvement is not falling behind (control).

It's called Google Selfish Ledger. (The name is apparently borrowed from Dawkins' Selfish Gene but refers somehow to epigenetics.) It's a compendium of everything you've ever done in the vicinity of your phone, but rather than remaining a dumb repository of data, it is imbued with a sense of purpose, in order to find out more about you and guide you towards the ultimate you - your Life Goal. It will prompt you to do and buy things in line with Google's values - for example, local fresh food.

Personal improvement is only the bait dangled by Google. The ultimate aim is that the ledgers will eventually, acting more like Dawkins' Memes than Selfish Genes, pass down your information to the next generation, where they will be "sequenced" in the same way geneticists sequence genomes, enabling more accurate predictions and solutions to societal problems.   (Via The Verge.)

Whereas one has to love Google's endearing hubris, I'm not convinced that this total loss of individual privacy and freedom will lead to the Land of Milk and Honey.  For one thing, if Ledger prompts you to do things, then by definition it is not *your* behavior, but your natural behavior augmented by an outside influence. This will result in a positive feedback loop. The Ledgers' overall understanding of human behavior, when sequenced, will not encode human behavior, but Google users who have been prodded and poked into doing things differently. It will be an interesting thing, but it won't be human.

Here is the video from The Verge.

(Note: I could not find the promised link to the Google video)

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

VPRO: Detroit Music Scene Documentary (White Stripes, Dirtbombs, more)

Excellent 2001 video documentary of the Detroit Scene from 2001. Features the White Stripes (of course) along with Mick Collins of The Dirtbombs and half a dozen other faces of the time.

Mick Collins has the best laugh in rock music. It makes you happy even though most of the time he's doing Deep Thinking. (So follow him on Twitter  !) Among the others featured is Arthur Dottweiler, who was the White Stripes manager at the time (in the same sense that Jack White and Meg White were brother and sister at the time). I love Arthur Dottweiler for some reason and he can manage me any time he likes. (The names Dottweiler/Dattwyler/Tutwiler are some of my favorite names too. Dr. Ray Dattwyler is a Lyme Disease researcher which means he's tangentially related to Peromyscus; Tutwiler is the city in Mississippi where W. C. Handy first encountered the Blues.)

Anyway, that's nothing to do with this documentary which is all about the time when Detroit was an organically happening place. Makes me wish I had a time machine and some spare air miles.

13 minutes 

Thursday, March 01, 2018

Las Vegas Strippers Accept Bitcoin via QR Tattoos

I know this sounds like the fyootcher, but it's not actually the real future until someone's thought of a way to hack it or 'disrupt' it or 'disintermediate' it to their advantage.
I shall expect to see *that* headline tomorrow.

The Kills and Jack White: Two new songs in one day

It's our lucky day: two new songs at once.

Over and Over and Over, from Jack White's forthcoming album Boarding House Reach and The Kills' List of Demands.

The Kills: List of Demands - a cover of the Saul Williams' song

Jack White: Over and Over and Over

The Kills are leaning a bit on the MOR side for me, but it's an excellently produced track that will sound good for hundreds of listens, and the video is memorable. I still want to be Alison when I grow up. The Jack White track brings the riffage, and the lyrics (that I can make out) are pretty deep, but overall I'm not quite as taken with it. The backing singers sound bolted on, like an aftermarket spoiler on a street car. And the bongos. Man, what's with the bongos? I assume he can afford an Amen Break sample like everybody else.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The House on the Hill Opposite

This week is the week the house on the hill opposite lights up at dawn.

This week, February 2018

Previously on the hill, February 2016

It doesn't change much. I still don't think it's occupied. The dumper truck was there for years, but it's gone now.  Today we just have some sort of beam propped up against the front. Palm trees on the top are better trimmed but the weed-whacking seems to have gotten out of hand. Whoever put up that orange construction fencing hasn't bothered to take it down yet.

But boy, does it glow at dawn.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Altered Carbon (TV 2018, Review)

I read Altered Carbon, the book by Richard Morgan, several years ago and enjoyed it a lot. Detective or Noir is not my favorite genre, but Morgan's future has a new twist that makes the slog for clues a bit more interesting than usual. The twist is, in the future, everyone is fitted with a recorder in the back of their neck, a 'stack' that encodes sufficient information that if they're killed, the stack can be used to reboot them with all their memories intact in a new body, called a 'sleeve'.

There's a few rules about resleeving. It's a long time since I read the book, but in the series these include the fairly obvious rule that if the death involves blunt trauma to the back of the neck and the stack is damaged, you're really dead. If your religion is on file as not permitting resleeving, you're dead (even if you are a witness to a murder). No coming back. Also if you're really rich, you can have your information beamed to a remote storage site at intervals, and in that case, even if your stack is damaged during your death, you can be rebooted with your memory current up to the time of the last back-up. It's not stated why every person on earth and beyond can have a stack but only a few billionaires can have a back-up. But, moving briskly along, there are also rules about sleeves, such as how you obtain a vacant body to be resleeved in.

A combination of these rules gives us Takeshi Kovacs, our hero, who was a freedom fighter in a doomed revolution and was sentenced to being shelved for hundreds of years, suddenly and confusedly rebooted in a sleeve that has a history - and though the history is unknown to him, it causes him plenty problems. Another combination of rules means that an ultra-rich guy who was killed and restored to a clone sleeve from a back-up is motivated find out who did it. The death was just before his routine back-up, meaning he has a 23 hour gap in his rebooted memory. It was he, Bancroft, who had Kovacs resleeved to solve this mystery, and he knows Kovacs will agree to work for him, because otherwise Kovacs will have to go back into storage to live out his sentence. (I never found out what was so bad about this sort of death sentence, since ultimately it seems quite likely you'll be resleeved and in theory you don't suffer in the meantime.)

There I'll cut it short, not because I'm avoiding spoilers but because the series really, really Netflix long and you have to give up typing sometime.

It's a bit of a curate's egg. I'll come to some good parts in a minute, but first the problems. It's very derivative. The visuals are so close to Blade Runner that you expect Taffey Lewis or the electron micrograph lady to pop up at any moment. To me this was more familiar than grating, but jeez, get your own crapsack future in future, Netflix. Some other parts are eye-rollingly cliche. The detective-Kovacs gets his clues from the part of town I've always called The Zone. You know The Zone, it's in 90% of SF movies. It's the bustling part of town where the Whores With Hearts of Gold live, along with dealers in drugs called things like Ice and Spice, everyone who is on the run, The Boss, strippers, the people who run Cage Fight arenas, with added gang members Quant. Suff. to make up the rest of the crowd. (The Zone is always crowded.) Kovacs is also dogged by a loud, Hispanic, female police officer who ends up being his love interest, and her loud, happy, gregarious ethnic family. Both of these pegged the cliche meter every time they were on screen. Acting was very good, mind. It was just the writing.

All of the segments suffered from something that to me suggests careless or cheap film-making. There's a convention in film where the camera does a close-up on a person who is speaking to a second person, and after the line is finished there's a cut where the two conversationalists are seen in the same shot, so you can see the second person's reaction to the speech without getting confused about what's just happened. In a well-shot movie the speaking person's pose and facial expression as they finish their line is absolutely identical to their pose and expression as the two-shot begins because this is the way a movie signals 'no time has passed since the end of the line'. If the director is in a hurry the close-up expression and the two-shot expression don't quite match. This happened time and time again in Altered Carbon.

And then the sexual violence. Oh my FSM, the sexual violence. The directors must have decided that since they don't actually die, as in become non-existent (with exceptions), then showing naked women dying, as in being cut-up, torn apart, raped and so forth, but not actually shuffling off the mortal coil, is absolutely OK television. The vast majority of this is with naked or partly-clothed women, though in the interests of variety there's a scene where a heterosexual couple fight to the death in a cage match and an approximately fifteen hour sequence where Kovacs's consciousness is uploaded somewhere that's not against the rules for some reason I didn't catch, and Kovacs's consciousness in its imaginary but evidently pain-equipped virtual body is tortured to death over and over again. If you've always wanted to see a movie where the spy/detective is actually dismembered and burned to death by the bad guy, you've come to the right place. Oh, and just when you think you've got out of The Zone, there's a new round of even more repulsive violence against women. (Two kids who are murdered earlier are not shown on screen, so I guess Netflix does have a Standards & Practices Dept. keeping an eye on things somewhere.)

What Altered Carbon got right: The story. It's fast paced and enthralling. Maybe even a bit too fast paced and enthralling, judging by the way they felt it necessary to info-dump at the end. The AI hotel was very well done. The hotel himself, Poe, was a wonderful character and one I was really invested in. I enjoyed meeting his other AI buddies for the short time they were on screen as well. I also liked the bad guy, Laurens Bancroft (James Purefoy). He managed to manifest the spirit of the more crazy Roman Emperors, without ever chewing the scenery. (His son (Antonio Marziale) did a good impression of a meek and damaged Emperor's son, as well.) Another well-done aspect was the blithe acceptance of the sleeving process. In one case, a married couple who have been separated for years are lovingly and joyfully reunited when Kovacs purchases a new sleeve for the wife's stack. But Kovacs could only find a male sleeve in the time he had available. The husband's reaction, a very short oh-so-this-is-what-you-look-like-now followed by unequivocal love, and the male-bodied-wife's continuation of what must have been her previous mannerisms and speech patterns is perfectly acted. What to our eyes is a very strange occurrence is just another Tuesday to the people of the time.

This brings me to the dealie that caused the biggest stir on social media prior to the premiere - the 'whitewashing' of Takeshi Kovacs. When I first heard that Kovacs was to be played by a white man, I was completely unmoved, as this is what happens in the book. In the event, young Kovacs is played by Will Yun Lee (not very Japanese - he's Korean) and the resurrected Kovacs is played by Joel Kinnaman (even more not very Japanese, and in my opinion a bit large, hairy and Caucasian for the role). It doesn't cosmically-speaking matter, however. It's the future, and Kovacs is from a non-earth planet with names from two very different origin cultures. It did prove to be a bit more whitewashy than in the book, though, as in text media the character can think his way through the confusion due to his new body on the page where you can feel it. In film, all you can see is the skin, and Kinnaman is pretty white. No conflict or dilemma over his new identity is visible. But I loved it when the married couple got back together and by transference, I'm going to love it that Kovacs is alive again even if the sleeve isn't to his liking.

Oh, and Max Headroom (Matt Frewer) does a glorious bit part.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

New Year's Eve 1968 - all star rock show

French TV show - New Year 1968, featuring The Who, The Small Faces, The Troggs, Pink Floyd, Joe Cocker and Fleetwood Mac in their prime of life.  And more - 90 minutes worth. A couple of them are lip-syncing, but not all.

French band The Variations are killing it here.

Thanks to uploader Peter Marshall.

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Weightless Rave achievement unlocked

Yesterday was the first roadster to Mars AND [very important] the first weightless Dubstep rave.

Courtesy of ESA. 
"ESA astronauts Pedro Duque and Jean-Francois Clervoy joined a Zero-G flight with a difference with BigCityBeats. On board the flight were some of the world's biggest DJs.
The flight took place on 7 February 2018, departing from Frankfurt Airport. The flight took place on the Novespace A310 normally used for ESA's parabolic flight campaigns and astronaut training."

Sad Freemasons are sad

The Freemasons in London are worried that their lodge in the UK parliament coupled with their secret secretiveness is leading people to believe something secret is going on. The BBC had one on yesterday and he went on for five minutes about how they were just a bunch of lads who like to have a larf and they had open days and weren't secret at all.

The Beeb guy asked him to demonstrate the secret handshake and he said no. The Beeb guy asked if that was because it was a secret and the guy said no, it wasn't a secret, it was just that he'd promised God never to reveal it to anyone.

Anyway, the guy said Freemasons were all right because they'd raised 33 million pounds for charity last year. He kept saying it. Thirty three. Thirty three. Thirty three. I thought, "You're not helping your case about not having secret codes here, matey."

Anyway, today they released the memo attached about how everybody is mean to them and they're the last people it's okay to discriminate against etc.

Hard Sun (TV thriller, review)

I watched cop show procedural/thriller/science fiction can't-make-its-mind-up show Hard Sun on the BBC over the past few days.

Six episodes of Season One - will there be a season two?

The set up: Two British cops, one with Dark Past Type A and one with Dark Past Type B, team up together to fight crime. One doesn't know the other one has been assigned by The Powers That Be (Type X: law enforcement) to spy on him in re: his dark past. Wait! There's more. The Earth is going to be burned to a crisp in 5 years!

Cue Bowie song. No, literally, cue the Bowie Song 'Five Years'. It starts playing.

Anyway, MI5 know the planet is doomed in exactly five years. The rest of humanity doesn't know. Our cops accidentally get hold of an MI5 flash drive that shows what's going to happen and proves it. If this news gets out, people will panic and law and order will go to pieces. The Powers That Be Type B, MI5, want the flash drive back and are prepared to kill for it. Which they do. A lot of people die gruesomely, or get beaten up or their throats slashed or lobotomized with an ice pick or whatever in very detailed fashion in this show.

So our intrepid PC Plods get to spy on each other, have affairs, have dark pasts, family they want to protect, and a MacGuffin. Much like any other Watching The Detectives program over the last half-century. Where does the Five Years subplot fit in?

It seeps in as a quiet leak. The news gets out in the first episode, but MI5 go on Twitter and say it's a hoax and everybody believes that except for one nutcase per week who cracks under the strain, each of whom is coincidentally assigned to our detectives to chase down. So that's that. It's a cheap crazy-psychopath plot generator.

Except, every episode, MI5 is still tying up our DCI's kids and threatening to kill our anti-hero plod friends if they don't give back the flash drive. I don't know why! [1]

I watched all six episodes and never found out if 
a) it was a good idea or not to tell everybody the world was ending in five years, since as Bowie said, it would drive people nuts 
b) why they didn't upload the flash drive to Google Docs or Dropbox and give the original back to TPTB Type B so they'd stop threatening their families while they figured a) out or 
c) why they didn't stop being policemen and retire to the Costa Brava for five years of as much fun as possible with their kids until everyone gets fried.

There is a twist ending which is quite funny. Someone's an unreliable narrator and it's not either of our two LEO protags. But I wouldn't say it's worth watching four or so hours for a ten second chortle in the last few minutes.

[1] It's possible that they need it back in order to stop anyone discovering $twist_ending, but since we don't discover that until the end either - and it's not explicit even then - it's not a good payoff for four hours of wtf?

Saturday, February 03, 2018

It's About Time: Review of Nigel Kneale's The Stone Tape and Wyrd Signal's Podcast review

Sean and Lucy discuss the landmark sci-fi/horror teleplay: Nigel Kneale's 'The Stone Tape' talking about Derrida, Marx, H.P. Lovecraft, M.R. James, ancient aliens and occult media, in this inaugural t

I did see Nigel Kneale's The Stone Tape on its first run - unlike other faves of the hauntology crowd like Whistle and I'll Come To You and Children of the Stones. I think everyone who saw this back on Christmas Day, 1972  is hah hah hah hah haunted by it - particularly those of us who were kids - so it's good to have it brought up by later watchers and discussed. 
For those who haven't seen it, it is about a division of a company which is trying to develop a hi-fi, long lasting recording medium. They are relocated to a research facility in an old house. They encounter a ghost and eventually realize that one way to describe the ghost is as a recording that is held in the very stones of the house and played back not on instruments (which do not detect it) but directly inside the minds of sensitive people. This gives them an idea for a device-free playback - the Killer App! They study the phenomenon but accidentally 'wipe' the recording. But the stone tape is a palimpsest. Under the very traditional ghost is another recording, of a very ancient thing indeed.
I rewatched The Stone Tape before writing this, and some other points came to mind, both about the program and the podcast. In no particular order: 
A number of reviewers, including this podcast team, find the recording research division of the company to be unredeemed bastards who are racist, sexist and not very sympathetic protagonists. However, I think it's obvious that they are written this way on purpose. It's not that Nigel Kneale thought they were nice guys. The men are supposed to be bastards, and Peter, the boss, is a complete c*nt. It isn't "the way things were in the seventies" so much as a study in company politics. That's one reason why the language is so racist (and boy is it racist). They are quite as nasty about their absent colleague, the washing machine researcher, after all. 
The sole woman in the team, Jill, is a bit willochy but the initial set up is designed to show that she is 'sensitive' both emotionally and psychically, and almost all the men are, literally, 'insensitive' - racist, sexist, out to win one for their team whatever collateral damage may ensue.  It may be overdone but I don't think it is done as unconscious sexism on Kneale's part. 
The boss, Peter, is having an affair with Jill, the company computer programmer. He talks to his wife back home while Jill is on in earshot his bed at the research facility, and forget's his kid's horse's name and has to be reminded. Later, when he's rejected Jill as too emotional, he sends her away on a month's leave, and Jill can see, as she leaves, that his secretary is waiting in the background with drinks - he next affair starting up already. He's an unpleasant man, and played perfectly.
Some reviewers also mention a lot of shouting. There is a lot of shouting. Some of it is because it's filmed in an actual stone house before there were good mics for this sort of thing, and some of it is because the actors are trying to shout over the sound of actual working teletype terminals, for no adequately explored reason. And a major reason is that the stone tape is activated by vibration, so there has to be a lot of noise before the ghost appears each time. (Also the cast is a bit shouty.)
Nigel Kneale's pet subjects abound. Like Quatermass and the Pit, the premise is that something in the very ground beneath our feet is throwing up a memory that we are forced to observe and ultimately to relive. It's easy to see why Stone Tape is a fave of the Psychogeographers and their flaneur friends. 
It had never occurred to me before that their rival for the company's research money is a washing machine developer, i.e. someone whose job it is to get the traces of past use OUT of things. He's always shown with dyed hands, because he hasn't yet succeeded. One imagines that his job description, devising a machine to keep the colors that are wanted without also keeping the stains that are unwanted remnants of the past, is the same as Peter's job description.
Kneale keeps to storytelling basics here with some twinning and opposites. There are two ghosts, two affairs, two programmers (with opposite sensitivities), a death and a premonition of death. 
One thing that I wouldn't have picked up on in 1972 is that the barmaid, who had spoken to a 'colored boy' (an American GI) about the house during war said that he'd complained there was a 'guppy - or was it a duppy?' 'Duppy' is a West Indian word for a malevolent spirit and I'm surprised Nigel Kneale knew the word then - the Bob Marley song was not released until next year. 

The Wyrd Signal podcast team (in their very first podcast!) give a good recap and then go on to discuss several things I hadn't thought of in regards to how the film is put together and the concept of deep time. Mark (for it is he) Fisher's name turns up again, along with Derrida, and the word 'hegemony' is repeated several times.
The following is an observation, not a criticism of the podcast: One of the weirdest things about time (not sure if Derrida covered this one) is that quite a lot of it has happened to me. A great deal less of it has happened to the podcasters, who are Generation Z (i.e. younger than millennials). At first, hearing them describe the 70s made me feel as though I had lived through an aberration, and I was complicit in an excursion from normal human behavior, and as though I had to re-examine mine and everyone else's behavior in the light of the podcasters' withering criticism of the 70s.
Then one of the podcasters said this remarkable thing: "And there have been some parapsychological experiments of asking the spirits to make an imprint on to a blank, erm, er, reel of magnetic tape or blank, erm, a phot - er, a photo tape I want to say? A photo reel, the tape one would put into an old camera before we had digital cameras."
And at that point I realized that no MP3s, stone tapes, nor any recording medium could adequately capture a previous time in a way that makes it accessible to someone who wasn't there. I 'know' the 70s in a way these podcasters never will, but they can think they do because they have access to the tapes.
It's a "film" by the way. A "film" camera.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Jack White: Corporation (audio of album track)

New Jack White song premiered today: Corporation.

It's an electric piano surfin' bass groove that takes it to the bridge and throws it off.

Too much funky Clavinet for me, but it's likely a grower. 

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Las Vegas Trip 4/4 - more pictures

Mandalay Bay gryphon

Mandalay Bay lion (I guess)

Mandalay Bay Old Moulmein Pagoda Looking Lazy at the Sea (or facsimile thereof)

Luxor Ram-headed sphinxes (pretty good copy of original)

Luxor Sphinx, who is a bit too masculine and Caucasian for the job if you ask me

Wynn and its walkways (some working)


Sigfrid and Roy memorial

Mirage and its volcano-cum-fountain

Ballardian drained swimming pools, with rare rainwater addition
"Hey, Google" was the mantra of CES this year

A selkie statue at Caesars

The older casinos were more fun, weren't they?
Though this is pretty fun too
The tip of the strip (panorama) -Mandalay Bay, Luxor, Excalibur, New York


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