Friday, October 29, 2010

Radical moderation

OK, people. The time has come to strike a radical blow for moderation. Our enemies – well, we don’t have any enemies. We’ve got people we disagree with. That doesn’t make them enemies. Right? Right? hey. For all I know, you don’t agree with me. I’m against big business. I’m against big government. I’m against big anything. I’m 5’6, I can’t help it. I’m psychologically scarred. I’m also in favor of the metric system, space travel, and the elimination of speed limits. Maybe you disagree. That doesn’t make me your enemy. I hope.

Yeah, I know. All this come-let-us-reason together talk. That’s kind of a letdown. If you want to energize the base, it’s a lot easier to say the other guy is Hitler. Bush is Hitler. Obama is Hitler. Jon Stewart’s original point — the reasoning behind all this "Rally for Sanity" stuff -- is Hitler was Hitler. Nobody else is Hitler. I AM NOT HITLER. ACHTUNG, BABY! Seriously. That's the point. Unless you’ve got a mustache, a bad haircut and a plan for world domination, you’re not Hitler. Let’s drop the Hitler stuff. Let’s talk. I know how insane that sounds. But let’s talk. Drop the true believer crap. Let’s talk.

See, the Founding Fathers had this nutty assumption. Those guys with the powdered wigs and bad teeth? They assumed we could all talk to each other. I’m not making it up. They really did. Yeah, they accused each other of Satanism, incest and unholy experiments. But they had a dialogue! They were talking! That’s what they had in mind!

What they didn’t have in mind was the political equivalent of championship wrestling. (grabbing crotch -- Yosemite Sam voice) “You can socialize this Obama! I will meet you in a steel cage death match any time anywhere!” Yeah, ha-ha. It’s funny when the other guys do it. (Yosemite Sam voice)“Bush destroyed them there towers. Yeah! Him and Dick Cheney and the Haliburton outfit! They killed all them people on those planes and blew up them towers with missiles! They had dynamite planted inside so’s they could have a war and make shitloads of money!” Ha-ha-ha. Not so funny, is it? No. You conspiracy guys can beat me with tire irons later. As far as the rest of you are concerned … Yosemite Sam should not be our role model, people. Spock should be our role model. Logic, thinking, cool heads. It’s a good idea.

Enough screaming. I hate screaming. I'm really freaking tired of screaming. We need to think. We need to talk.

I realized how boring that is. You wanna get worked up for the big game. We’re the greatest, they suck! That doesn’t work anymore. As sickening as this may sound, you gotta look at those Tea Party people and remind yourself they are people. NO! THEY’RE BRAINWASHED CLONES! THE KOCH BROTHERS CONTROL THEM! No, they’re people. Talk to them. NO! THERE’S NO TEA! THERE’S NO PARTY! I DON’T WANNA TALK TO THEM! Get over it. Talk to them. Take them seriously. Seriously.

They’re afraid of big government and state control. Listen to their fears. Move the discussion to the facts. Talk. Accept the possibility you may be wrong. Drop the assumption that Obama is God in human form. Get specific. Get practical. In the process, somebody’s mind might change. Maybe yours. Maybe theirs. But somebody’s.

It’s a remote possibility. I realize that fact. Next to dirty diapers, the human mind is the hardest thing in the world to change. But talking is the only option. The only way to get there.

Screaming doesn’t work. Demonizing the enemy doesn’t work. They’re not our enemy.

Keep reminding yourself that.

Fear is the enemy.

Fear is the only enemy.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Revenge of the Nerd


Director David Fincher’s The Social Network takes a not-so-promising premise — the story of Facebook — and turns it into an amazing movie. Compare it to, say, The Pirates of Silicon Valley. Good movie, but not great. This was great. And I knew it in the first few minutes.

In the opening scene, Mark Zuckerberg’s intellect rolls over his soon-to-be ex-girlfriend like a tank. He doesn’t even know he’s doing it. He stomps her; she dumps him. “Sorry” doesn’t cut it.

Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue perfectly captures the way nerds talk and think. Nerdspeak. Sorkin speaks it like a native speaker.

Nerds have more short term memory (a larger RAM buffer) and will refer to earlier conversational threads assumed dropped. Nerds are both anti-social and anti-Machiavellian. In the nerd ethos, thought is code; you follow the argument where it leads; you put all your assumptions on the table — including assumptions about social status, motives and intelligence. Sparing people’s feelings doesn’t enter into it. This sounds like insensitivity, but it really isn’t. If you’ve got an IQ of 170 or so, you insult people without even trying. So you stop trying not to.

To write this smart, you've got to be that smart. Props to Mr. Sorkin.

In the opening scene, you see exactly what kind of brain Zuckerberg has — and exactly what kind of character. The scene is the whole movie in embryo, a logic bomb waiting to explode. Everything flows from there ...

As a result of social rejection, Zuckerberg creates the greatest social network in history.

A college prank to get back at his ex-girlfriend evolves, step by step, into Facebook. We trace this evolution looking back in time from the vantage point of depositions and legal hearings. Zuckerberg’s ex-best friend and two twin, upper class jocks are suing him over the intellectual property rights issues. I.e.; the jocks claim Zuckerberg stole their idea; his best friend claims he cheated him out of partnership in the company. From one perspective, Zuckerberg stabbed them all in the back. From another perspective, he didn’t. Facebook evolved, ineluctably, like so many lines of elegant code.

Zuckerberg may be great with computer code — but he's not so great at moral code. The movie doesn’t dismiss him — or excuse him — as a human computer or autistic savant with a low social IQ. Zuckerberg's not socially unaware. He’s socially indifferent. And proud. His giant, pulsating brain remembers every social slight, every patronizing implication, every sneer. He balances the equation. He gets his payback.

Facebook is the revenge of the nerd.

This film has great performances by Jessie Eisenberg (Zuckerberg), Armie Hammer (playing both twins), Andrew Garfield (as Zuckerberg's dumped partner) and — believe it or not — Justin Timberlake (as Sean Parker, Napster's crash-and-burn founder). Acting that doesn't feel like acting — no milking the scene, no going for the big moment. Director Fincher makes you feel like a voyeur spying in on real people — pretty rare, for a big budget movie these days.

What this film doesn’t have is any detailed investigation of Facebook itself. There a few throwaway scenes — but nothing like those 1960s movies explaining the growth of rock and roll with a montage of teens listening to portable radios on the beach. Facebook is a phenomenon. The movie assumes you know about it — and gets on with the story.

That story is largely fiction. The filmmakers had access to the broad outlines of the story — and no access to the actual details or characters, wrapped in layers of nondisclosure agreements as they were. The Mark Zuckerberg of this movie has about as much reality as Prince Hamlet or Leopold Bloom, which is just fine with me. That’s probably why this film is so much more than a mere bio-pic. It’s the bio-pic of an idea — an idea that stands for all ideas. It’s a universal story.

Fincher’s movie and Sorkin’s script brilliantly shoehorns two plot threads together: (A) the exciting birth of an idea — as in the discovery of Radium or penicillin (B) the human cost and betrayal associated with the ownership of that idea. Facebook was a brilliant idea. The filmmakers are absolutely clear about that.

Whether the kudzu-like social network Zuckerberg created is such a good idea for society is different question — and a question for a different movie.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Synopsis, Bruce Sterling Vimeo talk

Here's a nice synopsis of Sterling's talk from Scott McCaulay in Filmmaker magazine:


Bruce Sterling -- closing talk Vimeo conference


Closing Keynote: Vernacular Video from Vimeo Festival on Vimeo.

Excellent talk from Bruce Sterling from 9/10/2010. Excellent as in disturbing, insightful, subversive and depressing.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Fugate's 957th Law

In the end, the shit you take is equal to the shit you make.

The facts are in

It's official. This is the grim, dystopian not-too-distant future we've been warned about.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Laika

Subject recovered. Begin scan.

Dead wind light cold frozen space.


Pack animal, unidentified. Quadripedal, mammalian? Massive neural damage.

Random access eidetic association chain. Second iteration.

Pain.

Working.

Pain hunger pain cold fight.


Working.

Sense of threat. Unidentified environment, artificial.

Fight fight.

Death experience, fight response. Pack loyalty.

Association chain cannot be recovered.

Association chain cannot be recovered.

Working.

Association chain cannot be recovered.

Return previous sequence.

Fight!

Loyalty to?

Bipedal mammal, unknown species. Intelligent. Civ 2. Female.

Кудрявка.


Phonetic equivalent: Kudryavka.

Здесь, собака.


Linguistic coding. Deep structure not identified.

Random access eidetic association chain. Third iteration.

Alley snow cold wind food hand warm.

Artificial structures, crystalline dihydrogen oxide. Bipedal female identical second eidetic sequence. Female extends edible substance.

Хорошая собака.

Cannot identify. Working.

Five fingers, opposable thumb.

Spinning and spinning.

Sequence truncated. Artificial environment. Centrifugal chamber?

“Cобака” generic term referent quadripedal mammal.

Dog?

Я огорченн. Нам нужно вы.

Eye. Liquid emerging from eye.

Association chain cannot be recovered.

Association chain cannot be recovered.

Fight response. Loyalty.

Собаки которые гуляют на 2 ноги.

Working.

Dogs who walk on two legs?

Fight!

Pack loyalty response.

No! Let me out of here! Let me fight!

Confined environment.

Auditory evidence other quadripedal mammals.

Out! Out! Let me out!

Bipedal female.

We have to get out! We're all going to die if you don't let me out!


Лайка.

Phonetic equivalent: Laika.

Оно если вы знаете, Лайка. Вы собака, не Иисус Христос. Но я передам вы чего вы хотите.


Lack of oxygen. Hyperbaric chamber?

вы самые сильные, Лайка. То ваше заклятье.

Association chain cannot be recovered.

Association chain cannot be recovered.

Random access eidetic association chain. Fifty-second iteration.

High arousal state. Large assembly bipedal mammals. Primitive visual recording devices. Solid state booster rocket?

Eidetic capture indicates planet with moon in stationary orbit.

Working.

Planet identified. 1029300029292.4 gal arm 6. No int. life. ThermNuc war cycle 12. Restoration possible if suitable subject found.

Вы герой, Лайка.

Bipedal female. Liquid emerging from eye.

Вы сохраните нас все, Лайка.

Quadripedal mammal "Laika" unknown species isolated confined chamber. Massive G-forces.

Unconsciousness.

Repetition first eidetic iteration.

Dead wind light cold frozen. Space.

Working.

Scan complete.

Begin repair.

Fractal rock



Fractals have disturbing implications for design.

The mind likes complexity built out of simplicity. I think that's the appeal of most great art. A great symphony breaks down into simple patterns of chord progressions, fugal counterpoint and motifs. There's an "aha" moment. The mind "groks" the pattern, and goes with the flow of the symphony.

The same is true for great visual art, from paintings to cartoons. However orate, there's a basic simplicity, a hierarchy of form, a visual of logic that tells the eye what's important and where to look. The eye likes that.

The mind likes the notion that there's a underlying order behind the complexity of the universe, a few simple equations running it all, a unified field theory, a cosmic operating system. On a micro level, the mind likes the idea that atoms are the "building blocks of the universe." Atoms can be broken down into smaller building blocks which can be broken down into even smaller building blocks. But there are building blocks, damn it. The mind insists.

Fractal logic doesn't work that way. There's no underlying order. The complexity itself is the underlying order. There's just more and more complexity, whether you're zooming out or zooming in. It's organic looking, but in a creepy, Lovecraftian way. Cthulu's house in Malibu probably looks like this.

The mind recoils