Joho the BlogSeptember 2013 - Joho the Blog

September 30, 2013

[SPOILERS] A Breaking Bad plot flaw

Breaking Bad Finale SPOILERS

A number of plot weaknesses, if not exactly flaws, have been noticed by many people: It was too convenient that Walter found the car keys in the first scene, it was unlikely that he could have so casually evaded the police lookouts when visiting his wife, he couldn’t have counted on being allowed to position his car so perfectly for the last scene, it was lucky that all the bad guys (except one) were in just the right range for his bullet-sprinkler system.

But I haven’t seen one particular, and genuine, plot flaw mentioned anywhere. Probably because I’m wrong about it. Here goes:

Gretchen and Elliott Schwartz were next to each other facing forward when the red laser dots appeared on their chests. How did they see the dots? Did they see the laser sources and figure out that they were pointing at them? That’s probably it. Ok, so much for the plot flaw. Carry on.

Finally, yes, I know that picking plot flaws misses the point of the Breaking Bad finale. But I have to say that I was a little disappointed by episode. It wrapped up the plot points, but I didn’t think it advanced the series’ argument. And, no, I don’t claim to know exactly what that argument was; it was too wonderfully complex for that. Still, I didn’t think the finale deepened its themes.

I agree with how others have framed it: “Ozymandias” — the third-to-last episode — was the series’ climax. The rest was denouement.

Great, great series.

 


Freudian slip of the month. From E-Online’s coverage of the finale: “Walt (Bryan Cranston) got his revenge but succumbed to his wombs.”

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September 29, 2013

Fake spoilers to tweet during Breaking Bad

Here’s a sequence of fake spoilers you can tweet during tonight’s Breaking Bad finale.

There are IMPLIED SPOILERS in this if you haven’t seen the series. E.g., if you don’t know what happens to Gus, read no further. Mainly, though, it implies who is alive when the finale begins.

First, just a palette cleanser:

First time viewer! Can someone catch me up? #BreakingBad

Then:

The New Mexico landscape is so beautiful, forbidding. But why is Pisa leaning in the background? Foreshadowing? #BreakingBad
I don’t remember Jesse having a hook for a hand? Did I miss an episode????? #BreakingBad
Surprise! I really did not see that Paula Deen cameo coming! #BreakingBad
Hahahaha. First time Saul ever wins a case and it turns out to be a case of TNT! Boom! #BreakingBad
Don’t eat it, Huell. Don’t eat it. DON’T EAT IT!!!!!!! #BreakingBad
I told you not to eat it :( #BreakingBad
OMG. NPH is great in EVERYTHING #BreakingBad
One thing you have to say about the Neo-Nazis: they sing ABBA beautifully. #BreakingBad
Gus is alive??? I don’t think I’m buying this “bionic face” device #BreakingBad
Todd meet the new sheriff in town: Chuck Freaking Norris! Yeah!! #roundhouse! #BreakingBad
But if Skyler’s outfit is made from cloth from Krypton and is indestructible, how did she sew it? #BreakingBad
I looove Robin Williams, but was this really the right time for zany improv? #BreakingBad
Really? Wouldn’t the constant stream of water from the car wash have put out the Hell Mouth? #BreakingBad
Well, he died as he lived. In his tighty whiteys. #BreakingBad

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September 27, 2013

Felina [predictive attempt at a SPOILER]

There’s absolutely no reason to read this. If you’re reading it before the last episode of Breaking Bad airs tonight, it contains rank speculation and yet another bad guess. If you’re reading it afterwards, it’s just plain wrong. So, go away. I’ll let you know if it turns out there was any reason to continue reading.

The title of tonight’s final Breaking Bad episode is “Felina,” which, as others have pointed out, is an anagram of “finale.”

Eric Brown reports on a few Internet theories about what the title means. Pretty interesting, especially the Marty Robbins one. But I kind of like the possible reference to Schrodinger’s cat, especially since Heisenberg is all about uncertainty.

So, here’s a prediction. The cage that Jesse is in is a Schrodinger box. Walt comes upon Jesse in it unable to tell if Jesse is alive or dead. Maybe Todd has a gun on him, telling him he can talk away and leave Jesse to die. Walt opens the box. ( The probability wave settles: Jesse lives, and Walt dies.

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[2b2k] Popular Science incompetently manages its comments, gives up

Popular Science has announced that it’s shutting down comments on its articles. The post by Suzanne LeBarre says this is because ” trolls and spambots” have overwhelmed the useful comments. But what I hear instead is: “We don’t know how to run a comment board, so shut up.”

Suzanne cites research that suggests that negative comments on an article reduce the credibility of the article, even if those negative comments are entirely unfounded. Thus, the trolls don’t just ruin the conversation, they hurt the cause of science.

Ok, let’s accept that. Scientific American cited the same research but came to a different decision. Rather than shut down its comments, it decided to moderate them using some sensible rules designed to encourage useful conversation. Their idea of a “useful conversation” is likely quite similar to Popular Science’s: not only no spam, but the discourse must be within the norms of science. So, it doesn’t matter how loudly Jesus told you that there is no climate change going on, your message is going to be removed if it doesn’t argue for your views within the evidentiary rules of science.

You may not like this restriction at Scientific American. Tough. You have lots of others places you can talk about Jesus’ beliefs about climate change. I posted at length about the Scientific American decision at the time, and especially about why this makes clear problems with the “echo chamber” meme, but I fundamentally agree with it.

If comments aren’t working on your site, then it’s your fault. Fix your site.

[Tip o’ the hat to Joshua Beckerman for pointing out the PopSci post.]

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September 26, 2013

TV’s best season ever?

I didn’t watch the Emmy’s, but I still didn’t like ’em. It’s not that I disagree with who got the Emmys (although I do). Rather, this TV year is a disproof of the Emmy’s premise. It has been arguably TV’s greatest year, too big for picking single favorites.

Much of this has to do with the flowering of the “100-hour narrative,” as Steven Johnson calls it. Stir in the way the Internet and the rise of DVRs and on-demand TV have returned control of our interest to us, and you have an amazing year of TV. I’m not even going to be able to list all the obviously great shows: Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Game of Thrones. Even flawed shows had their perfections: the plummy acting on House of Cards, the delicious noir-ness of Justified, the incredible acting turns on Dexter. Yes, Dexter. Jennifer Carpenter was consistently amazing on that show as Dexter’s sister, and Michael C. Hall did a great job with a character who at heart was 85% gimmick. So You Think You Can Dance had an astounding year. (Try to ignore the audience sounds, and the Jenna Elfman sounds, for that matter. BTW, I’m also quite fond of this…and it’s not even his best work.) Even The Office had a great last season.

Now you’re going to want to be annoyed with me because I left out shows you thought were great. Good! You’re making my point. This was an amazing year for TV.

And from this set — much larger than these examples — you’re going to pick one best actor or one best drama? Give it up, Emmys. Give it up.

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September 24, 2013

[berkman][misc] Curated by the crowd

I’m at a Berkman lunchtime talk on crowdsourcing curation. Jeffrey Schnapp, Matthew Battles [twitter:matthewBattles] , and Pablo Barria Urenda are leading the discussion. They’re from the Harvard metaLab.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

Matthew Battles begins by inviting us all to visit the Harvard center for Renaissance studies in Florence, Italy. [Don’t toy with us, Matthew!] There’s a collection there, curated by Bernard Berenson, of 16,000 photos documenting art that can’t be located, which Berenson called “Homeless Paintings of the Italian Renaissance.” A few years ago, Mellon sponsored the digitization of this collection, to be made openly available. One young man, Chris Daley [sp?] has since found about 120 of the works. [This is blogged at the metaLab site.]

These 16,000 images are available at Harvard’s VIA image manager [I think]. VIA is showing its age. It doesn’t support annotation, etc. There are some cultural crowdsourcing projects already underway, e.g., Zooniverse’s Ancient Lives project for transcribing ancient manuscripts. metaLab is building a different platform: Curarium.com.

Matthew hands off to Jeffrey Schnapp. He says Curarium will allow a diverse set of communities (archivist, librarian, educator, the public, etc.) to animate digital collections by providing tools for doing a multiplicity things with those collections. We’re good at making collections, he says, but not as good at making those collections matter. Curarium should help take advantage of the expertise of distributed communities.

What sort of things will Curarium allow us to do? (A beta should be up in about a month.) Add metadata, add meaning to items…but also work with collections as aggregates. VIA doesn’t show relations among items. Curarium wants tomake collections visible and usable at the macro and micro levels, and to tell stories (“spotlights”).

Jeffrey hands off to Pablo, who walks us through the wireframes. Curarium will ingest records, and make them interoperable. They take in reords in JSON format, and extract the metadata they want. (They save the originals.) They’re working on how to give an overview of the collection; “When you have 11,000 records, thumbnails don’t help.” So, you’ll see a description and visualizations of the cloud of topic tags and items. (The “Homeless” collection has 2,000 tags.)

At the item level, you can annotate, create displays of selected content (“‘Spotlights’ are selections of records organized as thematized content”) in various formats (e.g., slideshow, more academic style, etc.). There will be a rich way of navigating and visualizing. There will be tools for the public, researchers, and teachers.

Q&A

Q: [me] How will you make the enhanced value available outside of Curarium? And, have you considered using Linked Data?

A: We’re looking into access. The data we have is coming from other places that have their own APIs, but we’re interested in this.

Q: You could take the Amazon route by having your own system use API’s, and then make those API’s open.

Q: How important is the community building? E.g., Zooniverse succeeds because people have incentives to participate.

A: Community-building is hugely important to us. We’ll be focusing on that over the next few months as we talk with people about what they want from this.

A: We want to expand the scope of conversation around cultural history. We’re just beginning. We’d love teachers in various areas — everything from art history to history of materials — to start experimenting with it as a teaching tool.

Q: The spotlight concept is powerful. Can it be used to tell the story of an individual object. E.g., suppose an object has been used in 200 different spotlights, and there might be a story in this fact.

A: Great question. Some of the richness of the prospect is perhap addressed by expectations we have for managing spotlights in the context of classrooms or networked teaching.

Q: To what extent are you thinking differently than a standard visual library?

A: On the design side, what’s crucial about our approach is the provision for a wide variety of activities, within the platform itself: curate, annotate, tell a story, present it… It’s a CMS or blogging platform as well. The annotation process includes bringing in content from outside of the environment. It’s a porous platform.

Q: To what extent can users suggest changes to the data model. E.g., Europeana has a very rigid data model.

A: We’d like a significant user contribution to metadata. [Linked Data!]

Q: Are we headed for a bifurcation of knowledge? Dedicated experts and episodic amateurs. Will there be a curator of curation? Am I unduly pessimistic?

A: I don’t know. If we can develop a system, maybe with Linked Data, we can have a more self-organizing space that is somewhere in between harmony and chaos. E.g., Wikimedia Loves Monuments is a wonderful crowd curatorial project.

Q: Is there anything this won’t do? What’s out of scope?

A: We’re not providing tools for creating animated gifs. We don’t want to become a platform for high-level presentations. [metaLab’s Zeega project does that.] And there’s a spectrum of media we’ll leave alone (e.g., audio) because integrating them with other media is difficult.

Q: How about shared search, i.e., searching other collections?

A: Great idea. We haven’t pursued this yet.

Q: Custodianship is not the same as meta-curation. Chris Daly could become a meta-curator. Also, there’s a lot of great art curation at Pinterist. Maybe you should be doing this on top of Pinterest? Maybe built spotlight tools for Pinteresters?

A: Great idea. We already do some work along those lines. This project happens to emerge from contact with a particular collection, one that doesn’t have an API.

Q: The fact that people are re-uploading the same images to Pinterest is due to the lack of standards.

Q: Are you going to be working on the vocabulary, or let someone else worry about that?

A: So far, we’re avoiding those questions…although it’s already a problem with the tags in this collection.

[Looks really interesting. I’d love to see it integrate with the work the Harvard Library Interoperability Initiative is doing.]

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September 22, 2013

The New Yorker’s redesign: A retreat from text?

The New Yorker has done it’s first major redesign since 2000, although it’s so far only been rolled out to the front of the magazine.

Personally, the return to a more highly stylized typeface is welcome. But I am disappointed that they’ve made the magazine look like more like everything else in the racks. It’s not a lack of originality that bothers me. Rather, it is the retreat from text.

There’s no less text and so far the writing style seems to be the same. Rather, the previous design presented a wall of text, broken up with occasional insets of text, with empty spots filled with text. For example, “Tables for Two” used to be a small, two-column insert into the Goings On section. The type size was the same as the directions on a tube of toothpaste. Now it’s a single column that takes up the entire right-hand three-fifths of a page, in a perfectly readable font, with a quarter-page color photograph at the top, as if to say, “Well look at us! We have so much room that we’re filling it up with a merely pleasant photo.”

There are at least two results in how we take that page. First, “Tables for Two” has turned from a lagniappe into a column. Second, the magazine doesn’t feel like it’s so bursting with things to write about that it had to shoulders goodies into whatever nooks it could find or force.

Sections now are headed by a graphical emblem (e.g., a Deco knife and fork on a plate for the Food & Drink section) that signals that the New Yorker thinks the section titles themselves are not enough for us. Really? What part of “Food & Drink” does The New Yorker think we don’t understand? Why does the New Yorker now believe that mere words are not up to the task?

The New Yorker used to be for people unafraid of climbing a sheer wall of text. It demanded we make judgments about what to read based solely on the text itself; this was even more the case before Tina Brown put the authors’ names at the beginning of the article instead of at the end. But now it’s pandering to the graphical-minded among us. The graphical folks have plenty of other magazines to thumb through lazily. The New Yorker was a text-based trek that had to earn our every footstep.

Don’t go soft on us, New Yorker! We’re not afraid of words. Bring ’em on!

 


More to read:

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September 21, 2013

Breaking Bad’s growth, followed by some VERY WELL-MARKED speculative SPOILERS

NO SPOILERS until the big red notice.

Actually, I take it back: BROAD THEMATIC SPOILERS AHEAD. No plot points, however.

Breaking Bad has become one of my favorite shows ever. Yours too, probably. But it didn’t start that way for me.

The first season was driven by its premise: what would happen if a kindly chemistry teacher had to cook meth to cover his medical bills? (Ok, so that spoiled the first episode for you. Really?) That season was a series of set pieces, the sort of things you’d imagine if you took that as your premise.

The next two seasons were driven (it seemed to me) by the escalating plot and by letting Walter grow into a role, as if the writers said, “What would happen if Walt became a Tony Montana, or a Tony Soprano, except really really smart?”

But in the last two seasons, the show became a living thing, driven not by premise, role, or plot. It has become emergent. And this is enabling it to explore themes — e.g., What is the nature of evil? Is there justice? Can we know ourselves? — without severing those themes from the people who are living through them.

[Still no spoilers] This is how the great dramas have worked. I’m reluctant to make the comparison, but there is no separating the character of King Lear, Macbeth, or Huckleberry Finn from the themes their works explore. Because the themes are worked through by highly specific people, it becomes impossible to decide exactly what the general lessons of the text are, which tells us something about the nature of morality.[1] I like what Emma Smith says in her wonderful podcast lectures on Shakespeare: His plays unsettle questions.

Breaking Bad has become truly unsettling, and not just because of the violence or even because we can see ourselves in all of the characters. It is unsettling because it is pursuing themes through fully realized people in a world with no simple rules.


[1] I am here echoing a line of thought pursued variously by Richard Rorty, Martha Nussbaum, Iris Murdoch, and others, often focusing on Jane Austen. E.g., Philosopher’s Beard, Rose Woodhouse responds, Gilbert Ryle pdf


How Breaking Bad won’t end [SPOILERS about the story so far!!!]

SPOILERS about the story so far!!!

SPOILERS about the story so far!!!

So, here’s how I think the show will end, where “I think” should be read as “I know I’m wrong.”

The most recent episode, Ozymandias, was one of the best hours of TV ever. But one thing bothered me about it: Gomie. We see his body in the dirt, but not his face. The episode didn’t spend a second on the death of the only (almost) unsullied Good Guy in the series.

Now, maybe that’s the point. But it felt wrong. So here’s certainly how the next two episodes won’t go (a.k.a, proof that I am not Vince Gilligan).

I do think Walt has bottomed out and has begun the turn. He’s done the thing that even he has defined as the worst possible: turning Jesse over for a slow death, after tormenting him with how easily Walt could have saved the love of Jesse’s life. (I will accept the argument that ever since Walt poisoned the kid, he’s been running in circles at the bottom of the moral barrel.) But Holly’s “Ma ma ma” (wow, that kid can act!) has made him see that he doesn’t have a family and doesn’t deserve a family. So, he begins to do the best thing he can for his family, which is to pretend to be as evil as he actually is by lying about it having been all his fault, which of course it was. (Genius scene.)

In the final two episodes, I think Walt continues to try to turn things around as best he can. I expect no more rank evil from him. But this show is better than most about showing the consequences of our actions. So, how about this:

This Sunday’s episode begins with Gomez’s family coming to grips with his death. The DEA tells them Walter White was the killer. They’re heartbroken.

Walt comes back from the Bad Guy Protection Service in order to try to set some things right with his family. But just as he is about to take the ricin himself, Ms. Gomez shows up with a gun, fires … misses … and kills Skyler. (Maybe Walt Jr. instead, but I’m not made of stone.) Fade out to twangy Breaking Bad music.

If anything like this happens, you all owe me ONE MILLION DOLLARS.

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September 20, 2013

Gateway Arts

It’s the 40th anniversary of Gateway Arts, a Brookline studio for people with disabilities of all sorts.

The best of the work is just wonderful.

Gateway provides a warm environment for exploration and growth. And you will never find a community that better embodies acceptance than a community of people with a mix of physical and cognitive disabilities, as at Gateway Arts, Zeno Mountain Farm, and Camp Jabberwocky.

I’m very proud that my parents-in-law were honored last night at the Gateway Arts 40th Anniversary event for their loving support of, and persistent advocacy for, my sister-in-law and for all the cognitively disabled and their families.

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September 16, 2013

Most American cell owners access Net from their mobiles

There’s a new Pew Internet [twitter: @PewInternet] report on American access to the Internet via mobile phones. Here’s a summary from their PR mailing:

The main finding is that 63% of adult cell owners now use their phones to go online, a figure that has doubled since we first started tracking internet usage on cell phones in 2009. In addition, 34% of these cell internet users say that they mostly go online using their cell phone. That means that 21% of all adult cell owners now do most of their online browsing using their mobile phone—and not some other device such as a desktop or laptop computer.

The full here report is here, for free as usual. Thanks, Pew Internet!

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