My wife and I have been going to dance competitions and multi-troupe performances for the past few years because our son and his partner are in various dance companies. This puts us into environments where we do not belong. It’s pretty awesome.
Dance is big in Boston. There are tons of groups, and when they get together they fill large auditoriums; a competition this weekend had about fifteen groups performing in front of a standing-room-only crowd of over 1,500.
And what audiences! They are beyond enthusiastic. They cheer on the teams at an astounding number of whoos per minute.
The teams are remarkable, and not just because of the high level of performance and choreography:
They are diverse in every direction: gender, race, sexual and gender identity, body type.
The dances are often gender indifferent in their choreography, although there are tropes that remain: men lift and catch women more than vice versa. Still, the women hit as hard as the men.
They are dancing to some of America’s cultural gifts: hiphop, jazz, show, and their mashups.
They have worked hard on a shared project with occasional star turns — the guy who can windmill, the woman who excels at pop and locking — but without stars.
You can be the oldest people in the audience, as my wife and I usually are, and be forgiven for thinking that no matter how cynical this generation may be, they are dancing the American dream.
Tagged with: America
Date: April 4th, 2016 dw
David Wolinsky‘s Don’t Die is running a long interview with me this week about games, culture, and why I’m embarrassed to be a video game player.
It is a long form interview, and basically unedited: I did a little clean-up for clarity, but it’s still got conversational ambiguities, as well as some thematic inconsistencies because David was asking me questions I haven’t thought about.
In the interview I do talk a bit about why I’m embarrassed about being a gamer. “The first step is admitting just how much of a gamer I am”The first step is admitting just how much of a gamer I am. I’m pretty much of one, going back all the way to the original Colossal Cave adventure. I’ve tried most genres but seem to get the most enjoyment from various forms of first person shooters. I’m no good at platformers or other forms of twitch games. RPGs are too slow for me because I don’t get invested in the characters. Most online games are too hard for me, so I feel like I’m slowing down my teammates, although I’ve spent a lot of time in Left 4 Dead 2. Some other favorites: The Bioshock series. Portal 2. The original Doom and Wolfenstein. The Luxor games. Some pinball games. I enjoyed Dead Rising 3 and even Max Payne 3. Far Cry 4, too. I guess it takes at least three tries to get games right. Anyway, I’ve never had a systematic memory, so those are just the beans that fall out when I shake the ol’ pod, but they’re probably representative.
Games are literally a pass-time for me: I tend to play them as a break from work. I would count programming as a hobby, not a pastime because it’s got an outcome, like a crossword puzzle that once you’re finished you can use for something. When programming, I feel like I’m doing something, even though mostly what I work on are utilities that cost me hundreds of hours and by the time I die will have saved me minutes. Games simply fill the gaps in my interest.
So, why is it embarrassing to me? For one thing, many games support values that I detest. The most obvious is violence, but I haven’t found that a lifetime of killing screen-based enemies has inured me to real violence or has led me to favor violence over peaceful solutions.
“The hypermasculinity of action games concerns me more”The hypermasculinity of action games concerns me more because few people are going to be convinced by games that shooting hordes of aliens is normal, but many will be further confirmed that men are the real heroes of life’s narratives. Although games have become less grossly misogynistic and homophobic (e.g., female action leads are now not uncommon), if you have any doubts that they still trade on harmful stereotypes and assumptions — and why would you? — Anita Sarkeesian’s brilliant “Tropes vs. Women” videos will set you straight.
But I’m more embarrassed about playing games than I am about watching action movies about which those same criticisms can be made.
In part it’s because games are associated with children. In the Don’t Die interview, I point to games that are more sophisticated and adult, but many of the games I listed above are no more sophisticated emotionally or narratively than a very bad TV show. So, mainly because I’m interested, here’s what I find appealing about the games I’ve listed:
Left 4 Dead is beautifully designed to encourage genuine collaboration among four players.
The Bioshock series creates imaginative science fiction worlds that would be better termed “political fiction.”
Portal 2 is a great logic game — a few rules and ingenious problems. But it is also an hilarious social commentary with Pixar-quality touches of brilliance. Example: the singing sentry guns.
The original Doom was scary as hell.
The original Wolfenstein let you explore a maze with surprises.
Luxor is an arcade game that is at a good challenge level for me. Also, the balls make a reassuring sound. (I am particularly fond of Luxor Evolved, which is “trippy” and somehow appeals to my lizard-brain-on-acid.)
Max Payne 3 was dumb fun in a well-realized setting.
Dead Rising 3 mocks its genre while indulging in it. It does not require precise control, of which I am lacking.
When I think about it, almost all of these games share some traits. First, they are easy enough that I can succeed at them. Most games are not. Second, they tend to have pushed the graphic envelope when introduced. I remain in awe of what those computer dohickeys can do these days. Third, “many of them are meta about their genres, which is often just an excuse for being retrograde”many of them are meta about their genres, which is often just an excuse for being retrograde in their values. Apparently I fall for that.
I think it comes down to this: If embarrassment is the exposure of something private that doesn’t match one’s public persona, then clearly, the major reason I find gaming embarrassing is because I am publicly a thoughtful person. Or at least I try to be. Or at the least least, I pretend to be. Most of the games I play are not thoughtful. Sure, Portal 2 is. Going Home is. Bioshock is in its way. But Dead Rising is mindless…except for its meta-awareness of its tropes and its own ridiculousness; I completed large chunks of it while dressed in a tutu.
This is not what a semi-academic is supposed to be doing. Or so my embarrassment tells me.
PS: In the Don’t Die interview, the game I’m trying to remember that has the word “dust” in its title is “Spec Ops.” There is dust in the game, but not in the title.
Tagged with: games
Date: March 26th, 2016 dw
This is a tiny thing. A little gesture. It’s his response to a post about an Iranian boy boy who quietly gives away apricots from a bag he is carrying home.
Er, what I mean to say is: That father ought to lose his parent license! That’s not the art of the deal, that’s the art of the loser! I would have turned that bag of apricots into two luxurious apartment buildings and a golf course for white people!
Yeah, that’s the ticket. No, seriously, that very likely will be the head of the Republican ticket.
Tagged with: obama
Date: March 6th, 2016 dw
I’m at a Berkman [twitter: BerkmanCenter] lunchtime talk (I’m moderating, actually) where Dries Buytaert is giving a talk about some important changes in the Web.
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.
He begins by recounting his early days as the inventor of Drupal, in 2001. He’s also the founder of Acquia, one of the fastest growing tech companies in the US. It currently has 750 people working on products and services for Drupal. Drupal is used by about 3% of the billion web sites in the world.
When Drupal started, he felt he “could wrap his arms” around everything going on on the Web. Now that’s impossible, he says. E.g, Google AdWords were just starting, but now AdWords is a $65B business. The mobile Web didn’t exist. Social media didn’t yet exist. Drupal was (and is) Open Source, a concept that most people didn’t understand. “Drupal survived all of these changes in the market because we thought ahead” and then worked with the community.
“The Internet has changed dramatically” in the past decade. Big platforms have emerged. They’re starting to squeeze smaller sites out of the picture. There’s research that shows that many people think that Facebook is the Internet. “How can we save the open Web?,” Dries askes.
What do we mean by the open or closed Web? The closed Web consists of walled gardens. But these walled gardens also do some important good things: bringing millions of people online, helping human rights and liberties, and democratizing the sharing of information. But, their scale is scary . FB has 1.6B active users every month; Apple has over a billion IoS devices. Such behemoths can shape the news. They record data about our behavior, and they won’t stop until they know everything about us.
Dries shows a table of what the different big platforms know about us. “Google probably knows the most about us” because of gMail.
The closed web is winning “because it’s easier to use.” E.g., After Dries moved from Belgium to the US, Facebook and etc. made it much easier to stay in touch with his friends and family.
The open web is characterized by:
Creative freedom — you could create any site you wanted and style it anyway you pleased
Serendipity. That’s still there, but it’s less used. “We just scroll our FB feed and that’s it.”
Control — you owned your own data.
Decentralized — open standards connected the pieces
Templates dictate your creative license
Algorithms determine what you see
Privacy is in question
Information is siloed
The big platforms are exerting control. E.g., Twitter closed down its open API so it could control the clients that access it. FB launched “Free Basics” that controls which sites you can access. Google lets people purchase results.
There are three major trends we can’t ignore, he says.
First, there’s the “Big Reverse of the Web,” about which Dries has been blogging about. “We’re in a transformational stage of the Web,” flipping it on its head. We used to go to sites and get the information we want. Now information is coming to us. Info, products, and services will come to us at the right time on the right device.”
Second, “Data is eating the world.”
Third, “Rise of the machines.”
For example, “content will find us,” AKA “mobile or contextual information.” If your flight is cancelled, the info available to you at the airport will provide the relevant info, not offer you car rentals for when you arrive. This creates a better user experience, and “user experience always wins.”
Will the Web be open or closed? “It could go either way.” So we should be thinking about how we can build data-driven, user-centric algorithms. “How can we take back control over our data?” “How can we break the silos” and decentralize them while still offering the best user experience. “How do we compete with Google in a decentralized way. Not exactly easy.”
For this, we need more transparency about how data is captured and used, but also how the algorithms work. “We need an FDA for data and algorithms.” (He says he’s not sure about this.) “It would be good if someone could audit these algorithms,” because, for example, Google’s can affect an election. But how to do this? Maybe we need algorithms to audit the algorithms?
Second, we need to protect our data. Perhaps we should “build personal information brokers.” You unbundle FB and Google, put the data in one place, and through APIs give apps access to them. “Some organizations are experimenting with this.”
Third, decentralization and a better user experience. “For the open web to win, we need to be much better to use.” This is where Open Source and open standards come in, for they allow us to build a “layer of tech that enables different apps to communicate, and that makes them very easy to use.” This is very tricky. E.g., how do you make it easy to leave a comment on many different sites without requiring people to log in to each?
It may look almost impossible, but global projects like Drupal can have an impact, Dries says. “We have to try. Today the Web is used by billions of people. Tomorrow by more people.” The Internet of Things will accelerate the Net’s effect. “The Net will change everything, every country, every business, every life.” So, “we have a huge responsibility to build the web that is a great foundation for all these people for decades to come.”
[Because I was moderating the discussion, I couldn’t capture it here. Sorry.]
Categories: big data
Tagged with: interop
• open web
Date: March 1st, 2016 dw
From On Time: Technology and Temporality in Modern Egypt, by On Barak (Univ. of California Press, 2013):
Dioramas were given their definitive form by Louis Daguerre, the inventor of photography, in the early 1820s. They consisted of massive, realistic landscape paintings, suspended from a theater ceiling and moving in sequence on a wire, with shifting light effects projected from behind. Alternatively, pictures might be stationed around a revolving platform.
Throughout the 1850s, after the diorama of the Overland Mail debuted in London, various other dioramas and panoramas showcased Egypt. “The Great Moving Panorama of the Nile” had been exhibited in England over 2,500 times by 1852. The new photographic “Cairo Panorama” debuted in 1859. In 1860 “London to Hong Kong in Two Hours” took spectators to the Far East via Egypt along the Overland Route.
…A typical description, taken from a review of the 1847 “City of Cairo Panorama,” reveals how Eurocentrism was performed in these spectacles: “The visitor standing on the circular platform is in the very center of the locality represented, as real to the eye as if he were on the spot itself. (Kindle Locations 789-802)
BTW, Barak’s book is about the history of the difference between the Western colonists’ view of time and the local Egyptian understanding:
…means of transportation and communication did not drive social synchronization and standardized timekeeping, as social scientists conventionally argue. Rather, they promoted what I call “countertempos” predicated on discomfort with the time of the clock and a disdain for dehumanizing European standards of efficiency, linearity, and punctuality. (Kindle locations 209-212)
Tagged with: egypt
Date: February 17th, 2016 dw
DigitalTrends has posted my post about the reaction to Marc Andreessen’s response to India’s saying No to Free Basics, the Facebook version of the Internet. Andreessen’s framing it in terms of colonialism was — unfortunately for him — all too apt.
, net neutrality
Tagged with: facebook
Date: February 15th, 2016 dw
There’s a very good reason why I should have won Powerball last night. It has nothing to do with my absolute, desperate need for $250,000,000. (That’s all I need. I’m not greedy.) Nor does it have anything to do with my being worthy of such riches. Also, for hobo fortune teller predicted it when I was but a swaddling.
No, I should have won because of aesthetics. Narrative aesthetics. Allow me to explain.
About ten years I wrote a Young Adult novel about a good-hearted boy who wins $100 million in a lottery. The twist is that he has to keep the win a secret from his parents. You can buy My $100 Million Dollar Secret at LuLu or Amazon, or read it online or download it for free.
But that’s not the point.
Had I won Powerball, imagine the fun newspaper story this would be:
Winner of $800M Lottery
Wrote Novel about a Boy Who Won $100M lottery
Or, in more modern terms:
The Powerball winner wrote a self-published novel … And you’ll never guess what it’s about!
PS: Now we’ll see if he lives up to it!
If God were a clickbaiter, I would have won last night.
This long comment at Reddit from a year ago will tell you exactly what you should do if you win instead of me.
It will also explain why you should hope that you do not win.
Date: January 10th, 2016 dw
We saw Hateful Eight in 70mm splendor in a packed and enthusiastic theater last night. Totally worth seeing. The three hours went by quickly. But it was less ambitious, and less cinematic, than his recent work. In fact, it is basically a stage play. It’s as if Tarantino was given license to take one of his set pieces — say the phenomenal thirty minute German tavern scene (about the scene) in Inglorious Basterds — and blow it out to three hours, although to be fair it’s actually two or three of those set pieces.
The characters are colorful and well-etched. I loved watching the actors act, as in every Tarantino film. The dialogue is Tarantinesque, although not as memorable as his very best. The violence is explosive and over the top. (“Is it a spoiler to say that there’s violence in a Tarantino film?”Is it a spoiler to say that there’s violence in a Tarantino film?)
But it’s also a genre film in a very unexpected genre for Tarantino. I’d say what genre but I think that really might count as a spoiler. Let me put it like this: it’s as if you’re watching Pulp Fiction and realize that, what the heck?, it’s really a version of Emma. (And that was definitely not a spoiler for either film.) It’s sort of cool that Tarantino did this, but also a bit confining for him. At more than 3 hours and in 70mm Cinerama, this is in some ways a small film.
While seeing the “Cinerama” banner took me back, oh, fifty years, I can’t say that what he went through — and what he forced theaters to go through — to show it in 70mm was worth it. There are a couple of shots that that had me think “Nice 70mm!” but had I not known that it was in 70mm, I simply would have said, “Nice shot!.” There were a few shots where the color was especially rich and beautiful, but, again, I wouldn’t have attributed that to anything except excellent digital cinematography had I not known any better. On the other hand, I also can’t see any real difference between an ordinary Mac screen and a Retina display. I’m glad Quentin got to do it his way, and I hope it makes him happy.
“Then there’s the question of what it’s about”Then there’s the question of what it’s about. Race and racism? Legal justice and frontier justice? Yes, I think so. But it doesn’t have easy lessons. Tarantino is totally a non-didactic filmmaker, unlike, say, Spielberg. He’s got his values, he’s got his characters, he puts them together, one of them will discourse on an unexpected cultural theory, one person’s brain matter is probably going to end up in someone else’s face, and that’s about it.
Why would we expect there to be more? For two reasons. First, the movie-making is so superbly crafted. We are completely in his thrall. That’s the experience of art. Second, the violence is so extreme that we want it to be justified by significance.
But violence serves the role of humor in Tarantino’s films. I’m not saying it’s funny, although it often is, and last night’s enthusiastic audience burst out in laughter at some of it. Me too. Tarantino uses violence not just to advance the plot, and not, I believe to show us the true effects of violence, for he skimps entirely on the effect violence has on its survivors. Rather, the “violence like a sudden joke snaps the audience out of the comfort that narrative flow provides”violence like a sudden joke snaps the audience out of the comfort that narrative flow provides.
Which is to say that I don’t think Hateful Eight is rigorously about anything, except perhaps the everyday chaos engendered when people who are unalike have to share a space, or, in this case, share a movie — except in this case, the chaos is amplified by people with guns and their own loose-triggered codes of behavior.
TL;DR: Worth seeing because Tarantino.
Tagged with: movies
Date: December 28th, 2015 dw
My role on the Net is going through a large swing: from explaining why the Internet is different, important, and (overall) good, to reminding us—especially college-age kids—how different and difficult so many things were before the Net existed.
For example, I gave an informal talk at Tufts last week and a few weeks ago at Emerson College. In both of them, and in the discussions afterwards, I did the Old Man thing of talking about how things were in the pre-Net days. For instance, it used to be that you’d read a newspaper article, have questions and want to know more, and there was no place you could go. You got whatever was in that rectangle of information and that’s all. Shocking! Outrageous!
The two roles are not unrelated: explaining what’s different about the Net and why we should overall be grateful and optimistic about the opportunities it has opened up. But what’s surprising to me is summed up by the comment by one of the Emerson students after the event was officially over: He thanked me for saying positive things about the Net since “All we ever hear is how dangerous it is.”
So, there’s still work to do. Hope over fear. Hope over fear.
, free culture
Tagged with: cluetrain
Date: December 13th, 2015 dw
Google has just posted that it’s going to start defending some YouTube videos from DMCA takedown notices when it believes that those videos are protected by the Fair Use exemption from copyright law.
This is great news and long overdue.
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 lets a copyright holder send a notice to a site like YouTube claiming that a video violates its copyright. YouTube passes that notice on to the video poster and takes down the video. The poster can enter into a legal battle with the copyright holder which is rarely worth the time and money even if the poster is totally within her rights.
As a result, Big Content sends YouTube thousands of takedown notices that are generated algorithmically, without a human ever looking at the video to see if it is actually a violation. Since there’s no practical penalty for sending in a groundless takedown notice, Big Content has a “When in doubt, take it out” attitude.
But you usually can’t tell if a video falls under the Fair Use exemption without looking at it. Fair Use exempts material from claims of copyright infringement if the material is satire, if it’s citing the original in a review, for some educational purposes, etc. Fair Use is just plain common sense. Without it, you’d have to get Donald Trump’s permission to mem-ify one of his quotes.
Google to its credit recently used Fair Use to defend Google Books‘ scanning and indexing of in-copyright works. It won. This was a big victory for Fair Use.
Now Google seems ready to step forward and champion Fair Use in other realms. It’s hard to see how this benefits Google directly — they’ll be spending legal fees to keep some person’s video up, even as 400 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube every minute. But creating a Fair Use speed bump in the automatic and robotic cleansing of the Net is great for the ecosystem, which is great for us and ultimately for companies like Google that rely on the Internet remaining a robust domain of discourse and creativity.
Tagged with: copyleft
Date: November 19th, 2015 dw
« Previous Page | Next Page »