Showing posts with label technology. Show all posts
Showing posts with label technology. Show all posts

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

90's Watch: Hackers (1995)

In February of 1919, some of the greats of the silent era - Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and D.W. Griffith - came together to found their own studio: United Artists.  The studio was formed in reaction to studio and artist friction over salaries and creative control.  One could say that the idea of an artist's ability to produce an independent vision is baked into the DNA of UA, and, over the years, that spirit has brought us new perspectives to the silver screen, bold proclamations of artists unhampered by the small minds of businessmen, free from the the penny-pinching dream killers of accounting.

So, it should come as no surprise that, some 76 years later, UA would bring us a truly unique dream of the 90's, a clarion call to a generation, a mirror held up to reality showing us truths about ourselves in only the way we can truly get from a masterpiece like Hackers (1995).

This is maybe one of the worst movies I've seen in the last ten years.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Sci-Fi Sunday: Forbidden Planet and 2001: A Space Odyssey

It's Sci-Fi movie day on Turner Classic Movies, and I'm doing some encoding of home videos and watching of movies on cable.

I first saw Forbidden Planet during the Paramount Summer Film Series, probably around 97' or 98'.  With my buddy Matt, come to think of it.

None of this ever really happens in the movie, but, whatevs...

They tell me the movie is a sci-fi version of Shakespeare's The Tempest, but I have no idea.  I've never seen or read it.  But I have seen Forbidden Planet about seven or eight times, and every time, I like it better.  Sure, it stars Leslie Nielsen of Naked Gun fame in a dramatic role, which is weird, but it's such a great bit of its time and a snapshot of exploration sci-fi that is a now-kind-of-dead genre (and if you can't see the direct impact on Star Trek, you aren't paying attention).

The visual and audio FX in this movie make it an amazing experience, with the debut of Robbie the Robot, Krell architecture, amazing sets, spaceships, matte backgrounds that are truly massive and alien.  And even the hand-drawn animation of the Id Monster holds up amazingly well, in its way.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

SW Watches: The Imitation Game (2014)

Like a lot of historical drama, a quick Google search of the lead characters in the film will more or less fill you in on the details that might comprise the story.  And, of course, it's likely you've heard of The Turing Test and Turing Machines.  I dunno.  Maybe if you work in needlepoint or dog grooming it doesn't come up as often, but it's at least a bit in the zeitgeist where I work.

The movie stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing and includes Keira Knghtley, Mark Strong and Charles Dance (among many others).  Alex Lawther plays a young Turing, and should get some sort of junior award for one of the best performances I've seen from a young actor in a decade.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Coming Back From Outer Space

Hey, y'all.

Hope everyone is doing as okay as can be.

So, as some of you know, while I ceased formal blogging at this URL, I never really left the internet.  I kind of decamped to tumblr, twitter, facebook and whatnot.  But, I'll be honest with you.  It ain't never really been all that much fun.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

And then, in 2013, DC Comics discovered hypertext fiction

If there's any doubt that DC Comics has moved to a number crunching behemoth of creative despair, today form Randy I received a link pointing me to a story about DC's latest effort, Multiverse Comics.  Basically, digital choose your own adventure comics.

At this point in the tenure of Diane Nelson, any hope for a creative renaissance at the company should be replaced with more of a visual of someone selling t-shirts outside the Louvre with a picture of Mona Lisa in a bikini top with a knife gripped in her teeth.*

There's a lot of reasons to sort of want to put your head down on the table about this one.

In 1991 or so the first hypertext fiction appeared, which promised branching narratives and the ability to dig further into a narrative - all in standard prose.  If you were going to raves and enjoying smart drinks in 1994, it all sounded like a nifty part of our bright future of this series of tubes called "the interwebs".  Just get yourself a 1600 baud modem and go nuts.

"But, hey The League," you might say.  "It's 2013!  Where can I purchase some of this hypertext fiction that's clearly the wave of the future?"

Tragically, it went the way of the Dippin' Dots and may not have been the ice cream/ preferred narrative construct of the future.

Monday, June 3, 2013

The Internet Archive and What I Do For a Living

Pal JuanD sent me this video. I'm sharing it because it's a really, really good glimpse into the problems I work on every day at work.  Sort of.  Half the time I think I'm just looking for receipts or figuring out how many stuffed mushrooms we can afford on our conference's cheap-o budget.

Man, I wish I could just focus on the technical problems.

Internet Archive from Deepspeed media on Vimeo.

Our office actually has two missions. We're providing tools to enable researchers to publish born-digital content in both traditional ways (but using new technologies for peer review journals, etc..) and providing options for new media options such as blogs or other modes of scholarly writing. And we're doing this whole preservation bit of both scanned materials and born-digital materials.

What we're doing that's somewhat different from the video is that we're attempting to capture all of the scholarly output from universities and bring it up and online - not scan kid's books that we think someone else will likely handle.

Of course, a lot of people I work with are cogs who don't necessarily get the bigger picture, or work for people who can't pull it all together to get the big picture and so a lot of mistakes are made. A lot of preservable items are lost. The common consensus is that in 200 years, this early digital era will be a dark ages in many ways as we still aren't smart about keeping anything digital. We still think of print copies as the final edition.

As we also commonly say, it's going to take a lot of people retiring or dying before we have a generation promoted to decision making positions who will work with the technology to make sure the digital copies aren't seen as something to rot on a 3.5" floppy in a drawer.

Anyway, great video.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Canadian Astronaut aboard ISS covers Bowie's "Space Oddity"

Commander Chris Hadfield, Canadian Astronaut, is aboard the ISS and covered some Bowie - mixing it up a bit to reflect his experience. Really, after this cover, not sure there's any point in anyone else every trying their hand at this tune again.

We've all seen Earth from space a hundred times before, privileged as we are to live in an era when people travel into space. But, man...

Here's to Commander Hadfield and all aboard the ISS.

Thanks to Slicing Up Eyeballs for the link.

Let's hope Commander Hadfield gets to cover "Life on Mars".

Sunday, March 10, 2013

SXSW is here again - and, no, I am not going, again

I've never paid for a SXSW badge.  The only SXSW badges I ever got were through work for (a) the relatively new SXSW Interactive around 2000 and (b) about three years ago I returned to Interactive.  I've never paid for film or for music.

I've never been to a SXSW screening of a movie, and the few times I saw music at SXSW, it was near accidental and incidental.  It's probably safe to say that I'm not particularly interested in the scene, and the idea of dealing with the crowds, the lines, and sheer volume of people at all of these events has been off-putting enough that whatever appeal there might be to seeing bands or movies is significantly reduced when I weigh the cost factor of dealing with the scene around SXSW.

For those of us in town, SXSW is an annual period where we sort of just avoid downtown between certain blocks and as locals who feel the presence of the tide, we know to brace ourselves for:

  • The bizarre take on Austin that journalists mistake for Austin but which is really just the bubble of SXSW (East Sixth is not "no-man's land".  It's a few hundred feet from regular Sixth.  By the way, no one really goes to Sixth anymore but tourists)
  • The number of people who, based on the drunken revelry to be had during SXSW, associate those good times with a need to move here - and they do
  • The handwaving that SXSW isn't, basically, spring break for three industries and that this is somehow work 
  • People who are the True Believers in SXSW seeming shocked and indignant (and often demanding answers) when you say you don't want to spend the money or time

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The 2012 Not-a-List Rundown

author's note:  2012 is a year I have been looking to put behind me for quite a while for any number of reasons.  Obviously the events in my personal life marked a very sad end to the year for us at our house.  Perhaps we should declare 2012 Annus Horribilis and move on.

With recent events weighing so heavily on me right now (and with this post started a long, long time ago), I'm going to stick to pop culture and the original, intended tone of the post - and this blog - and take a look back instead at...  yeah, I guess comics and whatnot.

here we go.

The 2012 Not-a-List Rundown

My Totem for Everything About my Pop Culture Hobbies in 2012

My relationship fundamentally changed with my hobbies and past-times, and superhero comics have begun to dip below the horizon to the same place Star Wars went circa 2002.  Because of travelling and the fact I was sick a lot this year, I also didn't really make it out to the movies very often.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Technology Convo: The Lenovo Yoga

I am supposed to be talking about the Lenovo Yoga this evening, a computer I purchased last weekend as my Dell laptop decides to eat itself from within and I make a transition to new hardware before all is lost.

Steven reviewed his Chromebook, a computer I looked at long and hard before making a different and more expensive decision.  That said, Steven bought his Chromebook for a development box, something I heard was do-able just Saturday night.

I'm looking at Chromebook as a solution for Jamie for next year sometime, and I think it will meet all of her needs - except for figuring out how she can manage iTunes.  So if anyone wants to jump into this discussion, please help me out.

But this is about the Lenovo Yoga, the Windows 8 machine I picked up that's part tablet, part laptop.

Windows 8

I'm a longtime Windows user, and the quirks of Windows are so seamless to my everyday existence that they're usually fairly transparent to me.  You probably read that Windows 8 has been redesigned for the tablet, but that's not altogether true.  Windows has created an interface for the tablet with brightly colored "tiles".  And, sorry, it's mostly intuitive.  If you can use an iPhone or Android phone, this isn't any better or worse.  I also expect that the "tiles" will become more customizable over time, but they work just fine for now, and whether you hold the tablet in landscape or portrait, it's all pretty easy to use.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Pardon us as we deal with some new technology. I bought a new device/ laptop/ tablet.

One thing that I do that drives everyone I know absolutely crazy is:  be perfectly happy with Microsoft products.

Well, sort of.  A few years back I obtained a new laptop PC with Windows 7 to replace my dying Windows Vista desktop box.  Well, the Windows 7 laptop had been acting up for a while, and I have now upgraded to a Lenovo Yoga with Windows 8.  It's a sort of tablet and PC in one running a full version of Windows 8.

"But, Mr. Blogger, why do you stick with MS devices?"  I work in MS all day long, and it generally works fine.  Except when it doesn't.  And I'd rather eat my own hat than deal with someone called a "Genius" while getting my ankles nipped at by mall rats.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Toys That Should Not Be: The Steve Jobs Statue

When I started blogging the collectibles market was just really taking off.  We quit doing Toys That Should Not Be as, really, what I'd advise is to just open the Diamond Previews Catalog and flip through the thing.  Every page or two, you'll find something that makes you die a little inside.

And I'm not even talking about the import Manga statues with the removable clothing.

If you're not done grieving Apple Overlord Steve Jobs, you can now make everyone who enters your home or office stop and ask the exact same question in under two minutes:  Is that Steve Jobs?

Indeed it is.

Syco Collectibles has introduced the Steve Jobs statue.  Only $100, this fantastic piece of artistry looks pretty much like a tiny Steve Jobs, complete with jeans, scrubby beard and black turtle neck and posed like Scorpio planning his attack on humanity from his undersea base.  Only, you know, tiny.  Standing on the edge of a MacBook in discount store sneakers.

I have to say, I think it's a hell of a conversation piece, and that conversation may just be your co-worker leaving your office and commenting to your colleagues about how you're still really hung up on losing the guy who yelled at people until the iPhone was cooler.

To their credit, Syco is sending part of the proceeds to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and we find that admirable enough that we've ordered four of these, so Steve Jobs can look down upon us from every corner of the room.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Signal Watch reads: Mark Waid's "Insufferable"

You guys know I'm in the bag for everything Mark Waid has done for the last...  I dunno.  Ever?

Somehow I completely misunderstood that his new online comic, Insufferable, was completely free online.

No, I have no idea what model Mark Waid is using to turn a profit on this, or if there is a profit to be turned.  But at the moment that's not my issue, nor should it be yours, because more great Mark Waid comics are online, and they're free at his new site, Thrillbent.

Waid has re-teamed with Irredeemable artist Peter Krause to tell the story in Insufferable, his second work in his new format, one that uses the native landscape (16x9ish) format we've become familiar with as computer users, and the fact that he can set pacing to some extent with a mouseclick to manage the storytelling.  Its far less intrusive than the limited animation of prior webbish comics experiments I've seen, and manages to use the page pretty well,  I think.

But I'd rather talk up the actual comic than the experiment, because at the end of the day, its about the content.

Waid turns to the urban vigilante brand of superhero after sort of blowing up the heat-vision-bearing version of superheroes in Irredeemable and Incorruptible, and in just four week's worth of the online book, he's done an astounding job of bringing a story to life that works right out of the gate.

Its a broken up version of Batman and Robin with their own issues that surpass those of Bruce and Dick (or Jason or Tim or Stephanie or Damian or Carrie), and its the kind of thing that I think sort of sucks you in from that last panel of the first installment and makes you click "Next".

And, of course, Krause's illustrative-style of art works terrifically well with the world he and Waid are creating, giving a believable view to the character-driven story and capturing the beats and expressions exceedingly well.

Anyhow, give it a shot and be there as it unfolds!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Amanda Palmer, Kickstarter, ROI and The Future

One thing any comics-fan who immerses themselves in social media will now see on a daily basis is at least one Kickstarter campaign to produce a graphic novel or comic.  Sometimes its more than one.  Often its a RT on Twitter from a famed writer or artist who is doing nothing but RT'ing a pleading Tweet sent to said famed artist, and for whom RT'ing the original Tweet is an action of about 2 seconds reading and clicking.

I am not dubious of the Kickstarter technology, rules, etc...  If you are unfamiliar, Kickstarter is a site that enables folks working on creative projects to raise funds.  Basically, you get a description with web content attached (video, images, too much text in many cases), telling you what the artist is doing, why and who they are.  Then a dollar total they are raising, and what it'll go towards.  The answer is not: putting food on my table.  It's usually something like "production costs".  Its basically intended to keep the artists from going deep into debt while they produce the record, comic, statue, indie film, whatever...

There are then levels of support.  Artists are obliged to usually offer something better at each level.  $1 gets you a thank you.  $30 gets you a copy of the album.  $10,000 gets you a a day with the artist and a big thanks, plus a t-shirt.  Something along those lines.

For a better idea of what this looks like, I invite you to visit, but to look specifically at the page for musician/ performer Amanda Palmer.  

when someone asks you if you're a (rock) god, you say "yes"

If you've properly budgeted for your project, then its possible this can work very well for you.  Especially if you know a whole lot of people, so you're not counting on that one person to give you $10,000.

The established artist

Amanda Palmer recently asked for $100,000 from her network (and it IS a network).  She had a month.  In a few days, she's raised almost $450,000.  I count myself among those who have chipped in.

Not all that long ago, Palmer was signed to a label both with her breakthrough act, The Dresden Dolls, and then as a solo performer.  Dissatisfied with the work Palmer thought they were doing on her behalf that she knew she could do herself, she ended the contract and is now a woman without a country, unless you count her actual fanbase as a country, which, really, she should.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Report: Alamo Slaughter Lane is pretty great

The newest Austin location of The Alamo Drafthouse has opened very close to my house, and I am extremely impressed.  The tradition of service and experience continues, as well as the obvious differences at this location which reflect The Alamo's continual desire to improve their theaters.

It should be noted, the other Alamo locations are hampered a bit by the fact that all were built out of existing structures.

  • The Original Alamo - I have no idea, but it was an old space dowtown, and the fact that you climbed about 50 feet of stairs and the space was kind of flat never worked terribly well
  • Alamo South - a former Fiesta Grocery
  • The Alamo Ritz - the Ritz movie theater/ venue/ lousy club I used to go to in college
  • The Alamo Village - took over the old arthouse theater in town where I'd seen plenty of films from 4th grade through about 2001.  It was an old theater then and showed it.
  • The Alamo LakeCreek - took over the multiplex LakeCreek, which I think was an AMC, and never my favorite theater.  Its no doubt better as an Alamo, and used to be the only location with this great Turkey Sandwich.  But you can still feel the 90's movie-chain vibe.

The new space is laid out with ideas like audience management in mind.  The queues of the Alamo South don't exist.  Instead, it works almost exactly like Southwest Airlines' seating, with groups going in by letter and number (something I'm becoming pretty damned accustomed to of late).   My lesson on this:  get your tickets as early as possible.  Yeah, if you're a "let's go to the theater and see what's showing!" at 7:00 on a Friday kind of movie-goer, the Alamo may not be for you, but its probably not for you, anyway.  You're going to want to know up to five days in advance if you're going to take in a film.  Now, you're going to also want to organize your friends a day or two ahead of that, so you can all enter together.

The menu hasn't changed much from the other locations.  However, I'd note the following:

  • The coffee is now French Press and easily 10x better than their old coffee service, which was just never as good as I wanted it to be.
  • Thanks to their co-habitation with a new cocktail bar, they've added a Maker's Mark Milk Punch which was even better than it sounds. 

The Alamo South has had a great "UFO's Blowing Up Texas" theme since it opened.  The lobby is full of old-timey carnival ride parts suggesting an epic battle between airplanes and flying saucers, with a mural of a drive-in getting vaporized.

The new location has gone for a sort of "man-eating plant is out of control" theme.

nom nom nom

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Signal Watch Watches: Transcendent Man (2009)

I really wish I had seen this movie when it came out, but it was just recommended to me by Co-Worker Ladd this morning.

As much as I like a good, Thunderdomish Dystopian look at the future, from a technology and academic standpoint, I fall much more in the camp of pointing at the shinier spacecraft and rocket pack visions of the future.  Prepping for a time of Robot Shock Troopers tends to make you start stocking ammunition and buying property in Queen Creek, Arizona, and I'm just not ready to cut the sleeves off all my camo jackets yet, and I look terrible in a crazy-man beard.

In fact, I like my job partially because its all about the future where we get flying cars and can download dissertations directly into our noggins.  Digital libraries!  Hoorary!

It seems that technologist and futurist Ray Kurzweil showed up as SXSWi 2012, and Co-Worker Ladd (yes, his name is Ladd) managed to see him speak.  Kurzweil is one of those names I've heard on and off for two decades, not quite the way you hear of Tim Berners-Lee, but he pops up on BoingBoing and is a name that technology hipsters tend to throw around.

Frankly, I should pay a lot more attention to these sorts of figures, because Kurzweil's personal innovations are incredible, even if that's not really the topic of the documentary, Transcendent Man (2009).  Instead, the doc follows Kurzweil as he moves around the planet as a bit of a Conference Personality, but as he also meets with figures from Colin Powell to William Shatner to an arena full of Church of Christ Conference attendees discussing the concept of The Singularity.*

As we all know, technology is advancing from all angles in ways predicted clumsily by Moore's Law.  What Kurzweil is looking at and discussing is that its not just processing power, but other technologies, falling into three areas of interest:  Genetics (bioinformatics), Nantotechnology and Robotics (or AI).  The Singularity is a point at which those things hit a point on the graph where the nature of humanity will be forced to change by the technologies so profoundly that it will rewrite our definitions of everything from technology to humanity to consciousness.

Basically, we're in a mad race to see if we create a race of super artificial intelligences, if we can rewrite our DNA to beat disease and aging while recreating the human body, or if nanotechnology will be merging us into machines while it has the ability to connect us to the super robot brains while rewriting our bodies into all looking like Fabio in 1994.  Or will we upload our consciousness to Facebook?

Here's the thing:  I think I know just enough about technology and SCIENCE to know I don't know anything, but I also tend to think that Kurzweil, while maybe jumping the gun on the timing, is probably right.

I intended to watch part of the show this evening and then return to it, but instead I watched the entire thing, slack jawed and in awe.  The movie manages to find genius after genius, players at the tops of their fields who all have different reasons to agree or disagree with Kurzweil in whole or in part, and its an absolutely gripping 80 minutes or so.  Especially as the director humanizes and builds a portrait of Kurzweil (a seemingly approachable gentleman, certainly) and digs into the basis for his quest and to see what drives him.

There are a tremendous number of questions occurring in the film, the sorts of things that have the longterm effects of global change, all without the pressure cooker or drive of a Manhattan Project.  Its happening now, and the minds pushing toward the future seem aware of the pitfalls and risks of the world they're creating, and seem to be sure that somebody else is going to deny the dinosaurs their Lysine.  Its absolutely riveting stuff.  And, again, this is a documentary.

The crowd that drifts into this blog is pretty smart and tech savvy, and I'd love to see what you guys have to say, if you've seen it or you get a chance to stream it from Netflix.

Highly, highly recommended.

*see my hilariously uninformed argument with my brother about the concept at his blog post from about a year ago.

Friday, July 8, 2011

This Moment in History: The Final Space Shuttle Mission

The Atlantis lifts off for the final time

My heart breaks a little knowing that its the end of the Space Shuttle era. I'd be simply nostalgic if it meant that in 2012 the X-39 or a similar program were geared up to take the place of the Shuttle Program. But, instead, for the foreseeable future we'll be taking rides on Russian rockets to visit our own space station, and remaining earthbound after a half-century of touching the cosmos, even if it was only ever a glancing touch.

We looked into the face of limitless possibility as a nation, and we blinked.

In the years to come, they'll say it was a fool's errand, and a waste of resources. I'll be an old man, and the highest aspiration for kids will have long ago quit being being "Astronaut", which will sound antiquated and sad, almost how we smirk knowingly when you imagine being referred to as a "First Mate" on a ship.

And when we're old enough, or when we're gone, they'll say it never happened (just you wait). They'll say they never had the technology, that the will of a nation to spend the resources and capitol necessary just a few decades after the Wright Brothers flew their first place and the first rockets criss-crossed the skies... it was impossible. It'll be called illogical, fantastic and a hoax, written off like the sun-chariots in carvings in Egypt. And when that's said often enough, it'll be true.

Perhaps we went to fast, too soon.  Perhaps the kids I grew up with who squirmed their way through math and science took it for granted when we got to start making the rules, and maybe we were just a little disillusioned that they'd never asked us to suit up and go.  Like everything else, maybe we thought it would always be there.

As always, all we can do is hope that the tide will turn, and one day (perhaps when we're more deserving) we'll be ready, honestly and for real this time.

Until then, I thank the scientists, engineers, visionaries, and brave women and men who suited up and saw the Earth for us, and who went as close to the stars and further and faster than any of us.

The New York Times
AP Story at The Austin American Statesman

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Dealing with the truth, journalistic integrity and the world of "choose your own reality"

yesterday I stumbled across a pair of articles that I thought intersected nicely.

First, I came across this article on The Backfire Effect.  I suggest you read it, its food for thought.  The core idea of the article is that presenting conflicting evidence to folks with a belief based upon faulty evidence, heresay, rumor, faith, conspiracy, etc...  doesn't convince the believer otherwise.  It merely reinforces that belief.

This shouldn't be a shock to anyone who has had the pleasure of hanging out with a conspiracy theorist.  Suggesting that 9/11 was not an inside job just makes you a sucker, fool and a patsy (or, in a worst case scenario, ONE OF THEM).  But it doesn't need to be the case that one bring up something as inflammatory as 9/11 conspiracies or as ridiculous as Hitler-UFO-JFK conspiracy theories.  Our everyday politics hinge on this entrenching of our beliefs.

Surely it can't be that all conservative beliefs are statistically and factually correct while all opposing liberal beliefs are wrong.  And surely it cannot be that all liberal beliefs are statistically and factually correct while all conservative beliefs are wrong.  Its not even a question of a "happy medium" somewhere between the two.  Occasionally, someone is going to be wrong.  One policy is going to reduce teen pregnancy and one is not, and statistics can help us figure this stuff out (anecdotes, while moving, are not hugely useful).

I know that I have knee-jerk reactions to all sorts of things.  The article points out that this seemingly innate desire to argue and fight over what we already "know" or are comfortable "knowing" is essentially part of human nature, and our responses likely have their roots in evolutionary biology (see: something I'll readily accept because I don't find the idea that we're fancy apes at all offensive).  But tell me that we've got all kinds of fossil fuel in shale, and I'll raise a skeptical eyebrow and quote you science I vaguely remember from middle school ( I honestly haven't read up on this issue very much).

This is basically how I see you people.  Well, me.  You're more like hobo chimps.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

iPhone comes to Verizon

It looks like iPhone is finally coming to Verizon in February. I am not one who cares all that much as I haven't drunk the Kool-Aid on Apple product, but it's nice to have the option. Its time for my upgrade, and I am well aware that the iPhone has a lot more apps, etc...

Really, part of me wants to get an Android just so I can give that blank look to Apple-Zombies when they start insisting I've made the wrong choice. I confess, that look of anxiety and consternation I get in reply is just really gratifying.

Verizon's announcement page.

Monday, October 11, 2010

SW Watches: The Social Network

Firstly, let me say:  This is a pretty darn good movie.  I don't have any rating system, and perhaps I need to develop one.  But, I guess I'm saying:  You don't have to see this in the theater (its not going to be less impressive on your TV), but you're likely going to want to see the movie so you can follow the references made to the movie for the next three months.  Particularly, its a movie of the moment, perhaps more so than any other movie I've seen.  And, frankly, its a bit lucky that this thing made it to the big screen before we'd all moved on to using YouFace or whatever is the next shiny object to blitz the zeitgeist.

EVERYTHING BELOW CONTAINS SPOILERS (Sorry, but I'd like to actually discuss the movie a bit. )

I'll go out on a limb and say:  There's not much in the way of originality in the tale of Zuckerberg and Facebook, particularly if you read the occasional tech website or know much about Facebook's often public legal woes.  Or if you follow much in the way of tech news for companies that tend to get bigger than a bread-box.  But the movie also occasionally has a feeling of "been there, done that" from a narrative standpoint (and we'll get to that in a bit).

I tend to follow Facebook's Privacy issues*, so I've criss-crossed paths with a few stories, and for a company that's got a short lifespan, holy hell, have these guys managed to find themselves in Lawsuit Land an amazing amount.  Of late, however, the stories have mostly focused on "what's real and what is fiction in The Social Network".  The veracity of the story told in The Social Network can and does matter, unless you really want to view it as some sort of modern parable, but somehow that feels a bit lazy.  But it is a movie, so no matter how talented the writer, director and cast, the movie will always exist as a fictional construct.  If that's a disservice to current and ongoing issues...  I can't be sure. 

Business is messy.  The amazing fortunes made by young people starting, HP-style, in garages and dorm rooms aren't mapped out from Day 1, and that leads to some pretty wacky tales.  You don't become a multi-billion-dollar company without leaving a few bodies in shallow graves, metaphorically or otherwise.

The movie doesn't pull the same weak stunt as the very pretty Immortal Beloved and have someone following up on clues in the wake of Zuckerberg's death**, but in many ways, the film has echoes of Citizen Kane, including a final scene I thought was probably necessary for a portion of the audience, but...  What seems to be missing from The Social Network, however, is Zuckerberg's ambition.  Was he the socially maladroit nigh-innocent portrayed in the movie?  Was he really trying to make something cool to find a way to impress the ladies as the movie would have it?  Its hard to imagine the off-screen maneuvering occured without his input, consent or knowledge.

But what the movie kind of hints at that the press seems to only remember in "oh, gosh, can you believe it!" tones is that Zuckerberg was a college Junior as Facebook was getting cranking, but the decisions made and avenues pursued are looked at as if Zuckerberg (I don't think anyone would question his intellectual capability) had the emotional maturity of a few years' worth or work or someone just generally older. *** No @#$% this went a little off the rails.

Zuckerberg's ongoing issues seem to mostly stem from an unstable cocktail of a lack of maturity and (and I know this is going to get me in trouble, but...) the same sort of "I will tell the people what's good for them!" attitude I've seen in many really bad IT and programming shop situations.   And watching Zuckerberg both in the film and real life, I can't help but think "Oh, he's that guy...  Only with 4 billion dollars."

The movie does manage to make some astute reflections upon the entrenched modes of obtaining/ retaining success versus the path of insta-wealth mogul, and I don't know if I can add much that you aren't likely to find in a better review from a smarter writer.  But (a) I appreciated the fact that they managed to show rather than tell via endless exposition, and (b) if I can get judgy for a minute here, it doesn't feel entirely inaccurate.

In building the case (real or imagined) for how and why Zuckerberg decided to pursue something like Facebook, and in the conflicts that arise, writer Sorkin and director Fincher are quietly damning of the origins of final product, and, by extension, the jaded and sordid forms of communication supported in microbursts and what we gain from online profiles and existence (Country, Cities, Online).  Why do we communicate?  What do we gain from communicating on rails set by other people?  Particularly when those rails were originally designed for 18-23 year olds?  And when the rules are managed by a man-boy for whom communication itself is portrayed as fraught with peril to begin with?

Is this the face of success?

I'd take this opportunity to point you to Steven's recent conversation upon similar topics after reading The ShallowsHe starts here and continues for several fascinating posts.

The movie leaves some threads open that I wish had been better explained.  When did Facebook go public and ditch its .edu exclusivity?  When and how did the conversation about ads change?  How does Facebook make its 100's of billions other than on the wishes of unicorns and irrational exuberance?

For the faults of the movie (its iffy relationship with reality, its echoing of well known stories - both real and fictional), the movie has some powerful stuff and can and should at least give you a moment of pause to wonder what the hell you're doing hunting and clicking on that damned website all day.

If I may:  technically, I loved this movie.  The young cast (including Mr. Timberlake) was uniformly pretty amazing.  The script was the kind of smart stuff that seems to pop up only once every 6-18 months or so as per dialog and structure.  Fincher's direction, of what i can see of that stuff, anyway, seemed pretty damned well spot on.

Anyhow, I open the floor to discussion:

*A pal of mine is an EFF lawyer who I tend to follow as he comments upon Facebook's latest brainstorms, and I thought danah boyd made a great argument last year at SXSW, which seemed to lead to nigh-immediate action on the part of Facebook. 

**as of this writing, and at the time of the film's release, Zuckerberg is reported to be in the pink of health

***In a previous incarnation, I couldn't trust student workers with tasks that required a part C as well as a Part A & B, and those were engineering grad students.  No chumps.  But...  I sort of wonder about the wisdom assumed by the populace when we look to the shockingly successful.