Saturday, August 26, 2006
Travelling Link Dump
I'll be on vacation this week, so Kaedrin compatriots Samael and DyRE will be posting in my stead, though they may not be able to post tomorrow. In any case, here are some links to chew on while I'm gone.
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
Traversing the Geek Tail
Shamus laments the difficulty of traversing the long tail of geek blogs, and I can sympathize. The need for better information aggregation and analysis has been something of a theme on this blog for a while, so I figured I'd make a few comments. Interestingly enough, this dovetails with another discussion I followed a while back (and never got around to writing about).
First, to illustrate a point, I wanted to recount how I found Twenty Sided. Basically, it all started with that infamous blond joke. I didn't link to Shamus for the joke, but it turns out that we both linked to the same place (and we both apparently found out about the blond joke from Chizumatic). I was intrigued by the blond joke phenomenon, and made a half hearted attempt at mapping the tree of links (once I realized how many branches and branches-of-branches there were, I gave up). Since we'd both linked to the same place and since we'd both pinged that blog (so that our links showed up on the linked post), Twenty Sided was one of the first I recorded. At some point, I ended up viewing his main page and commented on one of this posts. Shamus apparently noticed and then started reading my blog, and on we went.
There are a couple of things to note here. I discovered Twenty Sided almost completely by accident. It was the result of a lame yet deceptively complex blog meme (the sort of thing I used to avoid like the plague). In short, I found his blog through serendipity. What's more, I've found that many of my favorite sites were found in a similar manner: when I wasn't actually looking for them.
Which brings me to a recent (er, 5 month old) article on the subject:
Serendipity is defined as the ability to make fortunate discoveries accidentally. There's so much of modern life that makes it preferable to the vaunted good old days - better hygiene products and power steering leap to mind - but in these disposable days of now and the future, the concept of serendipity is endangered.There is obviously value in analog serendipity (i.e. browsing the library stacks, etc...). Indeed, I used to take a guilty pleasure in ransacking the shelves of the library in which I was supposed to be studying. On one such expedition, I discovered The Book of Imaginary Beings ("a handbook of the strange creatures conceived through time and space by the human imagination") which inspired me to create a new website (that has sadly been neglected for years). On the other hand, what the hell is this guy talking about? Like Steven Johnson, I have to wonder if this guy even uses the internet...
I find these arguments completely infuriating. Do these people actually use the web? I find vastly more weird, unplanned stuff online than I ever did browsing the stacks as a grad student. Browsing the stacks is one of the most overrated and abused examples in the canon of things-we-used-to-do-that-were-so-much-better. (I love the whole idea of pulling down a book because you like the "binding.") Thanks to the connective nature of hypertext, and the blogosphere's exploratory hunger for finding new stuff, the web is the greatest serendipity engine in the history of culture. It is far, far easier to sit down in front of your browser and stumble across something completely brilliant but surprising than it is walking through a library looking at the spines of books.Is there a way to harness serendipity in an organized fashion? After all, serendipity isn't just random noise, it's the unexpected discovery of signal. The trick is really getting started. Shamus mentions in his post that his starting points are Google, Technorati, and referral logs (i.e. noticing that someone has linked to you). Google is a reasonable starting place for general information, but there's way too much information to sift through there, and it's difficult to find a good geek blog that way. Technorati is hit or miss (mostly miss, in my experience) and referral logs are wonderful if you get noticed (but that's not as easy as it sounds and doesn't happen all that often, especially to beginners).
In the past, I've found blogs I've liked in many ways. Often, I will find a blog I like, then surf through blogrolls. This will sometimes result in a good find (often chaining through several blogroll trees), though it also seems to induce something of a short-term ADD in me as I mostly scan without reading unless something really catches my eye. I used to post a lot on discussion boards and do a lot of debating. This often led me to do some research on various subjects, which sometimes turned up interesting articles. Finding these articles, then exploring the site it's on or googling the author will sometimes yield results.
There are, of course, the big social aggregators like Digg and Reddit. I've always found del.icio.us to be a good place to start (particularly the popular page). Of course, you still have to sift through all of these things to find the hidden gems, but once you do, the structure of the internet gives you the ability to follow a trail of associations (blogrolls being the key example here) easily and efficiently (once you find a blog you like, aggregators like Technorati become a little more useful). Those social aggregators are a good starting place, but they still leave something to be desired. However, all of these sites have come on strong only in the last couple of years and they're growing better every day.
In any case, I've noticed that my blogroll has become a bit stale these days. I still read most of those blogs regularly and they're all good, but I think it's time to add some new ones. After all, the past several entries have referenced the same blogs over and over again! Alas, I'll be away on vacation next week, with little or no computer access, so perhaps I'll just start with a "link to someone new" type post...
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
One of the things I like about watching foreign movies are the cultural differences that don't quite make it through (it's a novelty thing, perhaps). Sometimes this is due to poor translation and sometimes it's due to a physical mannerism or custom that simply can't be translated. There is a perfect example of this in Miyazaki's Spirited Away. Towards the beginning of the film, the main character Chihiro is taken to the boiler room where she meets an old man with several arms who runs the place. At one point, this man puts up his hands in what looks sort of like a football goalpoast gesture and Chihiro pushes her hand through it (alas, I do not have a copy at my hands, so I can't give a screenshot). I have no idea what this means, but it's clearly something children in Japan do (I'm not sure how I picked up on this - I think I might have watched the movie with the commentary on at one point, which might actually explain what this means).
Most of the Anime I've seen are films, not series. I've seen a few Miyazaki movies, and some other movies like Akira and the Cowboy Bebop movie, amongst assorted other stuff. A few months ago, I watched Haibane Renmei because of the enthusiastic recommendations of Steven Den Beste (and pretty much everyone else who has seen it). Their enthusiasm is certainly warranted. Again, my expectations were constantly thwarted, which I think is part of the reason I enjoyed it so much (I'm sure this series will come up again here). I have since moved on to Serial Experiments Lain. I haven't gotten too far into the series, but one thing that really struck me as funny was Lain's bear pajamas, which she seems to wear whenever she's feeling down:
(Click images for a larger version)
As you can see, it's adorable (I believe the appropriate word is Kawaii). Now, what I don't know is if such pajamas are normal garb for young Japanese girls, or if it's just a quirky Anime trope like washpans that bonk people on the head or Absurdly Powerful Student Councils (not that I've seen either of those). Like I said, I haven't seen much anime, but I've fallen into the habit of reading blogs in the Otakusphere, many of whom seem to delight in posting screenshots and I seem to remember some similar type pajama/costume type stuff coming up from time to time. So is this a pseudo-trope, another cultural difference, or is it just an oddity limited to Serial Experiments Lain (one could certainly find symbolic meanings in such a visual)?
Sunday, August 20, 2006
I think you can tell what movie I'm referring to by the title of this post. Indeed, the most gloriously bad thing about the film is it's title, perhaps the best, most hyped title of all time: Snakes on a Plane. Steven Den Beste has been writing about this (likely permalink) a lot on his blog recently, and he cites a CNN review which claims that the movie is good. Not "so bad it's good" good, but actually, genuinely good. I don't agree. I think it's so bad it's good, but in my book, that's not a bad thing. It's transcendently bad, this is exactly what they were going for, and this sort of thing is honestly not as easy to create as you might think. Much of the time, movies only reach this status unintentionally. It's a rare bird indeed that is able to cultivate the bad into something good.
There's little to be said about the film that hasn't already been said. I think the most astounding thing about the film is its title, in that I think it could serve as an appropriate litmus test. If you like the title, chances are, you'll like the movie. If you're baffled or otherwise dismissive of the title, you'll probably won't. As many have noted, it's critic-proof. You don't need anyone to tell you if you want to see it or not, you just do (or don't).
When I was in college, I didn't get to take a free elective until my senior year, and when I finally did, I jumped at the chance to take a film-related course. It was an excellent course, and I think my teacher did a great job giving a broad overview of the history and types of film theory. However, it seemed to me that the real joy of films was lost on her. This was brought into stark relief one day when the students of the class were talking about the first X-Men movie. Everyone enjoyed the film. It wasn't perfect, but it was a lot of fun. Our teacher was totally dismissive of the movie, and as the semester went on, it seemed to me that she had studied filmmaking and theory so much that she couldn't watch a movie without over-analysing it. She would hate Snakes on a Plane.
Now, as readers of this blog might have observed, I like movies a lot. I even like a lot of arty, offbeat movies. Because of this, I sometimes worry that I'm turning into my teacher, but in reality, I think my tolerance for movies so bad they're good has increased over the years. Hence, I enjoyed Snakes on a Plane. Perhaps not as much as Tremors, but it's still a lot of fun. Den Beste explains why he's interested in the movie:
It's because it's completely unpretentious. There's no message in this film. It doesn't preach. It doesn't have a political point of view. It isn't politically correct. The people who made it are interested in one and only one thing: entertaining their audience. Even the title is unpretentious.Indeed, and pretentiousness is something that is bothering me more and more these days. Hopefully, we'll see more of this sort of pure entertainment in the future (and not just lame knock-offs like Spiders on a Boat, Clowns on a Toilet, or, my personal favorite which two friends of mine independently mentioned: Ostriches on a Hovercraft... er, wait, you know, I think I'd pay to see those. Never mind.)
Wednesday, August 16, 2006
GPL & Asimov's First Law
Ars Technica reports on a Open source project called GPU. The purpose of this project is to provide an infrastructure for distributed computing (i.e. sharing CPU cycles). The developers of this project are apparently pacifists, and they've modified the GPL (the GNU General Public License, which is the primary license for open source software) to make that clear. One of the developers explains it thusly: "The fact is that open source is used by the military industry. Open source operating systems can steer warplanes and rockets. [This] patch should make clear to users of the software that this is definitely not allowed by the licenser."
Regardless of what you might think about the developers' intentions, the thing I find strangest about this is the way they've chosen to communicate their desires. They've modified the standard GPL to include a "patch" which is supposedly for no military use (full text here). Here is what this addition says [emphasis mine]:
PATCH FOR NO MILITARY USEThis is astoundingly silly, for several reasons. First, as many open source devotees have pointed out (and as the developers themselves even note in the above text), you're not allowed to modify the GPL. As Ars Technica notes:
Only sentences after their patch comes the phrase, "Everyone is permitted to copy and distribute verbatim copies of this license document, but changing it is not allowed." This is part of the GPL, and by modifying the license, the developers seem to run afoul of it. The Free Software Foundation has already contacted them about the matter.Next, Asimov's laws of robotics were written for autonomous beings called robots. This might seem obvious to some, but apparently not to the developers, who have applied it to software. As Ars notes: "Code is not an autonomous agent that can go around bombing people or hauling them from burning buildings." Also, Asimov always alluded to the fact that the plain English definitions (which is what the developers used in their "patch") just gave you the basic idea of what the law did - the code that implemented this functionality in his robots was much more complex.
Third, we have a military for a reason, and their purpose extends far beyond bombing the crap out of people. For example, many major disasters are met with international aid delivered and administered by... military transports and personnel (there are many other examples, but this is a common one that illustrates the point well). Since this software is not allowed, through inaction, to permit any human being from being harmed, wouldn't the military be justified (if not actually required) to use it? Indeed, this "inaction" clause seems like it could cause lots of unintended consequences.
Finally, Asimov created the laws of robotics in a work of fiction as a literary device that allowed him to have fun with his stories. Anyone who has actually read the robot novels knows that they're basically just an extended exercise in subverting the three laws (eventually even superseding them with a "zeroth" law). He set himself some reasonable sounding laws, then went to town finding ways to get around them. For crying out loud, he had robots attempting murder on humans all throughout the series. The laws were created precisely to demonstrate how foolish it was to have such laws. Granted, many fictional stories with robots have featured Asimov's laws (or some variation), but that's more of an artistic homage (or parody, in a lot of cases). It's not something you put into a legal document.
Ars notes that not all the developers agree on the "patch," which is good, I guess. If I were more cynical, I'd say this was just a ploy to get more attention for their project, but I doubt that was the intention. If they were really serious about this, they'd probably have been a little more thorough with their legalese. Maybe in the next revision they'll actually mention that the military isn't allowed to use the software.
Update: It seems that someone on Slashdot has similar thoughts:
Have any of them actually read I, Robot? I swear to god, am I in some tiny minority who doesn't believe that this book was all about promulgating the infallible virtue of these three laws, but was instead a series of parables about the failings that result from codifying morality into inflexible dogma?And another commenter does too:
From a plain English reading of the text "the program and its derivative work will neither be modified or executed to harm any human being nor through inaction permit any human being to be harmed", I am forced to conclude that the program will not through inaction allow any human being to be harmed. This isn't just silly; it's nonsensical. The Kwik-E-Mart's being robbed, and the program, through inaction (since it's running on a computer in another state, and has nothing to do with a convenience store), fails to save Apu from being shot in the leg. Has it violated the terms of it's own license? What does this clause even mean?Heh.
Sunday, August 13, 2006
It appears that I've been "tagged" (not in the cool, web 2.0ey sense of the word, but rather the lame chain-letter equivalent used in blogging - not that I mind, though) for a book meme.
Sunday, August 06, 2006
In last week's post, I ended up linking to a whole bunch of movies on the IMDB. The process was somewhat tedious, and I lamented the lack of movable type plugins that would help. There are a few plugins that could potentially help, but not in the exact context I'm looking for (MT-Textile does have some IMDB shortcuts, but they're for IMDB searches).
So after a looking around, I decided that the best way to go would be to write a bookmarklet that would generate the code to insert a link to IMDB. I'm no expert on this stuff and I'm sure there's something wrong with the below code, but it appears to work passably well (maybe I should just call it IMDB Bookmarklet - Beta). Basically, all you need to do is go to the movie you want to link to on IMDB, click the bookmarklet in your browser, then copy and paste the text into your post (IE actually has a function that will copy a string directly to your clipboard, but no other browser will do so because of obvious security reasons. Therefore, I simply used a prompt() function to display the generated text which you have to then copy manually.)
Anyway, here's the code:
Again, all you need to do is go to the movie you want to link to on IMDB, click the bookmarklet in your browser, then copy and paste the text into your post. This is the output of the bookmarklet when you use it on IMDB's Miami Vice page:
<a href='http://imdb.com/title/tt0430357/' title='IMDB: Miami Vice'>Miami Vice</a>A few nerdy coding things to note here:
I realize this post has next to no appeal to the grand majority of my readers, but I ended up spending more time on this than I wanted. I'll see if I can make another post during the week this week...
Where am I?
This page contains entries posted to the Kaedrin Weblog in August 2006.
Kaedrin Beer Blog
12 Days of Christmas
2006 Movie Awards
2007 Movie Awards
2008 Movie Awards
2009 Movie Awards
2010 Movie Awards
2011 Fantastic Fest
2011 Movie Awards
6 Weeks of Halloween
Arts & Letters
Computers & Internet
Disgruntled, Freakish Reflections
Philadelphia Film Festival 2006
Philadelphia Film Festival 2008
Philadelphia Film Festival 2009
Philadelphia Film Festival 2010
Science & Technology
Security & Intelligence
The Dark Tower
Weird Movie of the Week
Copyright © 1999 - 2012 by Mark Ciocco.