Monday, 22 May 2017

Social media is becoming more like the world

A long article in the SMH this morning about Twitter co-founder Ev Williams can be profitably read and so can contain some insights into the world of social media.

The son of a Nebraska farmer, Williams was always the cerebral type and apparently coming into contact with Wired magazine in the early 90s was a seminal moment for him. He found himself in Silicon Valley where he got involved with social media in the form of Blogger, which was bought by Google in 2003. (The blog you're reading is a Blogger blog.) Twitter followed but recently the cerebral thinker and innovator has begun looking at ways to take the sting out of social media's tail.

What do I mean by that? Apparently Williams had found the jock culture of 80s Nebraska - growing up in a rural community - unsatisfying. But now, as the article makes clear, it is those types - the less-intellectually curious, the mundane, and the ordinary - who are taking over the way social media works because they outnumber the cerebral ones by a wide margin in real life. The chickens have come home to roost. We now have Twitter helping Donald Trump - the epitome of a know-nothing leader - to get into power. The car wrecks the article talks about are happening more frequently because that's what cuts through and the people publishing the stuff are willing to lie to get what they want - which is attention.

It's the boy who cried "wolf" happening every day of the week, every moment of the day. The thinkers are being drowned out by the plebs. Democracy in action, or a failed system? Was social media meant to improve the stock or is it being commandeered by the hoi polloi into merely conveying the stupid messages their lives are saturated with, because they don't know any better?

It's hard to say. Williams, for his part, is still wedded to Medium, the publishing platform he set up and is funding, but it's not breaking even. Twitter itself is struggling financially. They're great ideas, but it seems that the quality of the platform is prescribed to an overwhelming degree by the quality of the people who use it. Can things happen the other way around? Can social media help people to become better versions of themselves? With recent and promised tweaks to publishing policies the major platforms might be on the way to achieving this, but as new generations of users come through the pipeline it's going to be hard to see an end to the stupidity. There will always be another wave of fools to foul the pond.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Movie review: Alien: Covenant, dir Ridley Scott (2017)

It's the beginning of the 22nd century and a colonising expedition is travelling across galaxies carrying 2000 colonists in suspended animation, as well as the crew. Accompanying the crew is Walter (Michael Fassbender), a "synthetic" robot with special abilities. One day the crew are disturbed out of suspended animation by a solar event and the ship sustains damage. Then one of the crew members sent out to repair the damage experiences interference in his headset while floating in space. The crew bring the headset back to the ship and discover that it is a voice singing John Denver's 'Country Road'. They isolate the signal out of its surrounding noise and discover that the message came from a nearby planet. The captain decides to explore. They get to the planet to discover no signs of animal life but instead a field of enormous wheat.

The search party splits up, and one of the crew steps on some pods, which release a spore that animates and enters his ear, where it then goes into the bloodstream. He gets sick and then hell breaks loose as an alien reemerges to wreak havoc on the crew. The landing vessel is destroyed in the ensuing gunfire and the ship is brought closer to the surface. Meanwhile, the remaining crew meet David (Fassbender), a synthetic from an earlier expedition who has survived living alone on the deserted planet for all the intervening years. He had been part of an exhibition including a doctor named Elizabeth Shaw, who had repaired him when the ship had foundered. David may have been alone for all these years but he has not been idle.

The alien finds the remaining crew in the citadel where David had taken them for shelter, and kills one of the crew. The captain, who had come to the planet with the search party, kills the alien but David introduces him to his own creations - the famous "eggs" that contain the embryonic aliens we are familiar with. The captain is infected and dies giving birth to one of the classical aliens David has engineered based on the spore virus that had been brought to the planet, and that interfaces with the DNA of the victim to give rise to one of the prototypical aliens that had crippled the search expedition.

With the captain dead, it is up to his second-in-command, Daniels (Katherine Waterston) to make sure the remains of the search expedition can get back to the mother ship, and the colonising expedition can continue. From this point the larger story of the 'vanquisher of worlds' virus is abandoned by the filmmakers, who resort to a classical "alien" battle in the ship between the humans and the creature. Needless to say, the viewer's interest in the film is diminished by this transition. It was much more interesting back on the planet, with its remnant civilisation. How did they get to the planet in the first place - those dead people whose corpses are strewn around the amphitheater - and who introduced it to that planet? And why?

It's all a bit confusing and unresolved. The Ozymandias reference is half-baked and unsatisfying. You wonder what motivated whoever it was who developed the alien virus to release it and to ruin a pristine planet. Many questions remain unanswered.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Losing more weight

It is Thursday here in Australia and tomorrow's Friday. I confirmed this earlier when an American friend on Twitter said that tomorrow's not Friday and I said, "It is here." "Great," he said, "how does it all end?" "In tears," I replied, "as usual." "Dammit," he said in reply. But at least we all know what today is anyway.

I went to the dentist this morning to get my teeth cleaned. It was the second visit for the cleaning because they had to numb up one side at a time. It wasn't too horrible. i find the anaesthetic phase of the operation to be by far the worst part of it. The cleaning is just a bit noisy. But putting great big needles into your gums isn't fun.

I went to the dietitian yesterday and we weighed me on their magic scales. I came in at 1.3kg under my weight a month ago, despite the fact that I had sort of binged in Japan on great food. It's entirely my fault that I slipped with the dieting, but now I'm back I can put my nose to the grindstone and bite my lip when temptation strikes, as it always does. I restarted the diet once I got home - I got home the weekend before last - and so that must have helped.

On the thinning front things have been going quite well. I cinched my belt in another notch the other day, which was the first time I had done this with this belt. You can tell things are going well when your clothes start to fall off you. Now I feel full again because the belt is tight but at least I can try on a size 38 next time I go to the menswear department at Myer for trousers.

On Monday the framer is coming over - all things being equal - to pick up two paintings that I want him to wrap for me to send to Japan. They now have lots of wallspace and not a lot of things to hang on it, so I'm helping to fill the blank areas. I have some paintings just sitting on the floor here, so I already have more than I need in the painting department.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

A walk through Chinatown in autumn

It was a nice day for a walk and they said on the news we would get rain later in the week, so i decided as soon as i woke up that today I would go for a walk. I took my usual route down to Darling Harbour. There was a pair of young women walking and one of them had dust on her backside but I felt to sheepish to say anything about it, and just kept walking through the crowds to the overpass.

They have closed off a lot of the pedestrian access due to the redevelopment of the IMAX cinema, which is going on apace - they have pulled down the whole cinema structure and have fenced off a large area of promenade as well - so I squeezed around the corner into the walkway near the roundabout. They have put up a sign telling bicyclists to slow down for pedestrians. It's just a small sign attached to the hoarding.

In Dixon street a girl was walking with a shiny tag attached to her handbag, which was slung over her shoulder, and it was making crazy patterns on the pavement as the sun shone off it. It made me think someone was wearing a reflective watch at first, but then I realised the dramatic movements of the light spot could not have been made by a watch on someone's wrist. The traffic light at the bottom of the street was still red when I crossed - there was no traffic coming when I looked - and I scampered across. There were plenty of people up on Union Street and the traffic was crawling around the corner as per usual.

In Harris Street near Mary Ann Street the ibis droppings were making their wonted stink, highlighted by the warm air. I made it all the way down Harris Street to Pyrmont, then went in the Japanese restaurant and had sushi and a beer. I was thinking about sending the new paintings to my family in Japan and how I would have to make two trips up to Windsor to get them wrapped adequately to protect them during the journey. I will call the framers this afternoon.