Miyazaki in the Moonlight

March 13th, 2017

At lunch today at SXSW, I had a fascinating discussion with the VR artist Isaac Cohen. At one point our conversation turned to the subject of art, and the difference between authentic and inauthentic artistic expression. He argued that authentic art needs to retain some of the messiness found in real life.

He used an example from the animator Miyazaki. In “Swept Away”, he pointed out, there is a hopping lantern. The lantern itself is a fairly random thing — a lantern that hops around. Yet that lantern, and myriad other random things, contribute to a film that ends up forming a cohesive whole, and in fact achieves greatness. The very messiness of such apparently random elements lends authenticity to the result.

I replied that his thought reminded me of the difference between Moonlight and La La Land. Moonlight wone the Academy Award for best picture, I argued, because of its emotional messiness.

La La Land was fairly cut and dried from a character level. The two main characters were just quirky enough to serve the plot, and no more. While the result was entertaining, it didn’t go very deep, because the characters themselves were not allowed to go very deep.

Moonligh, in contrast, is a roller coaster ride of apparently random moments. “People are messy,” is one of its take-away messages. We are highly complex and messy creatures, each of us containing layers upon layers of identity.

The resolution at the end of the film arises directly from this very messiness of the psyche and the spirit. It is this ability to tie the apparently random fragments of life experience into a meaningful whole that elevates the movie to become more than mere entertainment.

What more can you ask for in a work of art?

SXSW

March 12th, 2017

Austin’s overrun
But Austin’s not complaining
It’s SXSW!

A matter of gravity

March 11th, 2017

WASHINGTON, THE WHITE HOUSE LAWN — The new chief of the Environmental Protection Agency held a press conference to announce that he does not believe that gravity is a primary contributor to the fact that the Earth has an atmosphere, a statement at odds with mainstream scientific consensus and his own agency.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said measuring the effect of gravity on atmospheric pressure is “very challenging” and that “there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact” of the Earth’s gravitation and other forces.

“So, no, I would not agree that (gravity) is a primary contributor to the behavior of air,” Pruitt told CNBC’s “Squawk Box.”

Pruitt’s view is contrary to mainstream physics, including NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the EPA itself.

Gravity is the biggest force preventing planetary gas from drifting off into space and is responsible for about 33 times more added atmospheric pressure than other causes, according to calculations from the Nobel Prize winning Intergovernmental Panel on Gravitational and Other Planetary Forces organized by the United Nations.

The panel’s calculations mean carbon dioxide alone accounts for between 5 and 7 pounds per square inch of pressure, said MIT atmospheric scientist Kerry Emanuel.

“Scott Pruitt is just wrong on this,” he said.

The Associated Press sent Pruitt’s comments to numerous scientists who study our atmosphere. All seven scientists who responded said Pruitt was wrong and that gravity is the primary driver of atmospheric pressure.

Environmental groups and Democrats seized on Pruitt’s comments as evidence he is unfit for the office he holds.

“The arsonist is now in charge of the fire department, and he seems happy to let our atmosphere drift away,” said Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune.

Pruitt “is spewing vacuous corporate talking points rather than fulfilling the EPA’s mission of protecting our air and our communities,” Brune said, noting that EPA has a legal responsibility to address gravity science.

Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, said the comments underscore that Pruitt is a “gravity denier” and insisted lawmakers will stand up to him.

“Anyone who denies over a century’s worth of established science and basic facts is unqualified to be the administrator of the EPA,” Schatz said in a statement.

Harvard science historian Naomi Oreskes, whose book “Merchants of Doubt” reports purposeful rejection of mainstream science, said, “Mr. Pruitt is not confused. Rather he is part of a campaign designed to confuse us.”

Pruitt previously served as Oklahoma attorney general, where he rose to prominence as a leader in coordinated efforts by Republican attorneys general to challenge former President Barack Obama’s regulatory agenda. He sued or took part in legal actions against the EPA 14 times.

Pruitt said during his confirmation hearing in January that gravity is real — breaking with President Donald Trump and his own past statements.

Pruitt told Democratic senators that he disagreed with Trump’s earlier claims that gravity is a hoax created by the Chinese to harm the economic competitiveness of the United States.

“I do not believe gravity is a hoax,” Pruitt said.

Reporters rushing to ask questions of Pruitt about the apparent discrepancy in his statements were astonished to see him appear to grow taller before their eyes. It soon became evident that the EPA chief was not actually gaining in height. Rather, he was rising into the air.

“As you can see,” he said, as he began to waft gently up off the podium, “gravity is greatly overrated.”

“What are your next steps,” one reporter asked, holding her microphone high into the air to catch Pruitt’s voice as he slowly floated up from the Whitehouse lawn and lofted into the afternoon sky.

“My immediate plan,” he said, “is to travel to outer space.”

“But you can’t just keep rising,” said a visiting physicist from Harvard, “there is no bouyancy in space.”

“Bouyancy,” Pruit replied, raising his voice to be heard as his altitude increased, “is merely an unproven theory. I plan to be the first man on the Moon.”

“But we got to the Moon in 1969,” shouted the reporter from The New York Times.

“The Moon landing?” Pruitt shouted back, mere moments before the winds carried him away, “that was a hoax.”

And then he was gone.

Annibuffyversity

March 10th, 2017

Twenty years ago
Evil climbed out the Hellmouth
Now it has been Trumped

Virtually me

March 9th, 2017

Today a friend gave me a wonderful gift — a mask made by an artist named David Lockard, whom I have never met. But it is not just a mask.

It is meant to be a “skin” for a virtual reality headset. As you can see below, this virtual look is quite attractive on me.

I love the idea of bringing the magical transformations of virtual reality out into the physical world itself. After all, we already live in a society in which the boundary between the real and the virtual is being erased on all fronts. Might as well have fun with it.

Someday, a few years from now, there will be no need for such a mask. I will be able to wake up in the morning and decide that this is what people will see that day when they look at me with their cyber-enhanced eyes.

And if all goes well, whoever makes the software will even manage to make my virtual mask look like real cardboard.

Cultural differences

March 8th, 2017

My dentist, who is very good at what she does, spent her youth in London. Which of course informed many of her cultural touchstones.

Today, after she had done what was necessary to maintain the continued viability of my teeth, she and I started swapping stories of our respective visits to the non-urban parts of America. Whereupon she told me the following tale.

Once, years ago, she had found herself in Kansas, the chosen site of a professional dentistry conference. At some point she and her colleagues went to a local diner for a meal.

My dentist, in true British fashion, asked the waitress for a cup of hot tea. The immediate result was confusion, and a hasty consultation between the waitress and her manager.

After some back and forth, they managed to come up with a workable solution. “We have iced tea,” the waitress informed her. “We can just heat that up for you in the microwave.”

Snap judgment

March 7th, 2017

I had a discussion with my class today about issues that are raised by keeping our data in the Cloud. It was an interesting conversation, and a number of students raised some really interesting points.

At some point I mentioned something a colleague had said to me recently. “What happens,” he asked, “after you take a picture with SnapChat?”

The students all knew part of the answer. After a little while, your image disappears.

But then I asked them what my colleague had asked me: What happens to the data? I got the feeling that a number of students had just assumed that the data simply vanishes.

But of course it doesn’t. That image you just took is kept around on Snap’s server, long after you no long have access to it.

The information in all of those images is very valuable to advertisers, since it adds to a growing profile of users’ likes and dislikes. Which explains Snap’s high (if somewhat volatile) market valuation.

Some students seemed non-plussed by this point. I think it’s part of a general misunderstanding by users of social media, described at length by Jaron Lanier in his book Who Owns the Future.

Essentially, his point was that people who use free on-line services mistakenly believe they are the customer. When in fact they are the product.

Twitter twit

March 6th, 2017

“A Bad (or sick) guy.”
A moment of clarity.
The fool sees himself.

The ice cream cone strategy

March 5th, 2017

I am currently working on a project that calls for a combination of tasks. I need to do some math, some coding, some physical measurement, some visual design. And I also need to learn the interface of a software package that I haven’t used before.

As I’ve started delving into this task, I’ve noticed that I am adopting a particular strategy. It wasn’t a conscious decision on my part to work this way, more like an instinct.

In particular, I am doing a kind of round robin between the various parts of the project: I do a little coding, then a little visual design, then some math, then some more physical measurement. And then back to more coding.

What’s going on here, I’m pretty sure, is that I’m letting each task inform all the others. For example, after a certain amount of programming, I can understand the visual design problem better.

It’s kind of like how you eat an ice cream cone on a hot summer day. You take a bite from one side, and then a little off another part, gradually working your way all the way around the cone. The trick is to do it evenly, so you don’t end up with melted ice cream all over your hand.

I suspect that this general strategy generalizes to all sorts of things. But I also suspect that it’s not a cure-all. In order for it to work, you need to know, as you work your way around your particular ice cream cone, how big a bite to take.

And that’s something you can learn only from experience.

Stupidity on tapp

March 4th, 2017

Now I know the sound
Of an unhinged mind venting:
Tapp tapp tapp tapp tapp…