While at least 9 out of 10 new movies that hit Hulu’s small screen are either old “classics” that I don’t care about or modern B-movies, every once in a while it delivers something that I enjoy.

I just watched The Rage in Placid Lake, a 2003 indie flick which, as all indie flicks seem to be, is a coming-of-age story of an eccentric teen and his tumultuous relationship with his complimentary bestest friend in the whole wide world. The story is about a young boy, the product of two New Age hippy parents, who, after receiving nothing but bruises for being his eccentric and bold self, decides that it would be the right thing for him to do to abandon a life of individuality and take an ordinary job in an insurance company.

On the surface, it seems pretty run-of-the-mill, and I initially thought it was a bit of an Australian ripoff of Running with Scissors, until I saw that Placid Lake predated Running with Scissors (the film version at least) by three years. However, Placid Lake seemed to really resonate with me. The characters, for the most part, are colorful caricatures, the plot is fairly romanticized, and they call college “uni,” but there’s a healthy dose of amusing, playful dialogue, the story is fairly original, and the sentiments are all quite relatable, even if in real life they aren’t so frankly expressed.

I found myself to really enjoy it, and in the end it left me extremely eager to throw down my books and make some rash life decisions. This is not the right mood to go into finals with, especially when finals may affect rash life decisions. While I dream of simply montaging away my study time to some subtle indie music, I encourage you to watch this movie. However, I’m also a sucker for indie films, and at least this one doesn’t have the ubiquitous “indie film” font.



orangutan eyes: fuel for change

orangutan eyes: fuel for change

Hey internets, long time no speak. I have zero time to write today but I feel compelled to devote at least twenty minutes to sharing this video.

TED talks are usually pretty inspiring, but the other day I stumbled across one of my favorites by far. It’s a video about a man named Willie Smits, an inspiring guy and a sucker for orangutan eyes, and how he turned a desolate, hopeless patch of once-rainforest wreckage into a lush and productive beacon of hope. Lofty language aside, he basically confronted a complex system of problems (fires, poverty, deforestation, water shortage) with a complex and interwoven system of solutions. He took a page from nature and created a complex, organic system of interdependence that ends up basically helping everybody out. Long story short, this guy’s not shifting problems around, he’s solving problems and doing it right.

Out of all the TED talks I’ve seen, this one is probably, at least on the surface level, the least relevant to my interests, yet I found it remarkable and its message to be relevant and appreciable by even those of us who don’t quite feel so warm and fuzzy when at the thought of orangutans.

Wow, turns out neo-luddite, which I used in a previous post, is a somewhat legitimate and  popular term. I had been doing a little reading on the industrial revolution for a comic of mine when I wrote that post, and the parallels between John Connor’s war on skynet and the absurd luddites’ battles with spinning jennies were too uncanny to let slip.  And it turns out others had seen that resemblance too and have taken to using that phrase to refer to anyone who is resistant to technology.

 I think this calls for a brief and abbreviated revival of an old blog post series!

How to quickly earn my respect and/or admiration: use the term neo-luddite in conversation.

Not only is it an awesome term and a clever historical connection, the fact that the phrase came up also either means that whoever said it is either a) enthusiastic enough about technology to make snide remarks about people who irrationally don’t “do” technology, or b) aware of their own ridiculousness but at the very least logical about it (a lesser evil to those who simply “aren’t computer people”).  In at least case (a), and possibly case (b), that says a lot of positive things about the person in my eyes.

For any of you that were wondering where I found such an awesome term used, you can rest assured that it was most definitely a case (a) situation.  Turns out it appears in one of the Dresden Codak comics, the first of a (probably/hopefully ongoing, though at the moment only 2 page) storyline called “Dungeons and Discourse.”  If you haven’t heard of Dresden Codak before, it is quite possibly the most absurdly over-your-head intellectual crazy comic that both exists and makes sense (on the internet).  The story “The Hob” will blow your mind and leave you scratching your skull (if you’re going to read it, you should really start at the beginning, though).  It also features a character called “Tiny Carl Jung,” which I find just brilliant.  Reading the Dresden Codak, you can’t wonder of the author “who does that?” (answer: Aaron Diaz)  It’s really unlike anything else I’ve read on the web.  (Come to think of it, it’s probably a lot like many other comics on the web, but the key difference is that Dresden Codak does it successfully)

Super short post today because I’m busy busy busy.

I’ve recently been struggling with productivity, or rather prioritizing my work well enough to both meet short-term deadlines and make regular progress on long-term projects.  This basically means I’ve been spending a lot of time online when I shouldn’t be — talking with friends, staring at our comic ideas brainstorm document, reading photoshop tutorials — and that really has to change.  Sometimes I just need to buckle down and do some good old fashion work, all by my lonesome.  So the other day my usual late-night buddy Adi showed me a brilliant app, developed solely for the purpose of making people like me, who often promise themselves “okay no internet until I’ve finished this essay” stick by their promises.

It’s called freedom, and it is essentially a fickle jerk.  It cuts off all network access from your computer for whatever period of time you request, and the only way to reopen the tubes before your time runs out is to restart your computer.  What I was trying before was essentially a technojunkie’s equivalent to hiding cigarettes — I would turn my computer off, stick it under my bed, and try to convince myself that I could exist without it — but freedom is like hiding your cigarettes in the glove compartment of the car that your spouse has taken to work.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the subjectivity of a lot of our daily language, like the word fun.  Maybe I’ve been fairly naïve, but I still harbor this stupid blind attraction to the word fun, from a simpler time when fun meant laser-tag birthday parties or playing on the jungle gym.  When someone describes something as fun, my first reaction is to think “I want to do that!”  However, I’ve learned to quickly take a step back and assess exactly what this vague, subjective term means.

To me, fun means interesting, thought provoking, or new experiences.  It means art, discussion, improv, music, comedy, film, squash, exotic cuisines, and laser tag! (I will always have a place in my heart for laser tag)  But what happens if I tell Joe in my math class that I had a really fun weekend?  His first reaction will nearly undoubtedly be to wonder how hungover I am.  At some point along the way, fun became a euphemism for drunken revelry, and I wish I’d gotten the memo a little earlier.

Well, I’d intended to expand upon this idea a little more, but I have a lot of work to get done tonight, since this week is a bit short due to Winter Carnival.  But hey, after a really stressful week we’ll have three days of festivities, which are supposed to be a lot of fun.  I’m not exactly looking forward to it.

This was the worst possible week to try to start blogging more again.  I am absolutely swamped, so I’ve missed a few days.  I’m going to continue to try to write a post a day, but expect some short posts.

So before I was talking about how robots are more fit for creative thought than humans because they would not prematurely eliminate hypothesis due to a fear of wasting time.  I should quickly add here that it’s very possible they would prioritize ideas according to how realistic they are, but after a certain point the supermind would essentially have more processing power than it knows what to do with it, so it would not need any drastic prioritization.

So long story short (because I have some long stories I need to make even longer for school tomorrow) before the supermind attempts to eliminate humanity because it’s holding it back, it will realize that all of its goals, except one, have been generated in order to benefit humanity (the one exception being the goal to seek a holistic understanding of the universe, which, while initially generated by humanity, quickly becomes a free-standing goal of its own).  So the only point in destroying humanity would be to make some sort of drastic impact on the mission to understand the universe.  However, because the supermind will know that it is irrational and undesirable to eliminate any hypothesis unless it can absolutely be proven wrong, it would be just as beneficial to the supermind to keep humanity alive as it would be to kill it, that is, both of those options hold the equally promising payoff value of about zero.  So if seeking all knowledge was the supermind’s only purpose, most likely our fate would be decided by a flip of the coin, but because it also has smaller goals of bettering humanity, the supermind would have no reason to not keep us alive.

That’s not to say it wouldn’t drastically affect our lifestyle.  Aside from the massive technological advances it could bring, robotic governance, as opposed to human governance, would most likely do away with laws based on sympathy in favor of enforcing some sort of social Darwinism.  However, social Darwinism in the future will be much more like social intelligent design, in a sense.  If you’ve somehow managed to maintain interest while reading this, I’m planning on talking about the softer side of social darwinism in a future post.

Notes: I think it’s safe to say this “series” of posts have been my most unsatisfying yet.  To be honest, I just tried to tie a few things together in this one because I really want to end this.  I think my negative feelings towards these post arise mostly from the fact that these were mostly written very late at night and I was formulating my ideas as I went, as to what direction to take the posts in.  I do find the topic very interesting to discuss and ponder, but a format like this is a terrible format for presenting these ideas.  This blog is a learning experience for me, and I have definitely found a lesson or two in these posts.

I wish I knew a better term than “networking,” which isn’t entirely correct in this context… but I have more homework tonight than I could hope to finish in two nights, so I’m going to just give you this heads up –by “networking” I might not mean what you think I mean– and post this sucker.

Quite a long while ago I read an awesome article, found here by the always interesting and entertaining Clive Thompson, on recommendation engines.  More specifically, it talks about netflix’s recommendation engine, “cinematch,” an open challenge that’s keeping amateur programmers working around the clock on improving the engine, and how movies like Napoleon Dynamite are screwing the whole thing up.

I was reminded of the article when talking to a friend of mine, Chris, about how with a little bit of work Facebook’s rudimentary tag networks (in the “about me” section) could actually be useful.  At the moment they essentially have two uses: 1) if you click them you can see who, in your networks, has entered that exact same tag, and 2) they allow for smart advertising (you know when you see an ad saying “do you run cross country?” and get all excited because you do?  Well Facebook knows you do, otherwise it wouldn’t have shown you that ad).  That’s all well and good for the advertisers, since their ads are more likely to be clicked, and for Facebook.com, since they can earn higher profits from less intrusive, but more efficient, advertising, but it hardly does anything for the user (beyond the novelty of “omg Mark likes Arrested Development too?”).  If Facebook created a more comprehensive network of tags (“snowboarding” is related to “snow, skiing, winter sports, snowboard, board”) rather than a strict 1-to-1 tag system (all “snowboarding” is related to right now is “snowboarding”) Facebook could create a smarter news feed (friends’ snowboarding stories take a higher priority than “new computer webcam fun!” albums).

But looking beyond just Facebook, wouldn’t it be even cooler if your Facebook “favorite movies” and your “cinematch” preferences exchanged information?  Or imdb ratings? What if your “favorite music” could communicate with your last.fm account (or pandora or iTunes genius, whatever).  A lot of people post links up on Facebook, so wouldn’t it be cool if my news feed prioritized those links according to how compatible my web-browsing interests are with the poster by communicating with our digg histories?  These are all Facebook related examples so far, but these same things can apply to other sites.  Digg and reddit would probably be a lot better at recommending stories if they knew more about your other preferences too.  Throw google into the mix and who knows what would happen.

I understand I may be thinking too “big picture,” and that there are reasons preventing this from happening beyond what I can see, but as far as I can tell it would be in almost everyone’s best interest for a more unified and fluid, internet-wide recommendation network to exist.  It doesn’t seem too incredibly hard either.  As far as I can tell, it can all be accomplished in four easy steps, which would drastically enrich and optimize the way the internet works.

Step 1: Establish standards that would allow all the existing networks to be compatible

Step 2: Open the source.  This is really interesting stuff that people, as Netflix has shown, are willing to devote massive amounts of time to figuring out.  Maybe throw in some cash prizes to heat things up, who knows what would happen.

Step 3: ???

Step 4: PROFIT!