It may be what these days they call clickbait, but I am so in the target demographic for this: The ways people described computers in the 1990s are hilarious, indeed. The stock footage section has shades of intense creepiness and I am possibly blocking memories of armies of Poser businessmen ever being a recurring motif; still @-signal psychedelia is Much the Nineties.
Clifford Pickover (who still rocks a 90s website, complete with a counter) has compiled a list for our brain-exploding pleasure. Warning: links lead into further Wikipedia rabbit holes, make sure you’ve got a few free hours before clicking.
Don’t be put off by the fact that this comes from a technical publication about software development: Daniel Eggert wrote a great article about how digital cameras work, checking all the boxes in succint and easy to understand manner.
One of my absolutely favourite websites lately has been The Public Domain Review, a journal by the Open Knowledge Foundation celebrating public domain trasures. For instance, Flowers in the Sky presents changing depictions of astronomical phenomena over the centuries (I really like the above 16th century German illustration of a comet seen five centuries prior).
The Review also published its Book of Selected Essays, which I received recently and thoroughly recommend.
Who needs Blade Runner? Vincent LaForet‘s Gotham 7.5K presents New York City at night as photographed from a helicopter flying at its 7500 feet (about 2300 meters) ceiling. Vincent’s description of the flight is worth reading; as someone made very uncomfortable by heights I can’t but describe these photos as brave.
I find it also interesting that my first reaction to some of the photos was to think they were screenshots of some Sim City game: on one hand the photos are incredibly sharp but at the height they were taken most street-level detail is gone and the buildings are far away from the camera to resemble some kind of axonometric projection. Then there is the way some parts of the city are dominated by blue or purple hues, opposing the more mundane orange and yellow streets: probably an artifact of color balance, but one that gives off a decidedly cool sci-fi vibe. As tungsten and sodium are on their way out, though, this present vibe is probably something to cherish. (via DesignerNews)
Like 2013, I think last year was a “year without qualities”. It was not a good year, not even an interesting year. At the very least, things didn’t turn out as bad personally, and whatever my problems, complains and sorrows were, they were the problems, complains and sorrows of someone privileged to be safe and healthy: I even made good on 2004’s (sic) New Year resolution of starting to exercise.
Still, looking outward, 2014 was a garbage year full of bad omens. That has been extensively covered, and both you and I would gain nothing if I were to relist all the tragedies, most still unfolding. If you must, Charlie Brooker, a clever and funny man, tries his best at a humourous recap and fails; there was little fun in 2014. Still, I may add that that something like the ‘Dark Enlightment' is even an idea proves the kind of thinking that produced ISIS is not the exclusive of any particular religion or country; I came to realize that the political Right is, for all its pretenses, a black hole: there is no point at which conservatives would be satisfied and say “society is as we want it”, for there would always exist a Right, pointing toward anarchy and despotic barbarism — the post-apocalyptic fantasies of gun-fiend survivalists, every man for himself against hordes of zombies, or perhaps immigrants, seeming more like a political programme than a genuine fear.
How have things in Portugal been? Interesting, in a bad way. Late last year our former Prime Minister, José Sócrates, was arrested on vague charges, and is still in prison in order to be investigated for… some kind of corruption, or whatever. Such a situation presents us with two possibilities: A. Sócrates is a crook whom, like Al Capone, was finally caught because of something smaller like tax evasion and is now undergoing thorough investigation; B. Sócrates is a political prisioner, arrested at the airport upon entering the country, reporters of our local Fox News clone already at the scene, spinning stories for the naïve involving suitcases full of money. I truly prefer option A., even though one suspects B., and one will never ever know. Whatever the outcome in the courts, Sócrates will remain Schrödinger’s PM, such is the nature of our politics. At the same time, one of Portugal’s biggest banks failed and was bailed out by the government, its coffers were apparently robbed blind by the bankster family that ran it to the ground, and while nobody is arrested people are still told that socialism ends when the money ends and other assorted Thatcherite catchphrases, apparentely because people live in a paralel universe to that of finance.
There are multiple such universes though, and the media makes sure one never knows in which universe one currently resides. Charlie Brooker’s report I linked above includes a segment by Adam Curtis on how media is used to obfuscate, confuse and leave citizens in a state of anxious acceptance. But while right, I think Curtis is late to the premediation party: it’s not just Putin, it’s not just the British government learning some KGB-fu. It’s everyone, everywhere: societies became societies of actors and societies of artifice, reality has been vanquished. In 2014 we even found out that Facebook Inc. tampers with the information you are presented (as they were obviously going to do), so you can’t even trust the mediated representations of your ‘friends’. Take it away, Reza Farazmand:
Reality has also been vanquished in my city of Porto, Best European Disneyland of the Year for a number of travel magazines, its votes rigged or its journalists handsomely treated by the local hostel industry. Disneyland Porto does seem like a nice place to live, but in this universe all I see are lots of new and somewhat pricier coffee shops, gourmet burger joints and gin & tonic bars that seem like good places to hang out with my friends, hadn’t most of them, even those with kids, been forced to look for a job abroad (a great way for a government to lower unemployment, by the way). But hey, the city’s rebranding apparently makes being a 35 year old living in a shared apartment all worthwhile.
Still, I can’t really complain much about 2014 on a personal level. My 2013 complaints about miscommunication (and miscommunity) in the connected age remain, so do my complaints about precariousness in work and in love. I had a health scare that fortunately turned out to be nothing, but made me aware of the realities of ageing, while hardly feeling like an adult yet. But still, I had a full year, in which I traveled, made an effort in getting to know people and engaging with different kinds of activities — from videography, both on the street and with a theatre company, to both visiting and selling at flea markets, from working up some of the required “benevolent anger” in thinking about software and citizenship to teaching at the college; all while neglecting my PhD, casting that dark shadow of guilt I’ll have to learn how to manage in to 2015.
One can’t but to look forward to a new year, it always feels like a fresh page. So, considering how long it took for me to start going to a gym, I think that one resolution — of balancing my PhD’s work and guilt throughout the year — will be enough.
Phew! What a lousy year it was, 2014. After a great 2013 film-wise, either I chose my movie outings poorly, or 2014 had indeed a rather bad crop. I only went to a movie theatre about thirty times, and quite often I just looked at the listings, thought everything was so meh!, and went to do something else instead. There were however, amongst the superhero episodes (which at least create mythologies) and the forgettable dramedies, some good works of art and entertainment in the theatres in 2014. Unlike this critic’s, my picks for 2014 might even be very slightly better than my favourite movies of 2013.
Richard Linklater’s Boyhood. I’m not one to jump on bandwagons and I’m usually suspicious of anything that has the degree of universal acclaim Linklater’s masterpiece achieved. Still, I am hard pressed to find any fault whatsoever with this film (well, maybe except for the use of Coldplay in the soundtrack at the beginning of the film), the result of an incredibly risky project that feels perfectly natural in the body of work of the guy who directed Slacker. In Boyhood, character transformation happens because it just does as time passes, not as a result of plot. Small episodes might have consequences, or might have not. People come into the life of Mason and his family and seem important, and than they’re gone elsewhere. Boyhood almost challenges what is meant by ‘fiction' because even though those are made-up characters played by professional actors acting made-up situations, there's no disbelief in the movie requiring suspension. It's a truthful fiction, showing the extraordinary (as it must be, as we watch it in a movie theatre and find it compelling) in the ordinary.
Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler. Without leaving Earth for mythological heights inhabited by aliens and superheroes, Nightcrawler is on the far opposite end of the placid Boyhood. Jake Gyllenhaal’s Lou Bloom is a rabid hungry coyote, perhaps more wolfish than di Caprio’s, perhaps more of a psycho than Bale’s. He is the endgame of anarcho-capitalism, only holding a camera rather than trading financial derivatives.
Alexander Payne’s Nebraska, and back to placid-er plains. Wheareas plot is probably the least important element of my other two picks, Nebraska, while not exactly a tightly-plotted film (leave that to something like Gone Girl), had the most satisfying story I’ve seen in a film all year. It’s veritable literature, coupled with Payne’s humourous deadpan Americana.
Some films of 2014 were genuine disappointments — I would say Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar is as vast and as empty as space, while I found Mike Leigh’s Mr. Turner, which I had eagerly awaited since watching the first trailer, more interested with the bodily noises of J.M.W. Turner rather than his art. Still, besides the 2014 Top Three, I really enjoyed Martin Scorsese’s Wolf of Wall Street, which, like Nightcrawler, I found a great observation of turbo-capitalism, this time as a farce. I also liked Spike Jonze’s Her as a thought experiment about emerging AI; as I wrote previously, even though I found its resolution quite flawed, it’s a film sure to occupy philosophers (and UX designers) in years to come. Another glorious but flawed film I really liked was Ari Folman’s The Congress, which I thought even trippier than Stanislaw Lem’s novel. Considering Boyhood, Steven Knight’s Locke is perhaps the most opposite kind of project one could imagine (just a guy driving his car for ninety minutes), but Tom Hardy does give the defnitive performance of Bluetooth-connected acting. And finally, David Fincher’s Gone Girl, which I enjoyed as perhaps the definitive film of a long-missed subgenre, the Michael Douglas thriller (not starring Mr. Douglas).
I should also highlight David O’Russell American Hustle (a giant in the pantheon of cinematic hairdos), Paolo Sorrentino’s La Grande Bellezza (no film ever made me want to visit Rome as much), Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel (which I actually found manneiristic and lesser Wes, but still, Anderson), Anton Corbijn’s A Most Wanted Man (its closing scenes becoming more shocking and poignant as marking the premature end of Philip Seymour Hoffman), João Botelho’s Os Maias (a very lively — and even fun — rendition of the novel dreaded by so many portuguese highschoolers) and James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy (a refreshingly humourous superhero flick to gorge on popcorn and coke).
Still, there are some interesting movies on the horizon for 2015 that are not Star Wars. And indeed, is there a better way to spend the New Year’s Day hangover than at the movies?