Paul Ford's What is Code?

I’ve said before that Paul Ford is one of my internet heroes. If you didn’t understand or remained unconvinced as to why I said this, you need to read his latest piece for Bloomberg Businessweek - a spectacular 38.000-word article about programming and computers. Which in the hands of most technology writers would be dry and boring, but this is why I love Paul Ford so much. He’s incredibly smart and intelligent, but he approaches everything from an extremely human point of view, so it’s a wonderful read.

Write a tune. Fuckin' start with that

I’ve said it before, but Noel Gallagher gives the best interviews.

Cards Against Humanity

Shut Up & Sit Down has reviewed Cards Against Humanity. Spoiler: they don’t like it.

Which is great because I’m not a fan of it either. It almost always comes out at parties and my heart absolutely sinks. Maybe I’m just going to the wrong parties.

The main reason I don’t like it is because playing it reminds me of this scene from Nathan Barley:

“I’ve seen idiots playing this, yeah? They don’t realise it’s not good cos it’s rude, yeah?”
“Yeah, it’s good cos it looks like it’s good because it’s rude?”

It’s not transgressive. It’s not shocking. It’s boring. But it gets trotted out at parties because pretty much everyone already knows the rules (it’s Apples to Apples, except where half the answers are ‘big black dick’) and for people who don’t know the rules, it’s easy for them to pick it up. But guys, it doesn’t have to be this way! There are lots of party games that are more hilarious and more chaotic and more creative and more fun.

So here are some party games I’d recommend instead:

Say Anything
If you’re looking for an immediate replacement for CAH, Say Anything is top of the list. It’s basically the same thing: one person reads the question, other players have to fill in the blanks. Except with Say Anything, you write down your answer. Whatever you like. Rather than allowing the game to be funny/shocking for you, you get to be as funny and as shocking as you can be. And it all comes from you, which makes it all the more rewarding and enjoyable. Trust me, ditch CAH and get this instead.

Snake Oil
In Snake Oil, one player draws a customer card with a particular role on it and the other players have to combine two cards in their hands to create an object to ‘sell’ to the customer’s role. So, for example, if the customer is a caveman, you might combine your ‘fur’ card with your ‘whip’ card to create a “fur whip”, which will whip the fur straight off an animal, meaning your cave will be nice and toasty and clean as a whistle. OH LOOK, I DON’T KNOW. The point of this game is that there is no ‘right’ answer here and the whole fun of the game is in the ridiculous stories people will come up with to sell things. I played this with my mother (who is in her seventies now) and she had a blast.

The Resistance
The Resistance is sort of like Werewolf, where some people in a group are spies and they have to make it through five rounds without getting caught. What’s so great about this game is that it will have you and your friends talking analysing everything and talking and re-analysing everything and then talking and over-analysing everything. This is probably my absolute favourite game of all time just because it always leads to chats and shouts and laughter.

Monikers
At the risk of coming across like a SU&SD fanboy, just go check out their review. If this doesn’t immediately make you want to go out and play this game, maybe ‘fun’ isn’t really your thing and yeah, maybe you should just stick with CAH.

Skull and Roses
You know in poker, they say you don’t play the cards, you play the player? Skull and Roses is an even more concentrated example of this. It’s serious bluffing where you have look all the other players in the eyes before you make your decision. The only problem I have with this game is that it’s about elimating other people, which means if you’re eliminated early, there’s a lot of sitting around watching other people play. Which is still fun! Just not as much fun as, you know, actually playing.

Aggregation is Broken

A few days ago, there was a bit of a kerfuffle between Vox and 538 (Nate Silver’s blog) over Vox posting some of 538’s content without ‘proper attribution’. Vox put up a poor mouth semi-apology in the way of a statement on vox.com called ‘How Vox Aggregates’. Here’s a bit of that:

I started as a blogger in the pre-social web, when the only way to build an audience was to have other sites quote or link to your work. Those links didn’t drive a ton of traffic back to the original site, but they drove some, and sometimes you would get a new regular reader out of the deal. And that was basically how my career began. Everything I wrote, I wrote in the hopes that someone else would take it and try to use it on their site, with a link back to my site.

The lesson of that, to me, was that writing on the internet is a positive-sum endeavor: I was creating content that helped other people make their sites better, and in using that content, they were helping me grow my site.

Vox’s approach to aggregation — which Nate Silver criticized today on Twitter— is informed by that.

There have been lots of Hot Takes on this. Here’s mine.

I firmly believe that in a post-social web, aggregation is completely broken. People aren’t looking to diversify their reading. If they see an image on Tumblr that’s been shared across dozens, even hundreds of sites, are they going to untangle that rat’s nest of attribution and find the original creator of that image? Are they fuck. At best, they’ll follow the last person to share it - they’ll follow the aggregator. Balls to the creator.

Gamification of the internet is only making it worse. And by this, I mean sites that award points to people based on the content they post. See something interesting or funny on the internet? Post it to Reddit under your name and you get all the glory! Win-win.

Back in February, I posted something on Twitter that accidentally went semi-viral, with a few thousand retweets and favourites.

I was bored the other day, so for shits and giggles, I googled the text of this tweet and found that I’d made it to Buzzfeed. I had no idea about this because I received no noticable bump in followers from them, even with their attribution. But I also found that someone on Reddit had lifted the text and image from my tweet and used it to score 47 points on /r/funny (I have a Reddit link score of 1. Yes, one).

Now I’m just a minor player in this whole thing. What about the people producing genuinely great and funny content? Last week, Mallory Ortberg (one of my favourite people on the internet) discovered that some of her work had been lifted by thepoke.co.uk.

To be fair, The Poke had attributed it to where they found it - an imgur gallery (later itself updated with proper attribution after its creator received a twitter backlash), which in turn came from a thread on /r/funny (4618 points, btw). This thread also included one hilarious comment that serves to emphasise my point: “atleast give credit to the person who made them, stolen from front page funnyjunk”.

Ugh.

Seriously, aggregation on the internet is a fucking joke.

79 Theses on Technology. For Disuptation

Alan Jacobs wrote seventy-nine theses on technology and how it affects and informs our world.

  1. Everything begins with attention.
  2. It is vital to ask, “What must I pay attention to?”
  3. It is vital to ask, “What may I pay attention to?”
  4. It is vital to ask, “What must I refuse attention to?”
  5. To “pay” attention is not a metaphor: Attending to something is an economic exercise, an exchange with uncertain returns.

The whole thing is wonderful. But just as wonderful are some of the responses they have invited. And the responses to the responses. Oh listen, just go read the whole thing, will you?

Flying Through an Eclipse

Recent Film Reviews

(I try to post reviews of all the films I watch over on letterboxd. Here are some of my most recent reviews)

Black Sea ★½

When you’re making a submarine film, I’m sure it’s really tempting to default to autopilot and cross off the tickboxes of all the scenes you expect to see in these films. The near-miss collision, the accident that sends the sub to below crush-depth where they just barely survive. Etc. etc.

So it’s not enough for Black Sea to lazily trot out the same hackneyed bullshit we’ve seen countless times in films like this while claiming to be different because this time it’s all in service of a story that’s really just a commentary on the exploitation of the working class.

Plus, it has Jude Law (with the worst Scottish accent since Christopher Lambert) saying “the shit is fighting back”. Honestly, that’s an actual line from this film.

Good grief.

Predators ★★★

Predators isn’t a bad film. In fact, it’s got some really great bits in it: the smash opening; the reveal they’re on an alien planet; any time Walton Goggins is on the screen. In fact, it’s a good enough film that you’ll actually overlook the fact that they cast (lol) Adrien Brody (lol) as a badass soldier (lol).

But if there’s a complaint to be made about the film, it’s that it’s just too goddamn bleak. For the entire 107 minute run-time, there’s not a single moment of hope to be found in this film.

Exhausting.

Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith ★

Honestly, the next time some dickbag comes along and tries to tell me that Episode III is the best of the prequels, I’m going to smack that person in the goddamn nose.

White God ★★

I know White God is supposed to be a parable, but I’ll be damned if I know exactly what it’s supposed to be. Current list of theories:

  • Social Exclusion
  • Teenage Angst
  • Immigration
  • The prison system
  • The oppression of the Jews before and during WWII (what dog pounds have such prominent chimneys?!)

It could be any one of these things. It could be all of them. I don’t know. And I’m not sure the film itself actually warrants the kind of time it would take to develop these theories. It’s 100 minutes of a dull, emotionless domestic drama with 20 minutes of interesting images tacked onto the end. Seeing 200 dogs running through Budapest dishing out vigilante justice like some canine Mr Majestyks was at least something I hadn’t seen before. The rest of the film was just filler.

Groundhog Day ★★★★

For most of this film, it’s all very clever and enjoyable and even if it doesn’t sweep you off your feet, you think “I’m so clever, I can see all the mechanics of this plot at work and I can appreciate on an intellectual level what the film is trying to do. Yes, very clever.”

And then the last scene rolls up and hits you like an ton of bricks. Even if you’ve seen the film before, it’s still a gut-punch of emotion.

That’s the real genius of this film.

Force Majeure ★★★½

Force Majeure is an interesting reflection on the ways that relationships can be affected and tested. There are the large, obvious events, like a father leaving his family to save his own life under the threat of an avalanche. But these are just the sparks that ignite the fuel that’s already there: the years of insecurity and resentment. And those are the things that really test relationships.

I guess it says something about my own marriage that we chose to watch this on Valentine’s Day.

Wild Card ★★★

Jason Statham IS Nick Wild in WILD CARD.

If this sentence doesn’t make you want to immediately run out and watch this film, forget it, this is not the film for you.

Photos from the Blade Runner Model Shop

It may not be a great film, but these photos at least give you some idea of why it’s such an amazing achievement. The amount of care and craft that went into something that would appear on screen for a second or two. So impressive.

RIP Terry Pratchett

I am a nerd.

I spent an entire weekend migrating my blog from Wordpress to Jekyll and I fucking loved it. I have a board game collection that’s out of control. And just this week, I’ve had not one, but two arguments about the ending of Battlestar Galactica (one of these turned into a standing-up, shouting kind of argument)1.

In fact, I’m going to revise up and describe myself as a huge nerd.

Despite this, I have not enjoyed a single Terry Pratchett book that I’ve read.

It’s not like I haven’t tried. I’ve asked my nerd friends where I should start and I’ve gotten different suggestions from each of them. And I’ve tried each one that’s been suggested. Even Metafilter, the closest we’ll get to an internet version of a Borg hive-mind can’t settle on any one starting point. The closest I’ve come has been Good Omens, but I’m dismissing this because of Neil Gaiman. Oh, and I played a lot of The Colour of Magic on the Commodore 64. But again, I’m not counting this because it’s, you know, not a book.

All the same, I’m going to pour one out for Terry Pratchett for two reasons.

First, even though I can only handle him in small doses, even I can recognise he was capable of some beautiful writing. Like this passage from Wings

‘Come to think of it,’ he said. ‘it wasn’t frogs exactly. It was the idea of frogs. She said there’s these hills where it’s hot and rains all the time, and in the rain forests there are these very tall trees and right in the top branchs of the trees there are these like great big flowers called … bromeliads, I think, and water gets into the flowers and makes little pools and there’s a type of frog that lays eggs in the pools and tadpoles hatch and grow into new frogs and these little frogs live their whole lives in the flowers right at the top of the trees and don’t even know about the ground and once you know the world is full of things like that your life is never the same.’
He took a deep breath.
‘Something like that, anyway,’ he said.

I mean, wow. This is just marvellous. (For the record, I gave up on Wings after 50-odd pages.)

But I’ll mostly be pouring one out because even though he’s not my cup of tea, his writing touched – deeply touched – a lot of my friends. His writing, his irreverence, his entire outlook on life - these had a profound influence on an entire subculture. A subculture I count myself part of.

Godspeed, Sir Terry.

“DON’T THINK OF IT AS DYING,” said Death. “JUST THINK OF IT AS LEAVING EARLY TO AVOID THE RUSH.”

  1. For the record, I think the ending to Battlestar Galactica is totally fine. I have no problem at all mixing spiritualism with sci-fi.

The Greatest Kanye West Song of All Time

Casey Johnston goes deep to find the best Kanye song, pitting them against each other. Even if you don’t like Kanye or you think brackets are a bad methodology to finding the best anything, the writing here is just great.

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