One post per day
Remember kids, the only difference between screwing around and science is writing it down. -- Adam Savage, Mythbusters [episode unknown].
Along comes Bitcoin, a currency in which every transaction is stored by the entire network and every coin has its own story. There’s nothing to trust but math. Suddenly an idea that sounded terrible -— a totally decentralized currency without a central authority, where semi-anonymous parties exchange meaningless tokens —- becomes almost comforting, a source of power and authority. -- Paul Ford, Bloomberg Businessweek, March 28, 2013
The Google policy on a lot of things is to get right up to the creepy line and not cross it. -- Eric Schmidt, Hillicon Valley, The Hill, October 1, 2010.
The federal government, as seen through the budget, is a massive insurance conglomerate with a large standing army. -- Ezra Klein, Wonkblog, Washington Post, April 15, 2013. (An earlier use of this phrase is from Peter Fisher, undersecretary of the Treasury, in 2002, but I don't have a citation.)
By far the best way to prevent a tug-of-war is to not pick up your end
of the rope. -- Don Lancaster, Incredible Secret Money Making Machine, p. 5
Remember that people who get paid to catch the bad guys get paid whether they catch them or not. But the cheats don't get paid unless they figure it out. So they're [more] motivated. -- Ted Whiting in "Not in my house," by Jesse Hicks, Verge, January 14, 2013
The goal is to become HBO faster than HBO can become us. -- Ted Sarandos, Subscribers Help to Propel Netflix Gain, New York Times, April 23, 2013.
Under capitalism, wealth is less a stock of goods than a flow of ideas, the defining characteristic of which is surprise….Entrepreneurship is the launching of surprises. -- George Gilder, Unleash the Mind, National Review, August 13, 2012
The web offers an opportunity to fall into the open arms of fans, in ways that weren’t available before. Here’s the catch: The web also makes it near-impossible to fall into the arms of just one’s fans. Each time you dive into the crowd, some portion of the audience before you consists of observers with no interest in catching you. -- Nitshu Abebe, The Amanda Palmer Problem, Vulture, April 27, 2013
If there’s a word that means the opposite of perfectionist, I’m that. -- Matt Harding, Pogue's Post, New York Times, July 12, 2012.
We realise that something which makes sense in a local frame may make less sense in a broader frame: dumping your waste in the river is fine as long as you don’t think too much about the people downriver. When you do, you might decide to stop dumping. Government ought to be the process by which such overlapping ‘bigger picture’ considerations are negotiated: good government should make empathy practical. -- Brian Eno, Longplayer, April 30, 2013
Eventually we'll lose the pixel, as it fades beyond our bulky vision. And that will be a tremendous shame. -- Cennydd Bowles, Twitter, February 1, 2012.
In the beginning was the word:
and by mutations came the gene. -- Michael A. Arbib, in Towards a Theoretical Biology (1969), Vol 2, p. 323.
The question is not Will you succeed? but rather, Will you matter? - Seth Godin, Creative Mornings, May 10, 2013.
For years I've heard apocryphal stories of knowledge workers in Silicon Valley who outsourced their job themselves. They had permission to work at home, but in fact outsourced their work to cheap Chinese or Indian labor. The Valley worker would work only a few hours per day overseeing his help, and goof off the rest. The Asian workers under him were delighted with a real job that paid well for them -- but only a fraction of what the CA guy got. And the CA guy's boss was delighted with the great work he was getting. It was an ingenious racket! Win, win, win for 3 sides; everybody happy. But all this shadow outsourcing was only rumors as far as I could tell.
Now comes some hard evidence from a Verizon security team that at least one person was really pulling off this sweet scam. From this article from Verizon:
"As it turns out, Bob had simply outsourced his own job to a Chinese consulting firm. Bob spent less that one fifth of his six-figure salary for a Chinese firm to do his job for him. Authentication was no problem, he physically FedExed his RSA token to China so that the third-party contractor could log-in under his credentials during the workday. It would appear that he was working an average 9 to 5 work day. Investigators checked his web browsing history, and that told the whole story.
A typical ‘work day’ for Bob looked like this:
9:00 a.m. – Arrive and surf Reddit for a couple of hours. Watch cat videos
11:30 a.m. – Take lunch
1:00 p.m. – Ebay time.
2:00 – ish p.m Facebook updates – LinkedIn
4:30 p.m. – End of day update e-mail to management.
5:00 p.m. – Go home
Evidence even suggested he had the same scam going across multiple companies in the area. All told, it looked like he earned several hundred thousand dollars a year, and only had to pay the Chinese consulting firm about fifty grand annually. The best part? Investigators had the opportunity to read through his performance reviews while working alongside HR. For the last several years in a row he received excellent remarks. His code was clean, well written, and submitted in a timely fashion. Quarter after quarter, his performance review noted him as the best developer in the building."
Scott Adams was head by a whole decade. From Dilbert, August 3, 2003
Nobody reads big factual books anymore. Who has time? With a lot of effort you can get folks to buy big factual books, but they don't usually read them. They sit on the "to read" shelf once they get home. Or pile up in the inbox on an ebook reader. I know. As an author I know how many of my purchased books are unread. But while it is nice that people buy books, I feel a failure as an author if the bought (or borrowed) books are not read.
A couple of years ago I had an idea for increasing readership of books. I'll pay you to read my book! I had a clever way to use ebook readers to accomplish this. I mentioned the system to many book lovers and authors, and one of them whom made his living patenting ideas suggest my idea was patentable.
I took some initial steps in that direction, but realized very quickly that getting a patent is just like getting a child - you now have to tend it, protect it, feed it, and develop it. It did not solve anything; it only created new things to solve. I have too many other things to do than babysit or try to peddle a patent, so I am publishing the idea here. It may be that this idea is not patentable at all, or even already patented (I never got that far to look), or maybe it is a lousy idea that can't be implemented. In any case, here it is.
I think it's a great idea. I'd like to have this option as a reader, as well as an author and publisher. I hope someone does this.
A MODEL FOR PAYING READERS TO READ BOOKS
By Kevin Kelly
June 1, 2012
Proposal for a patent: The idea is to pay people to read a book.
Readers would purchase an e-book for a fixed amount, say $5. They would use an e-book reader to read the digital book. The e-book reader would contain software that would track their reading usage – how long it took on average to turn a page; how often they highlighted a passage; how many pages activated at one sitting, etc. Amazon Kindles today already track bookmark usage patterns which they relay back to Amazon on via its wireless Whispernet. Using a database of known reading patterns from verified readers the software would compare a purchaser’s reading behavior to these known reading patterns and establish whether or not a purchaser is really reading the book. If the behavior patterns exceeded the threshold level – say 95% of pages turned at the right speed -- then the e-book device would initiate a predetermined payment to the purchaser.
If a reader is given credit for reading the book, then he/she would earn more than they paid for the book. For example, if they paid $5 for the ebook, they would get back $6, thus earning $1 for reading the book. Not only did the book not cost them anything, but they made money reading the book. If they read it.
The Publisher would pay the difference from the potentially greater sales revenue this arrangement would induce. Greater numbers of readers would purchase the book initially in the hope and expectation that they would finish the book and be reimbursed greater than the amount they paid. In their mind, entering into a purchase is an “easy buy” because they calculate “it will cost them nothing.” Or maybe even make them money.
However the likelier outcome is that while many more customers buy the book, fewer actually read it completely. This follows the known pattern that most bought books are not read. So the actual payout for success will likely be less than the actual gain in sales, resulting in a net gain to the Publisher for this deal. So if, for example, the Publisher sold 10 books that were unread for every 1 book that was read, the revenue would be $50-$6 = $44. If this offer increased ordinary sales by for example 40%, there would be a net increase in revenue from $35 to $44 or $9, or 25% additional profit for this model.
There is satisfaction for both parties in either outcome. If the purchaser buys the book, but does not read it in full, he/she paid the acceptable price, and still owns the book. The Publisher keeps the full amount. If the purchaser finishes reading the book, they still have the book, but also earned money doing so. The publisher loses only a small amount on the sale, which can be offset from greater sales to others.
The payout ratio can be adjusted depending on the price of the ebook, or the category of content. This mechanism requires no new hardware than what exists today, and better hardware in the future – such as eye tracking technology -- will only make it more practical to evaluate whether someone has read a book. This can be accomplished primarily in software. Of course, it should be an opt in choice, and engaged with a purchaser’s permission only.
Cops, emergency room doctors, and insurance actuarists all know it. They realize how many crazy impossible things happen all the time. A burglar gets stuck in a chimney, a truck driver in a head on collision is thrown out the front window and lands on his feet, walks away; a wild antelope knocks a man off his bike; a candle at a wedding sets the bride's hair on fire; someone fishing off a backyard dock catches a huge man-size shark. In former times these unlikely events would be private, known only as rumors, stories a friend of a friend told, easily doubted and not really believed.
But today they are on YouTube, and they fill our vision. You can see them yourself. Each of these weird freakish events just mentioned can be found on YouTube, seen by millions.
The improbable consists of more than just accidents. The internets are also brimming with improbable feats of performance -- someone who can run up a side of a building, or slide down suburban roof tops, or stack up cups faster than you can blink. Not just humans, but pets open doors, ride scooters, and paint pictures. The improbable also includes extraordinary levels of super human achievements: people doing astonishing memory tasks, or imitating all the accents of the world. In these extreme feats we see the super in humans.
Every minute a new impossible thing is uploaded to the internet and that improbable event becomes just one of hundreds of extraordinary events that we'll see or hear about today. The internet is like a lens which focuses the extraordinary into a beam, and that beam has become our illumination. It compresses the unlikely into a small viewable band of everyday-ness. As long as we are online - which is almost all day many days -- we are illuminated by this compressed extraordinariness. It is the new normal.
That light of super-ness changes us. We no longer want mere presentations, we want the best, greatest, the most extraordinary presenters alive, as in TED. We don't want to watch people playing games, we want to watch the highlights of the highlights, the most amazing moves, catches, runs, shots, and kicks, each one more remarkable and improbable than the other.
We are also exposed to the greatest range of human experience, the heaviest person, shortest midgets, longest mustache -- the entire universe of superlatives! Superlatives were once rare -- by definition -- but now we see multiple videos of superlatives all day long, and they seem normal. Humans have always treasured drawings and photos of the weird extremes of humanity (early National Geographics), but there is an intimacy about watching these extremities on video on our phones while we wait at the dentist. They are now much realer, and they fill our heads.
I see no end to this dynamic. Cameras are becoming ubiquitous, so as our collective recorded life expands, we'll accumulate thousands of videos showing people being struck by lightening. When we all wear tiny cameras all the time, then the most improbable accident, the most superlative achievement, the most extreme actions of anyone alive will be recorded and shared around the world in real time. Soon only the most extraordinary moments of our 6 billion citizens will fill our streams. So henceforth rather than be surrounded by ordinariness we'll float in extraordinariness.
It's one thing to hear a story about someone getting struck by lightening, but it feels different seeing a video of it. I have a hunch that seeing "facts" on video makes them seem realer to us than either reading, hearing, or seeing stills about them. And then there are always more than one. That's the thing, you can start with the most unlikely event or achievement, and then watch a series of this unlikeliness for hours. Over time this extremism accumulates. When the improbable dominates the archive to the point that it seems as if the library contains ONLY the impossible, then these improbabilities don't feel as improbable.
I think there is already evidence that this ocean of extraordinariness is inspiring, galvanizing, prompting, daring ordinary folks to try something extraordinary. At the same time, superlative epic failures are foremost as well. We are confronted by the stupidest people in the world as well, doing the dumbest things imaginable. So we see the extremes. In some respects this is making us a world of Ripley-Believe-it-or-Not-ers, or it may place us in a universe of nothing more than tiny, petty, obscure Guinness World Record holders. Everyone is a world record something for 15 minutes. In every life there is probably at least one moment that is freakish.
To the uninformed, the increased prevalence of improbable events will make it easier to believe in impossible things. A steady diet of coincidences makes it easy to believe they are more than just coincidences, right? But to the informed, a slew of improbably events make it clear that the unlikely sequence, the outlier, the black swan event, must be part of the story. After all, in 100 flips of the penny you are just as likely to get 100 heads in a row as any other sequence. But in both cases, when improbable events dominate our view -- when we see an internet river streaming nothing but 100 heads in a row -- it makes the improbable more intimate, nearer.
I am unsure of what this intimacy with the improbable does to us. What happens if we spend all day exposed to the extremes of life, to a steady stream of the most improbable events, and try to run ordinary lives in a background hum of superlatives? What happens when the extraordinary becomes ordinary?
The good news may be that it cultivates in us an expanded sense of what is possible for humans, and for human life, and so expand us. The bad news may be that this insatiable appetite for supe-superlatives leads to dissatisfaction with anything ordinary.
I don't know, but if anyone is aware of research on this effect, I'd like to know about it.
Clay Shirky argues that the least creative act is making a LOL-cat, but that even making a LOL-cat is better than making nothing, and so the internet of LOL_cats is a net good compared to say a world of make-nothing consumption. One could make a similar argument that the least distinctive human achievement is a bad accident captured on YouTube, but that moment of uniqueness is better than no uniqueness at all, and so a world of YouTube extremities, improbabilities and superlatives is a net good.
New media technologies often cause an allergic reaction when they first appear. We may find them painful before we find them indispensable.
I watched the movie The Hobbit. Twice. First I saw it in its "standard" mode. A day later I returned to see The Hobbit in 3D at a high frame rate of 48 frames per second, called HFR. HFR is a cinematic hi-tech that promises greater realism. It was amazingly real. And disturbing at first.
Because 48 frames per second is just above the threshold that a human eye/brain can detect changes, the projected picture seems startling whole and "smooth," as if it were uninterrupted reality.
I was surprised though that the movie in 48HFR looked so different. (The 3D did not have an effect.) Even though both formats were shot with the same cameras and lighting, they appeared to be lighted and shot on different sets. The HFR lighting in the HFR movies seemed harsh, brighter, and more noticeable. The emotional effect of HFR was disturbing for the first 10 minutes. And perplexing -- because the only thing different in the two movies was that one was displayed in the 48 frames it was shot at, and the other was computationally reduced down to the normal 24 frames per second. Why would the frame rate distort the lighting and the emotion?
I was not the only one who noticed. The HFR version of the Hobbit -- the first commercial movie to be released in this new format -- stirred up howls from the critics. Very few filmish people liked what they saw. For most it was painful. The reviewers struggle to express what HFR looked like and why:
"Audiences looking for a rich, textured, cinematic experience will be put off and disconcerted by an image that looks more like an advanced version of high definition television than a traditional movie." - Kenneth Turan, L.A. Times
"One thing The Hobbit is not is a celebration of the beauty of film. A celebration of video-game realms, perhaps." - Steven Rea, Philadelphia Inquirer
All kinds of ailments were ascribed to it, including hard of hearing:
"I can honestly say I had a harder time hearing some of the dialogue in the 3D HFR version than in the 2D... It was like watching really, really, really atrociously bad state run TV show......High frame rates belong on bad TV shows and perhaps sports." -- Vincent Laforet, Gizmodo
My first impression, too, was that HFR reminded me of my first look at video. That theme was repeated by many. But what is it about video that we didn't like at first?
"Those high frame rates are great for reality television, and we accept them because we know these things are real. We're always going to associate high frame rates with something that's not acted, and our brains are always going to associate low frame rates with something that is not. If they're seeing something artificial and it starts to approach something looking real, they begin to inherently psychologically reject it." -- James Kerwin, Movieline
"Instead of the romantic illusion of film, we see the sets and makeup for what they are. The effect is like stepping into a diorama alongside the actors, which is not as pleasant as it might sound... Never bet against innovation, but this debut does not promise great things to come." - C. Covert, Minneapolis Star Tribune
What's going on here? I really struggled to figure out what was happening to my own eyes and my perception that something as simple as changing a frame rate would trigger such drastic re-evaluations of cinema?
I researched on the web without much satisfaction, since few people had actually seen 48HFR. I asked a few friends in the advance cinema industry and got unsatisfactory answers. Then I was at a party with a friend from Pixar and asked him my question: why does HFR change the appearance of the lighting? He also could not tell me, but the man next to him could. He was John Knoll, the co-creator of Photoshop and the Oscar-winning Visual Effects Director for a string of technically innovative Hollywood blockbusters as long as my arm. He knew. I'll put his answer into my own words:
Imagine you had the lucky privilege to be invited by Peter Jackson onto the set of the Hobbit. You were standing right off to the side while they filmed Bilbo Baggins in his cute hobbit home. Standing there on the set you would notice the incredibly harsh lighting pouring down on Bilbo's figure. It would be obviously fake. And you would see the makeup on Bilbo's in the harsh light. The text-book reason filmmakers add makeup to actors and then light them brightly is that film is not as sensitive as the human eye, so these aids compensated for the film's deficiencies of being insensitive to low light and needing the extra contrast provided by makeup. These fakeries were added to "correct" film so it seemed more like we saw. But now that 48HFR and hi-definition video mimic our eyes better, it's like we are standing on the set, and we suddenly notice the artifice of the previously needed aids. When we view the video in "standard" format, the lighting correctly compensates, but when we see it in high frame rate, we see the artifice of the lighting as if we were standing there on the set.
Knoll asked me, "You probably only noticed the odd lighting in the interior scenes, not in the outdoors scenes, right?" And once he asked it this way, I realized he was right. The scenes in the HFR version that seemed odd were all inside. The landscape scenes were stunning in a good way. "That's because they didn't have to light the outside; the real lighting is all that was needed, so nothing seemed amiss."
Now some of the complaints make sense:
"While striking in some of the big spectacle scenes, predominantly looked like ultra-vivid television video, paradoxically lending the film an oddly theatrical look, especially in the cramped interior scenes in Bilbo Baggins' home." - Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter
"Instead of feeling like we've been transported to Middle-earth, it's as if we've dropped in on Jackson's New Zealand set..." - Scott Foundas, Village Voice
As digital recording continues to increase in resolution, fluidity, and sensitivity, this verisimilitude with "being in the set" will also increase. John Knoll wisely predicts that his industry will quickly learn that they have to abandoned the old style of lighting, and also increase the realism in such things as props and special effects. "I liked the HFR version," he said. "We are going to see a lot more of it."
But that is not what the filmish people want. They like the less sensitive, blurry style of film better. One critic even suggested that directors should use soft-focus filters to debase the clarity of the new digital recordings and restore the "painterly" aspect of classic films.
"Over all, though, the shiny hyper-reality robs Middle-earth of some of its misty, archaic atmosphere, turning it into a gaudy high-definition tourist attraction." - A.O.Scott, The New York Times
"At 48 frames, the film is more true to life, sometimes feeling so intimate it's like watching live theater. That close-up perspective also brings out the fakery of movies. Sets and props look like phony stage trappings at times, the crystal pictures bleaching away the painterly quality of traditional film. Like the warmth of analog vinyl vs. the precision of digital music, the dreaminess of traditional film vs. the crispness of high-frame rates will be a matter of taste." - Associated Press
I told Knoll that these complaints about the sterility of the new digital format reminded me of the arguments against CD music albums. Digital was "too clear" "too clinical" not "warm and fuzzy enough" according to audiophiles. CDs missed the musical ambiance, the painterly soul of a song. The critics were not going to buy CDs and the labels would have to pry their beloved analog vinyl albums from their dead hands. Of course, for average music fans, the clear hiss-free quality of CDs were soon perceived as much superior, particularly as the "frame" rate of the digital sampling increased past the point of most ear's perception. "That's exactly what it is like, " exclaimed Knoll. HFR is the CD of movies right now.
This pattern of initial irritation followed by embrace has been found in other media introductions. When the realism of photography first appeared, artists favored soft lenses to keep the photos "painterly." Drastic sharpness was startling, "unnatural" to art, and looked odd. Over time of course, the sharp details became the main point of photography.
Color TV, technicolor, and Kodakchrome all had its detractors who found a purity and monumentalism in black and white. Color was all too gaudy, distracting and touristy, not unlike the criticism of HFR now.
I predict that on each step towards increased realism new media take, there will be those who find the step physically painful. It will hurt their eyes, ears, nose, touch,and peace of mind. It will seem unnecessarily raw, ruining the art behind the work. This disturbance is not entirely in our heads, because we train our bodies to react to media, and when it changes, it FEELS different. There may be moments of uncomfort.
But in the end we tend to crave the realism -- when it has been mastered -- and will make our home in it.
The scratchy sound of vinyl, the soft focus of a Kodak Brownie, and the flickers of a 24 frame per second movie will all be used to time-stamp a work of nostalgia.