15 Seconds

Monday, September 25, 2006


There's a family with kids. Do the kids first and make the mother watch. Shoot them one at a time, and... and tell her you'll stop if she can hold back her tears. I owe her that.

I saw an interesting movie on Sunday night called "Dogville". It stars Nicole Kidman as Grace, a girl on the run from gangsters, with no-one to turn to but the 15 residents of Dogville. The residents of Dogville reluctantly agree, and soon grow fond of Grace. However, their friendship turns to abuse as the search for Grace instensifies, and the "quid pro quo" demanded by the townsfolk becomes unbearable.

It's an interesting exploration of moral responsibility: should we hold people accountable for their actions, or forgive them as being understandable in their unfortunate circumstances? One interesting idea was that it is arrogant to forgive a person's actions as the unavoidable result of their human natures: in so doing, you are holding yourself up to a higher standard of moral conduct than you believe other people are capable of. This assumes, of course, that you don't behave just as badly yourself.

It's a tempting line of argument, but outrage at other people's behaviour is not something in short supply these days, in both political and personal issues. Although perhaps the delightfully interconnected suite of middle-east conflicts would come a lot closer to being resolved if generations of people stopped feeling justified in being violently angry (even though they do have good reasons to feel that way).


Sunday, September 24, 2006

"Somebody" picking up where salad fingers left off

"Somebody" is the name of one of the people posting animations at Albino Blacksheep. It's delightfully twisted and I haven't felt this bad about enjoying animation since I last saw salad fingers. Keep your grandma and small children away. And don't watch before bedtime.

And for those of you who haven't seen Salad Fingers, here are all 7 episodes. Beginning innocently enough as the charming tale of a strange green man with a rust fetish, it quickly grows into a creative junkheap of too much bad acid. But in a good way.

"Marjorie Stewart Baxter, you taste like sunshine dust!"

Which do you like better?

likebetter.com is an interesting toy. It presents you with two photos; you have to choose the one you like better. After a few iterations of this, it guesses things about your personality.

It discovered the following things about me; not all of them are correct but it's still impressive!
  • I'm a guy
  • I'm generally a fearless person
  • I'm a night person
  • My friends would describe me as not very emotional
  • I'm married
  • I live in an urban environment
  • My desk is a complete mess right now
  • I'm not a very religious person
  • I'm not a prankster
  • If I had the choice between a fast car that was unreliable, and a slow car that always runs, I'd choose the reliable car.
  • I'm right-handed.
  • When in a group, I tend to take the lead.
  • I often employ logic in my decision-making.
  • I'm more introverted.
likebetter.com is a classic example of using statistical techniques to give the illusion of deep understanding of very human traits. It's my belief that a lot of the problems in modern media - issues of authenticity, reliability and informaton overload - will need to be managed with complex algorithms working across the whole body of human express. Likebetter.com makes me optimistic that this will be an achievable goal, one day.

It's also a little scary - what does it say about our own humanity - are we merely complex statistical filters?

The other side of likebetter.com lets you test how well you know people, guessing which photos hey would have liked better http://likebetter.com/doyouknow/sminnee.

Response to: "Poison of parachute pants"

I considered going on a rant about how you couldn't really moniter standards of research and capability to any greater extent when the world of journalism was limited to print, and that internet access means that people can do background checks of their own if they bother to take two googling seconds.
The argument that "readers can do their own background research if they want to" is misleading because very few readers will actually wind up doing this. And while you might say that the fruit of laziness is ignorance, I'm more interested at the effects of blogging on society as a whole, not specific individuals. You have to accept humanity's weaknesses, such as laziness.

It's true that most "traditional" news media is biased, and the level of research is variable, but at least it was professional. Generally, when people spend most of their waking hours at a task, they at least try to take it seriously. Blogging, for the most part, is an amateur activity and there are very few conseqences to posting without research. Indeed, off-the-cuff, unrefined posts are applauded as being the natural use of the medium.

The rise of the "professional blogger" is interesting but ultimately a straw-man in this argument. Most (but not all) blogs present opinionated, unresearched viewpoints. I admit that this post is no exception. And, while good blogs tend to get larger readerships, most of what gets read is equally opinionated and unresearched. Overall, the quality of research and objectivity has significantly less than traditional media. This isn't too big a deal when blogs are an entertaining side-dish in your media line-up, but there is a very real chance that this new medium will come to dominate.
That this line here "Technology is allowing people to have access to things where before it required very great skill" vexes me on several levels because he seems to be seeing this as such a negative thing and i disagree that 'skill' was the barrier previously.
It's certainly defeatist to reject something new because of what is allows. For example, the music industry could only save itself by embracing file sharing, in the form of iTunes Music Store and its cousins. On the other hand, it's foolish to ignore the weaknesses that a new medium has, or the threats that it introduces.

The question, then, is this: how can we give people easy access to "professional" media through the new medium? My favourite solution would be a technical one: it should be feasible to develop automatied filters to assess the reputation of a piece of content. Google did this very successfully to the internet as a whole when it startd in 1998, using links as "votes" in a democratic selection of the most reputable content.

Current attempts at solutions include reddit, digg, and technorati. The results are mixed. What you tend to get is a pastiche of the ridiculous and the serious: a craigslist post offering PC repair services in exchange for boob fondling alongside news that Osama Bin Laden is dead. A triumph of news-as-entertainment. The downfall of overly simplistic democratic models is that this is exactly what most people want -- or at least, most people who are using these systems.

This is a step up from "the hegemony" giving us what they want us to have, but we've got a long way to go.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Round #2


15 seconds is back for round #2. Let's see if I don't run out of things to say this time.