The Djinni and the Bottle

Person of Interest Logo S02

Person of Interest Logo S02

 

When the shows creators were quizzed about the reveal of PRISM (IRL) they mentioned that they were surprised by the relative non-reaction of the general populace here in the US.  The idea that citizens might not actually care all that much about the Govt. being able to play the ultimate peeping tom was not what they had expected.  Within the show, however, they finally seem to have found their new footing.

See, there is this psychological barrier, this “djinni in a bottle” effect that we have with regards to technology and scientific effort.  You often have several groups all pushing towards the same goal, be it the splitting of the atom, the development of wearable technologies, the creation of a shampoo that doesn’t sting when it gets in your eyes, and they can often run neck and neck when it comes to approaching the finish line.  Oftentimes everyone hits a wall and the research just spins its wheels for a few years (or decades).

But eventually someone breaks through.  Sometimes it’s a newcomer with deep pockets backing a new team (like Google with Glass) sometimes it’s a team that’s been working on solving the problem for years and a piece of new research or tech kicks them over into the winner’s circle. But in almost all cases, once that barrier has been broken, once one person or team has made the discovery, more follow, and usually swiftly.

But the tragic thing is that oftentimes, the group that makes the discovery, who breaks the barrier first is not the group that survives.  They are not the ones who figure out how to use the technology, or turn it into a viable product.  Sometimes they get crushed and bought up by a company that played it safer, or a group that came late to the party, sometimes the discovery sits idle for years.

In POI, that djinni is now well and truly out of the bottle.  Rather than trying to recruit Finch and his team, the Desima group has simply gone around, acquiring a parallel technology and preparing to crush (in a very literal fashion) any and all competitors.  We are looking at the difference in mindset between Finch (who proposed the Machine as a Shield, as a defensive tool) and Desima (who is interested only in the business of running the world).  Historically, IRL, the groups who are more business minded generally come out the winners.  I’m looking forward (perhaps apprehensively) to seeing how POI’s creators resolve this conflict in their own (already eerily predictive) created universe.

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A last note, y’all may have noticed that I keep the comments closed on this blog.  I am, however, always willing to talk about any of these posts, so come find me on G+ if you like.  The blog is perpetually fighting SPAM posts (even with CAPTCHA and other safeguards in place) so I keep the comments closed.

Short forms

You know what I miss? Novellas. Or, what we now think of as novellas. I used to own stacks of books than ran 150-200 pages long. They were serials, like the Travis McGee novels I still have locked away in my storage unit, or classics like The Scarlet Pimpernel and it’s many sequels.

Recently, only a very few writers are permitted the novella form. I think the last one I saw as a standalone was Patricia McKillip’s “The Changeling Sea” back in the late 80′s.

They still exist, but usually in that odd flip-flop format, you know where they print one novella by a famous name author in the front half of the book, then you flip the book OVER and rotate it and voila! There is a completely different novella on the back.

But now, with the ebook coming to the fore, I’m wondering if page-count will be less important. I mean, open a half a dozen books in your average Barnes and Noble and you will find different typesetting, different formatting, a different number of words per page, just so that the book can hit a satisfying weight and feel in the hand. Sometimes you run across a book (looking at YOU, “Monuments Men” where the type is small and crowded, or you run into a book (A few recent Patterson novels have this) where the font is large and the kerning stretched as far as you can take it before the words start to fall apart.

But without the page count, without the need to make a reader feel like they are getting $8 work of paper and ink, what counts is a satisfying story. What counts is that, at the end of the work, the reader feels they paid just the right amount (or maybe even that they got a bargain).

A couple of publishers are starting to take advantage of this new opportunity. Tor, for example, publishes exclusive shorts from it’s bestselling authors. Some are short stories, some are novellas, all are works too short to fit into the trade paperback format, but all are works equally worthy of sale.

Shared Pain and Flappy Bird

You’ve all played Flappy Bird by now, right?

Even any number of the eighty bajzillion clones out there can give you a similarly frustrating experience, so grab one and give it a try.

I’m serious.

Why?  Here’s the thing,  The Flappy Bird phenomenon was never about  the game itself.  It was/is an unbelievably difficult game to master.  7/10 times you die.  In fact, the top scores for this game, where you try to fly a gravitationally-challenged bird through a series of obstacles are probably in the mid-50′s.

Flappy Bird’s popularity is about a point of commonality between two people.

Have you ever put a group of people together from wildly different professions?  It’s hard to get the conversations rolling, right?  You have to chat and question and eventually find something people have in common.  Getting your *ss kicked by Flappy Bird, that’s a point from which you can start a conversation with almost anybody.  Even if you haven’t played it, you’ve heard of it, and if you have it on your device of choice, you are usually willing to drag somebody new into the Flappy Bird fold.

It’s a silly little game, but you know, we *all* suck at Flappy Bird.  And that gives us something to talk about.

 

Fallon channels Steve Irwin

He was a bit of a phenomenon, Steve Irwin.  Back when Crocodile Hunter was a big thing on Discovery Channel, there was a slew of other “animal capture” shows that cropped up around the same time, but none of them quite managed to hit the same tone as the crazy and brilliant Irwin and none of them achieved quite the same level of virality.

Jump forward a few years and we have two similar shows airing on Discovery Channel at the same time (Survivorman and Man vs Wild).  Both shows loosely based around the idea of “drop some well-trained b*stard into the wilderness in his underpants and see what he does”.  Both were good shows, but one became very popular, and the other was arguably a “better” show content-wise, but still never quite took off.

So what was it about the main figure in the shows that went viral?  They weren’t “better” shows, but they managed to strike some chord that made audiences come back over and over again.

In both (and many cases since) the answer seems to be enjoyment.  This “fun” factor, in fact, is changing the way that creatives of *all* stripes interact with their audiences. Because the thing we want to see most (even more than make-ups and break-ups and relationship trainwrecks and bad dye-jobs or busted lips) is that the content creators *love* their job.  It’s been leaking into the internet more and more these days, Chuck used to produces a whole series of behind the scenes livestreams of the actors mucking about behind the scenes.  Tom Hiddleston and Zachari Levy had an impromptu dance-off that made it to You Tube (both of whom grok their fanbase, as has been shown by the types of personal content they put out there), Adam Baldwin is either running a right-wing trollbot to handle his twitter feed or he’s genuinely having fun pissing off the internet.  Maureen Johnson has the most delightful twitter exchanges with her fanbase.  Ellen passed the HAT and made good on her promise for pizza (though truthfully, LADIES, we need more of this stuff from you all) as well as posting the selfie-seen-round-the-world.  And this goes for ALL content creators, not just actors, it applies to writers and you-tubers and painters and VFX artists and that guy who makes dragons out of old car-parts.

And now we have Jimmy Fallon taking over the Tonight Show and giving us this:

How can you not be an adoring fan of someone what is having the TIME OF THEIR LIFE doing some wacky send-up of their own (now Academy award winning) work?  I think the younger generation of actors has now picked up on this and are making it work.  As a bonus, a bunch of the more “old-school” pros like Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen (Kevin Spacey is an up and coming example, just you watch) are starting to give us a glimpse behind the curtain as well.

Can these things be faked?  Yes, but people are perceptive.  We can tell when that glimpse through the keyhole is staged (we may choose to ignore it, but we still know it and it will color our perceptions going forward) and the ones who fake it don’t seem to be able to maintain it as long as those who are just having a ball.

 

 

 

 

The Problem is the People

Today, Mt. Gox, reportedly the largest and best trusted of the Bitcoin exchanges, vanished entirely.  They didn’t just halt trading, they took everything offline and the name on the url seems to have been sold.

http://www.coindesk.com/mt-gox-loses-340-million-bitcoin-rumoured-insolvent/

And over 340 million has gone missing along the way.  Needless to say, the price of Bitcoin has tumbled (don’t expect that to last, however) and a lot of people seem to be rethinking their decision to jump on the Bitcoin Bandwagon.

The problem, however, isn’t with Bitcoin itself.  The virtual currency is itself sound, still (as far as I know) un-hackable and non-counterfeit-able.  The problem is with the exchanges and the techniques used to store, trade and sell Bitcoin.  Much of it is probably due to the speed with which Bitcoin has gone viral.  You’re seeing it mentioned in TV shows (even ones targeted at older ladies with cats, like Castle) on the news, the cat is out of the bag and what previously was a niche trading market is now going the way that baseball cards, comic books and that creepy old vase you found in great-auntie Aida’s attic.  It’s gone insane.  Millions of dollars are being shoveled into Bitcoin exchanges and (for better or worse) the common-man investors are entering the market, bringing with them a limited understanding of how Bitcoin works.  The exchanges that might have been able to slowly upgrade themselves and their security to accommodate a slow, reasonable adoption of Bitcoin as a currency, are now beset from both sides, from buyers clamoring to sign up and from malicious opportunists looking to exploit the flaws in the system.

This type of aggressive exploitation is not unique to Bitcoin either.  A quick stroll through the history of currency and exchanges in general will reveal that we are just seeing updated versions of the kinds of scams and hacks that have plagued every new transnational method.  These kinds of problems have been solved before, and when the Bitcoin exchanges solve their generations issues, then the currency will be ready for global adoption.