Writing for The New Yorker, Inkoo Kang summarizes why the film industry seems in precipitous decline lately:
To survey the film and television industry today is to witness multiple existential crises. Many of them point to a larger trend: of Hollywood divesting from its own future, making dodgy decisions in the short term that whittle down its chances of long-term survival. Corporations are no strangers to fiscal myopia, but the ways in which the studios are currently squeezing out profits—nickel-and-diming much of their labor force to the edge of financial precarity while branding their output with the hallmarks of creative bankruptcy—indicate a shocking new carelessness. Signs of this slow suicide are all around: the narrowing pipelines for rising talent, the overreliance on nostalgia projects, and a general negligence in cultivating enthusiasm for its products. Writers and actors have walked out to demand fairer wages and a more equitable system, but they’ve also argued, quite persuasively, that they’re the ones trying to insure the industry’s sustainability. Meanwhile, studio executives—themselves subject to C-suite musical chairs—seem disinterested in steering Hollywood away from the iceberg. This is perhaps because the landscape is shifting (and facets of it are shrinking) so rapidly that they themselves have little idea of what the future of Hollywood might look like.
Some of the first Cassandras to draw the public’s attention to this slo-mo self-sabotage were the striking writers. W.G.A. members have expressed alarm not only that their profession has become devalued and unstable through low pay but also that the paths that allowed newcomers to eventually become showrunners, which have existed for the past half century, have been eroded by the studios.
The movies may be in grimmer shape. The industry’s pursuit of I.P. at the expense of originality has all but trained younger audiences not to expect novelty or surprise at the multiplex, assuming that they’re going to the theatre at all. Hollywood has never been known for overestimating the audience’s intelligence, but it’s hard not to wonder how it is supposed to be inculcating a love of cinema in children—that is, future moviegoers—when the splashiest films on offer are explicitly buckets of regurgitation.
“Barbie,” meanwhile, saw the director Greta Gerwig infuse the half-century-old blond blank slate with her own idiosyncratic anxieties to produce a Zeitgeist-capturing film with an unmistakable authorial imprimatur. But Hollywood’s ignoring the obvious takeaway, which is that viewers appreciate novelty. Instead, Mattel has announced that it will follow up “Barbie” by raiding its toy closet for more I.P., and has put dozens of projects based on its products into development.
Last week I finished, at some personal cost, a slog through a streaming show I had hoped to like: the third season of Star Trek: Picard. I loved Star Trek as a kid, and I thought most of TNG worked. (TNG may look clunky today, but the original series looked clunky in 1988, just as today's ultra-low-gamma, poorly-mixed film will look horrible in 2050.)
I note this because it disappointed me for all the reasons that the film industry disappoints everyone today: poor writing, poor storytelling, yet one more whack at the empty Star Trek piñata, and poor writing. I imagine ST:P came out of the dreaded mini-rooms from writers who got paid little and probably threw out their AA pins when they saw the final product.
Every so often, an industry blows up. Film won't disappear in my lifetime: people have watched visual stories since they first sat around campfires a hundred millennia ago. But we may have reached the end of the amazing and original movies and films that started with Life Goes On and Babylon 5 in the 1990s through Battlestar Galactica and Deadwood in the 2000s. Go watch a 1970s sitcom and weep.
Not Just Bikes shows the difference between places and non-places in ten short minutes:
Fortunately the part of Chicago where I live has a sense of place that he'd recognize, but you have to cross a stroad (Ashland to the east, Western to the west, Irving Park to the south, Peterson to the north) to get to another place like this.
I also can't help but think that a new culture will arise in a couple of millennia that will look at "the great American roads" as something to emulate. Maybe the Romans had culture critics arguing against expanding the 8-lane highways running through their cities too?
I had a rehearsal for next week's Mozart performances this morning, then I walked the dog and went to the grocery store. Somehow it's almost 6pm now.
One quick thing: Good Omens Season 2 hit yesterday, and I watched the first three episodes. In episode 2, starting at 22:35, David Tennant has a scene with someone he knows really well. And in episode 3, at 28:33, look carefully at the manufacturer's name in the close-up; it's a lovely nod to Sir Terry.
I might not post tomorrow as I'm taking a day trip to Michigan. Enjoy the weekend.
I'm still working on the feature I described in my last post. So some articles have stacked up for me to read:
And while I read these articles and write this code, outside my window the dewpoint has hit 25°C, making the 28°C air feel like it's 41°C. And poor Cassie only has sweat glands between her toes. We're going to delay her dinnertime walk a bit.
I finished the main part of the feature I've been fighting since last week, only to discover that a sub-feature needs refactoring as well. Basically, before implementing this feature, the user would recalculate their model every time they changed its parameters. Calculation usually takes 5-10 seconds for most models, but (a) for some models it takes up to a minutes and (b) the calculation engine uses a first-in-first-out queue when calculating. But the calculation engine caches on a most-recently-used basis (meaning it flushes the least-recently-used calculations when it needs to free up space), so generally, it's just a quick call to retrieve the same results.
In actual user testing, we realized that users often want to go back to a previously-used set of parameters. The calculations for any set of parameters should always return the same results, so in theory this isn't a problem. But we only stored the URL of the most recent calculation for any model. So to get previous results, the users had to recalculate the model with the previous parameters.
I've spent the last 5 days refactoring all of that so that all calculation results are stored, even incomplete ones, and users can simply flip between them with a drop-down. Only, there's a second step, whereby the API takes the results and transforms them into a different view. That calculation is very quick—just a few milliseconds—but also subject to the queuing mechanism, and requiring a second call from our UI to our API, and then from our API to the calculation engine, after our API looks up the results of step 1.
All of this has pushed our sprint out a week, as well as made me very cross with myself for not anticipating this workflow a year ago when we built our current UI.
Anyway, it's past 4pm on a Friday and I will probably spend another 90 minutes on this tonight to get it to a point where I can finish it Monday morning without having to rethink the whole API. Good Omens II will just have to wait.
I'm just over a week from performing with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at Ravinia in Mozart's Die Zauberflöte, so as I try to finish a feature that turned out to be a lot bigger than I thought, I'm hearing opera choruses in my head. Between rehearsals and actual work, I might never get to read any of these items:
Finally, New York City (and other urban areas) are experiencing a post-pandemic dog-poop renaissance. Watch where you step!
And now, I will put on "Dank sei dir Osiris" one more time.
The Irish Times reported this morning that the controversial singer and author of a hunk of my university-days soundtrack died unexpectedly yesterday:
In a statement, the singer’s family said: “It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of our beloved Sinéad. Her family and friends are devastated and have requested privacy at this very difficult time.”
Ms O’Connor is survived by her three children. Her son, Shane, died last year aged 17.
Ms O’Connor converted to Islam in 2018 and changed her name to Shuhada Sadaqat, though continued to perform under the name Sinead O’Connor. In 2021, Ms O’Connor released a memoir Rememberings, while last year a film on her life was directed by Kathryn Ferguson.
She will be missed.
Back in 1990, journalist James Burke produced a documentary for PBS called "After the Warming," which looked back from an imagined 2050 to explain how and why palm trees came to grow in Boston. The framing device he used was to set the documentary as an explainer for an important report on the Atlantic thermohaline circulation study due to be released during the broadcast. I won't spoil it for you except to say as pessimistic as Burke was in 1990, he may have been, in fact, overly optimistic:
The Atlantic Ocean’s sensitive circulation system has become slower and less resilient, according to a new analysis of 150 years of temperature data — raising the possibility that this crucial element of the climate system could collapse within the next few decades.
Scientists have long seen the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, or AMOC, as one of the planet’s most vulnerable “tipping elements” — meaning the system could undergo an abrupt and irreversible change, with dramatic consequences for the rest of the globe. Under Earth’s current climate, this aquatic conveyor belt transports warm, salty water from the tropics to the North Atlantic, and then sends colder water back south along the ocean floor. But as rising global temperatures melt Arctic ice, the resulting influx of cold freshwater has thrown a wrench in the system — and could shut it down entirely.
The study published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications suggests that continued warming will push the AMOC over its “tipping point” around the middle of this century. The shift would be as abrupt and irreversible as turning off a light switch, and it could lead to dramatic changes in weather on either side of the Atlantic.
The consequences would not be nearly as dire as they appear in the 2004 sci-fi film “The Day After Tomorrow,” in which a sudden shutdown of the current causes a flash freeze across the northern hemisphere. But it could lead to a drop in temperatures in northern Europe and elevated warming in the tropics, Peter Ditlevsen said, as well as stronger storms on the East Coast of North America.
Exactly: palm trees in Boston and the extinction of most food crops in Scotland, Scandinavia, and the Baltics. London in January may only have 6 hours of daylight but it rarely gets below freezing, even though it's at roughly the same latitude as Calgary. If the Atlantic stops bringing warm Caribbean water to the British Isles, the UK will have to invest in snow plows.
The main thing that Burke predicted in his film has come to pass, however: decades of inaction by politicians who have no incentive (other than having to live on the planet) for taking long-term action on climate change. And we're the worst offenders.
This Twitter is no more. It has ceased to be. It has expired and gone to meet its maker. Bereft of life, he rests in peace.
John Scalzi has my favorite take so far:
Twitter was its own specific thing, whereas as “X” is meant to be a number of different things, of which microblogging will be only one part, and, one suspects, the part Musk will care the least about. He’s really about finding ways to have people give him their money, either through subscriptions or taking a cut of transactions. It’s a fundamentally different beast, or at least, plans to be.
Twitter isn’t Twitter anymore. He’s destroying the value of the brand name. Even if at some point X fails (and it probably will), and Musk sells off the microblogging part for pennies on the dollar, even if the new owner calls it “Twitter” again, too much damage will have been done to the brand identity, and most of the power users (who aren’t incel bigots either by inclination or for pay) will either have moved on or will have done what I’m planning to do, ie., reduce their reliance on the service. Historically, social media sites get sold twice, first for a whole lot of money, and then for very little. When they’re sold for very little, it’s understood they’re damaged goods, unlikely to rise again to the prominence they had before. And in this case, the new buyer wouldn’t even get the value of the name.
To be clear, Musk’s microblogging service will persist, until it doesn’t, and people will use it, until they don’t. But whatever it is now, it’s not Twitter, and there’s no percentage in pretending it is. It was nice to have Twitter when we had it. But it’s gone. Now we get to find out what’s next.
Is Musk evil? Yeah, but mainly he's just a narcissistic failson. I mean, Eddie Lampert is evil and a narcissist, so he actually profited from killing Sears. Musk's evil comes more from his upbringing as an unrepentant beneficiary of Apartheid. (Yes, I'm linking to a partial debunking of Elon Musk Apartheid rumors.)
As someone said when Musk bought Twitter, I know a lot about software, so I'm staying away from Musk's cars and rockets.
I'm having a few people over for a BBQ this evening, several of them under 10 years old, and several of them dogs. I've got about 45 minutes before I have to start cutting vegetables. Tomorrow will be a quiet day, so I'll just queue these stories up for then:
- Not a group to pass up risible hypocrisy, Alabama Republicans have defied the US Supreme Court's order that they create a second majority-Black district in the state, preferring just to shuffle the state's African Americans into a new minority districts. This leaves African Americans with 27% of the population and 14% of the Congressional representation, and the state Republican majority wishing it could just go all the way back to Jim Crow instead of this piecemeal stuff.
- Surprising no one who understood that former Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (R) cared less about governing than about enriching his pals (and himself), the Foxconn semiconductor factory that Wisconsin residents subsidized for $3 billion has not, in fact, created 13,000 jobs yet. Probably because it doesn't exist yet, and may never.
- James Hansen, who first warned in the 1980s that human-caused climate warming had already started and would accelerate if we didn't cut greenhouse gas emissions, thinks "we are damned fools" for needing to experience it to believe it.
- The Chicago city council plans to pass legislation raising the minimum wage for tipped workers to the general minimum wage of $15.80 per hour, up from $9.48 today. This doesn't address how anyone could possibly live on $32,000 per year in Chicago, let alone $19,000 a year at the lower wage.
OK, time for a quick shower and 15 minutes of doing nothing...