Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Newsletter Natural Selection

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Slime Mold Time Mold has a very interesting post, which begins:

Apparently, Substack wants to destroy newspapers. And maybe that would be good — maybe it would be good for journalism to be democratized, for bloggers to inherit the earth. Of course we’re bloggers and not newspapers, so maybe we’re biased.

Obviously it would be great if someone came up with a set of blogging and newsletter tools that were just amazing, that were the clear front-runner, that outperformed every other platform. We’d love it if the technical problems were all solved and we just had a perfect set of blogging tools.

But if everyone ends up on the same platform, well, that’s kind of dangerous. If one company controls the whole news & blogging industry, they can blacklist whoever they want, and can squeeze users as much as they want.

Even if you think Substack has a good track record, there’s no way they can guarantee that they won’t squeeze their writers once they control the market. Even if you trust the current management, at some point they will all retire, or all die, or the company will be bought by, and then you’re shit outta luck.

Substack just can’t make a credible commitment that makes it impossible for them to abuse their power if they get a monopoly. You have to take them at their word. But since management can change, you can’t even really do that. They just can’t bind their hands convincingly.

But there may be some very unusual business models that would fix this problem. 

On the Origin of Substacks

Imagine there’s a “Substack” company that commits itself to breaking in half every time it gets 100,000 users (or something), creating two child companies. Each company ends up with 50,000 users. All the blogs with even-numbered IDs go to Substack A, and all the blogs with odd-numbered IDs go to Substack B. The staff gets split among these two companies, and half of them move to a new office. Both companies retain the same policy of breaking in half once they hit that milestone again — an inherited, auto-trust-busting mechanism.

(Splitting into exactly two companies wouldn’t have to be a part of the commitment. They could equally choose to break up into Substack Red, Substack Blue, and Substack Yellow: Special Pikachu Edition.)

In addition, a core part of the product would be high-quality, deeply integrated tools to switch from one of these branches to another. Probably this would involve an easy way to export all your posts and a list of your subscribers to some neutral file format (maybe a folder full of markdown, css, and csv files), and to import them from the same format into a new blog. If you end up in Substack B and you want to be in Substack A instead (your favorite developer works there or something), the product would make it very easy to switch, maybe to the point of being able to switch at the push of a button.

To help with this, the third and final commitment of the company, and all child companies, would be to . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more — and no paywall. And it’s intriguing — and something a company could easily do.

What I like is that it harnesses the power of cultural evolution in a way that supports the common welfare.

Written by Leisureguy

23 January 2022 at 5:25 pm

Two brief videos that showed me again the magnitude of my ignorance

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I know so little of what the people in these videos know.

Written by Leisureguy

23 January 2022 at 2:23 pm

The last design you’ll ever make

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The original Östereich Post KS 1952

Interaction Magic has a lengthy and well-illustrated article on the right to repair. It begins:

In the summer of 1950, a secret team of Austrian engineers embarked on project Nr. 121. From the basement of their Östereich Post headquarters, they set out to define a global benchmark in sustainable product design. The KS1952 Telephone that followed was a huge commercial success, influencing half a century of consumer electronics innovation and spawning the famous German Langzeitdesign (“Long term design”) movement.

You’ve never heard of this, because it’s complete fiction. The telephone is real and inside it’s a masterclass in design for repair. But instead of half a decade of global Langzeitdesign, we’ve waited almost seventy years for the growing right to repair movement to propel via grassroots movementscafesclinicsfestivals and (slowly) EU law into the mainstream.

To conserve the resources we have, repairing products to extend their lifespan is critical as there are currently no viable alternatives. Re-manufacturing of electronics has yet to appear at any significant scale. In the UK, less than 10% of all plastic is actually recycled. Microsoft’s Ocean Plastic Mouse might look cute, but if you really cared about the oceans you’d be best off not buying a new mouse at all.

Designers were brought up to design from cradle to grave. Our new challenge is to postpone that grave as long as we can.

How can we design the last product our customers will ever need buy?

Designing for a right to repair

From Teslas to insulin pumps, whether you design for it or not, the products we make will get opened up and repaired.

Consciously designing for repair needs three parts:

  1. A supply chain of replacement parts
  2. Design for re-assembly
  3. Accessible documentation

For consumer electronics, extending the product’s lifespan traditionally relied on ability of the manufacturer to supply replacement parts. Little Henry Hoover sets the benchmark here. This charming British design icon has 75 components, almost all of which can be used to repair the original 1981 design.

Unlike vacuum cleaners, consumers tend to notice meaningful improvements in the capabilities of smartphones every 3-5 years. Fairphone launched the Fairphone 1 in December 2013. They rightly deserve praise for a business built on lowering their environmental impact, from material sourcing and labour conditions to modularity and repairability. Despite these best intentions, Fairphone managed only 4 years of spare parts until the impact of managing a growing supply chain of obsolescence forced their hand.

Repair not replace is nothing new. We’ve been doing this for hundreds of years for economic, if not environmental, reasons. Yet problems arise when we depend on the manufacturer’s own parts for repair. Right to repair is as much mindset shift as engineering challenge and retaining all of the power with manufacturers is little better than providing no repair option at all.

Brands and manufacturers must learn the benefits that arise when they relinquish control of the repair process to their customers. As designers, our brief is simple. We must design for repair, assuming we’ll no longer be there to help.

And it all starts with  …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

19 January 2022 at 1:32 pm

The Rise of A.I. Fighter Pilots

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After poker, warfare. Sue Halpoern in the New Yorker describes how A..I. will be flying fighter planes. Skynet, here we come! The article begins:

n a cloudless morning last May, a pilot took off from the Niagara Falls International Airport, heading for restricted military airspace over Lake Ontario. The plane, which bore the insignia of the United States Air Force, was a repurposed Czechoslovak jet, an L-39 Albatros, purchased by a private defense contractor. The bay in front of the cockpit was filled with sensors and computer processors that recorded the aircraft’s performance. For two hours, the pilot flew counterclockwise around the lake. Engineers on the ground, under contract with DARPA,  the Defense Department’s research agency, had choreographed every turn, every pitch and roll, in an attempt to do something unprecedented: design a plane that can fly and engage in aerial combat—dogfighting—without a human pilot operating it.

The exercise was an early step in the agency’s Air Combat Evolution program, known as ace, one of more than six hundred Department of Defense projects that are incorporating artificial intelligence into war-fighting. This year, the Pentagon plans to spend close to a billion dollars on A.I.-related technology. The Navy is building unmanned vessels that can stay at sea for months; the Army is developing a fleet of robotic combat vehicles. Artificial intelligence is being designed to improve supply logistics, intelligence gathering, and a category of wearable technology, sensors, and auxiliary robots that the military calls the Internet of Battlefield Things.

Algorithms are already good at flying planes. The first autopilot system, which involved connecting a gyroscope to the wings and tail of a plane, débuted in 1914, about a decade after the Wright brothers took flight. And a number of current military technologies, such as underwater mine detectors and laser-guided bombs, are autonomous once they are launched by humans. But few aspects of warfare are as complex as aerial combat. Paul Schifferle, the vice-president of flight research at Calspan, the company that’s modifying the L-39 for DARPA, said, “The dogfight is probably the most dynamic flight program in aviation, period.”

A fighter plane equipped with artificial intelligence could eventually execute tighter turns, take greater risks, and get off better shots than human pilots. But the objective of the ace program is to transform a pilot’s role, not to remove it entirely. As DARPA envisions it, the A.I. will fly the plane in partnership with the pilot, who will remain “in the loop,” monitoring what the A.I. is doing and intervening when necessary. According to the agency’s Strategic Technology Office, a fighter jet with autonomous features will allow pilots to become “battle managers,” directing squads of unmanned aircraft “like a football coach who chooses team members and then positions them on the field to run plays.”

Stacie Pettyjohn, the director of the Defense Program at the Center for a New American Security, told me that the ace program is part of a wider effort to “decompose our forces” into smaller, less expensive units. In other words, fewer humans and more expendable machines. DARPA calls this “mosaic warfare.” In the case of aerial combat, Pettyjohn said, “these much smaller autonomous aircraft can be combined in unexpected ways to overwhelm adversaries with the complexity of it. If any one of them gets shot down, it’s not as big of a deal.”

All told, the L-39 was taken up above Lake Ontario twenty times, each sortie giving the engineers and computer scientists the information they need to build a model of its flight dynamics under various conditions. Like self-driving cars, autonomous planes use sensors to identify discrepancies between the outside world and the information encoded in their maps. But a dogfighting algorithm will have to take into account both the environment and the aircraft. A plane flies differently at varying altitudes and angles, on hot days versus cold ones, or if it’s carrying an extra fuel tank or missiles.

“Most of the time, a plane flies straight and level,” Phil Chu, an electrical engineer who serves as a science adviser to the ace program, explained. “But when it’s dogfighting you have to figure out, O.K., if I’m in a thirty-degree bank angle, ascending at twenty degrees, how much do I have to pull the stick to get to a forty-degree bank angle, rising at ten degrees?” And, because flight is three-dimensional, speed matters even more. “If it’s flying slowly and you move the stick one way, you get a certain amount of turn out of it. If it’s flying really fast and you move the stick the same way, you’ll get a very different response.”

In 2024, if the ace program goes according to plan, four A.I.-enabled L-39s will participate in a live dogfight in the skies above Lake Ontario. To achieve that goal, DARPA  has enlisted three dozen academic research centers and private companies, each working on one of two problem areas: how to get the plane to fly and fight on its own, and how to get pilots to trust the A.I. enough to use it. Robert Work, who was the Deputy Secretary of Defense during the Obama Administration, and pushed the Pentagon to pursue next-generation technologies, told me, “If you don’t have trust, the human will always be watching the A.I. and saying, ‘Oh, I’ve got to take over.’ ”

There is no guarantee that ace will succeed. DARPA projects are  . . .

Continue reading. (Unfortunately, the New Yorker offers no gift links.)

Update: Here is the man vs. AI dogfight mentioned in the article.

Written by Leisureguy

18 January 2022 at 4:04 pm

How A.I. Conquered Poker

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In the NY Times Magazine, Keith Romer describes how poker has now been solved. (Gift link, no paywall.)

Last November in the cavernous Amazon Room of Las Vegas’s Rio casino, two dozen men dressed mostly in sweatshirts and baseball caps sat around three well-worn poker tables playing Texas Hold ’em. Occasionally a few passers-by stopped to watch the action, but otherwise the players pushed their chips back and forth in dingy obscurity. Except for the taut, electric stillness with which they held themselves during a hand, there was no outward sign that these were the greatest poker players in the world, nor that they were, as the poker saying goes, “playing for houses,” or at least hefty down payments. This was the first day of a three-day tournament whose official name was the World Series of Poker Super High Roller, though the participants simply called it “the 250K,” after the $250,000 each had put up to enter it.

At one table, a professional player named Seth Davies covertly peeled up the edges of his cards to consider the hand he had just been dealt: the six and seven of diamonds. Over several hours of play, Davies had managed to grow his starting stack of 1.5 million in tournament chips to well over two million, some of which he now slid forward as a raise. A 33-year-old former college baseball player with a trimmed light brown beard, Davies sat upright, intensely following the action as it moved around the table. Two men called his bet before Dan Smith, a fellow pro with a round face, mustache and whimsically worn cowboy hat, put in a hefty reraise. Only Davies called.

The dealer laid out a king, four and five, all clubs, giving Davies a straight draw. Smith checked (bet nothing). Davies bet. Smith called. The turn card was the deuce of diamonds, missing Davies’s draw. Again Smith checked. Again Davies bet. Again Smith called. The last card dealt was the deuce of clubs, one final blow to Davies’s hopes of improving his hand. By now the pot at the center of the faded green-felt-covered table had grown to more than a million in chips. The last deuce had put four clubs on the table, which meant that if Smith had even one club in his hand, he would make a flush.

Davies, who had been betting the whole way needing an eight or a three to turn his hand into a straight, had arrived at the end of the hand with precisely nothing. After Smith checked a third time, Davies considered his options for almost a minute before declaring himself all-in for 1.7 million in chips. If Smith called, Davies would be out of the tournament, his $250,000 entry fee incinerated in a single ill-timed bluff.

Smith studied Davies from under the brim of his cowboy hat, then twisted his face in exasperation at Davies or, perhaps, at luck itself. Finally, his features settling in an irritated scowl, Smith folded and the dealer pushed the pile of multicolored chips Davies’s way. According to Davies, what he felt when the hand was over was not so much triumph as relief.

“You’re playing a pot that’s effectively worth half a million dollars in real money,” he said afterward. “It’s just so much goddamned stress.”

Real validation wouldn’t come until around 2:30 that morning, after the first day of the tournament had come to an end and Davies had made the 15-minute drive from the Rio to his home, outside Las Vegas. There, in an office just in from the garage, he opened a computer program called PioSOLVER, one of a handful of artificial-intelligence-based tools that have, over the last several years, radically remade the way poker is played, especially at the highest levels of the game. Davies input all the details of the hand and then set the program to run. In moments, the solver generated an optimal strategy. Mostly, the program said, Davies had gotten it right. His bet on the turn, when the deuce of diamonds was dealt, should have been 80 percent of the pot instead of 50 percent, but the 1.7 million chip bluff on the river was the right play.

“That feels really good,” Davies said. “Even more than winning a huge pot. The real satisfying part is when you nail one like that.” Davies went to sleep that night knowing for certain that he played the hand within a few degrees of perfection.

The pursuit of perfect poker goes back at least as far as the 1944 publication of “Theory of Games and Economic Behavior,” by the mathematician John von Neumann and the economist Oskar Morgenstern. The two men wanted to correct what they saw as a fundamental imprecision in the field of economics. “We wish,” they wrote, “to find the mathematically complete principles which define ‘rational behavior’ for the participants in a social economy, and to derive from them the general characteristics of that behavior.” Economic life, they suggested, should be thought of as a series of maximization problems in which individual actors compete to wring as much utility as possible from their daily toil. If von Neumann and Morgenstern could quantify the way good decisions were made, the idea went, they would then be able to build a science of economics on firm ground.

It was this desire to model economic decision-making that led them to game play. Von Neumann rejected most games as unsuitable to the task, especially those like checkers or chess in which both players can see all the pieces on the board and share the same information. “Real life is not like that,” he explained to Jacob Bronowski, a fellow mathematician. “Real life consists of bluffing, of little tactics of deception, of asking yourself what is the other man going to think I mean to do. And that is what games are about in my theory.” Real life, von Neumann thought, was like poker.

Using his own simplified version of the game, in which  . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more — and no paywall.

Written by Leisureguy

18 January 2022 at 3:44 pm

Ceramic Review: Masterclass with Stephen Murfitt

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Written by Leisureguy

18 January 2022 at 1:23 pm

Hope on the Horizon

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Matt Stoller writes in BIG:

“Despotism, be it financial or political, is vulnerable, unless it is believed to rest upon a moral sanction. The longing for freedom is ineradicable. It will express itself in protest against servitude and inaction unless the striving for freedom be made to seem immoral.” – Louis Brandeis, 1914

Today I’m writing about how the fight against monopolies is moving into a new stage. We’re actually starting to win some things here and there.

In the courts, the regulatory agencies, and Congress/states, the power of dominant firms is, ever so slightly, beginning to erode. It’s a weird time to say that, because politics is otherwise so dysfunctional. Retail sales are down, so is manufacturing output, inflation is at 7%, and a majority of Americans, pretty evenly across both parties, feel that democracy is in danger of collapsing. So that’s not good.

But beneath the surface, the relationship that the public with the most powerful institutions in American society – dominant corporations – is changing.

Here are eight different examples from the last week showing that monopolists are facing real headwinds.

(1) Big Tech Antitrust Trials Move Forward as Facebook Loses Motion to Dismiss
The antitrust trials against big tech are moving forward, and the government is doing well. There are two big trials, one by the Federal Trade Commission, and one by a group of state attorneys general. On Tuesday, the Federal Trade Commission won an important procedural step against Facebook. Judge Boasberg – who is not particularly friendly to antitrust enforcers – had dismissed the first agency complaint filed in 2020, but Lina Khan filed a new complaint with stronger claims. Facebook asked for another dismissal, and even more aggressively, for Khan to be recused. The judge ruled against Facebook on both counts, so the case will be going to trial. (I was on Marketplace talking about this development, which you can listen to here.)

On the second case against Facebook, with state attorneys general, the judge had ruled against them on obscure procedural grounds. In a different context, the states would have given up in a fight against one of the biggest companies in the world. This time, however, they appealed.

Meanwhile, in the Texas case against Google, a judge unsealed the price-fixing deal between Google and Facebook in which Google paid Facebook to withdraw from the third party online market, further revealing that Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg both personally signed off on the deal. Oh, and there are more details on exactly what Google was doing in its rigging of advertising auction markets, which is known in technical terms as ‘stealing.’

(2) Antitrust Law Hits Individual Executives
Martin Shkreli, the infamous pharma bro put in jail for securities fraud, was found personally liable for directing a scheme to inflate the cost of the life-saving drug Daraprim by excluding competitors from the market. A judge order him to pay $64 million, and also barred him from the pharmaceutical industry for life. More than the obnoxiousness of the villain, the precedent here matters. It’s rare for an individual to be found liable for monopolization, so this decision means that judges are getting more comfortable seeing antitrust violations as immoral behavior, instead of seeing the problem as well-meaning businessmen being a bit too zealous.

Antitrust expert Dina Srinivasan had an interesting comment. . .

Continue reading. There’s more, and we could all use some cheering up.

Written by Leisureguy

16 January 2022 at 11:10 am

Fox News makes money from poisoning society

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Is it a good thing that Fox News profits from creating a toxic political environment? Not for the public, nor for the functioning of our society and government, but quite good for Rupert Murdoch and his family and shareholders. 

Read this post by Kevin Drum.

A hospital might profit from contaminating a town’s water supply. I don’t think we would want that, nor would we allow it. I do know about freedom of the press, but the press for which that freedom was guaranteed is not at all like the “press” we experience today.

I’m not sure what the right remedy would be, but doing nothing risks the breakdown of social trust and productive amity. 

Written by Leisureguy

15 January 2022 at 1:35 pm

Useful free file-transfer sites

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Occasionally I’ll see an article I want to send someone, and after I print it as a PDF, I see that it’s large — say, 18MB. That’s too large to email, so today I looked for a file-transfer site, where I could upload the file and email the link to the file to the person whom I wanted to receive it. I found a list of such sites, and I went with the first one listed: WeTransfer. A few things to note:

  1. It has you verify your email address. If you register for a free account, you do the verification only once; thereafter, when you log in, it knows your email address is good. You don’t have to register, but then each time you use it you go through an email-verification routine.
  2. The free version limits you to two recipients. I wanted to send the article to four people, so I uploaded the file twice, sending it each time to two (of the four).
  3. The files are encrypted.

The comment in the article:

WeTransfer is a service to send big or small files from A to B. It can transfer any type of file – such as presentations, photos, videos, music, or documents – to friends and colleagues. You can send files up to 2 GB and they will be available for two weeks, with no registration. WeTransfer is the simplest way to send your files around the world. Every month, users in 195 countries send one billion files through our platform. Founded in 2009, our team is based in the Netherlands and the US.

Written by Leisureguy

14 January 2022 at 7:29 pm

Color in movies and TV: Where did it go? An investigation.

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Emily VanDerWerff reports in Vox:

If you watch a lot of movies and TV shows, you might have noticed that over the last few decades everything has gotten a lot more … gray. No matter the kind of story being told, a sheen of cool blue or gray would wash over everything, muting the colors and providing an overall veneer of serious business.

So many TV shows and movies now have a dull filter applied to every scene, one that cuts away vibrancy and trends toward a boring sameness. Every frame’s color scheme ends up feeling the same as every other frame. And when there are so many projects using similar techniques, you end up with a world of boring visuals that don’t stand out.

The best term I’ve read for this comes from incisive film Twitter member Katie Stebbins. She calls it the “intangible sludge,” and her comparison of screenshots from season one of Dexter (2006) and the new Dexter limited series (2021) underlines what she means.

Notice how in the first image, you can see the pinks of Michael C. Hall’s skin, the various blues of his shirt. But in the second, everything is muted. Hall’s skin is pale and even yellowish. His shirt is an indefinable blue/green/black/brown. A shadowy blandness coats everything.

The word that describes the look of that second picture is “desaturated.” Colors have been pulled way back, giving everything a slightly washed-out appearance, like in an old photograph. Desaturation is not in and of itself bad. It’s a tool that can be used poorly or used well. But why is it everywhere now?

There’s no one answer to that question, but here are my five best guesses as to what I think might be behind the endless desaturation of Hollywood.

Possible answer No. 1: The rise of digital color grading made it really easy to come up with all-purpose looks

Okay, things are about to get technical, but we’ll have some fun along the way. Promise.

From the dawn of color film, color timing has been an important part of moviemaking. (“Color timing” is more colloquially known as “color correction,” but people who actually work in the field don’t view it as “correction.”) When you’re filming something over multiple weeks or months, you might be piecing together a scene or sequence from bits and pieces shot over multiple days. The light might not match, or the leaves on the trees might not be the same shade of green. And if things don’t match, we’ll notice almost immediately on a subconscious level.

Hence: color timing. For most of the history of film, color correction was achieved physically, via chemicals applied to film negatives in a lab.

And pretty soon, filmmakers figured out that you could use these sorts of color shifts — whether they were created on set or in the lab — to guide an audience emotionally through a film. Cutting between scenes with wildly different color schemes could even provoke certain responses within viewers.

“It’s not just the color in any given scene. It’s how that color bumps up against the scene, that’s before and after it,” said Steve Cosens, one of the directors of photography on the new HBO Max miniseries Station Eleven. “There’s color latency. If your eye is looking at a scene, and it’s so warm that when you go to the next scene, your eye is automatically going to compensate, and it’s going to make it cooler.”

In the late 1990s, it became possible to digitally scan film negatives in a way that allowed people who would eventually become known as digital imaging technicians (henceforth a DIT) to manipulate the properties of the image. The first film to have its run scanned for this sort of manipulation was the 1998 movie Pleasantville. In that movie, two ’90s teenagers are sucked into a black-and-white 1950s sitcom world, and as they introduce things like sex and literature and weather (yes, somehow they introduce weather), elements of the town burst into color. The entire film was shot in color, then digitally converted to black and white, with a handful of elements kept in color for effect.

At the time, this was treated as hugely groundbreaking filmmaking, but the articles written about it in 1998 undersell how ubiquitous these techniques would become.

The first movie to use digital color manipulation in the way we’d think of it today — i.e., shifting the colors within a film image to meet a digitally achieved palette — is generally considered to be the 2000 Coen brothers’ Great Depression picaresque O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins knew that the Coens wanted the film to have a Dust Bowl tinge, but he also knew that the film would shoot in Mississippi in the summer, which would mean lots of lush greenery. To tilt the picture more toward the yellow sepia tone the Coens wanted, he initially thought about applying physical filters to the lens. But he found that process limiting and decided to turn to a company called Cinesite — which had just broken new ground with its work on the 1998 film Pleasantville.

The results are striking. Watch O Brother, Where Art Thou? and you will never know it was filmed in a lush, green Mississippi summer. It looks dried out and beaten to hell. Deakins and the Cinesite folks talk about that process in the following video (which is really worth a watch if you want to get into the weeds on all of this).

O Brother, Where Art Thou? showed how color grading could be used in much more subtle ways. In this case, the palette of neutrals and brown tones was subtle and desaturated,” said Dr. Jennifer O’Meara, a film professor at Trinity College Dublin, who has studied digital film coloring techniques extensively. “Notably, Deakins worked collaboratively with the colorist, Julius Friede. The specifics of their working arrangement helped to reduce fears among cinematographers that postproduction color editing would take the creative control of a film’s image track away from those who shot it.”

In 2022, nearly every movie and TV show has a dedicated DIT who works with the cinematographer and the director to figure out what an image might look like after it’s been run through a series of digital filters. As with so many technologies in film history — from hand coloring to Technicolor — a handful of pioneers showed what was possible, O’Meara explains, and then everybody else got on board.

“It usually takes some overt demonstrations of new color processes in action to make them look appealing enough for more filmmakers to invest the time and money required to use them,” O’Meara said.

Now, cinematographers and others on a film’s production team have to know how to work with these digital processes.

Digital color timing “really is like

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

12 January 2022 at 7:43 pm

To wake from a dream and embrace reality — if only

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In Jacobin magazine:

In an essay penned shortly before his death, David Graeber argued that post-pandemic, we can’t slip back into a reality where the way our society is organized — to serve every whim of a small handful of rich people while debasing and degrading the vast majority of us — is seen as sensible or reasonable.

And then they post this essay that David Graeber wrote:

At some point in the next few months, the crisis will be declared over, and we will be able to return to our “nonessential” jobs. For many, this will be like waking from a dream.

The media and political classes will definitely encourage us to think of it this way. This is what happened after the 2008 financial crash. There was a brief moment of questioning. (What is “finance,” anyway? Isn’t it just other people’s debts? What is money? Is it just debt, too? What’s debt? Isn’t it just a promise? a If money and debt are just a collection of promises we make to each other, then couldn’t we just as easily make different ones?) The window was almost instantly shut by those insisting we shut up, stop thinking, and get back to work, or at least start looking for it.

Last time, most of us fell for it. This time, it is critical that we do not.

Because, in reality, the crisis we just experienced was waking from a dream, a confrontation with the actual reality of human life, which is that we are a collection of fragile beings taking care of one another, and that those who do the lion’s share of this care work that keeps us alive are overtaxed, underpaid, and daily humiliated, and that a very large proportion of the population don’t do anything at all but spin fantasies, extract rents, and generally get in the way of those who are making, fixing, moving, and transporting things, or tending to the needs of other living beings. It is imperative that we not slip back into a reality where all this makes some sort of inexplicable sense, the way senseless things so often do in dreams.

How about this: Why don’t we stop treating it as entirely normal that the more obviously one’s work benefits others, the less one is likely to be paid for it; or insisting that financial markets are the best way to direct long-term investment even as they are propelling us to destroy most life on Earth?

Why not instead, once the current emergency is declared over, actually remember what we’ve learned: that if “the economy” means anything, it is the way we provide each other with what we need to be alive (in every sense of the term), that what we call “the market” is largely just a way of tabulating the aggregate desires of rich people, most of whom are at least slightly pathological, and the most powerful of whom were already completing the designs for the bunkers they plan to escape to if we continue to be foolish enough to believe their minions’ lectures that we were all, collectively, too lacking in basic common sense do anything about oncoming catastrophes.

This time around, can we please just ignore them?

Most of the work we’re currently doing is dream-work. It exists only for its own sake, or to make rich people feel good about themselves, or to make poor people feel bad about themselves. And if we simply stopped, it might be possible to make ourselves a much more reasonable set of promises: for instance, to create an “economy” that lets us actually take care of the people who are taking care of us.

And in this connection, see the next post.

Written by Leisureguy

11 January 2022 at 12:03 pm

Like coffee? Want to know more about brewing coffee? Have I got a YouTube channel for you.

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Take a look at this channel. Here’s a sample:

Written by Leisureguy

10 January 2022 at 6:54 pm

5 best web browsers as of now

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I use Vivaldi. How about you?

Written by Leisureguy

10 January 2022 at 3:38 pm

New cooking tools/toys

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I recently have purchased some new kitchen tools, and they are terrific, so I thought I’d mention them.

Cosori Air “Fryer”

I’ll never be comfortable with calling a convection oven a “fryer.” So it goes. I’ve mentioned before the Cosori I got after watching Michael Greenfield on Pro Home Cooks put one through its paces. I bought the one he uses, the Cosori Max XL 5.8qt model, and I’m very pleased with it. Cosori offers a 3.7qt model, suggested for small families, and after placing the order, I wondered whether I should have gotten that model, but once the 5.8qt model arrived and I used it, I was very glad to have it instead of the 3.7qt version.

The main reason to have the larger model is that you can put more food into the cooking basket in a single layer, so it cooks better. I have used the Cosori a lot to roast vegetables, and the amount of winter squash and/or beets or carrots that I roast at one time fits the larger basket much better.

I diverged from my plant-based diet long enough to try using the Cosori to roast a piece of wild salmon — it cooked wonderfully — and even a steak, for which I used a reverse sear: cook it in the Cosori at 170ºF for 12-14 minutes, then put it in a very hot cast-iron skillet (with a little bit of avocado oil) to sear it for the crust. The steak worked especially well because the time in the Cosori completely dried the surface, so it was easy to get a good crust. (If the surface is damp, the resulting steam prevents the crust from forming.)

Mostly, though, I roast vegetables — and pumpkin seeds, which do very well. I spray vegetables (or seeds) with olive oil, add a little rosemary salt (and sometimes also garlic powder and either smoked paprika or ground chipotle), and roast at 400ºF for 12-16 minutes for the vegetables, about 6-8 minutes for seeds. (It’s easy to pull out the basket and see how done the food is, and then cook a little longer if desired.)

A big plus: clean-up is totally a snap. Usually wiping out the basket and the bin with a damp paper towel does the job. (The two come apart for cleaning, but otherwise are securely locked together.)

I rate this little convection oven as an A+ purchase.

Cuisinart Spice and Nut Grinder

I’ve been using an electric whirling-blades coffee mill to grind the flaxseed I eat each day, but after watching the video in this earlier post (start at 50 seconds in), I decided to upgrade to a grinder specifically designed for spices and nuts and do more grinding of whole spices.

I got a Cuisinart SG-10C because up here it’s CA$30 cheaper than the SG-10 shown in the video, and, except for cap color, the two seem to be identical. The SG-10C apparently is a Canadian model only, so in the US it’s the SG-10.

I’m very glad I got it. The grinding cup has significantly more volume than the coffee grinder I had been using, and — even better — the Cuisinart cup is removable, making it easy to transport the ground spices/seeds/herbs and also making it easy to wash the cup. It comes with a little snap-on cap for the cup in case you want to store the spices you’ve just ground.

I’ve used it quite a bit, and I like it a lot.

Misen 10″ nonstick skillet

It’s pronounced “Mee-Zen” (as in “mis en place“). This cookware line started with a chef’s knife — and I have to admit that I’m tempted by that, but really: how many chef’s knives does one need? I’m satisfied with my Bulat knives (I have the chef’s knife and the paring knife), which — like Misen — is sold direct to consumers to keep the price low compared to the price of knives of the same quality sold in a store. (See this post for more information.)

But I was missing a skillet. I have my collection of cast-iron skillets (8″, 10″, and 12″), but occasionally I want to deglaze the skillet and/or add liquid (soy sauce or vinegar or fish sauce or sherry) to a hot skillet, and I’ve found that doing that with cast iron tends to strip the seasoning. (Deglazing is exactly aimed at removing the frond, and seasoning is a kind of cooked-on frond.) I do have a couple of All-Clad Stainless sauté pans, which work well in this regard, but one is 8″ and the other is 12″, and it’s surprising how often I want to use a 10″.

So I ordered a Misen 10″ skillet. These skillets are available in stainless steel, or carbon steel, or with a nonstick coating. I chose the nonstick, and it arrived earlier this week. Today I used it to cook my lunch. The skillet is skookum, and it works like a charm: the size I needed, with sides tall enough to keep things in when I stir, thick bottom, oven-proof (once you slide the silicone grip off the handle), and of course easy to clean. I’m impressed by its build quality and heft.

A note on cutting boards/prep stations

Misen also makes cutting boards — small, medium, large — but, oddly, they do not give the dimensions. I emailed to ask why they chose to omit such basic and essential information. They did not answer my question, but did send the dimensions:

Small:     12” x   9” x .625” —  30.48 cm x 22.86 cm x 1.5 cm
Medium: 12” x 18” x .75”    —  30.48 cm x 45.72 cm x 1.9 cm
Large:     20” x 14” x .75”    —  50.8   cm x 35.56 cm x 1.9 cm

I would recommend the Large for daily use in meal preparation. A large work surface turns out be quite useful.

My own prep board is a Charleston End Grain Prep Station in end-grain acacia wood, made by Ironwood Gourmet, 20″ x 14″ x 1.25″. Thicker = heavier = less likely to move around. Tip: put the cutting board on a dishtowel to improve stability.

Written by Leisureguy

7 January 2022 at 3:32 pm

Everlasting Freefall

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As a coda to my earlier post today, take a look at this video by Andrew B. Myers, narrated by Vanessa Kirby.

Written by Leisureguy

7 January 2022 at 12:49 pm

Near-Earth space is starting to have a lot of litter;.

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The above is just a screen grab of a data visualization in motion. Click the link to see the real thing.

We have degraded the oceans with our litter, to the point where seafood carries microplastics (which are endocrine disrupters) and now we are working to degrade space. Humans seem to be spoilers.

Written by Leisureguy

7 January 2022 at 11:10 am

Readwise free trial

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I mentioned yesterday, in a post on learning something as a language (that is, learning something so that you can use that something just as you use a language, to express your own ideas without (in the case of language) worrying about things like vocabulary, grammar, spelling, and all the other basics. Your adaptive unconscious has absorbed how to handle those, so your conscious mind simply follows its train of though (as I am doing now as I write this, having also learned touch-typing as a language: I just think of words — or even phrases — and my fingers do their job (generally accurately) without any conscious effort on my part).

In that post I mentioned that, for readers who use a Kindle, the service known as Readwise is both interesting and useful, because it shows you passages you have highlighted on your Kindle — and also offers some passages often highlighted by others.

I just learned that I can offer a free month’s trial of Readwise. If you accept that offer, I get another free month’s use. So if you read ebooks using a Kindle, I urge you to give Readwise a (free) try. Using that link gives me another month of Readwise as well.

And if you use any ebook reader, let me (again) point out Standard Ebooks, which offers free downloadable ebooks, well formatted (and edited and proofread). They offer books whose copyright has expired, which includes some very good books indeed — and some that don’t seem all that old (Hemingway, for example). They just recently released the new books for December, and you can review their list of available titles in descending order of recency (that is, the most recently available books first). One nice thing is that when they publish books that are part of a series, they show the books location in the series — quite useful for an author such as Anthony Trollope (and readers like me, who like to read a series in order).

And as I’ve noted in the past, I use Calibre, a free library management program, to manage those titles: I download the books as a file in the proper format, import them into Calibre, attach my Kindle to my computer, and then export the books from Calibre to the Kindle, all of which are done by clicking the appropriate button in Calibre’s menu. (Calibre can also convert an ebook from one format to another — note at the bottom right corner of the screen the little “job” icon, which shows when a job’s in progress and when it’s done, whether the job is converting a book or importing it or exporting it.)

Calibre’s library is important because, sooner or later, your Kindle battery will fail, and Amazon has been careful to design the device so that the battery cannot be replaced. When the battery dies and can no longer be recharged, you must perforce buy a new device. Amazon keeps track of your book purchases (on the Amazon site: Accounts & Lists > Content & Devices), so when you do get a new Kindle, you can readily download the books you bought from Amazon.

Amazon does not, however, keep track of books you’ve loaded onto your Kindle from other sources, so putting those onto your new Kindle is up to you. That’s why when I import a book into Calibre I keep it there even after I export a copy onto my Kindle. When I replace my Kindle, I still will have all my free books available, and I can easily stock the new Kindle with them.

And I repeat: give Readwise a (free) try. It leverages the technology in an interesting way.

Written by Leisureguy

7 January 2022 at 6:53 am

Three kinetic sculptures by David Roy

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These three sculptures by David C. Roy will be coming to auction soon, but I imagine bidding will be dominated by the ultra-wealthy. Here they are.

Written by Leisureguy

6 January 2022 at 4:07 pm

The weakness of secrecy for lock security

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I found this talk equal parts fascinating and infuriating, the latter because of the sloth of lock manufacturers, who seem not to care about security in the slightest.

In this connection, this lock shows how a good lock can be built.

Written by Leisureguy

5 January 2022 at 1:41 pm

The dark historical background of cryptocurrencies

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Read this Twitter thread by David Troy.

Written by Leisureguy

4 January 2022 at 7:37 pm

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