237 words on the election

I care more about the institutions of government in this country than the political parties. These institutions are generally structured to protect the citizens and the country, while politicians work within them for their ideological ends.

In my mind, the greatest existential threat to Canada is any government that disregards or undermines our system of government. We can bounce back from most external things, but slow-boil systemic changes will shift the structure of Canada in ways we don’t even realize today.

In this current government I’ve seen a continued and increasing disregard for Parliament and the Supreme Court, including the Prime Minister publicly trying to convince us not to trust those institutions because they have challenged him for breaking or ignoring various laws. There are also the personal attacks to discredit the head of Elections Canada for defending our election laws (i.e. doing his job). And the huge issue of the lobotomizing of our collective public knowledge (see “Vanishing Canada”, in Maclean’s), which, intentionally or not, serves to undermine decision-making in government. (If we don’t have scientific research and data to base decisions on, we’re only making decisions based on political ideology.) Before considering the short-to-mid-term policies that everyone is promising, I had to eliminate Stephen Harper’s Conservatives from the options, because it’s evident to me they do not respect — and are actively undermining — the long-term system we are ultimately electing them to uphold. .:. Cross-posted to Facebook.

on the 42nd general election in Canada

Misappropriated from G.K. Chesterton’s 1926 book on distributionism, this passage struck me as rather appropriate words in the middle of an election. It was the closing to the chapter titled “On a Sense of Proportion”:

If a man wants what he calls a flower-garden he plants flowers where he can, and especially where they will determine the general character of the landscape gardening. But they do not completely cover the garden; they only positively colour it. He does not expect roses to grow in the chimney-pots, or daisies to climb the railings; still less does he expect tulips to grow on the pine, or the monkey tree to blossom like a rhododendron. But he knows perfectly well what he means by a flower-garden; and so does everybody else. If he does not want a flower-garden but a kitchen-garden, he proceeds differently. But he does not expect a kitchen-garden to be exactly like a kitchen. He does not dig out all the potatoes, because it is not a flower-garden and the potato has a flower. He knows the main thing he is trying to achieve; but, not being born a fool, he does not think he can achieve it everywhere in exactly the same degree, or in a manner equally unmixed with things of another sort. The flower-gardener will not banish nasturtiums to the kitchen-garden because some strange people have been known to eat them. Nor will the other class a vegetable as a flower because it is called a cauliflower. So, from our social garden, we should not necessarily exclude every modern machine any more than we should exclude every medieval monastery. And indeed the apologue is appropriate enough; for third is the sort of elementary human reason that men never lost until they lost their gardens: just as that higher reason that is more than human was lost with a garden long ago. — G.K. Chesterton, The Outline of Sanity

marketing vs. the fine print

There’s a little disconnect between Denny’s nice little slogan on their coffee mugs…

and the disclaimer in their menu whenever you have a choice of egg style:

But remember, it’s always sunny-side up. 🙂

.:.

 

Denny’s U.S. menu

 

Funny, the menu I looked at welcomed me to Canada’s diner.

Reminds me of a local Wal-Mart flyer a few years ago sporting a maple leaf as the dash in their name and the slogan “Proudly Canadian”.

You can’t just say these things.

M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village is an underrated masterpiece

Todd VanDerWerff, on Vox, putting it out there that contrary to the knee-jerks out there, M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village is:

  1. a technical achievement
  2. a well-done commentary on the post-9/11 Iraq War
  3. a good human story

I don’t know if I’d go so far as to call it an “underrated masterpiece”, but I’ve always been the one guy I know who loves most of Shyamalan’s work because of how he tells great stories of personal human struggles. Starting with Signs, the twists were incidental to the story.

He tells the story he set out to tell. The Shyamalan problem is a marketing problem — the audiences are usually there to see a different story than what he’s actually telling.

I first noticed this with Signs. The hype and advertising around it were for a summer blockbuster (“ILM did the aliens, yo!”), but the movie was about a man’s struggle with faith during a time of personal turmoil.

He’s said as much about his work in an interview in The Independent:

A common misperception of me is That all my movies have twist endings, or that they’re all scary. All my movies are spiritual and all have an emotional perspective. – M. Night Shyamalan

I don’t recall the advertising around The Village, but I assume it was making it out to be a horror-esque movie. I won’t explain the crux of that story here, since my wife hasn’t seen it yet (read the spoilers in the linked article if you want them), but it’s also exploring questions that we all deal with in modern society (as the Vox article articulates well).

Lady in the Water is another movie where you have to take him at his word as a filmmaker. The story is explicitly framed as a bedtime story, and I assume the movie is less enjoyable if you ignore that aspect of it. (It’s hard to ignore — there’s even a prologue that tonally sets it up this way).

The reason I’ve enjoyed his movies is I trust Shyamalan as a filmmaker more than I trust his marketing team. Even with that said, Lady in the Water is the last of his movies I’ve seen (with the unfortunate exception of The Last Airbender). The ads around The Happening pointed at a genre I don’t generally care about, but I should have known better by then not to trust the hype machine around his movies.

I think it’s time to re-watch his canon, and newly watch the ones I’ve missed. Maybe I’ll even find some redeeming factors in The Last Airbender if I go into it looking for his trademark stories of struggle and growth. The source material, Avatar, is chock full of that, but I didn’t go into the movie with that mindset — I was more worried about it ruining a show I loved, which is probably just a self-fulfilling prophecy when you’re looking for things it “does wrong”. (To be fair, I don’t think this movie is fully redeemable, but at least I might find some redeemable qualities in it. I like his movies, but that doesn’t mean everything he does is perfect.) At any rate, I’ll see where a re-watch of The Last Airbender leaves me.

Let the Shyamalan marathon begin!

the human 30%

The New Yorker has a piece on how Netflix relies on the human gut working alongside their trove of customer data to determine what shows will be a success.

“It is important to know which data to ignore,” he conceded, before saying, at the end, “In practice, its probably a seventy-thirty mix.” But which is the seventy and which is the thirty? “Seventy is the data, and thirty is judgment,” he told me later. Then he paused, and said, “But the thirty needs to be on top, if that makes sense.” — Ted Sarandos, Chief Content Officer, Netflix

It’s a nice tempering to the battle cry of “Big Data!” everywhere, and encouraging to hear someone speak up on the role of human intuition in the age of the algorithm.

I was reminded of the partnership (and probably conflict) between these elements when, earlier this evening, Netflix recommended a few movies in Tyler Perry’s Madea franchise under the section “Movies Featuring a Strong Female Lead”.

netflix-algorithm

While the New Yorker piece was looking at the curating of content, not the recommendation algorithms, I can’t help but question if an algorithm or a human categorized the Madea films.

At first I took it as a failure of the algorithm, but on second thought, this feels more human than machine. To a machine, it would be obvious that Tyler Perry is a man and that the top-billed actors in this movie are men. Categorizing films based on gender of the lead would be a non-ambiguous task when working solely with data. The soft-categorization of this feels like something a human would do after asking “well where else are we supposed to put this?” On the other hand, a very human decision would be to say “there’s no way we can call this a female lead”.

And maybe that’s the most confounding thing about it — that it’s hard to say either way if it was a human or machine decision that put Madea in my recommendations.

 

 

winzip problems

Working on my parents’ computer this evening, and it appears WinZip overrode the built-in zip/unzip functions of Windows. Context menus were only giving me the option of opening my zips with WinZip, but the trial had expired so I couldn’t actually unzip anything.

A manual uninstall of WinZip and a clean install of 7-Zip later, and then I see that the system’s zip functions are suddenly available. It didn’t click until then that they were missing previously.

That’s just evil.

I wasn’t used to that behaviour, since I’ve mostly used WinRAR and 7-Zip for the past decade, and neither of them have overridden the system’s zip handling in my experience.

It looks like the nostalgic shine that WinZip used to enjoy in my memory just got a little marred.

what’s old is new again

It turns out some posts were inexplicably lost in the reboot. The obvious one is the blue bar photo post I mentioned the other day, but I noticed other posts linking to non-existent posts. And then I got an email from someone mentioning that the Internet Archive has some posts of mine that didn’t make the transfer, either.

My plan was to put a call out for anyone who had the text of my posts in an RSS reader or email, until I came across this guide for selectively importing posts into WordPress. Luckily (and oddly) enough, all those missing posts were still in the export XML file I created before switching hosts.

So long story short: they’re all back.

Long story longer, there were over 60 items that I ended up scouring through my WordPress XML backup file to re-import.

23 of these were published posts, 35 were drafts. Others were unfinished drafts that I was glad to delete immediately.

I have no idea why these didn’t import last time.

I keep taking from this that having extensive backups has saved me from 1) myself, and 2) technical oddities. You never know when you’ll need them…

And yes, I backed up before re-importing, and I’m about to backup again.

.:.

The blues bar is here, by the way.

Another oldie and goodie is this thought from Richard Stallman.

And one more, for the road.

website reboot notes

It’s nice to have the site running again. I laughed when I saw my archives, though, as I’ve consistently posted three Januaries in a row. And only in those months.

I relatively recently switched hosts (from Geekstorage to CrocWeb), and decided to do a fresh start with my blog.

So I started fresh. But then tonight, while working with my old site’s sql archive, I accidentally overwrote this site with all my old posts. So I went with rule three and rolled with it.

Obviously none of my media made the sql rebuild trip, so a quick unpack and upload of my old archive’s media folder and I was fully up and running.

I only had one new post from this morning, so a quick repost of that and everything is back to new.

.:.

A few things I’m trying out on the new site — a new theme. Twenty Fifteen. It’s the default, but I’m going with it for a while instead of fiddling with perfection. I actually like it.

Speaking of fiddling with perfection, I’ve stripped back some of the plugins I spent way too much time trying to get working perfectly last time around. As much as I like the style and sentiment of Dave Winer’s paragraph links, I’ll wait on implementing that and others for a while.

I am going to try implementing Alex King/Crowd Favorite’s Threads along the way, though.

.:.

So in the end, it was a search in my archives for a photo of the best little blues bar in Bangkok that ‘prompted’ me to get everything back on this site. And I still can’t find the photo.

That’s life, I suppose.