The Horde (in a comments section)

I’ve long been a fan of TNC (earlier instalments, among others, here and here). It’s nice to read an article on what his comments section did well, and how he did it:

If there’s a lesson to be taken away from the story of the Horde, it might be—depressingly—that trying to build a comment section that truly adds value to a writer’s work will inevitably become more trouble than it’s worth. For years, the Horde gave me hope for a better internet, but these days I tend to believe that comment sections are just tumors on otherwise good journalism, and that we’d all be better off without them.

Things I’ve seen recently

Lunchbox

Lunchbox is a love story, of sorts. A lonely woman, with few outlets outside her home, connects with a man who mistakenly receives the lunchbox meant for her husband. This is an anomaly in Mumbai’s highly efficient, interconnected lunchbox delivery system (it’s a thing).

It may be an anomaly, but it opens a communications channel between a crusty old office worker, and a young woman looking for something to change in a life that isn’t fulfilling. You’ll be unsurprised that they find tenderness in communicating with each other, that the crusty old man is humanised somewhat, and connects a little more, and the young woman finds the courage to step out into the unknown.

It’s a tender, well-presented movie, and it doesn’t feel overdone. Well worth it.

The play that goes wrong

The play that goes wrong is delightful. There’s a play, which is well performed. But the real theatre is watching the poor struggling actors attempting to perform a play, as the set falls apart around them – at first slowly, and then at an accelerating rate.

The delightful comedy is in their struggle to improvise, to respond, to the cruelty of a universe that doesn’t want to let them finish a line without a prop or piece of the stage giving way.

Well worth it.

Articles

A few random things:

  • James Fallows writing in 2003, in an interesting reflection on whether Rupert Murdoch pursues expansion of a media empire for political or economic reasons:

… some aspects of News Corp’s programming, positions, and alliances serve conservative political ends, and others do not. But all are consistent with the use of political influence for corporate advantage. In the books I read and interviews I conducted, I found only one illustration of Murdoch’s using his money and power for blatantly political ends: his funding of The Weekly Standard. The rest of the time he makes his political points when convenient as an adjunct to making money.

Despite the overwhelming opportunity Amazon and Netflix provide, a duopoly is not a democracy. The biases of the people who curate the experiences on these services could dictate the shape of small-scale moviemaking for decades to come.

  • Myths over Miami is a harrowing piece about the stories children believe when everything around them is unjust.

Books and articles

Other minds: The octopus and the evolution of intelligent life by Peter Godfrey-Smith

Octopuses, and cephalopods in general, are fascinating creatures. If you haven’t read about giant squid, you should, right now. Seriously, I’ll wait.

That’s before we even get to octopus escapes.

Given such an intriguing topic, I was excited to read Other minds. What was disappointing was that Peter Godfrey-Smith did so little with the topic. The book is largely a recap of evolutionary theory. Which is interesting and important, but doesn’t say much that’s new, and was probably covered in too much depth. The most interesting part here for me, was that he recaps briefly some of the evolutionary theory on ageing, which I hadn’t come across before.

There’s a little bit of a recap here on consciousness, and different theories (see the quote below that references a theory that’s very reminiscent of the ideas put forth in The Ego Tunnel).

But for the most part, the only thing that Godfrey-Smith talks about that’s new is Octopolis, a fascinating site where octopuses display much more social behaviour than had previously been spotted. But Godfrey-Smith doesn’t tell a fascinating story, and for the most part is cautious about drawing out deep conclusions from the research at Octopolis.

All in all, it’s a useful overview, but Other minds ultimately is an uninteresting book on a fascinating topic. If you’re out to read about theory of mind and cephalopods, I’d wait for the next book.

… an octopus has three hearts, not one. Their hearts pump blood that is blue-green, using copper as the oxygen-carrying molecules instead of the iron which makes our blood red …

In birds like pigeons, each retina has two different “fields,” the yellow field and the red field. The red field sees a small area in front of the bird where there is binocular vision, and the yellow field sees a larger area that the other eye cannot access. Pigeons not only failed to transfer information between eyes; they also did quite badly at transfer between different regions of the same eye. This might explain some distinctive bird behaviors … hens approached … an object in a weaving way that seemed designed to give the different parts of each eye access to it. That, apparently, is the way the whole bird gets access to the object. The weaving gaze of a bird is a technique designed to slosh the incoming information around …

What we experience, in this view, is the internal model of the world that complex activities in us produce and sustain …

The emotional arcs of stories are dominated by six basic shapes

This is a paper by Reagan, Mitchell, Kiley, Danforth and Sheridan Dodds.  It’s based on their ‘hedonometer’, the guts of which is:

… the 5,000 most frequent words from a collection of four corpora: Google Books, New York Times articles, Music Lyrics, and Twitter messages, resulting in a composite set of roughly 10,000 unique words. Using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk service, we had each of these words scored on a nine point scale of happiness: (1) sad to (9) happy …

They then ran a large body of stories through their hedonometer:

We extracted and analyzed the emotional arcs of 1,722 novels from the Project Gutenberg corpus using sentiment analysis, and found six common shapes …

There’s more detail in the paper, but they argue that there are six basic shapes that emerge consistently:

  • Rise (‘rags to riches’)
  • Fall (tragedy)
  • Fall-rise (‘man in a hole’)
  • Rise-fall (‘Icarus’)
  • Rise-fall-rise (‘Cinderella’)
  • Fall-rise-fall (‘Oedipus’)

Intriguing stuff.