Pixel-stained technopeasant editing @currentaccount for @newstatesman. Covering economics, comics, tech and London. Pretending to drive the DLR since 1989.
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Band uses video delay to create “a mesmerizing visual loop sampler”

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A band called The Academic cleverly took advantage of the slight broadcast delay in Facebook Live to construct a loop sampler out of video, so that at any given moment, each member of the band is performing with their past and future selves and bandmates.

We rearranged each instrument on “Bear Claws” to fit Facebook Live’s delay, with each loop getting more complex, adding instruments, rhythms, and melodies. Additionally, by projecting the video live from a soundstage we created an infinite tunnel consisting of all the previously recorded loops.

OK Go is probably kicking themselves for not thinking of this first. See also Piano/Video Phase, David Cossin’s performance of Steve Reich’s Piano Phase with himself. (via clive thompson)

Tags: audio   music   The Academic   video
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paulnewmanseyes
1205 days ago
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London
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ameel
1204 days ago
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Whoa.
Melbourne, Australia

Fargo TV series

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I had forgotten the Coens were turning Fargo into a FX TV series. But time has ground onward steadily and lo, the series is set to premiere in April. Here are a whole set of teaser trailers:

Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Freeman, Colin Hanks, Bob Odenkirk, Oliver Platt? Could be good. (via devour)

Tags: Coen brothersFargotrailersTVvideo
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paulnewmanseyes
2507 days ago
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Five men leading an adaptation of a film with one of the most compelling female leads in the last 25 years. Progress.
London
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cinebot
2509 days ago
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sold.
toronto.

How money can buy happiness, wine edition

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I spent the past couple of days in Berkeley, participating in a number of events at the inaugural Berkeley Ideas Festival. The highlight for me was interviewing Donald MacDonald, the architect of the new (and magnificent) Bay Bridge. But I was also asked to present a little “provocation” on the second morning, in between heavier sessions covering topics like the effect of 3D printing on the manufacturing workforce and the rise of the plutocracy.

So I thought I’d be a little servicey, and let the audience into a secret: specifically, the secret of how to buy happiness with money.

Berkeley is a fun place to give such a talk, since it’s full of the kind of people who are convinced as a matter of principle that money can’t buy happiness. (Where “money”, much of the time, is code for “San Francisco”.) And it’s also the kind of place where the idea of the hedonic treadmill — the theory which says that we all have our own set level of happiness. Good things can happen to us, which make us happy, and bad things can happen to us, which make us sad, but the effect doesn’t last very long. Even if very good things happen to us, like winning the lottery, or very bad things happen to us, like becoming quadriplegic or losing a spouse, we eventually end up back where we started. (The only reasonably sure-fire way of bringing the set point down, interestingly enough, is becoming and then staying unemployed.)

Now there are things which make us happy, briefly. You might even have heard the saying that “anybody who thinks that money can’t buy happiness, has never bought a puppy“. But every adult also knows that for all their upside, puppies also come with a downside.

So what we’re looking for here isn’t something which will lift the line forever — only spiritual gurus promise that. And it’s not something where short-term happiness ends up being paid for with long-term side-effects. Instead, what we’re looking for is something which will predictably make us happier in the short term, which will have very little in the way of negative long-term effects, and which can be repeated as often as you like. Basically, any time you want to be happier, spend some money on this, and you’ll be happier. And then it’s over, and you can go back to your life, and if you want to do it again, you can.

This is a non-trivial task, because of the way the hedonic treadmill works: you get used to stuff. Remember those lottery winners. People become habituated to nice things: while your bigger house or fancier car can indeed make you happy in the short term, you get used to it pretty quickly, and before long you just become scared to lose it. I was very happy with my living conditions when I was in college, but I’d hate to go back to them now. So if your goal is happiness, you don’t want to wind up in what I think of as the collector mindset: the feeling that whatever you have is somehow incomplete, and that buying new things is a way of temporarily filling a void. We don’t want that: we don’t want something where you’re sad when you don’t have it. We just want something where you’re happy when you do have it. And which you can buy with money.

Now most of the time, in most areas, even if money doesn’t buy happiness, it does buy quality. If you spend $100,000 on a car, it’s going to be a better car than the one rusting away on the second-hand lot which is on sale for $3,500. The positive correlation between price and quality is a basic law of capitalism — but there are exceptions. And one of the main exceptions is wine.

If you study what happens in blind tastings, you get the same result over and over and over again. You can try this at home, if you like; I’ve done that many times, with friends, and it’s a lot of fun. You can do a scientific analysis of more than 6,000 wine tastings, which found a negative correlation between price and quality. Or you can look at the wines which win medals at wine competitions, where it turns out that winning one competition gives you no greater likelihood of winning the next one, and where if you enter the same wine two or three times in the same competition, it can appear all over the place in the final results.

But here’s the trick: if you can’t buy happiness by spending more money on higher quality, then you can buy happiness by spending money taking advantage of all the reasons why people still engage in blind tastings, despite the fact that they are a very bad way to judge a wine’s quality. If you know what the wine you’re tasting is, if you know where it comes from, if you know who made it, if you’ve met the winemaker, and in general, if you know how expensive it is — then that knowledge deeply affects — nearly always to the upside — the way in which you taste and appreciate the wine in question.

Fortunately, nearly all of the time that we taste wine in the real world, we do know what we’re drinking — and we do know (at least roughly) how expensive it is. In those situations, the evidence is clear: When we know how much we spent on what we’re drinking, then the correlation between price and enjoyment is incredibly strong.

The more you spend on a wine, the more you like it. It really doesn’t matter what the wine is at all. But when you’re primed to taste a wine which you know a bit about, including the fact that you spent a significant amount of money on, then you’ll find things in that bottle which you love. You can call this Emperor’s New Clothes syndrome if you want, but I like to think that there’s something real going on. After all, what you see on the label, including what you see on the price tag, is important information which can tell you a lot about what you’re drinking. And the key to any kind of connoisseurship is informed appreciation of something beautiful.

In another session at the Berkeley conference, I interviewed Randall Grahm, the biodynamic winemaker. I love biodynamic wines, even though I think that the philosophy behind them (cosmic rays, etc) is in large part completely bonkers. And I think that a large part of the reason why biodynamic wines taste so honest and delicious is that the discipline of biodynamic winemaking forces winemakers to spend much more effort and concentration on the way they grow and harvest their grapes. Similarly, when you really pay attention to the wine that you’re drinking — something which you’re much more likely to do when you know that it’s expensive — you’re going to be able to discover beauty and nuance which you might otherwise miss.

What’s more, it stands to reason that the more we know about what we’re drinking, the more we’re going to like it. And that if you’re talking about something as complex and enigmatic as wine, the apotheosis of agricultural artistry, then there’s going to be more to find in a bottle of fine Burgundy than there is in a bottle of Blue Nun. After all, the global consensus on which wines are the very best in the world has been remarkably consistent for centuries.

Taste in wine is a real thing, which, while it does change over time, does so much less radically than does, say, taste in furniture. It’s an elusive thing, hard to pin down, and there are many reasons why it’s especially hard to isolate in the artificial environment of the blind tasting. But it does exist, and it’s undeniable that nearly everybody who buys and drinks expensive wine (say, $20 per bottle and over) gets real pleasure out of doing so. (“Real pleasure”, I should note, is a redundant phrase: all pleasure is real, no matter whether its genesis is more likely to be a label or a liquid.)

And here’s the really clever bit: even if you think that this is all just a case of the Emperor’s New Clothes, and that the whole concept of fine wine is at heart a con, the correlation between price and pleasure still holds up. As Daniel Kahneman says, it’s one thing to know your cognitive biases; it’s something else entirely to overcome them.

I, for instance, am absolutely convinced, on an intellectual level, that the whole concept of “super-premium vodka” is basically one big marketing con. Vodka doesn’t taste of anything: that’s the whole point of it. As such the distinction between a super-premium vodka and a premium vodka is entirely one of price and branding. And yet, it works! The genius of Grey Goose was that it created a whole new category above what always used to be the high end of the vodka market — and in doing so, managed to create genuine happiness among vodka drinkers who spent billions of dollars buying up the super-premium branding. But if someone asks me what kind of vodka I’d like in my martini, I still care, a bit. And if I my drink ends up being made with, say, Tito’s, I’m going to savor it more than I would if I had no idea what vodka was being used.

What’s more, you don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars on first-growth Bordeaux for this to work. You just need to spend a little bit more than you normally do — enough that you consider it to be a special bottle of wine. That’s it! When you sit down and pop it open, probably with people you love, in pleasant surroundings, everything is set for a very happy outcome.

And you can do this again and again and again. Spend money on an expensive bottle of wine, open it up, drink it, enjoy it, repeat. I’m not talking about collecting wine, here, that’s a different pathology. I’m just talking about drinking it. There’s really no downside, beyond for the money you’re spending — a single bottle of great wine, shared with a friend or two, isn’t even going to give you a hangover. You can convert money into happiness as often as you like: it never gets old.

This explains, I think, why rich people tend to be so fond of fine wine: it’s the most consistently reliable way that they can convert money into happiness. So if you have a bit of disposable income, get yourself down to your local wine shop. It’ll make you happy, I promise.

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paulnewmanseyes
2643 days ago
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"You can convert money into happiness as often as you like: it never gets old."
London
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Companies With "Cash on the Sidelines" Should Pay Their Workers More

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American companies have been piling up more and more cash lately, which perversely has become a talking point for why the government should make public policy friendlier to large rich established companies. Sen. Senator Tom Coburn yesterday lamented that Congress has not been "doing the things to create the confidence, to create the certainty in the business community that will allow the significant capital that's sitting on the sidelines to be invested, which would create some of the growth that you're hoping to do."

I think a less ridiculous viewpoint would be to say that the enormous volume of cash on hand that many companies have obtained goes to show that they should pay their workers more. The case against simply pressuring companies to raise wages, after all, is that operating surpluses are where tomorrow's investments come from. And that makes perfect sense. Over the long term, the way you get rising wages is from full employment, innovation, and capital deepening. You don't get any of those things by simply putting more money in the pockets of already employed workers. So to the extent that managers are running lean and mean operations in order to fund the Next Great Thing, I say good for them.

But if you're just throwing another bag of $100 bills on the old corporate treasury and whining about "uncertainty" then why not take that cash off the sidelines and put it into the hands of the team that brought in the revenue? Raise wages! Pay a bonus! Do a share buyback and then give the staff equity in the company! I mean, why not? Because you heard in business school that the best thing is always to pay people as little as possible? That's dumb. If you can think of something better to do with the money that you have to go hire some people to execute, then by all means—hire the people.

But to run a profitable business and then just do nothing with the surplus? Why? Back in the day when we had labor unions in the private sector this would go without saying. If profits soar, people are going to say "give us some of the money or else we're going on strike and the profits will vanish." That doesn't mean the management has to give in, but they have to come up with something to say in response. "No, we won't give you the money because we're doing blah blah blah with it and that'll be better for the long run because such and such." That's management. You've got money, you come up with something to do with it. This idea that somehow the United States Congress needs to step in and create "certainty" so that you know what to invest in is ridiculous. Either come up with an investment, or cough up the money.

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paulnewmanseyes
2743 days ago
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London
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Logic Says San Francisco Must Upzone: The Needs of the Many Outweigh The Needs of the Few

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Frank Chiachieri tweeted this morning "[s]aw Star Trek yesterday and now awaiting @mattyglesias post on how Federation $$ convinced SF NIMBYs to accept massive density increases."

I don't think Federation money is the real issue here. It's simple logic. Memory Alpha, the web's leading Star Trek wiki states:

San Francisco benefited enormously from the radical changes that came after  First Contact with the  Vulcans. It soon became home to important  United Earth institutions, including the precursor to  Starfleet. The skyline was also altered significantly, with a host of new skyscrapers eclipsing both the  Transamerica Building and  Golden Gate Bridge.

Clearly the key factor here is the influx of Vulcan logic. NIMBYism in prosperous urban areas is essentially an insider-outsider conflict. Incumbents view it as contrary to their interests to upzone and allow for increased development. But relatively few people are comfortable with a politics of naked selfishness, and that's especially true for the kind of ostensible left-wingers who populated coastal cities such as San Francisco. But human beings are extremely good at rationalizing, and so Bay Area NIMBYs have a lot of pseudo-progressive pseudo-reasons for taking anti-density stands. That kind of politics of rationalization goes entirely out the window once Vulcans arrive on the scene. With their cool logic, Vulcans swiftly persuade the people of earth that severe land-use restrictions are a deeply negative-sum form of public policy. The slogan that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few further punctures the insider-outsider politics of anti-density zoning.

With logic-based land use reform sweeping all across earth, it turns out that the San Francisco Bay Area has a combination of high average incomes, pleasant climate, and a longstanding spirit of diversity and assimilation that's difficult to match. Construction booms also occur in London, New York, and other major cities but ultimately San Francisco outpaces them. Eventurally San Francisco / San Jose comes to surpass Tokyo / Yokohama and Seoul / Incheon in scale and that combined with its lack of historical service as a political center for a nation-state make it the logical headquarters for the United Earth government and, later, the Federation Council.

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paulnewmanseyes
2803 days ago
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Why Vulcan-logic-based-land-use-reform is the key to San Francisco's position as the HQ of Starfleet
London
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Uninformed Economic Voters

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Recently, your friend and mine Cliff Bleszinski wrote an essay defending microtransactions in general and EA in specific. There are a lot of things to be said about this essay - some of which are said expertly by Jim Sterling here, and some of which touch on concepts discussed by Shamus Young writing a couple of years ago about Bobby Kotick here and here.

Cliff's main point is that game developers exist within an economic landscape, and as such they will do what makes them money and avoid what doesn't. As consumers, our job is to vote with our wallets, supporting what we like and boycotting what we don't.

In response to this, I'm going to finally post something I wrote back in October 2011. I never put it up before because I couldn't find a way to turn it into a full article. It's really just one simple idea. But as foreseen by Nathan Grayson and proved by the recent SimCity debacle, if anything it's more relevant today than it was a year and a half ago.

Here it is.




I remember when buying games wasn't a political statement.

I know I'm venturing dangerously close to get-off-my-lawn territory, but surely you remember too - it wasn't that long ago. Buying a game was casting an economic vote for the kind of content you wanted to see in games - not for the sleazy tricks you'd let publishers and distributors get away with.

We already talked about Diablo III's lack of offline single-player and ban on mods a couple of times. And now it turns out that Batman: Arkham City is placing offline, single-player content - the Catwoman levels - behind an "online pass" that will cost you extra if you buy used and which can only be activated online.

You may really want these games, and may not personally be troubled by the new constraints. Maybe you were going to buy Batman new and only play Diablo online anyway. But you still might be concerned about the precedents being set, and maybe you don't want to spend money saying that these practices are a-okay with you. If so, I know exactly how you feel.

It's a minefield you don't have to worry about with other media. To decide whether to buy a movie or a book or an album or a painting you mostly just have to decide whether you're interested in its content. You don't have to research its delivery method. You never take home a DVD only to find that since you bought it used, you'll have to fork over a couple more bucks if you want to watch the director's commentary. You never buy a book only to find that, as an anti-theft measure, it can only be read while you're in view of a CCTV camera. Recent videogames are unprecedented in that the mechanics of acquiring and consuming their content can vary tremendously and without warning from title to title.

Because we've been long trained by other media that this isn't something you have to look out for, most people don't. How many people buying Arkham City will do so because they've decided they don't mind the online pass - and how many will do it because they walked into a GameStop and—hey, look, Batman! Batman's awesome.

A lot of the economic votes that come in, demonstrating that publishers can pull these tricks and still get our money, are completely uninformed. You and I know these games come with these barbs, because we are interested enough in gaming to read about it online. This places us firmly in the minority. Most people who buy these games have no idea what they're getting themselves into.

Which makes it seem all the sneakier that the boldest of these experiments always seem to come attached to games that a huge number of people are guaranteed to buy anyway. It seems that the more hotly anticipated a game is, the more likely it'll come inextricably attached to a new way to devalue a product in the name of cost cutting or profit protecting.
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paulnewmanseyes
2866 days ago
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I remember when the world was like this. :-(
London
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spavis
2866 days ago
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the second post in 2 years from one of my favorite blogs. rss is not dead. pixel poppers on simcity & profit protection
Chicago, IL
spavis
2866 days ago
turns out you can make simcity run offline just by removing two lines of code http://www.cinemablend.com/games/SimCity-Offline-Mode-Now-Available-General-Public-53739.html
jwolman
2866 days ago
first!
jwolman
2866 days ago
Okay, actual substantive response: the really scary thing is that I don't agree with the premise that other forms of media are not susceptible to these issues. All digital media can be laden with DRM and other usage restrictions (e.g., as far as I know there's no way to back up Comixology files so you can read them later if you have to wipe your device). So basically this post is right but doesn't go nearly far enough in sounding the alarm about how much we let publishers get away with.