When Sally met Pascal

Valentine’s Day didn’t use to be a thing in Denmark, but it is becoming one, helped by florists, chocolatiers and everyone else eyeing opportunity. Fine with me – February is a cold and dark month that can do with a holiday (as is October and November, which is why I support reinstating All Hallows Eve as a public holiday, never mind the pumpkins and trick-or-treating).

This year, with two little kids and following a busy week we didn’t prepare a romantic evening, but once there was quiet, we watched Casablanca for the first time in many years, remembering it as one romantic movie. It still is, as well as many other things. It is a movie with many qualities, which must be the reason why it is still talked about. One particular quality that I noted this time was the tight script and story. It is a dramatic film full of love and emotion and the movie manages to tell that story without adding syrup.

The next movie we watched was When Harry met Sally… (we got inspired by watching Casablanca, which is referenced several times in When Harry… I really liked that movie and back in the 90s it was among my favorites because of its great, entertaining dialogue. Watching it again after many years’ pause was great. The dialogue is as sharp as ever (and it is also a great movie to recall New York). Every word matters, and not a word said that isn’t necessary.

It is great contrast to another recent movie memory of mine: the Hobbit trilogy. Those are movies with a different sort of script, where it seems that extra content has been entered to make a relatively short book fill up 8 hours of movie trilogy. Maybe I just wasn’t in the right mood when watching it – I actually felt bored (but I have great memories with other Peter Jackson movies: for example, some of his earlier movies like Bad Taste and Heavenly Creatures were eye openers when I first saw them – in each their own way).

There are many ways to write a good script. When Harry Met Sally’s won the 1989 BAFTA and was nominated for an Academy award (the winner was Dead Poet’s Society) and Casablanca won the 1942 Oscar for screenplay; whereas Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh won both BAFTA and Oscar for best adapted screenplay with The Return of the King (script less bloated than the Hobbit movies). Of course, original and adapted screenplays are two different things – means to different ends – and should be compared as much as apples and bananas should – just like different movies have different purposes and audiences and shouldn’t be compared either. (It is worth noting that Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh also received an academy award nomination for best original screenplay in 1994 with Heavenly Creatures).

I like the idea of crisp writing and recognize it take effort to write. Like mathematician Blaise Pascal wrote about a letter: “I have made this [letter] longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter (link). Or, anyone can stand up and speak about some topic for an hour without preparation, whereas speaking about it for a few minutes only, requires thought and preparation (link).

Another script I recently enjoyed for being crisp and not dragging things out unnecessarily was Rambo, First Blood Part 2 – that one also avoids unnecessary talk and gets the plot underway fast. Of course, Sylvester Stallone may not have been thinking along the lines of Blaise Pascal when writing that script, but instead focused on telling a story of a hero doing heroic things (and rehabilitating Vietnam war veterans). Actually, the script won a Razzie award for worst screenplay, while receiving an academy award nomination for best sound editing (the 3rd Hobbit movie got nominated in that category too)

There are many ways to enjoy a movie. Great special effects, breathtaking action, deep emotions. There are different movies for different moods, and sometimes it is just as enjoyable to watch how a movie is made, as actually watching the movie itself.

For the next while I will pay extra attention to the script of the movies I watch. Is it crisp? Dialogue or scenery focused? I will stay with Peter Jackson – next up is Meet the Feebles.

Bricks, Mortar and the Net

My wife and I just visited a local knitting store to buy yarn for a sweater/cap set for a little niece and scout yarn for an upcoming sweater-for-me project. It didn’t go the way we hoped.

Now, local stores of any kind have been challenged for a long time. Most recently by internet trade, but before that they were threatened by malls and super markets, before that plain competitors and stores selling newer and better products. Still, in recent times internet trade has probably given the coup de grace to many small shops that were already struggling.

It doesn’t have to be like that of course. Good service and the opportunity to see and feel a product can still make the local store relevant. For example, I have never seriously though about buying aquarium fish and plants online – not when I can go somewhere and see that the animals are healthy and look good; and where I can get a qualified discussion about the answers. We want to support that and don’t mind paying (a bit) extra to support them.

However, this time we didn’t get the chance. When we asked the first question about the pattern, we were advised to go check it on the publisher’s web site. When we asked for some specific yarn for the niece project we were told that it was not in store at the moment. (Period. No alternate yarn was suggested and there was no saying when new would be ordered.)

Surprised, we left the store with money in the hand and went to publisher’s web site which helpfully provided “buy yarn here ->” links.

The ordered yarn arrived the next day.

Snap! [Updated]

Yesterday [Oct 10] news broke that Gigabytes’ worth of Snapchat photos and videos had been posted on the Internet. Yet another hack with personal info stolen, but what makes this different is that confidentiality was breached at several levels. Not only was data stolen from an insufficiently protected service, but the fact that data was there to be stolen in the first place, goes very much against the point of a service that should destroy messages after few seconds.  It has now reported that the material did not come from Snapchat itself, but from SnapSaved – a third party app used to save the shared files online (detailed report from Ars Technica ->here and comment from the app developer ->here). According to the reports the leak was caused by a webserver that was not configured correctly.

I haven’t tried Snapchat myself – I am probably too old with too boring interests to try out something that looks like a digital doctor game (with opportunities for mature flirting and nasty “your Mommy and Daddy will never know”) – but as long as no laws are broken and noone abused, it ain’t my business [Update: I am definitely too old, but there is plenty of business for some]. However, I feel bad for everyone who has shared private photos and videos with friends, lovers, spouses in good faith that the other part was also using the service in the way it was intended. Now all Snapchatters must wonder if their partners in fun can be trusted

The initial coverage in here Denmark focused on how people are naive and way too trusting on the Internet (plus the inevitable sensationalism), hinting that everybody getting their pictures exposed only got themselves to blame (ha!). And while I do not disagree that people should take web security more seriously, I think it is wrong. First of all, that is blaming the victim, ignoring the criminal hacking/leaking and the negligent hosting. Second, considering the data breaches from major corporations and from public institutions where you have little or no choice of having your data registered, anyone can become a victim at some point. Third, even if the victims have done all the right things to protect them selves online, they would not be protected when the people they shared with stored data that was supposed to be destroyed.

The nature of the incident does not change the usual advice about safe conduct on the internet:

  • Use strong passwords
  • Don’t use the same password on several sites
  • Use two-factor authentication when possible
  • Be careful what services you use and what you install (keep an eye on permissions)
  • Remember you never know who will see content you share on Web (apart from NSA and colleagues),

but this story adds another point to the list:

  • consider if the people you share with understand safe conduct as well and whether you can trust them at all

(actually, this is nothing new and perhaps a painful reminder was due).

In a world fighting global warmth, international terrorism and ebola, this may not seem like a big issue. But when such broken trust takes away the kind of things that makes life  bearable, it is serious.

Evolution of Mankind, Small Thoughts on…

A few days ago, I met with friends and our conversation moved around, back and forth, and at one point touched upon genetics. It started with some thoughts about why my little daughter (and many other toddlers) refuse to eat vegetables. They are healthy and “good for you”, so why do children seem universally opposed to eat them? My answer: The environment where humankind evolved was full of green stuff, much of which was absolutely not “good for you”, and possibly deadly poisonous. In such a place, the genes most likely to make it into another generation that would survive long enough to be passed on yet again, would be those instructing the host to be better safe than sorry when it comes to new food (so here’s a perfect excise to all picky eaters that subscribe to the idea of evolution).

Now, given that my supermarket doesn’t sell poisonous broccoli (?), how come that we still don’t want vegetables when we are so young?  One reason could be that evolution takes time, especially if there is no strong selection pressure on a given trait. It seems that most parents will work hard to make their offspring eat greens (there is a gene for that too, whose chance of propagating depends on the hosts insistence on making their descendants eat vegetables). In addition, the gene for picky eating might be coupled to a completely unrelated trait that is essential to survival (for an example of this, read about Dmitri Belyaev’s domesticated silver foxes, e.g. in Wikipedia).

Conversation moved on, and at one point, I wondered would happen if the was no selection pressure. Will our convenient life style make us slower, weaker and less intelligent; but more likely to eat vegetables? Perhaps, in the long term, if our genome is left entirely to its own.

Who knows, but I am sure the time isn’t yet. Instead, the selection pressure has changed. Instead of being our ability to withstand dessert sun, chew grains or outwit mammoths; basic fertility may be the new big thing. Fertility may never had been a thing to take for granted (and sadly surviving the birth of healthy children still isn’t in many parts the world), but our current environment isn’t helping: Male fertility is threatened by hormone disrupting chemicals in clothing, plant hormones in grain and who knows what else. And women accumulate environmental poisons in their bodies, especially breasts, from where it is passed on too missed children (read Florence Williams “Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History” for further info). Also, we are having children layer and later, sometimes at an age that is past the life expectancy in the more primitive societies of humankind’s past. So maybe that is where evolution is taking us now: less vulnerability to the chemicals that are all around us and a later menopause.

(lots of) Time will tell…

Vacation on the EDGE

I just returned home from a week’s vacation with wife and child in a cottage in Thy on the Danish west coast. Lovely place, excellent cottage and great to be together with the family.
One thing that set this trip apart from other recent trips is that out on the moor near the sea, the connection to the wide webbed world is through EDGE network. A shake one. So no catching up on all the interesting Web stuff that I keep in Pocket for vacation reading (will Read It much Later now). No deep diving into new apps and no steamed media. Only enough bandwidth for news headlines and a couple of critical mails – everything else being a pain.

And that has been great really. So much less distraction and little things that need checking all the time. Instead full attention on being where I was and with whom; the whole experience so much more intense (in the way that eating a pre-season ice cream in a fishing town is intense).

So maybe next time I travel I should go to faraway places and hotels with no Wi-Fi, celebrating the high roaming costs. Then again, maybe not. But it has been a great vacation on shaky EDGE.