kottke.org posts about TV
The elaborate courtship rituals of animals from around the world are featured heavily in every BBC nature documentary series. (See, for instance, these birds of paradise…if you haven’t seen this before, wait for the giant clicking smile.) In the video above featuring a scene from the 2014 series Life Story, watch a Japanese puffer fish create an elaborate pattern in the sand in order to attract a mate. Narrator David Attenborough calls the puffer fish “probably nature’s greatest artist” and I gasped at the full reveal of his creation.
Don’t pay too much attention to the letter grades, they’re super subjective. Oh, and don’t pay too much attention to the descriptions…also subjective. You know what, you should probably just skip this post and watch Planet Earth II instead. It’s objectively great.
The Handmaiden. Khoi Vinh turned me onto this. Loved it. (A)
What Happened, Miss Simone? Nina Simone is underrated. There are some spine-tingling live musical moments in this film. (B+)
The Three-Body Problem. Recommended by Barry. The first book is great, the next two are good but pretty depressing. (B+)
Moonlight. While this didn’t grab me as much as it did everyone else, the Academy got it right. (A-)
The Night Manager. I can see what Taylor Swift saw in Tom Hiddleston. (B+)
T2 Trainspotting. If you saw and loved the original, you should see this. It is somehow nostalgic and also not. (B)
Girls. The struggles of 20-something New Yorkers and the crises of 40-something males may not be the same, but they sure do rhyme. (B+)
Beauty and the Beast. Better than I expected, even for a musical about the Stockholm syndrome. (I mean, why didn’t the Beast let Belle go like waaaay sooner?) I never saw the original when I was a kid but somehow knew all the songs anyway? I even got a little teary at the end but perhaps that’s just because my emotional life is a puddly mess rn. (B)
Hidden Figures. Really liked this. (A-)
Turing’s Cathedral. Raging Bull. Manchester by the Sea. I am increasingly bored by stories about white dudes. Look at the rest of this list. The best stuff, the things I liked the most, are stories about or stories told by women or people of color or non-Americans. (C)
Homo Deus. Still haven’t finished this, but I’m persisting because Sapiens was so good. Hard to escape the conclusion that the sequel is not quite so good. (B-)
Planet Earth II. This is the best thing I’ve seen in the last year. Just fucking watch it already. (A+)
More Life. Liking this more than Views. Drake’s non-albums are better than his albums. (B+)
Mad Men. My second time through. Better than I remember and I remember it being great. (A+)
The Crown. Expected Downton (soapy but fun) but was rewarded with great acting and writing. Claire Foy as Elizabeth and John Lithgow as Churchill were *kisses fingers*. (A)
“Awaken My Love”. I’m sorry, I just couldn’t figure this one out. (C-)
Wonderland. Steven Johnson’s best book yet. (A)
The Underground Railroad. Nothing to say about this that already hasn’t been said. (A)
Logan. Producers are realizing they’ve stocked their superhero movies with great actors so maybe they should give them material worthy of their talents. (B+)
Finding Dory. It’s a movie about disability. (A-)
Abstract. Pretty good, but I agree with Rob Walker’s take. Niemann is closest to the way I work/think but I liked Bjarke’s episode the best…even though I’ve got some, er, issues with the guy. (B)
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. The script, not the play. I have now read all 8 of the Harry Potter books with my kids…it took more than 4 years. Very sad it’s over…it ended up being one of the most rewarding things I’ve done with them. (B+)
In the second episode of the 6th season of Mad Men, ad man Don Draper of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce pitches Heinz on a campaign where you never actually see the product. The ads show French fries, steak, and a hamburger with the tagline “Pass the Heinz” and your mind fills in the missing ketchup bit. Here’s the pitch (which doesn’t exactly land w/ the Heinz folks):
Now, in the real universe, the actual Heinz is running Draper’s ads.
Partly a PR stunt, partly just solid on-brand communications, the campaign is sure to delight fans of the AMC show, which in July will celebrate the 10th anniversary of its premiere. And in a nice touch, the ads are officially being credited to Heinz’s current agency, David Miami, and to Don’s fictional 1960s firm, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. (Draper and Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner, who approved the idea, are both listed in the credits.)
Heinz tells AdFreak that each one will get its own billboard in NYC. All three ads will also run in the New York Post, and the fries execution will run in Variety too. The ads will get support across Heinz’s social media channels as well.
See also Malcolm Gladwell on The Ketchup Conundrum.
The events and highly intricate plot lines of Breaking Bad take place over 62 episodes spanning 5 seasons, a true megamovie. Is it possible to edit all that down into a feature-length film that makes any sense? This fan-edit aims to answer that question.
What if Breaking Bad was a movie?
After two years of sleepless nights of endless editing, we bring you the answer to that very question. A study project that became an all-consuming passion.
It’s not a fan-film, hitting the highlights of show in a home-made homage, but rather a re-imagining of the underlying concept itself, lending itself to full feature-length treatment.
An alternative Breaking Bad, to be viewed with fresh eyes.
I haven’t had a chance to watch it yet — perhaps tonight — but am curious if it’s any good.
Update: Aaaaand it got taken down. Fun while it lasted! I’ve updated the embed to this copy on YouTube but that probably won’t last that long either.
Update: If you missed it yesterday before it got taken down, it seems to be back in its original home on Vimeo. *shrug* (Hahaha, it was up for about 10 minutes. Gone again!)
Maria Guadalupe, an economics and political science professor, and Joe Salvatore, a professor of educational theater, recently put on a pair of performances that restaged the three Presidential debates between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. But this time, they had a woman play the Trump role (as “Brenda King”) and a man play the Clinton role (as “Jonathan Gordon”), with each attempting to portray the precise mannerisms, styles, and speech of the respective candidates. How would audiences react to the gender-switched candidates?
Salvatore says he and Guadalupe began the project assuming that the gender inversion would confirm what they’d each suspected watching the real-life debates: that Trump’s aggression — his tendency to interrupt and attack — would never be tolerated in a woman, and that Clinton’s competence and preparedness would seem even more convincing coming from a man.
But the lessons about gender that emerged in rehearsal turned out to be much less tidy. What was Jonathan Gordon smiling about all the time? And didn’t he seem a little stiff, tethered to rehearsed statements at the podium, while Brenda King, plainspoken and confident, freely roamed the stage? Which one would audiences find more likeable?
The audience’s reaction to the performances was surprising.
We heard a lot of “now I understand how this happened” — meaning how Trump won the election. People got upset. There was a guy two rows in front of me who was literally holding his head in his hands, and the person with him was rubbing his back. The simplicity of Trump’s message became easier for people to hear when it was coming from a woman — that was a theme. One person said, “I’m just so struck by how precise Trump’s technique is.” Another — a musical theater composer, actually — said that Trump created “hummable lyrics,” while Clinton talked a lot, and everything she was was true and factual, but there was no “hook” to it. Another theme was about not liking either candidate — you know, “I wouldn’t vote for either one.”
Here’s a clip from one of the rehearsals:
I think it’s important not to take away too much from this experiment (and perhaps the same should be said of televised political debates in general) but after watching that short clip and hearing about the audience’s reaction, I couldn’t help but think of Al Gore. In the lead-up to the election, I’d never thought of Clinton that way — meaning very smart, compassionate, and supremely qualified but ultimately a bit dull and uninspiring a la Gore — but maybe she did lack a critical charisma compared to Trump.
Since the Kennedy/Nixon debates, we’ve known that how candidates handle themselves on television — in debates, interviews, televised speeches, etc. — is critical to the voters’ perceptions of them. Gore, Jimmy Carter, Michael Dukakis, Mitt Romney, Bob Dole, Walter Mondale, John Kerry…they all were bested by more charismatic candidates (Reagan, Obama, Bill Clinton) that were in some cases not as qualified on paper. Even the Bushes (especially Dubya) had an aw shucks-y folksiness that could charm people sympathetic to their message. Perhaps Hillary Clinton belongs on that list as well. (via mr)
Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels, a series of four novels set in post-war Naples, will be turned into a 32-part TV miniseries directed and co-written by Italian director Saverio Costanzo.
Mr. Costanzo, best known for “Private” and “Hungry Hearts” (which co-starred Adam Driver), said in a telephone interview that the biggest challenge to adapting the novels for television was how “to convey the same emotions as the books in a cinematographic way.”
He added that he was writing the script with the Italian writers Francesco Piccolo and Laura Paolucci, and that Ms. Ferrante was also expected to contribute to the screenplay. (He expects to communicate with the author via email.)
The series will be filmed in Italy in Italian. The first season will cover the first book, with eight episodes of 50 minutes each. Filming is expected to begin in Naples this year and the first season is expected to air in the fall of 2018.
This could be amazing or it could be terrible. Or I guess it could be mediocre. Or anywhere in between really. [Uh, thanks for that hard-hitting analysis, Jason. -ed] (via @tedgioia)
In 1938-39 on the eve of World War II, Nicholas Winton established an organization to rescue Jewish children living in Czechoslovakia from the Holocaust by giving them safe passage to Britain, which had recently approved a measure allowing refugees younger than 17 entry into the country. Winton’s organization ended up saving 669 children — future poets, politicians, scientists, and filmmakers among them. Getting these children out of Czechoslovakia was literally a matter of life and death. From Winton’s Wikipedia page:
The last group of 250, scheduled to leave Prague on 1 September 1939, were unable to depart. With Hitler’s invasion of Poland on the same day, the Second World War had begun. Of the children due to leave on that train, only two survived the war.
Although he continued his humanitarian work after the war, Winton rarely spoke of his efforts in saving the children. The full scope of what he had done was revealed only after his wife found a scrapbook in 1988 of the children’s names and the names of the British families that had taken them in. The public learned of Winton’s efforts on a TV show called That’s Life. Winton believed he was attending the show as an audience member, but it was revealed that he was actually sitting amongst about 2 dozen of the now-grown children that he had saved:
For his efforts, Winton was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2003. He died just a year and a half ago, at the age of 106.
In the first of a three-part video series, Vox’s Joss Fong looks at how the technology used to film nature documentaries has changed over the past 50 years and how the producers of Planet Earth II used contemporary image stabilization techniques to make the series with a more cinematic style.
In the 1970s and ’80s, it was enough for the NHU to show people a creature they’d never seen before and provide the details in the narration. The films were illustrated zoology lectures. Since then, the producers have become sticklers for capturing specific behaviors, and in Planet Earth II, they showcase the drama of those behaviors. Each scene sets up the characters to perform something - something brave, something brutal, something bizarre. They’ve made room for our emotions; that’s what cinematic storytelling means.
And visually, the cinematic approach means the camera is often moving.
Hollywood filmmakers have kept the camera in motion for decades, but for obvious reasons, it’s much more difficult when your subject is wildlife. As we explain in the video at the top of this post, NHU producers used new stabilization tools throughout the production of Planet Earth II to move the camera alongside the animals.
The program doesn’t make you wait long to showcase this new approach. The tracking shot of a lemur jumping from tree to tree is one of the first things you see in the first episode and it put my jaw right on the floor. It’s so close and fluid, how did they do that? Going into the series, I thought it was going to be more of the same — Planet Earth but with new stories, different animals, etc. — but this is really some next-level shit. The kids were more excited after watching it than any movie they’ve seen in the past 6 months (aside from possibly Rogue One). The Blu-ray will be out at the end of March1 but there’s also a 4K “ultra HD” version that had me researching new ultra HD TVs I don’t really need.
Oh, and remember that thrilling sequence of the snakes chasing the newly hatched iguanas? Here’s a short clip on how they filmed it.
Update: The second video in the series is an ode to the BBC’s pioneering use of slow motion and time lapse photography in their nature programs.
Fong also explains one of my favorite things to come out of the first Planet Earth show, the slow motion buffer capture system used by the crew to catch great white sharks leaping out of the water.
But also, digital high-speed cameras came with a continuous recording feature. Instead of pressing a button to start recording and then pressing it again to stop, they could press the button as soon as they saw some action, and the camera would save the seconds that happened before the button was pressed. That’s how the cameraman captured this great white shark coming out of the water, not just in the air, for this sequence in the 2006 Planet Earth series.
I hope the third program is on sound, which has been bugging me while watching Planet Earth II. I could be wrong, but they seem to be using extensive foley effects for the sounds the animals make — not their cries necessarily, but the sounds they make as they move. Once you notice, it feels deceptive.
Update: The concluding video in the series shows how the filmmakers use thermal and infrared cameras to capture scenes at night.
The bit at the end about the Sony a7S is interesting — as cameras go, this one is much cheaper than the professional high-def cameras used for most of the scenes but is way better in low light.
Some genius took footage from The Americans and cut it into an alternative music video for The Beastie Boys Sabotage. Compare with the real thing:
Pretty good! Plus it’s always great to hear that song. (thx, steve)
The official trailer for season five of The Americans is out and oooooooooh boy! I’m currently bingeing on The Night Manager and I love me some Halt and Catch Fire, but The Americans is my favorite pure-drama show1 right now. The actress who plays Paige is great and it looks like she’s going to be more involved in the plot than ever:
Look at her! Learning how to fight and reading Karl Marx! Oh, I can’t wait until March 7th! If you haven’t been following the show, all four of the previous seasons are available on Amazon Prime. I might have to rewatch!
Abstract is an upcoming documentary series from Netflix that explores the art of design. Each of the eight episodes profiles a designer at the top of their discipline: photographer Platon, graphic designer Paula Scher, stage designer Es Devlin, illustrator Christoph Niemann, architect Bjarke Ingels, shoe designer Tinker Hatfield, interior designer Ilse Crawford, and automotive designer Ralph Gilles.
Step inside the minds of the most innovative designers in a variety of disciplines and learn how design impacts every aspect of life.
Looks like a Chef’s Table for design. All episodes will be available February 10.
The original Planet Earth series was released 10 years ago. In celebration, BBC asked some YouTube creators to share their favorite scenes from the show. My pick would be the shark jumping out of the water, not least because of the technique the filmmakers invented to capture the scene.
From his seminal TV program Cosmos, Carl Sagan attempts to explain the fourth dimension of spacetime. The story starts with Edwin Abbott’s Flatland, but Sagan being Sagan, his explanation is especially lucid.
Damn the Brits! First Brexit paves the way for Trump (ok, not entirely accurate) and now they are currently enjoying Planet Earth II with the sublime David Attenborough while we Americans have to wait until late January 2017, at which point there might not even be a planet Earth on which to watch nature frolic on our living room high-definition displays. But — Jesus where was I? Oh yes: for now we can watch this clip from the Jungles episode of Planet Earth II about fungi, including some great time lapse footage of mushrooms growing, some of which glow in the dark! Also from Planet Earth II: the incredible iguana/snake chase scene and bears scratching themselves on trees. (via colossal)
Perhaps listening to the pulsing, creepy, and foreboding music from Black Mirror is too much at a time like this, but in case you’d really like to wallow, there are several albums of music from the show available on Spotify: Be Right Back, White Bear, White Christmas, Nosedive, and Men Against Fire. I’ve added all five albums to this Black Mirror playlist.
I hadn’t realized while watching, but the show used some top-shelf composers for the music, including Clint Mansell, Max Richter, and Geoff Barrow & Ben Salisbury (who did the Ex Machina soundtrack).
Black Mirror creator Charlie Brooker also put together a playlist of 80s music from the stand-out episode of season 3, San Junipero.
The playlist includes “tracks from the episode, tracks which didn’t make it in (for rights/other reasons)…and a couple which inspired elements of the story”.
With The Iron Giant, Ratatouille, and The Incredibles under his belt, Brad Bird is one of the most respected and accomplished animated filmmakers out there. For this video, Kees van Dijkhuizen Jr. pieced together a number of interviews and commentary tracks of Bird talking about how he approaches animation. Among the topics he discusses are the pleasures of sneaking around, the advantages of slowing down, and an appreciation of keeping the lights low.
At one point, Bird talks about how some makers of animated movies create scenarios that are too fantastic and then are, later on in their films, unable to interject a true sense of danger into the plot.
The mistake that people often make with animated films is that they love the gravity-defying aspect of it. But, if you defy gravity and then later on need to feel danger, you have a really hard time convincing the audience.
Contemporary superhero movies, even the good ones, often have this problem, and I wonder if it’s because they are essentially made like animated films with too much of the gravity-defying aspect. With CG and flawless green screens, you can essentially make anything happen on the screen, which somewhat counterintuitively lowers the stakes of what you’re watching.
I thought Westworld was going to have the same problem. The first few episodes were boring because they were set in a world where no one could get injured or killed. Park visitors could roll up to a Western town with a few guns and kill all of the inhabitants without much effort and at no personal risk. There were no stakes and it totally broke the fourth wall. But from the way the last few episodes have gone, it’s apparent the danger will come (from elsewhere) and that having the audience (both of the HBO show and the park’s paying patrons) consider the fourth wall is part of the point.
When Westworld started, I thought Hopkins’ character, park founder Robert Ford, was going to be a relatively minor player, an accomplished but past-prime actor popping up occasionally to function as a one-man chorus interpreting a tragedy for us. But as Evan Puschak shows in his breakdown of the Oscar winner’s performance in a single scene from Westworld, Hopkins is still near the height of his powers and Ford is at the center of the narrative. (Shout out as well to Jeffrey Wright and especially Thandie Newton, who along with Hopkins has been the stand-out performer so far.)
The year’s best action sequence isn’t in a Marvel movie or prestige TV drama, it’s from the first episode of Planet Earth II, which aired in the UK over the weekend. In it, a group of snakes chase a small iguana, which seems at the outset to have a tiny chance of escape.
Good god, that was thrilling. We might have a new champion.
Update: I love Tony Zhou’s cut with the soundtrack from Mad Max: Fury Road (with temp music, he says). Be sure to watch to the end.
Rodney Alcala, who was convicted of killing seven women between 1971 and 1979 and possibly murdered many more, took time out during his killing spree to appear on The Dating Game. At the time, he was a convicted child molestor. The Bachelorette picked him over the other two contestants.
The Bachelorette, Cheryl, doesn’t pick up on any of this. In fact, she ends up choosing Alcala over the other two contestants despite his lackluster answers like, “Nighttime is the best time,” and “I’m a banana… peel me.” However, she cut things off immediately after their one date, claiming that she found him “creepy.”
Imagine if that happened today…the lawsuits and outcry would have shut the show down immediately.
I haven’t quite figured out if HBO’s new show Westworld is any good or not,1 but I’m sticking with it at least through the first season. One of the fun things about the show — ok, maybe the only fun thing, Westworld takes itself pretty seriously — is the western-style covers of rock songs by the likes of Radiohead, Soundgarden, and The Rolling Stones. There’s a mini playlist of the main theme and some of the covers — Paint It Black by the Stones and Radiohead’s No Surprises — up on Spotify.
Oh, and here’s one of the most popular fan theories out there: the multiple timeline theory.
Update: The entire “two-disk” album from season 1 is up, which includes original music as well as covers like Radiohead’s Exit Music (For a Film). LOL.
On Conan last night, Louis C.K. had some things to say about the 2016 presidential election.
If you vote for Hillary you’re a grownup; if you vote for Trump you’re a sucker; if you don’t vote for anyone, you’re an asshole.
When I watch Black Mirror, particularly the newest Netflix season, I don’t think it’s primarily classic science fiction or about our relationship to technology.1 What I’m reminded of most strongly is The Twilight Zone and Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected, both of which appear on the list of movies, books, and TV shows that influenced Charlie Brooker while making Black Mirror.
I read Tales of the Unexpected when I was a kid, having exhausted all of the other Roald Dahl books in our small town library and one day randomly discovering that he’d written this book of short stories for adults. His use of horror and black comedy are evident in the most celebrated story, Lamb to the Slaughter, in which a woman murders her husband by whacking him in the head with a frozen leg of lamb and then serves the lamb to the police detectives who come round to investigate the death.
Anyway, what I didn’t know was that Tales of the Unexpected was also adapted into a TV show hosted by Dahl himself. I’ve embedded the Lamb to the Slaughter episode above and there are many more of the full episodes available on YouTube.
Over at GQ, Lincoln Michel shares 12 Books to Read After Binge-Watching Black Mirror. Among them:
The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin.
Version Control by Dexter Palmer.
Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami.
Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang.
Earlier this month, Black Mirror creator Charlie Brooker shared 105 cultural artifacts that influenced the series, including some surprises like Fawlty Towers — “often in our episodes, someone is trapped at the center of a dilemma they never get out of, and that describes every episode of Fawlty Towers” — Airplane!, and Radiohead’s The National Anthem, as well as more familiar influences like 2001, The X-Files, and The Matrix. Only a handful of books on the list though, including:
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller.
CivilWarLand in Bad Decline by George Saunders.
On Killing by Dave Grossman.
On Twitter recently, Joshua Topolsky called Black Mirror “the show for people who’ve never read any science fiction”. Perhaps that’s because Brooker hasn’t really either?
Soundcloud user kmlkmljkl took the Stranger Things opening title song and mixed it with Childish Gambino’s Bonfire. [fire emoji] [fire emoji] [fire emoji]
(Will they have Lando sing in the upcoming young Han Solo movie? That would be a brave move.)
This SNL Black Jeopardy skit with Tom Hanks is as good as everyone says it is. And it’s not just funny either…it’s the rare SNL skit that works brilliantly as cultural commentary. Kudos to the writers on this one.
Update: Writing for Slate, Jamelle Bouie details why the Black Jeopardy sketch was so good; the title of the piece asks, “The Most Astute Analysis of American Politics in 2016?”
When Thompson reads a second clue for that category — “They out here saying that every vote counts” — Doug answers again, and again correctly: “What is, come on, they already decided who wins even ‘fore it happens.’” With each correct answer, Doug gets cheers and applause from Thompson, the black contestants, and the black audience. They all seem to understand the world in similar ways. “I really appreciate you saying that,” says Thompson after Doug praises Tyler Perry’s Madea movies, leading to an awkward moment where Hanks’ character recoils in fear as Thompson tries to shake his hand, but then relaxes and accepts the gesture.
By this point, the message is clear. On this episode of “Black Jeopardy!”, the questions are rooted in feelings of disempowerment, suspicion of authority, and working-class identity-experiences that cut across racial lines. Thompson and the guests are black, but they can appreciate the things they share with Doug, and in turn, Doug grows more and more comfortable in their presence, such that he gets a “pass” from the group after he refers to them as “you people.”
I am soooo tired of this election and this stupid, lying, racist, sexist, bullying predator of a candidate and the memes but this Arrested Development-style fact-checking of Donald Trump is really pretty good and right in my wheelhouse. I am terrible at following my own advice.
Note: There are some *major* unavoidable spoilers about the finale of season three of Halt and Catch Fire in this post. If you’ve been watching (and you definitely should be), you might want to catch the finale first and then come back.
The final two episodes of Halt and Catch Fire aired last night. The previous eight episodes of the season took place in the mid-1980s with Joe running something like Norton or McAfee in San Francisco, and Cameron, Donna, and Gordon running a dial-up service like Compuserve for playing online video games, chatting, and selling stuff on a nascent Etsy. In the 8th episode, a lot of that changed and the characters headed their separate ways.
For the final two episodes, the show jumps forward to 1990, and in the last episode, Donna brings the four main characters (plus Cameron’s husband Tom, who works for Sega in Japan) back together to talk about a new and potentially revolutionary idea that’s crossed her desk at the VC firm where she’s now a senior partner: the World Wide Web. The five of them meet over two days, trying to figure out if there’s a business to be built on the Web — Joe argues metaphorically that they should build a stadium while Cameron says that no one’s gonna come to the stadium unless you have a kickass band playing (lack of compelling content) and then Gordon retorts that rock n’ roll hasn’t even been invented yet (aka there’s no network for this to run on). The discussion, some anachronisms and having the benefit of hindsight aside, is remarkably high level for a television audience…I doubt I could explain the Web so well.
At the second meeting, Joe, who is a Steve Jobs / Larry Ellison sort of character, has had some time to think about the appeal of the Web and lays out his vision (italics mine):
Joe: Berners-Lee wrote HTML to view and edit the Web and HTTP so that it could talk to itself. The chatter could be cacophonous, it could be deafeningly silent. Big picture: What will the World Wide Web become? Short answer: Who knows?
Donna: Ok, so what’s your point?
Joe: It’s a waste of time to try to figure out what the Web will become, we just don’t know. Because right now, at the end of the day, it’s just an online research catalog running on NeXT computers on a small network in Europe.
Cam: So, you’re saying everything we’ve talked about since we got here has been a waste of time?
Joe: I’m saying let’s take a step back. Literally step back.
Gordon: What is this on the board?
Joe: It’s the code for the Web browser.
Tom: And you wrote it all on the whiteboard.
Donna: The online catalog of research?
Cameron: Full of Norwegian dudes’ physics papers and particle diagrams and stuff?
Gordon: And we care about this because why?
Joe: How did we all get here today? The choices we made? The sheer force of our wills, something like that? Here’s another answer: the winds of fate, random coincidence, some unseen hand pushing us along. Destiny. How did we all get here today? We walked through this door. We don’t have to build a big white box or stadium or invent rock n’ roll. The moment we decide what the Web is, we’ve lost. The moment we try to tell people what to do with it, we’ve lost. All we have to do is build a door and let them inside.
When I was five, my mother took me to the city. And we went through the Holland Tunnel and it was basic, concrete and steel, but it was also my excitement sitting in the backseat, wondering when it was going to be our turn to emerge, it was the explosion of sunlight. And when we exited the tunnel, all of Manhattan was laid out before us. And that was the best part of the trip: the amazing possibility to be able to go anywhere within something that is magnificent and never-ending.
This is the first Web browser, the one CERN built to view and edit research. I wrote it up here for you to see how simple it is. It takes up one whiteboard — that’s basic concrete and steel — but we can take this and we can build a door and we can be the first ones to do it because right now, everyone else sees this…
Donna: …as an online research catalog…
Gordon: …running on NeXT…
Cameron: …on a network in Europe.
Joe: And with this handful of code, we can build the Holland Tunnel.
It’s Don Draper’s carousel speech from Mad Men…but for the Web. And it hit me right in the feels. Hard. When I tell people about the first time I saw the Web, I would sheepishly describe it as love at first sight. Logging on that first time, using an early version of NCSA Mosaic with a network login borrowed from my physics advisor, was the only time in my life I have ever seen something so clearly, been sure of anything so completely. It was a like a thunderclap — “the amazing possibility to be able to go anywhere within something that is magnificent and never-ending” — and I just knew this was for me and that it was going to be huge and important. I know how ridiculous this sounds, but the Web is the true love of my life and ever since I’ve been trying to live inside the feeling I had when I first saw it.
Which is why this scene wrecked me so hard. The Web that they are talking about on the show, the open Web, is ailing, dying. It was like listening to a eulogy at a funeral, this thing that I love, poured the best of my self into, gone forever. Of course that’s not strictly true, the Web is still a fabulous place where anyone can set up a site to do, say, or sell whatever they want, but instead of the promise of small pieces loosely joined, what we mostly got was large pieces tightly coupled. Today’s Web browsers and apps are Holland Tunnels that open up right into shopping malls instead of open city streets. Facebook makes it absurdly easy to start your own blog that all your friends and family can conveniently read, but you give up the freedom to say anything you want, it’s impossible to move those words elsewhere if you’d like (I’m talking with URLs and social graph intact), and they sell advertising against your words & images and you don’t get a cut.
Now, I’m not advocating a Make The Web Great Again policy because the open Web of the 90s had many problems, the greatest of which was a lack of access for anyone without the free time and skills necessary to set up a web server, install software, etc. etc., not to mention the expense involved. Today’s Web is much more accessible to people of all ages, backgrounds, and skill levels and as a result you see much more participation across the socioeconomic spectrum, especially in developing countries.
But the open Web enthusiasts and advocates missed an opportunity to take what the Web was in the 90s and make that available to everyone. Instead of walled gardens like Facebook, Pinterest, and Medium (which echo the closed online services like AOL, Prodigy, and Compuserve that predated the Web), imagine a bunch of smaller services bound together with open protocols where individuals have both freedom and convenience. At this stage, building an open Twitter or open Facebook is nearly impossible, but it wouldn’t have been 10-12 years ago. I hope I’m wrong, but with all of the entrenched incumbents and money pumping into online services, I’m afraid that time has truly passed. And it’s breaking my heart.
From the BBC, an hour-long documentary on Ada Lovelace, the world’s first computer programmer.
You might have assumed that the computer age began with some geeks out in California, or perhaps with the codebreakers of World War II. But the pioneer who first saw the true power of the computer lived way back, during the transformative age of the Industrial Revolution.
Happy Ada Lovelace Day, everyone!
I reported back in February that the BBC was doing another season of Planet Earth with David Attenborough (aka the voice of nature). Now there’s a trailer out (with a Sigur Ros soundtrack) and the show is set to debut in the UK on BBC One later this month. In US? Who knows… probably in 8 months with Ellen Degeneres narrating.
Update: Planet Earth II, a massive hit in Britain already, will debut on US television tomorrow (Feb 18). You can catch the first episode on AMC, BBC America, and Sundance TV. And unlike the original Planet Earth, they’ve thankfully kept the original Attenborough narration for the US version of Planet Earth II.
Frontline has posted their 2-hour documentary about Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and the 2016 presidential election to YouTube.
Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are two of the most polarizing presidential candidates in modern history. Veteran FRONTLINE filmmaker Michael Kirk goes beyond the headlines to investigate what has shaped these two candidates, where they came from, how they lead and why they want one of the most difficult jobs imaginable.
This looks excellent…I might watch this instead of the debate tonight.1