Tag Archives: film

Things February 2018: YouTube series, Poor estimation, The Patriarchy

The patriarchal explanation

The Octonauts is a charming kids TV series, based on the picture books of the same name (referenced in the Things Kids Special in 2013). It features eight anthropomorphised animals on a Star-Trek-style mission to explore the ocean and encounter the Interesting Sea Creature of the Week.

I noticed that the same three (male) characters go on exploratory missions almost every episode, even when other (female) characters would be better qualified for the task at hand, which seemed odd for an otherwise progressive kids TV series. Looking for people who agreed with me on the internet, as you do, I stumbled upon this excellent mumsnet exchange:

Bumperlicious:  Why are the girls relegated to mere sidekicks & not even mentioned in the opening titles? Is because they’re girls or because they’re both [foreign]?

TunipTheHollowVegemalLantern:  It is because of the patriarchy.

This turns out to be a highly versatile response which you can use to answer many questions about modern culture! It also has the benefit of sounding like a joke, while also frequently being accurate.

YouTube series of note

The Vox ‘Earworm‘ series by Estelle Caswell digs into various aspects of music, including a few really interesting pieces on long-term musical trends in the US pop charts. I particularly enjoyed the episodes on the triplet flow in rap, the fade-out, and especially repetition:

The ‘Fictional Fight Commentary‘ series does exactly what you hope: pitch-perfect delivery from Auralnauts creators Craven and Zak commenting on various famous fight scenes from movies. My personal favourite is the Revenge of the Sith Anakin/Obi-wan fight, but the Batman vs. Superman one is also great.

(Incidentally, Auralnauts had the dubious honour of having a video in which they removed the original music track get flagged as copyright infringing – for using the music track they removed, by the copyright holders of the song that was no longer present. Also incidentally, they made the generic film trailer I put in the last Things).

Every Frame A Painting was an incredible series of videos about movies and I’m amazed I haven’t featured it in Things before. It’s narrated by Tony Zhou, jointly written and edited with Taylor Ramos – although this latter part was only revealed in the post-mortem, the reasons explained in more detail by Taylor herself here, but more tersely one can say It Is Because Of The Patriarchy.

Aiming for quality over quantity, all 28 EFAP videos are brilliant, but as you have to start somewhere, I particularly recommend Jackie Chan – How to Do Action Comedy, The Spielberg Oner, and The Marvel Symphonic Universe.

Terrorism using the media as a megaphone

As I understand it, the aim of a regular terrorist is to create terror disproportionate to the amount of power they actually have. So perhaps the media response to these incidents should be a little more tempered, since that attention is exactly how terrorists gain a disproportionate response. I’m not sure there’s any good way to balance that though, especially with social media doing much of the amplification.

Still, I found it interesting that this quite wide-ranging study found a correlation between media coverage and subsequent violent incidents.

 “one additional New York Times article about an attack in a particular country increased the number of ensuing attacks in the same country by between 11% and 15%”

Poor estimation as a feature, not a bug

When doing indoor rock-climbing, or during my brief dalliance with extremely amateur parkour, I noticed that I and others tend to underestimate what we can physically achieve. We could jump further than we thought; we could stretch to reach a hand-hold that seemed too far; we could gain greater lift by running and kicking off a wall than we expected, and so on.

Now, I know that “evolutionary psychology” theories are usually untestable and often useless, simply servicing to reinforce one’s existing prejudices. Still, it’s easy to imagine that this physical capability bias (which I haven’t found named, but presumably must be) would work as a survival trait: creatures that overestimated their ability to achieve physical feats would presumably be at a mortal disadvantage in the long run.

This led me to wonder about another tremendously strong bias we have that runs the other way: the Planning Fallacy, best summed up by Hofstadter’s Law:

It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law. — Douglas Hofstadter

Superficially this bias seems like it should be a disadvantage. However, since many humans can benefit from one human’s work, perhaps we collectively benefit, as people work on things (and eventually, sometimes, complete them) that they wouldn’t have tried if they had correctly anticipated how long it would take, to society’s benefit.

It’s a trivial example, but I naively thought I could tell a particular story in a comic at one page a week in two years; it ended up taking more like seven. I probably wouldn’t have started it if I had realised that, but I’m glad that I did it, and now people – or at least, fans of two particular video games from 1999 – benefit from it.


When I first read about Bitcoin, I figured it was a cute idea but it didn’t scale, so couldn’t really work as an alternative global currency. Some of the scaling issues are now becoming apparent. As is so often the case, Charlie Stross has an insightful take on the matter.

Unendurable Line

I found this video quite satisfying:

Marie Kondo

In an age of abundance, we now routinely run into the problem of having too many things, and things like loss aversion make it difficult for us to deal with the issue. This scene from Labyrinth (1986) makes a lot more sense to me now than it did as a child:

Clare introduced me to a comic that summarised the ‘KonMari’ method (by Marie Kondo) of dealing with clutter. It isn’t really one method so much as a series of ideas and principles to apply to the task of decluttering. I think it’s particularly effective because it intuitively gets at some of the biases that make this a difficult problem. Here’s a few choice principles:

  • Don’t sort things by location, sort by type. Get all your (say) books in one place, then figure out what to do with them.
  • Don’t think about ‘what can I throw out’. Think about ‘what should I keep’. Only keep things that ‘spark joy’.
  • Don’t buy more storage units. This is sort-of tidying up, but isn’t decluttering. It’s just a way of getting the clutter out of your sight.
  • The correct time to read a book is when it’s you just acquired it. If you have many books you have not read for years, let them go. When it’s time to read one, you can easily get it again.

Most deeply, Marie Kondo observes that a lot of useless clutter takes us out of the present moment: we over-attach to the past with belongings that are no longer useful to us, and we over-attach to a theoretical future version of ourselves by keeping things we aspire to use but never will.

This echoes a message from the amazing show The Encounter (recommended to me by Tarim), in which a climactic insight is that “objects hold us stuck in time”.

There’s a KonMari method book or alternatively a comic version.

[This just in, thanks to Anisa – there’s going to be a Marie Kondo Netflix series – T.M. 15/2/18]

Emergent Stop Motion

Like a more accessible version of Thomas Sauvin / Lei Lei’s short film Recycled, Oliver KMIA’s ‘Instravel’ compiles recurring patterns in Instagram holiday photos to create stop-motion-style animation:

- Transmission finally ends

Things 124: Puzzles & Polaroids, Bond is now Bourne, Cooking Tips

OctopusFruitbat Game Write-upPuzzles & Polaroids at the British Museum
Clare and I were asked by Stubble & Glasses (who I also happen to work for) to design and run a company game event in a professional capacity, because some of them had enjoyed some of our earlier game events. So we formed a company called OctopusFruitbat, came up with something that combined puzzle-solving with creative instant-photo-taking, and it went a bit like this. If you’re ever looking for someone to come up with a similar event, of if you want advice on doing something yourself, please do get in touch!

Also don’t forget, this Friday I’ll be running Competitive Sandwich Making (which last year went like this) as part of the amazing all-weekend festival of gaming that is Hide&Seek’s Weekender at the Southbank Centre.

I’ve been nurturing the idea that films that follow the “They Made Him, Then Tried To Kill Him, Now He Must Fight Them” storyline are rising to such prominence that it must be some kind of Hero’s Journey for the modern age (I’m thinking Bourne, Hitman, Grosse Pointe Blank, Kill Bill, Blade, Ultraviolet…). The closest I could find on TV Tropes was Contract on the Hitman, which doesn’t quite nail it.

On metafilter, wuwei draws it out more explicitly by contrasting James Bond with Jason Bourne:

Who is our generation’s James Bond? Jason Bourne. He can’t trust his employer, who demanded ultimate loyalty and gave nothing in return. […] Bourne survives as a result of his high priced, specialized education. He can do things few people can do […] and like the modern, (sub)urban professional, Bourne had to mortgage his entire future to get that education. They took everything he had, and promised that if he gave himself up to the System, in return the System would take care of him. It turned out to be a lie.

(You can read the post in full here).

Is there any evidence that there really has been such a transition, that corporations are now violating the social contract in some way that they weren’t before? The three charts in this article do seem to actually endorse this idea – Corporate Profits Just Hit An All-Time High, Wages Just Hit An All-Time Low.

Here are some pictures with captions that have some amazing food-preparation tips, for example:

Previous PuzzleThe Shrinking Empires
Last time I asked why Empires seemed to be getting geographically smaller. I’ve actually asked this question when interviewing analysts, and get two kinds of answers.

The most common answer is that population density is increasing, and apparently human political power tends to stabilise around the 10m-50m range. For example, the Roman Empire was pretty big, but probably only covered ~60 million or so people, ten times fewer than those living in the same geographical area today (according to Citation Needed, but hey, it sounds about right).

A more interesting idea is that it has something to do with technology and inequality. I once heard it said that technology is not politically neutral – for example, Nuclear Power requires greater centralisation of government power than, say Wind Power – and I find this an appealing idea. Perhaps, for example, improved forms of communication give greater power to the people, who are then better able to resist tyrants with aspirations of empire-building through war.

But the more I dig into this, the more it starts to look like post-rationalisation, because I can imagine giving examples to prove the opposite. If everyone can manufacture guns cheaply, is it easier to terrify your populace with asymmetric power you can give your enforcers, or is “a well armed population the best defense against dictatorship”? If you improve transport, is it easier to avoid conscription, or easier to wage war? If you combine Moore’s law with the internet to create continuous public surveillance, do you end up creating a single global culture with no crime, or do you permanently enforce the power structures that exist at the point of implementation? Well, that’s a question for another day.

PuzzleGoogle Correlations
Google Correlate lets you find closely correlating Google search term trends, which sometimes gives silly results by coincidence, and sometimes reveals something very interesting. The question is, how many of these correlations can you explain?

Things 121: Kitten Cam, Chain World, Hand-Waving Explanations

Tim Game Thing
If you ever watched Knightmare and wanted to be the kid in the vision-restricting helmet asking “Where Am I?”, or if you wanted to be the team responding “You’re In A Room” and then frantically shouting “Sidestep left”, or perhaps if you wanted to come up with your own ideas for dungeons for those players to explore, then I recommend you come along to Hide & Seek’s free Sandpit event this Friday 25th May (6.30pm-10pm at the Royal Festival Hall near Waterloo), where I’ll be running a game that gives you an opportunity to do exactly those things.

There will also be a lot of other games going on, which sound pretty amazing, so read all about it, and come along.

VideoCat and Kitten webcams
Which is more compelling: a high resolution webcam of some kittens, or low-resolution webcams you can move around and remotely operate cat toys through (if you’re prepared to use Internet Explorer and Silverlight)?

It turns out that even though the latter sounds superficially cooler and more engaging, it’s nowhere near as good as high-resolution kittens.

LinkJason Rohrer’s Chain World
Jason Rohrer has made some very interesting games (I particularly like Sleep Is Death (or at least the idea of it – I haven’t played it yet), Inside a Star-filled Sky, and Passage is apparently pretty amazing (and very short) if you don’t play it stupidly the first time like I did), so it’s not particularly surprising that he came up with the winning concept in a competition to pitch an idea for a game that in some way represented the abstract idea of religion, and which, when actually released into the world, generated some pretty fascinating results.

Heavily Caveated Film Recommendation
The Green Hornet is a Seth Rogen action/comedy vehicle directed by Michel Gondry. If you analyse that sentence you may realise that this was recipe for disaster. With Seth Rogen starring and also writing (with long-time friend and collaborator Evan Goldberg), there was inevitably going to be some creative conflict with a director as idiosyncratic and driven as Michel Gondry (the man behind some of my favourite music videos).

Trailer: (2’06” is the moment that screams “Gondry!”)

Refreshingly, listening to the commentary makes this very clear, as Gondry, Goldberg and Rogen frequently reference the arguments behind almost every good idea in the movie, and occasionally break into new arguments about them (“We had to convince you that this would work!” “No no no! This was my idea! You guys didn’t want to let me do it!”).

This conflict doesn’t particularly damage the movie, but I ended up wishing Gondry had had more things go his way, because all the really weirdly brilliant parts are unmistakeably his. For example, at one point, the bad guy wants to send a message out through his criminal network, and this is how Gondry represents it:

It’s also great to hear his enthusiasm for his own ideas in the commentary, as when this scene starts: “This is awesome, look! Two cameras from one camera! How… did… the hell it happen?!” (Answer: they got the actors to stay in position while shooting one part, then came back to them and picked up shooting from the same position, then forced the shot to match in digital post-production, which is fine, but just count the splits and think about actually pulling that off).

The real problems with this film (to save you the trouble, it’s a 6.0 on IMDb and 44% on Rotten Tomatoes) are I think twofold:

1) Goldberg and Rogen consciously chose to reverse many of the staples (some would say clichés) of a superhero movie, which is admirable, but as is so often said, you need to be very familiar with the “rules” of any art form if you want to break them and still have the thing work, so this sentence ends in just the way you would expect.

2) There’s a fine art to crafting an action movie in which the audience can root for the protagonists, even when they’re harming or even killing bad guys. I don’t know how you pull this off, and apparently neither did anyone making The Green Hornet, because these moments frequently feel wrong.

All of which was fascinating, and I don’t regret watching the movie at all.

Answer 2A and 2B – Temperature/Pressure Pairs
Do there exist a pair of points opposite one another on the earth with exactly the same temperature and pressure? I say yes, and here’s my hand-waving explanation for that.

Stage 1
Let T(x) and P(x) denote the temperature and pressure of point x.

Choose two opposite points, A and B (if T(A) = T(B), do this stage with pressure instead of temperature). Consider a path from A to B (blue arrow in Fig 1a) and the corresponding opposite path from B to A (red arrow in Fig 1a).

In Fig 1b, we chart the temperature of the opposite points as we move around these paths. Just as with the Joss Whedon ascent/descent puzzle, since each line of temperature is continuous, they must cross at least once, and this represents a point at which the temperature is equal on opposite sides of the globe (points C and D in Fig 1b).

Stage 2
We now imagine rotating the circlular path we’ve considered about points A and B (Fig 2a). As we do this, the lines of temperature move continuously (Fig 2b), but since they always start and end at points A and B, the end temperatures remain fixed, and so the point at which the lines cross also moves continuously.

This starts to trace out a line of equal-temperature-opposite-points on the globe (turquoise and purple lines in Fig 2a).

Stage 3
If we continue that rotation all the way around, we trace out a continuous wiggly line of equal-temperature-opposite-points around the globe (Fig 3a, purple and turquoise lines).

We now consider two opposite points on this line, C and D (Fig 3a). We consider the pressure as we trace out a path from C to D (purple line) and the corresponding opposite points on the path from D to C (turquoise line). We can now apply exactly the same argument as in Stage 1 – the two lines of pressure (Fig 3b) are continuous and so must cross at some point, X. At that point, both the temperature and pressure are equal on opposite sides of the globe.

While this is not a proof, it’s reassuring that the Borsuk-Ulam theorem does prove that the result is true, although that’s no garantee that this reasoning is completely sound.

Dom Camus supplied a similarly hand-waving explanation but with a much more audacious line of attack, so if you liked the above, you should definitely check it out.

Phil has a pretty elegant approach, although he didn’t sound that convinced by it. He points out that “On any closed curve (not just great circles), the same sort of argument [as in Fig 1 above] holds […] I claim you can always construct a closed curve containing all its own opposite points and along which the temperature is everywhere equal at opposite points [like the turquoise/purple path in Fig 3]. Otherwise there would be some closed curve containing all its own opposite points, along which the temperature was never equal at opposite points, a contradiction.” You can then repeat Step 3, as above, to reach the same conclusion.

Puzzle Level 3The Crumpled Map
The final level in this series (suggested to me by Tarim) is one I don’t have any kind of hand-waving proof of, but I would love to see one.

Imagine you are on a lovely desert island with a selection of your favourite music, a pencil and paper, and an uncannily perfect map of the island. Actually, only the map is important.

If you lay the map on the ground and align it perfectly with the island itself, it’s quite easy to visualise that there must be a single point on that map which corresponds precisely to the bit of the island directly below it.

Now imagine folding and crumpling the map in any kind of way (but not tearing it) and throwing it anywhere on the ground. Wherever it happens to land, will there still be a point on the map that exactly corresponds to the place on the island directly below it?

Things 53: Sita Sings the Blues, FFFFound Quotes

(Originally sent July 2009)

A slightly different format for Things this week, as I have two things to heavily recommend and also realised I had gathered a nice set of quotes from ffffound.

The Hide&Seek pervasive games festival takes place from Friday 31st July to Sunday 2nd August [2009] in and around the Royal Festival Hall, and is free. See the games they plan to run across the three days here.

I definitely plan to attend, so let me know if you are interested. It’s like a more polished version of the Sandpit event that I went to a few weeks ago. To get an idea of what it’s like, see my blog post.

[Do note that this is a re-posted blog version of an old email. At the time of posting, the next Hide&Seek Sandpit event will happen on Thursday 4th August 2011 – T.M. 24/07/11]

I saw Evil Dead 2, which like Evil Dead is less like a horror film and more like a nightmare you have after watching a horror film.

I saw Coraline, which was very beautifully made, but somehow not quite as neat and satisfying as the novel.

I saw Tokyo, which was a collection of 3 very strange short films about Tokyo, and is the kind of thing I would like to see a lot more of even though I only really liked two of them.

But more importantly, I saw Sita Sings the Blues, a feature-length animation by Nina Paley, which is a) good and b) free to download.

It covers a certain episode from the Hindu epic Ramayana, uses a range of animation styles, some songs from the 1920s, and includes debate between storytellers about different versions of the story, which I particularly liked. You can see some of this in the trailer:

Different ways to watch it can be found here, including just watching it on YouTube:

The story of how the film interacts with copyright law is also interesting.

FFFFound!” is an invitation-only site where select graphic design types post up images they like (warning: NSFW about 5% of the time). Sometimes the images simply depict a quote. Here’s some of my favourites, alongside some other quotes:

1) “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” – Einstein



I think the fact that the source of this quote is unknown strengthens it. As soon as you attach a name to it, the question of that person’s own mortality suddenly clouds the quote’s otherwise clear, zen-like nature.

4) (Actually this one is not from ffffound, or particularly a quote). In a discussion about the technological singularity (advances in technology accelerate, we invent self-improving AI which improves itself at an accelerated rate, until a day comes in which so many advances are made it is impossible to predict what might happen after), Vernor Vinge suggested that the super AI would not consider humans to be worthless and wipe us out, since it should see us as a useful backup.

When Steward Brand of the Long Now asked how long a dangerous intermediary period might be during which AI’s would be “smart enough to exterminate us but not yet wise enough to keep us around”, Vinge answered:

About 4 hours.

So watch out for that.


6) Georges Perec:

For the full quote go here. [You may notice that many questions/puzzles that appear on Things are in this spirit. – T.M. 24/7/11]

Last week’s puzzle – CC list issues
Given the lack of response on this issue and no fully satisfactory solution being evident, I’m going to go with the least bad solution as I see it: one CC list for people at RAPP, one for everyone else. We’ll see how that goes.