Matrix Resurrections discussion (with spoilers)

Given the review headlines for Matrix 4, I didn’t expect much. Whatever, I loved the film from the start and kept waiting for the moment where it turned shit. It never did. As the credits played, I thought that might be one of the best films I’d seen in years.

Matrix 4 is not a perfect film. I can see why some people didn’t like it – particularly when it was so uninterested in topping the spectacle of the previous three movies. Instead, there was a thoughtful film about nostalgia/retro culture.

I can’t claim my responses as a cis-male are as interesting or important as those of trans fans, but I took a lot from it. For me, it was a film about growing older, and losing touch with the power and optimism of youth – how ‘they’ “made you believe their world was all you deserved”. This is particularly poignant, given how the themes of the first Matrix film have been co-opted in the years since.

Resurrections is a metafictional critique of the way in which storytelling has been harvested for ‘intellectual property’. This has produced films like Soul, where Disney promotes ideals that would be anathema to its corporate culture. Resurrections responds directly to how, as one review put it, “the future is increasingly viewed through the franchise lenses of the past, trapping fans in corporate-controlled dream worlds where their fandom is constantly rewarded with new product“. Corporate storytelling has much in common with the matrix.

I like that this reboot did not just go for nostalgia or outdoing the original (I mean, Star Wars 7 and 9 had fights in the literal ruins of the first trilogy). Undercutting the originals seemed a good way to go. Some additional, miscellaneous points:

Matrix 4 looked at the failures of the original trilogy and asked whether we could try again and do it better. By the end of the film, I thought maybe we could.

The Land of Lost Content

Earlier this week I visited a museum in the town of Craven Arms, called ”The Land of Lost Content” (that’s content as in “contented”, not media – it’s from a poem, by AE Housman). It’s basically a social history museum, displaying goods and artefacts from WW2 onwards. I’ve never been to a museum like it.

The collection is eclectic. There are clothes, toys, foodstuffs, fads and consumer goods. One picture frame includes some documents relating to the Hoover free flights fiasco. There is Ajax scouring powder; a Woolworth’s Pick’n’Mix Barbie set; a rubbery cushion that looks like a Wotsit’s packet. One mannequin sported Pantalungs, plastic clothing designed for weight loss.

It was certainly something to see years of ephemera crammed into the space (it was a little like a flea market where nothing was on sale). You could see how the developments in materials over the decades had been adopted, with plastics and brighter colours becoming commonplace. But there was also something melancholy about all things that were once aspirational and are now ridiculous.

I wondered what an alien would think if they tried to interpret our civilisation from this museum. The collections was eclectic and provocative and with such a range of items couldn’t help be be interesting.

One complaint I have about the museum was its treatment of racist artefacts. These were mostly confined to a single cabinet, and showed how casually and openly racist British society once was. While this is important, these are hurtful and offensive items. Maybe they should not have a place within the museum where they could be so easily encountered. The text beside them needed to be more condemnatory. The “innocent acceptance” of racist imagery can’t be brushed aside as the “olden days” – the BBC was screening the Black and White Minstrel show in my lifetime.

It’s strange to see things that once had meaning and significance.
Another dark artefact
A signed copy of an Enoch Powell pamphlet. Another item that needs more context.

Monthnotes: July 2021

I stayed close to home during July, not travelling more than a handful of miles away. While I did the same thing during a few months of 2020/1, this feels very different. I’m in the middle of the countryside which feels much less stressful than a large town. I’m enjoying time in nature, spotting new flowers and mushrooms appearing as the summer rolls on.

A lot of my walks have been with two dogs, Blue and Rosie. Rosie is too young for much walking, but I’ll take Blue out for a couple of miles most days. While my weight remains constant, Blue is looking good (the only Labrador I’ve met with hips). Stats wise, I’ve not done much: a total of 340,287 steps, with a daily maximum of 18,068 and an average of 11,342 steps (compared with 10,766 in April 2020’s lockdown). The main issue is that walking is all intentional and takes up a lot of time compared with, say, going to the shops or meeting up with friends for daily exercise.

Media wise, I’ve only finished a couple of books and don’t think I’ve watched any movies. I do read a lot of articles from RSS feeds on my kindle, and I’ve been getting back into watching TV again. The Mandalorian was an excellent fusion of space opera and spaghetti western. Atlanta was far weirder than expected and I’m looking forward to season 3.

I managed to watch two whole seasons of Snowpiercer, based on a recommendation on the Technoccult newsletter. It’s a fun show and compelling enough for me to keep watching. It’s set in the future, when a failed climate change solution has sent global temperature plummeting. The only remnants of humanity are living in a giant metaphor for the class system (a train that travels round the world).

A lot of this makes no sense – why would you use glass so much when it can’t be replaced easily? Who maintains the track? It’s nonsense, but it’s brisk, well-made nonsense. The acting has gripped me too, making it easy to believe when characters are seeing sunlight for the first time in years.

In the midst of everything, I also spent a week playing the rest of The Last of Us. I written in the past about what a nasty, cynical game I found it. I found aspects of the story revolting, particularly how the player was railroaded into immoral and wanton revenge, but the action setpieces and horror were compelling. But I suspect I’m done with PS4 games for a while. Nothing has come close to Death Stranding.

I’m finding the new job a little harder than expected. I think that’s a combination of moving to a new platform and remote onboarding. One of the things I was aware was lacking at Amex was the onboarding, and I tried to improve that as we expanded our teams. I now see that I should have been trying even harder than I did. Still, I have this weekend to recharge, and I’m going to try some new things next week.

One other thing I did this month was quit caffeine. I decided to stop immediately and deal with it. In retrospect, not a good idea. I lost a couple of days to a vicious headache, although I’d timed the acute phase to be over a weekend. I then had a while feeling laggy, sleeping through my alarm. I already feel positive changes – mostly smoother changes in energy through the day – but I’m still not feeling as alert as I was. If past experience is any guide, I’ll soon be waking up more easily, have more energy in the afternoons, and feel less caffeine jankiness.

Iteration 17: Supernatural (and Lucky (2021))

A Friday or so back, it was March 384th 2020 and I watched another time loop story. This was an episode from the third season of the TV series Supernatural called Mystery Spot. I’ve never watched a single episode of Supernatural, so it was interesting to see how this show handled the time loop against its ongoing storylines.

So many of the tropes used were common ones – breakfast in a diner, the repeating accidents, and dialogue referring to Groundhog Day. We saw one character die each day, resetting the loop. The exit from this loop was a little disappointing, relying on a character returning from a previous episode of the show. It was light, but fun to see how a TV show quickly established the loop.

I watched another film which was the first one I picked out that did not qualify as a time loop. I chose Lucky since it had been compared to Groundhog Day. Sadly, it didn’t meet my criteria, despite a clever and original premise, and one that is bitterly relevant. Spoilers follow.

May, a self-help writer, is woken at night by an intruder in the house. “Don’t worry,” says her husband. “That’s just the man.”

“Which man?”

“The one who comes to kill us.”

It’s an arresting start, although May’s amnesia does not fit with the rest of the film. Otherwise, the movie works well. Some scenes seem ridiculous at first, such as the attitude of the police, but this becomes part of the disturbing and absurd world of the film. May is gaslighted and patronised, and comes to realise that the things that are happening to her are happening to all the other women around her. It’s a devasting turn.

I’m not sure how many people would be eager to watch a movie about systemic violence against women, even one written and directed by women. But this was a powerful and emotional film, and one that sticks with me. The score was excellent, using a strange choral sound to generate tension, which is effective and makes a change from jarring strings. A good film, just not one that qualifies as a time loop in my criteria.

Iteration 10: 12:01pm

Yesterday was March 375th 2020, and I marked it by watching two time-loop movies. I then watched the short film 12:01pm. This is one of two adaptations of a short story by Richard A. Lupoff and it’s available on youtube. Spoilers follow.

Myron Castleman is trapped within a one-hour loop, which takes place during his lunch break. We initially see him sitting and talking to a woman on a park bench, and he explains to her that time is due to reset.

This is a pulp sci-fi story and the ‘time bounce’ is caused by the collision between matter and anti-matter universes. I know it’s just a macguffin, but it’s irritating. The consequences of the loop are far more interesting than the explanation, particularly when the explanation’s physics makes no sense. Despite the window-dressing, the film managed to show Myron’s frustration at being stuck within the same hour.

(The film is also interesting because it’s made plain that the entire world is looping. Myron is the only person conscious of this fact).

(Something that is rarely considered in these films is whether the universe continues after the resets. In a multiverse, we might have each day continuing, with most of them making no sense to the person who has just left the loop. Imagine Bill Murray’s Phil Connor leaving one of the loops a day or two before he fell in love…)

This was originally made as a TV film in 1990, and that affects the quality. The interaction between Myron and the woman on the bench feels dated, as does his treatment of his secretary. This was nominated for ‘Best Short Film, Live Action’ in the 1991 Oscars, and subsequently remade into a full movie whose makers considered suing Groundhog Day‘s producers.

Statistics

  • Length of first iteration: 9 minutes
  • Length of second iteration: 6 minutes
  • Reset point: the end of an hour
  • Fidelity of loop: perfect
  • Exit from the loop: no exit

The Beginning of the End (Day 344)

I was surprised at how relieved and excited I was by last night’s government announcements. This morning I feel lighter and calmer than I have in weeks. All social restrictions might be gone by June 21st (day 462 of my personal lockdown). The end is in sight.

I’ve been fraying during this third lockdown, and I’ve seen some friends responding similarly. We’ve already been doing this lockdown for 50 days and it’s been hard, particularly for those living alone. A few days ago, the Zoe App said they were amending the symptom list, “adding fatigue, sore throat, headache and diarrhoea to the ‘classic triad’ of cough, fever and loss of smell“. Headaches and fatigue are pretty much constants for me and a lot of people I know – the ‘lockdown hangover’. We are sleeping badly and waking up to repeat the same day we’ve had for weeks.

At least now we have something to look forward to. I imagine everyone has now seen the four-stage plan (although it wouldn’t be this government without some daft complexity, and stage 1 is actiually split into two parts). 8th March, two people can meet socially outdoors. 29th March sees the ‘rule of six’ and outdoor social gatherings. 12th April, shops and holiday accommodation open. 17th May, the rule of six allows indoor gatherings again. And, if all goes to plan, the nightclubs reopen on June 21st, and all social restrictions are lifted.

It’s still a long time, but the weather is improving and the vaccine seems to be working. Even the gamble about delaying second doses appears to have paid off. There still needs to be a reckoning with the appalling errors and waste by the government but, for now, I just want to look forward to June.

GPT-3 and the future of writing

Liam Porr recently askedWhat does it mean when a computer can write about our problems better than we can?”. He backed this up with the claim that he had received 26,000 views on a blog post written by GPT-3. GPT-3 (Generative Pre-trained Transformer 3) is a tool based on 4.5 TB of data that can generate text that seems like it has been written by a human. One of the Liam Porr’s blog posts even made it to the top of the hacker news site, with only one person asking if the texts had been generated via Machine Learning. Porr went on to say “I believe that GPT-3 has the potential to change the way we write“:

All I need to write is a good title and intro. I could write five of them in an hour and publish them all in one day if I wanted to.  In other words, one good writer with GPT-3 can now do the same work that took a team of content creators before. 

This is a bold claim, and worth looking into. After all, if Porr is right, then I need to be paying attention to this. I could, at least, save time on writing by giving GPT-3 some seed text and letting it write my blog posts. Right?

The text that emerged from the algorithm was not perfect. It needing some editing but “Cut out irrelevant stuff, write a conclusion, and boom – people don’t stand a chance of telling the difference.” Porr then takes the example of Buzzfeed, suggesting they can reduce their headcount if they use this new platform, suggesting there is space for “a new kind of media company. One that’s fast and lean. The writing team will be small, but experts at bending GPT-3 to their will.

It’s interesting that Porr chose to work with self help, admitting, “GPT-3 is great at creating beautiful language that touches emotion, not hard logic and rational thinking”. The reason for this is that a lot of online writing has a particular style. It is already programmed by the requirements and restrictions of search engine optimisation, or sharing on social media. The fact that GPT-3 works so well for these texts may be a reflection of how restrictive these styles are.

There are already tools that produce news articles without human intervention. Stories, particularly those based on reporting numeric data have already been automated. GPT-3 offers a means of producing more complicated text, which can fool casual readers.

The effect of a large amount of generated text appearing on social media platforms might produce problems beyond the need for quality control. We already have an avalanche of generated text on social media platforms, and this has not gone well. Twitter has never dealt properly with its bot problem, and the idea that these fake accounts are real has distorted politics for the last few years. Using GPT-3 to produce large amounts of political opinions makes it all the more important for journalists and politicians to understand how the web works.

Of course, all the above aside, Porr managed to release a set of blog posts that produced far more readers than I have acheived with this blog. But that assumes that all readers are equivalent. I’m writing for a smaller audience, but a more engaged one.

Do I believe that GPT-3 could produce literature? It could – but there is more to literature than language. Given some good samples, GPT-3 could churn out beat poetry, and it might even produce things that produce an emotional response. Some of the Beat writers such as Burroughs and Gysin were even involved in early experiments with computer texts, but these are remembered mostly as a curio. But a poem like Howl connects to other stories, just as Kerouac and Burroughs wrote meta-novel novels that resonated with their own lives. A computer might be able to produce poems, maybe even new Ginsberg poems – but there are things missing which means a computer would never produce a ‘body of literature’.

We might be willing to accept vacant life-advice from things that are alive, but for art we want some connection with the authors. Remember how angry people were when JT Leroy was revealed not to be a real writer, but a character? Or when it came out that James Frey’s book was a novel marketed as a memoir?

But, as far as the text goes – would I read a novel generated by a computer? I could imagine doing so. But that’s another story, for another post.

Zine submissions wanted: How Did You Become Invisible?

The London Invisibles Salon is collecting submissions for a zine responding to The Invisibles. In the 25 years since Grant Morrison’s comic was first published, it’s inspired and influenced people. We’re looking for personal responses to the book:

  • How has the book inspired you and changed your life?
  • What adventures and interesting people has it led you to?
  • How you feel about the comic now? Has it stood the test of time?
  • If someone discovers the book now, what should they do next?

We are looking for pieces of 100-500 words, on “How I became invisible” for a print zine that will be published in the Autumn. We will also be publishing a PDF/Kindle version that will be sent to all contributors.

We don’t want this zine to be simply an exercise in nostalgia. It’s an opportunity to show how some present day counter-cultures that connect back to the book.

Deadline – We need your submissions at invisiblesalon23@gmail.com by midnight UK time on Monday August 31st 2020. We are open to longer contributions too, but please get in touch with us first.

The zine will be published on November 23rd. Keep an eye on invisibles.orbific.com for the latest information. It is being produced by the Invisibles re-reading forum, and the London Invisibles Salon.

For more information, please email us at invisiblesalon23@gmail.com.

Introducing Rhymewave

Over the last couple of years, I’ve helped out with a project called Rhymewave, which finally launched a few weeks back. Rhymewave is an online rhyming dictionary, the brainchild of rapper Jon Clarke. It takes a different angle to a lot of rhyming dictionaries, helping to craft interesting multi-syllabic lines.

I’ve known Jon for a few years via Poets vs MCs, as well as seeing some stunning performances from him at Slipjam B and with his current band Sombras. He’s one of the most creative and surprising rappers I’ve seen. He also appeared with Professor Elemental and Dizraeli on one of my favourite hip-hop tracks, Graveyard Shifts, about the Bear Road Cemetery:

Jon first approached me as he was looking to put his rhyming dictionary into an app. I suggested that he take a different approach – apps are expensive and frustrating and it’s hard to get people to spend time with them. We decided to focus on the original aim of producing a website.

One of the reasons I thought Jon should put this up quickly and for free was to give lots of people the chance to use it. Looking at the site’s analytics, there are clusters of users in countries I’d never thought about in relation to hip-hop. Some of them are using the tool to help with pronunciation, but I hope they are also inspired to start writing lyrics.

The best thing about the project is that it is a true labour of love. Jon has been collecting words over years. The dictionary includes specifically local terms too (North Laine, Lewes Road), reflecting bits of Jon’s own life. As Jon said in an interview, ”A word can be a signpost to a world you never knew.”

One of the things I love about hip-hop is the connections it builds. An artwork from out of New York has spread across the world, mutating and shifting. I’m excited about what new, unexpected turns this project will take in the future.

The Peaks of Brighton

I’ve always been a little jealous of people with the time and location to collect Munros and Wainwrights. All the interesting climbs in Britain are some distance from the south coast. The chalk geology of Sussex does not lead to exciting peaks – the highest point is a mere 280m, at Blackdown. I mean, it’s better than Essex (highest point 147m) or Norfolk (103m), but it’s not much.

In November 2017, the Brighton Urban Ramblers did a City Three Peaks, but they went for steepest streets rather than highest points, picking Dyke Road, Preston Drove, and Southover Street. Still, there are high points in Sussex, which means they can be collected.

There is a list of Brighton Hills in Tim Carder’s Encylopedia of Brighton which is reproduced on My Brighton and Hove, although the heights are given in feet. Taking an arbitrary cut-off at 100m, the ‘peaks’ within the borough are:

  1. 645 Bullock Hill, Woodingdean
  2. 584 Hollingbury, Patcham
  3. 580 Holt Hill, Patcham
  4. 534 Falmer Hill, off Falmer Road
  5. 531 near Pudding Bag Wood, StanmerPark
  6. 510 Varncombe Hill, Patcham
  7. 509 The Bostle, Woodingdean
  8. 503 Heath Hill, Woodingdean
  9. 485 Tegdown Hill, Patcham
  10. 476 on Ditchling Road south of Old Boat Corner
  11. 463 Race Hill, by Bear Road
  12. 435 Scare Hill, Patcham
  13. 430 in Stanmer Great Wood
  14. 430 Red Hill, Westdene
  15. 427 Sweet Hill, Patcham
  16. 417 Race Hill, by the Race Stands
  17. 417 Telscombe Tye, Saltdean
  18. 411 at Balsdean Reservoir
  19. 410 Ewebottom Hill, Patcham
  20. 398 High Hill, Balsdean
  21. 396 Whitehawk Hill, Brighton
  22. 387 Coney Hill, Westdene
  23. 367 Mount Pleasant, Woodingdean
  24. 355 on Dyke Road Avenue, near Dyke Road Place
  25. 352 Red Hill, Roedean
  26. 334 Tenant Hill, Saltdean

That is a lot of hills. I decided that a better starting point would be the trig pillars, since they should have good views and account for Topographic prominence. There is an excellent database of trigpoints at trigpointing.uk, which includes all the trig points around Brighton. Some of these are listed as destroyed, but are still useful target locations. Their catalogue of Brighton trig points includes 6 pillars:

I’m going to take this as the starting point for my ‘Brighton Peak bagging’, although it makes sense to expand this into the wider Brighton Downs – using the arbitrary definition of the area covered by Dave Bang’s book A Freedom to Roam Guide to the Brighton Downs. This would expand the area to cover Beeding Hill through to Lewes, also including the north slope of Clayton Hill and Ditchling Beacon. So far, I’ve done one of the trig points, now I just need to divide the others into a few sensible routes.

Anyone interested in joining me for a session of Brighton peak-bagging?