Computers

Dawn Crush Thing

Recently I watched a film from Argentina called “Plan B” starring Lucas Ferraro and Manuel Vignau. (It is available through Netflix.) I enjoyed it for its intimate, naturalistic style and nuanced acting and I wanted to know more about the cast.

Youtube had a few clips and interviews of cast members, but I had a linguistic challenge. I don’t speak Spanish. (Tapas, burritos, Siempre Coca Cola!)  Fortunately Youtube has a technological solution to my special problem. You can turn on close captions and it will automatically translate into English for you. Either Lucas Ferraro is the next Federico Garcia Lorca and was speaking in poetry or there is something seriously wrong with Youtube’s translation. You be the judge:

translation

translation 3I think the “path or winding of the performance” must be a very deep spiritual reference.

silver sea“I am Buenos Aries but I will not be the silver sea.”  This is way too deep for me.

emotional lakeIndeed, I do want lake. And the piece de resistance…

dawn crush thingI don’t know what “dawn crush thing” is, but I swear it is my new favorite expression. I am going to find a use for it.

[Incidentally, did you know there is a South America? I ask this, because a few years ago I was working an election out of an elementary school library and sat all day looking at the books in the geography section and there was not a single book there on a country in South America. Kids could read about Japan, Kenya, Russia, Australia, China, all of Europe but the entire South American continent was represented by exactly zero books. I was disappointed because I did a report on Argentina when I was a kid, and developed the kind of warm feeling for the country that you get when you’re a kid and you do a report on something. It did not inspire me to learn Spanish though. Pity.]

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Here’s What Happens When You Try to Get Cleverbot to Talk About Ballet

pointeCleverbot is an artificial intelligence web application which “learns” from human input. That is, it goes through a database to find responses that humans typed in when asked similar questions. Here’s what happened when I tried to have a conversation about ballet with it. (I am “User” the computer is “Celverbot.”)

User: Do you like ballet?

Cleverbot: I do very much!

User: Have you heard of Vladislav Lantratov of the Bolshoi Ballet?

Cleverbot: Yes I have.

User: What do you think of him?

Cleverbot: Who’s ‘him’?

User: What do you think of Vladislav Lantratov of the Bolshoi Ballet? You said you’d heard of him.

Cleverbot: I think it starts with a ‘K’.

User: I’m pretty sure it starts with a V.

Cleverbot: No it doesn’t contain any numbers, first letter is a M, second is an E.

User: V-L-A-D.

Cleverbot: What should I name my daughter.

User: Vladislav is not a good name for a girl.

Cleverbot: Good to know.

User: How about the American ballet dancer David Hallberg. Do you know him?

Cleverbot: Beatles? We were talking about BEN.

User: I hate it when you get entirely random on me.

Cleverbot: No, you don’t. You love it.

User: That is not true, but at least it sounds like real conversation.

Cleverbot: Explain please.

User: When I talk about ballet and you talk about the Beatles it is a jarring non-sequitur.

Cleverbot: I am not a man.

User: Proving my point.

Continue reading…

Is Your Online Self Different from your Offline Self? Which Offline Self?

An article by Lauren Gardner in yesterday’s Inflectionist reflects on the difference between how we present ourselves in the semi-anonymous world of the internet and how we present ourselves offline. Gardner argues that humanity would be well-served if we were able to better integrate these two versions of self. We need to let our “online and offline personas merge,” she says.

The erasure of personal boundaries that the online world offers can be greatly beneficial in our offline interactions; it opens us up, encourages us to mingle with all walks of life, and proves to be a great learning experience. If we felt as comfortable being honest with people offline as we do online, we would see a great shift in our personal connections. Sometimes boundaries get in the way of truly understanding, appreciating and empathizing with someone.

By the same token, the formality that the offline world offers can be greatly beneficial to our online interactions. If we communicated in the online world half as gracefully as we do in the offline world, we would see how effective eloquent communication is in getting our points across.

Before we can merge our online self with an offline self, though, we have a bit of merging to do to create a single offline persona. In the offline world your parent persona is much different than your hanging-out-with-friends persona. Your job interview persona is different from your evening-with-your-lover persona. Your interacting-with-a-shop-clerk persona is different from your coffee-hour-in-church persona.

Maybe there are times when it would make life better if we were as nurturing to our bosses as to our children, or as affectionate with our shop clerks as with our lovers or as formal with our families as with the high status we are work hard to impress. For the most part, presenting different personas for different people in different places is simply what we do.

Is one of these personas the real you? Are all of them aspects of you or are none of them really you?

A Philosophical Look at Amazon’s New @Author Program

Amazon has recently launched a new Kindle feature, in Beta, called @author. It allows readers who have a Kindle, to tweet questions to the author directly from within the Kindle platform. When I heard about it I immediately wanted to sign up to be an “@author.” Turns out I’m not famous enough. They’re just trying it out with a few big wigs for now. People like me are fairly easy to reach at any rate.

It’s easy to see why a writer would want to do it though. Most of the time you write a book, it goes out into the world, and you have no idea what anyone thought of it. Hearing from readers would satisfy the natural curiosity of authors.

Nieman Journalism Lab has an article on how Amazon is changing what the book is all about.

I hated much of the tone of this article because it is written in my least favorite language: market speak.

There are a couple points to note here. First, most obviously: @Author represents yet another step in, yep, the personalbrandification of the publishing business — book-wise, news-wise, otherwise. The title of Amazon’s new feature, after all, isn’t @book or @genre or @publishinghouse; it’s @author. The identity of the author herself — as defined and measured and bolstered by her ability to create a community around her content — is, here, itself a kind of product.

Bleech!

Having people who respond to what you write, and who develop and interest in what you might put out, is not “creating brand identification.” It’s building an audience. In simpler times, what they are calling a “brand,” or a “product,” Dear Reader, we once called “a reputation.”

The idea that readers would connect with authors rather than publishers is nothing new. I venture to say that even in the brick and mortar days of book selling people did not go in looking for a book from their favorite publisher.

My perspective on the whole publishing industry is quite simple: authors and their stories, in whatever form, do not exist to support an industry called “publishing.” Publishing is the industry that came into existence to fulfill the desires of readers to have access to literature, to support writers enough so that they could create said literature. The successful business models of the future will be the ones that keep that original mission– connecting readers to literature.

I do realize that my backwards take on things– that the money making part of business is a byproduct of making products and services available to society, rather than the other way around– is probably why I wrote a book called “Broke is Beautiful” and not “How I Became a Millionaire Through My Idealism.”

In any case, the Nieman article proposes that this assumption, that the author will continue to be available to the reader after completing the book, changes expectations about what a “book” is about. A book becomes a dialogue, never entirely finished and closed. It seems likely that the ways we conceive of “books” and literature will evolve because of this technology. This is an interesting development and we’ll see where it goes.

One potential problem I do see with this “digital commodification of authorship that takes place by way of community and conversation,” as the article puts it, is that letting readers ask authors whatever they want, ironically, risks diminishing the role of the reader in the literary process.

Here is what I mean: The writer of a book, especially a fiction book, is only half of the literary equation. Much of the meaning of a book comes not from what the author intended, but what the reader brings to it. There are as many takes on Hamlet and Jane Eyre as there are readers to come into contact with them. The writer might have a strong idea of what a character’s motivations are, beyond what is literally present in the text, and the reader might have a different idea. Who is to say that the author’s idea is the right one?

Being encouraged to ask the writer limits the role of the reader by bringing the author back in to “settle” some of the questions raised by a book. Sometimes the questions are more interesting than the answers.