Eyes Above The Waves

Robert O'Callahan. Christian. Repatriate Kiwi. Hacker.

Monday 27 October 2008

American Tidbits

It's been a crazy few days. I pulled into Boston late Wednesday night. On Thursday I hung out at MIT. I visited my friend's quantum computation lab; lasers and liquid helium make science so much more interesting. I gave a talk about Chronicle and Chronomancer to a pretty good-sized CSAIL audience. I had the honour of being hassled by Richard Stallman for suggesting that there was synergy between Chronicle and VMWare's record-and-replay features. (VMWare, as non-free software, is apparently never the solution to any problem.)

On Friday morning I took the train to Stamford and then visited the IBM Hawthorne lab to talk about the future of the open Web platform. My talk was too long so I sped up and skipped the demos (contrary to my own point that visual gratification is the driving force behind platform evolution). Still, it went well and I enjoyed catching up with a lot of my old colleagues.

On Saturday I was at another friend's wedding. It was too much fun hailing friends I hadn't seen for years and watching the multi-second transition from unrecognition, to recognition, to shock and exclamation. I left the party around 3pm and arrived at my hotel in Mountain View 13 hours later.

When I'm in the Bay Area I get my Sunday fix at Home Of Christ 5. I go because a few very good friends go there, but also because "Home Of Christ Five" is the coolest name for a church ever (I'm not sure why). It's a very Silicon Valley church; they meet in a converted office building in an industrial park in Cupertino, right next to an Apple satellite. And this morning, the pastor compared the Christian struggle with sin to Boot Camp.

[Irony: a very attractive woman had just sat down next to me, and I was trying very hard to ignore this fact, when the pastor said "Now, turn to the person next to you and ask them if they struggle with sin!" You gotta be kidding me, Lord!]

Anyway, the HOC5 congregation is very friendly to newcomers. I know this because I only go there once or twice a year so naturally no-one ever remembers me and they're very nice every time :-).

I've watched some TV at times. The election coverage is appalling. Most of the "commentary" is clearly pushing one candidate or the other. Most of it's negative. I watched for hours and learned nothing about any significant differences between McCain and Obama's actual proposed policies. Most reporting is actually meta-news on the campaign itself, or even meta-meta-news on the media's coverage of the campaign. The worst is when pundits eat up screen time bemoaning the lack of meaningful coverage --- HELLO! Even the comic coverage isn't funny.

Another thing I noticed is that the news shows have so much animated rubbish --- scrolling tickers, bouncing icons, rotating stars. Larry King even has periodic full-screen zooming stars take over the screen, blotting out the actual picture, occurring seemingly at random while people are talking. It's impossible to concentrate on the actual content of the show (such as it is). What is the purpose of this?

Finally, in-flight movie summary:

  • The Happening OK.
  • The Forbidden Kingdom OK, but what a waste. Lose the white kid.
  • Get Smart OK.

Thank goodness I didn't pay for those. Better luck on the way home, I hope.


Brad Neuberg
Hi Robert, I'd love to know more about what you talked about around the future of the open web platform talk you gave. I've been doing some conferences lately entitled State of the Open Web, where both SVG and Canvas play a prominent role. We should compare notes.
Brad Neuberg
James Napolitano
I live in the US, and unfortunately most of our TV news coverage is that bad, election season or not. The funniest (or saddest) part is when they get outraged over some sexual content on TV and then show the clip repeating in a loop the whole time! I think the root cause is that these news channels have been bought up by large corporations that are focused on maximizing profits above all else, so they just go with stories that are cheap to produce since they require no research and are sensational to get more viewers. They must love it when there is some natural disaster like a hurricane so they can just show a reporter in front of the storm *all* day while viewers are glued to the screen.
Everyone I talk to complains about the poor news quality, but when any news person is asked for more serious coverage, they always respond "but what kind of ratings would that get?" There is a point there, e.g. everyone says they hate negative election ads, but all the polling shows that they are the most effective. Another thing is that with the proliferation of many different news sources, particularly online, people tend to watch whatever source shares their views, leading to more polarized and emotional coverage. But I am sure there should still be at least a solid niche market for intelligent, objective news.
Personally, I started reading the BBC after getting their feeds in FX, and I've stayed with them as their articles seem to be very thorough and fact-based.