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Werner Herzog’s Reveries Of The Connected World

Thursday, 21 January, 2016 0 Comments

Born in Munich in 1942, amid falling Allied bombs, Werner Stipetić was taken for safety by his mother to the remote Bavarian village of Sachrang in the Alps. They moved back to Munich in 1954 and Werner adopted his absconded father’s surname Herzog (German for “duke”), which he felt sounded more impressive for a would-be filmmaker.

Today, Werner Herzog is considered one of the great figures of the New German Cinema, along with Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Wim Wenders, Volker Schlöndorff and Margarethe von Trotta. In 1996, he moved to Los Angeles, where he lives with the photographer Elena Pisetski, now Lena Herzog.

At this year’s Sundance Film Festival, which kicks off today beneath the snow-capped mountains of Park City in Utah, Herzog’s latest work, Lo And Behold: Reveries of the Connected World, will be premeiered.

Blurb: “Society depends on the Internet for nearly everything but rarely do we step back and recognize its endless intricacies and unsettling omnipotence. From the brilliant mind of Werner Herzog comes his newest vehicle for exploration, a playful yet chilling examination of our rapidly interconnecting online lives.

Herzog documents a treasure trove of interviews of strange and beguiling individuals — ranging from Internet pioneers to victims of wireless radiation, whose anecdotes and reflections weave together a complex portrait of our brave new world. Herzog describes the Internet as ‘one of the biggest revolutions we as humans are experiencing,’ and yet he tempers this enthusiasm with horror stories from victims of online harassment and Internet addiction.

For all of its detailed analysis, this documentary also wrestles with profound and intangible questions regarding the Internet’s future. Will it dream, as humans do, of its own existence? Can it discover the fundamentals of morality, or perhaps one day understand the meaning of love? Or will it soon cause us — if it hasn’t already — more harm than good?”


The tropic of grief

Wednesday, 20 January, 2016 0 Comments

“Let me tell you something about her,” Julian Barnes wrote of his wife, the literary agent Pat Kavanagh, in the half-chapter of A History of the World in 10½ Chapters, published in 1989. In fact, Barnes told readers very little about her.

Pat Kavanagh died in in 2008, five weeks after being diagnosed with a brain tumour, and Julian Barnes needed five years before he could express his anguish in book form. Levels of Life is that book. Actually, it’s three essays and only in the final one does Barnes approach the great love that gave way to the great grief he endured and continues to endure. Distraught by how many memories of Pat he has lost, he lists what he remembers: the last clothes she bought, the last wine she drank, the last book she read. But he doesn’t reveal what they were.

Rightly, Barnes is contemptuous of the euphemism “passed” and he quotes E. M. Forster: “One death may explain itself, but it throws no light upon another.” The condolences offered to the grieving are enumerated and rejected: suffering makes you stronger, things get easier after the first year, you will be reunited in the next life. There is no comfort in formulae, no compensation in phrases.

“This is what those who haven’t crossed the tropic of grief often fail to understand: the fact that someone is dead may mean that they are not alive, but doesn’t mean that they do not exist.” — Julian Barnes, Levels of Life

In Lisvernane


The fail whale is back

Tuesday, 19 January, 2016 0 Comments

Well, this is embarrassing. Twitter changed its technical-issue page optics from the infamous “fail whale” to a cute robot mechanic. But it’s not working, the robot. Generally, it’s a bad day for robots and humans.

Twitter down

Status: Twitter is up here, but it’s down here. In fact, it has lost almost $14 billion or more than 50 percent of its value in the last six months. Meanwhile, our robot future is looking rather grim.


The debate on robots and AI illustrated

Monday, 18 January, 2016 0 Comments

There is little, journalistically or ideologically, that unites Britain’s Spectator and Germany’s Zeit, apart from the fact that both are weeklies. And yet, when it comes to their coverage of the digital economy one does detect a certain visual agreement.

The Spectator

Die Zeit


In the year 2025

Sunday, 17 January, 2016 0 Comments

As CEO of the X PRIZE Foundation and Chairman of the Singularity University, Peter Diamandis is ideally placed to make predictions about the future of humanity. In fact, No. 17 on his list of Peter’s Laws states: “The best way to predict the future is to create it yourself.” And that’s what he does.

Last year, Peter Diamandis selected eight areas where “we’ll see extraordinary transformation in the coming decade.” His second choice is going to be one of this year’s big stories as it incorporates two hot trends: the Internet of Things and Industry 4.0:

2. A Trillion-Sensor Economy: “The Internet of Everything describes the networked connections between devices, people, processes and data. By 2025, the IoE will exceed 100 billion connected devices, each with a dozen or more sensors collecting data. This will lead to a trillion-sensor economy driving a data revolution beyond our imagination.”

Back in 1969, Denny Zager and Rick Evans from Nebraska had a go at predicting the future, but they went further out on the limb than Peter Diamandis, 500 years in fact, with their song, In The Year 2525. It sold more than 10 million copies worldwide. The future is fascinating and the demand for predictions is insatiable.


In the Garden

Saturday, 16 January, 2016 0 Comments
In the Garden

If you’re looking for a more down-to-earth alternative to the mystical verse of W.B. Yeats, the poetry of Thomas Hardy is recommended. This work is dedicated to the memory of “Her towards whom it made”. The garden, that is.

In the Garden

We waited for the sun
To break its cloudy prison
(For day was not yet done,
And night still unbegun)
Leaning by the dial.

After many a trial –
We all silent there –
It burst as new-arisen,
Throwing a shade to where
Time travelled at that minute.

Little saw we in it,
But this much I know,
Of lookers on that shade,
Her towards whom it made
Soonest had to go.

Thomas Hardy

The son of a stonemason, Thomas Hardy was born in Dorset on 2 June 1840. His novels, Tess of the D’Urbervilles (1891) and Jude the Obscure (1895), which are considered classics today, received negative reviews on publication and Hardy was criticized for being preoccupied with sex. Some booksellers sold Jude the Obscure in brown paper bags, and the Bishop of Wakefield, Walsham How, is reputed to have burnt his copy. Distressed by this, Hardy turned to poetry. He died on 11 January 1928.

In the garden


The digital dividends and divides of 2016

Friday, 15 January, 2016 0 Comments

The internet. What’s it good for? Lots. It can help boost trade, improve economies, distribute knowledge and create jobs for the marginalized. Who says? The World Bank says. That’s why it called the document it released yesterday “World Development Report 2016: Digital Dividends.” The key word there is “dividends”. But we don’t live in a perfect world so the report notes that “better educated, well connected, and more capable have received most of the benefits — circumscribing the gains from the digital revolution.” Not everyone has collected those digital dividends, in other words.

Still, it’s quite a leap to portray the the report as an indictment of the internet, but that’s exactly what the Guardian did in a story hilariously titled “Silicon Valley tech firms exacerbating income inequality, World Bank warns.” This is so comical that one can imagine Evgeny Morozov writing it. Instead, Danny Yadron “in San Francisco” is responsible. Anyway, back to the World Bank report. It presents a picture of a divided world in which 60 percent of people are still offline, four billion don’t have internet access, some two billion do not use a mobile phone and and almost half a billion live outside areas with a mobile signal. And what happens when the internet impacts?

“Many advanced economies face increasingly polarized labor markets and rising inequality — in part because technology augments higher skills while replacing routine jobs, forcing many workers to compete for low-paying jobs. Public sector investments in digital technologies, in the absence of accountable institutions, amplify the voice of elites, which can result in policy capture and greater state control. And because the economics of the internet favor natural monopolies, the absence of a competitive business environment can result in more concentrated markets, benefiting incumbent firms.”

To counter this, the World Bank recommends that governments lower barriers to internet adoption with rules that encourage competition and innovation, and investing in “analog complements,” such as basic education. Quote: “Many poor lack the basic literacy and numeracy skills needed to use the internet. In Mali and Uganda, about three-quarters of third-grade children cannot read. In Afghanistan and Niger, 7 of 10 adults are illiterate.” Those divides need to be closed before those dividends become real.

Note: Those tech companies castigated by the Guardian are committed to bringing internet access to the four corners of the world. Google’s Project Loon is set to float over Indonesia and Facebook’s Internet.org will offer mobile web access to people in India and Egypt. And both are experimenting with providing internet access using solar-powered, high-altitude drones. Yes, we need to ensure that these companies don’t become synonymous with the internet, but neither should we resort to paranoia about their innovations. Those digital dividends depend on closing those divides.


What’s the Matter with Owen? With GE?

Thursday, 14 January, 2016 0 Comments

Scene: Two geeky couples are chilling, and one guy (Owen) announces that he’s just got a job coding at General Electric. The other guy responds that he’s working on the app that lets you put fruit hats on animals. Forget about the life-changing projects Owen will be working on at GE. The really cool thing today is putting melon hats on cats.

Industry 4.0: The idea behind the clip is that GE is re-branding itself from old to new, from Industry 1.0 to Industry 4.0. Household appliances are in the product portfolio, but GE is also involved in renewable energy and healthcare. “The Digital Company. That’s Also an Industrial Company” is the new mantra.

Boston: Yesterday, GE announced that it will relocate its headquarters from Connecticut to Boston’s hip waterfront. The move signals that it’s serious about the new industrial era that will revolve around software innovation. GE is also saying that its priority now is to attract the kind of workers who prefer to live in cities instead of the suburbs.

Quote: “We want to be at the center of an ecosystem that shares our aspirations,” GE Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Immelt said in a statement, quoted by Bloomberg. “Greater Boston is home to 55 colleges and universities. Massachusetts spends more on research and development than any other region in the world, and Boston attracts a diverse, technologically-fluent workforce focused on solving challenges for the world.”

Slogan: That’s good news for Owen. One can imagine him in a meeting discussing how to update the company slogan. “‘The Digital Company. That’s Also an Industrial Company'”? “It’s, like, so 2016. How about this, guys?” ‘The Digital Company. That’s Still an Industrial Company'”! Cool. Then, when Owen is the CEO, it won’t take him long to transform the slogan and GE to a three-word sentence: “The Digital Company.”


Obama, Carter, Iran and the endless apology

Wednesday, 13 January, 2016 2 Comments

“As we speak, Iran has rolled back its nuclear program, shipped out its uranium stockpile, and the world has avoided another war.” So declared President Obama last night in his 2016 State of the Union Address. Hot on the heels of that bold statement came the news that Iran had detained two US navy boats for “violating” Gulf waters. The BBC reported (gleefully?): “US apologises for Iran naval incursion — Revolutionary Guards.” Back in November, Reuters headlined a story thus: “Rouhani says U.S.-Iran ties could be restored but U.S. must apologize.”

Since the days of Jimmy Carter, the Washington-Tehran relationship seems to trapped in the aspic of permanent disunion, with one side claiming constant improvement and the other wallowing in abiding victimization. As Gaddis Smith put it: “President Carter inherited an impossible situation — and he and his advisers made the worst of it.” And it’s not much better today. With that in mind, the next occupant of the White House might consider reading some P.G. Wodehouse: “It is a good rule in life never to apologize. The right sort of people do not want apologies, and the wrong sort take a mean advantage of them.” The Man Upstairs and Other Stories.


Angela Merkel: idiot or fool?

Tuesday, 12 January, 2016 0 Comments

The “open borders” migration policy instigated by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s could create a Germany with half its under-40 population consisting of Middle Eastern and North African immigrants and their children. The impact of such a demographic disruption would be explosive writes New York Times columnist Ross Douthat in “Germany on the Brink.” He calls on Merkel to close her borders to new arrivals, asks Berlin to give up “the fond illusion that Germany’s past sins can be absolved with a reckless humanitarianism in the present,” and declares:

“If you believe that an aging, secularized, heretofore-mostly-homogeneous society is likely to peacefully absorb a migration of that size and scale of cultural difference, then you have a bright future as a spokesman for the current German government.

You’re also a fool.”

Douthat’s fulmination has shocked Germany’s chattering classes, who regard the New York Times with a kind of childlike awe as if it were a composite of Das Kapital, the Koran and the Bible. The main prints have rushed to translate the column and reader reaction has been enthusiastic, in part because the politically-correct mainstream German media dare not utter or think such thoughts. In the case of the highbrow weekly Die Zeit, the comment sections is filled with endorsements of Douthat’s positon, but part of the discussion is given over to the issue of how to translate that key word “fool”. In the original, “Idiot” was used, but this was later erased and replaced with “Narr.”

Most commentators, by the way, agree with Douthat’s conclusion: “It means that Angela Merkel must go — so that her country, and the continent it bestrides, can avoid paying too high a price for her high-minded folly.” The Duden, the standard dictionary of the German language, translates “folly” as “Narrheit f, Torheit f Verrücktheit f“. The “f” there, by the way, stands for “feminine”. Interestingly, “folly” is preceded in that dictionary by “follow-the-leader”. For many Germans, that’s the dilemma now.


David Bowie (8 January 1947 – 10 January 2016)

Monday, 11 January, 2016 0 Comments

“And I’m floating / in a most peculiar way / And the stars look very different today.” — David Bowie, Space Oddity. With his command to “Silence the pianos and with muffled drum,” and his request to “Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come,” W H Auden is appropriate for this dark day on which a great star has gone out. Rest In Peace.

Funeral Blues

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

W H Auden