Angry Robot

We Shouldn’t Bother the Feral Scooters of Central Park

Smart Speakers Kill Brain Cells

Some time ago I got Echoes and Sonos speakers for our house, thinking one of the good things about having smart speakers would be: they let our kids choose music to play. This is true, although there’s a huge downside: they let our kids choose music to play. And kids have terrible taste in music, they only know six songs, and they like to play them all the time. The one my kids always choose? I Like to Move It Move It.

Right now you’re thinking, yeah wow I bet it would be terrible to hear that song – perhaps the most repetitive song ever “written” – multiple times in one day, and you’d be right! But what’s worse is, Alexa doesn’t even choose that version from its search results. It chooses the will.i.am cover version from Madagascar 2:

You probably shouldn’t play that. It is staggeringly, soul-crushingly bad. It’s what happens when perhaps the worst rapper alive decides to cover the worst song in the world and BARELY EVEN DIALS IT IN. Lyric sample:

Shake up the ground, shake up the ground
Shake like a earthquake, quake up the ground
Play to make a sound, play to make a sound
Play to make a, play to make a, play to make a sound
So I can do my little dance, do my little dance
Do my little, do my little, do my little dance
Ants in my pants, got ants in my pants
Ants in my, ants in my, ants in my pants

I’m guessing it took Mr. i.am less time to write the song than its total running time, yet I have to listen to the consequences of his decisions multiple times per day, and even one listen of that song kills brain cells. This song is an atrocity. What’s even EVEN WORSE is that of course a song that murderously repetitive is a total earworm – like when you catch yourself singing “BY MENNEN” in the shower. So if the multiple plays this song gets in my household weren’t bad enough – each one, I’m sorry to say, fractionally enriching Mr. i.am – they are rendered insignificant next to the multiple times more replays performed upon me daily BY MY OWN TRAITOR BRAIN.

My only succor is the thought that I do not have to pay him royalties.

Perhaps that will come in a future software update.

Hong Kong student living in Toronto strikes a nerve on Twitter with eerie observations about Canadian life

The winter is dark and harsh with stinging cold. They spread salt over the roads. It poisons water and eats metal, and they tell you now it is safe.

The Furtive Writer

What’s poppin, he wrote furtively to himself at work. Of all the secret habits to have, writing was the worst.

It was hard to hide in most situations. Ever try dipping your quill in ink on the subway? Using your Fumeboy-6 coal-fired typewriter at the playground? But at work, oddly, it was open season. Apparently he wasn’t allowed to drink openly here, or even operate a still, as the training videos and HR department made abundantly clear eventually. And knitting was frowned upon, as was operating his forge. But writing was just a part of the job. It looked like everything. He could be writing an email! He could be writing a powerpoint sled! He could be writing a boring meeting!

As the thrill of flaunting office norms faded, he gradually realized that he had nothing to write about. He could review the video game he had been playing obsessively! But such write-ups of passing obsessions always made him feel foolish weeks later when he was no longer in the clutches of said obsession, like that gluten-only cookbook he self-published, or his encyclopedic survey of the market’s leading chicken costumes. If only he had withheld the photos. No, all his passions fired in the wrong directions. Niche, temporary directions.

He was wrong, as usual. There were many things to write about, that would stand the test of time, that would speak to many. The travails of the heart. The challenges of child-rearing. Managing stress. Hard-gained wisdom, hard-lost youth.

Or that hobo he had set on fire last night.

Literature Society: Garfield: Year One

Nathan Rabin:

When introduced to readers in the disco-crazed days of 1978, Garfield bore only a slight resemblance to the adorable icon of bland conformity we know today. His face was shaped like a giant pair of swollen testicles with ears and his eyes were tiny little marbles, as black, icy and death-like as the eyes of a shark about to strike.

Red Dead Redemption 2: The Kotaku Review

Exceptional review of what sounds like an exceptional game (thanks, Maggo)

Oxford English Dictionary asks teenagers to explain modern slang

Lost Stanley Kubrick screenplay, Burning Secret, is found 60 years on

From the 50s, during his time at MGM

Mr. Rogers’s Simple Set of Rules for Talking to Kids

Simple but based on deep understanding of academic research about the topic.

The Tortured Mind Of Dan Harmon | GQ

Great profile by Sean O’Neal.

Why Hollywood Won’t Cast Cary Elwes Anymore

Just read the whole thing if you like good writing. Trust me.

Being happy is the most subversive thing a woman can be.

A good movie is three good scenes and no bad scenes.

When I was ten I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.

Neural Error

The output of neural networks makes me think about the delights of human learning. We are copycats. We only learn anything by iterating over hundreds or thousands of examples. But just when that process starts to seem dull or rote, we make a mistake. Mistakes are where invention hides. When the copying fails we see the gleaming of a new form.

Anyway, here’s a hilarious post from Lewis and Quark about terrible fake Broadway musicals.

You cannot write payoff-based TV anymore because the audience is essentially a render farm. They have an unlimited calculation capacity. There’s no writers’ room that can think more than 20 million people who can think about it for an hour a day.

What I Learned at Personal Branding School

I know it’s pointless to pine for a pre-Zuck world: That golden age when, if you wanted to feel inadequate and self-conscious and also thoroughly disgusted with yourself and with humankind generally, you had to get in your car and go to some party.

17776

Pretty amazing

Maps of choose-your-own-adventure books

There is, for me, a sort of porcupine defensiveness, with the tender meat of love underneath it, that goes up when I am asked to talk about my childhood.

The Other Side of Anne of Green Gables

Didn’t realize this adaptation is run by a Breaking Bad writer, Moira Walley-Beckett.

With her TV series, Walley-Beckett is trying to solve a riddle: If everything about “Anne of Green Gables” is what prestige TV usually avoids, how do you adapt it in a way that is both sufficiently sophisticated and yet not a betrayal of the source material? Can Anne Shirley, the yummy pleasure who has flourished by cheerfully gliding above her trauma, be transformed into an almost-antiheroine who, in the fashion of contemporary television, has to grapple with her awful past directly? And can she do so whil

OCR in OneNote

Here’s a note about notes. It turns out that there is some serious OCR (optical character recognition) in OneNote. I knew text in images and PDFs would show up in searches, which is handy but not mind-blowing as it’s been in Evernote for like 10 years. But what I didn’t know is:

  1. You can copy the text ‘out of’ an image and paste it as regular text, or simply convert it. I have been wanting this… For like 10 years.
  2. OneNote will OCR hand-written notes. I mean if your hardwiring has fallen into disrepair for lack of use like mine, it will be rocky, but OneNote will give it the college try.

Yup, it’s how I made this note. I wrote it last night with the Apple Pencil on an iPad Pro. I converted it and had to do some editing, and there’s the downside. Of course it’s not 100% or even 80% accurate (again, I mostly blame my handwriting). But also you can’t actually convert to text on the iPad. I’m using the Windows client right now which is the most full-featured, perhaps unsurprisingly. Checking…

No, you can’t do it on the Mac app either. That’s a shame. OCR is working in the background, indexing images so they show up in search results, but there is no feature in the interface that will convert to text.

Anyway, when this feature makes its way into the iOS client, this will be a wonderful option for note-taking. I definitely prefer handwriting for meetings, brainstorming, and some other uses – it’s great just to get away from a keyboard for a bit. It’s certainly one of those things that tablets are good at and feel a lot more delightful than typing. But the ability to turn that scrawl into usable text is to me, kind of a killer app.

RIP Denis McGrath

Met Denis in 2001 when he was still working at Space. We have lost a great voice.

George Saunders: what writers really do when they write

Joseph Boyden defends his story against allegations