Thoughts on Silicon Valley, Season Three

1.
I realise it sounds ridiculous to say this about a 30-minute comedy episode written by the creator of Beavis & Butthead, but watching Silicon Valley can at times be a gruelling experience. After two seasons I’m now conditioned to the formula — anytime things are going well for Richard and Pied Piper, I know it’ll never last. Stories naturally have the protagonist struggle, of course. But Richard is always up against it. He gets a brief reprieve, perhaps at the end of a season, before everything goes wrong again. I feel for the poor man when he’s struggling. Then, when things turn out well, I’m tense again, waiting for the next problem

2.
I wonder how this shows ends. I see it as Pied Piper becomes a massive success or it crashes horribly. No middle ground. If it’s a blazing success, then the team become rich. Mad rich. And while PP’s team aren’t hugely motivated by money, if they’re all sitting on personal fortunes, do we identify with them as well? Would we care as much about their personal issues if they relate to Millionaire Problems? There are plenty of shows featuring wealthy characters who we identify with, but their finances aren’t a big part of the show. They’re scenery, part of the character’s lifestyle. SV is about making a company profitable, in a part of the world seemingly obsessed with money. So a focus on money-making is baked-in to SV’s universe.

3.
Characters: Jared cemented his status as my favourite of the cast. SV has always been really quotable, but most of the best lines in season three have been his. Gilfoyle was my least favourite character in season two. His constant deadpan was too much, and it seemed like he was getting lines just to give him something to do. But in season three his presence felt more organic.

4.
Season three was the best so far. All the characters have interesting story points and reasons to deserve screen time. Laurie finally seems less like a female version of Peter Gregory and more of a character in her own right. The sizeable gap left by the disappearance of Russ Hahneman has been effortlessly filled.

There were lots of moments in season two I didn’t care about (server farms for instance) and that jarred with the rest of the show, and only seemed to exist in order to fill time. I only noticed one similar occurrence in season three: Richard’s new girlfriend and the tab/space dispute. That seemed so unnecessary that I expected her to appear later as a new foe, out to punish Richard for leaving her. As she didn’t, I think that plot line was only there so Richard could join with the others in getting some action.

5.
One of the great things about SV is there’s a feeling of truth to it. As with most impressive fiction, even if you don’t understand the world, the world still rings true. Realising that Peter Gregory was partly inspired by Peter Thiel makes that more noticeable. A downside to that feeling or truth, however, comes when a particularly idiosyncratic character first appears. I try to concentrate on the show, but in the back of my mind, I’m trying to deduce who they’re based on. When ‘Action’ Jack Barker appeared, I expected he’d be similar to some real-life Silicon Valley celebrity I was unaware of. I might have imagined it, but I felt the show used his first name a lot, as if hinting to the audience about a link to another Jack. Then I discovered that Twitter co-founder and CEO, Jack Dorsey, was known for leaving the office during the day to go to yoga or sewing classes, much like our fictional Jack bails out to, say, watch a monstrous horse-penis do its thing (I’m still troubled by that). Besides that, I really can’t see much of a link between the two.

Film Thoughts: Total Recall (2012)

I’m just going to be lazy and use the names Quaid and Hauser interchangeably.

1.
I go back and forth on whether Quaid’s double-identity is that important to the story. His trip to Rekall sets up the adventure, but is that much more than a McGuffin? Both the remake and original include enjoyable scenes where someone close to Quaid tries to convince him what’s happening is all in his mind. But is that really necessary? Without the questionable-identity angle, does the film still work? Does it just become a standard spy tale? Does the film get made without it? Does the audience closer identify with Quaid because he–briefly–is an everyman who aspires to have a more exciting life? Continue reading “Film Thoughts: Total Recall (2012)”

Film Thoughts: Ex Machina

Spoilers for Ex Machina, V for Vendetta, Watchmen, and Saving Private Ryan

1.
A perfect ending. As I imagine many did, I was prepared for an eye-roll of an ending, expecting Ava to leave with Caleb and them to begin their life together. Maybe others expected a more negative, Skynet finale, with Ava finishing Elliot with the same knife used on Nathan. Instead we get simple disregard–Ava doesn’t love Caleb, but she doesn’t seem to care about him either. She keeps him from harm* but, in her grand scheme, he’s unimportant. Because shes a robot.

To paraphrase something I read once and can’t find again: the worst version of a Skynet future isn’t one where the robots want to kill us, but where they simply ignore us. If robots become sentient, and if they don’t care that we’re responsible for their creation, why would they pay us any attention? Wouldn’t they just see us as insignificant insects?

Imagine a version of Terminator 2 where the robots wander around paying no attention as humans shoot them, the bullets futilely bouncing off. The humans weep and scream for validation from their new gods.

*Ava keeps Caleb safe in the short-term, but she seemingly leaves him stranded, locked in a room in the middle of nowhere. Not that I want Ex Machina 2, but I couldn’t help but wonder about what happens next. Would Caleb just starve to death trapped in that room? Or would the room unlock after a set period of time (I may have missed something)? If so, given how remote the area seemed, even if Caleb escaped, could he find his way back to civilisation? Where were Nathan’s supplies of food and beer coming from? Why am I spending so much time thinking about this?

2.
Nathan’s dance scene really jarred tonally with the rest of the film. But jarring isn’t always bad. Imagine you’re a perpetually drunk genius, alone in the woods with some fembots. On a long enough timeline (AKA, once you’re tired of having sex with them all), eventually you’d learn a dance routine and teach it to them, right?

Also, a world where this gif exists is a better place:

3.
I have a soft spot for a fake deadline. Watchmen uses our expectations against us. The villain explains his diabolical scheme, while we wait for the moment where our heroes can seize the opportunity to stop it. Then the traditional script is flipped by the reveal that the events have begun, and the heroes are unable to stop them. The main character in V for Vendetta explains to one of his victims how they’ll die, only to then point out that he’s already begun. Caleb’s reveal wasn’t as original, but it was fun to spend time wondering how he would steal Nathan’s card, only to discover he didn’t need it anymore

4.
I think I’m somewhat desensitised to forceful deaths. It’s the slow, gentle ones that are creepy. Think of Fish’s death in Saving Private Ryan — a German soldier gives him a soft “Shhh” as he slowly inserts a knife into Fish’s chest. It still freaks me out. Ex Machina subtly shows the power of the robots possess by how easily they both stab Nathan. Knife, warm butter. Freaky.

Friday Links: 22nd July 2016

Podcasts

Loving Bryan Callen and Hunter Maat’s MMA for the Mind series
An extract from Ryan Holiday’s new book

Books

Reading:
A Burglar’s Guide to the City, by Geoff Manaugh
Lateral Thinking, by Edward de Bono
and re-reading Consider the Lobster, by David Foster Wallace

Ordered:
Structures, or Why Things Don’t Fall Down

Online reading:
Another prediction of the future of self-driving cars (I’ve read more about driverless cars than I have about…what do we call today’s cars? Non self-driving? manual driving? human-controlled? inferior? When the robots control the road, we’ll need a better name for self-driving cars. Or maybe we’ll just call them ‘cars’)

On Lazy Leadership
Lessons learned from Mark Cuban on business and investing
Why can’t tall NBA players make free throws?
Part two of Tesla’s master plan

Friday Links: 8th July

(for some reason WordPress’s formatting has gone ass-up today, so sorry if this all looks weird)

Books

Read:
DC Comics’ The New Frontier (volume 1)
Batman: The Court of Owls

Delivered (thanks for a free £10 eBay voucher):
The Forgotten Highlander
Leaving Microsoft to Change the World
Think Like an Engineer

Online:

Podcast:
Tim Ferriss interviews ‘Scorpion’. Admittedly I haven’t finished listening to this yet. But so far it’s worth it for the golddigger story alone

Videos:
Both basketball, as I’m still on a high from Lebron James winning another title:
How Quickly They Forget. Guilt, I did forget how good Derrick Rose was. And some of these blocks and dunks are incredible

Friday Links: 10th June 2016

Reading

Books:

The Sleep Revolution, by Arianna Huffington
Waking Up, by Sam Harris

Online:

Flying cars and Larry Page
Nassim Taleb’s online notebook

Recently I’ve been trying to follow Naval Ravikant’s advice, and treat blogs with the same respect that I give to books. With that in mind I installed GReader on my phone, and set up a blog reading list on theoldreader.com. For the moment, here are the sites I now subscribe to:

Ryan Holiday’s blog
Mark Cuban’s blog
Venture Hacks
Marginal Revolution
Melting Asphalt

I’m still trying to find a Goldilocks Level with these subscriptions. I’m going to give these blogs time, but nowhere near as much as books. So I don’t want to subscribe to someone who blogs a lot, because I won’t keep up. Then I’ll feel like I’m missing too much, and stop reading. But alternatively, people like Cuban don’t post that much (he might be a wee bit busy being a billionaire and NBA team owner), and Venture Hacks seems to be dead, so I’ll be caught up on those sites soon. An ideal middle ground of just enough content is much more likely to motivate me to put down the book and pick up the phone (which still sounds like an awful thing to do).

Friday Links: 2nd June

Books and comics:

Marissa Mayer and the Fight to Save Yahoo

Batman and Son (for the second time)

Other reading:

An old Ask Me Anything on Reddit by Nassim Taleb

Silicon Valley and jargon/bullshit

I’ve spent some time recently wondering whether the world is a simulation or not. Apparently, Elon Musk has too.

Podcasts:

Loving Sam Harris’ podcast at the moment, particularly his Ask Me Anything series (here’s another)