Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Busted Wonder

Is a graphic novel by Kieron Gillen and Charity Larrison that's finally complete after quite a long time in the making. It's about fairies and circuses and other things eleven year old girls like, but also how if all you want to do with your life is unrelenting mediocrity and to buy more shoes you'll get exactly what you deserve. Or something.

Anyway, it's very good and the pictures are lovely and the fairies are mostly nice even if they sometimes wear hats consisting mostly of blood and it's free so you should definitely go read it. Yes.

What do you have against science, Wired?

I thought we spoke about this before, but you persist with the silliness: "The End of Theory: The Data Deluge Makes the Scientific Method Obsolete"
This is a world where massive amounts of data and applied mathematics replace every other tool that might be brought to bear. Out with every theory of human behavior, from linguistics to sociology. Forget taxonomy, ontology, and psychology. Who knows why people do what they do? The point is they do it, and we can track and measure it with unprecedented fidelity. With enough data, the numbers speak for themselves.

The big target here isn't advertising, though. It's science. The scientific method is built around testable hypotheses. These models, for the most part, are systems visualized in the minds of scientists. The models are then tested, and experiments confirm or falsify theoretical models of how the world works. This is the way science has worked for hundreds of years.

Scientists are trained to recognize that correlation is not causation, that no conclusions should be drawn simply on the basis of correlation between X and Y (it could just be a coincidence). Instead, you must understand the underlying mechanisms that connect the two. Once you have a model, you can connect the data sets with confidence. Data without a model is just noise.

But faced with massive data, this approach to science — hypothesize, model, test — is becoming obsolete.


There is now a better way. Petabytes allow us to say: "Correlation is enough." We can stop looking for models. We can analyze the data without hypotheses about what it might show. We can throw the numbers into the biggest computing clusters the world has ever seen and let statistical algorithms find patterns where science cannot.


No. No, it's not. Data without a model *is* just noise. The value of a model is that you can make predictions with it. You can't do that with just data points, you have to connect them in some way. Even if you're only making inferrences from correlation, you're still creating a model. The hypothesis is the model. From it you make predictions, which you test. This is often how things start in a proper scientific investigation. Someone notices an interesting correlation and studies it further. You're just skipping the testing phase, relying on lots of correlation being sufficient instead.

Why do you refuse to learn how science works, Wired magazine? Is it because you fear that too much critical thinking will expose the singularity as a pipe-dream, that you won't get nerd-raptured away?

Come on. We can work through this together, if you'd only tell me why.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Indiana Jones and the post of too many words.

...or at least more words than something that unremarkable deserves.

Yes, the new Indiana Jones movie has been out for a while now, and people of discerning tastes have uniformly let a great disbelieving moan of "That's *it*? You waited twenty goddamn years to make a sequel, and *this* is what you came up with?"

In other words, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is a bit rubbish. Not horribly, appallingly rubbish. Because let's face it, Spielberg is still behind the wheel, and even though I don't have any particularly great love for him as a director, he's still too skilled a craftsman to let projects spin out of control like it were a Pirates of the Caribbean sequel, even when he's doing bad work. It's just a bland, sodden mess that has had all spark ripped out of it through endless rewrites. Which isn't good enough for any movie, and least of all an Indiana Jones movie.

The terrible script is doubly a shame, because having gotten my grubby paws on the draft by Frank Darabont (Shawshank Redemption, non-movie nerds), which everyone but Lucas liked and was set to go into production until he put his petulant foot down, there was a much better movie about to be made. Which is just further proof that Lucas is in dire need of people that will thwack him on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper with a sharp "No!" when his creative impulses misfire.

Judging by his creative output during the last twenty years, this would lead to Lucas' permanently walking around with a raw bloody stump in place of a nose. Crows circling him, waiting for an opportunity to rip strips of flesh from the raw pulp.

I am fine with this.

Sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind.

Darabont's draft is hardly perfect: there's some hokey giant creature sequences that have little payoff except another gag about Indy's fear of snakes, it's too long, with too many bit characters, and the alien macguffin is still firmly in place. And for all its nods to the other movies, there's some very odd implications for the overall mythology of the series.

(There's also the very fundamental problem that Indy is a pulp hero rooted in the thirties, before colonialism had fallen out of vogue, and when the line between archeology and plundering was very fine indeed. Aliens and the a-bomb all go very well with the fifties, but the fifties don't go very well with the kind of character defined by the previous movies. To which you might reply that this is Character Development, but I am fine with my b-movie heroes not changing. I don't need to see them re-connecting with family so Spielberg can work out his daddy issues. Just stride in from the dark, kick ass, and stride back into the unknown with a tip of the hat thankyouverymuch.)

But for everything that's wrong in Darabont's draft, it's so much of an improvement over what wound up on the screen. The biggest improvements are arguably combining Cate Blanchett's and Ray Winstone's characters into the treacherous Yuri, and not reducing Marion's character to a cute background detail, but having Indy's attempts to win her away from her husband (yes, she's married here) be a prime motivation throughout much of the movie. A lot of the events are similar, except when they're more exciting, but the connective tissue is so much better, with coherence, character motivation and logic. And the aliens are evil shits instead of benign all-knowing, vomit-inducing borefests, and their skeletons aren't randomly magnetic.

But I make it seem like KotCS's problems is all down to the script, which is not entirely fair. Speilberg's direction is less than stellar. The characters all act like they know they're in an Indiana Jones movie. There's never a sense of danger. The previous ones let humour into the action as well, but there was still a sense that the characters took it seriously, that Indy was just hanging on by the tips of his fingers. Here, the most they manage a wince as they get hit on the balls yet again, and overall there's a very forced quality to the production. Speilberg said at some point that he tried to go back to the filmmaker he sort of grew out of, but the end result is worryingly like watching your parents trying to show they can still can be down with the kids. It just leaves you depressed and feeling embarrassed for everyone involved.