A little while ago, I kvetched about the algorithms that produce Google News. I feel somewhat vindicated, since I don’t think this image really reflects the top Sci/Tech news of September 30th, 2002.
Month: September 2002
I saw Igby Goes Down last week, and came out in a morosely sad mood. Some reviewers were not entirely thrilled by the New York upper class milieu in which the story plays out, so fair warning: if you don’t particular care about rich kids with problems, it’s not the movie for you.
That said, Kieran Culkin is absolutely great as the lead character, and the rest of the cast is solid. The director, Burr Steers, got Ryan Phillippe to play the role he knows how to play; he’s the same spoiled brat we saw in Cruel Intentions. Amanda Peet gets a similar boost from good casting. Igby’s parents, played by Susan Sarandon and Bill Pullman, are just solid. And the best of all is Jeff Goldblum, playing an emotionless affable friend of the family, breaking beautifully away from the roles he’s been doing in summer blockbusters for the last few years.
The movie is set in a bit of a fantasy New York (see comments above). I don’t think I ever saw anyone wearing anything less than elegant; the one shot of a bus ride is cleverly handled from outside the bus so as to avoid boring us with the passengers. Steers comes from the same background as young Igby, and he really gets the glossy perfection of it down pat. I think this is intentional; it’s not that Steers doesn’t know poverty exists, but we’re seeing the world through Igby’s eyes, and Igby has no concept of real suffering.
In other words, the movie works on two levels. There’s the relatively straight-forward story of Igby’s coming of age — you may insert the obligatory Holden Caulfield reference here if you like — but there’s also the bitter satire of the world in which he lives. I think, in the end, it’s the latter that left me feeling moody and sad.
The new Two Towers trailer is now available in Quicktime. (Link obtained from Ain’t It Cool News.) Enjoy.
About time. Paul Gaston sold the Boston Celtics today. Under the ownership of the Gaston family, the Celtics saw two championships, but since Don Gaston turned the team over to his son, it’s been very sparse times for Celtics fans.
Gaston Jr. has been more interested in keeping costs low than in winning titles. This has, not surprisingly, kept the Celtics far away from the latter. We’ll see what happens now.
On October 11, 2002, the following movies that I want to see will open:
- Below, a submarine haunted house flick directed by David Twohy (Pitch Black) and written by Darren Aronofsky.
- The Grey Zone, directed by Tim Blake Nelson and starring Steve Buscemi, Harvey Keitel, Mira Sorvino.
- Knockaround Guys, a much-neglected gangster flick with Vin Disel, Seth Green, Dennis Hopper, and John Malkovich; the writer/directors also wrote Rounders.
- Punch-Drunk Love, the new Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights, Magnolia) movie that happens to star, um, Adam Sandler.
- The Rules of Attraction, based on a Bret Easton Ellis novel, which has good word of mouth.
- Swept Away, which is directed by Guy Ritchie (Snatch) even if it does star his wife Madonna.
- The Transporter, directed by the great Corey Yuen (Fong Sai Yuk and a million others) and written by Luc Besson.
That’s seven movies solidly worth seeing, ignoring the other seven opening that weekend. Do they wanna kill me?
After much twiddling around, www.innocence.com has moved and is now served off my shiny semi-new OpenBSD box in Somerville. Making new entries just got a lot faster; at some point I’ll try mod_perl again and see if that doesn’t speed up as well.
DNS hasn’t propagated as I write this, but it will in a few hours. And I suppose if you’re reading this, you know it’s propagated.
Let’s see. The new server is now my primary nameserver, and I’ll be letting the registrars know that next. The last piece is email (also probably the most nervewracking piece). Woot!
There is much talk over here in the States of Tony Blair; of how well he gets along with Bush, and of course of his recent speech presenting the case against Iraq. No stauncher ally than the Brits. Yeah.
Well, or at least, none stauncher than Tony Blair. Andrew Sullivan’s article on the friendship between the two men says more than he realizes, I think. “Blair’s second intuition was that with George W. Bush, the most important element is always personal rapport and trust. He sensed almost intuitively that an intimate bond with Bush would give the British prime minister more influence than any other world leader in the post 9/11 world.” Yes, indeed. How much is that influence worth? Is it worth the trust of Blair’s own Labour Party?
53 Labour MPs rejected Blair’s speech on Monday, and 80 more may follow suit. Labour’s been downplaying the problem, but why else would Blair allow Monday’s vote to go through if he wasn’t leery of forcing the issue?
So it’s all very well to blithely wave off China and Russia’s criticism. Germany opposes Bush’s plan, and so does France? Well, at least the British support us. Except that polls show only about half of England thinks Bush is on target, and Blair’s own party is restless.
The 2002 MacArthur Fellows were announced today.
Matthew White’s done some really excellent research on death tolls in the 20th century. It’s very grim; it’s also a good reminder of atrocities we might otherwise forget. The rest of his Atlas of the 20th Century is also pretty interesting.
The new Google News service kind of bugs me. The FAQ says this:
The headlines on the Google News homepage are selected entirely by a computer algorithm, based on many factors including how often and on what sites a story appears elsewhere on the web. This is very much in the tradition of Google’s web search, which relies heavily on the collective judgment of web publishers to determine which sites offer the most valuable and relevant information. Google News relies in a similar fashion on the editorial judgment of online news organizations to determine which stories are most deserving of inclusion and prominence on the Google News page.
Huh. So the most reported stories show up on Google News, which causes people to report the stories more, and so on. In engineering, they call this positive feedback. It is not always a good thing.
Mind you, Google’s always used algorithms like this for their search. Daypop, the popular (and currently dead) weblog search service, creates a similar effect with their Top Forty listing of popular links from the world’s weblogs. So this is nothing new, per se.
Still. I have a penchant for the unexplored, the new, and the underreported. It seems to me that Google is encouraging the homogenization of the Web, here. The algorithm is problematic when applied to news, and it has the same problems when applied to web search.
Discussing this is, alas, met with scorn from the weblogging community. Daniel Brandt is a bit of a loon, admittedly, and his personal stake in these arguments is well documented. But there’s some truth at the core of his complaints. Besides, you’d kind of expect Doc Searls to stand up for Google. He’s one of the guys who benefits from PageRank.
When Doc Searls says “Why is this bad? Because PageRank doesn’t give a fair shake to stuff nobody points to? What user would want that?” I am forced to reply, “Users who want to find stuff outside the beaten path.” PageRank is great for building up an initial concept of the Web; if you’re starting from scratch, you get an accurate picture of which sites are important. But from that point on, you make it harder for completely new sites to break into the rankings. New clusters of link relationships won’t be ranked as highly as the old clusters.
So that’s why Google News kind of bugs me.
Disclaimer: I used to work for AltaVista.