A review about "Her"

To be a bit flip, I've learned all I need to be happy is an apartment decorated in warm wood tones, writers to help my dialogue, and Scarlett Johansson to voice act my digital interactions.

Actually, though, I really liked the cinematography of Her; the film was beautifully shot, evoking that soft, present feeling like when you've just awoken and you take in your surroundings afresh, before the onrush of memories and thoughts draws you into the day proper.

But as a concept, I'm less moved and invested. I love me a good sci-fi love story, because I both love the promise of technology, and believe in the manifold and analogue nature of the emotional state. Her is lacking as a love story, it is neither tragic, nor redeeming, nor fulfilling.

I wouldn't be as critical as The Economist in last week's review, but I do believe there's a lot of wish fulfillment going on. I feel the viewer is encouraged to grant the benefit of the doubt on the OS' ability to love, purely out of most people's ignorance of technology. I wasn't able to suspend disbelief, and the swan song for Theodore and Samantha's relationship felt like a finely wrought cop-out. I should like to be broken up with in such a beautiful way though.

I'm reminded of an anime series, Chobits, which has some parallels in that it also looks at what is an acceptable relationship in society and the extent that love exists within ones mind as it does between two people. I might suggest the anime looks at these questions more deeply however, because it also considers the dynamics of the asymmetric relationship, of possession, and of sacrifice.

In contrast, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, another sci-fi love story, looks at imagined technology as a modifier, rather than an object of love. Joel's love for Clementine is inexplicable, only making sense sue to the human element, while Theodore's love for Samantha is perfectly sensible, whether or not you ignore the technical challenges.

I enjoyed the watching of the film, and would recommend it because it is an interesting vision of the future, but the story of their love is too easy and thus unsatisfying; Samantha is made to be loved by Theodore. I'd believe the feeling truly exists in him, but there is a distance, a gap, in Her.

It's often said the greatest amount of fun is from planning a vacation

I don't know if that's completely true, but I get a nerdy rise out of grinding out a solid itinerary and good deal. If you read my past posts, I give it a lot of thought. 
 
I was saving my vacation in the hopes of getting a graduation slot and travelling for that. I've known I wanted a slot in November since March, but because of school process, I didn't get confirmed until early this month. I was considering an inexpensive early booking, but my flight change fees and the possibility of not getting the date meant I dismissed that option, though with future knowledge that would have been optimal.
 
Instead, I've gotten a very good secondary choice, hitting my target schedule (In Oxford Nov. 8th, two weeks away from work), allows me a transatlantic ship journey, and uses the second leg of my original flight. Though I'm spending an extra $300 or so, I am getting a slightly more flush experience (balcony versus inside cabin), so I'd rate it even.
 
So my delays and couple hours a week of tracking deals has paid off, and I'm super excited to visit Oxford, spend a few days in London, and travel on the Queen Mary 2 to New York!

Marking the end of summer...

I haven't made a public post on livejournal in some time. Since moving to Seattle, things have really flown by, and I've been challenged, successful, and wanting at various times.
 
It's the end of the Labour Day weekend, a traditional marker for the end of summer. The days are certainly shortening, and visiting PAX after a two year hiatus certainly leaves me a bit wistful. It certainly feels different from that first time five years ago, both because of seeing and knowing a bit more about what makes the place tick, and about where I fit within it. Also, my birthday is around this time, so that is another milestone. I think we've both matured.
 
I had the fortune of meeting up with some old friends, and some stumbling upon current friends and acquaintences about the show. A lot has happened in the last three days, full of talks, walking, gaming, and random happenings. There is a certain magic, in the world we create for each other at events such as this, and games, entertainment, and society more broadly.
 
We've filed out of the theatre, and it's now time to resume our more runaday lives. Thinking on it, I could simultaneously use a lot more, as well as a lot less, normalcy and routine. As the (to me apocryphal) saying goes, "May you live in interesting times".

Reading the Sunday paper...

I grew up in Canada, and it was the Saturday Star which was the big paper of the week, and most importantly had colour comics and the TV listings for the coming week. But I understand the niche of the Sunday paper, which to me now is advertisements.

I really could have used a Sunday paper a few weeks back when I moved down and did the whole "move in" shop, but was busy with other things; I think I did alright. Now, I'm mostly settled in, stocked up, and unpacked, and I can look at buying goods as a light recreation rather than an urgent essential.

The first thing I've read has been the flyers; the coupon packs, doing my standard sort of items into the "no" and the "maybe" pile. I try and make my consumption choices deliberate, reflecting the values I hold: value, convenience, and economy. There's a joy in having what you want on hand, but also of not being surrounded by loads of stuff in a small studio apartment. Sometimes that means picking up an extra box of cereal for a multi-buy offer at the drug store, others it's treking across town for specific produce or condiments, and others it's lugging 1 litre bottles of shampoo and conditioner from Costco.

The warehouse store added a dimension to shopping when I first joined about five years back, vanilla versions of products whenever you need them, as well as the occassional store-specific deal. I'll rarely make it my first choice, but it's a great fallback for a known quantity at solid value. That known quantity also being large.

Something new to me in the Sunday paper was "Parade". While I could google it and instantly be informed of what it's about, I instead read through it and tried to infer its purpose and effect. I'd say it is advertorial, writing about products and consumer sentiment, almost certainly promoted by one or more FMCG. Fast moving consumer goods are the endless proliferation of everyday essentials, the deliberate exploration of market space, the 10 kinds of dish liquid. It's a game of innovation, marketing, niches, frequent failures, and rare long-lasting hits.

These goods, though consumables, are not the economic goods, the widgets, we learn about. For some, one brand is as good as another, but we can probably all think of a couple of branded versions of a product we "swear by". It's also not just quality of the product, but habit, the usage experience, the group membership. We start to say, "I am a *product* person".

I was surprised by the inclusion, not because of what it was, but also because the copy was quite interesting, more thoughtful than much of the news and editorial I often come across. While I like certain things categorically, I will almost always admire a well-executed version of anything.

Nowadays, I work under the umbrella of "Monetization", which at its heart is selling stuff. Because I'm working in virtual goods, there exists lots of data and analysis that is possible intrinsically, and requiring technology and engineering to gather and act on it, but inherently there is no tool that replaces the thinking and trying. I couldn't be more satisfied with that balance.

And the challenge I'm working on right now, is to take a collection of bits, some internet packets and database rows, and have people pay good money for them, the more the better. It's a challenge I'd put up there with selling tallow mixed with ash and solvents. I'm not the guy mixing up the ingredients or devising new formulas, let alone the packaging and story, but maybe I'll have some say in that at some point. Choosing the selling price and what is on the shelf is where I've started.

Still, I could make a reasonable claim to have single-handedly added an average of $1500 dollars a day for each day since I joined, just by moving things around the shop. Not bad for joining not even three weeks ago. To be fair, none of that would be possible without the efforts and ideas of many talented people in my company, including a fellow alumnus. Without solid products, shelves, and a storefront, my handwaving would be worthless, but the effect is there to see. I think I've added to the collection of thoughts and ideas that made the effect what it was, and there are larger challenges on the horizon; the real work is about to begin.

Things very much have a life of their own, because we give names, tell stories, and because others perceive things differently, make mental shortcuts. At least they will if I'm doing my job properly, along with everyone else.

*Edited for words*

A new job in the new year...

I've spent the last few months doing small projects for a number of different folks, while trying to come to terms if I wanted to work seriously on a startup. There are many aspects I like about it, most importantly working with really motivated folks and aiming high. But there have been a couple of things giving me pause as well, not the least of which is the constant threat of uncertainty.

Still, I've been quite keen on working with technical people and contributing to a great product. So I'm "chuffed to bits" that I'll be working on the money side of game design in the new year, once a visa comes through for the US. I'd describe myself as a lapsed hardcore gamer, so the social and casual side is somewhat new to me, and full of promise because its bringing gaming to whole new groups of people.

I think the essence of games is fun, and the knack will be making the pay side of your iPad or Facebook games add to the fun, not detract from it. Definitely something of a juggling act, so some of the business thinking and PM experience will help there too.

So lots going on right now; sorting through all the stuff I'd left in Vancouver two years back, catching up with people, and planning the move to Seattle. What's more, I've got some serious catching up to do over the holidays, so would love to hear ideas about what I've got to play. Exciting times.

Happy New Year,

V.

Chinese for Dummies

So I'm sitting in the library, updating my copy of Ubuntu to 12.10*, and having a read of the book, "Dreaming in Chinese". It's quite an entertaining little read, in that it aims to address a number of linguistic and cultural idiosyncracies in Chinese, while making full use of similar idiosyncracies and anecdotes from English.

Over the past year, I've made an effort to work on my Chinese, which from a literary perspective is stuck somewhere between kindergarten and fifth grader, depending on context. Such a fact would be quite shameful for someone of Chinese descent, to someone more traditionally minded.

Anyhow, a few months back, I was interviewing for a role to help a food company merge with a Chinese company. I found myself during an early round trying to explain to the recruiter the nuances of what Chinese is, and around how I was fluent in some respects, but not others. I got worried as it started turning into a history lesson, and the differences between Chinese and Mandarin.

It's an interesting problem, because I was trying to convey my cultural sensitivity, while being up-front about my limited experience doing business in Mandarin and none at all in Shanghainese, (while having just introduced the concept of what Shanghainese was moments earlier). Note to self, "just say 'yes', in future job interviews when someone asks if you're fluent in Chinese, and sort out the details later".

I don't think it's a common problem in language in the western world, this reconciliation of written and spoken languages. If I knew about this book, I could have said, "just read that book". Then again, I might have saved it for if I were actually selected; one needs to have some private information with which to dazzle others now and then.

*I'm using wireless broadband at home, while waiting for my cable modem install; it would take too long with my limited service otherwise.

How do I value my time, let me count the ways...

I've finally booked my flight back to Vancouver. Quite pleased with the result, particularly as I think my solution is optimal in both cash outlay and travel convenience.

This originated as a travel blog;I had spent numerous posts in the  past outlining my borderline-obsessive desire for the "perfect" itinerary. The principle is sound, but I sometimes don't value my time properly.

Since at the moment I have some time that is not money I've put in a bit of effort to book my flights.

Though things looked iffy for the last few days, my final cost (equivalent of $1391) represents a savings of $388 versus the otherwise best fare for the same flights and dates. The savings comes down to regional taxes, currency exchange, and the fare rules, as I booked as a single ticket rather than two returns.

I don't usually manage to scrounge up that much, but it puts a good value to the hours I've spent off and on last week looking.

Why I'm leaving London...

Like all things, there is a simple, facts based answer (at the end), and a larger story and context. The fact that I've sold most of my larger possessions in the last week has meant that I can't really pretend to be on the fence anymore.

First off, I love London. Not because it is where I was born or because it is where I am now. I love what it was, what it means, the values of London. Even when it's messy and annoying. But, for the same reason one wouldn't run empty trains, I think it's the right time to move on.

I'm pretty focused on progressing my career, though that may not be in titles or salary. And I think that with where this city and country is now, that won't be possible in the year I have left, nor could I plan on an extension. It's unfortunate, but not something I regret, as in fact I've had the chance to do a bunch of solid work in a number of interesting roles. I would leave thinking that one day, when I make my millions and am free to do so, I can come back, and claim a flat overlooking Green Park.

So I am comfortable not being present in this city of art and industry, knowing that like my engineering degree, Oxford, and all the rest, that it will always be with me. I'd be quite alright with my nose to the grindstone for a bit, if it gets me to where I want to be. I'm saying this as much to tell others, as it is to be clear to me.

Alright, the tl;dr version:
Despite concerted effort since mid-June, I'm no closer to having a long-term job in the UK or sponsorship. Sure I could hang around another year, but if I were where I am now at the end of that, that would not be meaningful to me.  Even if I were considerably better situated with a job and pay, I'm not sure there is the opportunity to get to where I want: I need more of a certain type of people, and I am still too new here to build it.

A public post on the eve of my birthday

I think as I get older, there are more milestones available to mark the passing of another year. A birthday is just one of them, there are also the start and end of courses, jobs, travel, friends, and events in the world, not to mention myriad holidays.

I work at not being struck by nostalgia or pinning after an imagined, idealized past, but such milestones (yearlings?) are a chance to reflect. While the past year hasn't been as jam packed as the year preceding - which was a year of transition and studies and travel after all - it has been a chance for some new experiences, to try some alternate careers on for size, to see London and life in another country, and to think deeply about what is important to me.

I'd like to point off in the distance, and to look with purpose and serenity at a path of challenge and worth. In fact, much of that is to be determined, and I laugh a little at the idea, but it's not impossible. I don't have everything I would ask for, but I would say I have what matters, and the rest is just detail that will get sorted in due time.

Thanks to all those around me, and if you haven't heard from me in some time, no doubt that is likely to change in the weeks and months ahead. My one greatest fault is a desire to be focused, and the consequence is my sometimes absence in things which, while to me secondary, still deserve presence.

I spend a lot of time online

I often read articles on social feeds and news sites, maybe several links deep, so that I forget the original source.

It's also the Olympic season, so it's a chance to celebrate people's achievements, engage in national rivalries, and laud and bemoan various states of affairs.

Now, I've sometimes tried to describe and categorize my beliefs. Partly this is to communicate with others, but partly as well just so that I can hold it reasonably clear in my mind. I value exactitude over brevity, such that I often come across as a pedant, but would insist I am yet minimal in my descriptions; that the details matter, when it comes to deciding the ins and outs of my approach.

I don't have a nice point on a linear, 'left'/'right' political line. Perhaps I could say I am economically conservative while socially liberal, but that is a flawed description.

I came across two pieces today, both with elements I liked, but both I would describe as critically flawed by being excessively partisan and polarizing. I would suggest you have a look, and assess for yourself:

http://declarationentertainment.com/firewall-what-we-believe-wealth-creation
http://www.organizingupgrade.com/index.php/component/k2/item/572-olympic-contradictions

For this context, I believe in the value of reason, productive capacity, and trade, but assert the need for government intervention to provide certain services and curtail private rent seeking behaviour. Yet I do not endorse unlimited free markets nor greater government derived entitlements, which are often seen as 'natural' extension of the 'right' and 'left'.

The shortcut in the first is to paint 'liberals' (with it's US baggage) as viewing government as an ends in itself, an uncontestable power. The shortcut in the latter is to identify exceptional individualism as antithetical to association. Both flaws are practically mirror images.

Now, I get the core message of both pieces: that creativity and effort is what creates wealth, and that society can chose to directly support its values. I don't buy the argument that only one group is the true champion of each respective idea or ideal.

I could go on, but I do need to get some sleep. I look forward to an early morning to stake out a good spot to watch the women's Triathalon tomorrow.