Searching for the Moon

Shannon Clark's rambles and conversations on food, geeks, San Francisco and occasionally economics

Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

We Live in Public – most impactful movie of 2009

Posted by shannonclark on April 1, 2009

Everyone reading this blog post MUST go see this movie.

If you live in NYC you can see it as the closing film at the New Directors/New Films festival at MOMA on April 5th.

While at SXSW this year (2009) I had the very great good fortune to catch a screening of the documentary We Live in Public.

(photo from the We Live in Public website, I hope they don’t mind that I’m using it here)

I left and was in a bit of a daze (and no, it wasn’t from sitting near The Dude though he was indeed just a few rows over) rather it was from just how impactful the movie is for any of us who are now, ourselves, living in public. I have been active online since 1991. I started this blog many years ago and deep in my archives you can find a great deal of highly personal stuff, my musings over time about life, relationships and more. Since 2007 I have been using twitter actively and have posted more than 9000 times, often inviting anyone who gets my messages to join me for coffee, lunch or as I did just minutes ago here at the Web 2.0 Expo invite anyone to join me for dinner. 

I live in public.

My friends, people such as Jason Calacanis, who are featured throughout We Live In Public have also been living their lives in public. The movie is, however, not Jason’s story but is:

 … the story of the effect the web is having on our society, as seen through the eyes of “the greatest Internet pioneer you’ve never heard of,” visionary Josh Harris.  Award-winning director, Ondi Timoner (DIG!), documented his tumultuous life for more than a decade, to create a riveting, cautionary tale of what to expect as the virtual world inevitably takes control of our lives.

I will be pondering this movie for months, likely years to come. Weeks after I viewed it, I still feel the impact. It is a fun movie at times, a difficult movie throughout, and I’m certain my personal connection to many of the participants definitely shaped the impact which the film had on me as I viewed it. 

However if you are reading this post, if you follow me on Twitter, if you Tweet yourself, if you video blog, post status updates to Facebook, you too are starting to live in public, in ways which Josh Harris explored a decade ago. His story highlights the many impacts this life can have on us, the impact that pervasive surveillance can have on all of us. 

We Live in Public won the Sundance Grand Jury prize for Documentaries this year for a very good reason. 



Posted in geeks, internet, Movies, personal | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Tin Man, Oz and my odd view on media

Posted by shannonclark on December 5, 2007

I have read all of the original Oz books and many of the later continuations by other authors. Indeed one of the reasons I am a collector of books was my love of the Oz books and my sadness that my mom’s childhood collection of all 1st editions of the Oz books is now lost to the family, sold or donated sometime when my great-grandparents moved to a small home.

This week the Sci Fi channel is running a mini-series, Tin Man, based on the Oz books. Very loosely based in many ways and with much updating and reinterpretations. The reviews have not been kind.

However I love it.

But, and this is a big but, I have to also explain that I do NOT like the original Oz movie. My memory and love of Oz is and has always been for the books, not the movie. The movie was in many ways a simplification of the books, true to the books in some respects, but very different in many other ways.

I know, however, that my view and love of books vs. movies (and don’t get me wrong, I’m also a huge movie buff and former projectionist) is somewhat in the minority in America today and in the past. That far more people focus on the movie version than usually read the original books (even the Harry Potter series are neck and neck though there perhaps the books actually have the upper hand – though only just).

Hollywood for some reason however does not seem to trust great children’s books to make movies from them, instead usually insisting on radical changes and simplifications of what are actually more subtle and complex stories than usually given credit for being and TV adaptations are no exception to this trend.

In a few days a Hollywood version of a more recent children’s book, The Golden Compass is going to be going into wide release (sneak previews where held a few days ago though I missed them). Apparently the movie in a bid to win some acceptance here in the US manages to avoid all mention of a key element of the book – i.e. the strong anti-Church message and the underlying arguments against religion and God (small spoiler – in the last book of the series Pullman kills off “god” with almost literally a whimper).

I am an atheist and I am happy to see The Golden Compass get a movie treatment, but saddened that the power of Pullman’s book is diminished and weakened by the Hollywood treatment – I would have much preferred (I suspect) a more accurate treatment of his book – though I do also definitely plan on seeing the movie on the big screen.

But back to Tin Man. I am frankly surprised that the Oz series (and it is a very, very long series, there literally 100’s of books by various authors now part of the series, with many of the earliest books being highly collectible and fairly valuable. Don’t believe me? Spend some time exploring the comprehensive Oz Timeline) has not been made into a tv series or series of movies before. Perhaps the first Wizard of Oz movie has cast a rather too long shadow.

What I always loved about the Oz series was their inventiveness and though as I grew older I started to wish for a bit more grit, a bit more complexity, I also appreciated that though there was good and evil in the books good triumphed without itself being evil. This last bit may come as a surprise to anyone most familiar with the movie or the first book, where there are some actual killing (of evil witches admittedly) and other violence, but over time less and less of the books involve violence as a solution to problems – indeed non-violent solutions that don’t involve killing are emphasized.

So why do I really, really like the Sci-Fi channel’s Tin Man series? For one thing, I am enjoying their riffs and modern updatings and takes on the original materials – mostly it is all there, just stretched and modified – and the post-modern in me loves these bits of metafiction to the series.

I also find it a visually compelling work, perhaps as in all too much of American filmmaking a bit overdone in repetition of key sequences (a pet peeve of mine, I’d rather filmmakers figured out a way to not just reuse the same images for constant flashbacks again and again). The ability of modern filmmakers to leverage green screens and CGI’s is rapidly changing what it is possible to imagine and create – as a fan of the fantastic I am enjoying seeing how this creative freedom and increasingly accessible realism is being used by directors – CGI only characters can now have a great deal of depth and impact.

I understand that some fans don’t like this series, however for me it is a really enjoyable work of reinterpretation. Though part of me wishes that rather than a one-off miniseries it was in fact the beginning of an ongoing series – I think, though fans of just the 1938 movie may find this hard to believe, there is a richness and depth to the Oz series which would and could support an ongoing television series. Though it would, like only a few other series, be one with a changing cast of characters – the beauty and richness of the Oz books is that they feature a wide range of characters and stories – they are not at all just the ongoing story of Dorthy.

Though Oz is a very American tale, perhaps in some ways the first truly American Fairy Tale (and since the 1938 movie an ongoing part of the American psyche) I feel there is some degree of kinship between Oz (the books) and my favorite TV show of all time, Doctor Who. Both feature a wide range of stories and characters and to a degree a similar approach to the world – an approach which is not religious in nature (surprisingly for an American story perhaps, especially these days) and one which assumes that good can and usually will prevail. The even when it seems darkest and that all may be lost, hope, good will and intent can find a way.

Perhaps that’s stretching a point a bit – but I see and feel some kinship.

In any case not owning a TV I am awaiting the Sci Fi Channel putting the third and final part of Tin Man online for all to view for free (I watched the other parts via the website).

Posted in internet, Movies, personal, reading, reviews | 2 Comments »

my next hack – hacking Netflix

Posted by shannonclark on October 2, 2006

With their permission that is

NetFlix has just announced the Netflix Prize which will award a prize of $1M for a 10% improvement on their recommendation engine, based on a dataset of over 100M ratings of movies which they are making available for research purposes to anyone who registers to participate.

When I founded JigZaw Inc in 2000 I embarked on many years of research into various aspects of machine learning and AI. My initial focus was on automated data acquisition, techniques for automating the understanding of data structures (especially from semi-structured data such as web pages) as well as techniques for extracting that data and converting it into “real” structured data. But beyond those techniques I also started a lot of research into data clustering methodologies and approaches, with my interest focusing mostly on some fairly complex ways of automatic data clustering into data-driven categories (including the possibility of overlapping categories) I was and am less interested in the “postal code” type of clustering, where the categories are known ahead of time, are fixed and usually are unitary – i.e. a specific element can only be placed into one and only one category.

What I’m more interested in is the much harder problem of automatic data driven clustering – clusters that are properties of the dataset but which arise naturally through the data analysis, not from a priori defined categories or cluster types.

But there has always been a very real lack of serious datasets to test my theories upon so I haven’t done much with them for many years.

Netflix’s announcements change all of this, with a single, well thought out action, they have made a very large (and furthermore mostly real) data set available to nearly anyone (if you live in certain countries or Quebec you aren’t eligible to participate). I know that I plan on registering and downloading the dataset and exploring it, even if I don’t seriously enter the competition.

Though, that said, I do think I have a number of approaches and techniques that would achieve very real and valid results.

But I do have a couple of procedural questions as well as some real concerns. First and foremost while I applaud them for the very real steps they are taking to preserve user’s privacy, by modifying the data in a variety of ways they do cloud the validity of the data as well as embed into the contest certain assumptions (some of which I had planned on questioning in a few of my approaches).

This is not all of those approached, but for example, by modifying in some cases the date when a rating was made they change in unkown ways the temporal factors implicit in those ratings – one testable assumption might be that people who typically watch movies over the weekend (and rate/return them early in the week) have very real and measurable differences from movie watchers who primarily watch movies during the week returning them anytime. Not to mention that some possibly calculable measures such as whether or not there is a correlation between how long someone kept a given movie and who positively/negatively they rated that movie would be worth testing. (I know in my own experience when my ex-girlfriend had a netflix subscription that certain types of movies, often ones we felt we “had” to watch but generally didn’t really love, might sit, unwatched, for weeks or in a few cases many months.  (time might also be a proxy for other more typical factors – the differences between a single mother renting for herself as well as for her young children and those of a single renting mostly for weekend (or less commonly weekday) movie watching with a partner.

Anyway, I encourage the research inclined among you to check out Netflix’s announcement (and as I announced a few weeks back on MeshForum, MeshForum is looking to work with companies on the creation and release of network datasets for general and broad research projects. Netflix’s model is a good one – though I also hope they make the full data collections available to anyone interested in research (and/or allow them to be mirrored in dataset archives such as the one MeshForum is looking to build). MeshForum’s mission is also to encourage companies to do more than a single, one-time release of data, rather we’ll looking to support and encourage companies to make large network datasets available on a regular and reoccurring basis (one to two quarters delayed being  perhaps a good basic model to consider).

If you are interested in working with me on this project please leave a comment with your contact information or feel free to contact me directly.

Posted in geeks, Movies, working | 1 Comment »

Luck, Snakes on a Plane, and other movies (and life)

Posted by shannonclark on August 18, 2006

Tonight I went, along with most of the geeks in San Francisco, to a screening of Snakes on a Plane at the Metreon. I went to the first showing at 10pm and as part of a full, packed theater, witnessed a bit of geek history and a small cultural moment. The most interactive movie screening I’ve been to in years and a truly fun experience. The movie was all that it was promised to be, but done with so much fun and good humor as well as a sly sensibility and self-awareness that it was truly great fun to watch, especially with an audience that was actively participating (throwing snakes, shouting commentary and reacting as promised to the key lines).

It was fun and I’m very glad I was there and not surprisingly there were many people I knew in the audience.

However, as with so much else for the past few months, it was also a reminder that I am single, as all around me in the crowded theater couples huddled and shared in the experience (and I think this is beginning to be a criteria for me, a partner (female) who would also enjoy immersion in geek culture, great if we also share lots of other non-geek culture interests, but I’m definitely looking for a female geek).

Earlier in the week I went and saw Little Miss Sunshine, which was also shown to a fairly full audience and was one of the first times in a very, very long time that I have laughed aloud in the theater (the last time I remember doing that was Home Alone, which I walked out of predicting that it would, as it did, become a huge hit). Little Miss Sunshine probably does not have the same, universal appeal of the physical comedy inherent in Home Alone (and which reminded me of what i love about Chaplin and other early film pioneers) but it should find a good audience for the quirky and very true and real humor.

And while Snakes, on a Plane, is a horrific idea and concept, and I will be taking a lot of flights in the next few weeks, truly my nightmares will be from Little Miss Sunshine. The scenes of the beauty pagent are true horror, a scathing indictment of a truly ugly side of the “beauty” industry.

While my love life is not all that lucky these days, my luck in general has been rather surprising. Early this week I was walking near Union Square, very late at night down to Market St. to catch the late night Muni shuttle bus to the Castro to transfer to my bus home. I had stopped in a Walgreens to pick up a few items, on stepping outside I looked down and on the sidewalk found a Muni monthly pass (worth $45). Since I had purchased my pass early in the month I passed this pass along to a friend who will make good use of it.

Then tonight, after the movie and a drink at the House of Shields with friends and fellow geeks, I took the F Muni back to the Castro, grabbed a late night dinner/snack at the Baghdad Café on Market, and then walked back to catch my bus. While walking, I looked down at the sidewalk and found a $10 bill that was sitting there half-folded on the sidewalk.

So in one week, that’s $55+ that I’ve found just walking around (on the weekend I kept finding piles of change – about $1.25 or so in a single day), certainly not going to replace my day jobs, but definitely a bit of good Karma.

I’ve blogged a bit more about this past week at my new Vox Blog where I’ve recently posted about my favorite books, furniture purchases and more.

Posted in geeks, Movies | Leave a Comment »