December 2018 news

December 2018 newsletter with links on genetic engineering, NLP/DRL, history of technology, online economics; 2 book and 3 movie reviews.
topics: newsletter
created: 18 Nov 2018; modified: 27 Mar 2019; status: finished; confidence: log; importance: 0

This is the December 2018 edition of the newsletter; previous, November 2018 (archives). This is a summary of the revision-history RSS feed, overlapping with my Changelog & /r/gwern; brought to you by my donors on Patreon.






  • An Artist of the Floating World, Kazuo Ishiguro 1986 (strikingly like The Remains of the Day, and successful for similar reasons)
  • The Buried Giant, Ishiguro 2015 (review)
  • Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall, Ishiguro (inoffensively meandering short stories about musicians and failing or succeeding)
  • The Alehouse at the End of the World, Allred 2018 (peeked into as part of Christmas book exchange; dropped after 50 pages & skipping forward to check. Painfully unfunny and then descends into dirty-old-man skeevishness where he writes endlessly about sex in a manner nauseating enough to make one want to take a vow of celibacy. I’ll stick with Neil Gaiman, thanks.)



  • They Shall Not Grow Old, 2018 (WWI documentary by Peter Jackson; the description was irresistible to me—a rigorously all-original-footage documentary using digital retiming & cleaning & enhancement, colorization, lipreading, and re-enacted sound effects, with narration & commentary solely by WWI veterans. The release was weird: only on 2 days, and only 1 showing each day? But I made it to the first one. The documentary is book-ended by Peter Jackson talking for a bit about the movie, with the post-ending segment being lengthy, perhaps 20 minutes, going into more detail by showing them accumulating WWI uniforms to get the colorizing right (insignia could vary, and the khaki of the British soldiers and the light gray-blue of the Germans were both nightmares to get just right), recording sound effects from replica artillery, and accompanying the NZ army on live-fire exercises. The documentary itself follows a straightforward flow of the start of WWI & British recruitment, boot camp/training, traveling to the front in France, reaching the front, dealing with shelling and surviving daily life in the trenches, respite when briefly rotated to the rear, ‘going over the top’, taking prisoners of war, and returning. Regardless, the experience makes for more interesting watching. For example, it’s impossible to not notice just how bad the state of dental health was in WWI England and how scrawny and runty and short so many enlistees are, perhaps because of the lousy food (jam on toast being a major food group rather than an occasional snack or dessert), which was also dire in the boot camp. And yet, one of the veterans states that enlistees gained >6kg between the food & exercise! This would sound implausible except you just saw them marching and how short many of them were, and I’m reminded of similar comments about enlisting in the US Army in Vietnam, which was at a much later & wealthier time. Perhaps that’s one reason that teenagers found it so easy to lie about their age—who could tell that you weren’t simply on the lower end of things for 18 or 21 years old? Nor are the few women to appear all that well-favored physically, another reminder. (English women, of course, were far from guiltless in WWI, and the veterans recount their zeal to shame and henpeck men and even underage children into volunteering to die.) The more perspective we get on WWI, the more horrifying a mistake & crime it becomes, and They Shall Not Grow Old only emphasizes this for me. The footage is ample to show all this, and includes many interesting bits like soldiers stumbling or freezing up when they see the cameraman, soldiers fooling around or competing, and groups & horses being hit by artillery. In one part where an officer reads a letter out to his men, they were able to identify the specific letter being read in the archives by cross-referencing the date with the unit archives and doing a bit of guesswork to match it up. The digital stabilization and zooming in for manufacturing ‘tracking shots’ allow for clear and modern-style tracking/panning, giving it all a dynamic documentary feel that the original video cameras were not capable, and the digital restoration & colorization are dramatic improvements over the original and truly do bring all the people to life. The enhancement struck me as far inferior to what I expected—individual chunks visibly flow and flicker, particularly in faces, which should be an easy optical flow problem to fix. But then I reflected that if they’d been working on it for 4+ years, their software would be even older, and it would be unreasonable to compare to the 2018 NN SOTAs in image superresolution/interpolation/colorization. Perhaps we can look forward to much more upscaled & colorized historical footage? Even what I saw in They Shall Not Grow Old was more than enough to convince me that the experience is far superior to the original degraded jittery monochrome fixed-shot footage.)


  • Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (the best and most enjoyable superhero movie I’ve seen in a long time, and definitely the best Spider-Man movie. I loved the comics & graffiti-inspired art style and animation devices, the good blend of drama/humor while not being as deadly boringly serious as most superhero movies these days (sorry guys, the mythic well can be tapped only a few times before it runs dry, and you drained it years ago), the crossovers, and the way the 3D aspects work perfectly with the highly mobile Spider-Man style of action. And the post-credits bonus homage to the two-Spider-Man meme—of course!—left me & my brother in stitches.)
  • Coco (A nice use of a different cultural afterlife and as so often for Pixar, the experimentation in animation alone makes it worth watching; ultimately, I was left somewhat unsatisfied by the heavy-handed emotional manipulation and how Coco carries over Pixar’s troubling hostility & constant denigration of aspiration from the The Incredibles movies—in this case, rather than being a global supervillain, the man who wants to be a famous musician is merely a murderer and tries to kill a child, which I suppose is an improvement.)