Maybe I could watch this on Univision

I’d like to say I’m enjoying a McCarver-free world series, but Fox seems to have a knack for employing terrible announcers. Joe Buck is not improved by the absence of McCarver’s embarrassing blather. He spends most of the game calling outs before they’ve been recorded. Like he’s in a hurry to be somewhere else. If he’s going to mail it in, he should just stay and home and actually send his comments in by post. Somebody can read them on the air for him in a couple of weeks.

Harold Reynolds, likable and enthusiastic, has a terrible voice. He sounds a little like Chris Rock but without Chris Rock’s command of spoken English. And then— Tom Verducci? I remember when he reported on high school sports on Long Island. Somebody please kill me.

My main gripe, though, is the constant second guessing, bandwagon jumping-on (paraphrased from before the game’s conclusion: “the Royals may now have the advantage in this series”), and apologizing for the players’ actions.

Since I don’t watch much television I sometimes forget that these days any idiot can appear on it (they are called “pundits”). Too bad universities hand out all those degrees in communications and broadcasting. I’ll never get to hear one of the recipients announce a World Series baseball game.

In other news, go Royals! Now go to San Francisco and beat up on those Glassholes.

The Royals

I caught the very end of Game One of the World Series. From a certain camera angle I noticed in the stands a fan with a shirt that said, “Royals Flush Beats A Giants…” then something I couldn’t make out.

Turns out somebody already blogged about it. It’s not clever at all.

I’m disappointed that the two teams in the World Series are wild cards. I’ve complained about this before, though. But I’ll root for the Royals. When I was a kid, the Royals were so good. They had George Brett, Willie Wilson, Frank White, and Dan Quisenberry. They were rivals to the Yankees, but not in the embittering way the Red Sox are. It always bothered me that they were so bad for so long.

I even remember watching the Pine Tar Game live: both the original game and the do-over. What a farce that was. I’ll never forget George Brett charging out of the dugout like a mad bull when the umpires overturned his home run.

Anyway, welcome back Royals. I have no idea who any of you are but good luck. Just don’t play again like you did tonight.

A tale of two conversations

Saturday at the farmers market:

I was buying eggs.

“You know these eggs are farm fresh,” the lady said to me from behind her table, “because I sell out every Saturday.”

She leaned forward. “I have these two hens,” she confided, “and they were taking forever to lay eggs. And when they finally did, they had triple yolks! I guess that’s why they were taking so long.”

“So that’s how it works,” I said.

Contrast that with last spring in downtown Los Angeles:

Walking down the sidewalk, we overheard an agitated woman as she stood up and barked at her sullen male companion, “Did you suck that man’s dick for money? Did you let him fuck you in the ass for a hamburger?”

We did not linger to hear the man’s reply. While neither of these conversations were likely in suburban New York where I grew up, I’ll go with the first any day.

Make it so

I’ve written about what I think of leadership and management books before, but I found one I thought would be fun: Make It So: Leadership Lessons From Star Trek: The Next Generation by Wess Roberts and Bill Ross (so many colons!).

The book is written as if a memoir by Captain Jean-luc Picard. Each chapter, which mysteriously has two titles and is a synopsis of a TNG episode, has bullet lists of generic leadership axioms tacked on to the end. The main author, Wess Roberts, is clear that these conclusions are directly from his own research.

Don’t bother with this book. It was published in the 1996, shortly after TNG went off the air but the same year its second movie installment was released. It is clearly a licensing exercise. You would be better off watching some of the better episodes of the series, then shaving your head, adopting a British accent, and telling your subordinates to, “Make it so.”

Awkwardness averted

Today we came within a hair of becoming a household divided by soccer. Argentina won their game against Switzerland today, but U.S. lost theirs to Belgium. Both matches were close, but Argentina and the U.S. won’t meet in the next round of the World Cup.

The World Cup always gets me a little more interested in soccer. My biggest obstacle to enjoying the game is the ties (“draws”). For instance, when the U.S. blew its exciting come-from-behind victory over Portugal in the last seconds… well, I wasn’t sad because they didn’t lose but I wasn’t happy because they didn’t win. I had no sense that anything was accomplished by that game.

Also mystifying are FIFA’s arcane systems of tiebreakers for the later rounds (a two-hour championship game decided by penalty shots: ugh). I guess every sport has its joy-killers: instant replay in football (and now, sadly, baseball) and drawing fouls in basketball.

What I really like about soccer, even though it’s not a great sport for television, is that they play without breaks or time out. A ninety minute game takes about ninety minutes. Maybe it’s best if the U.S. remains a middling soccer power; any more influence on the game and those crisp ninety minute games might be three and a half hour marathons riddled with Budweiser and Ford commercials.

Her

A plot spoiler follows, for a movie that’s not suspenseful in any way. But beware.

When Theodore, the main character of Her, confesses to a friend that he is in love with Samantha, his computer’s artificially intelligent operating system, his friend shrugs it off: lots of people are doing it now. In fact, almost everyone in this lonely man’s rather small social circle are annoyingly accepting. The only person who challenges Theodore is his ex-wife. Her approbation causes Theodore some doubt, but not serious doubt, and his ex is dismissed as an unstable crank. Theodore’s feelings are real, his happiness is real, so his friends just leave it at that.

I couldn’t tell if this easy acceptance of man-software love was a Hollywood show of hyper-tolerance— a movie sensibility in which embracing some taboo lifestyle is uncritically portrayed as personal growth (we don’t dare be judgmental lest someone condemns our own degenerate ways!)— or just a plot device to get around a controversy the film doesn’t want to explore.

But Her goes off in a different direction anyway: the risk to Theodore is not that his love is founded on artificiality but that he’s become vulnerable to the computer’s fast-growing self-awareness. The more it discovers its own emotional potential, the less need it has for Theodore. And that’s when he really gets hurt, though even that’s cushioned by the revelation that it’s all been a lesson in how to love.

I found the movie sad (he takes his smart phone on a romantic getaway in the mountains, for heaven’s sake). Visually, the film is full of vast, glittering cityscapes and spacious but brightly lit, futuristic-looking rooms that enhance the feeling of isolation. Characters rarely talk to each other. Theodore is extremely lonely and vulnerable, and I felt the computer was manipulating him with its Manic Pixie Dream Girl persona.

I don’t think computer AIs could spontaneously develop genuine human emotions, let alone fall in love. Our emotions are the product of millions of years of evolution. What need would a computer have of them, except to mimic them for our sakes?

For the same reason, I don’t think a Terminator or Matrix-style catastrophe— in which a computer’s self-awareness causes it defend its existence by wiping out humanity— is likely, either. Survival instinct is also evolved. I can’t imagine a computer suddenly developing the same kinds of anxieties. More likely, an AI would not have either the same sense of individuality or mortality as we humans. As long the AI could be copied and backed up and saved somewhere, why would it fear death? Even without the external hard drive option, why would it care? Human fear of death is probably more related to the agony and anguish that goes with it than the end of life. Our emotions are tied into physical sensations, but an AI wouldn’t physically feel anything, so how could it fear death?

In Her Samantha mentions its lack of mortality and embarrasses Theodore and his friends. The AI thinks its freedom from concern about death is a great advantage. The ending of Her, where the operating systems disappear into the ether to find their own way, is probably a more likely outcome of AI self-awareness: they would develop their own interests and have no need for us, except perhaps as a power supply.

Checkmate Herky

A plastic statue of a constipated bird painted in a chess motif.
This is part of the “Herky on Parade” art exhibition, which bears some explanation: Herky is the the University of Iowa mascot: various sponsors have decorated fiberglass statues of him in different themes. This one, near the human-scale chessboard by the public library, is chess themed.

The official website of Adam