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Review: High-Rise (2016)

High-Rise, directed by Ben Wheatley, brings J.G. Ballard's classic novel to the screen after a long wait. It's set almost entirely in a residential tower, a massive brutalist edifice inhabited by thousands of early-1970s Britons eager for a new life. The ultimate product of mid-century urban planning, the concrete building is designed to take care of all its occupants' needs: there's a supermarket, a swimming pool, even a primary school, all tucked away deep within its forty stories. Robert Laing, an introverted young doctor, moves in hoping to become an anonymous nobody amid this monument to the bland excellence of modern life. But he commits the critical error of making friends, and is slowly consumed by the building's odd psychic character, its microcosmic reflection of the divisions in society at large. He notices that the lower levels are first to suffer when the power fails; then that the higher echelons enjoy special amenities of their own. And then, when the lights go out, everything goes to hell. A little awareness of British life in the 1970s helps contextualise details that might otherwise baffle—in particular, skyscraper-happy Americans should know that residential towers there were always a controversial novelty, that garbage collecters were perpetually on strike, and that in British engineering, corners are always cut. But Ballard's sinister geometry of modernity, hiding an emotional suppression ready to explode into violence, is a language universal to all employed westerners. It's an intriguing, sophisticated and handsome movie made excellent by Wheatley's skill and its cast: Tom Hiddleston as the skeptical middle-class everyman driven to madness by his environment's awful sanity, Jeremy Irons as the tower's vicious yet uncannily humanist architect, Elizabeth Moss (Mad Men, The Handmaid's Tale) as society's hope, and Luke Evans (Bard from The Hobbit) as the agent of chaos. But there are some conceptual misteps, I think, that garble Ballard's anxieties—and the power of his storytelling. In particular, the movie counterposes superficial social realism against dreamy surrealism in an attempt to triangulate the novel's hyperreal quality with its period setting and the presumed ironic sensibilities of a contemporary audience. Clever as this is, the result has a weird 1980s artsy zaniness to it, as if directed by Peter Greenaway or Ken Russell or (sorry) whoever did the Pet Shop Boys movie. Ballard is about games that turn deadly serious, but this is just a deadly game. Among other things, it makes its cruelties (which often involve animals) seem self-satisfied and spiteful. Wheatley also tries to achieve too much though implication; even as a fan of the novel, I felt a little lost and could have done with an establishing vignette to establish the scenario. Motivations are often unclear, too. Though this is rather the point, the depraved psychic hygiene of the tower's world is only lightly sketched before it erupts. It's as if the movie is only interested in people who already understand its message. Ballard's writing is cold and sharp, yet lurid in how it draws out the entrails of our discomfort. This movie's script is just drawn out. I like the film, and it's full of arresting images. It is a tribute, a floating world of its own, but a metaphor too distant and too arch to draw much blood. Thumbs up, ish. High-Rise (2016) [Amazon]

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Trump's reign is sad for tech, too

The first 100 days of Trump's presidency were a shambolic festival of incompetence and looming catastrophe. But it's not all about beltway politics, you know! Because the intense (and reasonable) focus is upon on the media-friendly dimensions of his buffoonery, we sometimes miss how it affects specific aspects of American life. The Verge took a look at what's already happening to the technology business, from the threatened end of net neutrality to immigration lockouts. If you had hoped tech might have gotten through unscathed, somehow, perhaps you aren't paying attention to how much his corner of the establishment hates it. Under Donald Trump, Silicon Valley’s ideal of a global community no longer seems like the foregone conclusion it might have a few years ago, and people are still figuring out how to deal with the barriers Trump is erecting. Mass protests and legal battles have stalled bans on visitors from several Muslim-majority countries, and the president’s love of Twitter isn’t doing him any favors in court. But there's still plenty more on the table that points to a future of isolation, not interconnection. The change in course has shaken tech titans who are dedicated to getting the whole world online (and on their platforms). Mark Zuckerberg published a defense of "global community" that acknowledged its discontents, hoping to win the public’s affection before either running for president or making reality obsolete. Uber, meanwhile, stayed true to form and turned the protests into a way to make people hate it even more. The larger tech world, which is ground zero for the high-tech immigration debate, has been slowly mobilizing to defend immigration. But one has to wonder whether their focus on the H-1B visa program — which lots of people agree actually is in need of reform — isn’t self-serving. In the meantime, the administration’s xenophobic rhetoric, coupled with actual violent incidents and aggressive deportations, is creating a culture of fear. One can be ambivalent about the motives of Silicon Valley in all this, for sure. But their inane grinning platitudes belie something deeply useless about them when it comes to politics, especially opposition to Trump, that goes beyond the present crisis. Take the cringe humor of Zuckerberg's strange, alien replica of how a presidential aspirant should address the public, for example: it's so obviously, comically false it seems like a joke. But then you remember: Donald Trump is president. Nothing is impossible.

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Flying Fox enjoys grape

Megabattie posted a video of a female grey-headed flying fox who is "happy to stuff her face" with grapes. Green grapes, red grapes - any grapes. This bat is not a pet - she's a wild animal who was rescued, nursed back to health, and released, fatter and healthier, and still pregnant, about 6 weeks after she was rescued, almost dead. Do not handle bats unless you're vaccinated and trained. Some bats (a very small percentage) may carry deadly viruses. Call a wildlife group if you find a bat in trouble. If you get bitten or scratched, go to your local hospital and you will be vaccinated free of charge (in Australia). Bats are nothing to be scared of if you leave them alone.

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In 1961 an IBM 7094 was the first computer to sing

I had no idea! Evidently HAL 9000 sang Daisy Bell as a tribute, it is the first song ever sung by a computer. In 1961 an IBM 7094 was the first to raise its voice in song. The vocals were programmed by John Kelly and Carol Lockbaum and accompaniment was programmed by Max Mathews, but the song was written by Harry Dacre, almost a century earlier, in 1892.

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Already regretting assigning J.G. Ballard to cover the Fyre Festival

(Note to proofreader: I just received this copy and figure it should just go up verbatim. Next time they do something like this remind me to send William Golding instead. — Rob) Later, as he sat in his tent eating the doggo, Robin Laing reflected on the unusual events that had taken place at the Fyre Festival during the previous three hours. Now that everything had returned to normal, with most of the rich kids cowering in the airport and the ostensible proprietors begging Twitter for forgiveness and mercy, he was surprised that there had been no obvious beginning, no point beyond which lunch had moved into a clearly more sinister dimension. In the middle of the field, a girl in an Afhan Whigs tee shirt screamed about gluten in the rye. (more…)

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The 10 worst jobs in America right now

Not all careers are created equal. Take journalism, for example. High stress, low growth, very low pay. Why would anyone choose this field? (You're asking the wrong person.) According to CareerCast, who ranked the 200 most common jobs in America, journalism is a pretty crummy field to be in this year (as in, last place on the list). CareerCast used metrics such as "growth outlook, income, environmental conditions and stress" as their basis in creating this list. Here is the methodology they used. And now (...drumroll...), here are the 10 worst jobs of 2017: 1. Newspaper reporter (Median Salary: $37,820) 2. Broadcaster (Median Salary: $38,870) 3. Logger (Median Salary: $37,590) 4. Enlisted military personnel (Median Salary: $27,936) 5. Pest control worker (Median Salary: $33,040) 6. Disc jockey (Median Salary: $30,830) 7. Advertising salesperson (Median Salary: $50,380) 8. Firefighter (Median Salary: $48,030) 9. Retail salesperson (Median Salary: $22,900) 10. Taxi driver (Median Salary: $24,300) And in case you're wondering, the very best job these days is that of statistician (Median Salary: $80,110). To see CareerCast's full list of 200 ranked jobs, click here. Image: Israel Government Press Office

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100g digital scale with 0.01g divisions for $10

I've had this AWS 100g x 0.01g Digital Scale ($10) digital scale for a couple of years, and I used it twice a day when I'm home to weigh supplement powders (and sometimes loose leaf tea and coffee beans). It's about the size of an iPhone. It measures up to a limit of 100 grams in 0.01 gram increments. (more…)

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