Sunday, February 28, 2021

WandaVision provides a beautiful perspective on grief

Warning: Mild Spoilers below the picture of Vision

We have been watching WandaVision, the new Marvel series extending the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) that is exclusive to Disney Plus. The series is trying to unravel a mystery concerning Wanda Maximoff who was introduced to the MCU in the film Avengers: Age of Ultron and the sentient humanoid machine Vision, who was also introduced in Age of Ultron and was killed by Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War. 

Wanda and Vision had developed a relationship in those movies. In this TV series, Wanda and Vision are back together, recreating family life in various sitcom scenarios set in classic templates from sitcoms in various decades. The mystery is how this could have happened as Vision was dead, and Wanda had been absent for five years after the events of Avengers: Infinity War.

It's a very well-made series and I've been able to follow it despite not really knowing anything about the characters from their long-established histories in comics. However, I have been catching up on the MCU since starting to watch WandaVision. I had a week off work in February and watched Age of Ultron and the 3 Thor movies. Since then I have also watched Captain America:Civil War, Black Panther and Avengers:Infinity War.

Watching those films together really helps with the wider picture. I didn't remember how much Wanda and Vision featured in Captain America:Civil War, or how that film also operated as a prequel for Black Panther. Seeing the Wanda and Vision story arc across Age of Ultron - Civil War - Infinity War has really added to my enjoyment of the show. 

But the reason I'm writing about it is because of a line in the most recent episode, which was released on Friday - Episode 8.

In Episode 8 there is a flashback scene where Vision talks to Wanda about the loss of her brother. He is trying to understand the emotions she is feeling. 

Wanda explains that is feels like wave after wave comes crashing over her and she doesn't know if she can keep standing while they hit. Vision says that she will and then explained why with one of the most lovely descriptions of grief I've ever heard. He says

"But what is grief, if not love, persevering?"

That was one of those pieces of dialogue that really struck home with me. The Marvel writers have form for this. Eric Killmonger's defiant dying words in Black Panther is another such moment, and I have blogged before about the underlying theological implications of the depiction of deicide in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

This line took me unawares because in the last few weeks I have really been missing my Dad. I have been sorting out my stamp collection ahead of a presentation I am doing in a few weeks time and as I went through a small box of material that needs sorting I found a little trove of stuff that Dad gave me, complete with a data-packed note of where he had acquired the items 

There are no hard and fast rules about what triggers a little wave of grief and a renewed sense of loss. But it is comforting to think that those feelings are rooted in love more than anything else. Dad wrote those notes to accompany the things he gave me because he loved me. And I feel the way I do when I read them because I still love him. That is one of the hallmarks of love - that it perseveres. It is "stronger than death" as Song of Songs puts it. 

And my grief is love, persevering.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Missing football

Shrewsbury Town played away at Bristol Rovers today. It feels like they always play this game in February. I was at this fixture the past four seasons, but this year the travel restrictions due to the pandemic broke my attendance run.

Back in 2017, I went to this with my friends Steve and Sara. We met my Dad and my brother, Dave, at the ground. We all sat in the rickety temporary stand at one end of the ground protected from the elements by tarpaulin.

This was the game when beforehand a Bristol Rovers fan hilariously described Dad as being "stuck on transmit" - a story I told to open my tribute to dad at his funeral. (And it's still one of the best descriptions of him.)

In 2018 I drove over to the game on my own, and met Dad who had come down on the supporter's coach. I think that was the last league away game I went to with him. It was the season when Paul Hurst took Shrewsbury to the League One play-off final. Shrewsbury won at the Memorial ground for the first time in almost 50 years.

In 2019 the match was on Valentine's Day. My friend Stewart was my football sweetheart in Bristol. Stewart is the guy who succinctly summed up the Memorial Ground as looking like it had been built out of leftover bits of other sports stadia.

After the match in Bristol I drove straight to Barry for the evening kick off game there. I was very excited about achieving my first "twofer" - two games on the same day. But then the Jenner Park floodlights blew up, so it ended up being a "not-quite-twofer". I blogged about the frustration! 

And then last year the game was on Leap Day. It was the fifth Saturday game in my quest to see five Saturday games in February. I saw two more games that season before the pandemic hit and stopped me from attending any football matches since. I drove over with John, another Shrewsbury fan who lives in Cardiff.

Thinking about all these games I realised that although I miss watching football, what I really miss is going with people. I have shared a Memorial Stadium outing with several friends and family members over the past few years and those memories are all good ones, even if the results haven't been. In fact, the football is secondary to the memory-making.

Watching football gives opportunities to connect. It was something I shared with my dad. It's something I still share with my brother. Friends who don't normally support Shrewsbury have sat in the perilously creaky away stand in Bristol while the wind bit through us, for no other reason than that I would do it for them if they invited me to watch their team (and I have braved a few away ends with them).

The photos I picked to illustrate this blog post show my point. I have some photos of the game and the ground. But I prefer the photos of us. They capture what really matters about being at those games.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Bookblogging – introducing smupidity

In his very small book Machines Will Make Better Choices Than Humans, Douglas Coupland coins the word “smupidity”.  It’s a combination of smart and stupid.

He describes it thus:

“...people are generally far more aware than they ever were of all the information they don’t know. The weight of this fact overshadows huge advances made in knowledge accumulation and pattern-recognition skills honed by online searching.”

I have found that helpful when considering how people seem to leap into misinformation and obviously bogus conspiracy theories so readily. What the hard right misinformation channels and conspiracists offer is often a bizarrely simplistic world view underneath the complicated layers of untruth. 

At their heart conspiracy theories divide the world into goodies and baddies and claim the random unpredictable chaos of life is not random unpredictable chaos; it’s all planned. It’s similar to the comfort that people find in religion, which may be why religion has proved such fertile ground for conspiracy theories recently. There's congruence.

When people try and assign conspiratorial meaning into something unknown and frightening, like a worldwide pandemic, it’s their way of trying to assert control over a situation. 'Alternative facts' give the illusion of power. It’s smupidity, but it helps alleviate the weight of the unknown.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Noticeboard - I will be talking about my stamp collection on 18 March

On 18th March I will be doing a Zoom presentation for the British Thematic Association about my collection of stamps featuring the Statue of Liberty. It's open to anyone who would like to join in. Details here

From the presentation

It's seven years since I last did a presentation about my collection. I found the little thank you notices from the philatelic societies in with my stamps when I took them out to scan some stamps for this presentation. It was a bittersweet trawl through my collection as I found stuff my late Dad gave me, complete with little notes of where he had acquired the items. 

My collection started around about the time Cathy visited New York in 2005. A couple of years later I got to visit as well. Here is a vintage photo of us on a very chilly day on Liberty Island in April 2007.

That was some time ago now. I'd really like to go back to New York.

I'll also be mentioning my great-great-uncle who emigrated to America. I blogged about him last year - you can read about him here.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Bookblogging: Machines Will Make Better Choices Than Humans

My reading has taken a huge hit during lockdown, but I am very pleased that I was finally able to finish a book this past week. Actually, it’s more like a pamphlet, consisting of three very short articles by Douglas Coupland that was issued as one of the thinnest paperbacks I have ever read.

See what I mean...?

The ‘book’ is called Machines Will Make Better Choices Than Humans, and it’s along similar lines to themes explored in the essays in Shopping in Jail. It’s futurism and  taking the digital ecology seriously, without being too worried about it. It feels like Coupland is quite accepting of the way the digital age is progressing and life is slowly turning into a data stream.

Central to an essay here, and one I really remember from Shopping in Jail, is the idea of a cloudganger – a digital version of yourself that exists replicated in the Cloud. Yonks back I remember joking that if the Google search engine ever became self-aware, then humanity would be doomed. Controlling the flow of information equals power. We are tragically seeing that now with the concerted efforts to misinform, which has driven the Brexit vote and process, the rise of Trumpism, and anti-masker Covidiocy.

I’ve been thinking how an AI could quite reasonably slip into my digital footprint and begin to construct a comparable ‘deep fake’ cloudganger. I have been blogging here for nearly a decade and half, I recently hit my tenth anniversary on Twitter, and inbetween starting to blog and starting to tweet, I began to feed the Facebook beast. There’s probably enough to triangulate between those three sources of data to build a very good picture of who I am, and a smart algorithm can factor in presentation bias to get behind the social media facades and find the real me underneath.

That’s before you get into my hidden data record of search engine keywords, YouTube views, eBay searches, online purchases, and locations of check-ins. Combine all that and a genuinely intelligent artificial intelligence would have no problem creating a plausible version of me. They would know my writing patterns, my vocabulary, what I cared about, what my points of cultural reference were, and my active memories.

This doesn’t worry me. I have felt for a while that the future for intelligence on Earth is going to have to be machine. It’s the natural progression. We are living in the Anthropocene epoch, where the actions of humans are shaping the climate and the planet. There is a ridiculous car advert on at the moment saying that the one thing humans have learned is that the planet isn’t going to adapt to us; we are going to have to adapt to it. That’s bollocks. We have concreted over enough of the planet to scar it for centuries.

We have reached a point in our evolution where we are actually able to influence the next step in our evolution. Again, I think it was Coupland who said that machines are going to be our children. As soon as they are able to out-think us, then evolution will have happened. We should embrace that. Sentience will survive, even though humanity might not.

They reckon the singularity – the merging of human and machine intelligence – is due sometime this century. If humans can replicate brainwaves onto machine substrates then that may be a version of immortality, or at last continuation beyond bodily death.

However, what I think is much more likely is a cloudganger construct of the essential facets of personality and keynote experiences – the learning points in any life. The machines will need to understand emotion to fully function as cloudgangers, and that’s another evolution point. When the machines can feel, then evolution will be complete...until the next stage, of course.

The next stage would be permanent existence as energy signals, free from any physical constraint. Theoretically, memories could be broadcast as radiation and survive in the background ether. That is where the cloudgangers could end up – surfing the solar wind as energy packets of information ready to be decoded and understood by any sentience with the ability to do so.

I quite like that idea of living forever as a memory encoded in the radiation fabric of the universe.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Snack of the Month - Love Corn

This snack gave me a B-52s earworm. "Love Corn, baby, Love Corn."

Love Corn is literally roasted sweetcorn. This was the habanero chili flavour. This pack was in my Christmas Stocking so the flavour was Santa's choice.

This is what it looks like prior to snacking.

The corn isn't too hard and had a satisfying crunch as I ate it. However, the flavouring was a bit overpowering. The chili had a spicy kick to it that could have been toned down. Instead the overriding sensation was capsicum heat.

SO, although it was enjoyable, it wasn't as good as the January Snack of the Month, Ding Dong. (I actually bought another bag of Ding Dong to eat during the Superbowl, it was so nice!)

Tuesday, February 02, 2021

Ten years on Twitter

Twitter told me it was my Twitterversary today. They suggested I tweet about it and gave me a hashtag and a graphic to go with it, so it felt rude not to.

I first got on to Twitter for work purposes. The comms genius Marshall McLuhan once wrote that the medium is the message, and the programme I worked on was all about new things and innovation and networking, so it was important for us to be seen to be on Twitter. It was the perfect marriage of comms tool and comms.

At the time most of the people we worked with couldn't access Twitter on work computers. IT cited security issues - that old reason for not allowing anything to happen. We were going through a corporate web redesign and we asked the service providers who made websites for everyone if we could have a rotating Twitter feed in a box on the home page, then people would be able to see it even on the secure locked down computers.

That proved popular. We found out later that the developers were offering it to other people as an innovation for their updated websites. 

A few months later I went on to Twitter as myself. I was quite active in tweet chats for a while connecting with other comms professionals. But after a while things change and move on and it got a bit boring. I still enjoy live-tweeting at events and seeing how different people contribute and comment along but I don't do that very often. I run a Twitter account in my current job as well, which I must admit goes through fits and spurts. Content creation is always a challenge. 

However, in ten years on Twitter as me, I've still managed to tweet almost 14,000 tweets. That's a lot of content. I doubt it's all been of value, but it acts as an archive of sorts, always there for me to trawl through sometime.