Friday, August 25, 2017

"C" is for creepy Cortana

Cortana is the Microsoft version of Alexa, who is the Amazon version of Siri, who is Apple's version of an embryonic Skynet, as fantasized by data-driven marketers who prefer all subservient voices to be feminized. She's just as creepy, intrusive, and frightening as the others. I can't figure out how to turn her off. After disabling her once, I am now on a screen, quoth:
Hey, look, it's the "me"part of set-up! Can I have permission to use the info I need to do my best work? 
To let Cortana provide personalized experiences and relevant suggestions including when your device is locked, Microsoft collects and uses information including your location and location history, contacts, voice input, speech patterns, searching history, relationships, calendar details, email, content and communication history from text messages, instant messages and apps, and other information on your device. In Microsoft Edge, Cortana uses your browsing history.
FUCK NO. This paragraph makes my skin crawl; it makes me want to incite a lawsuit; it could be the summary voice-over for the beginning of a movie about stalkers and abusive relationships.

Later, in a more detailed explanation, they say,
When your location is used by a location-aware app or service, your location information and recent location history is stored on your device and sent to Microsoft in a de-identified format to improve location services.
The red flag here is de-identified, which basically means "schoolchildren in 2025 will be able to link this data to your name and fingerprints as part of routine homework assignments." De-identified means "your privacy is not really protected against anyone clever, or educated, or with enough data" --- and that almost certainly includes the reams of data that are being collected by this very procedure. In fact, a little later in the same document,
As you use Windows, we collect diagnostics data... This data is transmitted to Microsoft and stored with one or more unique identifiers that can help us recognize an individual user on an individual device...
This documentation also says that some of the data collected may "unintentionally include"... as if anything about this human-authored operating system were unintentional.

The entire new-Windows-device setup --- with the four separate times I have now disabled my own device from eavesdropping and blurting out perky spoken questions --- was very slimy. It feels like a modern update of Clippy, that universally-reviled and -mocked piece of computing history. Basically, it has convinced me that I definitely do not own my device, the data on it, or any analytics about how it is used. (There is no way to turn off automatic updates, either.) So I'll only be using it for the one program I want, instead of as a multipurpose computing device.


This post's theme word is deterge, "to wash, wipe, or cleanse." I require a psychic emollient to deterge the scummy Big Brother sense of using a Windows device.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Video consumption

I know what you're thinking. You're wondering, "what can I watch and listen to to better imitate Lila in thought, action, and deed?" This blog is for you, oh my sycophants, and of course also for my parents, who are approximately 2/3 of my readership. (That's a lower bound.)

Since reading a heap of Hugo 2017 nominees, I've swung far to the other side (while still voraciously reading) and watched... some... movies. (Gasp!) Don't worry, I retain my innate personhood, and independently-verified snarkiness readings have been off the charts this summer, so I'm not losing my precious "edge."

In this blog post:

  • Wonderwoman
  • Star Trek: III (*reboot timeline)
  • Pitch Perfect
  • Vikings
  • The Rise of Catherine the Great


Wonderwoman was reportedly a male-gaze-free movie (see this and this), but it seemed plenty gaze-y to me, with lots and lots of glamour shots, power posing, and wind-blowing-directly-through-hair. Her appearance was its own subplot! Also, years of weightlifting have left me perpetually dissatisfied with the insufficiently-muscled arms of women playing physically strong characters. If she is actually going to overhead press an entire tank, then could she please have visibly-defined triceps? I suspect that even by examining her physical appearance this closely, I am somehow contributing to a cultural problem.

The coolest part of the movie was that, during a climactic fight, an explosion temporarily deafened Wonderwoman and the audience. This meant that even the dramatic music cut out, which was a fantastic way to show that the fight was still tense, visceral, and compelling, even without the swelling music and loud explosions. Without even being able to tell what characters were shouting at each other! Unfortunately, the movie retconned this cool moment several minutes later by having a flashback in which all audio was restored. Boo.

As for plot: no comment from me; I don't understand how the marketing-fandom-executive trifecta synergy works; superhero movies make no sense. I once saw a kabuki play in Japanese in Tokyo, and I got a last-minute ticket for the second act only. There were no surtitles, so I had no idea what the plot was, I could not understand the speaking, and every single gesture and facet of the performance and set seemed imbued with a mystical relevance that I could only hypothesize. This was basically the same, except much less interesting.

I tried watching Star Trek: a third thing, as endless scifi sequels are probably easier to comprehend, but I found it was replete with the same sort of overhashed writing. As if the script was an amalgam of several scripts, and even that script was lost about halfway through shooting. I think there were several plot points that could have been solved by characters just talking with each other, or occasionally sending a text message. This is in keeping with (apparent) modern movie-writing style. Honestly I tried to forget this as soon as it ended, because it didn't include any cool effects and there was no unreliable narrator. Why bother?

Pitch Perfect was a much better palate-cleanser, for being fairly bland with little bits of cute music and several lines that seemed both realistic and funny. It left unexplained how a singing group that spends most of its time practicing a dance routine can manage to perform musically-complex arrangements flawlessly, but ... it also didn't explain how so many 25-30 year-olds were in college.

Vikings is basically Toxic Masculinity: The Historical Drama. I watched it because I am waiting for the next season of Versailles to be released, and I wanted to see more George Blagden performances. It's weird to see Louis XIV dressed up as a grime-covered heathen. I couldn't stomach very much of this show, as it relied too much on close-up shots of men brooding over their own hurt egos and deciding to murder each other (and ancillary women and children). That's not plot development, IMHO.

The Rise of Catherine the Great was terrific!

... which, I mean, of course I liked this. It was a dramatized history, with very slow plot progress, in German and Russian (and some French), with subtitles. All "place settings" were untranslated onscreen, and also untranslated were the numerous times that the camera looked over someone's shoulder as they wrote a politically-significant letter in Russian. I suppose it might be intellectual snobbery, but I actually enjoyed it a lot more because of the linguistic authenticity, even though that made it less directly accessible to me. Aside from the language, the slow plot, the lovely costumes, ... how to explain my delight? Oh, that's right: a historical digression.

Once, when I had roommates with Netflix, my influence on the group Netflix profile became clear when the mysterious, opaque genre-generating algorithm suggested an entire collection of videos under the heading "British Period Pieces Featuring a Strong Female Lead". This series -- though not British -- fits squarely into that concept-space. I found it by only lightly-algorithmically-influenced browsing, but I'm confident that I would have found it faster Netflixily.

I recommend it.

I also recommend, you know, reading books. Lots of them (I've now added several histories of Russia to my queue). If that's not your style, then the other summer 2017 Lila fashion is singing to yourself in the car: try it today!


This post's theme word is quiff (n), "a tuft of hair brushed up above the forehead," or "a woman considered as promiscuous." The production featured several historically-accurate quiffs!

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

We're done, Verizon. [mic drop]

... and I'm out (previously: In which I am about to cancel my Verizon home DSL and Verizon update). The service continued to be terrible, intermittent with bad. Both options were disagreeable to me, as a customer, but the variability was even more frustrating. Could they not simply deliver a consistently bad service?

I priced it out, measured my usage and the bandwidth available, and I'll get more consistent, sufficient service by doing almost anything else. My personal favorite is to inscribe individual packets by hand on nuts, and pass these off to squirrels and birds, who by means of their own mysterious communication networks, eventually pass me back the data I requested. (Current bug: this arrives in the timing and placement of bird poops on my car windshield, which I must decode by hand. Don't worry, I'm writing a script to do it automatically.)

In a practice which apparently recurs annually, I add to my list of "forsworn companies" every August. This time it's Verizon: never again, Verizon. You have forced me to listen to at least 10 cumulative hours of your "on hold" music. Never again.


This post's theme word is inveigle (v. tr.), "to get something or to persuade someone to do something by deception or flattery." They could no longer inveigle me into subscribing to the service.