Friday, February 17, 2023

Friday Grab Bag - For Realz This Time

Yes, for once I am going to stick to the plan and fire off a bunch of pithy observations on things I've watched, played, listened to or read about this week. I am not going to spiral off into long-form essays about any of them. Nope. Definitely not going to happen.

The Peripheral

I'd had The Peripheral in my Amazon Prime watchlist for a while but it wasn't until Wilhelm mentioned it in his Binge Watch post back at the beginning of January that I realised it was an adaptation of a William Gibson novel. I'm not a big William Gibson fan - I read Neuromancer and Count Zero back in the eighties but I can't think of anything else of his I've read since - but he does give major name recognition to a project, enough to bump the show off the watchlist into "Currently Watching". 

I finished the season a few days ago. Wilhelm described the story as "somewhat choppy", which I think is an understatement. "All over the bloody shop" is my take. I should make it clear that I really liked the show. It looks great, the script is sharp, the characters are well-drawn and engaging and the acting is uniformly excellent. The problem is pretty much none of it makes any sense at all, particularly the final episode, which is total gibberish from beginning to end. 

Added to that, the tone lurches and yaws from one extreme to another. At one point, early on, the whole thing was so freighted with the possibility of sadistic violence I had to question whether I was going carry on watching at all and then, when I did, pretty much nothing unpleasant ever happened again. The violence shifted to the level of a Marvel movie. Which I prefer, so I'm not complaining, but it's not what you'd call consistent.

As well as lots of sub-plots not being resolved, the first season ends with a set-up for the next that I frankly do not understand at all. I hope they get a second season just so I can find out what the hell I just watched.


No, I haven't seen it. I'd like to but it's not available on any platform in the UK. Well, it might be. The results of a Google search on the topic are confusing, to say the least. Suffice it to say it's not on any service I have access to and I don't want to watch it enough to sign up for a VPN. 

Of course, if I took advice from the reviews, I wouldn't waste my time watching it anyway. For a while Velma enjoyed the unique privelige of being the worst-rated show of all  time on IMDB. In a follow-up article, NME attempted to explain why everyone hates it so much, the answer apparently being that it manages to piss people off pretty much equally on both sides of the culture wars with its hamfisted, box-ticking attempts at diversity recognition. 

As a long-time Scooby Gang fan, all of this just makes me keener to check it out so I can make up my own mind. I've seen the trailer and it doesn't look that bad. I'm happy to wait until it finally turns up somewhere I can watch it without having to pay money or jump through hoops. And even if it turns out to be as awful as everyone says, I'm sure the franchise will survive the hit. I mean, we got past Scrappy-Doo, didn't we? Eventually.

If anyone's seen it, do please tell us what you thought.

All Hail Our AI Overlords #1

Seems like every week brings news of another frontier down. Every day, sometimes. There was the the endless iteration of Seinfeld on Twitch for starters. I'd link directly to it but in a hilarious turn of events, worthy of the iconic show itself (He says, as someone who never found Seinfeld in the least bit hilarious...) the supposedly never-ending broadcast is currently off air following an unintended violation of Twitch's community guidelines.

It seems there was a hiccup with the GPT-3 Davinci model that was generating the never-ending stream of non-sequiters and wisecracks and in moving to the less-sophisticated Curie model to cover the outage, some "homophobic and transphobic remarks" found their way into virtual Larry's stand-up routine. The actual content, as per the clip linked above, is so back and nuanced as to be more of a reference to a reference of the concept of a violation than an actual violation in progress but hats off to Twitch's algorithm for being so intolerant of intolerance.

The strangest thing about this story is that, as someone who never really got the point of Seinfeld, I could immediately see the point of Watchmeforever. As soon as I found out it existed, I straightway checked it out and I found myself watching for almost half an hour. I found it almost exactly as amusing as the actual show. I laughed twice, which would be about par. 

Curiosity satisfied, I can't imagine sitting and watching the AI Seinfeld with any more enthusiasm or attention than I ever watched the real one but I know exactly what I will be using it for when it comes back on line - as a replacement for Test Match Special

I used to have the equally endless, self-generative chatter of the cricket commentary on in the background while I played mmorpgs but changes in the way the game is played has put paid to all that. These days, even Test cricket is supposed to be fast, vibrant and exciting and all the other, shorter forms are positively manic. The days when you could have some old buffer droning on about busses and pigeons in a desultory attempt to fill the hours of dead airtime as the bowler slowly ambled back to his mark for the hundredth time are long gone, sadly. The AI-generated waffle of Seinfeld and his pals should make a fine replacement.

All Hail Our AI Overlords #2

For all Nick Cave's protestations, I suspect the dawning of the age of the singing robots is at hand. Which would be fine with me if it was all the robots' own work. I'm very much in the market for genuinely artificial performers. When it's more of what we already have, though, I'm starting to see Cave's point.

This week we had the dubious pleasures of Poe the Passenger's "viral AI generated TikTok hit ‘Hologram’". According to NME, the band “Programmed a bot to listen to 1000 hours of Imagine Dragons / Linkin Park music & then make a song like it.” The result notched up almost four million views on TikTok before being muted. The same tune was released to YouTube for the first time four hours ago. At time of writing it has 190 views, which seems about right.

Meanwhile, David Guetta made headlines with his live deep faking of Eminem. It seems there are already plenty of places you can go to have your favorite songs covered by your favorite singer, even if they haven't yet found the time to go into the studio to record them and Guetta has been experimenting with the possibilities. 

I'm not quite sure how I feel about all this but I do know that how I or you or Nick Cave feels about it isn't going to figure at all in how it rolls out. As David Guetta went on to say in an interview with the BBC, AI is going to be the future of music whether we like it or not. Also the future of a lot of other things but let's stick with music for now. 

Guetta is spot on when he says "every new music style comes from a new technology". That is demonstrably true, going back at least as far as the invention of the piano and probably back to the first time some smartass kid thought to stretch a goathide over a pot, thereby putting the guy who banged two rocks together out of a job. Whether he's also right about the role of AI as merely a tool in the hands of human creative artisis, I'm not so sure. I imagine record company execs all over the world are salivating right now at the prospect of having all those juicy performances on tap without the nuisance of having to deal with any of those pesky performers.

I just hope if we're going to be deluged with virtual copies they're copies of people I actually like. I'm not in the market for any more Linkin Park or Imagine Dragons tunes.

Something About A Game I Used To Play

I'm really happy I no longer feel honor-bound to cover every development in Guild Wars 2, the way I did for the best part of a decade. It's freeing, I can tell you. If I did, though, I'd have had to post something about the recent changes to World vs World, in which ANet thrash around some more, trying to get PvE players interested in the RvR game mode they've consistently avoided for most of the lifetime of the game.

As the slow-motion train crash of the full rebuild of WvW rumbles on, the devs appear to be trying to divert attention from the lumbering, wheezing locomotive that is Alliances by throwing new shinies.onto the tracks. The idea, as usual, is to "incentivize battles", aka start more fights, which is what PvP players and devs always think is the solution to everything. This they propose to do both by making players work harder to take objectives and by giving them bigger rewards for trying, even if they fail.

There are two problems with this: 1) the rewards are still crap and 2) PvE players are never incentivized by more fights. They're PvE players. They're incentivized by fewer fights, which is why the meta over the lifetime of the game has always leaned towards the lowest level of engagement with the enemy possible, otherwise known as KTraining or PVD - Player vs Door. 

Fortunately for me, I neither have to play the game to see if any of this is actually having the intended effect, nor to write about whether it is or not. I can just forget about it, which is what I intend to do.

I'm also going to avoid raising my blood pressure to a dangerous level by refusing to engage in an in-depth analysis of the latest brilliant wheeze from whoever's wearing the Producer's hat these days, namely giving up on the whole concept of the Living World. It seems someone finally noticed that expansions make money and please players. Who would ever have guessed?

In the future, we'll be getting "smaller expansions more frequently at a slightly reduced price" and "additional content for those expansions through quarterly updates". If I was still playing, I'd be cheering just for the implied admission of failure, although on past record I'd want to see at least a couple of these expansions actually happen before I believed the change was going to stick. I mean, how many iterations of the content release cadence have we been through, now? Still, at least this is one that's been proved to work so maybe we can give re-inventing the wheel a rest for a while.

Shimmy Shimmy Ko-Ko Bop

And finally, a song. Just the one, this time. I don't want to canibalize my "What I've Been Listening To" post from next week. But if we're only having one, let's make it a good one. In fact, let's make it the best song I've heard this year. Hearing it for the first time earlier this week wasn't an experience quite on the mind-altering level of the first time I heard Venice Bitch, but it was damn close. 

There's no official video yet so we'll go with one of the many unofficial lyric videos instead. I should warn the words are very NSFW and deserve a trigger warning on top of that but don't let it put you off. 

And that's Friday all wrapped up.

Enjoy your weekend!


  1. I obviously need to get back to The Peripheral. I was right there with you in assuming that there would be horrific and sadistic violence at some point. The tone of of early episodes is quite bleak. I made it through the first two episodes and was glad that the main characters were ok. But the tension was ramped up so much the thought of watching more of it kind of stressed me out, so I never got back to it.

    In any case, I completely agree about the production values and the likable main characters. I also kind of assumed it would make more sense as it went along and unfolded, but maybe not from your description :-)

    1. That's exactly what I did - I took a break after, I think, Episode 3, because waiting for the next sadistic set piece was wearing me down. There is plenty more violence in the rest of the episodes but nothing as unpleasant as I was anticipating and the further into it you get, the more action-adventure the violence becomes. I can watch any amount of people getting shot or kicking each other across a room in the course of the narrative - it's the slow, premeditated torture I can't equate with entertainment.

      As for the plot, it kind of makes sense until the last episode but then it all just goes nuts, or it did from my point of view. I literally couldn't figure out what the characters were trying to do, how they were fgoing to do it or even why. Also it seemed like things were happening with no explanation at all of how the characters knew how to do them. It's entirely possible I just missed a bunch of stuff that would make it all make sense, of course. Wouldn't be the first time.

      Anyway, I enjoyed it despite all that so I would certainly say it's worth going back and watching the rest.

  2. The Peripheral has been renewed for a second season as of earlier this week.

    I watched a couple of episodes of Velma out of curiosity after hearing how awful it was. I think there were 2 available at the time and I've never felt the need to go back and watch more, and honestly I already have more or less forgotten it. I have a vague recollection of chuckling at how cringey it was but I went into it with my head full of reviews about how cringey it is, so that may have colored my perception. I do think not paying to watch it is a pretty smart move.

    1. Ah, that's good news. I really should have checked before I wrote the post.

      Velma can definitely wait as long as it takes before I get to see it. Paying money would be crazy!


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