Why Lost Matters


It’s easy to hate on Lost—the sometimes silly twists and turns, the millimeter-deep characters, the ever-increasing suspicion that the writers entered this tale with no exit strategy in mind. But show a little respect for a program that serves up quality sci-fi, on free network TV, to the great enjoyment of a large slice of America. A show that’s unapologetically expensive to make, and looks it. A show that rewards the dedicated die-hard, not the casual drop-in.This isn’t a singing contest, or a dating game, or a crime-scene procedural where one week is no different from the next. This is a serial narrative filmed on location with a huge ensemble cast. My vote is for more of that on TV—not less.

LA Times:

Somehow I am not worried; the particulars of the story have never been what “Lost” is about for me. There is something always at work beneath the surface in this show, a kind of structural poetry that embodies its themes of coincidence and fate through parallel actions and mirror images, visual and verbal echoes across space and time and, lately, worlds … These devices are the meter and rhyme of “Lost,” and — with the rhythms of the actors and the colors of the island — they’ve kept the show kind of beautiful, even when it hasn’t made much sense or has wandered into unprofitable cul de sacs.

After six years, Lost is coming to a close tomorrow. For me, the beauty of Lost was always how it encouraged its viewers to look beyond the surface. In many ways, watching any given episode was almost like receiving a clue to a cryptic crossword. Cryptic clues paired with the Internet (would Lost have succeeded the way it did before ubiquitous connectivity?) created a whole community of fan-sites that dissected scenes, analysed episodes and proposed theories. In many ways, the show had become an alternate reality game in itself.

Television is often criticized for being a great, lowest-common-denominator wasteland. However, Lost’s success shows us that viewers are smarter than they’re given credit for. They took Lost’s solidly middlebrow teleplay, which downplayed its most intriguing ideas and often hid them away as easter-egg grade flashes of books in favor of explosions and “character moments”, and weaved theories that often turned out to be better than what the showrunners ultimately put into the show. But it is to the showrunners’ credit that they recognized what fun the fans were having and encouraged it with their slow drip of wink-and-nod hints, even if it meant confounding those who were looking for resolution. It is interesting that so many episodes of Lost begin with a shot of opening eyes. The sheer number of viewers this show found, and their devotion and resourcefulness, may be the biggest eye-opener of all.

The CSMonitor going Web-only

The CSMonitor is going to stop printing its weekday edition and go web-only Monday through Friday. I’ve always had a soft spot for the Monitor because of well-written articles and the fact that it continued to maintain its foreign bureaus at a time when the rest of the industry was cutting back and relying on syndicated NYT/AP/Reuters stories. Here’s hoping this experiment succeeds. (Incidentally, the Monitor gets 90% of its revenue from subscriptions and only 10% from ads. Like Wikipedia, it’s a non-profit.)

CNN-IBN covers Blackle, gets most of the story wrong

According to CNN-IBN “Google has done its bit to save energy by launching Blackle — a Google search page that saves energy”, based on the theory that black pixels take less energy to display than white pixels. (Here’s a screen-grab of the story.) There are at least two problems with this.

First, this is not applicable to LCDs — the backlighting on LCD displays uses energy no matter what colors you use on the screen. The good news is that LCD displays use far less energy than CRTs do, completely eliminating the need for display hacks. LCD monitors are still not ubiquitous in India, so if you wish to save energy you should probably buy one.

Second, Blackle wasn’t launched by Google. A quick look at its About Page would have told IBN that. Or a whois check. Apparently a “Google Custom Search” logo is enough to confuse IBN’s tech reporters. Good to see that India’s mainstream media continues to remain cheerfully clueless about technology reporting.

(Update: IBN has now corrected the story. See the screen-grab if you want to see the original.)

The Compleat Beethoven

BBC Radio 3:

From 9am on Sunday 5 June to midnight on Friday 10 June, BBC Radio 3 will broadcast every single note of Ludwig van Beethoven. Every symphony, every quartet, every sonata

Like most of the BBC’s programmes, this will be available to internet listeners as an audio stream, and the Evening Standard says that the BBC will make it easy for listeners around the world to catch up with what they’ve missed:

These concerts will be […] “streamed” for a week on the website … Anyone from here to Hong Kong can slip a disk into the drive and download a set for keeps. Allow five minutes on broadband for Symphonies One to Eight, 10 minutes for the momentous Ninth.

I’m guessing this means mp3 downloads will not be available, which is a pity, but those who don’t mind listening to the lo-fi streams can try out Total Recorder.

Updated 8 June: It looks like they really meant it when they said ‘download for keeps’ — you can snarf the MP3s from Radio 3’s website now.

Hitchhiker's Movie UK Trailer

As a fan of the Hitchhiker’s Guide (on radio, books and TV) I was disappointed by the Internet trailers with their very out-of-place music and accents. However as Russel Beattie notes:

Speaking of American vs. British versions, I saw a site the other day which had UK trailers, which instead of ending with music ripped off from Men in Black, uses a version of the music found in the original TV show, which is actually quite catchy (and strange sounding). Nice to know that the movie is keeping in line with the original’s cross-Atlantic schizophrenia.

Indeed, the UK trailer seems much better indeed, and truer to the spirit of the low-budget but faithful BBC TV adaptation.

The Digital Bourgeoisie

Instapundit talks about how easily accessible bits are changing the fundamentals of several industries, and finds the creeping hand of Karl Marx. For example in computer software

the first indication came when the falling price of computers crossed the point where the average programmer could afford to own a computer capable of producing the code from which he typically earned his living. This meant that, for the first time since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the ownership of the most critical tool of production in the most critical industry of the world’s leading economy was readily affordable by the individual worker. Throughout the first three decades of the Information Age, the individual worker was still dependent on his employer for his means of production, just as any textile worker in Manchester or Lawrence was in 1840.

Suddenly, this changed. Now it is as if a steelworker could afford his own blast furnace or rolling mill, an automobile worker his own assembly line.

It is hardly surprising that the nascent free software movement exploded in the early 90s, especially after Linus’ success with Linux — powered by cheap x86 processors and a cheap data network (the Internet) the share-alike academic ideal of MIT AI Lab became a practical reality for millions of users.

As pointed out, there are lots of interesting implications for webloggers (free news/opinion creators) and audio- and video-casters (free broadcasters): the entreched media will find it hard to compete in an environment where one-man shops can reach out as much as they do. Like the computer software industry, entrenched media will not die, but it will have to change.

Death of a Broadsheet

One of those end-of-an-era moments: The Times is now a tabloid (or, in their own words, a ‘compact’). In other news, folk who wish to continue hiding behind their newspapers on the Tube switch to the Telegraph. That said, having struggled to read a newspaper on the move, I’m happy about this and hope other newspapers get with the program too.

Perhaps the Slime of India will follow suit? Content-wise, after all, it is already a tabloid.

The Day After Tomorrow

I saw The Day after Tomorrow over the weekend, largely because it’s been ages since I saw a good ol’ fashioned break-things-up disaster movie. This one had great eye candy, lots of great steadycam shots, a few good moments but overall very little impact. This is to be expected since climate change is very hard to boil down into simplistic cause and effect models: for example, while Day after Tomorrow largely deals with the North Atlantic Drift (which we know fluctuates), it fails to take into account other ocean currents, and aperiodic disruptive factors in those currents, such as El Niño.

(Mild spoiler ahead) Day after Tomorrow opens on the Larsen B shelf in Antarctica, where a massive sheet of ice splits away in the opening minutes of the film. Interestingly, in March 2002, about 500 billion tonnes of ice did break away from this shelf in a matter of weeks. While worrisome, the most reassuring result of this collapse is that it merely underlined (again) how little we — Earth-firsters and SUV drivers alike — know the complex web that makes up the climate of this planet.

Old, Slow Lady of Mount Road

The Hindu Business Line had a story about the price of Gmail today. Among other things, they covered Gmail’s privacy woes and how Gmail accounts are up for sale on eBay.

The curious thing is that most papers had covered this about a month back for the California Senator story (e.g. El Reg, Apr 13) and about two weeks back for the Gmail addresses on sale story (e.g. CNET, Apr 30.)

Why do The Hindu group newspapers feel compelled to give its readers yesterday’s news, today? (This is especially true w.r.t science and tech news.) Which to my mind makes it even more amazing that this newspaper has an extremely passionate audience who will claim (as I have heard time and again) that their morning kaapi does not go down well if not accompanied by The Truth™ as written in the Old Lady of Mount Road.

What Chennai needs is a Telegraph/Asian Age style paper that’ll rattle the Old Lady’s petticoats, the way The Telegraph rattled The Statesman twenty years ago.