Weekend Reads: NFTs, "MST3K," "Robotech," Judging Musical Tastes, Wobbling Muons

Recommended weekend reading material for April 10, 2021.

Every week, I compile a list of interesting and thought-provoking articles to offer you some enjoyable weekend reading material.

NFTs are all the rage right now, but some NFT owners are discovering that their purchases have vanished into the ether due to the incredibly complex nature of NFTs.

[O]ver the past few months, numerous individuals have complained about their NFTs going “missing,” “disappearing,” or becoming otherwise unavailable on social media. This despite the oft-repeated NFT sales pitch: that NFT artworks are logged immutably, and irreversibly, onto the Ethereum blockchain.

So why would an NFT go missing? The answer, it turns out, points to the complex working of NFTs that are often misunderstood even by the people willing to shell out large sums for them.

I’m deeply skeptical of NFTs, and the complexity described in the above article does little to assuage that skepticism. I suspect the ultimate good of NFTs is that their inevitable failure will inspire a solution several years down the road that actually works, is truly egalitarian, and accomplishes NFTs’ lofty stated goals. But I’m not holding my breath.

(If you have no idea what any of this means, then I recommend reading The Verge’s NFT explainer.)

Apps like Facebook and Instagram make it increasingly difficult to forget things, even painful memories like a canceled wedding.

Of the thousands of memories I have stored on my devices — and in the cloud now — most are cloudless reminders of happier times. But some are painful, and when algorithms surface these images, my sense of time and place becomes warped. It’s been especially pronounced this year, for obvious and overlapping reasons. In order to move forward in a pandemic, most of us were supposed to go almost nowhere. Time became shapeless. And that turned us into sitting ducks for technology.

Our smartphones pulse with memories now. In normal times, we may strain to remember things for practical reasons — where we parked the car — or we may stumble into surprise associations between the present and the past, like when a whiff of something reminds me of Sunday family dinners. Now that our memories are digital, though, they are incessant, haphazard, intrusive.

Via Pixel Envy. Eric Meyer came up with a great term for this: “inadvertent algorithmic cruelty,” i.e., the algorithms think they’re being helpful when they bring up hurtful memories (like a child’s death) because they’re “essentially thoughtless” and don’t know any better. (One, however, might argue that the humans behind the algorithms should know better.)

Who are the 7% of Americans who don’t use the internet?

Internet non-adoption is linked to a number of demographic variables, but is strongly connected to age — with older Americans continuing to be one of the least likely groups to use the internet. Today, 25% of adults ages 65 and older report never going online, compared with much smaller shares of adults under the age of 65.

Via 1440.

Multiple companies, including Burger King, PBS, Toyota, and Warner Brothers, have dramatically simplified their logos and brands. There are multiple reasons why, from design software updates to the importance of online design.

Advertising’s oldest cliché has the client asking: “Can you make the logo bigger?” But the internet has forever constrained the dimensions of design. In a pre-Web world — when the smallest canvas for many brands was the business card — intricacy could be embraced. Nowadays, corporate identities must “click” inside an ever-expanding warren of tiny boxes, from 120-pixel iPhone buttons to 16-pixel browser “favicons.”

I really dig most of these “debrands.” The new logos, now stripped of gilt and gradients, look far more elegant, classic, and timeless to my eyes. And I won’t deny that Burger King’s new logo appeals to my sense of nostalgia. (Two working parents meant that I ate a lot of Burger King as a kid.)

Joel Hodgson wants to keep making more Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Creator Joel Hodgson has kicked off a new MST3K Kickstarter campaign to create three to 12 new episodes of the show, similar to the 2016 campaign that helped create seasons 11 and 12. However, this time MST3K will be returning to an online, virtual theater where fans can watch a myriad of premieres, live events, and more. You’ll also be able to host group watch parties, with a new collection of episodes released each month.

To which I say, “Hi-keeba!”

As the movie industry continues to contend with how COVID has dramatically changed how audiences watch movies (i.e., not in theaters), they’re embracing streaming more and more. Case in point, Sony Pictures has signed an exclusive streaming deal with Netflix.

The streaming deal spans five years, The New York Times reported Thursday, and starts with the 2022 releases. (Sony and Netflix’s statement only called it a multi-year agreement.) It takes the place of the agreement Sony has had with Starz Entertainment going back to 2006. (Sony Pictures Animation, makers of Into the Spider-Verse, already had a separate agreement with Netflix.)

This deal includes any sequels planned for Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and the Jumanji franchise, as well as the upcoming adaptation of the Uncharted video game.

For anime fans of a certain age, Robotech was their introduction to the art form. Unfortunately, the series has been part of a decades-long licensing feud that has prevented any new Macross titles from being released here in the States. But the feud is finally over.

“The landmark agreement immediately permits worldwide distribution of most of the Macross films and television sequels worldwide, and also confirms that Big West will not oppose the Japanese release of an anticipated upcoming live-action Robotech film. The agreement also recognizes Harmony Gold’s longstanding exclusive license with Tatsunoko for the use of the 41 Macross characters and mecha in the Robotech television series and related merchandise throughout the world excluding Japan.

Now… about that upcoming live-action Robotech film. I’m also looking forward to an official release of Macross Zero.

I’m always here for news that scientists have discovered that the universe might be stranger than was previously thought.

Evidence is mounting that a tiny subatomic particle seems to be disobeying the known laws of physics, scientists announced on Wednesday, a finding that would open a vast and tantalizing hole in our understanding of the universe.

The result, physicists say, suggests that there are forms of matter and energy vital to the nature and evolution of the cosmos that are not yet known to science.

In other science-related news, researchers have discovered something that music nerds have known since, like, forever: you really can judge people based on their musical tastes.

It turns out that there is more to the question than appears on the surface, and multiple psychological studies have supported the idea that musical preferences are actually linked to our cognitive styles, or the way we think about, and react to, the world around us.

One more science-related story: Dr. Katalin Kariko spent decades trying to understand how mRNA could instruct cells to create their own medicines. Though her work was frequently overlooked and derided, it was the foundation for Pfizer and Moderna’s COVID vaccines.

On Nov. 8, the first results of the Pfizer-BioNTech study came in, showing that the mRNA vaccine offered powerful immunity to the new virus. Dr. Kariko turned to her husband. “Oh, it works,” she said. “I thought so.”

To celebrate, she ate an entire box of Goobers chocolate-covered peanuts. By herself.

Via The Dispatch.

From the Blog

A recent New York Times story revealed how Trump’s re-election campaign used design “dark patterns” to trick supporters into donating way more money than they intended.

[I]t’s unclear whether Trump himself actually knew about it, though he defended his campaign’s fundraising tactics in a response to the Times’ report. However, the “money box” and its overbearing language certainly feels of a piece with Trump’s own extensive history of grifting.

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