The Echo Look: help from Amazon for the style-disadvantaged?

The Amazon Echo, which came out in 2015, is a smart speaker that responds to voice input. Amazon just released an update, called Echo Look, which not only includes the Alexa voice-response system but also has a camera, so it can both listen to you and look at you. It’s designed to sit in your bedroom and serve as some kind of fashion aide. Here’s how Jessi Hempel of Backchannel described it at the start of a short discussion: “Speak to the white oblong assistant, and it will take selfies of your outfits and let you consult style experts to improve them.”

Continue reading

Honey, I shrunk Thackeray’s novel: A condensed Vanity Fair at the Pearl

12-Pearl_Vanity Fair(c)Russ Rowland(w)

Doing the social climb: from left, Debargo Sanyal, Tom O’Keefe, Ryan Quinn, Zachary Fine, Kate Hamill, Joey Parsons, and Brad Heberlee in the Pearl’s Vanity Fair. (Photo by Russ Rowland)

Rebecca Sharp—who is not quite the central character in Thackeray’s 1848 novel, Vanity Fair, but who would like to be—resembles a reality-TV performer. By chance of birth, she occupies an ordinary station in life; what’s worse, or perhaps better, given their own dubious careers, her parents have died, leaving her—as we’re often reminded in the novel—alone in the world, forced to fend for herself. For her, as for any number of present-day persons, there’s no reason why anyone should pay attention to her, give her any leeway, give her anything at all. And so, when any chance of advancement presents itself, she feels she must take it, apply whatever skills she has (but it happens that she has many) in order to bring herself up. She seizes opportunities; she maneuvers and manipulates, not always to serve herself alone, but always to her advantage; she’s developing her brand and pays no mind to bad PR. Becky Sharp would be a sensation on social media.

Continue reading

Passing glances: protests and sex on campus

The University of California at Berkeley, which in the 60s originated what came to be called the free speech movement, has now become a major home of an un-free-speech movement, and American college campuses are now one setting for a clash, which is also playing out in the wider world, between conflicting stances toward sexual behavior. Some recent reading illustrates the issues.

Continue reading

Passing glances: talkin’ bout a revolution

“The revolution will not be televised, will not be televised. There will be no rerun, brothers and sisters. The revolution will be live.” Those and other lines from Gil Scott-Heron’s 1970 song-poem have been taunting and teasing viewers during the title sequence of Season Six of the Showtime series Homeland, prompting us to wonder what hoped-for transformation of society in the world of the show it alludes to and whether, as happened with the 60s ideal of a new order, it’ll come to naught.

Continue reading

Preliminary news of a new SF novel from the 80s

In the 70s and early 80s, a friend of mine found himself living in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, after college. Before he was (apparently) murdered by a vengeful former lover who was (apparently) a member of a crime family, he wrote a science-fiction novel. It’s got rich imperious Americans voyaging through the solar system on a luxurious cruise ship, crafty Mexicans who pilot a dilapidated spacecraft and pretend to be priests when it’s useful, a heroine of sorts who’s young and smart and pretty and stuck-up but somewhat likable anyway, a secret society, a ghost, terrorists, and a character from a Stendhal novel—plus, among other grace notes, an unmanned space probe sent back with improvements by an unknown alien civilization. I’ve got the novel. Wanna read it?

Continue reading

Marin Ireland goes great guns in On the Exhale, a new play at the Roundabout

Marin Ireland in On the Exhale

Marin Ireland in On the Exhale. (Photo by Joan Marcus)

Imagine you’ve been threatened with a pistol. Imagine threatening someone else with one. Imagine hefting a rifle for the first time. Imagine feeling it become a natural part of you, the way Sweeney Todd feels about his razor. Imagine being in a position to decide how easily people can obtain such weapons. Imagine having this decided for you, and for others. Imagine losing someone to gun violence. Imagine wanting to cause this loss for someone else.

Continue reading