Friday, December 24, 2010

Memoirs of a Geisha

I finally got around to watching Memoirs of a Geisha tonight. It wasn't a bad film, but it left me with an odd feeling by the end. Am I the only one that found it strange that this movie 1) mostly romanticized this act of making women second class citizens and 2) mostly made women the bad guys when it was the patriarchal society that created geisha?

On the plus side, the cinematography was incredible and the score was beautiful.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Fantasy Book Covers

This is interesting. Orbit Books analyzed book covers from 2008 to 2009 and produced the chart above breaking them down. It is funny to line up fantasy books (or any genre really) and see how similar they are in many respects.

Physical Books Are Not Going to Be Gone in 5 Years

Nicholas Negroponte, founder of One Laptop One Child, thinks that hard copy books will be gone in five years.

"[Books] will be [gone] in five years," said Negroponte. "The physical medium cannot be distributed to enough people. When you go to Africa, half a million people want books ... you can't send the physical thing."

Negroponte emphasized the efficiency of being able to put hundreds of books on the laptops his organization sends to villages. "We put 100 books on a laptop, but we also send 100 laptops. That village now has 10,000 books," he said.

Negroponte is right about the ease and importance of e-books in third world countries, but I think it's crazy to think that physical books won't be around in five years. For many people, myself included, the joy of books goes beyond their content. I like to touch them, smell them, see them on my bookshelves. I'm a huge tech geek and I like e-books, but I love my dead-tree versions and don't plan on ever parting with them.

This is not unique to me or to books. People listen to vinyl records still despite the prevalence of mp3 players. People enjoy driving old cars despite new ones that have power steering and anti-lock brakes. E-books may overtake their tangible counterparts in sales and importance, but they will never completely replace them.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Lost Footage From 2001 Discovered

Not the year 2001, the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. As one of the greatest sci-fi flicks ever made, this is very exciting.

Speaking at a presentation of 2001 in Toronto, Trumbull and Larson talked about the footage they’d seen which they said is in “perfectly preserved” condition. And while they didn’t screen it, it’s assumed the footage contains at least some of the 19 minutes Kubrick himself cut for pacing purposes after the premiere...

B-b-but Terrorists!

From the always-worth-reading blog of Glenn Greenwald.

If American citizens don't object to the permanent seizure and copying of their laptops and cellphones without any warrants or judicial oversight, what would they ever object to?

This is the sort of thing irrational fear leads to especially when exploited by the ruling class.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

History and How It's Taught

I recently watched Band of Brothers with my daughters and it got me thinking about how we teach history in schools. My youngest daughter is one of the typical kids who says, "I hate history. It's boring." My oldest daughter appreciates it a bit more, but only certain periods. World War II is not one of them. Both of them, however, really enjoyed this series and it's not hard to understand why.

Band of Brothers is about people.

It seems a bit silly to say that, but think of how history is typically taught. Lots of dates. Lots of big picture events. When students learn about people they are larger than life characters that are hard to relate to (think George Washington crossing the Delaware River or Alexander conquering much of the known world. We read about giants of history who seem to have little in the way of human flaws and we don't hear much about what life was like for the average person.

Now, dorks like me are still fascinated by all of this stuff, but the typical person is not. They need it to be more personal, to seem more relevant. And that's okay; we can do that. The problem is that the people teaching history are typically closer to my temperament and can't understand why anyone wouldn't be excited by studying troop movements in World War I. If students got to read more about "real" people, the people taking part in these events and learning about ways their lives may have been similar to their own and how they are different, I guarantee many more of them would be engaged. We also need to make the towering figures of the past more real. Instead of pretending the Founding Fathers were pinnacles of humankind, point out things like Thomas Jefferson owned slaves, George Washington grew marijuana, John Adams wouldn't wear dentures and spoke with a lisp.

Granted, the big picture stuff is important, but most kids aren't going to care about it if teachers can't make it real, can't connect the kids with it on a more personal level. It doesn't take a movie to do this, but it does take better textbooks than we typically have and teachers willing to understand that history needs to come down to a smaller level to get kids interested.