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Sep. 21st, 2009

sexy

Catch-up

I got back from the Telluride Film Festival two weeks ago. Three months ago, I graduated with my Master’s degree. Seven months ago, I saw a good friend get married. Ten days ago, I saw another good friend wander through town on his way back from Burning Man.

I suppose all these things deserve blog entries. But really aside from me, who cares? I had a good time at all of those events. I have little anecdotes that I could tell and recommendations I could make but all this personal stuff seems a like a lot of time wasted on things that no one will ever see.

Sigh. Movies for you to See: The Bad Lieutenant, Fish tank, the Third Shadow Warrior, Red Riding. Advice: show up more than 45 minutes before your plane leaves, don’t be disappointed by grad ceremonies, dance at weddings, see silent films. And fix hangovers with lots of super-greasy food. As for the rest, I’ll tell you when I see you.

Nov. 25th, 2008

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Teaching Goals

Today, I tried to ask my students what they wanted to get out of my class. However, only one out of my six students showed up so I didn’t bother. It was especially frustrating because I spent three hours preparing three alternate lesson plans and a long worksheet for my students to articulate precisely what they do and don’t want to do. And they didn’t show up to fill out the worksheet. Sigh.
Ultimately, I’m feeling a bit lost in my teaching, as though my lesson plans were haphazard road signs leading nowhere. I want to do longer projects, maybe read a novel in class through both audio-book and print or something like that. I just feel like my lessons aren’t building on each other and as a result are not very effective at teaching my students English.
It’s tough though, my students are all fairly advanced, capable of reading almost anything, but still dealing with strong accents. I could do accent lessons, I guess, but that seems like a long, fruitless journey. People only really improve their accents by being around English speakers and speaking English a lot, for years and years. Denver has a large enough Russian community so that my students don’t need to speak English at all, if they don’t want to.
Any suggestions for long term goals? How about advanced text-books?

Nov. 19th, 2008

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Cell phones as desktop replacements

It’s hardly news that cell phones are becoming mobile computing platforms. In fact, I find it surprising that they aren’t even more computer-like than they are. Fold out keyboards have been available for handhelds for nearly ten years and portable projectors (of various levels of quality) have been available for nearly that long. Yet companies continue to drag their heels when making cell phones that do everything that computers can do. Understandable, yes, after all these companies can make a lot more money manufacturing ten different devices to replace computers than one. Still I find the lack of a true computer-cell phone obnoxious, annoying and as ludite-esque as the use of whale-oil lanterns.
So what would my computer cell phone have? Everything that my computer has except better because its portable.

+I want a projector built into my cell phone so that I can watch movies, TV and word process like a person. Also the projector should produce images good anywhere from ten inches to ten feet. Otherwise what’s the point?

+I want wireless keyboards that you can roll up and carry in your pocket. Wireless keyboards exist, high quality roll up keyboards exist. How is this not invented yet?

+I want at least a terabyte of solid state memory. It’s going to happen soon, we all know it. Moreover, a terabyte really isn’t very much when you are talking about the repository of all your media, music, movies and TV. You could fill up a terabyte with three seasons of one show.

+ I want a standard connector that can be split off into multiple peripherals. In other words, I want to be able to hook my computer cell phone up to multiple things at once and I don’t want to have to buy bizarre adaptors to do it. Screw proprietary technology, multiple format wires are just obnoxious. Figure out an industry standard (USB 2.0, maybe) and stick with it. Don’t make things harder than they should be for no real benefit.

+Cheap rechargeable batteries that you can replace. 60$ to replace a crap battery? Don’t do that. Don’t be that guy.

+A hook up to a printer, and decent, portable printers that print out business cards. If I meet someone in a bar and I want to give them my address, sure I could text it to them, but why can’t I print it out, quickly, easily without fumbling? Why can’t I print out business card size maps, pictures, and plane tickets? This doesn’t have to be built in, it could be just fine as an add-on, something sized like a wallet that you keep in your glove box or your pocket.

+ A true scanning function. None of this half-ass take a cell pic of your documents and then squint real hard. Work on the camera lens, work on the software a bit and you could scan anything at an acceptable level.
So why don’t we have a cell phone that we can use for computing. Hell, they already go on the internet, they take pics and do video conferencing. They can play TV, movies and music. Some can take notes, and they should all be able to word-process (that’s not a hard app, people). You can play games on them, look at pictures, read the news or books on them. But all those things suck when you do it on most cell phones. I’m tired of it. It’s time we treated cell-phones like computers, like efficient adult sized contraptions that can accomplish tasks well, instead of like novelty gizmos that wow us by virtue of their smallness. The novelty is gone, guys. Time to get serious.

Nov. 6th, 2008

sexy

Books

I’ve been reading a ton of books lately. Here’s a list in no particular order:

Neuromancer by William Gibson,
Burning Chrome by William Gibson,
Anathem by Neil Stephenson,
Naked by David Sedaris,
Pattern Recognition by William Gibson,
In Viriconium by M. John Harrison
A Storm of Wings by M. John Harrison
Dexter in the Dark by Jeff Lindsay
Spook Country by William Gibson

I’ve been on a real Gibson kick lately. Interestingly enough, I tried to read Neuromancer when I was fourteen and I hated it. Mainly because I was too young to get all the references. Now I can’t get enough of Gibson. He’s gone from writing about the dystopian near future to writing stories about the futuristic present. But those early short stories in Burning Chrome are so good, still so fresh, that they could have been written this year.
I also found Anathem intensely compelling as well. Not a surprise actually. I found myself staying up all hours reading The Baroque Cycle too. I’m sure there were other books as well, but I’ll be damned if I can remember them.

Nov. 3rd, 2008

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Another long overdue update

I’ve just finished my first month as an ESL teacher. I’m teaching a group of advanced speakers, Russian software engineers who live in Denver but feel uncomfortable speaking English. My job is to give them practice and confidence. It’s a good job, rewarding emotionally and financially, and I enjoy remembering and using my CELTA training.
Grad school is almost finished for me, I’m taking a class this semester and a class next semester and then I’m either writing a thesis or I’m taking an exit exam. And that should finish that off, finally. My classes, while moderately compelling are becoming a challenge. By this I mean that I find my course work redundant. I like my professors and my class-mates but I feel like I’ve seen this movie before. I’ve seen the movie about ten times. I want to watch a new movie now.
My personal life is relatively uninteresting. While my new job and grad school keep me busy, I still have plenty of free time which I have used to read a ton of books and watch some quality television. I’m also trying to maintain a certain level of progress on a list, a daily to-do of things I should accomplish. The list is fifteen items long. I count it a good day if I get six items done.
I’ve missed this blog. I missed my friends in far way places. But I’m doing pretty well. Things are moving forward. So how are you folks?

Sep. 17th, 2008

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Friends and Readers

I don’t usually ask you to do anything except read me when I very rarely post to this blog. But today I would like you to do something. I would like you to call your senator and protest S. 3325 “The Enforcement of Intellectual Property Act of 2008”.
This is a bill sponsored by the RIAA and the MPAA proposing that taxpayer funds will be used to enforce their copyrights. Now, sure on the surface, everyone would like their copyrights to be enforced. But remember according to the MPAA and the RIAA it is illegal to make a copy of a movie or CD that you own. According to the MPAA and the RIAA, anyone who downloads a music or movie torrent is liable for thousands of dollars. These absurd organizations have been conducting frivolous lawsuits against thousands of people in the United States and by so doing have wasted our money and tied up our court system. This approach of theirs has failed to achieve their goal of deterring people from accessing media in new ways so these organizations have decided to push a bill through the senate upping the stakes of the copyright war and today they’ve succeeded. S. 3325 is out of committee already and could be passed today. If these dogs have their way, the government will become the copyright police and an already overstretched bureaucracy will be forced to fight on behalf of corporations who hardly need their help. Don’t let this happen. Google your senator and call them. Tell them to stop this travesty. Tell your friends to call. DO something or these horrifying excuses for humans will triumph again.

Jul. 24th, 2008

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the moment of the pitch

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that television is becoming more dedicated to long story arcs. The famous shows such as Lost or Heroes aren’t really breaking new ground by telling a story in a season, after all Twin Peaks did it in 1990 and Lynch was simply repeating the formula laid down by the melodramas of the 50s. So long story arcs are really nothing new. But I’ve come to notice something about how television tends to tell long stories that I think is worth noting.
Shows start with a premise pitched by the writer/producer to the executives. The pilot episode is the expression of the pitch. What I’ve noticed is that even though a long story arc may change things in the story, for example good guys becoming bad or characters falling in and out of love, at the end of the arc the show returns to the original state of things. Moreover, the audience gets mad when things change from the moment of the pitch. They call it jumping the shark, after the Fonz’s great leap.
Take shows like the Office. Our hero, Jim, is in love with Pam. Through trials and tribulations Jim gets Pam, loses Pam and gets her again. But ultimately the show can never escape the original premise where the tension of the story is based on Jim’s unrequited love for Pam. When Jim finally and totally locks up the deal, that tension is gone and the show is over. But they keep making episodes because the show is profitable, fun and popular.
So how does television reconcile the changes necessitated by long story arcs with the need to remain permanently true to the pilot episode? Usually with ridiculous and unbelievable plot twists. For example, Lost is a show based upon mystery, but the three main characters are entangled in an all too unmysterious love triangle. Kate bounces from Jack to Sawyer in every other episode simply to stay true to the pitch, to keep that tension in the story. Yet her character becomes more unbelievable and unlikable with each bounce.
The tension between the need to change and the need to stay the same exists in almost all story driven media, comics, multi-volume novels, movie franchises and many more. But to me, it is despicable to maintain your characters as though they were museum exhibits, never allowing the stories they inhabit to change them. It is as though the writer were undoing his work as if he were Penelope from the Odyssey who kept her suitors at bay by promising to wed one of them after she finished a shroud, which she continually tore apart at night and rewove during the day. I think that people who emulate Penelope and constantly rehash the same ground eventually begin to yearn for self-oblivion. At the same time, we suitors who always fall for the trick of a believing that a dramatic change will have lasting consequences, we are gulping morons who don’t deserve a better story.
We all know that this is an ultimately unsatisfying storytelling technique, yet we still ask for it. We want our Batman to be Bruce Wayne forever, we want Jim to always pursue yet never capture Pam, we want the tension of controlled uncertainty. We want the story we bought when we picked up the book. And unless we ask for something more, we will never get it.

Jul. 13th, 2008

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As far as I know…

The fastest speed any man-made object has ever attained was thirty-five thousand miles an hour. At that rate it would take a spaceship ten years to reach Pluto and ten thousand years to reach the beginning of the Oort cloud, which stretches for another two light years beyond that. Barring a miracle, we are not going to be able to fly to Mars, much less outside our solar system. In fact, I find the likelihood that humanity will kill itself much more plausible than the idea that we might somehow develop a magical warp drive and zoom off to the nearest star system.
So, no, I don’t believe aliens have been here.

Jul. 12th, 2008

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I Love the Radio

Though there are many reasons to despise modern radio, there are a few reasons to adore it, college radio being my personal favorite. I love the very idea of college radio. Amateur media propelled through the airwaves by the enthusiasm of over-educated fanatics, what’s not to love about it?
Even ignoring the wonders of college radio, even taking into account the suckitude of modern FM (thanks Clear Channel), I still dig the radio. Radio makes me feel in touch, connected to the world around me. On the other end of those radio waves is a human spinning records and scrambling to find the next cd, making mistakes and drinking coffee. Ok, a lot of radio is done by recording, but there are still stations filled with live people and those are the only ones worth listening to. Playing a cd or the ipod in your car is fine, but you’ll never hear anything new. You may not be expecting something you hear on your ipod but you’ll never be surprised by a whole new song.
I mostly listen to the radio in the car, switching over to my shuffle when the music pains me too much. But when I listen to college radio I don’t switch over very often. I’ll grant that I wouldn’t have chosen a lot of the music they play but that’s exactly the point I’m trying to make. I don’t really want to spend the rest of my life in my comfort zone, listening to the same music forever. I want out of my library, out of my tastes, out of my head. I want proof that there is more out than what I have personally heard.
Overwhelmingly large personal collections are beginning to seem like iron chains to me. These personal libraries, of which I have more than my share, are pyrrhic collections. Most people now have unread books on their shelves, unheard albums on their computers and unwatched movies clogging up their space. Even if these libraries have been consumed, aren’t they just already digested material? All right, I’ll let it go for now, but my point in all this is that radio allows some of the benefits or a personal library without the drawbacks.
Thus the computer programs that promise to record live radio to your hard drive seem perverse. Recording live radio as tracks to play back over and over again, hell even time-shifting radio isn’t just missing the point, its throwing out the pearl and keeping the oyster. Radio is supposed to be uncontrolled, consumable only in the moment it is aired. If you can’t let go of the need to control what you hear, then you aren’t a radio listener, you are a collector of empty oysters.

Jun. 10th, 2008

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Tourism

Throughout my life, I’ve viewed tourism as something to be despised. After all, tourists are incredibly lame. They barge into the wonderful places in this world, poke around for a few minutes and then start to complain. Totally ignorant of native cultures, they stumble haplessly around wearing their shorts and white tennis shoes. Ultimately what bothers me most about tourists is their utter inability to shed their own preconceptions and engage fully in a new experience. It shows a fundamental disrespect for the different, those things outside our own experience.
But I was thinking the other day about the kind of travel I admire most, those travelers who go to a new culture and live in it for years, trying to live life as a local. And it struck me as monumental arrogance to assume that an outsider could ever experience life like a local even after decades of inhabiting a culture. Travelers are tourists too. Oh sure, travelers don’t dabble the way tourists do and they try to leave their prejudices at home, but no matter what they do they aren’t locals. They will never really understand what it is to be from another culture. Just as I will never be able to understand how an Englishman or a Columbian sees the world, Colombians and the English will never understand how an American sees things.
So are tourists really that bad? At the very least, they evince a curiosity about the world that many people don’t. Granted, tourism does exploit the toured, it creates a show of what was originally a culture. But are the authentic experiences coveted by the traveler any better? When I was in Buenos Aires, I saw an authentic tango show packed with locals. Was it better than the tango show performed in the hotels? We all codify our own cultures, either worshipping the rules that define our cultural art-forms or breaking them and making something new. And whether the context for a traditional tango is an authentic local club or a hotel, we are still trying to taste something new. Sure the tourist shows are carefully arranged to be palatable to the tourists and are thus less authentic. But the authenticity of the local shows doesn’t automatically make the art better. It just makes the art more exotic in the traveler’s eyes, which is equally as exploitive as watering down a show for the tourists. Both tourists and travelers use the art to satisfy notions about themselves and the world they are visiting.
What really matters is that we, tourists and travelers, are curious about the world. We seek to know more and we do the best we can to find out about what life is like elsewhere. The spirit of wanting to see the other, wanting to reach out for something more, that spirit is remarkable and is something to be honored, no matter to what degree it is fulfilled.

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