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Links and Movies30 Sep 2010

Sixty Symbols is a collection of short videos on topics in physics and astronomy, presented by various faculty members from the University of Nottingham. I’ve been enjoying them thoroughly. I liked the one on dark matter quite a bit.

They’ve been around a while, I gather, but I just found ‘em, so maybe they’re new to you too.

Links31 Aug 2010

My new favorite CBC program is The Late Show, and it kind of snuck up on me. Each episode is a thirty-minute obituary of a recently deceased Canadian, in the form of interviews with people who knew them, and narrated by Gordon Pinsent. Getting Pinsent was a bit of inspired casting: his steady stage actor’s voice creates just the right tone.

I can’t say I expected to be an avid listener to a show about the lives (and deaths) of “deceivingly ordinary” people, but I’ve caught three or four episodes now and each time I’ve been riveted.

Links20 May 2010

(Title stolen from Dan Bern’s song about the baseball pitcher Cy Young.)

And the subject of this post is certainly small. Eri Yoshida, 18 years old, 5 feet 2, is about to make her American professional baseball debut in the west-coast Golden Baseball League for the Chico Outlaws. She’s a pitcher. She throws a side-arm knuckleball that floats in at 55 miles per hour. And apparently, putting the Japanese teenager on the squad wasn’t just a publicity stunt by the Outlaws: the word is that the girl can pitch.

From this article about her recent two-inning performance in a pre-season exhibition game:

She retired six batters on two pop-ups, two fly balls and a grounder, walking one but then picking him off immediately. The 5-foot-2 pitcher drew a walk at the plate, stole second and later scored on Mikael Jova’s two-run single.

She picked someone off! She stole second base! She’s clearly a competitor. I’m rooting for her. I think I’m going to be looking at a lot of box scores from the Golden Baseball League this summer.

Links and Strange15 May 2010

The Daily Mail reports on the latest trend among young British drinkers: Vodka Eyeballing. As in, pouring vodka into your eye. Go click on the link and look at the ridiculous photos of people with bottles stuck in their eyes. This seems to fantastical to be real.

Apparently, vodka-in-the-eye gets you drunk quickly, which I suppose I’d buy, given that there are lots of little blood vessels in your eye to absorb the alcohol, and it is a but a short vascular hop from the eye to the brain, but really? People actually think this is a good idea? Mind boggling. Also, apparently, damaging to the eyes.

Rest assured, I’m not in the habit of reading the Daily Mail. I only found this after following a link from a google image search for hedges trimmed to look like animals. Which I’m not really in the habit of looking up, either.

Links and Musings10 May 2010

Ah, Facebook. Walmart of the Internet. Sad to say, I have a profile, though it’s becoming increasingly bare: the more they strip away the screen of privacy, the more information I delete. It’s not that I really miss the privacy. I’ve always considered anything on Facebook as being effectively public anyway, I’ve been under no illusions in that regard. I’m just not really sure why I should be so cooperative as to neatly present all my vital statistics in a form that can be easily data-mined and sold to marketers. Hmm…

Two articles:

In The Guardian, Facebook is just the latest sensation to contract a case of megalomania suggests that Facebook now thinks it can own the entire internet, and that it will eventually pay for this hubris.

In Wired, Facebook’s Gone Rogue; It’s Time for an Open Alternative suggests that the admittedly valuable functionality of Facebook ought to be taken out of the hands of one company and turned into an open internet standard, which is an interesting, but I think far-fetched idea.

I don’t know if I’ve reached the point of actually deleting my profile, but I’m having some serious thoughts about it. I wonder if Facebook might face a bit of a backlash. True, they’ve been slowly dialing back the privacy settings for years and nobody complained all that much, but it seems like the pace of it is accelerating. Every other king of the social networking scene fizzled eventually, can Facebook hold on forever?

Links01 May 2010

My position concerning God is that of an agnostic. I am convinced that vivid consciousness of the primary importance of moral principles for the betterment and enoblement of life does not need the idea of a law-giver, especially a law-giver who works on the basis of reward and punishment

Albert Einstein, as reported on one of my favorite blogs these days, Letters of Note.

Links and Movies24 Jun 2009

Almost. I saw Transformers 1, and there’s no way I’m falling for that again.

This review of the new giant robot cgi-fest is brilliant:

So LaBoeuf, who’s actually a fine actor, is the stand-in for the male viewers’ greatest fears about themselves. No matter how great a loser they might be, they can’t be as losery a loser as Sam Witwicky. And yet, Sam has awesome giant robots stomping around telling him he’s the most important awesome person ever. And he has the hottest girlfriend in the universe, Megan Fox, for whom banality is a huge aphrodisiac. The more pathetic Sam gets, the more Fox’s lips pout and her nipples point, like little Irish setters.

Michael Bay Finally Made An Art Movie

Links04 Apr 2009

I’m a fan of the CBC program “The Age of Persuasion”, ad guru Terry O’Reilly’s weekly half-hour tour through the world of modern advertising. Originally I tuned in just to see what “The Enemy” was up to, and I’ve become hooked. I still think advertising is an evil, but O’Reilly might succeed in convincing me that it’s a necessary one.

Last week, using the atheist bus campaign as a jumping off-point, the show examined the relationship between advertising and religion. It’s a good listen, and is up as a podcast on the show’s website. Check it out.

Links and Musings15 Jan 2009

I’ve been listening to “Ocean Mind”, a two-part “Ideas” documentary from CBC, which you can find here. It’s about whales and dolphins, the “branniest” animals on the planet, and how living in the ocean shapes their consciousness, their minds, and their culture. Yes, even culture. Whales and dolphins are communal, and one community differs in its conduct from the next. Killer whales execute complicated and coordinated hunting plans that must go beyond pure instinct. They teach their calves how to beach themselves safely and wriggle back to the ocean. The interact in ways we can’t understand.

Two things in particular struck me. Whales and dolphins have sophisticated echolocation capabilities, this much everyone knows. Some of the researchers interviewed in the documentary speculate on just how sophisticated these capabilities might be. Whales can of course hear each other’s echolocation clicks, and might even be able to interpret the information contained in them. A whole group of echolocating whales becomes one interconnected sensory system. Whales can perhaps literally share perception in a way that people can’t.

And if that isn’t mind-boggling enough, how about this: the sonar signals whales use to scan the water pass through solid as well as liquids. Whales can very likely “see” inside one another’s bodies, like a doctor can see into a patient with an ultrasound. The researchers speculate that it is easy for whales to perceive whether one of their fellows is excited, or wounded, or pregnant, and who knows what else. It occurs to me that the reason we have never cracked the code of whale and dolphin communication is that it likely operates on these kinds of nuanced perceptual levels of which we have no experience.

For the whales, all of this adds up to a very strong sense of community. As one researcher points out, the reason we humans have been so successful at hunting whales is that if you can catch one, you can probably catch a whole pod. Whales won’t leave one of their group who is in distress.

Links and Movies12 Jan 2009

We watched Hancock on the weekend. We were disappointed.

The really disappointing thing about it was that, on paper, it could have been quite good. Will Smith plays Hancock, an inept and generally reviled superhero. The movie opens with a hung-over Hancock flying superman-style to intervene in a high speed chase on an LA freeway. He nabs the bad guys, but causes 6 million dollars in damages to roads, buildings, police cars, and anything else that gets in his way in the process. We imagine the city was once thrilled to have their own super-powered crime fighter; now he’s become a public menace. But how do you rein in someone who can fly and is immune to bullets?

I hope I’m making this sound good. I should have been good. There are so many good directions the movie could have gone from there. It could have been a hilarious slapstick comedy. It could have been a great satire of the over-played superhero genre. It could have taken the consequences of having super powers seriously. It could have been an examination of how even the “best” among us can fail. At the very least, it should have been an entertaining story of one (super) man’s redemption.

Apparently the filmmakers saw this smorgasbord of possibilities before them and decided to have none of it. After 30 minutes, the movie transformed in some kind of unwieldy and nonsensical superhero love triangle. I really don’t understand Hollywood sometimes.

And, on a tangentially related note, here’s my new favorite website: TV Tropes – a gleeful catalog of every cliché and convention of TV, film, and other narrative media.

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