Saturday, March 31, 2007

The phenomenon that is imdb.com

I just saw Children of Men at a Film League screening here at Vassar last night, and it was an excellent movie; I highly recommend it. But the thing was, I knew it was going to be good before I even saw it. How? Because of it's high rating on the imdb.com, the world's largest compilation of reviews from people all around the world. 40,000+ people had already seen the movie and liked it; in fact, they even liked it enough to rate it the 145th movie of all-time (you can check out the whole list here).

Think about it. If a couple of your friends tell you that they like a movie, you'll think about watching it. If 20 of your friends tell you that they liked a movie, you'll probably head down to your local movie store and rent it. But imagine if 40,000 people gave you their opinion, and the majority of them really liked it. You'd make watching the movie a very high priority, right? That is essentially what imdb does. And yet some if not many people still don't take the site seriously, debunking it's importance for various uninformed opinions. Well, I'm here to set you all straight. Here are the most common criticisms that I have heard:

- "I don't like it because they didn't rate movie x or movie y high enough and that's my favorite movie of all time blah blah blah." The problem with having a movie review site, or with having a "best ever" list in general, is that not every movie can be #1. Nobody ever claimed that the whole world was going to have the exact same taste as you. But the general idea about the site is that the good movies will be rated high and the bad movies will be rated low. Of course, some people disagree with that idea too, which brings me to my next point.

- "I don't like it because my taste is just so unique and nobody understands me please excuse me while I slit my wrists." The problem with this mentality is that you have to understand the nature of people voting on these movies. They aren't interested in playing favorites, they just vote on which they think are the best movies for the same reason that you or I would: they thought it was funny, interesting, had beautiful camera work, etc. Of course, some people still want to cling to the belief that they are special unique snowflakes, and admitting that their taste is essentially like other people's would hurt their self-esteem. I suppose that those people cannot be saved. But for the rest of us rational people, making this leap and admitting that our taste is similar to others is very rewarding because then we start watching better, more entertaining movies. Good looks all around.

- "I don't like any of those online voting sites because somebody could just vote 902384 times and screw up the voting." While the other points could probably be argued for (incorrectly, but argued for nonetheless), this one is flawed beyond comprehension. If you want to vote, you have to create an account, which takes a certain amount of time, and you have to have your account verified with a valid e-mail address. On top of that, you have to vote for at least 10 movies and be considered a "regular voter" before your vote will be taken into consideration for the top 250 list. So while I suppose that it would be possible to skew the voting, one would have to do it literally full-time for a good amount of time to make any sort of statistical difference.

Now, I'm not saying that you have to (or should) base every movie you see completely on this site. But if you want to find a cool movie and don't know where to start, imdb.com can be a sweet resource. Happy watching.

Friday, March 30, 2007

The One-Year Anniversary

I've been jingling around the idea of doing a one-year anniversary post in my head for awhile now, and my anticipation of it has been palpable. My intention was to have the anniversary coincide with my 100th post, but alas, I was too giddy about writing those last couple of posts to stop myself from writing them. Luckily 101 is debatably (did you know that's not technically a word?) a cooler number, so it's gravy.

Anyway, now that I am 1 year and 100 posts in, I think it's fair to actually begin to consider myself a blogger (I hadn't really before because, eh, I didn't really know enough about it to say so). A few observations along the way:

-Blogging is a mentality. I find myself constantly searching my day for blog-worthy moments, typing myself notes in the datebook on my phone (which is bootleg since I can only type 55 characters), and generally being more curious about what's going on around me, because you never know, I could want to write about it later.

- The more you blog, the less importance you place on each individual post. I used to not post as much as I have been in the last two or three months, and I found it much more difficult to post. Each thing I wrote had more pressure on it because I wasn't doing many of them and it was likely going to stay at the top of my page for awhile. That problem no longer exists. If one of my posts is sub-par, I can just bury it by prolific updates until it is safely archived (I suppose I could delete it, but that seems like a cop out if I have ever seen one).

- Blogging creates communities. The main reason for this, I find, is that people who blog tend to be the people that read other people's blogs. They probably do this because a) they are more likely to be on the internet and generally reading articles to blog about themselves and b) they are more likely to respect the amount of effort that goes into your average post (OK, it's not all that much, but the idea is there). So when I tell somebody that they should start a blog, it's not only because I think they would enjoy it, it's also because they will be more likely to read mine and my friend's blogs. The blog community is a very real phenomenon.

Anyway, if this was my one year test, then count me in for the real thing. I enjoy it too much now to let go. Thanks for everyone that encourages me to keep doing it also, because while I often claim that I write mainly for myself, I love reading and responding to everyone's comments and I love the support. You all keep me on my toes. Here's to another year!

Thursday, March 29, 2007

"Science is only about truth"

Coming back from a lecture the other day my friends and I were discussing how the speaker would have been more effective if he had been more dynamic and engaging. While I was interested enough in the subject matter to pay attention anyway, I could see why somebody would have been distracted by the somewhat bland manner of presentation.

Anyway, while we were walking, somebody walking behind us and unabashedly eavesdropping jumped into the conversation (which is money, btw, I completely respect the move) to make his point. His problem with our criticism was that to him science shouldn't need to engage the reader, because, in his own words, "science is only about the truth." While it was pretty funny to hear him say that, he's not the only one who shares that conviction. Listen, I realize that scientists can't explain every point using 5th grade terms, and that they need to be able to communicate efficiently with their colleagues. But I don't see any reason why they can't strive to be engaging to their audience and present their material in an interesting fashion. Many scientific articles and lectures are already presented in this manner, but there are still a certain subset of people that don't appear to believe that it matters, and it does. Science isn't only about the truth, it's also about making sure that people actually care enough to pay attention to it.

Climate change lecture

A couple of days ago Wally Broeker, Columbia University professor and leader in the fields of geology and earth science, came to speak at Vassar. He is widely respected for his work among his colleagues: he's written 9 books, 400+ scientific papers, and was awarded the national medal of science. Naturally, he has lots of ideas on global warming, and some of them were pretty interesting:

- Like most scientists I have heard on the subject, he agrees that the big question is not whether or not adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere will increase the temperature, but instead how the earth will react to additional heat. Apparently there really is no precedent because the earth has never been this hot in recent eras.

- While he admits that at some point we will run out of oil, he told us that fossil fuels can be made out of coal too, so it will be a long time before we run out of fossil fuels. Given that 85% of our energy right now comes from fossil fuels, it is evident that we're going to have to find something to do about our fossil fuel problem.

- He claims that right now we are in a position where it will be nearly impossible to stop the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere from doubling, but it is of the utmost importance that we stop it from tripling.

- While he advocates all sorts of alternative energy sources, the idea that he stressed was CO2 removal. Apparently, carbon dioxide can be liquefied at a pressure of 14 atmospheres. If it is liquefied, it will obviously be much more difficult to get into our atmosphere. According to Broeker, scientists right now are working on a prototype machine that will be able to do this, and they are going to announce it in a few months. They have not gone public earlier because they are worried that they won't get the patents. If this worked, we could find a way to release this liquid (which there would not be that much of) in a safe manner, such as at the bottom of the ocean where 85% of it would ionize.

Obviously, this last idea of Broeker's was the most interesting. I certainly hope it works, because based on the rest of his speach, we can use all the help we can get.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Running Diary: Fox's 24

Welcome one, welcome all to my first running diary, loosely inspired by Bill Simmons' amazing work on the NCAA tourney. For those of you wondering, there will be spoilers. And here we go!

9:00: We hear what happened previously on 24. This is huge for me because I missed the last two episodes, one because I was in Mexico where there was no cable, and one while I was at Claremont, for reasons that I have been advised by my attorney to not disclose.

9:01: San Francisco better not get touched! If it were any other city, I wouldn't think that we should respond with a nuke, but SF is a different story.

9:03: Brian tells us that Karen Hayes is getting hotter and hotter. Vassar must be screwing with his head.

9:04: Max wants to know if I would have sex with Bill Simmons. No comment.

9:06: Gredenko and Fayed are going at it, and it's strangely homoerotic. This could turn into a C-level pornography at any moment. You never know, ya know?

9:12: Tarantino's new joint looks crazy. No way to tell which way it's going to go--it could be the next "2 Fast 2 Furious: Tokyo Drift" or the next "Pulp Fiction."

9:14: Just for the record, this UPS guy from their new ads might be the best artist in America today. At the very least he's gotta be the most well-known.

9:19: You have to love the doctor standing up for himself despite the Vice President telling him that if anything happens to his patient he'll be held personally responsible. Seems like a sort of stressful job. This seems like a good time to mention that I'm getting shakier and shakier over this whole pre-med thing.

9:21: Jack's body count for the episode hits 1. Now he's set to interview the guy from Rain Man.

9:24: My supposed friends me keeps hating on the fact that I am doing a running diary. They're just jealous. I wonder if Bill Simmons ever had to deal with this kind of stuff.

9:28: Life lessons from 24--it's never too late for redemption, even if you've sold nuclear bombs to foreigners to blow up in your own country. As long as you play your cards right, you'll get the chance to recant and even cue some inspiring music in the background.

9:32: So much intrigue at CTU. We've got on one of the Hardy boys, a guy from Star Trek, and of course Milo. They're not happy with each other. "This is the last time you messed with me, sonny!" remarks the fomer Hardy boy. I would say that it's hard to take him seriously, but that would be the understatement of the decade.

9:34: You always have to love Victoria Secret ads. Casey remarks that they are the "best commercials ever." Indeed.

9:38: Nadia, I don't know how to say this, but I'm sorry that we tortured based on inconclusive evidence. On a seperate note, you are so hot.

9:40: The producers of the show must be thinking the same thing, as Milo and Nadia have a nice little make out sess in the middle of CTU. Too bad they cut out the part where Nadia asks Milo to strangle her, that would have been nice.

9:44: Jack Bauer gets in position for another tactical mission. Finally, this ep is sorely lacking action.

9:46: Jack's body count jumps to 2. We all agree that a tranquilizer gun would be sweet to have at a party.

9:49: You have to wonder how many ads on Fox are for movies, other TV shows, trucks, and large breasts. I'd put the over/under at 95%.

9:53: Can't wait for Jack to stop playing coy and start torturing Gredenko already.

9:57: Wayne Palmer makes his triumphant return and stops the nuclear attack. I love him as president.

Relatively disappointing episode, at least in the low Jack Bauer body count. I guess we'll have to wait for next week for the Gredenko torture scene. This running diary stuff is pretty hard by the way. I don't know if it's possible to have more respect for what Simmons does, but if it is, then I do. Next up, homework. Adios, amigos!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Movie Review: The 300

One of my first thoughts when I left the movie theatre after seeing this movie is that the American public is going to love this movie. It's extremely violent (although not excessively so, war really is quite violent), which America has proven time and time again to be a fan of--just look at Tarentino's success. It's sappy enough to appease everyone, even though it makes an explicit point of not being sappy (right before he leaves for battle, Leonidas tells his wife that he is not going to say anything too corny, and then proceeds to do just that, proving once again that we want the sappiness, we just don't want to believe that what we are watching is sappy). It reminds us just enough of Gladiator to know that we like it without literally copying every line from the script (although the scene with the wheat field came close). And, of course, the graphics are brilliant.

Finally, it has tons and tons of Judeo-Christian white man defeats mystic-loving ethnic man elements in it, which the American public is sure to love. And for me, this is the most frustrating part of the movie. The movie can alter what exactly happened on the battlefield if they choose to; I don't care. But when the producers start changing the players to suit their desires, things start to get dicey. Consider the following:

-The movie makes a specific point that Leonidas does not believe in his countries' own mystical beliefs when he says that he, unfortunately, "has to" ask the Oracle's advice. The whole practice is then ridiculed as simply the stammerings of an inebriated adolescent young woman. In the background, this is all opposed to Christianity, which is obstensibly more rational.
-During the battle, Leonidas calls out for his men to destroy the Persian's mysticism, which seems a little bit odd, since Greece itself was a polytheistic state, and certainly would today be considered mystics themselves today. Also, the Greeks throughout the battle are portrayed as using the "natural" practices of simply sword, shield, and spear, whereas the Persians have all kinds of exotic creatures at their disposal. There is a clear juxtaposition of the "pure," apparently monotheistic Spartans against the idol-worshiping Persians whose destruction is hence justified.
-When Leonidas dies, his body position is the form of the crucifix, drawing parallels to none other than Jesus Christ. The movie reveals once and for all its Christian bias.

I can see why America, a decidedly Christian nation, would appreciate this. But for me, it's a little bit over the line. The 300 is a movie to watch and enjoy for the special effects and action, but hopefully one that will not be taken too seriously.

The Last Loyal Viewer

It seems like everybody these days has some sort of problem with ABC's Lost: the story isn't moving fast enough, it's too confusing, or that there aren't enough wild sex scenes with Claire--okay, maybe that last one is just me, but you get the point. Why all the hate? I have two theories:

1) Many people didn't start watching the show from the start. Instead, they heard that the show was good, so they found the DVDs somehow and began to watch the show on their own. Now that they are caught up, they get to watch the show with everybody else for free, but they have to endure the commercials. My theory is that people don't realize how annoyed they are by these breaks in the action, and they end up believing that the show is worse when really a third variable is the source of the problem.

2) My other theory is that in this results-obsessed society that we live in, many viewers cannot wait to get to the end. They want the answers: why can't anybody find the island, what is really on it, what happened when Desmond flipped the key, etc. etc. We are not willing enough to enjoy the ride. I just watched 3 episodes in a row on abc.com and while they may not have answered every question I had, they were interesting with some funny parts and some scary parts. Isn't that all we can ask for from a TV show?

Ultimately, the haters will continue to hate. But as long as they continue to air the episodes, ABC can rest assured that it will have at least one loyal viewer here in Mill Valley.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Two games decided by one point in the same night

Ohio State 85, Tennessee 84; Memphis 65, Texas A&M 64. The moment when you say, "screw my bracket, I'm just happy it's a good game," is probably also about the time you start to wonder. What would March be without the Madness?

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Is ESPN going the way of MTV?

We've all heard about what happened to MTV, when they stopped playing music videos in the mid 90's and started to lose credibility from their fans. Instead of music videos, their "pure product," so to speak, they began to have a lot of talk shows and the like. Is ESPN going in the same direction? It seems as if you can't turn on the channel anymore without being talked at and told what to think. Haven't any of them ever taken a storytelling class? Show not tell, baby. Let's get back to more highlights, more sports games, and less analysis. If you are having trouble finding the material, then expand your market: more soccer games, more rugby games, more water polo. I know I can't be the only one that's fed up with being talked at. I know I can't.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Lifestyle Changes

If you've ever been around me when I'm ordering a sandwich, you probably know how much of a stickler I am about not liking tomatoes on sandwiches. My assertion has always been that it ruins the sandwich. Even if the tomatoes had been taken off, the fact (and the moist juice that goes along with it) that they had once been on was enough of an annoyance to turn me off. But recently I've turned a new leaf. I'm starting to get tomatoes on my sandwiches. Why? Because getting big isn't about eating a lot of bananas in one day. It's about slowly, methodically increasing your calorie intake per day in order to put on muscle. As a good friend once described perfectly, "I don't eat for pleasure. I eat to fuel my body." And if living by that motto means that I have to eat something that I don't necessarily love, then so be it. Bring on the tomatoes.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

People with wack e-mail signatures

As e-mail becomes more and more a part of our everyday lives (in so far as you are expected to check your e-mail and respond to them every day), people seem to be developing crazier and crazier quotes at the end of each of their e-mails. On the streets we used to call something like that wack. Seriously, I don't care what it truly is to be an artist when I'm reading my student employment e-mail and I don't need to know some vague civil rights slogan when I'm figuring out how to pay for intersession housing. People try to come up with such specialized niches in their e-mail signature quotes that they end up with something comically random. So just stop it, you're embarassing me, you're embarassing yourself, and worst of all, you're embarassing your family.

Life of Meaning vs. Life of Happiness

On NBC's Heroes last night (an awesome show) one of the characters gave a speech about how it is impossible to live both a life of meaning and a life of happiness. His argument was that in order to live a life of happiness, you must be totally focused on the moment, but to live a life of meaning, you must obsess about the future and are forced to fret about the past. He then asked the aspiring politician who he was giving the speech to whether he wanted a life of meaning or one of happiness.

His answer? He wanted both, much like I do, and much like most people probably do. The Buddhist argument is that in order to achieve enlightenment, you must rid yourself of worldly desires. That would seem to exclude the possibility of living a life of meaning. I don't know what the answer to this quandary is, but I do know that Heroes is a stimulating experience and that that speech is an example of why watching select TV shows isn't as bad as many "intellectuals" stereotype it to be.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Philosophy is Dying

The more and more we learn about the brain and how it works, the less and less importance the old philosophers we read about (Descartes, Kant, etc.) will have. We won't need people to speculate how our mind works or how we form ideas if we have the science to be able to explain it in plain terms.

Think about all of the old medical texts that exist from the 15th century or so, attempting to explain how to cure diseases without the knowledge of microorganisms. Nobody cares about those anymore except as a tool to examine history. The same slow death will strike most types of philosophy. Nobody will care what some old geezer thinks about how we obtain knowledge when we actually have the scientific knowledge to see what really happens. Perhaps some moral philosophy will still have its place, but the intellectual masturbatory period that seems to have dominated philosophy is doomed.

And no, this has nothing to do with my philosophy paper on Hume that I'm agonizing over. Why would you think that.