I know where I’ll be on October 15th…

At Palatine Public Library for:

Zombies!: Why You Should Care about the Walking Dead

Tuesday, Oct 15 2013, 7:00 pm – 8:00 pm
Adult
Main Library

Dr. Brendan Riley, Columbia College, charts the evolution and philosophy of the living dead from its Haitian roots, to the graphic novel and TV show The Walking Dead.

I won’t actually be drawing any charts, though.

Dr. Morris Fishbine, OR Another reason to love Columbia College Chicago

Check out this clip from A Thousand Clowns:

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bL69r44Nds8]

I’ve had several students who go by something different than what the roster says.  Sometimes this is an expected change, like an Anthony who goes by Tony, or someone who uses their middle name.  Other times, it’s more complicated.  I’ve had three students who used names that were unrelated to their given names or family names — Chewie, Blue, and Maverick.  All remarkable people: interesting, self-aware, and without fake affectation.  They chose their own names.

Today I’ve learned that my policy of respecting a student’s personal nomenclature has been dictated as College policy.  Our Interim Provost writes:

The Columbia College Chicago community strives to be a welcoming environment that takes very seriously the various identities of our students. Names are a central element of identity formation and expression, and Columbia will now make it possible for students to easily use a preferred first name on campus.

Students may now request a preferred first name change here.  This means that the students’ identities during their academic career at Columbia will be attached to their preferred first name for Loopmail, Moodle, class rosters, Campus Card, and most of sections of Oasis. Their full legal name will appear in documents related to financial aid, academic records, and transcripts.

Please be aware that students may present themselves with a name that is different from the one that appears in certain documents. For example, the transcript name could be John Doe and the e-mail name could be jane.doe@loop.colum.edu).  Please remember to honor the student’s preferred name.

Special thanks to IT, CiTE, Admissions, Student Development, the Records Office, Student Engagement and Culture, and the Office of LGBTQ Culture and Community for working through many challenges to make this change possible for students.  We would also like to thank our students for inspiring us to become a better institution.

How many of your schools have such a humane policy?  Kick ass.

See also: Convocation? No. ConvocAWESOME

 

What is an ocean but a multitude of drops?

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas deserves the accolades that have been heaped upon it.  It’s well-written, compelling, bewildering, and entertaining.  The postmodern novel is written like a Russian nesting doll, with each story wrapping around the one in-between it, with through lines of theme and symbol wound into each story.  At the same time, the book is dense and difficult to find sense or obvious meaning in these through-lines.

Most compelling was the skill with which Mitchell adopts different voices and writing styles to accommodate the vast time and place differences in his stories.  The book is a marvel for this reason alone, glorious prose aside.

This book has been written about enough that I won’t belabor the issue with another review.  Instead, two quotes I like.

“I we believe that humanity my transcend tooth & claw, if we believe divers races and creeds can share this world as peaceably as the orphans share their candlenut tree, if we believe leaders must be just, violence muzzled, power accountable, & the riches of the Earth & its Oceans shared equitably, such a world will comet o pass.  I am not deceived.  It is the hardest of worlds to make real. Torturous advances won over generations can be lost by a single stroke of a myopic president’s pen or a vainglorious general’s sword.” (508)

“Exposition: the workings of the actual past + the virtual past may be illustrated by an event well known to collective history, such as the sinking of the Titanic. The disaster as it actually occurred descends into obscurity as its eyewitnesses die off, documents perish + the wreck of the ship dissolves in its Atlantic grave.  Yet a virtual sinking of the Titanic, created from reworked memories, papers, hearsay, fiction–in short, belief–grows ever more “truer.” The actual past is brittle, ever-dimming and ever more problematic to access + reconstruct: in contrast, the virtual past is malleable, ever-brightening + ever more difficult to circumvent/ expose as fraudulent.”  (394)

Worth a read, but a long one (that was, for me, difficult to get into).

Nose back to the grindstone

Nose to the Grindstone
Nose to the Grindstone

I’ve been pretty slack with my blogging in this past year.  I’m hoping with the start of the new semester next week, I’ll be a bit more diligent.  I have a big backlog of book reviews, so those will be appearing a couple times a week for sure, and I’ll get to other things as I can.
But for now, let me wish all you back-to-school folks a pleasant Fall semester.

Tweets from 2013-08-19 to 2013-08-25

Books are Weapons … in the War of Ideas

Books are Weapons art

From the advert page in the front of Murder Wears a Mummer’s Mask:

BOOKS ARE WEAPONS — in a free democracy everyone may read what he likes.  Books educate, inform, inspire; they also provide entertainment, bolster morale.  This book has been manufactured in conformity with wartime restrictions–read it and pass it on.  Our armed forces especially need books–you may give them to your nearest U.S.O. office, leave them at your public library, or send them direct to Commanding Headquarters, 4th Service Command, Atlanta, Ga., or any Service Command, marked “For Army Libraries.”

Side note: when Dashiell Hammett, another writer of pulp detective stories, was up in front of the HUAC, there was some angry discussion about just how many Hammett novels had made their way into US Army libraries, and whether or not he was poisoning the minds of our soldiers.  I guess soldiers are free to read what they like as long as it’s not by a drunken commie.

PS – I have no idea of Brett Halliday’s political leanings, and am not implying anything by mentioning Hammett and Halliday together.  Also, Halliday was a pseudonym.

Tweets from 2013-08-12 to 2013-08-18

Tweets from 2013-08-05 to 2013-08-11

Humans, Robots, and the Future: Oblivion and Pacific Rim

pacific-rim-poster oblivion-poster

I saw two science fiction films in the last month: Oblivion and Pacific Rim.  Both films explore humankind on the brink of extinction, but where one focuses on a single person and his experience uncovering those dangers, the other has giant robots punching giant squiddy monsters.

Oblivion follows the harrowing adventures of a technician and his “control” person who must service probe/drones and protect the giant ocean funnels from the villainous “scavs.”  The Earth has been made a wasteland by the destroyed moon, and things are bad, bad, bad.  Tom Cruise is the “cleanup crew,” left to mop up until the launch to Titan.  Of course, things aren’t exactly what they seem.  Fortunately, the trailer gives away a lot less than one might originally have thought.  And though the film is a lot more talky than I thought it would be, I liked it okay.  At the same time, there are serious problems with the gender relations in the film. (See below.)

Pacific Rim is the opposite of talky.  It’s big robots punching big lizard things, without much else to say for it.  Some of the actors seem to understand that it’s a funny movie, but it misses some things as well.

A few thoughts about these films together:

  • Both films involve worlds with untold loss of life and human suffering, but most of it is off screen, so we’re concerned more with the people we see.
  • Cool tech reigns throughout.  Where Pacific Rim focuses on Iron-Man and Transformers-style machines, Oblivion‘s technology looks like Apple meets Ikea.
  • Love stories come into the picture, but Pacific Rim‘s is dumb.  Oblivion’s love story works okay for me.  Well done.
  • Both films ultimately revolve around humankind’s unpleasant encounter with aliens, and their greedy desire for our luscious, watery world.  Minor spoiler: Both also draw on the self-sacrificing hero trope.
  • Veteran actors with suave and flair appear in both films — Ron Perlman as the black-market monster merchant, and Morgan Freeman as the leader of the human resistance.  Both wore cool glasses, though Ron Perlman’s metal-tipped shoes give him that extra je ne sais quoi.
  • Both films remind me of Top GunOblivion because Maverick keeps asking for permission to fly here or there and despite being denied permission does it anyway; Pacific Rim because there’s another Jaeger driver who gets all up in the main character’s face and tells him he’s a danger to everyone else out there.  I expected him to snap his teeth, Iceman style.

ron-perlman-in-pacific-rim_original Morgan-Freeman-in-Oblivion-2013-Movie-Image

Both films are enjoyable for different reasons.  Pacific Rim revels in robots punching monsters, Oblivion is a bit more brainy, but has lovely visuals.  I recommend the Wham, Bam, Pow episode where they discuss PR for some specifics, many of which I echo below.

Little complaints, the sort of thing I do for every SF movie.  SPOILERS AHOY!

Pacific Rim

  • There’s a major suspension of disbelief necessary to accept the basic premise of the movie, that giant robots powered by people inside them are the best way to fight the big lizards.
  • On top of that, there are a number of design elements that just seem silly — the slow power-up weapons, the placing of pilots in literal heads on the top of the machines, the body-motion controls.
  • I was also disappointed that we never got to see the successful Jaeger pilots in action.  The Russian and Chinese teams were supposed to be amazing, but we only got to see them in one fight when they got their asses handed to them.

Oblivion

  • I thought, going in, that the trailer had given away the many secrets of the film, but the second half of the film had some really great moments.  I’m glad I watched Oblivion.
  • That said, any evil force that wants to wipe out humankind to take over the Earth would much more likely use the Battlefield Earth invasion model than something so complicated and resource-instensive as blowing up the moon and cloning millions of Toms Cruise.   (In BE, the Travoltas send a small flotilla of invulnerable ships to slowly orbit in the upper atmosphere, dropping poison into the atmosphere and smothering humankind in a month.  Way more efficient.)
  • I was also a little annoyed to see shades of the White Messiah storyline appear when Tom Cruise finds the people hiding in the bunker.  Also, given what he knows about the technology his bosses use, he was pretty sloppy in returning to the base.  Lame.
  • Last, as Cameron Esposito points out in a genius rant in episode seven of Wham, Bam, Pow, this movie is incredibly misogynistic in the usual ways Hollywood movies are — it has very few female characters, and gives them very little to do.  It’s not unlike World War Z in that way.  Do listen to episode 7 of WBP for an excellent takedown of the film.

Tweets from 2013-07-29 to 2013-08-04

Rule 34

Rule 34
Rule 34

Rule 34
by Charles Stross

Stross’ follow up to Halting State walks the precarious line between being a too-close sequel and different enough to be entertaining.  Rule 34 follows the continuing adventures of Liz Kavanaugh, former homicide investigator for Ediburough CID whose career was derailed and has landed in the Rule 34 squad, charged with finding and stopping the worst of Internet crimes in North Scotland.  Along comes a complicated case involving 3D printers, complex money-schemes, high-end organized crime, and a series of murders perpetrated against spammers all around the world.  Also, did I mention the psychopath MBA crime boss? A few thoughts:

  • I’m still not convinced that the second person gimmick adds anything to the book.  Especially given the large number of characters in the tale, it seems like an unnecessary contortion that just gets in the way of the storytelling.
  • Stross has expanded (if that was possible) the role of the heads-up glasses and the reality-augmentation scheme COPSPACE in this book, further highlighting how pervasive he believes the information sphere will become.  The panoptic nature of the world in the story is nearly as terrifying as anything the murderer does.
  • Once again, arcane actions by remote entities make up much of the crime in the book, giving Detective Kavanaugh a strange role as one of many blind men holding onto the elephant, trying to determine its final shape.  In this tale it feels like we got a better view of the elephant, but the final solution is pretty complicated nonetheless.
  • As with most Stross novels, the way technology has worked its magic on society seems like both a foregone conclusion and a natural fit.  He does a great job making you believe in the 3d printers, the ubiquitous VR, the complex anti-spam software, and more.
  • Once again, this novel makes me wish that all police had to wear cameras and record every moment they are on duty.  The notion of he-said/she-said disputes in this day and age is just stupid.

An enjoyable novel, but not better or worse than Halting State IMO, and still not as good as Accelerando.

Stross’ follow up to Halting State walks the precarious line between being a too-close sequel and different enough to be entertaining.  Rule 34 follows the continuing adventures of Liz Kavanaugh, former homicide investigator for Ediburough CID whose career was derailed and has landed in the Rule 34 squad, charged with finding and stopping the worst of Internet crimes in North Scotland.  Along comes a complicated case involving 3D printers, complex money-schemes, high-end organized crime, and a series of murders perpetrated against spammers all around the world.  Also, did I mention the psychopath MBA crime boss? A few thoughts:

·         I’m still not convinced that the second person gimmick adds anything to the book.  Especially given the large number of characters in the tale, it seems like an unnecessary contortion that just gets in the way of the storytelling.

·         Stross has expanded (if that was possible) the role of the heads-up glasses and the reality-augmentation scheme COPSPACE in this book, further highlighting how pervasive he believes the information sphere will become.  The panoptic nature of the world in the story is nearly as terrifying as anything the murderer does.

·         Once again, arcane actions by remote entities make up much of the crime in the book, giving Detective Kavanaugh a strange role as one of many blind men holding onto the elephant, trying to determine its final shape.  In this tale it feels like we got a better view of the elephant, but the final solution is pretty complicated nonetheless.

·         As with most Stross novels, the way technology has worked its magic on society seems like both a foregone conclusion and a natural fit.  He does a great job making you believe in the 3d printers, the ubiquitous VR, the complex anti-spam software, and more. 

·         Once again, this novel makes me wish that all police had to wear cameras and record every moment they are on duty.  The notion of he-said/she-said disputes in this day and age is just stupid.

An enjoyable novel, but not better or worse than Halting State IMO, and still not as good as Accelerando.