Saturday, September 25, 2010

Random Rankings

I thought I'd rank a few things, in order of best to worst:

Star Wars: 4, 5, 6, 3, 2, 1
Star Trek Series: Next Generation, DS9, Enterprise, Original Series, Voyager, Animated
Noble Gases: Helium, Krypton, Neon, Argon, Xenon, Radon
Kubrick Films: Dr Strangelove, Full Metal Jacket, Clockwork Orange, 2001, The Shining, Barry Lyndon, and the rest.
TF2 Classes: Demoman, Medic, Scout, Soldier, Heavy, Sniper, Pyro, Engineer, Spy
British Colonies: USA, Australia, India, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand
Queens of England: Elizabeth 1, Victoria, Anne, Mary 1, Elizabeth 2
Whig Presidents of the USA: John Tyler, Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, William Henry Harrison

Lists are often not comprehensive, too much work.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Psychic Powers

A while ago, I linked a page that listed 5 things they want out of Science Fiction stories. There's one I forgot, Psychic Powers, and anything else that involves "Action at a distance". Faster than Light travel is more plausible than two things interacting without a medium to convey energy. Psychic powers also become a Superman ability, where the narrative often demands that the character forget they possess their powers until the end of the story.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Sometimes, I Just Don't Know

Of all the arguments against the Islamic Community Center in New York*, I think the most ridiculous one is "Muslims can build a mosque in New York when Christians can build a church in [Iran/some other theocratic nation]."

I think even the most casual analysis of that argument logically means that the speaker is saying "The United States should only be as free as the least free country in the world."

Of course, all the other arguments are nearly that stupid, this one just barely takes the cake.

* also known inaccurately as the Ground Zero Mosque

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Republican Split

I don't know if I wrote it down anywhere, but I predicted there would be a split in the Republican party soon after the end of the Bush Presidency. My theory went like this: "The Republicans have been holding all three branches of Congress, and they haven't fulfilled any of their major promises*. The heart of the Republican party will insist that they enforce their ideological beliefs, and the political wing will want to continue their lack of action on wedge issues."

In other words, I thought the Republicans would have to hash out their political beliefs. Are they loyal to their corporate wing, (yes), or are they loyal to the Christian Right? Can they actually produce any results on reducing the power of the government, or actually start protecting the rights of Americans? I was completely wrong. It looks like the Republicans will be able to go through another cycle without deciding what they are.

The Tea Party isn't capable of debate because it has no positions. They have talking points, but "Fix the economy, lower taxes, and balance the budget" isn't a position, it's a wish list. Of those three, the government can do one at any given time, maybe two if they're lucky. The Tea Party's "position" is just being really really against the Democratic Party. They embody a sort of Stalin-esque unwillingness to compromise or agree with the enemy. If the Republicans retake a significant fraction of the government**, the Tea Party will cease to be.

*Ending abortion, prayer in school, ending gay marriage, etc.
** I'll bet that won't happen in the next 3 years

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Story Is About Character

Todd Alcott is a writer of screenplays. He also maintains a blog where he analyzes other peoples' films. His central rule of analysis is simple: "What does the Protagonist want?". I'm not sure that I agree 100% with the implications of that, but it is a good way to approach a story.

Kurt Vonnegut has a simple rule for writing: everything that you write must either,
  1. Advance the plot, or
  2. reveal character
If, at the end of the story, we haven't learned anything about the characters, then it's not really a story, it's more like a list of events. This is the weakness of a lot of movies, including Inception. At the end of Inception, what do we know about the characters?

Dom Cobb:
  1. Wife died, (sad)
  2. Children are inaccessible (sad)
  3. Used to be really good at dreamweaving, but issues with wife have made that impossible.
  1. Is a student
  2. Has a hopelessly pretentious name (This reveals more about the screenwriter than the character)
  3. Becomes relatively proficient at dreamweaving
And so on. If you want to know if a character is well fleshed out, imagine them in a different context. What would Dom talk about with a stranger at a bar? How would Ariadne act at a fancy wedding? Compare those "characters" to your favorite characters. Think of listing everything you know about Han Solo, or Andy Dufresne.

If you want to make a good story, create a character that we care about. Everything else comes second.

PS. Inception could have been shortcut entirely if Michael Caine had just brought Dom's children out of America.

Monday, September 13, 2010

My Picks

I'm a big fan of Google Reader. If a normal Internet user wanted to know whether something had updated, they'd be forced to visit that website every time they were curious. This leads to a lot of wasted time and effort, and can result in websites being totally forgotten after a period with no updates. With Google Reader, I visit one site in the morning and it gives me every update to every website I've chosen to track, all in one list. It's great.

As I check out the Reader feed, I'll find articles that interest me and, I believe, would interest others. I share them on the top-right of this very website. It seems pretty prominent to me, but I don't know if anyone uses this feature.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Teaching Science

The title "teaching science" has a double meaning. Science needs to be taught more, and earlier, to American children in particular, and we also need to use science to improve teaching.

Far too often, a teacher enters into a school with a few methods that have been passed down without scientific analysis. They then settle into a rut that does not change, regardless of effect. We need to bring Scientific Management to teaching. Teaching can be optimized just like any other process. This is not to say that individual teachers should be robots, but they should be compelled to use methods that work better. This requires a lot of leeway for teachers and administrators to see if a particular teaching method is more effectual for a given educator, but that's what all Scientific Management features, in an ideal world.

People seem to think that Science and its cousin Math are advanced topics that are only fit for a small segment of students, and they only should be introduced at a relatively advanced level of schooling. Both of those principles are disastrously wrong. Everyone should have a basic knowledge of how science works, and anyone can learn it.

If science were better known, we wouldn't have nearly as many parasites on gullibility, our psychics, homeopaths, astrologers, mediums (media?), ghost hunters, and so on would have to move into industries that actually create value.

There's no reason younger children can't learn the basics of Math and Science. If a kindergartner can learn that "The cow goes 'Moo'", then there's no reason that they can't learn that the red line (below) is the radius of a circle.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Dear Followers

Dear people who follow this blog,

I've noticed that there are a couple more of you recently. Is there something that's prompted this? Why did you decide to follow me? Also, if you're unaware of my other activities, and are interested in Shakespeare, or Podcasts, you should check out my other blog, BardCast, The Shakespeare Podcast.

Also, what do any of you get from this blog? I never thought it was particularly interesting to a wider audience. My interests are all over the place, and I go in-depth in the things I talk about. I doubt there are many people with my particular set if interests, but maybe there are some. I don't know.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Superman Is a Tool

Just a couple posts ago, I criticized Superman stories. They inevitably feature Superman nearly losing, then inexplicably summoning the energy to win after all. I've thought about it since then, and that's not always true. Sometimes, Superman is the villain.

Obviously, Superman is never a traditional villain. He never wants to hurt people. It's his desire to help that makes him a villain in both Red Son and The Dark Knight Returns. We all know that Superman is a total tool, these stories capitalize on the fact. Bad Superman stories make Superman into just some guy that has more powers than a normal guy. Good Superman stories show that Superman is alien in every sense of the word, not just because he's from another planet, but because his abilities set him apart from anyone else in the world, except a  few other supers.

Anyway, I just read Red Son today, and it's fantastic.