Monday, September 24, 2007

AP Bored, Sends Someone to Point Out Obvious

In the category of "Well, Duh," the AP has recently sent some otherwise under-utilized writers to "review" USGS coastal maps. In doing so they point out the bleeding obvious: historical locations will be lost if/when the tides rise.

While it might be easy to laugh at the AP for directing us to something so obvious that it hurts--that historical locales are in no way special--I do appreciate that they seem to be attempting to raise awareness. Sure, the story isn't particularly newsworthy. However, it does have a certain degree of activism attached to it, as if to say, "Seriously--this is what will happen." I question the validity of using the perennially underfunded historic site as a poster child. Then again whatever it takes. One would presume that eventually the AP will have something for everyone to relate to. Hopefully.

In related news, my love for Good magazine grows apace as I remember Meryl Rothstein's bit on Eve S. Mosher. An artist, Mosher put her paint (and a little GPS) to good use and is currently drawing a line around New York City that indicates what some have predict to be the catastrophic flood line. 10 feet above normal, the line--and the maps she has created--seem to be disturbing some people who would otherwise not have any overt stake.

Mosher's High Water Line project is available on-line.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Into the Skepticism

It's always dangerous to attempt to pre-judge a movie. Highly anticipated movies like Star Wars: Episode I can land with a thud. Before it was released into theaters, stories ran wild that James Cameron's Titanic would be the biggest flop in movie history; instead it was exactly the opposite, becoming the highest grossing film of all-time.

The point being one never knows how good a film will be, nor how successful it will be, until it gets in front of an audience.

I raise these points as a caution (mostly to myself) about the upcoming Sean Penn adaptation of Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild. I have no idea, of course, how good or bad the movie will actually turn out, but I am cautiously skeptical about Penn's ability to transform the spirit of Krakauer's book onto the screen.

The trailer for the film is now online (thanks to JS for pointing this out to me this morning) at Apple's trailer site, and I am less than impressed with how the movie is, at least, being marketed. I read Into the Wild for the first time earlier this week and while it's a very good book, it's one that doesn't read as the basis for the inspirational movie that the trailer sells.

Now, I am fully aware that trailers don't always represent the truth of the film, so I hope the film embraces the complexity of Christopher McCandless and his decision to go "into the wild" that the trailer forgoes in favor of the up-with-individualistic-loner-who-spits-on-the-capitalist-world take on McCandless. There's certainly some of that in McCandless, but what's so engaging about Krakauer's book is that McCandless resists any easy categorization. Instead of either celebrating or damning McCandless (though Krakauer is clearly tilted more to the former position than the latter), Krakauer's book is an attempt to figure out the totality of McCandless and his actions.

The inconsistency in McCandless is what makes him (and Krakauer's book) so interesting. He's unable to forgive the sins of his father's double-life, yet doesn't apply the same moral indignation to his literary heroes (notably Jack London and Leo Tolstoy): "Like many people, Chris apparently judged artists and close friends by their work, not their life, yet he was temperamentally incapable of extending such lenity to his father" (Into the Wild, 122).

Dennis Harvey's Variety review offers some hope; both that the film is Penn's best directorial effort and that the movie keeps a some of the incongruities of McCandless' story. Harvey also references Terence Malick's amazing The Thin Red Line as an influence, which is a good thing given that film's constant thematic of people simply trying to figure out who they are and what they're doing while not getting themselves dead. TRL is also about the disconnect between the individual and his nation and that's a theme of Into the Wild, as well, though here it's not about duty and war but rather cultural expectations.

Similar to Into Thin Air, Krakauer's book is as much about himself as it is about his subject. There's no reason to expect Penn to have made Krakauer a character in the film but it would have been a clever move.

I'll go see Into the Wild when/if it hits theaters around town, but I hope I leave the film more conflicted than inspired. There's much to admire about McCandless, but his story is a cautionary tale, as well. We can't forget that he's a kid and like many passionate youths (myself included, back in the day) he often comes off as a insufferable, derivative prig, speaking in absolutes to hide the troubled interior that's still trying to figure things out. What makes McCandless' death poignant is that his experience in Alaska might have allowed him to find answers and peace.

I hope that comes through in the film.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

God Said Protect the Earth--Or Else!

Well, Or at least one of his reps here on earth did for Him.

Pope Benedict XVI's closing message to a weekend of kid-friendly Catholicism was an urgent plea for the young Catholics to take the lead in conservation measures "before it's too late." Benedict pointed a number of times to humanity's role as steward and the sacred call to protect His creations that becoming environmentally friendly would respond to.

A little preachy, to be sure. (Get it? He's the Pope!)

Amusingly, though, some attendees were non-plussed by Benny's message, given the mountains of plastic bottles and trash the weekend had produced--even though they were all given recyclable goodies and a hand-crank cell charger. Said one participant, "It's a good idea here, because there's so much garbage!"

No word yet on whether the young lady was excommunicated for her sassy mouth.

Bonus Pope Fun Fact: Green is the liturgical color of hope in the Catholic church. Coincidence?

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Kiss Your Tide Goodbye

The innovators at Chinese company Haier have recently put into production their version of a washing machine that doesn't require detergent and is creating some buzz. The machine, WasH20, amplifies the autoionization properties of water molecules to clean clothes. The more basic hydroxide solution allegedly pulls stains right off apparel, while the acidic hydronium ion solution steralizes the clothes. Since it doesn't do much in the way of adding pretty "moring rain" or "lavender poodle" (or whatever) scents to the clothes, traditionalists still have the option of using soap as the machine is a hybrid.

The most interesting part about the machine, however, is the response many bloggers are having: it's some kind of hoax. Tech blog Engadget.com makes it sound like this is as crackpot an idea as the electrolysis car. The washer, however, makes real sense (if only because it's going into production--we've been waiting like 80 years on the car). The big deal with the bloggers seems to be that people are misunderstanding the science that runs it. For one, unlike most posters are saying, the machine makes hydronium ions (like I mentioned) and not H+, the incorrect shorthand they teach you in high school chemistry to get you by. Also, I am not sure why all these people seem to think the the clothes will smell the same as when they went it (i.e. stinky). Various combinations of bacteria and their wastes are the reason your clothes smell in the first place--sterilizing your clothes will kill the perpetrators and make inert the smellies.

Granted,since I don't live in France I haven't seen the machine in action, but I know I have a better grasp on the science here than these bozos. (If the machine worked by electrolysis, it would blow up your clothes, more than likely. Go read a science book.) Bottom line here's a good idea in the works, and a way to reduce phosphate contamination. Though to be fair, there are a bunch of organic, non-phosphate detergents out there that smell nice at competitive prices.

As always, though: the bad news. (And it's not the price--the thousand bucks they want is pretty standard for your higher quality units, plus you don't have to buy the detergent.) For now Haier only has plans to sell the washer in France. Of course, it should be worth the wait--check out the link in the bottom corner for customizing options ("Personnalisez-moi"). It looks like doing laundry in an converted Formula One racer.