Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Anyway, I've know since I began blogging that I needed a better layout. Up until this most recent change I had been using one of the basic layouts that blogger offers. It wasn't particularly professional looking, interesting, or even easy to read. Unfortunately, I also haven't had the time to change it. Until now.
As I considered what I wanted, I came up with this informal list of things I look for in a successful blog layout:
1. It shouldn't be overly generic looking. In my case, I wanted something that was unique and customizable enough to be distinctive.
2. It shouldn't look like a boring web magazine or tech support site.
3. It shouldn't have white text on a black background. I know many of my friends blogs have black backgrounds and white fonts — and that has kind of a cool, edgy look — but it's also really hard to read. Every time I read those blogs (especially in low lighting) my retinas feel burned.
4. It should still look professional. Again, in my case, just because I wanted to it be exciting doesn't mean I wanted it to look like a 14 year-old's myspace page.
As is probably apparent, I am still using a generic blogger template for this site. I briefly used a different template I found on a third party website (it was up for about a day), but Laura told me it looked like a blog about heavy metal, so I changed it. I disagreed, but it was nevertheless still someone else's template and I wanted something that wasn't masquerading as unique.
Instead, I've decided to try to keep the layout simple and slowly make it more distinctive over time. I made the banner at the top of the page, for example, the other night. (I'm still working on making the banner more legible). Also, I'm using a fairly ugly gray as the background. That should change as I find a good background color that is neither white nor black. Ultimately, however, I decided that I was just going to have to learn HTML to come up with exactly what I wanted. In the meantime, however, I've gone with this one.
Monday, February 22, 2010
Enter "Monday Movie."
What I hope to do is post a movie recommendation each Monday. I always appreciate getting good movie recommendations from people (especially people whose cinematic taste I trust), so I thought I'd offer more suggestions of my own.
What this won't be is an analysis or discussion of movies. I'll still do posts like that from time to time, but for "Monday Movie" I'll just throw out a recommendation and maybe include a few sentences about why I like that movie.
So, without further ado, today's recommendation is Cassandra's Dream. This film was directed by Woody Allen, but is probably the least Allen-esque film I've seen (at least in a while). It's actually quite dark (if still kind of funny at times) and doesn't really have the archetypal "Woody Allen" character in it. Still, it's a great watch.
Friday, February 19, 2010
Initially, I couldn't believe I was reading such a shocking and idiotic idea. Surely the author's intentions (eliminating animal cruelty) are worthy, but this seems like an absurd way to go about it. Instead of actually addressing any of the current problems with animal/meat production (of which there are many), it actually suggests that all those problems can be solved (or skirted) with a quick and easy fix.
Obviously, this raises ethical questions, (is it right to eliminate animals' ability to feel pain?) but it also raises more practical ones as well. For example, wouldn't it be better to eliminate the conditions that produced the problems in the first place? Can a technological fix solve problems that are the result of technological farming in the first place? Doesn't this article itself reveal the severity of the problems? Doesn't that mean we should try to solve them at their roots (or reverse their causes), instead of simply reducing animals' sensitivity to dangerous conditions.
The proposal also fails to adequately acknowledge the dangers that current meat production techniques pose to humans. Though I'm not, as a rule, opposed to all genetic engineering, I am opposed to raising animals in ways that are both cruel to them and unhealthy to the people eating them. The article points out, for example, that some animals are suffering because they have an unnatural high-grain diet. That diet not only hurts the animals, however, but also makes the eventual meat they become far less healthy for people to consume. Altering animals to not feel pain doesn't begin to address that problem. In essence, the same things that are producing cruel situations for animals are making meat products dangerously unhealthy for humans. Genetically reducing animals' pain would allow unhealthy practices to continue, ultimately causing far more harm (to animals and humans) in the long run.
Ultimately, this article advocates a dangerous idea. It will deceive consumers into thinking that they're getting a better product when they're actually getting something that is the same, or worse, as usual. Instead of figuring out how to make animals more comfortable in horrible situations, we should be figuring out how to eliminate those situations. We could give them the proper food, space to grow properly, and a more natural environment to live in. There are serious farming-related problems out there for which we urgently need solutions, but simply reducing animal pain would mean winning one battle while ignoring a much larger war. Fighting that war might mean higher prices for consumers (and/or less meat consumption), but side-stepping it with more genetic engineering will only compound a terrible situation.
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
More specifically, In-N-Out, as a chain, works against local communities in a number of ways. Most obviously, it siphons profits back to its California headquarters. Though it reportedly pays its employees well and ranks high in customer satisfaction, the bottom line is that the people getting the richest are concentrated in one central location. In my case, that location also happens to be hundreds of miles away.
In addition, the company competes with and undercuts more unique businesses that are based in the community. Someone will probably read this and complain that if those businesses can't compete they deserve to go under, but what options are available to them when confronted with the billions of dollars and virtually unlimited resources of a huge company? Without any real advertising budget or marketing strategists, it might take years for a local burger joint to achieve profitability. If In-N-Out decides to open a store nearby, they're immediately out of time to win over new customers. Entrepreneurial vigor obviously wilts and with it creativity and diversity. Because of the chain's clout and name recognition, then, consumers don't really have a chance to make informed decisions.
There are lots of reasons that In-N-Out, like all chains, is destructive to local communities, but the point here is that it isn't extraordinarily cool, unique, or better than other companies that are frequently lampooned as "evil corporations" in popular culture. It surely siphons less profits back to its corporate headquartes than McDonalds, but it still does it.
What is so surprising about this debate, however, is how thoroughly people believe in the image that In-N-Out is selling. Much like Apple Computers (which I use and love), In-N-Out has marketed an ethos of coolness, underdog values, and small-time business. Increasingly, however, the image is simply the result of slick corporate packaging. Compared to local businesses, the company merely puts a facade on a bloated profit-machine. They've essentially duped the consumer into thinking they're better than other chains, when in reality, they're the same.
Monday, February 15, 2010
Friday, February 12, 2010
The plot revolves around Adam (Hugh Dancy), a 29 year old New Yorker with Aspergers syndrome, and his romantic relationship with Beth (played by Rose Byrne of Sunshine and 28 Weeks Later fame).
Initially, that premise made me a little skeptical. I originally wanted to see it at Sundance because I was going in a group of people and a love story seemed relatively likely to please everyone. Then, I put it on my Netflix queue mostly because I hadn't been able to see it before and I wanted to know what I had missed. I was also skeptical about another movie about a guy with a mental disorder. After Tropic Thunder's hilarious and pointed critique of that trope, could any movie do mental problems without seeming pandering or trite?
In this case, Adam mostly avoids the problems that Thunder was making fun of. If the film deserves any criticism it'd probably be for trying too hard to be hip (but what Sundance film doesn't have that problem?) Still, it's an affective story with a truly remarkable, if not wholly satisfying, ending. It demonstrates that romantic comedies can be inventive and refreshing and is well worth a watch.
You can watch the trailer here.
My second recommendation is Conversations With Other Women starring Aaron Eckhart and Helena Bonham Carter. The film came out in 2005 and is presented entirely in split screen. Though Laura and I were initially worried that that approach would get tiresome and annoying, we both got used to it quickly. As the film goes on split screen is used to show the different characters' perspectives, or to show how one person might be feeling two ways at once. Some critics were divided on this aspect of the film, and it's definitely an experiment, but I ultimately felt like it succeeded.
The film also displays some fine acting. I'm used to seeing Helena Bonham Carter as a crazy, Tim Burton-character, but this film shows off her feminine and emotional side to great effect.
If you're into film making, Conversations will also be interesting because it was the first film to have the Final Cut Pro logo at the end. They shot the whole thing digitally and edited it mostly on a laptop, which is still pretty unusual (the special features go into more detail on this topic, though I have to admit that by 2005 I thought a lot of filmmakers had made the switch to Final Cut Pro).
Anyway, it's a well acted and entertaining film. It's not a romantic comedy, per se, but it is a romance and it's funny in some parts. More importantly, it's all about how two people give and receive love over the course of many years.
Tuesday, February 9, 2010
Thursday, February 4, 2010
Between my various different jobs and my old and failing Apple Powerbook G4 12 inch, I'm using a lot of different computers these days. Rather than use flash drives and email to ensure I have access to all the necessary documents, I have switched to using Google Docs. In fact, I haven't opened Word in almost a month. If you haven't used Google Docs (probably you have, but who knows), all you need to do is make sure you're signed into your gmail account and go to docs.google.com.
Though Google Docs isn't perfect, it is pretty great. Here is my review of the program.
Pros: Google docs is easy to use. Really easy in fact. It's possible to set everything up so that it pretty much mimics the folders you have on your computer. Right now, for example, I have three folders; one each for my blog, the Daily Herald, and Rhombus. Obviously if I'd been using Google Docs longer, I'd have more folders.
The best part about using Google Docs, however, has to been that you never have to mess with sending files, saving them somewhere, or transferring them. If needed, you can send them as attachments, but you can also share them and make the available to others through Google Docs itself. This approach to creating and storing files (i.e. cloud computing), is so much better than traditional computing that I can't figure out why it hasn't completely caught on yet. The biggest disadvantage that I see is that I still have store music, video, etc. on my computer.
Cons: Probably the biggest downside to using Google Docs is that you give up some freedom to manipulate your work. For example, I love fonts and have downloaded and installed quite a few on my computer. These fonts didn't come with any program and I had to find them on my own, usually because I was making a particular kind of document. As of right now, I can't really figure out how to get extra fonts into Google Docs. That means that either it can't be done, or that doing it isn't quite as easy as doing anything else in the program.
For me, this is a big disadvantage to Google Docs. Though I rarely use Word any more, I'd be reluctant to get rid of it completely because at some point the basic style settings aren't going to cut it. (On the other hand, I guess I could just buy Photoshop and only use word processing programs for basic writing.)
The other big disadvantage is that Google Docs relies on an internet connection. For most people that's not a big deal, though Laura and I use the neighbor's unprotected wireless network and we thus don't always have a stable connection. The times I've opened Word during the last month or so have been when I couldn't access the internet, and therefore couldn't get into Google Docs. This is extremely frustrating.
Of course that's more my problem than Google's, but it seems that people are going to have unstable internet connections more often than their computers are going to crash, which means that using Google docs will almost always be less reliable than Word.
Conclusion: The world is almost ready for a complete switch to Google Docs (and cloud computing, generally). We're not quite there yet, but once internet access is as stable as, say, landline telephones, there will be no reason to have much storage space on personal computers.
Tuesday, February 2, 2010
However, despite all those negative aspects of the job, it's really kind of cool. Also, because I was previously teaching at BYU, I can't help but compare the two teaching environments. BYU pays much better (even though I was a graduate instructor I made roughly twice as much), has smaller classes, and better facilities.
Yet, in many ways, teaching at SLCC is a better experience. The students, for example, are at least as engaged as BYU students. In fact, many of them are more engaged. They make a lot of comments, and have insightful things to say. There is also a lounge for instructors that has complementary hot chocolate. I don't have a cubicle (as I sort of did at BYU), but I do have most of the resources I need to teach.
The other big thing that makes teaching at SLCC interesting is the diversity. It's no secert that BYU is a pretty homogenous place, but I think that a lot of people at BYU kid themselves into thinking that it has some substantial diversity too. (I know I did this.) Sure, there are a handful of international students, and a slight variation in economic class.
Yet, at SLCC probably a third of my students can barely speak English. Virtually all of them have jobs, and they practice a variety of different religions, political ideologies, and value systems.
Diversity, by itself, may not be inherently good (though I tend to think it is), but the advantage it offers is that class discussion is more lively, nuanced, and probing than it tended to be at BYU. No one can simply take values for granted. If someone starts assuming something about everyone else (like, for example, that everyone agrees politically or religiously), there are a bunch of people to immediately call that person on it. This rarely happened in my courses at BYU and those students who were different (who were, say, moderate democrates) tended to either get shut down by other students or danced around their actual beliefs in an effort to avoid alienating people. (That didn't always happen, but my point is that in this regard BYU pales in comparison to SLCC.)
There are a few reasons this matters. First, I think it'd be useful for BYU to attempt to diversify itself. If the point college courses is to encourage critical thinking (which it was in the courses I taught), diversity is one of the best and easiest ways to accomplish that.
Second and more broadly, however, I think that people (especially university-educated people, including myself) should avoid knocking community colleges. Personally, I can't remember a time in my life where my sphere of university-bound kids or university alumni didn't look down on community college.
As I've been teaching at SLCC however, I've come to see this as not-so-thinly veiled class politics. It's a way to look down on certain people, and a way to believe that one group is "better" than another. Of course, few people would actually admit to these attitudes and perhaps few even personally hold them. But the over arching meta-narrative in the university world is that community college is filled with the incapable, the unmotivated, and the unpromising.
My experience thus far at SLCC suggests otherwise.