Entries in Category Media

Batman's Grinder Use is Unsafe

Consider the following scene from Batman Begins, where Bruce Wayne, preparing for his new life as the Dark Knight, sharpens his bat-shaped throwing blades on an ordinary bench grinder as might be found in workshops and indeed, suburban garages around the world. Unlike much of what makes Bruce Wayne Batman—his bat-vehicles, his supercomputers, his Tibetan ninja training—this is low-tech blue-collar stuff, accessible to the home DIYer and therefore dangerous to the home DIYer, if the movie's depiction of grinder use should be unsafe. And it is.

Bruce Wayne attempts a DIY project

The Transporter is Underused

Although I've certainly consumed and enjoyed a lot of Star Trek in my life, I have to admit it has many shortcomings as science fiction, that is, as fiction that takes for its starting point speculations about the future state of science. Although I don't doubt that the writers of the various forms of Star Trek are both competent professionals and talented artists, they've been burdened by difficult positions taken at the very creation of the original show, and ever since have had to decide how much of this past they can shrug off.

One of the more problematic legacies of the show's origin is the transporter (another, Star Trek's laughable treatment of economics, should probably get a whole treatise rather than just a blog post, but I'll leave that for another time), which is one of those technologies sometimes posited in science fiction stories that, for various reasons, writers fail to fully explore. One of the most common reasons is that some technologies (or, in the case of superheroes, some powers) are altogether too powerful, and the consequences of that power pose a problem for storytelling; if characters have godlike abilities at their command, what room does that leave for drama, for tension and its relief, for a satisfying plot?

Auditory Relief for the Distracted Introvert

Working in open plan offices and other noisy environments has made it obvious to me that I (probably this is true for everybody else, too) can't do my best work without a certain amount of privacy. In fact, “isolation” would not be too a strong a word to describe the most productive environment for me. When my various workplaces fall short of the monastic austerity and complete solitude I imagine to be ideal, which is always, noise cancelling headphones have been an enormous help. I'm using a pair of Audio-Technica ATH-ANC1 at the moment and am very pleased with them, although their on-ear design may be physically uncomfortable for some. Of course, noise cancellation is far from perfect and voices still come through, but filling the headphones with some kind of audio signal helps make up the difference. Music is often too distracting on its own, but I have a few favorite audio loops that are just enough to mask off the world without wearing on my concentration themselves:

  • SimplyNoise is a website with white, pink, and brown noise generators, any of which can be amplitude modulated by a slowly varying sinusoid. I suspect the oscillation prevents my mind from getting too good at filtering the noise out and picking up voices again.
  • RainyMood.com offers a recording of a rainstorm with occasional thunder. This audio signal is certainly more structured than the other noise sources I use, but the sound of rain is so natural that it's not usually able to break my concentration.
  • My absolute favorite, though, has to be this 24-hour long (!) YouTube video of the ambient engine noise heard on the Enterprise from Star Trek: The Next Generation. I grew up with ST:TNG, and I have to admit there's something very comforting about getting some work done with this particular soundtrack!

For more on the relationship between sensory stimulation and workplace productivity, I recommend Susan Cain's Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, which, among other influences, has lately given teeth to my desire for a quiet and focused workplace.

Ruminations on Leviathan, Prompted by the Film Potiche

As an excuse to try out FAU's new Living Room Theaters I spent some time Sunday seeing a French film named Potiche, which was surprisingly and tediously political at the same time. The surprise was my own fault: I didn't research it too closely before buying my ticket. Blame for the tedium falls elsewhere! Whereas most of the audience, I expect, saw Potiche as a charming and funny celebration of female empowerment, I saw mostly a nightmare in which everything was politics, everything from business decisions to paternal pride to tender moments between husband and wife tainted with the tawdry operations of socialist democracy.

My Favorite Author ...

is Neal Stephenson. Without a doubt! I've read all of his books save one (haven't gotten around to Zodiac yet). I devoured all three weighty volumes of his Baroque Cycle, and bought Anathem the very day it came out, which I almost never bother with for any other kind of new release—artistic, technological, or otherwise. I didn't read the Harry Potter books until years after they were published, and I own no Apple computer products at all!

So there is some empirical evidence that Neal Stephenson is my favorite author. But lately I've been dwelling on why that might be, and I think I have part of an answer. Reading his books I am constantly running into ideas and observations, clearly and artfully developed, that I've thought of before, only vaguely. I've spoken with a friend of mine, also a Neal Stephenson fan, about this, and he confirms it is so for him also. It's a thrill to see someone with real talent flesh out the sketchier, dimly-lit parts of your own mind.

This is an intellectual pleasure, of course, but there is a more primitive reason as well. It hits that "someone gets it" part of the brain, provides the sense that you are not alone, that there are other people like yourself.

This is a feeling that all humans crave, but that unusual humans experience only rarely.