Monday, October 21, 2013

Gravity Sucks

Saw Gravity on Saturday. My wife wanted to see it because it's getting such good reviews.

She changed he mind. I already knew that it was likely to be boring with little or no story, character development, or even plot, so I was not as disappointed as she.

This movie is a beautifully made hot mess.

Yes, the views are beautiful.

And ... we're done.

Spolier Alert ... but there is little to spoil.

There are two characters and one dies halfway through.  Makes dialog difficult.
There is more character development in Elton John's Rocket Man than in this movie...and a lot less time taken out of your life.

We are asked to believe there is the ISS, the Russian space station (Mir?) and a Chinese space station all in the same orbit, apparently ... and that Nasa resurrected the Shuttle ... with 1984 MMU's modified for speed or something. So we are in some alternate universe or timeline from the get go.

She's working on the Hubble Space Telescope ... which will be de-orbited soon and is not due for repair or's also in a different orbital inclination  from the ISS and about 90 miles higher. Why didn't they just call it a different kind of satellite? Maybe High Altitude Life Finder (HALF) or something, even?

The physics are very good ... momentum is conserved and things fly around and crash into other things believably at orbital speeds. But the cause, a Russian satellite 'shot down by the Russians, seems contrived. Not to mention orbitally inconceivable. We've had satellites blown up before and even had an Iridium struck by debris...nothing like this.

The 'action' scenes are so fast paced that you can't follow all the action. That may be realistic, but it's not pleasurable to watch.

She didn't think about loosing the parachute shroud lines before firing the rockets?

The parachute shroud lines can withstand the acceleration of an escape vehicle's rockets? (Actually, this could be accurate...I don't know how much it would take to pop those)? But Clooney's character lets go because he thinks they will pop from his and hers combined outward momentum? (Actually, I read that. My own take was that it was because he knew the lines were not very tight around her ankle and would slip free.)

There's something about a dead child? I read this somewhere, but I missed the line. One line to explain her entire character; see above re: Elton John.

I don't have a problem with her reading Russian or remembering the placement of the controls being that he tells her they are the same in the Chinese craft as they are in the Russian one...The Chinese bought Soyuz for their escape craft? That's quite believable.

The real issue I had was a lack of story. There is no real character development; she does 'grow' a bit, but we're not given a real epiphany moment. The conflict is between her, space, and her attitude...not that interesting. Like Castaway without the volleyball, or Robinson Crusoe without Friday.

Even if you don't want to have flashbacks, scene shifts to NASA, or anything to relieve the unrelenting character of space, She could have a bit more inner monologue, a happy moment recalled...hell, she had a dream about Clooney coming back, that could have been a recurring theme to help her grow out of herself.

A line or two of dialog would have gone a long way toward explaining some of the plot holes.  I read the produce/director/writer said it would take 26 pages of dialog to explain some things...I doubt it.

Aningaag, a Greenlandic Inuit ham radio operator doesn't know the term MayDay?

Some of the nit-picky things I've read don't bother me...tears floating free for instance. The debris coming in from the wrong direction is a biggy...they went to all the trouble of getting orbital timings right, just a couple more details would get the whole thing right.

And then there is the fire extinguisher scene. I will grant it some leeway given the homage to Wall-E, but come on!

It might be better without the dialog at all...a 21st century silent film about space...intriguing.

Although unrealistic, George Clooney's banter was the most enjoyable aspect.

She WHINES too much! ...She's still playing Angela Bennet or Annie Porter.

Gravity sucks! Thankfully, it was only 90 minutes long...imagine if it were 119 like a lot of $100 million movies.


Thursday, September 19, 2013

Yahoo! Rudeness

Time for a rant.

Today on Yahoo! News there was a video story about a woman whose minivan was returned to her by an Edmonton repair shop with an additional 1400 km on the odometer.

Ok story, nothing major, the shop apologized and is sending her a check as recompense.

Why then did the reporter on the story feel compelled to make jokes about the fact that this Canadian woman found 1400 "kilometers" extra? The Yahoo! reporter (and presumably the producer too) had to stop and issue the very stupid remark, "can we get that in American?"

A bright title card appeared giving the measurement in miles. Later, the same reporter mentioned that the woman was expecting a check...but then felt necessary to say "or a cheque", mispronouncing the word, adding a 'kwe' ending and making it two syllables. Also putting the Canadian spelling up in a title card with the comment that it was a "weird spelling".

For some reason, this was a sufficiently final straw to me that I felt it necessary to deliver feedback to Yahoo! about this. Here is my comment to them:

WRT a recent story about a woman from Edmonton who had an issue with a repair shop and her minivan: Your Yahoo! video reporters tend to make fun of people using the metric system or spelling things differently than is done in the US. It is offensive. 
Making a comment about "can we get that in American?" when reporting something a Canadian said about distance in kilometers make Americans sound stupid, uneducated, bigoted, jingoistic, and unwashed. 
There is no such thing as 'American' units of measure. In the USA the outdated 'Imperial' system which originated in England in 1824 is mostly used (with some exceptions pre-dating that time). 
Most of the rest of the world (including Britain and the rest of the UK) understands and uses the metric system and your stories would do well to simply present the measurements in both systems without comment. The same is true for comments about the "weird spelling" of 'cheque'. A comment that was unnecessary and a deliberate mispronunciation that was rude. All your reporter does is embarrass the United States and its citizenry. 
There is nothing wrong with the USA using a system of measurements different from the rest of the world, aside from the occasional vastly expensive mistake (Mars Climate Orbiter, 1999). But making rude jokes about the majority of the rest of the world merely denigrates the US. 
The words 'check' and cheque' are pronounced the same. Making a joke about Canadians' "weird spelling" is like making a joke about the fact that in Thailand a 'boutique' is spelled 'butik'. Is that funny? Or racist?
The Mars Climate Orbiter I referenced, for those who do not recall this amazing gaffe, was a US$125 million spacecraft which was lost because one engineering group used the US system of units in miles rather than the Système International units of kilometers (the system understood to be used throughout the scientific community and in almost every other country in the world). 125 million US dollars lost because someone forgot to mention the need for a 1.6 conversion factor ... or to do it the way the rest of the world does it.

I don't really mind that the US continues to use a confusing and outdated system of measurement (how many cups in a gallon? how many yards in a furlong?), if that is what the US wants to do and the costly mistakes that it entails are not important to the US people and government, but to make jokes about other people's use of a sensible, easy to understand, and world wide system makes US look stupid.

To take pride in such ignorance is even worse. To feel resentment for the rest of the world not understanding OUR way is imperialistic.

To deliberately mention and then mispronounce the word 'cheque' (even though it is pronounced exactly as our own word 'check' should make any international viewers of Yahoo! News cringe. I know it did me.


Monday, July 08, 2013

Metaphor - in Business Language

I recently ran across a posting about annoying business jargon.

The author felt these old cliched phrases, words, terms, and metaphors should be dropped.

I thought about this and specifically about the one I had googled originally to determine its origin

"open the kimono"

I was surprised to discover that there were many postings, articles, fora, etc where this phrase was considered both racist and sexist. And I thought, "how sad".

Metaphor in language adds color, flow, imagery, and beauty to our speech and writing, There are some, George Lackoff in particular,  who believe we only think in metaphor and that this ability is central to our ability to reason.

Metaphors produce an image and connect it to an abstract idea. Consequently, they aid in both understanding and retention. If you have eve heard of a memory palace as a method for remembering rings, you know how this works for retention. For some reason our minds seem to retain spatial and disconcerting or humorous images better than just blunt words and phrases.

Without metaphor, we would have no Shakespeare...he would have had nothing much to say in any way that audiences wanted to hear it.

So let's return to the phrase "open the kimono". In a business context, it is typically used (or was in the 1980s-1990s) to refer to a vendor inviting a client or partner into a bit more intimate relationship wherein the vendor's future plans would be disclosed. I was first exposed to the phrase in the 1980 time frame when a vendor offered to have us visit their offices in San Antonio and they would "open the kimono" about future hardware plans. The company I was with at the time was a large customer in both the US and overseas.

The phrase came up again when an IBM salesman offered a similar opportunity in the 1990s as my own company was considering which computer to invest in.

It certainly never occurred to me that it was sexist or racist. It is a beautiful metaphor for showing someone that which most others do not get to see.

To deconstruct the phrase (although I typically HATE deconstruction), kimono, in Japanese, means 'clothing'. It is gender neutral as both men and women wear kimono. In American English, the word has more of a connotation of a woman's garment, since many women wear long, loose kimonos as dressing gowns or robes.  So I will grant that, to a general American speaker and listener, the image called up by "open the kimono" is probably that of a woman opening her dressing gown to show her body beneath.

If you know a bit of Japanese culture, the image might rather be of a man relaxing on a sofa with his kimono or robe unbelted, but fully clothed underneath. In Japan, the phrase is equivalent to "loosen your tie" meaning to get comfortable so we can talk plainly and directly.

However, here in the US it is mostly used to imply a degree of revelation of that which is secret. Certainly, the image of a woman with a slightly open kimono correlates with this notion of revelation and intimacy.

Is it racist because the Kimono is a Japanese garment? Of course not. The garment has been a staple of women's lingerie in the US since at least the 1920s. There is no implication of a specifically Japanese woman wearing the kimono that is opened, it could be anyone's kimono. This MAY be the image conjured in the listener's mind, but is an ethnic and cultural connection, not a racist one. That is like saying that use of the word pyjama is a racial slur against Indians...the word originated there.

Personally, when I hear the phrase, the image conjured in my mind is that of my American wife of English and German extraction since she wears kimono often both casual ones around the house and formal ones out in public. The casual ones are silk, bought in Tokyo. The formal ones are custom made from non-traditional materials like leather and latex to re-contextualize their meaning in the syntax of fashion. They are all beautiful works of art that can be worn and hang on our walls when not in use.

Is the phrase sexist? Well, I will admit that it is sexual in that it conjures up, in most American minds, the image of a woman opening or removing her robe. It is also used, as I said above, to describe an invitation to intimacy...a vendor revealing plans to a customer. Consequently, we can say that the phrase uses sexual imagery to communicate its meaning.

This does not mean it is sexist. It connects a very common event, that of the start of sexual enticement or intimacy, to the abstract concept of revealing secrets. By doing so it enforces understanding and retention. The phrase helps the hearer remember and understand that the speaker is offering something a bit secret, not generally released, and not to be bandied about or shouted from the rooftops (two more metaphors).

It does not, in any way, denigrate women...sexual imagery does not intrinsically do so. We are sexual beings and we are deeply connected mentally and psychologically to sexuality. The use of sexual imagery in metaphor is important to our understanding and retention of concepts in business, technology, architecture, and manufacturing, not to mention advertising, rhetoric, politics, and storytelling. If we were to expunge such language from our speech, we would be far the less for it.

Sexual imagery does not have to be sexist. The Calvin Klein men's underwear ad in Times Square many years ago was somewhat sexual, but not sexist. It did not denigrate men; indeed it presented them as art. Nude painting and photography may be sexist sometimes and is certainly sexual, but it does not HAVE to be sexist. It may be artistic, celebrating the form and the humanness of the subject.

I submit that anyone who is disturbed by the sexual imagery encoded in the phrase, "open the kimono" needs to examine their own feelings and reactions to a part of human nature that is intrinsic, encoded, and enlivening. And that metaphor in language which uses sexual imagery is an effective and impressive way to better communicate between people.

That said, I do think that some metaphors SHOULD be dropped, because they are sexist, racist, or hurtful. See the recent Paula Deen scandal for more information on THAT subject. But we should be careful about demanding the elimination of metaphors simply on the basis of their sexual or ethnic foundations.

With regard to the Forbes article linked at the top of this post, yes, some of the jargon listed is cliched, hackneyed, and over-used. but to simply replace these terms with others or with purely blunt words of one syllable or less would discolor language, lessen understanding, be more time-consuming, and sterilize the amazing beauty of our language (or rather languages, since many of these phrases have been taken into English).

Let me close with the notion that, as any writer must, I have, indeed opened the kimono with this post and with this blog. I have shared intimacies, thoughts, opinions, and insights which I might not have done if I did not have metaphors as a tool to use in communicating.

Monday, February 25, 2013

An End to History?

I have recently been made aware of an intriguing phenomenon that occurs to us as we age. In discussions with others of my generation and in discussions with many people of later generations, including my own son, it has become clear to me that there is one very significant fact about our different points of view on the world.

What we recall as memory, they only know as history.

I never learned this as a younger person; no one ever mentioned it, perhaps because they never phrased it quite this way. It serves, in a subtle way, to define us as members of communities of experience. We, the older ones and they, the younger ones. It separates and segregates us in some ways, but it also brings home to us all that time passes, things change and yet remain so very much the same.

The most notable example of this from my youth is my point of view on the Great Depression versus that of my parents. Now, as I pass through the 6th decade of my life, I am finally able to understand why that event, that economic paroxysm, so affected their way of thinking and looking at the world.

The recalled it as memory, but I could only ever know it as history.

For me, the most defining event flipping this effect is the moon landing in 1969. I recall this as memory, but our young people, of course, only know it as history.

The odd thing is that these communities are fluid and fuzzy edged. My son and I certainly recall many things as memory such as 9/11 ... but there is already a new generation that does not...and so we are separated from them by a fuzzy edged wall of experience and recall.

History is not memory; the two are very different. And that may say more about our species than anything else.

How strange it would be (and what effect it might have) if every generation could recall 'history' as 'memory'.