Sunday, July 28, 2013

Back In The Saddle

This blog has been in hiatus for a couple of years, and it's time to bring it back. There's too much going on in the world of science fiction, education (especially this), writing ,and the intersection of these not to comment. More updates soon.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Monsters and the Imagination

I've just finished reading the book River Monsters which is a companion to the Animal Planet TV series of the same name. Most of these “monsters” are large catfish which have bit people on occasion. None of these are creatures which actually feed upon people, but most have taken a chomp from time to time.

One of the thing's that struck me about this book and its subject is how easily the human psyche allows itself to believe in the danger of nature. It's as if we as people are able to create tales of monsters from fragmentary sightings of beasts and an occasional bite. It doesn't help either that rivers are usually murky, and any glimpse of a large fish is likely to be incomplete. The author, Jeremy Wade, makes a fairly convincing case that these large fish are basically just that, large fish that happen to be somewhat hazardous because of their size.

There are, of course, animals that are somewhat dangerous. I personally find the idea of salt water crocodiles pretty chilling, a beast that can attack you in the water or crawl up on land and get you. They do attack people and, I believe, kill a few people a year. Then, of course, there are sharks, our great bugbear of the water. Interestingly the most deadly animal by far is the mosquito, a creature that hardly makes a grown man flee in terror. Next up are bees, and I know I have a couple of nests of them on my small bit of property. My children still play outside without hazmat suits.

While I don't want to minimize that harm that some of these creatures have done, it's amazing how outsized our terror towards these creatures has become. We kill so many more of these beasts than they hurt us the fear does seem a bit weird. On the other hand, without this fear, what would the SyFy channel do for original programming?

Monday, June 27, 2011

What is a Geek?

A great article on what it means to be a real geek. This is good news for those of us actually born with the stigma of geekishness, as opposed to all those darn posers.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Great Articles On Science In Science Fiction

Aint-It-Cool-News.com is a great website for fans of science fiction and other geeky movies. These days it's one of the most quoted websites for movie quotes. Recently one their writers, Andy Howell, did an interesting rant of the science in the 2009 Star Trek movie. He points out what's nonsense, what makes sense as a plot device, and what actually works. Give it a gander. There's also a good followup on the article too.

I like a good analysis like this. It goes beyond the whole, “That sucked,” or, “That was stupid because…” reactions and gets into the nitty-gritty of the movie.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Speaking, Finally

I will be speaking at the Desmond Fish Library in Garrison, NY on Saturday, at 2 PM on June 25th. This will be my first public speaking engagement, and I'll be discussing the ideas in this blog and my upcoming book, Teach the Fantastic. Here's a link to the site.


My apologies for the lack of recent updates. The end of school year stress tends to take a toll on my creativity.

Is This What a Tesseract I Like?

When I teach A Wrinkle In Time, I want to convey the experience of a tesseract to students. This video comes pretty close to my ideal.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Realistic Science Fiction or Didactic Thinking?

I'm working my way through Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. I say “working” because the book really requires work. It doesn't hold my interest the way other novels do, but I do appreciate its value as a text that has influenced people. I'm going to offer some criticisms on it, keeping in mind that I'm only on page 129 out of 1074. Since I haven't gotten too far into the novel (and the plot moves slowly), I'll stick with what I've read.

The characters have some serious problems. The protagonists all seem to share one characteristic, which is the inability to care about other people. That's not a poke in Ayn Rand's eye; it's something she makes very clear. This quality, a lack of sympathy towards one's fellow man, is a lynchpin of her philosophy. She believes that a person's only purpose is to be true to that one person and what he does; all other things are secondary and superfluous. “Altruism”, or living one's life for others, is a crime against oneself.

The problem with this concept, and like many flawed philosophical ideas it has a few grains of truth, is that mankind is not just an individual animal, working for personal goals. Evolutionary scientists have made fairly clear that early man was able to survive because he lived in hunter-gatherer and then later agricultural communities. While people may have been motivated partially by a notion of personal achievement, it was the community itself which enabled human beings to thrive. Ayn Rand rejects this idea of man being a communal animal, instead populating her novels with heroes who completely reject this notion.

As a teaching tool, Atlas Shrugged can be an interesting springboard into the conversation of the individual verses society. Where do the responsibilities of the individual end and where do those of society begin? While I personally find the idea that human beings have no responsibility to others amoral, that is an important question for a young person to figure out.

I would also wonder how questions of class might figure into this. Atlas Shrugged seems populated mostly by the wealthy, those least in need of altruism. Someone who grew up poor would not have most of the advantages of her heroes, and for this very reason might reject this philosophy. After all, if a society has no responsibilty towards its people, what place is there for public schools and colleges? What chance would a poor person have of succeeding?

I think a follower of Ayn Rand might be able to say  that a society has no business doing these things. It's up to the individual to make whatever he/she will out of his life. Yet this philosophy would also seem to stack the deck against the poor, so I don't think it would work well as real policy. After all, the first three words of the Preamble of the U.S. Constitution are “We the people…” which suggests that a secure society cannot be establish by individuals working for their own purposes, it has to be an expression of a common purpose. Within that framework people, of course, can work for their individual goals (“…the right of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”), but the nation  as a working communal structure must come first.