Links: Peter Norvig, Coders at Work, Tucson tedium, bookselling, teachers, Tolkien

* Peter Norvig in Coders at Work: “Certainly I would do things because they were fun. Especially when I was a grad student and I was less beholden to schedules. I’d say, ‘Oh, here’s an interesting problem. Let’s see if I can solve that.’ Not because it’s progress on my thesis, but just because it was fun.”

This is basically my problem, if that’s the correct term, in grad school: I find something interesting and want to write about that, instead of whatever’s immediately applicable in seminars or for my dissertation. In the short term it’s a problem, though in the long term I’d like to think of it as an asset.

* “The secret lives of feral dogs: A Pennsylvania city instructs police to shoot strays, opening a sad window on animal care in the age of austerity.”

* Now that I live in Tucson, AZ, I totally understand this comment; emphasis added:

In Zoellner’s riskiest chapter, he remembers Tucson as a rotten place to grow up. “My skateboard was no good on those new asphalt streets. … I would sometimes steal into an unfinished house in the late afternoons to smash out the windows with rocks.” He’s not excusing Loughner, just describing what an isolated lifestyle in Arizona can do to people. The state ranks 48th among places where “people trade favors with neighbors” and 45th among places where people eat dinner with their families.

In my case the university ameliorates some of the loneliness, but the “city” of Tucson is laid out so poorly and so widely that it promotes isolation.

* Good Writing Isn’t Enough: How to Sell a Book in the Digital Age.

* The value of teachers; see also “Should teachers be paid more or less? The answer is: both.”  Which comes to a very similar conclusion as my own post, “Are teachers underpaid? It depends.

* See too Jason Fisher’s reply to my last post.

* Yet another reason I don’t pay attention to literary prizes, this one regarding Tolkien.

* “The fragile teenage brain: An in-depth look at concussions in high school football.” After reading about the many football concussion studies, I’ve learned that a lot of the brain damage football causes isn’t from single big hits—it’s from many small hits that accrue in practice and elsewhere. There is no way I’d let my kid play football.

* A friend who read The Hunger Games didn’t especially like the novel and neither did I, despite three-quarters of America having read the novel and its sequels. I mostly thought the writing flat; my friend Heather simply said, “The metaphors are bad.” Perhaps I can get her to yield some examples soon.

Thoughts on the movies “Shame” and “Sleeping Beauty”

1) Both movies substituted sex for plot; this might’ve kind of worked in an era before Internet porn and HBO (and both also show why HBO’s original shows are successful), but these days people who want to see naked people are only a click away.

2) I mostly agree with Dan Kois in “Shame should be ashamed of itself,” especially when he compares it to The Social Network, which didn’t seem to have inherently riveting material—it’s a movie about a bunch of guys who type for a living—but is riveting. Notice this paragraph:

Shame [. . .] feels fraudulent in every way, from its gleaming surfaces to its laughably overblown soundtrack to the perfect teardrop rolling over Michael Fassbender’s perfect cheekbone in that perfect lounge where, in real life, no one would ever let Carey Mulligan sing a shoe-gaze “New York, New York.” Oh and what about the scene where he jogs to classical music? Or the part where his addiction drags him so deep into hell that he (gasp) gets a blowjob from a dude in a dimly-lit sex club? (As the writer Bryan Safi noted on Twitter, “I’d love to see a movie where a strung-out gay guy sinks so low and degrades himself so much for his addiction, he hooks up with a woman.”)

Shame has nothing to do with actual addiction, or the actual New York, or even actual human beings.

Yet Shame has gotten decent reviews, for reasons not obvious to me. Ditto for Sleeping Beauty. Are critics merely happy to have something other than blowing-shit-up-and-punching-bad-guys movies? To be fair, this is part of what inspired me to see them.

3) There’s no particular reason the movies had to be plotless; they look more like examples of giving up.

4) I’m reminded of my own process when I’m starting a novel and writing down ideas, premises, and characters—but long before I’m starting to link and weave those ideas, premises, and characters. Unfortunately, the people behind shame appear to have stopped at the first step. They were more like shorts than features, which is a problem I’m too aware of in novels, where the short-story-writers-cum-novelists sometimes don’t know where to go with 70,000 – 90,000 words.

5) For an example of movies like these (nudity, psychological tension, internal turmoil manifested in external ways) but better, try Swimming Pool.

6) Music is a complement to, not a substitute for, character development.

7) Is it a comedy and we are missing the joke?

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