Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Actually, San Francisco is supposed to be a pretty good place if you're homeless

San Francisco library system hires a full-time social worker to help with its homeless problem.

In one of my classes last semester, I read an article about how libraries are often hangouts for the homeless during the day: they're open to the public, have free bathrooms, and of course they're a source of information if you're trying to find out about other shelters in the area, or jobs, or what have you. I'm torn on the subject. Obviously libraries are a public good, and when I say public I mean the entire public, not just the homeowning part of the population. But, well, there's sometimes hygiene problems, and there's patrons complaining, and some of the homeless are going to have mental health problems, and so on and so forth.

Really, the problem is that it's not the library's problem. But until there's enough money for shelters to stay open 24/7 and enough social workers to take care of all the homeless—which should happen as soon as it starts raining solid gold—I applaud the SF library system for treating the problem as best they can.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Steven Johnson's Everything Bad is Good for You

I just recently finished, and was quite heartened by, Steven Johnson's Everything Bad is Good for You, a piece of cultural analysis that came out a few years ago. The book is essentially one long, well-formed, cogent argument on one single issue: that popular culture—video games and television primarily—is not, as the common opinion has it, making us into a nation of dullards and easily distracted simpletons, but is in fact making us smarter.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Ted reviews Anne McCaffrey's Dragonsong

Back in the day, me and most of my friends were what you’d call nerds. We preferred the company of our computers over other human beings, we took advanced math classes and liked them, and the only books we read were genre fiction: sci-fi and fantasy.

Clearly—clearly—I’m much cooler now than I was then, but my memories of those genre authors remain. I read them by the handful: David Eddings, J.R.R. Tolkien, Timothy Zahn, Patricia C. Wrede, and all the rest. But one of the big names, one of the truly big-time fantasy authors, I never got into, and that was Anne McCaffrey, author of the long-running (18 novels and counting!) ‘Dragonriders of Pern’ series. Thanks to my class on fantasy last semester, I finally had the chance to read one of Mrs. McCaffrey’s novels, Dragonsong, and I have to say: this is what all the fuss was about?

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Many Levels On Which Ted Was Disappointed by James Cameron's Avatar

AS A MOVIEGOER

I’ll start with this one, because it’s the most obvious. All along I’ve been hearing about how this movie is supposed to be some great paradigm shift, an incredible spectacle that will change the face of moviemaking forever—but to me, it’s just the newest toy. Cameron didn’t do anything new with his special effects; he just spent more than anyone else did.

Jurassic Park, in 1993, was a game-changing movie because it used computer-generated special effects—still a burgeoning field—and did something amazing with them. Filmmakers have been doing creature films since King Kong (and probably before, but I wasn’t a film major), and technology has followed: from stop-motion to blue-screen to experiments like Lucasfilm’s hybrid ‘go-motion.’ Spielberg took the latest and best technology, and made a dang good creature film with it.

But here’s the rub: CGI isn’t new any more. I saw Jurassic Park in the theater when I was—wait for it—eight years old. I grew up with this technology. Avatar is using the latest, the best, the sharpest computer graphics, but it’s still just computer graphics. It’s not a paradigm shift; it’s just the latest coat of paint. All the jungle scenes looked pretty, and those blue cat-people looked moderately realistic, sure, but to me, Cameron was just showing off how much money he could spend. And as a guy who likes movies, I want something a little more than that.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Google leaves China

So I am far from the first person you should go to for trenchant insights on the geopolitical ramifications of information providers, but still, the fact that Google is no longer going to cooperate with government censors in China and will thus probably pull out of the country entirely is probably going to have some far-reaching repercussions.

Google's been trying to promote their search engine in China for four years now, despite the heavy government censorship that was applied to their search results. I have to say, I can understand their desire to provide as much free information as possible to the people of China—although I'm sure that the potential money to be made from being the primary search engine for a country of one-point-three billion people was a pretty big draw, too. But to cooperate with censorship, even if you're providing a necessary and commendable service to a repressed people, is still cooperation with censorship. Which I am, generally, not cool with. So I have to applaud Google for finally leaving China.

We now return to your regularly scheduled program of rambling about anime and dumb crap.

Monday, January 11, 2010

For those of you who care about this sort of thing

I'm currently working on a five-issue comic with the supremely talented Aaron Quist, called Peculiar Jones, which we're trying to pitch to publishers--and we may have something about that to announce shortly. In the meantime, though, we've updated our DeviantArt page with another image of our work-in-progress. Share and Enjoy!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Japan-o-rama: What is anime and manga?

One of the classes I took during my first semester of library school was Fantasy Literature and Media for Youth, and during this class I found out two things:
1) Anime and manga are rapidly becoming some of the most popular items for young people to check out of libraries.
2) A lot of librarians are totally clueless about anime and manga.
So, in my position as Young and Moderately Cool Librarian-To-Be, I figured that I'd be doing the older generation of librarians a service by writing about these pop culture products from Japan.

See, I grew up in between two Japanese fads: I was slightly too young to be watching Sailor Moon or Dragonball Z in the early 1990s, and I was a little too old by the time Pokemon came around. I didn't really start watching anime and reading manga until late high school and early college. I like to think this gives me a more mature, sophisticated perspective on Japan and all its wacky products, although using the words 'mature' and 'sophisticated' to describe me in any context is pretty laughable.

My occasional forays into the pop culture of the inscrutable Orient will (hopefully) be a semi-regular feature on this blog, and I'd like to start off by answering a question that I've heard more than one librarian ask: what, exactly, is anime and manga?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

By My Own Circulatory System--Betrayed!!

Anyone who knows even a little bit about me—which is about 90% of the readers of this blog at this point, I’m guessing—knows that I’ve got a lot of weird interests. The one that I’m going to focus on in this post is my strange fascination with donating blood.

I honestly have no idea where this interest came from. My parents don’t donate blood, or at least haven’t lately; I don’t have any relatives or friends with anemia or blood diseases; I was never a particularly big fan of vampire movies. I think I saw an episode of Bill Nye the Science Guy where he mentioned donating blood once, but that’s about it.

Yet there I was, in my first year of college, with a tube in my arm during a Red Cross blood drive held at the Hillel house on campus. I had trouble understanding the accent of the admitting nurse, and I very nearly blacked out after losing that pint of me, but the experience was not unendurable. Plus the juice and cookies afterward weren’t bad.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Guys Read Book Club: Winter '09

So even though I'm only a library student and not yet an actual, for-real librarian (i.e. I don't yet have my official badge and decoder ring), I can still work every now and then at my local library, for money. Last summer, I did three sessions of a Guys Read book club, which is for boys in grades four through six. Boys tend not to read as much as girls, particularly at young ages, and peer pressure (“reading is dumb and punching is awesome”) only exacerbates this trend.

(Interesting tangent: girls score much higher on reading tests than boys, while boys tend to score higher in math tests. This trend is true in pretty much every industrialized country in the world, but here's the interesting part: in countries with greater gender equality, the gap in math scores changes, i.e. girls score as good as or better than boys, while the gap in reading scores grows. Peep this paper, people.)

My three books over the summer were:

The Seer of Shadows, by Avi
The White Mountains, by John Christopher
Bone: Out From Boneville, by Jeff Smith

And just last week I did a ‘winter break’ book, which was The Snow Spider, by Jenny Nimmo.