The Pursuit of Happyness, a movie review

In a near coma from a holiday meal today, we ventured out to see The Pursuit of Happyness starring Will Smith. My resulting notes below contain some mentions of specific plot details, so if you haven't seen it yet and don't want anything spoiled for you, come back to this post later.

As a cinematic experience overall, the movie was quite well done. Smith and Jaden Smith (his son both in the film and offscreen) filled their roles as Chris Gardner and Christopher Gardner with a glow and depth that is uncommon. The story moved at a constant and engaging pace, always with just enough information to make the plot real, and never too much to make it feel like it was being told to a movie audience. The camera angles were mostly plain and obvious in a way that complements the content of the film just fine, but there were a number of really excellent shots that brought out the layers of emotion and determination so well - Chris and Christopher sitting a ways apart on a bench in the subway, exasperated, desperate, staring off and wondering what's next; the shots of Chris running through the streets of San Francisco with action-movie style camera-work but very believable results; the walks through the floor of a brokerage in chaos, and so on.
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The Persuaders: a nice look at advertising

This is an ad for a really great Frontline episode called "The Persauders" - a thoughtful and thorough journalistic look at the world of advertising and how it affects us at all levels. It covered a wide variety of perspectives, from advertising executives to media experts to sociologists to counter-cultural ad-busters. Quote from interviewee Mark Crispin Miller: "Once a culture becomes entirely advertising friendly, it ceases to be a culture at all." There's an interesting segment about how one firm interviewed cult-like groups of people (including Linux users and WWF Wresting fans) to craft the campaigns for brands like Nike and Apple. I guess if you can figure out what makes people loyal to a cult, you can get them engaged in your products and services.

The downside of the piece is that the reporter seems to let himself be convinced in conclusion (with snappy upbeat music in the background to reinforce) it's a good thing that "once the market becomes the lens through which we see the world, there's no us and them any more. We're all persuaders." I would probably disagree that this is a good trend.

You can watch it online on the PBS website, and the site includes a teacher's guide and related discussion area. Enjoy.

My Tube is Your Tube on YouTube

I remember back in the day (i.e. a few years ago), when you wanted to put video on your website, you needed to think about disk space, bandwidth, media format compatibility and a host of other issues before you could even hope to have people looking at the actual video content. Today, sites like YouTube and Google Video (soon to be one) make it as easy as uploading your video to their site and then linking to it. And as Jean Harper sort of noted (lamented, really), it's quite the craze with the kids.

So (or, despite that), I decided to throw up a few videos I've produced over the years to see what happens. There's my trip to Washington D.C. to ask the president not to invade Iraq, highlights from a conference on cultural change that I organized, a clip from an inspiring talk about peak oil, and highlights from the raising of a wind turbine at the Cope Environmental Center, which I've mentioned here before. These were shot with everything from a digital still camera to my GL-2 MiniDV rig, so the quality varies widely, but I've already generated 1 subscriber to my "channel", 49 views of my videos, and a comment. I love web-based social networking!

Let me know what you think.

The reason for the season, from Menards

IMG_0350.JPGI opened up today's Sunday newspaper bundle to find a brown paper grocery bag from Menards that said "Merry Christmas! 15% OFF ANYTHING YOU CAN FIT INSIDE THIS BAG!" The fine print - inscribed on both sides of the bag, mind you - was my favorite:

All merchandise must fit inside the bag, all at one time to qualify for the 15% discount. No modifying of the bag is allowed. We will allow products up to twice the height of the bag to qualify for discount as long as they fit inside the bag. Multiple items must all fit inside the bag. No stacking allowed beyond the height of the bag. All merchandise must remain in its original packaging. Merchandise cannot be disassembled to fit in bag. Limited to one bag per guest (or household) per purchase per visit. (In keeping with the spirit of the sale, please do not ask the cashier to split your purchase up across multiple bags. You may make multiple shopping trips during the week, but only one bag of savings per trip.) Bag must be surrendered at time of purchase.

For those of you mapping out your trip to Menards in advance using the product dimension information you can find online: the bag is approximately 17" high, 11.5" wide, and 7" deep. Under the terms of the program including the double-the-height clause, this means you can accommodate 2,737 cubic inches, or 1.58 cubic feet, of product material. My initial calculations show that the following items will not fit in the bag: the body and teachings of Jesus Christ, personal happiness, peace, justice.

What will you put in your bag?

Tired of social networking sites

At lunch today we were talking about all the social networking sites that have popped up on the Intertubes over the recent years. Mark and I sounded a little curmudgeonly about it, noting that we've long since been ignoring invitations to join the latest fad in making virtual connections to the rest of the world. First I was on BBSes back in the day. They I joined some mailing lists. Then there was Friendster, which kept losing my profile and whose software sucked. And then there was Orkut, which I signed up for because it was Googly but I wasn't popular enough to do anything useful with. And that's when I sort of gave up. MySpace, Facebook, LiveJournal, Linked In and all the rest can call me or send a representative to do lunch if they really want me. Except Myspace - puke.

Part of it is probably the sense that I'd rather be spending time strengthening ties in my real-world community than in an online one. Another part is just not caring. But most importantly, it seems the trend is such that soon we'll have one social networking site per each person with an Internet connection, and we'll be back where we started. I've got enough passwords to remember as it is, okay?

But it is funny to me when the networking sites scrape information off of my website in an attempt to make me look like a member. Like Spoke, which just did this without asking. Unfortunately, they get some significant things wrong, e.g. listing Earlham College President Doug Bennett as the president of my company, Summersault. To be clear, Doug has not left his position as the president of an internationally known liberal arts college to serve as President of a website development firm.

If he is looking for that kind of position with us, we're open to, um, networking with him...without the help of a website.

Beyond sustainability

Thanks to Paul Retherford for pointing me to this essay, Beyond Sustainability: Why an All-Consuming Campaign to Reduce Unsustainability Fails. Highlight:

Our very approach to solving the “problem” of unsustainability is grounded in a mindset that prevents sustainability from emerging. Always anchored to the past, the future is envisioned as being bigger or better. But such an approach will always keep us rooted in the past. To escape from the past, one must think in an entirely different way.

The current ideal of sustainability, as sustainable development, is not a vision for the future. It is merely a modification of the current process of economic development that its proponents claim, in theory, need not cause the terribly destructive consequences of the past. Sustainable development is fundamentally instrumental. It suggests new means, but still old ends. Sustainable appears as an adjective; the noun is still development.

As I look at sustainability efforts in my own life and at sustainability as a local progressive value, it's important to me that someone out there has the right words to say what so many people are afraid to say: there are ways in which the survival of life on Earth is in conflict with traditional economic development, a.k.a. the continued growth of our civilization. Many sustainability efforts are purely or primarily anthropocentric, and therefore fail by definition.

This essay doesn't have all the answers, but it's got a good grip on that particular problem.