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Archive for the ‘Science and Learning’ Category

David And Goliath”  (2013©)  —  book review
Today’s book review is for non-fiction “popularized science” / sociology genre book” “David And Goliath“, written by Malcolm Gladwell.  Now, in the interest of full disclosure, Gladwell, Steven Levy and James Gleick are my favorite three “modern” “pop”-science writers, so I have a natural inclination to review this book favorably.  (Of course, my “All-time” favorite for this genre is Isaac Asimov, who could explain almost anything to the common reader – and with over 500 books to his name, he certainly tried.)
Anyway, as stated, I was (am) predisposed to a favorable review.  And, I’m giving it that…
It’s not a “great” book and it didn’t make me feel like I just hit myself on the side of the head (“Wow!!).  But, with Gladwell, you pretty much know what you’re getting when you hand over your dosh.  One, two or three observations about human behavior, a bit of socio- / psychological support (a few facts to support the point and not much to contradict the point) to bolster the observations, and then a bit of storytelling to make Gladwell’s conclusion seem more palatable.  Generally, if you “want” to agree with Gladwell’s observations you won’t look too closely at the support, because, heck, you already agree.  Right?  And if you are not predisposed to agree, Gladwell offers almost twenty pages of “Notes” for further research.  But, if you’re going to all that trouble, you probably have some subject matter expertise and don’t need to read a “popularized science” book on this topic.   Do you?
Per his normal format, Gladwell breaks the book into three main sections:
1) The advantages of disadvantages (and the disadvantages of advantages);
2) The theory of desirable difficulty; and,
3) The limits of power.
Amplifying the observations:
1)  Underdogs win more that we (the average reader) would expect – in some specific categories as much as 30%.  Why?  Because we see our disadvantages as their disadvantages, when they (the underdogs) don’t.  And, if they don’t see themselves as underdogs, they have no incentive to quit before they even try to succeed.
2)  Sometimes disadvantages turn out to be advantages and vice versa.  Great schools and small class sizes don’t necessarily produce the best employees or academics.  Gladwell introduces the idea of a inverted U shaped graph to explain this phenomena.
3)  People with challenges (dyslexia, early family tragedy, ADHD) can still become very successful.  Sometimes / somehow the “challenges” early in life prepare them better than their peers for challenges later in life, so they are “ready” when the real life test happens.  And,
4)  You can never “really” know how people will react when they are placed under pressure.  You generally, expect them to fold (because we believe we would, too), but sometimes they exceed your expectations.
My reaction to all of this?  Yes, it may all be true, but how do you build a society around the observation / hypothesis?  With no controls, you have observations, but you cannot test hypothesis.  And, if you could create similar situations, is it ethical to do so?  …For a hundred people, just so five or ten or thirty percent can overcome them?  What does society say to the others who don’t overcome and become super-achievers?  We’re sorry we ruined your life, but we wanted to see if you were “destined” to be elite.
Final recommendation: moderate to strong.  The book presents some interesting ideas and promotes thought by the reader.  (It certainly made me think!)  It successfully brings academic observations to the masses by means of popular writing.  However, in the end, I was left feeling neither individuals nor the government have the ability (or wisdom) to use power effectively in attempting to control the actions of others.  But for me, making me think is enough to prompt me to recommend the book.
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On This Day In:
2018 Still More Prejudice
A Well Trod Path Of Hopes, Expectations And Surprise
2017 …And With It Civilization
2016 Just Like My Mother
2015 All Omissions Are Mine
2014 Precise Order
2013 Uh, No. Not Really…
Deep Regions
2012 A Pre-Valentine’s Day Message
2011 Easy Like Sunday Morning
May I Have A Little More, Please…
2010 Valleys and Peaks
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Books are the carriers of civilization.
Without books history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill.  They are the engines of change, windows on the world (as a poet said) lighthouses erected in the sea of time.  They are companions, teachers, magicians, bankers of the treasures of the mind.  Books are humanity in print.
  —  Barbara W. Tuckman
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On This Day In:
2018 Not Necessarily In This Order
Stock Market Sets More Records Under #DumbDonald
2017 An Accumulation Of Acts
2016 Here’s Lookin’ At You Kid
2015 How To Be Omnipotent
2014 The Promise Of Future Love
2013 Christian, n.
2012 Praise
Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood
2011 A Few More Lyrics From The Past
5 For The Price Of 1

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We know, not by a direct and simple vision, not at a glance, but as it were, by piecemeal and accumulation … by going around an object, by comparison.
  —  John Henry Newman
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On This Day In:
2018 Learning About My Humanity
2017 Laugh Or Shake Your Head
2016 The Expected Cure
2015 Of Two Minds
2014 Pride And Remembrance
2013 Repeating Bad Memories
2012 No Sooner
2011 Just Cheesy!
Are You Illin’?

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Goodbye, Mr. Chips”  (1969)  —  movie review
This movie is a musical adaptation of the novel about the life of a schoolteacher, Mr. Chipping, written by the James Hilton.  The book was first adapted into movie form back in 1939 (also a great movie).  This version is a modification of both the novel and the original version.  It’s placed later in history – around World War II instead of WWI; Chipping is married longer; meets his wife differently; and, it’s a musical (instead of a “normal” drama / romance movie).  I have not read the novel, but I have seen the 1939 version several times before.  Hopefully, I’ll be able to find it somewhere and watch it again so I can do a review from a fresh viewing.  This was my first viewing of this movie!
Mr. Chipping is a staid and stern housemaster at an English public school.  (That’s a “private” school to those of us in the U.S.)  The boarding school is where the upper crust of society send their boys to learn to be proper British gentlemen.  Chipping teaches Latin and Greek.  He gets talked into going to a play to see the future bride of a friend.  The lady doesn’t realize this is the “arrangement”.  Chipping unknowingly embarrasses himself and his friend.   Chipping goes on his holiday (vacation) to Pompeii, where he coincidentally meets the lady again.  As he is an expert on Greece, she asks him to be her tour guide for the day – which he does.  They hit it off and she falls in love with him (and he her).  Blah, blah, blah.   Mild comedy and laughter ensues.  They marry and she returns to school with him.  They become popular at the school.  She dies during the war.  He spends the remaining years of his life at the school.
The movie stars Peter O’Toole as Arthur Chipping (“Mr. Chips”), Petula Clark as Katherine Bridges / Chipping, Michael Redgrave as The Headmaster, George Baker as Lord Sutterwick (the wealthy donor who is at odds with Chipping due to his own previously sordid background), Siân Phillips as Ursula Mossbank (a famous actress who has a “background” with Lord Sutterwick), and Michael Bryant as Max Staefel (a German teacher who “must” return to Germany).  Phillips is “simply marvelous” in her take on being a famous actress.  Bryant is also impressive in his subtle expressions.  In fact, I repeated several scenes just to re-watch his facial reactions.
So, is this movie any good?  Does it work as a musical?  And, did I enjoy a rom-com musical?  Yes.  Mostly yes.  Emphatically yes!  I know I’ve seen Peter O’Toole in other roles (obviously “Lawrence of Arabia” and “Becket“), but I really think this is my new favorite role for him.  He was nominated for the Oscar and a Golden Glove for Best Actor for this role.  One of his eight Oscar nominations for Best Actor.  (He holds the lifetime record for nominations without a win.)  Interestingly, his wife (Siân Phillips) at the time was also nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress for her role (Mossbank).  He won the Golden Glove.  She did not.
As a musical, the movie is not “great” – in my opinion.  With the exception of “Fill the World With Love” (see videos below) only a couple of the other songs were entertaining, let alone memorable.  This is partly why the movie was panned by the critics on its release.  In fact, I understand several of the songs were removed from the theatrical release because initial audience reviews were so poor.  The songs have been re-added for the “TCM” version which I watched.  The result is the movie is a “classic” movie with an introduction, intermission and exit production which add almost 15 minutes to the viewing time.  The total run time I watched was over the 2hrs 35min of the “official” run time.  But, it is worth it!!
Final recommendation:  VERY highly recommended.  While at one level, this is the story of one man’s struggle with the apparent mediocrity of his life, at a more profound level it is a love story – personal (husband and wife) and general (Chippings love for knowledge, teaching, manners and character).  I am sure some will find this a bit of a “chic flick” and a tear-jerker.  I did not find it the former.  I did find it the latter.  But then, I often find movies about character and integrity (and love stories) to be tear-jerkers.  So, get the Kleenex ready.
As a “bonus” for this review I am including two videos.  The first two verses of this song are performed by: Petula Clark (from the 1969 musical: “Goodbye, Mr. Chips”).  The last verse is performed by Peter O’Toole and is slightly different from the “actual” lyrics as he is singing to his deceased wife at the end of the film.  (Listen for the “Shhsh” and watch for Bryant / Staefel’s expression during Clark’s singing.  Priceless!!)
I sang this song many times back in my senior year of high school.  It was the first year of our high school choir – and they were taking anyone who was willing to volunteer to sing in public.  LOL.  I did not know the song was only a few years old.  Nor did I know it came from a movie / musical.  But then, I had not seen either version of this movie – 1939 or 1969.  I think I’m better for now having seen both.  If you can find them, I highly recommend them!
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On This Day In:
2018 Stock Market Sets Another Record Under #DumbDonald
#LyingDonald: About That Special Prosecutor Testimony
2017 We Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet
2016 But You Have To Learn It Feels Good
2015 Never Stop
2014 Caution
2013 Treat Her Like A Lady
2012 Build New Worlds
2011 I Grok Elegance
Standing Relish

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X+Y” (2014)  —  movie review, released in the US as “A Brilliant Young Mind” (2015)
Today’s review is for the 2014 / 2015 movie “X+Y“, aka: “A Brilliant Young Mind“.  The movie stars Asa Butterfield as Nathan Ellis (autistic math genius), Rafe Spall as Martin Humphreys (Nathan’s tutor), Sally Hawkins as Julie Ellis (Nathan’s mum), Eddie Marsan as Richard (UK tutor), Jo Yang as Zhang Mei (Nathan’s love interest), Martin McCann as Michael Ellis (Nathan’s dad), Jake Davies as Luke Shelton (mocked math genius), Alex Lawther as Isaac Cooper (mocking math genius), Alexa Davies as Rebecca Dunn (Piano girl / jealous crush).
There is something called the “International Mathematics Olympiad” (IMO) which brings together all of the maths geniuses from around the world to compete on their respective national teams.  It seems China is the historically dominant power at this event.
Nathan is an autistic maths wiz.  The only person he is close with is his dad who dies in a car accident.  The accident makes Nathan even more reclusive / eccentric than he was before.
Nathan’s mum (the fish lady / maid in “The Shape of Water“) is not able to relate with her son and finally gets a piece of relief by shipping him off to compete in the IMO.  Nathan’s tutor (Martin) is himself a “failed” maths prodigy and slowly builds a relationship with Nathan and his mum.  Eddie Marsan plays the UK team manager who’s only concern is for the team to beat the Chinese team. Zhang Mei is Nathan’s “love” interest.  He slowly pries Nathan from his turtle shell.  Martin McCann is Nathan’s dad and is the only one who sees him as special and not weird.  At least that is how Nathan feels.  The final three main characters (Luke, Isaac and Rebecca) are other “kids” on the IMO team who are meant to demonstrate some other levels of autism or to act as a kind of alternative love interest.
Is this movie any good?  Does it say anything about math?  Does it say anything about kids?  Does it say anything about autism?  Yes, a little, nothing new, and I don’t know.
I really enjoyed this movie. I got interested in it a while back when I saw Butterfield in “Ender’s War” and thought I’d look out for any of his other work.  (I’ve seen the previews for this film and the bits and bobs available on YouTube and have been waiting for this movie to become available on cable or on Vudu.)  Now I’ve seen him in two very good roles and it will be interesting to see if he develops into a good adult actor or if he fades.  As with “Ender”, Asa plays the straight role well and the emotional role almost as well.  I don’t really understand autism, so I can’t say how accurately he portrayed the ending transformation.  My gut feeling was it was too Hollywood and not realistic, but that just may be me.
The movie relates math to various aspects of the real world: pattern recognition, music, art, architecture, philosophy and love.  They were not main points of the film though, so if you blink, you may miss a couple of them.
I don’t think this movie says anything original about kids.  Certainly nothing you couldn’t get from a half-dozen other movies starting with “Lord of the Flies”.  Yes, kids are mean and pick on other kids who may be viewed as somehow “different”.
As mentioned above, Nathan is “transformed” at the end of the movie.  I doubt autism is cured on the road to Damascus, so I didn’t care for the resolution / summing up.  It just seemed too tidy for my taste.  Apparently, the movie is based on a real-life person and his reaction to viewing the film was: I am a maths wiz.  I am not a rain man.  For me, to the extent the movie related Nathan’s love for math, I felt it stood on firmer ground.
Final recommendation: very strong to highly. I do have an “unusual” fondness for movies with even the slightest math / science / computing theme, so you have to take this recommendation with the normal grain of salt you take my reviews…   (LOL)  I’m not usually a big fan of hazy / distorted filming to represent the perception of genius, but in this case, it worked pretty well.  I liked the acting, the story and loose correlation of math to music, color, flow and pattern recognition.  I will watch it again in the future.
One final note: I got to see this movie for free!  I joined my local library (re-joined) and they have a pretty interesting selection of movies you can stream just for being a member of the library.  It saved me having to purchase a movie I really wanted to see.  They do limit my viewing to eight per calendar month, but it still seems a great deal to me!  Who knew??
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On This Day In:
2018 And May Never Be
2017 Don’t Forget
2016 I Was A Percentage Man
2015 It Waits Patiently
2014 Unknown
2013 Explaining Love?
2012 Echoes of 1%
2011 Salaam, Egypt!!
Where Do You Learn?

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Education is an admirable thing.  But it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.
  —  Oscar Wilde
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On This Day In:
2017 Mr. President, About Global Warming
2016 Starting To Stumble
2015 Begin Combat
I Am A Runner
2014 Just Dig ‘N It, Why?
2013 Additions
The Object Of Instruction
2012 Telling Her
2011 On Torture

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Science does not know its debt to imagination.
  —  Ralph Waldo Emerson
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On This Day In:
2017 By Their Acts Thy Shall Know Them
2016 Remembering
2015 One
2014 Sure Experiments And Demonstrated Arguments
2013 Irrational Complacency
2012 Why Criticize?
Giants Sweep 2012 World Series With Game 4 Win (4 To 3)!!!
2011 Saying Just Enough
2010 Giants Win Game 2 Shutout of Rangers – 9 to 0!!!

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