Attention span; Weekend movies

BBC News – Traditional books ‘may not survive electronic age’:

There’s an older generation who might complain about shorter attention spans but there is a new literacy which has emerged among younger users and readers who are incredibly adept at multi-tasking.

Two things:

Before we label the younger generation with irreparably short attention spans, can we for a moment back up and note that two of the biggest publishing phenomena in the last decade, Harry Porter and Twilight, are youth-oriented, thick, multi-volume works?

Second, as was noted by JT (either here or on Facebook), I have a tendency to skip back and forth between books–the paper, ink, and glue sort as well as electronic texts. I’ve always done this. There have always been people who do this.


On Friday in Omaha, Eric went to see The Sorcerer’s Apprentice with Chad, Michelle, and possibly a niece/nephew or two. On Sunday, I went to see Inception with Reif. It occurs to me that the former is probably getting worse reviews than it deserves and the latter getting better reviews than it deserves. (Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed Inception. I especially appreciated the heist aspect, but it isn’t a perfect movie.) It will be interesting to see how long it is before I end up seeing The Sorcerer’s Apprentice or Eric sees Inception. I predict that I will cave first…

Call me Ranty McRantpants

Understanding Men seriously cheesed me off.

To be clear: I agree with the conclusion. Men are about focus. That has its good side and its bad side. Just as women’s "multitasking" has its up- and down-side. It’s good to know these things when writing characters. But the article is disappointingly wrong in other ways.

The expert author, a psychotherapist, didn’t check her facts. A quick search at Wikipedia reveals that popular notions about the corpus callosum have been found to be incorrect. Men actually have a bigger corpus callosum than women, even when normalized for brain size. Besides that, the corpus callosum probably doesn’t have as much to do with sex-based cognitive differences as over-all brain architecture does. For instance, more current research  shows correlations involving sex, white and gray matter, and areas of use. (Don’t get me started on right/left brain nonsense.*) Since I’m not a psychologist of any sort, why am I familiar with these concepts? Eric had to shift his theory on brain architecture and sex-differences based on this info. I’ve heard about it. A lot.

I couldn’t find anything to back up the statement "a brain scan while a man is reading or at the computer will show he’s mostly deaf."  Such statements should probably come with a citation. Why would anyone cite scientific articles in a piece about writing characters? Because in many ways everything is science fiction. Biology informs behavior and vice versa. When Romance University brings in an expert they’re implying that an expert’s opinion is needed. What ticks me off is that this expert is propagating old, incorrect information.

*Sadly, an .edu filtered search of "right brain left brain myth" brought up a bunch of curriculum documents about how to use the difference to teaching advantage.

Storytelling, Story-stealing

‘Avatar’ and the Death of Storytelling – Cinematical:

how the frak can James Cameron have cooked this story up for a decade, waiting for technology to catch up with his vision, and not want the story to be killer? How can he not at least work that script into a form that can at least begin to rival the visuals it’s matched with? It seems like an insult.

This is a question Eric asks of many TV shows and movies. The budgets of such projects is huge, yet it seems that little is spent on writing or fact-checking (see Pet Peeves).


As promised: Obscure Media Monday has a second round of recently-watched movie reviews.


And now a word about Google:

If you are of a writing/publishing bent, you’ve probably heard about the Google Book Settlement. If you’re not and you haven’t, Michael Stackpole has a run-down of the basics. If you combine this with some recent comments from Google senior vice president about "open" policy and other commentary about Google profiting from the content of others, you might have the impression that Google masquerades "what’s good for Google profit" as "what is good for the citizens of the world." And that leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

I propose moving away from Google, if you can. It’s not easy. Google has some nice applications. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not against "payment" for these apps in advertising and such, but the problem is that Google has become harmful to certain sectors. Sectors that strongly overlap with my interests.

I’ve changed my default search engines. I’ve abandoned Google Reader for Bloglines and a WordPress blog to keep track of my reading. I’ve never been a fan of Google Docs, so no loss there. Unfortunately, Gmail and the combination of GCal and Tasks are hard for me to give up. I’ll keep them for the moment, but I’m keeping my eyes open for a alternatives.

Scientists develop a pill!, and the subject of curly hair.

From the land of terrible headlines comes one on a subject close to my heart.:
Scientists develop pill that could spell an end to straighteners after identifying ‘curly hair gene’
In direct contrast to the headline, lead researcher Nick Martin is quoted:

‘Potentially we can now develop new treatments to make hair curlier or straighter, rather than treating the hair directly,’

Potentially develop a treatment equals “develop a pill for” in headline-speak. There’s also mention of the forensic aspect of knowing if a suspect or victim has the “curly gene.” Which isn’t terribly useful do to the (somewhat) changeable nature of hair. At best, you could identify a person as having curly hair or straightened curly hair. Since my knowledge genetics and proteomics is rusty, I won’t speak of what else this article may have gotten wrong. Or rant again about the notions of ideals.

On a related note, I’ve been following the Curly Girl way of doing things for about a year now. No shampoo, only conditioner. No brush, only the *occasional* comb-through. While I still use gentle elastic bands, I’ve also played around more with pins and clips. I’m pretty happy with the results. My hair and I have come to an understanding: I treat it nicely and it behaves better. In the last three months, I’ve started spraying it every few days with a lavender oil mixture to add some “moisture.”  Surprisingly, my skin doesn’t have a problem with this, and honestly, the state of my scalp is no different than when I used shampoo. My main difficulty, which has always been a difficulty. is in finding conditioners and gels that works well for me. That don’t cost a finger and a toe. I liked Garnier Frcutis Hydra-Curls, but I can’t find it anywhere anymore. Tresemme has a Flawless Curls conditioner that works okay, but could be a little thicker. Thus far, the only gel I like is Aussie’s Sun-Touched Shine. I wish there was a donation site for hair product that are used about five times before being rejected.

My lashes are quite adequate, thank you.

About a half dozen TV shows have premiered over the past week and, lacking television service, I’ve spent some time watching videos on Hulu. One of the primary commercials in rotation, targeting the female demographic, is for Latisse, an “eyelash growth enhancer” for, as they put it in the commercial, “inadequate…lashes.” To me adequacy implies purpose, and therefore inadequate lashes are failing at their purpose:

Eyelashes protect the eye from debris and perform some of the same function as whiskers do on a cat or a mouse in the sense that they are sensitive to being touched, thus providing a warning that an object (such as an insect or dust mite) is near the eye (which is then closed reflexively).

Let’s be honest, Latisse isn’t really for poorly functioning eyelashes. It’s to make better looking eyelashes. And that’s fine. Many women have weenie eyelashes and spend a goodly amount of time putting gunk on them or gluing new ones on. I’ve never had this problem. In fact, to some degree, I have the opposite problem. My eyelashes and by extension eyebrows are dark and prodigious.

But I worry a little about what is perceived as “inadequate.” Though far from being possible, what if prospective parents *could* choose what their kids look like? Would we start tending toward blond and brunette with thick dark eyelashes and perfect features? If my parents had a choice, would I be a red-head? Would Tilda Swinton‘s parents have chosen darker eyes, eye lashes and brows? Would have Adrien Brody‘s parents decided on smaller nose? And would it really matter? Swinton and Brody would most likely still be fine actors (and maybe more mainstream with more even features), and I would have been spared Little Orphan Annie jokes. Or maybe those things build character. Hard to know.

At this point in my life, I wouldn’t trade my curly red hair or sticky-out ears or slightly beaky nose. Besides, as a writer, just think of how many adjectives I’d loose if we all started looking alike.

Dissecting a Pet Peeve

I am a science fan. ‘Round about 40 years ago, it was easier to be a groupee. How many scientists were born from the dream-become-reality of walking on the moon? Our world is becoming what science fiction used to be, yet it’s harder to be a fan of science.

Eighty percent of my science related pet peeve is summed up with this cartoon:

Science News Cycle

The news industry does a grave injustice to science. It over-hypes the results of small preliminary studies. Headlines often use the most hysterical language to report things. A recent Salon article (Why America is flunking science) touches on Hollywood misrepresenting science, but more damage is done by reporters who don’t understand the scientific method writing to an audience that doesn’t understand the scientific method. When the results of some minor early study are over-exposed and demonized, the public loses confidence in science when a further study shows a reverse trend. It sometimes seems that even scientists forget that the most important part of science is retesting, refining, and reassessing when more data is available. Science is the search for how the world works and how to make the world work for us; not the search for a definitive answer based on a half-understood model of how the world works.

Hollywood is not free of fault. I understand Crichton’s argument in the Salon article. Science and scientists are good drama devices, though I’m not a fan of negative science fiction (which is fairly prominent in literature as well). But to some degree, science can still be a "villain" without sacrificing sense of wonder. While "Doctor Who" is pretty far from scientific rigor, it is optimistic science fiction despite the occasional killer robots. The Doctor and his companions see I’ve also been watching the BBC’s "Eleventh Hour" which has a big science villain every episode but also a protagonist that marvels at how far science can and will take us. (I haven’t seen the American version.)

Still, it’s extremely annoying when TV shows and movies (and books) ignore the basics of how the world works (which is the basis of science, after all). Octagonal paper is used, and all you need to interface with the alien spacecraft is a trusty Mac. Blood is often red and gooey weeks after a murder. Pistols are incredibly accurate at long range. Technologies aren’t developed through thousands of man-hours by a team of men and women, but by one rich super-genius. It all adds up to a very distorted view of how the world works and how science works. And sadly, in many cases, what movies and TV get wrong could easily be put right. I deal with this often in the fictional world that Eric and I are creating. The easy short-cut or the stylish detail is sometimes off the mark as far as reality is concerned. These things are a hassle to correct, but the fictional world I’m creating is much richer when the flaws are fixed and there is continuity in the way the universe works. Why wouldn’t I expect as much from depictions of our own reality?

The other day, I linked an article that went on vaguely about weight loss and exercise and…well, it seemed like a muddled mess to me. Normal for most science reporting. Luckily, SportsGeezer had a link to the LA Times which covered the same bit with more clarity. But I still have a problem.

Their headline is: Exercise: It’s an hour a day, people. Seriously.
But it’s not. Not all exercise is the same. They do realize this, don’t they? Not even every person is the same. They give some stats:

About a quarter of the women who managed to sustain a 10% weight loss exercised more, adhered to better eating habits and engaged more often by phone with the intervention team. For them, exercise amounted to an average of expending 1,835 calories a week, or 275 minutes per week.

(That’s about 40 minutes a day, by the way. Not an hour.)  And concluded:

“This clarifies the amount of physical activity that should be targeted for achieving and sustaining this magnitude of weight loss, but also demonstrates the difficulty of sustaining this level of physical activity,”

And I call bullshit.  I ran my own numbers. Anecdotal, yes. And I am a girl doing math, so feel free to check me.

I’ve been sustaining a 15 pound weight loss (from 135 to 120) which was about 10% of my weight. My FitDay records, which are approximations, say that over the past six months I’ve burned an average of 1890 calories a day. (I take in about 1850 calories.) I get exercise primarily from playing ultimate frisbee and running. I’ve spent 72 hours or 4320 minutes in the last six months (or 26 weeks) on these activities. My math says that I’ve spent 166.15 min/week doing these exercises. Or around 24 minutes a day. ‘Course, ultimate and running are pretty vigorous. Well, at least when most people do them. I’m pretty freakin’ slow.

This isn’t to say that getting *that* much exercise is easy. I’ve been having trouble getting that much in lately. I’m glad someone isn’t telling me that I need to double it. And that’s what bugs me about these sorts of articles. They generalize and can be pretty disheartening to someone who’s struggling to figure it all out. Sure, if you’re going to schlep on a treadmill at 4 mph, it’s going to take much longer to burn the calories you need to burn. Come out and play ultimate instead.

Edit:  I spend most of my time at my computers.  Or writing.  Or reading.  I am very still when I do these things, so I generally consider my lifestyle to be otherwise very sedentary. But I do walk places. Eric and I go for walks often. These things absolutely play into how many calories I burn, but I don’t account for them. They’re not exercise. They’re life.