Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Jim Davies to Present at Pecha Kucha Ottawa, June 12, 2012


Pecha Kucha is an organization that holds events consisting of talks. The constraint is that every talk needs to be 6.6 minutes long, and has 20 slides. One slide every twenty seconds, automatically changed.

I will be presenting at the next one in Ottawa!

I will be speaking about ideas in my forthcoming book (I'm currently shopping for publishers) Riveted: Why We Love Art, Products, and Ideas. The thesis of the book is that the reasons we are attracted to belief systems such as religion and astrology are many of the same reasons we find the arts so satisfying.


There will be seven other speakers, including the amazing percussionist Jesse Stewart (http://www.jessestewart.ca/). We have a lot in common. We're both Carleton professors, we're both bald, and we both had talks at TEDxCarletonU.

Unlike me, he recently won a Juno award for his band Stretch Orchestra, and built an amazing tree house. He's a great guy and a good friend. I can't wait for his presentation.



The event is open to the public, and it should be very interesting. I can't wait.

Event: Pecha Kucha Ottawa
Time: June 12, 2012, 7-10pm
Location: St. Brigid's Centre for the Arts (http://saintbrigidscentre.com) at 310 St. Patrick St, Ottawa, Ontario
Cost: $10 CAD

Event website: http://www.pecha-kucha.org/night/ottawa/5

Pecha Kucha Ottawa Website: http://www.pecha-kucha.org/night/ottawa/
Pecha Kucha Website: http://www.pecha-kucha.org/

Jesse Stewart's TEDxCarletonU talk: http://youtu.be/IrnRTZoJ20I
Jim Davies's TEDxCarletonU talk: http://youtu.be/caBIboOGSe4
TEDxCarletonU site: http://www.ted.com/tedx/events/173.html
TEDxCarletonU on Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/tedxcarletonu

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Monday, May 28, 2012

The Paradox of the Elderly



I've heard it lamented that old people are not respected in our culture, and that in other cultures they get more of the respect they deserve.

I've seen this personally when I was living in China. If an elderly person got on the bus, and there were no seats, someone might announce that there was an old person had arrived, so somebody get up. Somebody would.  The word for old in Chinese is lao, which has connotations of respect. It feels very different from using the word "old" in English. Because of the respectful connotation, there is no good translation for the word in all its true meaning. Here is what it looks like:

I would never say "An old person needs to sit down!" on a Western bus, because I'm afraid the person I'm describing might be bothered by being called old. It's not cool to be old in this culture.

I'm going to speculate on why older people don't get as much respect in Western culture.

First, we need to look at why old people get respected at all, anywhere. Generally they are thought to have a great deal of practical knowledge about the world. They've lived so long, they've seen so much, so they can give great advice.

Is that the case in modern America? Certainly they've learned a lot-- they can't help but do so if they live that long. The question is, of what value is that knowledge?

For better or for worse, the world is changing. Not only is it changing, which it always has, but it's changing faster than it used to. Five hundred years ago, the world you were born into looked a good deal like the one you died in. Is that so now? Not really. There are exceptions, of course, but old people tend to relate best to the world they grew up in. They often listen to the music they heard when they discovered music in their teens (I'm much the same way, and fighting to try to like new music coming out instead of just listening to EPMD all the time).

This is because the brain adapts to the world it is born into, but over time its ability to adapt diminishes. It loses plasticity. A clear example is the critical period in which one can learn a language easily. Why would we have evolved to stop learning so easily when we get into our middle age? Because during the bulk of our evolutionary history, the world didn't change that fast. Why commit resources to learning when there's not much new to learn? Their intelligence turns from fluid to crystallized.
(For more information, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fluid_and_crystallized_intelligence)

I think this is why the elderly are not as respected in the West the way they used to, and the way they are in other cultures. There are many questions young people face that old people have no idea how to answer. This is particularly true with technology, which has a great influence on our lives now.

Don't think I'm defending the disrespect of our elderly. On the contrary, I think they have a good deal to offer, but mostly for those things that either don't change of only change slowly-- for example, personal relationships (how to mend a friendship, how to deal with the negative emotions of a divorce or death, etc.)

But if my problem was not being able to have two YouTube accounts without having two separate email addresses, or even what to do to get my passport renewed, my first instinct would not be to go ask the oldest person I know.

Pictured: Old Man, painted by Peter Paul Reubens. The second picture is the Chinese character lao, meaning old (and respected). It's an animated GIF that shows the stroke order, which is how one is supposed to write it. From Wikimedia Commons.

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Saturday, May 19, 2012

How Jedi Should Dress

This post is about costuming choices for Jedi and will probably only be of interest to Star Wars fans.

How People Dress on Tatooine
Tatooine is a planet that shows up a lot in the Star Wars films. It's generally a poor desert planet. Let's take a look at how the people who were born and raised there dress themselves.

Here are Owen and Beru when they are young and are given Luke Skywalker to raise.


Here is Anakin Skywalker, as a young slave.

Here is his mother Shmi Skywalker.

Finally, here is Luke Skywalker:

Notice the pattern here, which makes sense for a poor, desert climate. They all wear tunic-like garb made of cheap fabrics. They're mostly covered to protect themselves from the sun. Good costuming choices.

Here is the problem. The world grew up with Luke Skywalker as their prototype for a Jedi. It just so happens that Luke's iconic look is in Tatooine clothing, even though Luke's costuming changes throughout the original series. In Empire he's mostly wearing what appear to be rebel military outfitting. This is what he's wearing until he gets to Dagobah and meets Yoda.


Here is the costume he wears on Bespin.

Luke gets dangerously close to falling to the dark side. We know this because of his "failure in the cave" on Dagobah, and because he leaves his training to help his friends. Not only is he leaving his training at a critical time, but he's displaying "attachment" to people, which, as we learned in the prequels, is traditionally forbidden for Jedi. When we see him in Return of the Jedi, he's kind of dressed like sith in the making, in black, like Anakin did just before he turned to the dark side.


In spite of the various costuming changes Luke goes through, I think people still picture him as being in the original Tatooine outfit. They came to associate Jedi with that outfit. The problem is that I think George Lucas did too.

How Jedi Dress
Let's look at Obi-Wan Kenobi, and how he dresses on Tatooine.
Look familiar? He's wearing Tatooine clothing. This makes sense because he lived there for about 20 years. He's in hiding from the sith, and wants to blend in. Fair enough.

But wait, if he spent most of his life on Coruscant, there's no reason for him to have dressed like a Tatooine native before coming to Tatooine. But he did.

In fact, it appears that the Jedi generally tend to dress in this tunic getup. Here's Mace Windu.
Here's Yoda (on Coruscant, before he was slumming it on Dagobah.)

Look familiar? Here are a bunch more (to give you an idea of how much of a Star Wars nerd I am, I only know two of their names).
So we have a strange situation here. Either the Jedi happen to be dressing like people on Tatooine, or the people of Tatooine happen to be dressing like Jedi. It doesn't make any sense to me. Why would Uncle Owen be wearing basically the same costume as Kit Fisto (the dapper gentlemen on the right)?

The Jedi Before and After Revenge of the Sith

I was talking to my fellow improvisor friend Jody Hauke, and he said "I work at a comic book shop, and I hear a lot of criticism of the prequels. But I don't think I've ever heard one about the costuming."

I love the Star Wars prequels. This critique is a minor suggested rewrite of a series I really like.

On to the critique.

First of all, to relieve the strangeness described in the previous section, the Jedi should not be dressed the same way as the people of Tatooine. To fix this you can change the Tatooine garb or the Jedi garb. Let's leave the people of Tatooine alone and change the Jedi costumes. How should we do it?

I think there was a bit of a missed opportunity in the prequels to show what the Jedi were and to constrast it with what they will become. The Jedi before the end of Revenge of the Sith were a bit more like policemen, like soldiers. They knocked people around a bit. They were a bit arrogant. There are problems with their philosophy.

In Attack of the Clones Anakin and Obi-Wan capture the assassin in a bar. Anakin snarls to the patrons "Jedi business. Go back to your drinks." Uppity!

In the Lightsaber Lost episode of The Clone Wars, Ahsoka uses the force to slam a suspect up against the wall to get information out of him. Where does she get off?

In contrast, the Jedi of the original series seem to have a more peaceful philosophy. The way I like to think about it is that the events in Episode III were a big wake up call to the remaining two Jedi of how far from the path they'd gotten. So what is the right path?

It's mentioned only twice, but Qui-Gon Jinn talks about "the living force" in The Phantom Menace. The movies never explain what this is. For this, we need to go to the "extended universe" of Star Wars, or EU, which is the world fleshed out in computer games, books, comics, TV shows, role-playing games, etc. According to Wikipedia, the living force is a philosophy that emphasizes being in the moment, using your instincts, and respecting the force as coming from life. They are vigilant about not going over to the dark side.
http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/The_Force

The philosophy is contrasted with the philosophy of "the unifying force."It emphasizes destiny, prophesy, and sees the light and dark sides as being in all creatures.

There are hints that the Jedi were more into the unifying force before the Empire, and more into the living force afterward. The Jedi in the prequels talk a good deal about the prophecy and it's relationship to Anakin, for example. Although Yoda espouses a few living force views, its main proponent in the prequels is Qui-Gon.

Qui-Gon is viewed a bit as a maverick.



"Do not defy the Council, Master, not again."
"I shall do what I must, Obi-Wan."
―Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn


At the end of Revenge of the Sith, Yoda reveals that Qui-Gon has learned to remain alive, in some sense, as a force ghost. Qui-Gon's discovery of this is what allows Obi-Wan, Yoda, and Anakin to appear as ghosts in the original trilogy.



The interpretation I like is that the Jedi order was on the wrong path-- the unifying force path. Qui-Gon was the lone voice of opposition, and lit the path for the Jedi of the future-- the living force. I like this interpretation, but I think the films could have emphasized it a bit more.

The Jedi should have been more "wrong." The Jedi are presented as good, as they should be, but I think the prequels should have revealed the flaws in their philosophy a bit more explicitly. Then the saga would also be a story of the transformation and healing of the Jedi way.

One way I suggest they do it? You guessed it-- costuming!

How the Jedi Should Have Been Costumed


I think the Jedi in the prequels should have been costumed in a much more showy or military style, to reflect their sense of superiority and willingness to rough people up and, indeed, so easily become generals in a war. They should embody the mystic warrior archetype.

The one exception should have been Qui-Gon, who should have looked as well as acted like an outsider. He would represent the monk archetype, the ascetic. His looking different would symbolize his different beliefs.

Then, when Obi-Wan and Yoda are in hiding, and take on Qui-Gon's more monk-like ways, they too adopt the clothing change, and dress and act more like monks. However, this monk costume should be distinguishable from Tatooine garb.
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Sunday, May 13, 2012

Jim Davies Is a Selected Screenwriter for the Digi60 Spring Event



One of my hobbies is writing plays and screenplays. Back in Atlanta I was a part of a terrific group called "Working Title Playwrights ." We would meet every week, read some pages aloud, and give each other feedback.

In Ottawa I have yet to find a play writing group, but I happened upon a screenwriting group, "The Writer's Room." We get together every month and discuss our work, and the group also organizes a "Schmooze" at a bar a few times a year for film people to network.

Here is a short film (about a minute long) from a screenplay I wrote.
It's directed by Montica Pes, a long-time collaborator of mine who is in film school in Los Angeles.

Through The Writer's Room I was able to apply for this terrific opportunity with a group called Digi60. They hold events in which screenwriters are paired up with film directors, and must make a short film based on a "catch," or constraint. Last year the catch was that the film must have a passionate kiss that was important for the film.

I sent in my application, and I'm pleased to have been one of the four screenwriters selected! A short screenplay that I'll write very soon will be produced!

Here are the filmmakers, one of whom I will be randomly paired with:

Parktown:
Randy Kelly
Sarah Argue
inMotion:
Matt West
Tim McMillan

The other selected ("invitational") screenwriters are Katie ComptonKeith Davidson, and Sparrow McGowan.

The catch event is open to the public and is this coming Tuesday (May 15, 6pm, 80 Aberdeen St.). If you're interested in any part of filmmaking, and you're in the Ottawa area, please come.

Links:
Jim Davies Theater and Film information:
      http://www.jimdavies.org/art/theater/
Digi60:
      http://www.digi60.org/
Catch Event Facebook Page:
      http://www.facebook.com/events/282465808502280/
The Writer's Room Facebook Page:
      http://www.facebook.com/groups/thewritersroomottawa/
Working Title Playwrights:
      http://www.workingtitleplaywrights.com/
Montica Pes's Pesfu Films:
      http://www.youtube.com/user/pesfu

Pictured: The audience at the Digi60 screening event last year in December. I'm in the front row, wearing a bright orange Harley-Davidson hoodie I bought while freezing and stranded in Philadelphia airport for three days. 


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Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Imagination Mistakes



Have you ever screwed up using your imagination? In imagination, anything goes, right?

Actually, people make mistakes with their imagination all the time. They imagine how someone will react, or what will happen with some physical system, and get it wrong. If your imagination were never wrong, you'd be able to predict everything pretty well. But of course we can't.

People even make mistakes about what is imaginary and what is not. In psychology they call these  misattribution errors.

False Memory
For example, sometimes you think you remember something but it's actually something you imagined. Psychologists call this "false memory." Whenever you recall something that happened, you recreate it in your mind, fabricating details on the spot without even realizing it. As you tell a story again and again, you remember it differently, slightly, every time.

I remember clearly trying to ride my tricycle down the stairs. I fell all the way down, with the trike falling after me, narrowly missing me as it landed at the bottom.

This actually happened, but I remember it happening in the wrong house. It happened before I was five, in a different house. I remember it happening in the home I grew up in.

For the most part, the things that happened to you before you were five are not remembered. This is called infant amnesia. You might think you remember things, but most of them are reconstructions based on family stories. Mine is a false memory based on the story. (Please don't clog my comment section with things you swear you remember from when you were a baby.)

Cryptomnesia
The other kind of error is has the wonderful name cryptomnesia. This is when you think you've imagined something, but it's actually a memory. My man Joe Kraemer is a TV and film composer, and he told me that when he's thinking of some new tune, and one comes to his mind, he has to be careful that it's not something he's just remembering. I wrote a bit about this before in reference to Lady Gaga and Madonnna:
http://jimdavies.blogspot.ca/2011/05/false-imagination-madonnas-express.html

Pictured: Stairs, from Wikimedia Commons

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Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Jim Davies Wins an Excellence in Teaching With Technology Award, 2012


The Educational Development Centre at Carleton University has awarded me an Excellence in Teaching With Technology Award.

My application was based on my "Don't Waste Student Work" teaching philosophy, which I've been using in the classroom since I started here in 2006.

You can learn more about this teaching philosophy at this webpage, which contains a link to a video of a 45 minute talk I gave on the subject, directed to my academic colleagues. Afterward are 15 minutes of questions.
http://jimdavies.org/research/publications/technical-reports/Davies2009.html

Or you can watch my TEDxOttawa talk, which is considerably shorter (17 minutes) and designed for a general audience. One of the organizers of TEDxOttawa said to me after my practice talk, "Unfortunately, this is a revolutionary idea."


The requirements for the award can be found here:
http://www1.carleton.ca/edc/teaching-awards-and-grants/awards/cu-awards/#Excellence in Teach With Tech

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Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Mindfulness and When Not to Use it


Mindfulness is a Buddhist concept that means that you are consciously aware of what you are doing, and what your immediate surroundings are. Mindfulness is viewed by many, including myself, to be one of the keys to happiness.

Why Be Mindful?

The idea is that when you are mindful, you are in the present moment, and not dwelling on regrets of the past, or feeling anxiety about the future. These are unhappy thoughts. Even happy thoughts of the past and future are really illusions. There are plenty of things to be happy about in your immediate surroundings if you focus on them and appreciate. For example, you might be warm enough, or there might be a smiling child, or the sun might be shining.

Mindfulness Means Not Multitasking

Another part of mindfulness is trying not to do too much at once. If you're eating chocolate while you're reading a good novel, then you're not fully enjoying either. So the Buddhists recommend that if you're going to eat chocolate, do nothing but eating, and really enjoy it. Then go back to the novel and really enjoy that.

Some Things Are Not Fun

But there are lots of things in this world that are not very much fun at all, but you should do anyway. I don't like brussels sprouts, but they're healthful and if they're on the table I should eat them. Exercise isn't much fun, often, but the health benefits are great. So should you be mindful when eating not-so-delicious healthy food and washing dishes?

The Buddhists would say yes. Thinking about how exercise and brussels sprouts are good for your body is supposed to make the whole thing worth it.

I disagree.

When Not To Be Mindful

You can make your life more fun if you do unpleasurable things unmindfully. Most of us do this already with exercise-- we watch TV on the treadmill, or we listen to music we like while running, or we play games that make the exercise fun. I think this is a great idea.

Remember, if you're multitasking, you're not fully paying attention to everything you're doing. This way you can do important unfun things with more pleasure.

To me, eating buttery, delicious popcorn while you're watching an engrossing movie is kind of foolish. You're all caught up in the movie, and before you know it, the popcorn is gone and you scarcely remember eating it.

What I try to do is eat not-so-delicious things while watching movies and TV shows. That bowl of raw bean sprouts might be gone by the end of the show, just like a bag of potato chips would, without your even realizing it. The difference is you've filled up on something healthful.

You can engineer your life a bit like this, trying to eat healthful things while you're doing fun things, exercising while you entertain yourself.


If you're eating buttery popcorn, there's no need to do anything else. Be mindful; there's plenty to enjoy. But unmindfulness too can be a powerful source of happiness too, and can help you do things you should be doing.


Pictured: A lizard stealing a green bean, probably unmindfully. He'll probably go home and eat it while surfing Reddit at home (actually it's a toy, placed there for marketing. It's cute, though.) From Wikimedia Commons. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lizard_Steals_Green_Bean.jpg




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