Category Archives: Crossposted


infernoThe trailers for the latest Tom Hanks Treasure Hunt, Inferno, looked kind of silly. The line “I left you a path… the hardest one yet” suggests that somebody has created a puzzle for Professor Langdon, and is deliberately leaving the fate of the human race in his hands.

Fortunately, the trailer is misleading.

As archaeological puzzle-solving goes, Inferno has almost nothing to offer. As a spy thriller, however, it works pretty well. Tense moments, cool action scenes, and a twisty, fun plot. It deploys some tired tropes, and then nicely explains why these things could actually happen here.

It doesn’t clear my Threshold of Awesome, but I did have fun.

A New Common Core

There’s talk these days about college educations being too expensive—and by “too expensive,” some experts have said it’s simply not worth the money. I’m not currently working in the field I studied, but I don’t regret college at all. In part, I suppose, because it’s been paid for.

Of the many things I remember from my years in school, these two stick out:

  • “You don’t know how to think until you know how to write” (from Freshman orientation)
  • “There is more than just one way to learn a thing” (from an honors seminar on epistemology)

Those two points served me very well as I moved from career to career, and I think they can be expanded upon to form their own field of study. With a substantial portion of all human knowledge instantly available to us on our handbrains¹ it can be argued that the acquisition of such knowledge needs to be cheaper than a one-year service plan.

On the down side, you can’t believe everything you read on the Internet. Per Sturgeon’s Law², “90% of everything is crap.” A formal education might be the best defense against inadvertently filling one’s head with digitally disseminated falsehood, folklore, and folderol.

The current model for formal education involves front-loading our brains with material delivered by professionals whose authority we’re not truly invited to question. They may teach “question everything,” but they never really support us questioning whether their class is worth our money.

That’s why I think that the class we all need, and which should likely be the first class taught to the rising generation, would teach the following skills:

  • How to gather information online
  • How to evaluate that information’s validity
  • How to make a decision based on the available information

Simply put, it is learning how to learn, and learning how to act on what we’ve learned. I imagine the class running for about three months, and presenting increasingly complicated problems for students to solve using online resources.

It may seem a little silly, and even a little too basic, because it’s an extension of what most of us already do. But as more and more information becomes quickly available to us, this process  will inevitably become the dominant mode for learning things. Doing it sloppily will be disastrous.

Obviously the things learned from online research will need to be supplemented with practical experience, but there are manifold paths open to us once we’ve figured out that first bit. It may be that autodidacts³ of the future will move directly into medical school, skipping the undergrad and pre-med programs on their way to becoming doctors.

Or maybe the doctors of the future will go to school for bedside manner and periodic maintenance of the surgeon-bots and all their super-precise robot friends who never forget to wash their hands⁴.

¹Have you ever had a professor quote to you from their own book, which you were required to buy as part of the class? I’ve always aspired to that level of grift. 

²What we call “Sturgeon’s Law” was called “Sturgeon’s Revelation” by Sturgeon, and he never got around to condensing it into six words of pith. 

³A fancy word for “folks who are self-taught.” Useful, but pretty much everybody I know has taught themselves a great many interesting things, so at some level the word “autodidact” simply means “human.”

Still a problem among modern surgeons. It’s the surgeon equivalent of using your turn signal when driving.


Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

jackreacher2I took the advantage of $5.00 movie day at the local cinema to see Jack Reacher: Never Go Back. It’s pretty much exactly what you’d expect from an espionage/action movie, down to the last trope, but I enjoyed it a lot.

My favorite bit was seeing Cobie Smulders‘ name in the opening credits, and before I could fully squee out, up came Aldis Hodge‘s name. Smulders is Maria Hill in the Marvel films, and Hodge was Alec Hardison in all five seasons of Leverage, and let’s just say I was far more excited to see those actors again than I was to see Tom Cruise¹.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back doesn’t clear my Threshold of Awesome, but I liked it, and I think fans of the first film will, too. As will fans of Smulders and Hodge, who kind of made the movie for me.

¹ I like Tom Cruise movies, and I enjoy his work in them. There are a lot of them, though, so my excitement gets spread a little thin. 

Magnificent Seven (2016)

I’ve only seen parts of Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, and it’s been so long since I saw 1960’s Magnificent Seven that I can’t recall any of the particulars beyond the presence of Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen.

magnificent7-2016Contextually, then, I’m well suited to appreciate Antoine Fuqua’s Magnificent Seven for what it is, rather than for what it’s a remake of. I didn’t actually get around to seeing it until it had been out for a full month, but I’m glad I saw it in the theater. I really enjoyed myself (in part, perhaps because I was seeing it with my friend Alan.)

The film didn’t need that much help from good company. I loved the performances from Vincent D’Onofrio, Chris Pratt, and Haley Bennett, and I thrilled at pretty much every one of the scenes that establishes how deadly our heroes are. I also liked that they were each distinctly different, and not just in terms of diverse casting—they all dealt death in different ways.

In classical tragedy people are brought low by their flaws. Here, however, our heroes can die simply because there just aren’t enough good places to hide from the bullets¹. They can also die heroically, of course, and I won’t spoil who does what. I will, however, say that this remake does not improve the survival odds for the Seven².

In the final analysis, of course, Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai is a groundbreaking piece of cinema, while Fuqua’s Magnificent Seven is just a cool cowboy movie. Still, I liked it.


¹ I believe there were too many bullets. The Gatling Gun in use in the film used a 40-ish round box magazine, which required the gunner to stop firing and reload. The Model 1881 Gatling Gun’s “Bruce Feed” mechanism (which they did not use in the film) would have allowed for continuous fire of roughly 400 rounds per minute. And even that might not have been enough for all the bullets I saw.

² The survival percentages of our heroes are equally not great in Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai³ and John Sturges Magnificent Seven⁴ . Both of them round up to 43%. 

³ “In the end we lost this battle too. The victory belongs to the farmers, not to us.”

⁴ “The Old Man was right. Only the farmers won. We lost. We’ll always lose.”