Tuesday, November 29, 2005


2005-11-29 -- NEW DVD RELEASES

Some interesting new releases:

Mr & Mrs Smith -- Angelina & Brad acting bad -- onscreen (and off).

March of the Penguins -- The amazing behavior of real penguins.

Murderball -- Men in wheelchairs play rugby.

For more information, VideoETA.com has very extensive information about past present and future DVD releases.

Another good DVD info site is

Sunday, November 27, 2005



With a series of gifts, Kyriakos Tsakopoulos and other members of the Tsakopoulos family have made major contributions to the development of modern and classic Hellenic studies at Columbia University, Georgetown University, and Stanford University.

Kyriakos Tsakopoulos is the President and CEO of KT Communities (a land development company in California), and a member of the Board of Trustees of the California State University System.

As part of the enriched program, Columbia University inaugurated the Kyriakos Tsakopoulos Memorial Lectures, "Aristotle and the Moderns," in honor of Kyriakos Tsakopoulos' grandfather, who had the same name.

Nikiforos Diamandouros, the European Ombudsman, presented the first lecture in the series, a very interesting public lecture on the conditions necessary for a government Ombudsman to be successful. He discussed how the institution of the Ombudsman developed very recently, beginning less than a hundred years ago, only spreading rapidly in the last few decades. Then, he described the necessity for a tradition of "Rule Of Law" as being even more important than the existence of a democracy as a pre-condition for success, where this Rule Of Law means the government respects the importance and right of fair treatment of all its citizens. The Ombudsman -- who does not have any powers of enforcement -- is then in a position to bring issues to the government and have reasonable success in resolving those problems.

In response to a question, Diamandouros speculated on the reason why there is no government Ombudsman in the United States (although some individual states and some corporations have Ombudsmen). He suggested one factor might be the development over the years of litigation as the primary means of resolving disputes and conflicts in the US, before the institution of Ombudsman had developed.

In addition to his contributions to Hellenic studies, Kyriakos Tsakopoulos recently made a contribution to the Thurnauer School of Music at the JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly, NJ, a community music school just outside New York. The school is a center for training young musicians and includes studies in many instruments, voice, music theory, jazz, chamber, and orchestral music.

Part of the contribution will go to support the scholarship fund of the Gift Of Music Benefit Concert featuring Maxim Vengerov, on May 22nd, 2006.

(The Gift Of Music is an annual event, established by Joan and Alan Handler, in which world famous musicians interact with the students in an afternoon workshop, and then perform in an evening concert to benefit the scholarship fund. Joshua Bell, Claude Frank, Gil Shaham, Marian McPartland, David Finckel and Wu Han, Pamela Frank, the Juilliard Quartet, Paula Robison, and Wynton Marsalis are among the many extremely distinguished musicians who have participated.)

Classical studies have been languishing for decades and it may be hoped that these contributions will stimulate increased interest in the classics, and in their relevance to modern life, as well as developing cross-pollination and cultural bridges with other intellectual, cultural and political institutions serving the interests of the public.



, an interesting program on science, is hosted by Michio Kaku every Wednesday evening from 5-6 on WBAI (99.5 in NY).

Dr. Kaku holds a PhD in theoretical physics, is a professor at City University, and writes popular and technical books. He is very well informed about many fields of science and his program features conversations with distinguished scientific guests, as well as informative discussions of important scientific issues -- often issues that affect policy in areas of public health and safety.

Saturday, November 26, 2005



is a B Movie (and that's intended as a mild compliment), a film noir bien spectrale (that French expression, which I just made up, means that the story is like film noir, but the visual presentation is attractive and colorful), and it's played by A list actors.

Jennifer Aniston is believable and compelling; Clive Owen not quite so much.

The film has two flaws. First, the story is not grounded in a place -- it seems to be a little bit British and a little bit American. Much of the strength of noir and B movies is their evocation of very specific and troubled places. Second, the story, while engaging and sometimes exciting, is full of holes and inconsistencies (like the arithmetic in this paragraph), and the surprises could have been plucked from a computer program of acceptable twists in a romantic mystery. Thirdly, it's a sort of romantic mystery, but there is no great romance or passion, and it never makes it to erotic thriller. (That's one of the troubles with casting an A list actress -- few are fierce enough to do the edgy erotic material a great film noir mystery deserves.)

The result is an enjoyable film, that's worth a trip to the movies or an evening with the DVD, but that won't make many ten best lists.



War of the Worlds
-- Mars attacks in HG Well's story. Directed by Steven Spielberg, with Tom Cruise.

The Polar Express -- To the North Pole looking for Santa. Directed by Robert Zemeckis. Animated by motion capture with Tom Hanks playing many roles.

9 Songs -- The unrated movie about a couple's sexual relationship. Directed by Michael Winterbottom, with Kieran O'Brien and Margo Stilley.

For more information, VideoETA.com has very extensive information about past present and future DVD releases.

Another good DVD info site is



The competition between ethics and aggressive business tactics was raised on Episode 10 of
The Apprentice.

As shown on TV (and we get to see only a fraction of what actually happened), here's the story:

Teams A & B both decided they needed megaphones.

Team A thought of it first and rounded up all(?) the megaphones in NY, all of which were at Radio Shack, and had them reserved and shipped to one store.

Team B discovered this and raced ahead of team A to the store. Team A, assuming the megaphones were being reserved for them, took a slow ride down to the store.

Team B got there first, misrepresented themselves (by omission or explicitly) as having reserved the megaphones and bought them (all of them? or only 9 of ten?).

Team B then had 9 or 10 megaphones. Team A had one or none. (Team A did not try some other tactic to replace the "stolen" megaphones by some other means, at some other store, or with some other technology -- eg a microphone and a speaker.)

Team B then won the task (having people call to reserve a free sample of perfume) by 5 calls out of about a thousand.

Team A then complained that team B stole their megaphones. Trump and Rancic praised team B's aggressive competitive behavior.

The lack of information the audience gets leaves open many questions, raised by the explicit endorsement of aggressive tactics. For example: What did the Radio Shack employees know? (There was a cameraman there. Something was out of the ordinary.) Was there any manipulation of the results? (Easy enough to have people make a few extra calls on someone's behalf to change which team wins. For that matter, who even verifies the results they announce?) Why did team A travel so slowly to the Radio Shack to pick up the megaphones, and why did all three members of the team have to travel together?

The ethical questions, of course, are: Did team B commit fraud, and if they did is that OK to win the task? If it was was not fraud, did team B play fair, and should they play fair? Did the producers of the show help (explicitly, secretly, or in some subtle way) team B win, and if so is that fair (to the contestants and to the audience)?

There have been a number of comments on BLOGs and personal websites. Here's a small sample:

"You're saying thet Randal's tactics would have gotten him fired in the real world? Oh Please!!!!!"

"The business ethics endorsed by Donald Trump and Bill Rancic on tonight's episode of The Apprentice are reprehensible. "

"...impressive last night was the lesson that you can foil a competiors plan and you should do it if you get the chance.

When Rebecca and Randall chose to go to Radio Shack to get the other teams megaphones I knew that Trump would mention how cunning it was when they got into the board room."



Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
is a sweet movie in a bittersweet wrapper.

(This is not the first film made from the classic children's tale by Roald Dahl. There was a movie in 1971 called Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, with Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka.)

The look of the film (created by
Tim Burton), and the strange character created by Johnny Depp, seem to be promising depravity and evil, but they are just dressing up a sweet confection with enough sour notes (sorry about the mixed metaphor here) to prevent sugar-shock.

The plot is simple; the presentation is elaborate; the payoff is fun. The film is good.



Four girls in high school.

They buy a pair of "magical jeans" that fits each of their very different bodies, and it is shipped around from girl to girl during their summer apart. It ties the girls and their stories together, and it creates
The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants.

Five stories: One for each girl; one for their friendship.

The stories are not particularly original, nor are they particularly interesting for any other reason, unless you are interested in the problems of teen-aged girls.

The Puerto Rican girl's father left her mother for an Anglo-Saxon blond; the long-haired, athletic, blond's mother died and the father is remote; the stay-at-home's father is nowhere to be seen; and the shy girl on vacation in sensual Greece's grandfather hates her boyfriend's grandfather. Is there a pattern here?

The five stories are well-acted, attractively photographed and told in a consistent, coherent, plausible way, with characters that seem like real people.

If you are interested in the stories (love affairs, problems with parents, problems with illness, problems with friends, friendship with friends), then you may very likely like this film. If not, then it is just not for you.

The special features on the DVD are good, although there is no full commentary with the director. There is an interview with Ann Brashares, the author of the book and its sequels. She seems like a sympathetic person. The cast members are shown talking over selected scenes. I liked seeing the people who are giving the commentary; it's a better idea than just having the usual, pure voice-over. It gives a nice feeling for who the actors are and how they reacted to the filming of the movie.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005



Cornelia Street Cafe has a remarkable program of concerts, lectures, readings, story-telling, plays and other things.

On Sunday, Dec 4, 2005, at 6:00, there will be a program called ENTERTAINING SCIENCE, hosted by Nobel Prize winning chemist Roald Hoffmann, The topic on Sunday (12/4) is: NEON.

ENTERTAINING SCIENCE is hosted by Hoffmann at the Cafe regularly, once each month. When I attended the last program, IMPROVISING ON CHAOS, I enjoyed the interesting talk, some of the poetry, and all of the music. There is a $10 cover, and a one drink minimum. Reservations are probably necessary. (Last time they turned people away.) The room is long, so it's also best to come early and sit at one of the tables up close. (In fact, last time there was a demonstration that was presented so close to the ground it was very hard to see from the back.) You can even order food. I didn't try any but it looked very good.

Here's the program for the 4th:

"NEON! Something about intense, clear, colored light delights the eye and mind. Light artists Kenny Greenberg and Clare Brew, teaming up with dancer and choreographer Rachel Cohen, will create synaesthestic light fantasies for us. Roald Hoffmann will lapse into his professorial mode, and do a show-and-tell on emission, absorption, and line spectra, while Oliver Sacks recounts the remarkable history of the noble gases."



There is a program in
Science & The Arts , directed by Brian Schwartz and Adrienne Klein, at The Graduate Center of CUNY, the City University of New York.

This Monday (11/28 -- 6 PM at the Graduate Center of CUNY, 365 Fifth Ave, at 34th Street -- Free), they are presenting a program called Perpetual Motion: Revolutions in 17th Century Science and Music. Dava Sobel, author of Galileo's Daughter, "Will weave stories of science history with the music of the period."

Two years ago, when the SciArt program presented a course called Staging Science (a study of plays with scientific themes or characters), they prepared a very interesting list of plays in which science is featured.

Monday, November 21, 2005



Oddly enough, film festival websites sometimes make it difficult to determine the simplest things. It is all too often difficult to figure out even the name of the festival, the dates of the next festival, or how and when to submit films.

I just looked at a whole bunch of FF websites. Very few leverage the excitement of the films and movie stars they are hosting to create an entertaining and attractive website.

I decided to note some of the most important features of a FF website. It would not be "Quick" (as in the Q in QPORIT) to completely analyze the requirements for FF websites. As will be immediately apparent from sketching out the basic requirements, a detailed design would be a seriously long document.

So... the plan is to outline the specifications and just highlight some of the features that are most necessary, and those that are most often missing.

In an earlier post, I noted some features of a successful film festival. Like the film festival itself, a film festival website has many important purposes. First, it must serve the people who come to see films. Next it must serve the people who are supplying films. It has informational, promotional, and commercial functions.

Here are some of the things I think need to be part of a website for a film festival (FF).

As in the FF itself, there are several groups that all need to be served:

Additionally, there are several phases to a festival site.

Note that this means the site must be dynamic. In fact, especially during festival time, the website should be extremely dynamic, reflecting the activities of the festival -- parties, premieres, celebrities, news coverage, schedule changes, introductory events, and final awards -- all of which could and should be covered by the website.

Moreover, there are two parts to the site, a public site, and a protected site for the film business, including film makers and the press.

And finally there are several aspects to a web site

I believe that a film festival site should not only be useful, it should be attractive and interesting, and therefore a web destination on its own.

The first and most important feature of the web site before and during the festival must be a clear description of the films and special events; a timetable; and a method for buying tickets.

The films should be briefly described (with something better than the cryptic "haiku" that all to often passes for a description of the film).

There should be a link from each brief description to a web page/site for the film or event. This web site should contain a lot of information, including complete cast and credits, and also any related special events, such as a panel discussion about the film that is part of the FF. It should also contain a link to "private" information for the film business and press, concerning contact information, what rights are being offered or sought, people available for interviews, and similar items.

One place where many film festival websites could be vastly improved, I think, is that the website should be constantly updated before and during the festival with the latest news and information. There should be a BLOG on which the latest news is published, such as changes in screening times, the availability of cast and director for Q&A after a film and similar up-to-the-minute news. There should be constantly updated pictures and videos, both for the public and for press use. (Similarly, the private site should contain a BLOG with last minute information about press and business information.) Moreover, the film descriptions, and the festival news should be "entertaining", containing, for example, VLOGed interviews, a live video feed, and film previews in streaming video, to give the website a life of its own.

On the technical side, it would be very helpful if the structure is sufficiently well designed long enough in advance that much of the content can be dropped into a pre-formatted template. However, the entire site should not be templated, to allow for flexibility and interesting variation in design.

The e-commerce features of the site should allow for convenient ticket sales, and for the sale of T-shirts and other souvenir items. Ideally, the private site should have the facility to match up buyers and sellers, and match press with interview subjects, parties, and other story resources.

A FF site has many objectives. Yet this abundance of riches should not be an irritant to any user, who has only one objective: his (or her) own! The key to a good site is to make the navigation very easy, fast, and obvious -- to any information or service a user may wish. This requires both a simple logical design, and an easy-to-use visual design.

Here is a basic list of FF website features:

Without naming names, a quick look at some festival websites (see our post for a sampler of FF sites) showed examples of the following errors in one or another of the various sites. :

Since film festival websites are blessed with the availability of an incredible bounty of great material, a passionate consumer audience, and a dedicated business audience, FF websites can and should be among the most exciting, entertaining, and useful destinations on the web.

Sunday, November 20, 2005



For the benefit of those who are not experts in the Harry Potter series, here is a list of the Harry Potter books and films.

1- Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
>Film directed by Chris Columbus (2001).

2- Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
>Film directed by Chris Columbus (2002).

3- Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
>Film directed by Alfonso Cuarón (2004).

4- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
>Film directed by Mike Newell (2005).

5- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.
> Film in pre-production

6- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

The author of the books is J.K. Rowling, and Mary GrandPré is the illustrator.

There has been noticible inflation. The first book, published in September 1998, was 309 pages and weighed in at 1.6 pounds. The most recent book, published in July 2005, was more than double the size at 652 pages, and weighed 50% more than the first, at 2.4 pounds. (A little wizardly algebra suggests the cover accounts for almost a pound of the weight in both books.)

#5, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, is currently in pre-production. The main cast is still intact. Daniel Radcliffe continues to play Harry Potter, Emma Watson remains as Hermione Granger, and Rupert Grint is still Ron Weasley. David Yates, a newcomer, whose recent work has been mostly in TV, will be directing.

Up to now, both students and teachers have stayed in the same roles (with the notable, unfortunate, exception of Richard Harris, who brought exceptional gravitas to the role of Proessor Dumbledore, but sadly died in 2002 after the second film). It would be quite extraordinary if the series can continue to follow these actors as they grow from children to adults, along with their characters.

Friday, November 18, 2005



I think I was supposed to like
Mad Hot Ballroom: Kids! Dancing in public schools!

But I really didn't like it too much.

The film follows a year in which public school students in the boroughs of New York are given ballroom dancing lessons, culminating in a series of elimination competitions. Teams of dancers from each school compete for a trophy awarded to the school.

I suppose it is a good thing to teach anything in a public school. It is a good thing to teach something above and beyond the curriculum. It is a good thing when a good teacher or an exciting project inspires students.

However, first of all, the movie does not provide enough information about the program for a viewer to form a serious opinion. Is the program really good or not? Are the teachers qualified? Are they nice to the student dancers? Is the team competition bad for good dancers who go to schools with bad programs? Is it fair? Should public school ballroom dancing be a competitive team sport?

What do the students really think? The interviews they show are in some ways artificial. They seem to have been so carefully selected and screened that it's not possible to draw any inference from them about the effect of the program on the kids.

I have kind of an uncomfortable feeling that some of what the film shows and says about some kids is not really good to have imprinted in the permanent record.

The movie is also confusing as to which class is doing what and who is their teacher? and which students are doing well or badly? and how are they progressing? The movie follows too many students and teachers, yet does not provide a comprehensive look at the whole competition.

However, of course, on the other hand, if you just suspend all critical judgement, and simply watch some cute kids getting better and better at ballroom dancing, in a cultural program in the city's schools, then the film is fun to watch.



Once upon a time, after a concert at Carnegie Hall, you would turn right and walk a few steps to the Russian Tea Room.

Now, to find the best bet for a terrific snack (or meal) after a concert, make two lefts, walk about a block South on Seventh avenue, and stop at

They make the best stuffed grape leaves I've ever had. Their bar menu, as well as the appetizers on the main menu are all very special. They have a gazillion kinds of Ouzo. And I like just about all the desserts, though not everyone likes their version of baklava (not flaky), and Greek coffee is a matter of taste.

Almost everything is a surprising treat. It's a tough choice between taking old favorites each time I visit, or trying something new.

For a double header (if you don't mind being a little rude to the person/people you are with), while you are waiting for the order to come, pop across the street and get a takeout order of corned beef from the
Carnegie Deli to take home for tomorrow's lunch. (For that matter, you can order take-out from Molyvos, too).

Tuesday, November 15, 2005



The theme for the next set of short (4 min or less) films for
Quick Flick World is CONTRADICTION. The "technical parameter" (whatever that means, but it's optional, I think) is "Crossing the Axis."

Each month Quick Flick World proposes a theme for films to be made by filmmakers from (currently seven) cities around the world. Then the (mostly local) films from that month are shown at a party, along with the best films from all over the world that were created for the theme of the previous month. Some films are posted online.

Check the Quick Flick World website for contact information and more details. It's very easy to participate.

It's networking, partying and a filmmaking challenge.

Saturday, November 12, 2005



Using VideoETA.com, we can now show the DVD's currently scheduled for release.

VideoETA New This Week

VideoETA.com has very extensive information about past present and future DVD releases.

Friday, November 11, 2005



Batman Begins is a very good film. But not a great film. Interesting. Not exciting, but lots of explosions. Fun for the whole family. Christian Bale is fine as Batman. Katie Holmes is fine as the girl he lusts after chastely.

There's a curious morality in films about who you are allowed to kill (and when) and still be the most moral person on earth. (I think there's a PhD thesis in that for somebody.) Generally speaking, you can kill people with a name only at the end of the movie (and only in certain ways under certain conditions) after they have been really bad. Even if they are very bad, you can not kill them at the beginning. People-without-a-name-who-are-assumed-to-be-employed-by-the-bad-guy can be killed at any time.

Bale appeared in Spielberg's Empire of the Sun when he was 13. He was in American Psycho and Little Women. His second time in a film about Pocahontas, he will be John Rolfe in Terrence Malick's version of the story, The New World. (John Rolfe married Pocahontas and also founded the tobacco industry.) Bale will reprise the role of Batman in the sequel to Batman Begins.

Holmes appeared on the cover of every entertainment magazine on Earth, since hooking up with Tom Cruise.

The supporting cast is very fine (the good guys and the villains both), especially Michael Caine -- as the man-friday who cares for Bruce Wayne as a boy and then as a man; Liam Neeson; Rutger Hauer; and, in the guy-who-knows-everything role, Morgan Freeman.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005



As part of the continuing celebration of its 50th anniversary, the Public Theater
is holding a panel discussion, "Reliving Incendiary Moments in Public Theater History," on Wednesday, November 9, 2005 from 7:00- 8:30 PM with a reception to follow. It is FREE. But reservations are required: 212-260-2400.

The panelists are

The Public Theater has been one of New York's most important cultural institutions almost from the moment of its founding. The
current season of plays is very interesting. The special events presented as part of its 50th anniversary celebration have been quite spectacular.

One event that I attended was a staged reading of Christopher Durang's The Marriage of Bette and Boo. It was remarkable -- interesting, funny, and sad -- with a wonderful cast that included Christopher Durang himself, Joan Allen in a great performance as Bette, and eKatherine Kerr (who was terrific recently in a staged reading of a different Durang play, Laughing Wild), doing another brilliant performance.



Cornelia Street Cafe has a remarkable program of concerts, lectures, readings, story-telling, plays and other things.

On Sunday, Dec 4, 2005, at 6:00 there will be a program called ENTERTAINING SCIENCE, hosted by Nobel Prize winning chemist Roald Hoffmann. The topic will be:

"NEON! Something about intense, clear, colored light delights the eye and mind. Light artists Kenny Greenberg and Clare Brew, teaming up with dancer and choreographer Rachel Cohen, will create synaesthestic light fantasies for us. Roald Hoffmann will lapse into his professorial mode, and do a show-and-tell on emission, absorption, and line spectra, while Oliver Sacks recounts the remarkable history of the noble gases."

ENTERTAINING SCIENCE is hosted by Hoffmann at the Cafe regularly, once each month. The last program was called IMPROVISING ON CHAOS. I liked the talk, the music, and some of the poetry. Cover is $10. There is a one drink minimum. Reservations are probably necessary. The room is long and narrow, so it's best to come early and sit close. (One demonstration was presented so low it was real had to see from the back.)You can even order food. I didn't try any, but it looked very good.



The motion of Mars as seen from Earth (as each, of course, moves smoothly in its orbit around the sun), can change its apparent direction in the sky. Here is an
animation of the position of Mars in the sky, created by Larry Koehn, a graphic artist and amateur astronomer who has many interesting astronomical illustrations on his website (www.shadowandsubstance.com).

Thursday, November 03, 2005



With some great -- and some less-than-perfect -- experiences at film festivals, and other conferences, gatherings, and meetings, I've developed a notion for some of the things I'd like to have available when I attend.

A film festival is intended to serve several interests:

The following suggestions should help optimize the experience for all these groups.

For watching movies, some of the most important factors are:

For communication:

For facilitating networking:

For getting the best press coverage:

For creature comforts:

I'm sure there are many other things that you would like to see at film festivals you attend, and I'm inviting you to please contribute your comments.



Bahama's International Film Festival, in and around Nassau, the Bahamas, is scheduled for December 8-11. It looks like a very heavy, significant festival.

There are films from the Caribbean, Africa, the US, and other places around the world. Altogether, there are more than forty features, and many shorts. Some of the film descriptions sound quite harrowing.

There are many highlights:

Spike Lee will be honored.

There will be several special screenings, including Matador, with Pierce Brosnan, on Closing Night; Manderlay (the successor to Dogville), about slavery, by Lars Von Tier; and on Opening Night, Broken Flowers, with Bill Murray.

And there will be several panels on film making, including one on "Producing In The Caribbean."

All in all, it sounds like a very substantial festival that should contribute to the development of film making in the Caribbean.



For at least a week, AOL has not been forwarding all mail from external senders to all accounts at AOL.

According to AOL, some mail arrives, some is delayed, and some will arrive eventually.

In my case, last night I tested AOL and tried to send mail from HOTMAIL and another site to AOL. It did not arrive. I did receive some delayed mail today, Thursday (some delayed from Tuesday). I do not know if all mail that has been sent to me recently has arrived.

According to AOL, all mail will eventually arrive, after the problem is fixed.

They do not have a date for when the problem will be fixed.

Here is an excerpt from the transcript of an online help chat session. The grammatical errors by the AOL Tech are exactly as in the original transmission.

11:23:16 PMAOLTechRSI -- There is a system problem which affects the email server and the email that are being sent to you will arrive once this was fixed.
11:23:46 PMYou -- When did the problem start?
11:24:00 PMAOLTechRSI -- It started a week ago.
11:24:54 PMYou -- Is outgoing mail affected? Can I be sure that all mail that I sent arrived, or is that delayed also?
11:25:12 PMAOLTechRSI -- Outgoing mail are not affected.
11:26:21 PMYou -- I have gotten some mail during the last week. Does the problem depend on where the mail is coming from?
11:27:31 PMAOLTechRSI -- It does not matter where the mail comes from. Because the email server is having a problem, you might arricve as soon as it was sent and sometimes delayed.
11:28:32 PMYou -- Is there any estimate for when the problem will be solved and the missing mail will arrive?
11:29:01 PMAOLTechRSI -- We do not have an estimated time on when it will be available. We appreciate your support and patience in this matter.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005



I recently attended a symposium about advances in astrophysics. What people wanted to say in their talks was very interesting. For the most part, how they said it was terrible.

Here are some simple pointers on preparing and presenting a talk on a highly technical subject in which you, the speaker, yourself may have made important contributions.

1 - Assume that your audience will consist of people whose background in the subject will range from knowing more than you do (and can find the errors in your talk), to people who understand almost nothing about your topic, going in.

2 - Your objective is to communicate valuable information to each person in the audience.

3 - Your plan should be to start your talk by explaining the background for your work in words that anyone can understand, and explain the main point of your work in words that anyone can understand.

4 - The middle of your talk should be a clear exposition of the methods you and other people have used to get the new results. It can be directed at experts, but should be completely understandable to, say, a graduate student working in that problem.

5 - There will never be time in your talk to explain the detailed derivation of the most complex results. Explain principles, not details. Do not show slides of calculations, where it is impossible to read the slide or glean any meaning from it in the time it is visible. (That does not help explain the details.)

6 - Use self-explanitory pictures to illustrate and accompany parts of your talk if that is appropriate. If a picture is not self-explanatory, explain it.

7 - Graphs and table should be used when they contribute information. Use only graphs and tables that are simple enough to be understood quickly by the audience. Explain what they mean, what the units are, what the results mean. Explain what is being shown. Leave it on the screen long enough for the audience to read it, think about it, and understand it.

8 - The end of the talk should explain, again, in words that everyone in the audience can understand, what the new result is, how it changes the situation that existed before, and the critical insight or contriribution that led to the new result.

9 - Humor is always good. Be friendly. Be clear. Be loud enough to be heard. Talk to the audience. Do not talk down to the audience. Do not try to use jargon and acronyms, or leave out steps because you think it is insulting to the experts to be clear. Clear is good -- even for experts.

10 - Before the talk is presented, practice it. If you are not a native speaker of the language of the talk, practice the talk with coaching from someone who is a native speaker. If there are any complicated things you do -- like switching from one program to another during the talk -- practice that, and set it up on the computer to be as simple as possible.

11 - Arrive early at the place where you are giving the talk. Check any audio/visual equipment you will be using -- make sure your computer connects to the screen, and that it can be connected quickly.

12 - Have a backup plan for anything that you need. Your briefcase, with your speech and your slides, can get lost or get stolen. Computers can get lost or break; audio visual equipment can malfunction. Have a second copy where possible. Be prepared to go ahead without anything but yourself.

13 - Be ready to have fun, to answer questions, and to interact with the audience after your talk.



The Interpreter
is quite a fine, moving, interesting, complex film. It tells a good story, has well-acted characters that you care about and relates to the real world.

Sean Penn and Nicole Kidman, great actors, both do excellent work creating damaged people finding a tentative relationship.

Nevertheless, it is not hard to see why it was not a big, financial success. (But the reasons say less about the film than the audience.) The film does not have non-stop action, a simple love story, elaborate special effects, or a simply told stock plot: Bad guy does bad thing to good guy; good guy gets revenge. Moreover, it was marketed as a "political thriller," (because it is about a political situation which puts many people in great danger), but it is not thrilling from end to end, nor overtly political in the sense of advocating some particular political agenda.

The story telling is confusing, mirroring the confusion of the characters investigating a possible plot on a horrific dictator. There is some preachy dialog in some not quite believable scenes -- but it turns out that it was the character who did not really believe what she was saying.

This is a messy story, about people with problems, in a confusing situation, where people are in danger, where the police are trying, but make terrible mistakes. It's not an easy genre movie, but that is its strength, not a criticism.

This is a film well worth watching on DVD (preferably on a big, high quality TV), possibly even a second time, with the commentary on.

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