Monday, April 02, 2012

Implications of Immortality

Recently I read Kim Stanley Robinson's Icehenge, the first of his Martian novels featuring humans who live hundreds of years but retain only about 80 years of memories. The concept raises important questions about future technology and personal identity.

In Robinson's world, many folks write autobiographies about themselves so that they'll retain the basic facts of their lives, if not vivid memories, as they grow older. Just as most of us know our birthplace thanks to our parents or good record-keeping, future humans who live hundreds or thousands of years may only know which jobs they've held or degrees earned because someone made a note of it.

In one of Robinson's Martian stories two ancient characters meet. Decades ago they shared a romance, but only one has any memory of their shared history; the other mistakenly thinks this is their first meeting. While not a major plot point, I found this detail at once fascinating and horrifying. If we don't remember our romances, can we really claim to be the same people we once were? Or do new personalities form as the centuries pass, rewriting our minds just as new data replaces the old on a computer hard drive?

Without wishing to become morbid, I've often wondered if my past self, the child I was, ceased to exist long ago. The being known as "Earl J. Woods" hasn't died yet; I'm still here, even if my cells have died and replicated themselves hundreds or thousands of times over the years.

Of course this is merely a reiteration of the old "grandfather's axe" problem: if you've replaced the handle and the head of an axe many times, is it in any sense still the same axe?All the physical components have changed, but it may nevertheless still feel like the same axe because of its associations in space and time.

I'm certain my parents consider me the same person I once was, for they've seen me grow up and I imagine certain character traits have remained relatively consistent over the years. I feel the same way about them, of course.

But without these associations, which would certainly fade over centuries given limited memory, could or should I really be considered the same person if Robinson's life-extension technology comes early enough for me to live to the age of 1000? Or might I be considered ten or fifteen different people over the course of a millennium? If I committed murder at age 500 but the crime remained undetected for 200 years, long after I've forgotten it happened, could or should I be charged?

A brain is not a hard drive, but perhaps humanity will address this problem by modifying minds in such a way to expand our capacity for memory to keep pace with our new longevity. Without persistence of identity, of what value is immortality anyway? It would almost be like slowly dying several times over the course of a lifetime, without even realizing it's happening. What a chilling fate!

Sunday, April 01, 2012

April Fool On the Hill

I don't have any good April Fool gags, but I've certainly played the fool often enough over the years. Almost 21 years ago (sigh) I graduated from the University of Alberta. Unfortunately I didn't know how to wear the collar of my graduation gown, so this otherwise pretty good photo was ruined by my incompetence.
 Upon reaching the Jubilee Auditorium it quickly became apparent that I was wearing my getup backwards. A hasty switch stopped me from looking  a complete dolt.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Super Logo

Yesterday Warner Brothers unveiled the new logo for Man of Steel, the next Superman film. I like it.

While modern in its metallic, 3D aspect, the swooping curves of the S evoke older S-shields, particularly the one worn by Earth-2's Superman during the 70s and early 80s. The dark colours harken back to the Golden Age Superman of the 30s and 40s, when Superman was less a boy scout and more a vigilante crusader for the working class and the downtrodden.

I also love the film's title - finally a Superman film that doesn't include the character's name followed by a Roman numeral or a verb. Perhaps that's the influence of producer Chris Nolan, who was bold enough to call his second Batman film The Dark Knight instead of "Batman Something."

Hopefully director Zack Snyder has matured enough to do the film justice. His Watchmen was serviceable but uninspiring, and I have yet to dredge up enough interest to see the ridiculous-looking 300 or  the critically-reviled Sucker Punch. I'll go into this film with guarded hopes, but if nothing else at least Nolan and Snyder's team got the logo right.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Earl Over Glass

When I visited Stephen and Audrey back in 1997 or 1998, I insisted on seeing the CN Tower. I couldn't bring myself to walk across its terrifying glass floor, but I did manage to carefully ease myself onto it back-first. At least that way I'd be looking up should the glass have shattered and I plummeted to my doom.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Alcatravesty

In 1998 I travelled to San Francisco and shot this truly dreadful photo of Alcatraz. If you can't make it out through the haze and scratches, Alcatraz is the dark, flattened blob at lower left. I don't think even Photoshop could improve this misfire terribly much.

I scanned the original colour negative with my CanoScan, which normally produces excellent results. But you can't make an Ansel Adams out of a...an Earl J. Woods, I guess.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

You Butter You Bet

On Saturday night Sylvia and I attended the first of our friend Pete's semiannual Geekquinox dinners for 2012, and once again our budding chef outdid himself with an artery-clogging but scrumptious butter-themed feast.
Pete greeted his guests with a selection of home-blended butters. I was hard-pressed to choose a favourite, but if forced I would give the blue cheese butter a slight edge thanks to its full-bodied pungency.
While I've never been a fan of meat pastries, Pete won me over with these butter chicken bites. Even Sylvia, who generally eschews Indian food, enjoyed these sumptuous treats.

In the background lurks a collection of artichokes, awaiting their steaming. I'd never eaten artichokes before Saturday and found there's an art to it; you eat the leaves from outside in, scraping the soft parts off with your teeth and disposing of the woodier flesh. Eventually you come to the softer inner leaves and the artichoke heart, a melt-in-your-mouth delicacy. Sylvia and I both wound up spattering our clothing pretty thoroughly with dipping butter while eating these, but fortunately we weren't alone.
Sylvia hadn't planned to drink any alcohol, but Pete convinced her to try what she described as a "very tasty" butter liqueur, served in skull-shaped tumblers.
Pete sacrificed not only considerable time and treasure to provide this meal, but also some flesh. While scissoring open the lobster tails he managed to gash open a finger (note the bandage). Fortunately there were no other mishaps, and in any event I'm sure that some civilization somewhere has celebrated the equinox with a blood sacrifice, so Pete's accident should be considered thematically orthodox.
Pete lit a bunch of bananas, brown sugar and butter on fire to provide a sizzling dessert. (Sadly, I missed the flames.)
By night's end we were all thoroughly sated. Thanks for buttering us up, Pete!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Best Pictures

Since the late 1920s, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences (AMPAS) has recognized 494 films by nominating them for the Best Picture Academy Award - colloquially known as the Oscar. Some nominated films have gone down in history as timeless classics; others make modern audiences wonder what the Academy members of the time were thinking.

Many years ago I decided that I would attempt to watch every Best Picture nominee, recognizing that while not every nominee is a truly great film - and that many of the greatest films have been passed over by the Academy - the project would at least expose me to a wide range of movies I might otherwise pass over. By no means do I limit my viewing to Best Picture nominees; this is but a supplement to my other viewing choices.

To date, of the 494 nominated films, I have seen 224, about 45 percent of them.  Since 1928/28 nominee The Patriot has been lost, I'll never cross that film off my list, but hopefully I'll get around to the rest!

Oldest nominee I've seen: Wings (1927/28; first Best Picture winner).
Newest nominee I've seen: Moneyball (2011)
Second-oldest: Grand Hotel (1931-32)

Years in which I've seen every nominated film: 1982, 1988, 1989, 1994, 2009, 2010
Years in which I've seen all but one nominated film: 1962, 1967, 1970, 1976, 1991, 1997, 1999, 2000, 2007, 2008
Years in which I've seen none of the nominated films: 1928/29, 1929/30, 1930/31, 1947, 1958, 1968
Most recent nominees viewed: Brokeback Mountain, The Help, Moneyball, The Greatest Show on Earth


The Full Checklist
Winners are listed first for each year. Nominees and winners I've seen are in bold.


1927/28
Wings
The Racket
Seventh Heaven

1928/29
The Broadway Melody
Alibi
The Hollywood Revue of 1929
In Old Arizona
The Patriot

1929/30
All Quiet on the Western Front
The Big House
Disraeli
The Divorcee
The Love Parade

1930/31
Cimarron
East Lynne
The Front Page
Skippy
Trader Horn

1931-32
Grand Hotel
Arrowsmith
Bad Girl
The Champ
Five Star Final
One Hour with You
Shanghai Express
The Smiling Lieutenant

1932/33
Cavalcade
A Farewell to Arms
42nd Street
I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang
Lady for a Day
Little Women
The Private Life of Henry VIII
She Done Him Wrong
Smilin’ Through
State Fair

1934
It Happened One Night
The Barretts of Wimpole Street
Cleopatra
Flirtation Walk
The Gay Divorcee
Here Comes the Navy
The House of Rothschild
Imitation of Life
One Night of Love
The Thin Man
Viva Villa!
The White Parade

1935
Mutiny on the Bounty
Alice Adams
Broadway Melody of 1936
Captain Blood
David Copperfield
The Informer
The Lives of a Bengal Lancer
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Les Miserables
Naughty Marietta
Ruggles of Red Gap
Top Hat

1936
The Great Ziegfeld
Anthony Adverse
Dodsworth
Libeled Lady
Mr. Deeds Goes to Town
Romeo and Juliet
San Francisco
The Story of Louis Pasteur
A Tale of Two Cities
Three Smart Girls

1937
The Life of Emile Zola
The Awful Truth
Captains Courageous
Dead End
The Good Earth
In Old Chicago
Lost Horizon
One Hundred Men and a Girl
Stage Door
A Star is Born

1938
You Can’t Take it With You
The Adventures of Robin Hood
Alexander’s Ragtime Band
Boys Town
The Citadel
Four Daughters
Grand Illusion
Jezebel
Pygmalion
Test Pilot

1939
Gone with the Wind
Dark Victory
Goodbye, Mr. Chips
Love Affair
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
Ninotchka
Of Mice and Men
Stagecoach
The Wizard of Oz
Wuthering Heights

1940
Rebecca
All This, and Heaven Too
Foreign Correspondent
The Grapes of Wrath
The Great Dictator
Kitty Foyle
The Letter
The Long Voyage Home
Our Town
The Philadelphia Story

1941
How Green Was My Valley
Blossoms in the Dust
Citizen Kane
Here Comes Mr. Jordan
Hold Back the Dawn
The Little Foxes
The Maltese Falcon
One Foot in Heaven
Sergeant York
Suspicion

1942
Mrs. Miniver
49th Parallel
Kings Row
The Magnificent Ambersons
The Pied Piper
The Pride of the Yankees
Random Harvest
The Talk of the Town
Wake Island
Yankee Doodle Dandy

1943
Casablanca
For Whom the Bell Tolls
Heaven Can Wait
The Human Comedy
In Which We Serve
Madame Curie
The More the Merrier
The Ox-Bow Incident
The Song of Bernadette
Watch on the Rhine

1944
Going My Way
Double Indemnity
Gaslight
Since You Went Away
Wilson

1945
The Lost Weekend
Anchors Aweigh
The Bells of St. Mary’s
Mildred Pierce
Spellbound

1946
The Best Years of Our Lives
Henry V
It’s a Wonderful Life
The Razor’s Edge
The Yearling

1947
Gentleman’s Agreement
The Bishop’s Wife
Crossfire
Great Expectations
Miracle on 34th Street

1948
Hamlet
Johnny Belinda
The Red Shoes
The Snake Pit
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

1949
All the King’s Men
Battleground
The Heiress
A Letter to Three Wives
Twelve O’Clock High

1950
All About Eve
Born Yesterday
Father of the Bride
King Solomon’s Mines
Sunset Boulevard

1951
An American in Paris
Decision Before Dawn
A Place in the Sun
Quo Vadis
A Streetcar Named Desire

1952
The Greatest Show on Earth
High Noon
Ivanhoe
Moulin Rouge
The Quiet Man

1953
From Here to Eternity
Julius Caesar
The Robe
Roman Holiday
Shane

1954
On the Waterfront
The Caine Mutiny
The Country Girl
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
The Coins in the Fountain

1955
Marty
Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing
Mister Roberts
Picnic
The Rose Tattoo

1956
Around the World in 80 Days
Friendly Persuasion
Giant
The King and I
The Ten Commandments

1957
The Bridge on the River Kwai
Peyton Place
Sayonara
12 Angry Men
Witness for the Prosecution

1958
Gigi
Auntie Mame
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
The Defiant Ones
Separate Tables

1959
Ben-Hur
Anatomy of a Murder
The Diary of Anne Frank
The Nun’s Story
Room at the Top

1960
The Apartment
The Alamo
Elmer Gantry
Sons and Lovers
The Sundowners

1961
West Side Story
Fanny
The Guns of Navarone
The Hustler
Judgment at Nuremburg

1962
Lawrence of Arabia
The Longest Day
The Music Man
Mutiny on the Bounty
To Kill a Mockingbird

1963
Tom Jones
America, America
Cleopatra
How the West Was Won
Lilies of the Field

1964
My Fair Lady
Becket
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
Mary Poppins
Zorba the Greek

1965
The Sound of Music
Darling
Doctor Zhivago
Ship of Fools
A Thousand Clowns

1966
A Man for All Seasons
Alfie
The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming
The Sand Pebbles
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

1967          
In the Heat of the Night
Bonnie and Clyde
Doctor Dolittle
The Graduate
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

1968
Oliver!
Funny Girl
The Lion in Winter
Rachel, Rachel
Romeo and Juliet

1969
Midnight Cowboy
Anne of the Thousand Days
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Hello, Dolly!
Z

1970
Patton
Airport
Five Easy Pieces
Love Story
MASH

1971
The French Connection
A Clockwork Orange
Fiddler on the Roof
The Last Picture Show
Nicholas and Alexandra

1972
The Godfather
Cabaret
Deliverance
The Emigrants
Sounder

1973
The Sting
American Graffiti
Cries and Whispers
The Exorcist
A Touch of Class

1974
The Godfather Part II
Chinatown
The Conversation
Lenny
The Towering Inferno

1975
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Barry Lyndon
Dog Day Afternoon
Jaws
Nashville

1976
Rocky
All the President’s Men
Bound for Glory
Network
Taxi Driver

1977
Annie Hall
The Goodbye Girl
Julia
Star Wars
The Turning Point

1978
The Deer Hunter
Coming Home
Heaven Can Wait
Midnight Express
An Unmarried Woman

1979
Kramer vs. Kramer
All That Jazz
Apocalypse Now
Breaking Away
Norma Rae

1980
Ordinary People
Coal Miner’s Daughter
The Elephant Man
Raging Bull
Tess
1981
Chariots of Fire
Atlantic City
On Golden Pond
Raiders of the Lost Ark
Reds

1982
Gandhi
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Missing
Tootsie
The Verdict

1983
Terms of Endearment
The Big Chill
The Dresser
The Right Stuff
Tender Mercies

1984
Amadeus
The Killing Fields
A Passage to India
Places in the Heart
A Soldier’s Story

1985
Out of Africa
The Color Purple
Kiss of the Spider Woman
Prizzi’s Honor
Witness

1986
Platoon
Children of a Lesser God
Hannah and Her Sisters
The Mission
A Room with a View

1987
The Last Emperor
Broadcast News
Fatal Attraction
Hope and Glory
Moonstruck

1988
Rain Man
The Accidental Tourist
Dangerous Liaisons
Mississippi Burning
Working Girl

1989
Driving Miss Daisy
Born on the Fourth of July
Dead Poets Society
Field of Dreams
My Left Foot

1990
Dances with Wolves
Awakenings
Ghost
The Godfather Part III
Goodfellas

1991
The Silence of the Lambs
Beauty and the Beast
Bugsy
JFK
The Prince of Tides

1992
Unforgiven
The Crying Game
A Few Good Men
Howards End
Scent of a Woman

1993
Schindler’s List
The Fugitive
In the Name of the Father
The Piano
The Remains of the Day

1994
Forrest Gump
Four Weddings and a Funeral
Pulp Fiction
Quiz Show
The Shawshank Redemption

1995
Braveheart
Apollo 13
Babe
The Postman (Il Postino)
Sense and Sensibility

1996
The English Patient
Fargo
Jerry Maguire
Secrets & Lies
Shine

1997
Titanic
As Good as It Gets
The Full Monty
Good Will Hunting
L.A. Confidential

1998
Shakespeare in Love
Elizabeth
Life Is Beautiful
Saving Private Ryan
The Thin Red Line

1999
American Beauty
The Cider House Rules
The Green Mile
The Insider
The Sixth Sense

2000
Gladiator
Chocolat
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Erin Brockovich
Traffic

2001
A Beautiful Mind
Gosford Park
In the Bedroom
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
Moulin Rouge!

2002
Chicago
Gangs of New York
The Hours
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
The Pianist

2003
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Lost in Translation
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
Mystic River
Seabiscuit

2004
Million Dollar Baby
The Aviator
Finding Neverland
Ray
Sideways

2005
Crash
Brokeback Mountain
Capote
Goodnight, and Good Luck
Munich

2006
The Departed
Babel
Letters from Iwo Jima
Little Miss Sunshine
The Queen

2007
No Country for Old Men
Atonement
Juno
Michael Clayton
There Will Be Blood

2008
Slumdog Millionaire
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Frost/Nixon
Milk
The Reader

2009
The Hurt Locker
Avatar
The Blind Side
District 9
An Education
Inglourious Basterds
Precious
A Serious Man
Up
Up in the Air

2010
The King’s Speech
Black Swan
The Fighter
Inception
The Kids Are All Right
127 Hours
The Social Network
Toy Story 3
True Grit
Winter’s Bone

2011
The Artist
The Descendants
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
The Help
Hugo
Midnight in Paris
Moneyball
The Tree of Life
War Horse