Brazil’s IDH-M grows

December 31st, 2002 § Comments Off on Brazil’s IDH-M grows § permalink

It’s unlikely to be of interest to anybody except me, but according an Agência Brasil’s article, the Brazilian Human Development Index (IDH-M) has improved significantly in the last ten years, raising to 0.764 from the previous 0.707 figure in 1991. That’s very good news, and I hope it continues to grow in the current administration, which is starting tomorrow.

The Wilhelm Scream

December 31st, 2002 § 6 comments § permalink

The Wilhelm Scream is a funny article about a bit of movie trivia: a recurrent cry that has found its place in many of the most famous films of all times including Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Toy Story and Batman Returns. According the article it’s “an inimitable cry of pain and alarm” which first appeared in a 1953’s western flick, where a cowboy named Wilhelm is hit in the leg by an arrow. The article also has a downloadable compilation of films featuring the scream.

Link dump

December 31st, 2002 § Comments Off on Link dump § permalink

Some random items:

The Two Towers

December 30th, 2002 § 2 comments § permalink

My wife and I managed to see the movie. Except for a one-hour wait and a certain amount of trouble to find seats, we had no problem at all. After that, we experienced three uninterrupted hours of epic scenes and imagery. My opinion? Well, I will forever love and hate The Two Towers.

With respect to scenery and general Oscar-worthiness, the movie is quite impressive. In almost each of the 179 minutes, we were shown incredible beautiful locations, cool special effects, watched good acting, and had fun.

On the other hand, so many liberties were taken with the story that the Professor is probably turning around his grave in this very moment. Worst of all, most modification had no discernible reason for being. In almost every part the movie differs from the books, the original storyline would obviously do better without affecting the movie length.

I liked:

Special effects:
The battle scenes were incredible. The orc army is beyond description. It’s almost impossible to believe it’s computer-generated. The ents simply rock! They’re exactly like I imagined when reading the books, right to their voices. The “oliphants” and Nazgûl mounts were quite cool, too.
Landscapes:
They’re impressive. The last scene in the movie, showing Mordor, with Barad-Dûr and Orodruin visible at the same time, will remain in my memory for a long time.
Gollum:
Gollum is an all-time favorite of mine when reading Tolkien. I can’t quite decide whether I hate him or pity him. He was perfectly portrayed in the movie, specially regarding his inner struggle.
New characters:
I liked Éomer, Éowyn, Théoden, and Gríma. Good acting on the part of all actors, especially by Miranda Otto. I can’t wait to see her battle with the chief Nazgûl in the next movie.
The fantastic four:
Gandalf, Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli are better developed. The scene of Legolas hopping onto the horse was one of the best in the movie — very elvish.

I hated:

The Ent Moot:
It was simply ridiculous. It made the ents look like coward, lazy and uninterested beings. It also seemed an excuse for Pippin’s redemption after so many blunders. I also missed some emphasis on the relationship between Treebeard and the forest, and the ents’ oldness.
Frodo and the Nazgûl:
Just a big “Huh?”
Faramir as a villain:
Unbelievable! Although he looks and acts a lot like Boromir, they couldn’t have deviated more from the books. What was that about going to Gondor, too!?
A comic Gimli:
I don’t know who had the bad idea of turning Gimli into a comic relief. It may be kind of fun but surely takes some of the character’s magic away.
Elves on Helm’s Deep:
Besides not happening in the books, there was some contradictions in the elvish characterization: Haldir is supposed to be from Lothlórien, but comes on Elrond’s orders and the elves are not quite as good as Legolas on handling bows.
Éowyn, Aragorn and Arwen:
A love triangle? I won’t even comment it.
Miscellany:
Merry and Pippin do not meet with Gandalf in Fangorn. Also, the battle is a small part of the book, but is given too much weight in the movie. Finally, where is the rest of the book?

From the lists above, it’s easy to see why I loved and hated the movie. Overall, it was worth the wait. I will see it again before it leaves the big screen, and I hope the next movie does better. But I guess I will try to avoid movies based on books I have read — especially when I like the books.

Dull

December 27th, 2002 § Comments Off on Dull § permalink

The dullest blog in the world. A quote:

Whilst walking along I became aware that I was approaching a building. When I had almost reached it I saw that it was a house. I passed the house and continued walking.

(via Eliot Landrum)

Solaris

December 27th, 2002 § Comments Off on Solaris § permalink

As Solaris was made into a new movie, I decided to read the book again before seeing the movie. I still remember how the book made a strong impression on me in the first time I read it, and reading it again I realized that it had not lost its power. Stanislaw Lem’s style is almost unparalleled in the science fiction and fantasy realms. His masterful use of language, his characters, and his pacing of the narrative make reading Solaris a truly enjoyable experience. Even knowing what was going to happen did not take the pleasure away.

Solaris is Lem’s most famous book, and the story is well know to most science fiction fans. Written in 1961, it has not become dated like most books dealing with science, mostly due Lem’s believable depiction of the future. The book is named after one of its characters, which is a planet, or rather, his sole inhabitant: a sentient ocean covering almost the whole surface of the planet. A scientist arrives in an scientific outpost (created with the purpose of attempting communication with Solaris) to investigate strange things that are happening in there. One of the station’s occupants died under mysterious circumstances, and the remaining personnel is acting in very unusual ways. He soon finds himself involved in bizarre events, trying to fathom what is going on. His quest for understanding will take him beyond the limits of human endurance.

Solaris is more than a simple science fiction tale. Lem uses the story as the basis for profound reflections on various subjects including the nature and limits of science, the motivations of the human species, and the nature of the self. The seemingly long digressions in the narrative disguise considerations on those topics and make for a very stimulating reading.

In short, Solaris is both science fiction and philosophy at their best, fresh and challenging. I couldn’t recommend it more.

Not again!

December 27th, 2002 § Comments Off on Not again! § permalink

It’s happening again… My wife and I just lost the first screening of The Two Towers because a bus driver ignored her as she stood on a bus station. Last year, The Fellowship of the Ring had already been in the big screens for 15 days before we were able to buy tickets — because we lost its first screening.

At least I was able to buy tickets for tomorrow. But I’m already fearing what may happen this time: power failures, a transit strike, what?

Summer rains

December 26th, 2002 § Comments Off on Summer rains § permalink

The summer rains started: two big storms in a single day. I had never seen storms like those in my city. The lightnings were so strong and the thunders so loud that they woke me in the middle of the night.

It’s quite cold because of the rain, although it won’t last. I love this kind of weather, with gray, clouded skies — especially because I’m at home, with my wife, enjoying some time together. Life couldn’t be better.

Racism in science

December 25th, 2002 § Comments Off on Racism in science § permalink

In a visitor‘s blog, I found a pointer to a The New York Times article about a study that supposedly identified five main human populations, based on scans of the human genome. According the scientists that made the study, those five population groups broadly correspond with popular notions of race. I think we already have sufficient trouble fighting racism, and now a study is claiming that races do really exist.

I see some problems with the conclusions the study reached. I don’t know how well the article presents those conclusions, but I will try to question some of the results below.

Firstly, the study found patterns in the DNA that correspond to five major geographical areas. From this, the scientists jumped to the conclusion that each of this groups is a race. I can understand what it’s implicit here, but it simply doesn’t follow. From what we know of history and biology, it’s obvious that cohesive population groups would slowly develop common traits across the centuries. Natural selection, genetic drift and social constraints can account for those common characteristics. Nonetheless, classifying those similarities as properties of “race” is just a semantic construct. Take the Americas, for instance. Their population is a result of heavy intermixing by people of Asian, European and African descent. But once the population stabilized, the common traits aforementioned started developing. As the study identified the Americas as one of the major population groups, or race, we would have to conclude that races are not static patterns, since the America’s population is composed of people of every conceivable descent. That fact alone would invalidate the conclusion that those groups are races.

Secondly, the study claims that, by using “self-reported” ancestry, it would be easier to identify the possibility of occurrence of some diseases, like sickle cell anemia in African populations. Sickle cell anemia is common in Africa because its carriers are immune to malaria, another common cause of death there. The rates of death by malaria and sickle cell anemia balance around 18%, because of natural selection. So, even with heavy mortality rates, sickle cell anemia is preserved in the population when it would tend to naturally select itself out of the gene pool. We can see that the environment is a factor in the genetic development of the population. In other cases, like the Amish population in the USA, the common traits developed are the result of intermarrying, driven by social constraints. It would be dangerous to presume too much on the basis of a broad generalization like the study proposes. More so if we consider two additional facts: genetic drift happens very fast in small populations and population mobility is higher now than in past centuries.

Thirdly, the articles says the markers analyzed have no particular function, and are free to change. I’d say they have no know function and nobody knows how changes in them would affect an individual. It’s unsafe to make such assumption and base conclusions on it.

Fourthly, it has been demonstrated that even among phenotypically related populations, there can be enough genotypical differences to make their components seem like they belong to far removed biological groups.

There are other points I could consider, but the article doesn’t give enough information to allow comments.

In short, even if the study conclusions are valid (considering the points above), it’s unfortunate that those scientists decided to associate the genome variations within the human species to races. There are a lot of people who would be delighted to have their prejudices about race confirmed in that way. To the credit of the article, it points the ethic problems with the study, and challenges the notions presented. I just wish scientists would be more careful when dealing with science where it touches the social problems of our world.

Merry Christmas

December 25th, 2002 § Comments Off on Merry Christmas § permalink

Um Feliz Natal e um Próspero Ano Novo (a Merry Christmas and a Prosperous New Year) to all friends, fellow bloggers, and visitors. May God bless you and help you in the coming year.

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