Friday, December 14, 2012

Thoughts About The Hobbit

I woke up today absolutely elated because the very first thing we did this morning was watch The Hobbit, and it was totally something I was looking forward to.  It lived up to my expectations.  Then I came home and heard about the shooting in Connecticut, and that kind of killed my awesomely good mood.  I couldn't deal with much of anything after hearing about that.

But after going into hiding for much of the day, I'm trying to piece back together some sense of normalcy.  I'm going to go ahead and talk about The Hobbit, not to be insensitive to the families in Connecticut...but because it hurts too much, and too many have already spoken about it, and I know I for one need a respite on the Internet away from that conversation.

So, um, The Hobbit!  I'm not going to write a real review -- my brain is too frazzled! -- so I'm just going to spew thoughts out into the ether.  There will be some spoilers.  Tread at your own risk, and feel free to comment!

  • The Hobbit is kind of a filmmaker's nightmare.  The book is not structured properly for film at ALL, and the tone is so light and tongue-in-cheek (but at the same time so dark).  Jackson was reluctant to make it at all, and I totally understand that, but oh man am I glad they did it.  Personally I think three movies isn't quite the right way to approach the story -- I think a six-episode miniseries would've been just about right -- but I think it's better than trying to cram everything into one big movie.  
  • I LOVE that it's so lore-heavy.  Love, love, love.  The LOTR geek in me is delighted to see all of these little bits and nods and fan service.  I think the primary audience of The Hobbit is "People who loved LOTR," so that seems appropriate.  I doubt that a lot of people are going to the movie who have never heard of/enjoyed the films before.  I mean, it'd be awesome if a whole generation of kids fell in love with The Hobbit from these movies the way I did the old animated one, but I don't think that's necessarily going to happen.  
  • I need this soundtrack, post-haste.  I have all three LOTR film scores, and they taught me so much about music.  Weird, but true.  Also, it filled me with an inexpressible amount of joy that the "That's What Bilbo Baggins Hates" song makes an appearance.  
  • Dwarves have never been so sexy.  Like, seriously, omg.  Not only do I have an enormous crush on Thorin (who is DELICIOUS, oh my god, those smoldering eyes!), but Fili and Kili are also super attractive.  My "inability to be attracted to men without facial hair" is reaching new heights.  (And did I mention Thorin's smoldering eyes?) 
  • Radagast the Brown!  One of my favorite characters from the books, I was glad they found a place for him in the movie.  He's weird and off-kilter and adorable and I wanted to cuddle him.  Even if the CGI animals looked kind of dumb, but I think that might have had more to do with the heightened framerate than anything else. 
  • Is there anyone on this earth who is more of a hobbit than Martin Freeman?  Absolutely perfect.  
  • All the monsters are so lovingly crafted.  The trolls are hilarious and personable.  The Goblin King is AWESOME.  I didn't like the wargs so much, and it seems that the eagles have probably lost their sentience, but I guess that fits in with the world that was already built.  
The thing I've always loved most about Tolkien -- the thing that makes him stand out and makes his books truly classic -- is his ability to capture scope.  Here was a writer that understood that huge changes take a long time to happen, but they are powerful and inevitable and little people get swept up in things that are so much bigger than them.  I don't know if any writer before or after has ever been able to truly capture the essence of "Small, normal people getting pulled into a world so much bigger than themselves" as well as Tolkien.  There's a lot of that happening in The Hobbit movie.  The Hobbit as a book is largely told from Bilbo's perspective -- a narrow, small, hobbit-sized perspective.  The film has a larger scope because it's showing us the details of the bigger world...a world that soon will be the source of an epic quest and battle against the apocalypse.  But I think it works.  

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Problem Solving Strategies from my Mom

Here's the first installment of what I hope to make a regular feature of the blog:  Critical Thinking Thursdays.

I was very fortunate to receive an excellent education.  I was home-schooled, and the curriculum came from Calvert, a top-notch private school in Baltimore.  When I went to college, I realized that I was better-prepared than most of my peers.  In large part, this is because Calvert's curriculum was focused largely on teaching critical thinking and problem-solving skills.  Instead of teaching us what to think, Calvert taught us how to think for ourselves.  And that's a skill that I noticed was sorely lacking in public school for the few years I did attend (three years of high school -- I graduated early).

Anyway.  Lack of critical thinking skills doesn't mean you're stupid.  It just means that you haven't been taught how to do it.  So I'm going to share some of the wisdom I have on the topic every week, hopefully, and maybe it'll make a difference in somebody's life.

Problem Solving Skills (As Taught By My Mother)

One of the very first things my mom taught me was how to approach problems logically and calmly.  I don't remember when we first learned this particular skill, but I was quite young -- so young that I hadn't yet learned the scientific method, which made it particularly delightful when I later discovered that the two processes were very similar. 

  1. Step One:  Whose Problem is it?  This is a crucial first step.  Before you get worked up over something, ask yourself, "Is this my problem?  Is this something I can affect?"  If it's not -- if the problem is something that only someone else can solve or that doesn't actually affect you, don't even waste your time worrying about it.  For example: Your friend is having an argument with her boyfriend.  It's not your job to solve that problem.  You may want to offer a supportive ear, a couch to sleep on, or some advice -- but solving the problem is not actually your responsibility, and you shouldn't waste time trying to do so because you will only get frustrated.  Let it go.  
  2. Step Two:  What, exactly, IS the problem?  Think through this carefully.  Write it down if you have to.  Figure out exactly what the issue is and why it's bothering you.  Dig beneath the surface.  Your emotional response to something may not be logical, but a logical event may be underlying it.  For example: Your husband fails to take out the trash in time for trash collection, and you get angry.  Are you angry because you now have smelly trash in your garage for another week?  Or are you angry because you asked him to do it and he didn't, so you feel disrespected?  Is it both?  
  3. Step Three:  Brainstorm possible solutions to the problem.  Think up as many solutions as you can.  Some of them will be ridiculous, but that's fine.  It helps to write them all down.  If you're upset because the trash is in the garage, there are some solutions:  Take the trash to the dump yourself; put the trash somewhere you can't smell it; buy an odor-locking trash can; clandestinely dump the trash in someone else's dumpster.  If you're feeling hurt because your husband disrespected you:  Talk to your husband about your feelings; ignore him until you stop being angry; punish him in some way.  
  4. Step Four:  Choose the appropriate solution.  After you've brainstormed all of your solutions, figure out which one is the best.  Maybe you just don't go into the garage this week, or maybe you send dear hubby out to the dump to get rid of the offending trash.  Whatever seems like the most reasonable, simple solution -- go with that one.  
  5. Step Five:  Assemble any necessary materials to implement the solution.  Sometimes solving a problem seems insurmountable because you don't have the tools necessary to handle it.  Taking the trash to the dump can seem impossible if you don't have a car -- but do you have a friend who could take you?  Could you bribe them with beer and cookies?  Talking to your husband can seem impossible if you don't know what to say -- but would it be easier if you wrote it out first? Maybe you could email him all of the points you want to make so he'll have a primer before you start talking.  
  6. Step Six:  Implement your solution.  Now that you have the materials you need and a plan for solving your problem, solve the problem.  Dispose of the trash.  Talk to your husband.  
  7. Step Seven:  Did that solve the problem?  Look at the situation and see if you are satisfied with the solution.  If you only threw away the trash but didn't confront your husband, do you still feel angry?  Maybe the problem has multiple aspects that all need to be dealt with.  Repeat steps 1-6 as many times as necessary until your problem has been solved.  
  8. Step Eight:  Plan for the future.  After you've solved the problem, brainstorm some ways to prevent it from happening again.  Put sticky notes on your husband's computer, or make him buy a whiteboard so he can keep track of his chores.  Store your trash in a way that won't be disastrous if it doesn't get picked up.  Start taking the trash out yourself.  Hire a neighbor kid to take your trash out for you.  Dump your husband and marry a trash collector.  Whatever -- it doesn't matter.  The important thing is that you take an active role in preventing the problem from happening again.  
And there you are, kids.  An eight-step problem-solving strategy.  As you gain more experience, you will be able to implement these steps without having to think too much about them -- they'll become second nature.  The important part is to remove your emotional response from the logical aspect.  Recognize that, yes, you're upset, and that's OK.  But being upset won't solve the problem.  Let yourself feel it, then let it go -- and work on fixing your problems.  

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Updates From the Land of Scrap and Nonconsumption

The Great Scrap Metal Experiment is going well, although it did experience a brief hiccup after David decided to sell most of his bulkier items to another professional here in our neighborhood.  He felt bad hoarding the big items because the other guy is doing this for a living/sole support of his family.  I grumbled at him about it, but honestly he's probably right to be sticking to electronics instead.  They're easier to store, for one.  

Anyway, he has several jars of various types of metals sitting on his work table.  At the moment, he's dissecting a pair of blown-out computer speakers.  I'd always wondered what the inside of a speaker looked like (the answer: a big magnet and a whole crap-ton of copper).  He also picked up a bunch of brass fixtures from the thrift store that are either being scrapped as-is or repurposed into...something.  I've been trying to explain to him that "found object" and "upcycled" jewelry and sculpture and whatnot really is a thing.  He didn't believe me, so I had to drag him over to Etsy and Pinterest and show him.  That was fairly mind-blowing.  

I got him a few jewelry-making materials (clasps, cord) so he can practice and see if he likes doing it.  I'm pretty excited to see what he comes up with. 

Anyway, the other benefit of scrapping is that we get all kinds of very cool free and totally functional stuff.  We've also lucked out with some really awesome Goodwill and Craigslist finds recently.  Here's some of the stuff we've gotten:  

  • A free CRT big-screen TV that was abandoned when its old owner moved away.  The screen flickers a bit when you turn it on, so the cathode ray tube is on its last legs, but for a huge free TV, it's pretty awesome.  
  • Two laser-jet printers with cartridges.  We actually had about six printers at one point but downsized to these.  These were also free, and once we manage to get them plugged in (they're a bit bulky and thus won't fit on the computer desk, so we need a longer cord to connect them or find a way to do it wirelessly) they'll be awesome because we'll be able to print coupons/specials.  
  • A couple of free lamps -- one for the floor, one for the bedside.  I especially LOVE the bedside lamp because it means I can curl up in bed and read without having to get back up to turn off the light.  It's also really pretty -- the lampshade is stained glass and it casts gorgeous colors all across the ceiling and walls.  
  • An extremely cool-looking brass lantern that David found in the trash.  It needs to be cleaned up a bit,  but it's not broken or anything.  There's some talk about sprucing it up into an art piece.  His plans for it are very cute, so I'll hold off until he does it so I can show some pictures ;) 
  • Several free computers.  They weren't very good computers, and mostly we've gutted them to sell for parts.  The last of them is in the living room waiting to either be re-sold as-is or gutted.  
  • A nice gaming computer picked up off Craigslist for $250.  This thing came with a wireless keyboard & mouse and the graphics card alone is worth about $100.  The computer itself would be worth at least $500 if you bought it from a store.  
  • A lovely pair of speakers for $5 at the Goodwill.  These things are worth about $25 retail and they work great.  It's nice to be able to actually hear things on my computer for the first time in months.  
  • I got $10 in gift cards to Amazon from Swagbucks, which I used to fund the purchase of a few new e-books to read on my salvaged Android :) 
I'm probably missing some stuff, but those were the highlights I've been most pleased with.  It's so cool seeing what you can get for nothing or next-to-nothing when you're willing to wait instead of running out to buy something right away.