Death in the Movies

Judy Bachrach, writing for Obit Magazine has a piece, Death Be Not Chic, on how Hollywood deals with death, in comparison to people’s real experience of it. Some notable quotes: 

Death marks us permanently — and not simply because we are all, in another sense, marked men. Death defines who we are now and, inevitably, how we and our accomplishments will be considered at some later date most of us would generally prefer not to think about. At all.

[…] 

What I have learned about dying, after many years of hospice volunteer work and more than two years writing an advice column for the terminally ill and their relatives, is this: You don’t look like Wynona Ryder while you’re expiring. You won’t be as hunky as Campbell Scott. You won’t look like Debra Winger — no, not even Winger herself will look like Winger. The Winger we see on screen, her lips and cheeks dusted with floury powder to give her what Hollywood believes to be the verisimilitude of metastasized breast cancer, is not a reflection seen in any hospice mirror. If your vital signs are failing, it is unlikely that you’ll find a double of Jeremy Northam, from the CBS television show Miami Medical, whose character evidently never loses a patient, at your bedside. Dr. Gregory House will not be hanging around your hospital room saying, as he often does on the Fox show House: “Pretty much all the drugs I prescribe are addictive and dangerous.” That’s because, even when you don’t have a hope of recovering, many real doctors are a lot more scared that you’ll somehow get addicted in your last three days of life than concerned that you’ll die in pain.

[…] 

Here’s what’s probably going to happen if you have a long-term illness that, despite all efforts, spreads. Because of the pain medications administered, you will likely be very constipated and perhaps nauseous. The sicker you get, the less capable you will be of eating. You may have tubes in your throat that will prevent you from talking, so the probability of your delivering a series of invigorating and profound deathbed remarks to loving relatives, as seen, say, on NBC’s ER is minimal. Owing to the effects of medications, you might not even be conscious.

[…] 

In some sense our culture’s fierce resistance to the bleak inevitable is understandable. Who is eager to experience the fear and impatience of bored relatives huddled together in the face of what one day they, too, will confront? Instead we get television episodes that mask finality, even while pretending to confront it, and films that gloss the ends of our lives with gold dust and perfume, giving us a finale as flimsy, fantastical, absurd, and gorgeous as their dewy-eyed stars. We watch these fictions so we won’t have to think too much about death and, like Tolstoy’s Levin, we tell ourselves, “So one goes on living, amusing oneself with hunting, with work — anything so as not to think of death!”

 (via Death Be Not Chic – The Fantasy of Death in Cinema and TV – Obit-Mag.com)

Heavy sentences by Joseph Epstein

The following quotes are from Joseph Epstein‘s book review in the New Criterion on Stanley Fish’s book “How to Write a Sentence. Epstein, throughout his review, demonstrates that he does not believe Fish to be in a position to teach this art, and provides examples from the book demonstrating his lack of command of the language. However, Epstein provides some helpful nuggets on the craft of writing from what he believes to be the best book on the subject, Style (1955), by F. L. Lucas’s .

[Lucas said, O]ne does best always to attempt to use strong words to begin and end sentences. Straightaway this means eliminating the words “It” and “There” to begin sentences and dropping also the pompous “Indeed.” This advice also reinstates and gives new life to the old schoolmarmish rule about not ending a sentence with a preposition, for a prepositon is almost never a strong word.

[…]

In its subtlest sense style is a way of looking at the world, and an unusual or sophisticated way of doing so is not generally acquired early in life. This why good writers rarely arrive with the precocity of visual artists or musical composers or performers. Time is required to attain a point of view of sufficient depth to result in true style.

[…]

Lucas’ first chapter, “The Value of Style,” will suffice to render his point of view, with its fine sense of perspective and proportion, plain: It is unlikely that many of us will be famous, or even remembered. But not less important than the brilliant few that lead a nation or a literature to fresh achievements, are the unknown many whose patient efforts keep the world from running backward; who guard and maintain the ancient values, even if they do not conquer new; whose inconspicuous triumph it is to pass on what they inherited from their fathers, unimpaired and undiminished, to their sons. Enough, for almost all of us, if we can hand on the torch, and not let it down; content to win the affection, if it may be, of a few who know us and to be forgotten when they in their turn have vanished. The destiny of mankind is not governed wholly by its “stars.”

(via Heavy sentences by Joseph Epstein – The New Criterion)

Kinect Hackers: unlocking new possibilities in robotics

Microsoft’s Kinect is letting hardware and software hackers (the good kind) discover new possibilities in robotics.

Within weeks of the device’s release, YouTube was filled with videos of Kinect-enabled robots. A group from UC Berkeley strapped a Kinect to a quadrotor—a small helicopter with four propellers—enabling it to fly autonomously around a room. A couple of students at the University of Bundeswehr Munich attached a Kinect to a robotic car and sent it through an obstacle course. And a team from the University of Warwick in the UK built a robot that had the potential to navigate around post-earthquake rubble and search for trapped victims. “When something is that cheap, it opens up all sorts of possibilities,” says Ken Conley of Willow Garage, which sells a $500 open source robotics kit that incorporates the Kinect. (The previous non-Kinect version cost $280,000.) “Now it’s in the hands of just about anybody.”

And the good thing is that now Microsoft is actually encouraging this kind of discovery.

[T]he company’s official response to all this activity has gone from hostility to acceptance to vigorous support. In June, Microsoft expects to release a software development kit that makes it easier for any academic or hobbyist to build Windows applications using the Kinect’s camera and microphones. The company is also granting access to the high-powered algorithms that help the machine recognize individual bodies and track motion, unleashing the kind of power that was previously available to only a small group of PhDs.

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(via Kinect Hackers Are Changing the Future of Robotics | Magazine)