All posts by Scott Wilson

Rio, a cool computer animated film

Rio, a computer animated film by Blue Sky Studio (released in March, 2011), is another excellent and fun experience. It follows the adventures of the ‘Blu’, the last male blue macaw parrot, as he is brought back to Brazil from Minnesota by a scientist hoping to save the species. The film has fantastic visuals in an exotic setting, great voice acting, good story and direction.

The story brings Blu and his owner to Rio de Janeiro, where he meets intended mate Jewel. Blu was raised in captivity and is comfortably domestic, and never learned to fly. Jewel is a wild hearted, free spirit, trying to escape captivity. A smuggler breaks into the lab and steals them, then they get chained together. For most of the movie, they are trying to evade capture, and get the chains removed. It’s funny because Blu can’t fly, so they run alot through the winding streets, yet sometimes Jewel manages to fly and pull him along. The bad guy is a carnivore Cockatoo named Nigel, the smuggler’s main accomplice. Other characters include a toucan, cardinal, canary, bulldog, and some crazy marmosets.

There are some cool scenes, like hang gliding through the mountains overlooking the city. Of course, there is a scene in Carnival, a big event in Brazil. Being a musical, the film makes good use of both romantic and funny songs. The story is good, and the interactions and relationships are interesting, especially the contrasts between the two main characters. This is a really fun film.

HUAWEI ASCEND M860 cellphone, with carrier MetroPCS

So I finally jumped into the smartphone craze in April, with the MetroPCS HUAWEI ASCEND M860. No it’s not the best, fastest Android cell phone out there, but for me this is a big improvement over my Motorola VE440. I had been thinking about getting a smartphone for a while, then my wife’s old Samsung flip phone started to die, so she got my Motorola (just fine with her, it’s better anyway). We’re both with MetroPCS, so switching phones was easy. So I’m a ‘late adopter’, usually, but ‘better late than never’ (BLTN), right? Anyhow, I am thrilled with this amazing little piece of technology! The Android interface is very intuitive, and navigating through the apps is simple enough. It has taken some reading and learning to get familiar with the device’s many capabilities. Setting up the email service was easy, especially with Google, since it’s their Operating System. The first thing that pleasantly impressed me was the touchscreen keyboard, with its auto-complete feature. I just start typing a word, and it brings up suggestions, which I can scroll to see more, and tap to fill in that word, very cool. It loads with the Swype keyboard, but I prefer the stock Android keyboard, and there are others that can be installed (see http://www.androidcentral.com/android-centrals-keyboard-roundup ).

The cool thing about this little green R2D2 is he’s open source, unlike Apple’s proprietary iOS. Android Market has over 200,000 apps with 57% free, Apple App Store has 28% free. The ASCEND comes preloaded with several apps, a web browser, email, text messanger, calender, music player, many MetroPCS apps, and of course many Google apps (Gmail, Contacts, Maps, Market, Search), and YouTube. There are apps I haven’t used yet. Some of the apps I have installed are Facebook, Speed Test, Weather Channel, TuneIn Radio, USA Today, and Speedx game. Facebook and YouTube are excellent. Since the ASCEND shoots video, I can upload directly thru these apps. It has three video quality settings, 30m low & hi, and a 10m ‘YouTube’ setting. You can see one of my cat Luna at http://www.youtube.com/user/swimsify#p/u/0/5JTN7KyaHH8 . It also takes up to 3.2 megapixels still photos, the quality is ok, but it doesn’t have a flash.

ASCEND
ASCEND

ASCEND comes with Android OS 2.1. I upgraded mine to 2.2, but MetroPCS made it a bit tricky. It is worth the effort. I like the look of 2.2, with white text on black backgrounds, and selections a brite orange. The ASCEND comes with a 2GB microSD card, and a Stereo headset with microphone (with mute/pause button). The CPU clocks at 528 MHz, which is about half the speed of the newer, pricier cell phones. My MetroPCS deal is about $50 total (after tax & fees), and includes unlimited talk, text and data, nationwide (although their network coverage is limited compared to the big carriers). One major drawback to the ASCEND is the data speed 1x, which is like the old dial-up speeds, around 50 kps upload & down. That’s ok for emailing, but not much else. Fortunately it has Wifi! Compare this to average download speeds of 3G at 1 Mbps and 4G at 4 Mbps. Looking forward to getting a 4G, when I get ‘a round 2 it.’ For now, the HUAWEI ASCEND at $100 (after $30 mail in rebate), is a pretty good deal, and a fun and productive device.

Writing Styles: The Elements of Style vs AP Stylebook

In the world of journalism, there are sets of standards to provide uniformity in style and formatting of documents, called style guides. In the United States there are more than 15 different style guides, each with its own unique rules. Two of the most widely utilized are the ‘The Elements of Style’ and the ‘Associated Press Stylebook.’

The Elements of Style (1918), aka Strunk & White, by William Strunk, Jr., and E. B. White, is a small and simple guide for writing. The original version was only forty-three pages, but has grown to 105 pages, four editions, and has sold more than 12 million copies. It promotes efficient use of words, with recommendations like “make every word tell”, “vigorous writing is concise” and “omit needless words.” It also suggests to “prefer the standard to the offbeat”, a ‘stick to what works’ approach, ‘if it aint broke, don’t fix it’. The book tells writers to have the proper mind-set, that they write to please themselves, and that they aim for “one moment of felicity.” Criticism of Strunk and White has focused on their misunderstanding of what constitutes the passive voice, and their advocation of popularly established usages, such as the split infinitive and the use of ‘which’ in a restrictive relative clause.

The Associated Press (AP) Stylebook is the gold standard of journalism style guides. From its start in 1953, the publication focused on “where the wire set a specific style” and is referenced for grammar, punctuation and principles and practices of reporting. It is usually updated every year, and is now on its 43rd edition, at 416 pages. It features an alphabetically ordered list of guides to capitalization, abbreviation, spelling, numerals and usage. The stylebook is organized into sections: Business Guidelines, Sports Guidelines and Style, Guide to Punctuation, Briefing on Media Law, Photo Captions and Bibliography.

I find it intriguing that scholars of letters obsess so much on the minutia of journalistic techniques, although I am not a professional writer, so I don’t have the same appreciation as some. In comparing these two style guides, I would say that each has its own particular purpose. The Elements of Style seems more suited for an author of novels, or perhaps someone who just wants some practical, simple writing advice. In contrast, The AP Stylebook is geared towards writers in the businesses of newspapers, magazines, television broadcasting and public relations.

To me (imho), good writing doesn’t need to be 100% grammatically correct, or follow an industry standard. It just needs to come from the heart of a person who wants to create thoughts and ideas that stimulate the senses and imagination of the readers.

Human overpopulation: our biggest environmental problem

There’s a lot of interest in environmental and green issues these days. Much of it is focused on recycling, alternative energy, reducing consumption of natural resources, organic gardening, and many more. It’s great to see so many concerned people getting involved in reducing their impact on our planet’s environment, but it seems as though there’s one issue that does not get much attention: human overpopulation. It’s ironic because this should be our main concern, one that stands out in front of all others. The world human population is now 6.9 million people. According to the United Nations, the global population could be as high as 11 billion in 2050. Countries are becoming more modern and industrialized, and people are consuming more resources and polluting more. Population growth stretches natural resources to their limits. Deforestation, food and water shortages, and climate change are all intensified by the addition of nearly 80 million people a year to the world’s population.

Since 1968, Population Connection (formerly Zero Population Growth or ZPG) has been America’s voice for population stabilization. On their about page:

“We are the largest grassroots population organization in the United States. Population Connection has 130,000 members, supporters, and participating educators. We educate young people about unsustainable population growth through K-12 lesson plans that reach 3 million students a year. We inform constituents across the country about their congressional representatives’ stances on population growth and family planning. And we work directly with Congress and the White House to inform family planning policy.

The global population has grown from 3.5 billion when ZPG was founded, to nearly 7 billion today. Population growth rates have fallen around the world because of the success of voluntary family planning programs. But the global fertility rate is 2.5 – still higher than the “replacement level” of 2.1 children per woman.

Population Connection works to ensure that every woman around the world who wants to limit her childbearing has access to the health services and contraceptive supplies she needs in order to do so. Typically, when woman have access to affordable birth control, they have fewer children, regardless of income or educational levels.”

You might be asking what you can do about it? Well, good question. Just by reading this, you have taken a step in the right direction. Awareness is the foundation of wisdom and understanding. From this we can build a better future. The best way to change the future is to teach the children to become good adults, by being good role models for them. We can make a conscious effort to reproduce less or not at all, and we can encourage others to do the same. We can support organizations like Population Connection, and others. One person’s behaviors may not change the world, but if enough of us become aware and unified, we can make a difference on the future of Planet Earth.

Following are four graphs illustrating some statistics of global population.

This first one shows the rapid explosion of global population in recent centuries.

Human Population History
Human Population History

Human Population Density. Note the high densities of India, Japan and Europe.

Human Population Density
Human Population Density

Fertility rates. Note the high rates in central Africa, south Arabia and Afganistan.

Fertility_rate_world_map
Fertility_rate_world_map

Net migration rate. Orange shows more people leaving (emigration), blue more coming in (immigration).

Net_migration_rate_world
Net_migration_rate_world

Works Cited:Population Connection. “Protecting the Planet.” Aug2011.
http://www.populationconnection.org/site/PageServer?pagename=issues_protectingtheplanet

Population Connection. “About Us.” Aug2011.
http://www.populationconnection.org/site/PageServer?pagename=about_us

Graphs:

Wikipedia. “Overpopulation.” Aug2011.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Overpopulation

Wikipedia. “Immigration.” Aug2011.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Immigration