Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Seen and heard: July to September 2017

The Lego Batman Movie – frenetic, clever and compassionate fun, like the Lego Movie made with the world’s largest (virtual) Lego set.

Wonder Woman soundtrack – top of the Classic FM chart for a couple of weeks in June, and much superior to the acoustic filler which you find on most film soundtracks these days. Definitely captures the Amazon spirit, with great use of drums.

Echo – podcast in the BBC’s Digital Human series. Interesting exploration of how technology can support – develop? improve? – inner dialogue, which of course is critical to advanced learning skills.

Digital Transformation - interview with David Egerton. I loved his Shock of the Old, calling into question the usual accounts of technology change, which he argues focus at the wrong time and place: too early, close to the time of discovery, and not on the technologies which people actually use. Here he argues we make ourselves ignorant by focusing on the digital. Sample: “The promoters of technology for many decades …have argued that we absolutely need this one, two or three new machines and that they will transform our world…. All that changes is the particular machine. So once the radio would bring the world together, later it was television and now it’s the Internet.…It’s extraordinary really that people still get away with giving the impression that this is an original story.”

Phil Spencer: Find Me a Home – neat twist on the usual TV property show in which Phil off Location Location Location tries to find homes for two families facing homelessness. Though not as naïve as he pretends to be for the programme (he’s patron of a homelessness charity), he was I think genuinely shocked to discover how many landlords will simply not let to people on benefits. Happy endings for the families, though in one case it was fairly clear they were successful only because they had Phil and a TV crew on their case.

Diana, Our mother: Her Life and Legacy – probably the best of the slew of TV programmes around the 20th anniversary of Princess Diana’s death, because it had her sons talking about things that could never be said at the time: for example, how weird it was to be amongst the crowds, having not to cry themselves while surrounded by all these people in tears who didn’t know her. If they were angry about that, they didn’t show it. True greatness.

Stardust, by Neil Gaiman – beautifully conceived and written, but I think from the storytelling point of view Jane Goldman’s screenplay for the film has a better shape for the final act, as well as introducing the character of the cross-dressing pirate (a star turn for Robert de Niro).

The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman – gripping and truly scary in places, taking its setting from Gaiman’s childhood and reminding me powerfully in numerous small ways of my own which must have been contemporaneous, though such exciting and awful things never happened to me. Like Alan Garner (whom he surely also read at that age?) he has a tremendous skill for combining the fantastic and uncanny with the realistic and everyday.

Inception – high-concept thriller, with a Mission Impossible style twisting turning storyline in which you know deceptions are being perpetrated but only find out what they are after they happen, and the plausible-looking (though totally unrealistic) theme of shared dreaming.

Old People’s Home for Four-Year-Olds – we know the mutual benefits old people and young people get from spending time together, but this was an interesting experiment of basing a primary school in an elderly care home, with shared activities including a sports day. Before and after measurements showed not only cognitive but physical improvement in the elderly people. Touching encounters too.

The Brain with David Eagleman – BBC TV series about the brain’s role in shaping and constructing our lives. Nothing new or unfamiliar to anyone who’s been around psychology the last forty years, but it’s well-explained and some of the filmed case studies are great.

My Family, Partition and Me: India 1947 – one of the BBC’s programmes as part of the 70th anniversary commemorations (celebrations would be the wrong word). Basically this was ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ with extreme prejudice, literally, with several current British citizens recovering the stories of their Muslim, Hindu and white British forebears through those dreadful days. I knew that there had been massive inter-community violence, but I’d not appreciated before the terrible genocidal spirit which took hold. Scary to realise just how quickly and easily a society can fall apart, as we’ve more recently seen in Burundi and the former Yugoslavia.

Despicable Me 2 – great joy, great fun, with the return of Gru, his adopted orphans and of course his minions, and the introduction of the brilliantly manic Lucy as his romantic partner. Had to see this before getting to see Despicable Me 3.

Diana: 7 days – interesting BBC documentary, covering the same extraordinary week as the fictional The Queen between Princess Diana’s death and her funeral.

Inspector Montalbano, series 4 – a welcome return, and although Salvo, Mimi and Fazio are all noticeably older, and there’s a new Livia, the stories are top quality, perhaps even better than before.

Richard Rohr on The World, the Flesh and the Devil – from Day 2 of the Center for Action and Contemplation conference CONSPIRE 2017. He’s a great presenter with an easy accessible manner and his webcasts are always worth watching, but this time he was really on fire. The theology behind his talk is expounded in one of his Daily Meditations, but it's not nearly as much fun as his talk!

Autoloon ethics training – an example of a branching scenario created by instructional designer Cathy Moore using Twine. Not only a great demonstration of how to build a dialogue choice scenario, but also an interesting exercise in learning design. How quickly can you find the optimal pathway? (I took several wrong turns.)

Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioural Economics, by Richard H. Thaler – autobiographical account of how economists have reluctantly abandoned their theoretical premise that people make economic choices as though they were perfectly rational. For example, real people (as distinct from homini economici) count losses more than gains, pay attention to sunk costs, and don’t necessarily have the willpower to carry out their best decision even if they can work out what it is. All this had practical application, in the US and with the UK’s “nudge unit”, devising policies to "influence choices in a way that will make choosers better off, as judged by themselves". I wonder if our distance learning teaching methods aren’t similarly based on a premise of ideal rational learners, and whether there are similar “nudges” we should be applying when presenting learners with choices?

Foucault's Pendulum, by Umberto Eco – global trans-historical conspiracy novel involving the Knights Templar, originally published in English in 1988 and suffering now from eclipse by The Da Vinci Code which did much the same thing but in a more accessible way (less complex, fewer footnotes). Some touching moments, but I do find irritating Eco’s habit of downloading all his research onto the pages of the book (a feature of The Name of the Rose also).

The Keeper of Lost Things, by Ruth Hogan – starts like chicklit, but then becomes something richer, deeper and cleverer, with multiple interconnected plot strands.

Can Graphic Design Save Your Life? – fascinating exhibition at the Wellcome Museum for the History of Medicine, with examples ranging from health education (including the “AIDS – Don’t die of ignorance” campaign) to hospital signage. Spoiler alert: the answer is Yes.

Barley, sung by Lizz Wright – a simple, tender, defiant song, beautifully performed.

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