Monday, May 26, 2008

Spoken Lines Worth Remembering

I really appreciate words. They make it so much easier to write and talk. Strung together in a unique series, they can evoke all kinds of emotion, from humor to sadness. I like to listen to people’s speech in movies, on TV shows, and even in real life for those special sequences of words that are worth remembering.

Movies are especially noted for their memorable lines. I like the humorous ones, but there are those that are less funny and more profound. Blazing Saddles is an old movie that continues to inspire with its vast array of one-liners. Who can forget the line, “Badges? We don’t need no stinking badges!”

One of my favorite lines from a sitcom was spoken by Charlie on Two and a Half Men. After darting through the living room on his way out the door in a tizzy, a guest asked him if he was alright. He replied, “Yeah, I just can’t find my damn stalker.” I am always impressed by good irony.

Of course, movies such as Airplane and The Naked Gun were created around one-liners and sight gags. A good one from Airplane is, “Looks like I picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue.”

Some of the funniest lines of dialogue still occur on the long-running animated TV series, The Simpsons. While the family is sitting around the breakfast table, eating quietly, Homer jumps up and proclaims, “I don’t care what any of you say; I’m going to clown college.” To which Bart replies with a puzzled gaze, “I don’t think any of us expected him to say that.”

And on the Simpsons Movie, Homer’s neighbor, Ned Flanders, says from a high nearby peak, “Look at that, you can see the four states that border Springfield: Ohio, Nevada, Maine, and Kentucky!”

Another animated classic movie, Shrek, had some funny lines, too. Referring to Snow White, the Magic Mirror says, “Although she lives with seven other men, she's not easy.”

Good one-liners don’t necessarily have to come from movies or TV shows. Sometimes they happen in real life. You just have to remember to write them down. My daughter does that on her Web page.

One of her favorite college professors was in the middle of a lecture one day. She paused for a moment and then blurted out, “I’m not going to drop the f-bomb any more. I’m a lady.” Then she continued her lecture.

And, another of her professors told her, after she had worked very hard for a long time on a project that she wasn’t quite satisfied with, “Sometimes being done is better than being good.” That’s often a sentiment of mine.

Sometimes a line can stand on its own. Most of the time, however, a line from a movie needs to be put into context. One of my favorite movies is Groundhog Day. And one of my all-time favorite lines was spoken by Bill Murray’s character. You just have to realize that his character in the movie is reliving the same day over and over.

He’s talking on the phone to the operator, trying to get a call to Pittsburg following a blizzard. He asks the operator when the phone lines will be fixed and she apparently tells him tomorrow. He replies, “What if there is no tomorrow? There wasn’t one today.”

I wish I could think of a clever one-liner of my own to end this column with, but I can’t. But as my daughter’s professor might say, “Sometimes being done is better than being good.”

Saturday, May 17, 2008

An Oops Moment for a College Chaplain

May is a special month. Not only does my birthday fall in May, which frankly, is something I would just as soon forget as I grow older, but it is the month for graduations. It is the month when millions of young people get introduced to the proverbial “real world.”

Today, my daughter graduated from college. It was her second graduation, not counting the times she graduated from pre-school or elementary school. Those ceremonies resemble graduations; they are even called graduations. But as important as they are to parents, they are merely bridging ceremonies.

A graduation is a culmination. It marks the end of something major and the beginning of something else equally major, perhaps the beginning of one’s life or the beginning of a college career.

I was proud of my daughter as she walked across the stage to pick up her hard-earned diploma. She has spent the last four years toiling, worrying, crying, and rejoicing over each small milestone on her way to her grand exit from the halls of academia.

She has learned a lot in her college career, and not all of it in the classroom. I’ve been there, so I know that college students who have just learned a great new truth from one of their professors don’t have the experience or maturity to put their newfound knowledge into proper real-word perspective. College students tend to be idealistic. But that can be a good thing; it gives them hope.

But sometimes, the truths they learn help them to make life-altering decisions almost immediately. Sometimes, if they’re lucky, college students can experience moments of clarity. Call them epiphanies.

My daughter experienced one of these moments when she was just a freshman, when her graduation day seemed a far-off goal. And she didn’t experience her epiphany in a classroom nor from listening to one of her professors extol the virtues of a Shakespearean sonnet.

She had gone to a meeting in the college’s chapel at the invitation of a person she described as the staff minister. He had told everyone to write down a question relating to their faith and put it in a box, anonymously. My daughter’s question was one of the first pulled out to be read and answered by the chaplain.

She wrote that she had been raised a Christian and she believed in God, but she was having a difficult time reconciling her religion with the fact that most people in the world were not Christians. She wondered if there was room in the Christian faith to allow for others who were not Christians to go to heaven.

The chaplain answered that the bible says there is only one way into heaven, and that is through believing in Jesus Christ, and that those who don’t, even those who are good people and who live decent lives, are doomed to eternal hell.

My daughter immediately got up and walked out of the meeting, saying nothing. The next day, the chaplain caught her walking to class and asked her why she had walked out. She politely thanked him for answering her question so honestly and succinctly and told him that he had helped her with the internal struggle she was having about religion. She told him it had suddenly become very clear to her; she was not a Christian. She could not be part of a group that automatically condemns the vast majority of the world’s population to hell.

Over the next four years, she said he tried to persuade her to come back. But she was adamant. This man of the cloth had succeeded in doing just the opposite of what his job description probably tells him to do. He had driven a wedge between a young girl and the faith he espouses because of his blind disregard for what his own religion is supposed to be about, acceptance.

But it was an epiphany for my daughter, and she handled it with great maturity. I told her I was very proud of her. She could now make up her own mind about matters of faith and spirituality, without regard for what any preacher says, or without regard even to what the bible says. She realized at that moment that the bible was only one book of faith among many, and perhaps none of them holds any real truth.

College teaches young people many things in the time up to their graduation day. Sometimes, it can even spawn a life-altering epiphany or two. I’m glad my daughter had hers.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Digital Photography: Still Fascinating to Me

My daughter’s best friend got married today and she asked me to take pictures of the wedding and reception. I was happy to oblige. But afterwards, while I was at home creating a DVD slide show of the event, I started waxing nostalgic of the time when I was a kid, taking pictures with my cheap plastic camera.

I’ve always enjoyed photography. When I was about 12 or 13 I would go around the neighborhood or down to Irwin Park and take pictures of about anything I could find. The pictures were black and white, because color film and developing were way too expensive.

The camera I had took roll film, so I had to load it in the dark and wind it by hand. There was a tiny round window on the back of the camera where the number of the picture, which was printed on the film’s paper backing, could show through.

When I was in junior high school, I got a Polaroid camera for Christmas. Again, I mainly took black and white pictures, but once in awhile Dad would let me buy a roll of color film, especially if he wanted some pictures out of it himself.

After collage, I bought my first single-lens reflex camera, or SLR. It was a Pentax. I learned how to take pictures the right way, according to the people who know, or at least according to the people who wrote books about taking pictures.

It was a fun hobby. I purchased several interchangeable lenses, filters, flash units, and other accessories. At one point, I even tried my hand at developing my own pictures in a makeshift darkroom.

But in the mid-1990s, while I was working for the Tricounty News, my boss purchased for us a new-fangled device that would eliminate the need to buy film. It was a digital camera. It didn’t look much like a camera. But it took black-and-white pictures that were much easier to include in the newspaper than film pictures were. And you could view them on the computer as soon as you took them.

A little more than 10 years later, color digital cameras have virtually replaced film cameras. Polaroid is no longer making film because it has switched to digital. You can still find film cameras, but they are relegated to a small corner of the sales display at Wal-Mart.

And whereas Polaroid cameras of years past would take pictures you could view in about a minute, if the picture was no good, you still used up the film. With digital cameras, you can look at the picture immediately using the screen on the back of the camera. And if you don’t like it, just erase it and take it again.

Most teenagers have known nothing but digital photography. Young couples have been taking digital pictures for at least half their lives. But for the middle-aged photo hobbyist like me, digital photography is still fascinating, even though I was an early-adopter.

Most people don’t give the technology behind all the electronic modern marvels a second thought. They use digital cameras to take pictures and they use iPods to listen to music. But I can’t help it. Every time I turn on my mp3 player, I think about those old-fashioned vinyl records I used to own and marvel about how I can now carry what used to be a giant record collection in my front pocket.

And every time I whip out my digital camera, I still think about that cheap old film camera I used to carry around with me when I was a boy. It makes me wonder what fascinating gadgets we’ll have 20 years hence that will make me look back on these days with nostalgia.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

New Science and Technology Blog

Readers of this blog may have noticed that I write a lot of opinions regarding science or technological issues. For that reason, I have created a separate blog for my articles that focus on science or technology.

Please visit Wilstar's SciTech Blog.