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Posts tagged ‘writing’

Write About College & Win Prizes

Have a passion for writing and want to be featured here in our blog? How about a chance of winning a Kindle Fire?

We’re looking for writers that are passionate about sharing their college experiences by writing exciting content on our blog. We see tremendous value in providing content to college students from college students and we want your help!

Whether your passion is sports, campus politics, fashion, or anything else under the college experience umbrella, we’d love for your stories to be featured in our blog.

We’ll be selecting one blog entry per week and rewarding the lucky writer with $100 in free textbooks that’ll surely come in handy next semester. Plus you’ll receive the esteem of having your work published and seen by a large audience of readers! Oh, and let’s not forget about the chance to win a new Kindle Fire!

If this sounds like a challenge you are up for, please visit: where you can find the rules and submit your entry. Good luck and happy writing!

How the Web Has Turned Us All Into Mini-Eberts

Roger Ebert passed away yesterday at the age of 70. I’m not sure if there’s ever been a more influential or well-known critic, and I mean critic of anything, not just film. He was the first person to receive a Pulitzer Prize for film criticism, back in 1975, and only 4 other people have received that reward since. He had fought with cancer for 11 years prior to his death, losing a large portion of his jaw and his ability to speak due to surgery complications in 2006.

Photo of Roger Ebert from this 2010 Esquire profile.

Photo of Roger Ebert from this 2010 Esquire profile.

I’m probably a bit older that most of the readership of this blog, so I’m sorry if I sound too much like an old fart in this post. For people college age and younger, I don’t know if there’s much of a sense of who he was or why so many people are eulogizing him.

I watched his show At the Movies only a few times as a kid. I probably knew him better from parody than from reality. (Animaniacs and The Critic come to mind. What can I say? I really like cartoons.) The parodies always depicted Ebert (or Ebert-like characters) as an impossible-to-please curmudgeon who enjoyed tearing things down more than appreciating them.

If you’ve read any of his writings, you know that’s pretty far from reality. More than any other critic I’m aware of, he tended to evaluate movies as emotional experiences. Sure, he could tear something down, and did so with some brutally hilarious put-downs, but it always came from an honest place. A bit of dialogue from the movie Ratatouille, between a young chef and a food critic, comes to mind:

LINGUINI: You’re thin for someone who likes food.

ANTON EGO: I don’t “like” food… I LOVE it. If I don’t love it, I don’t swallow.

Analyzing something with a critical eye doesn’t mean you don’t like it. Rather, it means you care enough about it that you want to pick it apart.

That’s a good part of Ebert’s legacy. He became synonymous with the word “critic” in the popular conception by writing conversationally and intelligently. He was an easy person to disagree with, in that I could read a review of his, completely disagree with every conclusion, but still find it full of smart, intelligent, and valid points. Now that the web has given each of us a potential audience of strangers, we should all aspire to that same level of discourse.

That potential audience really a fantastic thing. It’s allowed criticism to become more of a two-way street, not confined to late-night TV or an article buried in the Style section of the newspaper. There are hundreds of great websites where like-minded people can find each other to intelligently and analytically discuss whatever form of art they care about. Just remember, while you and all the other aspiring Eberts are going back and forth over the merits and demerits of a particular movie, that the people who disagree with you have just as much right to be in the conversation as those who agree.

15 Examples of Insane Textbook Writing

Writing textbooks has got to be pretty tedious work. So you can hardly blame the writers when they slip in something that seems a little bit… off. My theory is that one of three things happens:

#1. The writer slips something in to see if anybody notices.

A word chart that says "OMG WTF STFU PWN3D"

Best optometry chart ever.

A word problem with the heading: "When am I ever going to use this?"

The heading asks a very good question that the problem doesn’t really address.

A picture of a family posing with somebody in a Spongebob Squarepants suit. Caption: "Here is an American nuclear family comprised of mother, father, and two children. Please note that the large yellow kid with the poor complexion is not a member of this nuclear family."

Just don’t tell Spongebob he’s not a member. He’ll be crushed.

"This chapter might have been called 'Introduction,' but nobody reads the introduction and we wanted you to read this. We feel safe admitting this here, in the footnote, because nobody reads footnotes either." Whoever wrote this is my hero.

“This chapter might have been called ‘Introduction,’ but nobody reads the introduction and we wanted you to read this. We feel safe admitting this here, in the footnote, because nobody reads footnotes either.” Whoever wrote this is my hero.

Crying: (def) what you feel like doing after writing statistics textbooks.

This explains every other entry on this post.


The Bad (But Fun) Science of John Carter


Source: Walt Disney Studios

In Edgar Rice Burroughs’ book A Princess of Mars, and in the film adaptation John Carter, out this week, I don’t think it would be a spoiler to say that the story takes a few liberties with science. Turns out Mars isn’t populated by nomadic tribes of green people and the atmosphere is not safe for shirtless men.

In the story, Carter — already a natural warrior — becomes super-powered on the Martian surface because the lower gravity decreases his mass. That’s the justification for him besting Martians in one-on-one combat, bounding across deserts, and, as seen in the above picture, whipping boulders at giant space hippo-gorillas.

So I guess it’s good that none of the sequels take place on Jupiter, because then Carter would be screwed.

The gravity rationale sums up the book and film’s approach to science very nicely. It feels as if Burroughs (and subsequently director Andrew Stanton) paid just enough attention in physics and astronomy to hear something that sounded cool, but didn’t stick around to hear it get ruined by qualifiers.

(Side note: Siegel and Schuster, the creators of Superman, liked Burroughs’ low-gravity-equals-superpowers idea so much that they used it as the original explanation for where Superman gets his strength. Originally, Superman couldn’t fly, just leapt great distances… just like John Carter.)

But even if it seems like the story is taking a half-ass approach to science, that’s not exactly true. It’s just taking an obsolete approach to science, one that didn’t seem completely unreasonable when Burroughs initially wrote about it. Burroughs was inspired largely by the writings of astronomer Percival Lowell, who spent night after night in his Arizona observatory, making educated guesses about what he could see on Mars. He believed that he could see evidence of canals on Mars, which indicated the presence of a civilized life form.

It’s easy to laugh at him for guessing, but keep in mind, Lowell’s book Mars and Its Canals came out in 1904. He couldn’t exactly send a probe up there at that time to verify his speculations. All he had to work with was a telescope, whatever knowledge of mathematics and physics he had, and imagination.

So even though Lowell was not exactly highly regarded by his contemporaries, since he was guilty of imagining way, way too much, his ideas ultimately found a new life in science fiction, a realm that’s much more rewarding to wild speculation.

If you see John Carter this weekend and have trouble accepting some of the more ludicrous science remind yourself of the hundreds of incidences of bad science you see in just about every movie and TV show. Cars that fall off cliffs don’t explode. Silencers on guns don’t reduce a gunshot to a whisper. Lasers don’t fire little bolts that go “PEW! PEW! PEW!” You can accept a handful of ridiculous science as just part of the fun but reserve scorn for the special few that seem to be playing in a universe with completely different rules. (See Armageddon. No I’m sorry… please do NOT see Armageddon.)

So which is more important in your view of science fiction — the science or the fiction?

(If you want to read a few John Carter novels before seeing the film, check out e-book version, which collects the first five books in the series, along with artwork and a glossary, available for $1.99.)

What College Does to Your Casual Reading Habits

My best guess is that I spent around 40 percent of my college education reading books. Another 25 percent was spent writing, another 25 spent in the art studio, and around 8 in classes. I’d mark two percentage points as “Other,” which includes pseudo-educational experiences like seeing pretentious indie films, hanging out at the campus radio station, or getting into a religious conversation with a Rastafarian shop clerk. I’m leaving out the large number of not-particularly educational experiences like re-watching Arrested Development and Chapelle’s Show on DVD for the 50th time, using cafeteria trays as makeshift sleds, and various anecdotes that I probably shouldn’t write down if I ever want to pursue an elected office.

Point being: I read a lot, for just about all of my classes. At any given point, I’d be reading three different things at once — a Shakespeare comedy, a nonfiction history of the Ottoman Empire, and Frederick Douglass’ autobiography. Check in with me a month later and I’d have moved on to a biography of Marcel Duchamp, King Leopold’s Ghost, and a handful of short stories written by other Creative Writing students. Four years of reading, four years of needing to constantly switch gears.

Immediately after graduating, I barely read. It wasn’t that I was burned out. I just had spent so much time totally focused on assigned reading that when it suddenly ceased, I wasn’t really sure where to start again. I carried around a copy of Stephen King’s The Gunslinger on a few plane rides, but it took me much longer than it should have to complete that fairly short book.

Like every new graduate, if I was going to expend energy, it was toward finding a job. With my free, non-social time, I mostly just played guitar and caught up on one- or two-year-old video games I didn’t have time for in college, like Shadow of the Colossus.

I landed my first real, serious, full-time job in September after graduating in May. It was at a magazine and I worked in production. That meant my primary responsibility was to be available to do my part as the writers and editors finished up their job. If it was a slow week, and I could stay on top of everything, I’d sometimes be left with a good chunk of downtime.

So I started reading again — first slowly, then voraciously. My old habits came back. I burned through the rest of King’s The Dark Tower, alternating each book in the series with something completely different. Then at a co-worker’s insistence, I started George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. I ate it up, but I maintained the alternating schedule. Following up the gritty high fantasy of A Clash of Kings with the narrative of a dispassionate English butler in Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day worked as a very effective palate cleanser.

Eventually — inevitably — I got my hands on an e-reader. I’m frequently asked if having an e-reader changes my reading habits, specifically, if I’ve given up on paper books. The answer is no, I haven’t given up on print. All that having an e-reader has done is to encourage me to carry around and read two or more books at a time, one print and one digital. I’m straddling multiple books at once, just like I did in college. My reading habits have reached their logical conclusion.

Sure, this is just a case study of my personal experience, so there’s no saying if this exact thing will happen to you. But, even if it’s not about reading, don’t be surprised if you find yourself circling back towards old college habits and interests years after graduation.

We spend so much of our lives as students that by the time we reach our early twenties, most of us are all too eager to move on to the next stage. But your education will stick with you whether you want it to or not. Even if you never take another class, write another paper, or stay up all night working on a project again, curiosity will creep back up on you, and you’ll find yourself approaching the real world with a student’s mind.


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