Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Ebooks Abroad

I have a lot of strong feelings about ebooks and ereaders. However, as I'm finishing up my studies in the Netherlands, I've come to realize how valuable and practical owning an ereader can be.

There are a lot of people who claim that ereaders are going to kill paper books, and that that's terrible, because there's no beating the feeling of having a book in your hands, and it's also terrible for used bookshops. There are lots of issues with ebook price fixing and the horrors of DRM. A lot of the issues surrounding ebooks are confusing and do not have clear answers because it's all new technology.

However, there is one thing that ebooks do remarkably well -- they give reading material to people who are not in the physical proximity to purchase it.

I do not speak Dutch. After over six months in the Netherlands, I can understand some things, and maybe read food labels. My understanding is not up to par to a native speaker or even a second language speaker. I had to keep stopping myself from going into bookstores because I knew that there would not be much for me there. While most bookstores had an English and other foreign language section (I do read French, so that was an option), these sections are typically small and have a very limited selection.

If I didn't have an ereader, my choice of books here would be between A Game of Thrones or Fifty Shades of Grey. With an ereader and an internet connection, I could browse and purchase from a bookstore or borrow from the library the same selection of books I had at home. This was a pretty amazing revelation, and something that I, and probably many people in opposition to ereaders, take for granted. For an immigrant or second-language learner, ebooks can be an incredible resource. With ebooks, people around you not being interested in the language you want to read do not limit your selection of reading material.

While some ereaders only support Latin characters, the new editions of Kindle also support Cyrillic, Korean, Japanese, and both traditional and simplified Chinese characters, with the number of ereaders supporting different scripts and the number of different scripts likely only to increase in the future.

While the current market for ebooks and ereaders has many flaws and virtues, this is a facet of it that every article I've seen on them overlooks. For anyone going abroad for extended periods, I would definitely recommend an ereader.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Rise of the Guardians and the Problem of Evil

source: collider.com
Yesterday I saw the movie Rise of the Guardians after much pestering about the glorious animation. And it was glorious, and I did enjoy it very much despite not exactly sharing all of the traditions in the movie, and I was glad to have the opportunity to see it in theaters.

But the ending of this movie bothered me very much, actually. First, let me give a quick rundown of the plot:

A guy revives and is declared "Jack Frost" by the Man in the Moon, and for hundreds of years is invisible to all mortals and causes snow days and general mischief. Elsewhere, Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, and the Sandman are guardians of childhood wonder and do things like give kids presents and hide Easter eggs and make good dreams to preserve childhood wonder and protect the children of the world. However this is thrown off by a bad guy, the Boogeyman or "Pitch", who exists to ferment fear in the minds of children, and seeks to destroy the Guardians because he wants to be believed in and feared. Jack Frost is chosen by the Man in the Moon to be a Guardian and to help the existing Guardians defeat the Boogeyman; however, Jack Frost also wants to be noticed and have a purpose so he sympathizes with the Boogeyman. After much havoc and drama, he sides with the Guardians, eventually becomes believed in by children, the Boogeyman is banished to his underground lair because even though "[kids] believe in him, [they're] just not afraid of him." All is well, and the story ends.

It's beautifully animated and a nice story, but by the end I honestly thought there would be some sort of reconciliation with Pitch, about fear being necessary. Because the Guardian's existence is based on belief, the fact that "I believe in you, I'm just not afraid of you" could have been very powerful. Fear needs to exist for bravery to exist. Kids overcoming their fears is a big deal. He might not have been a nice guy and brought candy and presents to kids, but he still could have been important, without need to banish him forever and ever.

I guess I shouldn't have expected it, there weren't really any hints of there being any good in Pitch, just that Jack Frost and the audience were sympathetic to his (selfish) need to be noticed. Pitch existed in the dark ages and made things terrible for all children, making them all live in fear until the Guardians existed. So there's really no reason he should be allowed to continue to do anything. He's just a terrible creature, inside and out.

Or... is he?