Worth Reading and Watching I

Some online stories and videos that are worth reading and watching. Why one professional cyclist refused to quit a race, even when most of his fellow cyclists dropped out.

A tragedy that hits close to home: A Manhattan mother jumped eight stories to her death with her infant son strapped to her chest. Miraculously the baby not only lived but his only injuries were a few scrapes and bruises.

This short 30 second clip shows that digital isn't a good replacement for all paper--at least not yet.

Sometimes teenagers can be really stupid. I say this as someone who may have done equally stupid things. Thankfully, smartphones weren't around to record any of it.

Several writers are trying their hand at writing stories about Mormon missionaries. So far they've failed to find an audience. The reason? Apparently they don't feel authentic. (And, might I add, you can only tell the same story so many times.)

The future of typing: Smartphones are reinventing—and ditching—the keyboard. (Link may expire.)

A man who dressed as a superhero to fight petty crime has hung up his outfit after he was beaten up. Below you'll find an interview he did with a UK TV station.

Steve Jobs' Best Speech

RIP Steve Jobs. For those who haven't seen it (scroll down to view), the commencement speech he gave at Stanford in 2005 was Steve Jobs' philosophy and life summed up in about 15 minutes. It's also the best commencement speech ever given. An excerpt:

When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: "If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you'll most certainly be right." It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the answer has been "No" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7:30 in the morning, and it clearly showed a tumor on my pancreas. I didn't even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable, and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months. My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctor's code for prepare to die. It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you'd have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.

I lived with that diagnosis all day. Later that evening I had a biopsy, where they stuck an endoscope down my throat, through my stomach and into my intestines, put a needle into my pancreas and got a few cells from the tumor. I was sedated, but my wife, who was there, told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope the doctors started crying because it turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery and I'm fine now.

This was the closest I've been to facing death, and I hope it's the closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept:

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

Up with Grief

Up: Carl & Ellie

Note: This post was written for and posted on the Open to Hope site. You can see the original post here.

It's hard to find movies for adults that adequately deal with the death of a spouse and putting one's life back together. Fortunately, one of the movies nominated for the Best Picture Oscar does a great job of dealing with the subjects of death, grief, and moving on better than any other film in recent memory—and it's target audience is kids.

The movie? Up.

In the first 20 minutes of the film we see Carl Fredricksen as a boy meeting his future wife, Ellie. When they grow up, they both want to become explorers and journey to faraway lands. Ellie shows Carl her adventure book that contains a few notes and drawings of things she's done. Most of the pages in the book are blank, and Ellie tells Carl that she's going to fill the rest of book with photos and of all the exciting things she's going to do.

Then the audience is taken on a short silent movie journey of their life. They get married and start careers. They decide to have a family only to find out she's infertile. Though the news is tough to swallw, they both decide to keep working and save their pennies for a trip to Paradise Falls in South America. But as the years pass, they keep raiding their savings to pay for car repairs and other life emergencies. They grow old, and one day Carl realizes that they've never taken the trip they dreamed about. He throws caution to the wind and buys tickets to Paradise Falls. Only they never make the trip. As he's about to surprise his wife with the plane tickets, she falls ill and dies.

The next time we see Carl he's a grumpy widower. Fed up with life and facing a court-ordered placement in a retirement home, he decides he's had enough. As a former balloon salesman, he rigs his Victorian house with thousands of balloons and launches it into the sky, determined to finally visit Paradise Falls. The only complication to his trip is that Russell, a neighborhood kid and wilderness explorer, has unwittingly come along for the ride too.

During the journey to the falls, the Victorian house becomes the symbol for Ellie. Not only does the house contain photographs and other reminders of Ellie and Carl's life together but, at various points in the journey, Carl looks up at the house talks to it, wondering what Ellie would say if only she were there with him.

As he travels with Russell, the house becomes more of a hindrance than a help. Carl's so determined to take the house to Paradise Falls that he's unable to form a relationship with Russell or even think about getting them both home safely. At times Carl seems more concerned about damage the house receives than the danger Russell and himself find themselves in.

Carl doesn't realize how much the house is holding him back until he finds himself browsing through Ellie's adventure book. As he turns the pages, he's surprised to discover that the blank pages she showed him years ago are filled with pictures of his and Ellie's life together. Suddenly Carl realizes that even though he and Ellie were never able to visit the Paradise Falls together, they did have a wonderful, fulfilling life as husband and wife. It doesn't matter that they never got to visit the falls together—the real adventure in life was the years spent with Ellie.

Armed with this new insight Carl is able to literally let go of the house in order to get he and Russell home safely. As a result, he's able to move on with his life and start a new and fulfilling chapter as a father for Russell. It's a message that anyone who's struggling to move on after the death of a spouse could use.

Don't let this beautifully animated film trick you into thinking it's for kids only. There's plenty in Up to keep kids entertained but with its unique plot and adept handling of more “grown up” issues, this life-affirming film deserves the Best Picture of the year award and is the new high water mark in movies that deal with grief and the loss of a spouse.

To TV or not to TV – That is the Question

Digital TV

Back in October I was deciding whether or not to get a digital TV converter boxes. The main reason for wanting one was so I could watch season five of LOST without having to wait until the next day to watch it online. Then Congress, in their infinite wisdom, decided to push the digital TV date back from February 17 to June 12. My problem was solved – at least for four months. I ended up watching LOST and forgot about the entire digital television switch until Friday when Marathon Girl called and mentioned that the kids couldn’t find the one afternoon TV show they watch because of the switch.

"How are they handling it?" I asked.

"Fine," Marathon Girl said. "They’re playing with trains instead."

Over the weekend we talked about buying a digital converter box so we could at least get local channels (which is somewhat risky considering that the TV signal we did get was good but not great) or getting a satellite dish. In the end we decided not to do anything – at least for now. It’s not a question of expense but whether or not a converter box or a satellite TV would even be worth it considering that our viewing habits don’t involve sitting in front of the boob tube flitting through channels deciding what to watch.

With the exception of LOST all the other shows we watch take place on Friday or Saturday night via Hulu or DVD. If there’s a new series we’ve heard a lot about, we’ll go online and watch an episode or two to see if it’s worth continuing to watch online or put in our Netflix queue. In the last year we’ve watched Battlestar Galactica, The Sarah Conner Chronicles, The Office, Moonlight, the HBO miniseries John Adams, and a handful of other programs this way.

And we’ve really come to prefer it – especially for exciting, well-written shows like Battlestar Galactica where we can get two or three episodes done in one sitting instead of spacing them out a week at a time. Even things like local news, which a decade ago I watched with religiously, are better online. Instead of sitting through a 30 minute newscast, I can pick the stories – If any – I want to watch when I want to watch them. A decade from now I wouldn’t be surprised if most people watch TV online as opposed to tuning in and watching it live and TV networks do away with things like fall lineups and instead start shows at odd times.

The solution isn’t perfect. Sometimes I have to close my office door when the guys at work are talking about a show I haven’t caught up on – or even seen – yet. But even if I overhear a spoiler or two, I’ll take the freedom that comes with watching shows online or on DVD over having 100+ channels to surf through. I get more writing done and spend more time with the family. And I can learn to live without the live sporting that may catch my eye.

I have no idea what I’ll do when the final season of LOST comes around. At some point I’ll probably be overwhelmed with the desire to watch it live and Marathon Girl and I will have this debate in about six months or so. But odds are we’ll end up watching it on Hulu the next day.

I'll learn to live with it.

It’s a small price to pay for freedom that comes with it.

Why Gran Torino is the Best Movie of the Year

Clint Eastwoon in Gran Torino

Note: Thanks to Sylvia for reminding me I need to write this.

When I posted my Best of 2008 list I got a few emails from readers who were surprised that I picked Gran Torino as the best move of the year over The Dark Knight since they knew what a big Batman fan I am and how much I raved about the movie.

Yes, I loved The Dark Knight. It had everything you want as far as good writing, great special effects, wonderful acting, and a wicked plot. However, it lacked the personal intimacy of Grand Torino. And though both movies had themes of redemption, atonement, and salvation, Gran Torino did it on a more personal and, therefore, more powerful way.

In Gran Torino, Clint Eastwood starts as a grumpy, racist, Korean War vet named Walt. The Detroit neighborhood he lives in is falling apart, controlled by gangs, and inhabited by Asian people who Walt despises. To top it off, he has a strained relationship with his two sons, a catholic priest, and has a bunch of spoiled grandkids.

The movie revolves around Walt’s relationship with the Lors – a Hmong family that lives next door. As part of his initiation into a Hmong gang, the neighbor kid named Thao (Bee Vang) breaks into Walts’s garage to steal his vintage Gran Torino. As a result he inadvertently ends up getting involved in the lives of Thoa and his older sister Sue (Ahney Her) and defending them against violent intimidation.

Slowly we see Walt’s toughness melt away as the kindness from the Lors makes him realize that they’re just like anyone else. This is where the movie could have run down the path of being your typical Can’t-We-Just-All-Get-Along movie. But the movie doesn’t focus on Walt’s acceptance of the Lors (thought that happens). Instead it focuses on Walt and what’s makes him one of the most complex characters in recent cinema history.

What really makes the movie, however, is the ending. No, I’m not going to spoil it for you, but it’s an extremely moving ending that has surprised everyone that’s seen it. It makes the movie and gives the movie a deeply satisfying conclusion.

Gran Torino isn’t a perfect movie. Some of the acting from Vang and Her is far from perfect. But the best movies are the ones with the best special effects and well-known actors. Instead they’re the ones that show real, complex characters trying to make the best in the world we live in.

Grand Torino wasn’t a movie I expected to like. I have a love hate relationship with Clint Eastwood movies. Some have been great while others have been plain awful. I’ve never really forgiven Eastwood for royally screwing up Mystic River. Eastwood, however, redeemed himself with a realistic movie that shows the audience that not one is beyond redemption. Best of all, the film reminds us what the true definition if love really is.

One word of warning. Gran Torino contains a lot of foul and racist language. If you’re uncomfortable with that, don’t see it. But if you can look past that, you’ll see a moving story of atonement and salvation that makes it the best film I’ve seen in a long, long time.

Gran Torino **** stars (out of 4).

Worth Watching

First rule of politics: Always control your image. (Obama is a master of this.) Were I Sarah, I'd fire whoever decided to put me in front of the guy killing turkeys.

Update: The following comment appeared here. I think he/she asks some questions worth answering.

"As a former TV news cameraman/editor, I can tell you that I had by far the most responsibilty for the video that was aired. I was very aware of my background anytime I shot an interview, b-roll, etc. It is very easy to make a political point with your video. I am quite sure the photographer was either a complete idiot, a very biased liberal, a poor photojournalist, or a combination of the three. All the photographer had to do was tell Sarah Palin that the interview would be better in a different spot, and should have said something if the slaughter started after the interview began. I know I would have stopped it, and had her move. It would be interesting to learn who he/she is, and what they meant to accomplish by framing the shot this way."