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I’m planning a road trip for next month and a vacation for June and in my notebook I found a list of travel films that I have learned lessons from watching. Queue them all up and you have a good on-the-road film festival and prep session while you look at maps and guides and make reservations.


road oz

The Wizard of Oz – Pick your travel companions with care. Don’t be concerned with food or lodgings. Do be concerned with witches and flying monkeys. No matter how good the trip, it should also be good to be back home again.


National Lampoon’s Vacation – A road trip with family, as child or parent, will present many lessons. As with life and school, you will fail at some.


Before Sunrise – You should take a serendipitous journey alone. You should meet a beautiful/handsome person along the way. If you go back there at sunset or midnight, don’t expect things to be as good as they were before.



Up – Take that trip you and your spouse have been talking about for years now before it’s too late.


Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade – Take a trip with your Dad. Or son, depending on your age and point of view. (What film could be the Mom or daughter version?)



Broken Flowers – Go on one cross-country search for old girl/boyfriends in search of answers. (Not connected to any 12-step program)



The Darjeeling Limited – Go to an exotic place filled with things that you have never seen and smells that tell you that you’re not in Kansas anymore.



Planes, Trains and Automobiles – Be nice to fellow travelers. You never know.
The Lord of the Rings – Undertake an adventure trip full of possible peril. Once. After that, there is no need for you to do it again. You have nothing to prove. Your home is quite comfortable and there are so many books unread and films unseen.



Lost In Translation – Be prepared to be a stranger in a strange land. Try to have Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson around just in case.


I’m sure you have other films to add to the festival list. How about if you make a comment and give us a film and a short reason for its inclusion.

Data has always been with us. But you certainly can find a spike in the use of the word “data” in the last 75 years to coincide with the “Information Age,” computers and the Net.

The Latin word “data” is the plural of  the rarely used”datum.” It is a bit of a word oddity as it is most commonly used in the singular, as a mass noun (like “information”, “sand” or “rain”).

We generate so much data – facts and statistics collected together for reference or analysis – that we have to come up with interesting ways to describe the amount.

Every two days the human race is now generating as much data as was generated from the dawn of humanity through 2003.

We are exposed to as much information in a day as our 15th century ancestors were exposed to in a lifetime.

In the first day of a baby’s life, the human race generates 70 times the information contained in the Library of Congress.

Those examples come from a film, “The Human Face of Big Data”  that discusses things like “Big Data,” a word that was barely used a few years ago but now works its way into our lives in obvious and unseen ways.

There is much in the film about data visualization using the streams of data that come from our phones, web activities, satellites, sensors and the GPS car units, cameras and smart phones we own.

“Datum” is Latin meaning literally “something given,’” (a form of dare “give”).  I find that origin interesting because we give so much data to others intentionally and unintentionally. Every time I post on this or any blog, on Twitter or Facebook, or sign up for an online account, I give data away. Others use that data, often to make money, sometimes to do something good.

The film calls all our connected devices a kind of “planetary nervous system.”  The possibilities for ways to help humanity with the challenges of things like pollution, hunger, and illness, but we are also in the age of Edward Snowden and the NSA and data access has a cost in privacy.

Rather than drop into the abyss of the loss of privacy, I’m more interested in what big data might do to improve our lives. But that privacy issue is tough to get past.

One part of the film looks at Deb Roy and his MIT colleagues who wanted to examine how children acquire language. Deb Roy and his wife decided to give a lot of data about their newborn son for the sake of that research. Privacy? they put cameras in the ceiling in each room of their home and recorded every moment of their lives for the next two years.

When my sons were babies, my wife and I recorded in a book all their first word attempts and actual words. We are both language teachers and it was fun and educational. But we didn’t make our data public or add it to any database. Is that safe or selfish?

The future is here. It’s October 21, 2015. It’s the day that Marty McFly travels to in Back to the Future Part II.

This year is the 30th anniversary of the original Back to the Future. Should we expect to find Marty, Doc, and Jennifer walking in our world? Well, maybe if you live in the oxymoronically-named Hill Valley, California where they lived (or live, or will live), I would take a careful look around today.

A number of media outlets have been doing stories this year around the anniversary and looking at whether or not any of the movie trilogy actually predicted accurately the future of 2015.



I’m not concerned about arriving at a future with self-tying shoes, though that hoverboard would be fun to try out. I wrote about all this in more detail back in March so that people could get ready.

Yeah, I’m having a little Back to the Future party today. When does it start? At 4:29 PM, of course.  Got the three films ready to go. It would be great if Marty or Doc dropped in and said hello.



“By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes.”  – says one of the witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth

Ray Bradbury is known for his rather nostalgic and often small-town view of the world – and of other worlds too.  But his novel, Something Wicked This Way Comes is much darker.

If his novel Dandelion Wine (which I have written about before here) is a novel of summer, then Something Wicked This Way Comes is his novel of autumn. It is one to read on a day when you might need a sweater or blanket over your feet

In it, a carnival rolls into town sometime after midnight. It is a week before Halloween. The calliope plays a song that lures the young people of Green Town, Illinois to Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show.

We follow two boys, friends who discover what can happen when wishes and dream come true but turn out to be nightmares.

The novel is a modern Gothic tale. Those young boys, James Nightshade and William Halloway, and the  dark carnival of autumn intrigued and frightened me when I first read it one October night when I was 12. Coincidence? Synchronicity?

It you wanted a Bradbury summer of reading, I would suggest your third choice be Something Wicked This Way Comes takes its title from Macbeth, and you know something wicked is certainly coming. Mr. Dark shows our dark side to us. Mr. Dark with his tattoos, one for each person he has given their secret fantasy. And each of them in return is now part of the carnival.

I recommend the book, but the film version of Something Wicked This Way Comes is also very good. I still see it listed as a children’s film sometimes (it was made by Disney) but I would pre-screen it before showing it to kids – though it might make a good, scary Halloween movie night.


Ray Bradbury Official Site


I have been doing some armchair adventuring that sent me back into my past.  As a boy, I read the Classic Illustrated comic book version of  Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe and imagined myself a castaway on some island.

It is an old tale, first published in 1719. At that time (and I suspect still today) many readers and non-readers took the adventures of Robinson Crusoe to be a true story of a real person and an actual adventure. The title for that first edition, in the style of the time, was The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, Of York, Mariner: Who lived Eight and Twenty Years, all alone in an un-inhabited Island on the Coast of America, near the Mouth of the Great River of Oroonoque; Having been cast on Shore by Shipwreck, wherein all the Men perished but himself. With An Account how he was at last as strangely deliver’d by Pyrates.

I don’t think many people today are reading Robinson Crusoe but they may be familiar with the story or name – even if only because in the theme to Gilligan’s Island they sing “Like Robinson Crusoe, it’s primitive as can be.”

It is structured as an autobiography of Robinson (birth name Kreutznaer) and his time as a castaway for thirty years on a remote tropical island near Trinidad. Before he is rescued, he encounters cannibals, captives, and mutineers. Exciting stuff for a 10-year-old boy to encounter curled up in an armchair while eating some beef jerky for additional castaway effect.


Map of Robinson Crusoe’s island, 1720

I liked that even in the comic book version, it read like a journal. He builds a shelter and makes clothes and eventually befriends a native islander who he names Friday. Eventually, I saw a movie version of the story, but when I was reading the comic back in 1962, I also saw a cleaned-up, family film version of island survival called In Search Of The Castaways. No one should want to be stuck on some deserted island, but. of course, I did. As an adult, it all came back to me with the Tom Hanks’ film Castaway.

It wasn’t until I was an English major in college that I learned that Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe was regarded by many to be the first novel in English. I read it for a class and it was a serious reading. James Joyce noted that the true symbol of the British conquest is Robinson Crusoe: “He is the true prototype of the British colonist. … The whole Anglo-Saxon spirit in Crusoe: the manly independence, the unconscious cruelty, the persistence, the slow yet efficient intelligence, the sexual apathy, the calculating taciturnity.” The interpretation in that classroom was that Crusoe tried to impose his society on the island via agriculture and his politics of being “king of the island” and by redeeming the savages, especially Friday, with his European ways. (Even though Defoe simultaneously criticizes the Spanish conquest of South America.)

I discovered in writing this that Daniel Defoe wrote over 250 books on economics, history, biography and crime, although we still know him best for the fiction, especially Robinson Crusoe, Moll Flanders and Roxana.

swiss familly robinson

As an English major and teacher, I should say that Defoe’s books had a big impact on me, but honestly as a kid at that time the book that had a greater grip on me was The Swiss Family Robinson (1812) which had to have been influences by Defoe. It is another story I first encountered as a Classics Illustrated Comic but that I went on to read after in book form. (That was true of many of those comics for me.)

I recall that the book seemed to have a like of moralizing about the author’s, Johann David Wyss, beliefs about Christian faith, family values, and the virtues of self-reliance. I was more into the fishing, boat-building, guns and general camping-in-the-woods stuff that sounded like a lot of fun. And their treehouse. I loved that. I still dream of having a treehouse one day. And I still love islands.

The story has had many versions in comics, books and on television and in films. Again, I don’t know that kids are reading books like The Swiss Family Robinson these days. the style and vocabulary is tough, even if the general plot is appealing.  The Disney film version was the one I saw as a kid and I haven’t seen it since, so I don’t know how dated it might seem to a kid today.


All of this revisiting of my youthful armchair adventuring was inspired by seeing that August 7 is the anniversary of Thor Heyerdahl’s raft Kon-Tiki landing in French Polynesia back in 1947. The book Kon-Tiki was one I read was I was a young teen for a school book report. This true adventure is about a journey of 4300 nautical miles across the Pacific Ocean by raft.

Thor Heyerdahl suspected that the South Sea Islands had been settled by an ancient race from thousands of miles to the east who traveled by rafts. Those people had been led on their ancient journey by a mythical Incan god named Kon-Tiki who walked the ocean.

He decided to prove his theory by duplicating the legendary voyage and on April 28, 1947, Heyerdahl and five other adventurers sailed from Peru on a balsa log raft. Balsa – like those little airplanes I had been buying and building all throughout my childhood.

They travels for three months on the open sea and hit storms, whales, sharks and everything you would expect. Finally, they sighted land. They had come to the Polynesian island of Puka Puka and took this as proof that early South Americans could have traveled across the Pacific and settled in the Polynesian Islands.

Of course, Heyerdahl and his crew of five had a radio, navigational equipment, watches and other modern conveniences and safety equipment, but the raft itself was made entirely of pre-Columbian materials. The crude craft was balsa logs lashed together with hemp ropes with gaps for the water to drain out. It had a bamboo cabin with a roof of banana leaves. The mast was made of planks of mangrove, and it held a square sail. It was a replica of the rafts that native Peruvians were using at the time of the first European contact in the early 1500s. Heyerdahl named it Kon-Tiki.

I read the book, The Kon-Tiki Expedition: By Raft Across the South Seas, that was published in 1948, and I saw a documentary film about the journey. It may have been the one Heyerdahl made when the book was released. I searched for it online and there are several film versions of the story including a dramatic movie based on the book.

I came across a few clips from the 1947 Heyerdahl documentary including this one that shows their encounter with the worlds biggest fish, the whaleshark.

I’m sure when I was 15, this would have had an exciting Moby-Dick adventure quality to it, but now I view it and wonder if they were in any danger and if there was any reason to attack the whaleshark other than to get some action footage.

Almost all my adventuring these days is of the armchair variety, and my take on survival and “helping the natives” has certainly gone in a very different direction from the ideas I had as a kid curled up with a blanket in a chair reading.

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