mayo 25, 2011

Sherlock, the TV series

Surely the renowned author Arthur Conan Doyle couldn’t have imagined to what extent his writings would still be enjoying enduring success. What would the creator of the most intrepid consultant detective think of an incarnated adaptation of his most popular work? I’d guess he’d be impressed.

First broadcasted in mid 2010, Sherlock, a TV series starring Benedict Cumberbatch as the eccentric Sherlock Holmes and Martin Freeman as his sidekick, Dr. John Watson, gives a new lease of life to the original adventures, without failing to include the traditional elements that made the first appearance of these characters so famous. It brings these old adventures up to date keeping the essence of the main characters intact. Holmes remains to be an assertive and resilient investigator, proficient in unraveling mysteries, who lacks formation in common knowledge so that he retains most of the invaluable information he collects to be processed deductively. He also has rather uncommon hobbies and an extraordinary sense of humor (since he finds, for instance, a murder as most entertaining). As regards Dr. Watson, he fulfills his function of shedding some light in the cases as well as being an extremely useful companion in the moments that require it. Other appearances include those of Mycroft Holmes (Sherlock’s brother), inspector Lestrade and Dr. Jim Moriarty, Sherlock’s archenemy.

In order to solve the adapted crimes, the new Sherlock employs modern technology, such as Internet, cell phone texting and GPS tracking systems. What is interesting about the modern day version is that this idea also conforms to the old character’s sophisticated manners, as he would take advantage of any device and logical mechanisms related to it in order to elucidate the mysteries surrounding him.

The first season of the series is now over, but luckily there is more to watch in the near future: a second series of three 90-minute episodes is scheduled to be broadcast in late 2011, including the highly acclaimed Doyle’s novel, “The Hound of the Baskervilles”, and the most intricate puzzle the old Sherlock has ever encountered, “The Final Problem”, which was originally published in 1894 as part of the collection “The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes” and in which Sherlock presumably dies as a result of the longest confrontation with his archenemy, criminal mastermind Dr. Moriarty.

All in all, the series is a must for ardent fans, who in my opinion will not be disappointed at all, and it is of course worthwhile watching for those who are into the genre and seek for entertainment.

Education: Proposing a Change in the Paradigm

Education may be regarded as the utmost essential basis of modern society. From my own point of view, only through its comprehensive developing can we achieve general welfare, even though this is a necessary but not sufficient condition to do so. Therefore, logically, general welfare is also implied by at least one more idea: the most significant one that can be found may be the concept of an empathic civilisation (in short, one in which everybody can put themselves in others shoes). Yet, most importantly, we should critically analyse the current models of education throughout different cultures in the world whilst pinpointing their fundamental malfunctions.

At present, modern technology and instantaneous communications have become impressively influential, not only in western but also in eastern cultures. These items are part of the globalisation process, which, according to Sir Ken Robinson, is complicating the passing on of cultural identity within every culture. The economy plays a main role within these difficulties as well, since we cannot exactly predict its behaviour in the near future. Moreover, among other problems, there are those concerning the organisation of schools. The most severe of them might be the choice of variables according to which the students are grouped and the classes are both scheduled and standardised.

In summary, Robinson states that there are many issues, related to the essentials of the manner we teach, which will turn our own education models against our primary objectives. All these issues may find their respective basis on the fact that such models were designed and conceived for pursuing the aims of a past age. Indeed, driven by an economic imperative set forth by the Industrial Revolution, these systems have followed an intellectual model of the mind that restricts the concept of intelligence in too close-minded a way, defining people as either academic or non academic.

But in what manners can we tackle these seemingly unattainable challenges? Sir Ken Robinson has proposed a transformation of the current paradigm; a completely opposite direction to advance through. It is based on the concept of divergent thinking: a problem or question has many interpretations as well as many possible solutions. In fact, as many as it can be imagined. Such idea is inherent to everybody and it has been proved that its use decays with the passing of time if not exercised properly. Nevertheless, further discussion is needed here, for how do we tell objective interpretations apart from subjective ones? Are them equally valid?

Either way, what is important is the application of the concept to systems of education: it imposes an idea of freedom, or, to be more precise, openness, i.e. contrary to standardisation. In order to exercise divergent thinking, we should allow more possibilities of choice regarding education (a task difficult to accomplish given the overall situation nowadays). What this actually means is that we need to pursue common interests while organising education, and most importantly, we have to think differently about human capacity.

The Icelandic Sound

Five years after releasing Takk…, their most successful studio album up to date, and having gone through one last release and two worldwide tours, Icelandic post-rock band Sigur Rós are currently on a very well deserved break. Nevertheless, their frontman, guitarist and lead singer Jónsi Birgisson kept working throughout last year in order to release his first solo album, Go. In this review, I will analyse in which ways these two pieces of music are related to each other, as well as the main differences between them, which, of course, must be highly expected, deductively reasoning.

While the otherworldly Takk…, sung in Icelandic and Hopelandic (a made up series of vocals and sounds that strongly resemble those of the Northern languages), is a post-rock album itself, with its ethereal distant sounds, distorted guitars (Jónsi uses a violin bow to perform on his guitar), rapidly changing rhythms and sudden walls of sound appearing before us, Go, which is sung in English, could be regarded as a little bit more out there: in spite of being highly influenced by that non-conventional style, it turned out to be, essentially, a pop album. Indeed, originally intended as entirely acoustic, it became a fully instrumentated piece of music after classical composer Nico Muhly intervened in its arrangements and production. Moreover, whereas Go stresses out a much more colourful and playful side of Jónsi’s musical mind (though not throughout its entirety), Takk… demonstrates happiness in general, though it might be also considered as quite bluish and sorrowful.

Both being profoundly moving and melancholic, the described albums are dissimilar in terms of style, yet the emotional charge spread across each and every one of their tracks reaches the same level of sophistication and proficiency, giving the listener a particularly memorable experience. What is more, not only are they stunning in nature, but also highly acclaimed by critics throughout the entire world.

All in all, for seekers of peaceful moments in particular, these beautifully recorded CDs are worthwhile listening to, since they have the capability of transporting you far beyond this world.

Contact: a journey into the roots of everything (May 2010)

Are we alone in this immensely vast Universe? For centuries, humanity has dreamed of life beyond this tiny little planet and its frontiers, in which our history takes place. Within the pages of the best seller Contact, a 1987 novel by scientist Dr. Carl Sagan, a conceivable answer is given to this question mark.

The book raises very important questions, not only about the Universe and its potential inhabitants, but also regarding life itself, as we know it on Earth, and our behaviour throughout history. It also deals with apparently contradictory ideas, such as the existence of a Creator who would serve scientific progress in unveiling the origin of the Universe, but searching ways of expressing a conciliating attitude towards them. These links could turn out to demonstrate they might not be actually opposite. In addition, the novel is intended to worship the real SETI project, along with its groups of participating scientists who have decided to undertake such a difficult task.

In the novel, the agnostic, strongly tempered Dr. Eleanor Arroway, a devoted scientist member of SETI, encounters a radio signal from outer space by using the enormous radio telescopes of the Very Large Array (a real facility in the desert of New Mexico) and consequently everything changes.

Played by Jodie Foster in the 1997 film adaptation by Robert Zemeckis (also starring Matthew McCounaghy as reverend Palmer Joss), Ellie has had a very particular childhood, yet her life is to become much more interesting in the light of the ET-related events. Although the movie keeps the essence of the narration intact, it omits important plot points related to the actual meaning which Sagan intended to convey.

In my opinion, Contact proves there is a symbiosis between science and science-fiction, since some of Newton's, Planck's and Einstein's theories, for instance, are employed, and also as a result of the power of imagination and open-mindedness involved in every great step in human history, as Sagan remarks through the perspective of Ellie. Apart from this, whether there is really intelligent life out there or not, and whether we make contact or not, Sagan remarks being patient and persevering to achieve our goals, but most importantly, being careful not to lose ourselves in the process.

Journey to the Centre of the Earth, by Jules Verne (May 2010)

'Journey to the Centre of the Earth', a science fiction novel by the renowned author Jules Verne, was first published in 1874. Verne, considered to be one of the fathers of the science fiction genre, defied theoretical science (the hypothesis of the liquid nature of the inner structure of our planet, in particular) by assuming that highly-risked travellers could actually reach the very depths of the Earth, since in the 1874 science context, the general understanding implied such a task could not be accomplished. Taking this into account, it isn't surprising to find out that the novel enjoyed instant and enduring popularity after being released.

In my opinion, what is amazingly interesting about this book is the fact that an enourmous amount of imagination was poured into its developing: the energetic atmospheres created and the highly descriptive manners of narration, along with thorough technical and scientific details, could only have been the result of an inspired mind, such as Verne's (determinining proof of this fact is that he virtually invented the modern submarine when he wrote '20,000 Leagues Under the Sea' with an innovative approach). In addition, the novel's vocabulary is quite rich, therefore, it is a remarkable learning tool.

As regards the plot, the novel introduces Prof. Liedenbrock, an eccentric boffin who comes across a thirteenth century document which states the location of the entrance of an immensely long tunnel (Snæfell volcano, in Iceland), supposedly leading to the depths of the unknown. The assertive and resilient professor, joined by his rather unconvinced nephew and a quite indispensable Icelandic guide, immediately start planning a seemingly impossible mission: climbing down through that extremely dangerous cave, in order to provide scientific evidence supporting the Humphry Davy theory (non-heated nucleus), which actually stated logical arguments, contrary to what one might expect.

In conclusion, this novel puts together an extraordinary adventure with scientific contents, making of it an essential reading for all science fiction lovers. However, I strongly recommend it to anyone who enjoys the journey and adventure type of story.