WALL-E World

Last night I went to see Pixar's new movie WALL-E. I had heard much of the buzz leading up to this picture, and I've always liked Pixar films in the past...but a robot? I wasn't too certain, until I saw the trailer about a month ago. At which point I thought "hmm, looks kinda cute a quirky...it might be worth seeing in the theatre..."

Turns out that WALL-E is really, really, really good. The animation is amazing, especially for the scenes where WALL-E looks back at the Earth (surrounded by a brown haze of garbage and space junk) or out across the Milky Way. If you really need an excuse to see this movie in the theatre instead of waiting for the DVD, go for the beauty of the space scenes.

There is very little dialogue - and half of that (at least) is in robot-speak - although the music from Thomas Newman moves the story along nicely and complements the gorgeous animation. The story draws on WALL-E's "glitch" (a personality that makes him long for friendship, and perhaps a dash of romance) and casts it against the background of a cautionary tale about overconsumption and overreliance on machines, but does so without being too heavy-handed or moralistic (after all, the movie is put out by Disney, which is in the business of getting people to buy its movies, t-shirts, vacation packages, toys, etc.).

I forced my friends to stay through the credits, which are always entertaining in Pixar films. Nothing too special here, although I enjoyed the throw-back video game-style renderings of WALL-E, EVE, and others. The song ("Down to Earth" by Peter Gabriel) is definitely worth staying to listen to, even if you don't like the little robots crawling around the credit lines.

The great thing about WALL-E is that it really does appeal to a broad audience - during the day, families will enjoy the movie's more kid-themed aspects, while those coming to the movie for a light "date night" outing will enjoy the love story between WALL-E and EVE.


Great Lakes and climate change

Healing Our Waters has just posted their report Great Lakes Restoration & the Threat of Global Warming. The report details potential impacts of global warming on the Lakes and urges Congress to take action.

Healing Our Waters is also running a campaign to promote Great Lakes restoration among the current Presidential candidates. You can find out more and sign their petition below.

Great Lakes Restoration Presidential Candidate Petition


Updated picture site

For those of you who had been hoping to see some of my photos and were disappointed to find that the links to my Facebook albums no longer work, I have reposted many of my photos to my page at Picasa. Enjoy!


Saving the environment, Indian-style

One of the things that really bugs me about much of the rhetoric surrounding debates around why developed countries should or shouldn't take action is the idea that if China and India don't do anything to cut emissions, there is no reason for anyone else to make an effort. On my recent trip to India I noted several actions - large and small - that individuals, communities, and the entire country are already taking to improve and protect their environment.

1. Water Conservation
  • Bucket Showers: Before traveling to India, I had heard many a story about the "bucket shower" and wasn't quite sure what awaited me in the bathrooms of India. For those unfamiliar with bucket showers, you basically fill a 5 gallon bucket with water and use your hands or a large cup to pour water over yourself as you wash (I guess you could dispense with the cup altogether and just pour directly from the bucket, but this is difficult when the bucket is full). In places where water temperature and pressure can be unreliable (this includes not only some of the places I stayed in India, but also my apartment in Virginia), the bucket shower not only saves A LOT of water, it also results in better control of water temperature and how well you can rinse shampoo and soap away.
  • Reminders: Travelers in the US and Europe are probably quite familiar with the signs in hotel rooms asking that you conserve water by not requesting your sheets and towels be washed and replaced each day - you'll find the same thing in India. However, many places take such requests a step further and frame such reminders in the context of the landscape - for example, Rajasthan is a desert state, so saving water has local benefits. In addition, the suggestions go beyond just linens - travelers may also consider steps such as turning the water off when brushing teeth or shaving, taking shorter showers, and flushing the toilet less often.
2. Fuel
  • Autorickshaws, taxis, and other vehicles that run on compressed natural gas. India's road are PACKED with all manner of transportation, and an increasing amount is motor vehicle traffic. In Delhi, Agra, and elsewhere, the entire fleets of autorickshaws and other for hire transportation have switched from diesel and gasoline to compressed natural gas. As a result, less particulate matter and fewer greenhouse gases are released into the air, and air quality in cities is already improving (although still not great).
These solutions are not the be-all and end-all answers - India and the rest of the world still have a long way to go. I'll continue to post about some of the other environmentally-friendly practices I observed while in India, as well as some of the not-so-great-for-the-planet stuff. My point here is that India (and other countries) are making efforts to protect the planet - and that means there is no excuse for the United States and other developed countries to do as much as they can to clean up their own acts.


Namaste, India

When my friend Emera told me that she was going to take a class on South Asia in the spring of 2003, I didn't realize that it would eventually lead her to (1) meet the boy of her dreams, (2) take up Hindi language training, (3) enroll in Syracuse's Anthropology department to get her PhD, (4) travel to India to continue Hindi training, (5) marry the boy of her dreams, and (6) move to India to lead a study-abroad program and to do her dissertation research. But by the time she reached step (3), I was getting the idea that there might be a trip to India in my future. When Emera and Ian both received funding to work on their respective research projects, Emera called in all of her friend chips and made me promise to come visit them in India. So last fall, I began searching for airline tickets, researching places to visit in India's Golden Triangle Region, and preparing for what I knew would be a trip like no other I had taken before.

The trip itself was absolutely awesome - in the true sense of inspiring awe. After seeing the forts, tombs, cities, and people of India, I am still struggling to capture and sort through all of the myriad emotions and experiences through which I and my trip passed - so I won't try to do that yet, except to encourage anyone who has ever entertained the thought of traveling to India to follow through with that idea. Emera and Ian were wonderful guides, and I cannot thank them enough for inviting me to come visit them and taking some time away from their research to travel with me.

Although I am still working out how to describe my trip in words, pictures are a little easier. And if a picture is worth a thousand words, I've got about 400,000 words contained in the photo albums below. I'm also putting together a slide show of photos, short stories, and bits of history that I will be showing at work next week, and if possible I will post that once it is complete. [3/29/08 update: the file is quite large (~74 MB), so I haven't figured out a good way to post it - if anyone has ideas, please let me know!]

For now, please enjoy the following. [5/23/08 update: the links below now direct to my Picasa page]

Delhi (February 17-19): Lodi Gardens, India Gate, Rajpath, Jami Masjid, Humayun's Tomb, and Purana Qila

Jaipur (February 20-21): a wedding party, Hawa Mahal, Jantar Mantar, City Palace, and good food

Sawai Madhopur (February 22-23): on the train, Ranthambore Fort & National Park

Bharatpur, Deeg, and Mathura (February 24-26): Keoladeo Ghana National Park, Deeg Water Palace, and Mathura

Agra, Day 1 (February 27): Fatehpur Sikri and Itmad-ud-Daulah's Tomb

Agra, Day 2, Part 1 (February 28): Taj Mahal

Agra, Day 2, Part 2 (February 28): Agra Fort

At the Sites (all days): Lest you think I just stole these photos from other people and didn't actually visit India - me, Emera, and Ian touring the sites

I am already starting to think about how I might get myself back to the subcontinent to do further traveling, perhaps up to the hill stations of Shimla and Musoorie in the Himalayan foothills, or to the banks of the Ganga at Varanasi, or to cities further south - Mumbai or Pondicherry. In the meantime, if anyone is interested in traveling to India and would like to talk a bit more about the planning, costs, and other elements that went into the trip (or if you are in search of a traveling partner!), please do not hesitate to drop me a note.

Finally, if you would like to read more about India, I'd suggest the following:
  • Emera and Ian's blog, The Wilsons go to India - Emera has an overview of my visit, as well as other adventures she and Ian have had since arriving in August.
  • Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur (Eyewitness Travel Guides) - the guidebook I used, and which I wholeheartedly recommend, even for the armchair traveler (there are color photos, illustrations, and maps galore).
  • Travelers' Tales India: True Stories - I started this book on the plane and continued reading while traveling with Emera and Ian. The selections are both entertaining and informative, and we even found a few recommendations for places to eat and visit within the stories.


Science Debate '08 - mark your calendars!

As Chris Mooney notes over at The Intersection, "We're soooooooooo close to making the impossible happen" - there is a date and location for Science Debate 2008, and the four top contenders (Clinton, Huckabee, McCain, and Obama) have been invited to participate. Here are the details:

Friday, April 18, 2008 at 7PM
Franklin Institute
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

This happens to be 4 days before the Pennsylvania primaries. Stay tuned for more information about how you can catch the action via television and internet.