Nerdy Web Travels with #inf103

I love maps (especially borderline places) and I can’t pass an opportunity to share that with students, especially since we’re studying the details of search on the Web. So, after checking Google Maps and its wondrous capacity to generate and share maps and itineraries, I let my adventurous spirit take over (live during class and in full color).

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This is why we ended up exploring the magic of Diomede islands, those two small islets just in the middle of the Bering Strait. Students were intrigued since they–like most–ignored all about them. So, one is Russian (the western isle, bigger) and is unpopulated; while the North American one (the eastern isle, mush smaller) has one tiny village which apparently has a small population of permanent residents, and a school.

Somebody swam between the two, and there is no cold (war or whatever) that separates both beyond the coldness of the sea. Such are the travels of the Web-brave.

The Bering strait is just 85 km long (some 50 miles) and of course there have been proposals to build a tunnel or bridge over it. However, as this screenshot from Google shows, people do ask weird or impossible questions:

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Can you drive from Alaska to Russia?

For this post I did a screencast of the Google Maps zooming in and out (with Screencast-o-matic’s Web-based Screen Recorder), producing one MP4 video file. I converted the MP4 into an animated GIF through Ezgif which also optimized the final file.

All images are screenshots taken by moi.


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The Great Beauty of Teaching

clip-miseriaNoblita[Totò in Miseria e nobiltà, 1954]

It’s a new semester, and I began anew my teaching activity. With pride and mostly with a high joy that comes from the attitudes, smiles and interest from my students.

A new course I’ve been working on of late is the new Italian Cinema and Culture (, a trip (yeah) in this fantastic territory of the Italian peninsula and its regions as seen through the lenses of its cinema. We’ll explore titles from just after WWII and jump to Naples’ mafia wars; we’ll go from Rossellini and Antonioni to the Giallo of Mario Bava and Dario Argento. And more. But that’s it for today, because today we watched The Great Beauty, the extraordinary film from Paolo Sorrentino (2013). Yes, the same Sorrentino of The Young Pope that aired on HBO.

Students appreciated it. Next Wednesday (Monday is Veteran’s Day here) we’ll host an in-class video critique and dialogue on the movie.

Here’s the semester-full gallery of movies we’ll hopefully watch: Programma.

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The graceful world of Giulia Pex

I reconnect again, after the long summer pause. Admittedly, I got a bit tired of social networks and all. My travels to Italy and my closeness to my mother during that time helped me see a nice perspective. I could not post, period. And I visited a blogger friend!

Anyhow, I’ll talk later about the traveling. Now I just want to go ahead and just publish a little bit of things I like. I begin with this.

The graceful world of Giulia Pex. I saw her work on a Corriere della Sera double page from the la Lettura supplement.

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~ je est un autre #illustration #graphicnovel

A post shared by Giulia Pex (@giuliapex) on

With this one I hope to inaugurate a new category/thread of posts here, the shorts.

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Teaching, Learning–and Studying: The Road Less Traveled.

A book review on reminds me of a singular issue in the teaching & learning community: Studying, the road less traveled. In it, studying is compared to a sort of rebel passion.

Studying is disappearing, writes Paola Mastrocola, author of the essay “La passione ribelle” (The Rebel Passion), while she “tells about the importance of the long hours spent reading and of the need to disconnect and go back to thinking”. she concludes that today book reading is “revolutionary”.

In her pamphlet she seems to denounce the “disappearance of studying: teachers don’t study any longer”, and so do politicians and even researchers. She hardly considers school a temple of study but a temple of study-fiction instead.

Perhaps Mastrocola equates too much the verb “to study” with studying on books, but if we take it metaphorically and replace “book” with “written text”, then we may arrive at similar conclusions.

I have been studying the disappearance of the verb to study in English usage in the popular media. Substituted by the much more appealing now–learning. Why do our colleges and higher ed institutions talk so much about learning but not –almost never– about studying? Because learning happens, period. It may be facilitated, guided, inspired, structured, formal or informal, but it is an act without agency on the student’s part. Studying, on the other hand, cannot be informal, because in order to study you need to want to do it. Volition is a crucial part of the act of studying. And it’s easier to deal with non-volition, in school. The fact that you may learn, provided you study well, is a corollary hardly appearing in higher education parlance. It’s easier to assess learners’ learning than to educate students to studying. And most importantly, we omit teaching students it’s their responsibility, they need to own their own learning.

I think there needs to be a resurgence of a willingness to sit down (metaphorically), concentrate yourself, immerse yourself, surrender yourself to something, which is not at all easy to do. Reading may be the first step, but one needs to considered all media that allow one to be alone with oneself. And that is a lot of people. Social learning happens even when one thinks for himself, or meditates, or lingers on a passage, be it a formula or a complex literary formulation.

Surely, studying has more aspects than just reading or mindfully watching media. One is creating stuff, and the other is solving problems, and still another is lab research/work. Creating is however a very important part of studying, one higher ed students are not usually encouraged to pursue. Especially writing is a creation process at the very core of studying, in my opinion. The Web and its tools allow for free creation and make thus a fantastic environment to inspire studying and learning. Why then academic use of the Web is often limited to closed structures that operate as isles unconnected to the main land and encourage consumption and little creation?

Our institutions of learning ought to reflect more on such issues. But they choose to talk about teaching and learning instead of “teaching, studying and learning”. This is a bit of a manipulation on youngsters. So people believe that by coming into a classroom they will magically learn. Sure, they always do learn something, but they think that’s probably enough: they’ll likely just check “the material” when test time comes. Students only have their name to remind them they are those who study.

[Featured mage: Flickr photo by Michael Hall. CC-Licensed BY-NC-SA.]

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Blue is the color and the movie: A review for the Web and myself.

Rarely, sometimes, I feel compelled to write down a film experience. And curate, together  with the writing, videos and GIFs and links. The movie I watched yesterday–a three-hour-long session– is doing that. Not only, it reminded me deeply of the love for another previous movie I saw a few months ago, Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name. That was a powerful, deep and pathos-filled love story that happens between two men, actually an adolescent and a man. The boy’s father, close to the end, says to his son that the experience he lived–then over–must be treasured even though the pain may seem unbearable. I like Guadagnino’s movies (remember my review of his wonderful A Bigger Splash) and this, his last, is sweet and profound.

The movie I’m talking about now is also a love story between two persons of the same sex, two women–or better, a girl and an almost grown-up woman. It reminds you of Call Me By Your Name. Or perhaps, it should be the opposite, since it came out in 2013, before Call Me.

Adèle’s Life (La vie d’Adèle), or in the English title Blue is the Warmest Color, won the Palme d’Or at Cannes and is the product of director Abdellatif Kechiche. I’m reading he spent one year training one main character, actress Léa Seydoux for her (very difficult) role.

I surprised myself smiling during the seance. I enjoyed every one of the 270 minutes of a long love story and story of life. I hadn’t watched the movie before perhaps because I was a little biased with the many, long and realistic lovemaking scenes. I was very surprised to see beautiful camera work and very generous, gorgeous acting. Not one minute over the lines.

Adele the girl is played by Adèle Exarchopoulos (left), with a child face and a grown-up body (the rites of passage), used by her lover as model. Emma, the young woman, the art student, is the blue-haired one. Her eyes and her smile are just beyond words. She is played by the exceptional Léa Seydoux.

What is there in the film that captured me?

Well, there is youth, of course, and playfulness. There’s literature, many references from Marivaux’s The Life of Marianne novel to Euripides and destiny’s role to Dangerous Liaisons. Follow the color blue in the film… the “dangerous” encounter is coming.

There is the passage from adolescence to womanhood, the defining moments, the questionings, the uncertainties, the embarassment smiles. The moment when a woman her senior seduces her with wit and looks–and her blue-colored hair.

There is teaching–and learning: only when teachers engage in their lessons, that’s why Adèle’s grades swing. She herself mutates from high-school student to kindergarten teacher.

And there is philosophy. Sartre: existence comes before essence, so there’s a responsibility in action (Emma’s words, more or less).

Emma: I was big on Sartre in high school.
Adèle: Really?
Emma: It did me good. Especially in affirming my freedom and my own values. And the rigorousness of his commitments. I agree with it.
Adèle: Sort of like Bob Marley. Almost.

An Allen-esque dialogue, right? But without the cynicism or neurosis, and all the youth and naiveté and passion in beliefs.

The two women’s looks are unique. Emma’s smile is much more savvy than Adèle’s, with some complicity. No such thing as chance! Destiny? Or neither.

There’s protest, too. A happy time after all, in the midst of school.

There’s lot of nude female bodies and lovemaking. The two actresses are just amazing at their lightness and (acted) spontaneity. Says The New Yorker:

When Kechiche films Adèle and Emma making love for the first time, he does so with one of the most jolting cuts in the recent cinema—from the women sitting together on a park bench to the two of them naked together in bed, tangling erotically. The immediate continuity from public to private life[…]

Both actresses underwent serious moments of embarassment when filming such unconventional and long scenes, another reason to applaud their performances.

And there’s the homosexuality, of course. But, as in Call me By Your Name, this is not a story about it. However, Emma came out with her parents, perhaps more sophisticated than Adèle’s, and she and her lover are accepted for what they are, no question asked. Not so on the other side, and some lies are exchanged.

Look at this fantastic scene of bolognese eating at a party, with a B&W movie playing in the background (more on that later).

Now, the movie playing in the back intrigued me and it seemed there was no reference to it on IMDB. Google didn’t answer. But in the final credits I found it. It is Georg W. Pasbst’s Pandora’s Box from 1929. Interesting stuff, apart from the visual effect. I’m always curious of movie citations within other movies, and IMDB and YouTube come to the rescue. Look:

Interpreted by mute-film superstar Louise Brooks, this is the story of a prostitute who “unwittingly inspires evil”. Hmmm… perhaps Kechiche alludes to Emma’s flirting back with her previous fiancee, much to the anxious looks of Adèle?

Blue is a wonderful movie, no doubt. One that lingers beyond a blog post. So, I needed to do a couple more GIF’s.

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