Friday, May 29, 2009

"Have you ever wanted to convert files without the need to download software?"

One of the biggest problem students have when trying to print a paper at school is that they forgot to save it at home as an .rtf (Rich Text Format) file. They bring in their flash drive or CD, or email the file to themselves, and find the file cannot be opened by Word on the school computers. Luckily, Zamzar can help.

A student can upload their file to Zamzar and give them their email address. In a short time (usually less than one hour), a link to their converted file is sent to their email. Download, print, take the paper to class!

Of course, this would not be necessary if students would remember to save files with the .rtf format, but as long as they have an hour or so to wait for the conversion, Zamzar can be the answer to their dilemma.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Beastly (2007)

"BeastNYC: sorry but it's really hard being a beast in nyc."

This story by Alex Flinn is a remake of the old Beauty and the Beast fairytale where a vain, self-centered young man offends a witch who turns him into a hideous beast until he can find a girl who loves him regardless of his looks and gives him a kiss. What makes this story new and different is that the young man, Kyle, goes to a very upscale school in New York City but is easily recognizeable as the one young man in every school envied by every other boy and drooled over by every girl. He purposely invited one girl, Kendra, to a dance, knowing full well he had no intentions of actually taking her. Little does he know that Kendra is a witch who uses this opportunity to teach him a lesson! The morning after the dance Kyle finds himself covered in fur.

Kyle is totally odious in the beginning of the book. He is the epitome of vain, shallow, and spoiled teenager. He thinks and does everything possible to make us loathe him. His father, a television newscaster (and stereotypically obsessed with looks) takes Kyle to doctors who offer no help except to try counseling and live with it. Dad eventually moves Kyle into a five story brownstone in Brooklyn with a housekeeper and a blind tutor.

While researching a possible cure for his condition on the Internet, Kyle finds a chat room with other victims of curses such as a mermaid in love with a human, a frog greatly disadvantaged on the keyboard, and a grizzlybear who finds love with a girl named Snow White (but not that Snow White). The moderator is identified as Mr. Anderson and we can guess that his full name is Hans Christian Anderson. As is true with most fairy tales, all of the chatters find a happy ending.

I recommend this very cute story to readers who fondly remember reading these fairy tales when they were little. The new twists make it fun and the Kyle's full transformation is captivating to watch.
My rating for this book: ++++

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Heart of Darkness (1899)

"Droll thing life is--that mysterious arrangement of merciless logic for a futile purpose. The most you can hope from it is some knowledge of yourself--that comes too late--a crop of unextinguishable regrets. "

It took me a while to reread Joseph Conrad's book because I found that so often I would stop and read over a particular sentence twice or three times over because of the fascinating was he uses language. The excerpt quoted above is an example. Of course, the more times I read this, the more depressed and desperate I felt. Not exactly an upbeat book.

Read this book slowly (it's not very long anyway) and fix each image in your mind and feel each emotion in your heart to get the full effect.

After you have read this book, rent the movie Apocalypse Now (1979) starring Marlon Brando, Martin Sheen, Robert Duvall, Laurence Fishburne, Harrison Ford, and Dennis Hopper. It is based on Heart of Darkness but takes place in Viet Nam. You may have heard the tag line, "I love the smell of napalm in the morning."

I read this book via DailyLit. Somehow I managed to have a window on my iGoogle page with one installment a day and also receive four installments each day on the Google reader. It is fun to get a piece of a book each day but my eyes still get strained reading on a computer screen, especially when I read something over and over again. I think I'll stick with books.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

DailyLit - update

I have stopped reading the incredibly dated children's stories. It's amazing that children actually grew up and eventually wrote better stories than these! Then again, maybe they were also disgusted by these stories and had the incentive to write better ones. I have changed to a another story I have read before, Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. It's only 46 episodes long, but packed with amazing language and action.

The narrator speaks of his boyhood fascination with the empty white areas of unexplored continents and speaks about a map of Africa. "It had ceased to be a blank space of delightful mystery--a white patch for a boy to dream gloriously over. It had become a place of darkness. But there was in it one river especially, a mighty big river, that you could see on the map, resembling an immense snake uncoiled, with its head in the sea, its body at rest curving afar over a vast country, and its tail lost in the depths of the land."

It is amazing that Conrad wrote his books in English, his second language (Polish being his first).
I still think DailyLit is a fun website and they are adding new titles every day. Recently they added Sherlock Holmes stories. Recently written books are also available, many with a nominal fee. Cory Doctorow's book, Little Brother, is available for free.

To Kill a Mockingbird (1960)

Harper Lee only wrote this one book and won the Pulitzer Prize for it. This is not the first time I've read this book and I'm sure I'll read it again since it is one of my all time favorite books.

Scout is another precocious girl (like Ilana in Davita's Harp) who lives in a small town in Alabama in the 1930s. She tells the story of how her father defended a black man who was charged with the rape of a white woman. One of the things that makes this book so special is her ability to absorb information gleaned from adult conversations and using the delicious tidbits only Southern people are capable of creating. The other amazing feature of this book is the insight into the Southern way of labeling each person according to their family name or race. There is no way that one can escape a reputation for drink, violence or any other fault shown by a relative generations before his own. And Scout's town is full of people who can trace their (and everyone else's) heritage back to when the white Europeans first moved into the area.

"You know something, Scout? I've got it all figured out, now. I've thought about it a lot lately and I've got it figured out. There's four kinds of folks in the world. There's the ordinary kind like us and the neighbors, there's the kind like the Cunninghams out in the woods, the kind like the Ewells down at the dump, and the Negroes."
"What about the Chinese, and the Cajuns down yonder in Baldwin County?"
"I mean in Maycomb County. The thing about it is, our kind of folks don't like the Cunninghams, the Cunninghams don't like the Ewells, and the Ewells hate and despise the colored folks."

Scout has the most wonderful sense of humor which is demonstrated when she describes people.

"Mr. Merriweather, a faithful Methodist under duress, apparently saw nothing personal in singing, 'Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wetch like me...'"

"Had I ever harbored the mystical notions about mountains that seem to obsess lawyers and judges, Aunt Alexandra would have been analogous to Mount Everest: throughout my early life, she was cold and there."

Harper Lee had a cousin, a well known author and remarkable character, Truman Capote. He was the model for Scout's friend, Dill, a boy who visited his aunt during the summer vacations. The trio of Scout, Dill, and Scout's brother, Jem, watch how the town behaves during and after the trial.

In addition to this being a Pulitzer Prize winning novel, the movie starring Gregory Peck, is also a winner having received three Oscars. The scene where Atticus walks out of the courtroom is one of the most powerful scenes I've ever seen.

This book is a must read for everyone.
My rating for this book: +++++ (plus one more for extraordinary).