Weekend Reads: Lord of the Rings, Hollywood and 9/11, Keyboard History, Robert E. Lee

Recommended weekend reading material for September 11, 2021.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Lord of the Rings films, so it’s perhaps inevitable that Warner Bros. would release a new edition of the films. Even so, the Middle-earth Ultimate Collector’s Edition is quite a doozy:

In addition to The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, the box features new bonus content. There’s also a “Puzzle Box” collectible, as well as a booklet featuring various art, notes, and photos from production. The box will also offer new art cards, travel posters, and more.

The set includes 31 discs’ worth of content, including 4K and Blu-ray versions of the theatrical and extended versions of all six films. And all for the low price of $249.99. (However, as io9 points out, this set does not contain any of the awesome behind-the-scenes footage and extras found on the previously released Extended Editions, which, in some ways, are as enjoyable as the actual movies themselves.)

NPR’s Bob Mondello explains how Hollywood movies have shaped our perception of the events of 9/11 — sometimes by simply erasing the past.

In the Sex and the City credits, the towers that had backed Sarah Jessica Parker’s name in the first two seasons were replaced after the attacks by the Empire State Building. Directors of movies, then in production, reconceived whole sequences to avoid reminding audiences of the tragedy. The first Spider-Man film was to have featured a bank robber’s helicopter getting caught in a web the superhero had spun between the Twin Towers. Before it was released, images of the Trade Center were cut from the film, though there’s still a reflection of the towers in the hero’s visor in one shot. The effect was poignant in an unexpected way for those who noticed it, almost as if it had been a remembered reflection in a tear.

I still remember the controversy over the title of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, despite the fact that Tolkien’s original novel was published nearly two decades before the World Trade Center’s construction.

Ryan Gilbey interviews Michelle Yeoh about her history in Asian action and martial arts cinema, including her work with Jackie Chan.

Chan once pleaded with her not to perform those crazy stunts. “I told him, ‘You’re a fine one to ask me to stop! You’re always doing them.’ He said, ‘That’s because when you do one, I have to go one better.’ The pressure was on him, poor dude.” Is it true he thinks women belong in the kitchen rather than in action movies? “He used to,” she says. “Until I kicked his butt.”

Supercop is one of my favorite Jackie Chan films due in large part to Yeoh’s performance and stunt work. Her motorcycle stunt is one for the ages.

Michelle Yeoh’s most recent film is Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, which K. B. Hoyle describes as “a window into East Asian imagination.”

In decentralizing the Western imagination, Shang-Chi shows a Western audience the beauty in the unfamiliar; it builds bridges of empathy to a people who, in the West, are often viewed as the “perpetual foreigner.” And although it is a cliche to say this, it also shows the ways in which the East and the West are not so different after all. Fighting what is evil, defending what is true and beautiful and good, protecting the weak — these are things that unite us, regardless of culture.

Looking for an alternative to algorithm-driven social media newsfeeds that encroach on your privacy and freedom? Then consider this “hot, new” technology called RSS.

Now you know how to escape the attention-draining, empathy-killing, critical-thought-suffocating siren song of the algorithms. And get your inbox less cluttered with newsletters.

Of course, RSS has been around for over 15 years — and it’s high time for it to make a popular comeback. Via The History of the Web.

Minus.social is an experimental “finite” social network that only gives you 100 posts.

While you can reply to a post as often as you like, every time you add to the feed, it subtracts from your lifetime total. When you reach 0 posts left, that’s it. No exceptions.

Via Kottke.

Marcin Wichary is writing a book on the history of the keyboard, and he’s discovered some truly strange keyboards — like the abKey Revolution from Singapore.

It’s a sort of a melange of different ideas — some wonderful, some bad. The halves can be split (cool!). Some keys are under thumbs (great!). The layout is mostly, but not quite alphabetical (weird!). Some of the navigation is moved to the left (inspiring!). Homing keys are in black (nice!) — but not all of them (why?). Some keys are circular (!?).

Read more about Wichary’s book, Shift Happens, here. It’s the sort of super-specific nerdery that I find absolutely charming.

According to Australia’s High Court, Facebook users can be held responsible for any defamatory comments that are left on their posts — even if they don’t know the commenters.

The court found that, by creating a public Facebook page and posting content, the outlets had facilitated, encouraged and thereby assisted the publication of comments from third-party Facebook users, and they were, therefore, publishers of those comments.

Although this ruling was directed at big media companies, the ramifications are far broader. As io9’s Matt Novak puts it, “Everyone should be held accountable for their own actions online, but things start to get weird when you make users responsible for the content of complete strangers.” This is just further evidence of how our laws, and the classifications contained within them, are challenged and outpaced by technology.

We usually don’t think of websites in terms of carbon emissions, but considering the massive amounts of energy and materials used by data centers and web hosts, perhaps we should.

Once we understand that much of a page’s emissions originate from poor performance, we can start taking steps to reduce them. Many of the things that contribute to a website’s emissions are beyond our control as developers. We can’t, for example, choose the devices that our users access our pages from or decide on the network infrastructure that their requests travel through, but we can take steps to improve our websites’ performance.

Via Frontend Focus.

Earlier this week, a massive statue of Robert E. Lee was finally taken down in Richmond, Virginia after being there for over a century. While some (including a certain former president) no doubt see the statue’s removal as an affront, let there be no confusion concerning General Lee’s legacy.

To describe [Lee] as an American hero requires ignoring the immense suffering for which he was personally responsible, both on and off the battlefield. It requires ignoring his participation in the industry of human bondage, his betrayal of his country in defense of that institution, the battlefields scattered with the lifeless bodies of men who followed his orders and those they killed, his hostility toward the rights of the freedmen and his indifference to his own students waging a campaign of terror against the newly emancipated. It requires reducing the sum of human virtue to a sense of decorum and the ability to convey gravitas in a gray uniform.

Related: Earlier this year, I read Ty Seidule’s Robert E. Lee and Me, a searing and thought-provoking condemnation of the Confederate icon. Suffice to say, I highly recommend it (read my full review).

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