J. J. Abrams & the Mystery Box

J.J. Abrams has created many action and sci-fi films and TV series. A few of the best-known are Star Wars, Mission Impossible III; and the TV show, Lost. Abrams loved magic when he was a boy. He once bought a Magic Mystery Box. For $15, he got $50 worth of magic. He carried the box everywhere he went, but he never opened it. Why not? He finally realized that it was the mystery that was so special. Not knowing what's in the box allowed him to imagine it. Mystery inspires imagination. So the box helped him use his imagination.

Abrams sees today's technology as part of the magic. Without special effects, he couldn't bring his stories to life.

In math terms, you could say:

Mystery + imagination + technology = magic!

For Abrams, magic exists wherever there is mystery. And technology can help us see it.

What would you save from Earth?

I once had a dream where the Earth was collapsing and we all had to hurry to get on a rocket ship to take us to another planet. There wasn't very much space on the ship, so we each could only bring 5 things (not including people or animals) with us. I remember choosing Beethoven's music, but I don't remember the other 4 things.

I often think about that dream and try to decide what I would choose now. Beethoven's music still makes the cut! What 5 things would you bring?

Lateral thinking: The stuck truck

There's an insightful story that's used to explain lateral thinking, or thinking "outside the box". It goes like this:

A truck driver tried to pass under a low bridge, but the truck was too tall and got stuck. Traffic piled up behind it, and soon emergency workers, engineers, firefighters, and other truck drivers gathered to try to help.

Each one thought of possible solutions based on their own field of expertise. Mechanics thought of dismantling the truck piece by piece. Engineers thought of chipping away at the bridge. But none of the solutions were feasible. Then a boy who knew nothing of mechanics or engineering came along...

How would you solve the problem? Pitch a potential solution. Then your teacher will tell you the rest of the story and how the problem was eventually solved.

Sell something: Mobile phone

New smartphones come on the market at least every year. Each model has its own pros and cons, giving that company the opportunity to beat out its nearest competitors for a share of the market. But it's a tough market! If you were going to introduce a new phone, you'd need to make it pretty special.

That's exactly the task required here: you and your teacher are going to come up with a new phone and create an ad that will persuade consumers to buy it.

Try to include two or more of the following power words:

  • hottest;
  • effortless;
  • daring;
  • savings;
  • attractive; and/or
  • phenomenal.

Short film: "Float", and metaphor

First, make a choice about how to watch the film. It is about 7 minutes. You have a few options.

  1. Watch the film before the lesson as pre-study homework.
  2. Watch part of the film in the lesson.
  3. Watch the whole film in the lesson. 
    • If you choose to watch the film, please do your best to describe and discuss it as you watch. There's almost no dialog, so you can easily talk while watching.

This discussion topic is based on a short film by Pixar, called "Float". It uses metaphor to express a complex truth in simple terms.

What is a metaphor? It's saying one thing is another thing, but it's not literally true. Here are some examples:

Warp speed—"Make it so!"

"Prepare for warp speed." If you're a Trekkie or Star Wars fan, and maybe even if you're not, you've heard about warp drives and probably dreamed of being able to travel faster than the speed of light. It seemed like the stuff of fantasy—until now. Physicist Erik Lentz has come up with a theoretical model of a warp drive that would shorten a trip to the star Proxima Centauri, the closest star beyond our solar system, from 50,000–70,000 years using rocket fuel, or 100 years using nuclear fuel, to just 4 years and 3 months.

A mascot for the pandemic

Mascots, or yuru-kyara, are incredibly popular in Japan. There are yuru-kyara for everything, from sports teams to prefectures to a toilet disinfectant (seriously). Now they're offering the world a mascot for the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The yōkai (supernatural being) Amabié was first described in 1846, during a series of severe epidemics in Japan. It has three legs, a fish-like body, and the head of a bird with long, flowing hair. The original story goes that Amabié was spotted by an unnamed man on top of the ocean waves, glowing with a strange light. It gave its name to the man and prophesied a good harvest. Then Amabié said, "Should an epidemic come, draw me and show me to those who fall ill and they will be cured,” and disappeared into the water, supposedly never to be seen again.

Which 2020 predictions came true?

The year 2020 has served as a benchmark for many predictions, from business markets to technological advances to climate change. In 2015, Factor magazine published a list of ten predictions for 2020, most of which have come true.

  1. Same-day cancer treatment: YES

  2. Self-driving cars on the road: YES

  3. Cannabis market legalized and booming: YES

  4. 4 billion internet users: YES (almost 4.5 billion)

  5. Virtual reality market worth US$15.89 billion: YES (over US$18 billion; current predictions suggest it will reach US$120.5 billion by 2026)

  6. Mars 2020 rover mission: YES