Dumb Things I Have Done Lately

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Jack Bauer Tortured by Trope

First, a photo: Overflowing book drop at the Reston Regional Library (closed for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day holiday):

I was returning two Charlie Stross books (Atrocity Archives and Missile Gap), and a few other people had beaten me there. I couldn't bring myself to leave the books outside, so I'll try again later.
* * *
In 24 news, I have to say that they're pretty close to losing me again. (Spoilers for Season 8, Hour 3). What did it was the sheer ludicrousness needed to squeeze in the police brutality scene: We're expected to believe that Officer Bullethead, upon getting the drop on an unknown guy (Jack Bauer) who's holding his partner at gunpoint (already a scenario which clearly justifies -- nay, demands -- deadly force)... instead chooses to tase him.

Okay, fine, a poor tactical choice at best, using nonlethal force like that... but then, he makes a big deal about having just tromped through the murder scene and how Jack is a copkiller who needs to be beaten to death so he doesn't skate on a technicality.

Got that? He's a rogue cop who's ready to turn to street justice. Yet when he sees a cop killer pointing a gun at his partner, instead of shooting him, he uses his taser.

It's a horrible example of lazy writing, using the police brutality cliche to justify a gratuitious "torture Jack Bauer scene." (Throw in the rookie redemption trope, too. At least the Asian guy gets to kick a little ass, eventually.)

Speaking of torture, the "I'm not going to cut the bracelet" line in the auto parts store was clearly meant to invoke "I'm gonna need a hacksaw" from Season 2. Although it's sort of interesting to see Jack on the other side of "I'll do whatever it takes," the writers are dipping into a dry well: Mole red herring; serial plots stitched together outlandishly (Yes, by all means, bring the weapons-grade uranium to the US -- the US is a great transshipment point for that sort of thing); annoying domestic subplots, etc.

Oh, and apparently, testifying in front of the Senate in open hearings does not preclude you from doing undercover work.

As I noted elsewhere, "suspension of disbelief" is accepting Freddy Prinz, Jr. as a tough guy badass field agent. This is just silly.

A few other things:

* Jack Bauer upgraded his messenger bag from canvas to leather

* Lastly, assuming that's where CTU: NY is located, might this finally make Roosevelt Island cool? Will we see a battle on the tram?

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Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Wanted: A Dumb Crisis Manager; Plus, Reviewing The Colony, Episodes 1 & 2

Ever since CrisisCamp, I've been mulling over ways we can leverage pop culture depictions of crises to get people thinking and doing more for their personal disaster preparedness. As we've seen, throwing preparedness guides up on Ready.gov just isn't doing it -- we can argue about why elsewhere, though I think it's because ready.gov gets us thinking about preparedness in the "scary way we prefer not to think about," as opposed to the "scary way that entertains us" that we see in pop culture.

Pop culture is awash in constant crises, ranging from earthly disasters like fire, flood, earthquake, tornado, hurricane, and pandemic; celestial hazards like meteors, comets, and asteroids; and man-made disasters running the gamut from terrorist attack, dirty bomb, biological warfare, all the way up to total nuclear holocaust and post-apocalyptic aftermath.

And of course, we can't forget zombie attack, alien invasion, robot uprising and every other monster incarnation.

Because pop culture crises are ultimately entertaining and diverting, people are more willing to engage them. So what can we do to leverage the power of pop culture depictions of crises?

Enter the Dumb Crisis Manager
One thing we can do, of course, is comment on how crises, disaster preparedness, and crisis response are depicted in TV and movies. Basically, I'm talking about trying to recreate Phil Plait, whose Bad Astronomy site rose to prominence by highlighting bad (and good) depictions of science and astronomy in TV and movies, and creating a personality who can authoritatively talk about these issues.

I'm pretty sure that person isn't me. And it may not be a single person. But I'll fill in until someone else steps up.

The Colony, Episode 1 (a.k.a. Real World: Thunderdome)
Right now, I'm two episodes into The Colony on Discovery. I don't think I'll make it to the third. Originally, I thought it might be interesting way to show useful survival skills (at least for the immediate aftermath period), but it's pretty clear now that it's basically Junkyard Wars-style engineering challenges, with a some fake Mad Max thrown in.

The problem I have with reality TV in general is that it's manufactured drama, and this is especially telling with The Colony: There's no prize at stake (that we know of), no one's getting kicked off the show, and there's no "game," so why do these folks insist on acting like typical reality TV meatheads? Worse, why make a show of swinging around sticks and pipes to fend off scavengers, intruders, motorcycle marauders (a recurring theme) -- did they sign a particularly permissive waiver that said they were participating in blood sport? It's just silly.

Anyway, here are the skills they show off in the opening episode. (The participants are foot-mobile, so they have no personal supplies to speak of -- no real lessons to be learned there):

Skill: Looting, fending off other looters: Useful as it may be (in the "collapse of civilization" scenarios that gets TEOTWAWKI types all hot and bothered), I would suggest that "grab anything that's not nailed down" isn't really a skill that needs to be taught.

Skill: Water Filtration: They gave a cursory demonstration of how to filter water through buckets with alternating layers of sand and charcoal, which was good. However, they glossed right over the post-filtration boiling part, though which was bad. Very bad. And even after that, I don't know that I would trust water from the LA River.

Reality TV moment: One of the early Survivors (maybe the first?) featured a conveniently-placed "natural" container of sketchy-looking standing water. Some of the cast worried about brain parasites and such, but the gameplayers realized that the show's producers wouldn't have provided water that they couldn't drink. So the reality TV safety net is in effect. Witness the disclaimer at the end of The Colony credits:

"The participants in "The Colony" experiment are presented with situations that were created by the producers. They receive support from off-camera experts when their health or safety may be in danger. Viewers should not attempt ot engage in the activities depicted in this experiment."

Skill: Flushing a toilet with a bucket: Really? Really? This is a big deal? Not only is it completely obvious to anyone whose water's even gone out (even briefly), but wasting gallons of potable water to flush toilets, instead of setting up a latrine in a corner of that big-ass compound of theirs, is idiotic.

Reality TV moment: Picking up sticks, pipes, and other beating implements to fend off a night-time intruder. Or else, you could, you know, have the cameramen shine their lights at them?

Reality TV moment: The addition of the second group of survivors. Again, if you see a group of people with a camera crew, it's a pretty safe bet you can let them in. At least one guy (the contractor who's also an ex-con) had a pocketknife on him.

Supplies so far:
* Food: Canned, other relatively shelf-stable stuff. Could go into more detail. (e.g. how peanut butter is a good energy food). Haven't introduced any annoying food preferences or allergies, fortunately.

* Flashlight. Looked like a standard 2-D incandescent.

Skills Challenge: Lighting. Good thing they just happened to have that bank of batteries and inverter, eh?

Skills Challenge: Water cistern with semi-permanent filtration system, budgeting 1 gallon/per person/day.

Reality TV moment: The cast is really engineer / mechanic heavy. They really should have included more deadweight -- even their IT guy came up with the water filtration method.

Skills Challenge: Rainwater collection. Wow, they discovered the rainwater drain pipe just as it starts raining. Oh, no: time pressure! What a coincidence.

Reality TV moment: Wouldn't be reality TV without blurred out genitals now, would it?

Summary: The first episode set the stage -- looting, motorcycle marauders, engineers gone wild. It gets worse in the next episode...

The Colony, Episode 2:

Reality TV moment: Oh, look -- a conveniently-unopened crate. Good news: It's filled with tools. Bad news: They're cheap-ass Harbor Freight tools. I guess Survivors... er, sorry, "Colonists" can't be choosers.

WTF moment: You know, people were able to do work before power tools. I, myself, used hand saws and a hand-drill back in shop class. Just wanted to point that out, in case you're ever faced with a choice between recharging your reciprocating saw vs. keeping the lights on in a survival situation.

Reality TV moment: Yeah, they're setting up cranky old guy for a conflict / redemption arc. At least in the first episode we learned he was having coffee / booze / tobacco withdrawal.

WTF moment: They move a step beyond looting, to actually stealing from other refugees. And look, they're getting fake worked up over fake danger from the fake motorcycle marauders (who, in voiceover, we learn can't actually hurt the Survivors... er, "Colonists", but they don't know that... DUM-DUM-DAAAAA)

WTF moment: Oh look, a conveniently-placed oxy-acetylene torch.

Summary: As you can see, not much in the way of usable skills here, even more contrived Junkyard Wars projects, and even more contrived reality TV conflict. The talking head interludes add psychobabble and nothing else. And if that gassified wood-powered generator actually worked (without the magic of television), I'll drink some of that LA River water.

That's it, nothing more to see here. I'm outta here.

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Friday, July 03, 2009

When TV and Movies Enhance Music Appreciation

I find it interesting how hearing a song used as part of a TV or movie soundtrack can strengthen my connection to it, or makes me appreciate it in a whole new way.

The most recent example of this was hearing The Chemical Brothers song, "Alive Alone" (vocals by Beth Orton) during a key moment in the Virtuality pilot (which I actually liked a lot). I was familiar with the song (Exit Planet Dust is an awesome album, to state the obvious), but I can't say that it had any special grip on me. But after seeing it used in the Orion drive detonation sequence (at the 50 minute mark if you watch it online), it made me like it a whole lot more.

This isn't the first time this has happened. Other times include:

* Seeing Soul Coughing's Super Bon Bon during the cold open sequence of an episode of Homicide: Life on the Streets

* When the Propellerheads' Spybreak! plays during the lobby shootout in The Matrix.

* The epic use of Inna Gadda Da Vida during the climax of Manhunter. If you know the scene, nothing more needs to be said. If you don't, well, I pity you.

If the director knows what he or she's doing with the soundtrack, the song will match the tone and content of the scene -- they're using the song to reinforce the impact of the visual and action. (And I guess it also happens with music videos, so nothing new there.) But I still find it interesting how the opposite effect occurs, whereafter you associate the song with the scene.

I guess I'm easily impressed.

If you've got an example of a song that you ended up liking a whole lot more after seeing it used somewhere, feel free to share.

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Friday, February 06, 2009

The Wheel of Fortune Turns Faster These Days

I was in the gym last night on the Stair Master, and Wheel of Fortune was on the TV directly in front of me.

I haven't watched the show in years -- the last time probably found me laid up in bed with the flu, gazing slack-jawed at the original daytime version, where Vanna White still turned the cards by hand (she's still holding up well, incidentally), round winners shopped for stupid ceramic dogs, and they didn't give you R, S, T, L, N and E on the bonus round.

The thing I noticed as I was huffing and puffing away with the sound off, is that the gameplay is so much faster now. They hardly show the contestants spinning the wheel, or even the wheel spinning at all -- they just cut to the last few clicks. They might as well just be pressing a button on a slot machine.

It's a metaphor for the pace of life these days, compared to the halcyon days of my youth.

My lawn. Get off of it.

Anyway, I also tried out the VersaClimber for the first time. The Reston Fitness First has two, kind of tucked away. It wasn't what I expected, though I wasn't exactly on a record-setting pace -- I was just trying to get the motion down.

I will look forward to trying some Tabata Intervals on it (20 seconds sprint, 10 seconds recover, 8 times) -- people seem to rave about them, and a 4-minute burst appeals to me more than 20+ minutes of slogging.

On a final note, I see that the footer of the Fitness First site has a link (unlinked, as yet) for a "Fitness First blog," which makes a lot of sense. I'm surprised that more gyms and health clubs don't do blogs, it seems like a ready-made audience, as seen by the tons of personal trainers on YouTube and such. (They do have a Facebook profile, though not much a presence -- it's overwhelmed by pages and groups about the non-US chain of the same name, which apparently everyone hates.)

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Return of Late Night Infomercial Cleavage

Last month, I had another bout of insomnia. Actually, it was another bout of waking up at 4am and not being able to get back to sleep, so I checked out the late night infomercial offerings.

For obvious reasons, I paused on one of the Spanish-language stations:


The Spanish-channel game show hostesses, news readers, weather girls, soap stars, and talk show hosts are almost universally hot, so why should their infomercial stars be any different?

This was some sort of pitch for "Karakol Kream," Karakol being a corruption of caracol, or snail. Apparently, their previous infomercial featured a CGI snail, but I guess they decided to focus on the leggy pitchmodels.

The woman on the right is Mexican actress is Maribel Guardia, though I was more focused on the one on the left; it doesn't show in the picture, but the cleavage showing through her strategically-placed boob window was glistening, perhaps from the judicious application of snail snot:


I find that infomercials in Spanish are a lot less irritating; if I focus, and can pick up some of the words and most of the meaning, but I just let it wash over me and concentrate on the visuals.

Surfing on, there's a new iteration of the "10 free Internet Web businesses" scam-thing that I first mentioned in "Big Tits and Bonus Checks" -- they don't mention the previously-ubiquitous bonus checks, and they switched from a living room set, to a pool party for all their successful customers yadda yadda yadda.

More importantly, they switched pitchwomen, and there's no longer any mesmerizing cleavage [Update: more info at the Ridiculous Infomercial Review]:


The success stories they feature and the pitch they're actually making remains inscrutably vague -- just the same "get rich quick with 10 free Web businesses"; I note that Hank Williams (not the singer, the Silicon Alley Insider contributor) also takes issue with the infomercial, though I would still venture that it still presents more of a business model than some Web 2.0 companies out on the market.

(Additionally, I see that he also uses the "Tic Tac (Blueberry)" theme for his Blogger blog.)

One of my goals for 2009 is to shift back into a reasonable semblance of East Coast time, so hopefully I'll be able to drastically reduce my infomercial viewing.

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Monday, November 10, 2008

Things That Annoy Me About Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles

[Spoilers for Episode 2.8, Mr. Ferguson Is Ill Today, airdate Nov 10, 2008]

I've been trying to like Sarah Connor Chronicles. Really, I have. And I do like certain things about it. But a few things about the plot are really starting to get to me:

* Too much time travel. Yes, of course it's a time travel show. But there are so many resistance fighters/Terminators traveling back to the past, there must be airport-style TSA check-in queues at the time machines. (Though, to be fair, time travelers go naked, which we don't have to do. Yet.)

Instead of being an insurmountable barrier, time travel is now a minor inconvenience. It turns "I came across time for you, Sarah," into "I went a couple blocks out of my way for you, Sarah."

* Too many Terminators. Just like the Borg in the Star Trek series, Terminators are best used sparingly. (Understandably, this is especially a problem for the Terminator universe -- in Star Trek, there were plenty of other villains to use. Which is why it was extra grating when they kept bringing out the Borg whenever they needed a ratings kick.)

If you go to the well too many times, you water down the... water. Because you have to keep figuring out ways to escape, or beat, what is supposed to be an inexorable, unstoppable foe. Which means that an unbeatable foe not only becomes beatable, but routinely beatable. Which means that...

* It's too damn easy for the good guys to kill Terminators. In tonight's allegedly-climactic, far too John Woo-ish church shoot out, Cromartie, who we've previously seen take out 20 heavily-armed FBI HRT guys without breaking a sweat (in what was, admittedly, a very cool scene), gets taken out by Sarah Connor, David Silver, their two submachine guns, and River Tam's three, count 'em, three, shotgun blasts.

(Though to be fair, Cromartie did have to expend considerable effort maintaining his Jesus Christ pose.)

Earlier, we've seen Terminators locked in a bunker, steamed to death (or was it electrocuted?) in a nuclear power plant, taken out by a .50 caliber sniper rifle (presumably, why California, pandering to the Terminator lobby, banned them), stiletto-heeled and pretzeled by River Tam, and given the Chromartie Kali ma! One-Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique.

Pretty soon, they'll just go *bing* and fizzle out when the warranty expires.

* Regular Terminators should not be sent back to impersonate specific people. If Skynet can cook up T-800s (or T-888s, whatever) to send back to specifically impersonate specific people at specific points in time (the nuclear plant guy and Agent Ellis), it really knows too much. Impersonation is supposed to be done by the shapeshifter models, like Shirley Manson and Bloodrayne.

* Enough with the future factions. Man, everyone is stealing from The 4400 these days. First it was Heroes with that ripped-from-promycin "Everybody gets a power" storyline; now it's Sarah Connor Chronicles with the dueling future factions sending machines back. Pretty soon, it'll be Temporal Cold Wars and Evil Leapers and the future High Fructose Corn Syrup faction sending back Terminators.

Lastly, a few secondary annoyances:

* Until tonight, I thought that Cromartie was played by that guy from Sports Night. (He's not.)

* Terminators are too gun dependent. Way back in the original Terminator, T-1-0-Ahnuld could have just punched Linda Sarah Hamilton Connor's heart out in the Tech Noir club, but nooooo, he had to stop to reload his Uzi. Same with the Sarah Connor Chronicles pilot -- Chromartie could have just been Inappropriately Close in the Classroom Teaching Terminator and then just whipped out the Super Soldier Billy Miles-patented Denogginizing *JUDO CHOP*, instead of having to pull out the inconveniently-holstered quadracep Glock.

* The Fox Terminator Wiki (a WetPaint wiki & discussion board) is overloaded with crap widgets. It's really annoying and takes forever to load.

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Sunday, February 03, 2008

Super Bowl XLII: Great Game, Lousy Commercials

At the Super Bowl viewing party I was at, pro-underdog and anti-Boston sentiment was in full effect. Outside of a smattering of Patriot fans (and not counting those with a strictly financial stake in the matter), most of us were pulling for the Giants.

It was probably the best game I can recall in recent memory -- looking at previous Super Bowls, I see that New England has had more than its fair share of 3-point margin games, though they've usually been on the other side of things.

As to the commercials (for which MySpace was the official online partner, though AOL's page is still good) -- the best were okay -- mostly for fizzy, sweetened, or alcoholic drinks -- the worst were horrible, and the rest were bleh:

* Sales Leads Are for Closers!
They could be peddling the Glengarry leads for all I know, but those horrible, horrible animated Sales Genie "100 free sales leads" commercials inexplicably employed unfunny, edge-of-racist ethnic stereotypes for no apparent reason.

And the fact that there were two of them gave me a horrifying flashback to the worst of the dotcom bubble 1.0's burn rate excesses.

* For Your Next Supercar Purchase: The Godfather parody ad for the Audi R8 was okay (though they might as well have gone the whole way and done a shot-for-shot remake) -- but it was for a US$100,000+ supercar. Yes, yes: Halo effect and all that. But come on.

* Women Loved Temple of Doom, Right? Careerbuilder chose poorly with the gruesome images of the heart jumping out, Alien-like, from the woman's chest. I felt like shouting, "Indy, cover your heart!"

* Guilty Pleasures: With shame, I have to say that I liked the Tide talking stain (the nonsense syllables put it over the edge for me), and people (I'm not saying I was one of them) did laugh at the commercial for the Adam Sandler movie. Though it's still not enough to make me want to go see an Adam Sandler movie.

* Last Words:
Overheard outside a Harris Teeter after the game: "There's no difference between a foreigner and someone who just doesn't watch football."

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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Dumb People on Planes on Conveyor Belts: A Question of Psychology, Not Physics

Mythbusters finally aired their "Plane on a Conveyor Belt" (a.k.a. Plane on a Treadmill) episode.

Here is the result -- it's not a spoiler, because anyone who truly understands the basic physics involved, will not be surprised to hear that the goddamn plane takes off.

However, I've since come to the conclusion that Plane on a Treadmill looks like a physics question, but it's actually a psychology question.

If you're one of those people who thought the plane in the Mythbusters setup wouldn't take off, the answer is simple:
  • Your understanding of physics isn't quite as strong as you thought
  • You can't wrap your head around the fact that people and cars behave differently from planes
  • You should probably pay more attention to the nice demo and animation they did
On the other hand, if you believe that the Mythbusters experiment itself had to be flawed, because the plane shouldn't take off, you've shown that:
  • You're being stubborn (or deliberately obtuse), because you're sticking to an interpretation of the problem that doesn't make sense and that requires magic
  • You're probably never going to change your mind, because the Mythbusters folks basically demonstrated it as good as you can get, and by sticking to your opinion in the face of proof, you're taking it out of the realm of fact and science and officially joining the realm of the 9/11 Truthers and Moon landing hoax conspiracy theorists and Creationists.
Looking at the relevant Mythbusters message board, there seem to be a lot of both types of people, as well as folks who generally just don't get it.

The main, physics part of the problem is that people hear "treadmill," and they think back to their experience running on a treadmill or driving on a dynamometer, and try to apply that to an airplane on a treadmill, which is superficially similar but actually completely different.

The other, psychological part of the problem is that the wording of the original question that most people saw isn't very good. In fact, the original wording stinks on ice.

This is because it allows an interpretation of the question that is self-negating -- the "speed" bit can be read as stating right off the bat that the plane can't move forward (relative to a fixed point to the ground), no matter what. Which means it won't take off. Period.

(I held this interpretation for about 5 minutes -- I originally thought the plane wouldn't take off. I came around shortly after.)

The problem with the "doesn't move forward, no matter what" interpretation of the question is twofold:
  1. It's not a question anymore. It's pointless -- you've taken a moderately interesting thought experiment and turned it into a reading comprehension exercise.
  2. It requires a magical treadmill.
Obviously, if you can keep the plane from moving forward (relative to a fixed point on the ground, and leaving wind out of it), you won't get any airflow over the wings and the plane won't take off. You can do this by using a rope to tether the plane a fixed point off the treadmill, like a pole or a wall. Which would be silly -- if you're going to tie the plane down, why bother with a treadmill at all?

However, if skip the rope and rely solely on the treadmill -- you can keep a person or a car from moving forward, but you can't do it with a plane (or a rocket car, or a rollerblader with a Wile E. Coyote jetpack), unless the treadmill itself is magical.

The only forces holding the plane back are the friction of the wheels against the treadmill; inertia; and friction in the bearings and with the air: All of which are real, but vastly overwhelmed by the forward thrust of the engine.

If you insist on sticking with this "things don't move forward, for anything (even planes)" treadmill, it has to move fast enough so that the relatively tiny, tiny friction forces are magnified enough to overcome the thrust of the engines. Almost infinitely fast, in fact. Which is fine: You've now got an impossible, magical treadmill.

What you don't have is a real world physics problem anymore, the kind they test on Mythbusters. At best, it becomes a metaphysics question, like "Can God microwave a burrito so hot He can't eat it?"

So here's the psychology question -- pick the statement which best describes you:
  1. I would do anything to be right, even if it means picking an arcane interpretation of a self-defeating question that requires magic and keeps things completely in the realm of theory, precluding any possibility of doing something cool
  2. I would rather have something you can actually build, like a big-ass treadmill, scaled-up to handle a plane and match the speed of the wheels (which is just an engineering problem -- merely impractical, not impossible)
  3. Shut up, I don't like physics, engineering, psychology, or you.
A loaded question, I know. For me, the real-world scenario is the most interesting one, and this is what the Mythbusters folks did. And as they showed, for any treadmill that we can actually build:
  • The plane will move forward (relative to a fixed point on the ground).
  • The plane will take off.
  • People will keep complaining and keep arguing.

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Friday, January 11, 2008

All Red Dawn: All the Time

After careful analysis, and with CourtTV's rebranding to TruTV fresh in mind (to better reflect its updated programming mission blah blah blah), I've come to the conclusion that the AMC network, formerly American Movie Classics, should update its name to the RED network, for "Red Dawn Every Day."

This is only a slight exaggeration -- if they could get "RDFFHH" into a meaningful acronym, it would be even better, since the Big 3 AMC offerings seem to be Red Dawn, Firefox and Hamburger Hill. (Okay, throw Heartbreak Ridge into the mix, too.)


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Sunday, December 30, 2007

Nuke the Whopper Freakouts -- It's the Only Way to Be Sure

Consider this an early New Year's Resolution -- after extensive thought and through analysis, I have come to the conclusion that every "actual customer" who was upset by the purported discontinuation of the Whopper sandwich needs to be beaten thoroughly about the head and neck. And I'm volunteering.

Furthermore, anyone who was stupid and/or fame-seeking enough to actually sign the release to appear in the Burger King Whopper Freakout commercial needs to be stopped. By any means necessary.

Stop the Whopper Freakout.

Sure, we all have our tastes and preferences, but if a fast-food chain hamburger means that much to you, you need to be put down with extreme prejudice.

While this may be a master stroke in quasi-viral marketing, I can't watch, or even listen to the commercial, lest I get overwhelmed with rage and disgust.

On a side note, I see that the fake manager of the store is Regan Burns, formerly the host of the game show Oblivious ("The game show you don't even know you're on!"). Guess he doesn't mind getting typecast in hidden camera shows.

I actually kind of liked Oblivious, not least of all because their gimmick allowed them to pay out what was probably the smallest cash prizes out of any game show, ever.

Looking at Mr. Burns' IMDB entry, I see he was also involved in Fox News' alleged news-comedy show, The 1/2 Hour News Hour, so he must be used to projects that aren't funny and inspire loathing. Though I understand that an acting gig is an acting gig.

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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Smash Lab: Everybody Pile On!

I caught a little bit of the Smash Lab preview just now on Discovery. It has the distinct whiff of FAIL about it.

Poking around the Smash Lab message boards (you need to choose better seed topics, guys), there seems to be a lot of negative feedback from Mythbusters fanboys, who're calling it a Mythbusters knockoff. Which is true. But just because it's a Mythbusters knockoff doesn't mean it can't also be good. It's just that this show isn't very good.

I mean, the Mythbusters pilot was pretty rough and it's a lot different from the way the show is now. But it was still good.

Primary problems with the Smash Lab premiere:

1. It was an hour-long commercial for Rhino Linings.
2. The "car bomb" used 12 pounds of TNT. Even tamping the charge with sand to direct the blast into the building makes it a laughably small car bomb.
3. They showed the effects of the "car bomb" on the "protected building." However, they didn't show the effect of the "car bomb" on an unprotected building. That's kind of important. In fact, without it, it's useless.

As to the rest of it -- some folks are ragging on the hosts, others don't like this or that -- it might get better, it might not. But if they're going to be "solving" problems instead of disproving things that are myths anyway, they're going to have to do a better job.

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Friday, December 14, 2007

On Consuming TV Series on DVDs

I had a Chipotle burrito for dinner tonight. It pretty much put me out of commission for the rest of the evening (heartburn), which is why I'm staying in and watching a Firefly mini-marathon on Sci-Fi channel. Which is kind of dumb, since I already own the series on DVD.

I also received the Band of Brothers boxed set this week (Amazon, $25), even though it basically runs on the History Channel in a continuous loop. So I have new additions to the evergrowing-pile of unwatched DVDs -- the one that you might think I would have whittled down during my enforced downtime. But no.

(Incidentally, I'm now fully and officially unemployed -- Friday was my official separation date from AOL -- up to this point, I've been technically on the payroll, without actually having to go to work. It was pretty sweet. I will be talking more about it and my AOL career. Eventually.)

Anyway, unless you're one of those people who've ripped their entire DVD collection to a gigantic media center hard drive, you've probably encountered this little problem with TV series DVD boxed sets -- namely, how do you go about choosing which episode to watch?

(Actually, even if you're ripped your DVD collection, it just makes consumption a little more convenient -- it doesn't solve the whole choosing side of things. I'm sure someone [Corey] will tell me about this great Linux/Open Source/Media PC/Ginormous Hard Drive solution, though there's also the problem of bonus features and such. And do they even make DVD jukeboxes that actually, you know, use the actual physical media? I'm old-fashioned that way.)

For something like Firefly, it's relatively easy, since the series tops out at 14 episodes that mostly stand alone (despite having an underlying story arc). But what about something that was actually, you know, successful, like Friends, Star Trek, Seinfeld, whatever, that ran many seasons and had hundreds of episodes? Or something where episode order really matters, and you can't just snack on individual episodes (24 being the ultimate example of this)?

Unless you're going to do your own mini-marathon, or you're actually disciplined/OCD enough to keep track and watch the episodes in order, how do you keep from just cherry-picking the best-known episodes? Especially for a series that you, say, liked well enough to buy the boxed set when it was on sale for really cheap at Best Buy, but you don't have the episode list memorized?

I guess what I'm looking for is some sort of media management system -- something like a Netflix (with a little bit of iTunes) for your personal collection, to keep track of your personal viewing to show you how many times you've viewed an episode, and what's next in the queue. Which would pretty much mean ripping the DVD and forgetting the physical media -- wouldn't really be workable any other way.

My own DVD player is a now-ancient Apex player which doesn't have many features, save for one of the least intuitive remotes ever made. It also occasionally tries to die on me. However, its saving grace is that it's a 3-disc carousel, which I find helps with serendipity and flow -- I can pre-load it with 3 discs and get around to watching them (or not) when I feel like it.

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Thursday, November 08, 2007

Feel... Myself... Getting... Dumber

Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle is on. I keep flipping past it, and I can actually feel myself getting stupider.

It's a similar feeling I get when I flip past MANswers on Spike TV. I watched most of an episode once. It's like Mythbusters, only with all the smart, interesting, original, and funny bits taken out.

I got remarkably little done today. Sitting around and watching OpenOffice download doesn't count for much.

I was planning on doing up a quick and dirty design for business... excuse me, calling cards, but I figured I might as well wait until I look into setting up a consultancy.

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Saturday, October 06, 2007

Lazy Saturday TV Watching

My original plan for Saturday didn't work out (read: hangover), so I'm puttering around the house, reading a few library books that are almost due, and watching TV.

Well, actually, it's been mostly just watching TV.

USA Network has been rerunning the premieres of the new fall NBC shows, so I've been doing a little catching up:

* Chuck: Better than I expected, though it's still filled with odd bits of stupid. Like the whole premise of the show. And that NSA vs. CIA trying to kill each other thing. Good role for Adam Baldwin, even if he's basically playing a slightly-smarter Jayne Cobb.

* Life: Pretty good. Perhaps even very good. I'm a fan of Damian Lewis, from his role on Band of Brothers. They certainly did frontload the pilot with a mess of character baggage, potential plots and arcs.

* Bionic Woman: Eh. I was napping for the first 15 minutes, maybe I would have liked it better. Probably not. And Mark Sheppard is way too young to play the mad scientist father. Even with gray in his hair.

There's also a Law & Order: Criminal Intent marathon on. I've pretty much stuck to reruns -- I like Randall Flagg better than Eric Bogosian as the captain of the Major Case Squad, and I don't care much for the Chris Noth episodes. Especially when they started moving more to character-driven episodes instead of plot-driven ones. But the writing for the new ones? The one I saw this afternoon involved polonium, the Mossad, the FBI, and the Men in Black. It was pretty ridiculous.

Also pretty (but still ridiculous, or at least implausible) is having Alicia Witt playing a hard-boiled Major Case Squad detective. She's 32 and looks even younger, which is a stretch even for TV cops.

Oh, and in this one that's on now, (which is a Vincent D'Onofrio one, of course), everyone, from the crime scene tech to the former Marine who was supposed to carry it, is calling the M1911 .45 cal pistol an "M11", which is irritating.

Anyway, I just had a chicken curry for dinner from Charcoal Kabob. So it's all good.


Thursday, September 06, 2007

Note to Self on Time-Shifting, Appointment TV and Self-Control

Dear Dumbass,

With the abundance of TV time-shifting technologies available to you, both digital (which you, inexplicably, don't have) and analog (which you do), and given that the entire series is now available on DVD, I put forth that, just because SpikeTV shows Star Trek: Deep Space 9 reruns, does not mean you need to watch them at that particular moment in time.

Especially if those particular moments are between 2 and 3 AM.

Even if they just started in on Season 4, which is a full season after when the show really hit its stride, Worf joins the cast, and the Dominion War draws near.

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Thursday, August 30, 2007

Something From AT&T That Doesn't Suck

I had the TV on just now, and an AT&T commercial came on. It features a band -- a girl on keyboards and a guy on drums -- playing a show in a club; the shot pulls back and shows all the happy cellphone users in the crowd bopping along (and presumably bootlegging the show with their phones).

It's a 15-second spot, and you only hear the song for about 10 seconds, but the tune is impossibly catchy:
I checked out the url featured in the commercial, Then Ewatt.com (hey, that's what it says), which had no relevant information, but The Google has the ad on the first page of results -- the song is "For The Actor", the band is Mates of State, and they've got 4 songs for download on their MySpace page.

Another band for the list (which needs refreshing, anyway -- most of the bands I would go see live are defunct in one way or another).

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Monday, August 27, 2007

More Big Infomercial Boobs

I was a little hesitant to blog this, only because I know it'll lead to a bunch of unrelated pageviews from horndogs who either:
  • Don't speak English as a first language, or
  • Just don't understand how to find porn with The Google very well
  • Or most likely, both.
But, hey, it's boobs. What can I say -- I'm a fan.

Following up on my earlier entry on informercial cleavage, it looks like others have hit upon this seemingly-sound late-night infomercial strategy: Feature big breasts and low-cut tops.

What's more, if one pair is good, two pair is even better, right?

Inadvertent porn mouth.

Just like poker, only with a brunette and a blonde.

At least with this one, they tell you what they're ostensibly selling (besides the false hope) -- it's some sort of turnkey Internet sales dealio, where working for mere hours a week, you'll get thousands and thousands of bucks, big houses, fancy cars, the adoration of your friends, the return of your dead pets (and not in the scary, "sometimes, dead is bettah" way), etc.

Yes, Joe and Jane Schmoe, by having your random crappy turnkey trinket e-commerce site, people will be beating down your door to throw money at you. And you don't even need to be there. It's nothing at all like setting up a lemonade stand on your front lawn and expecting to make a fortune, because that would be silly. This is The Internet. Completely different.

Don't know why no one else has thought of that yet.

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Dr. Thaddeus Venture Pitches for Shell Oil

Driving in on the toll road this afternoon, I had the radio on and was half-listening to a commercial for some Shell credit card, when I realized (with a start -- which is probably the anti-cliche for the NYT Metropolitan Diary's overused saw "without skipping a beat") that the voice-over was coming from none other than Dr. Thaddeus Venture, the ineffectual, developmentally-arrested, amphetamine-addicted scientist-patriarch of The Venture Brothers cartoon series.

Although the odds of me getting a Shell credit card were already approaching non-existence to begin with, hearing the voice of Dr. Venture as pitchman effectively bumped that down to zero.

As it happens, James Urbaniak, the voice of Doc Venture and others, mentions the Shell gig in his blog.

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Friday, June 15, 2007

Friday Night Blogging

Yeah, I'm blogging at home -- alone -- on a Friday night. But no fear -- it's not like I'm going to be watching Friday Night Videos (unlike, say, most of my middle school years).

I'm heading out in a half-hour or so. Not going to make it all the way into Adams Morgan for the blogger happy hour, but it's something.

In the meantime, UFC is on Spike.

Along the way I noticed something disturbing: Hitch is on right now on both TBS and TNT.

I'm not sure what movie would warrant simultaneous multi-channel showings, but I know that Hitch is not one of them.

Other thoughts:

* Z100 (WHTZ) in New York used to do a Friday 5 O'Clock Whistle. Maybe they still do. They would play a steam whistle sound effect, then play Todd Rundgren's Bang the Drum All Day, then Loverboy's Working for the Weekend.

I still associate those songs with Fridays.

* Amy Winehouse's Rehab -- heard it for the first time yesterday. Talk about a throwback sound -- it feels like it should be in the next Austin Powers movie.

It's a little gimmicky. Let's see how many hit songs she gets.

* That Lip Gloss song -- heard it for the first time in the gym this week (they have XM): Catchy beat, but what a stupid, stupid song. Not to mention one big consumer fetish song.

Okay, out of here.

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The State of the Onion, 24 and the H&R Block Box Bitch

You know, I think the chimp-in-chief didn't do all that bad of a job giving the State of the Union this time around. At least in terms of delivery. Well, except for that whole "assed/asked" thing. And I have mixed feelings about that bit of pandering to the fairer sex when he referred to Pelosi (who, truth be told, does have an incredibly annoying voice.)

Though Dikembe Mutumbo?

The Jim Webb rebuttal was hardcore, though.

Looking over at my catchup viewing of '24', I think the primary takeaway is that Rocket Romano's wife Marilyn is HOT. (She's also apparently wheelchair wife from Heroes, so there's that Monday night connection.) Also, Milo, Chloe and Mick Schtoppel are going to have a three-way in Tech One. And soon.

Finally, if you've seen that H&R Block TaxCut software commercial -- the one where the husband and wife are getting audited because they used Turbotax, and the wife keeps going on about how they should ask the box for advice?

Man, what a bitch.

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Tuesday, September 12, 2006

9/13/99: Never Forget

Sept. 13, 1999: Never Forget

September 13, 2006 marks the anniversary of the tragic events at Moonbase Alpha, where all 311 of the base's inhabitants were lost and presumed killed after terrorists set off a thermonuclear chain reaction on the moon's Nuclear Waste Disposal Area 2.

The resulting catastrophic explosion blasted the Moon out of Earth orbit and into deep space (an event that has been seared into our collective consciousness through repeated viewings of footage from Alpha's internal cameras):

It seems hard to believe, but only 7 years after the Moon was stripped from the sky, the events of Sept. 13, 1999 seem distant and remote -- as if they had happened 30 years ago, not 7.

To commemorate this horrific event, and to honor its victims, I've created some graphics to show our resolve and prove to those who would harm us that we will NEVER FORGET:

We Will Never Forget Moonbase Alpha

Similarly, we must always remember the heroism of the Eagle Transport pilots and crew as they tried to rescue the trapped Alphans:

Let the Mighty Eagles Soar

May the victims of the Moonbase Alpha attacks always be remembered:

God Bless Moonbase Alpha

Spread the word with graphic badges:

Space 1999 Memorial Gif: 9/13/99

Space 1999 Memorial Gif: 9/13/99

Space 1999 Memorial Gif: 9/13/99

9/13/99: Never Forget.


Okay, so I liked Space: 1999 as a kid. I had some of the toys -- an Eagle transport (not the big one... though I wanted it), the playset (with action figures), the Colorforms, and a jigsaw puzzle. But I'm not a diehard fan. I don't participate in any of the online fan forums. And I especially never thought I'd be doing up tribute graphics for the "anniversary" of a fictional event from a 70s TV show.

So why do it?

I blame YouTube, and two blog entries that were floating around the geekosphere last month: The best and worst sci-fi openings of all time.

I didn't geek out about the lists then and I won't now (other than to say that the Blake's 7 opening and closing themes should have been on the best list).

Not only did the Space: 1999 theme song bring back memories, but it rocks. It still kicks ass (listen to that bass line! the wailing guitars! the orchestral break!) -- and it's aged really well (unlike, say, the Star Blazers theme, which, though still epic, is a lot more like a show tune than I remembered).

Anyway, when I was watching the Space: 1999 opening credits, I zeroed in on the "September 13, 1999" title cards.

Obviously, because of the Sept. 11 anniversary, we've been seeing a lot of remembrances and memorials on the Web, including graphic tributes of genuine sincerity (but varying quality) with crying eagles and "Never forget" and such.

I think it was the eagles that did it for me. Eagles and the Eagle Transporter. I guess you had to be there.

Anyway, I'm not trying to make fun of anyone's 9/11 memorial graphics -- I guess I just kind of overloaded on them over the past week. So that's why all this "Never Forget: 9/13/99" silliness.

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