Category Archives: TV

The box in the living room you point your furniture at. Shows, commentary, recommendations and reviews.

Visible Lines

I’m worried. You may have heard that my brand new company is preparing to reduce 10% of their workforce by the end of the year and while I don’t have any specific reason to fear that my position is on the chopping block, I don’t have any reason to think it isn’t either.

Why would a company hire a guy and then lay him off a few weeks later? Well, I hope they wouldn’t, but since these layoffs seem to be based on positional elimination rather than merit-based consideration, it could be as simple as someone saying, “This group was important before, but we decided their work could be done by someone else.”

The worst part is that usually I don’t fret too much about layoffs. Normally I wouldn’t really care. Fine, fire me, get me severance and some time off to find a new place. I can get a job, I think even in this economy. People always need Ops guys. Someone’s got to make sure these systems stay up and running. They don’t get to fall over and drop service just because Wall Street is hosting the Greed/Remorse Olympics this year. The problem now is that I love this job. Reading Valleywag you’d think people were tying nooses in their cubes, but everyone here has been warm and helpful and positive in the face of some pretty tough situations.

I’m worried not because I’m scared I’ll be unemployed but because I’m scared I’ll lose this job. It’s still early to make these kinds of calls, I know this. But after two companies whose products and culture failed to interest or engage me, I feel home at work more than I have since late in my tenure at the City of Tracy. Which means, sadly, this is the first time since then that I felt like leaving there was the right decision.

So yeah, I don’t want to leave, but there’s nothing I can do to convince them to let me stay.

Something Happier

By popular demand (ie Ryan keeps pestering me) here are my opinions on the new season of TV. I haven’t watched nearly as much as in previous years, so I’ll also roll my opinions of the returning shows into the thoughts on the new ones.

  • Fringe – I like the show but I missed the first few episodes due to a TiVo programming gaffe. I watched a couple later episodes and decided I liked what I saw but was frustrated enough to not make it appointment-TV. I figure I’ll let it play out and if it survives a whole year I’ll catch up on DVD.
  • Raising the Bar – Something od about my taste: I think the “Law” parts of Law & Order shows are the best parts, but I have yet to find a show exclusively about lawyers that doesn’t make me want to jam a rolled-up legal pad through my nostril and into my brainpan. TNT’s new vehicle for Mark-Paul Gosslear’s hair is no exception and I couldn’t even make it through the pilot.
  • Gary Unmarried – Going beyond the usual pain of awkward anti-chemistry in a new sitcom cast, the writing was flat and the premise was weak. I made it through the pilot but couldn’t make it stay in my Season Pass list.
  • Do Not Disturb – Worst. Manmade thing. Ever.
  • The Mentalist – Far and away my favorite new show, it took a bit to get over the fact that it’s just USA’s Psych without the father and not played for laughs, it manages to take the intriguing premise of Psych and do away with that version’s show’s disposable nature.
  • How I Met Your Mother – The curse of the early season on HIMYM remains with the first few episodes being a bit weak, but the most recent near-wedding episode was fantastic. This show is far better than it’s relative obscurity suggests.
  • Heroes – I could write a whole essay on what’s wrong with Heroes, but if you happened to catch the recent Entertainment Weekly cover story on it, they touched on most of my complaints: Life or death stakes are a joke, the time travel plot device has (as predicted) derailed both the best character and the overall story arc and each time the show starts to display some promise it bungles it with lazy writing and the typical traps that plague most network TV shows. I’m committed until the end of the Villains arc, but if it doesn’t get a whole lot better very quickly, I’m out.
  • The Office – Still funny, still appointment-worthy, it seems to struggle a bit under the weight of its Jim/Pam legacy. As Nik pointed out, there would be nothing wrong with having them just be happy for a while in the backseat but the need for writers to constantly create conflict when none need exist is casting a grim shadow over the slow progression of the season and I fear a carnivorous aquatic creature hopping moment may be imminent.

It Should be Obvious

NBC CEO and President Jeff Zucker is pooh-poohing ratings. There are a lot of sour grapes in the reporting and comments for that particular story (at least on TV Squad) citing that it’s easy for Zucker to be somewhat dismissive of the ratings because using that metric his company is getting creamed.

But what he is saying actually is closer to reality than anything I’ve previously heard from TV executives and I have to give him the appropriate hat tip for it, even if he’s arrived at the conclusion for self-serving reasons. What drives me batty about the Nielsen ratings is that it is a single metric used to measure TV viewing habits that is antiquated, entrenched solely because of tradition and adhered to because as far as I can tell no one wants to be the one to break ranks with it.

I don’t intend for this to devolve into a pro-TiVo rant, but I can’t quite grasp why the Nielsen Company has been tabulating PVR-based statistics for over three years but has yet to incorporate them into its ad rates. Actually, I’ll clarify: I can’t figure out why advertisers don’t demand that the PVR stats be included.

As I understand it, the process goes like this: A network attempts to develop a show that it hopes will attract a sizable audience so that large group of people can be exposed to ads that command a higher price due to the large number of consumers reached. In order to correctly set those ad rates, they need to use a system of monitoring how many people are watching the show and, ideally, who those people are (ie their demographic) so the correct advertisers are paying appropriate rates. From the network’s perspective it’s in their best interest to have as close-to-accurate numbers as possible so they can court the right advertisers and quote them the right price. The advertisers want those numbers to be as spot on as possible as well, so they aren’t over-paying and aren’t sending their ads at people who don’t care about their products. So far I can’t see any reason why anyone would want to use vague, representative numbers when they could have a more detailed analysis.

I get that advertisers would get their knickers in a twist about PVRs because they almost universally contain commercial-skipping functionality. To a degree it doesn’t matter whether the advertiser is hitting the target demographic with their ad if that demographic is just fast-forwarding through it anyway. But in an epic example of throwing the baby out with the bathwater, the advertising industry chooses to ignore the potential for accurate ratings data that is presented by PVR devices because they also happen to allow their expensive ads to be marginalized with 30-second skip features. It’s a period of transition I admit but some advertiser out there needs to understand that a) they’re still putting commercials in shows even though PVR technology exists and is becoming more prevalent and b) they’re still using old data-collection methods to determine where to advertise and how much to spend.

Logically they should be using the PVR data-collection features which reaches both a more desirable demographic (early adopters, families with disposable income, people who recognize value-add products, etc) and a larger cross-section than Nielsen does. It also avoids the issues often cited as criticisms of the Nielsen system because it becomes inclusive since anyone who purchases a product (or a service as it has been offered by cable and satellite providers) can join in the stat-counting if they choose. Advertising and rate-setting is an attempt, in essence, to quantify and monitor popularity so it makes no sense to have some committee or algorithm determine who is most representative of the average American. What the Internet culture has taught us most clearly is that popularity isn’t predictable but it is a driving force for creativity and there is an appetite for people to be a part of culture definition. I know I certainly wouldn’t mind my viewing preferences to be counted among those that are used to determine what shows have entertainment value.

TV executives and creative people who work in television seem to have a lot of stories about shows that were unexpected hits or subject matter that seemed unlikely to find an audience but actually found one where no one expected it to emerge. How can a system like Nielsen possibly be equipped for that? An example is the original Iron Chef, imported from Japan and translated literally with overdubs, which aired on the Food Network several years ago. I saw a retrospective show on the channel talking about it where they said the demographic that latched onto the show was young, educated males which they didn’t expect. Basically they meant that the nerd crowd picked up Iron Chef and watched it faithfully and anecdotally I knew it was happening; I first heard about the show on Slashdot and got hooked on it that way.

But it made sense in retrospect: Nerds were used to watching comically-dubbed Japanese shows from all the anime they consumed, plus there is a strong interest in Japanese culture among technically literate young males. Add to that the adversarial nature of the show that pitted skill against skill rather than concentrating on athleticism and it was like a geek’s football. Plus it had a certain camp and unintentional comedy from the translation work and it was a surprise that shouldn’t have been a surprise at all. What if Apple had been watching the PVR stats and noticed that 18-34 year old males with a high percentage of engineering backgrounds were recording Iron Chef episodes? They could have scored a coup by picking up ads for dirt cheap on a tiny extended basic cable network show that would have catered directly to their target audience. But instead they were paying top dollar to advertise on CSI to a bunch of blue-hairs because most geeks long ago realized that CSI treats science with about as much respect as it does the investigative process of police departments.

Even if a lot of those nerds were fast forwarding Apple’s spots, you can bet that the low rate would be worth it to hit up those geeks that hadn’t yet acquired a network-attached digital recording device but were still watching Iron Chef every week.

The crazy thing is that it’s probably only another year or so that this end-run around the sadly obsolete Nielsen system (announced revamp notwithstanding; I’d call that a case of too little too late) will be viable. Eventually someone will wise up and either PVR tech will become ubiquitous enough that the entire game will have to change to a more embedded advertising routine (witness the corny Ford injection into recent PVR-friendly dramas like 24 and Alias, “You take the new Mustang GT! I’ll take the F-150 with 250 horsepower and optional side airbags!”) or someone will find a way to target the ads directly on PVR boxes themselves.

But either way, I’m just hoping someone figures something out soon because I’m tired of good shows getting canceled due to poor Nielsen performance that represents nothing. Maybe it only takes the one network exec or the one ad firm to break ranks and change the game. Maybe Zucker is that guy, but I doubt it. If he finds a hit show next season and shoots to the top of the “charts,” expect a full redaction.

It Shone Through the Clouds

So.

We moved last weekend in an epic four-day event that I’d classify as thoroughly exhausting. We did manage to get all but one room fully unpacked and ready for habitation, which was a pleasant surprise. Somehow I’d assumed we’d toil for days and have nothing to show beyond a small corner of a room with a sad mattress on the floor and we’d point to it from across a sea of boxes overflowing with our collected trinkets and say, “See? We live here now!” People—mysterious people with no business being in our home to begin with—would back away slowly, speed-dialing their personal injury attorneys in anticipation of their treacherous journey to the front door.

Instead we managed to coordinate a very pleasant environment to exist within and while neither Nik nor I want to get ahead of ourselves I’m prepared to say that thus far we adore our new digs. Well, I think Nik could do without the wild, mutant turkeys that roam the grounds. They seem docile and prone to avoid human contact, but their beady eyes are black and unblinking, hiding machinations unknown to man. It’s certainly unsettling; I can hardly blame my wife for her apprehension.

There are some peculiarities to the new abode, of course. There are a striking number of mirrors around the place, which is a marked change from our last home where you had your standard bathroom mirrors and that was it. Here, it seems, every room has some vast reflective surface in prominent locations so that regardless of where you are you feel accompanied by a flanking clone. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if I hadn’t fallen out of any kind of self-maintenance routine but as it stands a trip to the restroom holds a minimum of a baker’s dozen screaming reminders that I’m unshaven, unkempt, uncoordinated and unhealthy. I guess it’s some sort of ploy to encourage use of the exercise facilities? I can’t imagine even the most vain among us requiring this many options for self-regard.

Also the baths have these “fancy” gravity plugs that operate with some theoretical physics and while they do an admirable job of stopping water from pouring down the drain when you want it to stay in place, when you do need to dispense of it, the plug slaps against the drain’s rim with a loud and metallic clank. Repeatedly. I first encountered this when a neighbor was draining some water and it sounded like someone kicking the pipes in the wall. I tracked the source of the sound to our own bathroom from which I could hear the flowing water so it sounded like someone flushing the toilet over and over again, kicking it sharply in-between. I couldn’t imagine someone having that much angst over their toilet. Nik happened to be out on an errand at the time: I sent her a text message telling her we were dealing with a domestic toilet abuse situation and, offhand, did she know any hotlines for that kind of thing? Perhaps a listing in the phone book to get me started? Plumbing abuse? Toilet hostility? My efforts weren’t yielding much fruit.

There were the requisite number of maintenance issues as well. We had been spoiled at our last place, a brand-new condo that had never had previous occupants. Here we found cabinet doors that didn’t close, drawers that were broken and not useful for storing, you know, items, dishwashers that practically tumbled out of their niches, shelving units that were missing pivotal brackets and so on. Okay, I’m exaggerating a little. We only have one dishwasher. In any case a man I suspect may be or is possibly descended from Hobbit lineage came by to correct many of the problems. He also spoke to our cat with strange yowling noises that I can only guess reveal either a secret Dr. Doolittle-like ability or a severe mental defect, but either way it didn’t seem to affect his ability to repair our home. It did concern me a little that he had much more to say to our pet than to us. Maybe she was relaying pertinent information to him, but I’ve known her for at least seven years and she’s only ever confessed to me a strong desire for fish-flavored cat treats and scraps of roast beef.

We do have one major, nagging issue: The wonderful new TV I just bought doesn’t “go” with the new apartment’s layout. Specifically the cable outlet in the living room is in a tiny corner next to the fireplace. The TV is like four feet long and two and a half feet tall so it’s never going to fit in this corner and the only option I have is to put the entertainment center directly in front of the fireplace. If this seems counter-productive and a little dangerous, you’re absolutely correct. I compromised by pulling the unit out away from the hearth but that leaves the tangle of cables and power strips exposed to anyone with eyes and while I don’t claim to be some interior design guru, I can say that I’ve never heard the phrase “cable snarl chic” used to describe a decor.

My eventual solution will be to have the TV mounted above the mantle, but since I was trained in all manner of home improvement by my father and I lack even his questionable proficiencies, I have to bring shame on the house of Hamilton and spend money to have someone do it for me who is far less likely to install it upside-down or to perhaps knock over the chimney inadvertently. I’ll also need a new housing unit for the various components which stacks vertically and fits in the small corner of the room. I’m trying to console myself by imagining how wonderful it might be to have a roaring fire beneath a glorious HD display some winter evening, like a poetic juxtaposing contrast between the most ancient technology and the height of man’s achievement. Instead I wind up thinking, “What if I melt the screen I don’t think renter’s insurance covers stupidity and the cat might jump on it and it would fall on the hard tile and shatter to a zillion pieces…”

I end the train of thought making the sound approximated in every “Cathy” comic strip since it began to blight our collective culture: “Aaaaack!”

Lost in the Plot

Speaking of TV, Nik and I were catching up on Lost during a moment of tranquility and while I’ve been kind of so-so about the show since somewhere in the latter half of Season 2, I’ve stuck it out mostly because I’m this far in and I might as well find out how it goes. Now we had a couple of episodes left on the TiVo from before the spring break and then the one that first aired last Thursday. I’d heard that the pre-break finale was an excellent episode and, well, I found it to be not excellent. First of all, the Michael character drives me insane (“Waaaaaaalt!”) and the entire episode was an extended flashback.

But then I watched the first episode back (last Thursday’s) and… all of a sudden the whole thing clicked for me. I mean I think I finally am starting to understand what the show is about, what it’s doing and why I’m compelled to keep watching even though they’ve made some questionable narrative decisions along the way.

Now, it’s certainly possible that this is nothing new to devoted fans, message board devotees and so on. But I stopped following the Internet furor about the time I stopped thinking the show was just awesome and started thinking it was merely good enough to keep watching. So for about a year or two I’ve been out of the speculation loop. If this is all retread of ground covered by them, I apologize and if you don’t want specu-spoilers, stop reading now. But this is my unified theory of Lost, for what it’s worth (nothing).

The Island

For a long time everyone was trying to figure out what the real setting was for Lost. Is it purgatory? A dream? Hurley’s psychotic delusion? I think the island is just an island. But it’s a very special island, a place with certain characteristics that are in some cases sinister and threatening but in other cases are remarkable and even desirable.

The principal characteristics that make the island unique are:

  1. It has a certain sentience. There is a kind of awareness the island possesses: It is in tune with humans that live on it, it has a certain degree of influence over them and it seems to occasionally select people who find themselves there to be its agents. It is possible the island itself doesn’t actively select these people but there is a personality type that is drawn to the island, its secrets and its strange persona but the result is the same either way: The island can become an object of obsession with effects that extend beyond the physical location of the island itself.
  2. The island affects human immune systems. This can manifest in a number of ways: It can present itself as remarkable healing properties. It can work to cause madness or sickness in others. It also acts as a sort of population control, turning the immune system on embryonic life as suggested by Juliet in a recent flashback.
  3. There is a temporal element to the island’s properties. New (and welcome) character Daniel and the time-traveling Desmond have experienced this but we’ve also seen evidence of it elsewhere. People who are connected to the island via whatever mechanism is attributed to the island’s odd sentience seem to age differently. It appears that Widmore (Penny’s father and Ben’s nemesis) may have been the captain of the Black Rock which clearly ran aground on the island long ago. Perhaps the island’s influence on immune systems is part of it, but it may also be that time simply passes at a different rate on the island and those who spend long periods of time there seem to age less quickly to those outside the island.
  4. The island is difficult to locate. Perhaps it is the temporal anomalies, maybe it’s just that the island is cloaked in some fashion or a combination of other factors contributes but the island is not readily located. Even once found it doesn’t seem that it can be readily re-located once left. The lack of information on flight 815 in the “real” world suggests this, as does Widmore’s dogged pursuit of the place, despite indications that he’s been there before.
The Backstory

It seems clear that the human influence on the island dates back quite far. The mysterious statue feet seen at the end of Season 2 and the odd runes in the secret compartment leading to what may be the control center for the island’s security system (the smoke monster) suggest some kind of ancient power or perhaps a lost civilization that was able to somehow harness the power of the island.

Also it appears that the island is most commonly found by accident: The Black Rock ending up on the island somehow, Rousseau’s ship crashing there, flight 815, etc. But it does seem that some people have been able to locate and retain the location of the island, including what I suspect is a scientific research commune called Dharma, from which grew the Others possibly because Benjamin Linus became one of the chosen or obsessed and executed a hostile takeover of the island to suit his own purposes. It seems pretty clear now that he wrested control away from Widmore but it’s not known yet whether Widmore represented Dharma or was maybe part of the original “Others” (when Dharma filled a similar role the survivors of 815 now fill), but either way there was a power grab that left Dharma all but abandoned, Widmore out in the cold and Ben Linus in charge.

The Arc

The show—the current story unfolding as we watch—is about what would happen if a magical island existed in the real world? What if there was a place that didn’t work according to the rules we accept as “reality?” What if people who had nothing in common ended up there? It’s a dangerous place, but it has a certain compelling charm that can change people. The island wants itself to be protected; the people who are enchanted by it want to keep it a secret and hold it for themselves; people who lose it want it back.

The basic arc seems to be that the flight crashes, we are introduced to their plight, we find evidence of the strange things that occur on the island and the things that have come before. Then we begin to slowly meet the key players outside the survivors: Ben Linus and his Others; Widmore and his mercenaries. The conflict that has and will arise is between those who want the island for themselves (Linus, Widmore and I think Locke will be to Ben what he was to Widmore) and the people caught in the crossfire are the survivors who’ve wanted nothing more than to be rescued.

But even they will have to make a tough choice: Stay on the island and enjoy the power it holds but risk the violence that erupts from those who wish to possess or control such power or leave that power behind and escape back to a sense of “normalcy.” The initial narrative device of the flashback allowed us to see the characters of the survivors and other key players has been replaced with flash-forwards designed to keep the audience guessing as to the final showdown which I suspect will be either the season or the show’s finale and somehow ends with the Oceanic Six leaving the island, Ben escaping to hunt down Widmore and most likely a lot of the other cast members dead.

I think by the end of the show we’ll know a lot more about Widmore, we’ll understand much more about the island and we’ll have a pretty good idea about Dharma. I think what we won’t necessarily understand is the significance of the events that happened before, such as the Black Rock, the statue feet, the smoke monster and Rousseau’s party. I think they’ll leave some of these questions open-ended in case they ever want to do a spin-off or a motion picture.

Opinion

Assuming I’m more or less correct, I actually find myself liking the show a lot more all of a sudden. I was so concerned that there was going to have to be some big twist at the end but I like that it suddenly feels like simply a science fiction story (introduce strange, supernatural elements into an ordinary setting) told over a long and intricate narrative. I grant that this introduces a lot of macguffins and misdirections; but the show itself has seemed to stop introducing randomness just to be freaky and has settled into a groove of knowing (at last) what it’s about and just getting the story told.

If people are expecting a sudden revelation I have a feeling they might be disappointed, but I think it’s only chance to work is to fight the urge to pull the rug out from under the viewers and just let them come to the realization that the island’s significance isn’t why it’s so strange, simply that it is so strange.

Sidestepping the Magniloquence

I think it would be nice to say, “Hey look, I have a new post. It is well-researched, carefully edited and revised and thoughtfully written.” But you’d probably be like, “Where am I and what happened to ironSoap?” So in the interest of fulfilling your expectations… hastily written bullet points! Ahh…

  • Tomorrow is Super Tuesday. If you are part of a Super Tuesday state, I encourage you to vote. Now, I know that primary elections aren’t as significant as the general election in November so if you skate on this one, I’ll forgive you but only if you promise—and pinky-swear!—to vote later this year.
  • If you do vote tomorrow and can participate in the Republican election, would you please consider Ron Paul?
  • I know people like to say that voting for an underdog is like throwing your vote away but, well, tell that to New York Giants fans. Truth is, you never know.
  • And while I’m sorta on the subject, how weird was that Super Bowl? I mean it was the biggest snoozer of all time until the 4th quarter at which point it became a great game, seemingly out of nowhere. The telling statistic? There were three lead changes in the fourth quarter: A Super Bowl record. I listened to the end of the game on my commute home from work. When Manning tossed that pass for the TD late in the game, I LOL’d. Seriously.
  • You may have already gathered from the Twitter feed (had you been following along at home like I keep telling you), but I finally made my HD dreams come true last weekend. We picked up a Samsung 46″ LCD, got rid of the old 36″ Trinitron, wrangled some HD cable and iced the cake with a PS3/Blu-Ray, an HD-capable TiVo and a Logitech Harmony 550 universal remote. It was a lot of money… so much that I kind of freaked out about it for a little while, but then I caught my first Sharks game in HD and, well, I didn’t feel so bad about it after that. There is more to the story, of course, including a still-ongoing royal rumble with Comcast over the acquisition of a cable card for the TiVo, but I’ll spare you the details until I can provide the epilogue.
  • So… there’s this movie called ‘Sunshine.’ It’s deeply flawed but I think still worth watching. Either way, it basically did for Blu-Ray what The Matrix did for DVD: Sell the format.
  • I have, however, decided that I no longer have any interest in purchasing physical copies of movies. As such I won’t be “upgrading” my DVD collection to Blu-Ray. Aside from the general uncertainty of the format’s future, I just am sick of storing movies in my living space. First we had a pretty impressive collection of VHS tapes. Now we’ve finally gotten to where we have a lot of DVDs. I don’t care to go through the exercise again, so until we all figure out how too handle digital film storage, I’ll stick to rentals.
  • Of course, the PS3 came with Spider-Man 3 (ugh) and also included a 5-free Blu-Ray offer (which I felt obliged to take advantage of) so I will have at least six of the stupid things. But that’s it! I’m not paying for any more.
  • I am also fully aware my resolve has no bearing on the activities of my spouse, who loves to own her favorite movies and TV shows. I guess I better buy a new DVD rack.
  • You know what I think is tacky? That the Cheesecake Factory has ads in their menus.
  • However, TCF makes a mean meatloaf.
  • Nik and I saw Michael Clayton over the weekend. It’s a pretty great flick although I didn’t think so until the very end, and there is still a particular scene that I don’t quite understand once the “truth” is revealed. Or I guess considering what that truth does reveal. Either way, it left Nik and I scratching our heads. Also, it has to have the worst title of the year. Who wants to see a movie named after the fictional lead character? It’s not even some deeply memorable character nor a remarkable/memorable name like Forrest Gump. Michael Clayton sounds like the title of a biopic for some long-ago sports star no one remembers.
  • I would have gone with “The Fixer” or perhaps “The Settlement.” But that’s just me.
  • Snack Watch: So, if you like Sun Chips I implore you to find the “Garden Salsa” flavor, they are exquisite. However, you may also want to investigate Cinnamon Sun Chips (you read that right) which sound questionable but are in fact quite delicious (though more of a standalone snack than a lunch accompaniment). You may also be interested in knowing that the Black Cherry and Almond flavor of Clif bars are especially tasty if you need a mid-afternoon light meal. And I can say with confidence that the energy drink Nos is not suitable for human consumption.
  • On the flip side, has anyone tried Chocolate Chex yet? Nik is too chicken to try them and I’m hit or miss with Chex brand cereal, but I can see it being a fine addition to a batch of Chex mix. Anyone?
  • I’m committed to Lost for the long haul, but I’m terribly, terribly disappointed in the direction they’ve decided to take the show.
  • I have to give some respect to Netflix, a company which had such a terrible site back when I joined almost five years ago that I filed a bug report on it. Now they have one of the best designed, most user-friendly sites I frequent. As a simple example, I indicated to them that I was interested in getting Blu-Ray discs when available. Their system simply confirms that you know what you’re talking about and that you have the appropriate hardware and then it automagically goes in and replaces any movies in your queue with Blu-Ray versions. Brilliant.
  • I loved the book Freakonomics and since I finished it I’ve been following the Freakonomics blog, which often has funny, insightful or thought-provoking posts. Today they had one I found cynical and amusing in all the right ways: Choose a six word motto for the US. My favorite sarcastic suggestion: “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Democracy.” My favorite funny suggestion: “Just like Canada, with Better Bacon.”
  • As much as I love Rock Band, especially the multiplayer, Band World Tour mode is sadly flawed in a fairly fundamental way. And the fact that online co-op doesn’t allow BWT mode is kind of a criminal oversight. Still, I have faith in my Joey Big Hat bandmates to rise above the stupid game limitations.
  • It occurs to me that we need a band logo. And I think you can upload such files into the game and use them as tattoos for your avatar.
  • Excuse me, I have some Photoshopping to do.

Police Blotter Report, #2: Is This Maine?

The best part of this exchange, by far, is the abrupt topic change at the end, which had me laughing so hard my co-workers, who were playing four-player foosball and blaring Daft Punk at the time, yelled at me to keep it down.

(16:01:48) Nikki Hamilton: 5:47 p.m.: A woman on the 800 block of Kennedy Place told police that the neighbors’ children threw bottles and a live lobster over the fence into a jumpy house that family members had set up for a girl’s 10th birthday party.
(16:02:13) Paul Hamilton: who…
(16:02:18) Paul Hamilton: who has a live lobster on hand?
(16:02:29) Nikki Hamilton: that’s EXACTLY what i was thinking
(16:02:43) Nikki Hamilton: was it dinner and they just decided to use it as a weapon instead?
(16:02:58) Paul Hamilton: maybe it was meant as a gift?
(16:03:08) Paul Hamilton: I mean, that’s not a cheap dinner
(16:03:15) Nikki Hamilton: true.
(16:03:53) Nikki Hamilton: but, how many 10-year-olds enjoy lobster?
(16:04:16) Paul Hamilton: Right. I don’t know that it was high on her wish list
(16:04:22) Paul Hamilton: 3. Barbie
(16:04:27) Paul Hamilton: 2. Bratz Doll
(16:04:34) Paul Hamilton: 1. Succulent lobster dinner
(16:06:04) Nikki Hamilton: i’m going to go to barnes and noble

Also, a bonus IM conversation follows. As a bit of backstory, this exchange is with my friend Ryan. Ryan is awesome because he can out-geek me which isn’t exactly an accomplishment per se, but it does have a certain significance. Observe:

(15:14:56) Ryan Hardester: ok, I am all for willing suspension of disbelief .. I’m a cheap date like that but I am having troubles with Journeyman
(15:15:11) Paul Hamilton: I couldn’t stay up to watch it last night
(15:15:26) Paul Hamilton: getting tough to swallow?
(15:16:10) Ryan Hardester: doesn’t matter how understanding your wife is … she won’t put up with disappearing for long
(15:16:30) Ryan Hardester: and she seems less than understanding to begin with
(15:16:46) Paul Hamilton: wait.
(15:17:19) Paul Hamilton: the guy spontaneously jumps through time and you’re having trouble accepting that his wife would be okay with him being gone?
(15:17:27) Ryan Hardester: well… yeah

Fall TV Premieres

My thoughts on the premieres I caught last week:

  • Journeyman: At first I thought the show was just a semi-interesting update of Quantum Leap. Then, about 40 minutes in, there is a twist that makes it so much better and from then on I just wanted to see more. My early favorite new show.
  • Reaper: It’s got that fun dramedy/fantasy vibe that Buffy had and the cast has already got a pretty good chemistry working. I’m not sure about Ray Wise’s performance yet… he seems to be a very poor man’s Al Pacino from The Devil’s Advocate. But other than that it was a very likable pilot.
  • Bionic Woman: I was really looking forward to this show and I found myself rather bored by the pilot. Unfortunately this goes back to a lot of my complaints about remakes which is the need they feel to give us cursory backstories and origin plots. I don’t care any more about seeing these familiar faces struggle with their newfound power, just show them kicking some butt, mkay? Anyway, the pilot really bored me and I’ve already got this on a short leash. Here’s hoping it gets a lot better fast.
  • Dirty Sexy Money: It dropped the soap in the first sixteen seconds. It looks like a metropolitan, New York high society version of Grey’s Anatomy or Desperate Housewives. It was a compelling enough pilot, but I can’t see myself caring enough about their “shocking” rich folk behavior or the “who sleeps with whom” salaciousness of it week in and week out.
  • Chuck: “Young underachiever gets thrust into an unlikely situation he doesn’t think he can handle, where he must excel to win the heart of a hot girl.” It’s the same plot synopsis as Reaper except instead of the unlikely situation being “monster hunter” it’s “superspy.” And yet while Reaper hit all the right notes, Chuck fell really flat. The cast was annoying and had no chemistry and the show thinks it’s a lot funnier than it really is. Very short leash on this one.
  • Big Bang Theory: I’m not sure why nerds trying to win over hot girls is such a huge theme this year, but this sitcom was barely—barely—average. I probably won’t watch it again.
  • Back to You: Some shows you can tell have a grain of a concept hidden in the clunky first few episodes. Some of my favorites like How I Met Your Mother and The Office are like this. But they take a while to warm up. Back to You has sitcom stalwarts hitting on their peak levels right out of the gate and producing… the most predictable, uninspired dud you can imagine. It’s like Generic Sitcom to the degree that it feels, upon first viewing, like you’re watching a rerun. No thanks.

Oh Yeah?

Apparently this is the explanation behind the bizarre “Peter can’t fly himself to safety” aspect of the Heroes season finale.

Listen, Tim: “Suspension of disbelief” is when we accept that there are people with genetic mutations that allow them to pass through walls and shoot radioactive fire from their hands. It is not when you cheat and change the rules you made up because you want something to happen that isn’t necessary to your show’s internal logic.

Stupid.

Heroes and Goats

Topic the first: Doug Wilson seems to be waffling a bit on what to do about his team’s embarrassing exit from the post season. At least he’s not all sunshine and roses over Ron Wilson’s performance, so that’s one good thing. But I was serious in my rant against Ron: I think he’s got to shoulder the responsibility for not lighting the fire in the Detroit series. People kind of overlooked his role in the loss to Edmonton last year but it was quite clear that this roster wasn’t missing much in the way of talent and depth so if a team like that slides pitifully from the playoffs you have no choice but to look at the coaching staff and say, “Dude. What happened?”

The second topic is Heroes, so if you don’t wish to be spoiled as to the show or, more specifically, the season finale then you may want to quit reading now.

So, some people hated the finale. I didn’t hate it exactly, but I understand part of the sentiment. It’s tough to really express why the last episode was such a let down when almost everything leading up to it was so very good. But I knew there was trouble when they took a commercial break at 8:50 pm and they still hadn’t gotten to the climactic confrontation we all knew was coming.

I think the main problem was that for the first time I felt like the writers cheated, and they did so in what should have been the most pivotal scene in the whole season. TVAddict mentions the implausibility of how the fight with Sylar went down and those gripes are very valid. Sylar and Peter both seemed to conveniently find and lose powers as suited the writers which is a good way to annoy a loyal audience. I’m not trying to make this as inflammatory as it may sound, but this is part of why Lost is suffering from backlash: Because they conveniently ignore plot elements that they introduced whenever it suits them. Episodic shows demand that their writers not be lazy and resort to copping out of inconvenient story elements just because they don’t suit what they’re trying to do presently.

I do think the TVAddict was flat wrong with a lot of complaints, and was taken appropriately to task in the comments on that post. But the main points that didn’t sit well with me were as follows:

  • Peter can fly. We’ve already established plainly that he actually possesses the powers he absorbs and requires no proximity, so Nathan’s last-minute heroics should have been unnecessary. Some have suggested that Peter can’t use more than one power at a time and Ted’s radioactive surge was taking up his “power slot.” That’s a fairly flimsy explanation since he seemed to be both invisible and heal himself when Claude threw him off the roof earlier, at least that’s what Isaac’s painting indicated but we can’t really tell because the show used the device of actually showing the invisible characters for the benefit of the audience so it’s not really clear (hurr…) one way or the other. In any case, it wasn’t explained and without some kind of clarification Nathan’s heroics came across as kind of idiotic instead, undermining what I gathered was supposed to be a key moment for the character.
  • All of which is kind of moot when you consider that it was never explained why Peter was occasionally able to control Ted’s powers. And I don’t mean it wasn’t adequately explained, I mean that unless I missed a key scene (there was about two minutes at the beginning of Chapter 22 that I missed due to a TiVo mishap, I suppose it could have been there but I doubt it) it was never explained at all. Especially since none of the other powers he absorbed went wildly out of his control like that; Peter’s ability seemed in fact to be far superior to Sylar’s in that he didn’t need an understanding of a power’s function in order to utilize it. He certainly didn’t consciously work to figure out how to use Claire’s healing ability nor did he have any problem un-invisible-izing when he wanted. That Ted’s power seemed so volatile—and only to Peter as well; note that Sylar never seemed to struggle with it—was lazy work on the part of the writers.
  • Nathan’s change of heart was terribly executed. I recognize that it probably seemed more dramatic on paper to have him show up out of the blue like that, but it did several things: It made him seem like an inconsistent character. Pardon my geek, but if this were a scenario in a Heroes role-playing session and I was acting as GM, I’d dock the player controlling Nathan experience points for acting out of character. What, up until that very moment, suggested that he would a) Turn his back on The Plan at the last moment, b) Leave behind his wife and kids, c) Sacrifice himself hours after having achieved his dream of being elected to congress? Especially when—and I could be wrong about this, I’d have to watch it again to know for sure—I think that he was operating under the impression that Sylar was the bomb, not Peter. He would have had no reason to get involved or even show up in the plaza.
  • I recognize this is a comic book-esque show so you can’t take these things for granted but I assume we’re to believe Peter and Nathan are dead. This poses a problem with the show going forward in that we’ve seen how their mother is involved in the machinations but she’s not a very good character by herself and was only mostly tolerable as kind of the devil on Nathan’s shoulder to Peter’s angel. The familial connection is now limited to Claire and I don’t see Claire spending any more time with her since she’s been reunited with Bennett. Her presence on the show has the potential to be unwelcome next season. What I’m getting at is that I sure hope one of them survived. Fortunately, if the alternate future episode is any indication, Peter can live through the blast.
  • While we’re on the topic of living and dying, I’m wishing that Sylar would have just kicked the bucket. They nicely set up next season’s villain so I’m not sure why they need him around. Also, DL has worn out his welcome and I’m a bit disappointed that he seemed to pull through.
  • They wasted too much time with Hiro’s training. And even with all of that, it still felt forced and weak.
  • The scene with Peter’s flashback/dream/whatever that included the old man from earlier in the season was… clumsy to say the least. What exactly was happening there? Why was it significant? Why the whole John Lennon vibe? And why oh why can’t there be at least one character on the show who is not either a superhero or somehow tangled up in the conspiracy? Isn’t anyone in this world just normal? I guess the only ones were Simone and Ando, but she’s dead now and he seems to have been kind of written out. Figures.

But, I’m not all disappointment and angst. There were some good parts to the finale:

  • The foreshadowing of the next bad guy I mentioned was fantastic and appropriately creepy. Granted, that little girl is kind of creepy anyway with her big gums and freakishly small teeth, but it was a well-written scene that worked on every level.
  • I guess Niki and Jessica merged finally? At any rate Niki used the super strength and they seem to be coming to a sort of balance. It makes her character less annoying.
  • Some people (like TVAddict) disliked the reveal for HRG’s first name. Not me, I thought it was wonderfully done and a somehow appropriate name. The problem with leaving it mysterious is that stuff like that ends up getting really awkward the longer the character remains an integral part of the show. Look at some of the scenes with the Cigarette Smoking Man in the X-Files once he’s become a major character and you’ll see what I mean.

So the end result is a phenomenal season of TV with a sort of disappointing climax. I guess that makes the entire first season “pretty good”? I dunno, I still like the show and I’ll definitely be back in the fall, but I kind of hope they get a lot of flak for how they handled this important piece of the puzzle so they know next year that a great set up with a lame payoff equals grouchy fans.

Perhaps on the upside, I’m not that excited about the “Generations” premise to season two so maybe it will have just an okay set up but a really spectacular climax. Would I like that better? Hm. I don’t know. Why can’t the whole thing be awesome?

Stupid TV.

We Know Everything Was Built to Expire

Engage random mode.

  • I’m not entirely sure what Buccigross is babbling about for much of his column, but the Mailbag section has a “Jeremy” from “Dallas” complaining about the dark jerseys being worn in NHL home games. Buccigross says Reebok’s new uniforms next year will reinstate the light home jerseys. Noo! I’d much rather see the superior dark jerseys when I get a chance to go to a game. In fact, I think all sports should have dark unis at home, light on the road.
  • Speaking of hockey, the Sharks went up 2-1 with a fitting 2-1 victory on Monday. They looked a little better. Not a lot better, but a little. I still think we should be winning these games by two or more goals and not from empty-netters, either. Detroit just ain’t that good. Buccigross has a point when he says the Sharks need to play with more fire because the talent is there, I’m just a little worried about how much they want it.
  • Last hockey notes regarding other series this round: The Ducks pulled off the comeback upset to go up 3-1; I didn’t see the comeback but the Sharks had better learn from Vancouver’s mistakes here because I see a lot of similarities between Vancouver and San Jose… the Sharks just have a little better luck. That will run out eventually. Luongo is really good but he can’t win alone and the Canucks have to figure out how to make the Ducks pay when they take penalties or there will be no reason for Chris “Cheap Shot” Pronger to not play his miserable brand of hockey all day long. Meanwhile, the Rangers tied up the series with another controversial video replay. I totally think the right call was made from the replay but I would have liked to see a better call on the ice and is it just me or did that whole sequence show that the overhead cameras above the goals need to be of much better quality? Two more frames in there or a better center-ice camera zoom and that’s a goal. It’s gotta be frustrating as heck to essentially lose a game due to technological limitations. At least the Sabres are heading back to home ice. I really want them to advance: They play hard and that ought to be rewarded.
  • Dr. Mac turned me on to Goozex, which has the dumbest name in history but is a really cool video game trading service.
  • On one hand, I felt like the time travel episode of Heroes did all the things I hate about SciFi time travel stories: Had no internal consistency, overlooked obvious paradoxes, muddled the story unnecessarily and introduced scenarios that had no logical explanation. On the other hand, the intent of the device was so compelling and—mind-bending anti-logic aside—so well executed that for once I found myself not really caring. One thing that Heroes has done better than any show I can think of is really make me trust the writers to come up with something awesome. I watched and do watch other serialized shows with a lot of apprehension that at some point they’ll drop the ball and just go off on a really dumb tangent (I fought this fear with the X-Files for six seasons before it became clear that the mythology had done exactly that; I continue to fight with Lost on this matter) forcing me to lose interest. There are three episodes of Heroes left and I have no doubt that they’ll be awesome. I’m even done questioning Niki because so far even things that are slower to develop (like Future Hiro) turn out to be really cool. </fanboy>
  • I watched The Last King of Scotland thinking it would be really good because I like Forest Whitaker as an actor and a lot of critics I tend to agree with really loved it. Whitaker’s performance was good but the movie itself was stupid. I think part of it was that I had no sympathy for the main character (who is not the Forest Whitaker character) and sort of wished he would go away. It’s hard to be repulsed by a villainous character when the protagonist is reprehensible himself: There is no contrast. Also, it gets really graphically violent at the end but is handled in a sort of schlocky, gratuitous manner. Dumb.
  • On the flip side, Nik and I went and saw Hot Fuzz, which was great. Even better than Shaun of the Dead, I thought, and I really liked Shaun. Word of warning though: Hot Fuzz is also over-the-top graphically violent (but the schlock works here because the whole movie is silly/serious like that) so don’t be surprised like Nik was.
  • I’m totally digging the new Modest Mouse album, We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank. Most people would probably listen to it and go, “uh, what?” But I love it. Brilliantly weird.
  • We have actual cable-box-based Comcast now (versus the straight-from-the-wall boxless variety) and cable internet instead of DSL. For one thing, I know it may be anecdotal but I’ve always had much, much better speeds from cable than DSL. So it’s nice to have our broadband actually feel like broadband again. But since it’s been three years since we had a cable box, there are a couple of really cool things they have going now. One is the serial cable from the TiVo actually works now so I don’t have to use the stupid flaky IR solution which basically makes the TiVo have to try to change the channel as if it were pressing buttons on a remote control. Predictably it failed a number of times when we had to do it before, usually right before key programs like season finales were about to air. The other is Comcast’s On Demand service which I was skeptical about but I find to be very cool. I make the analogy that it’s kind of like watching someone else’s TiVo. You don’t necessarily have exactly what you want, but there is probably something in there worth your while. I just wish I didn’t have to pay $14.99 if I want to get FSN Plus. True, it doesn’t matter much now because all the NHL games are either on the main channel or nationally broadcast, but during the regular season I found it exceptionally annoying that a game was televised but I couldn’t watch it because I didn’t get the stupid channel.

A Final Story

I’ve got only two computers any longer: My trusty iBook G4 which is sadly having some display issues but still runs like a champ for the most part and a first generation Mac Mini which serves as our “household” computer and is shared by Nik and I. The Mini has all our iTunes stuff and we use it for general web surfing, email and pretty much anything that doesn’t get too geeky.

Since we purchased the Mini, it has been connected to an old 17″ Viewsonic CRT that was probably on its last legs a year before I hooked it to the Mini and has a horrible lack of brightness and a gargantuan footprint. When we moved to the new place we bought a new desk to replace the monstrosity I bought back when I had about twelve computers running at any given point in time (and another half dozen in various states of disuse or disrepair). The old desk was an official computer desk with all kinds of nooks and cubby holes for software, instruction manuals, CPU towers and so forth. It was, with the introduction of the Mini and the consolidation of the operating computers, grossly overwrought for its intended function.

So we got a nice, normal desk and put the beast in the garage to serve as a workbench. Of course the problem with the new desk was that without all the extraneous compartments we really needed a monitor that didn’t monopolize the whole thing. So I found a great deal online for a 19″ widescreen LCD monitor from Staples: $150 including shipping for a brand-name model. That was, I found, a good $25 cheaper than any other comparable deal—before tax and shipping. Sold. I got my order confirmation from Staples a few hours after I placed the order and was happy to know it would be delivered the next day so I could get it set up right away. After all, we’d been sharing my flaky-screened iBook for a week or more and it was about time to get things set up again.

The day of the delivery I used UPS’s website to track the order. It said it was scanned into the shipping center in Sacramento sometime Tuesday morning (the 24th) and would be shipped sometime that day. I got home from work around 11 in the morning and waited around for the guy to show. Sometime around four thirty I started to get concerned so I called UPS directly and asked what would happen if they didn’t get it to me by five o’clock. The operator told me their business day ended at 7:30 pm, so there was actually plenty of time left for it to arrive. I accepted that and went back to waiting.

7:30 on Tuesday came and went and eventually I got some sleep and woke up later that evening to go to work. I didn’t get a lot of sleep so I dragged through Wednesday morning’s shift and came home hoping to see a “Sorry we missed you!” note on the door. It wasn’t there, but I was too tired to care. I collapsed into bed and slept until Nik got home. Still no monitor. There wasn’t much to do about it at that point so I put it out of my mind and decided to worry about it the next day.

The next morning I woke up fairly early with a list of things to do. I started unpacking some of the millions of boxes that were still around from the move while I listened for the doorbell that would indicate the monitor had finally arrived. By one in the afternoon my unpacking was making progress, but my patience was wearing thin. I checked the UPS website for tracking again and noted with some confusion that a new entry was listed: Sometime the day before the package was scanned into the distribution center in Las Vegas, Nevada. I picked up the phone and talked to an operator who was less than helpful. She offered to send a message to the Las Vegas center and have someone there call me back within an hour. I told her that their promises to do something within a certain timeframe was in question so I didn’t want to hang up and waste another hour. Was there someone else I could talk to? The Las Vegas rep, for example.

I was told that UPS uses a messaging-based system and could not directly transfer the call to Las Vegas. I suggested they might want to consider upgrading their system beyond that of the Pony Express and she offered to let me talk to a manager. I agreed.

The manager, Amy, was like most customer service managers: Practiced in her courtesy but nothing remotely resembling sincere. She apologized and I told her I didn’t really care if she was sorry, I only cared if she could get me my monitor. She said there was nothing more she could do but if I hung in there, it would arrive the following day for sure. She also offered to reimburse the shipping fees. I sighed and thanked her for her help, but I asked for and got her direct phone number. Just in case.

When I hung up I called Staples. I knew they had done their part, but I wanted to know how much the shipping fees had cost. The nice lady at Staples told me that the cost to me for shipping was nothing: All orders for more than $50 came with complimentary next-day shipping paid for by Staples out of their UPS account. I verified that when UPS refunded the cash, it would go to Staples and not me. I was told this was correct. For her part she offered me a coupon even though her company was blameless in the whole thing, and I thanked her. She told me if I continued to have problems to call back and they would see what they could do to help.

The next day I waited somewhat less patiently until sometime before noon, than I called again. I was quickly run up the chain until I spoke to some supervisor (not Amy) who told me that they weren’t, in fact, sure what had happened or even where my package was at the moment. I asked with some confusion how they were going to get me the monitor that day if they didn’t know where it was. The supervisor then told me there was no way it would come to me Friday. The best I could do was to contact the shipper (Staples) and have them institute a “trace” which was a formal investigation into the whereabouts of a lost package. I asked what that would do for me and was told it “might find my package.” I indicated that was not acceptable.

She said she understood my frustration and I—well, I didn’t exactly lose it but any calm, understanding demeanor I might have had vanished. I told her my frustration was not to be understood, it was to be expected at that point and I demanded to know what she planned to do to make good on their blunder. She said, “Nothing.” I informed her that it hadn’t even been close to pleasure doing business with her and hung up. I had nothing more to say. If she wasn’t going to help me, then I didn’t care. I called Staples.

For their part, Staples was exemplary in the whole mess. As soon as I explained what had just happened, they offered to ship me a new monitor at no charge. When I hung up and realized after talking to Nik that it would be much smarter to have it delivered to her work instead of our home, I called back and they cheerfully updated my shipping information. The only unfortunate part was that they don’t ship on the weekends so it wouldn’t be until Monday when the replacement order got out of the warehouse.

I never heard from UPS again.

Yesterday, nine days since my “next day” package was supposed to arrive, I picked up the monitor from Nik’s office.

On the up side, the monitor is beautiful and has a tiny, insignificant footprint which makes for lots of extra room on the desk. I brought the old CRT from the apartment, just in case, and it’s sitting in the garage. When I do my next round of unpacking I’ll toss it away. Good riddance.

On the down side I feel like UPS has really got a racket going on. The problem is that my default threat of taking my business elsewhere isn’t practical with UPS because so often when you order something to be shipped to you, you don’t have the choice of how that shipment takes place. Amazon.com, for instance, will continue to use UPS whether I want to pay for UPS service or not. My alternative is to simply not take advantage of online shopping and that’s almost more of a punishment for me than it would be for UPS, not to mention the small online stores I would in turn be refusing to support.

I wonder what the correct way to handle this is? Let it go? Better Business Bureau? Buy FedEx stock? It’s annoying how callous UPS can not only have the audacity to be but can afford to be. What is their motivation for trying to make me happy? It’s not like they will realistically lose my business nor would it matter to them if they did. As far as they’re concerned they ate the cost of the shipping so their conscience is clear, but that leaves me stranded either trying to get additional restitution from a company that did no wrong (Staples) or forced to simply eat crow.

By the by, I hate crow.

So the best I can do is say any time you have a choice, I encourage you to use someone other than UPS. Trust me, it’s not worth the hassle.

Whaa; It is to Cry

I wasn’t feeling too well when I got home from work and I had a hard time sleeping so I watched some non-Sharks playoff hockey, including most of the Buffalo/NY regulation time action. A couple of notes:

  1. The Rangers are a bunch of cheap, theatrical whiners. I hope they loose badly. Jagr plays like too many other superstars by hoping the strength of his name alone will keep him out of trouble. Fortunately the refs were having none of it and sent him to the box several times for blatant hooks that he, of course, cried like a little baby about. But it isn’t just him: The whole team embellished and acted and moaned whenever things didn’t go their way. It was sad.
  2. Then the contested goal (see some too-quick video of it here) came where Karel Rachunek was said to have executed the oft-cited “distinct kicking motion” to put the puck in the net. Now it doesn’t matter because the Rangers ended up winning in overtime but even with that being the case, a lot of coverage mentions the disallowed goal and the TV announcers and analysts were all up in arms over it. I can see it both ways (if he was stopping, why was his leading insole facing the goalie? That’s like asking for a broken ankle; but then again, if it had been the Sharks I would have said the requisite “definitive evidence” required for an overturn wasn’t there and the call on the ice was a goal), but the crying and gnashing of teeth for the Rangers was pathetic.

As for the Anaheim/Vancouver game, Vancouver could have won it, but they pulled a Sharks maneuver and failed to capitalize on many, many brilliant chances given up by the Ducks. J.S. Guiguere wasn’t all that great, but he hardly needed to be since the Canucks didn’t seem to really want it all that bad. Sometimes it looks like only Roberto Luongo is playing for the Cup up there in Vancouver, everyone else is like, just wanting a scone or something.

/Knucklehead

I can’t believe I forgot to mention it: How incredible was Monday night’s Heroes episode? So very worth the wait. And, if possible, next week looks even better.

Also slipping from my mind: Sharks vs. Red Wings! Hot diggity! Bring ‘em.

I Still Don’t Get It

I went through and rented season five of 24. I mentioned a few of the problems I have with the show a while back and my dad has comically commented on the show as well.

But watching season five, a couple of new things struck me.

  • Jack Bauer has now been accused of trying to assassinate David Palmer (Dennis Haysbert) something like twenty times. Wouldn’t someone, somewhere down the line go, “You know, we figured out that he didn’t do it the first nineteen times, maybe—just maybe—he didn’t do it again?”
  • Likewise, Jack is perpetually accused of something nefarious and sinister and conspiratorial. Yet, the only things that ever stick are when Jack does something that he tells everyone he’s going to do, appended by the phrase, “We don’t have any other choice.” The Chinese embassy thing from season four, for example. I think it should be amended into the CTU charter that Jack is innocent of everything he’s accused of doing in secret but guilty of doing everything he tells everyone he’s going to do.
  • And the final thought along those lines, why hasn’t anyone ever said, “Hey, I got an idea: Let’s trust Jack. This is what he does, and it always works out eventually“? Chloe did have a fairly amusing line near the beginning of season five where she reassured someone “He’s really good at this,” but then even she spent the rest of the season asking Jack why he wanted what he was asking for and why she should be the one to do it. He’s got to be the most second-guessed person in history. Well, other than GWB maybe. But, you know, at least history is not on Bush’s side.
  • Speaking of Chloe, I’m not quite clear on why it is that she always says something will take way too long to decrypt and Jack says, “Just do it,” and three minutes later she has it decrypted. What exactly is her metric for “impossible” decryptions?
  • Also on the Chloe topic, I am aware that the actress (Mary Lynn Rajskub) is something of a geek sex symbol, I guess because she plays a super nerd on TV and she’s female. I actually have a hard time seeing the attraction because she’s always struck me as a little tough to look at, but it turns out she’s about 200x better looking when she actually smiles. And in all fairness, she’s never really called on to do that in the show.
  • One sequence that didn’t particularly make sense to me during season five was when the “first layer” conspiracy was being unveiled and presidential advisor Walt Cummings revealed to President Logan that he was involved in the terrorist activity to secure oil interests in central Asia, etc, etc. Later in the season (spoiler alert) we find that President Logan was also involved in the conspiracy at an even higher level. So why, during that first private meeting with Cummings, didn’t Logan just say, “Oh, sweet! We’re both doing this together! Awesome, that will make this a lot easier”? Instead he puts on this big show of being repulsed and then “slyly” concedes to Cummings wishes to maintain his cover.
  • Then again, I finally figured out after five seasons that the show is really enjoyable just so long as you don’t think too hard about it. Once you start trying to make actual sense out of what’s going on, it becomes obvious that the whole thing is preposterous.
  • Is it just me, or did they sort of forget to deal with the question that was pretty central to the set up for the whole of season five: Who else knew Jack was still alive?
  • One thing I did appreciate about the fifth “day” was that they seemed to tone down the gnarly torture scenes. It’s not so much that I’m squeamish about it; I just felt like earlier seasons had too much of Jack—our supposed protagonist—casually inflicting massive pain on people like it was some heroic deed. It made him seem almost reprehensible and difficult to root for. This time around I felt like he was actually a hero for the most part. Even when he shot Peter Weller’s wife in the leg, at least I understood what his motivation was and it wasn’t some prolonged sequence. Sure, they used the magical pain injection a few times at CTU, but for some reason that seems better than watching some guy get a drill bit ground into his shoulder or whatever.

What’s That Sound In Your Heart?

I know I talk about Heroes a lot. Too much, probably. But Monday’s episode was so fantastic, I cannot help myself.

Note: I make no effort to avoid spoilers either from the episode, online speculation or the previews for upcoming episodes. Stop reading now if you don’t want to know.

  • I love how this show can walk the line between comic book cheese and straight TV drama so effectively. Case in point, the sinister exchange between Dale and Sylar culminating in the line, “What’s that sound in your heart?”

    “Murder.”

    It could have been devastatingly cornball since it was such a comic book moment, but it worked flawlessly here.

  • At this point I think it is fair to say that we have three main candidates for possible causes of the explosion in NYC: Peter, Sylar and Ted. Despite the constant impression we’re being given that it is Peter, I have a hard time accepting that as reasonable. I still think it will come down to Sylar and my theory gained a little support in this episode when Sylar showed that he may figure out how to acquire other people’s powers, but that doesn’t necessarily ensure that he knows how to control them right away.
  • People pointed to the exchange between Sylar and Mohinder outside the hotel as evidence that Mohinder may have some sort of hero-tracking power that Sylar wants. I completely disagree; the scene was there solely to plant the seeds of doubt into Mohinder as to Sylar’s mental health.
  • I honestly thought for most of the episode that Ando would be the one to die. They seemed to telegraph it from the exchange with the gaming commission guy saying, “You only end up with [a partner’s] blood on your hands.” I doubt we’ve seen the last of him (as someone on a forum said, he has the show’s key product placement in his possession, so he has to be back soon) but in any case I’m glad the side-trip for Hiro is over. It feels like they have been putting a few too many artificial obstacles in front of him lately and I’m anxious for him to get back on track.
  • Speaking of back on track: Parkman’s merry gang of house-crashers was the kind of definitive plot advancement moment that makes this show 200 times better than Lost. In many ways I feel like the writers are using Parkman as an avatar for the audience: When he’s all confused about what the heck is happening, so are we. When he gets frustrated with his inability to make progress, we are too. Now he’s finally had enough and he’s going to get answers one way or the other and we can do nothing but cheer him on. And the pacing for this confrontation is masterful because we just came off of a good episode that followed two ho-hum hours fresh off a break that ended with a slew of developments. We’re ready for this scene now, and Parkman’s our guy.
  • One thing about the exchange between Isaac and HRG that was actually featured in the previews but didn’t sit well with me: Isaac suggests that he’s been painting Peter all along but he’s invisible and HRG immediately calls out Claude. Wait, why would he automatically assume that someone he “thought was dead” was not? Isn’t that the absolute last conclusion you’d draw? My first instinct would be: Hey, there’s someone else out there who can turn invisible now. Occam’s Razor and all, you know? Instead HRG shows a super-power of his own: He seems to know as much as the writers do most of the time.
  • I was very happy that right after they finally started getting somewhere with Niki/Jessica/Micah/DL they gave the storyline a break. I think this might be the first time that plot thread has missed an episode, too. It worked because now I know what is going on with some of the other characters and I’m—gasp!—sort of curious as to what happens next with Niki/Jessica. Well played.
  • Simone’s death was handled perfectly. I didn’t exactly see it coming but it wasn’t like some major story-rending kick in the pants. Which is actually good because as much of an advocate of disposable main characters as I am, it’s too early to knock any of the heroes off just yet. But killing someone who has as much influence on two of the main characters, and in that particular manner, introduces a fantastic dynamic to an already impressively dramatic situation. More kudos.
  • Claire’s confrontation with HRG was equally stunning. Good acting by Hayden Panettiere showing how frustrated she’s gotten that even though she suspects she may not be able to stop the memory loss this time, she has to at least try to make Bennett see reason. And they did a good job of making her sound like an actual teenager who has a legitimate beef with a parent. Usually when kids are shown in TV and movies confronting their parents they come across as more mature than the parent, but here she maintained the child role in the relationship while still making her points crystal clear.
  • I like Hana/Wireless. Interesting power and something that hasn’t been done to death in comic books. Her vendetta against HRG is only explained in the online graphic novels which is a shame because it seems a bit arbitrary that she would show up and know all this stuff without the backstory. Still, let’s hope they keep her around for a bit since there aren’t that many non-dude heroes in the show (especially since we still can’t be sure what to expect from Niki/Jessica at this point).
  • One note to NBC: Work on the marketing of the show a little. The insane level of hyperbole and the apparent need to constantly have some sort of catchphrase is going to get old really, really quick. As in, it was old about halfway through the “Save the Cheerleader, Save the World” campaign. The show is good, you can just advertise it normally and people are going to watch.

Seriously

I’ve only been a subscriber to satellite radio for about six months, and the first several were for Nik, I only experienced the service peripherally. But, that level of exposure was sufficient to entice me and I now have my own receiver and subscription.

(As an aside, the linked article also has a follow-up that is very down on the Stiletto. To an extent I can’t argue with the complaints: As a portable Sirius player it requires a very bulky and ugly set of special headphones and even then the reception isn’t that great. But on the other hand, the portability factor probably shouldn’t have been pushed as a big selling factor to begin with since satellite radio, in my experience, is a limited use product. By that I mean that the beauty of it isn’t necessarily in just having it on, but in having the entirety of it available. Specifically, the 100% commercial-free music is fine but I find that, as with AM/FM radio, one is rarely stuck on a single channel for music anyway since inevitably they will play something you don’t like sooner or later. But having dozens of channels each with the possibility of playing something good and not having any of them hampered by being “on commercial” when you tune in gives a pleasant, seamless experience that is ideal in a car where switching channels is pretty much second nature by now. Outdoorsy people hoping the Stiletto would approximate that will be disappointed in the same way they would find trying to listen to terrestrial radio disappointing, because channel-surfing on a portable device is rarely as simple as all that. In a home or car, satellite radio shines: Elsewhere it was only ever destined to be a novelty.)

Ever since satellite radio came onto my radar, people have been talking about the two major providers, XM and Sirius, merging. Now the talks have surfaced again, this time with more veracity. Personally, I don’t really care either way. I’ve experienced both services and I vastly prefer Sirius (hence the choice) but I doubt much would really change with a merger since the focal points would be the premium content channels (mostly stuff like Howard Stern, Oprah Winfrey, major league sports and so on) which has, to this point, been spread between the two.

But were a merge to take place, the things I would want to see happen are as follows:

  • Leave the music programming to the Sirius guys. The XM channels—especially in my primary genres of choice such as Alternative, Rock and Indie—pale to the point of albanism compared to Sirius. The new 90s Alternative station on Sirius is a prime example of how well that company understands what actual people want to listen to.
  • I wouldn’t mind seeing some “talent” shake-up, however. One thing that XM seems to have over Sirius is less offensive DJs (or Stream Jockeys—SJs—as the forum lurkers call them). I could certainly live the rest of my days without ever hearing Jason Ellis, Madison or Bam Margera blather on in a lame attempt to connect with listeners. In my opinion, for a service that bills itself as a smart choice for savvy consumers over the alternative (FM), they seem to have carried over the worst parts of it in some cases.
  • Anything that could be done to improve overall reception would be most welcome.
  • Do not, under any circumstances, even think about making the sports content require an additional monthly fee. Should a merge happen I’d finally get all the major sports on one service (right now MLB is only on XM) and I would be happy. If they try to charge me for hockey games, I’ll cancel my subscription, sell my Stiletto on eBay and write as many nasty things about the executives and their heritage as I can think of.
  • Now get off my lawn.

On the Random Tip

Because you never demanded any such thing, I offer… more bullet points.

  • I hereby decree the end of the trend on the following phrase and all its variants: “…because that’s the way we roll.” It was funny for a while, but it isn’t anymore.
  • You know what I think the XBox 360 controller should have? A jog wheel. Think about it: The D-pad is only ever used in modern games for inventory or issuing orders to squad members or that kind of secondary input. Wouldn’t a jog wheel be easier to use than a clunky eight-point pad? Plus if they did that they could replace that atrocity with a real D-pad akin to the one on the DS. As it is that thing is almost unusable, even for games that need it like the old arcade classics ported over to XBox Live Arcade. It’s a shame, too, because other than that D-pad, the 360 controller is one of the best ever.
  • Why do french fries go so well with dessert? My favorite food from McDonald’s (the word “favorite” is being loosely applied here): French fries and apple pie.
  • I’m sorta learning to play piano after acquiring a very nice keyboard (free!) from HB. Currently, I know four chords: C Major, F Major, G Major and A Minor. That’s not a lot of musical variety… but I can at least play them with over 100 different sound effects! They sound really cool with swooshy 70s-style synth sounds.
  • I guess Norv Turner is going to the Chargers. I think it’s dumb that they had such a great record in the regular season and because they lost a playoff game the coach gets the axe. By that logic they should fire/trade LaDanian Tomlinson, too, right? Anyway, it’s kind of weak for the 49ers because Alex Smith seemed to be doing much better under Turner than he had before, so it will be interesting to see what happens now with Mr. First Round Pick.
  • Rhetorical Question of the Day: Why is it that when you have no use for change, it’s everywhere, as if it were multiplying like Tribbles all over the house, car, couch, etc. But the instant you need a few coins, you can barely find two pennies to rub together? Also, it seems like the more paper cash you have on hand (ie, the larger the denominations of your bills), the less change you can actually find.
  • They’re showing that professional fisherman (*snort*) on ESPN tonight who gets all “extreme” when he does his thing and, like, yells at the fish he catches. He literally taunts them as though they were some kind of crafty opponent instead of near-mindless beings so far down on the food chain from us that we’re like a dot to them (metaphorically speaking, of course). It seems like he may as well be talking smack to his Wonder bread, you know?
  • “I totally pwned that whole loaf, man! Did you see that? It was like 24 slices vs. just me and I ruled over it like a malevolent dictator! Woo!”
  • This just in: Professional athletes take themselves too seriously. Film at eleven.
  • You know what I don’t understand? TV shows of radio shows. Like, Getty and Armstrong or Mike and Mike. They literally just put a camera in the radio booth and show the people talking into a microphone. Even that tweaker Jim Cramer basically has the same “format” except he acts like a raving lunatic in the studio. What’s up with that guy?
  • It was slow at work last night so I was fiddling with the TV that is supposed to show CNN and I ran across TNT showing a 24 hour marathon of Law & Order. Turns out I can stand about five episodes in a row before that incessant “bah-BONG!” sound goes from semi-cool to completely grating. Also I decided that the show was best when it had Chris Noth and Jerry Orbach on as the detectives. Carey Lowell was the best ADA, even though she never overlapped with the Noth/Orbach pairing.
  • Here’s what I don’t get: When you order a hamburger with no mayonnaise at a restaurant, you get the driest slab of shoe leather stuffed between two Sahara-like buns. When did mayo become the de facto moisture apparatus on a burger? Mayo, to me, is like raw eggs: It has its uses but as an ingredient in and of itself? No thanks. Let’s try to work with something that actually tastes good on its own, hm? Ketchup: Think about it.
  • Also? I hereby decree the official end of the idiotic spelling “catsup.” Whatever the origin of that term is, it no longer applies to anything. From here on, it is “ketchup” only.
  • Although, “ketchup” is kind of a random term anyway. It ought to be something more descriptive like “tomato goo.” Either way, it turns out “catsup” is not in Firefox’s spell checker so maybe someone beat me to the punch in declaring that spelling invalid.
  • Way to go, Firefox spellchecker guy.

I Have Proof

I finally finished my photo essay which chronicles in a poignant way just exactly how bizarre my workplace can be. Each photo has been documented and annotated so you don’t have to scratch your head wondering why Pepsi is weird. I should apologize for the quality of the pictures: Most of them are pretty bad, photography-wise. Also I realized that I have my camera settings way too dark which applies to both indoor and outdoor shots so I need to a) color correct my photos and b) break out the camera manual and figure out what I’m doing wrong. I think you’ll at least get the idea.

Also, while I’m linking stuff, I’ve been working my way through the new-in-2006 albums I acquired last year and doing mini-reviews of them in my Last.fm journal. I still have a half dozen or so more to go, but parts one and two are all set to go right now.

Other than that I don’t have too much to report. Heroes was really good last night (it’s amazing how in two episodes they managed to undo a lot of the tedium of the Niki storyline and make it exciting, although DL’s non-role last night was a bit odd) and I thought last week’s Lost return was pretty solid as well. Work is still occasionally throwing me for a loop especially when people try to helpfully schedule events around my on-duty hours. I genuinely appreciate the courtesy but in all honesty I don’t have much gumption after a night of work: Ten hour days make for a nice brief week but they have their downsides. I, of course, realize that not everything can happen on Thursdays and Fridays and it makes logical sense to have appointments at noon or one in the afternoon; but the way I have tried to set up my sleep patterns makes that sort of plan stressful since I seem to feel like I’m constantly checking the clock and doing mental calculations for how much sleep I’m losing.

I guess that’s really kind of dumb anyway since no matter what I do I end up getting behind in sleep by the end of my week. Tonight, for example, will be a long one. But at least I have nice lengthy weekends to recover. At any rate all of this is likely to change in the fairly near future anyway since there are some changes a-comin’ within the team and actually in the company as a whole. Mostly these are good changes, so it is—as far as I know—nothing but positive.