Dr. Who

The Graham Norton Show I’ve been a fan of Dr. Who for many years since King (a friend from Toronto) first introduced me to it. Admittedly the execution of the show in the old days was nowhere near as strong as how he described the plots, but there was always fun to be had in overlaying the swaying hallway walls and endless rock-quarry-like planets with your imagination.
In my opinion the driving force behind Dr. Who is the the concept of the Time Lord gone rogue/left behind. Almost the same way that one can tolerate about 15 minutes of “Twilight” just because vampires are so cool, so can the Time Lord idea carry the show for quite a while.
Next comes the personality of the actor playing the Doctor. Some actors have been MUCH more engaging than others.
Then comes the script or story. These often have brilliant concepts but have now and then lacked in execution with stilted dialog and inconsistent character actions (I’m talking about across the entire series here).
Finally the special effects, what can you say about the SPFX for Dr. Who. Really, nobody ever watched the show to marvel at the spacecraft or the monsters. At least not until the series was revived in 2005.

My top 3 Doctors:
1 – David Tennant – 10th Doctor – My all time favorite – epitomizes the essence of what the Doctor should be – quirky, vibrant, cheeky and very much alive
2 – Tom Baker – 4th Doctor – “The Scarf”, fun and engaging
3 – Jon Pertwee – 3rd Doctor – “The Dandy”, seemed the right mix up a little uptight and a little go get ’em

The current doctor, played by Matt Smith I find absolutely unengaging. I have 12 episodes of Dr. Who sitting unviewed on my DVR because I have simply lost interest in the series.

As for the Dr’s companions, Martha Jones easily tops the list as my favorite of these. I was disappointed that her tenure was so short. I also enjoyed the venerable Sarah Jane, Leela and Jo Grant.
Least favorite of the companions has to be Donna Noble.

So I find myself waiting for a regeneration to breath new life into this wonderful series that has been entertaining folks for nearly half a century.

The Graham Norton Show

The Graham Norton ShowThere are not very many evening talk shows that I find offer enough entertainment value for the time invested in viewing them. Jay Leno’s “The Tonight Show” used to be good for once a week viewing. But BBC America’s “The Graham Norton Show” is one that we capture on our DVR religiously and make our way through the backlog of episodes whenever we want a good belly laugh.
Unconventional, adult oriented and with the British (Irish?) take on affairs, the show is always entertaining.
The show moved to New York briefly where it had the life sucked completely out of it by… I can’t quite say. Even though Graham Norton himself was still front and center, there was absolutely no pizazz, no spark. I’m so happy they moved back to the UK where the show immediately regained its vitality and has sparkled ever since.

But would Rob and Laura Petrie approve?

It’s truly amazing to watch the ongoing evolution of our culture.

One of the earlier TV shows I used to enjoy was “The Dick Van Dyke Show” which went out production about a year after I was born. In those days (on TV at least) a married couple would be seen to have separate twin beds and, if they dared to be on the bed together, it seemed they always had to have at least one foot on the ground.

There have been so many breakthroughs over the years, from finally admitting that women could be pregnant to allowing that maybe grown ups behaved.. well… like grown ups. At least in the privacy of their own homes.

Taryn Southern is an up-and-coming so-called “webutant” (or “webutante” depending how you want to spin it..) who is continuing to push the bounds of what we would consider acceptable in video media. I first took note of her when “Wrong Hole” made its debut about a year ago. She had already started to rack up a competent resume prior to that and her career has exploded since then.

Why do I care? I appreciate folks trying new things and experimenting with societal temperament. I also like entertainment geared toward adults – with language, subject matter and visuals that don’t patronize the audience. I also appreciate talented folks doing all of the above. I hope to hear more of her great voice in future projects.

Also, I’m a guy and I’m not dead.

This remix is, IMHO, a couple of notches above the original

Netflix prices increasing

I adore Netflix and have been using them for a couple of years now. I get the 3 DVDs (plus streaming) plan and that seems to keep up nicely with my needs.

I was somewhat dismayed to see that they’re increasing their prices, beginning in January by nearly 15%. From $20.99 to $23.99.

I’m hoping they are not getting too cocky as they dominate this marketspace. Blockbuster was downright abusive of its customers and now nobody gives a crap if they sink or swim.

The good news is that there is, literally, absolutely so much more content out there (free or otherwise) than I can possibly consume. My only dilemma is choosing which poison to pick. It’s all so very, very good!

My Current Podcasts

I thought I’d take a moment and note the podcasts that I’m currently enjoying.

There are a LOT of excellent podcasts and there are also a LOT of terrible ones. iTunes’ ratings help somewhat but, just like movie critics, you need to know the reviewer’s biases before you can really trust that their reviews are relevant to you.

If you know me, then maybe you know some of my biases and can figure out based on that if you’d enjoy any of these.

These are listed in order of preference from my favorites to the ones I like enough to listen to if I have the time. Yes, there are 39 of them, no I don’t get to listen to them all all the time. But I like having the option to listen to what I want, when I want.

Part of the reason some shows are more highly rated than others is that they are brief. I have more opportunity to listen to short shows (5-20 minutes) than the longer ones (1-2 hrs) so they get listened to more often.
Some of the podcasts are video podcasts and it again comes down to time available. I can easily listen to a podcast while driving, but a video podcast pretty much demands your full attention and so the opportunities to view them are much more limited.
Also, some of the shows are actually recordings of University courses or are infrequently produced, this will push them down in my frequency of listening and give them a lower rating. Keep in mind that I really like EVERY podcast below otherwise I just wouldn’t bother downloading it.

Just drag any of these to your iTunes podcast window and it will be added so you can check them out.

The Skeptic’s guide to the Universe – This is my favorite podcast of all. They publish regularly on Saturdays. They just published their 200th podcast and I’ve heard every single one of them. A group of intelligent folks discussing current issues with a critical (and often comical) eye. This is what you wish all folks were like when they get together to talk about things.

Slashdot Review – SDR News – Another podcast that I never miss. Published 5 times a week. A short 10 – 15 minutes podcast that’s great for keeping up to date on the latest news in the tech world.

60-Second Science – Roughly 60 second highlight from the world of science from Scientific American.

60-Second Psych – Roughly 60 second highlight from the world of psychology from Scientific American.

Astronomy Cast – A MUST LISTEN if you are at all interested in Astronomy. Start by listening to the back episodes. While they do cover some current topics much of the show is discussing various aspects of astronomy that will be valid for a long time to come. They’ve walked through the planets of the solar system (one per show), black holes, dark matter, interstellar distance, the shape of the universe and on and on. Fascinating stuff. Fraser Cain acts as the everyman asking questions of Pamela Gay, a physics professor with a great talent for clearly explaining the mysteries of the universe.

Are we Alone? – Science Radio for Thinking Species – Put out by SETI this podcast deals with plenty of topics beyond those to do with the SETI mission. Both the hosts, Molly Bentley (rowrrr!) and Seth Shostak offer intelligent discussion and well prepared and entertaining interviews. This is another show that I really look forward to.

Skeptoid: Critical Analysis of Pop Phenomena – Fairly short (usually under about 15 minutes) summaries of a particular topic. You know how you hear something and think “I wonder if that’s true?”. Well Brian Dunning get’s off his butt and does the research to provide a relevant and useful summary of the topic at hand. Often enough to satisfy your curiosity on a topic but a great launching point if it’s a topic that you have an interest in.

Quirks and Quarks Complete Show from CBC Radio – This is a generally science show, very polished and features interviews with folks on relevant topical science issues and discoveries. The host has a great skill for putting the interviewees at ease and fleshing out the relevant details of the topic at hand.

The Finer Points – Aviation Podcast – if you’ve ever thought of becoming a pilot or already are, you’ll enjoy this podcast. Start at the first one and work your way forward. Each is a 3-5 minute lesson that covers everything from aerodynamic theory to cockpit resource management to taking advantage of ATC resources. Good information and great reminders.

American Freethought – Very well reasoned podcast on topics from an Atheist perspective. Both the hosts are thoughtful in their commentary. If you are of a religious bent you probably won’t appreciate their candor concerning yours or anybody else’s beliefs. But if you can think rationally, you’ll appreciate their perspective. I think they are pretty fair in their assessments and largely non-inflammatory in their expression.

Clark Howard’s Call of the Week – A single call from the Clark Howard show that is thought to be of particular interest. I find it is useful for me about half the time.

Clark Howard’s Rip-Off Alerts
– This just helps me stay on top of the latest scams. As a fairly regular Clark Howard listener I often listen to about 2/3 of this podcast before moving on as much of his advice is common sense that I’ve heard him express before.

Science @ NASA feature Stories Podcast – Great 5 minute or so topical podcast that is essentially Dr. Tony Phillips reading his print article. Great for anybody who is interested in what NASA is up to.

The Clark Howard Show – I enjoy Clark Howard but after listening for a while you begin to get a good sense of what he’s going to say. But for particular topics I’m interested in his viewpoint. So I don’t automatically download all of his shows (2 hours a day… way more than I can hope to listen to). And I “get” (a button in iTunes) only the shows that I think will be novel for me based on the downloaded descriptions. It’s also just the right length for me to listen to while using the rowing machine. I don’t like wearing earbuds when I row and Clark’s voice carries nicely over the sound of the machine.

The Economist – In case you haven’t realized it, there is a world beyond America’s borders. The Economist offers great news and editorial insights from a perspective unlike that which is available from American media sources. Also, listening to the UK perspective on American issues is very eye opening. They’ve broken their podcast down into individual one article podcasts rather than a single podcast to cover the entire week. This is free and more than enough for me, but they offer paid subscriptions for WAY more articles if you’re interested.

Freethought Radio – from the “Freedom FROM Religion Foundation” (ffrf) this is a podcast of the radio broadcast that is hosted by the co-founder of the FFRF and her husband, a former preacher-turned-atheist. They are not ANTI religion but rather they are for both separation of church and state and for critical/rational thinking. This would be a good perspective for religious folks to consider. If you are OK with the government sanctioning religion, would you be so OK if it weren’t *your* particular sect that was the “winner”?

Skepticality – Science and Revolutionary Ideas – this is a pleasant podcast put out periodically and generally focuses on a single issue or interview. Swoopy and Derek are well regarded in the skeptical community and this podcast justifies that regard.

The Skeptic’s Guide 5X5 – This is targeted at folks who are interested in understanding skepticism from a logical perspective. You could take this podcast into a classroom and use it as a great launching point for discussion. Basically you have 5 skeptics talking for 5 minutes on a topic such as “logical fallacies” or “ad hominem attacks”.

IT Conversations – I actually am a paid subscriber. This is their free feed. There is a WIDE variety of stuff covered. My favorites are their keynote presentations from various conferences as well as Dr. Moira Gunn’s “Tech Nation” show. The original mission of IT Conversation was to capture pretty much ALL tech seminars and presentations in America if not in the world. After all, after the presentation is done it often just disappears, it is great to be able to participate in these presentations that I could never afford (either in time or in money) to attend.

Scientific American Podcast – About 20 – 30 minutes, Steve Mirsky often has relevant insights and interesting guests.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory Video and Audio Podcasts These are very short videos highlighting current activity at NASA including the Cassini mission and the Mars rovers. This lets you keep up on stuff that is usually ignored by mainstream media because it isn’t “NASCAR”.

The Amazing Show starring James Randi – Although production of this show has fallen off a lot lately, this show has James Randi discussing his life experiences. Relevant for anybody in the skeptical community.

The Finer Points – Aviation Videos – Like the audio podcast, the finer points videos are brief videos covering specific topics in aviation. Very useful when visual aids are required to help get a point across. I find these complement the audio podcasts very nicely.

Cato Daily Podcast – Cato is a think tank and offers perspective on current political and economic issues.

Spill Movie Reviews – definitely an adult podcast, these guys live and breath movies. If you are curious about whether you a movie is worth investing your time in, this podcast can help greatly. They offer some much longer shows as well (LEOG – League of Extremely Ordinary Gentlemen, Cold Ones) which, while entertaining, are just too long for me to fit into my schedule. If I had more time or less interests I would probably listen to those too. As it is I just delete those.

Slacker Astronomy podcast – This USED to be a great podcast. It had 3 folks including Dr. Pamela Gay (from the Astronomy Cast podcast above) and was put out fairly regularly. But when Pamela left the show the production became somewhat inconsistent. I recommend listening to the earlier podcasts for great Astronomy information. For the current ones, I listen to any that have Dr. Doug Welch. He has a great sense of humor and is a font of knowledge and a real treat to listen to.

AOPA Never Again – I think this is now defunct but it is an audio version of AOPA’s “Never Again” column where pilots write in to tell about bone-headed or unfortunate situations they’ve encountered in hopes of helping other pilots avoid making the same mistakes or recognizing bad situations. Getting the existing podcasts is well worthwhile.

Camera Dojo: Digital Photography Enthusiasts – more targeted toward folks who do photography for a living, these podcasts are nonetheless useful for picking up nuggets for those of us who snap only occasionally. Kerry is the glue that keeps things together while David is somewhat more flamboyant…

TEDTalks (Video) – These are brilliant. Simply brilliant. There are so many that I doubt I’ll ever see them all and keeping up is not possible for me. But these almost always impress me. These are brilliant people who are given 18 minutes to speak about a topic that impassions them. There are some short comic or musical ones too and those are always worthwhile too.

The Silicon Valley Astronomy Lectures Podcasts – These are infrequent and about 90 minutes long. An expert on some topic astronomical will fascinate you. I usually listen until somebody puts their kid up to the mike in the Q&A portion.

David Allen Company Podcast – Also infrequent, usually a 5 minute pep session on a particular aspect of David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” methodology. I enjoy the refresher.

EFF Line Noise Podcast – Too infrequent, the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s podcast will keep you up to date on their trying to keep overly intrusive government or overly controlling corporation activities and the EFF’s efforts to keep them in check.

Humanist Network News – Would be nice if this was produced more frequently. A pleasant podcast presenting information and issues from a humanist perspective.

Mr. Deity (video) – A laugh and a half. Picture “Woody Allen” meets god. I understand these podcasts are presented in biblical forums to stimulate discussion.

This I listen to immediately after I watch the show:
Battlestar Galactica Podcast – Now defunct as the series is over, these are meant to be listened to as the episode plays. I find that distracting so I listen to them a day or so after having watched the episode. The executive producer’s insights very much enhance my appreciation of the series as he explains what he was trying to accomplish and why things are presented in the manner that you are seeing. This same kind of interaction was what made me a fan of Babylon 5. Understanding what is behind the show adds a tremendous dimension to the experience.

These I listen to periodically. The entire session is available but I don’t want to listen to it all in one go. I typically listen to one every couple of weeks or so.
Rhetoric 10: Introduction to Practical Reasoning and Critical Thinking – Obviously a little chemical entertainment is involved in this lecturer’s make-up but that does not detract from the very interesting approach to a world view that Rhetoric offers.

Virgil’s Aeneid – Audio – I enjoy classical literature and don’t spend enough time on it. Classes such as this, that can be enjoyed during my commute are absolutely wonderful.

English 117s: Shakespeare – Spring 2008 Audio – A bit choppy due to the missing copyrighted works and the student questions that are not captured by the microphone but overall worth the effort.

History of the International System – If you enjoyed James Burke’s “Connections” series you’ll probably appreciate this lecture series explaining how we all end up getting along economically and politically.

That’s it (for now). The great thing about podcasts is that you can go back and listen to old ones where it’s relevant and you can skip forward as you see fit or if something is not of interest. Also, you pick up your show just where you left off. I haven’t listened to my radio in… I don’t know how long. The only reason I turned it on before was to make sure it was still working. The control of time-shifting my listening to my schedule is too powerful to allow me to go back to “the old way”…

The Mentalist

I’ve been watching “The Mentalist” since it first began airing last year and was very happy with the show. The premise of a guy who was attuned to the minutia that most folks never notice using his abilities to solve crimes rather than just dupe the public with cold readings and other mystical flim-flam was quite appealing to me.

Is it just me or, starting with episode 16 – where Jane loses his sight – the series took a serious left turn into buffoonery and started stretching credibility beyond the point where I at least am able to enjoy it. Running around a parking lot, blind with a hail of bullets chasing you and then trying to drive, again still while blind, to avoid a skilled and intelligent killer was just silly and stupid.

The most recent episode, where everybody and his dog is being hypnotized (“in a trance”) to do outrageous and ridiculously out of character things was equally disappointing.

It’s as though some network execs came down from their offices, chased out all the writers and the director and decided they could do a far better job of the show themselves by removing the intelligent content and ensuring that any character development that was carefully crafted for the first 15 episodes would be summarily tossed out the window.

I am very disappointed…

As a rant, if you ever saw the pilot episode for “Lois and Clark, the new adventures of Superman” and then saw any of the episodes that followed, you can see the EXACT same thing going on here. That pilot had thoughtful characters and a seemingly intelligent plot being mapped out and that was gutted and discarded in favor of a sloppy, silly weekly romp through dumb-land..

Iron Man – wow!

Just saw “Iron Man“. Now *that’s* the way a super-hero movie is supposed to be done. A little funny, stretch reality a bit and use top-notch actors and special effects.

When I saw the 2003 version of “Hulk” I thought, “Uh oh… I hope this doesn’t mean all sci fi will flush plot and plausibility down down the toilet like this.”. Unfortunately a lot of movies seemed to follow that path and I found much of the comics to movie genre not that palatable. I’ve never been much of a superhero comic kind of guy so often my first exposure to these are through their Hollywood movies. Dismal examples include “The Fantastic 4”, “Hulk”, “Transformers” – all of which, had I been an afficionado from days gone by, I might have been able to overlook the terrible character development and flimsy plots due to nostalgia. But without that background I found the movies terribly lacking in depth and plausibility (and I’m really not that hard to please that way).

Movies that got it right include “X-Men”, “Batman Begins”, maybe “Superman” and now “Iron Man”.

As a side note I have to say Robert Downey Jr. *really* carries this move. His is an understated presence that just fills ths screen.

Gwyneth Paltrow seems under used, but I am imagining that this is to do with how the character she is portraying is represented in the comic books?

DirecTV or not DirecTV (or Netflix is in the wings)

I received an email today from DirecTV listing the current pay per view offerings for this week and saw a movie that Michelle said she wanted to see. OK, OK it’s Mike Myers’ “The Love Guru”, call me a wuss but I’m gonna enjoy it too.

So I went to my Tivo to set it up to record and I noticed a new flag on the confirmation screen indicating that the PPV movie will expire at Noon tomorrow. Since I seldom watch a movie I’ve recorded in even the same month I recorded it much less the next day, I was somewhat perturbed.
So I went to the DirecTV website and looked this up and can see that my recording will probably last for a long time provided I don’t view it. Once I begin playing the movie, the clock starts ticking and I will have 24 hours within which to finish viewing.
There are plenty of movies that I will start to watch and then decide to finish days or weeks later. I don’t have an issue waiting to see the ending and I can remember the beginning well enough that I don’t lose anything across that gap.
What I have now is my satellite company (or, more probably, the content provider behind them) dictating how I will view my recording.
One of the reasons I use PPV is for exactly this freedom. Renting a movie from a Blockbusteresque source comes with the explicit contract that I need to return this item in a day or a week depending on popularity. But PPV has always been more ephemeral than that and the added flexibility (plus the lower cost and avoided trip to the store) have always been of great value to me.
Continue reading DirecTV or not DirecTV (or Netflix is in the wings)

Cloverfield – Wow

I finally had a chance to watch “Cloverfield” after having recorded it on my Tivo ages ago.

All I can say is… “Wow”.

The hardest thing about watching that movie was the constant movement of the camera used to simulate someone using a hand-held video camera for THE ENTIRE MOVIE. Fortunately, after watching two years worth of videos shot by my mom when she was in Morocco from cars, in souks and bouncing around the various Atlas mountains, my stomach (and middle ear) were already steeled for such videography (sorry mom!).

I *loved* the attempted character development and I really appreciated the novel approach to having us be just one more character in the movie. I also liked that there was absolutely no attempt to explain what the monster was or where it may have come from. All we had was confusion and some snatches of CNN-style coverage on a TV set now and then to offer some up to the minute scenes of what is going on.

Of course I would kill to have the battery life that the little camera in this movie had 🙂

Even though I’m not much of a film noir kind of guy and there are plenty of loose ends at the end of the film, but I really enjoyed this film from end to end.

Wildest Police Videos – Who thinks those special effects are helping the show?

John BunnellHoly cow! My TIVO offered me “Wildest Police Videos” today in the suggestions section so I thought I’d take a peek. The special effects are even worse now than they were before when I gave up watching it a couple of years ago.

I really enjoy watching the type of videos presented in this show, and host John Bunnell, while a little big on himself, is an entertaining enough host/voiceover. But who is the genius who thinks that every time a car moves there needs to be the sound of screeching tires, or whenever a tractor trailer is shown that we need to hear a truck horn sounding.

Also, I think a good quarter of television viewers these days must have some kind of DVR unit now where they can replay these videos as they see fit (if not, and they want the replay ability, they can buy one). I think it would be useful to replay the action now and then for some crucial segment to make a point, but pointlessly replaying the entire video segment by segment over and over again is obviously just trying to fill up the timeslot with no value-add to the presentation. Even cutting to the host and having him stand there and describe the action is preferable to those terrible effects.

I finally got fed up with the excess and just deleted the program without even getting half way through it.

What is really needed is to have the already great action sequences with John’s description of the circumstances (largely what he’s doing now) and then, to fill in the time freed up by not replaying each scene a half dozen times, have some follow up to the action. You know, “Was sentenced to 5 years in jail.” or “The policeman was injured but returned to work after 3 weeks.”.

This stuff is already sensational enough, it doesn’t need any help. Just some context.