Tag Archives: tv

Fish Custard and the year of Doctor Who

This year of Doctor Who has just been brilliant.  Upon rewatching the season, I’m pretty confident in stating that this has been the best year since the reboot, and that Matt Smith (should he decide to stick around for a bit) is going to become the new icon of what the Doctor is (this title is still currently held by Tom Baker).  Because I think everyone should be taken along on this ride, I’m not going to talk about anything past the first 15 minutes of the first episode.

Over the years I’ve found myself drawn to writers / actors that can use tempo as emotion, because there is a kind of power in it that nothing else delivers.  The canonical example of this is MASH.  Alan Alda would be chattering about at break neck speed about all manner of frivolity.  You would get into the rhythm and speed and be carried along for the ride.  And then, reality would hit, and he’d stop in an unexpected way in mid stride.  This created an emotional lurch, like when you’re on a boat and it comes to a stop on the docks.  Not many can pull this off in a natural way.  Aaron Sorkin is the current American king of this, as embodied in Sports Night.  And now with Steven Moffat in charge, and Matt Smith in the drivers seat, we get this in Doctor Who.

The keystone moment of all of this is the fish custard scene that opens up the season.  Having just crash landed in 9 year old Amelia Pond’s garden shed, he asks little Amelia to give him an Apple, as he’s having a craving (“I think I’m having a craving.  That’s new, I’ve never had cravings before.”).  The moment he takes a bite he spits it out, and we end up with a brilliant montage through much of what’s in Amelia’s refrigerator, each with a slapstick like ending.  He finally settles on fish sticks and custard.  And then we get this:

Young Amy: I’m not scared!
The Doctor: Course you’re not, you’re not scared of anything! Box falls out of the sky, man falls out of a box, man eats fish custard! And look at you… just sitting there. So you know what I think?
Young Amy: What?
The Doctor: … Must be a hell of a scary crack in your wall.

Timed and delivered perfectly.  And that sets the stage for the whole season.

So if you haven’t started watching Doctor Who yet, now is the time to start.  And do yourself a favor and make sure not to watch the “Next Time” bits at the end of the episodes.  They are now giving away far too much of the plot and ruining many of the surprises over the first half of each episode.  We stopped watching those half way through the season, and that was a great choice.

Why I’m excited for Google TV

One of the things that most excited me out the Google I/O event a couple weeks back was Google TV.  It’s a set top box that brings a lot of web content to the TV.  But what really excites me about it is that it’s an Android platform, that will have access to the market place.  Having this announce come out a couple days after I pushed my first Android app out got me even more excited about the platform.

In my house I’ve got the following devices: a thermostat that’s attached to my home network, with a web interface that lets me adjust the temperature and programs; a TED 5000 energy monitor which is on my home network; a set of weather station sensors that I’m collecting data from on my home server.  Each of these have some web interfaces, non consolidated, to get data, and small little screens on the respective devices to go and see what’s going on.  And in my living room I’ve got a 42″ TV, with brilliant color.

I want all these various home sensors and actuators to show up on my TV, and for me to be able to control them from there.  I keep looking at my logitech harmony remote and really thinking that I should be able to use channel up / down to adjust the temperature in my house when we’re hanging out on the couch watching TV.  Not that many months ago, intrigued by how the Netflix Instant Bluray disc worked, I started looking into the Bluray Java spec, and realized that if I had to I could probably build a disc for my PS3 that would do most of this, but it would be pretty custom, and the dev / test cycle would burn through a lot of bluray media.  I tried to download the Popbox SDK to see if they’d give me what I want, but they’ve made it impossible for me to actually do that.

Google TV is going to give me a set top box in my living room that will let me get access to a wide range of content, which will be great, but also let me publish my own code to it.  As a creator of software, having that application channel, even for only my own use, is just incredible.  The fact that it will share a lot of characteristics with my phone makes it all the better.

I really can’t wait until Logitech gets it’s box out there, and I’ve got something to experiment with.  Having my livingroom TV be the nerve center of my home is a concept that seems so natural, and I’m surprised has taken this long to bring us this kind of tech.

RIP Carl Macek

Carl Macek was the TV producer that brought American kids Robotech in 1985.  Robotech was spawned out of the Anime series Macross, but because Macross was only 36 episodes, and you needed 80 to get a daily syndication run in the US, he came up with this crazy idea to mash it up with 2 additional series that had giant robots, do a little re-editting, and make an over arching 3 generation story arc.  It sounds crazy, but it really did work.

Kids TV in the mid 80s was thinly veiled toy commercials, however because Robotech’s product partner was a model company, they were able to shoot for a higher level of sophistication with an 11 – 14 target audience.  It meant that Robotech had a real plot, real emotions, real conflict, in a way that nothing else did at the time.

I have fond memories of waking up early on Saturdays and Sundays to watch it.  In college I managed to get video tapes of the show from my friend Julie, who was 3 years older, so had the sophistication to actually record these things when she was a kid.  Later, when Harmony Gold finally rereleased Robotech on DVD I managed to do what most people can’t, buy a little piece of my childhood back.  I still love the series to this day.

Carl, thank you for what you created.

Instead of a moment of silence, I’ll leave you with the opening credits from Robotech as the best tribute that we could give to Carl.

The Onion on the Science Channel

Via The Onion:

SILVER SPRING, MD—Frustrated by continued demands from viewers for more
awesome and extreme programming, Science Channel president Clark
Bunting told reporters Tuesday that his cable network was “completely
incapable” of watering down science any further than it already had.

“Look, we’ve tried, we really have, but it’s simply not possible to set
the bar any lower,” said a visibly exhausted Bunting, adding that he
“could not in good conscience” make science any more mindless or
insultingly juvenile. “We already have a show called Really Big Things, which is just ridiculous if you think about it, and one called Heavy Metal Taskforce, which I guess deals with science on some distant level, though I don’t know what it is. Plus, there’s Punkin Chunkin.”

Punkin Chunkin, for Christ’s sake,” added Bunting,
referring to the popular program in which contestants launch oversized
pumpkins into the air using catapults. “What more do you people want?”

The entire article is hilarious, go read it.  Seriously, this is how I typically feel when I see stuff coming through on any of the Discovery properties.  The History channel isn’t doing much better of late either.

We are clearly living in the future

2010 is still an odd year for me to write, much more so than 2000 was.  2010 is clearly the future in my head.  If you had any doubt we are now living in the future here are things that will happen in 2010 (bits of this already announced / demoed at CES).

  • In 2010 you’ll be able to have a universal translator in your pocket (voice to voice translation in at least a dozen languages).  For this you can thank Google and their Android phones.
  • In 2010 you’ll be able to buy a 3D television for your living room, and 3D TV broadcasts start in June.
  • In 2010 you’ll be able to read your newspaper on tablet like they had in star trek (yes, I realize a lot of this tech is out there now, but Hearst’s ereader shows how much the industry is embracing this.)

Cable news needs to go back to science class

I missed the whole balloon boy thing, it was a busy day, and happily none of the people I follow on twitter seemed to get wrapped up in it.  So it wasn’t until later that night, once local news rolled on after network tv, that I saw the balloon soaring through the air.  After 2 seconds of footage I was really baffled that anyone thought there was a kid in there.

Balloon’s rise because they are lighter than air.  Effectively that creates a force that pulls the thing up (that’s a big simplification, but good enough).  If there had been a child amount of weight in the balloon the thing would have a pretty substantial force pulling down.  The balloon would be vertically stretched.  It was not.  This is pretty basic stuff, and not very hard to figure out.  The folks at Wired just posted something that goes through this in even more detail.

The whole story cycle represented the 2 things that I hate most about cable news at this point.  Giving far too much coverage to totally inane events (creating a self fulfilling prophecy and creating more of them), and spending so little time fact checking anything that goes on the air.  I guess I shouldn’t be surprised given that the science team was deemed expendable, but I’m still disappointed.

A new breath of life for my A3 HD-DVD player

I appreciate that even though Toshiba threw in the towel on the HD-DVD front over a year ago, their software team is still working on fixing issues with equipment out there.  My wife got me an A3 before the war was lost, which doesn’t really get much of a work out as a HD player, but is one of the best DVD upscales I’ve ever seen (Babylon 5 is the best upscale test I’ve seen, the interlacing on that dvd gives many upscalers aweful fits, but on the A3 it looks pretty respectable).

The problem is that it started crashing a lot on startup.  It had gotten to the point where 1 in 2 startups didn’t work (1 in 3 shutdowns crashed as well).  This might have been related to the lightning that took out the ethernet card, it’s hard to tell.  Regardless, it got to the point where I was about to replace it with just an upscaling dvd player.

However, I found that toshiba pushed out a version 4 firmware last fall.  I did the upgrade yesterday, which appeared to fix a whole host of problems, including cutting at least 30% (if not 50%) off the boot time (which is now at 15 seconds to get to the logo, still long, but on par with all the HD devices).  6 power cycles later, and I haven’t seen a crash *yet*.  We’ll see if that holds up.  If so, the A3 gets to stay for a while longer.

The Daily Show on the Large Hadron Collider

The Daily Show did a great bit on the LHC last night with John Oliver.  And, yes, they interview the guy that is suing to shut it down.  It’s amazing that after all the media coverage he got it took the daily show to ask the question:

WW: “It’s a chance, it’s a 50/50 chance.”

JO: “You keep coming back to this 50/50 chance, it’s weird Walter.”

WW: “If you have something that can happen, and something that won’t necessarily happen, it’s either going to happen or not happen.  And… so… best guess it’s 1 in 2”

JO: “… I’m not sure that’s how probability works Walter.”

That’s the Futurama I remember

Susan and I finally watched Into the Wild Green Yonder last night.  Typically I had watched these on release day, but after Bender’s Game, it didn’t feel like it had the same sense of urgency.  I love Futurama, have bought everything in the past, but the 3 previous movies left me wanting.  One of the brilliances of Futurama was the sheer density of funny, and trying to get that with a 90 minute plot is tough.  Each movie previously had seemed a little worse than the one before, which made me sad.

But, by the time they got to Into the Wild Green Yonder, they seem to have figured it out.  It felt more like the original Futurama than any of the other movies to me.  Maybe it’s the fact that the Futurama gang could always do environmentalist humor well.  At any rate, it was good.  And for anyone that enjoyed the show, I’d highly recommend buying that DVD (if you haven’t already).  The possibility for future Futurama is all about DVD sales at this point.  So if you like this stuff, don’t download it, don’t netflix… buy it.