Monday, October 25, 2010

Sitcom Smarts?

I find I have been watching less and less television as time goes by. Not entirely sure why that is, but it probably has a lot to do with the fact that I perceive the majority of television these days to be time-wasting garbage. Note that I mentioned that it is what I perceive to be the case. I make a decision that my time is better spent doing almost anything else than watching the pseudo-reality product-placement craptaculars that pass for popular television these days. But what do I know? While I think that something like MasterChef is nothing more than a glorified advertorial spiced up with faux-drama about who will go and who will stay (a staple of the glorified cruelty-based talent show), it is undoubtedly popular and is making somebody some serious wedge.

Not that the so-called reality television genre is the sole dune in the Tatooine of 2010 television. Drama and comedy seem to elude my interest. How many times can the Law & Order franchise go back to the well. And what the hell is the appeal of something like Scrubs (I can't even bring myself to link to that)? I don't get it. And as much as I like Hugh Laurie, I don't get House. And as a grumpy misanthrope, you might think I could perhaps relate?

But one of the problems with not watching television much is that you do miss some of the programs you might be interested in. I didn't know about Firefly until it had been shown, cancelled and brought out on DVD. A similar thing is true of The Big Bang Theory, which is the subject of this post. I bet you're glad I finally got to the point. But the show is in its fourth season, and I've only just discovered it, so to speak.

I know - big surprise. I like SciFi (the genre, not necessarily the Pay TV channel - seriously how in the name of all that is holy can Medium be a SciFi show), work with computer networks and have my own neurotic problems. In addition, it could be depressingly argued that I identify with specific aspects of at least three of the four male characters (I totally disavow any similarities to Howard) and that is why I like the show. I don't like breaking my routine (Sheldon), I am uncomfortable around women (Raj), and am endlessly insecure about most aspects of my life (Leonard)*. I am going to move on now before I get too maudlin and start batting on about loneliness and misery...

All of that could be taken as read, but when you break it down, the show is a pretty typical sitcom, with the type of character dynamics which are easily recognizable if you take the specific situation out of the equation. So why do I like it, and having found it downloaded the whole three completed season and watched them as my evening viewing straight through for a couple of weeks? Two reasons.

Firstly, the characters are great. I don't know much about acting, direction or writing, but I really enjoy the character portrayals. It could be argued that the characters are simply extrapolations of the stereotypical nerd portrayals that have been around for years. I don't necessarily agree. However, I do believe that the casting was spot-on and I really do like the specific portrayals by all of the actors in the cast.

Second, the science. I like watching the show, listening to a back-and-forth about a scientific discussion and either thinking, "yes, I know about that" and then further thinking how cool it is that I know that (for a given value of cool). Alternatively, something comes up that I don't know about and that then leads me to spend inordinate amounts of time looking up stuff on the Internet and following where the trail leads.

To that end, the Bad Astronomy Blog** had a link today to a blog where one of the science advisors to the show describes the science used in each show. Check it out. It is awesome.

Oh, and there is a third reason I like the show. It makes me laugh. Not much does that for me any more. I didn't need to do any of the analysis leading up to this revelation. It is enough that it makes me laugh.

Thank you Bill Prady and Chuck Lorre.

* I am putting in a short moratorium on links right now - just previewed the post and it is probably getting tedious.
** Moratorium Off.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Cool Project

This would have to be one of the coolest science projects I've ever seen. These guys sent a HD camera and an iPhone for GPS tracking into space (100,000 feet). Something I would never contemplate - not only risking losing the HD camera and iPhone, but I'd be concerned releasing a weather balloon potentially into occupied airspace, or having it come down on someone.

Oh well, I guess that is why they did it and I didn't.

So whether or not it is irresponsible or foolhardy, I don't care. I reckon it is awesome.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Too many trips to the well, or am I getting old?

A couple of weeks ago, I bought the fifth installment of the Sid Meier Civilization series. I have played all four of the previous incarnations of Civilization, and I enjoyed them all. They are the type of game I like. My reflexes aren't good enough for fighting games or first-person shooters. Some real-time strategy games are OK, but at the higher levels I find I just can't keep clicking fast enough.

So the city builder and strategy genres are more my speed.

However, I have only spent a couple of hours with Civ 5. I really don't know what the problem is. The graphics are good, the tweaks in gameplay from the previous versions seem good in theory and it is not fundamentally different at its core than the previous versions. It isn't fun.

I don't know what to make of it. Personally, I reckon that the issue lies with me rather than the game. A couple hours into the game, I could not see myself sitting there four hours hence. It felt like busy work. Now to some degree the Civ games become busy work if you micromanage your civilization, but it was not like the feeling I got straight out of the box with Civ 5. Maybe I've outgrown the Civ franchise, or maybe the franchise itself is not different enough of interesting enough to hold my interest any more.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Follow the damn (supermarket) rules

OK, they may not be rules, but they are common courtesy. I have seen all of these in the space of one thirty minute period this past week. Maybe I am just a holdover from a past era, or maybe I am a grumpy misanthrope but these are some of the reasons I hate going to shopping centres in general and the supermarket in general.

First, traffic flow. I know that you may not be on a public road, but please follow the markings and rules in the shopping centre car park. I hate it when I follow the left-turn only signs and other markings (i.e. following the rules) and do a lap of the nearly-full car park only to beaten to the empty space by someone who ignored the rules and turned right against the flow to grab that spot. People like that should have to do a drive-through penalty. Or have their licence cancelled.

Next, once you find a free space, you discover that someone has left a shopping trolley in the empty space. Of course, I appreciate that your time is so important that you can't spare sixty seconds to take the trolley back to the space provided for it, and consequently you must inconvenience both the next person along to that space and the poor minimum-wage sucker who has to lug these things back to the entry to the supermarket. Show a bit of human decency. Inconsiderate so-and-so.

Finally, I'm unloading my trolley at the checkout. Along comes a customer who decides that my checkout line is actually the entrance to the supermarket, rather than the conveniently placed and marked entrance. Can't you even read?

Now you may think that all of these infractions of the supermarket social conventions are harmless; that nobody is hurt. I don't care. We live in a society, where for everybody's benefit we follow rules and conventions. These little things may not make the world a better place or make life-and-death differences, but they do make a necessary task for everyone a little more pleasant.

Don't get me started on people who cross the road ten metres away from a perfectly serviceable pedestrian crossing or set of lights...