Day of the Moon

What is up with Steven Moffat and his “arc-y” approach to the Doctor Who series? Although billed as the conclusion of a two-parter, “Day of the Moon” still managed to sneak in a giant hanging cliffhangery wobbly thing.

I love the Silents as the monsters, the whole Rory/Amy/Doctor triad, and the idea that Rory can sort of remember the previous reality where he was made of plastic. That’s about as far as I can go without giving away any major spoilers, but this is a great way to kick of the new season. Woohoo!

Nook Nook Nook

My Kindle is arriving this afternoon, but all the techie ereader blogs are talking about the updated Nook Color firmware/software. I particularly enjoy the idea that $250 is “cheap” in most of the writers’ minds. Sure, if you’re comparing the Nook Color to an iPad or Xoom, $250 is cheaper. But, if you’re comparing it to the new ad-supported Kindle ($114) which starts shipping this weekend, no – it’s not. It’s kind of cool to watch the development of new Android tablets and near-tablets, though. I leave you with this quote from a recent review of the updated Nook:

At $249, the Nook Color is almost an impulse buy. [ed: poor impulse control?]

Mac vs PC People

This self-selected sample of self-described “PC People” and “Mac People” is amusing. Some of the answers tend to make me think the Mac people are deliberately messing with the poll, though. “Oh, I use a Mac and I prefer my lunch of bánh mì while sipping a gimlet.” I cry shenanigans! I’m convinced no plurality of any group drinks gimlets in the 21st Century. Either that, or the Mac people are pretentious twats.

Benefits of a CR-48

Just wandering through a Google Image search today, I ran into a great example of where a protected web-only operating system can save you some trouble. Although a good anti-virus/anti-malware program would prevent infection if you’re even a little aware, the ChromeOS netbook prevents anything bad from happening at all. I was expecting to include a screen shot here, but the latest ChromeOS version apparently breaks the screenshot functionality entirely. Anyway, the screen shot would have shown you an imge that looks remarkably like Windows XP’s security center, with lots of flashing red warnings of impending doom from all the Win32.worm things. This is particularly amusing on a Linux-based device, of course.

Ancient Geekery

It’s always amusing to look at the Old School Monday posts on the Maximum PC site. They post scanned images of their magazine articles from 10-15 years ago to educate, elucidate, and envigorate (I ran out of E words) their audience. This week, it’s an interview from 1998 with one of the AMD executives. One of my favorite lines:

Is the $1700 PC a low-end PC? A K6 with a 3Dfx card, 64MB of memory, 4MB of frame buffer, and a 6GB hard drive is not a low-end part.

AMD has been fighting the “budget company” moniker for as long as they’ve been making chips, it seems. Besides that, though…look at those specs. Let’s assume that he’s including a monitor with that $1700 price, and compare with what we can get from a boutique builder for that price today.

Playing with the Cyberpower X58 Configurator (yes, they really do call it that), I was able to spec out a $1700 machine, which includes speakers, a BluRay player/DVD burner, the OS and a 24″ monitor, and here’s the quick spec line to mirror the article: An i7-960 with Geforce 570 card, 6GB of memory, 1.2GB of frame buffer, and a 2TB RAID 1 array is not a low-end part.  🙂

Time-shifting and place-shifting

The demise of soap operas (of which I was never a huge fan anyway) prompted me to write a rather long-winded piece recently, wherein I decided that DVRs were the final nail in the coffin of long-form serialized daytime dramatic television. Since then, I’ve been thinking a bit more about the disruptive technologies of the recent past and how my childhood differed from my son’s. I was interrupted in this reverie by a phone call, which ended up serving as a perfect example of the major differences.

Caller ID (didn’t exist for my childhood) showed me that The Boy was calling from a friend’s phone. The Boy requested that I bring him a particular toy from his bedroom. I wandered down the hall on my cordless phone (didn’t have that when I was a kid), and found the toy. I said to the child, “You’re at Friend’s house then?” Oh, no – they were at the park. And there went another piece of the implied landscape of my youth – a phone belonged to a location, not a person, when I was a kid.

We had a phone for the family, not for each member of it. We called people at home, and expected the person answering the phone to not necessarily be the person we were going to converse with. This seems to affect telephone etiquette, or my son’s peers are all just clueless gits. I presume the former, out of generosity. When I answer the phone when one of The Boy’s friends calls, it is almost painful to get out of them anything like a coherent statement. You know the kind we were taught to use as kids; something along the lines of, “Hello, this is Gary, I’m calling for James.” What I get now is some sputtering where, if I’m lucky, I’ll be able to pick out the name of the child calling me. More often, it’s incomprehensible or a demand to speak to The Boy, with nothing like an introductory preamble. I’m convinced that all of his friends have their own personal phones now, so they just know to start talking when they answer. *Ring Ring* Look at phone, see it is James. Hey, James, what’s up?  That sort of thing is so completely foreign to us old geezers, even if we are cell phone users. Think about it, how many times do you know who is calling you, and yet the person still goes through the (now old-fashioned) introduction? I predict that the “Hello” when answering the phone may eventually die out entirely, as nobody needs to just answer as if they don’t know who is calling them.

Meanwhile, people talk on the phone an awful lot more than we did. If you were lucky enough to not have siblings screaming at you for their turn, you might be able to have a half-hour conversation on the phone in the 1980s. That was probably all you’d get for a day or more. It’s not that we didn’t have more to say, we just got tired of sitting in the one room where we had a phone for so long. Now that phones are completely untethered from a wall, much less the house itself, why ever stop talking? And so we have people who stick their phones to their heads the moment they are no longer prohibited from doing so. Hey lady, just do the grocery shopping, stop discussing your latest sexual conquest at HEB, huh?

As everyone from Ogg the Caveman until the end of humanity notes, Things Are Different Now. Listening to the Skeptics Guide to the Universe recently, the youngest member of the crew had no idea what “F Troop” was. Nearly everyone from my generation and before knew the same television (and radio prior to TV) shows as everyone else in their generation. After all, we only had three channels. Shoot, even PBS has only existed since 1970, and for most of its early existence was consigned to the UHF dead zone.

So, we all watched Gilligan’s Island when we came home from school, oblivious to the fact that the show had been cancelled before we were even born. We knew all the characters in the Addams Family, which also ended four years before my birth. Such was the nature of the highly-syndicated rerun system of 1970s afternoon television, in the days before cable.

In pursuit of the desire for more options in entertainment and technology, we seem to have lost most of our generational shared experiences. Just about the only thing that seems to remain is popular music. Whether you like the songs or not, if you’re remotely aware of the outside world, you’ve probably heard Cee-Lo’s F You, or Pink’s F-ing Perfect, or Enrique Iglesias’s Tonight (I’m F-ing You). Yeah, I chose those examples because of my amusement at how far we’ve come in pop music. Not that any of those three actually has the F word in the radio version of the song, but what the heck?

If you ask someone born around 1940 what they remember from their childhood, many of them would reference “Fibber McGee and Molly” on the radio, listening to Bo Diddley and Elvis, and the films of Hitchock or stars like Cary Grant, and of course Sputnik and Apollo. When you ask someone born around 1970 what they remember from their childhood, you’ll get references to “The Brady Bunch;” listening to Joan Jett,  Johnny Cougar (neé Mellencamp), Madonna, and Michael Jackson; movies like Star Wars, ET, and the Breakfast Club; and the space shuttle (first launch and the first explosion). When kids today look back in nostalgia at the early 21st Century, will any significant percentage be thinking of the same things? Will the customized nature of modern society mean the end of common experiences? And is that even a bad thing anyway?

Did DVRs kill Soaps?

Last year, Guiding Light and As the World Turns got canceled. This year, All My Children and One Life to Live are getting canceled. It seems impossible to comprehend, but is this the last gasp of soap operas as a genre?

When I was a little kid, my mom was a housewife who watched Days of Our Lives daily. She joked about how one of the characters was born near the same time as my older brother, but by the time my brother had graduated high school, his Dayscounterpart had grandchildren who were in middle school. Meanwhile, that character’s grandparents remained middle-aged. Such is the magic of soap opera time. Although my mother, like most in her generation, eventually joined the workforce fulltime, soaps continued to survive.

During my teen years, soap operas had followed the changing schedules of women (their target, but hardly exclusive, audience) and infiltrated prime time. In the 1980s, we had Dallas, Knots Landing, Falcon Crest, Dynasty, and I’m sure some others. In time, the viewers grew weary of the recycled melodrama with the same characters, and by 1992 all of them were gone. But somehow, the daytime soap operas continued to survive.

It’s probably difficult for most kids today to imagine a house where mom got them up in the morning and was awaiting their arrival from school in the afternoon. Accompanying those hours in between direct childcare, mothers got to hang out with their neighbors and buy Avon from door-to-door salesladies (sometimes the same people), and watch soap operas while folding the never-ending laundry. Personally, I couldn’t figure out how soaps stayed around after the 1980s, since the stay-at-home mom era seemed over by 1990. But the soaps were still there, with the same characters (frequently played by an array of actors but other times by very well-preserved surgically-altered actors). And now they’re almost all gone.

What changed in the last 20 years? Cable TV, some would say. Ah, but we had cable in the 1980s and we saw a boom in soaps, not a bust. I think it’s the DVR. While we had VCRs in the 1980s (I was in charge of programming our first model, which consisted of an array of wheels and buttons on the face of the strange device), very few people time-shifted many programs. Sure, you’d record some special episode you were interested in, but nothing routine. I knew a family whose mother couldn’t be dissuaded from her belief that the television had to be on for the VCR to work, but didn’t want to see any spoilers from the free movies she was recording off the air, so she covered the screen with a cloth. VCRs were magic. In later years, when I was attempting to replace a nice VCR that had died with a similar quality recorder, I was told that so few people every actually recordedanything on their video cassette recorders that most of the features I liked were discontinued. So, at least anecdotally, it seems VCRs were only disruptive to movie watching, not to television viewing.

In 1999, Tivo and ReplayTV were introduced. Although ReplayTV had the better product by most technical measures (automatic commercial skip for one), today they’re almost completely lost down the memory hole. Still, Tivo survived and thrived and grew from a hipster bragging right to a default home electronics device. There are DVRs in cable boxes, satellite boxes, even in some televisions. In the five years since I built my Mythbox, it has changed the way I think of television schedules profoundly. What time something comes on, what day it is shown, even what channel it is on – all are irrelevant now. I tell the magic box to record the shows I’m interested in when it finds them and I walk away. When I’ve got time, I flip through my personalized library of video entertainment. Twilight Zone is one whenever I want now, and not just during some late night hour or holiday marathon. There’s no need to be concerned that I might miss a show because I’m busy or running late on some errand – the magic box will have it waiting for me whenever it’s convenient for me.

This, I think, is what finally killed the soap opera – easy access to all the other hours of the day. When our mothers and grandmothers were staying at home, baking pies and doing laundry and all the other things we imagined they were doing, they were held hostage by Proctor & Gamble. There were three channels, and all of them had serialized programming that was intended to appeal to women. Now that those women (and men, to be fair) who remain at home during the day have the easy ability to watch 50 channels of programming, from any time of the day or night or week, it turns out they don’t actually want to watch Luke and Laura do whatever it is they do.

No need to be too wistful for the fading of an entire genre. From Guiding Light’s radio debut in 1937 until whenever the final soaps wither away, it’s been a pretty good run. And meanwhile, the networks do occasionally let a show have a long-form serial plot in the background. Sometimes it even stays on the air more than one season.

Free-ish Speech

Harry Reid and Lindsey Graham agree that the United States government must Do Something to address Terry Jones’ burning of a Quran. Several days after Jones burned a book in Florida, the duly elected (stop laughing) president of Afghanistan fomented some dissent about it, and some clerics in Afghanistan called on the USA to arrest Jones and prosecute him to the full extent of the law. And then they rioted and killed some completely unconnected civilians, just to prove how reasonable their demands were.

Terry Jones is an asshole. Fred Phelps is also an asshole. I don’t ever want to hear what those people, or others like them, have to say about anything. Their voices are irrelevant to my life and counterproductive to the causes of acceptance and tolerance and peace. However, they have the right to be assholes and say shitty horrible things and even burn a book (assuming the book is not stolen and they abide by fire regulations for the local municipality, of course). Popular speech, by definition, does not need to be protected; only unpopular speech needs such security.

How in the world do two United States Senators of no little seniority decide to promulgate a view that the rioters are not to blame for a riot, the murderers are not to blame for murders? Instead, in twisted “we’re at war” land, the person burning a book in Florida is responsible for the deaths of UN members in Afghanistan. Considering that the Undeclared War On A Specific Tactic is impossible to define in time or space, claiming that free speech must be curtailed because the USA has soldiers in harm’s way means that free speech is curtailed for all time. The UWOAST is a war (never declared so therefore not really but “police action” or “military excursion” doesn’t have the right ring to it) without end, and these two men, who have sworn to uphold the Constitution, think that same Constitution doesn’t apply unless they want it to? Fuck them too.