Television Review – Doctor Who – “The Impossible Astronaut”

Series six of the long-lived BBC program has began, and it’s… hard to judge, actually.

See what we saw was part one of the series opener. Part two is going to air next week (while I’m at Leprecon, but you can bet I’ll be watching it on my laptop). There’s not a lot of resolution in this episode, just a lot of set up. But that’s ok, because the set up is quite good.

Our story opens with Amy and Rory relaxing at home talking about the Doctor. They then receive a message from him. Somewhere across time, Professor/Doctor River Song receives one as well and promptly breaks out of prison. All three end up in Utah and from there… a lot of things happen. There’s shooting, there’s shouting, there’s slapping, there’s Silence and there’s Nixon. It’s really hard to describe without giving away much of the plot. In fact I couldn’t use the opening line from A Christmas Carol in this review as I’d wanted to.

So it’s good, but it’s hard to judge just how good until I see part two. I will say it was great to see Amy, Rory, the Doctor and River again. Seeing the footage that was shot in the USA was great and it looked spectacular. Mark Shepperd did his usual great job as a former FBI agent and the aliens were really creepy (but not as much as some in the past have been). Really the show was firing on all cylinders.

And yet… I can’t escape a fear of mine. Given the plot point that was set up at the beginning, I have a horrible feeling we might end up with another paradox resolution to the plot. I hope we don’t. The set up is really good and I hope the payoff is worth it.

On a side note, this episode contained a tribute to Elisabeth Sladen at the beginning, which was fine, but I’d hoped there’d be some mention of Nicholas Courtney as well. Also CBBC aired a great tribute video to Elisabeth, and I really recommend trying to see it if you can. It’s sweet and wonderful, just like she was.

Droning On

Not an unmanned arial drone.

We have started using unmanned drones in Libya. Or to put it in a more alarming way “Terminators to Tripoli!” (note: exclaimation point added for obnoxiousness)

I know these vehicles are a problem for those on the right and on the left. I can kind of understand this, because basically everyone has seen The Terminator and we all “know” that the robots are out to destroy us (see here, here, here and just about every major science fiction film of the last twenty years).

I can understand this, but keep in mind: these aren’t robots. They are remote controlled vehicles. They are under human control flown by human pilots in a room in, I believe, Missouri. This is no different than a human pilot flying an airplane over enemy territory except, oh, wait, you don’t have that human pilot’s life in danger.

To me that is an important thing. While I don’t want us to have the hugely bloated military that we have right now, I do want the people in it to be as safe as possible. This is why I haven’t any problem ethically we us using these remote controlled vehicles. Why should I? I’m quite happy that we have a way to fly missions that doesn’t endanger the lives of the people flying them. I think that’s a good thing.

Now I know these things are a PR nightmare and have accidentally killed civilians. But that happens when we have real pilots and when we have people on the ground who have been known to even accidentally kill people on our side from time to time (side note: god, I’ve always thought that hat looks so stupid). Accidents happen in wartime no matter who is behind the controls. But frankly if we can at least keep our side safe, I’m happy with that.

Now I suppose the next question is: what if we do develop autonomous robots that can engage in combat? Should we send them into battle? Is the Pope a Catholic who covered up decades of child rape by priests? Yes. So yes. As long as there is oversight by a human, why not? This not only eliminates the physical danger to our troops, it also lessens the psychological nature and, frankly, makes the conflict just that much more terrifying for whomever we are fighting, thus making them more likely to surrender sooner and saving their lives, too.

The use of robotic devices and remote controlled vehicles in warfare is likely to only increase, and I’m just fine with that. Saving the lives of our soldiers is more important than giving into the fears of people who think those movies and TV shows linked to above are documentaries.

Some Thoughts on NASA

Should NASA be a priority during a national budget crisis? That’s the question Jack Cafferty was just asking on CNN. He then read off the usual collection of replies from people about the issue, most of whom probably think NASA gets upward of $100 billion a year. They don’t. According to Wikipedia they got about $17 billion in 2007, which was .6% of the US budget. Cutting funding to them is about as silly and pointless as cutting it to Planned Parenthood with perhaps even nastier consequences.

You see, students in the USA are way behind other developed nations in things like math and sciences. Our students are at the forefront of thinking they’re the best, like most of America, but they aren’t, like most of America.

If anything we should be spending more, way more, on NASA and space exploration. I’d be happy if we did spend $100 billion a year. First, that money isn’t shot into the sun. It goes to creating and sustaining jobs here on Earth. Second, imagine the inspiration to our children today if they knew that, ten years from now, we were going to Mars. How many kids currently in high school would want to be a part of that, and would bust their asses to get into science degrees? Third, if it was $100 billion, that would be only about six times the current amount, and would be about 3.6% of the budget, if my math serves me. If we cut the defense budget in half, as I’ve suggested before, we’d save about $350 billion. Surely funneling about $83 billion of that savings to NASA wouldn’t be a bad idea.

Besides, we really do need space exploration. We learn a lot about the universe by doing it, and learn quite a bit about our Earth and were it came from. Plus, it’s just fucking cool to think we’ve had people on the Moon, may send them back some day and will hopefully go on to Mars and beyond. We need to learn more about the wider universe. It’s just smart.

TV Review – Game of Thrones – “Winter is Coming”

I breathed a huge sigh of relief when I’d heard HBO was adapting George RR Martin’s fantastic “A Song of Ice and Fire” series into a TV show. Only HBO could do the series justice, I thought. Now I’ll admit in theory Showtime or Starz could as well. But consider the nightmare possibilities had SyFy gotten their hands on this. *shudder*

The first season of the series (already renewed for a second season on the back of a huge audience watching the first episode. One wonders what will happen with HBO when the inevitable drop-off happens with episode two), is based off the first book in the series, A Game of Thrones. I read it once about two years ago, along with the other books, and was immediately hooked. Martin has created a world with great detail and imagination and one that feels every but as real as anything in world history.

The story of the first episode centers around Eddard Stark (Sean Bean), and his family. Stark has been asked by the King (Mark Addy), to become his new Hand (basically the King’s Bitch). It’s a position that carries great prestige and it’s probably no surprise that the previous Hand seems to have died by, as it were, accidentally brutally cutting his head off while brushing his teeth. Stark is not happy at the idea of being the new Hand, but knows he needs to do his duty. Interweaved among this is the Lannister family, including Queen Cersi (Lena Headey), her son Joffery and her brother Jamie (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau).

A parallel story centers around two people whose names I cannot spell. Wikipedia says they are Viserys and Daenerys. They are brother and sister and the girl is about to marry a fellow with the fun name of Drongo. Ole Drongo is basically Conan, and is played by Jason Momoa, who will be seen this summer playing… er… Conan. This is part of a plot by Viserys to retake the throne of Westeros on behalf of his family. His plot is somewhat complicated by the fact that he seems to have a hard on for his sister, which is not uncommon in these stories (and, while not mentioned on the TV show, it is in fact their family’s custom to marry brother to sister).

If this sounds like a lot of people to keep track of, it is, and I haven’t even touched on the likes of Jon Snow or Tyrion Lannister. While the pilot is somewhat confusing in the “let’s get everyone some face time” kind of way, at no point did I have trouble keeping up and knowing who was whom (though the fact that I’ve read the books likely helped).

I must say that I was very impressed with the pilot. The acting by everyone was superb, and the sets looked amazing. It was filmed on location in places like Ireland and Malta and it really shows! HBO clearly spent a lot of money on this show and it’s money well spent. There was nothing about this episode that did not work for me and I cannot wait to see the rest. HBO is off to a fantastic start with this series!

Sic Transit Elisabeth Sladen – 1948 – 2011

Goodbye, Sarah Jane.

Elisabeth Sladen, best known to the world as the amazingly delightful Sarah Jane Smith on Doctor Who and The Sarah Jane Adventures died today of cancer. She was only sixty-three.

Sladen’s work covered several decades and included appearances in British TV staples like Z Cars and Coronation Street but it was her role as Sarah Jane Smith that she’s best known for. Ms Smith was a companion to the 3rd and 4th Doctors, and also appeared, in “The Five Doctors”, with the 2nd and 5th Doctor, as well as Richard Hurndall’s version of the 1st Doctor. Her character also appeared in one failed spin-off, K9 and Company.

During the 2000’s the character was revived. First in a series of audio adventures from Big Finish and then eventually appearing in “School Reunion” with the 10th Doctor. She was then spun-off into her own TV series, The Sarah Jane Adventures, where she spent four series fighting Slitheen, Sontarans and others. During this time she was reunited with the Brigadier, the 10th Doctor, and met the 11th Doctor and Jo Grant.

Sladen and her character of Sarah Jane Smith were beloved by millions around the world, and her death comes as a great shock to many of us who wasn’t even aware she was ill. Following on the heels of Nicholas Courtney’s death earlier this year, Who fandom has really been shaken. My thoughts are with her and her family and coworkers.

Happy Birthday to Me! :D

Well, here we are. The anniversary of the glorious day in 1972 when I came into the world. As of today, I an 39 years old. Yes, one year until 40! You’d best believe I’m looking toward that with mixed emotions.

I’ll be celebrating tonight with some friends, going to the George and Dragon pub here in Phoenix. It should be quite lovely, and if there’s any interesting pics that result (ie: one of my friends doing a striptease on a table), I’ll make sure to post them up tomorrow.

The journey from 38 to 39 has been interesting. In the last year I started school, finished writing my first novel and got fired from a job I’d had for almost five years. Hopefully this year will see school continue, that novel get published and me finding a better job.

Achievement Unlocked!

If you play video games like World of Warcraft or PS3 or Xbox 360 games, you’re doubtless familiar with the achievements you can earn. Usually these are points of some sort and do… well, fuck all, really. You might as well have spent your time fapping. What’s fapping you might ask? I’ll give you a hint: it’s the sound (fap, fap, fap), often associated with a particular activity… and now you can get achievements for it!

Click it to make it bigger! Aw, yeah!

For the record, 38 achievements for me. ;)

Mass-Media Nonsense – Mattress Weight Doubling

Take a look at this advert.

Ok, let’s think about this claim for a few minutes. The ad says that your mattress weight essentially doubles every few years due to the amount of dead skin, sweat and dust mites. I’ve seen it touted in ads, occasionally mentioned on (usually local), news like it’s proven fact and had it told to me by a friend last year when we were both mattress shopping. Is this true?

Well, let’s consider. I went to Ikea’s website and looked up your basic spring mattress. It’s the Sultan Harestua, and it weighs 30 pounds. Now I’m not sure how much sweat and dead skin you personally slough off, but in my case I’m pretty sure it’s not 30 pounds worth (and most of the sweat would evaporate fairly quickly anyhow). Even over the course of eight years I strongly doubt that I’m leaving behind that much dead skin and sweat, and as for dust mites? Yeah, I doubt that even a fairly massive population would contribute that much to my mattress weight, and any population that is large enough would likely be big enough to see.

So these claims (which, tellingly, are from mattress companies and less frequently from pest control companies), never made much sense to me. I did some poking around on the internet and found out from Cecil Adams that, yes, these claims are quite bogus.

I guess the message here is to consider the source. If a mattress company is trying to sell you on the idea of a new mattress, they have every interest in making you think you need to replace your old one every X years. But you don’t, really, unless it’s not comfortable to sleep on anymore. That’s the only excuse you need to replace it and really, it’s the best excuse there could be.

Televised Banality

The Nazis had TV. Yes, starting in 1935 they began the world’s first scheduled broadcasts, and eventually covered things like the Nazi Party Congress meetings and, famously, the 1936 Olympic Games.

Earlier today I wondered if there were any examples of these broadcasts floating around on the internet. There aren’t many, but there is an entire documentry and it’s well worth watching. It’s quite fascinating to see how they could have things like a cooking show and then a man telling the audience all about how people who refused to go along with the Party would be sent to “concert camps”. Really, really creepy. Have a look.

What, No Wesley?

Ah, but with a stardate of 46543.2, it’s the sixth season, right, so you wouldn’t expect there to be Wesley. Someone did their homework! The disturbing thing is… this actually looks pretty interesting, and the SFX are far better than they were back in the day. I might have to watch it. For the articles, of course.


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