Gwnewch y pethau bychain

Month: June 2013

Hold On World ‘Cause I’m Not Jumping Off

Today is my birthday!  In addition to being the anniversary of my debut onto the world stage, it is also a day for commemorating many other notable events.

  • June 25th is the birthday of Eric Blair, better known to the world as Animal Farm author George Orwell. 2013 is his 110th Birthday, In fact. It’s interesting to see that nearly 30 years after the events of his seminal work 1984, our society is still actively exploring the future he envisioned.
  • June 25th is also the Birthday of Lord Louis Mountbatten, Broadway directory George Abbott, architect Antoni Gaudí, and King Crimson guitarist Ian McDonald,
  • Today in 1876, Lt. Col. Custer and the 210 men of U.S. 7th Cavalry were killed by Sioux and Cheyenne Indians at Little Big Horn in Montana, an event is known as “Custer’s Last Stand.”
  • On this day in 1967, the Beatles recorded the song All You Need Is Love in front of 400 million people during a worldwide television broadcast. This was one I hadn’t known about, and I think it’s really, really cool.
  • In 841, Charles the Bald and Louis the German defeated Lothar at Fontenay.1
  • On this day in 1178, five monks reported seeing something explode on the moon.2
  • On this day in 1638, a lunar eclipse occurred, the first astronomical event recorded in America.3
  • In 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea, beginning the Korean War.4
  • In 1951, the first commercial color TV program was a show presented on CBS using the FCC-approved CBS Color System. The public did not own color TV’s at the time.
  • In 1966, the tv show Dark Shadows premiered on ABC.
  • In 1989, 1st US postmark dedicated to Lesbian & Gay Pride (Stonewall, NYC) is issued.
  • In 1993, Kim Campbell became the first woman prime minister of Canada, after Brian Mulroney stepped down. Campbell went on to lead the Progressive Conservatives to their most humiliating electoral defeat that October, winning only 2 of 295 seats.5
  • And finally, June 25th marks the anniversary of the passage of 1910′s Mann Act. From this day forth, I will encourage every one to celebrate my birthday by transporting a girl across state lines for immoral purposes.

People should feel free to send me such messages, gifts, or naughty photos as they like. 😉

  1. I have no idea what this is about, but it just sounds cool – reminds me of the Star Trek episode Dharmok 

  2. I had nothing to do with it. I was elsewhere at the time, and there are witnesses to prove that. 

  3. Again, I had nothing to do with it. 

  4. No really, I was at lunch with my girlfriend. I was nowhere near Asia. 

  5. Thanks to Joe Isham for the additional information. 

Friday Five Digest

Five things from the previous week worth highlighting.  This particular week it’s all videos, but in future weeks it might be articles or other items of general interest

Boba Fett Isn’t Dead

Boba Fett Isn’t Dead
TTTO: “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” by Bauhaus

Red on green Mandalore armor
Back on the track

Boba Fett isn’t dead
The hunter left the sarlaac pit
The Jedi have all fled
Skywalker downs the sand skiff

Boba Fett isn’t dead
Boba Fett isn’t dead
Not dead! Not dead! Not dead!
Not dead! Not dead! Not dead!

The bounty hunters file past his tomb
Strewn with time’s lost contracts
Adrift in spacial slip
Alone on a darkened ship
The clone

Boba Fett isn’t dead
Boba Fett isn’t dead
Boba Fett isn’t dead
Not dead! Not dead! Not dead!
Not dead! Not dead! Not dead!
Not dead!

Oh Boba
Boba’s not dead
Oh Boba
Boba’s not dead

Boba’s not dead
Oh Boba
Boba’s not dead
Oh Boba

Boba Fett is an interesting character. He has about 20 minutes of screen time and five lines of dialogue in the original Star Wars trilogy, and still became one of its most enduring and popular characters. I can’t really think of anything else quite like it in popular culture.

If you’re like me and your Star Wars knowledge is primarily limited to the films, you may be unaware of the complex storyline that Boba Fett is at the centre of. In particular, you may not be aware that the character did not die in “Return of the Jedi”, but in fact escaped his fate and went on to have many more significant adventures in what is called the “Expanded Universe” of Star Wars lore.

I don’t recall with whom I was chatting about Star Wars (though I have a vague memory it was either Bryan Provost or Nigel Cox), but their reaction to my comment about Fett dying in RotJ was a forceful “Boba Fett isn’t dead!”, which managed to connect to the iconic refrain of this classic Bauhaus song. Not sure what to do with it, it sat in my unfinished songs folder for weeks, until the rest of it presented itself to me.

If you’re unfamiliar with the original tune and want to skip to the bit that has words in, jump to the 2:50 minute mark of the video linked above.

UPDATE (2020):  In a curious twist of fate, the TV series “The Mandalorian” has made this song canon. 🙂

Party Of Four

Party of Four
by Rob Wynne and Jeffrey Williams
TTTO: “All Along The Watchtower” by Bob Dylan

I just don’t see a way into here
Said the cleric to the thief
This keep is too well defended
With its iron and stone motif
All these walls are much too high
The courtyard far too wide
Unless you’ve somehow learned how to fly
There is no way inside

No reason to get discouraged
The thief he softly spoke
There are many doors to pass through
And all these locks are but a joke
But you and I, we’ve fought the hordes
their treasure is our due
So let us not speak loudly now
It’s time to sneak on through

Down below the watchtower
There was a secret door
While the guardsmen paced and prowled
Inside slipped the four

Deep inside the cold dungeon
A wandering monster passed
The warrior pulled out his sword
And the mage began to cast

Another Dungeons and Dragons filk, this one started by Jeff with the opening lines, which he sent me in an instant message a few weeks ago.  While the song is by Dylan, the filk is most certainly of Jimi Hendrix’s iconic cover.  Now if only I could actually play it like that. 🙂

Same as it ever was, same as it ever was

Today in a Facebook thread, someone made a comment which expressed a theme I’ve seen quite frequently in recent years, usually in lists with titles like “You know you’re a child of the 80s if…” (or 90s, or 70s, or whatever childhood decade the author is being nostaligic for):

Since we are going to date ourselves like that, I remember when they didn’t have to put “do not try this at home” because we weren’t stupid

Speaking as someone approaching my 43rd trip around the sun, it’s a comforting notion.  These Kids Today need to be warned not to do things which are obviously dangerous that we would never needed to be warned not to do them!12

I did get curious, though, as to how long this particular admonition had been a part of the culture.  I wasn’t able to pin down an actual origin, but thanks to the website TV Tropes, I was able to find many examples from the past there,3 including:

  • Every instance of someone climbing into the eponymous wardrobe in CS Lewis‘s first Narnia book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, is accompanied by the narrator’s remarks on how dangerous it is to close oneself into a wardrobe, how smart Lucy and Peter are to leave the door ajar, and how foolish Edmund is to close it on himself — no doubt to prevent children from getting themselves trapped in wardrobes while trying to emulate the Pevensies.
  • Back in the 1960s Bob Monkhouse‘s Mad Movies frequently had Monkhouse telling kids never to copy dangerous stunts from silent movies.
  • The real-life Trope Namer was the late motorcycle stunt man Evel Knievel, who on his numerous televised death-defying feats in the 1970s included the same disclaimer: “Kids, don’t try this at home.”
  • That’s Incredible was famous in the early 1980s for the use of this phrase to disclaim its many stunts, which was understandable considering how many real stuntmen were injured appearing on the show
  • Bill Nye the Science Guy: “Do not, I repeat, DO NOT attempt this demonstration at home!”
  • At the end of every Gladiators episode.

Since the Lewis book came out in 1950, it’s been A Thing for longer than most of can claim to be passengers on Starship Earth.  Of course, the very fact that it’s become a trope has led to a lot of lampooning the trope, which has led to the idea that this is somehow a new thing that never happened before. But it’s been around for pretty much as long as there’s been media that shows things one might ought not try at home (or, indeed, anywhere.)4

  1. Of course, this is nonsense.  I remember when a friend and I, left alone in my grandfather’s workshop, figured out we could attach his equipment winch to our belts and hoist each other up in the air and be flown across the room on the rail it was attached to — over a concrete floor littered with iron and steel apparatus  And I was a reasonably bright child. 

  2. No one got hurt, aside from the spanking we got when we got caught at it. 

  3. If you had somehow managed to get this far in your life without discovering the TV Tropes website, I’m sorry.  We’ll see you in a few days. 

  4. If anyone might have better luck in finding the first citation of the phrase, I’d love to know it.  I’m genuinely curious. 

You Won’t Admit You Love Me

Many years ago, I saw a commercial on BBC America for a television show called Coupling.  The commercial made it look like a good laugh, so kitanzi and I decided to give it a look, and completely fell in love with it.  It was quirky, it was funny, it was full of highly entertaining characters, and it very quickly became my favourite situation comedy of all time.  We bought the seasons on DVD, and showed them to pretty much anyone who would sit still for them, to the extent that I can still probably recite entire episodes of the first season from having seen them so many times.  (With only a couple of exceptions, everyone we showed it too also loved it too.)

In 2003, NBC announced they were going to launch a US remake of the show, with an all new cast but retaining the show’s creator and principle writer, Stephen Moffatt (who is now much more widely known for his work on Doctor Who).  We greeted this news with a fair bit of trepidation; the show starred absolutely no one anyone had ever heard of, and the track record of remaking quintessentially British shows in America wasn’t very good in recent years1.  Still, it did have the original writers working on it, and they were putting a lot of effort into promoting it.  How bad could it possibly be?

Fifteen minutes into the first episode, we had our verdict.  It could be very, very bad indeed.  The episode was pretty much a complete script-lift of the first episode of the UK show, which made already inevitable comparisons to the original impossible to avoid.  The dialogue was like a poorly fitted suit, and the actors looked physically uncomfortable with the material.  Every single joke fell flat, and the whole exercise was suffused with a general sense of wrongness.  By the first commercial, we’d pretty much made our judgement, switched it off, and watched the first season of the UK show on DVD again just to wash the taste out of our mouths.  Apparently, that was a pretty universal reaction to the show; it was cancelled after 10 episodes, and is referenced today primarily as a cautionary tale.

Until recently, this would be the end of the story.  I certainly had no reason to revisit my opinion of a terrible TV show with no redeeming qualities 10 years after it aired, did I?   Prior to this year, I’d have scoffed at the notion, and often did.  The US version of Coupling was a punchline, a story to tell children in order to make them behave.  What could inspire me to watch that travesty?

Oddly enough, two other shows sparked my curiosity.  Eureka and Better Off Ted.

I’d heard a lot of good things about Eureka when it was on the air, but I never got around to watching it.  It was another one of those shows that friends and other people who’s taste I generally trust would say generally positive things about, but never so much to make me actually watch it.  I caught one of the Christmas episodes at my mom’s house, and she said a lot of nice things about the show, and I knew that Felicia Day and Wil Wheaton both had recurring roles in later years, which piqued my interest, but not enough to drop into a show I’d never watched in the middle of its fourth season.  When we moved in with runningwolf, it turned out it was one of her favourite shows and she suggested it as a dinnertime viewing selection, so we started with it from season one and it quickly became our go-to programme to watch together.  We’ve gotten up to the last season and I know I’ll be a bit sad to see the end of it, but I’m very grateful to have experienced it.

Better Off Ted was a criminally short-lived comedy that I first heard about from markbernstein.  It got two half-seasons on ABC, and while it was well received by critics, no one watched it and it died of low ratings.  Because of Mark’s recommendation2, I had added it to my Netflix queue as a thing to watch one day, and a couple of weeks ago, when kitanzi suggested we watch “something funny”, I pulled it up and said “I hear this is good.  Give it a try?”  It was a good choice.  Better Off Ted‘s absurdist satire is right up my alley, and watching it now, long after its exit from the airwaves, I can only wonder how badly it must have been promoted to have not taken off.  Terrific cast, snappy writing, and innovative breaking of the fourth wall.  If you’ve not seen this show, go watch it.  It’s worth your time.

As I often do when watching some new show that I hadn’t seen before, I glanced through IMDB to see what else I might have seen various actors in.  Sometimes I just do this because they look vaguely familiar, and sometimes because I figure if I like someone in something I might like them in something else.  And it was here that I discovered that Tim Harrington, who plays the lead in Better Off Ted, was also Steve in the US version of Coupling.  And not only that, but Colin Ferguson  who plays the lead in Eurkea, was Patrick.

“Wow,” I thought.   We’d not heard of either of them when that aired.  I wonder if it would be interesting to rewatch that, just to see those two in it now that we know who they are?

I resisted this notion for a while.  I mean, that show as terrible.  Everyone knows that.  And watching actors you like in a painfully bad production is never fun.  Is it?

I decided to test the notion.  Searching around the dark corners of the underweb, I found the 10 episodes of Coupling US, which had been capped from a European cable channel called Canal+, complete with, of all things, subtitles in Swedish.  I decided that if I was going to review this, I was going to commit to it, and watch all ten episodes, rather than just bailing on it like I did the first time.  I’m glad I did, because the first three episodes are still painful.  Each was a remake of an episode of the UK series, and they suffer from the same problems I’d observed in my first viewing of the pilot ten years ago:  bad timing, poor execution, and generally flat lifeless storytelling.

But in the fourth episode, something amazing happened.  Rather than being a forklift of an existing episode, it was an entirely original script.  With dialogue written for them, the actors for the first time looked comfortable in their roles, the jokes popped, and I found myself genuinely laughing at the show for the first time.   Given the freedom to create their own parts rather than simply copying their British counterparts, the show relaxed and started to gel into something that could stand apart from its origins.  Tim Harrington’s Steve isn’t nearly so flustered and panicked as Jack Davenport’s, and Colin Ferguson’s Patrick isn’t quite as thick as Ben Miles3.  Christopher Moynihan’s Jeff lacks the fundamental weirdness that Richard Coyle possessed, but manages to bring the part a certain self-awareness that humanises the part, while Lindsay Price’s Jane is more grounded (and, in many ways, more predatory) than Gina Bellman.   Rena Sofer manages to play Susan as less uptight and a bit more wounded, and while Sonya Walger never really did manage to do much with the part of Sally, there were signs she was developing into a more interesting character too, particularly in the Christmas episode.  By the time the final episode rolled around, I found I was genuinely enjoying the show – not as a remake of the original, but as something new that had striking similarities to the programme which inspired it, but which nevertheless stood on its own.

I’m not going to try and convince you that the US remake of Coupling was great.  It suffers from a lot of the problems that all sitcoms do, and is wildly uneven, especially when it tries to go back to the recycled scripts well in episodes like “Foreign Affairs” (which lifts from “The Girl With Two Breasts”) or “Dressed”, but even those have enough new material mixed in that they aren’t entirely unbearable.  As a series, it doesn’t approach the genius of its predecessor  but there are individual episodes which indicate that given enough time to find it’s own rhythm and its own voice, it could have been a fine series in its own right.


1And Coupling is in many ways quintessentially British.  A common reaction to it when we were first watching it was “You’d never get away with that on American television.”

2Aside from Better Off Ted, Mark turned me onto So You Think You Can Dance and a few other shows.  As a result, I value Mark’s recommendations very highly.

3Its amusing, at times, to imagine that Steve and Patrick here are in fact younger versions of Ted Crisp and Jack Carter.  It doesn’t really hold up in the long run, but it’s still funny.

We Could Steal Time Just For One Day

I just want to share this as far as wide as I can, because it says everything.

This, i believe…

ROGER EBERT: On kindness

Roger Ebert (1942-2013) was the world’s most respected and celebrated film critic. I can’t possibly do justice to his legendary career in the movies. For that, I…

The text, excerpted from Rober Ebert’s memoir reads, for the benefit of those who cannot see the image:

“Kindness’ covers all of my political beliefs. No need to spell them out. I believe that if, at the end, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn’t always know this and am happy I lived long enough to find it out.”

So Please Stop Explaining; Don’t Tell Me Cause It Hurts

Last night, an event occurred on a popular television show.  Because the television show is based on a popular book, many people knew the event was going to occur.  Many people, who had not read the popular books, were unaware of the impending event and were surprised.  Many people who had read the popular books wanted to talk about the event, now that it had finally happened.  Many people who watch the popular television but watch it time-shifted rather than live were startled when suddenly, without warning, the Internet lost its mind and Twitter violently exploded.

This morning, I made a post on a Facebook group where I am a moderator.  Anticipating that the above was going to be the topic of spirited conversation, I said the following:

Careful with the <popular television show> spoilers, guys.

If you’re behind on the series, read comments at your own risk. Try and keep spoilers out of main posts, so people can decide whether or not to read them.

General spoiler etiquette says you should give at least a week of courtesy after an episode airs, because many people watch the show on DVRs or other time-shifting methods.

I thought (and still think) that this was a perfectly reasonable set of guidelines.  The subject wasn’t declared off-topic, nor were people asked to avoid spoilers entirely.  I asked folks to try and put the spoilers in the comments rather than the main post, so people trying to avoid them would have an easier time1, and asked people who wanted to avoid them to be careful and stay out of the comments threads of posts about the show so they could avoid them more easily, and put a reasonable time limit for this particular courtesy to be in effect.

And yet…

Among the reactions I got to this request included:

  • “People who have not see it read Facebook at their own risk.”
  • “This episode is a little different because people who have seen it really want to talk about it.”
  • “People who don’t want spoilers should read the books.”
  • “I don’t think you should ever have spoilers ever, no matter how old the thing in question is”
  • “Once you see the episode, you will probable do what most people did and post about it immediately.”
  •  “A lot of TV shows and (especially) films come out at different times. Japan doesn’t get Star Trek until September, Man of Steel; August. Having them spoiled because people think that they’ve been ‘out long enough’ sucks.”
  • “[By] that logic, we can never talk about tv shows or movies.”
  • “Sorry but there WILL be spoilers on the Internet (shocking, I know) and some of us feel the [group] is the only place we can share these things.”
  • “[Some studies show that] people seem to enjoy stuff more if they know what’s gonna happen. Therefore, if you come across a spoiler? You’re welcome. LOL”
  • “I think people are all too damn sensitive.”
  • “I made a point of being discreet when Avengers, Iron Man 3,Star Trek, Harry Potter, The Hobbit came out [in the UK] first, is the consensus that when the next blockbuster is released I shouldn’t be constrained?”

Seriously, the tone of some commentators suggested they were only moments away from painting themselves blue and declaring “They can take away our spoiler posts, but they’ll never take away our FREEDOM!”2

I’m not personally put out by spoilers, and that goes doubly so in this case, where I’ve read the books the television programme is based on and have therefore been in the camp of folks waiting for the inevitable event to occur.  But how I feel about spoilers isn’t really the point.  Nor, if I’m honest, is how you feel about spoilers the point.

The point is that when we all are existing here in public, as a community, we have a moral obligation to be considerate of the thoughts and feelings of other people who are participating in that same community.  As Kurt Vonnegut so memorably says, ” There’s only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”

It’s a little bit inconvenient to make sure you put your comments behind cut-tags or outside of the main body of a post to ensure that other folks won’t trip over it.  And it’s a little bit inconvenient to have to carefully navigate through online discussion forums to make sure you don’t read something you didn’t want to, because you haven’t had a chance to see the latest thing everyone’s talking about.  And it’s inconvenient that at some point, we all decide it’s been out long enough for everyone to discuss it freely without worrying that someone hasn’t seen it yet, because there’s only so long you can keep on your guard.

These little inconveniences that we all put up with for the sake of a more gentle and kind society?  Gentle reader, they are called manners.

And I, for one, am in favour of them.


1 It’s worth noting that Facebook is singularly bad for this, because of the way it displays posts and comments.  But this was about best efforts, and there’s only so much you can do.

2 Those so inclined might wish to revisit just how well that worked out for Mr. Wallace.  (Spoiler:  Not well)

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