They Didn't Ask Me (dr_phil_physics) wrote,
They Didn't Ask Me
dr_phil_physics

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Scatter Gather Routine VII

Another in a series of random little things which have piled up in the last few weeks, as they either didn't deserve a whole entry or were diverted from the top of the list by Recent National Events.


Could It Be?

Has CBS inadvertently become The Science Literacy Channel? Though the cops 'n forensics shows are scattered across the U.S. TV spectrum, I suppose I have to give CBS some credit for airing shows which offer something in terms of science content, if albeit sometimes done for solely for entertainment (grin). One has to be careful with the upcoming couple of alien invasion shows, as to whether they're STUPID or not, but the CBS lineup has some science literacy potential here...

The Winner(s) And Still Champion

CSI: Crime Scene Investigators and its spawn CSI: Miami and CSI: New York have revived interest in forensic study and analysis. I've had a number of students who wanted to go into forensics coming out of high school, and mostly changing their minds and going into chemistry and other sciences once in college. And despite some of the howlers which crop up from time to time, and a steadfast refusal to use any proper safety gear which might obscure the stars' faces, we find most of the cases and the procedures, technology and visuals intriguing enough from a scientific point of view. CSI: New York was listed in one article as the number one anticipated returning show -- which tells you something maybe about CBS' numbers versus ABC's shows Lost and Desperate Housewives.

Last Year...

... we got the improbably titled NUMB3RS. What? In these dumbed-down times of sappy so-called reality TV, we get a show about mathematics and mathematicians? Actually, it's as much physics as math in this one, but that's fine by me. More than once I found myself disagreeing or wanting to diss the current story/methodology, only to have them realize it was wrong, too. They need to realize the need to keep the stories and explanations and investigations from becoming too formulaic. But so far the two brothers, the father and the one brother's faculty mentor have shown good chemistry.

The New Guy

But the big attraction on Friday night was that we got the two-hour opener of Threshold. Most of the reviews compare this to the somewhat sci-fi/horror thriller series The X-Files, and favorably at that. Brett Spiner, who played Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation and hasn't been seen nearly enough since then, especially after being killed by an alien in Independence Day, shows up not at the team leader, but the biologist who gets to study what the hell's happening to living things exposed to... whatever the hell this thing is. The team leader is a woman who specializes in developing "worst case scenario" plans for the US government. What a cool job. When they land a helicopter in the park where she's walking her "really ugly but endearing" dog, they tell her that one of plans has just been activated and they need her. "Which one?" she has to ask. What a great gig. (grin)

The math genius is a role not usually played by one of the little people (a politically correct term, or so I am told) -- then again, Hollywood rarely comes up with any non-stereotyped roles for little people. But they've given the math genius to Peter Dinklage, who was fantastic in The Station Agent the other year. Bravo! (And speaking of BRAVO and Peter Dinklage, I am watching him running with a low chip count on a re-run of BRAVO's Celebrity Poker Showdown... is this surreal or what?) The rest of the main cast is rounded out by a computer geek who gets haunted by his own religion -- not sure where they're taking this, so can't say whether they're dissing Christians yet -- and a clever hunkie guy who has some sort of background as the guy-the-government-sends-in-when-they-can't-send-someone-in. Charles Dutton, one of my favorite big black men in a suit, is the government "handler" for this unlikely team. His character indirectly has a great scene with a small foam lined case, with a tennis ball, a No. 3 pencil, a small bag of carrots and a Hohner No. 5 harmonica in its original box. The setup for this scene and its execution are nicely done touches, and bode well for making this an ensemble cast we want to watch.

Everyone has "secrets" and "baggage", and some of these are interesting enough to say "I'd like to hear that story", so they'll be milking that for some time. (grin) And everyone has successes and failures, and they all see things which aren't there.

After only one episode, I managed to three times call out what was going to happen, but that's not necessarily a negative. I've been burned on a lot of SF and genre shows when they just turn stupid. So they had several plot twists and quirks, and the pseudoscience babble hasn't yet turned my stomach putrid, so I'll watch this one some more.

So What Does It Mean?

Everyone amongst the pundits printed in our newspaper is claiming this "all due" to the surprise success of Lost, which suggests that something creepy and genre-like can actually be a hit, and Desperate Housewives, which suggests that any old damn show can actually be a hit -- if it can establish a quirky buzz about it. Please note -- I'm not making fun of either show (I've seen some episodes of Lost and none of D.H.) or their fans, rather I am making fun of Hollywood executives who as a collected whole occasionally have a thought between them, but it's shared and so it's rarely an original thought. Toss in NBC's mid-season replacement series Medium, and you can now understand CBS' new Friday night lineup of The Ghost Whisperer (with Jennifer Love Hewitt, who has had an interesting career, including playing a very credible young Audrey Hepburn when the critics were down on her before even seeing any of the footage), Threshold and Numbers.

Horror-fantasy, horror-sci-fi and math-science-literate forensics. I can watch this stuff. (And hope many students do, too.)

Bend It Like Beckham (DVD)

We missed seeing this charming film in the theatres, so I asked for the DVD at Christmas. During the "slow" part of the summer, we finally got around to feeding it to the DVD player. Paraminder Nagra (ER) and Keira Knightley (Pirates of the Caribbean, Love, Actually) star as two teenaged girls in London who are huge pre-leaving-UK David Beckham fans and totally into playing football, aka soccer. But Paraminder's Indian family wants her to give up being a tomboy and acting like a proper girl and getting married like her big sister.

Absolutely a terrific film and worthy of all the praise heaped on it. Would make a fine kinship double-feature with My Big Fat Greek Wedding, and perhaps a triple with Fiddler on the Roof. (grin)

Just Cause (VHS)

We've been left with a bag of videotapes, from when my stepfather-in-law started collecting DVD's, and my wife pulled it out and we glanced through the pile. This one had Sean Connery and Lawrence Fishbourne in it -- hey, this looks like fun. Blair Underwood is accused and convicted of brutally murdering a young white girl. Fishbourne is part of a despicable two-some who get the conviction. A Harvard professor preaching against the death penalty, Connery is married to Kate Capshaw, who is an ex-D.A. -- she had an earlier run in with Underwood and so this gets complicated.

At 1:08 in the film, Connery's got Underwood freed, after a sort-of confession from another even creepier death row inmate, played by Ed Harris. It's too early for this to be resolved, so we know things are gonna happen. Like Life Of David Gale, we're dealing with people setting up the death penalty for their own uses, but this is more like Cape Fear when you get down to it.

Scarlett Johanson, who's shown up recently in some films, played the daughter of Connery and Capshaw, when this was made in like 1995.

rounders (VHS)

Okay -- here's the drill. Do not ever trust Edward Norton. (grin)

Much was made of Ben Affleck and Matt Damon when they did Good Will Hunting, but over the years it's been Damon who has consistently been the quality performer, with or without Affleck in the cast.

As a fan of The World Series of Poker on ESPN and the World Poker Tournament on Travel Channel, I'd heard about this poker movie for years. Funny to hear Damon's voiceover explaining the rules of No Limit Texas Hold 'Em -- it's the same script they use at the WPT. "The Cadillac of Poker..." Funnier still to watch the characters studying the videotapes of The World Series. Highly recommended for poker fans. Should keep you from going out and getting silly thinking you can chuck your job and go up against hard case rounders for a living. (grin)

John Malkovich as Teddy KGB does a brilliant job as a ruthless Russian mafia gambling man.

Angel Heart (VHS)

Mickey Rourke and Robert De Niro. Mister Skanky versus One Really Strange Bad-Ass Character -- you should see the fingernails on De Niro!

This is Yet Another movie that we've heard about, but just never saw. I recall there was controversy... oh yeah, Lisa Bonet was in it. There was a whole flap about "one of the Cosby Show kids getting naked" and it almost got an X-rating. I guess someone was bothered with the concept of a visibly erect nipple?

Between the incessant rain and leaking ceilings, and the jazz saxophone, plus the whole mystery/detective thing, Angel Heart is strangely reminiscent of Bladerunner. Slowly turning fans in round housings seem to be some sort of symbolic theme here. The violence and convoluted plot, as well as Rourke getting his ass kicked repeatedly, suggests Chinatown, but the whole black/white magic business and the Harlem to New Orleans setting is much darker, more sinister. And it is refreshing to consider the 1955 era without cell phones and computers, and nary a pushbutton to be found. Creepy -- not sure if I like it yet.

Get Thee To A Caterpillary!

My wife's stepmom has been "rescuing" monarch butterfly eggs and caterpillars the last few years, and the last couple of years we've scoured our own milkweed plants for same, and have been raising a dozen or so monarch butterflies. It has been a very rewarding job -- lots of little monarch eggs and caterpillars get eaten up by predators. A freeze and ice storm in the Mexican wintering over site for the monarchs last year has depleted the populations, so we're helping Nature -- and entertaining the GVSU Library Reference staff when the occasional pupa is scheduled to pop on a workday and my wife has taken them in with her. Many have never witnessed the whole butterfly emergence thing before -- didn't they do this in elementary school?

We thought we were done for the year, but two weekends ago I was walking around the property with a big spray jug of Ortho Home Defense when I rounded a corner and... spotted one big honking monarch caterpillar munching away in broad daylight on the upper leaf of a milkweed plant near the back garage steps. I came inside and told my wife, given my big neoprene rubber chemical gloves contaminated with bug spray, and she came out, collected the big guy and it grew into what should be our last girl butterfly of the season -- yes, you can tell the difference between the boys and the girls. Ha!

It's Becoming Fall Again

After depositing my very first author's check at the bank -- and checking to see if anyone else has sent any letters buying my stories at the P.O. Box -- no, dammit -- I took a drive in the country. I'd been thinking that the next local fruit was going to be apples, but had forgotten about pears. I dearly love a good pear, but so many in the stores are hard and unripe or else have gone mealy, that I can't trust myself to buy them. So I drove wistfully past the farm stands on Four Mile Road advertising pears. (sigh)

I almost pulled over to take a picture with the little digital camera I carry everywhere. There was a large field of pumpkins, all orange amidst the green vines and leaves -- doesn't look real. The eastern part of the field had been mowed and all the pumpkins left in several long lanes -- buyers will get to walk through and find their perfect pumpkin, which hasn't had to travel more than a few dozen yards in the process. Seeing big orange pumpkins in the fields is always such a shock, warning that fall is swiftly approaching and soon our pleasant 60s, 70s and 80s will give way to colder and stormier weather. Not too soon to check the battery on the 4WD "winter" Blazer.

My Destination Was Schuler's On Alpine

Needed to buy the current 56th Anniversary/October/November Double Issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Some of my 2004 Clarion buds are critically reading this one, and I hadn't gone searching for a copy yet -- no time to call my own lately. (grin) Also found the October/November Double Issue of Asimov's and the October issue of Realms of Fantasy. And a terrific Michigan astronomical viewing book, with detailed pages on the constellations, and cleverly listing the stars distances in light years (LY). This is a nice reference tool for Dr. Phil.

There's Yet Another New Guy On The Block

Cyber Age Adventures: The Magazine of Superhero Fiction. The issue is dated June 2005, Vol. 1 No.1, but this is the first time I've seen it -- the claim inside is that the second issue comes in September, so we'll see. Like some bad TV advertising, where right after they air the pilot episode the network hawks the show as "the new hit series", the Premiere Issue of Cyber Age Adventures touts itself as Award Winning (double-grin), but the editor notes that the online version dates back to 1 January 1999, so I suppose we can allow him his little joke.

Playing Games

We've been playing Scene It? The DVD Game with my wife's mom and stepdad for a week - the Classic Movie Edition, with cuts from the Turner library of movies. As a whole, we're kind of hit and miss with knowing some of the answers, but we've all surprised each other with some of the arcane trivia we can dredge up or outright guess on. And actually, I have to say they do a nice job of showing things which can foreshadow later answers, so even if you don't know something about one movie or actor or director, you might know something after playing a few rounds. Also, for those questions which use the DVD, they allow you to use the RETURN button on your DVD remote to pop to another question if the one being shown is one you've already seen. No problem to say a good time was had by all.

Rules? We Don't Need No Stinkin' Rules.

As we started going over the rules, I remarked that like playing Monopoly, every family ends up playing their own variation of the rules -- no one but hard core players and tournaments actually play the proper rules -- swearing up and down that the way they play is the proper way. This turned out to be vaguely prophetic. You'd think with both a video tutorial and a set of written directions, there'd be no ambiguity, but you'd be wrong. Still, we had fun, which was the bottom line. We first heard of the game from another couple we know -- I imagine there'll be some negotiating of the rules when we get together to play. (triple-word-grin)

The Downside

I have two major complaints about this game. First, it is well-known that DVD audio often has to be adjusted versus regular channels or VHS videos. But why do I have to constantly adjust the volume on my TV between the LOUD background music while it is sitting in the waiting menu mode and having to ramp up the volume during video and audio clips? If the sounds were balanced the other way, they'd be just about right, and I wouldn't have to mess with the volume all the damn time. Second, too many of the pictures they show occupy a very small part of the screen. Come on, folks, we're watching the damned game on a TV in a living room. We have what is for us a large screen TV -- a 20" Sony -- and I suppose it's somewhat modest for people these days. But there's no excuse for using less than twenty percent of the screen so that someone ten feet from the screen can't see enough details to identify faces or situations. One of our party could tell there was something that looked like a dog, without being able to tell it was a collie and the movie was clearly Lassie Comes Home. Along those lines, some of the "clever" ways they can reveal an image in fifteen seconds -- first one to answer gets to move their piece on the board -- when there simply isn't enough visual information until the last two-thirds of a second. Yikes!

Ophelia Sulks Away...

... says a headline in Friday's The Grand Rapids Press. It certainly malingered alongside the coastline of the Carolinas for a while. And I'm apparently a weather phenomenon: Tropical Storm Philippe has been declared in the Atlantic. I'm not sure they have enough names in the list to make it through November this hurricane season.

In Other Weather News

Allendale is roughly halfway between Grand Rapids and Lake Michigan. When we first moved down here, our Allendale cable Weather Channel gave the local forecasts for Grand Rapids, which didn't take into effect the conditions along the lake. Then they gave us Muskegon, which is on the lake but north of us -- and not in our direct storm tracking. More recently they've (mostly) displayed the Grand Haven forecasts, still a little north, but also on the lake and a better fit. Now we seem to "matter". In these wee hours of Sunday, I just noticed that the local forecast is for "Grand Haven - Allendale". Yay! We're on the map!


It's 1:37am EDT

And the most brilliant silvery white just-turned full moon is overhead and blasting our property with moonlight. It is so bright, and yet so unearthly, outside.

Dr. Phil
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