5 May 2009 — Beam Me Up, Scotty (5)

The reviews for the new Star Trek film are glowing. They’re positively glowing. I’ve read every one so far, and they’re beginning to bring tears to my eyes. I’m not joking. I’ve waited so long for a Star Trek to make me rekindle my love for the franchise. Rumor has it, this is it. This is the one.

It’s only Tuesday afternoon, I know, but Rotten Tomatoes is showing 100% of 32 critics giving favorable reviews and an average score of 8/10. That’s pretty damn good. Meanwhile, Metacritic tallies a 94% rating on eight reviews. That, too, is pretty damn good.

I’ve told both Kris and Paul J. that I’ll see this with them. And I think it goes without saying that I want to see with Dave and Andrew (right, guys?). Plus I want to see it in IMAX. And on opening night. I don’t really care, to be honest. I’ll watch this over and over and over again.

But what I really hope is that this isn’t just a one-shot. I want for this to be the beginning of something grand and glorious, a brand new journey to brave new worlds. I want to see these folks boldy go where many have gone before.

p.s. Just for fun, here’s the original trailer for what is still the best Trek film, The Wrath of Khan.

p.p.s. I just checked Fandango. Have you seen how many screens this is playing on? With this wide distribution and the rave reviews, it has a chance to set a record for box-office opening…

Tags: Geekiness · Movies · Television · YouTube  → 5 Comments

I don’t like advertising. Marketing is more powerful than the average person suspects. Marketers are armed with million-dollar budgets and decades of research. We defend ourselves only with our experience. It’s not a fair fight. I wince every time I hear somebody brag that ads don’t affect them; it’s my guess that ads affect these people most of all.

Still, I can’t help but love certain ads. For example, there’s an entire series of Nike commercials that make me want to get off my ass and do something. In a lot of ways, I don’t care if these make me buy more Nike products. They make me motivated to improve myself. In fact, I have an entire playlist at YouTube composed entirely of Nike commercials. When I’m feeling sorry for myself, when I’m feeling lazy, when I’m feeling uninspired, I watch these. When I’m done, I’m ready to go do stuff.

Here are my ten favorite motivational Nike commercials. I suspect that if you watch even a few of them, you’ll have a more productive day.


Awake (how to start your day)


Move (one of my faves)


Training (motivation to keep going)


Courage (dare to pursue your dreams)


Just do it


No excuses (there’s no reason not to try)


Leave nothing (good if you like American football)


Take it to the next level (good if you like real football)


Failure (Michael Jordan explains success)


A little less hurt (wow — just wow)

After watching these commercials, I’m ready to take on the world. (And the funny thing is: I don’t own a pair of Nike shoes. I have a couple of Nike shirts for running, but that’s about it!)

Tags: Flotch · Television · YouTube  → 5 Comments

1 October 2008 — Connections to the Cosmos (1)

Over the past few years, I’ve accumulated a lot of Amazon credit by selling books on my various web sites. The problem is, I accumulate it faster than I can spend it. Sometimes I buy comics. Sometimes Kris buys something for herself. But mostly it just sits there, unused.

Today I decided to splurge a little with my untapped wealth. I picked up (used) DVD copies of two of my favorite television series, series I haven’t seen in more than a decade.

First up, James Burke’s Connections. When I first saw this series in 1993, it blew my mind. Over 10 episodes, Burke traces the history of everyday objects: nylon, plastic, computers. Trust me: it’s much more exciting than it sounds. In fact, I’m a little giddy at the prospect of watching this again.

Here are the first ten minutes of the first episode:

Okay, that’s not fair. Here are parts two, three, four, five. (And you can find the entire series on YouTube, though surely not legally.) See also: James Burke’s Fan Companion.

I haven’t seen the second series since 1983 (or before!). Carl Sagan’s Cosmos has had a profound influence on my life. It’s imbued with a sense of wonder that’s almost child-like, but at the same time reaches the pinnacle of human knowledge. I love it.

Here’s the beginning of the first episode:

And the end of the same:

Most especially, I love the music. I have three copies of the Cosmos soundtrack on CD. There are two different versions — the long version would be great but it has annoying segues between tracks. I also own the soundtrack on vinyl and cassette tape. (This soundtrack is awesome, but it’s out of print. The regular soundtrack goes for $85 on Amazon, and the two-disc set goes for $200. Amazing.)

You can find most (not all) of Cosmos on YouTube, too. (This excerpt is amazing.)

Anyhow —

Today I splurged on 23 hours of the finest intellectual stimulation I could find. I can’t wait for these boxes to arrive on my doorstep.

Tags: Geekiness · Rants and Raves · Television  → 1 Comment

19 August 2008 — A Gold Medal in Boring (6)

I find NBC’s Olympic coverage maddening. Asinine, really. I’ve always been a huge fan of the Olympics, and I like Bob Costas. So I’m willing to watch television for the first time since the Academy Awards last winter. But NBC doesn’t seem to care.

Everything here in Portland is tape-delayed. Events that could be live — like the women’s gymnastic all-around competition — are instead delayed three hours, putting them far past my bedtime. Why not run West Coast coverage from 5 p.m. until 11 p.m., NBC?

And why so much frickin’ beach volleyball? Is the sport really that popular? I don’t mind watching a match or two, but every single night? Ugh. Same with Michael Phelps. I admire what he’s done, and I’m glad to watch the races, but yesterday NBC not only ran a half-hour interview with Phelp, his mother, and his coaches, but they re-ran the same damn interview a few hours later. I would have rather watched archery! Or the equestrian events.

I would dearly love for some other network to outbid NBC in the near future so we can have a taste of what competent coverage might be like.

Tags: Rants and Raves · Television  → 6 Comments

12 June 2008 — In the News (18)

Yesterday morning a crew from KGW (Portland’s channel 8 ) stopped by Rosings Park to interview me about my personal finance blog, Get Rich Slowly. Both Amy Troy (the reporter) and Rod Stevens (the cameraman) were awesome. They were interesting and fun to talk to. Most of all, they were very understanding when I explained how irrationally nervous I become when dealing with radio or television. They did their best to put me at ease.

The strange thing was that I was perfectly relaxed when I knew the camera wasn’t on. I could chat and carry on a normal conversation. But as soon as I knew Rod was filming, I became self-conscious. I could feel myself trying to analyze my words as I spoke them, could feel myself garbling what I wanted to say. But I was powerless to stop it! Craziness.

Amy and Rod were at our house for 90 minutes to produce a 90 second segment for the evening news. About 20 of those minutes were spent doing a formal interview on the couch in the parlor. The rest of the time was spent in my office and in the yard.

The final cut of the interview that aired is okay, though I wince at some portions. I think I look like a big dork. “No you don’t,” Kris told me. “I thought it was nice.” I do think it’s hilarious that they kept my ad-libbed pea-munching. I was just goofing around.

The KGW web site also has a couple minutes of me in my office talking with Amy about money saving tips. This part is less successful. Kris doesn’t like it. I had cleaned my desk before the crew arrived, but Rod said, “Don’t you have anything you can put up there? Stuff to make it look like you’re working?” I laughed and pointed at the stacks of paper on the floor. “Yeah,” he said, smiling. “That’s more like it.”

So I put some stuff on my desk, including the notebook I’d taken with me to England and Ireland last summer. While Rod began filming, I flipped through the book and randomly stumbled upon a page listing a bunch of money-saving ideas that I’d brainstormed while on a train out of Dublin. I read them aloud to Amy. I knew Rod was filming, but I never imagined the footage would appear uncut on the web site!

There’s nothing really wrong with it, I suppose. I just look like an even bigger dork. Heh. My friend Stephen comforted me via e-mail: “I often thought I was a dork on television interviews until I got used to em.”

Anyhow, I’m glad I did it. And I’m glad that Amy and Rod were the crew dispatched to film me. The best part of the experience was spending time talking with each of them about their own experiences with money. It’s those sorts of interactions that make what I do exciting.

“If you really do get nervous, you should join Toastmasters,” Kris said after we watched the interview.

“I want to do the Dale Carnegie course,” I said.

“Yeah. But why spend thousands of dollars when Toastmasters is free?” she asked. She has a good point. Time to talk with Dave about Toastmasters again, I think.

Tags: Blogging · Daily Life · Personal History · Television  → 18 Comments

14 January 2008 — A Bedtime Story (3)

“You need to put up something different at foldedspace,” Kris told me tonight when I went upstairs to tuck her in. “It’s been a week since your car trouble. You sound all suicidal and stuff.”

“Hm,” I said. “You’re right. I just haven’t had time. And I’m not suicidal.”

“I know,” she said. “But it sounds like it.”

“I’ll go do that now,” I said, getting up to leave.

“No,” she said. “Tell me a story.”

I lay down and began: “Once upon a time, on a planet far far away, there lived a race of people devoted to pure intelligence. These people were believed to think the most sublime thoughts in the galaxy. But there was one problem: they were so devoted to intellect that they neglected their physical nature. They evolved into ugliness. In fact, they were so ugly, that it was said any human who set eyes upon a Medusan — they were called Medusans — would go insane.”

“Is this Star Trek?” asked Kris.

“One day, a spaceship called upon the Medusan planet to pick up its ambassador and his companion, a human woman who had not gone insane from looking at these ugly people. Why hadn’t she gone insane? She was blind.”

“This is Star Trek, isn’t it?” said Kris.

“On board the spaceship, there was only one man who could be trusted to deal with the Medusan ambassador. The first officer, you see, was only half human, and with the proper visor over his eyes, he would not be driven insane.”

“I knew it. It is Star Trek,” Kris said, laughing.

I paused. “Yes, I guess it is,” I said, as if I hadn’t just watched this particular episode fifteen minutes before. “And it’s a long story, I realize now. In fact, it’d probably take fifty minutes to tell it to you.” An episode of Star Trek lasts fifty minutes.

Kris laughed. “Why don’t you just give me the summary.” And so I did.

“I don’t know why you watch that show,” she said when I had finished. “It’s not very good.”

“Well, you’re mostly right. Most of the episodes are average. But some of them are great. I really liked this episode. It was very science fiction-y. My favorite episodes are those with stories that don’t have to exist in the Star Trek universe. This was one of those.”

“And what was the one with the gangsters?” Kris asked. I made her watch “A Piece of the Action” with me a couple weeks ago.

“The one with the gangsters was just bad,” I said.

“They’re all bad,” muttered Kris as I kissed her good night.

And I went downstairs to watch another episode…

Tags: Daily Life · Geekiness · Television  → 3 Comments

13 December 2007 — The Devil in the Dark (6)

When I was a boy, I loved Star Trek. For nearly twenty years, Portland’s KPTV (channel 12) broadcast the series at 4pm every Sunday afternoon. We didn’t have a television for much of my childhood, but most of my friends did. Whenever possible, I would watch Star Trek.

When the series was released on DVD a few years ago, I bought the first season, but I never watched it. It’s been gathering dust.

A few weeks ago, I decided to make some clam chowder. This is a laborious process. Though I enjoy it, the work takes a couple hours, and much of it is mindless. “I should watch something on the computer,” I thought. “I should watch Star Trek.” And so I did. I’ve been watching one episode a night ever since.

Many of the early episodes are truly awful — there are good reasons the show struggled to stay on the air. But by the middle of the first season, things began to click. The writers and producers discovered their characters and figured out how to tell their stories.

I plan to do a full review of season in about a week, but I want to take the time to mention one of my favorite episodes: The Devil in the Dark. On an important mining colony, a mysterious creature is terrorizing the workers. This mysterious beast can move through solid rock, and it dissolves anyone it touches. Fifty men have died in just a few months. The Enterprise is summoned to eliminate the problem.

Initially, Kirk and company intend to destroy the creature. But, as he is wont to do, Spock begins to suspect that there’s something deeper to the problem. He’s right, of course. First of all, the life form is silicon-based, something that is seemingly impossible. Second, it is highly intelligent. And finally, it is merely defending its nest, which has been disrupted by the mining activities.

Watching the episode tonight, it was shockingly obvious that this is where my appreciation of inter-species friendship and communication originated. It was from watching this episode of Star Trek when I was a boy that I developed an appreciation for other animals, and began to suspect that other species might harbor intelligence that we, as humans, could barely comprehend. From there, it was only a small jump to similar philosophical positions.

Many of these Star Trek episodes don’t stand up well upon re-viewing. I haven’t seen them in twenty (or thirty!) years, and what I loved as a boy is sometimes almost unwatchable as an adult. (The Corbomite Maneuver is mind-numbingly bad.) But The Devil in the Dark is as good as I remembered. Amazing that much of the framework of the adult J.D.’s belief system can be traced to one hour of television made in 1965…

Tags: Animal Intelligence · Deep Thoughts · Introspection · Personal History · Television  → 6 Comments

5 December 2007 — The Wire: Prequels (4)

Kris and I have been re-watching The Wire. I believe it’s the best television show ever produced. It’s epic. It’s powerful. It’s moving.

The Wire explores the world of crime and corruption in Baltimore, Maryland, looking at things not just from the cops’ eyes, but also from the eyes of the criminals. Creator David Simon does a fantastic job of drawing parallels, showing how honor and family are important in the criminal world, and how the “good guys” can be just as amoral and conniving as those that most people would condemn.

The fourth season was released on DVD yesterday. Though we’re not ready to watch it, we squatted on the first disc at Netflix. We’ll hold it until we’re ready to view. Mean? Perhaps, but I’d rather do that than have to wait. We’ll finish the second season this weekend, and then do the third over the following week. We’ll be watching the fourth season by Christmas.

Meanwhile, here are some bonus prequel episodes, which have been posted to YouTube. In the first one, we meet a young Proposition Joe (played by a woefully inept boy who must have been cast just for looks):

Warning: Plenty of foul language ahead.


Young Proposition Joe (1962)


Young Omar (1985)


When Bunk Met McNulty (2000)

Though these clips are fun for those who watch and love the show, they’re not really representative of the show itself. The show is simply amazing.

Not everyone agrees. Andrew and Courtney tried to give it a go based on our recommendations, but they found it unwatchable. There is a lot of swearing and violence — it’s a stark show that doesn’t flinch from reality — but I think it’s worth it. The first season takes four or five episodes to get rolling, but once it does, it’s amazing…

Finally, here’s a promo for season five, which begins next month on HBO.

Too bad Kris and I won’t be watching that for at least another year.

Tags: Rants and Raves · Television  → 4 Comments

18 August 2007 — Heroes (0)

Sometimes Kris surprises me. For months I’ve been trying to get her to watch Heroes with me. It’s not a show I was interested in at first (am I interested in many television shows?), but after reading so many good reviews, I purchased the entire first season from iTunes, but never watched it. It’s been sitting on my hard drive unviewed for at least six months. “It looks stupid,” Kris would say. “I don’t like superheroes.”

Then last Thursday, she surprised me. “Let’s watch Heroes,” she said.

“Er, okay,” I said, and we traipsed upstairs to connect the computer to the big monitor. We watched the first episode.

“Hm,” said Kris.

“It’s supposed to get better,” I said. So we watched the second episode. And the third. “It’s time for bed,” I said.

“We can watch one more episode,” Kris said.

On Friday, we watched three more episodes, and on Saturday another three. In fact, it was hard to stop. It was like an addiction.

Heroes is a clever show in many ways. Creator Tim Kring has drawn on many modern superhero tropes, and developed them for television in a way that is friendly not only to comic book geeks, but also to those who wouldn’t be caught dead reading a comic. The characters don’t run around in costumes — they’re average people leading average lives. Superpowers are downplayed at the expense of human drama. Sometimes it seems like a soap opera with superheroes.

The main characters include:

  • Claire, a Texas cheerleader with amazing healing abilities.
  • D.L., a ghost-like ex-con.
  • Isaac, a drug-addict who can paint the future.
  • Hiro, who can bend time and space.
  • Matt, a cranky L.A. police officer who can read minds.
  • Nathan, a politician who can fly, and his brother, Peter, who can temporarily absorb other people’s powers.
  • Niki, who is basically the Incredible Hulk.
  • Micah — Nikki’s boy — who can control machines.

And, of course, there are a collection of bad-guys, most notably Sylar, a man who kills other super-powered people and eats their brains to take their powers.

This show isn’t perfect, though. In fact, often it’s just mediocre. To some degree, Heroes suffers from the Battlestar Galactica disease: characters that are chummy one week will be at each other’s throats the next week, and then allied again in the third week. These ever-shifting alliances make little sense, and it’s often difficult to discern any long-term motive for a particular character. This frustrates me, but it’s not as bad on Heroes as it is on Battlestar Galactica. Also, like Galactica, Heroes has the danger of becoming “about itself”, the ultimate sign of a doomed show.

(Someday I’ll articulate this theory in more detail, but it’s my belief that you can tell a show has grown stale — jumped the shark, if you will — when it no longer adheres to its initial premise, but becomes “about itself”. The classic example is Seinfeld’s self-referential plot about developing a “show about nothing”. In that particular case, it was well-handled, but most of the time when something like that happens, the show is lost. It happened in a big way during Battlestar Galactica season three, and it’s happened to most of my favorite shows. It’s one of the primary reasons that the Star Trek franchise imploded.)

I like most of the cast of Heroes, but I’d be happier if some of the characters died. Matt Parkman, the telepathic police officer, needs to be offed. I’m not a fan of Nikki/Jessica, either. I know that there will be new characters during the second season, but I’d actually prefer if the show was mostly about new characters and situations. We’ll see.

I enjoyed the show — though the first ten episodes were better than the last thirteen — and I look forward to seeing where the creators take it in the future. Best of all, I know that Kris will be watching it with me!

(For those of you who watch the show, be sure to check out the Heroes wiki.)

Tags: Geekiness · Television  → No Comments

18 August 2007 — Heroes (1)

Sometimes Kris surprises me. For months I’ve been trying to get her to watch Heroes with me. It’s not a show I was interested in at first (am I interested in many television shows?), but after reading so many good reviews, I purchased the entire first season from iTunes, but never watched it. It’s been sitting on my hard drive unviewed for at least six months. “It looks stupid,” Kris would say. “I don’t like superheroes.”

Then last Thursday, she surprised me. “Let’s watch Heroes,” she said.

“Er, okay,” I said, and we traipsed upstairs to connect the computer to the big monitor. We watched the first episode.

“Hm,” said Kris.

“It’s supposed to get better,” I said. So we watched the second episode. And the third. “It’s time for bed,” I said.

“We can watch one more episode,” Kris said.

On Friday, we watched three more episodes, and on Saturday another three. In fact, it was hard to stop. It was like an addiction.

Heroes is a clever show in many ways. Creator Tim Kring has drawn on many modern superhero tropes, and developed them for television in a way that is friendly not only to comic book geeks, but also to those who wouldn’t be caught dead reading a comic. The characters don’t run around in costumes — they’re average people leading average lives. Superpowers are downplayed at the expense of human drama. Sometimes it seems like a soap opera with superheroes.

The main characters include:

  • Claire, a Texas cheerleader with amazing healing abilities.
  • D.L., a ghost-like ex-con.
  • Isaac, a drug-addict who can paint the future.
  • Hiro, who can bend time and space.
  • Matt, a cranky L.A. police officer who can read minds.
  • Nathan, a politician who can fly, and his brother, Peter, who can temporarily absorb other people’s powers.
  • Niki, who is basically the Incredible Hulk.
  • Micah — Nikki’s boy — who can control machines.

And, of course, there are a collection of bad-guys, most notably Sylar, a man who kills other super-powered people and eats their brains to take their powers.

This show isn’t perfect, though. In fact, often it’s just mediocre. To some degree, Heroes suffers from the Battlestar Galactica disease: characters that are chummy one week will be at each other’s throats the next week, and then allied again in the third week. These ever-shifting alliances make little sense, and it’s often difficult to discern any long-term motive for a particular character. This frustrates me, but it’s not as bad on Heroes as it is on Battlestar Galactica. Also, like Galactica, Heroes has the danger of becoming “about itself”, the ultimate sign of a doomed show.

(Someday I’ll articulate this theory in more detail, but it’s my belief that you can tell a show has grown stale — jumped the shark, if you will — when it no longer adheres to its initial premise, but becomes “about itself”. The classic example is Seinfeld’s self-referential plot about developing a “show about nothing”. In that particular case, it was well-handled, but most of the time when something like that happens, the show is lost. It happened in a big way during Battlestar Galactica season three, and it’s happened to most of my favorite shows. It’s one of the primary reasons that the Star Trek franchise imploded.)

I like most of the cast of Heroes, but I’d be happier if some of the characters died. Matt Parkman, the telepathic police officer, needs to be offed. I’m not a fan of Nikki/Jessica, either. I know that there will be new characters during the second season, but I’d actually prefer if the show was mostly about new characters and situations. We’ll see.

I enjoyed the show — though the first ten episodes were better than the last thirteen — and I look forward to seeing where the creators take it in the future. Best of all, I know that Kris will be watching it with me!

(For those of you who watch the show, be sure to check out the Heroes wiki.)

Tags: Television  → 1 Comment