Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Best and Worst 8 of 2008

As we reach the end of 2008, I'd like to look back and reflect on what I consider the Top 08 Best and Worst Stories of '08. While not personal stories (e.g., the saga of our well water), they are my personal take on what counts as the "Top" stories; that is, they may or may not be that important to the Real World, but they were all notable to me personally. Also, I kind of had some order in my mind as I wrote them, but I didn't really intend for the order they are listed to be important (note: I didn't number them), so don't read too much into it.

The Best

The Election
Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert were at the top of their respective games this fall, with the election providing them with all the material they could have hoped for. Even SNL, with Tina Fey's brilliant Sarah Palin impression, rose to heights it hadn't reached in a long time. Thanks to these folks, the election was hilarious and fun. Though the icing on the cake for me was definitely the Real-World side of it: Barack Obama won. I don't really want to get into a discussion of politics, but whatever your political leanings, it is at least historical that after 42 white people at the head of the country, we finally are starting to show our true colors.

The Dark Knight
This summer, The Dark Knight swept the nation and the world to reap the second highest box office take of all time (disregarding inflation), after Titanic. But not only was it successful, it was also really good. With some brilliant performances, tough moral dilemmas, and overall topnotch storytelling, Dark Knight earned significant critical notice. Heath Ledger is poised to earn an Oscar nomination, perhaps even the award, for his portrayal of the Joker, and who knows, The Dark Knight might become a dark horse and earn some Oscar recognition itself.

LOST is good again!
After a disenchanting second and third season, Lost got back on track in Season 4, bringing mind-bending flash-forwards, touching drama, and new mysteries with each question it answered. And in the season finale, they frickin' moved the Island! I am awaiting Lost's return in its penultimate season most anxiously.

Battlestar Galactica Season 4.0
Speaking of huge cliffhangers, in BSG, they found Earth! It's frakkin' there! And it's... not as we remember it. BSG's last season was split in half by the writers' strike last year, so the final ten episodes will be showing this winter/spring. This show keeps me on the edge of my seat even more than Lost, so I really can't wait for this one to come back.

Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog
Joss Whedon (and his brothers). Neil Patrick Harris, Nathan Fillion, Felicia Day. Singing. About an evil super-villain. The concept is both utterly wacky and perfectly brilliant at the same time. The three-installment movie came out hilarious and touching and catchy, and they put it up online free of charge this past summer. And then they made a DVD with great extras including Commentary: The Musical with more varied, catchy, and insightful songs. Dr. Horrible is further proof that unorthodox business models can be successful. Never before have horses seemed so frightening, nor has taking over the world seemed like such a sweet gesture.

Mass Effect on PC
So I guess Mass Effect first came out in 2007, but it wasn't on PC until 2008, so it didn't enter my radar until this year. And what a great game it is. BioWare knows how to make a good game, and this one had a strong main storyline, interesting side quests, lots of tough and important choices, fun characters, impressive acting--from both the voice actors and the animated characters--good combat, and a brilliantly imagined sci-fi world (well, galaxy). The most smooth and enjoyable game I'd played in a while. I hope the planned movie version won't tarnish its image (unlikely, but we won't have to worry about it for several years at least).

Adorable, innovative, moving, challenging. Pixar, which has consistently delivered great animated films, outdid even itself with this masterpiece. People had questioned whether kids would be able to make it through the long period at the beginning which had practically no dialogue and only a lonely, dirty robot in a world junkyard, but as someone who took three young boys (one of whom has ADD) to see the movie, I can attest to the fact that even the kiddies were riveted throughout the film. A beautiful movie that deserves every award it gets.

Diablo III, SW:TOR MMORPG announced
This summer brought two computer game announcements that made me squirm in my seat with excitement. Blizzard would finally be coming out with a sequel to Diablo II, and BioWare is making a sort of sequel to its Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic game. We've been fed selected footage of Diablo III, and it looks pretty cool. TOR is said to have more story content than all of BioWare's previous games combined (that's a lot!), but it has yet to reach a stage to have much to show. I am excited for these two games, though without a release date for either, I think they will both be a long time coming.

The Worst

Heroes sucks
The characters in Heroes act out of character, the plot contradicts itself, very little makes actual sense within the world they've created, and every week the point of the show's existence becomes less and less clear. Its first season was good, making a superhero TV show water-cooler gossip worthy. The second season was considerably worse, but we were promised that the third season would redeem it. They didn't deliver. Still, there's hope yet, as first season collaborator Bryan Fuller returns now that he's free of other commitments because

Pushing Daisies is canceled
Oh, ABC. I know you tried. Still, I am bitter that you canceled one of the few truly unique shows on network TV. It is whimsical, adorable, bright, clever, funny, and sweet, with a great cast, great creative team, and great production. It is just so tragic that it had to go. I guess we can blame it mostly on

The WGA strike
The writers' strike began in 2007, but it carried over into 2008 enough to really screw things up for TV shows. The spring was full of reality shows and reruns and--actually, I'm not sure what it was full of, since I mostly wasn't watching because I knew there wasn't anything worth watching. Even when the strike was over, most of the networks decided not to bring back their shows until the fall, feeling that coming back for four or five shows in the spring would seem disjointed and not be worth it. CBS, which did bring its shows back for a few spring episodes, got to feel all smug in the fall, when its shows regained their audiences and the other networks' shows didn't. This was the death of Pushing Daisies, which had been a modest success with audiences and a critical darling. Other shows I watch, such as Chuck and Heroes, also took serious hits to their audiences. It is unclear if they will ever regain their pre-strike numbers. And with a SAG strike looming, who knows which shows will be able to survive 2009?

Watchmen litigation
In February 2008, after filming of Warner Bros.' movie adaptation of the famous graphic novel Watchmen was complete and the film was in post-production, 20th Century Fox filed a suit against Warner Bros. alleging that Fox actually had the copyright to the Watchmen movie. On Christmas Eve, a federal judge ruled that Fox indeed had the right to distribute the movie. Worst case scenario is that Fox will prevent the movie from ever being released. Hopefully, they'll settle to take a chunk of the profits from a movie they hadn't shown any interest in making since maybe the early '90s.

The Death of Flagship Studios
I've been sort of silent on this matter, saddened and perhaps embarrassed that I let myself get hooked on a doomed game, but I am a fan of Hellgate: London, and this summer's news that its fledgling producer had folded was unwelcome news indeed. Flagship was started by a handful of the people who had been major players in the development of Diablo II, and Hellgate: London was designed to have all the appeal of the Diablo games with the absorbing action of a first person shooter. Furthermore, while HG:L would function completely as a single-player game offline, users could play multi-player online for free (though a monthly fee would give you considerable bonus content). My brothers and I enjoyed hours of "sibling bonding time" chatting about random stuff while slaying countless demons. The game wasn't perfect, with lots of bugs and scenery that could get a little monotonous, but they were continually fixing bugs and adding new scenes and content. And, in my humble opinion, the action was considerably more entertaining than that of Diablo II. Unfortunately, bad luck and bad business did the company in. The servers will be shut down on January 31, 2009, and my brothers and I, and all the others who have come to love this game, will have to find something else like HG:L. Unfortunately, there is not at present anything quite like it.

Sarah Palin
Sure, we owe her for the memorable and hilarious Tina Fey impression, and it's not cool to beat up on the loser, but please, Sarah Palin, go away. I really don't think we've seen the last of her, and that seriously worries me.

Heath Ledger's death
Lots of people died this year, of course, and you can't really compare tragedies, so singling out one death for my Worst list is somewhat unfair. But I really liked Heath Ledger. The fact that he was one of the most respected actors of my generation made me feel somehow invested in his career, and his death on January 22, 2008 was heartbreaking. By age 28, he had already racked up more varied and notable performances than some stars do in a lifetime, earning an Oscar nod for his performance in Brokeback Mountain and giving another Oscar-worthy performance in The Dark Knight. But his career was just beginning, and in addition to promising more and even better future performances as he matured, he was looking into directing and taking part in other aspects of the creative process. He was adorable and charming, with a beautiful little daughter that he loved. He was a movie star but a serious actor who was not as much of a tabloid topic as he might have been; he managed to avoid a lot of the pitfalls that catch many other young stars. Basically, he was one of the ones who had it together. And boy was he talented. But his shocking accidental death cut it all off. It was devastating and tragic.

The economy
And all the other crap going on in the world--you know, wars and things that really matter. I'd like to think that it can't get any worse, but it could. Hopefully 2009 will make most things better. But either way, we'll have Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert finding ways to make us laugh through--and even about--our troubles. Here's to 2008!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Fox wins the Watchmen case

Fox won the Watchmen case yesterday (Variety).

Warner Bros. had produced the comic book adaptation thinking they had acquired the rights for the movie, but last February, 20th Century Fox filed a suit claiming they still retained the rights. As the case made its way through court, Warner Bros. went ahead with the Watchmen movie's production and promotion, and even now they have not backed away from the movie's scheduled premiere on March 6. No word has come yet on what Fox is going to do now that they have the power over the movie. In August, Fox representatives claimed that they were not looking to profit from the movie but wanted to prevent its release altogether (my old post). To me that seems awfully spiteful, not to mention very stupid. While they could be taking a huge cut of a potentially blockbuster movie without having put any money, effort, or time into its production, they would instead be opening themselves up to the considerable fury of Watchmen fans. Why would they do that? Well, we'll see what they decide to do. More updates as they come...

"Merry Christmas. Sorry I f&cked you over."

Update 12/30/08:
Warner Bros. has said they do not plan to settle with Fox (IMDb) as U.S. District Court Judge Gary Feess had recommended. Judge Feess will decide on January 20th whether to block the planned March 6 release of the movie.

Update 1/7/09:
Warner Bros. and Fox have decided to forgo a jury trial and will allow Judge Gary Feess to rule whether to grant Fox a permanent injunction (Variety). The hearing will take place on January 20.

Update 1/8/09:
Warner Bros. has requested that Judge Feess rule on whether to allow Fox to block Watchmen's release as early as next Monday, since millions of dollars in marketing will be up in the air until they know for certain whether the movie will be released on March 6. The judge is expected to rule on whether to grant Warner Bros. the earlier hearing on Friday (Variety).

Update 1/9/09:
It looks like Warner Bros. and Fox may settle this dispute after all. The studios have decided to delay the federal court hearing until Monday to allow more time for settlement talks (Variety).
Meanwhile, Watchmen movie producer Lloyd Levin has written an open letter explaining his view of the whole legal dispute. It's an interesting read.

Update 1/11/09:
Warner Bros. and Fox have apparently made some progress toward a settlement, so the movie may be released on schedule after all. They have made no comment on the likely terms, but Fox would probably receive a share of the profits from Watchmen (Variety).

Update 1/15/09:
I feel this deserves its own post.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

New Header!

I have a new header image for my blog! I am very excited about this, since I've been bored with the simple text header for a while. My blog now looks ten times cooler than it did before. I've had the sidebar pictures for several months, but since you have to scroll down to see them, they don't help decorate the page when you first load it. I may make edits to the header picture to make it look better (it's hard to find text colors that will show up well on picture backgrounds), but I'm pretty pleased with what I have.

Since I don't have anything else to say in this post, I thought I'd explain my picture choices for both the sidebar and the header. All of the pictures are taken from RPGs I have played, and all of them are in some way related to my "RPG called Life" theme. The sidebar pictures represent the Seven Ages of Man as described in Jacques' famous "All the world's a stage" monologue in Shakespeare's As You Like It.
All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms;
Taken from the opening montage of Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn, I have a Child of Bhaal infant. It's a pretty creepy baby, but kind of cool.
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail

Unwillingly to school...
Representing the school-boy I have Kipp of West Harbor, from the tutorial of the Neverwinter Nights 2 original campaign.
And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad

Made to his mistress' eyebrow...
For the lover, I have Sir Anomen Delryn from Baldur's Gate II. Of all the potential lovers from the RPGs I've played, Anomen had the best cheesy lover kind of look to him.
Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,

Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,

Seeking the bubble reputation

Even in the cannon's mouth...
Chief Ashley Williams from Mass Effect represents the soldier. Her character class is appropriately "Soldier", and I get the sense she's fairly recognizable in that pink and white Phoenix armor. And I got her in a cool pose.
And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lin'd,

With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,

Full of wise saws and modern instances;

And so he plays his part...
I think ideally I might have had Keldorn for the justice, but since I already had two BG2 images, I decided to take Master Vrook from Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. He's old but not so old that he's unfit, and being a Jedi Master he's a fair character to represent justice, if not necessarily Shakespeare's idea of the justice. He is also probably more memorable than the other Jedi Masters in KotOR, since he showed up in the sequel as well and was voiced by Ed Asner.
The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper'd pantaloon,

With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;

His youthful hose, well sav'd, a world too wide

For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,

Turning again toward childish treble, pipes

And whistles in his sound...
Deckard Cain, of course. He was in the original Diablo and will be in Diablo III, but this image is Cain in the Rogue Encampment in Diablo II. We love Cain--he has that handy item identification service, even if we never do bother to stay a while and listen--but he definitely counts as a pantaloon.
Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,

Is second childishness and mere oblivion;

Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything."
This "last scene" seems to include both the childish helplessness that may come soon before death and death itself. I chose a picture to represent the "oblivion" part since it was more interesting. Here I have a picture of triple-death from Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer. It is the dead god Myrkul, former God of the Dead. Of course, dead gods float around in this other plane for a while, so to make him even deader than a dead god of the dead, my character has destroyed his spirit. See? Triple dead.

The four pictures that make up my new header image are not linked to each other but each represent the RPG called Life theme in some way themselves. In basically every RPG, characters have a certain number that represents how close they are to death. This number is generally called "health", "life", or "hit points"--I tend to use these terms interchangeably--but they basically all represent the fact that a character is alive. The image of the large red globe in the upper center of the header is the life/health globe from Diablo II; here it is full, meaning the character is fully healthy, but it will empty as the character is injured. The picture on the left of the header banner is my player character in Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer, standing at the glowing ash tree in the Ashenwood drinking a Potion of Heal, thus replenishing her life. The picture on the right is my Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn party at the Tree of Life in Suldanessellar, trying to retrieve the player character's soul from Jon Irenicus, the man in the glowing orb. And lastly, I have a shot of my Commander Shepard from Mass Effect. The screen shot is from the character profile page, which in addition to showing her "Health" statistic at the top right also shows the "Paragon" and "Renegade" bars. As the game is played, each bar will fill up according to the player's choices--Is Shepard a paragon of good and noble behavior, or does she have a rebellious streak, driven to get the job done without regard to the cost? But this shot is from the beginning of the game, before Shepard has made any of these decisions. She's a blank slate. She looks out, questioning What paths will I choose in life?

Well, that's the full disclosure on my pictures. Enjoy!

Edit: This has now been updated. See new post here.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Aliens, Heroes, and Hugh Jackman

A decade from now, we may have an angry mob of aliens at our doorstep. In a stellar publicity stunt, 20th Century Fox is promoting its new re-imagining of alien movie The Day the Earth Stood Still by beaming the movie from a satellite communications network in Cape Canaveral, Florida to Alpha Centauri, our nearest neighbor star system (Variety, IMDb). The question is, will they also send a compendium of movie reviews so the residents of said star system will know not to bother watching it?

If Galaxy Quest and Contact teach us anything, it's that aliens pay attention to the Earth media that makes it out into space. And considering the universally dismal reviews that the new Day the Earth Stood Still is receiving, we can only expect a dismal reception throughout the universe. If the denizens of Alpha Centauri are a warlike race, the offense of having such a horrible movie beamed to them will force them to declare war on us. But even if the Alpha Centaurians are keepers of peace, the movie will prove to them that we humans cannot be trusted to take care of our own culture and they will be forced to intervene... by destroying us. Luckily, it will take over four years for the signal to reach Alpha Centauri, and presuming that Alpha Centauri technology has not developed to the point of faster-than-light travel, it will take another four years or more for their armies to reach the Earth. After that, all bets are off.

Well, that was my favorite bit of recent news. What else has interested me lately?

Spider-Man The Musical continues to sling its way towards the Broadway stage with Julie Taymor at the helm. Evan Rachel Wood, who showed off her singing talent in Taymor's Across the Universe, has officially signed on to play the part of Mary Jane (IMDb). Taymor is still trying to get her other Across the Universe lead, Jim Sturgess, to play Peter Parker. We'll see how that goes.

I have already made it abundantly clear that I am very sad about ABC's cancellation of Pushing Daisies. It is possible, though, that some good may come of it. As distraught as I have been about PD's demise, I have also been distraught (along with countless other fans) over the pathetic decline of Heroes. I have refrained from ranting in this blog each week about my specific gripes with various nonsensical plot developments, but suffice it to say that a show that I once enjoyed and admired has turned into a mishmash of Heroes doing random things for no good reason amidst a world of forced plot devices. Sometimes I feel like they must have new writers each week who have not seen more than two of the previous episodes. Plot twists are great, but they still have to make sense. It's fine not to be able to see a twist coming before it happens, but it's a problem if you still can't see the twist coming after it happens. Hmm, apparently the one sentence did not suffice for my venting, but I'll stop myself there at four. Anyway... Bryan Fuller, who co-executive produced the well-loved first season of Heroes and wrote a couple of its episodes ("Collision" and "Company Man"), has not been working on Heroes for the past two years because he was busy being the creator of Pushing Daisies. Now that PD has been canceled, Fuller has returned to Heroes as a consultant. There are no guarantees that Heroes can or will be saved, but fans at least have a reason not to give up hope (EW Ausiello Files interview).

Lastly, it was announced today that Hugh Jackman will be hosting the Oscars (Variety, IMDb). I hope he will do some singing. He won an Emmy for hosting the Tony Awards the year after he won a Tony for his starring role in Boy from Oz (which I saw--he was great, as was the show), so he has some good qualifications. While not a comedian in the same sense that recent hosts Jon Stewart, Ellen DeGeneres, Chris Rock, Steve Martin and others are, he knows how to work an audience from a stage, is fun and likable, and he is the World's Sexiest Man Alive. I'm looking forward to the Oscars. Hopefully it will happen. We'll see how the strike thing plays out...

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Golden Globe Nominees 2009

*It's the hap-happiest season of all...*

Ah, 'tis the season of giving: Awards Season!

A handful of movie awards have already been handed out, but the nominees for the 2009 66th Annual Golden Globe Awards were announced this morning. Before I discuss the nominees, let me first take a moment to reflect on last year's Golden Globes. Hmm, that's strange, I don't remember them at all. Oh, that's right--last year's Golden Globe ceremony was canceled and replaced with what was essentially a press conference announcing the winners, thanks to the WGA strike. No one really cared about whether the writers were going to be at the ceremony anyway, but since the stars whom people actually do care about weren't interested in crossing picket lines, the Golden Globe extravaganza was tragically called off. And where are we this year? SAG is now on the verge of a strike vote, with ballots to authorize a strike going out to members on January 2. Luckily for the Golden Globes (and broadcaster NBC), the ballots will not be counted until January 23, meaning that the January 11 ceremony is safe. Phew! The Oscars, of course, are not so fortunately free of worries in that regard.

Now as for this year's nominees. (They are listed in their entirety a number of places, such as IMDb, so I won't list them all but merely discuss whatever interests me.) The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Frost/Nixon lead the pack with five nominations including Best Picture - Drama; Doubt also received five nominations, including four acting nods, but no nod for best picture. The five best picture nominees, which in addition to Frost/Nixon and Button were Slumdog Millionaire, The Reader, and Revolutionary Road, got the five nominations for their directors; all but Revolutionary Road also got nominations for their screenwriters (Doubt got the fifth Screenplay nod). Meryl Streep got nominations for both Mamma Mia! and Doubt, and Kate Winslet also got two with Revolutionary Road and The Reader.

Milk, which seemed to be among the front-runners for best picture, surprisingly only received a nod for Sean Penn as best actor in a drama. The Dark Knight only got a nomination for Heath Ledger as best supporting actor. James Franco got a surprise nod for his role in Pineapple Express, though no recognition for his praised role in Milk. Robert Downey Jr. got a deserved supporting actor nomination for his role in Tropic Thunder, but perhaps the funniest surprise of the morning was that Tom Cruise was nominated in the same category for his Tropic Thunder performance. I will be watching the results of that category with great interest.

The list of nominees, though, has made me realize just how little I have seen this year. The only nominees I have actually seen are

Heath Ledger for The Dark Knight, Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture
WALL-E, Best Animated Film
House M.D., Best Television Series - Drama
Hugh Laurie for "House M.D.", Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series - Drama
Neil Patrick Harris for "How I Met Your Mother", Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television

That's it. House and HIMYM aren't even really "My Shows". I have been watching House this season because it stands between Jeopardy and Fringe on Tuesday nights and one of my housemates is a fan; I enjoy it well enough, but it is mildly annoying, and it never did let me in on the secret that it's actually that good. I have only seen this season and half of Season 1 of HIMYM, though I love what I've seen, especially Neil Patrick Harris' Barney, and if I had the time and DVDs I would happily make it one of "My Shows". Still, since I haven't seen even half of the episodes, I hardly count myself a true follower.

In regards to the TV nominees, I can somewhat fairly grumble about the lack of Pushing Daisies, Lost, Desperate Housewives, Battlestar Galactica, or other possible nominees, though not having cable means that I haven't been able to watch many of the actual nominees and thus can't refute their merit. But in the movie categories, I just haven't been to the theater enough. Beyond WALL-E and Dark Knight, I haven't seen anything that would really deserve a nomination.

Frost/Nixon is probably at the top of my list of movies I'd like to see. Milk and Benjamin Button are also high on the list, and I'd see Doubt if it were at a local theater. I would have seen Rachel Getting Married if it had come to a local theater. But it didn't. And there lies one of the problems. Our local four-screen theater only gets the most mainstream (and usually boring and bad) movies. Current offerings: Bolt, Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, Twilight, Quantum of Solace, Four Christmases. Those choices aren't really that bad, considering the dismal offerings throughout the fall. The next closest theater, 25 minutes away, has screens the size of some people's home theaters, and the only additional film it offers is Role Models. I have to drive nearly an hour to get to a theater that has any chance of showing Frost/Nixon. And my chances of finding a friend who wants to drive an hour to see something bleak like Doubt are, well, doubtful. All right, I'll stop complaining. I'll see some of these movies eventually, somehow, I hope.

Well, we'll see how this awards season plays out. Will I make it to the theater to see any of the nominees? Will a strike disrupt the Academy Awards? Will there be any viewers around to notice? Time (and I) will tell.

*It's the most wonderful time of the year!*

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Caprica is greenlit

Sci Fi Channel has now officially greenlit Battlestar Galactica prequel series "Caprica" with a full season order, set to premiere in early 2010 (Variety). Caprica takes place 50 years before the events of BSG at a time when humans were beginning to face the serious moral dilemmas brought by the creation of artificial intelligence. The series focuses on two rival families, the Adamas and the Graystones, on the planet of Caprica, a world not unlike how we might envision our own near future. Esai Morales stars as Joseph Adama, a lawyer and father of future Admiral William Adama. Eric Stoltz stars as Daniel Graystone, a wealthy computer genius who seems destined to make great breakthroughs in artificial intelligence. The two will inevitably clash as Graystone insists on making intelligent robots despite Adama's dire warnings. Expect character-driven drama, tough moral issues with no clear right or wrong, and frightening parallels to events in the real world.

I'd just like to put this little issue out there in the hopes that someone can clear it up for me. My understanding of the timeline is that the Cylon War lasted twelve and a half years and was followed by 40 years of no Cylon contact prior to the massive attack that marked the beginning of the Battlestar Galactica series. By my calculations, this would put Caprica, which is supposed to be 50 years before that attack, around about the third year of the Cylon War. Not exactly the time that I would expect them to be just getting around to inventing artificial intelligence. I guess that at least some of my facts here are incorrect, and all will be made clear when the show actually starts.

Now that's out of the way, I must say that I am very excited for this show. BSG is probably my favorite show on right now, and I will be so sad (though possibly also relieved--as I've said before, it stresses me out!) when it ends this spring. The thought of the story continuing, even if the continuation is in a prequel where we already know to some extent where they're going to end up (i.e. genocide), makes me very happy*. Still, I have some considerable apprehension. The many characters of BSG are a crucial part of its greatness--I love every one of them, in one way or another. There isn't a single "good guy" on the show that I haven't been furious with at some point, because like real people they all sometimes act rashly or selfishly and make mistakes, but this in some ways only makes me love them more. And the villains are equally fascinating and flawed. Caprica may be set in the same universe as BSG, but it will not feature the same characters--in that regard, it starts from scratch. The creators better not mess up their new characters.

Sci Fi Channel hopes that Caprica will be accessible to a general audience by being set not on a space ship but on an Earth-like planet. It seems, though, that they have agreed to a serial story arc rather than an episodic setup, which means it will likely have trouble picking up new viewers once the story gets going. But as long as it delivers as compelling characters, thought-provoking issues, and captivating drama as the Battlestar Galactica series, I will be there.

For your convenience (and mine), the Battlestar Galactica schedule:

January 16, 2009 - Premiere of the second half of the final season of BSG
March 20, 2009 - BSG series finale
Early summer, 2009 - Two-hour movie "Battlestar Galactica: The Plan"
Early 2010 - Premiere of Caprica

* Glancing quickly over this sentence, it looks a bit like I've just said, "genocide makes me very happy." Please do not quote me on that one.

Monday, December 1, 2008

The perfect Christmas gift

This morning, Victoria (one of the two professors that I work for) and I were discussing Christmas gifts that we were planning on buying for various friends and family. Though slightly embarrassed, she hesitantly confided in me the gift that she was planning on getting for some of her extended family, including I think her siblings and her husband's siblings. She is getting them all surge protector power strips.

To her credit, she is getting them cool eco-friendly power strips that automatically cut off power to the whole strip if the plug in the main socket is not drawing power. She explained to me that this was perfect if you have your computer plugged in the main socket and your printer, monitor, external hard drive, etc. plugged in the others so that if the computer is off you won't be draining energy away to all your unused plugged-in items. Furthermore, it can even be tuned to turn off these extra sockets if the main socket is only on low power (like if the computer is asleep). And there are one or two sockets that will always have power, in case there are things you want to keep on.

Now, this is all well and good; the world needs more green-conscious people, and these handy-dandy power strips/surge protectors will, in addition to helping the environment, save her family members money on their energy bills. But it does not help the fact that she is giving people power strips for Christmas.

The ever-insightful Weird Al taught us that the power strip is the supreme nerd gift; i.e., only the most ridiculously hopelessly clueless nerd would give someone a power strip as a gift. I am referring, of course, to his "White & Nerdy" music video. "White & Nerdy" is a flawless parody of Chamillionaire's "Ridin' (Dirty)", which is definitely worth checking out so you can fully appreciate the parody. Weird Al's "White & Nerdy" deftly mirrors the style and patterns of the original (and, as is typical of Weird Al parodies, at times even matches the rhyme schemes) while playing with the irony of setting the ultimate nerd lyrics to such a badass song. What makes the song truly brilliant, and also supremely entertaining to a nerd like me, is how spot-on Weird Al is with his list of all things nerdy. He nails the stereotypical nerd perfectly. The following is a selection of characteristics of the nerd, according to the "White & Nerdy" music video:

The nerd is an adept mathematician, physicist, and computer programmer. The nerd...
-is an MIT valedictorian
-knows an absurd number of digits of pi
-does vector calculus for fun
-is a master programmer in multiple languages
-is a fan of Stephen Hawking books

The nerd's hobbies/interests include...
-Star Trek (a must: fluency in Klingon)
-Star Wars
-AV club
-glee club
-chess team
-trivia games
-Monty Python and the Holy Grail
-Collecting action figures and X-Men comics
-Happy Days theme song
-Renaissance Faires

The nerd wears...
-a pocket protector
-a fanny pack
-underwear with name printed on back

The nerd enjoys...
-Earl Grey tea

The nerd's mode of transportation is...
-Segway (helmet required)

While surely it takes a special brand of nerd to write such a song, one must also be a nerd oneself to fully appreciate the song. My college roommate, whom I succeeded in educating in the ways of Star Wars but who is still totally clueless about Star Trek, did not understand the "fluent in JavaScript as well as Klingon" line (she assumed Klingon was another computer language) or the "Do I like Kirk or do I like Picard" line. I happily filled her in, of course (and explained why Picard is the correct choice in the latter topic).

The video is the perfect complement to the song. Like the song itself, the video is done in a way that reflects the original "Ridin'" video. It depicts all of the things Weird Al is singing about, which really create quite funny pictures, and it adds numerous visual jokes. There are even a couple notable cameos: Seth Green goes by quickly in the action figure scene (Seth Green seems to pop up in funny places, such as the two most recent episodes of Heroes), and Donny Osmond does some amazing dancing. And of course, at approximately 1 min 40 sec, you can't miss the look on the woman's face when she opens her Christmas present and finds... a power strip.

I sent Victoria the link to the video, telling her that it reminded me of her (really, she reminded me of it, but whatever). Luckily I have the kind of relationship with my boss where I can make fun of her like that. A few minutes later, she came out of her office saying, "That's NOT funny!" But oh, it was.