Friday, October 28, 2011

How I Met Your Mother and Ewok Appreciation

There are two sitcoms that I watch on CBS: How I Met Your Mother and The Big Bang Theory. Between the two of them, there's no question which is geekier. In fact, I think it's pretty safe to say that Big Bang Theory is the geekiest, nerdiest sitcom on television. Now, I love BBT's constant mentions of Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, the Justice League, Game of Thrones, etc. (by the way, Leonard was right to bargain down Stuart for Longclaw in a recent episode--his initial quote of $250 is $10 above the current price on Amazon). But Leonard, Sheldon, Howard, and Raj's nerdiness is kind of the main point of the show. The geeky references are expected.

The five friends on How I Met Your Mother, on the other hand, are not so obviously geeky. They have a wide range of professions: teacher, lawyer, architect, reporter, and whatever it is Barney does for Goliath National Bank. They spend a good chunk of their free time socializing at a local bar. The three who aren't married have a steady stream of relationships (though the frequency of romantic partners varies wildly). They seem like fairly normal people (except for Barney) that you might expect to meet in NYC. They'd be a really cool group of friends to hang out with.

That's why I love it so much when HIMYM lets its geekiness shine through. Ted is the only one of the bunch with a classically nerdy job, as the enthusiastic architect who perhaps overestimates architecture's universal appeal. It's a position I appreciate and relate to. I saw right through the joke when Ted, in response to Robin's question of what famous people would be at the architect's gala he was attending, answered "Lenny Kravitz. He's a rock star." (After an excited Robin manages to weasel her way in, it turns out he was actually referring to Leonard Kravitz, some wizened old--but famous in the architecture world, we are assured--guy). Yeah, we have our own "rock stars" in oceanography. You haven't heard of them.

Ted and Marshall both have strong geeky streaks. They have been known to hold the occasional sword fight, and to play with an Indiana Jones whip. In a recent episode, a photo of Marshall, Lily, and Ted dressed for Halloween as C-3PO, R2-D2, and "the robot Luke's Uncle almost bought from the Jawas", respectively, highlighted Ted's role as third wheel. There have been other Star Wars references before--I recall Ted calling "dibs" on a girl who compared the snowstorm outside to Hoth. Star Wars is, I suppose, a popular enough franchise to be only borderline geeky, though I'd say dressing as an obscure Star Wars character or naming any Star Wars planet crosses the line into true geek territory. Still, I don't think there have been any geeky references as ongoing and central to a HIMYM episode as in the recent "Field Trip", (Episode 7.5--I'm a couple weeks behind, I know).

It all starts when environmental lawyer Marshall complains that his boss seems to be going a teddy bear. Ted proposes that maybe his boss is being like an Ewok: "Cute and cuddly around the village but once the battle starts it'll smash in your metal skull with giant swinging logs." Barney's new girlfriend Nora enters to hear mention of Ewoks and declares her distaste for them, which leads Barney to conclude he can't date her anymore. This culminates in a slide show that Barney prepared all about Ewoks (anatomy, culture, etc.), ending with a graph explaining why he can't date someone who doesn't love Ewoks:
Return of the Jedi came out in 1983. Anyone older than 10 at the time found them overly cute and cloying. Anyone under 10 at the time loved them because they reminded them of their teddy bears. Thus, given Nora's hatred of Ewoks, she must be over 37, a far cry from the 29 she claimed to be, not to mention a bit old for Barney's tastes. Barney's Ewok Line slide:

As it turned out, Nora was in fact 29, she was just a latecomer to Star Wars, having not watched it until the previous year. So really, Barney's Ewok Appreciation Rule should be amended to account for this:
Anyone who dislikes Ewoks must have been over 10 years old when they first saw Return of the Jedi.
I wonder how often this actually holds up. I have certainly encountered both Ewok-hating and Ewok-loving people. Whatever their reasons for loving or hating them, I'm curious how many of them fit this rule of age when first introduced to Ewoks.

I certainly fit the rule. I've always loved Ewoks. I don't know exactly how old I was the first time I watched Return of the Jedi, but I was definitely a well-established fan by the time I went to Disney World at age 7 and rode on Star Tours (I remember posing for photos with someone dressed as Wicket, and my younger brother bought an Ewok stuffed animal). So I was at most 6 the first time my parents let me watch it.

What about everyone else? Maybe I should set up a poll, but at least sound off in the comments where you fall in the Ewok debate, and let me know whether you fit Barney's Ewok Appreciation Rule.

As an extra Easter egg for us Star Wars fans, there was also a scene in which Marshall's co-workers can be heard singing "Yub Nub" in the background during an office party. I laughed pretty hard when I recognized it. And here's a video of Barney's full Ewok slide show. During the episode he just clicks through most of it, but the kind folks at CBS put the full size images into a clip for your viewing pleasure:

I particularly like the "Ewok Styles" slide (some of them look familiar...), and the "Ewok Diet" slide, showing Han Solo. Also, apparently their average weight is 50 kg, but their average fecal deposit is 49 kg. Lovely.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Joss Whedon and Much Ado About Nothing

Some time in the past couple days, news broke that Joss Whedon is working on a film version of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing and has, in fact, already finished principal photography for it. Being the busy guy he is, it was surprising that he had time for another project. Also somewhat surprising was the fact that no one knew about it yet. We did know, at least, that he is a fan of Shakespeare, having held the occasional Shakespeare reading at his home.

Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof receive top billing as Beatrice and Benedick, respectively, and the film is filled with actors we know and love from all corners of the Whedonverse: Nathan Fillion (Dogberry), Sean Maher (Don John), Fran Kranz (Claudio), Reed Diamond (Don Pedro), Tom Lenk (Verges), and Clark Gregg (Leonarto). But beyond the full cast list, we know very few details.

I'm sorry to say I've never read the play Much Ado About Nothing, I've just seen the movie version with Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh. But I'm very interested to see how Joss Whedon's version comes out. The one image on the website certainly has me intrigued. See the movie website here:

and read about this news at Entertainment Weekly here:

I'll have to keep my eye on this one.

The coolest thing at the SOEST Open House

This past weekend was extremely busy for me, between two barbecues, the Hellrush event in Hellgate, and, most importantly, the SOEST (School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology) Open House. As a graduate student in the Oceanography Department, I was obligated to help out with this biennial extravaganza in which professors and lab groups in SOEST set up displays, demonstrations, and interactive exhibits catered to the general public both inside and outside a cluster of ocean- and Earth science-related buildings on campus. Some local organizations (e.g. Waikiki Aquarium, Bishop Museum) join in the fun by setting up their own tents, and thousands of people attend. Friday is mostly groups of school children K-12, with more family crowds on Saturday.

Open House is nuts, but it's pretty fun. I bounced back and forth between my own lab group's exhibit (a wave tank demonstration) and helping out with that of another lab group that I frequently associate with (density demonstration--how a glider controls its own density--and internal wave tank). I was also able to see some of the other exhibits--more than I saw at the Open House two years ago. There was fish painting and other cute little crafts. There was a demonstration of the effects of pressure, where you use a syringe-type mechanism to pump air out of a little chamber with three or four mini marshmallows in it: they get noticeably bigger, which is pretty cool. The flashiest exhibit was the Explosive Volcano demonstration, where they explain how gas coming out of rising magma builds up pressure under the surface of the Earth until it's great enough to burst out (this is how Krakatoa and Mount St. Helen erupted, but not the way that the volcanoes on the Big Island are erupting). For the demonstration, they poured liquid nitrogen into a plastic water bottle, capped it, then quickly duct-taped it to two bricks, dropped it in a plastic trash barrel partially filled with water, put a beach ball on top for good measure, then gave it some space. We covered our ears, and about 10 seconds later BOOOOOM!!! Water splashes out of the barrel, beach ball flies up a couple stories, sound is heard across a large part of campus, and they show us the mangled remains of the water (nitrogen) bottle. Fun stuff.

Still, the COOLEST thing at the SOEST Open House 2011 had to be the remote-controlled fish balloons. I'd never seen one before, but the moment I laid eyes on the big, cute clownfish balloon swimming down the hallway, it was like Where have you been all my life? On Saturday, I tracked down the exhibit where the fish was living (apparently the dean had bought them, so they didn't actually belong to just one lab group), and I had my turn flying it around the room. It was so fun, and the novelty never wore off. Sadly, I didn't have my camera, so I have no video footage of my flying fish balloon encounter. So I'll give you this video from the fish balloon website so you know what I'm talking about:

Apparently they're called "Air Swimmers", which seems pretty appropriate. The balloons are filled with helium, but given the weight of the items attached to them they are very nearly neutrally buoyant. Ah, the magic of neutral buoyancy. With the remote control, you can make it flap its tail left and right to propel itself forward, or make it turn right or left with a single flap right or left, respectively. A weighted device on the underside of the fish slides forward and back, also controlled by remote, to make the fish tip forward or up, allowing you to make it "swim" down or up. And with that, you have a simple yet ingenious and fascinating toy that swims through the air.

They do have a few limitations. First, they'll deflate after a while (their makers claim they'll stay inflated maybe two weeks), though you can just get them refilled, I suppose. If they pop, you'll have to buy a replacement balloon. Also, they don't compete well with any sort of breeze. They're probably best indoors in places with high ceilings and lots of space to move around.

Seriously, everyone loved these balloons. Children, adults, visitors and scientists. In the short time that I spent with the balloon, I heard several children suggest they wanted one for Christmas--and several scientists say they wanted one too. I was one of them. They're available on Amazon for $39.99 (both the clownfish and shark designs), but so far I've refrained. I'm still trying to picture how well it would work in my own house, which isn't very big and doesn't have high ceilings. But I'm very tempted. I swear I'm not affiliated with Air Swimmers and do not mean this to be an advertisement for their product but... these are so AWESOME! Everyone should have one! That is all.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Dragon Age: Redemption - Episode 2

I promise I won't be posting all six episodes of Felicia Day's Dragon Age: Redemption here--you can find them elsewhere--but I got so excited with this second episode that I have to post it, too. OK, so the first episode was a little slow, setting up the main storyline, introducing the main players. But in this episode they get to the fun stuff: main characters interacting, plus a visit to a Dalish village. Rather than read my description, why not just watch it?

See it on Felicia Day's blog here. She offers some commentary about the actors and the filming.

I really like Tallis's developing relationship with Cairn. We get a much better sense of their personalities in this episode than we got with just those brief glimpses in the first. Seeing what the phylacteries the Templar use to track escaped mages look like was nice as well, since we don't see them in use during the games, to my knowledge. But Josmael, the Dalish First, was my favorite. Apparently not so great at protecting, but he really wants to prove himself. And you know he's a mage all along, but when he shows off a little magic at the end, I have to admit that I kind of squeed. So cute. Though you know Cairn isn't going to like it...

Can't wait for the next episode!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Happy Dragon Age: Redemption Day!

We've waited a long time for this, but it's finally here. The first episode in Dragon Age: Redemption, Felicia Day's six-part web series set in BioWare's Dragon Age universe, was released today!

First, I'll link the trailer, which actually came out last week:

A fan of the Dragon Age games herself, Felicia Day was understandably thrilled when she got a call from BioWare asking her to write and star in a live action Dragon Age web series. And those of us who are fans of Felicia Day and Dragon Age (there are quite a lot of us) were thrilled as well. There's even downloadable content--Dragon Age 2: Mark of the Assassin--starring her character Tallis available starting today. She gets to be in a video game! How awesome is that? (Yes, I'm getting a bit of vicarious geek pleasure out of the whole thing.)

They got some great people to work on the project (Doug Jones!), and considering the shoestring budget they had, the costumes, makeup, and sets look amazing. The episode is frustratingly short, as is too often the case with web series. I can't wait for the second episode to come out next week!

The story and setting will be more familiar if you've played Dragon Age 2, but it's not required--a few screens of text at the beginning tell you what you need to know about the world. Well, without further ado, here's the episode:

Click through to the YouTube page to show your support and "Like" the video.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Willow's Guide to Pottermore Potions: Video tutorials

Willow's Guide to Pottermore Potions

My Pottermore username is WitchWillow140, so I take that to mean I'm a witch named Willow (how very Buffy). And this is my potion brewing guide, complete with a cost and time analysis for potion brewing. It turned out quite a bit longer than I'd originally envisioned. I don't intend anyone to read it in its entirety, but hopefully if you have questions or are experiencing some issue or other, you can find the necessary answer. If you find any mistakes, or things that have been changed, let me know.

This guide is broken into the following sections:
1. The Basics - If you've never brewed a potion, read here what it's all about.
2. The Ingredients - Where to find all the ingredients used in the 6 potions currently available.
3. General Tips - Advice that could be useful on any or all of the potions.
4. Potions Walkthrough - What you need to know to get you through the brewing of each potion.
5. Potions Cost/Benefit Analysis - OK, so which potions should you brew? I do a simple mathematical analysis to determine which potions give you the most bang for your buck--or for your time.
6. Video Tutorials - I've started doing screen captures of my potion brewing, narrating with helpful tips. If you want to see rather than just read, check these out.

Video Tutorials

I should have done this sooner. Sometimes it's easier just to watch and follow an example than it is to read descriptions, tips, and explanations. So, if you want to see some potion brewing in action, you've come to the right place.

To start off, I've only done a video tutorial for the Wideye or Awakening Potion. It's possibly the most popular potion, since it's the most cost efficient of all the potions, and it's not as hard as a couple of the others. If people find this helpful, I could do videos for some of the other potions. So let me know what you think!

Wideye or Awakening Potion

For best quality, go to full screen and select 720p.
This is the link, if you'd like to see it on YouTube.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Happy Ada Lovelace Day!

I'm not sure who organized it or why this date was chosen, but I learned through ThinkGeek that today is Ada Lovelace Day, in celebration of achievements of women in science and technology. Ada Lovelace is often considered the first computer programmer. Her notes on Charles Babbage's proposed Analytical Engine in the 1840s contained what is recognized as the first computer program, an algorithm intended to be processed by a machine.

I'm wearing my Ada Lovelace t-shirt from ThinkGeek in honor of the occasion:

Also keeping with the theme of the day, here's the code that I've recently written and will be debugging today:

In case you're curious, it's a third order upwind horizontal advection scheme to be used with POM (Princeton Ocean Model). At the moment, it runs but after a few hours in simulation time starts churning out completely unrealistic values. I don't know why. Hopefully some good programming mojo for Ada Lovelace Day will rub off on me, and I'll fix it today. Though I should probably stop blogging and start coding if I want that to happen.

Happy Ada Lovelace Day!