Archive for August, 2012

Doctor Who Challenge: Days 26-30

Thursday, August 30th, 2012

Just to knock this out with the last five days so I can stop thinking about it:

Day 26: Favorite Doctor gadget

I’m not a big fan of the Whatever Device. I was somewhat fond of Bessie in the old series. But nothing really can compete with the sonic, can it?

Day 27: Favorite interview

It’s not quite an interview, but the extra part of Martha’s instructions from Human Nature, where David Tennant says some amazingly silly things, is a great.

Day 28: Favorite gif

Uh, no. I hate animated gifs.

Day 29: Favorite guest star

Most of the guest stars were already covered in villains and companions and so on. But I would like to highlight two little cameos that brought a grin: John Cleese in City of Death and Bill Nighy in Vincent and the Doctor.

Day 30: When you became a Doctor Who fan

It was the mid-80′s. My friend Adam (name changed to protect the innocent) was very into Doctor Who. I had watched a couple of episodes — Pyramids of Mars and Four to Doomsday. But I wasn’t really into it.

Then I watched an episode with him called Mawdryn Undead. Although I have seen it many times since, I can still remember the mindset of watching it off and on, becoming intrigued but being confused about what was going on. I an still remember it as some half-understood mix of images. While the effects were notoriously lousy, the ideas, the writing the acting drew me in.

I was intrigued enough that I decided to watch Terminus on my own the next week. And, after that, I was hooked. I realize that Terminus is no one’s idea of a great episode. But I found it intriguing. And when it was followed by Davison’s great last season and then Pertwee’s run, I became an addict.

What followed was a wonderful time as I discovered the series. There was so much to look forward to – 20+ seasons! I can still remember eagerly anticipating each week’s episode, breaking out the newspaper and seeing what was on.

The American experience of Doctor Who is very different from the British one, especially before the new series became popular. Doctor Who was … well, not exactly obscure. Most people had seen an episode on PBS. But it was so weird for someone to be a fan of the show. Being a Trekkie was bad enough, but a Whovian? That was a real freak show.

(Hell, my dad use to get on me about it. Funny story: frustrated with my lack of a dating life, he used to say, “What, are you going to marry Doctor Shmoo? Ironically, 30 years later, I did. My wife is named Sue, some friends call her Shmoo and she has a Ph.D. in biochemistry. And Doctor Who is probably the only TV show we watch these days.

My mother, however, embracing anything that got me out of the house, sneaked into a fan club meeting and found someone who knitted Tom Baker scarves. It was the most shocking birthday present I ever got.)

Sad to say, I did not have a lot of friends in high school. But Adam, before we had a falling out, introduced me to Terminus Tardis, a Doctor Who fan club (Terminus is one of Atlanta’s three previous names). I would go about once a month to watch old episodes or the newest episodes, neither of which were being shown on TV. But I would also socialize. I met a couple of people from my high school who were into it (I was frantically reading the novelizations and developed a reputation — and not a good one — for always having a Doctor Who book on me). I would go down to the PBS station to answer phones when they were raising money during Doctor Who. And … well, that was my social life, such as it was.

Without Doctor Who, I might have been even lonelier in high school. But I don’t look back on that time with any shame. When I watch old episodes, it takes me back to those old days of adjusting my rabbit ears to pick up a clear signal and eagerly discussing the latest discovery with my few friends. And now that Doctor who is cool, I can legitimately say I was into Doctor Who before it was cool (way, way, waaaay before it was cool). And I’m sure that scarf makes me look like some kind of … well, maybe not a hipster … but something not entirely uncool.

Anyway, those paragraphs above tell you a lot about why I love the show so much and I would devoted several thousand words to a silly tumblr exercise. Now it’s out of my head and into yours. Back to our regularly scheduled program.

Doctor Who Challenge: Days 16-19

Thursday, August 30th, 2012

Is the blog haunted? I could swear that right before vacation, I posted Days 16-19, wrote but held Day 20. Then I came back and an empty Day 20 was posted, so I had to fix it. Now I can’t find 16-19. So this is all out of order and I’m just going to finish this puppy and crawl into a hole before I embarrass myself further.

I know I wrote this because I remember how hard it was to come up with the choices.

Day 16: Favorite Actor

I’ve already stated my favorite doctors and companions, so I’ll exclude them and just focus on guest stars.

For the old series, I always liked Michael Sheard, who played numerous roles and was simply great as the doomed Lawrence Scarman in Pyramids of Mars. For the new series, I’ll go with Michael Gambon. The character of Kazran could have been terrible; Gambon made it exceptional. Honorable mention to Julian Bleach as Davros and Bill Nighy’s cameo in Vincent and the Doctor.

Day 17: Least Favorite Actor

When you base a series in Britain, you’re hard-pressed to get bad actors. But Graham Crowden in Horns of Nimon was simply awful (although that may have been the horrid script). For the new series, I didn’t like Peter Kay in Love and Monsters but that’s probably because I hate Love and Monsters so much. It’s awfulness was not really his fault.

Day 18: Favorite Actress

For the old series, Beatrix Lehmann was simply a delight as Professor Rumford in Stones of Blood, one of the few episodes of the old series that passed the Bechdel Test. For the new series, I’ll take Carey Mulligan, who I still wish would return as Sally Sparrow.

Day 19: Least Favorite Actress

No one could eclipse Bonnie Langford for the old series. For the new series, I never cared for the Lady Cassandra character and Zoe Wanamaker’s performance.

The Ewing Theory

Sunday, August 26th, 2012

The recent massive trade between Los Angeles and Boston, in which Boston is dumping most of their high-paid stars to LA, has brought the Ewing Theory back into the lexicon. Here is Bill Simmons’ 10-year old explanation of the Ewing Theory. The Ewing Theory — better described as the Ewing Effect — is when a star player leaves a franchise, the media all assume this spells doom for the franchise and the team “inexplicably” (although usually quite explicably, if you look closely) wins anyway. It was first brought into light by Simmons, a writer I generally like, in the context of the Mariners’ surprising 2001 season.

The Ewing Theory has kicked around for a while and I’ve never liked it. I’ll get into the weeds below but the basic reason is that it exemplifies many of the worst things about sports media coverage and sports fandom. Sports writers and sports fans simple love to tell us how a great player isn’t really that great. They love to talk about how some player they don’t particularly like is really a loser who fails to elevate his team. When a team flops or stumbles or simply can’t win the championship — keeping in mind that winning a championship is a team effort and, by definition, only one team can do it every year — the media/fans will often pick out the best player and vent their frustration on him. And those who never liked him anyway will gloat about his lack of leadership. This tendency has become far worse in the last few decades as player have started to make more and more money.

But is it possible that a player can, on paper, be really excellent but drag his team down? Well, it’s possible. A great player could eat up so much salary that the team can’t sign other great players. A great player could be blocking an even better player. A team could center their strategy on the great player at the expense of even better components. The latter may especially be true in a sport like football, where there are a lot of moving parts on any team.

But the Ewing Theory seems to postulate something different: that the very absence of a star player can elevate the existing team to be better. And after looking at it, I’m convinced that this effect either doesn’t exist or is very small. The Ewing Theory keeps foundering on much more secular and concrete explanations.

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Friday Linkorama

Thursday, August 23rd, 2012

Long-form

  • I encountered this problem with my own child. Some pediatricians are simply obsessed with child growth charts, even to the point of stupidity. We had one pediatrician — who we quickly dumped — freak out because Abby was supposedly way too short for age. It turned out they’d put her height in as centimeters instead of inches. It was simply bizarre watching this medical professional insist that our daughter, one of the tallest in her class, was dangerously short. We quickly switched to one who uses the charts for reference but is not defined by them.
  • The most telling part of this story, about Iran banning women from certain college majors, is the note that Iranian women were massively outperforming their male counterparts. Can’t have that, can we?! Looks like the Islamists are figuring out what the Communists did: when you educate a person, they are halfway to freedom.
  • I’m of two minds about peoples who have not contacted civilization. On the one hand, I don’t like forcing civilization on people. On the other, there seems a bit of condescension in the “don’t disturb their culture” mentality.
  • This article, in which Megan McArdle argues that we like to be conned, seems dead accurate to me. Gregg Easterbrook has made the same argument. Bubbles don’t happen because people are stupid. Bubbles happen because people are greedy. They know, deep down, it’s an illusion; but they keep hoping the roof won’t cave in on them.
  • Mathematical Malpractice Watch: Rape Statistics

    Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012

    The Akin controversy has brought a lot of ugliness to light. I’ll push aside the broader political issues, which I’ve discussed on the other blog. Instead, I want to focus on a particular piece of nonsense from one of the more influential pro-Life figures, who has tried to argue that rape pregnancies are very rare.

    You would think this would be straight forward. You could, for example, find rape victims and ask them if they got pregnant. And indeed, a study estimated that about 5% of rapes end in pregnancy and 32,000 fetuses are conceived in rape every year. You could also ask women getting abortions if they were raped. And indeed, Guttmacher did this and produced a lower estimate of about 10,000 or so. There is no real incentive, at this point, for women to lie about how they got pregnant. Or there are just as many reasons for them lie either way since many women are tragically ashamed of having been raped. But there is no a priori reason to suspect that either number is greatly inflated.

    (The Guttmacher number seems a little better since the numbers in the former study would indicate about 640,000 rapes a year or three times what the FBI and NCVS conclude, even including the under-reporting factor. The difference is likely that Guttmacher is recent and Holmes was published in 1996, shortly after crime rates peaked. Rape rates have plunged in the last 16 years and are down about 85% over the last 30.)

    But plain facts aren’t enough for some people, so John Wilke, “M. D.” has come up with a bizarre rape equivalent of the Drake equation to try to figure out how many rape babies are conceived every year and come up with a vanishingly small number.

    It’s fairly easy to tear apart.

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    Lightning Strikes

    Tuesday, August 21st, 2012

    Your awesome photographs of the day.

    Doctor Who: Days 21-25

    Friday, August 17th, 2012

    Did Day 20, might as well bring this puppy home.

    Day 21: Favorite couple

    In the old series, it was Ian and Barbara. I always hoped they ended up getting married after they left. Their interaction in The Romans as wonderful. For the new series, who else could it be but Amy and Rory, the first genuine married couple in the series?

    Day 22 Favorite Friendship

    This seems to be restating the favorite companion question. I’ll stick with Sarah Jane (old series) and Donna (new).

    Day 23: Favorite spinoff

    The only one I’ve really watched is Torchwood, which could be uneven. Sometimes is was really good and sometimes it was awful. Children of Earth was simply brilliant, one of the most brutal mini-series in sci-fi history.

    Day 24: Favorite quote

    From the old series: “The very powerful and the very stupid have one thing in common. Instead of altering their views to fit the facts, they alter the facts to fit their views…which can be very uncomfortable if you happen to be one of the facts that needs altering.” — The Doctor, Face of Evil

    From the new series?: “The universe is big, its vast and complicated, and ridiculous. And sometimes, very rarely, impossible things just happen and we call them miracles. And that’s the theory. Nine hundred years, never seen one yet, but this would do me.” — The Doctor, The Pandorica Opens (and really, just pick a random page on a Moffat script and we’re there).

    Day 25: Favorite Doctor catchphrase

    I hate catch phrases. “Exterminate!” is the only one that ever really sent chills up my spine.

    Doctor Who Challenge: Day 20

    Friday, August 17th, 2012

    Day 20: Favorite Writer

    OK. Didn’t realize this got published instead of sitting in my draft queue. I don’t know what’s more awkward: that it got published or that no one noticed…

    Anyway, my favorite writer of the old series was Robert Holmes. Holmes had a unique way of getting the science of Doctor Who mind-bogglingly wrong. There would be sciency words sprayed around, but the execution was almost childlike (in a memorable moment, the Doctor uses a diamond to convert a lighthouse into a spaceship-destroying laser). But … Holmes has such a great feel for character, dialogue and plot that it didn’t matter. Episodes like Ark in Space and Pyramids of Mars and Caves of Androzani were among the most brilliant of the entire 26-year run.

    Russell T. Davis was the Robert Holmes for the new show. He had an amazing feel for character. But his science was laughably bad. He was great. But in the end, he is eclipsed by Stephen Moffat, who is rapidly becoming the best thing to ever happen to Doctor Who. Not only is his dialogue memorable, his characters true and his plots intricate, he science is gold. It’s not accurate, per se, but it is plausible. The ideas he throws out aren’t ridiculous and he is very good at not over-explaining things. There are occasional “huh?” moments like The Big Bang. But overall, he keeps it together. And the juggling act he did through seasons five and six was remarkable.

    Most of the best episodes of Doctor Who were written by Moffat — for either series.

    Cats the Killers

    Friday, August 17th, 2012

    I’ll pop up from vacation just to headdesk over people’s discomfort over the recent revelation that cats kill a lot of little creatures.

    Um, they’re cats. Cats are predators. They have an instinct to kill. That instinct is impossible to surpress and shouldn’t be suppressed. Even the most domesticated cat can never be sure that their next meal is going to show up. Killing prey, even if they abandon it, keeps their skills sharp in case they ever need them. If they didn’t have this instinct, they would have gone extinct millions of years ago.

    As I said on Twitter, if you want a small furry critter without a killer instinct, get a hamster.

    You’re Watching it Wrong

    Friday, August 10th, 2012

    I have to agree with this article on how people are using their televisions wrong. It’s distressing to think that a generation of Americans may grow up not knowing how movies are supposed to look. Oh, well, I guess they’re already growing up not knowing how an action scene is supposed to be filmed.

    Doctor Who Challenge: Days 9-15

    Sunday, August 5th, 2012

    Some more from the Doctor Who challenge. We’re getting further into the weeds as the questions go on. In the meantime, I found this on Cracked’s website, giving an overview of the Doctors that’s pretty amusing and accurate.

    Day 9: Favorite Master

    Oh, it’s Delgado, no question. Jacobi was good and Ainley coulda been. But Delgado was simply awesome. I know a lot of people loved Simm, but I wasn’t overwhelmed. As James Berardinelli said to me in an e-mail: “The Master isn’t merely evil. He’s diabolical. In five minutes, Jacobi captured something that Simm couldn’t “get” in two episodes.”

    Day 10: Saddest Episode

    Probably Journey’s End for the new series, which had Donna’s departure. For the old series, I’ll go with the last episode of The Green Death, which tugged hard on the heart strings (Katy Manning breaks down on the DVD commentary). It wasn’t just the end of Jo’s tenure; it was the end of the UNIT era and the beginning of the end for Pertwee.

    Day 11: Funniest Episode

    For the new series, probably Partners in Crime which really showed off Catherine Tate’s talent for humor. For the old series, probably City of Death, which was written by Douglas Adams. The Romans, however, would be a close second. It features one of the Doctor’s boldest and funniest jokes when he plays music for Nero.

    Day 12: Episode that scared you most

    Oh, Blink, definitely Blink. A Doctor Who episode had never really had me gripping the sofa arm quite like that one. For the old series, it’s hard to tell. I’ll just throw out Ark in Space, since the idea of being slowly transformed into an insect is scary.

    Day 13: Favorite theme song

    The current arrangement is pretty fun.

    Day 14: Character you like that almost everyone else hates

    From the old series, I liked the Sixth Doctor. And I hate to admit it, but I actually kind of liked K-9. I’m not sure who people find annoying in the new series. Jackie, maybe?

    Day 15: Most annoying character

    Probably Adric in the old series. For the new series it was Adam. The last two are bad question for me since I usually tune out annoying characters unless they are around for more than an episode. I can’t really get worked about the third Dalek on the left being an annoying twerp.

    Weekend Linkorama

    Sunday, August 5th, 2012

    I’m doing more long-form posting of links I care to comment on. But here’s a few I don’t have time for.

  • Man, do I love time lapse video
  • .

  • I haven’t found a good handle on the contention that Mitt Romney’s CEO background is actually a minus. I really think the CEO thing is irrelevant. What concerns me more is his lading up his staff with former Bush people.
  • I’m a little dubious of the contention that trash correlates with economic health. The graph smacks to me of a manipulated stat (it measure the derivative not the absolute). And our push on durability and recycling could confused it. Really, it looks, to me, more like you have one big correlated dip in both stats that’s driving the supposed correlation. The collapse of 2008 was unique. I’m not sure it’s a trend.
  • The Doctor Who Challenge: Days 4-7

    Friday, August 3rd, 2012

    Some more Doctor Who blogging. I promise I’ll be mercifully short.

    Day 4: Favorite Villain

    There were so many good ones from both the new and the old series: the Master, of course. The Valeyard, Tobias Vaughn, Davros, Fenric. And if we fold in monsters, you’ve got the Daleks, the Vashta Nerada, the Cybermen and the Weeping Angels. I would say that the old series was a little better at villains, per se, since it had more time for them to develop into full characters.

    But I’ll go with something off the wall here: Sutekh. Sutekh was one of the few villains who I found frightening. The idea that a being so powerful could be unleashed and cause such immediate and awesome destruction was deeply disturbing. Sutekh was incredibly intelligent, vicious and brutal, threatening to torture the Doctor for centuries for destroying his ship. He’s the one villain that, had he gotten free, would have been unstoppable. Gabriel Woolf was so effective of the voice of evil that they brought him back to voice the Beast in the new series.

    With the new series, I’ll go with Davros. But the Weeping Angels taken a close second.

    Day 5: Favorite Aliens

    I’d go with the Silurians but they’re not really aliens, are they? And you could go with the Doctor, but that’s not really the point. And I’m guessing this is different from the villains/monsters I listed above. This is supposed to be something friendly?

    So if we’re going with friendly extraterrestrials who are not the Doctor, I’ll go with the Draconians. They only made one appearance but I found them fascinating. If we confine ourselves to the new series, I’ll go with the Ood.

    Day 6: Favorite Special Episode

    This mainly applies to the new series — The Five Doctors was the only special in the old one. I’m going to go with Christmas Carol which I found to be far less over-the-top than Russel T. Davies’ last few overwrought episodes. It could be watched by someone only vaguely familiar with Who, it played wonderfully on the original story and featured a great performance from Michael Gambon.

    Day 7: Favorite Season

    I’m going to go with Season 13 from the old series. It featured the Fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane, the best combination in Who history. And the episodes: Terror of the Zygons, Planet of Evil, Pyramids of Mars, The Android Invasion, Brain of Morbius, The Seeds of Doom were excellent. This was back when Doctor Who was determined to scare the crap out of its viewers.

    For the new series, I’d probably go with Season 6. You know it’s a good season when, arguably, the two best episodes weren’t written by Moffat.

    Honorably mentions go to classic Seasons 8 (The Master and UNIT at their best), Season 14, Season 15 (which has some bad episodes but was special to me), Season 21 (except for The Twin Dilemma), Trial of Timelord and Season 25.

    Day 8: Least Favorite Season.

    For the old series? Season 24 was pretty bad apart from Dragonfire. For the new series, the four specials that ended Tennant’s tenure were pretty poor, especially the deeply unapproachable End of Time. Season 1 of the new series was probably the worst simply because the show was still finding itself and was a bit uneven. But really, there haven’t been too many bad series in Doctor Who’s history.

    BFI vs. IMDB

    Thursday, August 2nd, 2012

    The first part of this was taken from a post I’m cooking up on Star Trek movies.

    That’s called a teaser, you see. I’ve never been very good at them but I’m told they can be terribly effective.

    I am a big believer in the Wisdom of Crowds … sorta. When it comes to judging the quality of art, I think mass rankings are more useful than critical rankings. They are not perfect: it often takes time for a work of art to be fully appreciated. And enthusiasm for the new can cause it to be over-rated. But, generally, if you ask me where to look for an objective opinion, I’ll look to the … well, not the mob … but to the large mass of those who are interested enough to form an intelligent opinion.

    That’s why I always talk about IMDB ratings when I talk about movies. IMDB has done an oustanding job of creating a movie rating system that is useful. It allows anyone to vote, but only if they are interested enough to create an account. They can only vote once. And an algorithm tempers the enthusiasm for newer movies. The ratings are not perfect: you’ll usually see new movies rocket to the top of the ratings and then slowly fall. All three Lord of the Rings movies vaulted to #1 in the ratings initially, then slowly fell back to #14, #25 and #10, which is about where they should be. The Dark Knight Rises is currently at #11 but will probably finish outside the top 250. The Godfather and Shawshank Redemption have vied for the #1 spot for more than a decade now and I know many who would agree that they should be near if not at the top.

    The utility of the IMDB rankings is most obvious when you contrast it against those of critics, like the recent revision to the Top 50 Films of All Time, courtesy of the British Film Institute. The big news is that Vertigo displaced Citizen Kane from the top spot. The bigger news should be the ridiculous bias. Consider the way the films are distributed in time:

    1920′s: 6
    1930′s: 3
    1940′s: 3
    1950′s: 12
    1960′s: 15
    1970′s: 7
    1980′s: 1
    1990′s: 3
    2000′s: 2
    2010′s: 0

    (And yes, that’s actually 52 movies in the top 50).

    Now I’m willing to concede that some movie eras were better than others. The 1970′s, in particular, stand out as a golden age for new film-makers like Coppola, Scorsese, Spielberg and Lucas. But it is insanity to suggest that the 1950′s and 1960′s produced 4.5 times the number of great films the last three decades have. This is telling you nothing about the quality of those films and everything about just how old the BFI electorate are.

    Even their modern choices are a bit puzzling. Since 1980, the only films they rate in the top 50 are Shoah, Satantango, Close-up, Histoires de Cinema, In the Mood for Love and Mulholland Drive. I have not seen three of those. I would agree on the greatness of Shoah and In the Mood For Love. But Mulholland Drive is an excellent TV pilot with thirty minutes of bullshit sewn on. It’s a massively over-rated movie and I think it’s mainly over-rated because of the great lesbian sex scene that happens right before the movie implodes.

    Let’s compare to IMDB:

    1920′s: 5
    1930′s: 10
    1940′s: 18
    1950′s: 31
    1960′s: 25
    1970′s: 24
    1980′s: 29
    1990′s: 40
    2000′s: 55
    2010′s: 13

    Now there is a definite skew in IMDB toward recent movies. But that skew is not nearly as drastic as BFI’s. The 1990′s and 2000′s contain 38% of IMDB’s top movies. That’s compared to the 1950′s and 60′s containing 52% of BFI’s top films. BFI has only 12% of their movies in the last three decades. There is no three-decade period that has that low a percentage in IMDB. The only period that comes close is the first three decades of film. And that’s for a dynamic polling system.

    The skew is stronger when you narrow IMDB to the top 50 movies. 15 of those are in the 1990′s and none in the 1920′s. But even then, the skew is not nearly as drastic as BFI’s, with plenty of top films in all decade except the 1920′s. And I would argue that this proves the point: IMDB is still better when you take the comparison that is the least fair because of IMDB’s over-rating of recent movies.

    What are IMDB’s favorite movies of the last three decades? Shawshank Redemption, Schindler’s List, Lord of the Rings, Dark Knight, Fight Club, Inception, The Matrix, City of God, Forrest Gump, Silence of the Lambs. I removed The Dark Knight Rises because it is riding a wave of enthusiasm and will certain sink lower (as will Inception and The Dark Knight). I would submit, however, that IMDB’s slate of films is better than BFI’s. It is certainly more watchable.

    Consider the top tens:

    BFI: Vertigo, Citizen Kane, Tokyo Story, La Regle du jeu, Sunrise, 2001, the Searchers, Man with a Movie Camera, the Passion of Joan of Arc, 8 1/2

    IMDB: The Shawshank Redemption, Godfather, Godfather Pari II, Pulp Fiction, The Good the Bad and the Ugly, 12 Angry Men, Schindler’s list, Dark Night, Return of the King, Empire Strikes Back

    I will admit that BFI’s is more artistic and has a better international flavor. It’s less guy-movie oriented. But is it really better? Which of those slates would you rather have with you on a desert island? I thought so.

    That’s why I talk about IMDB. It’s far from perfect, but it’s easily the best thing going. I especially like it is so very useful for relative rankings. It allows one to measure the progress of franchises, as I did last year with the Bond films and as I will soon do with the Trek movies. IMDB gives you an accurate glimpse of what the public thinks at this moment. And I find that far more enlightening than what some old, wizened critics think.