Archive for the ‘Rant’ Category

Life After People

I watched the History Channel’s “Life After People” special on Google video the other day. The reason for watching it on Google Video is that I forgot to watch it when it was on TV - I wish I had, too, because watching an hour and a half of blurry video in a flash player isn’t really worth it.

The premise¬† is that everybody dies - not really dies, I guess, we all disappear without damaging anything or leaving six billion corpses, but whatever, that’s not the point. The point is just to be entropy porn.

It was marketed in that dumbed-down “OH HEY EXPLOSIONS WOW” way that most science/engineering related TV is lately, and you can tell that the main appeal was supposed to be CGI versions of famous buildings around the world falling down or catching fire. When we’re shown Chicago 500 years in the future, it’s the Sears tower they show falling over. In New York, it’s the Empire State Building and the Brooklyn Bridge. I don’t necessarily fault them for doing this, since I think the impact of the imagery is diminished if you don’t immediately recognize the subject, and overall, “Life After People” doesn’t pander to the audience nearly as hard as I had feared.

I was watching the show because they had a segment on Pripyat, Ukraine, and I have something of an obsession with the Chernobyl Exclusion zone. I don’t really know why that is, but playing S.T.A.L.K.E.R. certainly didn’t help, and here we are.¬† The Pripyat section was too short, I thought, but then again I’d be perfectly happy watching two solid hours of UrbEx in that place, so what do I know? Actually, to bring up S.T.A.L.K.E.R. again, it was kind of eerie seeing how accurately the guys from GSC Games modeled the city in the game - to the point where I recognized some of the buildings. The interiors of the buildings.

Also, they used the phrase “cascade of failure” five minutes in, and I giggled from there until the very end.

“Life After People” managed to hold my interest throughout, largely I think because it’s an idea that don’t think anyone in the popular media has ever looked at. I was surprised by some of the conclusions, actually - apparently the NYC subway would start flooding in as little as 2 days, and every power plant except the Hoover Dam (again, they only focused on well-known structures - I’m sure this is true for most hydroelectric plants as well) would shut down within a day, while the dam would be cranking for a couple of years, and only collapse after centuries of neglect. It’s kind of funny, actually, the different timescales in which things fall apart - roads start to turn to grassy fields in just a decade, which seems awfully fast, but steel and concrete skyscrapers last for hundreds of years, which seems long.

It’s not perfect, but it’s worlds better that most of the stuff on History or Discovery, in that it incorporates actual science, and not just zany hosts and giant cranes and whatnot. I can’t think of a single time when they used the moronic TV measurement system, either - no heights were measured in Empire State Buildings, no lengths in football fields, just actual honest-to-god facts, from actual experts. Good to see that, now and again.

It’s worth watching for more than just the inevitable CGI explosions, and if nothing else, it could be the spearhead for a bold new niche market of nihilistic TV programming.

National Geographic is the best channel.

Because I’m a dork, I’ve been spending tonight, like many nights, watching educational television. Sometimes I wish I’d been a scientist instead of a nerd, and as such I watch far too many documentaries.¬† It says something, that Discovery was my favorite TV channel growing up.

Anyway, pathetic dork retrospective aside, I’ve been noticing Discovery and TLC moving pretty far from their roots, with Discovery being the American Monster Chopper House CSI channel, and TLC being the “decorate someone’s house when they’re not around” channel. Even Science, which I still like for the simple fact that it’s the Science Channel - it says science right in the name! - is getting a little dumbed down.

Partly, I think it’s because I’ve seen so many of these shows, and that, at the risk of sounding arrogant, I expect a higher level of information. It’s probably a stretch to think a TV network, even a niche cable one, could cater to an audience expecting my desired level of detail, and actually get enough viewers to pay the bills.

Net Geo comes close. Discovery isn’t even trying.

I watched a couple of shows on National Geographic earlier, including one really interesting one about a fossilized Hadrosaur that still had it’s muscles and organs intact. It was exactly the kind of show that I inexplicably love - dry and in-depth, and it didn’t make any claims or try to make the subject seem any more exciting that it already was. There wasn’t a wise-cracking host, or a Nu-Rock soundtrack, and no part of this made me think it was entertainment. It was entertaining, but not entertainment, and that’s the difference between Discovery and Nat Geo.

Discovery, which I’m watching now because it isn’t totally without merit, and the def is very, very, high, is very much the opposite. I suppose I can’t fault them, since I do actually like some of their shows, but I’m glad Nat Geo is around as a counterpoint. Discovery (and Science, and History, for that matter), seem to enjoy measuring objects in terms of football fields, Empire State Buildings, and trips around the equator, and if they can’t describe something as being the “biggest/highest/most expensive/most extreme in the world”, it’s just not worth describing. It drives me nuts sometimes. I don’t want dumbed-down, accessible docu-tainment. I want boring, hard facts about things, because science and engineering and outer space are impressive enough without having to be eXXXXtreeeeeme.

Anyway, the tl;dr version is that you should start watching the National Geographic Channel. It’s awesome, and it does come in HD.

The guy from “Built it Bigger” really reminds me of my friend Mikey, actually. He’s always so concerned.

Yeah, you should probably stop wasting my time.

I wasn’t sure if I should post this, since it’s a) horrible lame E/N, and b) kind of a call out, but whatever.

I got a phone call at work last week, from someone I haven’t seen in a while. We used to work together, back in my working-retail-during-college days, but fell out of touch shortly thereafter, given my propensity to forget people exist if I don’t see them every day (speaking of which, I need to call my parents).

Anyway, I don’t answer the phone, because I’m at work, but I check the voicemail when I get off. Apparently her computer died, and she needs help fixing it, or at least for me to tell her what broke.

This actually doesn’t bother me. I have to help Sean with his computing woes every time he breaks something, but it usually turns into a thing after that - we hang out, eat some food, drink some beers, it’s a pretty good way to kill an evening. The dude is genuinely grateful that his stuff is getting fixed, and what the hell, I like fixing things. Not saying I want to do help desk for a living ever again, but problem solving, particularly tech problems, is why I got into the field I’m in.

So, anyway, I call her back, and the conversation goes right to business. Just “Hello”, and then “So here’s the problem…”. Not even a cursory “How’s work?” or anything like that. It doesn’t bode well, but I explain what I think the problem is (for the curious, hitting the power switch does nothing, not even spin up the fans, so I’m pretty sure the power supply croaked), and give the most detailed description I can on how to fix it. And what do I get for it?

“Ok, thanks. Talk to you later.” Conversation over.

I’m sorry, but what the hell is that? If I can squeeze answering your question into my schedule, I don’t think it’s too much to ask for you budget time for some small talk or something. You know, at least pretend you aren’t calling specifically because there’s a fire to put out.

Look, I know I’m pretty much the last person allowed to criticize anyone for their behavior, but this is just insulting. It says, with no degree of subtlety, that “we will only talk when I want something from you”. I’d have to be out of my mind to think that was a fair deal.

That said: Whatever, it really isn’t a big deal. I’m not going to hold a grudge over it, and in all matters not-fixing-someone-elses-computer, I’m (schedule permitting) down with hangouts. But don’t take it for granted that I’m going to field these questions out of the blue, for someone, functionally speaking, that I don’t really know.

Contrast this with another former co-worker I haven’t seen or talked to, this one for close to three years, who randomly sent me a Facebook invite yesterday. Even though I generally hate social networking, and it’s more than likely a fetishistic “collect em all” sort of thing, it’s an unexpected surprise, and maybe we’ll end up hanging out. Probably not, since I don’t even know which state she lives at this point, but you never know.

That’s how you get back in touch, folks. By acknowledging that we might actually be friends, or at least interact in a social context. Not by pretending I’m your personal fucking tech support.

Rant over. Back to not updating but every two weeks.

Are they even trying anymore?

I’m sitting here watching Shark Week, because I love the Discovery Channel, and I see this commercial, that might be the dumbest ever.

It’s for some Mitsubishi SUV, the currently vogue “crossover” type, which is basically a Station Wagon with pretensions of being a half-assed Jeep when it grows up. I hate these things, but that’s unrelated to my point here - I don’t even remember the name of the thing, but frankly, I don’t care. It’s one of the many uninspired and unnecessary such vehicles on the road.

The commercial posits the following: a family, with requisite rebellious skateboarding teen sons, are going on vacation. To a dilapidated shack in the desert. The punchline is that there’s an empty swimming pool out back. The kids shred to their little hearts’ content, oblivious to how hollow their dreams will ring in a few short years, when their knees start to go bad, and dropping out of community college begins to look like a bad choice.

This touching story aside, what do we learn about the car itself? Two things, as a matter of fact:

- Magnesium shift paddles.

- 30 gig music and navigation system.

That’s it. The paddle shift is a nice touch, if you want to play Formula 1 with your four-speed automatic, but I’m actually mildly insulted that the geniuses in marketing think I give a shit what metal the paddles are made out of. Not “100 millisecond shift times” or “seven-speed transmission”, but “the paddles are made of exotic metals”. That is seriously the best you have to offer?

The other major point is that the car is a sub-standard iPod. Great. The two people who care about that feature, don’t already have a MP3 player, and would make the huge mistake of buying a Mitubishi, both of them will be thrilled.

It’s a welcome change from the ads that play on financing deals and leasing, and I’m sort of pleased that they’re competing on features, but aren’t there better points you could be advertising on?

Anyway, back to Shark Week, but that was just so thunderously stupid, and this blog so seldom updated, that I had to share.

UPDATE: Saw the Ad again. It’s the 2007 Outlander.

iPhone. No, I didn’t buy one.

Becki and I went to the Columbia mall last night, and while we were there we stopped in the Apple store to play with a couple of iPhones. After five minutes or so of screwing around with the thing, I sated my gadget-lust with it, and also decided that I’m glad I don’t own one. I’ll be comparing the $600 iPhone to my $100 Motorola Q, throughout.

It’s long, so here’s a jump/cut/break.

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