Twenty years ago, author Douglas Adams and photographer/naturalist Mark Cawardine traveled the globe in search of some of the most endangered species imaginable. This resulted in the superb book Last Chance to See, which I highly recommend, due in equal part to the extremely interesting content and the wonderful way that Douglas Adams looked at everything. I had the pleasure of experiencing it originally as an audibook read by Adams himself, which I believe increased the enjoyability immensely. He's downright hilarious. If you haven't read it, I suspect you'd like doing so.
In any case, long-time friend of Douglas Adams, Stephen Fry, has set about attempting to revisit all of the endangered species Douglas did twenty years ago in order to see how they're doing today. He's joined by none other than Mark Cawardine himself, lending an extremely knowledgeable air to the whole endeavor as he once again attempts to photograph these rare, splendid creatures. The BBC has filmed each leg of the journey, and has been broadcasting the resultant documentary, likewise entitled Last Chance to See. Thus far, it's been equal parts educational, hilarious and heartbreaking.
The programme is available via iPlayer, unless you happen to live outside the UK. If, like me, you don't actually have access to all the fine programmes the BBC airs, it can quite easily be acquired via the usual dark underbellies of the Internet to which we all frequently turn in order to acquire content that licensing issues prevent us from accessing legitimately. Three episodes have aired thus far, and it really behooves you to make the effort to track them down. You'll thank me later.
There are things on Usenet that you want to download regularly. Doing so is a time-consuming chore that'd be better accomplished through automation. This guide aims to show you how.
The problem with Usenet is that, even with the requisite utilities, you still find yourself manually extracting RAR files, applying PAR2 files to regenerate missing chunks, and then disposing of all the compressed/encoded files after extracting your media file. Not to mention seeking out and downloading every episode of everything you want to download. It's not for the faint of heart.
Here's where it gets awesome, though. There's a free, open-source application called SABnzbd+, available for every platform, that does all that for you. Even awesomer, it can monitor RSS feeds and watch for user-defined strings in the filenames to facilitate the automatic downloading, unpacking, repairing, renaming and moving of files into your media library with zero intervention on the user's part. After setting up SABnzbd, the content you want to download is magically downloaded FOR you, with no intervention on your part. This is the future, and it is AWESOME.
To get started with your magical new life of automatic content delivery, you first need a Usenet account. And, you're probably going to want a 'premium' account, meaning that you'll have to spend some money every month. There are many different options when choosing premium Usenet providers, but I recommend Giganews. They even have a free trial, allowing you to see how awesome this whole thing can be. You can sign up for your free trial by clicking the nifty banner below. (We'll supposedly get referral credit or something if you end up being a paying customer.)
The next thing you need to do is install SABnzbd on a computer in your household. On Mac/Windows it's a super-easy installer, and it runs using a web interface rather than a GUI. Upon installation you'll need to specify the username/password for your Giganews (or other Usenet provider) in the Config tab.
The next stop is giving SABnzbd one or more RSS feeds to monitor looking for things to download. There are many different options for sites that provide RSS feeds of nzb files. A quick Google search can help you find one that has the type of content you're looking for. Once you add a feed, you can enter in names/words in filenames to either 'accept' or 'reject.' SABnzbd will then periodically check the rss feed, and when it finds an nzb that matches your rules, it queues it for download.
You then configure the Folders option to specify where you want finished downloads to end up. That's really all there is to it. Now your computer will periodically check any configured RSS feeds for things it should download, and when it finds something, it just does. And then it decompresses, repairs (if necessary), and then gets rid of the compressed stuff. No muss, no fuss. Set it and forget it.
An average 360meg file downloads in about 2 and a half minutes. But you don't care how fast it is because it'll just be there waiting for you automatically.
An added perk, is the SABnzbd Firefox extension , which gives you a constant indicator of things that are downloading, right in your browser's status bar -- and also the ability to click on any nzb file from any nzb search engine and have SABnzbd automagically start downloading it, even if you're surfing from a different computer than SABnzbd is running on. Very awesome.
UPDATE: I've now written an app for Android phones that will allow you to queue nzb files on your SABnzbd installation: NZBdroid
I'm not what you would call a "Doctor Who fan," but we've been watching all of the recent series on our Roku Netflix box lately. There are a lot of pretty cheesy episodes, but I've generally enjoyed most of them.
However, the other night we watched an episode entitled "Blink," from season/series 3 (episode 10), which I believe originally aired in 2007. Holy crap that was a good episode. I mean, not a "good -- you know, for Doctor Who" type of good, but a seriously fantastic hour of television. The story is great, the writing is great, the villains are great. It's scary. It's clever.
While in Australia, D and I got invited over to one of her coworkers's place for Christmas. In addition to being awesome, this was a much better option than the Hooters plan I had earlier declared. There was much good food, much Mario Kart and Rock Band on their Wii, and lots of good hanging out with other North Americans.
While there, I was re-acquainted with the open source Xbox Media Center, which, since I last was aware of it, is now just 'XBMC' because it now runs on Windows, Mac, Linux, and AppleTV. In the years since it left my awareness, it's also become FREAKIN' AWESOME. One of the really cool things it does now is fetch artwork and information about your television and movie files you watch with it from community-maintained sites, while looking really pretty:
Needless to say, the 5+ year-old MythTV setup we were using to play all the things we downloaded got replaced.
While watching programs, I've found that some of our more obscure programs are missing pretty artwork, so I've been dusting off my GIMP skills here and there making some. I've also been fulfilling requests from other less-artistic users, which is pretty good for the old sense of satisfaction of a job well done. It's no secret that I enjoy making things in GIMP, so I figured I'd make some stuff other people will find valuable instead of just silly fake movie posters to amuse myself. If you want to follow along at home, the stuff I've been making is viewable via the following links: banners , posters, backgrounds. The site is pretty klunky, but their API is pretty nice, allowing for anyone to use the artwork/descriptions in their tv-related applications.
The fun part is that theTVdb requires artwork to be of resolutions high enough to be problematic for those who just want to download some off google and upload them. In many cases, you have to 'make something out of nothing,' or, more accurately, out of many different nothings. Other than new serieses that provide lots of high-res wallpapers and stuff to work with, you end up crafting entire posters out of tiny little elements -- and, in many cases, filling in all the rest of it with nothing but your imagination.
With only 3 produced episodes, the first unsuccessful LAW & ORDER spin-off was scrapped due to the fact that, in the end, it was always Hitler that did it. All that remains of The History Channel's first dramatic series is this title screen:
1) the superb Simon Pegg/Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead) sitcom SPACED is finally getting a US DVD release. No word yet on whether music has been changed, but either way this is fantastic news. Quite possibly the greatest nerd sitcom ever will now be available to lesser geeks everywhere. (And by 'lesser' I simply mean unable to acquire/play DVDs from outside of the US easily. Us uber-geeks already own it on DVD due to thoughtful geek girlfriends.)
After several months of being told by people that I trust that it's a really funny show, and also several months of me explaining just why the jokes aren't funny (my rebuttals sounded hilarious even to me), I decided that perhaps as a geek myself, I may just be too close to the subject matter to see it objectively. After all, I DO carry a man-purse, I DO have conversations about fiction as if they were real, I DO have difficulty with OCD things like always sitting in the same spot, and I do exhibit most of the social awkwardness that the characters on the show do. I began to wonder if it would be possible to:
a) objectively view the show with all those things in mind
b) find it funny?
It was with this in mind that D and I sat down to once-and-for-all determine whether the show does, in fact, suck ass as much as it seemed to upon viewing the pilot. We've now watched every episode, and I'm here to report to you that... I was wrong. I actually like that show quite a bit. (I stand by my review of the pilot, though, it's still terrible.)
I'm not sure you realize how much it pains me to not only think this way, but to also publish the thoughts on the internet, but it's completely true. Viewed outside the context of a show that I thought should be trying to APPEAL to geeks, it does an excellent job of making FUN OF geeks in a way that geeks like me can totally appreciate. It's funny because it's TRUE. You just have to get past being insulted by it. One of my biggest complaints was that it doesn't accurately reflect geek culture, but now I see that it actually does. Sure, some things are exaggerated, but it's very funny, appealing to the primarily non-geek viewers are much as it can to the geek ones.
I hereby have to revoke my completely negative criticism of this show and apologize to the people involved with it. <i>The Big Bang Theory</i> does have quite a bit of exceptionally funny stuff in it, and would be what I would call a "perfect show" if they'd just get rid of that damned laugh track. Despite the laugh track, I have to say I like it quite a lot, putting it just a bit under <i>The IT Crowd</i> on my "shows that I actually like" graph.
Tonight I picked up volumes 1-3 of Wildstorm Comic's's <i>Freddy Vs. Jason Vs. Ash</i>. Wildstorm needs to hire a proof-reader worse than <i>Geek Monthly</i> does, because this appears on the very first page: "Take it from me, there's nothing you can do can take away the nightmares once you've lived through them." To quote a very wise man: "Doesn't anybody there <i>read</i> this sh*t?!" I've finished one of them so far, but can't say that I'm very impressed. Licensed comics suck, I guess.
Last night we watched the season premiere of CBS's fan-saved miracle child <i>Jericho</i>, which airs Tuesday February 12th. I really, really loved the first season of <i>Jericho</i> and was a little irked that they canceled it, but I wasn't about to mail any nuts or anything. I've been pretty excited for the new season to start, so I jumped at the chance to see the first few episodes before they air. Anyway, I don't have a lot to say about the season premiere because I was completely distracted by the fact that the show now has that cheap video look that <i>Dr. Who</i>, <i>Torchwood</i> and American soap operas tend to have. Everything is lit too strongly and looks like a set. I know CBS was strapped for cash, but was this really necessary? We'll be watching episodes 2 and 3 this evening, so hopefully I can get past the look. I'm really not sure why it bothers me so much, though.
The popularity of my recent reimagining of "Knight Rider," combined with AT&T's iPhone network problems has prompted me to share another TV idea while I would normally be reading blogs.
Imagine an ex-Army Major, dishonorably discharged over an issue he disagrees with, leaving him permanently disgruntled and with a
vendetta against authority.
Now imagine that his only career option is that of a private detective, where his crime-solving usually pits him against the police, the FBI and other such authorities. He is very abusive to his clients and the people he interrogates alike. He always manages to catch the culprit, but the motive he invents for the crime during his investigation usually hilariously revolves around some imagined military conspiracy that only he believes in, and doesn't actually have any bearing on the crimes at all. He never fails to get the guy, but it always makes him think he's getting closer to the "truth."
By now everyone knows there's a new "Knightrider" series coming, and most know that they've picked a Ford Mustang to 'play' KITT. Without getting too into detail, I think both of these ideas are terrible. Generally I'm against any remake on principle, but I'm willing to take a peek at your remake provided enough of the things that need to stay the same are, in fact, the same, and enough of the things that need to be different are, in fact, different.
If someone held a gun to my head and said that I have to create a new "Knightrider," as well as WATCH it when it's done, here's what I'd do:
KITT would not be different. In fact, I'd use one of the same '82 Trans-Ams. I wouldn't even wax it.
KITT would not be waxed up because he's been in storage for twenty years in a warehouse somewhere.
KITT would not be terribly happy about having been left alone in storage.
KITT would not be terribly SANE after having been left alone in storage.
Young upstart new 'driver' for KITT is a young Shia LeBouf-type
FLAG Industries has gone evil since KITT has been in storage, and has become a Blackwater-esque mercenary outfit helping the dictatorship government oppress/scare the masses into compliance, while fighting against terrorist attacks. (Did I mention this was set in the modern day?)
KITTs anger and craziness helps enable him to be used in attacks to bring down FLAG.
David Hasselhoff reprises his role as Michael Knight, except that Knight is now President. Evil President. He is not seen very much, usually on television. (So as to allow Hasselhoff's understandably busy touring schedule.)
Shia LeBouf's people are behind some of these so-called- terror attacks, and live largely off the grid so as to move about without dealing with the new inter-state travel cards all citizens must carry. They drive armored muscle cars. Running on biodiesel that they manufacture themselves.
Because life under this new regime is so bad, the economy has faltered considerably, meaning that much of the roadways around the country has fallen under disrepair, leaving only major through-ways maintained enough for travel. It is these roads that citizens use, presenting their ID cards so as to keep tabs on who is in what state at any given time. Our heroes do not use these roads.
There are other bands of less-civic-minded folk that just try to rob and pillage anyone daring enough to avoid the gov't roads. It is largely these people that our heroes concern themselves with from episode to episode; the A story is generally surrounding our heroes' efforts to help the little guy (like in the original show) while the B story often deals with the overall scheme of bringing down FLAG. Sometimes these bad guys have ties to FLAG which bring us closer to bringing them down.
KITT might actually be KARR, yet completely unaware of the fact.
Without getting too into my feelings on the WGA strike, I'd like to say that you, the networks, could be handling the lack of writers much better than you are. You appear to be taking the "hold our breath and hope it all works out" tack, whereas you could be doing all sorts of pro-active things to keep viewers tuning in and shows in production.
I spent the morning thinking about it, and I've come up with the following list that I'm sharing in the hopes that one of you will listen to me. Any one of these things can fill a time-slot; a combination can fill your whole line-up. The problem is that without writers, you have nothing to produce, right? That's where you're wrong -- you have TONS of things to produce:
1) Spec scripts. Pretty much everyone who wants to break into writing television starts cranking out these free scripts for existing shows in the hopes that producers will like them and pay them to write more. There are undoubtedly thousands of these things of varying quality for nearly any show currently airing. One would only have to grab the stack and produce episodes that fans probably wouldn't even notice are of even lesser quality than the normal scripts. Hell, some of them might even be better.
2) Repurpose old scripts. Know how NBC advertised the hell out of the "Scrubs Musical," touting it as an "event" ? This same type of advertising could be used to promote, um, "different" episodes of currently running shows. For instance, take the script for a first-season episode of "The Dukes of Hazzard," run a find-and-replace on it, swapping out "Bo" with "Earl" and "Luke" with "Randy" and you've got a two-parter KICK-ASS "My Name is Earl" special event. I think that might actually be better than the real "My Name is Earl."
3) Fan fiction. There are BILLIONS of scripts out there written by fans of the show. You don't have to pay them because they were foolhardy enough to use your trademarks without asking permission first -- and are damn lucky you're not suing their asses off. Most of these are rubbish, but some of them are pretty good. They don't have to be GREAT, because half your viewers are already so busy complaining that your writing has gone downhill that they won't notice when it actually DOES.
4) Re-runs. The plan now is to air repeats of the current line-up of shows, right?. The thing is, people who watch those shows have already SEEN those episodes, why would they want to watch them again? I think you'd be better off running re-runs of older shows people have forgotten about. What are Balky and Cousin-Larry-Applay-ton up to? I HAVE NO IDEA, I better tune in! Bonus points for running shows youngins today have heard OF but not seen; run "Twin Peaks" in prime time and I can guarantee you ratings.
5) Un-aired canceled eps. Remember all those shows you canceled at mid-season last year? The ones that still had produced episodes yet to air? Show those. All those shows had people who liked them who would love the chance to see a few more episodes now that it's gone forever. Who knows, maybe the ratings will be good and you can bring them back, "Family Guy"-style. Lord knows THAT show is terrible and people have been watching it for years post-cancellation.
6) Pilots. Every network makes dozens of pilots for potential new series, only a small fraction of which ever get picked up -- let alone aired. I say advertise a block of time-slots giving viewers the opportunity to see shows they wouldn't otherwise get to. Why show episodes you're pretty sure everyone has already seen when you can show episodes NO ONE has ever seen, and will never be able to see again. I'd tune in for that, hells yes. As a bonus, you already PAID for them, so it's essentially free money.
7) CELEBRITY DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS. Know all those boring shows showing celebrities playing boring games like poker? People WATCH those. Know those terrible "funny" shows about fake nerds? People WATCH those too. Now imagine if you took some REAL nerds, who are actually FUNNY, and make them play an exciting game like Dungeons & Dragons, and you have an instant hit on your hands. Call Wil Wheaton to make this happen, as he's tried to get this off the ground before, but you losers weren't interested. Also call Patton Oswalt and Brian Posehn.
There you have it: practical functional ideas that require no writers. Implementing any one of these will keep people working, and keep people viewing -- while keeping my complaining down to a minimum.
I want to have things to watch. You want me to watch them.