Saturday, August 30, 2014

Hurricane Katrina 9 Years Later

As we marked the 9th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina yesterday I couldn't help but think how much life has changed since "the storm." For one thing, there's always that phrase "the storm" and everybody knows which storm you're talking about. We still relate stories to each other in terms of whether they happened in places before or after "the storm." Although the population of the area has nearly returned to pre-Katrina numbers that population has shifted farther north, away from the beach. Along the beach itself there are still huge tracts of vacant property where hotels, motels, stores, restaurants, apartments, and houses once stood. Most have not rebuilt because of new elevation requirements and significantly higher insurance rates. Some schools have closed because children no longer live in the areas serviced by them, while other schools are bursting at the seams because of new neighborhoods that sprang up after the storm. As if things weren't bad enough, as we were finally revving things up in Katrina recovery we got hit with the BP oil spill. It's been a trying time, but we're making it. Whenever I talk about Katrina I have to mention one little thing that is a sticking point of residents in this area. Hurricane Katrina struck the Mississippi Gulf Coast and wiped out entire neighborhoods and towns and did billions of dollars of damage from wind, rain, and storm surge. Katrina did not strike New Orleans. New Orleans fell victim to an engineering failure 2 days after Katrina made landfall in Mississippi. New Orleans flooded when levees broke. Mississippi was struck directly by the storm. There is a difference, but for most people outside of the area only New Orleans comes to mind when they think of Katrina. That's all. I'll post about Katrina again next year for the 10th anniversary.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Hercule Poirot Returns!

The twelfth (and I believe final) season of Poirot comes to PBS Masterpiece Mystery this weekend and I'm stoked! It seems like I've been watching the show forever, and it likewise seems to have been away forever. I'm sure I've seen just about every episode, many of them multiple times. David Suchet has been in the role for over 20 years and has truly made it his own. When I view other adaptations of Poirot stories with other actors in the lead role they just don't seem right to me. Two new episodes are airing, the first this Sunday and the last the following weekend. I'm going to have to confirm if this is truly the final season as I read something about that perhaps 9 months or more ago. My little gray cells are buzzing with anticipation.

Farewell to the Receptionist?

I've been noticing lately that many businesses that used to have a receptionist no longer have one. Instead of having a friendly voice to answer all calls or a friendly face to greet all visitors I've seen setups where you walk into the empty lobby and pick up a phone to talk to someone in an office elsewhere in the building. I've also seen setups where you press an intercom button and announce yourself before being buzzed into an empty lobby to wait for someone to come out and meet you. In other situations I've seen various people handle receptionist duties in addition to their regular job responsibilities. The receptionist has become redundant. As one person said, it's just like how Microsoft Word made secretaries redundant. Why have a secretary compose a letter for you when you can do it yourself? Have companies decided having a receptionist is unnecessary? Is the receptionist a victim of the economic recession or of changing times?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Martian

I finished listening to the unabridged audiobook for The Martian by Andy Weir and I highly recommend it. The story is mostly told from the perspective of an astronaut accidentally stranded by his teammates after a dust storm while on a 31-day Mars expedition. Weir certainly seemed to have researched his subject thoroughly. The novel has enough technical details to satisfy a hard sci-fi fan such as myself but with enough drama to satisfy someone who just likes a good book. It was definitely an audiobook I didn't want to stop listening to. I kept promising myself I would stop at the end of the next chapter (just so I could get some sleep) but I couldn't stop. It's just that good.

Laptops: Growth and Shrinkage

A few months back a friend asked me for a recommendation for a new laptop. Her home had been burglarized and the thieves had taken her old 17" laptop and a bunch of music CDs. I told her to get a 14" or 15" with as much RAM and hard drive space as would fit her budget. She asked why I didn't recommend replacing her 17" with another 17" and I told her they're just too big and bulky to be portable. I told her she would want to leave a 17" laptop at home, as she had done with her old one, instead of carrying it around with her. I couldn't get her to accept that the 17" laptop had fallen out of fashion though. She ended up hunting around until she finally found one and bought it. A couple of months later she told me I had been right. After lugging around the new 17" for several weeks and comparing it to her best friend's 15" laptop she agreed that it was too big to be easily portable.

Just a few years ago the 17" laptop was the golden boy of portable computing. They were hailed as desktop replacement units, perfect movie-watching machines, and every laptop manufacturer offered several 17" models to choose from. Flash forward to today and the 17" laptop is a rarity. Most manufacturers only offer a couple of different configurations of them, nowhere near as many as they once did. Most laptop buyers have concluded that size matters and a 17" is just too much. It's amazing how that works. Today's laptops are, for the most part, smaller, thinner, and lighter. The 17" that used to be normal is now considered to be a monstrosity.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Don't say, "I can't." Do say, "I don't want to."

There are some instances when you really don't want to do something. Maybe your sister wants you to babysit both of her kids when you'd planned to sit on the sofa watching Orange is the New Black all night. Maybe your neighbor wants to make use of your yard for additional parking for the party he's throwing on Saturday. Maybe your roommate wants to borrow $50. In many or all of these instances the natural temptation is to say, "I can't." That's not the truth. Actually, you can, but you don't want to. Don't say, "I can't." Say instead, "I don't want to." The latter is a statement of the determined force of your will. You are saying without a doubt that no matter the circumstances you don't want to. Your mind is made up. It can't be changed. Otherwise, you're saying there are outside factors that, if altered or accommodated, can mean that you will do what is being asked of you. When it's a matter of your decision to do something or not, make it known that it's your will that is making the decision.

White Males Can Advocate for Diversity but Women & Minorities Can't?

A Wall Street Journal post discussed that when women and minorities rise to positions of leadership within a company they're not able to advocate for additional diversity without hurting their own careers. When a woman or minority is seen as promoting the interests of other women or minorities in the company their own performance reviews begin to suffer. They're seen as less competent on the job. When a white male promotes the interests of women or minorities in the company, by contrast, his performance reviews go up and he is seen as more competent on the job. This is the kind of subtle discrimination I've spoken of previously that flies in the face of those who say the playing field is level and we don't need any institutional guarantees of diversity. It is not a meritocracy out there. White males still have institutional biases in their favor, things that aren't codified into any company policy but that work in their favor and against women and minorities when they try to do the same things.

Cherry-picking the Religion: Circumcision

It's interesting that many cite their Christian faith as being the reason for having their sons circumcised but the scriptures don't say circumcision is required. 1 Corinthians 7:18 says, in essence, that if you're not circumcised don't get circumcised. Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Some would argue that what Paul was talking about only applied to adult males joining the faith and that infants must be circumcised? Really? If removal of the foreskin isn't essential for the adult who is of the faith why should it be essential in the infant who has no choice in the matter?

From Noble Savages to Innately Criminal?

It's interesting to note that during the time of slavery in the United States the African-American was portrayed as a "noble savage" and was thought to be inherently good-natured and incapable of malice. The idea of an African slave committing a crime against a white person or against another slave was practically unheard of. This belief all changed when slaves were freed and the South was placed under the terms of Reconstruction. Suddenly the former slave was a dangerous criminal predisposed to rob, rape, and pillage. White women were not safe from the ravenous sexual appetites of the Negro and had to be protected by organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan. The belief that the Negro was innately criminal was codified into law, with all kinds of laws created to criminalize such things as loitering or even being unemployed and to punish such things as whistling at a white woman. Within the span of a few years the African went from the happy noble savage to the innately criminal beast in popular literature. This didn't happen by accident.

Death is a Stranger

I can't help but think we've gone to great measures to isolate ourselves from death in our modern western civilization. In the not-too-distant past death was always there. Before the use of antibiotics death could catch up to you just from an accidental cut or scrape. Most children didn't live to see the age of 6. Many mothers died in childbirth or from the complications of childbirth. A cough and a fever could mean you'd be dead within a couple of weeks. It wasn't just Mother Nature out to get us though. We held public executions and invited the entire village or town to witness them, including children of all ages. Death was public spectacle, whether it was by hanging, drowning, beheading, burning, boiling, impaling, shooting, or electrocuting. Death was also close to home because embalming wasn't widely used until the early 20th century. Family members handled their own deceased, putting the corpses on display in their own homes until burial took place. The undertaker didn't handle the body, he only dug the grave. Death was intimate. Death is now a stranger. We pretend war is a video game and casualties are just numbers. Executions take place within prison walls, with only a handful of witnesses. We embalm and preserve, at least for a short time. Our medicines keep most of us alive in spite of Mother Nature's efforts to kill us. Death is that guy we once knew but no one talks about anymore.

Thank you, Facebook?

It seems like most of my blog traffic comes from the Google+ mobile app and from <gasp> Facebook. Say what?! Of course my blog posts are automatically shared to Google+ and I have G+ commenting enabled but someone is sharing my posts to Facebook. I'm just surprised I'm getting more pageviews from Facebook than the Google+ desktop. Color me stunned. Where are my G+ desktop folks?

Comcast admits customer service rep was doing what he was trained to do

Now in a leaked internal memo dated 7/21/14 Comcast admits that the customer service rep from the infamous call that went around the internet last week was doing what he was trained to do, but his tone came across as insensitive to the customer's needs. Well, duh! When you incentivize retaining a customer no matter what, this is the kind of customer service call that you get when the customer wants to cancel. The poor rep didn't want to have that cancellation counted against him. Their bonus structure is probably built on the number of retentions they get. He would rather the customer hang up and call back and thus have the cancellation go against another rep's numbers. When you put someone in that situation he's going to look out for his job and certainly doesn't want to lose his bonus. I've also heard horror stories from reps of not being able to put the customer on hold because even that counts against them. So while the rep is doing something that's going to take some time to get done, such as rebooting his computer, the customer just has to wait, listening to small talk or background noise from the callcenter, all because putting the customer on hold for anything is forbidden. Company policies are creating customer service nightmares but the companies fail to see it.

Tax Breaks and the Good of All

Have there been any long-term studies on whether business tax breaks actually benefit the city, county, or state that grants them? Recently in my area two local businesses had requested tax breaks for 10 years on property taxes and business taxes. The breaks were granted for one business but not for the other. Of course when requesting the tax breaks the businesses said not having to pay those taxes would free them up to "create more jobs" and "hire more people" which seem to be the standard phrases used in such instances. Does it ever work out for the city, county, or state though? Do the tax gains from the additional employees, presumably sales taxes and property taxes, balance out the loss in taxes from the business? The cynic in me says "probably not." I can't help but think the city, county, or state ends up on the losing side of things. Don't get me wrong, adding new employers is a good thing but I'm thinking the city, county, or state likely loses revenue in the equation that could have gone toward providing services for residents.

Revisiting "Good Hair"

So one of my acquaintances, who I'll certainly admit is something of a colorist, used the phrase "good hair" in talking about her daughter and it made me visibly cringe. I had posted about "good hair" previously so if you've been following me on my blog or on Google+ you know how I feel about it. It's simply one of the most self-loathing phrases a black person can use and if you use it in my presence only the standards of polite social interaction will keep me from going off on you. She said her daughter has "good hair" unlike some of the other "nappy-headed" girls at her daycare. Frankly, it was a WTF moment for me and only the fact that we were in a public place kept me from expressing my true feelings. By implication the other little girls at the daycare were genetically inferior and their mothers had questionable parenting for not slathering their "nappy" hair with the appropriate straightening chemicals. I fear that as black people we will never get over these distinctions that derive from our slave pasts as well as from European colonialism. Good hair indeed.

I Still Use a Standalone GPS

Even though (nearly) everyone raves about Google Maps or Waze or any other mobile phone navigation app I still use my trusty standalone GPS. I've tried the mobile phone alternatives and just not been happy. There are some things for which a uni-tasker is simply better and navigation seems to be it.

My most glaring complaint about mobile phone navigation is volume. My phone simply isn't as loud as my standalone GPS. I can crank the volume up so loud on my standalone GPS that it can be heard over the radio or any conversation with a passenger.

My second complaint is with mounting hardware. My standalone GPS mount is secure. That puppy isn't going anywhere. The power connection is built into the mount so I never have to worry about connecting the power cord then putting the GPS in the mount or putting the GPS in the mount then trying to connect the power. It just works.

Third is not having to worry about a mobile data connection. Ever. The entire North American map is built into the standalone GPS. All it needs is a clear view of the sky to get its bearings and we're ready to go anywhere. With my phone I've had instances in which the mobile data connection was lost while I was driving and navigation functions ceased. That's just not good when you're supposedly within 10 minutes of your destination but you're in heavy traffic.

Fourth is the quality of the navigation instructions. My standalone GPS lets me know 2 miles ahead of any turn or exit that I have a maneuver coming up. It tells me clearly which lane I need to be in and shows me a road sign indicating which way to go. It gives me the names of the streets and the numbers of the exits. It tells me whether my destination will be on the left or the right side of the street. In addition to the voice directions it has audio tones to let me know what I should do, so I can navigate by the tones without looking at the screen. My standalone GPS also tracks whether I'm moving much slower than the posted speed limit for more than a few minutes and starts offering me detours to get around the problem.

The fifth and biggest thing for me is that being a dedicated device my standalone GPS is doing nothing but providing me with navigation. It leaves my phone completely free for anything I might need to use my phone to do, and doing that will not interfere with the navigation at all. If I have to place or answer a call while I'm driving I'm still getting navigation instructions so I don't have to wonder if I'm still going the right way or if I missed my turn. Mobile phone navigation apps work passably well for spur-of-the-moment driving but if it's a planned trip I'll take my standalone GPS.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Taking a Vacation

I have long said when it's time to take a break, I will take a break and truly the time has come. I'm going to put my G+ activity on hold for an indefinite period of time. I'm not sure what's going on right now but the tenor of discussion has changed, seemingly for the worse and I need to disengage from it for a while. Discussions that used to be taken with the degree of mirth they were intended to have are now being met with spiteful retorts. Maybe it's the summer heat. Maybe a whole lot of folks have been getting up on the wrong side of the bed. Maybe the milk was spoiled. I don't care. I'm over it. I'm out. If the mood strikes I will post to my blog and I'm still on Twitter. See you sometime in the future. 

Thursday, April 3, 2014

What it’s like to be a network engineer, translated into normal people speak

Nipped from +Drew Nicholson on Google+

User: I think we are having a major road issue.

Me: What? No, I just checked, the roads are fine. I was actually just on the roads.

User: No I’m pretty sure the roads are down because I’m not getting pizzas.

Me: Everything else on the roads is fine. What do you mean you aren’t getting pizzas?

User: I used to get pizzas when I ordered them, now I’m not getting them. It has to be a road issue.

Me: As I said before, the roads are fine. Where are you getting pizzas from?

User: …I’m not really sure. Can you check all places that deliver pizzas?

Me: No, I’m not even sure of all the places that deliver pizza. You need to narrow it down.

User: I think it’s Subway.

Me: Ok, I’ll check…No, I just looked and Subway doesn't deliver pizzas.

User: I’m pretty sure it is Subway. Can you just allow all food from Subway and we can see if pizza shows up?

Me: <sigh> Fine, I’ve allowed all food from Subway, but I don’t think that is the issue.

User: Yeah, I’m still not getting pizza. Can you check the roads?

Me: It’s not the roads, the roads are fine. I’m pretty sure Subway isn’t the place.

User: Ok, I found it, its Papa John's.

Me: Ok I looked and Papa John's does deliver pizza. Is it the local Papa John's or one in a different town?

User: I don’t know. Can you allow pizza from all Papa John's to me?

Me: No, I can’t do that. Can you get me an address for Papa John's?

User: No, I only know it as Papa John's. Can you get me all the addresses of all Papa John's and I’ll tell you if one of them is correct?

Me: No, I don’t have time for that. Ok, I looked at the local one and it looks like they have sent you pizza in the past and they are currently allowed to send you pizzas. Try ordering a pizza while I watch.

User: Um, yeah, still no pizza. I’m guessing they are getting blocked at the freeway. Can you check the freeway to make sure they can get through?

Me: NO, this is a local delivery. They aren't even using the freeway.

User: Ok, well then it has to be a road issue.

Me: NO, the roads are fine. OK I just drove from the Papa John's to the address they have on file for you and there is nobody there.

User: Hmm, wait we did move recently.

Me: Did you give your new address to Papa John's?

User: No, I just thought they would be able to look me up by name.

Me: No, they need your new address. What’s your new address?

User: I’m not really sure. Can you look it up?

Me: <sigh> Give me a second…Ok, I found your address and gave it to Papa John's. Try ordering a pizza now.


Me: Ok, good.

User to everyone else they know: I apologize for the delay in the pizza but there was a major road issue that was preventing the pizza from getting to me. The network engineer has fixed the roads and we are able to get pizza again.

Me: But it wasn’t the roads…whatever.

User: Oh, can you also check on an issue where Chinese food isn’t getting to me? I think it may be a road issue.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

"Good Hair" and Internalized Racism

One phrase that always sets me on edge is the term "good hair." For those outside the African-American community I'll just explain that "good hair" in reference to a black person generally translates into hair with Caucasian characteristics. "Good hair" is straight or wavy on its own, without the application of chemicals or heat to straighten it. This is in contrast to most African-American hair which is tightly curled or "nappy" by virtue of its oval cross-section. The typical comparison is between having "good hair" or "nappy hair" with the implication being that those without "good hair" are deficient. It goes into an internalized racism in which those with "good hair" are superior in some way to those without.

I hear the phrase "good hair" most often among African-Americans of my parents' generation and older but I've also heard it used sometimes by those closer to my own age and younger. It's usually stated as a description such as "he's that fellow with the good hair" or "she doesn't have to do anything to her hair, she's got that good hair." The phrase establishes white characteristics as being the ideal. If your genetics didn't provide those characteristics for your hair, you're just out of luck. It's this self-loathing in the phrase that really ticks me off. You're not a prized catch if you don't have that "good hair." As a consequence there are those who straighten their hair, either with chemicals or heat, and those who choose to wear a natural hairstyle. That discussion will have to come later. In the meantime, can we please drop the phrase "good hair" from the vernacular. Thanks!

Kudos to Isaac Kuo from Google+ for the link to this Sesame Street video!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Revisiting the "Southern Strategy"

The "southern strategy" is alive and well.

You start out in 1954 by saying, "Nigger, nigger, nigger." By 1968 you can't say "nigger" — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states' rights and all that stuff. You're getting so abstract now [that] you're talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you're talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I'm not saying that. But I'm saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me — because obviously sitting around saying, "We want to cut this," is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than "Nigger, nigger." - GOP strategist Lee Atwater

I think I could likely safely wager that most people today are ignorant of what was known as the "Southern Strategy" when it began in the 1960s. Simply put, it was the strategy used by the Republican Party to appeal to the southern states through their racist attitudes toward African-Americans. It was probably best summed up by GOP strategist Lee Atwater in the quote I used to begin this piece. The initial approach was direct, in the language that southerners could easily understand. As Atwater put it, "You start out in 1954 by saying, 'Nigger, nigger, nigger.'" Eventually they couldn't get away with that. When African-Americans were no longer the silent oppressed minority you couldn't get away with using that kind of language. Blacks were put off by it and a growing number of Whites were put off by it as well. The message had to change.

The message did change and went to talking about supporting states' rights and being opposed to forced busing for racial integration of schools. These were things you could talk about without seeming overtly racist by doing so. Who wouldn't support states' rights against an oppressive federal government? Who wouldn't be opposed to busing kids out of their own neighborhoods to schools halfway across town just for racial integration? Forced busing was disruptive. It cost taxpayers money. It just wasn't right. Or so the story went.

The message eventually turned even more abstract and went to terms of cutting taxes and advocating "smaller, less intrusive government." It all sounded nice and friendly. The terms were so generic that even those who weren't racists themselves could support those ideas. As Lee Atwater put it, the net effect is that blacks get hurt worse than whites. The original racist goal is being achieved but in terms so carefully crafted that people aren't aware of what's going on. This is the language of "code speak," saying in kinder, gentler terms those ideas that would be distasteful if plainly spoken. It's happening right now. Laws are being proposed and enacted using coded language meant to spread a racist agenda to hurt African-Americans at the expense of a few Whites who might get caught in the crossfire. The old guard refuses to walk away quietly and they're training fresh acolytes to take up their fight, many of whom aren't aware of the roots of their cause.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

It's a Moot Point

"It's a moot point that brownies are superior to cookies in every way."

I'd wager that as 99.99% of you read that sentence your conclusion was along the lines of thinking it's settled that brownies are superior to cookies and it's pointless to argue anything to the contrary.

You'd be wrong.

In the words of Inigno Montoya, "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

"Moot" actually means "subject to debate, dispute, or uncertainty." It means exactly the opposite of how most people use it. How did this come to be true? It's an easy matter to look up a word to see what it means but this misuse of "moot" has persisted over decades.

Now we're also starting to see the word "literally" being used in its completely opposite sense. "Literally" is being used to mean "figuratively." Should we change the dictionary definition to accommodate this change in usage or should those of us who know the difference just shake our heads, mumble incoherently, and walk away when we see or hear a word used incorrectly? At what point do you just give up trying to correct people and just toss in the towel in frustration?

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The TV Ratings Game

I've always been fascinated with television, not so much television shows themselves but in the ratings game that determines what we all get to watch. I don't watch much television but I have a keen interest in the numbers and how they are determined. Somehow I've also been part of the Nielsen survey 3 times in my life, once while I was a teen and twice since I've been living on my own.

The ratings game has changed drastically since the dawn of the video cassette recorder (VCR). The VCR enabled time-shifting. Prior to the VCR all television viewing was what I like to call "appointment viewing." Your show came on at a certain time and you made an appointment in your busy daily schedule to sit down and watch your show at that time. The VCR enabled people to record their shows and shift them to view later. In my own life I would often record shows during the week and watch them all on the weekend. I had a separate tape for each day of the week and each morning before leaving for work I would pull the previous day's tape and replace it with the current day's tape. Eventually I developed a system of having 4 tapes for each day of the week, labeled A through D, so it would be a month before I might have to record over something. In any case I no longer had to set an appointment to watch anything. I watched a show when I was ready to watch it, not when a networked dictated that I should watch it.

The VCR complicated things greatly in the ratings game because it meant tv networks could no longer guarantee eyeballs for ads. See, the advertising is the thing. The shows we all love are just convenient wrappers for the ads. The shows are used to set ad rates so the networks can make money and pay for content. The ads are responsible for paychecks. If you can't guarantee that people are watching your shows then you can't sell ads easily. TV ratings are still built on the daily ratings, how many people made an appointment to watch a show on the day it aired. The dailies are important because they represent people who didn't skip through the ads. Next in line are the people who viewed a show within 24 hours of its original airtime. Next are those who viewed it within 3 days of its original airtime. Last in line are those who viewed the show within 7 days of its original airtime. This remains true in the digital video recorder (DVR) era. They are referred to as the DVR+1, DVR+3, and DVR+7 ratings for any given show. A show can be quite popular in DVR viewing but if it's weak in same-day viewing it probably won't survive. Why is this the case? It's all about the ads. DVR viewers generally skip commercials, so ad rates can't be set from DVR views. This is unfortunate since there are some shows that see their audience size increase by 100% in the DVR+7 ratings, but they could still be canceled.

A comparison I've often seen with tv shows is that Show A beat Show B in the 8PM Thursday timeslot, so Show B is probably going to get canceled. From what I've read from various sources that's probably not an accurate assessment. It doesn't matter so much that Show B lost to Show A in head-to-head competition on Thursday night. What does matter is how Show B has been doing compared to other shows on the same network. If Show B lost to Show A head-to-head but Show B is still one of the strongest shows on that particular network Show B is probably going to be renewed for another season. If push comes to shove Show B might be moved to a different night where it could potentially get a bigger audience. So if your show keeps getting trounced by another show in the same slot on a different network there's no reason to fret unless your show is dragging the bottom on its network. You generally don't dump your best player.

Cable shows are less likely to get canceled due to low ratings than broadcast network shows. Why is this the case? As always, it's a numbers game, but in this case it's a scheduling game. The top 4 broadcast networks have primetime schedules that are completely full. They have shows in every slot for every day of the week. If a show isn't doing well it's better for the broadcast network to pull it off the air and try something else in that slot to see if that other show does better. You'll often notice that every broadcast network has a lineup of midseason replacements that they announce even before the new season has started. They know they're going to have to cancel some shows and they already have the replacements set. For the cable networks there are huge gaps in the primetime schedule, with the possible exception of the USA Network. Most cable channels don't have every primetime slot filled with new original programming for every day of the week. This means if a show does poorly they can typically afford to leave it on the air longer because it's not taking up a slot that could be used for another show which might pull better ratings. Cable shows are simply less likely to be canceled because the network probably doesn't have something else with which to fill the slot. If a cable network had a stable of midseason replacements lined up you could bet they would use them. Since they don't, they can't.

The last bit that I'll add here on the ratings game is that networks tend to air their strongest shows on Sunday and the shows tend to get weaker as the week progresses. You'll never see a strong show on Saturday unless it's a rerun of the show from earlier in the week. Why is Sunday the big night? Everyone is home. The networks know they're more likely to get "appointment viewers" in front of the tv set on Sunday night than any other night of the week. Viewership numbers tend to be highest on Sunday and lower throughout the week. If your favorite show is on Sunday night the network probably has confidence in it. If it airs later in the week, things could go either way in terms of renewal versus cancellation.

That's it for now, go watch some tv.

Getting a Haircut

My dad always taught me that a man should get his hair cut often enough that his friends and coworkers can't tell that he needs a haircut. He said you need to present a consistent, professional appearance when you're out in public. He said you don't want someone to be standing within your personal space and thinking, "This guy needs a haircut!" To that end I always get my hair cut every 2-3 weeks depending on how "tight" my appearance needs to be. My own standards for when I need to get a haircut always seem to be stricter than those of the people who know me. I'll often tell someone I'm going to the barbershop on Saturday and the response is usually that I don't look like I need a haircut. Exactly. If I look like I need a haircut I've obviously gone too long without one.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Starship Design

Babylon 5's Ron Thornton on Starship Design

Next to the Starfury I think my favorite spaceship is the Eagle from Space: 1999.

Watching TV in a Vacuum

For the few weekly tv shows that I watch I typically watch new episodes in a vacuum, with virgin eyes untainted by whatever is being posted about them on the internet. Sure, I'll take a look at spoilers but I tend to avoid reviews of upcoming episodes of my shows. I prefer to go into a new show without a preconceived notion of liking it or disliking it. I want to form my own opinions about the cast, the plot, the acting, and the special effects. After I've formed my own opinion upon viewing several episodes I'm willing to look at reviews. Sometimes I'm surprised to find hatred for the things I love about the show. Sometimes I'm surprised to find love for the things I hate about the show. In either case the reviews don't sway my opinion but they do inform it. I can deal with being told that a show I love is utter crap because I will probably think the same of a show that you love. As long as we can agree to disagree, we can get along.

I Only Watch 5 Shows, Deal with It

I've mentioned to several people in the past that I only watch 5 television shows on a weekly basis. Most are fairly incredulous when I say it because they watch a lot more television than that. Trust me, I used to as well.

During the 90s I realized I was watching about 30-40 hours of television a week. I had 2-4 different shows each night of the week and caught up with other shows by watching the recordings on the weekend. I was coming home from work to watch specific shows. I was flipping from one network to another to watch different shows in different time slots. I had a "must-see" show for each night. It dawned on me that it was altogether too much. I needed to cut back and I needed to cut back severely. I decided to only watch 5 shows.

My 5-show routine comes with a few conditions. The 5 shows must be current weekly shows. One-shot specials don't count. Mini-series don't count. News programs, whether local or national, likewise don't count. Reruns of series that are no longer on the air in weekly production don't count. Since I don't watch "reality" tv this means my 5 shows are all scripted. Since I don't watch sitcoms it means they're all scripted dramas. My 5-show routine also means that if I add a show to my list of 5 I must also drop a show from my 5. This means if I'm going to start following a show on a weekly basis I have to be willing to give up something I'm already watching. In the past it was a strict rule. Lately I've been a little looser with it but adding a show means dropping a show. Occasionally the dropping of a show happens for me, especially with cable shows that have seasons of only 10-13 episodes. Once the season ends I can pick up another show to put in that slot. My 5-show routine also does not include tv shows that I watch exclusively from streaming on either Netflix or Amazon, although I'm mindful to not watch episodes from more than 2 streaming shows in a week. Currently my streaming shows are Orange is the New Black and House of Cards. I'm not doing marathons of either. I'm treating both as regular (roughly) weekly tv shows.

It all adds up to mean that between my 5 shows, various news shows, streaming shows, and the occasional documentary I might consume about 12-15 hours of television in a week. At other times the television set is turned off. I don't use tv to provide background sound while I'm doing other stuff. I'm perfectly comfortable sitting in silence. When I do watch something on tv I give it my undivided attention. When the show ends I turn the tv set off. I do watch movies, both on DVD and streaming, but that is separate from my tv viewing and I never watch more than 2 movies in a sitting and rarely more than 3 movies in a week. As a general rule I don't watch "live" tv except for the news. All 5 of my weekly shows are recorded on my TiVo and I usually watch them within a few days after they air. If I'm spending time listening to podcasts I'll save my tv shows to watch on the weekend.

Chances are fairly good that whatever show you're watching I've never seen. There are tons of popular shows that I've never seen. There are many shows that have come highly recommended by friends that I've never seen. Adding a show means dropping a show and a show has to do something unforgivable to truly piss me off before I decide to drop it in midseason to add a new show. It's happened before. I dropped House, M.D. in the middle of the fourth season after they aired 3 episodes in a row that I totally didn't like. I don't recall what I added in its place but I definitely dropped Dr. Gregory House and did not look back. When I heard the series was ending I didn't even tune in to see the finale. I dropped Bones for the same reason. They aired several episodes in a row that were boring and formulaic so I dropped the show midseason. Over it means over it, for the most part.

So, that's how I watch tv. As always, your mileage may vary.

Six Million Dollar Man vs. Bionic Woman

I've been slowly making my way through Six Million Dollar Man and Bionic Woman over the course of the last 18 months or so and I've noticed that BW seems to have better writing than SMDM over the course of the series. The writing team working on BW spent a little more effort on developing the character of Jaime Sommers than they spent on Steve Austin. We also got to see more of Jaime's home life than we did of Steve's. Jaime got to have personal problems that needed to be dealt with outside of her job and her bionic missions. Steve, on the other hand, didn't have much of a life outside of the Air Force, NASA, and his bionic missions. All things being equal, between the 2 shows I would probably pick a night of watching episodes of BW over a night of watching SMDM.



Welcome to my blog. I'm just settling in so there will be many changes over the next few weeks as I get back into this blogging thing.

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