Tag Archives: TV

Frasier Has Entered My Head This Morning

I like the TV show Frasier. It does make me laugh. Lucky really, because it seems to be on constant rotation on cable here, along with Seinfeld and the other clever-clever sitcoms. It’s fun trying to figure out which episode you’re watching, by judging the extent of Frasier’s mullet, or seeing if Niles is lusting after Daphne, or if they’re together, or how much of a caricature each character has become. Also, I like seeing which little animation accompanies the title card of the Space Needle. Balloons? Helicopter? Fireworks?

There are a couple of things which annoy me about it though. There are often episodes which devolve into pure farce, with Frasier hiding in a toilet while people come and go, and he hears them profess love for each other, but it’s the wrong person, and then Frasier meddles and tells the other person and now he’s trapped in the toilet!

I can’t stand that shit. I know, it’s technically tricky to write and harder to perform – timing is everything after all – but it feels cheap and unsubtle. Mechanical, like pushing well-oiled buttons to please a certain demographic.

The other thing is the representation of Daphne and her family. I know it’s a comedy, it’s not supposed to be real, but to hear Daphne talk about her earlier life in Manchester you’d think it was a Medieval village.

Ooh, Dr. Crane, I’ll never forget the time Old Man Postlethwaite’s pigs got the Plague!

Or

Ooh, Dr. Crane, I’ll never forget the time The Wise Woman read my fortune, and then we burned her as a witch! The whole town came out!

Even worse though, is poor Anthony LaPaglia as Daphne’s brother, who is a Cockney despite being from Manchester. His supposed Cockney accent makes him sound like a low-grade SNL cast member channeling Dick Van Dyke in a Guy Ritchie movie.

Sorry squire, I just stole your car and done a dump in it. Cheers. *Lights cigarette and puts feet on Frasier’s expensive sofa*

Still, Lilith more than makes up for it. Yeowch.

Professor What?

Cassie emailed from work to ask about Doctor Who, because she said she and her colleagues were trying to figure out some things and thought asking a Brit would help. As it turned out, this was a big fat fib – she was just asking to find out which Who I liked so she could borrow the right DVDs from work. That evening she had brought The Key To Time box set with Tom Baker, and a couple of classic Davisons. She’s a keeper. But not that Keeper.

Anyway, based on what I wrote to her, here are my thoughts about the whole Who thing.

Continue reading

Wonderfully Mellow: WonderCon 2010

I seem to be following these things around. When I lived in San Diego, I was able to go to ComicCon twice, and now in San Francisco we have WonderCon, run by the same people, but a bit smaller and mellower, as it turns out.

Of course, my buddy Brian, being a makeup artist and therefore an “industry person”, gets free passes for himself and an entourage, so all I have to do is lay out the lilo and have guests for the weekend. Brian, Stacey and their Golden Retriever Camden arrived Friday afternoon, and we had a pleasant weekend of geekery. (They were supposed to come up on Thursday, but Brian had a short-notice job applying makeup to Ernest Borgnine and Mickey Rooney).

WonderCon is much smaller that ComicCon, much less crowded, and the big names like DC and Marvel don’t have huge staged kiosks. In a way that made it better, because it allowed the smaller publishers and artists to stand out more. We did our usual wandering and browsing, Brian adding to the Kinney Hoard Museum of Action Figures, and then picked out some panels and talks to go to. Again, because of the smaller scale, it seemed easier to get to more of these interesting events. Of course, some of the panels were huge draws, such as the Arkham Asylum Forensic Psychology panel (“Is The Joker psychotic or psychopathic? How does that affect the law? Should he be in prison or the asylum?”). The huge line running round and round the corridors put me off that. There was also a big buzz about Dr Who, so any mention of that brought the fans running. We chose smaller stuff.

Creator’s Rights was a useful panel about how artists and authors should approach publishing, with horror stories of unscrupulous publishers ripping artists off. The upshot seemed to be to get someone (anyone, if not a lawyer) to read any paperwork and keep your trademarks. One panelist said to just post your work to a blog, and then use a Print On Demand service like Lulu.com to publish physical books yourself – your rights would be protected. What does a publisher bring to the table anyway? Brian was interested in this because he has a story that he wants to publish as a comic book (as part of a wider continuum of “product”) with an artist friend of his. I think they just need a kind of pre-nup.

Wandering around, I saw a short line leading up to Max Brooks, who was signing copies of his comic book Recorded Attacks, as well as anything else you wanted. I love his zombie books, so I took the opportunity to buy a copy and get it signed, and he was very friendly and charming, making a note in the book that the UK was my home – there was a recorded zombie attack in the North of England in Roman Times. That’s what Hadrian’s Wall was for. When I told Cassie of my nice encounter with the nice man, she asked if I had “asked him to sign my balls”. Such a classy lady.

I was interested in the Special Effects Makeup Demo, if only because I wanted to see what Brian would say about the guy’s technique. It seemed pretty good – he got a volunteer (with a revealing neckline) to have a nasty neck wound attached. While he did the application, makeup, and final oozing blood, he talked about techniques, materials and took the opportunity to play a trailer of some crappy zombie cowboy movie he did the effects for. I’m all for the little guy doing it for cheap, but jeez.

Following straight on from that was a demo of body casting, with one volunteer having her arm done in plaster, another having half his face (and beard) done in alginate, and a third having his palm done with silicon rubber. The presenter, in his bowler hat, (necessary) eye patch and leather apron, looked very much the quirky Con-attendee. He used a pocket watch to time his talk, which was pretty cool, and answered questions about materials, costs, tricks and techniques.

Saturday evening we had pub grub and pints at The Irish Bank, which I’d not visited before. It was originally called The Bank Of Ireland, but had to change its name after a complaint from the financial institution thousands of miles away. Fools.

The next day, after some freshly baked croissants, we hit the Con again. First up was Spotlight On Max Brooks, with my mate Max talking to a big room full of fans. Sitting behind the usual long front table, he said he didn’t like being alone, so he asked members of the audience to join him. He then aimed most of his talk, which covered his career, the status of the movie of World War Z (script due “in a month or so”), the GI Joe comic and so on, at a 10-year-old boy in the audience, which was really cute. Brian asked a good question about why the audiobook was abridged: because you have to pay all the different performers. It’s the same reason the movie will have to be big – it’s a global epic, with many settings, characters, and individual stories. He was really funny, frank, and informative – definitely his parent’s son. And just about a fortnight older than me!

The presentation by the Bay Area R2-D2 Builders Club was fascinating. They have all built, or are building, are are continually improving, full-sized functional radio-controlled models of the Star Wars R2-D2 droid (or variations thereof). The examples on display were astonishingly detailed, this one even including the hologram projection feature. The talk gave some tips about materials, costs (a lot), time costs (a lot), and impact on family life (a lot). I wish I had that kind of dedication, passion, skill, money, time and a workshop. If I made myself a droid (which I won’t, especially after the stress of the zombie collars last year), it would be one of these, only in Rebel orange and white. Perhaps a Death Star maintenance droid would be more possible – a radio-controlled car with a box on top. Lick of paint.

As a final treat we went to a very interesting panel on Local TV Horror Hosting, with discussions of history, method, anecdotes about the crazy people involved, and so on. They showed a short video about a few of the local heroes of the scene, including The Ghoul, Vampira, and Bob Wilkins. I had a flash of remembrance when seeing Zacherley – I thought he had been the model for one of the Horror Trumps cards I had when I was a kid. But when I checked I remembered the model was actually Lon Chaney (father of Wolfman Jr) in Tod Browning‘s London After Midnight, with his top hat and teeth. The idea was very popular up until cable TV and VCRs became so big – local stations would show mostly-rubbish old movies, topped and tailed with these hosts making terrible puns on creaking sets. For most people, this was the only chance to see these movies – they weren’t in theaters any more, and VCRs weren’t around yet. Their styles were very different – Vampira of course was the wasp-waisted scream queen, The Ghoul was wacky and over-the-top, with tonnes of props and fireworks, and Bob Wilkins (my favourite from the short clips we saw) was very understated, sitting in his rocking chair and making dry, disparaging comments about the films he was showing. Local cable stations still have similar hosts, but they are no longer so popular. But podcasts give them the chance to go back to their radio roots, and YouTube and Vimeo can open up audiences. Nice history, hopeful future.

Bit of a rant. There is a lot of genre-spanning in the geek world (“I span all genres, they call me the genre spanner” “Well, they call you the spanner”). You can’t mention Joss Whedon without a certain amount of squealing about musical episodes, puppet episodes and so on. The recent hit book Pride and Prejudice and Zombies has given rise to a sequel by the same author, Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, and plenty of copycats. A new movie about Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is coming soon. Adding “zombie” to any profession or character opens up Halloween costume possibilities in the way that “sexy” still does. I think it’s all a bit fan-servicey and predictable. Within a year, we’ll have Puppet Zombie Benjamin Netanyahu: Vampire Hunter, The Musical: On Ice! (Holiday Special). And then where will we be? I’ll tell you – I don’t know, but this kind of pandering recycling does seem rather lazy.

Anyway, this Con was a lot of fun, and far less stressful than ComicCon last year, probably because I didn’t have to dress up as a domesticated zombie this time.

Marber’s ‘The Ice Cream Man’

Many years ago (’91-’92?), I recorded a some comedy and music benefit gig off the telly. I think it was hosted by Jools “Be there or be ungroovy fuckers” Holland, at the Hackney Empire. It was a benefit for AIDS research or something, and it was very funny. I watched and rewatched it, and one of the acts which stuck in my head to an extreme degree was this parody of a “Jazz Man” in a plaid suit whom I now realise (or at least think) was Patrick Marber, in his early stand-up days before The Day Today and playwright success.

In fact it stuck in my head to such an extent that I still find myself running through some of the text in my head, complete with probably-now-inaccurate recollections of the words, actions, and look of the piece.

I’ve searched online for clips or even mentions, with no immediate luck. So just to get it out of my head, here is what I recall. Maybe it will pull some searches in, like that matters.

Curtain up.

Marber enters the stage, and approaches the microphone. He is wearing a garish plaid suit and a newsboy cap. He walks to the microphone and mutters distractedly into it as if to say, “Yeah I’m here”. He then launches into a rhyming comic beat poem/monologue about being a jazz musician and how to be cool. (The following parts may be out of order, wrong, and all that stuff. Soz.)]

He says something about going into the lavatory before the performance to have a …

“… think about what to say and play.
And as I completed my little wazz,
It occurred to me I’d play you some Jazz.”

“It was the dude Oscar Wilde who used to say
That, ‘a wag about town should face every day
With one pair of briefs,
And three handkerchiefs.’
“Saying, ‘One just for show, (indicates silk square in breast pocket)
One in which to blow, (indicates regular handkerchief in inside pocket)
And one final hankie, (shows unpleasantly congealed tissue)
To mop up the winky-wanky.’
The wit of Oscar Wilde.”

“If you wanna play jazz you gotta wear a suit,
Don’t buy your suit
From a car boot sale,
Or from Anthony Quayle,
Crystal Gayle,
Brian the Snail,
Or Burtons.”

“If you want to play jazz you’ve got to have a slick name,
Not a Tom, Harry or Dick name.
Be cool! That’s the word.
Be like Charlie Parker – they called him ‘Bird’.
Be like Dizzy Gillespie – they called him… ‘Dizzy’.
George Mellie – ‘Fat Pus-bucket’.”

He then talks about how cool he is, and when you see him play his horn…

“…y’all gonna see why I am
The Ice Cream Man.”

He pulls out a small brightly colored plastic toy trumpet. The audience laughs.

“Do not mock the horn of The Ice Cream Man! Or should I say, the cornet?”

He plays the toy trumpet, by pressing the button things along the top. The toy trumpet makes a little bell “ting” sound each time a button is pressed. His cheeks-puffed playing style makes him sweat. He reaches into his pocket, and mops his forehead with a handkerchief, before realizing with disgust that he is using the congealed toss-rag revealed earlier.

He goes back to playing the trumpet, and completes the little bell tune that it plays. He bows and exits.

Curtain down.

Now I’m pretty certain there was a lot more to it than that. But that’s all that I can remember, which you may think is already too much. Still, it’s out there now. Marber, if you’re listening, please tell me I didn’t make this up.

How 37-Year Olds Consume Media

By Matthew Petty (37 years and 2 months)

This has been a bit of a thing recently (read: “about 3 weeks ago”), although my delay in posting this means I’ve missed the boatwagon a bit, but never mind eh? Caveat – the fact I disagreed with the previous attempts at this tells me to state that despite my use of the word “we” throughout, I actually mean “me”. YMMV. We Are All Individualsâ„¢

We have nicked (quite) a few of the sentences from this chap – he hit the nail on the head and we see no need to change what we agree with. Yes, yes, laziness and plagiarism, piss off.

Radio
Since we grew out of the demographic that Radio 1 is aimed at approximately 13 years ago, and since we don’t want to submit ourselves to the reactionary mitherings of Wogan and so on (he’s the voice of our parents after all), Radio 4 is the way to go. We listen to the radio a lot, but generally only talk radio like Radio 4 and NPR (now that we live in the US). We have plenty of music to listen to otherwise, and there’s always Last.fm and Pandora for around the house. We let our car’s Sirius satellite radio subscription lapse when we realized we didn’t need (or want to pay for) 150 channels of highly-focused music, talk and sport that we never listened to. Even if Patriot Radio is hilarious, and even if she wanted me to keep it just so she could listen to the Grateful Dead channel on the freeway.

Television
We don’t watch that much television. Sometimes a series comes along which grabs us, but we can rarely be bothered to play catch up with everything. Others seem to like “keeping up” with DVD box sets and Tivos, but we feel that if we miss out, it’s not the end of the world. We watch several cooking and lifestyle shows if they happen to be on when we’re relaxing and in need of distraction and kid ourselves that it isn’t their aspirational qualities that attract us. We can’t use iPlayer because we live in the US, but it’s not so much of a problem.

Newspapers
We buy newspapers when we move house, to use as wrapping, but otherwise all our news is got from the radio, and from online sources. We no longer feel that print media has any inherent advantage over electronic, especially given their compromised position on advertising and the powerful political and business influences of their owners. We feel that the free sheets were a blight on the landscape, physically, intellectually and aesthetically.

Music
We’re tired of all the bullshit about labels and DRM and people being treated like criminals for wanting to listen to stuff in their own way. We advise people not to buy from iTunes, but to buy a physical object and rip it. We’ve bought music on vinyl, tape, CD and downloaded it too – and we’ve downloaded from P2P to get hold of the stuff we already own on tape and vinyl, to avoid having to pay for it again. We’ve bought a few odds and ends from DRM-ridden shops like iTunes, and we regret it. We still have the remains of our collections of vinyl, and tape compilations that friends made for us many years ago. We no longer own a dedicated CD player, but our amp and speakers are still god for piping noise from iPods and PCs. We own a last-generation smartphone and a current-generation iPod, as well as a little SanDisk gadget for clipping to the shirt.

Telecommunications
We are wary of the “walled garden with barbed wire fences, a gator moat, sentry towers and opaque immigration policy” that the iPhone represents, despite the attractive face it presents. We would like to go the open route – when the is current contract is up, we may get a G1 (but we hear stuff about that too). We remember when our town had the area code 0234, then when it changed to 01234. We remember when London’s code changed from 01, to 0171 and 0181, then to just 020 (and we can’t understand why some people still think it’s 0207 and 0208). We absorbed the changes without too much fuss, because we knew that technology and expansion and progress means change. We remember answering the phone with the number. We remember leaving messages for friends with their parents or roommates. We remember not having a phone at all in one college house, an incoming-calls-only phone in another, and a payphone in a third.

Internet
37 years olds are adept at using the internet. Many are victims or veterans of the dotcom bubble. Friends Reunited introduced us to social media and reconnected us with everyone we ever lost touch with from school. We deserted Friends Reunited when it became clear that it was just the same people we didn’t regret losing touch with in the first place. We tried each new network when it arrived. MySpace is a mess full of hipsters with the same old sleeve tats. However, it’s useful for keeping up with friend’s bands and other stuff like that. We don’t believe that there will be many more “MySpace Bands” who break through using the site for grassroots support, but won’t be surprised when the print media trumpets it when it does happen.

Facebook is for baby photos, wedding photos and party photos. People who put up baby photos seem to get most of their adult interaction via Facebook. Women who put up wedding photos look forward to the day when they can put up baby photos of their own. Married men have more married friends to hang out with. People who post party photos keep a close eye on the relationship status and are keenly aware that their profile picture makes them look better than in real life.

The above is lifted almost directly from Dan Wilson – thanks Dan – but I would add this. We are a bit exasperated that people seem to believe that Facebook is the internet. There were all the tools that Facebook provides before Facebook existed, they just weren’t all in one place for easy access. But now everyone is in there, and it’s great at first. This means that we have many friends in Facebook, which is like a big bright room with harsh lighting, salesmen watching everything you do, billboards everywhere, and people clamoring for your attention everywhere you look. We also have a smaller group of friends outside of Facebook, in various forums, blogs, and independent sites everywhere, and we wish we could take our Facebook friends by the hand and show them the “real” web.

Twitter is great. It is the most immediate form of semi-interactive communications we use at the moment.

Gaming
We have (board) game nights with friends, which started with Trivial Pursuit, but when that got a bit tedious and tense, we switched to Taboo, which is much more fun. As children we had Sinclair ZX81s and ZX Spectrums, Texas Instruments TI99/4As, Commodore VIC20s and C64s, BBC As, Bs, Electrons and Masters. The song “Hey Hey 16K” was written for us. We have MAME set up, and play many old games with hearty helpings of rose-tinted hindsight – Defender, Robotron, Smash TV, Strike Force, Galaxian, Galaga, Asteroids, Bombjack – many of them for about 30 seconds before realizing how unreliable a reviewer nostalgia can be.
Modern games are great, but we don’t have a powerful enough PC to do them much justice, and we can’t justify a full-on console. We may get a Wii, which we will invite our friends round to play.

Mathew Robson
We have no idea why a lad who should be w*nking, drinking Merrydown cider in a graveyard and listening to Radiohead is writing plausible memos for an evil merchant bank. At his age we hated Thatcher and thought that a Labour government would make everything better – and now we are in the unpleasant situation of being an expat watching the Labour government go under, while the unutterably smug filth of the Tories wait in the wings to take their place. We did our work experience at Halliburton Geophysical (truth) and a local screw and bolt merchant. We still listen to acid house when we need the energy to do the laundry.

In a later post, perhaps I’ll address all the gaps in this, and analyse what these statements actually say about me. No TV, hardly any radio? A bit true, but not that true. Add this to the increasingly voluminous “To Be Continued” file.

Rescued Geocities ‘Fry and Laurie’ Scripts

Taking a cue from Phil Gyford, I decided to take a punt on mirroring this Geocities site of out-of-print scripts from A Bit Of Fry And Laurie here. The previous link may well be dead soon, because Yahoo!, the owners of Geocities, will soon be shutting the place down.

The script site was last updated in 2000, so I think it’s safe to say that it is dormant. Of course, the copyright holders may have something to say, but they haven’t up til now. If there is a problem, please contact me and I will honour any takedown requests

I grabbed the site using this Windows version of that amazing web-grabbing tool wget, and it’s all there, warts and all. Some image links are dead, some URLs lead nowhere. Should I fix them, or leave them as they were?

I chose this site to rescue because I’ve always been a huge fan of Messrs Fry and Laurie, from their early days popping up on Blackadder (II onwards), Saturday Live, Happy Families, and so forth, and their bibliographies are pretty darn cool too. Being a British man living in California, I find it amusing to watch the sickeningly multi-talented Mr Laurie on House, and of course Mr Fry continues to be a true modern geek renaissance man. Heroes both.

Anyway, here it is, if I can get it to work.

Snoopy Home Button

Heavy On The Magick

It was LA again a couple of weekends ago, because we had a few special things planned. Thursday evening I drove up as I often do, and as we couldn’t decide what to do for dinner, we just walked down the road to good old Dusty’s. Walking back up the hill with Cassie in the warm evening with a good meal and a couple of strong Euro-beers inside me was most pleasurable.

Despite having Friday off, I had to be up early, though not as early as Cassie, bless her. My job was to take Gordon to the vet to have his teeth cleaned. This involved a general anesthetic, which in turn involved him not eating, and being given blood tests and all sorts of palaver. I dropped him off, made sure all was OK, then went and hung out with my buddy Brian in North Hollywood. We went for brunch, then for a quick tour around the statues in the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame Plaza, including the Henson Wall. A nice afternoon of chewing the fat, playing with Brian and Stacy’s dog Camden (a beautiful Golden Retriever), exploring the Brian Kinney Museum of GI Joe, Star Wars, Batman, and KISS action figures, and then it was time to pick up Gordon.

He seemed pretty perky when the vet brought him out, but when I got him in the car he curled up on the passenger seat, and went to sleep with his chin on my arm, which is unheard of. Unbearable cute. He was so stoned, he was wandering around, his eyes all droopy. He had a dogsitter that night, because Cassie and I had got something cool lined up.

Our friends A and I had got us tickets for the Magic Castle in Hollywood, which is a bit of an institution. It’s a crazy place, and it does have a bit of a reputation for being esteemed and classy with one hand, and sleazy and naff with the other. They make a big deal over getting people to dress up, and Cassie actually phoned to ask if she would be allowed in wearing flip-flops, because she had an ankle bandage on (she wasn’t, but she wanted to try). She was recommended to ask a friend with bigger feet to lend her some shoes!

Anyway, the four of us made an effort, and it was nice to be there, everyone all dressed up. We were booked in for a meal at a set time (it’s all very “by the clock”), but we got there early so we were able to grab an earlier dinner, then see more of the shows. The shows were what made the evening fun. In one of the small auditoriums we saw a magic variety show with a new stylish act involving clothes that changed color, followed by a much more traditional “assistant in a box” routine. The compére was a live wire, with a great finale involving dozens of those snake-in-the-nut-can tricks, and a blue double-breasted jacket that I think used to belong to the keyboard player from The Jets. Elsewhere in the various nooks and crannies of the building, card tricksters and traditional ball-and-cup-meisters were plying their trade. You could just stop and catch a short act, then move on.

It’s kind of a weird place – all twisting corridors and stairs and dark corners with a couple more tables for dinner, then another bar, then some creepy doll in a box on the wall, then the magical piano that plays what you tell it to (we heard Sweet Child O’ Mine).

The clientele were a mixed bunch. Several groups of younger people, getting a bit rowdy on the monstrously expensive booze. And I don’t know if they were magicians, but several of the older gentlemen were definitely accompanied by their “beautiful young assistants”, if you catch my drift. Maybe they have magic wallets.

It was a great night though, and A & I are cool for inviting us. If you throw yourself into it, and enjoy the effort that the performers make, it’s a really fun evening, even if the actual atmosphere and environment don’t tally with the image they seem to want to project. It’s all smoke and mirrors I guess, the former especially outside waiting for the valet ($8!) to bring your car round.

Then this weekend just gone was a San Diego one. Cassie came down late on Friday, then Saturday lunchtime we went to see The Reader in Hillcrest. An excellent film – my hope for the Oscars, rather than that patronizing one set in India. Kate Winslet was great – a really subtle and strong performance, and the male lead was great too. I also loved the furniture in the scenes in the 70’s. And the professor’s leather portfolio. Seriously. After that we strolled through the drizzle (as in light rain, not some Snoop Dogg thing)  to Mille Feuille for a cup of delicious hot chocolate and a couple fancy macaroon things.

Sunday we actually managed to get to the beach again – Gordon was in need of a good run around after being cooped up out of the rain. The sky was blue with little fluffy clouds,the sun was warm, the sailboats on the horizon out towards the Coronado Islands – pretty fecking beautiful. I must get another camera. Gordon was enjoying running about with all the other dogs, and we walked up to the wire fence separating the dog beach from the Naval Air Base. Then the usual trip to the Dog Wash, then a soda, then some relaxing and TV, before Cassie headed home.

These weekends are the only time we get to spend together, so we try and pack them as much as possible. That’s easier to do in LA, because I know more people there, but that will change. It looks like we won’t be making a move north for a while, because of the work problem – Cassie would need to quit her job and find a new one in SF, which would be kinda dumb, given the climate. We’ll see.

Region Free DVD?

When I came over to the US, I had a bunch of stuff shipped, including my (small and predictable) DVD collection and my Panasonic DVD recorder. This had been unlocked to be region-free, so I could play legally imported titles, such as Battle Beyond The Stars, with the terrible yet strangely compelling Sybil Danning.

After it arrived in San Diego, I unpacked it and connected it up to my TV – a bulbous CRT beast which came with the apartment, which functions adequately for for now. Sadly all I could get was the sound, no pictures. The screen displayed a uniform grey, rather than snow or a distorted picture.

It was suggested that the TV connection was the problem. Perhaps the UK version of the recorder wouldn’t work with a US TV. I wasn’t about to go out and buy a new TV, considering I may be moving in with Cassie soon – she has a big flat TV already.

This was frustrating. I wanted to watch my UK DVDs, and also any US ones I pick up or rent. So while up in San Francisco, I bought an Insignia NS-DVD1-A DVD player from Best Buy (the US equivalent of Currys – alarm bells!) for $30 – the cheapest they had. The guy in the store, who happened to be a Brit, said that it would either already be unlocked, due to the small manufacturer not being so much in thrall to the big studios, or would easily be unlocked by finding a code online. It is a dreadful little box, but all I needed is for it to work for a while until I figure out an alternative.

When I got it home and set it up, I plucked a UK DVD at random from my shelf – The Armando Iannucci Shows. This played fine – things looked good! Then I had a nasty thought, and checked the back of the DVD case – it was Region Zero, non-restricted. I tried a second DVD – A Bit Of Fry And Laurie, Series 1 (noticing a trend?). This was marked as Region 2, and the player displayed the message “Wrong Region” on the screen. It couldn’t display it on its own display because it doesn’t have one, being that cheap(o).

Onto Google for an unlock hack. The previous version of the player, the Insignia NS-DVD1, seemed to be unlockable with no trouble, according to a forum post. But it would seem that the NS-DVD1-A has had this terrible weakness fixed. Insignia say its illegal to unlock a player. Cowards. How come the NS-DVD1 was unlockable then?

Serves me right for buying a product named after a rank-smelling plastic-bottled 80’s men’s grooming range with a jingle based on It’s All Over Now by The Valentinos. Check out that clip, by the way. A woman actually lets her hair down in a seductive way, and a computer blows a kiss. And is that Feargal Sharkey? No, it’s not.

Anyway, as it stands I can watch my new US DVDs, but not my library of UK stuff, which is important to me. Maybe I’ll take this machine back. Best Buy best give me my money back. What a pain in my ass.

Result

I’ve not said much about the US election campaign swirling around me in my first few months living in the US. I’ve not felt confident enough to express my hopes. If you talk to me, I’ll explain who I wanted to win. But here, I don’t know - I think there are so many political commenters, I’ll leave it to the experts and the articulate.

I went home on my own last night, and used the TV to watch the results coming in. I was flipping between NBC and CNN. I preferred NBC, even though their graphics were a bit shiney-shiney. I like NBC anchor Brian Williams, he’s very funny when he appears as a guest on the Daily Show. I don’t watch TV news normally. The KPBS newsroom just looked a bit sad and, well, publically funded. “No commercials; No mercy!”

California lags behind of course, due to the vastness of the country. So Obama was announced President-Elect at 8pm local time, just as the CA voting closed. It was pretty clear by then, but still it needed to be stated. It was kind of funny that they were in a commercial break, and when they returned, the news was announced as if it had happened about a minute ago. Why didn’t they break from commercial to bring us the news?

I enjoyed watching McCain’s “gracious” concession speech. I used quotes there to show that the general concensus is that the speech was gracious, not to show that I don’t think that. He even managed to quiet the booing hundreds when he mentioned Obama – a nice change from whipping them up yesterday and throughout the campaign. Palin said nothing. Good. She’ll be back though, despite being a major reason people voted against McCain.

I was folding laundry while Obama gave his speech. It was fine, no surprises (apart from the puppy!). He’s a good talker, no doubt. The part where he would end a paragraph with, “yes we can” and the crowd would respond irritated me a bit. It sounded like a church service with the little interruptions from the congregation that I only see when I go to weddings. Or like Adama from Battlestar Galactica saying, “So say we all!”.

I was also watching a few websites – CNN, NBC, NPR local affiliate KPBS, FiveThirtyEight.com, Twitter, and of course, LittleGreenFootballs.com. All were slow to update, but that may have been my PC being an old one of Cassie’s, until I can get my proper one fixed. Seeing as all the results came from the Assoicated Press, it was just a case of the various channels interpreting the data. It was pretty frutrating at times, seeing such a big disparity between the channels, and waiting for the refresh.

It was also frustraing that all the news sites I was looking at didn’t mention the ballot measure Prop 1A for a Californian High Speed Rail system. This is dear to me because it is the project  I was (kind of) brought to the US to work on. If it had failed, there was a risk I would have no project to work on – although I had been assured by my masters that I would have been found something else to do. The stationery cabinet needs organising, for example. We need firewood for the approaching winter.

I found that KPBS had the most detailed local results. When I went to bed, I was a bit nervous, but the Trader Joes pizza and Karl Strauss beer helped me drift off. Prop 1A was trailing in the results, with about half the precincts having returned their totals. When I awoke, however, 95% of the precincts had returned, and Proposition 1A had passed!

Other good news (IMHO) from the ballot measures: Prop 2 has passed (food animal welfare); Prop 3 has passed (childrens hospitals); Prop 4 has failed (doctors informing parents about abortions on minors).

Bad news: Prop 8 passed, in a shameful display of bigotry and paranoia. Replace the word “gay” with the word “interracial” in the measure text, and see what you get. “But think of the children!”. Oh grow up. In California of all places! “But the Bible says…”. Stop. Your holy book does not apply to everyone.

Also Props 7 and 10 for renewal energy and alterntaive fuel vehicles failed. Fair enough, the price of oil is coming down now. You thick f*cks.

I spoke to Cassie a couple of times. She was with her roommate and a few friends in LA, having a little Election Night party. We were nervous at first, then relieved, then nervous again as the votes for the California Ballot Measures came in. Cassie told me her roommate Brendan looked like her nephew on Xmas morning. Big grin.

The atmos in the office is quiet (then again it is just 8am). I think many people will be happy, but equally as many will not be. Unfortunately, some of those are people who think Obama is a secret Muslim, and that abortion should be made illegal, and that God said marriage is one man and one woman, and why should I have to teach my children about gays? So no party poppers here. But there will be some secret smiles in the corridors.

All this, and I didn’t even vote!

Geek Bonfire Burny Burny Fun Time

Went to a San Diego Geek Bonfire last night, organised by Mitch Wagner of Information Week, and Gina Trapani, editor of Lifehacker (which I comment on sometimes). We met at one of the concrete fire pits provided by the city in this lovely little cove. When I arrived, there were already a bunch of people there, and there were a couple of families with children playing in the water.

I stuck on a ‘Hello my name is…’ badge and dived in to talking to people. I met several nice friendly geeks, many of whom were told about the High Speed Rail link I’m working on – some were even interested. (joke) Vote yes on Prop 1a!

Among the new people I met and swapped geek info (Twitter usernames, moo cards etc) were the above mentioned Mitch and Gina, A Kovacs, Lightwave Will, and many more. (I left the cards I collected at home today, soz)

Small World Update – one of my current crop of blogs I read is Bad Astronomer, which I mentioned the other day, and it turns out A is a friend of Phil Plait, and was lucky enough to be on the recent Galapagos trip. It was fascinating hearing about that, especially the sea lions.

We hung out, ate toasted marshmallows and drank soda-pop-drinks, and discussed all sorts of stuff. Short incomplete list below.

  • What is a geek?
  • Ringtones
  • Cartones (I reserve a TIE fighter sound for me)
  • Twitter on iPhone vs Palm (iPhone wins because of weird code on the site)
  • Spaced
  • Doctor Who
  • Marine Boy
  • Speed Racer
  • Battle of the Planets / Gatchaman
  • Daleks
  • The Clone Wars
  • Trains
  • Maglev from LA to SF, suspended over the 5, and why it won’t happen
  • California High Speed Rail
  • Vote YES on Prop 1a this November
  • … and many other geek topics.

One set of photos is here. After the beach got a bit too dark, despite the roaring fire, I drove to O’Connells Bar for some “Tech Karaoke”, which was pretty good fun. Despite a huge range of songs, I couldn’t decide what to sing, and ended up doing My Life by Billy Joel again. I left before I was due to do Veronica by Elvis Costello, which is probably a good thing.

More geek fun please!