Moffat, Davies, and the New Who

Ross Ruediger had a rather sour take on season 6 of Doctor Who. He had problems with Matt Smith’s puppydog energy and showrunner Steven Moffat’s “celebration of the clever” in dialogue and plotting the season-long story arc, which culminated in the solution to the mysteries of how the Doctor “died” and his connection to River Song.

Weeping Angels

It’s a matter of taste. I believe Moffat when he says that kids have no trouble following the plot complications and it’s the fans and critics who complain the most. I certainly enjoyed the cleverness of how (most) everything in seasons 5 and 6 clicked together; I like trying to outguess a master storyteller like The Moff. And I don’t think the arc worked against the show’s episodic nature, although I could argue that this is a Doctor Who for the modern age of TV, and season arcs, DVD collections, and being a flagship moneymaker for the BBC necessitate all sorts of choices that couldn’t have been imagined during the Classic Series’ run.

I like Moffat’s and Matt Smith’s conception of the Doctor as a man who doesn’t ruminate and smolder over the past; there’s a colder, more cerebral, more dangerous edge to this Doctor than I’ve seen in the previous two incarnations. The choice he forces on Rory in “The Girl Who Waited” is a prime example of this

I agree with Ross that Smith is probably a better dramatic actor for this part than Tennant, but the modern Doctor is now an amalgam of producer and actor, more so than it ever was in the classic series. And, Moffat is giving Smith stuff to play with that Tennant never had. Moffat is clever and a little shifty, therefore so is the Doctor (and Sherlock!). And Smith adds his own dollop of secret sauce to the recipe; I always have the feeling that, in most every scene, Smith’s Doctor is holding back some information he’s telling no one else, and this knowledge informs the actor’s choices of glance and gesture. I daresay this is information that is never vouchsafed to the viewer.

Given that the Doctor is a time traveler, it’s inevitable that he will know more than the people around him, and so he has to guard against spoilers; therefore, he can’t really tell his companions all he knows. But also, as he hinted at in “Amy’s Choice”, he has a lot of darkness to contend with in his personal history. Being openly emotional might unravel his rather tightly wound demeanor. Without the distractions of monsters and dashing here and there and fixing the TARDIS, he would have to contend with his past. Maybe even forgive himself. Better, perhaps, to live in an eternal now – of Daleks, Amy and Rory’s marriage, life-threatening dangers, seductive puzzles – and not raise ghosts.

Ross pointed out a qualitative difference between Moffat’s cleverness and Davies’ naked emotion. For me, the emotion in Moffat’s work is more powerful dramatically because the characters are so restrained so much of the time. The Doctor’s tears at the end of “The Doctor’s Wife” and the utter joy at Amy and Rory’s wedding party are proof of that for me.

But I will allow that nothing in Seasons 5 and 6 have come close to the feelings of sadness and loss as did “Dalek” or “Family of Blood” or “Midnight” or “Turn Left.” Those moments were, I think, given some extra polish and handcrafting by Davies because those were the kinds of moments that moved him; Moffat would have emphasized different moments, different beats, different colors. That’s simply how writers are. Doctor Who is neither Davies nor Moffat; it’s both of them, and everything that came before them. And the mythos is greater because it can contain them all, from the mugging of Tom Baker to the gravity of Christopher Eccleston.

What I like particularly about Moffat’s stories, beyond the whipsmart dialogue and whiplashing plot twists (and even if it were only those things, I’d still love them), is something I never perceived in Davies’ work: the surreality of Moffat’s imagery. The child in the gas mask, the astronaut in the lake, the Weeping Angels, the mad version of London at the start of “The Wedding of River Song”: these are arresting images and TV thrives on arresting images. They’re attention-getting and get people talking. And they don’t lose their potency on successive viewings. The Season 7 opener contained one surreal sequence in particular that knocked me backwards; it was the kind of experience I’d never have had in a Davies story.

I had intended this to be a review of the first episode of the new Season 7, with a brief digression about  Ross’s review. But as usual, my words got away from me. Tomorrow: my stray thoughts on “Asylum of the Daleks.”

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Assorted links

  • One of my favorite writing sites is by England-based sitcom writer James Cary and called, appropriately, "Sitcom Geek". What I love about his posts are his practical and serious thoughts on the business of conceiving and writing situation- and character-based comedy (as opposed to sketch or standup comedy). Here's his latest post, echoing the feelings/advice I read on many academics' and fiction-writers' sites: Just start typing
  • Another favorite blog is by self-help writer and editor Doug Toft. Here's one of his latest: 7 things to know before you use a self-help technique
  • I also enjoy the rough and ready booster shot that is the language learning site, All Japanese All The Time. Khatzumoto continues to stun me with his inventiveness and cheek in generating advice on how to teach yourself any language (especially Japanese). A great read for auto-didacts and those who want to be. Here's a recent post that helped me make up my mind on a personal issue that had stymied me: The problem is choice
  • Who killed lard?
  • Zombie grammar rules that eat your brain. First on the menu: split infinitives.
  • Fascinating: Sewer workers (and dwellers) of Victorian London

Dear Ones, the ego self, that part of you that wishes to keep you small and separate in order to retain control, will rail up whenever you are about to take a huge leap in growth. It will do so by activating fear and doubt. So, why not, rather than allowing that fear and doubt to control you and stop your progress, see it instead as an indicator that something wonderful and empowering is about to break through? Remember all movement is forward movement and by staying in surrender and flow you will be navigating the Shift with the greatest amount of ease and assistance that is available to you. ~Archangel Gabriel

Yet another password creation rule

The paper dates from 2005 and it could be argued that the world it was created for has already passed. Google and now Dropbox are offering two-factor authentication to provide extra security for sites that can hold the keys to your online identity. However, if you don't have a password-generation program, Bernie's paper contains several different algorithms for generating personalized and tough-to-crack passwords.

The method relies on scrambling a word by adding numbers, capital letters, and special characters according to a set of input rules. By memorizing the input rules and a few tokens, you can create a medium to strong password for any site you visit.

So there are two parts to the following method, which Bernie explicitly identifies for generating logon passwords:

A. TOKEN CREATION

  1. Pick any special character you will always use with your password. Examples: !@#$%^& (*+)=-;:’”~`][}{|><?/.,
  2. Pick a Secret Code: a 3- or 4-digit number you'll always remember. It could be a special date (such as an anniversary) or, if this is a password you have to change regularly, it could be the date you change the password.
  3. Pick a very simple Memory Cue that you will remember. This will be the root word for the password. It could be the name of the site (Yahoo, CNN, New York Times) or the application, etc.

B. CREATE THE PASSWORD

  1. Surround the root password with the special character.
  2. Insert the Secret Code number after the second character of the root word.
  3. Capitalize the first character after the Secret Code.
  4. Optional - If you're changing the password every 90 days, add the creation date to the end of the password. Use the calendar quarter and the year to create a 5-digit number. So Q1 of 2012 would generate 12012.

Here are some examples of these rules in action from Bernie's paper:

  • @
  • 4556
  • Tim
  • @Tim@
  • @Ti4556m@
  • @Ti4556M@
  • @Ti4556M@12012

For a Yahoo account:

  • @
  • 4556
  • yahoo
  • @yahoo@
  • @ya4556hoo@
  • @ya4556Hoo@
  • @ya4556Hoo@12012

So, for any new site I visit, I can generate a memorable password that has special characters, capital letters, and numbers and (generally) avoids any dictionary words in its components.

What if the site I'm on doesn't let me use special characters or imposes a character limit? I usually drop the special character and simply go as far as I can until I reach the character limit.

Again, the paper has many more examples of different ways to mix and match these rules. He includes different tweaks on the rules to generate both simple to remember and difficult passwords.

The Old Adventures of Superman

Apart from Stevereads and the Ihnatko Alamanac have to say on the matter, I have paid no attention to the DC Comics reboot of its entire line of superhero comics. So when I see references to it in the mainstream press, I pay a little more attention.

The Golden Age Lois Lane and Superman, from th...

The latest news is that Superman and Wonder Woman are now going to be the ultimate power couple. (The Guardian article has good links to related sites if you want more info.)

Writing Lois Lane out of Superman’s romantic mythology just seems … weird. Like setting Tarzan in Alaska. How can you turn your back on over 75 years of all that history? I’m sure they’ll bring Lois back in somehow, and this lets the new writers cut loose on creating some new mythologies, but still … There’s something mysterious and seductive about an alien humanoid with godlike powers falling in love with an aboriginal female of a primitive species. Call me an old curmudgeon who hates change.

That said – today’s classic reading on the topic is Larry Niven’s hilarious essay, “Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex,” and that title tells you everything you need to know. The gross-out implications almost write themselves, don’t they? Sit back, relax, and prepare to snort into your morning coffee.

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Pop Songs are Sad Songs

But if it seems to you that the songs of today don't have that same kick anymore, then science has confirmed your intuition. The BPS Research Digest summarizes an article from the Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts proposing that pop songs have indeed become more sad and more emotionally ambiguous. Here's the paragraph that caught my eye:

Unambiguously happy songs like Abba's Waterloo sound, to today's ears, "naive and slightly juvenile", the researchers noted. And whilst modern songs in a similar style, such as Aqua's Barbie Girl, can still enjoy huge commercial success, they're usually seen as a guilty pleasure and savaged by critics.

I will at some point have to decide whether I can accept my pleasures as pleasures and to hell with guilt and shame.

Well, in that spirit, why not go out with one of my faves from that happy, happy time? I remember buying the 45 for this song because it had a great beat and just sounded like a fun record. I would sometimes listen to it after a hard day at my first job as a reporter for a smalltown newspaper. I put this 45 on, flopped on my sofa, and tried to draw in its energy and pulse, like it was caffeine. (This was before I started drinking coffee.) The video is meh but I recall it made a big splash when it appeared. Another sign of the changing times.

[youtube=://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6p-lDYPR2P8&w=640&h=480]

How to unwrap a CD

When I first saw an Asheville CD store saleskid flip open the hinges of a CD case to remove that annoying sticker from across the top of the lid, I was gobsmacked. Once I saw it, it seemed so simple -- why had no one ever shown me this before? Why had I not been able to figure it out on my own? (Part of my surprise being that I'm a notorious rules-follower and it's obvious, isn't it, that you don't take something apart unless someone told you it was OK?) The Proper Discord blog posted a great little video tutorial on how to unwrap the cellophane packaging from various types of CD cases. It's little bits of knowledge like this which makes life on the Interwebz worth living.

[youtube=://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vvRLrMcJvbo&w=640&h=480]

Hat tip to Kirkville

Jailbreaking my Kindle Touch

To get screensaver images of my choice onto the Kindle Touch (the one without the special offers) required several steps:

  • Jailbreaking the Kindle Touch
  • Installing the screensavers hack
  • Gathering the images
  • Formatting the images
  • Grouping and renaming the images
  • Transferring the renamed images to the Kindle Touch

I won’t go into exorbitant detail on how I did what I did, but this post will pull all the steps together into one place so I have a record of what I did in roughly the order I did it, in case I need to do it again, God forbid. I also throw in a few stray observations along the way.

Jailbreaking the Kindle Touch

“Jailbreaking” is such a harsh word for what Wikipedia more delicately refers to as “privilege escalation.” The Kindle Touch (also referred to as the Kindle 4) has been slower to fall to jailbreaking and custom hacks, but entropy catches up with everything.

Jailbreak your Kindle

  1. In Pathfinder, use the Edit>Select… dialog to select all JPG files.
  2. Right-click on the selected files, select Services>Convert to PNG. The Automator workflow takes the JPG files as input, churns away, and creates PNGs with the same filenames in the directory.
  3. Select all the JPG files again and then move or delete them. So we now have a directory full of PNG files.
  4. Starting from the top of the file list, use Pathfinder to view each file’s Info and check the dimensions. I used Pathfinder’s drawer for this part, which showed both a preview of the image and its attributes. About two-thirds of the files were in the proper 600x800 format. When I found a file that was not, I selected the file and ran a Keyboard Maestro macro that opened the file in Preview, entered new dimensions of 600x800, and then saved the file.

So, after another few minutes, I had a directory of files in the required format and size.

Grouping and renaming the images

There are two more constraints on image files for the Kindle.

First constraint: The screensavers directory is limited to a maximum of 99 files. I had collected a little over 200.

I decided I wanted a few different sets of files that I could switch out every now and then when I got bored with the current set. So I broke the files into 5 directories of roughly 40 files each. To ensure I had a fairly even, yet somewhat random, collection in each set, I used the Finder’s color labels to help me visually differentiate files into various stacks.

In Pathfinder, starting with the first file, I gave every 5th file a red color. Then green after red, then blue, and so on. I then used Pathfinder’s Edit>Select facility to copy all the red-coded files to a “red” folder, all the blue-coded files to a “blue” directory, and so on.

Great – I now had five groups of files reflecting a mix of styles and images. Not boring!

Second constraint: Filenames. Here’s what the simple screensaver readme has to say about them:

  • Each image MUST be named bg_xsmall_ss##.png, where ## is a two digit number from 00 to 99
  • You MUST have an image named bg_xsmall_ss00.png and you CANNOT skip a number (ex: bg_xsmall_ss00.png, bg_xsmall_ss02.png but no bg_xsmall_ss01.png)

Pathfinder to the rescue again! A new feature in Pathfinder 6 is a Batch Rename facility that uses an Automator-like workflow interface. I quickly created a renaming workflow for the first group that I could save and re-use for the remaining groups.

If I decide later that I want to instead have larger sets, it’s very easy to move all the files into a single directory and run the renaming workflow again.

Transferring the renamed images to the Kindle Touch

The easiest part! Hook up the Touch to the computer, select and drag the new screensaver files to the Touch’s screensavers directory, unmount, and unplug.

Bah-dah-bing! I now can see a carousel of fun images whenever I put the Touch to sleep.

The above steps did not arrive cleanly and without effort. The process involved lots of trial and error for every phase before I finally hit on the right combination and sequence of steps. You could say that this was an awful lot of work to serve a fairly trivial purpose – and you would be right – but I would say that it was not work: it was good, clean, nerdy fun.

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Kindle Touch screensavers

The Kindle Touch (non-ad supported) comes with 20 attractive gray-scale screensaver/wallpaper images. They’re fine, but after a while, I wanted to see some different images. One of the reasons I got the ad-free Touch was so that I wouldn’t be assaulted with an ad every time I picked up my Kindle to read something. I returned the ad-supported Kindle 3 because – among other reasons –  although I can take ads in magazines, I didn’t want to see them in a book – not even an e-book.

The web is full of Kindle-supported screensaver images that I would have preferred to see on my device, but Amazon doesn’t allow me to customize the Kindle in even that harmless way. And this annoyed me.

So I took matters into my own hands, did a bit of hacking on my Kindle over the weekend, and now I have a pool of about 200 attractive, varied, and unusual images I can use as screensavers on my Kindle, as the following gallery shows. Tomorrow, a post on how I did it. If you want to see the many (many) sites I scoured looking for images, and thus get a peek into my own little OCD manias, you can browse them via my Pinboard links.

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Muleteer, Occultist, Whitesmith

The Bureau of Labor’s Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) system maintains a set of job and occupational codes to ensure consistent statistical and information gathering.

Blacksmith working hot iron

As part of my research for a paper in my Organization of Information class, I looked up the SOC’s tortured history, starting from 1940 till the Office of Management and Budget mandated in 2000 that all governmental departments standardize on it.

In a rather dry 1999 document on the code’s revision (PDF) I found a simply wonderful two-page list of all occupations listed in the 1850 Census.The list starts on page 11.

The three trades in this post’s title come from there, as do these charmers:

  • Philosophical instrument maker
  • Salaeratus maker
  • Shoe-peg makers
  • Calico printers
  • Button makers
  • Chandlers
  • Sawyers
  • Morocco dressers
  • Daguerreotypists

Salaeratus maker? It’s explained in a 1999 Voice of America broadcast on the above document and a few online dictionaries.

It’s a remarkable picture of a vanished land and time, when life was local, rural, and everything of any value had to be made by someone, not imported from offshore. Notice how many occupations end with “makers” and “manufacturers.” Notice how few of those jobs make their way to the current SOC headings. We’ve gained, certainly – less tedious, back-breaking work for a majority, more prosperity, more goods available at a cheaper price – but I can’t help feeling something’s been lost, too.

P.S. This post originally appeared, in slightly different form, on my previous blog, Oddments of High Unimportance. Don’t go telling on me for plagiarizing myself, now.

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“Time” is related to how much information you are taking in – information stretches time. A child’s day from 9am to 3.30pm is like a 20-hour day for an adult. Children experience many new things every day and time passes slowly, but as people get older they have fewer new experiences and time is less stretched by information. So, you can “lengthen” your life by minimising routine and making sure your life is full of new active experiences – travel to new places, take on new interests, and spend more time living in the present – see Making Time by Steve Taylor .

Many people understand movement is required to get them where they wish to be, yet they hesitate to step into that movement. We understand that you hesitate because you don’t want to make a mistake, but such thinking is faulty and we will tell you why. You cannot make a mistake! It is impossible! If you have surrendered and entered into the flow, your guides and helpers will be assisting you, instantaneously, to help you get where your soul desires to go. It doesn’t matter which direction you take your first step in because the flow is self adjusting. The important thing is to take that first step, in any direction, because you cannot guide something that is not in motion, Dear Ones! Again, we love you for your mindfulness, but now is not the time for stagnation. Using surrender and flow with intention is mastery in motion, and a wondrous thing, indeed. Feel free to step into movement without fear, knowing that all movement is forward movement and will take you, without fail, to the place of highest good. ~Archangel Gabriel

Memotome.com

I’ve mentioned Memotome.com in previous posts and it’s an essential part of my productivity toolkit. It sends me email reminders of tasks I want/need to do, birthdays and anniversaries to remember, and pretty much handles most any recurring task.Memo To Me - Free Reminder Service

The site has been around for a long time and I doubt that it’s changed its visual design since the early 2000’s, when I first heard of it. There are plenty of other reminder sites that will ping you via email or SMS, and they look prettier, operate a little more smoothly, and offer more enhanced services than Memotome. But I came to the party with Memotome, it’s been utterly reliable all that time, and I resist the idea of starting over somewhere else.

Google Calendar holds my weekly schedule and one-time only appointments I schedule on the fly. Goodtodo manages portions of my to-do list for work and home, and provides a way for me to schedule a task for the future very quickly with the assurance it will pop up exactly when I want it to.

Memotome occupies that gray sort of area where I want to be reminded of things but I don’t want to see them on a calendar. These are items I can set and forget.

Yes, Google Calendar lets you create secondary calendars that you can turn on and off, but I find Google Calendar increasingly complicated and its settings page for a new event almost bewilders me with all the choices. Goodtodo is great for quickie todo tasks, but its recurring functionality is not as flexible as I’d like; I want some items to recur forever, but Goodtodo limits me to a maximum of 99 recurrences, for example. Also, its emails arrive in plaintext so if I include a URL in the body of the reminder, it does not arrive as a live link.

Memotome is plain but it hits a sweetspot for me. It does not offer some features that other services offer: weekday only reminders, weekend only, “every other day/week/month,” and so on. So I have to get clever and create multiple reminders to get around that limitation (such as creating two weekly recurrences, one for Tuesday and one for Thursday).

One feature it offers that I like: “every few weeks.” When I’m trying to encourage a new habit, I like a once-in-a-while reminder for me to check in with myself.

You can use the service for free, but donating whatever amount you think the service is worth upgrades you to a level where the email reminders are a little more useful (your event title is the email subject line, URLs included in the body of the reminder become live links, etc). Check it out.

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The Splurge List

I don’t remember where I got this idea, but it’s one I’ve been using more lately. The idea uses wishlists and a form of timeboxing to help me reduce my impulse spending, especially online. It’s so, so easy to buy a Kindle ebook or an MP3 album on Amazon, especially when the items are priced in the cheap single-digits. The downside of this is that by the end of the month, I may have bought lots of little stuff and their total is in the double-digits.

Money

So, as I run across these little gems I put them into my Amazon wishlist. The  Amazon wishlist browser extension lets me put stuff on the list that Amazon doesn’t sell (like shareware or recordings/books from small publishers). I also have a “splurge” tag in my Pinboard bookmarks, which is mainly a holdover from before I used the Amazon extension.

So when the impulse to buy something online strikes, I just click the button in my browser and, bah-dah-boom, that item is out of sight and, for a little while, out of mind. I can then move on to the next shiny object.

On the last day of the month, I get an email from Memotome.com that says, “Congratulations! You can now redeem an item or items from your splurge list for $25. Have fun!” I then spend a happy few minutes considering the items I might want to buy for myself. I also cull the list of stuff that I’m not interested in anymore.

I now can decide whether to blow the $25 on a single book, or two CDs, or a mix of cheaply priced ebooks and MP3s, whatever I like. The key, though, is that what I buy has to be fun or frivolous. That’s the carrot and it’s what makes this process doable for me. (It’s similar to the idea of a cheat day or reward meal for dieters.)

This trick may not banish all impulse purchases, but it’s been working for me this year. I believe the grown-ups refer to this practice as “delayed gratification,” but I am only a recent and reluctant member of that grim tribe, so I cannot say for sure.

 

 

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Robert Hughes (1938-2012)

Like many other Americans, I became aware of Hughes through his "Shock of the New" documentary and considered myself lucky to snag a copy of the hardback from a remainder table at the (long-gone and lamented) Intimate Book Shop in 1983. Most people can name critics of movies, music, and books because we hear those products talked about on NPR or Entertainment Weekly. Art critics -- not so much. The only one I could name with any confidence would have been Hughes. I did not read much of his stuff, but like Gore Vidal or Pauline Kael, I had only to read a few lines and I could hear the cadence of his prose, and the stunning way he could put together a sentence. I always liked his boisterous charisma and certainty.

The following paragraph is from his memoir, "Things I Didn't Know." Thanks to The Daily Beast for bringing it to my attention.

“I am completely an elitist in the cultural but emphatically not the social sense. I prefer the good to the bad, the articulate to the mumbling, the aesthetically developed to the merely primitive, and full to partial consciousness. I love the spectacle of skill, whether it’s an expert gardener at work or a good carpenter chopping dovetails. I don’t think stupid or ill-read people are as good to be with as wise and fully literate ones. I would rather watch a great tennis player than a mediocre one, unless the latter is a friend or a relative. Consequently, most of the human race doesn’t matter much to me, outside the normal and necessary frame of courtesy and the obligation to respect human rights. I see no reason to squirm around apologizing for this. I am, after all, a cultural critic, and my main job is to distinguish the good from the second-rate, pretentious, sentimental, and boring stuff that saturates culture today, more (perhaps) than it ever has. I hate populist [shit], no matter how much the demos love it.”

—Robert Hughes, Things I Didn’t Know