The 50th anniversary episode of Doctor Who was excellent. I could have asked for them to reduce some of the gratuitously cheeseball scenes, but by and large it followed through on its promise of revisiting the Doctor’s darkest day during the Time War quite well.
Spoilers after the cut!
Read on, Macduff! »
Biking to work this year can be summed by saying that I’ve had to overcome several bits of adversity to keep going. Nothing huge, but enough to be a drag on my enthusiasm.
Last year I had planned to reach 40 rides for the season for the first time. I bike in twice a week (rarely more, since I often need to drive somewhere after work), and with 7 months in the season (between Daylight Savings Time changes – I prefer not to bike home in the dark) that gives me about 30 weeks, so in theory I could get as many as 60 rides in without adding extra days (minus time spent on vacation, at WWDC, etc.), but I think I’ve topped out at 35. Debbi suggested I aim for 50. But then all the business with my Mom came up, and I ended up at around 35 again.
This year I was back east in March during the DST change (“Spring Forward, Lose Sleep”), but I didn’t bike in until May because we were working on selling her house, and I wanted to make sure I could dash home and take care of anything that came up where I needed some specific records (it turned out that nothing did).
Along the way I’ve broken two spokes on my rear wheel, and I’m coming to accept that I need to get a new bike. I have a 2002 Bianchi Eros road bike (at least, that’s the year I bought it), and I think I just weigh too much for the bike. I bought a beefier rear wheel for it a couple of years ago, but I’ve continued to pop spokes (just less often), which is pretty annoying (even though I found a store nearby which is able to fix it within 48 hours reliably). So I think I need to get a bike which is built for someone of my weight (as with buying clothes, it’s better to buy for the body you have, not the body you want to have). So this winter I will probably look into getting some sort of hybrid bike. The plus is that I could take it off-road onto some of the dirt trails in Shoreline Park, which my road bike can’t really handle.
Then in August Debbi and I were doing an abdominal workout challenge, and I started having pain in my hips, which mostly went away when I stopped doing the sit-ups. Toward the end I also started having pain in my right knee, which may or may not be related (perhaps I was compensating for the hip pain in a way that stressed my knee). It gets sore when I apply downward power when pedaling – either going up hills or when starting moving. It’s not debilitating, and it doesn’t both me much when not biking (maybe a bit when climbing stairs), but it is worrisome, and the two weeks off for our September vacation didn’t let it heal fully. It felt a bit better this past week, but I have had to be careful around it.
So it’s been a bit of a frustrating summer for biking. I’m on pace to hit 40 rides by the end of the month, which will be a nice milestone; fortunately I had a day’s worth of cushion since I got sick a few weeks ago. I don’t think my knee would take a third day of riding in one week very well.
I like riding to work, but I’ll like it even more if I can get a more reliable bike for next year. Meanwhile, as sunset creeps earlier and earlier, I’m getting ready to switch to going to the gym over the winter, instead.
The latest season of Doctor Who is in my view the weakest of the relaunched series. The basic problem is that the scripts were generally quite weak, and failed to follow through on the promise of their premises, or contribute to the ongoing developments in the series.
As usual, my ranking of episodes this season from best to worst:
- Asylum of the Daleks (written by Steven Moffat)
- The Name of the Doctor (Moffat)
- Cold War (Mark Gatiss)
- Hide (Neil Cross)
- The Bells of Saint John (Moffat)
- The Rings of Akhaten (Cross)
- The Snowmen (Moffat)
- The Crimson Horror (Gatiss)
- Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS (Stephen Thompson)
- Dinosaurs on a Spaceship (Chris Chibnall)
- The Angels Take Manhattan (Moffat)
- Nightmare in Silver (Neil Gaiman)
- The Power of Three (Chibnall)
- A Town Called Mercy (Toby Whithouse)
(I’m excluding last year’s Christmas special, “The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe” from the list because I don’t think it’s really part of the season. But if you’re curious I rate it a “shrug”.)
Also as usual, there are spoilers ahead!
Read on, Macduff! »
I’m a fan of Daylight Savings Time. Basically because I don’t like to get up in the dark, and I like it to stay light as late as possible. My ideal would be for the sun to come up about 15 minutes before my alarm went off every day, but that’s not very realistic.
Lots of people hate Daylight Savings Time. I recently tweeted that Daylight Savings Time is like the Designated Hitter for non-sports fans. (Non-sports fans didn’t seem to get the joke; the existence of the Designated Hitter has been a major controversy in professional baseball since it was introduced in the early 1970s, with both sides being so entrenched that it’s unlikely anything will ever change. Long, long ago I wrote a short essay in defense of it. But I digress.) I have some appreciation for why they hate it, but I don’t agree with them. And rants I read about it often make me feel like they have no appreciation at all for why I like it.
This article, Why I Like DST, has been making the rounds this week, but I think it obfuscates its point (in particular, I think all his talk about computers is just a sideshow; automation has nothing to do with whether someone likes DST or not). Being one of those “arrogant programmers” he talks about, I thought I’d try fixing his article.
I think Daylight Savings Time basically comes down to this: Here’s when the sun will will rise and set in San Francisco on the shortest and longest days of the year of 2013, on each Standard Time and Daylight Savings Time:
|Pacific Standard Time
|Rise: 4:48 am
Set: 7:35 pm
|Rise: 7:22 am
Set: 4:55 pm
|Pacific Daylight Time
Set: 8:35 pm
|Rise: 8:22 am
Set: 5:55 pm
(Table from the United States Naval Observatory, from which the article above also got its table.)
I don’t want the sun coming up at 8:22 am in the winter – winter can be depressing enough (expecially for people with seasonal affective disorder, which I think I have a mild form of) without waking up in the dark every day. I’d rather the sun came up closer to 7 (around the time I get up). On the other hand, I don’t really want it coming up at 4:48 am, several hours before I get up, in the summer; I’d rather have it come up later and stay light until nearly 9 pm.
And I’m happy to change my clocks twice a year to get closer to those ideals.
Now, your mileage may vary: You might get up or go to bed at a very different time from me, you might always get up in the dark year-round (Debbi gets up at 4 am most weekday mornings, well before sunrise in any of the squares on the chart), you might just hate changing your clocks twice a year. It’s really a matter of opinion. But it seems like people who hate the switch just don’t understand why people might like it. For me, it serves a purpose: I’m a light fiend, and I want to have as much of it during my waking hours as I can.
If we do someday end it, I’d rather we land on Daylight time year-round, since it’s closer to what I’d want (more daylight later in the day). I guess it would be some consolation that in the dead of winter I could watch the sun come up when I’m sitting down to breakfast.
But switching between the two times, as we do, is even better.
Oh, and I’m also pretty happy with the change made a few years ago to start DST earlier in the year and end it later, since it means I can bike to work for a few more weeks without having to bike home in the dark.
The Scientific American podcast recently had an episode titled “Psychopathy’s Bright Side: Kevin Dutton on the Benefits of Being a Bit Psychopathic”. In it, interviewee Kevin Dutton says:
Psychopaths in everyday life, if I’m talking about what kinds of psychopathic characteristics serve people well in everyday life, well, psychopaths are assertive, psychopaths don’t procrastinate, psychopaths focus on the positives, psychopaths don’t take things personally, they don’t beat themselves up when things go wrong, and they’re very cool under pressure.”
I listened to this bit and thought, “Wow, I’m pretty much the anti-psychopath.” Not completely (I’m assertive in many circumstances and I sometimes focus on the positives), but mostly.
Psychopaths probably make good poker players.
(Dutton’s book on the subject is The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success.)
There’s an ongoing kerfuffle in geekdom (certainly not restricted to this recently-popular post) over the TV sitcom The Big Bang Theory. (If you’re not familiar with the series, you can either read up about it, or just ignore this post.) The usual objection to the series is that we (the viewers) are supposed to identify with the character of Penny, and to laugh at the four geeky friends, Leonard, Sheldon, Howard and Raj. I know at least one person personally who feels this way.
I think this is at best a superficial understanding of the series, and perhaps an outright misunderstanding of it.
Now, I’m a fan of the series. It’s rare that I’m a fan of any sitcom, since I generally dislike situational comedy. The last sitcom I enjoyed before this was Sports Night, whose humor was based more on wordplay than on situations. BBT also has a lot of wordplay-based humor, but most of its humor is based in its characters rather than in situations. (I think the archetypal situation comedy is Three’s Company, which I loathe.)
One thing to keep in mind is that, as with any series, there are good episodes and bad episodes. One interesting thing about BBT is that even the bad episodes serve to highlight what it is that makes the show work when it does work.
I agree wholeheartedly with Akirlu that Leonard is the central character of the show. The reason for this is that Leonard both fills the role of “everygeek”, and of the geek who can relate in a fairly normal way with non-geeks. The reason all of this is true is that Leonard is highly self-aware and has a strong empathy for others. This is also what causes him to be the character who makes the funniest scenes even funnier.
Penny is in many ways the least important character in the show. She essentially serves as a foil for the four friends by being generically “normal”. But her character actually develops fairly little during the show, and we don’t know a lot about her (we don’t even know her last name!). Really, it’s a testament to actress Kaley Cuoco’s comedic acting skills that the character works. (Like Johnny Galecki, who plays Leonard, she has an impressive array of funny faces.)
The core of the show, though, are the four geeky friends, who works well together because they’re not wildly different, but rather vary from each other in well-defined ways. Here’s how their characters work:
- Leonard, As I stated earlier, is geeky, but he’s also very self-aware. He’s also keenly aware of the foibles of his friends. He is for the most part well-adjusted to living in society (heck, he’s at least as well-adjusted as I am!), is familiar with social conventions, and is comfortable talking to a wide variety of people. His shyness around women is not particularly unusual; lots of men are uncomfortable talking to women they are strongly attracted to (as he is to Penny from the outset).
What makes Leonard work is that he is a basically normal guy, but with strong geek interests. This is what makes some episodes poignant, such as the one where he decides to give away all of his geeky possessions after being criticized by Penny for being too attached to them: It’s two sides of his character at war with each other. But if he wasn’t well attuned to society at large then his reactions to Sheldon’s absurd behaviors – often the funniest moments in the show – wouldn’t ring true.
Leonard is the guy we’re supposed to identify with. Heck, Galecki is listed first in the credits, so that even seems to have been the creators’ intent from the outset!
The episodes of BBT that work the least tend to involve ones where Leonard’s self-awareness goes AWOL and he just goes along with someone’s cockamamie plan (or follows his own bad instincts) without realizing that what he’s doing is a bad idea. Sometimes Leonard falls prey to his own foibles and just can’t help himself from doing the wrong thing even when he knows it’s the wrong thing, but that’s just him being human. It’s a big source of the show’s dramatic (and comedic) tension – will Leonard figure it out in time to stop himself, or will he come to a bad end?
- Sheldon is essentially Leonard’s opposite: He has no self-awareness and no empathy for others. He has very little shame, and only a rudimentary grasp of social norms. His brilliance has allowed him to craft a bubble in which he lives most of the time, and he ignorantly bulldozes his way through anything which isn’t part of his normal world.
Actor Jim Parsons has deservedly gotten a lot of credit for the show’s success due to his performance, and Sheldon is the character who drives many of the plots of the show. But it’s often Leonard’s reactions to Sheldon’s foibles that make the show funny: Either his expressions of amazement at Sheldon’s behavior, his attempts to keep other people from inadvertently pushing Sheldon’s buttons, his occasional triumphs over Sheldon’s own efforts, or his attempts to accomplish something by performing an end-run around Sheldon’s structures.
- Howard is a sort of alternate Leonard: He’s also aware of his own foibles, but he either chooses to ignore that they make him a jerk, or he feels that he just has no hope of ever overcoming them and gives in to them. (I think it’s the latter, since his mending of his ways through his courtship with Bernadette is one of the series’ major chunks of character development.) He puts on an air of self-confidence that he doesn’t really feel. It’s easy to see that Leonard could fall into the same behavior if he didn’t have a basic understanding of and respect for other people.
(Howard has a minor axis of humor based around his being a “bad Jew” and his relationship with his mother. These are not central to his character, but often make for some good one-liners.)
- Raj is Leonard taken to a different extreme: He’s very insecure in anything not related to his work or his geeky interests, he can’t talk to women, and he doesn’t feel comfortable in non-geeky social situations. Raj is in many ways the weakest character of the four, the one who might most justify a “laughing at them rather than with them” criticism of the show. On the other hand, Raj’s brightest moments come when he stands up to Sheldon (or anyone else) on subjects he does feel comfortable with (Star Trek his work, etc.).
Raj’s weakness as a character is evident in that the writers have not really developed him over the years. Sheldon and Howard have both gotten girlfriends, Leonard continues to court Penny, Sheldon has developed a better understanding of social norms, Howard has been forced to grow up, etc. Raj is largely the same (except for being able to talk to women some of the time). There’s been an implication that Raj is gay, but until the writers actually tackle the subject head-on, I don’t really believe it (we’ve seen Raj sleep with several women along the way, seemingly perfectly comfortably, too; maybe he’s bisexual).
So the show’s characters are rather complex. Even Sheldon, who often is the butt of laughter in the series, work in this way because he doesn’t really care (or even understand) that people are laughing at him, and frankly he’s so full of himself that it’s hard to tell whether he’d care. Early in the series we laugh at Howard for being a jerk (whose jerkitude gets him into some unfortunate situations), but over time we see that he is a much deeper character than that and he achieves some degree of redemption.
But it’s really Leonard who holds it all together. Indeed, Leonard often serves as the voice of reason for Penny, who has her own foibles, obsessions and blind spots. (I really wish the writers would just send Penny back to school to do something with her life, since it doesn’t seem likely she’s going to become an actress. If they’re planning to end the series with her finally getting that big acting job, then I think they’re doing a big disservice to the character.)
I wonder whether the fact that Sheldon has been the breakout character in the series caused a few of the writers to think, “geeks being ignorant of social conventions is what makes the show funny!” and bled some of Sheldon’s character traits into the other characters on occasion. Fortunately it doesn’t happen very often.
I could go on (Amy Farrah Fowler and Bernadette are interesting additions to the cast, and I think comic ship owner Stuart is a good character who has been extraordinarily poorly handled), but I think that’s enough for one entry.
One last thing: I can’t help but wonder, when people who think that The Big Bang Theory is somehow disrespectful to geeks or geek culture, if that doesn’t say more about the people who feel that way than it does about the show.
“The Angels Take Manhattan” was the “mid-season finisher” of season seven of Doctor Who, and the final episode of the series for the Doctor’s companions Amy and Rory. But despite having the fan-favorite villains the Weeping Angels, I don’t think the episode was successful, either internally or as a send-off for the pair. For two reasons:
- The Angels have passed their expiration date as villains, and
- The story fails in its emotional resonance.
My spoilery explanations after the cut:
Read on, Macduff! »
Steven Moffat’s second season running Doctor Who shared one major characteristic with Russell T. Davies’ second season: Both were not as good as their first seasons. Moffat is overall a much stronger writer than Davies and his story arcs have been more interesting (far fewer Daleks, for one thing), but this season felt like he bit off more than he could chew, setting up a complicated set of plot threads, but the payoff has so far been rather disappointing.
Here’s my ranking of this season’s episodes from favorite to least:
- The Doctor’s Wife (written by Neil Gaiman)
- The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon (Steven Moffat)
- The Girl Who Waited (Tom MacRae)
- The Wedding of River Song (Moffat)
- A Good Man Goes to War (Moffat)
- The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People (Matthew Graham)
- Closing Time (Gareth Roberts)
- Let’s Kill Hitler (Moffat)
- The Curse of the Black Spot (Stephen Thompson)
- The God Complex (Toby Whithouse)
- Night Terrors (Mark Gatiss)
Spoilers ahoy! Read on, Macduff! »
I rode my bike to work this morning, probably the last ride of the year since daylight savings time ends this weekend, so it will be dark well before I head home if I were to bike in, and I don’t like riding home in the dark. Plus, the rains are coming. I made it to 22 rides this year, which isn’t so bad considering buying the new house, moving, and our trip to Hawaii took a big chunk out of my riding time.
On the way in, only a couple of blocks from Subrata and Susan’s house, I got flagged down by a couple of women with a baby carriage. One of the women – with the carriage – was lost (the other was just another person who was trying to help her). Moreover, her English was not strong. She used my phone to call someone (after several tries to remember the right number), and after talking to her in another language handed the phone to me. Between the two of us, I was able to direct her to where we were. I think we were only a couple of blocks away from a street she knew. I sat with the woman while we waited for the woman she called to come get her.
When the younger woman arrived, she said the older woman said that I reminded her of her son. (She wasn’t able to express this in English.)
I’m still not sure what the relationship among them was: Mother-daughter? Mother-in-law-daughter-in-law? Was the older woman a nanny who was just taking the baby out for a walk? I didn’t pry.
But at least I was able to help her get back to where she was supposed to be.
This weekend I had a productive round of shopping for new biking gear:
- I bought a new helmet. It was really hard to find a large-size helmet; I kept finding Giro one-size-fits-all-helmets, which didn’t fit my head. I also wanted a blue helmet to match my bike, and a helmet with a visor, since a visor obviates the need for wearing sunglasses while riding (for me). I finally found a nice blue Bell Influx helmet at REI which fits great. I think the last helmet I bought cost me $90 or more; this one was $65.
- Also at REI I found a bike tire gauge. I’ve had people at bike stores tell me they don’t make those – “Why would you want one? Just check the pressure by feeling the tire” they’d say. When pumping a replaced tube with my hand pump I can’t really tell if I’ve overfilled the tire my hand, so I’m pretty happy to have found this tire gauge, which now lives in my seat pack along with my tube-changing equipment.
- I also picked up a couple of new tubes. Tubes are cheap, so it’s easier to replace the whole tube than try to patch the punctured one.
- Lastly, I bought a new water bottle, since the old one was getting a bit long in the tooth. I like the Polar Bottles.
I took the new gear out with me on my ride to work today. I was especially glad to have the new helmet, since my old Giro one was definitely, well, old. (I understand you should replace your helmet about every five years, for safety.) I liked the Giro, too, but I couldn’t find the one I wanted from them in searching for a replacement, so I’m happy with the Bell.
I got a late start on biking to work this year thanks to moving, but I’ve been going twice a week for the last month (often with my coworker Sean). I may not catch up to the number of rides I did last year, but I should have a fair number by the end of Daylight Savings Time.