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Sun, 14 Feb 2010

I noticed, in recent ponderings, that there are a few shows where I've seen all of the first season, and then none of the rest. Here's the lowdown on what, and perhaps why.

Dawson's Creek
I was watching this with housemates at the time. It was pretty slow, and full of characters that I didn't really care for. I related a little to Joey - poorer family, harder times, travelling long distances to have a social life - but even so, the characters seemed like TV drama idiots with little depth.
Survivors (modern)
The thing with British dramas is that we tend to go for short runs full of plot. This can be a blessing, especially if it turns out to be dire (Bonekickers, I hear, falls neatly into this category). When I first heard about Survivors, I thought a great many things, such as "please be better than Last Train" and "this has potential". What I though after I'd seen the first season is "these characters could use more character and less useless" and "this season could have done with more plot". I noticed recently that a second season is airing, about halfway through at the moment. I feel no urge to catch up. I am reliably informed that the original series is more compelling, so I may have to go and seek this out instead.
Roswell High
A great premise here, the potential to really examine the intricacies of supposed family bonds, overcoming differences in relationships, and the effect of weird, otherworldliness on the mundane. What actually happened was that the aliens' powers hardly ever mattered, the on-again off-again relationships were tiresome and the mysterious destiny of the characters was revealed, as usual, at a snail's pace. I caught a couple of the later episodes where the mysterious destiny was revealed, and I'm not sorry that I failed to wade through the rest of it to get there.
OK, confession, I didn't really watch the whole of the first season. I missed a couple of bits out. As far as I can tell, though, I didn't miss anything important. This is probably because, in Lost, very little actually happens, and there's too little consistent view of the characters for me to find anyone to really relate to, understand or sympathise with. I suspect this is one of those shows that's better to talk about than to actually watch.
Earth: Final Conflict
This one had so much potential, and of all of these series, is the one where I'm still a little intrigued to see beyond the first season. There was ample commentary on the impact of the Companions' arrival on society, on political wranglings and secrets, and on the effect of knowing just enough to be dangerous. While there's no one character I related to here, I felt that I understood them all (one of the many things that made Babylon 5 great) and that none of them were being excessively stupid to support a lazy plot. Probably it was just scheduling that made it difficult to see the later material.
Oh boy, here's a big can of worms. The gradual reveal strikes again. There was an obvious shadowy organisation, which was pretty comical as such organisations go, and a hint of another shadowy organisation that its mysterious leader was working against. There was a time-travel plot and a precognition plot, both of which seemed to be deliberately spread out so that it's difficult to see if there's any inconsistency. The characters were pretty much universally idiots, too. When one gets awesome powers, one needs to practice with them. The only character who I felt a connection with, who truly seemed to be at the mercy of her "powers", was Niki - and even then, she did some stupid things regarding finding out about her past. Even the motif of the eclipse juxtaposing with the emergence of accelerated mutations felt weak. At least in the X-Men films they tried to include wide-scale social commentary from the start, exploring a little of the public reaction right from the start. Maybe there was just too much going on in Heroes for any one redeeming part of the plot to shine through enough to intrigue me.
The West Wing
So, on to another one that I might catch up with yet. See, I really enjoyed Sports Night, another Aaron Sorkin show with a similar structure. The same pace of dialogue showed up in West Wing, which was pretty cool. I ended up borrowing a box-set to catch up with the whole season. What tipped it for me, though, is that once I'd got to the end and reached the cliffhanger... I realised I didn't really care who did it or what the consequence was. I'd been watching more for the writing style than the plot or the characters. Admittedly, they did cover some interesting issues in interesting ways, and that's pretty powerful stuff, and maybe that's what will eventually draw me back into it.

Coming soon, later or perhaps never: shows I watched all the way through despite myself, shows that could be redone far better, shows where I've only managed to catch a handful of episodes and perhaps some shows that just need that extra season to round them out.

Thu, 29 Oct 2009

On the back of the recent excellent retail experience at Niche Gift Shop I ended up donating 30 to the York Boxing Club & Young People's Fitness Centre, which has the right combination of focusing on local youth, promoting a positive message and having a way for me to donate money online, through the Charity Choice site. Keep up the good work, everyone!

Mon, 26 Oct 2009

I recently had a burning desire to obtain a sizeable amount of Mega Bloks for a game of Brik Wars. A little shopping around brought me to Niche Gift Shop, who had some good sale offers on some reasonably useful stuff, so I placed my order and the goods arrived very promptly indeed. So far so good...

Of course, that's just good service, what we've come to expect in the competitive world of online retail. But that wouldn't in itself make a remarkable story, that's the kind of thing that you almost always get with online purchases these days (although there was that mysterious case of tne Enterprise 128 that never showed up...). No, what makes this story different is that one of the sets that I received was only half there.

I catalogued the missing pieces and emailed the details back to Niche Gift Shop, thinking maybe I'd get some store credit to cover the incovenience. But no, what I actually got was two options, I could package it all up for replacement or they could send out the missing pieces. I opted to get the missing pieces sent, as that would be most likely to get the stuff here on time for the game.

What was even more unexpected was the email I got a couple of days later, once they'd got hold of the replacement set. They just sent the whole replacement set to me, at no extra cost, and asked that if I was feeling charitable, I'd do something nice with the spare pieces, maybe donate them somewhere. Well, it turns out that the spare pieces are really handy when you're playing some BrikWars and you want some random bits of scenery strewn about, so instead I'm going to donate twice the cost of the set to a local children's charity.

So, if you're looking for a rather good little online retailer from which to get a gift or two this coming wintertime-consumerfest, Niche Gift Shop is probably a reasonable place to start.

Wed, 21 Oct 2009

Had a lovely time this evening at the Leeds Girl Geek Dinner, in which we girl geeks get together for buffet food and inspiring talks of an evening. It's refreshing to discuss technology issues (this evening was Sarah Hartley on evolution of journalism and Christine Morris on video-blogging) in an environment where the gender ratio is way different to the usual techy geeky crowd. Much less chance of being overlooked, assumed out of the conversation or otherwise sidelined, and it feels really inclusive.

Of course, it's cool to talk about the issues of being a woman in a technical field, and there are certainly places to do that, and I remember some remarks in that direction at a previous Girl Geek Dinner, but it's never been the focus and it's doubly refreshing for that. It's so much nicer just to get straight to the geeking. Still, I wonder if the presentations were still a little ungeeky. I mean, the journalism presentation didn't tell me about the technology platform for Guardian Local and the video presentation didn't discuss the merits and drawbacks of Final Cut Pro, for example. That would have been super cool...

Tue, 20 Oct 2009

There's nothing quite like the satisfaction of a floppy-disk label that peels off all in one piece without leaving any crud on the disk. Also, the ache you get on your thumb when you've been scraping away at a label is something I could do with never having. It looks like I have a pile of stubbornly-labelled disks, though. I may look into alternative label-managing strategies...

Sat, 03 Oct 2009

I'm a bit of a perfectionist, and I've found that it leads to all sorts of trouble. Particularly this last couple of weeks I've noticed that I've gotten into a bit of a corner. The house is messy. I haven't vacuumed. I haven't cleaned, except the bathroom essentials. I haven't been keeping, up with washing up or emptying bins as much as I should. So what's going on?

The main issue at the moment is that I have a big deadline looming. I mean, the chances of failing to meet this deadline are slim - I've done the bulk of the work and I know I can write it up at a decent rate - but still, it weighs on my mind. So in my mind, I feel guilty if I'm spending significant time doing anything other than working towards that deadline.

Meanwhile, I'm still a perfectionist, and I want to devote the right amount of time to things and not do a half-arsed job. So when I think about doing something else, I always think of it as taking a significant amount of time away from the work towards the deadline. I want to give it whatever time it needs.

One way of resolving conflicts of priority is to identify importance and urgency, the classic Covey "First Things First" approach. While this is rather useful as a model, it isn't so obvious when you're worrying about things that are urgent and important because of a fixed deadline and things that are urgent and important because they always need doing. It also doesn't take into account my perfectionism, which will only let me devote time to that one pressing task. What I need is a way to allow myself to give a portion of the time to other important and urgent tasks.

My solution so far is to come up with a quick plan for the hours I want to spend on the large important task. If I keep plugging away at it constantly I'll just feel worse and worse, even though I might finish it a little sooner. Meanwhile, all the other stuff is neglected and seeing the mess around the place makes me feel like progress is really, really slow. So I pick out a set of tasks with the following characteristics:

  • Doable within the next few hours
  • All really important
  • Clear end objective to aim for
  • Relative priorities based on time needed to reach end objective
  • Easily interruptible

The plan only needs to cover 3 or 4 hours, like this example from this evening:

  • Main task: 75% of the time. Work on report. Aim to finish draft of section 5 in this time.
  • Secondary task: Wash up, dry and stack in the kitchen, then sweep and mop.
  • Third task: Put the washing on, and fold the stuff that's now dry.

This was a pretty useful first try, and I ended up getting a lot of this done. The tasks in the kitchen leave it feeling clean and neat and tidy, and they weren't onerous as I was able to spread them out through the evening. The washing task felt really good as none of the individual parts took very long but there was an obvious organising effect. And the report? Section 5 is coming along very well indeed - I've written most of the insightful parts and the rest is tracing items to one another, something that takes a little time but doesn't impact as much on the effectiveness of the end result.

Now, the real trick is to get to the point where I recognise that my perfectionism is getting in the way, and back off for a couple of minutes to really think things through. And do that subconsciously...

Wed, 30 Sep 2009

Follow-on milk for your kids contains key nutrients. Why are we feeding this to our kids? Surely key nutrients are for keys! Are we stealing food from the keys to feed our children? Is this why there are all those skeleton keys about the place?

Sun, 06 Sep 2009

The students starting University this year are mostly 18-year-olds. This means that they were born in 1991. Yes, 1991, the year in which:

  • Smells Like Teen Spirit came out.
  • Freddie Mercury, Gene Roddenberry and Robert Maxwell all died.
  • Metallica's Black Album was released.
  • Operation Desert Storm set off in Iraq.
  • The films Terminator 2, Hook, Thelma & Louise, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Star Trek 6, Hot Shots! and The Naked Gun 2½ came out.
  • Popular TV shows of the year include Roseanne, Cheers, Home Improvement, Murder She Wrote, Brittas Empire, 2point4 Children, the Jerry Springer Show, Noel's House Party, Ren and Stimpy and Star Trek: the Next Generation. The last episode of Dallas went out.
  • BBC One stopped using the gold spinning computer-generated globe logo.
  • The first Sonic the Hedgehog game was released.
  • The NES was released.
  • Linux was first announced.
  • The World Wide Web project started.
  • The Soviet Union collapsed.
  • V for Vendetta was nominated for the Prometheus Award, but lost out to In the Country of the Blind.

I feel kind of... old.

Sat, 29 Aug 2009

Just last week I finally got a brace on my teeth. Those who have met me in person will appreciate just how big of a change this could turn into, as I've had this one tooth sticking way out for ages, since I was a kid. A combination of a lack of funds and a family mistrust of dentists (we had some bad dentists back in the day) meant that I didn't get it fixed when I was a teenager. A couple of years ago I noticed someone a little older than myself wearing a brace and it gave me the idea; this year I have the money, so I've gone and sorted it out.

I asked my dentist about it at my last checkup, 6 months ago, and he wrote a referral. The orthodontist saw me for the initial consultation and gave me an idea of what to expect, then I went back for impressions a few weeks later. A couple of weeks ago I had both upper #4 teeth out to make some room, and just last week I had a fixed brace applied, which involved brackets being glued to my teeth and then wires and elastics being attached.

It's going OK so far; the first couple of days were pretty sore stuff but I managed to apply painkillers in sufficient quantities. There's a stop on my back tooth to prevent my overbite from coming together in a way that would stress the brackets out, so I can't really chew at the moment. This means I've had a lot of soup these past few days. Soup and mashed potato and all sorts of similar things.

Despite the minor inconveniences, I'm pretty pleased with it all so far. It's not a huge amount of hassle and any movement is going to be an improvement. The first night I had the brace on, one of the brackets came loose, so I had to go back the next day. While I was waiting in the waiting-room, there was a teenage girl who'd just come in for her last check-up. Her teeth were super-perfect-straight, and that image, that smile, that's what's driving me on now.