The Differential

e-fence-1

Zzzzzzzzzzz-t!

One of those annoying-to-those-who-know-better shortcuts that movies and TV shows sometimes take is the visual trope of throwing a piece of wood (or a rock) at an “electrified fence” and producing an exciting shower of sparks. Typically, one character is just about to touch the fence, only to be pulled back just in time by another character who throws something at the fence to show the first character how they almost bought it.

It looks good — everyone loves a good sparking. In fact, you may have noticed how many action scenes take place in factories that seem mainly to manufacture sparks and steam. You may have noticed how often welders seem to be creating showers of sparks in the background of every action movie.

But this isn’t about our love of sparks.

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Time Travel

The Time MachineOne of the great things about science fiction is how it allows an author to explore the human condition in contexts that ordinary fiction cannot. For example, it can explore the idea of immortality. Is boredom a problem? If you are immortal, but others aren’t, what is it like to see everyone you know age and die? Is it as desirable as it seems?

Some themes occur repeatedly in science fiction. Immortality is just one. A very common one is the idea of alien races — or even intelligent machines. Such stories view humanity through new eyes.

Another common one is time travel, and that is the subject of today’s Sci-Fi Saturday!

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Baseball Battery

snowballIt’s snowing here in Minnesota right now (exactly why we call it “Minnesnowta”). The recent temperatures rival — sometimes excel — the temperature in my freezer (which is to say: zero degrees Fahrenheit). To be clear, by “excel” I mean ‘colder than’ — we would disdain a February that didn’t chill our bones and nip our nose.

But down south, in Florida and Arizona, MLB pitchers and catchers are reporting for Spring Training after having the winter off. (Teachers get summers off, baseball players get winter.) Depending on the team, the report date varies from the 19th to the 22nd. The rest of the players, depending on team, report from February 23rd through the 27th.

So I thought now would be a good time to talk about pitching.

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Remaking the Classics

The Day the Earth Stood StillIt started out as conversation about how Edge of Tomorrow is the best big screen SF movie to come along in a good long while. That led to a ranking of recent SF movies with very high marks going to Elysium and Ender’s Game. It also touched on that Tom Cruise has made four — no, five! — SF films, at least two of which are very good.

Of course that led to talk of actors and how Jodie Foster and Matt Damon seem (unlike, for example, poor Sandra Bullock) to have excellent taste in what scripts they accept. If either of those two — let alone both — is in a movie, it’s probably pretty decent. Talk of actors in SF films naturally lead to Keanu Reeves whose ancestry and acting style make him such a perfect choice in certain roles.

And that lead to what a damn shame it is they tried to remake The Day the Earth Stood Still.

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The Lost Works (#1)

TV control roomI was tempted — just for a moment — to call this The Lost Oeuvre, but it really doesn’t rate such a highfalutin title. (And until just now, I had no idea “highfalutin” was a single, hyphen-free, word.) Considering that “works” can refer to drug-taking gear, that word seems just right.

Going through some old stuff, I came across typewritten copies of a few scripts from my film student college days. Not just film, but television production, too. I ended up becoming a computer programmer, but for a while I aspired to be the next George Lucas (or more likely, Quentin Tarantino).

For fun, I thought I’d share one of the ones I’m not too embarrassed by all these years later.

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For The Record

Thank You For ArguingIt was a number of years ago that the book you see pictured here on the right caught my eye. I was wandering around a bookstore, as book-lovers do, seeing what there was to see (and possibly buy). This may surprise you, but I’ve always enjoyed a good debate, so the book’s topic seemed attractive and a nice change of pace from baseball and science books or SF novels.

Plus: Aristotle, Lincoln and Homer Simpson! Who could resist that? A glance at a few of the pages showed an easy and breezy open writing style that went down nicely, and the bits I read were quite intriguing. I snagged it thinking it would be right up my alley, and that I’d enjoy it thoroughly.

I never got more than a third of the way through it!

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Say It Ain’t So, Jo(n)!

Jon StewartYou’ve probably heard the news by now. First Stephen Colbert leaves his show, and now Jon Stewart is leaving The Daily Show.

Wow. I’m seriously bummed about that. He’s been voted The Most Trusted Name in News (an honorific held by the great Walter Cronkite). Now what are we gonna do?

Topping it off, his friend Brian Williams turns out to have feet (or at least a few toes) of clay. Kind of ironic considering the TV commercials NBC was recently pushing about how trusted he is.

Just how many Signs of the Apocalypse does that make?

To quote Professor Farnsworth, “I don’t want to live on this planet any more!”

And that’s the way it is, February 16, 2015.


Not My NCIS

NCIS-LA-0It’s been over two years since I wrote the Worst NCIS Ever! rant post, and I still think that was weak plotting. That episode was the premiere of the 10th season, but clinkers like that one episode seem incredibly rare. They’re turning out powerful, engaging stories even after 12 years. Still my favorite show currently airing.

So why is that the spin-off show, NCIS: Los Angeles, is such an ugly sibling to me? It’s seems so different that it’s as if it’s not part of the franchise, but some other — far less worthy — show. The new spin-off, NCIS: New Orleans, is so far proving to be as attractive as the first sibling, which puts the ugly one in even greater contrast.

Last week’s episode was so bad I just have to rant about it.

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Crumpled Paper Balls

ideaYou couldn’t know this, but my blogging workspace is littered with balls of virtual crumpled paper.  The ones writers make when they rip failed writing attempts from their typewriter, smush them up in disgust, and toss them disdainfully over their shoulder. This post — which has been in my mental queue for well over a year — has the strongest resistance to being written that I’ve ever encountered.

I wrote the note you see here somewhere back in 2013. It seemed like exactly the sort of thought chain that would make an interesting post. Many of the items in that chain (consciousness, art, science) are things that fascinate me and are even areas this blog tries to discuss.

So why is a post about it so dang hard to write?

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Storytelling: The Betrayer

Diane Duane-0The punchline is that I was suddenly struck by how modern fiction seems to have conditioned me to expect an apparent White Hat to secretly be a Black Hat. The question I find myself asking now is whether fiction has actually changed (and if so why) or is it just me? The more I think about it, the more I’m inclined to think modern fiction has changed.

If so, does that reflect a modern sensibility about people today? Does the rise of the modern anti-hero bring with it the idea of the betrayer? Do we expect so little of people anymore that our heroes need to be dirty and double-agents seem matter of course?

This all started with Diane Duane

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