Cavalcade of Binge-Watching!

The way we watch TV has been changing—for quite some time, really. The move from watching a show at a fixed time changed in the mid-70s when VCR ownership started to move past the early adoption stage. The VCR allowed users to record shows on tapes and watch them later. This could capture a wide dearth of content for those willing to program their devices. With the introduction of TiVo in 1999 the process was simplified by recording to a hard drive instead of tapes. With the advent of streaming from websites like Netflix, Hulu, iTunes, Amazon, and through torrent-based options, “binge-watching” has become a thing. So much so that cable companies have been seeing a decline in cable TV subscriptions over the past few years.

The idea of binge-watching came into the lexicon when TV shows become available on DVD and whole seasons could be consumed in a long evening, or two. If you wanted to drop out of life all together, you could submerse yourself into days of viewing and watch an entire history of a long running show à la Portlandia style.

With so much streaming one would think that from an economics perspective the sale of seasons on DVDs would decrease. However, in 2014 the most torrented television show was HBO’s Game of Thrones, yet it was also the most purchased television show on DVD. More than likely the former was do in part to HBO not streaming its original programming except for those that subscribe to HBO. As noted before, this is a problem for individuals who do not subscribe to cable TV, because HBO does not allow for streaming-only subscriptions. Only recently have older HBO shows been added to Amazon Prime Instant Video for streaming.

Over the past year I’ve taken on some more easily digestible TV series. Here are a few of my findings:

Black Mirror
Channel 4 – 2 seasons, 3 episodes each – torrent
This is a fantastic show based around technology and how we will deal with it in the not so distant future. There’s an episode, “Be Right Back,” that pre-dates Her, and pushes the idea of A.I. relationships to the next level. Robert Downey, Jr.’s production company, Team Downey, has optioned another episode, “The Entire History of You,” to become a movie.

Dead Set
E4 – 1 season, 5 episodes – YouTube
This is a mini-series that aired in five consecutive days in the UK and is written and directed by, Charlie Brooker, who created Black Mirror. This dark comedy takes place on the set of UK’s Big Brother TV show while they are unaware that a zombie apocalypse is breaking out. Think Shaun of the Dead meets The Waking Dead.

Channel 4 – 2 seasons, 7 episodes each – Netflix
This Jessica Hynes and Simon Pegg created sitcom also features Pegg’s right hand man, Nick Frost. Pegg is a prototypical, late-90s slacker out of Kevin Smith’s universe. It’s very interesting to see the many troupes and themes in this series that would later appear in later Pegg/Frost joints. Great use of music, too!

Bored to Death
HBO – 3 seasons, 8 episodes each – Amazon Prime
Written by and based on some real life antics of Jonathan Ames. Jason Scwartzman stars as Ames, a writer who’s procrastinating working on his second novel by becoming an illegal private detective. Zach Galifinakis and Ted Danson portray his friend and boss respectively that join Schwartman on his adventures. The series is really as good as you would hope it would be with this cast. Rumors are that a follow-up movie is in the works.

FX – 5 seasons, 10 episodes first season, 13 each the other seasons – Netflix
It’s a bit amazing this cartoon can be aired on TV, even cable. It must really push at the FCC decency rulings for TV. The setting is in an ambiguous time period, though it often has a retro look to it. Archer is the lead agent at the American-based ISIS private spy agency run by his mother. There’s somewhat of an OSS 117 vibe to it. The voice work on this series is awesome.

The Spirit of Quals Eve

Today is the day before I am to receive my questions for the qualifying exam of the PhD program I am in. We call them “quals” for short. The quals begin as four questions – one from each of your four qual-panel members. For me I have two areas of study with two panel members in each. What I will need to do at 9:00 tomorrow morning is pick up my four questions from the school, and choose one question from each of the two areas. From that point I will answer my two chosen questions in the form of two papers of 20-25 pages each all over the course of 10 days. This is the gauntlet we all must run to prove we have the mettle to be scholars. There’s also an oral review we do approximately two weeks after that, but that’s another story for another day.

So today I realized that it was Quals Eve. With it being Quals Eve I must prepare in some way for quals. For the most part that means to not freak out. In truth I have been preparing for several weeks, and in truth of that I have been preparing for two years of course work, and in truth of that there were the previous two years of master’s work, and in truth it’s really all of the actions of my life that have lead me to Quals Eve. I am all of my “mes” today.

I have been toying with several analogies of what the quals are like, but perhaps the best, which is probably really a metaphor, is Carlos Castaneda’s book where he goes out into the desert to find himself and is guided by his spirit animal along the way. It’s from a series I believe, but I had only read the one book. And there’s a lot of hallucinogenic drug taking as well. That might, or might not explain a lot. Anywho, Matt Groening has emblazoned it in my memory through The Simpson’s when Homer, after eating a super hot pepper at Springfield’s Chili Off, is lost in a desert and then guided by a Johnny Cash-voiced coyote. Homer asks if he should get rid of all of his worldly possessions, and after a guttural guffaw, Johnny Coyote answers, “If anything you should get more possessions – you don’t even have a computer.” Classic.

So toying with this some more in my mind today I was wondering what animal would be my spirit guide through this mysterious journey called quals? My 10-year-old daughter and I were walking around the corner of our apartment before dinner this evening and we were startled to see a baby squirrel sprawled out on the sidewalk. The little critter was about 7” with tail and it looked extremely young. It was still breathing and actually looked more like it was napping. We poked it a little here and there and it moved different parts of its body. It’s eyes never opened, so we surmised that it was to young to see, and probably fell out of the tree we were standing under, and doing the only thing it really knew how to do. Chill out.

It became clear at that moment that I had found my spirit guide. Though at that moment I failed to understand how this lethargic little creature was going to engage my inner spirit and guide me through one of the most important moments of my life – or at least the most important moment at hand. I have always been partial to squirrels, so that was maybe something? But then I remembered a paper we had read in one of my first PhD courses and the author related some story to squirrels and they had impressed me as someone who knew very little about wild creatures, and had probably never even taken the time out of their lives to just observe those around them. And in “those” I mean creatures other then humans. It is easy to put us on the top of the list of Animals That Communicate to Each Other the Best, when we as humans are the ones writing that list. Further more, maybe we only came up with writing so that we could make that list? Don’t get me started!

It was obvious that we were not going to be able to keep my newfound spirit guide, so we needed to find a place to bring him. And so the journey was revealed. The closest, and perhaps only place, to bring my wayward friend was the Wild Baby Rescue Center in Blairstown, NJ. That’s an hour and 40 minute one-way drive from my house. That’s over three hours of driving for those playing at home. However, the time was not to be questioned. It was only a human construct that I must measure in to bring the baby squirrel where he needed to go. (We discovered that he had a penis at the center, which is an amazing place and could well do with your donation.)

I see that it’s now 12:02 AM and officially Quals Day, and I have seen what my spirit guide had to tell me: relax, write, and the time will pass. Thank you, Spirit Squirrel.

Procrastination and the Art of Bicycle Maintenance

Like many, I have a tendency to procrastinate on some things. Sometime to the point of never actually completing them. I’m not sure how this works in my innards. There doesn’t really seem to be a rhyme or reason. Sometimes these can be small things, and other times the can be very important things. Sometimes these are things that really need to be done, but I just don’t do them. And then I seem to get external from this process, and end up watching myself not doing these things and wondering, “What’s the hell is up with this guy?”

One of these procrastination phenomena is my “new” bike. Maybe if I write about this I can explore the process a bit and learn something. Then again, I could stop at any point and this will not leave my laptop.

The bike in question is a Redline Monocog Flight 29er. I should first clarify that it is not actually new – it’s a 2007 model. I’ve had the bike for over three years and have hardly ridden it. I purchased this bike to replace the bike I had at the time: a Univega mountain bike. It had an aluminum, hard-tail frame and a near antique RockShox fork. The bike was originally built by a friend’s dad, who had worked for a bike shop or something like that, but had hardly used the bike. (We can see that this procrastination might be a common affliction.) I purchased the Univega in the mid-90s for $700 and had ridden the hell out of it. It was a fantastic bike.

However, things were changing in my life, and I was mountain biking less and less, and I felt that I needed a change to fit a future lifestyle. After many, many months of research I had chosen the Monocog. I wanted a simple, single-speed bike (not a fixie), with the larger 29″ wheel. I had then fine-tuned to the exact model I wanted based on the color. Color is a big deciding factor. In my mind I already had a vision of what I wanted. I could see it. I wanted a classic British green machine trimmed out in brown.

After a few weeks of hunting, I found the exact model I wanted. The Monocog can be either purchased as a complete bike, or as a frame/fork combo. The bike that I found was built from the frame/fork option at a bike shop in Colorado and was selling for $800. It had a more high-end setup than the stock model. Most notably it had hydraulic disc brakes. They were WAY more complicated then I wanted, but I could work around them. I received the bike around wintertime because I remember there was snow on the ground. I put the bike together as fast as I could when it arrived and took it for a spin. It felt awesome! There was a complete Zen of having one gear, and just peddling and going. It was like a giant BMX that Buddha himself had made for me. There was one little problem, though, and it seemed to be the rear disc brake was rubbing and the friction was making a sound and putting up a bit of a resistance to ride. Over a few months I attempted to make adjustments, but nothing worked. Because of this, I didn’t ride the bike at all during this period. However, whenever I had an inkling for a spin, I would take a look at it, tinker around, and not have made any difference. This routine was reaffirming my not-riding status.

I had saved some of the packing materials that had come with the bike, and even had looked through them a time or two and didn’t turn anything up. However, I gave it one more go, and I found a weird plastic disc under a flap in the box. Lo and behold it was a spacer that went on the hub! When I put it on and put the wheel back in the dropouts—PRESTO!—the disc brake worked perfectly. I was back in business, baby!

Not necessarily for riding, but for starting the bike’s transformation process that I had been fantasizing about. The first step I thought was to order some snazzy finders. I had put in hours of research and decided on finders, and not just any finders mind you, but Woody’s Custom Wood Bicycle Fenders. Their pricing was actually very reasonable at around $100 considering they were wood, handmade in the US, and had a sweet racing stripe design. I provided my bike specs to Woody’s and ordered my fenders. They arrived promptly, and were beautiful. They looked super hot with the green of the frame/fork set. However, when I started to look at how they were to attach I realized that the minimal design of frame/fork did not have any of the usual holes and attachment areas for traditional brakes, so the fenders could not be attached.

To speed the process of this story up, for the next approximately three years I would take the fenders out of the box they came in and hold them up to the frame and try and figure things out. I would then come to the conclusion that they would not fit, put them back in the box, and end up not riding the bike. However, I have recently made tremendous medical headway on the bike!

I will continue the story of the dream bike build in future posts, but I think I would first like to reflect on what I have possibly learned about myself over the past three years. There appears to be a random lottery of things that I would like to do, and get done, and other things that develop a tension within myself to complete them AND not complete them. Over time this tension manifests itself into a game of chicken. I know that I have to do this thing, but I am also content at not doing this thing. Over time this cyclic thought is reinforced because in my mind I can picture the task complete. This would be nearly the same memory if I had completed it, so my mind fells like, “Hey, we can picture it, so it’s as good as done for us.” There is probably a process of admission to the fact that one of these procrastination moments is coming on, and then attack it and nip it in the bud. Perhaps a sign of what I’m procrastinating on would create reinforcement and a public shaming. Maybe just admitting that we have the ability to do, or not do, tasks at our own choosing. Either way the sun will rise and nothing catastrophic will happen. Perhaps a little dialog between the Angel Frank and myself should be in order instead of letting the Devil Frank make the decision. Anywho, I’ll choose ponder this one some other time. 😉

Facebook Post Take Two

Captain’s Log, Stardate 2012.2.26 – Transmission of the Facebook/Twitter message proved fruitful for the Twitter universe. Not so for the Facebook nebula. I have increased power to this transmission by routing the power from the weapons, shields and engines. The Commanding Engineer did not think the lithium crystals could handle the load. I gave him an executive order to, “Shut up!”