Podcasts I Like: Radiolab

Radiolab logoOne of the podcasts I listen to and love is Radiolab, a public radio show produced by WNYC. It was pitched to me as, “If This American Life was primarily interested on science, but without losing the accessibility to a wide audience.” (The official description on the website is, “Radiolab is a show about curiosity. Where sound illuminates ideas, and the boundaries blur between science, philosophy, and human experience.”) At any rate, I’ve listened to it for a few years now, and I love how the podcast has both full hour-long episodes as well as Radiolab Shorts, which run usually in the 15-to-30-minute range.

One of my all-time favorite episodes from back in 2009 was about parasites, and for the longest time I would pitch it to people as, “Disturbing but immensely fascinating.” (The connection between the hookworm parasite and people’s allergies still makes my head explode every time I think about it.) And you can find that episode here, if you’re interested. But while catching up on episodes, I just listened to one from a month or so ago and it stuck with me. Here’s the official tag:

What’s Left When You’re Right?
More often than not, a fight is just a fight… Someone wins, someone loses. But this hour, we have a series of face-offs that shine a light on the human condition, the benefit of coming at something from a different side, and the price of being right.

It’s a fun episode, with three different stories that each approach confrontation in a different way. I liked them all, but I think my favorite was about two people (Lulu and Soo) who were on a cross-country bike trip and had two confrontations with people (a businessman and then a potentially mentally ill person) that reminded me a lot of the different ways that I and other people each approach a confrontation, and what the “right” way is. It closes with the following:

So the story leaves you with some questions, like if you agree that people are messed up… like, of course they are, we all are… then what’s the best way to heal people? I mean, do you decide as Lulu does, or did, that you should approach the world with kindness and happiness no matter how the world greets you? Or, is that kind of giving up? Like a happy hopelessness? So then, do you put your foot down as Soo did? And say, “No, you are messed up, don’t be messed up?” Is that hope? Or just being mean?

Maybe you need to hear the full story to appreciate it. Or maybe you need to have had the discussions I’ve had with others about how to deal with confrontation. But to me, it clicked, in a way that made me stop and think without ever saying, “This is the right answer.”

Anyway, I love Radiolab. You should too. Give it a whirl.

Sword of Damocles

You know that feeling when there’s something hovering over your head ready to drop, something really bad? And you don’t want it to actually drop and hit you—you keep hoping that somehow things will get fixed and it will no longer be a worry—but at the same time, waiting for it to drop feels almost as bad as the actual impact?

It’s like that.

(I’m hoping history doesn’t repeat itself. I fear it’s about to.)

Movies and Books: 2013

Another year of keeping track of films and books read… I suspect that I missed a few graphic novels when you count the collected editions (since I read a lot of them for review purposes in serialized formats), ah well. Definitely a big uptick on movies for 2013.

Movies:

  1. Django Unchained
  2. Zero Dark Thirty
  3. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
  4. The Oscar Nominated Short Films 2013: Live Action
  5. The Oscar Nominated Short Films 2013: Animated
  6. Silver Linings Playbook
  7. Amour
  8. Side Effects
  9. Party Girl
  10. The Company You Keep
  11. The Great Gatsby
  12. In the House (Dans la Maison)
  13. Stories We Tell
  14. Star Trek Into Darkness
  15. Iron Man 3
  16. Mud
  17. Frances Ha
  18. Behind the Candelabra
  19. The Painting (Le Tableau)
  20. Rent a Family Inc.
  21. AFI Docs Shorts Program Two: Life and Death
  22. Approved for Adoption (Couleur de Peau: Miel)
  23. The Bling Ring
  24. Much Ado About Nothing
  25. The Way, Way Back
  26. The Heat
  27. I’m So Excited (Los amantes pasajeros)
  28. Blue Jasmine
  29. The Wolverine
  30. The Spectacular Now
  31. Word Wars
  32. Gravity
  33. 12 Years a Slave
  34. The Mostly Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green
  35. Frozen
  36. The Deflowering of Eva Van End (De Ontmaagding van Eva van End)
  37. Our Heroes Died Tonight (Nos héros sont morts ce soir)
  38. Tiny Furniture
  39. Dallas Buyers Club
  40. American Hustle
  41. Her

Books:

  1. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
  2. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
  3. Blue Heaven by Joe Keenan
  4. Black Blade Blues by J.A. Pitts
  5. Among Others by Jo Walton
  6. Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality by Jacob Tomsky
  7. The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson
  8. The Gastronomical Me by M.F.K. Fisher
  9. The Highest Frontier by Joan Slonczewski
  10. Cooking for Mr. Latte: A Food Lover’s Courtship by Amanda Hesser
  11. Redshirts by John Scalzi
  12. Fair Play by Tove Jansson
  13. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
  14. The Unreal and the Real: Selected Stories Volume One: Where on Earth by Ursula K. Le Guin
  15. The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson
  16. The Virtual Reference Handbook: Interview and Information Delivery Techniques for the Chat and E-mail Environments by Diane K. Kovacs
  17. Men and Cartoons: Stories by Jonathan Lethem
  18. Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison by Piper Kerman
  19. The Two Hotel Francforts by David Leavitt
  20. The Portable MLIS: Insights from the Experts edited by Ken Haycock and Brooke E. Sheldon
  21. Reference and Information Services: An Introduction by Richard E. Bopp and Linda C. Smith
  22. Doctor Who: A Big Hand For The Doctor by Eoin Colfer
  23. Doctor Who: The Nameless City by Michael Scott
  24. Doctor Who: The Spear of Destiny by Marcus Sedgwick
  25. Doctor Who: The Roots of Evil by Philip Reeve
  26. Doctor Who: Tip of the Tongue by Patrick Ness
  27. Doctor Who: Something Borrowed by Richelle Mead
  28. Doctor Who: The Ripple Effect by Malorie Blackman
  29. Doctor Who: Spore by Alex Scarrow
  30. Doctor Who: The Beast of Babylon by Charlie Higson
  31. Doctor Who: The Mystery of the Haunted Cottage by Derek Landy
  32. Doctor Who: Nothing O’Clock by Neil Gaiman

Fiction Magazines, Chapbooks, and Zines:

  1. Lightspeed Magazine March 2012
  2. Granta 114: Aliens
  3. Lightspeed Magazine April 2012
  4. Lightspeed Magazine May 2012
  5. Lightspeed Magazine June 2012
  6. Kinfolk Vol. 3
  7. Lightspeed Magazine July 2012
  8. Lucky Peach Vol. 7
  9. Lucky Peach Vol. 8
  10. Kinfolk Vol. 9

Continue reading Movies and Books: 2013

Generic All-Purpose DC Snow Post

Well, snow has come to the Washington DC region again, and of course . Not that you should be too surprised. The chill in the air , and it's always a great excuse for .

Hand-Cut Paper Snowflakes

Right now the snow , and I couldn't be more . Who doesn't snow? If all goes well and maybe . They're predicting , after all.

In the meantime I'm just . If you don't like snow, . Oh, and now I'm wishing I'd bought some . Oops. Oh well.

When Sick Days Were Fun

I don’t know about you, but when I was a kid I loved being home from school because I was sick. I didn’t get sick that often, but when I was… well, jackpot. Sure, I felt like crud, but there was something comforting about hanging out in my pajamas, watching television, and eating lunch on the couch. A great little break from the normal routine.

Bad HousesNow that I’m an adult, sick days are not nearly so entertaining. In the back of my head I always think, “Well, I hate being sick, but at least I get to be at home all day. That’s not so bad.” But of course, it’s never a good time. If I’ve given up and stayed home, chances are I’m lying down for half of the time feeling miserable, or at the very least moving at one-quarter impulse power. Usually the most “fun” I have involves watching an episode of something or another on the DVR, but half the time I don’t even make it to the end because the mental effort is too much and I just go take a nap instead.

(The one notable exception: when I had my gallbladder out at the end of 2008. Don’t get me wrong, I was really sore and spent a day or two doped up on pain pills. But by day 4 or so of a one-week “you must stay at home” the pain had shifted to a dull ache, and I spent the rest of the week playing Animal Crossing: City Folk on the Wii. That was remarkably fun for those last few days.)

But anyway, I do try to make sick days as “enjoyable” as one can under the circumstances. Since I’m at home today with some sort of chest crud, I tried to rally a bit. Made my favorite kale-apple-miso salad for lunch, dug out and brewed some fancy loose leaf tea that Karon gave me as a gift, read the first 50 pages of Sara Ryan and Carla Speed McNeil’s Bad Houses. It’s not high living, but it makes the overall sick experience less… well… sickly.

Really, all I was missing from my old “being sick” ritual was a big bowl of Chicken & Stars soup, which for far too long was a comfort food for when I was under the weather. (I’ve since burnt out on it.) So all in all, certainly could be worse. Anyone else have a particular sicktime ritual or comfort?

If at First You Don’t Succeed, You’re Drinking Coffee

I’ve never been a coffee person. It probably helped that growing up only one person in my family (my father) drank it, and I’ve never been a big drinker of caffeine to begin with, but coffee has always been some strange unexplored continent.

Well, that’s not entirely true. Sometimes I think coffee smells great. And so every now and then I’ll try it. And with one notable exception, the end result is a resounding, “Ugh.” But that one exception—at the wedding of my friends Rachel and Jeff—was such a pleasant experience that I have held out hope that the problem was finding the right kind of coffee. After all, I went from only drinking herbal teas, to green teas, to Chinese teas, and finally to black teas. I had to work my way up. So maybe I could do the same thing with coffee?

You might be asking yourself, “Why would you even care?” But there are a lot of times when coffee is the only caffeinated beverage available, and I do inevitably need that pick-me-up. And like I said, I do enjoy the smell of coffee. So I keep telling myself that out there, somewhere, is a coffee experience that would turn me around. Recently at work a discussion of different types of coffees came up, and in the process several co-workers were talking about the milder taste of Ethiopian coffees. I made a comment that this sounded interesting, and the next day Laura kindly gave me a sample to take home and try.

CoffeeWhile waiting for Charlie to come back from the gym this morning, I decided that now was as good a time as any to give it a whirl. I dug out the french press (which is normally used for loose-leaf teas, or the occasional visitor who does drink coffee), heated up the water, and consulted the Internet on how much coffee I needed to put into the device. I pulled out some soy milk and also a cube of panela from my Colombia trip, but held them in reserve. And then… the first taste.

It was definitely a lot less bitter than the coffees I’d had before, so that was a relief. None the less, even milder coffee was not something I was ready to drink black. So I added in some soy milk and the sugar, stirred it around… and I will give it credit, it wasn’t bad. At the same time, though, I found myself wondering how much was really me just drinking the milk and sugar, versus the coffee. One of the nice things about drinking tea is that, of course, if you don’t add anything to it the calorie count is a whopping zero. Switching over to coffee where you need the milk and sugar to make it good seems less appealing. I tried a second cup (I’d made far too much) with just the soy milk, and that was all right, too. So clearly, some coffee is not out of reach.

In the end, it’s nice to know that with the right coffee, it’s at least an option. But I think for now I’ll stick to tea. I know that coffee drinkers are thinking, “Greg! You just need to drink 48 more cups of coffee and your taste buds will be beaten into submission! One of us! One of us!” And I’m sure I could eventually create that taste scar tissue given enough time. For now, though, I’ll just stick with this as an emergency option. Getting to, “It’s not revolting” feels like enough of a victory that I don’t feel the need to jump immediately back into that breach.

Saturday in Takoma

While most of today has been allocated to school projects (having finished off a research paper’s first draft, next up are three chapters in the oh-so-riveting Reference and Information Services: An Introduction textbook), I decided I needed a quick break for an hour. It’s a beautiful day outside, and while I’d opened up all of the windows and turned off the air-conditioner, that simply wasn’t going to suffice.

So, I took a quick spin around my immediate neighborhood. Strolled down to the library and picked up my reserved copy of Canal House Cooks Every Day. I had a recent encounter with one of the Canal House Cooking books and while that’s a (hopefully) forthcoming post in its own right, it made me curious to see what their big cookbook was like. From there I headed the opposite direction down the street to Trohv, which is always worth a browse but in this case I was visiting specifically to buy the new issue of Kinfolk magazine. It’s always a pleasure to read, and knowing that this issue is all about weekends makes it even better. As I entered, I stopped and snapped a quick picture of the new construction at Takoma Central to send to Charlie. Not that I know much about building projects, but it certainly feels like it’s coming along nicely and should hopefully open on schedule next spring.

On the way home, I stopped in at La Mano Coffee Bar, which opened earlier this month. Ended up leaving with a mint rooibos tea, and two hand pies; one with peach and raspberry, the other with a spiced ground beef. Ran into one of my neighbors right as I was leaving, who was walking with her adorable daughter (who was on a sassy purple scooter).

Saturday Haul

And once I got home, I put everything down and thought to myself how much I love my neighborhood on days like this. Everyone’s out walking, there are adorable shops and businesses to visit, and there was a general air of friendliness. A couple that I saw leaving Trohv as I entered was buying a snack at La Mano, and as I walked from the library to Trohv I saw two other neighbors across the street run into one another and start chatting.

Sure, it’s not the “everything is happening all the time” nature of being right in the heart of downtown, and there’s a lot to be said for living there. But there are definitely charms that exist here, too, if you take the time to look. And now, having eaten my pies (the crust was buttery and flaky and delicious, and the insides were great too), I’m going to sit out on the balcony with my textbook and my iced tea and enjoy the great weather.

50 Years of Doctor Who: Sylvester McCoy (part 2)

So! Picking up where I left off last time… part 2 of Sylvester McCoy’s run on the series, spanning all of Season 25 and the first story of Season 26.

 Dr Who - Remembrance of the Daleks
#152: Remembrance of the Daleks

Back in the day, the Daleks didn’t turn up every season (or almost every season), but were parceled out so they’d have a greater impact when they did. With this being the 25th season, the Daleks (and another major villain) were brought back for their one appearance in the McCoy era. It’s also easily one of the best stories. This is the first of two stories that Ben Aaronovitch contributed to the series, and I think it’s the better of his efforts. Set in late 1963, it’s a story that mirrors the Daleks’ belief that they are the superior race with the conflicts over race on Earth. It’s a smart script, one that picks up past elements of the Daleks story (most notably the civil war that began in their last appearance several years earlier, “Revelation of the Daleks”) but does so in a way that doesn’t leave behind anyone who hasn’t seen those stories.

This is also new companion Ace’s first story where it’s just her and the Doctor (after her introduction at the end of the previous season), and the dynamic is instantly more appealing than what we had with the 7th Doctor and Mel. It’s a story where it’s hard to imagine substituting Ace with any previous companion; she isn’t just headstrong and with a forceful personality, she’s someone who takes the fight to the Daleks. She’s the first formidable companion (in an action, fighting sense) since Leela a decade earlier, but instead of a knife or a poisonous thorn, she’s using high explosives and even a rocket launcher.

The Doctor himself is also portrayed differently than up until now, too. Having been given time to stop and plan out his time on the show (versus the scramble to just have something on the screen for Season 24), script editor Andrew Cartmel reworked the 7th Doctor into one who is more manipulative, a dark streak running beneath the clownish exterior. This could have been disastrous (and in one instance it is, but we’ll get to that shortly), but generally speaking it works well because Cartmel and the writers he chooses do so with a touch of subtlety. The Doctor’s motivations are always well intentioned and for the greater good, but for viewers up until this point, you can see where this ends up being a bit surprising. At any rate, “Remembrance of the Daleks” held up well on a re-watch. It moves at a good pace, it’s fun, and while some of the things that were new at the time are now old hat (and I’m not just talking about the Dalek that levitates up stairs), they’re still done with skill so that the surprise is gone but the quality remains.

Continue reading 50 Years of Doctor Who: Sylvester McCoy (part 2)

50 Years of Doctor Who: Sylvester McCoy (part 1)

We’re back! At a glance, it might look like I skipped a month. But that’s both true and not, as you’ll see below…

The 7th Doctor was played by Sylvester McCoy, who came on board during an extremely troubled time for the show behind the scenes. It had already been cancelled then un-cancelled while Colin Baker was starring as the 6th Doctor, and while the show survived, Baker was fired in-between seasons. While Baker was eventually offered the opportunity to come back for one more story to bring his time to a close, he turned it down and we ended up with no real transition from one to the next (save for a pre-credits sequence involving new actor McCoy wearing Baker’s outfit and a big curly blond wig, only seen from behind).

More importantly, not only was Baker gone, but script editor Eric Saward had also left the series. In the earlier days of Doctor Who, it was the script editor (rather than the producer) who did the bulk of commissioning the scripts for the show, and by the time new script editor Andrew Cartmel was hired he ended up inheriting the first two scripts because everything was so far behind schedule. The end result was McCoy’s first season consisting of four stories where one had been written for Baker, and the remaining three for a “generic Doctor” because no one at the time knew what this new Doctor’s personality would be like.

McCoy had the role for three years, with a total of twelve stories, before the show was cancelled once more. This time it stuck. McCoy did return seven years later, though, to appear in the Doctor Who television movie starring Paul McGann. With that in mind, I thought it might be fun to merge McCoy and McGann’s months into a big two-month-long viewing extravaganza (especially since McGann only had that one outing), and to watch all thirteen stories.

What I didn’t count on was work getting even busier, plus losing a lot of free time due to starting graduate school. So with still two stories waiting to be watched, I’m going to use this entry to tackle the first four stories (or first season) starring McCoy; a second and possibly third post will hopefully come soon with McCoy’s remaining stories as well as McGann’s solo outing. And with that in mind…

Dr Who - Time and the Rani
#148: Time and the Rani

Ask a Doctor Who fan which of McCoy’s episodes was the worst, and three out of four will tell you that it’s “Time and the Rani.” Sometimes fan lore leads you down a path of opinions that are based on hearsay rather than actual viewing. This is not one of those times.

“Time and the Rani” admittedly has a huge disadvantage; it wasn’t written for McCoy’s Doctor at all, and while writers Pip and Jane Baker and script editor Andrew Cartmel clearly tried to file off the edges of the previous Doctor once Colin Baker’s return was officially nixed, but it’s still trying to push a square peg into a round hole. The Doctor here is often snappish and rude, only to then veer off into pratfalls and slapstick. It’s a bungled mess right from the start.

Then you add in a nonsensical plot (one that relies far too heavily on sheer laziness of the main villain), some truly awful acting, and another rock quarry that’s standing in for an alien planet. At the end of the previous season, new companion Melanie had been introduced as played by Bonnie Langford, but aside from being energetic she was a complete non-entity, and that unfortunately carries through into this season where it’s quickly clear that no one is interested in writing for Mel. Langford gets a lot of flack for her time on Doctor Who, but I feel that’s not fair. She’s clearly very professional and does whatever the scripts and director tell her to do, but at the same time she’s also been placed into a show where no one is interested in her sticking around.

There are two great things about “Time and the Rani,” to be fair. The first is whenever returning guest actress Kate O’Mara’s character of the Rani disguises herself as Mel. Her fake chirpy-sweet voice mixed with genuine disdain and loathing for the Doctor is nothing short of hysterical, and her ever-building annoyance with everyone around her is a real treat in those first two episodes. Sadly once she pulls off the wig and stops pretending to be Mel, she’s straight out of an episode of Dynasty, complete with shoulder pads, lipstick, and a big glamorous hairdo. So much for the hard-working scientist who doesn’t want to take over the world; in “Time and the Rani” her goal is ultimately to take over the universe and rework it as she sees fit.

The other great thing is how director Andrew Morgan has the Lakyrtians run. This may sound strange, but you need to take my word on this. They’re supposed to be slightly lizard-like, and when they run, Morgan has them hold their arms back at an angle. It actually makes them look like a species of small lizard, and while some do it better than others (Karen Clegg as Sarn in particular) it’s at least an attempt to make them a little difference.

Otherwise? I have nothing good to say about this, perhaps save that if you drink a lot it gets funnier and funnier. But it’s bad. It’s really bad. Shockingly, appallingly bad. (Not as bad as “The Twin Dilemma,” which still edges this story out as “worst first story for a new Doctor,” but this is the nadir of the McCoy era, right out of the gate.)

Continue reading 50 Years of Doctor Who: Sylvester McCoy (part 1)