Archive for the ‘TV’ Category

For the less literal, more artsy minded folks out there, here’s another interesting Game of Thrones map to follow up my last post on the topic.  Artist J.E. Fullerton put together some great full color stylized maps with illustrations of lots of the characters and creatures from the books.  He also has detail maps of a lot of the story locations.  It’s too bad he isn’t able to sell these because they would look even better on my wall than the last map I posted.  I understand that George R.R. Martin, author of the series is putting out a map folio sometime this fall so I hold out hope Martin acquired these to include because I’d love to legally own them.


Once again, thanks to io9 for bringing these to my attention.


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Game of Thrones map geekery

I’m a huge fan of maps. As a kid I used to love to drag out my dad’s Rand McNally road atlas and study it before any big trips. Half the fun was always looking at all the places I was going to see and imagining what it would be like. I don’t spend as much of my free time looking at maps these days, but I’ve been known to lose an hour or two of my life on Google Maps. It’s pretty much the ultimate dream for that little kid. A road map AND real satellite photography to see even more stuff…

The map love also extends to fake maps. That may even be why I started reading fantasy as a kid, the really good fantasy books always had maps in the front. I remember reading Sword of Shannarra and constantly turning to the map in the front so I could follow the characters’ travels. (And complain about the low quality of the map.)

So I was pretty excited when I ran across this serious looking map for the Game of Thrones saga. The internet is lousy with GoT maps, and HBO has a really nice interactive version to go with their Game of Thrones show, but this one is extra special. The map itself was created by a dedicated fan, but another fan went back and traced the paths of the various major characters on the map so it’s easy to visualize where everyone is going. There are some physical problems with the map. It’s so high resolution that I can’t zoom out to see the entire continent without losing all the detail even with dual 17 inch monitors, and it’s very difficult to keep track of which line goes with which character since it covers thousands of pages worth of travel (5 books worth). Some of the more popular areas get pretty muddled.

I’d be lieing if I said I wasn’t tempted to print it out poster size on the giant plotter at work that we use for bridge plans. It would make a really good wall display if the wife would let me hang it. Many props to serMountainGoat for putting together the original map and PrivateMajor for putting on the character lines. serMountainGoat’s animated timeline feature is also pretty great. And a hat tip to io9 for showing me this in the first place.

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Photo from the Swamp People Facebook page.

As much as I’ve enjoyed watching Swamp People, one thing has bothered me about it. It felt exploitive. The Louisiana bayou is about as rural and southern as it gets in the US, and all the hunters on the show are unabashedly country. They’re the kind of people a lot of us like to refer to as hicks or rednecks.

When it comes to the ‘ignorant Southerner’ stereotype I’ve always had a chip on my shoulder. I spent my childhood in a fairly rural area in east Tennessee and I wasn’t really a hunter or farmer but I bristle at the stereotype. After I became a ‘city boy’ I had regular clashes with one of my more smug friends (Swedish daughter of a Vanderbilt professor) who thought Southern accent = ignorant hick. So the choice to use subtitles for most of the Cajun hunters was pretty offensive to me at first.

After a few episodes I realized it was my own preconceptions and defensiveness that were the real problem. The gator hunters on Swamp People don’t sit in board rooms and they have thick accents but most of them are pretty sophisticated businessmen, and I’ve gained a new respect for the small business owner since my wife started up her own business. The profit margin on gator hunting isn’t so great and you have to plan ahead and run a tight organization to make a decent profit from the 30 day gator hunting season. Several of them own successful businesses like gator farms, and convenience markets that carry them through the rest of the year, and one guy even designs boats on the fly with nothing but a Sharpie and a big sheet of metal. He cuts and welds them right there on his property and apparently does a good business at it.

It bothers me a little that I’ve internalized the ignorant Southerner stereotype, but I’m glad to see a few Cajuns doing their part to get rid of it. I suspect that a lot of viewers still won’t see beyond the initial impressions, but maybe that’s just my imagination too.

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Every episode of Swamp People (History Channel) starts with a warning. Before you see the title or the ‘tonight on…’ teaser footage you see a black screen as ominous music plays and the following warning fades in:

The way of life depicted in this program dates back 300 years.

Hunting, especially alligator hunting, lies at its core.

Some images may be disturbing.

Viewer discretion is adviced.

It sounds overly dire, but it’s probably not a bad idea to give a little warning about what the viewer should expect.

Swamp People is all about gator hunting in the bayous of Louisianna. You aren’t going to see a lot of blood and guts, but you will see lots of dead gators getting dragged around and lots of action shots of the hunters standing on piles of previous catches while they try to shoot a live one.

It’s definitely an action oriented, testosterone heavy show. The show follows several groups of gator hunters throughout the gator hunting season. The producers do a good job of editing out the tedium of driving around the swamp putting out the bait and waiting for the gators to take it. Most on-camera time is spent showing the hunters reeling in a hooked gator and there are some really beautiful helicopter shots of the swamp.

In most episodes they follow one of the hunter teams home for a end of the day look at family life. It’s a blatant effort to remind the viewers that the hunters are actual people rather than actors playing a part, and it’s mostly unnecessary. Most of the hunter teams are father son duos or very close friends because gator hunting requires a partner you can trust with your life or at least your health.

One of my wife’s favorite parts of the show is the interplay between the father and son teams. Most of them refer to gator hunting as a family tradition and both halves of the team seem to enjoy the process of passing along the gator hunting skills. The fathers are visibly proud of their sons after a particularly hard fought catch and the sons can be seen enjoying their dad’s pride.

The producers keep it moving and they do a fair job of editing the episodes into a storyline with a tenuous unifying theme. The most recent episodes have been about a tropical storm blowing boats around and making the gators dive deep below the hooks or holing up in the lairs for an early hibernation. Past episodes have shaken up the status quo with things like potential poachers or nearly getting the boat stuck due to water level changes while exploring a remote fishing hole. (That episode included some really amazing shots of one of the hunters jumping his boat over a levee. You could literally see the guy’s adrenaline rush afterward.)

Despite the producers best efforts though, the repetitive nature of the show is a definite drawback. Even shots of angry gators fighting the line and gorgeous overhead shots of the bayou get monotonous after too many viewings. I recommend you watch it in small increments rather than a marathon viewing of every episode on the DVR.

While it’s not appointment television, I think Swamp People is a darn good show. It’s a pretty testosterone soaked soaked show but it does seem to have its appeal to the ladies. My wife actually is the one who turned me onto the show. At first it felt a bit exploitive, especially due to the extensive use of subtitles translating the Cajun accents, but I’ve gotten past that aspect.  Even if you’re not up to a season’s worth of episodes it’s worth watching a few just to see how they actually go about hunting the gators.

All photos are from the Swamp People Facebook page.

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Back when I was an impressionable youngster chemistry seemed like a lot of fun. Acids, open flame, liquids cool to the touch that bubble over when you mix them… As an adult I still have some interest in your basic household chemistry, but any thoughts of a career in chemistry got stomped out of me when I went from lab to lecture. Balancing chemical equations and counting electrons got old real fast.

Hunting the Elements is a recent episode of Nova that almost made me regret my choices. The episode is a two hour documentary on the table of elements and presents it in a real and exciting way. It pulls you in with ‘real world chemistry’ but it manages to lay down some actual basic chemistry education in an interesting way. (Probably because it had a higher production budget than most text books.)

The organization of the segments throughout the episode is a bit haphazard from a scientific point of view but it does the work of a showman in pulling you in and keeping you interested. It starts out with a trip to a gold mine and takes you through the process as they pull huge dumptruck loads of soil out of the mine and refine each load down to a tiny nugget (approximately one gram of gold per heaping truck full of soil) and end up with a refined gold ingot worth $1.5 million.

Gold may not be the best place to start a discussion of the periodic table, but it’s certainly the most eye catching sequence and does the job of catching your attention. Other highlights include a sequence on combustion (lots of stuff blowing up and some cool high speed photography of it), a physical representation of the periodic table (with samples of each element), and visiting a lab where they’re manufacturing new elements.

The unifying theme of the episode is the periodic table itself. It’s digitally superimposed on random surfaces throughout the nearly two hour episode. It’s a bit distracting at times, but it does serve to recenter viewer attention after each sequence. Most of the major elemental groups are covered through the course of the episode and the host provides a succinct explanation of the periodic tables structure that brought back the fundamentals I learned back in Chemistry 101 and would probably be a good overview for people who haven’t seen the periodic table since high school (or for high school students seeing it for the first time).

I think the biggest problem with the episode is the humor. There are several extended scenes meant to be comedic and the host gets off some real groaners, much to the fake chagrin of the actual scientists. It may be my imagination, but I think the eye roll inducing humor is intentional. As annoying as it is, the humor grounds the episode and reminds the viewers that science isn’t some mystical subject akin to magic. I just wish they hadn’t let some of the comedic moments go on for so long.

Overall I really enjoyed it. It was educational but it moved quickly enough to keep from being overly boring. It was structured in a way that grabbed your attention and moved from the more exciting visual subjects (gold mining) to the less concepts that are less visually impressive but more exciting in their potential (making new elements). I recommend it for any novice in the chemistry field, and I think it would make great viewing for a high school chemistry class. I’d make my own kids watch it if they didn’t have the attention span of four year olds (though the explosions do appeal to a four year old boy).

You can watch the episode over at PBS.org, but I don’t guarantee how long that will last. They also have an iPad app and some teaching games on their website. There’s also a fun interactive periodic table here.

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The End Is Near

A few days ago I was held captive for three hours in my local tire and brakes shop. I never forget to take some reading material to a place like that, but it took so very long I finished the book before they finished the car. I ended up stranded in front of the TV in the waiting room for a seemingly endless period of time.

Now I watch quite a bit of TV, but on that long ago day when I received my first DVR I resolved to never again watch commercials. I’ve managed to keep that resolution quite well, but I think it puts me a little behind in some aspects of pop culture. I don’t see all those panic inducing teasers for the late news (Can something you use every day KILL YOU? Stay tuned for more at 10 or die in your sleep!!!!!) not to mention movie trailers and previews of coming shows. For that very reason, I think the DVR is the greatest invention since the bidet.

So I hadn’t realized just how low one of the original stars of the reality TV pantheon had sank. A new commercial came on featuring a youngish woman in a low cut dress. She was having a good cry. No dialogue, no looking at the camera, no voice over. Just some chick crying. At first I thought it was some nouveau style feminine hygiene product, but eventually some text popped up and it turned out to be a ‘coming attractions’ preview for the new season of The Bachelor starting in January.

I can’t say this is a new low for reality TV, this is the genre that brought us “Joe Millionaire” (compete to date a pretend millionaire) and “More to Love” (fat people dating show) not to mention various others that came along after I got disgusted and quit watching reality programming. But the fact that one of the big teasers for the coming season is just a girl crying is a bit of a problem for the show, not to mention that they’ve decided this is a selling point to get people to watch. (And they’re probably right.)

Unfortunately, the network is saturating their programming with teasers for The Bachelor’s new season, so I had to watch more previews. Turns out it isn’t this bachelor’s first rodeo. He was a contestant on another iteration of the show (Bachelorette) and proposed to a lucky lady who turned him down on national television. Makes me wonder about the size of the dump truck full of cash the producers must have drove up to his door to convince him to risk that kind of humiliation again. Also, you can witness his humiliation here.

Apparently the show has another trick up its sleeve though. One of the lady contestants introduced in the first episode is a grandmother who claims to be in love with the 28 year old Bachelor. The shock value alone isn’t enough apparently. The host of the show says:

“We might have outdone ourselves this season, but people should know that we would never take up a spot on the show as a cocktail joke. It definitely was funny, but it has much more meaning than you see in the ad. There’s something very sweet and romantic about it.”

TL:DR –>”Not only is this old lady in love with our guy, but more crazy hijinks will happen if you watch……. ”

I’ll admit to watching a season or two back in the beginning. I’ve always thought dating shows were entertaining just because it’s fun to see how people interact in that environment. When I was young and single it seemed like a fantasy. Some lucky chump gets to hang out with lots of pretty girls AND there’s a hot tub. But it got old pretty quick, and I can only watch so many women tear up as they admit they love some guy they just met three weeks ago on TV before I felt a little dirty. The bachelor has been around for 16 season and nearly ten years (not to mention the spinoffs), and it’s starting to get pretty desperate for new stunts to pull in eyeballs. If I was on staff I’d be using the company printer to make myself a stack of resumes. If the stunts they’re having to pull these days are any indication, this one ain’t going to be around much longer though the ratings have jumped a bit if Wikipedia is to be believed.

If you’re so inclined, you can see for yourself on ABC’s page. The clip that originally inspired this post is called “It’s Back!”. But you have to watch a 30 second ad before each 15-30 second clip, so you’ve been warned.

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Not So Dirty Old Man

Somehow I got caught in a loop where I couldn’t help but watch that old 80’s sitcom chestnut Family Ties.  The show seemed pretty good back when it originally aired, but it hasn’t held up well since then.  These days it seems both simplistic and preachy which may be a sign of cultural evolution, or maybe just a sign that I was 10 when it originally aired.

Either way, watching it again 25 years later hasn’t been great for my self-esteem.  I feel a little old when I notice the gray hair creeping in.  I feel a little old when I realize that people born while I was in high school are legally adults now.  I feel a little old when I stay up till 1 AM and have to get up with the boy twin at 7 AM the next morning.  But I can unequivocally say that think watching Family Ties has done more to make me feel old than all those other things combined.  The problem is all those actresses.

Cast Photo approximately 1984

Back in the days I originally watched the show I was about the age of the youngest daughter on the show.  I had a little crush on Mallory and to a lesser extent Jennifer, who were the high school and junior high daughters (but aged to college and high school as the show went on).  Now when I watch it both the girls look so young and I find myself thinking about how hot the mom (Meredith Baxter Birney) is, and what she would look like if she had a contemporary look.

Now don’t get me wrong, at this point in my life it would be pretty unfortunate if I wasn’t  attracted to the mom instead of the teenage daughter.  That’s not the part that makes me feel old.  Having a ‘before and after’ perspective, on the other hand, is a cold splash of water to the face.  That’s a huge drawback of nostalgia.  It makes you feel old by its very nature.

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