Babylon 5 — Great Thinking Person’s SF TV!

We are having so much fun right now. We’re not sure how we missed it, but it turns out that my StepDaughter has never really been exposed to Babylon 5. We’ve been remedying the situation for the last week, and whenever we offer the chance to watch something else, she actually pouts at us. She’s hooked! And she’s been that way since the The Gathering, the pilot movie. It makes me happy.

When MiLady and I first saw The Gathering, we were also hooked. We taped the late-night second showing, and waited with bated breath for the series; we watched every episode the first time it aired, and taped them when they were reshown on TV; and the moment we found out that the DVDs were available, we snagged ‘em. We love this show. (Can you tell?)

And there’s a lot to love about this show. There’s the depth, breadth, and sweep of it; jms (J. Michael Straczynski, the show’s creator) sat down and outlined the history and future of every race, going back or forward 1000 years, and was able to incorporate that information into the show. (My brain draws parallels with JRR Tolkien, who did something similar for Middle Earth.) The characters are real people, with their own angels and demons, instead of the cardboard stereotypes often seen in other SF; the technology is all achievable today, on purpose; and the “five year story arc,” which he pioneered, made each episode a chapter and each year a book in the “Babylon 5″ series. No automatic resets at the end of the episode for this one; every event that happens shapes the characters and the situation going forward. It’s a definite roller coaster, and if you try to get on in the middle it’ll take you a while to figure it out; but if you start from the beginning, it’s the ride of your life and well worth the effort.

We finished the series a week and a half after we started it; and the final four episodes still make me cry, after so many viewings you’d think I’d be over it by now. But I’m not, and I doubt I ever will be. And to tell the truth, I’m glad of it; if I stop crying during “Sleeping in Light,” the last episode, then I’m too jaded to enjoy life any more. I cannot tell you how highly I recommend Babylon 5; if you were here, I’d simply haul out the DVDs and show you. Rent “The Gathering” or Season One some weekend, and get into it; you’ll go back for more. It’s worth it!

(Related: “Babylon 5 — a Lesson in Social Media.” How jms talked to and listened to the fans during the running of the show, and what it can teach us about the Internet & community.)

Housekeeping: New Avatar, Twitter, FriendFeed Room

Popular Delusions Avatar Isn’t this a nifty avatar? It was designed for the site by my FriendFeed friend Groobers (Twitter, FriendFeed). She wanted to play with Photshop; I mentioned that I needed an avatar here, and this is what she whipped up. I’m incredibly happy with it, and am using the opportunity to brag about her all over the place. I asked her for a link to promote her, but Real Life has been keeping her busy, and I don’t know if she wants to maks a habit of it — you’ll have to ask her!

With this avatar I’ve started a Twitter account (@PopulrDelusions).  Note the lack of an “a;” Twitter only lets you have so many letters in your name. It’ll be used to make you giggle, give you a reason to celebrate the day, announce blog posts and point you to other great stuff that ties in to our stuff. Follow Popular Delusions — you won’t regret it!

We also have a new FriendFeed room (Popular Delusions). I’ll be throwing things in there as well about movies, SF, Fantasy, hobbies, toys, and plain ol’ silliness. If you’re a member of FriendFeed (and I highly recommend it), you can join too and throw things in to help with the research or just keep me honest. I’d love all the help I can get! What you add may just be the next thing covered on the blog. Wouldn’t that be cool?

And One More Thing: If you’re into something I haven’t covered here . . . if you’re an expert in a hobbie or craft, or know something about the movies, SF, fantasy, or the multiverse . . . if you’d like to get more exposure for your stuff . . . I’d love to publish what you have to say. You get a post on another blog, PD gets more varied content, and everybody wins! Just use the Contact Me form (or comment on this post) and tell me about your idea — and we’ll talk! 8-)

What the Heck is Lifehacking?

Morning Routine from xkcd.com I’ve always been interested in the self-help/ motivation/ personal development thing. For me, it tends to go in cycles; and when I turned to look at the latest stuff on the Web, I discovered the term “Lifehacking.” What the heck is Lifehacking?

In 2004 the term was coined to describe “quick and dirty” ways that hackers and programmers were using computer scripts to make their lives easier. Since then the term has grown to include any “appropriate application of ingenuity” to a problem; the term is used for everything from making your to do list easier to deal with to making your way out of the house faster in the morning to making it easier to share your lifestream with your friends. There are blogs devoted to lifehacking; ideas have been used as stories in mainstream newspapers; there are communities forming around the concept. I even found a Russian news story about a LiveJournal blog community that shares lifehacking tips — not all of them legal!

The concept has gone worldwide — while looking at lifehacking entries in Perspctv this morning, all of the tweets containing the term were in German! And there’s an interesting start to a lifehacking series over on Slate about morning routines. But if you want to take a good look at the range of ideas that this term can cover, here’s a Granddaddy-of-them-all list I found a while back — 100 Tips to Improve Your Life. This list is about a year old, but includes tips from over a dozen web sites on productivity, exercise, parenting, laundry, time management, and finding your car keys, among other things. Looking down the list will give you a good idea of the types of things that get included; a look at the URLs will show good sites that contain hundreds of other great tips.

So if you’re into simplifying your life, getting more done in a day, or just making things easier on yourself, go take a look at lifehacking. You’ll find some really helpful stuff! 8-)

Mens’ Toys Exposed!: Collectibles and Media Toys

Sonic Screwdriver and Psychic PaperIn a piece of Diggbait from Cracked.com, The 7 Most Impressive (and Depressing) Geek Collections, only two of the seven collections are attributed to ladies — Pikachu and Barbies. Eww! How depressingly stereotypical! Now I don’t know about you, but I know a bunch of people of all genders who collect stuff from their favorite movies, TV shows, and anime. One person collects Lego spaceships; another figurines of their favorite heroes and villains. I’m a prop person, myself (I’ll just let my sonic screwdriver and alethiometer speak for me). And I found a place that caters to all of us!

If you’re into movies, TV shows, Anime, comics, or cartoons, you need to go take a look at www.entertainmentearth.com. They have thousands of items from dozens of companies for hundreds of “Themes,” from 1 vs. 100 to Zorro. Don’t believe me? The long lists at the bottom of the home page will convince you! These people even sell Obama bobble-heads and McCain action figures . . . here’s just a sample from the Ds to let you know the scope of the site: Dexter, Digimon, Dilbert, Dinosaurs, Disney. Whatever you’re looking for, they’re bound to have it. I only know of one exception: They have nothing for Babylon 5. Other than that, I have yet to find a spot in the Multiverse they don’t have something collectible for.

So if you’ve got a few minutes to spare, go take a look at Entertainment Earth. You’ll find something you want; you might even end up drooling over a couple of things. Add them to your Christmas list; or buy a gift for yourself! You deserve it, you know. (And yes, these are affiliate links. The prices are the same; I just get a small percentage of what you pay for getting you over there.) Go find a new favorite showpiece or toy! You know you want to . . .

Reefer Madness: The Musical — Subversively Good!

In 1936, a church group financed a movie they meant to be a morality tale on the evils of marijuana that they called Tell You Children. After it was finished, a producer bought it and recut it, adding some sexy scenes and selling it to the “exploitation” market as Reefer Madness. It never went very far, or made much money, and faded from memory until the founder of NORML discovered it in the Library of Congress and made it a stoner favorite. It made the college circuit, and today is known as a cult film. If you’re interested, the reconstructed script is available at the Common Sense Drug Policy site, or you can actually watch the whole thing on YouTube.

Kevin Murphy, executive producer/writer/lyricist of Reefer Madness – The Movie Musical, refers to the original movie as “the Rosetta Stone, the standard by which all other silly midnight cult movies are judged, with the notable exception of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which is the granddaddy of them all. . . . Of course, they had all their facts wrong, so it became sort of a hysterical and overblown piece. One puff in the film leads to manic energy, going insane, raping and killing with mad abandon. The reality is that you get a little sleepy, laugh a lot and maybe eat a great deal of food.” (from the movie’s page on Showtime’s site)

Kevin and Dan Studney got the idea for Reefer Madness: The Musical on the road between Oakland to LA while listening to Frank Zappa; it played on the stage to packed houses for over a year and a half. It opened off Broadway, but timing was against them; 9/11 happened just four days before their opening night. It caught Showtime’s attention, and they got the chance to film it for the video channel; it was released on DVD in 2005. A friend loaned me a copy — and I discovered that my assumptions about the film were all wrong.

The director, Andy Fickman, puts it more succinctly than I could: “We decided to pull the camera back one step further from the original film and show why it was made in the first place. It was made to scare good citizens and to distort the truth in their presentation. Had Reefer Madness been a thoughtful examination of the trials and tribulations of hemp and marijuana, it would have been one thing, but they made the most explicit shock film that they could, all based on what can only be viewed as a lot of silliness.” (from the movie’s page on Showtime’s site)

So the focus of this movie is not the drug that was being demonized, but the propaganda used to demonize it. Alan Cummings does a masterful job as the presenter, using the standard tactics we’ve all seen before: when someone objects, he doesn’t dispute the objection but shames the person who stated it. The film within the movie is as overblown as you’d expect — the kids are right out of The Afternoon Special, the ‘bad guy’ came out of the funny papers, the lady of the Reefer Den out of of the soaps — and the consequences are too over-the-top to be believed; yet the presenter keeps them from questioning anything so they’re not seen as unpatriotic, and by the end of the movie they’re out building bonfires. (One hilarious moment in the film comes as the parents — joined by the cast of the film and others with torches — march down the street. A black family takes one look at the parade and then grabs their kids and runs for home. A tiny moment of realism.)

I could go on all day about this movie; I really think that it’s a great reminder of spin and the dangers of “authority” telling us how to think. (We need to be reminded occasionally, since we’ve learned to just accept it as part of the national atmosphere.) It’s also beautiful, and hilarious, and silly, and all too true. I was going to post lyric snippets to prove my point, but I’ve gone on too long, so let me just encourage you to go read for yourselves and hand you the link: Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical Lyrics

I’ll end with the last line the presenter sings as he drives away from the bonfire: “When danger’s near, exploit their fear — The end will justify the means!”

[If you’re a fan of the original movie, there is a DVD version available (Reefer Madness (Restored Edition)): it’s colorized, and includes a soundtrack with comments (MST3K style) from Mike Nelson. If you’d like to hear what Mike has to say during the movie, and don’t need to hold the movie in your hand, you can watch it on demand or purchase it directly from RiffTrax.com.]

Coffee Drinker? Trying to Save $$$? This Will Help!

(Disclaimer: I hate coffee. I’m one of the very few adults I’ve ever met that does. But I love this idea so much, and since the morning cup of coffee is one of the most popular delusions, at least here in America, I had to share it, in the hopes it will help. It also works for tea and hot chocolate, or [since I like my caffeine cold and carbonated] even soda!)

So you’ve decided, in these fun economic times, that you need to save some money. One of the first places that people mention when talking about cutting expenses is the morning cup of coffee. But how the heck do you ride the bus with one of those standard coffee cups? And why can’t the lidded cups at the grocery store have those nifty-keen lids that they have down at the local coffee shop? You might like to know that you’re not the only one — a lot of people have trouble with this, not because of the quality of the coffee or the ability to buy it between buses, but because they’ll miss those wonderful cups! (And for those trying to live the “Home Business Lifestyle:” Why should I have to leave home to get my coffee when all I’m really doing it for is the nifty cup?”)

I am Not a Paper Cup!
iconEnter the I Am Not a Paper Cup; a double-walled ceramic cup in the same size and shape as the ones you throw away every day. It doesn’t need a paper sleeve, because it’s designed to keep your coffee hot and your fingers unburned; and the silicon lid is just exactly like the lids you’re used to! Make people at the bus stop wonder if there’s a new coffee shop in the neighborhood, or sit at home at your desk with the coffee cup you’re used to. (This one won’t slop all over your desk if you nudge it!) Fill it with anything you like, and take pride in keeping paper and plastic out of the landfills. About as expensive as a week’s worth of those coffee shop long-named drinks, this will save you money for as long as you use it; and no one will ever know — unless you tell them — that it’s not paper. Good for the environment; good for your wallet; good for your ego — a WIN all around!

I HIGHLY recommend taking a look at I Am Not a Paper Cup!

My Top 10 Favorite Places in the Multiverse

When I first decided to do a post on my favorite places in the Multiverse, I started listing movies and book series — and almost immediately ran out of paper. I realized that I couldn’t really list individual threads; there is too much. So let me sum up — with a more general list:

Space
Star Trek. Star Wars. Babylon 5. Farscape. Firefly. Honor Harrington. The Heinleinverse. And a whole lot more. Space is a really big place, and science fiction is a huge genre. So if space travel is possible or the action happens on another planet, then it goes in this category. Amazing how much stuff that ties up, ain’t it?

School
Ferris Buehler. Ridgemont High. Pacific Tech. Van Wilder. The School of Rock. The Deltas. The Pitt. Heck, Sky High works, as does Hogwart’s (though to me they fit better in other categories).

ToonSpace
Warner Brothers. Tex Avery. Fleisher. Disney. You know, the classics. Pixar and Dreamworks have brought this corner of the Multiverse into 3D, which has been a very good thing; but 3D or 2D, I love animation!

ParodyVille
Mel Brooks and the Abrhams/Zucker/Zucker movies are the cornerstone of this category, but there are others out there, like Flesh Gordon or Last Action Hero. Heck, I could argue that with Enchanted, Disney made a parody of all their other movies — from a certain point of view.

SuperSecret
UNIT. Torchwood. The Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense. Omega Sector. Mutant X. The Vatican Organization. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. The Holy Order. A large number of agencies with no name at all. Not to mention TimeLords, Guardians of Time, and Time Guardians (yes, I’ve heard of both), and the “invisible societies:” Elves in California, Diagon Alley in the middle of London, and the World Below in New York all wind up here. So do the countless individuals who for one reason or another (some of them most interesting) are staying “off the grid.”

FantasyForest
Middle-earth. Florin and Gilder. Gwynedd. Valdemar. Narnia. The worlds where dragons fly, warriors quest and magic-workers enchant. This is one of my favorite places in the Multiverse.

HeroSpace
Superman. Spiderman. Batman. Condorman. The Greatest American Hero. The Avengers, the X-Men, and the Justice League. “Longjohns at six o’clock.” There are a lot of costumed do-gooders out there, and all of them are fun to watch. (Especially if they’re particularly good at it yet!)

Alternative History
What if this had never happened? What if this had happened like that? What if a piece of now got transported back to then? What if everybody used magic? “He’s historical — let’s grab him!” Playing with history has always been a rich vein for fiction. The Terminator is all about playing with history, as is the wonderful Grantville/1632 book series. It’s fun to play “What if!”

RubberMonsterLand
Since this is my list, I get to include one of my favorite places to waste my time. Godzilla is responsible for some of my favorite family memories, silly as that sounds. King Kong, Godzilla, Gamera, Gorgo, and all their friends and opponents are a great source of good, clean, wholesome destruction (Tokyo has a wonderful [and well-rehearsed] evacuation system) and lovely, wonderful carnage.

Um . . . Gee . . . Ooh . . . Ahh . . .
It seems my Top 10 list only has 9 entries on it! And I can’t decide on a final category. What do you think? Should it be “Awesome Tech?” “Fun with Mythology?” “Secret Missions?” “Fantastic Futures?” How about “Happy Endings as only celluloid can deliver,” or “MusicalLand?” (Or does the first include the second?) What have I forgotten? Please weigh in in the Comments section below!

“Mens Toys” Exposed! — My Why, and the 20Q

The first time I remember ever getting into trouble in school was in Kindergarten: the teacher had split up the toys and decided on days when girls could play with these, and boys could play with those — and I refused to follow the rules. I kept playing with the “boys’ toys.” And I didn’t understand why there should be a split between boys and girls. I was mystified about why I was getting into trouble. And to tell the truth, I still really don’t get it.

Case in point: I was looking at a really cool toy store called Firebox: great toys, cool gadgets, neat puzzles, office warfare toys. I’ve called them Britain’s Best Kept Toy Secret, because no one I know has ever heard of them, but their stuff is fantastic. I signed up for their affiliate program, and went about some research on what keywords they use to sell their own stuff — and got a nasty shock. Of the 185 keywords supplied by the program I was using, 38 (20%) were about men or boys. “Great toys for boys,” “boys toys gadgets,” “boy stuff,” “mens toys,” “toys for guys,” “toy for men.” How many of these 185 terms mentioned females? Two. Only two.

This got me riled, just a bit. Why is it that if it’s dolls or kitchen sets they’re “girls’ toys,” and if they’re gadgety or fun or include R/C they’re “mens’ toys?” There are guys into cooking and girls into gadgets; why the gender assumptions?


The 20Q ball from Firebox
iconSo I’m going to do things a little differently. I’m going to recommend toys and gadgets that I and my friends would play with; and I’m starting with the 20Q. This little ball is the neatest toy I’ve seen in a long time. It plays 20 Questions with you! You think up a word, and it asks questions until it guesses — and it’s scarily accurate! The guys at Firebox could only trip it up with swearwords; and when they played using the word Firebox, it came up with Hotbox, which is eerily close.

This is a great toy — it inspires thought, can be played with by yourself or in a group, and it’s only $12.95! Not bad for a toy that laughs at you when you’re slow and cheats if it doesn’t get the answer in 20 questions (it gives itself 5 more). And if this isn’t your cup of tea, Firebox has a wide range of all sorts of toys, tools, USB gadgets, R/C, and gag items. Go take a look!

The Interdimensional Sound of Annoyance

When you’ve been around the Multiverse (or my particular version of it) for a while, you start noticing things that are similar in all the worlds. Example: Have you ever noticed how many doors sound like they were stolen right off the Enterprise? (We were watching the first season of Buck Rogers last night; their doors have the same Star Trek sound, only slowed down! Sheesh!) Ever realize how many vehicles, when they fail, sound just like the Millenium Falcon with a wonky hyperdrive? And I can’t tell you how many times my wife has heard an engine and, without looking up, said, “That’s a landspeeder.”

My personal favorite in this category right now is the Interdimensional Sound of Annoyance (ISA). I’ve heard it from a Mallisterean in Coruscant traffic; I’ve heard it from an Uruk-Hai outside Helm’s Deep; I’ve heard it from the lips of countless humans, past and future, no matter what language they speak or what time/space period they’re from. The ISA? It’s “What’da . . . !”

Now I know someone is going to point out that this is actually a contraction of the English “What the . . ., ” where the last word of the phrase, usually not welcome in a family-friendly environment, is left to the imagination of the hearer. I have no idea whether these exclamations are translated in other versions; the Mallisterean might be, the Uruk-Hai is probably not. Someone else might argue that this is the ISA as translated by an English-speaking brain, and that we really don’t know what the ISA sounds like. That may be true, and we won’t know till we get there. But since I live in my own little world, and my own little Multiverse, I’m going to take my ISA as fact. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. 8-P

What fascinates me is not the sound of the ISA, but the fact that it exists at all. It’s pointing to the fact that all sentient beings seem to need an expression to use when something unexpected happens; and that when it does, what comes out of our vocal orifices is a little muddied. They aren’t quite words, but hey — if a Jedi suddenly flew by on a ‘bot and nearly kicked you in the eye-stalk, you’d be a little muddled, too! The phrase usually lasts as long as the confusion, as the event either passes by or becomes obvious. But it does seem to be one of those little things we all have in common.

So listen for the Interdimensional Sound of Annoyance — I’m sure you’ll hear it in the next 24 hours, from your own reality or one of the ones you like to hang out in (think TV, movies, books . . .). Where can you find it? Let me know!

Video List for a Lazy Day

This past weekend, the three of us were pretty much in the same state — physically sapped and brain dead. You know how it goes — no one really wanted to spend any time in deep thought, and we all wanted to laugh rather than cry. So I pulled out some of my favorite “great waste of time” movies. Wanna know what they were? Of course you do . . .

For breakfast we threw in Caveman. In the Stone Age (October 9th), the Head of Tribe is Tonda — all muscle, no brain. Well, brain enough to keep Lana, prettiest girl in the tribe, by his side. The tribe Omega is Atouk — the very first nerd. All brain, no social skills (as the rest of the tribe thinks of them). Of course, he gets kicked out; he winds up forming a tribe of his own, and discovering poached eggs, among other things. The film is in CaveSpeak (well, one guy speaks English), the monsters are silly (keep an eye out for the oldest and nicest T Rex you’ve ever seen!), and the music around the campfire is great. And everybody gets what they deserve!

After that I wanted to show my housemates why I liked Lar better than he seemed to deserve, so we threw in Innerspace. Dennis Quaid is Tuck Pendleton, over-boozed former fighter pilot, who’s been talked into a science experiment; re-creating Fanatstic Voyage inside a rabbit. But before he can get injected, the bad guys arrive to steal the tech, and the head scientist runs and then injects him into the tukkus of a random stranger — Jack Putter (Martin Short), Safeway Assistant Manager and all-around hypochondriac. Hilarity ensues, involving the ex-girlfriend, the bad guys, and a tech runner named the Cowboy (Robert Picardo as you’ll never see him again!). It’s a lot of fun with a happy ending.

When it comes to great wastes of time filled with people that are fun to watch, there are few things better than Real Genius. The setting is “Pacific Tech,” a loosely veiled reference to the California Institute of Technology, and the kids in the dorm are a wonderful cross-section of my memories of college. After the usual hijinks (including snow in the halls) and revenge on the local brown-noser (“You know you’re not supposed to park that on campus!”), the kids naturally get a tad upset when they find out the laser they’ve built for their teacher is to be used as a weapon. This is the movie which spawned my bumpersticker, “Revenge — it’s a Moral Imperative.”

It turns out that one of my housemates likes looking at Val Kilmer as much as I do, so the last movie on the list was Top Secret!. This Abrahams/Zucker/Zucker piece (fair warning: these guys did Airplane!) is based on the idea of the first rock singer to be let into East Germany. Between the Resistance, the Bad Guys, the Secret Plans, and the Captured Scientist (Alfred from the Batman movies), Our Hero manages to sing his concert, help out the Good Guys, and reunite his newfound love with the boyfriend from her past she’d last seen on a desert island. . . . You have to see it to believe it, just like any other Abrahams/Zucker movie. Good giggles to end the day!