I love trains, and I love mechanical automation. This really great video is an intersection between the two, and explains the process used to replace rail on an active railroad. Fascinating stuff!
Posts Tagged “entertainment”
I watch far more YouTube these days than I do actual television. A series I just started is How to Build a House from the Essential Craftsman channel. In this series (that is still being released, as of this writing), they walk through the entire process of the house building process. From doing due diligence on the lot itself, to getting the building permit; from preparing the concrete forms to actually selecting the type of concrete (who knew there were different types?). I'm only about 15 or so episodes in, but it's been really eye opening in terms of the amount of work that actually goes into building a house.
Each episode teaches you something new, which has been a lot of fun. I recommend this series if you're a fan of This Old House or if you have an interest in how things are made. Here's the first video:
About a decade ago (!), I posted some thoughts on several episodes of the original Star Trek series, as well as the original movies. Since that time, I've tried a time or two to try and watch Star Trek: The Next Generation, but I could never get past the first few episodes of the first season. Over the past few months, however, my wife and I have been giving it a good college try, and I'm glad that we've stuck it out.
Since I'm going through these episodes for the first time, I thought it might be interesting to share my thoughts as I proceed. I don't know how often I'll post my thoughts as I go, but I'll give it a shot over the coming weeks. I will certainly try to comment on any stand-out episodes we encounter.
There's not much to redeem this season, so I'll keep my thoughts on this brief. Both Q-centric episodes were good, and I particularly liked Conspiracy and Heart of Glory. Data has a good backstory episode, and the Dixon Hill holo-deck episode was fun. Everything else was pretty much garbage.
Starting off with a real stinker (The Child), I wasn't too optimistic about this season. It, too, is fairly uneven, with lots of forgettable episodes (the clip show being the worst imaginable). However, a few great ones stood out:
- Loud as a Whisper was a solid episode about a deaf ambassador, played by a deaf actor.
- A Matter of Honor was great television, wall to wall.
- The Measure of a Man raised interesting moral questions about what it means to be human.
- Time Squared was a fun time-travel episode with a neat ending.
- Q Who was easily the best of the season. It introduces the Borg, was well acted, and had a terrific ending. Perhaps the best episode I've seen so far.
We're only a few episodes in to this season as of this writing, but this has already been a solid season. It feels like a completely different show from this point. The sets are higher quality, the story lines are much more serious, and the acting is top notch.
- The Ensigns of Command was a fun Data-centric episode.
- The Survivors was super solid; it felt like an X-Files episode. Everything on a planet has been destroyed except a man, his wife, and the patch of ground around their home. Excellent episode.
- Who Watches the Watchers was pure science fiction candy. Felt like something the one of the science fiction greats would have written.
- The Bonding was a super deep episode about the loss of family members. Michael Dorn (as Worf) was excellent in this episode, and the cinematography was of note.
All in all, I'm enjoying this run through this old television show.
My wife and I often daydream about returning to Switzerland. One of the things we loved most about our trip there was the ability to go everywhere we needed via public transportation, most often on trains. Imagine my delight when, purely by chance, I recently happened upon a YouTube channel that is nothing but rail trips through Switzerland from the driver's point of view! There are hours and hours of videos, so I know what I'll be watching over the next few days.
I recently stumbled on yet another enjoyable YouTube channel: Company Man. Each video tackles a particular company (or pair of companies), discussing how they got to where they are today. Some of the interesting ones I've seen so far:
- Cracker Barrel - Why They're Successful
- Little Caesars - The Rise, Fall... and Rise Again
- Lowe's vs. The Home Depot
- Carl's Jr. and Hardee's - Why Two Different Names?
New videos are posted each Wednesday.
I'm not a car guy, but tonight I stumbled upon a great little video series (still in progress, as of this writing!) of a guy restoring a 1985 Pontiac Fiero. The car sat unused for 20 years and he's working on bringing it to life. Part 1 of the series is where to start. It's a real pleasure to see this guy's effort paying off.
I've loved trains since I was a child, and it's a passion I never grew out of. In fact, one of the best parts of our trip to Switzerland last year was riding the rails, which we did each day. That is one of the (many!) reasons we wish to return to that fantastic country.
Here in the United States, train spotting (i.e. railfanning) primarily consists of watching freight traffic. As fun as it is to see a train in person, I have neither the time nor the inclination to get in my car and ride around chasing trains. To my good fortune, there are plenty of people on YouTube who do enjoy that pursuit and who film their efforts.
One of the best channels I've found to help me scratch that itch is Distant Signal Productions. Danny Harmon, based near Tampa, Florida, wonderfully narrates his railfan adventures. That he works in television is apparent, both from the professional voice-overs to the fantastic video editing. Here are two great introductory videos to his channel:
I learn quite a bit each time I watch one of his videos, and I enjoy it immensely. Another channel worth checking out is Delay in Block Productions, another very professional channel. This video on the Blue Ridge Southern Railroad was exceptionally shot, and fun to watch.
This afternoon, I finished season 2 of the original Star Trek series. The last few episodes of this season are incredibly bad, even by 1960's-era science fiction standards. What really gets me about the last few episodes, is the feeling that they were written by grumpy old men, unhappy with the political climate at the time. Let's take a look at the three worst examples:
Episode 23: The Omega Glory
In this bizarre episode, Kirk finds a star-ship captain violating the prime directive. The Yangs (yanks) and Kohms (communists) are battling one another in a bizarro-world parallel-Earth scenario. Worst of all? The Yangs have their own "American" flag, and the Declaration of Independence is considered their "holy word" (which, ironically enough, is kept in a large King James Bible). Be sure to listen for the strains of "The Star Spangled Banner" and "America the Beautiful" every time the flag is shown.
Episode 25: Bread and Circuses
While attempting to locate a missing star-ship crew, Kirk and company stumble upon a planet whose oppressive government is a 20th-century version of Earth's Roman empire. In the final 2 minutes of the episode, Lieutenant Uhura figures out that the "sun worshipers" (who are slaves in this world's society) aren't actually worshiping the sun, they're worshiping the son of God. The "aw, shucks" sentimentality of the crew at this discovery is really misplaced and simply feels tacked on. Maybe a network exec forced the writers to put this twist in?
Episode 26: Assignment: Earth
The season finale plays on the cold war fears of the 1960s, and shows a lot of badly edited NASA footage of early Apollo-era flight tests. A stereotypical "dumb blonde" female character sums up the entirety of her generation's shortcomings in this unforgettable scene:
Mister Seven, I want to believe you. I do. I know this world needs help. That's why some of my generation are kind of crazy and rebels, you know. We wonder if we're going to be alive when we're thirty!
Is a quote like that the hallmark of an out-of-touch, angry old man, or what? "Kids these days ... am I right?"
There are some other particularly annoying episodes, like Episode 22: By Any Other Name. This episode was terrific for the first 45 minutes of the 50 total. In the last few minutes, the aliens who have taken the Enterprise crew hostage simply cave in to Kirk's reasoning for peace, totally destroying the tension that had built up to that point. I was hoping for the death and destruction of these monsters, but all they gave me was peace and harmony. This could have been a solid episode, but the ending ruined it completely.
I'm looking forward to season 3 (some of the episodes sound very interesting), but I'm boldly going forward with a grain of salt. There are bound to be rocky episodes ahead.
Way back in February of this year, I started a Musical Voyage: listening to my music in order, sorted by album title. Today, I finally finished the journey with Van Halen's "5150" (an album I consider mediocre at best; I never was a Sammy Hagar fan). I found this to be an interesting way to enjoy my music. Sometimes the jump from one album to the next was very pleasant (e.g. Relayer by Yes to Revolver by The Beatles); other times, it was jarring and unexpected (e.g. from Best of Schubert to Best of The Doors). I heard a ton of stuff I rarely listen to, reintroducing myself to some terrific music. Occasionally, I even heard something I didn't like (and which I've subsequently purged from my iPod). At least I can buy some new music for myself now; upon starting this goal, I set a rule that no new music could be added. There's several things I've been eager to get, and now I finally can. Mission accomplished!
Over the course of the next few months, I am going to try something my dad did last year: listening to my entire music library in order, sorted alphabetically by album title. This sort order should provide a fairly diverse musical experience. iTunes tells me that I currently have 4174 songs in my library, which comes out to 12.4 days of non-stop music. I'll be going from The Beatles' Abbey Road to Van Halen's 5150 (iTunes places numerically titled albums at the end for some reason). As I make progress, I will occasionally tweet my location in the library. My current plan is to use the #musicstream hash-tag on twitter to demarcate my progress. I'm looking forward to hearing the music that I don't listen to often; there's plenty that I frequently overlook.
This weekend, for my mom's birthday, we took a trip over to Greensboro, NC to visit the Greensboro Historical Museum and the Guilford Courthouse Military Park. Having never visited Greensboro proper, we didn't really know what to expect from either.
The historical museum in Greensboro is way larger than it may look from the outside. We easily spent two hours wandering through the various exhibits, some of which are tremendously large. More time could easily be spent here; the rainy weather limited our outdoor experiences (a few exhibits are outside the building). I was surprised to learn about the history of the area; a number of corporations were founded there, and several prominent events have occurred over the course of time. Best of all, the visit is absolutely free! I came away from the museum very impressed. It easily rivals the state museums in Raleigh.
Guilford county courthouse, site of a pivotal battle in the Revolutionary War, is equally as entertaining. Again, the rainy weather limited our outdoor activity at the park, but it should be noted that there are miles of hiking trails and a number of memorials around the park. The visitor center has an excellent 30-minute film describing the events of the battle. A number of artifacts from the battlefield are also on display; from rifles, to cannonballs, to belt buckles, it's all here. The collection is truly gigantic. Again, the visit is completely free. This is a park I will definitely return to.
If you're ever in the Greensboro area, I highly recommend both destinations. Both provide a relaxing environment, and a historical perspective on the Piedmont region of North Carolina.
Earlier today, I finished watching the fourth and final season of It's Garry Shandling's Show. I enjoyed the whole series so much, that I wanted to share a few thoughts on it. For those who don't already know, It's Garry Shandling's Show was a sitcom that ran on the Showtime network between 1986 and 1990. In it, Garry Shandling plays himself, and is fully aware that he is a sitcom character. All of the characters around him also realize that they are a part of a television show, so the whole experience is very "meta." Garry often involved the studio audience in the story, and each show opened and closed with a monologue. The fourth wall was broken as a rule on the show, not as an exception, so the viewer at home was usually in on every situation and joke.
What I like most about the show is how unique a premise it is, even to this day. Having the characters of the show all realize that they are on television is very clever and made for some great gags. Garry would often exploit this fact to the fullest; whether walking between sets to keep a thread going, or advancing time in silly ways to push the story forward. The supporting cast is all terrific, and the comedy outstanding. There were some episodes where I literally laughed until I cried. You gotta love a show that can do that.
The fourth season is definitely the weakest of them all. I listened to a number of episode commentaries, and it was interesting to learn that many of the writers felt the show went in the wrong direction in the fourth season. Showtime had a fairly small audience, so the show's ratings were never terrific (even though it was nominated for, and won, a number of awards). After Fox picked up the last two seasons, ratings tanked, mostly because the show was never meant to air with commercials. Upon debuting on Fox, the show came in at number 99 out of 100 shows; only The Tracey Ullman Show was worse. Interestingly enough, during the fourth season, many of the writers from It's Garry Shandling's Show also went to work on a little television show called The Simpsons, which debuted in the top 5 of the ratings. It's ironic, then, that the same writing staff would garner a top 5 rating and a 99th rating in the same year.
If you get a chance to check out this show, I highly recommend it. In some ways the show may be dated, but the humor is clever, and there are some very ground-breaking ideas. I'm greatly looking forward to checking out Garry's subsequent show, The Larry Sanders Show.
Sherlock Holmes has had a special place in my heart since I was quite young. I've read all of the stories, all of which I hold in high esteem. In high school, I even did a report (or two) on this character. Among all famous, fictitious detectives, he ranks as my all-time favorite (though Cadfael, Inspector Morse, and Inspector Lewis are nearly as enjoyable). Of all of the actor portrayals of this character, Jeremy Brett's is the only one I will ever truly acknowledge. Mr. Brett's take on Sherlock was fantastic, and spot-on with the character in the stories. He captured nuances and characterizations that no other actor had been able to do prior, and no one has done since.
That being said, I'm intrigued by the new Sherlock Holmes film being released. Robert Downey Jr. is a good actor (though I'd argue not in the same league as Jeremy Brett), and his take on the super-sleuth looks interesting. Some of the reviews I've read have been positive, so it's a movie that is definitely on my radar. I'm not a fan of movie theaters, so I'll happily wait until it gets released to DVD. In the mean time, I think it's time to fire up an episode or two of Jeremy Brett's work.
Last night, I tweeted some dark thoughts about The Office. This morning, I stand by them. As painful as it is for me to say it, this television show is becoming a chore to watch. Laughs have been few and far between this season, and last night's episode was the second in a row where I didn't laugh a single time. Not once! What happened?
Nearly all of the characters have lost their charm. Pam, for example, used to be an enjoyable second-tier character. Now, she's just a cranky, two-dimensional bitch. Every episode this season has seemingly revolved around her being unhappy and depressed (even the wedding episode). This is getting really old, really fast, and it needs to stop.
Here's my idea on how the show can recapture its greatness by the end of this season: Michael needs to fire Pam, Jim, or possibly both. There's no tension in this show anymore, and shaking things up big time is the only way I see it coming back in a legitimate way. The first few seasons of this show captured the awkward tension that made the original British series so wonderful. Sadly, that tension has been lost (though it was oh-so-briefly revived in the "Lover" episode from this season). If Pam were to be fired, a whole new tension would arise: between Jim and Michael at work, Jim and Pam at home, and things may even spill over onto the rest of the cast (by the way, has anyone else noticed how little air-time the secondary characters have gotten this season?).
For the past two weeks, I've diligently watched this show and not once have I laughed. The Office, I'm putting you on notice. Three strikes, and you're out of my TV lineup.
A recent newspaper review for the new computer animated movie 9 warned that the movie isn't necessarily kid-friendly, and that young children will most likely be scared from the post apocalyptic setting. Shouldn't the PG-13 rating indicate that kids under 13 probably shouldn't be watching it anyway? Why does the reviewer jump to the conclusion that, because it's animated, the movie is for kids? It frustrates me that Americans think animation belongs solely to children. The medium should be taken way more seriously than it is. Foreign films like Princess Mononoke (another PG-13 film) are proof that animation can be used successfully for adult topics. Someone out there needs to buck the current trend and develop an animated movie purely for adults; maybe something that's rated R. Though I can only imagine all the angry parents complaining that the movie was "too adult" for their kids.
Why can't Americans just grow up?
[I originally tweeted some of the following thoughts, but decided a blog post would be a better place to share them, hence the disappearance of said tweets.]
I've recently been going through the original Star Trek movies (with William Shatner, et al). Prior to watching the films, I started with the first season of the original series, which is available instantly on Netflix. Sure it's dated, but I think the original show is terrific. There are a number of interesting moral dilemmas which occur through various episodes, and often some interesting conclusions to said problems. After watching the first season (I actually have one episode left, as of this writing), I started watching the films. Here are some thoughts on the ones I've seen so far.
- Star Trek: The Motion Picture
- The premise of this movie is fantastic (an ancient man-made machine becomes self aware). Sadly, the film's execution of the story falls flat. I guess you have to start somewhere though. 3 stars.
- Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
- The 22nd episode of the first season of Star Trek introduces Khan, a super-human who escapes 20th century Earth with a number of criminals. Kirk and company find him and his compatriots frozen in space in a spaceship named Botany Bay. I won't spoil the ending of that episode, but this movie essentially picks up that story line 15 years later. Things have taken a turn for the worse for Khan, and he's out for revenge. Ricardo Montalban is outstanding as Khan, and the movie plays out in dramatic fashion. I gave this movie 4 stars at Netflix, but it probably merits more like 4.5. Outstanding science fiction.
- Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
- I enjoyed this movie, though it's nowhere near as gripping as the second. The story was enjoyable, and you've got to love Christopher Lloyd as the Klingon commander. 3 stars (3.49 in my book, not quite enough to round to 4).
- Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
- Like the first movie, this film has a terrific premise. A strange probe shows up on Earth, draining all power sources as it orbits overhead, and begins evaporating the oceans. Mankind presumes the probe is trying to communicate with humans; turns out it's trying to contact another species on Earth. Again, like the first movie, the execution here falls a little flat. It quickly turns into a fish-out-of-water movie similar to Crocodile Dundee, another film from 1986 (and a movie I absolutely adore; one of my favorite movies ever, strange as that may be). The comedic undertones are enjoyable, but water down the admittedly pro-environmentalist plot. 3 stars.
I have two more films to go: Star Trek V: The Final Frontier and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. I'm looking forward to both. I'll probably tweet my thoughts on those two, once I've seen them.
The 30th annual Festival for the Eno is coming up next weekend, July 3-5. If you're in the Triangle area in North Carolina, be sure to check it out. Tickets are $15 at the gate, and most (if not all) of the money goes to conserving the Eno River. The event is "trash free" (over 90% of trash is either recycled or composted) and a great way to spend a day. Over 80 musical and dance groups will be performing on 4 stages during the 3 days. Add to this great food, art vendors, and the beautiful West Point on the Eno setting, and you have a recipe for a great time.
I'll most likely be out there on Friday; if you see me, be sure to say hello!
Way back when I signed up for Netflix, I added a bunch of movies I had never seen to my queue. Several of these movies fall into what I call my "list of shame" (I'm borrowing the term from Dan Trachtenberg of the The Totally Rad Show). These are movies that everyone but me had already seen, and are fairly seminal. Yesterday, Dustin and I were discussing what qualifies a movie for the "list of shame" and I'm not sure I have a steadfast rule. For the most part, it's a movie that, if I told most anyone I hadn't seen it, they would say incredulously, "You haven't seen that?!?"
Anyways, I thought it would be fun to share a few movies from my list, along with the rating I ultimately gave it at Netflix (using their 5 star rating scheme):
- Beverly Hills Cop (5)
- Big Trouble in Little China (4)
- Billy Madison (4)
- The Birds (4)
- The Blues Brothers (4)
- Caddyshack (3)
- The Dirty Dozen (4)
- Doctor Strangelove (5)
- The Godfather (5)
- The Godfather: Part II (4)
- The Goonies (4)
- Groundhog Day (4)
- Happy Gilmore (4)
- It's a Wonderful Life (4)
- Jaws (4)
- Saturday Night Fever (4)
- Scarface (4)
- Smokey and the Bandit (4)
- Spaceballs (3)
- Tron (4)
For the most part, I really enjoyed every movie on this list. And I can now say "yes, I've seen that" when asked by someone about these movies. There are still a few upcoming movies on my queue that fit this bill (including Citizen Kane, The Godfather: Part III, and Blazing Saddles). Do you have movies on your "list of shame?" If so, what are they?
Tonight's season finale for The Office was pretty weak, in my opinion. To begin with, I was a little miffed that it wasn't an hour long, but after the show was over, I was glad it hadn't been. I'm not sure I could have stood another half hour of boredom. The only redeeming part of the episode was the tension between Michael and Holly. Here's hoping that things get back on track next season!
What did you guys think?
The Office has really seen a resurgence in quality over the past several weeks. I lamented once before about a perceived downward spiral for the show, but tonight's episode was a real throwback to the good old days of seasons 2 and 3. Other recent episodes have been equally as strong, making the show a joy to watch again. Michael's tension with his new boss Charles is truly palpable, allowing the viewer to share those awkward moments that made the early seasons so fun.
It looks as if the writers are setting things up for a huge season finale. We get to see Ryan for the first time in a while in the next episode (which is two weeks from tonight), and hilarity should ensue as Michael and Pam set out to start a new paper company. Will Michael hire Ryan as an employee in his new company? Could Holly make another appearance at the end of the season? Will the folks at Dunder-Mifflin realize that, despite his antics, Michael Scott is the right man for their company?
I can't wait to find out.