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April 14, 2014

I Guess I Just Don't Get It

Most of my friends enjoy The Big Bang Theory. They rave about the humor. Most of them claim to laugh out loud while watching it. I have tried to enjoy it. I originally watched the premiere and the second episode when it debuted, and didn't laugh at all. Didn't even crack a smile, actually. Since then, I have repeatedly watched episodes on the cable channels that air it ad infinitum. I would guess that I have seen somewhere around 40 episodes at this point (it is hard to say because it seems like the same 15 episodes are on a lot). During that time, I have smiled a couple of times and have chuckled or outright laughed twice. Yes, twice.

My issues with it, and so many other "comedies" currently on the air, is that it pokes fun at the audience. And I don't like being made fun of, I guess. I, and many/most of my friends, enjoy comic books, sci-fi/fantasy movies and shows, science, and tend to be on the smarter side of society, yet the four main characters on The Big Bang Theory look and act nothing like us. Those characters are beyond stereotypes; they wind up being caricatures of what someone who is not a nerd or a science geek thinks these people are like. Geek- and nerd-dom have come a long way, baby. Most of us are pretty average, can carry on a conversation, are productive and interesting members of society, and dress in our work's dress code or jeans and polo shirt on weekends.

I dislike Sheldon the most, because his character is the most irritating: he's presented as a genius but actually is portrayed as a buffoon. I've known, schooled, and worked with some wickedly smart, high-IQ individuals and Sheldon reminds me of none of them. While a few were socially inept, that was mostly from being mildly autistic and/or incredibly introverted, not from being an ass with a one-track mind. Many of them were just as socially able as anyone else, and a few were the 'life of the party' types.

At my last few comic book shops, it was not at all unusual to have women browsing the shelves. The guys who run my current comic book shop are more used to seeing my cute wife than they are me, because she works nearby and it makes more sense for her to pick up the comics most weeks than it does for me to drive in. A few of my female friends also frequent the store, play games there on gaming night, and would be considered attractive.

Sci-fi and Fantasy movies and TV shows would not be as successful as they are without a strong female audience, as they (females) tend to be the driving force behind what a couple or a group watches (more so than the males). So showing them as either not being involved or being condescending toward what the "geeky" guys like is simply wrong.

When I go back and watch old episodes of Cheers, MASH, Cosby, Frasier, and even newer shows like Seinfeld and Friends, they don't make fun of the audience. They poke fun at that specific character on the show. Rather than turning "the fat guy" into an indictment on all fat people, they would poke fun at that specific character and his specific fallacies and failings. 'Joey' on Friends and 'Woody' on Cheers were not written as Everyman Idiots, they were nuanced, caring, considerate, and had their areas of expertise or understanding. All of the characters on these shows were fully-formed human beings, not stereotypes. When I watch comedies today, I don't see that; in general, I see stereotypes and caricatures that, like on The Big Bang Theory, are often not even accurate to reality. The characters in question then seem to be a stand-in for the audience and all the humor seems to be directed at those watching, rather than at the characters on the show.

And too many shows are cancelled before they can hit their stride and get the chemistry right. Go On was improving with each episode, as the writers were starting to really get the characters and tone of the show down when it was cancelled. What could that show have become if given a little more of a chance?

On top of all of this, there are a plethora of shows, like Arrested Development, Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Portlandia, and New Girl that we just don't find funny. At all. Even remotely. We keep wondering how they are even classified as comedies. They seem to be primarily sad dramas about miserable people either being miserable or making others miserable.

In the end, while I agree that the five main actors (really, seven now) on The Big Bang Theory have good chemistry and comedic timing, I simply don't like the characters they portray, the humor they try to convey, nor the over-use of badly written stereotypes. As this seems to be the case for so many comedies today, I think we just need to let it go and move on.

April 10, 2014

The Death of the PC has been Greatly Exaggerated

The "death of the PC" has been greatly exaggerated by the media for the last few years. The PC, which, by the way, stands for "personal computer," is simply in  moment of flux as the concepts around personal computing change.

Most people in the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s did not need a full blown desktop or laptop computer for how they used the machine. The vast majority of people only needed someplace to store and retrieve photos and videos, a way to connect with the Internet, a way to connect with their friends and family (via email, blogs, and now social media). The vast computing power provided by a desktop, whether Apple or Window's based, was not needed nor used by the majority of people.

Tablets and smartphones have been around, in some form, since the early 1990s. However, it took significant leaps in technology and user accessibility before either became truly successful in the early to mid-2000s. It required additional refinements for each to become the ubiquitous devices we use today.

Apple's creation of the iPad and iPhone hit the right combination of user friendliness, options, and usefulness to get it right. Once a successful model was in place, the computer manufacturers were off and running. For many people, especially those for whom work and/or "power" gaming are not required, the tablet was all they really needed, and it was usually much cheaper than a laptop or desktop model because it focused on their needs only. The laptop and desktop are more generally usable, but that generality comes at a higher cost. The tablet and smartphone simply connected users to the Internet and to their family and friends. It allowed them to view videos and read the news that was important to them. And it was ultra portable, so they could take it with them wherever they went as opposed to chaining them to their desk or the limited portability of the much larger, heavier, and more awkward laptop.

So, yes, obviously the sale of this new tablet/smartphone personal computer ate into the sales of the old desktop and laptop personal computers. However, while the vast majority of people only need a PC that does those simple tasks, there are still many people who require more power to do what they need to do.

If you are serious about graphics applications, do significant amounts of work on a PC, or are a serious gamer, a tablet simply will not work for you. It does not have the power, accessibility, or lifespan needed to do what you want to do. Graphics applications, like video editing and serious drawing programs, require a level of CPU processing and power that simply cannot be found in tablets today. Many can only really be used in serious, high-end laptops (those referred to as "desktop replacements" or "mobile desktops") or on desktops. If you are writing a significant amount each day, you certainly don't want to do that on a non-ergonomic device like a tablet as you would have repetitive motion issues within a short order. And, if you have any desire to play the latest and greatest MMOs, FPSs, or sports programs, you need a dedicated graphics card, a lot of memory, and the fastest Internet connections, which you simply cannot get from a tablet or smartphone. A day may be coming where the tablet or smartphone can do these types of activities. But it isn't here yet.

The sudden creation and nearly ubiquitous use of "the cloud" for computing in the last few years has led to further advancements in how we interact with our PCs. For example, if my mother (or mother in law) said she needed a new PC today, I would probably steer her toward a Chromebook (or similar device) over a laptop, desktop, or tablet. It is a low-cost, easy-to-use, hard to get wrong device that uses primarily free tools via the Internet (most specifically, Google's free online Word suite replacements) to provide utility to its users. The current generation allows (limited) use offline as well as (full) use online, so you are not completely without your data. The OS is kept updated invisibly to the user and all virus protection and safeguards are on Google's end. For someone like my mother, this winds up being a nearly perfect solution to her PC requirements as a retired teacher who likes to write, stay in touch with her family and friends, have portability in her device, but also needs comfortable usability (as it is more like a laptop and less like a tablet).

In today's PC market people have a lot of choice. They can get the device that services their needs without getting a lot of extras they do not. For the vast majority, a smartphone, tablet, or Chromebook device is the perfect answer. Some still require the extra power and flexibility of a laptop or full desktop, however. The numbers on sales of "PCs" (i.e., desktops) are stabilizing at what will be their new normal and these articles about the "death of the PC" will slowly ebb as well. At least, until the next leap forward.

April 4, 2014

Random Thoughts, April 4, 2014

Quick thoughts:

  • The Republican party, in general, is considered the party that wants small government and government to stay out of peoples' lives. So why is it that it is currently the party so incredibly invested in making decisions for women and homosexuals? Why do they want government so involved in the private lives and bedrooms of females and gays?

  • On a related matter, you cannot provide something that so many people want for so long and then take it away without repercussions. Which is why the backlash against the (primarily) Republican party's assault on women's rights will have severe repercussions going forward. Abortions and reproductive issues have existed for over 2,000 years; just because you make it illegal now does not mean it will stop. You just make it into a "back alley" scenario again until the women get mobilized to legalize it once more. And/Or make the politicians who took it away pay for their arrogance.

  • It is April and we still have snow actively on the ground. We just had a snowstorm/blizzard that dumped enough snow to cause up to four foot drifts in our driveway. I'm sick of winter now. This is the longest winter has held on since I moved here.

  • Oh, and why is the right-leaning media so involved in questioning Global Warming because this winter has been so harsh and cold? Apparently, being "news" people, they didn't think to look up what that actually means but, instead, took the words themselves to mean that everything should be getting hotter, not colder. When, in fact, Global Warming actually means that, while the overall trend is toward a warming of the Earth, short-term that means weather instability and wild fluctuations. Those fluctuations include colder, wetter, longer winters, more tornadoes and hurricanes, hotter summers and falls, more active draughts and rainy seasons, and fewer mild, "normal" days. Why can't they simply report the facts?

  • News media in general is not reporting actual news anymore. Have you noticed that CNN, FOX News, MSNBC, et al, are primarily filled with opinion shows? This is because a) there simply isn't enough hard, verifiable news to report on a 24-hour news network and b) you don't have to fact-check and hold to news standards those who are expressing opinion. A corollary to this is that the networks then make those opinion shows look as much like a news show as possible to confuse and mislead the public into believing what these talking heads say is news fact and not personal opinion. To my mind, this should be illegal. 

  • I like to do new and interesting things on my birthday -- going bowling, going to a museum, attending an aquarium, doing a new activity. However, so many things in our area don't open until May or June that I'm left with few good options for a birthday party. It's a little depressing.