Wednesday, November 09, 2016

About last night…

Obviously, a number of things came to mind when I heard. This has remained at the top of my mind:

(Wait, there's more…)

Friday, June 10, 2016


I'd been saying, lately, that there have been too damn many Rolling Stone special issues this year. Bowie. Prince. It was a relief that the Pink Floyd issue had been a salute rather than a memorial.

Now, I've lost someone who won't get a Rolling Stone cover, and won't have a thousand blog posts telling the world what we've lost and why we should be glad they were here. Just me (and a few Facebook pages), to tell anyone passing by why we'll miss my brother-in-law, Joe.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

In which I become a cranky old guy

I was conversing with someone on Twitter, and the back-and-forth conversation got me involved enough that I thought about making a blog post, mostly because I didn't have enough time to continue the discussion, but also due to the fact that it's hard to get too complex with a discussion on Twitter. (I love Twitter. It suits my style, about 99.9 percent of the time. But it does have its limitations.)

Specifically, we were talking about the choices in entertainment these days. While it's true that there are more thoughtful and nuanced choices than ever before, it seems that there are also more (so, so many more) movies, shows and other forms of media that cater not only to the lowest common denominator, but apparently to the lowest level possible.

That got me into one of my "Get offa my lawn" moods, where I begin to grouse about all the things that just plain rub me the wrong way about much of modern entertainment, including some things that I used to enjoy. It's hard to say exactly what it is that bugs me, but a few things have begun to make themselves apparent:

  1. There are an awful lot of things based around unlikeable characters. Not just a few annoying sidekicks or antagonists, but in a lot of cases the main character, if not the entire ensemble. I can understand that these are interesting characters, but only on a purely conceptual level; some of these characters are so repulsive to me that, if I had to spend more than five minutes in the company of such a person in the real world, one of us might not survive.
  2. I have a lot less tolerance for drama than I used to. One of my current favorite movies is "84 Charing Cross Road", with an almost complete lack of conflict, and very little in the way of dramatic tension. I've seen an awful lot of drama among the various persons I come into contact with on a regular basis, and I may have passed the saturation point for fictional drama.
  3. I've come to feel that "The journey is the reward". I don't look for a story that will bring me a surprising or thrilling ending (or even developments along the way), I look for stories that I can enjoy over and over, taking my enjoyment from the overall structure, both in the tale and in the characters involved in it. 
  4. My time is more precious to me. If I find myself feeling assaulted by someone else's idea of an entertaining evening, I'm likely to just get up and leave. If I can't easily do that, I may retreat into a form of solitude afforded by earbuds, iPod, and/or iPad. There's not much I can control, but what I can, I will.
Those are things that come easily to mind; there's probably a lot more to this shift, but I'm pretty secure in my awareness of these things I put down so far.

And yeah; this is all about me. You can do what you want, and like what you like; you do you. What I'm saying here is: I don't have to put up with it. And, so far as possible, I won't.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

My Favorite Obsession...

No, not that one. Maybe I should say, one of my favorites, especially as I close in on finishing a project I started researching over a year ago:

I'm building a 3D printer.

There are advantages to living in the future.

I first heard about such things over a decade ago, when only a very large business (or more likely, a fairly large and technically-centered college) could afford the several thousand dollars it took to buy one, much less buy the supplies to keep it running. They sounded interesting, but far from being anything I could ever get my hands on, much less own.

In the past few years, though, something happened, something that would change everything.

The patents on all those printers started running out, and anyone with a mind to could (legally) make their own. More importantly, they could share what they knew with anyone who was interested.

By 2006, the RepRap project was underway, with the goal of developing a self-replicating, rapid prototyping machine, one that could make (at least) most of the parts needed to build a copy of itself. The project has a page at, with instructions for building a growing number of printer designs, the 3D model files needed to print out more parts, and a history of how the project grew and changed over the years.

I first became intrigued at the idea of the 3D printing movement when I saw an issue of "Make" magazine with the Makerbot Thing-o-Matic printer on the cover. At the time, I was discouraged to discover that the printer was still out of the impulse-buy range, going for around $500, but it was still something I could plan on getting when I had enough saved up.

I was crestfallen when, after some time, I found myself in a position to be able to consider making a purchase, but the Thing-o-Matic was no longer available, and its replacement was up in the thousand-dollar range, too much for me to consider a practical price.

So, I relegated the idea of owning a 3D printer to the realm of pipe-dreams, and went on about my business as usual. Then, one day, I discovered that there were other 3D printer designs, and though the cost for an entire printer might still be in the hundreds of dollars, I could buy the necessary parts a few at a time, and only the printed parts might be hard to come by.

Now, I was intrigued. I began comparing printer designs, pricing the parts for the different models, and slowly worked my way through all the options I could find until I had a few I was watching carefully, waiting until I could find a source for those precious printed parts.

Finally, I found someone with a set of printed parts for the RepRap Huxley for sale through one of the sites that sold kits and parts to eager would-be hobbyists like me, made by established hobbyists around the world. (Not an exaggeration; those first parts I bought were made and sold by someone in Germany.) There were several variations for that one model, as well as the particular components, and this set of parts had most of the parts I had found in my research to be the most practical and reliable variations to be had.

For days after I ordered the parts, I waited eagerly for them to arrive, hardly able to imagine what they were like for all the time I'd spent looking at them on the various pages dedicated to the hobby, and the picture of the particular set of parts I'd ordered. Finally, they arrived, and I immediately began carrying them around wherever I went, trying to explain to everyone I showed them to what they were for, how they'd go together, and how they'd been made by the same thing I was planning on building.

I tried not to be a crashing bore about it, but I'm fairly sure I failed miserably. I was very excited, and tried to communicate my excitement without coming across as a fanatic. Again, I most likely failed.

In the following weeks and months, I began to buy the other parts I was going to need. The parts I bought were made for using 6 millimeter smooth and threaded rods, but I had seen some indications that they could be adapted to use 1/4 inch rods instead, which was a relief after I found that metric rods were going to be hard to come by, or expensive to order.

One stumbling block was the lack of a detailed bill of materials for the model I was trying to build. I had some measurements, but no list of the number of nuts, washers, or particular length of rods I was going to need. Still, I managed to put together the parts a few at a time, trying to buy more than I'd need without having too much left over at the end.

Then, I reached the point where I was going to need more expensive parts than I was able to buy at the time, and my enthusiasm slowly began to wane. I stopped working on the printer frame, and the parts I'd assembled began to collect dust in a corner. I only rarely looked in on the world of 3D printing, and hardly thought of what parts I still needed, since I was still a way from needing them.

Finally, with my birthday approaching, I started to think about my printer project again, looking over my options for the electronic parts I'd need to control the whole contraption, the nozzle to melt the plastic, the plastic itself, and a power supply for everything.

So, now I'm at a point where I just need a few more parts I can pick up as I come to their place in the project, and I'm getting excited at the prospect of being able to do some of the things I imagined when I first started thinking of what I'd do if I could get my hands on one of these amazing machines.

A couple of other sites of interest:


A good starting place if you're curious about what people make with these 3D printers. People can post their designs, and pictures of their prints of other designs. One popular category: improvements on parts for printers.


A site that lets you combine basic shapes to make more complex shapes, then download them to print, and/or send to Thingiverse to share with the world. A fairly jaw-dropping example of what's possible is the Pocket Tactics series of gaming figures and pieces.

EMaker Shop

The site I got my first printed parts from, and where I'll likely sell some sets of parts once I get my printer going. Like I said earlier, literally all over the world.


The 3D printer that really sparked my imagination and started me thinking that maybe I could get one of these machines after all. Small, reasonably priced, and designed to be more easily portable; it's capable of being folded and put into a laptop bag. The company is now working on designing a new generation that will be even more portable (preliminary designs are at their old site,

I love living in the Future!

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Catching Up With The Doctor

Well, another series/season of Doctor Who is done, we're still waiting for the 50th anniversary special, and Matt Smith is officially leaving the role of The Doctor at Christmas. Here are some highlights of the most recent season, in my own opinion.

"The Asylum of the Daleks"

Amy and Rory are having... difficulties, the Doctor is having trouble with getting the TARDIS to get him where he wants to go (and stay away from where he doesn't want to go), and things are about to get much, much worse before anything could get better. If it could.

"The Power of Three"

A somewhat quiet episode, with more of a focus on the Ponds and their relationship with the Doctor. Not that all those little cubes have appeared for no reason at all...

"The Angels Take Manhattan"

The Doctor and the Ponds are relaxing in Central Park, the Doctor reading a book, but when Rory goes for coffee, the Doctor suddenly finds him in the middle of his reading material. The fact that River Song is also in the story can't be a good sign, but it's just the start of the trouble they're in, and there may not be a way out.

"The Snowmen"

Christmas, Victorian London, and the Doctor is very much out of sorts. Doesn't want any part of adventures, doesn't want to meet anyone, and definitely doesn't want to be saving the world. Just one word could make him change his mind. And there's something familiar about that barmaid...

"The Bells of Saint John"

Now the Doctor has a real mystery to sink his teeth into, so he's retreated to a monastery. In the 13th century. A support call about the Wi-Fi is the last thing he expected, and just the beginning of the last piece of his puzzle.

"The Rings of Akhaten"

Clara wants to see something awesome, so the Doctor takes her to the first place he can think of. There are, however, some complications once they get there, and Clara's past may be the key to solving their predicament.

"Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS"

The Doctor wants the TARDIS and Clara to get along, but when he shuts down the shields in deep space for some driving lessons, a salvage rig gets the wrong idea, and all of space and time may be in jeopardy if they can't all work together and find each other deep in the TARDIS corridors.

"The Name of the Doctor"

Something is abducting the Doctor's friends across space and time, leading the Doctor to the one place he should never go, and Clara to the one thing she has to do. And the mysteries and secrets don't stop there...

In between some of these episodes are some prequels and side stories which add a bit of background to the main stories, but aren't vital to understanding what's going on. As ever, every episode of the series has some sterling moments, but these episodes, for me, are overflowing with 'em. If you haven't already seen all of them, these are my picks for the ones you really ought to give a try.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Essence of Doctor

A list of some of the episodes I consider exemplary, in the best sense of the word, of the Doctor Who experience, in order of their release:


A shopgirl encounters something scary after hours at work, is saved by a very strange fellow who proceeds to blow up her place of work, and has her life changed forever. Our first introduction to the new Doctor, as well as hers. Sets the tone for the series in fine fashion.

"Father's Day"

Rose wants to see her father, who died in a car crash when she was too small to know, and can't resist the chance to save him. The complications that ensue are anything but predictable, and the emotional consequences are dealt with compassionately.

"The Parting of the Ways"

Part 2 of the series (season) ending tale, with Rose and the Doctor facing the Daleks and the end of humanity... and the end of the Doctor, or at least this Doctor.

"The Christmas Invasion"

First episode of a new series, with David Tennant taking up the mantle with admirable panache. Earth encounters an aggressive alien species, and the Doctor is having trouble completing his new incarnation, leaving Rose to try to fill his shoes.

"The Girl in the Fireplace"

The Doctor comes to the aid of a frightened French girl in the 18th century while investigating a space station in the far future. Sweet and heartbreaking.

"Love and Monsters"

An episode from the point of view of someone who's been trying to find out about the Doctor since he was a child and found the Doctor standing in his kitchen one night. A fan's ultimate dream with sobering consequences, and lots of Electric Light Orchestra.


The end of the second series, with Rose and the Doctor taking on the Cybermen, Rose's dad alive in an alternate timeline, and another parting of ways.

"The Runaway Bride"

From the end of "Doomsday", as the Doctor leaves Rose behind, Donna Noble appears in the Tardis in her wedding dress, having vanished during her walk down the aisle. Catherine Tate brings a comic energy to her time with the Doctor, turning down the chance to fly off with him at the end.

"Smith and Jones"

Doctor-in-training Martha Jones meets patient John Smith at her hospital, which gets transported to the surface of the Moon by rhino-like aliens searching for a dangerous fugitive. Mr. Smith is a Doctor unlike any Martha's ever met before...

"Human Nature" and "Family of Blood"

A two-part adventure revolving around the Doctor going to ground in 1918 as a professor at an English boarding school, submerging his very being to escape detection by a body-snatching family of aliens bent on obtaining the secrets of a Timelord. Martha, taking on a position as a maid at the school, is the guardian of the Doctor's very self, having to make difficult adjustments and deal with the Doctor falling in love with the headmistress, as well as 1918 attitudes toward class and race.


Another episode that revolves around the Doctor in his absence. A young woman investigating an old house with a friend discovers a message to her from the Doctor... behind the peeling wallpaper... from 1969, warning her about Weeping Angels, and a hidden message on DVDs warning her not to look away or even blink. Then her friend goes missing...

"Utopia", "The Sound of Drums", "The Last of the Timelords"

At the far end of history, near the end of the line for mankind, the Doctor finds, or rather is found by, someone he thought was dead and gone. The consequences back in the 21st century are, to say the least, far-reaching, and Martha Jones comes to a conclusion regarding her time with the Doctor.

"Partners in Crime"

Donna Noble and the Doctor are both investigating a company making claims that seem to be too good to be true... for a very good, and very bizarre, reason. Equal parts suspense and slapstick as Donna and the Doctor take to the timestream...

"The Doctor's Daughter"

Martha, Donna and the Doctor try to sort out a war on a barren planet, and the Doctor finds himself with an instant daughter, courtesy of a tissue sample and a quick-cloning machine...

"Silence in the Library" and "Forest of the Dead"

The Doctor takes Donna to a library covering an entire planet, which is strangely deserted, and somehow linked to the dreams of a little girl. Then, to the Doctor's dismay, they meet an expedition led by archaeologist River Song, who seems to know quite a bit more than she's telling about the Doctor. And she has a sonic screwdriver. That she says he gave her...

"Turn Left"

What would have happened if Donna had never met the Doctor? And how can she get back?

"The Stolen Earth", "Journey's End"

Davros and his Daleks, bent on destroying all of space, time, and reality, are met by a determined lot: The Doctor and a group of past and present companions. Hardly a fair fight to begin with, but add a couple of Doctors to the mix, in an unusual way...

"The End of Time"

A two-part special, with the Doctor trying to overcome a prophecy of his own end, an adversary who won't stay dead, and an entire planet that shouldn't be...

"The Eleventh Hour"

The Doctor has just regenerated, blowing up some important bits of the Tardis in the progress, and crashes in the backyard of a girl who has a very scary crack in her wall. Matt Smith begins a new chapter in the life of the Doctor, with Karen Gillan as Amy Pond, a girl who has a lot to deal with in the first place...

"The Time of Angels", "Flesh and Stone"

River Song catches a ride on the TARDIS in the middle of space, leading the Doctor and Amy to a crashed ship and far too many Weeping Angels. Then the crack from Amy's wall shows up...

"Vampires of Venice"

The Doctor is determined to put Amy and Rory's wedding back on track, so he takes them to Venice for a romantic getaway. Vampires are definitely not part of the plan...

"Amy's Choice"

Visiting Amy and Rory in their little village while they wait for their first child, the Doctor and companions nod off... and wake up aboard the TARDIS, with an unpleasant visitor who poses the question: Which deadly situation is the real one?

"The Hungry Earth", "Cold Blood"

An excavation is losing people, and Amy becomes one, swallowed up by a hole in the ground. Then the trouble starts...

"The Pandorica Opens", "The Big Bang"

The Doctor gets a message from River Song that the mythical Pandorica, the perfect prison, is about to open. When it does, there are a stunning number of surprises, beginning with the end of the universe. And River is aboard the TARDIS as it's about to explode...

"The Impossible Astronaut", "Day of the Moon"

The Doctor gathers Amy, Rory and River Song in Utah, to plan a trip to 1969 and space. Then something really big happens. And there are aliens nobody can see...

"The Doctor's Wife"

Finding a distress message from a Timelord, the Doctor finds himself face-to-face with a woman claiming to be the TARDIS. And Amy and Rory are aboard...

"A Good Man Goes to War"

Amy's been kidnapped, her baby's being taken from her, and the one man in the universe you do not want to get in the way of is on his way: Rory. And River Song knows what's happening... and won't come to help. Or maybe she can't...

"Let's Kill Hitler"

The Doctor's still looking for Amy's daughter, her childhood friend Mels is on the lam, and they all end up in 1938 with a killer robot and Berlin full of Nazis. And suddenly, a lot of things come together...

"The Girl Who Waited"

When the Doctor takes Rory and Amy to a planet with a wide array of scenery and a deadly plague, opening the wrong door puts Amy on a different timestream from Rory and the Doctor... and means Rory has a choice to make.

"Closing Time"

Stopping for a quick visit on his way to a date with Destiny, the Doctor can't resist investigating a store that keeps losing staff, so the Doctor gets himself a new job. And River finds something unexpected waiting for her...

"The Wedding of River Song"

The season comes full circle, as does all of history. Time is out of joint, the Doctor has to put it right, and River will do whatever she can to keep that from happening... because of how it all started...

The Doctor is inside my head.

Well, it finally happened, as it inevitably would.

I've found my Doctor.

After forty-odd (some very odd) years of nerdhood, with Doctor Who as a pleasant faraway hum in the background radiation of SF pop culture during my lifetime, I finally started watching the most recent series. (Thank you, Netflix!) (Thank you, too, iTunes Store, for carrying the newest episodes within weeks of airing!)

I started, naturally enough, with the first episode of the first series, "Rose", introducing both the new Doctor and his new companion, Rose Tyler. A romp, it was, with living plastic people, some fun special effect work, and banter between the characters to keep things fun. Enjoyable, but not life-changing by any stretch of the imagination.

Then, a few days later, having a rare evening to myself, I started looking through the episodes, trying to find and finish one I'd actually caught the first few minutes of back when we still had cable (between the kids viewing various Law & Orders and godawful "reality" shows) (No, I don't miss cable, why do you ask?) and stumbled onto the first David Tennant episode, "The Christmas Invasion".

Life-changing experience, anyone?

It wasn't the story, the monsters, or the effects that got me. It was the characters. Especially the Doctor, this Doctor in particular. Playful, intense, adventurous, dashing, clever, and witty. All the things I wish I was.

Hooked, is what I was.

So, every few days, I'd treat myself to another jaunt with the Doctor and company, and then I got daring and put it on when the rest of the household was in but not watching anything. We watched several, or rather I watched several, interspersing with "Sherlock" episodes, and the rest would get sucked in for the big dramatic scenes every now and then.

Aaand then... I started the series with the newest Doctor.

I'd heard of the change, and some small bit of the inevitable controversy, not long after the first episode aired, with an interview with Matt Smith and Karen Gillan about their taking up the roles of the new Doctor and his new companion, respectively, well before I'd fallen down the rabbit-hole (or the Tardis' Vortex, if you will), and was slightly hesitant to see what had changed in the world I'd only just discovered myself, though I'd known about it for most of my adult life.

My first reaction was an entirely irrational "Why wasn't I told about this?". The stories were even more carefully knitted around time and the characters and how they affect each other, the characters were even more delightful to watch, and there were so many more levels to the whole experience.

"Hooked" doesn't even begin to describe it. I now have most of the latest series with me at all times, I listen to it on while I'm driving to work and while I'm working, and when I have any chance at all, I'm watching one of two episodes that have captured my imagination like nothing before: "The Big Bang" and "The Wedding of River Song".

If you know these two episodes, you probably know some of what makes these two resonate so strongly with me; there's a deeply romantic undercurrent to both of them, a strength and a vulnerability to the Doctor that I can't resist, and a few more personal connections: The Doctor's companion, Amy Pond, reminds me quite a bit of my stepdaughters, one of whom got married recently as well; and the connection between River Song and the Doctor makes a great big bell sound in the romantic part of my brain, particularly since I married my wife some twenty-five-plus years after we first met.

How could I possibly resist?

And why would I possibly want to?

And so, to the real point of this post: If you don't already follow the Doctor, where would be a good place to start?

That, I think, depends on what you want out of the relationship. (And make no mistake about it, a relationship it is. Much of Great Britain has grown up, literally, with the Doctor in their minds as much as Superman and The Lone Ranger is over here in cowboy country.) If you're just curious and want to see what all the fuss is about, "The Christmas Invasion" might be a good place to start; if you like to skip ahead to the good bits, "The Eleventh Hour", the first with the current Doctor, Matt Smith, makes an excellent jumping-on point, with "Amy's Choice" and "The Big Bang" hitting all the essential character arc points, at least in flashbacks.

And, of course, if you're ready, really ready for someone to whisk you away from everything you know and show you something amazing?

You know what to do.