Thursday, May 31, 2007

Quote of the week

Alexandra Gill of the Globe and Mail reviewed the Vancouver Police concert, and I think she meant this as a compliment:
Sting, now 55, was divinely slithery - in a sexy Sanskrit serpent, Kundalini yoga kind of way - with his rippling biceps, piercing blue eyes and wiggling hips.
I think she means he's hot.

Plz be respecting feudalizm

You know when you finally take notice of something and then suddenly you see it everywhere you look? The lolcats have invaded the mainstream media lately, and through a convoluted chain of connections from a Globe and Mail article, I discovered that Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog and he asketh: I can hath cheezburger?

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

I tried, I really did

It's 11 p.m., I'm exhausted and sunburned (no, I didn't go anywhere tropical or even particularly warm - I am just that pasty white), have to get up early for work tomorrow, and I'm only half done the House review. I'm still plugging away but I know I'm going to crash before it's posted. I have a long day ahead, but should be able to finish up by late tomorrow. I think. I promise this is the last time this season I'll break my promise to get it up by a specific day.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Last late review of the season ...

I'm on holidays, in a hotel cruelly removed from my East coast FOX feed, and while I've managed to sneak an hour to see the show, no House review until late Wednesday.

Monday, May 28, 2007

No, not like the Fireman's Ball

What's that horribly blurry photo of, you ask? That's The Police in front of "4,000 of (their) closest friends" (so said Sting) during last night's fan club performance in Vancouver, before tonight's launch of their reunion tour. Which, yes, I will also be at.

Nearly every time I told someone I was going to The Police concert, I had to explain, "you know, the band with Sting, not the cop concert."

I've known since I was about 12 that I was a little in love with Sting (not that you can tell, but he's on the left in that photo), but now I'm a little in love with Stewart Copeland too (you can tell he's behind the drums). He's goofy.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Where's Solomon when you need him?

A recent article on's Viewpoint and Analysis section hits on a couple of my personal pet topics. Health reporting needs the QALY treatment shows the lack of context of most of our healthcare-related news, and in doing so, points to Canadians' hypocritical view of our healthcare system.

Stephen Strauss's article starts with the unthinkable question that has to be thought of:

How much is a healthy, happy human life worth to you? How about a year of that good life? A month? A day? An hour?

If this is not a calculus that you ordinarily apply to yourself, then you aren't in tune with the coolly — some might say cruelly — rational way provincial health systems try to decide whether or not to use the public purse to pay for a new drug or a procedure.

The classic unit of measure is a QALY — pronounced Kalee — or Quality Adjusted Life Year. ... If a new drug gives you six months of extra good health, for example, and it costs $50,000 over that time, then it costs $100,000 per QALY.

You don't get it both ways - you can't champion universal health care and believe that every treatment, no matter how costly, no matter what its rate of success, must be funded. A sustainable system of universal health care means making hard decisions about the best use for a finite pot of money. And no matter how much we raise taxes or cut spending, that pot is always going to be finite, and there will always be more screening tests and treatments and procedures out there than money to fund them all.

In the news, we're regularly presented with the people behind the treatments rejected as having unacceptably high QALY scores (not that any hint of a cost-benefit analysis is mentioned). In these instances, the media tend to step out of the role of reporters and into the role of advocates, presenting the human interest story devoid of any context in the hope that an outcry will sway the cold, dead hearts of the decision makers. Never mind that those hearts are governed by brains trying to consider the overall good, while the media is looking for a good story.

Oh, look, here is a man with incurable colorectal cancer who wants to have Avastin. Too bad, said [Dalhousie bioethics professor Nuala] Kenny, the article doesn't tell us the drug only increases survival times by an average of 4.7 months and it costs $7,200 a month.

Oh, there's that woman with breast cancer demanding to get the drug Herceptin. It does work, but benefits cost so much that Derek Machin, chair of the British Medical Association's private practice committee, offered this doubting review: "I am advised you have to spend 500,000 pounds ($1.09 million Cdn.) to get a difference from one patient on Herceptin. If you treat 20 patients it will make a difference in one of them. How much are we actually going to spend to make a difference? Nobody has a solution."

It's insulting that the media think we can't handle the other side of the human interest story. Maybe Canadians would think differently about our health care system if we actually understood it. Maybe we'd see that it's based on a philosophy we actually do support, and look at the hard decisions with new eyes. Or maybe not, and with new understanding we'd be in a better position to support or agitate for meaningful changes that might help the man who wants Avastin, or the woman who wants Herceptin, or even the sufferers of diseases that haven't attracted media attention.

Strauss has a proposal on how to get reporters and therefore the public to consider the overall implications of the health care human interest story:

Every time a health-policy sob story appears without being qualified by a QALY or something like it, I am going to send an e-mail to the reporter and institution he or she works for. It will say: "Very sad, but how much longer would your person live and at what cost. And what does that say about the viability of the system as a whole. Please send me this information."

I guarantee you that when 100 e-mails arrive after each QALYless story, editors will — within short order — tell their reporters that pathos and bathos aren't enough. That their stories need statistical context, if just to keep that annoying QALY patrol away.

I predict that if you use the e-mail power the Internet god has given us, we can make the media treat us like people with brains as well as hearts. At least we can try.

I think he's tilting at windmills - I don't think people want to have their sad stories of the underdog fighting the system tempered with statistics and logic - but I'll take hopeful over cynical any day. I'd like to think we can handle the truth - all of it.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

See, it's a cat. It's not Beethoven.

You might think I'm posting this video of a cat playing piano because I'm a crazy cat lady who got a small taste of catblogging with the lolcats and it acted like a sweet, sweet sip of rum to an alcoholic. But no. The video itself is only half the point. It's some of the YouTube comments inspired by the video that compelled me to post.

Stupid Person #1: i can play better than = not impressedd
Voice of Attempted Sanity #1: but your not a cat =P

Stupid Person #2: umm...the cat isnt playing. she's just putting her paws on a piano. (which makes a sound) wow. (my dog can do better. ^^)
Voice of Attempted Sanity #2: I think you're missing the point. It has nothing to do with whether or not she is creating subjectively "good music" for us to listen to. It's just fascinating to see Nora interested in the connection between her pawing and the sounds that it makes. It is a really rare thing to see. She is obviously intrigued by it and well... to some of us it's very charming. :)

Stupid Person #3: How is it fair that this stupid cat has as many stars as the guy who can play every mario song perfectley at 30 perfectley timed keys and key combinations per second??!
Voice of Attempted Sanity #3: Because this cat doesn't have opposable thumbs to help it nor does it have quite the human memory to actually try to do the above. And it's three.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

I really don't get the Internet

On, the free blogging platform I just switched away from for the TV, eh? site, the top blog listed on the dashboard stats always used to be Scobleizer, former Microsoft "technical evangelist" Robert Scoble's blog. Then I started noticing this site called I Can Has Cheezburger? hitting the top spot most often. How could I resist checking out a site with that title?

Turns out, checking it out didn't really solve the mystery. The subtitle of the site is "lolcats tagged for your convenience (also for ur lol*s)".

Um ... huh? What's a lolcat? Wikipedia tells me it's an image macro used on forums. Um ... huh? My forum experience is pretty limited, and I'd never seen anything like these out in the wild, but I Can Has Cheezburger has pages and pages of cat pictures - and dog pictures and walrus pictures - with mangled English captions. And it gets more hits every day than one of the most popular tech geek blogs out there. It gets over a quarter million hits a day. Crazy.

Slate has a hilarious slide show essay on the lolcat phenomenon, Cat Power: You Cannot Resist Lolcats. It taught me even more:

A reader pointed Dash to a San Francisco Chronicle article about MeowChat, where people maintain cat identities online and speak in a cat language that slightly overlaps with lolcat speak. (Genius detail: Some cat lovers disdain MeowChat because it implies that cats are not intelligent, evolved creatures.)

I'm sure this is exactly why those Clean Slate Internet guys want to make sure the Internet can handle future demands on it. Gotta make room for the lolcats.

I think they'll have to make the tubes bigger ...

I find this kind of news interesting, even though I don't understand half of it. Over the weekend, the technology section of the Globe and Mail had an article on the Clean Slate Design for the Internet Project. Untangling the World Wide Web touches on the ad hoc way the Internet has grown, with resulting security and bandwidth issues. Writer Christopher Dreher says:

Because of ad-hoc innovations, the Web has become a kind of unwieldy trailer park of technology – where security and even fundamental stability remain highly problematic.

For me, this is all interesting partly because of what anyone who's anticipating the convergence of the Internet with television and movie delivery systems -- or the possible evolution of the world wide web into a three-dimensional virtual world, or who wants to watch a lot of porn -- has probably heard by now: the Internet as it exists today does not have the ability to handle that traffic.

The Internet was not designed for Second Life or “adult entertainment” videos either – high-volume, resource-consuming uses of the network. If just 1 per cent of the DVDs that NetFlicks sends to customers every day were downloaded, we would need a tenfold increase in the current core capacity of the Internet.

So a group of scientists at Stanford University are not looking at ways to continue "jury-rigging" solutions for what they see as fundamental flaws of the current structure. They're looking at wiping the slate clean, starting over, in a controlled and planned manner. It all sounds so ... scientific.

“In every other high-tech field, it's usually typical to see massive innovation,” Prof. (Nick) McKeown says. “And although we've seen huge implementation of new applications, Internet technology is built on the same ideas it was built on 40 years ago.”

Even those involved in the Clean Slate project don't necessarily believe it will wipe out the existing web -- they're cautious scientists out to test a hypothesis, after all -- though it might offer a parallel system with fewer of the limitations.

Although the work at Clean Slate involves highly technical considerations – such as a redesign of the wireless spectrum allocation to better use limited network capacity – its success could greatly affect our daily lives.

Better wireless spectrum allocation, for instance, would finally mean faster and more foolproof data communication between handheld wireless devices such as phones and PDAs. It would also fulfill at last the promises of devices that combine the capacities of a television, a DVD player and a home computer.

Likewise, improving network security would mean that instead of spending billions of dollars preventing spam, virus attacks, malicious hacking and other dangers, businesses could expand on some of the life-altering real-time uses imagined by pioneers of the Internet.

Remote surgery, for instance, has been performed on a very limited basis since its first success in Canada in 2001. But it can take place only over dedicated fibre-optic cables because the Internet networks used by the general public have too many unforeseen variables, including security concerns and possible blips in connectivity.

These issues also prevent a range of other industries and many critical infrastructures – such as water and electric plants or airports and highways – from fully using the Internet. “If air-traffic control were run over the public Internet,” Prof. McKeown says of the current system, “then I wouldn't fly.”

Even a clean slate solution might have issues of its own, though. Besides the admission that innovation is unpredictable (“No one could have predicted that the Web would come along,” Prof. McKeown says. “And the same type of unforeseeable thing could happen."), there are challenges the project expects to face:

The real hitch? Ask telecommunications companies such as Bell and AT&T, which became Internet providers in the mid-1990s in the hopes of making huge fortunes. “One of the dirty little secrets of the network is that the network infrastructure is not economically sustainable or profitable,” Prof. McKeown says.

In fact, he wonders if the only economically sustainable model for the Internet may be a nationally funded or regulated infrastructure – or some sort of government monopoly. (Though he adds that, “in the current economic and political climate” of the U.S., proposing this idea “is nearly suicide.”)

Another thorny issue facing advocates of a “clean slate” approach to the Internet is how to balance privacy and security concerns. Making the network less open to spam and viruses, for example, also means curtailing the freedom and anonymity of the Internet.

Still, it's exciting stuff. Whether they're on their way to a whole new Internet structure, or coming up with solutions that can run in tandem with the current Internet, or just taking a hard look at how to improve a flawed system, it's a huge step towards even more innovation in an arena that has been nothing but mind-blowing innovation in a short period of time. Well, innovation, and a whole lot of porn.

For more, see Stanford's Clean Slate Design for the Internet site.


"I'm fairly sure that if they took all the porn off the Internet, there'd only be one website left, and it would be called Bring Back The Porn."
- Dr. Cox, Scrubs

Monday, May 21, 2007

TV Review: House - "The Jerk"

It's quite the shock to realize that the jerk of this episode's title is not House, at least not exclusively or even primarily. Nick Lane as rage-prone teenager Nate is possibly too effective as the mini-jerk. From the unmodulated bullhorn voice to the constant, not-particularly-funny smart remarks, the fictional kid is not someone I'd want to spend even an hour with. Not even an hour between 9 and 10 p.m. on a Tuesday evening. I realize this confession reveals my own jerkdom, but it was the first ever House episode where I was rooting for the patient to die. I'm not completely heartless – I would have settled for a prolonged coma. Even a persistent vegetative state.

There's a lot of brats in this episode, from House to Nate to the clinic patient's son to the writers – I can't believe they opened with a head exploding threat. How am I supposed to block the head exploding scene of "Resignation" out of my head with reminders like that?

House is back to his usual level of jerkiness, apparently off his antidepressants and ruining my chance to pontificate on what he learned from Wilson's coffee-doping trick in the previous episode. Here's my updated pontification: nothing. He's learned nothing.

Nate, who has absolutely no redeeming qualities -- unless you count being unconscious for a few minutes out of the episode -- serves to highlight how finely balanced the character of House is. The kid even demonstrates some drug-seeking behaviour to hammer home the similarities to our hero, but the juxtaposition reminds me how remarkable it is that Hugh Laurie takes this bastard who careens between wildly inappropriate nastiness and appropriate misery, always laced with that acerbic wit he's so proud of, and rarely-to-never crosses over into unbearable. If only House had smothered Nate with a pillow during their chess match, I would have extolled his virtues even more.

Nate's long-suffering mother is not unreasonably happy that the initial (and therefore inaccurate) diagnosis of cluster headaches means her son's personality is likely to change with treatment. "I thought I was a bad mother and I hated myself because I hated him," she confesses to Chase.

Mom Enid's journey from that confession to being upset with Foreman for sedating Nate just to shut him up to relief that her kid is going to live, albeit with his current personality, is given a lot less room in the episode than I would have liked. Both the initial confession and the end relief seem natural enough, I suppose, but they're too pat, with no expectation-bending or emotionally impactful scene to make me care that she's facing her son's long, miserable life with more joy than she might have anticipated at the beginning.

Foreman is a bit of a jerk this episode, but he's got reason to be. Someone called to cancel the interview he had lined up with a hospital in New York, starting a chain of suspicion and denial throughout the episode that starts and ends with House. Foreman accuses House of interfering, too childish to ask Foreman to stay instead of playing games with him. House denies it. "Yeah, it was one of the other petty socially repressed assholes I work for," Foreman scoffs.

House accuses Cuddy of being the saboteur in her efforts to keep Foreman:"You are one evil, cunning woman. That's a massive turn on." She denies it, then Lisa Edelstein performs this wonderful chain of expressions from puzzlement to dawning realization. She accuses Wilson, since she thinks it has to be someone who likes House: "It's either you or the weird night janitor who wears his pants backwards."

Wilson denies any involvement, saying he wants Foreman to leave to teach House that he needs someone who will stand up to him: "House is a six year old who thinks he's better off without parents." She doesn't believe him – about the not sabotaging Foreman, not his assessment of House -- since that kind of lesson-teaching doesn't fit the role of Wilson as enabler. I diagnose amnesia: the poor woman has forgotten Wilson's previous attempts to teach House a lesson role in "Detox" and with the Tritter deal.

We get Robert Sean Leonard doing the face of dawning realization, then continuing the chain by accusing Cameron, using the same rationale Cuddy used on him. He also tries to manipulate her into a confession by saying Cuddy thinks it's him and is going to fire him, but she's not fooled for a second. "You so would have fallen for that three years ago," he sighs.

She denies being the one to ruin Foreman's interview, with a bonus denial of not being in love with House, and then Jennifer Morrison gets to do the face of dawning realization. She accuses Chase of cancelling Foreman's interview solely to be a jerk, and he bristles, implying she's a jerk for thinking so, but still managing to spit out his weekly reminder that he likes her and wants to go out with her. It's about as unromantic as you can get without being House, and yet it still made me say "awww."

Chase, not usually the cleverest of the bunch, is the only one to figure out what's going on. Of course he had the advantage of being the last in the chain of accusations, assuming the night janitor who wears his pants backwards was never seriously in the running. He accuses House of not only sabotaging the interview, but manipulating the team into "chasing ghosts" and Foreman into rejoining the land of doctors with contributions to make.

"Sometimes I forget why I hired you," House smiles. He does not, however, take Chase's advice to tell Foreman he wants him to stay, or feel any remorse at costing him that job: "I cost him a crappy opportunity."

"It would make him feel like maybe you aren't evil," Chase insists. "He needs that." I need us not to go down the same road as in "DNR," with the whole "I want some clue that he knows it’s a big deal, that it scares him, that it matters." I need to know Foreman's learned something, even if House hasn't. On the other hand, I need to win my bet that he's not leaving for good, so I guess I do need us to go down the "DNR" road again.

Cuddy gives Foreman another option besides capitulation, offering to double his salary and put him in charge of a competing diagnostic department. He's tempted for a minute, but rejects the offer, since he knows he'll still have to turn to House for the cases he can't solve, and he doesn't want to work for a place that would sabotage his other job interviews. That would be an intriguing, show-changing solution, but my gut tells me they're not ready for show-changing yet. My gut isn't known for being highly accurate, though, so I'll be curious to see how they resolve this Foreman situation.

Later, House cannily preys on Foreman's reasonable doubt that there will be cases he can't solve. Instead of going Chase's route of making nice, House decides to go with his strengths and be a jerk. When Foreman balks at treating the kid for amyloidosis, which he's tested negative for, House points out that he has two choices: argue with him until doing what he asks, or just doing what he asks. When Foreman stalks off, House calls out: "You're not ready," pointing out that the third choice was to stand up to him. "You still trust my judgement more than your own."

It doesn't help that the jerk patient has pointed out that while he understands Foreman's done his best to treat him, his best really sucks. It's almost enough to make me feel sorry for Foreman. He really would have won me over if he'd put something deadly in that sedative he stuck Nate with.

At one point during the differential diagnosis, House says "symptoms don't lie." Really? My world has turned upside down. What about infections that don't act like infections and symptoms that mask other symptoms? I kind of thought the whole show was based on the fact that the symptoms lie and it's up to House to make them tell the truth. Or something. But then House also rejects the idea that Nate might have two disorders, since "it's always one." Really? I also thought many of season two's patients have had some tricky combination of diseases. Maybe I'm suffering from amnesia too.

I wondered for most of the episode why House, in all his unpleasant splendour, held on to Nate's unpleasant personality as a symptom. His rationale was that the kid hadn't said anything appropriate, which is plausible, of course. But this time my gut wasn't wrong.

House only turns on the kid when he faces him down over a chess board, attempting to stress him and therefore prove one of the team's obscure diagnoses. It doesn't work, causing a seizure rather than the expected rage attack. House seems to be more upset about losing the game after the kid goads him into giving up, spending future scenes trying to plot out how he might have won.

He also comes up with the brainwave that maybe the kid is just a jerk, and wipes "personality" off the whiteboard. Foreman disagrees: "You crossed it off because you want to hate the kid, and you can't hate him if he's just a victim."

"You want him to be a victim because you want to believe that people are good, and if they're not, it's got to be a chemical problem," House counters. I don't think Foreman would argue that House is good, but fortunately he's got the drugs and maybe even depression to blame it on.

Once the personality issues are out of consideration, the diagnosis is clear: amyloidosis. Except of course it isn't. After the biopsy is negative, Foreman keeps testing and treating him anyway, and Chase challenges House on his game playing with Foreman, House realizes that the kid's other aches weren't from getting beaten up in the playground but from hemochromatosis, having too much iron in his blood. He lets the grateful mother know that her son will have a long and annoying life, and tells the annoying son how he would have beat him at chess. "I know. I was bluffing. And that's why you lost."

That gives House another move with Foreman. He bluffs again, letting Foreman continue to test for amyloidosis and not revealing that the case has been solved. It's not quite as dramatic or funny a moment as I'd hope to end on, but sure, why ask Foreman to stay when you can just crush his spirit. Maybe House is evil. At the very least, he's quite the jerk.

The children left behind

Now that we know what is on the networks' schedules for the fall after the upfronts, there's an interesting article by Tim Goodman of the San Francisco Chronicle about what pilots we've heard buzzed about that didn't make the cut: Sometimes buzz about TV pilots is just a lot of hot air.

Remember David E. Kelley's remake of Life on Mars? Bryan Singer's take on Football Wives? The TV version of Mr. & Mrs. Smith? M.O.N.Y. from Barry Levinson, Spike Lee and Tom Fontana? Rescue Me's Peter Tolan and Denis Leary and their new NYPD-focused show? "CBS, which has done well lately developing sitcoms, passed on comedy pilots starring, among others, Marisa Tomei, Jay Mohr, Chris Klein, Freddie Prinze Jr., Jeffrey Tambor and Jason Biggs."

Some of the pilots Goodman references might not be completely dead -- there's always midseason -- but big names in front of and behind the cameras don't always help bring their babies to life, either.
So why are so many guesses about what will make it to the schedule wrong? A lot of reasons. Sometimes a show is deemed "hot" because it has a great cast or is developed by, say, Spike Lee. Once a network sees the actual show, it may not be so enthused. Or, in the fickle nature of the business (as exemplified by NBC passing on "M.O.N.Y." and "Fort Pit"), the direction of the network shifts (less gritty, more sci-fi centric). Some of the "buzz" in the business is faux -- meaning it gets generated by agents and studios eager to see their actors and series get picked up, when, in reality, the networks were never that into either one.
An earlier New York Times profile of Dawson's Creek creator Kevin Williamson, who's struggled to match his earlier success, also made the point that name and reputation aren't guarantees in TV.

On May 30, as a result of a corporate pas de deux, “Hidden Palms” will make its debut on CW, the new network formed last year from the remnants of WB and UPN, which ultimately bought the script. Despite the circuitous route that the show took to reach the airwaves, it has survived mostly intact, and so too has Mr. Williamson, a onetime wunderkind, now 42, who has spent the last decade learning that no amount of previous success is enough to guarantee a creator carte blanche.

“I don’t think anyone really has that in television, no matter how much they think they do,” he said in a recent interview at his Sunset Boulevard office. “Even if you have it on paper, you’ve still got to put on your boxing gloves.”

It's always intriguing to think of the what ifs. If pedigree doesn't ensure success, and neither does a good pilot (hello Aaron Sorkin's Studio 60), and neither does audience testing, what is the best indicator? Goodman's article suggests the networks need the numbers of audience testing, even if they mean nothing, to back up their decisions:
Since jobs are on the line here (if a network president launches a terrible fall schedule, he or she cuts their expected occupancy length in the job by roughly half), few executives are willing to trust their gut and instead get swayed by audience testing, one of the least reliable tools you can imagine.
All those potential hits killed, all those misses on the air each season. Programming will never be an exact science, but it sure makes me wish the audience could at least have access to the dead pilots to see if our guts agreed with the network choices. Plus, I just really want to see if Winters was really the House people plagiarising themselves as much as it sounded.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Loving the modern covers

Another discovery from the Very Short List:
On her new album, Wire Waltz, Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter Megan Hickey (front woman of The Last Town Chorus) strips the Thin White Duke’s 1983 hit “Modern Love” bare, transforming a catchy pop tune into a sad, yearning country ballad. Where Bowie’s version was all manic energy, Hickey’s slowed-down cover finds a startling poignancy in timeworn lyrics.

VSL adds: "A great example of an underrated art: the cover version that allows you to look again at the familiar." Here's a couple more examples I'm loving right now:

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Book Review: The Complete Trailer Park Boys by Matthew Sibiga and Don Wininger

The Complete Trailer Park Boys is a book full of in-jokes and telling photos. It's a book full of the joy and derangement of the show. It's a book full of kitties and Coke-bottle eyeglasses. It's a book full of subtitles: "How to Enjoy the Trailer Park Boys When Your Cable is Out!" and "The Official Sunnyvale Fan Guide" are splashed across the cover, along with the disclaimer: "Warning: contains language some may find @#$%ing offensive."

They say you can't judge a book by its cover, but they hadn't seen The Complete Trailer Park Boys, published by Random House Canada, when they said that. You know exactly what you're getting before you even crack open the book, from the mugs of Ricky (Robb Wells), Julian (John Paul Tremblay) and Bubbles (Mike Smith) staring out at you on the front, to the explanation of what's inside the covers on the back – things like episode reviews of seasons one through six, character features, photos, and of course Trailer Park Boys-esque humour: "It's okay, if you like book learnin' " is the glowing testimonial from Ricky on the back cover.

Sibiga and Wininger had access to the cast and producers, even got roles as extras in the show, but few behind-the-scenes peeks made it into the book. The episode reviews are straight descriptions, with no humour or cleverness except in the sidebar features that surround them, like the Rickyisms, best lines, and "nomesayins" – mangled quotes or trivia from the episode – and the "bad boys scale," which uses icons and words to indicate the relative levels of booze, weed, and guns in each episode.

Now that season seven has begun, though, it's already out of date. Which brings up the book's main fault, and it's a big one to me and I'd think to anyone with an Internet connection: this book is a fansite in print form. I'm all about the book learnin', but it feels like a quaint relic, trying to hold on to something better suited to that new-fangled Internet medium. You could Google "Trailer Park Boys" and come up with websites with similar but ever-evolving content. The book has the advantage of glossy pages and prettier pictures, but the major disadvantage of being static.

Still, hardcore Trailer Park Boys fans will get a kick out of a book that's so faithful to the spirit of the show, and if nothing else, it would make a good gift for the hard-to-buy-for fan. You can't gift-wrap a website, after all. Though I wouldn't put it past the boys to try.

Friday, May 18, 2007

But I'm not accessorizing with a cane

Look what a sweet person sent me as a surprise:

It's the House Charity Tee, where misanthropy is put to a philanthropic cause. Proceeds go to NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Even if you don't want a tee, I'm sure NAMI would happily take your money and give you a tax receipt in return. In Canada, consider the Canadian Mental Health Association.

Humanity isn't always overrated. And thoughtful presents never are.

Quote of the Week

LA Times writer Joel Stein defends the upcoming Cavemen sitcom, based on the Geico commercials, which was picked up for the fall schedule when Stein's own pilot was not:
"[Creator Joe] Lawson's great artistic crime is that he took a concept for a medium that sells things and shifted it to a medium whose purpose is to get people to watch the medium that sells things."
He also says "an entertaining commercial is just as legitimate as any other form of entertainment," a bold statement, but tell me this doesn't blow your socks off:

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Web geeks meet TV geeks

The countdown is on to the Banff World Television Festival - my second, its 28th, and I'm looking forward to being a little less deer in the headlights this year. Here's hoping the flood stays away, or I could:

  1. Get caught at work in a state of emergency; or
  2. get trapped by a washed out Trans-Canada Highway.
But chances are:
  1. Slim,
  2. I hope.

There's a great lineup of TV show creators, like Greg Daniels (The Office), Jenji Kohan (Weeds), Rob Thomas (the late Veronica Mars), Chuck Lorre (Two and a Half Men), Mike Clattenberg (Trailer Park Boys), and even TV critics I admire (Bill Carter of the New York Times, John Doyle of the Globe and Mail), and enough behind-the-scenes-of-TV sessions to satisfy my inner TV geek.

But one name I'm newly excited about is one I actually didn't know before: Gregg Spiridellis. He's the CEO of JibJab. What's JibJab? They're the company behind a couple of the videos I've posted here; the company that was invited to create one of their spot-on cultural critiques for the White House correspondents dinner (the one at the first link). Here's the one that really landed them on the viral video map:

I can't find any information on what he'll be doing at Banff, but here's his bio from the festival website:

Gregg Spiridellis co-founded JibJab Media Inc. with his brother Evan in 1999. Launched with a few thousand dollars worth of equipment and a dial-up Internet connection from a Brooklyn garage, their dream was to build a global entertainment brand. In addition to his role as CEO, Gregg is also JibJab’s head writer. In 2004, his lyrics helped spark an international sensation with the release of JibJab’s election parody, “This Land.” The two-minute short and its follow up, “Good To Be In DC!” were viewed more than eighty million times online on every continent, including Antarctica. NASA even contacted the brothers for permission to send a copy of the animation to the International Space Station! JibJab’s productions have screened at the top industry festivals including Sundance, the Palm Springs International Film Festival, SXSW and many others. They have also won awards at the Ottawa International Film Festival, the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival, and D&AD.
These guys are creating sharp, innovative content for this newfangled Internet device, and while I can't quite see how they make money at it, I think they're on to something pretty cool.

The Superbowl ... that's football, right?

I guess I'll have to pay attention to the 2008 Superbowl:

This after the news that House beat American Idol in the 18-49 demographic this week.

Not too shabby.

Monday, May 14, 2007

More House conversations with my brother

No promises for a same-day review this week either-- it's shaping up to be just as hectic as last. In the meantime, more babbles with brother to keep the House fires burning (because there's not enough of that on this blog):

Brother: Another thing I thought was interesting was that House wouldn't let go of the infection theory even when all the evidence appeared to be against it. It would make me wonder if he wasn't a little gunshy after losing last week's patient after missing an infection, if I didn't already know that little things like emotions don't affect him.

I liked House on anti-depressants. It was way different from Happy House with a pain free leg, who was just boring. Happy House on anti-depressants is just like miserable House, only he gets more pleasure out of being sarcastic and nasty.

I took his mentioning the anti-depressants to Honey to be a sign that he was continuing to take them, even showing that he was reluctantly aware they were doing some good, even if he didn't really want to admit it. I don't think if someone spiked my Shirley Temples with Ritalin that I would tell them I was on Ritalin, I would probably phrase it like "Some son-of-a-bitch spiked my Shirley Temples." Although I'd say "double bourbon with a beer back" as code for "Shirley Temples."

Me: Yeah, I took it that way too, but then I second-guessed myself, partly because I'm not sure where they'd go with that long-term. But it was definitely a weird way to say it if he's not continuing to take them so I do believe he is. I just want confirmation before I go too far down the road of what that means. I was going to say "maybe next week I'll get my chance" but since it took me so long to get around to this review, it's more like "maybe in two days I'll get my chance."

Brother: Wilson on speed was great. Probably not a very realistic performance, but funny and entertaining.

I don't think Foreman will be gone for good, but he'll probably be gone over the summer hiatus anyway.

Me: I first took this to be a joke, like they'll all be gone over summer hiatus, but I bet you mean that the season will end with him quitting "for good" and then it will be resolved next season with him coming back? That would be bad, because this ill-defined bet is that by the end of the season I'll be proven right (he might not put it that way). The spirit of the bet is gone for good versus gone for dramatic purposes temporarily, so I don't think he'll object too much to changing the timeframe. I hope.

Brother: I'm pretty sure they wouldn't write him out for the hell of it, even for dramatic purposes. It's a different story if real life intruded though, and Epps didn't want to come back, or asked for too much money or something like that. I know that you'd know if something like that was up, though. I think Foreman will demand a date from House as a condition to coming back.

Me: I haven't been paying as much attention to news about the show, but I still have this feeling that I'd have heard if Epps was leaving. That's part of my certainty. The other part is just knowing the show does this all the time ... goes down the dramatic, series-changing path and then nothing really changes. That's [my betting adversary's] argument for why he's really leaving, though -- because they've already had Cameron quit and come back, and there's already been an episode where Foreman ponders quitting, they can't possibly do it again. But much as I love the show, I think that's exactly the kind of thing they'd do again and again. There's a bit of rumbling out there (and I've done some myself) that they keep hitting the reset button after all these multiple-episode plots.

Also, before this Foreman storyline even came up, [my adversary] had said that at some point he thinks they'll have to shake things up and the easiest way would be to replace a duckling. Though he was talking in another season or two, not now.

Brother: It's too bad Scrubs is coming back, because if Foreman did leave I'd like to see J. D. replace him. Maybe House can relocate to Sacred Heart Hospital. He'd get along great with Cox. "Get along great" meaning, of course, the first episode would end with House's cane up Cox's ass.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Delicious and practical

It's wrong that I want someone I know to have a messy break-up, or bad boss trauma, or something, just so I can send them a chocolate voodoo doll, right?

Yeah, I thought so. Damn.

TV Review: House - "Resignation"

Discussions inspired by "Resignation":

Brother: You probably still haven't seen yesterday's episode, so I won't ruin it for you. All I'll say is that there aren't many network TV shows that can make me yell "Oh, f**k!" out loud in the middle of an episode.

Later, me to a friend: So while watching I was wondering what that moment was. Then when her head exploded ... oh f**k!

Friend: Now really. That can't actually happen. I mean. It can't. Or I can't live in a world where it can.

Me: I'm going to pretend they took artistic license. I mean, they might have, but I don't want to run the risk of finding out they didn't.

Friend: Oh, I'll call that artistic license until my dying day.

House has now ruined one of my favourite expressions. Thinking too hard? My head's going to explode. Something doesn't make sense? My head's going to explode. Someone's being an annoying idiot? My head's going to explode. But no more. Now, the expression is accompanied by a gore-filled image burned into my head. Which is never, ever going to figuratively explode again.

Poor Addie is the teenaged patient of the week whose head literally explodes while she's in the MRI machine. But first, the team can't figure out why she started coughing up blood while kicking butt in karate.

Entering the home of the white board, House starts to read his coffee cup ("People don't ...") when he's interrupted and kicked out until his minions can arrive at his conclusion: the blood has no source.

The reading-the-coffee-cup moment is hardly a joke in itself, except for the backstory made clear in a recent humour piece by LA Times writer Joel Stein. I am a venti scribe starts with his quest to be quoted on a Starbucks cup and ends with an anecdote about his discovery of a grand grande quote by House creator David Shore: "People don't read enough. And what reading we do is cursory, without absorbing the subtleties and nuances that lie deep within — Wow, you've stopped paying attention, haven't you? People can't even read a coffee cup without drifting off." Says Stein: "It was clearly the best thing I'd ever read on a cup, ever. I hated David Shore with every word inside my writerhood."

That's a lot of backstory to turn a two-second clip into a joke, but it sets up an episode full of coffee cups -- and conversations and motivations -- that aren't as simple as they first appear.

Foreman tells his colleagues that he's submitted his resignation, but he won't tell them why. Chase, emulating House a little himself, chooses to turn that into a mystery, and is determined to deduce why neither Foreman nor House will reveal the reason, and why Foreman has, for the first time in recorded history, laughed at one of House's jokes – and a lame one at that. Though "most of your jokes are excellent" Chase brown noses, proving that he's in no real danger of turning into House.

His conclusion is that Foreman and House are ashamed of Foreman's reasons for leaving, and that Foreman really doesn't want to go. Shame and pride have been hot topics lately, and the obvious answer to why House won't ask Foreman to stay is that he's too proud. But if he'd watched the episode, Chase would probably agree that that's not all the evidence suggests.

House seems resigned to the fact that he's going to lose Foreman, and the resignation seems to come from agreement with the reasons for it – that he's in danger of turning into House, and that's not necessarily a desirable trait. After accepting Wilson's latest coffee offering and questioning his seemingly innocent yawn as a symptom, House has an almost-poignant exchange with his friend:

Wilson: You don't want to end up like you. ... You could try bargaining with him. Give him a raise.

House: How much do you think it would cost to make him want to be like me?

Cuddy admonishes him for not making the effort to keep the neurologist. "Have you talked to Foreman yet? You haven't. Because then you'd have to confront your own emotions." House: "Is bile an emotion?"

Instead of focusing on that losing battle, fraught with emotion and all that scary stuff, House turns his attention to the medical mystery. Continuing the recurrence of infections plaguing (but not literally) Foreman, whose misdiagnosis of one killed a patient two episodes ago, House believes Addie has an atypical infection. He persists in that diagnosis despite all evidence to the contrary.

He also bounces around with his camcorder, gets giddy at the prospect of his patient's impending heart attack, shows even more traces of Hugh Laurie's rubber-faced comedic past, and overall seems oddly peppy for a guy continuously proven wrong, or at least not proven right.

Until he is proven right, just not in the way he thought. He's also proven right about Wilson and his yawning as a medical symptom. We see House get amphetamines from the pharmacy for no particular reason – but then does House need a reason to illegally procure drugs? – and then sit at his desk with two cups of coffee and an evil grin.

Wilson is suspicious of the coffee offering from the man who constantly begs, borrows, and steals food and beverages from him. "Because it's either that or I accept the fact that you've done something nice, and then I have to deal with the horsemen, and the rain of fire and the end of days," Wilson explains.

So House and Wilson play a little Vizzini and Wesley, and Wilson takes the cup that was not offered to him. Did House predict he'd do that, or did he lace them both? I'm inclined to think it doesn't take a genius to think Wilson would not take the proffered cup, but I have no idea how someone would act on the combination of anti-depressants, Vicodin, and amphetamines.

Because, as House deduces later, Wilson has been dosing him, too. Scary how alike they are, underneath all that unalikeness. Wilson's experiment is testing if House is happier on anti-depressants, proof that he's depressed. I hope Wilson knows how anti-depressants would interact with Vicodin, amphetamines, alcohol, and god knows what else House puts in his system, because otherwise he's quite the hypocrite for complaining about how dangerous House's experiment is.

What amphetamines do to Wilson is make him jittery and talk a mile a minute. His pep talk to Foreman is less effective than entertaining, and he conducts a highly inappropriate breast exam on a confused patient. Finally Wilson realizes something's not quite right: "I feel like my heart's going to explode." Don't say that, Wilson. Not in this episode of the exploding head. "Excuse me, I have to go kill someone."

The fact that Wilson still yawns on speed is House's proof that the oncologist is on anti-depressants, and he berates him for keeping it a secret. Mid-rant, Wilson cuts him off with: "This is why I take them," but House has the best retort: "They're antidepressants, not anti-annoyance-ants." House implies Wilson's a hypocrite for not mentioning them while lecturing House on how to fix his own life.

"You wouldn't take them," Wilson protests. "You'd rather OD on Vicodin or stick electrodes in your head because you could say you did it to get high. The only reason to take anti-depressants is that you're depressed. You have to admit you're depressed."

It's the line I've been waiting for since "Half-Wit" – some implicit acknowledgment that the buried motivation for House faking brain cancer was something other than getting high, that it was the act not just of an out of control drug addict, but of man desperate for, but unwilling to admit a need for, help.

House would not agree. So it's a challenge he meets by demanding some of Wilson's pills to prove he's not depressed. Wilson, inexplicably – except I've explicted it in this review before the episode did – refuses.

There's an odd, but also funny and sexy, scene in there when Cameron sneaks into House's apartment to wake him up in the middle of the night, since he's not answering the phone (hmm, because of the drugs?). She's getting good at that breaking and entering thing. "What did you do?" she exclaims when she turns on the light and sees his face. "Nothing! This is what regular people look like when you wake them up."

Chase's diagnosis of autoimmune has been proven wrong, leaving only an infection that comes and goes through various body parts on the table again. House is ecstatic. Inappropriately ecstatic and self-absorbed, as his team points out. Foreman considers it yet another sign that his decision to quit was the right one. To House, confirming the diagnosis is all that matters. The fact that it's incurable doesn't dampen his Prozac-enhanced spirits, because his curiosity has been satisfied, and curiosity is what drives him, not that Ben and Jody are losing their only daughter, Addie.

House on anti-depressants is just as inappropriate as depressed House, but in a different way. At least miserable House isn't bursting with joy about the prospect of a patient's heart attack or telling her exactly how she's going to die a painful death.

But House takes Foreman's objections as a clue he wants to stay: "Suddenly you're trying to turn me into a kinder, gentler ass." That sounds like a familiar quest. Maybe Foreman's been hanging out on the Internet.

House takes the point enough to learn the patient's name before telling her she's dying, but he can't help but smile at his cleverness for deducing her rare disease that offered few clues. She shuts him down, though, and won't let him tell her what that disease is. She is a smart college girl - she couldn't have hit him where it hurts any more accurately than if she were Wilson.

"What's the point of living without curiosity?" he rages, but with a smile, which she points out. She doesn't point out that when you're dying, you don't really need a point to live.

Glancing at something shiny, House gets visual proof that Addie is right, he's smiling, and he finally pieces together why Wilson has been bringing him coffee every day. He does not, however, accept the proof of what that coffee has done to him, insisting that he's been hazy rather than happy since being dosed. Wilson scoffs at the idea that a dying girl mistook hazy for happy, leading House to realize that the dying girl was no different than she'd ever been.

His diagnosis just got another layer. A physician telling a patient she's going to die really shouldn't be happy, but a patient being told she's going to die really shouldn't be the same as she was before. Like half the people in this episode, Addie's depressed.

She also chose a strange way to commit suicide, by making kitchen cleanser into a pill, which burned a hole in her intestine, created a bridge between an intestinal vein and an artery, and allowed bacteria to flood through her body. "Surgery to fix the bridge will take two hours. Psychotherapy'll take a little longer," House tells her.

Even though he's solved the puzzle, he goes further, wanting to know why she did it. "I don't know. I've just never been happy," she answers. Depression just might be the unsolvable mystery, at least if he refuses to consider it as a medical mystery instead of an emotional mystery.

Part of the beauty of the character of House is that we're never given a simple answer for why he is the way he is. His leg hurts, his lover betrayed him, his father abused him, but none of that is offered up as a simple equation to explain him away. Like House, Addie can't offer an explanation for unhappiness, though unlike House, she uses excess kitchen cleanser instead of excess Vicodin to deal with it.

He breaks his word that he won't tell her parents if she promises not to attempt suicide again, and makes them think about looking into anti-depressants as well as therapy ... because while the mystery is solved, the patient's life is still at risk. And maybe, just maybe, he can see himself in her.

Cuddy gives Foreman one last thought as they watch Addie's surgery. He thinks she's trying to tell him that House's success rate is all that matters, but she says: "I'm telling you there are worse things to turn into." Foreman remains unconvinced, though: "It's not worth it." I get the feeling House might agree.

House takes full advantage of his clinic time in this episode, diagnosing a not-terribly-attractive man with cheating on his terribly attractive girlfriend. While she's strangely resigned to that – "I get it," she says – House adds that the cheating is of a dietary nature. The vegan nutritionist's boyfriend has been sneaking cheeseburgers. House moves in on the woman who has decidedly unsuperficial taste in men.

Honey (can we call that irony, since honey isn't technically vegan?), as played by Piper Perabo of Coyote Ugly, is kinda dumb (Wilson: "She's 26." House: "With the wisdom of a much younger woman."). She's kinda pathetic. She's kinda flaky. But she's very, very pretty. That's all it takes to make her House's type, apparently.

In the end, when he meets her in a bar under the pretense of doing a job interview, there's a glimmer of something else. A woman who can listen to his listing of failures – and if anything, he's under-reporting – with a "how miserable can you be, saving lives, sleeping around, and doing drugs?" just might be more of a match for him than appearances would suggest.

While his confession to her shows a huge degree of self-awareness and an unusually large degree of honesty for the man, it's hard to say if his revelation that he's on anti-depressants is a sign that he's going to continue taking them voluntarily. It would be strange to use the present tense if not, but then again, he doesn't go so far as to admit he's depressed, just that his friend thinks he's depressed. Whatever he's learned from Wilson and Addie in this episode, I doubt we'll see a shiny, happy House from here on out. Even if he is getting it on with a beautiful nutritionist with low expectations.

Oh, one more conversation inspired by "Resignation": the bet has now been declared on national radio. My competitor said to CBC: "They've done the duckling-gonna-leave plot before. If he doesn't actually leave, that's schmuck bait. But I think he's actually gonna go." Will Foreman really leave? I say only a schmuck would think so.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Everybody lies, even upfront headlines

House review coming tomorrow (really) [EDIT: hey, everybody lies, remember] but it's been loooong days at work communicating to people that they need to seriously prepare for something that probably won't come to pass. In the meantime, the upfronts are starting, when networks roll out their fall shows to advertisers, and it's always a fun time to scan the headlines.

In more reliable news, the LA Times reports on the ABC shows announced today. One picked-up pilot, Pushing Daisies, was named by a possibly reputable source (or maybe it's not ... I can't remember where I read this) as one of the best pilots ever for network TV. That may be an exaggeration - I can't quite remember what I read, either - but it was highly complimentary, anyway. Here's the LA Times description:

“Pushing Daisies” is about a baker who, besides making fabulous pies, has another gift. He can bring dead people briefly back to life. So he starts working with a private investigator, bringing back his childhood sweetheart from the dead, but then she won’t go back. Another formidable cast: Kristin Chenoweth, Anna Friel, Swoosie Kurtz, Chi McBride and Lee Pace as Ned, the gifted baker. Created by Bryan Fuller (“Dead Like Me,” “Wonderfalls,” and “Heroes”).

I'm sure I'll add that to the PVR list in the fall, despite my reluctant aversion to Chi "Evil Vogler" McBride. One show that I'd also add, but its fate is yet to be determined, is the pilot by House creator David Shore and former House writer Peter Blake and starring Famke Janssen, called Winters, described on the Futon Critic from an NBC media release:

Detective Christie Winters knows how to read people, and one thing she knows for sure...everybody lies. The suspects, the cops, even the victims. She's smart, sexy, tough-as-nails and willing to do whatever it takes to solve a case. But when she's paired with Detective Luis Nelson, a man of faith who sees good in all people, Winters faces her greatest challenge yet. With no boundaries and a dark past to hide, the biggest mystery of all is...who is the real Christie Winters?
That doesn't sound familiar at all.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Define irony, take two

Because we had such a crappy winter here, we have to wish for a crappy spring. But not too crappy. Cold and dry is what we're hoping for, to prevent the record snow pack from melting quickly and overflowing the Fraser River.

My home will remain dry, my workplace will remain dry, though in the worst case scenario, it might be a challenge to get from one to the other. That'll be the least of it though. Work lately has involved hoping for the best but planning for the worst, which is seeing one of our hospitals go underwater. And in the meantime, preparing our employees for the possible disruptions to their jobs, their patients, and their lives.

It's yet another reminder that everyone, no matter where they live, whether there's a known impending natural disaster or not, needs to be prepared to be on their own, with their own supply of water, food, and emergency supplies, for 72 hours.

OK, public service announcement over. Now I'm off to try to get in the right mood to keep my fingers crossed for the sun to go away.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Not gonna happen

No House review tonight. Shh, I haven't seen it yet.

Monday, May 07, 2007

TV Review: Durham County

Durham County, a new original series from The Movie Network (eastern Canada) and Movie Central (western Canada), is creepy, eerie, disturbing, dark. And I mean all that as a compliment. There is a definite style and sense of place in Durham County, though it's not any place I recognize or am eager to visit.

The six-episode series is set in sinister suburbia, where power lines dominate the grey, occasionally surreal landscape.

Hugh Dillon, former lead singer of The Headstones and Hard Core Logo star, brings an understated intensity to the role of Mike Sweeney, a big city cop who's recently moved his family to the suburbs to start over, after his partner is killed on the job and wife Audrey (Helene Joy) is recovering from breast cancer.

But the beautiful new house hides an interior in perpetual mid-renovation, and their cozy neighbourhood includes Mike's old nemesis Ray Prager (Justin Louis), whose new hobby is copycat serial killing. Everyone and everything in Durham County hides something to mar the seemingly smooth surface.

There's no central mystery at the heart of Durham County. The point is not to unravel who the bad guy is; it is, in a sense, to unravel who the good guy really is. You want to root for Mike, and you do, but Durham County doesn't make it easy for you to side with him over the serial killer.

The revelations build steadily, inevitably, and characters are entangled in unexpected ways, to the point where I can't reveal much at all without revealing too much.

There's a grim humour and eerie whimsicality to the series that doesn't so much alleviate as enhance the tone of ubiquitous menace. The youngest daughter (who barely exists as a character) wears a manga-like mask that is creepier than a puppet head really should be. Older daughter Sadie makes clay figurines and places them in her dollhouse in crime scene poses, a hobby that creeps her mother out probably just as much as she should be.

Laurence LeBeouf, who plays Sadie, has a slight Lauren Ambrose vibe in the pivotal role of the disaffected teen daughter, and Six Feet Under is probably the show closest in tone to Durham County that I've seen.

The acting in Durham County is uniformly terrific, from the fragile yet steely Helene Joy as Audrey to the but menacing but attentive Justin Louis as Ray, but above all, the fierce drive of Hugh Dillon as Mike, nearly as flawed a character as the killers he hunts.

Watch Durham County beginning May 7, 9 p.m. Eastern or 8 p.m. Pacific.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Geek weekend, geek post

Those of you who follow the TV, eh? site closely might have been wondering "What the hell is she doing?" this weekend. I actually had an out-of-town visitor and we had tons of fun in the brief time she was here, but in the times she wasn't, I put on my pseudo-geek hat.

The short version of the story is that I changed the site from the free Wordpress-hosted blog to the open source Wordpress software on a paid host. It's something I've thought of doing since launching the site because of the limitations of free blogging solutions, but didn't want to spend the money on an external host for something I started more or less on a whim.

You'll notice that the site looks a little different, but that was a side effect of the switch -- the templates for the free version are different from the hosted version. The hosted version allows for much greater customization of the templates, though, which is a huge bonus. I don't know quite enough HTML or CSS to make full use of the freedom, but I know enough to be dangerous and tweak things.

Wordpress thank god has great instructions for installation, because while the words were all English, they were strung together in ways that made no sense to me, and yet I still managed to upload the files to my host, create databases, install the Wordpress software, and launch the site with only a few episodes of banging my head into a cyberwall. I also managed to automatically import most of the posts and sidebar information from the old site after a little more headbanging and some deletions to get the import file down in size. The first month or two of posts from the old site now don't exist, and I need to recreate the schedule page, but it seemed like a small sacrifice for less aggravation.

The one thing that always bugged me about the free Wordpress hosting is the JavaScript ban, which leads to limited web stats. Wordpress has built-in stats which let you see what sites and search words are referring to the site and which pages are getting hits, but the information isn't connected -- you don't know what referrals are landing on which pages, and there's no information on who these visitors are. To supplement that, I used an HTML-only version of StatCounter, which tells me where my visitors are from and when they visited, but none of the other information the fully functioning JavaScript StatCounter would give you. So I don't know what page the person from CanWest in Calgary landed on or what someone searched for to get to a particular post. That information isn't crucial, but it is helpful for site marketing purposes and curiosity-fulfilling purposes.

JavaScript plus the private hosting also allows me to put up the Amazon ads you'll see now, and maybe accept other advertising I've until now had to turn down because the free Wordpress hosting didn't allow for commercial activity of any kind. I know no visitor is going to say "Yay, ads!" but it's not like I'm going to start soliciting for the porn marketers ("but it's Canadian porn") or creating pop-ups. The Amazon ads let me point people to where they can buy Canadian TV products while hopefully helping to pay for the hosting and domain fees. I'm guessing there's no one on the planet retiring from Amazon Associates revenue. I kind of doubt most people can pay for hosting and domain fees from Amazon Associates revenue, either.

The switch was not without problems, though. I set the new site up on my personal unused domain name for testing before switching over the domain, but then had a bit of a scare post-switch: for some people, some of the time, didn't work but did. After some supremely unhelpful support from my domain name registrar and much more helpful support from my new hosting company, it seems the most likely cause is the user's cache, and it should be a temporary problem. I'm not entirely confident that's the actual cause, but the randomness of the problem makes me think that shrugging is as close as we're going to come to solving it.

I'm still working with the hosting company on why the tv-eh domain only shows up on the home page, while the domain name I don't want visitors to see shows up on the other pages. I have faith it will be resolved soon.

When I first launched the site last summer, it was with the free domain That address was doomed to die with the switch ... but it's only a little dead. Wordpress support insists there's no way to redirect from a site hosted by them to one hosted externally, so I figured I'd just have to rely on people changing their bookmarks and links manually. Which is true, but it turns out I have some more grace time. Post-launch I opted for the paid feature in the free Wordpress version to have my own domain,, map to Now that points to the new site, it in effect acts as an automatic redirect. Wordpress doesn't seem to want you to know it will work that way.

A more serious problem that made my heart sink was to find out that the new site had a different way of naming pages and posts than the old one. Now I get server stats too, which give all sorts of bizarre data I won't care about. But yesterday, seeing all the "unfulfilled requests" from people getting 404 messages from dead search links made me question my decision to switch for the first time. I thought it was something I'd have to live with until Google indexed the new site and gave up on the old, but it turns out there's an option hidden in the depths of the Wordpress software to select the kind of post naming that the old site had. So now the new post names match the old post names and all is good in Googleland.

I'm guessing the pain isn't over yet. The site's Google juice might be affected at first, though maybe not. I have a feeling some RSS subscribers might be left behind. I'll be unable to prevent myself from spending way too much time fiddling and tweaking. Other glitches will come to light, I'm sure. But I know more geek secrets now than I did before, I have a shiny new toy to play with, and the site now has more possibilities than it did before. So all in all, despite the headbanging, I'm satisfied with the switch. So far.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Lies, damn lies, and statistics

One of the many things that drives me crazy about entertainment journalism is the subjective interpretation of supposedly objective data. What drives me crazy about my writing? Unnecessarily convoluted sentences like that one. So an example of what I mean is using movie grosses to slam or praise a movie depending on the writer's opinion rather than an analysis of the numbers.

Remember the idea that Mission: Impossible III tanked in its opening weekend, and how that was blamed on Tom Cruise's undeniably freakish behaviour? It grossed $48 million -- not too shabby by most standards. Compared to the previous two installments' opening weekends, that was seen as a drastic decline. Except, from the Hollywood Reporter:
The domestic debut of the J.J. Abrams-helmed "M:I-3" fell short of the openings of the first two films; however, each of those pictures bowed during a four-day Memorial Day weekend frame. The original "Mission: Impossible" debuted with $56.8 million for the four-day weekend ($45.3 million for Friday-Sunday), and "M:I-2" bowed to $70.8 million ($57.8 million from the Friday-Sunday portion).
The third movie ended up the 194th highest grossing movie in the US of all time, according to IMDb.

I haven't seen any of the three M:Is. I don't care how they did at the box office. But if you're going to throw numbers into your analysis of a movie or TV show, maybe give them some meaningful context.

Why am I rambling about a years-old movie I've never seen? Because I just read two articles in the space of five minutes about this week's special Grey's Anatomy episode that might lead to a spin-off for Addison (Kate Walsh). I saw about five minutes of the special episode, enough to realize that no, I don't miss watching Grey's Anatomy after all. But seriously?

From the Associated Press:
An estimated 21 million people watched Thursday night, according to preliminary ratings - well above the season average of 19.1 million.

From E! Online, quoting the same figures:
For all the hype—and there was plenty—the installment essentially attracted the same number of viewers as Grey's has over the course of the year.
Maybe an average isn't the right number to use here, if you're going to make a point about the ratings. Maybe it's time to break out those advanced high school stats here. What's the range of ratings over the season? Where does the 21 million fit in there? Yeah, yeah, math is hard, but leave it out altogether if you don't understand what the numbers mean. Seriously.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

TV Review: House - "Family"

What's better for a medical show than a child in peril? Two children in peril!

We meet the family of "Family" in the teaser, when Wilson is preparing mom, dad, and youngest brother Matty, who is going to donate bone marrow to his leukemia-stricken brother Nick ... until a sneeze timed for maximum dramatic effect puts that in question.

Post-teaser, we get a family of a very different sort, as House wakes up to his new furry housemate, Hector. Who would have guessed, but House shows remarkable rage control as he surveys the chewed sneakers and books, and picks up his sopping cane before escaping to his other family. Though if Wilson thinks House and his team are family, I can only imagine what his dysfunctional frame of reference is.

The gang congregates in the chapel, where Foreman is apparently trying and failing to find solace after killing last week's patient. House tries and fails to contort the needle in the haystack cliche to explain why they need to make Matty's infection worse in order to pinpoint what's causing it. Because just to twist the knife embedded in Foreman a little more -- to use another cliche -- the diagnoses this episode are similar to last. Infection? Auto-immune? Who's to know. And he feels the need to really know this time.

Foreman isn't thrilled with House's idea and proposes the usual house search for contaminants, which House isn't thrilled with, since they have all the evidence they need in their patient's body. He also sees Foreman covering all possibilities as a sign of weakness. The parents, not surprisingly, are not thrilled at the idea of making their supposedly healthy kid sick in order to treat the definitely sick kid. House is not thrilled that Wilson didn't manipulate the parents into agreeing to the idea, risking a no for the comfort of being the good guy. To sum up: no one is thrilled, though the parents do agree.

It's kind of sweet to see not-always-friendly Foreman and Chase search the house together, commiserating over their respective fatal mistakes -- Chase's way back in season two's "The Mistake." Chase is on a strangely sweet kick lately. I wonder what that's a symptom of? However, Foreman takes little comfort in their shared history, since Chase had been affected by his father's death, while he made a calculated decision. "You acted like a human being. I acted like House."

Foreman's always been troubled by any suggestion that he's like his boss, focused on the case rather than the patient, but if even Cameron's getting less interested in the humanity that comes across their whiteboard, there's not much hope for Foreman. Though the fact that he cares that he might not care means he hasn't been completely subsumed by his boss's personality.

Foreman informs House about a new symptom for that whiteboard, which should narrow down the search for the type of infection:

Foreman: He has acute scrotum.

House: Adorable, please, much more dignified. [Pause] Come on, how am I not supposed to make that joke?

Foreman wants to recheck the donor registry as a backup plan, in case they can't solve the mystery in time. Them's fighting words to House, but he lets Foreman go without a fight, while Chase and Cameron discover Matty's heart has been affected. Plus, being Tuesday, Chase the multitasker reminds Cameron again that he's available and interested in her. It was hilarious last week, but this could get old fast.

House is delighted with the news that they've caused Matty to have a heart problem. "OK, perfect is too strong a word," but it means they can remove the heart valve, identify the infection, and cure the infection in his bone marrow before putting it in his brother.

As part of his new ultra-cautious MO, Foreman goes to Cuddy, who, unlike House, values Wilson's diplomatic and truthful approach to patient consent and leaves it to Wilson to make sure the parents know the options. House also lets Cuddy know that the reason he's cutting Foreman slack is that, like Nick, he has four days left. If he isn't cured of "the yips" (I had to Google to make sure I heard that right --I hate sports metaphors), his loss of confidence, he's fired. And, he says, no one gets cured of the yips.

The parents in this episode -- whose names I don't remember, don't even know if they had names, so unessential were their personalities -- are faced with more ethical dilemmas in an hour than most people in a lifetime. They choose to let Matty undergo open heart surgery for the chance to cure Nick, but don't let their youngest son know the consequences, that he'll be permanently limited physically by the operation, a consequence House scoffs at because it's not limiting enough to be considered crippled. While I was busy being horrified that Matty went into surgery ignorant, Cameron made a fair point: a 10-year-old shouldn't have to make that decision.

Wilson advises them to protect their family as a whole, getting them to agree to the surgery, and House's influence spreads yet again. Except Wilson actually cares that he's betrayed the trust of the parents, as demonstrated in my favourite exchange of the episode:

House: You've got to be kidding me. You're actually upset. You just said what you believe.

Wilson: I also believe in patients making their own choices.

House: Because it lessens your guilt if things goes wrong. You're not protecting their choices, you're soothing your conscience.

Wilson: By that logic a sociopath would make the best patient advocate in the world.

House: Am I blushing?

Only the operation doesn't go ahead as planned, because the heart valve isn't infected, and there's something else going on. Auto immune? Foreman doesn't wait to figure out what that something else might be and approaches the parents about a partial match from the donor registry, which they accept despite the danger of graft versus host disease.

Surprisingly, Wilson is livid and House is not, because Foreman did what he thought was right, and that's one trait House admires. There's that unexpected rage control again. Though just prior to finding out, he had begun to try to kill his new dog, so perhaps it's just passive-aggressive rage.

It becomes aggressive-aggressive rage when directed at Wilson, though. "What is the point in being able to control people if you won't actually do it? " House yells at him, mad that Wilson wouldn't lie to the parents to counteract Foreman, and allowing Robert Sean Wilson to demonstrate the face of "where'd that come from?"

House apologizes not very sincerely when he calls Wilson in to pay for a new cane, replacing the one Hector has chewed through, causing House to collapse in a heap. "You called me a coward, life goes on?" Wilson asks. "Apparently. You showed up," House replies reasonably. If you don't want to be taken advantage of, Wilson, you might want to grow a spine.

House rejects the Marilyn Manson in a retirement home cane, as well as the bull penis cane. As any undergrad linguist can tell you, Noam Chomsky's "creative aspect" of language means we can string together words into sentences we've never heard before, sentences that have never in the history of human utterance ever been uttered. Such a sentence can be found in the cane-shopping scene: "Penis canes are murder."

Instead, House picks one with racing stripes, allowing Hugh Laurie to make his "Bitchin'!" face, and strolls into the hospital to a rock anthem and stylish directorial moves. Once there, he finds that Nick has graft versus host disease that's unresponsive to treatment, will certainly die, and Matty is bleeding out of his ears, headed for death himself. Not so bitchin'.

House's new audacious -- some might say crazy -- plan is to put the infection into Nick so they can see the symptoms speeded up, and diagnose it before he dies, allowing them to save Matty. But this time, Wilson's powers can't control the parents, and no matter how much he tries, he can't convince them to go along with the idea of killing one son to save the other. They won't give up on Nick.

House shows his not-too-shabby powers of manipulation that even Wilson couldn't go along with when he gets rid of dad and confronts a painfully dying Nick, telling him how his life can have meaning by saving his brother. That's low, even for House, but on the other hand, he's doing the math, as usual. Anything to get the best outcome for the case, patient rights' be damned. Nick then pulls every heartstring by pleading with his parents to let him be the guinea pig who will save his brother.

Foreman and Wilson chat amicably but at cross purposes, Foreman still trying to narrow down the infection, Wilson trying to warn him that his job is in danger, and advising him to quit if he doesn't care about his job, fight for it if he does. It seems like Foreman isn't listening, but like Chase, he's a good multitasker. So is Wilson, because he gets the epiphany that's usually reserved for House. The family's house was built over farm land, and chicken manure seeped into the soil, causing a nasty but curable infection.

The parents get the good news that Nick doesn't have to go through with it and Matty can be cured, while getting the bad news that he won't have enough marrow to donate safely.

In a parallel scene to House and Nick, Foreman asks Matty if he'll risk his life to save his brother. Is he fighting for his job after Wilson's pep talk, or has he cured himself of the yips? Probably both - welcome back Foreman. What follows is a horrifying scene of Foreman extracting bone marrow with giant needles into the unsedated boy while he screams in pain. I'm not good with blood; I'm horrible with screaming in pain. Do I love my brother that much? Sorry, Steve, but I'll have to get back to you on that. I wish I could erase that scene from my brain. But, it worked, and the family of four who entered the hospital will leave as a family of four.

The easily-forgiving Wilson continues his attempt to act as House's conscience, encouraging him to tell Foreman he's proud of him. House dismisses the idea that pride and shame have any place outside the family. "How many hours a day do you have to spend with someone before they're basically family?" Wilson asks. I hope my boss never makes me call her "mom."

In my favourite line of the episode, House retorts: "First I gotta tell Cameron and Chase that they're violating God's will."

Since ex-Mrs. Wilson can now have dogs in her condo, so Wilson takes him back, before making sure House really wants to give him up -- the dog he's spent the entire episode trying to kill, only to turn him into a limping Vicodin addict. No wonder Wilson thinks he's another victim of Stockholm syndrome, and no wonder House recognizes a kindred spirit in the cranky dog.

Despite dismissing Wilson's suggestion, House does give Foreman a pat on the back. Maybe the puppy did make him a softie. Maybe he's doing anything to preserve his "family," even swallowing his pride and having the unnecessary conversation.

Throughout the episode, House has harped on the need to do what's right, by the idiosyncratic definition of doing what will provide a successful outcome to the case. Foreman, though, isn't feeling good about torturing Matty, and especially for not questioning his decision with the kid screaming in pain under his hands. As always, he's conflicted about his ability to shut off his humanity during a case, and as always, House can't see why that's a problem.

Foreman: I hate that in order to be like you as a doctor I have to be like you as a human being. I don't want to turn into you.

House: You're not. You've been like me since you were eight years old.

Foreman: You'll save more people than I will. But I'll settle for killing less. Consider this my 2 weeks notice.

I have a bet resting on whether Foreman's actually gone for good or not. I say not. My opposition says they can't go down this "I'm quitting"/"No I'm not " road yet again. I'm not sure what I'm going to win, though -- I've got until the end of the season to decide. Ooh, cocky. House is even rubbing off on me.


Is it possible to be so stupid that you'd accidentally post before you're finished twice in two weeks?


But the whole thing is coming tonight. Sigh. I think I need to change to an offline editor that hides its publish button.