Monday, January 25, 2016

Nerds set Twitter on Fire: Did Football screw up the X-Files premiere for millions??

Well the new X-files reboot has finally started. You could probably tell that I was excited about it ( see my last post The X-Files Revival: 5 Things About UFO)

Finally,  just before 7pm pacific I, like millions of others, tuned into Fox - a network that I honestly don't watch that much anymore because so many of the best shows are on cable channels these days.  Expecting to see the X-Files,  I saw there was a football game on.   That's right - a football game!

So, in one of the biggest sci fi events in years, a public relations and ratings coup for Fox to bring this show back that so many of us are waiting for, and what do we see? Football.  

I, like many other X-File fans, am not a big football fan,  but it looked like the game was almost over so it wasn't worried.  In fact, the game ended on time just before 7pm, so I started looking on twitter to see what people were saying about the X-Files.    

Then 7pm came about, and guess what, the game was over but rather than start the X-Files premiere on time, they were still showing commentary on the game!   So basically, the millions of people who tuned into Fox to see the X-Files were treated to commentary on a football game.

Twitter lit up, and in the old days, pre social media, the geeks among us would have to just grin and bear it while the "mainstream" chided us for not being good consumer-fans of all-american football who jump up and down when their favorite team wins or loses. How can you not like Football - what are you some kind of wimp?

@aspen_musing shows how fox had the perfect strategy to piss off fandom!

@Gretchel expressed a lot of nerds feelings towards football vs. the X-Files.

 As we waited, and watched the talking heads go on and on about football ... nerds were on a twitter rampage - see what @see_clair_write said:

The best tweet may have come form @stevekemple who saw it as a conspiracy from the X-Files CSG (Cigarette Smoking Man) to get millions more to watch football.

Now some of you might say, what's the big deal ... it's just football!   Why was it enough to start a full jocks vs. nerds smackdown??  Look at what @LadyHawkins and @alie_asstrocyte said about jocks vs. nerds.

But for many of us, it brought us back to high school.  Those of you who went to high school before nerds were cool, mind you.  Back then, we were made to feel "less than" because we weren't into sports - and football in particular.  We liked being on our computer more than watching a bunch of dumbasses grab at each other while hunching over on the football field.  We were arguing about Kirk vs. Picard rather than XXX vs. XXXX (OK - see I can't even namey any football stars from my day - maybe OJ Simpson??).

You see, it wasn't just that Fox had delayed the X-Files premiere, but it was like a slap in the face that they had done it for Football - the one thing most nerds are not into and were made to feel bad because we weren't into it!

But don't take my word for it - Twitter started to reflect these sentiments really well!

Plus at that point, we weren't sure if we were going to *miss* the first 20 or 30 minutes of the premiere!

The real problem for Fox though is that today, many millinoso f people watch shows recorded on their DVR/PVR.  And most of us who didn't watch it live simply set our cable box to record it.  Now imagine the surprise of people when they put their kids to bed and sat down to watch teh X-Files - what did they see? 20 or 30 minutes of talk about Football!

Many of these people are pissed off because the DVR only reocred the 30 minutes of the show! That means they missed half of the premiere episdoe!  And the next episode is on tomorrow night! That means that unless they can see it on demand, or Fox airs it again, Fox just screwd up the whole mini-series for them!

Way to go Fox - as far as fuckups go - this was a big one!

For those of who did manage to tune in, while I'm excited to watch the next episode monday night (I will provide a review once I've seen more episodes), the truth is still out there - thankfully the football season is almost over so there can't be any monday night football, can there???

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Saturday, January 16, 2016

The Truth Is Out There: 5 Things You Need to Know about UFOs for the Upcoming X-Files Revival

“They’re here, aren’t they?” said Fox Mulder to his secret informant, known to viewers only as Deep Throat. 
“Mr. Mulder,” began the old man, in a reprimanding tone, “They have been here for a long, long time.”
As many of you know, the X-Files revival starts soon (the new six episode mini-season picks up, appropriately, 13 years after the X-Files went off the air). Just recently, they had a premiere in Los Angeles of the first episode for the new mini-season, and Fox recently released a 1 minute clip online.
For those of you who don’t know, the X-Files was one of the most popular US TV series in the 1990s, at its height averaging 20 million viewers per episode. The main protagonist Fox Mulder, is an FBI agent whose sister was taken from their room when he was a kid, in what Mulder believed was an alien abduction. This fueled his lifelong obsession with paranormal phenomena and uncovering the truth about UFOs, Aliens, and a global conspiracy. I watched the show religiously with friends, staying in on Friday nights when it first came on, before it got really popular and moved to Sunday nights.
Years later, when I became an executive producer on the documentary Thrive: What On Earth Will It Take, made by Foster Gamble and Kimberly Carter Gamble, (one of the most watched documentaries of all time), I started to do a little research on this subject on my own. I found out that while many Americans believe in UFOs, there tends to be a lot of misunderstanding about the phenomenon and about the people who’ve had these experiences, particularly in the minds of many of my “scientific” oriented friends.
So, just in time for the X-Files revival here are 5 things you may not know about the UFO phenomenon that inspired the X-Files:

1. The X-Files wasn’t purely science fiction, according to Chris Carter.
Like many others fans, I took the X-Files to be “simply” an original work of science fiction, which sprung from the mind of Chris Carter, the show’s creator. While the series is fiction, Carter himself will tell you that that many of the elements are based on real-life accounts.
When I started to investigate on my own, I started to meet people in the UFO community and hearing their accounts. The stories I heard sounded a lot like what I had seen in the X-files. The implants, the eyewitness accounts of triangular craft and bright lights, the cases of missing time, all of these have been reported by numerous witnesses.
 In fact, I was told by a mutual friend that Chris Carter discouraged his actors from attending science fiction conventions because the X-Files wasn’t purely science fiction. In preparation for the upcoming revival, if you watch the very first X-files episode, Pilot, and watch carefully, you’ll see that it says, “The following story is inspired by actual documented accounts” at the beginning of the episode. I actually met Chris Carter last year, before they started filming the new season, at a UFO-related event in San Mateo, and it was clear that he was continuing to research what people had to say on this subject — perhaps some of his new research will show up in the revivial.

2. Myth: Only people who wear tinfoil hats and tabloid reporters take UFOs seriously.
One of the persistent myths about UFOs and people who believe in them is that it is a fringe group of people who “live off the grid” and wear tinfoil hats. After having been to a dozen UFO events and interviewing hundreds of people, I haven’t seen a single tinfoil hat (OK I saw one but that was fro teh benefit of reporters who wanted to take a photo of “weird UFO people”). In fact, I have met intelligent people from all walks of life — scientists, engineers, people who worked for NASA, to independently wealthy businessmen and women, to retirees. The only commonality I could find was confidence in what they’ve seen and experienced, and strong belief that the “truth is out there” and that it should be investigated more seriously.
There are many well-known people who have had UFO sightings, and many who support finding out the truth. . In Los Angeles, Dan Akroyd is a well known proponent of UFO research. John Podesta, who served as an advisor to President Obama and Chief of Staff to Bill Clinton, has been very vocal about his interest in the subject and his desire to get the truth out, a process known to UFO enthusiasts as “Disclosure”. John Podesta tweeted in 2014 that his biggest regret in working for the Obama white house was that he was unable to secure disclosure of top secret UFO files.
In fact, Hillary Clinton, was recently asked about UFOs by a reporter in Conway, New Hampshire while campaigning there. Mrs. Clinton said she believed we might have been visited by aliens in the past, and that if elected president, she would get to the bottom of it.
And UFOs are not just for tabloids. Leslie Kean, a serious investigative reporter, received a copy of a report from retired French generals that said that they believed the UFO phenomena was real and should be investigated seriously (called the “COMETA” report). Kean’s book, UFOs: General, Pilots ,and Government Officials Go On the Record, is a great book for those who know nothing about the phenomenon or are inclined to dismiss it out of hand. There have been many pilots, many members of the military, and many other government officials who have been willing to speak on and off the record and Ms Kean does a great job of presenting finally about this phenomenon. It’s a shame that this myth is so prevalent that many “serious” scientists and engineers won’t even take the time to read books like Ms Kean’s.

3. Myth: There is no evidence of UFOs.
Many skeptics say there is no evidence that UFOs exist. They’re not quite right. First of all, there are tons of photographic evidence of odd “unidentified” objects flying over both rural and urban landscapes. The next argument is that these pictures are all photoshopped — a charge that doesn’t hold up when the photos are from the 60’s and 70’s — I’ve seen some of these older photos, some taken by the members of the military, and they are very convincing. Moreover, when there are multiple witnesses that corroborate the photographical evidence (like in the Phoenix lights incident — more on this one below), the skeptic’s view that they are all doctored doesn’t really hold-up.
And then there are literally thousands of eyewitness reports –ranging from places like O’Hare airport to Rendlesham Forest in the UK (in a famous military sighting).
If that isn’t enough evidence for you, Emeritus Professor of applied physics at Stanford, Peter Sturrock says, “radar evidence” is physical evidence, and there have been multiple sightings where radar evidence was available that corroborated what pilots say they were seeing.
This includes a well-known incident over Alaska in 1986, where a Japan Air Lines pilot, Kenju Terauchi, was flying near Mt. McKinley when he reported seeing a UFO: “Then there was a kind of reverse thrust, and the lights became dazzlingly bright. Our cockpit lit up. The thing was flying as if there was no such thing as gravity. It sped up, then stopped, then flew at our speed, in our direction, so that to us it looked like it was standing still. The next instant it changed course. There’s no way a jumbo could fly like that. If we tried, it’d break apart in mid-air. In other words, the flying object had overcome gravity,” Terauchi said.
John Callahan, the FAA Division Chief of the Accidents and Investigations branch, had the data, which covered more than a half hour. Callahan has testified many times about what he saw, “As far as I’m concerned, I saw a UFO chase a Japanese 747 across the sky for over half an hour on radar.”
If that’s still not enough to convince you that there is “some” evidence, in the abduction area, there have been physical objects (known as “implants”) that have been pulled out of abductees bodies, and X-rays also count as physical evidence. In the cases where doctors surgically extracted them, the metallic objects somehow evaporated, in other cases they were able to preserve them and find that they a unique “anomalous” structure and were meant to be housed inside the human body.
Whether you believe in aliens or not, these implants had to have been placed there by someone. The question is who? It’s unlikely abductees would have the surgical skill to put them there themselves — so the question remains, who put them into their bodies? This question remains unanswered. In the original X-files, implants were a not insubstantial part of the story, and whenever the government got a hold of one, as at the end of the first episode of the X-Files, in a scene reminiscent of Raiders of the Lost Ark or Warehouse 13, they put it away in the midst of a giant government warehouse, to be lost.

4. Myth: Sightings only happen in the countryside, only in the US, and only since we started flying airplanes.
Again, these are myths. There have been anomalous objects reported in the sky well before the modern era of airplanes, going back to the 1500s and beyond. In their wonderful book, “Wonders in the Sky”, Jacque Vallee ad Chris Aubeck have catalogued these sightings. Jacquee Vallee, a long time French UFO researcher, was in part the inspiration for the French scientist in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, made by another UFO believer, Stephen Spielberg. In one of the most famous pre-airplane incidents, in 1561 a number of spheres and disks, which were red, blue, and back, were seen to come out of two vertical cylinders over Nuremberg, Germany. The residents of the town reported that these objects seem to fight each other — there’s even a well-known drawing of this image. 
In recent times, lest you buy the myth that sightings only happen in remote places, one of the most famous sightings was the Phoenix Lights. In 1997, an estimated 10,000 people saw a set of triangularly arranged lights not just hovering but moving over the Phoenix metro area from North to South. There were numerous photographs of the incident, and a great book (along with a documentary) by Lynne Kitei, M.D., called called The Phoenix Lights. 
At first, Arizona Governor Fife Symington III made fun of the sighting and the military tried to dismiss the lights as “military flares”. But this theory didn’t hold water — the lights stayed equidistance apart, as if they were part of a single, large craft. Later, the Governor admitted that he was lying, and that he too had seen some kind of large anomalous craft in the sky that night. You don’t have to take my word for it — you can go interview people who were living in Phoenix in 1997. One witness told me she looked up, and the stars dimmed and then weren’t visible — it was definitely some type of large craft and not individual flares.
There have been other mass sightings, in Mexico City, in Russia, in South America, and elsewhere. UFO sightings are not a modern phenomenon, they are not a US-only phenomenon. UFOs are a global phenomenon, and as his secret informant told Agent Mulder at the end of the second episode of the X-Files, “They have been here … for a long long time”

5. Are UFOs top secret military craft that defy gravity?
In the second episode of the X-Files, Deep Throat, and in many episodes later in the series, witnesses at the edge of military bases see UFOs at night performing maneuvers that seem to defy the laws of inertia and gravity. These scenes are actually based on many eyewitness reports of objects and lights that hold stationary in the sky, have no apparent sound, then “jump” horizontally or vertically to a new position in the blink of an eye. The fact that these sightings have occurred often near military bases has led many, particularly in the skeptic and scientific community, to assert that UFOs are really top secret military craft that the public does not know about.
This of course, begs the question, do we have top secret military craft that defy the known laws of physics and gravity? If so, why doesn’t the so called “scientific community” know about the science between how these craft work, why are they being hidden, and why aren’t they more curious about them?
A respected NASA scientist, Paul Hill, decided to collect reports from eyewitnesses during his 25 years working for the space agency. He wrote a book (which he wasn’t allow to publish while working for NASA, so his daughter published), called “Unconventional Flying Objects” that was published by his daughter, in which he categorized these maneuvers (“sudden reversal of direction”, “acute angel turn”).
If these are top secret military vehicles, where did they get the basic design and aeronautic principles from? The disc-shaped object and its ability to seemingly defy gravity, which have led the UFO community to call these “anit-gravity technology”. Mark McCandlish, an accomplished aerospace illustrator who has illustrated top secret military aircraft based on descriptions for the covers of magazines like Popular Science, was baffled when friends in the military told him they had stumbled into hangers that had round, bell shaped craft that were hovering over the ground. It seemed like a scene out of Independence Day, not just the X-Files. McCandlish drew out the components of the ARV, or Alien Reproduction Vehicle, as it’s been called, and his drawings are readily available on-line. It resembles many reports of UFOs, including rumors of the Nazi Bell — new type of Bell-shaped flying craft that the Nazis were supposedly working on at the end of World War II.

As in the X-Files, many of these facts are unknown to the general public, or they are ridiculed by so-called “experts” who subscribe to some of the myths. In fact, the premise of the show was that a scientist, medical doctor, Dana Scully was brought in to de-bunk Mulder’s “wild” paranormal and UFO-related theories. As she became more involved in the investigations, she came upon more and more items that could only be classified as “unexplained”.
Professor Sturrock of Stanford, who did research on the attitudes of astronomers and members of the American Institute of Aeronautic and Astronautics found that the more time people spent reading this subject, the more they would come to the conclusion that there needs to be more serious scientific study of UFOs. Because it’s not a “fashionable” area for university research to get funding, it’s usually ignored.
Similarly, too many of my friends in the scientific and engineering circles, tend to dismiss UFO lore and stories as simple “crazy stories by crazy people” without having done any research of their own. The less research they’ve done, the more likely they are to dismiss UFOs out of hand. It’s very easy to ridicule or demean a group of people on the internet — but if you take the time to get to know the people that are making these claims, if you, like Dana Scully in the X-Files, you might just find, that the Truth is Out There!
I’ll leave you with another great quote from the second episode of the X-Files to ponder while we ait for the X-Files revival to begin on January 24:
“Mr. Mulder, why are those like yourself, who believe in the existence of extraterrestrial life on this earth, not dissuaded by all the evidence to the contrary?” asked the secret informant.
“Because, ” began Fox Mulder, pausing for a second, “ … all the evidence the contrary … is not entirely dissuasive.” 
The old man nodded to Mulder in acknowledgement, and walked away quietly.

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Sunday, January 10, 2016

The 7 Things I most disliked about the new Star Wars movie!

OK, I’m done with my political rants and back to writing about sci fi and film.
Of course by now everyone’s seen Star Wars 7: The Force Awakens (at least any serious nerd will have), and most reviews were positive.  Before I continue, let me get this out of the way: I actually really enjoyed the latest installment of George Lucas’ epic from a long time ago and a galaxy far, far away.  In fact, I’ve already seen it twice in the theaters – once with my co workers and once with my nephews (who are all under 10 years old) – and will probably see it again before its theatrical release is over.
There have already been many good reviews and articles listing what to like about the new movie, so I don't think you need to read another one (a few things to like: Daisy Ridley as Rey, Harrison Ford's return as Han Solo, the banter between Po and Finn, the realistic feeling sets, the lack of CGI, the music, etc.). I thought I’d go a different route;   in showing my appreciation for the film, I’m actually going to list 7 things I didn’t like or that they (J.J. Abrams and company), didn't do well in The Force Awakens.
Why? Because I, like millions of fans, have been waiting a long time to see another Star Wars movie, and there were things I was hoping to see that I didn’t.   Don’t worry Star Wars fans; Disney has made over a billion dollars from the film already, so I don’t think my little blog entry will hurt!
SPOILERS AHEAD!  If you haven’t seen the The Force Awakens yet (and that means you're probably on another planet or just plain don’t like science fiction or action films), then I suggest you stop reading here!
  1. BB-8 is “Cousin Oliver” – but I wanted to see more R2D2 and C3PO!   OK, I know, I know, everyone loves BB-8 because he’s the new “cute” droid, so how could I possibly not like the cute little guy?
    Well, I didn’t dislike him, exactly.  It’s just to me he felt a bit like Cousin Oliver in the Brady Bunch – those old enough to remember the Brady Bunch will recall that when the little kids (Bobby and Cindy) started growing up, the producers felt they needed to add a cute new small kid into the show to keep their audience happy, and voila, here was little cousin “Oliver”!
    The same thing happened in Harry Potter, as Harry and Ron and Hermione were growing up, cute little Colin Creevy showed up (same with Ender’s Game, where Bean became the next Ender).
    But C3PO and R2D2 weren’t children who were “growing up”, so there was no reason that they couldn’t be used in the same way as they had been.  George Lucas’s original idea of having not one robot (as an accessory to the heroes), but rather two “droids” who made up an interstellar "odd couple" was brilliant: it played well and added quite a bit of humor to the original trilogy.  In the prequels, this humor was mostly missing and I think it’s because the droids were an after-thought (Jar Jar Binks was the new cousin Oliver in the Phantom Menace, which kind of backfired). 
    If you watch Star Wars (err I mean Episode 4, A New Hope), the first 10 minutes are about R2D2 and C3PO bickering with each other about what to do – from Princess Leia giving the plans to R2, and C3PO’s insistence that R2 had no “secret mission”.
    Lucas once said that he viewed the droids as being the only characters who would be in all three Star Wars trilogies – in fact, he went so far as to say that in some ways, the films were from the two droids’ point of view.   In the prequels, this bickering and humor between the two was sort of missing.  OK so JJ Abrams did it better than in the prequels, but it still doesn’t change that BB-8 is basically cousin Oliver. I missed that interaction between C3PO and R2D2, which was given short shrift. "That little droid is going to cause me a lot of trouble" says Luke. "Oh," answers Threepio, "he excels at that!"

  2. The repetitive plot.  OK so the resistance (weren’t they supposed to be in charge now? If so, why are they called the “resistance”?) hid something in a droid.  And the Empire (err, I mean the Nazi-like First Order) has built a super weapon, and kidnapped the main female character.  The men (and wookie) have to go in to rescue her and to help out the rebels(err, resistance), get this, shut off the power of the shield so that the rebels (err, I mean the resistance), can destroy this new Death Star (err, I mean Starkiller base).   While the Death Star had the ability to destroy an entire planet, the Starkiller base can, get this, destroy several planets at once!  (in my best/worst jar jar binks voice: How rude!).

  3. The Death of Han Solo.  They killed off one of the most beloved characters in all of movie-dom! While I didn’t dislike how it was done (the father-son thing is very much in action here and has mythological themes), the actual death was very quick and there wasn’t much back-story between Han Solo and Kylo.  One review I read, which I agree with, is that there was a moment of shock, and then the filmgoers (and characters) moved on from there, kinda forgetting about it.  I guess I, like many others, felt that it should have packed more emotional wallop – like the death of another beloved figure on a bridge in The Fellowship of the Ring.   When Gandalf fell off that bridge, his (apparent) death had the emotional impact of a ton of bricks right there in the gut. Fly you fools! It was hard to recover from, not just for the audience, but particularly for the Hobbits!   Give them a moment, for pity's sake! Not to mention, the Elves ... "What are they singing?" ... "A lament for Gandalf" ... "What are they saying?" ... "I haven't the heart to tell you".

  4. The aftermath of the Death of Han Solo.   When they return at the end having accomplished their mission, you would think that Princess  (err, I mean, General) Leia would hug Chewie, who was the person that knew Han Solo second best after Leia herself!    But instead, she hugs Rey instead and Chewie just walks by.  Really?? This actually felt like they cut some scene that was supposed to be there, or they deliberately had her hug Rey, as a clue that Rey may indeed be related to Leia after all.  But still, come on, Chewie was Han Solo’s life-long companion, and Leia was his ex, you think they would be the ones to miss him the most? This isn't a case of wookie discrimination (i hope - hug the nearest human!), since Chewie hugged her first in the earlier scene.   I thought this star wars was supposed to be more about the characters and less about special effects?  Fail.

  5. Kylo Ren taking Rey prisoner.  Just as Princess Leia was taken prisoner in Star Wars (err, I mean Episode I, A New Hope, again) by Darth Vader, at some point Kylo Ren decides to take Rey as his prisoner rather than getting the droid BB-8 who had the “plans he was looking for” (or at least the map), because she had seen the starmap once.  Really??  It’s one thing for Kylo to suck out of Po’s head that he put the map to Skywalker (more on this macguffin below) into the droid BB-8, it's entirely another for Kylo to pull out the details of a starmap from Rey’s head when she saw it only for a brief few seconds!  OK, so I realize it was a plot device to get her and Kylo alone so he could, inadvertently, Total Recall the Force out of her, but still … even Recall had a better premise than this!

  6. The map to Luke Skywalker and all that jazz.   OK, I understand that this was the main macguffin in the movie (a "macguffin" is a “plot-enabling device” that pushes a film’s characters forward towards some arbitrary goal), but I’m not sure it made a lot of sense.   Luke was supposed to go searching for the first Jedi temple, but it looks like here he knew exactly where it was, and left a map to it with Artoo, before he  disappeared.  He’s been living on that little island for what, 10 or 20 years? Really? What happened to his spaceship? Did he send it back with Artoo after he found the temple? Anyways, suffice it to say while I appreciate the macguffin to move the plot forward and to bring back Luke Skywalker in the second film (not to mention that the starmap projection looked cool), I wish there had been more of Luke in the first film, and perhaps a better explanation for what he’s really been doing out there?  It was only, you know, the point of the plot of the whole film!

  7. How quickly Rey’s Force skills develop. OK perhaps they will explain this further in the sequels, but even Luke Skywalker (remember him, the guy who took down Darth Vader and the Emperor), needed training from old Ben Kenobi before he could do anything. Anakin, the chosen one, needed training too.   Rey not only is able to look into Ren’s mind (OK I could buy that) but suddenly does a Jedi Mind Trick on Daniel Craig’s Stormtrooper?   Luke Skywalker’s light sabre calls to her like some kind of Force psychometry, and then she is able to best Kylo Ren, out of nowhere?  Again, I liked Daisy Ridley’s performance as Rey quite a bit, but this all seemed a lot to swallow.  Even for a galaxy far, far away!

And there you have it – 7 things I didn’t like about the Force Awakens.    It’s funny that I’m writing this because as I said, I actually like the movie.  Quite a bit, especially comparing it to the Phantom Menace and Return of the Jedi, both of which I saw again recently.

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