Monday, February 25, 2008

One Degree: Kevin Spacey and Kate Bosworth

We have a winner! Bragging rights go to Kilroy, followed by CKL, for solving last week's One Degree: Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe were in Virtuosity together, in which Crowe was a virtual reality serial killer brought into the real world by nanotechnology while Washington was the cop hunting him down.

OK, I have a timely one. When I heard about the casting of 21, a new caper movie based on the true story six MIT students who scammed Vegas, I thought perhaps Kevin Spacey (The Usual Suspects) really isn't gay. For the third time, he starring with Kate Bosworth (Blue Crush, Win a Date with Tad Hamilton).
What were the first two movies in which Mr. Spacey and Ms. Bosworth starred together? And bonus points for alternate theories for why Spacey keeps getting her as a co-star?
Leave your answers in the comments for brownie points, answers next week. The movie 21 comes out March 28. Here is a link to Bringing Down the House, the book it was based on, followed by the trailer.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

No Milkshakes for Old Men

Hmm, who needs Daniel Day-Lewis and his Method acting when you've got Bill Hader doing a dead-on impression of him on SNL:

Star Trek for the Benefiber Crowd

I've talking a lot about Hulu as NBC and Fox's site for streaming video content, as well as ABC's video play, but didn't bother to comment on CBS. I don't have a favorite show on CBS, so I had no reason to check them out.

However, this Friday, CBS unlocked their vaults and started streaming the first three seasons of Star Trek, along with McGyver, The Twilight Zone, and Hawaii Five-O. their biggest cult hits from the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Very smart!

The first thing I was struck by, however, was the advertising--Benefiber and Promise Active (a yogurt drink designed to lower your cholesterol). Wow, I am not their demographic, am I? Throw in some ads for prune juice and the AARP while you are at it.

But in catering to a slightly older crowd, I have to give them high marks for the user interface--this aims to be the Jitterbug of video sites. The control buttons -- Pause, Share, Volume--are huge and in text, whereas the nods to social networking-- Digg, Facebook--are accomplished via tiny icons. And by making it easy for those who may have watched these shows as youngsters and may now need reading glasses, they also make it easier for those who are viewing the video across the room.

But these shows do have some younger fans too. Hulu has the unique ability to not just let you embed whole shows in your blog, but to actually clip out excerpts and share it with friends, which is often what kids want (let me comment on the good part). Case in point, this clip entitled "Captain Kirk is a Gentleman." CBS might think about building this feature in down the road. But I have to give them props for knowing their core market.

Cool Info Graphic on Movies Earnings

I love a good information graphic. Here is searchable information graphic showing movie receipts over time, dating back to 1986, from the New York Times. It is interesting to see how a movie like Transformers compares to Juno. And scroll back to see how both compare to Titanic, Forrest Gump, and The Lion King.

Did they just publish this yesterday for the first time or is it something they've had and updated every week? I don't know but glad I stumbled on it.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Nothing Left Unspoken

Last weekend, I got an email from my friend's wife. He has been fighting cancer for over a year, but in the last two months, the tumors spread. She said the latest tests had shown it had spread to a vein in his liver and that the doctors said this was the time to calling his family.

I just sat there. The moment had almost arrived. Knowing that he had cancer for the last year has allowed me to get used to the idea and I am grateful to have known, since probably spent more time with him than I might have otherwise in our busy lives.

I mentioned in an earlier post that I would periodically check the blog of Leroy Sievers, a journalist keeping a record of his life with cancer at NPR's website, to get some insight into how my friend might be feeling. Strangely, over the last year, their ups and downs seemed to be running in parallel. So after I closed the email, I went to NPR's website to see how Leroy was doing.

Leroy had stopped blogging on February 5. His partner Laurie, had been maintaining the blog. He had had a third surgery on his spine and his legs had given out and he was in pain.

I burst into tears. What was abstract became real.

I put together a letter to my friend and his wife, along with a photo of us with our dormmates from college, playing broom ball at an ice rink, and mailed it on Tuesday, after President's Day.

On Friday, I got the latest email from my friend's wife, Subject: My Husband has Passed. He passed on Thursday, February 21, at 6:30 PM.

Today I checked Leroy's blog. He is writing again. I am glad of it. He is undergoing physical therapy and took a few steps.

I don't know if my friend got my note before he died, but it didn't say anything more than I hadn't already told him previously--for instance, that I still remember that he helped me move into my first apartment, which everyone knows is sign of a really good friend. Even if he didn't see my final thoughts, I know his family will appreciate it.

But I've never told Leroy what his blog has meant to me. I am taking the time to do so today.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Keeping in Touch, Facebook style

I do not have a Facebook account. I'm about a half a generation late for these social networking sites--it wouldn't be unseemly to join and I'm sure my friends have it (answer the anonymous poll to the right and I'll find out), but I'm not that interested. I have a LinkedIn account to maintain professional relationships and that's enough for now.

But Facebook, and MySpace, is the way people between 13 and 30 keep in touch. I was at lunch with two slightly younger colleagues and they lurk on their friend's pages to see what is going on in their lives. They don't necessarily leave comments, they just check in on them from time to time.

Before the Facebook age, there was a girl named Jenny who had a site where she streamed video of herself in her dorm room at all times, and I mean all, nothing censored. A quote from an interview from This American Life (start at minute 16 for whole interview):
Whenever I go home for breaks, for spring break, something like that, I'm always sad to be away from the camera. It's really a different feeling whenever I'm in the room and the camera is broken for some reason, my room feels totally different, it's like I'm completely alone. So I usually prefer the camera be there and I'm sad when it's off as opposed to wishing it weren't there.ll Even though theres no one actually there with me, even though I'm still alone, even if there's no body watching the camera from the other end, it's just comforting to know that there is somebody, metaphorically, out there.
I'm not the exhibitionist Jenny was, but I guess I know what she means. People start blogs for different reasons. I just wanted to write. But occasionally I'll get comments, or I'll notice I'm getting more page views, or people who know me and know my blog will write me and say, hey, I saw your blog, so I kind of like the idea of being looked in on. That maybe someone would notice if I missed posting for a few days. . .

Gee, I sound like a shut-in getting Meals on Wheels.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Not That I Have Nothing to Say, But...

Sometimes I have ideas for blog posts that are way more elaborate than something I can whip out in a weeknight. I suppose this is a testament to the fact that as I enter my seventh week without TV, I'm not as prone to blog about TV as I was when I started. I am slowly losing sight of the shore.

It's also a testament to the fact that I'm busy. Even as I get rid of TV, other things are filling the void besides cooking, cleaning, and working out--namely, work. For the last few weeks and probably for the next two months, I'll be under some stress.

So I won't be writing about the epiphany I had while reading The Omnivore's Dilemma, or how today's youth has embraced the notion of the mash-up, the essential difference between Democrats and Republicans, or even what my cat taught me about user-centered design. Not anytime soon anyway.

I will probably be writing about things like the 14-year old Filipino girl with lungs of steel singing "And I'm Telling You (I'm Not Going)" from Dreamgirls, that I saw on YouTube.

This is the thing about TV and trivia in general: When you are tired and busy, it's all you can absorb. It takes little mental capacity and it's fun. But watching TV can also make you more tired and less prone to do work that might let you get ahead. All the advertising makes you want more stuff, so you work even harder, get tired, and end up watching more TV. Lather, rinse, repeat. Reminds me of that classic George Carlin routine on "stuff."

When I'm tired now, I'm trying to just do some light reading and go to bed.

Here's the thing you shouldn't do when you are tired--blog. Which, of course is what I'm doing right now. I am compelled to actually bring this to clever conclusion and rewrite this post.

But I will buck expectation and compunction tonight--g'night all!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Overheard in the Dairy Aisle

I was shopping for yogurt the other day when overheard two young boys, who I can only presume were brothers, in rapture over the latest product from Yoplait.

"Ooh, that's the yogurt with the bubbles that fizzes!"
"Yeah, Fizzix, it's the best!"

I learned later that Fizzix comes in a tube and is therefore a species of Yoplait's Go-Gurt line. It comes in crazy colors and flavors and is carbonated. I am 99% certain neither of them had tasted it before. I am 99% certain they saw a commercial on Nickelodeon or the Disney Channel. Oh, the power of TV ads. Or they could have seen it on the internet, since Yoplait created this game site around the product--diabolical! At least it's yogurt. They are clearly targeting this at kids and going for the whine factor (though this blog review says they were also going after undergraduate males on a tight food budget).

As I listened, I was thinking that when I had kids, they would either never get to watch TV or I would never bring them shopping with me. But then, their Starbucks-swilling dad, who was lingering nearby on his cell phone, got off his call.

"What part of 'You can have a Go-gurt smoothie' did you not understand?"

"But Dad..."

"Look, you can have a strawberry or a wild berry. Which do you want?"

"I don't know..."

"I'm going to choose for you then."

"Okay, Strawberry," says one brother. "Strawberry," say the other brother.

Wow, go Dad, I thought, way to handle your sons. I love it: decisive, taking control, giving them a choice. Done and done.

I was with him right until the point he said to his kids, "Aww, you made me spill my coffee. Get down on your knees and lick it up."

I promptly left the dairy aisle.

Monday, February 18, 2008

One Degree: Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe

Oops, I missed posting the answer to February 4th's One Degree last week Monday while I was on a business trip. Jackie Earle Haley and Patrick Wilson were in the movie Little Children, directed by Todd Field. These actors are a lot less well known than their actress co-stars, Kate Winslet and Jennifer Connelly but they will be gaining a lot more exposure when Watchmen comes out March 2009.

On to this week. I have a feeling I am losing people with the obscure C- and D-list actors so how about two A-list actors in early roles?
American Gangster starred Denzel Washington as real-life drug kingpin Frank Lucas and Russell Crowe as the cop determined to take him down. But Crowe played the villan when he first starred opposite Washington--what was the name of this 1995 movie?
Answers next week! Post your answers in the comments!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Six Weeks Without TV and Loving It

As of tonight, it's been 43 days since I quit TV. Even with all the loopholes, it has been hard, but it's been getting easier.

Why did I do it? Mainly, to get my Saturdays and Sundays back. It was very easy to get lulled into spending three to six hours watching trash or reruns on the couch. I wouldn't do the truly fun and fulfilling things you're supposed to do on a weekend, like go to movies or go shopping, because I'd have to catch up on chores and errands and cooking, or I would do somthing fun and get stressed about cramming my to-do list into a Sunday afternoon.

But as it turns out, quitting TV has made it possible to develop other good habits, things I've always wanted to do, but never though I had the time for. So these are all the reasons I'm motivated to keep going with this decision to quit TV, which I made on a whim the night of January 5.

Without TV, I wake up earlier: Two weeks after I quit TV, I returned from a business trip three hours east of me, and decided to keep waking up early. I'm now waking up around 5:15. Normally, I'd be tempted to stay up till 9:30 or 10 PM because of a show, but I no longer have "appointment TV" to keep me up (even with TiVo, I still wanted to watch shows the same day). When I wake up, I either go to work early and get a start on my day before I start getting distracted by email or phone calls or I exercise, which leads me to the point below.

Without TV, I exercise more: I would generally only exercise on the weekends. This is because I like to exercise in the morning, so I can wash and dry my hair and not have bed head, but if I wake up too late, I start feeling like I really ought to just go to work. Waking up early helps me to stick with a regular routine. So not watching TV not only frees up the time for exercise, but it also indirectly makes sure I do it early in the morning where it won't get interrupted.

Without TV, I'm neater: This is embarrassing, but I have not been particularly neat. I get distracted from one thing and move on to another without cleaning up what I was working on and TV only compounds the problem. This is particularly true around cooking and eating. Instead of cleaning while I was cooking, I was watching TV from the kitchen. Then I would usually eat in front of the TV, get sucked in, get tired, leave the dishes on the coffee table and go to bed. So pots and pans and dishes would stick around for three or four days. Yes, it's horrible and mortifying and unfortunately true. But without the TV, I actually have started to clean as I go when I'm in the kitchen and I'm more likely to bus my table immediately before I get tired. I have more time to unload the dishwasher, which means dishes don't get backed up. So not only did quitting TV free up time on the weekends to clean, it means there is less to clean on the weekends because I'm cleaning more during the week.

Without TV, I might invite people over more often: Because the house would get so messy during the week, it would always take a full day of cleaning before I could have anyone over. If I can keep the house neat, I may be able to have people over on the weekends, or if I'm really good, maybe even on a week night. I haven't done this yet, mostly because I'm recovering from the holidays and enjoying not having things to do on the weekends and have been busy at work, but I hope to.

Without TV, I can cultivate other hobbies: The main hobby I wanted to find time for was writing --with this blog, I'm certainly doing that. I am also reading more (got to have something to do in the evenings and while I'm eating). I finished reading Eat, Pray, Love, which I thoroughly enjoyed, and now, inspired by my blog post on mangalitsa pork, I'm reading The Omnivore's Dilemma.

So I guess if you have also thought about quitting TV and have been worried about what you'll lose (how will I know who wins Project Runway 4? What happens to McSteamy and Meridith on Grey's Anatomy?), you might think about the things you will gain.

Friday, February 15, 2008

L.A. Story

I have been in on a business trip for the last four days. My husband said, hey you haven't been posting to your blog, you're going to lose your readership--all five people. Ha, ha.

I've was in the land of TV, good ol' Los Angeles. You know you're in L.A. when the local radio is advertising plastic surgeons like 1-800-Dr. New Me and the billboards are feature rehab clinics like

But in terms of TV, what struck me was the local news. There were two big stories: the house that split in half in Encino and the end to the writers strike. New episodes are finally on the horizon. The Oscars will not be picketed. But for L.A., this strike wasn't just an entertainment story--over the last three months, the local economy lost $3 billion. And it's likely some of the weaker shows will be canceled, meaning some workers will be out of work altogether. So the town seems to be breathing a collective sigh of relief when the contract was ratified on Tuesday.

Los Angeles will recover (according to the L.A. Times, L.A. generates $1.3 billion a day, so $3 billion is relatively small). And the writers will find new jobs. But despite the setbacks, the terms the writers fought for are going to make a real impact going forward. It's not a perfect contract, but at least the writers get something for online streaming episodes rather than the goose egg they got before (for details, see this article from the Economist).

I'm not sure what the networks were objecting to when they initially denied that the writers should get even one cent of online distribution profits. Maybe I'm missing something, but eyeballs are eyeballs. If writers are getting residuals for TV broadcast, it seems artificial to say they'll get nothing for online distribution-- all the new streaming sites feature advertising that, to me, are more effective than traditional broadcast --they are limited, so users are willing to sit through them instead of wandering off, and unlike TV viewed with TiVo or other DVRs, users can't fast forward through them.

Heck, because of the limited number of advertisers on Hulu and the fact that Hulu only allows one advertiser per show, I can even remember most of the commercials I've seen on while watching NBC and Fox programming on Hulu-- Esurance, Nissan, Royal Caribbean--which is more than I can say for commercials I see on TV.

I'm glad the writer's strike is over, but I am also happy it started. Not only did it help the writers, but the lack of TV shows helped me to quit TV as well, which is something I've wanted to do for a while. As I've said, I'll pretty much only be watching shows online when I'm at home, and I feel better that writers will be compensated for that.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

What's in a voice? Knight Rider Then and Now

Before America's Got Talent, Baywatch, and Norm MacDonald made a mockery of David Hasselhoff, he starred in a show called Knight Rider. If you were a boy in the Eighties, you wanted to be Michael Knight, drive the artificially intelligent talking car KITT, fight crime, and look cool. But if you were a girl, you wanted to be with Michael Knight.

Or in my case, you wanted to date the car. Yes, prepubescent that I was, I thought the 'Hoff was devastatingly handsome, but the voice of KITT sent me over the moon. KITT's high-class, slightly nasal Boston Brahmin-accented voice was always chiding, sarcastic, or extremely perturbed by Michael's swaggering, cocky, cowboy behavior. It was a relationship much like Magnum and Higgins of Magnum P.I.--disdainful teasing, but with an undercurrent of affection.

I'm not sure what it says about me that I'd find a repressed, anal-retentive car attractive, but it didn't last long. About a two years into the series, my father ruined my infatuation when he revealed that KITT's was voiced by a pudgy, mustachioed 55-year old actor William Daniels, best known as Dr. Craig on St. Elsewhere, or to anyone under thirty, Mr. Feeney on Boy Meets World.

Now Knight Rider is back with a new cast on February 17. KITT was to have been played by Will Arnett (Blades of Glory, Arrested Development) and a Ford Mustang, but a couple days ago someone finally put two and two together: Will Arnett is the voice for GMC Trucks. KITT will now be voiced by a much older, deeper-throated actor, Val Kilmer (it was cheaper than recasting KITT as a 2008 Yukon).

Hmm, I hope NBC thought about this. That's like replacing Barry Gibb's voice with Barry White. Michael Knight was always putting KITT in its place, and for all his snide remarks, KITT was more like a high-class chauffeur. Val Kilmer is a man, while new younger driver "Mike" barely needs to shave; I think KITT's going to be giving Mike more of a hard time on the new show. So can such a formula work? The last thing a guy wants is a cockblock for a car; no guy wants to be out-machoed by a machine. Then again, that seems to be a trend in the Oughties--on Fox, you've got young John Connor being protected and bossed around by a kick-ass Terminator companion, who happens to be a girl to boot.

As much as I liked the original, I don't plan on watching the new one. The buddy-vehicle formula has never been replicated successfully (Streethawk? Yawn.) and I doubt this remake will fare much better. The best follow-up to the Knight Rider formula was a parody called Heat Vision and Jack. I was stoked to see this in New York's Museum of Television and Radio back in 2000, but now you can see this from your own home on YouTube. It's a gem: produced by Ben Stiller, this unaired pilot starred a little-known actor named Jack Black as a genius astronaut who fought crime and the occasional alien with the help of his motorcycle friend, Heat Vision, voiced by Owen Wilson. For those who have never seen it, please enjoy:

Heirloom Pigs

I had intended to write about something else, but was immediately distracted by a link called Wooly Pigs on Blogger's login page.

Wooly Pigs are a breed called Mangalitsa from the Austria-Hungary, and aside from being furry, like the ancient undomesticated pigs of yore, they have made a splash among foodies for being the Kobe Beef of pork. Here's a video:

There are already "heritage" pigs, like the Berkshire (which I had never heard of before till I started reading about this just now), but the owners of Wooly Pigs are promoting their pigs as being truly different--check out these photos of pre-WWII pigs (scroll down on this page) versus the heritage pigs of today versus the Mangalitsa.

The pork from this breed is more marbled because it was bred for bacon and lard; modern breeding has produced a dry"other white meat." But Mangalitsa fat, according to the site, is also less saturated. This is demonstrated by the lower melting point of Mangalitsa lardo--no less calorie-laden but at least less likely to clog your arteries.

The Mangalitsa is being featured on menus of restaurants in America for the first time this year, the most notable being the French Laundry, according to this post at ChowHound. However, if you are fortunate enough to live in Washington state (the farm is based in Spokane), you won't have to visit the pricey Yountville food mecca for a taste--here's a post from the Seattlest listing restaurants serving Mangalitsa.

Most days I will eat Idaho potatoes, Roma tomatoes, and Fuji apples because it is cheaper. But when I tasted my first heirloom tomato years ago, I realized just how much taste had been bred out of our crops for the sake of uniformity and disease hardiness, so every so often, I must splurge. They look warped and mutated but there is nothing like the taste of an heirloom tomato on a warm summer day dressed with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, fresh cracked pepper, and maybe some goat cheese.

Here's a photo that makes me want to fly to Seattle right now and make a reservation, followed by a video that will make you want to spare their lives--they are cute and frisky!

Update: I'm ahead of the NYTimes by a year!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Computer as TV

A long time ago, there was a company called WebTV that produced a box that would let you browse the internet from your TV. They never went anywhere--this was before video and broadband got big and people didn't really want to read on their TV.

My husband used to work at a company that tried to make TV more interactive (Like that knife on that cooking show? buy it here now) but it used a cable box, not the internet. Also went nowhere.

But interactive, nearly-on-demand TV is now here, thanks to video sites and the penetrance of broadband. However, based on the design of sites like Hulu and ABC's own site, the networks are thinking of their streaming video sites as a way to help viewers catch up on missed episodes alone at their desk and view clips. They should think about designing it for a viewer who is sitting 5 to 7 feet away on their couch.

Last Thursday, Lost came back for its midseason premiere, and this is exactly what I attempted to do. Last Friday night, my husband and I put our laptop on an end table across from the couch, hooked it up to the speakers, went to ABC Full Episode Player, and hit play. This actually worked pretty well, except that we had to keep hitting a button to advance beyond the commercials that popped up. This got less annoying when I suggested we hook up our wireless mouse so we could do this from the couch, but even so, was sometimes hard to read the text--fortunately, all I needed to do was click on one button in a consistent location.

Then I watched Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles from the couch on Hulu. Earlier I commented that Hulu seems to have been built more for embedding videos on websites and blogs than for having users to come to the site itself and view videos.

That might have been a little harsh, but now I have another criti--err, suggestion. I realize that I am far from the average user--most people aren't going to use their computer for communal video watching. So I'm sure the current Hulu design is fine for desktop viewing. However, with large flat screen monitors becoming common, more people without TiVos or other DVRs might start to use their computers like a TV. In this case, sites like Hulu will need to address navigation from afar--perhaps icons and text can get larger when moused over, or users can have a setting when they first login that can change layout for distance viewing.

For instance, when I finished watching Terminator, I wanted to browse other clips. Hulu shows several related clips below the main show, but it was hard to see what they were from where I was sitting. Making the experience better for distance viewers would let Hulu user have an experience similar to TiVo or AppleTV owners, without requiring them to pay extra for a special box.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Election Night

I did not watch the Super Bowl, though I hear it broke records for viewership this Sunday. I had no skin in that game so if I watched, it would have been for the ads and, perhaps unsurprisingly, you can watch these ads at anytime on Hulu. What is surprising is that the ads are so popular with a certain segment of the population, that they themselves are sponsored by General Motors and Toyota. I'm particularly fond of the Justin Timberlake repeatedly getting hit in the nuts in the Pepsi ad.

No, the super event I've been awaiting this month is Super Tuesday. Part of my rules about no TV is that I still can watch major news events, and I think this qualifies. Really, though, I'll have to stay up past my bedtime to know who won my state because it's supposed to be close. So if it was just a matter of who won, I might as well not check the news till tomorrow. But I love looking at the information graphics as the returns come in. Whether it's sports or elections, it's fascinating to see how the networks choose to visually depict who's ahead, what's the score, and how much time is left in each segment of the game, or election night as the quarters click down and the polls close in each state. Watching their use of color, maps, and graphs to show how districts voted, how certain they are of the outcome based on precinct reporting and time left, I am tempted to pull out my Edward Tufte books and do a critique of their visual explanations every time I see them.

From the technology that helps votes get counted quicker to the technology used to create those instant information graphics, we're a long way from 1960, when it was Nixon vs. Kennedy. That was my inelegant segue to the topic I really want to talk about, which is the AMC original series Mad Men. Here is a clip of the episode named after that election. The fictional New York ad agency, Sterling Cooper, has been hired to help the Nixon campaign. The episode not only showcases the slowness of the returns (everyone thought Nixon was going to win), but also serves to highlight how accepted sexual harassment was in the workplace (nearly every episode makes me thankful to have been born in the ERA era).

This show won two Golden Globes a few weeks ago, which no one heard about because the awards ceremony was canceled due to the writer's strike. This includes both best TV Drama and a Best Actor in a Drama nod to Jon Hamm, who plays Don Draper, the Madison Avenue hero/antihero of the show. He's a hero if you like to see an advertising genius at the top of his game, a self-made man who rose up from nothing based on merit alone who puts sniveling, entitled boys in their place. He's an antihero if you don't like the fact that he has made that perfect life built on lies, two-timing not only his wife but also his mistress and finding new ways to hawk Lucky Strike cigarettes even as the Surgeon General is condemning them. And since most of you haven't seen the show, I won't reveal the biggest, most central lie of them all.

The fact that Jon Hamm can make you believe and love such a liar is why he won the Golden Globe. Tune into AMC, buy season one on iTunes, or wait for this to come out on DVD--I will let you know as soon as I know.

Monday, February 4, 2008

One Degree: Jackie Earle Haley and Patrick Wilson

First, the answer to last week's One Degree. The actors Carla Gugino and Matthew Goode were in The Lookout, which starred Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a mentally impaired young man, who, as a janitor at a bank, finds himself befriended by hoods who are up to no good. Carla Gugino plays his therapist, while Matthew Goode plays the con artist; both will be playing superheroes in Watchmen.

OK, I am sorry to be obscure. I am letting my geek flag fly free, especially for a comic book which I only recently discovered and with actors who almost no one has heard of. But here I go again. There is another One Degree in Watchmen:

Jackie Earle Haley, best known as a child actor in The Bad News Bears, will play the vigilante Rorschach, so named because he sees good and evil in black and white. Patrick Wilson, who was in the movie adaptation of The Phantom of the Opera, will play Night Owl, do-gooder inventor. In what 2006 Oscar nominated film did they appear?
Answers next week. Brownie points for posting your answers in the comments section. No Googling!

Update: Here's a video of the pair being interviewed by Entertainment Weekly at Comic-Con

Friday, February 1, 2008

Taking a break from all your worries

A friend of mine from college told me he had stage four melanoma and his doctors had given him four months to live. This was about 16 months ago. He had melanoma about 10 years ago and his doctors removed it before it spread. But after finishing law school, getting married, and having two kids, it had come back. The goal with stage four cancer was not cure, but extension of life.

A few years ago, I became more aware of the finite length of my lifetime and that I might be halfway to a third of the way through it; I think this realization must come to everyone in their thirties. I won't say that I radically changed my life at that point and started living it to the fullest. But I did question the use of my time and I suppose TV was one of those things I questioned.

So my friend's news hit me like a Mack truck, and when he called me, I took the rest of the day off and cried. It's one thing to realize you have another 40 to 60 years left on this earth, quite another to realize that at such a young age, you might have months, maybe a year to live. I couldn't imagine what he was going through. Mostly I cried for his wife and kids, because it's not the natural order of things to to have to raise two children on your own or to have a father taken away so soon. And after the tears dried, I did wonder, what I would do if I only had a year left in my life?

A few weeks after my friend shared his news, I heard commentator Leroy Sievers on NPR talking about living with cancer. He keeps a blog at called My Cancer. I would look in on Leroy's blog occasionally as a way to relate to what my friend might be going through. Leroy's ups and downs seemed to follow my friend's. While the treatment made them nauseous and tired last summer and fall, they did shrink the tumors. I had a few dinners with my friend and his family last spring and summer. He still had his hair and the treatments were keeping the cancer in check. He even went on an Alaskan cruise with his wife last summer. Things were looking up.

But the tumors have spread recently, in both Leroy and my friend. Leroy continues to unsentimentally document his thought and treatment. I get emails from my friend's wife about once a month--it was in January, just a few weeks ago, when she shared the bad news that the tumors had spread to his brain after some promising results before Christmas.

You watch the movies about people with cancer or terminal illness and the characters are either having passionate affairs (Dying Young, A Walk to Remember, Sweet November) or cramming all the things they've always wanted to do into their last days (The Bucket List). So I have always thought that someone who had been given a few months to live would not want to spend that time watching TV.

But I don't think it's as cut and dried. This last fall I visited my friend while he was undergoing chemo (one week in, two weeks out, repeat). When I walked into his room, he was watching the news or some random daytime TV. He had shaved his head because it had started to get patchy and was shirtless because the drugs were messing with his body's ability to regulate his temperature. He said it got lonely during chemo. While his family he been flying into town as much as they could, he didn't have visitors or family around all the time. His kids couldn't visit the ward he was in and his wife had to watch them and frankly, he wouldn't want them seeing him like this anyway. He couldn't read books because one of his drugs made him lose his memory and he would lose his place. I suppose in those circumstances, TV was perfect for his attention span, a non-judgmental companion that could keep him company and distract him from the impending chills and sickness that came every night.

Thinking back on that visit, I shouldn't have been surprised to read in Leroy's blog on Wednesday that even cancer patients could really use some quality television, especially when he woke up in the middle of the night and couldn't sleep. With the writer's strike, he refuses to watch American Gladiators and was totally psyched to watch the mid-season premiere of Lost last night (which I watched online last night).

So I guess this is why I'm not totally giving up on TV shows, even though I'm giving up TV. There are shows that are basically engineered as commercial delivery systems, completely addictive with little nutritional value. But there are also shows where you feel like the writers have something interesting to say, shows that make you forget your worries, get you out of your head, and totally transport you, if only for a while. And everyone needs to take a break from their life now and then, even those that have less of that life to live.
Copyright 2008