Thursday, May 22, 2008

James Russell Lowell

There was a statue of the poet James Russell Lowell, namesake of the school in San Francisco, made many years ago that was rediscovered recently. It is now on display at the Meyer Library at Lowell where I went to high school, along with some books of his poetry from 1865 I rescued from Mills College library discards, at the dedication ceremony on May 21!

David Cook is the next American Idol!

Congratulations to David Cook on winning the title! I couldn't see the competition going any other way, and the judges said that the contest was more equally matched than they indicated on the performance night. It was an amazing season of talent and I hope to hear more from the contestants in the future as they pursue their music careers, especially Cook, David Archuleta, Syesha Mercado, Michael Johns and Carly Smithson.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

New Doctor Who Executive Producer

The BBC announced yesterday that Steven Moffat will take over from Russell T. Davies as showrunner and lead writer for Doctor Who in 2010. Davies has guided the series from its return in 2005. Moffat wrote some of the most popular and award-winning episodes of the series, such as "The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances" and "The Girl in the Fireplace," which were honored with Hugo Awards in 2006 and 2007, and the nominated episode "Blink" for the 2008 awards. Moffat's episodes are always interesting to watch and take the program in new directions that haven't been explored before in the series. "The Empty Child" introduced Captain Jack Harkness, who would later go on to lead the Torchwood team in Cardiff, Wales, investigating alien invasions. "The Girl in the Fireplace" had the innovative concept of a spaceship linked to Reinette's life in 18th century France, and a love interest for the Doctor. "Blink" took the concept of a Doctor Who story told through the perspective of a new character further than in the second series' "Love & Monsters." In "Blink," Sally Sparrow took on a time-travel mystery with some unexpected help from the Doctor. I look forward to seeing what Moffat will do with the fifth series of Doctor Who.

American Idol Final Week

In the final performance of season seven, both contestants sang well but David Cook put more of his personality into the songs and showed more versatility. While David Archuleta sang mostly ballads Cook performed rock and slower songs. David Cook has the potential to be a varied and interesting artist and should be the next American Idol.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Sarah Jane Adventures

This series based on Doctor Who features the Doctor's former companion Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen), who traveled with the Third and Fourth Doctors in the 1970s, then met the Tenth Doctor many years later in the episode "School Reunion." The Sarah Jane Adventures is similar in tone to Sarah Jane's original appearances, where she takes the lead as an investigative reporter whose mission is to protect the Earth from alien invaders. The plotlines are relatable for viewers of all ages, with their emphasis on family as well as saving the world. Sarah Jane's young friends Maria, Luke and Clyde show as much initiative as she does in uncovering mysteries in ordinary places like school and a local laser tag arcade. The story "Warriors of Kudlak" is the best yet (with two stories still to watch in the first season), tackling issues like aggression in society, acceptance by others and preservation of the Earth. It is also a fun series to watch, since the main characters are relatable and it is closely linked to Doctor Who and Torchwood. Look for Sarah Jane in series four of Doctor Who, when former companions Captain Jack and Rose also return to the Doctor!

All David Finale!

The final week of American Idol season 7 on May 20 and 21 will feature David Cook and David Archuleta singing for the title. You know who I'm rooting for! :-)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Anthropological Perspectives

I've been taking anthropology courses at college this year, which covered all of human history from the earliest days of the species to the present day. In cultural anthropology we learned about cross-cultural traits. The classic study Family and Kinship in East London by Michael Young and Peter Willmott I also read was originally published in 1957 and looked at how people lived in the Bethnal Green community, as well as a housing estate in Essex that had been newly built. The authors found that people had many close relationships in the East End, but were disconnected from their family and friends when they moved to the council estate. In the new way of living, they didn't socialize as much with their neighbors. This book confirmed a lot of impressions I got of life in Britain from watching television and movies and reading books set there, as well as two trips in 1993 and 2000.

In comparison with a similar study done of 1970s working class life in Northern California, Worlds of Pain by Lillian Rubin, the communities in California and the council estate in Essex share many traits like trying to get ahead in life and using consumer acquisitions as a marker of status. While Rubin concentrates more on the difficulties of economics and the family, Young and Willmott give a more complete picture of what life was like in East London. The voices of the people interviewed come through and this book may have started the interest by the storytellers on television in chronicling working-class life. These shows have come over to America on PBS with shows like EastEnders and Doctor Who, where the new series in 2005 started out on a housing estate and the show followed the life of Rose Tyler and her family in London as much as the Doctor's time traveling adventures with Rose. These shows increase interest in other cultures, and may lead more people to look into the real stories of people around the world.

American Idol Top 3

David Cook is a rock star! He should win the competition, and is already a star. David Archuleta and Syesha Mercado had some good moments, but also are less experienced. David Cook has the stage presence and singing ability to become a successful artist like Chris Daughtry.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Star Trek Game Review

The computer game Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: The Fallen, released in 2000, fits well into the series continuity and is like an interactive episode of the show with an action adventure setting. Deep Space Nine is the most story-driven of the Star Trek series, with a complex storyline over its seven seasons, but gamers new to the show can also appreciate The Fallen's self-contained narrative involving the conflict between the two central alien races, the Cardassians and Bajorans, and the quest for some Bajoran artifacts.

There is a lot of gameplay opportunity, as users can do three different versions of the story by controlling Captain Sisko, Major Kira Nerys or Commander Worf. On DS9, the main character can walk around and talk to other people like Commander Jadzia Dax, bartender Quark, Dr. Bashir, Security Chief Odo, mysterious Cardassian tailor Elim Garak and engineering officer Chief O'Brien, but there is less to do there than in the main game levels. Each character has distinctive weapons and self-defense styles. They can also pick up items in the environment like medicine or weapons. Most of the characters are voiced by the original actors from the television series, with the exception of Sisko and O'Brien, adding to the realism. There are also several new characters. The officers have a variety of tasks, including rescuing injured crewmembers, engineering puzzles aboard the starship Defiant and the space station DS9, and challenges on alien worlds. The player is given lots of freedom to explore the environment, and the game provides a good opportunity to experience the life of a Starfleet or Bajoran officer.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Twilight and other characters comparisons

I really enjoyed Eclipse, the third book in Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series, it's one of my favorite books! It is about Bella Swan, a high school girl who falls in love with Edward Cullen, who looks like he is her age but is really a hundred year old vampire. When I was reading the scene in the tent with Edward, Jacob and Bella I was imagining the roles being played by the actors from Torchwood who play the team members Captain Jack, Owen and Gwen (the policewoman). The character dynamic fits them as well. The parallels between Torchwood and Eclipse: Edward, like Captain Jack Harkness is the more experienced one: although he looks young he has lived a long time. Jacob, like Owen the impulsive young doctor of the team, is new to the supernatural lifestyle. Bella, like Gwen, is their link to the normal human world, although she's discovering that a lot of her world is more strange than she first thought, it seems like werewolves and vampires, or aliens, are everywhere!

There is lots of great dialogue and writing in Eclipse, as the characters share their concerns and plans with each other. My favorite characters from TV are the Doctor from "Doctor Who" played by David Tennant and Captain Jack (John Barrowman). From books, I like Edward and Harry Potter, and Professor Lupin! I would watch David Tennant and John Barrowman in any show they were in! What draws people to these characters is that they are handsome (or beautiful), strong and smart. How fascinating that they have extra powers that set them apart from humans, like the Doctor's ability to travel through time and space, Captain Jack's alien origins and experiences, Edward as a vampire, Lupin and Jacob as werewolves, and Harry as a wizard. Edward even reminded me of Mr. Spock from "Star Trek" when he looked at the pack of werewolves and said "Fascinating" like the science officer when confronted with something new (392). Stephenie Meyer said in her interview with that she read lots of sci-fi as well as romance when she was younger. It is such an interesting world that Meyer has created with the Twilight series. Time magazine asked recently in an article, "Stephenie Meyer: A New J.K. Rowling?" I'm looking forward to reading her new science fiction novel, The Host, as well as the fourth book in the Twilight series, Breaking Dawn.

American Idol Results

The results happened like I thought they would, with Jason Castro leaving the show this week. He took it well, acknowledging his inexperience compared to the other contestants and seemed to be having fun onstage. Elsewhere, the final four sang Steely Dan, played bullfighters in a Ford video, took in the Beatles Love Cirque du Soleil show and saw live performances onstage by Bo Bice and Maroon 5. While last week's phone calls reunited Simon Cowell with his first girlfriend, this week callers to the show suggested that he should be considered for knighthood and the role of James Bond! Well, maybe Dr. Evil (jk). But Austin Powers 2 was on the Encore channel just before American Idol, so coincidence or fate?

Good luck to the remaining contestants, Syesha, David and David. Next week each will sing three songs, chosen by the performers, judges and producers.

Great Classic Sierra Computer Games

These are some of the Sierra computer games I grew up playing, all about adventures in fairy tale lands in King's Quest and Mixed Up Mother Goose, and on spaceships and alien planets in the future in Space Quest. These originated in the 1980s, and were created by Ken and Roberta Williams. Mother Goose was the first computer game I played when I was younger, where you find the items that different rhyme characters need, and return them to their proper locations. My parents still refer to the characters from the game, like the Fiddlers Three that always follow your character around, and bump into you if you stop too quickly, until they are returned to Old King Cole.

The King's Quest games had great storylines and you can see the computer graphics evolve over time. The first game in the series (1984) is about Sir Graham who goes in search of treasures for the King of Daventry, a perilous journey with lots of mythical beasts and fairy tale characters. It was one of the first animated adventure games, that allowed the user to control a character and interact with the environment, walking using arrow keys, and giving commands through a text input where the player types what Sir Graham should do next. The series allows the player to explore different fantasy worlds as a variety of characters. Later on the games incorporated point and click instead of text input, beginning with King's Quest V, and users could choose an icon for looking, picking up an object or talking to other characters. These later games featured a voice cast and more detailed graphics. I still like replaying the King's Quest adventures, and want to pick up the eighth game in the series to complete the series and see how the 3D graphics were used. Another genre game series designed by Roberta Williams is the Laura Bow mysteries, in which the detective explores an old house and grounds in "The Colonel's Bequest," then goes to 1920s New York in "The Dagger of Amon-Ra."

Space Quest is a comedic science fiction adventure game series, first released in 1986, with the parody of genre conventions that would later be seen in television series like Red Dwarf and Futurama. Roger Wilco, an outer space janitor, is given the task of saving the universe in this game created by the "Two Guys from Andromeda."

This year I played The Hobbit game from Sierra Entertainment (2003), a fun, epic game which adapts the novel by J.R.R. Tolkien. The game is in a similar style to the King's Quest games, but with more realistic and immersive graphics. As Bilbo Baggins, the player can use a staff to jump great distances, throw rocks and wield the sword Sting to defend themselves against goblins and wolves, and sneak past trolls and the dragon Smaug, as well as solving puzzles and finding treasure. While in previous Sierra games you could save the game at any point, this story has pedestals at certain points for bookmarking your place. Players can still wander around and explore the area, and it's quite challenging to find all the hidden coins and health points. It's a great part of the Sierra legacy.

American Idol Rock and Roll Show Review

Last night's American Idol performance show had some mixed results as the contestants tackled the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame songs. David Cook was the best suited to the theme, putting an original spin on classic rock songs "Hungry Like the Wolf" and "Baba O'Reilly," which were the most memorable of the night. I agreed with the judges that Jason Castro was not successful at imitating Bob Marley's "I Shot the Sheriff" and Bob Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man", and should be the contestant to go home tonight. Jason didn't put his own personality into the songs, and had trouble remembering the words on the second song. David Archuleta displayed good singing ability on his songs, "Stand by Me" and "Love Me Tender." Syesha Mercado was lively and emotional on "Proud Mary" and "A Change is Gonna Come," showing that she is improving each week after her showstopping performance of "One Rock & Roll Too Many" in musicals week. The Davids deserve to be in the final two, as the most talented in interpreting their songs, and that would be an interesting showdown on finale night.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Myths and Opera

This article shows how opera is still relevant and being reinvented to this day, and can be related to popular modern myths like The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars, as well as the ancient Norse mythology that inspired Wagner's Ring saga.

Frankenstein and the Industrial Revolution

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley was inspired by ghost stories and the controversy over industrialization in 19th century England. This story of people creating new life through machines continues to engage filmmakers and other storytellers in the 20th and 21st centuries.

Popular Music on Television

The Doctor, especially in his tenth incarnation, is a fan of popular music. He attempted to take Rose Tyler to see Elvis Presley on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1956, dropped her off at an Abba concert while he looked for the Graske, and wanted to see Ian Drury and the Blockheads in 1979. The program itself incorporates tunes that express the personalities of the characters. Cassandra in the episode "The End of the World" taking place in the future plays what she describes as an example of classical music, Britney Spears' "Toxic" on her "iPod," the Master dances to "I Can't Decide" by the Scissor Sisters on the Valiant (Last of the Time Lords), and Jackie Tyler plays "Regresa A Mi" by Il Divo, promoted by Simon Cowell, to Elton Pope (Love & Monsters). Elton is named after the singer Elton John, and plays music from the Electric Light Orchestra with his fan club dedicated to the Doctor.

In a change of pace, consider why is American Idol so popular? We've all heard the arguments for and against reality television. But might it actually be beneficial for popular culture? In this article I argue that American Idol is part of a tradition that goes back to the early days of television in the 1950s, that makes music from different generations accessible to a wide audience.

I've been watching American Idol since season one and enjoy watching the drama of the singers coming from all over the country and world to express themselves through music, and learn from the judges' comments how to improve their performances from week to week. It's great to watch artists like Carrie Underwood, Chris Daughtry, Kelly Clarkson, Jennifer Hudson, and many more achieve their dreams of becoming successful in show business, after seeing how they started out on American Idol. In Britain where the format started out with Pop Idol, other shows like Any Dream Will Do with Andrew Lloyd Webber and John Barrowman where contestants seek a leading role in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat help to bring new audiences to musicals. I like how John Barrowman is simultaneously an action lead in Torchwood and an accomplished singer, as Tallulah (in the Doctor Who episode "Daleks in Manhattan") would say, "into musical theater." The Doctor Who leads David Tennant and John Barrowman are multi-talented, can do drama and comedy, and are fun to watch in interviews as well.

The Western and Science Fiction

While the Western genre is not often represented in films today, in the early days of the movies it was one of the most popular story forms. Today, advances in computer technology allow films and television to tell science fiction stories with immersive, realistic effects, but the basic themes of the western and science fiction have a lot in common.


The Vortex Loop

TARDIS console, "Attack of the Graske"

The Vortex Loop, Gary Russell tells us in Doctor Who: The Encyclopedia, is an "essential component of the TARDIS console" that allows the Doctor to travel through time and space. It is introduced in the interactive episode "Attack of the Graske" which allows the viewer to take a journey in the TARDIS along with the Doctor and fly the ship. This blog will also travel to different places through the worlds of popular culture, linked to my Doctor Who Time and Space Guide,, to take a look at all types of stories and adventures.