Wednesday, February 24, 2010


The final season is upon us, and Lost has firmly put its stamp on TV sci-fi history. Babylon 5 was really the first to lay out a story plan that would take years to complete. This allowed for unparalleled development of the universe, and many quirky experiments. One of the delights of the series was a wonderful pair of interlinked time travel episodes (one from season 1 and one from season 3) that showed a story from the perspective of two seasons.

My how the world has changed!

Only ten years later, and we are led to Lost, whose complexities, subtle challenges, and willingness to draw from past seasons is simply without peer, and worlds beyond the ambition of Babylon 5. Building on the shoulders of giants, Lost has created an intricate clockwork of past future, and sideways events that hold a fascinating mystery. And this season just keeps getting better. The last episode linked Jack's search for his father from Season 1 to his alternate universe self's search to become a good father, and beautifully advanced both story lines.

But let's face it, if you gave up on Lost in Season 1 for moving too slowly (and there were times I considered it) then now is too late to catch up. The plot lines are all firmly tied in place, slowly unraveling and dragging characters to their eventual dooms. So what there to say about Lost?

The final question is how will it end, and like most fans I have a theory. (Non-Lost viewers can probably stop reading now--what follows isn't going to make much sense.) Smokey Locke is wrong about the candidates, they aren't here to replace Jacob. The fact that Jacob is still around after being ashed by Smokey and manipulating events through Hurley means that the previous act of white stone throwing defiance was so much empty show. Jacob is still here, still running the show for the white side, and replacement is not on the table. Otherwise faithful Hurley could just don the mantle and be done with it.

Instead, I tend to a more "Mallorean" view of things. The world has been split (literally!) and the candidate's job is not to replace Jacob, but to bring a final end to the white/dark dichotomy. To contain within oneself two conflicting principles, and thereby replace the world on its track. This isn't good vs. evil, but truth versus lies, stasis versus fluidity. Smokey represents truth, reality, the status quo. Jacob is lies, the fantasy of a better world, or as he puts it "progress". Progress and change only exist if the current reality is made into a lie, which is why Jacob seems to have no moral qualms about telling everyone what they need to hear, rather than the truth. (Does Jack have what it takes? Or only if Jack believes that he has what it takes will he actually have what it takes?

In the end, Jacob and Smokey are actually working toward the same goal: they both want off the Island, but Jacob wants to accomplish that by finishing the job, moving to the endgame, bridging the chasm, while Smokey, unable to conceive of that union, that singularity, cannot make that leap towards a brighter reality.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The metaevent

I've been watching a fair amount of Olympic coverage this week, and as always on of my favorite sports is the metaevent: seeing just how ridiculous NBC's Olympic coverage can get.

The Olympics are so much more fun to watch then 16 years ago, thanks to the DVR. Don't want to see Mary Carillo play with the polar bears? Zip right through and on to something more interesting.

But finally NBC's coverage broke through my defenses. They showed the fourth and final heat of Women's Skeleton last night. Of course, before that they had a five minute interview with Evan Lysacek (their second in primetime) and a four minute puff piece on Noelle Pikus-Pace who was in fourth place going into the final heat.

The other American was in the 10th spot. Two Germans were in 5th and 3rd, a Canadian was in 2nd, and Amy Williams for Great Britain was in first. So naturally, NBC started their coverage with... 11th place?!?

What? As near as I can understand, her run was shown purely because she was right in front of the American and they didn't want to make it too obvious that they really, really, wanted to show the US athlete in 10th.

Now, I'm not one to ding NBC for showing US competitors that are way back: If I was in France, I'd want the TV locked on to a French athlete in 27th place. But I would also want them to actually show the medaling runs. And that's why I hated what happened next.

NBC skipped the runs for the 9th through 5th competitors, jumping straight to Noelle Pikus-Pace in 4th. Now the competitor in 5th was only 3 tenths of a second behind the Canadian in 2nd, so she was definitely a medal competitor. And they skipped her so: they could show 11th? A second interview with Lysacek? That was just wrong.

True to form, the Canadian made a few small errors at the top and the German whose run we didn't get to see took the bronze. Very exciting. Would have been more exciting if we had actually GOTTEN TO SEE IT, NBC!

Of course, I may be biased myself. The German's name: Anja Huber.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Luck and the Olympian

I've always loved watching the Olympics, Winter and Summer. For two weeks every few years, I get to see sports that otherwise I wouldn't even know existed.

It is also a sobering reminder of the importance of luck.

Olympians train constantly. To be the best in the world in anything, you have to push yourself as hard as you can. But even with daily training, the best coaches, the best equipment, and the best attitude, luck still plays a role.

My first refresher course on the power of luck came on Saturday, as Apolo Ohno and J.R. Celski appeared certain to take the 4th and 5th spots in the men's 1500m short track competition. The Koreans had taken the first, second, and third places, and looked destined for a medal sweep.

Then the unthinkable--a poorly executed pass tripped up two of the Koreans and took them out of the race. In the blink of an eye Ohno and Celski took silver and bronze, an amazing reversal of events.

Then came the men's 10km sprint biathlon, the wonderful event combining cross country skiing with target shooting. The competition started as usual, with the competitors let onto the track spaced out at intervals of 30 seconds. But then, a few minutes in to the race, it started to snow. And it wasn't light and fluffy either, but wet and deadly to the later competitors. You could train all you want, but if you weren't one of the first ten competitors, you weren't going to win a medal.

Of course, without all the preparation, without the work and the dedication, you never get a shot at the Olympics in the first place. Luck isn't about bemoaning what happens to you, it is about being ready to take whatever life throws at you. As my favorite fictional designer once said, "Luck favors the prepared, darling."

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Super Bowl XLIV!

Once again, the game has upended my expectations and proved more exciting than the commercials!

Still there were a few winners. The baby Etrader commercials continue to impress while GoDaddy continues to underwhelm. But for me the winner was Google's ad.

The best ads are short films, entire stories mapped into 52 seconds. And in that respect, Google has created a new art form: the short story told entirely through Google searches. The epistolary novel form tells a story entirely through letters, but that's the closest I've seen to this form.

Like many people, Google searches have become an indispensable part of my life, pointing the way to resources for work and play, telling me where to go and surprising me with the amount of information that is out in the world. Since they rule the search market, they rarely advertise, and so it was nice to see them land such a nice ad on their first shot at the biggest show in town.