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Doctor Who Recap: “The Impossible Astronaut”

Originally Published in GeekDad»

Doctor Who ©BBC

Doctor Who ©BBC

The sixth season of the new Doctor Who Series premiered Saturday night in both the UK and the USA, with only a few hours difference to take account of the time zones. This was a first in the show’s 50-year history, meaning that American fans only had to put up with spoilers from across the pond for a few hours before joining the fray.

Last season began with The Doctor regenerating for the 10th time (his 11th body) and ended with him confronting all of his worst enemies at the same time and the destruction of the entire Universe. Although the Universe was restored, a new enemy was revealed — although not shown — called The Silence. The last we saw The Doctor was during the Christmas Special where his current companions, the recently wed Rory and Amy, were honeymooning on an apparently doomed spaceship.

Spoiler alert: while we will discuss what happened in last night’s episode, we’ll avoid talking about any future plot details.

Season six opens with the Ponds (Amy and Rory) living a domestic life back on earth and River Song still in jail, when they all receive an invitation to — inexplicably — meet in the middle of the American Southwest. It’s unclear if the reason for this location will become apparent or whether this was just an excuse to film in some beautiful American scenery, but it makes for some pleasant locales for reunions.

Then The Doctor is killed. Dead. No, really. Stone cold dead. They cremate his body and everything. Of course The Doctor has been through worse. I mean, last season he ceased to exist altogether, and didn’t seem to slow him down, so it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise when the companions run into him again a bit later at a truck stop restaurant. They soon discover, though, that this is a much younger Doctor, ignorant of the machinations of his future self.

This leads us to wonder “what could possibly happen next?” The Doctor will die in the future, that’s pretty much inescapable, but has Steven Moffat (the executive producer and author of this episode) written this series into a corner in the first fifteen minutes of the season by showing how it happens? Or will history be rewritten… again? But those are questions for a later date, as this episode quickly drops us into the middle of the mystery of aliens on earth in 1969, haunting President Nixon. The thing is, these aliens (Roswell aliens dressed in Men in Black suits) are instantly forgotten as soon as you look away.

Oh, and Amy is pregnant. Surprise!

Moffat is a master of the twist and surprise in plot that come together in the long run. But what he does best is great dialog and character development. What was best about this episode was the growing relationship — not to mention the sexy, clever banter — between The Doctor and River. There’s a great exchange between The Doctor and River about Nixon where River is commenting on Nixon’s record:

River: Vietnam, Watergate… There’s some good stuff too.
Doctor: Not enough.
River: Hippie!
Doctor: Archeologist.

Or my favorite line of the night when The Doctor tells River to shout if she gets in trouble, to which she quips “Don’t worry. I’m quite the screamer. Now there’s a spoiler for you.” And that’s not all we learn about their relationship and the hardship of living it “back-to-front.”

“The Impossible Astronaut” was an impressive beginning to what looks to be an impressive season. If you haven’t been watching Doctor Who, I can’t recommend it highly enough. The Doctor is a free agent who uses his wits and intelligence and will do anything to save a life. He’s not a part of a military or government agency, he’s just a good guy going around doing good things. “The Impossible Astronaut” is the first episode of a two part story, leaving us with a cliffhanger, and I’m on the edge of my seat waiting for next week.

Note: The episode was dedicated to Elisabeth Sladen (1948 – 2011) who died earlier this week.

The Doctor Can Travel Through Space and Time, But What About in America?

Doctor Who will be returning to our screens in a little less than a week (23 April) with the season 6 premiere “The Impossible Astronaut”, and it’s clear that while the Doctor may be chasing aliens, the BBC is chasing the Colonies. Although the less than lustrous Doctor Who: The Movie was set in the States, the Doctor seems drawn like a Dalek to Davros to that tiny little island off the cost of France known as Britain.

If the season 6 trailer is any indication, Doctor Who will be getting even bigger and better.

A few observations about the trailer (no real spoilers here):

  • We will be hearing “Hello, sweetie” a lot this season as River Song will be a major player. We may even find out about her mysterious past.
  • The overarching story will be about a new menace called “The Silence” who are responsible for the events of last season.
  • There will be one or more episodes not just set, but actually filmed in the United States.

Make no mistake, the Doctor will still be spending plenty of time in Blighty, but there will be at least a few episodes set in North America. It’s not just a change in scenery, though. In addition to episodes set in my country ’tis of thee, BBC America is doing a full court press with their marketing of the show, running two page front cover ads in magazines like Spin. My feeling is this a good bet on their part. The Doctor’s popularity seems to have only been growing in the US over the last few years, and this season looks like it just may be a home run for them (I thought about continuing the sports metaphors here by making a joke here about bowling a century, but came to my senses in time. You are welcome.)

To get you ready, The Beeb have released a prequel to the first episode of the new season — a little taste of things to come — featuring Richard Nixon in the Oval office having his own Empty Child moment. Now we know what was on those missing tapes!

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Celebrate 50 Years of Human Space Flight on Yuri’s Night

Yuri's Night 50th Anniversary

Yuri’s Night 50th Anniversary

This April will see the 50th anniversary of the most important event in all of human history: the first time any of us left the planet. On April 12, 1961, cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin pierced Earth’s thin shell of atmosphere to (literally) boldly go where no one had gone before. Yuri orbited the earth once in the Vostok 1, taking 108 minutes. Admittedly, this is a bit like dipping the tip of your toe into the ocean and considering yourself a great mariner, but many of us hope this event will be remembered as the first day of the migration of humanity to the stars.

That day should be commemorated.

In 2001, for the 40th anniversary of Yuri’s epic flight, the team of Trish Garner, George Whitesides and Loretta Hidalgo established April 12th as Yuri’s Night and began to sponsor a night of parties celebrating human space flight. The idea was simple: establish a Web site where anyone could register their party, letting the rest of the world know that they were celebrating. The Web site also provides some basic information on how to throw a party and where to find parties that are open to the public. Parties can be private or public, sedate or wild, scientific or hedonistic. It’s up to you.

Yuri's Night: San Francisco 2009

Yuri’s Night: San Francisco 2009

Over the decade since it was first established, Yuri’s Night has grown from a few dozen parties a year to over two hundred parties all around the world. Parties range in size from a few dozen people to a few thousand and have been staged on every continent (including Antarctica) and the International Space Station and in Second Life. The largest parties are generally in San Francisco and Washington, DC, but there are always some great events in almost every major city on the planet. Some parties are still on the 12th, but some opt to celebrate on the closest Saturday (this year, the 9th).

The important thing is to celebrate, and now is the time to start planning. Here’s how you can get involved:

20 Tips for Surviving and Thriving SXSWi

SXSW 2011

South By Southwest (SXSW) is a little less than a week away, so time to get packing. SXSW Interactive (SXSWi) is the “techy” portion of SXSW—the others are Film and Music—and is one of the geekiest popular culture events this side of San Diego Comic-con. While there isn’t any cosplay and no one is likely to spit in your face if you tell them that Janeway was the greatest Star Fleet Captain of all time, SXSWi does attract the likes of Felicia Day, Devo and Bruce Sterling as regulars. It’s a mixture of art nerds, drama nerds and computer nerds, who are almost all focused on technology and culture.

This will be my 3rd year attending SXSW but my first as a non-speaker. In previous years I’ve given sessions on web typography and online comic books. This year I will be attending as a representative of my company, Forum One, and I will be able to sit back, relax and enjoy the sessions without the specter of an hour long speech hanging over my head.

While I’m by no means an old pro—this is the conference’s 25th anniversary—I have picked up a few nuggets of wisdom over the years that I would like to share with you.

NOTE: If you’re going to be at SXSW let me know and maybe we can get a GeekDad meet-up together.

Continue Reading “20 Tips for Surviving and Thriving SXSWi” on GeekDad »

Just What the Doctor Ordered

Doctor Who Inforgraphic © All rights reserved by bob canada

© All rights reserved by bob canada

The next season of Doctor Who is still a few months away, but there’s no time like the present to catch up on the good Doctor and his time traveling adventures with this handy-dandy Doctor Who infographic by noted illustrator Bob Canada. He did the layout and the illustration for the TARDIS all using Adobe InDesign, but ran into the same issue generations of Doctor Who illustrators have discovered:

I think this is the first time in my life I’ve ever drawn the TARDIS. It was surprisingly hard! It seems like it would be simple; after all it’s just a blue box with some windows. But there are tons of little details and recessed panels and whatnot, and it took forever to get it all straight.

You can download a hi-res version of the poster (1800 × 2700) on Flickr.

Top 10 Things Science Fiction Promised Us That DID Happen in 2010

Total Recall

Total Recall

Earlier this week I published a list of top 10 things science fiction promised us that didn’t happen in 2010. So, lest you think I’m completely negative, let’s take a look at a few things that did happen in 2010 that were predicted in science fiction. The funny thing about progress is that it’s rarely confined to just one year. This list collects some of the important stuff that either happened or reached a tipping point in 2010. They are my favorites, but feel free to share yours in the comments below.

  1. Walk through X-ray airport scanners — Who can forget the classic scene in Total Recall where Ahnuld walks through the scanner at the space port and we get a full x-ray of his body? Well, for some reason, people didn’t think this technology was quite as cool when it was brought to an airport security line near them this year. Maybe it was the the thought that someone in a dark room is looking at virtual nudie pictures of us. Maybe it was the increase in radiation bombarding our bodies. Whatever it was, many want to leave this advance behind in 2010.

  2. Video phones — This one has been possible for a long time, but just never seemed to catch on. Maybe it was the expense or the fact that to use it the other person needed the same equipment, but both of those issues were solved when the personal computer entered into the equation. With the growing popularity of Skype, Google Chat, and the new Apple FaceTime protocol, we’re going to be seeing a whole lot more of each other in 2011.
  3. Alien Life — Admittedly it was not extra-terrestrial alien life, but a complex life form completely unlike our own was discovered this year. Rather than being carbon-based like us (and every other form of life we’ve known so far) this small microbial life form thrives on arsenic. This is a far cry from pointy eared Vulcans or acid drooling bugs, but it means that life seems to have developed twice on one planet greatly increasing the likelihood of ETs. [UPDATE: This one has since been shown to be slightly different than initially thought. The lifeforms thrive in arsenic and use arsenic instead of phosphorus in their DNA but are still carbon based.]

  4. 3D TVs — Well, it’s here. 3D TV. Yippee. And for a mere 4000 or so dollars and another $800 for goggles for the family you too can watch any of the 50 videos Amazon has in 3D. This one still has a ways to go. Of course this catalog will grow over time, and some TV shows may even make the switch, but I still see this as more of a gimmick than a real technological break through. I think a more ground breaking technology is Sharp’s Aquos TV that adds a fourth color (yellow) to the standard red, green, and blue, vastly increasing the color gamut (possible colors that can be displayed) for your screen, meaning sharper and more realistic images.
  5. Big Brother — I remember as a young lad reading George Orwell’s masterwork, 1984, with great fear, but being highly skeptical of the entire concept that the government could spy on all of the people all of the time. That would take an awful lot of people watching. The answer, of course, is to have everybody watching everybody. It may not be exactly what Mr. Orwell predicted, but we are all watching each other these days using the Internet. Whether it’s an old lady in the UK throwing cats into trashcans or the broken condoms of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, we are all now up in each others’ business to an unprecedented degree. And these people are all publicly taken to their own virtual Room 101 to repent their actions.

  6. Telepathy — Got a mobile phone and Bluetooth headset? Then you’re a telepath. Stay with me on this one. Telepathy is the ability to broadcast your thoughts across small or great distances to another persons mind instantaneously, seemingly without using your normal senses. With a wireless headset you can send thoughts (through speech) to anyone in the world almost instantaneously. Implant the headset behind your ears and mic at your throat, learn how to sub-vocalize (speaking with only your throat) and no one around you would hear. For all intents and purposes, telepathy. It makes me wonder if all of the crazy people wondering the streets muttering to themselves aren’t just early adopters.
  7. A Permanent Space Station — Although started in 1998 and not slated for final completion until 2011, 2010 was the first year in which the International Space Station (ISS) was fully crewed with 14 occupants. It may not be the double ringed floating Hilton envisioned in 2001: A Space Odyssey, but it still counts.

  8. Tablet Computers — Kirk had them in the 23rd century. Picard had them in the 24th century. Now you can have them in the 21st century. The iPad and other tablet devices are changing the way we will be consuming and creating content. How do I know? I’m typing this article on one.
  9. The Web — Yes, the Web has been around for 20 years now, but 2010 has seen the widespread deployment of some important new technologies that will fundamentally change the way you view the Internet’s most popular offspring. “Web 2.0″ was really just a marketing ploy compared to how HTML5, CSS3, and the new web typography are shaking things up. If you are using Firefox, Chrome, Safari, iOS devices or other tablet devices to view the Web, then you are getting a taste of things to come. Expect the static pages you are viewing now to come alive, transforming The New York Times into something more akin to the The Daily Prophet from Harry Potter.
  10. Cyber Wars — 2010 has already been labeled the Year the Internet Went to War and I can go along with that. The information warfare started by Wiki-leaks blossomed into a fully formed conflict, as sides began DNS attacks both for and against the embattled secret-spilling Web site. These conflicts will only grow in size, but may avoid public attention for a long time, since there is no obvious collateral damage. We’ll probably only find out the true size of these wars when someone brings down a bank or a national power grid. Strange days indeed.

Top 10 Things Science Fiction Promised Us That Didn’t Happen in 2010

The Jetsons

Image © Warner Bros. Animation

Science fiction makes a lot of predictions about the future — that’s really the point, isn’t it? The best science fiction looks at the future, trying to see where we are headed and what it will be like when we get there. Some authors are so good at this it seems as though they actually are able to peer into the future (even if only through a scanner darkly) and tell stories of what is to come. But even the best sci-fi has, over the years, gotten a lot wrong about what was the future when it was written.

2010 is almost over, and I thought it would be an appropriate time to look at a few things that were supposed to happen (or have happened) by this year, but didn’t.

  1. Flying Cars — This is a popular one to gripe about, but I’ve got bad news for you: it ain’t ever gonna happen. It’s not that flying cars are technically impossible, but they are socially impossible. I have little doubt that if our best and brightest applied themselves to the task, we could mass-produce personal travel devices that would allow us to rise off the ground and zoom through the air just like George Jetson. But imagine a world where the millions of cars on the road are replaced by millions of flying cars, or, should I say, millions of potential flying bombs. Even if we were to create some system that automatically forces cars to avoid buildings, how long before some moron with a beef against a particular government, philosophy, or just against sanity in general hacks that system and heads towards the closest sky scraper in a flying car packed with C4 explosive? No thanks, I’ll stick to the ground.
  2. A Moon Base — We were supposed to have Moon Base Alpha by 1999, or at least by 2001, but for sure by 2010. That didn’t happen. What did happen in 2010 was some unmanned moon landings (deliberate crashes, really) that provided new evidence that it might be technically possible and financially rewarding one-day to establish a permanent (but small) outpost on our lonely satellite. Well, I guess that’s something. The goalpost for a working Moon base has now been pushed all the way to 2069, according to a recent design challenge from Shift Boston. I’ll be 101 years old in 2069, so I just hope we have anti-aging pills soon.
  3. Anti-Aging Pills — Although you can not yet pop a pill and stay 36 forever, the possibility of arresting or reversing aging is looking promising. New advances in unlikely places such as nano-technology are pointing to ways that we might ingest little robots that rebuild our systems from within. But nano-bots are also the bane of a lot of sci-fi stories, turning the world into a mass of gray goo.
  4. Trips to Jupiter — Zooming off to planets far was a staple of 1950s sci-fi. What’s changed in the nearly-50 years since Yuri Gagarin took the first off-planet jaunt is that we learned space is a really inhospitable climate. No air, no water, no heat, no gravity and no magnetosphere leads to dead humans. And recreating all of this in a portable format has proven far more elusive than the dreamers of the golden-age of sci-fi first thought. Even the more realistic versions shown in 2001: A Space Odyssey and its sequel 2010: Odyssey Two may be centuries away.
  5. Nuclear Holocaust — OK, so it’s a good thing this one didn’t happen, obviously, but when I was a child in the 1970s, it seemed like a high probability. Growing up with the specter of MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction, for anyone too young to remember it) looming over you was a way of life that we hoped no one was mad enough to test. The made-for-TV movie The Day After scared the hell out of me when I was a teen. But no one would have guessed in 1980 that by the end of the decade the Soviet Union would no longer exist. The nuclear threat may not have disappeared with it; however, the constant specter of nuclear holocaust has, if not disappeared, at least become less of a daily concern.
  6. Virtual Reality — Sure, we have Second Life, World of Warcraft and Toy Story 3D, but the truly immersive user interface that is virtual reality is still just a dream. There’s some promising work being done with wearable computing, but its still a long way from being able to jack your cranium straight into the net as in Neuromancer, or even hacking your optic nerve with VR goggles as in Snow Crash.
  7. AI Robot Butlers & Self-Driving Cars — I want my piña colada served to me on the veranda at the perfect temperature by a slave robot. I want to be chauffeured around the city at night in my high speed luxury electric car while it reads to me the news of the day customized to my unique interests. I want all of this and I want it all guilt free. Oh sure, I can get a Roomba to vacuum my house or a Lexus which can park itself, but that’s not really the same thing, is it.
  8. Computer Overlords — On the up side, none of the non-existent robot butlers and self-aware cars have risen up to overthrow their human oppressors and imprison them in The Matrix. We’ll call this one and #7 even.
  9. Commercial Supersonic Air Travel — We actually had this mode of travel, but lost it in 2003 with the last flight of the Concorde (although we did get a very funny semi-eponymous TV show). There is some movement to bring back supersonic commercial flights, but I suspect you’ll be buying tickets to Moon Base Alpha before you are buying supersonic airplane tickets again.
  10. Cheap, Clean, and Unlimited Energy — Nikola Tesla’s dream of free and unlimited electricity seems even more impossible today than when he first proposed it in the early 20th century. Many of the wars on this small blue marble we call home are in large or small part over energy resources. Global climate change is intrinsically linked to the ways in which we produce energy. Whether it’s gas for your car or electricity for your house, we all spend a lot of money on energy. A limitless, non-polluting, inexpensive (or even free) energy source could completely transform humanity, taking us out of the energy dark age we live in now, and leading to a true peace on Earth and good will between all mankind. That’s my wintertime wish for the future. Do you have one?

Later this week: 10 for ‘10: 10 things sci-fi promised that DID happen in (or by) 2010.

Dream Jobs You’ve Never Heard Of: Parabolic Flight Crew

In Douglas Adam’s book Life, The Universe, and Everything, he shares the secret of flying: it’s the art of learning how to “throw yourself at the ground and miss.” Tim Bailey  teaches people how to do just that:  throw themselves at the ground (in an airplane) and miss in order to fly.

Tim Bailey — Parabolic Expert
Tim Bailey — Parabolic Expert

Professionally speaking, Tim wears a lot of hats. Although his LinkedIn profile gives his job title as simply “Catalyst”, it  then lists 10 separate jobs under “Current”. To name just a few, he works on SpaceVidcast, Space Task Force, Yuri’s Night (The World Space Party), and is the co-founder and Chief Operating Office of Sky Fire Lab—an independent organization promoting space travel in the media. See a theme yet?  But if you scroll down to the bottom of his lengthy list of job titles, you will see that he is also a member of the Parabolic Flight Crew for the ZERO-G Corporation. What’s that you ask? parabolic what?

Tim’s job is the closest thing there is to being an astronaut without actually going into space. He spends his days assisting and training people in aircraft flights that simulate a microgravity environment—effectively he’s a flight attendant teaching people how to fly—and he is one of only nine people on the planet qualified to do this.

Tim has performed over 150 such flights, each with multiple parabolas—where the craft goes up and down at a steep angles to create a “weightless” free-fall environment inside—equating to over 24 hours of his life that Tim has spent unencumbered by the Earthly bonds of gravity. This has led to Tim’s unique ability to, as he puts it,  “execute some fairly bad-ass flips in any axis [x, y, and z].”

In addition to being an evangelist and trainer for manned space travel, though, Tim is also a husband and recent father. Judging by his recent Twitter posts, he spends a lot of time with his family going between  Kennedy Space Center and Disney World—a true geek dad’s paradise!

I recently chatted with Tim about his job, his work advocating for manned space travel, and his own future in space.

Read the full interview on GeekDad »

Whatever Happened to Doctor Who’s Sarah Jane Smith?

The Sarah Jane Adventures wrapped its fourth season last Tuesday night (10/15) … at least it did in the UK. Alas, for we poor souls in the Colonies there is no firm date for us to enjoy the exploits of the plucky investigative journalist and her brave band of teenage sidekicks as they repel a seemingly endless stream of alien invasions. This is a shame because TSJA is one of those rare sci-fi series that my kids, my wife, and myself can all equally enjoy.

Read the full story Whatever Happened to Doctor Who’s Sarah Jane Smith? on  GeekDad »

Web Designers VS Web Developers

Some one sent me this insanely funny info graphic on Web Designers VS Web Developers. It reminds me of the series of articles I did for Webdesigner Depot: 5 Pet Peeves Designers Have With Developers (and How to Avoid Them … and the sequel 5 Pet Peeves Developers Have With Designers (and How to Avoid Them …

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