May 2007

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I’ve been watching The Lot, a reality TV show about young filmmakers hoping to make it big in Hollywood, and the host leaves something to be desired. Although she is attractive and likeable (two important host qualities), she also frequently fumbles over her lines and seems as nervous about announcing eliminations as the contestants are about being eliminated. In the first episode, comedian Chelsea Handler was the host. She was a perfectly competent host but she was inexplicably dumped for Adrianna Costa. It’s Adrianna who seems not to have mastered the host’s trade.

To be fair to Adrianna, The Lot is a pretty awful show. The short films are great and the contestants are interesting but the rest of the show is almost unbearable. The show’s redundancies and recaps rival even Dateline NBC and the panelists have very little to say. Carrie Fisher has never been less appealing. I challenge them all to refrain from referring to anyone as “a very talented filmmaker” for the rest of the summer. I doubt they could last a week. Most annoyingly, they have taken the Elimination Pause — the beat or two between “the person going home is…” and “Jane Doe” — to previously unmatched levels of ridiculousness and cruelty. They extend the beat or two into a minute and then add a commercial break. Last night was the final straw when poor Adrianna had to say, “I’m sorry Jane…but Bob won’t be around next week because he’s going home!” Oy.

This all got me thinking that with all these reality shows, there is undoubtedly a shortage of available hosts in Hollywood. And that’s why we need a new reality show called, So You Think You Can Host a Reality Show. I know hosting is a difficult job. I’m sure I’d make a poor host. That’s why I have no plans to offer myself up as the host of So You Think You Can Host a Reality Show. But I see twenty or so young men and women being put through the paces in various Master of Ceremonies challenges. The winner gets to host this year’s Oscars.

As for The Lot, thank the sweet Lord for my new DVR. I like these filmmakers and their films but without my DVR it would have been a very long summer.

Happy Memorial Day and God Bless the soldiers, from the Spartans at Thermopylae to our Marines at Fallujah, who fought and died for freedom, the West and each other.

Mem Day 07

Growing up, I loved space. I loved science fiction, astronomy and the space program and by the time I graduated from high school I thought I might become a physicist by day and a writer by night.

In my first quarter at Stanford, I took a freshmen seminar taught by a physics professor emeritus and wrote my class paper on solar power. The class and the paper were interesting and showed me I might enjoy being a physicist but I envisioned a life of isolation, tinkering alone in a lab somewhere for the rest of my life. Since I knew writing was a solitary hobby, a solitary career in addition to that was not too appealing, nor were the very strict course tracks required of all science majors. My goal in college was to dabble in as many areas as possible. So I gave up on physics. (Not that the world lost a great physicist as a result.)

As time went on, I failed to keep up with astronomy and physics. Unfortunately, dabbling in science was not easy. The most interesting sounding science classes usually required a series of tedious prerequisites. Without the prereqs, my options were limited to little more than “Biology and the Oceans” (which I took) and “Physics for Poets” (which I didn’t). So I was excited when a one credit lecture series called “Life in Space” came along. It was a very cool class about the problems of living in a weightless environment. It reconnected me with my interest in the space program but only briefly. The fact is I’ve been out of the loop for many years. A telling point: when I was into those subjects, the book of the moment was The Dancing Wu Li Masters, which I gather is now thought of as glorified New Age pseudoscience. I guess I did jump on the chaos craze for a while too.

Anyhoo, I recently read a good book that allowed me to get back in the space program loop (if not the sci-fi/astronomy/physics loop): Too Far from Home: A Story of Life and Death in Space, by Chris Jones.

It is the story of Expedition Six, the International Space Station crew of two astronauts and one cosmonaut that was orbiting Earth the day the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated minutes away from landing. With the shuttle grounded after the accident, they were stranded in space and ended up having to return on station’s lifeboat, a Soyuz capsule. (One thing you learn in the book is that the astronauts call the ISS “station” and not “the station.”)

You also learn a lot about the Russian space program. While the Americans landed their reentry capsules in water (prior to the shuttle), the Russians land their capsules in Kazakhstan. The Russian capsules use parachutes and one meter from the ground rockets fire to soften the landing. Talk about waiting until the last second! One time the capsule landed and a pack of wolves surrounded the cosmonauts while they awaited the recovery team. Since then, the Russians have kept a shotgun behind one of the capsule’s seats. (Really.) Russian spacecraft sound like deathtraps that are somehow kept in operating order by resourceful cosmonauts. Usually, that is. Russia has had some prominent disasters too, like in 1971 when three heroes of the Salyut I space station suffocated during reentry and were found dead in their capsule on the Kazakh steppes.

Out of the loop as I have been I didn’t realize station has been continuously occupied since October 2000. Each new crew is called an Expedition and now we’re on Expedition 15. I knew shuttles and Russian missions were going up to station but I did not pay much attention to what they were doing up there. This book was a fun way to catch up, to get a little history while learning about life in space. I recommend it for fellow space geeks, especially those who have been neglecting their geekdom.

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