Lost

Thank You ABC

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I find it ironic that on the same night that ABC is about to air a White House exclusive promo, something which I think borders on a wrong-headed move (understandable, predictable, but still wrong-headed), I am about to praise them for something completely different.

The fact that I am about to praise ABC is surprising for another reason, namely that I think we’re down to watching only one show on a regular basis on that network: Lost. I’ll come back to Lost later on, even though I’ve written about it separately in the past.

Last season (shortened by the brilliant Writers Strike) we watched two additional shows religiously on ABC: Eli Stone and Pushing Daisies. We watched both religiously this season as well, until they were both unceremoniously dumped, mid-season (along with Dirty Sexy Money, which we’ve never seen).

We both loved Eli Stone (though it took Lois three episodes to come to that, while I loved it from the first scene). We looked forward to every new episode, and were never disappointed.

I liked Pushing Daisies way more than Lois did, and I’m thankful that she humored me and didn’t make me feel guilty about wasting her time when I eagerly watched it each week. The cartoonish colors were brilliant and lush (solidifying the fantasy feel of the show), and the dialogue had cracker-jack fast quips that always had me in stitches. The writing was in the style of the West Wing and Studio 60 (no wonder Kristin Chenoweth signed up).

I wasn’t surprised that Pushing Daisies was canceled. I was surprised that Eli Stone was. I was shocked that both were canceled without warning, mid-season. Both were serials where important plot-lines unfolded each week (as opposed to episodic shows, like Law and Order).

At best, you’re leaving extremely loyal viewers with a dangling, highly unsatisfying ending. At worst, you’re cutting off a promising show because it didn’t perform quickly enough, which could be short-sighted, given the rough start each show had during the previous Writers Strike shortened season.

I totally get that it’s a business, and they have the right and the experience to do exactly what they did. I also get that none of the three shows that they canceled were topping the charts. I also know that ABC wasn’t promoting the shows all that hard either, and certainly didn’t give them a chance to grow a base. But, again, it’s their decision.

So, after that long-winded (typical) introduction, why I am thanking and praising ABC today?

A few weeks ago, I noticed that Pushing Daisies was set to record an episode on my DVR (from my season pass) on a Saturday! I hadn’t seen a single commercial announcing its comeback, nor seen anything online either, so I assumed that they were running repeats (after all, none of the networks are noted for airing first-run shows on Saturday any longer). Stupidly, I deleted the recording from the queue!

Yesterday, Lois was reading a magazine, and she said to me “Did you know that last week they aired the Series Finale of Pushing Daisies on TV?” Oops! I logged on to ABC and saw that not only was the finale available, it was the third (and last) new episode since the series was canceled.

So, I was sort-of glad I had deleted the recording on the DVR, because I would watched it without knowing that there were two additional episodes leading up to it.

In the unbelievably typical whacky world of TV networks foray into online streaming, only the last two episodes were available on ABC. The first of the trilogy was already gone from their site. I was able to find it instantly on another site, in poorer quality, but with zero commercials.

After watching that episode, we watched the last two on ABC, in 720p HD. The quality was awesome. I’ve mentioned in the past that Lois is rabid about avoiding commercials. Even she didn’t complain about the maximum of one 30-second commercial in each break. ABC is notorious for inserting more commercial breaks into their online programming than the other networks (Hulu, which features both NBC and Fox, shows dramatically fewer commercials per show).

Even so, I was glad to watch the commercials, because ABC was delivering value to me, and this was my desired form of payment. That made it all the more bizarre that they removed the first of the episodes. Given the choice, I would have gladly watched commercials for that one as well, but instead, they drove me to another site where they derived zero revenue from me, instead of the few pennies they otherwise would have earned.

However, here’s the kicker to the story. By getting me to visit ABC at all (in this case through the magazine article), I noticed that they were offering a streaming episode of Eli Stone that was new as well! It turns out that this is the first of the final four episodes of that show. We watched that too, and loved the episode, and can see that they too will wrap up the series to our satisfaction, now that they have the chance to do so.

Hadar, is there a point to all of this ranting? Yes, there is. First, this took nearly zero effort on the part of ABC, as the shows were already shot and in the can (as they say). Putting them online is a matter of decision making, not really a matter of scheduling them for broadcast where ratings and revenue come into play.

But, ABC didn’t really make money off of you Hadar (you say). Perhaps, but not necessarily true! First, for Eli Stone, since there are three episodes left, I have now set my DVR to tape them on TV. 70% of Americans still don’t have a DVR, so there will be plenty of people watching Eli Stone (Saturday night at 10pm!) with ABC hopefully making more money than they do with normal filler programming on that night.

As for Pushing Daisies, both Lois and I found the wrap-up of the series satisfying. Lois turned to me after the finale and said “You should buy the DVD of this season”. I said “You don’t even like the show!”. She said “I really liked the way they ended it, and I wouldn’t mind owning it!”. So, if we decide to, we’ll be buying both seasons (to have all of the episodes). I can guarantee that we would never have purchased either season the way it was previously ended.

I said I would come back to Lost, so here goes. Lois and I never watched Lost when it first came out. We weren’t even tempted. After the second season, David and Wes bought us a gift of the first two seasons DVDs. We got hooked. We bought Season Three on DVD the second it was available. We watched Season Four on TV, but also bought two copies of the DVDs when the season was over, one for us, and one for David. We’ll buy Season Five as well, and Season Six next year.

The point is, fans can be created after the fact with all of the time-shifting, social networking, word-of-mouth, gifting, etc. When shows are cut off prematurely, they’ll never get a chance to participate in that ecosystem.

For the past two years, one of our favorite shows has been Chuck on NBC. It too was practically canceled, until enough fans online saved it at least for part of next season. I’m hoping that decision will pay off for NBC, because we’re definitely looking forward to seeing more episodes. At least Chuck ended with a proper season finale, which was engaging enough to have been satisfying as a series finale as well, if it needed to be.

By the way, even though we watched every episode of Chuck every week, we also bought two copies of each season’s DVDs. So, we fast-forwarded through the commercials, but we still sent in our cash…

Anyway, thanks again to ABC for making the remaining episodes of Pushing Daisies, Eli Stone and Dirty Sexy Money (which had more fans than the first two, not including us) available, both on TV, and online!

Gaining Leverage

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This post will cover a few related topics. They’re all about TV shows.

We probably watch too much TV, and I make no apologies for it. We lead reasonably intense lives and watching TV shows works wonderfully to help us escape and unwind. I have more forgiving tastes than Lois (meaning, I would watch a lot more bad shows, especially comedies), but our overlap is quite good, and gives us plenty of choices.

When the new seasons come up, we’re somewhat selective of what to try out. Partially, because we already watch a lot. Partially, because a lot of stuff doesn’t even look remotely interesting from the commercials. That said, there are shows that look interesting to me, that Lois poo-poos from the commercials, and given how much we watch already, I am OK passing on them.

This year, one such show was Leverage on TNT. I like hi-tech spy/theft stuff. Two of the shows that we’re both in love with are Chuck and Burn Notice. Chuck is way more on the comedic end of the scale, though it’s still set in the spy motif. Burn Notice is simply a fantastic show, in every respect. For me in particular, I love how they explain all of the spy stuff, and break it down (like a magician, revealing his tricks).

When I saw the first commercial for Leverage, I knew I would like the show. Lois saw the same commercial, and yawned (who knows why, since she loves Burn Notice and Chuck). So, I never added it to the list of things to DVR this season.

I had a twinge whenever I saw a commercial for it, but I took a deep breath, and let it go…

Yesterday I posted about KCRW’s podcast, The Business. On an episode that I listened to on Saturday, while out walking in Rockwood Park, they interviewed Dean Devlin, Executive Producer of Leverage (this episode is from a few months back). Dean explained that the post production for Leverage happens in an all digital facility, and why they can produce more effects, in less time, for less money, due to that setup.

That got me intrigued (again) in checking out Leverage. Lois was out of the house with a friend for a couple of hours right after I got back from my walk. I found episode one online (more on that in the next related topic part of this post), and watched it alone, on my laptop. I really liked it, a lot.

When Lois got back, I told her that I really wanted her to watch it, in case she enjoyed it as much as I did, and we’d add this to our regularly watched list. Since Lois is legally blind, watching on a laptop is not an option. So, I trotted out a 25′ HDMI cable (it was still in the bag), and connected my laptop to our 42″ HDTV. Describing some of those ins-and-outs will be part three of the related topics in this post. For now, back to the show.

Lois ended up liking it a lot. Over the next two days, we watched the first six episodes (the first season is over, with 13 episodes in total, and the show returns this summer, and we’ll watch it on the real TV). How we watched it is back to topic #2, which I’ll defer for just a few more paragraphs…

A few months back (January to be specific), our good friend Wes strongly recommended that we check out the show The Mentalist on CBS. I asked him whether it needed to be watched in order (from episode one), and he thought not, that each episode could stand on its own. So I started recording it on our DirecTivo, including repeats, to start building up the season. We now have 14 of the 19 episodes on the DVR, but not the first five.

Given our success watching Leverage on our TV (through the laptop), I decided that we would give The Mentalist a shot in order, through the laptop as well. We watched the first two episodes and really like the show. Thanks Wes! I think Wes is correct that they could probably stand alone, but I’m also glad we watched them in order (so far), because the first episode (called “Pilot”) really sets up the scenario for why he does what he does. The second episode flashes to that motivation, but it’s more powerful to already understand what they’re flashing to.

Certain shows have to be watched serially. One of the quintessential examples of that is another of my favorite shows (Lois fluctuates wildly in her appreciation of the show), Lost. If you miss even 10 minutes of a single episode, you might really end up Lost (pun intended).

Burn Notice is somewhat like that. In every episode, there are always two themes:

  1. Working a case for a client (this stands alone, each and every week)
  2. Tracking down why our hero was Burned (this is serialized, but nowhere near to the extent Lost is)

So, you can enjoy Burn Notice out of order, but it makes much more sense in order. Both Leverage and The Mentalist would best be enjoyed if you at least watch episode #1 first, to thoroughly appreciate the premise and setup, but after that, it’s probably OK to watch them out of order, even if you will end up missing a reference to a past show.

On to related topic #2: Watching TV online

If you’ve read this space before, then you know that I am a respecter of IP (Intellectual Property Rights). I buy a ton of music, including multiple copies of the same CD in order to give them as presents. I don’t look for torrents of movies or TV shows, just because they’re easy to find.

That said, while I’ve paid to watch a show I’ve missed (I wrote about purchasing an episode of NCIS from Amazon Unbox), it’s a last resort for me, given that the original show was completely free (including advertising, when you’re watching it on the DVR). So, I work hard to find a streaming version of the show online, before paying for it (on principal, not the money!).

My thought, perhaps a little self-serving, is that if it’s available for streaming, especially for a long while, then it isn’t being shut down by the copyright holder. After all, I’m finding it on a Google search, which the studios could do (and likely are doing) better than I could. To repeat, I realize why they may have more trouble tracking down illegal torrents of the shows, and I avoid those.

So, on tnt.tv, they stream six full episodes. They don’t even stream a single commercial, before, during or after the show! However, those six episodes are not conecutively numbered. They currently offer (as of this writing) episodes 3-4-5, 7-8-9. In other words, episode #6 in not available.

I know that some studios have a rolling number of episodes available. They might have four at a time, and when a new one becomes available, the oldest of the existing four will roll off. Some just make the current (or one before that) available. They each have their reasons, I’m sure, but I’ll be damned if I can figure out what they are!

I would guess that on some level, they are trying to force you to watch it on their schedule, meaning, within some reasonable period of time of its original airing. Why? if there is a way to monetize these shows online (and I’m not saying there is!), then more episodes available should equal more monetization. If there isn’t a model (e.g., TNT showing Leverage with zero commercials), then why restrict which episodes are available?

By me being able to watch Leverage online, I have become a fan. When the new season starts this summer, I’ll definitely watch, on TNT itself, rather than online. If none of their episodes was available online, there’s little chance that I would have gotten into this show. The Mentalist is slightly different, as I started taping it before I watched it online, but I will enjoy the show more, now that I’ve gotten the taste from the beginning, and that only happened online.

But, CBS, which used to air full episodes of The Mentalist online, has pulled that show (and others, including Eleventh Hour, which we also really like). Reading some of the fan sites, it might not be a CBS decision, but rather the production company which owns those shows. Either way, a great way to reduce your potential fan base.

Here’s what works for me (I think I wrote about this in one of my Video on Demand posts). Put in no more than five minutes (preferably two) of commercials, that can’t be fast forwarded through, in your online content. Allow the entire stream to be paused and rewound, but even in fast forward, force the stop in a commercial, so if I want to fast forward to a late segment, I have to watch the commercials again. It’s a small price for having ubiquitous content available, on demand, over the Inernet.

Most people will not enjoy that experience as much (not because of the commercials), so it will become another avenue to discover content that can be delivered more effectively (today, not in the future) to their TV.

You’ll notice that I said that CBS no longer streams The Mentalist online, and that episodes #1, #2 and #6 of Leverage aren’t on TNT either. And yet, we watched all of them online, on two different streaming sites. Finding The Mentalist was a bit of a Google challenge, but I ended up being up to the task. Finding Leverage was trivial. 😉

The episodes of Leverage that are available on TNT required extra downloads from TNT in order for their player to work in IE and Firefox. The player doesn’t work in Google Chrome (no prompts for a download), and I haven’t checked, but I suspect that it would fail in Safari too, which is based on Webkit, just like Google Chrome is.

Related topic #3: Technically connecting the laptop to the TV

I have written in the past about connecting my old laptop to the TV, using S-Video and normal RCA audio cables, with decent success. This laptop has an HDMI port, and a VGA port, no S-Video. VGA is a little messy, because it requires a powered converter between the laptop and the TV. I have one, so I can use it when necessary (to connect to an older TV in a hotel room, for example), but at home, I can use HDMI.

This weekend was my first attempt to do so, even though I bought the 25′ HDMI cable long ago, just for this purpose.

Even though on some levels I’m an expert user of computers in general, I (like many people) still fumble when doing something out of the ordinary. Doing this the right way is certainly out of the ordinary. Here, in my opinion, is the right way (in Windows, specifically Vista in my case):

  1. Connect the HDMI cable to the TV and to the laptop
  2. Power on the TV and set the input to that HDMI connection (Input #2 in my case, since #1 is connected to my DVR)
  3. Right-click on the desktop, and bring up the “Settings” panel (in my case, it’s a specific Nvidia Control Panel, and in XP, it’s a generic Desktop Settings panel)
  4. My Nvidia Control Panel makes this next step very easy. It’s a little trickier on a generic XP settings page. I just selected Use Two Displays (with separate content, meaning, not mirrored). This won’t show up unless you have the HDMI in, with the TV on. For a generic XP setup, I believe that you have to click on the smaller screen, labeled 2, and configure it…
  5. Set the resolution of the second display to full HD (1920×1080). I don’t recall whether it was the default or not, but I believe it was, and I believe it was the recommended setting, sensed by the laptop from the TV’s capability
  6. Set the default sound output to be the HDMI device (if you want the sound to come out on your TV!)
  7. Fire up a fresh browser (quit your old one if it was open, then relaunch it). This will ensure that the new default sound device (HDMI) will be where your browser sends its sound!
  8. Optional: Reset your default sound device back to the laptop. I did this, because I got annoyed hearing my IM bings and email sounds coming out on the TV (loudly). Once you do this, only the fresh browser intance launched in step #7 above will have its sound going to the TV!
  9. Navigate to the site that will stream your video while the browser window is still on your laptop display (it’s way easier than navigating once the browser is displayed on your TV)
  10. Get the video all set up, and pause it immediately. Notice which button is set to Full Screen within the video window (very few players don’t have a full screen mode)
  11. Drag the browser window off the laptop screen to the right edge. It should appear on your TV as you are doing this
  12. Hit play on the video, and only after it starts, hit the Full Screen button/control that you noted in step #10

That should do it. You should be watching your video in reasonable quality, in full screen, with sound coming through the TV. Our experience was quite pleasant. Our Internet connection is a very high speed Verizon FiOS one, so that doesn’t hurt. Depending on the player and encoding, I adjusted the aspect control on my TV to get the best fit (The Mentalist looked better with a different setting than Leverage).

Enjoy! 🙂

Commercials Annoy But Often Work

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Most people complain about watching commercials. Of course, they serve a number of purposes, the two obvious ones are:

  1. Keeping the content free (most people seem to like that part)
  2. Making you aware of a product’s existence (many people think they don’t care about this aspect)

I am unaware of anyone who hates commercials more than Lois does. There are probably too many reasons to list here (after all, I am constrained by the number of GB’s available on my hard drive!) 😉 but I will list a few of her top complaints:

  1. Commercials are typically played at an insanely increased volume from the show you have chosen to watch
  2. They are often inane
  3. They often have no correlation to the product or brand name of the advertiser, going purely for an emotional (or humorous) pull, leaving you with no recollection of what was being advertised
  4. The content is often offensive, even if some segment of the population truly needs a particular product genre
  5. Every year, the length of commercial breaks increases (feeling exponential at times)

I could go on, seriously, but that’s not really the point of this post, so I won’t. (You can thank me now, or thank me later…)

#1 above is probably Lois’ biggest complaint. We’re settled in, quietly enjoying a show, and then all of a sudden, bam, you’re being screamed at.

This has been true for a very long time, even when commercials weren’t such a large block of a typical 30 or 60 minute show. I shouldn’t have been surprised when it recently became a very large issue between us.

The advent of the DVR has been a godsend for people who don’t care for commercials. It has to be the rarest individual who actually watches commercials (it doesn’t count if you just let them run, but go do the things you do during live commercials). Given our crazy schedule, when we’re home, we do the vast majority of our TV watching via DVR. On the road though, we choose to watch reruns most of the time, with full-blown commercial watching.

One of the shows we watch on DVR religiously is Lost. I like the show way more than Lois does (that’s another hot topic between us), but she is at least willing to watch it with me every time we get back from a trip. I record it on the DirecTivo DVR.

In addition to DirecTV, we also have Verizon FiOS in the house. They have a reasonable number of broadcast hits available for free via Video on Demand (VOD). Most of those shows are also available for free HD VOD. Lost is one of those shows, though I only recently realized that. My DirecTivo only records in normal, Standard Definition (SD).

So, a few episodes ago, I decided to watch Lost in HD, using the free VOD service on FiOS, instead of watching my recording of it. All of the CBS shows on FiOS VOD contain minimal commercials (typically less than 90 seconds for an entire show!). In addition, they can be fast-forwarded (even in VOD mode), but I choose not to, because I feel it’s an extremely fair price to pay for the value of receiving HD on demand.

So, I thought it would be the same with watching Lost. When I fired up the HD VOD for ABC, I was greeted with a message that ABC does not permit the fast-forwarding of commercials during Lost (I have no idea whether this is true for other shows like Desperate Housewives, etc.). I thought that would be fine, since I’ve gotten in the habit of not forwarding anyway, since there are so few commercials on VOD to begin with.

So, I mentioned to Lois (knowing how much she hates commercials) that I intended to watch Lost in HD, and that we would have to watch the commercials, because ABC doesn’t permit forwarding, even if I wanted to. She reluctantly agreed.

Unfortunately, in addition to not allowing fast-forwarding, ABC also jams significantly more commercials down your throat than CBS does. To add insult to injury, they repeat commercials over and over, and they are often of the inane variety. By the second block of commercials, Lois was so annoyed at me, that she refused to watch to the end of the episode (no, I’m not kidding).

Before we watched the next episode (a day or two later), back on the DVR (so we could avoid all commercials), I forced her to watch the end of the previous episode on the DVR, so that she would be caught up (Lost is not the kind of show you can just jump into in the middle and have any clue whatsoever).

What’s the point of all of this? Check the title again. I said that commercials annoy, but also often work! Could they even work on Lois? Could the effect be instantaneous and obvious as well?

The answer is Yes.

I already mentioned above that when we travel, we watch reruns, and therefore commercials. When we were in Fredericksburg a month ago, we saw a commercial for Pizza Hut that highlighted their new Tuscani Pastas. The very next day Lois ordered them for lunch for the staff of Zope Corporation. They were pretty darn good.

This past weekend, we called in an order to a Pizza Hut up near our house, and picked it up and served it (along with supermarket bought items) to good friends of ours. It was most delicious again.

The point is that we would never have known about the existence of Tuscani Pastas from Pizza Hut were it not for commercials. Could we survive without that knowledge and experience? Of course. Are we (Lois included!) happy to have discovered these tasty and affordable dishes? Absolutely.

The moral of this post is this:

  1. Lower the volume on your commercials, and perhaps some people will actually watch them
  2. Make them entertaining and informative (I should be able to remember what was being advertised after the ad is over!)
  3. Make them relevant to a large percentage of your viewers, not only those with ED 😉
  4. Fewer commercials would be more effective, not only because viewers wouldn’t be desensitized, but they would also not have as much time to do other things

Now if only ABC would get smart like CBS, I could watch Lost in HD VOD and suffer a commercial or two, and perhaps even go out and buy that product! Instead, I watch zero commercials during Lost (in SD), and everyone (except for us) loses in the process…

Two Flew South

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Lois asked me to name this post Two Flew South. She had a good reason, it was clever, so I didn’t hesitate in accepting her suggestion. Let’s not make it a habit though. This is my blog, not hers, and I intend to keep it that way. Of course, all of the photos are taken by her, so we’re partners in this, as we are in everything else in life. 🙂

Vacation is not a word that Lois or I use often. Even when we have a few days where we aren’t technically working, at least Lois (less so me), is working the Treo non-stop, and thinking about work issues non-stop as well. I’m better than she is at shutting that off, but I get sucked in, since I’m with her…

We’re on a two-week road trip at the moment, which is most definitely a vacation for me. Parts of it are even a vacation for Lois, though nowhere near the level that I am enjoying it. Since the road trip is mostly southbound, and there are two of us in the car, the title Two Flew South seems appropriate. It turns out it’s not the specific inspiration for the title (that’s coming later), but that’s why it was so easy to agree on.

The trip started nearly two weeks ago when we left NY and spent the day with our friends in Leesburg. We always have such a great time with them, even though seeing the dad suffer through his cancer treatments is heartbreaking. We then spent a week working at Zope.

Leesburg Friends

Leesburg Friends

We spent last weekend with our friends in Richmond, including a fantastic Super Bowl party at another friend’s house (10 of us enjoyed the game together). I was the only one rooting for the Steelers. That said, I really like Kurt Warner a lot, and wouldn’t have minded seeing him snag the victory. That made the last quarter all-the-more exciting, since the outcome was truly in doubt. A great game all around!

Richmond Friends

Richmond Friends

Super Bowl Party 1

Super Bowl Party 1

Super Bowl Party 2

Super Bowl Party 2

At 6:50am on Monday, we were on the road, officially on vacation (there’s that word again, I’m liking it a lot). 😉

We were headed straight for Nashville. On Ocotber 29th, 2008, we saw one of our many CMA Song Writer Series shows at Joe’s Pub. While the entire show was fantastic, we both were really blown away by Hillary Lindsey, and I highlighted that fact in a post the next day. Through that post, I ended up with an email relationship with a wonderful woman who lives and works in Nashville.

Through that email relationship, we had arranged to meet for dinner on Monday night. We had never even spoken on the phone, a true e-relationship. We asked her to select the restuarant. We met at 7pm at Tin Angel. We had the most wonderful evening. She’s a fascinating person and she picked an excellent restaurant (we all loved our meals). We ended up spending nearly three hours together, and we will definitely look her up the next time we’re in Nashville, and hope she does the same when she’s in NY!

New Nashville Friend

New Nashville Friend

The next day was carved out in advance to be spent with our good friend Jack Kapanka. It was freezing all over the south, Nashville included, so we decided in advance to see the sites from Jack’s car, rather than walk around the city. Jack picked us up at our hotel, and zigged and zagged all around Nashville, telling us about every building as we passed it. I loved every second of it!

We also took a long ride in the countryside, to and through Franklin, TN, gawking at mansion after mansion (they don’t call it Mansion Hill for nothing). We had lunch at a Pub in town (I should have written down the name, because we all really enjoyed our meals!). When we left, three men were approaching us (from quite a distance). Jack immediately recognized the middle man as James Otto. As we walked by them (they were headed to a Sushi restaurant for lunch) Lois casually said “Hi”, and James said hi back, so Lois can officially say that James Otto said hi to her. 😉

One Mansion

One Mansion

We then headed for Jack’s house, catching some incredible scenery along the way (including a bridge that isn’t obviously a bridge, until you’re on it, at which point everything around you is breathtakingly beautiful.

We had met Jack in person before, but this was the first time we were meeting his family. When we got to his house, his wife and toddler twins were there (the older girls were still in school). It’s hard to describe how/why you know you’ll be life-long friends with someone the instant you meet them, but there’s no doubt that this will be the case between us and Jack’s wife.

Jack's Wife

Jack's Wife

She’s an awesome person in her own right, on every level, but she might also be the best mom we’ve ever observed. That’s saying an awful lot, considering that our Richmond friends include a number of near-perfect moms (our godchildrens’ mom heading that list!). Lois can describe it better than I can, but no matter what’s going on around her, Jack’s wife exudes a strength and calmness, that nearly instantly tames all of those around her (her kids included!).

After meeting the older girls, and hanging for a bit, Jack and I took the oldest daughter and took a tour of their home town. Jack had been telling me for a while about another resident of the town, someone he had met in his church. He really wanted us to meet, so we stopped by his house. It took me all of 10 seconds to know how wonderful this man is, and why Jack likes him so much. We chatted for 20 minutes and then headed back to Jack’s house.

Jack and Older Daughters

Jack and Older Daughters

Shortly after getting back, we took two cars and headed to dinner with the entire family. We had an excellent meal at the Applebees right near our hotel. We said goodnight and were missing all of them by the time we were up in our room. Thanks for a wonderful day to all of the Kapankas! 🙂

Jack and Twins

Jack and Twins

The baby girl does fist bumps on cue!

Fist Bumping Baby

Fist Bumping Baby

On Wednesday morning, we worked in the room a bit, catching up on a ton of emails, then hit the road again. This time, our destination was Atlanta. We got there mid-afternoon, checked into the hotel, and did a bit more work.

At 5:30pm we headed over to a friend’s house. A number of our Atlanta friends also came over and we had an extraordinary home cooked meal. We brought wine from NY, and were really afraid (sure might be a better word) that it would spoil due to the extreme temperature swings throughout the trip (it was 19 degrees that morning in Nashville and Atlanta). Amazingly, the wine tasted yummy to me (and I hope our friends agreed).

Home Made Feast

Home Made Feast

Incredible Pie

Incredible Pie

The next morning we got together with a subset of the same folks we were with the night before for an incredible breakfast at Rise-N-Dine. It’s quite unusual to have an appetizer during breakfast, but we all split three Sweet Potato Pancakes as one. Wow. They were amazing, and I knew I would love my Polish Omelette as well (and I was correct!).

We said our sad goodbyes, lamenting that this wonderful whirlwind 18 hours was ending, and we hit the road for Birmingham to visit our godson. We settled into our hotel in Birmingham, and caught up with some more work. When David called to say he was on the way home from the hospital, we were thrilled to log off and head over to see him.

After catching up for a bit in his apartment, we headed for dinner at Jim ‘N Nicks BBQ. I didn’t realize it was a chain until I just looked it up. It’s a beautiful place. The service was excellent. All that is nice, but get to the food Hadar! Man, it was unbelievable. They start you off with homemade corn muffins that are infused with cheese (subtle, but delectable) that melt in your mouth.

Feeding the Meter

Feeding the Meter

David and I both had the Pulled Pork platter, and Lois had Smoked Chicken that she raved about. We capped it off with some Starbucks and headed back to David’s to cath up on Lost. We were two episodes behind, but David was happy to watch the one he had seen already again, and then he too got to watch the new one from the night before. We’re all caught up now, and anxiously awaiting the next few episodes. The excitement is back (it never left for me, but Lois is into this season more than last year’s).

Being a first-year resident, David is one rung above an indentured slave. Today is one of his all-too-regular 30-hour calls (he leaves early in the morning for the hospital, and doesn’t return until the following afternoon!). That meant we were on own own today. We headed to his apartment after breakfast and set up our computers for more catching up (he was long gone, and yes, it’s still a vacation). 😉

Just before lunch, we headed out for a shopping spree. Being godparents, we had a severe need to populate every empty space in David’s apartment with useful things (OK, so it was really more of Lois’ maternal instincts, but I was happy to play along). We bought a bunch of stuff at Bed Bath and Beyond. Then I dropped Lois at Costco and headed to have lunch by myself.

When we were last in Birmingham, we had another of our friends along with us, Wes. During that trip, both Wes and David told us that their favorite fast-food place is Chick-Fil-A. They couldn’t believe that I had never been in one. We had an aborted attempt to have lunch from there one day (my fault). After the trip, Wes sent us a Chick-Fil-A gift card (thanks again Wes!) to ensure that we made it our business to check it out.

Amazingly, in two consecutive trips to Zope, we were unable to schedule a visit to any of the Chick-Fil-A’s, including the one that is 1/4 of a mile from our hotel! I was determined to make it to one on this trip, and this seemed to be the most opportune time.

So, I drove 1/4 of a mile from Costco and ate a #1 meal in the place. It was excellent, so I now understand why many people rave about Chick-Fil-A (since Wes and David, at least five additional friends have told me that they consider it the best fast-food place). Considering that I still have a couple more meals left on the gift card, I will be thanking Wes again (and again). 🙂

I wandered into the Costco, and was surprised that I didn’t have too much trouble finding Lois, even though she was in the diagonally opposite corner from the main entrance (a very long walk!). She was just about done, so we both were impressed with the timing of my arrival. You would not believe how much stuff she bought. Of course, you might, given that I got to drive to Chick-Fil-A, eat a meal there, and get back, before she was done shopping. 🙂

When we got back, we experienced a few weeks worth of weight-lifting exercise. There is a very steep set of stairs outside of David’s apartment complex, then two more landings inside to get to his unit. We lugged all of the booty up over the course of four or five trips. Given how cold it had been on this trip, I had forgotten that sweating was possible. In addition to the manual labor, the weather broke today, and it was 60 degrees while we were unpacking.

While I am finishing this blog, Lois is on the phone with a Zope engineer, working away (is anyone surprised?). We will relax the rest of the evening (a little late night shopping is on the current agenda, but not for David this time). We can’t wait to see David again tomorrow afternoon (or more appropriately, after his obligatory nap!).

So, what’s left to say? Just the real explanation of the title of the blog.

In addition to listening to a ton of music (live and on the iPod), Lois also reads about music a lot. When something sounds like she would like it, she makes a note. A few times a year, she emails a list to me telling me that the time has come to place a large order. Lois really prefers physical CDs, largely for the liner notes, and I prefer downloads, both because they are cheaper (typically) and immediate (always).

One of the groups that she had on her list was One Flew South. I downloaded it a while ago, but for any number of reasons, we hadn’t listened to it (or most of the others on her most recent list). During this trip, Lois fired up One Flew South. Instant love. Lois thought there were nine voices (the harmonies are so rich), but it turns out that it’s only three guys.

Lois usually zones in on a handful of songs on a CD and she plays them over-and-over, to the exclusion of the others. This happened on this CD as well, and the ones that sang to her, have been listened to more than I would care to admit.

So, after hearing them for the umpteenth time, Lois said, “When you blog, please title it Two Flew South“, and it was so. 🙂

One more week to go on this road trip, and I intend to savor every single moment!

Lost Season 4 on TV/DVR

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Lois and I watched the first three seasons on DVD over a relatively short period of time. On balance, we both really like the show a lot (me more than she, I believe). There were frustrations at times, but it’s a very creative story, with lots of twists and turns to hold your interest.

One of the things that is great about watching it on DVD in concentrated doses is that you can keep the very complex plot twists in the front of your mind pretty easily. In addition, even when they take a wrong (sour) turn, you can wash away that feeling quickly, by powering through and getting hooked again in the next episode (or two).

With that in mind, both of us were a little nervous about watching Lost on TV (actually, DVR) this season. The entire rhythm of the experience had to be different, not necessarily worse, but likely so. That’s exactly how it turned out (worse).

The DVR helped a drop, as we typically got to watch at least two episodes in a row (sometimes three). But, there were very long stretches in between, both because of our travel schedule and because of the writers strike, which caused a long delay between new episodes.

At best, this meant losing threads and missing some nuance.

As far as the show is concerned, they are still extremely clever, and can still regularly give me a jolt (in the good sense) of blowing my mind with their creativity. That’s great!

On the not-so-great side, they switched gears from a technique that worked wonderfully the first three seasons. In those, they used flashbacks to give great depth to each character’s development, especially in explaining why/how they might react in certain ways to different situations. It was one of the more interesting parts of the show.

In the third season cliffhanger, they introduced the concept of flash forwards. Unfortunately, they overused the technique (IMHO) in Season 4. I believe that they think it builds a sense of excitement when you know what’s going to happen, but you can’t conceive of how it can possibly come to be. For a very few story lines, that’s true, and indeed, they did achieve that effect relatively cleverly and seamlessly a few times.

Still, it’s a trick, whereas the flashbacks (to me) weren’t, as they were explanatory. This is meant to tease you as to what might be possible. To repeat, it’s not unclever, but it’s overused and generally unnecessary.

On to the story itself (don’t worry, I have no intention of giving away anything). This season was touted as being more self-contained, meaning that more stories would be wrapped up within each episode, and more would be revealed in general throughout this shorter season (by design, not just because of the writers strike). To that I say: hogwash.

Very few episodes were self-contained. Very few story lines were wrapped up even within a two episode stretch. The big reveals (as they say on HGTV) came mostly in the season cliffhanger. No doubt that there were some brilliant moments during the season. I am definitely still hooked by the general story line and characters, so I’ll definitely be watching next season. But, this season was extremely choppy, made worse for us by the long stretches between episodes.

Why did we watch it on TV/DVR then and not just wait for the DVDs? Mostly, because (unlike Lois) I really don’t want to know anything about the show before I see it. I don’t read fan sites, don’t want to hear what happened in an episode I haven’t seen yet, and I’m not interested in the speculation of what might be going on in the story line. I like to allow the actual creators/writers of the show to unveil the story to me the way they meant it.

So, I was nervous that even commercials (particularly deep into the season) would annoy me. Of course, now that I’ve written about Lost a few times, I was also worried that friends might say something, assuming that I was relatively up to date in my watching. I decided that I would rather watch it semi-regularly, than risk having some of the surprises ruined.

I’m not sorry I did that but it may very well have contributed to the feeling that this season wasn’t as well done as the previous three. Lois certainly was not enamored with this season and probably could have given up watching if I wasn’t still a big fan. In the end, this season’s cliffhanger is also a mind-blower, but it too suffers from the futuritis syndrome (which is all I’ll say about that!).

Lost Season 3 on DVD

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Well, mid-January has arrived, and as predicted, we found some time to hunker down and watch Lost Season 3 on DVD.

We started on Sunday, and with a push to stay up much later than we typically do, finished the entire season at midnight last night. There are 23 episodes in season three, roughly 45 minutes each (since there are no commercials), so total viewing of roughly 17 hours. Whew. 🙂

The bottom line is that I thoroughly enjoyed it (I believe more than Lois did, but she enjoyed it as well). That said, the details aren’t as simple as that.

I had heard the following complaint from a number of die-hard Lost fans, who watched season three on TV last year: “Too many repeats!”. I didn’t know exactly what to make of that comment when I heard it (over and over). I didn’t want to ask for clarification either, because I’m one of those people who love to be completely surprised, whereas Lois loves to know exactly what’s going to happen.

Now I can guess what they meant, but I still can’t be sure, because I didn’t watch it on TV, waiting a week for each episode. Originally, I thought that perhaps they meant that season three was delivered with lots of full-episode repeats throughout the year, making it painful to keep the story fresh and connected week-to-week. Now I think that people were complaining that in each individual episode, there was more repetition of previously viewed scenes.

I don’t mean the inevitable “Previously on Lost” mechanism that nearly all serials have to use, but rather flashback scenes that were 95% identical to previous flashbacks, only shown from someone else’s point of view. It’s a legitimate complaint. But, on DVD, when watching in marathon sessions, it’s not as bad.

I think the real frustration with that technique in a weekly serialization, is that you get less new stuff, and then have to wait another week for a dose. On DVD, you plow through the repetition, pick up the new 5% in the scene that they were trying to convey, and find out the new new thing minutes later anyway.

Another complaint (that we had) is that the show meandered a bunch in season three. Not in the sense that they had no ideas, but rather that they crammed in too many ideas and plot twists. Some were truly mind-bending, but I believe that this is due more to the fact that they hope to spin this franchise out for so long, that they want to plant as many seeds and hooks as they can. If they told a deep, but simple story, they’d be under pressure to wrap it up more quickly than otherwise.

As with the past seasons, the finale is a two-hour action-packed frenzy. They introduced a new technique in those episodes that hadn’t been used before in the previous 69 episodes, and it was horribly executed (in my opinion). I won’t ruin it, for those who are like me, and won’t want to know. Trust me, I didn’t give away anything with the above.

Both Lois and I felt that the writing in season three was a bit “Lost” (sorry, couldn’t resist). That said, I still loved it, will absolutely watch season four, and will continue to praise the show to newcomers, searching for something they can obsess about, lose themselves in, and soak up tons of entertainment time on, for relatively little money.

The only argument in our house will be whether we agree to suffer the weekly episodic wait (Lois is leaning in that direction), or skip this season and wait for the DVD (my preference). Lois wins nearly every argument on every subject matter, so you can guess what the outcome of the above dilemma will be. 😉

As with the past seasons, I am continually impressed with the ingeniously simple explanations that they often come up with when solving a previous puzzle/conundrum. Many times, you wait for a fantastic (as in fantasy!) explanation, which would be fine, but perhaps not as satisfying as a clever explanation that you just hadn’t thought of.

Lost – Seasons 1 and 2 on DVD

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On the weekend of August 18th, 2007, our godson and his good friend (who we count as a good friend as well now for many years) visited us in NYC. I commemorated that weekend with five posts in a row. For me personally, the highlight was our accidental (and serendipitous) discovery of Girlyman on August 19th at Joe’s Pub!

We all had a total blast (on the off chance that you couldn’t tell that from the posts themselves). 😉

To thank us for the weekend, they bought us the DVD sets of Lost, Seasons 1 and 2. Of course, we were thankful for the gift and the recognition of our effors to create a memorable weekend. That said, we didn’t expect that we’d enjoy Lost all that much.

A number of times, I’ve mentioned that on some things, I’m a huge laggard. It took me forever to buy a standalone DVD player. I had a few DVR’s, so I didn’t see the need to play any DVD’s.

Lois, being a collector/archivist/gatherer (pick your own noun), was buying DVDs that interested her, long before we had a machine to play them on. When the choices started to include wide vs full screen, I encouraged her to buy wide screen, even though we didn’t own a wide screen capable tv!

Anyway, we eventually bought a DVD player for the house and the apartment. We also finally got a wide screen (HDTV) for the bedroom in the house, though everywhere else is still an old analog tv.

That background aside, the reason we didn’t think we’d enjoy Lost is that we had zero interest in watching it when it first came out. We don’t like any kind of horror movies. We don’t watch any reality shows either. Somehow, this felt like the combination of the two (at least from the buzz).

We had it on the shelf for two months, and I could feel Lois itching to at least try it, so that we could honestly give our feedback and say thanks (again) for the gift. A little over a week ago, with only reruns on regular tv anyway, we started season one. We’re obsessive types to begin with (I’ve mentioned that a number of times as well), so we averaged at least four episodes a day, every day. Each DVD has a maximum of four episodes on them, and there are six DVDs per season, plus one bonus DVD.

It’s interesting from the beginning, but for us (remember, our tastes probably aren’t normal), the first three episodes were also quite choppy, some excellent moments, and some mind-numbing stupidity. We hesitated pushing on. We are both 100% sure that if we had watched it on regular tv, with commercials, waiting a week between episodes, there is no chance that we would have watched after the third episode.

Thankfully, watching on DVD, with zero commercials, and the ability to watch as many episodes in a row as you can stand, and with the additional motivation of not wanting to tell our benefactors that we gave up, we kept watching.

We got totally hooked. We just finished season two this morning.

Here are a few thoughts on the show, without giving away anything whatsoever.

There are two separate themes in every episode:

  1. What is happening to the group, in terms of their predicament
  2. What is happening to individual characters, in terms of their former lives, and how it has shaped them and somehow becomes mirrored in an island interaction

The general story line is incredibly inventive, and often brilliant as well. There are things that happen that you simply can’t imagine how they are going to explain, without some magic. Often though, many episodes later, they explain it in a way that simply feels completely right and natural. Kudos to the writers for delivering that kind of experience so masterfully.

The other thing that is done nearly flawlessly are the flashback scenes where you learn about each character. The depth of the back stories is amazing. They show scenes that all by themselves would make for a compelling show, rather than just trying to explain why a particular character acted in a particular way on the island. Considering how many different characters get detailed back stories, I can’t even comprehend the talent of the writing staff.

For the vast majority of the cast, the acting is also flawless. There is one notable exception. For us, the star, Matthew Fox, is wooden at best. On rare occasion, he can deliver a scene in a believable manner, but not often.

For me, season two was better than season one (which was excellent). Again, there was an episode or two that didn’t live up to the rest, but nothing like the first few in season one where you just scratched your head wondering if they just lost their way.

So, is it a perfect show? Not even close. In particular, to me, they don’t really know what they want to do with Jack (the Matthew Fox character). Lois got so annoyed at me yelling at the screen “No way he could be that stupid!”. She finally asked me to zip it, and that she got it already.

The writers might respond that it was their exact intention to engage me, but if that’s true, I say hooey! Characters can have a twist, but they should be understandable, and hopefully even explainable. Too many times, he simply appears stupid.

Is it a great show? To me, the answer is an unequivocal yes! We have already ordered season three on DVD, but we won’t get to watch it until mid-January given our crazy schedule. The timing just worked out perfectly for us to plow through two seasons in roughly one week. One of the reasons was unfortunate. Lois was quite sick for the past six days (she’s still sick, but hopefully on the mend), so she didn’t slave away at the computer as much as she otherwise would have) and that made her mellow enough to watch for hours on end.

So, is there a difference between a great show and a perfect one? Of course. Would I ask a rhetorical question if I didn’t have the answer? 😉 To us, Burn Notice is a perfect show. We can’t wait for it to return this coming summer!

On to the extras. On many of the DVD’s, there is a Bonus Features section. In addition, there is a seventh DVD in each season’s package, that is only bonus stuff (behind the scenes, interviews, how certain things were done, etc.).

The vast majority of the bonus features on the bonus DVD are well worth the extra time to watch. For me, who knows zero about how movies are made, it was a blast to see how they do things (including getting the plane on to the island, etc.).

One of the bonus features on the first season DVD was the audition tapes of many of the actors. Interestingly (to me) was watching Matthew Fox read the part of Sawyer (most of the male actors read the Sawyer part to begin with). He was horrible. Even people that could never pull off the current Sawyer from a believability perspective, at least read the parts believably. Fox didn’t. I had already formed my opinion that he played his part weakly, but wondered whether they wanted him to play it that way. Watching the auditions convinced me that he just doesn’t have the talent that the rest of them do.

During season one, we were more interested in not breaking the rhythm of watching the episodes, so we didn’t watch a single bonus track on the non-bonus DVD. However, when we finished the first DVD of season two (four episodes), we decided to watch the bonus feature on that DVD. It was really interesting, but, amazingly, they (I assume accidentally!) gave away a key secret that didn’t get revealed for another two or three episodes! I couldn’t believe it, and now I won’t watch any of the bonus features on a regular DVD until the season is over.

One of the underlying themes in the show is the interconnectedness of the various characters (the six degrees of separation). They do it well. That said, it’s still in the over-the-top phase for me (though I enjoy it thoroughly!), since we don’t yet (even after season two) have a clue as to why it’s all happening.

Lois made an insightful comment last night. We both saw the movie Babel (with Brad Pitt), and thought it was incredibly stupid and poorly done. Of course, it too was themed on interconnectedness and six degrees of separation. She commented last night that Lost achieved this goal whereas Babel failed.

Anyway, while I’ve probably lost every single reader by now, the bottom line is that if you haven’t seen Lost yet, get the DVD’s, and don’t give up before you finish at least the entire first DVD, perhaps even the first two (even if you are tempted!).

Thanks guys, this one really hit the spot, and it’s the gift that keeps on giving, in that it lasted well over a week and will continue when season three arrives! 🙂