October 21, 2011

Time for TAPS?

I used to love watching the show Ghost Hunters on television. Now, however, I find the program sadly disappointing. 

It has nothing to do with my views on the existence (or rather, the non-existence) of ghosts and other paranormal activity -- I discuss that topic more in-depth with DJ Grothe of the James Randi Educational Foundation (J-REF) in my book, which can be found here

Look, you don't have to believe in the existence of zombies to enjoy The Walking Dead, for example. But what drew me into Ghost Hunters in the first place was primarily two things: 1) the interesting and engaging personalities of the investigators, and 2) the trust in the evidence that they would present.

As to the first part, I always enjoyed the banter between Steve and Tango as they explored dark passageways on a quest to debunk possible hauntings. Steve's fear of heights, spiders, flying, heck - his fear of everything, it seems, except ghosts - was always good for a laugh. 

It brought a fun spirit (so to speak) to the whole enterprise.

The series' high point, for me, cames when during a live Halloween special, guest-investigator and ECW wrestler, Elijah Burke, suddenly got freaked out and ran off screaming. It was hilarious, and whether or not you believe ghosts are real - his reaction certainly was authentic, and more importantly -- entertaining beyond belief.

Now, though, Steve and Tango's appearances have become few and far between. The new interchangeable batch of investigators is full of bland and unremarkable non-entities. And with none of them distracting me from the "gathering of evidence" I can see even more clearly the cracks that exist in that department.

When the show first started, the evidence consisted primarily of grainy video and EVPs - recorded audio that when played back seems to have captured spooky, otherworldly responses to questions that were not heard "live" by the investigators. 

While there's plenty of room for interpretation of these images and sounds, at least the audience at home can actually see and/or hear them. Sure, the conclusion that there is no other explanation for these things save for the supernatural is not one I'm on board with, but at least I can concede it remains a "possible" explanation, however unlikely. 

But over the years, new devices have been brought into the mix -- tools such as the K-II meter (seen below) which TAPS claims will measure variation in the EMF field in a room. They'll ask questions to a ghost they believe to be in a room and when the meter's lights move, they present it as proof that the ghost is responding to them.

Of course, that might hold some water if there was any scientific basis for believing that when a ghost talks (and we'll assume for the sake of argument that ghosts exist at all and that the meter itself does what they say it does) that by so doing, the EMF in a room is somehow affected. But there really is no reason to make any connection between the two things. 

It would be like me, sitting in my house, watching my cat raise his paw at random non-specific intervals and to conclude that it must be being caused by the inter-dimensional mice that are trying to manifest themselves into our universe. Correlation is not causation. It's all "woo."

Now add to that an annoyingly loud soundtrack that makes it impossible to ever hear the sounds that the investigators claim they are reacting to, along with the need (for dramatic reasons) to always investigate in pitch darkness, even when the claims by homeowners frequently state they've seen apparitions while eating lunch in full sunlight...

Oh, TAPS. I'm afraid... I'm afraid our time here is done. On to the next one...

October 15, 2011


"The Walking Dead" returns for its second season on AMC, and to celebrate, please enjoy this catchy little ditty by Jonathan Coulton.

This One Goes to 11

What's the key to a lasting marriage? 

It's the ability to laugh. 

Even through the hard times... especially then.

It's knowing without question that the person with whom you exchanged vows has got your back 100 percent of the time. And of course, you've got theirs as well.

No doubts about that. Ever.

It's that unspoken bond... the conversations you can have across a crowded room, expressed with only a look here and a tilt of the head there. 

It's knowing that under no circumstances whatsoever should I place either a Starship or Hall & Oates YouTube video right about now... if I know what's good for me... Quick, save me Stefon!

Yes, mostly, it's the laughter. 

And after 11 years with Sara, that's something we still share -- something we actively seek out, even when we've had a day that make us want to scream.

And that's why I still love her... and always will.

Happy Anniversary!

October 13, 2011

This Show Sucks

Lighten up, Morgan! 
I usually enjoy competition-style reality shows that are based on creating some sort of tangible product. Even though eliminations are based on judging which is totally subjective, usually the panels do a good job of explaining the rationale behind the decision on who gets the ax in a given week...

On Project Runway, for example, clothes can be deemed to be constructed poorly or they don't fit the model properly, and I can understand and see that. On Top Chef, while I can't taste the food for myself, when a judge spits out the entree into a napkin, one can easily see the writing on the wall for that soon-to-be saying sayonara contestant.

Which brings me to Work of Art, which debuted last night, and featured a contestant that the show has no problem referring to as "The Sucklord" (real name Morgan, pictured above). It fails on so many levels... first, it tries way too hard to copy the Bravo mold of: model host/eccentric mentor/stern, hard-to-please judges. However, Simon de Pury (below with China "Not Heidi" Chow) is no Tim Gunn and has such a thick accent, he's often impossible to understand. 

"Veldt, we cat some find heart, donuts China?"
A typical exchange with an artist goes something like this: 

Simon: "Well, I don't know what you are doing here, but I am sure it can be something fabulous if you do it, you know?"

Contestant: "Um...."

Simon: "Go for it and be sure to be bowler or the juice willow son horn! Yes?"

Contestant: "Um...."

The actual creative process is interesting to watch as we see the artists struggle to interpret the particular instructions of the challenge... but in the end, it is the pompous judging panel that ruins the program. 

The assignment this week was to take a shlocky piece of art of the "velvet Elvis" variety and transform it into something of "quality." So they praise one contestant for taking a sculpture of a blindfolded woman and painting a picture of it -- "Changing the medium was so clever!" and she is in the top three. Then they scold The Sucklord for taking a painting of Gandalf and making a sculpture based on it -- "You didn't change anything!"

Ugo? You go.
I get that it is a matter of opinion, but when I watch other shows, I marvel at how the contestants can do something I cannot (make a glamorous dress, cook a five-star meal) and in such little time. 

When someone has eight hours to work on a challenge, and does little more than crumpling up a piece of paper, splattering a little paint on it, throwing it on the floor and calling it a day? I can do that. And when that contestant ends up in the top three for their "work" while the esteemed panel eliminates a guy for doing an intricate work that reminded them of Keith Haring (you know, an actual artist)...

Sorry Bravo. I won't be hanging around your gallery.

October 5, 2011

In My Prime?

At least I'm in better shape than this poor lady...

Please, no gifts...

Today I turn 41. 

That's not the answer to life, the universe or anything. 

It's not a nice milestone birthday like "the big four-oh." 

It simply is what it is... 

It was the number of the last symphony composed by Mozart.

It's the age Nate Dogg was when he died. And I haven't laid any busters down or let my gat explode in many a year.

I share a birthday with Kate Winslet, Mario Lemieux, and the actor who played the guy who invented Facebook, among others.

One of those others is Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, who was kind enough to be interviewed for my book.

Ah yes, the book... after all that time spent obsessing over every single word in the writing process, now I obsessively track the Amazon rankings, my mood rising and falling in step with that number... today, it's down, and hence, so am I -- at least a little bit...

I also have a wonderful wife and an amazing little boy in my corner each and every day. I have a job that I love doing, and that I know many people dream of having. Allergies aside, I am in reasonably good health. I am extremely lucky... I get it.

So this is a happy 41st birthday after all. 

But, if you really want to know what would make me happy... have I got a book for you...