MUST WATCH SFF Television Show: Chuck

  • by Gitabushi

chuck

tl;dr: “Chuck” is quite simply the best television show in recent history. Maybe in television history, but that is a little more subjective.

Okay, let’s get into it: I hate incomplete stories. Hate hate hate hate.

I know stories are fiction.  But once I suspend my disbelief to start to enjoy a story, I want it to end.  In the interest of extending this introduction, let me point out that I hated the ending of Wayne’s World, because giving multiple possible endings left me feeling like it didn’t actually end at all.  And I hated reading The Princess Bride, too, because of the book ending subverting the typical fairy tale storybook tropes.  Bah.  Bah, I say!

But I understand that the television business is a rough world.  You have a great premise, but you can’t pay writers until you have a contract.  So you often don’t know for sure how closely the actual filming will stay with the originally-planned storyline, even during the first season. And since subsequent seasons aren’t a sure thing unless the series gets renewed, future storylines aren’t even planned out, and maybe not even considered.

One way to keep your television series on the air is to, just like in writing, raise the stakes.

You already have the premise. People are hooked. Now start complicating things. They are invested in the characters, so put the characters through hell. Set up cliffhangers, particularly about the most popular characters. Leave your audience begging for resolution.

But don’t make it so complicated your audience gives up and ratings plummet.

You can add more and more spinning plates. Kick the resolution down the road.  Tomorrow will take care of itself.

The problem with this short-term thinking?  Sometimes stories never get finished. When things get too complicated, there is no satisfying way to wrap up all the issues, the audience leaves, and the show gets cancelled.  It happened with the X-Files (I’m *so* happy I never started with that). It happened, to an extent, with Lost. It is happening with Game of Thrones, although George R. R. Martin has apparently given an outline to the showrunners so they can finish the story that he can’t seem to.

These sorts of things leave me unsatisfied.

The way to resolve it is to have story arcs. Each episode should be self-contained, for the most part, with an arc that completes at the end of the episode. The season should also have a story arc that wraps up the issues introduced at the beginning of the season and were developed throughout that year.  And then you have an overall series arc, bookended with a resolution.

“Chuck” did those things.  It might have been by accident; I certainly don’t think “Chuck” was able to hire writers significantly better than anyone else in Hollywood. It might have been because they were always hovering at the brink of cancellation, so they felt less at liberty to introduce elements that couldn’t be resolved within one season.

In any case, “Chuck” is a true rarity in American television: a story-based show with nested arcs that actually wraps things up tightly.

The show starts with Chuck having failed at life, having been thrown out of Stanford, dumped by his girl, working at a Big Box store that is beneath his abilities, and lonely. It ends with him accomplished, having developed his many different talents and abilities, retained his humanity despite difficult circumstances, and with the love of his life by his side.

It even bookends locations, (sorta). It doesn’t end at the same location it begins, but the final scene of the last show is at the same location as the final scene of the first show, and for similar reasons.  It was actually masterfully done.

The fact that “Chuck” completes the story is reason enough to watch it.  Writers should study it for structure, characterization, foreshadowing, etc.

But that isn’t all “Chuck” is.

It is a science fiction story: a guy has a supercomputer downloaded into his brain. It’s a comedy: there are some great laugh-out-loud moments. It’s a love story. It’s one of the better assembly-cast works out there: the side characters add so much depth and interest to the story, to include Casey, Morgan, Jeffster, Captain Awesome, and others. It’s a character-growth story: all the characters grow and develop throughout the series.

Another reason to watch is just all the little Easter Eggs and references to past works. There are references to Dune, Spies Like Us, The Terminator, Die Hard, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Charade, and more.

And the Guest Stars! Scott Bakula, Linda Hamilton, Brandon Routh, Summer Glau, Kristin Kreuk, Dolph Lundgren, Richard Chamberlain, Tony Hale, Chevy Chase, Robert Englund, Carrie-Anne Moss, Reginald VelJohnson (in a Die-Hard-ish episode), Bruce Boxleitner, Christopher Lloyd, Morgan Fairchild, Robin Givens, Rachel Bilson, Gary Cole, Nicole Richie, Armand Assante, John Larroquette, Steve Austin, James Hong, “Louis Litt” from “Suits”, Robert Patrick, Fred Willard, Craig Kilborn, Cheryl Ladd, Michael Clarke Duncan, Andy Richter, Mark Hamill…

Okay, now even I’m getting bored of the list.

I was also impressed by how the show surprised me at times. Chuck was a bumbling dork in the first few episodes, but even very early on, the writers were actually able to have some surprisingly good problem resolutions, where Chuck did something intelligent and innovative to solve a problem that didn’t involve his Intersect ability, but merely his native cleverness.  The resolution in the circumstances I’m thinking of were foreshadowed earlier in the episode, but perfectly set up: they seemed like throwaway humor points, yet Chuck was able to apply them perfectly to win the day.  Little moments of skillful writing like that go a long way to earning my Willful Suspension of Disbelief at other moments.

And it does need your Willful Suspension of Disbelief.  It isn’t a perfect show, and it isn’t a perfect series.  It’s merely the best one humanity has ever produced to date.  But that still isn’t perfect.

Still, I urge you to stream it, or better yet, purchase the entire collection from Amazon.  It’s worth it. It’s a great show.

Don’t believe me? Read this review:

Chuck is the most entertaining show on TV. It’s shot well and the writing is smart and quick. The acting is superb from the extras to the main characters.The story is dramatic and visionary where the character dynamics can be turned on a dime. Love and romance, an agent searching for a good fight, an average guy tossed into the world of espionage; this show has it all.

You will laugh and cry, rejoice and be frustrated because of character depth and great acting. All the characters are lovable and relatable.

NBC has found a hero in Chuck, who as a typical guy, inspires us to be better. The creed of the show is to take care of your family and friends. Simply Chuck calls to do right even in tough times.

It’s certainly a show that will keep you on your toes throughout. Without a doubt this is the best show I’ve ever seen.

At first I was skeptical but after two or three episodes I was hooked because its funny and exciting with a great story to it. I implore you to take a chance on Chuck, trust me its worth it. Regardless of anything else there is nothing else on TV like it.

And no, that wasn’t me that wrote it.  But it captures the show perfectly.

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Democratization of Choice? Can’t Think of a Catchy Title

– By Gitabushi

We are in a very weird time, politically speaking.

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Leftist Spokesmodel is Not Amused by my Unwillingness to Pay for her Birth Control

The Left is moving farther and farther Left. They seem to feel encouraged by their victories in matters like Same Sex Marriage, Govt-funded health care and successful use of the Overton Window to protect their preferred politicians.

At the same time, the Right has had a series of victories that, in the United States at least, leaves conservatives with control of the Supreme Court, the Presidency both halves of Congress, 33 Governorships, and a majority of the state legislatures.  I’ve seen it said that Democrats lost more than 1000 seats during Obama’s terms, if you include state positions.

From another perspective, however, Democrats have won more overall votes than Republicans in the US, it just hasn’t translated into victories because of the way their votes are concentrated in urban areas.

There have been conservative victories in individual gun rights, conservative victories in religious liberty; we’re making some progress in dismantling the Democrat money machine, appear to be ramping up to defund Planned Parenthood (striking a blow for human rights of the most vulnerable), and widespread vote fraud is finally getting attention. (There was no proof of vote fraud previously because Democrat officials had successfully prevented us from looking).

Simultaneously, there is a great realignment, as Democrats doubled down on identity politics, driving moderates into voting GOP, no matter how reluctantly.

The thing is, there’s something else at work here.

Information explosion.

Amazon could not have been successful 30 years ago.  It was impossible to gather the information and present it in a way that people could make informed choices.

Just as the internet and computing power have gathered information and enabled algorithms to help people make better choices in their purchases, these same elements will also enable individuals to make better choices in the government they want.

This, more than anything, will destroy all the Leftist politics that rise from Marxism.

Marxism and its descendants, like Communism, socialism, Progressivism, Feminism, etc., are all predicated on one-size-fits-all governing, with choices given to you by an all-powerful, all-knowing government.  But these isms always fail, too, because a central government can’t do as well as individuals making choices that work bets for them.

However, many aspects of life were easier to implement via government.  I’m sure there are many examples, but right now I’m thinking specifically of education.

With credentialing, standards, infrastructure, payroll, etc., it was just easier to let govt handle education, providing school systems that served local geographic areas.  Economy of scale made it work poorly, but still work.

Vouchers have the potential to cause an education revolution, however.

But linking education dollars to the student rather than to their local school, it opens up the possibility of all sorts of schools opening up in competition to the govt school. It was never cost effective to have more than one school in a small town of 2500 people with, say, 240 in the high school.

With vouchers, though, it becomes cost-effective to have 12 schools of 20 students each, all competing to be the best school so that parents will want their students to attend. Of course, it wouldn’t break down that way.  The most popular school would probably grow (why not capture more of the voucher money?), while less popular schools would probably specialize to try to retain what they could of the voucher income.  So maybe one 100-student school for average students, a military school for discipline problems, a 40-student college prep school offering only AP courses and requiring a test to get in, and two or three Vo-Tech schools focusing on different practical skills for those who least suited for college.

It would have been impossible to organize, staff, and fund this much diversity in a small town before, dealing with all the accreditation and public school dollars.  But the internet and computing power will allow us to Amazonize education, letting parents (or the students themselves) choose the best way to spend their education voucher dollars.

Sure, there will be mistakes, and failures, and bad choices.  Some kids will be worse off in this sort of system. But despite our best efforts and high ideals, students are already being failed and left behind by our current education system. Throwing more money at the current system hasn’t helped…it just sucks up money to no effect. The biggest advantage of the Voucher system will be the innate incentive for schools to fix problems and minimize damage to the students.

Vouchers provide economic incentive and economic freedom to experiment and innovate.

And this will happen in other areas, too. Expect the information revolution to come to Health Care soon. And energy consumption.  Why can’t we have a nationwide grid that allows me to buy energy from Wyoming if they can provide it to me cheaper?  Sure, the power plant in Wyoming can’t push the electrons that far, but energy is somewhat fungible….we should be able to make power companies source-agnostic, and buying electricity should eventually be as competitive as your cellphone service.

The Left is going to collapse. It’s going to be interesting to see what takes its place for the people that *want* to give up their liberty in exchange for security and/or preferential treatment.

I built a pie

I’ve wanted to build something with Raspberry Pi for a while now. But I never really came across any projects that interested me, and/or I didn’t want to solder stuff. But then Nintendo flipped everyone off with NES Classic Edition, and word is that SNES Classic Edition is now in the works. I’m not holding my breath that supply will be able to meet demand this time.

So F it – I’ll make my own! But better!

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I knew the Pi would be a relatively simple and straightforward little gadget to assemble, but dang. It was literally just a few pieces to fit and sometimes snap together.

Look at those cute little heat sinks.

I was surprised by how small this thing is. Fits in the palm of your hand.

So that was easy. Reformatting the microSD card (using the nifty little USB adapter provided in the kit) and loading up an image with the Retropie OS was really the hardest part of “building” it, mostly because there were several steps and a few little utilities to download.

 

The main hurdle was my display, actually. Damn Insignia TV was overscanning and cutting off the border of the Retropie’s display, and apparently this model has no fit-to-screen or overscan setting to toggle.

So I had to dig into the OS’s config file and play around with the overscan properties – lucky that’s an option! It was a little tricky when the text was cut off at the edge of the screen, but eventually got it sorted. Woot!

Now all that’s left is to load up some roms! Legally, I can only download and play games that I already own. But if I were to download the entire SNES, NES, and Sega libraries and do some sorting, and then select titles from other consoles like Dreamcast, PS, N64, and maybe some arcade games…well, I imagine that would be the most time-consuming piece of this project.

Anyway, it always feels nice to successfully build something. F you, Nintendo.

l

-Bushi

bushi

Java(Script) and Twine

Has it been over a week since I posted anything? Geez. Well, last week I was suffering some food poisoning (though I did manage to get my Castalia House piece up!), and together with wedding planning, something had to give. I beg your indulgence!

Before my bout, I’d decided to take another shot at something I’ve only thus far barely even touched upon – programming. Because I need another project I don’t have time for. Over the years I’ve picked up bits and pieces of almost inconsequential coding experience – a smattering of HTML at computer camp as a kid, a pinch of Visual Basic in high school, a couple dozen chapters of Learn Python the Hard Way.

It’s always been a dream of mine to make a video game, though I’ve never had the fire required to give up my other hobbies in pursuit of that goal. There have been RPG Maker attempts that were quickly aborted after scope got too out-of-hand and frustration grew.

Not too long ago, I told a software developer friend of mine that I’ve been thinking of trying once more to learn a programming language. One of my issues in the past was that I never really had a solid goal, or concrete projects to keep me interested. I got bored with writing Python scripts that merely asked users for their favorite color or spit out the cube of 9. Perhaps if I were to go into this with the goal of writing some very simple games or programs?

Anyway, my friend listened to me babble about my situation and asked me if I’d heard of Twine, which he suggested might be a good starting point for me if I just wanted to make a game. Simply explained, Twine is an open-source tool that seems best-purposed for creating text-based “non-linear” stories and games.

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It publishes to HTML files, so it’s fairly easy to quickly create something and share it. Though Twine does have its own syntax, it also supports HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. You can use conditionals and variables and media files, too. So depending on how deep you want to go, it seems there’s a lot you can do with it.

So far I’ve created two very simple “games” that I was planning to design as smaller elements of a larger game I’d like to make. One is a variation of the game Nim. The other is a riddle game.

I did encounter some frustration with the limits of the native Twine syntax and had to do a lot of debugging, which prompted me to explore JavaScript. I think knowing JS would give me a lot more flexibility in my coding.

I’m not quite sure if or when I’ll proceed with my Twine project, but I would like to continue studying JavaScript. Even if my game is still far off, the coding knowledge and experience can only help me as an IT guy. If I do pump out anything fun, though, I’ll have to host it somewhere and share it with y’all.

That’s about it for now; I started playing Undertale the other day, which I’ve heard is a pretty fast one to get through. Excellent game so far. I’m trudging through Eyes of the Overworld, which pains me to say, for I love Jack Vance. But Cugel is just such a d-bag. I’ve got the first Lensman book on the side, and I’m hoping to get to Larry Niven’s Neutron Star and ERB’s At the Earth’s Core before long.

Ah, if only there were more time!

-Bushi

bushi

The four most important troubleshooting steps

I know I’ve mentioned the IT Crowd once or twice here. If you’re into British comedy and/or you work in IT, you may want to check it out on Netflix. If not, I guess you can bugger off, wot.

So I’ve been working in the industry for about a year now, and I’ve learned much. I’ve found, though, that the cliches are true. We have relatively good users at my organization, but my palm and face have yet remained acquainted. While we do run into some head-scratchers, there are calls that can be addressed by one of the following:

1. Turn it off and on again. Yup, this is a big one. When in doubt, ask the user to restart their machine and tell them you’ll be over shortly. Often they’ll call or email you back to say the restart seems to have fixed the problem (or you’ll swing by and everything is now working fine).

2.  Make sure it’s plugged in. I have yet to encounter a monitor that’s gone bad. Usually a connector has come lose or gotten unplugged somehow. Sometimes you’ll even get a power cord that’s been accidentally unplugged (mistaken for another device?) or jostled by the cleaning lady.

3. Is it turned on? This can happen with printers or other devices that may be set to sleep without anyone’s knowledge. I hadn’t run into this “dilemma” with a PC until this week, but it does happen. User complained of her monitor not working, saying “No signal.” I figured it was a loose or unplugged monitor cable, but when I got to her office it turns out her computer wasn’t turned on!

4. Be gracious and humble. We like to grouse about user error (PEBCAK and all that), but this is why we’re paid the big bucks. Well, some of us. I work with a lot of folk who are more educated and in many cases probably much more intelligent (or at least more wizened) than I am. Not all of them are “computer people” or know a lot about tech, just as I don’t really know much about medicine or family law. A lot of the time when you run into one of the issues listed above, the user will be embarrassed, and there’s no need to rub it in. Either smile and tell them it was no problem and happens all the time, or nod sagely and wonder aloud if the cleaner may have accidentally knocked out the cord. And be thankful that it was an issue easily remedied!

 

-Bushi

bushi

 

PC joy and pain

Men like to build and create. I’ve never been profoundly interested in or skilled at carpentry or stonework or automobile mechanics or, uh, spacklecraft. I do like to cook, but I’ve never constructed any kind of pastry.

I also do a little bit of gardening (mostly herbs), but I have kind of a brown thumb. Plants under my care have probably a 50-50 shot of surviving.

My creative tendency has been most manifest in my PC building efforts. The first time I built a computer, I made some unfortunate mistakes that wound up costing me. But when I got the thing working, man. Such a feeling of satisfaction – making something that not everyone can, and then putting it to good, honest use.

This second time I fared better on the front end, but over the past two or three weeks I’ve been getting a string of game crashes and blue screens of death. These kinds of setbacks can be profoundly disappointing and frustrating; computers are complex machines with all kinds of moving parts. You can look at dump files and event logs and errors messages, and sometimes you’ll be able to quickly or luckily diagnose the problem.

Often, however, the root cause of your troubles is elusive. Is it a driver? Bad RAM? Corrupted system files? Faulty PSU/not enough juice? Hard Disc error? Apps that just don’t want to cooperate with your operating system?

At least I’ve discovered a number of useful diagnostic utilities and system tools. System File Checker, Driver Verifier, Windows Memory Diagnostics, and Memtest86+ in particular strike me as good tools for any IT Guy or Gal to be aware of.

I also can’t overstate the importance of taking the time to check manufacturer websites for updated drivers, and becoming familiar with the Device Manager. I thought I had updated everything, but over the weekend I found that I had an old ethernet driver. Yesterday I checked out the support webpage for my motherboard and found that I was way behind on my BIOS version. That was a little more tricky to update, but relatively painless.

I haven’t been able to pinpoint any bad hardware so far, though I was suspicious of the RAM and the SSHD for a while. After I updated my BIOS yesterday I played the Witcher 2 for a few hours and didn’t get any BSOD or game crashes, so that’s a good sign. Fingers crossed I’ve stumbled upon the solution to my woes. Having a gaming machine that won’t run games is the absolute pits.

On Monday I couldn’t run Heroes of the Storm for more than a couple minutes without crashing to desktop, and I was branded with my very first “leaver” status. I’m apprehensive, but tonight I’ll give it a go and see if the BIOS update did it. Can an outdated BIOS cause other drivers to crash programs (my HOTS crash event log entry seemed to indicate a GPU driver-related incident)? I guess I’ll find out.

-Bushi

bushi