Discovering The Classics

rg1024_cartoon_tv_smallThis past week, the boys and I have been discovering some old classics both on television and book form.  Growing up, I was a big fan of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe.  I would tune in every day to see what new schemes Skeletor had come up with and how He-Man and his friends would defeat the villain.  I even had many of the toys.

Fast forward thirty-something years and I noticed that He-Man is on Netflix.  I had toyed with the idea of introducing the boys to it for awhile, but decided to rewatch it myself instead.  One piece of advice to anyone thinking of reliving their childhood by watching old cartoons you grew up on:  Don’t.  Don’t watch them again.  Chances are, you’ll find the writing horrible and the animation simplistic.

I experienced this first when I watched the first episode of Voltron for the first time since my childhood.  I remembered an incredible show where five folks board robot lions that somehow combine into and incredible, evil-busting robot.  I saw a show with plot holes big enough for Voltron to fly through and animation that my memory had clearly digitally enhanced to make it seem better.

He-Man fared little better during my re-watching of the show.  It seemed very simplistic animation-wise and plot-wise.  To begin, I showed the boys the 2002 reboot under the theory that the more recent show (which I had watched when it aired as half-guilty pleasure and half-nostalgic remembering) would be better than the older one.  Before the boys could finish the reboot, though, NHL found the old show.  They began to watch that one.  After an off-hand comment by me, NHL then sought out She-Ra and watched that as well.

Oddly enough, as the bad writing was making me cringe more than Adam’s fearful pet (named Cringer for those non-He-Man fans out there), the boys were thoroughly enjoying the show.  They didn’t care about the poor animation quality or the bad writing.  All they knew was that He-Man was very strong and would constantly beat Skeletor no matter what evil plot he concocted.

On a personal level, I’ve been delving into a classic myself: Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  I had heard a lot of good things about this book and even got familiar enough with some of the often quoted lines to repeat them to people at the proper times.  (For example, giving "42" as the answer to any question asked of me.)  However, I had never actually read the book.  20 Geek points from TechyDad!

(Yes, I did just make a quasi-Harry Potter reference while writing about Hitchhiker’s Guide.)

Two Kindle eBook borrowings from the library later, and I’ve read both Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and The Restaurant at the End of the Universe.  (The latter I read in under 24 hours.)  I’ve now moved on to Life, The Universe, and Everything.  I’m really enjoying these books and keep wondering why I didn’t read them sooner.

What classics have you read/watched recently or have you introduced to your children recently?

NOTE: The "cartoon tv" image above is by rg1024 and is available via

Cheating On Cable

hdtv_smallHi, I’m TechyDad and I’m a cheater.  I’ve been cheating for years as has been my wife.  My kids have been cheating too.

Confused?  Let me back up a bit.

With the rise of Internet video services, a lot of people have found that they aren’t reliant on cable TV for their video entertainment fix.  At first, there were simply short videos on sites like YouTube.  Entertaining, but no match for the ongoing half hour or hour long series that aired on cable.  Then came services like Netflix and Amazon Video On Demand with many series available to watch and YouTube channels dedicated to longer/ongoing shows.

At this point, many people decided that they didn’t need cable TV anymore.  They "cut the cord" and ditched cable.  Although more and more people were doing this, cable companies kept denying that cable cutting was a major trend.  They just couldn’t see how people could replace them with Internet video.  Although some cable executives have begun acknowledging the trend, to most cord cutters were a fringe group, easily ignored.

Now, however, the cable companies have identified a new threat:  Cord Cheaters.  By the sound of it, you might think this means people who get cable without paying for it.  Or, perhaps, it’s people who somehow manage to get premium channels when they’ve only paid for basic.  That’s not what this is referring to, however.  "Cord cheaters" are people who don’t use the cable company’s Pay Video On Demand features and instead pay companies like Netflix or Amazon VOD for video content.

According to DigitalSmiths Corp’s "Video Trends Discovery Report", only 27.1% of respondents have made purchases from the cable company’s VOD menu.   For comparison, 41.7% pay a Netflix monthly fee and 48.2% use a subscription over-the-top service.  This has cable companies worried.  They’re worried that money is flowing to other companies when it could be going to them.

Of course, the reason that this money isn’t flowing to them is that companies like Netflix are providing a better service.  There is more on Netflix for me and my kids to watch than on all of my cable providers’ VOD channels put together.  In addition, it works smoother, has a nicer interface, and costs less.  Is it any wonder that we "cheat" on our cable company with Netflix?

Even though this report is recent, some cable companies have already seen this coming.  They have tried taking "precautions" in the form of low usage caps and overage fees instead of improving their VOD services.  Time Warner Cable trialed caps as low as 5GB, but withdrew them when people complained about how low they were.  They later brought them back as an "optional service" where you would save $5 a month but get a 5GB cap.  Of course, every 1GB you went over cost you $1 so the savings were minimal, if any.

Usage caps, especially low ones, mean that users who watch videos online will have a hard limit on how much online videos can be watched.  Make the caps low enough and the overage fees high enough and Internet video becomes too expensive to use.  Even a customer does use Internet video, the cable company winds up getting more money.  This is a win-win for the cable company, but a lose-lose for consumers.

Unfortunately, most customers don’t have much of a choice in their ISP.  In my case, my only choice of broadband is Time Warner Cable.  If they decided to implement low caps tomorrow, I’d have no recourse.  They wouldn’t have an incentive to provide me with better service because there would be no competition.

Still, the Internet video genie is out of the bottle and no amount of trickery from cable companies will get it shoved back in.  In fact, when you get right down to it, I find the term "cord cheater" to be insulting. "Cheater" implies that I’m doing something wrong and possibly illegal by paying a company other than my cable company for video services.  I didn’t.  Everything I did was perfectly legal.  If the cable company doesn’t like it, then they need to compete with a better service, not scare tactics and rhetoric.

NOTE: The "HDTV" image above is by jgm104 and is available from

Asperger’s and Social Cues From Television

Aspergers-TelevisionGrowing up, I remember being mystified by a lot of social interaction.  At the time, of course, I didn’t know what Asperger’s Syndrome was or that I likely have it.  Instead, I felt like the only outsider who just didn’t "get" how people interacted.  I turned, to some degree, to what seemed to be a great resource for displaying human interaction:  Television.

On television, I could examine people interacting in various different scenarios without having to actually be a part of those situations.  I could be a dispassionate observer, making mental notes of how to act when similar situations came up in real life.

Of course, television is a pretty poor guide for human behavior.  People get away with things on television that would be completely inappropriate in real life.  On television, you can play a horrible prank on your teacher and everyone laughs as she looks forlorn at the camera.  Cut to the next scene and there are no consequences.  Do something similar in real life, though, and you’ll quickly find your way to the principal’s office.

Luckily, I was too timid and unsure of myself to ever emulate outrageous stunts from television.  I also quickly realized what a poor guide it was and figured out a better guide: college.  Being forced to live in a social environment 24-7 for months on end (and free from the socially deterring effects of bullying) exposed me to a wide variety of social lessons.  It was a time filled with great highs and terrible lows, but it was a period during which I learned a great deal about human interaction.

Cut to the present and NHL.  Recently, NHL has been emulating some behavior he saw on a television show.  On the show, the action led to a bout of "canned laughter."  Unfortunately, NHL seems to have taken this to mean that, if he does the action, he’ll get laughter as well.  In reality, it’s only getting him in trouble.

I’ve tried talking with him about it – telling him that characters on TV do things that real people can’t do.  I even gave some examples from the same show.  I’m not sure if it sank in or if he’ll try the action again, but I’ve tried my best and will have the talk with him again if needed.

Sadly, the best way for NHL to learn about social appropriateness and interaction is with trial and error.  This means that he will make mistakes.  Many of them.  Even with my help.  I only hope I can help him avoid the worst of them and figure out quicker how to act in social situations.

Mourning Your First Doctor

doctor-who-shirtRecently, Doctor Who fans were saddened to hear that Matt Smith was stepping down from playing the eleventh Doctor.  We had grown to adore his eccentric Doctor who loved fish fingers and custard (but not beans… bad, bad beans), thought fezzes and bowties were cool, and got married to River Song who constantly warned of spoilers.

After months of speculation, it was announced that Peter Capaldi would be taking over as the twelfth Doctor.  This will take some getting used to.  Every actor brings their own spin on the character of the Doctor.  Some are more action oriented.  Some are more comedic.  Some wear leather.  Some wear long scarves.  Some rely on their sonic screwdrivers and some shun the device.

There is a usual progression that happens for fans when the Doctor regenerates.  At first, everyone goes into mourning over the loss of the current Doctor.  We bemoan the voyages we could have had with him.  The places and times we could have seen.  The stories left to tell.  Then, the replacement announcement is made.  Some cautiously accept it and some reject it declaring that there’s no way this actor could play the Doctor.

Finally, the time comes and the Doctor regenerates.  A few episodes later, we realize that this new Doctor is fantastic.  He’s very different from the old Doctor but that’s the strength of the show.  The actors change and so does the Doctor.  The show survives any and everyone in it.

My boys are going through this cycle for the first time.  They just watched the two part episode "Bad Wolf" and "The Parting of the Ways."  They saw the ninth Doctor in pain.  Every cell in his body was dying and so he did what Time Lords do to cheat death.  He regenerated.  After some final farewells in his current form, golden energy shot out of his head and arms.  Gone was the ninth and the tenth took his place.

Honestly, the tenth Doctor (played by David Tennant) is my favorite Doctor.  NHL seems excited to see what comes next.  He’s already accepted the new Doctor and is moving on. JSL, on the other hand, is deep in mourning.  He has declared that the ninth Doctor is his favorite and will always be so.  He wants to see more ninth Doctor episodes (even though he knows there aren’t any).  He’s deep in Doctor Who Mourning.

I know he’ll get over it.  A few episodes in, he’ll be declaring how Doctor 10 is his absolute favorite.  And, before he knows it, he’ll be crying over the tenth’s departure and the eleventh’s arrival and then again for the eleventh’s switch to the twelfth.  There’s something bigger about seeing your first Doctor regenerate, though.

Still, we’ll got to forge ahead.  He might look and act differently, but he’s still the Doctor.  He’ll still have fantastic adventures throughout time and space.  As my boys will soon find out that Doctor 10 is fond of saying: Allons-y!

Doctor Who Geeklings Are Born

TARDIS_SmallFor quite awhile now, I’ve been watching Doctor Who.  I’ve been amazed by the tales of the Time Lord from Gallifrey with two hearts who travelled through time and space in a blue box that’s bigger on the inside.  After some time watching, B decided to watch as well.  I rewatched the "new Who" series with her (from Doctor #9 on) until we only had 4 episodes to go.  (She now wants to save them so she doesn’t go into Who draught until November.)

I went back and forth over whether Doctor Who would be appropriate for my kids.  On one hand, they’d love the adventure and time travelling and weird aliens.  On the other hand, some episodes can be a bit intense.  (I’m looking at you, "Blink.")  There’s nothing horribly scary, mind you.  Monsters/aliens are threatening but not nightmare inducing.  (Some – Adipose – are even cute.)  Still, with NHL’s anxiety issues, I thought a few episodes might be too much for him.

Over time, though, I changed my mind and began to think that both boys could not actually handle it, but love it.  Unfortunately, NHL had it set in his mind that Doctor Who was a scary show that was NOT for him.

Cue, B’s devious plan.

whens_the_doctorFor Father’s Day, B got me "When’s The Doctor."  This "Where’s Waldo" style book sees the eleventh Doctor, Amy, Rory, and the TARDIS lost amid the chaos of many different scenes on many different worlds in many different time periods.  Scattered throughout are not only natives of those times, but some familiar aliens as well.  In addition to spotting the Doctor, the TARDIS and his companions, you can find K-9, Daleks, Weeping Angels, and more.

B meant for me to read the book with the boys, thinking that they would get so wrapped up in finding these characters that they’d want to see the show.  It didn’t look like it was working until NHL greeted me Monday morning with "Dad, I want to watch Doctor Who with you tonight."

So that night we watched "Rose" and two new Doctor addicts were born.  The boys held their breath as creepy plastic mannequins-come-to-life stalked Rose.  They gasped in awe as Rose first entered the TARDIS and was overcome with how it’s bigger on the inside.  The cheered when the Autons were destroyed.  NHL wanted to watch the next episode right then and there, but it was past their bedtime.

Of course, NHL – the consummate geek-in-training that he is – wanted to know all the facts about Doctor Who.  Who are the Daleks?  Who is Davros?  What episode do the Weeping Angels come in?  Is the Pandorica good or evil?  When will we see Cassandra and the Face of Boe?  I answered as many questions as I could (trying to strike a balance of giving enough information to feed his curiosity while steering clear of spoilers).

The next night they didn’t even wait for me. They began watching "The End Of The World" while I made dinner.  NHL got excited as he finally saw Cassandra and the Face of Boe.  He got nervous as Rose was put in danger and excited when the Doctor triumphed in the end.  Part of me felt left out, but a bigger part felt like a proud geek dad. After all, he loved Doctor Who so much that he couldn’t wait an hour to watch it.

Yes, we’ve got two new Whovians on our hands and I’m going to enjoy introducing them to every single episode.  Talk about a fun and geeky family activity.

NOTE: The TARDIS image above is by Tim Hoggarth and is shared via the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license.

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