The Talking (Badly) Dead

SPOILER WARNING: If you’ve not seen all three seasons of The Walking Dead, this video may contain some minor spoilers for you. Watch at your own risk.

I’ve enjoyed the Bad Lip Reading parody videos for some time, but this new one based on AMC’s The Walking Dead is by far the best yet. It’s amazingly well done, especially the voice acting which makes it even funnier. If you love The Walking Dead, you’re in for a treat. The Governor’s finale alone is worth the price of admission.

Jesus, Grandpa!

I recently purchased Game of Thrones season 2 and have been trying to catch up on the series before season 3 airs on HBO. I’m reminded just how great the show’s been, but also just how frustrating some of the plot lines have been. I’m half way through season 2 as I write this and I can’t help but feel a little like the Grandson from The Princess Bride as I watch. In this scenario, I imagine George R.R. Martin as Grandpa.

“Stop Grandpa, you’re reading it wrong.”

“What? What do you mean?”

“Who kills Prince Joffrey in the end? Is it Robb? Is it Sansa, who?”

“No one kills him. He lives.”

“Jesus, Grandpa, what did you read me this for!?”

I truly don’t know how Game of Thrones will turn out (no spoilers please) but I swear if Joffrey doesn’t end up with his head on a pike, I may have to hire a brute squad.

Rooting for Shamy

My favorite television comedy, The Big Bang Theory, returns to TV on Thursday, Sept 27th on CBS. To get ready, I’ve been going back and re-watching many of the season 4 and 5 episodes that I love the most. The Alien Parasite Hypothesis (the one where Amy gets the hots for Penny’s friend Zach) and The Shiny Trinket Maneuver in which Sheldon buys Amy a tiara as a transparent attempt to sooth her relationship anger (the ep earned her an Emmy nomination) are two stand-outs. As the series has progressed, my favorite part of the show has morphed from watching the male leads interact to the relationship that has developed between the three female leads – Penny, Amy and Bernadette. The way Penny and Bernadette adopted the socially awkward Amy into their group is adorable, as is the crush Amy has on Kaley Cuoco’s character, Penny.

Of all the relationships Big Bang has featured, I think the Sheldon / Amy duo has to be the best. They are two wallflowers who are brilliant in their respective fields but who are children when it comes to their emotions. This has changed over the course of the show as the writers took definite steps to move Sheldon & Amy’s (Shamy for short) relationship forward. Over time, Sheldon has elevated Amy from a “Girl who happens to be his friend” to his actual girlfriend. In the season 5 finale, Sheldon incredibly took Amy’s hand as they watched their friend Howard boldy travel into space. If you are a fan of Big Bang, this moment probably gave you goose bumps as it did me.

I love The Big Bang Theory because I can often relate to the geeky jokes and situations the writers create for the characters. The show is ripe with Star Trek, comics and video game references, but it is the characters and their relationships that give the show the deep, emotional satisfaction I love so much. Like many fans, I’ve been rooting for Sheldon Cooper and Amy Farrah Folwer to get together, and I believe that one day they will.

In a wonderful season 4 interview between Jim Parsons and Mayim Bialik, they reveal their working relationship, how they prepare to film a script and that they too are rooting for their characters to make it. Often times we as fans forget that an actor ultimately doesn’t have the final say in what happens to the characters they portray, the writers and producers do. If any of the show’s writers are reading this, all I can say is keep up the great work. We love how Amy & Sheldon have grown closer towards each other and we want more. Just not too fast, getting there is more than half the fun! Tune in to the season 6 premiere of The Big Bang Theory on CBS on Thursday, Sept 27th. Go Team #Shamy!

Game of Bones

I love word play and puns probably more than I should and so when I see a funny bit of merchandise combining two of my favorite franchises in a clever way, I spring into action to snap it up. Such is the case with this hilarious t-shirt from Redbubble featuring Star Trek’s Leonard McCoy posing as Ned Stark from George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones. If you’re a fan of either series then I’m sure you’ll want to hightail it over and grab it while you can. Dammnit Jim, I’m a doctor, not a king!

[Via Fashionably Geek]

To Boldly Build…

Being the geek that I am, there are things I would like to own and then there are things that I want. This incredible hand-crafted LEGO set of gear from Star Trek: The Original Series definitely falls into the later category. Created by master builder Tommy Williamson, the amount of detail and precision on these pieces is really stunning, especially on the phaser (HA! Get it?!). If I could buy the plans and parts for these models I would do it in a vulcan heartbeat. You can see more images on Williamson’s Flickr page, and be sure to check out the promo video for the Tricorder for a neat surprise!

[Hat tip: @iconmaster for this post]

Fixing Home Sharing’s TV Troubles

iTunes Home Sharing is a wonderful feature that’s designed to let you share media libraries between multiple Macs, iOS devices and Apple TV. If you have Home Sharing turned on and a solid Wi-Fi connection, you don’t need to fill your iPad with movies and TV shows you’ve downloaded to watch them. Simply connect to your Mac’s media library via the Videos app, select the shared library and iTunes will present you with a list of all of your movies and TV shows. I own lots of TV show episodes, some I’ve ripped from my DVDs and some purchased directly from iTunes. Home Sharing should allow me to get quick access to all of them any time I want. At least that’s the theory.

The Problem

When browsing music and movies via iTunes Home Sharing, media is displayed as one would expect. Movies are listed alphabetically by title and music arranged into playlists that can be navigated and played easily either via Apple TV or an iDevice. Unfortunately, TV shows are a whole different story. TV shows don’t always display in the proper order when browsed on Apple TV or iDevices via Home Sharing. Furthermore, certain TV show seasons will display multiple times or even worse, simply not appear at all. When this happens, it’s impossible to select the series and episode you want to watch making Home Sharing effectively useless. So what’s going on?

The Cause

I recently spent several long nights experimenting with my iTunes media library learning what was causing some TV shows to appear multiple times, others appear out of order and some just not at all. I read several support threads at Apple that explained how a TV show’s meta data can confuse iTunes’ Home Sharing feature if not set correctly. What is metadata? It’s the information that is assigned to a file in iTunes such as the show’s title, season number, episode ID and so on. Selecting a song, movie or TV show in iTunes and then getting information on it (cmd-I) will reveal the file’s metadata and allow you to edit it.

The root of the trouble seems to be that unlike movies which are stand alone entities, and songs, which can be part of an album, TV shows are not only broken down by series title (the TV version of an “Album”), but also by season. This two-tierd level of sorting can be extremely confusing for the user since it’s not always obvious how iTunes decides what comes first, second, third and so on. In addition, there appears to be a quirk in iTunes where if values of a television show’s metadata (like episode ID) conflict with other episodes of that same TV show, the series simply won’t display in Home Sharing. Finally, to make matters worse, often times the metadata of a TV show isn’t set consistently by the publisher from season to season or even from episode to episode. Mis-numbered or conflicting episode ID’s, especially within the same TV series across multiple seasons, throws iTunes into a tailspin and leads to problems.

In the above example you can see that I have downloaded two seasons of the BBC series Sherlock. Both season 1 and season 2 have the correct season metadata set, but the individual episodes have duplicate episode ID’s. Season two’s episode ID’s are labeled “1, 2, 3, 101 and 102″ when they should be labeled “201, 202, 203, 204 and 205″. Because the season 2 episodes use ID numbers that conflict with those in season 1, Home Sharing freaks out and in this instance displays the series out of order. Making matters worse, some publishers include the season number in the name of a show’s title, like “The Walking Dead; Season 2″ which causes problems when an iPhone or iPad polls for how to display the program.

Lastly, the strangest thing I learned in my investigations was that it appears improperly labeled metadata for one show can affect the display properties of a completely different television show as well. So until you correct the metadata of every single TV episode in your iTunes library, random problems may persist when trying to display them. It really makes no sense, but in my testing this was the case.

The Fix

The solution to the problem lies in making the show’s title, season numbers and episode ID’s logical and consistent throughout your entire iTunes library. If you have a fairly large collection of television show episodes it will take you some time to edit them and correct the display problems, but it is indeed fixable.

Follow these steps:

• Select tv episodes (one at a time or in batches) & press command-I
• Select the “Info” tab
• Set the show’s “Name” field to the title of the episode itself
• Set the “Album” field to the name of the series

Note: When naming a series with multiple seasons, it’s important to use the same naming on each episode. For instance, don’t name one episode’s Album “The Big Bang Theory” and another’s “Big Bang Theory”. Pick a naming convention and use it for all episodes of that television program to help eliminate problems.

Next:

• Select the “Video” tab
• Set the “Show” field to the name of the series (the same one used in the Album field) & remove any qualifiers like “Season 1″ etc
• Set the “Season Number”, episode ID and episode number to their proper values

Note: When setting episode ID’s, each one should be unique to that series. Typically, 101 would be season 1, episode 1. 202 would be season 2, episode 2 and so on. It’s crucial that each episode within each TV show has a unique, and logical ID number or the show won’t display correctly and could affect other show’s listings as well.

Lastly:

• Select the “Sorting” tab
• Make sure that the Album name matches that in the Video tab
• As a precaution I also removed any information contained in any of the sorting fields of this tab. The album name seems to be enough for iTunes to find and display the show correctly so the rest is unnecessary

Once you have updated all of the metadata on all of your TV shows, each series should appear only once and in the proper season order in Home Sharing. You may need to exit and kill the video app, relaunch it and re-connect to your shared media library to actually see the changes take effect. If a show is still out of order, or doesn’t appear, then an offending bit of metadata is still out there. You’ll need to hunt it down and correct it, but when all is said and done your TV show library should look something like this.

Conclusions

As frustrating and time consuming as this process can be, seeing a properly ordered, shared TV show library is extremely satisfying, especially if you’re as obsessed with organization as I am. I’d write a developer radar report for these issues but honestly, I’m not even sure why it occurs, or even if it’s really a bug. It seems more likely iTunes is just finicky about logical, non-conflicting metadata. Unfortunately, each file has so many fields of data it’s difficult to tell which one should be set to what value, resulting in user frustration. The good news is that armed with the information above, and a little patience, you too can whip your Home Sharing library into tip-top shape. Just be sure to bring along some popcorn and a sense of humor.

Missing Soundtracks: From the Earth to the Moon

When the award winning mini-series From the Earth to the Moon premiered on HBO in 1998, producers Tom Hanks and Ron Howard were flying high off the recent success of Apollo 13. Not content with simply telling the story of Jim Lovell, John “Jack” Swigert and Fred W. Haise’s near tragic NASA mission, Hanks, Howard and Brian Grazer set about filling in the missing NASA narrative of the agency’s monumental effort to put a man on the moon. The result was a spectacular 12-part series that landed an Emmy Award and Golden Globe for Best TV Mini Series. The show is hailed for its honest account of the Apollo program, ground breaking special effects and soaring musical score by composers Michael Kamen and Mason Daring.

When I first saw From the Earth to the Moon I instantly fell in love with the soundtrack. The opening and closing themes by the late Michael Kamen are full of hope and epic discovery. Individual episodes are chocked full of wonderful 50 & 60′s tunes, especially ep. 4 – 1968 and my personal favorite ep. 5 – Spider about the design and production of the Lunar Module. Kamen was a talented composer and has penned some of the most well-known television and movie themes of recent years including Band of Brothers, Mr. Holland’s Opus and Brazil. Mason Daring’s contributions to From the Earth to the Moon are not as grand in scope as the main themes, but his work on Spider is just wonderful and always makes me mindful of the people who dedicated their lives to building the Apollo spacecraft.

Unfortunately, HBO never released an official soundtrack to the series when it aired, at least not one that contained orchestral themes. There was a half-baked attempt at a soundtrack later, but it consists of mainly pop numbers, many of which never even appeared in the series. I’ve re-watched my copy of From the Earth to the Moon at least a dozen times and each time I did, it made me sad I didn’t have the music from the series at hand. Recently I decided to do something about it by scouring the internet and iTunes to construct my own personal soundtrack. All of the music I’ve chosen is significant to the show in one way or another. I’ve linked to the tracks that are available for purchase on iTunes so you can go buy them yourself if you wish. The rest are downloadable for your personal use. Enjoy them, but I ask you to please not redistribute them on file sharing services.

The Missing Soundtrack:

1 – From the Earth to the Moon – Main Theme – Michael Kamen
2 – Beyond the Sea – Bobby Darin (iTunes)
3 – It’s Not My Cross to Bear – The Allman Brothers Band (iTunes)
4 – Whipping Post- The Allman Brothers Band (iTunes)
5 – The Christmas Song – Nat “King” Cole (iTunes)
6 – My Favorite Things – Tony Bennett (iTunes)
7 – Fireball XL-5
8 – Let’s Go – The Routers (iTunes)
9 – Spider / Eagle – Mason Daring
10 – Camera Moon – Mason Daring
11 – From the Earth to the Moon – End Credits – Michael Kamen

If you’ve not seen From the Earth to the Moon and love space exploration, history or anything NASA related, I urge you to check it out. Unfortunately the television series is not currently available either on iTunes or Netflix, but signature edition DVD’s are available on Amazon and are well worth the price. Trust me, you’ll enjoy every minute of this epic space adventure. Go, flight!

Double Standards for Chopped All-Stars

SPOILER WARNING: This post contains mild spoilers for ep. 1 of the new season Food Network’s Chopped All-Stars. If you’re a stickler for spoilers, leave the kitchen now.

If you’re a fan of Food Network’s reality TV competition, Chopped, then you’re no doubt you’re relishing the new season of all-stars which started this past week. The show pits the biggest names of the network head to head in the Chopped kitchen to see who stands above the rest. The All-Stars edition is a great opportunity to see how talented chefs deal with the pressures of limited time and crazy mystery ingredients in a creative and professional manner. Or so one would think.

In the first episode of Chopped All-Stars, two of the competing Iron Chefs, Marc Forgione and Michael Symon each drank from a bottle of coconut rum they were given and then proceeded to pour the ingredient from the same bottle into their pots. As any fan of the show can tell you, whenever competing chefs commit a cooking no-no like this, they are always called out by the judges at the end of the round. Always. Judge Scott Conant is a stickler for cleanliness and has made many competitors feel 10 inches tall after having tasted from a spoon and then used the very same spoon to stir their creations. Mysteriously, during the all-star edition no one called out either Forgione or Symon for their un-professional behavior.

Another tidbit that’s just as telling is Iron Chef Cat Cora’s use of raw red onions in one of her dishes, an ingredient Conant is infamous for hating. His dislike of red onion is legendary on Chopped but for some reason he didn’t seem to mind Cora’s use of the onion at all. These details are nit-picky to be sure, but are important none-the-less. Speaking as a fan, it rubs my rhubarb to know the Food Network’s talent is put on a pedestal instead of the chopping block where they belong.

Why Won’t TV Sports Blackouts Just Die Already?

I live in Greensboro, North Carolina which is located approximately 330 miles from Baltimore Maryland, home of the Baltimore Orioles. I’m so far away from Baltimore in fact that I don’t even receive their local television or radio broadcasts. I don’t know the local sportscasters, the best places to eat or even how to get to Camden Yards. Yet, whenever my beloved Red Sox (or any other team for that matter) plays the Orioles, Major League Baseball blacks out the broadcast for me here in Greensboro. Greensboro. North Carolina.

Since they were first televised in the late 60′s and 70′s, sports such as baseball and football have been subject to broadcast blackout restrictions. Originally designed to get people up off the couch, sell tickets and into the home team’s stadiums, blackouts were designed to help ensure a healthy bottom line for both league owners and those with a stake in local television markets. Stadiums cost millions of dollars to build and back in the day blackouts made sense, but not any longer. In today’s age of interconnectivity, smart phones, place-shifted broadcasts and on-demand programming, fans are fed up with the NFL & MLB’s blackouts.

Making matters worse, each league as their own set of rules and restrictions for how blackouts are applied. The NFL’s “75 mile” rule is fairly straight forward. If all tickets of a home game are not sold out, the broadcast is blacked out for a radius of 75 miles from the stadium. Seems reasonable, but given how few games are actually played in a regulation season of football, having even one or two games blacked out is upsetting to die hard fans. In comparison, Major League Baseball’s blackouts are a veritable rat’s nest of regulations that are so convoluted, even team owners don’t understand them. In Las Vegas for example, no less than 6 baseball teams (Dodgers, A’s, Giants, Padres, Angels, and Diamondbacks) are regularly blacked out from television viewing. Sometimes these blackouts aren’t announced until just minutes before the game. If I loved baseball and lived in Las Vegas, I’d probably have a major heart attack about once a week. Thankfully, hope seems to be on the horizon.

Back in February, the Sports Fans Coalition assembled a petition to the Federal Communication Commission outlining fan’s anger at the NFL’s blackout restrictions. Five Democratic Senators joined the petition and urged the FCC to eliminate the rule arguing that taxpayers have helped pay for stadiums and should not have their home games blacked out. They also added it was “a regulatory backstop to an obnoxious and outdated league policy … At a time of persistently high unemployment, sluggish economic growth, and consumer uncertainty, the sports blackout rule supports blatantly anti-fan, anti-consumer behavior by professional sports leagues.” Well said.

This perspective is especially true today since the bulk of sports revenue now comes not from tickets, but from internet and television. Given this reality, it’s difficult to justify withholding broadcasts from fans willing to pay for it. The petition is now a matter of record and a final decision regarding NFL blackouts is expected soon. One hopeful byproduct of the petition is that the F.C.C. may require Major League Baseball to finally document and explain it’s own complex rules for applying blackout restrictions, something fans and owners have asked for repeatedly. Forcing MLB just to explain the rules may push blackouts over the tipping point and finally put an end to them.

In an age when we can watch our favorite movies and television shows whenever we want, wherever we want (mostly), sports blackouts are a slap in the face of the consumer. Fans have put up with these Orwellian restrictions for years but the increasing popularity of smart phones and tablet computers like the iPad have begun to put enormous pressure on leagues, team owners and even government. Social networking and digital connectivity have made this country, indeed this planet, a very small place where all forms of information can be accessed from anywhere. If the petition filed in February simply forces MLB to explain why I can watch the Red Sox kick the tar out of the Yankees but not the Orioles, I’ll be happy. Personally, I’m hoping the F.C.C. takes the TV blackout rule out back for a trip to the proverbial woodshed. One can dream.

Update: In yet another blow to baseball loving fans everywhere, the U.S. 4th District Court of appeals upheld a ruling preventing Time Warner Cable from offering the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN) and its sister station, MASN2, from being added to its cable package in North Carolina. The reasoning the government decided to hang fans out to dry? The Orioles and Nationals have been “so bad” in recent years that no one would want to watch their games anyway. Yeah, never mind that occasionally those teams play OTHER teams like the Yankees or Red Sox, or that as I write this the Orioles are sitting in first place in the AL East. MLB Needs a serious kick in the ass.

Most Fascinating

Most Star Trek fans like myself have seen and digested it all when it comes to Trek. This is especially true for the Original Series, so when David recently pointed me at the incredible birdofthegalaxy Flickr stream, I was a little flabbergasted. The collection has dozens of behind-the-scene photos from the set of Star Trek, and are are chock full of gems like the aging puppet head of Balok from ‘The Corbomite Maneuver’, designed by Wah Chang (seen right).

My favorite photos have to be those of the original Enterprise hero model. There are a number of great shots showing extreme angles, but the ones from Space Seed are my absolute favorite. So many of these images are new to me it was like discovering the show all over again. If you’re a fan of Star Trek, do yourself a huge favor and set aside time to treat yourself to these amazing images of the stars, props, wardrobe and sets of Star Trek: The Original Series.