Archives for October 2013

The Amazing “Scale of the Universe 2” interactive Graphic.

Scale of the Universe 2.

Scale of the Uni­verse 2.

Dara O’Briain’s Sci­ence Club had its sec­ond series on BBC2 over the sum­mer. Impres­sive­ly, he man­aged to keep it gen­uine­ly infor­ma­tive and fun with­out ever becom­ing patronizing.

Like a num­ber of his fel­low BBC2 and 4 pre­sen­ters, most notably Bri­an Cox and Jim Al-Khalili, he refus­es to dilute any of the sci­ence, whilst insist­ing on mak­ing it all as acces­si­ble as pos­si­ble. And he’s ably assist­ed by fel­low pre­sen­ters Mark Miodown­ik, whose recent book Stuff Mat­ters got rave reviews, includ­ing this one from The Guardian.

The BBC2 Science Club team.

The BBC2 Sci­ence Club team.

And by Helen Czer­s­ki, who gives the impres­sion that she knows that the top­ic she is cov­er­ing is fas­ci­nat­ing, but is resigned to the real­i­ty that none of us will be able to fol­low what she has to tell us about it. Which, need­less to say, makes what she has to say all the more appealing.

One of the side­bar top­ics that O’Briain cov­ered dur­ing the sum­mer was an amaz­ing info graph­ic that went qui­et­ly viral about a year ago. The rea­sons that it gen­er­at­ed so much inter­est were twofold.

First, it real­ly is a bril­liant graph­ic. You scroll in and out, from the small­est things in the uni­verse at the length of the Planck Con­stant at 10 to the minus 35 of a meter, to galax­ies, neb­u­la and the entire observ­able uni­verse. And it’s all per­fect­ly to scale.

Jim Al-Khalili's "Science And Islam".

Jim Al-Khalil­i’s “Sci­ence And Islam”.

Pre­dictably, I (and I should imag­ine many oth­ers beside) spent a num­ber of hours look­ing things up, con­vinced that they’d made a mis­take. But no, the Earth real­ly is that close in size to Venus, like­wise Nep­tune to Uranus. Have a look at the Scale of the Uni­verse 2 here. It’s addictive.

Although of course Apple won’t let you use Flash, so you won’t be able to fool around with it if you’re using an iPhone or Pad. But you can see how the whole thing works on them here.

Sec­ond, even more remark­ably, the whole thing was put togeth­er by Cary Huang,  a 14 year old school boy from – where else – Cal­i­for­nia, togeth­er with his twin broth­er Michael. For Fun. It wasn’t even a school project. All it took was the Inter­net and a pair of infi­nite­ly curi­ous minds. There’s an excel­lent overview and inter­view with them by David J. Hill on the Sin­gu­lar­i­ty Hub here.

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Masters Of Sex” and the death of the Soap Opera.

Masters Of Sex.

Mas­ters Of Sex.

The Sopra­nos, Break­ing Bad, The Wire, Mad Men, Home­land, The Shield, The Killing, The Returned reviewed here, Top Boy reviewed here, our own Love/Hate, 24, Board­walk Empire, Dead­wood, House Of Cards, Six Feet Under, Lost, Game Of Thrones, Glee, Buffy, and Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. reviewed here.

They all give us believ­able char­ac­ters in a rec­og­niz­able world that you real­ly want to invest your time in. Because what they are all about is the rela­tion­ships that are forged between the indi­vid­u­als who live there, and the bril­liant­ly told sto­ries that con­nect them and bring them all into conflict.

In oth­er words, they all do what soaps used to do in days gone by. Except they’re much, much bet­ter writ­ten, act­ed, direct­ed and produced.

Mad Men.

Mad Men.

Which isn’t mere­ly because they all have far more mon­ey to spend than a con­ven­tion­al soap ever did. Rather, it’s a reflec­tion of the rad­i­cal trans­for­ma­tion that tele­vi­sion had under­gone over the last decade or so. It’s part of what’s come to be called box set cul­ture.

Tele­vi­sion pro­grammes have to be so good today, that they demand to be seen on our ever larg­er and loud­er tele­vi­sion sets. So that down­load­ing them or stream­ing them onto your phone just isn’t going to be enough.

Not only that, they have to be so good, so remark­able, and to gen­er­ate so much talk and inter­est, so much noise,  that you’re going to feel an uncon­trol­lable urge to buy the box set and watch them all again. So good in fact, that when then they’re all repeat­ed, repeat­ed­ly on cable and satel­lite, you’ll hap­pi­ly watch them all again.

On the job.

On the job.

The lat­est in the cur­rent line of Olympian tele­vi­sion is Mas­ters of Sex. Based on a rev­o­lu­tion­ary study into sex­u­al mores and mechan­ics in the late 50s and 60s, it revolves around Michael Sheen as the sex­u­al­ly prud­ish but sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly dri­ven doc­tor, and the part­ner­ship he strikes up with the sex­u­al­ly lib­er­at­ed but com­plete­ly unqual­i­fied Lizzy Caplan, who he takes on as his assistant.

He by the way is called Mas­ters, and she Vir­ginia. Which could eas­i­ly have been an exam­ple of how clev­er­ly yet sim­ply the dif­fer­ent dynam­ics of sex­u­al pol­i­tics are delved into and invert­ed on the show. But that real­ly was what they were called.

In many ways, it’s lit­tle more than Mad Men lite. But it’s so well act­ed and writ­ten, and the sto­ries and their arcs are so care­ful­ly and clev­er­ly plot­ted, and it and they all look so fan­tas­tic – soft porn has rarely looked as plush, lush and refined – that you hap­pi­ly sit back, relax and let it all wash over you.

One more rea­son to stay in of an eve. And one more nail in the Soap Opera cof­fin.  You can see the Mas­ters of Sex trail­er here.

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Janelle Monae’s New Album Razzle Dazzles.

Electric Lady.

The Elec­tric Lady.

The Elec­tric Lady is the much await­ed fol­low-up to Janelle Mon­ae’s debut The Archan­droid from 2010. Like its pre­de­ces­sor, it’s not so much a con­cept album, as it is one that inhab­its a musi­cal land­scape in much the same way that Bowie plant­ed him­self in the world of Zig­gy Star­dust.

If any­thing, this is an even more impres­sive affair than her debut. Not unlike Bowie, despite bor­row­ing and imbib­ing vora­cious­ly from any num­ber of dif­fer­ent sources, what she ends up pro­duc­ing some­how man­ages to have a remark­able musi­cal coherence.

Bowie as Ziggy.

Bowie as Ziggy.

There are echoes of Mar­vin Gaye and Ste­vie Won­der, oodles of Sly and The Fam­i­ly Stone, and a hint of Boo­by Wom­ack. But most of all, the album nods, gen­u­flects and embraces the fig­ure of Prince.

Cor­rect­ly – and sig­nif­i­cant­ly – the album kicks off with a duet with him. Before sub­se­quent tracks see her joined by Erykah Badu, Solange, Miguel and Esper­an­za Spald­ing as she fus­es and melds jazz, funk, soul and RnB with hiphop. And all of it drowned in her sump­tu­ous melodies and soar­ing vocals.

Cat­e­go­rize me, I defy every label.” Q.U.E.E.N.

The boys from Pitch­fork gave it an 8.3 here. If it doesn’t make your end of year top 5 list, I shall eat an item of cloth­ing of your choice. You can see the offi­cial video for Q.U.E.E.N. here.

Skip the open­ing 50 sec­onds and head for the song prop­er. And you can hear the sen­sa­tion­al title track Elec­tric Lady  here.

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Joss Whedon’s “Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.” Shimmies and Shines.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

After the all con­quer­ing suc­cess of Buffy and Angel, every­one in Hol­ly­wood was des­per­ate­ly pray­ing for Joss Whe­don to fall flat on his face. And sure enough, both Fire­fly and Doll­house duly bombed.

But Amer­i­cans do it seems have sec­ond acts after all. As a mat­ter of fact, all of them do. It was just Fitzger­ald who proved to be the excep­tion. And sure enough, Whe­don bounced back com­mer­cial­ly with the spec­tac­u­lar box office smash Avengers Assem­ble — reviewed ear­li­er here. And then, on a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent scale, with the much admired Much Ado About Noth­ing – reviewed by me ear­li­er here.

The ludicrously overlooked Firefly prequel "Serenity".

The ludi­crous­ly over­looked Fire­fly pre­quel “Seren­i­ty”.

And now he’s mar­ried those twin strands and has returned to tele­vi­sion with yet anoth­er Mar­vel prod­uct from their per­pet­u­al­ly revolv­ing assem­bly line.

There was real­ly only one of two ways that this could have gone. Either it would be one more depress­ing dilu­tion of what was once an inter­est­ing idea in the nev­er-end­ing pur­suit of point­less­ly amass­ing impos­si­ble to ever spend quan­ti­ties of pieces of coloured paper with num­bers on them. Yes Star Wars, we’re look­ing at you.

Or, some­how, we’d get a series that man­aged to mar­ry the panache, wit and exu­ber­ance of Buffy to a whole new fam­i­ly of characters.

Remark­ably, actu­al­ly amaz­ing­ly, he’s giv­en us the latter.

It’s some time in the future, and in the after­math of a dis­as­trous War the world has been reduced to a pri­mor­dial strug­gle between the forces of good and evil, but a world in which the tech­no­log­i­cal advances have ren­dered that bat­tle all the more per­ilous. And fun.

Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy.

Sarah Michelle Gel­lar as Buffy.

Impec­ca­bly struc­tured, and plot­ted with the kind of con­fi­dence that pro­duces reg­u­lar sur­pris­es, as ever it’s the smart, fast and con­stant­ly wit­ty dia­logue that both pro­pels the action for­ward and gives the show a gloss that com­plete­ly sets it apart. You can get a good sense of all of which from the Agents Of Shield trail­er here.

Whether or not they man­age to main­tain that daz­zling qual­i­ty through­out the rest of the show that they man­aged to squeeze in to the pilot only time will tell. But the first episode was flaw­less. And if you missed the Joss Whe­don space age trip first time around, jump on board.

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