Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Highly-recommended Sci-Fi: Torchwood: Children of Earth

I'm a huge fan of science fiction and growing up in rural coastal Maine in the 70s/80s, it was scarce on TV. The various New England PBS stations did air Doctor Who, and I got hooked on it's cheezy effects and charms.

Fast-forward to 2005 and the BBC re-launches Doctor Who with vastly improved, but still somewhat hokey, effects and some stellar writing and acting. After his great guest shot starting in "The Empty Child"/"The Doctor Dances", Capt. Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) was given his own more adult spin-off, Torchwood (an anagram of Doctor Who). With far less happy endings and much more moral ambiguity, it had a distinctly different vibe and tone than the generally more fun-loving Doctor Who.

After two seasons, Torchwood was moved to BBC1 ( I guess the more prestigious BBC channel) and given a short, five episode third season. It was aired as a "Five Night Event!" miniseries last week here in the States. And it was amazing. If you are new to Doctor Who and Torchwood, I'd recommend watching at least the DW eps involving Capt. Jack and Torchwood itself prior to watching. Otherwise, given the dense mythology of essentially TWO series, you'll be lost. Once you are up to speed and dive in, you'll be hooked. It's better than the previous two Torchwood series and even most Doctor Who episodes. It grabs you and just doesn't let up. And unlike me, you can watch it all at once on the just-released DVD sets: http://www.amazon.com/Torchwood-Children-Earth-John-Barrowman/dp/B002BVYBJW/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1248801656&sr=8-1

You'll be better off not reading any reviews or recaps of Children of Earth. It's best to see it unspoiled. Suffice it to say, it's probably something that could never have been made for American TV. And that's a very good thing.

Here is the minimum you need to watch for Capt. Jack background. Series 2 of Doctor Who features tons of Torchwood bits, including how it's founded, it's FAR future, and other background that is more or less covered in early Torchwood episodes. I'd recommend watching all the Doctor Who just because it's excellent, although it does have some dud episodes like all shows do.

Doctor Who Series 1 (w/Christopher Ecclestone): "The Empty Child" through "The Parting of the Ways"
Torchwood Season 1
Doctor Who Series 3 (w/David Tennant): "Utopia"/"The Sound of Drums"/"Last of the Time Lords"
Torchwood Season 2
Doctor Who Series 4 (w/David Tennant): "The Stolen Earth"/"Journey's End"

Monday, July 27, 2009

"We can't sell computers anymore"

That is a quote from a worker at a Goodwill we went to this past weekend. It seemed like it was for anti-identity theft purposes. I thought it funny because I bought the iMac a couple months ago and it still had the original owner's fully-functional hard drive with data and I see hard drives all the time at the various GW stores we frequent.

It was even more ironic because at the next store we went to after that one, there was what looked like a brand-new computer tower case. Upon further inspection, I saw that it had a motherboard inside as well. I couldn't figure out how to open the case easily, so I couldn't look inside. This was also the first GW store that had no computer monitors at all, so I couldn't plug it in and see what happened visually. Luckily, I'm a stubborn cuss. I plugged the case in over at the electronics testing bench and heard a successful boot beep. No glaring sounds indicating missing or no memory or anything. Since it was marked at only $17.99, I snagged it. Hell, the case and power supply alone were worth more than that.

Once I got home and plugged it into my monitor and booted it, it came up as a Celeron 2.0GHz with 128MB RAM. Not exactly a powerhouse box, but it did indeed work. I figured out how to pop open the case and it looked pristine. I'm guessing it's about 5 years old judging by the motherboard and BIOS on it. As far I can tell, it's never been used. There's no dust inside, all the metal covers for the drive bays were still in place, and the power supply's cables were still wire-tied together. It just needed drives (which I have in abundance) and more memory. A trip to Bookman's in Mesa later and I had 1GB of RAM for $20. Of course later that night I was grabbing one of my old video cards to install and found that I already had memory that would have worked. D'Oh! So I installed as much memory as I could and started installing operating systems. So far, it runs Windows 7 RC1 and Ubuntu 9.04 "Jaunty Jackelope" fine. It's got a small wind turbine of a case cooling fan that is quite loud, but otherwise it's a great little box.

They might not sell computers (whatever, dude) but I've had some pretty good luck there. Granted none of it's cutting edge, but it's fine to mess around with for fun.