Misty water-colored memories...

I am not a scientist.  I just watch them on TV.  There is likely legitimate scientific research that I am too lazy to look up that addresses the very issue I’m about to discuss.  Basically if CSI hasn’t doesn’t an episode about it, I’m just going to assume it’s still a giant unfathomable mystery.  No research was done in the writing of this post. 

Which leads me to my framing question: How in hell does memory actually work?

I ask because of the bizarre abilities of my brain.  I’m going to ask you four questions.  Answer them as honestly as you can without Google’s assistance.  Ready?

1.      What did you have for breakfast yesterday?

2.      Who said “No, I am your father”?

3.      What artist has a song with lyrics that include “Annie are you okay, are you okay Annie”?

4.      Who was the first prime minister of Canada?

I can answer two of those four questions without intense thought and/or online assistance.  And the two answers are Darth Vader and Michael Jackson.  I sincerely do not remember what I ate today, never mind yesterday, and I know I learned more than once who the first prime minister of Canada is and I could totally hazard a guess but I’m not going to say I have 100% certainty about the subject.  But if you put on the Barenaked Ladies’ ‘If I Had A Million Dollars’ song I could, without thinking, sing every word accurately.  No sweat.

I can’t remember anything about reading or studying The Mayor of Casterbridge other than my English teacher going off on a rant about how much she hated that Elizabeth-Jane had a hyphenated name.  But I can quote the opening theme to The A-Team series at the drop of a hat.

Is it just that memory is strongly associated with emotion and therefore things we either enjoy, are strongly terrified of or angry about leave a deeper impression than things we are mostly ambivalent towards?  Is it that we actively dump portions of what we consider ‘unnecessary’ learning to clear space for things we prefer?  Or is it that we’re all hurtling towards a Memento-style existence in which we will only remember things tattooed on our bodies or immortalized in photography and everything else will be lost in the ether of time?

I remember getting my Tenderheart Care Bear for Christmas.  I was so excited.  I remember that excitement and how soft he was.  But I don’t remember how old I was or what year it was or any other gifts I received.  I can’t remember my own age some days.  I only remember my parents’ birth dates after literally years of drilling from my sister. 

But... if I had a million dollars, I’d buy you a green dress (but not a real green dress, that’s cruel)...

Memory!  Hooo haaaa, what is it good for?  Absolutely nothing…

CSI, you need to bring Marg Helgenberger back for a very special episode on brain function so this mystery can finally be solved for me.  Dress Catherine up all sassy and put her on a road trip with Nick and have her roll her eyes about something he can’t remember and then have them discuss the science of memory and then – BAM – it’ll be locked in my mind forever.

And that really is how our memories function: smells, sounds, tastes… these are the triggers that unlock the doors to vaults in which experiences are stored.  Which is why song lyrics come back with such clarity but things you crammed into your brain in soundless study sessions are likely lost in time.

I'm guessing here, though.  I mean I'm not a scientist.  

 

- Corinne Simpson

 

Pick of the Week – September 15-21, 2014

If you spend much time on the Internet, you can quickly develop a somewhat skewed view of the world.  It’s so very easy to spend all of your time on sites that are populated only by people who share your interests and worldview.  Every so often I get a reminder that what is common knowledge to me may not be so for the world at large.

This week’s pick, the game Cards Against Humanity, is a case in point.  I was under the impression that everyone had at least heard of the game and was familiar with the concept, even if they had never played it.  That’s not the case, though, so, for the betterment of society, I’m doing my bit to spread the word.

If you’ve ever played Apples to Apples, you will easily pick up Cards Against Humanity.  Every player has 10 white cards in their hand, each with a different “answer” printed on it.  In each round, one player acts as the judge and reads a question or fill-in-the-blank statement from a black card, and each remaining player hands in a white card that they feel best fits the black card.  The judge then reads the submitted answers aloud and chooses their favorite.  The player whose card was picked gets the point for that round.

It’s simple enough.  The fun of Cards Against Humanity comes from the content of the cards themselves, which…well…let me put it this way, the subtitle for the game is “A Party Game for Horrible People.”  If you are remotely prudish or easily offended, this probably isn’t the game for you.  It’s also something to keep in mind when recruiting other players.  I would never play it with my parents.  I think they’d hate it.  I can’t see my father making it through a single round.  And even if they did want to play, there are just something things that I don’t want to know.  That said, one of the most entertaining games of Cards Against Humanity I ever played was almost won by a woman in her eighties who possessed a surprisingly dirty and twisted mind.

The basic game and four expansion packs are available on the game’s website.  Additionally, for the last couple of years around the holidays, the game’s makers have offered holiday-themed cards for charity.  In 2012, they raised over $70,000 for Wikipedia, and in 2013, they raised over $100,000 for Donors Choose, which helps fund educational projects.  Those holiday packs and a 90’s Nostalgia pack are also available on the website.

- Alan Decker

@CmdrAJD on Twitter

Premiering This Fall

With mid-September upon us, we’re rapidly approaching the start of the Fall TV season.  For the last several years, this hasn’t been a big cause of excitement for me.  Maybe there have been one or two shows that I am interested in checking out, and usually I’ve dropped most of them within a few episodes because they just didn’t grab me.  Out of last year’s crop, I believe Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is the only one that I’ve stuck with, and, as regular readers of my posts on VampireNomad know, even that was touch-and-go for a while.

This season, though, I’m finding several shows on the broadcast networks that I want to check out (and some that I already have).  Here’s a quick walkthrough by day of the week (Days and networks are for the US only.  Sorry.  All times are Eastern.)

MONDAY

GOTHAM (FOX, 9/22, 8PM) This one hour drama series is a Batman series minus Batman.  Set when Bruce Wayne is a young boy who has just had his parents gunned down in front of him (an event that will have no lasting effects on his psyche, I assure you), Gotham follows Jim Gordon in his early days as a police detective in the city.  The series also promises to include younger versions of several Batman villains including the Penguin and Catwoman.

I’m a Bat-fan, so of course I’m going to watch this show.  I even watched TV’s other attempt at a Batman series minus Batman, 2002’s Birds of Prey.  The trailers have made the show feel more like a police procedural, and Gotham definitely seems to be more influenced by Christopher Nolan’s “more realistic” Batman films than the comic books.  How that will work on a weekly basis remains to be seen.  My main concern is that the show won’t have any sense of fun and will just be a run-on-the-mill gritty cop show with a slight Batman overlay.  If that ends up being the case, I probably won’t be sticking around for long.

The other new shows airing on Mondays are CBS’s Scorpion (9/22, 9PM), which is one hour drama about a team of geniuses recruited to investigate crimes, and the CW’s Jane the Virgin (10/13, 9PM), a one hour dramedy about a young woman who, despite never having sex, ends up pregnant.  The concept of and ads for Scorpion have me slightly curious, so I may check it out at some point.  But it does feel like CBS is just trying to find yet another take on the crime procedural, a type of show that already dominates most of their schedule.

As a scheduling note, CBS’s The Big Bang Theory, one of the shows I currently watch, is starting the season on Mondays at 8PM Eastern until October 20th, when it moves back to Thursdays.  Monday is also the night BBC America airs new episodes of Top Gear, but I have not heard when the next season is coming.

TUESDAY

SELFIE (ABC, 9/30, 8PM) Based on Pygmalion (Or My Fair Lady, if you prefer musicals) this half-hour sitcom is about a self-absorbed, social media obsessed woman, who, after enduring a very public humiliation, asks a coworker to help her remake her image.  I freely admit that the only reason I was interested in this show is that Karen Gillan, who I loved as Amy Pond on Doctor Who, is the show’s lead.  That said, after watching the pilot episode (As of this writing, the pilot is available on Comcast On Demand), I wouldn’t be surprised if this series is one of the first that I drop.  The pilot was fine, and Gillan and costar John Cho were good.  But I don’t see how this concept can be extended into a series.  The pilot episode honestly felt like a romantic comedy film that had been condensed to 30 minutes and skipped the final bit where the leads get together.  I have no idea how they sustain this for a whole season, much less several.  I will give them another couple of episodes, though, so I can find out.

THE FLASH (CW, 10/7. 8PM) The Flash is a DC Comics superhero with a long history, but this particular series is a spin-off of the successful CW series Arrow (A show I dropped about 9 episodes into its first season; although, I’ve been told that I should pick it back up again).  I like The Flash as a character (I watched every episode of the Flash series from 1990), so I’ll definitely give this one a shot.  From the trailers, though, series lead Grant Gustin doesn’t strike me as looking particularly like a superhero.  That could actually work in the show’s favor, though, depending on how they choose to portray his Barry Allen.

Other new series airing on Tuesdays include Manhattan Love Story (ABC, 9/30, 8:30PM), a half-hour sitcom which I have to admit that I know nothing about; Utopia (FOX, Had a 2 part premiere on 9/7&9, 8PM), a reality show about people trying to create the perfect society; NCIS: New Orleans (CBS, 9/23, 9PM), yet another spinoff of CBS’s procedural franchise, this time starring Scott Bakula; Marry Me (NBC, 10/14, 9PM), a truly awful looking sitcom about a couple experiencing several bumps on the way to the altar; and Forever (CBS, 9/23, 10PM), a one hour drama series about an immortal medical examiner in New York City who, surprise surprise, solves crimes.

As for shows that I already watch, ABC’s Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is moving to 9PM, which means that it’s now joining the DVR schedule, since my daughter won’t be able to stay up that late on a school night to watch it live. 

WEDNESDAY

NOTHING – There are four new series airing on Wednesdays, none of which have caught my attention.  The Mysteries of Laura (NBC, 9/24, 8PM) is a one hour procedural centered around  a police officer/single mother played by Debra Messing.  Red Band Society (FOX, 9/17,9PM) is a one hour drama about patients in a hospital pediatric ward.  It’s based on a Spanish show, but the trailers looked like an attempt at a series version of The Fault in Our Stars to me.  Black-ish (ABC, 10/24, 9:30PM) is a half hour sitcom about a man who is worried that his kids are losing touch with their African American roots.  Lawrence Fishburne is costarring on this show, but supposedly he’s still able to fulfil his duties on Hannibal (One of the returning shows I watch and love.  Hannibal will start its third season in the Spring), assuming, of course, that he survives the cliffhanger from the end of last season.  Finally, there’s Stalker (CBS, 10/1, 10PM), yet another CBS police procedural, this time about a team of Los Angeles detectives that investigate stalking cases.

THURSDAY

GRACEPOINT (FOX, 10/2, 9PM)This one hour drama about the murder of a young boy and its effect on the residents of the small coastal town where the killing took place is an adaptation of the British series, Broadchurch, which aired in the US on BBC America last Fall (Season two will arrive on BBC America next year).  The footage shown in the ads for this series look almost shot for shot like the British original.  FOX even brought over Broadchurch star David Tennant (My favorite Doctor from Doctor Who) to reprise his role as the lead police detective on the case; although, they’ve changed his character name and are forcing him to use a really weird attempt at an American accent.  The original Broadchurch was basically an eight-episode miniseries about the murder case (Season two will have the same characters but a different storyline.).  Gracepoint will be ten episodes and the producers say that they’ve changed the guilty party.  I’m watching this for Tennant and to see the changes in the American version.  Since it’s only ten episodes, my guess is that I’ll stick with it until the end.

A to Z (NBC, 10/2, 9:30PM) I watched the pilot for this series on Comcast On Demand, and the opening narration from an unseen Allison Janney tells us right up front that the show will portray the eight plus months that the two main characters, Andrew and Zelda, date, covering the relationship from A to Z.  My initial interest in this show was solely due to the presence of Cristin Milioti, who was fantastic as the Mother in the final season of How I Met Your Mother.  The pilot episode was sweet and amusing, so I’ll be back for a few more at least.  From a writing perspective, I am intrigued by the boundaries the show has set for itself.  Just as the first episode of How I Met Your Mother told us that Robin wasn’t the Mother, from the first moments of A to Z, we know that they date for only eight months.  That’s barely a season.  Of course, dating can end in ways other than a break-up: with an engagement, for example.

I won’t be watching Bad Judge (NBC, 10/2, 9PM), a half hour sitcom about an unorthodox judge played by Kate Walsh; The McCarthys (CBS, 10/30, 9:30PM), a half hour sitcom about a Boston family that’s really big on sports (I haven’t seen any ads for this one, so my description is based on the vague blurb I found on TVGuide.com); and How to Get Away With Murder (ABC, 9/25, 10PM), an hour long series about a law professor and her students who are involved with a murder.

Thursday night is also home to two CBS series I already watch: the aforementioned The Big Bang Theory (Timeslot premiere 10/30, 8PM) and the not-nearly-as-good-as-Sherlock­-but-still-entertaining Sherlock Holmes series, Elementary (10/30, 10PM).

FRIDAY

CONSTANTINE (NBC, 10/24, 10PM) This series, based on the long-running DC/Vertigo comics character, is about a demon hunter.  If the title and concept sounds vaguely familiar (and you weren’t aware of the comics), it may be due to the 2005 film of the same name starring Keanu Reeves.  While that film actually isn’t terrible, Reeves’ portrayal is nothing like the comics version of the character.  The series is, based on the previews, trying to be much more faithful to the source material (which I will admit that I haven’t read).  I’ve liked what I’ve seen in the ads so far, so I’m willing to give this one a shot.

Friday’s other new series, Cristela (ABC, 10/10, 9:30PM), is not on my watch list.  It’s a half hour sitcom about a recently-graduated lawyer trying to deal with her work and home life.

SATURDAY

NOTHING – In fact, no new series are premiering on Saturdays at all.  The broadcast networks seem to have given up on Saturdays altogether.  Cable is another story, since Saturday is the night for two of my BBC America favorites, Orphan Black, which begins its third season in the Spring, and, of course, Doctor Who.

SUNDAY

NOTHING – There are two new series airing on Sundays, neither of which looked that interesting based on their ads.  Madam Secretary on NBC (8PM Eastern) is a one hour drama that stars Tea Leoni as the US Secretary of State.  And Mulaney on FOX (9:30PM Eastern) is a half-hour sitcom centered around comedian John Mulaney, who plays…a comedian!

That’s six new shows I intend to check out.  If I end up getting hooked on all of them in addition to the shows that I already watch, my DVR and my free time are in real trouble.

- Alan Decker

@CmdrAJD on Twitter

 

Nathan's Laserium: 40.2

Dear Gentle Friends,

It pains me a great deal to reveal this to you, but I know my duty, and thus I will persevere.

Allow me to introduce myself. I am Jennifer Foehner Wells—by day: mild-mannered science fiction novelist, by night: Cthuloid hunter.

My degrees are many and varied. I’ve studied biology at Monmouth College, plant ecology at the University of Illinois, cellular phantasmogography at Stanford, soul transigence at Oxford, clairoleofactor remanence at Hogwarts.

~ you might recognize me by the Twitter handle @Jenthulhu ~

I must inform you that the man you call Nathan Waddell is a fraud.

Yes, you did, indeed, read that correctly.

He passes as a humble husband and father to two little girls, with fitness fetishes and inclinations toward tattoos, comics, and writing. He may have told you, YES! HE REALLY IS AN OPEN-PIT COAL MINER!

And you believed it.

No, dear friends—what Mr. Waddell performs in his slimy brimstone coal pits of misery is not a genuine operation, harvesting ancient dinosaurs turned fossil fuels. NO!

No, it is a Lovecraftian horror.

When Waddell descends into those dark pits, he connects with none other than the ancient city of R’lyeh. He may look like a man, but if you catch a glimpse of him from the corner of your eye, you will see the tentacles, the wings, the vaguely arthropodal form.

Behold! What happens when we take a closer look at his innocent birthday celebrations of yestereve?

Happy birthday to me! Today is my 40th birthday. Except it's not, in realtime when I'm typing this. I have to write it ahead of time so it can be ready to post. When you get to read this it will be my birthday. What I'll actually be doing on this milestone day is working in a coal mine, hopefully not having a terrible day in hail or snow. I can almost guarantee I won't have much time to reflect on the past 40 years, so that is what I will do now, starting with year zero: September 11, 1974....

Nah I'm just playing. What is there to say about 40, anyway? Just a number that happens to be a multiple of 10, which happens to be the number of fingers we have and therefore the base for our counting system. If we were octopus people, we would likely use base 8. Uh, in which case 40 would be kind of a big deal too, right? 8X5? I don't really get how numbering systems that aren't base 10 work. Don't even get me started on binary. How can 1s and 0s count up all the way and even make computers work? God.

Binary stars are pretty cool, though. What's your favorite? Mine has to be Algol, Beta Persei, the demon star. A Tolkienesque name with a Lovecraft sensibility. One imagines it to be home to witch-kings and Great Old Ones with names like Angsoth-kil or something. At 93 light years from Earth, however, it's not exactly relevant to this post, I'll grant you, but it's pretty cool. The binary system that is 40 light years out is Beta Trianguli Australis. So if you happen to be in the Southern Hemisphere you can look up at it and see light that's the same age as me. Add your wishes to mine and maybe all our hopes and dreams can come true.

I remember when I turned 30, I made some goals. One of them was to have an article in National Geographic by the time I turned 40. And as you can see, that goal has been realized several times over! Now would be a good time to let it be known that I use the nom de plume David Quammen. (Please don't sue me Mr. Quammen, I'm only joking.) Now I find most of my hopes and dreams center around my little ones. And I try to keep them vague, to allow them room to grow into their own dreams. Like right now, my oldest daughter says she wants to be a ballerina/bug scientist in Brazil. Which would be so awesome! But next week she might have a change of heart and decide veterinary medicine is more her cup of tea. Since she just started kindergarten, there's time to find her path. Whatever your little heart desires, sweetheart! My job and responsibility is to nurture her young soul so she can grow into a healthy and mature adult who can make her own decisions wisely.

I do have some dreams of my own, mostly to do with writing I suppose. Since my National Geographic goal turned out to be way off, it might be best if I kept those to myself. For now I'll be happy enough to get home from this awful coal mine and devour some birthday cake.

I ask you: is this the work of a man or an enemy of life on Earth as we now know it?

Be wary, dear friends.

Be wary.

Jennifer Foehner Wells admits to being a bit of a hermit, but happily tolerates two boisterous boys, a supportive husband, a filthy Labrador retriever, and three pet rats as housemates at their home in Indiana. Having studied biology, she's possessed with a keen interest in science and technology. Jen is pure, unadulterated geek and celebrates that. FLUENCY, her debut novel, has taken the space opera genre by storm, selling 35,000 copies in less than three months.

You can find her on Twitter, extolling science and scifi fandoms, as @Jenthulhu.

To find out more about Jen visit: www.JenniferFoehnerWells.com

Find FLUENCY on Amazon or ask your local bookstore to order it.

(Nathan here again. So my secret is out! No matter, your souls all belong to me already. Haha! Huge thanks to acclaimed sci-fi writer Jen Foehner Wells for taking part in this, uh, extended birthday celebration. Yes. Celebration. Ha. Haha. Hahahahahahahaha! Now, make sure to follow her on twitter and like her on Facebook and especially to buy her book!!)

- Nathan Waddell

Nathan's Laserium: 40

Happy birthday to me! Today is my 40th birthday. Except it's not, in realtime when I'm typing this. I have to write it ahead of time so it can be ready to post. When you get to read this it, will be my birthday. What I'll actually be doing on this milestone day is working in a coal mine, hopefully not having a terrible day in hail or snow. I can almost guarantee I won't have much time to reflect on the past 40 years, so that is what I will do now, starting with year zero: September 11, 1974....

Nah, I'm just playing. What is there to say about 40 anyway? Just a number that happens to be a multiple of 10, which happens to be the number of fingers we have and, therefore, the base for our counting system. If we were octopus people, we would likely use base 8. Uh, in which case 40 would be kind of a big deal too, right? 8X5? I don't really get how numbering systems that aren't base 10 work. Don't even get me started on binary. How can 1s and 0s count up all the way and even make computers work? God.

Binary stars are pretty cool, though. What's your favorite? Mine has to be Algol, Beta Persei, the demon star. A Tolkienesque name with a Lovecraft sensibility. One imagines it to be home to witch-kings and Great Old Ones with names like Angsoth-kil or something. At 93 light years from Earth, however, it's not exactly relevant to this post, I'll grant you, but it's pretty cool. The binary system that is 40 light years out is Beta Trianguli Australis. So if you happen to be in the Southern Hemisphere, you can look up at it and see light that's the same age as me. Add your wishes to mine, and maybe all our hopes and dreams can come true.

I remember when I turned 30, I made some goals. One of them was to have an article in National Geographic by the time I turned 40. And as you can see, that goal has been realized several times over! Now would be a good time to let it be known that I use the nom de plume David Quammen. (Please don't sue me Mr. Quammen, I'm only joking.) Now I find most of my hopes and dreams center around my little ones. And I try to keep them vague, to allow them room to grow into their own dreams. Like right now, my oldest daughter says she wants to be a ballerina/bug scientist in Brazil. Which would be so awesome! But next week she might decide veterinary medicine is more her cup of tea. Since she just started kindergarten, there's time to find her path. My job is to nurture her young soul so she can grow into a healthy adult who can make her own decisions wisely.

I do have some dreams of my own, mostly to do with writing I suppose. Since my National Geographic goal turned out to be way off, it might be best if I kept those to myself. For now I'll be happy enough to get home from this awful coal mine and devour some birthday cake.

- Nathan Waddell