Sunday, November 22, 2009

Doctor Who: Who's Your Favorite Doctor?

Being highly intelligent, imaginative people, we of course love Doctor Who. And we've been fans of The Doctor since childhood, not like all those Johnny-come-latelies who discovered Doctor Who in 2005. We have just about every existing Doctor Who episode on DVD, having recorded them over long years watching the show on Maryland Public Television (and later, BBC America and the Sci-Fi Channel).

Since the show began in 1963, ten actors have played The Doctor. (One of the things that makes the show true genius is how they figured out a plausible way to replace the main character with a different actor when William Hartnell left in 1966.) Among Doctor Who fans, the favorite question is "Who's your favorite Doctor?"

Over the years, we've observed that for most people, their favorite Doctor is the one they were first exposed to.

For instance, Thomas's first exposure to Doctor Who was during the John Pertwee years, and Pertwee (left) is his favorite Doctor.

With Don, things are a little different. His first Doctor was Tom Baker, and he will always have an attachment to that Doctor. But he realized a long time ago that he's a very fickle fan. For Don, the answer to "Who's your favorite Doctor?" is: Whichever one I've seen most recently.

Given all this, perhaps the most useful question is "Who's your second-favorite Doctor? "Right now, Thomas is leaning toward William Hartnell, while Don says Sylvester McCoy. But those answers might change.

So how about it? Who's your second-favorite Doctor?

Like the blog? Send the author a donation.
Subscribe in a reader

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Energy, Global Warming, and Science Fiction

In present-day science fiction, you don't read much about energy, global warming, and associated problems. Why?

Because science fiction writers, readers, and fans thrashed everything out three decades ago, figured out the most workable solutions, and moved on.

Around 1973 the big buzzword in science fiction was "the hydrogen economy." The idea was that we should move beyond a petroleum-based economy to one based on hydrogen. Hydrogen burns cleanly; the only waste product is water.

In order to obtain hydrogen, we would need electricity. Ultimately, that electricity would come from controlled fusion. But fusion wasn't (and still isn't) practical. We would need something to tide us over until we perfected fusion.

The perfect medium-term solution was (and still is) space-based solar power stations, which would beam power to Earth via microwaves. In the mid-1970s Gerard K. O'Neill and his team laid out a workable roadmap to building these power stations.

Until solar power stations were widely available, we would have to get our electricity from a variety of sources: renewables such as wind, ground-based solar, tidal, geothermal, and ocean temperature differential...but mainly nuclear fission, because the energy available from all the others was only a fraction of the total we'd need. As quickly as possible we would eliminate the burning of fossil fuels -- first, because of the emission of greenhouse gases and other nasty stuff, second because they were limited, and third because petroleum and other fossil fuel components are too essential chemicals to many of our industrial processes to go around burning up the limited supply we have.

Now, science fiction circa 1979 was willing to admit that all of this didn't solve the global warming problem for all time. Sure, it took care of greenhouse gases, but all energy use results in waste heat, and sooner or later an expanding energy-intensive civilization would be generating enough waste heat to make Earth uncomfortable. Sure, it would take thousands of years to reach that point, but science fiction thinks in terms of millennia.

So in addition to all the other solutions, sf proposed that we work on long-term ways to mitigate warming...the longest-term of all being methods to move Earth further out from the sun as necessary. (Eventually it would be necessary to move Earth anyway, if not in the next million years because of increased energy use, then in several billion when the sun moves into its red giant phase).

There you have it. Now suppose the world had listened to science fiction back in the 1970s. Today we would have a global hydrogen economy fueled by limitless space-based solar power and we'd be starting to decommission no-longer-necessary fission plants.

Now here's the real meat of the matter: What is science fiction saying today, that people 30 years from now will wish they had listened to?

Like the blog? Send the author a donation.
Subscribe in a reader

Monday, November 02, 2009

GCFCG Haunted House 2009

(This is basically a copy of what I posted on the AACPL Programming Blog. That's a closed blog, so I figured I would post here in the open as well. -Don)

[ADDED LATER: I apologize for not giving credit to the photographers. I fixed it.]

(photo by Meg Miller)
If you thought you heard screams coming from the north on Halloween afternoon, you're not mistaken. Between 1pm and 5 pm, a total of 202 people (138 kids and 63 adults) started through our Haunted House (presented in conjunction with the Greater Columbia Fantasy Costumers Guild, pictured above). Staffers Meg Miller and Leslie Shepley kept the crowd under control and the groups moving through, while Guild members (including staffer Don Sakers) provided the scares.

(photo by Don Sakers)

At the entrance, groups were met by one of the two maids, Holly and June (left). The maid explained that the Count and Countess from Transylvania were considering moving their family to the United States. The Brooklyn Park Library was allowing the family to live in the basement for a while, and today we were giving tours so that the family could meet Americans. "So be on your best behavior...remember, we are going into someone's house. Keep your hands to yourselves, be polite, and don't break anything. And oh, by the way, they're vampires."

(At this point, some kids lost their nerve and bailed out.)

(photo posted on Yahoo by Don Sakers)
Groups first greeted the Dowager Countess (right), who was quite mad. It was at this point that a latecomer joined the group, a teenage girl who had missed her turn earlier. Everyone said hello to the Dowager, then moved along down the hall. (Sharp-eyed visitors got a glimpse of a ghostly figure wafting down the hall, which added to their unease.)

(photo by Gwyn Fireman)
Down the hall, Uncle Pesci (left) stepped out from the bathroom wearing a shower cap and clutching a shower brush. He grumbled at the maid because no one had told him it was tour day. We'd intended this to be a minor and slightly humorous startle-scare, but some kids screamed, others started crying, and at least one little boy let loose his bladder and had to be escorted out by Mom.

After this encounter with Uncle Pesci, the group continued on toward the kitchen.

(photo taken by Greg Sears on camera owned by Gwyn Fireman)
The kitchen staff (above) were glad to welcome each group and show off some of the delicacies they were preparing for the family: kitty eyeballs, ear & eyeball stew, assorted sweetmeats sauteed in puppy drool, and fresh intestines ("It's an acquired taste").

The kitchen staff then asked some questions ("Are you healthy?" "Can I smell your hands?") and then nodded approvingly over one member of the group. Without warning, they grabbed her away and pulled her (kicking and screaming) through the door. After the door slammed, the poor victim's cries were abruptly cut off by a very solid "thunk." (The victim, of course, was the teenager who joined the group at the last minute -- in reality she was a shill who belonged to the Costumers Guild.)

(photo by Gwyn Fireman)
At this point the group was joined by the family butler, Mr. Renfield (right), who announced that "The Family is ready to receive guests now." Mr. Renfield led them through a curtain to the family room, while behind them the maid tried to reassure those who were concerned about the missing teenager: "No, no, there's nothing we can do for her. Did anyone know her? Oh, good, she won't be missed."

With Mr. Renfield in the lead (with a deadpan delivery remisicent of Riff-Raff from The Rocky Horror Picture Show), groups moved on to meet various members of the family.

(photo by Gwyn Fireman)
Sisters Malice and Alice (above) were the first to greet the guests. Mr. Renfield explained that Malice has been lost in a horror novel for the last two hundred years, while Alice enjoys playing with her dolls. Every time Alice stuck her doll with a pin, Malice would jump and say "Ouch." Mr. Renfield cautioned visitors not to give Alice anything personal, such as a key, some hair, or a finger.
(photo by Gwyn Fireman)
Great-Aunt Elspeth (right), a spinster, was spinning cobwebs...but she always found at least one person in the group with lovely hair, and she asked them if she could have their head ("to keep the hair fresh.") When Mr. Renfield said, "Now Elspeth, you know that you never give the heads back," Elspeth countered with, "They never ask!" Unanswerable logic.

(photo by Gwyn Fireman)
Cousin Charlotte (above) was next on the tour. First Charlotte used her Tarot cards to peel back the mists of time and tell the fortune of someone in the group: "Death." Mr. Renfield deadpanned, "Very perceptive, Charlotte. Everyone's fortune is death...eventually. Why don't you show them something more...mystical?"

Charlotte then conjured up the spirit of someone from a previous tour; the ghostly apparition arose and silently swayed in the breeze.

(photo by Gwyn Fireman)
Now it was time to meet the Count and Countess (above). Both welcomed their visitors enthusiastically. The Count asked one of the children his/her name. Let's follow one little boy, clinging to Mom, who answered, "Daniel." The Count patted the maid on her shoulder and said, "You have served us well. Tell Cook that the first course on tonight's dinner will be...Daniel." He looked around the group. "And the rest of them can go in the soup pot; we'll feast on them all weekend."

At this point, young Daniel started to lose it. Mom patted him comfortingly and said, "Honey, it's just make-believe. They're not really going to take you and eat you." With fear-filled eyes, Daniel protested, "They took that other girl!"

Mom had no ready reply.

Fortunatley for the group, Mr. Renfield stepped forward and said to the Count, "Wait a minute, that's not the deal! You said you'd only take one from each group." The maid answered, "We're renegotiating the deal. We're taking them all, and I get my immortality." The Count pointed at Mr. Renfield and cackled, "Yes, and you get nothing...except the soup pot with the rest of them."

Mr. Renfield stood firm. "You forget, there are three things that vampires have no power over. One: your own reflection in a mirror."

The Countess sneered, "There are no mirrors here."

Mr. Renfield said, "Two: the burning touch of sunlight!"

The Count cackled, "We are in the basement. There's no sulight here, you fool!"

Mr. Renfield continued, "Three: the Vampire Hunter Blake!"

(photo by Gwyn Fireman)
In burst Vampire Hunter Blake (right), who instantly drove a stake through the heart of the traitorous maid. As he struggled with the vampire family, Mr. Renfield ushered the group through a doorway to the graveyard. Blake stepped through, then threw a shining rope across the threshhold. "We're safe, they can't cross this magical barrier."

As Blake and Renfield organized the group, the Countess burst through the barrier. "I am the oldest and strongest of this family, no barrier can stop me. First I will have you, Blake, and then I will take the rest!" She and Blake fought to the death (Blake's) while Renfield sheparded the group into the exit antechamber. There, with the safety of sunlight on the other side of the door, he paused to make sure everyone was accounted for ("Wait, we're missing one...oh, never mind.")

The Countess burst through the door, and the group ran screaming into the safety of the light.


This fifth annual Haunted House was our most successful. We had two pants-wetters, one hysterical crier who had to leave halfway through (and then was forced back in by Mother, perhaps not the best example of quality parenting), one puppy pile (in which most of the group fell to the floor and tried to crawl to safety, kicking the last one in line back toward the vampires), at least half a dozen older siblings offering younger brothers or sisters as sacrificial victims, and a good number of screamers, criers, and general scared-to-deathers. One group froze completely when Blake entered, and were only convinced to move to safety when Uncle Pesci stood up behind them and roared.

In short, a grand time was had by all.

Setup took about six hours on Friday afternoon/evening (about 4-10 pm) and teardown was accomplished in less time on Sunday (1-4 pm). And the Guild is already thrashing out ideas for next year.

Like the blog? Send the author a donation.
Subscribe in a reader