‘Futurama’ cast, studio strike deal

Good news, everyone! Word came out Friday evening that the “Futurama” cast has signed on for the new season of the show.
It’s not clear what cleared the way toward a deal between the actors and the studio, but I’m glad they reached terms. I definitely wouldn’t want to see the actors be replaced.
The new season will begin airing next year.

Secret Shame: Never been to Comic-Con

Every so often, I delve into my drawer of “Secret Shames” — some deep, dark, pop-culture secret that I’m not too proud of. This latest secret shame deals with one of the largest pop-culture events of the year — the San Diego Comic-Con.

The 40th edition of the event recently ended and, for the umpteenth time in a row, I wished I could’ve been there. In recent years, it’s become a huge event that went beyond its comic book origins as Hollywood studios slowly realized the convention’s potential.

While I’m modestly interested in comic book, I would’ve definitely wanted to check out panels for many of my favorite TV shows, including “Battlestar Galactica” and “Chuck.” There were “Battlestar Galactica” concerts at the House of Blues.

Yes, there are people dressed up as their favorite characters. While it’s not my thing to dress up, I can appreciate the work of many of the costumes.

Missing Comic-Con wouldn’t be such a big deal if I hadn’t lived in San Diego for nearly seven years. What’s worse, I don’t think I knew much about it while I lived there.

The only convention I went to in San Diego was a “Star Trek” gathering at Golden Hall. It’s like riding a Merry-Go-Round when Disneyland is around the corner.

In the years since I left San Diego, I’ve never been able to time a vacation to go down there for Comic-Con. Also, I think if I wanted to go, there might be a problem getting passes — as the event has grown, the passes have become more elusive.

Luckily, Comic-Con puts on a smaller affair in San Francisco every February called WonderCon. I’ve been able to make two of those and had a great time each year.

Hopefully, I can catch the 41st Comic-Con next year and put this secret shame to rest.

Submerging in the city of Salt Lake

In the spring, I went back to my hometown of Salt Lake City for a grandparent’s 80th birthday party. It was too short of a visit, and I left with a desire to return soon.

Part of the visit included updating my memory banks and comparing the SLC-That-Was to the SLC-That-Is.

I suppose noticing changes is a fairly common thing when people return to their old towns after being away. I can imagine people comparing how San Francisco or Oakland has changed in the past 10-15 years. In fact, I remember my high school history teacher bemoaning the changes to his small town of Roswell, Ga. after its population exploded during the 1980s.

I kidded with my family that I was catching up with what’s new so I could hold my own in a conversation. In reality, my family and friends have been quite generous in sharing information about what has changed over the years.

There were all these little details — oh, they opened up a new highway to Ogden; they shut down a historic building with a prominent nightspot; they’re still working on that replacement for the old downtown malls; the city has a soccer team and it has a new stadium; etc.

Amid the changes, I also tried to remember items that had gone missing in the past few years (and before that). During my trip last summer, I noticed that there was only one Union Pacific shield on the old UP depot (which has been integrated into a mall). The other shield had been on the opposite side facing the freeway — the holes for the mounting brackets seem to still be there.

Because I’m a huge dork who wants to recall as many of these little details as possible — here is a not-inclusive list of some of the changes to landmarks I’ve noticed in the past eight years:

  • Three shopping malls have been demolished. Two of them were standouts in my memories of downtown — the Crossroads Mall and the ZCMI Center. The other one, Cottonwood, was OK at the then-outskirts of town, but had a nice comic book store.
  • The Gateway Center opened (which appears to have prompted the other closures/re-envisionings of shopping).
  • The Hansen Planetarium relocated from a great old house across from ZCMI Center to the Gateway (and is now the Clark Planetarium)
  • The large pale blue map of the Earth at the airport’s Terminal One is still there, but now a TSA security line runs over it (no more rushing to mark where Salt Lake is and where our family is going).
  • Rancho Bowl was torn down (I suspected, but my uncle confirmed it when we were driving on North Temple).
  • Another bowling alley off of Redwood Road was torn down.
  • Japantown looks so small among the other downtown developments (I also learned it’s called Japantown).
  • The communities of Bountiful and Centerville have changed a lot as well. Old landmarks are torn down (like Five Points) or completely renovated (like Slim Olsen’s). New shopping centers too.
  • Of course, the drinking laws have changed somewhat over the years.

Here are some things that changed before 2000 (when I still visited often):

  • Derks Field was rebuilt into Franklin Quest/Franklin Covey/Spring Mobile Ballpark.
  • The miniature golf course at Ritz Bowl was removed.
  • The swimming pool building where my mom took me for water lessons in 1982 closed and apparently cleared to make way for the LDS Conference Center.
  • The light-rail system, TRAX, opened (although I didn’t use it until 2008).
  • Man, I didn’t realize how close the Delta Center was to the old Buddhist temple. I also didn’t realize that the Salt Palace was also across the street.

Then, there are some things that I seem to remember, but can’t verify:

  • The skating rink/ice company in Sugar House burned down.
  • Wasn’t there an outdoor skating rink outside the KSL broadcasting center? I know it’s now at Gallivan Center.

While I’m trying to compare the new city versus the old city, I realize that my efforts will inevitably come up short. My memories of the past have begun to fade (mom had to correct me about where the swimming pool was) and my recent surveys have been brief.

There are past and current realities, but I guess they will be different from the SLC of my mind.

Photo: I don’t have a lot of digital photos of Salt Lake City, so this July 2008 photo of me in front of a giant poster of American Idol contestant David Archuleta at Murray High School in Murray, Utah will have to suffice.

Fox threat to recast ‘Futurama’ actors likely a folly

The future is in Futurama lunch boxes
Many fans of the resurrected TV series “Futurama” have gotten their dander up in recent weeks over the possibility that the show may go on without the original voice actors.

According to several sources (including this Kansas City Star blog), the actors haven’t been able to reach terms with 20th Century Fox over compensation for the new season of the show. Other parts of the show have apparently been scaled down as the series moved from the Fox TV network to DVD releases and, finally, to Comedy Central.

While I don’t know all the details about the contract negotiations, I can think of a few reasons why recasting the voice actors is a bad idea:

  • This isn’t like the old days where you could replace Darren on “Bewitched” and get away with it.
  • Recasting the actors will likely alienate the die-hard fans who stood by the show over the years. These are the fans that have willingly watched endless repeats, first on Adult Swim and later on Comedy Central. More importantly, they’ve voted with their wallets by paying for the DVD releases.
  • Fox has been getting a deal with its current voice actors. Billy West does the voices of one of major characters (Fry) and several others, including Professor Farnsworth, Dr. Zoidberg and Zapp Brannigan. What do you think the odds are that the studio will be able to find one actor to do all those voices?

Threatening to recast the actors is a tactic Fox has tried before with Futurama’s sibling show, “The Simpsons.” I don’t know if Fox really benefited from the threat — all the actors were able to return, with better contracts IIRC.

Ultimately, Futurama is a show that has given me and its fans countless hours of entertainment, laughs, romance and a little bit of geeky brilliance. I hope there’s a resolution that allows this show to continue.

You’ve got to change your ‘big city’ ways

Frazier CreekComplaining about the ill effects and encroachment of large cities on smaller communities is a common pastime. In this area, it seems that people in rural Butte County complain about Chico and Chicoans complain about the Bay Area.

If you go back far enough, the rural Romans would knock Rome, saying that it’s not what it’s cracked up to be and why is our empire named after this city anyway?

I saw a bit of this disdain towards cities during a trip to Plumas-Eureka State Park. We listened to a few minutes of the 50th anniversary celebration of the park. Here’s what colleague Heather Hacking wrote about it:

Plus, they had a big table set up with birthday cake, for which we felt
obligated to hear a speech by an area supervisor about how visitors are
welcome to the area but discouraged from “bringing their big-city ways.”

First, let me say that the birthday cake was totally worth listening to a few minutes of congratulatory back-patting. There were two sheet cakes — white and chocolate. The white cake was delicious, with layers of some light pink frosting with traces of fruit.

I digress. I found the county supervisor’s comments a little funny because they seemed more like a candidate speech instead of a salute to a thriving state park. I don’t think he would be a big fan of the curry test.

For the rest of the day, my party poked gentle fun at the comment, mentioning how the backcountry probably didn’t need such newfangled conveniences as horseless carriages, satellite TV or modern medicine (leeches are just fine, thank you).

The thing is, I can understand some of the supervisor’s feelings — there are many undesirable things about big cities, including traffic, crowds, crime, etc. But his short comment also seemed to dismiss the things that make cities worthwhile — culture, diversity, the hum of humanity, opportunities, etc.

In some ways, maintaining and preserving this idyllic realm may be impossible. The supervisor said he wouldn’t mind if people come up to the mountains and put down roots … if they didn’t bring their big city ways with them. However, we bring at least some aspect of this larger civilization with us, no matter how hard we try to escape or transform it.

Looking around the communities the supervisor represents, I could see the encroachment of the “city” — highways, railroads, motor home parks, golf courses, cell phones, manicured lawns, and satellite TV dishes on many homes. There’s a wine bar outside Graeagle and there is a restaurant that wants $36 for surf-and-turf in a town with 70 summer residents.

As much as we would want to keep the city’s troubles at arm’s length, many aspects of civilization follow us like footsteps through snow. Instead of fearing a clash between civilization and nature, perhaps we can seek a more beneficial interchange.

Image: A view of Frazier Creek just upstream of Frazier Falls outside of Graeagle, Calif. on Sat., July 18, 2009. (Ryan Olson photo)

The curry test

The curry test

I was camping last weekend when my group decided to duck into a local market for some ice. While they went to make their purchase, I walked around and decided to look for some curry sauce mix.

I wasn’t planning on mixing up some Asian food during the camping trip — it’s part of an ongoing test I have to determine the quality of grocery store.

I call it, the curry test.

It’s a simple test — I just check to see if the store carries my brand of curry sauce mix (S&B) in the Asian food section.

The test is simple and straightforward for my needs. It allows me to make some snap judgment on the quality of the grocery and the town it resides in.

If a store has the curry, I generally tend to think that the store is well stocked in more cosmopolitan fare and perhaps serves a more diverse group of shoppers.

Stores that don’t stock it seem incomplete in my eye and to some extent the community also seems to be missing something.

There may not be any rhyme or reason for why a store would stock curry. Population may be a factor with larger cities being more likely to have it. When I lived in Hancock, Mich., the smaller markets near my house didn’t have it, but the larger supermarket across the canal in Houghton did.

The Thriftway market in tiny Dunsmuir, Calif. had it on the top shelf of a rather small ethnic food section. However, it wasn’t at the Graeagle Store in the even tinier Graeagle, Calif.

College town Chico has the sauce mix at most stores, but I almost wrote the town off because it wasn’t at the first store I checked (the college neighborhood Safeway on West Sacramento Avenue).

Geography may play a factor too. While curry can be found in small rural communities, it can also be missing in larger cities, like Saginaw, Mich.

Perhaps the biggest surprise was the large chain supermarket in left-leaning Middletown, Conn. This is a town with a lot of diverse eateries, but I had to ship relief packages to my New England friends because their local store didn’t stock it.

Here’s are some of the towns and stories where I have sought curry (by population):

Graeagle, Calif. (pop. 831): No.
Dunsmuir, Calif. (pop. 1,801): Check.
Hancock, Mich. (pop. 4,158): Nope
Houghton, Mich. (pop. 6,878): Definitely at EconoFoods.
Middletown, Conn. (pop. 48,030): Not at the Stop & Shop.
Saginaw, Mich. (pop. 55,620): We tried the Kroger and settled for Thai curry mix.
Chico, Calif. (pop. 83,791): Many stores do, but not the student neighborhood Safeway.

Of course, this test is purely subjective. You may have some essential comfort food that you just can’t live without. For me, you’ve gone a long way to gaining a new customer if you’ve curry boxes on your store shelves.

Image: Several boxes of curry sauce mix were for sale at the Thriftway store in downtown Dunsmuir, Calif. in Feb. 2009.

What the media companies giveth, they can taketh away

In just two days, I’ve seen a pair of reminders of the power media providers have when it comes to providing access to content. These providers are Amazon and Comcast.

On a national scale, some people have been crying foul about Amazon reaching out and deleting copies of books on their Kindle e-book reader. Many have noted the irony that the books being deleted in this Orwellian fashion are those by George Orwell, he of “Animal Farm” and “1984” fame.

As Ars Technica notes, it appears that a third-party publisher may have not had the rights to sell Orwell’s books. I can appreciate Amazon’s desire to try to correct a situation a third party has put the company into, but I also hope that Amazon sticks to its word and doesn’t automatically delete purchased books in the future.

On the personal level, I received a letter from Comcast regarding their On Demand service. In its letter, Comcast wanted to tell me that my wide access to use On Demand to watch shows and movies from most channels at any time was a mistake. Comcast stated they were limiting most of my access unless, of course, I chose to upgrade to a more-expensive package.

I downgraded to local channels to save money. While On Demand is a nice perk for a handful of shows I don’t have access to anymore, it’s simply not worth the additional $40 per month to return to Standard Cable with Digital.

I don’t quite understand it — Comcast should be encouraging use of On Demand because it offers a lot of the advantages of watching shows on the Internet, but from the comfort and convenience of your living-room television. Instead Comcast is helping me opt for the cheaper solution with more available programming on the Internet.

At least Comcast is giving me a heads up about the change. It’s pretty easy for media companies to simply flip a switch and take away stuff that we take for granted.

Generic ‘Chico’ T-shirts a disservice

A generic "Chico" shirtThere’s nothing wrong with wanting to show your hometown pride, but I wouldn’t recommend doing it with this frightfully misleading “Greetings from Chico” T-shirt. It says it’s from Chico, but it could really be from Anytown, U.S.A.

I don’t want to name the store where I found this shameful garment, but I discovered it at a local drug store next to a burrito restaurant across from One-Mile Recreation Area.

Aside from slathering “Chico” all over the shirt, is there any aspect of the shirt that is appropriately Chico?

Do any of the elements (police and fire stations, a post office and bus) resemble anything in Chico? Has anyone ever gone to school at “Butte County School District”?

There’s a farm in the background, which might satisfy Greenline supporters, but it’s not a specific image I would associate with the city of trees and roses.

It’s not too bad that the T-shirt is trying to evoke the idea of an idyllic town, including the cute dog. My beef is that it’s not an idyllic image of a town named Chico.

Change the words around a tad and the shirt could’ve read “Greetings from Chino,” Oroville, Walla Walla or Poughkeepsie. Surely they too must have police and fire stations, post offices and farms.

It’s this T-shirt’s relative lack of effort that raised my hackles. It must be fairly easy to take a basic design and slap a couple of words on it. To this shirt’s credit, the word Chico was placed in five areas.

I became aware of the practice of customizing generic shirts when I bought a sweatshirt from my university as a gift. It was dark blue with a line of white tropical flowers and the school’s name. Although I was happy with my purchase, I was disappointed to come across an identical sweatshirt with a different university’s name emblazoned on it.

Ultimately, Chico may be a “great place to live!” but there are better ways to express oneself.

The Sierra Nevada shirt is a pretty common sight around here as is Chico State garb. Anything that is uniquely Chico or of the north state would be a terrific improvement over this generic garment.

Tennis grunting and you

Much has been made of professional tennis players who grunt or otherwise emit loud noises as they swing at the tennis ball. BBC News did a large piece on it in late June. About 10 days later, ABC News did a piece, thus making the matter suitable for American consumption.

The BBC News article tells the story pretty well, including discussing why it’s an issue now considering that there have been a number of noisy players since the ’70s. Monica Seles and her auditory performances were cited as a landmark shift in the woman’s game.

Also, the article quotes trainer Nick Bollettieri who says the grunting (or just exhaling at the end of a maneuver) can be natural.

“I prefer to use the word ‘exhaling’. I think that if you look at other
sports, weightlifting or doing squats or a golfer when he executes the
shot or a hockey player, the exhaling is a release of energy in a
constructive way,” Bollettieri said.

I decided to put Bollettieri’s theory to the test. I wanted to see if grunting was a natural release of energy. So my friends and I went to the best court we could find — the table tennis set at The Oasis.

After a couple of warm-up rounds, I tested to see if grunting would help my game at all. With every swing of the tiny wooden paddle, I tried to push out a little more air and emit a loud “UGH” or a breathy “EH” as I reached out for the ping pong ball.

While it cracked my opponent up, I don’t believe it helped my game much. It also seemed artificial emitting a sound as I lined up my return.

Perhaps the field of play was too small — maybe table tennis isn’t ready yet for grunters. I wonder if grunting in tennis is necessary — I played racquetball over the years and don’t recall a lot of grunting.

I guess my experiment was rather silly, but at least it had a paddle and a ball. BBC Radio 1’s “Newsbeat” didn’t even have that — they asked people outside Wimbledon to play “grunt tennis,” where they pantomimed playing tennis grunting all the while.

So, to grunt or not to grunt? What do you think?

A matter of Deja “Sue”

The real T. Rex named SueI experienced a moment of deja vu involving dinosaurs.

As part of my gig at Northstate Public Radio, I read public-service announcements of upcoming events. One of the ongoing events is for the “A T-Rex Named Sue” exhibit at the Turtle Bay Exploration Park in Redding.

I was surprised to see an online ad for another T. Rex named Sue on display at the Field Museum in Chicago.

Since it’s fairly hard for people and other unique objects to be in two places at the same time, I wanted to learn more.

Apparently, the dino on display in Redding is a replica of the original Sue.

The true blue Sue has been on display at the Field Museum since 2000. The museum has a couple of replicas floating around the world. One of them is up in Redding until September.

I actually had a chance to visit Sue in person at the Field last summer. I took a couple of photos because she’s very impressive. She loomed over the hundreds of convention-goers gathered for a party, much like the partiers loomed over the buffet tables.

Checking the Field’s Web site, the Sue on display in Chicago is the real deal — all of the bones are real, except for the skull. Even the real skull is on display elsewhere in the musuem.

I may journey up to Redding to see the Repli-Sue to learn more.

Image: Sue in her native habitat at Chicago’s Field Museum in July 2008.