30 October 2007

It's Hallowe'en; Get Your (Acoustical) Geek On!

If you’re not already watching it, I recommend CBS’ new comedy, The Big Bang Theory. I especially recommend it to anyone who falls, or has friends/family who fall, into the Geek/Nerd category.

This week’s episode was particularly hilarious as it had a Hallowe’en theme. One of the main characters, Sheldon, dressed up as the Doppler Effect. His costume was a centrally located circle representing a light source, with stripes representing waves of light at decreasing (or increasing, depending on the relative motion of the observer, of course) frequency eminating from the source. As an acoustician, I found this hilarious, especially when Sheldon was trying to explain his costume to other Hallowe’en party-goers: “You know;” [imitates a passing vehicle] “Nnyowm.” Fellow acousticians: How many times have you done that in your life?

This got me to thinking about other great acoustical Hallowe’en costumes:

• You could stand in place and bob up and down: You’re a Standing Wave. (To make it more obvious, you could simply stand in place and wave.)

• You could continually travel in a straight line from one side of the room to the other: You’re an Axial Room Mode. (You could get really creative if you wanted to be an Oblique Room Mode, but be careful not to break anything.) To enhance this costume, alternately raise and lower your voice to correspond to the appropriate sound pressure distribution.

• You could repeatedly repeat everything people say, lowering your voice with each repetition. You guessed it; you’re an Echo. This would be particularly effective if you only did it to the last syllable or three of any given sentence. Of course, with enough practice, you can simply repeat everything people say in a slightly lower voice.

• You could paint yourself and your clothes starting with red-orange around your mouth and moving through the ROYGBIV colors moving away from your mouth until your feet are violet/black: You’re a Spectrograph.

• You could get one of these for your head:

And one of these to wear around your neck:

And be a Sound Level Meter.
• Finally, not strictly acoustical, but you could get this printed on a T-shirt:

Then put a small loudspeaker in your pocket hooked up to a signal generator. Play a 1 kHz square wave through the loudspeaker and you can go around saying, “This is Only a Test.” People will love you.

Here are some more conceptual costumes you can ponder:

  • Fast Fourier Transform (FFT)
  • Helmholtz Resonator (Coke bottle, slat absorber, etc.)
  • Signal-to-Noise Ratio (SNR)
  • Sonar
  • Ultrasound or a Sonogram
  • Active Noise Control

Happy Hallowe’en!

Dynamics Dirge...in C-major?

Cross•Spectrum has featured my blog a couple of times, so I thought it time to return the favor:


This post reminded me of another website recently linked in a Studiotips thread:


I'm 100% in favor of stopping the madness when it comes to the burgeoning boom-boom and rising ruckus that currently plagues popular music. All signs point to dynamics dying a slow death, which is not good news. Music theory 101: Dynamics are right up there with timbre, key, tempo, etc. - basic properties of music. If we lose dynamics, what's next? "Gosh, we really like this record, Ms. Popstar, but can you re-record it in the key of F# at 132 bpm? Otherwise, it won't sell a single unit on iTunes."

It might seem outrageous, but:

"Most slot machines sounds are in C-major to avoid sounding dark or sinister."

Hopefully, this is a case of something happening in Vegas that most assuredly stays there.

29 October 2007

Shark Stakeout?

Richard Dreyfuss turns 60 today! Coincidentally, I was talking to someone just the other day about one of my favorite film moments, which included Mr. Dreyfuss. I don't know why I get such a kick out of this, but Richard Dreyfuss was in a film back in 1987 called Stakeout, which some of you may remember. One of the recurring comedic elements in this movie was the trivia game that Dreyfuss' character (Chris Lecce) and Emilio Estevez' character (Bill Reimers) played to pass the time during their stakeouts. I pulled the exact exchange that sticks in my mind from IMDB:

Chris Lecce (Richard Dreyfuss): [Chris and Bill are whiling away the time playing trivia questions] Okay, I got one, name the 16th President.
Bill Reimers (Emilio Estevez): I don't know.
Chris Lecce: Here's a hint...
Bill Reimers: Abraham Lincoln.
Bill Reimers: [His questions are identifying quotes] Okay, "This was no boating accident!"
Chris Lecce: No idea.
Bill Reimers: Man, you suck at this.

Astute members of the audience attending a screening of Stakeout back in 1987 remembered this quote from the most popular movie of 1975 (also taken from IMDB):

[Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) is examining the remains of the first victim - describes the post-mortem into his tape recorder]
Hooper: The height and weight of the victim can only be estimated from the partial remains. The torso has been severed in mid-thorax; there are no major organs remaining...
Hooper: Right arm has been severed above the elbow with massive tissue loss in the upper musculature... partially denuded bone remaining...
Hooper: [to the m.e. and Brody] This was no boat(ing) accident!

Pure scripting genius, IMHO!

26 October 2007

Noise in Hollywood

I felt this movie-in-the-making just had to be blogged about if for no other reason than to bring it to the attention of any noise savvy readers. :)

I can assure you I will see this film the day it opens (currently slated for limited US distribution in Feb. 2008). Why? A number of reasons:
  • With the possible exception of submarine movies (U-571 comes to mind, among others), Hollywood's portrayal of acoustic physics is notoriously less than mediocre. There was ample debunking required by acoustics professionals in the wake of the 1996 film, Chain Reaction, mostly concerning what sonoluminescence is really all about. George Lucas, et al, have an annoying habit of putting air in space. Detailed audio forensic analysis of abysmal recordings that takes days (or, more likely, weeks) in real life takes an average of about 12 seconds on any given CSI: episode. (Further, The "Not What It Looks Like" episode of CSI:NY still sticks in my mind as laughable and was discussed in detail here.) And so on.
  • My friends will, undoubtedly, want to "get my take" on this piece of fiction. They will expect nothing less than my usual loquaciously dry cynicism mixed with humorless rant.
  • It will be interesting to see whether the noise control profession (consultants, engineers, etc.) is faithfully represented, if it is represented at all.
  • There hasn't been a good movie, IMO, about noise / audio / acoustics for over 20 years. I think John Travolta's portrayal of a "soundman" in the 1981 film Blow Out was probably the last time audio got a relatively fair shake in Hollywood. (Of course, real audio engineers are much better looking.)
  • I thoroughly enjoy Tim Robbins' film work. (E.g., his Harlan Ogilvy was the only character in Spielberg's War of the Worlds that I felt jived with H.G. Wells' intentions...unless you count the Martians.)
  • Lastly, I have a feeling it will provide heaps of fodder for this little blog!

24 October 2007

What Does 30% Sound Like?

I came across an(other) unfortunate attempt at marketing "quiet." The company is an unquestioned leader in their industry. However, it would appear from this link that they should stick to what they know, which is sight and not sound. For those of you not versed in sound, a "30% reduction in sound," if correctly applied, results in about a 3 dB drop in relative sound pressure level. (Just put 0.7 into the equation that is the title of this blog, i.e., 10*log(.7²) = -3.1.)

As I see it, there are three possible ways this statement found its way into the release:

1. They came up with the percentage reduction by figuring the difference in decibels, which is wrong wrong wrong.

2. They came up with the percentage the right way, in which case Marketing might have said that 30% "looks better" than 3 dB. But, as any good acoustician will tell you, 3 dB is hardly worth marketing at all when you're talking about motor noise. As an example, most people wouldn't be able to tell much difference between a 36 dBA motor and a 33 dBA motor. (Not to mention that 3 dB lower is not even subjectively 30% quieter.)

3. They were simply given this number by someone (a motor supplier or ???) and Marketing ran with it. In which case, shame on all of them.

There is a fourth way, which would involve the subjective loudness scale (those oh-so-fun sones and noys). But I would be shocked if they "went there."

The motor in question is undoubtedly quieter than comparable or previous models - the company is reputable. My main point is that the statement of "30% reduction in sound" is ambiguous at best. So if anyone ever wants to know the reasons why I abhor using percentages when talking about sound, this blog post is a good place to start! :)

Octave Bands Turn 50!

I'm always curious about the origin of things, especially in acoustics. Sometimes, I research things until I find the "zero point." Sometimes, I just happen across things...

Fifty years ago this month, in the October 1957 issue of the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America (JASA, Vol. 29, No. 10), a letter from Robert W. Young, an noted acoustician* working for the US Navy, was published. The letter was entitled "Preferred Frequencies for Acoustics." In it, Young made his case for standardizing the set of frequencies used for acoustical analyses. Illustrating his signature prescience, he wrote:

"Before our data-taking equipment becomes so automatic that we are irretrievably committed to a certain series of test frequencies, however inconvenient, we should look ahead by selecting standard test frequencies that will continue to be useful over a wide range of acoustical endeavor ."

Young concluded the letter with:

"...it is here suggested for general use in acoustics, where discrete test frequencies in a geometric series are required, that they be...100, 125, 160, 200, 250, 315, 400, 500, 630, 800, 1000 cps, etc., and that when octave intervals are adequate the frequencies printed in boldface type be chosen."

This letter, combined with Young's dedicated involvement in what would ultimately become the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), set the standard for acoustical analyzers and other equipment utilizing the now ubiquitous one-third-octave and octave bands.

If it weren't for Young's dedication to this, we'd be discussing reverberation time in the 125 Hz band and, in the same report, discussing background noise in the 106 Hz band (or the 140 Hz band if you're a consultant in Europe). Whether you believe the standard bands are a good thing or a bad thing, we can thank Robert Young for the fact that they are standard.

*The late Robert Young was honored with a special paper session at the 148th Meeting of the ASA in November 2004, which I was fortunate enough to have attended. Over the course of his life-long career in acoustics, Robert Young made many significant contributions to acoustical standards, our understanding of sonic booms, and community noise. The ASA offers an award in his name for Undergraduate Student Research in Acoustics.

22 October 2007

The Dude with the Head at The Pig

The Tribe choked. Best of luck to the BO Sox and the CO Rocks. 'Nuff said.


I would be remiss if I didn't blog about my Saturday afternoon at The Pig. (Long live The Pig!) One of the highlights of the afternoon - besides the great weather, great drinks, great conversation, and great company - was the Dude with the Head. Sometime between talking about awarding the Nobel Prize for War to W. and fending off the numerous attacks by the paparazzi (we were sitting with someone who, it turns out, is quite the celebrity in Ghana, or some other obscure country), a guy pusing a stroller walked by. In the stroller was not what one would expect to find in a stroller. Strollers, I've observed, traditionally have small children in them. Apparently, the bald dude in coveralls walking up 9th street didn't get that memo. In his stroller, was nothing more than the head of a mannequin.

Assuming this is not the result of some mental defect (which would be sad, no doubt), how should we interpret this?
  • Bored with life in the mansion, Bob, millionaire owner of several successful clothing stores, dons the coveralls of his youth and pushes "Betty" through the streets to pass the time on a Saturday afternoon.
  • "I swear, I was at this garage sale, bought this cool stroller for my baby girl, and this head fell out of the sky and landed in it on the way home."
  • Mannequin Parts Wholesale Direct - Custom heads delivered to your door; same day service.
  • "The head represents, like, the angst of today's youth, man. I mean, yeah, like, we're all just heads in a stroller, like, being pushed around by the government. Peace, bro."
  • "Well, we'll give you $5 for the torso and $2 each for the limbs. We've already got plenty of heads, though."
  • Today only: Buy a stroller and take 50% off all mannequin heads! (While supplies last.)
Chances are, however, it was just some sort of frat hazing thing. (Right?)

17 October 2007

Careful or I'll Puncture You with My Slide Rule

In case you haven't noticed, I've found myself questioning the meanings of terms quite bit lately...

I am an engineer. A fellow engineer friend of mine recently made the observation that, for the most part, engineers are pricks. He did this less as an attempt at self-deprication and more to objectively explain the tactless behavior of many engineers, particularly in social situations.

The definition of an engineer from one source I have is, "A person who uses scientific knowledge to solve practical problems." From the same source, the definition of a prick is, "term of address for people who are stupid or irritating or ridiculous." Another prick definition (same source) is, "The act of puncturing with a small point."


I am thinking of a new definition for engineer in light of this recent discussion:

engineer, n, a person who uses scientific knowledge to solve the practical problems of others by making small points to puncture their flawed logic.

Another alternative is:

engineer, n, an irritating* person who makes small points to puncture the ideas of others; often involving (over)use of scientific knowledge.

*Because real engineers are rarely "stupid" or "ridiculous," of course.

Then again, there is a third definition of prick which could be melded with that of engineer: "Obscene term for penis."

I'd rather stick with my definitions, though, thank you very much.

15 October 2007

Clandestine Book Sales

Ever come across what you believe to be a "best kept secret"? Something you avoid telling other people about for fear word will get out? Well, here's mine:


Why am I letting this one out? Two reasons:

1. My fear of too many people finding out about this is ridiculous, largely because,
2. Many of you will probably find it way to too geeky/boring to care anyway!

So, now that the feline has exited its flexible container, let me tell you why I think the above site is awesome:

Reason the First: Finding some of these sales is half the fun. Bookstores going out of business in Podunk aren't exactly well-marked in a Rand McNally road atlas. Even if you don't wind up spending a penny at the sale, you now know where Podunk is...and while you're there, you can try a sandwich at that place on Main Street with "Café" literally written over the door. It'll probably be the best food you've had all week. At the very least, good conversation is a virtual slam dunk guarantee.

Reason the Second: The "bag sale" might be the best idea ever concocted by a librarian. "Buy" a plastic bag for, say $5, and you keep as much as you can put in it.

Reason the Third: Most often, the books are not obscure titles, nor are they always beat up, thousand-times read library copies. (Though there are typically ample quantities of both.) If you're patient and thorough, you can discover some fantastic deals.

Reason the Fourth: I'm convinced very few people go to these sales in the right frame of mind. If you go to, e.g., a library sale looking for a good 1st ed. copy of Moby Dick, you might as well stay home. However, if you're an avid reader, like me, these sales are goldmines. This is especially true if you're fond of non-fiction.

Reason the Last (but not the Least): You should be able to find a few book sales at libraries near you. Even if you don't read that much, you cannot beat the deals at these sales. Even without "bag sales" most books are < $2-3; more often in the $0.50-1.00 range. And the best part is that you're supporting your local library. If you haven't been there is a while (or ever), one of these sales might give you the perfect excuse.

Happy Reading!

12 October 2007

NFL + CSI + ED = I Heart My DVR

I'm an NFL fan. I've been watching football more or less since I was five. Some of my most fond memories as a child were watching Browns games with my dad and brother. After watching Brian Sipe throw numerous interceptions in yet another loss to the Steelers, we would console ourselves by having a good ol' game of Tackle in the backyard. Living in Europe in the late '80s, we would stay up until midnight to watch the Browns live in the playoffs. (Long Live Bernie Kosar!)

My wife, thankfully, is also an avid football fan. So, like we did when we were kids, we sit down with our own family now every Sunday and watch the games. [With the exception of the Cowboys. I will not subject myself to three and a half hours of T.O.-this and T.O.-that. Spare me. The Cowboys are banned in my house until that prima donna gets retired, sidelined (though I do not wish him any harm), or traded.]

The problem we're finding, though, is that TV is no longer rated G during football games. Not even PG. The games themselves are fine. I realize it's arguable whether 22 men knocking each other around for the sake of moving an oblong projectile 30 feet is G-rated material, but it is a sport. A contact sport, but a sport nonetheless. Young kids play tackle football - I did - and I'm fine with that. AFAIC, it's rated G. (Unless the announcers start talking about certain players' questionable extracurricular activities. Then they get muted.)

So why does my family, and other families like mine, have to watch Viagra ads during a Sunday afternoon football game? Why the ads for R-rated movies? Why the ads for CSI: depicting the dismembered body of next week's victim? Can we not have some respite from this on Sunday afternoons? It is Sunday, after all. And I live in the Midwest fer cryin' out loud. I can walk out my door, throw a rock in any direction, and hit four churches. Why the need to air ads for the latest gorgy slasher shoot-em-up sex film? Seriously.

The latest in technology - our DVR - now lets us pause live TV. Which is exactly what we do everytime the Sunday game goes to a commercial break. I think that (a) more parents should start doing this during afternoon football games and (b) said parents should spread the word that they do so. Eventually, it might get back to the advertisers and they can realize how much money they're wasting on that post-kickoff spot on Fox or CBS.

Don't get me wrong; I love a good horror movie, CSI: episode, or sex drug as much as the next guy. (OK, maybe not so much on that last one. And CSI:Miami needs to get a clue. What forensic scientist shows up to a crime scene wearing pumps?) And I'm certainly not in the "don't expose your kids to anything even remotely salacious" camp. But the line has to be drawn somewhere. If they're going to run these types of ads during the games, the NFL should go strictly primetime. At the very least, they need a "Viewer Discretion Advised" message right before they cut to commercial break. How sad is that?

11 October 2007

Sonic Cascade

I read through this NYT article as a result of this Dilbert blog. It's an interesting concept, that of the "cascade" of poor (or wrong) information. I don't think it would be difficult to find numerous examples of this effect in audio and acoustics. One example would be something I feel I may have had a hand in starting myself. In the various acoustics forums I frequent, I have seen repetitions of a concept I (mistakenly? blindly?) endorsed until recently: You cannot have too much "bass trapping" in your studio. If you really think about it, it's a ludicrous statement.

"So, Mr. Savant, I can fill my room floor-to-ceiling and wall-to-wall with bass traps and it still won't be enough?"

Well, er, no. That's not...

"So then, Mr. Savant, I can put 1 meter thick wedges on the walls and ceiling and still not have an environment that allows my mixes to translate to other systems?"

OK, that's really not...

"Mr. Savant. Where does it end? If I cannot have "too much" of something, where do I put it all?"

I think you can see the point. I don't know if this fits the "cascade" definition, but I can honestly say that I cringe every time I see that statement pop up on the Internet now.

Mea culpa.

Now, when I was a proponent for this approach to small room treatments, I was - admittedly - in the employ of a company that manufactured and sold, you guessed it, "bass traps." Of course, some might say, my mantra is going to be that you need a boatload of them.

But, perhaps to continue in my blog-inspired efforts to clear the air on certain things (ahem), I wish to state officially that my motives were not (entirely) driven by sales.

My original point with the "you-can't-have-too-much" statement was that even if you used a generous amount of "bass traps" in your small home studio, it would not eliminate each and every bass problem in the room. This was more CYA than anything else. "Bass traps" - or more accurately, low frequency or broadband acoustical treatments - are wonderful devices. When placed properly in the room, they can turn an acoustical turd into something that sounds incredibly (some would say, suprisingly) accurate. But, there will still be problems. Even the best "bass traps" on the market don't solve all the problems. And the devices that are needed to, for example, fix a 27 Hz axial mode problem in a small studio room are so large and heavy that they are WAY beyond practical for any home studio owner.

But, perhaps I digress. The main point is that acoustics is most definitely not immune to the cascading of poor (or dead wrong) information.

If you don't believe me, ask yourself why so many people are convinced that the sound of Bose® systems is superior to anything else, even when presented evidence to the contrary. Is this good marketing, or an acoustical cascade in full motion?

(Please note that I have nothing against Bose®. If you wish to throw sound evenly around a reverberant space in your home, such as your kitchen, the Wave Radio might be the thing for you!)

10 October 2007

Acoustics or Golf?

So, earlier today, an engineer for an equipment company told a client of mine, "The higher the number, the quieter the equipment."

The "number" to which the engineer was referring was a sound level in A-weighted decibels.

I hope their "noisier" equipment is rated at, say, 10 dBA. Sign me up!

09 October 2007

A room mode by any other name...

A certain percentage of my life has been and still is devoted to small room acoustics. I consider myself somewhat of an expert on this subject, though others may disagree. (Don't worry—I'm well aware of who you are.) In recent years, confusion has arisen over the exact definitions of certain small room acoustics technical terms that have long been taken for granted.

Specifically, I am talking about standing waves, room resonances, room modes, normal modes, eigentones, et al. In the long history of architectural acoustics and its subset of small room acoustics, these terms have been widely accepted as synonymous. In the context of small room acoustics, a standing wave is a resonance is a (room or normal) mode is an eigentone is a(n)...

This assumption of synonymity was largely without question for a long time. Recently, however, it has been called into question and, after several years, it would appear that the issue is still unresolved. Specifically, the correctness of grouping standing wave in with the other terms describing what is, to avoid confusion throughout the rest of this blog, a room mode has been hotly debated on numerous acoustics forums.

For those of you not familiar, a room mode is defined by the Rayleigh solution to the wave equation for rooms with infintely rigid boundaries. In the case of rectangular rooms, this solution is conveniently simplified to this equation:

For small rectangular rooms, this equation is incredibly useful for figuring out ahead of time what will happen when a sound source, such as a loudspeaker, is placed in the room. In the cases of existing rooms with a fixed sound source already in place, the equation can be used to determine what type of problems (i.e., which room modes) are being experienced, thus dictating where in the room acoustical treatments might be placed to counter the unwanted effects. Convenient online calculators are available, like this one.

The confusion about the term standing wave arises when one considers the exact definition. According to the American National Standard for Acoustical Terminology, ANSI S1.1-1994 (reaffirmed in 2004):

"6.20 standing wave. Periodic wave having a fixed distribution in space which is the result of interference of progressive waves of the same frequency and kind. Such waves are characterized by the existence of nodes or partial nodes and antinodes that are fixed in space."

Resonance is not implicit when one uses the term "standing wave." There are wave interferences that can occur in small rooms that do not come about as a result of resonant behavior.

Room modes are fixed and defined by the properties of a room. In the case of a small rectangular room, the length, width, and height of the room are all that are needed to solve the above equation. A sound source placed in the room will excite the room modes to greater or lesser degrees depending on its exact position. But, regardless of source position, the frequencies of the room modes are fixed and cannot be changed unless the room is changed. Quod erat demonstrandum.

Standing waves that do not correspond to room modes can occur in small rooms if circumstances are just right. This is sometimes the case when a low frequency wave from a loudspeaker at one end of a room bounces off the opposite wall and interferes with the wave coming from the loudspeaker. No resonance need be present for wave interference to take place, thus creating a standing wave pattern in the room. Or is this a standing wave? That is the question!

Philip Newell, in his magnificent text, Recording Studio Design, is careful to differentiate resonant standing waves (room modes) from the more broadly defined standing waves. The following is excerpted from the definition of Standing waves and resonances in Newell's Glossary of terms:

"It should be stressed that standing waves always exist when like waves interfere, whether a resonance situation occurs or not, and that the common usage of the term 'standing wave' to describe only resonant conditions is both erroneous and misleading."

This perspective is debatable. Some respected thinkers in the field of acoustics would argue that the sort of non-resonant behavior being described does not conform to the definition of a standing wave. I cannot say I agree. I cannot say I disagree. What would be best, IMHO, is if those of us who consider ourselves "experts" could better delineate the exact type of behavior they are referring to when using the term standing wave.

As a parting thought, a fair amount of heated discussion has taken place on the Internet concerning this (seemingly minor) subject. I grow increasingly convinced that it may never be resolved. (It certainly would be nice to resolve the whole thing right here and now...but I am not unrealistic.) What is unfortunate is that some of the discussions, I feel, have irritated people in the myriad acoustics forums; people who are mostly novices, who only seek simple advice for making their room(s) sound better, and who do not wish to bear witness to what amounts to a debate of semantics between a few members of the acoustical literati. IMHO, acoustics forums are not the best place for this debate. I feel the issue can be resolved easily and then left alone. I hope the above will help us "experts" work towards that goal.

Indians Win, Indians Win!


08 October 2007

Noise Stories

I was turned onto Garret Keizer's work-in-progress by a post on the Cross•Spectrum blog several weeks ago. (A link to the Cross•Spectrum blog is provided to the right under "Links.")

Mr. Keizer is working on a book and would like input from folks with experience—any kind of experience—in noise. Here's the URL to his page:


If any of my readers (do I have any readers?) have such experience—and I know you who you are—drop Mr. Keizer a line!

I'm considering drafting some prose describing the many experiences I've had with people who, once they find out I deal with noise on an almost daily basis, inquire whether active noise control will eliminate the sound of their neighbor's barking dog. Thus far, I have refrained from answering in the affirmative and getting them to hire me to design a huge wall of loudspeakers along their property line. (Mwah-hah-hah-hah!!!)

06 October 2007

I Don't Need Another "Heroes"

(WARNING: Heroes spoilers. If you haven't watched the show, but plan to, you might should probably skip this post.)

One of my favorite TV shows last season (2006-07) was NBC's Heroes. I thought the premise of the show was fresh and that it could actually go somewhere. (Unlike, say, this season's reimagining of The Bionic Woman. I mean, Lindsay Wagner should be cringing. But, then again, it wouldn't surprise me if she cameoed...) There was a decent (dare I say Campbellian?) story arc that culminated in the heroes more or less triumphing over the evil dude. IMO, that should have been it. Evil dude dead; a few heroes gone for the cause in the process; a few heroes left to live happily ever after. Throughout season one, the characters more or less embodied the definition of heroes, regardless of whether their ability was flight, invisibility, super-hearing (which would make my job, like, way easier), or a psychotic alter-ego with abnormal strength. (Is that last one really a "superpower," though?) They could have stopped right there and I certainly would have been a satisfied viewer.

And here's what I thought would have been cool for season two: Start with an identical story line as season one. No kidding. Retain the same character names, but give them different jobs and powers. (The astute among you will see that I have blatantly stolen this idea from the Stephen King / Richard Bachman Desperation / Regulators books.) Give Claire's dad the superpower instead of her. Maybe her mom's the one involved with "The Company," complete with Haitian sidekick. (Incidentally, how does everyone automatically know he's Haitian when he barely says a word?) Instead of "Save the Cheerleader..." they could have somthing like, "Save the Lifeguard..." (A new role for Milo Ventimiglia, perhaps?)

But maybe I don't know what I'm talking about. Season two has begun and thus far the evil dude seems (apparently and not surprisingly) impossible to kill; there are mysterious reappearances of characters thought dead; there are good guys on the lam (from what, again?); there are predictably troubled "whose-side-am-I-on" characters; and so on ad nauseum. (Can anyone say, "Lost?")

AFAIC, I don't think a season premier has ever disappointed me as much as Heroes did on 24 September, 2007. I mean, what's this whole Back to the Future business starring Masi Oka instead of Michael J. Fox??? And I watched the second episode last night (in lieu of suffering through Purdue going down in flames against an admittedly butt-kicking Buckeye defense—thank the stars for DVRs). I found myself at about the same place I was during the third-ish season of 24. When I start to giggle at otherwise serious moments in a show, it's time for me to give up. I can get good comedy from The Office and 30 Rock. I don't need another Heroes.

05 October 2007

Apples and Toasters

Recently, a coworker and I got into a debate about, of all things: Rush versus Justin Timberlake. Yes, you read that right. It might seem like an apples-to-toasters comparison. However, people generally have strong love or hate feelings towards either of them. Both are generally considered by their fans to be exceptional entertainers. I would even go so far as to say that each of them may be disliked equally by many people, albeit for different reasons.

I have seen many people make judgments about a thing on the basis of how they feel about the people they know with strong feelings about the thing. So, to address the Rush vs. JT debate, we could consider comparing the fans (or how people feel about the fans) of each. Rush fans generally possess jobs in the engineering or tech sectors, and are (in)famous for their poor social skills and superiority complexes. As for JT fans, I would venture to guess many of them possess two x-chromosomes, will soon be receiving—or have just received—their first driving permits, and probably will live their entire lives without ever hearing (or hearing of) Tom Waits, The Allman Brothers Band, or Derek and the Dominoes. What do the two have in common? In general, neither stereotypical fan is going to be someone fun to sit next to on a plane (IMO).

Aside: I am a Rush fan (duh) that (hopefully) doesn't fall into the geeky-know-all category (though I have my moments).

So, who would win a performance duel between the two? Can such a thing even be judged fairly? Rush has oodles of (consecutive) gold and platinum albums—way more than JT. But that could simply be the result of Rush having formed in the early 1970s; JT was born the very month the world was introduced to "Tom Sawyer," "Limelight," and "YYZ." And it's generally difficult to compare "intelligent" rock music with catchy pop-dance tunes. Can Yes be compared to Rick Astley? Can Dream Theater be compared to Kylie Minogue?

Can JT play the synthesizer with his feet?

Can Geddy Lee do a standing back flip? (Keep in mind he's 54.)

Can JT keep an audience enthralled with a 5+ minute drum solo?

Can Neil Peart write song lyrics that include repetitive use of the words (?) "unh" and "baby" and "yeah"?

I think it's completely possible we are dealing with an unanswerable question. While the two certainly (and suprisingly) share some common traits, "Who is better, Rush or Justin Timberlake?" could be roughly equivalent to asking, "Who would win a water polo match between the 1927 New York Yankees and the 1992 U.S. men's national basketball team?"