CSI Cyber: Season 1, Episode 1 (s01e01 for those who know).

Well, here we go. The long, long, long awaited start of the new CSI Cyber. This show came with a lot of promise and one insanely long build up time, so the all important first episode will likely make or break this series. So I am going to write my opinions on the fly, as I enjoy the first episode, called Kidnapping 2.0.

First 6 minutes, and we are drowning in CSI cliches and bad setups. Agent Ryan comes off as sort of a blond Horatio Caine, in charge and seemingly with a rather superior air over her flock. A weakness already exposed (soda) and a first minute disagreement with the boss about assigning a case. Toss in a first day newbie with a problem, and you have pretty much every initial piece from all three of the CSI series so far! Trifecta!

15 minutes in and the case gets interesting. I have to laugh that they only found malware on one machine, that makes them the most perfect net citizens around! I also notice a question about DNA that causes some stress for the mother, which suggests to me that Daddy likely isn’t the Daddy, if you know what I mean. Nicely played potential plot twist that gives us something to gnaw away at the back of our minds for a while. And yup, ding on 15 minutes, we have the fact: Daddy isn’t the daddy, and all the late night phone calls are likely to the baby daddy. Oh boy. Was that plot device a little too simple? Yes it was, because finding a baby at the marine shop has lead to a possible extortion case instead. Nicely played!

Oh, and welcome back the fake social media site Friend Agenda. Thumbs down to CBS for registering the domain and then not putting anything on it. Talk about a missed chance in the social media world!

Quickly track down the two baby selling losers, add in a sniper, eliminate the two baby selling lowlifes, and kill off the sniper in a wonderful application of the video gaming activity the officer was doing at the start of the show. 23 minutes, and we have come almost full circle, except for where baby Caleb is and who the other baby is. Good job so far in this episode in keeping things clean and neat and not too technical. Cue the “burner phone”, find the memory card, and discover that this was an online international baby auction. Oh boy! Way to toss the technology back into the game!

It took them about 25 minutes to really get there, but the “cyber” part of the deal is the baby cam. Not really surprising, but it offers up some very interesting possiblities at this point in the game. The CSI people have shut down the cams (I am guessing remote update to null them, a technology turn that doesn’t make a ton of sense), and now the kidnapper / baby auctioneer is threatening little Caleb unless the cameras are turned back on. A nice side bite here too is that the Natal Cam company technician looked very nervous, plus potentially of arab decent. In a very subtle way, when combined with the kidnapper’s voice, to suggest complicity rather than just a hack. The third act of this one should be interesting, cue SWAT team.

So the third act sort of plays out in two parts, the big raid on the bad guys and then chasing down the babies in cars driven by flunkies only in it for the fee. Nice touch of letting Agent Ruan save the baby’s life after ending up under water. Also, a nice use of action that was sometimes lacking in the CSI Vegas series, a nice takedown similar to the kitty episode plus a short but decent car chase. A winner! Cue the thankful mother…. But, wait… 6 or 7 minutes left, is there another twist to be had? No such luck, it looks like we need to spend some time backfilling stories to justify the characters. This week, it looks like it’s the newbie criminal hacker who will get “exposed”.

So back to the “office hub” for a little wrap up time, and then a little one on one “why did you choose me?” deal. I never like this sort of stuff, it’s way too artificial and tries to fast forward character development so it doesn’t overhang the future episodes. It does suggest that the play between the new guy and the experienced guy will be interesting and potentially much of the focus. So far everyone (except the social media girl) seems to have a distinct job: leader, commando, techies, boss… the social media girl seems a little bit, well, lost in this episode. Perhaps she will shine later, or potentially disappear. Remember, the nature of the first few episodes of any series is to test out the characters and see how resonates and who doesn’t.

Cue “I can see for Miles….” the Who continues to be the common thread and perhaps a little familiarity for fans not too sure about this new CSI variant.

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Can CSI Cyber Hit The Ground Running?

For fans of the CSI franchise (and you can tell I am one of those fans), the apparent end of the original CSI comes with a consolation prize in the form of CSI: Cyber. There is plenty for fans to look forward to, but will this series face an unhappy comparison to the original series it is so quickly replacing?

CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (the original Vegas based series) took a while to get it’s sea legs. In fact, within the first three or four episodes we got to see an incredible dance as key players changed jobs (Capt Brass “ran the lab”, as an example) and the series sort of got itself sorted out. The Who based theme music didn’t even come until about the 7th or 8th episode, you can see and hear one version of the original here (from the CTV Canadian release):

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Anyway, the original CSI took a good chunk of the first season to really jel and turn into something, which means about a dozen or so episodes into the first year. The problem for CSI: Cyber is twofold, they are starting mid season when people already have their viewing habits more or less set, and they only have about a half a seasons worth of episodes as a make or break for this new franchise.

Moreover, the traditional feeder episode for the new series called Kitty ran in the original CSI but in the previous season, not the current one. In all honestly, it was probably one of the better episodes from season 14, at least in regard to breaking away from some of the tired step by step that CSI fell into, but it’s been a while and it’s hard to be sure that people will truly remember. They will also face the reality of breaking in an entirely new cast mid season, with no past favorites to pad things out (at least from what has been revealed so far). As a mid season replacement, they don’t really have time to find out if they have screwed up, they are very likely stuck with their cast and concept at least for the first 8 to 10 episodes (because they are shooting ahead).

There is plenty of good news however, Carol Mendelsohn, who ran the original CSI show is here at least to get this one started. There is great potential that the new canvas and new cast of characters can spur her to bring the CSI franchise back to it’s former glory. At the same time Patricia Arquette certainly has a commanding presence on the screen and should with some hope be able to carry a cast which appears to be (like the original CSI) a collection of players with mixed acting pasts. Hopefully they can also manage to handle the technical mumbo jumbo of doing what is a technology / web / darknet / deepnet based who without getting it so wrong as to have 4chan howling at them. The good news if that if the standard of the Kitty episode is kept up, then this should be an interesting ride. They are clearly not limited by location, which means there is potential for them to run into “old friends” from the other CSI shows as special guests in the future as well, which could be interesting.

The debut of CSI Cyber is March 4th. Yes, they are getting a better time slot than CSI Las Vegas was left to die at (that slot is given to the opposites attract cop show Battle Creek). Expectations in that time slot for Cyber should run about 12 to 14 million viewers, much less than that would be disappointing when you consider that on a Tuesday night the original CSI series pulling in nearly 11 million, even when it was not their normal scheduled night. It will be interesting to see if the show can keep the Kitty intensity without getting bogged down in often dull character back stories.

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Formula One 2015 Testing Starts With Surprises

Winter is very short in the F1 world, the last race was in November and now, about 90 days after, the teams are already at their first pre-season test session for the 2015 season. The test at Jerez is a chance for teams to start the shake down process of their new cars, to test new theories, and in the case of McLaren, to run their Honda engined car for the first time.

Pre-season testing is also sort of a mental line in the sand. With testing so limited in season in F1, the three pre-season test sessions before the first race weekend are the best times to get the show on the road. Miss any of this, and you likely will have a poorer season. Last year, we saw that the failures of the Renault engines meant that Red Bull racing go absolutely no real testing before the final sessions, and that translated to a less than stellar start of the year. While it is hard to imagine them winning the championship over the insanely dominant Mercedes team, it is still quite possible that they could have made more of a race out of it.

So when F1 gets to the first test, it’s time to check out who has what, and what sort of knife they are bringing to the gun fight. This year it’s also time to see that F1 has an insanely big problem on it’s hands.

It’s unsurprising to find that neither Caterham or Manor (nee Marussia) are here. They both stumbled at the end of last season, and both have some sort of dispensation to run their 2014 cars if they can make it to the start of the season. Neither has seemingly come up with a suitor willing to pay the bills, so it’s likely neither of them will make it to the starting line. At best, potentially Caterham could stumble into the paddock in Australia without any testing, but even that is seeming more and more far fetched.

The real issue this time out is Force India. The team’s 2015 car is nowhere near ready, and rumors are swirling that a lack of cash means that suppliers aren’t getting paid, which in turn means that components are not being delivered. It’s not hard to imagine, considering that one of the team owners is in jail. Subrata Roy is the owner of Sahara, who own a big chunk of the team along with Vijay Mallya. Rumors in various press suggest that they are out of cash and unable to pay suppliers, which in turn has all but stopped progress on their 2015 car. The team has admitted they are unlikely to have the new car before the third test, although they may run the 2014 car in the second test. That is a wait and see sort of situation.

So where does that leave Formula One for 2015? There are 11 teams to start with, 2 are very likely not to make it, and Force India seems to be teetering on the edge right now. So the grid size for this year will be either 16 or 18 cars, depending on Force India. Considering that in 2012 ago there were 24 cars on the grid, the decrease is noticeable. Haas Formula One team is scheduled to start racing in 2016, but unless there are significant changes in the financial status of the teams, it’s likely that they will end up as a replacement for a lost team, rather than an “in addition”. With a long lead time to get into the sport, it’s also unlikely that F1 will be able to do much to reverse this trend any time soon. Short grids are a real indication that the costs are not in line with the rewards. Even as F1 management rake in big profits each year, the product it suffering.

Only time will tell. I wish Force India luck on this one, they have been a good team and relatively competitive at least in the mid field. It would be sad for F1 to start 2015 so far behind where it was in 2014. The silence from F1 and the FIA on all of this is deafening.

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What Happened to the Free Revolution?

It’s been a few years now that I talked about the supposed Free revolution. The idea was generally that with infinite and free online distribution, you could give stuff away for free with the idea that a certain percentage of people would either pay for the product or would buy an upgrade or some sort of premium to bring you income. Thrown in there was the concept of giving away what could get pirated anyway, with the hope of selling something else once these people are using your product or know about your company.

In terms of economic theory, the free price point makes sense to those who push the idea, and they use the law of supply and demand to “prove” it. Infinite supply drives the price to zero, as the market is technically always in oversupply. Of course, they don’t mention that this situation only tends to exist because of piracy, and not because of choices made by those who produce digital goods. It’s such a compelling theory that websites have made their living pushing the concept and writers have of course made good money writing about it and selling books. The irony of course for those writing books is that the book market is quickly both going digital and getting consumed by piracy. Almost any major released book that you want to read is available in a digital format, which means that it’s not that hard to find a pirated version that you can read for free.

So what of this revolution?

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Upgrading Old Laptop to SSD Drive

transcend ssd370

Technology has moved pretty fast in the last few years, but when it comes to laptops and desktops, things aren’t changing as fast as they use to. It seems that outside of gamers and video producers, our computers and laptops from even 5 or more years ago are still pretty useful, especially if you make a few key upgrades to keep things fresh. That is what I did recently with my HP DX6700 series laptop.

I have had this laptop for about 10 years, getting light to middling use when I travel or when my wife needs a spare computer to work on. It’s a pretty decent machine, a multi media oriented device with 2 gig of ram, dual core processors, and the Intel X3100 graphics on board. Not amazing, but not bad, 15 inch screen and that nice finger mouse touch pad thing that works well overall. With only 2 Gig of RAM, it sometimes suffers trying to do harder things, as it has to write memory off to disk cache. That hits the real problem. While this is a two drive laptop (system drive and data drive) they are both 5400 rpm units and very slow. The good news is that they are SATA, so I have plenty of options.

Now, at the same time, the price of SSD drives has continued on it’s downward spike. Enter the Transcend SSD370, 120gig SSD drive. Locally (here in Hong Kong) the market price this week is $459hk dollars (which is $59.20 US). At that price, I almost can’t help but want to make an upgrade, to at least see if I can make the laptop run a little quicker. The problem is that while I was looking around online, there is a lack of truly good instructions on how to transfer the system drive it could boot.

Thankfully, Transcend has a piece of software called SSD Scope, which can really help out. Nominally this is software to check out the status of an SSD drive, but it also has a system clone feature that will allow you to copy your boot drive to an SSD. The real trick is that I picked up a $10 USB to SATA adapter that allowed me to plug the Transcend SSD370 into the USB port on the laptop. Start up the SSD Scope software, click on clone, and the boot drive is copied to the SSD directly, with all of the boot partition and everything perfectly ready to go. Once the cloning is done (it took about 40 minutes to copy the 120 gig drive), it shuts the system down ready for you to do the mechnical work of changing the drive.

Good news here is that where plenty of online help videos and sites to the actual physical change, and in my case it’s taking two screws off to open a cover that exposes the boot drive, and then pulling the drive out. Four more screws takes the drive off of it’s holder, and I needed to move a special adapter plug from the hard drive to the SSD drive. Screw the SSD drive back into place and add a little stick on foam pad to shim it (because the hard drive was 9mm, the ssd 7mm), and install it and re-secure the drive in place and screw the back panel in. Neat feature of the HP is that the screws that hold the cover in place also hold the hard drive in place, great design! Put the battery back in (you took it out before working on your laptop, right) and plugging in the power, and we are ready to boot up and see if there is any performance improvement.

Wow. The improvement here is immense. The laptop boots in about 30 seconds total (down from more than a 1 minute to a minute and a half), and the desktop appears almost instantly. Programs like Excel and Word load instantly, and there are not more delays in web surfing and such. Even without a RAM upgrade, the speed increase on the hard drive is so significant, that the overall system runs better. A quick check of the old Windows experience indicator shows that the hard drive is now 7.1, up from the 3.0 that the old drives gave.

For about $65 total, this is one of those upgrades that is totally worth the effort. I have probably added another 2 – 3 years of life onto the laptop, and at the same time extended it’s battery life (the drive uses less power) and make it more useful overall. So if you are thinking of giving your laptop an SSD upgrade, I say so for it!

Get the Transcend SSD370 from Amazon:

Transcend Information 128 GB SATA III 6Gb/s 2.5-Inch Solid State Drive TS128GSSD370

Uber Hits The Skids

Unless you live under a non wifi enabled rock, you pretty much must know of the company called Uber. According to Wikipedia, Uber is an app-based transportation network and taxi company. Basically you use their app to hail a taxi. The real difference here is that the Taxi may be a taxi, it may be a private car. See, Uber isn’t much for following local regulation, and part of the initial spin of the app was that not only did it allow for taxis, but it also allowed for privateRead More

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The Real Takeaway From Ferguson

(before I posted this, I had to think twice, which is a really bad sign. The opinions expressed here are mine, but may not be the most popular or soothing opinion)

It’s been a nasty week and an even nastier few months since Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, as a result of either a confrontation with a police officer, a physical fight with a police officer, or randomly selected for walking while black. The simple fact that there are so many versions of the story should tell you where this is going: hell.

Having watched the back and forth and the resulting riots from both afar (I don’t live in Ferguson, obviously), and from a more up close and personal level (interactions on social media and such), I can say that without a doubt there are some clear takeaways here. First off, there is an amazingly huge gulf in America, but it’s not the racism you expect, rather it’s the gulf of culture that has grown wider, further, and faster than anyone could imagine.

For me, what has happened is that in the last 20 years, black youth in America has created a culture which is so incredibly self defeating as to be scary to watch in action. I have written in the past about how the US has reached a very dangerous tipping point, and the Michael Brown case is a perfect example of it. What has happened is that the black culture and society accepts and even idolizes those who disrespect others, who commit petty to middling crimes, who join gangs, hang on street corners, paint graffiti on buildings, walls, and about everything else that doesn’t move… I could go on, but I think you can get the idea. This stuff is considered normal and acceptable, and it’s all wrapped up in a “snitches get stitches” mentality that assures that these thugs and petty criminals can flourish and enjoy their chosen lifestyle.

The funny part, however, is that for the most part they are marking up and hurting their own neighborhoods and their own people. Black on black crime in America is a huge issue, from robberies and physical crime to the selling of drugs and helping to keep an entire generation too numb and too uneducated to get ahead. Then the community leaders (often their parents) complain about their living standards and the state of their community – and expect the government to fix it. But when the government does step in to do something, their first step is to try to stop the vandalism and crime that is hurting the neighborhoods. The result is unpopular police enforcement of normal laws, which turns the area into an even bigger war zone and doesn’t move things forward.

The answer I found in this video:

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In serious terms, the issue of Michael Brown is very complex. There is certainly some racism in there. There is some distrust of the police. There is some hatred of the police ruining the fun in the neighborhood, like stopping drug dealers and asking people to actually walk on the sidewalk instead of in the middle of the street. This is stuff the community should support, not snipe back at, but it’s clear here that Michael Brown (and many others like him) are fast to give a police officer lip and attitude rather than taking the steps to accept responsibility for their actions and to control themselves a little bit.

I know this conclusion won’t be popular. The black community has a real issue with the situation because many believe that black people don’t get a fair shake in the legal system, or don’t get treated fairly on a day to day basis. News flash: If you don’t commit the crimes, if you live in a civilized manner, if you keep your children from becoming gang mmembers, drug dealers, and petty criminals your lives will get better. The police enforce the law. They don’t show up randomly to just gun some black kids down for fun. They are there for reasons. Stop giving the police reasons to hassle you, and things will get better. Control yourselves, control your children, don’t get into beefs with each other, stop thinking that trashing your neighborhood and it’s businesses are good for you, and things will get better.

Change starts with you. Stop waiting for the man to do it for you, you know what those results will be.

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Kim Kardashian Broke The Internet So Lets Fix It

Last week, the #breaktheinternet hashtag was by far the most popular, as media whore (no other nice term applies) Kim Kardashian was pictured on the cover of Paper Magazine with her rather rotund behind uncovered for all to see. The image was so popular that it was said that it almost broke the internet. That this rather unimpressive sight even wounded the internet slightly is telling, and it means we need to do something bout it.

Let’s fix the internet.

The source of the problem here is a combination of a cult of personality (Kim and her ass) combined with social media – and more importantly the “star” and Hollywood style hype machines that pass click bait as news to try to get more ad views and make more money. I have in the past I have talked about 7 Ways Clickbait will Kill The Internet, and once again it’s TMZ and the Harvey hype machine that are leading the charge. On an average day, that site features at least one Kardashian story. If it’s not directly on TMZ, it’s on their sister sites like FishWrapper, which seem to have been created as a secondary click bait destination, with outrageous clickbait spread through the TMZ site to lead you to… images of the Kardashian Family’s latest insane publicity stunt, usually involving asses, cleavage, or other types of exposure.

Today’s class examples are “Did Nick Cannon Bang ALL of the Kardashian Sisters?!” and “Khloe Kardashian On Kim’s Ass For Title of Hottest Kardashian Ass”. They have also run repeated stories about the lips of a 17 year old member of the family who may or may not have had trout pout surgery. Yeah, deep stuff, right?

If the internet is broken, let’s fix it. The rules of the game are really simple: Stop falling for click bait. Stop visiting sites like TMZ. They are breaking the internet not with important information or relevant commentary, but rather with break, circuses, and Kardashian butt. #Ferguson should have broken the internet, not some attention whore’s butt crack.

Make a choice to stop falling for click bait – and fix the internet while doing it!

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The Vapid Business Models Of The New Economy

I have been working in the online world in one fashion or another since pretty much before there was an online world. My first business venture with friends was well over 30 years ago, with 300 baud dial up modems and an HP mini computer serving up text based games, chat, and mail. That was a long time before there was a public internet, and just about the same time as the first of the BBS (computer bulletin board systems) came around. The result of all of this is thatRead More

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F1 House Of Cards Starts to Collapse, Caterham and Marussia Out For Now

Marussia and Caterham are two Formula 1 teams who have spent the last few years circling around at the back of the grid. Like fellow back markers HRT (who died a painful death last season), these two teams have been always a couple of seconds off the pace and more than a few dollars behind. The Russian owner of the Marussia team has made it pretty clear that the team was for sale, and was apparently only getting support until the first ever Russian F1 race. That has come and gone, and was pretty much a sad event with the tragic accident the week before that has left Marussia driver Jules Bianchi fighting for his life in hospital.

Caterham had it even worse. Team owner Tony Fernandes, owner of Air Asia among other things, seemed to lose interest in F1 after a couple of seasons of paying heavily to run two green moving chicanes at events all over the world. With a lack of solid outside sponsorships to pay the bills, he spent much of the start of the 2014 season actively looking for buyers for the team. It apparently happened in June, and new management came in. Now we find out that the deal never was properly consummated, the buyer doesn’t have control of the team, and neither does Fernandes – instead, it’s been taken over by creditors after the team was forced into administration.

The result of these two situations has been made very clear in the last few days when it was announced that neither of these teams would be making it to the US Grand Prix this week, nor the Brazilian round to follow. The chances seem quite dim that they will make it to the season ending event in Abu Dhabi. So the grid for the moment is reduced to 18 cars.

Now, it’s quite likely that someone will show up and purchase one team or the other. Marussia on paper looks like the better buy at this point, in part because the team does have a couple of championship points and potentially will be on the F1 gravy train next season, at least a bit. That fact reveals the other big problem of F1, which is the distribution of monies from F1 to the teams. Seems that F1 gives the vast majority of the money to the top few teams, and only back to the 10th team… everyone else gets “thanks for showing up, have a nice day” and nothing else. It’s a formula that appears to assure that the back marker teams will fail over time and go away.

It may seem odd to do this, but F1 honcho Bernie Ecclestone has made it clear repeatedly that he would rather have 8 stronger teams running 3 cars each instead of 12 teams of 2. In a pure business sense, it might work, but from a fan’s perspective, it’s all a bit silly. The financing of the teams (and the sheer amount of cash taken in by F1 itself each year) make having teams all the more unreasonable. It’s like a situation that is doomed to fail.

I have asked before, can F1 be saved from Bernie Ecclestone? It appears that any saving may come way too late for Marussia and Caterham teams.

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Making The Audience Think They Are Smart

I am probably not the first one to figure this out, but I just wanted to write about it because it sort of came to me all in one big pile: The best TV shows are the one that makes the audience feel smart, and feel better about themselves as a result. The proof of this concept, however, doesn’t lie in the endless parade of super low IQ reality shows filled with people you are clearly better than, rather it’s with some of the smartest and best written shows in the last 20 years of TV, and the ones with the smartest characters. The three people that specifically make us believe we are smarter are Jeb Bartlett, Gil Grissom, and Sherlock Holmes.

I came to this conclusion (and perhaps even to some extent the attitude in this story) from watching the current TV show Elementary. I got into it completely by accident, catching a single episode late one night and then working from there. Now half way through a catch up phase, I have come to realize that the character of Shelock Holmes, played to great effect by Johnny Lee Miller, is perhaps the most clear example. While clearly someone with major defections in his life and personality, he is also astute, intelligent, well read, and at least for the purpose of intellect, he would be an aspiration model for many. Many of us would like to be as well informed as well aware of our surroundings as he is. Of course, I am equally a sucker for the intelligent and attractive Lucy Liu, if nothing else she does add that “look, smart guy has a hot girlfriend / assistant” too.

In the original CSI Crime Scene Investigation, Gil Grissom was a similar character in many ways. Almost overly intelligent, he was somewhere between a father figure, a teacher, and an ever curious student. The first few episodes of the opening season of CSI showed an intelligent, playful, and somewhat mischievous man. Certainly, he would be someone that many would aspire to be.

The West Wing was packed with truly intelligent characters. Martin Sheen as Jeb Bartlett was one of many standouts, the cast as a whole was intelligent, glib, well read, and well informed. Again, so many of us could wish to be that connected and aware of life around us to be that up to date on seemingly everything.

It would be easy to say “we like them because we want to be like them”, but that I don’t think even covers half of it. I realized that these shows do something more, and specific characters in these shows create something way more special. They not only appears to be amazingly intelligent, but the scripts of the shows tend to give the general public just enough to work on to just barely pre-guess the outcome. In doing so, the viewer can not only congratulate themselves for deducing who the killer was or which politician was trying to screw which, but could also infer by getting their just before the very smart character in the show that they are in fact just a little smarter than them. Congratulations, you are just slightly faster at figuring things out than this supposed IQ 190 person we have on our show.

I also realized that this is part why CSI as a show has waxed and waned. As CSI turned more towards soap opera style story arcs (such as the dreaded Gilbert / Sara romance, aka GSR), it exposed more of the foibles of the man and made him less of what he was to start. The Gil Grissom of say season 5 was way less of the man than that of season 1. The next few seasons played more and more to that end, and by season 9 he was gone. His “replacement”, Dr. Raymond Langston (Lawrence Fishburn) was an interesting character but he didn’t reach that level of intellect and as a result, the show lacked for a true intelligent leader – and someone that fans could feel good about being slightly better than. Few if anyone would want to be “slightly better” than Dr. Raymond Langston, his character in the end was fairly revolting.

CSI looked to be on the ropes until they dropped the much loathed Dr. Raymond Langston and replaced him with DB Russell, played by, of all people, Sam the Bartender from Cheers. Most people on hearing that casting move figured that Ted Danson was going to be the kiss of death to the show, the guy they brought in to kill it in the last year and get it over with. Instead, DB turned out to be funny, intelligent, and yes, the guy you are proud to think you are just so slightly more intelligent than. Sadly, the show has gotten banished to Sunday nights, ratings are down, and the 15th season is reportedly going to be abbreviated to 18 episodes rather than an already short 22. However, it’s replacement / follow up is CSI Cyber, and that one is already looking reasonably brainy and perhaps will strike the same balance.

Now to be fair, the same thing applies at the other end of the scale. Shows like Jersey Shore and the absolutely stunningly scary Porter Ridge (look it up) reward the viewer because we know we are more intelligent than these people. For many of these reality and pseudo reality shows, the story lines and characters are IQ somewhere about 20, and it takes 57 points for a dog to be able to bark. It’s stupidity, booze, and boobs in equal parts that makes us want to look, and at the same time makes us somewhat content that even our miserable work a day existances aren’t as pathetic as these people. COPS did it for 25 years… and yeah, I have been known to watch that too!

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First Russian GP Race Shows All That Is Wrong with F1

It’s rare that all of the faults of any sporting series or even business are exposed all in one shot. It’s even rarer when it’s done on an international scale to the point where nobody can deny it. Somehow, some way, Formula 1, the FIA, and of course Bernie Ecclestone have come together to show off all of the failings of F1 in a single new event, the Russian GP in Sochi. The issue here isn’t point out the faults, rather it’s the difficulty of knowing where to start. To do that, I guess I have to go all the way back to the initial decision.

The choice to have a GP in Russia at all is all about money, and not about the sport in any meaningful way. Just like racing in China, private car ownership and auto racing is not particularly natural to the Russia people. You only have to watch some of the dashcam videos of Russian drivers on the street to realize that driving is pretty new to them. F1 racing is probably 20 years too early here. The “sell out” crowd for this event was apparently about 50,000, proving that organizers didn’t even expect large attendance. For reference, Montreal gets more people than that for Friday practice.

The only reason F1 is in Russia is because they put a pot full of money in front of Bernie, and Mr Putin was fully committed to use this even to polish up his international image. It was obvious enough that the camera cut away from the racing event on multiple occassions to note the arrival of Putin, his sitting with Bernie (in a notably empty section of grand stand) and then again in the same grandstand with people packed around for a better “image”, I guess. While F1 claims to stay out of politics, you can see how this one played out. Moreover, in a time when much of the western world is placing sanctions against Russia for all that has happened in Ukraine and such, F1 is there helping to polish the image. Yup, F1 shouldn’t have been there – but money changes everything, I guess!

Now, to be fair, the politics of the event could have been lost if the facility and the racing had been spectacular. Instead, we were “treated” to another one of Hermann Tilke’s infamous technically challenging and insanely boring racing circuits. 18 corners, with the majority of them being 90 degree “end of the block” type turns, with only one reasonably interesting corner in the whole circuit (turn 3), squandered in a sea of paved run off areas, painted lines, and all the risk factor of driving slowing in a big parking lot. The poor design of turn 2, with a run off area that was faster to use than the main track, and the even poorer design of the pit lane entrance makes you wonder if this guy really cares. The track limits were not defined by gravel or grass, just some nice paint and more pavement. The result for the F1 race was only a single spin in the entire event, as drivers couldn’t even find a way to get too far out of control that wasn’t correctable on the very forgiving run off areas.

The pit lane thing was incredible. They had to slow the pit lane speed down to 60 KM and hour, because the entrance was too tight. Compared to staying on track, the average loss time for a pit stop was 30 seconds. That is just way too long in relation, making changing tires a huge penalty. So while the soft tires were potentially 1 to 2 seconds a lap faster, there was absolutely no benefit to short stinting the harder tires to get the speed benefits of new tires. To make the pit lane work, the entrance needs to be improved to allow full 80kph access, and at the same time the final corner needs to be changed to make the on track lap slightly longer and slower. If the pit lane loss net is lowered to about 15-20 seconds, then there might be potential for other strategies.

Finally, the overall track itself was just dull. Tilke creates technical challenges (loading this side, that side, reverse camber, and so on), but those challenges do not result in on track action the fans crave. The race turns out to be about as exciting as watching someone trade penny stock options, not something most of us will ever tune into.

That the track produced a predictable result for 2014 (top 5 cars were all using Mercedes engines), and that there was little in the way of drama or engagement shows the real issues of F1. They shouldn’t have been there to start with, and if they were, they should have been on a much better track. Tilke removes almost all of the risk of driving an F1 car, which means it’s not about getting the maximum out of the driver, but rather in the driver just getting the most out of the machine he has. The results of the race were all about the machines and little about the drivers, and that is truly sad.

Want to fix it for next year? My suggestions are this:

Fix the pit entrance, make it much easier and faster, at the same time make the main track last turn perhaps into a chicane or a three turn complex that adds a couple of seconds of the lap time and lower the speed on the main straight, making the net pit lane time better. It could perhaps also be achieved by making turn 1 into something other than a flat out part of the track – and move the start finish line down the straight a bit.

Ditch some of the 90 turns, like the areas around turns 12-15. Perhaps just a nice left right flick and on towards the last two turns would be better than that silly 90 right, 90 left, 90 left, 90 right thing – perhaps keep that for the main straight. Aim for a slightly shorter lap time, and remove fuel consumption as an issue.

Fix the run off areas. Turn 2 run off should be gravel, plain and simple. There needs to be punishment for exceeding the track limits. Maybe keep the first piece paved, but make all of the area towards the kink into gravel. Make it impossible to stay on the gas. Same thing for almost every other turn, fill the insides of the corners with grass and make at least the first 5 feet off the track into either grass, sand, or gravel. Lose the painted lines that everyone ignores! Define the track by it’s racing surface, and not painted lines.

The worst part? 3 weeks from now F1 is in Austin, another Tilke painted parking lot, and we are in for another truly boring event. F1 keeps wondering why people tune out as the season goes on… it’s all about not providing the product people want!

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Stupidity and Greed Combine for F1 Tragedy

Often in hindsight, one can see all the steps that have lead to a tragic event. Marussia F1 drive Jules Bianchi rests in a Japanese hospital, fighting for his life after a tragic and almost entirely avoidable accident. it’s horrible to think that Jules Bianchi may die or be permanently disabled, eaten up as part of the horrible workings of F1 itself.

The reasons that the accident was avoidable have nothing to do with the cars, and has little to do with the machinery used to recover a stricken car. It does have way more to do with a basic level of greed and choices made in the quest for the almighty dollar, and thus lands the problem at the feet of one Bernie Ecclestone.

The problem here is that races in Asia are generally delayed until nearly the end of the day, to try to get a better TV playing time in western Europe and specifically the UK. Like it or not, Formula 1 is a UK based sport and runs on UK time. So in order for the races to run no earlier than 6AM UK time, they tend to start very late in the day in places like Japan. The race there started at 3PM, and because it’s late in the year, the sunset is around 5:30 PM. F1 races are suppose to happen in 2 hours, within a four hour window. But clearly, there is no four hour window on this race, in fact there is barely the initial two hours before sunset. So if the race is delayed (and it was), then the drivers face the problem of low light near the end of the event.

This problem has played out before in places like Malaysia, where some races have been cut short by a combination of weather delays and low light. In Singapore, they got the F1 race only by agreeing to run as a night race, so that the TV time was better in the UK. Otherwise, they too would be running a race into the sunset.

This past week in Japan, the pending arrival of a major Typhoon also added to the problems. Race day sunday was wet, rainy, and misty, with low lights conditions as a result. The race start was behind the pace car and the cars quickly stopped after less than two laps because of poor visibility. AFter a while, there was a clear patch and they got back to racing, but the elements that lead to the tragedy were set: low light, pending bad weather, tons of spray and water in the air, limited visibility, a track with some short run off areas, and a track that is prone to having rivers of water running across it at certain points which can lead to aquaplaning. The need to get the race to at least 40 laps (so that it would give full rather than partial drivers championship points) meant that near the end of the race, the light levels were very low indeed. Adrian Sutil, the driver who had an off the lap before which lead to the yellow tractor being in the way, made it pretty clear in his comments that he was having a very hard time to be able to see where the water was pooling on the track, and his off was a result of aquaplaning… and Bianchi’s accident was likely caused in exactly the same way.

What is funny (and sad) to me right now is that the teams and such are talking about all sorts of things, including the concept of a closed cockpit car. Rather than address the real issues that created the circumstances of the accident, they are trying to come up with a way to make the accident more survivable. Kind of like erecting a patriot missile system to try to keep your horse in the barn. You need to address the issue of the open door and the missing walls before you take a big step like that. Few if any want to comment on the true root causes of the incident, because it would expose more of the terrible financial issues that face F1.

My take is this: The Japanese race should have run at least 2 hours earlier in the day. If there is a rule of a 4 hour window to complete the race, then the full four hour window should be before sunset, plus at least 30 more minutes. So if the sunset is 5:30pm, then the race should have be scheduled for 1PM local time – NO MATTER WHAT TIME IS IN THE UK. If a race in Japan is not financial viable under such a circumstance, then perhaps F1 should look at other alternatives. Running very fast cars into low light situations is just not acceptable, even in perfectly clear conditions it creates an undue risk for the drivers and officials alike.

You can blame the tractor, you can blame the rain, you can blame race control for not putting out the safety car fast enough… there is plenty of blame to go around. But when you stand back and look, the real cause here is the start time of the event itself. That choice was the initial step on the road to tragedy, and one that can and should be fixed for the 2015 season.

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CSI Las Vegas Sputters Into Season 15

Up front, I have to admit that I am a big fan of the original CSI series. While I wouldn’t say I am one of the biggest fans or anything like that, I have been a faithful watcher as the series has progressed through it’s many twists and turns, cast changes and soap opera melodramas, and even the totally silly Gilbert / Sara romance (GSR) story arc. I even tolerated the Langston seasons, horrible as they were, hoping to find the light at the other end of the tunnel. That light was Sam the bartender from Cheers, better known as Ted Danson. The series managed a very strong recovery from that point.

As CSI moves into it’s 15th year, it seems pretty clear however that this procedural show has once again lost it’s way. Some might suggest the loss of Captain Jim Brass, one of only a few remaining cast members is the problem, but really, that isn’t it. Having watched the season premiere, I have realizes that the show faces much more serious challenges.

Season 15 was one of the first to start without a real cliff hanger. Season 14 ended with Brass saying goodbye in his own way, so this year they get to start with a very clean slate. No hold overs, nothing dangling over their head, no charges, no CSI near death situations, nobody buried or in jail. So what do we get? Finlay in a car with a bomb. Is that the best they could do? That was the moment that I realized that the real problem isn’t characters, it isn’t setting, or anything like that. It’s the simple problem that the writers are trying hard to outdo themselves and create drama, but to do so they are going back to the same lame bag of tricks that makes season ending cliff hangers so annoying.

Quick rundown of the season 15 premiere elements tells you everything: CSI death risk, serial killer, past case, personal history, sleazy lover, repeating crime scene symbols, and… TWINS SEPARATED AT BIRTH. Do they just put a whole bunch of things on the wall and throw darts at it?

I understand the deal. The writers are trying hard to create new story arcs for the season, a longer one of Finlay’s “romance” (if that is what you call banging in the back seat of a car in public), a medium one of the Gig Harbor Killer, and so on. Perhaps I have been watching too long, and my CSI skills are honed enough to spot the obvious, and the season 15 opening is as obvious as they can get. Pure paint by number stuff, so much show that I stopped the DVR a few times and went on to watch other stuff, as the CSI episode was just way too obvious and painful.

True fans of the series are likely shocked to see it make 15 years. Miami and New York have come and gone, Cyber is coming, and yet the flagship still sails on. But there is an ill wind, a rocky shore, and a helmsman apparently using out of date charts to sail this ship. Season 16 doesn’t look like a given at all.

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Signs Society Has Reached a Dangerous Tipping Point

A number of years ago, I read Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. It’s an interesting book that talk about how things change from being X to being Y, and how rather than being a smooth and gradual change, things are often instead a sudden swing as a tipping point is reached. It’s as if there is finally too much weight on the other side of the balance, and suddenly it shoots up way more quickly then you would expect. The bookRead More

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Dave Hester Coming Back to Storage Wars

Here’s a pretty funny story. I wrote a couple of years back about Storage Wars, a show on A&E that sort of quietly preys on the bad economic times. It’s all about people who buy storage lockers that people fail to pay for. The interest is in what is found in those lockers, and if they made a profit.

One of the original players in that series was a guy called Dave Hester, “the mogul” or Mr Yuuuuuup is you prefer. He was sort of painted as the villain sort, not really bad but certainly someone who seemed to get pleasure out of other people over paying at auction for these things. Anyway, after a couple of seasons, things got ugly and Hester claimed that the show was salting the lockers with interesting things, essentially making the show not a reality show up a semi-scripted show. He of course got canned, and launched a lawsuit or two or three in relation to it. He lost the more important part of the lawsuit, the courts ruled the show is free speech and there is much they can do about it. However, it is said that Hester won his unfair dismissal lawsuit, but the judgement is sealed and nobody is saying how much if anything was paid out.

Now in perhaps the oddest twist, Dave Hester is appearing in a new episode on August 12, 2014. There is new indication that he is back on the show forever or if this is a guest appearance, but it seems that this is a conclusion to a truly weird situation. The show apparently needs him, considering another of the more interesting characters, Barry Weiss the collector, left the show at the end of last season.

One has to wonder of course, is this appearance the actual settlement of the lawsuit? Either way, fans of the show will certainly be interested to see Dave back getting people upset!

Read more of this story at All voices here

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The Tragedy of Tony Stewart

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This past weekend a tragedy occurred Saturday night in the world of racing. No, a driver wasn’t killed in a racing accident or critically injured in a fire, rather a driver was run over under the yellow flag in an angry exchange. That driver’s name was Kevin Ward Jr, and the driver that hit him was NASCAR star and dirt track owner Tony Stewart.

The video is a perfect example of how things can get out of hand so quickly in racing. It is very much an adrenaline driven sport, tempers do flare as when things go wrong. Ward Jjr was unhappy after Stewart slid up into him pushing him into the wall and into a hard spin, and got out of is car to finger wag Stewart. It’s not unusual to see stuff like this, people who are in racing at a local level know that fights in the pits after a wreck are just not that uncommon, and waving your hands at a driver who cut you off or giving them the finger isn’t exactly shocking news. But that is shocking is that in this altercation, Stewart ended up running over the other driver, apparently killing him just about instantly.

(warning, the video clearly shows the event… viewer discretion is advised)

Iphone 6 Rumors and Release Date

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It looks like September 9th is going to be the release date, and of course the rumor mill goes full speed. Apple seems to be able to spin up endless amounts of hype like this. Anyway, the reports are a bigger phone 5.5 inch screen, sapphire screen to resist scratches and cracking, aluminum chassis, and of course the new iOS8. Some are suggesting a wearable like an iWatch or similar type product, but it’s not shown one way or another. There is also the possibility that there will be a smaller and larger version of the phone, to try to satisfy customers who prefer smaller to larger. Also on the rumor table is a 13 mega pixel camera. Read more here

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