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This is one of my favourite mysteries. Why? It's super easy to solve! The solution is, there's nothing spooky about the Bermuda Triangle at all. It's a huge area of sea on a number of important international trade routes. Ships and planes get lost there, but not disproportionately to the amount of traffic the area gets. No problem, no mystery, no solution required.

InSearchof1.4
Look out! It's the Bermuda Triangle. Run!

Consequently, that urge to debunk that I couldn't tamp down last time shouldn't be bothering us this week. Let's just watch and enjoy as Leonard Nimoy tells us how a perfectly harmless stretch of water is going to kill us all. ...continue reading "In Search Of… S01E04 The Bermuda Triangle"

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2

"I read with ardour those works, so full of genius and discrimination, which modern inquirers have written on these subjects. I attended the lectures and cultivated the acquaintance of the men of science of the university..." -- Mary Shelley, Frankenstein.

"Arms… two. Legs… two. Feet… none. Ah, now where did I put them?" -- Dr Frankenstein, Alvin and the Chipmunks Meet Frankenstein

Alvin and the Chipmunks meet Frankenstein. Frankenstein, meet...
Alvin and the Chipmunks meet Frankenstein. Frankenstein, meet...

Full disclosure: this is the first Alvin and the Chipmunks vehicle I have ever watched all the way through. I'm sort of the wrong age for them. They were popular before my childhood, and were revived at a time in my teenage years when I was deeply uninterested in kid's cartoons. I wasn't impressed by their antics in this movie, but I have no idea whether that's because the Chipmunks are generally not great, or just because this was a lifeless outing. ...continue reading "Alvin and the Chipmunks Meet Frankenstein – 1999"

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There were two coffee shops at the South Hertling Super Centre. One, in Captain Stellar's opinion, was quite a nice one. It was located just in between the Barbecue Imperium and Arthur C. Clock's Timepiece World. The barista there was a slightly annoying but basically quite nice hipster woman named Carol, who sold organic coffee and gluten free wraps.

The other was in a dingy little corner of the Handy Pavilion, just by outdoor furniture. It sold second-rate coffee at first-rate coffee prices to those too tired or lazy to walk all the way across the vast car park to Carol's.

Captain Stellar would have liked to go to Carol's, but without his coffee he didn't have the energy. ...continue reading "Do It Yourself – Chapter 15: Light and Dark"

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Ancient Aviators is a little more fun than the last one. It is also the most fact-free, supposition heavy episode so far. Did humanity invent flight earlier than we believe? the episode asks. Well, if we did, this episode doesn't do much to prove it.

Yeah, I'd like to try to land there.
Yeah, I'd like to try to land there.

We begin with the Nazca Plains, and Nimoy waxing lyrical about the Nazca Lines, a series of line-figures on the desert floor. Now, these lines are really interesting, showing an extraordinary ambition and artistry of the people who drew them, but we're not really interested in that. We're told that the lines of which these figures are comprised look like runways and that therefore we can assume that something landed there. ...continue reading "In Search Of… Review: S1E3 Ancient Aviators"

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"I need not describe the feelings of those whose dearest ties are rent by that most irreparable evil, the void that presents itself to the soul, and the despair that is exhibited on the countenance." -- Mary Shelley, Frankenstein.

"Frankenstein! Frankenstein the legend! Frankenstein the indestructible! Sole survivor of the titanic pile-up of '95. Only two time winner of the Trans Continental Road Race. Frankenstein! Ripped up, wiped out, battered, shattered, creamed and reamed! A dancer on the brink of death!" -- Junior Bruce, Death Race 2000.

David Carridine in a gimp suit at the controls of a car shaped like an alligator. This movie can't be all bad.
David Carradine in a gimp suit at the controls of a car shaped like an alligator. This movie can't be all bad.

I was going to write about Victor Frankenstein this week, before I remembered that, duh, the DVD isn't out yet so I can't get any screenshots. Since the best part of Victor Frankenstein is the visuals, I think I'll leave that one for now. Never mind, though, I have something almost as silly: Death Race 2000! What's that, you ask? Well, if you imagine something like a cross between The Hunger Games and The Wacky Races then, that's basically Death Race 2000, except that…

No, on second thoughts, I take that back. There is no 'except'. Death Race 2000 is exactly like a Hunger Games/Wacky Races mash up, no exceptions. It's also produced by Roger Corman, which means it could go either way, quality wise. Which way does it go? Let's find out. ...continue reading "Death Race 2000 – 1975"

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(Note for non-Australians: a 'ute' (pronounced 'yoot') is a type of light truck with the tray integrated into the body.)

"Zorbar?"

In a second, Zorbar of the Chimps went from sleeping lightly to wide awake. He had his knife pressed against the flesh of the intruder's throat before… Oh, wait, it was only Norman. Zorbar sheathed his blade.

"Jesus, Zorbar," Norman said, rubbing his neck.

"Zorbar sorry, Norman."

"You nearly cut me head off, Zorb. I think you need a little more than a sorry."

"Please not call Zorbar 'Zorb.'"

"I mean, I was just doing you a favour, waking you up before Adam gets in. You know how pissed off he was last time he caught you sleeping in the treehouse."

"Adam jerk," Zorbar said, pulling on a pair of pants in the tiny space. ...continue reading "Do It Yourself — Chapter 14: Zorbar and the Ute"

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4

This episode rocks! (Spoiler: No, it doesn't)
This episode rocks! (Spoiler: No, it doesn't)

Now we get into the racism. Pity. I saw the title Strange Visitors and it made me think of aliens. You know, like the opening to the old Superman show that proclaimed him a 'strange visitor from another world.' But straight up, we get into some very unamusing nonsense.

We're dealing with a ruin on a hill in New Hampshire, known then as Mystery Hill, mysterious because it is said to predate European settlement. According to Wikipedia, the site is now called 'America's Stonehenge'. Make of that what you will. ...continue reading "In Search Of… Review: S1E2 Strange Visitors"

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"Have you noticed Ms Shan's hair?"

Axel looked up from the cans of grout he was stacking at Norman, who leaned wistfully against the mighty shelves.

"I have not noticed Ms Shan's hair, particularly,' Axel said. "What is it about her hair that I ought to have noticed?"

"It's very black," Norman said.

"Well, she is Indian," Axel said. "Black hair rather comes with the territory."

"So black," Norman shighed. "Like a really black car. But not one of those matte black ones, though. Her hair is shiny."

"I quite like those matte black cars," Axel said. "I'm thinking of buying one, as soon as the International Court of Justice lifts my driving ban." ...continue reading "Do It Yourself – Chapter 13: Axel’s Day"

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A fern, but not as we know it.
A fern, but not as we know it.

"How wide is the gulf between Man and Plant – if there is a gulf at all?"

Introduction

In this new series, I am going to go episode by episode through the 1970s TV show In Search Of. Why? Because I have time on my hands, and if this doesn't convince people to give me a full time job, I don’t know what will.

My cards on the table: I'm a skeptic. Note the small s. I don't go to skeptic meetings or even read a lot of skeptic literature. By skeptic, I mean I draw a pretty distinct line between 'real' and 'made up', and I try place ideas on one side of the line or the other based on how well supported they are by evidence.

By the same token, the older I get the less I care if people don't want to do things that way. Unless it's actively harmful nonsense like vaccine denial or some of the racist conspiracy stuff, I say believe what you want. A UFO kidnapped you? Cool story, bro. Think Bigfoot is out there? Off you go find him, and the best of luck to you.

So this isn't a debunking of In Search of… per se. What would be the point? The show's forty years old, and I doubt even true believers will be willing to back up many of the specific claims the show makes. I will probably argue against ideas the show presents if I think them dangerous or harmful, but I won't stoop to complaining about anything so gauche as mere factual inaccuracy.

I also don’t plan to endorse the show. It's basically drivel turned into something entertaining by the mystical alchemy which is Leonard Nimoy's voice. Occasionally, the show turns away from esoteric subjects and presents a short documentary on something more substantial. When that happens, I will judge it as I would a real documentary. Otherwise, I intend just to enjoy it as pleasant nonsense.

The Other Voices

Let's start at the beginning. I don't have access to the original Rod Serling specials that preceded the regular show, so I'm going to begin with season 1 episode 1: Other Voices. The other voices are the voices of plants. It's a slightly odd and extremely tame intro to a series best remembered for creepy stuff about swamp monsters and space aliens, but here we are: psychic plants.

The show starts with a weird noise, supposedly gleaned from plants. Leonard Nimoy assures us that there are plants everywhere. Good point, Leonard. He wonders whether plants can communicate, and goes on to wonder how they communicate and who they communicate with. Will these questions be answered? Let's find out.

We are then shown a research chemist teaching his grandchildren (? I guess) how to feel the energy of plants. We are assured that children find it easier to understand things like this, but are not given a clear idea of what 'this' is.

We skip past 'this', and return to Nimoy in the studio. He explains that there are green thumbed people and brown thumbed people. This doesn't come up again for a while, so it's weird to put it here. Nimoy questions whether the phenomenon of houseplants is a passing fad. From our position here in 2016, I think we can safely say that the fad hasn't passed yet. There are stock pictures of seed packets. I had forgotten how badly some these episodes are padded.

We then go on to something more interesting: the famous experiment about whether plants like classical music or rock music. My understanding is that similar experiments have been done many times, but I can't seem to find any sort of definite consensus on whether it's true that plants grow better to classical music. In Search of… concludes that they do.

Okay. Why not? But having made that conclusion, they take a completely unnecessary jump: that the reason plants grow differently in different musical environments is an aesthetic choice on the part of plants. Well, if my plants don't learn to like Cold Chisel, maybe they deserve to die.

Next up is a photographer, who takes Kirilian photos of plants. Now, I'm not a physicist so take this with a grain of salt, but my understanding is Kirilian photography basically involves running an electric charge through an object sitting on a photographic plate. The object gives off a gas discharge, which is usually invisible to the naked eye, but which exposes the plate, creating a picture.

It's interesting, if you're into that sort of thing, and makes for some extremely pretty photos. In the seventies, though, the idea got around that the image on the paper somehow corresponded with the mystical aura of the object being photographed. The photographer in this episode talks enthusiastically about energy patterns, then talks about his experiment in taking Kirilian photos of mutilated leaves, and then having people with a reputation as a 'green thumb' hold their hand over said leaf. Supposedly, the photo becomes brighter. If a 'brown thumb' holds their hand over the leaf, it is supposed to get darker.

Nimoy assures us that this has 'profound implications', which is certainly a nice sentiment.

Next we see a polygraph expert who runs tests on plants. Polygraphs, or lie detectors are… well, look just Google it. Basically, they don't really work, but are still used extensively in law enforcement. Interesting piece of trivia: the guy who invented the polygraph also created Wonder Woman, and he did a much better job with her.

The polygraph guy's experiment is to prove that plants feel sympathetic pain when a human is harmed. His experiment fails, but when he tries again, this time jabbing one of the production team rather than himself, he gets a reaction.

It's a good thing that this sympathetic pain doesn't go both ways, or cutting wheat would be a very painful occupation.

Next up is my favorite part of the episode. Not content with showing that plants feel our pain, the experimenter wants to proves that bacteria have 'primary perception'. If anyone ever doubts that Leonard Nimoy is a great actor, watch just how serious he gets as he explains a plan to attach a beaker of yogurt to a lie detector. The experimenter then puts antibiotics in the yogurt to kill the bacteria in another container of yogurt. Perhaps surprisingly--perhaps not--the first yogurt does not react. There's another experiment involving feeding milk to yogurt that seems to work better, but its way less cool.

Nimoy then wraps up by suggesting that psychic messages are carried by plants. For now, he says, we can only communicate with plants using machines. One day, those machines may not be necessary. It's hard to argue this point: it's 2016 now, and plant communication devices certainly seem to have become obsolete.

Best line:

Though there are many interesting lines from the plant-music woman and the Kirilian photographer (who I can't tell if he's high, or just really happy), the episode's best line comes from Nimoy:

'Certainly, there's nothing in the plant world like the human ear and mind. But perhaps there's something else. A way of hearing that doesn't involve receiving and interpreting sound waves. What we call a sound wave is merely one form of energy, but scientists know that energy takes many forms.'

'A way of listening that doesn’t involve receiving and interpreting soundwaves,' is about as meaningless a statement you can make. The line exists simply to paper over the crack between the segment suggesting that plants can literally hear and the segment that suggests that plants communate with weird auras. And yet, when Nimoy says it, it sounds like the entire friggin' Federation might collapse if you don't listen.

Wrapping up:

In Search Of… S1E1: The Other Voices.

Spookiness: 2/10, Tendentiousness: 7/10, Eccentric Interviewees: 7/10, Intrusive Electronic Music: 6/10, Nimoyness: 9/10.

Total: 32/50. Pass.

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Marlon had never liked Jasu Shan, but he was happy beyond words to see her. Ms Shan was abrasive and talked over him and would change the topic of conversation right in the middle of one of his sentences, and there wasn't a damned thing he could do about it because she was the General Manager and he was just the Duty Manager.

When Ms Shan taken ill, Marlon had been quietly pleased. He'd expected corporate to put someone else in charge for a while, preferably some quiet little pen-pusher who would take care of the big picture stuff and leave Marlon to the rest. In fact, head office had made Marlon acting manager. He'd been doing double duty as General Manager and Duty Manager in exchange for a nominal--and temporary—raise in salary.

Even that he might have coped with, had sales not started tanking when the DIY Barn had opened. That had put him in the awkward position of being both the good-guy boss he liked to believe himself to be--champion of his staff against the penny-pinchers at head office--while simultaneously acting as a penny-pincher from head office. It was vexing. ...continue reading "Do It Yourself – Chapter 12: Tea and Scandal"

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