I was very surprised to find reviews of Bill Nye’s new show on Netflix to fall into really only three categories: vapid glowing endorsements, generally positive but critical only one or two elements, and unjustified flaming (from general viewers, not actual critics).

This makes no sense to me. The show is a textbook example of “awful” but flaming is not required to critique it. I love Bill Nye. I watched the Science Guy growing up every chance I could. I desperately wanted to like Bill Nye Saves the World. Alas it was not meant to be. And since I can’t find any critique that addresses the show’s manifold faults comprehensively, I’m compelled to write one myself.

Again I have a tremendous amount of respect for Bill Nye and his work. Science education in any form is desperately needed in our culture. He was worked effectively in that milieu for decades. So let me begin with the strengths of the show.

First the science topics presented in it contain good, accurate information. There is a caveat here but I will delay that until finishing discussing the show’s strong points. Second, there are some actual funny moments. Again there is a caveat. Third the topics chosen are very apropos for the average American concerned with this modern life.

Unfortunately that’s about all that can be said in the way of “pros.” And those caveats are big ones.

Firstly there is scant scientific information actually presented. What is presented is infrequent and watered down. There is very little scientific “meat” to offset  the overwhelming amount of fluff that makes the vast majority of the show. There is very little scientific information presented that a high school student with only a passing interest in science would not already know just by getting a C in their required courses. A high school student actually interested in science would likely learn very little from this show. More difficult material was presented in much more detail on “The Science Guy.”

Secondly, while the show does make you snicker a few times per episode, that’s actually pretty bad considering how incessantly the show tries to draw laughs. Most of the joking is obtuse, awkward, or inappropriate. “Cringe worthy” is a phrase I have seen repeated a lot online, and it is a very appropriate description. It’s better to tell no joke at all than to tell one incorrectly – or to tell one that just plain isn’t funny, which happens a lot.

That can lead to the first area of critique: Nye’s presentation. I’ve heard him give many speeches and live interviews. He’s can be a funny guy. But for whatever reasons he comes across as forcing humor and frequently executing jokes with rather poor skill. Furthermore, his general presentation and speaking skills are poor. He frequently stumbles in his train of thought and makes judicious use of verbal interjections. All this applies when he is presenting solo or with other people. But when presenting with other people his interjections become interruptions; often non sequiturs and not funny ones at that. In short his presentation is more grating than informative and/or entertaining.

Part of the reasons behind the presentation problems may be tied to the next area of critique: the live audience. Nye has never been one to deftly work crowds. Science is a platform of awe and wonder. A live audience is superfluous to a science education show. In fact it’s anathema if the producers’ goals include entertaining a live audience and making that audience make noise. Those are goals of the producers and thus the show replaces scientific content with lights, noise, fancy set dressings, inappropriate celebrity cameos,(un)witty banter, and fluff, fluff, fluff. Oh my god there is so much stupid fucking fluff on the show it’s… stupid.

That last sentence demonstrates the nuance and insight provided in 90% of the dialog of any given episode of BNSTW. So their recipe for success: take a science communicator that’s not great at working crowds and place him in front of a crowd and give him every trick in the book to work them and entertain them. Oh yeah, and throw some science-y stuff in there, too. But we’ve gotta have that giant sliding metal and glass cage over the lab, goddammit! And a couple of minutes of each episode hafta be dedicated to raising and lowering it to music and lights and audience applause, goddammit! God forbid we DON’T do that and use the time to actually have meaningful content!

So, yeah, there’s fluff. Shit tons of it. That’s the next area of critique. From pointless celebrity appearances (in which some of the celebrities seem unsure of why they are there or what they are doing) to wasted time transitioning between show segments. Much noise and lighting effects and forced audience hooting bookend each segment. This might be tolerable if the segments themselves have much merit, but they rarely do. Many of the filmed segments feel like amateur copycatting of The Daily Show interviews, except they’re as unfunny as they are lacking in substance.

Further the fluff is grossly incongruous with the gravity of the topics examined. From climate change to gender identity, these are hot-button topics. The subject matter should imply a target audience of adults to young adults. Yet most of the showy fluff seems like it was conceived with a target audience in mind of ages five and younger. It’s just plain annoying to anyone over that age, and anyone of that target age wouldn’t understand the topic anyway. In a word I can only think to describe the vast majority of the show’s content as inept.

This seems to be a major theme in the flaws of BNSTW: either be a comedy show or be a science show! If their goal is to be a comedy show, they should drop all the pretense of being a science show and focus on getting their comedic shit together. The comedy in this show is generally inappropriate, trite, ham-fisted, and superficial. If their goal was to be a science show, science does not require one iota of humor to be deeply engaging! Let any humor that flows out of the science show be spontaneous and authentic. Yet the formula seems to be jettison the science content in order to make room for the feeble working of an audience that is not genuinely enthusiastic; to make room for lame jokes that are neither interesting nor salient.

The fluff includes panel discussions in each episode. A panel discussion should be the heart and soul of the show because it’s the only chance where they actually dedicate airtime to a supposedly meaningful analysis of the topic at hand. Yet it is so rushed in order to make room for the other pointless show segments that the discussion is railroaded; any nuance that should be part and parcel of any topic is abandoned. Nye’s hosting of these segments is borderline appalling. He frequently adopts a contemptuous attitude to the “other” viewpoint. While this is understandable from a skeptic’s point of view, mockery is rarely (i.e. never) an effective means of achieving a genuine exchange of ideas and understanding. If you think position B is unscientific, mocking or shutting down proponents of position B will never open doors for for its adherents to see things in a different way.

Obviously climate change is real and caused by human activity. We need all of humanity to face this reality. But for anyone who denies climate change to be open to changing their minds, they must not be subject abject ridicule. They are simply misinformed. We must establish a rapport with them – develop an honest, open dialog without ridicule – before we can discuss the ins and outs of why one would adopt a position contrary to theirs.

The discussion panels are so forced and hurried that there is no room for dialog, just a rush to push the most in-group sound bites out as possible. A deplorable situation.

For example in the episode dealing with alternative medicine the BNSTW moral is “Scientific, modern, Western medicine is the only medicine that is good. All other complimentary or alternative medicine is quackery.” This is utter bullshit. But when you only have 10 minutes to address the topic (because you MUST make room for pointless dicking around with a celebrity, watching faux investigative reports, and other copious fluff segments) you MUST dumb down the discussion to: “skeptic hardline good, woo-woo unconditionally and irrevocably bad.”

This is insulting. Of course most woo-woo is demonstrably (i.e. factually) wrong. But it’s not scary, and it’s not an abomination. It’s just people doing many of the silly things people do. But western medicine is chiefly a business, first and foremost. It’s very effective, because it is is scientifically grounded, to be sure. But it’s not good intrinsically, morally speaking. And there are many effective medicinal folk remedies as well. They are not scientific in the institutional sense, but that doesn’t mean they have zero merit.

So when they do a rapid-fire discussion about alternative medicine and someone advocates that at a minimum consideration should be given to natural, holistic methods – that person is immediately mocked by Nye as if the person were insisting all western medicine should be replaced by homeopathy.

Again, this is insulting. Nye’s synopsis in that particular episode was some “natural” methods can be effective; so when this is recognized it is subsequently proven in scientific medical research and, eventually, becomes part of the western medicine canon. Only though the rigors of this testing and federally-regulated pharmaceutical manufacturing can you be assured of the best remedy possible for what ails you.

That is such a bullshit stance. That stance insists the healthcare and pharmaceutical  industries are the best solutions to ensuring good health. Effective? Yes. Doing good things? Yes. The best solution ever? The most ecologically sustainable solution? Give me a break.

I don’t need a doctor or medicine unless there’s something specifically wrong with me that requires treatment. Perhaps I have scarlet fever, or walking pneumonia, or I crashed my skateboard so hard I drove gravel into my elbow deeper than I was able to dig out on my own. Of course I’m thrilled that western medicine is here to render diagnoses and administer treatments. But most maladies that afflict us day-to-day are not those kind of ailments. For those ailments what I need to keep me healthy I can just grow (or find growing wild) around me. Additionally I can cultivate healthy practices in every aspect of my daily life. These things do 95% of the heavy lifting in my personal healthcare. Practicing them, I keep the other 5% that relies on professional health care as simple as possible.

I don’t want to take vitamin and mineral and herbal supplements each day. I don’t want to take Sudafed or Benedryl or Nyquil. I don’t want to take pain pills of any sort. I also don’t want unnecessary synthesized chemical in my hygiene products or food or beverages. They’re largely unnecessary as is the carbon footprint they necessitate.

Homeopathy is a pet peeve of mine. Of course it’s utter garbage and it swindles a lot of people out of their hard earned money. It should have warranted a detailed segment on the show. Instead it got crammed into a panel discussion that was too truncated to begin with.

So what are the fruits of truncating the meaningful portions of the show? More time for fluff! Just after the inept panel “discussion” in the alternative medicine episode, they dedicated a couple minutes to letting one of the writers go off on a rant. In it he mocked an alternative medicine practitioner from an earlier segment (who had already been mocked in that segment), playfully admonished “Asians” that they shouldn’t claim their traditions can accomplish things contrary to western science, and lastly he seemed to argue (seriously, even though presented through jokes) that “white people” are not fit to explore and practice “Asian” traditions. The greatest crime “white people” have done to Asians and Asian traditions: being “tacky.”

This clumsy, borderline racist-sounding diatribe isn’t relevant. It isn’t accurate. And, most importantly, it really isn’t very funny. And it got more than two minutes of airtime while the homeopathy blurb had less than one minute?

Reflecting on this and other shortcomings of the show one online reviewer commented:

“If this is science, I don’t think I want to be scientific.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

 

 

 

 

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I experienced a very pleasant surprise today.  Like many who enjoy adventures and motorcycles, a few years back I watched Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman’s sequel to their ever-popular series “Long Way Round“: “Long Way Down“.  I’d highly recommend them if you haven’t seen them.  As amazing as their adventure was, I was far more taken aback by a cyclist they ran across one day.  As they rode their Beemers across the middle of the desert in Sudan – truly it looked to be in the middle of nowhere – they came across a cyclist peddling down the dusty road with gallons upon gallons of water in tow.  Obviously an unlikely traveler to bump in to, they stopped to talk with him for a while.   He revealed his name was Jason Lewis and he was spearheading an effort to circumnavigate the globe using nothing but human power!  He didn’t reveal too much in that quick spot on Long Way Down,  but obviously that herculean task must have resulted in an epic tale, I thought.  It took him 13 years to complete the journey;  that must have required a superhuman degree of commitment and determination.

About once a year I would comb the web trying to figure out why no one had made a movie, or written a book about Jason’s circumnavigation.  The search always ended up yielding no useful information.  Until today… (more…)

Of course it’s not like we don’t have a rover exploring Mars already, but this is still big news! The spirit of Spirit is still with us, as the amazingly-indefatigable Opportunity continues to soldier on.

This remarkable rover, designed for a 90-day mission, has weathered more than eight and a half years and continues to inspire us. However, even bigger things are afoot with the successful landing of the next rover, Mars Science Laboratory “Curiosity“! And when I say bigger, I mean BIGGER. Opportunity completely eclipsed Sojourner in size and complexity. Now Curiosity has done the same to Opportunity.  The once-seemingly gargantuan 400-pound machine will now give way to the near 2000-pound MSL behemoth.

I stayed up much too late watching the landing last night; I was so excited to witness the actual landing, I had to stay up to watch the press conference!  It was a marvel to see such a daunting technological feat accomplished!  Words can’t describe the magnitude of skill and effort required to not only succeed in this endeavor, but to execute such success flawlessly.  I was truly amazed.  But now safe and sound on Martian soil, the latest press releases make it sound like it might be about 10 days before we see the scientific heavy- lifting start.

And on the nerd front, I was very interested to see what the power plant was, since it obviously wasn’t solar.   While this is no where near new technology, it’s still pretty amazing.  It uses a radioisotope thermoelectric generator.  What happens when you stick some thermocouples around a hot, radioactive core?  You get voltage, duh 🙂  I had never heard of such a thing.  It’s rather ingenious!

The excitement of Curiosity should in no way detract from the ongoing legacy of the Mars Exploration Rovers.  But it will be exciting to see new revelations that may even shed light on the nature of life.  Here come the science!

——UPDATE—— 08/08/2012

More cameras are snapping pictures and full-resolution pictures have been retrieved as well.  There are some great images about Curiosity getting posted on the mission websiteHere is the first color photo from a camera called MAHLI.  Here is a great shot of the rim of Gale Crater with bits of the rover in the foreground.  During the rover’s descent the MRO captured a picture of the MSL while still slowing with its parachute.  They have posted a great review of what MRO saw after Curiosity (and everything else) had landed.  The rover itself has a descent camera called MARDI.  It can take very detailed photos of the ground.  But, while still descending, it captured an incredible shot of the capsule’s 15 ft-diameter heat shield.  They have posted the thumbnails of the MARDI’s heat shield photos as an animation of 25 seconds of the landing sequence.  I hope some day they will get to redo this with full-resolution pictures!

The start up testing is going very well by the sounds of things; this should just get better and better.  Keep an eye out for more exciting stuff!

It’s unlikely anyone will stumble upon the pages within this little blog after so many years of them collecting dust.  While I have long since traveled beyond the confines of the Christian tradition, it’s hard to actually pull down these old posts because I think they are more progressive than much of the conversation that occurs in North American Christian circles these days.

Additionally they were written in the context of a devout Christian walk at the time; even if my walk has since carried me many miles beyond the lands of institutionalized religion.  I think they have value, even if they are a snapshot of a personal faith that doesn’t exist in that form anymore.

I am an apostate of the Christian faith.  But I don’t believe there is anything wrong with being Christian.  If practicing and growing in Christianity is a blessing in your life, excellent.  I hope you are, in turn, a blessing to those around you. Perhaps some of this writing can still be of some use to someone seeking.

I’ve just finished reading Rob Bell‘s new book, “Love Wins“. I hadn’t really seriously considered posting to this blog much anymore. But Bell has received a lot of negative press with his book, so I felt compelled to write something in support of it.

All in all, I have to say I really enjoyed the book (in spite of the usual “Bell” issues, more on that in the review), and I would highly recommend it, though not without a disclaimer or two. It’s certainly not perfect.  But very much worth picking up.  To read my review, click here.

I know I don’t publish on this site any more.  I don’t really have plans to do so again.  But I just finished a major project and I wanted this information to be available to the world.  If you want to contact me you’re best off  sending an e mail to: benito shavings (no space) via hotmail because I don’t remember to check the comments most of the time.  Now on to the good stuff!

I own a 1970 Fender Twin Reverb and it was in need of some significant maintenance.  Once I considered doing it I got bit by the amp-mod bug and here’s what happened.

My amp was built in 1970, probably early in the year judging from the parts.  The control pots are dated 1969 and the speakers are Oxford speakers built in April of 1970.  The tube chart labels the amp with the “AB763” schematic, but this is obviously incorrect.  AB763 was the famous pre-CBS “Blackface” design.  The tube callouts are identical for this model, though.

When CBS purchased Fender in 1965, the Twin Reverb design that had been used since 1963 did not change at first.  The AB763 circuit design was retained through 1967 (when the Silverface cosmetics were first introduced) and through 1968 (by 1968 the Blackface cosmetics were completely replaced by the Silverface cosmetics).  In 1969 the Twin received its first “post-CBS” redesign and it was a significant one.  This design, seen in Schematic AA769, most notably changed the operational voltages of the tube plates and removed the adjustable bias in favor of a fixed bias with adjustable tube balance.  With all circuit changes in 1969, the amp power output went from around 85W to around 100W.  When 1970 hit, more design changes were introduced, as shown in Schematic AA270.

My amp was built using the AA270 design.  I purchased it circa 1998 and it was completely stock (including the original RCA tubes).  Over the years it has aged and was in need of an overhaul.  The preamp tubes were the first things to go, they had become terribly microphonic.  I replaced all the preamp tubes:  The 12AT7 tubes were replaced with NOS RCA and GE 12AT7 tubes (thank you TheTubeStore.com!) and the 7025 tubes were replaces with new Svetlana 12AX7s and the vibrato 12AX7 was replaced with a new Electro Harmonix.  The power tubes are all still the original RCA 6L6s.

During the overhaul, I decided to re-cap the amp since the existing capacitors were over 40 years old and some had deteriorated.  Once I had committed to replacing the caps, I explored the idea of converting to the classic Blackface circuit design.  The changes were relatively simple in the amp models before the Master Volume knob was introduced in 1972.

In order to make the conversion, a plan had to be developed.  The first step: get copies of the electrical schematic and layout of the Blackface Twin Reverb (AB763) and the same drawings for the model of amp I was working on, my AA270.  These are available online in Ampwares’ Fender Amp Field Guide.  They are also published in different books.  I used Aspen Pittman’s “The Tube Amp Book”.  I believe they are also in Gerald Weber’s “A Desktop Reference to Hip Vintage Guitar Amps”.

To begin, I just studied the AB763 and AA270 schematics and noted all the differences that were made to get the AA270.  Theoretically, you simply need to undo all those changes, and you are back to a Blackface.  In Chapter 2 of Weber’s “Desktop Reference” he also has a section called “Silver to Blackface Conversion for Twin Reverb”.  That was very helpful, but I thought it was incomplete in a few details, especially the bias circuit modifications, so I refined it developed my own plan.

Blackface Schematic AB763: http://www.ampwares.com/schematics/twin_reverb_ab763.pdf

My Silverface Schematic AA270: http://www.ampwares.com/schematics/twin_reverb_aa270.pdf

The cool thing with the Ampwares copy of the AB763 drawings is they includes the layout; something that is not in Aspen Pittman’s book.  Notice in the bias circuit that a 3.3k resistor and a 50uF cap were added to the AA270 design.  Weber’s Blackface conversion instructions retained those components, I’m not sure why.  But they weren’t there in the Blackface design and, since both models used the same power transformer, I had no qualms about removing them.

Apart from installing new preamp tubes, the only other impact of the overhaul was all six original 25uF/25V capacitors in the preamp section were replaced with new 22uF/25V, because of the unavailability of 25uF.

In the vibrato circuit the AB763 had a 25uF capacitor on one of the cathode grounding connections.  This was changed to a 5uF capacitor in 1969 to shunt fewer high frequencies to ground (i.e. allow more of the “lower” high frequencies to stay in the sonic circuitry).  This was done because some thought the Blackface vibrato sounded muddy, I think.  I like the sound of the 5uF cap, so I replaced it, but didn’t change it to a 25uF.  Also in 1969 there was a 0.002uF capacitor added to the ground path on the reverb unit output.  In a full Blackface conversion it should be removed (Weber calls for the removal in his Blackface conversion instructions).  I tried the amp both ways, with it removed and with it in place.  I preferred the sound of leaving it in place.  The reverb seemed to have more punch and presence.  So I didn’t do that part of the Blackface conversion either.

In the end the Blackface conversion only entailed changing 11 resistors (and removing one more), replacing one capacitor (and removing four others), then some minor rewiring around the bias adjustment pot (see pictures below).  Replacing the old capacitors was more work than the conversion.

The electrolytic capacitors were replaced with new Xicon caps.  My amp repair guru (Doyle from Doyle’s Broadway Music in Boise, ID) has had Sprague caps die on him a lot so he doesn’t recommend them.  I got the Xicons from him for less than you can buy Sprague caps online.

If you attempt to do something similar to your amp, I must offer the ubiquitous warnings:  THERE ARE VOLTAGES IN TUBE AMPS THAT CAN KILL YOU.  Power tube plate voltages can be between 500 and 600 volts DC.  This charge can stay in the amp for a very long time after unplugging it.  If you at all doubt your ability to use a voltmeter and safely discharge capacitors – DO NOT WORK ON YOUR OWN AMP.

If you do feel comfortable with those things, use caution and be safe.  Your voltmeter is your friend.  If you do do the work, here are some tips for capacitors.  Old ceramic caps were polarized.  Modern ceramic caps are not.  So you don’t have to worry about installing modern ceramic caps in backwards.  However ALL ELECTROLYTIC CAP ARE POLARITY SENSITIVE.  Pay attention to how you remove the old caps and install the new ones.  If you get the new one in backwards it will likely explode the first time you turn on the power.  The old Malory caps usually had a “+” symbol on one side.  My new Xicon caps have arrows and a “-” symbol to indicate the negative side (see my filter cap pictures below).

Also be aware, you may have some parts in your amp that don’t match the spec callouts, or things may not be laid out as shown in the layout drawing.  Just pay attention to what you see and if something doesn’t look right, it may not be.  These amps weren’t perfect.

Interestingly, since the AA769 design you could use somewhat mismatched tube pairs in the “push” and “pull” circuits of the power amp and use the balance pot to compensate for the mismatch.  With the conversion to the AB763 circuit, that feature is removed in favor of an adjustable bias.  Therefore it is most desirable to use a matched quad set of tubes in this amp.  If that is not possible, two matched pairs can be used.  One matched pair should go in sockets V7 and V10 (outside sockets) and one pair should go in V8 and V9 (inside sockets).  The stock RCA 6L6 tubes in my amp were not quite a matched quad, so they have been installed in this second fashion.

The end result of all this work?  This amp used to sound (what I thought was) amazing.  Now it sounds out of this world!

Perhaps now it is not as “collectible” as a bone-stock 1970 Twin Reverb amplifier would be.  But how collectible was it before I got it?  The Silverface Twin Reverb amps from 1967 and 1968, which contained the original Blackface design, are not nearly as collectable as the 1967 Twin Reverb with Blackface cosmetics.  Even at its best, this 1970 amp was only second banana (on a good day) to the Blackfaces in a collector’s eyes.  That’s being generous because the 1969, 1968 and 1967 Silverfaces are all more collectable than the 1970.

But in the end, the guitar amp is both tool and it is an instrument.  To sacrifice its function – its soul – for the sake of an abstract concept like collectability is to do a great disservice to what made this amp collectible in the first place; it sounds absolutely beautiful.  The modifications and maintenance we do over the life of the amp is what keeps that beauty alive.

Have fun out there and go make some noise!

      

     

          

As has been painfully obvious if anyone looks here anymore, I’m not writing anything these days, or even checking the site (comments) out.

If you want to get a hold of me, shoot me an e-mail (or better, call).  This will probably lie dormant until long after Fallout 3 is old.  Maybe I’ll check back in March ’09.  Peace 🙂