Missed opportunities on Smallville

I know I’ve been gone from the blog for a while and this is a weird way to come back, but for over a decade I’ve been harbouring really strong feelings about how Smallville, the CW’s Superman-as-a-teenager show, squandered two storytelling opportunities and I need to finally express myself. ūüôā

Smallville had two common licensed television problems; the pacing and writing was sometimes awful because they had to stretch their¬†dramatic arcs¬†out over a season and hurry to produce the shows on schedule, and they weren’t allowed to mess with the DC¬†properties very much resulting in pretty weak character development.¬†They maybe should have committed early on to only running three seasons – their high-school years seem interminable and most of the actors were in their 30s by the time it finished it’s run. But I suppose being¬†renewed endlessly because you’re¬†a hugely popular show is a good problem to have.

Missed Opportunity #1:

There’s an Episode midway through Season 3 called Shattered, where Lex Luthor, who to this point has been scheming and nasty but not “evil”, is being manipulated by some conspirators to believe he’s losing his mind. The episode comes to a head when someone (who is actually trying to kill Lex, it’s not just in his head) tries to run him down in a car. Clark shows up at the last moment and saves Lex, debris and twisted metal everywhere, and finally Lex knows that his suspicions about Clark’s powers were true. Nobody believes him, and minutes later he’s whisked away to a mental hospital¬†where the final, poignant shot is of Lex, straight-jacketed in a cell, while Johnny Cash’s Hurt plays us out.

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In the next episode Asylum Clark feels bad for Lex being in the hospital but does nothing – he doubts Lex’s sanity and leaves him in a dangerous situation “for his own good” – but also to protect¬†Clark’s identity. Clark and his friends eventually discover that Lex may hold a key to unraveling the conspiracy, and only THEN Clark goes to save him, but it’s too late and Lex’s short-term memory has been erased through drugs and torture.

From there the story continues, with Lex reset to the plot points of the previous season, only rarely making references back to this situation. But what we saw play out was huge for the mythos of Superman. Clark is basically an omnipotent being, and can accomplish anything set before him. What makes Superman an interesting character is not the struggle to lift the biggest boulder, but what he choses to do with that¬†power. ¬†And in these two episodes he intentionally leaves his friend to suffer. It’s not just inaction or confusion that prevents Superman from doing the right thing, but his own self-interests. This is a very dark morality play!

The writers missed a chance to turn the whole Superman-Lex relationship on it’s head here. Had Lex’s memories started to trickle back,¬†we¬†would have had a chance to empathise with Lex. Not only were his family and friends actually out to get him, but his best friend was really a malevolent god, an unstoppable monster who can tear cars apart and smash through walls, who chose to allow (and partly caused) Lex’s torture, among a litany of other tragedies that Clark could have stopped in the preceding 3 seasons.

This would have been huge because it justifies everything we know about Lex – that he obsessively hates Superman, that he’s threatened by Clark’s great power, and often (in the comics) believes he’s doing the right thing for humanity by bringing an end to our caped hero.

But no – we dive into a love triangle for a few episodes and everything is forgotten.

Missed Opportunity #2:

At the end of the 5th season, for their 100th Episode, there’s¬†a full-on Lex/Lana/Clark love triangle happening, so Clark finally makes a stand, reveals everything to Lana, flies her to the Fortress of Solitude and proposes marriage. A little later she tells Lex, who’s upset to lose her, and moreover to Clark, the aforementioned¬†malevolent god-monster. He has a freakout. She races away in her car, but Lex follows her to apologize. She calls Clark to warn him that Lex knows everything, but just as Clark is racing to her, a schoolbus (making the rounds after dark?) comes out of nowhere and plows into her, killing her.

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Lex stands there astonished, while Clark races up at super speed only to find he’s too late.

Lex again believes Clark is a dangerous monster who’s indirectly responsible for her death, and Clark knows Lex was chasing after Lana when she died – THIS is a set-up! It’s all out war – the pretenses of friendship can finally be dropped,¬†paranoid and well-prepared Lex can go toe-to-toe with an outraged god – and there’s still 6 episodes left in the season! They’re going to tear Smallville apart brick by brick! Can Superman learn to forgive? Can Lex admit his own failings?¬†Are we all doomed?

But a commercial break later, everything is re-set by a time-travel crystal, and Clark changes the timeline so Lana lives and someone else dies. The incredible momentum this could have lent to the show is thrown away for (I assume) actor’s contractual obligations – but how amazing would it have been if they killed off a tentpole character on a Christmas episode?! This would have been an unprecedented move on primetime television, a decade before Game of Thrones made character-cide a popular pass-time.

There were so many places the writers could have gone without this deus ex machina reset to the status quo that infuriates me Рdespite a number of strikes in previous episodes, this is where I finally gave up on Smallville in frustration and dropped it off my must-watch list.

 

Jason Cobill : Supergenius

So it took me seven years of on-and-off fiddling with it (mostly it sat in a drawer while I was frustrated with it), but after some concerted effort in the new year I’ve successfully solved the metal pocket puzzle that I was given for Christmas… 2008. Checkmate, Aunt Viv!

I won’t spoil it for anyone, but early on I had figured out that the asymmetric linkages (look at the top one on the left, vs the top one on the right) were the key to getting the dangly bit off – it just took me forever to figure out what to do with them. ūüôā It ended up being one of those things where it’s easy to overthink the answer. I was obsessed with a red herring for a long time – the solution ended up being a perspective thing.

PuzzleSolver

Troubleshooting our yard

In late spring I couldn’t take care of my yard for a few weeks – and it seemed like nature seized on the opportunity to really go off the rails. I’m not sure if I’m cursed or what, but it feels like everything that could go wrong with our yard DOES. I feel silly offering advice when my yard currently looks like a bit of a warzone,¬†but I’ve spent a lot of time struggling to get it back in line, and had to do a ton of research – here’s a couple of tidbits that might save you some headaches.

Yard

If grubs are eating all your grass, let it grow extra long before the first cutting – that gives your roots a chance to strengthen.

Greg’s daughter came over to¬†our place in the spring and pointed out all of our pretty yellow Dandelion flowers, the ones her dad hates. So it was on – the only way to save face in front of a kindergartener is to systematically eradicate every weed.¬†A bunch of our neighbours use chemicals (and have stepford-perfect lawns), and we’d rather not, so we end up with one recourse – pulling them all. Do yourself a favour and invest in a standing weed extractor tool, the less you have to bend over the faster you can work. I¬†got a rhythm going over the summer, and managed to yank most of them out of the front in under an hour per weekend while bopping to tunes on my iPod. Pull before you mow – it makes spotting and yanking weeds easier when they’re taller than your grass.

Creeping weeds are annoying to try to get out of your lawn, they spread below the threshold of your lawn mower and drown out your grass. Drag a hard garden rake over your lawn and you’ll pull it all loose – once it’s untethered from your grass it’s easy to find the core root system and pull it. You might need to re-seed afterwards, your lawn will look patchy.

Sometimes, like when you’ve got a patch of crabgrass growing, it’s just better to grab a spade and dig out the area, throw down some dirt and peat, and re-seed. New grass only takes a couple of weeks to grow, and crabgrass is relentless. I tried pulling it from a few spots over the summer and the roots left behind kept maturing back into plants. It goes to seed¬†really quickly, too. Evil plant!

Interlock

I spent ages scraping at the weeds growing between our interlock before our neighbour revealed his genius solution: You can buy a commercial flamethrower at the hardware store that does an amazing job. More commonly used in roofing applications, you can find a “weedburner” that hooks up to your propane tank and makes quick work of weeds. Keep a hose handy though – you don’t want sparks leaping up into your trees or landing on your lawn.

Roses

Black spots on my rose leaves was a condition called (suitably) “Black spot”, a fungal disease they can catch from things like tree leaves getting caught in their thorny branches. You need to pull out all the spotty leaves and spray the whole plant down (a few times) with baking soda dissolved in water. The alkalinity kills the spot spores. It may take your plant a while to come back.

Golden beetles hanging around on your leaves and in the flower bulbs are Japanese Beetles, and they’re eating your plant. They emit a scent that causes them to cluster, exfoliating whole sections of your rose bushes¬†– but they’re very dumb and will sit still while you squish them to death. For more of a hands-off approach, spray them down with soapy water, and they’ll drop off your bushes, dead.

Halves of your rose leaves gone? You probably have green worms Рlittle caterpillars that attack your roses in the spring while they fuel up to turn into moths. Spray them (and under your leaves) with hot, soapy water.

Vegetables

We had slugs everywhere this year, and they loved nibbling on our cabbages and ruining our tomatoes with holes. I wish I’d learned about Slug Pubs earlier. Fill a low dish (a pie plate, a margarine container, a plastic cup) with cheap beer and leave it buried with the lip at ground level. Slugs looooove the smell of beer, and will crawl in from all over your garden, where they promptly drink themselves to death. Pour it out on your driveway and give the birds a tasty treat. (One I dumped out had more than 20 slugs in it after just a few hours)

Earwigs are gross and seem to always be around trouble spots but I’m not convinced they d0 much damage in the garden. You can wipe them out with diatomaceous earth, but only use it when it’s dry outside. It’s like crawling over broken glass to them.

I haven’t figured out a humane way to stop bigger pests, like squirrels and rabbits. I built a cage¬†last year, and the animals still somehow got into it. Frustrating.

Your seeds will rise a bit earlier in the season if you put them under a plastic dome, like a mini-greenhouse. You can buy domes to do this, or use the bottoms of soda bottles. This has the side benefit of protecting them from frost and pests for a little while.

Compost

Grass clippings will seem to stall out if they make up the majority of your compost bin. Be sure you’re mixing in tree leaves and other larger chunks of stuff. If you haven’t got many leaves around the yard (like us), toss in some ripped up newsprint. The acidity of the rotting paper will kickstart the rotting process again. Don’t forget to turn it!

Be sure if you’re tossing veggies into the compost, especially firm ones, that you chop them up a little beforehand. Things like corn cobs and eggplant skins seem to take forever to break down unless you give them a roughing up first.

Tableflipping

I try not to repost stuff I find around the internet, but this comic by way of Faith Erin Hicks (of “Adventures of Superhero Girl” fame) really resonates. I’m sure my artist friends will agree – nothing will shatter your drawing confidence more completely than teenagers drawing circles around you on their tumbler blogs. Has there always been this many talented kids, or are they feeding them talent-vitamins in their wonderbread?

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Blizzarded

I left a bit early this morning to get to an appointment, and got blizzarded on pretty fiercely as a reward. It wasn’t really cold outside, but the snow was blowing in every direction and seemed to find every gap in my coat, and the busses definitely weren’t running on any kind of schedule. I’m posting this evidence mostly to remind myself not to take summers for granted.

Blizzard

Food Contamination

You know, for a guy who hardly ever eats out, I run into a lot of gross stuff in my food. Last night I picked up a slice of pizza downtown, and when I finally got around to eating it (after a meeting more than an hour later), there was something chewy I couldn’t quite bite through – turns out they’d left the plastic on the ham before it went through the shredder and I ended up pulling little plastic rings out of my mouth.

This is not the first time! A litany of gross things found in my food over the years:

  • A rusty deep-fried bolt in a box of fries at a chip wagon
  • A chunk of a plastic dish in a dumpling at dim-sum
  • A staple in a microwave burrito
  • Beetles in my soup

It’s obvious someone’s out to get me. I should hire a poor kid to come taste my food for me – King Louis XIII style.

What’s the grossest thing you’ve found in your meals?