Dirk Gently Holistic Detective

Round Up the Usual Suspects

In addition to his best-selling Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, author Douglas Adams also wrote a couple of detective stories. Similar to its more famous sibling, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency has us following the travels and travails of another odd couple. In Hitchhiker’s there was everyman Arthur Dent and his resident alien Ford Perfect. In Dirk Gently’s the title character has the impresario role and Todd is his Doctor Watson.

I read the two published Dirk Gently’s novels years ago and was pleased this week when I learned that they had been made into a television series. Produced by BBC America and Netflix, but not available in America on Netflix. I had to stream it on Hulu. I’ve watched the first season, which is set in Seattle, but was filmed on location in Vancouver. These production related contradictions only serve as overture to the many other contradictions that comprise the meat of this show. In which we are introduced to an ensemble cast of oddballs, each of whom seem to be powered by their very own personal infinite improbability drive.

Elijah Wood of Frodo fame is the most recognizable actor in the cast. He plays the hapless Todd, who as we first meet him is having a very bad day. Dirk Gently (Samuel Barnett) soon introduces himself to Todd and things go from bad to worse. Todd is making do as a bellhop and has just witnessed the aftermath of a massacre in the penthouse and then subsequently fired for finding it, when he meets Dirk. Talk about shooting the messenger. How much worse can it get? Dirk is on a case, searching for a kidnapped missing heiress. Her father, the man who hired him, was one of the massacre victims. After some convincing Todd agrees to help Dirk solve his case and get the girl. The game is afoot. Through the subsequent eight episodes of season one, we follow this duo as they investigate crimes and navigate a world where steampunk time travel, psychic vampires and government conspiracies are all too real.

With multiple storylines and plot twists that can turn on a dime and the just plain weirdness of the whole show it is sometimes difficult to follow along with what’s happening. And frankly, although it was a while ago, I didn’t remember any of this story from reading the books. As it turns out there is a good reason for my amnesia. The show’s creator Max Landis only loosely based this series on the Douglas Adams books and these stories are supposed to occur after the events described in those novels. Call it fan fiction or whatever, it is certainly a strange brew or simply a different cup of tea, depending upon your tastes.

The Next Big One

Willets Or Won't It?

Willets Or Won’t It?

We attended the final session of Science on Tap last month, but I’m only now getting around to writing about it. A lot else has been happening. Following in the latest trend of this lecture series, this talk was about disasters. The previous occasion covered flooding and this last one was all about earthquakes. Dr. Michael Wysession of Washington University in Saint Louis was the night’s lecturer. He described some of the particulars of the big earthquakes of recent history, Nepal, Japan and Haiti and then went on to offer some predictions. He never offered any specifics about timing, but instead got a wee bit philosophical.

Predicting earthquakes is impossible and predicting the next big one is even more so. Predetermining the severity of an earthquake, even while it is occurring is difficult. Big quakes start off small, like ordinary ones, but just continue to grow. A thirty-second earthquake generally has a magnitude in the mid-sevens. A minute-long quake is in the high sevens, a two-minute quake has entered the eights, and a three-minute quake is in the high eights. By four minutes, an earthquake has hit magnitude 9 on the Richter scale.

While discussing the probability of the next big earthquake along the San Andreas, he offered up the analogy of the 8 o’clock bus. If you get to the bus stop at five of eight and wait a minute and no bus arrives, no one gets perturbed. With each passing minute the probability of the bus arriving is thought to increase. Such is the belief about earthquakes in areas of common seismic activity, but what if it is now five minutes after eight and the bus still has not arrived. Now, with each passing minute the likelihood of the bus ever showing up decreases. It might have had a breakdown or otherwise been detoured and might not come at all. The point that he was making was that just because a period of time as elapsed in an active seismic region, this is no indication that another earthquake is due soon.

Similarly, he offered up another analogy for earthquake predictions that of the NYC bear attack gap. Over the last century there have been many more bear attacks in Montana than there have been in NYC. Does this mean that NYC is due for a spate of bear attacks or is it intrinsically less susceptible to bear attacks? For bears the historical record is of sufficient duration to come to the correct conclusion, but that same record is woefully inadequate for judging events on the geological record.

All this being said, Wysession did offer up a few predictions. He gave LA a fifty-fifty chance of surviving its next big one. Big one in this context being on the order of a 9. If the energy from such a quake was directed west or out to sea, the city would remain relatively unscathed, but if the energy was directed east or inland, not so good. The last big earthquake in the Pacific Northwest occurred on September 26, 1700. This has been deduced from Japanese tsunami records. There was no Seattle back then. The next one will be devastating. Closer to home, he poo-pooed the risk of earthquakes here in Missouri, saying that he doesn’t even carry earthquake insurance, while in Oklahoma there have been over a thousand quakes recently and most of them in areas that have never record any seismic activity before. He blamed fracking for these events.

The Martian

Orange and Red Persians, from the Persian Series, 1988, Dale Chihuly

Orange and Red Persians, from the Persian Series, 1988, Dale Chihuly

We viewed “The Martian” and enjoyed it. I had read the book or at least a free online version of it and the movie seemed pretty faithful to the book. Part of the reason that I chose to rent the movie now, was because of something that Mark Kelly had said last week. We had attended a lecture, where he and his wife, Gabby Giffords both spoke. After the lecture, in the Q&A session, an audience member asked Kelly what were his favorite movies about space travel. He said that he liked the nonfiction ones the best, like “The Right Stuff”, “Apollo 13” and “The Martian”. When I related his answer the next day at work, it got a round of chuckles, because as accurate as it maybe in capturing the details of real spaceflight, the film is a work of fiction. I can excuse Kelly’s oversight though, because as an astronaut one of his life goals is to travel to Mars, a goal that with his family responsibilities, he may not now be able to achieve.

The question allowed Kelly to tell some of his many space yarns. His identical twin brother Scott is currently onboard the International Space Station (ISS) and is going for the American spaceflight endurance record. Mark said that he is acting as the control in this experiment. He mentioned that when you return to earth, your feet hurt the most. He introduced his brother as the astronaut who threw the football from the ISS on Stephen Colbert’s “Late Night” show, after the Super bowl. Scott had sort of muffed the throw on live TV and Mark in a fit of sibling rivalry made a point of that.

He kind of dodged a question about his beliefs about space aliens, telling the audience that he has been to earth five times and space four. There was a question concerning US reliance on Russian boosters. He deflected that one saying that astronauts and cosmonauts had always gotten along very well together and that it helps to have a common enemy, space. This question led to an anecdote about a Japanese space tourist. For $40M the Russians will fly rich tourists to the ISS. This one gentleman also asked if he could do a spacewalk. The Russians said yes, for another $10M. Then the Japanese tourist asked if he could bring a samurai sword on the spacewalk. The Russians refunded his money. The moral of the story is that space is no place to be fooling around.

The Tattle-Pail

Chinook Fry

Chinook Fry

Tattle-tale titmouse laid an egg in my house.

Having grown tired of hearing her students tattle on each other, Anne has instituted what I like to call the “tattle pail”. It is really more of a basket, but I like the alliteration of pail. Any student with a grievance can drop a note in the pail, finger the guilty, but most importantly alleviate Anne from their constant tattling. When she introduced this concept to the class, she used as an example two wholly fictional characters: “Joey, farted and didn’t say excuse me – Sally.”

Another institution has come to remind me of late, of some of the immature behavior exhibited by some of her students. I’m speaking of the stock market. At the end of last year the Fed raised interest rates for the first time in years and the market had a fit, “This is hard. I can’t do it. I don’t like paying interest. I like free money instead.” First it was the interest rate bump, then it was the Chinese and then oil. The maturity level of the brokers, financiers and other titans of industry is appalling. If they don’t shape up, I’m going to have to send them all to the buddy room and they won’t like that.