Michael B. Duff

Lubbock's answer to a question no one asked

Archive for December 2009

SGU, Galactica prove science fiction genre is ready to grow up

Slowly but surely, science fiction is growing up.

There’s always been a gap between the deep, thought-provoking stories of literary sci-fi and the shallow dumbed-down stuff that ends up on TV. Star Trek captured some of the depth. Shows like Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits introduced mainstream audiences to core sci-fi concepts, and now modern television is starting to use science fiction as a backdrop for mainstream adult drama.

There’s still a sci-fi ghetto, in print and on television, but the genre audience is increasingly passionate, organized and vocal.

There’s still a schizophrenic quality to modern sci-fi shows, like creators are constantly at war with their producers, struggling to save mature science fiction concepts from the impulses of studio execs who want to reduce everything to a succession of tired, comfortable tropes.

This conflict was obvious in the recent Battlestar Galactica series, a story that started off strong, with a series of flawed, interesting characters thrust into a lifeboat situation, and devolved into a fragmented mess.


Written by Michael B. Duff

December 18, 2009 at 12:50

Posted in Columns

You say you don’t care about Tiger Woods, but Google knows better

I have seen the Next Big Thing in news, and it’s not what you think.

It’s not a new cable network. It’s not a killer app for your phone; it’s not Google, and it’s not Rupert Murdoch, vowing to get rich by removing himself from phone books.

It’s an animated video of Tiger Woods spanking a porn star.


Written by Michael B. Duff

December 11, 2009 at 07:21

Posted in Columns, Google, Journalism

MST3K guys riff on Christmas Shorts

I’ll admit I was skeptical when I went to their first show back in August. It sounded like a scheduling nightmare, organizing a live satellite broadcast that would play simultaneously in hundreds of theaters nationwide.

But the broadcast was a hit, and the live audience added an element of random fun – like watching TV with a hundred close friends. As audiences go, this was a very easy room; loyal MST3K fans who knew what to expect and came ready to laugh.


Written by Michael B. Duff

December 10, 2009 at 14:30

Posted in Movies

Awesome farewell parties

Thanks to everyone who made it out and left me good wishes today. The farewell gatherings managed to be awesome, touching and awkward all at the same time.

I don’t do much for birthdays or holidays but I make a big deal about work transitions. We focus on what matters to us and I guess this proves I’m a workaholic. Thanks to everyone for smoothing this transition for me and reminding me how many good friends I have, at the old workplace and the new.

I’m such a natural pessimist, when good things happen it takes me a while to believe they’re real. That’s how I’ll be spending the weekend — making myself believe.

(And filling out a hundred new employee forms.)

Written by Michael B. Duff

December 4, 2009 at 23:29

Posted in Uncategorized

Designers reveal their favorite memories as World of Warcraft turns five

World of Warcraft turned five last week.

By way of comparison, heroin is 135, cocaine is 154 and we’ve been making alcoholic beverages for 9,000 years. I would put the debut of World of Warcraft on par with these events, comparable to when the first caveman fermented the first grape.

But this isn’t another tedious game addiction column; this is a tip of the hat to a game that has brought thousands of hours of reasonably-priced joy to people all over the world…


Written by Michael B. Duff

December 4, 2009 at 09:32

Posted in Columns, Games, Warcraft

Goodbye Avalanche-Journal

Friday Dec. 4th will be my last day at the Avalanche-Journal.

Thus ends four and a half great years as webmaster, columnist, and half-assed troubleshooter.

I learned a lot at the A-J, and I’ll always be grateful to the editors there for publishing my work and giving me a chance to grow as a writer. Special thanks to Bill Kerns, Shelly Gonzales, Terry Greenberg and Beth Pratt for reviewing my early work and taking a chance on a guy who was basically hired as a code monkey.

I had a lot of misconceptions about journalism when I walked in the door four years ago. I was a lot more political back then, and like most amateur pundits, I had thrown around the term “mainstream media” until it lost all meaning.

The problem with amateur pundits is that they see everything in black and white, or maybe just red and blue. Everything is taken as proof of some political position. Every story choice, every offhand comment, every random typo is interpreted as an ideological statement.

But as I watched things from the inside, I was struck by how straightforward and workmanlike the whole thing is. Whatever ideological bias you think you see in your local media, the contents of the paper really are determined by what the editors think people want to read.

Those choices may not always be popular, and they may not always be right, but I was struck by how hard these people try, every day, to be honest, helpful and fair.

Eighty percent of my readers are scoffing now. It’s easier to believe in the conspiracy, and it’s certainly more fun, but for the professionals I’ve met, loyalty to journalism becomes a kind of politics in itself. Journalism becomes a kind of third party that they believe in just as fiercely as partisans believe in Obama or the GOP.

Every writer has political opinions and nobody can hide their biases completely, but I was impressed by how hard they try. There really is something sacred about journalism — something religious in the way it captures the hearts and minds of people who devote their lives to it.

Journalists fall short of that ideal sometimes, and of course they make exceptions for the editorial page, but for the average reporter on the street, loyalty to journalism matters more than anything that happens in the political arena.

I don’t expect the average reader to believe that, any more than I believed it four years ago, but I had to give up a lot of prejudices once I saw this process from the inside.

The media is such an easy target these days. Partisan rancor is at such a fever-pitch, journalists are held to extraordinary standards of accuracy and fairness, in a time when budgets are shrinking and the Internet is trying to redefine what news is.

I wish readers could see what I’ve seen, to understand just how much work goes into researching and balancing the content of these stories, to see how much these people have to produce and experience the pressure of writing copy on deadline.

Imagine waking up every day and having your day’s work scrutinized by a hostile audience, having every word interpreted in the most negative way possible and thrown up for ridicule.

I love blogs, but blogs by definition are free from the constraints of objectivity and sourcing that journalists struggle with. Our society may not appreciate the value of objectivity right now, in the mad rush to choose sides and ignore “news” they disagree with, but we’ll definitely miss it when it’s gone.

Bill Kerns

Written by Michael B. Duff

December 2, 2009 at 01:56

Posted in Uncategorized

New personal blog

Print readers won’t notice a difference, but I’ve decided to “take back” my blog and remove it from the editorial umbrella of the A-J. There’s nothing sinister about this and I have no complaints. The truth is, my “official” blog has sucked for a long time.

Every blog in the Lubbock Online family has a specific purpose, a specific niche it was designed to fill. A purely personal blog would be out of place there, showing up on the front page of a newspaper site, so I’ve decided to pull back and set up camp here where I can post about random topics to a smaller audience.

I’ll be linking to the columns each week, and to any freelance work I take on, but this is basically going to become one of those boring blog/resume sites that every writer has these days.

Written by Michael B. Duff

December 2, 2009 at 00:12

Posted in Uncategorized