2009 Sprocket Awards


The "Sprockie"

It’s time for the 2009 year-end review. And to make this a little easier to digest, I’m giving out fictitious awards to celebrate the best and worst in the world of technology, science and entertainment.

We had some highlights. Twitter somehow became popular, giving rise to yet another way to procrastinate via the Internet. The LHC appears to be moving closer to destroying the universe or giving some scientists new physics to play with. And Saturday Night Live, after almost a decade under the radar, has finally figured out how to be funny again.

Also we have our first black president or something.

We’re also closing out the decade — a decade of nostalgia. Unsure what to actually call the years 2000 to 2009 (the “naughts”? the “zeros”?), we instead looked backwards to reminisce about decades we could actually pronounce. While this will make for some awkward future nostalgia (“Remember how we used to remember about Ninja Turtles?”), we surely welcome 2010. At last we have the “teens”. And yes, I am officially declaring 2010 – 2012 the “teens” as well. I’m not dealing with this crap for another 3 years.

Anyway, without further post padding, the 2009 Sprocket Awards.

“Facepalm” of the Year

thestupiditburnsWinner: Anti-Vaccination

As doctors and scientists actively struggle to educate the public on the benefits and risks of vaccinations, this truly was the year of pseudoscience.

The anti-vaccination movement was in full-swing in 2009, when former Playboy model and MTV host Jenny McCarthy suddenly became very vocal on the subject of autism and childhood vaccines. Fueled by her book-peddling appearances on Oprah and the outbreak of Swine Flu, an army of panicky mothers quickly rose across the nation.

This award goes to all who are willing to listen to a self-proclaimed graduate of “Google University” over a medical professional. Our palms meet our faces in your honor.

Runner-up: Staring at the sun to see religious figures. (Yes. This still happens.)

Zombie Movie of the Year

zombieland_poster_01Winner: Zombieland

It’s been an interesting decade for zombie movies. We’ve seen some great strides. “28 Days Later” made the now-obvious decision to teach zombies to run, and “Shaun of the Dead” reminded me that the British are funny as hell. Heck, even the “Dawn of the Dead” remake was surprisingly good.

But overall, the genre has hit a lull in the past few years. Fans of the undead are growing bored with all-too-familiar clichés that (appropriately) seem to lumber on without dying. The “I think it’s dead” fake-out, the guy in the group who is secretly bitten and doesn’t tell anyone, the struggle to kill a zombified loved-one…

“Zombieland” takes all of these clichés and shoots them point-blank in the head with a sawed-off shotgun. Remember how “Austin Powers” forced “James Bond” to grow-up and stop putting the hero in an easily escapable situation with one inept guard? “Zombieland” has now forced every subsequent zombie flick to obey the hilariously ingenious set of rules its hero has developed.

The bar has been raised, George A. Romero. Your move.

Don’t forget to double-tap.

Runner-up: (none)

Google Product of the Year

google_voice_inboxWinner: Google Voice

GrandCentral was an interesting idea that Tolkien would surely approve of: one phone number to rule them all. When Google acquired GrandCentral in 2007 we’d all hoped our Internet giant would put its patented Google fingerprint on an already cool system. And they have.

Here’s how it works: Google Voice gives you a free phone number. Calling the number rings ALL your phones: cell, home, work, shoe. You can even set a schedule, so that your work number doesn’t ring after 5PM for example. It transcribes your voicemails, sending them to you via text message or email. And combined with the Gmail anti-spam algorithm, Google Voice will also block telemarketers and spam-calls. (No more second notices about your car warranty.)

But the coolest feature of Google Voice is the free calls and text-messaging. That’s right. GV sends free SMS messages, and with a few clever setting changes, you can have free legal calls in the US! Did I mention this is all free?!

Runner-up: Google Wave

iPhone App of the Year

civilization-revolutionWinner: Civilization Revolutions

Sid Meier’s Civilization series has long been a favorite of mine. It’s a game that can be as complex or simple as the user wants it to be – something that developers should always strive to accomplish and rarely succeed to obtain. Fortunately the iPhone reincarnation of this Nintendo DS port hits its mark with flying colors. You can play it for 20 minutes, or 4 hours.

The learning curve will scare away those new to the game concept (and even now, months after its release, the game manual is still not available). But for anyone looking for an engaging turn-based strategy game on the cheap ($7 or less), Civilization Revolutions is a no-brainer.

Runner-up: Monkey Island: Special Edition

Twitterer of the Year

adam_bioWinner: Adam Savage (@donttrythis)

MythBusters follows a long history of educational science TV shows aimed at children, like “Mr. Wizard” and “Bill Nye the Science Guy” (or “Beakman’s World” if you were cool). But they’ve uncovered something extremely important thus far undiscovered: kids actually pay attention to science if you blow shit up.

Adam Savage, making up 1/5th of the show’s hosts and 4/5th of the hosts’ total personality, is a priceless gem to children’s education.

Off-camera, Savage provides a pretty entertaining and interesting Tweet feed — most recently tweeting from a White House meeting with Barack Obama. The personality is still present, only in 140 characters or less, giving us grown-ups a small taste of MythBusters while we wait for our Starbucks coffee.

Runner-up: Rebecca Skloot (@RebeccaSkloot)

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Best Music Album of 2006 in 2009

Winner: “Sam’s Town” The Killers

Coming off of their powerhouse freshmen release “Hot Fuss”, in 2006 The Killer’s front-man Brandon Flowers arrogantly exaggerated their follow-up album “Sam’s Town” with claims that it would be “one of the best albums in the past twenty years.” It wasn’t. In fact it was hammered by critics and fans alike.

I had purchased “Sam’s Town” back in 2006, listened to it through once or twice, put “When We Were Young” on my iPod, and gently organized the jewel case on the CD shelf to gather dust.

It took me almost 4 years to appreciate just how good “Sam’s Town” is.

For whatever reason, I don’t think we were ready for “Sam’s Town” in 2006. Maybe it was the social wind, the overflowing VH1 nostalgia, or the bittersweet rise of indie-rock care of the “Garden State” soundtrack, but “Sam’s Town” never felt welcome.

I think we’ve gotten over ourselves. We realize now that the futuristic world of the 2000s isn’t what Steven Spielberg said it would be, and that in the wake of a failing economy we are perhaps more vulnerable than we’d always thought. Maybe that’s why I’m happy to revisit “Sam’s Town”. The glam-rock, synthetic-undertone grandiose is suddenly relevant, comforting, and relatable.

I’ll have my review of “Day and Age” in 2013.

Runner-ups: “The Crane Wife” The Decemberists

Best Television Show that No One Watched

the-colony-20090706014822439_640wWinner: The Colony (Discovery Channel)

This show pitches itself.

The Colony is a realty-show about a group of engineers, mechanics, and medical professionals in a simulated post-apocalyptic environment. Before the “experiment” begins, the participants are voluntarily malnourished, stripped of most of their belongings, and directed to a dilapidated warehouse where they are to spend the next 10 weeks.

What follows is an amazing look into human psychology, improvisational engineering, and survival. The participants actually appear to adapt to their environment, at times acting as though they are truly living in a destroyed and mostly abandoned city. Their interaction within the group is fraught with conflict, and in some episodes feels scarily real. (See the episode where an actor placed in the experiment by the producers tries to steal the colony’s food.)

The science is insanely cool too. The engineers and scientists quickly realize they must build to survive, turning old wooden planks into generator fuel via a wood gassifier, and later stealing solar panels off a nearby building to recharge their car-battery array. Broken trucks and cars are reanimated into Mad Max style death cabs, and flame-throwing weapons are fashioned out of spare warehouse parts.

Talking to people who’ve watched the show, I’ve found it is often difficult for viewers to accept this leap of faith — that the participants aren’t just acting. I will contest up-front that yes, there are moments that feel a little too scripted (the final episode is a little over-the-top). However, even if the show was 100% scripted, it is more enjoyable that the last few seasons of “24″ combined.

Runner-ups: Science of the Movies (Science Channel), Catch It Keep It (Science Channel)

“Still Can’t Figure Out This Whole Internet Thing” Award

piratebayWinner: Rupert Murdoch and The Music Industry (TIE)

The music industry had this in the bag.

Almost ten years after Napster first raised its skull-and-crossbones sails and terrorized the high-seas adjacent to the information superhighway, the music industry higher-ups are still continuing to be an annoyingly persistent and inept counter force to Internet pirates.

Once again, proving that they have absolutely no idea how BitTorrent or Internet technology works, the industry went after the Pirate Bay website this year. After a controversial win, the music industry was once and for all rid of all Internet piracy. Right?

Wait. This sounds familiar. Like when Napster went down, or Gnutella, or when Kazaa users were sued, or eDonkey, or… Oh.

rupert-murdoch-picture-4This is by far the nail in the coffin that the music industry is touting it to be. The way BitTorrent works is quite simple (actually the technology is quite complex, but the concept is simple). It’s like a bulletin board. Sites like the Pirate Bay or Mininova are bulletin boards, where people can post flyers for file-sharing parties. The music industry thinks that removing a single bulletin board is going to stop fliers from making their rounds, or prevent other bulletin boards from gaining popularity, or inhibit newer bulletin boards from popping up.

Haven’t they seen any college movie from the 80s? No crusty old dean is gonna stop our party, man!

I was about to bubblewrap the music industry’s award statuette, when old-man Murdoch walked out onto his porch, took a gander at his empire’s lawn, and saw a Frisbee with the word “Google” scribbled on it. Grumpy from hip pain, his lower lip quivered with disdain. And there was much cane shaking.

Check out my previous post for the whole story, but to summarize: Murdoch has decided it’s time to remove his junk from Google. Nearly everyone with a handle on how the Internet works has laughed at this idea. And nearly every liberal has encouraged him to do so.

Minor Technical Awards

“Google It” Moment of the Year:

Man Delivers Baby Using Wiki

Best High-Five Denial:

NASA LCROSS Control Room

Good Riddance Award:

GeoCities Shuts Down

Moon-Landing Conspiracy Theory Smackdown Award:

LRO Apollo 11 Landing Site Photo

Don’t forget to check out my 53 Predicitions for 2010! Bingo card coming soon!

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