I like Reality TV

There. I’ve said it. I like Reality TV. Alright, I’ve actually said it before.

It shouldn’t be a shocking thing to say though, should it? Just like any genre has its good shows and bad shows, liking the genre shouldn’t commit you to liking the bad shows.

Admittedly, Reality TV is full of bad shows. I am not a fan of The Farmer Wants a Wife orĀ  The Bachelor. And looking back at the grand-daddies of Reality TV – Big Brother and Survivor – who have been with us for about a decade now, I’m not a fan of them either.

However, I do like some Reality TV. There are basically three principles that work for me:

  1. The participants should be there because of real talent.
  2. The judges/hosts should be supportive of the participants.
  3. The outcome of the show should not depend on audience votes.

When I look at the Reality TV shows that work for me, there’s not actually a great deal of difference from the “game shows” that I watched on TV when I was a kid, with the exception that the contestants have to sleep on set. Sale of the Century plus a sleep-over, if you will.

One example of a show that I enjoy that almost follows the three requirements above is So You Think You Can Dance. There’s real talent molded into amazing performances by expert choreographers, the judges are there to provide tips and guide the contestants, but there is audience voting. However, the way voting is set up (until the top ten) gives the judges the ability to save the top contestants from poor choices by the voting public. Still, the drive to get the audience to vote (and pay for that privilege) distracts the show from its pursuit of excellence. I prefer watching the US version of the show, as when it’s re-screened in Australia, some of the pleading is edited out.

Another edge case is The Biggest Loser. While the casting is oriented around weight and motivation rather than a generally recognised “talent”, I did enjoy watching the emotional journey as contestants rebuilt their self-esteem. However, now I feel that requirement #2 is lacking also, at least in the US version of the show. It seems that off-camera, the contestants are engaged in the opposite of the sort of practice that the show outwardly espouses. In this case, it would be better if there was more reality in this Reality TV show. This one’s now off my list.

At least, one clear case of good Reality TV is MasterChef Australia. The competitors can really cook, the judges try to help them, and competitors win through decisions of the judges alone not through votes of the audience. It’s also light-hearted and fun.

Clearly, I’m not the only fan, with an estimated 4 million people expected to tune in for Sunday night’s finale. I realise that 95% of them (give or take…) are from Melbourne, but apparently it does have national appeal. It is Australia’s most watched, non-sporting event. Given it’s now-so-obvious-appeal, it’s hard to understand how when TV media experts first saw the pilot, they didn’t think it would survive.

I’m not sure who I should be barracking for in the finale. Should I go #teamadam or #teamcallum? Although I respect both competitors, I’m not sure if I should be wishing my favourite the fate of Julie or the fate of Poh.

In any case, this is at least a Reality TV show where the judges decision is final.

Sugar-plum Tower Recipe

For our recipe club this month, the theme is “story”, which means that all recipes needed to have some sort of associated story. After struggling to come up with something, my friend Josie suggested the story of the Sugar-plum Fairy (who rules the Kingdom of Sweets in Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker), which sounded great because I’d never come across a sugar-plum before.

It turns out that the “plum” in sugar-plum is the same as the “plum” in plum pudding, i.e. not a plum at all. While there appear to be alternative views on the Internet regarding what the historical sugar-plum consisted of, the common themes appear to be the use of dried fruit, the shape of a ball, and being covered in sugar.

So, despite basing my recipe here on a sugar-plums recipe that is referenced from Wikipedia (can you get more credible than that?) by Alton Brown. I have diverted somewhat from tradition by coating two thirds of the balls in chocolate rather than sugar. Not only does it taste great, but gives a nice layered effect.


1/4 teaspoon (1.25mL) anise seeds or 1 star anise
1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/4 teaspoon caraway seeds
180g slivered almonds
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
pinch of salt
1/4 cup (62.5mL) icing sugar
120g dried plums (prunes)
120g dried apricots
120g dried figs
1/4 cup of honey
1 cup (250mL) raw sugar
250g dark chocolate


Toast the anise, fennel and caraway seeds, e.g. under a grill. Toast the slivered almonds as well, but don’t mix them with the spices yet.

Grind up the spices, combine with the cardamom and salt in a small mixing bowl. Sift in the icing sugar, mix well and set aside.

Place the almonds in a large mixing bowl, and crush, e.g. with the end of a rolling pin, so that they are smaller pieces.

Very finely dice the prunes, apricots and figs, and add to the almonds. Mix together with a butter knife until it looks something like high-end trail mix.

Add in the spiced sugar to the fruit and nut mix, and ensure that it is well mixed through. Then pour in the honey and stir until well combined and the mixture is forming clumps.

Roll scoops of the mix between clean hands to form small balls no more than 1 inch in diameter. I needed to clean my hands several times throughout this process, since sticky hands would prevent the balls forming nicely.

Place each ball onto a wire rack and leave uncovered until all balls are made. You need to make at least 55 balls to make a tower 5 layers high (and you’ll need 91 balls to make one with 6 layers, but you probably won’t be able to make that many with these quantities).

Take the smallest 35 balls (and maybe a few more, but ensure you leave at least 20 balls) and set them aside for coating with the chocolate.

Melt the chocolate, e.g. in the microwave by zapping for a minute then stirring, and repeating until the chocolate is just runny. Put some foil down, then roll the balls in chocolate one by one, putting onto the foil to set. If the chocolate starts going hard, melt it again and keep going.

You can pause at this point. In fact, the balls should keep for up to a week if left on the rack, or longer if kept in an airtight container.

Just before serving, put the raw sugar in a bowl, and roll each of the remaining (non chocolate covered) balls in the sugar to coat them well.

To make the tower, form a base of 5 by 5 chocolate balls, each touching its neighbours. Then place a layer of 4 by 4 sugar balls on top. Then a 3 by 3 layer of chocolate balls, then a layer of sugared balls, and a chocolate ball on the top.

This recipe makes between 65-75 balls, where an adult would probably eat about 5 balls at a sitting. Serve with good coffee.

The Kung Fu Kid Review

I’m a bit of a fan of the original The Karate Kid. It’s not really particularly well acted, and the characters are rather flat, but it’s a lot of fun, and is a real 1980s classic. So, I was really interested to see what the latest movie would be like…

The Karate Kid

A surprisingly adult martial arts film involving surprisingly young kids.

This 2010 film is a homage, rather than a strict remake, of the 1984 classic. While it has the same plot points, it has different characters, a different setting, and a different martial art. In the intervening 26 years, it feels like this film has matured and deepened somewhat, and we’ve ended up with richer characters, better acting, and a real feeling of authenticity about it.

The cinematography is excellent, with amazing shots of China showing both polished and gritty parts. Jackie Chan, as a kung fu master, lends real credibility to the role of teacher. Given that the original 1984 film was a bit of a homage to Asian martial arts films, it’s rather apt that this take on the original has real Asian martial arts film chops.

However, the pace of the film is rather slow. It has a lot of dramatic arts, and relatively small amounts of martial arts. Many kids would find this pretty dull, I’d expect. Also, the kids themselves, i.e. the actors, in the film made me somewhat uncomfortable.

The main character is portrayed by a clearly 11 year-old actor. The result for me was that the violence and the romantic attraction were both problematic. The romance seemed implausible and the violence was troubling. The original, with the male and female leads both being well over 18, did not have this issue.

So, while the title’s reference to Karate is less accurate than the original, the reference to Kid is more accurate, and I think the film has suffered for it.

Rating by andrew: 2.0 stars

Anonymity is a trap

When I was back at Uni studying for my Comp Sci degree, I came across the tatty printout of a cartoon blu-tacked to the door of the computer club. It’s now become somewhat famous, with the immortal line: “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.”

That’s one of the great things about interacting with people online: that if you want, you can ensure people aren’t going to judge you by your race, religion, nationality, gender, or even species. The anonymity of the Internet provides a level of freedom to communicate that is hard to achieve elsewhere. And, if you would otherwise be at risk of retribution based on what you say, it can provide a measure of protection.

However, if you don’t need the protection, then anonymity can be a trap.

Another thing I picked up while doing my Comp Sci degree is that some program languages provide more flexibility than is usually needed, and it can get you into trouble. For example, in the C language, you can check whether a variable ‘x’ has a particular value (say 1) by writing if(x == 1), you can assign a value to a particular variable by writing x = 1, and you can also treat the assignment as a check (if you’re being clever) by writing if(x = 1). But if you didn’t mean to do that – and it was easy to overlook that you’d done it when you meant to write if(x == 1) – then your program will probably malfunction.

So, what I started to do was to write both my checks and assignments differently. By adopting a new habit, I avoided this problem resulting from the freedom that the programming language provided. I would simply swap the left and right hand sides of the check, so I would write x = 1 for assignment and if(1 == x) for checks, and if I accidentally wrote if(1 = x) then the compiler would generate an error and I could fix it before there was a chance for the program to malfunction.

The general learning here was that sometimes when you don’t need all the freedom offered, you can get yourself into trouble, but by adopting an appropriate habit, you can prevent yourself getting into as much trouble. This is also applicable to anonymity.

The sense of anonymity and freedom to behave badly without repercussions is one aspect of why otherwise polite people demonstrate rude behaviour when driving a car. Being anonymous allows them to “get away with it”. In research from 2006, it was found that participants drove more aggressively when they were anonymous.

The same effect applies online. In a study by Microsoft Research into bad behaviour by online users, it was concluded that

Anonymity granted in online environments and a lack of accountability (fear of punishment) have been identified as two of the primary causes of bad behavior.

Anonymous social/gossip sites such as GossipReport.com, JuicyCampus (now deceased) and 4Chan are the sort of places where death threats, bullying behaviour and slanderous accusations have been known to pop up. This is clearly an extreme section of the Internet, and these sites’ reputations attract similar-minded contributors. The practice of writing anonymously is not restricted to such sites, however, and so the risk of bad behaviour exists more broadly.

Research from 2007 into anonymity in blogging found that over a third of bloggers were anonymous or used a pseudonym to hide their real identity. Many such bloggers surveyed were concerned that negative comments made about other people online could come back to bite them.

All of which suggests to me that a useful habit in this space is to identify yourself whenever you can, and reserve anonymity for those times when it is really needed. I know that when those who I write about or interact with online can see my real name and find my home page, I am much more likely to consider what I write before I hit “send”. Anonymity, by its nature, prevents another party from coming back at me, creating a social barrier that allows me to opt out of complying with social etiquette.

Now, I’m not in the camp of “those who don’t do anything wrong have nothing to fear”, and I acknowledge that there are many valid times when posting and commenting is best done anonymously. It’s just that being anonymous should not be the default mode of interacting online, and I think the Internet community would be better behaved if there was less of it. Anonymity is a powerful tool that should be always available but used sparingly.

Just like when I changed my habit of how to program in C in order to prevent myself doing something stupid, I’ll now be adopting the habit of identifying myself online in order to prevent myself saying something stupid.