Why Engineers Shouldn’t Watch TV: Supergirl, the Frustration Continues

It should come as no surprise that I love watching fantasy and superhero movies and shows. While most of these types of stories require some acceptance and some imagination, one of the cardinal rules of good fiction is a need to get your basic facts straight. As an engineer, I often find gaps in the science and therefore can’t in good conscience recommend any of these programs to anyone expecting to properly suspend their disbelief.

In this post in the series on “Why Engineers Shouldn’t Watch TV,” I look at some more of the annoyances I have with Supergirl. Catch my first discussion of Supergirl here.

Spoiler alert: if you haven’t seen these programs and want to be surprised when you do, please stop reading now. I’m not responsible for ruining the entertainment value of a good surprise even if the science is flawed.

A quick note about beta-reading opportunities: a short story for a contest entry AND a new novella are both eagerly awaiting beta-readers. Sign up for my mailing list (and you’ll get a solitary monthly email) to be a part of the writing process! And now back to your regularly scheduled programming…

Throughout the TV show, I find her character a bit annoying, despite the rave reviews. First, why is her hair perfectly curled whenever she is in her Supergirl guise flying through the air at high speeds? I don’t even roll the windows down in my car unless I’ve bound my hair so that we don’t repeat the Bridget Jones Diary convertible scene. Then she ties up that perfectly curled hair into a hideous bun when she retains her “secret identity.” And wears glasses and acts goofy…isn’t that the premise of every geek-to-glamor transformation for every woman in every movie ever?

The bigger problem I have is that this character is purportedly the cousin of Superman. So if he had weaknesses (ahem–Kryptonite–cough) the fact that he didn’t share it with her suggests that they are not only NOT close, but also that he didn’t think she needed to know or she didn’t think to ask is just too convenient to the story. He shows up and this green rock is everywhere, she shows up, after a stint in the Phantom Zone with a bunch of Kryptonian supervillains, and everyone is mystified by this rock.

But I take the biggest objection of all to her chosen career path, if I could be so generous as to call it that. She is possibly trained as a journalist but works as an assistant to the most unlikeable boss I’ve ever had the misfortune of discovering on television or in a book. She puts her assistant down and generally describes herself as a go-getting, successful, glamorous person. I fundamentally disagree, since glamor in my mind requires a certain amount of kindness.

Anyway, are we really supposed to believe the most physically powerful woman on the planet is taking constant verbal abuse in a deadend job from this woman?

Wouldn’t her advanced brain capacity be better suited to graduate school, her ability to work at superspeed allow her to perform more calculations and prove theories, possibly finding cures for diseases and making the world a better place? Instead we are to believe she intended to make a difference by bringing her boss coffee.

Never in the Superman story did he get demoted all the way down to assistant, yet no one hesitated to take a female character and make her incredibly weak, uncertain, and annoyingly goofy. She’s a lot less annoying as her alter-ego, but then I find the dichotomy between the two characters irksome.

If you had all this power, why would you pretend to be a pathetic nobody and then proceed to tell most of the people in your life your big secret, while continuing to portray yourself with these two radically different personalities? I’m just altogether baffled by the popularity of this show. I do love a good hero story, but this one isn’t quite delivering on its promise.

I find the idea of this unconfident, diffident young woman in what appears to me to be a pointless job with no future at complete odds with the type of character Clark Kent was. He was capable, if a bit nerdy, and if my brain could think at superspeed, you better believe I’d be doing some kind of Iron-Man or Hulk in my spare time.

As a writer, I know they’re trying to show Kara’s “growth” from this pathetic character to a more developed one, but I struggle to think anyone with that kind of power wouldn’t be at least a little bit cocky. Or have perfect hair. Come on, if you could do your daily routine at superspeed, don’t tell me you wouldn’t always look like a million bucks.

If the point of the show is to show this kind of growth, why not start the show earlier in her life, or show these incredibly awkward sequences taking place earlier? I know, I know, conflict is the key, even irritating interpersonal ones involving unrequited love triangles.

Why the love triangles, people? Is there nothing else you can offer us? I’m reminded of another Superman rendition, the one I watched in high school, Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. They only hinted at a love triangle in the first season (more a character who had a crush on Clark) and briefly had the two main characters date others in a later season, but for the most part, this light-hearted (and sadly faux-science) show kept the interaction between the small cast and eliminated the annoyance of a love triangle.

So then I watched the season premiere, which took place within the same week in the timeline as the season finale. And what do you know, after being offered the job of her dreams, getting the guy she’d been crushing on, and saving the world, Kara then can’t make up her mind about her job and offers her guy some lame excuse about something having changed for her. What’s changed? She’s not sure. But come on… if you and your crush both like each other and are both available, how does it make sense that you wouldn’t give each other a chance? Especially if the only excuse you have is “I’m not feeling it anymore” even though two episodes ago, or, you know, a week ago, your heart was set on him? I wanted to bang my head against a wall. Are we going to spend another season of misunderstandings between them before they get together at last? ‘Cause I am not interested in these pointless teasers. Nothing fundamentally happened to the character to make us understand her sudden change of heart. At least my erstwhile favorite superhero is making an appearance this season. In comparison to the Flash, whose motivation was clear and understandable from the finale through the premiere, whose actions and their consequences have set up an interesting new season, Supergirl just seems lame.

And I keep watching, in hopes of things getting better. What is wrong with me?!

I’d love to hear if you’ve ever watched a movie or seen a show where the characters faced a scenario that violated your suspension of disbelief. Are you, too, an engineer who shouldn’t be watching TV?

Poop-tastrophes and Foolish Flight Attendants

I recently flew between Atlanta and Dallas on Delta Flights 2110 and 1710 (on September 11! #NeverForget) with my 13-month-old son. I checked in online the day before, with my app and my Precheck hoping to get my boarding pass so that he and I would not have to jump through any more hoops than necessary. My ticket listed him as “infant in arms” so the airline knew, and the TSA should have known, that I was traveling just with him and that we were assigned a single seat.

Seat Assignment Fiasco

The app refused to issue me a seat assignment until I arrived at the airport and went to one of the airport kiosks to print a boarding pass. Of course, when I arrived in Atlanta, after bumping into a former colleague who was very interested in hearing what I’d been up to since moving to d different company, I made it to the kiosk slightly later than I should have. And of course there was a massive line for checking bags and the like, but the kiosks were empty enough that I walked right up to one and got my boarding pass and seat assignment.

In Dallas, though, I did the kiosk check in and still wasn’t assigned a boarding pass. They insisted that I then proceed to the gate agent with my temporary pass to get a seat assignment and boarding pass. Surely that was a remarkably inefficient use of time and resources for everyone involved, considering that I was a ticketed and confirmed passenger for the entire trip.

Then I proceeded to the TSA Precheck line, armed with my boarding pass, ID, stroller-stacked-with-a-carseat, strapped-on diaper bag, and small, light carry-on suitcase. Needless to say, my hands were full. And people are very kind to parents traveling alone. I had several people ask if I needed assistance, wait to make sure I could manage my items, and even load some of the items on the belt for me as I wrestled the munchkin. They were very kind, and I sincerely appreciate their help.

In Dallas, though, the TSA agent couldn’t properly read my boarding pass to accept that I was traveling with pre-check and with an infant in arms. I had to show him both markings on my “temporary” document, another problem that could have easily been avoided had I been allowed to check in properly the first time.

Poor Design

Then, while trying to load all my piles of stuff onto the conveyor in Dallas, they have a table, a 3-ish foot gap, and then the conveyor belt. So if you loaded all your stuff onto the table hoping to slide it straight onto the conveyor, it was a no-go. Thank you, wholeheartedly, to the kind fellow passengers and the agent who helped me manage the luggage and stroller and car seat in addition to a squirming munchkin.

Something must have set off the metal detector in Atlanta, so I got hand-swabbed before being sent on my merry way, and then I loaded all my belongings back onto the stroller in reverse order and the munchkin and I got moving again. I think we hopped on the train after walking a couple of terminals, because the airport has an awesome ceiling display between Terminals A and B that I absolutely love.

The munchkin found this much less interesting than I did, although he napped on the MARTA ride into the Atlanta airport and was now awake. I was also eager to get to the gate so that I could change his diaper before we boarded. By the time I made it to the airport bathroom, set up my diaper changing materials, and popped his diaper open, I was surprised to find a perfectly clean diaper, which means not even a single drop of liquid making the blue stripe on the front of the diaper. So I wrapped him back up and loaded him back up and returned to the gate, having missed my opportunity for early boarding.

Once again, though, people kindly let me through, recognizing that I would need some additional time to get all my stuff situated with the baby. And a very kind lady actually did hold the munchkin while I folded up the stroller and carseat before we boarded.

So I popped our big bag in the overhead bin and D and I sat in our aisle seat, where he proceeded to wave at all the passengers and flirt indiscriminately with anyone who paid him a moment’s attention.

Really Poor Design

Since he was sitting on my lap, I figured when I felt some motion in his diaper area that it was finally time to change him. So I picked up diaper clutch and wipes and carried him to the bathroom. Where Delta had a ledge about four inches deep and 15 inches long on which I was expected to change my squirmy toddler. #NotGoingToHappen

The flight attendant studied my predicament and offered to put down some paper towels so I could change him on the floor, and a very helpful gentleman in first class had the clever idea of putting down an airplane blanket atop that so that we had a bit more of a barrier between the baby and nasty floor. And note that he didn’t suggest it. He hopped right up, told me to wait a moment, and DID it for me.

So I got down to business and found when I opened things up that he was still wearing a perfectly clean, dry diaper. In addition to feeling very foolish now I am growing concerned. When D finally did his business, I knew it was going to be a big diaper. #LittleDidIKnow

So I return to my seat after the nice gentlemen offers to hold D while I pack up my stuff and tells me we had a good trial run and would be set for the real one. The flight attendant tosses the full towel/blanket set-up in the trash and I returned to my seat.

Then we got our drinks and snacks on a tray table that had seen better days. I put my seat-mate’s spare newspaper on the tray before accepting our refreshments, since D would drop his pretzels and put them in his mouth anyway, and the cleanliness of that tray was suspect. D really enjoyed his apple juice and pretzels. Shortly thereafter, we get our tables cleared and D starts squirming and fussing.


A few minutes later, in rapid sequence–I kid you not–the pilot turns on the “Fasten Seatbelt” sign and D moves just enough for me to notice a big brown blob on my pants. Then the pilot announces the descent and another flight attendant passing by refuses to let me change D’s diaper. “You should have done it earlier,” she says, as if I didn’t try to do just that and as if I have any control over anyone’s bowel movements.

I politely explain to her that I’m covered in poo and that the baby is covered in poo under our blanket (wish I’d used the Delta blanket that time). There was actually even poo on the edge of his pacifier, which has a stuffed animal attached. The poo was on the stuffed toy’s foot, so far enough from his mouth. But honestly, was I going to take away my kid’s pacifier before we descended and let him scream bloody murder on the airplane? No, I was not. Judge away.

Anyway, she was singularly unhelpful and awfully smug. And there was nothing I could do. Of course, having finally emptied his little belly, D fell promptly asleep for the entire descent. Once the plane landed and the folks in the seat across the aisle cleared out, I quickly slid over to start cleaning D up. After all, my seatmates wanted to get out and I couldn’t put the munchkin back in the carseat while covered in poo. So I spend the next several minutes cleaning up D, changing his clothes, collecting all the soiled items, which now include the changing mat, the blanket, his clothes and pacifier, and the dirty diaper and the wipes, etc. There wasn’t anything I’d be able to do about my own pants until later, but I wiped up the majority of the mess and the cleaning crew gave me a trash bag to contain all my stuff in. I was definitely the last person off the aircraft.

More Questions Than Answers

The big question, though, in all of this, is where are the changing tables in the airplane bathroom? They could easily install one over the toilet that folds down and offers enough space to actually change a baby and is much less gross (admittedly not for me but for other more squeamish passengers) than trying to change a diaper on a vacated seat. At some point as a parent poo stopped bothering me. But the plane floor still takes the cake for being an absolutely vile spot for diaper changing.

Shame on you, Delta, for not considering this critical way to make parents traveling with small children better able to contain their kids’ messes. It’s already overwhelming to travel with a small child, but then being stuck between two equally inappropriate choices when it’s time to attend to their basic needs is simply ridiculous.

As a resident of the Atlanta area, I’ve long chosen Delta as my airline of choice, but this lack of family-friendly aircraft, the ridiculous staff member, and the difficulty of getting an assigned seat, and it makes me question this decision to be a loyal customer. I also know just how many of my friends with small children also read my blog (thank you all!), and I hope they, too, consider the challenges they will face choosing an airline that can’t accommodate the basic needs of their children.