Top picks: 'Circus' miniseries, Microsoft Kinect, Ethan Gilsdorf's "Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks,' and more

PBS miniseries 'Circus,' Microsoft controller free gaming sensor Kinect, Monitor contributor Ethan Gilsdorf's new book "Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks,' and more recommendations.

Luciano Anastasini, an 8th generation circus performer, with the legendary Big Apple Circus.
Shizuo Kambayashi/AP Photo
A model demonstrates a brain-training game, one of Microsoft's new Kinect motion-sensing system-compatible games for the Xbox 360 videogame console at a press briefing in Tokyo Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2010.
Lyons Press
"Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks," by Ethan Gilsdorf.

One-ring world

Hard times have always been good times for the big top – and today is no exception. Come get a ringside seat at PBS's six-hour miniseries, "Circus," which debuts Wednesday, Nov. 3, at 9 p.m. (check local listings). The program follows the development of a new show at the Big Apple Circus, getting up close and personal with the struggles and breathtaking joy of life as a clown, a high-wire artist, a horse acrobat, and all the others.

Country-music purists, take heart

Country purists have carped for decades about the slick pop influences permeating Nashville. That helps explain why Jamey Johnson's gritty old-school vibe leaves critics scrambling for superlatives to describe "The Guitar Song" (Mercury Records). The two-CD set lives up to much of the hype. Johnson loses his way with some spoken-word meandering and some songs are bleak, but no one can question his talents.

You are the control

Up to now, video games have had a common denominator: the controller. No more, says Microsoft, which releases the Kinect Nov. 4. This peripheral for the Xbox 360 uses cameras to translate kicks, waves, pokes, and jumps into video-game commands. That means full-body dance games, gripping the air at 10 and 2 to steer your hot rod, and swiping motions to fast-forward videos.

Animals on the move

In "Great Migrations," a seven-part series shot in high definition, the National Geographic Channel follows millions of animals around the globe as they instinctively follow ancient routes to feed and reproduce. Track the Mali elephants on the longest pachyderm migration on earth, the endurance of 50 million tiny red crabs, and the first images in more than 30 years of the African kob, a gazellelike creature researchers had thought was extinct. The series debuts Sunday, Nov. 7.

How to track that twitter attack

Attack ads can sink a political campaign, but the group behind a TV spot must identify itself. On Twitter, smear tactics can be quick, viral, and anonymous. aims to cut through "Twitter bombs" to see if a trend is genuine or manufactured. The Indiana University project crunches real-time messages, creating revealing and often beautiful statistical portraits of a campaign.

Tour the worlds of fantasy

Monitor contributor Ethan Gilsdorf explores fantasy-driven social cultures in "Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks" (The Lyons Press, now out in paperback, $14.95). Gilsdorf tries to integrate himself into the worlds of Dungeons & Dragons, live action role-playing, and other online games. For lovers of fantasy, it is almost too easy to empathize with every "freak" and "geek" the author encounters. But even those for whom this book will be an introduction will find it engaging and eye-opening.

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