Wednesday, October 11, 2017

OK--Star Trek Discovery has got to stop this!!!

I will withhold my reviews of Star Trek Discovery for now, as it is early going and things do look generally high quality and worth a fair shake. I like the continuing story model but hope they can weave in other good stories along the way, otherwise I fear it will be too strongly based on the main narrative and once that story is resolved, the interest in re-watching may go down. So I hope they can find a happy medium.It seems to me that the TNG/VOY/DS9 shows usually has a story A, story B (and sometimes a story C) format,so it seems there would be room to do an overarching story, with some other nearly standalone stories woven in.

What I really like is the allowance for some character conflict...long overdue and certainly a longstanding struggle the writers always had promoted, with limited success, in the past.

I also like the emotional content, and hope more of the character interactions and story threads will allow this to deepen and become more complex. Otherwise it runs the risk of being a bit too one note in its emphasis. While the show need not be an ensemble piece, it will need some more characters to round it out or risk becoming too somber and narrow. (In fairness, I think think this will probably happen with some time, and setting a pace is not such a bad idea.)

OK, that was sort of a review, wasn't it? Well that's not the focus of this posting! While Discovery has made some changes in format for the better,somewhere there is someone trying to regurgitate old technobabble! I get it. It helps to have some language that has a thread of specificity to it, top make thing credible, but this Star Trek trope has got to stop!! Now!! What I am referring to is all of the goofy, overly precise predictions and numbers. This started with Spock (and is humorous in its own way and perhaps needed as an exaggeration in the 60s) but it also continued through all subsequent iterations of the show and now I have detected at least two incidents of it in the first 4 episodes of Discovery!

In Episode #1, Captain Georgiou and Michael Burnham are walking around this planet, worried about a storm front heading their way...
Georgiou: "How long until that storm comes crashing down on us?"
Burnham: "I estimate one hour, 17 minutes, 22 seconds."
Ooohhhh!!! Aren't we all fancy with our predictions today? Science! To the second, no less? Wow you must be pretty smart, Miss Burnham, having grown up on Vulcan and such. Training in those bubble pits. Cutting your hair so short. Jokin' around with those V-nerds after hours, eh? You can calculate pretty accurate! So accurate in fact that you know when the first grain of sand will hit your brow.Or is that the center of the storm will be upon you?Wait, how do you know second-by-second where the center of a storm will be? Doesn't it blow with the wind and vary a lot? Oh, maybe you were calculatin' all Vulcan like, using some parametric assumptions or rules of thumb,eh? That oughta impress your Captain. She won't think you have no judgement, and not understanding of tolerances. She will just set her watch by your prediction, because its the FUTURE! Oh wait,maybe she will think you are showing off when she thinks about how ridiculously precise you are being when it is meaningless once it is inside your tolerance!!

OK, I don't know who it was who wrote that last paragraph but the point is clear to anyone with a scientific background. Anyone worth their salt would never provide a number like that. Sure, given some assumptions you can work out a number, but no one would use every little bit of precision, because the inputs, inherent variability, and and root assumptions can vary so much. A true scientist would understand these limits and constrain her comments to an accuracy based on these fuzzy factors. So Burham could have said, "An hour and 15 minutes." -- not "17 minutes" even, but "15 minutes", which has much more credibility and proportionality. It doesn't matter how high-tech the setting, some things just are not suited to that kind of accuracy. What's next, is she going to predict the next time someone sneezes, or how far a paper airplane will fly to a millimetre accuracy?

I get that some things can be predicted with accuracy, like satellites in motion in space, since there is little or no drag force, but part of that precision also can be attributed to the fast speeds relative to the tolerances of measurement. And then the distance traveled in one second can be pretty far.

They used to do it all the time in TNG. Life support count-downs to the second. What was going to happen? Lose gravity? Perhaps. Lose air? Not so fast. So they are saying that in one moment, all is well, and the next moment, everyone croaks. Reminds me of this Jerry Seinfeld stand-up bit about expiry dates on milk...

Now, this kind of talky-talk is the ultimate moniker for Trek-writer geekdom. I know many of these writers just inject the language to give it some sizzle, but where is their science advisor? I don't buy the idea that the extra precision makes for better drama--it just makes for hokey dialog and bounces me out of the story. In Discovery Episode 4, in worrying about a military attack, we get this one:
Saru: "In exactly five hours, 49 minutes and 46 seconds, the Klingons will take Corvan II."
Well, he must know everything! How the attack is going to proceed, how many ships, number of bathroom breaks, how they will aim their guns, etc. How much better it would be, and just as dramatic (if not more so) for him to say, "In under 6 hours the Klingons will converge on Corvan II, and all will be lost." Keep the pressure, lose the trivia. And it's actually more scientific.

No wonder casual Trek viewers think it is stupid.

OK, time to get off the soap box. Would be fun to see how many examples we can all come up with.

And watch out for that expiring milk!

Monday, October 9, 2017

Ship of Dreams

OK, as you can tell from the blog name, I am a Star Trek fan. I have been away from blogging and away from Star Trek for a number of years, but in the last year or so, I have had a bit of a resurgence of interest. It all started with reading and following the rehabilitation to the original Starship Enterprise shooting model undertaken by the Smithsonian. I have always been quite interested in the production side of the show, and less married to its mythology, aside from appreciating much of it. So this initiative to restore the original Enterprise model from the 60s TV show really grabbed me. And the 50th Anniversary made me nostalgic.

I have to say there is something about that ship. It is a ship of dreams. So may people have watched the show and imagined the environment and the possibilities. It has enough realism to seem like something we might actually build. It feels like a cross between a cruise ship, a military vessel and a university campus, full of capable and smart individuals driven by a common purpose in a cooperative and socially supportive atmosphere.

I always find it funny when I hear sci-fi fans talk about their favourite ship because to me, there is no contest. Star Trek is "Pigs in Space!" -- i.e. it is US in space, not others who are like us, US! So aside from the morality lessons that give it some heft (and some eye-rolling simplistic or partly antiquated insights), the whole IDEA of that universe being OUR universe and our future is pretty inspirational. No wonder so many NASA scientists and engineers love the show. So to me, when asked what is my favourite ship, it is always the Big E. (And by that I mean the original or refit Enterprise from TOS and related movies.)

The Millennium Falcon from Star Wars is neat. Its like a big camper or RV, where  you can imaging jetting off on your own adventure. It like Martin Riggs home in Lethal Weapon (or better yet Jim Rockford in The Rockford Files).. Solitary, self-sufficient, everything a gigolo needs. But after the romance of sleeping in your kitchen wears off, I imagine you would start to get lonely, and look for someone with some new conversation at least. Even a Wookie would do. But after a while you it might wear off a bit, especially living the life of a merchant or shoes and tobacco every week. (I kid because I love.)

Now in fairness, the TOS is looking a little dated. People can notice all sorts of flaws, some that cut right against its loftier notions of equality and sophistication. But what we are lacking when we make those observations is context. We forget what kind of culture and thinking was mainstream when the show aired, and when it went though such substantial reruns. That when forget what an immersive universe it created, and what an inspiration it could be. I wanted to show TOS to my daughter in her early teems and it is just a bit hard to sell. It has always been my theory that the only way to watch TOS is become a teenager, watch it every weekday at 5 pm, and repeat for about two years, because that's the way the world encountered it in the 70s when the show found its audience. Oh,and be surrounded by shows that are nothing like it. THAT is when you realize what an oasis of ideas and imagination and adventure the show was. An that's why that ship is the ship of dreams for so many.... as Neil deGrasse Tyson summarized so well at a convention appearance captured on youtube.

Now I understand we don't all have the opportunity to time travel to the 70s to watch a TV show. And TNG is really the linchpin to Star Trek surviving and growing so large. It proved the concept had legs and is really the reason the franchise has weathered the years well. And it is mostly watchable. So this is not s sleight to TNG or the subsequent shows, but a recognition of the compelling power of an original creation. (I know that Gene Roddenberry and George Lucas can be shown to have needed others to fill out their vision, they res-used concepts and motifs from here and there, and they can be shown sometimes to have been a drag on their own creation, but nothing can take away their agency to create their respective works and start something special.)

So that's a longhand way of saying the Enterprise model restoration sparked a desire, rekindled my affection, ended up with a family road trip to Washington (because its a great City to visit, though I did go see the model on display). Then I bought the Blu-Ray of TOS and TNG and a couple of books, like The Fifty-Year Mission books by Gross and Altman, and Herb Solow and Bob Justman's book.

And maybe now the result will be to get back to my blogging! So much more to say!

What creative works have inspired you, and when?

Sunday, January 17, 2016

A discussion of Interstellar

It has been years since I contributed to this blog. Here is a attempt to get going again.

I have so many things to post but few of public value. Just want to write.

On Interstellar...

Watched this movie with my wife and son, and for him it was the first time. I really enjoyed this movie and found the soundtrack mix really interesting, though a little frustrating a few times when the dialog was so low. When the movie came out, Christopher Nolan said the mix of lower dialogue and more dominant music was a choice and I think I understand.

Certainly I thought the sound mix and score choices were a good fit, though it did leave me fiddling with my my receiver settings. It was not only the mix but also the unusual heavy tones Zimmer laid out on the soundtrack which were more "sounds" than "music".

On to a few plot questions...(spoilers inherent):

On Miller's planet, there was an extreme time dilation effect, despite the gravity being only 1.3x earth. I did some research and it suggested that the gravity of the planet in orbit relative to the black hole it orbited was offset by the velocity of orbit or something.  I am not sure if that makes sense but for dramatic reasons I'll accept it. Certainly this was the most dramatic demonstration of the effect and it makes for the most impactful and significant part of the movie and set up the scale of challenges to come. 

Another choice was to communicate through the watch, near the end of the movie. I assume that is how Cooper relayed whatever insights they needed to solve the problem of gravity....certainly seems like it must have been intricate. I also wonder why Murphy knew the message was for her, from her was never clear how that came about.

I had a few other nitpicks about biospheres (if they could make a spaceship without blight why not a biosphere?) and why did the watch have the signal even when Murphy was back at NASA, how could it be future "us" that saved current us (paradox) unless we had outside help (a possibility the script does not exclude).

Altogether, I though it was impactful and effective, and a worthwhile journey.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Quotation Station

For some years now I have been meaning to start a this topic as a recurring blog, in many ways inspired by a blog series by good friend of the family and lifelong friend to my wife, Denise Nielsen. (Check out one of her History Mystery postings.) I suppose I was mostly inspired by the cutesy rhyming title of the posting, but if truth be told, I was also pretty impressed that she would take the time to write about something that mattered to her in such a fun and innovative way. I am not sure I can be that fun or innovative, but I am hoping I will return to the Quotation Station many times again and maybe the law of large numbers will do the work of profundity.

Over the years I have collected favourite quotations as I come across them. I have used some quotation sites to send me daily quotations, but often they are of dubious origin and authenticity, so few make onto my list. Every once in a while I'll open it up and realize how great some of these words precise, compact, and direct they are. (In comparison to my loquacious nature.)

Here are a few off the top of my head:
"It's what you learn after you know it all that counts." —John Wooden
(I have got to read that book...and do a basketball-related posting.) 
"A liberal man is too broad minded to take his own side in a quarrel." —Robert Frost  
(Makes me think of US politics.)
“A nation that makes a great distinction between its scholars and its warriors will have its laws made by cowards and its wars fought by fools.” ―Thucydides
What are some of your favourite quotations? comment below!

A short blog manifesto

Time to get cracking at the blog again. I never really put enough time into this blog to allow it to take on its own personality. Too often I would want to write something but it would always seem too complex to do in one sitting and thus many of my ideas have died on the vine.

So my new resolution is to publish more blogs, and worry less about getting them right, comprehensive, complete and covering all the bases....I just don't have time to bring it up to that standard.

That sounds like a disclaimer: "Warning--low quality ahead", and I guess it is. If I was to fall into my old habits (which I am sure to do from time to time) I would go on and on trying to be more articulate, to really put my finger on the issue, but who cares. Let's learn by doing.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Reading Comics

When I was growing up I hardly ever read comic books. Mostly due to cost, I guess. They just seemed a bit extravagant in those years, though I did collect a lot of used Archie comics....

I would not say I am an adult who is very into these creations, either, but I have a respect and appreciation of the form. Some people who know me think of me as artistic. I would not share that assessment, but I would say I am creatively sympathetic--in other words I relate to creative works but don't have a particularly artistic hand. When I was a teenager I guess I sort of wished I could get into comics a bit more, but somehow it seemed too broad a topic and I still lacked money to pursue it. I remember reading some of my stepbrother's comics (especially Spider-man) and thought they were surprisingly good.

And I remember The Dark Knight Returns (a Batman novel if you didn't know). It was the first graphic novel that really caught my attention, and I appreciated its style and quality, it's grittiness and the serious way it attempted to treat the subject matter.

So much time elapses, and for some reason, recently I got on this kick to see if I could download some old comics. I had heard there was some great comic/ebook viewing software available (try Comic Rack - it's great!) and found some archived comics....not sure where...and I really enjoyed it! (I must confess I only read about a third of them word-for-word as some of the villains of the month were pretty dull. (e.g. the bear guy.) It is true that many were forgettable, but the experience of reading every issue accumulates into an experience that was pleasing and definitely had that time travel sensation....I read 12 years worth of Spider-man in about 5 weeks.

I could see how the original Spider-man was something special, in part because it featured a gawky, four-eyed high school kids that wasn't the popular one, wasn't the handsomest, and had real issues to deal with. (That's the standard consensus you will read anywhere.) I was fascinated at the creation of the look, the villains, the artistic style. Steve Ditko's artwork was special, and I am glad his contribution to the creation of the character seems to be gaining wider awareness. Stan Lee certainly did a lot of things well, in terms of creating characters, story writing, and generating an assessable culture and persona to Marvel. Plus, I  have read, he also brought a strong level of commitment to delivering the magazines every month, not a trivial requirment to allow a company to grow. The Marvel Method was born of convenience, but it also empowered artists to take a larger role in creating plot and character. I find it fascinating to see the changes in style that come with different artists: the penciller, the inker, the colourist, the writer, etc.

I need to go back and re-read the Ditko issues to really reflect on his style, but I know that after he left, around issue #38, the new look was at the same time bold and striking and yet somehow there was something lost in the shift. Now Peter Parker was handsome and the ladies all liked him, and he was bolder and more confident, too. The artwork was bolder, more well suited to making posters, but sometimes lacking in detail and movement. (Don't get me wrong, as time went on I grew to like the John Romita years very much and when alternate artists appeared, I missed John's steady hand.)

I found an excellent documentary on YouTube, called In Search of Steve Ditko and I recommend it if you are interested in this elusive individual and a peek inside those early days. Another great is Once Upon a Time the Super Heroes.

Apparently, Spider-man and the emergence of Marvel comics represents the Silver Age of Comic Books...(early 60's to early 70's) there were so many new titles and readership skyrocketed. I can see why. They were fun reads, and aimed at the right level of target reader. there were some great story lines, especially about the Green Goblin, though that whole story arc was surprisingly brief. In today's market, it would likely have been much more of a perpetual storyline.

I hear they are making a new Spider-man movie, more based on the high school days of Spider-man. You see, in the early years, Spider-man was allowed to age and graduated high school and went to university. Then he sort of stopped frozen in that stage of life. I like the idea of allowing time to pass, though I think I would have done so much more slowly, stretching the years out more. The new movie could be good. The previous trilogy was very good, (well, really the first two movies were good) but it is not a bad idea for a reboot. I think I heard that Peter's original flame, Gwen Stacey, will be the main love interest. More true to the original.

I reread The Dark Knight again this year and I must say, while it seemed sophisticated to a 15-year-old, it doesn't hold up as well now...though it remains a good graphic novel and I believe it is bench marked as one of the top 5 graphic novels of all time. (Yes, I also read Watchmen, but it really seemed to be more significant as a new idea in its time than all that striking to read so many years later.)

I an going to read The Long Halloween and Year One (Batman titles) next, because apparently they were a major inspiration for the second Christopher Nolan Batman film, The Dark Knight. In think I read Year One years ago, but I forget it now.

So you can see I am a newbie, a tinkerer, not a die-hard enthusiast. For me, it is probably a fad of a sort. It will pass, but in the process I will have "caught up" on some overdue explorations of youth, and it's pretty fun. (Eventually I will search out the Todd McFarlane years...)

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Time Travel

I think the closest thing to time travel we will ever truly experience comes from digging into the archives of things gone by, and experiencing them ourselves for the first time, years later.

Whenever I look at really old pictures, I get that sense of being transported back, and I am always struck more by how similar those people and times are to the present day, than how different they may be. As a child I guess I would have had a harder time relating to these things, but if you look at old pictures, and really search, you can see so much in common. Those people could be friends we meet on the street, co-workers, etc., and all it would take is a different haircut or clothing to bridge the gap. In fact, I have found the most unrelatable aspect of old photos are the formal photos where no one is is so false and lacking in personality--those pictures are less prone to the time travel illusion.

And I think in general there is a powerful truth embedded in the idea that the people who went before are not so different than people nowadays. Certainly the technology has changed, our knowledge of science, medicine and the universe has improved, but ultimately people are people. We hold so much in common with them, and that is a great finding. If we have so much in common with people from the past, then we must hold much in common with people today. I think it is an unhealthy mindset to assume that we are some sort of "exception" or what happens to us is "unusual" or "unique" when in reality we all share a very common experience.

I remember my grandmother telling a story of sneaking out in the middle of the night while at nursing school to go ice skating. If they were caught they would surely get in real trouble. At the time it was very hard to juxtapose my retired grandmother into that situation, but as I passed that age myself I found it much easier to visualize, a very common experience.

So I like old things. Old movies, old music, old books. I cannot say I am so cultured as to consistently dwell on these treasures, but on occasion I go mining the past. In fact, I am somewhat a hypocrite in this whimsical posting because I like new things, too. I often display a preference for the ordinary when I could treasure something special. (TV anyone?)

For example, over a year ago I went into a video store and saw a version of Citizen Kane on sale (remastered with a bonus DVD), and immediately grabbed it....but it was 2 for $20 on that rack, so I had to buy something else. I searched for a while but the options were pretty slim. Finally I found something that interested me (at least based on the average cost per film) -- a 3 pack of Jackie Chan movies. Those are great movies from a certain point of view, since they are from the emerging Hong Kong film industry and Jackie Chan is an impressive choreographer and performer, but they are hardly on  par with Citizen Kane, chosen by many as the greatest movie ever made. What's ironic is that I just opened Kane last week and we stopped it with a half-hour to finish because we got too tired, while the Jackie Chan movies were opened and consumed over a year ago. I am so shallow...
BUT--I have been impacted by that movie and I plan to finish it and watch and study it over and over in the next few months. (I will try to blog on the experience sometime soon.) In general, it has defied my expectations. I had been expecting a artsy, esoteric, conceptual piece with a brooding darkness and little that is relateable. But I couldn't be more wrong. It is artistic and innovative and remarkable, but it is very accessible, very human, very relateable. Not so stuffy as I thought.

Now I fear this topic is too broad to do it justice in this sitting. I had started this blog to lay out my thoughts about the value of old works of art, planning an awkward segue into the announcement that I just recently finished reading/scanning the first 139 issues of The Amazing Spider-man plus the original appearance the character in Amazing Fantasy #15, a feat that I sincerely believe has the same time travel experience, in part because of its volume and the immersive experience, but also because it is a valid form of artistic expression in its own right. But to do that justice, I would need to expand more on my thoughts, so I will jot that down as another topic for a future blog (for those who are interested.)

A few years ago I bought Robert Louis Stephenson's Treasure Island to read with Connor someday. He reads Harry Potter and other more contemporary works and they are great, but certainly on our reading list we should have room for some of the classics...if they have lasted all this time, and are studied and admired and printed, then maybe we should pay attention.

Have you ever had that time travel experience? What old treasure have you unearthed that has connected to your own life experience? It's not that uncommon.