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Star Trek Beyond - it's not bad and far better than the last one.

Published Saturday, July 23, 2016 @ 9:43 AM EDT
Jul 23 2016

This isn't a review. It's a sigh of relief.

Star Trek Beyond is... not bad. Coming after the abysmal Star Trek: Into Darkness, I was careful not to expect too much from this third film in the J.J. Abrams-produced reboot of the 50 year old franchise. At least this time around they acknowledged the existence of a decades-old fanbase, instead of purposely trying to alienate it.

The problem with the new movies is best described by rogerebert.com reviewer Matt Zoller Seitz, who notes they're mostly big-budget sci-fi films "marinated in 'Star Trek' flavor packets." It's a common problem with reboots and star shifts in big franchises. The latest James Bond films have Bondian scripts, but it's difficult to buy Daniel Craig as James Bond. The Abrams-produced Trek films have the new actors marvelously portraying iconic characters, but in storylines that bear little resemblance to the original tone of the tv series or films.

Fortunately, the script for STB was co-written by Simon Pegg, a self-confessed Star Trek fan who also plays chief engineer Montgomery Scott. So while STB suffers in places from intense special effects overkill, an enemy whose motives aren't revealed until the end of the film, and various plot holes (he forgot where he parked his starship?), it has recaptured the spirit and gentle charm of the original version. Think of this movie as a fair to middling second season entry of the original show- like The Omega Glory or A Private Little War- only with a budget more than twice as large as the cost of producing all 79 episodes in the 1966-1969 run of the series.

Wisely, no references are made to its predecessor, so we're spared inanities like interplanetary beaming and tribble resurrection. Instead, Pegg pays homage to the original series with scores of subtle references. The original aeolian harp-like transporter sound effect is used. There's a Chekov 'invented-in-Russia gag'. An obscure and odd-sounding but totally accurate call-out to the original series episode Who Mourns for Adonais? where 'a giant green hand' is offered as a sound, rational explanation for ship disappearances. And two Enterprise crewman on the receiving end of the villain's wrath are, of course, wearing red shirts. A few scenes are reminiscent of Galaxy Quest and Guardians of the Galaxy, but in clever and non-obstrusive ways.

There are still annoyances like humans having somehow developed the ability to fall 50-100 feet without injury. But this seems to be common to all films after the parkour opening of 2006's Casino Royale Bond reboot. Chris Pine's Kirk continues to get the crap beaten out of him on a regular basis, which makes me wonder if perhaps Shatner is slipping a few bucks under the table to the new production team.

Pegg's script seems to try to atone for the Trek-specific absurdities, like starships spouting flame from manuevering thrusters and flying in planetary atmospheres. "There's a reason they're called starships, you know," Scotty complains at one point. In another scene, Scotty points out that "Starfleet isn't a miliary organization," something that might not be obvious given the militaristic bent of the first two movies. But, alas, they've forgotten creator Gene Roddenberry's admonishment to starship desiger Matt Jeffries: "no flames, no fins, no rockets." Propulsion in this movie seems more 20th than 23rd century.

Director Justin Lin does a good job with lighting and framing- the bridge no longer looks like an Apple store on opening day and, thank goodness, less lens flare. The Fast and Furious director delivers several wild and wooly fight scenes and cgi set pieces that were hard to follow, which I attribute mainly to my age and unfamiliarity with the ouevre. I thought the space battles in Star Trek II were impressive, and that was just two optically printed motion control models and some cell animation. The thousands of cgi-rendered craft that swarm through STB were a bit overwhelming. Those cgi guys must get paid by the pixel. And there were times when I wanted to yell "just keep the goddamned camera still!" as it dollied and tilted through scenes not requiring such embellishment.

But that's nit-picking. As was the case with the original series, it's the relationships between the main characters and humor that really keep the movie afloat. Karl Urban's Dr. McCoy, in particular, is spot-on. And McCoy continues to get all the funny lines.

The movie notes the passing of Leonard Nimoy, "Spock Prime" in the new movies. There's also a "cameo" of the original crew via a photograph from the last film featuring all of the original cast, 1991's Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, which is in Spock Prime's personal effects.

Anyway, if you're an old Trek fan, go see it. You'll walk out of the theater feeling like you've actually watched a Star Trek movie, something I hadn't done in 25 years.

Categories: KGB Opinion, Star Trek

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Published Saturday, June 25, 2016 @ 11:20 AM EDT
Jun 25 2016

Categories: Game of Thrones, George R.R. Martin, Star Trek

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Wishful thinking

Published Monday, April 18, 2016 @ 10:31 PM EDT
Apr 18 2016

Categories: Bernie Sanders, Elections, Star Trek

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Now it all makes sense...

Published Friday, April 08, 2016 @ 3:12 AM EDT
Apr 08 2016

Categories: Bernie Sanders, Photo of the day, Politics, Star Trek

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Review: Star Trek - The Ultimate Voyage

Published Wednesday, March 02, 2016 @ 4:20 PM EST
Mar 02 2016

Star Trek: The Ultimate Voyage celebrates the 50th anniversary of the iconic franchise with a live orchestra accompanying scenes and collages from the show's five television series and motion picture spin-offs.

We saw the show at the Benedum Center in Pittsburgh on March 1. Upon being seated, we discovered our "prime orchestra seats" left a bit to be desired. Fortunately, there were unsold seats in our row and we were able to shift over to get a somewhat less obstructed view. Still, one would hope the stage crew would have done a somewhat better job of making certain the sightlines were clear.

The orchestra was composed of members of the Czech National Symphony Orchestra, and they provided an enthusiastic performance that was technically perfect. There are YouTube clips of the show's Royal Albert Hall engagement performed by the famed London Philharmonic Orchestra, and one features the trumpets flubbing (about 20 seconds into the clip) the main fanfare of Jerry Goldsmith's Klingon Battle from Star Trek: The Motion Picture. The musicans at the Pittsburgh show nailed it, as well as the other challenging arrangements performed during the evening.

Which brings me to my major gripe about this show- and for that matter, the touring companies of most Broadway musicals: not enough musicians.

While billed as a "full symphony orchestra," there were just 30 musicians on stage. That's less than the number contained in a typical chamber orchestra, and about a third of the size of a full symphony orchestra. Hell, when Paul Shaffer contracted the orchestra for Jimmy Webb's MacArthur Park for a performance on Late Night with David Letterman, he used 33 musicians.

This is false advertising in some respects. The concert's own promotional "Tour B-Roll" shows a much larger orchestra, with double the number of horns that were at the Pittsburgh show.

This is an issue because the Trek scores, particularly the ones composed by James Horner, require a robust horn section. Horner used a 91 piece orchestra for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, with an augmented French horn section containing eight members. Other instruments, like piano and harp, just weren't there. Most people won't miss the opening harp glissando of the Next Generation theme, but its absence is noticeable for those who are familiar with the music.

The touring company only had two French horns in its seven-piece brass section, and the horns were often buried to a degree by the strings. The production compensated for this by miking the orchestra and adding them to the recorded dialogue and sound effects from the accompanying video clips, which were sent to the show's own sound system (see photo). While effective, it sort of negated the point of the experience. If I wanted to hear the Trek scores through a speaker system, I could have stayed at home. From time to time the orchestra itself could be heard over the speakers, but it was nonetheless somewhat disappointing.

The video accompanying the music consisted of either full scenes from episodes of various series, or a collection of "themed" clips from the movies and television shows. It was tied together by a frankly vapid, inane, cliché-ridden narration that was immediately forgettable.

The clips were high quality. Those from the fifty-year-old original series used the recent CBS digital remasters, and they held up remarkably well on the 40-foot screen.

My favorite sequence was "Kirk Does It Again," composer Sol Kaplan's strident score as Kirk works to destroy The Doomsday Machine. That the two trumpets had any lip left after this performance is amazing.

If you have a chance to see this show, go for it. My criticism is that of a hypercritical Trek score afficianado. During intermission (or "half time," as the guys behind us called it- remember, this is Pittsburgh) the overheard audience praise of the performance was effusive, with one young lady saying she had been moved to tears.

And despite my criticism, I'd see it again.

Categories: Star Trek, Star Trek - The Ultimate Voyage

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Future history

Published Monday, February 08, 2016 @ 11:34 PM EST
Feb 08 2016

Categories: Bernie Sanders, Star Trek

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A real toe tapper

Published Wednesday, January 20, 2016 @ 11:58 PM EST
Jan 20 2016

In observance of Star Trek's 50th anniversary, a concert event, Star Trek: The Ultimate Voyage, is now booked in over 100 cities and will stop in Pittsburgh at the Benedum Center on March 1. The video above features a clip from the show at Royal Albert Hall, performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

To be honest, my dream Trek musical experience would be a live orchestra playing to a presentation of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, but this should do.

The official PR release says "This lavish production includes an impressive live symphony orchestra and international solo instruments. People of all ages and backgrounds will experience the franchise’s groundbreaking and wildly popular musical achievements while the most iconic Star Trek film and TV footage is simultaneously beamed in high definition to a 40-foot wide screen.

"The concert will feature some of the greatest music written for the franchise including music from Star Trek: The Original Series, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Star Trek: Insurrection, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Voyager and much more. This never-before-seen concert event is perfect for music lovers, filmgoers, science-fiction fans and anyone looking for an exciting and unique concert experience."

Reviews have been good; the two-hour concert has one intermission and features 29 themes from the various Trek series, films, and video games.

Speaking of space music, notice the similarities between James Horner's main title for Battle Beyond the Stars (1980) and for Wrath of Khan (1982).

The BBTS score has been called "unplayable" by those musicians unfortunate enough to have been tasked to perform it in concert. Since the movie was produced by Roger Corman, the orchestra only had two takes, and the brass section is noticeably ragged and somewhat breathless by the end.

Such problems aren't apparent in TWOK- more rehearsal and studio time, one supposes, as well as Horner shifting some of the more complex parts to string instruments.

Categories: Battle Beyond the Stars, James Horner, Music, Roger Corman, Star Trek, Video, YouTube

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The future of Star Trek: It's the story, stupid.

Published Tuesday, January 13, 2015 @ 9:31 AM EST
Jan 13 2015

This piece by Lukas Kendall is probably the best analysis of Star Trek you'll ever come across. The original article is here, on TrekMovie.com.


There has been a cottage industry of essays about how to make Star Trek more popular. Many of the prescriptions are simple: Put it back on television. Hire good people to make it. (Certainly, good creators always help.)

But there is a basic assumption that Star Trek could be every bit as successful as the Marvel universe or Star Wars... or even DC ... if only CBS and Paramount could work through their business problems.

I think it's not so simple... and the reason why is not a matter of taste. It is a matter of story.

Star Wars and the Marvel movies are action... packed spectacles that appeal to attention... deficit teenagers... the blockbuster sweet spot. Star Trek, by contrast, appeals to the brainy outsider. It's slow, talky, even philosophical... a little bit like eating your vegetables.

The same things that are the source of Star Trek's appeal are also the source of its limitations. Try to change it to appeal to everyone, and you'll appeal to no one.


Star Trek just had two mega... budget blockbusters that were aggressively made and marketed for the modern, global movie audience. They are spectacular productions that cost a lot of money, made a lot of money, were popular and well reviewed... but did not set box... office records. A third film is likely to continue the trend.

Tellingly, some Trek fans revile the new films. That is because, in order to appeal to a modern global audience, they fundamentally alter the franchise's DNA. This has nothing to do with the creation of an alternate timeline, which is ingenious. It is about taking a pacifist, cerebral, talky television show and turning it into an action... adventure movie. Something is lost along the way.

Star Trek is fundamentally not action... adventure. Drama is conflict, and blockbuster movies are about "branding" the conflict as specific forms of physical fighting: Comic book movies are superpower slugfests. Star Wars is lightsaber duels, blasters and spaceship dogfights. James Cameron's films are commando... style militaristic warfare. The Matrix is "bullet... time" kung fu.

Star Trek has always had its share of fighting... from 1960s fisticuffs to submarine... style warfare... but the best Star Trek "fighting"... is talking. Kirk talks a computer into exploding. Picard talks a bad guy into laying down his arms.

Star Trek has never translated well to movies. Its style and ideas play best on television, without the need to: (1) encapsulate its entire world (2) into the fundamental transformation of a single character, (3) that happens over two hours, (4) with all of civilization in jeopardy, including (5) stuff for the supporting cast to do and (6) all the de rigueur "He's dead, Jim" moments, while (7) humoring die hard fans by not changing too much and (8) pandering to morons.

The best Star Trek film is still The Wrath of Khan... which doesn't put Earth in jeopardy or climax in a fistfight, kills a major character (as a requirement of being made), and was shot cheaply on recycled sets. At a time when Star Trek was only 79 episodes of the original series, a cartoon, and a widely seen but unloved movie, Nicholas Meyer and his colleagues had the freedom to do what they wanted, so long as it was cheap: tell a good, literary and character... based story. Today, that movie would not survive the first development meeting.


A common refrain is to put Star Trek back on television and make it for adults... the Mad Men or Game of Thrones of Star Trek series. Sounds exciting!

It's also impossible. You can't make the "adult" Star Trek series because Star Trek is not about adults. It can be for adults, but it is not about them.

What are the driving realities of adult life? Sex and money. What is never in Star Trek? Sex and money.

Sure, there's suggested sex. Off... screen sex. Characters have romantic relationships, but viewed as a child would... Mommy and Daddy go to their room, and come out the next morning.

Money? There are "credits" but I still don't understand the Federation's economic system. Do the crew get paid? Is the Federation communist? (There was a great article about this: https://medium.com/@RickWebb/the... economics... of... star... trek... 29bab88d50)

There have already been 726 episodes and 12 movies of Star Trek... and too many of them revolve around misunderstood space anomalies.

Would it be best to start from scratch? Creatively... no doubt about it. But Star Trek fans would never allow that. Star Trek is not like James Bond or Batman, where every decade you cast a new actor and wipe the slate clean. Or like Marvel's movies and TV series, which are drawn from fifty years of mythology, but nobody expects them to slavishly reproduce the comic books... or even be consistent with each other.

Star Trek fans demand every installment connect with every other one. We already have the "Abramsverse," which was cleverly constructed as an alternate reality. Can there be another recasting, with a third actor playing Kirk, or a second playing Picard? I doubt it.

Stay in the Abramsverse? Possibly, but Into Darkness demonstrated the problem of doing this: you're constantly running into characters and scenarios you already know. Not only do the writers have to tell the same story twice... for the people who know the original, and the ones who don't... but it's never as good the second time.

Go another hundred years into the future, aboard the Enterprise... G? Maybe. But no matter what, you have a consistent, intricate universe that has to be respected. Hard to bump into an asteroid without it being like that time on Gamma Epsilon VI.

Star Trek already had one fundamental storytelling upgrade: when The Next Generation got good in season three (circa 1990) and took a turn into Philip K. Dick issues of perception and reality... which is to say, postmodernism. It jettisoned the 1960s melodrama... great move... but replaced it with technobabble. Ugh.

The Problem With Star Trek

Unlike the Marvel universe... which takes place in contemporary reality... Star Trek takes place in the future. And not just an abstract future, but a specific vision of the future from fifty years in the past. It's not only a period piece, but a parallel universe... a "double remove."

Before man landed on the moon, manned space travel was plausible. Roddenberry intended the bridge of the Enterprise to be completely believable. (Next to The Beverly Hillbillies, he was doing Chekhov... that's with an h.) But we now know that (Interstellar and Avatar aside) interplanetary space travel is not realistic, or certainly not happening any time soon.

As a result, Star Trek is irrevocably dated. What was meant to be the actual future has become a fantasy future... but it's not allowed to acknowledge it. Star Wars is unashamed space fantasy, set in a make... believe galaxy, but Star Trek is supposed to be real. (I guess I missed the Eugenics Wars.) Ever wonder why in Star Trek they only listen to classical music, or sometimes jazz? Hearing anything recorded after 1964 would puncture the reality (except for time travel stories). This is the same reason why The West Wing never referenced a president after Kennedy.

Roddenberry aspired to do cosmic wonder and weirdness... "The Cage," Star Trek: The Motion Picture... but these stories are wildly expensive and dramatically abstract. (How do you fight an alien that can destroy you with its thoughts?) Star Trek became a more elevated version of Flash Gordon or Buck Rogers, a predecessor to Star Wars, transplanting 19th century colonialism (instead of feudalism) into space. Klingons instead of Russians, Romulans instead of Chinese (or vice versa). It's a futuristic version of Captain Horatio Hornblower, as Nick Meyer realized... and Roddenberry intended... that could be practically produced on a weekly basis. (Master and Commander is a great Star Trek movie.)

Why can't you do a variety of stories set in different corners of the Star Trek universe? Because Marvel can go anyplace in the contemporary world to mine relatable characters and interesting storylines... from the corridors of a high school to the streets of New York City to foreign countries to mythical Asgard. But Star Trek has to go different places within its own, make... believe universe, bound by specific storytelling and ideological rules: it is, by definition, a ship in space. They tried space without a ship (DS9), a ship lost in space (Voyager), a prequel ship (Enterprise), and an alternate universe ship (Abramsverse); how many more variations can there be? One wonders if even Star Wars will be able to sustain its "expanded universe" movies and TV series, but it has the advantages of a bigger fanbase, more action... adventure style, and fewer continuity restrictions.

How do you reinvent Star Trek for a modern television audience? There already was a terrific, adult human space drama... from one of the best Star Trek writers, Ron Moore. Battlestar Galactica was adapted from an old TV show that Moore was at complete liberty to rework (since it sucked and no one cared).

One thing Moore took care to do: no aliens. Because aliens fundamentally don't make sense. All over the galaxy, there are aliens who look and act like (white) humans with bumpy foreheads, they all speak English (somehow "universally translated"), each planet has a single culture and government, yet the Prime Minister's office consists of three people, and no society has television... really?

But we can't get rid of aliens on Star Trek... because of Spock. Who rules.

So as much as I'd love to see Star Trek on the small screen again, I question how it could be done without violating continuity or its fundamental appeal. It's certainly not suitable for a True Detective... style reimagining.

The Appeal

What is the appeal of Star Trek? Forget about sex and money... the humans on Star Trek aren't even human. The aliens are human. Let me explain.

The appeal of Star Trek... the drug that intoxicates a certain percentage of the world's population... is Gene Roddenberry's vision of a utopian future. We despair at the pathetic failures of our species... our polluting, warfare, cruelty and selfishness... but Star Trek says, "Relax. Humanity will survive. We will triumph. We will solve our problems and fly to the stars. Everything will be great!"

It is a wonderful, inspirational message. It deserves to have lasted fifty years... may it last forever. It's not necessarily a future that will come to pass, but it's good to have this positive message in the culture. (The best TV series of the last twenty years to carry this spirit? The West Wing.)

It's not just the fantasy of us as a species. Roddenberry's vision is one of adult life as seen by a child, anxious about a future as a grown... up. How will I live by myself, without my parents? How will I learn to socialize, to have romantic love, a family of my own, a job? Will the world still be there for me? Who will take care of me?

Starfleet will! You will have a job on the Enterprise, full of friends, colorful uniforms, understandable work (Warp speed! Level... one diagnostics!), galactic adventure, and a social life of fun on the Holodeck and poker in Riker's quarters.

Think about the characters on Star Trek. Gene Roddenberry was adamant that humanity would evolve and shed petty and negative characteristics. Drama relies upon conflict between characters... but he didn't want the crew to fight amongst themselves. Therefore... to the frustration of most of Star Trek's writers... Star Trek's human characters are bereft of the personality traits that create drama.

How does one tell a Star Trek story if drama (conflict between characters) is forbidden? The humans are drama... free... so you make the aliens the humans.

Consider Star Trek's most pivotal characters: they are always the aliens. In Star Trek, humans are perfect... therefore dull. The aliens, however, are versions of human children learning how to become adults.

Spock is a repressed child. Data is a shy child. Worf is an angry child. Seven of Nine is a repressed, angry child with big boobs.

The same goes for the races: the Vulcans are repressed kids, the Klingons angry kids. (The Romulans have never quite worked because... what are they, exactly?)

Think of the three most... developed characters on Next Generation: Picard, Data and Worf. (Picard is the father figure, representing all of humanity.)

What did we really learn about Riker, except that he played trombone (because the actor did)? About Troi (half... alien, but close enough), except that she liked chocolate? About Crusher... at all?

And didn't they struggle to find quality episodes for these characters?

In Star Trek, the human characters lack dimension... because they are idealized. They are viewed as perfect the way children view their parents as perfect... finding them incapable of dark or deviant behavior. At most, they are given trivial social problems to solve... like Geordi being nervous about going on a first date. (What was he, forty? The chief engineer on the best ship in the fleet, and he couldn't get laid?)

The child... parent model explains why attempts to go "dark" on Star Trek... from Nemesis to Into Darkness, and even rebelling against the Federation in Insurrection... never work. It's like watching Mommy and Daddy fight... it's not interesting, it's sickening. (The exception that proves the rule: the Mirror universe, a wacky funhouse that's not real.)

In the last movie, watching Kirk be a brash asshole (again!) and the Federation warmongering maniacs is like seeing your dad as an alcoholic and your mom a hooker. Sure, it may make for a more interesting family, but it actually hurts to watch.

In marketing speak: it goes against the brand. (I hope someone reads this.)

The Best Star Trek

Maybe you think I hate Star Trek. Au contraire! I love it. I would love to see new Star Trek produced and be popular.

But it has to be good Star Trek, and that requires a leap of faith on the part of the producers.

For Star Trek to be high quality, it has to risk appealing to fewer people... less action, more talk. Fewer special effects, not more. Intimate, not epic.

Making a lot of it is not a good idea because it'll start to repeat itself and suck (cf. Enterprise).

Fans are not necessarily the best people to dictate what Star Trek ought to be. They want exactly what they've already seen, while also being completely surprised. Can't be done. (This is the problem with all sequels and franchises.)

Fans are also obsessed with "continuity porn"... brief moments of recognition with no storytelling value. They are empty calories.

Nick Meyer likens Star Trek to the Catholic mass, which has been set to music by composers throughout the centuries. The composers can change the music, but the text is always the same. Star Trek has a glorious text that can be set into music a few more times... at least. But the text is not well understood... certainly not by studio executives, and rarely even by fans.

There are doubtless readers of this essay who will bristle at my implications that Star Trek is for children... that by extension I am calling them children. Star Trek is not for idiot children. On the contrary, it is for very bright children... ones with big hearts and quick minds who long for purpose, a sense of belonging and a universe that is just and wise.

It is for the child in all of us, stripped of our adult baggage, forever hopeful, curious, eager to please and to experience love... not necessarily a romantic love, but the love of all of mankind. "All I want," you may say to yourself, "is to be a good person, and be loved for it."

Importantly, the best Star Trek stories involve death, from The City on the Edge of Forever and The Wrath of Khan to The Bonding and Yesterday's Enterprise. They feature characters facing death, a little bit as a child would (the first loss of a grandparent), but accepting it with elegance and grace... an inspiration for all of us who must come to terms with our mortality.

When we accept death, we also accept life. We accept ourselves.

Or at least, I think this is what Spock was trying to tell me... on my birthday.

Live Long and Prosper

Star Trek has survived for fifty years, and will hopefully survive for fifty more. It's a wonderful, timeless creation, with an important message about the human condition.

That message, says Linus on the school stage, is not to buy more DVDs, toys or movie tickets. When it comes to merchandising and exploitation, Star Trek may be the granddaddy of them all, but it will always to take a back seat to something flashier and more popular. As well it should.

Star Trek should not be run like a money machine, but curated like an important museum piece... which is paradoxically how it will become the most popular, and make the most money. This doesn't mean it should never change. The "music" always needs to be updated, shorn of things that are dated and bad. But the "text" is immutable.

The next Star Trek creators need not be Star Trek fans... many of the best have known nothing of it (Nick Meyer), but also so have some of the worst (Stuart Baird)... so long as they understand and appreciate the text.

The text is the heart of Star Trek. It is story, not spectacle. It is gentle, not aggressive. It is optimistic, not dark. It is hopeful, compassionate and, above all... the captain says with a tear running down his cheek... human. In the right hands, it can, and should, last forever.

Categories: Lukas Kendall, Star Trek

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Published Wednesday, November 12, 2014 @ 6:53 AM EST
Nov 12 2014

(photo by Christopher Becke)

Categories: Photo of the day, Star Trek

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Requiem for a fictional Scotsman

Published Sunday, July 20, 2014 @ 12:50 AM EDT
Jul 20 2014

Other kids worshipped baseball players. My hero was a fictional Scottish engineer from the 23rd century.

Before the terms geek and nerd entered the vernacular, we were called brains, or, more cruelly, weirdos. We built Heathkits, disassembled televisions and tape recorders, and bribed the librarian to give us first crack at the new issues of Popular Science and Popular Electronics, usually by changing the ribbon or switching the golf balls on her newfangled IBM Selectric.

The normal people left us alone until they needed their eight tracks fixed, or someone to set up the projector for health class, or install a new ink pad on the mimeograph machine. Task completed, we would be summarily dismissed with a curt thank you. We'd return to the backstage of the auditorium/gym, the traditional sanctuary of the oddballs on the audio/visual team.

Scotty was our hero because he was one of us. Instead of the backstage, he was buried in the bowels of the Enterprise's engineering section, which wasn't even in the main part of the ship. There he ruled, serenely, totally in control, obtaining supreme satisfaction in the knowledge that while the idiots on the bridge were supposedly in charge, he was the one who made possible their continued existence.

And then there was the Spock business. We Scotty aficionados resented the Vulcan science officer. In the first place, the whole "I'm totally in control and have no emotions" thing was patently dishonest. He was like the guy on the AV squad who discovered girls over the summer and was suddenly Mr. Cool. Yeah, right. When his girlfriend dumped him for the football team towel manager (quasi-athlete is still better than certified nerd), he nearly fried the pre-amp in the PA system by replacing the 1 megohm resistor in the main power supply with a 1K unit while in his emotionally distraught state.

Spock was our high school principal, a pointy eared deus ex machina who appeared and broke the rules of the game. I recall spending days overhauling the motor and drive assembly of an old Wollensak reel-to-reel mono tape recorder, finally getting its wow and flutter back within specs. Rather than praise my efforts, the principal said "Oh, we'll just buy a new one." Buy a new one? The possibility had never even been presented to me! This is the parsimonious wretch who only two weeks ago made me use rubber bands to replace the capstan drive belt to save 50 cents! No wonder Scotty drank himself into oblivion when he was off duty!

The Star Trek writers used Spock and abused Scotty in the same manner. They placed the Enterprise in some ludicrous situation which had no resolution, then sent Spock down into engineering to order Scotty to perform some action totally in violation of Trek's already delusional laws of physics.

Until the arrival of Bill Gates, Scotty was the first expression of the belief that the nerds could probably run things better, but were disinclined to deal with such mundane challenges. Notice that when he was forced to take the con of the Enterprise- usually because Kirk was being held captive by the father of the native princess he'd just boinked into delirium, and the hyper-intelligent Spock had been rendered unconscious by a judiciously applied blunt object wielded by an alien with the appearance and IQ of a turnip- Scotty was by far the best strategic commander of the lot.

When you saw him in the captain's chair, you knew Kirk and Spock had screwed up yet again- but you also knew things would turn out fine because the Scotsman would handily defeat the enemy du jour and would beam his sorry superiors' behinds back up to ship before the last commercial break. And then what would happen? The episode would end with Kirk and Spock congratulating themselves on their ingenuity while Scotty had already disappeared back into the depths of engineering to deal with the real responsibility of keeping the ship running.

Those of you who have saved customer presentations, demos and initial installations from ten-thumbed marketing types know what I'm talking about. The suits go out for a night on the town to celebrate their technical savvy and sales skills, while you're stuck in the cheap hotel room with a poorly stocked mini-bar that you're not permitted to access anyway because of the cost, on the phone resolving a customer crisis while simultaneously answering inane support questions via e-mail. And frankly, you're happy about it. Who wants to listen to salesmen talk about sports?

But I digress.

Scotty embodied the benefits of technology and the "can do" attitude that pervaded the 60s. Oh, he might complain mightily about some absurd demand being placed upon him: what geek isn't conservative when it comes to maintaining stable environments for critical systems? But he believed, as did his real-world counterpart Gene Krantz, that "Failure is not an option." It's the unspoken challenge that motivates those of us for whom Scotty is the ultimate role model.

Montgomery Scott, the fictional character, will continue to perform engineering miracles indefinitely on film, video, DVD, and media yet to be devised. For that, we are grateful. But I sincerely mourn the passing of James Montgomery Doohan- ironically, on the 36th anniversary of the first manned moon landing- who made Scotty the cultural icon he became.

The word is given, Mr. Scott. Warp speed.

(Originally published July 24, 2005.)

Categories: James (Jimmy) Doohan, Jimmy Doohan, Star Trek

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Quotes of the day: remembering Bones and De...

Published Wednesday, June 11, 2014 @ 12:00 AM EDT
Jun 11 2014

(From "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan"
© 1982, Paramount Pictures Corp.)

According to the authoritative Memory Alpha site, here are all of McCoy's "doctor" protestations:

"What am I, a doctor or a moon-shuttle conductor?"
-("The Corbomite Maneuver")

"My dear girl, I'm a doctor. When I peek, it is in the line of duty."
-("Shore Leave")

"I don't know, Jim. This is a big ship. I'm just a country doctor."
-("The Alternative Factor")

"Me, I'm a doctor. If I were an officer of the line..."
-("A Taste of Armageddon")

"What do you mean what sort of work? I'm a doctor."
-("This Side of Paradise")

"I'm a doctor, not a bricklayer."
-("The Devil in the Dark")
...to which Kirk replies, "You're a healer, there's a patient. That's an order."

"I'm a surgeon, not a psychiatrist."
-("The City on the Edge of Forever")

"I'm not a scientist or a physicist, Mr. Spock..."

"Look, I'm a doctor, not an escalator."
-("Friday's Child")

"I'm a doctor, not a mechanic."
-("The Doomsday Machine")

"I'm a doctor, not an engineer."
-("Mirror, Mirror")
...to which Montgomery Scott immediately replied, "Now, you're an engineer."

"I'm not a magician, Spock, just an old country doctor."
-("The Deadly Years")

"I will not peddle flesh! I'm a physician."
-("Return to Tomorrow")

"I'm a doctor, not a coal miner."
-("The Empath")

"I'm not a mechanic, Spock..."
-("The Empath")


Remembering De...

(originally published June 11, 2012)

DeForest Kelley, who played the curmudgeonly Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy in the original Star Trek series, died on June 11, 1999, at the age of 79. He was the first member of the original Star Trek cast to pass away.

Initially approached for the role of the Vulcan science officer Mr. Spock, Kelley was instead cast as the ship's chief medical officer, described by series creator Gene Roddenberry as "a future-day H.L. Mencken". An unabashed cynic of technology, the McCoy character was a self-described old fashioned country doctor who put more faith in humanity than high technology.

In a 1982 interview with author Allan Asherman, Kelley said McCoy represented "the perspective of the audience, that if you were along on the voyage you'd think, 'These people are crazy! How in the hell do they expect to do that?'" Indeed, the McCoy character was often used to interject a dose of reality, interpret the techno-babble, and explain the frequently convoluted plotting of the more arcane Trek adventures to those in the audience struggling to follow the science fiction storylines.

His summary of the plot of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, delivered in exasperated disbelief to the gung-ho Captain Kirk, still stands as one of the best examples of exposition in screen history:

"You're proposing that we go backwards in time, find humpbacked whales, then bring them forward in time, drop 'em off, and hope to hell they tell this probe what to go do with itself?!" The entire plot in fewer than 35 words. That's Bones for you.

The son of a Baptist minister, Jackson DeForest Kelley wanted to be a doctor like an uncle he greatly admired, but his family couldn't afford to send him to medical school. He instead became a character actor who worked steadily in film and television from the late 1940s through the 1960s. Star Trek's popularity in syndication essentially ended his acting career, but he considered himself fortunate to be associated with a role that made him a permanent icon in popular culture, and he made a comfortable living by reprising his character for the motion picture series and appearing on the convention circuit.

Asherman's interview ended with a quote that could serve as an accurate and fitting epitaph:

"I'd wanted to be a physician and couldn't- and yet became the most well-known doctor in the galaxy."

(YouTube video: A Tribute to DeForest Kelley)

Categories: DeForest Kelley, Quotes of the day, Star Trek

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Cleaning off the desktop

Published Sunday, February 09, 2014 @ 5:53 PM EST
Feb 09 2014


I can communicate through a series of short & long groans & sighs. It's called 'morose code'.
-Robb Allen, @ItsRobbAllen (h/t David Kifer, alt.quotations)



Somewhat alarmed to discover some teens don't recognize "Uncle Sam," I checked with my daughter about my soon to be 11 year old granddaughter's status:

KGB: Does Lea know who Uncle Sam is?

Sara: Oh, I think she would.

KGB: Ask her when convenient.

Sara: She said yes, it's the guy pointing and saying "I want you."

KGB: Excellent. Our nation is in good hands.

Sara: She said "Yes. Yes, it is."

Can't argue with that...>



"I give them a year."
-Ray Bloch, musical director for "The Ed Sullivan Show," on the Beatles, when they made their first live appearance on American television 50 years ago.



"Ah, hell. Let's call Froot Loops what they really are: Gay Cheerios."
-Bill Maher



Those who feel that humans are essentially good and altruistic have never read the comment sections on YouTube.



I actually used to date a girl named Christie Benghazi, so it's funny for me now when I flip between those two channels.
-John Fugelsang


The Star Trek Facepalm collection, although I don't think Spock actually qualifies.


“If we came from monkeys then why are there still monkeys?”

Let me ask you this: If you came from parents, why are there still parents?


"Fortunes have been lost underestimating Jay Leno."
-Lorne Michaels

Categories: Cartoons, Cleaning off the desktop, Harrison Ford, Jay Leno, KGB Family, KGB Opinion, Linked In, Michael Collins, Miscellany, NASA, Star Trek, YouTube

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Cleaning off the desktop, part 1: Santa

Published Sunday, December 22, 2013 @ 8:44 PM EST
Dec 22 2013





Categories: Christmas, Cleaning off the desktop, NSA, Star Trek, The New Yorker, TSA

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Cleaning off the desktop

Published Sunday, December 08, 2013 @ 10:01 AM EST
Dec 08 2013

It's surprising what pops up on Google...

It's U.S. Patent #7,249,057 B2, issued July 24, 2007: "Product Information Supplying Method, Product Information Acquiring Method, Product Information Registering Method And Recording Medium," and the description is equally enlightening:

"There is provided a product information supply method for supplying a user who desires to purchase a product with proper information about a related product that could be bought in combination with the product, so that the user is assisted in purchasing products. Registration of combination information to be supplied to the user is made with a database managed by a service provider server by a person who has bought the above product by means of a registration page so that a lot of combination information is accumulated in the database. The registered information includes not only information specifying a combinable product but also information about the effects of the combination and the ways of using products in combination. The database is searched in response to inquiry information from the user who makes reference to a page of products. Thus, corresponding combination information is extracted from the database and is sent to the user."

I'm no expert in intellectual property law, but- this is something patentable? A database of related products, with the added twist of returning information on "effects of the combination and the ways of using products in combination." You mean like peanut butter and jelly? Gin and tonic? Water and Alka-Seltzer tablets?

Even more puzzling is the reference to one of my old DEC Professional DCL Dialogue columns. It deals with referrals and recommendations for computer hardware and software, but its relevance to this patent eludes me. You can read the column here.

Other stuff that passed across the desktop this week:




Categories: Cleaning off the desktop, Computers, Holidays, Miscellany, Star Trek, Technology, WTF?

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Christmas Future (redux)

Published Tuesday, December 03, 2013 @ 1:56 PM EST
Dec 03 2013

Categories: Leonard Nimoy, Star Trek, Technology, William Shatner

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Special effects, pre-"Gravity"

Published Monday, October 14, 2013 @ 7:38 AM EDT
Oct 14 2013

It's all in the acting. Note the guest star, who hasn't quite mastered the technique. "Do you mean my right, or your right?"

Categories: Star Trek

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Final destination

Published Thursday, August 01, 2013 @ 9:24 AM EDT
Aug 01 2013

(Photo By Cody Duty/Houston Chronicle)

The Galileo shuttlecraft, fully restored to its original luster when it was featured in the 1967 Star Trek episode "The Galileo Seven," is now on permanent display inside Space Center Houston’s Zero-G Diner. (Click for full story.)

Categories: Star Trek

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Going boldly... insane

Published Wednesday, July 03, 2013 @ 7:22 AM EDT
Jul 03 2013

After John Larroquette played the Klingon crew member "Maltz" in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984) and before Brent Spiner went on to play Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987), the pair appeared together in a half-dozen episodes of NBC's Night Court. Larroquette won four Emmys as assistant district attorney Dan Fielding; Spiner played Bob Wheeler, a Yugoslavian immigrant with a West Virginian accent and incredibly bad luck.

Categories: John Larroquette, Night Court, Star Trek, TV, YouTube

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Star Trek: Into Insipidity

Published Sunday, May 19, 2013 @ 12:14 PM EDT
May 19 2013

(A curmudgeon's review of "Star Trek: Into Darkness")

Star Trek: Into Darkness is aggressively, egregiously, purposefully, intentionally, maliciously stupid.

A certain suspension of disbelief is necessary in order to watch science fiction of any kind, and Star Trek is no exception. But Star Trek generally limited itself to extrapolations of existing technology and scientific theory, and the techno-babble whatsits still had to function within a known universe with well-defined laws of physics.

(Warning: there are spoilers ahead.)

One wonders if those responsible for this abomination took a copy of the script from Star Trek II, a script rejected from Lost in Space, shuffled them together, and filmed the result.

J.J. Abrams' original 2009 reboot also contained major errors, but that film was entertaining enough that the gaffes didn't come to mind until you were in your car, on your way home from the theater.

The plot holes is this stinker dragged me out of the movie in the very opening scene, and from that point on, things just got worse.

The movie starts on the planet Nibiru, which is also the name of the fictional planet that was supposed to kill us all during the Mayan Apocalypse.

"Hi, I'm J.J. Abrams, and we're starting off by naming this planet 'Nibiru' just to let you know we're deliberately thumbing our nose at science in general and Star Trek in particular, which we never liked. The whole movie is like this. This is one colossal in-joke. Don't forget to visit the concession stand."

They have to lower a guy on a rope into a volcano because some kind of magnetic interference from the volcano messes with the transporter. The rope breaks, and the guy and the doohickey that's going to turn off the volcano fall into the crater. The guy and the doohickey survive. Why not just drop the doohickey into the volcano in the first place and be done with it?

In the 23rd century, humans apparently have developed the ability to jump and/or fall 50-100 foot distances without sustaining injuries. They are also all long-distance runners.

The Enterprise is a space ship. Roddenberry's explicit design requirements were "no fins or rockets."

This Enterprise has more flaming ports than a busload of tourists eating at a Taco Bell.

It's probably safe to assume Roddenberry didn't envision starships and shuttlecraft would be interchangeable with submarines, either.

In the future, military experts charged with the safety of the planet will meet, unarmed, in buildings with no security, in rooms with large picture windows.

The bad guy may be superhuman and have lots of guns, but he can't hit the side of a Nibiruian barn. Too bad he didn't have another one of those magic fizzy explosive class rings.

Despite other advances in technology, firefighting still relies on hoses, strategically placed so they can be hurled into the turbine intakes of 23rd century shuttles.

Question: if you can use a super-duper transwarp transporter to beam yourself from earth to a planet light years away, isn't it kind of dumb to waste all that money building a star fleet? And lucky for him there were no magnetic volcanoes in the way?

We need to wake up this guy who's been in suspended animation for 300 years so he can design advanced weapons for us. Just imagine if we could somehow bring Thomas Newcomen from 1712 to the present. He could show us how to build a steam engine!

I swear that was a red-skinned Admiral Ackbar sitting at the station in the brig. Another Abrams joke? ("It's a trap. Also, wait until you see what I do to Star Wars.")

I'm a doctor and a scientist, which is why I injected blood from a 300 year old mutated human into a dead tribble for absolutely no reason, a species from a totally different planet with totally dissimilar biology and by the way, did I mention it was already dead? And why did we bring the movie to a freaking stop to point this out to you? It's a little thing we learned in writing school called "foreshadowing." Aren't we clever?

When Scotty disabled the weapon systems on the bad guy's ship he could have also disabled their shields, so Kirk and whatshisname could have just beamed on over instead of doing that dangerous space-suited jump between the vessels. Well yeah, but then we couldn't put in our homage to the asteroid scene in The Empire Strikes Back. And also, Mr. Smart Guy, the bad starship was powered by a cold fusion magnetic volcano that would have blocked the transporter anyway. Pbpbpbpbt.

"To really piss off the science nerds, we're going to make a reference about being 238,000 kilometers from earth and then place the ships next to the moon, which is 238,000 *miles* from earth. Later we'll make some clever joke about even NASA getting the two confused. Oh, and screw you, science fans."

Those 72 super-duper torpedoes which blew up simultaneously inside the bad starship were neither super nor duper, because not only did they not destroy the bad guys, they allowed the ship to make it through earth's atmosphere without burning up, take out Alcatraz, and mess up all those nice Bay-view apartment buildings. Yeah, the same folks in charge of Starfleet security also run Earth's planetary defense system.

Even assuming the ships were caught by Earth's gravity, one expects it would take slightly more than ten minutes for them to cover the distance between the moon and the earth. That would make their velocity 1.5 million miles per hour or over 400 miles per second. Objects entering the atmosphere at that speed explode and/or incinerate.

This Enterprise is designed like an 80s Hyatt hotel, with a big atrium and, one presumes, a food court that didn't appear because Orange Julius wouldn't sign the contract.

23rd century starships have engineering sections which apparently also have the ability to brew large quantities of beer in massive tanks.

Speaking of tanks, when the guys are hanging from one of the ubiquitous engineering catwalks and a big one goes whizzing past, my wife noted they had not only lost warp drive, but also had no hot water.

In the first movie, they were able to beam two people falling at escape velocity from the surface of a planet being imploded by the massive, constantly-changing gravitational field of a red-matter generated black hole. This time around, they couldn't differentiate between Dr. McCoy and a torpedo (both are blunt and explosive?) or pull Spock and the bad guy from a flying vehicle. Wait- is there a magnetic volcano near here?

23rd century matter/anti-matter warp drive engine design is a lot like that of 70s Volkswagen Beetle engines, in that you can get both to function optimally by repeatedly kicking them.

Hey, remember that we discovered there was something in this guy's blood that can cure incurable illnesses and bring people back from the dead? Shouldn't we be working on this? Or do magnetic volcano-resistant transporters get higher priority?

Note I haven't said anything about the lifted dialogue or the stolen and abused plot lines from previous movies.

One can only hope that some persons who see this film will decide to take a look at Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and realize Star Trek was intended to be entertainment for thinking grown-ups, not the burlesque Abrams perpetrated in what is hopefully his last dubious contribution to a once dignified franchise.

Categories: Movies, Star Trek

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Khan, Bilbo Baggins, and a pair of Spocks

Published Wednesday, May 08, 2013 @ 7:13 AM EDT
May 08 2013

Possibly the funniest Trek-related commercial ever made. Definitely the one with the most Spocks. Congratulations to Leonard Nimoy for achieving a Shatner-esque level of self-aware self-parody, and Quinto for being such a good sport. (Quinto, by the way, is from the Pittsburgh suburb of Green Tree and is a graduate of Central Catholic and CMU.)

(YouTube video: Zachary Quinto vs. Leonard Nimoy: "The Challenge")

Speaking of self-aware self-parody, Nimoy outdid himself with this oldie but goodie:

(YouTube video: Bruno Mars - The Lazy Song [official alternate version])

Categories: Leonard Nimoy, Star Trek, Video, YouTube, Zachary Quinto

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Star Peeps

Published Sunday, March 31, 2013 @ 12:53 AM EDT
Mar 31 2013

(Copyright © 2002, David Farley)

Categories: Cartoons, Holidays, Star Trek

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You will be assimilated. More or less.

Published Wednesday, March 27, 2013 @ 12:13 AM EDT
Mar 27 2013

This will really make my Linked In profile stand out.

Categories: KGB, Linked In, Photo of the day, Star Trek, WTF?

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Cap'n, I'm givin' it all I have, but there's no' enough time!

Published Saturday, March 23, 2013 @ 10:26 PM EDT
Mar 23 2013

Through the end of the month, Hulu is streaming without charge all the Star Trek television series- Star Trek, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Voyager, and Star Trek: Enterprise.

That's 693 episodes; figuring in commercials, it's about 32,000 minutes, or 533 hours. If you watched eight episodes a day, it would take you about 67 days. Which means if you start first thing tomorrow morning, you'll be done on May 29.

March Madness marathons? Hah. Amateurs.

Categories: Hulu, Star Trek

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Chaka Khan is 60 today

Published Saturday, March 23, 2013 @ 8:39 AM EDT
Mar 23 2013

(YouTube video: The Wrath of Chaka Khan)

Categories: Chaka Khan, Music, Star Trek, William Shatner, YouTube

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Presidential rim-shots

Published Sunday, March 10, 2013 @ 4:23 PM EDT
Mar 10 2013

President Obama's one-liners from the 2013 Gridiron dinner:

Now I know that some folks think we responded to Woodward too aggressively. But hey, when has- can anybody tell me when an administration has ever regretted picking a fight with Bob Woodward? What's the worst that could happen?

Of course, maintaining credibility in this cynical atmosphere is harder than ever- incredibly challenging. My administration recently put out a photo of me skeet shooting and even that wasn't enough for some people. Next week, we're releasing a photo of me clinging to religion.

And in the words of one of my favorite Star Trek characters- Captain James T. Kirk of the USS Enterprise- "May the force be with you."

Categories: Barack Obama, Politics, Star Trek, Star Wars

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