Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Beginning of the End for Star Trek Continues


Here's the second-to-last episode of Star Trek Continues, the fan film effort that's done a pretty amazing job of capturing the tone and spirit of the original show. This time around Canadian Nebula-winning novelist Robert J. Sawyer wrote the teleplay, which depicts the end of the Enterprise's five-year mission by taking it back to the beginning...

Part one is extremely well done. I look forward to the finale, which hits the Internet in November. 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Paperclips Part II

I didn't screenshot it for fear of spoiling the ending, but the Paperclips game I blogged about a few days ago turned out to be a very satisfying experience with very interesting hidden depths. It's a thoughtful piece of art, but if you try it, keep one thing in mind (thanks, Mike!): don't buy more than 33 processors until you get over the 70 memory threshold. 

Monday, October 16, 2017

Learn How 2 Amazing Techniques Will Trick You Into Reading This Blog Post

1. Write a headline that sums up the topic and promises a quick, easy read
2. Deliver on the headline's promise

At least, that's what I learned at work today--some basic principles to optimize your content for search engines. I rarely use this approach on The Earliad, but as a service to the reader I'll put more thought into my headlines. I'm hoping for two outcomes: I'll be more respectful of the time of my readers, and I'll improve on a skill (that is, effective headline writing). 

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Choosing Your Pain

SPOILERS FOR STAR TREK: DISCOVERY
"CHOOSE YOUR PAIN" 

"Choose Your Pain" reintroduces Star Trek fans to the irascible Harcourt Fenton Mudd, this time played not by Roger C. Carmel, but Rainn Wilson. Not only is Wilson's portrayal consistent with Mudd's character as we came to know him in three episodes of the original series (counting his one animated appearance), the creators also give us some of his backstory and even some justification for his famous attitude toward Starfleet.

Mudd's introduction here is smooth and well-integrated into this week's episode of Star Trek: Discovery, but as enjoyable as it is, there's much more going on. We get to know a little bit more about Captain Lorca's motivations, his friendships (and not) with Starfleet brass, and his response to stress. We also finally get to meet Ash Tyler, who joins the cast as an escaped prisoner of war who we are led to believe was raped by his Klingon captor.

In brief, the episode's story goes like this: after a meeting with the Admiralty on a Starbase, Captain Lorca is kidnapped by Klingons, who torture him in an effort to learn how the Discovery manages to be seemingly everywhere at once during the war. He's imprisoned with Tyler and Mudd; meanwhile, First Officer Saru has to find and rescue the captain before he can reveal any information. But there's a wrinkle: the spore drive is slowly killing the tardigrade, which means that each use of the drive brings the crew closer to the day they won't be able to use the drive at all.

Naturally the rescue is successful, but the episode subverts a couple of audience expectations - notably, mine. Last week I theorized that the mushroom drive would ultimately fail because the evolved human ethics of the 23rd century would make torturing an animal for such ends unconscionable. While that theme is developed in this episode, Stamets, Tilly and Burnham find a workaround: by gene splicing mushroom DNA into a human subject, they discover they can power the drive with a volunteer - in this case, Stamets himself. Burnham and Tilly release the tardigrade, neatly solving the ethical problem.

But now, of course, audiences are left to wonder why, since the drive now appears ethically viable, it doesn't appear in Star Trek shows set later in the franchise's internal chronology? I guess I'll have to come up with another theory.

The escape from the Klingon prison ship features a couple of very interesting choices: the weapons Lorca and Tyler steal vaporize their enemies, something rarely seen on Star Trek since the original series. I appreciated this touch, as vaporization always seemed more horrifying to me than the "kill" effect seen on The Next Generation and later shows; at least there was a body to bury in the latter series. Being vaporized means poof! you're gone, as if you never existed. And both sides, in the original series, used this technology. It's macabre, but I find it gave the original series a chilling edge, and I'm glad to see the effect come back here; lethal weapons should be horrifying.

I also found it horrifying - and revealing - that Lorca and Tyler left Mudd behind. They had some reason for doing so, but can you imagine Captain Kirk - who loathed Mudd - leaving him to such a fate? Never. Tyler I can excuse, being thoroughly traumatized by his experience, but Lorca had an obligation to rescue any civilian in that situation. I have a feeling this will come back to bite him.

This was another solid episode, perhaps my favourite of the series thus far. The Discovery's crew is starting to act more altruistically than in episodes past, more in keeping with who they should be, given the utopian setting (even in wartime). Saru gets some more character development. And there were a couple of delightful easter eggs, particularly the name-drop of Robert April and Christopher Pike; in fact, this episode brings Robert April into the Star Trek canon officially, as his one previous appearance was limited to the quasi-canon animated series. (Robert April was Gene Roddenberry's initial captain of the Enterprise/Yorktown early in the development of the original series.)

One final note: I was a little stunned to hear two f-bombs dropped on tonight's episode. I'm not opposed to the use of earthier language in Star Trek, but were it me, I would have saved it for a more dramatic moment - something earned, rather than thrown away for shock value. But all in all - a strong installment.


Saturday, October 14, 2017

Paperclips

This is interesting: a game in the incremental genre that asks you to manufacture paperclips. I think I've already messed up, because I'm having a hard time making my computer powerful enough to complete the projects listed in the middle column. I seem to be doing pretty well in the stock market, though.

The game reveals itself as you play; I get the feeling that there's some kind of creepy undertone to all this, but I haven't quite figured it out yet.

You can try it yourself here

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Pizza in a Glass

Yesterday's post about bad movie nights in the early 1990s reminded me of the time the same group of friends went to Pizza Hut for their incredibly cheap all-you-can-eat pizza night. I don't remember which of us this happened to--was it me?--but while the waitress was making her rounds, the grease-laden pepperoni pizza she was doling out skated across the surface of her platter and landed, point first, in a full glass of Coke, rendering both inedible and messing up someone's shirt. We all got a good laugh out of it, though. 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Wrong Turn

Many years ago--sometime during the early-to-mid 1990s--I was out with my friends Jeff, Susan, Tony, Steven and Ron. Carrie and Allan may have been there too. We were out searching for films to play for our semi-regular bad movie night. Back in those halcyon days, we would visit video rental stores and pore over racks and racks of VHS cassettes. Sometimes the trip itself was as fun or more than the movies themselves.

In this particular instance, we spotted a video store in the Oliver district of Edmonton, in the strip mall that hosts a Brit's Fish & Chips now. We sauntered in and started browsing, and within a few minutes we all realized that the entire store consisted only of the porn section...it was, in fact, an adult video store, a fact that all of us somehow missed. We skittered out, tittering nervously, faces flushed with embarrassed laughter. We were all close, but not so close that we had any interest in perusing pornography together; we were not nearly so hip.

I don't recall if we regrouped to find another video store or if we wound up playing board games or something. It's funny how some memories stick, while others flutter off into invisibility. 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Grey Industries

On the long weekend, I spent some time finishing my Lego Assembly Square modular building. I divide the pieces by colour before assembly, sometimes sticking them together so they don't roll off the table. Quite accidentally, I created what looks to me like a future industrial development in miniature. Not long after, I went to see Blade Runner: 2049, and while my impromptu creation looks nothing like the stunning industrial visuals in that film, I do find the thematic similarities evocative. 

Monday, October 09, 2017

The Wheel of Infamy

Back in the pre-Internet days, software piracy was still a thing - people would make copies of floppy discs and trade games. Naturally software companies did their best to defeat these nefarious fiends, using creative copy protection devices packed into the game boxes. I don't remember ever having a pirated copy of Battle of Britain, nor do I even remember the game at all, but I found this  copied copy protection wheel in one of my old high school binders while doing some cleaning yesterday. Someone was industrious, and I'm sure it wasn't me; I've never had the manual dexterity  necessary to cut out those little windows. 

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Wielding the Butcher's Knife

SPOILER WARNING
for episode four of
STAR TREK: DISCOVERY

In "The Butcher's Knife Cares Not for the Lamb's Cry," we begin to see more explicitly what Star Trek: Discovery is about, at least in my still-hopeful view: the rocky road to finding a civilization's soul.

In this episode, Captain Lorca and the Discovery crew are still trying to perfect their mycelium drive, which, I presume, uses quantum entanglement to transport the ship anywhere in the universe instantaneously. It turns out the key to the drive is the tardigrade creature that wound up leading to the demise of the USS Glenn last episode. The only problem is, the tardigrade doesn't have any say in the purpose it's being used for, and so far only Michael Burnham seems to have a problem with that, though she does go along with it. It's been established in other Star Trek shows that future humans don't use animals for food, labour or other purposes anymore (though they do ride horses and keep pets). Here, ten years before the original series, most humans don't seem to be so high-minded. The episode's title is a pretty big clue that we can expect to see two conflicting views expressed by the characters in the near future: those who argue that using the tardigrade is immoral, and those who argue that winning the war with the Klingons is well worth the life of a perhaps non-sapient creature. Captain Lorca and mycologist Paul Stamets are the butchers here, while the tardigrade is the lamb and Burnham the lost soul torn between duty and compassion. Hey, it's not like Star Trek has ever been particularly subtle, right? White side on the left good, black side on the left bad!

This episode also includes some pretty interesting character reversals and departures, all of which caught me by surprise - again, definitely a new direction for Star Trek, and, so far, a welcome one.

Character-wise, it feels very real and honest to see Michael Burnham in a state of deep mourning for all she's lost, an advantage of this Trek's deliberately arc-based, rather than episodic, format. I'm also enjoying the further development of Sylvia Tilly, Paul Stamets, and Saru; each has significant character notes this episode, and the performances are excellent. Lorca is a bit one-note this time around, but the story demands it in this case; his job is to be the at-all-costs warrior at the moment, and he certainly sells it.

One final kudo: I love the mycelium drive special effects, including the silly but very retro, very fun spinning saucer section. It felt like a callback to the kind of pulp SF I love.

I suspect that we don't see the mycelium drive (I think I'll call it the mushroom drive, actually) in later series because of the animal rights aspect. An episode of Star Trek: Voyager features a very similar scenario, and Captain Janeway and her crew were horrified by the spectacle. I imagine the mushroom drive will be banned after this first season, in tandem with the completion of Burnham's inevitable redemption arc. Of course, that means they're going to have to come up with an entirely different arc for season two...

Saturday, October 07, 2017

1987 Fish Haiku

Blurry and blue fish
Twitching his way to freedom
At the toilet's bottom

Friday, October 06, 2017

Jeff's Personal Fame Meter

As is my wont, I sometimes write "as is my wont." But also as is my wont, I also sometimes, and not just because I'm feeling sick or lazy, use this blog to advertise the work of other bloggers. In this case, I'd like to direct Earliad reader's to a JSVB post from a couple of days ago, in which you can view the current status of Jeff's Personal Fame Meter. Not only is the Fame Meter well executed, I quite enjoy the dry wit evidenced in the work. Oh, and there's some football stuff there for sports fans, and an "I'm Nearly Famous" callback to my days when an actor gave me a button with those words way back in 1985 when I appeared in a pilot on CBC. Still nearly famous, never quite getting there...thankfully. 

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Not Much Energy for Jawing

I had to have a small chunk of bone removed from my jaw the other day, and my reaction to the anesthetic and painkillers has been less than ideal. But boy howdy, was I ever impressed by the professionalism of the doctors, nurses and support staff at Kingsway Oral Surgery. They really went the extra mile looking out for my health, even beyond the fix I was there for. I'm very grateful for their expertise, experience and compassion, and to Pete for picking Sylvia and me up after the operation was done I feel lucky to be Canadian this week! 

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Keep ‘em Laughing

Yesterday I had some minor surgery on my jaw, and the doctors knocked me unconscious for the duration of the operation. When I awoke, I felt something stuffed into my mouth. I couldn't open my eyes or move my body to see what it was, but I could bawl out the question: "Hey! Wash ish thish im my mouff?"

"It's just some gauze to stop the bleeding, sir," someone answered.

"Well, that's gauze for concern!" I retorted, laughing hysterically. "Gauze for concern!"

I don't think anyone else laughed.

Monday, October 02, 2017

Cornet Blue


Last weekend, I finished watching one-season wonder Coronet Blue, a short-lived 1967 television series about a man who survives a murder attempt and awakens an amnesiac, remembering only the words "Coronet Blue." While the premise is great, the episodes themselves are a bit underwhelming; "Michael Alden" (the name taken by the main character) makes a coffee shop his home base, and his adventures are funded, for no good reason, by the coffee shop owner he meets in the pilot episode. I guess he just feels sorry for the guy? Michael spends thirteen  episodes dodging the occasional assassin and halfheartedly pursuing leads to "Coronet Blue," whatever that might be.

Years later, series creator Larry Cohen revealed it was the name of a Soviet spy ring; "Michael Alden" was set to defect to the United States when his buddies tried to kill him. Cohen is better known for the much more successful The Invaders, the It's Alive movies, and the infamous God Told Me To and Q: The Winged Serpent, among other cult genre oddities. I was expecting more from a Cohen creation, but compared to his other work Coronet Blue is pretty pedestrian. (To be fair, according to an interview with Cohen included as an extra on the DVD set, he didn't have much to do with the show's actual production.)

Catchy theme song, though! 

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Discovery Episode Three: "Context is for Kings"

SPOILERS for "Context is for Kings." You've been warned!

Star Trek: Discovery continues to hold my interest with "Context is for Kings," the first episode to feature the titular starship and its captain, the driven and mysterious Gabriel Lorca (Jason Isaacs). Michael Burnham, tried, convicted and sentenced to life in prison for her actions in the show's first two episodes, winds up on the Discovery as a consultant to Captain Lorca, a situation that discomfits most of the rest of Discovery's crew.

Through Burnham's eyes, we meet Lorca early on, introduced in shadow with a really beautiful  special effect: eyes full of stars. It's one of a couple of interesting directorial touches from Akiva Goldsman, who I've disparaged for his by-the-numbers writing efforts; he seems to be a better director than screenwriter. The other touch occurs in a lab and shows the passage of time by fading crew members in and out of invisibility. Historically, Star Trek shows haven't used visual metaphor much, and it's nice to see the producers experimenting with these techniques. Lorca's starry eyes hint (perhaps deceptively) at his vision for the future, and highlight dialogue that explains he's suffering from an eye injury incurred during the war. "The doctors told me I had to stay in the shadows a bit if I wanted to keep my own eyes...and I do."

Burnham is brought aboard to help Lorca and the Discovery research a new means of propulsion, one that could change the tide of the war in the short term, and open up the whole galaxy to much faster exploration in the long term. But something's gone wrong on the USS Glenn, Discovery's sister ship, and Burnham and an away team board the stricken Glenn to discover what happened to her crew. A very effective horror sequence kicks off, and naturally Burnham plays a key role in recovering important information and helping the boarding party escape with their lives. But she's not redeemed yet - nowhere close.

Aside from the visual touches, I appreciated Burnham's response to her situation in this episode. She's genuinely remorseful and committed to serving her time for her crimes. She doesn't make excuses or get defensive; she accepts that former colleagues and new associates fear and mistrust her. She only accepts posting on the Discovery because Lorca makes a convincing argument that she can, perhaps, help end the war she started with the Klingons, and therefore save lives. I also enjoyed the care and attention paid to production design, from the Discovery's interior and exterior details to the very believable prison shuttle craft. We get to see a little more Saru, so far the show's breakout character, who's been promoted to First Officer of Discovery and remains more than a little wary of Burnham, while recognizing her talents. We also meet the prickly genius Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp) and Cadet Sylvia Tilly (Mary Wiseman), whose endearing nervousness and enthusiasm are quite refreshing given the more serious dispositions of the show's other players. Already, I want to see more of these characters - a good sign.

Star Trek: Discovery has, so far, improved with each episode. If they can keep this up, it could transition from good to great.