Friday, March 23, 2018

Data & Picard by Pogo

I stumbled across this by accident a few days ago, and darn if I don't find it increasingly catchy and even, well, lovely. 

Thursday, March 22, 2018

The Power of Editing

Here's a well-crafted video essay explaining how Star Wars' editors transformed a deeply flawed original cut into the blockbuster we remember. The section on the revised finale is particularly fascinating. 

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Black Mirror Season 4.5

Last night, I dreamed I was the involuntary viewer/protagonist of seven episodes of Black Mirror. An elevator served as the dream's framing device; I rode it up and down to different floors, and when I stepped onto a floor, its respective episode would begin.

I only remember two; one began with the elevator car suddenly losing its ceiling and walls, revealing pitch darkness all around. I dropped prone and clung to the remaining floor as the elevator plunged sideways and down, eventually flinging me into an ornate bedroom where it was revealed that my bride (not Sylvia) wasn't human; she peeled all her skin off and revealed a faceless mannequin beneath, the suddenly-revealed backstory revealing the ironic twist: my character had complained about robots dehumanizing marriage.

In the other episode I recall, I was joined in the elevator by an old colleague named Judy, back from my days at the Official Opposition. We chatted for a moment, and when the elevator doors opened, she vanished and I stepped out to meet at least a dozen Kevin Tafts (or would that be Kevins Taft?). Each Kevin had a different costume and role, and we appeared to be attending a very classy fundraiser for the Alberta Liberals, held in a swank hotel gilt in gold and diamond. Kevin welcomed me "back," (whatever that meant), and encouraged me to climb a makeshift ladder to the ceiling of the ballroom, a ladder made of sofas, love seats, and recliners stacked atop one another.

"Watch it--precarious," he warned. I begged off and retreated down a dark, candlelit corridor, which turned out to be a strangely-designed restaurant. I thought I saw some of my old caucus friends there, but the Black Mirror dead channel static ended the episode. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Letterboxd Crew Stat

I just discovered that Letterboxd has added a new category to user stats: Crew.
Just as it inventories your most-watched directors, stars, decades and so on, Letterboxd now reveals how many movies you've seen by producers, writers, editors and more. My all-time list is above. Pretty cool! 

Monday, March 19, 2018

A Glitch in the Matrix

Earlier today, over lunch, I was writing an email to Mike, Scott, and Sean. In the midst of composing my message, the Gmail client, as it is wont to do, revealed that there was a new message from Sean in the thread. I knew that Sean's reply might impact what I would have said, but for whatever reason I pressed forward, finished the email, and sent it...

...only to discover, after reading the refreshed thread, that Sean's reply was to the email I'd just composed. That is, he somehow answered my email before I'd sent it.

As a scientific materialist, I know of course that there's a rational explanation. Perhaps I'd sent a draft without realizing it, or perhaps I had a minor hallucination. Even so, it was a startling moment. 

Friday, March 16, 2018

Kubros Worf

I built the door prize Paul Totman gave me on Brain Freeze night! A fearsome warrior indeed, destined for my desk at work. 

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Salt & Vinegar

Salt and vinegar
Always a winnegar
When you pour it over fries of French
Sour cream and onion
Good ointment for your bunions
When you're working hard digging out that trench

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

We Dropped it Off, Honest!

This is mildly interesting: a few days ago someone dropped off a package and emailed me a photo to prove they had indeed delivered it. I'm not sure if this is creepy or good customer service. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Unpainted Pakhet

This is Pakhet, a superheroine I designed for our Villains and Vigilantes campaign using Hero Forge. She's Egyptian, so I'm thinking the paint job will feature shades of blue, gold and tan. This is the second miniature I've designed using Hero Forge, and I must say I'm pretty happy with the results. It's hard to tell from the photo, but the details are very fine. 

Monday, March 12, 2018

Great Moments in Misunderstanding

I visited Steve's place on Saturday for some gaming, and Steve generously allowed me access to his home wifi. But I had some trouble typing in the password (password changed to protect Steve's wifi):

STEVE: Okay, ready? Sierra, Tango, Alfa...
EARL (murmuring): S, i, e, r...whoa slow down, sorry.
STEVE (in disbelief): Are you...are you spelling that out? Dude, do you not understand the phonetic alphabet?

As if that wasn't embarrassing enough, Steve had his younger daughter Glory come downstairs for a challenge: to see which one of us could spell out my name using the phonetic alphabet faster.

She won. 

Sunday, March 11, 2018

For the Want of a Thermocoupler

For the want of a thermocoupler
The hot water was lost
But luckily Sylvia's uncle knew what to do
And I just had a hot bath

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Topsy, Blackie, and Earl

Here's my maternal grandfather, Thomas Earl Etsell, directing horses Topsy (left) and her son Blackie (right) to haul a load of manure from the barn for spreading into the fields. This photo was taken (presumably by my grandmother, Mom, or one of her sisters) in 1958.

According to Mom, "Blackie was black when he was born! But as he aged, he turned into a dappled grey, and then as he became older, he became whiter."

Aunt Jean sent the photo along. Thanks, Aunt Jean! 

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Brain Freeze 2018

I just returned from Edmonton's Corporate Challenge Brain Freeze, an annual trivia contest held at Schank's sports bar. Pete, Mike, Paul and I scored 69 out of a possible 100 points, good enough for a 15th place finish out of 52 teams. Respectable, but disappointing given our third place finish two or three years ago. The first place team wound up with 80 points, a very high score for this particular event (at least in my experience).

We performed very well in history and science, moderately well in the sports and "winter" categories, and surprisingly poorly (9 out of 20 possible points) in movies and television.

Thanks to Paul, though, Pete, Mike and I came away with fun little door prizes, and it's always nice to chat with the guys, so the evening was anything but a loss. Thanks for organizing this again, Mike! 

Monday, March 05, 2018

Monochrome Workstation

For a couple of years in the early 1990s, I moved back into Mom and Dad's basement. This is my computer station: an Atari ST computer with an Atari monochrome monitor and a Commodore 1702 colour monitor, an Atari 1200 baud modem for connecting to local Bulletin Board Systems, and a noisy dot-matrix printer. I still have most of the books in the bookcase, along with the second edition of the DC Heroes roleplaying game seen under the printer. Note the "Call for Submissions" ad taped to the wall just above the monitor; I wonder if I submitted anything. 

Sunday, March 04, 2018

Things I'd Like to Learn to Cook in the Cast Iron Frying Pot

  1. Fancy Breakfast
  2. Pancakes
  3. Fresh Fish
  4. Pizza
  5. Chili
  6. Taco Innards
  7. Cherry Pie
  8. Fancy Fried Chicken
  9. Healthy but Tasty Vegetable Stir-Fry
  10. Blackened Cajun Strips
  11. Chicken-Fried Steak
  12. Lemongrass Pork Chop
  13. Something from the Herbs & Edible Flowers book I wrote almost 20 years ago
  14. Fried Fruit Pizzazz
  15. Potato Pancakes
  16. Fried Pineapple Rings
  17. Onion Rings?
  18. Sweet and Sour Vegetable Medley
  19. Hot Buttered Bacon-Wrapped Asparagus Spears
  20. Caramelized Coconut Oatmeal Chocolate Rings?

Saturday, March 03, 2018

A Poem for Snow

Snow, snow, o woe! O woe!
Why won't you, why willn't you, why shouldn't you go?
Didn't I see you enough times up no'?
Why must you come when it's zero below?
Don't you know Christmas is long, long ago?
You've worn out your welcome, O snow, so go, go! 

Friday, March 02, 2018

Thursday, March 01, 2018

Extraterrestrial Globes

My colleague Ayesha has a handsome globe in her cubicle. I was admiring it the other day, and a thought struck me: wouldn't it be cool if you could buy high-quality globes not only of Earth, but of the alien worlds described in fantasy and science fiction? Here's a list of globes I'd love for the den:

  • Mars, as imagined by Edgar Rice Burroughs
  • Mars, as imagined by Ray Bradbury
  • Mars, as imagined by Kim Stanley Robinson
  • Venus, as imagined by Edgar Rice Burroughs
  • Mongo, from the Flash Gordon comic strips
  • Earth, as imagined in the DC comics universe
  • Tatooine, from Star Wars
  • Hain, from The Dispossessed
  • Dune, from Dune
  • Trantor, from Foundation
  • Altair IV, from Forbidden Planet
  • Vulcan, from Star Trek
  • United Earth, from Star Trek
  • Caprica, from Battlestar Galactica
  • Solaris, from Solaris
  • Krypton, birthplace of Superman
  • Earth, as imagined by George Orwell
What worlds would you harbour in your home? 

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The House that Jack Built

During the 1970s, we drove to Cranberry Portage many times to visit my paternal grandmother. Grandma had an old Singer sewing machine with a drawer filled with fun toys and knick-knacks for my brother and me to amuse ourselves with. Naught survives but this Wade Whimsies ceramic model of the house that Jack built, of nursery rhyme fame. Grandma had this Wade Whimsy, and others, because they came packaged with Red Rose tea. How I managed to come into the possession of this lone survivor, I don't recall. 

I was surprised to learn just now that Red Rose still distributes Wade Whimsies with its tea

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

The Industrial Artist

Way back in Grade 7, I made this stuff: a key, anvil, and an anchor, molded in molten metal; a cannon, turned on a lathe; a box, bottle opener, and cube, made in ways I don't recall; a bookmark, banged out with leatherworking tools; a peace sign, molded in plastic; and a nameplate, sawed out of acrylic. Yes, I've kept them all these years, even though they're objectively terrible. Well, the cannon isn't bad, and the box is okay...

Monday, February 26, 2018

When All the Lights Go Out

Something sad and beautiful: Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, Lorene Scafaria's 2012 romantic comedy-drama about humanity's final days, seen through the lens of Dodge (Steve Carell) and Penny (Keira Knightley), two lost souls who made bad choices all their lives and who now have one last chance to find fleeting happiness.

Hopefully we'll never know how the mass of humanity will behave should the apocalypse ever loom; I suspect it wouldn't be as quiet (barring one riot) as seen here. And then again, perhaps it really will be as philosophically relaxed as Scafaria imagines.

The film delivers on the promise of its title, a reminder that everything we've ever accomplished or dreamed of can disappear, just like that. Near the beginning of the film, one overwhelmed character mutters "Life is completely meaningless." He could be right. Or maybe meaning doesn't matter; or maybe the meaning of existence is simply to enjoy it while it lasts, the best way you can.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Wrath of Pixels

Here's something neat: animator Anson Call has created a stylized, TRON-like interpretation of the confrontation between the Reliant and Enterprise a la Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Fans of the film will recognize many key moments from the film, lovingly reinterpreted with fluidic choreography. Even the soundtrack evokes James Horner's original score, but recast in a technopop mould. 

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Fallout Encounter

Fallout really works as a board game! The high-quality components are beautiful, and the game mechanics to a very good job of translating the computer game's mechanics to a tabletop setting. Each player gets his or her own agenda and wanders the wasteland in pursuit of that agenda, encountering people and creatures along the way, with a variety of skills tested; sometimes your charisma will help you survive, sometimes your brawn, sometimes plain old luck. We did stumble on our first excursion into a Vault; the rules weren't completely clear on Vault mechanics, and the way the cards fell made it clear we messed up somehow. But aside from that glitch, the game went smoothly and I look forward to further adventures. 

Friday, February 23, 2018

Stranger Things 2 Think About

Tonight I finally started watching season two of Stranger Things. While I understand that Stranger Things is designed to evoke feelings of nostalgia, I was almost frightened by the strength of my visceral reaction to tonight's episode. My response had nothing to do with the plot, and everything to do with the feelings the show evokes through its cinematography, music, sound design and set design.

Everything is so analog, even when the kids visit the video arcade to play Dig Dug. No one has cell phones; the computers use Commodore 1701 monitors, just like the one I had in the 80s. The pace of life feels so much more relaxed and carefree--but then again, it's told from the point of view of junior high school students.

While I love today's modern communications and the potential for good they harbour, I can't help but miss the days when you could be truly out of touch and alone for a few hours. It was the kind of freedom I'm not sure humans will enjoy ever again. 

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Black Canary Rocks

I never thought I'd live in a world with a Lego Black Canary, but here we are. Still one of my favourite comic book heroines: smart, sensitive, courageous, takes no guff, sings, fights crime, and runs a flower shop. Now that's a superwoman. 

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

I Will Take You By the Hand, with Reservations


The season finale of Star Trek: Discovery opens with a lovely sequence of two worlds in opposition: our lovely blue marble, Earth, and its grey sister, Luna, threatened by an approaching Klingon fleet; and Qo'nos, shrouded in green mist, home of the enemy. This short sequence heralds the end of the main story arc of the show's first season, the Federation-Klingon war. We know from other shows that the war must end without either side being destroyed, but how exactly does it end, and will that ending bring redemption for poor Michael Burnham? We find out the answer in "Will You Take Me By the Hand?"

The End is Near
As you might expect--this is, after all, a utopian vision--Michael is indeed redeemed, but I'm sorry to say that her arc, and that of the war itself, ends on a note so puzzling that it undermines the good work of the season thus far.

Last episode, Admiral Cornwell made a deal with Mirror Georgiou: her freedom and temporary command of the Discovery in exchange for her experience exterminating the Klingons in the Mirror Universe. While Michael, Saru, and the other Discovery crew suspect that trusting Georgiou with this task isn't the best idea, they reluctantly obey her orders; with the Federation on the brink of defeat, they have little choice.

Georgiou and company use the spore drive to jump the ship into the porous crust of Qo'nos, where they can stay hidden while assessing the planet's defences. Meanwhile, Michael, Georgiou, Ash Tyler, and Sylvia Tilly meet in the transporter room; there's a cute moment where Tilly, figuring out that Georgiou is the Empress and not "their" Georgiou, starts to offer the Terran Empire salute.

"Don't do that," Burnham mutters, pushing Tilly's arm down.

These Little People Went to Market
The quartet beam up to the surface of Qo'nos, to an Orion market. I fully accept that Qo'nos is cosmopolitan enough to have communities of offworlders, but it seems a little strange that the Klingons at the market don't care that humans are walking around openly. They are, after all, at war...

At the market, each member of the landing party searches for information about a shrine to Molor, which they've previously determined would be the best place to release a drone to locate military targets for a Starfleet assault. Tilly, who seems to get a lot of the best scenes (and more power to her), tries to ply information from an Orion trader played by Clint Howard, a lovely cameo from the actor who famously appeared as Balok in "The Corbomite Maneuver." After getting high with Clint, Tilly discovers to her horror that the drone she's carrying is in fact a doomsday bomb, but doesn't have time to tell Burnham and Tyler before Mirror Georgiou, having slept with a pair of comely Orions to find the shrine's location, knocks Tilly out, takes the bomb, and makes her way into the planet's crust.

While all this is happening, Michael Burnham and Ash Tyler take a different approach to finding the necessary information; Ash draws upon his Voq persona to ingratiate himself to a group of gambling Klingons. I must say I was impressed with the character's portrayal here, so much so that I believed in this character more as Voq than I do as Tyler; he really makes a quite natural Klingon, and clearly Michael feels the same way; she's visibly disturbed by Ash's all-too-easy transformation. And here we learn the exact, horrifying circumstances of Michael's central life trauma, the loss of her parents; they were killed by Klingons while she hid in a cupboard. To his credit, Ash Tyler is genuinely disturbed and shamed by this revelation.

Tilly arrives at this point to explain what Georgiou has done, and, fearing the worst, they beam back to Discovery to simulate the effect of the bomb: it would wreak massive destruction, probably killing most of the population and forcing the rest to evacuate. Burnham asks Saru to open a channel to Admiral Cornwell, who confirms that Georgiou's plan is endorsed by the desperate Federation Council.

Burnham threatens mutiny, this time to end a war rather than to start it. Cornwell asks what Burnham would suggest...

What if They Started a War and Nobody Came? 
This is where the episode goes completely off the rails. Burnham makes her way to the shrine and confronts Georgiou, who has already dropped the bomb-carrying drown down a well into the planet's depths. Burnham begs Georgiou not to detonate the bomb, and gives her proof that the Federation will still give her her freedom even if she doesn't destroy Qo'nos. Instead, she must hand over the detonator to...L'Rell, who arrives with Ash Tyler. Smirking, Georgiou agrees, heading off to wreak havoc in season two, one presumes.

Burnham offers the detonator to L'Rell, saying that the Klingon can consolidate power by holding the doomsday weapon as a trump card against the divided Klingon houses. To my shock, L'Rell agrees, and she and Ash Tyler go off to unite the fractured Klingon Empire. With a metaphorical shrug, the Klingons on Earth's doorstep turn around and head home.

This development might have been believable if L'Rell hadn't been presented as a war-mongering xenophobe from the first episode. Why in the world wouldn't L'Rell just keep the detonator and continue the war, wiping out humanity for good and then disabling the bomb? Failing that, why didn't the writers have Ash Tyler/Voq convince L'Rell to end the war by offering to stay with her? L'Rell clearly adored Voq, and I can believe that she would do anything for him, even this. This would also have been a nice resolution for Tyler--a way to pay the price for the acts he committed in the Voq persona. And it would have taken all of 30 seconds' worth of dialogue.

The war ends, Discovery heads home to Earth, and Michael Burnham gets her rank restored while everyone else on the ship gets medals. This was a nice scene--it's always great to see how the showrunners visualize future Earth--but for some reason, Michael makes an inspirational speech, when really you think the Admiral or Saru (poor, disrespected, best character Saru) would be the more logical choice in this context.

The show almost saves itself with an eleventh-hour cliffhanger that's pure high-octane fan service, but the war's resolution is so distracting and nonsensical that I really wasn't in the mood for the tease. And that's too bad, because it sets up some pretty interesting possibilities for season two.

Final Frontier Thoughts
While some of this first season's twists and turns have annoyed me--the war's resolution, the inability of the writers to pin down what they were trying to do with Tyler, and Lorca's heel-turn chief among them--there's still a lot to like about this opening storyline. I genuinely like most of the characters, with Saru and Tilly being my favourites, followed by Stamets, Tyler (despite reservations about his arc), and Burnham...though I don't like her as much as I feel I should, considering she's the lead. I don't blame Sonequa Martin-Green for this; she's a fine actress, but the writers have made her deliberately unsympathetic for much of the first season, and playing a human raised by Vulcans, she comes off as pretty cold; colder, even, than Leonard Nimoy's Spock, who somehow managed to express his character's humour and humanity from his second appearance onward. (He feels a bit stilted in "The Cage.")

I'm also finding that it's difficult to name truly standout episodes that work outside the context of the season's arc. I can name two dozen or more classic episodes from the other Star Trek shows, but nothing in this first season really works unless you sit down and watch the whole thing. That's the nature of television these days, of course, so I don't blame the showrunners for it; but I do feel that something has been lost.

None of my friends will be surprised that I'll keep watching--I made it through Voyager's seven mediocre seasons, after all--but I'm not watching out of duty; I think this could become a great show, with more careful forethought on the part of the writers and producers, and perhaps - please - the infusion of some more science-fictional ideas. Star Trek works very well as a mirror for our present-day foibles, but it should also spend time living up to its initial premise, exploring the final frontier and simply asking us to marvel at whatever scientifically plausible marvels await our descendants. Maybe they can explore why future humanity hasn't lost itself to VR or runaway nanotech or artificial intelligence, or why people still get bald or grow fat; there has to be a sociological or scientific reason for that. Or show us a quasar, or the birth of a solar system, or just visit a geologically interesting moon. Something. I love space opera, but let's see some giant space amoebas or sentient rocks from time to time, you know? 

Maybe the writers will surprise us. See you next season! 

Monday, February 19, 2018

Broken Library

A couple of weeks ago, I tried to create one of those panoramic photos you can scroll around in. It didn't work. 

Thursday, February 15, 2018


Sometimes the right idea just refuses to spring to mind. I don't remember what I was thinking when I doodled the PPEsaurus, but I imagine I must have been thinking he could have been a mascot for the company's health and safety awareness campaigns. (PPE stands for "personal protective equipment.") I can't explain the hand growing from the tail. I will say that hands are very, very difficult to draw, especially for a terrible artist such as me. 

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Remembering Weird Dreams on the Atari ST

For four or five years during the late 80s and early 90s, my computer of choice was the Atari 520 ST. Weird Dreams was among the most memorable and imaginative games I played on that machine. During my original playthrough, I never made it further than the desert statues. I dreaded the giant wasp, but I loved the game's creepy, surreal landscapes and its excellent (for the time) music.

And now, thanks to the wonder of YouTube, I now know how the game ends! To think I only needed to endure a few more dreams to finish...

Monday, February 12, 2018

baremetalHW: Restoring Hot Wheels Toys on YouTube

This fellow restores and modifies old Hot Wheels toy cars and shares his knowledge through very understated but well-composed instructional videos. I don't collect Hot Wheels today, but when I was between the ages of about 3 and 7 I adored them. Watching these short vignettes brings back fond memories and allows me to marvel at the incredible talent and creativity that exists all around us. 

Sunday, February 11, 2018

At Peace with "The War Without, the War Within"


As we close in on the season finale of Star Trek: Discovery, my impression of the show is as confused and muddled as the show itself can be: I'm impressed by its moments of greatness, but in equal measure I'm frustrated by its storytelling flaws. "The War Without, the War Within" reflects this ambiguity.

The basic structure of this episode is simple: Admiral Cornwell arrives to bring the Discovery up to date on the war (the Federation is losing, badly), and the crew comes up with a harebrained plan to turn the tide; meanwhile, Ash Tyler/Voq struggles with questions of identity and forgiveness.

The Ash Tyler/Voq question has been the show's greatest puzzle. By this point, I think it's become clear that the showrunners either haven't really considered the larger philosophical questions surrounding this character's journey (or is it two characters?), or they have, but they've presented it in such a way as send a message that's the opposite of the one they intended.

The dialogue in this episode and others seems to establish that what we have here is Voq's surgically altered body, which until recently also contained Voq himself (that is, his personality/memories/soul/katra/essence) with an overlay of Ash Tyler's memory/personality/soul/katra/essence. Since L'Rell "killed" the Voq aspect of this being's tortured psyche, we are left with, presumably, Ash Tyler, who now has all of Voq's memories.

Presumably, Ash Tyler's body is dead. Maybe some of it was even used to build Voq's human body. Or maybe Ash Tyler is still a prisoner of the Klingons, and they only transferred a copy of his personality to Voq. So maybe there are two Ash Tylers, one with an original human body, one in a surgically altered Klingon body. Or, if you take a different philosophical view, maybe there's a "real" Ash Tyler, and the one we know is really Voq, but Voq "brainwashed" to believe he's a human. It really depends on the sophistication of the medical technology involved; are people the future sophisticated enough to transport and capture souls, body-swapping them as necessary? I suppose there's precedent for it in Star Trek--witness episodes like "Return to Tomorrow," for example, in which non-corporeal beings possess Enterprise crewmembers. And in a way, it's much like the age-old transporter problem: do you die when you're transported, only to be replaced with a perfect copy at the end of the process?

Whatever Tyler's "true" nature--if that can ever really be established--we're clearly meant to empathize with him here, tortured as he is by Voq's actions. I thought the writers handled his situation  in this episode reasonably well, given the circumstances, if you accept their premise that this really is Tyler. Tyler bumps into Paul Stamets in the hallway, and Anthony Rapp delivers an incredible performance in just a few seconds; he looks like he wants to tear Tyler apart for the murder of his partner, and it's all in his murderous eyes. But he walks away, of course, because this is still Star Trek, a point driven home even harder when, after an awkward moment in the mess hall, a number of crew members join his table in an effort to start the process of forgiveness and healing. It's a reminder that this is still a utopian vision, an imagined future in which people try to do a better job of being nice to each other. On the flip side, Michael Burnham is not so forgiving of her former lover; Tyler begs her for forgiveness and understanding, but Burnham, clearly struggling, recoils; he tried to murder her, and she's having a hard time forgetting that. This interaction felt very genuine, and encapsulated how the showrunners are trying to balance classic Trek ideals with modern television storytelling techniques. They don't always strike the right balance, but I think it works here.

I also enjoyed Admiral Cornwell's reaction to learning that her Gabriel Lorca died (presumably) months ago, and that for several months she's been interacting with (and even sleeping with) an evil duplicate. In one amusing moment, she vaporizes Mirror-Lorca's trademark dish of fortune cookies: "Bastard!" She also classifies all knowledge of the Mirror Universe, which explains why, in "Mirror, Mirror," Kirk and company are so surprised to wind up there.

The rest of the episode is pretty much a setup for tonight's big finale. There's a nice sequence of the Discovery engaging in a bit of terraforming to grow some more mushrooms to replenish the ship's spore drive, and Admiral Cornwell and Mirror Georgiou hatch a (possibly genocidal?) plan to turn the tide of the war. Cornwell even puts the Emperor in nominal charge of Discovery--posing, of course, as the real Georgiou, who she claims actually survived the battle of the binary stars. Only a few of the crew know differently, and presumably they're all just waiting for Georgiou to stab them all in the back, Mirror-style.

We'll see what happens a few hours from now...

Friday, February 09, 2018

4,000 Films

As of this evening, I have seen 4,000 films, or about 91 films per year since the age I was old enough to remember what I was watching. If I can see another 1,000 films before I turn 51, I can claim to have seen 1,000 films per decade on average...quite a stretch, unless I watch nothing but shorts for the next couple of years.

And now, for the first time ever on The Earliad, a pie chart! Click to embiggen.
The chart reveals that my attempt watch films from across the motion picture era is a qualified success, with no single decade absorbing more than 15% of my attention. However, the decades I've been around for (not counting my birth year, 1969) account for 60% of my viewing.

Here's a numerical breakdown of the films I've seen in each decade, counting down from top to bottom:

1980s: 597
1990s: 510
2000s: 451
2010s: 433
1970s: 405
1960s: 366
1950s: 361
1940s: 242
1930s: 182
1890s: 165
1910s: 96
1900s: 86
1920s: 78
Undated: 16 (These films have release dates, but the film database I'm using doesn't know them)
1880s: 10
1870s: 2
Total: 4000

And no, I still haven't seen Ferris Bueller's Day Off. 

Thursday, February 08, 2018

The Best Pictures Update

I have about 100 more films to go before accomplishing my goal of seeing every movie nominated for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) Best Picture Oscar. I discovered recently that two films on the list, East Lynne and The White Parade, can only be seen in one place: at the University of California at Los Angeles. In order to see these films, I'll have to travel to UCLA and make an appointment with the Powell Library Instructional Media Lab. Sounds like a good excuse for a long weekend trip to California...

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Heavy Mettle

I took a few minutes today to watch this launch and booster landing live, and it was magnificent. Seeing the side boosters land with pinpoint accuracy, right next to each other on their pads in Florida, was like seeing an Amazing Stories cover come to life. And that moment when the SpaceX people crank up David Bowie's "Life on Mars," well, I teared up a little. An astounding accomplishment. 

Sunday, February 04, 2018

What's Passed is Prologue?


Here's a little extra spoiler space for those who see this on Google Plus...

And so the U.S.S. Discovery's excursion to the Mirror Universe ends as I was afraid it would: serviceably, and not without considerable entertainment value, but stopping short of excellence. 

Holding Up a Mirror to Ourselves
"What's Past is Prologue" concludes the Mirror Universe arc with Gabriel Lorca plays his final hand: unleashing a violent coup to take over the I.S.S. Charon and overthrow Emperor Georgiou. The action is well-orchestrated and effectively violent; people are exposed to biological weapons, knifed to death, and vaporized by phaser fire; it's all as awful and ugly as it should be. It is also, however, somewhat contrived. The plot is constructed in such a way as to give Michael Burnham victory despite overwhelming odds: she wins over the Emperor and they essentially win out with fisticuffs and swordfighting. It's a little tough to swallow. 

That being said, the scenes aboard the Discovery, with Saru taking command of the ship, were extremely well done; Doug Jones really shines as Saru in this episode, throwing shade at Lorca and delivering a truly inclusive and inspiring speech to the crew before they head into battle to rescue Burnham, destroy the Charon, and make the jump back to their home universe. The climactic sequence is well-staged, exciting, and comes with a surprise twist that had me leaning forward in my chair...only to slump back, disappointed, in the final moments. More on that below. 

With the conclusion of the Mirror Universe arc and the upcoming (one assumes) end of the Klingon War in the episodes to come, it's transparently clear that this first season of Star Trek: Discovery has been intended to serve as commentary on the world's currently upside-down political realities, with the rule of law, secular pluralism, and scientific rationalism under threat more openly than it has been for quite some time. (None of these threats are new, and one could argue that freedom, prosperity and democracy have long been somewhat illusory or at least unevenly distributed, but it's been a while since it's been at the forefront of public consciousness.) The allegory has been somewhat ham-handed, but then Star Trek has never been subtle; in fact, some might say that ham-handed allegory is the series' stock in trade. And while getting older has made me more cynical, the show gives me hope for the future despite its failings. In this case, it's that scene with Saru motivating the Discovery's crew, and Michael Burnham's anguished sincerity in believing in the angels of our better natures. She even rescues Emperor Georgiou, despite knowing she's a murderous cannibal--that's how much she believes in redemption and in the value of life, even evil life. (Of course, it's also true she has selfish emotional motives in play; but characters in Star Trek have always been imperfect.) 
Reflections on Mirror Lorca
I had hoped that Captain Lorca, once revealed as a native of the Mirror Universe, would turn out to be supporting the coalition of rebels fighting the Terran Empire, which might have added some shades of grey to the story; imagine what an endorsement of Federation values it could have been if Lorca changed his original plan and forswore his imperial ambitions? 

But no, Lorca was a wannabe dictator all along. There is a great moment, though, just before Lorca dies, when Burnham, confronting him, says that if he had just asked, the Federation would have helped Lorca get home. Jason Isaacs' reaction to this news is great; you can see on Lorca's face that asking simply never occurred to him, but given his experiences in the Federation, he realizes that Burnham is telling the truth. He doesn't say so (nor does he have much chance to, as he's killed by the Emperor moments later), but Isaacs' performance speaks volumes here. I'm going to miss him, and I hope we get to see him return as the yet-unseen original universe Lorca. 

A digression: I want to commend the sound designers of this episode for mixing in some old-school sound effects from the original series--a nice, nostalgic touch. 

Back Through the Looking Glass
When Discovery returns to the prime universe, they discover that they've overshot the mark...arriving much later than they had anticipated. This is when I leaned forward in my seat; I knew that Bryan Fuller's original plan had been to produce an anthology show that visited the various Star Trek eras, and I thought maybe Discovery had jumped forward 10 years, to the time of the original series, which would have utterly blown my mind. Unfortunately, they only missed nine months, and so the last two episodes of the first season will doubtlessly conclude with the wrap-up of the war with the Klingons. 

I know my initial hopes were unrealistic, but just imagine how cool it would have been if the writers had developed a strategy to make a Trek anthology work. Handled properly, it could have tapped into the powerful nostalgia that helps make the show work, while also using our current reality as a lens through which to re-evaluate that nostalgia and the Trek shows that preceded Discovery

I suppose, though, that would have broken the show's budget, and it may have failed utterly. But it could have been cool...

Here's where I tie this review back to the pun in the title. You can guess where this is leading: what we've seen so far from Star Trek: Discovery this year--what's passed--may or may not foreshadow what we can expect to see in season two. Depending on your response to the show, that may be (in my case) good television that falls just short of greatness, or more disappointment if you think the series has fallen short this initial season. The show may not be perfect, but it's trying to bring something new to a series with literally hundreds of episodes. I applaud the showrunners for their efforts thus far, even if they sometimes miss the mark. 

Friday, February 02, 2018

Friday Read: The Lost Civilization of Dial-Up Bulletin Board Systems

In late 2016, Benj Edwards wrote a somewhat melancholy article about the few bulletin board systems (BBSes) that remain active today. Like several of my friends, I was an avid BBSer from about 1987 to 1994, that golden era before the Internet changed the world. There was a BBS for the U.S.S. Bonaventure (the Edmonton Star Trek Club, which is still around and has a Twitter account (!)), and my friend Ron hosted Freedom BBS for several years, an anarchic reaction to some of Edmonton's more button-down BBSes. Someone has compiled what seems to be a pretty authoritative list of BBSes that existed in the old, more expansive 403 area code, which back then included all of Alberta and the Northwest Territories. There were hundreds of them! I had no idea.

Benj's article covers the American BBS scene, and he relates some amusing anecdotes. It makes me a little misty; thanks to Ron, I have some of the writing I shared on BBSes in those days, but most of it has been lost. Most of it was likely garbage, but I remember a story or two that I thought was pretty good.

I can still remember the screeching noise my modem made before it connected. Ah, those were the days. 

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The Most Dangerous Earlympic Games

Yesterday, I outlined my vision for an everyman Olympics, one in which everyone has at least a chance of participating, regardless of ability. I am concerned, however, that some sports might be dangerous for the untrained amateur:

Ski Jump: this seems like a recipe for disaster.
Skeleton: could possibly turn people into skeletons.
Bobsleigh: four untrained people caroming down an ice track at hundreds of kilometres an hour.
Luge: one untrained person caroming down an ice track at hundreds of kilometres an hour.
Ice hockey: I imagine there are many opportunities to be bruised and broken by flying pucks and hockey sticks.
Weightlifting: muscle strain, broken spines?
Judo, Karate, Kung Fu, etc.: sprained muscles, broken bones?
Gymnastics: falls, muscle strains
Fencing: pokey thing in the eye?
Archery: accidental arrowing?
Javelin: muscle strain, bad aim, crowd injuries?
Shot put: muscle strain, wayward shots hitting officials?
Equestrian: falls
Football, Rugby: broken ankles, broken teeth
Cycling: crashes
Skiing: crashes
Water polo: drowning
Diving: drowning
Marathon: exhaustion

I'm starting to think this might not be a good idea. Golf, curling, darts, crokinole and baseball should be safe enough, though...

Monday, January 29, 2018

The Earlympic Games

At the Olympic Games, the world's finest athletes congregate to test their mettle against each other in a wide array of sports and events. But imagine an alternate games, one in which ordinary people compete under the exact same conditions as the Olympians. What spectacles might we see?

From Introducing the Earlympics (E.J. Woods, 2024) unparalleled competition, unshackled from the constraints of athleticism, elitism, and good sense.

III. Host Cities

By international agreement, each Earlympics takes place in the same city which hosted the Summer or Winter Olympic Games, one year after said events.

IV. Participation

Anyone can compete in the Earlympic Games. However, the Earlympics can currently support only approximately 11,000 participants at each Summer Games and approximately 3,000 at each Winter Games. Thus, given high demand, Earlympians will be chosen by lot by the central Earlympic Evaluating Office/United Choosing Headquarters (EEOUCH), assisted by the International Earlympic Committees of each participating nation to ensure all nations are represented.

IV. a. Eligibility

Anyone with the ability to cast a ballot unaided, without regard for age, sex, or physical ability, shall be permitted to put their name forward for any and all Earlympics, from now until the sun burns cold in space. Unlike the Olympics, the International Earlympic Committee shall not ban or disqualify participants who choose to use performance-enhancing drugs or equipment.

IV. b. Event Selection

Any person selected to participate in the Earlympics shall be randomly placed in 1-5 Sports and 1-10 Events within those sports until all Event slots are filled. Any person who declines to participate in his or her randomly chosen Sport/Event shall forfeit his or her chance to participate in the Games and another name shall be drawn. Participants in teams sports shall be, again, selected at random.

Currently, the Summer Earlympics consists of the following Sports:

American Football
Beach Volleyball
Canoe Slalom
Canoe Sprint
Cycling BMX
Cycling Mountain Bike
Cycling Road
Gymnastics Artistic
Gymnastics Rhytmic
High Diving
Human Cannonball
Kung Fu
Modern Pentathalon
Sport Climbing
Synchronized Swimming
Table Tennis
Thai Kick Boxing
Water Polo
Wrestling Erotic
Wrestling Freestyle
Wrestling Greco-Roman

Each Sport consists of one or more individual Events for men and women. Athletics, for example, includes races of varying lengths, hurdles, relays, high jump, long jump, shot put, triple jump, steeplechase, javelin, and more.

The Winter Earlympics consists of the following sports:
Alpine Skiing
Cross Country Skiing
Figure Skating
Freestyle Skiing
Ice Climbing
Ice Hockey
Ice Sculpture
Nordic Combined
Short Track Speed Skating
Ski Jumping
Sled Dog Racing
Speed Skating

As with the Summer Games, each Winter Sport consists of one or more individual events for men and women.

V. Rules and Regulations/Accessibility

Earlympic events shall be conducted in the same manner as they are at the Olympics, with necessary facilities and equipment provided for athletes. Athletes who require mobility or sensory aids (such as walkers, eyeglasses, hearing aids, etc.) shall be permitted to use those aids during the course of their Events.

VI. Disclaimers

The Earlympics provides no training or guidance for participants, nor can it be held responsible for any injuries that result from participation.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Faulting Ambition


In "Vaulting Ambition," Michael Burnham, Captain Lorca, and the rest of the U.S.S. Discovery's crew are still trapped in the Mirror Universe, searching for a way home while hoping to avoid being revealed as intruders by the vile cutthroats of the Terran Empire. To that end, Lorca and Burnham infiltrate the I.S.S. Charon, the gigantic flagship of Emperor Phillipa Georgiou in the hopes of finding the data that will give them a way home. 

Kudos, by the way, to whoever designed the Charon. It's a city in the sky powered by a small sun, and looks much like a dark, floating castle; it's beautiful but malign, and exactly the sort of vessel you might expect an evil empire to build. 

Using a gambit as old as fiction, Burnham poses as her own evil self, with Lorca posing as her prisoner, delivering Lorca into the Emperor's talons - or more accurately, into an agony booth. As a reward, Emperor Georgiou invites Burnham for dinner...

Burnham discovers the meal she's been genuinely enjoying with the evil version of her beloved former captain Phillipa Georgiou is cooked Kelpian, essentially turning Burnham into a cannibal who's just eaten, if unknowingly, the flesh of a sapient being. In the context of Burnham and company's current predicament, the story beat makes an awful kind of sense, viscerally illustrating the perversity of the Terran Empire. Even so, I found the idea gratuitous - surely the torture, genocide and backstabbing already established in the Empire is enough to signify their evil? 

Meanwhile, Stamets' consciousness is trapped in the mycelial network, where he meets his own Mirror Universe counterpart, who is similarly trapped. After a tearful (and well acted, I thought) encounter with a vision of his murdered partner Doctor Culber, Stamets manages to break out of his coma (and so, too, does his counterpart), only to discover that the Discovery's supply of mushrooms has been corrupted. This could be why the spore drive is nowhere to be seen in future iterations of Star Trek...

Back on the Charon, Georgiou figures out that Burnham is up to something, and prepares to execute her. Out of desperation, Burnham reveals that she's from a parallel universe, prompting Georgiou to spare her. Because of the crossover of the U.S.S. Defiant into the Mirror Universe a century ago, Georgiou knows about the prime universe, and one senses that she's eager to conquer it. So she and Burnham make a deal; Georgiou will hand over the Defiant files to help the Discovery get home, if the Discovery crew hands over the secret of the spore drive. Hopefully Burnham isn't dumb enough to believe the Emperor will hold up her end of the bargain...

This episode also confirms what some fans suspected: that the Gabriel Lorca we've been watching this whole season is, in fact, a native of the Mirror Universe, and he deliberately engineered the Discovery's crossover so that he could...well, the jury is out. Either Lorca wants to take the throne for himself and rule as an evil dictator, or he could be on the side of the rebels and want to restore freedom to his universe. We'll see, but his behaviour as the episode concludes is so brutal that I suspect we're meant to see Mirror Lorca as irredeemable, especially since Georgiou earlier claimed that Lorca "groomed" Mirror Burnham to be his lover/protege, a word choice with connotations so disturbing it essentially ruins Lorca's character if true. 

Finally, this episode was really, really short, clocking in at under 40 minutes. I miss the days when an hour-long show was closer to 52 minutes...

While I'm still enjoying Discovery, I'm finding that the Mirror Universe works best in small doses. Hopefully the Discovery gets home next episode, with this particular plot resolved - save for Lorca's fate. I hope we get to see the "good" version of Gabriel Lorca; I'd love to see Jason Isaacs tackle that. 

Saturday, January 27, 2018

The Mark of Janus

On the third finger of a black-haired, brutish fist
Is wrapped a two-faced ring
That leaves the mark of Janus
On the hapless faces of the helpless victims
Of the hawk-nosed, green-eyed thug
But then a careless moment came
The ringed fist met wet cement
And got stuck there
At a loss for words he was
Unable to utter even
You dirty rats

Friday, January 26, 2018

Five Nights of the Raven

Silent are the raven's talons
Upon the fresh-fallen snow
Black eyes flick to the slowly turning moon and stars
That suddenly drop from the midnight sky
The basketball moon thumps into a snowbank
The stars, like cinders, melt pinpricks into the bone-white dunes
This the raven has done on just the first night
While half the humans sleep
And the others await their turn

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Return to Returnia

No crowds lined up on main street
No fan parade or fireworks
No feast, no audience with the Queen
Not even the best of a friendly sheep
Just the ennui of a lanky farmer
Leaning on her fence and remarking to no one
"Oh look, they're back again
Like all the others."

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Jeff's Meditation on Televised Nostalgia

Fans of Star Trek, The X-Files, or pop culture in general should visit Jeff Shyluk's Visual Blog and read his recent essay on the recent reappearance of those two shows. With enviable articulation, Jeff illustrates how the new iterations of the shows, while they possess a number of merits, may fail to provide satisfying experiences, particularly for older fans. Jeff's argument is thorough, well-presented, and thoughtful, and I envy the depth of his insight. The essay is also accompanied by a delightful illustration that perfectly matches Jeff's point.

Head over here to read the essay and view Jeff's artwork. 

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The Strange Adventures of the Invaders from the Ice World

Their plan to conquer Earth
Could not fail; they were invulnerable
The marching snowmen from the ice world
Uniformed in corncob pipes and stovepipe hats
Coal eyes shooting death rays at foes unseen
What strange adventures would they have?
All in colour for a dime
In time their stories petrify
Ink on yellowed newsprint
Eternal but absurd
Left for dead in piles in cardboard boxes
Rotting like the two-dimensional corpses
Of the imaginary victims that they burned
The day invaders from the ice world came
In ships of gold and bronze
Rusting and abandoned on some otherworldly plane

Monday, January 22, 2018

Dark Liaison

The night is sweat, salacious
Blood crawling through sluggish arteries
A trombone's bleating in the distance
Wafting up from an almost empty club
Slowly dying on the riverbank
A note scrawled in pencil abandoned on fetid carpet
The door softly closing, a sliver of light disappearing
Ice melting in a shot glass on the nightstand.

Two enter, one leaves
A moment remembered five decades or six
And then lost forever
Like all the others

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Confronting The Wolf Inside


"The Wolf Inside" establishes definitively that poor Ash Tyler was the Klingon Voq all along, surgically altered and overlaid with Tyler's personality to appear human. To my mind, this somewhat blunts what I thought was an important and interesting examination of post-traumatic stress disorder, trading it for subterfuge and intrigue. Everyone saw this coming, so I'm not surprised, but I am somewhat disappointed. 

On the other hand, this revelation (or rather, clarification) certainly raises the stakes for Michael Burnham, who, on top of all her other issues, now knows she fell in love with a Klingon spy, with all the attendant betrayal that entails. To complicate matters still further, it appears as though the Ash Tyler personality implant/overlay is making it hard for Voq to take control, or at least to maintain it. And now that he's been revealed, surely Tyler/Voq has been neutralized as a threat, which makes you wonder where this story was going in the first place. 

On to other matters. This week, the Discovery's crew continues their mission to steal the technological data necessary to make their way back to the so-called "prime" universe without falling afoul of their evil counterparts. To that end, Michael Burnham makes contact with something she calls a "coalition of hope," the assembled Mirror Klingons, Andorians, Tellarites and Vulcans who stand in opposition to the evil Terran Empire, the our peaceful Federation's dark counterpart. 

As in last week's episode, the creators manage to create a palpable sense of jeopardy for our heroes, trapped in a dark reflection of their own reality; "Even the light is different," Burnham remarks. First Officer Saru's Mirror counterpart serves as slave labour in this reality, denied even a name. And we continue to be shown the duplicitous and savage nature of the human beings in this universe, who show not the smallest fraction of the humanity and compassion displayed by the alien rebels. If nothing else, this storyline comes at an opportune time, as people in our reality are reminded once again that we are often our own worst enemies. 

There's a bit of derring-do bait-and-switch action in this episode that fooled me in a delightful way at a pivotal moment, and the final reveal was, if somewhat predictable, still powerful - and puzzling, given Captain Lorca's sinister, smiling reaction to seeing the face of power in the Mirror Universe. One gets the impression that Lorca has been planning this journey all along...

There's one more note of mystery as we see the internal voyage of coma-ridden Stamets, who meets with a duplicate - perhaps from the Mirror Universe, perhaps not - in a hallucinatory alien forest. What wonders might unfold here? 

While not as strong as the previous pair of outings, "The Wolf Inside" remains solid, if uneven, entertainment. There's certainly a lot to unpack in each episode of Discovery, so much so that it may take until the end of the first season to see if it all hangs together in a coherent and satisfying way. 

Friday, January 19, 2018

A New Twist for RPG Gamemasters

Today at work I played Dungeons & Dragons with some colleagues over our lunch break--genuinely great team-building exercise, as there were at least four people there who I only infrequently work with and whom I got to know a little better.

The experience must have sparked my imagination, because on the drive home tonight a thought occurred to me. Wouldn't it be fun, I thought, if you gathered a group of friends to play one roleplaying game or another, but with a twist: instead of playing Jandalor the Barbarian or Maxi the Hacker, what if your players played themselves, but tossed into the roleplaying setting with only their own skills plus their knowledge of pop culture tropes? And, furthermore, what if the characters/players knew that they were not the originals tossed into the roleplaying world, but perfect copies, with the originals living out their lives back in the real world, a la Black Mirror? (I stipulate this because if this actually happened to us, I know we'd spend the entire scenario trying to get back to our loved ones in the real world. Copies might feel conflicted, but they'd be comforted to some extent by the knowledge that they're copies. Plus this adds an existential crisis angle to roleplay! Postmodern fun!)

In my own case, I was thinking specifically of the new Star Trek roleplaying game that I'll likely never play simply because we're all too busy at this point to cram another game into our lives. But it made me laugh to think if, for example, perfect copies of my Gaming & Guinness friends were tossed into that milieu, but with random roles assigned.

In fact, I'm going to pause right now and randomly determine (by rolling a d8) which of my friends gets assigned which roles in this kooky scenario. The setting is the U.S.S. Excalibur in the year 2266, right around the time of "The Corbomite Maneuver," the first regular episode of the original series.

Captain: Mike T
First Officer: Scott
Science Officer: Rob
Chief Engineer: Steve
Chief Medical Officer: Pete
Helm: Colin
Navigation: Island Mike
Redshirt: Jeff

All right. This is going to be inside baseball to some folks, but these results are hilarious to me. Mike has a pretty good handle on Star Trek trivia, knows the episodes, and would probably do a pretty good job of using inside knowledge to keep the crew safe. He's pretty well suited to the Captain's role in this scenario, but he can also be rather volatile in a gaming setting, and might wind up ordering crazy shenanigans just for fun; for example, I can see him saying "Let's mix things up by slingshotting around the sun and going forward in time to the Next Gen era," or "I've always wondered how powerful the weapons are supposed to be. Let's see if we can shatter a planet with torpedoes."

First Officer Scott, on the other hand, is somewhat infamous in our circle for getting heavily invested in the rules of the games we play, but sometimes, as we all must, misinterpreting them. So I can see him and Mike arguing a bit over what the group can do as opposed to what they should do.

Rob, I can see having fun throwing his hands up in the air and saying "WTF do I know about microbiology (or whatever)?" and simply ordering his staff around to do the actual science work.

Actually, that probably holds for Chief Engineer Steve, too, who (I believe) does not necessarily have the technical knowledge to maintain a 23rd century starship. But he, too, has a lot of Trek trivia knowledge, and could rely on his team to do the real work.

Poor Pete winds up as the doctor, and for some reason I see him as taking on the role with ghoulish relish, choosing to trust in his tools and hope that by this time, medicine is pretty much automated.

As the helm officer, I imagine Colin would have fun flying the ship around, since that, too, is controlled mainly by computer, with only gross inputs from humans required. This should also be true for Island Mike at the navigation station. They also get the fun job of managing weapons and shields, and I think Colin, in particular, would enjoy blowing things up with photon torpedoes.

Poor put-upon Jeff winds up as the red-shirted security officer, which is funny to me because of all of us, Jeff has gotten into the most accidents, most of them not his fault. I can just hear him saying "OH, GREAT!" when he (or rather, his copy) arrives on the Excalibur.

I, of course, would serve as gamemaster. I'd provide the initial setting, the first initial problem for the players to solve, and I'd play the roles of the other 422 Excalibur crewmembers. I'd play them as rational but compliant beings, following the orders of the senior officers if not without question, then with only reasonable resistance to truly crazy decisions by the team. But ultimately, what the players say goes.

I think playing this out would be hilarious, although the idea probably tickles me more than my hapless friends. Even so, I think the basic idea is sound, and could be fun if used for other roleplaying genres: high fantasy, superheroes (Villains & Vigilantes approaches this, but you're not supposed to have metatextual knowledge of the setting and tropes), spies, the old west, etc.

Fun to think about! 

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Hello Daylight

Hello daylight my old friend
I’ve come to lecture you again
Because I’ve reconciled my failure here
To hang on to the things that I hold dear
And ambitions I had chosen turned to dust
Of course they must
So here we are
In conference.

And as I burned under your gaze
I kept my counsel in the maze
Of the arguments both weak and strong
Forever doubting if we could belong
To a homeland that rejected all our loves
With velvet gloves
And stole away
Our best selves.

(with apologies to Simon & Garfunkel)

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Preening Autumn

Preening Autumn
Exploits her moment in the waning sun
Defiant joy on every breeze
That ferries leaves of ruby and lemon
Down boulevards still drenched in golden light
Pouring out her cornucopia
Spilling bounty freely given
But her moment fades until, at last,
Her face flushed persimmon orange
She collapses into Winter
And sleeps just one more year

Friday, January 12, 2018


An abominable pun, to be sure, but this seems a harsh response all the same. 

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Late Night Lunchtime

Conan or Jimmy Kimmel or one of those guys should film a sequence in which they pick up pedestrians and drive them to a McDonald's or Burger King or what-have-you for lunch. The catch is, the diners must collectively consume every single ketchup packet that gets tossed into the bag. If the fast food chains are reasonable, this shouldn't present a problem. But based on the extra-half dozen ketchup packets I routinely receive whenever I go through a drive-through, I'm betting more than one participant will wind up pretty nauseated. 

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Animal Man is All Wet

Today I learned the iPhone is now capable of taking (limited) long exposures. So I stuck Animal Man in the sink and ran some tap water over him. The results are not as dramatic as I had hoped. 

Monday, January 08, 2018

Enjoying "Despite Yourself" Despite Myself


Star Trek: Discovery returned this week by paying off two of the worst-kept secrets about the show: Ash Tyler's reveal as a Klingon Manchurian Candidate, and the appearance of the infamous Mirror Universe. One of these developments was handled with great panache; the other presents viewers with some troublesome subtext. 

First, the good. Following the events of "Into the Forest We Go," the Discovery finds herself lost in space, jumping not to Starbase 46 as intended, but into a field of starship debris. Captain Lorca orders Ash Tyler to retrieve a data core from one of the stricken ships, and the intelligence in the core reveals that they've jumped to a parallel universe, specifically one longtime viewers are familiar with: the dreaded Mirror Universe, home to the fascistic Terran Empire. Realizing their peril, Lorca and company react with commendable logic, reskinning the ship and manufacturing uniforms to make themselves indistinguishable from the I.S.S. Discovery they have inadvertently displaced (into the prime Star Trek universe, they theorize; who knows what mischief that crew will perpetrate in "our" universe?) 

My highest commendation goes to the costuming department this time around - the Mirror Universe uniforms are amazing, with a corruptive allure that it's difficult (but necessary) to resist. It's also fun to see Sylvia Tilly being forced to act against her nature by playing the Discovery's captain, as she apparently is in this universe, having backstabbed her way up the chain of command. The dreaded agony booths of the original "Mirror, Mirror" also appear in this episode, and they are genuinely terrifying. 

I was surprised and delighted most, though, by the reference to the U.S.S. Defiant, which as Star Trek: Enterprise viewers will remember, was captured by the evil versions of Jonathan Archer and Hoshi Sato in that series' fourth (and best) season. Naturally the ship's appearance confuses Lorca, Burnham, and company, since from their perspective the Defiant is currently still on normal duty back in their home universe. They don't know what the audience knows, namely that the Defiant was thrown back in time and into the Mirror Universe some dozen years in the future (from their perspective). These are the kind of wacky hijinks that are only possible in science fiction, and only then in long-form storytelling like this. At this point, Star Trek has become a period piece, in a sense, a setting with a reasonably consistent history, look, and feel. Continuity callbacks are important because they acknowledge the established reality of the setting, and respecting continuity gives writers the obstacles and complications that are often necessary to create good material. Yes, it's also shameless fan service, but it works for me here. 

As for Ash Tyler's story, I'm somewhat disappointed because the reveal does, in my mind, undercut the PTSD storyline that was so essential to his character. Now, given that we still don't know the exact nature of Tyler/Voq's...existence...perhaps this reveal can still remain thematically satisfying. It really depends on how the writers develop the character from this point forward. It appears as though Tyler/Voq's body is Klingon, surgically altered to appear human, with Ash Tyler's memory engrams/personality/soul overlaid on top of the original Voq personality. Depending on your spiritual point of view, you could argue that this person is really the Klingon Voq, with a ghost imprinted on his brain; or, you could argue that Tyler is, in a sense, still alive, only living in Voq's altered body. 

If Voq is written as the real person, then Tyler's story becomes even more tragic, since we never really met him. On the other hand, if Tyler's engrams/personality/soul/whatever are presented as "real," then Tyler's story...becomes even more tragic, since he suffered all that torture and was also ripped from his physical body and stuck in a Klingon. 

I imagine the two personalities will fight over who gets to keep the physical meatspace, but philosophically this is a hugely complicated mess, to put it mildly. But again, this is the sort of story that science fiction was designed to handle. 

Sadly, when Dr. Culber realizes something is up, Tyler promptly snaps his neck - a surprising shock moment, to be sure, but one that brings to an abrupt end the notion of whether or not his relationship with Stamets can be sensitively handled in a satisfying way. 

Or does it? I immediately thought of the "kill your gays" trope when Culber died, but according to actor Wilson Cruz and writer Aaroc Harberts, there's more to Culber's death than meets the eye, and Harberts and Cruz, both gay men themselves, were quick to say that this isn't what's happening, and furthermore, that Cruz will return. They're not going to replace Culber with a Mirror Culber, so maybe he's not dead and his neck is just broken? Hmmm. 

This is the first episode of Discovery to be directed by Jonathan Frakes, AKA Will Riker, who started directing episodes way back during the days of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Frakes has a reputation for adding a dark sort of flair to his episodes, and he was clearly well-suited to "Despite Yourself." The episode manages to be campy fun and loomingly creepy at the same time - no mean feat. 

So, despite my reservations, I feel like this was another surprisingly solid outing for Star Trek: Discovery. If the Empress of the Terran Empire turns out to be a descendant of evil Hoshi Sato, well, I'll be pretty darn impressed.