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.