Fast & Furious at 19

One of my favourite movie franchises began almost 20 years ago. This is sometimes hard to believe, given the number of movies that I've truly enjoyed that have stood the test of time, but there's something uniquely special about this particular series. Some movie franchises, such as the Bourne series, keep us interested because of the adrenaline rush that comes from seeing the main character consistently stay one or more steps ahead of his adversaries. This series, Fast and Furious, remains one of my favourites primarily because it's one of the few sets of movies where I feel it's okay to "turn the brain off" before settling in to enjoy the action. I love racing cars. When I wasn't doing it for real while young and invincible, I was busy with EA's Need for Speed franchise of racing games. There is no point in denying that — deep down — I enjoy competing directly and vicariously in this arena.

Fast & Furious — Final Race

Today, while waiting for the boy to fall asleep, I decided to watch a little bit of the first Fast and Furious movie. This was a time when everyone was still quite young. Brian was a cop. Dom drove an import. The romances we saw at the end of F8 were just in their infancy. It was a simpler time. Nobody had expectations for a sequel.

The brain was squarely "off" before the end of the Universal Studios logo. Despite not seeing this particular movie for quite some time, we know what we're in for ahead of time. In the words of the immortal Rick Sanchez: Don't think about it. As long as you don't, the movie is thoroughly enjoyable. Races feel fast and real. The obvious product placements for Panasonic, Corona, Mazda, Corona, Subaru, Corona, and NOS are just part of the story. The bad acting, one-dimensional antagonists, incontestable plot holes, asinine catch-phrases, and throwaway supporting characters barely draw any attention. Heck, even the obviously forced attempts at swearing and rage can be taken in stride. All because we know ahead of time that this is going to be a stereotypical "guy movie".

Even after nineteen years, none of this bothers me. The movie is just as enjoyable now as it was in 2001 when I saw it in theatres. Except …

One thing that has changed over the almost two decades since this movie first came out is my reaction to the gratuitous use of scantily-clad young women. When I was in my mid-20s the shots of long legs, dark skin, midriffs, and fiery eyes captured my attention just as much as the Nissans, Mazdas, Subarus, and Hondas they stood beside. Now, though … I'm not at all interested in the "kids" standing next to the pimped out vehicles. If anything, they're in the way. I want to see and hear the cars, not a bunch of bimbos who — as per the script — are looking to get next to those who compete and win.

Perhaps this means I'm "old". Maybe it means I would rather just spend time with a car than a fickle sleeping partner. I'm content with either assessment. There's far more to life than sex, after all. A fast car and an open road can keep me content and mostly out of trouble for years.

This is perhaps what I like most about the Fast and Furious movies. They do the things that I would not dare do anymore, and I can live vicariously through this fiction. Running from the cops. Hijacking shipments. Screaming through a 30km school zone at 220kph. These are the actions best left to the world of make believe, and there isn't a better description of Fast and Furious than "a fantasy world where having the fastest car equates to freedom from responsibility".

May I never tire of these movies ….

January 2018 Review

The second month of personal goal-setting has come to a close, so that means it's time to look back and see whether I've succeeded or failed to meet the relatively simple expectations that were set about 31 days ago.

A ToDo List

Under the optimistic heading of creativity & hobbies I stated that I wanted to write 10 blog posts, publish an episode of DDM every day of the month, and read 1 technical book and 1 fiction novel. Unfortunately, I managed to publish only 7 blog posts on this site. Everything else on the list was attacked with vigour and enjoyed. Heck, for the technical books, I didn't read just one, but two and am midway through a third. On the fiction side, I read David Mack's Fortune of War1 and am looking for something slightly different to read in the coming month.

For family I wanted to spend 4 days this month "computer free" and bake something new. Oddly enough I was able to take 5 days away from the computer during January, and even managed to bake a pumpernickel bread on the 7th, which I had forgotten about when recording today's episode of Doubtfully Daily Matigo. Time flies ….

At work I aimed to complete the core 4.2 updates and prepare the 4.3 "Portal" demo to knock some socks off in Tokyo on the 16th. Socks were knocked off, though my concept for the portal was not chosen. Version 4.2 of the LMS is still in development for a number of reasons but, with luck, it'll be done quite soon.

So there we go. Not exactly a perfect month, but better than I had initially expected. February will be a bit more modest, I think.

Creativity & Hobbies

  • write 10 blog posts ⇠ for realz!
  • continue to publish an episode of DDM every day this month
  • read 1 technical book and 1 non-Star Trek novel
  • complete the UI design of the 10C Podcasting app

Family

  • spend 4 days "computer free"
  • continue packing away more of the house in preparation for April's move
  • read an English-language book to the boy on weekends before bed2
  • bring Nozomi to the big park one last time before the move

Work

  • get the visa and other requisite documentation ready for a trip to the US mid-March
  • get Version 4.2 of the LMS out the darn door
  • begin putting together a series of training sessions to be delivered in the US

Hopefully February will be just as decent as January, if not more so. The goals here are not impossible, though they do require time to be properly allocated and protected.


  1. a Star Trek: Titan book

  2. he currently gets a lot of Japanese books read to him, since that what we have more of. That said, we do have a number of English books I'm sure he enjoys, too.

What's With the Monthly Reviews?

Ten years ago, when blogging was in vogue and fashionable, a person could see trends begin and grow like ripples in a pool of water. A single person or small clique would do something, which would encourage others, which would encourage more still, and from there a handful of people would stand out like examples for others. These trends would come and go within six to eighteen months depending on how many comments people might receive on the subject, and new trends would replace the old. This changed when social media caught on, but there does seem to be a new trend making its way across a number of the blogs that I read: the monthly review.

To Do

Back in June of this year, Lukas Rosenstock got the ball rolling — in my RSS reader, anyway — with his review of May's accomplishments, highlights, and other details. These posts would often strike up a little bit of conversation on Nice.Social and it was a good way of encouraging people to see what went well last month and what might be accomplished in the new one. Then last month Jeremy Cherfas wrote a post where he discussed managing time and distractions and, at the end, he says this about monthly reviews:

This is something I actually do, as part of my Bullet Journal and GTD, although I have never thought of making it public. Maybe I should …

The idea of setting goals for each month and sharing the results on a blog is certainly an interesting one. We all have our goals and expectations for a given day or week, but how often do we look back and see what went well and where we could stand some improvement? In my case, I have an A5-sized notepad that I keep on my desk at work and another at home to track the things I aim to accomplish. The typical item at work is marked complete within six hours, but the notepad at home is for "bigger" things that often require a long list of sub-steps. While the day-to-day objectives at the day job may not make sense to share, some of the others would certainly be good to get out in the open and share … so long as I make the time to actually sit down and write a blog post.

This is obviously something I've been failing to do over the last few months despite the numerous attempts to set writing goals.

So let's see what can be done about this.

Accomplishments

November 2017 was quite productive. As I've mentioned a few times on this site, the family and I are in the midst of buying a house. Earlier this summer we found and bought a 228.3m² plot of land that is very close to a large park, kindergarten, elementary school, and junior high school. The neighbourhood appears to be decent and there are a lot of young families around that should have kids around the same age as my son. Last month Reiko and I finalised the floor plan for the house, decided on 95% of the interior, worked out the yard layout, and a number of other factors. We've also been (pretty much) approved for the mortgage amount we're asking, and have found a way to save about $9,000 in interest payments over the first decade.

That money will likely go right into feeding the boy, who has an incredible appetite.

In addition to this, the LMS1 project at the day job continues to get better with each revision, and a solid amount of work has gone into the Digital Textbook elements that should give teachers access to resources that — as far as I know — do not currently exist elsewhere. There is still quite a bit to be done before the v4.2 deadline hits, but the system is coming together very nicely.

Highlights

I'm not sure if this would count as a highlight, as it's not related to me, but the boy is just a few weeks away from being able to walk without holding onto anything for balance support. It's been interesting to watch him interact with the world and become more competent with each passing day. He's yet to figure out how to use language or hold a bottle, but these skills are also developing. For me this is a highlight as it's something that's both exciting and intellectually stimulating.

Daily Routine

In late October my daily routine changed to allow for an extra half hour of sleep per day, and it was pretty stable for all of November. I wake up at 5:50am to feed the boy, then stay awake to read the news until 7:00am when Nozomi gets some attention and a walk. By 8:30 I'm on the way to work and I arrive at the office an hour later, having used the commute to listen to a technical podcast about databases, development, or similar topics. Lunch is at 1:30pm, and I leave for home by 7:00pm. The commute home has more podcasts, but usually a comedy or interview show, then dinner's at 8:00pm. The boy gets his last bottle of the day around 9:30pm, and I'm back in front of the computer doing either work or skills training from 10:00pm to midnight.

A busy schedule, but one that keeps me active enough to remain interested.

Goals

So for December, I'm going to set a few goals … to be reviewed in the new year:

Creativity & Hobbies

  • write 10 blog posts
  • publish 5 podcasts (probably Doubtfully Daily Matigo shows)
  • read 2 technical books and 1 fiction novel

Family

  • spend 8 days this month "computer free"
  • get Christmas stuff sent to family in Canada by the 6th

Work

  • finish development of v4.2 updates
  • begin work on documentation of v4.2

Maybe this is too specific? I'm not sure, but time will tell. If these don't pan out by January 1, then I'll consider using the SMART structure to set better goals for the next month.


  1. Learning Management System

S Town from the Rear View Mirror

Note: This post does not contain any spoilers for the S Town podcast.

Earlier today I finished the seventh and final instalment of S Town, season three of the This American Life's Serial project. Having been disappointed with the second season, I wasn't sure if this was a show that I'd find interesting. The first season of Serial revolved around the story of Hae Min Lee's murder and how the man convicted of the crime, Adnan Syed, may not have been the one to end the young woman's life. The story was incredibly well told, with me impatiently waiting a week for the next episode. I'd sometimes listen to the shows twice in an attempt to glean extra information that may have slipped past. I'd make notes and consider options and alternatives. Did Adnan really kill the girl in a fit of rage? Did Jay do it and pin the blame on his friend? Was it someone else who took advantage of the situation? The story was masterfully told, and the show received justified rave reviews from a lot of people. The second season was nothing like this. I was confused and bored during the first episode. I skipped through the last 15 minutes of the second episode. I unsubscribed halfway through the third. The story was no doubt interesting for a lot of people, but not me. This third season with it's family-friendly rendition of a place called Shit Town by the primary protagonist could have gone either way.

TL;DR: It's an incredibly well-told story. Go and listen if you're into serial radio programs.

John despises his Alabama town and decides to do something about it. He asks a reporter to investigate the son of a wealthy family who’s allegedly been bragging that he got away with murder. But then someone else ends up dead, sparking a nasty feud, a hunt for hidden treasure, and an unearthing of the mysteries of one man’s life.

— Brian Reed on S Town

Listening to this program, I was often reminded of my childhood and the people around me at various times. There were a number of similar members of the community. Similar habits. Similar traits. The familiarity of it all sometimes shocking me as one wouldn't expect the rural corners of Southern Ontario to resemble Alabama. In many ways they are very different. In some ways they are the same. The last few episodes really drove home just how similar the two places are, and how perspective can play a very important role in how we perceive ourselves and others.

I knew a man similar to John who had the same name. He taught me a lot about what it means to slow down and think decisions through, and how to examine a situation from multiple angles before making a judgement call. He also encouraged me to do the things I loved which, at the time, consisted of sketching, architecture, and programming. He provided temporary access to the tools for me to explore these creative pursuits and, in exchange, I'd help him on his farm on weekends. This man, like John, also encouraged people to become better with each passing day. Not just better skilled, but better people. He strongly encouraged me to leave the rural corners of the country and head to Toronto, Montreal, or San Francisco where I could put my unbridled passion and creativity to use. He also had one heck of a temper and a growing disgust with the state of the world.

This is what I saw in John, the centre figure in the podcast. Despite his strong language. Despite his distaste with society. Despite his acerbic opinions. He was a man who wanted to help others however he could. Calling either John "smart" would be selling these people short. The John in S Town was a horologist with a unique insight into anything mechanical. The John I grew up knowing was a master in a woodshop, able to make just about anything without ever once reaching for a ruler or a pencil. He could build an entire kitchen set with six fashionable, matching chairs by sight alone. I watched him do it one weekend.

The world is full of incredibly gifted, uniquely special people. Just like the rest of us they carry their secrets and inner demons. Friendships with these people can be incredibly intimate. Not in a sexual way, but in a manner where — regardless of what secrets or bad deeds you share — they will never judge you. They will never turn away from you. They'll be answer the phone the next time you call and ask you how you're doing. How the family is doing. How the dogs are doing. And all they ask in return is the same … and a little patience when they go off on a rant about the state of the world.

I haven't thought about John very often in the last two decades. He's got to be in his 80s by now. I should give him a call … so long as there's still time.

Review: Interstellar

For the vast majority of Hollywood movies involving space, I tend to ignore the various elements they try to pass off as science and instead focus on the interactions between the characters. Regardless of how powerful we humans may think we are, our technology does not yet allow us to change the laws of physics. So I was a little surprise when Interstellar was making its way into people’s minds that a lot of press paid attention to how scientifically accurate it was rather than the fantastic imagery that we see in so many films thanks to the advent of powerful CG software and cheap computer time. I continued to have my doubts, but a few weeks back I rented the movie and just recently I’ve set aside the time to watch it.

interstellar

Spoiler Alert: I will be talking about specific parts of Interstellar beyond this point. If you don’t want to know, don’t read any further.

The movie is long. Really, really long. Clocking in at nearly three hours, I decided to break the movie up into three parts and digest a third for a day before taking in the next segment. I take a similar tactic with books, intentionally putting them down at set intervals so that I can think through the story, examine parts, as well as poke and prod character motivations. Doing this allows for questions to fully form in the mind which might (hopefully) be answered when the story continues. More than one reviewer had said that Interstellar changed their view of the universe, and several went so far as to say it was game changing. Good stories should be savoured like a fine cheese, not inhaled like a cheap burger.

As one might expect with an almost 3-hour story, the first third was dedicated to character introduction and backstory. We’re introduced to a man who used to work for NASA that was working hard on a farm and looking after his children. He was quite resourceful, and could turn a pile of garbage into a productive machine. As one would expect, there was a major blight affecting the entire planet, and that left the world’s food stocks depleted. A war had apparently been fought, though we don’t know how that played out … or if it was still ongoing. The blatant rewriting of history to serve the needs of the time was also an interesting touch, and is something that we can see in nations all over the planet today to further the political agendas of terrified governments.

All in all, the introduction was very well told. We were introduced to people who clearly had a head on their shoulders, and they were doing the best with what they had. This puts the movie well ahead of Independence Day and other space-based summer blockbusters from the past. One thing that I particularly liked was the design of the robotic marines that were used.

interstellar-minecraft-robot-thing

This particular robot design is one that I have not seen in any previous science fiction movie or book, and it’s one that I can see as being incredibly powerful if brought to life. The fact that it is distinctly not humanoid is something that I appreciated because, more often than not, we see machines that try so hard to look and act like us that it noticeably limits the potential of a machine that needs to operate in a wide array of environments and situations.

Part II - A Pile of Questions

The second instalment of the movie took place in the unknown realms beyond Saturn, and was responsible for a large number of questions that I still have no answer for. That said, the protagonist was recruited to pilot an interstellar craft to Saturn and take it though a stable wormhole that is orbiting the gas giant. The wormhole was correctly described as being a sphere1 rather than a two-dimensional hole in space, and the ship was able to successfully enter the object to get transported to … another galaxy.

This is something that I’ve wondered since watching the credits a while ago. There are billions of stars within our own Milky Way galaxy, and the farthest one is still a heck of a lot closer than the nearest (full-sized) galaxy. Does this imply that whoever built the wormhole has confirmed that the Milky Way galaxy is devoid of habitable worlds and we need to travel millions of light years to find another place to call home? I don’t see why this was necessary. Nothing we saw on the other side of the wormhole could not exist in this galaxy.

So what was in the other galaxy? Three worlds orbiting a black hole. One world was close enough to this massive singularity that the tidal forces resulted in hundred-metre waves that rolled over the planet, rendering the globe uninhabitable. Why anybody thought a world this close to a singularity would be a good place to call home is beyond me … but this is what fiction is for.

Between the first and second worlds we’re treated to a little speech explaining that love is capable of transcending space and time with ease, and that love is the key to humanity. This little discussion sent thoughts of Fifth Element running through my mind, and it was also a setup for later.

The second world was quite interesting, in that clouds were frozen and the glaciers endless. Depending on the chemical composition of the ice, this would not be an impossible place to colonise, but it wouldn’t be easy. The valiant travellers discover one of the earlier explorers in cryo-stasis and remove him from the box. A couple of minutes later, he’s trying to kill everybody and trying to get back to Earth to take back his life. A few decades in isolation on a frozen world might certainly encourage anybody to do the same, and I thought the dramatic attempted murder and planetary escape scenes were particularly well done. Why was Romilly killed off, though? That seemed awfully unnecessary.

Part III - Inside the Black Hole

With the failed murder/escape mission behind them, the decision is made to use the last of the spaceship’s fuel to slingshot around the black hole and get to the third world where another explorer was apparently waiting for them. One important element of this mission is for one of the two robotic marines to fall into the black hole and collect as much data as possible to send back to Earth. With the knowledge of how the singularity inside a black hole works, people on Earth will have the ability to control gravity and subsequently leave the Earth en masse to colonise the galaxy and save the species from certain extinction. As expected, the robot was not the only one going into the black hole.

When the protagonist crossed the event horizon and slipped into the black hole, I was expecting to see a very slow destruction scene. Our understanding of black holes tells us that once something crosses beyond a certain threshold, it is lost to the singularity and destroyed2. This didn’t happen. Instead, the protagonist discovers that he can transcend space and time, sending messages back to his daughter. He does so, encoding messages into the bookshelf and, eventually, the watch he gave her before leaving on the mission. Armed with the knowledge of what’s beyond the event horizon, the protagonist’s incredibly smart daughter can now work out how to control gravity.

Happy day.

Because of love. Love transcends time, space, and logic3.

Oddly enough, the main character doesn’t die. He gets shot out the other end of the wormhole and is discovered drifting in orbit of Saturn. I’m not sure if every space suit comes with a homing beacon, but he was very, very, very, very, very lucky to be discovered by a nearby space station and brought onboard before running out of oxygen. The space around Saturn is very, very, very, very, very big. Humans are tiny. He clearly had a heap of horseshoes with him on the journey … as did his robot companion.

To finish things off, he’s on a space station (Cooper Station, named after his daughter) that has Earth-standard gravity and makes use of the outer shell of the station as “ground”. There is a lot of green grass, some farms, and plenty of people breathing clean air. A utopia if there ever was one. Eventually he gets 2 minutes with his daughter before she tells him to get out so she can die, and he slips out of the space station in a stolen shuttle to head back to the other galaxy to start a colony with the one scientist who remained behind.

Closing Thoughts

This is a well-written story with solid acting and a few good action scenes. There are wonderful visuals that are bound to amaze anyone who has never watched a National Geographic documentary since 2004, and some lessons on the precariousness of life on Earth should anything affect our food supplies.

Was this movie game changing? No. Was this movie educational? No. Was this movie entertaining? Yes. And at the end of the day, that’s all we can ask for from a Hollywood movie.

If you haven’t watched the movie, it’s worth the rental fee. So long as you don’t ask too many questions and don’t examine the implausibility of some key plot devices, then I think you’ll enjoy every minute of it.

Review: Audio Technica ATH-IM03

Over the last year I have spent a lot of time training my ears to hear the tiniest of details, hoping the practice would allow me to create ever-better podcasts that sound really good regardless of what type of audio system a person might use. This training has required a lot of time and ever-better audio equipment to tease the nuances out of each piece of audio I might enjoy. Musicians like Alan Parsons and Mike Oldfield have composed wonderful pieces that contain hidden sounds that are all but undetectable to people using “regular” speakers and headphones, and I wanted to hear every single note. When my previous pair of headphones suddenly gave up the ghost I was forced to use Apple’s EarPods to listen to podcasts while on the train to and from work. Listening to music was all but impossible unless in a silent room. Something had to be done, and quick. Enter the Audio Technica ATH-IM03s.

Audio Technica ATH-IM03

These aren’t your standard headphones. Unlike any pair of earbuds I’ve owned, these need time to flex before they are fully operational. I’ve been using them for the better part of 5 hours a day since picking them up six days ago and, I must admit, the sound these little devices can produce is out of this world. They were put through the standard audio tests every morning, sounding better with each passing day.

The Alan Parsons Test

Alan Parsons released the I, Robot album back in 1977 and it’s been a mainstay in my music library since my late teens. This album has everything one could ask for when testing audio equipment. Delicate highs, resonating lows, and scale after scale with a wide range of instruments. If that weren’t enough, the lyrics are sung incredibly well. This album was the precursor to the electronic music I’ve enjoyed for so much of my life, and it stands up to the tests of time far better than the vast majority of what has been made in the last two decades.

The IM03s didn’t even break a sweat delivering every tone in crystal clarity, better than I’ve ever heard them before. In my youth I would listen to this album on vinyl with my father’s pair of Sony monitoring headphones which delivered everything exactly as Mr. Parsons intended, but Audio Technica’s earbuds put the studio-grade equipment to shame as I heard sounds for the first time. I kid you not … these earbuds are that good.

The Mike Oldfield Test

The Alan Parsons Test is primarily aimed at audio reproduction and clarity despite volume1. The Mike Oldfield Test is aimed at emotional response. Tubular Bells was released in 1973 when Mike Oldfield was just 19 years old and, to this day, can raise the hairs on the back of my neck. It’s really, really, really well done. If I do not feel an emotional response when listening to this album from start to finish, it’s because the audio reproduction is insufficient.

Just as with the first test, though, Audio Technica’s hardware didn’t flinch. The breathless anticipation that accompanies those wonderful words “And at last … tubular bells!” and the powerful chemical response that immediately follows the first strike of the bell ….

Well … if you enjoy the album, you know what I’m talking about.

Taking a Step Back

I am by no means an audio expert. Many argue that I’m tone-deaf and incapable of appreciating good music. Keep this in mind before rushing out to pick up a pair of these. However, after just 30 hours of use, I couldn’t imagine going back to a pair of headphones of lower audio quality. The ATH-IM03s have picked up far more sound than I ever thought was contained in the digital files I’ve carried around for years, and there’s no denying the sheer awesomeness that comes with listening to music at deafening volumes without a hint of distortion. So while these tools are capable of reproducing some of the most amazing audio experiences in exquisite detail, how well can they handle my other love: rap music?

As one might expect, rap sounds surprisingly good. The only complaint I have with regards to rap is the lack of oomph that once accompanied the bass. This is something that I will get used to in the next few days, of course, but there are just some beats by Dr. Dre that sound much better with the deep cuts that often accompany Andre Young’s smooth voice.

On a final note, the primary reason I replace headphones is because one of the two sides cuts out. This happens over time as wires begin to fray and connections become weak. This happened with the previous pair of Audio Technica CKM500s that I used, the Logicool Ultimate Ears 200s, and every other pair of cheaper earbuds I used prior to taking sound seriously. The ATH-IM03s should last remarkably longer because, unlike the earbuds I just mentioned, replacement cables are available and easily swapped out. Should I run into a dead earbud, then a quick trip to a music shop and 30-seconds of wire-swapping should resolve the issue.

Very nice.

Ridiculous Romulans

In my youth I would not so much read Star Trek books as consume them. Between the ages of eight and twenty-six I managed to read every book that was published, some of them five or six times. Unfortunately, my reading habits changed drastically after moving to Japan. In Canada I would read two or three books per week. In Japan it’s been two or three books per year. I’ve missed reading books and, as a result, have made the conscious decision to get back into reading them … starting right where I left off with Star Trek: Enterprise.

Enterprise - Romulan War

The last book I read was The Good That Men Do which is part of the prelude to the Romulan War as told by Michael A. Marten and Andy Mangels. The Romulans have long been my favourite antagonist in Star Trek, but feel they’ve been hindered by poor writing and sub-optimal plots. Here we have a species that broke away from Vulcan a thousand years before King Arthur was born on Earth to evolve and become the predatory and expansionist species we know from the science fiction books. One would think that with four books focusing on this reclusive adversary, a wonderful tapestry of well-written, carefully laid out plans would play out before our eyes … right?

Sadly I was wrong.

The authors of these four books fall into many of the same traps that other Star Trek authors have in the past. Repetitive plot lines. Stupid levels of luck. Villains who can wipe out billions of people but hesitate to pull the trigger on a main character despite numerous situations that should never have happened in the first place. To make matters worse, there are instances in these books where entire arcs are written and consume hundreds of pages only for the story to shift its focus midway and never again touch the arcs, which leaves us to wonder what happened to the characters that were being written about so carefully.

Was the Columbia lost with all hands?

Did Travis’ parents actually land on the planet that is later featured in A Piece of the Action, or did they actually get shot into a sun?

What of all the young troops who had entire chapters devoted to them where we were forced to sit through incredibly tedious stories of young MACO troops who may or may not have passed away at the hands of the Romulans?

How about all the irrational decisions that Star Fleet made for no bloody reason?

Worse was the seeming stupidity of the Romulans. A species with faster-than-light travel for thousands of years had only 100 or so warbirds? Really? I don’t believe that for a minute. Admiral Valdore, a decorated strategist, didn’t have the insight to see when he was being played as a fool not once, not twice, but eleventy-hundred times by people all around him? A dissident group is able to consistently evade the mighty Tal Shiar for years on end and pick up their seemingly immortal leader regardless of where he might be floating in space?

Nobody notices Tucker’s mouth doesn’t move to match his words?

Every disposable idiot had to be named Styles? I know people didn’t like Styles in The Original Series, but c’mon …

There were so many inconsistent and illogical events that transpired across these four books that I had to, at times, wonder if Trek books were mainly aimed at teenagers with a verbose lexicon unmatched among their peers. Commonplace dictions and turns of phrase would be used for an epoch before some indiscriminate locution would be plucked from a thesaurus for the hell of it, often in ways that seemed forced and ultimately made no sense.

Billions died. Billions. Entire worlds were literally destroyed. The Romulans built the ultimate hacking tool to take over the command and control operations of enemy vessels … but they stopped using it before the declaration of war was even made, resorting to Taliban tactics like cowards rather than the proud warriors they are.

How … unfortunate.

Looking at the books strictly for entertainment value, they did live up to their purpose. I was able to sit back and read these four books over a period of weeks1 and get some fulfilment in my quest for new Trek. I just wish the Romulans had proven to be a more worthy adversary.

With these books out of the way, I’ll be moving on to the last two Enterprise books before picking up some post-Nemesis TNG. Hopefully I’ll be able to read some books by David R. George III, J.M. Dillard, and Keith R.A. DeCandido to clear my mind and delve deep into a well written, well executed story.

Re-examining Star Trek VI

Yesterday I put on my favourite Star Trek movie and watched it with a critical eye for the first time in many, many years. Undiscovered Country, the sixth and final original Trek movie, focuses on the events that transpire after the destruction of the Klingon moon, Praxis. What I liked most about this movie in the past is how adult the whole movie seemed. There were very few silly moments in the production, and we get to see people solve problems without resorting to exotic uses of technology. Everything that happened in this movie is not only consistent within the confines of the Pre-J.J. Trek universe, but believable. That said, watching this movie yesterday, I found a few issues that worry me more today than they did when the movie was first released in the 1990s.

Star Trek VI - Opening Credits

Problem One: The Abrasiveness

The crew of the Enterprise were dispatched to escort the Chancellor of the Klingon Empire from the Neutral Zone to Earth where peace talks would take place. For something this important, why was there no ambassador on the Enterprise to meet and greet the guests of the Federation? They left from Earth to meet the delegation, so it’s not as though there were no skilled diplomats available to ensure everything started off smooth and remained that way.

Also, the senior staff on the Enterprise have overseen hundreds of diplomatic affairs in their glorious history. They couldn’t put on a show and try to appear amicable towards their guests?

Problem Two: Chekov’s After-Party Shift

The man went from a 4.5-hour dinner with Klingons involving Romulan Ale to sitting on the bridge? Why was he drinking alcohol if he had to work the night shift immediately after? This was not because the bridge needed a command officer, as both Spock and Valeris were on deck, so he should have had the evening off or avoided the alcohol.

Problem Three: Kirk and McCoy Beam Over to Chronos One

Chronos One is Hit

After recovering from the pair of torpedo hits, the Klingons swing around and prepare to open fire on the Enterprise. One would expect their shields were also raised at this time. After signalling their surrender, Kirk and McCoy beam over to the Klingon vessel. How? Did the Enterprise call ahead to say “Our commanding and medical officers are beaming over”? Did the Klingons actually agree to let more humans onto their ship?

Problem Four: There Were No Other Ships in Orbit of Khitomer?

What are the odds a militaristic species would host a diplomatic function within the boundaries of their territory where the senior representatives from three of the most powerful spacefaring organisations in attendance without having a boatload of military in the skies to ensure there wasn’t another assassination attempt on any of the galactic leaders? When the Enterprise dropped out of warp just 15 seconds away from the planet, there wasn’t a single warship in orbit to be found. Instead there was just the Enterprise and the prototype Klingon Bird of Prey in the area to duke it out. A few minutes later, the Excelsior joins the battle. Three ships, two of which were Federation vessels, deep in Klingon space … and there wasn’t a squadron of Klingon ships hunting down these intruders?

I find this about as realistic as an undefended Earth less than a year after the Dominion War came to an end …

The Real Problem

These four things are just little niggles, though. What really surprised me was something I never really thought about before yesterday: the illegal mental violation of Lt. Valeris by Captain Spock.

Spock Melds with Valeris

Forcing a person into a mind meld is illegal on Vulcan as it is elsewhere in the Federation. People are not permitted to violate another person’s thoughts under any circumstance. This becomes a little muddier when the Betazoids are introduced a little later but, up to this point in time, a person is entitled to their mental privacy. However, in this case, Spock wilfully breaks the law to extract the information they need in what can only be described as a form of torture.

The President of the Federation is not above the law yet, apparently, the senior officers of the Enterprise are?

Undiscovered Country will continue to be one of my favourite Star Trek movies, but as I go back and review a lot of the movies with a perspective that has evolved over the years, I wonder how many horrible things the various characters in Star Trek will have done to ultimately achieve their goals … and how many of these horrible things I once considered acceptable.

Review: Star Trek - Into Darkness

In May of 2013 I boldly remarked that I would not watch the latest addition to the Star Trek franchise, comparing J.J. Abrams’ re-write of the original series with New Coke. Last night I broke with the statement and rented Into Darkness for 400円 to see whether there was anything worth looking forward to with the inevitable third, fourth, fifth, and sixth movies that are due to come out under the banner of an alternate universe. Long story short: Star Trek is now a Hollywood title and should come with the same expectations one would expect from anything made in Hollywood.

People all over the Internet have professed their love or hate for the New Trek and, rather than add to the noise, I thought I’d look at a different angle of this movie. As with any action flick from America’s movie machine, a lot of people lose their lives in this story. The first people to lose their lives are members of Section 31 in London, and the last people to lose their lives are civilians on the ground in San Francisco. Along the way we see Starfleet officers get blown into space, Klingon warriors decimated by weapons better suited to distance fighting than a Bat’leth1. The question I have is how necessary it was for approximately 100,000 people to lose their lives in the 48-hours that transpire between Khan’s first act in London to the over-the-top destruction of Starfleet Headquarters when a heavily damaged Dreadnaught-class vessel falls out of the sky to wipe out the downtown core of San Francisco.

Was This Necessary

The London and Subsequent Starfleet HQ Attacks

Khan, working for Admiral Marcus, develops a grudge for the warmongering dolt and decides to declare war on Starfleet by … helping Marcus instigate a war with the Klingons?

Blowing up the Section 31 offices in London I can understand. The people who lost their lives were the unfortunate casualties of the personal war between Khan and Marcus. Several hours later, at an emergency meeting at Starfleet HQ, Khan makes an appearance in an armed vehicle and unloads several thousand rounds of ammunition into the Nomura Room killing a number of senior officers, including Captain Christopher Pike. This is also understandable, if a little excessive for a man who is angry at Marcus more than Starfleet itself.

After Khan’s ship is disabled, he activates a portable transwarp beaming device2 and goes to Ketha Province on Qo’nos, a region of the Klingon home world that is said to be uninhabited.

Why? For a man who can literally go anywhere in the known galaxy in the blink of an eye, why travel to a world that is already hostile to humans where his presence would only exacerbate tensions between Earth and Qo’nos? Why help Admiral Marcus advance his trigger-happy scheme to instigate a war between these two worlds? Why not go to Risa and relax? How about New Vulcan where he can be surrounded by intellectually evolved people? Heck, the Romulan home world would have been better than Qo’nos.

But I digress.

The Decimation of the Klingons

Klingons Defending Their Home World 

When the Enterprise is dispatched to Qo’nos with orders to kill Khan, Kirk has a change of heart and decides to follow the principles we all strive to uphold. Rather than murder Khan from afar with 72 torpedoes and instigate a battle that would leave both the Human and Klingon militaries weakened for decades, he opts to arrest the treasonous fugitive and return him to Earth to stand trial for his crimes. The Enterprise loses warp capability 20-minutes from their destination, but they’re able to confirm that their prey is in the location they expected him to be in. Their scanners are that good. That said, they couldn’t identify a pack of sentinels that were patrolling the area, perhaps trying to locate the single human life form on the planet. The Klingons at this point do not have cloaking technology, so how did those ships magically shield themselves from detection?

Plot hole aside, when the valiant crew of the Enterprise try to communicate with the Klingons and fail to impress them, a heavily-armed Khan steps in to start laying waste to the warriors who have spent every day of their lives since before adolescence training for battle. Dozens of people were killed, ships were destroyed, flames of hatred stoked. For what purpose?

The Dreadnaught Opens Fire on the Enterprise

Soon after Khan is in custody aboard the Enterprise the U.S.S. Vengeance, a Dreadnaught Class star ship, makes an appearance. Chekov reports that the Enterprise is barely warp-capable again, and Kirk runs from the warship back to Earth. A few short minutes later, the bigger ship catches up and opens fire on the defenceless Enterprise, cutting holes into it where people are then seen being lost to the depths of space as they’re blown from the ship along with a good amount of atmosphere.

Again … why? Why not do something far more logical … like hack the Enterprise the same way we saw in The Wrath of Khan back in 1982? Take over the ship, drop it out of warp, and deal with the problem without resorting to destroying the flagship of the fleet which, one would think, would raise an awful lot of eyebrows and lead to a ridiculous number of formal inquiries.

Khan Is Osama Bin Laden

This is an action movie, of course. There has to be action. There has to be explosions. There has to be sex. If these things do not exist, then movie-goers who fork over ridiculous sums of cash for the luxury of sitting in a room full of strangers with awful smelling “food” would cry foul and demand their money back. So while the excessive damage inflicted upon the Enterprise and the horrible number of casualties is what a lot of people attend an action-science-fiction film for, the movie just couldn’t let other people live to tell the tale. Khan had to take the damaged U.S.S. Vengeance and smash it into San Francisco.

Awe-inspiring 100-storey buildings are seen snapped like twigs at the base when the massive starship comes down from the sky at a steep angle and hits the bay. People, like deer caught in the headlights of a fast-moving SUV, stand motionless as this unbelievable spectacle unfolds before them. Then the space vessel hits the city worse than the planes hit the World Trade Center buildings on September 11th, 2001.

There are no numbers reported but, judging from the position of the sun in the sky, the Dreadnaught-class vessel rained down on the city mid-afternoon. This means that those buildings would have been fully staffed. 100-storey buildings can easily hold more than 25,000 people. Several of these tall structures were destroyed, along with a slew of smaller buildings. Let’s not forget the underground infrastructure that would have been in place, as something as big as a starship would do just as much damage to infrastructure underground as it would to things above ground.

Earlier I estimated the total loss of life to be approximately 100,000 people. Thinking about it in greater detail, this number was probably two or three times larger.

For what? What possible purpose could this level of destruction possibly serve? To make people wonder why Earth’s great cities are defenceless against things falling from the sky? To make people appreciate the fact we don’t have spaceships falling on our heads? To make people trivialise mass murder because it’s just a movie guy. Relax!

How Much Is Your Life Worth?

Movies are supposed to be one of the many events where an audience is expected to leave their brains at the door and just sit back for some entertainment. The big, Hollywood blockbusters that come out every summer certainly require that an audience know absolutely nothing about anything and have no moral compass before, during, or after the movie in order to fervently enjoy them. Star Trek movies, however, are supposed to be different. A Star Trek movie needn’t be cerebral or unnecessarily complex. Indeed, most of them are not, but before Abrams bastardised Trek the most death we would see in a movie was less than a dozen people. Undiscovered Country had the highest number of casualties when Praxis, a moon orbiting Qo’nos, exploded. But that was in the thousands. Abrams has killed off the entire Vulcan home world, wiped out San Francisco, and destroyed the ultimate vision that Star Trek was all about.

Before Abrams, death was used as a plot device to advance the story or evoke an emotion. Abrams, and the people who really enjoy the newer Trek, don’t care about stories or emotions. The lives of these nameless, faceless people mean absolutely nothing in the grand scheme of things. We don’t know them personally, so who cares? Right?

Sadly, we are also a nameless, faceless person to someone living just a few hundred meters from our house. Are our lives also worth nothing more than a “Oh, shit!” remark?

But it’s entertainment, right? We’re not supposed to think about these things. We’re not supposed to ask questions. We’re not supposed to walk out of the movie tallying up the emotional, psychological, physical, and economic costs associated with the spectacle that we just witnessed on the big screen for $20. No … we’re supposed to walk out of the movie saying “Did you see that CG? You could see the hairs on Ensign Willis’ head freeze as he was sucked into space! That was awesome!”.

How is this different from the Roman spectators who would watch with glee as poor humans who could not pay their taxes were fed to the lions at colosseums? How is this different from Bin Laden laughing at the terrified and hurt citizens of America as people around the world watched in horror as the burning twin towers collapsed, burying thousands of people who would never again enjoy a warm meal with their loved ones?

Mass destruction, death, and wanton violence is not entertainment. It’s the epitome of everything we should reject as we seek to better ourselves as a society, and as a species.

Review: OS X Mavericks

Apple released the latest version of their desktop operating system for free less than 48 hours ago, and I hopped on the update as soon as I possibly could. This meant that I left my computer on and unattended in the office while I sat in a classroom helping a student proofread their doctoral thesis. Fun times. After a day of using this latest version, all I can say is this: it's nice.

Mountain Lion, the previous iteration of the software, was the first Mac operating system I ran on a Mac. I've had experience running 10.6 Snow Leopard on a Lenovo notebook, which is one of the reasons I wanted to get a real Mac1. With Mountain Lion, I was able to fully immerse myself in the Apple way of doing things which, truth be told, took less than a week to acclimate to. Some of the things I liked about the last system carried forward in the new system, and some of the things I had come to take for granted, like the relative speed, only got better.

When I say that Mavericks is faster, it's no exaggeration. The system is much, much snappier than before. A great deal of this has to do with the reduced animations and smarter use of system resources. One example of this can be seen when pulling up the springboard. What used to take 1 entire second is now down to a fraction of that time. My 3 year-old computer feels new again.

The only issue that I've noticed so far isn't so much a topic for Mavericks as it is an item that VirtualBox needs to resolve; which is dual-monitor support. With the new methods for dual-monitors, the second screen in a VM has a thin line where the OS X menu bar would sit. It's there constantly, and only on the secondary screens. This is an issue when I try to run presentations in PowerPoint.

Aside from this, though, it's a rock solid update that I will enjoy using.


  1. Even though I ran a hacked version of OS X on a Lenovo PC in a Virtual Machine, it was a much nicer, smoother, less frustrating experience than I had with Windows up until that point
Image from Felix