Archive for January, 2011

Star Trek 2.8: I, Mudd

Sunday, 16 January, 2011

I, MuddI, Mudd” is a sequel to “Mudd’s Women“, starring the irritating con-man Harcourt Fenton “Harry” Mudd. Unfortunately, where the former was at least moderately tolerable and had the kernel of a decent story driving it, this episode is rather painful to watch.

It starts promisingly enough, with the mysterious newly assigned crewman Norman running rampant through the Enterprise, disabling people with a single rather soft karate chop to the neck, and taking control of the ship from the auxiliary control room. This shows how ridiculously easy it is to override the bridge controls. Someone does 10 seconds of hacking on a poorly guarded terminal elsewhere on the ship, and suddenly the helm doesn’t respond to anything Sulu does. After another completely ineffectual display by the Enterprise security team, Kirk is about to leave the bridge to personally kick some ass, when Norman arrives and declares that the ship is under his control and he is taking it to a mysterious planet 4 days away. Norman says any attempt to regain control will result in the Enterprise being destroyed, which Spock confirms with a glance at his display. Norman then reveals himself to be an android(!) and switches himself off.

After the opening credits, however, things rapidly go downhill, as it’s shown that even after 4 days nobody has bothered to move Norman off the bridge, where he stands blocking access to the turbolifts. Norman switches back on and commands the bridge crew to beam down, where they meet Harry Mudd surrounded by a bevy of beautiful female robots. It turns out he escaped the prison he was left in at the end of “Mudd’s Women”, then did some of his usual tricks, this time explicitly involving the selling of patented technology without paying royalties. You’d think they could have come up with some slightly more glamorous crime, but perhaps it was more important to show that, even in the post-scarcity economy of Star Trek, patents and intellectual property are serious business. There’s even a joke about it: Mudd: You couldn’t sell false patents to your mother! Spock: I fail to see why I should induce my mother to purchase falsified patents.

In a Chekhov’s gun scene, we see Harry show off a robot duplicate of his nagging wife, which he had made by the androids just so he could tell it to shut up and it would do so. The bulk of the episode is then made up of the crew trying to figure out how to escape from Mudd’s custody, despite the thousands of androids who follow his commands but otherwise are willing to do anything to keep the crew happy. It turns out the androids have their own agenda, wanting to serve humanity and cater to their desires, and in order to do so, they will enslave humanity to prevent them from being unhappy.

In the end, Kirk resorts to the reliable logic bomb approach (that he has used against rogue robots twice before), confusing the androids by acting out some truly painful scenes with the crew putting on ridiculous mime and acting sequences. This locks up all the androids except Norman, who is then defeated simply by Kirk telling him that Mudd always lies, followed by Mudd saying, “I am lying.” Kirk manages to reprogram all the androids in a miracle of off-screen editing, and leaves Mudd behind on the planet. Mudd thinks this is okay, until it turns out that 500 copies of his nagging wife have been made, and this time they won’t listen when he tells them to shut up.

Not as bad as “Catspaw”, but entirely uninspiring stuff, and rehashing themes we’ve seen explored in better ways already. Okay, I’m ready for some good episodes again.

Tropes: Robotic Reveal, Robot Girl, Cardboard Prison, Sidetracked By The Analogy, Chekhov’s Gun, Henpecked Husband, Gilded Cage, Zeroth Law Rebellion, Utopia Justifies The Means, Logic Bomb, Fate Worse Than Death, Hoist By His own Petard, Full Name Ultimatum.
Body count: None!

Star Trek 2.7: Catspaw

Friday, 14 January, 2011

CatspawCatspaw” is without a doubt the worst episode so far in my systematic traversal of every episode of the original Star Trek. Alas, I know there is worse to come, and this one doesn’t really approach the depths of some of the later episodes. It’s not so bad that you remember it because of how bad it is. It’s just completely blah and unmemorable. It’s so unmemorable that it wasn’t until over 15 minutes into this episode that I recognised any of what was going on, despite having seen it before.

This is yet another “Kirk and crew encounter nigh-omnipotent alien being, who toys with them until either Kirk defeats them through his cleverness or by deus ex machina” episode. And it’s easily the least inspiring of any of them. It features bizarre manifestations of “magic” and “spooky” stuff, including a trio of Macbeth-esque witches, some voodoo curses, a castle with a dungeon, and possibly two of the worst special effects seen so far in the series.

Crewman Jackson beams up from the planet Pyris VII, without fellow landing party members Scotty and Sulu, and promptly drops dead on the transporter pad. Despite being dead, a spooky voice emanates from his unmoving mouth, declaring the Enterprise to be cursed. Kirk beams down with Spock and McCoy to investigate and find Scotty and Sulu. They find a spooky fog which is weird since there is no water anywhere nearby. They encounter three spooky ghostly witches, who try to scare them. They find a spooky Gothic castle and enter.

It soon becomes clear that half this episode is padding, as they wander aimlessly around the castle for a bit before anything happens. McCoy and Kirk mention “Trick or Treat”, which perplexes Spock. Okay, fine, this establishes that Spock is an alien and knows nothing about human culture. But then later in the episode Spock turns out to be an expert on human culture, explaining to McCoy and Kirk what a witch’s familiar is. A spooky black cat jumps out, scaring them. They follow the cat and fall into a hole in the floor.

Kirk, Spock, and McCoy awake in a dungeon, shackled to the wall. There is an intact human skeleton shackled next to them, in defiance of the fact that a human skeleton will fall apart if suspended like that. And there’s even a lame joke with Kirk addressing both McCoy and the skeleton as “Bones”. Scotty and Sulu show up, hypnotised. Kirk points out how they aren’t blinking, and Spock remarks, “Neither did Jackson just before he collapsed.” A perfectly fine observation, except that Spock wasn’t in the transporter room and never saw Jackson before he collapsed.

Scotty and Sulu take the captives upstairs, where they meet Korob and Sylvia, the semi-omnipotent aliens du jour. The only real twist here is that Korob an Sylvia don’t get along, with Sylvia wanting to extract some information from the humans at any cost, and Korob, who wants to try to get along, being shouted down. The information Sylvia wants is never actually explained, or in fact mentioned again. Oh, and Sylvia is the black cat from earlier, as strongly hinted at by the fact that the cat leaves the room and Sylvia enters a moment later, dressed in black and wearing the same pendant.

Syliva pulls some voodoo magic on the Enterprise, heating a toy model of it in a candle, causing the ship in orbit to heat up. Kirk agrees to cooperate so she will stop it, then he proceeds to seduce her, but it goes awry and she judges humanity (ho hum, yawn, seen it before) and everyone ends up in the dungeon again. Korob releases them, but Sylvia turns into a giant cat and terrorises everyone with awful special effects shots of a housecat running through miniature castle corridors. Korob gives Kirk his wand and, in a confrontation with Sylvia, Kirk smashes it, destroying all the magic. The castle vanishes and Korob and Sylvia are revealed to be tiny puppets made of pipecleaner and feathers, complete with visible strings. They die, and that’s it.

It’s all so cliché-ridden, and maybe 20 minutes of story stretched to fill 50 minutes. It was actually boring. It has two huge gaping continuity problems, and a major seeming plot point that is never explained. It has two laughable special effects. There is nothing clever in the plot. No wonder I didn’t remember any of this episode from the previous times I’ve seen it.

Tropes: He’s Dead Jim, Ominous Fog, Haunted Castle, Padding, Cat Scare, You Fail Biology Forever, Gallows Humour, Plot Hole, Sufficiently Advanced Alien, What Happened To The Mouse?, Shapeshifting, Hollywood Voodoo, Casanova, Humanity On Trial, Mega Neko, Magic From Technology, This Was His True Form, Special Effect Failure.
Body count: Crewman Jackson keeled over dead on the transporter pad, by “magic”, the aliens Korob and Syliva.

Duck confit

Wednesday, 12 January, 2011

I recently bought the book Cooking for Geeks. It’s very cool, and it approaches cooking the way I like to approach things, by understanding how it works. Rather than give you a recipe and you just follow it blindly and hope for the best, it explains that at this temperature this particular protein denatures, which makes meat taste good, and at that temperature some other protein denatures, which makes meat tough and stringy, so the secret to a good steak is to warm the inside to a temperature between the two.

Another thing it tells you is the temperature at which collagen – the tough gristly connective gunk between the meat – denatures into gelatin. This reaction takes a long time, so the way to get a tough piece of meat to be nice is to cook it at a specific temperature for several hours. This explains why cheap cuts of meat should be stewed over a low heat for hours. After explaining this, it gives a recipe which demonstrates the principle: duck confit. This sounds fancy and scary, but the procedure is pretty simple*.

So on Sunday I bought a couple of duck legs from a local gourmet butcher, prepared them, and whacked them in the over for 6 hours. It was 10pm by the time they came out, so I cooled them down and stuck them in the fridge. Tonight for dinner, I took one of the legs out and seared the skin side in a really hot frying pan with some butter, while I boiled up some simple pasta spirals. I tried to be fancy and make a sauce out of the leftover fat in the pan once I removed the duck leg, but it didn’t turn out (I need more practice at that), so I dumped it and just had the duck leg with the pasta.

Oh. My. God.

I had no idea I could cook anything that delicious. The duck, deprived of its connective collagen, simply fell off the bone. It was moist and tender and slightly salty and lip-smackingly tasty. And the seared skin was crispy and provided a nice contrast to the soft meat.

Next time we have people over for dinner, or I have to cook something for the guys for a gaming day or something, I am going to make this. I want people to fawn over me as the creator of this sensual, delectable delight. And I have another leg still in the fridge… oooh, yum.

* Duck Confit

Get some duck legs. Pat dry, then rub salt into them, covering every surface (about a tablespoon of salt per leg). Option: add garlic and/or herbs. Sit in covered bowl in fridge for a couple of hours. Wash thoroughly and pat dry. Arrange in an oven dish and cover with olive oil – the duck has to be completely submerged. Bake at 80°C for six hours. (Yes, 80, not 180. Below the boiling point of water.) Remove from oil and either store in a sealed container in the fridge for up to a week to use later, or sear the skin crispy in a frying pan and serve. (And save the oil – it now has duck fat mixed through it. Use it to fry potatoes, or eggs, or meats.)

Star Trek 2.6: The Doomsday Machine

Sunday, 9 January, 2011

The Doomsday MachineThe Doomsday Machine“, unlike the previous episode “The Apple”, is an episode I know well merely from the title. The Enterprise encounters a terrifying and seemingly unstoppable planet destroying machine, with a hull made of solid neutronium and a horrible maw large enough to eat starships.

Much of the episode is a cat and mouse game of starship combat with this doomsday machine – a name given to it by Kirk when he speculates on its origin and purpose. Backtracking its path through destroyed systems, Spock concludes it has come from outside the Galaxy. Kirk surmises that such a destructive force could only be the ultimate weapon of a war of utter annihilation – a doomsday machine designed to destroy everything if its creators should lose. The parallels to the nuclear mutually assured destruction of the Cold War when this episode was made are obvious. But the episode doesn’t deliver a heavy-handed moral about this – it simply uses this set-up to drive a dramatic and compelling plot, with an Ahab-like rampage of revenge by the destitute Commodore Decker after he loses everyone on board his ship, the USS Constellation.

I think this is the first time we’ve seen another Constitution class starship in the series (I may be wrong, but I don’t recall one before now). Dramatically, it’s damaged, the result of a prior attack from the doomsday machine, and its distress call is the catalyst for the episode in the pre-credit scene. Uhura appears to be off-duty for the entire episode – her role is taken by a Lieutenant Palmer, who gets a lot of lines as there is a lot of communication between the Enterprise and Constellation, mixed up with a lot of subspace interference. Kirk, McCoy, Scotty, and an engineering crew beam over to the crippled Constellation to find out what happened. They find commanding officer Commodore Decker the only survivor, in shock after beaming his entire crew down to the third planet of the system for safety. When Kirk points out the system only has two planets, Decker wails, “I know! That thing destroyed the third planet!”

Scotty says the antimatter on the Constellation has been “deactivated” – I wonder how that is done – but he starts work on getting the impulse engines running. Meanwhile, McCoy escorts Decker back to the Enterprise, where Decker pulls rank on Spock and assumes command, ordering the ship into a revenge chase of the machine rather than going to pick up Kirk. McCoy objects and tries to declare Decker unfit for command, but Spock points out the regulations require a medical examination first, which he hasn’t had time to do.

Scotty gets the Constellation running and it interferes just in time to save the Enterprise from destruction by the machine. Kirk then orders Spock to relieve Decker of command, which he does so by pointing out that Decker is acting suicidally. Spock has Decker escorted off the bridge, but Decker manages to overcome the guard in a fistfight (why don’t they employ competent security personnel?) and steals a shuttlecraft (why don’t they have any security at all on the shuttle bay?). Decker flies the shuttle kamikaze into the machine’s maw, but the explosion barely affects it. However, the fact that it does have any effect at all gives Kirk the idea of doing the same with the wreck of the Constellation.

Spock estimates that blowing up the ship’s impulse engines will generate an explosion equivalent to 97.835 megatons. Scotty sets up a 30 second delay trigger, giving Kirk barely enough time to beam out safely (why didn’t he set up a longer trigger? Or a remote detonation mechanism so they could explode the ship from the safety of the Enterprise??). Thankfully the 30 seconds lasts about 2 minutes of screen time, giving Scotty enough time to repair the suddenly failing transporter and beam Kirk out at the last possible second.

Whew! It’s a whirlwind of edge-of-the-seat excitement. The plot is not overly complex, but it’s full of tension and keeps you glued to the screen. Definitely one of the classic episodes. And we’ll see Commodore Decker’s son appear later, in the first Star Trek movie.

Tropes: Earth Shattering Kaboom, Made Of Indestructium, Doomsday Device, Outside Context Villain, Wave Motion Gun, Off The Shelf FX, Heroic BSOD, Large Ham, Antimatter, Nuclear Physics Goof, General Ripper, That’s An Order, Cardboard Prison, Roaring Rampage Of Revenge, Senseless Sacrifice, Self Destruct Mechanism, Deus Ex Nukina, Ludicrous Precision, Time Bomb, Magic Countdown.
Body count: Entire crew of USS Constellation except Commodore Decker (off-screen before opening, killed when planet they were on was destroyed), Commodore Decker sacrificed himself in attempt to destroy the doomsday machine.

Lorikeet visit

Sunday, 9 January, 2011

Rainbow LorikeetLorikeet feeding timeLook who visited my balcony this morning. There were three rainbow lorikeets hanging around. I tried offering them sunflower seeds, but they didn’t like them much. Only when I checked later did I realise they are nectar and fruit eaters. Ooops.

I might look into getting a nectar feeder to hang out there.

Star Trek 2.5: The Apple

Saturday, 8 January, 2011

The AppleThe Apple” is not one of the more memorable episodes. The title itself brought back no memories at all for me – it wasn’t until I got about 10 minutes in that I recognised what episode this is. Not a good sign.

Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Chekov, girl of the week Yeoman Martha Landon, and four redshirt security officers beam down to Gamma Trianguli VI, lush with tropical vegetation and a lurid red sky. Chekov compares it to the Garden of Eden, which was just outside Moscow. Chekov has other Eden-esque activities in mind, as we (and Kirk) notice that he and Yeoman Landon are more interested in each other than their duties. Spock says the village they detected from orbit is 17 kilometres away, so they start walking – a very long way to walk, given they have transporter technology that could have placed them right there. This lapse of reason is never explained.

As they set off, redshirt one bites the dust, thanks to being sprayed with poison darts from a lotus-like flower. Following this event, rather than beam back to the Enterprise, or beam down a botanist, or take any sort of precautions whatsoever, Kirk picks up the flower and sniffs it, and then they continue their slog through the jungle to the village. Spock finds a curious rock which he examines, snaps in two, then tosses aside – and it explodes on impact. Another flower takes aim at Kirk, and Spock pushes him aside but takes the full brunt of the darts. McCoy manages to revive Spock, thanks to his Vulcan physiology.

The party realises the Garden of Eden metaphor is strained to breaking point, and Kirk tries to beam everyone up, but it’s too late, as Scotty reports interference from an energy source located near the village. With nothing better to do, they keep walking. Redshirts two and three are annihilated when one is struck by lightning in a sudden storm, and another steps on an explosive rock. Kirk expresses his self-doubts in an emotional speech. Spock interrupts to mention that a native humanoid is lurking nearby.

Kirk intercepts the native and initiates a fistfight, but is taken aback when the native doesn’t fight back, but rather starts weeping and expressing puzzlement at being hit. Kirk reassures the native that he comes in peace. The native says he is Akuta, and is the “Eyes of Vaal”, and leads them to his village, which is populated by about two dozen people, with no children or elders. They are confused by the concepts of children and love. Vaal has forbidden them!

The natives take the crew to Vaal, which turns out to be a symbolically snake-like cave, where the natives leave offerings whenever Vaal calls. Spock decides Vaal is a machine, ruling the naïve villagers like a god. Spock and McCoy engage in a debate about whether Vaal needs to be stopped, and Kirk decides that yes, it does. But Vaal has also decided to get rid of them, telling the natives to attack the crew. Redshirt four goes down in the attack, but the crew best the rest of the villagers (including some well-aimed athletic kicks by Yeoman Landon) and then confine them to a hut. Vaal calls to be fed, but Chekov and Landon are enough to stop the villagers leaving. Kirk calls Scotty to phaser the snake-cave in its weakened state and this destroys it. They then tell the natives that life will be much better now, because they’ll be able to … um … make children now. They warp out of orbit, having interfered with another undeveloped alien civilisation.

Well, this is really a pretty weak and uninspiring episode. The multifarious allusions to the Garden of Eden are possibly the most interesting part. Vaal is a serpent, the villagers are innocent. Kirk even eats an apple conspicuously when they are resting in the village. The denouement even has Spock pointing out that Kirk has effectively played the part of Satan by metaphorically giving the villagers knowledge of good and evil. But ultimately you want some actual drama in the story, and some sensible decision making by the characters, neither of which are particularly in evidence here.

Tropes: Girl Of The Week, World Of Symbolism, In The Original Klingon, Flower In Her Hair, Red Shirt, When Trees Attack, Idiot Plot, Made Of Explodium, Death World, Phlebotinum Breakdown, Bolt Of Divine Retribution, Heroic BSOD, Perfect Pacifist People, I Come In Peace, Uncanny Village, What Is This Thing You Call Love, Cave Mouth, Cargo Cult, Deus Est Machina,
Body count: Redshirts Hendorff (killed by a flower), Kaplan (incinerated by lightning), Mallory (steps on a landmine rock), and Marple (whacked on the head by a native).

Star Trek 2.4: Mirror, Mirror

Thursday, 6 January, 2011

Mirror, MirrorMirror, Mirror” is one of the all-time classic Star Trek episodes. It might feel clichéd and hackneyed now by comparison to all of its imitators, but this is really the one that started the evil mirror universe trope. And judged in those terms, it still comes up sparkling.

It begins with a landing party consisting of Kirk, McCoy, Scotty, and Uhura on the planet of the Halkans, attempting to negotiate for the Federation to purchase dilithium. The Halkans are the epitome of Perfect Pacifist People, however, and refuse to sell, fearing the Federation might use the dilithium for hostile purposes. Resigned to this diplomatic failure, the crew beam up in the middle of an ion storm, which causes a transporter malfunction. (Why do they beam up during an obviously unpredictable and dangerous ion storm?) They appear in the transporter room of a ship that looks like the Enterprise, but with strange symbols on the walls. Their uniforms have changed into more stylish variants, with glitzy bits and holstered daggers, including Uhura’s showing a wide strip of torso. And then they see Spock, who has a neatly trimmed goatee. (A cliché, you say? Yes, but a cliché started by this episode!)

Of course, they are in an evil mirror universe, and spend the rest of the episode trying to deal with this and figure out a way to get home without being killed by the evil Enterprise crew. It turns out that in this universe, the senior officers recruit henchmen from amongst the lesser ranks, and jostle for promotion by assassinating their superiors. Evil-Chekov tries this on Kirk, but Kirk’s henchmen protect him and Spock places Chekov in the agony booth. Evil-Sulu meanwhile flirts with Uhura, giving us a good look at his evil scar in the process.

With the help of the ship’s computer, which has a male voice in the evil universe, Kirk eventually figures out that they are in a mirror universe and instructs Scotty to start working on rewiring the transporter system to send them home. McCoy, with nothing else to do, joins Scotty reluctantly. (“I’m a doctor, not an engineer!“) Uhura’s mission is to distract Sulu from his security console while the power is rerouted, so he doesn’t see the warning light.

We learn that in this universe, the Federation is an evil Empire, and Kirk is ordered by Starfleet to annihilate the Halkans and take the dilithium. His reluctance to do so alerts Goatee-Spock that something is amiss, and Goatee-Spock does some detective work to figure things out. Eventually he corners McCoy and mind melds to read what’s going on. In a flash to the original universe, we see the evil Spock, McCoy, Scotty, and Uhura being dragged off to the brig. Evil-Kirk pulls some extraordinary facial expressions as he rages and offers Good-Spock “credits” in exchange for his freedom – another of the occasional references to money in Star Trek.

In a subplot, Kirk finds Evil-Lieutenant Marlena Moreau in his quarters, who is his “captain’s woman”. She unwittingly acts to fill Kirk in on various aspects of this universe, including the fact that Evil-Kirk has a mysterious alien artefact secreted in his quarters that can remotely make people simply vanish from reality. It turns out Evil-Kirk has used this device to rise to Captain by simply erasing all his enemies. The question arises of why doesn’t the good Kirk have one of these gizmos in the original universe; maybe he found it but promptly handed it over to a museum. Marlena uses the device later to save Kirk from three of Scar-Sulu’s thugs in another assassination attempt.

Eventually Kirk, Scotty, and Uhura gather in the transporter room, ready to beam back to their own universe, but McCoy has gone missing, and time is running out because the hole connecting the universes is closing. McCoy appears, in Goatee-Spock’s custody. Goatee-Spock, despite being coldly logical to the point of killing people, is not particularly evil as such, and has a conversation with Kirk before agreeing to beam them home and get his own Kirk back. Kirk suggests that Goatee-Spock use the alien device to off Evil-Kirk and lead a revolt against the Empire to establish a new order of peace, and Goatee-Spock says he’ll consider it.

When they get home, there is some banter with Spock about how the evil versions of themselves were easily detectable because it’s hard for barbarians to act civilised, while it was easy for the civilised good guys to act like barbarians. Kirk then spots the good-Marlena, who he’d never met before as she was only a recent assignee to the ship, and goes to flirt with her over the closing credits.

Whew. It’s a wild ride, and an episode that keeps you glued to the screen throughout. I remembered this one as being somewhat corny, presumably because of other interpretations of the now clichéd evil mirror universe thing, but watching it shows just how well done it was in this case. It still holds up really well, and is easily one of the more intense and compellingly dramatic episodes of the series. A definite winner!

Tropes: Alternate Reality Episode, Perfect Pacifist People, Negative Space Wedgie, Teleporter Accident, Evil Costume Switch, Bare Your Midriff, Beard Of Evil, Trope Makers, Mirror Universe, I Am He As You Are He, Klingon Promotion, Agony Beam, Good Scars Evil Scars, Distaff Counterpart, I’m A Doctor, Not A Placeholder, The Empire, Exposition Beam, Evil Is Hammy, Mr Exposition, All The Myriad Ways, Evil Cannot Comprehend Good.
Body count: 2 evil crewmen henchmen killed by phaser, 3 of Sulu’s evil henchmen disappeared by the Tantalus device.

Inniskillin 2006 Riesling Icewine

Monday, 3 January, 2011

Inniskillin 2006 Riesling IcewineInniskillin is a Canadian winery, which makes one of the most acclaimed icewines in the world. These are sweet dessert wines produced from grapes that freeze on the vine late in the harvest season with the first frosts of winter. The freezing removes water and concentrates the sugars, allowing deliciously sweet wines to be made without further processing.

I’ve reviewed one icewine before, and I’ve tried another once at a wine festival in the German town of Bingen, on the Rhine River (boast, moi?). Both were absolutely delicious. So when I saw this bottle of Inniskillin Riesling Icewine in a local bottle shop, I was immediately attracted to it. Alas, the price tag was around $115, for 375 ml. I held out for a couple of visits, while I read up on Inniskillin online. Everything I found said that these were the pinnacle of icewines. And then I got a 20% discount voucher for the bottle shop, and went in one day to pick up some bottles of other things. While there, I asked the guy about the Inniskillin. He said that they were lucky to have that one bottle in stock – they rarely get them in, as the number of bottles imported to Australia is so few. Given that, I took the plunge and grabbed it, not knowing when I might get the chance to acquire a bottle again.

We opened it on New Year’s Eve, after a quiet dinner at home, relaxing into an evening of TV, and had it with a platter of cheeses. The colour is, as you can see from the photo, a rich, dark gold – darker than any other dessert wine I’ve had. The aroma was fresh and vibrant, with oranges the dominant note. It was slightly thick and syrupy. On the tongue it was sweet, with flavours of orange and marmalade, with a touch of acidity to cut into the sweetness, something like lime. It was nicely balanced, but very sweet, and… disappointingly simple. I was expecting layers of complex flavours developing in the mouth, but there wasn’t much of that going on. There was a hint of Riesling minerality underneath it all, and that slight piercing note in the aroma, but the fruit flavour and sweetness were basically straightforward.

M. put it best when she said it reminded her of Noble One, the benchmark Australian dessert wine, a botrytis Semillon by De Bortoli, and one which we’ve had several times. It’s true – it tasted almost exactly like Noble One. The same orange dominance with a bittersweet marmalade finish and lingering taste. While this is very nice (I love Noble One), it wasn’t what I was hoping for in an internationally acclaimed wine that cost nearly 3 times as much.

So… Inniskillin Riesling Icewine. Good, but not that good. Inniskillin also makes icewine from Vidal, Cabernet Franc, and Tempranillo, so I might try one of those at some point (if I can find any).


Sunday, 2 January, 2011

I was wondering when something like this would happen. A microbiologist at the University of British Columbia has started ScienceLeaks – a place to collect links to peer-reviewed science papers that have been “liberated” from behind journal pay-walls.

I’ve long thought that the scientific literature should be free to everyone to access. Science needs to move to a new publishing model in which this is possible.

I’m a little concerned at what something like this might do to peer review in the short term – mostly because I’m not prescient and can’t foresee all the factors involved and how they will play out. Journals currently charge for access to papers because they need that money to support the infrastructure to arrange the traditional anonymous peer review system for every paper that gets submitted. Take that revenue away, and something else needs to happen.

It may be possible for science to survive by people posting papers to free sites and having anyone (or any accredited user) post reviews of it, voting them up and down. But this could easily lead to favouritism or downright chaos, neither of which is desirable for science publication.

However, I think science needs to move to a free availability model, and soon. The number of scientifically literate and interested people who want to see what our researchers are doing is growing, and hiding the best science behind pay-walls makes it look like there’s something to hide, breeding conspiracy theories and anti-science. My main criticism of this ScienceLeaks site is that it looks too small and doesn’t go far enough. I think it won’t be long before we see a science leaking site on a massive scale, aiming to publish every science paper free of charge. The revolution is coming. I hope the journals are thinking about this and have a plan for it, otherwise they’re going to be caught with their pants down and science could suffer an upheaval before things settle down into a new paradigm.

Star Trek 2.3: The Changeling

Saturday, 1 January, 2011

The ChangelingThe Changeling” is the one I always remember as the episode version of the film Star Trek: The Motion Picture. The plot is essentially the same on the large scale, so much so that it seems odd that during the film Kirk and Spock never once mention their previous experiences from this episode.

The episode opens with the casual death of over 4 billion Malurians, when Kirk responds to a distress call from a Dr Manway (leader of a research team) and arrives only to find the entire Malurian system devoid of life. An unseen ship then starts shooting at the Enterprise, hitting it with incredibly powerful bursts of energy that threaten to overload the shields and destroy the ship. Kirk fires back futilely, then when all seems lost attempts to communicate. The mystery ship responds, and both parties establish they have no hostile intentions(!). Spock says the mystery ship is only a metre long, so they beam it directly on board the Enterprise to have a chat.

It soon becomes apparent that the “ship” is in fact a robotic space probe, which calls itself Nomad. Kirk gives it a bit of a tour of the ship, leaving it in engineering. It’s interesting how Kirk’s tendency to show off vital parts of his ship to mysterious aliens of unproven intentions was never picked up in Starfleet Academy psych profiles. Uhura calls Mr Singh in engineering for a report and Singh goes off to check something, leaving the line open. Uhura displays her singing talent again while she waits, which prompts Nomad to head up to the bridge. There Nomad asks the purpose of Uhura’s singing. She is stumped, and Nomad responds by hitting her with some sort of brain scan. Scotty tries to intervene, but Nomad zaps him. McCoy declares, “He’s dead, Jim.”

Kirk confronts Nomad over Uhura, who lies unconscious. Nomad refers to Uhura as a “biological unit”. Spock gallantly comes to Uhura’s defence, saying, “That unit is a woman.” Nomad’s response: “A mass of conflicting impulses.” Nomad then offers to repair Scotty. Kirk tells Nomad to follow McCoy to sick bay; we see this from an eerie and unusual hand-held camera angle just behind Nomad’s PoV. Nomad brings Scotty back to life as if nothing had happened, but says it can’t fix Uhura, whose mind has been wiped clean. Nurse Chapel begins retraining Uhura, beginning with basic reading skills.

Kirk questions Nomad more strongly. Nomad says it is programmed to sterilise all imperfect beings and declares that Kirk is the Creator, who created it. This confuses Kirk, who is about to deny it, until Spock, checking a library computer, interrupts and declares that Kirk is the Creator. Spock pulls Kirk away and explains that Nomad is an Earth probe built by a Dr Roykirk in the 21st century, and that it now thinks Kirk must be Roykirk. This could be the only thing preventing Nomad from sterilising the Enterprise of all life.

Spock wants to mind meld with Nomad to learn more, and Kirk orders Nomad to allow it. Spock learns that Nomad was damaged and melded with an alien probe, getting their programming mixed up in the process. Furthermore, Nomad is seeking its origin – i.e. Earth – and if it gets there will probably sterilise the planet! Kirk lets slip that he is an imperfect biological unit, and Nomad goes on a bit of a rampage, disintegrating a few redshirts on the way to engineering, where it disables life support. Scotty declares that without life support they can only last— and in an interesting twist on the usual formula is cut off before he can give an amount of time. Kirk corners Nomad and tells it that it has made a mistake in thinking he is its Creator, therefore Nomad itself is imperfect and must be sterilised. This locks Nomad into a logic bomb and it blows itself up – conveniently just after Scotty beams it into space.

In the denouement, we learn that Uhura is up to college level education and will be ready to resume her role as communications officer within a week – i.e. conveniently before the next episode.

Tropes: A Million Is A Statistic, We Come In Peace, Shoot To Kill, Bring My Red Jacket, He’s Dead, Jim, Contractual Immortality, Easy Amnesia, Thank The Maker, Crazy Enough To Work, Cooldown Hug, Disintegrator Ray, Red Shirt, Electronic Speech Impediment, Logic Bomb.
Body count: Over 4 billion Malurians (off-screen, killed prior to episode beginning), Federation science team led by Dr Manway (off-screen, killed prior to episode beginning), four Enterprise redshirt security guards.