Archive for February, 2011

Star Trek 2.15: The Trouble with Tribbles

Friday, 25 February, 2011

The Trouble with TribblesAh, “The Trouble with Tribbles“. I would guess that this is probably the most famous single episode of Star Trek ever produced. It certainly stands out as a distinctive episode for its overall humorous mood, which is very different to anything that has come before. This would fit nicely into Star Trek if it had been a sitcom, rather than a drama.

That’s not to say there’s no drama at all though. The overarching story is a tense standoff between the Enterprise crew and that of a Klingon battlecruiser, both of whom are overseeing attempts to establish control over the disputed Sherman’s Planet under the terms of the Organian Treaty (enacted by the Organians in “Errand of Mercy“). Whichever government can demonstrate better development of the planet’s resources will be awarded control of it. They interact under an uneasy truce on the Federation outpost of Deep Space Station K-7, where Federation Undersecretary in charge of Agricultural Affairs Nilz Baris is in charge of a store of quadrotriticale (a strain of wheat), which he wants protected from the Klingons at all costs. Baris goes so far as to issue a Code One distress call to summon the Enterprise, which gets him on Kirk’s wrong side as Kirk sees this as an abuse of an emergency signal.

Some Klingons initiate a bar room brawl by taunting members of the Enterprise crew and their captain. Scotty resists, until they insult the Enterprise itself, at which he throws the first punch. He is humorously chewed out by Kirk, who confines Scotty to quarters, which Scotty sees as a welcome chance to read technical journals. Before this, a waitress in the bar demonstrates a good example of space clothes, in a skimpy outfit with horizontal candy stripes and a set of butterfly wings attached to her back. The bar is in fact the focal point of much of the episode, since it’s here we meet Cyrano Jones, an itinerant merchant bordering on con-man who convinces the barkeep to buy some tribbles, before wandering bemusedly through the brawl. Tribbles are small balls of fuzz which make soothing purring noises, and Uhura takes a liking to one, which Cyrano gives to her as a sample. And here’s where the trouble starts.

The tribble has babies. And the babies soon have babies. McCoy takes one to examine and determines that they are essentially born pregnant and multiply as fast as their food source allows. Pretty soon they are infesting the Enterprise. When they get into the food synthesisers via the air ducts, Kirk suddenly realises the quadrotriticale on board the space station is under threat. Racing to the storage bins, he finds them full of gorged tribbles and no wheat. Baris is livid, blaming Kirk for this disaster and the loss of Sherman’s Planet. Spock calculates that there are 1,771,561 tribbles. But McCoy notices most of the tribbles are dead or dying, and concludes the wheat was poisoned, probably by a Klingon agent. And here the tribbles show their usefulness, as we’d seen in the bar earlier that they hate Klingons. When Kirk approaches Baris’s assistant Darvin with a tribble, it hisses at him, thus revealing him to be the Klingon agent. Kirk thus saves the day, to the annoyance of Baris.

Back on the Enterprise, Kirk wonders where all the tribbles went. Scotty reluctantly admits he beamed them all over to the Klingon ship just before it went into warp, and everyone laughs.

Overall it’s actually a pretty good story, and the constant humour just makes it enjoyable, not annoying. Adding to it is that they’ve deliberately ramped up Chekov’s tendency to claim everything was invented in Russia or first done by a Russian – he claims no fewer than three such incidences in this episode: that Sherman’s Planet was first surveyed by a Russian, that quadrotriticale was a Russian invention, and that Scotch whisky was invented by “a little old lady from Leningrad”. Other points of interest: This is the first time in the series where we get an exterior shot of a space station (as opposed to a starbase, which are on planets). It’s not a bad model shot either. And we see Cyrano Jones and the bartender haggling prices in credits – another clear example of money in Star Trek. Finally, the main Klingon, Koloth, seemed eerily familiar as I watched this episode, but I couldn’t place the actor. It turns out it’s William Campbell, the guy who played the annoying Trelane in “The Squire of Gothos“. His acting style really makes for a snide and conniving, but cowardly Klingon. It fits the episode, but not Klingons in general. Final judgement: A clever and exceptionally good story, with the comedy elements handled well, and integrated seamlessly around a solid enough nugget of dramatic plot to make this a great episode.

Tropes: Call Back, Truce Zone, Straw Civilian, Bar Brawl, I Take Offense To That Last One, McLintock Punch, Unishment, Space Clothes, Intrepid Merchant, Lovable Rogue, Strolling Through The Chaos, Born As An Adult, Exploding Closet, Ludicrous Precision, Everybody Laughs Ending, In The Original Klingon, Now If You Will Excuse Me I Have A Noun To Verb.
Body count: None!

Science for the win

Thursday, 24 February, 2011

I’m just watching Who Wants to be a Millionaire, and one of the later questions was:

How much larger is the Earth’s diameter than the Moon’s? A: 2.5; B: 3.7; C: 5.8; D: 9.2

I blanked briefly. Despite being a science question, and specifically an astronomy question, I had no idea what the correct answer was.

But then I started thinking: can I possibly figure it out? What facts do I know about the Earth and the Moon that I can use? My thoughts turned to eclipses – if I could remember the size of the Sun and the radius of the Moon’s orbit, I could calculate the size of the Moon from similar triangles, and I know the size of the Earth…

But alas I don’t know the size of the Sun offhand. What else do I know about the Moon? It has weaker gravity than Earth… in fact if I remember rightly it has about 1/7 the gravity of Earth. And gravity is proportional to the mass, and inversely proportional to the square of the radius (thank you Isaac Newton). I have no idea what the masses of the Earth and Moon are, but I know they must both have similar densities, being primarily made of rock, so the masses would be proportional to the volumes, and the mass of a sphere is proportional to the cube of the diameter. This means the relative strength of gravity on the surfaces of the Earth and Moon must be roughly in the same proportion as their radii to the power of 3/2.

So if I take 7, and square it to get 49, then take the cube root of 49… let’s see, 4 cubed is 64, so the cube root of 49 must be a bit less than 4… scan the options… the answer must be 3.7. B!

I went through all of this in my head in the 30 seconds that the contestant had to answer the question, and reached my answer before the contestant locked in what was nothing more than a random guess. (She guessed C: 5.8.)

The answer? 3.7. Science wins!

EDIT: Oops! So embarrassing! The moon has a gravity 1/6 that of Earth, not 1/7. And the correct thing to do is divide the radius cubed by the radius squared, leaving the surface gravity varying proportionally to the radius, not the radius to the power of 3/2, assuming the densities are the same. But it also turns out the Earth and Moon have significantly different densities (5.5 compared to 3.3), and multiplying 6 by the ratio 3.3/5.5 gives 3.6, close enough to the answer of 3.7.

In other words, I stuffed up on 3 different facts, and produced the correct answer only by a happy cancellation of errors. Still, I did it in under 30 seconds and got the right answer, so I’m still claiming the money! (Somewhat sheepishly.)

Star Trek 2.14: Wolf in the Fold

Tuesday, 22 February, 2011

Wolf in the FoldWolf in the Fold” is a murder mystery and courtroom drama with a twist. It’s not a Fair Play Whodunnit, but rather a Clueless Mystery, in that the viewer really has no chance to work out what is happening before our heroes do. In fact, the answer is completely unexpected and bizarre. In hindsight, there are certainly hints, but nothing that would actually let you reach the right conclusion without some astounding insight.

It opens on a close up of a belly dancer, who pulls back to reveal an Arabian-styled room in which Kirk, McCoy, and Scotty are enjoying the dancing show. Dialogue reveals that Scotty is on medical recreation leave on the planet Argelius II, enforced by McCoy after an accident aboard ship gave him a head injury. They mention explicitly that the accident was caused by a female crew member, and they need to eliminate Scotty’s resulting “total resentment towards women.” This is a dubious statement which might have trouble flying in such a straight manner on TV produced today. But it’s necessary to build towards the mystery.

Kirk has invited the belly dancer to their table, and introduces her to Scotty, then suggests they take a walk outside in the fog. The implication is that the society is extremely sexually permissive, and that Kara’s “attentions” will “cure” Scotty. Kirk and McCoy head out to a place where the women are… not described as the statement is cut off, but again the implication is pretty clear. They never arrive, as the fog is pierced by a scream and Scotty is found looming over the dead Kara with a bloody knife in his hand.

Scotty is the obvious suspect, and the Argelian prefect Jaris begins an investigation with the help of the Rigellian off-worlder Hengist. (The native Argelians hire off-worlders as bureaucrats since they are far too hedonistic to do such work themselves.) Scotty can’t remember what happened. Kirk gets a Lieutenant Karen Tracy to beam down with a device capable of reading his memories of the past 24 hours. However, when left alone with Scotty she ends up dead too, with Scotty again holding the bloody knife. Again he can’t remember what happened.

Jaris’s wife Sybo has empathic powers and holds a seance-like ceremony to read psychic impressions. We are treated to a cool overhead shot of the ceremony. During it, Sybo goes into a trance and declares that an evil force is present, calling it a series of names: “Beratis”, “Kesla”, “Redjac”. The lights go off briefly, and when they come back on Sybo falls dead with the knife in her back, Scotty standing right behind her. Jaris takes this remarkably well, and agrees to let Kirk hold a hearing on the Enterprise with a computer lie detector (we saw this back in “Mudd’s Women“, although Kirk seems to have forgotten about it when it would have been useful in “The Alternative Factor“). Scotty passes when he says he doesn’t remember killing anyone.

Kirk asks the computer to look up the name “Redjac”, and it comes up with it as a homonym for “Red Jack”, another name for Jack the Ripper, who notoriously murdered several women in 19th century London. Kirk accepts this rather bizarre link at face value far too readily, showing no scepticism whatsoever. He quickly has the computer list similar murder sprees, and discovers they extend off Earth, in a straight line towards Argelius, with the most recent murders occurring a few years ago on Rigel – where Hengist comes from. Hengist tries to escape, but is knocked out by Kirk. Hengist’s body is dead, but the evil entity inhabiting it moves into the Enterprise‘s computer system, taking control of the ship.

Spock speculates that the entity feeds on fear, and targets women because “women are more easily terrified than men” – another interesting piece of 1960s logic that would be questioned today. Another unfortunate implication that is glossed over is that Jack the Ripper targeted prostitutes specifically – which would imply something about the victims so far. Kara maybe, but Lieutenant Tracy?! And Sybo, the prefect’s wife??! Spock sets the computer the task of computing the last digit of pi, which eventually consumes all of its processing power, rendering Redjac harmless. Redjac returns to Hengist’s body, but Kirk has it bundled into the transporter and beamed into space on “maximum dispersion”, which should spread it widely enough to destroy it.

All up, a pretty good episode. The mystery aspect is certainly engrossing, keeping you wondering both how they’re going to prove Scotty is innocent, and how the murders were committed. Hengist is a little obvious as the culprit, because he keeps protesting in his whiny voice about everything Kirk does, but until the reveal it’s completely impossible to figure out how. The Ripper connection is surprising at first, but is worked into the story reasonably well. It’s now you realise that the fog in the opening scenes is significant, evoking Victorian London. The more you think about it, the more clever this episode becomes. Not one of the greats, but a very acceptable instalment.

Tropes: Courtroom Episode, Clueless Mystery, Belly Dancer, Ominous Fog, Hired To Hunt Yourself, Frameup, Spooky Seance, I Have Many Names, Lights off Somebody Dies, Never One Murder, Orgy Of Evidence, Clear Their Name, Lie Detector, Jack The Ripper, Beethoven Was An Alien Spy, Regularly Scheduled Evil, Puppeteer Parasite, Haunted Technology, Emotion Eater, Hysterical Woman, Logic Bomb, Body Surf, Softspoken Sadist.
Body count: The dancer Kara, Lt Tracy, the prefect’s wife Sybo. All stabbed.

Star Trek 2.13: Obsession

Monday, 21 February, 2011

ObsessionObsession” is easy to describe. It’s Kirk as Captain Ahab. We’ve seen Commodore Decker play this role in “The Doomsday Machine“, but now it’s Kirk’s turn. He goes on a blind rampage of revenge against a mysterious gaseous creature that sucks the red blood cells from its victims.

The story opens with not one, but two redshirts biting the dust to the creature, during a survey of Argus X for the mineral tritanium, which is 20 times harder than diamond (or “21.4 times harder, to be precise,” as Spock says). That plot element is dropped as soon as Kirk detects a sickly sweet odour, which reminds him of an incident 11 years earlier, in which 200 crew members of the USS Farragut were killed by a weird gaseous entity that gave of a similar smell. Kirk blames himself for the deaths of the crew and quickly turns obsessive about tracking down and killing the “creature”, as he calls it. He does so despite having a deadline to meet another ship to transfer desperately needed medical supplies, ignoring direct Starfleet orders in the process.

This causes McCoy and Spock to team up in confronting Kirk. McCoy is about to declare Kirk unfit to command,with Spock’s back-up, but Kirk argues them out of it with logic. He points out that the creature is a known killer and has space travel capability, so is a threat to the Federation. This is enough for the time being, but Kirk is eventually proved correct later when it turns out that the creature is about to spawn, generating thousands of copies of itself. They chase it through space, but it turns on the Enterprise, making use of a Chekhov’s gun mentioned earlier by Scotty – an impulse engine vent that has been opened for repairs. For some reason, entering this vent gives the creature access to the life support ventilation system – so apparently the air circulation system is directly connected to a vent that opens to space?

What’s more, a room vent is left jammed open by Ensign Garrovick (the son of the captain of the Farragut, who died in the earlier incident and for whose death Kirk blames himself), allowing the creature into the ship proper. Fortunately Spock keeps it at bay with his Vulcan blood, containing copper rather than iron-based haemoglobin. Eventually they confront the creature on the planet Tycho IV, which is where the Farragut incident occurred. They decide to blow it up using antimatter, and Kirk and Garrovick take on the suicide mission of escorting an antimatter bomb and baiting it for the creature. They plan to use artificial blood as bait, but the creature eats it all before the bomb is ready, so they need to lure it themselves. Cue a fistfight between Kirk and Garrovick as the ensign wants to sacrifice himself to kill the creature that killed his father, while Kirk wants to save Garrovick. The creature approaches close enough to almost kill them before they both beam away and detonate the bomb, causing some hairy moments with the transporter before they appear safely aboard the Enterprise. This gives McCoy the chance to display his distrust of the transporter: “Crazy way to travel”. One wonders, however, why they had to lure the creature right on top of the bomb, when they said it was equivalent o “100,000 cobalt bombs” and would “rip half the atmosphere off the planet“. Surely detonating when the creature was… a whole 20 metres away and Kirk and Garrovick could have beamed back perfectly safely would have been just as good.

Other notes: Kirk has some interesting African style artefacts in his quarters. Garrovick gets served some food, which is a delectable looking plate of shapeless primary coloured blobs. And finally, the perennial extra, Lieutenant Leslie, was one of the redshirts summarily killed by the creature in the pre-credits sequence. Yet later in the episode he is seen walking around the backgrounds! And he appears in later episodes too. Canonically this is explained as him “recovering” from his not-quite-dead state, despite him clearly being declared dead. Overall, an okay episode, with a decent enough story, but nothing particularly special or memorable.

Tropes: Revenge Before Reason, Fog Of Doom, Our Vampires Are Different, Red Shirt, Ludicrous Precision, His Story Repeats Itself, Guilt Complex, My Greatest Second Chance, Screw The Rules, I’m Doing What’s Right, The Hunter Becomes The Hunted, Chekhov’s Gun, Wallbanger, Percussive Prevention, More Hero Than Thou, Atmosphere Abuse, Food Pills.
Body count: An unnamed redshirt and redshirt Lieutenant Leslie, redshirt Ensign Rizzo, another nameless redshirt, then another nameless redshirt, and finally the gaseous creature.

Star Trek 2.12: The Deadly Years

Sunday, 13 February, 2011

The Deadly YearsAh, “The Deadly Years“. I remember this one well because this was another of the Fotonovels that I had when I was a kid.

The story is basically that the senior crew members, plus the expendable Lieutenant Galway, succumb to a weird radiation sickness that causes them to age dramatically, just like the research colonists on Gamma Hydra IV, four of whom are dead before the opening credits roll. The final two die of extreme age, despite being 29 and 27. Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty, and Galway start aging when they return to the Enterprise from landing party duty on the planet. Only Chekov was in the landing party and remains unaffected, becoming the focus of endless medical tests to determine why he is immune and hopefully figure out a cure. This provides several brilliant moments of comedy relief:

Chekov: Blood sample, Chekov! Marrow sample, Chekov! Skin sample, Chekov! If – if I live long enough, I’m going to run out of samples!
Sulu: You’ll live.
Chekov: Oh, yes. I’ll live. But I won’t enjoy it.

McCoy: Now this isn’t going to hurt a bit.
Chekov: That’s what you said the last time.
McCoy: Did it hurt?
Chekov: Yes!

These are undoubtedly the highlights of the episode.

The two subplots involve yet another ex-girlfriend of Kirk’s, Dr Janet Wallace, and Commodore Stocker, who is keen to take up his command post at Starbase 10. Wallace is, coincidentally, an endocrinologist, who renders assistance to McCoy in studying the disease. Her presence on board is never explicitly explained, though you could assume she is being assigned to Starbase 10 with Stocker. Stocker comes across as very reasonable, wanting to do everything he can to assist Kirk. He recommends going to Starbase 10 where they have better equipped medical labs, but Kirk insists on staying near Gamma Hydra IV until they solve the problem. Maybe it’s just me, but I tend to agree with Stocker on this one. They’re completely ignoring any principles of quarantine anyway, by allowing the obviously afflicted landing party to perform their normal duties and mingle freely with the crew, rather than confining them in sickbay.

The Wallace subplot is simply tedious, having seen very similar stuff before. She left because Kirk was wedded to the job of commanding a starship, she married some other guy, who is now dead, Kirk looks as sexy as ever, Wallace looks good with a soft focus filter, etc., etc., ho hum. The really annoying thing is that this plot is never actually resolved. The episode ends with Kirk cured and Wallace hanging around on board as they head to Starbase 10, and we never see any argument between them, or agreement to keep only their past and go their separate ways, or one last fling, or anything. The entire thing is just left dangling, and of course we never see Wallace again in any other episode.

The Stocker subplot is more interesting, as he becomes worried about Kirk’s obvious and growing memory lapses. He recommends to Spock that a competency hearing be called. I should point out that this is a perfectly reasonable thing for a flag officer to be concerned about – not merely a power grab by Stocker (something we have seen before by Commodore Decker in “The Doomsday Machine“). Kirk, despite his own assurances that he can still command effectively, fails the competency hearing miserably, with plenty of evidence of him repeating commands and forgetting that he signed “important orders”. We observed these incidents earlier in the episode, although the thing he forgot he signed then was quoted as a “fuel consumption report” – hardly the “important orders” Spock mentions in the hearing! Stocker wants Spock to assume command, but Spock declines, saying he is also affected and, despite his superior Vulcan lifespan, is also not fit to command. With Scotty also out of the question, this leaves Stocker as ranking officer to assume command, which he does somewhat reluctantly.

This goes bad, however, when his first order is to head directly to Starbase 10. Across the Romulan Neutral Zone. Even for a desk-bound non-starship Starfleet officer, this must rank as one of the most stupid and indefensible decisions ever. His heart is in the right place, but he’s just inept, which is displayed in due course when a fleet of ten Romulan Birds of Prey attack, and Stocker dithers, unable to give any sensible orders. Clearly he’s not trained for this sort of thing. Fortunately, by this time Kirk has trumped McCoy yet again by determining that Chekov’s immunity must have been caused by the adrenaline rush of being terrified by discovering an aged body on the planet. Wallace and Spock whip up an adrenaline-based formula, which Kirk demands be injected into him first, despite it being potentially fatal. Naturally, he recovers, and races to the bridge in time to bluff the Romulans by broadcasting a message in a broken code that the Enterprise is about to detonate its corbomite device (a recall to “The Corbomite Maneuver“). The Romulans flee, leaving the Enterprise to warp safely out of the Neutral Zone and on a safer course to Starbase 10, with Kirk gaining a cool and dramatic echo effect as he dramatically says, “Warp factor 8!”

The episode ends on a light note, with McCoy saying he’s removed anything breakable from Sickbay, so that when Spock undergoes the convulsions caused by the serum, he won’t smash anything. Fine, except now that the Enterprise has been caught red-handed in the Neutral Zone, isn’t that an act of war, and shouldn’t the Romulans be massing to attack the entire Federation now? The fact that they’ve just started all-out war with the Romulans is simply ignored. Convenient!

A few other notes: Nice shot of an aged Kirk napping in the captain’s chair. McCoy: “I’m not a magician, just an old country doctor!” McCoy gains a strong southern US accent as he ages. All up, a decent episode, marred by some ridiculously incompetent command decisions, both by Kirk and Stocker. The episode is saved and elevated to heights, however, by Chekov, who delivers some of the best and smoothest comedy relief of the series.

Tropes: Rapid Aging, The Immune, Russian Guy Suffers Most, Find The Cure, Plucky Comic Relief, Girl Of The Week, Reasonable Authority Figure, Gaussian Girl, Shirtless Scene, I Can Still Fight, Idiot Ball, Magic Antidote, Call Back, Power Echoes, Snap Back, I’m A Doctor, Not a Placeholder.
Body count: 4 research colonists pre-credits, colonists Richard Johnson and wife Elaine, Lt. Galway, all of old age.

Star Trek 2.11: Friday’s Child

Thursday, 10 February, 2011

Friday's ChildFriday’s Child” is a story of culture clash, with the Federation, a Klingon representative, and the native Capellans engaged in negotiations over mineral resources of Capella IV. The clash is demonstrated vividly in the opening teaser, when Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and Ensign Ricky Lieutenant Grant beam down to being talks, only to find a Klingon already there. Grant pulls a phaser instinctively and a Capellan warrior kills him instantly with a thrown weapon. Kirk doesn’t retaliate, because the negotiations are too important.

It quickly becomes clear that the Capellans are a warrior race with some unusual and violent customs. The fact that they are depicted some sort of space Bedouins might be seen as politically incorrect nowadays. We are treated to a novel way for Kirk and company to be prevented from radioing the Enterprise for help – the Capellans simply demand their weapons and communicators, or else they’ll call the negotiations off. McCoy, who has spent some time on a previous assignment with the Capellans, saves Kirk from a terrible faux pas of touching a Capellan woman, which according to their customs would necessitate a fight between Kirk and the woman’s brother. (The brother is actually keen on the fight and is disappointed it doesn’t eventuate.)

The story progresses through a leadership rivalry between the incumbent Akaar, who is happy to talk to the Federation, and the ambitious Maab, who wants to grant mining rights to the Klingon (who is never named, but is listed as Kras in the credits). Akaar gets killed in a coup, leaving his widow Eleen heavily pregnant with his heir and wounded. She demands to be killed to maintain her honour, but Kirk, Spock, and McCoy rescue her and escape from Maab’s custody. Eleen is at first angry and refuses to let McCoy examine her, but he slaps her, which causes her to soften to his ministrations. Fortunately, because before long goes into labour.

In orbit, we see Scotty in command again, explicitly recording a log entry. In the B story, the Enterprise is distracted from rescuing Kirk by a distress call, which they figure out is faked by a nearby Klingon vessel. As they return to Capella IV, Uhura picks up another distress call and Scotty summarily ignores it, saying, “Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.” Chekov says that’s an old Russian saying, but this time it’s pretty clear he is deliberately joking, not serious.

Meanwhile, Maab and his cronies are tracking them across the countryside to a familiar rock outcrop, where Kirk and Spock construct some primitive bow and arrows to defend themselves. McCoy gets in the line, “I’m a doctor, not an escalator!” as he helps the pregnant Eleen up a rocky slope. She soon gives birth, but is not happy to see the child, wanting it dead because it links her to Akaar’s dishonour. McCoy and Kirk manage to convince her to love the child, before Maab and company appear.

Eleen appears alone to Maab and says she has killed Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and her baby. Kras demands proof, but Maab trusts Eleen’s honour. Fighting breaks out between Kras and the Capellans, then Kirk and Spock start firing arrows into the fray. Maab sacrifices himself to prevent Kras from killing her, then a Capellan kills Kras. The cavalry arrives in the form of Scotty and a security team. The Capellans declare the baby their new leader, and Eleen becomes his regent, signing the mining treaty with Kirk. An interesting point is just how cowardly Kras acts during all this, the very antithesis of later Klingons.

All up, a moderately okay episode, with a few memorable moments, but nothing particularly compelling. Not bad, but not particularly memorable, either. The clash of culture is an interesting idea, but it’s a bit limited in scope and suffers in modern eyes from being overly clichéd.

Tropes: Culture Clash, Red Shirt, Space Jews, Dr Jerk, In The Original Klingon, Kirk’s Rock, I’m a Doctor, Not a Placeholder, The Cavalry.
Body count: Redshirt Grant, Akaar, Maab, several other natives, the Klingon Kras.

San Francisco trip, part 2: work

Tuesday, 8 February, 2011

Electronic Imaging 2011 ConferenceMonday to Thursday of my trip were dominated by the Electronic Imaging 2011 conference, though I got to do other things as well on Thursday. This was a huge international conference, with something close to a thousand participants from all over the world, representing technology companies, research centres, and universities. As mentioned, I was there with three colleagues from Canon Information Systems Research Australia, and there were also other people from Canon USA as well as from Océ in France, which was recently acquired by Canon. And there were representatives from many of the big players in digital image technology, such as Sony, Hewlett Packard, Microsoft, Nikon, IBM, and so on, as well as Internet technology companies like Facebook and Google.

Electronic Imaging is actually an umbrella conference containing a dozen or so sub-conferences, all taking place simultaneously in the same venue. I was giving my paper in the Digital Photography stream, but there were also streams with names like: Stereoscopic Displays and Applications; Human Vision and Electronic Imaging; Computer Vision and Image Analysis of Art; Real-Time Image and Video Processing; Intelligent Robots and Computer Vision; and Multimedia on Mobile Devices. The various streams used one of the hotel’s many conference facility rooms for their oral paper presentations. Some of the rooms were small, holding only 30 or so people, others mid-sized, holding maybe 60 or 70 people. And then there was the main ballroom, which was decked out with a stage and seating for about 500 people by my estimate. All of these rooms were used simultaneously for various presentations, and you needed to juggle which of the dozen or so concurrent talks to you wanted to see most. I stayed with the Digital Photography stuff mostly, but this stream ended on the Tuesday, and another stream took over its meeting room on the last two days, so I had the chance to move around and sample some of the stuff being presented in the other streams.

By far the overwhelmingly biggest streams were those dedicated to 3D image technology. The 3D streams together monopolised the enormous ballroom for the entire four days of the conference. Whatever you want to say about the state of digital image technology today, it’s clear that by far most of the research interest and money is in 3D video, including TV, cinema, and 3D gaming technology. It became very obvious to me that the media technology companies like Sony, LG, Panasonic, Samsung, Philips, Toshiba, etc. are absolutely pouring money into research in this field.

San Francisco trip, part 1: non-work

Monday, 7 February, 2011

San Francisco InternationalMy work sent me on a trip to the Electronic Imaging 2011 conference, in San Francisco. This post will be a diary of the non-conference things I did on the trip, and I’ll follow up with a separate post about the conference itself, since some people may be interested in one or the other rather than both.

The conference ran from 24 to 27 January, and I attended with three colleagues from work: Chris (a woman I’d worked with on the project I was presenting a paper on), Andrew, and Geoff (a manager). To give us time to get over the jetlag, Chris, Andrew, and I flew in on Saturday, 22 January – Geoff had arrived a day earlier.

We emerged from San Francisco airport about 09:30 and the first point of business was to get to our hotel, the Hyatt Regency San Francisco Airport, which was where the conference was to be held. A free shuttle bus took us there, and I negotiated the tricky and unfamiliar business of offering the driver a tip after he helped us with our bags. I noticed another person on the shuttle doing it first, so I didn’t feel as silly as I normally do when practising this strange custom. The hotel checked us in right away, so we had the opportunity to have a quick shower in our rooms before heading out. We all subscribed to the idea that going to sleep upon arrival in the morning was the worst way to beat the jetlag, so planned to spend the day sightseeing and try to get to bed at a normal time in the evening.

Powell and Market LineWe asked the concierge the best way to get into San Francisco from the hotel, and she said to catch the shuttle back to the airport and take the BART train from there. However, I’d researched and found that the Millbrae BART station was only about 2 or 3 kilometres away, so we elected to walk there instead. It’s interesting that the concierge never even mentioned the option of walking. The walk gave us a chance to get our bearings and clear our heads, before buying tickets and boarding the train for the city.

Red curry fried salmon with riceWe got off at Powell St station, about as central in San Francisco as you can get. Emerging into the bustling city from the underground station was an exhilarating experience, and we soaked in the sights and sounds of the city. By now it was around 12:00 and we were all very hungry, since our last meal had been breakfast on the plane, at about 04:00 in the current time zone. We planned to walk past Union Square and find something perhaps in Chinatown, but even before reaching Union Square we spotted a restaurant labelled “King of Thai Noodle House”. We all looked at one another and said, “Yeah!” The food there was exceedingly good. I had a choo-chee salmon curry, in which the salmon fillet was deep-fried, then served over rice with a spicy red curry. Whether it was because of the hunger, or the fact that it was indeed extremely good, it felt like the best meal I’d eaten in ages.

Star Trek 2.10: Journey to Babel

Thursday, 3 February, 2011

Journey to BabelJourney to Babel” is a memorable episode mainly for the introduction of Spock’s parents, Sarek and Amanda. It’s also a decent political drama and murder mystery story, with a good dose of family tension thrown in.

It begins with Kirk and officers in dress uniform greeting Ambassador Sarek of Vulcan, arriving on board the Enterprise by shuttlecraft. This is the second episode in a row (in screening order, though not production order) in which they use a shuttlecraft when it seems the transporters would be a more sensible option. In particular, this time it’s clear that the Enterprise is in orbit about Vulcan, because Kirk offers Spock the chance to go down and visit his parents, at which point Spock reveals that the Ambassador and his wife are his parents. This revelation occurs after Sarek has already snubbed Spock and requested a different crew member show him around the ship. We quickly learn that Sarek does not approve of Spock’s choice of Starfleet as a career and they have not really spoken for 18 years.

Sarek is on board as part of a collection of over a hundred delegates to a Federation conference on the planet Babel. The actual political plot, while intriguing to watch, is not particularly worth commenting on here, as opposed to the amazingly high collar on Amanda’s gown, which presumably serves to initially hide her human ears until we learn that she is Spock’s mother, and therefore not a Vulcan but a human. Sarek meanwhile quotes his age to Kirk as 102.437 Earth years.

The various ambassadors gather to discuss politics and eat primary coloured space finger food. A pig-man alien named Gav accosts Sarek, demanding to know his position on the political issue du jour. Soon after, Gav is found murdered, his neck snapped suspiciously by a Vulcan martial technique. Kirk is shown gratuitously shirtless in his quarters when informed of the murder, and goes to question Sarek. Sarek logically agrees that he is the prime suspect, his alibi being that he was alone meditating at the time of the crime. While saying this, he collapses and McCoy diagnoses the Vulcan equivalent of a heart attack.

Sarek needs an operation, and transfused blood to survive it. The only source of the rare T negative blood is Spock, who immediately volunteers. Amid preparations for the operation, there is a hard smash cut to a scene of Kirk fighting an Andorian delegate who is armed with a knife. Kirk triumphs and the Andorian is placed in the brig, but Kirk is wounded and Spock takes command of the ship. In the looming crisis of the feuding ambassadors on board, plus the sudden appearance of a mysterious and potentially hostile alien vessel outside, Spock decides his duty to the ship outweighs that to his father and refuses to begin the operation.

Waking in sick bay, Kirk learns of this and gets McCoy to strap up his punctured lung so he can convince Spock he is okay and order him to the operating theatre to save Sarek, intending to immediately hand over command to Scotty. When Spock leaves the bridge, the enemy ship attacks, so Kirk stays to fight. He uses a trick of turning the ship’s power off and drifting in space. The enemy is defeated, and the “Andorian” is revealed to be a disguised Orion in communication with it, plotting to disrupt the Babel conference. The ship self-destructs and the spy commits suicide rather than be captured.

The story ends with Sarek waking up and reconciling with Spock. Although we never get to the Babel conference itself, that is not necessary, as the themes of the story have played out in full and resolved as best they can. This episode is more of a dramatic thriller in mood than most episodes, and benefits from a tightly plotted and interdependent storyline that holds your attention, plus the introduction of Sarek and Amanda. Definitely one of the better episodes.

Tropes: Literary Allusion Title, Forced Into Their Sunday Best, Follow In My Footsteps, I Have No Son, Ludicrous Precision, Pig Man, Ass In Ambassador, Touch Of Death, Shirtless Scene, AB Negative, Smash Cut, Ass Kicks You, I Can Still Fight, Playing Possum, Space Is An Ocean, Cyanide Pill, Well Done Son Guy.
Body count: Tellarite ambassador Gav, Orion spy Thelev, entire crew of enemy Orion ship.

Star Trek 2.9: Metamorphosis

Tuesday, 1 February, 2011

MetamorphosisMetamorphosis” is another one I didn’t recognise from the title or opening scene, but this one came back to me fairly quickly. That implies that it’s not a particularly memorable episode, neither good nor especially bad. And it is indeed in that middle ground.

Kirk, Spock, and McCoy are escorting Federation Commissioner Nancy Hedford to the Enterprise on board the shuttlecraft Galileo. She needs medical attention, before returning to negotiate a peace between warring factions on Epsilon Canaris III. The fact that she’s the only one who can prevent the war is stressed and underlines the urgency of getting her to the Enterprise for treatment. Why they are using a shuttle rather than flying the Enterprise to collect Hedford is never explained. Presumably it’s to allow the subsequent plot, in which the shuttle is pulled off course by a mysterious ionised force.

The Galileo ends up on the surface of a small planet, and the crew get out to explore. A man appears, a human shipwreck victim. It turns out he is the famous Zefram Cochrane, of alpha Centauri, and inventor of the warp drive. He was brought to the planet as an old man by the same mysterious force, and rejuvenated into a young body and sustained for 150 years. (These details seemingly contradict the portrayal of Cochrane in Star Trek: First Contact, but apparently the canon has been massaged enough to make it roughly fit.) He has established an empathic communication with the force, which he calls The Companion. It appears as a blob of plasma when he summons it. Unfortunately, it won’t let anyone leave the planet, and Cochrane is getting bored with not growing old. Hedford gets sicker, prompting McCoy to say she only has a day or so to live. They carry her to a bedroom, which has an incredibly cool 1960s string art thing on the wall.

The shuttlecraft seems dead. Cochrane says that “power systems don’t work” on the planet, although this doesn’t seem to stop Spock using a tricorder, or setting up an electrical gadget to try to shock/disable the Companion. Kirk orders Spock to use the device, but it backfires and the Companion nearly kills Kirk and Spock. Cochrane calls the Companion again, and McCoy points out that it seems to be in love with Cochrane – though how he can tell this by looking at a blob of plasma is rather mysterious. Spock adapts a universal translator and they try talking to the Companion, with McCoy pointing out to Kirk, “Try a carrot instead of a stick”. It’s good to see someone point out that Kirk’s usual order of priority in diplomacy is the wrong way around!

Through the translator, the Companion speaks to them, but initially refuses to let them go, as it is concerned that without human company Cochrane will die. The Companion speaks in a female voice, which confuses Cochrane, until Kirk point out that male and female are “universal concepts” and without a doubt the blob of plasma is female. Interesting… I wonder if Kirk knows about asexual reproduction at all. With some more arguing, Kirk convinces the Companion that it can’t really love Cochrane because they are too different. It vanishes, then the suddenly healthy Bedford appears, healed and fused with the Companion, in the titular metamorphosis. Cochrane agrees to grow old with Bedford/Companion, now that the Companion has forsaken its powers to become human (although it still can’t leave its planet). The Enterprise arrives and the crew get away to safety, Kirk promising not to tell anyone that Cochrane is still alive.

At this point, I was wondering what about the war that Bedford was supposed to prevent. I thought it might be a What Happened To The Mouse? moment, but McCoy poses the same question to Kirk. His answer? “There are plenty of other people who can do that.”

Tropes: Negative Space Wedgie, Continuity Drift, Starfish Aliens, Who Wants To Live Forever, You Have 48 Hours, Translator Microbes, Go Mad From The Isolation, You Fail Biology Forever, Lonely Together, Humanity Ensues.
Body count: None!