Archive for July, 2011

Star Trek 3.11: Wink of an Eye

Monday, 25 July, 2011

Wink of an EyeWink of an Eye” is an interesting episode, and one I actually remember fairly well, for good reasons. It has an intriguing premise and the story proceeds with some mystery, then suspense and drama.

It begins with the Enterprise answering a distress call from the planet Scalos, but when they arrive all they find as a deserted city. The only life appears to be an annoying insect buzzing. While investigating, Kirk and McCoy see crewman Compton vanish right in front of their eyes! They beam back up, and then strange things start happening – equipment malfunctions, and then a weird piece of equipment appears mysteriously in engineering, hooked up to the life support system. Kirk and Spock try to disconnect it, but it’s protected by some sort of force field. Kirk returns to the bridge, where he hears the strange insect buzzing again before sipping some coffee.

Kirk notices everyone else on the bridge slow down and then apparently become paralysed. The Scalosian queen Deela appears, clad in an airy costume reminiscent of some sort of air sprite. Kirk demands to know what she’s done with his crew, but she smiles and says nothing, what she has done is to hyper-accelerate Kirk, so that he moves at a speed beyond human perception. This explains the “insect” buzzing – it is the high-pitched sound of the Scalosians moving around unseen by the crew. Now Kirk is effectively one of them and Deela says he can never return – they have searched for a way to reverse the effect for years and failed. Deela also explains that she needs Kirk… for breeding purposes. All the male Scalosians have been rendered infertile, so they maintain their culture by kidnapping males from passing spaceships.

The episode then cuts back and forth between Kirk, Deela, and some male Scalosians (including the jealous Rael, who wears some impressive space clothes) in hyper-accelerated time, and the rest of the Enterprise crew in normal time. This is necessary for the plotting, but it raises the logic problem of how Kirk can progress through hours of normal time without living through the subjective equivalent of days or months at his hyper-accelerated rate. This niggle is never dealt with, alas. A clever bit of cinematography I noticed is the heavy use of Dutch angles when shooting in the hyper-accelerated frame, to contrast it visually from the normal speed frame. This is subtle if you’re not paying attention, but very effective at separating the two interlinked story threads and giving an off-kilter feel to Kirk’s predicament.

Back in real-time, Compton reappears, dead, apparently of old age. In accelerated time, Deela explains to Kirk that living at such speed wears their kidnapped males out rapidly, so they will freeze the Enterprise using the gizmo attached to the life support system, so they have a stock of new males for the next while. Kirk records a message for Spock and leaves it where it will be found, then decides to play along with Deela, taking her to his quarters, where he seduces her with a kiss. Cut to Spock finding the recording and deciphering the buzzing sound on it as Kirk sped up, then McCoy preparing a serum to counteract the hyper-acceleration. Cut back to Kirk sitting on the edge of his bunk putting his boots back on, while Deela fixes her hair at the mirror.

McCoy finishes the serum, but they have no way to get it to Kirk. Spock drinks a sample of Scalosian water to hyper-accelerate himself and find Kirk. Together they defeat Rael and the others, and beam them back to Scalos. Kirk has a semi-sad parting with Deela, but decides they can’t do anything for the Scalosians, so he abandons them on their planet. This is a rather callous ending – Kirk doesn’t try to come up with any way to save the Scalosian culture, but rather decides he needs to warn other ships to stay away, until their race dies out. This is the only serious plotting problem with this episode – it just seems far too callous. Finally, when Spock returns to normal time with McCoy’s serum, he says he found it to be “an accelerating experience“. Apparently Vulcans are not above sleazy puns.

In the end, this is a refreshingly good episode for season three. It’s clever, tense, and dramatic. I’m hoping there are still a few more like this to come.

Tropes: Some Kind Of Force Field, Time Stands Still, Theiss Titillation Theory, Super Speed, Only You Can Repopulate My Race, Green-Eyed Monster, Dutch Angle, Boldly Coming, Sexy Discretion Shot, Incredibly Lame Pun.
Body count: Enterprise crewman Compton (old age).

CiSRA Puzzle Comp 2011

Monday, 25 July, 2011

The fruits of many days of labour by me and my friends at work are now available to the public in the 5th annual Cisra Puzzle Competition! The first group of 4 puzzles were released today, and four more groups are released in the week beginning Monday 8 August. Australian students (if there are any reading this) can win prizes of digital cameras, but anyone can enter. If you enjoy a good puzzle, please check it out!


Thursday, 21 July, 2011

Wow, it’s wet outside. I haven’t been out in rain that heavy in a year or two, at least. I was dry when I got off the train, literally 2 minutes walk from home. I had a heavy knee-length raincoat and an umbrella. By the time I got home, I was soaked through to the knees.

Sydney has had 160 mm of rain in the past 48 hours. There’s an enormous subtropical storm of some sort hanging off the coast. Apparently the swells out to sea are 10 metres, and waves up to 5 metres are hitting Sydney beaches.

Star Trek 3.10: Plato’s Stepchildren

Wednesday, 20 July, 2011

Plato's StepchildrenPlato’s Stepchildren“. Good lord, this is a bad episode.

The Enterprise answers a distress call for urgent medical assistance on an unsurveyed planet. They are met by a huge shadow, which turns out to be cast by the dwarf Alexander. The local ruler Parmen is dying of an infected wound, which McCoy heals. While ill, Parmen’s scary powers manifested spontaneously in his delirium. The natives turn out to be disciples of Plato, from Ancient Greece on Earth (it seems every uber-powerful alien race has visited and/or modelled their society on pre-21st century Earth for some reason), and live in a self-proclaimed Utopia, in which they have honed their psychic powers and attained near-immortality. They explain that because they live so long and are so healthy, they have no need for doctors – thus the distress call. Paradoxically, they also explain that because they’ve eliminated disease, their immune systems are incredibly weak, so a simple cut can be fatal. I am not making this up.

To cut a long and tedious plot short, Parmen insists that McCoy stays behind to act as a doctor to the remaining 38 Platonians. He refuses, and Parmen chucks a hissy fit, using psychic powers to prevent him, Kirk, and Spock from leaving. He beams down Uhura and Nurse Chapel, and then subjects them all to humiliating psychic human puppetry. This includes a couple of the most cringeworthy moments in the entire series, as Kirk acts as a horse, bucking and neighing, with Alexander riding on his back, and Spock sings and dances and is almost forced to step on Kirk’s face. Also notable is Kirk and Uhura being forced to kiss – which is an historic scene, often cited as the first interracial kiss on American TV (though apparently there were a couple of lesser known earlier ones, and this one is hidden by their heads). Nowadays it just comes across as embarrassingly bad acting.

Kirk and Spock manage to gain psychic powers from a special serum McCoy prepares from the native food (a trick which they forget about and never use again in the series), and use them to challenge Parmen. Alexander is the only non-psychic Platonian, and used as a lackey and buffoon by the others. His resentment bubbles to boiling point and he attacks Parmen with a knife, but Kirk tells him not to be so petty. At this point, they simply leave the planet, taking Alexander with them, and that’s the end. They never really resolve the problem of a planetful of dangerous psychics, except by saying they’ll warn others to stay away.

Meh. A painful episode to watch.

Tropes: BLAM Episode, Big Shadow, Little Creature, Malfunction Malady, Ancient Astronauts, Uncanny Village, Psychic Powers, Wall Banger, Kick The Dog, Playing With Puppets, People Puppets, Kissing Discretion Shot, Forgotten Phlebotinum, Left Hanging.
Body Count: None.

Getting a handle on parameter space

Wednesday, 20 July, 2011

I’m exploring a bunch of different possibilities at work, looking for an optimal set of parameters for an image processing problem. For this algorithm I’m looking at, there are three independent tunable parameters, so for each combination of parameters I’m generating a sample output. This gives me a data cube, with each of the three axes roughly 20 elements in length to explore the space adequately.

Now, at each point in this data cube, the output is an image. With about 10 megapixels.

And each pixel of the image contains not a single value (e.g. a greyscale image), not three values (a full colour image), but six different data values (an actual greyscale “image”, plus a 2D alignment vector at each point, plus 3 separate measures of confidence values in those).

And this is for one of my potential competing algorithms, of which I have six different ones to try. And every time we stop to think about it a bit, we come up with new algorithms, or other possible parameter tweaks that might improve the older ones.

Star Trek 3.9: The Tholian Web

Saturday, 16 July, 2011

The Tholian Web“The Tholian Web” begins with the Enterprise searching for the USS Defiant, missing for three weeks. It shows up adrift and Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and Chekov beam over to investigate. For some unexplained reason they all wear bulky environmental suits – something nobody has ever done before when beaming into a hazardous situation (or even down to an alien planet). Of course the suits still allow you to see the actors’ faces. The Defiant crew are all dead, apparently having killed one another. In fact, they are sprawled in incredibly unlikely poses across consoles and furniture, more like they’ve been artfully arranged. Chekov asks if there’s ever been a mutiny in Starfleet before, and Spock declares there is “absolutely no record of mutiny on a starship before”. I guess he forgot about Gary Mitchell, or even himself telling Captain Pike, “I know it is treachery and it is mutiny, but I must do this.”.

The Defiant begins to fade out like some futuristic Brigadoon, and of course there’s a transporter malfunction, meaning someone has to stay behind. Spock volunteers but Kirk, being the captain and therefore less important, orders Spock back to the Enterprise while he stays himself. When the others beam back, they immediately take their suits off, without any sort of decontamination procedure. Bad idea, as soon Chekov begins to go nuts, attacking fellow crew members, until confined to quarters. Meanwhile, the Defiant disappears, taking Kirk with it.

Some aliens appear to complicate matters, the Tholians, who warn the Enterprise to leave their territory immediately. They don’t take Spock’s “rescue mission” answer kindly and start wrapping the Enterprise in the most intriguing thing in the episode – some sort of space web made of energy. McCoy uses the time to mix bright primary coloured solutions in the med lab, searching for a cure for the plague of aggression running through the ship. He says it’s caused by the region of space, which is unstable and should bring the Defiant back so they can rescue Kirk some time in the near future.

Alas things go poorly and everyone decides Kirk must be dead. Spock gives a perfunctory eulogy, then he and McCoy open Kirk’s sealed message, only to be played when he is dead. Kirk basically tells them to get along better. Uhura sees a ghostly image of Kirk and is confined to sickbay on the assumption that she’s going nuts, but when others see it, they take it as evidence that Kirk is still alive and ready to be rescued when the Defiant reappears. They do so, and beaming Kirk back aboard somehow causes the Enterprise to be thrown several parsecs clear of the Tholian web (which was of course seconds from being completed), thus completely circumventing the only thing that really had us wondering how they’d get out of this one. The amusing ending consists of Kirk asking Spock and McCoy if his last orders were helpful, and both of them sincerely replying that they didn’t have time to view them (marking an occasion when Spock tells a bald-faced lie for no apparent logical reason).

The most intriguing thing about this episode is the energy web the Tholians are weaving about the Enterprise, and the dramatic tension as it approaches its completion. What will happen then?! And this is completely defused in a deus ex machina escape. But overall it’s not terrible, and does hold interest throughout, even if it’s defused lamely at the end. Slightly below par.

Tropes: Ghost Ship, In Space Everyone Can See Your Face, Brigadoon, Phlebotinum Breakdown, Russian Guy Suffers Most, Space Madness, Door Jam, Beehive Barrier, Technicolour Science, Hate Plague, Video Wills, Just In Time, Deus Ex Machina.
Body count: Entire crew of the USS Defiant (pre-credits).

Star Trek 3.8: For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky

Monday, 11 July, 2011

For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the SkyFor the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky” is distinguished by having the longest title of any Star Trek episode. And that’s about the only thing that distinguishes it. I know I’ve seen this episode several times before, yet at no stage during it did I recall any of what was happening. The ending was a genuine surprise to me. It’s not a terrible episode, it’s just… boring.

It begins melodramatically, with McCoy telling Kirk that in a routine medical check-up, he’s discovered he (McCoy) has xenopolycythemia, which will kill him within a year. This is overshadowed by a “primitive” nuclear missile attack on the Enterprise. The attacker turns out to be an asteroid vessel – a generation ship in which the inhabitants live inside the hollowed out body. The twist is that the inhabitants don’t know they’re on a spaceship, and assume they live on a real planet. They discover this by Kirk, Spock, and McCoy beaming over and immediately getting captured. The beautiful high priestess Natira in a flimsy costume takes them below the “surface” to where the people live in tunnels.

Natira takes them to the Oracle, which is a strange idol that lives in a room. It zaps the heroes with some sort of electric knockout beam. Coming to, they meet an old man, who is amazed to learn that they are from the stars. The old man says he doesn’t believe they are on a planet, because he climbed a forbidden mountain and knows the Oracle lies, “For the world is hollow and I have touched the sky“. The Oracle immediately strikes the old man dead with a slave implant in the man’s temple. Natira falls in love at first sight with McCoy, who tells her he only has a year to live, but she doesn’t mind.

Meanwhile Spock and Kirk snoop around and discover the Oracle is a computer and the people on the asteroid are descendants of the Fabrini – a civilisation destroyed by a nova 10,000 years ago. Oddly, Spock can read their writing. They get into trouble, but Natira agrees to let them go when McCoy says he’ll stay with her. McCoy needs to get a slave device implanted, which he acquiesces to surprisingly meekly. Kirk and Spock decide they need to break the Prime Directive and tell the inhabitants that they are on a space ship, not a planet, because it’s about to collide with a populated planet. Natira doesn’t believe them, preferring to believe the Oracle’s pronouncements to the contrary. The Oracle goes nuts, raising the temperature in the Oracle room in an apparent attempt to sweat Kirk and Spock to death (lucky Spock is a Vulcan) – rather than using its demonstrated electrical shock ability to simply kill them on the spot. Some Fabrini guards stand by wearing lurid space pyjamas.

In the end they disable the Oracle, convince Natira they are telling the truth, and then raid the Fabrini medical database for a cure for McCoy’s life-threatening condition. McCoy decides to leave with the Enterprise and Natira is heartbroken, but promises to lead them to a new world for them to colonise. Gosh, it sounds more exciting than it was when actually watching the episode. There was so much potential with the storyline and the fact that the inhabitants didn’t know they were on a spaceship, but it isn’t developed in any interesting way and the story plays out so slowly and predictably that it completely fails to hold any interest. A complete non-event.

Tropes: Long Title, Your Days Are Numbered, That’s No Moon, Generation Ships, Hollow World, City In A Bottle, Theiss Titillation Theory, Title Drop, Shock Collar, Love At First Sight, Deus Est Machina, Alien Non-Interference Clause, Colony Drop, Religion Is Wrong, AI Is A Crapshoot, Space Clothes.
Body count: The Old Man (zorched by the Oracle).

Buying fruit

Sunday, 10 July, 2011

So I was buying groceries at the supermarket and they had some odd looking fruit there that I didn’t recognise. Wife thought they looked interesting and grabbed a few. Then when we got to the checkout, the guy at the register put them on the scales, looked for a second, then asked me what they were. I said, “I have no idea.”

He had to get the woman on the next register to come over and identify them.

(They were nashi pears, although of a variety that I hadn’t seen before. I thought they were similar to nashis, but they looked different enough that I wasn’t sure. And it was cool to just say I had no idea.)

Breakfast cereal

Sunday, 3 July, 2011

I can’t believe there’s such a thing as Milo breakfast cereal. Why don’t they just drop all pretence and sell Violet Crumble cereal, and Mars Bar cereal, and Toblerone cereal?

Star Trek 3.7: Day of the Dove

Sunday, 3 July, 2011

Day of the DoveDay of the Dove” begins with the Enterprise responding to a distress all from a Federation colony, which says they are under attack by an unknown starship. A landing party beams down and finds no colonists, and no evidence of there ever having been a colony at all. Meanwhile, in orbit, a Klingon vessel approaches, but it is already disabled. Commander Kang and some of his crew beam down to confront Kirk, showing the complete ineffectiveness of the Enterprise landing party’s security guards as they disarm and capture Kirk’s team without a fight. Kang accuses Kirk of having attacked his ship and killed 400 Klingons. The Klingons apply an agony device to Chekov to force Kirk to beam them up to the Enterprise, which Kang will take over. In the background we see a sinister lurking alien energy being

Kirk plays a trick and captures the Klingons in the transporter room, but of course they soon escape and run riot over the ship. An accident seals most of the Enterprise crew in lower decks, resulting in exactly balanced numbers of Klingons and Enterprise crew battling it out for control of the ship. Strangely, all the phasers disappear and are replaced by swords! The Klingons and humans engage in running sword fights, involving lots of Flynning. The humans are surprisingly good, despite swordsmanship probably never being on the Starfleet Academy training program (contrast the previous episode, “Spectre of the Gun“, in which Kirk decides to not even bother trying to use six-shooters because of unfamiliarity with such primitive weapons). Oddly enough, the only person on the Enterprise who we know can handle a sword – Sulu – is shown using karate against Klingon sword wielders, and never once wielding a sword! McCoy reports that wounded crew are miraculously recovering and going off to fight more. And in the background, the energy being has snuck on board the Enterprise

Chekov goes wild, rampaging against the Klingon bastards who killed his brother Piotr, and ignoring orders from Kirk. Sulu is puzzled, since he knows Chekov is an only child. Sulu helps Scotty take down a bunch of Klingons near engineering, but then for some reason they leave the unconscious Klingons without tying them up or anything. Kang turns off power and life support to the bridge. Apparently turning off power to the bridge means the lights dim, but all the consoles keep working, flashing their blinking lights. Kang tells Kirk his crew will die in “the icy cold of space“, foreshadowing a more famous line by Khan in The Wrath of Khan. In response to the crisis of running out of air, Kirk records a log entry detailing the situation, and then tells Sulu to go below decks and fix the life support system. Sulu goes to fix it, but life support comes back on mysteriously by itself. Meanwhile, the energy being lurks unseen, giving a very good impression of chuckling…

Spock and Kirk figure out that there is an alien intruder on board, and that it must be causing everyone to behave violently because it feeds off violence. It is also causing the Enterprise to speed out of the Galaxy (again) at warp 9. Kirk convinces Kang’s wife Mara that the alien is the real threat. Things approach a climax as Kirk and Kang are thrown into mortal sword combat, with Kirk arguing passionately that they need to settle their differences to defeat the energy being. A battle of overacting ensues, with Mara watching completely silently in the background. Spock reports that the engines are draining the dilithium crystals and the ship only has 7.9 seconds of power left. Kirk appeals to Kang, pointing out that if they keep fighting the energy being will keep healing them and making them fight for all eternity. Kang drops his weapon, stating that Klingons fight for their own purposes, not for others. Spock says to get rid of the energy being they need to show positive emotions, so Kirk starts laughing. Kang joins in, and the energy being leaves the ship. And that’s where the episode ends abruptly, leaving us to wonder how they resolve the situation of 38 Klingons on board the Enterprise.

A tough episode to rate. The plot itself is decent and could have been the basis of something really compelling, but the way it’s executed is so cheesy and hammy that it descends almost into farce. Not great, but there are definitely worse episodes.

Tropes: Agony Beam, Russian Guy Suffers Most, Energy Beings, Sword Fight, Flynning, Forgot About His Powers, Roaring Rampage Of Revenge,Something They Would Never Say, Space Is Cold, Hate Plague, Emotion Eater, Ham-to-Ham Combat, Neutral Female, Ludicrous Precision, Enemy Mine, Hell Is War, Weaksauce Weakness, Everybody Laughs Ending, Easily Thwarted Alien Invasion.
Body count: 100 Federation colonists (probably not real), 400 Klingon starship crew.