In Memory of Leonard Nimoy

03-Mar-15 8:48 PM by
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It's been hard to come to terms with the passing of Leonard Nimoy, the actor who brought Star Trek's half-Vulcan science officer to life and created a cultural phenomenon that would persist for generations — including within my own family.

My father introduced me to Star Trek when The Next Generation premiered in 1987. At that age, I didn't understand that different people led different lives, and I went to school the next day thinking all my classmates had watched it, too. I spent my recess talking about Star Trek to anyone on the playground who would listen, nonplussed when they weren't as excited as I was. It wasn't until years later that I learned of IDIC — Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations: that differences are to be not just tolerated, but celebrated. Decades after discovering Star Trek, I've grown deeply curious about those differences, interviewing people every week to learn about their lives and experiences, so that I never again make that same lunchtime assumption I did in second grade.

My earliest memory of Leonard Nimoy was watching Star Trek: The Motion Picture on VHS with my family. When Spock first beams aboard the Enterprise, whereas Kirk and McCoy are happy to see him, Spock is unmoved by seeing his old crewmates. I asked my parents what was wrong with him, and rather than try to explain the alien suppression of emotions, they just said that Spock didn't remember his friends.

But Vulcan's emotions run deep and hot: they feel everything humans do, even more so, which is why they can't allow themselves to be ruled by their feelings, lest they run amok. I was raised in a family that did not celebrate such passions, so, like Spock, I kept mine reined in. I learned the hard way that it's better to embrace one's humanity… something that Spock at times struggled to understand himself.

Spock wasn't the only one with an identity crisis. I'm too young to remember Nimoy's efforts to break typecasting, which may be for the best: while I try to acknowledge actors' lesser-known works, Nimoy was always Spock to me. And unlike some actors who fade from the limelight, Nimoy always seemed to be doing something special, whether it was as silly as a Priceline commercial, as fun as directing Three Men and a Baby as invisible as voicing a Transformers villain or narrating a video game, as meaningless as singing a silly song, or as meaningful as advocating for diversity in body types. While I may've believed Spock had forgotten his friends, it was impossible for us to forget Spock. It felt like Leonard Nimoy would always be there; waking up on Saturday to a world without him was hard.

I never got to meet Leonard Nimoy. The closest opportunity I had was a Boston convention in November 2009, but I was at a Star Wars concert narrated by Anthony Daniels instead. It was a similar venue in which I did finally see Leonard Nimoy, though: he narrated the Boston Pops' "Out of This World" concert this past May. No one in the audience, least of all me, imagined it was Nimoy's last May in his final trip around the sun.

That concert was a homecoming for Nimoy, being born and raised right in the heart of Boston. He often lent his sonorous voice to his hometown, narrating not just the Boston Pops but also the Boston Museum of Science's Omni Mugar theater. As a student and teacher, child and adult, I've been to the MoS many times; Leonard Nimoy is my earliest memory of it.

Now all we have are memories and Nimoy's exhaustive library of art. There have been and will be other Spocks, of course — most notably Zachary Quinto, but also other incarnations across many fan films, and the continuing voyages of the starship Enterprise in novels and other media. But there never will be another Leonard Nimoy.

It's been less than a week, and I miss him already.
The Joy of Tech comic… The Federation remembers

I may not have properly expressed or acknowledged, even to myself, Nimoy's importance. I've been going to Apple conventions my entire life, but it wasn't until 2013 that I attended my first Star Trek convention. But both Apple and Star Trek have been fundamental in informing my outlooks and philosophies.

Celebrities aren't my only heroes, but celebrities can help me get to know my heroes. Star Trek is something I've shared with my father ever since TNG's debut. We've been at the opening night of each of J.J. Abrams' Star Trek movies. I hesitantly mark our time together by these milestones, knowing that the same COPD that claimed Nimoy now stalks my father. As a friend of mine recently put it, "Time will take all the people I look up to."
Star Trek Into Darkness opening night

Live long and prosper…

But we are fortunate to have had Leonard Nimoy grace us for 83 wonderful years. From wherever he came, he has returned. We salute him and his many contributions to art, science, and humanity. Thank you for so many adventures and missions.

Hailing frequencies closed.

The Science of Cinema

26-Feb-09 3:36 PM by
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While hosting some out-of-town friends last weekend, I tried to get us into the Boston Museum of Science's IMAX theater. It was sold out, which isn't all that great a shame — the movie we were going to see, Roving Mars, has been on DVD for almost two years anyway. But it did remind me that I'd previously downloaded an episode of the MoS podcast titled "Inventing the Movies" (iTunes), which is also the name a book by Scott Kirsner, who is interviewed in this podcast.

This 23-minute episode covers the same topic as that book: the inventors and technologies that have shaped Hollywood in the last century. I was intrigued by this insider's perspective on the effect various innovations have had on the industry. If you're of a younger generation, it may be unfathomable that the lack of VCRs and DVD players meant that movies used to be seen in theaters and nowhere else — once they were gone, they were gone. But Mr. Kirsner's book eschews that consumer impact to look instead at how movie studios viewed such developments as threats. For example, Thomas Edison discouraged the invention of a projector, preferring his kinetoscope, which allowed silent movies to be seen through a hole in a box, creating a solitary and unshared experience. Later, silent movies were seen as a quiet respite from the busy world that "talkies" would disrupt. Often, it was competition from other markets that urged Hollywood to accept change: Technicolor (named in 1915 for its inventor's alma mater, MIT) was not widely adopted until seen as a response to the widespread adoption of black-and-white television.

The threat of progress extends to more recent times as well. I was a Blockbuster Video employee at the advent of DVDs, which had massive ramifications for the industry. You may not remember that movies used to become available for consumer purchase 3-6 months after they were released to rental outlets. Back then, each VHS tape would initially retail for more than $100, which only commercial entities could afford, before being lowered to a more reasonable mass market price. Once movies moved from tape to disc, their reproduction became much cheaper, allowing for simultaneous release to both rental and consumer venues and eliminating the window of exclusivity formerly the domain of companies like Blockbuster.

What changes chafe today's film industry? Digital cameras and projectors have spotty adoption records, but neither significantly changes the movie-viewing experience. The most volatile aspect of movies appears to be in the delivery mechanism. YouTube, Hulu, and the like are, within and without copyright, bringing chunks of video to your computer; Netflix and the Microsoft Xbox bring feature-length content right to your television; and, in a less technical manner, Red Box adds cheap rentals to your grocery list.

The podcast packs much information into a short period, encompassing not only the founding moments mentioned above but also more recent milestones, such as TRON (which I've already written about extensively and the sequel to which I am eagerly anticipating) and Terminator 2. This teaser has moved the book to my short list. The complete history of Hollywood is, of course, yet to be written, as technology will never stop progressing to meet (and create) new needs. Where do you see movies going?

Chatting with the Stars

10-Aug-07 11:35 AM by
Filed under Celebrities, Star Trek, Star Wars; 2 comments.

Audio interviews with two spacefaring luminaries have recently become available.

The first (courtesy is Garrett Wang on the James Madison show (iTunes). It's not the best interview: it starts off a bit slowly, the reception occasionally drops, and at one point, Mr. Wang puts the host on hold while he takes another call. But there are some fun stories as he reminisces about playing Harry Kim on Star Trek: Voyager and the interplay he had with other Star Trek and UPN actors. Tune in to the James Madison podcast tomorrow for a similar interview with Robert Picardo, who played that show's holographic Doctor.

The other interview (courtesy is a brief one with Anthony Daniels, aka C-3PO, wherein he talks about science, Star Wars, and scouting. His message on the importance of science in the present and future of society is spot-on and would be right at home in Scientific American or Point of Inquiry.