A Star Trek Christmas with family

24-Dec-17 9:30 AM by
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It's Christmas Eve, and like many people, I'm spending it with family. And my family? They're spending it with Star Trek.

I have my father to thank for getting me into Star Trek. As a kid, I was a huge nerd: while the other kids were playing baseball and street hockey, I was playing Super Mario Bros. and Dungeons & Dragons. It didn't exactly make me popular, which was hard. It would've helped if my dad had signed me up for karate lessons or Boy Scouts, like all the other kids. Instead, on Monday, September 28, 1987, he sat me down to watch a new television show. It was the sequel to a show he'd watched when he was younger, and he thought we'd enjoy the new one together.

That was the first time I saw Star Trek.

Wow! I'd read fantasy novels, but this was my first exposure to science fiction. It not only expanded my imagination, but it taught me so much. Captain Picard taught me that the way to resolve differences isn't by firing phasers, but through diplomacy. And the android character, Data, taught me that you could be smart and have no social skills and still be a valued member of a team — something I'd never experienced before.

Star Trek was a huge influence, not only on me, but on my relationship with my dad. We watched Star Trek together every week for 18 years. Mom never watched it with us — she was usually doing laundry, and when you have four sons, there's ALWAYS laundry. Star Trek was something unique that Dad and I shared.

In the Star Trek community, April 5 is considered a holiday: First Contact Day. It's on April 5, 2063 — just 46 years from now — that humanity makes first contact with an alien species, when the Vulcan science vessel the T'Plana-Hath detects the warp signature of Zefram Cochrane's test flight of the Phoenix and traces it back to Bozeman, Montana. So, on April 5, 2016, I made the traditional meal of pierogis — Zefram Cochrane's favorite food — and watched the movie Star Trek: First Contact.

Even though the movie has a happy ending, and I'd seen it a dozen times before, this time, when I got to the end, I cried. Inconsolably, I cried — because a month earlier, Dad had passed away… just six months shy of his fiftieth wedding anniversary, and five months before Star Trek Beyond.

When Dad died, I wrote the obituary, I gave the eulogy, and I put together the slideshow that played at the funeral reception. I set it to the orchestral suite from The Next Generation episode "The Inner Light". When Mom heard it, she asked me what that beautiful music was; I said I'd tell her later.

I'd coincidentally ordered the complete The Next Generation series on DVD just before Dad died, and it arrived the day after his funeral. I started spending one night a week at Mom's to keep her company. One night, I said, "Let's watch some TV." I popped in "The Inner Light", and we watched it together. When it was done, I turned to her, tears in my eyes, and she said, "That was great." I was glad she'd enjoyed it; my job was done.

But what happened next, I couldn't've predicted, not in a million light years.

Mom asked, "Do you have any more?"

Yes — I have all seven seasons!!

She said, "Well, if you're going to keep spending one night a week here, let's watch another episode every week."

I could not have been more stunned if she'd shot me with a Romulan disruptor.

I drew up a list of all 178 episodes and trimmed it down to just the ones I thought she'd like — but every now and then, I need to revise. Mom must've been paying attention when Dad and I watched the show 25 years ago, because one night, as I was preparing the next episode, she asked, "Does this one have the Borg?"

The cybernetic organisms that are Captain Picard's greatest foe?! No, I wasn't planning on showing you those, Mom… Do you want to watch them? "Sure!" For every episode we watch, Mom expresses interest in watching two more. She even joined me that summer to see Star Trek Beyond — the movie that Dad never got to see.

I love watching this show with Mom. Sometimes, I glance over at her to make sure she hasn't fallen asleep. And she never has — she's really enjoying this! And she confessed that sometimes she looks over at me. Even if we've made popcorn or some other snack, she sees mine going untouched as I stare raptly at the TV, completely entranced — like I'm a little kid, watching Star Trek for the first time with my dad.

Star Trek has become something unique that Mom and I share — something that none of my brothers have. And it's also a way to keep my Dad's memory alive. When Dad died, I thought I'd lost my Star Trek buddy. I never imagined that my mom would step in to fill that void.

My father has always been and always shall be my friend: he's the one who flew me to the stars. But when our ship lost its captain, it was Mom who took the helm and kept us flying true.

Merry Christmas, everybody.

Star Trek mosaic's Christmas landing

27-Dec-12 8:29 PM by
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This year, Star Trek: The Next Generation turned 25. The occasion was popularly celebrated with theatrical screenings and Blu-ray releases, but I wanted to commemorate the milestone personally as well, for this year marked the 25th anniversary of my introduction to the franchise. And I wanted to thank the person responsible for that turning point in my life: my father.

There exists a company called Fan Mosaics which operates on a tried-and-true theory: include your fans in your product, and their ego will guarantee a sale. I've previously and happily supplied my contact info to Paramount and CBS, and Fan Mosaics must've collaborated with them, as they reached out to me with an invitation: provide them with a photo, and they'd include it in a mosaic of the starship Enterprise NCC-1701D, absolutely free. Thousands of other fans had previously provided the photographic material for Fan Mosaic to assemble images of Kirk, Spock, and the original Enterprise, so I'm sure they felt confident letting me know that, if I wanted the final print, it'd be only $19.95 plus shipping.

Although the software to create photo mosaics is nothing extraordinary, I was charmed by the prospect of a visual representation of the community that has formed around Star Trek. My father made me a member of that group, and though he may not participate as enthusiastically as I do, he too belongs in that pantheon. It seemed appropriate for us to be included in the mosaic. I submitted a photo taken of us and my oldest brother at the opening of J.J. Abrams' Star Trek movie. Although it does not show any one of us close up, it is the most thematically appropriate photo I could think of to submit.

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Star Trek: TNG on Blu-ray & silver screen

14-May-12 9:55 PM by
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As a geek, I may surprise you by not being beholden to the latest and greatest technology. In addition to cell phones and tablet computers, I'm not yet convinced of the need for Blu-ray DVDs. Their improvement over standard definition seems minimal, especially when a good BD player will upscale existing DVDs to take some advantage of a 1080p display.

However, it's hard for me to ignore the differences between the standard and high definition editions of a show like Star Trek. Having already remastered The Original Series (TOS) for Blu-ray, Paramount and CBS are now turning to The Next Generation (TNG). I hoped this announcement would not undermine my fairly recent investment in all seven seasons of TNG & DS9 on DVD, but this trailer suggests I am, in fact, missing out:

If you want a hands-on experience with TNG in high definition, a $22 sampler was released in January that included the show's two-part pilot, as well as episodes "Sins of the Father" and "The Inner Light". That disc apparently was sufficient proof of concept for the studio to commit to releasing the entire first season, hitting store shelves on July 24th with an MSRP of $118. But even that will have its own sampler — not on yet another retail purchase, but on the silver screen. TVShowsonDVD.com reports that, on Monday, July 23, 600 theaters in 49 U.S. markets will screen episodes "Where No One Has Gone Before" and "Datalore", in addition to some behind-the-scenes extras, as part of the show's 25th anniversary.

Star Trek series are becoming just like Star Wars: now you can own them again for the first time!

The Star Trek Family Guy

28-Mar-09 9:09 AM by
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With the new Star Trek movie due in just six weeks, there is hope that JJ Abrams' take on Gene Roddenberry's vision for the future will revitalize the entire franchise. The last time Star Trek needed a rebirth, it received it courtesy The Next Generation — and that show's cast is eager for a swan song and the chance to reprise their roles in another TNG film.

That day may never come, as that show's actors have mostly aged and moved on, the set dismantled, the public ready for something new. But diehard fans can be very un-Vulcan-like in their passion for these memorable characters. For them, the animated series Family Guy offers a special reunion in this Sunday's episode that reunites the bridge crew of the Enterprise-D:

Trek lore is rife with tales of on-screen characters played by actors who loathed each other, and it's refreshing to know the cast of TNG is not immunue to such petty rivalries, even twenty years after the show's debut. Their seven-year mission must've been laced with false politeness that just barely masked their contempt for each other:

(Hat tip to Levar Burton)

The Blessing and Burden of Methuselah

09-Jan-08 4:17 PM by
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They say the mind is the first thing to go — yet it's a part of the organ we understand, and are able to replace, the least.

Now, Dr. Gordon Bell intends to bring Harry Potter's pensieve to life by developing a way to duplicate the memories of the human mind as easily as any other storage device. Via Slashdot, Fox News asks, "What if you could capture every waking moment of your entire life, store it on your computer and then recall digital snapshots of everything you've seen and heard with just a quick search?" A query meant to excite — or scare?

This is more a science and human interest story than a cinematic one, but consider how many films deal with cybernetic transplantation of humanity. Recreating the essence of man through artificial means is at the core of films such as Blade Runner and episodes of Star Trek like "What Are Little Girls Made Of?" in The Original Series and "Schizoid Man" in The Next Generation (in contrast to Bicentennial Man, which is about a robot becoming human). These fictions embody a very real fear of death and a desire to live on after the failure of the organic body.

But at what price immortality? Besides ethical and spiritual dilemmas, there are also legal and privacy issues inherent in such permanent records. Consider the low-tech solution currently employed by the inventor cited above: "Bell wears a SenseCam, developed by Microsoft Research, that takes pictures whenever it detects he may want a photograph. The camera's infrared sensor picks up on body heat and takes snapshots of anyone else in the room, adjusting itself as available light changes." How would you like to be in that room with Mr. Bell, knowing he was playing Big Brother?

There's a film that employs uses a similarly problematic technique for recording human experience: Robin Williams' The Final Cut. In this movie's world, parents have the option of having their unborn child implanted with an EyeTech Zoe chip. This chip piggybacks on its host's senses to create a visual and aural record of its carrier's experiences. This chip is extracted upon death; someone with the profession of "cutter" then uses this footage to create a 90-minute "Rememory", a montage of experiences by which the living can remember the deceased. A cutter is bound by only three rules: he cannot sell Zoe footage; he cannot mix footage from different Zoe implants for a rememory; and a cutter cannot himself have a Zoe implant.

I stumbled across this film two years ago, roughly at the same time I was given an open-ended assignment to "write something academic about something cinematic." At the time, I had also been reading plenty of Star Trek novels, and the intersection of the two media begged for comparison and contrast. I put two different implants — the Zoe chip and a Trill symbiont — under the microscope and came up with a 2,000-word paper entitled "Preservation of Memory as a Means of Immortality: A Science Fictional Approach".

Though the professors evaluated the essay favorably, neither were familiar with the background material. I've yet to find to find someone who is and can thus evaluate my work from that perspective. If you're a Trekkie who's seen The Final Cut and are interesting in reading the implications of each medium's method of providing permanent mental capacity, please drop me a note.

TNG at 20: A Good Day to Die

28-Sep-07 1:57 PM by
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This is it: the entire week has been building up to this. Star Trek: The Next Generation turns 20 today, having aired "Encounter at Farpoint" on Monday, September 28th, 1987.

How best to mark this event? What would be an appropriate climax to this week of commemorative blogging? I could reflect on how different my life would be had my father not sat me down to watch the latest iteration of the show he had grown up with. I could analyze the show's cultural impact, or wax poetic about its message of hope and optimism for humanity's future. I could take a serious look at its special effects, its genesis from Star Trek Phase II, or the franchise's future.

But I think the most dramatic impact the debut of two decades ago was on a most beleaguered class: the red shirts.

When TNG debut, it marked a dramatic change in Starfleet's taxonomy: red, previously the shirt color of security and engineering personnel, was now worn by the indispensable command track. Former redshirts the quadrant over breathed a sign of relief to receive their new uniforms, as in the era of the gold-dressed Kirk, a red shirt was the mark of death, with these expendable bodyguards suffering more away team fatalities than any other group. This trend wasn't just a popular misconception born of fear and superstition, either: courtesy StarTrek.com, a recent statistical study proves what an unfair lot redshirts have.

Not everyone appreciates the burden of being a TOS-era redshirt; in fact, some groups are downright insensitive. Courtesy TrekToday comes news of a health care company that promises its clients "the RedShirt Treatment". Independent Health promises that, no matter who you are, when you call, or what your problem is, you're pretty much screwed.

But that's okay, because even though death is final (unless you're Spock, Kirk, Scotty — or even Denise Crosby), Eternal Image will be the last ones to let you down. When you're ready for the final frontier, this Michigan-based funerary company will ensure you receive the honor normally reserved for photon torpedoes: to be buried or cremated in the Star Trek-branded funeral or urn of your choice. (Tip of the hat to Dayton Ward)

Star Trek is a story with powerful lessons for all of humanity. But most of all, The Next Generation offers us hope for change and for a better future — no matter your shirt color. So live long — or die trying!


Also in the TNG at 20 series:

TNG at 20: But Don't Take My Word For It

27-Sep-07 5:22 PM by
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The upcoming TNG complete series box set has a bonus disc of unique features, interviews, and documentaries. Though there is some unearthed arcana from decades ago, much of the material is retrospective in nature, created exclusively for this DVD collection.

It can be fun to look at the making of Star Trek: TNG as it was actually being made. Without the benefit of hindsight, documentaries that are as old as the show they're inspecting have a certain nostalgic quality. And who brings that magic to life better than LeVar Burton, host of Reading Rainbow?

Before (and while!) he was Geordi LaForge but after Kunta Kinte, Mr. Burton hosted this PBS children's educational series that explored the power of books, fiction, and imagination. He took advantage of being an explorer of both space and imagination when he brought the show he hosted behind the scenes of his "other" show. Now available on YouTube as a three-part series is that episode of Reading Rainbow.

So open the video — and open your mind.

Also in the TNG at 20 series:

TNG at 20: The Voyage Continues

26-Sep-07 6:00 PM by
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Twenty years ago this autumn, I was a sophomore in college. I remember watching the premiere of Star Trek: The Next Generation (or TNG) with friends. While most of us were fans of speculative fiction, we had little idea of how entertaining and influential TNG would become.

I had grown up on the writings of Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Isaac Asimov, and Arthur C. Clarke, but I had watched the original 1960s Star Trek only in reruns. During freshman year, I had fought for the dorm lounge television with people who preferred The Late Show With David Letterman over some old show with people wearing colorful pajamas, odd makeup, or both. But we were a small but dedicated band, and we made it to the stars. Among the friends I met then was my future wife.

Over the course of many late nights and foosball games, I learned about the United Federation of Planets, its Starfleet, and the Prime Directive that forbade its explorers from interfering in the internal affairs or development of alien worlds. The so-called "Wagon Train to the stars" combined Westerns with ray guns, and mythology with scientific speculation.

By the time TNG began, I was indeed a Trekkie — or "Trekker," as some prefer — having learned the cant among the franchise's fans: phasers, warp speed, and the Vulcan nerve pinch and salute. Of the eventual six movies with the space opera's original cast, the best two — Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and IV: The Voyage Home — had already been released. Thanks to magazines such as Starlog and various "technical manuals," I learned about transporters and Jeffries tubes (the access tunnels throughout starships, named after an original series art director). Around Thanksgiving of 1987, I would attend my first science fiction convention, one run by Creation Entertainment in New York.

It's also worth remembering the context into which this Enterprise was launched — that, despite the success of multimedia franchises such as Planet of the Apes and Star Wars, there was little genre entertainment on television at that time. As we look forward to 2007's premieres of Heroes, Lost, or Battlestar Galactica: Razor, among others, note that 20 years ago, there was only Stephen Spielberg's anthology Amazing Stories, horror drama Friday the 13th: the Series, and another Earth-based movie spin-off, Starman. Weak visual effects, even weaker writing, and a lack of interest among mainstream viewers and networks had doomed all but the U.K.'s Doctor Who to short lifespans or syndication.

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