Sunday, July 5, 2015

Star Trek: Obsession

Today I bring you my thoughts on:
Obsession is not without its flaws, it's pretty hard on the Red Shirts, but it is good Trek.
As the episode begins Kirk, Spock and three Red Shirts are on a geological survey mission (looking for tritanium), which is kind of odd in that the Enterprise is carrying highly perishable vaccines that they need to deliver them to the USS Yorktown in just eight hours. This proves two things - 1) there's always time to stop and collect rocks and 2) by the 23rd Century people have gotten over the anti-vax movement and accepted that vaccines work. Hurrah for Science!
As they finish up the survey Kirk smells "a sweet odor, like honey" which triggers a memory of events that happened to him 11 years ago. As we soon learn, the odor is from a deadly, "gaseous cloud" that Kirk encountered on his first assignment after graduating from the Academy. Naturally, he sends the three Red Shirts to check it out. What could go wrong?
Plenty! Two Red Shirts are killed, including Mr. Lesley (who will show up quite alive in future episodes) and the third is nearly dead - all before the opening credits roll. The cloud feeds on red corpuscles, so I'm guessing it's pretty happy that the landing party arrived here.
Mr. Lesley killed by the Killer Outer Space Vampire Cloud
23rd Century Coffee Makers look really complex
In spite of the fact that the Enterprise needs to head out to meet the Yorktown and that the gaseous cloud isn't showing up on scanners, Kirk leads another landing party to look for the creature. With him is Ensign Garrovick (above, left) and four more Red Shirts. Garrovick is the son of Kirk's first commanding officer, the captain of the USS Farragut who was killed 11 years ago by what Kirk believes to be the same beast. Also in the landing party was real-life film score composer Basil Poledouris (above, center). Poledouris later wrote the music for movies like Conan the Barbarian, The Hunt for Red October and Starship Troopers.

Kirk has the landing party split up with Garrovick taking two Red Shirts with him. 
Yeah, that doesn't end well either. 
 
Afterwards Garrovick is grilled debriefed by Kirk, Spock and McCoy. Kirk isn't at all pleased to learn that Garrovick shot at a large, hovering cloud and missed. Actually, that's not quite correct. He didn't shoot while it was hovering. He hesitated and then missed his shot as it was moving. As we soon learn Ensign Kirk did pretty much the same thing 11 years ago and is still blaming himself for the deaths of 200 people aboard the Farragut. Garrovick is relieved of duty and confined to quarters. 
Red Shirts are dying, the Yorktown is waiting for the Enterprise to deliver perishable vaccines to take to Theta VII and the crew is questioning why Kirk is keeping the Enterprise here, so McCoy and Spock decide to confront Kirk about his possible obsession with the Killer Outer Space Vampire Cloud. 

Before they can come to any conclusions, the cloud leaves the planet and heads away at warp 8! The Enterprise takes pursuit, but can't keep up.
Kirk has them fire phasers and photon torpedoes, but they have no effect. Instead, the Killer Outer Space Vampire Cloud turns and attacks the Enterprise. As Spock points out, "Its method was well-considered and intelligent."

You may recall, that Kirk, Spock and McCoy have encountered intelligent gas clouds before. In Metamorphosis they even used the Universal Translator to communicate with one. Not so here, that's never even considered. It is too bad that they never tried communicating with it, but this is a Fight the Monster episode, not a The Monster's Not Really a Monster episode (like The Devil in the Dark), so deal with it.

Spock has figured out that the Killer Outer Space Vampire Cloud has the ability to throw itself out of time sync, which makes it possible for it to be elsewhere in the instant a phaser hits it and that neither Kirk nor Garrovick should be blamed for not killing it. 
When he stops by Garrovick's quarters to explain, the creature enters his quarters through his AC vent. Spock tries to stop it with his bare hands (!) and we fear the worst, as they cut to commercial. Thankfully, his green blood saved him & the creature heads out into deep space.
Interestingly, Kirk thinks he knows where the Killer Outer Space Vampire Cloud is headed and why it is doing so. They take pursuit. Spock clearly trusts his captain's instincts now as he tells Dr. McCoy "evidence indicates the creature is here to spawn. If so, it will reproduce by fission, not just into two parts, but thousands." I can't imagine what that evidence is other than Kirk's intuition.
Naturally, Kirk has a plan to kill the creature. They plan to bait it with a Big-Jar-O-Blood and blow it to heck and back with an antimatter bomb that will "rip away half the planet's atmosphere." Yes, he's going to kill the biosphere of an entire world! He really wants that cloud to die, doesn't he?
Once on the planet, they have to carry the bomb a few feet away (I'm not sure why) when Garrovick notices that the cloud is already drinking up all the blood that they brought. Damn! Instead they'll have to bait the trap with themselves.
I'm not sure why when they have a bomb that will rip away half the planet's atmosphere that the Killer Outer Space Vampire Cloud has to be so close to them for this to work, but that's TV for you.  They call for a beam out and the detonation of the bomb.
Kirk somehow manages to put his communicator away during transport, but it doesn't matter as the day has been saved - unless you happened to be a living thing on Tycho IV. If so, then your days are over.

If you made it this far, you might also be interested in reading the blog post about this episode written by director Ralph Senensky.

Alas, there was no new music for this episode, but it borrows heavily from the Sol Kaplan score for The Doomsday Machine. It works well here, especially since the two episodes have very similar endings.

Next up is The Immunity Syndrome.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Conjunction!

Jupiter and Venus are at it again.
Tonight is their closest approach in our skies. I returned to the same palm as last night so as to take a comparison shot.
To give you a sense of just how close the two planets are together, I also took photos of moon and the planetary pair fully zoomed and then added the images together. Here's the result:
Because their brightnesses are so different the exposure for the moon was 1/10 that of the shot of Venus and Jupiter.

The planets will still be close for the next few evenings, but they are already pulling apart. Still, if you missed it tonight, it is still worth looking at.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Planets With Palm

I've been insanely busy of late (more on that likely in a future blog post), but not so busy as to prevent me from enjoying the conjunction of Jupiter and Venus. Here they are as seen tonight, poised above a palm tree located in San Marcos, California (my new home). Venus is the brighter of the two.

The planets will be even closer tomorrow evening (June 30). It is a special sight to see the two brightest planets so close together. Go out and take a look.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Telescope Tourist: Kitt Peak & Mont-Mégantic Observatories

Recently I had the chance to visit two observatories in the same week, the first was Kitt Peak National Observatory. As a native and current resident of Tucson, Arizona it's not unusual for me to have the opportunity to visit Kitt Peak. This time was a bit unusual though, as I was there to make an evening presentation on light pollution.
I really love the mosaic at the observatory's visitor center (For some detailed shots of it, have a look here). Nearby there's a second, much smaller mosaic on the building that's also pretty cool. It's located around the corner to the left and it looks like this:
This one depicts the dome of the 4-meter Mayall Telescope sitting on the mountain with a comet above. Speaking of the Mayall, it was a sunset visit to this telescope that made this trip so special.
Here's the view from out in front of the Mayall, looking back at the rest of the mountain. Kitt Peak has one of the largest telescope concentrations on Earth. That's the McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope at left and the Steward Observatory 90" (2.3 meter) Bok Telescope in the foreground at right.
Heading inside the dome, we arrived just in time to see the last orange rays of sunlight kissing the Mayall.
Soon it was dark enough for its astronomical research mission to begin. We snapped a few photos and were soon ushered out. Seeing big scopes (well these days, with BIG super telescopes just around the corner, 4 and 5 meter telescopes are called small) is always a treat and this was no exception.

The next morning I was off to Sherbrooke in Québec, Canada to attend the Third International Conference on Artificial Light at Night. The conference included a field trip to Observatoire Astronomique du Mont-Mégantic.
In 2008 the International Dark-Sky Association designated Mont-Mégantic as the world's first International Dark Sky Reserve. At the heart of the reserve is a research observatory and their visitor center, the ASTROLab.
The ASTROLab has a wonderful array of astronomical exhibits, a gift shop, a theater and more.
Uphill, and behind a gate from there is their is their 1.6 meter telescope, the largest research telescope in eastern North America. That's its dome above, illuminated by moonlight.
For the telescope geeks, here's the telescope's aluminizing chamber located on the ground floor. Periodically telescope's primary mirror needs a new reflective coating of aluminum, which means the mirror needs to be pulled from the telescope, washed and stripped of its old coating. Then the mirror is carefully lowered through a trap door and placed inside this chamber, where a new coating of aluminum is vacuum-deposited on the mirror.
Located in another dome nearby is their so called "Popular Observatory" (I suppose that means the 1.6 meter is unpopular). I didn't photograph it, but inside the dome of the Popular Observatory is a 0.61 meter (24-inch) telescope and nice theater-style seating, making this telescope perfect for public outreach programs. I guess that's what makes it so popular!

In spite of the total mechanical breakdown of the bus on our field trip (don't ask), it was a wonderful trip and I'm glad to have made the visit to Mont-Mégantic. I very much recommend the trip.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Star Trek: The Gamesters of Triskelion

I've been amazingly busy and kind of putting this one off, but, finally, here is another Star Trek review for the blog. Today I bring you:
Yes, it's The Gamesters of Triskelion, or as I like to call it Romancing the Thrall. The episode begins with Kirk, Uhura and Chekov beaming down to Gamma II, an uninhabited planetoid, to check on the automated equipment there.
Except just prior to their beamdown they vanish from the transporter pad and find themselves on Triskelion, a planet nearly a dozen light years away. There they are to become Thralls--slaves who have no purpose other than to fight each other for the amusement of their owners, who gamble on the games.
Aboard the Enterprise, Spock eventually determines that the landing party is not on Gamma II & decides to take the ship away to find them. Naturally, McCoy is not happy about that: "You're going to leave here without them and run off on some wild goose chase halfway across the galaxy just because you found a discrepancy in a hydrogen cloud?" Yeah, that's the plan. Deal with it.
Back on Triskelion, Kirk has begun romancing Shahna, his drill Thrall. She doesn't know the meaning of the word "beautiful," so Kirk shows her her own reflection. She seems unimpressed.
To keep those new Thralls in line, Galt, the Master Thrall lets loose with the collars of obedience.  Eventually, after some fighting & training we hear the voices of the Providers who bid on the new Thralls--Kirk, Uhura and Chekov. Provider One wins the action, getting all three for the low, low price of just two thousand quatloos. The other Providers offer wagers that the newcomers are untrainable and will have to be destroyed. Hmmm...maybe they're on to something.
During a training session Kirk tells Shahna about the lights in the sky and love. "Love is the most important thing on Earth. Especially to a man and a woman."
Soon after, Kirk shows Shahna just how much he loves her as he uses the Kiss-Punch Maneuver to try to affect an escape. Alas, Galt puts an end to their breakout. 

Soon the Enterprise arrives and the Providers allow Spock and Kirk to communicate. Kirk explains the situation, telling Spock that "these Providers haven't the courage to show themselves."
With that, the Providers transport Kirk into their underground lair. The Providers are disembodied brains that have evolved beyond the need for physical bodies. By the way, that background should look familiar. It's the same matte painting that was used as the pergium mining/processing facility in The Devil in The Dark.

While talking to the Providers Kirk offers them a bet they can't refuse, "I wager that with weapons of your own choice, right here and now, my people can overcome an equal number of thralls set against us." When they take the bait, betting quatloos Kirk ups the stakes: "If we win, the Enterprise and its crew leaves here in safety. Further more, all the thralls on the planet must be freed." And if they lose? "We will remain here, the entire crew of the Enterprise. The most stubborn, determined competitors in the universe. We'll become Thralls, enter your games, obey your orders without rebellion. You'll be assured of generations of the most exciting wagering you've ever had."

The Providers accept the wager on the condition that Kirk alone fight three Thralls of their own choosing. The whole wager, with Kirk fighting for himself and the lives of his crew kind of feels like it was borrowed from The Squire of Gothos.
Thankfully, the crew of the Enterprise gets to watch the action, just like they did on Arena.
The final Thrall in the battle is Shahna. She's likely still pissed about that kiss-punch, but Kirk still manages to win. He spares her life--the other Thralls in the fight weren't as lucky. As promised, the Providers free the Thralls and say that they will train them.
"Goodbye, Jim Kirk. I will learn, and watch the lights in the sky, and remember."
With the collars of obedience off, Kirk, and the landing party make a hasty exit. I can't help feeling that life for the Thralls isn't likely to get any better. Maybe the Providers are going to train them to live on their own and maybe not. So, for me, the ending leaves me cold, much like the rest of the episode.

If Triskelion is on TV, I'd likely skip it. Next up is something I like much more - Obsession.