Sunday, June 30, 2013

Star Trek: Space Seed

It is time for another episode of Star Trek. Today, it is:
Yes, Space Seed--a pretty good episode that spawned the even more fabulous Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
The Enterprise encounters a sleeper ship, the SS Botany Bay. On board is Khan Noonien Singh and 72 others who have been in suspended animation for some 200 years. Khan is revived and brought aboard the Enterprise where he immediately shows his true nature.
"Well, either choke me or cut my throat. Make up your mind."
For some reason McCoy doesn't report this incident to Kirk.
Perhaps if Kirk had known he might not have given Khan full access to the ship's technical library. Khan knows that knowledge of the ship is not enough to take control of it, so he makes a move on Lt. Marla McGivers, the ship's historian.
She finds Khan to be irresistible and he successfully gets her to later help carry out mutiny, but before that happens there's an official dinner to welcome Khan to the ship.
Beef. Colored squares and dyed celery. It's what's for dinner.
At this point there is still some confusion by Kirk, et al. as to who Khan really is (or was), but shortly after the dinner they figure out that in the early 1990s he was ruler of 1/4 of Earth and part of a eugenics program to build a superior race of man. Once his identity is known, Kirk orders Khan to be kept under guard in his quarters.
As usual, no one in Starfleet knows how to guard someone. He's not guarding Khan from others, he is guarding Khan from escaping. So why does he have his back to Khan's door? Clearly it must be to make it easier for Khan to escape. Which he then does.

McGivers overpowers Lt. Kyle in the transporter room and beams Khan back over to the Botany Bay so that he may revive the rest of his people.
Khan, reacting to her outfit.
They beam back over, take control of Engineering, cut off life support to the rest of the ship and take everyone prisoner. Khan realizes he needs some help running the ship, so he puts Kirk into a decompression chamber and threatens to kill him unless one of the bridge crew offers to help. 
Kirk is in trouble as the pressure is dropping fast! In case you are wondering, 29.92 inches of Mercury (Hg) is standard sea level air pressure on Earth. It looks like the pressure in the chamber has dropped to about 8 inches of Mercury. That's about 27% of normal, a bit lower than the pressure at Mt. Everest.

McGivers decides that she can't let Kirk die and frees him from the chamber just as Spock was being taken in to be the next victim. They escape and flood the decks with anesthesia gas. 
I love how, at first, no one reacts to the presence of the gas except: 1) Khan, who covers his nose/mouth and flees, and 2) the dude in blue who is sitting there looking as if he is wondering why there is a cloud in the room.
Khan escapes to Engineering where there's the Big Fight Scene with Kirk involving stunt doubles, close-ups of the stars, and Kirk's creative use of chicken wire. In the end, Kirk prevails and all returns to order.
The episode ends with a hearing to decide the fate of McGivers, Khan, and his people. In true Star Trek fashion Kirk shows mercy by dropping all charges and ending the episode on a positive note. He pulls a hopeful solution out of what would otherwise be everyone being carted off to jail

The Enterprise will be passing near the Ceti Alpha star system and the fifth planet there is, as described by Spock, "habitable, although a bit savage, somewhat inhospitable." Kirk makes his offer to Khan saying that it is no more inhospitable "than Australia's Botany Bay colony was at the beginning. Those men went on to tame a continent, Mister Khan. Can you tame a world?"

Khan agrees & McGivers will go with him, giving them a "world to win, an empire to build."

It turned out not to be. We've all seen Star Trek II and know what happened, but that does not matter now.
In spite of the recent re-visiting of this story that placed a new actor into the role of Khan, Ricardo Montalban owned the role in a way that few Trek guest stars did. He gave a fine performance here and in the movie that followed. Because of the movies, Space Seed is required watching and they have given the episode more prominence than it otherwise would have had. It is a solid episode, but not top ten Trek. You can watch it online right here.

Next up, my 25th Trek review: This Side of Paradise.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Tonight's Perigee Moon

Here are a couple of shots of tonight's moonrise. This super moon is pretty much your basic almost full moon, but it is getting a lot of media attention because the Moon is near its closest point in its orbit about Earth. This is not an unusual event, but then you know how the media works.  
Canon 3Ti 55-250mm zoom, 1/400 sec
Canon 3Ti 55-250mm zoom, 1/250 sec

Star Trek: A Taste of Armageddon

It is time for another episode of Star Trek. Today it is:

The episode begins scientifically on a bad foot. They are en route to star cluster NGC 321 to open diplomatic relations with the civilizations known to be there. Alas, NGC 321 is a real thing, it just happens not to be a star cluster. It is a galaxy. That's too bad as it would have been a relatively easy thing to get right and they didn't quite make it. There's another bad science moment which I'll get to later on.

On board is Ambassador Robert Fox, a man with an epic case of bags under his eyes.
Ambassador Fox is determined to open up diplomatic relations with the people of Eminiar VII and its neighboring planet, Vendikar. I'm not quite sure why Vendikar doesn't have a number.

Anyway, the Enterprise is in orbit about Eminiar VII and, even though they refused contact 50 years ago, and, the two planets were then at war, and, the ship that first contacted them went missing, the ambassador insists that they beam on down. What could go wrong?

By the way, the missing ship was the Valiant, which must be some kind of cursed name for doomed ships. It was also the Valiant which went missing in Where No Man Has Gone Before. That one vanished 200 years earlier. Note for future generations: if you get assigned to the Starship Valiant, resign your commission.  

Anyway, they leave the ambassador behind until it is safe for him and beam down in front of this awesome matte painting.
I love the Space Needle-like structure, the inverted pyramid and how clean everything looks.

We soon meet Anan 7, leader of the High Council.
Anan's bags under the eyes are serious contenders, but don't quite rise to the level  (or should I say sink to the level) of Ambassador Fox's bag. Anan explains that Eminiar is at war with Vendikar and has been so for 500 years.

Kirk and the landing party can detect no signs of war. Anan tells them that "Casualties among our civilian population total from one to three million dead each year from direct enemy attack. That is one reason, Captain, why we told you to stay away. As long as your ship is orbiting our planet, it is in severe danger."

Ordinarily the proximity of the words "ship" and "danger" would get Kirk all worked up, but before he has a chance to react there's an attack from Vendikar. And its a doosie.
Anan reports that half a million people have just been killed. When the landing party sees no signs of an actual attack, Spock realizes that this war is being fought entirely with computers. As Anan explains, "Captain, we have been at war for five hundred years. Under ordinary conditions, no civilization could withstand that. But we have reached a solution... Our civilization lives. The people die, but our culture goes on."

He then lowers the boom, "Then you will recall I warned you not to come here. You chose to ignore my warning. I'm sorry, but it's happened...Once your ship was in orbit about our planet, it became a legitimate target. It has been classified destroyed by a tricobalt satellite explosion. All persons aboard your ship have twenty four hours to report to our disintegration machines. In order to ensure their co-operation, I have ordered you, Captain, and your party held in custody until they surrender. If possible, we shall spare your ship, Captain, but its passengers and crew are already dead."
Kirk and the landing party are taken prisoner. From the look on the face of the guard on the right, I am thinking that he would rather that Kirk was a prisoner of love.

Anan then tries to trick Scotty in to beaming down the entire crew for shore leave, but Scotty's not falling for that. Later the ship falls under attack from the planet from "extremely powerful sonic vibrations. Decibels eighteen to the twelfth power."

Sigh. I am sure that someone thought it would be a cool weapon to shoot sound waves, but the big problem with that is that they don't propagate though space. At all. Oh, well. Yes, Trek is more fantasy than actual science fiction, but I still love it. It is certainly better than the #$#@ that SyFy is cranking out these days. Sharknado? Seriously? Sigh.

Then there's this bit which isn't consistent with Trek at all. "We can't fire full phasers with our screens up, and we can't lower our screens with their disruptors on us. Of course I could treat them to a few dozen photon torpedoes." This may be the only time it was ever suggested that they can't fire phasers with their screens or shields up. In fact, they do so all the time. Usually it is just the transporter than can't be used when the shields are up. But in a moment, they'll go ahead and use the transporter anyway.

The ambassador overhears Scotty threatening to fire photon torpedoes orders him to stand down. As Scotty says after the ambassador leaves the bridge "The best diplomat I know is a fully activated phaser bank."
In a bit the ambassador calls down to Anan on the planet to start talks. He then orders Scotty to lower the screens, but Scotty wont budge. In spite of the screens staying up, the ambassador and his aide somehow manage to beam down.
Naturally, Ambassador Fox is immediately taken prisoner. Meanwhile the landing party escapes to destroy some of the disintegration chambers and Spock tells a lie.
"Sir, there's a multi-legged creature crawling on your shoulder." 

But it is all good stuff. Soon Kirk confronts Anan 7 again and delivers the show's big anti-war message. 
In spite of last week's introduction of the Prime Directive, Kirk is going to bring down their entire system of war. As he says, "Death, destruction, disease, horror. That's what war is all about, Anan. That's what makes it a thing to be avoided. You've made it neat and painless. So neat and painless, you've had no reason to stop it. And you've had it for five hundred years. Since it seems to be the only way I can save my crew and my ship, I'm going to end it for you, one way or another."

His plan is to stop their ability to wage war with computers and force them into the real, ugly thing.
Anan: "You realize what you have done?"
Kirk: "Yes, I do. I've given you back the horrors of war. The Vendikans now assume that you've broken your agreement and that you're preparing to wage real war with real weapons. They'll want do the same. Only the next attack they launch will do a lot more than count up numbers in a computer. They'll destroy cities, devastate your planet. You of course will want to retaliate. If I were you, I'd start making bombs. Yes, Councilman, you have a real war on your hands. You can either wage it with real weapons, or you might consider an alternative. Put an end to it. Make peace."
Anan: "There can be no peace. Don't you see? We've admitted it to ourselves. We're a killer species. It's instinctive. It's the same with you. Your General Order Twenty Four."
Kirk: "All right. It's instinctive. But the instinct can be fought. We're human beings with the blood of a million savage years on our hands, but we can stop it. We can admit that we're killers, but we're not going to kill today. That's all it takes. Knowing that we won't kill today. Contact Vendikar. I think you'll find that they're just as terrified, appalled, horrified as you are, that they'll do anything to avoid the alternative I've given you. Peace or utter destruction. It's up to you."
Ambassador Fox gets to work. Back on the bridge Spock and McCoy question Kirk's methods and he defends his actions by saying, "They've been killing three million people a year. It had been going on for five hundred years. An actual attack wouldn't have killed any more people than one of their computer attacks, but it would have ended their ability to make war. The fighting would have been over permanently.... It was a calculated risk. Still, the Eminians keep a very orderly society, and actual war is a very messy business. A very, very messy business. I had a feeling that they would do anything to avoid it, even talk peace."

There you have it kids, war is bad, so don't do it.

Of course I agree completely. One of the many problems in the world today is that our political leaders are now totally cut off from the horrors of war. They can order an attack from their office and never have to experience or encounter the pain and suffering that result. I recently read the science fiction novel Triggers by Robert Sawyer. I wont go into the details here (read it yourself!), but there is a scene in the book where a character gets the president of the United States to experience what it is like to have post traumatic stress disorder-to actually feel what war was like. It is something that I hope none of us has to go through, but an experience that many national leaders could learn from.

In conclusion,  A Taste of Armageddon is a solid first season episode. It has plenty of action, delivers a relevant social message and is fun.

Next up, Space Seed.  See you then.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

When it Comes to Light Pollution, Bad is Bad

Recently I took a trip to the Florida Panhandle. A big part of the trip was spent in looking at outdoor lighting. A lot of what  I saw there reminded me of a song by Huey Lewis and The News,  Bad is Bad.

Yes, I saw some good lighting, but the bad really is bad and, in some cases, it far outweighs the good. Let me show you some examples. (Note: These are daytime photos and it may be that some of the lights are no longer active.)

Here's a streetlight that illuminates an otherwise empty area by the beach:
Here's another light in the middle of nowhere, right next to the beach. Not only does it serve no useful purpose, it is an unshielded "yard blaster." It's a pretty common lamp, but a big offender when it comes to light pollution as it is a big source of sky glow, light trespass and glare.
Speaking of yard blasters, here's a pair of them mounted in a park:
It is hard to imagine that one alone wouldn't be excessive enough without needing to add second.

But it isn't all bad (although it does get worse further down below). I was encouraged to see that some newer, full cutoff fixtures like this one are starting to appear:
Yet when you see them juxtaposed to the lighting on the left it is painful:
In Panama City FL, where this and the next two shots come from, it seemed that most of the businesses illuminate using lamps like those on the left. Having them pointed nearly sideways like that make them terrible sources of glare, sky glow and light trespass.

Here's another example of some standing right next to modern, full-cutoff LED fixtures:

And speaking of painful, it doesn't get much worse than this:
Those lights are off-the-charts bad. They represent the worst in lighting practices and they maximize energy waste, glare, light trespass and sky glow. I wouldn't want to live anywhere near lighting like this and, tragically, it is quite common in Panama City.

Moving on, I'll close with some shots that are more relaxing. First, the crescent Moon over the lighthouse in Lighthouse Park on St. George Island:

Sunset at St. George Island State Park:

Monday, June 10, 2013

A Gathering of Worlds

I was out and about and almost didn't get a shot of this evening's gathering of worlds, but here it is:
From left to right we have the Moon, Mercury and Venus. Not a bad sight for a Monday evening.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Measure the Night Sky with your Phone

People with an interest in light pollution can now use their smartphones to measure the brightness of the night sky. There are new apps out for both iPhone and Androids that are easy, accurate and inexpensive.
The iPhone app is called Dark Sky Meter. It works very much like the much more expensive Sky Quality Meter and its results compare very favorably to it. It is available in both free (also called Lite) and Pro versions. The Pro version currently costs just $3.99.

It uses the iPhone's camera to first take a dark frame (done by placing your finger over it) and then measures the night sky. The app knows date, time, location, moon phase, weather and the phone's tilt so it can generally tell what data is good or not.

Here's a sample of what the readout looks like with the Pro version. 
That's a measurement made from my yard. 20.25 is the night sky brightness as measured in magnitudes per square arc second. While that may be arcane to some, it is a useful number to know. I wont go into the details here, but higher numbers are darker. There's also a description to go with it. Also reported is the naked eye limiting magnitude, which happened to 6.18 at the zenith for me.

The Pro version also lets you see your own data:
That's a nice feature as it lets you track what is going on from your observing site and, if you want, to send your numbers off to programs like GLOBE at Night. Yes, I need to make more measurements. The user also has the option of uploading the data to the app's database. You can view all the data on their interactive map, here. It is good stuff, but more people need to be contributing. The International Dark-Sky Association has worked directly with the app developers and is hoping that crowdsourcing will lead to many useful measurements.

The app is currently most accurate using the iPhone 4S or 5. It works for the 4, but the camera is not as good, so the quality of the data suffers.

Android users should not feel left out as there is an app for them too. The free app Loss of the Night allows Android users to measure night sky brightness by observing stars. The data from that program is also used to help track and study light pollution. As you may have guessed, I do not have an Android phone. So, while I have not personally tried it out I hear very good things about the app and how it works.

It has never been easier to measure the impact of light pollution on the night sky. So why not download one of the apps and help contribute to science?

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Star Trek: The Return of the Archons

The Return of the Archons is a breakout episode for Star Trek in a couple of ways. It was first the first Kirk vs. Computer episode and the first time that the Prime Directive is mentioned. While it is not on most people's Trek top ten list, it is a solid and enjoyable episode.
It begins with Sulu and O'Neil being pursued on the surface of planet Beta III. They request an emergency beam up. O'Neil runs off and Sulu is "shot" just before the transporter energizes. He is beamed aboard but speaks with a religious passion of Landru and paradise.
Kirk and a landing party beam down to find O'Neil and to learn what happened to Sulu. Apparently they have arrived just in time for Festival. The Red Hour strikes at 6.
Festival! Festival!

With the onset of Festival the calm, peaceful populace turns to wild debauchery. The landing party escapes inside to seek shelter and begins to learn of Landru.
From the safety of his hotel room Kirk watches the Festival and contemplates the use of post top lighting on planet Beta III. It is capped to prevent light from shining upward, but they still are sources of glare. He realizes that they are not a very efficient source of lighting and this must be a primitive culture.  Okay, not really. Kirk was watching Festival and likely not thinking about the lights at all.
Jon Lormer (left) who played Tamar also appeared in two other Star Trek episodes. Can you name the other them?  Reger (center) was played by Harry Townes. Because Reger and Tamar were both immune to absorption, they were able to resist Landru.

Hacom (played by Morgan Farley) is upset that the strangers are not at Festival and, after hearing Tamar talking about Landru, summons the Lawgivers. 
Tamar is killed by the Lawgivers.
After Tamar is killed there is an interesting exchange between Kirk and the Law Givers:

Lawgiver: You will be absorbed. The Good is all. Landru is gentle. You will come.
Kirk: We're not going anywhere.
Lawgiver: It is the law. You must come.
Kirk: I said we're not going anywhere.

The Lawgivers then look at each other for a while to figure things out. Kirk and Spock have a short exchange about it and the Lawgivers finally face Kirk again:

Lawgiver: It is clear that you simply did not understand. I will re-phrase. You are ordered to accompany us to the absorption chambers.

They can't handle Kirk's response and Reger sees this as their opportunity to flee.

The Festival is over and everyone outside is back to their mindless, harmonious selves. Kirk and company follow Reger who will take them to a safe place. Naturally, they are discovered. Landru has summoned The Body (the town's populace) to attack them.
As they flee they find O'Neil. Has has been absorbed.
McCoy, Y U No phaser?

Reger takes them to a safe place and sets up a light panel (on the shelf behind his head):
Spock is impressed from the technology, calling it "amazing in this culture." Reger says that it comes from a time before Landru, possibly as long as 6,000 years ago.
Was Landru the inspiration for Eraserhead?
O'Neil's presence leads them to being discovered by Landru, who makes an appearance via projection. They captured, McCoy is absorbed and things look pretty bad until they meet up with a member of the resistance movement, Marplon, who returns their weapons and takes them to Landru.

Spock and Kirk have already come to realize that Landru is not a living being. Kirk says, "The plug must be pulled," and Spock counters by saying, what about "our Prime Directive of non-interference."
Always ready with an excuse, Kirk says "That refers to a living, growing culture. Do you think this one is?" I guess not as they phaser their way in to meet Landru.
Inside we see that Landru is nothing more than a computer! And we know how Kirk feels about computers.
He hates 'em! Especially computers that really mess up the normal social evolution of a human culture. Landru neutralizes their phasers, so that leaves them just one thing to do--out wit it!

You can watch the full episode here, or if you just want to see Kirk talk Landru into suicide, then watch this clip.
"Help me! Help me! Help me! Help me!"
It's good, fun Trek and I recommend it. Next up? A Taste of Armageddon.