Sunday, July 21, 2013

Star Trek: This Side of Paradise

It is time for the next episode of Star Trek:
The Enterprise is en route to Omicron Ceti III (That's an awesome planet name. Someone needs to give that name to a real planet.) where they expect to find the remains of a doomed Earth colony. Unknown at the time they settled, the planet is subjected to deadly doses of Berthold rays. No survivors are expected.
Kirk and the landing party are surprised to find that the colonists are alive and well. We soon learn that they are all in perfect health, complete with old wounds & missing organs having grown back, yet there is no other animal life.

Kirk has orders to evacuate the colony, but their leader, Elias Sandoval, is having nothing of it. They also meet up with an old aquantance of Spock's, Leila Kalomi - played by Jill Ireland. It seems that Leila, the colony's botanist, met Spock some years ago.

Spock and Leila head outside. Spock is puzzled about what is going on here and they have this exchange:
Spock: I would like to know how your people have managed to survive here. 
Leila: I missed you. 
Spock: Logically, you should all be dead. 
Leila: If I tell you how we survived, will you try to understand how we feel about our life here? About each other? 
Spock: Emotions are alien to me. I'm a scientist. 
Leila: Someone else might believe that. Your shipmates, your Captain, but not me. Come.
Leila takes Spock to a flowering plant which shoots him with spores.
After moments of turmoil, Spock is transformed and quite rapidly professes his love for Leila. This gives Leonard Nimoy a chance to really shine as Spock's character moves into previously uncharted territory.
As the influence of the spores is spreading to more people, Kirk is trying to get a handle on both the colonists, which are supposed to be evacuated, and his landing party. It leads to this a great exchange over the communicators between Kirk and Spock:
Kirk: Where are you? 
Spock: I don't believe I want to tell you. 
Kirk: Spock, I don't know what you think you're doing, but this is an order. Report back to me at the settlement in ten minutes. We're evacuating all colonists to Starbase Twenty Seven. 
Spock: No, I don't think so. 
Kirk: You don't think so, what?
Spock: I don't think so, [pause] sir. 
The tragic element of the story: for the first time ever Spock knows love and compassion and we know it can't last.

Soon Kirk confronts Spock and Sandoval.
Spock describes this world as being an Eden. Them's fightin' words to Kirk. He'll have none of that. As he says, "We weren't meant for that. None of us. Man stagnates if he has no ambition, no desire to be more than he is."

Kirk heads back to the ship only to find that the plants have been beamed aboard and have affected the rest of the crew, which mutinies.
Kirk sees them all lined up to beam down to the surface and confronts Mr. Leslie, who freely admits that this is mutiny.

In case you don't know, Mr. Leslie was played by Eddie Paskey. He was on 57 (!) episodes of the original series (That's more than Sulu or Chekov). Often he's just hanging out in the background. Occasionally he has a line or two or even plays another part (He killed Edith Keeler). Check out the link for more - you'll be glad you did.

Kirk is finally alone on the ship - the last one remaining when one of the plants gets him.
The spores briefly win over Kirk, but as he is preparing to leave the ship he is overwhelmed with emotion and their power over him is broken. He realizes that strong emotion is the key. Kirk has Spock beam up on the pretense that he needs helps with some equipment.
Once Spock is aboard, Kirk pulls out all the stops in an attempt to get Spock Angry, calling him  mutinous, disloyal, computerised, half-breed, an overgrown jackrabbit, an elf with a hyperactive thyroid and more. And then, a "devil-eared freak whose father was a computer and his mother an encyclopedia." But it is not until Kirk mentions Spock's relationship with Leila that Spock starts to lose it.

They fight and Spock becomes free of the spores just before he really does some damage to Kirk. They come up with a scheme to get everybody worked up and fighting. It leads to everyone breaking free of the spores, even the colonists, and returning to the Enterprise. Even Sandoval, who wanted nothing to do with the evacuation admits that they have done nothing and it is time for them to go.
The episode closes with Kirk and McCoy asking Spock about his experience on Omicron Ceti III. Spock says, "I have little to say about it, Captain, except that for the first time in my life I was happy." It is well delivered and the viewer really gets a sense of the loss that Spock is feeling and how alone his existence is.
I rarely mention in these posts anything about who directed the particular episode that I am talking about but I will this time. Ralph Senensky directed and did a wonderful job. He also, years later, blogged about his work on Star Trek and the many other TV shows that he worked on. It is well worth your time to check out his blog and his post about this episode in particular. You can see clips of the episode on his blog, or watch the whole thing right here.

Next up is an excellent episode, Devil in the Dark.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

In Book Stores Now: The End of Night

Paul Bogard's new book, The End of Night - Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light is out today. It looks to be a very important read for everyone who is interested in the nighttime environment.

Check out the book trailer below and learn more about it or order it at the link above:

Saturday, July 6, 2013


I have lived most of my life in the desert southwest where the air is usually clear and dry. Every summer, usually around Independence Day, the flow of the atmosphere shifts bringing humidity. The heat of the day and instability in the atmosphere generates thunderstorms.

You wouldn't think that someone who loves astronomy as much as I do would welcome our monsoon season, but I do. The clouds pretty much ruin astronomy in July and August. The weather is so bad that the professional observatories in the area usually shut down for maintenance. Even though the monsoons are bad for astronomy they are celebrated. I suspect that most people who have not lived in the desert would understand how everyone here gets excited about just the possibility of rain.

This year's thunderstorms in Tucson kicked off on Monday. Friday was another active day. Here's a time-lapse movie from Friday showing how it looked from the University of Arizona:
It was a pretty good storm. Parts of town got 2-3 inches of rain and the temperature at the airport dropped about 25 degrees. We have yet to get any measurable rain at our place (our time will come, hopefully soon), but this evening we had a wonderful lightning storm.

It was my first time with lightning photography in years. In fact, the last time I shot lightning I was shooting with film (Yes, I'm that old). Needless to say, I am pretty happy with how things turned out.

The trick to lightning photography is to make sure it is far enough away to be safe and that it's dark enough for timed exposures. Tonight was the perfect combination. Lightning is bright enough that setting your camera's speed to something slow, like 100, is perfect. It allows you to take long exposures without overexposing, while giving you plenty of opportunity to catch the lightning in the act.

Personally I like Nature's fireworks a whole lot more than the man-made fireworks of a few days ago. I managed to get a few shots that I liked and I have posted the good ones here.
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To get even more in a shot individual exposures can be combined with a program like StarStaX. Here's the two photos above, and another that had just a little bit of lightning. The resulting image is even nicer.
 Here are a few more individual frames that still look pretty good.
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And, if you made it down this far, here are a couple more stacked images. First 4 frames stacked:
And then 8 frames stacked:
I hope to shoot more lightning before the summer rains end and, if I do, you'll be seeing the pics here.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Independence Day Fireworks

There was a pretty nice fireworks show in Marana, Arizona. I was able to catch the show from just behind my house. Here are a few pics that I took with my Canon T3i. 
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The big finish was pretty bright. This exposure is just 1/20 of a second!

2 Great Books for Summer

There are two new books that should be on your summer reading list.

Paul Bogard's new book, The End of Night - Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light,  explores light pollution and its impact on humans and the natural world. The book isn't out until July 9th, but Paul is a great writer and this is an important topic. So, while I haven't read it yet (I will quite soon), I still recommend it without hesitation. Since I haven't read it, you can read a review of it here.
The other new book is Astronomy 101: From the Sun and Moon to Wormholes and Warp Drive, Key Theories, Discoveries, and Facts about the Universe by Carolyn Collins Petersen. I have worked with Carolyn on several projects - most recently on Losing the Dark a short film/planetarium show about light pollution.
Carolyn is a great writer and you'll be hard pressed to find a more comprehensive and engaging overview of modern astronomy.

If you are looking for some great vacation reads that will take you into the night and out into the universe, you can't go wrong with The End of Night and Astronomy 101.