Saturday, November 30, 2013

Star Trek: Season One Redux

I'm not sure if I have any regular readers or not or if anyone is even enjoying my look back at the original Star Trek series. I have enjoyed doing these and I guess that's what counts. If anybody else does too, then so much the better.

I began back in mid December last year with The Cage and just 11 months later I finished the last episode of Season 1, Operation: Annihilate!
I briefly thought of ranking all the episodes in the season but instead decided to give you my top ten. Ask me on a different day and I might give you a different list, but for now here it is:
#10 - Dagger of the Mind - An escaped inmate leads Kirk and Dr. Helen Noel to a deadly discovery in the Tantalus Colony. Favorite line: "To all mankind. May we never find space so vast, planets so cold, hearts and minds so empty that, that we cannot fill them with love and warmth."
#9 - Space Seed - The Enterprise encounters a derelict ship with a cargo of super humans in suspended animation who are revived and take over. Favorite line: "Khaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan!" "Well, either choke me or cut my throat. Make up your mind."
#8 - Where No Man Has Gone Before - Trek's second pilot takes them to the edge of the galaxy and through its energy barrier. In the process Gary Mitchell develops super powers.  Favorite line: "Because she feels. I don't. All I know is logic."
#7 - Arena - To save his ship, Kirk must fight an alien lizard-like creature, the Gorn, which he defeats with a home-made canon. Favorite line: "I shall be merciful and quick."
#6 - Errand of Mercy - The Federation and the Klingon Empire are headed to war until the Organians interfere. Favorite line: "Do you always betray your friends?"
#5 - Balance of Terror - A submarine-like face off against the Romulans, with a comet. Favorite line: "Behold, a marvel in the darkness."
#4 - The Devil in the Dark - Red Shirts and miners fall victim to a deadly monster who turns out to be a mother protecting her young. Favorite line: "No Kill I."
#3 - The Corbomite Maneuver  - A first contact mission gone wrong turns into a deadly game of poker. Favorite line: "What am I, a doctor or a moon-shuttle conductor?"
#2 - The Naked Time - A disease ravages the crew of the Enterprise who accidentally travels back in time to escape crashing into a dying planet. Favorite line: "No beach to walk on."
#1. The City On The Edge of Forever - McCoy travels back in time an somehow changes all of history. Kik and Spock follow him back to the 1930s in an attempt to set things right. Favorite line: "I am endeavoring, ma'am, to construct a mnemonic memory circuit using stone knives and bearskins."

There you have it. Others such as The Menagerie, The Galileo Seven, A Taste of Armageddon and The Return of the Archons nearly cracked the top ten.

Look for Catspaw, my first Season Two episode to be here on the blog very soon. Remember, I am covering these in production order.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Black Friday Balloon

Here is this morning's Black Friday hot air balloon:
I am sure that they had a better time soaring than anyone had shopping.

A Visit to Chaco Culture International Dark Sky Park

Recently I had the opportunity to visit Chaco Culture National Historical Park in New Mexico. Chaco has the distinction of being the world's newest International Dark Sky Park. Alas, it was full moon which is not really the best time to visit a Dark Sky Park, but the sky was clear and the park was magnificent.

Here's the view I had from the one evening I was there:
The landform is Fajada Butte (where the famous "Sun Dagger" is located). In the photo Fajada Butte is joined by Venus, which in turn is nestled in the teapot of Sagittarius. Moonlight is illuminating the butte. That's not light pollution in the sky (you'll find very little of it in the park), but rather the glow of the evening twilight sky.

The park is home to extensive ancient ruins which are the focus of many studies in archaeoastronomy but it also has a night sky program with numerous telescopes, including a wonderful 25-inch Obsession in a dome.
The nighttime programs are not offered all the time, so check with the park for their availability.

The daytime stars of the park are its archaeological treasures. Here are two photos looking down on Pueblo Bonito:
It is difficult to get a sense of scale in the photos above but the big wall of Pueblo Bonito (above, left) is some four stories high and it may have been higher in the past. Pueblo Bonito was the the largest structure ever built in North America until the advent of modern highrise buildings. It was occupied for over 300 years.

There are many archeological sites in the park. Here's the view looking down on another site, Kin Kletso ("Yellow House"):
Not surprisingly, the different structures clearly made use of different techniques and materials in construction, which you can easily see in these detail shots of some of the stone walls: 
Perhaps sometime I'll get the chance to make an extended visit. If so, I hope to have the chance to visit the famed petrograph that might depict the 1054 A.D. supernova.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Star Trek: Operation -- Annihilate!

Today I take a look at the final episode of the first season of the original Star Trek.
I think a better title would have been Stop the Insanity, don't you? Anyway, Operation -- Annihilate! is not an especially happy episode and in spite of the odd creature effects it does offer some interesting sci-fi story elements and, while it is not an elite Trek episode, it isn't a turkey either.
The story begins with crew of the Enterprise following the path of mass insanity that has been moving across the galaxy from planet to planet. It has led them to the planet Deneva, which also happens to be where Kirk's brother and his family lives.

But before they arrive at Deneva a one-man spaceship is spotted heading straight for the Denevan sun.
They try to warn him off but he continues to head straight for the sun and just before he burns up can be heard to say, "I did it. It's finally gone. I'm free. I'm--." I wonder if that means anything?
Just like in The City on the Edge of Forever, there's a new planet model that was used for the special effects. That's two new ones in the last two episodes. It almost makes up for using the old ones over and over and over. This one looks pretty good too.

Anyway, they beam down to the surface (where the location shots were filmed at the TRW Space and Defense Park) and are attacked by some people who are shouting things like, "Go away! We don't want to hurt you!"
McCoy, Kirk, YU no phaser?
They examine the locals and then head inside to look for Sam Kirk and his family.
Alas, Sam is dead but his wife Aurelan and his son Peter are still alive.
Speaking of Peter, who doesn't do anything here except lay around, he was played by the actor Craig Hundley would later return as Tommy in a rather bad season 3 episode (And the Children Shall Lead). I am rather much more fond of Hundley's other Star Trek connection. He was the inventor of the Blaster Beam, a musical instrument that was featured in Jerry Goldsmith's magnificent musical score for Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

Things don't go well for Aurelan Kirk. She goes through a lot of pain and then suddenly dies.
Captain Kirk heads back down to the surface where they meet up with the alien invaders that have been causing all the ruckus. They turn out to be extremely resistant to phaser fire but after a prolonged burst they get one of the creatures to fall while the others flee by "flying" (well, they were on strings) away.
Yeah, they look pretty fake, but it's okay as even Yeoman Zahra says, "Captain, it doesn't even look real." Honestly, she really says that. It kind of feels like a line put in by the writers to admit that, "Yeah, we know they don't look real. Just accept it and roll with the story."
As the landing party leaves the area they turn their backs on the flying alien creatures. One flies and attacks Spock. They bring him up to the Enterprise where McCoy operates on him but there's nothing he can do. As he explains, "Evidently, when the creature attacks, it leaves a stinger much like a bee or wasp, leaving one of these in the victim's body. It takes over the victim very rapidly, and the entwining is far, far too involved for conventional surgery to remove."

Spock is forced to endure huge amounts of pain. At one point he flees sick bay, heads for the bridge and tries to take control of the ship. He is subdued and restrained back in sick bay where he attempts to control the pain.

In a Frankenstein moment he later breaks free from his restraints and heads for the transporter room so that he can retrieve one of the creatures for them to study.
They put the creature through some tests and Spock comes to the conclusion that it is a "one-celled creature resembling, more than anything else, a huge, individual brain cell." Spock then asks, "Do you understand what I'm suggesting, Captain?"  I guess he doesn't think too highly of Kirk's reasoning skills or, more likely, they needed to explain some things to the audience.

Kirk replies by saying that, "This may be one cell in a larger organism. An incredibly huge organism, in fact." Spock then adds, "And although it is not physically connected to the other cells, it is nevertheless part of the whole creature, guided by the whole, drawing its strength from the whole, which probably accounts for its unusual resistance to our phaser weapons" and that, in a big leap of logic, that it may have come, "From a place where our physical laws do not apply. We may therefore find it difficult to destroy, Captain."

So if they can't kill the creatures the infesting Deneva, Kirk reasons that he'll have to stop the insanity from spreading by killing everyone on the planet - over a million people. In Conscience of the King Kodos was alleged to have killed 4,000 people in order to save 4,000 more. That's what earned him the nickname "the Executioner." How would Kirk be remembered if he killed everyone on Deneva?

Needless to say, Kirk isn't thrilled about that option. Which brings us back to the beginning of the story when the Denevan flew his ship into the sun and announced that he was free.

In an attempt to figure out what will kill the creature they try using the stuff that suns are know for: heat and radiation. Eventually figure out that they should also try light.
So in an attempt at doing a science experiment they put the creature into the test chamber, don their snazzy goggles and blast it with light at an intensity of one million candles per square inch. It kills the creature. Huzzah!

Spock points out that they need to do a test on someone who is infected. McCoy hedges but Kirk pushes that they have to do the test now.
The trial works but Spock is blinded. Just as we learn that he is blinded Nurse Chapel rushes in with the test results of the first experiment. Somehow they have determined that they didn't need to use the full visible spectrum at the creature - ultraviolet alone would have worked. Spock need not have been blinded. I am not sure that an intense blast of UV would have done him much good either, but that's their story. They deploy some satellites to blast the planet and kill off the invasion.
The good news is that, because Spock is an alien, the writers can invent something about Vulcans to get him out of the bind they put him in - an inner eyelid. The day is saved and, as 60s TV needed to be, no one is changed by the experience.

There was no new music written for this episode but, don't worry, there's some great stuff coming up in Season Two.

You can watch the full episode here from

More Star Trek is coming up. I may post a Season One retrospective before I launch into Season Two.

Night Flight II

A week ago I had another opportunity to shoot some city lights from an airplane. This time my flight was from Atlanta to Tucson. Unfortunately, it is difficult to know where I was when these shots were taken but there are still some some things of interest in them.
As it turns out there is a lot that can be learned by looking a city lights from the air. Doing so from an airline isn't necessarily the best way to do it though. Some researchers are using airplanes to study city lights in a systematic way. Check out this post about the lights of Berlin from the Loss of the Night blog.  They've got a video posted there that I have embedded below that shows their night views of Berlin Germany from an airplane and from the International Space Station:

Back to my shots. They are presented in geographic order from east to west.
Looking down on some continuous roadway lighting:
Notice the brightest areas in the shot below? Yeah, it's sports lighting
Finally, two shots of Tucson:
Notice in the shot above not only the differing colors of light but also that mostly you see the reflected pools of light underneath the light poles rather than upward directed light. 
What's the brightest thing in this shot? Sports lighting, just as it is in most towns. This particular installation is putting a lot of light going not directly upward (aside from reflected light), but upward in a sideways direction. Research shows that this brightens the sky over a much larger area. That's not exactly a good thing, is it?

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Sky Shots from the Week

There's almost always something interesting to see in the sky. In the day, at twilight and in the night there are sights to see. "It's wondrous, with treasures to satiate desires, both subtle and gross."*

There were lots of nice sights here this week with a great pairing of Venus and the Moon, a bright Iridium flare, hot air balloons and more. Have a look.

Here's Venus and the crescent Moon as seen on the 6th:
The Moon moves quite a lot from one night to the next. Here's the view from the 7th:
Also, on the 7th we had a bright (magnitude -6) Iridium flare visible. I almost missed getting a shot of it and literally had just plopped the camera tripod into position as it was getting started. 
Saturday's sunrise:
Once the Sun works its way into the sky it becomes time to launch hot air balloons. We had 3 of them in the sky visible simultaneously this morning. Here's a rather poor wide shot showing them. Some nicer, detailed shots follow.
*Yeah, that was a quote from Q in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode Q Who.