Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Star Trek: Patterns of Force

2015 is nearly over, but before it is done there's time to squeeze in another episode of Star Trek. I somehow managed to accidentally skip watching Return to Tomorrow, so instead today I bring you
Nazis in Space!

If you loved the episode with the Romans or the one with the Gangsters, then you'll love the one with Nazis, right?

No, not so much.

I realize that they rationalize this as a case of cultural contamination, but I would prefer to have a fresh story idea over a look at an Earth culture on another planet again.
We begin with the Enterprise sailing past the planet Zeon (at left) on its way to Ekos. Gosh, those planets are really close together. Spock tells us that the "Ekosians are a primitive, warlike people in a state of anarchy. The other planet, Zeon, has a relatively high technology, and its people are peaceful."
They are headed toward Ekos to find Kirk's old history professor, John Gill (projected above between Spock and McCoy), who has gone missing. As they head toward Ekos, the ship is attacked by a nuclear missile, which was a big surprise because Ekos shouldn't be that technically advanced. Something is amiss.
 Curiously, Kirk and Spock are injected with transponders--devices that will allow them to be located and beamed up, even if they have lost their communicators. If he hasn't heard from them, Scotty is to  beam them up in 3 hours no matter what.
Kirk and Spock beam down only to discover that the Ekosians are Nazis and that John Gill is their Fuhrer! The Ekosians are hellbent on exterminating the Zeons. I guess Gill decided that the Federation's non-interference Directive is more of a guideline than a rule.

Kirk and Spock are caught by a Nazi who they overpower so that they can take his uniform. Wash, rinse and repeat. Soon they both have uniforms, which brings us to the whole point of the episode...
seeing Kirk and Spock (and later McCoy) as Nazis. The other purpose to the episode: re-using existing props, costumes & sets.)
 They even get to change their Nazi uniforms a couple of times.
In between changes of clothes, they get captured, tortured and escape because Spock is awesome. Digging out their transponder crystals, Spock uses them to create a laser beam to cut their way through the lock on their cell door. Interestingly, later on when they are able to get into communication with the ship, there was no discussion of them being overdue, finding the transponders without Kirk & Spock, the crew being worried...nothing at all.

After escaping they meet up with the underground Zeons who have names like Davod, Isak and Abrom. It's almost as if the script writers are trying to draw a parallel or something to our world. Yeah, we get it.

It would be okay if there was a big moral payoff at the end here, but I don't think that Patterns of Force ever really delivers that. They end by reminding us that absolute power corrupts absolutely, but I think that there could have been so much more done here.
 They spend more time making fun of Spock instead. Oh, well.
Just as the Ekosians are launching an invasion force toward Zeon, our heroes finally find John Gill, but he's drugged and totally out of it. Over McCoy's complaints, Kirk has McCoy inject Gill with stimulants, but they have no effect, so he calls in Spock to reach directly into his mind.

Spock is perhaps less than helpful: "I have created a condition in which Gill cannot initiate speech or any other action, but he can reply to questions." Really? So they play 20 Questions with Gill until Kirk gets frustrated and shoots him up again and then slaps him around. Really.
In the end it worked. Gill was able to recall the invasion fleet and reveal the traitor. Apparently Gill had just been trying to help the Ekosians, but he finally realized the error of his ways saying "Even historians fail to learn from history. They repeat the same mistakes. Let the killing end." Earlier Kirk had called Gill "the kindest, gentlest man I ever knew." It is beyond belief that such a man, a brilliant historian no less, would step in and use Nazi Germany as the model to help a culture.

In the end all the bad Nazis die, the good ones lead the way forward to peace with the Zeons and we get our message about absolute power. Hurrah.

Composer George Duning gave us six and a half minutes of new music for this episode, a theme called Military Mite that is used several times for the Nazis. It works just fine in the episode, but isn't too exciting to listen to outside of the episode itself.

I mistakenly skipped Return to Tomorrow, so that will be the next Star Trek episode to appear here, likely early in the new year.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Last Night's Christmas Eve Moon

Here's an admittedly overexposed shot I captured last night of the Christmas Eve Moon as it was rising out of the trees.
There's been a lot of chatter on the Internet about how special it is to have a full moon at Christmas. Well, maybe so, but the Moon is full every 29.5 days, so its gonna fall on holidays from time to time.

If you are looking to find out what the Moon will be doing in the coming year, look no further than Fred Espenak's Moon in 2016 blog post at it has got everything you might want to know.

Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Star Trek: By Any Other Name

2015 is rapidly drawing to a close and I haven't had much time for blogging this year. I had more than twice as many posts in 2014 (87) than I've had so far in 2015 (this is # 41). Of course there are reasons for that - I moved to a new state, started a new job and then moved again (into a wonderful home in the country!).

I've got some free time here at the end of the year, so that means I've also got some blogging time too.

This week saw the first teaser trailer release for next summer's Star Trek Beyond, making this is a good time to ignore that awful looking Trek and instead talk about everything that's wonderful about the classic Star Trek series. I've been blogging about each episode (in production order), and have only covered seven episodes this year, so it's well past time to do another.

The next one in line is the second season episode (and 50th over all) known as:
By Any Other Name has got a going for it and I like it much more now than I did when I was younger. The episode takes a look at what it means to be human and what it would be like to have to deal with experiencing emotions and physical sensations for the very first time.
We begin with Kirk and a landing party beaming down to respond to a distress call. Alas, it is a trap and everyone is quickly paralyzed by Rojan of Kelva (center, above), who tells them basically that he's the new sheriff in town: "Any efforts to resist us or to escape will be severely punished. Soon we, and you, will leave this galaxy forever. You humans must face the end of your existence as you have known it."


The Kelvans intend to steal the Enterprise and use it to  take them back to their home in the Andromeda Galaxy (aka M31).  As Rojan explains, "Within ten millennia, high radiation levels in our galaxy will make life there impossible. So the Kelvan Empire sent forth ships to explore other galaxies, to search for one which our race could conquer and occupy." They've decided that the Milky Way will do nicely, so they've got to head home & let everyone know.

For me, the concept of the high radiation levels in M31 is a very interesting idea, one that mirrors some of the writing in Larry Niven's Known Space series (see his 1966 story At The Core), in which an alien race is fleeing the Milky Way because of radiation from an outward-spreading wave of supernova explosions taking place in our galaxy's core.

A modern image of starburst galaxy M82 from the Hubble Space Telescope
These similar ideas likely owe their genesis in the real life astronomical research of Allan Sandage, who in the early 1960s was studying a galaxy known as M82 with the then biggest telescope on the planet, the 200-inch Hale Telescope at Palomar Observatory. We now refer to M82 as a starburst galaxy (nothing to do with candy), but seeing gas rushing outward from the galaxy itself, Sandage interpreted the observations as M82 being a galaxy that was exploding. It was a popular idea that likely influenced both Niven and Jerome Bixby who gave us the initial story for By Any Other Name. But I digress...
Just after the opening credits roll Rojan's lackeys make quick work of taking over the Enterprise and they are making preparations for heading back to M31. They plan on modifying the engines to make the 2.5 million light year journey in just 300 years. It will be a multi generational trip for them, which is odd, since we never see more than maybe a dozen Kelvans in all.

The Kelvans need the Enterprise because their ship was destroyed crossing the Milky Way's energy barrier, which was a plot device in Trek's second pilot, Where No Man Has Gone Before. By the way, the energy barrier turns up again (!) in the third season episode Is There In Truth No Beauty?

Spock asks Rojan, why don't they just send a message back home instead of stealing the Enterprise and Rojan explains that "No form of transmission can penetrate the barrier," which is odd since, you know, we can see the Andromeda galaxy. Spock should know that light in all its forms (visible, radio waves, etc.) penetrate the barrier just fine. Maybe the barrier just blocks "subspace," whatever that is.

Oh, well. Rojan and the other Kelvans imprison the landing party and then explain how eager they'll be to get off of the planet and back into space.
While behind bars, Spock offers some instant metallurgy, describing the metal bars "Fascinating material. Similar to diburnium, but considerably more dense. I doubt even phaser fire could disturb its molecular structure." I'm not really sure how he can tell all that from just pinging on the bars, but then I'm not a Vulcan science officer, am I.

While they're imprisoned, Kirk makes a reference to an earlier episode (A Taste of Armageddon) - something that is just about unheard of in classic Trek. It's where Spock used his mental abilities to try to persuade a guard to open the door. Maybe he could try it again here...
Spock makes the attempt and then is thrown backward.
Spock later explains what he sensed during his brief mental contact with a Kelvan: "A series of bizarre and exotic images bursting on my mind and consciousness. Colors, shapes, mathematical equations fused and blurred. I've been attempting to isolate them, but so far I've been able to recall clearly only one. Immense beings, a hundred limbs which resemble tentacles. Minds of such control and capacity that each limb is capable of performing a different function."
Because of their escape attempt Rojan demonstrates another of his somewhat magical abilities, by reducing two members of the landing party into little 10-sided sponges. He explains, "This is the essence of what they were. The flesh and brain and what you call the personality, distilled down into these compact shapes."
 To further demonstrate, Rojan crushes one of them (killing the yeoman) and then restores the other one.
Realizing that he's not getting anywhere here, Kirk asks Spock to fake an illness so that he and McCoy can be beamed aboard the Enterprise. Spock puts himself into a trance, which Vulcans find to be "more restful to the body than your so-called vacation." Clearly Vulcans need to get out more often.

The whole effort is a bit of a waste, as the Kelvins soon want them aboard the starship anyway, as they make their way through the energy barrier at the edge of the galaxy.
Spock and Scotty have cooked up a way to stop the Kelvans by destroying the Enterprise when they cross the energy barrier. Kirk calls them "Mad."
Nevertheless, Scotty's ready and has his finger on the button as they recycle old footage from Where No Man Has Gone Before on their way out of the Milky Way.
The above shot in particular is embarrassingly bad. I know they were on a budget.
As a reward for sitting through that, we do get to see the Enterprise swooshing off towards the Andromeda Galaxy, which almost makes it all okay. I am happy that the effects crew (or somebody giving them direction) was smart enough to know that there aren't really stars between galaxies and they left the rest of the sky appropriately empty. Nice.
The real downer is that once they've crossed the energy barrier, to save on consumables, the crew gets reduced to 10-sided sponges with just Kirk, Spock, McCoy & Scotty left behind to save the day.
The gang is having a bite of colored food cubes (Yum!) when when of the Kelvans (Tomar) approaches wanting to know what all the fuss is about, saying "I do not understand why you take the trouble to consume this bulk material to sustain yourselves." McCoy suggests that he give it a try and he likes it.

Spock tells us that "The Kelvans have superior intellectual capacity. To achieve it, they have apparently sacrificed anything which would tend to distract them. Perceptive senses such as taste, touch, smell, and, of course, emotions... they have taken human form and are therefore having human reactions."

So maybe they can use that as an advantage and get the Kelvans to lower their guard.  
It's Green.
This leads to Scotty suggesting that Tomar will need something to wash his food down and a classic drinking match ensues. Scotty starts him off in the Rec Hall with Saurian Brandy and then they move to his quarters for more.

Later, when Scotty fetches a new bottle and when Tomar asks what is it, Scotty gives a classic reply:

The line was good  enough that when James Doohan appeared as Scotty on an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation (Relics) they used it again.
Scotty finally drinks Tomar under the table with his "very, very, very old Scotch whisky." It's really quite wonderful.
Meanwhile, in an effort to make Rojan jealous, Kirk is putting the moves on Kelinda. She clearly likes it and, as expected, Rojan doesn't like her kissing Kirk.
Kirk explains it all to Rojan: "Look what's happened in the short time you've been exposed to us. What do you think will happen in three centuries? When this ship gets to Kelva, the people on it will be human. They'll be aliens. Enemies!"

Rojan goes on about his mission, but Kirk offers that the Federation can help them find new worlds to live on. Rojan counters with "You would really do that? You would extend welcome to invaders?"

Kirk's reply: "No. But we would welcome friends." And that's what Star Trek is all about, Charlie Brown.

Kalinda and Rojan kiss, Kirk explains that there are certain advantages in being human, like "being able to appreciate the beauty of a flower and a beautiful woman." Wink. Wink.

Rojan turns command back over to Kirk and they head back home.

Composer Fred Steiner wrote about 12 and a half minutes of music for this episode, which included a theme for the Kelvans and a short motif used whenever they activated their Neutralizers. It all works nicely in the episode.

Next up, Return to Tomorrow.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Today's Moon and Planets

The planetary conjunction continues and the Moon was again a part of the show today. Here's how the Moon and Venus looked this morning:
And here's a wider shot that also includes Mars (at the top):
Jupiter is still out there too, I just didn't capture a shot wide enough today to include it as well. The Moon will still be in the sky tomorrow morning, but will have moved away from the grouping of planets though.

Friday, November 6, 2015

The Moon with 3 Planets

The planetary show continues in the predawn sky. This morning the Moon joined the conjunction of Venus, Mars and Jupiter. Here's how the crescent Moon looked alongside of Jupiter:
A wider view takes in the whole show:
Look for the Moon to be nearer to Venus tomorrow (Saturday) morning - a sight that's worth getting up early to see.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Mars & Venus: Side By Side

The pre-dawn planetary conjunction continues and Mars and Venus are now right next to each other in the sky:
It will be a great show for the rest of the week. Get out there and take a look.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Planets, Unite!

I've been waaaaaaaay too busy to see much of the recent conjunction of Venus, Jupiter & Mars, but I was able to catch them this morning from my new home.
Not a bad sight at all. If you haven't been up early to take in the sight, be sure to do so. A crescent moon will join them the mornings of November 6th & 7th - a sight not to be missed!

Sunday, October 4, 2015

A Visit to the Set of Star Trek Continues

It's no secret that I am a big fan of Star Trek. Regular visitors to my blog know that I frequently blog about Trek, especially classic Trek from the 60s. A couple of years ago I discovered that there is a group of extremely dedicated fans that are creating new episodes of TOS Star Trek called Star Trek Continues (STC).
STC is extremely faithful to the original Star Trek and well worth watching. The sets, props, costumes, lighting, scripts, effects and acting are all top notch. You shouldn't take my word for it though, you should watch one of their episodes and decide for yourself.

I've blogged about STC before and, after having supported their first Kickstarter campaign, my wife and I got to collect one of our perks by visiting their set last January. While we were there the STC cast & crew was filming for their fifth episode. That episode "Divided We Stand" has just had its premier so the veil of secrecy has been lifted from our visit and I can share some photos.
I was amazed by the size of their production crew. At one point as we were watching the filming of a scene I counted 25 people, about six of them were actors in the scene. The rest were for lights, sound, camera, hair, makeup, costumes, continuity and a whole lot more. There were others scattered here and there about the studio bringing the total somewhere up to around 35 or so.
Here we are in Sick Bay with the cast during a break in the filming of what we now know to be a pivotal scene in Divided We Stand.
The Sick Bay set looked really great all lit up for filming. Here' a portion of the set above and a close up of some of Dr. McCoy's instruments.
After seeing the filming in Sick Bay, we got our set tour from Chris Doohan. That's Chris (above, left) standing with Steven Dengler, who plays the Security Chief.

For STC Chris is playing Scotty, the role his father had in the original series. His involvement in STC really helps to connect their new episodes to the legacy of the original series. Of course, STC is all about keeping that legacy going and they do so in many ways.
Here is Chris in front of the Jefferies Tube (at left) and the view looking up into this set piece. It is hard to see here but inside it is labeled "GNDN" which was an inside joke during the production of the original series. It stands for Goes Nowhere. Does Nothing.

Of course, no tour of the Enterprise would be complete, especially one conducted by its chief engineer, without visiting the transporter room. 

The transporter controls.
Even the corridors are awesome.
Unfortunately it was pretty dark on the bridge set when we were there (filming was taking place elsewhere, so lighting needed to be controlled), but it was still wonderful. There were many signs of the great attention to detail displayed in recreating the bridge set.
A still of Spock's science station above and a short clip of it below.

Here's the helm with its controls and Sulu's viewer. 
They've even got the chronometer, a wonderful addition to the set.
While on the Bridge, I got to sit in the Big Chair. 
Here is what is currently STC's lone engineering station, a panel from Auxiliary Control. Their last Kickstarter (held just after our visit) was so successful that they have been able to build an Engineering set, which we'll see in future episodes.

All-in-all it we had a great time visiting the 23rd Century.

Big thanks to Kasey Shafsky and Lisa Hansell for their time and attention in getting our set visit arranged and of course to Vic Mignogna and the entire Star Trek Continues cast and crew, including their photographer Donald for providing some of the images here (the bad shots are mine). 

We'll continue supporting Star Trek Continues and look forward to more great things to come from them.