Star Trek turns 50

Star Trek turned 50 last week. Growing up in the 80s and 90s, Star Wars was a three-movie series. It expanded with novels by Timothy Zahn, video games like Tie Fighter, Dark Forces, and Rogue Squadron, and eventually Episode 1. This was Star Trek time. A movie and TV empire.

Two feature films, Star Trek V and VI, came out while The Next Generation was still in its original run. Deep Space Nine and Voyager began shortly thereafter. Enterprise wouldn’t start until 2001, when Star Wars was back as a film franchise, prequel malaise or not. And Discovery will begin in 2017, the first time Star Trek will appear on the small screen since Enterprise finished its run.

Star Trek shows off a future that takes on challenges. It’s a future that imagines humanity coming together in ways that we can’t imagine in 2016.

Sometimes it’s a lighthearted mystery…

…other times it’s a serious examination of the law.

…or a look at morality.

It could take a light look at historical figures…

…or put their life outlook into relief when considering the idealized version of the future

Armin Shimerman may have put it best earlier this month. Star Trek is science fiction with wild technology and fantastic stories, but when it comes down to it, Trek is about the message.

Happy birthday, Star Trek.

2016 Predictions

After wrapping up 2015 it’s time to look ahead with a  few predictions for 2016.

  1. Star Wars: The Force Awakens will become the highest grossing movie of the modern era (so not the inflation-adjusted overall champ). This is still a 2015 leftover really, but the franchise has ascended to new heights and together with Marvel could represent an amazing run of large film franchises over the next decade.
  2. The Red Sox will win 100 games. The 2015 season may not have been successful but then offense was at the top of MLB – with very little from Pablo Sandoval, Hanley Ramirez, and Rusney Castillo – and the rotation and bullpen have been rebuilt.
  3. Google I/O 2016 features a formal announcement of the ChromeOS/Android hybrid plans. What it ends up being as a first step: Chrome extensions for the Android version of the browser.
  4. I’ll let this next one extend to CED 2017: smart anklets. Like a FitBit for your foot. Free up the wrist and offer an alternative to the “watches and wearables” model we’re in.
  5. Disney announces a fifth movie in the Indiana Jones franchise with J.J. Abrams at the helm. After doing a alternative history with Star Trek, and a continuation/handoff with Star Wars, this will be a recasting but still exist within the Indiana Jones continuity. Maybe even before Temple of Doom, which was actually a prequel. It won’t, however, be an origin story – Dr. Jones will already be Dr. Jones.
  6. Neither the Democratic or Republican presidential candidate will choose a running mate from among his or her primary rivals.

Book Review: Star Wars: Scoundrels

(It’s been a bit since I’ve done one of these, not for lack of reading, so hopefully this will get me back in the spirit, and in control of the backlog.)

The Star Wars theme is one of the most iconic musical pieces of the 20th century. Among science fiction novelists, Timothy Zahn’s works are the written equivalent of that music set against the opening crawl of gold words set against the backdrop of space. In the early 1990s, at the bequest of George Lucas, Zahn boldly launched Star Wars in a direction that no author had been allowed to go before: continuing the saga of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia, Chewbacca (and more) after the events in Return of the Jedi with his trilogy: Heir to the EmpireDark Force Rising, and The Last Command. 

Darth Vader was dead, but the Empire was not yet finished. A new villain, Grand Admiral Thrawn, a tactical genius, replaced the imposing figure of the dark lord with cunning and military prowess. Thrawn’s signature ability was his knack for analyzing a culture based on their art. By understanding of art, he argued, one could better size up his or her enemy. Learn their psyche and defeat them in battle. Anticipate their moves. It was enough to convince me to take a politics and culture class in college and try to understand of the election cycles through the music of NOFX. I didn’t gain the same understanding as Thrawn, but it was an exercise worth pursuing anyway.

Since those first books in the 90s, Zahn has continued to flesh out his corner of the Star Wars universe. In the latest, Star Wars: Scoundrels, readers get to learn a bit more about their favorite smuggler, Han Solo. Set in-between the events of A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, Han and Chewie have lost the reward money from their Death Star heroics and need to make some quick cash to once again try and pay off Jabba the Hutt.

It’s like when that perfect hand comes along,” Lando murmured. “You have to see it, recognize it, and bet big.

Sure enough, an opportunity presented itself. A stranger needed help recovering his family fortune and decided that Han fits the bill. Of course, the money is being held by a somewhat to possibly very corrupt well-to-do gentleman with connections (and bribes) in the local and planetary governments and police. And wouldn’t you know, the money was protected by guards, droids, and the most complicated safe ever conceived by man. So, of course Han needed a team of trustworthy thieves to pull off the heist. It just so happened that the window for the robbery was during a big fight, so all the money from the Mirage, the Villagio, and the MGM Grand….wait…wrong story.

But there are actually a lot of nice parallels and references between Scoundrels and classic heist movies, including Ocean’s 11. Because it’s a Timothy Zahn book, a few familiar faces show up who will already be familiar to the reader but not to the other characters. Like a good prequel, Scoundrels combines elements that are old and familiar with those that are new unknown to give the book a flavor of excitement even though (spoiler alert) the reader knows Han Solo can’t die.

If you like Star Wars and have read the other Zahn books (though this can stand on its own and you’ll appreciate the nods to his other books if you decide to read those later), this is a good train to ride. If anything, it’ll get you thinking about 2015, J.J. Abrams and the possibilities for Episode VII. May the force be with you!

A Little Night Research

While doing some research for a longer post here, I decided I was tired of typing. Given that I’m spending an exciting Saturday night doing research and watching the Red Sox lose, I thought “why not talk to some computers?”

So I asked a couple questions to Siri and Google Now.

My first thought, of course, was that for computational questions , Siri looks to Wolfram Alpha. If movies are too pop culture for WA, perhaps this is an area Apple will have to partner with IMDB for as Siri opens up to more services and expands in capability. So let’s test that:

But why limit ourselves to one series. After all, the night is young! Perhaps Siri is a fan of all things Connery.

Try not. Do or do not. There is no try

This isn’t meant as an indictment on either service – it’s still remarkable that simply speaking to a handheld computer will not only produce accurate text but also query databases and find answers that are in the ballpark of what I’m looking for. I remember overclocking my first computer to play an .mp3.