Saturday, November 26, 2016

Star Trek: (Not too Far) Beyond

It was all right as such things go. I know from numismatics that the coins we cherish today – Bust Half Dollar, Peace Dollar, Walking Liberty Half Dollar – were reviled in their own time. Shakespeare and Bach were lost and then re-discovered in the 19th century.  So, perhaps time will serve this movie well. For the present, Wikipedia quoted Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times (July 18, 2016): “[e]ven with its big-screen pyrotechnics and its feature-length running time, Star Trek Beyond plays like an extended version of one of the better episodes from the original series, and I mean that in the best possible way.”

Like much television writing, this plot had problems.  To be fair, we watched it twice. Between times, I read Wikipedia and Memory Alpha to understand what was happening. Perhaps I am getting old, but a lot flashed by at warp speed the first time, and I missed some details. Nonetheless, the second viewing after all of the reading revealed unsolved problems with the plot.

The only surprise was that the movie ran 122 minutes. It felt like three hours. All of the elements of a Star Trek story were in place, but nothing more. We do not learn anything new about our virtual friends or their universe.  The star base Yorktown was visually compelling, but we have seen its like from Coruscant of Star Wars, if not Earth of The Jetsons. 

Captain Kirk’s closet.  He has a rack of identical uniforms. I have two uniforms. It is hard to imagine how he gets dirty during his working day. And the ship must have some kind of laundry, even if replicators were not yet invented in this timeline.  I get the point: life is monotonous; even his wardrobe is boring. Still, he must have had work clothes, work-out clothes, and a formal.

Why did Dr. McCoy go into Chekov’s locker?  That seems like a gross violation of personal liberty, even on a military vessel. It is not clear that alcohol (or anything else like it) is forbidden on board. Presumably, of course, one cannot report for duty incapable of performing as required. But Saurian brandy and other references are known from the Original Series. In By Any Other Name, Scotty gets the Kelvan, Tomar, drunk. “What is it?” the alien asks.  “It’s green,” Scotty replies. For the Next Generation, we had a bartender mixing amusing concoctions.

Nietzschean Philosophy. Krall (formerly Captain Balthazar Edison of the Franklin) launched his vicious attack in defiance of the unity and peace of the Federation. Humanity needs the struggle of war to advance, he claims. So, he acquires a powerful bioweapon in order to destroy millions (perhaps billions) of people thereby giving the survivors something to live for. That twisted logic is familiar from 50 years of James Bond villains, but probably has roots in Jules Verne’s Captain Nemo and Robur the Conqueror.  

Minions. Where does Krall get his crew from? Were these the other survivors of the Franklin? He throws them away easily enough. That callous disregard for his minions must have been evident to them decades earlier. If they agree with his philosophy, why have they not fractured into 50 warring kingdoms with hordes of battling robots, rather than being unified under Krall’s (questionable) leadership? (This is the same problem from Space Seed and the story of Noonian Singh Khan.) Why had they not reduced their numbers, as they sucked the life out of each other over 100 years.  

Zombies/Vampires. These beings from the Franklin can only extend their lives by sucking the life force of other beings.  It seems like thin fare, as seldom as the nebula has been visited.  Krall and his minions must be constantly on the hunt.  Also, while Jaylah is clever enough to have survived, her origin is not clear. (I fell from the sky.) Neither is it clear where the other scavengers came from, or how they survive, again, given Krall’s powerful army of zombies and robots. (Perhaps they were living on bats and moths, the only animals on the planet, apparently.)

The Reputation of the Nebula. Given that it harbors an army of vampires or zombies, supported by a huge army of robots, the nebula should be infamous as a place to avoid.

Magellan Probes. The point above is underscored by the reference to the Magellan probes. The Federation has been exploring the nebula for some time. The mysterious disappearance of the Franklin must have been a warning, as would be the unsuccessful series of probes. The reference to the Magellan probes also contradicts Kirk’s warning that they are entering a nebula that will make communication with the Federation impossible.  The probes were expected to work.

Captain Edison’s Complaint.  Krall/Edison’s grudge against peace and quiet is reinforced in his own mind by his allegation that the Federation “abandoned” him. But he must have known that communication outside the nebula was difficult or impossible until he himself was able to “piggyback” Magellan probes to establish a read-only traffic from the Federation.

The Beastie Boys.  As annoying as that so-called music is, it is, nonetheless music with complex patterns. It is no worse than Klingon opera. Work as it did against the robots, it failed to affect Krall’s ship.
Found all over the Alpha Quadrant.
No telling where it originated.
The Writing on the Wall.  Finding a single inscription on a wall in a cave, McCoy and Spock leap to the conclusion that the Abronath artifact originated from this planet (Altamid) because the writing is similar.  When I first was attracted to numismatics, it occurred to me that a time traveler to Pax Romana could freely spend Mercury dimes. Hopefully, no one today looking at one of them thinks that they came from ancient Rome.

On the Up Side.  The stone in the necklace that Spock gave to Uhura was named “vokaya” by the founders of Memory Alpha,  Daniel C. Carlson and Harry Doddema. “Doddema thought of trinitite, a real radioactive material created by the Trinity atom bomb test that was used in jewelry before its effects were understood. Such radioactive materials would have been created on Vulcan in the nuclear wars before the Time of Awakening. Studying the Vulcan language, they settled on the name "Vokaya" as a contraction of Vokau-heya, meaning "remembrance stone" or "memory stone", as the Vulcans would use vokaya to remember how warlike they were.” (Memory Alpha here.) 


Monday, November 21, 2016

FOND Bone Broth

Not only is Fond Bone Broth good for you, being shelf stable for one year, it makes an excellent gift.  

On their website (here) they say that they took the name FOND because it is French for "base" or "foundation."  They do not say that the word "restaurant" comes from "restore." Following the disastrous policies of Louis XIV and his interventionist minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert, the middle class of Paris was starving amid plenty. The French cuisine we treat ourselves to now was designed to puff up severely limited resources with air.  Those who could afford it went to "restaurants" where they were restored with strong broths and other good foods from whole ingredients.  FOND broths follow in that tradition. 
I met Michal from FOND Bone Broth
of New Braunfels, Texas,
at the Wheatsville Co-op on South Lamar.

You could make this yourself. My wife, Laurel, does. It takes her two days. She has the time because she works from home.  Most people do not have two days to cook the bones of happy free-ranging animals along with organic herbs and spices.  

And then there is the retail price. It is less than $15 per pint. ($154 for a case of 12.) That sounds like a lot if your head is still in 2008.

I had a couple of graduate classes in economics during the Bush-Obama Wall Street Bailouts. One of my professors, Steven Hayworth, was a good Marxist. He knew his stuff; and he was intellectually honest.  He put up a graph of the infusion of cash into the banking system. (He said $3 trillion. It was more like $4 trillion.  See Forbes magazine here. ) Prof. Hayworth asked, "What will happen to prices?"  No one said anything.  With two index fingers, he pointed to me up front and my conservative comrade in the back. "You tell them," he said.  "Prices are going to triple," we said.  Prices have not tripled over night because banks have been storing the imaginary money, eking it out slowly so as not to trigger public panic.  Prices today are only about 40% higher than they were a decade ago. The true cost of nutritious food has gone up while fast food chains sell "salads" of iceberg lettuce for the price of meat.
Biodegradable packing from corn starch.
Fond Bone Broth has a Kickstarter campaign (here)
"A short cut tastes like a short cut, so we don't take any. We start with local farms, and carefully tended backyard gardens whenever possible. Then using traditional french cooking methods, and a lime-twist of modern mixology we arrive at our FOND™ signature flavors perfect for sipping or for use in your every day cooking."

Sunday at the Co-op
Hail Merry Desserts
Shannon Beer of Keller, Texas
Great Bean Chocolate

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Spoken American Grammar

"If he was to go to the White House..."  
"A group of men were on their way..."

Languages change. We know that.  Years ago, working for yet another software development firm, I asked the engineers to write up management summaries of their parts of this project. One of them turned in work that was below high school level.  I went to his office and asked him about it.  "You write in a computer language," I said. "It has grammar, syntax, and vocabulary.  How can you not write well in your native language?"  He replied that in his mind, he was not writing sentences, but stringing connections on pulleys.  He built machines with computer code as his "Erector Set."  A few days later, he came into my office.  "Languages change," he said.  I agreed, of course.  "So, how does this happen?  Do academics and professors get together and write new rule books for us to follow?"  Of course not, I admitted. Languages change and somewhere along the way, it is noted and rules are amended. "So," he replied, pressing his point, "if you follow the manual, you are not using the current version."

Our local NPR affiliate (KUT-FM), also carries the BBC World News.  I heard a collective noun used as a plural: "The team were traveling to ..."  I perceived that as an older construction, not a modernism.

It is an interesting generalization that so-called "primitive" languages have more complicated grammars than the languages of civilized peoples.  In The Right Stuff, Tom Wolfe noted that Chuck Yeager sometimes fell into an archaic verb form of "helped" as "holped."  We have three tenses now with "help" as a weak verb: help, helped, has helped. In Anglo-Saxon and Old German, it was: help, halp, holpt, yholpen.  

When I was in the first grade, one of my classmates, newly arrived in Cleveland from West Virginia, always began sentences with consonants even when reading: "Hit is a dog. See the dog." Later, at the College of Charleston, my professor of German, a philologist, identified that as another archaism.  Some years later, working in Cleveland, a Slovenian colleague said that European Slovenians find American and Argentinian Slovenians speaking with rural forms no longer heard back home.

Another change, brought into common American by African-American urbanites is the strong past tense.  "I had gone to the store." for "I went to the store."  

I believe that the reflexive is also fading.  "I did it for me." rather than "I did it for myself." 

Maybe I just notice these because I heart languages.  I believe that the fundamental purpose of language is to enable thinking.  Communication with others is a secondary consequence.  It is true that human language evolved from animal calls. However, that is in our past, and for about 5000 years, self-awareness has been the primary function of modern language.


Thursday, November 10, 2016

Still Riding the Gray Planet

Conflict, combat, even war in outer space against the Russians always seemed like a real possibility and may yet come to pass.  That big spinning wheel of a space station might be built.  The asteroid belt probably does contain a plethora of rocks worth fighting for. In my mind, I was about 10 when I first read this book, but the bibliography shows that I was closer to 15.
  • Rip Foster in Ride the Gray Planet by Blake Savage, Western Press, 1952
  • Assignment in Space with Rip Foster by Blake Savage, Whitman Publishing, 1965
  • Rip Foster in Ride the Gray Planet by Blake Savage, Western Golden Griffon, 1969

First Edition
In the narrative, the astronomy and physics are explained, but with World War II still close in the past, and the Cold War and the Korean police action in the news, the military details required no spoken footnotes.  That said, it was only during my re-reading last week that I actually perceived the Special Operations Squadron soldiers as a platoon: lieutenant, sergeant major, two corporals, and six privates. I still needed Wikipedia to place the friction between “Planeteers” and “Spacemen” in its proper context. It was easy enough to accept that different branches of the armed forces hold themselves in highest regard. That this was “Marines” versus “Navy” should have been obvious to me.  The Planeteers follow Major Joe Barris, but the Spaceman obey Commander Kevin O’Brine.

Lieutenant Richard Ingalls Peter “Rip” Foster has just graduated from his academy aboard a space station. Expecting to go home on leave, he is re-deployed to the asteroid belt to retrieve a large rock (about a mile across) of pure thorium.  By the same process that he picks up a “spack” (space pack) of gear from a supply room, he picks up his team:

SGM Koa - Hawaii USA
CPL Nels Pederson - Sweden
CPL Paulo Santos - Philippines
PVT Kemp - USA
PVT Dowst - USA
PVT Bradshaw - UK
PVT Trudeau - France
PVT Dominico - Italy
PVT Nunez (not Nuñez or Portuguese Nunes) - Brazil.

They serve the Federation of Free Governments.  The bad guys come from the Consolidated Peoples’ Governments: the Connies. The good guys are Feds.  
NASA Exchange KSC 12/98

The narrative and dialog is rich with jargon. Space itself is personified as Old Man Nothing and Old Man Cosmos.  Surprised or angry, they exclaim, “Great cosmos!” and “By Gemini.” The command to hurry is “Show an exhaust!”  “High vack” can be a verb: He high vacked into the control room, i.e., he hurried. But the high vacuum of space is also a noun: “let high vack into the space suit”.  Too much time in outer space can leave you “vack wacky.”  The origin of “son of a space sausage” must remain unexamined.  They call sick bay the “wound ward.” Ships had sick bays before spaceships had them, of course, but it nonetheless seemed to me to reveal the extent to which the vocabulary of Star Trek became common English.

Sidney, Ohio, 9/99
The Planeteer force – Special Operations Squadron – depends on a huge body of volunteers to wash out. Every boy in the free world must want to join. (In one scene, a Planeteer quips that the Spacemen are the ones who failed.)  According to the narrative, 15 of 100 applicants make it to the Planeteer Academy. After two years they become privates.  While they study science, exploration, colonization, and fighting, ten of those 15 make the next cut.  Finally, only 1 of 500 applicants earns the orbital insignia of an officer. Officers study astrogation, navigation (which seems redundant), and a specialty field.  LT Rip Foster specialized in astrophysics. In real life, astrophysics can be orbit plotting, but even in 1952, it was largely the study of the energy cycles of stars.

Austin, 8/16
As for the physics, most of the book was acceptable for working in low gravity.  However, the Planeteers carry old-fashioned side arms, which they never used (gratefully).  Their weapons were small rockets (at a distance) or knives (close order).  To work on the asteroid, they had no special reactionless tools. They did anchor each other to an outcropping to drive a spike, but then they  screwed the spike into the rock with no allowance for torque and conservation of energy. Egregiously, they tethered a block of thorium with a towline and tugged it to the cruiser with a space boat. Apparently, the rock did not slam into the ship, but stopped politely of its own volition.

Rip Foster’s adventure is a small part of the common culture. You can find a stub in Wikipedia here and also a biography of Harold Goodwin who wrote as “Blake Savage” here

Two versions are archived on Gutenberg:
Rip Foster in Ride the Gray Planet by Harold L. Goodwin
Rip Foster Rides the Gray Planet by Harold L. Goodwin

Previously on Necessary Facts