Nathan's Laserium: Homie Bear Versus the Sasquatch

Happy Valentine’s Day! Early, I know. Whatever, I’m working nights on Valentine’s Day. It’s never really been much of a thing for me and Michelle. Since I work it alla time. It’s not a holiday! But I used to enjoy writing funny love poems this time of year, like this one, courtesy of 2007:
 

Homie Bear was trying to write a poem for his Mrs

A ‘Be Mine, Valentine’ with lots of hugs and kisses

But writing unbad love poetry isn’t very easy

It’s hard to avoid the clichés that always makes them cheesy

Suddenly a scary creature broke into the house

Ignoring Homie the monster went directly for his spouse

It grabbed Michelle and left the house, leaving Homie in it

Total time for this shocking crime was well under a minute

Homie was stunned- “That stupid sasquatch just came and stole my sweety

“In clear violation of the Bilateral Bear and Bigfoot treaty!”

Homie Bear immediately stopped working on his sonnet

His wife would need a rescue promptly so he got right on it

He ran outside and there in the snow was a talking Cupid’s Arrow

It said to Homie “Follow me I’ll keep you on the Straight and Narrow”

He climbed a mountain and swam an ocean and ignored some wild horses

Who for unknown reasons tried to make him go off on wrong courses

Eventually he came upon the secret sasquatch cave

Where he fought the biggest Bigfoot there by being very brave

He roared and growled and clawed and bit

Until the sasquatch had enough of it

It cried and panicked and ran away

So ole Homie won the fray

He hugged his wife and took her home

Where he read to her his poem:

Roses are red and violets are blue

I’d fight a savage sasquatch for you!

 

- Nathan Waddell

 

Weekly Trek – February 8-14, 2016

Even if you know almost nothing about Star Trek, odds are that you’re at least aware that it’s about some people going around in a spaceship.  Names like Kirk and Spock and even the Starship Enterprise have entered the general pop culture consciousness.  The goal of the Weekly Trek posts is to delve into various parts of Star Trek’s 50 year history, but, as we’re still in the early going, I’m going to spend this week talking about one of the franchise’s core aspects.  Namely, why are these people flying around in a spaceship in the first place?

As stated in the opening narration of the original Star Trek television series (Henceforth to be called by its usual fan designation of TOS), the USS Enterprise under the command of Captain James T. Kirk is on a “five year mission to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before” (This would be changed to the more inclusive “no one” in the opening of Star Trek: The Next Generation.).  The Enterprise’s mission is generally exploratory, but during the course of the series they also perform other duties, such has transporting ambassadors and acting in a more military role. 

The word mission, though, implies that someone has sent them, and that someone is the United Federation of Planets (or UFP).  The UFP is an interstellar governmental body consisting of over 150 members worlds, including Earth.  Members of the UFP share resources and knowledge and are represented on the Federation Council.  The UFP also has a democratically-elected president.

The exploration and military side of the UFP is Starfleet.  The Enterprise, USS Voyager, and Deep Space Nine are all part of Starfleet and commanded by officers who have graduated from Starfleet Academy.  The Academy and Starfleet Headquarters are both in San Francisco, while the office of the President of the Federation is in Paris.

Why is an interstellar body so Earth-centric?  (Other than the real-life reason that Star Trek is made on Earth by and for Earthlings.)  To answer that we need to quickly run through a bit of history.

Around the middle of the 21st Century, Earth was ravaged by World War III.  After it ended in 2053, humanity began the work of rebuilding.  One scientist, Zefram Cochrane, was focused a bit beyond Earth, though.  On April 5, 2063, working in an old nuclear missile silo in Bozeman, Montana, Cochrane launched the Phoenix, Earth’s first ship capable of breaking the light barrier (In Star Trek, moving faster than light is called moving at warp-speed).  A passing Vulcan ship spotted the Phoenix and landed in Bozeman, marking the official first contact between humans and an alien species.

Over the next several decades, humans continued to recover and in 2150 formed a United Earth government, all the while advancing their knowledge of warp drive under the guidance (and more than a bit of hinderance) from the Vulcans, who were concerned that humans were trying to push out into the galaxy before they were ready.  In 2151, Earth completed and launched its first starship capable of reaching Warp 5, the USS Enterprise under the command of Captain Jonathan Archer.  Over the next several years, Archer’s voyages helped to create bonds and reduce mistrust between the Vulcans, the Andorians, and the Tellarites.  These three races as well as humans would eventually come together to form the alliance called the Coalition of Planets.  In 2161, following the Earth-Romulan War, the coalition was formalized into the United Federation of Planets.  Captain Archer was one of the signers of the Federation Charter and later served as Federation President.

As Earth was the primary catalyst for the coalition and the Federation, it became the seat of the Federation government.  That has unfortunately put it in the crosshairs of aggressor species wishing to do the Federation harm including the Borg, the Dominion, and the Romulans, but Starfleet, most often in the form of the USS Enterprise, has been there to defend Earth and the Federation as a whole while still finding time to get out and explore a number of those strange new worlds.

- Alan Decker

@CmdrAJD on Twitter

 

Mix It Up

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Shaggy and Scooby-Doo, The Doctor, Peter Venkman, and Batman are making their way through the Aperture Science Testing Facility while being taunted by GLaDOS.

Sounds like someone’s insane fan fiction, doesn’t it?

But this is a thing that happened in my house last week.  And even better, they were all made out of Lego at the time. 

This madness was brought to me by the video game Lego Dimensions.  In the game, characters from the various properties I mentioned above and many more all work together to save the Lego multiverse from a villain intent on controlling everything.  Gameplay-wise, it’s very similar to the many Lego video games that have come before, such as Lego Star Wars and Lego Indiana Jones (Although, those two IPs do not appear in Lego Dimensions).  Lego Dimensions is separated from previous Lego games in two major ways: one very cool and one, in my mind, decided not.

The cool one should be obvious from what I’ve discussed up to now: the ability to play as characters and visit worlds from many different properties.  The base game comes with Gandalf, Batman, and WyldStyle (from The Lego Movie), and in the levels my kids and I have played so far, we’ve encountered characters and locations from The Wizard of Oz, The Simpsons, Ninjago, Doctor Who, DC Comics, Back to the Future, and Portal.  We’re only about halfway through, so I know more is coming. 

In addition to the actual game levels, there are open world play levels associated with each of the properties.  The Back to the Future world allows you to use the Delorean to travel to the various eras of Hill Valley, California.  The Doctor Who world gives you access to each of The Doctor’s incarnations and associated TARDIS control rooms.  I expect to have a lot of fun running around these worlds once we complete the base game.

But there is a downside to all of this fun, and this is the part that I don’t like about Lego Dimensions.  The game is in the same category as Skylanders and Disney Infinity, which means that there is a physical component to the game.  Like Skylanders and Disney Infinity, Lego Dimensions base game set comes with a platform that plugs into the video game console as well as figurines of the base characters.  In this case, Lego minifigs of Gandalf, Batman, and WyldStyle as well as the Batmobile.  The minifigs sit on bases containing a chip that identifies the character or vehicle to the platform and allows them to appear in the game.  Put Batman on the platform, and he pops up on screen as well. 

Since I’ve already explained that only Gandalf, Batman, and Wyldstyle come with the base game, you can probably guess where I’m going with this.  The base game costs $100, but if you want to play as Marty McFly, The Doctor, Scooby-Doo, or the Ghostbusters, you have to buy the minifig packs.  And there are several kinds of packs.  If you want Wonder Woman, for example, you can get her in a Fun Pack that includes her and her Invisible Jet.  That will run you about $15. 

There are also Team Packs that include several characters, such as Owen and his trained velociraptor in the Jurassic World pack.  Those will run you around $25.  One step beyond that are the level packs, which include new game levels along with minifig.  For example, the Back to the Future level back includes Marty McFly, the Delorean, and a hoverboard as well as a series of levels that take players through an abbreviated version of the first Back to the Future movie.  One of these level packs costs about $30.

The base game can be completed with just Gandalf, Batman, and Wyldstyle, but to get access to all of the content, you have to put out more money. 

A LOT more money.

Those open worlds I mentioned earlier?  You can only get access to them if you own a character from that world.  Want to run around Hill Valley?  Then you have to buy one of the packs including a Back to the Future character.  Also, each of these characters has abilities that can get you into parts of the game that you can’t reach with the base three.  Sure, you can complete the story with the base pack, but there will be a lot that you cannot reach.

A new video game usually costs around $60, but Lego Dimensions runs a lot more than that just to get started.  Every game has started charging players for additional content, but the model of games like Skylanders and Lego Dimensions is particularly insidious, since players are shelling out lots of additional bucks just to get one or two additional characters.

But we’re paying it.  Granted, in our case my parents gave my son the base game and two add-on packs for Christmas.  Since then, though, I’ve bought several more packs.  I’ve probably put out at least as much as they did, which is a stupid amount to pay for a single video game.

What the hell am I doing?

I don’t know what young kid was gung-ho to play the Back to the Future or Ghostbusters levels, but it sure worked on my nostalgia.  And with Doctor Who available as well, there was no way I could resist.

I had just better hope that Lego never gets the Star Trek license, or my bank account is completely doomed.

- Alan Decker

@CmdrAJD on Twitter

 

Nathan's Laserium: On The Origin of Our Species

If I had been on the ball this week's post would have been last week's post, since last week was my eldest daughter Pallas' birthday. But I am not good at calendars so. She turned seven! Getting so big. And it's been really cool lately because her reading has been improving by quantum leaps and bounds. Although she still hits the occasional wall:

Pallas: Mom, can I have a s-h-a-w-e-r tonight?

Mom: Y-e-s.

Pallas: Aw, please!!

Anyway, I've been buying her book and comics since before she was born, but this year for her birthday I chose a specific book that I am very excited to read to her, and for her to read to me: Shel Silverstein's Where The Sidewalk Ends.

Do you know it? I didn't, back when I was a kid. I feel like it would've been fairly formative for me, if I had. But at least I can share it with Pallas, with the hopes of instilling in her a love of the written word and perhaps even of writing words.  That's the goal, and so far so good.

Pallas: Thanks for the porn tree book, dad!

Me: Um, what?

Pallas: The book of poemtry that you gave me.

Me: Oh right, yes. Yeah poetry is awesome.

Yup, so, it's going great. She reads them quite well, though sometimes I have to help with some of the meanings. The title poem is kind of melancholy and heavy on symbolism, perhaps beyond what a freshly-minted 7yo can handle, but I think I parsed it well enough for the both of us. It's about the end of childhood, right? No? And maybe about striving to return there? I know, let's ask google.

I'm right! Mostly. Did you know he wrote for Johnny Cash? So cool.

And of course, ultimately, I want to introduce her to both my own poemtree, which is definitely kid-friendly, and hopefully have her try her hand at it. With that in mind, I was inspired to write a poem for the first time in forever, for her and also as her, because she once told me her theory on how humans were made and I've been wondering how to do it justice ever since.

 

You know how I asked about where the first humans came from

And you explained all this stuff and you sounded so lame dumb

That I decided I better figure it out for myself

Even though I can't google or read the books on the shelf

And Dad, I discovered the origin of the species

I'm afraid I must reject the predominating theses

'Tis not a question of religion versus science

Nor even of myths or of legends about giants

No, it's obvious, to those with knowledge, see

That we were created by animal technology

When the bears and the bunnies built a robotic machine

Which turned out to be the first human being ever seen

Now hush with your protestations so indignant

Obviously the robot was built to be pre-pregnant!

- Nathan Waddell

Weekly Trek – February 1-7, 2016

Weekly Trek is going to be more than just recommendations of Star Trek (or in the case of last week, Star Trek-related) episodes and movies.  I am planning to explore many different aspects of Trek, from the shows to the characters to the technology to its impact on popular culture and beyond (And later in the year, Star Trek Beyond as well.).

This week I’m going to start with a piece of Trek tech.  Science Fiction often offers visions of the future.  Some horrible, such as the future envisioned by the Terminator franchise, and others far more optimistic, as is true of Star Trek.  Aside from giving us possible futures to avoid or aspire to for society as a whole, they many times include ideas for technological advances that can and do inspire the scientists and inventors of today.  Last year was a great example of this, as different groups demonstrated their versions of the hoverboard seen in Back to the Future Part II in honor of reaching the “future” date seen in that film.

Star Trek technologies originally introduced when the show premiered in 1966 still have scientists hard at work.  There is currently a contest underway with a $10 million dollar prize for anyone who can produce a working tricorder (Details HERE).  The tricorder would be a fantastic advance for medical science, and transporter technology would make the travel nut in me so very happy. 

But if I’m honest, what I REALLY want is a holodeck.

The holodeck is a room that uses a mix of holograms, force fields, and solid matter produced by replicators to create any environment that the user desires.  Most often characters on Star Trek visit the holodeck for recreational purposes, such as the Dixon Hill detective stories that Captain Jean-Luc Picard enjoys; however, these simulations can also be used to investigate crimes, solve engineering problems, train officers, and so on.

While holodecks are associated with later Star Trek, beginning with Star Trek: The Next Generation (It was featured in the series’ very first episode “Encounter at Farpoint.”), the concept was actually first introduced in an episode Star Trek: The Animated Series from 1974 titled “The Practical Joker,” and reportedly the concept was first proposed for the original Star Trek television series but never used.

Once they were available, though, the writers made use of them quite a bit, so much that the “Malfunctioning Holodeck Puts Characters in Danger” plotline became something of a trope on Star Trek: The Next Generation as well as its two follow-up series, Deep Space Nine and Voyager.

We have come a long way with virtual reality technology, and new ideas are pushing it farther all the time.  The Oculus Rift headset has been getting a lot of press of late, and it combined with a multi-directional treadmill like the Omni hold the promise of letting players “walk” through a VR environment in their own home.  A start-up in Utah called The Void takes in one step further, mapping virtual environments onto a real location (Check THIS out.  I absolutely want to try it!). 

The problem with all of these, though, is that I, as the participant, have to wear extra stuff that pulls me out of the illusion of being there.  A true holodeck will be completely immersive and allow me to live out my every fantasy. 

Of course, that could be a problem, as THIS Cracked.com article makes clear:

Imagine how you'll react if you're in your holodeck and somebody interrupts you. Say, you're halfway through your chess game with Darth Vader, when suddenly he disappears, Scarlett Johansson is no longer sitting in your lap, and pizza costs money again. You'd find the guy who turned off the machine and snap his damned neck. Dilbert creator Scott Adams jokingly points out in his book The Dilbert Future that the holodeck, "will be society's last invention." It's no joke; once we had it, there'd be no reason to have anything else.
It's not just that it would be addictive; it's that it would literally fill every possible human emotional need and utterly eliminate all motivation to ever do anything ever. Everyone's only goal would be to do just enough work to keep food and electricity coming into the holodeck, to keep those interruptions by reality to a minimum.

So that’s a minor drawback. 

But would it really be that bad? 

I mean, if I had one, sure I’d want to go in and try a few things.  And a few others.  And…

Ok.  I wouldn’t be coming back out again. 

Is having a holodeck really worth the end of human civilization?

Oh yeah.  Absolutely.

- Alan Decker

@CmdrAJD on Twitter