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Flat Data

A portrait of Lt. Cmdr. Data, circa fourth season, made entirely out of colored Lego on a flat plate in a pixel art style.The highlight of BrickCon 2017.

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Experience bIj

Finally have a nap time to play my Father’s Day present, the Star Trek: The Next Generation™ Interactive VCR Board Game. Jealous?

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Crop Circles


The marks left on the grass by Theo’s playset always reminds me of Star Trek IV’s Klingon Bird-of-prey.

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My phone is now ready to boldly go.

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I think this shelf is done, right?

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New Year’s Trek


An awkward freeze frame from Geordi as we watch “Deja Q” from the third season of TNG.

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Captain Picard Doesn’t Have an iPad

It should be of no surprise to any of you that I am a huge Trekkie. You are probably also aware that I am a total MacAddict. What better binding of bailiwicks than to blather about both?

Star Trek has been at various times credited with inspiring a number of modern gadgets, including the mobile phone (TOS communicator), the PDA and/or tablet (TNG PADD), and touch interfaces (TNG LCARS). The truth of that seems to be a form of loose inspiration (as is often the feedback between science fiction and technology). I’m going to focus in particular on the tablet iPad as compared to the PADD, because I think TNG missed on this in several key ways.

Depending on the specific “model”, a PADD might have:

  • A stylus
  • Separate touch/display areas
  • Various sizes of bezel/case
  • Different colors which indicate dedicated function

Steve Jobs famously said “If you see a stylus, they blew it.”, but a lot of these design choices come out of the realities of prop design – they needed to convey “futuristic” and “alien” in instant, simple, visual ways, and were not trying to build usable devices. Similarly, at the time of filming, they couldn’t embed live video into such a thin device, because the technology didn’t exist yet, so they either had backlit images or had to implement it in post-production with special effects.

Additionally, you’ll often see characters using PADDs in ways people don’t generally use iPads:

  • Handing a PADD to another person to give them a document (various main characters)
  • Having something “signed” by an officer (numerous nameless ensigns)
  • Using multiple PADDs in a disorganized pile (Jake Sisko)

I think for the most part this is due to the writers not having any conception of an always-on network. This is pretty understandable, given that the Web didn’t arrive for non-academics until the middle of Deep Space Nine’s run, and widespread WiFi and mobile data weren’t around until almost the end of Enterprise’s run (EDGE was just getting started in 2003, and Enterprise was cancelled in 2005). The idea of something like iCloud, where the current state of all of your documents is nearly instantly available on all of your devices, was apparently too impossible for science fiction. They didn’t even seem to have a concept of email or file transfer!

Also, I think that for most adults both mobile phones and tablets are 1:1 devices – you are the only user of the device, and you have only one of them. There may be brief cases of lending, and there are certainly plenty of people who have separate work and personal phones, but I believe these are the exception. Children, of course, make heavy use of the devices of parental units until they are old enough to have their own. As such, you wouldn’t hand your device off to someone else indefinitely for their use – you’d transfer state digitally. You also wouldn’t keep different files on different devices. In this way PADDs were more like futuristic notebooks or clipboards, not computers.

I’ve been using an iPad for almost two years, and even though I never got around to reviewing it, my uses have definitely differed from my predictions. I even named mine “PADD” (partially in keeping with my theme of naming Macs after Star Trek animals). I checked out the Retina Display today at an Apple Store – it really is astounding, in some ways more so that the iPhone 4/4S. In spite of all of the improvements, especially the screen, I don’t feel the need to upgrade from my original 16 GB Wi-Fi iPad to “the new iPad“. However, if mine turns out to be unable to support iOS 6, that would be a significant motivation for me to shift.

I like to joke about how using it means I’m living in the future, even a Star Trek future, but in many ways, what we have is better than what Star Trek imagined. I believe that Captain Picard would have been much happier annotating treaties, reading Shakespeare, and writing condolence letters for dead security officers… on an iPad.

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George Lucas’ crimes against nerdkind are, at this point, well known. One of the better overviews of this nerd tragedy is an episode of John Siracusa’s podcast Hypercritical from a few months ago. No matter how you feel about the so-called Special Editions, or other rereleases, including the in-progress 3Dification, the simple fact is that Star Wars, as originally released in theaters, no longer exists. Yes, you can torrent the laserdisc version, or hold on to your old VHS copies (as I have), but the original film negatives are not available, so without a massive restoration and reediting effort, we are unlikely to see a digital release of the original trilogy.

I am not arguing that a filmmaker isn’t allowed to modify their work after the fact, creating new versions and refining their masterpieces; nor am I claiming that almost every draft and notecard should be made public, as the Tolkien estate has chosen to do. In this context, I mean that a culturally relevant work, one that changed sci-fi filmmaking and spawned a huge (one might say galactic) fictional universe that is still generating new content in all sorts of media, was not saved. They had that additional responsibility: preserving the original version in a form that would continue to be accessible to future generations. Lucas himself used to agree.

Where George failed utterly, another science fictional universe even more dear to me than his films has succeeded beyond my best hopes. I write, of course, of the recently announced project to remaster all of Star Trek: The Next Generation into high definition. What’s exciting about this is that they went back to the original film negatives, which Paramount has apparently been storing in a salt mine somewhere. I’m also glad someone decided to record the show on film and not NTSC television cameras, making this project possible. The one disappointment is the schedule – it sounds like they’re planning to release two to three seasons a year.

A few weeks ago, Emery hosted a viewing of Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Next Level, a Blu-ray disc featuring a sample of three remastered NextGen episodes: the pilot “Encounter at Farpoint”, plus “Sins of the Father” and “The Inner Light”, which are among my favorite episodes. The first establishes Q as a nemesis (and bookend) for the entire series, the second really kicks off the “modern” Klingon storyline, which gets touched on even more in DS9, and the third is probably the most emotionally powerful episode of the series, and a real demonstration of Patrick Stewart’s acting ability. Overall, good choices to demonstrate what the HD conversion process entails, and how much is being preserved.

The thing that’s really striking is that the conversion to HD really highlights the work of all of the artists who aren’t on camera – the set designers, the matte painters, the model builders. You can see the slight color variations in the Enterprise-D’s duranium hull plating, the texture of every wall panel, the tiny buildings in the distance on Qo’noS, the fact that the post-atomic horror officer’s inhaler reads “ARMY” in a futuristic font. The key thing, however, is that most of these increases in detail are just capturing what was already there, not adding gewgaws where there were none, as Lucas has done. Apparently there are a few places where visual effects were completely replaced, but it’s generally pretty subtle, since they tried very hard to preserve the original look.

The one downside is what we already knew about HD – sometimes it is unkind to actors and sets. You can now see askew hairs, more wrinkles, faint stains in the carpet on the bridge, and the like. However, in my mind, these slight jars from immersion are far outweighed by the visual “wow” of the improvement in detail. I did notice one brief clip from a scene in Farpoint that was clearly just upsampled; presumably for whatever reason that section of film was too damaged to be restored, so they had to go back to the SD video. Hopefully the occurrence of those is rare.

Even though I already own all of TNG on DVD (a bulk purchase made several years ago, and totally justified by number of viewings), I’m excited by this huge effort to preserve this key segment of geek culture for future viewers. I can’t wait to see how the rest of it turns out, and I do plan to eventually rewatch it all in order in HD. Suffice it to say that their initial pass is amazing, and I hope it sets an example for other shows and movies.

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Star Trek is Awesome


Star Trek Star Trek Star Trek Star Trek Star Trek Star Trek Star Trek Star Trek Star Trek Star Trek Star Trek Star Trek Star Trek Star Trek Star Trek Star Trek Star Trek There is no subtext Star Trek Star Trek Star Trek Star Trek Star Trek Star Trek Star Trek Star Trek Star Trek!!!

Something resembling a coherent review, and with the Trekkie fanboy slightly restrained, will come tomorrow. For now, sleep.

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Nicolas Ward

Software engineer in Natural Language Processing research by day; gamer, reader, and aspiring UltraNurd by night. Husband to Andrle
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