Monthly Archives: March 2014

Star Trek: The Next Generation Top Ten- Deja Q

This is the sixth entry in my “Top Ten Star Trek: The Next Generation” episodes.

“> “Top Ten Star Trek: The Next Generation” episodes.

Brief synopsis: Q is stripped of his powers (and his clothing). He is deposited unceremoniously on the Enterprise bridge. Zaniness ensues.

Q

Au contraire, mon capitain!!

Au contraire, mon capitain!!

Yes, at long last I am now speaking about a Q episode. Back when this idea was floated to me and before I created my list I would have said this was my all-time favorite episode of Star Trek. While this is still a very good episode, it simply does not have the degree of emotional resonance as some of the other episodes on my list.

Q is among my favorite Star Trek characters. My all-time favorite character on Star Trek is Garak. I am very drawn to morally ambiguous tricksters who are snarky and cause trouble. I had more Q episodes in my top ten, but I realized I needed to diversify my choices a little because, honestly, Q is fairly one-note. He shows up, wackiness ensues, then he leaves and everything goes back to normal.

The best Q episodes are ones that push the boundaries this formula. I have another Q episode left to talk about in my Top Ten, so trying to avoid writing about that one here.

It is hard to remember, but Q wasn’t really in that many episodes. I think he averaged one episode a season. His character was just such a change of pace from a normal Star Trek character that it was delightful any time he showed up. Until he got to Voyager. Best not to talk about that…

Data and Q

Which of these is a real boy?

It also might be hard to remember, but way back in the dark ages of the early 1990’s most TV was not serialized. Since you didn’t have streaming and DVD releases of TV shows it really wasn’t all that common to have a recurring character that shows up once a year that everyone just knows. I think that is one reason Q stands out so much.

I think they walked a good line with how many types of human experiences they could have Q go through. They didn’t dwell on them for too long and we got to have a nice laugh at Q’s expense.

Has anyone else ever thought about how weird sleep is? The scene where Q is talking about being sick and losing consciousness was beautiful. Seeing him needling Doctor Crusher while he was having a back spasm was also great. We all know that you don’t piss off the person who is in charge of your physical health and can cause you pain. The less said about Q and the chocolate sundaes, the better.

Q and Data

Data  and Q

Those chocolate sundaes aren’t sitting quite right…

The central relationship of this episode is the one between Q and Data. Most appearances of Q are a power struggle between Q and Picard. I think this is the only Q episode where Q’s primary sparring partner is not Picard but Data.

I honestly never really got into Data’s search for humanity. I know that every Star Trek series has an alien character who provides a non-human perspective. I know one of the reasons Dr. Pulaski didn’t work out was because the creators were trying to replicate the relationship between Spock and Bones, but it didn’t work well because Data is very child-like and it looked like bullying at his expense.

I personally think one of the failings of long-running Trek series is when they push those characters on the path to being human. The Holographic Doctor was my favorite character on Voyager for the first season until he started changing and trying to be less abrasive. Then they replaced him with Seven of Nine and had him training her to be human and then it was just, no.

Deep Space Nine did things right by having their non-human character, Odo, embrace his otherness. He did try to figure out the “solids” and did things to try and fit in with them, but he never deluded himself into thinking he was one of them. Ironically, he is the only one of those archetypical characters that actually succeeded in achieving humanity, albeit briefly.

Deja_QHaving a character like Q, for whom humanity is a massive come-down, was pretty awesome. One issue with having a human-centric series where everyone wants to be human and belong to the Federation is that they don’t often explore why someone might not want to be human. Humans kind of suck. It’s convenient that we can outsource all of our negative traits to different alien species like greed (Ferengi), aggression (Klingons), and obsession with meaningless bureaucracy (Cardassians).

Back to Data, putting Q in a situation where he is dealing with someone who doesn’t have buttons to push was a great move. Q takes a great deal of pleasure in making the people around him angry and placing him with a character without emotions lends an interesting dynamic to his character.

Q’s gift to Data at the end of the episode is a nice finishing touch on the episode. In spite of the fact that Q seems oblivious to the wants and needs of other people, his gift was just right. Giving Data a minute of emotion is all I ever want to see from him. All the hammy overacting in the films was a bit too much :p

Q and Guinan

Okay, there were 176 episodes of Star Trek: TNG and there are only two episodes with Guinan and Q together. Why? Why? WHY??!!

The five minutes of screen time John de Lancie and Whoopi Goldberg share during the course of the series are a true high point.

You don't fuck with Guinan

You don’t fuck with Guinan

Guinan was the last character Gene Roddenberry created. At the time Goldberg was on the A-list and won an Oscar for her role in “Ghost”. She was a life-long Star Trek fan because as a child she saw the original series and because very excited to see a black woman on TV who was not a maid. Her presence in this series, especially in the first few seasons, lends this show a degree of gravitas that even Patrick Stewart could not contribute.

I would love to have more of an explanation of how Guinan and Q know one another. Why the writers thought that having a two-part episode that takes place during the Gold Rush with Guinan over an episode exploring her relationship with Q is beyond me.

Of course, anything they came up with would probably not be nearly as epic as anything I could imagine. I know what the topic of my first fan fiction is going to be!! ^_^

Final Thoughts

DejaQRiker

Riker doesn’t want your fantasy women! He has an epic beard!

I supposed one could make an argument that “The Trouble with Tribbles” was the greatest episode of the original series. It is the most cited episode and one that most everyone has seen. However, when you compare it to “The City on the Edge of Forever”, you have to admit that just because it is a funny and well thought out episode, it doesn’t mean it is the best episode made.

As much as I love this episode, I do have to admit that it isn’t the best episode ever. I even had to admit it isn’t in my top three. It does however have arguably the best ending ever.

You haven’t seen the last of Q! Stayed tuned for more of my favorites coming up later!!

Star Trek: The Next Generation Top Ten- Preemptive Strike

This is the fifth entry in my “Top Ten Star Trek: The Next Generation” episodes.

“> “Top Ten Star Trek: The Next Generation” episodes.

Ro in the Marquis

Ro in the Marquis

Brief Synopsis: Ensign Ro returns to the Enterprise having redeemed herself in the last few years. She is tasked with an important mission to infiltrate the Marquis and help the Federation destroy them. After immersing herself in their organization she has a conflict of conscience and must decide if she will go through with her mission.

Ensign Ro

“Preemptive Strike” is the penultimate episode of Star Trek: TNG. When the creators came up with the concept for DS9 the intention was that Ensign Ro would be the first officer on the station, but Michelle Forbes didn’t want to be a regular on a series, so the character was retooled to be Major Kira (which most people agree worked to the show’s advantage).

Guinan and Ro Laren

Guinan and Ro Laren

It seems strange that the writers would have chosen to spend the second-to-last episode of the series tying up this particular loose end. TNG did not have the same depth and breadth of supporting characters that DS9 did, but I don’t think there were a hell of a lot of people who would have stayed up nights wondering what happened to Ensign Ro.

That being said, I think this decision was made because someone had a story they wanted to tell, and what a story it is.

I feel on some level that Ensign Ro became the character Tasha Yar was supposed to be. Both grew up on planets where the benevolence of the Federation hadn’t really reached yet. She was a tough woman who had some rough edges and trouble dealing with authority. This seems to be a character archetype on Star Trek (Yar, Ro, B’elanna Torres, Kira…) that is done to better and worse degrees. For my money Ensign Ro is the most successful of these experiments due to the fact that we don’t see her week after week for years at a time. She can do something unexpected and disappear because she isn’t a main character.

Ro and Picard

I think of all the relationships in Star Trek, the one that resonates with me the most is the one between Picard and Ro. I deeply associate with Ro. I have had troubles figuring out where I am supposed to be and what I am supposed to be doing.

Ro and PicardI know I have had many people come to the conclusion that I am deeply intelligent and creative, but I have trouble with authority. I will do what I think is right and it has caused me a tremendous amount of trouble. It takes so little to destroy another person’s reputation when they are at the beginning of their career that it leaves many people vulnerable to malicious behaviors.

I understand her aversion to authority. I understand why she feels the way she does and why she acts the way she does.

I love how in the first episode she appears on she wins over Picard. Picard is very open to giving people chances. She proved herself to him and he nurtured her in a way no one else did. They clearly had deep affection for one another, which is the only reason this episode works.

On its face, this episode could have been very heavy handed and sanctimonious. You have a bunch of people who are being displaced off their land who just want to be given the right to be left alone. They are being persecuted by their government for the benefit of an evil alien race (the Cardassians) that we have been made to hate through the whole time they have existed. This should have been a clear choice, pick the nice humans over the evil Cardassians, but it wasn’t.

The only thing that keeps this in balance is Ro’s unwillingness to betray a man who believed in her when no one else did.

That is a terrible conflict.

Who would want to betray Picard? Picard is the archetype of the father/boss/mentor everyone wishes that they had. No one would want to let him down, especially when he put his reputation on the line saying that you are trustworthy. Had Picard not had that relationship with Ro this episode would have been over in five minutes.

The AV Club does a write-up of this episode that probably does a better job of speaking about this relationship than I do, so if you want more, head on over there.

Choices

I don’t know about anyone else watching this, but this conflict was so hard. I understand being in a position where you know what the right thing to do is but you can’t pull the trigger on it because it would hurt someone you care about.

Preemptive Strike

This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you.

You know that she is going to go and join the Marquis, but the fact that they were able to leave it up in the air so long shows what an agonizing decision it was.

At the end when Ro asks Riker to tell Picard she is sorry, you can’t help but feel for her. The trust and connection she shared with Picard just wasn’t enough to get her to go against her conscience and do what she thought was wrong.

Picard’s reaction is wonderful as well. It would be way too much for him to either fly off the handle at her for stabbing him in the back or for him to say, “Oh well, she made a choice and I hope she is happy.”

Dude is deeply betrayed. He knew on some level that this was a bad idea and when they have their last meeting you can feel his silent imploring to her to please not do what he knows she is going to do. He understands why she did it, but it doesn’t soften the betrayal at all.

The comment at the end by Riker about how she didn’t seem to care that she betrayed the Federation but was deeply upset at the idea of betraying Picard is spot on. The Federation is just an anomalous, faceless entity that is making a bad decision, but Picard is the face of the people she is betraying, and that fucking sucks.

Snow*Mobile 2014

Personal History

SnowMobile

Snow*Mobile 2014 Logo

I started my blog a little over a year ago. The reason for starting my blog was because I was speaking to Ray Hightower at Snow*Mobile in 2013 about a book I wanted to read. He told me when I finished it he would love to read about what I thought about it on my blog. I was like, “I don’t have a blog…yet!”

I never read the book or wrote a blog post about it, but I have done other things and I have come a very long way in the last year.

I am very pleased that I had my first opportunity to speak at a conference at the same conference I first attended: Snow*Mobile.

I attended as a student volunteer last year. It was my first experience going to a conference. I had no idea what to expect and no idea about how much it would change my life.

Talk Preparation

After attended a half dozen or so conferences over the last year, I had semi-formed ideas about how I wanted to do my talk. I wanted to do a Steve Jobs-like talk where I am having a conversation with the audience instead of going up and rambling for an hour while people play with their phones and laptops.

I was urged by a lot of people to not really use a lot of slides. I think everyone has had an experience of seeing a speaker who just reads their slides while people lapse into unconsciousness. I know that every other speaker was using slides. I also had to do a tech talk for class where I didn’t use slides and I was informally told that it was expected that I would if I ever wanted to speak at a conference. I figure after I have been doing this for a few years I can go in and change things up, but my first talk I am not going to be arrogant enough to try and reinvent the wheel.

My talk was titled “Sound: The Silent Partner in User Experience”. I studied sound design and I have been spending years trying to find a way to get people to care about sound design in their apps for the purely selfish reason that I want people to pay me to do it. Sound is something that I think most people don’t think about because it is like lighting: You only notice it if someone does it badly.

Wasn’t really sure how to show sound on a slide, so I tentatively decided to not use a lot of slides. I was planning to play some examples and talk about them. I knew from when I used to do forensics in high school that I tended to choose pieces that were way too long and go over time. I did not want to do that again, so I tried to constrain the breadth of what I was talking about.

I was supposed to go to the CocoaHeads meet-up before the conference to try out my talk. This did not wind up happening because the weather in Wisconsin all winter has been simply miserable. It wasn’t safe to drive in and the meet-up was cancelled.

Snow*Mobile 2014 Logo

Snow*Mobile

After arriving at Snow*Mobile and sitting through the first few talks I realized I was in a little bit of trouble. I didn’t consciously think about how long a half hour really is. When you are doing forensics you have seven minutes to tell a story. That is a quarter of the time that you have to speak.

The morning of my talk I started working on doing a sample project to show the audience. I wasn’t planning to show any code because part of my pitch was that my talk is platform agnostic. If you are an iOS programmer, an HTML5 programmer, or an Android programmer you should be able to get something out of my talk.

So I started working on this demo about three hours before I had to give the talk. That was fun.

I tried to do things a couple of different ways. The first way was more complicated and I couldn’t debug it in the time I had, so I reverted to the “easy” way of adding sound to a project.

I compiled the project and got a weird crash. I was so nervous about everything that I had a minor panic attack and went to my teacher and was like, “OH MY GOD! IT DOESN’T WORK AND I DON’T KNOW WHY!!!!”

Luckily, Wil LaFrance was there to help me out. He showed me some debugging methods (that I really should learn sometime soon…) and we got it working. Huzzah.

I realized that the winter took a toll on everyone in the audience. When I came here last year everyone was really energetic and enthused to be there. This year the energy of everyone was dragging. When I went to the party the day before my talk everyone was very lethargic. Trying to get any energy into anyone was like pulling teeth.

My talk was scheduled for forty-five minutes after lunch. Everyone I talked to all day said they were on the verge of falling asleep.

I really wanted to earn the attention of my audience and I knew I needed to do something. I thought about what might get people engaged and I decided to make everyone stand up and dance for a minute before my talk. This was great because it got people to wake up and it killed a minute or so of my talk.

I realized very quickly that it would have been very helpful for me to have had the opportunity to work through the talk at least once. I relied on my slides more that I thought I would. Things that I was planning to speak about extemporaneously flew by because I didn’t give myself landmarks to keep myself on track.

The demo I crafted before my talk only used up about a minute of my time. This was both bad and good. It was bad for me because I thought it would take longer, but it was good for the audience because I showed how easy it is to add sound to your projects.

The conference was live streaming my talk. While I was doing a demo on my phone I got a notification from Alan Francis telling me he was watching me in Scotland. That was a really amazing thing to me that someone I talked to online and had never met in person took time to go online and watch my maiden voyage into being a conference speaker. I was very touched that he did that.

My talk wound up being 12 minutes short. I took some painful Q & A until Jim put me out of my misery by starting the afternoon break a little early.

Post-Mortem

Everyone came up to me and told me what a great job I did, which convinced me it must have been terrible because otherwise people wouldn’t have been so emphatic about telling me I did a good job 🙂

I don’t remember who said this, but someone asked me if I was having the post-talk thinking I failed and looking for a roof to jump off of. That was the best thing anyone said to me after the talk because it let me know that freaking out thinking you did a bad job is something other people feel too.

I was assured I didn’t embarrass myself or the conference organizers. I learned a lot of lessons from this talk that I applied to my next talk (which I will write about a little later). The first thing I did after I got done with my talk was to find Brad Grzesiak to ask him if I could come into Bendyworks to perform my next talk before I had to do it for real.

So, the takeaway I want to give for anyone doing their first talk is to do it in front of an audience at least once! I didn’t do that and I think it would have been far better had I done this. I know everyone told me to do that and it just didn’t work out.

I am incredibly grateful that I had this opportunity. I am glad that the stakes were relatively low. Being later in the day and having people not really expecting very much was helpful to me to be able to try something that didn’t necessarily work as well as I would have liked. Next time will be better!