Monthly Archives: April 2014

Star Trek: The Next Generation Top Three Episodes- The Best of Both Worlds Part One

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

Brief synopsis: The race of people introduced in “Q Who?”, the Borg, make their long-awaited appearance in the Alpha quadrant. They kidnap Captain Picard and the show ends on a cliffhanger about whether Riker’s order will result in the death of Captain Picard.

Memories of the Future

Picard and Borg ship

That’s no cube, it’s a space station.

Absolutely no list of the top episodes of Star Trek would be complete without this seminal episode. This episode has been listed as the best episode of Star Trek ever, across all the franchises.

I remember seeing this episode when it first aired. I was eight years old and this episode scared the crap out of me. I asked my parents if everyone was going to be okay. Of course, this was the season finale and we had to wait months to find out what happened. I spent every night that summer carefully tucking my blankets completely around my body because I thought somehow that would prevent the Borg from finding me if they invaded my bedroom while I was sleeping.

bestofbothworldsPlanet

I am listing this episode as my third favorite episode of TNG. (Yes, for you actually still reading my series, I have three episodes to talk about after this one, I haven’t miscounted.) This is without a doubt a wonderful episode, but it wasn’t my favorite one. I went in thinking this would be my second favorite episode, but it got knocked down a little way.

My blame for the displacement of this episode is the fatigue I have with it. When the Borg were the most terrifying enemy the Enterprise had ever encountered in “Q Who?” this episode was fraught with danger and tension. In the nearly 25 years since this episode aired the Borg have lost a lot of their menace and what made them an interesting villain in the first place. I primarily blame Voyager for this.

It was strange going back and seeing this episode because there are so many things that happen in the episode that you just don’t remember because you are waiting for the Borg to show up. The Borg are in here surprisingly little. That was interesting to observe.

The Borg

Resistance is futile.

Resistance is futile.

The Borg, in some ways, are like Doomsday from the Superman comics or Bane from Batman. Both of these villains either killed or broke their respective hero in their debut story. There really isn’t much more you can do after that. They get brought back because they are interesting villains, but they shot their wad on their first go and everything else is kind of a let down after that.

The Borg were introduced in “Q Who?” as a test concocted by Q to see if he could get Picard to grovel for help from the omnipotent super being.

I think The Borg are the only characters we see who are more technologically sophisticated than The Federation. The other traditional enemies of The Federation that you see are The Klingons and The Romulans. Those villains are never a real threat because they are clearly never going to take over the Federation. I don’t think that is ever really their end goal.

The Klingons fight because that is what they do. They’re like a dog chasing a car. If they ever caught it they wouldn’t know what to do with it. They are like Sir Pelinore chasing the Questing Beast. It isn’t about the end goal, it’s more about the process of wining glory on the battlefield and dying in combat.

The Borg are the only enemy that ever poses an actual, real threat to the Federation. The Borg have more in common with a disease than anything else I can think of. The Borg are like an antibiotic resistant bacteria that is out to infect everything it touches. They are a computer virus that is on autopilot to replicated itself until your storage fills and your hard drive crashes.

It is easy for me to imagine us giving birth to The Borg. Our increasing reliance on computers to do everything for us and the ease of overlooking the consequences of one line of programming logic is all that stands between us and the Borg. I think if anything the Borg have become more terrifying in the twenty five years since this episode aired because of how much closer we get to them with each passing year.

The Borg became less terrifying in the episodes after this one because the writers began changing the nature of the Borg and tried to make them more human, which I think was a mistake. I know when you get something that works really well you want to keep using it and running it into the ground. Unfortunately, that happened in Voyager with the two best villains from TNG: The Borg and Q. What Voyager did to Q was unforgivable. Grr…

Riker

Huh, so that is what a female me looks like. I don't like it.

Huh, so that is what a female me looks like. I don’t like it.

The biggest reason this episode stayed in my top ten after the rewatch was primarily due to the conflict between Commander Riker and Commander Shelby.

This episode marks the second time Riker is offered command of his own ship. We know that a character isn’t going to leave the show for a promotion, especially back in 1990 before we had the bloodbath era brought on by Joss Whedon. I think it is interesting that the writers actually addressed this fact this close to the beginning of the series.

Normally in real life if you are a young hotshot, you are going to go as far and as fast as you possibly can. That isn’t an option for Riker. Most of the other characters can be given promotions without leaving the ship, but the only other step up the ladder for Riker is Picard’s seat.

I know that the writers were flirting with the idea of killing of Picard. They didn’t know if Patrick Stewart was going to come back, so creating this tension of setting up Riker to take over the Enterprise for Picard was somewhat necessary.

What went above and beyond this necessity was the conversation Riker has with Troi about why he is hesitant to leave the ship. This is a piece of character development that gives Riker some dimensions he didn’t have before that might have just been ignored or disregarded on a lot of other TV shows. The fact that the writers put some thought into it and were able to give a good character explanation for him sticking around shows just how far they came from the terrible writing in Season One.

Riker and Shelby

Don't get comfortable, you're not staying.

Don’t get comfortable, you’re not staying.

The biggest plot point from this episode that I latched onto was the character of Commander Shelby. Shelby was brought on to be something of a foil for Riker. She is who Riker was five years ago before he “made it” and got comfortable with where he was.

Shelby is a strong woman. I am sure that the same people who hate Skyler White for being and emasculating bitch also hate Shelby. I think I remember not liking her at the time because she wasn’t really meant to be likable, which is a shame.

I have been in her situation. At my last job I joined a reestablished team of people who were not really eager to welcome me into their group. I wasn’t with them months earlier when they were at the office for 48 hours trying to reach a deadline. I wasn’t there when they would grill brats out in the parking lot while drinking beer. It’s really hard to come into an established group of professionals and make your voice be heard.

People are used to doing things a certain way and they don’t like it when someone comes in and wants to shake things up. When you are working with the same people every day you are used to how they work and trying to deal with someone whose habits you don’t know yet can be kind of rough. It really sucks being the person trying to break into the group, especially if people don’t really want to welcome you there.

Shelby was pretty well screwed. I think she was in a no-win situation. When she went to the poker game and squared off with Riker there really wasn’t a way to win that. By winning her hand and calling Riker’s bluff she annoys the audience who is rooting for Riker. If she lost then she would lose her credibility and be dismissed as incompetent.

They don't see eye-to-eye.

They don’t see eye-to-eye.

I know as a woman trying to figure out my way in a male-dominated field it can be difficult figuring out the best tack to integrate myself into a group of developers. The only successes I have had are when the other people in the group are predisposed to giving me a chance. Having been in a situation like Shelby of being the interloper in a group of people who have worked together on their own for at least a year, it was kind of painful and uncomfortable for me to watch her trying to gun for Riker’s seat.

I wish we lived in a society where there was more sympathy for the Commander Shelbys of the world. Until that happens, I will just have to keep trying to figure out how to walk a line between being assertive and being a bitch when I am fighting for the right to have my voice be heard.

Conclusion

I guess I don’t really have all that much to say about this episode. This episode has been covered by so many people that there really isn’t a lot of new ground to cover. It was paced well. The episode had a really great villain who was still fresh and hadn’t been spoiled by overexposure yet. There was genuine tension at the end of the episode about whether the writers would kill of Picard.

Given that the first Star Trek didn’t survive after its third season, it seems fitting that this is the last episode of TNG’s third season. It’s kind of like a big “Fuck you, we are here and we are staying” flag that gets planted to make the point that TNG isn’t going to disappear for several decades like its predecessor did.

AVFoundation Audio at CocoaConf Chicago 2014

Overview

Two weeks after I had my first tech talk I had my second tech talk. This second tech talk was at CocoaConf in Chicago.

My Door

My name isn’t in lights, but it’s still pretty awesome!

In some ways, this talk had higher stakes than my first talk did. CocoaConf is a more hard skills conference. CocoaConf is invitation only. Most of the people who speak at CocoaConf are well known developers in the Cocoa community. My talk was only going to be in front of 20-30 people, but those people were going to be very well known people. Additionally, CocoaConf is very reputable about having well developed talks.

This was a very important opportunity I was being given. It was very important to me that I not embarrass myself or let down the people who were giving me this chance.

Considerations

I was trying to figure out how in-depth to make my talk. From speaking with other people, I was under the impression that most people think that doing audio programming is hard. Part of what I wanted to convey with my talk was that audio programming doesn’t have to be hard, but then since audio programming is easy, then why am I doing a whole talk about it?

Janie Talking

Picture of me delivering my talk in Chicago

I decided to err on the side of just showing what could be done easily. I spoke to a few people about how hard people expect what I talk about to be and I was told that no one was expecting WWDC-level complexity.

Also, I hoped that by focusing on audio session-based demos that it would have a nice, cohesive block of information that I could cover in an hour without glossing over anything or running out of time.

I tried to think about what the fundamental things were that people would want audio for. I know that I personally would like to build a synthesizer, but that it would take years to learn and what I am interested in is highly specialized.

Most of what people use audio for is just recording and playing back. These are things you can do with a few lines of code that used to take hundreds of lines of code. I made a determination to focus on things people could implement easily and achieve quickly.

Preparation

I knew based on what happened with my first tech talk that I really needed to make sure I practice my talk in front of an audience. After I finished that talk I approached Brad from Bendyworks about performing my talk at their workplace so that I could get an idea of how much material I have versus how much I need.

I got to perform my talk three days before I got to do it for real. I had a rough draft of my slides and working demos.

I am posing with the door that has my name on it :)

I am posing with the door that has my name on it 🙂

Everyone I talked to said to not include too much information on my slides. I did that in my first tech talk and that went badly. I was so nervous that I forgot to talk about things that weren’t on my slides. I know it isn’t super dynamic to have a lot of slides, but I wanted to make sure that I was providing the information I needed to.

One thing I figured out by practicing my talk was that if I just brought up a demo and tried to find the code I wanted to talk about I tended to stumble over it and not be able to find it while people were watching me. One change I made was to take screen shots of the code I wanted to talk about and include it as a slide rather than try to find what I wanted to talk about in the code base.

When I didn’t include code in my slides my talk was only half as long as I needed it to be.

I included a quiz in the talk because I wanted people to be engaged in my talk. One thing I added was to have multiple choice answers for the quiz because people tended to not remember the choices. Hell, I wrote the talk and I couldn’t even remember all of them off the top of my head!!

Having gotten an idea about what wasn’t quite working properly and how to pad out the talk somewhat I was ready to proceed to the main event!

CocoaConf Chicago

I had the great privilege to be in the first group of speakers after the keynote. I was planning to spend five minutes before my talk with my headphones on listening to music to get myself psyched and focused. That didn’t happen. I forgot that the Kleins ask you to pitch your talk to people in the morning, so I had to go up and do my spiel about why people should come to my talk.

Kyubey posing with my special pink CocoaConf mug

Kyubey posing with my special pink CocoaConf mug

Then everyone dispersed and immediately went to the rooms for the talks.

I had 10-15 minutes before my talk where everyone was waiting around in my room. I didn’t really want to start my talk early because I didn’t have enough material for that and there was a possibility that someone might come in at the time the talk was actually supposed to begin.

We had a few hiccups with my set-up. I didn’t think I needed a microphone or speakers, but Chris Adamson very wisely advised me to have some and since we had a bunch of time before the talk was supposed to begin we had plenty of time getting those things taken care of.

Still, after all of this set-up there was a substantial amount of time where there was waiting. I threw on my psyched music and I got to have five minutes of meditation before I had to perform.

One thing that I did for me was I had a stuffed Kyubey doll that I used as a prop in my talk. Kyubey is a character from Madoka Magica that makes contracts with girls giving them a wish in exchange for them battling evil.

I know he isn’t real, but having a “safety net” there where I could pretend that if things went really badly I could just make a wish to get another bite at the apple really helped me to not panic. I know that only one person in the audience understood the joke/reference. I hoped that if I didn’t spend too much time on it that if it didn’t go over well then it wouldn’t derail the whole talk.

Another thing that I did was I brought a bunch of candy with me. I didn’t want to just stand up there and talk to myself for an hour, so I brought candy to bribe people to engage me in conversation so that they weren’t just spending the whole talk checking their email and doing things on Twitter.

Yes, I have been told that I talk with my hands. A lot. Also that I should have pulled back my hair.

Yes, I have been told that I talk with my hands. A lot. Also that I should have pulled back my hair.

Overall, I think it went okay. I did have a few periods of my talk where I got really nervous. One thing that happens when I start having a panic attack is that I develop a speech impediment. This happened twice during my talk. I felt it coming on and I was able to shake it off before it got too bad.

I know that after I do more of these they will get better. Considering my level of expertise and comfort with doing something like this it could have been much worse. I know if I do more of these my delivery will get better.

Aftermath

So, I spent several weeks focusing on this talk. I was not employed at the time I was preparing for this talk so this was the only thing I had to focus on.

I was really happy that I got to go first. I could get the talk out of the way and enjoy the rest of the conference. Another aspect about going first that I didn’t take into consideration was how energetic people would be at the beginning of the conference. I noticed that with some of the later talks the next day people were tired and a little burned out. This was something I observed when doing my first talk. I didn’t think about what a gift it was to get people who were bright eyed and alert over people who were looking forward to going home to crash.

One thing I didn’t take into consideration was how keyed up I was about doing the talk. After I got done with the talk I crashed a little. I was sitting in another talk when I realized that I was done. It was over. This thing I had been waiting for a month to do and preparing for was over and I had nothing else I was looking forward to after it was done. That was a little sad.

My slides are here and my demo projects are here.

Comments

While sitting down to write this blog post I finally bit the bullet and read my comment cards.

I was expecting a lot of what I saw. People said I seemed nervous. I did some silly things in my talk. People said they wish I had not relied so much on my slides.

The one that I saw that really disappointed me was that many people complained that I didn’t tackle a hard enough topic. One person said they wished I had tagged this as a beginner talk and that they were expecting me to go more in depth with what you can do with audio programming rather than just the easy stuff.

I needed to make a decision about how hard to make the talk. I erred on the side of talking about something easier rather than harder because I didn’t want to frighten people away from audio programming. That might have been a mistake. I know it was something I struggled with and hoped I made the right choice on. I don’t know if the choice I made was right or wrong, but having more than one person explicitly say that it was the wrong choice makes me feel bad.

One thing people did not comment on that I expected to have commented on was my use of Kyubey. I didn’t utilize him as best I could. If I had been smarter or less stubborn I would have cut him from my talk. I included him just for me so that I would feel comfortable and that isn’t really a good thing to do.

In the future if I am going to include a prop I am going to include a prop that is a reference more than two people in the audience will understand.

Conclusion

Having the chance to talk at CocoaConf was one of the most amazing opportunities I have had. I am grateful to the Klein family for giving me the chance to speak. I hope that I did a good enough job that they would be open to me speaking there again.

I know if I want to be a better speaker I need to do it a lot more. I have been pitching a few talks to different conferences later in the year. I hope to have opportunities to learn and grow as a speaker.

One of my goals as a developer is to be able to share my knowledge with other people. I would like to write books and do talks. Being able to give back to this community is very important to me and I hope that I will be able to continue to contribute in the future.