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Trey Harris
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Yet Another Geek
Yet Another Geek

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United Airlines made me abandon my mobility device at the gate. Before my honeymoon.

I've been waiting to post this until I heard a response from United. But with the recent uproar over their handling of passengers, I figured it was time.

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Huh, that was a really solid start.

No direct spoilers of episodes 1 and 2, but a few suggestions of plot twists, so you may want to stop reading if you haven’t watched and and don’t want any idea what might happen. I can make no such promises about any comment, though—as far as I’m concerned, anything’s fair game to comment on — anything, that is, except for CBS All Access—that, you can take elsewhere.

So: mirabile visu, it wasn’t bad! In fact, it was good!

The fears, that CBS was embargoing reviews until after tonight’s premiere of Star Trek: Discovery because the show was bad, were blessedly unfounded. It apparently was for the same reason as the embargoes routinely imposed by HBO and AMC on reviews of their serialized “prestige” shows: wanting to preserve the impact of plot twists.

And the producers were right, I think: it would be well-nigh impossible to properly review these two episodes without significant spoiling; going back to look at some of the (production-vetted) coverage in the past week, some descriptions of characters were nearly oracular in their being technically true while being carefully worded to avoid spoiling the (several) unexpected turns this pilot took.

Tonight’s two-parter is feeling as if it may be a bit like the Battlestar Galactica reboot’s pilot miniseries: a prologue that will stand apart in theme and rhythm from everything after, but will (hopefully) inform everything after it.

And so the question now becomes: will Star Trek: Discovery proper deliver on the promise?

Reviews from critics who are now post-embargo and have seen three episodes (one beyond what’s aired) have been largely positive, several going so far as to say the third episode “hits its stride” or is the best of the three.

One somewhat thrilling bit for me: while Star Trek hasn’t had a pilot episode fail the Bechdel test since Star Trek: the Next Generation, this pilot turned it up to eleven: not only did Sonequa Martin-Green’s Cmdr. Michael Burnham and Michelle Yeoh’s Capt. Phillipa Georgiou have several intense scenes together, they fought together and argued with one another. (And—I’m pretty sure, but I’d have to rewatch to be certain—no two male characters on the Starfleet side had a one-on-one conversation about anything. That created an interesting dynamic, one I’m not sure I’ve seen in sci-fi before except for a couple Kira/Dax episodes of DS9.)

Random thoughts:

The look: Fan productions that have faithfully recreated the original series’ sets, props, costumes and hair/makeup aside, the idea that Star Trek: Discovery, even though it’s set ten years before the original series, would be made to look anything like the original series was just silly for a production a half-century later. It wouldn’t have come across as continuity; it would’ve seemed more like kitsch.
Producers have said they’ve instead approached it as though both series were “period pieces”, evoking, but not precisely recreating, some Platonic Star Trek universe that exists only in fandom’s collective heads. That led them to fixate on some iconic imagery—the communicator, the phaser, and (as we see in a teaser for episode 3) the gaseous red warp-drive chamber later productions would replace with the equally iconic “warp coils”—and reconstruct them with the idea, “if that was the best 1960’s TV could do to evoke the underlying concept, what can a 2017 production do to get there even better?”
You could have colored me skeptical when I read this some weeks ago. But this works, surprisingly well. The J.J. Abrams reboot movies seemed willing to jettison continuity for flash at every opportunity—to the extent that the Enterprise itself, originally the smallest of the ships with that name, grew by over 50 times in the reboot, to dwarf even the Enterprise-E of the final TNG movies. In comparison, the USS Shenzhou, — which, according to in-show references, was built closer in time to the NX-01 Enterprise of the prequel series than the NCC-1701 Enterprise of the original series—feels like a natural evolutionary stepping stone between those other two ships.
(In case you weren’t clear, Discovery is set in the same timeline and canon as the original Shatner/Nimoy/Kelley series, TNG, DS9, Voyager, and Enterprise, and not the “Kelvin timeline” created for the J. J. Abrams reboot.)
The Shenzhou’s look is obviously informed by Abrams’ creation a bit — “real” viewports wrap around the bridge rather than stations facing a flat screen, much more lighting is practical (and—of course—has some lens flare), and post-production CG-effected HUDs and transparent screen overlays replace the backlit-transparency (and, in DS9 and later, some CRT or LCD computer monitor) displays. But unlike the Abrams’ look, these don’t seem like showy artifice so much as effects that 2017 technology makes possible to give the show a more “natural” look— of course a Starfleet captain would want to see a real view out her bridge, and of course HUDs would be projected onto them. We can almost do these things in real life today, why wouldn’t they have them centuries in the future?

The Klingons: this will probably be one of the most-debated elements from true fans, but I was fascinated by them. The decision to have the actors speak Klingon with subtitles is a startling choice, since up till now in Trek, hearing any language other than English come from an alien’s mouth—aside from the occasional Qapla’! of course—signified “the translator’s broken”.
But the more interesting and, probably, controversial decision was to give Klingons very visibly distinct races, and to make it clear that in the politics of the time Discovery is set, racism is very much alive in the Empire.
They established there are at least 25 distinct Klingon races, but we do not see them all—and none of those we see look like either the original series’ “swarthy goateed human” Klingons, nor the Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and later’s very uniform “crested” Klingons, as epitomized by Cmdr. Worf.
Is this surprising racial diversity a sign that Discovery will attempt to explain the canon-breaking discrepancy? (To take a very deep cut, Star Trek: Enterprise made a stab at attempting to at least explain the humanlike original series’ Klingons as a bioweapon gone awry, but gave no answer as to how they changed back to their “earlier” forms in the twenty years between TOS and ST III.) Perhaps some of the unseen races are Worf-like, and others are like the ones from TOS. An effort to “unify” the Klingon races appears to be the catalyst for much of the action to come—perhaps this will be used as a vehicle to answer this old question.
Or, maybe the answer is again the “period piece” lens: in the 1960’s, Hollywood didn’t do a very good job of portraying nonwhite humans; maybe they did an equally poor job portraying Klingons?

Interpersonal conflict: Everyone knows that in Gene Roddenberry’s utopian vision, people in the Federation didn’t have hangups, attempt to undermine, backstab or manipulate one another, or sport grudges—a rule that drove writers batty, as it ruled out most forms of effective storytelling. In Star Trek: The Next Generation, he doubled down on this rule by putting a psychologist on the bridge!
With Deep Space Nine, the rule was relaxed considerably (partly by having non-Starfleet major characters, partly by Ronald D. Moore’s pure force of will in the writer’s room) and resulted in some of the best story arcs in all of Trek. The rule returned, though not with as much force as in TNG, in Voyager and Enterprise, and the quality of the drama fell once again.
If you have any question about Discovery’s adherence to the no-conflict rule, it will be utterly and shockingly settled in the last minutes of episode 1. I will say no more, except to opine that it bodes well for the range of drama we might expect from the new series.

Serialization: TOS and TNG were “reset” shows: but for the occasional two-parter, you could dip in whenever you liked and not need to know anything about what had happened in the meantime. (This was true for most shows at the time, except soap operas.) DS9 experimented with serialization, doing several three-parters, then a five-parter, and ending with a nine episode serial. And, like dropping the no-conflict rule, it made for some fantastic storytelling. Discovery looks to most definitely be a serial show (like virtually all “prestige” shows today, not to mention “binge-friendly” streaming shows), and seeing how well that works with Star Trek will be fascinating.

Those are my thoughts after this first 90 minutes. In short, I think the promise here from its initial outing is that Discovery could be not only be the best Star Trek yet, but possibly one of the best long-form science-fiction TV shows of all time. But it’s already spinning a lot of plates and veering into some very strange new worlds for the Star Trek format; I think it could easily fall flat by episode 5, never to get its bearings again.

What did you think? (And I’m just going to declare any discussion of CBS All Access off-limits right now; there are plenty of other threads where you can do that. A commercial-free subscription for the full run will cost you less than $50, a “limited commercials” one even less. If you’re a real Trekker, you know you’ve spent more than that on a single box set, or a poorly-made bit of prop or costume replica that you’ve felt silly about buying ever since. And you’ve done it more than once.)

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Weird things for fans to get upset about¹

I’ve been dipping into the #StarTrekDiscovery tag on Twitter, and found one of the oddest arguments I’ve ever seen among Trekkers (and that’s saying something!): that this title sequence (released today online by CBS) is bad because it doesn’t list the main cast. (Or Gene Roddenberry.) “Breaking with tradition of every prior series.”

Uh...

It’s pretty obvious if you watch this that there are spots where credits are supposed to appear. They obviously released this version pre-title-compositing, for any number of reasons, probably including:

1. The show is being released tonight in languages besides English. The compositing would be different for each language.
2. The production has been strangely tight-lipped about which of the (large, even for a Trek ensemble) cast are main cast, which are supporting, and which are guest stars. One may presume a Psycho style (or, if you’re too young for that reference, Torchwood) fake-out is coming (my bet is on Michelle Yeoh or Jason Isaacs). The credits will probably let the cat out of the bag.
3. They may, in a break with Star Trek convention but common for “prestige” series these days (the veneer which seems to be what CBS is aiming for here) include writing and directing credits in the titles rather than superimposed on action. Those change with each episode, so if this is the case, they can’t show a single post-compositing version that isn’t tied to an episode.

There seem to be a few places where credits will be paired with complementary effects in the title footage you can see (most notably at the very end, where one would assume the creator and/or writing/directing credits will go, in that “color splash”).

I know you can’t expect random people on the Internet to know anything about something as arcane as title sequence compositing, but still, it’s a little surprising to me that the reaction to this isn’t, “the titles are missing” but “the titles ARE MISSING!?!?!”

I’m sure the fans will have plenty to get upset about after the first two episodes are released tonight.

(My question: if football goes long, will it still be released on CBS All Access at 8:30 p.m. EDT, or whenever it starts on-air? And if you watch it then on CBSAA, will it be limited or commercial-free depending on your subscription tier, or will you just get the feed from your local station, commercials and all?)


¹ If it, bizarrely, turns out that these are, in fact, the final production credits, I’ll update this post and eat a bit of crow, but I really don’t think I’ll need to. Update: And nope; I was right on every count above. 😜

A PSA for Google+ users on iOS 11

It appears that the Google+ app is much more likely to get suspended in iOS 11 than 10. I long-ago learned to write posts in an editor app (Notes or Google Keep is fine) for safety, but that if I was writing a long comment (or a short one that needed research), it was sufficient to switch back to Google+ before switching to any third app, and you wouldn’t lose Google+ progress.

No more. (I learned this after just losing a short, but fairly intricate, comment when I jumped to Chrome to check a word definition.)

This is certainly annoying when you lose a comment, but that you can work around with an editor. What is especially annoying and can’t be worked around is that if, like me, you don’t use the embedded browser but switch to Chrome, when you tap a link, are done reading, and go back to Google+, you very well may have lost the context of the link you tapped and are back at the top of the home screen feed.

Very annoying.

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Which website do you lose yourself in?

(Note: "Wikia" refers to any fan wikis, whether hosted by Wikia or not, and also including jumping between different fan wikis in a single session via links.)

I googled around for some sites people mention as the most dangerous to visit, the ones that you can't help but click... one... more... time. (Un)surprisingly, a couple of mine appear to be rather unusual addictions of mine, so I left it out. (I left Google+ off intentionally.)

So: pick the one of the below most likely to ensnare you.

Then, add another, if you like, in comments (which I suggest people +1 rather than duping in another comment—for that reason, if you're going to mention more than one, use separate comments, unless you think they're very closely-related or are likely to be very unusual choices).
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votes visible to Public
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Wikipedia
TV Tropes
Stack Exchange/Stack Overflow
Wikia
48%
YouTube
24%
Wikipedia
17%
TV Tropes
9%
Stack Exchange/Stack Overflow
2%
Wikia

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iPad Split View is cool and all...

But right after I had the thought, “that’s a really insightful point Katy Tur just made about Star Trek’s lip-service to diversity”, I remembered: humans can’t consciously multitask, we can only context switch, badly.

(Not that Split View isn’t still great for stuff like filling in a spreadsheet with some data, or other things where you need to work between apps. But people can’t take in content from two sources simultaneously with full understanding, not really. Foreign-language translators do intensive training simply to be able to listen while also speaking.)
Photo

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Pimax 8K: A Kickstarter that will really tempt VR-heads, but will you have pledger's remorse?

Unless you already have a fairly sophisticated understanding of VR technology, you can safely skip through the video with the founder (and he may be a bit difficult for some to understand) to the 22-minute mark, where Jeremy and Norman from Tested give their impressions of the demo hardware.

The Kickstarter they mention is now up (at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/pimax8kvr/pimax-the-worlds-first-8k-vr-headset) and the early-bird bonuses are already almost gone.

I know some of you have been very interested in VR, but found the current generation of headsets too blurry and the field of view (FOV) too narrow for the things you wanted to do with it, or even just to get a good feeling of immersiveness. And, make no mistake: an 8K or even 5K resolution is a really significant step up from the first-generation production Oculus Rift and HTC Vive (which are, themselves, significant steps up from PS4 VR).

But the 200° FOV (as compared to around 110° on the Oculus, HTC and Sony offerings), with dual landscape rather than portrait-oriented displays, is the real differentiator here. (In the video, Jeremy and Norm compare going back to the Vive or Rift to wearing a scuba mask or goggles.)

The newest generation of graphics cards support something called "foveated rendering" (from the FOV acronym) that allows for much higher-quality rendering on the same graphics hardware by dedicated more cycles to rendering pixels in the scene around where you're looking. A wide-angle HMD (head-mounted-display) like these really play to that new capability, so if you have a GTX 1080 or later graphics card, you should get significantly greater performance than you might expect if it were an apples-to-apples comparison with Vive or Rift. (Foveated rendering really shines when paired with an eye-tracking system, which the company says Pimax will offer as an accessory—they already have the mount and port built in¹—but it helps even when you don't have eye tracking.)

So, a few thoughts:

• Pimax has already produced several production HMD's, and according to owners I've heard from, they work reasonably well with SteamVR, though with the occasional "driver hell" that's endemic even to the Oculus and HTC offerings. But this fact should help reduce fears of Kickstarting an expensive piece of vaporware. I think they have a low chance of failing to reach production like many other hardware Kickstarters. So that's a good thing—I've personally had a good record with Kickstarters actually delivering, but I know many have been burned repeatedly. This one seems less risky than most.

• The features Pimax is building in to try to make their HMD the basis of an "open platform" of accessories, together with its use of standard SteamVR tracking (the lighthouses and controllers that come with a Vive should work with the Pimax) and its onboard upscaling of lower-quality content (more about that in a moment) should future-proof this HMD to a greater extent than most—it's possible (though certainly not guaranteed) that if you pledged this Kickstarter you could end up with an HMD that would last you through the entire next generation of consumer VR (with as good or better quality), and possibly beyond.

• On the other hand, the vague answers considering support of 2.0 tracking and next-gen SteamVR "Knuckles" controllers are somewhat concerning. If they do the right thing, again, the Pimax could be the first HMD that would take you through the next generation of hardware without being rendered obsolete. But if the final product ends up with the older tracking and controller-interface technology, you'll be stuck in a no-man's land with an HMD capable of handling the newest content, but unable to use that content because of controller or tracking incompatibility. (If that's the case, at best, you'll get next-gen resolution and the fantastic FOV but will be unable to use the minority of next-gen content that have no backwards-compatibility. At worst, you won't even get the next-gen resolution and FOV natively, and will have to deal exclusively with upscaled content.)

• In the video, Jeremy and Norman spent some time talking about the upscaler, which is necessary for games that have optimized code that assumes the resolution and FOV of Rift and Vive. It's apparently an anamorphic rescaling something like the function on most HDTV's that might be called "smart scaling"—which takes a 4:3 aspect ratio image and resizes it to 16:9 by stretching the edges more while stretching the center less or not at all. This is done onboard the HMD, enabling its use on PCs with lower graphics capabilities or when the HMD can only be connected with a single cable (straight 8K output requires two cables).
My question—which I have no answer for—is, if you have the hardware necessary to pump the pixels out, whether most programs will take advantage of the increased resolution and FOV or not. In his interview the founder mentioned framework driver plug-ins, which suggest that most SteamVR, OpenVR, and Oculus games built under Unity or Unreal engines will do so. That is, provided the developer hasn't eked out additional performance by making assumptions about the resolution and FOV.
It's much like the situation we were in when Macs first came out with Retina displays, or when Windows first supported DPI-independent UIs, or with early iPads being unable to run early iOS apps without a big black border or very poor-quality upscaling. There's no question that many programs in early days will only work via the upscaling method. And there appears to be little question that, if you have the PC horsepower and if developers chose to enable it, existing apps built with Unreal or Unity will work in the Pimax 8K without needing explicit Pimax support. The question is, will developers do so, when the Pimax userbase is likely to be a vanishingly small fraction of an already-small VR audience?²

• They're using an unproven and entirely new display technology they're calling CLPL (for "customized low-persistence liquid [crystal display]"), instead of the AMOLED that has become the standard in VR for its low persistence, high pixel density, high refresh rate, and "infinite" contrast ratio (a black AMOLED pixel gives off no light at all). LCD has been eschewed because of its shortcomings in these dimensions, despite LCD's lower cost at higher resolutions, because they are particularly noticeable in VR HMD's.
If Pimax has, in fact, developed an LCD solution to these issues, that's significant. In the video, both Norman and Jeremy said they noticed some artifacts that LCD is known for—but they saw different ones and neither saw the ones the other did, so who knows?
After the compatibility questions I've already raised, this would be my second-biggest hesitation about Kickstarting this product. If they've solved the issues with LCD in VR, that's great—but have they?

What all this amounts to: the Pimax 8K is going to be a very tempting Kickstarter to back, especially if you're either a VR aficionado or someone who was holding off from purchasing a current-generation headset due to price sensitivity (the early bird pledges, in particular, seem to be great values, and current owners of earlier Pimax sets were mostly those looking for budget solutions). Vive owners in particular should consider it, since they can use their existing lighthouses and controllers and get a potentially dramatic HMD upgrade.

Still, questions about compatibility, the display technology, and build quality should give prospective pledgers—the VR enthusiasts, especially—pause. This should always be true for Kickstarters, but for this one in particular, you'll need to consider the tradeoffs carefully before backing the Pimax 8K.


¹ They're building the system as an extensible "platform" with open-sourced API and license-free use of accessory ports and mounts, which is a very nice idea for a headset that it seems might have a longer usable life before obsolescence.
OTOH, it looks like if you got the prescription lenses they are offering—which I consider a must for HMD's if you spend significant time in VR and need glasses (because wearing glasses inside an HMD can cause scratches and reduces your effective FOV substantially)—you'd be using the mount for the prescription lenses you would for the eye-tracker. And I can't tell if their magnetic mounts support daisy-chaining or not; you might have to choose between eye tracking and in-HMD acuity correction.

² And what about some of the premiere VR games, such as Elite: Dangerous, that use their own renderers rather than using Unreal or Unity?
I remember how maddening it was, when I first got an HDTV, to discover how many supposedly "anamorphic" 16:9 DVD's were actually 4:3 letterboxed content—not only did you not get the benefit of any additional resolution, you frequently ended up with letter- and pillar-boxed movies, since the upscaler was forced to upscale the black bars that were actually part of the video file. I can imagine a similarly maddening situation here—you have the hardware, you have the content, but the content's been artificially hobbled to make it work even worse on the new hardware.

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"Anglish": a mind-wheting thought (but maybe with a not-few scary underbindings?)

Did you know, owing to nowtide ("Chancery") English's forebringing from the French, Greeklandish and Latin roots, there's a beweighing among some upholders of sheer speechcraft lore to reach a reckoning of English, oft-called "Anglish", outtrading all notings of suchlike with sheer Anglic (in Chancery English, "Proto-Germanic") readings thereof, in rank of boosting a ne'erwas tongue to folkish-love?

I just learned this, and aside from the marked root-stockish stink—it feelslike some plightful beweighings amongst the Dutschlanders, almost a yearhundred ago, following to rotten happenings I needn't withcall to your mind—I reckon it's a mind-wheting thought. As a speechlorist (though of the rimewile-reckoning sort) by learnset, the bild is bewondering—as a fathomsome workout, if nothing more else.

(And, no, I don't soothly know if this here writ-thing is echt Anglish—I read some byspels to get the tang of it, and made it up from there—but I know enough ordenings of Chancery English words and their Anglic kinships to make a stab at it; if you're dab knowledgeful, you could right me if I've trundled.)

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It seemed impossible, but the spam robocall situation is getting even worse.

This is frightening.

(I'm utterly perplexed about the author's inability to find out info about the elevator manufacturer, since his bio says he lives in Brooklyn, and NYC isn't Texas, it requires all elevator certificates to be prominently displayed in unattended buildings and to be available on demand to the public in attended buildings. But never mind that.)

Given there's no "hang up" button on an elevator intercom, this is an enormous safety issue, and someone needs to get the elevator company to figure out a solution to the issue— and the New York State Attorney General needs to prosecute whatever company is behind the call.

Whenever a climate-change/evolution/vaccine/whatever science denier tries to tell me that citing scientific research is "engaging in the rhetorical fallacy of appeal to authority", I wonder if they believe that no one is capable of teaching science unless they've personally replicated every experiment before teaching anything, from Archimedes to Newton to the LHC.

Then I wonder why they sat still for any science class that wasn't a lab—why were they accepting the "authority" of their instructors?
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