Tag Archives: history

Star Trek Computers Aren’t All That Retro

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Spock at his computer station.

Last month we talked about Star Trek: The Original Series miniskirts, how they came to be and what they signified. While researching the paper that eventually turned into that post, I found out some interesting things about technology too. Most sci-fi isn’t actually futurist, meaning it doesn’t actually attempt to predict the future in an accurate way. Most sci-fi is designed to make a social statement by taking a situation to an extreme, or to explore possibilities by asking scientific what-if questions, or both. It’s not meant to be a “history of the future.”

Star Trek did those social things, and fantastically well. It’s famous for them. However, it also turns out that Gene Roddenberry, creator and showrunner of Star Trek, was an enthusiastic futurist who wrote papers on the future of technology and was invited to lecture at NASA as well as several universities and colleges. While Star Trek was first and foremost a fantasy of space travel, Roddenberry was interested in presenting concepts he actually found workable and likely to exist in the future. One of his most important ideas was the Enterprise’s central computer, described in this pre-production memo:

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Star Trek Miniskirts: Feminist or Nah?

Aesthetics carry messages about values. Star Trek, while frequently written about in historical, literary, and technological terms, was also a visual experience with a distinctive aesthetic, and there’s a lot there to talk about! I just wrote a term paper on the topic, and it’s my pleasure to bring you some highlights related to Star Trek’s costumes —  specifically, the infamous miniskirts.

A variety of Star Trek uniforms

StarTrek.com

William “Bill” Ware Theiss, a gay costume designer at the beginning of his career, developed the costumes for the full run of the show. The iconic uniforms were the third version developed over the course of several pilots, and their final form was a combination of practicality and aesthetics. The two earlier styles made use of velour tunics, chosen for their futuristic sheen under stage lights. Velour shrinks with every wash, though, and since television costumes are laundered every day, the tunics had to be continually refitted for the actors.

The uniform colors, along with brightly-colored sets and lighting, were chosen in part simply because color televisions were becoming common in the United States in the mid-1960s when Star Trek first aired. The parent network, RCA, even advertised their color TVs by telling customers how good Star Trek looked on them — The bright red color in particular was added to blue and gold versions because it was “RCA color TV-friendly.” The final effect is sleek and colorblocked, a “futuristic” impression largely stemming from minimalistic styling. The bright colors and figure-hugging cuts also project a confidently eyecatching demeanor.

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Science Fiction Today – Solutions

This last weekend, we got to listen to a talk by a professor… Well, close enough, without going into details. He made a really good point, about our current American presidential election, which I think applies to American politics as a whole right now – and perhaps to world politics as a whole right now as well.

It’s that the politicians are focusing on the problems of the world now, without offering solutions. And he likened it to 1930’s Germany: they had problems too, like the Treaty of Versailles, the Stock Market Crash and ensuing economic collapse, and the state of the world… social and international. And they, like many other countries at the time, had ideologues and demagogues telling them all about their problems, sympathizing with them and empathizing with them and enhancing their anger. But then, not offering the solutions… and once we saw what the solutions were, well, it was too late and time for war.

Which all pretty well sounds like peoples’ opinions on what’s happening in the presidential race today. Anger. Lots of the problems being brought up – and not a lot of solutions being offered. And some of the ones we are hearing almost sound worse than nothing at all…

I was about to write all of this Monday, and we watched Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and that totally replaced my plans… but still, it needs said. We have a world full of problems – wars and civil wars, expansionism and posturing. We have places like the UK – with Scotland considering leaving the country, and then the UK considering leaving the EU. It’s like a nesting doll of a problem… The economy. Immigration and refugees. Water and climate and just everything else.

We’ve talked before about the idea of Wicked Problems – where we don’t have the answer of what the solution is, and you basically just have to try it. These sort of problems end up in the ideological, religious, and especially political realm. Where we collectively work on deciding – work on a solution.

But for that, we need options, and if no one is offering them in the political realm, then it’s time to look somewhere else. And for so many of today’s problems, I still say, Science Fiction is a good place to look. Taking an issue, and thinking of it in terms of the future. And then it’s a question of coming up with the vision of what the time between that future and the present looks like.

If there are political problems you’re wrestling with, drop them in the comments below. We’ll brainstorm solutions in the comments, or if big enough, they’ll get their own blog posts. Let’s work on solutions. Not on problems.

My Current Nostalgia: Nancy Drew Part 1

Nancy Drew

My first part of my journey through playing the Nancy Drew games went very quickly; I actually had the time and I got hooked easily. I couldn’t play the first two because of computer compatibility issues, so I started with the third and played straight through to the twelfth in what felt like a matter of days. Since then, I’ve been busy and life has taken over my gaming time (don’t you just hate that?)

The mysteries are point and click mysteries, which mean that they can be a little cumbersome, especially at the beginning of the series. I had forgotten how tedious movement could be in the older ones because I had played some of the newer ones recently, and so jumping back felt like a time warp. The graphics have certainly improved since the games first started, but they are not as awful as other early 2000’s games that I’ve played before.

The games also include a feature called “Second Chance,” which I almost wish every game would have. I know you can save and load games easily, but the Second Chance feature streamlines the process and makes it easier if you goof (and didn’t know that you were about to make a goof that would end the mystery, and therefore didn’t save before doing it). My favorite use of this feature when replaying is seeing all the silly things you can make Nancy do, like falling over balconies or waking people up in the middle of the night and having them kick you out of the house.

When I first wrote this post, it was way too long. So instead, we’re going to do ND Mysteries summed up by two sentences. Let’s see how this goes.

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Netflix Discovery: Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries

Have you tried playing Netflix’s “Max,” their quiz program that is supposed to help you decide what to watch when you’re at a loss? I have…

And it tends to recommend rubbish. Or at least things that don’t fit my mood. I think I told it I liked Mulan once (who doesn’t?) and suddenly all it would recommend to me was Eddie Murphy movies, and not even the good ones. It’s a fantastic idea, just usually poorly executed.

I generally have more luck reading the descriptions and saying, “why not?” Based on the description for Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, which combined the terms “flapper” and “lady detective,” I figured this was a show I would love. I was right!

Set in late 1920’s Melbourne, the show focuses on the Honourable Phryne (pronounced fry-knee) Fisher, who has returned to her hometown of Melbourne for good after over a decade in Europe. Almost as soon as she arrives, she stumbles upon the apparent murder of her friend Lydia’s husband, which leads to a cocaine smuggling ring and also an illegal abortionist. Along the way, she meets Detective Jack Robinson and his Constable Hugh Collins, who resist her help and yet, as with any good amateur detective show, they start working together over the series.

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