Discovery Thoughts

NCC1031 it good?

When it premiered in September, I wondered if Star Trek: Discovery would end up being good Star Trek, or just good science-fiction? Due to the serialized nature of the new show, it wasn't obvious from the pilot, or even the first half of the season, if we were seeing something that fit within the overall Trek concept or something that was taking way too many liberties in the interest of being "fresh" or "appealing to the masses." Now that we've completed the first season, I can say, yeah, this is Star Trek. Even pretty decent Star Trek.

It's not without flaws, and I don't mean the sort of things I complained about in September. Mostly, anyway. It's a much less egregious form of the problem with the recent JJ Abrams movies, which is simply lazy writing. (There's a common element between those with executive producer Alex Kurtzman, who is also listed as "co-creator"; not saying it's necessarily his fault—especially since screenwriter Bob Orci was the prime screwup on those films—just noting the connection.) There are plot points that either don't make a lot of sense or are just way too convenient, plus fairly obvious alternatives that would have made for stronger storytelling. TV constraints might factor into this—not budgetary, as Discovery seems to have everything it wants there, but available time, as in, "there are only so many screen-minutes we have available to us." But the streaming model might take most of those away, so perhaps allowing for time constraints is too generous.

Take the season finale episode, for instance. (SPOILERS AHEAD, proceed at your own risk.)

See full post: "Discovery Thoughts"...

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Occam's Razor Applies to Coding, Too

In the previous post I mentioned temporarily frakking up the comments here aboard, done while testing a feature I was putting together for a different project, and thought that since I'd solved the issue over there, fixing it over here would take all of five minutes.

Three nights later, I finally have it working. I still don't know quite why it broke in the first place; a compatibility issue with PHP versions and software updates and associated whooziwhatsises, to be sure, but specifically...still beats me.

However, I still could have fixed it in maybe half an hour instead of three days if I'd remembered the Holmesian credo to respect the simpler solution in the face of more complicated ones. I wanted my code to work within the bounds of nested PHP and MySql tables and cooperate with the database-oriented CMS. But the conflicts were making me tear my hair out (which is thinning enough on its own, thank you very much) and it finally occurred to me that I could accomplish the same goal with two lines of Javascript.

If you don't need the whiz-bang goodies and fancy whatsises, then—revelation—you don't have to use them. Go figure.

Anyway, the comments work now.

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The More You Overthink the Plumbing...

I've been spending a lot of time over the past couple of weeks delving more deeply into web dev stuff, creating some site guts that can be offered as "ready-made" sites that might compete ever so slightly with the Squarespaces and Wibblys of the world. (I hate those guys. I hate those guys so much. They steal potential clients with their marketing and phony promises of "low cost" sites that are only low cost until you've paid them for a few months, and then you have to keep paying them every month for the life of your site. After a year's worth of monthlies you'd have spent more than you would have if you just paid me to build you something custom up front.)

Anyway, in so doing, I've used as a guinea pig when I've needed to test something out in a live setting and occasionally in doing so I frak something up.

Right now the comments are frakked. Oops.

I've solved the problem on the dev side, but you know what, I'm tired and I choose to let it be for now and fix it here later. Not like I get many comments here anyway, it's just a matter of professional pride. All must work. And it will, just not tonight.

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It Was a Different Time

Those were the days...

I'm a little late to the party on this, but I just tonight watched David Letterman's new Netflix episode interviewing Barack Obama. It was kind of refreshing, really, to remember that it wasn't so long ago that we didn't live in the clown-car universe of the Trumpster fire--it reinforced the idea that we could one day live again in the reality-based community.

Dave closed the show by telling Barack that, even though he was taught to respect the office of the President no matter who holds it, that he, Barack Obama, is the first person to be President that he genuinely and wholly respected. I don't quite echo that as I retain a great affection/admiration for Jimmy Carter, and despite Carter's flaws (micromanagement, difficulty communicating to the masses), I respect him fully. But Barack Obama is definitely the only other one of my lifetime and maybe further back than that (who else? Lincoln, one would think, at least, but even FDR has internment camps to answer for).

The fact that we went from one of the best Presidents in the history of time to the absolute worst overnight--or, orvernoon, if you want to get technical--might turn out to actually be a good thing. The extra shock to the system, switching from extreme to extreme, might give the added impetus necessary for us to enact protective reforms to prevent Trump 2.0. Once he's gone, assuming there's still a USA then, many of the norms we've taken for granted as a society need to be codified into law, and new laws addressing one of the points Obama made in this interview--that ours is the only advanced democracy on Earth that actively discourages voter participation--need swift enactment.

If we'd gone from Bush to our current nightmare administration, the shock value wouldn't be as great. We'd be in worse shape, of course, as we'd have started the nightmare from an already-low point, but we might have been more complacent.

(On the other hand, we wouldn't have gone from GWB to DJT nonstop because the existence of a non-white POTUS was a catalyst for much of the DJT cult in the first place. Still, hopefully you take my meaning.)

Regardless, the interview is great and worth an hour of your time. Check it out.

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Abuses of the Department of Justice by Congress

Congressman Devin Nunes, R-Donald Trump's colon

So, the memo was released. I read it. I’ve not heard any news about it today yet, but I sure heard all the hype ahead of time that Republicans and Fox “News” have been spewing. I was concerned that it would be so much cherry-picked information and half-truth nuggets about the FISA warrant process in general and Carter Page in particular, with so many key omissions and maybe some outright BS added in for fun, that the lemmings that watch Fox “News” and listen to Alex Jones would be so convinced of a nefarious “deep state” oppression of poor, poor Donald Trump that it would spread to mainstream media outlets and actually gain traction with the public.

It still might; I mean, Americans can be pretty damn stupid. Trump’s approval ratings actually went up after his apocalyptic State of the Union speech that announced zero policy or agenda items and stoked fear of immigrants with bullshit about how brown people are coming to kill your children.

But the memo itself? It ain’t all that. If one actually reads it fully—and, you know, knows words, the best words or even some words—it actually undermines the Trumpster brigade’s claims.

It’s also full of shit, of course, no doubt with the intention of confusing and distracting from the big picture by giving us other things to refute and argue about. Even if you allow the title—“Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Abuses at the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation,” which itself implies a conclusion not found—it chooses not to be subtle in propagandizing.

Referring in section 1) to the Steele Dossier as compiled “on behalf of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the Hillary Clinton campaign” omits the fact that before anyone associated with the DNC was involved it was started by and funded by the Washington Free Beacon on behalf of Republicans. It goes on to allege “political origins” of the dossier—which may be true, but those origins were not from the DNC or any Democrats—and claims that Christopher Steele was “working on behalf of—and paid by—the DNC and Clinton campaign,” which is utter bullshit.

It goes on in section 2) and 3) to attempt discreditation of Steele himself, alleging violations of protocol and suggesting that his “desperation” that Trump not become President was the source of, rather than result from, his findings while investigating Trump. Section 4) characterizes the dossier as known to be “salacious and unverified” (portions have since been verified) with the implication that those terms somehow mean “incorrect,” which they do not, and reiterates the suggestion that Steele fabricated his findings due to a pre-existing political agenda. Section 5) ties in the “scandal” of the Pete Strzok/Lisa Page text messages that were critical of Trump (the memo makes no mention of the fact that these messages were also critical of Clinton, Sanders, other Republicans, other Democrats, and evidenced no clear preference for any one person or candidate; nor does it mention that Strzok was removed from the investigation when these text were found, lest there be any appearance of bias), but to do so has to acknowledge that the investigation that the Carter Page FISA warrant was a part of actually originated with another Trump staffer, George Papadopoulos, in July 2016. The memo begins with stating that the issue at hand is the October 2016 FISA warrant, which is the date of a renewal of an already existing warrant to surveil Page.

The thing is, none of the bullshit matters.

In terms of factual, relevant information that shows an improper granting of a FISA warrant or other abuse of power, the memo has exactly zero content.

The origins of the Steele Dossier might have relevance if it were shown to be false, but to date nothing in it has been disproven and several items have been verified. Christopher Steele and his agenda are not the issue, the issue is whether or not Trump staffers (in this case Carter Page and Papadopoulos) are acting as agents of a hostile foreign government. Probable cause had to be shown at each renewal of the warrant, and the memo itself describes the Steele Dossier as “part of” the warrant application. This means that there was other evidence in addition to Steele’s findings that went to establishing probable cause. Nothing in the memo even suggests that any item within the dossier is inaccurate, it simply impugns the investigator. It also admits that at the time of the initial FISA warrant on Page that examination of the Steele Dossier was “in its infancy,” meaning it would not have had much bearing on whether or not to grant the warrant, and that even then it was “minimally corroborated,” meaning that what little they had examined had been corroborated.

Devin Nunes, probably with help from the White House, concocted this document for political reasons only, to attempt to paint Christopher Steele as a partisan who fabricated his dossier because of a hatred of Trump, rather than a concerned investigator who developed a fear of Trump because of what he found while compiling the dossier. It is supposed to be a document that shows “abuses” by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, but gives no evidence of any kind that the FISC issued a warrant improperly.

No careful reading of this memo can lead to conclusions other than motives of purely partisan obfuscation and distraction by someone with something to hide.

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Space Shuttle Challenger - 1/28/86

As a futurist/sci-fi nerd kid, there were two ways one could've gone when it came to following the space program: rapt attention and obsessive cataloging of every development and mission, or a blasé acceptance of its ordinariness and general disappointment in the lack of "real" progress in every development and mission. By the '80s, I was in the latter camp.

In late 1985, when I was 16, things at my school were a little bit space-happy because the principal, Sr. Judy (yes, my school was run by nuns, though they were rather unconventional nuns), had applied to and was a finalist for the teacher-in-space project. She had a shot at being on the January '86 space-shuttle flight (she would ultimately lose out to Christa McAuliffe). So it became a thing, lots of NASA-based stuff being taught and a mock space shuttle was built for students to go on "missions," which would parallel actual shuttle missions and approximate some of the astronauts' experiments and other educational goodness as well as give the experience of living in a confined space for days, just like the astronauts—except for the pesky gravity, which kind of ruined a lot of the approximation stuff, but still it was a great thing.

I, however, was in some ways already living in the future, being a sci-fi nerd and Star Trek expert, and was even teaching a course on Star Trek to my fellow high-schoolers (based on a college course I read about that tackled philosophical and scientific questions and issues presented in the episodes). Space shuttles were old hat. Primitive, even. Wake me when there's warp drive.

So, on the morning of January 28, 1986, while most of the school was gathered around a TV and a "crew" was in the mock space shuttle, monitoring the launch of STS-51L, I wasn't with them. I was in a smaller room, with a group of a dozen or so others, introducing Episode 5, "The Enemy Within," ready to engage in a discussion on the makeup of personality, whether traits are inherently "good" or "evil," and whether one needs the unpleasant elements of humanity to be a functioning whole person.

Just as the transporter malfunctioned and split Captain Kirk into two people, someone burst into the room and said "the shuttle blew up."

It was a stark reminder that this old-hat, primitive stuff was still, in our real world of the 1980s, the frontier.

We abandoned the Enterprise for the day and I spent the next several hours doing what I could to improve the TV reception and follow along while the school debated whether or not to continue the mock shuttle mission (they did) and ponder Sr. Judy's good fortune at not being chosen for Teacher in Space. Also figuring out what O-rings were and trying to fathom why we depend on such fragile materials for things like a spacecraft.

Anyway, Challenger is in some ways my generation's "where were you when Kennedy was shot" moment; it arguably stalled NASA and set back space exploration for years, and remains a potent moment in personal history.

So. Here's to the crew of STS-51L. May we keep on exploring and advancing, and risking, out into the big black, boldly going where humans have yet to go.

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Cognitive Competence

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So, the "President"'s doctor says Trump's cognitive ability is fine and there's no reason to believe he's suffering any kind of decline or dementia.

I have no trouble believing that.

As much as it might be in some weird way comforting to think that President VonClownstick is a demented old man and that's why he says and does the horrible things he says and does, there's no reason to think so. It'd be one thing if there had been an observed change in his behavior, but aside from Michael Wolff's observation in the Fire and Fury book that he's taken to repeating himself more often than he had been previously, I don't know of any. He's been this same sort of racist blowhard misogynist ignoramus moron the whole time he's been a public figure. Presumably before that, too.

He's completely compos mentis. He may be (and is) a narcissistic, vain, incredibly insecure egomaniac; he might be (and is) a bigoted, mean, willfully ignorant sociopath; he may be (and is) a weak-willed, greedy, and fundamentally cruel fool whose lack of intellect and dearth of knowledge makes him an easily-manipulated danger to all of humanity; but he's perfectly sane.

What I do have some trouble believing is that the man weighs only 236 pounds. That rings about as true as the back of Terry Forster's baseball card.

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The New Normal

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The avalanche of crap coming from the White House has been impossible to keep up with. There's just too much. Every day brings news of a new outrage from President VonClownstick or one of his toadies. If it's not the "shocking" racist statement about immigrants form "shithole countries" (this shocks no one who has been paying attention, that's who this idiot is), it's the neverending stream of lies coming from Sarah Huckabee Sanders' press briefings or tweets that parrot Fox News and cause national security officials to go into frenzied damage-control spasms. And that's just the "big" stuff.

Rachel Maddow did an exceptional "A" block the other evening that pretty well covered my feelings on the subject; there is just SO MUCH in terms of outrageous behavior, bad policy, overt meanness, and basic incompetence and stupidity coming out of 1600 Penn. that we're numb to it. It takes the exceptionally salacious or brutal to be given its proper reaction and attention, otherwise it's just Trump being Trump and so much yadda yadda yadda.

We humans only have so much bandwidth to devote to keeping up with the details of this crisis in history, but even if we don't pay strict attention to the yadda yadda of it, we have to remember that's what it is. Life keeps on chugging forward day by day, but we are living through a pivotal period in history that demands attention—as much as we can bring ourselves to give it, anyway.


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New Year, New Post


I don't generally do well with the whole New Years resolution thing. Like a lot of people, if I make any at all, they tend to get followed for a few days or weeks and then fall by the wayside. Last year I made some; nearly all of them didn't take. (I did make the cabinets, though. This year I need to make some more, slightly different ones.)

This orbit, my thoughts are similar to last—fear and trepidation from the Trumpster fire at 1600 Penn., anxiety and impatience about my housing situation, dissatisfaction with personal stuff—and I could almost copy and paste last year's post here without much tweaking and it'd be just as appropriate to the moment.

But let's go through the exercise, just for the hell of it. So, Things I Would Like to Do Going Forward in This the Year 2018:

  • Get back to sketching. This is one from last year that failed pretty spectacularly.
  • Resolve the house issue. This is not entirely under my control, there's a big element that depends on the real estate market, but I would like to think that in a year's time I will be living in a different domicile. If nothing else, for the satisfaction of telling my landlord what I think of his 25% rent hikes. This issue has been something of an education this past year, as the already-tight Seattle market has gotten even more ridiculously expensive and choices even more sparse. My primary motivation for wanting to buy a home had been to ensure I don't get financially forced out of the city, but I'm starting to concede that I may have to do just that. Goddamn Amazon and other outfits bringing more and more people with money to burn into town are really screwing the rest of us as housing prices and rents keep skyrocketing. I've been seriously considering homes in Shoreline and less-seriously considering places even further out just because that's where they're for sale at asking prices that I can afford. It's depressing. I'd put Tacoma in the realm of possibilities if it didn't seem like it'd make my existence even more isolated living down there; the options seem to be a lot more plentiful there, but it would genuinely feel like a defeat if I left Seattle.
  • Grow my business—not a lot, just some. Enough to make up for the loss of clientele that have gone out of business in 2017. To that end, I'm working on some ideas for ways to appeal to folks that aren't rolling in dough, but it'd be better to land more clients that actually have the means to pay for custom work.
  • The old standby: More exercise. I've been a sedentary lump more often than I'd like to admit lately. Walk and/or ride the bike with some regularity, even when I don't have anywhere to necessarily go.
  • Once again, do better with the blog. How is it I don't have anything to say? C'mon, son. Even if it's nonsense about TV and comics, surely I can fill a post now and again that's reasonably interesting to, well, me if no one else.

The larger macro picture of the world promises to be plenty interesting, of course, and here's hoping we all survive it. Everyone—at least, ever American—make sure your voter registration is up to date and be ready to fight when the corrupt Republican party tries to rig another set of elections. 

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Motives, Madness, and Male Behavior

Al Franken

The current cultural focus on sexual harassment and assaults is largely a good thing. Fostering an environment where (a) victims feel that reporting the crime is a viable option with an expectation of being taken seriously, and (b) exposing the prevalence with which that sort of behavior still goes on in modern America (and elsewhere, but we get into other elements with other cultures) can and should go a long way toward changing our cultural acceptances and minimizing, if not eliminating, such behavior in the future.

It's fascinating to see this all going down now; I've written two posts on the subject already, about Cosby and Spacey, and lo and behold here's a third. One of the reasons it's a fascinating topic is its inherent mystery—I really don't get it. I mean, I understand the theory and intellectual analysis of men abusing their power over people they see as lesser; it's an ego and psychology and/or pathology issue, OK. But I don't get it, intuitively. It defies easy understanding. In some cases, the public response also defies easy understanding.

Now, I'm a straight dude who hasn't ever been on the receiving end of this sort of thing, unlike basically every woman I know, so my perspective is limited. There are things I will not know from firsthand experience and things I can only grasp as intellectual concepts. So, with that established, I have a question about Al Franken's case.

I've seen a lot of reaction to Franken's situation on television and social media, heard plenty of people discuss it on podcasts and news shows. People I know and people I don't have declared with vehemence that Franken should resign his Senate seat. Others have said with equal vehemence that he absolutely should not. Some uncertainty exists as to the veracity of the accusations against him—his security escort from the USO tour maintains there was never a moment that Franken and his accuser were alone, for example—but enough of it is accurate enough for Franken to own up to, if not the exact behavior alleged, inappropriate and offensive actions that shouldn't have a place in civilized society. (And really, Franken himself has reacted quite well, showing an awareness and repentance that none of the other men accused of such during this time have shown.)

My question to those that demand his resignation, though, is this: Why?

That's not a snarky question, it's intended to be taken at face value. Why do you want him to resign? What purpose will it serve for you? What is the hoped for consequence of a resignation? I'm not advocating one position or the other here, I just want to know the reasoning.

Is it to teach him a lesson, show him that behavior like that is unacceptable and not to be repeated? Unnecessary, Franken is already there and, unlike the other high-profile culprits, has not evidenced a predatory pathology; in fact, plenty of women who have worked with him have made a point of declaring the opposite, that Franken has only been a respectful professional in this regard. He's pre-reformed.

Is it to enforce a kind of no-tolerance policy that demands ostracization of anyone to ever have such an accusation levied on them? If so, be prepared to prosecute scores of other officials and public figures, not to mention everyday men who once pledged a fraternity or made lewd jokes at a bachelor party. (I would not defend such jokes, fraternity practices, pledging fraternities, or even the traditional bachelor party, I'm just pointing out the ubiquity of these attitudes in our culture to date.)

Is it in support of the accuser? She doesn't want his resignation, she in fact seems kind of blasé about any fallout for him.

If none of these things, then what? What big-picture result of a repentant, diligent ally of women's rights and positive public policy leaving his position and abdicating his ability to help influence this and other important issues am I not seeing?

Maybe a zero-tolerance take is valid. I tend to think not, as there are degrees to this and, as Franken has shown, people can grow and learn on the issue and become champions for the cause, and men who have been guilty of one or two relatively minor offenses in years past should not be looked at in the same way as those with pathological issues (Anthony Weiner, Cosby, Spacey, C.K.) and/or who fail to acknowledge the humanity of their victims (Roy Moore, Donald Trump, Harvey Weinstein).

The cultural problem is finally being addressed, and hopefully it will continue to be until such time as we look back on it as distastefully as we do "separate-but-equal" and treating abrasions with mercury. The pathological problems will need an additional vector to combat; a cultural shame/fear factor will no doubt help greatly, but some people will always be predators. It seems important to make a distinction.

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A Year of Trump

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It could be worse.

A year since the election that gave us the most embarrassing and heinous man to ever hold the office of President of the United States, the orange idiot has basically failed to accomplish much of anything. Not entirely—the number of judicial appointments is concerning, of course, and a staggering number of executive orders intended to screw people and pollute the planet—but in terms of big policy, he's got bupkis to show for his efforts. (If we can call them efforts. Being ignorant of his actual job duties, he's actually done very little policymaking.) Still, everything he has done has been horrible, and the behavior of other elected Republicans is arguably more horrible as they allow him to continue to be president while pushing legislation that defies their mandate as public servants.

Last year at Thanksgiving I was asked how long I thought Trump would last in office. I said, if I recall correctly, somewhere between "until Christmas" and "early 2019," depending on how much the Republican congress would tolerate. Congress has already supported and/or turned a blind eye to more than I would have thought they would, but when the tax-reform bill fails that might tip the scales. Maybe. Who knows, with this crowd. Paul Ryan is apparently as corrupt as anyone this side of the Trump family themselves, at least in terms of betraying his duty to serve the public interest in favor of an overall agenda of enriching himself and his benefactors, so maybe nothing will tip the scales. The Mueller investigation could produce incontrovertible proof of treason and Ryan might shrug it off. The midterms may have to happen—without enough cheating to rig things—first, assuming we and our electoral system of government survive through 2018.

Meanwhile, he's still living at 1600 Penn. It could be worse, but it's plenty bad already. John Oliver lays it all out.


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Disco Fever


Now that we've hit the halfway mark in the first season, some more refined thoughts on Star Trek: Discovery.

Short version: I like it, it is proving to indeed be good Star Trek as well as good sci-fi, though the "spore drive" that much of this season relies on stretches the "sci" part of things pretty far.

Longer version follows...

See full post: "Disco Fever"...

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