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Moving to Philadelphia

August 5, 2017 Leave a comment

Despite almost two months of exploration, Philadelphia remains enigmatic. I didn’t really have a clear idea as to what I was expecting when I moved here from Lansing, Michigan in early June, but the city does have a storied reputation. Certain persons familiar with the culture warned me that my special brand of Midwestern charm wouldn’t play well in the land of cheesesteaks and cracked copper bells. This proved to be true in part, but I think that’s just a consequence of large cities with a lot of people (assholes) living closely together.

It’s a city that, in many respects, stands outside of time even as new buildings rise in the skyline. A visit to the Independence National Historic Park is a trip to the past. You’re greeted by actors in period garb who speak in a language fitting the time, and you’re treated to fairly awe-inspiring artifacts of American history. The charm of Revolutionary America is juxtaposed against a modern metropolis, but as you learn more about the city you see the facade slowly drop. If the “historic” buildings weren’t rebuilt based on the originals, they languished for many years in various states of disrepair. And, sadly, this aura permeates the city in one form or another.

I don’t mean to be too critical. I have really enjoyed living in Philadelphia so far, and compared to where I came from in Michigan there’s always something to do or to see. The fact is, however, that Philadelphia is also trapped by time. From the rows of houses that are over a hundred years old to the disrepair of the roads and sidewalks, the city needs a fresh coat of paint. Beyond modernizing some of the older parts of the city, I don’t know what that means. I think that the city would lose much of its character if it were to bulldoze older buildings to rebuild. However, it would be nice not to trip and hurt yourself because the bricks on the sidewalk jut out at odd angles.

The actual move here was a comedy of errors, built on a foundation of inexperience and some bad luck. My fiancee, Anastasia, who is finishing her PhD at the University of Pennsylvania, provided the main motivation to transplant myself. Prior to this move I had never lived in a city as big as Philadelphia, and had never moved beyond the borders of Michigan.

In the past I had thought about moving. Lansing felt stifling, and though it is the capital city of Michigan, it doesn’t have that much going for it. Back in the day, before Michigan lost much of its car manufacturing base, Lansing was home to many General Motors plants and factories. Several other factories that supported the automobile industry also flourished, and the rails that now sit rusty and unused transported materials through the city and the state. Maybe it’s just time playing tricks on me, but the promise of Lansing seems a relic of the past. It felt so much bigger and alive when I was a child growing up there. If anything symbolizes Lansing now, the corrupt state legislature that finds its home there wins the prize. The legislative body’s infamy brings us such fine examples of healthy democratic debate as the time that they censored a female State Representative for saying the word “vagina” during a women’s health discussion.

Obviously, I needed something more. I didn’t really get the kick in the pants I needed until April of 2016, when I was diagnosed with nonrheumatic mitral valve stenosis. Initially I shrugged my shoulders and threw it into my collection of heart conditions. In late 2016, after suffering from bouts of tachycardia, hypertension, and fairly severe chest pain I started taking the beta-blocker metoprolol. All of this is to say that a black hole spaghettified any doubt or reservations I had about leaving.

Last October I took a trip with Anastasia to New York City, where I proposed next to the USS Intrepid. We had thrown around the idea for a while. I asked her before we took the trip, and I told her about my plan to give her a suitable amount of time to ponder her answer before I presented the ring and asked. Tethering your life to another’s is a huge decision, obviously, and I wouldn’t want anyone to make it on the fly in a situation where they’re put in the spotlight.

My proposal did not go as planned for two reasons: 1) New York City was soggy (as can be seen in the picture on the left) and 2) I do not like to do things in front of other people (which is strange for someone who ran for public office and used to perform stand-up comedy). My plan to propose on the flight deck was scrapped on account of the proposal-hating precipitation. I altered the plan to propose in the Star Trek Academy Experience in honor of our nature as irredeemable geeks. Sadly other people had the impudence to explore the Academy.

So I proposed next to the Intrepid at twilight, under the faint orange glow of light emanating from posts on the pier. I removed a ring box from my pocked with the Starfleet Insignia on the top, and as I opened it I asked “Engage?” The ring I presented was in the shape of the Starship Enterprise. Yes, the weather and the annoying people sharing the museum with us rued the day they tried to foil my plans.

At this point I didn’t have any solid plans about moving to Philadelphia, despite the engagement and the newfound bond I shared with Anastasia. At first we kept the whole enterprise hidden in fear that people would disapprove (I also kept the engagement hidden from everyone but my mother and Anastasia for the same reason, which proved to be entirely unnecessary). As future husband and wife, we conspired together to make the move to the City of Brotherly Love happen sometime within the next year.

Now we’re skipping ahead to early June to avoid boring you with tedious issues. I had given my boss a month’s advance notice of my departure, said my good-byes, and packed most of my junk. I made the trip with my mother and her boyfriend, and despite what I thought was a sufficient plan the trip was plagued with problems from the start. A few days before, I had paid a mechanic to change my oil and serpentine belt and take a look at the engine. Pretty responsible, right?

Wrong. I apparently forgot to ask them to rotate the tires and look at the brakes. Oh, how this would come back to haunt me. Most of the trip was uneventful. Pennsylvania’s splendor suitably impressed me, sure, but it’s a long trip from Lansing, through Ohio, and across the entire state of Pennsylvania. Somewhere outside of Harrisburg I heard a mysterious whine issuing from the front left area of my car. Great, I thought. It’s either the brake or a bearing. I had a definitive answer when the whine turned into a grind just an hour away from Philadelphia. At this point I grew anxious and hoped, vainly, we could get the car to my house before the rotor took any damage.

We had entered Philadelphia, and were a mere half a mile away from my house, but luck was not on my side. Right by Independence Hall the car lurched to a stop as the wheel locked up. A sound not unlike the wail of a moose with laryngitis emanated from the car, attracting the attention of several pedestrians. The stop and go traffic of the city, and the ensuing use of the brakes, had led to the gouging of the rotor. We resolved to drive the car to the house, whether or not it wanted to, and it did not want to go. I had to drive it around the city for a few days while I googled mechanics to have it repaired, and apart from the shrieking protests of the brake grinding against the rotor, the car suffered no additional harm. Total damage: about $735 to have the rotors, brake pads, and calipers replaced.

We manged to get the car fixed before we had to get to a wedding near Boston. Our route took us through New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, and finally Massachusetts and we suffered no incident. Anastasia and I both enjoyed the wedding, a version of a traditional Hindu ceremony, in which we witnessed the joining of a very close friend of mine from the University of Michigan, Nidhi Shrivastava, with her long-time boyfriend. We stayed over night and gorged on delicious Indian food.

Our path back to Philadelphia copied the route there fairly closely, but in reverse. Somewhere in New York, Anastasia’s Google Maps app took it upon itself to decide that because the New Jersey Turnpike had a four minute delay, we would need to reroute to bypass it. Anastasia said at the time, “this route takes us closer to New York City than I’d like,” but we essentially shrugged our shoulders and continued to drive. I’m sure that my astute readers can tell where this is going. As we ventured further into New York traffic started to get thicker and slow down. A sign caught my attention: we had entered the Bronx.

Uh-oh.

I turned to Anastasia and I said, “We’re in the Bronx. Why are we in the Bronx?” She looked at the cursed Google Maps app. The damn thing had noted that small delay on the turnpike and decided, “Hey, you know what would be a gas? Let’s route these innocent Midwesterners through the Bronx and Manhattan. That won’t be terrifying at all.”

I dreaded the idea of driving through Manhattan. I fretted as I drove in bumper-to-bumper traffic, next to a guy in some late-90’s convertible who loved his expletives. But Anastasia threw me a lifeline: I only had to drive along 9A by Hudson Heights, get onto the George Washington Bridge, and cross over the Hudson River and into New Jersey. How hard could that be? I need only to go through a small northern chunk of Manhattan, not anywhere near the rage–inducing streets of the island proper.

Let me tell you something, dear reader. I have a head that has more white hair than my youth might suggest. That short drive through that sliver of Manhattan easily added more salt to my pepper. Two problems plagued me, the first of which involved the colossal number cars on the road in an unfamiliar place. I had only been to Manhattan once before, and I certainly hadn’t driven through its hellish avenues. The second problem revolved around my lack of aggressiveness, and I barely made it into the lane I needed for the lower level of the bridge.

I found my spine as I wound the loop to get on the bridge and imposed myself between two cars with what might be construed as a lack of politeness, but definitely comfortably below the threshold for malice aforethought. We crossed Martha with the skyline of Manhattan to our left and New Jersey in front of us, my impolitic maneuvering soon forgotten. Dear reader, I made a promise to myself and to my 2002 Pontiac Bonneville: never again.

I drove easier on the New Jerkey (oops, that totally wasn’t intentional, I swear) Turnpike, and along the way we spotted a Lamborghini. I’d like to say that I was an adult, possessed of a mature outlook on life. But that would be a lie. I pretended to race the Lamborghini, and cheered myself when I pulled into the lead. So now I can say that I raced a Lamborghini with a fifteen year-old Pontiac and won. It’s my personal fish story. “The Lamborghini was thiiiiiiis fast,” I’ll say, waving my hand from left to right as fast as possible. I come from a long line of people who love their fish stories.

Shortly after our hair-raising drive back home from Boston, Anastasia and I took a trip to Long Beach Island, which I wrote about here. The next great adventure, my first trip to Paris, will be documented in a future installment.

For now, I want to thank you for reading my blog. I welcome any feedback in the comments, or by email at arushedjoke@gmail.com.

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Of May Updates and Comic Con

May 29, 2014 1 comment

Hello, my dear readers (and new readers!).

Sadly, last month, I was not able to finish the A-to-Z Blogging Challenge. I kept going, and managed to get some posts up for the last few letters except for Z, but ultimately, life got in the way. I wanted to end the challenge with a bang, and write a post called “Zero-Point Energy Generators and Other Internet Malarkey,” but a person I am very fond of visited me and my priorities changed.

The challenge was very fun, though, and it was a challenge to keep thinking of new ideas to write. I’m not really the kind of person that can keep writing a daily blog like that without succumbing to some kind of fatigue or dissatisfaction at the quality of the writing. Indeed, the hardest part of the challenge was, for me, hitting the publish button on a post that I put together in haste to get one out for the day.

I will still, at some point, be writing that post about zero-point energy generators. I also have plans to add a new page for book reviews that I want to start writing. Most of them will be for books that I find for Kindle on amazon.com by independent authors. I have recently discovered that world and, honestly, I am rather impressed by it. Some of the writing is not very good, but the stories usually make up for that. But I’ll write more about that later.

My fiction blog, Fictional Heuristics, has languished since March. Part of the reason is because April was a busy month, and the A-to-Z Challenge took priority. A large part of the reason is because I have been trying to run a campaign for State Representative. I have written previously about a survey I got from Americans for Prosperity, and since then, I have done much more work and have taken other surveys. As the summer really gets started I will be busy campaigning and learning more about this process. I have to be honest that it’s been very eye-opening. There are more groups working to lobby elected officials than I had realized, and each of them wields a great deal of power. It’s frankly rather worrisome, and I’m concerned about the state of our democracy.

In the interest of keeping things separated and organized, I have started another blog for my campaign, in which I have reblogged the post about the AFP survey with a small update. It’s pretty simple, and it’s called “Josh Derke for State Representative.” It’s a work in progress (and I haven’t had much time to work on it yet) so it doesn’t have a lot of content.

I’ve also got a Facebook page for my campaign (which is also a work in progress) that can be found here.

Anyway, the most interesting bit of news was that I attended the Motor City Comic Con. And, honestly, it was great! I got to meet William Shatner, who was a kind, warm person. I don’t know why, but I didn’t expect that. His panel was really neat as well, and he had some pretty great stories. He did kind of butcher science when he talked about the fact that we don’t really know anything about the universe, but his central point was, I would think, dead on: that we don’t really know what’s out there and we’re driven to discover.

So let’s get out there! (Preferably on the Enterprise.)

Anastasia wore a blue crew uniform from the original Star Trek with braids that show a rank of Commander. She got her model Enterprise signed by William Shatner. Source: The Detroit News

Shatner talked about a bit of the wisdom he’s learned about why cons are so popular: these stories we celebrate, from Doctor Who to Star Trek to Lord of the Rings (and all of the other shows that are too numerous to name) are our modern myths. I think that’s a very important observation.

We get together to explore our common ethos, and share our common myths. We revel in the stories and the heroes. The Doctor is a modern Odysseus on his own odyssey, as is James T. Kirk. And there’s something in this that speaks to something that all of humanity has in common: our use of stories to tell us about ourselves. So, at comic con, we get together to share these stories which we love with other people who love them. We meet the actors who are the heroes. We get their signatures and we take pictures with them because we make them part of us–part of our own stories. And, in this way, we become a part of the modern epics we celebrate.

John Barrowman was also a hoot, and his guest panel was hilarious. But you don’t have to take my word for it:

The thing I like about John Barrowman is that he doesn’t just shoo you through a line. He takes the time. He talks to you. He shook my hand (and I might have swooned a bit). He’s the kind of person that actually, genuinely cares about his fans and I find that so refreshing.

John Barrowman got up to dance with Katie Cassidy

John Barrowman got up to dance with Katie Cassidy

One of the things I really like about going to comic con is that I just love to see all of the passion of the people who attend. It’s great to talk to people, laugh with them, recount our favorite moments in Star Trek and Doctor Who. There were many cool costumes (and I took some pictures, but not nearly enough because I’m bad at that kind of thing) and a lot of cool displays.

These are droids from Star Wars, obviously, because LOOK! R2-D2! Some of them were built by http://www.astromech.net/

These are droids from Star Wars, obviously, because LOOK! R2-D2!
Some of them were built by http://www.astromech.net/

I thought that this guy had a really cool costume and I actually had the presence of mind to take a picture.

I thought that this guy had a really cool costume and I actually had the presence of mind to take a picture.

This is the uniform worn by Katee Sackhoff in Battlestar Galactica.

This is the uniform worn by Katee Sackhoff in Battlestar Galactica.

It even made noises!

It even made noises!

Come on, this is just cool.

Come on, this is just cool.

Bounty hunter, or baby sitter? That's for you to decide.

Bounty hunter, or baby sitter? That’s for you to decide.

The Mandalorian Mercs are a very cool group, as this picture shows. Find them at http://mercs.firespray.net/forum/index.php

The Mandalorian Mercs are a very cool group, as this picture shows. Find them at http://mercs.firespray.net/forum/index.php

And, finally, what kind of Con would it be without the 501st Legion?

Aptly named "Vader's Fist" in Star Wars, this group is pretty serious, both in warfare an in costuming. Very cool. http://www.501st.com/

Aptly named “Vader’s Fist” in Star Wars, this group is pretty serious, both in warfare an in costuming. Very cool.
http://www.501st.com/

Anyway, that’s it for tonight. I hope that I will be updating this blog more regularly again, but it’s summer and I have a million things to do. Plus, you know, summer. It’s actually nice and not cold outside. I keep hoping that my allergies won’t be bad this year and I can actually enjoy the outdoors, but maybe that’s a fool’s hope.

Thanks for stopping by!

A-to-Z Challenge Day Nineteen: Starfleet Standard Issue Kilts

April 22, 2014 Leave a comment

It’s all pursuant to Starfleet Dress Code Regulations.

Starfleet from Star Trek is…well, it exists as sort of a conundrum in science fiction. It’s definitely a militaristic organization that expands humanity’s reach in the galaxy (perhaps even through colonialism). The Constitution Class Enterprise NCC-1701 is classified as a heavy cruiser, a name which hints at its nature as an armed vessel.

But Starfleet, as exemplified by the Enterprise, is also a flotilla of peace and mercy. They provide assistance and aid to people in need, often without consideration of their political loyalties. The crew of the ship is allowed to follow their passions and their beliefs, and they have remarkable freedom of self-expression (so long as it doesn’t conflict with their duties and the chain-of-command).

So how are we supposed to think about Starfleet? Well, it depends on the context. The Federation is, first and foremost, a true eutopia. The problems that we often see with The Federation (apart from some very rare events) come from without: the Klingons, the Romulans, the Dominion, and all of these other threats constantly clash against the Federation’s idealism. And, really, the Federation should be seen, in total, as a civilization that thrives in a post-scarcity economy. There isn’t any need for money, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t material wealth. It means that all of the basic necessities of life, like shelter, food, medicine, education, and so on are provided as a basic right to everyone.

Starfleet is an extension of the Federation, obviously, to keep the peace and to transfer wealth, food, and medicine through space. Naturally, with all of these external threats, they need to protect themselves and their borders. The entire galaxy is not the Federation, and as we can see, the Federation expands its territories and influence by inducting new worlds into the fold. In some ways it mirrors colonialism, which is probably intentional. Is there a good kind of colonialism? I think that’s a question that Star Trek seeks to explore in a post-scarcity, democratic society.

It’s why we see Starfleet exemplifying the Federation’s most virtuous aspects as well as some of its less virtuous aspects. Multiculturalism, tolerance, respect, and equality are just basic ideas that the crew aboard the Enterprise practices every episode. However, because of the antagonism with the Klingons, we see some attitudes which border on racism from other areas within the Federation and Starfleet.

Remember in the episode “The Trouble with Tribbles” when the station manager contacts Captain Kirk on the Enterprise? He says something like, “The station is being swarmed by Klingons!”

Kirk quipped, “I wasn’t aware that twelve Klingons constitutes a swarm.”

While it is true that the Klingons are aggressive and have a reputation for violence, the attitude of the station manager betrays a kind of bigotry. Kirk, on the other hand, exemplifies the better attitudes of the Federation, even as he continues to let the Klingons on the station for shore leave when there is a fight between the Starfleet officers and the Klingons.

Kirk isn’t always in the right, however. In the episode “Arena,” Kirk wants to use the Enterprise to annihilate the Gorn, responsible for the destruction of a Federation colony on a  planet that could have encroached upon Gorn territory. This, I think, represents the other side of the Federation’s power: destruction. But more than that, it demonstrates the humanness of Kirk. While humanity and human society may have evolved past our current limitations, we still have some intrinsic emotional qualities that compel bad action.

Anyway, I’d like to expand on this later, when I’m not writing for a blogging challenge and can develop this idea a bit more thoroughly. I’m pretty sure I can make it more cogent.

Pretty sure.

A Brief Blogging Interlude

April 13, 2014 4 comments

Yesterday was not the greatest day I’ve ever experienced, and I kind of shorted all of you, my keen and lovely readers, out of a decent post. I thought I’d make up for that tonight by posting a series of eight questions from SF Signal about science fiction books.

So, without further or do, here we go:

  1. The first science fiction book I ever read was: Jurassic Park
  2. The last science fiction book I read that I’d put in my “Top 20″ list is: Earth by David Brin
  3. The last science fiction book I couldn’t finish was: Dune
  4. A science fiction author whose work I cannot get enough of is: Isaac Asimov
  5. A science fiction author I’m ashamed to admit I haven’t read yet is: L. Sprague de Camp
  6. A science fiction book I would recommend to someone who hasn’t read sf is: Foundation
  7. A science fiction book that’s terribly underrated is: Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut
  8. A science fiction book that’s terribly overrated is: Ender’s Game

I’ve also been thinking about what book I’d like to write about next as part of my series of posts that will be inspired by the A-to-Z post on the letter B. I think that I’m going to focus on I, Robot by Isaac Asimov.

A-to-Z Challenge Day Ten: Jedi Knights, Jesters, and James T. Kirk

April 11, 2014 7 comments

Man, the letter J. It’s English’s newest kid on the block and is the fourth-least-used letter. But it’s also the first letter of my name, the first letter in an order of religious sci-fi monks with super-human powers, and the first letter of the name of the captain of the Enterprise. The real difficulty with this letter was choosing what to write about from such a large constellation of topics.

So I chose to do a bit of a potpourri of different things that might fit under a word with a “J” in it. I’ve been on a bit of a slightly narcissistic streak with these posts lately and I don’t think that will be stopping tonight.

A few years ago, back when I still had the time, I liked to go to the Motor City Comic Con. It was always a good time, and there were always great geeky things to do and see. For instance, one year, when I was dressed as a bargain-bin Jedi Knight (I had to make the costume out of a tan dress shirt, tan dockers, a towel folded in a very clever way, and borrow a dark green cloak from a friend–it was serviceable) I had a run-in with Darth Vader and the 501st Legion. I think perhaps my favorite memory was meeting Max Brooks of World War Z fame and getting him to sign my book.

"Josh-Ben will keep you alive!" That's some high-quality signing.

“Josh-Ben will keep you alive!”
That’s some high-quality signing.

I bought my friend, Ben, a new copy of The Zombie Survival Guide because I had previously borrowed, and slightly destroyed, his copy. Ben got “Ben-Josh is a good friend” for his signature. I think I came out on top of that little exchange.

(As an aside, I’m really looking forward to this year’s comic con because other famous J-names will be there, including John Barrowman, Jason Momoa, William Shatner (he played Jim Kirk!), and Karl Urban (John Kennex, duh!), so that’s something to look forward to!)

Speaking of Ben, he was always my muse when we were in high school. He and I came up with some really hilarious ideas, none of which I’m willing to share right now because he never answers his phone and I can’t get him on the line to okay it.

Ben and I–we were jokers and jesters. I even wrote a poem about him once in which I compared him to the Jabberwock from Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky. For our senior prom, Ben and I dressed up a bit strange just because we could.

Cool Cats

As a friend said of Ben, “Look, it’s Mr. Mother-effing Darcy!”

And, you know, I wrote an essay once in which I argued for the space program. In the conclusion, I referenced Captain James t. Kirk and how much Star Trek has influenced our culture. And really, that’s something that we need to think about with the shuttering of a lot of our space program today.

I think that two of humanity’s best assets is our curiosity and our desire to understand the universe in which we reside. Sure, it might be expensive and it might not give us an immediate return on our investment, but we have a space station!

A BLOODY SPACE STATION! How amazing is that?

You’re part of a species who build a station in space for scientific study and exploration. If that doesn’t make you proud to be a human being, I don’t know what will. And I feel like we need another James T. Kirk and another Starship Enterprise. We need something to inspire our youth to look at the sky with wonder and longing. There’s so much out there–so much to be explored.

We can’t sit on our tiny little planet forever, in this tiny little corner of space. As amazing as Earth is, and it is amazing, humanity thrives when it’s exploring new frontiers and pushing our limits. In Star Trek, a lot of what happened was breaking free of different kinds of cages: cultural, personal, and physical. Perhaps real life won’t be so idyllic, but we can’t let that hold us back.

NASA certainly made many mistakes, but I don’t think we can rely on private enterprise to pick up all the slack. I mean, do you think Richard Branson would really have the chops to send the Curiosity Rover to Mars? Nah, I don’t think so, either.

Even plutonium-powered robots like selfies. Source: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/msl/multimedia/pia16764.html

A-to-Z Challenge Day Eight: Hello World!

April 9, 2014 4 comments

Computer programming is just so…what? Geeky? Nerdy? Maybe. Yeah, actually, it’s actually really geeky.

When I was in high school I seriously thought about going into it for a living. Basic, C++, C#, all kinds of other languages were at my fingertips. I won my high school’s computer departmental award for some of the projects I did in the self-taught “advanced computer programming” class I took (at first with another student, then in the second semester alone).

I was awarded this thingy that looks really cool, but like it's from the 1970s. See the punch cards and magnetic tape? Yeah, retro.

I was awarded this thingy that looks really cool, but like it’s from the 1970s. See the punch cards and magnetic tape? Yeah, retro.

So why didn’t I get into it? I think that has to do with the fact that I enjoyed computer programming, but I didn’t want to do it for a living. I loved solving challenging logic puzzles using a coding language, but if I had to do that every day through school and for a job I’d go crazy. I think it’s because I found programming fun, and sometimes you can’t make a career out of things you find to be fun.

I’m certain that with computer programming, turning the things I love about it into a day-in-day-out career would have disenchanted me. I’d probably grow to really dislike it, actually.

So, bullet dodged. The things I love about computer programming I still love. The question is: what do I do with programming now? I make little projects that are just for fun. Sometimes they challenge me, and sometimes I just want to make something geeky.

That’s how I came to design “Warp Factor Awesome!” I was doing research, like any good geek, about the warp drive of the Star Trek starships. Michael Okuda (@MikeOkuda) developed a formula to determine the velocity of a starship traveling at warp speeds in Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Taking that formula and some of my geeky exuberance for creating fairly useless, but awesome, things I made a program that would determine the travel times and warp speeds of a ship traveling at warp to different destinations.

The first thing to note is that this is fairly interactive. It has flashing lights on the LCARS and when you press a button it makes noises. There are two different warp scales that you can use, one from TOS with a slower scale and the Okuda TNG scale, which has faster speeds (and past warp nine it increases to warp ten asymptotically). You can enter a distance in light years to travel, or you can use the drop down box to select a destination, which automatically inputs the distance in light years.

The TNG Warp Scale is selected, with a destination from Earth to Vulcan.

The TNG Warp Scale is selected, with a destination from Earth to Vulcan.

After you press the “Engage!” button (heh…) you get a new screen with a .gif of either the TOS Enterprise or the Enterprise-E depending on which warp scale you use. You can see the distance in three different scales.

Interface 3

The scales are Kilometers Per Second, Miles Per Hour, and Astronomical Units Per Day. Source: http://lcars.org.uk/lcars.htm

I’ve also included some Easter Eggs, like accidentally causing a warp core breech if you press too many of the wrong buttons (there’s a .gif of Geordi diving under the falling shield in the engineering section).

This was a really fun program to make and I learned some interesting coding tricks to get it to work right.

I’m actually working on Warp Factor Awesome 3.0 that has more fun things, like LCARS sounds and sound clips of Majel Barret voicing the Enterprise computer (and if you press the “Quit” button you hear Picard say, “This is no longer amusing.”). I’m also trying to program a game where Data goes a bit crazy and tries to shoot you with a phaser, so you have to shut down his neural net (why would you want to shoot Data?) and another where you are the weapons officer and have to deal with shields, torpedoes, and phasers to take down enemies.

So computer programming is still fun for me, even if it’s just a hobby and I’m essentially a novice. WFA was done in Basic, though I’m working on a C++ version as well just because I can.

Disclaimer: CBS Studios owns the copyright for LCARS.

A-to-Z Challenge Day Four: Data and The Doctor

April 4, 2014 Leave a comment

As I look out the window of this suburban run-of-the-mill house in Michigan, I take note of the sullen, overcast sky. Rain is drizzling and the wind is whipping the droplets against the glass. I can hear a police siren over Cheap Trick’s “Surrender” coming from some cheap Dell speakers.

I like to lose myself in my favorite science fiction television shows on days like today. So my friends, sit back, pop open a soda, and get ready to sing the “Life Forms” song. I’m going to go through a few of my favorite characters from a few of the best science fiction shows.

Sci-Fi character one: Data

Data has feeeeeeels. Source: http://en.memory-alpha.org/wiki/Data

Lieutenant Commander Data is a positronic android modeled after those of Isaac Asimov. Throughout most of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Data’s mission is to become as close to human as possible. This is actually the brilliance of Data as a character. He’s essentially a way for us to explore our own humanity through extrapolation of his observations, his challenges, and his successes.

Characters like data are why I think that science fiction is probably the greatest kind of fiction we’ve ever created. By being somewhat alien, and almost wholly detached from the human condition (emotions like fear, needs like sex and hunger) we get to see sides of ourselves through his eyes and learn something about who we are and what drives us.

As the series progressed, and Data started having dreams, we get a view of our own subconscious. And I have to admit, the idea that an android should have a subconscious didn’t really hit me until the episode with the aliens feeding on the crew and the dream with Freud. It’s brilliant, when you think about it. Could Data be sentient and a real intelligent life-form without one? There’s a lot of speculation about artificial intelligence and synthetic life-forms needing a subconscious before they can be true AIs, and based on human intelligence that makes a lot of sense.

I really see Data as the progenitor for any of the AIs in modern television science fiction because he established a lot of the foundations for androids. And, as an aside, let’s never talk about the androids from Almost Human. I am not a fan of that show, and I think that they have a lot of contradictions to work out (does Dorian have free will or not?) and they have other serious issues to address, like the slavery issue.

Sci-Fi character two: The Doctor

What can I say about The Doctor that hasn’t already been said by the army of his fans? I didn’t start watching Doctor Who until about a few years ago, when I first heard of it. You may be asking, “were you hiding under a rock?” Well, no. I just didn’t have BBC America until then, and even though some of my friends had mentioned it, I didn’t really have any friends who were rabid about the show.

Well, I really like Doctor Who now. What’s funny is that a lot of the things I said previously about Data could also apply to The Doctor. He’s alien, and as is sometimes shown in episodes like The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe” where he marvels at happy crying (before he experiences it), he is detached from the human condition.

What does The Doctor give us that Data can’t?  Like Data, The Doctor is is one-of-a-kind with an evil counterpart (Lore and The Master). The Doctor also experiences humanity vicariously through his companions, as Data does through his crew mates and friends. As the happy crying bit demonstrates, he uses the emotions of his friends as cues for how to behave, or what it means to be human.

Though I wouldn’t call Doctor Who science fiction (but instead fantasy with science fiction elements), I think that I can include it in this list because of how closely The Doctor fits in to the science fiction world of characters. If the TV show is fantasy, the character of The Doctor is science fiction, and I think that it is important to recognize that.

The Doctor is a weird kind of hero. Strictly speaking, within official canon, we don’t really know much about his past or who he really is. There’s all kinds of speculation about his motivations. We know he’s responsible for the destruction of his entire race, and at one point or another the genocide of other races (like the Daleks). In a way, The Doctor is an atypical hero in that he recognizes the moral grey area of killing. For a very long time he wouldn’t pick up a gun and he did his best to avoid the use of violence.

But he does kill. And sometimes he has snappy one-liners about it, like “Another Ood I failed to save.” In a way, he’s a hero because he does what he has to do and he has to make the hard decisions that most people wouldn’t be able to make. In the season one finale, the ninth incarnation of The Doctor is faced with a choice: destroy all of the Daleks who survived the Time War and with them all of the humans living on Earth or allow them to destroy the station and not be responsible for the genocide of two races.

In a way, the Daleks are right: The Doctor is a bit of a coward. That makes him more realistic. We applaud his decision to not exterminate the human race with the Daleks, but the consequences of that action would have been the inevitable destruction of humanity as well as many other races as the Daleks marched across the galaxy.

The Doctor was, of course, saved by a deus ex machina at the end so he didn’t have to deal with the full consequences of his decision, but let’s not forget what the consequences would have been. He already sacrificed his race to destroy the Daleks (who had somehow survived) and he wasn’t willing to have all of that death on his hands again.

So let’s get back to Data. Data has also been responsible for deaths, like in the episode “Cause and Effect.” In this episode, his suggestion to avoid an incoming ship lead to the destruction of the Enterprise and the loss of all lives on board. Thanks to a time paradox, he was able to make the right decision by the end of the episode and avoid the loss of life.

This brings us back to a major difference between Data and Asimov’s robots: the laws of robotics. Data doesn’t abide by them. He can take lives, he can act on bad information that results in the loss of lives. He doesn’t have to obey all of the orders from a human (though he does have to follow proper orders per the chain of command on the Enterprise).

Three Laws? Pshaw. More like three guffaws…. Data makes bad jokes. Source: http://en.memory-alpha.org/wiki/Deja_Q_%28episode%29

This lack of three laws is vital. In I, Robot Asimov outlines a few scenarios which cause the robots some problems because of conflicts with the three laws that, in the world of Star Trek: The Next Generation, would render Data a pile of catatonic bloatware. Data needs the freedom to make life-and-death decisions to protect himself (he is unique) and his crew. This is all the more important because he is the second officer of the Enterprise and could be called upon to take command at any moment.

But more than that, it gives Data free will, such as it is. Data can make his own decisions, based on programming that he appears to have the freedom to modify. Putting aside the debate about whether Data is life-form or property (he’s not property, capisce?), this makes him responsible for all of the decisions he makes.

The key difference between Data and The Doctor is that Data, for most of the series, does not have emotions (and when he does get them he experiences his own run-in with cowardice). The Doctor is probably just as logical and analytical as Data is (under the silly exterior), but his emotions make a huge difference. Data relies more on logic trees and feedback loops (many of which he ascribes priorities too) to determine his sense of right and wrong, whereas The Doctor has a more human, emotional sense of morality.

It makes one wonder what kind of decision Data would have made if faced with the same situation of the ninth incarnation of The Doctor. Would he have stopped the Daleks at the expense of humanity, those he has tried to emulate his entire life? Or would he had declared himself coward, like The  Doctor?

I’d like to think that Data would have made the same decision as The Doctor did, but the reasons would have been different. I imagine it would have been more of a trolley problem for Data, and not emotional like The Doctor. Would you doom the human race on the off chance all of the Daleks would be destroyed? I think Data’s own sense of morality would not allow him to destroy the human race, even if it could save other races.

So what’s the point of all of this? Well, I just really wanted to wrote about Data and The Doctor. Maybe I’ll write a longer piece comparing them and make it a bit more coherent in the future.