Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Is the Star Trek Franchise Pro Dalai Lama and Pro Free Tibet?

As it was with Gene Roddenberry as it is now with J.J. Abrams, has the Star Trek franchise always been pro Dalai Lama and pro Free Tibet?

By: Ringo Bones

Whether he really intentionally showed it or not, the truth can be self-evident for some Trekkers and Trekkies whether – during his lifetime – Gene Roddemberry was ever sympathetic with the causes of His Holiness, The Fourteenth Dalai Lama of Tibet. From Roddenberry’s frequent use of the Sino-Indian War of 1962 as a creative science fiction literary tool to various Star Trek episodes mimicking the Dalai Lama’s exile into Dharamsala, India after Tibet was unlawfully annexed by the Beijing Government back in 1959. But is this proof enough that Gene Roddenberry is pro Dalai Lama and pro free Tibet?

Tales about strategically insignificant political and spiritual figures being pursued by an imperialist power with utter disregard of that imperialist power’s own eventually limited military resource. Like not following aspects of Sun Tsu’s Art of War when it comes to leaving alone strategically insignificant targets to fulfill the desired main objective. Like that Star Trek: Enterprise episode titled Fallen Hero. Where the Vulcan Ambassador named V’Lar - a strategically insignificant target - was pursued by corrupt alien agents with no regards to their limited resource.

J.J. Abrams even exploited this apparently “inexplicable” link of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Freedom cause to the Star Trek franchise. Like his decision to use one of the songs of the Beastie Boys – an unabashed Tibetan Freedom and Milarepa Fund supporters – titled Sabotage as part of the soundtrack of the latest Star Trek movie. Future moves to make the Star Trek franchise even pro Dalai Lama and pro Tibetan Freedom Movement would probably involve guest appearance of traditional Tibetan musicians and dancers. Like Yungchen Lhamo, Nawang Khechog and Chaksampa to make guest appearances in coming Star Trek episodes, movies and even on official Star Trek conventions.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Historicism in Star Trek: A Creative Way to Break Out of the Series Canon?

J.J. Abrams may have done it to the dismay of long-time Star Trek fans, but is historicism a creatively valid way to break out of the Star Trek series canon?

By: Ringo Bones

Any work of Star Trek not adhering to the established series canon is often seen as an anathema by long-time Trekkies and Trekkers and is more often than not dismissed as nothing more than an aberration usually relegate to the dustbin of failed Star Trek concepts. J.J. Abrams’ rework of the established series canon in the recent Star Trek motion picture may have received howls of derision from veteran Trekkers but its state-of-the-art visual effects allowed it soldier on instead of being relegated to those Star Trek works deemed “too unconventional” for mainstream consumption by self-respecting Trekkies and Trekkers. But can there be a “creative” way to break out of the established Star Trek series canon while still embracing the “soul” that made long-time Trekkies and Trekkers fell in love with Star Trek in the first place?

Historicism is a not so oft used concept that may be already be used in the past – although not very often – Star Trek TV episodes. Historicism is a term derived from the German Historismus, which was first used in 1879 to characterize the mindset of Giovanni Battista Vico. It denotes an attitude which interprets all human concepts, values, and institutions as entirely the products of some individual and unrepeatable historical development, and hence limited and relative, without claim to universal meaning.

Historicism arose during the 19th Century in conscious opposition to the attitude of the Enlightenment, which had emphasized the constant and universal features of human life, and, as David Hume said, wrote history only to exhibit them. Historicism received its primary impetus from the Romantic Movement and was fostered in subsequent years by the great development and increasing specialization of historical studies throughout the civilized world.

Historicism’s impact upon philosophical thought had taken three main forms: a) it impugned the classical philosophy of history, which envisaged human life as a unitary development in time, realizing universal values of exemplifying universal laws; b) it urged that the logic of historical inquiry must differ from that of natural science, for the general laws by which natural science explains repetitive – or repeatable – physical events; c) its assertion of the relativity values seemed to threaten the capacity of mankind for strong conviction and decisive action.

The problem with historical relativism exercised many thinkers, in particular Ernst Troeltsch (1865-1923). On the other hand, Benedetto Croce (1866-1952), a well-known historicist, denied the reality of the problem of historical relativism. In Croce’s view, historicism – far from being a threat to values – protects them from being from abstraction and convention, and assures their continuous efficacy within the living current of history. From the view of pragmatic science fiction creative writing, does historicism have any useful applications?

An aspect of historicism that’s been used in Star Trek storytelling is that particular Next generation episode when the android Lt. Commander Data refused to allow top scientists form the United Federation of Planets to reverse-engineer his positronic brain citing that they may not be able to put him back together again, citing that his sentience and overall cognition is entirely the product of his own individual and unrepeatable historical development. Does this too apply the debate between Nature versus Nurture when it comes to human development?

Another concept found in the Star Trek universe that hopefully has not yet invaded ours is the reality of time travel. Time travel – as seasoned science fiction already know – tend to deny the reality of an unrepeatable historical development. As evident in Star Trek: First Contact where Captain Picard travels back in time to undue what the Borg did when they changed the timeline. The time travel incident behind Star Trek: First Contact somewhat made the established series canon of Star Trek somewhat gain a modicum of flexibility. Like how the last Enterprise series was structured. It looks like historicism might be the useful tool needed to sort out a tangled timeline if time travel ever becomes routine.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Trekkies v. Trekkers

Former Star Trek TNG star Denise Crosby may have initiated this Kultur Kampf back in a 1996 Star Trek documentary, but which of the two pass muster as the official term for a Star Trek fan?

By: Ringo Bones

The two terminology’s Kultur Kampf probably gained worldwide attention in the 1996 documentary about the universe of Star Trek fans titled Trekkies. Unfortunately, the issue never became fully resolved. Even in the documentaries’ sequel seemed to have devolved into name-calling – i.e. overtly-zealous and overtly-obsessive Star Trek fans should be called Trekkies while serious-but-levelheaded Star Trek fans/enthusiasts should be called Trekkers. But who’s right?

Trekkers may have an unfair advantage over this because most Windows OS equipped computers’ spellchecker accepts the term as legit while Trekkies – especially in older versions of Windows OS – show up as a misspell. The term Trekkies does have the precedent because even as a “mere casual” Star Trek fan, I already heard the term being used in the first few Star Trek conventions during the late 1970s and in the early 1980s. William Shatner (Captain Kirk) and Leonard Nimoy (Mr. Spock) seem to have chosen the term Trekkies out of habit when addressing to their fanbase at every Star Trek convention even though they are increasingly being corrected to use the term Trekkers instead around the mid 1990s.

From my perspective, it does not seem that much relevant to me whether the proper term is Trekkies or Trekkers in describing Star Trek fans. To me there are just two kinds of Star Trek fans – the good ones and the bad ones. Even though I may seem like just one of those “minimalist” Star Trek fans – i.e. purchasing a Star Trek T-shirt or two and buying discounted memorabilia or two. I do draw a line on some obsessive Star trek fans.

Putting on Klingon make-up and reciting Shakespearean sonnets in Klingon is okay with me, but harassing convention-goers on the parking lot by donning full Klingon garb and yelling Klingon expletives and imprecations and passersby is just over the top for me. While some are maybe a tad too unforgiving by declaring that Trekkers means “well-behaved” and mature Star Trek fans while Trekkies should be used to refer to those immature over the top Star Trek fans. A bit harsh, but a lot of Star Trek fans I know seem to agree with this view.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Alcubierre Equation: Blueprint for a Working Warp Drive?

Named after a theoretical physicist who got inspired after watching an episode of Star Trek, is the Alcubierre equation a blueprint for a possible faster-than-light interstellar travel?

By: Ringo Bones

A growing number of people in the 21st Century had been starting to believe that it could have been possible for Leonardo da Vinci to be able to invent a working airplane. Unfortunately, given that any piece of advanced technology seems to be very dependent on advanced mathematics – like calculus. Chances of Leonardo da Vinci inventing the airplane without the aid of a form of advanced engineering mathematics that has yet to be invented more than a hundred years in the future would have been very, very close to nonexistent. Even those aviation pioneers that came a few years before the Wright brothers had to wait for the Swiss mathematician named Daniel Bernoulli to publish his paper titled Hydrodynamica in 1738. Given the analogy, would the Alcubierre equation be the Hydrodynamica equivalent in the Star Trek universe where Zefram Cochrane became the warp drive’s version of the Wright brothers achieved in inventing a working Warp Drive before the end of the 21st Century?

Named after a Mexican theoretical physicist named Professor Miguel Alcubierre who in his college days got inspired while watching an episode of Star Trek about how to travel faster than light without breaking the laws of physics. Alcubierre was born in 1964 in Mexico and at the end of 1990, moved to Wales where in the University of Wales received his Ph.D. in Numerical Relativity in 1994. Now permanently tenured at the National University of Mexico, Prof. Alcubierre was best known for his May 1994 paper titled “The Warp Drive: Hyper-Fast Travel within General Relativity”. In which appeared in the science journal Classical and Quantum Gravity after Alcubierre was urged by his college professor due to the sheer brilliance of his insight into this subject.

Using a method first used by Albert Einstein called “thought experiments” to make fairly esoteric mathematical equations understandable to the average person. The Alcubierre equation is now more famously known as the Alcubierre drive due to the fact that it describes how the warp drive in Star trek could actually work given on what we know so far in the field of theoretical physics. In this, Prof. Alcubierre describes the theoretical means of traveling faster than light of his namesake that does not violate the accepted law of Einsteinian physics stating nothing can locally travel faster than light. But how does your typical Alcubierre drive works?

Given our current cosmological knowledge, spacetime has been proven to have the ability to be expanded and contracted faster than the speed of light in a vacuum – i.e. 186,000 miles per second. Because such “superluminal” (faster-than-light) expansion has been postulated to occur during the early “inflation” phase of the Big Bang. This is why the estimated size of our universe is much more than 13 billion light years – being that 13 billion years, give or take a few million – is the age of our universe. Now properly called the Alcubierre Spacetime Inflation Warp Drive, the general relativity equations can be used – from a mathematical perspective - to describe the workings of a faster-than-light warp drive reminiscent of the warp drive being used on the Starship Enterprise.

The key to generate a distortion of the fabric of spacetime is so called “exotic matter”. Exotic matter has the thought-provoking property of having negative energy in which a normal particle and an exotic particle would repel each other, while ordinary or normal particles would attract each other by their gravity. Exotic matter is also closely related to the phenomena called negative energy.

Strong exotic fields with negative energy density are used to “inflate” or expand the space in the back of a starship, increasing the effective distance between the starship and its departure point. While simultaneously also being used to “deflate” or shrink the space in front of the starship, thus decreasing the effective distance to its arrival point.

By properly shaping the exotic fields, the strong tidal effects from the superdense exotic field can be made small near the starship. Although creating and shaping the necessary exotic fields are “engineering details” for some yet to be invented advanced technology to solve. Like the engineering principles behind future Higgs Field manipulation technology.

From the perspective of Einstein’s general relativity, objects being separated by such an inflation process – like the early inflation phase of the Big Bang – are not going faster than light in their local regions. The enormous effective speed of separation comes from the expansion of spacetime itself. Given that a Star Trek-style warp drive was deemed theoretically possible by Prof. Miguel Alcubierre before the end of the 20th Century, he did have a little help on works previously done by other scientists that point to the existence of a strange phenomena called negative energy. Which in the 1990s spurred a mad rush of countless of hapless souls to develop economically viable schemes to harness an also little understood phenomena called zero-point energy.

It all started back in 1948, when Dutch physicists Hendrik B. G. Casimir and Dirk Polder proposed the existence of a mystery force – now known as the Casimir force – when the two of them formulated an experiment to detect in while working at Philips Research Labs. The Casimir force is related to zero-point energy, negative energy, and exotic matter – all of which, at the time, are a hypothetical concept of theoretical physics about subatomic particles darting in and out of existence. Even Stephen Hawking had later proved it mathematically that the phenomena of negative energy is a necessary condition for the creation of a close time-like curve near naturally strong or manipulated gravitational fields.

The actual detection of the phenomena of negative energy was confirmed during routine atomic force microscopy experiments in the late 1980s. The atomic force microscope or AFM was developed from the Scanning Tunneling Microscope, which was developed by Gerd Binning and Heinrich Rohrer in the early 1980s. Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM) / Scanning Force Microscopy (SFM) is a very high-resolution type of scanning probe microscopy with a demonstrated resolution of fractions of a nanometer. More than 1,000 times better than the optical diffraction limit / Rayleigh Criterion limit of optical telescope. Calvin Quante and Christoph Gerber invented the first AFM device in 1986.

The Atomic Force Microscope gathers data or information by “feeling” the surface with a mechanical probe composed of piezoelectric elements that facilitate tiny but accurate and precise movements via electronic commands to enable very precise scanning. The mechanical probe’s deflection is very dependent on the Casimir force – i.e. a pseudo negative pressure density produced by the Casimir effect. Thus proving the existence of the phenomena of negative energy. Even Prof. Federico Capasso of the Harvard University School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, who together with Mariangela Lisanti and Davide Iannuzzi. Had recently published a white paper titled “Observation of the Skin-Depth Effect on the Casimir Force Between Metallic Surfaces” only serve as further proof that the phenomena of negative energy / zero-point energy is real.

Sadly, to propel a starship the size of the Enterprise to nearby star systems we need negative energy in quantities the size of the planet Jupiter. Given that we can only produce minuscule amounts of negative energy as a by-product of atomic force microscopy, such form of superluminar interstellar travel won’t be happening anytime soon.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Star Trek-Themed Search Engine Optimization

For Star Trek enthusiasts desperately seeking on-line exposure and access to interesting Star Trek themed sites, are Star Trek themed search engine optimization techniques the answer?

By: Ringo Bones

Believe it or not, it is still not easy in the digital age for a skilled budding science fiction writer – even those specializing in Star Trek-themed stories – to get the on-line exposure and connections they desperately need in order to gain some form of financial success. Not to mention those who want to set-up a Star Trek-themed on-line memorabilia trading website. But can a Star Trek-themed search engine optimization scheme serve as a solution?

To the uninitiated, search engine optimization - or SEO – is the process of increasing the quantity and improving the quality of traffic to a particular website from search engine search results via natural or unpaid – also known as organic or algorithmic – search results. It is often mistaken for search engine marketing – or SEM – which is a scheme that deals with website inclusions that are often paid by their owner or operator. In actual practice, the earlier or the higher the search rank of a particular website in the search engine result listings, the higher the probability that it will have more visitors it will receive if that particular search engine is used. Search engine optimization may target different kinds of search strategies and methods, including image search (Bing), local search, video search (You Tube) and industry-specific vertical search engines to give a particular website “web-presence”.

The term “search engine friendly” is commonly used to describe website designs, menus, content, management systems, images, videos, shopping carts, and other elements that had been optimized for the purpose of increased probability of search engine exposure. Black hat SEO or spamdexing is a class of SEO techniques that often use methods of questionable legality, such as link farms, keyword stuffing and article spinning. Often found in Friedrich Nietzsche search results when using leading search engines, these SEO “tricks” more often than not tend to degrade both the relevance of the search result and user’s experience (confidence?) of that particular search engine.

Ideally, search engines should be inherently “net-neutral” whenever it is assigned to search a particular subject – i.e. in neither favors or disfavors a particular website and should rank the results according to true algorithmic or organic search ranking criterion. But in the real world, search engines owned by certain search engine providers only practice net neutrality only up to a point. More often than not, search engine providers prioritize search results to websites that have a beneficially lucrative corporate relationship with them. Proving the adage that neutrality – like altruism – is seldom free. And yet some search engine providers do manage to prop-up a semblance of net neutrality by sometimes favoring Bohemian-like specialty websites from time to time.

So what does this leave to your typical Star Trek themed websites that have something more special to say in comparison to the run-of-the-mill sort? Well, if you choose to go via the online world’s equivalent of a word-of-mouth website endorsement – i.e. by checking your online buddy’s roster of Star Trek themed blogs and websites that they are following – then there is little much else to chose from that’s free of charge. Looks like were stuck with the old way of doing things if we want to know which particular literary works by Doris Lessing or Philip K. Dick is ever adapted for a Star Trek episode, we’ll have to ask our not so friendly local eccentric and egocentric grand Trekkie / Trekker. Or even the bluebook pricing of mint-condition late 1960s era Star Trek memorabilia.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Star Trek-Themed Bands: Where No Musician Had Gone Before?

Most of them are still languishing in relative anonymity, but do Star Trek themed bands have not only musical merit but do they even dare to creatively go where no musician had cone before?

By: Ringo Bones

Maybe it was those records that date back from the 1960s documenting the singing of William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy when memories of the original Star Trek series were still fresh that most of us immediately question the musical merits of the singing careers of former Star trek casts. After seeing and hearing Leonard Nimoy singing the Ballad of Bilbo Baggins you would be asking yourself too if records (they have only vinyl LPs back then) made by former Star Trek casts – and William Shatner is probably the most prolific of the bunch - constitute genuine musical merit?

Even recent cast members of the Star Trek universe, like Keith Carradine’s guest appearance in Star Trek: Enterprise had some Trekkies / Trekkers checking out Carradine’s I’m Easy album released back in 1976. Making that notorious Stereo Review September 1976 music review of Keith Carradine’s I’m Easy by Noel Coppage a topic of recent discussion of my local Star Trek fandom. Especially that part when Noel Coppage declared, “An actual musician could have made this recording, but he wouldn’t have.” Given the perennially “low opinion” of Star Trek related music, do Star Trek themed bands and Star Trek tribute bands not only have genuine musical merit, but do they really go – creatively at least – where no musician had gone before?

Star Trek tribute/ themed/ inspired bands whose ontological definition now cover such a large scope that they are as almost as old as Star Trek fandom itself. Back in 1987, a singer or band called T’Pau – named after that Vulcan high priestess who oversaw the death-match between Captain Kirk and Spock – allowed their green eyed redhead of a singer to score a Billboard Chart hit titled Heart and Soul. Even the rise of Techno music during the 1990s hasn’t spared us from the atmospheric and trip-hop remixes of the orchestral Alexander Courage Star Trek musical themes. But do Star Trek themed bands have the potential for artistic and musical merit – let alone popularity?

When Star Trek: The Next Generation alumnus Denise Crosby set out to investigate the global Star Trek phenomenon in Trekkers 2. The musical world was finally introduced to a bunch of Star Trek tribute / theme bands that not only has musical merit, but wrote songs that many non Trekkies and non Trekkers find appealing. The Sacramento, California based Star Trek tribute band called No Kill I whose rockabilly driven punk rock reminiscent of the Ramones and Lunachicks will probably earn them fame beyond the Star Trek universe if major labels in America are adventurous enough to sign them. No Kill I even started a host of variants – like the original Star Trek series achieved – like No Kill I: The Next Generation and No Kill I: Deep Space Nine who are as interesting as the original No Kill I that started it all. Will a No Kill I: Voyager or No Kill I: Enterprise be not that far behind?

Even though I liked all of the Sacramento, California based Star Trek tribute bands interviewed by Denise Crosby, the one I find indispensable is the extreme metal band called Stovokor. Named after the Klingon afterlife where warriors that had died a worthy death are destined to go, Stovokor to me is probably the most likely Star Trek tribute band to attract non Star Trek fans due to their Death / Grindcore / Thrash Metal based stile. Complete with Klingon prosthetic makeup and costumes that would have Heavy Metal Music fans comparing them to 1992 era GWAR, Stovokor is not only a serious metal band loaded with enough low frequencies to stun and even kill your average Star Trek ignorant bystander. Stovokor are probably the only band in active service that’s truly Klingon Opera ready. Will a Klingon Heavy Metal Opera be not that far behind too? Stovokor should give this a try.

For those Star Trek fans who still harbor the perception that the only Star Trek themed band / tribute band in existence is Russell Watson backed by musicians playing a Dianne Warren composition during the opening of Enterprise. There is a wider universe out there populated with Star Trek themed / tribute bands that even though only have a tenuous connection to over 40 years of Star Trek franchise, almost all of them have enough creativity to be worthy of musical merit. Only time will tell if Star Trek tribute bands like No Kill I and its various incarnations and the Klingon themed Heavy Metal band Stovokor ever reach the upper echelons of the Billboard Charts – or just languish in anonymity like some esoteric fad. Like that Klingon Santa Claus from Germany.

The Knighting of Patrick Stewart: Long Time Coming?

As the venerable Shakespearean actor who gave life to Captain Jean-Luc Picard, did the knighting of Patrick Stewart still came as surprise to most Star Trek fans?

By: Ringo Bones

In our local Star Trek fandom in our own little corner of the world, the news did came as a surprise to us when Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth II named the venerable Shakespearean actor Patrick Stewart as part of the roster of those to be knighted. We here in our isolated corner of Trekkie / Trekker fandom used to think that that Patrick Stewart was already knighted by HRH Queen Elizabeth II probably after making Star Trek: Generations with William Shatner back in 1995. After confirmation of the said announcement, the now Sir Patrick Stewart does truly deserve the knighthood for giving life to one of the most important characters in the Star Trek universe named Captain Jean-Luc Picard. Although, if Sir Patrick Stewart is knighted for some charitable cause my local Trekkie / Trekker still hasn’t known of, we do apologize to everyone concerned.

Our local Star Trek fandom had reached a somewhat “silent consensus” around 1989 or so that if Captain Picard wasn’t portrayed by someone with Sir Patrick Stewart’s acting prowess, the success of Star Trek: The Next Generation would have been very unlikely. And we here had also reached a “silent consensus” that without the “runaway” success of Star Trek TNG during the late 1980s there would not have been Star Trek Original Series reruns in our neck of the woods. Thus there would have been no Star Trek fandom in our little corner of the world.

The now knighted Sir Patrick Stewart was also very instrumental back then for introducing the venerable works of William Shakespeare to us Trekkies / Trekkers whose former perceptions of the work of that great English bard view it as an “undiscovered country”. Given that he is a venerable member of the Royal Shakespeare Company, Sir Patrick Stewart did seamlessly manage to not only make a generation of Star Trek fans more familiar to the works of William Shakespeare, but also convinced us that Shakespeare’s works will still be loved centuries from now. This is probably reminiscent of what the famed anti-Apartheid campaigner and former president of South Africa Nelson Mandela did when he introduced the works of Shakespeare to his fellow inmates in the Robben Island Prison Complex during his 27-year incarceration. Remember, without that famed actor who played Captain Jean-Luc Picard and his love for Shakespeare, we Trekkies / Trekkers would have never seen or heard Shakespearean plays done in the Klingon language.