Top 5 Star Trek TNG Episodes

(That miss most top 10 lists.)

Lately I’ve been nostalgic for the Star Trek series of my childhood, that is, Star Trek: The Next Generation. Maybe it’s the recent announcement of the new Star Trek: Picard series. Or perhaps because of The Orville, a TV series that is a spiritual successor, loving homage, or blatant ripoff of TNG. (Opinions vary.)

Whatever the reason, I’ve been rewatching some old favorites of mine, and noticed a few that fail to make the top lists. So here (confusingly) is my list of top Star Trek TNG episodes that don’t make the top lists.

Continue reading “Top 5 Star Trek TNG Episodes”

Four Rules of Phaser Safety

Or, Are Star Trek Phasers Sentient?

Anyone who has handled firearms in the modern era is probably familiar with the four rules of gun safety. But as our technology gets smarter, will the rules change?

Star Trek: The Next Generation showed us a future with warp drives and transporters, androids, replicators, and all sorts of futuristic technologies. In the midst of these technological advancements, what does their weapons-handling tell us?

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4 Ways to Save the World from an Alien Invasion

It’s the end of the world as we know it. Martian war tripods have been spotted just outside of Surrey. In New York and Washington, enormous saucers 15 miles wide hover menacingly over the Independence Day holiday preparations. A Dalek fleet approaches from one direction; a Borg Cube from the other.

In short, we’re so screwed. The super-advanced civilization that could stomp us out like ants appears poised to do just that.

In last week’s episode of The Orville (spoilers follow)…

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A Year of VSS365

A little over a year ago, my New Year’s resolution was to write more. And in particular, I challenged myself to participate in VSS365 every day in 2018.

The outcome? I did it. 2018 is over (hooray), and I posted a VSS365-tagged tweet each day. Not all of them were good, and I may have cheated a couple times early-on by doubling-up after missing a day, but…

Assuming on average I filled up half a tweet (140 of 280 characters), then for an average word length of 5 characters, I wrote 10,000+ words. While that’s not terribly impressive (only a fraction of what a NaNoWriMo winner writes in a single month), it’s a good start.

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Baby It’s Cold Outside (So Can I Come Inside?)

Christmastime is here again, and what would the holidays be without a warm fire, snowfall, and controversy? As I sit next to my fireplace staring out at a fresh blanket of snow, this year’s controversy is “Baby It’s Cold Outside”.

Is this song an innocent holiday classic from a bygone era? Or is it a dark misogynistic song with undertones of date rape?

I rather see it as a window into the complex intertwining of context, consent, and flirtation. And from a writer’s perspective, I see it underscoring the importance of nonverbal cues in character motivations.

(Also, I happen to like the song.) Continue reading “Baby It’s Cold Outside (So Can I Come Inside?)”

Star Trek: Discovery

The premiere episode of Star Trek: Discovery just aired on CBS, and I just want to say that, for the first time in many years, there is a TV show that is true to the spirit of Star Trek, that is fun to watch, full of hopeful optimism, yet not afraid to tackle tough issues.

And that show is The Orville.

Screw Star Trek: Discovery. Screw it with one of those pentalobe screwdrivers that you have to buy to service an iPhone. (Possible spoilers.)

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The Orville – To Blandly Go?

This week brought the debut of “The Orville,” the new sci-fi television series from Seth MacFarlane. Better known as the creator of “Family Guy”, MacFarlane might seem an unlikely suspect for a quality sci-fi series, but he also served as executive producer on the (rather well-done) reboot of “Cosmos”. He is also well-known to be a Star Trek fan, having guest starred in “Star Trek: Enterprise” and hinted at bringing Star Trek back to the small screen.

Captain KirkMercer and ScottyMalloy approach the EnterpriseOrville in Spacedockthe Dockyard. Screencap of video from

The first episode, “Old Wounds”, is currently viewable on Fox’s website. Web discussion of the episode frequently seems to hit on three points:

  1. It’s not quite Galaxy Quest, and more like Star Trek as a comedy.
  2. It’s a little more restrained than Family Guy.
  3. It’s kind of bland.

I’ll talk about each of these things.

(Possible spoilers throughout.)

Continue reading “The Orville – To Blandly Go?”

Where in Space is Carmen Sandiego?

Recently I’ve been clearing out boxes of old childhood junk from my parents’ attic. This gives me plenty of opportunities to revisit my youth. Here I have an old 90s computer game: Where in Space is Carmen Sandiego?

Children who grew up in the 80s and 90s may remember the edutainment phenomenon that was Carmen Sandiego. Always dressed in her trademark red trenchcoat and fedora, Carmen Sandiego appeared in games teaching everything from geography to history, as well as a kids’ TV game show and an animated series or two.

A gentleman thief who was also a lady, Carmen and her henchmen pulled off daring heists that forced agents of ACME to show off their knowledge of the subject matter at hand.

And in 1993, Brøderbund Software, Inc., gave us Carmen Sandiego… in spaaaace!

Carmen Sandiego, the famous fiendish femme felon in a fedora, stealing the rings of Saturn.

Sadly, the game comes on four 3.5″ floppy disks, and since I haven’t owned a computer with a floppy drive in many years, I can’t just pop the game in and give it another play-through.

Game comes on four fabulous floppy diskettes. Yes, kids, this is where the “save” icon comes from.

But here’s a look at the system requirements. A bright green banner on the front of the box proclaims “works with Windows or DOS.” The game requires a whopping 8 MB of hard drive space to store all of those nifty VGA-quality digital images.

A truly 90s-era system requirements list.

I can recall that the gameplay was much like any other Carmen Sandiego game. You play as a detective with the ACME Detective Agency. A heist has been committed, and it’s up to you to solve it.

For this game, cracking the case means traveling to the various planets and moons in our solar system, finding clues by talking to witnesses, wiretapping radio transmissions, or launching probes.

You have a certain number of turns to crack the case (represented as a limited amount of fuel for your rocket). If you identify and nab the suspect before your rocketship’s fuel gauge hits E, a goofy little robotic police probe flies off to make the arrest. You win this round!

I guess that’s the player character on the left? Handsome fellow, eh?

Assisting you in your mission was the VAL 9000 computer. This wisecracking AI companion occasionally gave basic hints: for example, her digitized voice would warn you when your fuel was nearly empty.

But her primary purpose was to provide access to an electronic database that provided categorized information on various astronomical bodies, astronomers, the Sun, and the nine planets. (Pluto. Lest we forget.)

If I remember correctly, there was even a way to launch the game into an “encyclopedia-only” mode, whereby you could access VAL 9000’s articles, but not play the game. This must have been just prior to the time of “PC encyclopedias” on CD-ROM, so it was probably a novel concept for its time.

Convenient access to information at your fingertips. The 90s… what a time to be alive!

Greetings. She is a VAL 9000 Computer, and she wants to assure you that she is much less murdery than her more famous cousin.

The henchmen had to be tracked down, but also identified in advance. As with most Carmen games, this is essentially a game of Guess Who: you get clues about the perpetrator’s gender, feature, and in this game, favorite astronomer and favorite writer.

You use these clues to narrow down the list of punnily-named suspects. Once you’ve narrowed it down to a single suspect, you issue an arrest warrant.

A couple of Carmen’s henchmen in the game manual. Funny how Carmen recognized non-binary genders even then: you can be male or female… or robot, space jellyfish…

And what “deluxe edition” game box would be complete without some kind of bonus? (Even though this was billed as the “deluxe edition”, I think this was just a marketing gimmick.) That’s right, if you buy this game, not only do you get the latest in Brøderbund edutainment: you also get a copy of Peterson’s Guide to Astronomy, a handy pocket reference for ages 12 to adult!

Random Feelie

And… that’s it for my look at Where in Space is Carmen Sandiego? It’s a shame that I can’t give this game another play. If you came here looking for gameplay action, the best I can do is link you to a Youtube playthrough playlist that someone else posted. Nostalgiate and enjoy!