Saturday, June 20, 2009

I Approve of Vulcan Bullies

The recent film reboot of the Star Trek franchise includes credits for three characters described as "Vulcan Bullies". This single fact captures why the movie is so much more enjoyable than any of the previous installments (film or television) in the series.

I've never really been much of a Star Trek fan. The posited future in which the stories take place has always been, to a greater or lesser extent, too antiseptic, too optimistic, too sexless, and too humorless to be believable or even enjoyable. Okay, so the ultimate goodness, generosity, and wisdom of the human race has finally created an egalitarian society in which war is nonexistent and money is unnecessary, because everyone learned to stop being greedy, too. First of, that sounds like an environment just ripe with interesting conflicts that can be leveraged for producing exciting stories, doesn't it? Second of all...HA! Tell me another one! Until now, Trek has taken place in a universe in which everyone finishes first in their class at Starfleet Academy, in which no one is a ditch digger, and which is apparently devoid of nasty things like slums, slaughterhouses, and Vulcan bullies. It's been more of a vehicle for tedious moralizing about the potential of humankind than something...well, fun and watchable.

That's not to say that J.J. Abrams' new version is as gritty a space story as, say, Alien, but at least the environment looks a bit lived-in. The movie is often funny, occasionally even sexy, and almost uniformly enjoyable. Some of the casting decisions seem a little odd at first, but I would say they pretty much all work. Simon Pegg (of Shaun of the Dead fame) is fun as Scotty, although every time I saw John Cho as Sulu I wondered where the helmsman keeps his weed. Special props to Zachary Quinto as Spock and Chris Pine as Kirk. The latter tackles the old swaggering-young-hotshot chestnut and manages to keep it fresh, a non-trivial accomplishment.

I'm continually frustrated by the prevailing studio business model of producing so many sequels and remakes of existing properties, but I'm not dogmatic about it and even I will admit that occasionally there is a franchise that can use a reboot. I think Dawn of the Dead warranted being remade with modern production values, just because in my opinion George Romero's ambitious reach tended to exceeded his frankly rather limited grasp (both in terms of budget and simple filmmaking ability). Similarly, I think that Star Trek has definitely been improved by being revisited. Let's hope they manage to get a few good movies out with this cast and setting before it gets lame.

Friday, June 19, 2009

More Fun With Wikipedia! (Cheat-free Version!)

Follow-up to this post...

John Macdonald (British Politician) to Streptomyces clavuligerus in nine moves:

John Macdonald (British Politician)
Great Britain
United Kingdom
Medical school
Streptomyces clavuligerus

No cheating whatsoever! I'm so proud...

Cool! Birds!

Recently my girlfriend and I bought a hanging plant for our yard and a shepherd's hook upon which to hang it. Unfortunately, it transpired that the structure of the hook was insufficient to support the weight of the plant (Buckling 101), so instead we bought a stand capable of carrying the compressive load of the plant's weight in a stable manner and a bird feeder to put on the hook.

Fortuitous. The plant is great, but I've enjoyed the bird feeder even more, and I'm not sure we would've acquired it if we hadn't been looking for a use for our shepherd's hook.

Spotted in the yard so far (since I started paying attention):

White-breasted Nuthatch
Black-capped Chickadee
House Finch
American Goldfinch
Northern Cardinal
Common Grackle
American Robin
Red-winged Blackbird
Blue Jay

(The last four don't really eat at the bird feeder, but I've seen them in the yard.)

Now, I know that reporting to a birdwatcher that I've seen an American Robin in my backyard is akin to telling a numismatist that I've found a Jefferson Nickel in pocket change, but my purpose isn't to brag up the exoticness of the birds in my neighborhood. Indeed, these are all pretty common birds. What's eye-opening to me is the variety...that's nine species of very different birds in our little backyard in the suburban Twin Cities. And those are just the ones I've been able to identify.

I guess the moral of the story is, If you think that one Suburban Bird is just like another, a tiny amount of attention and an ordinary bird book will teach you to think again. It's worth doing.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Fun With Wikipedia

Here's something fun to try with Wikipedia...

Hit the Random Article link from the main page.

Then, do it again.

Now, try to find your way back to the first page from the second page using only searching!

I made it from Canegrate culture (a civilization of Prehistoric Italy, apparently) to Perry Township, Clinton County, Indiana in twelve moves:

Canegrate Culture
Prehistoric Italy
Category: History of North America
Category: History of the United States
Category: United States
Category: States of the United States
Category: Indiana
Category: Geography of Indiana
Category: Indiana Counties
Category: Clinton County, Indiana
Perry Township, Clinton County, Indiana

As a refinement, I think that next I'm going to try to use links that only go to other actual articles...using category pages seems like cheating.

(I would be unsurprised to learn that there exist world championships for this sort of thing.)



Prime Minister of Laos to Canarias class cruiser in five moves...

Prime Minister of Laos
World War II
Spanish Civil War
Battle of Cape Espartel
Canarias class cruiser

No category (or list) pages this time, but I did cheat by using "What links here" to find the intermediate link between Spanish Civil War and the goal.

Clearly the rules of this game need to be codified...