Saturday, November 10, 2012

I Review Star Trek: The Motion Picture

I've been on a quest to watch all of Star Trek. Okay, not really all of it, but all of the (live action) original series, Next Generation and Deep Space Nine, with their associated films. That's a lot, and I've made some progress. I finished the original series recently, and yesterday watched the first film, aptly subtitled "The Motion Picture."

Before I go into it, I'll say this: In the original series, there are good episodes and there are bad episodes - and a lot in between. Many of them end with a twist, some of them focus on a particular character, and most of them usually involve some form of banter between the principal characters: Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and occasionally Scotty.

Then there are the movies. I expect different things from the movies than I do from the TV episodes. The TV show can do whatever it wants as long as it's entertaining, but I expect bigger things from the movies. They need to be grand and epic and have huge consequences if the protagonists fail. The characters need to do more than just banter - we need to see more dimensions to them.

The primary reason why Star Trek: The Motion Picture fails is because it's basically a glorified episode of the Original Series.

The plot: A giant destructive cloud of something is on its way to earth. We're first introduced to it when three Klingon vessels approach it - and are effortlessly destroyed. The Klingons are never spoken of again, although their appearance is notable for introducing their new "look" which from this point on becomes the standard for how Klingons appear in Star Trek.

Anyway. Big trouble is in store for Earth is this cloud reaches the planet. James T. Kirk, now an admiral, heads back to the Enterprise to deal with the situation. Since the transporter is down, Scotty takes him there via shuttle. This leads to one of the more self-indulgent sequences I've seen in cinema as there's a good five minute sequence of the two admiring the Enterprise as they fly around it, set to Jerry Goldsmith's now famous Star Trek overture. It's fine for the first minute, but about halfway through you get sick of it. We get it - the Enterprise is on the big screen now. Great. It's not as cool as the Star Destroyer at the beginning of Star Wars, so quit it already.

Sparks fly with the current captain of the enterprise, some boring schlub named Decker, when Kirk seizes command. But he's clearly out of his element on the refurbished Enterprise, as is evidenced with a mishap while flying at warp speed and a surprisingly horrific transporter accident that kills the science officer. Other cast members show up, including the ever logical Spock and McCoy, who looks like he belongs with the space hippies in the episode "The Way to Eden" when he arrives (oh goodness, I hated that episode).

Here's another of the film's problems, though: The characters are just not as enjoyable as they were in the series. McCoy's all right, but Kirk has been changed from the unflappable commander to kind of a jerk, and Spock seems to have lost his rapport with the rest of the crew, with only his penchant for logic and lack of emotion left. The two new characters, Decker and Illia, are pretty unremarkable as well. Apparently they had some sort of thing for each other in the past, but that's never really explored. As they're presented they're just boring.

The film's high point is probably the trip into the mysterious destructive cloud, which has some impressive visuals for its time, and is evocative of the final sequence of Kubrick's 2001: A Space Oddysey. But the sense of wonder you get from this sequence is lost when you discover that the source of this cloud is a pretty lame plot twist - it might have worked for a TV episode, but for a film, it falls far short of the mark. The finale is pretty unsatisfying - Kirk, Spock and McCoy don't really do anything, they just stand there while Decker and Illia go super-saiyan and disappear into the ether.

So, unless you're a completest like me, or a Star Trek aficionado, I would not recommend Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Skip it and go straight on to the superior Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. It's just not worth your time.

Monday, October 29, 2012

How Seasons Work in Seattle

Conventional knowledge of the seasons goes as follows.

Spring: March - May
Summer: June - August
Fall: September - November
Winter: December - February

In Seattle, it goes a little more like this.

Spring: June
Summer: July - September
Fall: October - May
Winter: ???

We actually do get a couple days of winter per year, but they occur at a randomly determined period during the autumn when we get our one annual snowfall that shuts down the city.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Flaw in Fact Checking

Perhaps it's only my imagination, but I seem to be seeing a lot of my friends posting links to fact-checking sites whenever any political candidate says...well, anything.

This by itself is not a bad thing. Fact-checking is good. The problem lies in how we apply it.

Over the past couple of weeks, with the Republican and Democratic conventions taking place, many of my friends have posted fact-checking links in response to speeches given at said conventions. These have either been to defend their preferred candidate ("See, everything he said was true!") or attack the other guy ("Everything he says is lies!").

The fact is that no political candidate is going to be completely honest all the time. As long as lying, misinforming or telling half truths helps get them into office, they will continue to do so. I'm not defending this practice - I would love it if political candidates were completely honest all the time. But they simply are not going to do it for one simple reason: because we let them.

Not once in the past two weeks have I seen anybody criticize a member of their own party for not telling the truth. It's always the other guys. And when their favorite candidate gets called out for lying? Silence. Rationalization. Apologetics.

How can you expect politicians to be honest when you don't hold your preferred candidate accountable for not telling the truth? As long as you only fact-check the opposing candidate, you allow lying to be an effective strategy. It's even worse when you rationalize the lies and half-truths your own candidate tells.

If you're insistent upon fact-checking, great. Keep doing it. But don't forget to apply the same practice the one you're going to vote for. And if you don't like what you see, let them know.

Monday, March 5, 2012

My 5 Favorite Vacations

I love travel. It is pretty much my favorite thing. I was lucky enough to have lived abroad for ten years of my life, and my family took full advantage of our eight years in Germany to see as many sights within reach as we could. Sometimes I wish the USA could be as beautiful and culturally rich as Europe.*

My next vacation adventure (and first big vacation as a married man, not counting the honeymoon) is next month, and it's going to be in Japan. We're really excited.

Since I like travel so much, I'm going to review my top five all-time best vacations, chronological order.

Summer 1991 - Prague, Vienna, Budapest

Immediately after returning home from a scout camping trip, I hopped in the van with my family and we made our way south to Prague. All three major cities we visited on this trip are spectacular.

The highlights I remember from this trip: Ordering chicken at a restaurant in Prague and getting half of an entire chicken served to me (I couldn't finish it, I was 11!), seeing Stefansdom in Vienna, seeing the city of Budapest from Buda Castle, buying a wire ball toy thingy from a street vendor, and my dad throwing grapes at another car in a traffic jam while leaving Hungary.

I have since returned to Prague once and Vienna twice, and would love to return to Budapest.

Summer 1992 - Denmark bike trip

One of the few trips I've gone on without any family members. Just before we moved back to the United States, my scout troop went on a bike trip through Denmark (mostly through the island of Zealand, but we might have gone on Lolland too). While I'm sure there are other, more scenic parts of Europe we could have biked through, it was still an awesome trip and by far my favorite scout outing I've ever been on.

Spring 2002 - Eastern United States

We made this trip shortly after the conclusion of my sophomore year of college. We went to baseball games at three different ballparks: Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park and Camden Yards. While Camden Yards was a fantastic venue (and we had amazing seats), it's hard to beat watching my Mariners beat the Yankees in their stadium, after coming from behind in the 9th inning.

Another highlight was my friend giving us a personal tour of NBC studios, including seeing the Rainbow Room where SNL is filmed (and seeing Martin Short and Goldie there), and getting to sit in Conan's chair.

And finally, we got to spend a few days in Washington D.C, which is my favorite U.S. city not named Seattle.

Spring 2004 - Germany, Austria, Czech Republic

My brother and I found super cheap airfare from Portland to Frankfurt, and so we jumped on the opportunity to return to Europe after 12 years and see all our favorite cities, and discover a few new ones. Aside from a little rain one day in Berlin, the weather was perfect. We visited charming medieval cities like Rothenburg ob der Tauber, our old home in Garmisch, and the big cities of Vienna, Prague and Berlin. We also (briefly) stopped in Slovakia, just long enough to add another country to the list. We didn't stay long, though, because we didn't speak the language, didn't know where to go, and didn't have any of their currency.

This trip is probably my favorite vacation to date.

Winter 2008/2009 - Germany and Austria

While I prefer visiting Germany in the spring or summer, visiting in winter has its own distinct charm, especially when it's Christmas time. We spent the Germany portion exclusively in Bavaria, and went to as many Christmas markets as we could. The best ones were Nurnberg and Regensburg, but I liked them all. We got lodging and transportation for free in Germany: my mom and dad drove us around and let us stay at their place (they were on their mission at the time).

New Year was spent in Vienna, and we had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to go to the Vienna Philharmonic concert on New Year's Eve. I was sick with a stomach virus and nearly got deep knee thrombosis from standing in the standing-room-only section, but it was worth it. We got to interrupt the Blue Danube with applause and were conducted by Daniel Barenboim in the Radetzky March, just like on PBS!

So, in conclusion, I love travel, I hope to continue to do so throughout my life, and am excited for my next trip.

*Not to say we don't have awesome things in America, of course. What we lack in culture and history** we make up for in our country's amazing natural features.

**And we do have some culture and history, just not as much as other parts of the world.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

This Blog

Wow, this blog is still here, huh?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

It's Been a Long Time

So I guess the last time I posted to this blog was to announce that I was dating a young lady named Liz.  A lot has changed since then.

To cut to the chase, Liz and I are now engaged to be married.  Our relationship was long distance for most of the time, but we both felt strongly about keeping it going, and visited each other several times over the last six months.  I proposed to her New Year's Eve and we're getting married in June.

I think, for the most part, I'll spare you the details.  I may give a brief summary of how the last six months have been, but I don't really think my audience of two readers really wants to hear too much of it.

I will, however, briefly offer up some thoughts on dating.  I was pretty happy when I started dating Liz, first of all because she's awesome.  Second of all, it had been 7 (seven) years since my last relationship.  That's a long time.  I can't really explain why it had been that long, either (well, I can for some of those years).  And finally, in the months and weeks prior to our relationship, I had dealt with a couple of difficult rejections.

The funny thing is, from the time she got back from her mission to our first date, my brain was telling me, "Mark, you really ought to be dating this girl."  I didn't listen to this, for some reason, and ended up hurting myself (and others, in all likelihood) in the process.  Then I started dating Liz.  At this point, my brain said, "Why didn't you listen to me earlier, idiot?"  Oh brain, you smart-ass.

So the point of this is, if your brain and/or common sense is telling you that you should be dating someone, you should probably heed that advice.  I'm glad I (finally) did.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

On a personal note

I guess most of you have figured it out at this point but for those who haven't, yes, I am dating someone. Her name is Liz and she is from Ohio.

It's long distance right now, unfortunately, and will continue to be so until she gets her degree in actuarial science. What this means for me is I will be flying over to Utah from time to time.

So, now you know!