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Live Long And Prosper Spock

by @ 7:59 pm
Filed under: star trek — Tags:

In my native country of Iran during the pre-Islamic-revolution times, the television, rife with American films, was a window into the western culture, specially the American culture, for most people.

But Star Trek was something else. It wasn't so much a glimpse of the western culture than it was the promise of what humanity could be if we let go of our bigotry and superstitions, and instead embrace humanity, science and rationality.

As a young boy I had a few sleepless nights after watching some of the more action-packed episodes. One memorable episode was The Doomsday Machine, which had me terrified of the specter of Earth being gobbled up by a fiery funnel. But many episodes also had the power to make us look at our society and at ourselves and see things from a different angle, mainly a logical one.

doomsday-machine

In of my most favorite episodes, Mirror, Mirror, the audience is taken on a journey to a parallel universe where greed for power, tyranny, and savagery is the order of the day. To the crew of the parallel Enterprise it's all par for the course, but to the few normal-world Enterprise crew members who are transported there by accident and to us, the viewers, it's a dark and hopeless world. That is not so different from many parts of our world today. We can only root for the parallel-Enterprise Spock who, at the end of the episode, realizes how illogical his world actually is. Of course seeing Spock with a beard in this episode is a pretty good bonus in itself.

spock-mirror-mirror

Leonard Nimoy has sadly passed away, but his character, Spock, will undoubtedly live long and prosper. LLAP

$231,000 Star Trek Rifle

by @ 6:29 pm
Filed under: star trek,Uncategorized

A rifle prop from the original Star Trek pilot was recently sold by an auction house for nearly a quarter of a million dollars.

Normally I would scoff at such excesses, but then this is Star Trek. If I had that kind of disposable money, I would probably splurge quite a bit on the Star TrekĀ memorabilia too. They're after all pretty rare.

'Star Trek' Phaser rifle auctioned off for $231,000

Voyager 1 and Earth-like Planet

by @ 11:13 pm
Filed under: space,star trek — Tags: , ,

A pair of interesting space stories today.

Voyager1 launched in 1977 is now 11 billion miles away from earth. It's in an area thought to be the final barrier between the solar system and the inner-stellar space which is outside the sun's sphere of influence. Who knows what sorts of stuff lie beyond the barrier or if the spacecraft will be able to transmit anything once the barrier is crossed.

Also discovery of a new planet was confirmed orbiting its sun in the so-called Goldilocks zone where liquid water and therefore life become possibilities. It's about 600 light-years away which means if we're being observed from there right now, they see the Forbidden City being completed in China and the Ottoman empire in its infancy.

Now just imagine if Voyager ever makes it to this planet and the aliens scratch their heads (if they have fingers or even heads) trying to figure it out. It'll be their version of a UFO I suppose. We'll never know of course. Even if Voyager was headed towards the planet, it'll be some 300,000 years before it'll arrive. By then, humans are either gone as a race or perhaps morphed into different beings.

As a kid I marveled at these types of news, imagining myself aboard a spaceship visiting far-flung worlds. Now that I'm an adult, well, I still imagine myself aboard that spaceship.

Blame it on Star Trek šŸ™‚

 

Judgment Day Lessons

by @ 9:42 pm
Filed under: religion,star trek — Tags: ,

The purported judgment day on May 21, 2011 came and went with nary a soul being lifted into heaven, a dead body being thrown out of a grave, or Jesus descending down on earth to do whatever it is Jesus does. There was a volcano eruption and some small follow-up quakes. So it appears that even if God had the will, he didn't have the might to pull off the big event.

In a weird way I'll miss Harold Camping of Family radio, the persona behind the failed doomsday prediction. I loved listening to his radio program, Open Forum, for a number of years. It was almost a self-challenge. Can I listen to him without being influenced or deceived?

He left no wiggle room around his forecast. It was absolutely going to happen. He was so sure of himself, that he wouldn't even entertain questions regarding May 22, 2011. He'd chastise people who inquired, reminding them may 22nd will only be the second day of judgment and nothing else. Ironically he would admonish his listeners to cast aside pride and arrogance, while he was steeped in them himself.

No doubt he'll be back with a new rapture date. People have short memories, but things won't be quite the same. For one he's older now and may not live to see that date and this past campaign was a colossal flop, considering how long and wide the false prophesy traveled.

The point with Camping is that in reality he's no different than any other preachers or prophets, past or present. If you were scoffing at him, think about what your own beliefs are. Perhaps you believe in some supreme being who communicated with prophets and left behind a sacred book. You may believe in heaven and hell, and in an evil character called Satan. Do any of these beliefs make any more sense than what Camping was preaching?

In some ways Camping was admirable and courageous for declaring something concrete within his religion. He set a an actual date as proof that the Bible really was sent from his God. Now that his evidence has been debunked, we can say that the Bible is but a book written by people and not some divine being. Other religions are too smart to make such statements. They just dance around generalities without giving any concrete evidence. That keeps them a safe distance from the truth-seekers while they continue to brainwash newcomers and collect their monies.

People should have been rid of religion years ago, but the money-making enterprise is too powerful to slip away quietly. And with so many religions to chose from, anyone can pick their favorite flavor of superstition. There are as plentiful as rock bands and ice cream flavors. I am not suggesting throwing religions away completely. On the contrary, they should be kept and preserved as historical documents and events that shaped our lives for good or bad.

There was a time when ordinary people needed religion as a crutch, a guide, and a moral compass. It eased them into a sense of security, a sort of a defense mechanism to tackle the bewilderment they suffered by all sorts of unexplainable events around them. That time has long passed and we no longer need fabricated answers to our questions. We've learned to cope with unexplained events and understand that not everything must have an easy-to-digest answer. Religion no longer deserves its holy and sacred position among us. What it deserves is a historical status like many other things from our past.

The sentiment is best summed up by Captain Kirk, reasoning with an ancient God. "We've outgrown you. You ask for something we can no longer give." He retorts to Apollo. (Star Trek, TOS, Who Mourns for Adonais?)

Star Trek tricorder challenge

by @ 7:46 pm
Filed under: star trek

trekkies like myself might be called geeks and dorks but that show is probably responsible for more progress in the world than faraday and newton.

what other means have excited so many people to pursue careers in engineering? or even politics or botany?

now comes the x prize challenge to create a similar device as dr. mccoy's tricorder. that would be a noninvasiveĀ device that can run a battery of diagnostics on a patient and spit out results just by waving it near the patient's body.

i'd call it star trek's contribution to the medical industry. may we all live long and prosper.

Cosmic Log - 'Trek' tricorder could win $10 million

Star Trek on YouTube

by @ 9:24 pm
Filed under: star trek,web — Tags: ,

The fact that YouTube has a number of the original Star Trek series is pretty cool for geeks like me who grew up on the series.

This one below shows an upload date of over 43 years ago. You think Roddenberry was time-travelling and uploading them to YouTube then? šŸ™‚ ARPANET deployment was still a couple of years away when this episode was made.

Star Trek on YouTube

Pavel Chekov Real Tragedy

by @ 11:58 pm
Filed under: star trek

Today I saw Walter Koenig in a news conference surrounding his son's suicide. What struck me was how old Koenig actually looked. Of course he looks just fine for his age, but to me Pavel Chekov (the character Koenig played on the original Star Trek series) should always be the young officer with a funny Russian accent.

I suppose my reaction to the older Chekov is a reflection on my own age. As a young child I used to watch the Star Trek series religiously. They are still my most favorite of all TV programs.

As far as Koenig's son I just want to extend my sympathies and leave it at that. The family has asked for privacy and privacy they should be granted.

,

Back! to Jogging

by @ 1:11 am
Filed under: health,religion,running-hiking,star trek

Those who know me (there aren't too many) know that running is an addiction of mine. But just like any addiction there comes a time when a man must realize when to quit. In the immortal words of Dirty Harry, "A man's got to know his limitations." That limitation hit me in the back with a Magnum force a few weeks ago and I'm still trying to recover from it.

Running is a great stress reliever, but not when backache comes calling. This latest one came without a warning. One day I rolled out of bed and there it was. Like any addict, I ignored the pain and went about my running, but this one didn't seem interested in healing. The doctor says the spine looks normal, it's probably a bulging disc. The advice: take it easy, do some back exercises and ride it out.

So for the past couple of weeks I had replaced jogging with walking. It's not so easy kicking such a strong habit, specially one that's been a part of my life for so long. Still, walking isn't so bad once you get used to it, specially if the alternative is painful pinches. It's inevitable that if live long enough, I'd have to give up running at some point. I just hope that time is not now. Anyways, tonight I finally switched over to some light jogging and there seems to be a glimmer of hope there. The pain is still there, but it feels more subdued now.

Human body is a flawed piece of work. Regardless of the intelligent design versus the evolution debate, the human body is no work of art. I can understand that nature is imperfect, but if god is the designer, he can't be that perfect creator that religion purports him to be. He sure has a lot of learning about the KISS concept, as in, Keep It Simple, Stupid. I mean why all this complexity when he probably could have taken a much simpler approach?

Reminds me of Nomad, the perfect sterilizing machine, from the Star Trek Episode, The Changeling. This is what it said, referring to biological units (humans):

The unit Scott is a primitive structure. Insufficient safeguards built in. Breakdown can occur from many causes. Self-maintenance systems of low reliability.

Nomad, Star Trek, The Changeling

If only I could have Nomad fix my back the way he revived Scotty after killing him with a high energy bolt. But alas, Nomad wasn't so perfect itself either, and it finally met its own demise by the imperfect Captain Kirk.

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DRM (Digital Rights Management) and Amazon Unbox, Part 3

by @ 11:32 pm
Filed under: internet,star trek,web

Up to this point I had downloaded a Star Trek WMV file from Amazon Unbox to one PC. Having experienced performance issues, I had copied it to another PC and learned that the WMV film was protected by Microsoft's Windows Media DRM (Digital Rights Managements). Finally I had dismantled the first PC and had built a more powerful PC to play the WMV file on. But when I installed the Unbox software and tried to import the film, I ran into errors. It seemed like Unbox was reluctant to grant a DRM license key.

At this point I was ready to consider this experience a small loss ($1.99) and move on, but curiosity got the better of me and I surfed to Unbox's site to see if I had a recourse. That's when I discovered that the downloaded film came with two license only. I guess that's the copyright regiment that Unbox was enforcing to prevent users from copying the file to unlimited devices and acquiring licenses for them. It would have been nice if Amazon had at least mentioned that point at the time of purchase. Armed with that knowledge I decided to uninstall Unbox from the other PC and in doing so Unbox must have revoked the license on that box leaving the film with one usable license. I was finally able to successfully obtain a license for the file and watch the movie on the new PC without encountering any issues.

Since the original PC was now discarded, I assume the first DRM license was lost forever. Perhaps if I had contacted Amazon and explained the situation, they might have reinstated that original license, but having finally been able to watch the episode in its entirety, getting the extra license was a moot point. I also donā€™t know if there is limit on the number of times a license can be surrendered and re-acquired.

Based on my experience I have decided that DRM is just not worth the hassle. There are too many restrictions, at least with the Unbox implementation. You pay a decent sum to purchase a movie (I saw some for about $15), you have to use the 1-Click button, Amazon gift certificates are not accepted, then you have to install a software you may not want, then you wait for the download, and you can only get two licenses for it, and you need decent computer power to decrypt and play the movie smoothly. You can't even burn it to a DVD to watch it on your TV. A colleague explained that if my TV had an S-Video interface, I could hook it up to the PC's S-Video port, start the movie on the PC and watch it on my TV. Fine, but why not just purchase a used DVD for less money and avoid all the hassle?

There might have still been other restrictions too. During the course of my research I ran into a number of posts that lamented the Unbox's licensing terms, such as the fact that Amazon can revoke a license for any reason without recourse. People were also wary of Unbox's software license agreement which essentially strips user's right to privacy and can freely wander around a PC and collect all sorts of information and relay data back to Amazon's servers. It reminded many of the Sony music CD DRM fiasco from a few years back. In that case the CD's installed a rootkit spyware on users' PC's which was nearly impossible to remove without damaging the operating system itself.

I haven't read the Unbox's agreement yet, so I can't comment on that with authority. I don't believe that Unbox's DRM implementation is as egregious as that of Sony's. The version I downloaded allows users to deactivate the service and the startup program and the downloaded movies play fine. The Unbox program however does need to run in order to purchase, download, and acquire a license.

All in all, I wasn't impressed with Amazon Unbox. I suppose the service does have its uses if you wanted to purchase a movie or a show on a whim, but there are alternatives that are cheaper and less onerous. By the way, the episode of Star Trek I downloaded was "The Enemy Within". It's one of the earlier episodes of the original series in which a transformer malfunction creates two Kirks with opposite personalities. One gentle and indecisive, and the other mean and aggressive. Ironically, Unbox might be Amazon's mean incarnation.

DRM (Digital Rights Management) and Amazon Unbox, Part 1
DRM (Digital Rights Management) and Amazon Unbox, Part 2

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DRM (Digital Rights Management) and Amazon Unbox, Part 1

by @ 9:02 pm
Filed under: internet,star trek,web

DRM and Amazon UnboxI have been running the Amazon Unbox ad banner atop my site's pages for a while now, but never used the service until recently. Unbox is the name of Amazon's TV and movie download service that went online a few months ago. So in the spirit of using what I advertise, I decided to take the plunge and give Unbox a try. Not that I'm much of a TV or movie buff, but why advertise something I donā€™t use myself?

I suppose the first thing I should have done was reading the system requirements, but true to my personality I promptly skipped that part and started downloading the Unbox application from Amazon's website. The download and installation went pretty smoothly and soon I had the Amazon logo showing up in the system tray. Next came choosing a title to download, but before doing that I wanted to try a free clip just to see if everything was in order. I scoured Amazon's Web site and then resorted to a number of Google searches, but came up empty-handed. How could this be? I had just installed a program and didn't even know if it was going to work. All Amazon had to do was to provide a short, measly, home-made clip for users to test the program. I guess their plan is to force users to pay for a download just to kick the tires, revenue right out of the gate.

I'm really not that versed in the motion picture field, but the movie prices I saw (in the $15 area) didn't seem so appealing, I'll stick with our Netflix subscription, thank you. Finally I chose an episode of the original Star Trek series for $1.99, cheap enough for a test, but then came two unpleasant surprises. First, the only way to buy the title was with the 1-Click button. Apparently Amazon is going all out for the impulse and buyer's remorse on this one. Second, I had a small amount of money in my gift certificate account, enough to cover this purchase. But unlike the usual purchases where Amazon pulls money out of the gift certificate balance, they went right for the credit card I had on file and hit me with the charge. Annoyed, I wrote an email to their customer service. The next day I received a reply confirming that gift certificate balances can not be applied to Unbox purchases. Why? Other than greed, I couldn't come up with a reason for this absurdity.

After the purchase step was finished, I awaited for my next surprise. I opened the Unbox program and noticed that the nearly 900 meg file was finally being downloaded. As the progress bar passed around the 20% mark, I was given the green light to start the episode and that's when I got my next surprise. Admittedly this one was my own fault. The PC I was using didn't have enough muscle power to play the file. It was playing alright, but very choppy with numerous sound and image interruptions. I thought perhaps things will get better after the file is completely downloaded. No such luck, the episode was unwatchable. So I decided to search the Internet and learn about what exactly Unbox was downloading. I eventually found out that Unbox had downloaded a WMV (Windows Media Movie) file to my hard drive and that was the file the Unbox program was trying to play.

After locating the WMV file in "My Videos" folder, I decided to bypass the Unbox program and play it directly using Windows Medial Player and I had the same bad results. After fruitlessly fiddling with the Windows Media Player's options for some time, I finally decided that the hardware was just not capable of handling this file. To test my theory I copied the WMV file to a faster PC on my home network. The PC is more powerful than the original but has a small display and no speakers, just the PC speaker. Still good enough to check out the playback quality. I fired up Windows Media Player and opened the WMV file. That's when the next surprise hit me in the face, in the form of DRM (Digital Rights Management).

Was I able to resolve the issues and finally watch that Star Trek episode? I'm sure you're at the edge of your seat, begging to find out. I'll continue the Amazon Unbox saga in part 2 of this story.

DRM (Digital Rights Management) and Amazon Unbox, Part 2
DRM (Digital Rights Management) and Amazon Unbox, Part 3

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