Tag Archives: Star Trek

Answer my video calls

From now on, if you want to get in touch with me, I’m only going to be available via video chat. So if you don’t use FaceTime, or Skype, or whatever Google’s version of Skype is called, then just plan on never talking to me again. Because from here on out, it’s going to be my only method of communication. I just deleted my email address. I waited on hold for like forty-five minutes with my cell phone provider, insisting that they disable text messages for my number. Going forward, it’s just video calls.


Why? Because this is the future that we were all promised. When I grew up watching futuristic cartoons like the Jetsons, nobody ever sent text messages or boring emails. No, they got on their fancy screens and talked face-to-face. That’s how the future was supposed to be. And now we have the technology. And yet nobody answers my video calls. Come on, you don’t want to look at me? You don’t want to stare at my face while you’re talking to me? What have you got to hide? You’ll send me a bunch of emojis that don’t make any sense, but you’re afraid to look me in the virtual eye and have an actual conversation?

It’s the same with Star Trek, they’re always facing each other and talking. Even when they’re on different ships, Captain Picard has his crew hail the other ship, and Worf is like, “Captain, would you like me to send the call to your ready room?” and Captain Picard is like, “Fuck that. Throw him up on the big screen.” And Worf is like, “The big screen? The one that everyone on the bridge stares at all day? It’s huge.” And Picard is like, “Do as I say!” and then the call goes through and we all get to look at an extreme closeup of whoever it is they’re talking to. And it’s universal. They might get flung halfway across the galaxy, they’ll run into a completely alien civilization, and the first thing both sides do is start a video call. “On screen!” Because it’s the future. Because it’s something that we were promised, and it’s something that we got. And so now I want to use it. So start answering my video calls. Because I’m just going to keep calling, over and over again until you answer me. Cool?

In the future, we won’t have money, and we’ll all be socialists

My ideal vision of the future has always been as its portrayed in the TV series Star Trek: The Next Generation. Humanity has transcended all of the petty nonsense that we’re still fighting about today. Poverty has been eradicated. Common diseases are distant memories of a medical dark age hundreds of years in the past.


Technology in the twenty-fourth century (while admittedly looking more and more dated as the twenty-first century marches on) makes everything accessible to everyone. If you want something, you can fabricate it out of one of the ship’s many onboard replicating machines. It’s the same with food, just speak into the box, tell it what you want, and zap! There it is, bon appetit. Entertainment via the Holodeck is so much more immersive than the trivial pastimes we occupy ourselves with today.

And it’s more than just food and games. Transportation is completely reimagined. With transporters and faster-than-light warp drives, traveling to and from work must be a non-issue. People of the future don’t have to take the subway anywhere. The whole idea of commuting is probably as antiquated as a horse-and-buggy seems to subway riders today.

My point in all of this is to look at our own technological advancement. I’m a firm believer that we’re well on our way to not only achieving, but probably surpassing all of the feats of advancement on display in Star Trek. Three-dimensional printers are just becoming a commercially viable commodity, and so the ability to replicate various objects might soon be a reality for the developed world. Similarly, as driverless cars inevitably take over the roadways, traffic, parking, car accidents, they’re all bound to become headaches of the past.

And as technology takes over more and more of the heavy lifting involved with day-to-day life, how is this going to affect the economy, our sense of wealth, our very definition of the word liberty? I ask this because, in Star Trek anyway, everything is free. Futuristic machines are so ubiquitous that it wouldn’t make sense to charge anybody for goods and services. No, the very idea of currency does not mesh with the utopian economy built on a foundation of infinite clean energy.

If we ever get there, or to some version of something like the world they have on Star Trek, how are we going to make that transition? How are people in charge going to give up their ability to demand a percentage of our own personal wealth in exchange for whatever it is they have to be offering? Or will things stay the same way they are now, a group of people at the top taking a greater percentage of what I would argue should be equally divided?

Take transportation as an example. Let’s look at taxicabs. A driver might not own his own car, he might lease it from a central dispatching agent. But in the process of me getting from point A to point B, I’m paying the driver, and ultimately those profits go on to not only sustain the greater taxi company, but to support the driver’s income.

And so what happens when that driver’s job is replaced by a computer? Is the price of a ride going to go down? I can’t imagine any taxi company willing to lower the fare. I mean, the fact that we’re willing to pay a certain price now shows that the amount is somewhat reasonable. So what’s happening in this potential scenario is that the owner of all the taxis, now free from worrying about assuming the liability of hiring drivers, gets to take home all of the profit, leaving a now unemployed segment of the workforce to look for some other means of earning money.

As technology takes over more and more aspects of society, where is everybody supposed to work? It’s just going to increase this divide, that those in power, those currently with wealth, they’re going to maximize and multiply what they currently have, leaving everyone else with a constantly shrinking piece of the pie.

There are signs that it’s happening already. Look at music and writing. When I was growing up, a CD cost about fifteen bucks. I got a physical object, and a lot of people made money producing that object, selling those objects, it was all part of a system. It was the same way with books and booksellers. But now those commodities are largely digital. We’re getting the same product, the same work of art, but there’s no longer the economy supporting the manufacture and sale of those goods.

And the prices aren’t really that much cheaper. Songs are over a dollar each on iTunes, and publishing companies and authors are constantly fighting with Amazon over how much a digital book should cost. Because as technology grows, the idea of currency doesn’t make sense.

I don’t know how they did it in Star Trek, but they somehow got to the point where nobody pays for anything. People with a lot of money had to give up their extreme riches in order for everybody to share in the wealth and utopia ushered in by a golden age of technological progress. I think we’ll eventually have to deal with how that’s going to work in current society. And it’s going to be tough.

If machines do most of our work, is there still going to be that mentality where you have to work forty hours a week? If poverty doesn’t exist, are we still going to judge those least fortunate for their lack of a work ethic? If you had all of your basic needs met and didn’t really have to do anything, would you still toil away at a job that you didn’t like? In Star Trek, nobody has to, and nobody does. They find something they want to do because they enjoy it, and money isn’t a problem. I have no idea how we’re ever going to get there, but I hope that we do, because the future is coming whether we like it or not.

If you go to a Star Trek convention, don’t dress up as Super Mario

One time I went to a Star Trek convention dressed as Super Mario. “I don’t get it,” my friends all said to me when I told them about my plan. And I was like, “What don’t you get? Star Trek exists in the twenty-fourth century, right? OK, well, that’s our future, right? Their ancestors are us, and so Super Mario and Nintendo all will have existed in their past, which is now. Doesn’t that make sense? Come on, it’s Super Mario, you don’t think he’s going to make it to three or four hundred years from now?”


And my friend Bill was like, “It’s not that I don’t think Super Mario isn’t going to be around, it’s just that, that’s way too much backstory for a Star Trek convention. Why can’t you just wear a Starfleet uniform like everyone else?”

“That’s so lame,” I told him, “I mean, no offense to any of you guys, I know the Starfleet uniforms are expensive and everything. You know what? I shouldn’t have said that. I’m sorry. But you know, my Super Mario costume wasn’t cheap either.”

But it was too late, I knew I was going to piss everyone off by calling their Starfleet costumes lame. But they were lame. And I kind of wanted to piss them off. Because come on, if you want to dress up for a convention, I can think of at least twenty actually interesting costumes from the broader Star Trek universe that don’t involve wearing a generic crewman’s outfit. You could be a Klingon, right, or you could be one of those old school Klingons from the original series. Or you could be Worf’s human stepbrother, or Wesley’s spiritual companion, the Traveler.

I’m just saying, they jumped on me for Mario, and now they weren’t holding back. “Listen Rob,” this was my friend Doug. He definitely had the nicest of the regular uniform costumes, like it had removable pips, a magnetic com-badge, he even had to pick it up at the dry cleaners because of the expensive fabric. “Your Mario costume was from Halloween. And it doesn’t look expensive at all.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about, Doug,” I said. Great, let’s have it out, let’s do this. I knew from Halloween that nobody thought my Super Mario costume was anything special. But not expensive? “Not expensive?” I said in Doug’s direction, but I was talking to the whole group now, “Do you know how expensive a pair of overalls is? I bought them online and they were expensive. And then this hat, this isn’t just a costume prop piece, OK, I bought this specially, and then I sent it to an embroiderer to have the M stitched up front. You see this fake moustache? It’s made out of walrus whiskers, all right, this fake moustache is going to outlive all of you.”

But nobody was budging. It was just me, a lone Super Mario surrounded by a whole group of Junior Lieutenants and Chief Petty Officers. “And yeah, Steve was a Vulcan, so that took at least a little bit more effort than just putting on a blue shirt and a black pair of pants, but not a lot. He didn’t really commit, he didn’t get the Vulcan haircut or anything.

And then my friend Larry spoke up, “Well, if Mario existed in Star Trek’s past, then Star Trek should’ve existed also. Right? How do you explain that?”

And everybody just went, “Oooooh.” And yeah, I didn’t have an answer. I said that it wasn’t fair, that of course Star Trek couldn’t exist as a popular TV show that predicted the course of events for the next three or four hundred years. But you can’t count that, it’s just not fair. There were a lot more words, but that basically summed up my whole argument, that it wasn’t fair. And then Jim, my brainiac friend, he started this big lecture about how Star Trek shaped the popular culture of the twentieth century, directly influencing our electronics, the design of the cell phones, all of those tired arguments you hear every time you read some article about Star Trek in the newspaper. And of course, everyone else just sat around in awe, another boring Star Trek speech.

Worse, we got to the convention, and OK, maybe people didn’t really get the whole Super Mario thing, I get it, it’s a bit of a stretch. And maybe I was a little lazy, just reusing the same costume from Halloween because I didn’t feel like ponying up for something else. But I could have done something, maybe made it like Mario was in Starfleet or something. But no, the worst was, amidst the hundreds and hundreds of regular Star Fleet officers, there was a group of fans who dressed up as Darth Vader and a bunch of storm troopers. And wherever they went, everyone was like, “Ohhhhh!” taking tons of cell phone pictures, having really cool mock fights. And after a while I just wanted to ditch my lame Mario costume, but it really was very expensive, I don’t know why I spent so much extra money. It’s not like it really added anything special to the look. And the walrus moustache? There’s no getting around that. That was just a really bad purchase. A really bad, questionable, impulse, late night Internet purchase.

Movie Review: Star Trek: Into Darkness

What can I say? Star Trek: Into Darkness is a great movie. Sure, I’m totally biased. I love the Star Trek franchise. One of my earliest memories is watching a Next Generation episode when I was four years old. I think I can safely say that I’ve seen every episode of every series in the canon. I’ve read countless lame Star Trek novels. If a madman pun a gun to my wife’s head and said, “Never watch Star Trek ever again, or your wife gets it,” well, sorry babe, but you having to exist with me unable to watch Star Trek, that’s not a life that you’re going to want to live. I’d be doing you a favor.


Having said all of that, I think that I’m even more qualified to judge this film, because my standards for Star Trek are so high. I used to watch brand new Star Trek, or some incarnation of it, every single week from when I was a little kid, with The Next Generation continuing into Deep Space Nine, to Voyager, and then finally to Enterprise. If the powers-that-be are going to make me wait three years for one two-and-a-half hour dose of Trek, it had better be fantastic.

And it is. It’s great. I don’t want to say anything about anything. Do what I did. Don’t read anything about the plot, nothing. If you see a commercial on TV, turn it off. If you’re out and the trailer starts playing on some screen in the background, close your eyes, put your fingers in your ears and start screaming, “I’m not listening! I’m not listening! Lalalalalalaaaa!” Just go see the movie and let the story carry you past light speed, all the way to warp nine point three.

I’m not even exaggerating. Sitting there in the theater watching everything play out, I felt like my circulatory system had been replaced with a series of warp coils, that instead of a heart everything was running on a dilithium-based matter-antimatter reaction. You know that feeling when you see something really cool or moving and you get goose bumps across your entire body? That’s what the whole film was for me. The previews ended, Into Darkness started rolling, and it was just all goose bumps, unrelenting, beginning to end. My skin actually kind of hurts still.

But it was worth it. In fact, I’d sacrifice far more than some mild dermal discomfort to enjoy such a work of brilliance. That’s cheesy, but what else can I call it? It was brilliant. The sound effects alone, how does something at once sound so modern while maintaining its distinctly retro theme? It’s the same with the scenery, the lighting, the tech. It’s how I imagine the future to look like, not like something cooked up from scratch, but a century or two of constant addition to our existing society.

And this movie isn’t just cool, it’s really cool, it’s poignant, it’s relevant. It tackles big issues, without an ounce of subtlety, of course, but that’s what Star Trek has always been about. It’s taking large societal problems and saying something about them with aliens and sci-fi. Like who can forget that original series episode where the two guys are half-black, half-white? It’s the 1960s, so here’s an alien racism themed story.

There’s nothing I can say negative about Into Darkness. My only observation would be that Zachary Quinto, in an effort to channel Mr. Spock, missed the mark slightly and wound up embodying Tuvok, the Vulcan chief of security on Voyager. Anybody with me on that one?

Also, again, go see the movie, but be prepared to sit in a theater full of guys and girls that, based on appearance alone, clearly love Star Trek. (Obviously I’m not talking about me. I was the exception. When I tell people I love Star Trek they’re like, no way Rob, how is that possible? You’re so cool!”)

Finally, and this has nothing to do with the movie, but I got really thirsty right before the previews started rolling, so I snuck out to the concession area to buy a drink. The line was long and the employees don’t get paid enough to do their job fast, so I had to watch the same disinterested routine over and over again.

“Medium soda please.”

“Would you like to buy a large soda for fifty cents extra?”


“Six fifty.”

Hands over seven bucks.

“Would you like to donate one dollar to cancer?”


Makes change.

“Would you like to donate these two quarters to cancer?”


Every single customer, every single time. I have nothing against donating money, whatever. But seriously, why don’t you give a dollar to cancer, Regal Theaters? The movie was like fifteen bucks. You just charged me another seven for a bucket of sugar water. And you want my spare change? You want even more money? Stop harassing me! Call of your dogs! This is extortion!

Thanks a lot TV

Sometimes I feel like I’ve watched so much TV in my life that I’ve done irreparable damage, to my DNA, like I’ve corrupted the very core of who I am, or who I would have been had I not spent so much time in front of the television. One particular way in which I can measure how my soul has been diminished is my reaction to real life tragedy. TV, especially the reruns that I grew up with, has desensitized me. I’m incapable of feeling any sincere amount of empathy when horrible things happen to those around me.

Right before my grandfather died, he was diagnosed with macular degeneration, fated to slowly going blind, unable to see the world in which he was soon no longer to be a part of. Everybody took the news really hard. All of my aunts and uncles and cousins got together, to be close, to mourn the closing of a chapter in our family’s history. People put on a brave face, but there was definitely an underlying sorrow, thinking about my once active grandfather, now no longer able to drive anywhere, soon he wouldn’t be able see anything at all.

And all I could think of was, well, the Fonz went blind on an episode of Happy Days. I forget the specifics, but I think something happened where Potsy smacked Fonzie in the head with a frying pan, and for the rest of the episode, he couldn’t see a thing. Doctors told Mr. Fonzerelli that, unfortunately, the damage was permanent, that he’d just have to get used to being blind, for the rest of his life. The word forever was tossed around at least five times.


Everybody tried to act upbeat while the Fonz wallowed in self-loathing. He tried showing up at that burger joint hoping everything would be the same, until he went over to where he thought the jukebox was, to try that trick where he’d save a quarter by hitting the machine and it would just start playing. But he was blind, so he accidentally hit Ralph in the stomach. Things got quiet before Ralph tried to break the awkward silence by making some jukebox sound effects.

But the Fonz was pissed. Everything wasn’t the same. His life as he knew it was over. Or was it? It wasn’t. It turns out that the doctor was reading somebody else’s test results, that Fonzie’s blindness would only be temporary. I wonder how the other patient reacted to the doctor’s mix-up, “I’m sorry sir, I know I told you that you’d be back to normal in no time, but it turns out I made a mistake. You’ll be blind forever.”

What, were they really going to make the Fonz blind in every subsequent episode of Happy Days? No, the Fonz was blind, for a minute, he dealt with it, or didn’t deal with it, but it doesn’t matter, because stuff like that never really happens on TV anyway. And I watched tons of crap like this growing up. So I couldn’t help not feeling bad for my grandfather, because even though everybody kept stressing that macular degeneration was incurable, I just kept waiting for that doctor to show up, “Sorry for the misunderstanding, folks,” my grandfather would be like, “Hey Doc. No problem. Aaaay.”

It’s like my grandmother. She spent a good chunk of her life in a wheelchair thanks to multiple sclerosis. Again, that’s a really serious condition, and I’m sure it was the cause of a significant amount of pain and suffering. But as hard as I tried to face my grandmother’s reality, I could never shake that episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation where Lieutenant Worf got crushed by a giant shipping container in Cargo Bay Two.


An accident like that would have killed a mere human, but Worf’s a Klingon, and Klingons are tough, so he survived. But he didn’t make it out totally unscathed: his spine looked more like a jigsaw puzzle now, and he was left a quadriplegic. The honor bound security chief was devastated. His life as he knew it was gone forever. What of his duties on the Enterprise? Over.

The Klingon code of honor didn’t help much either. Apparently disabled Klingons are expected to commit ritualistic suicide. Only Worf couldn’t move his hands, so he asked Commander Riker to do it for him. But do the twenty-forth century ethics of the United Federation of Planets allow for assisted suicide? And what of Worf’s young son Alexander? So many hard questions. So much irreversible loss.


Luckily, right after Worf chose to stick it out, to give life a chance, Doctor Crusher heard of this brand new experimental Klingon spine restoring operation. It had never been tried out before, but it just might work. What followed was a pretty suspenseful five-minute surgery scene and, guess what? It worked. Worf was back to normal. Was it too much to expect something like this in real life? Why couldn’t doctors come up with an experimental MS procedure for my grandmother? Why are you doing this to me, TV?

Do television shows think they’re teaching audiences a lesson by having their characters overcome impossible situations? Are we supposed to learn from their experiences dealing very briefly with chronic disease and permanent disability? No, we’re all getting ruined, our ability to cope with trauma eroded by cheap writing and loose plot holes.

Charles in Charge gets hit in the head and instead of suffering brain damage turns into a badass biker named Chaz. Michelle Tanner comes down with amnesia, but don’t worry, Uncle Jessie and the gang help jog her memory with a best-of Full House video montage. This is the fantasy world in which our generation grew up, where all tumors wind up being benign, and where all cancer scares are inevitably the mistaken results of some radiologist made at the beginning of the episode. Thanks a lot TV.