My Little April Fool

When I got home yesterday, I discovered that NaNi had put her snow day time to very good use.

R2 looks a little different. But he does have a huge smile.
"Dad, please lifted up the helmit."
Under the helmet ...
NaNi did some redecorating.
"Hay, you. Kiss me, please."
"No. Well, just one. I love this!!! Happy April Fool's Day. I love you, Dad. "Thank you for the kiss, you kind Jedi."
I love the details. Lipstick attached to the phaser.
... and matching shoes.

To Boldly Go: Star Trek Online

A couple of weeks ago marked a watershed moment in MMORPGs: Star Trek Online wrapped up its mostly-open-beta program, and went live with its early-access-for-preorders launch. Delighted with the quality of the game, we sprung for a lifetime membership, which is approximately as costly as paying per-month for a year and a half. (I wish World of WarCraft would offer such a deal.)

The boys and I have been hooked. (Isaac, the weasel, has remained several levels ahead of me, and is about to get a promotion that will give him access to even better ships.) The game features space exploration and combat, and ground exploration and combat. The missions are described as “episodes,” and, like the plots of a television series, often require following unexpected developments and changing tasks as the plot unfolds across planetary surfaces and space. Each player captains his or her own starship, outfitting it with weapons, equipment that gives bonuses, and senior officers who also provide special abilities. I’ve attached a couple of screen shots of the gorgeously-rendered space exploration scenes below. The planets are beautiful, often including moving cloud layers that partly cover the ground below, as well as appropriate atmospheric illumination by the planet’s star, depending on one’s location in orbit.

The USS Naomi, approaching a planet within the Delta Volaris sector.
The USS Naomi, approaching a planet within the Delta Volaris sector.

(My first ship is named the USS Nichelle.)

The USS Naomi, exploring a system in the Delta Volaris sector.
The USS Naomi, exploring a system in the Delta Volaris sector.

Ground locations are often also highly detailed, with a wide variety of plants and terrain. Some of the outdoor ground locations (there are also caves, and starbase and other complex interiors) sometimes seem very reminiscent of the ToS set locations, although generally with more detail than the show’s budget allowed.

Combat and exploration are both integral to the game. Combat is far more skill-intensive than most MMORPGs, particularly as one commands an “away team” to whom orders must be given, and as space combat works in three dimensions and often against multiple enemies. Some missions automatically draft the cooperation of other players, and nearly everything can be accomplished by choice as a teamwork exercise. Like the best MMOs available, there are also large PVP combat areas where players can earn even more rewards.

The game is still in early release, and is apparently only going to get better, but it still shows some weaknesses of an early release with higher-than-expected levels of demand on its servers, and some frustratingly common bugs, such as the game locking up.

Overall, though, our romps through the Star Trek universe have been delightful, with much future enjoyment anticipated.

Addendum, Stardate 201002.18: I am fully convinced that this game was worth every penny. Even my beloved World of WarCraft has never captured me with this intensity.

Beaming out after an away mission.
Beaming out after an away mission.

Rescuing diplomats taken hostage; the end of a truly well-crafted mission series.
Rescuing diplomats taken hostage; the end of a truly well-crafted mission series.

Beautiful environments abound: This is Regulus.
Beautiful environments abound: This is Regulus.

Scanning with my tricorder. What could be better?
Scanning with my tricorder. What could be better?

Approaching Starbase 114.
Approaching Starbase 114.

Star Trek XI

I’ll describe Star Trek Zero in one word, the same word I uttered repeatedly throughout the film: Wow!

Lieutenant Wilcox, USS Reliant, with an unidentified Orion Slave Girl.

Last night at 9:50 we went to Hooksett Cinemagic to see the film in digital iMax (yes, that’s iMax with digital video … quite an experience, as we’d seen with Monsters vs. Aliens a few weeks ago). A bunch of people from church were also there (including, of course, the Dunn family all in costume). However, the iMax was having projector problems. So, we got to see Trek in digital, and have free passes to return to the iMax whenever we like.

Without offering any spoilers, I’ll just say that J.J. Abrams lived up to the storytelling and adventure I expected. There are elements of things we’ve seen before in Star Trek storytelling (indeed, it would be hard to find something that hadn’t been tried over the years), but rarely are they executed with such fine attention to drama, detail, and humor.

Amazing Worldwide (Web) Updates

In a typical day, I come across many fascinating things that aren’t exactly well known. This is a list of things which interest me, and probably does not reflect interest in the general population. Of course, thinking about that alone is of interest to me, so … (Ah, recursion!)

Cyborgs Are Real
Way cool neuroscience.

Gizmodo Goes to Lego
Far more here than I could summarize, including a video tour of the Lego factory.

Star Wars is Nearer than You Think
Actually, Star Wars weapons fire charges of ionized Tibanna gas, but you’ll get the idea.

Microsoft 3D Modeler
And you thought everything from Microsoft was evil.

The Large Hadron Collider Rap
Almost as good as “White and Nerdy.”

ShapeWays 3D modeling
These aren’t quite replicators, but affordable 3D “printing” is now at our disposal.

Marketing and Stop Signs
What happens when the marketing department designs a stop sign? (Software and graphics design often go this way.)

The Life of the Chinese Gold Farmer
Gamers will understand the reference. Others may learn something.

Keeper of the Star Wars Canon
Imagine having to hold the continuity of a universe together single-handedly. (Well, it helps to have some database skills.)

The Mythbusters Weren’t Allowed to Bust This.
What “the man” doesn’t want you to know about RFID.

I have Joined the Dharma Initiative.

I Have Decided to Become President

What do you think of, “Grow up, you babies!” as a campaign slogan?

Educational Update

Isaac and David both earned highest honors for their first quarter. That means they get a $1/week raise in their allowances, which will now compensate for the $1/week they contribute toward our World of WarCraft subscription. David has become very proficient in handwriting, which is always difficult for a lefty; there’s a huge improvement over last year. Congratulations to them both, the weasels!

Last night I took the second of two “midterms”—our single major exams—for my Boston University graduate courses. I got a stinking “B” on my first exam, in “Object-Oriented Analysis and Design.” I think I did better on the Software Engineering exam yesterday.

Both classes have projects due within a couple of weeks. The Software Engineering course is a group project with three of my co-workers, and we’re building, using Ruby on Rails, a Web-based calendar that is idea for families and small organizations. This is a program I’ve always wanted to put together, and it will be fun finishing it up. So far we’ve learned that Rails is amazing in putting together the data connectivity and display pieces virtually automatically.

In OOAD, I am having a blast designing a simulator of a Star Trek transporter, including replicating the Enterpise D transporter control panel. For this I’m uisng Adobe’s Flex Builder 2, at the suggestion of co-worker RaviShekhar Gopalan, to create my application programmatically for Flash. Although far from finished (I should be “mostly done” by Monday), I’ve published my incomplete-but-working project to . There are some fun hidden features (and I’ll be adding several more), although the simulation/demonstration code isn’t in there yet. I fell victim a bit to a common programmer’s overconfidence: “If I know one object-oriented language, then I can learn another one in minutes!” I’ve figured out just about everything I need to do in Flex (I have one more technical problem to solve, and it’s a small one), but I’m my no means a master yet. You can also take a peek at the PowerPoint presentation I gave to the class for that project. (Can you spot the big omission from my Domain Diagram? It’s a real forehead-slapper!)

(It’s been determined that I will get real credit for the courses I am taking, but that I cannot get my Certificate in Software Engineering, because I don’t have a baccalaureate. I will investigate, after the next two courses are done in the spring, what it would take to convert these credits into undergraduate credits and fill in the missing pieces to get a B.S. in computer science.)

John (we still hear from him occasionally) has been telling people for a while that he is enrolled in a GED review course at Massasoit, but if he is, he’s taking on days it isn’t offered, at times of the day it isn’t offered, with an instructor who isn’t teaching it, using a textbook that isn’t part of the course, and getting a ride from people who claim they aren’t giving him a ride to the class.

And NaNi continues to learn letter recognition and writing from Nichelle, although the impending holidays have cut down on the teaching schedule a bit. Naomi can spot capital As anywhere, and writes them perfectly, except for tending to draw them upside-down.

Geekier than Thou—Stardate 2006.1028

And you thought your family was geeky? Left to right are Isaac, as Lieutenant Commander Data; Doug as Chief Engineer Wilcox, stationed on the USS Reliant; Naomi as her favorite Star Trek character, Princess Leia (yes, we know); Nichelle as Chief Medical Officer also aboard the Reliant, and David as Ensign Monroe, leader of the Elite Force on board the USS Voyager.

Yesterday we attended Phoebe Dunn’s thirteenth birthday party. Now, the Dunn family is slightly fond of Star Trek, and the only serious contenders in our immediate circle for being Geekier than the Wilcoxes. Phoebe wanted a Star Trek themed party, and her mom put it together wonderfully.

I look great in this uniform. Chief Engineer Wilcox, reporting.

Over half of the attendees were in costume. Nichelle whipped up great stuff for Naomi, who insisted on being her favorite Trek character, Princess Leia Organa. Phoebe and her brother Chas were Klingons (“old school” without the forehead ridges). Their mom Trish was an Andorian female. Their father Charlie, who took these wonderful photos, was the classic redshirt who dies on an away mission. Nichelle looked fabulous in a Starfleet medical uniform, complete with medical tricorder, that arrived literally an hour before we needed it, courtesy (like our uniforms) of eBay.

Trish Dunn as an Andorian female.

Trish Dunn made great Trek-themed snacks, or relabeled existing ones. We drank roctagina, and Klingon blood wine, and snacked on candied tribbles and targ-on-a-stick. Delicious!

David as Ensign Monroe, leader of the Elite Force serving on the USS Voyager. He appears to be eating some of that wonderful targ-on-a-stick.

Nichelle made David’s costume, based on the character Ensign Monroe in the Star Trek Voyager Elite Force video game. It came out great. David provided expert design advice, and was wearing the costume again this afternoon.

Isaac as Lieutenant Commander Data.

Isaac wore a uniform I used to be able to fit into in my academy days (we presume Data is now in a command position, as he’s wearing a burgundy uniform).

NaNi smiles as she hold up a tribble she “caught.”

One of the games for the younger kids was a tribble hunt. They had a ball finding these creatures.

NaNi hugs the birthday girl, Phoebe.

We also played a homemade Trek-ized version of Win, Lose, or Draw. Phoebe had made the topics, and they came in two flavors: “painfully easy” and “so-hard-a-Vulcan-would-be-stumped.”

I tried to stay in character and told stories from engineering, like about the time we convinced a cadet that we really did cook “hot dogs” in the dilithium matrix as a rite of passage on the Reliant, and got him to try it just as the Captain showed up for a “suprise” inspection. Then there was the transferee from the Enterprise we sealed in the Jeffries tube, and tweaked the environmental controls so they matched the conditions of a Borg cube. That was a bit ruthless, but he got though counseling just fine.

Doug and Nichelle as Lieutenants serving on the USS Reliant.

It was a great day. The Dunns hope to repeat this at least once a year.

Star Trek Tech Coming to Your Home

For those of us who grew up reading the Star Fleet Technical Manual and the Next Generation Technical Manual, the development of real world technology that works just like on Star Trek is always fascinating. One example of this is cell phones, which, in function and actual physical design, work just like Captain Kirk’s [pardon my language] ST:TOS communicator.

Other than space-warp propulsion, artificial gravity, and transporters, the designers of Star Trek typically try to predict everyday technology that is about 20 years away from real-world current technology. (Although researchers have successfully space-shifted a laser beam using quantum mechanics, and suspect being able to do so with a simple atom may not be far off, which gives us a basis for transporter technology.)

The voice-aware communications system employed on the Enterprise may be in your home’s future.

The Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) is working on the problem with Social, Mobile, Audio Spaces, a project designed to create shared audio space so you can be in constant communication with people in other homes. Instead of making phone calls, you’ll have an always-on, hands-free connection that picks up your voice wherever you are. It’s jokingly referred to as “the God phone.”

Read the full article here at PC Magazine Online.

Now, if I were able to go into the 23rd century world of Star Trek, I already know how to make myself rich enough to be the envy of every Ferengi. I’d simply patent a nonexploding control console for use on starships …

Jeffries Tubes

Film/TV art director Matt Jeffries died from a heart attack July 21 at age 81. He was best known for designing the original Starship Enterprise for the “Star Trek” TV series—and remembered for the “Jeffries Tubes” in the ship, where the guts of the mechanics are.

The Top 10 Things I Hate About Star Trek

[doug]Okay, I’m really a fairly big Star Trek fan, despite being very disappointed by the latest film, but this list on the Happy Fun Pundit site is too delicious to pass up. Somewhere down the page you’ll find my own comments.

Here’s item one from the list, to give you a sample:

Noisy doors.

You can't walk three feet in a starship without some door whooshing or screeching at you. My office building has automatic sliding doors. They're dead silent. If those doors went “wheet!” every time a person walked through them, about once a month some guy in accounting would snap and go on a shooting rampage. Sorry Scotty, the IEEE has revoked your membership until you learn to master WD-40.