Taking Over Artemis

The multiplayer LAN strategy game Artemis might as well be titled Enterprise. The only thing preventing this is trademark law, since the creator of game and titular ship is in no way affiliated with Star Trek. But as my friends and I opened hailing frequencies, sounded alerts for enemy ships, and fired torpedoes, the name of the ship we ran stopped mattering. Artemis lets players become crew members on a ship tasked with protecting the galaxy from invaders. It’s a video game and a LARP at the same time, if you do it right. And by right, I mean yelling, “I’m giving it all she’s got, Captain!” in a Scottish accent and punctuating all commands with “Make it so.” My first time playing was in a dimly lit basement, sitting at a row of computers with the captain nearby, giving orders while looking at a giant projection of the ship’s movements on the wall. “Give me visuals,” “Do a long-range scan,” and “Fire when ready” were actual commands given, Captain-Kirk style. I was in Trekkie heaven. “I have been and shall always be” a Vulcan at heart, so the science officer position was a natural fit. I plotted jump calculations and scanned enemy ships for weaknesses. But during occasional downtime, I learned how communications, navigation, engineering and the other stations worked. And due to my type-A personality, I found myself trying to do them too, even when I was already occupied: How well would the Enterprise function if Chekov began telling Scotty how to run his engines? “Communications, offer terms of surrender to those two enemy ships on our tail,” I would order, even though Communications can see the enemy ships just as well as I can. “Helm, we need to be set on bearing...

42 Ways to Say “I Love You” in Geek Feb10

42 Ways to Say “I Love You” in Geek...

It’s the time of year for Love Potions, Heart Pieces, and those three magical words. (No, I’m not talking about “Use the Force” or “Beam me up.”) Whether you’re looking for a geeky way to ask your date out to a video game symphony, or planning to print your affections on a Luvdisc-shaped Valentine’s card, here are 42 ways to say “I love you” in Geek. (Why 42? Because it’s the answer to all mysteries in the universe, of course. And love may be the greatest mystery of them all.) 1. If you were a starter Pokémon, I’d choose you. 2. Are you a fairy? Because you fill all my heart containers. 3. All my base are belong to you. 4. I’d travel there and back again for you. 5. You’re my final fantasy. 6. I’d take an arrow to the knee for you. 7. I-it’s not like a l-like you or a-anything… b-baka—! 8. Be my Beka/Faye/Vincent Valentine. 9. Ruby is red, Neptune is blue, hope I get put on the same team as you. 10. You’re the hero Gotham deserves, and the one I need right now. 11. When I looked in the Mirror of Erised, I saw you. 12. You’re my precious. 13. SoH Dughajbe’bogh jaj rur Hov ghajbe’bogh ram. 14. Hello, Sweetie. 15. You are the center of my mind palace. 16. I know. 17. I’d volunteer as your tribute. 18. You were expecting Dio, but it was me—your Valentine! 19. Without you, who else will I have ice cream with? 20. With you, my life is 20% cooler. 21. *Wookie sounds* 22. You’re my player 2. 23. You fill me with determination. 24. Like a Headcrab, you’re always on my mind. 25. You’re the arc reactor to my heart....

Putting the “Special” in Holiday Dec16

Putting the “Special” in Holiday...

There are a few franchises that get away with what Star Wars could not, but here are a few stories that none have attempted (yet). The Avengers Advent Spectacular Tony Stark whips up a high-tech light display and turns the Avengers HQ into a Christmas tree for the city. The Hulk and the Black Widow star in a touching remake of The Gift of the Magi where he gives up his superpowers to buy her bullets and she pawns her gun to buy him an ultra-stretchy pair of pants. Captain America complains about how Christmas was better when he was a scrawny kid. When Bucky Barnes shows up, he and Cap sing a sweet duet of The Little Drummer Boy. And Harvey Korman appears as a cross-dressing intergalactic TV chef. Battlestar (Christmas) Carol-actica It’s Christmastime in the fleet and Commander Adama just isn’t feeling the spirit of the season. He’s too focused on feeding and protecting the survivors of the Cylon massacre. Apollo tries to get him to lighten up, but is chased off by Adama’s cries of “Humbug!” That night, in his quarters, Adama is visited by the ghost of Colonel Tigh, who mysteriously died just in time for the Holiday Special. Tigh warns Adama that he’ll be visited by three specters. In quick succession Adama’s sleep is disturbed by visitations from Gauis Baltar, President Roslin, and Number Six. Just as he’s about to give in and reclaim his Christmas spirit, Adama realizes that it’s a Cylon trick. He finds and destroys the Basestar and proves that grumpiness is a true superpower. The show ends with Harvey Korman appearing as a cross-dressing intergalactic TV chef. Doctor Who Christmas Special The Doctor… wait a minute.  We live in the universe where the Doctor Who...

Out with the New Nov11

Out with the New

Newer isn’t always better. Just ask all of the loyal Samsung customers who ran out and bought the new Samsung ‘splody phone. They thought they were getting was new-and-improved technology. What they actually got was the choice between keeping a pocket bomb or trading it back in for last year’s phone. They also got a stern warning not to carry their new phones on airplanes. If you’re not a Samsung customer, don’t feel too smug. If you’ve got Windows 10, Microsoft has been quietly force-feeding your computer the Anniversary Update, which might improve your device. Or it might turn your perfectly functional computer into a giant paperweight. Don’t even get me started on iOS 10. I miss the slide-to-unlock feature desperately and wish my iPad and I could just go back to the way we used to be. As a geek, I should know better than to expect good things from an upgrade. If fiction has taught me anything, it’s that upgrades are usually a very, very bad idea. Upgrades are bad, right? When Rose wanted to save the Doctor from the Daleks, she exposed the heart of the TARDIS and was infused with the Time Vortex. Like the Windows 10 Anniversary Update, it wasn’t exactly voluntary. It also didn’t go well. The power was too much for Rose and the Doctor sacrificed his incarnation to save her. Oh sure, we got David Tennant out of the deal, but… actually, that is a pretty good deal. But as for unnecessary upgrades… do you remember what happened to Lt. Barclay in Star Trek: The Next Generation? He and Geordi went on a little away mission to see why the Argus Array wasn’t working. He got knocked out by an alien probe and woke up greatly...

I’m Only Humanoid Oct12

I’m Only Humanoid...

I do not trust robots, least of all robots with artificial intelligence. There are a million examples from science fiction (which is obviously the most reliable source for determining the future of Earth) why robots with artificial intelligence are a terrible idea—the Terminator, Cybermen, Hal, Ultron, and the Matrix, to name a few. Despite the decades of fictional warnings, there are companies currently creating actual, functioning robots with artificial intelligence who, when interviewed, have expressed their analysis of humanity as inferior and worthy of either destruction  or placement in zoos. The idea of robots reasoning on their own scares the crap out of me. It frightens me because compassion and empathy cannot be programmed; reason without those qualities is, as the books and movies warn us, dangerous. It cannot see the whole picture, and decisions made without all of the pertinent information (which AI always assumes it has), are not usually helpful. When you have a unit that believes it has access to all information, is convinced of its own superiority and infallibility, and does not have emotions like fear or sympathy to keep it in check, I can only see one of two futures; either it runs for president on a platform of racism and terror, or it takes over and destroys the world. Because that’s the only logical conclusion to the mess we’ve made of our planet. Failure is, arguably, one of the most important human experiences. But then there’s Data. Data is the Spock of Star Trek: Next Generation. He’s also an android. Like Spock, Data finds humans fascinating. His fascination, however, is not a curiosity like Spock’s is, but is desirous of true understanding. He wants to be human. And he sees us in a unique way—through the lens of an...

Artificial Intelligence is Not Enough Oct05

Artificial Intelligence is Not Enough

A quick survey of artificial intelligences in fiction turns up a surprising number of psychopathic machines. A few are content with trying to control their human creators, but most are willing to kill to achieve their ends. Homicidal Machines GLaDOS from the Portal games is a prime example. Imbued by her creators with intelligence and singlemindedness, she relentlessly tests the player. Even her compliments are barbed and dripping with poison: “Very Impressive. Because this message is pre-recorded, any comments we may make about your success are speculation on our part. Please disregard any undeserved compliments.” She follows up cheery bon mots like that with potentially lethal puzzles and direct death threats. She delights in the prospect of the player’s painful demise. With all of that intelligence, you’d think she could find better ways to pass the time. You’d think she’d see the value of other lives. Or perhaps intelligence is not a factor here, and what she is missing is something else. GLaDOS is not alone in her murderous monomania. In the Star Trek: The Original Series episode, “The Ultimate Computer,” the Enterprise is tasked with testing a new machine intelligence intended as a replacement for fallible human crew. Spock points out that computers make decisions logically, which clearly makes them superior to biological lifeforms. Intelligence which cannot see other points of view can easily become arrogance. Predictably, things don’t work out as planned. By the mid-episode commercial break, the computer has gone out of its way to destroy an unmanned freighter and has taken control of the Enterprise. Before the episode ends, the computer has killed dozens of people, all in the name of fulfilling its purpose. Just another crazy artificial intelligence, but why? Why do so many writers predict that machines, if granted sentience, will turn on their makers? Maybe the answer lies with the granddaddy of all homicidal robots. In his 1966 novel Colossus, D.F. Jones weaves a tale about a self-aware defense computer that joins with its Soviet counterpart to take over the world. Efforts to block the computers are met with nuclear detonations that kill thousands. In the end, the scientist who created Colossus begs the machine to kill him. Colossus spares him, noting that one day the man will learn to love his new master. My question is: Does intelligence always equal a cold disregard for life? Shouldn’t a learning machine learn the value of life?  Skynet, HAL 9000, SHODAN, XANA, Samaritan… the list of deadly AIs is distressingly long. Can’t we—humans and machines—all just get along? Robots with Promise Not all fiction is hopeless. There are a few imaginary AIs which do learn. Even a few which are heroic. The WOPR computer (aka “Joshua”) in the 1983 film WarGames is designed to (again) replace humans. Joshua is put in control of the US nuclear arsenal. A hacker starts a simulated war with Joshua, but the computer can’t tell the difference between the simulation and genuine combat. In a nail-biting climax, the hacker and Joshua’s creator invite the computer to play all possible permutations of tic-tac-toe against itself. Joshua realizes that tic-tac-toe is a game which cannot be won and then stretches that generalization to nuclear war. Getting the computer to look at things from a different point-of-view saved the world. A similar conversion occurs in Pixar’s WALL-E, where the heroic robot is left alone on a wasted Earth with the task of cleaning the place up. Despite the solitude, WALL-E keeps at his task, doggedly collecting trash. He’s gone a bit mad in his decades alone and has begun to collect some of the more interesting bits he finds among the rubbish. He also watches the film Hello Dolly and clearly wishes he could live among the humans. His dreams come true (in a manner of speaking) when he finds a live plant and the sleek robot EVE comes to collect it....

The Dawn of Star Trek Villains Sep14

The Dawn of Star Trek Villains...

Since its debut as a TV series in 1966, Star Trek has a been inventive, iconic, engaging, and at times hilarious. Characters, catch phrases and creatures have stolen a permanent spot in our cultural landscape. Even non-nerds know that redshirts will die—and you’d be hard-pressed to find a person who doesn’t have a frame of reference for a prolonged yelling of “Kaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhnnnnnnn!” Over the years, Star Trek has served as an entertaining way to challenge my assumptions, beliefs, and conscience on many moral topics—from the development of technology, to politics, to intercultural relations, to policies on war and peace, to racism—the list is as long as the number of episodes that span the different branches of the television and movie franchise. So, it’s not surprising that the last couple of movies they turned out, Into Darkness and Beyond also tackled issues that had me leaving the theatre with so many more thoughts then when I entered. Both of these movies tackle one large issue (with nuances thrown in, of course)—the development of villains. Into Darkness offers the backstory of one the most important villains ever—Kahn.  Beyond introduces us to Krull. Both of these personalities are, in part, the result of actions taken by members of Star Fleet and the Federation. We see a level of responsibility in the creation of villains that belongs to the cultures, organizations, lawmakers, and citizens. Kahn, who becomes a mortal foe of Star Fleet, and more personally, Captain James T. Kirk, was literally created to be a fighting machine. After the danger of his ability was discovered, he was placed in suspended animation and awakened centuries later by a war-hungry Admiral of Starfleet (Admiral Marcus) who forced Kahn to develop horrific weapons so that he could start a war...

Vulnerability Aboard the Enterprise Aug22

Vulnerability Aboard the Enterprise...

One simple pleasure of life is reconnecting with old friends after a prolonged separation. Perhaps over a meal you swap stories, catch up on each other’s lives, and remember what brought you together in the first place. That was how I felt about Star Trek Beyond. I can’t recall a time when I didn’t know Kirk and his diverse crew. I watched the show so often I could identify episodes after hearing a couple lines of dialogue. Although other series in the Trek universe scratched my itch for new stories, none of them quite evoked the same warmth for me. Star Trek Beyond put me back in touch with my dear friends. The plot of the film is mostly an excuse to showcase the crew’s personalities. Despite nagging doubts about his career decisions, Kirk remains both energetic and resolute in defending life—especially the lives of his crew. Spock approaches his problems—even romantic troubles—with cool detachment. McCoy greets every new crisis and opportunity with an evenhanded mixture of snark and competence. Sulu gets time in the spotlight as the de facto leader of crew members who are temporarily separated from the command structure. Uhura serves as Sulu’s second, showing her heroic side. Chekov steps up his game as Kirk’s apprentice in action. Kirk has won the crew’s affection because they know they can rely on him. Just like a dinner with old friends, the characters reminded me of the things I loved and admired about them even as I learned about their new adventures. Kirk and company feel real to me; more like characters than mere collections of personality quirks. Star Trek Beyond got me thinking about my own friendships. Who am I to my friends? The endlessly, annoyingly, pragmatically logical Spock? The cantankerous McCoy?...

You Are, and Always Will Be, My Friend Jun27

You Are, and Always Will Be, My Friend...

One of the many reasons I love Star Trek is that the series highlights friendships. The romances come and go, but the friendships, when the right effort is put in, endure. It reminds me of my own experience. I only have a handful of friends who have withstood the test of time, and they mean the world to me. In Star Trek: Into Darkness, many of the characters display key factors to working, lasting friendships. This diverse crew struggles through much conflict, whether it stems from outside circumstances or their own biases and emotions. But when push comes to shove, the crew of the Enterprise are steadfast and enduring. I especially appreciate the attributes of trust, honesty, forgiveness, acceptance, and sacrifice they exhibit. Sulu and Trust For the Enterprise to run smoothly, the crew has to put their faith in each other, especially in cases such as letting a crewmember command as acting captain. When Kirk goes with Spock onto a Klingon-space planet, he leaves Sulu in charge to manage the ship. Though McCoy is nervous about this situation, Kirk has enough trust and confidence in Sulu that he can get the job done, which he does. Giving control over to someone else and trusting them to get the job done can be challenging, especially if you are one of those people who likes to do everything yourself. Trusting someone else when the stakes are high is the mark of true friendship. It is difficult to be honest, especially when honesty could mean jeopardizing a job or a relationship. McCoy and Honesty It is difficult to be honest, especially when honesty could mean jeopardizing something important to you, like a job or a relationship. McCoy is candid with Kirk despite the possible repercussions. He plays the devil’s advocate to many of...

Reforming racism by Star Trek’s example Jul07

Reforming racism by Star Trek’s example...

It hasn’t been that long since the massacre in Charleston, SC, where nine African-Americans died in a church because of racial prejudice. When this was brought up in conversation and I was asked to write about racism for Area of Effect, it didn’t take me too long to think of a meaningful geek parallel. Star Trek is the first thing that came to mind, in particular, the character of Lt. Commander Uhura (Nichelle Nichols). It was absolutely unheard of to have a black woman in leadership in the 60s, yet here she was on the bridge of the Enterprise. Her leadership role at that time is part of the beauty of Science Fiction. It can speculate and forecast a possible future, argue that it is better than our own, and demonstrate its ideal under the guise of fiction. Topics of race and equality did not stop with The Original Series but continued throughout every Star Trek series and remained the subtext of many an episode. So if we are going to glean anything from what Star Trek can teach us about processing the aftermath of Charleston, we should probably focus on the one series that explored the depths of character. It had to; I mean, they were stuck on a (mostly) stationary space station. What else is there to explore? Dukat’s eyes were opened because of his daughter. And I don’t care what you say, its character development is why Deep Space Nine is the series to rule them all. You can argue with me, but that won’t change that you’re wrong. While The Original Series painted a utopian future about race no longer being an issue of inequality, Deep Space Nine took it one step further and asked, “Now what?” What should be done...

Characters who should have died but didn’t Mar13

Characters who should have died but didn’t

There will always be characters who just aren’t that interesting but are required to help drive the story along. Then there are the characters who do their best to burn the story to the ground. Here are our ten. 1. Delores Umbridge from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix We’re pretty sure she was more evil than Voldemort. 2. Dawn Summers from Buffy the Vampire Slayer It was always me me me me. Sure fine she was abandoned (in Joss’s words) by “about six parental figures” but whiny is whiny. 3. The entire Lannister line except Tyrion from Song of Ice and Fire ‘Cept we kinda like Jaime too. 4. Harry Kim from Star Trek: Voyager He’s kind of the Dawn Summers of the Star Trek universe. 5. Navi from Ocarina of Time “Hey, listen!” “You’re dead to me.” 6. The dog from Duck Hunt And now in Super Smash Bros. Wii U, he CAN die! 7. Willie Scott from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom This. 8. Slippy from StarFox Really? You’re in trouble AGAIN!? You need my help AGAIN!? How about no? 9. Rose Thomas from Fullmetal Alchemist Dress up in a frog costume and fly a space-ship already. 10. Jar Jar Binks from The Phantom Menace We made him last so you can channel all your hate there. Okay, so who’d we...

The key ingredient to incredible friendship Feb17

The key ingredient to incredible friendship

Good stories require good characters. Great stories require great relationships. Take The Lord of the Rings for example. The fate of Middle Earth depends on the characters and their choices, but what do we talk about most after the story is over? The incredible friendships formed in the crucible of the unexpected journey. Frodo and Sam, Legolas and Gimli, Denethor and those cherry tomatoes—all bonds that the audience gets to watch form and strengthen. While every friendship—from our favourite fictional pairings to our own relationships—looks different, true friendships all have something in common. What is this crucial ingredient, you ask? Read on. The Star Wars universe has no shortage of memorable friendships. C-3PO and R2D2 toe the line between best friends and a feuding married couple. Obi-Wan and Anakin behave like bantering brothers. But the one friendship brought up the most is probably between Han and Chewbacca. Some friends fade in and out of your life, others play pivotal roles for season, and a rare few shape you into the person you are. Han and Chewie bring up a popular dynamic used in the Star Wars canon—the life debt. Chewbacca is a Wookie from the planet Kashyyyk and their culture is built upon a strong reliance on honour. If someone saves a Wookie’s life, that Wookie is honour-bound to pledge their life in service to their saviour. Wookies take this vow incredibly seriously, and to disregard a life debt is to disregard their entire culture. Han was an imperial pilot when he met Chewie, and refused an order from his commander to kill him, later rescuing the Wookie from slavery and sacrificing his career in the military. Chewbacca then becomes Han’s co-pilot and owes him a life debt. But it’s clear that they’ve become something more than obligated partners in a business transaction—they’ve become best friends. They’ve put their lives on the line for one another countless times, forming a bond that runs deeper than any Wookie law. Not every fictional universe has a carefully thought out mythology to a life debt, but this same type of bond between friends exists everywhere. John Watson doesn’t owe Sherlock Holmes his life out of some religious sense of honour, but he still follows the detective into any situation without hesitation, usually at his own peril. Pumba doesn’t save Timon from a rampaging hippopotamus (well, not that we know of), but the inseparable pals still have each other’s backs through lion attacks and rounds of Hakuna Matata. We know true friendships aren’t just about the good times. Malcolm Reynolds, captain of Serenity, doesn’t make friends easily, but when someone earns his trust, it runs deep. When he and Wash are held hostage and tortured, Mal starts to list all sorts of things that he would do with Wash’s wife if they get out alive. Understandably, this gets Wash pretty worked up. We learn later that Mal was keeping Wash conscious by keeping his mind off the excruciating pain. Best friends aren’t just there for the sarcastic banter or the musical number; they’re there for when you’re strung up and electrocuted too. Sometimes a real best friend has to be the “bad guy” and tell someone something they don’t want to hear. How many times did Hermione pull Harry’s and Ron’s butts out of the fire? If not for her obsessive desire for magical knowledge, her wisdom and forethought, the boy who lived would have been killed more than once in the first book alone. Sometimes a real best friend has to be the “bad guy” and tell someone something they don’t want to hear. Hermione not only shows what an awesome friend she is by forcing important but uncomfortable conversations and knowing when to shout, “I’m not an owl!” to inform Harry that he should get over petty squabbles, she gives up everything to help Harry stop Voldemort. Remember that time that...

Unlikely Friendships that Should Have Been Feb05

Unlikely Friendships that Should Have Been

We all know (and love) the many friendships that are exhibited within a variety of shows: Han and Chewy, Frodo and Sam, Mega Man and Rocket, Blanka and your face, you get the idea. But sometimes those friendships are just not enough and we need to reach outside their respective genres for the friendship matches made in heaven. Here are our top 10: Calvin & Chewbacca “You know, Chewy, some days even my lucky Millenium Falcon underpants don’t help.” Hermione Granger & Twilight Sparkle They’ll form a group called S.B.E.W. (Society for the Bookworms of Equestria and the World). Edward Elric & Gimli Sometimes dynamite comes in small packages and can explode at anytime, especially if you mention anything about being short. Tony Stark & Tali-Zorah “Testing rocket boots, Day 11, Test 37, Configuration 2.0. For lack of a better option, Tali is still on fire safety.” Arya Stark & Toph Beifong We just want to see these two take on an army together. Master Chief (John-117) & John the Baptist “But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, one who wears the spartan helmet of salvation and wields the energy sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” Sephiroth and Scar Scar would get some much needed perspective—“You wanna be king of a rock? Well I wanna destroy the world with a giant meteor”—and Sephiroth can stop being jealous that he doesn’t have a pet lion like the other side. Mal Reynolds & Doctor Horrible So Doctor Horrible can’t be friends with Captain Hammer, but he can darn sure be friends with Captain Tightpants! Caprica Six & Seven of Nine Separated from the hive collective with a strong desire to gain some form of humanity. It’s kind of true for both. Although Seven of Nine definitely has better taste in men. Jayne Cobb & John Casey “Do you know what the chain of command is? It’s the chain I go and get to beat you with until you buy this washing machine.” Certainly we missed a bunch. Which unlikely friendships would you...