The Treehouse Blog

The sorrowful state of Star Trek

on Aug.11, 2020, under SciFi

I like Star Trek. I really do. It entertains. It explores interesting moral issues within the framework of science fiction. The main characters are, almost exclusively, respectable and admirable. It has an optimistic vision of the future.

The current generation of Star Trek, starting with Star Trek 2009, meets very little of that rubric. It is, in every way that is important, not Star Trek.

Let’s just go through it. I may update this from time to time as I think through it more and endure more New Trek.

Common Themes in New Trek

  • We are the Enemy. Most of the villains are within the Federation or Starfleet, rather than external forces. While Real Trek is no stranger to exploring (some) problems from within, for the most part conflicts arise from outsiders.
  • Over the top action sequences. While Real Trek has its share of absurd hand-to-hand conflict and space battles, New Trek feels the need for nauseating visual extravaganzas that try to mimic what you might see from an Avengers movie. It’s not necessary, and ultimately takes away from its realism.
  • Absurd camera work. The camera has to start upside down and twist to align with the orientation of the ship. Or even characters in the ship. Or excessive “camera circling the conversation” shots. It’s just about unwatchable at times. Yes, I know, it’s trying to be clever with “no gravity” and whatnot, but again, it’s taking away. The use of quick pans and zooms in the Battlestar Galactica reboot was great. This goes way too far and again, takes you out of the story.
  • Lens flares. Seriously. Let’s just pretend whatever future visual scanners are used in the future do not experience this annoying artifact. Get rid of them.
  • Quoting regulations. Yes, quoting regulations is a theme in Real Trek. But New Trek seems to go even further with it, using it ever more as a throw-away, and it gets grating.
  • Swearing. In particular with Picard, the use of the F-bomb is unwelcome. Star Trek is best when it leaves behind profanity, sex, and gore. The fact that streaming services are not bound to decency rules for broadcast television is no reason to abandon them. This is not South Park, it should not be going for shock value or pushing the envelope in this area.

Star Trek 2009

It was a fun watch, and good to see familiar characters with new portrayals. The enemy was essentially a terrorist who is trying to avenge a failed attempt at averting an extinction-level natural event. The scenario to get all of the original crew together in very different circumstances is not believable. The notion of using a different timeline for the reboot is very Star Trek though, and they get some credit for trying to make the origin of this reboot in-universe.

Star Trek Into Darkness

The enemy is Section 31, an off-the-books organization within Starfleet, who co-opts Khan. I don’t think they should have gone there. Then when I realized they were using Kirk to mimic Spock’s self-sacrifice from Star Trek II, it started to feel more like a parody, and that was hard to shake.

Star Trek Beyond

The enemy is an ancient Starfleet captain that has mutated into someone else with an extremely xenophobic perspective. Ugh. It was a fun romp with the ship and crew though.

Star Trek Discovery

It’s really quite bad. In so very many ways.

  • Mirror universe as part of the main plot. No. Don’t do that please.
  • Spore drive. Please. It would be fine as a throw-away SciFi concept in an episode or two from some other civilization or experimental project, but not something that can be taken seriously as part of a series bible.
  • Unlikable characters. The only one that at all resembles Real Trek is Captain Pike, but the cast of characters is essentially intolerable or in the case of some, just unremarkable.
  • Injecting into Spock’s past. This was unnecessary and goes beyond what suspension of disbelieve will buy you. Also, his portrayal in the series just does not jive with the character we know.
  • Section 31. Why is this secret organization so well known and have such a huge footprint? The power of Section 31 from Real Trek is how far in the shadows it is. It should not be a major overt component.

Star Trek Picard

Star Trek Picard does some unforgivable things, but it is perhaps the best of the New Trek TV series. A lot of effort is given to try to weave past TNG-era plots into the new story with varying degrees of success, which ends up coming off as forced. The behavior of Starfleet seems to not be consistent with in-universe precedent. I did not find any of the new characters to be compelling. What they did to some of the existing characters was unwelcome. The best part was likely an afterthought – the reunion of Picard with Riker and Troi. Why are the Romulans now portrayed like elves? As is usual with the modern serial mystery-drama (think Lost), too much time is spent in avoidance of advancing the plot. Star Trek is far better when episodic.

Star Trek Lower Decks

Only one episode so far, but they do a lot of damage. The characters do not, for the most part, be the upstanding respectable and admirable folks I want to watch. It’s very Rick and Morty… and there is a reason for that. But Star Trek it is not.

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PA-STARNET Mapping

on Feb.24, 2020, under Radio

When I first saw a low-resolution image of a map of Pennsylvania’s OpenSky network in public documents, I wished I had a high-resolution map I could study. With some recent attempts to find new sites in the successor P25 network, I thought it may be worth the effort. Like many projects, this one spiraled out of control. I originally did not intend on mapping the OpenSky cell sites, and but I ended up doing many of them. If I knew the effort involved, I surely would have automated more of the process. But after two months, I have a map that I’m content with and am ready to share. If you’re a radio network enthusiast, please visit the Github project, and download the KMZ to load in Google Earth.

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Netflix and Hurricane

on Nov.02, 2019, under Networking

I’ve used Hurricane Electric’s excellent free IPv6 Tunnel Broker for years since Kuhn can’t be bothered to provide native IPv6. I’m occasionally a NetFlix subscriber. I’ve had trouble re-starting my Netflix subscription over the past few weeks, and today determined it is because they are doing evil things with IPv6, or more likely, with my tunnel broker specifically. Why does Netflix make it hard for me to give them money? I fixed this by filtering AAAA records for a number of Netflix domains on my local DNS server. Some good references follow:

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Who buys a satnav in 2019? A review of the Garmin Drive 65

on Aug.24, 2019, under Technology

I recently purchased a new Garmin Drive 65 (ad) to replace my aging Garmin nuvi 200W I purchased in 2008.

Why replace it? The 200W still works, though its internal battery does not. I had purchased the lifetime map updates at one point, though it needs an SD card for more capacity, and takes forever to update. I also was interested in adding capabilities like a higher resolution display, lane guidance, topography, and traffic.

I also have other options, of course. In the RAV4, I have an android-based radio, that itself is aging and far from latest in terms of operating system, but can run a variety of things like Google Navigator, Open Street Maps, and Waze. I also have a cell phone and several older ones that could do the same. The F-150 has the 8″ Sync2, which didn’t come with navigation, but I added it by buying a map card and some reconfiguration. But none of these is perfect. The RAV4’s unit has a small screen that is essentially impossible to type on while driving and lacks useful voice recognition. Navigation with Google is great, but is useless when out of cell range, which is still happens often enough when I’m out exploring. The navigation and driving user interface for Open Street Maps is lacking, but the offline maps and topography are great. And the Sync2 lacks the ability to input coordinates, which is often essential when out exploring. So, despite using these other systems when their limitations do not matter, I still feel the need for a standalone satnav, and take along the nuvi.

I’ve take two test drives with the Drive 65 so far. Here are some of my observations.

Directions. The voice navigation prompts are improved versus the nuvi in that it speaks street names and gives meaningful prompts like “at the stop sign.” Unfortunately, this is outweighed by the fact that in many cases, it skips over steps. More than once, where there are two back-to-back intersections, it will speak the direction for the next one, not the one you are at, skipping it. Sometimes this leads to being given the exact wrong direction for your current location. Now, I’ve had this happen on the nuvi I’m sure as well, but it seems far worse on the Drive, and I wonder if this has as much to do with the map data it’s using as it does the algorithms it uses.

Traffic. The Drive comes with a traffic-receiving power cable. Unfortunately, it does not pick up any service in the local area. It can also get traffic data via a Bluetooth link to your cell phone, so I set that up. I don’t really mind this, since traffic information would be generally more useful in cell-available areas anyway. When driving home from the Letterykenny area, it wanted me to take Route 11. Route 11 is currently closed on the other side of Shippensburg for a bridge replacement. This closure is beyond my route home, so it should have had no effect on me. It would calculate a route using 11, and then say “Route 11 is closed” and change the route. Then when I would start driving a different route, it thankfully no longer says “recalculating” when you do this, but after it rerouted, it would say “Route 11 closed” and do it again. Incredibly annoying, so I turned off traffic.

Terrain. Terrain matters a lot to me, as when you’re in the mountains, vertical separation is significant. It also helps give visual cues as to where you are when looking a the map. I almost always have Google Maps in Terrain mode. The Drive 65 has the “3-D buildings and terrain” feature. This is presented on the screen by shading. It’s not particularly high resolution, but it does let you see some contours. It’s really not great though. The “bright” side of the shading seems indistinguishable from the white background of the map, leaving you only to see the dark side of the shading, which is deceiving as you only see about half of the terrain feature. There appears to be no way to turn on iso-lines to give you a better indication of the terrain features.

Screen. The screen is bright and easy to see and huge at 6.95″ diagonal. It might even be too big for the application. 1024 x 600 pixels, glass, multitouch – this is where it really shines over the nuvi. With the “bean bag mount” using it at a downward angle in the office, sometimes touches on the keyboard are not registered as well as I would like. Not sure if this is just angle or what. So far have not noticed that while in the vehicle. There is plenty of room for information on the screen, and there are options as to what you want to display which seem useful. One tidbit I don’t like is that on the coordinate entry page, there is no backspace button, though you can select a digit to modify it.

GNSS. The satellite status page shows both GPS and Galileo satellites, but not GLONASS.

Points of Interest. The points of interest database is something I have grown to depend on in the nuvi. When saving locations for an upcoming trip, the Drive cannot find Lake Durant Campground, which is a New York State public campground – so something it should find. With network connection, it finds it using Foursquare, but gives the wrong location for it.

Overall, I would say I’m disappointed with the purchase, but planning to stick with it. I’m not surprised, and hold little hope that other products are better at this time. I hope Garmin commits to improving the software of this unit, as most of the problems likely could be solved. I may have more to say on it after my fall expeditions.

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Fedora 27, Nvidia, Gnome, and Wayland

on Mar.26, 2018, under Linux

I’ve been having trouble recently with my home desktop having gnome-shell chew through 100% CPU and leave the system unresponsive.  Ordinarily, it seemed that updating the binary Nvidia drivers shortly thereafter would fix it, but not most recently.  I followed someone’s suggestion to switch to lightdm instead of GDM, and while that worked, lightdm does not play nicely with Gnome in some ways – specifically screen locking does not integrate, which is quite annoying.  Ultimately, I think the problem is the switch from Xorg to Wayland, and the Nvidia drivers not playing nicely with that.  I just now switched WaylandEnable=false in /etc/gdm/custom.conf.  So far that seems to be working.

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