Briar Patches

While perusing Memory Alpha lately, I was struck by something odd.

In Insurrection, the action mostly takes place in an area called "The Briar Patch". But in "The Augments"[ENT4], Arik Soong (played by Data's own Spiner) uses the term to refer to Klach D'Kel Brakt, a Klingon region. Although the event was just the writers being cutesy more likely than not, the fact that the two places were being treated as the same one was just completely weird to me. And so I wrote my thoughts in the discussion area of the page, repeated and slightly revised here:

Although I'm sure the writers intended for us to make the connection (you can almost sense the undelivered wink and smile by Spiner), in any realistic sense it is profoundly unlikely that the Briar Patch from Insurrection and Soong's Briar Patch are one and the same. For starters, (1) the Insurrection Briar Patch is a system-size phenomenon ... vessels at impulse can traverse it within a day or two, whereas the Soong Briar Patch is a vast region with gas and radiation from supernova remnants ... implying a multi-system size measured in the light-years.

Further, (2) Soong indicates that the region shows indication of two habitable planets. He also says the Klingons haven't mapped it. This implies that remote sensing was employed, meaning they had to be able to get some readings of the planets from outside the region. The Insurrection Briar Patch prevented such methods. Worse yet, the idea of a second habitable world within the Insurrection Briar Patch deflates some of the plot of Insurrection, which focused exclusively on one planet and the dreadful effects thereon. Much of the dispute within the Federation could've been averted if the other world in the Briar Patch could be used as a health and healing resort.

Perhaps most damningly, (3) Soong says that his Briar Patch has to be reached by going through Klingon space ... they were in/near Earth territory, later part of Federation space ... at the start of the trip. That's inconsistent with the Insurrection Briar Patch in undisputed Federation control. It also (4) seems improbable that an area controlled by the Klingons for over a century, fought for in glorious battle by Kor himself, would end up in Federation hands a century later. And, (5) it stretches credibility that the Son'a could've emerged from the Briar Patch and built a nearby nation on the backs of two subjugated species in an area that had been so contested by those two major powers, especially considering the later Son'a relationship with the Dominion.

It's also worth noting that (6) a reviled criminal like Soong, who just happened to be the only survivor who would've known the name "Briar Patch" for the Klingon region, would've been an unlikely source for official nomenclature. Last but not least, (7) place-naming is an organic process. Many duplicate place-names exist just on this planet, and even just in the United States. ''Made in America'' by Bill Bryson, for instance, devotes a few pages to such issues, noting the frequent repetition of certain names by the settlers of the west. A well-known literary name like "Briar Patch" would apply both for a hiding place and for an impenetrable/dangerous spot, both of which could very well end up used repeatedly by spacefaring human travellers. (One can readily imagine the Badlands being called "Briar Patch" by the Maquis, for example.)

However, instead of just running with the above and unilaterally changing the page, I wanted to seek some community input first.

The wink-and-nod from the writers may not necessarily have been meant to suggest that the two Briar Patches were the same one, incidentally. Other possibilities of the nature of this probable in-joke exist, though simply suggesting that the two are one is the easiest idea.

In any case, as at Memory Alpha, comments are more than welcome on this matter.


Holst is Gonna Be Ticked

As you've no doubt heard by now, the International Astronomical Union has been debating a new definition for the word "planet", which, remarkably, has been undefined officially until now. In an era of space objects with names as ridiculously fanciful as cubewano, twotino, blazar, and so on, you'd think we'd have nailed down "planet" long ago. But, alas, not.

The new definition has something amusing. Way back when on the Spacebattles forums, a couple of ST-v-SW.Net's loyal opponents were shown a video clip of an exploding 'planetoid' in a Voyager episode. Screenshots from the video are still here.

Their claims were simply astonishing. The round, partially cratered body was said to have dilithium deposits "beneath the planetoid's crust [...] in the upper mantle, about sixty kilometres down". However, the opponents opened by arguing that the planetoid was a mere two kilometers in size.

Besides the depth given in the dialog, the mention of differentiation (i.e. crust, mantle, etc.) implying a certain size, the visible evidence of geologic activity, and so on, one of the points I made was that since the planetoid was spherical, it almost certainly had to be hundreds of kilometers in size because of the gravity required, based on our own local solar system bodies. This logic was rejected by the opposition, but eventually it was claimed that the roundness may have been artificial.

The IAU just gave me the authority to whip out a heaping handful of I-told-you-so. I quote:

"A planet is a celestial body that (a) has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape [...] his generally applies to objects with mass above 5 x 1020 kg and diameter greater than 800 km."


But anyway, the IAU definition attempt is bound to be controversial. While I'm a sentimental fan of Pluto being kept as a planet, the inclusion of Ceres will undoubtedly confuse folks.

But really that's just a "re-inclusion", since it was considered a planet when first found. People were actually looking for a planet in that spot when they found Ceres, since Ceres (and the rest of the asteroid belt) satisfies the Titius-Bode Law.

Also at issue is that there may be dozens of other valid contenders. As it stands, the IAU definition will, at present, bring the number of planets to 12. One of those twelve is Charon, long considered Pluto's moon. I still remember a National Geographic planet poster I had as a kid that said "small as it is, Pluto has a moon" ... but now this will be identified as a double-planet system since Charon qualifies independently, and the two orbit one another around a point not occupied by either.

But another dozen are on a "watch list" for planethood. Some are other asteroids like Ceres but smaller, whereas others are more of the same iceballs from the Kuiper Belt and Oort Cloud areas like Pluto or Sedna.

Though it might seem arbitrary, I would think a population criteria might be of value. The original reason Ceres stopped being called a planet is because other asteroids were found in the same orbit. The term "planet" comes from the Greek for "wanderer", and all eight classical planets share the fact that they wander alone. Ceres is part of a tribe of wandering bodies, some coming close to its size. Pluto and other iceballs wander about the outer solar system rather drunkenly, with highly eccentric orbits and so on.

Opposed as I might be to Pluto's demotion sentimentally, I can see the appeal of it rationally. But instead, it looks like Pluto's going to have a lot of company.

But I suppose we'll find out when the draft definition gets voted on later this month.


Attack of the Waste of Time

I get the impression that G4's "Attack of the Show" is not exactly intended as compelling, relevant television, but wow. Besides rather mildly tantalizing glimpses of the cleavage of some chick named Olivia and much more tantalizing glimpses of some cute-as-all-hell British hottie, there is no apparent purpose to the program. Shows like this are why I don't often bother with television anymore.

But I digress ...

Since I have already wasted an entire blog entry about the "Star Trek vs. Star Wars" segment that appeared on the show, I shall therefore waste two.

The debate was billed as a battle royale, with hints that there would even be (probably shallow) tech-talk. This means that mankind still awaits the advent of truth in advertising. For all of five minutes, two talking heads had the floor. On the left side of the screen with a holodeck background was Mark Altman of Free Enterprise fame, whose professional credits are lengthy and his shoulders broad. On the right with a Death-Star-against-stars background was Kevin Rubio of Troops fame, whose professional credits are almost as lengthy but who has an astonishing, and really quite disconcerting, utter lack of shoulders. His arms were never visible, but had they been I believe they would've appeared to erupt from either side of the mid-torso.

You may think I'm just making useless commentary with the above, but I'm actually making a point. If I were to stop right here with my report on the segment, I would have offered a recap featuring greater depth than the segment itself actually provided.

So instead of providing depth, let's just hit the amusing highlights. Rubio comes strong out of the gate noting the influence of Star Wars on the film industry and the generation as a whole. Altman was hit hard, and fell back to the usual 'optimism about the future' Trek-wank. From there it just devolved, and the most entertaining thing about it was seeing Altman attempt to speak through an everpresent smile, sitting cattywompus so that one shoulder loomed magnificently over the rest of him, while the shoulderless Rubio and his avenging disco 'fro (complete with 1970's 'stache) gazed upward, rocking to and fro (no pun intended) and looking for all the world like he was doing his best Stevie Wonder impersonation.

Altman was always pretty steady, quality-wise. His performance started off along the thin line between mediocre and somewhat-tolerable, and by the end he was doing pretty decent. However, Rubio started off insightful and slowly slipped toward insane. As example of his insight, at one point he assigned Trek's slips of late as being due to its lack of change as a franchise that's been doing the exact same thing for years, which was of course Berman's whole modus operandi. And he called Kirk a ho.

But around the time he mentioned Star Trek and its "opening alien frequencies" he started going completely bananas. I quote:

"I'm saying that Star Wars was enough to inspire a defense initiative which brought down the Soviet Union, destroying communism."

He's talking, of course, of the popular (and originally derisive) common name for the Strategic Defense Initiative, a largely pie-in-the-sky notion from the Reagan years designed to suggest that we had the upper hand in the nuclear arms race. The name came in part because of the planned use of lasers. The SDI pseudo-farce was part of the overall strategy of dominating the Soviets in military and military research spending, among other areas, fuelling their collapse.

Y'know, I've heard of a lot of things supposedly being inspired by Star Trek, but I'm pretty sure no Trekkie has ever claimed that Star Trek has shaped world events. Maybe some deluded Trekkies out there dream that perhaps Star Trek could inspire all of us to open our alien frequencies and sit down together in harmony and understanding, but I'm fairly certain none of them would assign, say, the Cold War avoidance of nuclear armageddon as being Trek-related. Basically, Rubio's rationale was like saying the shuttle program was inspired by Star Trek . . . like SDI being called Star Wars, the first orbiter was the Enterprise!

But in any case, the time you've wasted reading this entry is now longer than the length of the segment, so it's time to sign off. The only other bit worth noting is that the online voting for an Enterprise vs. Star Destroyer fight was won handily by the Star Destroyer.

I think this speaks volumes about the viewership of such fine, compelling television.


Attack of the Show

Anyone getting the American network G4 catch tonight's "Attack of the Show"? Reportedly they had a Star Trek vs. Star Wars topic. Of course, most such discussions are entirely superficial (box office draw, fanboy dorkiness levels, etc.), but this one at least was supposed to have had a (probably-still-superficial) tech side.

In any event, I'll find myself a copy and report if anything interesting was said.