Forums, Et Al.

Although I prefer the individual debate paradigm to forums insofar as debates are concerned, I do still try to keep abreast of what's being discussed in the forums. Fresh ideas can come from many sources, and although I have a backlog of my own ideas that I haven't gotten a chance to flesh out into pages, keeping an eye out for better ideas certainly can't hurt.

Over the course of recent months, I've noticed that, for the purposes of technological comparisons of Star Trek and Star Wars, the StarDestroyer.Net forums are intensely dull. The reasons are manifold and interrelated, including the rapid banning of posters who don't toe the line (i.e. those who are pro-Trek or insufficiently pro-Wars), the declaration of Star Wars victory, ICS-thumping, et cetera. The only mildly interesting points have generally been the Talifan threads against Karen Traviss and other modern "EU minimalists" who don't write about Star Wars as if the technology and infrastructure are sufficiently 'uberwanked' for the ICS thumpers' preferences. Other than that, though, there's been little to nothing of note for a long while.

In short, like ASVS, the SD.Net forums have largely faded to irrelevancy.

So where is relevant discussion taking place? Well, at one point of course the STrek-v-SWars.Net forums, now faded into memory along with the STrek-v-SWars.Net main site, were the best, but they're long gone now. SpaceBattles has some good discussions, but the entrenched pro-Wars majority (many of whom, including some moderators, are SD.Net members) means that many discussions get squashed or lost under shouts of "THE ICS IS CANON! CANON CANON CANON! INCONSISTENCIES AND LUCAS'S STATEMENTS BE DAMNED!"

(And, naturally, you get plenty of ST-v-SW.Net hatred from the same quarters. In one thread about a Borg "Fusion Cube" from some Trek game, for instance, someone linked to the old page on hull strength. Immediately the pro-Wars camp responded that the entire site was totally incorrect on all pages and regarding all points, and that I was a dishonest liar. What amused me was that the given basis of the claim that I was a liar was a quote from the hull strenght page: "However, because the KE values look better, they are the ones being employed."

As the claimant then said, "Wow, he admits that he is being dishonest right there. Clearly a man to listen to."

I'll admit that the quote sounded really bad. I myself was left to wonder about my own honesty! It didn't sound like me at all, but if this pro-Wars debater was quoting me like that then surely the quote must've appeared on the page. So I went to the page and searched for the quote . . . and then started laughing my fool head off.

In the conclusion section, I noted that going by the kinetic energy calculations I was using to compare two collision events, "The Star Destroyer took a hit approximately 11 times more energetic than the Galaxy Class starship, losing between 8 and 16.7 times the mass." But I also noted that were we to use momentum, then the "impact against the ISD had only 5.7 times the momentum of the [collision with the Galaxy], doing far more than 5.7 times the damage. However, because the KE values look better, they are the ones being employed."

Yes, you read that right. In other words, I said that I was using the kinetic energy calculations because they enhanced the Star Destroyer's apparent performance in the collision (i.e. where comparative energy was roughly equal to comparative lost mass), compared to using the calculations involving momentum.

And so this pro-Wars poster declared me a liar on the basis of my open and blatant attempts to keep Star Wars looking as good as it could in technological comparisons.

I love it . . . you just can't make this stuff up. Next thing you know they'll be opening up GalaxyClassStarship.Net themselves.)

But, even though some of the people who post in Trek-related threads know very little about Trek ('The Die is Cast? What's that?'), the sheer number of people involved means that some interesting ideas can be generated. One user, VivFTP, stands out with some well-researched data, and though I don't always agree with his points he often makes good ones.

However, while the sheer population has its uses, the rampant Trek ignorance at SpaceBattles (and the related entrenchment of ICS thumpers) limits the depth of the discussions.

What's needed, in my opinion, is an enhancement of the population at the StarfleetJedi.Net forums. The discussions are limited at the moment due to a smallish population, but the focus of the place and the number of willing and able neurons already present argue for it being the home of forum-based debate online.

Now, if only I could get that copy of the STrek-v-SWars forums said to be lurking around . . .


Old Calculators and TOS Set Design

While working on a page, I pondered the laughable notion of TOS writers having one of those early typewriter-sized desktop calculators trying to do math regarding some esoteric point in their scripts instead of worrying about the deadline. (Just imagine Gene Roddenberry plugging away on one of those big bohemoths while Justman stood atop his desk waiting.)

But since my memory was a little vague on when exactly those big bohemoths appeared, I went and looked it up.

As it turns out, desktop calculation was actually old hat by that point. Of course there was the good old abacus, naturally, but much more advanced devices had been around for awhile. And sure, there were also the large-scale computers and so on, but here we're limiting ourselves to popularly-available desktop-or-smaller calculation machines.

From Napier's Bones to 19th Century mechanical adding machines, desktop calculation was not a new thing, though I rather doubt the devices were as ubiquitous as personal computers are today.

In the early 20th Century mechanical calculators were pretty impressive devices. Perhaps the coolest was the Curta Type II handheld mechanical calculator, about the size of a modern hand grenade but, in the same way the pen is mightier than the sword, a helluva lot more powerful.

While it's true that desktop electronic calculators were newfangled thingamajigs in the mid-1960's (replete with vacuum tubes and even Nixie displays in some cases (also others, if you even managed to get an electronic display at all!), older electromechanical desktop devices . . . technologically akin to old-school typewriters or the mechanical calculator units but replacing an electric motor for the crank or finger power . . . had been around for decades. Perhaps the finest examples were the Friden models. This electromechanical beast was chock-full of extraordinarily complex mechanical apparatii. While it almost seems primitive to modern eyes so used to tiny solar-powered electronic calculators at a dime a dozen, it's still an incredibly impressive display of a mass-marketed complex mechanical machine. Of course smaller mechanical desktop units were available, but usually less functional.

There's really not enough, though, that can be said for old technology sometimes. While any old EM pulse would be enough to blow the brains out of every electronic calculator over a huge area, anyone lucky enough to have a Friden or Curta or Bohn or even just an old abacus lying around and remembering how to use it would scarcely notice the event inasmuch as their ability to do math without pencil and paper was concerned.

But in my research, one thing that leapt out at me was another Friden unit, the first electronic calculator to be based on transistors instead of vacuum tubes. (Technically it had one delay line and so wasn't a pure transistor device, but we'll forgive this one bawble.) As if to prove the point I just made about old technology, one problem the unit had was that its cathode-ray-tube screen could put out interference that would cause the calculations to get thrown off, producing invalid results.

Nonetheless, just take a look at the thing. It looks like it was just ganked from the conference table on Kirk's 1701. One wonders just how futuristic looking the ship was at the time for most people . . . other than light-up buttons and larger, more well-lit blinky consoles (not to mention more capability in similar packages), the devices of the time were stylistically right on par.

But in any case, that last observation was just an excuse for me to share my little old-calculator geek-out. One day I'll go wild about flashlights and really bore you. :)

(Special Thanks to OldCalculatorMuseum.com)


R2-D2's Wino Friend

Here we see a little robot developed by the Japanese to taste wine. The part that surprised me wasn't the use of a spectrometer to determine the type of wine, brand, and vintage, but the idea that the analysis results in a description of the taste. Presumably this is just regurgitating expert opinion on the matter . . . i.e. if it thinks the wine is a Chateau Picard 2342 then it will describe the crispness of the finish based on statements of human opinions of the brand . . . but it's still interesting all the same.

One of the strengths (and probably one of the weaknesses) of user-friendly Starfleet tech in the shows seems to be that they aren't just provided with data by sensors and tricorders, but that they're often provided with interpretation of the data across all manner of fields. The level of developmental work involved to get that right must've been enormous. After all, if I wizz in a half-full wine bottle and pour it in this robot's gullet, what would it claim? An acrid chardonnay? Cabernet Pissignon?

Oooh . . . CinemaxHD

This is extremely interesting. Is this some fartknocker doing upconversion and calling it HD, or can these guys get an actual HD transfer of the Star Wars films? The video promo gives no clue, but if the latter then imagine the wealth of newly visible detail even at 720p!

I'll keep trying to find out more, not to mention trying to figure out how to get my grubby little paws on it.