2009-08-27

Scalzi - Bad Design in ST

Okay, so is it just me or did Scalzi go much easier on Star Trek?

His basic points feature a couple of irrational-seeming super-advanced alien devices (and here I include Voyager 6 as modified to V'Ger, and you can (but he didn't) include Nomad).   Then he moves on to phasers, only noting their highly variable output and not things like ergonomics, apparent lack of sighting mechanism (or holographic analog) on most, and other possible design complaints.    Then he gets all fashionista on Starfleet uniforms, complaining about the shade of mustard yellow or something.

So basically, he has completely ignored critiques of Federation design thus far, whereas most entries in the Star Wars article made fun of Imperial design on actual utilitarian grounds, with only the last three being more of the nature of production/story design flaws.

He then moves on to the Enterprise problems from TMP, which does bring us to our one and only critique of Federation design, which was the TMP-era method of increasing phaser power by channelling it through the main engines, or whatever.   This means the engines going flaky (as the untested TMP engines did) would disable the phasers.  

Clearly this did not occur in the ENT, TOS, or TNG eras, and thus we may presume a temporary situation.   Meaning the one actual thing he considers to be a poor design in Trek was a one-movie problem that was a function of plot.

He even considers holodecks to be brilliantly designed, even too good, save for the ease of overriding safety protocols.   Really?  That's the only design flaw of the holodeck?   How about not being able to simply pull the plug when Jarada probes fiddle with the settings, instead requiring that engineering teams stand by as the future Chief Engineer patiently watches the wunderkind fix it?   We even saw this graceful failure mode in Voyager!   When the ship was rendered powerless by a dampening field, the holodeck froze with the simulation's setting in place.  Even if that were a special case, however, we could at least assume a failure mode where all the simulated stuff just disappears, leaving you in a blank room.

But I digress . . .

Finally, Scalzi takes the easy shot of making fun of the JJ Abrams magic comic-book "red matter" MacGuffin/BDO from the recent Trek movie.  Gee, that was imaginative and original.

So yes, I'm unimpressed. 

12 comments:

  1. OK, so what would YOUR top ten Star Trek design fails be, then?

    For me personally, I must agree that his comments about the uniforms and phasers are pretty daft, the former because, even if they don't look particularly good, they don't (unlike stormtrooper "armour") seem to have any PRACTICAL disadvantages (except, perhaps, for a lack of pockets) and the latter because one would fully except phasers (given the very same variable power settings he himself talked about) to be able to turn those earwing things from Trek II into "smudges" given, for example, what they were able to do to "Infested Remmick" in TNG: Conspiracy...

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  2. ...I mean, how is a phaser having the capability to turn a target into "smudge", without fully vapourising it, a bad thing? How does the phaser having another option between "kill" and "vapourise" stupid design? What if the kill setting wasn't strong enough to kill the target, but you didn't want to vapourise entirely it because you wanted to examine its DNA or something? The "smudge" setting would seem to be perfect for that...

    As for the "battle jacket" uniform designs from the 2nd to 7th movies, I actually quite like them and can well see why they lasted by far the longest of any known Federation uniform design... And even if they ARE "blouses" (something I would disagree with), according to Wikipedia, that's not actually a new thing in military uniform design (or at least dress uniform design) anyway... They say in their "blouse" article and I quote...

    "The word blouse most commonly refers to a woman's shirt[1] , although the term is also used for some men's military uniform jackets.[2]"

    So, yea...

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  3. I just wanted to mention that an ounce of anti-matter in Star Trek, detonates with 4.6 million megatons of explosive force (TOS: Obsession).

    Here's the calculation:

    2.56927E+17 square inches / earth
    6.818181818 kg of air/square inch
    =1.75178E+18 kg of air on earth
    * 11000 joules required for 1KG escape velocity
    = 1.92696E+22 joules required to rip away 1/2 earth's atmos.
    = one ounce/antimatter > 4.6 million megatons

    Comparing that to Star Wars canon, pretty much puts the whole matter to rest, since an ounce of anti-matter can be drained from a starship's engines without any effect on its performance.

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  4. As for Scuzzi's critique of the TMP-phasers being channeled through the engines: it's irksome that critics will bash something, without even reading the novel. In the novel, Roddenberry DID address this regarding an override, and how it was a future-consideration because the Enterprise-refit was simply an experimental design for future starships, with engines six times more powerful than anything ever taken into space; the ship had been commissioned on an emergency-basis, since no other starship was within 12 hours of Earth, and the V'ger would be there before then.

    As for his complaint about the primitive Voyager probe being re-built by the machine-race, because a person wouldn't do it for a brain-damaged racoon: he doesn't consider that the machines, unlike people, are BUILT simply to follow instructions; that's why V'ger NEEDED to join with a human in order to complete its mission, since people were able to think independently of instructions.
    But this flew right over Scuzzi's little mind... at warp speed.

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  5. With regards to the anti-matter in Obsession, I believe Anderson did address that in an early article that he later dismissed because he considered it to be inconsistant with the rest of the Trek canon (much like the ultra-fast warp drive in Star Trek V)...

    Anderson has also pointed out in an early 2006 blog post called "Moderation and Extremeism" that if he ran his website the way Wong runs StarDestroyer.net, he could easily use the Obession and Trek V examples to soundly trump even the most wanked up Incredible Cross Sections figures AND claim them as canon (something that Wong cannot legitimately claim), even if they are inconsistant with the rest of Trek lore...

    http://www.st-v-sw.net/weblog/2006/02/moderation-and-extremism.html

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  6. I rather stand with Scalzi on the phaser point.

    Let's say I could boost my internet speed by routing my DSL through the local power utility's 110-volt electrical wiring going into my home, but with the caveat that if the power went out, browned out, or otherwise went flaky, so would the internet.

    Well my computer needs electricity, so I wouldn't care. The DSL would fail pretty gracefully because if the power goes out I don't know or care if the DSL's up anyway.

    But that's different than the Trek example. If my home also had a generator and even a backup battery power setup so I could always run the computer, but the internet was tied to and dependent on the power utility's line going into the home (which would not be relevant via generator or backup battery), then I've made a boo-boo. Now if a power line falls down the road, even if everyone else's DSL is fine, mine is dead, even though I have a functioning computer and they don't.

    Do you see the problem there? It's magnified by 1000 given that you're talking about running the weapons of a starship. Sure, boosting the weapons is nice, but for something so critical not to have a bypass in the event of engine flakiness is unforgivable. And if there's just no way to rig a bypass, then a secondary/emergency beam weapon system would be a good idea.

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  7. Well, I didn't really *dismiss* the powerful antimatter. What I did detach from the main site articles was my very old guesstimate of Trek antimatter from way way way back in the day that currently sits on the "Incomplete Pages" list.

    If anything, I'm finding that the concept of the dilithium matrix may be what explains all such examples, along with the other unique and peculiar effects of M/AM reactions in Trek.

    I do think, however, that Obsession is a very high-end case, though, and that the preponderance of evidence points to a far lesser yield per ounce of antimatter.

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  8. Perhaps it's just me, but I consider TOS to be superior canon to the B&B stuff, which I consider "wuss-ified" to the max, with the needs of the fiction outweighing the needs of science OR consistency.

    None of the other Original Series episodes, however, showed anti-matter with LOWER yields than shown in "Obsession."

    As for the phaser-override thingy: once again, the Enterprise was decomissioned for experimental refits, using engines that were six times more powerful than anything ever taken into space, new shields, new phaser-systems-- everything was the latest design, which hadn't been tested on an actual ship-- only in labs.

    So when the phasers were routed using power from the engines, this was new method was never even tested before on an actual ship: and so there wouldn't be any over-rides installed on it, since that's something that comes AFTER you know that the thing works.

    For example, if you were running an ISP that was experimenting with new ways to boost internet-hookup through the powerlines, then you wouldn't install an override-switch on the drawing-board, before you even knew that it worked.

    Ship's engines obviously tend to get damaged in combat, so of course it would be essential to de-couple the phasers from the engines-- ONCE IT WAS IN USE: again, in the novel, Kirk noted this immediately. But the Enterprise obviously wasn't anywhere near that stage: the engines were never even tested at warp, and only Spock was able to get them working in time.
    If not for the V'ger emergency, the ship would have NEVER been taken to warp before the engines were properly calibrated.

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  9. He's joking. If he were serious he would have focused on the topic instead of being flippant and random.

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  10. Who's joking? Not me.

    I don't think that the "Obsession" example applies like the rest, since the others anomalous examples were exceptional circumstances; like Spock's brother knew some special short-cut to "God," Barclay had some advanced use of the Warp-engines to get to the center of the galaxy, Sulu was able to scan the planet's core because it was putting out vast levels of abnormal radiation etc.

    These were not "goofs" by the authors, which were inconsistent with the other canon. They were simply unusual circumstances.

    However, the anti-matter used in "Obsession" was just the ordinary type used by the engines.

    TOS anti-matter has been shown to be extremely powerful; for example, in "The Naked Time," cold-starting the engines threw the ship so powerfully that they moved backward through the space-time continuum. Normal anti-matter wouldn't be powerful enough to do that.

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  11. I just wanted to tackle Scalzi's critique of holodecks and his comparison of them to modern day MMORPG's, suggesting a sweeping holo addiction problem in the Federation.

    I think the main reason one can not draw such easy parallels between 2010 MMO's and 2370 or so holodecks is due to ease, MMORPGS are entertaining yes, but they are also one of the least strenuous activities you can possibly engage in. You sit in front of a screen almost completely unmoving clicking a few buttons and watching a digitally created avatar complete actions for you.

    Now let's transfer your typical fantasy MMO into a 24th century holodeck analogue and see the difference.

    Something like World of Warcraft (24th century edition) would play out like this like this:

    YOU, not some simulation, are bedecked in heavy chain mail trekking (no pun intended) across literal miles of harsh terrain with ponderous weapons on your back, constantly being besieged by a nigh unending horde of monsters out to kill you, after an hour of swinging your sword at the masses of Orcs or what have you between you and your objective
    (which is still several kilometers away)
    You're so god damn tired that going to "work" in Stellar Cartography and staring at a computer console for the next several hours seems like a godsend.

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  12. In WoW you get an avatar character (no, not the stretched out Smurfs from the movie "Avatar"), and that's what you'd be playing.
    If you've evern played D&D then you know how everybody and his brother gives their character an 18/00 strength and 18 constitution etc, so of course the heavy armor would feel lighter, and the battle would be a breeze.

    The sucky thing about the Holodeck is that the very first ST episode, "The Cage," showed how the Talosian race was wiped out by the power of illusion, and how the Federation classified all knowledge of the planet, to keep humans from doing the same thing.

    And now Star Trek humans have the exact same thing, via the holodeck... so it's not surprising that it ended the future of Star Trek, via all the annoying "holodeck" episodes, i.e. fiction within fiction doesn't work-- it sent the series back to prequels, and the movies as well.

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