Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Stuck on the moon



Yesterday I was scrolling through Facebook and I saw that someone had shared a post about people being upset that NASA will be sent back to the moon instead of being sent directly to Mars.  A comment that stuck out was that some people, apparently, are worried that we could end up “stuck on the moon.” This is in reference to humans being “stuck in Low Earth Orbit” for the past forty years since the end of Apollo. 

As someone who wants humanity to return to the moon because that will do far more towards making humanity a spacefaring civilization than going to Mars, I basically said “Bah,” and moved on.  But the phrase “stuck on the moon” … stuck with me, and it was some time later that I saw the flaw in the logic.

The reason we’ve been stuck in Low Earth Orbit for the past forty years is that we don’t have the capability to go farther.  The reason we don’t have the capability is that we don’t have the budget for it.  I mean, Saturn V’s weren’t cheap, and once we beat the Soviets to the moon, NASA had their budget drastically cut.  It’s not too farfetched to think that if NASA had kept the budget it had in the late 60’s, we’d have a lunar colony as well as Martian bases/colony by now. 

So what’s the worry?  That we’ll finally build a moon base and then the budgetary rug will be yanked out from beneath them?  I admit, that is a legitimate concern, but why wouldn’t that also be a concern for the far more expensive Mars base?  I mean, if we lack the technology/budget for a moon base, that also means we lack the technology/budget for a Mars base.  I guess some people think money will just magically appear to support a Mars base because … it’s Mars.

One of the main reasons I support returning to the moon over rushing off to Mars, is that there are things we can do on the moon to make money.  Things from lunar tourism to building solar panels to supply cheap, clean electricity to the billions left on Earth.  Yes, setting up a lunar base/colony will be expensive, but in a few decades it should repay the investment with interest.  Going to Mars will cost money.  The only things that a Mars colony could export will be genuine Mars rocks for museums and collectors and tchotchkes stamped “Made on Mars” for suckers, I mean, space enthusiasts to buy.  Meanwhile lunar colonies could be building communication satellites for Earth and growing food to supply the orbital hotels.

I’m sick of people saying we need to go to Mars to inspire future generations to build the infrastructure to make humanity a spacefaring civilization, who then look down on those of us who want to build the infrastructure to make humanity a spacefaring civilization right now on the moon.  If the choices are tangible results or inspiration, I go with tangible results.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Thoughts on The Orville and Star Trek: Discovery



I wasn’t really interested in watching either of these shows because, well, the trailers made them look bad.  I’ve now watched the first 2 1/2 episodes of The Orville and the first two episodes of Discovery, and while I may watch more in the future, I really have no plans to do so. 

After I watched the first episode of The Orville, my thoughts were that it was the first draft of a sub-par Star Trek episode that instead of doing revisions to tighten the plot, develop the characters more, or punch up the dialogue, they just sprinkled in bad “jokes.” And I say “jokes” because that’s what they are.  For example, in the first episode they arrive at this science outpost and they call up the director.  The Captain and First Office talk with the director for a bit, then go down to meet with him.  While this is going on, in the background of the director’s office is a dog licking his balls.  Nobody says anything about this, and for a moment I wondered if it was going to be like Airplane where some of the movie’s best humor is the unexplained bizarre shit going on in the background.  But once the Captain and First Office leave to go down to the planet, the camera pans over to two other characters who go, “Did you see that dog licking his balls?” “First thing I saw.” Having to call attention to the “joke” is as bad as having to explain the joke.

So if I’m not impressed with the humor of The Orville, how about the scifi bits?  They’re basic and not that interesting.  I mean, the second episode was your Basic Plot #156c, where a character is unexpectedly thrust into command and they make the wrong decisions and everyone things they can’t handle it, but in the end they dig deep and win over everyone and the day is saved.  It’s something we’ve seen a thousand times before, and there wasn’t anything making it a unique version.

And I only watched the second episode because I saw a bunch of things on Twitter and Facebook about how great the third episode was.  The third episode does deal with an important issue, but I’m not a fan of ham-fisted social commentary.  And it felt like I was being beaten by a whole pig.

Now about Star Trek: Discovery.  First off, the Klingons.  I don’t care for the reimagined Klingons.  I’m sure I had seen a few of the Original Series episodes as a kid, but I grew up with Star Trek with the original movies and The Next Generation.  So I’m used to the TNG Klingon design.  I understand that the reason the Klingons changed was that they now had a budget for the makeup.  Fine.  There was no need to “explain” the difference.  Then came “Trials and Tribble-ations” where someone didn’t recognize the Original Series Klingons and Worf just said something like, “It’s not something we talk about.” If they had just CGId forehead ridges onto the old guys, or inserted new Klingons in place of the old ones, people would have complained, but it wouldn’t have been an issue.  Instead, it just made a mess.  Like, weren’t there videos of the Federation and Klingon Empire signing treaties or something that would be shown in schools?  You’d think such a major change would have been … noticed.  It’s like if during the 1960’s the Russians spoke Portuguese.  It would be an odd bit of trivia that would be the basis for a thousand YouTube videos.

Anyway, Enterprise explained the change as some genetic mutation, or something, which … good enough.  It was a shitty situation, but they made the best of it.  So what’s with the new Klingons?  It feels like if they had gone with the Original Series Klingon design, the old fans would have applauded them for keeping the continuity, but the “Powers That Be” were worried that the general public would look at them and go, “That looks stupid.” So they made demon Klingons to be “scary.” It would be like if they made Vulcans eight feet tall and purple, just to make sure people knew they were aliens.  And then they claim this is still in continuity, and I’m like, “Bullshit.  You painted yourselves into a corner, and then shot yourself in the foot.  You did something stupid, and I don’t have to like it.”

So other than that, what did I think of the first two episodes?  Meh.  It was like, “Wow, the people behind this generic scifi action shows are running a risk of being sued by the Star Trek people for using Klingons, Vulcans, photon torpedoes, etc.  Wait, this is Star Trek?  You mean, like bad fanfic Star Trek, right?”

What did I actually think of the story?  Um, contrived.  I mean, what exactly was Klingon guy’s plan?  We’ll damage this relay, then when a Federation ship arrives to fix it, we’ll just stay cloaked for hours doing nothing, waiting for one of them to fly out in a spacesuit and clumsily kill one of our guys and then wait several more hours until, wait, what?  I mean, what would have happened if the Shenzhou had just fixed the relay and left?  Would they have had to damage it again?  It would have made more sense for the Klingon guy to set off the beacon when the Shenzhou arrived so that tons of Klingon ships would show up and have the shit hit the fan.  But then we wouldn’t have had the all-important Burnham flying through space scene. 

I think the problem I have with both shows is that, twenty years ago I would have been blown away by the effects and would probably have liked the humor more.  I’m not saying that I’ve matured, it’s just that great special effects have become … expected.  I’ve had my fill of whiz-bang, can you give me a good story?  And from what I’ve seen of these two shows, my expectations of them giving me good stories is low.  To be honest, the only reason I might … find a way to watch Discovery, is the Under the Dome effect.  If you don’t know, Under the Dome was a bad show from a couple years ago.  I started watching it out of curiosity, but then I continued watching it because there was a reviewer who would go on these amusing, long winded rants about the show, and I would watch the show just so I’d know what they were talking about.  And there are going to be a lot of people bitching about Discovery.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Hunter-gatherers of money



In ages past, people got their food by being hunter-gatherers.  Ten people picking berries or clubbing a deer could feed, maybe eleven people.  The lone moocher being either a baby or an honored elder in their thirties. 

And then agriculture was invented.  And then fewer and fewer people were needed to feed the tribe.  Instead of having to spend the entire day looking for food, this allowed people to spend their time making better tools, art, or any of the billion components of what goes into what we call civilization.  Along the way someone said this chicken is worth that shiny pebble, and the shiny pebble is also worth that painting of Bob.  This was all to introduce a medium of exchange, in case the painter wanted the chicken, but the farmer didn’t want the painting of Bob.

Now people spend say, forty hours a week (not all day, but still a good chunk) doing things for modern shiny pebbles, which we then spend on food, shelter, internet access, whatever.  In a way, we’ve become hunter-gatherers of money.  We do all this work just so we have the means to survive.  And if you don’t contribute to “The System,” there are many who will call you a moocher and some fringe nutjobs will even say that you should starve.  They long for the days when those who couldn’t contribute to the tribe were left to the jackals.   

Being hunter-gatherers of money, is that it?  Have we reached the pinnacle of civilization?  Just like the agriculture revolution radically changed the world, we’re now entering the automation revolution.  Before a human could make ten widgets an hour, now a machine can make fifteen.  But they can do it 24/7, without even a restroom break.  And they don’t call in sick, and they don’t need healthcare or pensions.  As the farmer took over all the jobs of the hunter-gatherers allowing the people to do other things and still eat, will the machines take over all the various jobs allowing us to move on to other things while still being able to eat and have homes and the internet?  What grander civilization will we build when we are no longer restrained by how many shiny pebbles we have?