Monthly Archives: March 2015

So What the Heck WAS Spock Looking At, Anyhow?

[Ed. Note: This post is going to be a little on the self-indulgent side — okay, a lot — and all in service of a punchline that’s probably not nearly as funny as I think it is, so I apologize in advance.]

I really like the current look of my blog, with one exception: when you’re looking at the home page, with its long scroll of recent entries, there’s nothing to indicate whether anyone has commented on any of those entries unless you actually go into the individual entry page. Consequently, I wonder if people don’t realize there’s more going on “in the back room,” so to speak, and are missing out on things that get said there. (Not that there’s ever much going on back there these days; Simple Tricks isn’t quite the happening place it used to be, sadly. A topic for another time perhaps.)

In any event, there was an exchange in the comments on my last entry, the one about running across the tribute to Nimoy in the report I was proofreading, that I thought was pretty funny and ought to be more widely seen.

Basically, after I remarked that the tribute wasn’t such a surprise after all, given that the report’s writers were IT people (i.e., nerds), and that Nimoy had made quite an impact, my friend Jaren came back with, “The grouch in me thinks that his impact on IT will be minimal until we figure out just what he was looking at in his blue monitor box on the bridge. And until I get one myself.”

What Jaren is talking about is, of course, the viewing device that Spock was frequently seen examining at his bridge station on the original Star Trek, which I would say is probably one of the iconic visuals of that series, right up there with the Enterprise firing her main phasers:


As Jaren suggests, we never saw what it was Spock was looking at in there, or what this viewing device did that was any different or better than a simple monitor screen built into the console would be capable of. It was presumably some sort of computer interface or radar-type scanning scope (or both), as Spock would look into it and then recite some useful information. (Remember, the original series was made at a time when CRT-style monitors were enormous things, and nobody had any idea what an actual computer interface looked like anyhow, so I imagine this little personal viewer thingie must’ve seemed pretty futuristic.) But we never actually knew.

This has led to a lot of mildly risque jokes over the years about Spock surreptitiously watching dancing girls, old-fashioned peep shows, or even out-and-out porn (and this started years before watching porn at work became a real-world problem– once again, Star Trek predicted the future!). There’s even a clever (but in my opinion too long and kinda tedious) YouTube video suggesting that Facebook still exists in the 23rd century… and is as big a distraction as ever.

But I believe all these theories are completely up in the night. Like I told Jaren, we all know what he’s really watching in that thing, don’t we?

Yeah, okay, too much setup for something that maybe isn’t that funny. But hey, it amused me. And after the day I’ve had today, and the week I anticipate having starting tomorrow… well, I’ll take whatever amusement I can bloody well get…


This Was Unexpected

So I’m at work right now, proofreading a monstrous technical report about online security, and I was just caught completely off-guard by this passage in the report’s introduction:

One final note before we dive into the breaches: The [XYZ] team wished to mark the passing of Leonard Nimoy, as that event came during the creation of this report. We will all miss his humor, talent, and inspiration.

I guess it’s not such a surprising thing to include, considering the milieu from which this report originated (the IT field), but still… he really did make quite an impact, didn’t he?


Happy Birthday, Bill


As my Loyal Readers will recall, I have made a point the last few years of observing the birthdays of two men whose work on a 1960s television series has had an enormous impact on my life, namely the actors William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy. By some cosmic coincidence, they were born within days of each other, which has always seemed weirdly appropriate given the way their legacies became intertwined with each other’s. But this time, of course, something is different.

Five years ago, I wrote the following:

Strange to think that they’re so close to the same age, and even stranger to think of how advanced that age is getting to be.


This is a morbid notion, but I find myself wondering how long one will outlast the other when time inevitably catches up to them. They’ve spent so much of their lives seemingly in parallel. When one of them finally passes away, will the survivor go on for years more, or will they be like a long-married couple who die within days of one another, unable to continue without their beloved?

I still wonder about that. And I wonder as well if Bill Shatner, the older of the two by four days, is thinking about Leonard tonight. Shatner has a pretty bad reputation for being a self-centered douchebag — consider the bile that was spilled over his inability to attend Nimoy’s funeral — but I can’t help but think that this, his 84th birthday, has been a somber one for him. If I could, I’d buy him a drink. And I would be honored to raise a glass with him…

To absent friends.

To life going on.

May you have many more happy returns, Bill.


Friday Evening Videos: “Detroit Made”

It wasn’t too long ago that I was waxing nostalgic for Bob Seger’s “Night Moves,” a song that’s always had a lot of meaning for me, and lamenting that he never comes to my hometown when he’s touring. Not long after that, you may recall that I included him on my “fantasy list” of musical artists that I’d like to see in concert, but probably never will because they are “semi-retired, unlikely to ever come to Utah, or really expensive/difficult to get [tickets for].”

Well, things can change very quickly sometimes, and opportunities you never imagined would happen can come out of nowhere. Which is a roundabout way of announcing that tonight I’m going to cross another entry off my wishlist (I refuse to call it a “Bucket List,” for reasons I won’t get into here) by seeing Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band at Salt Lake City’s own Energy Solutions Arena. As far as I know, this is the first time he’s ever played Salt Lake, or at least the first time since I’ve been paying attention to such things (which has been a very long time, considering I went to my first rock concert in 1981, when I was 12!). Also, this is rumored to be his final tour — he’s 69 and has said in recent interviews that he “doesn’t want to overstay his welcome” — so this one feels pretty momentous. Needless to say, I am just a wee bit excited.

To mark the occasion, I thought I’d post a track from Bob’s latest album, Ride Out. It’s his first release of new material in eight years, and his best album (in my opinion) since Like a Rock back in 1986, in part because of his unexpected willingness to risk alienating his core fanbase (which tends to skew to the political right) with songs about climate change, income inequality, and gun violence. (Bob explains his newfound social consciousness as “wanting [his children] to have a future and a good place to live” and says he’s going to be 70 soon and this may be his last album, so “better late than never.”) Don’t misunderstand, though, this album is not a grim political screed; it includes plenty of the rootsy rock-and-roll storytelling that is Bob’s trademark. Like, for instance, the single “Detroit Made.” It’s classic Seger, a celebration of the chromed-and-befinned marvels that once poured out of the factories in his hometown, Detroit, and the wholly American lifestyle they enabled. There is an element of melancholy in the video if you want to see it that way; with its nostalgic color filter and artificial scratches that make the images look like they come from an old Super-8 home movie, it reminds us that the days of classic Detroit-steel muscle machines are long gone, and the days of the carefree driving around on cheap, plentiful gasoline are fading fast. But the song itself is so relentlessly upbeat, so, well, driven, if you’ll forgiven the quasi-pun, that you can’t dwell too long on the negative. It’s a song that make you want to slip behind the wheel and roll on out… just like I’m about to do, with my Bic lighter in my pocket, ready to flick during the ballads:

Have a great night, kids!

[UPDATE: Turns out Bob has been to Salt Lake before; I’ve learned he played here on May 9, 1980. At that point, I would’ve been more obsessed with The Empire Strikes Back than rock and roll…]


Shiva Concluded

As I understand it — which I admit is probably not very well — the Jewish tradition of “sitting shiva” requires the family of a deceased person to formally grieve for a period of seven days following the burial, during which time friends visit to express condolences, offer support, and share stories and memories of the deceased. If you didn’t know, the late Leonard Nimoy was a Jew, and thinking back over last week’s outpouring of reminiscences and good feelings for him, I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that it was as if the entire Internet was observing shiva. I’ve been very impressed and moved by the volume of good will directed toward this man, and frankly, I’m proud to have played a small part in a pretty huge and amazing thing, this online display of shiva. I only hope that Leonard’s actual family was aware of what was going on, and that the stories and love of Leonard’s “fan family” helped ease their pain at his loss.

I’d like to share a few links to things that caught my attention last week, things I found especially interesting, moving, funny, or just plain cool:

  • Nimoy was a strong supporter of feminism, which he expressed through actions rather than mere words. The online magazine Bustle summarized four of his best moments in the fight for gender equality here.
  • As a photographer, Nimoy made waves in 2007 with his “Full Body Project,” a  collection of photos celebrating the beauty and dignity of, to be blunt, fat women. Here’s a personal account of what the collection meant to one woman in particular. There’s an accompanying gallery of selections from the collection; be warned, it’s NSFW, as they say. Nudity ahead.
  • I’m not a gamer — I haven’t had any interest to speak of in video games since Mortal Kombat changed the arcade-gaming paradigm in the early ’90s, and I’ve never set a virtual foot inside an MMPORG — but I thought the tributes for Leonard (as well as other deceased cast members, and of course Gene Roddenberry) built into the Star Trek Online environment last week sounded pretty neat.
  • Leonard’s passing got novelist Dayton Ward thinking about what it was like to watch Star Trek in the olden days, when technology wasn’t as, shall we say, reliable as it is today. His blog post reminded me of my own childhood experiences with an old hand-me-down black-and-white portable TV, the one with the rabbit ears and the busted vertical hold. Kids today really have no idea what it was like back in the Dark Ages.
  • Speaking of ancient video technology, Dangerous Minds dredged up a mind-boggling artifact from 1981, a 11-minute clip of Leonard conversing with, um, well, a glowing rock about the then-cutting-edge “laser video disc” system from Magnavox. This one really must be seen to be believed:

(Incidentally, I have to say that, while I am hugely annoyed by the current-day disdain for mustaches and the overused and frankly offensive suggestion that they denote their wearers as porn stars and child molesters, I’m really glad Nimoy didn’t sport this look for long. It didn’t suit him at all.)

  • The nostalgia site Plaid Stallions had a fun post celebrating the ads and products that featured Mr. Spock’s visage in the early ’70s. I had a lot of these items myself when I was a wee Trekkie. Ah, who am I kidding? I still have them all, tucked away in a box in the fabulous Bennion Archives, a.k.a., my basement.
  • All this fun stuff aside, we need to remember that Leonard Nimoy was a real human being, a husband, a father, and a grandfather. I was moved by the tribute People hosted by the folks who are going to miss him most.
  • And lastly, the oddly controversial sitcom The Big Bang Theory, which either laughs with or at the fans who revered Nimoy, depending on your point of view (guess which camp I fall into), concluded last week’s show with a classy and heartfelt vanity card that I thought summed up so much of what I was feeling:


And with that, our observances are now concluded. Shalom. And, of course, LLAP.


Commuting Is Hell

I haven’t gotten home from work before seven o’clock in nearly 10 years.

That’s how long I’ve been working for my current employer, and how long I’ve been riding TRAX, the Salt Lake Valley’s light-rail system. I tell myself all the time that it’s the best option, that I’m helping the environment and I don’t have to deal with the stress of freeway driving, that it gives me an opportunity to read for fun, or to nap, or to study the unceasing pageant of human behavior, or to just stare out the damn window. But the truth is, I’m getting very, very tired of being a prisoner to somebody else’s schedule, to wasting time standing around in the cold or the hot or the rain or snow, or running to beat the clock so I don’t end up waiting around. (I’m no runner, not even after losing some 40 pounds a couple years ago.)

If I get out of the office at just the right moment, I can make the 6:07 southbound, which puts me at the end of the line at 6:49. Then I still have to drive home from the park-n-ride lot, which takes between 10 and 15 minutes. Most nights, I step into the house about five after seven. That’s on a good night, one of the nights when I don’t have to take a later train.

Tonight was not a good night. Tonight was a very not-good night. A collision between two trains earlier today closed off a segment of the main trunk line connecting downtown to the rest of the valley. I had to wait around for a southbound train, ride it as far as the point where the track was closed, then switch to a bus to jump over the out-of-commission section, wait some more for yet another train, and then ride it the rest of the way. Oh, and then I discovered the road I usually drive between the train station and home was a mess due to a broken water main and resulting sinkhole. I finally got home 35 minutes later than usual. And the whole time I was thinking I could have just gone down to the parking garage beneath my office building, gotten into my car, and driven home in roughly half the time of my regular commute, let alone this cocked-up mess of one. I’m so sick of my nights being basically a wash and having to try and squeeze all my errands, all my chores, all my socializing, all my living into the scant 48 hours of the weekend because I spend so damn much time commuting.

We won’t even speak of the situation in the mornings, except to say I’m no more a morning person than I am a runner.

I was planning to post this image, one of several that Boing Boing recently gathered under the title “5 strangely comforting gifs,” tonight anyhow, simply because I thought it was neat, but now… now I think I really need to just stare at it for a while and work on my breathing:




Can You Beam Me Up Now?

I have a confession: I hate talking on cell phones. Cordless handsets for landlines, too. Sure, it’s convenient to walk around the house while you’re talking to someone, but at least back in the days when we were tethered to the kitchen wall by a 20-foot length of curly vinyl cord, we rarely had static or random noise in the line, and calls never just “dropped out” because you walked through some Poltergeist-ian “dead spot.” (I live in an old house, and plaster-and-lathe walls are murder on reception.)

That’s why I can’t help but roll my eyes when some Damn Kid™ starts acting all superior and sniffing at how outdated the original Star Trek looks because the communicators used by Kirk and Spock aren’t as “sophisticated” as our modern-day smartphones. Um, kids, do you really think your iPhone has enough range to contact a spaceship in orbit? And have you ever seen a communicator fail to make or maintain contact with the guy on the other end (assuming some mysterious god-like entity wasn’t interfering with their operation, of course)?

The following illustrates my point quite handily, by showing what Star Trek would be like if communicators functioned as well (i.e., as unreliably) as our cell phones:

(Sensitive Loyal Readers be warned: there’s an F-bomb. But it’s funny.)

And yes, I know the video is riffing on The Next Generation and its “combadge” technology instead of the original series’ classic handheld communicators. Even so…

Via Boing Boing, of course.


This Just In: Nimoy Loved Sweets!

Oh, man… just when I figure I’ve done my mourning for Leonard Nimoy and I’m ready to put the Kleenex away, I run across a personal remembrance by his friend Nadine Schiff-Rosen and get another reminder of what a swell human being he must’ve been, and how I wish I’d actually known him:

His eclectic love of confections knew no bounds: Vanilla macaroons, cream-filled éclairs, peanut butter brittle, custards, meringues, puddings, soufflés—I was lucky to watch him devour desserts around the world. Just as a botanist would feel at one with a rare orchid, so too would Leonard commune with a red velvet cupcake, exploring the icing, excavating the creamy center. Then, sliding the plate over to me, he would cry out, “OH, YEAH,” in a way that made me wonder if he and his sugary delight shouldn’t get a room. And if he was met with resistance from me—a self-deprecating remark about watching my weight, for example—he would nudge the plate over to me further, his long, tapered fingers wordlessly ordering me to, “Take a bite.”

I can just imagine the expression on his face at that moment too, that devilish glimmer in his eye and the arched eyebrow that said, “Go on… you know you want to…”

Read the whole thing. It’s not long, and it’s worth it.


Gerrold on Nimoy

There’s no shortage of commentary across the InterWebs at the moment about the late Leonard Nimoy, but I thought the words of science-fiction writer David Gerrold were worth passing along. Gerrold has a long association with Star Trek — his first professional sale was the screenplay for “The Trouble with Tribbles,” which is often cited as the most popular episode of the original series and is, in my anecdotal experience, the one non-Trekkies are most likely to have seen. He knew Leonard personally; here’s part of what he had to say:

The remarkable thing about Spock isn’t Spock and it isn’t just Nimoy’s singular invention of Spock — it is that Spock is very much a reflection of Leonard Nimoy’s own character as a man.


Nimoy was gracious, friendly, loving, supportive, brilliant, and ultimately a person who continually challenged himself to expand his own horizons. He was generous in nature, humble in spirit.

So Spock was never just a performance as much as it was an evocation of the soul within.

I think, to a great degree, it was that inner nature that most of us were responding to.


I did not get to spend a lot of time with Leonard, there were always too many others shoving in to spend time with him — and I’d already had my moment. I’d given him lines to speak, and he’d brought them to life. I couldn’t ask for better. No writer could. But in the moments we did spend together, he always made me feel important.


If there is one lesson I would want to learn from Leonard Nimoy, that would be the one — how to love life to the fullest and cherish everyone in it.