Star Trek values

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending a panel at Silicon Valley Comic Con consisting of various members of the cast of the television show Star Trek: The Next Generation. Brent Spiner, Gates McFadden, Jonathan Frakes, Denise Crosby, Marina Sirtis and Robert O'Reilly were joined by original series cast member William Shatner to talk about the show, their lives as actors, and what the Star Trek universe has taught and can teach us about the real world.

For someone who watched every episode of the show when it originally aired and who has remained a fan since, it was an hour and a half of nearly pure joy. For one, I was just excited to be a part of a whole auditorium full of people reflecting on how much influence the stories, dialogue and creativity of the show had on our lives, the panelists included. Several audience members stood up to say just how strong that influence has been, informing the careers they chose, the people they've become, the kind of lives that they now lead, and I was right there with them.

In watching Star Trek as a young person I remember being invigorated by the complex problem-solving scenarios that the Enterprise crew faced week after week. I learned from the principles of collaboration, mutual respect and cross-species equity that were practiced. I saw strong women in leadership roles, and I saw non-Caucasian characters developed with an unusual (for mainstream TV, anyway) depth and texture. And I was inspired by a vision of the future that offered so many possibilities for exploration, discovery and growth. I'm sure that my real-world evolution as technologist and computer geek was propelled forward significantly by my immersion in that make-believe world of technological wonders.

The panel also highlighted a new angle of my appreciation for the Star Trek universe. I hadn't previously thought about Trek as having a political point of view, because I assumed that the vision of a world where humanity had figured out how to eliminate poverty and hunger, celebrated and built on our various differences, and employed innovation to protect and restore the environment was a vision that anyone would embrace and want to strive for, and not a particularly politically-charged one.

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Book review: Netflixed, the story of Netflix

(I've been reading a lot of books lately about the stories of how various technology companies came to be, and it's been great food for thought as I work on the next chapter in my own professional life story. This is the first in a series of blog posts about these books.)

Netflixed-Gina-KeatingI remember hearing about Netflix from a geek news site sometime in the early 2000s, and I think I was among the first folks in my town to try the DVD subscription by mail service that they'd launched in 1999. I was skeptical of it, having a hard time imagining a day when I wouldn't rather just stop in to the local movie rental store than bother with ordering a disc online and then waiting for it to show up by mail. But I tried it out, thinking it would be an interesting way to access some of the independent and obscure films that local stores wouldn't bother to stock.

And so I took my place as one of the many video watching consumers that Netflix, Blockbuster and other media companies were battling to attract and keep as customers over the last 15 or so years, leading right up to present day where the release of the second season of the Netflix-produced House of Cards on Friday was a major media event.

That battle and the personalities that made it interesting are the focus of Gina Keating's great book, Netflixed: The Epic Battle for America's Eyeballs.

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Superbowl XLIV

Line of ScrimmageA few random thoughts on the Superbowl, quite belated in Internet Time:

After the initial total failure of my cable-less schemes for watching the Superbowl online, and the subsequent grumbling trip to an alternate viewing venue, I enjoyed watching the game. I say "enjoy" as in, "it roused the part of me that enjoys the technical aspects of physical competition and spectacle," not enjoy as in, "I really appreciate the Superbowl and what it says about the state of humanity." And I couldn't help but feel pretty dirty afterward.

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On life without cable television

9th Ward RailroadFor over a year now, I've been living well without cable or broadcast television in my life.  I thought I would share some thoughts on how that transition has gone, and some pointers to tools and technologies you might be interested in if you're on a similar path.

(Disclaimer: I'm not here to tell you how to live, but my general sense is that the world would be a better place if people didn't spend their time watching television.  Period.  That said, and the reality of TV watching as a cultural norm firmly in place for now, I continue with my narrative.)

The end of channel surfing

The first stage in my transition away from "watching TV" was to get free of the notion that my schedule should ever revolve around the schedule of TV broadcasters.

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Super extra friendly cable installer guy

About five years ago, it was one of those deals where the cable company gave you a nine hour window in which they would have someone out there to do the installation, and you just sat around and hoped that they showed up at all. I was apparently favored by the cable installer gods that day because the guy showed up within the first hour of the window, AND he was in a really great mood. "Hey, how ya doin, ready to get this all set up for ya..." and so on. "This will be fun," I thought.

"Hey, man, I know this is a strange request, but could I get a glass of water? I just had some really spicy wings for lunch and my mouth is really really dry."  Hmm.

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Darfur Genocide, On Our Watch

Until I watched the PBS Frontline documentary On Our Watch, I had only a very general awareness of what people meant when they talked about the conflict in the Darfur region of Sudan. It is sobering and sad to know that that even with all of the news and pseudo-news I follow and the "think globally" circles I travel in, it's still possible to not really know the details of a genocide that has gone on since 2003, killing over 200,000 people and forcing the relocation or outright flight of another 2.5 million people.

If you're more apt to learn and benefit from an hour-long video than you are from 240 Kilobytes of text on Wikipedia, then I commend On Our Watch to you as a great overview of the issue - you can watch it for free online. It covers the origins of the conflict, the horribly lacking role of the United Nations, and the oil interests, global economic interdependencies, and cover-your-ass politics that have allowed other international players, including the U.S., to stand idly by.
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The Persuaders: a nice look at advertising

This is an ad for a really great Frontline episode called "The Persauders" - a thoughtful and thorough journalistic look at the world of advertising and how it affects us at all levels. It covered a wide variety of perspectives, from advertising executives to media experts to sociologists to counter-cultural ad-busters. Quote from interviewee Mark Crispin Miller: "Once a culture becomes entirely advertising friendly, it ceases to be a culture at all." There's an interesting segment about how one firm interviewed cult-like groups of people (including Linux users and WWF Wresting fans) to craft the campaigns for brands like Nike and Apple. I guess if you can figure out what makes people loyal to a cult, you can get them engaged in your products and services.

The downside of the piece is that the reporter seems to let himself be convinced in conclusion (with snappy upbeat music in the background to reinforce) it's a good thing that "once the market becomes the lens through which we see the world, there's no us and them any more. We're all persuaders." I would probably disagree that this is a good trend.

You can watch it online on the PBS website, and the site includes a teacher's guide and related discussion area. Enjoy.