Tag Archives: Star Trek

Leonard Nimoy and me

I just learned that Leonard Nimoy has died. I only met him for a day but I remember it, even though it was almost thirty years ago. Let me tell you about it.

I was doing some movie extra work at the time Now a movie extra is a human being who is part of a movie or television show but has no lines. They are a human set prop and so insignificant they don’t even get named in the credits. Think about that for a second.

The placement and control of movie extras is the domain of the second or third assistant director. They tell you where to stand, how to look. They might send you to costume to become a person at the party, an office worker, or a camel driver, depending on the needs of the day. When they don’t want you on set they put you in the bullpen so you don’t wander off.

On the set of Three Men and a Baby, everybody knew the names of the stars. Tom Selleck, Ted Danson and Steve Guttenberg had created quite a buzz in Toronto, and every starlet in the city wanted on that set. Coline Serreau, who wrote and directed the original French version, was set to direct this remake but dropped out after casting the three male leads.

Leonard Nimoy took over. Now he’d done a few TV shows and a couple of Star Trek Movies, but a screwball comedy with a baby, a girl, and three guys?

I remember we filmed at least three different scenes that day, which is productive for a movie. The first one included a live camel. After that, we broke for lunch. The production company fed us onsite; talent, grips, and the rest of the crew. We extras were lined up waiting to be fed, last. Leonard walked to the end of the line and stood behind the extras. Imagine the President of the U.S. standing in line with the waiters to get into a white house dinner.

The manager of the craft services found Nimoy, explained they had a special table for him, and started to lead him past us. Leonard went, but he apologized to us as he passed and shook hands with us. That’s how I shook Leonard Nimoy’s hand.

After lunch we were filming a scene that later ended on the cutting room floor. The ‘Third’ showed me my where to stand, handed me some papers and told me to point things out from them to another extra. Steve Gutenberg came on set and shook all the women’s hands. Ted Danson arrived a bit later and, as I remember it, he kept to himself.

Thirty extras, two principles, grips moved lights as the camera man kept making adjustments. The sound editor complained and adjusted the microphones. An electrician lay extension cords. Absolute chaos. In the midst of all of this Leonard Nimoy sat on a canvas seated chair, his legs crossed and his hands in front of him making a steeple. His eyes were closed, as if meditating. Every so often, he would ask, “Are you ready?” and then return to his meditation.

When the chaos cleared, he gave his instructions to Gutenberg and Danson in a voice so low I couldn’t hear him and I wasn’t that far away. He resumed his seat and called out “Action” in a voice barely louder than conversational, as calm as Spock.

I’ve been on other sets where the director roared his instructions. I’ve heard one curse out a sound technician in language that would make a sailor blush. I’ve seen them react with anger or annoyance when a shot was ruined by some gaff. Not Leonard Nimoy.

Not having read his biography, I didn’t know at that time how Spock had affected Nimoy. I only knew I saw a director who had that calmness in the midst of chaos. I saw him work with Danson, and they shot a three second snippet about fifty different ways in a couple of minutes. I saw a gentleman in the finest sense of the word, who taught me more about managing a team in that afternoon that all the books on motivating people I had read.

Leonard, the world is a poorer place without you.

To see some of my short stories go to www.edwardmcdermott.net

What Star Trek TNG got right and got wrong – 3

If mankind has a hobby (or an obsession) it is the war. Thomas Hobbes called the natural state of man as ‘bellum omnium contra omnes’ (war of all against all). Yet in TNG, the world is at peace. Perhaps that’s why the weapons on TNG are so primitive.

What do I mean? Watch any TNG episode. In most you’ll see the phasers (set to stun) drawn. Then there are a couple of minutes of shooting back and forth with visible beams fired by hand or rifle phaser that miss most of the time.

Today, prison guards in American prison have rifles with laser pointers that show where the shot will go. It cools the jail yard rioter when he sees the little red dot on his chest. Police, when they storm a position, use a stun grenade, also known at a flashbang or flash grenade. These disorient, stun, deafen, and blind the opponent. By the way they were first developed by the British Army’s SAS in the 1960’s.

The closest we have to a phaser is the Taser, which at close ranges does the job, but Riot police also have rubber bullets for standard pistols and rifles, plastic batons (plastic bullets) from specialized guns, and the Bean Bag round from shotguns to strike at a great distance without killing.

For more deadly results, consider the fire and forget facilities in development. US military research agency DARPA says it is homing in on its long-term ambition of producing self-guided bullets, after staging a test in which a sniper was able to shoot at a target at a radically wrong angle, and yet still hit it perfectly. The bullet has fin-stabilized projectiles, spin-stabilized projectiles, and comes in a .50 round. That means a kill from a mile away, or farther.

Want something as an American civilian. TrackingPoint, an Austin-based company, builds smart-rifles with a computer to increase accuracy out to 1,000 yards. After the shooter tags the target the gun adjusts the scope’s crosshairs for a perfect shot when the trigger is pulled. Those Star Trek Phaser rifles haven’t changed since 1966, still with iron sites if any.

Want more fire power. As part of the military, you could add an under the barrel grenade launcher to your rifle today. Then go with a grenade that explodes after it has penetrated the wall and infra-red detection to spot the other guys through the wall.

Did I mention body armor?

Today’s Special Forces have the equipment and training to turn a TNG fire fight into ten seconds of slaughter.

In part, you have to remember that Rodenberry’s view of the 24th century for TNG. It was a utopia where the world is at peace. People are able to receive all of their basic needs. Money no longer exists. Small wonder small arms didn’t advance between the first generation and the second generation almost a century later. We’re not even with hailing distance of the part of the imagined future.

To see some of my short stories go to www.edwardmcdermott.net

 

What Star Trek TNG got right and wrong – 2

We have created some of the Star Trek technology in the last twenty-five-years. In other places we still have to a ways to go. Now TNG showed us the dream. What has been done to make the vision real?

 

What’s happened with the hypospray? That was a medical device to inject liquids into the body. It used compressed air to deposit the injectant into the subdermal layer below the skin of the body, or artery, without the use of a needle. It turns out that this wasn’t 24th century technology, even when TNG was in production. High pressure air injectors have been used by the military as a common initial entry vaccination method since at least the mid 1980’s. There are several models on the market today, principally used by the U.S. military. These devices used compressed air or co2 gas.

 

The latest entrant into the field is a device from MIT. This device uses a Lorentz-force actuator – a small, powerful magnet surrounded by a coil of wire that’s attached to a piston inside the drug ampule. No compressed air required.

 

However these devices do not inject into an artery and are not as safe as first thought. The jet injector breaks the barrier of the skin, so potential biological material can be transferred from one user to the next. One study tested the fluid remaining in the injector for blood after an injection, and found enough to pass on a virus. Blowback from the injection is still a problem. The World Health Organization no longer recommends jet injectors for vaccination due to risks of disease transmission. That’s why you haven’t seen a hypospray in your doctor’s office.

 

What happened to the medical tricorder? There’s actually an X-prize for creating one. The ten finalists have been chosen, and they must demonstrate their devices on humans in 2015 with three winners to be announced in 2016. Top prize is seven million dollars (U.S.). Part of the problem is definition. The medical tricorder of TNG acted could X-ray bones, scan organs like an MRI, test blood and analyze pathogens. That’s a lot in a hand-held device.

 

Specialized devices such as blood sugar monitors have made great strides in the last twenty years. Ask any diabetic. Another specialized testing device uses an app, a smart phone and the smartphone’s camera to deliver screening without the need for laboratories and highly trained staff.

 

For much of the world even this technology is out of reach. Cost is a consideration. Recently, in an attempt to do a mass test for cervical cancer, India resorted to less expensive solution. The test involves swabbing the cervix with vinegar, which turns the precancerous tumors white. The results can be seen in minutes. Using this test and some liquid nitrogen reduced cancer deaths by 31 percent in the testing area. This could save over 72,000 lives if used worldwide. It’s not sexy technology but it gets the job done.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To see some of my short stories go to www.edwardmcdermott.net

What Star Trek TNG Got Right and Wrong

Star Trek, the Next Generation, ran from 1987 to 1994.  That’s about over twenty-five-years ago. A generation. It’s set in 2364AD, or almost three hundred years from the broadcast of the first Star Trek series. I watched the first episode and cringed. It was so bad it set a new low for SF on television. Still, I did watch more. Why? A few years earlier I worked as an extra on a show with Gates McFadden who played Dr. Beverly Crusher on TNG.

I didn’t know Gates. I was on the same show and saw her on the set. If you were to ask me about her, all I could tell you is that she knew her lines, and hit her mark. I guess that is quite a lot when you come to think of it,

I have no need to tell you that the show went on to become a great success, spawned spin off shows and movies as well. I thought it would be interesting to look at technology and see the hits and misses as time moves forward.

In communication, Star Trek was ahead of its time, but we’ve caught up quickly. In the first show they had flip phones, and in the second they had the comm badges. Well flip phones have come and gone. I sort of miss them.  They were small, simple, and could hold a charge for a week, unlike my newer smart phone.

Wearable technology is making the comm badge a possibility. However, it will probably look more like Dick Tracy’s radio. The practical problem with the comm badge is that everyone in the room hears both sides of the conversation. No privacy. With current phones, I have had to remind commuters that their ‘cone of silence’ isn’t working and the entire train car can hear some of the conversation. (Remember this when you call your drug dealer.)

And remember how Captain Picard would go to his ready room to receive a video call from Star Fleet? Today you can do the same with your computer, its camera and Skype. Have you noticed that every laptop has a video camera built into it?

Remember, those pads that people would pass to the captain and he would read, while rubbing his chin? The replacement for paper? Then he would take out the attached stylus and make some marks. Well between ereaders and tablets, we can see the technology here today. However, our tablets are touch-screen, in color and have audio. We don’t need the stupid stylus anymore. Still, it will take a while before paper disappears.

How did TNG do with computers? Frankly I’m surprised they still had computers in the 24th century. Voice recognition and control software comes with your Window 8 machine today. Text to speech has been around even longer.  However, the computer voices on TNG sound much more wooden that the computer text of today. Even Lieutenant Reginald Barclay didn’t obsess over the computer’s voice. Contrast that to the character in the 2013 movie ‘Her’ who fell in love with the voice on his telephone.

Remember the iso linear optical chips on TNG. Current technology is getting there. You can go into any computer store in the world to pick up a MicroSD chip for 64Gig. That could hold about a thousand movies.  Solid State ram drives are available for your laptop. (I put one into a server five years ago.) Optical chips are a current topic in U.S. defense contracts. This would be one to visit in another ten years. That would improve capacity and speed. (Why do we need a one Terabyte microSD device?)

I always wanted a Universal Translator. I’m terrible at languages. Today you can buy a device, or down an app to your smart phone that will translate from one language to another. Furthermore, you can speak into it in one language and it will repeat it back in the other language, out loud.  I don’t think they have one that a third party can speak into in a foreign language and it will echo back in your language yet. Why? I once remember listening to a Pole and a Chinese person argue about the news in English. Accents are still a stumbling block for voice-to-text recorders. Who knows what can be done in twenty years on this?