Star Trek recaps: The Corbomite Maneuver

I’ve started another re-watch of Star Trek, the original series. This time around I’m watching them in the order they were made, rather than the order they were aired. There was the pilot (“The Cage” featuring Captain Pike rather than Kirk) then the 2nd pilot (“Where No Man Has Gone Before” which has most of the crew in place except for McCoy) and then the first regular episode made was “The Corbomite Maneuver.”

This is the one where the Enterprise encounters the scary alien shown above, but eventually they discover it is just a puppet and the actual alien is played by a VERY young Clint Howard.

Howard would’ve been about 7 in this role, though he didn’t voice the part. He was already an established actor, though. IMDB lists his first role in “The Courtship of Eddy’s Father” in 1963 — that would be the movie version, not the Bill Bixby led TV show. He was also on the Andy Griffith show with big brother Ron. His most recent listing is in 2020’s “American Pie Presents: Girls’ Rules” (whatever that is). That’s quite a long career in the business. Even more random trivia: he played an Orion in an episode of Star Trek Discovery.

Anyway back to Star Trek. I was always really creeped out by Balok; hearing the adult voice coming out of this creepy little kid’s body just gave me the icks. But the episode did introduce Tranya, so that’s something I guess. And more importantly it established the Star Trek theme of taking the moral high ground. After Balok threatens to destroy the Enterprise, and then to incarcerate the crew, his ship is apparently disabled and Kirk sends aid to help him out. The rest of the bridge crew thinks this is pretty cray-cray but Kirk is Doing The Right Thing which is what the original series was generally all about.

The title of the episode refers to Kirk’s bluffing Balok, saying the Enterprise is equipped with a Corbomite device that would reflect any damage done to it back on the attacker. I guess Star Trek invented the damage shield.

I also watched Mudd’s Women tonight, but I re-capped that back in 2016 so I won’t repeat myself now.

The Witcher coming to Netflix

Before The Witcher was a series of games, it was a series of great books/short stories. Well, at least the ones that were translated to English back when I was reading them were great. I need to go back and read the ones that have been translated since then.

Anyway, now we’re getting a TV adaptation of The Witcher. Just to be clear it seems like this series will be based on the original source material, NOT the games. I’ve never actually finished a Witcher game so I can’t honestly say how true the games are to the books.

The good news is that the author of the original material, Andrzej Sapkowski, will be a creative consultant for the series, and executive producers are Sean Daniel and Jason Brown, who are the executive producers of the absolutely awesome SyFy show The Expanse (which is based on books by Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, writing together under the pen name James S. A. Corey).

I have a good feeling about this. We know Daniel and Brown know how to take a written story and make it into a great TV series, and we know the author is involved, and it’s going to be on Netflix so it probably won’t be stretched or squashed or watered down.

The bad news is, I can’t find any info on a release date, so we’ll have to be patient I guess.

Finally cut the cord (drama queen warning)

This morning I turned in our cable boxes and canceled TV service, and I feel curiously melancholy about it.

I had to sit and think about why that would be. For the past few weeks we have deliberately not used the cable box and gotten by on Hulu, Netflix, Playstation Vue and assorted apps (kind of as a test run) and it’s been fine. We still have more to watch than we have viewing time.

So I’m not melancholy for any practical reason. I think for me cable TV was kind of a tradition, I guess. When I was a little kid, we just had an antenna on the roof and we got 2 channels…3 when the stars (or more accurately, weather conditions) aligned. I have a clear memory of when cable TV arrived in town and suddenly we got 13 channels. THIRTEEN! It was like the world opened up to me, particularly since one of those channels was PBS and as a budding nerd I was blown away from some of the stuff on there.

It’s hard to remember (or imagine, if you’re a younger person) what life was like before the Internet and even satellite TV (by which I mean, TV signals bouncing off of satellites so a signal could get anywhere virtually instantly). We were all much more isolated then. If something wasn’t happening in your geographical area the only way you’d find out about it was if it was on the papers or was big enough to be carried on the national news.

I was what they used to call a latchkey kid. I’d get home from school at 3:30 and my parents would get home at 6:30. There were no other kids in my neighborhood so I filled those three hours more or less sitting in front of the TV. Cable TV was my babysitter/friend, I guess. So I guess the 10 year old still living deep down in my soul is going to miss cable TV.

The funny thing is, I am NOT a person (these days) who turns the TV on just for noise. If I have TV on, I’m actively watching it. If a TV is on in the background it actually tends to annoy me. (Angela is a “TV on for noise” person, which leads to a certain amount of friction between us!)

In practical terms, the biggest impact of yanking the cable box out of our quickly dwindling home-theater stack has been losing the time display on the front of the box. We were up too late last night because we lost track of time. I do think there is some kind of technology you can get to replace that functionality. They call it a “clock” or something like that.

The weirdest bit of the whole process was I went to the Time Warner Cable office with all my stuff. There was a lady greeting folks as they came in, there was no line, and the person who assisted me asked no questions about why I was canceling cable. I was in and out of there in 5 minutes. If I’d called, I would’ve been on the phone for an hour, I imagine (and still would’ve had to go to the office to turn in my gear). It made me feel pretty good about the company, I have to say.

Anyway I think my melancholy will vanish as soon as I see that $80 bill (for 200/20 mbps Internet) where the $160 bill used to be.

Holiday weekend recap: Still a little baffled by Shadow of Mordor

Even though I had a 3-day weekend thanks to the New Year, I didn’t do a ton of gaming this weekend. Instead I watched a lot of TV. Football for one thing, and after a long and idea-filled thread at Imzy, I started in on a new (to me) anime, Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash, which I’m enjoying so far.

Next week we’re canceling cable so I signed us up for Playstation Vue, and I’ve been messing around with that a lot. I find the interface is taking some getting used to, but overall we’re fairly pleased so far. Anyway in the course of messing about I started watching Booze Traveler on the Travel Channel and got inexplicably hooked. It’s about some townie from Boston who travels around the world sampling various alcoholic beverages while taking in the local culture. I like booze so I’m interested in that aspect, and it’s fun to see the places he travels to. It’s much better of a show than I expected it to be.

I also watched Tiny Fey, Margot Robbie and Martin Freeman in Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, based on the true story of journalist Kim Baker’s time in Afghanistan. I enjoyed that very much, and I was delighted to find it on Hulu. Since when does Hulu get recent movies?

Beyond that, we’re working our way through the DC superhero shows on Netflix. So yeah, lots of TV.

I did start up Diablo 3 again. After one session on the launch PS4, I installed it on the PS4 Pro. It hasn’t been patched to take advantage of the Pro’s extra horsepower, but it runs much quieter on that system. It’s one of those games that makes the fans on the launch PS4 start to scream in protest.

I’m playing D3 as a barbarian on Hard mode and it is still ridiculously easy, at least for the parts I’ve played (I’m in Chapter 2). And so much loot. Too much, really. As a natural pack-rat I can’t just leave stuff laying in the dirt, so I’m constantly heading back to town, trying not to be overwhelmed by all the choices I have, and feeding most of the stuff to the Salvage yard. Honestly I get bored playing D3 pretty quickly, which makes me sad since I loved both Diablo and Diablo 2 back in the day.

The other thing I played was Shadow of Mordor and man I’m confused by some of the choices the devs made in that game. Don’t get me wrong, I’m having a blast playing but I feel like the more you struggle, the harder it gets, and vice versa. I haven’t really been focusing on the “main quests” but have been roaming around the world collecting things, doing side quests and slaying lots of orcs. There are these “Conflicts” on the map that tutorial text told me were struggles between orc captains and that if I didn’t break them up, one of the orc captains would win and grow stronger. This wasn’t happening for me. I also had a bunch of skill points I couldn’t spend because I wasn’t powerful enough.

Then finally, I died. And when I did it was like time moved forward. The conflicts got resolved and some of the Captains got stronger. I also gained power somehow, which unlocked the next tier of abilities. Seemed odd that my death resulted in enemies getting stronger. Then I died again shortly thereafter (when a cave troll noticed me hiding in some bushes) and more conflicts got resolved and more Captains got stronger.

I wrote a while ago about how Shadow of Mordor seemed much easier this time around and now I think the reason is that I’m moving cautiously, gaining power while not dying much, so the orcs aren’t getting more powerful.

I’m really enjoying it though. I’ve started playing this game a few times before and it never ‘stuck’ for some reason, but this time it sure is. Even more so now that I’ve encountered this old villain:

Weekend recap

In terms of “stuff to blog about” this was a pretty boring gaming weekend. I’ve let Final Fantasy XV go for now in order to focus on Rise of the Tomb Raider. I like FFXV well enough, but I’m hooked on Tomb Raider and just couldn’t bring myself to put it aside in favor of FFXV. I also got sucked back into Elder Scrolls Online, as happens fairly often. I even fired up Destiny briefly to see if I remembered how to play. I have this idea I might log in for the holiday event that starts Tuesday but we’ll see.

Saturday night is movie night for Angela and I. We usually buy or rent some ‘new to digital’ movie. This weekend Angela had a hankering for Chinese take-out, and since we’re trying to cut down on spending I went looking for a movie to watch for free so we could get the take-out. I landed on Spectral, a new movie on Netflix. It was kind of fun in a ‘bad movie’ way. The plot was basically a bunch of soldiers vs an enemy that appears to be ghosts. It has some decent special effects and…that’s probably the end of things to recommend about it. Assuming you have a Netflix sub already, if you’re looking for something kind of mindless with lots of explosions and stuff…then maybe.

When the movie ended we weren’t quite done lounging on the couch with bellies full of Chinese take-out, so we watched the first episode of White Rabbit Project, also on Netflix. This is the new show from the Mythbusters team of Grant Imahara, Tory Belleci and Kari Byron. We really enjoyed this. They’re doing the same wacky experiments they did on Mythbusters. In the first episode they were deciding which super hero power was most practical (mind control, ice, lightning, flight and maybe I’m forgetting some). It was funny as heck, the experiments were crazy, and it was just a ton of fun. We’ll be watching the rest of this.

Speaking of TV (I know it’s out of fashion but I love TV) season 2 of Colony is coming in January. You probably didn’t watch season one, but if you can find it streaming somewhere, check it out. It takes place in a world where aliens have invaded and conquered the earth. What remains of humanity has been herded into separate city-sized zones. The twist is we don’t really know why the aliens invaded and we never see them. Instead the show focuses on the struggle between the resistance and collaborators. The obvious thought is that the resistance are the good guys but it’s not always so clear, which adds to the show. We really enjoyed the first season and can’t wait for season 2.

Elder Scrolls Online HDR patch

One of the reasons I was anxious to get a PS4 Pro as soon as they launched was that I’d heard The Elder Scrolls Online would support the new hardware with improved resolution (or ‘enhanced details on 1080P screens). It was one of the first games I tried on the new console and when I saw the difference I knew I hadn’t made a mistake. Now don’t get me wrong, it was still TESO, but the increased resolution meant more details ‘popped’ and the improved draw distances made the world feel even more alive. Mostly this is all aesthetics though I can spot harvest nodes from further away now.

Of course me being me, soon after I drifted off to other games, but I always come back to TESO eventually.

I did that yesterday and was surprised to see “An HDR video is playing” pop up on my screen when I loaded the game (that’s my TV’s awkward way of indicating it is receiving video from an HDR source). Turns out a recent update added HDR support to the game. I was delighted until I logged in and found the cave I’d happened to log out in was dark. I mean really dark. Dark to the level of having to navigate via the map because I literally couldn’t see the walls.

I went online and found I wasn’t the only one having issues, and in fact even people without HDR TVs were complaining about the game being too dark. So I think Zenimax is going to have to adjust things. That said, for me it was just a matter of tweaking some settings.

Here’s the thing about HDR. First, it’s impossible for me to show you how awesome it is unless you have an HDR display and even then I’m not sure how I, personally, can capture HDR data to share. It’s kind of like 3D or VR; without the right hardware there’s no way for you to see it. Second, it’s still pretty new tech and tends to be fiddly. You see a lot of people talking about how it’s too much trouble; these comments, I have to assume, are coming from people who haven’t experienced it. It is very much worth the few minutes it (sometimes) takes to get it right.

In my TV’s case (a Samsung KS8000) I found that I had to turn on Dynamic Contrast, which is something all the pundits tell you to leave off. With the new patch there’s an “HDR Brightness” slider. With Dynamic Contrast turned off this didn’t appear to do anything. With Dynamic Contrast set to high, moving the slider resulted in noticeable changes though it feel more like “how HDR-ey do you want this” more than an actual brightness slider.

But with Dynamic Contrast set to High I could see in caves again. Given, again, that all the pundits hate Dynamic Contrast, I then tried it set to Medium and still had good results. On Low it’s a wee bit dark. It’s dark in a way that actually feels cool in terms of immersion but maybe too dark to do group dungeon content, not that I ever do group dungeon content.

Anyway once I’d done this….WOW. The Elder Scrolls Online looks like a whole new game now. A lot of colors are brighter, the lighting is amazing and everything just feels more “real” something. It’s really hard for me to articulate what HDR does, but I really like it. Now I’m running around the world and sometimes something will catch my eye (the rays of the setting sun on water, maybe, or a shaft of magical light coming from a relic) and I’ll just stop and gawk. At one point I was looking for the source of glare on my TV screen for a few seconds before I realized it wasn’t glare, but the light from an in-game torch was just THAT bright.

I’m really looking forward to when HDR is more common and less finicky; I can’t wait for more people to get HDR religion :). One of my biggest issues now is, I’m not a TV professional and there are a lot of settings to play with. I generally look up the settings for a TV from some site like rtings.com and use those. But for this Samsung I keep getting conflicting info, and then there are settings for HDR and settings for regular video, AND then there are a few settings on the PS4 that you can mess with. So many variables! I finally say “Heck with it” and I’m letting my eyes decide. Rather than worrying about if the picture is correct or accurate, I’m worrying about whether it is pleasing to me. Still, there are a LOT of settings to tweak and it can be really confusing. I hope it gets easier over time.

Still, totally worth it though. HDR is the real deal.

Star Trek recaps: Mudd’s Women

Copied from a 9/23/16 Facebook post:

Tonight’s Star Trek episode was Mudd’s Women (Season 1, Episode 6). The first kind of light-hearted episode of the series and maybe the first ever mention of mail-order brides.

I’m sure this episode is horribly offensive by today’s standard (Harcourt Fenton Mudd is selling brides who are secretly made beautiful by an illegal drug) but I think the message pretty much holds up: that ultimately beauty comes from within.

But it’s all wrapped up in 1960s sensibilities. When Evie’s drug wears off and her prospective husband sees that she is “homely” (she’s really not) he wants to call off the deal. Then she takes a dose and gets beautiful again and asks him if he really wants a wife like this one, vain and useless, or a wife who can help him, cook for him, darn his clothes…

For the times I guess that wasn’t outrageous but on a show that features an African American woman in an officer’s role and later showed the first ever interracial kiss on TV it seems a bit old fashioned.

The women, or rather the make-up, fashion and lighting, hold up well though. They were hot in 1966 and they still look hot in 2016. I remember being fascinated by these women but not really understanding why!!! Ah puberty, or more accurately, the years before puberty when everything was really confusing. Mind you I was 6 in 1966 so I guess I’m remembering a re-run a few years later.

Of course it’s not the last time we’ll encounter Harry Mudd (played brilliantly by Roger Carmel who later starred in “The Mothers In Law” alongside Eve Arden and Kaye Ballard. There’s a show you never see syndicated but I seem to recall it was really popular and Arden and Ballard were household names at the time.

Anyway, Harry Mudd is a great rogue… loved that character.

Side note: Tonight I watched on the new magical TV which somehow rendered the show clearer and crisper than I’ve ever seen it. Of course the downside is that you can see how cheap all the props and stuff are.

Star Trek recaps: The Enemy Within

Last summer I started re-watching Star Trek. I’ve seen all these episodes dozens of times, both when it was airing (though I was very young) and in countless re-runs (which are always edited since there are so many more ads today than there were in the 60s), but I’ve never watched them consecutively (at least not since 1966). It was interesting to be reminded that some stuff we identify with Star Trek didn’t exist in the early episodes. For instance Kirk refers to United Space Command (or something) rather than Starfleet or the Federation.

This kind of took me by surprise and at some point I started doing silly little “recap” posts on Facebook. I had a lot of fun writing them and some people seemed to enjoy them, so rather than let them get lost in the dark depths of Facebook history I thought I might re-post them here. Apologies to anyone who has already read them.

Keep in mind while I call these recaps what they really are is just a stream-of-consciousness list of things that stuck out while I was watching them again. I seem to have already lost the first couple, or maybe I only wrote them in my head. Maybe I’ll rewatch them at some point.

Anyway here’s the first one:

Last night’s Star Trek episode (I’m reliving my early 20’s when channel 11 out of NYC ran Star Trek re-runs every night at midnight which was just when I was getting home from work) was The Enemy Within (Season 1, Episode 5). It’s the one where a transporter malfunction splits Kirk into Good Kirk and Bad Kirk.

It’s pretty cool what they do with lighting to make Bad Kirk look so different. OTOH they had a damned lousy body double for when both characters were in a scene. Then there was the poor dog wearing an alien costume, and with no explanation of why Sulu is carrying it around before it too gets divided by the transformer.

Bad Kirk nearly rapes Yeoman Rand and I idly wondered if they would cut/alter that scene if they were re-running the series on regular TV today, or if they’d put up a warning before that scene.

Then there’s a point in the story where an errant phaser blast takes out a conduit the provides power to the transporter and Scottie says it’ll take a week to fix it (Sulu and a few others are freezing on the planet’s surface to lend an air of urgency to what is going on). Then a few scenes later Spock or Mr. Scott just causally mentions that they’ve bypassed the damage and it is no longer an issue. So why put it in at all? Maybe they’re setting up something for a future episode?

Because in the last episode, The Naked Time, at the end they had to jumpstart the Enterprise’s engines and that causes them to go so fast that they start going backwards in time. Then they slow down and go back to normal space, having traveled back in time 72 hours… but then they just drop that plotline and say “Maybe someday we’ll try that again.” Weird.

A couple of nights with Playstation Vue

Earlier this week Sony opened up Playstation Vue, its streaming TV service, to everyone in the US. This isn’t quite the full bundle that they offer in a few select markets (where they offer live network TV) but it’s also cheaper, starting at $30/month for 55+ channels (there are also $35 & $45 plans offering 70+ and 100+ channels, respectively). You can access Playstation Vue through a PS3 or PS4, an iPad or iPhone, an Amazon Fire TV or Fire TV Stick, or through Chromecast from an iOS device. Sadly neglected are Android and Roku users, for now. Also it seems odd to support iPad and iPhone but not Apple TV. At least not yet.

In fact let’s keep on with the bad news first: what’s not offered on the service. Notable gaps include CBS, though I won’t blame Sony for this since CBS doesn’t seem to share their content anywhere except on their own CBS All Access service. ABC, NBC & FOX are available in “On Demand” form, meaning you can’t watch live. The CW seems to be missing, as is BBC America. Also at least some shows are held back from the big 3 On Demand channels. Notably I couldn’t find Marvel’s Agents of Shield on Vue.

Personally we were bummed about BBCA and the fact that Nat Geo Wild is only available on the most expensive tier, but otherwise we felt like the service covered most of what we watched. The mid-tier adds a ton of random sports channels that we’d never watch (ESPN and ESPN2 are included in the base $30 plan) while the highest price plan doesn’t add enough that we watch to make it worthwhile. You should definitely check the channel lineups for yourself though. (I found browsing the channels was much easier on my PS4 than on their kind of crummy website.)

When you first log into Vue you’ll be able to watch whatever is currently on across all of your channels (minus ABC, NBC and Fox), and on the PS4 at least you can pause live TV if you’re willing to devote a chunk of hard drive space to that feature. You’ll also have “On Demand” access to the most recent 5 or 6 episodes of many (possibly all) shows. It seems to offer whatever the last 5 aired episodes were, meaning you’ll get a random selection if a show is heavily repeated, like my Food Network favorite “Diners, Drive-thrus and Dives.” In most (possibly all) cases this On Demand content plays exactly as aired, complete with commercials that you can’t skip.

To be fair this is exactly the way On Demand works on my Time Warner Cable service. There too you can’t fast forward and there’s a limited number of episodes available for many shows. So it’s no worse than cable TV, but no better either.

Now here is where it gets strange. If you mark a show as something you like, it goes into a category called “My Shows.” These shows automatically get ‘recorded’ to a cloud DVR where they are kept for 28 days. When you watch a show from your ‘DVR’ you can fast-forward through ads. [I should emphasize that all these details can vary from channel to channel or even show to show; I’m just reporting what I’ve experienced in a few evenings.] In my opinion, this is the way to use Playstation Vue, with the caveat that the Fast Forward system isn’t as smooth as it is with a traditional DVR. For instance my TWC-provided DVR kind of ‘bounces back’ a few seconds when I stop fast forwarding. So I see the ads have ended, the show has resumed, I stop FFing and the DVR backs up a few seconds so I don’t miss any of the show. Vue’s Cloud DVR doesn’t have that kind of functionality and it feels a little laggy. Also the image is lower resolution for a couple of seconds when playback resumes.

I feel like I’m saying a lot of bad stuff about Vue but I’m fairly pleased with it, really. I’ve been talking about canceling cable for a long time, but was hesitant because we do enjoy watching TV and a lot of the shows we watch are on History, Discovery, Syfy, the Travel Channel and similar cable channels, all of which are on Vue. Network shows (barring CBS as always) we could catch on Hulu, particularly with its new “Ad Free” option which is SO worth the extra couple of bucks/month to me. I think a combination of Playstation Vue ($30) and Hulu w/o Ads ($12), coupled with an OTA antenna for football season, would pretty nicely replace cable TV, which is costing me something like $80/month for pretty no-frills service (and that price is only after calling them every year to bitch about pricing, which gets old). It’s hard to say exactly how much I pay for cable since it’s bundled with Internet service and the bill isn’t itemized, so I’m guessing a bit.

You can also stream Vue on several devices at once, so I could be upstairs watching one show and Angela could be downstairs watching another, without any additional cost (TWC charges per set-top box for anything but basic channels). And of course with both Vue and Hulu, it’s easy to stop/start the services anytime without any headaches. So maybe in summer when we’re outside all the time we could just cancel one or both for a few months. I hate the cable company almost as much for how hard they make doing anything as I do for their pricing.

You can get a 1 week trial to Playstation Vue, but it does require a credit card and if you forget to cancel they’ll bill you after that week. It won’t be right for everyone (we happen to own 2 PS3s, 1 PS4, 1 Fire TV, and 3 iPads so we have pretty good coverage for Vue!) but for us it seems like a pretty good fit and one more reason to cancel the cable TV service.

Hulu gets a game hub

Most of us gamers hit YouTube when we’re scrounging for the latest trailers or what not, but now Hulu wants to get in on the action. They’ve just added a Videogames section to their service.

In addition to trailers, they have content from Canada’s The Electric Playground and G4’s ExtendedPlay (which is destined to end soon with G4 rebranding itself).

They promise release info, reviews and more. For now this content is limited to the PC client but in the coming months it’ll make it’s way to the various Hulu Plus apps for smartphones, tablets, smart TVs, gaming consoles and set-top streaming solutions.

We’ll see if Hulu can attract marketshare from YouTube or even outlets like Twitch.TV!