Star Trek Beyond (Non Spoiler Review)

I’m on record as absolutely loving the Star Trek reboot. It’s been done in such a way that doesn’t alter what you loved before, but reimagines it in a new way and in its own space. What if you took Gene Roddenberry’s idea of a utopian ideal then threw a huge 9/11 event into it? How would that change the ideals? How would it change James T. Kirk? Spock? Bones? The crew? Even the Enterprise?

The actions of Nero in the first film were a 9/11 event to Roddenberry’s idyllic scene. The surprise destruction of the Kelvin by what the Federation thought was the entire Romulan Empire, followed by the destruction of Vulcan, changed everything from our heroes’ origins to the very design of Starfleet’s ships to be much larger and more capable of offensive action. As we have seen with our own reaction to 9/11, a surprise exposure of vulnerability can rip the very fabric of a society. In that regard, the terrorists win. Into Darkness explored our own reaction to 9/11 by giving us a Star Trek where elements within the Federation were willing to cast about for any solution to protect themselves from the next threat, including researching, discovering, and waking up Khan. Khan, metaphorically, is waterboarding and drones and Guantanamo. It sets up a compromising of Star Fleet’s own code as summed up by Scotty: “Is that what we are now? Because I thought we were explorers.”

For those who hated that aspect of deconstruction and 9/11 metaphors in the Trek reboot can take heart.

Star Trek Beyond builds. It does not deconstruct. It takes the idea of strength in unity and drives it home several times. Its central villain wants revenge because he felt he was abandoned and thus lost his way. But maybe he wasn’t, frontiers are just dangerous. The film leaves that for you to ponder. Kirk for all his personal internal conflict never wavers from the point of the promise of the Federation, and neither does the crew.

We join this film with the five year mission in progress. The characters now banter and jibe much better together than in previous entries. The foundation laid down by the previous films actually shines here as these cast members have a little fun while not tipping the hand wholly into camp. It feels like the third Harry Potter film where you can think to yourself  “Yes! There it is! Now we can get started!”

Some specifics of the plot could use 4 minutes or so of some more exposition. Some things are solved too neatly (and with some silliness). But our heroes are torn from their five year mission at a moment of existential crisis, only to find their purpose again. The means to get to that point are well played out and don’t jar harshly like the previous films.

This film is fun, poignant, and sometimes silly. It’s a summer blockbuster formula for sure and the affectations from Abrams’ other films flow through as callbacks, but it’s good Trek and will leave a smile on your face if you let it. Each character has something personal to confront and resolve, nods are made to previous entries and to previous timelines (including the least successful Star Trek TV show), but the message is that the Federation is the best hope for the galaxy. Unity and tolerance in all its forms should always win over seeking to conquer to make us stronger.

This is probably one of the most feel good Trek films I think I have seen since Star Trek IV. The stakes are high but not at the intent of ripping the mythos. The motivations are conflicted and personal but not in a way that makes you feel it’s making a large statement about where we are today. The nods and comedic beats are (with a few exceptions) earned honestly.

Go see it. Although the fourth film has been greenlit, this is good Trek. Worth your time.

Stay for the credits. For Leonard. For Anton.

NOTE: My spoiler filled review will have to do with the Kirk/ Spock/Bones moments in the whole three films and a couple of other specific things. I will wait to post that until Monday.

Is VR the next 3D? (maybe) Kinect? (maybe) Wii? (maybe)

Virtual Reality is a pretty magical experience under the right set of circumstances. Having tried now all of the big players in the space between Vive, Oculus, HoloLens etc, I can say without question that VR and Augmented Reality have finally broken through to the consumer.Yet I have begun to figure out some of the obstacles that are going to seriously impede adoption, and they aren’t new ones.

Let us, for a moment, skip the cost of the actual hardware and supporting hardware. Eventually this entry point will come down and it’s low hanging fruit to start there because the technology is so new. Suffice to say for the moment that it’s incredibly expensive compared to other “good enough” technologies that are focused on entertainment as the gateway for broad adoption.

Let us further for this discussion skip the virtual store/User Interface. Much like phones and operating systems this will eventually solidify when someone hits the right metaphor or construct that makes obtaining apps/games and navigating between them easy and (more or less) simple.

So let’s assume you have brought home Bob’s Amazing VR platform, and Bob’s Amazing VR platform once properly setup and connected leads you to magical experiences.

There’s a massive gap in the middle of these two things that could kill VR as dead as 3D Blu Ray, or Kinect games, or even the fact few play the Wii anymore (arguably the most successful of these technologies from a usage standpoint).

That gap is the friction involved to enter the experience.

3D Blu Ray exposed the same complaint I often heard about the Kinect: “I can’t just sit down and get into it.” First you must make sure that your Blu Ray player supports the latest firmware, your glasses are available and not in a dusty corner somewhere, they are charged and/or have fresh batteries, they are properly synced to your TV, that you have enough glasses for everyone, that the TV and the Blu Ray player are in sync on the 3D signal, that you upped the brightness on the TV to compensate for the dimming effect 3D has, and lastly that everyone has a proper viewing angle. You perform all these actions and pop in your Blu Ray only to find you accidentally popped in the non-3D copy and have to get up to go back to the case to get the 3D one. Never mind the fact the primary way you consume movies or TV now might be streaming for which there is little 3D content. Add to that, I hope you don’t get a headache from the 3D syncing.

Let’s look at Kinect. Similar problems arise. The idea of motion activated gaming seems like a winner on paper, and the Kinect sensor is a marvel of engineering. But its utility is really limited to gaming experiences for which you have to rearrange your living room, calibrate the sensor (sometimes even in between games) to properly sample the game space, and deal with situations that typically confuse the sensor like the family dog entering the space or someone in the background going to get a drink from the kitchen. A few magical moments don’t really compensate to overcome wondering if you really want to move the couch and coffee table out of the room again to play Dance Central.

The Wii managed to keep the entry to experience friction low, but content was limited to Tennis. Or Bowling.

Now let’s look at VR. Depending on how Bob designed the VR rig you at the very least have a headpiece to wear. It may or may not be tethered to a base unit that is not meant to be moved. The headsets are a long way from an uncomfortable motorcycle helmet but are also a longer ways away from feeling like no headset at all. It’s Yet Another Thing ™ you have to take the time to get right before you can experience what you want to experience. It may require calibration. The magical experience you had over at a friend’s house might be completely different because he has Joe’s Amazing VR Platform not Bob’s but you didn’t know there was a difference. Like the 3D glasses, you probably feel a little goofy wearing the setup, and your friends video’s of you flailing around on Youtube don’t really endear you to your investment. Once done with your experience you have to stow everything away, which means finding a place for the helmet and equipment.

The friction point here is time.

We’re all competing for time. Microsoft isn’t competing against Sony with the Xbox. Sony isn’t competing with Nintendo. Everyone is competing for time. Because between movies, streaming, phone games, casual games, console games, going out to dinner, reading a book, and the fact there is more quality content above the “garbage” bar than at any point in history, there is no time. So much so I’m convinced I have past the point in my life where even if the content stopped tomorrow I would not have enough hours left in my life to experience it all when combined with work, sleep, and food.

Each of the scenarios I described above involves time. And remember, we already gave a free pass to the cost of entry and the ease of accessing content. That adds even more time.

Those problems will get solved with volume and maturity. Smartphones were along long before Apple solved the entry point and ease of use problems. Technology for the moment limits VR until miniaturization can get us to a societal point that contact lenses or even simple glasses make the friction points easy. That is where VR needs to focus its user experiences.

Make your VR platform goal to make the technology as simple and easy to enter into as an iphone app or launching Netflix and VR/AR will reach it’s potential so fast “Screens” as we think of them today will be a thing of the past. It might also avoid going the way of 3D.

On Bernie, On Hillary, On Comet and Cupid.

This is pretty much a short post because the hyperbole is bonkers strong over this primary battle. From people calling Hillary a crook to people saying Bernie secretly wants Trump to win. (c’mon people. For serious. Stop it.)

I’m a Bernie supporter. I truly believe he was the best hope to throw the chain in the wheels of a broken system. Yes I think the superdelegate thing was a rig from the beginning (in 2008 they weren’t counted in totals, then suddenly from the very beginning this primary Hillary had a 500 superdelegate lead and all the networks fell in line.) The email thing worries me not from the perspective of I hope Bernie gets in because of it but because, objectively speaking, it was *insanely* boneheaded and gives the opposing party a wonderful narrative on through November. It is a completely self-inflicted wound. That combined with votes on Iraq and other questionable choices really bother me. But not as much as anything else, and I do assume on the face of it she’s a good person who wants to do well.

My qualms don’t bother me a sliver as much as even the most progressive of the Republican options. Hell they don’t even bother me a sliver as much as the most conservative of the Democratic options.

Bernie lost. Definitively. You could argue he was playing from a slightly stacked deck but let’s be honest, isn’t it about time that the male in the male vs. female contest was playing disadvantaged?

A historic milestone was achieved for women everywhere not just Hillary. She’s more than capable of navigating and managing the busted machinations of the modern US system. Donald Trump is a tire fire wrapped up in asbestos taped to a neutron bomb on a crazy sensitive tripwire that he dances around clumsily while wearing big spikey clown shoes. Also he’s a racist.

Let’s put this part behind us like Hillary did when Obama won. I’ll say it plainly:

She’s the nominee, I doubt anything will change that. I’m with the nominee, so I’m with her.

I’m Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today

A year ago I fell into a coma and came out of it. Since that time I’ve see a Star Wars film that didn’t suck and in fact was awesome, I got to be around for nieces (and soon a nephew!) being born, I got to see the first female presidential nominee win the primaries, played with my dogs in the ocean, met all kinds of wonderful people, did a show of my own here in Seattle, and in general got to count my blessings.

Oh, some negative stuff happened as well but it’s sort of hard to be too upset about things when technically it could be argued I am living on borrowed time. That’s not to say my health is in any danger at the moment, more so that I never expected to go into a coma in the first place so health issues arising completely out of the blue is a constant anxiety for me.

I’ve become a lot more interested in the stories of how we got to where we are today, a bit more relaxed about the possibilities of what I view as negative things turning out positive over time, and being pretty thankful for where I am at.

All of this is to say keep your sense of humor close, try not to carry excess baggage, and try to be excellent to each other. Open-mouthed smile

So there was this show…

It’s been a couple of weeks and I think I have washed out the adrenaline and “I’m not worthiness” from my show at The Triple Door.

Apparently I should make a note here that it was a huge success.

I didn’t really know what to expect. It was Emerald City Comic Con weekend of course and my voice was already wrecked because of panels and whatnot. But I had a good crowd, and an amazing cast of showmates. I simply cannot thank Marian Call, Molly Lewis, Seth Boyer, and Joel Watson enough for making the night simply magical both for the audience and for me as a performer.

I think I’ve mined fully the extent of “coma humor”, and in sifting through the audio of the show I can’t wait to cut this together into a concert CD for you.

But what this post really is about is for those of you who might have missed the show, I thought I would put in the second part of the reading I did. True, you don’t have Seth Boyer’s guitar music to accompany as you read, but I bet you can find some.


Just Let Me Finish This Level, Part 2

Michael was my room mate once I got moved out of the ICU. He was a very nice man, African American, about 15 years older than me. We commiserated over our stay, compared food menu items, and in general he was a nice enough person to have to share close quarters with for several weeks. The interesting thing about Michael was, he was missing half his skull.

He’d fallen off the roof of a house and suffered a pretty severe brain injury. To reduce swelling that might cause a stroke, they removed a large part of his skull and froze it to be reinserted later while the brain healed. In the mean time Michael had to wear a helmet and try not to fall down. Ever. At all.

What I want to know is who was the first person to come up with this treatment?

“Dr. He’s fallen off a roof and hit his head on concrete.”

“What do you think we should do?”

“well, he’s non-responsive and looks like he’s totally done for.”

“huh. Anything we could do to save him?”

“Fuck if I know”

“meh screw it. Let’s remove his skull and freeze it for later and see if that helps.”

Which leads me to the second part of what bothers me here.

Somewhere, in a hospital fridge, was Michael’s skull. It terrified me because I imagined it just wrapped in tinfoil inside a Tupperware container with a sticker that said “Michael’s Skull do not take” like when you have to put your lunch in the office fridge.

Later on they gave me the pass key to the kitchen so that I could get my own juice and stuff and I was convinced I would see it behind the ice cream. “Michaels skull 04/15” like you label the leftover baked ziti.

My physical situation was interesting to say the least.

I was still weak, connected to two different IV stands, and had an enormous tube installed in my lung to drain any excess fluid.  Even if I wanted to get out of bed it would require another person and a five minute procedure to unhook me. I remember laying there thinking to myself, ok. This isn’t good at all. I can’t get comfortable to sleep. But I hopefully won’t be here long. All things being equal, I’ve felt worse. Michael was in it for the long haul, he had two more months to go in the hospital. After one day, I wanted out. Immediately.

Everything about a hospital is designed for a set of singular purposes: to either beep at you, stick you, or remain ominously silent until it’s out of whatever thing it’s giving you then suddenly go off like the self destruct klaxon on the Nostromo in Alien.

I did discover an interesting fact. If you are ever wondering where the United States stores its strategic reserve of lemon jello, it is evenly distributed throughout all of the hospitals of the Country. When the Russians come to take the country in a Red Dawn type scenario fear not, we can survive on pectin based citrus snacks for decades. I’m more than a bit mystified that Prunes and jello are staple items of every hospital in the country. It’s as if the Jello consortium and Big Prune cornered the early food contracts in a late 1800’s style trust.

If all this sounds disjointed, it’s because I want you to understand that it was. In every way. Everything about a hospital is a surreal experience. It’s cold. People are always moving about. Shades or curtains are pulled but nothing really blocks out the light. You don’t want to be there, you can’t leave until either you will yourself to achieve certain goals by following all the rules, or your body heals to allow you to.

After I woke up I was moved to the resting ICU portion, where other patients where. My first few nights were spent still in the haze of the drugs. I was fed intravenously and yes, I had the full meal deal catheter experience which, in this context, despite what the Internet would have you believe, is not a euphemism. There was a device that in another dimension could be designed for pleasure inserted in one place in my body, and another device in a place that was truly never meant to be an entry point for anything EVER. That’s right, I’m talking about the peehole.

The hardest part of the initial adjustment of being in the hospital post coma was not the weakness or the drugged out feeling or insomnia or knowing I nearly died. The worst part was that I was on laxatives and diuretics and my body was constantly automatically flushing out without any control on my part. Imagine the mental anti-training of peeing and shitting your pants constantly, all day, all through uncomfortable and sometimes painful devices.

Oh by the way everyone done eating right? Ok? We’re ok? Ok.

After a day they decided Scotty down in my engineering bay had restored full sphincter power. By the way, imagine that in “William Shatner in the heat of battle” voice. “Scotty do we have sphincter power?”

So yay the catheters are going to come out! But the thing about hospitals is, they tell you that this thing you hate is going away and you get all happy but then there’s a question of process.

“Turn to your side and cough when I say,” said the nurse.

If anyone ever says this to you, pain is about to ensue. This isn’t the standard hernia check. I’m lying on my side with my gown up so she can fully access the catheters to remove them. The first one wasn’t a big deal. The second one however. Well. Imagine, if you have one, the head of your penis making this noise: POP. (wait for audience reaction)



And her tactic for this was “turn on your side and cough when I say.” This is bullshit. This is the greatest lie told since “we’re pregnant”. This is a falsehood so insidious as to beggar belief. I coughed, she pulled, something went POP and I to this day hesitate now before I cough.

The cough does nothing. The cough is simply to make you feel like you are part of the process. I have news for all you catheter technicians out there. WE ARE ALREADY PART OF THE PROCESS. KNOCK US THE FUCK OUT THEN REMOVE THE CATHETER.

It hurt so bad I almost asked for the removed catheter apparatus so I could name it, file it on my tax returns as a dependent and watch it grow into a productive member of society.

The next few days were a whirlwind of emotions. I wanted a slice of amazing pizza and a coke and my iPad. When I say I wanted these things I mean to say I wanted them more than I have ever wanted anything in my entire life. I was told I could not be on the Internet. The time I spent in the hospital was the longest time I have spent off the Internet since it was called The Internet. I had to wait to eat solid food. I could not sleep. I was stuck for blood draws every 8 hours. I had a pic line to my heart and the tube in my side and two IV’s which made lying comfortably impossible. Doctors were apologetic but firm. Nurses were apologetic but firm. My family was apologetic but firm. Life was apologetic but firm. My anger was apologetic but firm.

This wasn’t fair. I had given up alcohol. I was eating healthy. I had gone through a painful divorce, moved to another country, gotten laid off. But things had turned around. I thought I had reached a level of civility with my ex. I loved my new job working with amazing people. Then I died? I just walked into a hotel and now this? And no one knows exactly how it happened. I might need a liver transplant? I will spend weeks here? This was a whimpering end. This isn’t how I go out, this wasn’t the plan. Fuck this. Fuck jello. Fuck prunes. Double fuck cathethers. Fuck everything. Fuck it all I don’t want to be here if it’s going to be like this. I just don’t.

Ok happy thoughts.

You know one good thing about the hospital?  Peeing in bed. OH MY GOD GUYS. Now to be clear I have a penis. This is a more “external” urine elimination system than the alternative and I say god bless it. They give you this container like an angled thermos, and you just, pee in bed. In that. If there was one thing I would like to have brought home from that experience it’s the waking up in the middle of sleeping needing to pee, wrapped up in my warm blankets, and just reaching over and grabbing my little pee buddy container and ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

Through all of my initial anger and rejection at the state I found myself in, I should mention the doctors and staff, were wonderful. With the exception of Doom Von He’s Already Dead the neurologist.

Now, the whole point of being in the hospital for this extended amount of time was to figure out not what happened to me, but why and how I bounced back. Brain death is not something we have a lot of insight into. For all the ER drama in Hollywood of a character going limp and a heart monitor flatlining, where the doctor solemnly looks at a clock to mark the time then covers the person with a sheet, that person is still there.

Barring massive physical trauma to someone, we don’t so much die like an off switch as we do slowly fade out over a couple of minutes as the brain cells are starved of oxygen. And we spent three weeks stabilizing me, measuring improvement, and trying to see how it could be prevented in the future.

It was decided I should have a procedure done known as a TIPS in which a small shunt would be installed in my liver to prevent future fluid buildup. It’s a minor invasive procedure and takes about an hour. After all the fear of not dying and the emotional ride of the hospital, I actually found I wasn’t near as scared of this because it was billed to me as an essential step in getting out.

I was prepped and taken down to the operating room waiting area. I was told I would be under conscious sedation so bring some music to distract me. Being off the Internet I was not fully versed in the overall mechanics of the procedure but the surgeon came in to talk to me about it.

“Now,” he said, “I’m required by law to tell you that there’s roughly a one in 100 chance you could die on the table. We’re going in through your jugular vein and patients who expire usually bleed out or were already too sick for the procedure to work.”

He must have noticed that my hands clenched on the gurney’s metal arm rests were now actually bending the metal because he then said, “But don’t worry. You look good and your vitals are great. The one in a 100 thing is actually true of just about any time we have to go inside the body. But I do a lot of these and it’s not a big deal.”

At least, I think he said that, I didn’t really pay attention because I was trying to figure out how to use my lung tube as a kind of garrote to choke him out then make a run for it.

But then I was off and they wheeled me into the operating room. This is by far the coolest room I have even been in. All pure white with a little stainless steel and glass. It looked like the pod bay of the Discovery. I was floored by just how cool it was. They pulled me into the center of the room and began hooking sensor leads all over my body while I did my best to remain calm. Being a nerd I asked lots of questions about the anesthetic and the head technician asked what music I would be listening to.

“Beatles, Abbey Road,” I replied.

“Oh that ought to play nice with the colors and things you’re going to see.” He said.

WHAT? I was gonna be trippin’? Shit man I would have brought some Floyd or phillip glass up in this shit if I had known that.

The doctor dropped by again and checked the surgery site on my neck, feeling around for my vein. “Oh wow. You have a great jugular. We’ll have this done in no time.” So, ladies. I’m just sayin. Great jugular.

They finished connecting the leads, when suddenly a huge paper-thin 80 inch TV descended from the ceiling on an articulating arm. They positioned it right over my body, turned it on, and suddenly all my vitals and information started star trekking across the screen. I watched it in wonder for a second then declared, loudly, “THIS ROOM. IS BITCHIN”

After the surgery it was mostly a matter of rebuilding body strength and making sure the procedure took.  Each day I had to do a couple of figure eight rotations around the hospital wing. As I became stronger I started to feel a little more confident, a little more capable.

To take these walks with my chest tube I had to decouple from all the IV’s and carry a fluid container around like a briefcase. I looked like a bad borg cosplay.

One morning I turned a corner just as a hospital visitor turned the opposite one and for a moment we were walking side by side. I didn’t notice her at first as I was just in the zone doing my walking thing but she was an older woman and significantly overweight. Unintentionally I began to pull ahead of her. Oh no, she not was having any of that. She was not going to have some gimpy sick patient outrace her, a mere visitor to this place.

I noticed she upped her speed, so I upped mine. Soon it was a full on race. This was going to be my proof to myself that I was better. That I could win! In my mind we raced neck and neck down the hall, Chariot’s of Fire playing in the background. In reality it looked a lot like two people doing this.

But I won. And just two days later got the clearance to go home.

There’s so much more I could tell you. I had to spend time with psychologists going over my mental capacity to do a transplant. The fact my salt allotment for each day was treated like a credit card balance and I treated it like a broke college student treats a credit card. My first day back on the Internet which I was limited to bawling my eyes out ten minutes at a time from the love and support.

I stand before you, so much more to say, but now extra special because I’m .001% metal now thanks to my shunt. The twist in my M. Night story is that I made it, with no brain damage, through something that no one thought I would. My super power is suddenly and without reason fall into a coma at will. Useful during torture or to escape certain situations:

“Do you know how fast you were going sir?”

I view what happened to me with humor but humble. I’m getting that chance to finish the level before bed.

I have no idea what the future will bring, and the debt I owe to those of you who enjoy my work or supported me during this is immeasurable. There but for the grace of Morgan Freeman playing God in a movie went I, and emerged changed and not.

Was there any wisdom gained from it? We’ll see in a little bit.