21-31 August 2002
|31 Aug||Enterprise: "Dear Doctor"|
|30 Aug||The Bloomberg incident, & Safire's response|
|30 Aug||Shields up; The Universal Translator, alpha|
|24 Aug||About a Boy|
|21 Aug||Microsoft Takes Free Fonts Offline|
|21 Aug||Signs: Running Around in Circles|
Enterprise: "Dear Doctor"
31 August 2002 12:12 AM SGT
Links: Jammer's Review of Dear Doctor, coming from a dedicated fan & always informative & interesting. I very rarely disagreed with his ratings of Voyager.
For months now I have watched the first season of Enterprise, the latest series in the Star Trek franchise & shown on Channel 5 on midnight on Wednesdays (or Thursdays, strictly speaking). & nearly every episode has sucked - either it is plain silly (ref. , "Unexpected"), or manipulative (ref. , the pilot "Broken Bow"), or tries to invoke a sense of mystery when it's just a poorly-crafted plot (ref. "Broken Bow" again, &  "Cold Front"). Anyway "Dear Doctor", the latest being shown, is without a doubt the best one in the show so far.
The story is told from the perspective of Doctor Phlox as he is recording a letter to his counterpart Dr. Lewis on Denobula. (OK a little explanation is in order - Dr. Phlox is a Denobulan, the only one of his species who was originally serving at Starfleet Medical, Earth, as part of an exchange programme before being drafted to serve on the Enterprise. Dr. Lewis is his counterpart in the programme serving on Denobula.) He talks about many things - his observances of human quirks, like emotional attachments to 'lower' animals (ref. Captain Archer & Porthos, his dog) and their instinctive biased reactions to other cultures (instinctive for 22nd-century humans, at least; see Jammer's review, para. 11, for more on this), his reaction to a fellow crewman's romantic gestures etc. (Much in the fashion of TNG's "Data's Day", although this is even better.)
But the main issue here was that Enterprise picked up two astronauts of a pre-warp civilisation plagued with a deadly disease. This is not new, & usually Prime Directive considerations take precedence, except that in this era we don't have the Prime Directive yet. It's up to Captain Archer & his senior staff to decide how far they want to go to help the civilisation without interfering in their natural development. & matters soon come to a head when Dr. Phlox discovers that their ailment is genetic in origin, & while he eventually finds a cure, it would mean greatly interfering with the Darwinian processes on their planet. An additional complication: the planet hosts two humanoid species, the Valakians (who were the ones to contact Enterprise for help) and the Menk (who are considered more primitive & arguably in the inferior position compared to the Valakians), and altering the Valakians' genetic structure (& letting them survive) could possibly hobble the Menk's progress for millennia to come. As Dr. Phlox has it, he is a doctor & his mission is to save lives when he can, but he is also a scientist & has to consider the larger & long-term perspective of interfering in the evolutionary process (although one could argue that curing any illness is also interference). Dr. Phlox almost decides to hide his discovery of a genetic cure from the captain, & the captain has to decide whether to give the Valakians the genetic cure, or even technological assistance in the form of superluminal-speed warp drive, & assume the responsibility for their civilisation for generations the same way the Vulcans have done for Earth 90 years back. Hence his statement towards the end:
"Someday my people are going to come up with some sort of a doctrine, something that tells us what we can and can't do out here, should and shouldn't do. But until somebody tells me that they've drafted that directive, I'm going to have to remind myself every day that we didn't come out here to play God."
- Captain Archer, Enterprise, "Dear Doctor"
When a technologically-advanced people collide with less advanced ones, are they obligated to share their technologies to save lives? Or even supply technology to aid in this result?  Should the superior people then assume the burden of responsibility, in this case, the dangers of using warp drive without sufficiently understanding it? At what point do they let go? (like the Vulcans have gradually done with humans) All the great stuff of Star Trek, finally addressed in an impeccable Enterprise episode. It's too bad we can't have more of these.
- "Fortunate Son" told the story of the human crew of a freighter who take matters into their own hands when Nausicaan pirates raid them. Enterprise has to stop them, & also has to consider their position in a changing universe where the "space boomers", so to speak, may have to accede to the authority of Starfleet & are having troubles coping. At least that was an issue grounded in the era Enterprise is set in. But still it had the requisite pistol fight. :-(
- "Unexpected", where Cmdr Tucker is accidentally impregnated while having an intimate encounter with an alien species. Yes the story is about as bad as it sounds.
- The pilot "Broken Bow", with the notorious decontamination scene. Cmdr Tucker & Sub-Cmdr T'Pol, played by Jolene Bladock & obviously the lead in sexual appeal for the show, are supposed to apply this gel on each other's bodies after returning from an alien environment. That would be reasonable, except that the camera focused on them ever-so-slowly rubbing each other like in a soft porn flick, while they were busy talking about technical issues. You can be very optimistic & say that people of the 22nd century can treat each other like colleagues even in such a sexually-charged situation, or you can be blunt like me & say that it's a cheap ploy to draw in the TV audiences.
- "Cold Front", where Captain Archer is informed of a Suliban intruder on his vessel by one of his crewmen who turns out to be a time traveller himself, here to stop the Suliban & their activities in the Temporal Cold War, except that we never learn exactly what their objectives are, who are the combatants, or whether this crewman is actually helping the hapless 22nd-century humans or harming them. I don't insist that everything be laid out on the table - mysteries to stories are like touches of salt or pepper to food - but this is a totally incoherent story arc. We feel as confused & clueless as Captain Archer, so one can identify with him? Poor excuse.
- Remember, the universe of Star Trek is in the perspective (mindset if not in actuality) of humanity enlightened enough to explore the universe for knowledge & peaceful purposes. Hence imperialism, colonisation & wanton destruction of other species don't play a part, thank you very much.
- Some nitpicking: the Singapore print & broadcast media can't seem to get it into their heads that the show Enterprise is just that, NOT Star Trek: Enterprise. The creators of the show wanted to emphasise the fact that they're trying a new approach to Trek, but we can't seem to shake off this assumption, or learn to.
The Bloomberg incident, & Safire's response
30 August 2002 11:00 PM SGT
William Safire's grudge with SM Lee & his family go back pretty far, & with this latest incident he really doesn't spare anything. Basically the incident had to do with an allegedly libellous article published by Bloomberg which talked about the recent appointment of Mdm Ho Ching to become executive director of Temasek Holdings. It was pretty controversial for a time & the PM even explained his government's stand on this in a BusinessWeek interview (not online). The Bloomberg article supposedly (& I say supposedly because I haven't read the article & I think very few people have since it has been withdrawn) accused the Lees of nepotism, & after reading Safire's article that's dripping with sarcasm I think he still fails to realise that in Singapore law, at least, if you make accusations like this you have to prove them. I think it would be OK if you just said that SM Lee's the chairman of GIC, DPM Lee Hsien Loong is, well, DPM & Finance Minister, BG(NS) Lee Hsien Yang is the CEO of SingTel, & now Mdm Ho Ching is you-know-what, that's fine, because they are all facts. I think actual wrongdoing is hard to prove, even if you have all the pieces laid out. Anyway here are the links: Safire's article and a pretty objective, comparatively, NYT article that explains the whole issue.
But then again, do you think that in all the fog of sarcasm & untruths, & maybe not in reference to Singapore, Safire has a point in his penultimate paragraph?:
Autocratic regimes professing to be democracies have been known to use their judiciary systems to jail or bankrupt dissidents and intimidate resident reporters. Electronic media professing to practice journalism have been known to trade their integrity for global access. Where is the greater corruption?
- William Safire, NYT, Bloomberg News Humbled
Shields up; The Universal Translator, alpha
30 August 2002 12:23 AM SGT
Yes I know, but work's been a little heavy this week & I couldn't find much to write about, except maybe a review of Unfaithful which I watched last night. Look out for it! For now here's some Star Trek-related news, in a manner of speaking:
- Ars Technica, one of my geek sites of choice, refers to it as "shields", while Wired News goes with the Force. Anyway it's about the "electric armour" devised by British military research for tanks against rocket-propelled grenades. Here's the Telegraph article linked to by Ars, & Wired's. Although it's a particular solution to a particular threat, a little hyperbole about how shields are almost with us should be fine *wink*. Oh & there's the interesting quote in the Wired News article:
"RPGs are extraordinarily widespread," said John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org. "And if you have any doubt of that, watch Black Hawk Down."
On Slashdot I saw this rejoinder:
"Phasers are extraordinarily widespread, and if you have any doubt of that, watch Star Trek."
Hahahahaha... The dangers of not thinking before you speak.
- I've also been reading some news here (BBC: US Army tests portable translator) & there (ZDNet: Bridging the Language Gap; the article is offline now for some reason but I've mirrored it here) about a portable translator device, developed by a team at Carnegie Mellon University and currently being tested by US Army chaplains in Croatia. It seems to be slow but workable. As the ZDNet article points out, the mega-application Tongues is "almost epic in scope":
...It includes a speech recognizer, which turns spoken words into text; a machine translator, which converts the text from one language to another; and a speech synthesizer, which turns the text back into audible words. For conversations to flow in both directions, each engine must work in both languages being translated.
To my (limited) knowledge the standards of all three components are nowhere near what anyone would consider stellar - voice recognition can give you 90+% accuracy with a good microphone & a quiet environment, I guess; machine translator? People have been making fun of half-baked efforts for long, & while it has been improving, technologies like the one at Babelfish are barely usable; speech synthesizer: would it make you sound like Stephen Hawking?
Anyway something like the Trek Universal Translator is really one of the inventions that would go beyond the cool factor & promote greater understanding among different cultures, & even aliens should we meet any of them & learn their languages. See the movie No Man's Land for a particularly tragic example (not actual, of course, but definitely grounded in reality). This is despite the fact that it grew out of a need to explain (away?) how all the species of the Federation, not to mention 'outsiders' like the Klingons & Romulans, all spoke English, or whatever language your programme is dubbed in. Now some people may not understand the need to explain anything at all - just assume it's true & get on with the show, you know? - but I think that's a symbol of the overriding need for rationality in the Star Trek universe. One, Things happen for a reason, & two, this is an instance of technology serving the human good - a way to let people who aren't so adept at languages communicate with others effectively. So it's not a desperate need for some explanation; it could be realised in future!
26 August 2002 12:12 AM SGT
I have downloaded all 271 messages on the old message board before BeSeen closes shop. It has every message except those which are obviously duplicates, and one that I censored because it had insensitive comments about the September 11 incident (I lost that one). If anyone doesn't remember, this is actually the class S05A 1999-2000's second board, after the first, very yellow one ("Cheeky"?) was taken offline. It functioned from March 2001 to May 2002 until Huishan's effort produced the third one. As it goes with Microsoft products, it seems the third time's the charm. Anyway it's still in a pretty raw format; I will touch it up when I have time. Just a piece of history for everyone's enjoyment (or disgust).
24 August 2002 11:44 PM SGT
Something I found some time ago but forgot to put here: a link to DVDAsian.com's page for My Sassy Girl. They take international orders & accept payment by credit cards, cheques, money orders or wire tranfer. Looks like a reputable company. The explanation for 'yupgi' given there is as follows:
The Korean word "Yupgi" means "to be curious about and search for creepy and uncanny things or events." But it has become a most fashionable pop culture code word, meaning anything nonsensical and implying something creepy but cool and funny. It's become a buzzword in Korea in recent years, especially in cyberspace. Kim Ho-Sik's hit serial story on the Internet, [Yupgi Girl], surely played a critical role in spreading and wedging the word "yupgi" into the collective consciousness as the hippest culture code.
About a Boy
24 August 2002 9:50 PM SGT
I watched the midnight screening at West Mall on Friday night - it was very funny & touching, practically perfect in every way. Hugh Grant has aged very gracefully & his cad act is unbeatable. In a way the movie is even better than the book - you can't say that for many book-to-movie adaptations, because it preserves Nick Hornby's wit (refer: Will's Units theory, Life-is-a-Show theory etc.), while bringing out more strongly the essential themes, like when Marcus thinks that two aren't enough, in reference to the time when his mother attempted suicide & he realised he needed 'backup' in case someone goes off the cliff (the "shit all the time" quote I put here before, in retrospect, didn't give a very good reflection of the story <g>). & reading some reviews I realised that the title that seems to refer to Marcus the 12-year-old (played by the cherubic Michael Foult), could also mean Will the 38-year old (Hugh Grant) who ultimately abandons his quixotic claim that he could be an island, John Donne notwithstanding. Man & he does have a cool apartment to boot. Please go watch it, or you're doing yourself a disservice. (Links: the official site, which has some clips taken from the movie, & IMDB entry.)
(P.S. I have received notice that BeSeen, which hosted our 2S05A-2000 class messageboard before the current one, is going to be shut down. I'm hard at work downloading the messages because (a) I have too much time on my hands, (b) I have a perverse desire to log everything & make sure the logs aren't destroyed, so that decades from now we can all remember the inane things we said & (c) it seems such a pity to have them disappear into the ether of dot-com flops. Coming soon.)
22 August 2002 12:24 AM SGT
- PAP Book: Finished, will post some thoughts soon.
- Stayer/Quitter: Read Chua Lee Hoong's editorial in the Straits Times today, A Look in the Mirror Reveals Some Hard Truths. Some points just hit the nail on the head, like the feedback of the vociferous critics, as well as the points she makes for why it isn't as simple as looking in the mirror to discover if one's a stayer or a quitter. There seems to be intense debate on the issue in the Sintercom message board too.
- Once and Again: According to this fan site, Once and Again...Once Again, a DVD of Once and Again's first season will be released in Nov 2002. Yet another thing to look forward to, yippee! Once and Again is one of my favourite shows, talking about how two people coming from divorces find love in each other, marry, & deal with the problems of their careers, their kids and their extended family. An interesting technique they use is to have the character sit on a stool in front of a black backdrop and let him/her talk about his/her inner feelings, or what he/she really wants to say, so you the viewer is sort of in the position of a therapist or confidante - it's kind of like a window into their souls. It's a practically perfect show IMHO, except that on first viewing you might find it boring. ABC axed it after 3 seasons due to poor ratings - sigh.
These days it's showing on Channel 5 on Sundays, but the irritating thing is that a movie is usually shown before that, and the broadcaster changes the timing willy-nilly such that even when it's published in TV guides that it will start at 12.30 am or 1 am after the movie, they show it when the movie ends (sometimes 12.15 am). This makes it almost certain that setting the VCR to record it will fail, and as a result I have to watch it 'live'. Shows how much importance Channel 5 is giving to such a skilfully-done drama over, say, the WWE programmes.
Microsoft Takes Free Fonts Offline
21 August 2002 10:08 AM SGT
For those of you who aren't in the loop, Microsoft Typography used to host a fontpack of cool fonts for free downloading to use on Windows & the Mac. They include Georgia, Tahoma, Verdana, Times New Roman, Arial, Trebuchet MS which is my default font here, and the (I agree with Caesar @ ArsTechnica) hideous Comic Sans MS. In fact most of the newer Windows versions i.e. 2000 and XP already have all these fonts included - Tahoma at 8pt is the default font for Office 97 and later - so it's primarily for older systems & those which inexplicably still don't have Trebuchet MS (my personal favourite), for instance.
Recently Microsoft took them offline supposedly because they were repackaged in commercial distributions in violation of their EULA (End-User License Agreement), although the Linux and open-source community has it that MS is trying to block their inclusion into these, since I think they still have problems with good-looking TrueType fonts. But MS did pay professional font designers to do these fonts (hundreds of thousands!) & I guess it has a right to decide what to do with them. & it seems other sites still have the fonts for download. Anyway MS Typography still has other interesting resources on fonts.
- Microsoft Typography Fontpack, where the fonts used to be
- Slashdot: "Microsoft Typography Withdraws Free Web Fonts"
- ArsTechnica: "No fonts for you"
Signs: Running Around in Circles
21 August 2002 12:29 AM SGT
Shyamalan shows his consummate talents of direction and suspense in this movie as he did previously in Unbreakable and The Sixth Sense, although I still find the latter to be the best of them. Signs revolves around a pseudo-New Age concept that seems to be quite common coming from Hollywood these days, like what Graham (Mel Gibson) says to his brother Merrill (Joaquin Phoenix): "There are two kinds of people: those who believe in signs and miracles, that someone up there is looking out for them, and those who think that whatever happens is just random chance or fluke." Or in other words, the former means you have the faith, and this will reinstate him as a father (and Father) and a good person again, not to mention see a way to defeat the aliens. In fact, the aliens who are creating the crop circles (the "Signs") are clearly plot devices that bring out this need for faith, even as it's toned down to encompass any monotheistic religion around, so this isn't a science fiction show but a theological play. The parts where clearly Shyamalan took up the talk of extraterrestrials invading Earth for our resources, and the "end of the world" (such hubris, such anthropological arrogance! When humans and human civilisation are gone, it's a good bet that Earth & its Life will still be around), is like how he bought into & tried to sell us the reality of the comic book world in Unbreakable, but for me, worse. So IMHO it's becoming clear that Shyamalan films are good as they can get aesthetically, but the stories somehow ring hollow. I could still accept The Sixth Sense, I guess, because the twist was too elegant & Haley Joel Osment enchanting. Unbreakable was, shall I say, well-done but very strange and hard to accept.
On the plus side: there's more humour than I expected, in the dialogue and, for instance, the aluminium foil hats that according to Graham's son wards off aliens. It also made them look like Hershey's Kisses. The part where Graham takes up a knife but uses it as a mirror but not a weapon was surprising. Also check out the cameo of Shyamalan as Reddy. See the IMDB entry for Signs, as well as the New York Times review of it (warning: free registration required), which I happen to agree with a lot. [Note: this review will be copied to the Movies section when I have the time :-)]