Happy Pi Day!

Some random thoughts for #PiDay.

I usually mark occasions like this with flags, but I don’t have a particularly good mathematics flag or a Pi flag. I’ll have to work on that for next year.

Did you know that in his first appearance, Mr. Sulu was the ship’s mathematician? I’ll bet he wore one of these.

I’ll start off with a brain check. How much Pi is in there? Let’s see.

3.14159265358979323846. That’s 20 places past the decimal point. Is that right? Wolfram Alpha says yes.

Learning the digits of Pi was kinda fun and every few years I’d get it in my head to learn a few more digits, usually in clumps of three. Still, I never understood why someone would memorize Pi to 100 or 1000 decimal places.

This begs a question then. Are 21 significant figures enough? I thought about this last year, inspired by an article called “How Much Pi Do You Really Need.” The website asked me to sign up for a membership so I didn’t read it. Thinking about it was more fun anyway. So let’s go!

The radius of the Milky Way Galaxy is about 52,850 light years. That’s kinda-sorta the distance from Trantor to Terminus for my #Foundation friends if we assume that Trantor was in the middle of that big black hole in the center of the galaxy.

Fifty-two thousand, eight hundred and fifty light years is about: 3.1 x 1017 miles or 1.97 x 1022 inches. We’d need 18 significant figures to measure the circumference of the galaxy to the nearest mile or 23 to get to the nearest inch. So, assuming we could measure everything else as accurately (which, of course, we can’t) we’d need Pi accurate to 17 or 22 digits respectively. Thus π = 3.1415926535897932384626 is all the Pi you need for even the most impractical purposes. My 20 digits are more than enough.

For practical purposes? The serious answer can’t be more than four or five.

Featured Image: Some art done by mathematics students at Elmira College on Pi Day, 2019. The pictures were built out of graphs of functions in Cartesian and polar coordinates.

Stars End S3E30

“Keep Your Mind on the Podcast and Do Not Let the Trailing Off of a Single Thread Affect You.”

Join us as we continue our journey through Isaac Asimov’s masterpiece Robots and Empire, as we delve into chapters 7 through 10. 

In this episode, we take a closer look at “The Overseer,” “The Settler World,” “The Speech,” and “After the Speech,” as Asimov continues to link his major works into a future-historical tapestry.

We see how The First Law of Robotics can be undermined as foreshadowed in The Naked Sun.

We witness Gladia becoming the true successor to Elijah Baley’s legacy as she learns public speaking, articulates a political vision filled with peace and harmony, and changes the course of the rest of her life all in the space of a lazy afternoon.

And we watch as Elijah Baley lays the groundwork (dare I say “Foundation?”) for the Zeroth Law of Robotics from his deathbed.

And of course, Daneel and Giskard go on about the whole thing.

Please join us for our discussion about Robots and Empire, and where it’s taking the universe Asimov built.  Let’s go!

My Voyager Rewatch: S4E26

My #StarTrekVoyager rewatch S4E26 “Hope and Fear”

It’s the final episode of season four. Curiously, it isn’t a two-part bridge into season five. That’s unusual. But let’s go! The teaser pits Janeway and Seven in a game on the holodeck and they discuss intuition. A strong start that ends on an ominous note.

They’re still deciphering that message from “Hunters,” so this is a sequel to a weak episode.

But hey! That’s Ray Wise under the dopey bald cap. “Arturis” as he’s called has an unrealistic knack for languages and the message is decrypted via dues ex alien. Will it be interesting?

“You’re much more attractive than the average drone.” Ugh! Still, we get the message… mostly. It contains coordinates that are only 10 light-years away. It’s suspicious that Arturis decoded the message so easily and that the location in a months-old message is close to their current location.

Nevertheless, they race toward the plot complication, which appears to be a Starfleet vessel. Too good to be true. Do we trust Arturis? That doesn’t look like a Starfleet design. “I’m surprised you’re not more encouraged by this discovery,” he says. He’s up to something.

Credit to the writers, Janeway at least isn’t buying it. Will they do the Dumb Thing? Probably.

The Dauntless NX01-A. I remember the name. It’s a trap.

Using intertwined log entries is new and effective. It’s a nice device but the conflict between Seven and Janeway only works if Seven believes the ship would get them back to Earth. She doesn’t.

The shoe finally drops. Janeway’s war crimes have come home to roost. Helping the Borg defeat Species 8472 got Arturis’s race borgified and he wants revenge, kidnapping Janeway and Seven to get them assimilated. Another strong scene with Seven and Janeway and Seven gets a hilarious line. Obviously, it doesn’t work.

A middling episode, but it satisfyingly brings the season full circle, bookending the war crimes, Janeway’s relationship with Seven, and other reflections like Seven rejecting a return to the collective. Some things DO have consequences. That’s a nice change of pace.

Rating: 3 out of 5.


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My Voyager Rewatch: S4E25

My #StarTrekVoyager rewatch S4E25 “One”

Awesome! I’ve been looking forward to this one. No pun intended. The Doctor teaching Seven social skills is a dubious proposition at best; this part’s all a bit clumsy.

You know, I vaguely remember this one from 24 years ago. The crew is allergic to a nebula and must cross it in stasis.

“Sub nucleonic radiation” is devastating to organic tissue, but Seven will be okay… because she’s not organic? Still, the Borg drone who had trouble adjusting to brief solitude being utterly isolated is a good setup. The Doctor being in command is also dubious. Or maybe it’s comedy?

The deck full of “coffins” is aptly eerie. Foreshadowing? Cut to Seven on Day 10. Tom sleepwalks. Found unconscious, he should be dead. Tensions are rising, so the EMH prescribes a trip to the holodeck. It’s interesting how Seven uses the trip to the holodeck but the Doctor wants compliance, not creativity.

The plot complication is a welcome distraction. It turns out to be a false alarm. An interesting consequence of the organic matter integrated into the computer systems. Still, it should have been easily foreseen. The Doctor has been knocked offline outside of the sick bay before.

We don’t need to change the rules to manufacture drama. Still, the tension gets ramped up nicely as Seven is increasingly isolated. A chance encounter brings a pilot with sexual-predator vibes onto the ship. Is he a hallucination? Seven is definitely hallucinating now and the ambiance is positively Hitchcockian.

This part is outstanding especially as it culminates with the Doctor going offline. In retrospect, the slow build here worked exceptionally well and the climax is intense. It’s also nice that the episode had consequences; Seven has grown and we don’t merely revert to the status quo. A solid episode and most of my qualms I can dismiss as early hallucinations or forgive for being necessary to set the plot in motion. The pay-off at the end, for example, made the awkward bit in the teaser worthwhile.

This episode will be fun to ponder and revisit. What was real and what wasn’t? I’m not entirely sure.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.


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My Voyager Rewatch: S4E24

My #StarTrekVoyager rewatch S4E24 “Demon”

It’s nice to see Vorik! And is Roxanne Dawson pregnant? Memory Alpha says “yes.” That explains the uniform and the camera angles.

Voyager needs a gas station. Sounds like a barn burner! Paris: “even at 1/4 impulse we’ll be out of gas within a week.” Traveling at sub-light speeds is stupid! It would take years to travel between solar systems.

On the one hand, it’s not a recycled TNG plot. On the other, it’s already pretty dumb. Griefing Neelix is fun, but he can’t bring a book to temporary quarters? Why? Does Neelix move his lips when he reads? Or insist on reading passages out loud? And let’s shut down the good scanners while we look for fuel. Dumb. At least Seven tells them that’s stupid.

The gas station is on a Demon-class planet. Very unpleasant. At least the Demon isn’t literal.

Hey! Directed by Potsie Webber again!

Harry wants to know why he shouldn’t take the initiative. Because you’re an ensign. He and Tom are still not funny. Using EV Suits in an environment too toxic for the ship is dumb. Splitting up is dumb. Drastic temperature changes on Harry’s suit having no obvious effects is dumb. I’ll stop. But wait! The computer says the suit has a problem, saving the FX budget! It’s too dangerous to orbit the planet, so now we land. Ugh!

The B story, Neelix sleeping in sickbay, is even worse but is mercifully short. Also, the visuals of the shuttle do not match the conditions on the planet. Tom and Harry can now breathe without suits and are oddly out of character. I bet the ship will be poisonous to them now.

Yup. The blatantly predictable thing happens. The concept of bio-forming vs. terraforming is interesting at least. But that’s not what happened. The planet 3-D printed a new Harry and Tom. The originals should be dead but inexplicably they’re not. Still dumb. The planet wants to 3-D print everybody.

None of the characters have figured that out yet. Janeway says “sentience” when she means “sapience.” We casually, off-screen, copy everyone, sidestepping the Tuvix-sized ethical issues. I must never have seen this one when it first ran 24 years ago because I’d still be irritated.

But I don’t blame Potsie.

Rating: 0.5 out of 5.


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My Voyager Rewatch: S4E23

My #StarTrekVoyager rewatch S4E23 “Living Witness”

It’s not just a new haircut, Janeway’s uniform is suddenly like a dominatrix outfit & she’s gone all Sun Tsu. I’m intrigued. Alternate universe? Changed timeline? I don’t know.

Damnit! A Kazon! We should be done with them!

Sultry Janeway, Warship Voyager, casual genocide. This is dark. Cut to a classroom 700 years in the future. The theme now seems obvious. Yawn. Lots more 1-D villainy from caricatures of the Voyager crew. It’s a museum display from when the Vaskans defeated the Kyrians.

Add racial animus to the equation. They’ve discovered an artifact which I bet is going to be the Doctor to give the other viewpoint. Yup. It’s an EMH backup actually. Here’s the first interesting twist. The Doctor may be tried for War crimes. We start looking for the truth.

Picardo is excellent throughout. The Doctor starts to make headway and it sparks violence and almost another war. He wants to recant and offers to be decompiled to ensure peace. Quarren, the historian, convinces him that finding the truth is the safer alternative in the long run.

And we get another shift of perspective. We pull back into the museum watching this last exchange as a simulation. The Doctor and Quarren set off “The Dawn of Harmony” between the Vaskans & the Kyrians. That’s a feel-good ending. Ultimately this was an excellent episode.

The false narrative bit was too long and some twists were too predictable. But… the predictable twists set up better ones and this didn’t end on a trite homily about history but on a much better adage about the search for the truth. I was dubious, then pleasantly surprised.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.


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Quick Take: Kindred on FX

Kindred is possibly Octavia Butler’s most acclaimed work. It’s a meaningful novel with much to say about power, family, racism, sexism, the Antebellum South, and more. Possibly its most important theme is the human condition and the lengths to which humans can go to survive intolerable conditions.

I watched the FX series; it was fine. But I didn’t see much beyond what I’d already gotten from the novel; the relatively minor changes didn’t seem to disturb the broader brushstrokes. I was honestly on the fence about watching the second season.

Still, FX was taking an important novel and making it available to a wider audience and that is a public service. I was glad the series was being made even if I hadn’t yet decided to watch season two.

Now I’m disappointed that FX has canceled Season Two. It seems to me that if a network undertakes an adaption of an important work, it should see it through. Leaving the project undone does nobody any good.

Evidently, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, the showrunner, is currently shopping season two to other networks. You know what, network executives: I’m in. Pick up season two, and you can count on me as a viewer, even though I’ve aged out of most of the demographics you care about.

Meanwhile, everybody else: If you’re interested in Kindred read the novel. It’s worth your time. Or, if you’re committed to experiencing the book through other media, cross your fingers. Or check out this Eisner Award-winning graphic novel. I’ll review the graphic novel here once I read it.

Bottom Line for the FX series:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

My Voyager Rewatch: S4E11

My #StarTrekVoyager rewatch S4E11 “Concerning Flight”

They really like starting things off in the holodeck. Still, John Rhys-Davies as Leonardo Da Vinci is excellent and his being mocked because his flying machine didn’t work is amusing. Janeway’s pep talk about perseverance is less so.

The main plot appears to be about aliens shoplifting Voyager’s tech. They track it down and discover Leonardo has escaped the holodeck. His interactions with the 24th century are charming. After navigating the black market for a while, James T. Kirk gets name-dropped. Nice!

I enjoyed watching Leonardo’s philosophical conversations with Janeway but now I’m wondering how exactly it works that this holodeck character is out and acting fully sapient when that took the Doctor years. It’s one of those things it’s best not to question too deeply. And yet if we can casually whip up self-aware beings for holodeck games, isn’t that slavery? With Minuet it required an upgrade. When it happened with Moriarty it was portrayed as a fluke. If it happens as a matter of course there are ethical questions to ponder and address. Is that coming in Picard Season Three?

Leonardo’s clever thought to enter the warehouse isn’t really so clever. But as he starts to process new knowledge he’s buzzing with curiosity and bursting with questions. He basically gets “because I said so” from Janeway. This would be the perfect place to invoke Clarke’s Third Law. A missed opportunity.

Leonardo is undeniably self-aware and continues the rapid-fire questioning. He gets “your mind is too small” from Janeway. That doesn’t fit what we see. They flee and use Leonardo’s too-conveniently-located hang glider to escape. The moment they take flight is surprisingly moving, and the wrap-up is a nice character moment for the holographic artist. It’s a delightful episode if you can ignore the dumb premise and it begs for a sequel. What could Leonardo accomplish if he could run wild in the 24th century? How about the ethical questions? I bet Trek will mash the reset button way too hard.

Rating: 3 out of 5.


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My Voyager Rewatch: S4E10

My #startrekvoyager rewatch S4E10 “Random Thoughts”

Paris and Neelix are talking about dating. That is NOT how I want to start my morning. And telling Neelix to be himself is, at best, dubious advice. Telepaths. We’re clearly heading toward some kind of Minority Report nonsense.

B’Elanna is arrested for “aggravated violent thought.” So far it’s all a little stiff and heavy-handed. It seems violent thoughts can spur others to violence. B’Elanna is arrested and will be forced to undergo dangerous memory alteration. Janeway tries to intervene.

Violence spreads and Neelix’s friend is killed. B’Elanna’s violent thought is to blame which shouldn’t be happening. In his own investigation, Tuvok uncovers a black market in violent, dark thought. It gets gross and salacious and what might have been interesting degenerates into a simplistic metaphor for illicit behavior that almost ends up being pro-thought-police. I suspect that the writer was trying to be anti-violence but you could read the ending as an anti-free expression or a message that behavior outside the norm should be punished.

There’s a Potential essay here about why there are right-wing Trek fans. The final 3 minutes redeem things a little. Tuvok and B’Elanna have an exchange that’s reminiscent of classic Spock/McCoy Banter and earn a good laugh. Tuvok says, “Burdened as you are by your primitive Klingon psyche, it is a wonder that you were able to keep your violent thoughts under control as much as you do.” Then a conversation with Janeway and 7 explains why Voyager isn’t trying very hard to get home. Still, ending on a high note or two is not enough to save the episode. Bleh.

Rating: 1.5 out of 5.


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My Voyager Rewatch: S4E22

My #StarTrekVoyager rewatch S4E22 “Unforgettable”

It’s a little funny when Tom ribs Harry about being uncomfortable about working with Seven but enough of that already. There has to be another dimension to Harry’s personality.

Directed by Andrew Robinson. That’s Cool!

We get right into the action in the teaser when a mystery woman on a cloaked ship knows Chakotay by name.

“Try to stabilize the hull” is a terrifying phrase.

They find and rescue the woman, Kellin. Chakotay doesn’t know her and her affect is peculiar. She keeps claiming that it’s complicated. But it’s more convoluted than complicated. Her people are the Silence from Doctor Who in slow motion. Other races forget them after a few hours so they’re secretive. She was on the ship for two weeks to capture another who wanted to leave their society. Now she wants to escape. I’m dubious.

We get lots of coquettish and suspicious behavior from Kellin and Neelix’s platitudes are annoyingly simplistic. Kellin has been claiming she and Chakotay had been in love. He’s been suspicious and then does a sharp 180-degree turn, asking her to stay on the ship. They had better explain this.

They don’t. When the heel turn doesn’t come we’re suddenly dealing with a better episode. When Kellin’s recent memories get erased she and Chakotay replay old interactions with the roles reversed. It’s nice and then bittersweet when she ultimately returns to her people.

Kudos for the nice premise for defying expectations. Sadly, emotional changes were abrupt, the “romance” never felt authentic, and the non-linear chunks were perfunctory. Ultimately I wish the execution were better. The highlight was Tuvok telling jokes worthy of Spock.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.


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