Monday, May 18, 2015

Character Insight No. 145: Admiral William Ross

This is the latest installment in a series of "Character Insight" articles regarding the rich history of characters in the Star Trek universe.  An audio version will appear on the This Week in Trek podcast, available for direct download here. 


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Welcome back to Character Insight! This week, we profile Admiral William Ross from the latter seasons of Deep Space Nine.

 
 WilliamRoss2375.jpg
(An admiral worth fighting for, quite literally, courtesy memory-alpha.org)

Admiral Ross is first seen after the Dominion War begins, as he is assigned to be the head of Starfleet forces in the war. Sisko and his crew first encounter him when the Defiant is used to run regular missions like attacking a ketracel-white facility. However, Sisko impresses the Admiral so much that when his adjutant is promoted to wing commander, Ross replaces that person with Captain Sisko.


That causes Sisko to become even more important to the Dominion War effort, as he along with Klingon General Martok are the closest advisers to Admiral Ross before and during the many battles fought with the Founders and the Jem'Hadar. The relationship was not without its bumps, however, as Sisko had trouble wavering between loyalty to his DS9 and Defiant crew as well as to Bajor and loyalty to Ross's war efforts.

At one point, this forces Ross to say (in Tears of the Prophets):
"That's the problem, isn't it? For the past six years you've tried to be both, and up to now I've been patient. I've indulged you, I've gone out on a limb for you many times, but this is it. You've got to make a decision. You are either the Emissary or a Starfleet captain. You can't be both."

Sisko decided to follow Ross's orders on that occasion, and that mission against the Breen was just as successful as the previous bold re-taking of Deep Space Nine from the Cardassians because of Sisko's involvement. Ross likely gets along so well with Sisko because both men have strong family ties and both parallel one another when it comes to putting duty first (both even cross some lines not normally crossed by high level Starfleet officers in the name of succeeding at the war). This relationship is profitable all the way to the Battle of Cardassia, which Sisko planned out and in which the Dominion was finally defeated and the Starfleet-Klingon-Romulan alliance won the day.


Ross also had to deal with Kira Nerys extensively when she came into command of Deep Space Nine following Sisko's promotion to the adjutant position. Ross and Kira clashed over Romulans being posted on the station, as well as over Romulans placing plasma weapon launchers on a Bajoran moon. Kira enacted a blockade around the moon, causing Ross to back her and force the Romulans to remove those weapons.


After losing against Kira's incredible resolve in this Bajoran matter, Ross quips (in Shadows and Symbols):
"Remind me never to play poker with you".

Ross fills a role that had really not been seen out of Admiral characters on any Trek series and especially not on Deep Space Nine, that being a good person overall. The show producers believe it was mostly due to actor Barry Jenner bringing some backstory and actual character to the role rather than just being a bland or gruff authoritarian figure. The writers loved how this actor fit the mold of what they always wanted in admiral characters, and that led to his becoming a significant character in many episodes of the final two seasons of this show.

Indeed, when Admiral Ross quotes Douglas MacArthur after signing the peace treaty to end the war, he just feels like a natural and important member of the Starfleet contingent of this show. Jenner is to be commended for that, as this may still very well be the only truly successful portrayal of an Admiral over a high number of recurring appearances in Star Trek history.

When not playing Admiral Ross, Barry Jenner can be seen in many other television shows, including long recurring runs on Family Matters and the original Dallas. (Insert theme)

Until next time, keep hoping for more actual good Admiral characters in the future!

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Feedback can be sent to me with future segment suggestions on Twitter @BuckeyeFitzy. Until next time, live long and prosper...

Monday, May 11, 2015

Character Insight No. 144: Mr. Homn

This is the latest installment in a series of "Character Insight" articles regarding the rich history of characters in the Star Trek universe.  An audio version will appear on the This Week in Trek podcast, available for direct download here. 


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Welcome back to Character Insight! This week, we profile the large pale man who stands behind Lwaxana Troi from TNG, her attendant Mr. Homn.

 
 Homn.jpg
(Lurch and Mr. Homn are not all that different, if you think about it, courtesy memory-alpha.org)

Mr. Homn arrives with Lwaxana during most of her early appearances on board the Enterprise. As her attendant, he helps her with everything from tailoring a wedding dress, to planning a picnic for Riker and Deanna, to trying to find a husband. Perhaps making up for the overabundance of volume that comes out of her mouth, this character speaks only with sign language for the most part.


The one exception to this came in his first appearance, in the episode Haven. Following a dinner with Captain Picard, he says:
"Thank you for the drinks"

And that's all you get as far as quotes. Speaking of drinks, we know that Mr. Homn frequently consumes large amounts of alcohol without experiencing apparent effects. Of course, when your boss continuously leaves half-full wine glasses at the dinner table and when you have no qualms finishing those off, it's easy to get a belly full of alcohol.


His best moment likely came in the episode Dark Page, where he helps Deanna figure out why her mother has gone into a coma.  When it is realized that she is in a coma to suppress the memory of a dead daughter Kestra who died as an infant, he reveals a saved picture of the child from 40 years ago which helps Lwaxana come to grips finally with her grief.

Just like she says about Captain Picard, Lwaxana says Mr. Homn harbors outrageously lustful thoughts, but it's hard to know how believable she is. After all, Mr. Homn stays around as attendant while the person he replaced in the role was Mr. Xelo, who was fired for lusting after Lwaxana too much. It must be a real hoot to have your boss read your mind all the time.

Lurch, I mean Mr. Homn, is an interesting background character who provides a nice contrast to Deanna's boisterous mother whenever she is around. While she is one of the more loathed characters in Star Trek, he generally seems to have positive reviews. But I guess when you stand next to Jar Jar Binks all the time, me se thinks you look super good.


Carey Struycken played Mr. Homn, and he of course played Lurch in the Addams Family movies around the same time as TNG. He's also known for his roles as the Giant on Twin Peaks, and as an alien on Men In Black.


Until next time, bang that gong Mr. Homn. (insert gong sound)


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Feedback can be sent to me with future segment suggestions on Twitter @BuckeyeFitzy. Until next time, live long and prosper...

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Legal Geek No. 43: Privacy Law Roundup on Airline Personalized Pricing and TV Voice Recognition

This is the latest installment in a series of "Legal Geek" articles and audio segments regarding current events and trends where the geek world crosses streams with legal land.  An audio version will appear on the Current Geek podcast, available for direct download here.

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Welcome back to Legal Geek. This week, we take a look at two interesting stories in privacy law that developed in April which you should be aware of as a consumer, as we continue to move forward in 2015.



 
("Who knew booking my flights to Nerdtacular could invoke privacy law concerns" - courtesy avioners.net)

First, we begin with a story about your new TV and how it may be spying on you!

Smart TV manufacturers have typically set default settings for the new voice recognition equipment to be enabled, and whatever is recorded by the voice recognition equipment is by default sent to the manufacturer for quality control and improvement purposes.  The manufacturers want this voice control to work out-of-the-box for the convenience of the consumer, but these defaults raise privacy concerns because it means all your conversations in front of the TV could be monitored carefully by employees of the manufacturer.

And that could be considered illegal wiretapping, at least if the consumer is not aware of this functionality. To address the issue, California lawmakers this week proposed a bill that would prevent these defaults from being used without explicit consumer agreement.  That would allow consumers to opt-in to help the manufacturer make the product better, while removing any concerns of Big Brother watching in on your private conversations without consent.

This is likely a good move, although it will hamper the QA efficiency of the manufacturers.  Still, the more important rights likely win out here.

Second, did you know airlines could be personalizing prices for you to determine if they can bilk you for more money?

It's true. Since 2014, airlines have been allowed by the Department of Transportation to collect data on consumers and then tailor prices based on predicting how much the airline thinks you will be willing to pay. The factors include things like your zip code, marital status, and travel habits.

Once again, a lawmaker is standing up to this type of potential anti-consumer behavior. This time, it is Senator Al Franken, who is demanding for at least more transparency in the process used by airlines, if not the end of personalized pricing altogether. Word to the wise: book your flights while browsing anonymously for the fairest fares.



Bottom line - The battle between consumer rights of privacy and business needs will continue to evolve in this legal hotbed, and the wise geek among us will stay aware of these things to avoid falling into potential privacy traps.






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Do you have a question? Send it in!
Thanks for reading. Please provide feedback and legal-themed questions as segment suggestions to me on Twitter @BuckeyeFitzy

Monday, May 4, 2015

Character Insight No. 143: Best of Grace Lee Whitney (Janice Rand)

This is the latest installment in a series of "Character Insight" articles regarding the rich history of characters in the Star Trek universe.  An audio version will appear on the This Week in Trek podcast, available for direct download here. 


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Welcome back to Character Insight! This week, we honor the memory of actress Grace Lee Whitney, who passed away at the age of 85 this week.  This is the "Best Of" her character Yeoman Janice Rand from TOS.

 
 Janice Rand, 2293.jpg
(Janice Rand as she appeared in the latter movies and in Voyager, courtesy memory-alpha.org)

Grace Lee Whitney grew up as an adopted child in Michigan and she found rapid success as an actress, first on Broadway and then with several guest appearances on well-known television series of the 50s and 60s like Bewitched, Batman, and Cimmaron Strip. She was slated to be a regular main character as the captain's yeoman on TOS, but her role was cut just 8 episodes into the first season.

Although the specific reason for her dismissal from the cast is not clear, it has been rumored that her problems with alcohol and diet pills was part of the problem, as was the need to avoid a regular love interest for the Captain Kirk character. Those problems with alcohol abuse unfortunately worsened significantly for Whitney following her pain from being sacked from this popular television show.

However, this story does end much better, as Star Trek become the bookends on a tumultuous decade in her life. She began her recovery from alcohol addiction in 1980, following an invite back to appear in the first Star Trek movie. She would go on to appear in three other TOS films, and then an episode of Voyager as well as a couple of independent Star Trek episodes produced in 2007.

So while the disappointment of what happened on TOS almost killed her, Star Trek also became a big part of what saved her and allowed her to enjoy life and engaging with fans for 35 more years.

As yeoman on TOS, Whitney delivered many highly quotable lines in her limited run of 8 episodes. One good example is from The Corbomite Maneuver:
Dr. McCoy: [Rand enters the bridge carrying a tray] I thought the power was off in the galley?
Yeoman Rand: I used a hand phaser, and zap! Hot coffee.

In the Voyager episode Flashback, we learn about Tuvok's past on the USS Excelsior while seeing a future version of Janice Rand serving as second-in-command and night duty manager, while still being quotable as ever:
Commander Janice Rand: All right, gamma shift. Time to defend the Federation against gaseous anomalies.

In the sixth TOS movie The Undiscovered Country, we again see Rand serving on the Excelsior, although this time as a communications officer:
Captain Hikaru Sulu: An *incident*?
Commander Janice Rand: Do we report this, sir?
Captain Hikaru Sulu: [turning to Rand] Are you kidding?


Although it is sad that we did not get to see more of Grace Whitney and Yeoman Rand in the TOS series, her appearances in the movies and on Voyager was a nice touch of nostalgia and a great move to bring Whitney back into the fold. Let her struggles and success be a lesson to you, if you are struggling with alcohol addiction or anything else, please talk to your family, friends, or even just random podcasters on the internet. We can listen and help others get through the tough times, much like Star Trek helped Whitney get back on track.

Rest in peace, Grace. You, like Leonard Nimoy, did Live Long and Prosper.

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Feedback can be sent to me with future segment suggestions on Twitter @BuckeyeFitzy. Until next time, live long and prosper...

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Legal Geek No. 42: Google Becomes Biggest Patent Troll of All?

This is the latest installment in a series of "Legal Geek" articles and audio segments regarding current events and trends where the geek world crosses streams with legal land.  An audio version will appear on the Current Geek podcast, available for direct download here.

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Welcome back to Legal Geek. This week, we take a look at the latest stab for ending the patent troll problem, and whether Google is really just becoming the biggest of the patent trolls instead of solving the problem.



 
("So you have a patent granted, now SELL IT!" - courtesy albertschweitzerfoundation.org)

In a week where the Supreme Court argues the issue of gay marriage and more race protests break out in major cities, of course Google goes and makes the most interesting patent story in months to steal this segment. Google announced the Patent Purchase Promotion this week, in which Google will offer to buy any patented intellectual property that an inventor or patent owner wants to sell.

Here's how it will work. From May 8 to May 22, interested sellers can submit what patent rights they seek to sell and an asking price into Google, and Google will decide after reviewing the offers what they will purchase by June 26.  There is currently no clear marketplace for selling patent rights, so what Google is offering here is relatively innovative, while also being potentially scary.

Google is marketing this program as a way to slow the patent troll problem.  Congress has struggled to find the right way to stop trollish patent enforcement activities, while also protecting the rights of legitimate inventors and investors who may need to defend rights in court even when they are not able to practice their inventions on a large scale.  Google thinks that this program will allow patent sellers to sell to them and hopefully keep those same patent rights out of the hands of assertion entities, which are the trolls who buy patent rights just to threaten lawsuits later to extort settlements from many others.

Will that goal actually be achieved? Or is Google really becoming poised to be the biggest of the patent trolls? That's the open question.

Google will, as a publicly traded company, always be concerned about the bottom line.  This patent purchase program will need to generate revenue or saved costs in some manner commensurate with the high expense Google will undertake to procure all these patent rights.  That money could come from cheap licenses to many licensors, a de facto creative commons program for patents in the best case.  Google may also treat some of these acquisitions as a way to avoid lost costs in paying its lawyers to defend lawsuits later if someone else buys rights relevant to their own products.

However, Google could just end up selling the rights later or taking others to court, much like the same patent assertion entities everyone complains about. Google is no stranger to patent lawsuits, having fought numerous battles over patents in the smartphone industry to protect the Android OS.



Bottom line - No single step will solve the patent troll problem for good, but Google is taking an interesting stab with this program. We can only hope Google is investing this money to make a better patent system rather than merely for strategic, or even worse, trolling reasons.



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Do you have a question? Send it in!
Thanks for reading. Please provide feedback and legal-themed questions as segment suggestions to me on Twitter @BuckeyeFitzy

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Character Insight No. 142: Best of the EMH

This is the latest installment in a series of "Character Insight" articles regarding the rich history of characters in the Star Trek universe.  An audio version will appear on the This Week in Trek podcast, available for direct download here.
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Welcome back to Character Insight! This week, we continue our "Best Of" series with a look at some of the best episodes for advancing the character of the holographic doctor on Voyager, also known as the EMH.

 
 EMHMarkI.jpg
(The first version of the EMH, courtesy memory-alpha.org)

Star Trek often does character development best with the different characters like Spock and Data, and The Doctor in Voyager is just another final frontier of character development, specifically holographic intelligence. From the moment the EMH is granted access over his own activation and program by Janeway in season 1, he develops more and more into a regular member of the stranded crew.

In the episode Projections, the Doctor hallucinates about the nature of his real or holographic existence, and his programming defenses do not step in to stop this:
The Doctor: I experienced an elaborate delusion concerning the nature of my existence: human or hologram, person... or projection. Why? Why would my program focus on such an esoteric dilemma?
Kes: Well... I sometimes ask those kind of questions. Who am I? What am I doing here? What's my purpose in life? Doesn't everybody?
The Doctor: Not me. I know exactly who I am and what my purpose is: I am the Emergency Medical Hologram aboard the starship Voyager.

In the episode Lifesigns, the Doctor falls in love with a holographic representation of a Vidiian scientist named Denara who he was treating for the phage, and he must deal with these new feelings and emotions:
Dr. Danara Pel: Before I met you, I was just a disease. But now, everything's different. When people look at me, they don't see a disease anymore. They see a woman - a woman you made, a woman you love, a woman you're not afraid to touch.
The Doctor: Danara, I was never afraid to touch you.
Dr. Danara Pel: Why? Because you're a doctor?
The Doctor: Because I love you.

In the episode Real Life, the Doctor learns how to be a father in a human family while on his free time in the holodeck, including how to deal with severe grief when his daughter dies in an accident:
Lieutenant Tom Paris: I guess all of us would avoid that kind of pain if we could. But most people don't have that choice. The Doctor: Well, fortunately I do. Lieutenant Tom Paris: Is it so fortunate? You created that program so you could experience what it's like to have a family. The good times and the bad. You can't have one without the other. The Doctor: I fail to see why not. Lieutenant Tom Paris: Think about what's happened to us here on Voyager. Everyone left people behind, and everyone suffered a loss. But... look how it's brought us all closer together. We found support here, and friendship, and we've become a family, in part because of the pain we shared. If you turn your back on this program, you'll always be stuck at this point. You'll never have the chance to say goodbye to your daughter. Or to be there for your wife and son when they need you. And you'll be cheating yourself of the chance to have their love and support. In the long run, you'll miss the whole point of what it means to have a family.

In the episode Revulsion, the Doctor and B'Elanna Torres try to help a stranded hologram on a ship, but they end up needing to defeat him when he turns on them after they reveal he killed his organic crew after being driven mad by being treated like a tool rather than as an intelligent being, which is an interesting contrast for the Doctor on Voyager:
The Doctor: Not so fast, Mr. Paris. You are going to help me sterilize every square millimeter of this sickbay. No doubt you've left your oily residue on every hypospray, your sloughed secretions on every console! - Just kidding. In fact, I've had a change of heart about my fastidiousness. A little clutter'll never hurt anyone. Sickbay should have a more organic touch, don't you think? To help our patients feel... more at home? Tom Paris: [to Torres] What's gotten into him? B'Elanna Torres: It's a long story.

Finally, in the episode Latent Image, the Doctor discovers that his memories about a dead ensign were deleted because he had made a decision to treat Harry Kim when he couldn't treat both crew members critically injured on an away mission, which led to a personal breakdown and inability to function. The crew helps him on the second time deal with his feelings and guilt to help him understand everyone overcomes tough decisions:
The Doctor: Causality - probability. For every action, there's an infinite number of reactions, and in each one of them, I killed her. Or did I? Too many possibilities; too many pathways for my program to follow. Impossible to choose. Still, I... I can't live with the knowledge of what I've done, I can't.

Other good episodes to check out for The Doctor include Equinox, Tinker Tenor Doctor Spy, Lifeline, Flesh and Blood, and Renaissance Man. You could honestly do two "Best Of" segments with this character, as his development into a brilliant, compassionate, and loyal crewmate and man is one of the most beautiful character arcs provided in Star Trek history.

The Doctor was played by Robert Picardo, who is a very interesting person to follow on Twitter these days.

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Feedback can be sent to me with future segment suggestions on Twitter @BuckeyeFitzy. Until next time, live long and prosper...

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Legal Geek No. 41: Apple (Patent) Watch

This is the latest installment in a series of "Legal Geek" articles and audio segments regarding current events and trends where the geek world crosses streams with legal land.  An audio version will appear on the Current Geek podcast, available for direct download here.

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Welcome back to Legal Geek. This week, we take a look at whether Apple's new smart watch, released today, will revitalize yet another device market, and whether Apple will have a thicket of patents blocking competitors from entering the market easily.



 Apple Watch
("Here comes the options!" - courtesy inquisitr.com)
Apple has been at or near the leading edge on two of the most recent major technological innovations, at least from a commercial standpoint. The iPhone took smartphones to a different level in 2007 when that market was filled with flip phones and Blackberries, which of course led to competitors like Samsung and Google getting in on the mix as well over time.

Then a couple years later in 2010, Apple did it again with the iPad. All of a sudden, tablet computing was the place to be, forcing e-readers, laptop computers, and even eventually smartphones to become more like these tablet devices. Once again, competitors from Microsoft to Samsung later flooded the market as well.

Apple also happens to be one of the most active patent filing companies in the U.S. and abroad. That means just as much as innovating and developing products, Apple fights with competitors in court to try and secure and maintain superior market position. Apple and Samsung, for example, are locked in a years-long worldwide war over various phones and phone-related patents. The tablet patent market is heating up in court as well.

Today, the first generation of Apple Watch arrives. Just like with the iPhone and iPad, the first generation watch is being released to mixed critical review, but wild customer demand. Assuming watches come back into style over the next couple years, there will be plenty of lookalike competitors trying to cut into this market that Apple could expand, if things go well. It's an interesting gambit for a company which kind of made watches obsolete for many people by making smartphones so omnipresent, but then again, we all said the same thing about a tablet because who wants a bigger device that can't even work as a phone?

What's more interesting is to see whether Apple has started putting up enough of a patent thicket to make entering this marketplace hazardous to other companies. Some of the design patents on the bands for the Apple watch began issuing in March and April despite being filed only back in last August, and there's already 4 patents issued on some of those aesthetic designs. Which means competitors will have to be careful with the watch bands they offer with smart watches, let alone what patents cover the watch itself!


One would imagine that many of the important keystone utility patents, which do not publish as applications for 18 months after filing, will only start becoming public knowledge now and in the next year. The patent office is pretty backlogged, so it could take some time for these more important patents to come into allowance and effect. But if the plethora of design patents on watch bands is any indication, Apple is set to protect this innovation just as much as the others they now litigate frequently.
 
Bottom line - Apple is a leader in innovation and in patent litigation. That does not appear likely to change, even with a new hot idea and no Steve Jobs around anymore.



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Do you have a question? Send it in!
Thanks for reading. Please provide feedback and legal-themed questions as segment suggestions to me on Twitter @BuckeyeFitzy