Monday, July 21, 2014

Character Insight No. 105: Alexander Marcus

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.--------------------Welcome back to Character Insight!  This week, we profile Admiral Alexander Marcus from Star Trek Into Darkness, who surprisingly jumps all the way to number 6 on our best Trek movie villains countdown.

  
(Perhaps a perfection of the "Badmiral")

Alexander Marcus is an admiral who serves as the head of Starfleet during the Kirk era. He is also the father of Carol Marcus, who later has a child named David with Captain Kirk, at least in the prime timeline. So in a way, this is old grandpa Marcus. 

When Kirk is demoted following a breaking of the Prime Directive, Marcus is convinced by one of his proteges Christopher Pike to let Kirk keep serving actively as first officer on Enterprise. But that decision does not shield Kirk from annoying Marcus, especially when he can't keep quiet during a top level briefing following Khan's bombing of an archive facility in London.

Quote of the Week: "Speak Up Son, Tomorrow is too late..."

In that same briefing, Khan attacks the admirals, captains, and first officers, which leads to the unfortunate death of Christopher Pike and the re-assigning of the Enterprise to Kirk. In order to get rid of Kirk and kill two birds with one stone, Marcus sends Kirk and the Enterprise to go bomb Khan, who has taken refuge on an abandoned part of the Klingon homeworld Qo'Nos, and he sends him with 72 special torpedos which just so happen to have frozen people inside. 

Of course, Kirk listens to the better judgement of Spock and Scotty in not using the torpedos to launch a direct attack on the Klingon homeworld, especially in view of his engine problems. Khan gives himself up when he learns of the torpedos and eventually causes Kirk to open one and discover the truth. Admiral Marcus had been using the genetically-enhanced Khan to build epic warships and armaments to gear up under the guise of Section 31 for a war to be provoked with the Klingons. 


And of course, when Khan turns on Marcus and starts a one-man war with Starfleet, Marcus tries to cover his mistake by killing Khan while also provoking the war he has prepared to start. When Kirk doesn't follow this plan as expected, Marcus and his Section 31 cronies track Kirk down in the warship Vengeance and turn against the Enterprise in an effort to finally finish Khan and correct Marcus's mistake. 

This warmongering desire and his disregard for the lives of the Enterprise crew immediately turn Marcus into another villain of the film, one that Khan and Kirk must combine forces to defeat. Indeed, Damon Lindeloff has been quoted that the Marcus storyline was intended to bring a trope of Hong Kong filmmaking into the Trek movies, that being the villain and the hero needing to team up temporarily for the sake of both.

Marcus gets what is coming to him, though, thanks to the efforts of a rogue stowaway Scotty on the Vengeance and a totally unrealistic but entertaining Thruster suit jump of Kirk and Khan between the damaged ships. He stands by his principles until the end though,...

Quote of the Week (2): "All-out war with the Klingons is inevitable, Mr. Kirk. If you ask me, it's already begun...You killed a Klingon patrol. Even if you got away without a trace, war is coming. And who's gonna lead us?! YOU?! If I'm not in charge, our entire way of life is decimated! So, you want me off this ship, you better kill me."

...And then Khan crushes his head, ending this Badmiral. 

Marcus pushes into the top 10 because the acting performance of Peter Weller is superb, showing a man standing by his principles even when the result seems flawed. Weller has been quoted as disliking the label of villain for Marcus because everything he says about the Klingons is true and he is simply trying to fix his mistakes to clear his conscience when Kirk and the Enterprise get in the way. That belief helps him pull off this performance so much more than a typical bad guy actor. This character is a huge bright spot in an otherwise ordinary copycat movie.

Weller has played in many movies and television series since the 1970's, highlighted by appearances on 24, Dexter, and of course, as Robocop in those original movies. (Insert Officer Murphy)

Until next time, live long and prosper...





Sunday, June 29, 2014

Character Insight No. 104: Dr. Tolian Soran

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 Dr. Tolian Soran, the primary antagonist from Generations. He comes in at number 7 on the list of best Trek movie villains.

  

(Does this look like a face you can trust? Hell, no!)

A couple weeks ago, we profiled Soran's co-conspirators Lursa and B'Etor on this segment, but Soran is the man behind the evil plots in this movie. Soran is an El-Alurian and therefore is the perfect type of villain to span across the decades from Kirk's time to Picard's time. During Kirk's era, Soran was one of a handful of survivors of a Borg attack on his homeworld and being temporarily trapped in the Nexus along with fellow El-Aurian Guinan. 

Well, it wasn't a handful exactly, was it Mr. Scott? (Quote of the Week: "I got 47, out of 150" - 47 ALARM)

Yes, even the original crew couldn't escape the power of that number in the 1990's writing room. The brief flirtation with the Nexus drove Soran crazy to get back, as that allowed him to pretend to experience a life where his family and friends were not destroyed by the Borg attack. Thus, he embarks on a multi-decade mission to find a way to get back in the Nexus.

It also leads him to some great quotes showing how crazy and dedicated he is to returning to his happy place and leaving the memories and ravages of time: (Quote of the Week 2: "They say time is the fire in which we burn"). Which is exactly what needs to be said to convince Picard, who had just experienced a similar trauma of losing his family line in a fire.

The only way Soran can figure out how to make the Nexus pass through a planet is to destroy a star to move its path, which leads him to employ the Duras sisters to steal trilithium from the Romulans to make a weapon capable of such a supernova. And indeed, his evil plot succeeds when only Picard goes down to the planet to stop him. But thankfully, the Nexus has Captain Kirk trapped within it from the initial encounter where he was lost and the El-Aurians were saved by Montgomery Scott on the Enterprise-B.

So back to reality go Kirk and Picard to beat down Soran and prevent the total destruction of a star system and the Enterprise-D crew. Soran and Kirk can then stop worrying about past painful experiences as both die rather than go back to the Nexus. But Picard lives on for more movie fun!

The character of Soran is a fresh villain to the series but he fits right in to make a story spanning the generations. He also serves as an interesting character piece for Guinan, who came away from the Borg and Nexus experiences with a totally opposite outlook and drive than he does. Like Michael Gaines, I personally enjoy Generations largely based on Malcolm McDowell's performance in this well-written villain role.

McDowell has enjoyed a long 50 year career in the acting business, including highlight roles in A Clockwork Orange and many recent movies such as Bolt and TV series such as Entourage, The Mentalist, and CSI: Miami. (Insert Yow!). He currently has about 20 projects filming or in pre- or post-production, so look for a lot more of McDowell to be out there in the future. 

Until next time, live long and prosper...

Character Insight No. 103: V'Ger

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 V'Ger, the antagonist from The Motion Picture. This non humanoid villain of sorts comes in at number 8 on our best Trek movie villains countdown.

  
USS Enterprise approaches V'Ger's cloud
(Watch out for those light bubbles, they sting a bit!)

V'Ger is a vessel encased in an incredibly large energy cloud that tracks through the Alpha Quadrant through Klingon space on the way to Earth. The Enterprise crew is led to investigate why this mysterious cloud entity is coming for the home planet.  Like the Whale Probe in Star Trek 4, V'Ger threatens to destroy Earth, this time with a number of plasma energy spheres located at equidistant points around Earth.  

Unlike the Whale Probe, V'Ger attempts to communicate with ancient radio technology. As Kirk, Spock and Bones uncover the layers to this entity, it becomes clear that this is a relic of Earth's past, specifically the Voyager 6 space probe launched in the 20th Century by NASA. V'Ger was reprogrammed by a machine planet race to learn all it could learn and return to its creator. 

In this process of learning, V'Ger became a conscious machine and struggles with complex, non-scientific concepts as a result of not having intuitive, irrational elements. That makes V'Ger want to merge with the human creator to gain this ability to process all the information it has gained. That allows the writers to get rid of Captain Willard Decker at the end of the movie as he merges with his former lover Ilia (Quote of the Week: "I am V'Ger") and V'ger, thereby giving the Enterprise back to Kirk and crew for more movie adventures. 

Although V'Ger turns out to not be much of an actual evil villain, it makes viewers think about the long-term implications of space decisions made today. V'Ger also allows for Star Trek to take on a big sci fi concept much like the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. This connection to reality makes V'Ger more compelling even for re-watching this movie, and that pushes this "villain" into the top 10 of this list. 

V'Ger has since been linked many ways to potential other story lines of Star Trek. Gene Roddenberry proposed that the machine planet that reprogrammed V'Ger might have been the Borg home world, which led to a couple novels running with this concept. V'Ger also appears in the Star Trek Nero comics to explain how Nero used this machine to calculate precisely when Spock would reappear. 

V'Ger could have ended up with a much different appearance, as the original visual effects house working on The Motion Picture wanted a much darker living machine that opened like a flower on the inside. But this visual effects house overstretched their capabilities and budget and was canned by Paramount, leading to the hiring of John Dykstra and Douglas Trumbull, who took the visual effects in a whole different direction that led to an Academy Award nomination.

Ilia, who ends up representing V'Ger in humanoid form to the Enterprise, was played by Persis Khambatta. Although she missed out on being a regular on the Star Trek Phase II series that was replaced with this movie, she did later appear in MacGyver and Lois and Clark before her passing in 1998.

Until next time, live long and prosper...

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Legal Geek No. 18: Supreme Court Clarifies More Limits on Software Patents

This is the latest installment in what is intended to be 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 continue our review of recent Supreme Court decisions affecting the tech world by analyzing the decision in Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank.


Like many Supreme Court cases, including the copyright case covered last week, a primary issue is whether the resulting ruling will affect more than just the narrow facts at hand in the case. For the Alice case, the simple question was whether a patent claiming a computerized trading platform for eliminating settlement risk in financial transactions was patentable subject matter. The broader question was whether software patents are actually patentable subject matter.

As is typical in the decisions, the Supreme Court answered the facts at hand and did not address the broader issue, likely leaving the big question of software patents to be decided by Congress rather than the courts. Thus, the reports that software patents were greatly curtailed by this decision are simply false.

The use of a third party in financial transactions to eliminate settlement risk was deemed by a unanimous court to be what is called merely an Abstract idea, in other words a well known principle or building block of economic practice. Moreover, the claims that add generic computer system elements to perform the methods were ruled to not be patentable subject matter either. 

Put simply, a patent attorney cannot merely wordsmith claims and add simple elements to make a non-patentable Abstract Idea into a valid patent claim.  Again, from a common sense perspective, the Supreme Court has acted logically in stopping gamesmanship based solely on wording of claims rather than substance.

However, the Court made it abundantly clear by comparisons to previous Abstract Idea cases that this analysis has not changed, it was merely applied to the facts in this case. Thus, software patents in the broad sense are still as patentable as they have always been, and that legal field will continue to thrive.

Bottom Line: If software is to be deemed non-patentable subject matter, that decision will clearly not come from the Supreme Court. The standards will remain fuzzy as a result of the nature of software, but there is good innovation there and the courts and Congress are not likely to take away the patent rights to this entire field.

Thanks for reading. Please provide feedback and legal-themed questions as segment suggestions to me on Twitter @BuckeyeFitzy or in the comments below.

Legal Geek No. 17: Supreme Court Deals Death Blow to Cordcutting Option Aereo

This is the latest installment in what is intended to be 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 review the impact of this week's Supreme Court decision that killed one cordcutting option called Aereo.


The Supreme Court always releases a high number of decisions in June at the end of their annual term, and the complex intellectual property cases always seem to be left to this time period.  One of the most notable decisions came down this week, as the Aereo service was confirmed to be copyright infringement by the Supreme Court.



For those unfamiliar with Aereo, this was a subscription service that allowed users to watch over-the-air television broadcasts by intercepting the signals with miniature antennae. Basically, a user decided what program he wanted to watch and Aereo opened access to the channel by sending the intercepted antennae signal to the user's device.  Effectively, this was a cord-cutting system because it allowed for live and cable programming to be viewed without a cable or satellite TV subscription.
The 6-3 majority opinion held that the transmission of these intercepted programs to user devices was enough to qualify as a public performance of those programs, which is one of the rights that copyright protection includes.  Just because the programs were individually transmitted in a passive manner on an individual by individual basis, this was deemed by the court to be analogous to a performance of the program through an individual conduit to many users (which would more clearly be improper under copyright precedents).  On this point, I think that common sense won the day.

Thus, Aereo will be shut down, which all 9 justices agreed should happen, even though the dissent disagreed on the grounds for shutting this down.  The Court explicitly stated that this case does not decide whether copyright infringement occurs with cloud computing or remote storage DVR's, so this really just shuts down the most illegitimate of the cordcutting services.  And of course, this decision has no effect on the more popular services like Netflix and Amazon Prime, which pay royalties to stream the programs delivered to subscribers. Indeed, Aereo could make the same negotiations and stay in business, should it choose to continue on the right side of the law.


Bottom Line: Cordcutting and cloud computing live on, while Aereo will not in its current form.  Much like the aftermath of the Napster decisions in the music industry, we still appear to be headed toward a great place for consumers of live and recorded television and films.

Thanks for reading. Please provide feedback and legal-themed questions as segment suggestions to me on Twitter @BuckeyeFitzy or in the comments below.

-- ONE-WEEK REPLACEMENT OUTRO for audio version --
If you are going to Nerdtacular, come say hello to me and let me have any segment suggestions you have there, or on Twitter @BuckeyeFitzy

Monday, June 23, 2014

Character Insight No. 102: Lursa and B'Etor

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 Lursa and B'Etor from Generations, who come in at number 9 on our best Trek movie villains countdown.

  

(The dymanic duo of Klingon Kleavage)

Veronica: "How About a Boobie?" clip...Yes indeed, these sisters are a memorable duo that originally starred as antagonists of the two part episode Redemption. But they were likely brought back because they checked the box of one popcorn movie trope, that being...Scott Fletcher: "Boobies!" clip, or more appropriately, in Klingon, Scott Fletcher: "in Klingon, Kap'freah!" clip.


Thankfully, there is more than just Klingon kleavage here, as Generations continues the storyline of the Duras sisters trying to obtain funds and weapons to revolt and take over the Klingon Empire. After Picard failed to be seduced by B'Etor in the episode Redemption and Gowron was put in as chancellor instead of their nephew, the sisters were outcast and that led to a life of crime and rebellion.

These crimes include selling minerals to Bajoran terrorists, rigging a poker tournament in their favor, and finally, the plot to help Dr. Tolian Soran in Generations. Soran had Lursa and B'Etor act as the muscle of the operation, raiding a Romulan outpost for trilithium to make a weapon sufficient to make a star go supernova and move the nexus into the path of Soran. 

Quote of the Week: "I hope for your sake you were initiating a mating ritual."

The sisters intend to get the weapon for their own use after Soran's nexus plans. Which of course, successfully lead to Guinan on a carousel, and Picard and Kirk on horses...

"I'm on a horse!"

While the captains are off saving the world from Dr. Soran, the Klingon sisters take on the Enterprise in a long overdue battle. However, crazy acting captain Riker gets the best of Lursa and B'Etor's bird-of-prey and this recurring enemy exits stage left in a glorious space explosion. 

They do get the honor of taking down the Enterprise-D though, as another iconic ship from the television shows gets the worst end of a movie plot. ("Brace for Impact!")  Lursa and B'Etor make for a nice tie back to the stories in the latter seasons of the TNG series, as well as an interesting parallel to the enemies of Kirk's era. While the return villains are memorable and a strong choice for this role, the plot itself is rather weak and the sisters seem more like eye candy than legitimate muscle in their secondary villain role of this operation.


Still, the tie-back and strong motivations for helping Soren push these sisters into the top 10 of our villain list. Plus, these sisters are eclipsed on this list by only one other role as a female villain, which is a nice change of pace that Star Trek should do more often.
Barbara March and Gwynyth Walsh played Lursa and B'Etor, and you will be happy to know that the TNG Companion confirms that neither has to use chest padding to fill out those interesting Klingon uniforms. Cleavage jokes aside, March pretty must stopped acting after this movie, while Walsh has remained very active in various TV movies and series through this year, including a recurring appearance on NYPD Blue.

Until next time, live long and prosper...

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Legal Geek No. 16: Evaluating the Copyright and Trade Dress Claims in Hex vs. Magic Litigation Battle

This is the latest installment in what is intended to be 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 finish our review of the legal battle brewing between Wizards of the Coast and Cryptozoic by looking at the merits of Wizards' copyright and trade dress claims.


The trade dress claimed by Wizards is the overall product appearance of Magic and its computer counterparts, alleged to include the packaging and 15-card contents of booster packs, the overall visual aspects of the cards, and the like. However, Wizards likely shot this claim in the foot by admitting all of this alleged trade dress has some functionality. 

Functional elements are not protectable trade dress under the Lanham Act, so this trade dress claim is likely dead on arrival. I expect the trade dress claim to be decided in favor of Hex on initial summary judgment.

Turning to copyright, Wizards has set forth a compelling story of all the elements of Magic that Hex has allegedly copied. These copied aspects include the major types of cards, ability names on creatures, the same five colors of cards, a list of functionally identical cards, the background game appearance on a computer display, the same general rules of deck construction and combat during play, and the use of tapping cards to show use. 

The vast majority of these appear to be the underlying facts or ideas that are not protectable creative expressions under copyright law. Many knockoff video games were able to escape copyright infringement over the last two decades on similar grounds, but some courts (including one involving a Tetris clone in 2012) have recently taken to applying copyright infringement where the amount of total elements copied is significant and overwhelming. Based on Wizards' complaint, that could very well be the case here.


So the copyright claim may come down to whether the judge or jury is sympathetic to the idea that knocking off most of the major aspects of a computer game is wrong. That's incredibly hard to predict, so the copyright claim will be the most interesting going forward.

Bottom Line: Wizards will likely prevail on the patent claim but will lose on the trade dress claim, which means the unpredictable copyright claim will determine whether Hex will be allowed to continue in this market for the long term. It will be certainly fun to see how this plays out in court between two game company titans.

Thanks for reading. Please provide feedback and legal-themed questions as segment suggestions to me on Twitter @BuckeyeFitzy or in the comments below.

Also, if you want to hear more about this case and other similar topics, please check out my upcoming seminars at Origins Game Fair in June and at Gencon in August.