Sunday, July 26, 2015

Character Insight No. 155: Keenser, is he a pet?

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 Scotty's engineering shadow, Keenser, in an effort to solve the important debate of our time: IS KEENSER A PET?


Keenser in uniform.jpg


(Keenser from Into Darkness, courtesy memory-alpha.org)

Keenser is an engineering crewmember who serves aboard the Enterprise in the Abrams timeline movies. Well, "serves aboard the Enterprise" may be a stretch, as he follows Scotty around everywhere and as we've previously criticized, Scotty doesn't spend enough time on the ship in either new movie to date.

About the only time these two characters are apart is when Scotty first transwarp beams to the Enterprise with Kirk in the '09 Star Trek. Thus, it's difficult to tell if Keenser is just a BFF coworker, a sidekick, or as Darrell posits, a pet.

Keenser was banished with Scotty on the remote outpost at Delta Vega, which seems to indicate he might just be a coworker or sidekick. Much like a good sidekick does, at a critical juncture of Into Darkness, he gives Scotty the look that forces Scotty to reconsider Kirk's request to investigate the coordinates received from Khan. As Scotty listens to him, that makes it seem like Keenser is more of an equal than just a subordinate pet.

Of course, Scotty gets on Keenser all the time for climbing up on high things and not eating much food...which are two very cat-like qualities. Plus, Keenser just follows along like a dutiful dog when Scotty resigns over the mystery photon torpedos Admiral Marcus puts on board to stop Khan. It certainly blurs the line between dutiful sidekick and just a pet.

One reason that Keenser may be deemed a pet is a lack of lines, but that was an intentional change made by the filmmakers after originally having some dialogue for the character. One line still slips though, albeit a short one:

Keenser: "Me!"

And that one word, even though it is a minor thing, proves this is just an alien that chooses to use silence and gestures and looks rather than try to speak a foreign language. That falls outside the definition of pet and right into the definition of sidekick. So I'm with Star Mike on this one, Keenser is not a pet (but just barely).  Sorry Darrell, you can take it out on me this week in Utah.

Speaking of Utah, I will be at Nerdtacular this weekend with The Trek Nerd, so please come say hello and let me know if you like the segment or what I can do to make it even better.

Mohinder Purba, better known as his stage name Deep Roy, is the actor who plays Keenser. At 4 foot, 4 inches tall, he has been able to play some highly iconic roles such as the stunt R2-D2, the stand-in for Yoda, and an Ewok named Droopy McCool in the original Star Wars trilogy. Most notably, he played all 165 oompa-loompas in the 200 remake of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. He's a perfect fit for a small alien role intended to bring some humor and wit into the often-serious storylines of science fiction.

Until next time, remember: captains have pets, engineers have sidekicks because they don't have time for pets.

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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, July 20, 2015

Character Insight No. 154: Best of Chakotay

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 return to the "Best Of" series with a look at the second in command on Voyager, Commander Chakotay.

Chakotay 2371.jpg

(Chakotay, once a Maquis but back to Starfleet, courtesy memory-alpha.org)
 

In Initiations, we are introduced to Chakotay's background as he performs the ritual called Pakra, to commemorate the death anniversary of his father:

Chakotay: A-koo-chee-moya. I pray on this day of memories, to speak to my father - the one whom the wind called... Kolopak. Though I'm far from his bones, perhaps there is a spirit in these unnamed skies who will find him, and honor him with my song. A-koo-chee-moya. 


In the same episode, we also learn more about the way of his native people:

Chakotay: My people taught me, a man does not own land. He doesn't own anything but the courage and loyalty in his heart. That's where *my* power comes from. 


A few weeks later in the aptly-named episode Tattoo, Chakotay explains the distinctive facial tattoo he carries as being a relic of his father:

Commander Chakotay: [about his father] We weren't on very good terms when he died. Once he was gone, I didn't know how to reconcile our differences, how to heal our old wounds. I returned to my colony and continued the fight in his name. I took the mark that he wore to honor his ancestors. I spoke to him in my vision quests. But he never answered - until now. 


In the episode Nemesis, Chakotay is captured on an alien world and made to fight in a civil war. This is one episode where he is the sole star, and the opportunity is not wasted as we see Chakotay deliver such wisdom from his past as this:

Chakotay: There's no shame in being afraid of fighting. Having the trembles is natural. 
Rafin: How do you fathom that? 
Chakotay: Because I've been in battle before, fighting to free my people, from a nemesis called the Cardassians. 
Rafin: These Cardassians... were they beasts? 
Chakotay: Let's just say they weren't very friendly. The point is: even though I believed in what we were doing, I always felt fear before a fight. 



Chakotay and Captain Janeway learn to trust each other over time, including on missions where the two are stranded together for long periods of time. In the episode Shattered, the friendly dialogue between these characters shows a bit of Chakotay's good spirit:

Captain Janeway: You're late. Unfortunately, so's dinner. 
Chakotay: Let me guess: you burned the roast again. 
Captain Janeway: Once, a long time ago, I called this replicator a glorified toaster. It never forgave me. 
Chakotay: I didn't realize replicators held grudges. 



and later...

Captain Kathryn Janeway: Doesn't seem like my first command is shaping up the way I expected. 
Chakotay: "In the middle of the journey of our life, I found myself astray in a dark wood, where the straight road had been lost." 
Captain Kathryn Janeway: I didn't know Dante's Inferno was on the Maquis reading list. 
Chakotay: Actually, I borrowed your copy. 
Chakotay: Anyway, I agree with Dante: if you always see the road ahead of you, it's not worth the trip. 
Captain Kathryn Janeway: A soldier *and* a philosopher. Your intelligence file doesn't do you justice. 


Until next time, don't assume that facial tattoos are only for crazy people.

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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, July 16, 2015

Legal Geek No. 49: Amazon Search Functionality vs. Trademark Law

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 a recent Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Decision that may change the way online retailers do business, all in the name of a stronger trademark law.



(courtesy amazon.com)
The case was Multi Time Machine vs Amazon, and the decision was handed down earlier this month. Multi Time Machine makes high end military style watches under certain brand names and trademarks like MTM Special Ops. Because MTM closely controls its own distribution, these watches are not available at places like Amazon.

However, when consumers type in MTM Special Ops Watch or similar searches into Amazon's search system, the internal search engine returns a list of other multi-function watches from MTM's competitors, but no statement is made that Amazon does not carry MTM watches. In other words, Amazon tries to be helpful for consumers looking for a type of goods. The only difference from other online retailers is that Amazon does not explicitly respond first with a statement that MTM watches are not available at Amazon.

When MTM sued Amazon for trademark infringement, citing consumer confusion in this process, the Federal District Court ruled in favor of Amazon. But the appeals court reversed this decision, with a 2-1 majority revitalizing a doctrine called initial interest confusion. This is a trademark doctrine that was thought dead in most jurisdictions, but the Ninth Circuit defined it as follows: "initial interest confusion occurs not at the time of purchase, but earlier in the shopping process if the customer confusion creates initial interest in a competitor's product." 

If that definition sounds ridiculous, it's because it is. That would cover many other clearly legitimate and long-accepted retailing practices like selling house branded products with similar labeling adjacent to name brand products. The dissenting judge put it best when he responded that "the search results page makes clear to anyone who can read English that Amazon only carries the brands of watches that are clearly and explicitly listed on the web page, as the search results page is unambiguous."

So apparently the fluffy doctrine of initial interest consumer confusion still lives, which means this zombie doctrine could come back to bite unsuspecting litigants. What's most disappointing is that this case is better formulated as a "bait and switch" false advertising claim if anything, but the Ninth Circuit validated the trademark claim by making the law bend to the facts. 

On the bright side, the opinion is limited to the Ninth Circuit along the western coast of the U.S. and is also likely limited on its face to internal search functionality of online retailers like Amazon, which makes it easy to design around. Plus, this was just a panel decision sending the case back to a jury, which could still determine that there is no actual consumer confusion here. Worst case scenario, this doctrine could still be gutted by a full en banc panel of the entire Ninth Circuit or even taken to the Supreme Court, if necessary.

Bottom Line: Trademark law serves the interests of business owners and consumers, but it has reasonable limits. When it doesn't, as in this case, it harms businesses trying to help consumers as well as consumers in the long run.

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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, July 13, 2015

Character Insight No. 153: Admiral Hayes

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 a recurring character from Voyager and the movies, Admiral Hayes.

Hayes, First Contact.jpg
(The Vice Admiral, courtesy memory-alpha.org)
 

Hayes first shows up at the beginning of First Contact, as he leads to charge against the Borg invasion of Earth. Although he orders Picard and the Enterprise away from the battle, Picard ends up disobeying this order and leading the fleet to victory after Hayes has his ship destroyed in the fight.

Insert Quote

The next time we see the Vice Admiral, he is sending a message through the experimental Hirogen communications network to the Voyager. An alien decodes the message first and makes it into a false message to try and trip the Voyager for his own purposes, but Janeway figures out the ruse just in time. Which leads to this great line from her about Admiral Hayes:

"Admiral Hayes. Good man. Fine officer. Bit of a windbag."
– Kathryn Janeway ("Hope and Fear")

Hayes shows up one more time a couple years later, sending another message to Voyager through the MIDAS array. He is one of a few officers leading the charge to help Voyager get back home from the Earth side, and he therefore plays an important role in this storyline despite his limited appearances. In this regard, he is a lot like Admirals Ross and Nechayev, who also appear in multiple series and/or seasons and play a big role in long term stories, and who were covered by this segment in the past couple months.

Admiral Hayes is another admiral who is likely a good character, but he's not always shown in the best light thanks to being in contradiction to the Captains we follow more closely in these stories. It's good to see him reused after that first appearance in the movies, as the trope of disposable jerk admiral had grown quite tedious by the time of Voyager.


Hayes was played by Jack Shearer. He made his most recent appearances a little over 5 years ago as a judge in the TV show 24 and also as Justice Antonin Scalia in Boston Legal. Which, if you haven't seen it, is a good campy show featuring William Shatner as well.

Until next time, don't worry about Locutus, he's your best weapon against the Borg.

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

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Character Insight No. 152: Minuet

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 take a look at another notable holodeck recurring character, this one being Minuet from The Next Generation. 


Minuet
(One iteration of the sultry Minuet, courtesy memory-alpha.org)
 

Although holodeck episodes became stale over the course of TNG and Voyager, the character of Minuet added for the first time an additional adaptability and sentience to holographic characters. Indeed, Minuet was the basis for other memorable characters like Vic Fontaine and the holographic Doctor, so a good foundation was set by this type of character. 

The additional sentience of Minuet comes from programming added by the Bynars, who had added this programming to distract officers like William Riker while they take over the Enterprise in an effort to save the main computer on their own planet. That leads to some heavy handed Riker pimping dialogue, such as this:
Riker - "What's your name, and tell me you love jazz."
Minuet - "My name is Minuet, and I love all jazz - except Dixieland."
Riker - "Why not Dixieland?"
Minuet - "You can't dance to it."
Riker - "My girl."
(From 11001001)

Oh Riker, is there anyone you can't hit on? Of course, with Riker calling the shots on what kind of audience he wanted in the holodeck bar while he plays some jazz, you would hope he could come up with something he would like.

The advanced programming from the Bynars allows Minuet to pick up on visual and audio cues, including such things as responding to Picard in French upon meeting him. Although this helps Minuet seem more real, Riker remains aware of her true nature because she refers to her status as a computer program on multiple occasions. Riker and Picard figure out what is going on with this advanced programming so that the Bynars can be helped (and brought to justice for hijacking instead of asking nicely).

Minuet was difficult to forget, however, as she shows up in a couple other episodes featuring Riker.  The most notable of these is in an alternative reality set up by an alien named Barrash in the episode Future Imperfect. Riker knows Minuet is not real, so the fact that she is his wife in this deception makes it clear to Riker that not is all as it seems.

Minuet was played by Carolyn McCormick, who is most known recently for her 14 years of work as a recurring doctor character on various Law and Order television shows.

Until next time, be sultry but don't listen to Dixieland.

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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, June 29, 2015

Character Insight No. 151: Doohan Takeover Voices, Part 1

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 take a look at a couple of the many recurring characters who showed up originally on TOS and then again on TAS, but the latter time being voiced by James Doohan instead of the original actor.


Robert Wesley, 2268.jpg
(Robert Wesley of the TOS version, courtesy memory-alpha.org)
 

One of the charming aspects about TAS was that thanks to limited budgets, there was not a lot of wiggle room to bring back guest actors for voice roles. Instead, James Doohan and Nichelle Nichols took on some addtional roles. Particularly in the case of Doohan, it showed his great range of voice talent.

Thus, there are a handful of callback characters who were played by other actors in TOS and then taken over by Doohan, and one of these is Commodore Robert Wesley from the TOS episode The Ultimate Computer. He's the commander of the Lexington in the war games that go bad thanks to the takeover of Enterprise by the M-5 supercomputer. His decision to not fire on the Enterprise when its shields go down was a gamble that paid off, thanks to Kirk getting the situation under control where others like Dr. Daystrom could not.

"Our compliments to the M-5 unit, and regards to Captain Dunsel. Wesley out."

After the stresses of this mission and being a commodore for 5 years, Wesley retired to be a governor of Mantilles, the most remote inhabited planet of the Federation at the time. In the TAS episode One of Our Planets is Missing, Wesley appears again in a rescue of the people of Mantilles from a cosmic cloud, albeit with a slightly different voice this time.

INSERT QUOTE



White Rabbit, 2267.jpg
(The White Rabbit, courtesy memory-alpha.com)

Another character, albeit a stranger one, which also shows up in both series is the White Rabbit. This is a robotic representation of the character from Alice in Wonderland, a construct made by the Shore Leave Planet on the episode Shore Leave based on a stray thought from Dr. McCoy about that same story. As you would expect, the rabbit is chased by a girl named Alice and is always concerned about being late. 

INSERT QUOTE

This Amusement Park Planet is visited again by the Enterprise in TAS in the episode Once Upon a Planet. After Alice catches up to the rabbit, they have lunch with McCoy, Sulu and a dragon. Because 1970's cartoons make sense, but once again Doohan took over the voicing for this character.

Barry Russo played Commodore Wesley in TOS, and his final and perhaps most famous role was in the original Hawaii Five-O, 25 years before his death in 2003.  William Blackburn played the White Rabbit in TOS, and he also played Lt. Hadley and acted as a stand in for Deforest Kelley in almost every other episode of TOS.

Until next time, let's be thankful for all the great work we received from Doohan during his life, even though he snubbed one of the best Futurama episodes ever.

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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, June 25, 2015

Legal Geek No. 48: SCOTUS Spiderman Decision Update and Texas's Tweeter Laureate

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 update the result of when Spiderman and patent royalties went to the Supreme Court, and also look at an interesting title conferred on one Texas judge this month.





Back in December, this segment described the Supreme Court case from this term focusing on the patent law doctrine of banning any royalty payments past the 20 year expiration of a patent as compared to private contractual rights.  Specifically, a Spiderman web shooter toy creator was trying to enforce royalties against a third party Marvel when those royalties were not explicitly tied to the patent Marvel bought from him and the contract had no set termination date.

A couple weeks ago, the Supreme Court upheld the so called Brulotte Doctrine, maintaining the rigid prohibition of royalty payments beyond 20 years in the patent context. Considering this doctrine is 50 years old and the contract at issue was related to a patent transfer, perhaps we should not be surprised. However, I had guessed incorrectly in December that this case was taken up by the Court to trim away a bit of the overreaching of patent law into private contractual agreements, so the result is a bit of a surprise at least to me.

Of course, for the many comic nerds among us, the important thing is Marvel wins. Web shooter toys for everyone!

Also, the majority opinion written by Justice Kagan sneaks in a few Spiderman and superhero quotes, which just shows at least some justices have a sense of humor. This includes a statement that "Patents endow their holders with certain superpowers, but only for a limited time."  She also notes that with 50 year old precedents, the authority to overrule such well-established precedents is an authority that should be exercised sparingly because...yes indeed, "with great power there must also come great responsibility."  Well done, Justice Kagan. 

Finally, a quick news item from early June was worth mentioning as well if you missed it. A Texas Supreme Court judge who is very active on twitter has been deemed the Official Texas Tweeter Laureate by the Texas House of Representatives. His mastery of social media is likely key to winning re-election in a state like Texas that elects judges, and it is refreshing to see a judge not getting into trouble for tweets as is usually the case when these two topics mix. Although the title is meaningless, let's hope for more Tweeter Laureates among the judiciary so we can all have a better understanding of the men and women behind the robes. 

Bottom Line: Although other cases will always receive more public attention than small patent law decisions, it is fun to see that even the Supreme Court can take itself a bit lightly when dealing with fun topics like Spiderman toys.


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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