Friday, April 29, 2022

Star Trek: A Fistful of Datas

Episode: "A Fistful of Datas"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 6, Episode 8
Original Air Date: November 7, 1992

Something is wrong with the holodeck.  Worf and Alexander are in the midst of an Old West adventure when, quite unexpectedly, the bad guy turns up with Data's face - and more problematically, Data's abilities.  In time, all of the baddies get Data faces.  What's going on?  Might Geordi's experiment running the ship's computer systems through Data have something to do with it?

Holodeck episodes are always good fun.  I think it's particularly important that Star Trek reconnect with its western roots from time to time.  After all, Gene Roddenberry first pitched the concept as "Wagon Train to the Stars" and modeled the series as much after the Gunsmokes and Rawhides of the era as any of its SciFi predecessors.  The episode title is a spoof on A Fistful of Dollars, the Sergio Leone spaghetti western based on Miyazaki's samurai film Yojimbo, in turn inspired by Dasheill Hammet's The Glass Key.

Worf in period costume is always awesome.  I can usually do without Brent Spiner's over-acting but he makes it work here.

Food Notes

"A Fistful of Datas" includes the only canon mention of Klingon firewine.  

Acting Notes

John Pyper-Ferguson played the role of Eli Hollander, the initial baddy in the Holodeck narrative before Data shows up.  Pyper-Ferguson was born February 27, 1964 in Mordialloc, Victoria, Australia, the son of two world-class Canadian athletes: Olympic swimmer Kathleen McNamee and runner Richard Ferguson.  He grew up in Vancouver, then went to the University of Alberta.

He broke through as the lead on the Canadian series Hamilton Quest in 1986.  Most of his higher-profile work has been on television, including roles on The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr., Brothers & Sisters and Caprica.  Films include Unforgiven, Pearl Harbor and X-Men: The Last Stand.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Squid Eats: India House

Northampton, Massachusetts, population 28,000ish, is easily one of the more charming communities of its size in New England.  Home to Smith College, it's long been a hippie enclave and an important center for LGBTQIA+ life in the region.  It boasts theaters, coffee shops, bookstores and, somewhat surprisingly, loads of Asian restaurants.  India House, just a block off of Main Street, is one of the more established.

The cuisine is North Indian, offering the typical tikkas, masalas and aloos.  The house specialty is a very nice mango curry.  My wife's favorite is saag paneer and theirs was good.  Daughter approved of the mango lassi.  She drank two.  The service at this family-run business is top-notch.  In fact, we discovered that the owner also used to own a restaurant of the same name near where we used to live in Burlington, Vermont.  He tired of the three-hour drive in between so he sold a few years ago.

The cocktail menu is interesting.  All of their specialty drinks are based on traditional ones, included in the parentheses - "Song of Kabir (Old Fashioned)," for instance - but with South Asian twists.  My wife ordered a Midnight in Madras (Manhattan).  It was made with East Indian sherry rather than vermouth and also included elements of coffee, black fig, rhubarb and cascara.  Good, though she felt it could have done without the coffee.

India House is definitely on the pricey side, otherwise definitely worthy of a return visit.

Friday, April 22, 2022

Star Trek: Rascals

Episode: "Rascals"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 6, Episode 7
Original Air Date: November 2, 1992

A transporter accident transforms Picard, Guinan, Ro and Keiko O'Brien to physical children, maintaining their adult minds.  While the Enterprise crew struggle to reverse the process, pirate Firengi take over the ship.  While the adults flounder, the kids hatch a plan.

"Rascals" is routinely panned by both critics and production staff.  But as much as I usually detest Trek stories about children, I don't hate this one - faint praise, I know.  For starters, the young actors work and they are due full credit as the producers still whined about having to work with kids.  I especially enjoy Isis J. Jones as young Guinan.  Of the group, I think she mimics her adult counterpart most successfully.  Jones also played a younger version of Whoopi Goldberg's character in Sister Act, released the same year.  In a pleasant surprise, the story also provides meaningful development for Ro, even though it happens in her 12-year-old body.

Acting Notes

David Tristan Birkin played the part of young Picard.  In "Family," he played René, Jean-Luc's nephew.  He was born in 1977.

His professional acting career was a relatively short one.  Films include The Return of the Musketeers, Impromptu and Les Misèrables.  As an adult, he works in photography and performance art.  He graduated from Oxford in 1999, then got an MA from the Slade School in London.  War is a major theme of his artwork.  Check out his website here.  

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

On the Coffee Table: The Hound of the Baskervilles

Title: The Hound of the Baskervilles
Author: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Hound of the Baskervilles is the most famous Sherlock Holmes story.  It was published after "The Final Problem," in which our favorite detective "dies,"  but it is set earlier in the timeline.  Originally serialized from August 1901 - April 1902, The Hound recounts the tale of the aristocratic family Baskerville in Devonshire.  Sir Charles is found dead, apparently from the shock of seeing the demonic dog which, according to legend, has haunted the family for generations.  His nephew, Sir Henry, hires Holmes to dig for the truth and hopefully avoid a similar end himself.  

The Hound is certainly stronger than the first two Holmes novels though I prefer the short stories so far.  A comparison: it's easy to understand why Murder on the Orient Express is the most famous Agatha Christie story.  It's amazing!  Don't misunderstand, The Hound is still plenty good even if not obviously better than others.  In fact, it provides an unusual opportunity for Watson development.  For a long stretch, Holmes is absent from the narrative while our fair doctor does the leg work.  Even so, the action definitely picks up once Sherlock shows.

Four more books to go...

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Squid Games: Marrying Mr. Darcy Undead Expansion

via Amazon

Marrying Mr. Darcy has been one of our family's favorite tabletop games for quite a few years now.  It's a Kickstarter-funded card game based on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice created by Erika Svanoe, art and design by Erik Evensen.  You choose a heroine from the story and compete over six suitors including, of course, Mr. Darcy.  I always choose Kitty Bennet if I can.  She can draw the top Event card off the discard pile given the choice.  Trust me, that's an advantage.  Unlike a lot of adaptation games, it's effectively crafted and repeatedly playable.  The cards are hysterical.  Knowledge of the source material is unnecessary.  I've never read the novel yet I love the game.

The Undead Expansion was, I assume, inspired by the Seth Graham-Smith parody novel, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.  It's just 20 extra cards thrown into the mix but that's enough to add plenty of humorous peril.  There's also an Emma variant based on the 1815 novel.  It's much cattier.  Emma's mean!

We played as a family twice over the past couple weeks.  Daughter and I each won once.

Monday, April 18, 2022

On the Coffee Table: Volker Kutscher

Title: Babylon Berlin
Author: Volker Kutscher

via Amazon

Detective Gereon Rath is trying to establish himself in the Berlin police department after leaving Cologne in disgrace.  The year is 1929 and political tensions playing out on the street foreshadow difficult times ahead for the Weimar Republic, not to mention the rest of Europe and beyond.  An unidentified murder victim is discovered, leading to further adventures.  Rath's partner is effective but awfully rough around the edges - and not exactly by the book.  Rath also falls in love, proving more a complication than a relief from the job.  Through it all, we get a colorful tour of the seedier side of Berlin's underground world of sex and drugs.

The book - a blockbuster in Germany - inspired a television series.  We watched the first several episodes a few years back.  While the basics are the same, the screenwriters took many liberties, including dramatic changes to both plot and characters.  The book is more gruesome, though not as smutty.  Having read the book, I think I need to watch the series again, and even finish it this time.

Getting back to the book, it's more straight-up hard-boiled detective story than the series.  There are a couple of marvelous mid-plot twists, though not much to surprise at the end.  The denouement comes a little too easily.  Even so, the characters are engaging.  Rath is good at the job but not without clumsiness which also spills over to his love life.  I'm definitely up for more of the series.  There are seven more books plus a prequel, though not all of them yet translated.  I currently have two on my TBR shelves.

Berlin between the wars is obviously rich with narrative possibilities.  This book would bundle well with Jason Lutes's Berlin seriesDavid Downing's Zoo Station and a screening of Cabaret.

Friday, April 15, 2022

Star Trek: True Q

Episode: "True Q"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 6, Episode 6
October 26, 1992

Amanda Rogers (Olivia d'Abo), an accomplished intern, has come aboard the Enterprise.  The sweet young woman appears to have superpowers.  She makes puppies appear and disappear at will.  She saves Riker from a heavy, falling object.  Most impressively, she reverses a warp core breach.  Clearly there is more to Amanda than initially imagined.  An old friend turns up with an explanation: Amanda is Q.

This is my favorite Q episode and not merely because of my potent boyhood crush on d'Abo.  I like it for its expansion of the Q character and the entire Q concept.  We go beyond the usual cat toying with his mouse model to explore genuinely interesting moral questions.  What do you choose to do with the power of a God?  That's a good one obviously but we've explored it before with Riker.  And, of course, over and over again in Star Wars.  The broader query here: what, if anything, is the moral responsibility of the omnipotent?  Q (John de Lancie) claims his kind are morally superior to humans.  Picard counters, of course.  But is the question of morality even relevant in regards to an entity which can do as it pleases without fear of consequence or judgment?  In the Abrahamic religions, God is beyond reproach.  To question "His" will is blasphemy.  Trek never goes quite so far as to classify Q as a god but the implications are there.

Plenty to fuel a Philosophy 101 lecture in "True Q."

Acting Notes

John P. Connolly played the role of Orn Lote, a Targan engineer.  Connolly was born in Philadelphia.  He has an MFA in Theater and Acting from Temple University.  Films include Hard Choices, Nine 1/2 Weeks and Prayer of the Rollerboys.  Television credits include Alien Nation, Sessions and The Golden Girls.  In addition to the acting, he's been a big time union activist.  Go labor!  He served as both vice-president and president of the New York local of American Federation of Television and Radio Artists and executive director of the Actor's Equity Association.

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Squid Eats: The Dutch Mill

The Dutch Mill is across the street from the Shelburne Museum, one of the world's more unusual tourist attractions.  Beyond the impressive art and Americana, including an original Monet, the museum boasts a collection of... buildings.  On the grounds are an apothecary shop, a jail, a lighthouse and the steamboat Ticonderoga among others - all originals from elsewhere put on a truck and moved to Shelburne.

From the outside, The Dutch Mill Restaurant fits right in with the rest of the neighborhood:

via The Dutch Mill

Hard to miss, yet we'd lived in Vermont nearly 20 years before finally trying it this past weekend.  The inside is a more conventional diner, family photos and Boston sports memorabilia plastered all over the walls and page-long specials menus for both breakfast and lunch.  

I've made a lot of new friends at work this year.  That, in itself, is not unusual.  Teachers come and go, especially these days.  What is rather new for me is the 20-something range of my new gang, all of them closer to my teenage daughter's age than mine - closer by multiples.

Foremost among them is PQ, short for Prom Queen.  She and I share a morning advisory at school.  She's 4.5 years older than my daughter, a fact that blows my mind on a daily basis as I watch her going confidently about the job.  Her boyfriend, we shall call him GerMAN, is one of my new colleagues this year, too.  I'll leave it to you, clever reader, to deduce what he teaches.  The Dutch Mill was one of PQ's favorite spots in high school (not so long ago for her, I remind myself) and she suggested it for lunch.  It was my family's first time meeting my new friends - kind of a big deal in my humble, little world.

As discussed in a post nearly (Sweet Jesus!) ten years ago, I judge a diner by its club sandwich.  My feeling is that if they do a club right, I'm safe ordering anything.  The Mill's Club Combo Sandwich comes with both ham and turkey, though one can request one or the other exclusively.  Having tried it, I think the combo is essential.  The turkey, in thick chunks rather than thin slices, would have been too dry on its own, the ham too salty.  Together, they're just right.  The bacon isn't too salty.  The lettuce and tomato are offered in acceptable amounts.  The mayo layer is modest and the white bread only lightly toasted.  Taken all together, it's a darn tasty sandwich.  You may notice something important missing in the photo, though: a pickle.  The menu promised a pickle!  Oh well.  Next time.  The club was still good enough for there to be a next time.

The service is what I would call diner friendly: amiable, efficient and a little impatient.  I mean the last as a compliment, perhaps even an atmospheric necessity.  It's what I want and expect a diner server to be.  It's a tough job feeding people.  I don't mind being reminded of that in such an establishment.

It was a nice lunch.  I always enjoy bringing the important people in my life together.  Daughter, often quite shy, held her own just fine.  Perhaps the smaller age gap made it less intimidating for her.  I'm hoping it won't be too long until next time.

Friday, April 8, 2022

Star Trek: Schisms

Episode: "Schisms"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 6, Episode 5
Original Air Date: October 19, 1992

Our heroes aren't getting enough sleep.  There's also a weird, shiny subspace thingy in one of the cargo bays.  Coincidence?  Apparently not.

It's an alien abduction story!  Star Trek doesn't usually go in for those.  In fact, this is the first time.  Interestingly, my freshman writing seminar in college was about UFOs, abduction stories and such.  There's a fascinating cultural history around such phenomena.  Before Close Encounters of the Third Kind, there were great variations in encounter stories.  After the movie, they became astonishingly uniform.  Aliens always looked like the ones in the Spielberg film.  Memory gaps were common.  The slicing, probing surgical work portrayed in "Schisms" became the norm, too.  And this is long before social media took hold of our collective psyche, folks!

Overall, I'm not a fan of the episode.  It gets points with the critics for being spooky but that's not enough for me.  The highlight is "Ode to Spot," Data's poem about his cat.

Acting Notes

Ken Thorley played Mot, head barber aboard the Enterprise.  "Schisms" is the actor's third of four NextGen appearances, his second of three as Mot.  Thorley also made a guest appearance on NYPD Blue.  Film credits include Ghost in the Machine, Men in Black and My Favorite Martian.

Tuesday, April 5, 2022

Bitters of the Month: Mint

The first thing one notices about Fee Brothers Mint Bitters is the color - an intense green, perhaps even green enough to be of use in recreating Aldebaran whiskey.  The flavor itself is rather toothpastey.

This one could be a tough sell with my wife.  She loves mint, as in the real thing - artificial mint flavors decidedly less so.  I've long had a thought to create a cocktail based on Girl Scout Thin Mints and mint bitters may indeed have a meaningful role to play.  But again, my wife may take some convincing to try it.  Stay tuned.

I have wondered about the possibility of using bitters for something other than cocktails and mint might be a good candidate for adding a hint to something.  I did try adding it to some mint tea.  I'm not sure if it did much to enhance the flavor.  A blind test would be needed to tell, I think.  But it certainly didn't do any harm.

Friday, April 1, 2022

Star Trek: Relics

Episode: "Relics"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 6, Episode 4
Original Air Date: October 12, 1992

The Enterprise crew discover Montgomery Scott, of all people, stranded in a transporter beam for 75 years.  It's Barclay's worst nightmare!  Unfortunately, excited as we all are to see him, our old friend Scotty grates on poor Geordi while trying to make himself "useful" in engineering.  The early parts of the episode can be difficult to watch as we observe the older engineer's struggles to adjust.

Then comes "the scene", one of NextGen's great knockouts.  Through the magic of the holodeck, Scotty visits the bridge of the Enterprise - his Enterprise.  The sights and the sounds are all perfect.  It's a melancholy moment for Scotty but 100% lovely for the rest of us.  The TNG creators had long fought against the idea of any sort of reprisal of the original series and reasonably so: they wanted the new characters to stand on their own.  Having accomplished that, they became more open to these sorts of homages.  Spock's appearance in Season 5 was the first crack in the wall.  As special as that felt, Scotty on the Bridge is better, a wonderful reminder of where we started and how far we have come.  Even knowing it's coming, I can't help tearing up with the first late '60s ping.

The challenges of aging have provided thematic material for Star Trek from the beginning, clearly important to the original creator, Gene Roddenberry.  Generally speaking, I'd say such stories are not among the franchise's strongest.  But this one works.  Perhaps it's because we know and love Scotty.  We remember the energy and inventiveness he brought in his prime.  We take his decline personally.  And we take satisfaction in the warmth he enjoys in the end.

And that Aldebaran whiskey certainly intrigues - "It is green."

Acting Notes

Erick Weiss plays the role of Ensign Kane, the crewman who shows Scotty to his guest quarters.  Weiss was born February 25, 1959 in Syracuse, New York.  "Relics" was his second appearance as Kane.  Later, he appeared in DS9's "Paradise."  Beyond Trek, he made guest appearances on Murder, She Wrote, Melrose Place and Beverly Hills 90210 among other shows.  Film credits include Mannequin: On the Move, Younger and Younger and Betrayal of the Dove.