Friday, June 28, 2024

Star Trek: Ex Post Facto

Episode: "Ex Post Facto"
Series: Star Trek: Voyager
Season 1, Episode 8
Original Air Date: February 27, 1995

Tom Paris has committed murder, or so the Banea would have us all believe.  While visiting the Banean homeworld, Paris and Kim meet a physicist, Tolen Ren, and asks him for help in repairing Voyager's collimator.  The accommodating Dr. Ren invites his new friends to his home for dinner where they meet his beautiful wife, Lidell.  Playboy Tom instantly falls for her and naturally, that's where the trouble begins.  The doctor is killed and Tom stands accused on the strength of damning evidence.  The victim's own memories of the crime are replayed at the trial.  The punishment is cruel.  Those same memories are implanted in Tom's brain where he will experience them every 14 hours for the rest of his life.

Obviously, all of this eventually gets sorted out cleverly and Tom is absolved.  Tuvok plays the Holmes/Poirot sleuth role.  The final clue is derived directly from Arthur Conan Doyle's 1892 short story, "The Adventure of Silver Blaze," included in The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes.  

"Ex Post Facto" is, in many ways, a rehash of the NextGen Season 3 episode "A Matter of Perspective," in turn inspired by Rashomon, the Kurosawa masterpiece.  However, there are important differences.  There's no attempted rape element this time which significantly reduces the ickiness.  Also, while Riker is technically acquitted, Manua, who accused him of trying to rape her, genuinely believed she was attacked.  Even Counselor Troi acknowledges that.  So his "innocence" is not 100% clear.  While Tom certainly comes off as a cad in this week's story, no one accuses him of rape.

Acting Notes

Ethan Phillips (Neelix) was born in Garden City, New York, February 8, 1955.  His father was the owner of Frankie & Johnnie's a Manhattan steakhouse, originally a speakeasy.  Phillips studied at Boston University and Cornell.

Phillips's stage resume is impressive, even by Star Trek standards.  During a revival of Eccentricities of a Nightingale, legendary playwright Tennessee Williams wrote a new monologue for Phillips.  He performed in Measure for Measure with Kevin Kline.  He was in the Broadway premier of My Favorite Year.  His stage work has continued post-Trek, appearing in the premier of David Mamut's November, Best Play Tony winner All the Way and the Broadway premier of Junk: The Golden Age of Debt.

Before Voyager, Phillips, like René Auberjonois, was in the principal cast of Benson, playing Pete Downey for five seasons.  He also made guest appearances on L.A. LawJAG and Star Trek: The Next Generation as the Ferengi doctor Farek in "Ménage à Troi."  Films include Ragtime, Lean on Me and Green Card.  

Wednesday, June 26, 2024

On the Coffee Table: Cal Newport

Title: Deep Work: Rules for Success in a Distracted World
Author: Cal Newport

via Amazon

Cal Newport defines deep work as "professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit.  These efforts create new value, improve your skill and are hard to replicate."  If you can program a computer to do it, it's not deep work.  If you can do it with minimal focus, it's not deep work.  His broader point: if you need to set aside time in your life for demanding intellectual enterprises, deep work is an approach to making it happen efficiently, mainly by creating a distraction-free environment.  Obviously, this isn't easy in our hyper-connected, distraction-rich world.  Fear not.  Newport has some advice.

I liked the book.  In fact, I think I'll get a lot out of the advice in the long run.  I feel I need to say that before I dig into the bits that irk me.  I also feel it's important, for myself, to bear in mind who Cal Newport is and for whom he is writing.  His day job is computer science professor at Georgetown so the output he has in mind for himself is primarily the academic publishing required to get tenure.  Deep Work reads like an advance brochure for speaking gigs, a lucrative source of supplemental income.  So his audience is corporate "business" types, always out to get more value out of everyone's time, including their own.  With all that in mind...

I take issue with the implicit limits on meaningful work.  Surely, the daily efforts of teachers, nurses, social workers and many others add "value to the world" even if they're not creating new, profound ideas for the general public to digest.  Indeed, is not parenting a child adding value?  Aren't there other - typically identified as "soft" - skills that are valuable in the work place?  How many CEOs and other corporate big shots have gotten to the top on the strength of their interpersonal skills as much as their financial wizardry?  How many people thrive thanks to their improvisatory gifts?

And so on.  Fortunately, there's more to the book than that.  Moreover, even though I am not in the target audience, I believe I can gain a lot from Newport's ideas.

According to the author, the most important requirement for attaining the mental state enabling deep work is the elimination of distractions.  The global scope of the problem is obvious.  The Internet (still capitalized, you'll notice) is ubiquitous.  As I write this, I have seven other browser tabs open.  My smartphone is within arm's reach and I don't need to lean too far forward to grab the television remote.  Delayed gratification is a quaint, archaic concept, especially in our post-COVID society and overall, that reality has undoubtedly done as much harm as good.  I cannot deny that reducing such distractions could only add value and meaning to my life.  In light of the awareness Newport's book has brought, I have already discovered what a huge difference it makes to be in a separate room from my phone. 

Late June is an interesting time to be reading such a book.  With the school year just finished, work motivation is at a low ebb indeed so the idea of taking on a huge project like Newport has in mind is not remotely appealing.  On the other hand, there's plenty of brain space for new ideas even if I'm not quite ready to put them into action.  In particular, it's a fantastic time to experiment with disconnection.

Coincidentally, I made significant progress with this book while lounging at a hydro spa in Bromont, Quebec.  Phones are forbidden once you enter the spa area, a wonderfully liberating inconvenience.  Silence - not quiet, but silence - is encouraged and even occasionally gently enforced.  So for the most part, there's "nothing to do" except sit in hot water and stare off into the distance.  It took a while for me to adjust to this intentional idleness.  Small, self-conscious preoccupations like what to do with my arms crept in.  When I settled on simply letting them float, I made real progress on relaxing.

Of course, we can't afford such indulgences very often so I'll need to find other means of achieving this mental state on a regular basis.  Newport recommends walking in nature most highly - easily accomplished in my neighborhood, at least in non-winter months.  He also suggests casual conversation, listening to music, playing a game (off-screen) or going for a run.  He didn't mention it but I certainly believe in meditation, something I've experimented with in the past.

I also want to remember Newport's advice regarding email: ignore what you can, avoid the knee-jerk tendency to respond to everything and when you do write, take the time to craft meaningful messages that get to the point and avoid endless back and forth.  

Overall, Deep Work is a good book and I'm glad to have read it.  While I'm not prepared to put all of Newport's advice into action tomorrow, he's provided tools for pursuing a more meaningful life.  At my age, that's my most important goal anyway.

Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Squid Mixes: Kir

A kir combines creme de cassis and white wine.  The wine separates it from the kir royale which features champagne instead.  I chose the recipe from The New York Bartender's Guide even though it uses far more cassis than is typical - probably obvious in the photo.  I wouldn't do it that way if I were to make the drink again but my wife suggested it as a drink for helping to clear shelf space in the liquor cabinet.  She ended up adding more ice to hers to water it down.

Friday, June 21, 2024

Star Trek: Prophet Motive

Episode: "Prophet Motive"
Series: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Season 3, Episode 16
Original Air Date: February 20, 1995

via Memory Beta

The Grand Nagus (Wallace Shawn) is on the station for a visit and he appears to have lost his mind.  He has rewritten the Rules of Acquisition: greed is out, generosity is in.  Meanwhile, Doctor Bashir has been nominated for a prestigious medical award.

DS9 can get pretty heavy.  An occasional, frivolous Ferengi romp provides essential comic relief and Shawn Wallace is always good value.  That said, it would be a stretch to call this a good episode.  The Quark and Rom development is minimal, though Rom's gradual rising in his brother's estimation is nice to see.  The Bashir B-plot is mostly forgettable though somewhat notable for his first game of darts with Miles, an important feature of their friendship moving forward.  

Acting Notes

via Muppet Wiki

Juliana Donald played the role of Emi, a woman looking to buy stem bolts from Quark and not above using her feminine charms to encourage him to bring down the price.  Donald was born in Washington, DC, January 1, 1964.  "Prophet Motive" was her second Trek episode.  She played Tayna in "A Matter of Perspective."

Donald's films include The Muppets Take Manhattan, The Purple Rose of Cairo and Dragnet.  Television appearances include NYPD Blue, Babylon 5 and The X-Files.

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

On the Coffee Table: Mark Twain

Title: The Prince and the Pauper
Author: Mark Twain

Prince Edward of England accidentally switch places with his doppelganger, Tom Canty, whose life of poverty and brutality on the streets of London could hardly be less like his own.  The plot thickens when the King, Henry VIII, dies and Edward must succeed him.  The novel, first serialized in 1881, was Mark Twain's first historical fiction work.  The already famous author wrote the book after his second European publicity tour.

Tom's adjustment to life in the royal court is mostly comical.  All of his attendants attribute his evident amnesia to madness.  But he adapts and, indeed, grows to like his new station quite a lot.  Who wouldn't?  Edward's transition is a lot more perilous.  Miraculously, he survives Tom's abusive father long enough to be rescued by Miles Hendon, a down-on-his-luck nobleman.  When Edward and Miles are soon separated, the prince turned pauper is exposed to the darker side of pre-Elizabethan England.

Through both stories is woven a quest for justice.  Both boys witness, from opposite perspectives, the unfairness of the criminal justice system.  Each, while acting as King, exacts reforms.

As I have written before, I love Mark Twain.  The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is certainly one of my all-time favorites.  I've also read Tom Sawyer, The Mysterious Stranger, The Autobiography of Mark Twain, parts of Life on the Mississippi and Innocents Abroad as well as numerous short stories.  This was my first time reading The Prince and the Pauper.  It shares theme with other Twain works.  For a time, Edward falls in with a gang of thieves, clearly a fantasy the author likes to indulge - a midwesterner's version of pirate tales.  

Most interesting to me, the Miles Hendon character serves a similar narrative function to that of Jim in Huck Finn.  Both men rescue their respective protagonists from abusive fathers and save the boys' lives numerous times over the course of the books.  The psychological insight revealed in these relationships is ahead of its time.  It's much discussed in education and other industries focused on children: a child with a troubled life can survive and even thrive with the help of just one adult (can't be a parent) who cares about them and believes in them.

There's more Twain on my shelves.  I'm looking forward to spending more time with his work.

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Squid Mixes: Manhasset

A Manhasset combines rye, dry vermouth, sweet vermouth and lemon juice with a lemon twist.  Essentially, it's a Perfect Manhattan with lemon juice rather than bitters.  I got my recipe from The New York Bartender's Guide.  I assume it's named after the town in Long Island but I couldn't find anything regarding etymology.

The recipe contains a misprint.  It calls for 1/2 part of dry vermouth and 1/2 part of sweet but the actual measurements list the dry at 1/4 oz. and the sweet at 1/2 oz.  Quick internet research wasn't especially helpful either.  Some had the two equal, some favored the dry, others the sweet.  So, I went with Punt e Mes, a combination of both and my wife's favorite vermouth anyway.  

The result was quite nice.  I generally favor whiskey drinks, my wife lemony wins so this is a good one for pleasing both of us.  I'm not sure either of us would take it in favor of a Manhattan or a Sidecar but it's still a good one to have in the repertoire.  

Our child gave me a most thoughtful Father's Day gift: a magnifying glass I can keep in the kitchen.  As I get older and my eyes get weaker, it has become increasingly challenging to read fractions in drink recipe books.  It has already come in handy.

Friday, June 14, 2024

Star Trek: Eye of the Needle

Episode: "Eye of the Needle"
Series: Star Trek: Voyager
Season 1, Episode 7
Original Air Date: February 20, 1995

The Voyager crew discover a wormhole, one that leads back to the Alpha Quadrant!  Could it be a way home?  There are two problems (initially): the opening is only a few centimeters wide, obviously not enough for the ship to get through.  Also, it connects directly to the heart of Romulan space.  Even so, a plan is hatched.  Using a probe as a relay, they should be able to transport the entire crew to a Romulan ship on the other side.

Without a doubt, this is Voyager's best story so far, perhaps even the first great episode of the series.  Even (especially?) in speculative fiction, the most effective narratives connect with the audience on an emotional level.  "Eye of the Needle" toys with a particularly vulnerable emotion: hope.  It's the first episode to deal meaningfully with the toll taken on a group of people lost and far from home.  Even though I, as the viewer, know perfectly well there are still six more seasons to go after this one and the gang doesn't actually make it back until the end (spoiler), the characters don't know that.  We see the hope on their faces - even for Torres, who professes not to care - and we see it snatched away.  100% relatable and perfectly executed.

There's more.  Their contact on the other side of the wormhole is the captain of a Romulan science vessel named Telek R'Mor.  At first, he is skeptical and really, who can blame him?  Once Janeway convinces him they are who they say they are and, more importantly, they are where they say they are, he reluctantly agrees to help them.  The encounter is a welcome and likely intentional contrast with the Enterprise's experience in "Balance of Terror."  Telek R'Mor is a multi-dimensional Romulan.  As a scientist, he is genuinely impressed by our heroes' technological achievements.  Janeway is ultimately able to win him over partly by appealing to his devotion to family.  By the end of the story, he is willing - perhaps even proud - to serve as their champion.

As if that weren't enough, there's a rewarding Kes-Doctor story, too.  To say Kes has quickly become a capable medical assistant would be a gross understatement.  She has a remarkable memory and is eager to learn.  She has also noticed how disrespectful the rest of the crew is towards the Doctor and brings the problem to the captain.  Janeway is at first reluctant to take on the problem but Kes convinces her.  The Kes-Doctor relationship is the first on the show to exhibit genuine warmth.  Full credit to both actors.  In a touching moment, the episode ends with the Doctor expressing a desire for a name.  The idea evolves into a running gag over the course of the series but in the moment, it's very sweet.

It's a solid episode, first minute to last.

Acting Notes

Robert Picardo (Doctor) was born in Philadelphia, October 27, 1953.  He went to Yale, initially for pre-med but he ultimately graduated with a degree in drama.  He has solid music credentials, too.  He sang with the prestigious Society of Orpheus and Bacchus at Yale and also performed a major role in the European premiere of Leonard Bernstein's "Mass."  

Picardo hit Broadway in 1977, first in Gemini, then in Tribute.  Among the Voyager principals, he probably had the best on-screen resume coming into the gig with a regular cast role on China Beach and recurring roles on Alice and The Wonder Years.  Pre-Trek films included Innerspace, Gremlins 2 and Total Recall (voice role).

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Squid Eats: Flavors of India

via Flavors of India

A new Indian restaurant is always an exciting thing.  We recently visited Flavors of India in Essex Junction for the first time.  It's right across the street from the railroad station, a location with good visibility but I wonder how many people are actually stopping in.  We met friends there at 6 on a Friday and we were the only customers.  

The offerings are standard (for the US) Indian fare.  We ordered a fairly typical assortment to share: naan, chicken tikka masala, lamb mango, saag paneer, vegetable biryani.  Interestingly, nearly everything on the printed menu lists cashews among the ingredients - a no-no given my allergies.  Fortunately, they were able to make adjustments.  The same is not true for the online menu.  I wonder if that's intentional or if they're even aware of the discrepancy.  It's BYOB so we brought our own beer and cider.  The kid had hot tea.

Food, service and decor were all fine.  We'll definitely be back.  It may, in fact, be our closest India place so it could be a reasonable takeout choice, too.  I do worry about the lack of customers.  I hope they survive a while. 

Friday, June 7, 2024

Star Trek: Destiny

Episode: "Destiny"
Series: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Season 3, Episode 14
Original Air Date: February 13, 1995

In a joint project, scientists from Bajor, Cardassia and the Federation are working to establish a permanent communications link through the wormhole.  But a Bajoran prophecy warns of trouble.  Commander Sisko, still uncomfortable with being identified as the Emissary, must navigate tricky waters through the political and religious complications.

Sisko's personal journey from denial to acceptance of his role as Emissary is an essential theme of the series from first episode to last.  In the broader sense, his attitude defines his relationship with the Bajorans.  On a more personal level, it impacts his relationship with Major Kira and ultimately of course, his understanding of himself.  In "Destiny," as the prophecy appears to come true, we see one of the first sparks of belief for Sisko.

I'm not a huge fan of the Emissary arc.  It's meaningful and well-executed, yet it makes me uncomfortable.  Part of it is my own non-religious life experience, I have to admit.  But I'm also wary of Star Trek overemphasizing the importance of the individual in any story.  It feels un-Trek to me.  Wesley's chosen one narrative in joining the Traveler: not a fan.  The god-like importance attached to a young Spock in Season 2 of Discovery: not a fan.  Such matters are more the realm of Doctor Who, Marvel comics, Star Wars... to me, they feel out of place in Star Trek.  

Acting Notes

Tracy Scoggins played the role of Gliora Rejal, a Cardassian scientist who takes a liking to our man, Miles O'Brien.  Scoggins was born in Galveston County, Texas, November 13, 1953.  Scoggins was an accomplished child athlete, winning diving championships by age nine and swimming medals by 13.  She was on the varsity gymnastics team at Southwest Texas State University and nearly qualified for the US Olympic diving team.  She graduated from college with a degree in physical education.

After college, she was recruited by a modeling agency, working in both New York and Europe.  Her first acting job was a guest appearance on Dukes of Hazzard.  Regular roles on The Renegades and Hawaiian Heat, both short-lived series, soon followed.  She found her way to the Dynasty franchise, in which she was cast in the role of Monica Colby, appearing in two episodes of the parent show, then all 49 episodes of the spinoff, The Colbys.  She was also a regular for a time on both Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman and Babylon 5.  Films include The Strange Case of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde, Popstar and The Cutter.

Tuesday, June 4, 2024

Squid Eats: Paradiso Hi Fi Lounge

I have a new favorite restaurant in Vermont.  Paradiso Hi Fi describes itself as "a listening lounge with creative cocktail and culinary programming in Burlington."  The cuisine is "New England-inspired."  Take that to mean what you will.  The result is awfully tasty.  My wife and I have been a few times now.  Our most recent visit was our first time bringing our child.

The food menu includes small plates and large plates, intended to be shared - recommendation is two plates per person.  This time, we got pickles, sourdough pull apart rolls and smoked bluefish drop dumplings for small plates and rhubarb and fennel salad, green onion gnudi and rack of lamb for the large.  The combo made for good balances with hot/cold, meat/veggie/starch and sweet/savory/sour.  My wife's a big lamb fan but not always easily pleased at restaurants.  She said she could have eaten about three of the rack of lamb plates.  Dessert was good, too.  We got one of each from the menu: preserved blueberry tart for my wife, honey cake and fly me to the moon, a root beer float made with rye bread ice cream, for me.  A stunning meal all around.

Rye bread is clearly a favorite flavor for the chef.  The best item we've had at the restaurant involved a rye bread sauce.  I don't even remember what the main feature of the dish was supposed to be.  That sauce was the star.

A DJ spins vinyl to accompany the meal - the music is pleasant, though hardly conventional.  On a previous visit, we were introduced to a fascinating Japanese prog rock band called Kikagaku Moyo.  I recommend you check out their song "Smoke and Mirrors."  We were hoping the music would be a hit with the kid but they found it a bit too loud.  

The drink menu is fun, too, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic.  Most of the drinks are named after songs or are otherwise music-inspired: Yacht Rock, Push It, The Policy of Truth, etc.  I ordered a beer, something I've decided to do more often in restaurants.  I feel it's more cost-effective than cocktails.  Unfortunately, all of the beers on offer were in cans.  I'd have made a different choice if I'd known.

Wait staff is highly attentive.  I really like the vibe of the place, though I can understand how the music might not please everyone.  The price is on the higher side so while I have no problem claiming Paradiso Hi Fi as my new area favorite, there are better value choices around.