Thursday, June 13, 2013

Websites to Surf on a Dark and Stormy Night

Websites to Surf
On a Dark and Stormy Night
(Assuming the Power Hasn’t Gone Down)


Wally Lee Parker

(Copyright © 2013 Wally Lee Parker)

                For us old-timers, anything more high-tech than an old fashion rotary telephone is just like science fiction.
                Hyperbole?  Not quite.
                With the premiere of the original series in 1966, everyone was commenting about how Star Trek’s Captain Kirk could flip open his wireless communicator (just like we flip open our cell phones) and talk to anyone with a compatible device.  And we all thought, maybe in a few hundred years we'll be able to do that right here on Earth.  Nowadays kids take that kind of connectivity for granted.  Which begs the question; how many times did classic science fiction predicted that the switch from organic to inorganic planetary dominance would take place at a barely noticeable crawl?  But then, no one reads the classics anymore.  That's why they're called classics.
                I have a couple of communication dishes sitting on my roof.  And these dishes are chatting back and forth with orbiting satellites.  Working together these satellites — along with my rooftop dishes and the ever increasing electronics inside my house — constitute a computerized automaton; an inorganic organism speaking an internal language totally alien to me.  Skynet, anyone?
                When was the last time a storm knocked you totally off the grid?  Oh sure there was that time last year, but was that actually a total disconnect?  The thing is it’s getting harder and harder to accidently disconnect via an act of God.  And worse yet, it’s getting harder to want to disconnect under any circumstance.
                When did the human species become so woven into the communication's grid that it’s nearly impossible to get away from it?  And so unsettling when we do?
                Exactly what within all this tenacious exsanguination of personal data doesn’t suggest a plot thread seen innumerable times on the Twilight Zone?  Which begs the question; would now be a good time to roll over and accept the fact that the human era is drawing to a close?
                But I regress.
                So — a storm has swept in from the Pacific, lofted over the cascades, and rushed across eastern Washington’s scablands toward Spokane.  Skittering gusts of wind rattle the windows and shred a trashcan worth of twigs from the trees.  On top of all this, lightning dances through the gathering dark and the first splatters of driven rain raise the smell of damp dirt out of summer’s deep dry.
                I decide it might be wise to unplug my thousand dollar LCD and move over to my laptop.  Now — unless the wireless router gets fried or a tree takes out the power, phone, and cable, I can still surf using the laptop’s battery — as long as it has any juice left at least.  If I had one of those creepy iPhones I guess I could use it, or something similar to it, to plug into the electromagnetic spectrum — assuming the microwave system hasn’t crashed too.  But I really don’t want to stare at a three inch screen.  I have an 18 inch monitor for my desktop and even that’s not big enough for these old eyes.
                If a summer storm does ionize the immediate atmosphere and all my portables tell me I’m no longer connected, my low-tech back-up is a half-dozen oil lamps and several walls of books.
                Books were the first form of solid-state connectivity.  You can surf the world with a well-stocked home library.  The software to run them — to run books — is inside your head.  Barring thunder induced hysteria, a lightning strike to some part of the body, or any of the boot-up problems organic wet-ware is prone to (fatigue, mini-strokes, psychological conundrums, alcohol induced electrolyte imbalances, or one of those “real” viruses), the brain should function even during a storm.
                But that reminds me of an ancient television dramatization — essentially a televised play titled Murder and the Android — telecast the 18th of October, 1959 (possibly a dark and stormy night) as a presentation of NBC’s weekly anthology series, Sunday Showcase.  This teleplay was adapted by sci-fi author Alfred Bester from his original short story, Fondly Fahrenheit (1954).  It relates the plight of a renegade android played by Rip Torn, who, against programing, is developing an emotional bond with the heroine played by a young Suzanne Pleshette — who appeared a few years later as Annie Hayworth, the teacher in Hitchcock’s The Birds.
                Anyway, in one scene of Murder and the Android Suzanne Pleshette’s character, Mari Sutton, is showing her collection of antique Tom Swift novels to the android — who will by story’s end be attempting to pass as human.  Since this is the year 2359, the mass produced Tom Swift novels have become very rare antiquities.
                The android asks, “Have you read them?”
                Suzanne’s character replies.  “No.  I’ve never learned how to read.”
                Why should she learn to read — why should she go through the work of programing her own brain to read when there are thinking machines all around programed to read everything for her?
                Unable to curl up with a good book on a dark and stormy night?  Now that’s disconnected.
                Admitting that a total disconnect from the world’s communication network is unlikely — even when a rattling sky suggests you should hold yourself just a smidge beyond sparking distance of anything hardwired to the grid — it’s probable you can still reach the outside world with one of your other linked devices.  And that’s good, considering that the psychological discomfort of being disconnected grows every year.  In the not so distant future, we’re likely to see physical symptoms as well.  When we reach that state, it’s doubtless too late.
                Most likely it’s already too late.  So, succumbing to the inevitable, here are a few thoughts regarding what to surf on a dark and stormy night — as if you could do otherwise.

Transolar Galactica

                I forget the circumstances under which I stumbled across the internet’s Transolar Galactica video podcast, but what I found was a loosely episodic series of parodies skewering the more popular franchises within cinematic science fiction — including Star Trek, Firefly, and Battlestar Galactica.  Anything sci-fi seems to be fair game.  And yet, it was clear within a few short chapters that something different was going on here.
                Reportedly created on a budget of less than two hundred dollars, the imagery within the first ten episodes — the visual storytelling within each episode — seemed uniquely cohesive.  As for the writing, the barely connected narrative (practicing what is occasionally referred to as negative continuity or the “James T. Kirk loophole”) tracks unerringly toward those questionable plot-points within mainstream science fiction that true fans — especially those appreciating the “science” within sci-fi — love to pick apart.
                And what makes it even more interesting is that this award-winning podcast is produced right here in Spokane.
                To find out why this deceptively simple podcast is more than it has any right to be, we need to analyze the backgrounds of the five young gentlemen putting it together.
                The Internet Move Database (IMDb) identifies Adam Harum as Transolar Galactica’s director, and one of its writers.  He’s also noted as playing “Samson,” communications officer (8th class) of the starship S. S. Transolar.  Harum graduated from the film program at Eastern Washington University in 2010.  He, along with two others of the Transolar’s crew, makes up Spokane based Kinetic Energy Productions — an award winning video production company.
                Another Kinetic Energy associate, Jade Warpenburg, also attended the university’s Electronic Media Arts and Film program, and then went on to further studies in cinematography at the Vancouver Film School in British Columbia.  He plays Charles Sang-Soo Yasaki, pilot of the S. S. Transolar, and likely the only sane member of the starship’s crew.
                Also from Eastern’s film program and Kinetic Energy Productions, Isaac Joslin plays the starship’s captain, Elliot “Remmington” Trigger.  Trigger carries Captain James T. Kirk’s trait of bullheadedness to the extreme through each episode, often issuing orders that result in the death of the crew.  Due to the “negative continuity” of the series, this has zero impact on following episodes.
                Petty Officer Martin Paul McCall III, known as Adam C. Boyd in the real world, is a EWU film program graduate currently with Spokane’s Purple Crayon Pictures.  Purple Crayon, in association with Hamilton Studios, is trying to kick-start an “adult-comedy” web series using Muppet like creatures filmed against real backgrounds to tell stories about the students of fictional Felt High School.  It looks like an interesting concept, behind which Boyd seems to be one of the prime creative forces.  As to whether it will work, finances seem to be the current issue.
                Graduating from EWU in 2006 with a BA in Electronic Film and Media Production, Clancy Bundy — a.k.a. Reginald Murdock, Chief Security Officer of the S. S. Transolar — is a cartoonist, graphic designer, and copy editor working both freelance and with several area groups, including Spokane’s ILF Media Productions.  Another of Clancy’s several jobs within the Transolar team is using Photoshop to create the green screen backgrounds — a laborious task since the majority of the first ten episodes were shot with digital backgrounds added later.
                Originally intended as a one-shot video podcast, the response was so positive the group decided to continue on with nine more episodes.
                For season two, the group decided things would go much better with a budget, and settled on thirty thousand dollars as a reasonable figure.  They set up a 40 day internet Kickstarter campaign, and with only a day left, climbed eight hundred and fifty five dollars over their goal.
                You can watch season one for free at, just to see for yourself.

Star Trek Podcast
726 Television Episodes

                In sum, the six unique television series of the Star Trek franchise have broadcast 704 live action episodes and 22 half hour cartoons.  Now — just suppose you decided to tap into this vast archive by doing a weekly, hour long podcast, each podcast critiquing just one of these episodes until all 726 of them had been thoroughly dissected.  Assuming that the creators of these podcast don’t trim things down by doubling up on a few of the less dazzling episodes, at the one a week rate it would take just shy of 14 years to review everything now on file.
                Two gentlemen, Ken Ray and John Champion, both professional podcasters and longtime science fiction geeks — with the help of their friend and sponsor, Eugene Roddenberry — propose to do just that.  And as of this writing they have recorded the first 44 episodes of the original series — #44 being The Trouble with Tribbles.
                If you want to hear the latest, you can type “Mission Log: a Roddenberry Star Trek Podcast” into the “Search for people, places and things” line at the top of your Facebook page.  Among the extras found on the Facebook page will be the plethora of comments made by fans taking issue with something — or quite often taking issue with just about everything — in any given podcast.  If you’re only interested in hearing what the podcasters have to say about your personal favorites, then your best bet is  That should take you directly to the webpage listing all previously recorded podcast.  For an overview of everything this particular website has to offer, the link should take you to a page that acts as a portal to a number of Roddenberry related items — including whatever the current podcast happens to be.
                As for the quality of the podcasts, this is not an amateur production.  It’s been a long time since I’ve listened to radio — which this essentially is.  And back then I listened sitting on my tricycle in front of a massive RCA console with its five pound electromagnet throbbing the beautiful base of the Green Hornet’s voice out of a twelve inch speaker.  With these podcasts, I found myself sitting in front of the computer, watching the seconds remaining tick down on an otherwise unmoving screen.  I’d forgotten that with radio you can do other things, as long as those things are repetitious enough for you go on autopilot — braiding rugs or shucking oysters being only two examples of possible autopilot activities.  So if you’re able to pipe these podcast into an amplifier and listen while doing dishes or folding clothes, that would be just perfect.
                Even if you can’t find something to occupy your eyes and hands, listening to what the gentlemen have to say about your favorite episodes will, most likely, still prove a comfortable way of passing time.

Dreams of Space:
Books and Ephemera
Non-Fiction Children’s Space Flight Stuff
1945 — 1975
                I remember an argument I had in 7th grade — this taking place just a few weeks before the Russian’s launched the Earth’s first artificial satellite in the autumn of 1957.  For my science project, I’d presented a hand-drawn diagram of a moon lander — a lander loosely based on designs put forward in the early 1950s by Dr. Wernher von Braun.  One student, a socially popular young lady — top of the class, relatively wealthy family, and, most importantly, a regular church goer — strenuously objected to my presentation.
                “This thing obviously won’t work.  In fact, flying to the moon is impossible.” she uttered with strident certainty.  “Everyone knows there’s no air in space for the rocket blast to push against.  So the rocket can’t move once it’s above the atmosphere.”
                I tried to point out that rockets don’t need anything to push against; that they work on the principle of reaction — the concept that for every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction.  But she would have none of it, insisting a flight to the moon was impossible.
                I’m not sure why our teacher, a gentleman who had already demonstrated a good knowledge of basic science, didn’t intervene in the reaction motor controversy.  But I do recall that this same young lady had strongly objected to anyone taking Charles Darwin’s thoughts regarding the relationship of humans and apes seriously.  During that episode the teacher had also remained quiet, and everyone other than stupid me backed down (as if anybody even noticed my recalcitrance with all the fundamentalist wrath frothing around the classroom).
                Public school teachers have always faced a very real degree of risk when faith-based “science” is added to the mix.  So maybe it was just the ghost of John Thomas Scopes curbing my teacher’s tongue.
                Regardless, in the 1950s the general public’s tendency to view anything having to do with space travel as “Buck Rogers stuff” was being replaced by something more akin to dread.  It was noted that the recently defeated German military had plans on their drawing boards for multi-stage intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of delivering warheads to New York City.  Considering the demonstrated effectiveness of the V-2 rockets, and the very real fear that — had the war gone on long enough — those drawing-board rockets would have been tipped with nuclear warheads (the Germans were close) and flung at America, few knowledgeable people were laughing at that “Buck Rogers stuff” anymore.  And even worse for America, many of those knowledgeable people were Russian.
                Science — the technological part of it for certain — had created a problem.  It had largely dissolved the once vast distances protecting America from the rest of the world.  The assumption was — or perhaps more correctly the hope was — that science could and would provide a solution.  But that solution would obviously require lots of engineers and scientist; both of which were in short supply in post-war America.  So the powers that be set to convincing young people to study science.  The result was a blooming of all kinds of scientific literature aimed squarely at young people — including cartoons, coloring books and television programing.  Added to that was a healthy dose of remedial educations for adults.
                By the late 1950s science had become the new benchmark of national prestige for both the Russians and Americans — with military technology the clearly evident subtext. 
                As regards the above noted bloom of children's literature, in the 1990s John Sisson, Biology Librarian at the Irvine campus of the University of California, began gathering a nostalgic collection of illustrated post-war science books — specifically those intended for children and teenagers and  dealing with space and space travel.  Eventually he limited his collection to volumes published between 1945 and 1975 — likely the most artistically expressive of the genera.
                His original intent was to publish a compendium containing examples of the best of the era.   But then, worried that too much of value would have to be left out, he began posting a wide swath of his materials online.  By using the embedded hyperlink, or by typing into your search engine, you should find yourself at the most recent posting on John’s site.
                I stumbled on John’s site, Dreams of Space, Books and Ephemera, while pursuing a misplaced science fiction story written in the late 1950s or early 1960s by (at least in part) Dr. Wernher von Braun — the same Wernher von Braun largely responsible for the German military’s multi-stage intercontinental ballistic missile design as noted above.
                Dr. von Braun was one of over a hundred German scientists brought to the United States in 1945 and ’46 under Operation Paperclip — brought to the United States to kickstart this nation’s ballistic missile program.  Though Paperclip specifically barred the import of any scientist with Nazi Party affiliations, von Braun’s dossier was “bleached” by the Joint Intelligence Objective Agency — that being a sub-agency of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), and the OSS being a WWII precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).  If this were not done — this bleaching — specific directives within the Presidential order authorizing Operation Paperclip would have denied entry for most of Germany’s top rocket scientists — including von Braun.
                As for what the world’s most eminent rocketeer was doing writing science fiction, it was all part his life-long effort to interest the general public — first the German public, then the American — in the possibilities of space travel.
                As part of that personal campaign, Dr. von Braun became a major contributor to the speculative spaceflight series published in Collier’s magazine between March of 1952 and April of 1954 under the collective title “Man Will Conquer Space Soon” — a spaceflight series featuring the stunning artwork of Chesley Bonestell.  This entire eight part series is being restored, digitized, and made freely accessible through Horizons Newsletter, a publication of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.  A listing of high resolution PDFs of past issues can be obtained via the following hyperlink —
                Dr. von Braun collaborated with entertainment industrialist Walt Disney in the production of three Tomorrowland segments — Man in Space, Man and the Moon, and Mars and Beyond — first broadcast on the television anthology series Disneyland between 1955 and 1957.  All are available on in a DVD set titled Walt Disney Treasures: Disney in Space and Beyond.




Walt Disney and Dr. Wernher von Braun — 1954

                Anyway, regarding the misplaced science fiction story that drew me to Sisson’s site; in the late 1950s to early ‘60s a small newspaper supplement called This Week Magazine was added to each Sunday edition of Spokane’s Spokesman-Review — just as the supplement Parade Magazine is today.  A serialized science fiction story was printed in This Week beginning in May of 1960.  I'd clipped the story, but lost my copies somewhere during the intervening half century.
                Other than the title of the supplement and an approximate idea of the era — that being after grade school but before learning to drive — all I could recall was a really bad story about finding an advanced civilization living under the surface of Mars, and some really cool illustrations of the same.  Then I discovered that John Sisson has uncovered, digitized, and posted the entire series online.  Beginning at, you can follow the subsequent links on John’s blog to find the rest of the series.
                As noted, the fiction’s primarily an educational dissertation, but the artwork’s exceptional.

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