The Psalms

A narcoleptic yokel on software and culture.

USS Bataan over New Khittomer

The ancient IP’s MMO is still Online, albeit with some disappointing discontinuations.

I entertained fantasies about a Star Trek MMO since first experiencing the genre through Eve Online and World of Warcraft in early adolescence. The idea of commanding my own starship in a universe of other “captains” alongside a hand-picked bridge crew was a beguiling one to myself and many others. This year, the game celebrated its ten-year anniversary (aligning well with the continued involuntary beat of this blog.) I’m currently in the midst of my annual check-in with STO and thought an exploration of this most-consequential video game of my life’s history would be an appropriate undertaking.

The execution of today’s final, Arc Games-owned and maintained product is a particularly long and interesting one. As Justin Olivetti chronicled for Engadget, the license for Star Trek Online was originally bought and developed on by Perpetual Entertainment, which was assaulted by a lawsuit and extensive layoffs in December, 2006. The company was sued by Kohnke Communications for allegedly selling “valuable assets like the Star Trek Online license” to an affiliated entity called P2 entertainment. Clever. A quote from the complaint as reported by Ten Ton Hammer:

“On information and belief, the assets transferred to P2 include Perpetual Entertainment trademarks and copyrights, the perpetual.com domain name, and assets related to Star Trek Online, including code and the license… Perpetual received less than market value for the assets it transferred to P2, and the transfer made Perpetual insolvent (or worsened Perpetual's existing insolvency).”

Perpertual’s STO was significantly different from today’s MMO. Instead of captaining one’s own starship, “players would have taken on the role of an officer who would be part of a crew of a starship,” echoing old legacy titles like Star Trek: Bridge Commander.

The proposed solution was that players could own smaller ships like fighters and minor spaceships, but the big ones — like the Galaxy class — would instead be adventure hubs with explorable, detailed interiors.

Perpetual Entertainment's Star Trek Online

I was 14 in 2008 when I joined the original post-Perpetual Entertainment STO IRC channel when the game's license was first transferred to Cryptic Studios. In fact, this channel was the only reason I left IRC clients open on my computers for years. It was exciting to find a community of people who were looking forward to participating in a Star Trek MMO as much as I was. I originally went by the (very cringey) username “crazyhooligin,” under which my current STO account is still registered. In the IRC channel, I met Sata – host of the now-defunct MMO Junkies podcast and ex-Perpetual developer. He and the STORadio crew accepted me into their Teamspeak conversations despite how strange and unsocialized I was. I learned how extensive and beautiful their development had been. One wonders what Cryptic did with the original game and art assets and who technically owns them now.

After acquiring the rights to make the game in early-2008, Cryptic was legally compelled to come up with a completed product in two years’ time as then-Executive Producer Stephen D’Angelo explained on the 100th episode of the STOked podcast:

We were under a very massive deadline to deliver the game. We had acquired the license from Perpetual and Perpetual’s license had an expiration date on it, and we had to ship the game before the expiration date or we would lose the license.

STOked also provided an excellent historical account of the acquisition entitled “How Cryptic Saved Star Trek Online.” By late-Fall, 2009, Star Trek Online entered Closed Beta, which I somehow acquired a key for in the name of STOHolic.com (a blogger site which represents one of my first web projects ever.) I was dual-booting Windows 7 Beta on my 2008 MacBook, which only supported 2 of its 4GB of RAM. The resulting performance was not optimal, but I was tremendously excited just to participate. Somewhere, there are at least three 480p handicam videos of Closed and Open Beta gameplay taken from over my shoulder, but I could not find them at the time of this writing. Comparatively, beta looked drastically different from the property that’s online today. In this video of the original entry tutorial, we are introduced to the game’s basic controls by the voice of Zachary Quinto of J.J. Abrams fame as the new Emergency Medical Hologram in godawful dropshadowed text. The lighting is dated, the blue-based user interface even more so.

Star Trek Online Closed Beta

The hair was bad and the textures of the armor, worse. So was mine, though. I uploaded two videos under my STOholic name: an unboxing of the Collector’s Edition and what appears to be the definitive YouTube tutorial to run Star Trek Online on Mac OSX using the (now defunct) wineskin wrapper. Though I was sixteen years old, I appear to be about eight. Endless waves of ground enemies, pressing the “1” key hundreds of thousands of times to whittle them away with my phaser rifle. There were bugs on top of bugs. My favorite was a swap between one's ground and space avatars: a gigantic captain would appear in space and a little ship would appear on the ground.

Four years ago, Lead Developer Al Rivera wrote “History of Star Trek Online – a Retrospective” – a blog post detailing the chronology of the game from its February 2nd, 2010 release date – about a week after my 16th birthday, for which my mom bought me my first and only gaming PC. I have never been very good at video games, and Star Trek Online has been no exception. After 10 years, my main Captain – Ambassador Kuvak – is still not doing adequate DPS to hold my own in Task Force Operations, from what I understand. My 15-16-year-old self chose a Science Captain but wanted to fly the great (engineering/tank-focused) cruisers of The Original Series, The Next Generation, and the latter's movies. This is possible, but not necessarily advised. Generally, one specs an Engineering Captain to tank, a Tactical Captain for DPS, and a Science Captain for “exotic DPS” and light healing. I managed to level a single science character – the original – through to the max ranks using little intelligence and a lot of persistence. Later in life, I’ve learned the patience for a more deliberate approach, but still struggle to make the numbers.

The Exploration System

For many Star Trek fans, Star Trek Online’s combat feels excessive. Or at least, that’s what you’d think. The current reality is that search engine results for “too much combat in STO” are virtually nill. There are some comments on Massively Overpowered posts, a year-old blog post in Contains Moderate Peril by Roger Edwards, an old Ryan Somna take, and… that’s about it. There was a definite (and entirely reasonable) argument against the amount of combat across the community early in the game’s development, but it looks like the arguers have simmered down and/or given up. This is also reasonable, considering its now ten-year lifespan. The only trouble is that non-combat options in Star Trek Online have actually diminished over the years.

Star Trek Online Romulan Borg

The original Exploration System was an ingenious and significant idea that “used automated tools to facilitate large quantities of widely varied content.” Unfortunately, the result was “nothing close to what [Cryptic] originally planned.” Instead of inspiring variety, Exploration Clusters ended up becoming the most repetitive activity in the game – nothing more than a good source of crafting materials. The missions were generic and the environments simply randomly combined segments of the same interior textures. Procedurally generated environments would hit the mainstream conversation years later with No Man’s Sky, which was written about in two fascinating articles by Raffi Khatchadourian in The New Yorker and Chris Baker in Rolling Stone:

Using procedural generation isn’t simply about offloading the creative process onto an algorithm – the real challenge is that it requires developers to teach an algorithm the difference between good and bad game design.

Perhaps if Star Trek Online’s initial development window had not been so limited, Cryptic would’ve had time and resources to pioneer something truly Trek and extraordinary in the exploration system, but it ended up having to kill the idea altogether – no amount of Change.org petitions could prevent this.

The Foundry

Perhaps the most innovative feature Star Trek Online contributed to gaming as a whole came to the live server in Spring, 2011. It was called The Foundry, and it allowed players access to a diluted form of the same mission creation tools Cryptic themselves used to create content, enabling the community to publish its own playable stories. The result was a wonder virtually inexpressible in words. In player-made Foundry Missions, I found joy, wonder, sorrow, and insight – truly everything and more than one could ever want from fiction. Throughout 2013-2014 my girlfriend at the time and I ran regular Foundry missions together along with couple friends in our fleet. Unfortunately, I cannot remember a single specific mission (aside from Unholy Alliances, I think,) but I remember the storytelling. I remember laughing at, dwelling on, and even crying for the characters we were introduced to. There were farming-oriented missions and some fairly rough drafts, sure, but the vast majority of the content was deliberately and delicately considered, especially the Foundry Spotlight series, which highlighted player-created stories of a particular quality and intrigue.

Ambassador Class

Last April, however, Arc retired the Foundry forever – perhaps the worst possible news – stating “the legacy knowledge required to maintain the Foundry at our quality standards is no longer available,” meaning – as Rodger Edwards notes – that all developers with their hands, hearts, and heads in the project had long since departed the company. The community reaction was heartbreaking. On Reddit, a group of mission authors and devotees committed to capturing as many Foundry Missions as possible on video in the month between the announcement and date of death. User waimser lamented the loss of the Foundry as a critical hit to Star Trek Online’s endgame:

Once you've played through the story missions and built your ship, the foundry is what's left, and it has some damn good stuff.

The group even created a Google Docs spreadsheet to coordinate the effort. Another created a thread in the Star Trek Online forums dedicated to “aggregating the various channels with Foundry content and providing those links to you and updating them as necessary.” In an interview for Gamesindustry.biz, Al Rivera suggested that the secret to the title’s longevity in which his team had been “strategically successful” was knowing when and when not to make drastic changes. “Don't change the fundamentals of what players love about your game,” he suggested.

UFP Fleet Roster

Community

Though STOked and STORadio have long since been off the air, the Roddenberry Podcast Network’s PriorityOne is still going strong, having just recorded its 460th episode. As I discovered last year, the game’s Twitch community is also thriving. Layiena’s streams are incredible because – while he understands theory as well as the other broadcasters in the STO Twitch community – it’s his incredible skills at live Captain commentary (calling out abilities and other command inputs as if he really is in the captain’s chair.) It may sound cringey (and perhaps it would be to many,) but his thoroughness and accuracy actually 1) make it seem pretty darn cool to me and 2) are hugely valuable in helping the viewer understand what he’s doing. After some three years, I know my one rotation fairly well, but only three or four of its steps by name – not even remotely well enough to do what he does. Unfortunately, it appears as though he’s been inactive since last year.

Sphynx’s streams also have an especially professional feel – he is excellent at calling out his actions as well, if perhaps without so much intensity. His Norwegian sensibility is wonderful: when I introduced myself as being around in the community since 2008, he remarked “that’s strange considering the game has only been out since 2010.” Nigh-universally common threads among them: imperturbable kindness to their audience and an impressively wholesome commitment to actually having fun. Though I’m far from deeply saturated with Twitch culture as a whole, I’ve watched my fair share of Eve Online, World of Warships, and Gran Turismo Sport streams, and – while all of these have incredible communities – there’s none quite like the sincerity of the Star Trek fraternity.

A few weeks ago, I departed my own derelict STO fleet for the aptly-named United Federation of Planets which has over three thousand (presumably at least semi-active) members in its fleet armada. The fleet website has user profiles, a very active forum, and a Discord server – everything I could possibly ask for. So far, I have been welcomed with overwhelming positivity, and I’m grateful. In a prompt posted on both their forums and Reddit, I asked players what their favorite part of the community is. Oddly enough, some of the responses I got from the latter were quite jaded: “I really enjoy the love and respect the PVP community gets. No, wait...” Alex Rowe for The Startup:

The game’s subreddit is full of folks who are tired of the game because they’ve blasted through all the content, but as someone who has only seen about 1/6th of the quests currently in the game, I’m eager to check out more.

User JediMasterx4 seemed particularly disgruntled:

You can do all the lockbox promo vids you want, but you are going to have to live in reality, no matter where your ego flies off to.

However, there were some positives. User ModestArk:

What I really like about this community is that it seems to be more grown up than other gaming communities. Maybe this comes from Star Trek itself, since it is more based/focused on science than Star Wars etc.

Jahoan recommends StarSword’s series on the U.S.S. Bajor and Jordanomega1 vouched for Captain Geronimo’s videos.

State of The Game

This past January, Star Trek Online: Legacy was launched, bringing The Original Series-referencing episodes The Measure of Morality parts I and II along with a new 10 year anniversary event and the Tier 6 Khitomer Alliance Battlecruiser – “the first Klingon/Federation Starship.” I did not participate in the event, save for experiencing the new missions, which I talked about in my review of Star Trek: Discovery. JustGaming4Us produced an excellent, in-depth video review of the two missions as well as a tour of the event as a whole. I, for one, have never been partial to Shiny New Ship gluttony largely because of how long it took me to “master” my own Intrepid-Class Retrofit – christened the U.S.S. Bataan after the aircraft carrier my grandfather served on in WWII – as much as I have. It took me years to arrange my bridge officer abilities and their keybinds in such a way that I could maintain a fairly-steady dps rotation and I have no desire to go through the process of learning a new ship again. For most veteran players, however, trying out different ships/skill specs is all there is left to do.

Choosing whether or not – or to whom – to recommend the game is an issue best left to actual gaming journalists. In March, Massively Overpowered – the followup project to what was once Massively.com – published Mia DeSanzo’s account of her first experience in the game:

Everything you’ve heard is true. Ground combat is, as multiple sources have told me, “a hot mess.” I don’t think clunky is an adequate descriptor. You’d have to try it.

For the same site, Tyler F.M. Edwards argued in January that Star Trek Online is best left to those who already love Star Trek:

STO has some things going for it as a video game, and it’s certainly unique in the MMO space, but it has too many basis quality issues for it to be a game I’d recommend to someone who’s never watched an episode of Star Trek.

Compared to what I experienced all those years ago in Closed and Open Beta, Star Trek Online is now vastly more polished, but perhaps compared to other MMOs in 2020, it is, indeed, “rough.” In my casual return this past month, I have yet to experience any significant bugs. Considering his character data dates back to launch, I’d like to think that the server is set into some brief, confused panic every time I log in to Kuvak, but perhaps that’s just a fantasy. I have still been enjoying the space combat in the classic Advanced-level Borg Disconnected and Counterpoint TFOs and my first entry into high-level gear upgrade crafting from the vast cache of materials I’ve built up over the years. . Apparently, my old lockbox collection might actually be worth some significant Energy Credits on the Exchange – as of the time of this writing, however, not a one had yet to sell.

Constellation Class Retrofit

If you’re a ship junkie who’s entirely unfamiliar with the property, know that Star Trek’s ships are fucking cute. The Nebula Class, especially, inspires real affection. In my opinion, it alone is worth giving this free-to-play game a shot. My two point eight pound Surface Laptop 2 is enough to run it fairly well at medium-high settings, which is an absurdly low barrier-to-entry. You shouldn’t be worried about investing your time, either – Star Trek doesn’t appear to be dying anytime soon.

View more screenshots in this gallery.

🗎 PRINT/PDF

#software

Discord Art Orange

Why Extratone has used Discord instead of Slack for our team chat.

Back in 2015, I hosted a pre-Extratone culture podcast called Drycast with musician friends from all over the net. To record remotely, we originally used Teamspeak 3 – a gamer VoIP staple. When I discovered Discord, I thought we'd found podcasting heaven. Originally, the free plan included 128kbps audio in its voice channels, which was nearly twice what we were getting out of our paid Teamspeak server. If I were still podcasting, Discord's just-released server video feature would undoubtedly prove invaluable for live streams.

According to a poll I ran on Twitter, 2/3rds of all people on Earth are thankful for Discord's existence. This is not surprising considering what every Discord user is still offered without spending any money at all: community spaces with audio/video and text chat capability, organizable by Twitch and YouTube-integrated roles with a plethora of different permission options, instantly and easily shareable by customizable temporary or permanent invite links through an application that's about as cross-platform as one can get (Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, iOS, or simply one's web browser.) Those of us that remember IRC, Ventrilo, and Teamspeak should all consider Discord a tremendous gift.

Never before have so many VoIP, video, and text chat features been offered together, or in such a beautiful package. “What we really did was create an all-in-one voice, video, and text chat app that replaced this constellation of tools that people would use,” said CEO Jason Citron in an interview with CNBC. Technically in terms of these details, Discord has no competition. Slack offers text and voice chat with its paid plans, yes, but nothing close in terms of video – especially considering Discord Go Live, its fairly-new streaming feature, which allows users to stream game video directly to 10 other users in the server. With some jury-rigging, it's possible to simply screen share this way, which is an essential sell for business video communication applications like Skype.

“Discord and Slack have many similarities, but Discord is the superior tool,” says esports team Ardent United. “Discord has voice channels, which allows us to easily chat with our supporters and other team members. Discord also allows us to set user roles and permissions which makes moderation extremely simple.” It's not just gaming companies, though. Decentralized cloud platform Sia also moved their community to Discord:

Its intended audience is gamers, but many large communities have switched from Slack to Discord, including development communities like Reactiflux and Unreal Slackers. It includes an unlimited number of users, unlimited file uploads (with a per-file size limit), unlimited message histories, and really great moderation and spam filtering features.

Slack is often praised for its integrations, but it shares support with Zapier – a dedicated web integration service which more or less integrates them equally.

Slack works with a long list of tools, including Google Calendar, Zendesk, Salesforce, Wunderlist, and dozens of others. If you're looking for an integration that isn't immediately obvious, you can always turn to Zapier for help, because Slack is a supported service. Zapier is an online service that creates integrations between other apps and services, without you having to know any code to make it happen.

For sharing detailed post embeds, there's also Discohook, which I just discovered. Productivity company Chanty's blog wrote perhaps the most in-depth comparison of the two services (emphasis theirs):

At their core, Discord and Slack and very similar. Both are team chat apps with a similar interface. Both apps have team communication organized in channels. The biggest difference between the two is their target audience, and of course, their specific features.

Ultimately, one must decide how relevant the services' respective target audiences are to productivity. For a not-for-profit media organization like Extratone, Discord's features-for-price ratio is simply too rich to pass up. If you'd like, stop by our server or try out our server template.


Further Reading

#software

The Langoliers

In Stephen King's “The Langoliers,” the state of today's air travel is foreshadowed.

I told myself I would not be topical – that I would publicly ignore the coronavirus – but I can no longer. There is simply too much to say about one of the most emotionally effective, surreal films of my childhood. The Langoliers occupied 9-11PM's slot on ABC for May 14th and 15th, 1995 (Sunday and Monday, twenty-five years ago.) It's an adaptation of a Stephen King novel of the same title and is fairly widely-regarded as the worst such adaptation of all time. You can now watch the whole three hours of The Langoliers in 360p (supposedly) at your leisure thanks to OpenTube (for now.) One commenter (on the since-taken-down YouTube video) echoes what I'm about to tell you: “My god! I thought I dreamed this movie up as a kid. I have been trying to describe this to people for years and here it is, it’s real!” In order to write this, I joined the Stephen King Wiki Discord server and was immediately welcomed with a request not to type in the text channels: “I’m working on adding some new channels so pls nobody type in them til I’m done.”

The Langoliers begins with a pissed-off British secret agent (Mark Lindsay Chapman,) an insane businessman (Bronson Pinchot,) a psychic, vision-impaired young woman (Kate Maberly,) Sarah Jessica Parker (Patricia Wettig,) and a just-widowed pilot (David Morse) all boarding the same redeye flight to Boston – American Pride Flight 29. This group falls asleep and mysteriously wakes up alone on the aircraft except for Stephen King himself (Dean Stockwell,) a stupid incel violinist (Christopher Collet,) and a stoner (Kimber Riddle.) My favorite character, Craig Toomey, is the “twerp” business boy with daddy issues who can't stop himself from demanding to know what's going on. James Bond shuts him up with a “nose hold.”

Whoa. No one's driving the plane!

David Morse proceeds to try and contact air traffic control in a fairly-realistic manner, but is unable to receieve any radio signals at all, even from Strategic Air Command. Frankie Faison plays the single person of color on the flight, Don Gaffney – “a tool and die worker for Hughes Aircraft” – who dies first, of course. James Bond lecures David about inciting panic and almost immediately reveals his secret identity. Then, the Hungry Idiot (Baxter Harris) wakes up whilst Toomey begins screaming again.

Scaring the little girl? Scaring the little girl?! Lady, we're diverting to some tin-pot airport in the middle of nowhere, and I've got better things to think about than scaring the little girl!

After the entirety of the male cast threatens to beat him up, Toomey, sweating his balls off, begins slowly tearing strips of paper and moaning sexually like an absolute madman. Some irritiatingly irrelevant dialogue insues in which Stephen King Author Man narrates through Sherlock Holmes deduction to figure absolutely nothing out. He is wearing stripes on plaid. He suggests that the entire situation could be some sort of government experiment and I can't believe I'm wasting your time with this. “If it were just this plane, I could give you a scenario, but unfortunately, it's not just this plane. The city of Denver is probably still down there, but all its lights were off if it was.” Here you can see how excellently this script was written.

I've been sitting here running all these old stories through my head. You know, time warps, space warps, alien raiding parties. I mean, we really don't know if there's anything left down there, do we?

Sarah Jessica Parker reveals to Powers Girl that she's on her way to meet a guy she's been emailing with. Stoner girl asks if everything is going to be okay and Incel Violinist looks horny. She's going to rehab for stones. The captain announces to his nine passengers that they're beginning their descent into Bangor International Airport, near Stephen King's birthplace. Don asks Toomey to stop ripping up paper and the useless food addict yells “well, at least we'll be able to get some chow when we land” offscreen. Craig, sweating even more, is still ripping up magazines in the face of Don's threats. “Try it, you little jackass,” he says. I'm wondering where I can snag this American Pride livery for Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020. Director Tom Holland manages to add drama to a more-or-less routine landing.

This place is utterly, totally deserted... You know, there's something wrong with the air here, Brian.

It's occuring to me that this may be the worst script I've ever actually sat through reading. “This place smells wrong. Really badly wrong.” Toomey threatens to sue the airline for $30 million for missing his 9AM meeting before seeing flashbacks to his abusive father (John Griesemer,) who mentions the Langoliers for the first time. The deserted airport scene is the reason I've written this whole thing – the dulled sounds of the characters' heels on the tarmac, the putrefied air. The clocks have stopped. The payphones are dead. The computers are lifeless. The abadonedness of it all. This is what the coronavirus has done to the world and to Craig Toomey. Even the battery-powered devices are dead. This is what confuses Stephen King Author Man to the point of head-rubbing and cigarette smoking for the first time in ten years.

The production was actually made at Bangor International Airport as this incredible video hosted by Toomey's actor explores.

LOVE IS NOT PART OF THE BIG PICTURE!

It's never actually explained what The Langoliers are. Ken Tucker for Entertainment Weekly describes them as “little meatballs.” The little Beatles-haired girl can hear them approaching. “It sounds a little like rice krispies after you pour the milk.” Foodism abounds. “A really terrible, scary sound... Something making that horrible cereal noise.” She screams that the cereal is going to kill them. Somehow, Toomey finds a revolver while he's losing his mind. Kimber Riddle the Stoner went to NYU.

Don't forget, Craiggy-weggy, the langoliers were here. And they will be back.

Stephen King Author Man and Food Addict note that the food and soda have gone completely flat. “Tastes like old tire,” says Don. “What we're dealing with is time, not dimension,” says Stephen King. I'm wondering what in the hell sort of room they're in at the moment, and who decided those light wood countertops were ever a good idea.

The bottom line is, I believe, that we have hopped an absurdly short distance into the past, say as little as 15 minutes, and we're discovering the unlovely truth about time travel. That one can't appear in the Texas State School Book Depository on November 22nd, 1963 and hope to stop the Kennedy assassination. One can't witness the building of the pyramids or the sack of Rome, or investigate the age of the dinosaurs firsthand. No, fellow time travellers, have a look around you. This is the past. It's empty. It's silent. It's a world with all the meaning of a discarded old paint can. Sensory input has disappeared. Electricity has already disappeared. And time itself is winding down in a kind of a spiral that's going faster and faster.

Little Prophet notes that the sound she's been hearing is once again getting louder. Mr. Toomey's face is shoved in the floor, his nose bent.

#television #film

Microsoft Build Olive Tracker

New Microsoft Office features, the PowerToys Run Preview, and a test of Edge Chromium.

I have no idea why I signed up to attend Microsoft's virtual 2020 Build Conference, but I did. I thought I'd add my End User commentary to the mix. Sorry. My first event was called “Every developer is welcome, with Scott Hanselman and guests.” Hanselman is listed as a blogger and podcaster living (of course) in Portland. I'm not a “real” developer, but I know what Microsoft Teams is, and I recognized the event as a desktop screenshare of his calls with different Microsoft employees. There was a child invasion and a dropped phone. I also noticed the icon for the “new” Microsoft Edge browser in his taskbar and realized that I hadn't downloaded it yet. I remedied that for the conference's sake – I thought it only appropriate that I try to use as much Microsoft software as possible in this context. I also installed the new PowerTools Run preview which I mentioned in my tips post.

Build allows an attendee to build one's own event schedule, but I neglected to find those focused on what I really care about: Office 365. As reported by The Verge, Microsoft Fluid is going to change a lot:

Microsoft’s Fluid Framework sounds a lot like Google Docs, but it’s actually Google Docs on steroids. Microsoft is so confident it has built the future of productivity, it’s now open-sourcing its Fluid Framework so the rest of the world can help shape what it has created.

There's also Microsoft Lists, which is reportedly going to revolutionize SharePoint Lists into something more modern and useful:

It builds off the existing feature in SharePoint, and will let you track progress and data to organize your teams, potentially making the company’s offerings more streamlined and productive.

Microsoft PowerToys Run

Microsoft Edge Chromium

As an Office 365 administrator, I basically only use Edge for administrative/management tasks. Otherwise, I can't imagine a reason to use it over Firefox, Brave, Vivaldi, Chrome, Opera, etc, but I thought I'd give the “new” (as of January) Edge a tryout for your sake and make it my default browser for a day as well as Microsoft's Bing search engine. There's also news specific to Build: Edge is integrating with Pinterest, of all things:

Now, Edge will feature a Pinterest-powered tool that will show suggestions from Pinterest at the bottom of a collection. Clicking on that, Microsoft says, will take users to a Pinterest board “of similar, trending Pins so users can quickly find and add ideas relevant to their collection.” Users will also be able to export collections to Pinterest.

I'm in no position to “test” a browser, but the new Edge is noticeably faster at rendering pages and much much smoother when navigating between tabs/preference windows. It looks much more like Chrome, which makes sense. Perhaps because my install is absent of third-party extensions, opening new tabs and windows was much faster than my other browsers. I recorded a ~2 minute demo of normal browsing on my Surface Laptop 2.

In terms of touch support, Edge remains the only acceptable browser on Windows 10. If you've spent money on a new PC recently, chances are your device is touch-enabled. If you're like me, you've already disabled it. If not, you'll find scrolling and navigation in Edge have improved tremendously – it's like an entirely new browser because it is.

Because Edge used a different rendering engine than Chrome or Safari, it meant that it would sometimes have problems on websites. Testing a website against multiple browsers has always been difficult, and because Edge had so little uptake, it meant optimizing for it often fell off the priority list for web developers.

I really like how easy it is to mute audio from tabs and how much better my CMS is rendered. I still prefer Firefox's method of tab switching (by last-used chronologically instead of in the order presented.) The reader view is smoother than its competitors and offers a beautiful selection of themes as well as the best “Read aloud” feature in the business.

Microsoft Edge Reader View

I'm not going to quote you measurements – check out Computerworld's browser review for that – but I can say that Edge Chromium is using more RAM than Firefox but a bit less than Chrome. Office.com also looks and works incredibly well. Overall, I'm extremely impressed with Edge Chromium and the improvements to Bing. As of my experiences today, it's the fastest and smoothest web browser I have, which is a complete flip from that of the old Edge.


Further Reading

#software

Zalgo Generator for iOS

A powerful iOS utility for fucking digital text with ruthless efficiency.

A warning siren sounds louder still for the current state of the Digital Divide than the profoundly ignorant spectacle of Mark Zuckerberg’s drooling, ghoulish interrogators last year from the digital hole of none other than W3School’s trusty web validator, which would surely be rated as the Most Anxious Being in History if it were to acquire sentience. The CSS file this very webpage referenced returned no fewer than 350 syntax errors at the time of this writing; Facebook dot com’s login page set off only 55. For going on a decade, now, the web has continued to expand into a grotesque, diseased mass.

Yet another piece of software I have notably been using for 10 years: the infamous eemo.net Zalgo web text fucker. Ideally, I’d now proceed to embed some special examples of the hedonistic online text vandalism which the tool enabled me to inflict widely throughout my adolescence. However – as you can probably imagine – searching for these criminally-broken posts using standard tools provided by the services that have hosted them is virtually futile. In retrospect, I do not recall ever eliciting any acknowledgment of Zalgo’s effects, yet I’m positive that at least the majority of my victims set eyes upon the mess at some point – their silence is actually more entertaining than not, I think. Despite my extensive use of the format, I made a point to maintain my total ignorance about the origin of “Zalgo” for the past decade – only spoiling it in the name of good journalism for your sake and this review.

On forums and image boards, scrambled text began being associated with Zalgo with phrases like “he comes” and “he waits behind the wall.” David Higgins revealed that the text is an ~abuse~ of a Unicode feature that enables the user to combine multiple superscript and subscript characters into a vertical line.

By bizarre coincidence or some ridiculously obscure, intractable common cultural thread (which would probably take a lifetime to successfully trace,) Dave Higgins and I were already mutuals on Mastodon before I had any idea his name was at all associated with Zalgo. More bizarre still: Dave must’ve been watching his timeline at the exact moment when I posted the above quote mentioning him.

Unfortunately, it seems his blog has moved, killing the hyperlink citation in one of the two relevant search engine results for “zalgo”: its Know Your Meme page. Searching the same term on his new WordPress blog yields absolutely nothing, so perhaps “I deny everything” was a more sincere response than one expected. A thread on Stack Overflow entitled “How does Zalgo text work?” explains the fuckery in more detail than I ever could:

You can easily construct a character sequence, consisting of a base character and “combining above” marks, of any length, to reach any desired visual height, assuming that the rendering software conforms to the Unicode rendering model.

There is something artistic about destroyed text like this – something that's more than just edgy chaos. I believe in “surreal memes” that can break Facebook and Twitter posts. I believe in Zalgo, and I believe you need Zalgo Generator for iOS on your phone right now.

#software

Mk VII and Mk VI

Though I grew up on a farm surrounded by (and loving) diesel equipment, owning a diesel-powered automobile somehow never occurred to me. This is especially puzzling given the overwhelmingly positive experience I was privileged to have with one 2014 Volkswagen Jetta TDI Sportwagen over the past year. It would find me signing up to Facebook groups, using real Fast Boy terms, revisiting long-lost roads of home, and returning to my local community in an extremely intimate ridesharing stint. Throughout it all, the Jetta made me smile much much more than I would’ve thought. I found a real love for this relatively simpleton form of transportation that I should have seen coming, but did not at all. There is something delightfully indulgent about a manual-equipped diesel wagon. Even The New York Times knows this:

Auto writers have long tooted the horn about the benefits of diesel engines, and a bunch of them have also argued that the old-school station wagon is a far more efficient way to haul things around than a bloated high-set S.U.V.

I knew it, too, apparently, long before I actually decided to act on a purchase. On October 24th, 2012, I Tweeted “I sat in a Jetta wagon today. I need one.” I really did intend on becoming The Jetta Man (perhaps without the fashion.) In acquiring it, my plan – and it was a good plan – was to cease an era of general insensibility in my life's decisions by entombing my wayward self within the most sensible expression of modern automotive design I suspected I could live with. The wagon component joined with diesel power and a manual transmission upon casual research. Diesel, manual, wagon – of the people's car, these I sought. Nay, demanded.

An ex-girlfriend of mine drove an utterly decimated Mk. V Jetta Sedan which she’d acquired in some sort of dicey deal. I remember finding it surprisingly robust given its lot, and quite dynamic to drive. We traveled all over the Midwest in it – from central Missouri to Des Moines to Chicago to Kansas City and back again. I mocked, but it was everything one could hope for in cheap transportation and quite a bit more. It turns out, Volkswagen was shooting high. As Tony Quiroga recalls for Car & Driver:

During the press launch of the outgoing Jetta back in 2005, Volkswagen touted that car as a less expensive alternative to an Acura TSX or Volvo S40. Volkswagen pointed to its growth in size, high-quality interior, new rear suspension, and refined demeanor as evidence that the Jetta had moved out of the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla class.

In terms of premium compacts, my experience is quite limited, but it’s no wonder the company has struggled to find a place in the market for this product: in German, “Volkswagen Jetta” literally means “people’s car jet stream.” The first component is infamous, of course, because of the Nazis and their horrid Beetle, but the second seems to be almost entirely unknown. In my research, I had to specifically investigate the Jetta’s name before reading anything about it. When an American thinks of “Jetta,” they unconsciously dissociate the word from the “jet” sound and make largely unsophisticated jokes. (It’s also Regular Car Reviewsmost hated car.) Now, the name has become a marque in and of itself: in China, Volkswagen began selling several different models under the JETTA brand last year. This also was news to me, and I try to keep up with the industry.

In 2011, the Mk. VI Jetta was released with an outdated base, 115-hp powertrain and a “hard plastic [interior] that wouldn’t look out of place in a Chrysler Sebring.” (Quiroga insults, to clarify.) Compared to the Mk. V, “Volkswagen made it clear that the targets are once again the strong-selling Civic and Corolla.” Once again, I’m at a loss for experience in the equivalent extra-Volkswagen competition, save for the Chevrolet Cruze and Kia Forte. (Surprisingly, GM actually produced a diesel version of the Cruze and AutoGuide compared it against the Jetta TDI.) It’s been too long since I last drove my ex’s Mk. V to really have much to say, but I do remember a particular solidity about the steering – perhaps because it was still hydraulic. Once again, I’ll rely on Tony:

Less obvious cost cutting includes the loss of adjustability for the center armrest, a lack of lumbar adjustment in most models, no more power-reclining seatbacks, and a simpler stability-control program that can no longer be shut off or even reduced.

When I began searching for my first ever truly modern car in February 2019, I surprisingly only needed to pass up a single option in the Kansas City area before I found The One: a 2014 post-Dieselgate example with ~65,000 miles on its odometer in “Deep Black Pearl” with a “Cornsilk Beige” interior which had been previously owned only by a single Michigan cyclist. I’d been without a car since dailying/living in a 1976 Lincoln Continental the year before, in Portland, and my friend had driven me around everywhere in his Wrangler for a full month (thanks, Jack!) I’d walked around and cold-idled another, high-mileage Sportwagen, but I was committed to getting something with a light-colored interior after the red velvet cake Lincoln and my dank smoking room-dark XJR.

Martin Racing

Three of us walked into a dealership in the middle of a frigid Kansas afternoon – Jack, my girlfriend Sierra, and I. We hovered by a smart, gleaming little Golf GTI whilst my salesman, Charles, retrieved the car I had found online. After he finished copying my driver’s license while the little diesel warmed up, the four of us set off into suburban Lawrence. Back when the Mk. VI Golf was released, I attended a Volkswagen dealership event in which Mk. V and Mk. VI GTIs were driven back-to-back – I’m assuming to reassure buyers that yes, they really had made it better (though I was quite vocal in my disagreement about this, to the dealer’s chagrin.) The car I bought immediately reminded me more of the former – perhaps I just enjoy the increased body roll of a 50,000+ mile suspension – albeit with a much longer wheelbase and significantly more torque. Rowing through the gears, I was immediately impressed and bewildered by the characteristics of the 140-horsepower, 236 lb.-ft.-developing diesel powerplant. The diesel engines I grew up around in tractors, combines, and other heavy machinery were designed to more or less remain at a constant, relatively low RPM for the majority of their use cases. It’s not a screamer, but the idea that a diesel engine can rev at all was something that took a bit to wrap my head around. However, it is almost immediately evident that carrying on to the 6000 RPM (?) redline is a futile and incorrect practice. There is nothing at all to be found up there.

I’ve driven some quick straight-line cars in my time, but none of them have delivered their power anything like the Jetta’s long-distinguished 2.0L inline-four. It’s very odd having comparatively so little actual horsepower, yet so much torque – I’d heard Jeremy Clarkson complain about diesel power coming in “great lumps,” but I’d already started to find them extremely (and positively) amusing in my first few minutes. When asked, the oil burner will produce protracted front tire squeal and torque steer from a stop, which is odd and hilarious coming from such an otherwise docile automobile. Also hilarious: Charles likely noted that Jack, Sierra, and I were (and are) entirely unafraid of facing The End when a very near collision during our test drive did not perturb us in the least, but left him huffing and puffing from adrenaline. He was a star, though, throughout the more than four hours of deliberations required for his institution to reckon with my credit history. Eventually, I ended up spending almost exactly $12,000, which was probably too much, and named my new automobile Martin – “Marty” for short – after Martin Winterkorn, the former CEO of Volkswagen AG who bore more than his share of the blame for Dieselgate, including charges of fraud by the German government. Dirty diesel rolling coal in prison.

Naughty Diesel

By “post-Dieselgate,” I mean that my new car was a part of Volkwagen's $10 billion buyback program, so the Michigander sold it back to the manufacturer for its “fair replacement value” – between $12,500 and $44,000 according to Car & Driver on behalf of FTC chairwoman Edith Ramirez. To be technical, the powerplant is a 2.0L EA189/CJAA turbodiesel four-cylinder. “The EA 189 was one of the most important engines in the company, destined not only for millions of Volkswagen-brand cars but also for a wide variety of other brands from the parent Volkswagen Group, like Audi, Skoda and Seat, as well as some light utility vehicles,” said The New York Times regarding the “clean diesel” “scheme.” In original spec, 236 lb.-ft. of it arrived between 1750-2800 RPM, but my (admittedly, unscientific) perception indicates that post-update, the torque was coming a bit later. If I thought you were interested, I would attempt to detail exactly what my car was then subjected to by a dealer, but suffice it to say that it was made less fuel efficient and a bit less powerful, to my displeasure. For a complete and comprehensive video on the scandal, try Regular Car Reviews. I’d also recommend the following reading from Jalopnik, The Verge, The New York Times, and The Independent.

Martin and Locomotive

My own views on Dieselgate are entirely irrelevant, but I will note that buying back a buyback car for such a price felt like a favor to my dealer and that it’s pretty cool to have my own copy of VW’s Extended Emissions Warranty Notice, not to mention the fact that I actually made use of it (which I will discuss later.) From my perspective, the automotive industry is the most heavily-regulated business space in the world and I’d suggest a company like the Volkswagen Group feeling like they should cheat on emissions testing might indicate that the standards of the test could be unreasonable and/or unrealistic.

After returning from almost two hellish, extremely confusing years in Portland taking public transport, Martin became a vehicle for a rediscovery and newfound appreciation for my Missouri home – the great Missouri River, especially. Not since owning my Miata had I driven so much in the country. Sierra and I visited Cooper’s Landing in the wet and ventured down to Springfield, Missouri (very far South,) near which we discovered Hodges Speedway – a then-abandoned dirt oval surrounded by demolition derby casualties and the large trucks used to haul them around.

Martin Hiding

Somewhere North of Kansas City, I opened the taps all the way on a very long straight and reached 125mph, which is either the aerodynamic VMax, an electronically limited limit, or both. Surprisingly, the modern People’s Car feels quite stable at this speed – were it not my own automobile, I’m not sure I wouldn’t just travel this fast everywhere. In the past few years, Interstate 70 – which cuts Missouri just about in half from West-East, connecting St. Louis and Kansas City with my hometown in the center – has become significantly faster-paced than I remembered it before moving to Portland for two years. 80mph used to be the accepted number, 70 (the actual speed limit) was the unenforced minimum. In my old Toyota pickup, I could travel at 65 without attracting too much criticism. Now, however, one must maintain 85 to keep up with traffic, especially when traveling with commuters. 90-95 will no longer garner judgmental looks and 100mph left-laners are given a pass.

“I’ll bet that’s great on the highway” is probably the most regular comment received from passersby and riders right after “is this a diesel!?” (Really, the fact of my Jetta’s existence as a manual-equipped diesel wagon seemed to utterly astound a great many people.) There is truth in this general supposition: the ability of the diesel powerplant to deliver hill-climbing torque at low RPM is simply unmatched by gasoline powerplants of the same displacement, which means that “highway” driving entails virtually zero downshifting – arrive in sixth gear, set the cruise control, take a nap. Everything else is taken care of. There is a definite luxury in the knowledge that one is no longer needed in the process at speed – luxury that is NOT present in a gasoline-to-manual Jetta drivetrain. From Hackaday:

[Diesel] has a higher volumetric energy density than gasoline, and thanks to low volatility, diesel engines can run at significantly higher compression ratios without risking detonation. These benefits allow diesel engines to produce significantly more torque than similarly sized gasoline engines.

Fat Martin

“Diesel engines are typically poor when it comes to power to weight ratio, as their high compression ratio and torque output demands heavier materials in their construction,” notes Lewin Day, meaning steel engine block. Here we arrive on my singular dissatisfaction with the Jetta: its weight. While traveling from Kansas City back home in the East one day, I decided to satisfy a longtime bucketlist item and stop by a weigh station. As I drove up to the scale, the police-uniformed attendant looked up at me from his glass box and gave the standard white guy smile frown. It took a moment for the scale to register Martin, but it eventually displayed a whole 3440 lbs. My little “compact” wagon… weighed significantly more than one and three-quarter tons – just 528 lbs. less than the full-sized, supercharged V8-powered Jaguar saloon car I call the automotive love of my life, and almost a full 200 lbs. more than its GLI sedan sibling. There was one single advantage to this weight: we were able to use Martin as a ballast to help re-spool the winch cable on Jack’s Wrangler.

After discovering this figure, I did what I could to diminish the weight easily without tearing into the seats or removing some of the car’s fourteen airbags. Upon lifting up the base of the “car-go” area in the rear, I found a full steel spare wheel – some 30 lbs of it at least – which I immediately removed, along with some sort of flapping cargo restraint that I can only suspect was designed to keep objects (like dogs, perhaps) in the cargo area from sailing into the passenger compartment during an accident (it’s called the “luggage compartment cover” in the owner’s manual.) Ideally, I intended to one day strip out all of the interior except for the driver’s side chair, but it ‘twas not intended to be.

After driving the Jetta for about a week, I was on the short commute back home from the office when I noticed that the cooling fans were running at what sounded like maximum capacity. Then, at a red light, I felt some rough dips in the engine’s idle. When I reached home minutes later, I turned off the ignition and removed the key only to find the fans still spooling. I was convinced I had already broken the car somehow in rough driving, but in reality, Marty was in the process of Diesel Particulate Filter (DPF) Regeneration – a procedure designed to clean the little shitpot under the hood by heating it up some thousands of degrees to burn off built up diesel exhaust soot. At least, this is the way I understand it.

Otherwise, I disagree with most reviews about the “diesel rumble” being bothersome. Perhaps it’s because this is by far the most modern car I’ve ever spent this much time with – the only car I’ve ever spent so much consecutive time with, in fact – or because I did, indeed, grow up sitting (and standing) right next to 8-liter turbodiesels at full chat for hours on end. Compared to my mother’s 1.4L gasoline-powered Mk. VII sedan at idle in her garage, there is a more pronounced clacking, but it’s nothing you’d have any trouble sleeping through. I would know! Whilst driving for Uber and Lyft through one of the warmest summers on record, I idled away many hours parked on the street with the (averagely effective) air-conditioning on. I idled when I wasn’t online, too – I would even go as far as to say that I made idling one of the trendiest activities of Summer 2019.

What’re you up to man? Nothin’ much yo. Just over here idling.

Ridesharing

For more than six months, my primary income was from Uber and Lyft driving around Columbia, MO – a distinctly academically-dominated demographic. Frankly, I can’t think of any vehicle more suited to what ridesharing actually entails than a diesel Jetta wagon. It’s a relatively spacious and comfortable place to be for four adults – certainly when no trip lasts longer than thirty minutes – with a ridiculously stout cargo capacity. I was able to fit 9 freshman fraternity guys in for a short trip once. Their faces were all genuinely somber as one expressed “it’s really hard having 8 friends when we try to go out.” (No, you’re not supposed to accept those rides.) It was a challenge carrying some 1500 lbs. of Sad Boys, mostly for the brakes. Once, a group of young men and women began to make fun after noticing the DIESELGEEK decal I’d stuck on my side’s rear quarter window (which I’d acquired with a new shifter bushing kit.) “So are you a diesel geek?” they asked, jeering to themselves, to which I responded: “you know, it’s so weird you mention that because I know this place that sells these stickers…” They no longer seemed amused.

All of the cars I’ve owned have been attention-grabbing in their own way – my old Toyota pickup was adored by the locals; my Miata was adored by other Miata owners. My XJR was gorgeous and my Swamp Continental seemed to be passionately coveted by absolutely everyone over 40. With the Jetta, though, I did not expect any unusual attention whatsoever, yet I must confess that more conversations were started about it than of all of the others, combined. Ridesharing will do that, yes, but it is ridiculous how many people of all races, classes, and ages were enamored by – or overly curious about – Martin.

What is this a Jetta, dude? Is this a Jetta? Whoa! Dude, is this a stickshift!? Dude I think this is a stickshift. BRO. I can’t believe you’re driving a stick right now. He’s driving a stickshift car! Wow I think this is a manual car! Oh shit this is a diesel!? It’s a diesel too?! No way! I can’t believe you’re out here driving a diesel Jetta wagon bro. Is this a stickshift? You can drive stick!?

No.

Early one morning, a ride was requested from the local news station just out of town – a fascinating place. News vans parked in a converted horse stable. They farm televisions out there. A few minutes into the ride, after picking up the young woman, I noticed in the rearview mirror out of my eye’s corner that she had put down her phone to watch my right hand with total bewilderment. Eventually, she asked “what are you doing to the car?” She’d never heard of a manual transmission before. I did my best to explain, but when she asked “but why wouldn’t you just buy a regular car?” I did not have a sufficient answer. Unlike many automotive enthusiasts, I think it’s totally okay that people are allowed to exist independent of this knowledge. There are many, many other things in life to worry about. 80% of cars sold in the United States are shipped with automatics and expecting every young person who lives in an urban environment to think about automobiles as anything beyond simple transportation is asking a lot.

While we’re on the topic of manual transmissions, it’s relevant to mention how excellent the Jetta TDI is as a vehicle to teach first timers how to operate one. With the clutch in, the engine will not rev beyond 3500 RPM thanks to an electronic limiter, which dramatically reduces the number of obligatory stalls when learning clutch control. The learner can simply hold the accelerator to the floor as they get the hang of declutching instead of having to receive shouts of “more gas!” repeatedly. Of course, being a diesel further eases those stresses with much more readily available torque. Sierra was able to grasp the basics this way in a single night, which is unprecedented in my experience. She found particular comfort in the suggested gear indicator on the instrument panel’s main information display, which is very conservative, naturally, but also apparently relief from some great anxiety regarding the question which gear should I be in right now?

Community

I have derided Facebook for my entire adult life for its shitty design, inaspirational effect on its users, and its massive intellectual power, but strangely, through Jetta ownership, I was able to find a community on the service that couldn’t be found elsewhere. Groups like TDI Scumbags, VW TDI Owners, VW TDI support group, and VW TDI Owners Performance and Tech Talk are full of absolutely hilarious and insightful content that I’m genuinely glad I didn’t miss.

https://www.instagram.com/p/B52_ViunyoH/

On Instagram, I found @jp_eurogarage’s Mk. IV diesel sportwagen, which I adore. I especially love its idle. @projectownersclub posted a video in December, 2018 of a very rusty diesel Mk. III with a straight vertical stack spewing smoke all over its owner’s yard. A video was shared on one of my Facebook groups captioned “when you only drive manual” in which a very generic-looking white man with moustache finds himself gagging in a car with a traditional automatic transmission. The wholesomeness of these posts is often adorable, and not only on Facebook. VW Vortex is an active and helpful forum/blog for TDI owners that I found to be invaluable when researching modifications.

Performance

For the first time in my personal automotive history, I felt the desire to modify one of my own cars. Perhaps the most famous appearance of the Jetta Sportwagen in The Web Era was driving instructor Austin Cabot’s 2014 Sportwagen in one of Matt Farah’s infamous One-Takes. You can find the full list of modifications on the car’s WheelWell page. I intended to emulate Austin with a few modifications including Dieselgeek’s Sigma 6 shortshift kit and “high performance” shifter bushing kit (which I did get around to buying, but never installed.) For those interested in engine/ECU tuning, Malone Tuning has a beautiful tool to help you customize your order.

Malone Tuning Stage 2

Instead of installing the shortshift kit right away, I decided to splurge on a bespoke Raceseng Ashiko weighted shift knob, which made throws immediately better. The issue these products are combatting is the particularly disconnected gearshift which Volkswagen has been notorious for the past few decades. The best way I can describe it is that it feels like you’re just operating a lever instead of shifting a transmission, if that makes sense.

The knob itself is beautifully machined and extremely satisfying to hold. I also “deleted” (removed, in other words) the (likely) faux-leather shift boot after realizing that I’ve always hated the sound and sensation of them, but hadn’t been willing to modify my previous cars in any way. It sounds ridiculous, but it’s actually quite personally noteworthy that I was able to traverse the unseen boundary into mod culture. The result was a slightly more mechanical-feeling shift that would’ve certainly been vastly improved by installation of Dieselgeek’s kit.

Another aspirational goal of mine for Martin: H&R’s Sport Springs Set paired with a set of Firestone Firehawk Indy 500s. The goal was to sure up some of that body roll and torque-induced wheelspin. I suspect the result would’ve been a very, very sticky Martin. Unfortunately, I would not get the chance before I killed him in an accident on December 22nd of last year.

Efficiency

Average: 29.84 mpg Total Gallons Pumped: 644 Total Spent: $1726.94 Total Miles Driven: 19506

According to my fuel logs, (they are public, yes, though not necessarily 100% complete,) I averaged close to 30 mpg over 78 fillups and just over 19500 miles. Considering that I was ridesharing most of that time and driving quite obnoxiously for all of it, you should be very impressed. “Diesels tend to get about 30-percent better fuel economy than their conventional counterparts,” says Consumer Reports in a comparison between diesels and hybrids dating back to 2013. From the Union of Concerned Scientists:

Much of the reason for diesel vehicle’s high fuel economy has to do with the diesel combustion process; however, some of the increase in fuel economy is due to the simple fact that a gallon of diesel fuel contains more energy than a gallon of gasoline.

The joy my Sportwagen brought me was not expected. My plan to make myself a more reasonable person (and driver) by buying a “boring” car was obviously foiled by the diesel’s torque, the community’s dynamism, and my own communion with mod culture. I spent more consecutive time driving the Jetta than I have in any other automobile and was able to truly enjoy it. After my experience owning a diesel-powered Volkswagen, I would very much like to try driving/owning the Golf GDI – a performance-oriented diesel version of their excellent hatch. Truthfully – given the way I killed Martin – I did not deserve his kinship, but I’m certainly grateful I had the experience.

🗎 Print/PDF

#auto

Star Trek Discovery

Discovery is pushing boundaries, but for what purpose?

Discovery may no longer be new – not even the newest Star Trek property – but it is new to me. According to the alternate timeline exemption of the J.J. movies, I've been left without “Canon” Star Trek television since 2005 (or 2155) with the last episode of Enterprise, but I've been looking forward with moderate anticipation to an opportunity to watch this new entry into “the stodgiest and squarest of all sci-fi universes.” Though I am extremely well-versed in Gene Roddenberry's baby, I come to both you and Discovery with absolutely zero desire to analyze whether or not it is “Trek” enough, “good” science-fiction, or even “good” television – I'd like only to land on your screen between all of these institutions and their proctors in some unique insight from all of them, without the clichés, cringey jokes, or unnecessary Trekism. What I will strive to do is perform my Special Duty in relation to American intellectual property mastodons for which I have my own adoration: to determine whether or not they should die. I know absolutely nothing about television writing – the same amount I know about film – so I hope I can provide something usefully unique.

I would rather Star Trek not have to die, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s necessary. Without sounding like I have to prove myself, know that the property – in particular the history of Star Trek Online’s development – was a very important part of my adolescent life. I have watched every episode of every series several times at least, but I know better than to entrust my entire emotional existence into the promise of a continuation like Discovery. It most fascinates me how revivals of old names like this go about contextualizing their dialogue and other elements for today’s audience. “Snug as a bug in a rug” is surely not an expression we should expect to survive the next 250 years of human development, and yet this is supposed to be an aspirational series? It even made it in the recap! I should confess now: it is actually Star Trek Online which made me curious enough to seek out a CBS All Access Free Trial. The marketing worked very well.

The Measure of Morality

I tend to install the game for a few weeks or so around this time every year just to check in. This time, I was greeted by Star Trek Online: Legacy – a new expansion featuring Voyager’s Jeri Ryan and Discovery’s Sonequa Martin-Green reprising their respective characters in voiceover roles. I figured out that Michael Burnham must have been from The New Show fairly quickly, but I was disappointed to find out that the character was not in fact a trans man, but rather a female character with an unusually male name. For the most part, Burnham is simply an outlier in The Measure of Morality Parts I and II. She accompanies one’s character (along with Seven of Nine) to several different battlegrounds and stories we’d already seen before in previous episodes – when the budget’s running low, reuse sets, but there is one instance where we are brought into her (Discovery’s) world, which feels disorienting. The whole experience plays like it was forced upon STO by CBS in order to squeeze as many viewers into our free CBS All Access trials with as little developmental investment into the game as possible. Well, here I am!

In Season 1, Episode 4 of Discovery, the writers made a very foul mistake… They placed fucking Elon Musk’s name alongside the aviation pioneering Wright Brothers and the fictional inventor of warp drive, Zefram Cochrane.

How do you want to be remembered in history? Alongside the Wright Brothers, Elon Musk, Zefram Cochrane? Or as a failed fungus expert?

I can’t be timid about this – it straight up makes me ill. I can guarantee you that Orville and Wilbur Wright would have never watched fucking South Park and that I am actually going to be sick right here on this couch.

I’ll spare you further ranting, but… Jesus Christ. I will not believe that I live in a world where this sort of comparison is acceptable. I’m not going to freak out because they say “shit” and “fuck” now, though I do wonder what Gene Roddenberry (though he wasn’t all that great, it turns out) would say – something like “profanity is no longer a necessary part of 23rd century language.” I thought Morgan Jeffery’s take on this for Digital Spy was an interesting one:

There's an argument to be made that the old style of Trek might feel naive in 2017. But there's another that it'd be a refreshing antidote to the times, the Trek we really need right now as opposed to the one we deserve.

I like to watch fellow Star Trek enthusiasts squirm and cry “continuity” and “canon” as much as any reasonable human being, but I’m not sure this sort of boundary-pushing is actually productive. Is anything being accomplished? Other than marking Discovery forever as notfamily-friendly entertainment?” Linguistically, the word “fucking” in “fucking cool” was used for emphasis, which perhaps suggests there was no other way for the character to express that level of enthusiasm. In his IndieWire interview, Anthony Rapp (Paul Stamets) explains:

“These people just put their brains to work in a really tough way and they had a breakthrough. And I imagine there’s scientists in their labs who might do that any time. We didn’t drop the F-bomb in ‘Star Trek’ by telling something to go fuck themselves. It’s like we did it by saying ‘this is fucking cool.'”

Stamets in the Spore Drive

If Discovery was “making history,” I’m not so sure what Star Trek: Picard was doing with fucking and pissant. I’m also not sure it matters at all in the grander scheme. What other freedoms should CBS feel free to explore, now that they’ve said the bad words? What else hasn’t been explored? Bathrooms? Shitting and farting? That has my vote. I really don’t remember as many colloquialisms showing up in the earlier series, but perhaps that’s just because those colloquialisms have since become part of our language. I’m not the greatest television watcher of all time, but I got lost in Discovery’s plot, and apparently I’m not the only one.

There turned out to be too many of those twists in Discovery’s first season, and it was frustrating to watch as the writers sidled up to new, risky frontiers for exploration, only to suddenly change course right when things were starting to get interesting.

Season 1, Episode 7 is called “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad,” and it’s the most classically Star Trek of what I’ve seen. One of those stuck-in-a-time-loop stories which truly makes you want to die. What’s even better and slightly meta: playback kept resetting for me at exactly 21:26 and starting from the beginning while the cat kept stepping on the delete key and destroying this paragraph. I had to keep watching the man from The Fucking Office continually kill the captain after the crew parties to 250-year-old West Coast hip hop and 300-year old Al Green all whilst writing this over again. I do not like Rainn Wilson invading my Star Trek. He gives Aquariuses a bad name and… beard. “Listen, petunia, I've been screwed over since the day I was born. I deserve this,” he says, and I wonder if in fact it is Rainn himself speaking of his invasion. He looks and sounds like a fucking incel. All of this makes me wonder if my entire problem with this show is simply that I do not particularly like its characters.

USS Discovery

The Vessel

Relying on Memory Alpha – a tried-and-true Star Trek fan resource – we can examine the U.S.S. Discovery, itself. I’m not so sure about this spore drive shit. If the NCC-1701 Enterprise was indeed launched in 2245, its existence would blatantly overlap with Discovery’s, now wouldn’t it? I don’t actually care all that much, but here are a few screenshots from Star Trek Online.

USS Discovery - Star Trek Online

USS Discovery - Star Trek Online

Note how much larger this Crossfield­-class ship is than the Intrepid-class from some 120 years into the future. Then again, the latter was designed for “long-range exploration missions” and Discovery is the fleet’s flagship(?) Its “most advanced ship,” at least. The inclusion of technologies like the holodeck and the spore drive (perhaps the show’s most potent plot device,) though, are really stretching the canon timeline’s ability to accommodate them. The decision to include the Discovery as a playable, top-tier ship in Star Trek Online is 100% a business one, surely. I’m not here to judge, though – after all, games are about having fun, right? One of Star Trek’s ironies has always been its existence in a capitalist society as an IP within a debatably socialist future. (Everybody wants to see their own ideal socioeconomic label in this future, it would seem.) “What makes Star Trek’s economics fundamentally different, and, in many ways, fundamentally incomprehensible to us, is that scarcity is no longer a factor,” says Dale Franks. Today, though, Star Trek properties still require finite resources and labor to produce, and they always have. Atari spent over $50 million to acquire Cryptic Studios – the original developers of Star Trek Online – and Discovery supposedly cost “$6-7 million per episode.” Though the former is free-to-play, it’s filled with microtransactions and about 5 billion different currencies. When Star Trek.com saysStar Trek Online is best described as a permanent Star Trek convention,” they’re correct: it is full of shit to buy.

There is also a lot of combat, though Discovery seems to have struck a healthy balance between warfare and other intrigues. It is definitely Trek in many ways: redshirts die without any plot consequence and all the classic character flaw tropes are represented. There is the aforementioned time loop episode with fucking Harry Mudd and even a mirror universe arc beginning with “Despite Yourself,” in which the crew actually responds to their new environment and does the research required to blend in with the Terran forces. This took an ancient Star Trek format and actually explored a new, interesting avenue within it (the time loop episode did not.) They even change the Discovery’s registry on the hull to read “ISS Discovery” instead of “USS.”

Every moment is a test. Can you bury your heart? Can you hide your decency? Can you continue to pretend to be one of them? Even as, little by little, it kills the person you really are.

Complaints

There’s a reason we all hate Captain Lorca, and why he says things like “sometimes the ends justify terrible means” and “there’s no way we’re asking these neighbors for a cup of sugar.” I do not believe in Spoilers, but there’s not much reason for me to tell you why, specifically. Perhaps it is racist and/or misogynist to say so, but I found it difficult to get as attached to Discovery’s characters as I have to those of series past. Michael is great, of course, though my girlfriend Sierra surmised that her purpose in the show is to illustrate that “nobody listens to black women.” Sierra was also quite aggravated by the misunderstanding and mistreatment of the tardigrade. When Paul Stamets mentioned that his uncle Everett participated in a Beatles cover band, we both despaired, for we discovered an entry in Memory Alpha for “The Beatles.” If I were to standardize a system of measurement for my television ratings, Discovery’s cringe factor would be 9/10. The holodeck hasn’t been invented yet!

Also, CBS All Access’ user interface is the worst I’ve ever seen from a streaming service, across iOS, desktop browser, and my Samsung television. It’s impossible to scrub, really, or to dictate a preference for high definition. One cannot navigate backward between episodes without re-searching the title and navigating through an incredibly clunky menu sequence. I was able to cast to both my Samsung TV and Sierra’s Chromecast from my iPhone, at least.

Star Trek Discovery - CBS All Access

Compliments

Despite its failings (including Rainn Wilson,) Discovery’s acting is superb. James Frain as Sarek, especially, is the best of the three. I thought it was especially thoughtful that for the most part (at least in Season 1,) the Klingons actually spoke Klingon to each other. Given that Dr. Marc Okrand spent the time and effort to construct a fully-functional Klingon language, it seems only reasonable to include as much of it as possible. I also love Hugh Culber’s doctor’s uniform and the “cinematic” cinematography of the whole thing. It’s very much an action show, yet not quite obnoxious.

So, should *Star Trek* die? Perhaps it shows my extreme bias, but no, I do not think it need perish quite yet. From my (white, male, cishet) perspective, Discovery does an okay job at remaining thoroughly Trek whilst acknowledging the present context’s social issues. It remains a very capitalist enterprise and wholesomely cringey generation X cultural mastodon, but I think it’s still worth our time.

🗎 Print/PDF


Further Reading

Jason Isaacs is giving a very compelling performance. But the writers seem to be turning him into a fundamentally different person from who he was earlier in the season. Some might call this character development. Others might say there are more shoes to drop.

#television

I was interviewed by Write.as Community Manager CJ Eller about writing software, Extratone, blogging, and self-curation.


So I am super curious that you mentioned Markdown as something that saved you from fiddling your life away. Can you go more into that?

I started an online magazine four years ago originally on WordPress. I thought I knew something about web development, but honestly I did not. It ended up becoming a fixation on trying to make something technically different from what I'd seen done with WordPress, which detracted heavily from my Editorial duties over the years. I'm on the OCD spectrum so I just couldn't let it go. I spent thousands of hours fiddling with different themes and formatting within those themes, and what I ended up with was a mess. I would make changes that would break old posts, so I'd go back and fix those, only to make more changes days/weeks/months later and have to go back again. I'd known vaguely about Markdown, but it wasn't until it was mentioned in the WordPress dev Slack that I really considered it seriously as a way out of what I'd been doing. I realized that its inherit limitations were actually very good for me – that I needed a limited system to constrain my workflow to keep myself on task. Finally, in late-2018, I started to convert our old content to Markdown and essentially haven't looked back since.

Did it take a while for you to accept Markdown's limitations? Was there a turning point for you? Did you look for a Markdown plugin on WordPress to help after making the change? I imagine there's something like that out there.

There are third-party plugins, yes, but I believe the new WordPress editor now supports “markdown blocks,” which is sortof handy for those who want to continue in that direction. The turning point was probably when we ran out of money and lost our account with our hosting provider. I was left with an old external HD full of old backups and an empty domain. I'd already started moving that direction within WordPress (largely because of the Gutenberg editor project,) but losing the site in its entirety was what I really needed to push us into a more modern, progressive CMS. Honestly, Markdown is capable of everything we actually need and nothing more. I'd like to think I was able to realize this from the beginning.

So you're left with an old external HD full of old backups and an empty domain. Talk to me about the process then of finding that modern, progressive CMS. Did you have a vague idea of what you were looking for? I imagine getting those backups ready for whatever you were going to choose as another process entirely.

I actually decided to ditch the backups and just move forward with a different Editorial direction (the project has since been more or less put on hiatus.) I knew Markdown had to be involved and that I never wanted to look at anything like WordPress' dashboard ever again. I played around with a local Ghost instance but just didn't feel anything for it, if that makes sense. I'd already moved my personal blog to Write.As months before and eventually realized that it was just what Extratone needed – so far, I've only imported my own contributions and the most recent work from others.

Could you explain what you mean by feeling something for a piece of software? I noticed this in your recent post on your personal blog and what I enjoyed about it so much. There's an enthusiasm about the software you do recommend that jumps through the screen. I want to use Bear after reading your post.

I'm glad to hear that! I suppose it dates back to my upbringing on a farm in rural Missouri, where I felt a real affection for – and attachment to – our tractors, combine, and such. When one cares about their work, I think it's inevitable for them to be emotionally invested in the tools they use to accomplish it every day. During my brief stint in IT in the beginning of 2019, I saw a lot of users struggling with outdated and ridiculously unintuitive software throughout their entire workday and it made me really appreciate the idea of “good workflow.” I'm not really a developer, but I believe software can always be better because I've seen it. As an End User of sorts with not much cash, I feel like my main contribution back to developers should be celebrating their good work. This is an idea I feel I do not encounter enough in day-to-day life.

As someone who also had a brief stint in IT, I totally agree with the struggles people go through because of outdated & unintuitive software. But IT also made me realize how much of software is personal — someone will want a solution that's unintuitive to you but is intuitive to them. You learn a lot of empathy from that.

I am intrigued by your last point there — why don't you think you encounter the idea of celebrating software developers enough in day-to-day life?

I suppose specifically I mean I don't see enough celebration of good development. It's hard to challenge the personal workflow of anyone, yes, but I hope folks will continue to want to better their lives with new solutions. As I mentioned in my Tips post, Microsoft Word is a great specific example of software that simply should not be used anymore – especially in composition for The Web. Not that Word is celebrated, necessarily, but its alternatives are not. It should be noted that I have no specific authority in this matter other than years of experience with – and enjoyment of – playing around with software. I just think that End Users deserve better than they get, and awareness of new/different software is a huge part of the problem. Making average people aware of better solutions should be the primary function of special interest tech journalism, IMO.

Great point about Microsoft Word. I don't even remember the last time I seriously used it — high school maybe? And like you said, discovery can be an issue to the adoption of these alternative tools. So are there any common patterns you've noticed as to how you've come about these software alternatives that you now use? Patterns that someone could adopt?

It's not that I slave away, but it does take a lot of time to discover them. The simple answer is: I drink a lot of caffeine and hyperfixate on the internet. I'm not sure it's something the average user should want to adopt, but if they do, they should be on Mastodon. They should be googling “alternatives to...” regularly, and they should worship Free and Open Source Software. Accepting that you never have to settle for one piece of software is probably the beginning. For lack of a better term, I just love playing around with software. That's not something I would advocate for my old clients or other End Users – I would rather find out myself and then present a list of alternatives in an entertaining way. I hope that's an appropriate and sufficient answer hehe.

No that's great! The acceptance of never having to settle for one piece of software is at once valuable and challenging to adopt. If you keep switching you could be a sort of software vagabond who throws their data into a rucksack to head to the next viable platform. I've always had trouble trying to find the proper balance between playing around with software & learning a tool well enough that it can be useful. How have you personally navigated that? I could imagine your foray into & out of Wordpress as an example.

It's always a challenge when trying new things. I obsess over different ways to accomplish tasks. I've probably signed Extratone for 15 different newsletter services (including Buttondown today) though I haven't actually written a single edition of our newsletter in nearly two years. I think it's only recently that I've been able to look at these habits from a reasonable perspective. As in, I am now able to finally differentiate between playing and being productive, but it took some 15 years. Self-awareness of one's actual progress is key. Asking questions like why am I actually doing this – for profit or for play? Differentiating between these two is something someone like me will always struggle with, I think.

The distinction between playing and being productive can be quite blurry. I sometimes find that playing around with a piece of software can lead to a productive use of it. How about you? Did you start with the idea of creating Extratone first and then tried to find the right software to fit the job? Or did you start playing around with Wordpress and then the idea of the digital publication took form soon after?

That's an insightful supposition. I actually tried to launch an online magazine before Extratone with virtually zero editorial focus along with a standalone podcast that I'd been hosting on WordPress for years. I originally began playing around with WordPress sites in my early adolescence, so you could say it all culminated in the idea. It took maturity to realize that I actually wanted to build a platform for other voices rather than continue to invest in my own. I'd like to believe that was all enabled by the playing hehe.

So what lead you to the conclusion of building a platform for other voices? Especially curious from the maturity angle. Because you still have a personal blog, so it doesn't feel like you've completely neglected your personal voice. But would you consider that as not the same investment of time & effort that you'd put into something like Extratone?

I should be clear that I have not accomplished what I set out to do with Extratone. After a fairly big personal trauma in 2015, I had a bit of an existential crisis and realized that I had surrounded myself with so many talented (in a particularly relevant way) online friends who were producing all sorts of incredible content – music and videos, mostly. I realized that I was better at editing and other platform duties than I was at writing, and that perhaps the online communities I was astride could be provided a single banner to give themselves. In that sense, I haven't figured out how to do what I set out to yet. Ideally, my byline would be completely gone from Extratone, so I've more or less put it on hold until I figure out how to accomplish that. Turning it into a somewhat profitable media company is still my biggest long-term life goal.

The curatorial characteristic you describe is underrated, even though the “everyone is a curator” idea is jammed down our throats all the time. There's something about this curation on a person-to-person level that still has lots of room for experimentation. On that subject, do you have any examples of communities, sites, or models that guide where you'd want Extratone to go?

My citable aspirations in that regard have been somewhat superficial, I'm afraid. From a technical perspective, I really admired what Joshua Topolsky was trying to do with The Outline – which just closed this month, actually. They built their own CMS including a bespoke advertising delivery platform which really looked great but they just couldn't figure out a sustainable editorial focus. In my fantasy world, I have the connections and digital media insight of Topolsky and know how to apply them in a way that supports our community because I don't see any one brand popping up any substantial umbrellas over the electronic musicians I know. (It wasn't until “too late” that I realized Extratone's sole editorial focus should have been electronic music all along.) I read a lot about media but I'm pretty picky as far as hero worship goes when it comes to my own professional goals. I once promised that Extratone would never run ads, so I could see some sort of non-profit classification working out in our future. I believe I could be an excellent curator – I'm just not quite sure how to get there yet.

I think you're a great curator — had to ask that question of influence because I think you have a unique curatorial presence on the web. Just saw you tweet about tractordata.com. Who else would recommend that? Love it. That's why I thought Are.na would be right up your alley.

So you emphasized “our community” there — what do you define as your community in that broader context?

Well thank you! That's a question I'm still struggling to define. Electronic music is about as far as I've gotten. I met most of my talented friends on Twitter over the past 10 years or so and have tried to contain them in a list before. There are innate challenges in defining such a creative community – I have done my best to label without being constricting, but it's definitely difficult trying to figure out how to provide a flag which everyone feels comfortable flying. I still think the best I've done to articulate what I'm trying to say was for Extratone's About page. Most of the folks I'm talking about are used to hustling their own brand so it's been a real challenge working on the right way to reach out.

A flag which everyone feels comfortable flying — that's a great way to put it. What I find interesting about your internet presence is that you defy the idea of flying just a single flag. Along with Extratone you have multiple podcasts, multiple blogs, and now you're starting a Motorsports & Tech dedicated Mastodon instance.

I've been thinking a lot lately about how important it is to have many online buckets to put your ideas in. One just feels too limiting, especially if it's solely linked to your legal identity. How do you think about this matter of identity & expression with your own online presence?

That's a very good question. I can't take credit for mastd.racing, actually – I'm not sure who created that server but it's administered by an account called RaceControl. You've arrived at another one of my biggest challenges. Consolidating my interests has always been a problem, especially on The Web. Age has definitely helped narrow them down a bit, but I still can't help myself sometimes. I think it's ended up alienating a lot of my followers on social because I have a hard time posting just within my niche(s). I'm not so sure how to feel about this, honestly. One could argue that I should post whatever I want, whenever, but consider your audience is also a concept I can no longer ignore. If anything, I need to learn to let myself be limited a bit more by those buckets. Once again, Extratone is a good example of this – I should've never published app reviews there, but I did. We're all learning, I suppose.

Do you feel like you have to even learn to limit yourself on your personal blog? It seems like a personal blog can act as the release valve — a way of getting around cornering yourself into the niches that Extratone and other projects require. You can freely write about pens and Picard without feeling constrained to a single subject.

I think I'm just now coming around to understanding personal blogging and the freedom that entails. It's been a long while since I've had the urge to write about things on which I don't consider myself at least somewhat of an authority. I think – like many people – I originally just used my personal blog as a guinea pig for messing around with themes, and I'm just now actually catching up on some of the lesser items on my “to-write” list. Since we've begun talking I've begun building my blogs bookmark folder back up and following the #100DaystoOffload challenge, which I find immensely impressive. I can't say I'm quite up to it, personally, but I definitely plan on opening up the taps a bit more. (I also don't want to flood read.write.as with too many joke posts ya know hehe.)

That's awesome! You're reminding me of the interesting relationship between writing & tinkering when it comes to blogs. They both feed into each other in a strange way. Before, when my blog was on Wordpress, I didn't care about tinkering around — writing was my sole focus. When I moved to my new blog, however, I found myself shift towards creating apps that extend my blog and messing around with its CSS. So it's interesting that you've gone the opposite way, publishing more instead of solely tinkering.

What has awoken the urge for you to tackle those items on your personal “to-write” list? To open up those taps a bit more? Because I can see the publication mindset, being somewhat of an authority, getting in the way.

That is interesting. I'm wondering how many people are in each of our camps. I hate to be so topical, but the pandemic and being home constantly has definitely contributed. I've also begun to learn to let things go, which is an essential skill. Being able to actually kill work when it needs to die is the real secret. I just built up the strength to delete the rest of my 2019 list a few weeks ago.

I wonder also! And hey, no problem bringing up the current situation. I think it's making me write more also.

Want to drill into that practice of letting go as an essential skill for blogging. As a final question for this chat, how have you gone about the decision of keeping ideas that you've had for a long time and when to let them go? It's been something I've been struggling with for recently as ideas for blog posts start to pile up.

Self-curation is definitely tough. Generally, it's very hard to let things go – especially when I've progressed at all significantly into research/first drafting, but I know when to kill something if I reread and am unable to immediately see where I was going. I've noticed that trying to rekindle interest or momentum in a topic is unusually not a worthwhile use of time in my case. If I can't get my rhythm back fairly early in, I am very unlikely to, ever. That said, I think it's also important to forgive yourself for investing time in something that won't work out – otherwise, you will settle for less than what you originally intended and release something you won't be happy with.

Thank you so much for your time! I really enjoyed this!

Forgive and forget! That's a great point about rekindling an interest being a sign of letting go of an idea. I've done that too many times. This has been a blast to chat virtually David — really enjoyed your thoughts and am looking forward to future blog posts and installments of Extratone!

#meta

Star Trek Jowls

A highly-informed analysis.

He named his dog Number One. His eyebag game disastrous. The Romulans are in a Borg Cube. They’re flirting in The Cube. It’s a Sex Cube. Its shields are very loud, now. They’re smoking weed on Weed Road. There is simply not enough runtime for a truly episodic television show anymore, is there? A Borg Romulan Scott. (Imagine Borg snot.) The shear fucking hubris. There’s the F word again. I didn’t know Romulans could be so hot. Jesus Christ. “I never really cared for science fiction – I just didn’t get it,” says Picard. Very funny, folks.

Did he drop something or...? Paradigmatic. CBS’ closed captions are janky and I’m getting older by the second. They are in the Sex Cube again. The Star Trek OS looks like it has annoying notifications. A son? Using the term Quest. This is segregation. The Nightingale was a slave ship. This is not lost on me. Spanish speaking! Nothing about operating these ships is visceral at all. Hey! Jeri Ryan! These CBS All Access ads are absolutely bizarre. Icheb is here!? Jesus what a coincidence. Oh.

Star Trek Jowls

TECHNO FUTURE. That head tilt was sudden. Romulans are freaking out in English, for some reason. Colonel Jane – Sterling’s young wife – is still a bitch. What a surprise. I still haven’t gotten tired of the introductory credits’ theme. Pissant, really? “And now the windmills have turned out to be giants.” I have no idea what that’s referencing. Admirals should not say shut the fuck up. The holograms are just different levels of Scottish according to their class. Did they do this just to make sure Scots continued to be represented in Star Trek? Why does Rios have so many pips? What rank would he be if he put all of them on? God? ALISON PILL. Dr. Pill.

Fear is the great destroyer.

Coordinated bonk. “We’re at a threshold” is not political at all. If I was watching this show by the week, I would be very frustrated by its pace. Very sad about the Orchid deaths. They were cute. They mentioned the Picard Maneuver correctly. Jonathan Frakes directed this. Seven of Nine just said “same,” but we will forgive Brent Spiner for aging and – I hope – for dying.

I think we probably should’ve let ourselves let Picard die.

#television

Kaweco Skyline Sport

It’s very pretentious to talk about pens, I agree, but I believe there’s a level of pen pretentiousness which is worth sharing with the writing masses. I continually encounter people in both personal and professional settings using – and often worshipping – very shitty pens. I'm not going to pretend spending $15 on a pen has not become a novel or ridiculous idea in contemporary culture, but if you're willing, this is one of those areas where some retrospective can lead to real pleasantnesss. Here are some of the tools I've owned. (I'll be linking heavily to The Pen Addict in this post. It's all we've got. Sorry.)

Parker Jotter

Parker Jotter

I believe everyone on Earth should own a Parker Jotter. It's a slim, small ballpoint designed for sketching with a clicking action that just about everyone loves. I have owned and lost many and I will continue to for the rest of my writing life. I cannot even begin to communicate how worth it $16.99 is to never write with another disposable ballpoint ever again. They're tough, light, and beautiful. Sarah Read for The Pen Addict:

If you're primarily a fountain pen user, but you acknowledge the occasional need for a ballpoint, this really is the perfect one. It looks and feels like you're spoiling yourself, but the price is low enough that you'll still have to add a fountain pen to your cart to get free shipping.

Pilot Metropolitan

Pilot Metropolitan

The Pilot Metropolitan has been the entry-level fountain pen for all of time as far as I know. Google for reviews and you'll find praises across the blog spectrum – from Little Coffee Fox to Writing For Pain and Pleasure to The Gentleman Stationer. “I'm not sure there is anything on the market that even approaches a pen of this quality for $15.00,” says the latter. Testimony from the first:

I love how the Pilot Metropolitan feels in my hand. The brass body is cold and weighty while you write without becoming a burden to use. Despite its low cost, the look and feel of this pen will be sure to leave an impression on your friends and coworkers.

The Pen Addict argues for the next pen on my list as The Ultimate Beginner, but I'll stick with the Metropolitan. It's a little unorthodox, actually – it doesn't feel quite as substantial as the other fountain pens I've used in my time, but it's a blast.

Lamy Safari

Lamy Safari

The modern alternative to the Pilot Metropolitan, the Lamy Safari is the coolest instrument on this list to own, but it is generally twice the price. Though I liked being seen with the Safari more than the Metropolitan, and its writing experience is more conventional in terms of what to expect from other composite fountain pens, I still think the Metropolitan is more fun to use. Instead of reading what I have to say, though, check out the only words about any of these pens I spied in a major publication. For The Strategist, David Notis writes:

Fountain pens can be complicated and intimidating, but the Safari was designed to be approachable. (It was apparently originally meant to help teach proper handwriting to schoolchildren). Pen enthusiasts often recommend it as a great “starter” fountain pen, which I’ve found to be spot-on. [...]

Not that I’m suddenly an expert, but there is something special about writing with a fountain pen. The steady flow of ink is so expressive; it somehow makes the weird, messy quirks of my handwriting feel intentional.

To be honest, I feel like I could've done without my Safari, but I did actually write with it quite extensively. Here are two more opinions: The Gentleman Stationer and Little Coffee Fox.

Kaweco Classic Sport

Kaweco

Huge bias here: I adore Kaweco as a company. I first bought a Mint Skyline Sport (the featured image of this post) in 2016 and I fell in love. I love the breeziness of their colors. I love how Germanic their old logo is and how anything you read about their history is inevitably found on a website looking like this. As Susan M. Pigott points out for The Pen Addict, the plastic Sport series can be a bit lacking in refinement. “The Skyline Sport is made of plastic, and it feels rather cheap in the hand,” she says. Unfortunately, my white Classic Sport had the same problem, though I also adored it. From Shashwat Vardhana:

If you have small to medium sized hands and like the screw cap action, you should most certainly go for this pen. While it might not be the best writer of its class, its reliability is absolute and I have never had any complaints with the pen in this aspect.

Kaweco Steel Sport

Kaweco Steel Sport

My baby – my ultimate pen acquisition – was my Kaweco Steel Sport. I bought it in person with cash at Pen Place in Kansas City, and it was by far my favorite writing instrument of all time. As far as I'm concerned, this is as high as pens get. Find yourself in the position to buy one and you will be satisfied forever. From The Pen Addict:

The Steel Sport features a – wait for it – stainless steel barrel. What is it about stainless steel that I love so much in pens? It tends to land in a barrel weight sweet spot that is heavier than aluminum, and lighter than copper and brass. [...]

Stainless steel has a density and warmth that I enjoy in a pen barrel. It is also practically indestructible, which is what I want in a pocket pen.

If you write by hand, you should treat yourself to one of these instruments. If you'd like to write more by hand, you definitely should. A good pen will have you looking for excuses to write.

#meta

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