Star Trek Turns 50

Star Trek celebrates its 50th birthday today. It stands as my favorite film and television sci-fi franchise–yes, including Star Wars. Although it also produced a few stinker movies, the entertaining, thought-provoking hours far outnumber quality Star Wars content.

No, I didn’t say I don’t like Star Wars. Between 1983 and 1999, it produced nothing new for viewers, while Star Trek cranked out arguably its finest TV offerings–“The Next Generation” and “Deep Space Nine.” Can’t quite lump “Voyager” in there, because it wasn’t as good and it ran until 2001. Likewise for the films, in those years Star Trek delivered its best films since The Wrath of Khan–including The Undiscovered Country and First Contact. So, while I became an adult, moved out on my own, and got married, Star Trek was there. Star Wars was just something I had loved when I was a kid.

I have a sinking feeling that Star Trek has stalled and might never again be the cerebral alternative to its simpleton, swashbuckling cousin. In fact, I think Star Wars has become smarter (or at least regained what brains it had) while Star Trek has been dumbed down.

Whatever the case, Star Trek has inspired many engineers to create real technologies, and has made us think about our place in the universe.

Happy Birthday, Star Trek.

Why I Probably Won’t Play With Your Kid

Note: I wrote this in 2010, when my son was barely six years old.

This may seem heartless or callous to some, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about quite a bit lately.

I enjoy hanging out with my son. Whether we’re building things with Legos, folding complex paper airplanes, or just exploring streets deserted by builders caught in a recession, he’s a positive presence in my life. Heck, I even like doing math flashcards with him. Listening to him read? Goes without saying. Sheer delight.

The moment another child is added into the mix, with rare situational exceptions, my interest plummets to zero.

I think this is because in all my 30 years prior to having my own child, I had no interest in children. Perhaps because I was the youngest in my family (that I saw frequently), I didn’t have any experience with children until the birth of our son. I know many men fit that description, but I also see several who possess a seemingly innate ability to jump in with a group of kids and know what to do.

Whatever it is, I don’t seem to have it.

Sometimes it troubles me, but mostly I just let it roll. When my son has a peer over to our house, or we visit one of his friends, I immediately consider it his free time to interact with someone his own age. I am sure I will feel differently in the future, based on what numerous empty-nesters have told me, but for now I just switch into grown-up mode (I didn’t say mature) and cherish the time we adults enjoy covering topics and humor we reserve for just such moments.

Maybe it’s a general social attitude. Superficial social situations do not appeal to me, and I always have preferred small get-togethers over large parties. For the most part, if I can’t hang out with people I really have an interest in and/or care for, I prefer being alone. This intensifies when it comes to children, requiring actual blood relation to get my interest.

Even that doesn’t always help.

I applaud those men who jump in there and become one of the kids. I guess I’m just a stick in the mud.

No Plan for Devil’s Eyebrow

Ben IceholeWe wanted to explore a new Natural Area that had been dedicated in 2012. There were no trail maps, no directions explaining where to see the best spots. No GPS coordinates for waterfalls or cascades. Nothing saying, “then turn left here.”

(click any image to enlarge)

It was January, 2015, and the directions I found only got us to the parking area. The rest we were left to discover on our own, in a tract of land about 1800 acres big. It was exciting and a little nerve-wracking.

After all, the place is called Devil’s Eyebrow.

UndercliffI had seen photos of interesting creekbeds and bluffs overhanging the water. To see that, and to help avoid getting lost, I planned to follow a creek.

The short dirt road, easily handled by our four-door compact car, led us to a grassy parking area bordered by a rope line. A large pasture about the size of a football field stretched out before us, then gave way to woods. On the east side of the parking area, we found what looked like a trail.

The trail dumped us out onto an old forest road, where we walked past a dry streambed with low cliffs above its banks. Our son, 11, loves exploring such areas, but we promised him he could stop and play there on our way back.

A few old, rusty household items and farming tools lay forgotten in the woods. They made it difficult to feel like we were wandering a wild area.

Bird's Nest

Shortly, we reached a fence at the edge of a hay field. We re-traced our steps, carefully checking for any sign of a spot to hike down into the woods. I knew a hiking group from Bella Vista had made its way into this area last year, and they were not really the bushwhacking types. There had to be some simple way to get started, at least.

Our first attempt had reached a dead end, so we turned around.

Benjamin and I played for a bit in the dry creekbed on our way back, and then we all made our way across the pasture that lay in front of the parking area. We picked up a gravel road on the other side and followed it into the woods. To our right was an area that recently had been clear-cut, including many cedar trees. On the left was deep woods and a sign indicating that it was public land.

Moss Icely

The road quickly became steep. The descent was so sharp at one point that I scouted ahead while the others hung back. I saw that the road soon reached the bottom of a gulley, then crossed a stream and flattened out a bit on the facing hillside. “Come on down. The steep stuff doesn’t last long,” I called to them.

We worked our way along the road, which led us uphill slightly and then turned downhill again. The road’s loose gravel gave way to a long, rocky streambed. Thick ice covered shallow pools of water.

Bend in the StreamI scouted up a steep ascent, and a bow hunter making his way down let me know that the road led to an open field. I headed back down and suggested to my crew that we should follow the creek downstream at this point.

We were rewarded shortly by a deeper pool, where my wife and son gleefully threw large rocks to crack the thick ice. Only in a few spots and after repeated hits did they break all the way through to water.

The wintry landscape allowed us to make our way along the banks fairly smoothly, with only the occasional brier patch to re-route us. Within about a hundred yards we had to start choosing our side carefully, due to steep banks. We crossed the creek a few times as we continued to find bigger, better scenery. Together, we discovered what each bend in the creek revealed.

Icefall Family

We finally turned around because the sun was getting low. After a steep ascent, I reached the edge of a field, my way blocked by an electrified fence. Maybe 50 yards across the corner of the pasture, I saw the same gate that had turned us back shortly after we had started our hike. We could cross that field and enjoy a short, flat walk to our car.

Instead of braving that and using private land, we scoped out the steep ravine between us and the opposite hillside. My crew wasn’t willing to hike that, so we headed back down the road and made the turn we missed the first time. It was the long way around, but it also was the only known quantity.

To help alleviate the steep grade, we made our own switchbacks by zig-zagging our way up the road. Again we passed the forest of cedar stumps, and then the woods opened up into the field, where our car waited patiently.

We had spent our day as a family, exploring a forest without a plan. It felt great.

I mapped the hike using GPS, and manually added a section that I didn’t track. Click here to see it.

I Got Them Dancing

Back in my high school days in the 1980s, despite my mullet I listened to a variety of music. My hairstyle just happened to fit one of those types–cranked out by what many call “black t-shirt” bands. A friend of my brother once called it “that long-haired shit.”

A friend who was into the modern rock, or alternative, music scene invited me to co-deejay a junior high dance. He played mostly club-inspired tunes by Depeche Mode, The Cure, and similar bands, while I threw in the occasional popular Prince song from my collection.

He lamented that so many boys were in wallflower mode, watching the girls do all the dancing. I knew that was my chance to pull my ace card from my heavy metal hand. It got more boys out on the dancefloor than anything else, even though they had never heard it before. I’m sure everyone can guess why.

It was an instrumental ballad by a heavy metal guitar virtuoso. A self-aggrandizing solo at its heart, it featured classical acoustic and electric guitars on blazing arpeggios and enough bent strings to give it real feeling. A simple bass line anchored it while cheesy, gothic keyboard chords wandered over the top.

The couples did that one dance all the boys knew, the sway to the left on one, right on two, and so on. If feeling particularly amorous, they might go left on one, hold it there a beat, and then go right on three.

When the song ended, Robert Smith started meowing “Love Cats,” and the couples split to return to their unofficially appointed places.

A boy broke his stride and approached the deejay table. He leaned in as if to speak. I leaned in to listen.

“Hey, what song was that?” he shouted.

I smiled and gave my co-deejay a knowing look. “‘Crying,’ by Yngwie Malmsteen,” I yelled back.


“Yngwie.” I shouted more clearly. “Y-n-g-w-i-e. Malmsteen.”

“Loved that song. Thanks!” he said and returned to his spot near the wall.

That night, I had done my job, and enjoyed that rare moment when someone else shows a similar level of enthusiasm for a song I typically enjoyed alone in my room or my car.

I hoped that the boy’s parents wouldn’t mind the album cover, which featured Yngwie using his Stratocaster to ward off flames from a fire-breathing, three-headed dragon. It doesn’t get much more ’80s metal than that.

Do You Read As Much As You Used To?

I haven’t finished reading a book in at least a year, and I blame most of that on the drastic change in my lunch hour.

I never was a fast reader, instead poring over the words at pretty much the same pace one might speak them aloud. I always had a book going, and finished three or four a year by various authors, but not usually the latest bestsellers. Although I read mostly fiction, I occasionally threw in a collection of essays by a reporter or columnist here and there.

My time to read came mostly at the office, where I almost always ate lunch alone. I preferred not to spend money eating out, and relatively few of my co-workers brought food from home. A book was my refuge. For that one hour, while chomping on my sandwich or slurping my soup, I escaped into a world created by another person’s words.

When I wasn’t reading words, I was writing them. Sometimes I wrote blog posts. I spent several months co-writing a screenplay that, three years later, finally is seeing the start of its much-deserved revision process.

Then, in 2014, we moved and I switched positions in my company. I worked in the home office, which features a cheap and high-quality cafeteria. For very little over what I was paying to buy the ingredients, I could buy lunch, pre-tax out of my paycheck.

At first I maintained my solo lunch status and read on my Kindle. I could sit outside when the weather allowed, and did that even on hot days because I was chilled by the office’s thermostat setting. Without actual pages to turn, I enjoyed the breeze.

Then, as I got to know my co-workers within our cubicles’ confines, I started feeling the pull of socialization. Buying lunch and walking past familiar faces to go eat alone was quite different from passing through a room full of strangers.

I enjoyed my social lunches, but my reading time went to almost nothing. I was limited to brief bursts of five to 10 pages at a time at home. When my son’s daily reading time fell during my off hours, I sat and read for a half hour. If I sat still at night to read any longer or later than that, I invariably fell asleep.

Okay, I’ll come completely clean. For years I had been a sucker for the DVR, and then Netflix added compelling original series. Those two things combined with my newfound love of mountain biking to almost completely supplant my reading time. Largely because of mountain biking, my time using Facebook also has increased since our move. You know, Facebook, that entity that I blame for the death of my best personal writing outlet.

Ever since I have been working from home, I use my lunch hours to hang out with my wife or to ride a nearby local trail. As much as I love reading, those two things beat it every time.

I started reading Ysabel by favorite Guy Gavriel Kay, but its plot leaned too much on a supernatural theme that didn’t interest me, and its protagonists were teenagers. After a couple hundred pages I just wasn’t into it, so I stopped. While disappointing, that was not surprising considering Kay’s fantasy origins.

For months now I have been nursing a good and lengthy book called Carrion Comfort, by favorite Dan Simmons. He’s always top-notch at developing characters and weaving a yarn, but the chapters told from the antagonist’s point of view do not interest me. He killed off one of the most compelling characters barely half way into the book (if that far).

Despite those excuses, the decline in my reading is all my fault.

Do you read as much as you did in the past?