Monday, April 30, 2007


Technology in Star Trek, sensors

More of the series on technology in Star Trek: the sensors.

If the Star Trek folks did a good job in retaining limitations in the engines, an area where they've failed the viewers miserably is the sensors. There were certainly limitations to the sensors in the original series, but Voyager has pretty much no limitations except when it suits the plot, in which case they make up reasons — sometimes lame ones — about why the sensors can't see something.

Seriously, here. The sensors can tell how many life forms there are, and of what species. They can tell how many dead bodies there are. They can tell exactly what sort of weaponry is available, and whether they are “powered up” or not. They can detect “energy signatures” and “weapon signatures”, and determine, say, that a Borg ship has been here recently, or that someone has fired a Federation phaser 'round these parts. They can scan a planet and tell Voyager just what level of technology they have there. Heck, they can even detect technology that Voyager doesn't have — it's a good trick, making scanners that can find things you don't even know about.

When they need to stick scanner limitations into the plot, well, we usually get “subspace interference” or some mysterious sort of “cloaking technology”. But sometimes, when the scanners can't find what they're looking for, the crew just needs to “recalibrate” or “remodulate” them — a process that apparently happens at the press of a button, and there's no explanation about what they're calibrated against, or what sort of “modulation” we're talking about.

The remodulation thing also magically changes the effectiveness of the shields and of the weaponry. The odd thing here is that with the removal of limitations of other sorts, there's still a ridiculous limitation that the captain has to give an order to “remodulate” something, at which point a crew member says, “Aye, captain,” and suddenly it's all better. As sophisticated as the equipment and the computer system are, wouldn't that happen automatically, with no specific human command and response?

This is where I find things the most maddening, and where it requires the greatest suspension of disbelief. It's simply a question that when it helps the plot for Voyager to know what's what, the sensors can give the information... and when it helps the plot for them to be in the dark, the sensors can't see it. And there's just no consistency to it. It's a part of the system that I just can't see as reasonable technology, even for the 24th century.

While I'm here, three unrelated Star Trek notes:

  1. Nice quote from the episode titled “Someone To Watch Over Me”: Seven of Nine is observing B'Elanna and Tom, by way of studying human mating behaviour. B'Elanna is annoyed when she discovers this, grabs Seven of Nine's notes, and reads them.
    B'Elanna: “Star date 52648, 0300 hours, intimate relations resume.” How the hell do you know when we're having intimate relations?
    Seven of Nine: There is no one on deck 9 section 12 who doesn't know when you're having intimate relations.
  2. I've just watched the episode titled “Blink of an Eye” (season 6 episode 12), and I consider it to be the best Voyager episode so far.
  3. You may have heard that the ashes of cremated actor James Doohan (Scotty from the original series), along with those of astronaut Gordon Cooper and about 200 other people, have just been sent into space. I love technology.


Maggie said...

I enjoyed "Blink of an eye" as well. It was a cool way to give you some perspective about how small our time on earth has been in the cosmic sense. I was so sad when they couldn't answer the people who tried to send them messages, even when they received them, before they died or because of the prime directive. (I saw it a while ago, but I think those were the reasons. It was the guy at the observatory I was most sad about.)

K and M saw the episode before I did, and they really enjoyed the doctor's part. (We all love the doctor.) K was delighted to have discovered an homage to the episode "The Enterprise Incident," or at least, that's how she interpreted it. I think they've only seen two original series episodes. But now K has become a complete trekkie. She's read the Memory Alpha wiki and she enlightens us with bits of trivia as we watch. Janeway is her favorite character, whereas little M has a girl crush on Seven.

I've had the same exact frustrations with the remodulation of the sensors. It seems to be a very silly excuse for dialog. Clearly there is a lot of artificial intelligence built in, and yet, as you point out, "remodulation" requires a person to complain that the sensors are having trouble, the captain to say "try remodulating the sensors," and then the person to press the "remodulate" button. After you've had that situation once, how hard is it to program the computer to attempt "remodulation" on its own in the future? Didn't they already do that when they first encountered the Borg? Try a recursive algorithm!!! LOL.

Barry Leiba said...

Yes, the guy in the observatory. As I remember, they actually decided it'd be OK to reply to him, but that it was too late. Indeed, at the rate time was going, if it took them only a minute or two to respond to something, the people originally involved were dead by then.

A girl crush on Seven, hm? I think most of us guys have a guy crush on Seven. :-) Although I liked Kes once she changed her hair -- too bad that was soon before she left.

Maggie said...

I tease the girls that she's the "space bimbo," and that Kes was an inadequate space bimbo and that's why they traded up.

Why does she wear a different uniform?

Because she's the space bimbo.

TNG is no good because: no decent space bimbo.

I'll bet they don't even know what a "bimbo" is. I should probably define that. (Although I suspect they've figured it out from context.)

Barry Leiba said...

Oh, it's not just that she has a different uniform[1], but that she has a uniform that shows off her boobs so extremely effectively. One reason, I think, that I could like Kes, is that I'm not over-fascinated by boobs.

As to bimbo-ness[2], doesn't "bimbo" imply brainlessness?[3] If it does, our favourite Tertiary Adjunct can't qualify, because she's certainly supposed to be very intelligent. And if Seven can, indeed, be a bimbo, then wasn't Deanna TNG's bimbo? As I recall, from what little I've seen of TNG (and the "Pathfinder" episode of Voyager), Deanna has an ample bosom of her own.

[1] The uniform is actually explained in two different episodes. In one, Janeway tells her that she's expected to act as a crew member, but because she has no Star Fleet rank she can't wear a uniform (Neelix and Kes were also non-uniformed, and the Maquis crew were given field commissions). In another episode, the doctor makes some reference to having designed her uniform specifically in relation to some Borg-ous aspect of her physiology.

[2] Should this be "bimbosity"?

[3] There's a silly backward etymology that claims that "bimbo" is an acronym for "Body IMportant, Brains Optional".

Maggie said...

LOL. She's a "dressed up for sci-fi" bimbo. Beautiful *and* she wants to talk physics with you. Not bothered by all that "social" stuff that's such a mystery to the basement-dwelling twelve-year-old AD&D addicts that are her target audience. She's.... perfection!

(I think there's a grain of truth to all that, but I'm just teasing. My favorite characters are the socially-challenged male characters, always have been: Spock, Data, Tuvok, and the Doctor. I always hated Riker. And Troi was so darn annoying, who cares if she had boobs?)

Did you see Galaxy Quest? I love that movie. I was finally able to show it to the girls now that they've seen enough Star Trek. Sigourney Weaver has a line about her interview with TV Guide, something like "five paragraphs about how my boobs fit into my suit." I remember when Jeri Ryan was added to the Voyager cast, she had a very similar interview in TV Guide. I'm not sure which came first!

Barry Leiba said...

Oh, my favourite character in the original series was Chekov, 'cause he had so many good lines, many of which reflected an amusing nationalistic attitude about all things Russian.

Chekov makes a comment about the story about the Russian cat that disappears. Kirk says, "You mean the Cheshire Cat?" "Cheshire?", replies Chekov. "No sir. Minsk, perhaps, but not Cheshire."[1]

And there's my favourite Chekov line of all, from "Who Mourns for Adonis?":
Apollo (majestically): "I am Apollo!"
Chekov: "And I am the tsar of all the Russias."

Yes, Galaxy Quest was great! I loved Alan Rickman in that, and yes... Sigourney Weaver as a blonde in a push-up bra, what a hoot. Funny movie.......

[1] Yes, I know that Minsk is not actually in Russia (it's the capital of Belarus). I'm sure the writers didn't care, and "Minsk" flows better in the dialogue than "Vladivostok" would have.