Three Can’t Miss Star Trek Fan-Fics (part 3)

Nov 10

If you haven’t read part 1, or part 2 we highly suggest you check them out!

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Star Trek and that is a milestone for every geek. Perhaps you are a die hard fan from the early days watching Kirk and Spock trod around on wobbly sound stages trying to get it on with green aliens. Perhaps you jumped in during Voyager and still long for the moment that Seven of Nine tells you she wants to be your ‘friend with benefits’. It doesn’t matter what kind of Trekkie you are, there is never enough content to watch. The upcoming show “Star Trek: Discovery” won’t air until 2017, so what do you do in the meantime? How about diving into the world of fan fiction with some shows produced by loving fans of the Star Trek universe? There are many of them out there, in various forms of quality ranging from horrible B-movie material to tantalizing TV. We hit up YouTube and picked our top three. Our final installment is “Star Trek: Prelude to Axanar.”

Star Trek: Prelude to Axanar

We cannot finish off the list without talking about “Star Trek: Prelude to Axanar” an independent Star Trek fan production (We cannot call this a fan-fic) that has JJ Abrams and the CBS bosses lying awake at night. The show cuts in during the first “Four Year war” and the legendary battle of Axanar. It features the upcoming heroics of Garth of Izar, later featured in one of the TOS episodes as the main character. What makes the show great is not only an all star cast and a fantastic production quality but it is also depicts a very dark version of Star Trek.

Stories and episodes

No episodes have been aired yet, the only thing the world has gotten are 2 short “documentary like” vignettes (first, second) featuring an interview with the main characters in the form of a historical documentary. What might sound like a boring discovery-channel episode is actually something brilliant. The 21 minute “Prelude to Axanar” will have you turn blue from holding your breath in pure anticipation of what is to come.

Acting. The acting is top notch, this due to the fact that all of the actors are professionals who have real world experience in science fiction franchises like “Star Trek” and “Battlestar Galactica”.

Richard Hatch (Appollo in the original series of BSG), Kate Vernon (from the BSG Reboot), Tony Todd, Gary Graham and of course J.G. ‘Martok’ Hertzler. All of them are top of the line actors will manage to grab your attention and whatever geek-DNA you have like pitbull returning from a weight-watchers class.

Sets and Special Effects

Lighting and sets (from what we have seen) are top notch. Makeup, costumes are all pro-grade . The CGI is straight out of a primetime TV show like BSG or “The Expanse”. Although its quite clear that this show runs in the original TOS timeline, the ships do resemble those in the Star Trek Reboot, known to fans as the “Kelvin” timeline. They are larger, more complex and love to blow up in a ball of spectacular fireworks.

Will it ever air

“Axanar” has the potential to be so good that CBS (who have the rights to the Star Trek TV shows) may be getting worried. So much so that at the end of 2015 “Axanar” hit with a lawsuit to stop the show from ever airing. The reason? It might steal some of “Star Trek Discovey’s” thunder. CBS’s new Star Trek Show (also a prequel to TNG) will be airing in 2017. I think I could write up a 14 page article on the ins and outs of the lawsuit but suffice to say the judge has declined CBS’s original claim that they own all things Star Trek. Fingers crossed (in the Vulcan salute)

Epilogue

Aside from these three shows there are many many Star Trek Fan-shows on Youtube. While some are of dubious quality when it comes to sets, makeup or acting, you should not be quick to judge. Each Star Trek Production, from the Primetime to B-movie quality is done by fans of the genre paying tribute to the show they love. Together with the viewers they keep the genre alive. So be nice before you post a snarky comment on their Youtube channel and remember how much time and effort they put into this. Star Trek fandom is IDIC 🙂 Infinite diversity in infinite combinations, there is no good and bad .. there is only Trek Love.

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Three Can’t Miss Star Trek Fan-Fics (part 2)

Nov 07

If you haven’t read part 1, we highly suggest you check it out!

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Star Trek and that is a milestone for every geek. Perhaps you are a die hard fan from the early days watching Kirk and Spock trod around on wobbly sound stages trying to get it on with green aliens. Perhaps you jumped in during Voyager and still long for the moment that Seven of Nine tells you she wants to be your ‘friend with benefits’. It doesn’t matter what kind of Trekkie you are, there is never enough content to watch. The upcoming show “Star Trek: Discovery” won’t air until 2017, so what do you do in the meantime? How about diving into the world of fan fiction with some shows produced by loving fans of the Star Trek universe? There are many of them out there, in various forms of quality ranging from horrible B-movie material to tantalizing TV. We hit up YouTube and picked our top three. Up next: “Star Trek: New Voyages.”

Star Trek: New Voyages

In our second installment we take a look at “Star Trek: New Voyages”, also known as “Star Trek: Phase II”. Like “Star Trek Continues” this show is also set in the Original series timeline of the Star Trek Franchise. “Star Trek: Phase II” was in fact the name of the never-aired sequel to the original series that Roddenberry wanted to produce. It featured the voyages of the Enterprise after her first 5-year mission during TOS. The show never got aired but some sets and character ideas were re-worked for “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” and some of the story ideas were used during the production of “Star Trek: The Next Generation”. The fan show Star Trek Continues/Phase II, picks up at that point.

Number of episodes

First aired in 2004, Star Trek Phase II has so far produced 11 full episodes and a couple of shorter vignettes.

Stories

The show does start out as a little over-zealous fan-tribute show that tries to cram as much ‘trek’ into one episode as possible with about as much finesse as cramming tribbles into a Klingon’s underpants. During the first episodes the number of tributes and cameo’s are a little overwhelming. But as the show matures the stories get better and better. Two episodes “The Child” and “Kitumba” are actually based on the original un-produced scripts for the never aired Phase II series. “The Child” was eventually re-worked for the second season opener of TNG.

Acting

Star Trek: New Voyages has had several cast changes during its run. All the main characters (Spock, Kirk, Mccoy etc) are portrayed by at least different actors. The first actor to portray Kirk, James Cawly, gives us a solid idea of what would have happened if Kirk had been an Elvis fan. Brian Gross, depicting Kirk after episode 9 gives us a younger, more naïve version of Kirk. But what the “core cast” might lack in acting skills is made up by the guest stars. From Walter Koeing to George Takei and Grace Lee Whitney to Denise Crosby, the original Star Trek Giants come by to pay tribute and pitch in.

Sets and Visual Effects

As is the case with most fan-created shows (and most of the original Trek series), the production quality improves along the way. The sets and costumes are great, but what makes STNV stand out is the excellent CGI. The shots of the (partly refit) Enterprise are drop-dead gorgeous and stand out far beyond anything Paramount ever produced, even in the production of shows like “Star Trek: Voyager” or “Enterprise”.

Conclusion

A little rough around the edges, “New Voyages” sometimes borders on a cheezy fan show. But this is more then made up for by great stories and the all-star guest cast that pops by from time to time.

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Three Can’t Miss Star Trek Fan-Fics (Part 1)

Nov 04

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Star Trek and that is a milestone for every geek. Perhaps you are a die hard fan from the early days watching Kirk and Spock trod around on wobbly sound stages trying to get it on with green aliens. Perhaps you jumped in during Voyager and still long for the moment that Seven of Nine tells you she wants to be your ‘friend with benefits’. It doesn’t matter what kind of Trekkie you are, there is never enough content to watch. The upcoming show “Star Trek: Discovery” won’t air until 2017, so what do you do in the meantime? How about diving into the world of fan fiction with some shows produced by loving fans of the Star Trek universe? There are many of them out there, in various forms of quality ranging from horrible B-movie material to tantalizing TV. We hit up YouTube and picked our top three. First up is “Star Trek Continues.”

Star Trek Continues

First Aired in 2013 this show is produced by a non-profit charity and takes you back to the good old days of The Original Series. Kirk, Spock, and McCoy are all there, but just played by different actors.

Number of episodes

As of today, STC has 7 episodes under its belt and features some great guest stars. From Orion slave trader Lou Ferrigno (The Hulk) to Chris Doohan filling in his father’s shoes as engineer Montgomery Scott.

Stories

The pilot episode “Pilgrim of Eternity” where Apollo (seen in the TOS episode “Who Mourns for Adonais”) returns to the Enterprise is spot on! The show entertains you but also makes you think about humanity, society and all the big issues Gene Roddenberry held most dear.

Acting

The cast delivers great original performances but still manage to pay homage to the original cast. Actor Vic Mignogna has a subtle way to portray all our favorite “Shatner-isms” in his portrayal of Captain Kirk. Michelle Specht plays Elise McKennah, a character that wasn’t in the original series cast, portrays a ship counsellor that puts Troi to shame.

Sets

“Star Trek Continues” built their sets from the original blueprints of the TOS sets. Therefore everything looks just like it came straight out of TOS, but stuff doesn’t wobble when they walk around (at least not much).

Visual Effects

The special effects in the show are pretty good and they have continued to progress as the series moves along. However the show focuses more on storyline and dialogue then on flashy special effects.

Conclusion

Star Trek Continues is surely worth the watch if you are a fan of the original series. It will take a little bit of getting used to seeing your favorite characters portrayed by different actors, but they will grown on you .. fast.

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Raspberry Pi Week : Guestblog : Serve Your Message With a Slice of Pi

May 27

This weeks guestblog is brought to us by Daniel Messer, aka the Cyberpunk librarian. Find out more about Daniel, his podcast and his awesome website over at Cyberpunk librarian.Com


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Digital signage is a passion of mine which is odd because, for the most part, I hate advertising. When you think “digital signs” you have to think about advertising because the two go hand and hand, right? You see them all over the place from your local big box store where they use monitors on end-caps to sell you stuff you don’t need to the trendy Apple store where they’ll use an iPad Air 2 as a digital sign.

 

That’s a baseline US$500 device sitting there. It kicked off the tablet revolution and ushered in a so-called “Post PC Era.” And there it is, bolted to a table, telling you why you’d want to buy a PC. That’s irony so thick you could spread it on toast.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

As a public library webmaster, one of my jobs is managing the digital signs in our branches. I don’t create the content so much anymore, but I handle the tech side when needed. These things run off of small, dedicated PCs running Windows 7. Their administrative interface is lousy, the PCs are overkill as they’re rolling glorified PowerPoint presentations, and the big screen monitor and PCs kick out enough heat to keep you warm in the winter.

For the record, I live in Phoenix. We really don’t have a winter here.

When I first got my hands on a Pi, I knew this would be better for getting the library’s messages out on digital signs. They’re tiny, produce little heat, could be velcroed to the back of a monitor, and they run on free software. Diving into different software packages I played withScreenly OSE, Concerto, RiseVision, and others before landing on something I really liked — an idea I got at an airport.

The Phoenix Mesa Gateway Airport, aka AZA, uses Pis for almost all of their digital signs from the ones dropping ads to the ones that tell you when your flight departs and from what gate. Even the monitors beside the gates use Raspberry Pis to display the gate number, flight number, destination, and so on. I talked with a couple of their IT staff to find out what they used and the answer was surprising and refreshing.

They use a web browser. When you look at those signs, you’re simply looking at a website, in a browser, in full screen mode. The website refreshes itself every so often, and there’s a quick blank screen while it does this, but then you’re presented with the latest information.

I went back to my desk and got to work.

An old server bound for surplus found new life in our racks with an Ubuntu Server installation. I knew I’d have to do things slightly different as our library district covers a huge area while the airport covers a single large building. Instead of using the Pis to call a website, I’d have them bring up web content stored locally, but synced from the server.

I installed Chromium on the Pis because I like how easily you can feed it switches through a command line. That’ll be useful later. I also need to make sure that the screens don’t go blank or into power-save mode. Turns out there are a couple of ways to worry about this, but an easy way to handle it is to simply install XScreenSaver and then disable it.

My Pi OS of choice is Raspbian, which uses LXDE as its desktop environment. That’s excellent because to make all the necessary changes I just need to edit a couple of files, maybe three if you’re running the latest version. Opening up LXTerminal and then running

sudo nano /etc/xdg/lxsession/LXDE/autostart

I added the following lines:

@xset s off

@xset -dpms

@xset s noblank

@chromium --kiosk --incognito /home/pi/display/index.html

(Depending on your version of Raspbian, you might need to put the @chromium line in

/etc/xdg/lxsession/LXDE-pi/autostart

The other three can go in the first file.)

The first three lines disable all the screen blanking stuff that Raspbian would normally do, which forces our screen to stay on. The last one launches Chromium, in a full screen kiosk mode which. When you launch Chromium in incognito mode it won’t remember any previous shutdown errors and thus, never throws an error on startup. Then it displays my index.html in a local directory. Since we’ve put these in the autostart file(s), they will automatically happen when the pi user logs into the GUI. (Which you can set to happen immediately after boot up through sudo raspi-config.)

The index.html is simply a slideshow powered by JavaScript. It displays images, sized to fit the monitor’s resolution, and that’s it. It also refreshes itself every ten minutes to pick up new content.

But how to update it?

Since the geographic area covered by the library district is bigger than some east coast states, I wanted things to update quickly, in the background, on a schedule, while reliably pulling down the data and resuming the odd failed transfer. Fortunately, you can do all of that with rsync and cron.

Remember that old server now running Ubuntu? That’s the only place I update the code and content. I can change and add slides, modify the code, save everything, and ten minutes later all the Pi displays are updated. Here’s how that works:

On each Pi, I set up rsync to talk to the server. To do this without a password you need to set up a keypair for the Pi and the server. First thing to do is make sure ssh works between the Pi and server. If so, generate a keypair on the Pi using ssh-keygen. Don’t use a password to generate the keypair and don’t use sudo as the user pi will be doing all the work. Once you have the keypair transfer it to the server using:

ssh-copy-id -i ~/.ssh/id_rsa.pub user@servername

Replace the user@servername with the user on the server where you’re hosting these files. In this case, the syncing directory is under my own username, dan, in a directory called display.

ssh-copy-id will ask for your login password to the server and, if all goes well, that’ll be the last time it asks for it. Once the keypair is set up between the Pi and the server, you should be able to ssh and rsync without a password.

Now we’re ready to sync things up! Set up a cron job using:

crontab -e -u pi

This will launch nano and you can set up a cron job to call rsync as you like. Me, I do it every ten minutes. That means that, on the very outside, any change I make to the master files will take up to twenty minutes to reflect on the monitors in the branches. I could set it to go more often, but there’s nothing so critical as flight information on those screens. So my cron job looks like this:

*/10 * * * * rsync -az --partial dan@piserver:/home/dan/display /home/display/

Looking back, let’s see what we’ve built. We’ve got a Raspberry Pi, connected to a monitor in a remote location. It’s running a slide show through Chromium and all the content is local, so it comes up fast with no lag. That content is synced to a server via rsync running as a cron job and everything updates every ten minutes, both the browser and the content.

So in the end, we’ve used no software geared specifically towards digital signage. The digital sign is powered by open source operating systems, running open source software, on open source hardware. As a librarian into open access, that’s the kind of thing that really makes my day.

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Raspberry Pi Week : Start learning Python with this free tutorial.

May 20

“There is an app for that ! “. How many times have you heard that phrase, probably uttered by some smartphone waving geek who instantly shows you how to fix problem Xyz in your life using a pre-packaged app. And there is nothing wrong with that.. as long as there IS an app. But what if there is not ? What if you spend hours online looking for an app that doesn’t exist or doesn’t quite do what you want it to do ? Wouldn’t your wish to be able to TELL your computer exactly what to do ? Well there is ! It’s called programming. Don’t worry if it sounds weird but before the time of beard-sporting iphone hipsters with 5997 apps on their smartphones we used to PROGRAM our machines to work for us.

python code

A great way to start to learn how to program is by using a raspberry pi. The inexpensive mini computer is a great place to start when you want to learn how to program. The Pi is geared heavily towards the Python language and offers great tools which you can use when you want to learn how to code (or teach your kid on how to code). But where do you start ?

The Full Circle magazine has been running a series on “how to program in python” for quite some time. They have collected all these articles into 3 PDF Issues of their magazine that you can download for free. Its a great way to start your first baby steps into Python scripting and discovering you don’t always need an “app for that”. Even with a few basic programming skills you can upstage those app-jockeys by saying ” I WROTE a script for that !”. So download the tutorial, grow a beard, put on sandals and start screaming profanities towards closed source software, because you’re on your way to becoming a Python Programmer !

Links :

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