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November> NOVEMBER 21: Starship Lunches
> NOVEMBER 19: Commodity of Power
> NOVEMBER 12: Adenosine Receptors
> NOVEMBER 8: The Business of Possession

NOVEMBER 26, 2013: Character Augmentation

TV shows and movie series (like Star Trek) add characters and locations as stories and plots evolve. In some rare cases they also take characters away (they killed Brian on Family Guy). I was so sorry to hear it, because Brian was my favourite character on the show. Whatever the reason(s), I have to presume they were good ones, but the whole notion of augmentation is a really complicated and dangerous one. That's because there are so many pitfalls and ways to diminish a show's audience.

Not only can you get into dangerous territory by bringing in unanticipated celebrity actors to play supporting roles, you can also derail historical consistency. I still can't forgive Paramount for inventing the concept of a queen for the Borg (Star Trek: First Contact, 1996). How can a cybernetic collective of drones have a leader? They had been brilliant for years without one. It makes no sense to me, but I can see why they did it. They fell into the romantic trap of companionship to which all anthropomorphised, non-sentient characters are vulnerable. Look at Wall-E and EVE. What chances do those two little robots have for a longlasting relationship? Animated characters like Fred and Wilma Flintstone would have a better chance. Superhero comic book characters like Benjamin Grimm (AKA The Thing - Fantastic Four) need a love interest too. Although he was a victim of cosmic ray bombardment and turned into a grotesque superstrong lumpy, rocky freak, he still remains faithful to his  blind girlfriend (Alicia Masters) - girlfriend? How romantic can that be?

On a more traditional dramatic stage, Captain Kirk has a relationship with a molecular biologist (Dr. Carol Marcus) with whom he has a son, as revealed in Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan (1982). We get to meet with her again with an all new cast in Star Trek Into Darkness (2013). At least Carol is human and not an alien like Mr. Spock (although he IS half human). Would Superman and Lois Lane have generated a brilliant hybrid offspring with a compromised mental faculty? What if a Metron got romantically involved with a Gorn? I dread to think what sort of childhood that poor kid would have. The marriage would probably break up and their offspring would get adopted by two gay male wookies and turn out to be an intergalactic tribble dealer with a taste for Romulan Ale and green Orion dancing slave girls.

Come to think of it, in terms of Vulcans, would they have been OK with Spock's father marrying an Earth woman? Which one is the alien? Ambassador Sarek or Amanda Grayson? How could their relationship possibly be condoned on planet Vulcan? What about the seven year blood fever of Pon Farr (as depicted in the original series episode Amok Time). How do we rationalize that concept for Sarek and Amanda or was he having more Pon Farr than the other Vulcans? Can you imagine if he cheated on Spock's mother and hooked up with one of those girls from Orion? Then Mr. Spock would have a green half sister with pointed ears. If I was an executive at Paramount I would give her a spinoff series of her own.

NOVEMBER 21, 2013: Starship Lunches

Lunch is no longer just a necessary meal. Sure, we all have nutritional requirements, but lunch isn't really about food. Not at all. It is far more significant than corporeal endurance. It's the only regularly scheduled meeting to which most of us truly look forward with delight. From the early days at school when you needed a security guard to protect your french fries (you may still), to college or university when you could take a break from studying, lunch was often an opportunity to relax and spend a little quality time with friends. You could discuss important topics or news or complain about situations or annoying people or you could just get silly and make people squirt milk out of their noses.

These days, just about everyone from the mailroom to the boardroom gets together with a friend or two for a bowl of soup or a gourmet sandwich or a burger or a salad at noon. There are, however, those who "brown bag it" and eat a meal at their desk and maybe catch a few games of solitaire. It might be a simple sandwich or a stinky frozen entree, but they eat it alone and miss the social aspect of the occasion. Others run out to fast food, takeout shops and grab a bite and eat it in their car (hopefully not when they are driving). Some people arrange to meet friends from other companies so they can meet up at a restaurant - but they may not be able to do that every day. There are those who watch the clock, because they only get 30 minutes and then there are those who get an hour. Some are punctual - some not so much.

Regardless of typological category, it is interesting how we are establishing a predisposition for people with similar tastes to gather in groups or cliques. For example, they may all be techy, talky, bubbly, chatty or friendly or they might be creative or brilliant or maybe just mad and introverted, but members of lunch groups tend to be individuals who share common values or opinions. Maybe they dislike monkeys or canaries or like Sci Fi movies and cartoons, but that gives them a springboard to launch into mutual tolerances or metaphysical evaluations. My core group all drive standard transmission automobiles, but we don't all enjoy the same food. The best place for us to go is the food court at the mall, because each person can get an individual serving of their favourite dish. It's almost like having one of those food synthesizers onboard Constitution-Class Starships (Star Trek), except the molecules are not replicated and the proteins are not resequenced.

Once all the diverse nourishing substances and fluids are procured, the discourse can begin, that is, unless we run out of time. The lineups at the food court can be so long we may have spent all our time just trying to get our orders in. Then we're eating in our cars or taking it back to eat at our desks. Maybe we should have made a simple sandwich or brought a stinky frozen entree. I guess we'll just have to be patient and wait for Starships for a proper lunch.

NOVEMBER 19, 2013: Commodity of Power

One of the most significant turning points in the democratization of knowledge has to be the Initial Public Offering of Netscape. The date of August 9, 1995 established the "Netscape Moment" where an unprofitable company jumped to a market value of almost $3 billion in a single day. As the first proprietary web browser, Netscape Navigator didn't just drop out of the sky. Former computer scientist, Jim Clark, founder of several behemoth Silicon Valley technology companies (including Silicon Graphics Computers) recruited a development team for online programming and production. If they hadn't created a browser, they were going to start an online gaming environment. It probably would have been great too (for a while).

Filing for bankruptcy protection several years ago, SGI is now all but forgotten today and so is Netscape, but the technological advancement of those days had the effect of an atomic bomb going off in terms of world communication and information. I don't think we can say the same for Facebook or Twitter or any social networking platform that might go public in the near future.

For those of us who lived through the "dot gone" bubble, even that inflated bogus balloon at least still contained some breath. There was always value there and it's had a dozen years to recover a lot of it. In the world of advertising, however, we keep seeing businesses large and small dropping traditional formulae for print and media buying in favour of free social networking marketing and awareness. Isn't that kind of like being nominated for The Darwin Awards (almost)?

Knowledge and information is a commodity of power. With the tools and weapons currently available, such power can now be controlled by anyone, regardless of cognitive capacity or level of potential. Imagine Galactus with a sparkler versus a nuclear capable Dorothy (from The Wizard of Oz). How do you measure the outcome? Personally, I'm on the side of Galactus. I don't care what he's using. Dorothy is a sweetheart, but I wouldn't put her in charge of my company's future.

NOVEMBER 12, 2013: Adenosine Receptors

The average morning anxiety is often precipitated by an habitual visit to the coffee shop where the lineup is anywhere from 10 to 12 deep unless you’re running late. Then the lineup is out the door. If those conditions occur, you are forced to implement a formula for calculating the level (L) of necessity (N) divided by the validity (V) of an alternative source multiplied by additional time (T):

N = L over V times T
The result is invariably the same: N = L (late).

If only customers ahead of you were just procuring a plain old cup of joe, paying for it with some loose change and jumping back in the car to get to work by nine, but oh no. Instead, each one of those very kind, generous and thoughtful people is performing the huge favour of getting a box of custom-selected donuts for co-workers plus an array of coffees with infinite variables including cream, milk, sugar or sweetener in mulltiple combinations and degrees and checking it twice, plus a steeped tea and an iced cap for the new kid in the mail room and a frozen hot chocolate for the receptionist. Payment is made with plastic identification requiring transatlantic handshaking with an anonymous, numbered bank account in Switzerland.

The alternative, of course, is to join the office coffee club. One of the advantages is you get to sleep in for an extra hour every day. One of the disadvantages is the tendency for the club to run out of supplies. The coffee shop almost never runs out of anything and no one ever leaves the empty pot on the heating element all night. The coffee shop also has an unlimited supply of clean cups.

If it's such a hassle, why drink coffee at all? One reason is coffee contains caffeine, which is a legal psychoactive stimulant affecting the central nervous system. Other psychoactive substances include cocaine, mescaline, psilocybin, meth, cannabis, hash and LSD. These are usually not available at your local coffee shop. For the most part, they are “regulated” and considered illegal here in North America (except for coffee).

Caffeine is a xanthine alkaloid and is an inhibitor of adenosine receptors in the brain which suppress neural activity and blood flow. In other words, without coffee your brain slows down. Not only that, once your central nervous system gets used to the presence of this psychoactive stimulant, your system increases the number of adenosine receptors to counteract the drug. This reduces the effect of caffeine so you become more tolerant, but also, if you don’t get coffee, you will experience withdrawal symptoms including irritability and headaches. So you can see why many off-the-shelf pain relievers incorporate caffeine.

Coincidentally, all coffee is grown within 1,000 miles of the equator, but the biggest consumers live in northern countries such as Finland, Denmark and The Netherlands who consume almost three times the amount of Canada and the USA (per capita). Latest market statistics indicate a healthy business worldwide, notwithstanding individual companies with billions of dollars in sales annually.

If you don’t want to interrupt your drive to work and you don’t want to join the office coffee club, but you still have to have your java, you could always do what past generations have done in the past...get a thermos.

NOVEMBER 8, 2013: The Business of Possession

It wasn't that long ago that no one actually owned their own copy of a movie. Back in the 1980s, I managed to get the name of someone who worked at a film distributor in the hopes of obtaining a personal copy of a 16mm version of an Alain Resnais film (Providence from 1977). At the time, there was no other way to own it.

Although VHS video came out in the 1970s (and many people still own a player today), they stopped releasing pre-recorded tapes years ago. In the early days VHS was considered a luxury. Mind you, the Ampex VRX-1000 from a few decades earlier cost $50,000 and could only record 16 minutes at a time (per tape). You needed a forklift if you wanted to take that hardware to a party.

When affordable home video technology finally arrived, movie studios went to Congress to fight it, because they considered recording a violation of copyright. Jack Valenti (head of the Motion Picture Association of America at that time) compared the video recorder to the "Boston Strangler" for the “savagery and ravages of this machine” on the film industry.

When superior, digital versions of movies (DVDs) appeared in the ‘90s, studios still resisted releasing content from their vaults for fear of piracy. While stealing has always been a crime (even prior to the invention of money), it is just part of the human landscape - like dishonesty. There is no limit on the creativity individuals will go to in order to gain objects of value without paying. It's practically a film genre.

Ownership of intellectual property is at the centre of patent law and copyright. We need ways to protect the creators of popular entertainment. Restricting or limiting viewing is an archaic concept today. A single viewing of any great performance or achievement is a crime in itself. but it is impossible to present a work to everyone simultaneously, although television has made fairly successful attempts at it. Greatness needs to be shared to be appreciated.

Hundreds of years later, we are still listening to Mozart Chopin and Stravinsky. We go to galleries and libraries to view the work of great painters. We still buy editions of books from centuries past (paper or e-version). It's because we have a hunger to possess and devour the work of our favourite innovative and creative individuals and enoy it over and over. The ultimate is to own an original piece of work or an object once owned by your favourite creative person.

One of the worst examples is what tourists have done in The Valley of the Kings. The Egyptian government is currently trying to protect its ancient tombs from people who want to chip off pieces to take home. Then there are the collectors who buy million dollar comic books or movie props or rare items at auction. This ancient appetite for possession is part of the movie business just like any other and should be recognized as that. Since the rampant and pervasive arrival of DVDs and Blu-rays, the home movie library business has exploded. We can now own almost any movie we want (although I still can’t get that Resnais film).

The point is, the studios need to recognize the potential earnings possible by making the latest films available for sale as soon as possible. They could sell disc copies right in the movie theatre where the films are playing. They should understand we decide whether we want to own a movie as soon as we see it. By making us wait several months, they take the risk of our enthusiasm declining. Besides, a lot of the people who buy disc copies of movies don't even go to the big screen theatres. Then there's the audience who don't buy copies and just do the VOD (video on demand) version. As long as they pay, any method of viewing is OK.

It's like ice cream, alcohol and car repair. If you don't pay, you can't have it, but if you do, you can have as much of it as you want.


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