Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Perseverance Rover Landing

 Launched in July 2020, NASA's Perseverance Rover landed on Mars on February 18. The rover, designed to search for signs of past microbial life on Mars or water, carries a host of instruments and cameras. It even has a small helicopter designed to test out the potential for flight in Mars' thin atmosphere. Remarkably though, Perseverance's camera's captured this fantastic video of the rover landing on the Red Planet. Even in the midst of the pandemic, humanity can still do remarkable things. 

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Star Trek Series Rankings Updated

A few years ago, with the premiere of Star Trek Discovery, we did a ranking of all of the Star Trek television shows. A few new series later, we thought it was time to revisit those rankings. 

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine—Being set on a space station meant that the show’s writers had to develop plot from character interactions rather than weekly visits to new planets. As a result, DS9 featured the best sustained character work from a Star Trek series. Sisko, Kira, Dax, Odo, Quark, Jake, O’Brien and Bashir all underwent significant character growth throughout the show’s seven seasons. Kira transformed from unrepentant terrorist to loyal soldier and leader. Bashir went from rookie doctor to war-weary veteran. Poor Chief O’Brien had to suffer some life-altering tragedy at least once a season. DS9 also developed a strong stable of villains or recurring characters like Garak, the exiled Cardassian spy, Gul Dukat, Kai Winn, the Jem’Hadar, Weyoun, and the Dominion. 

Star Trek: The Next Generation—The show that launched a million Picard memes. After some brutally terrible episodes at the beginning of Next Generation’s run, the show offered a positive vision of humanity’s future. Crewmembers on the Enterprise accepted one another’s cultures, sought peace and cooperation, and generally lived together in harmony.  Captain Picard was more lawyer than soldier, seeking to peacefully resolve disputes rather than resort to violence. Commander Data, the android, sought to become more human. Worf, the security officer, was the last honorable Klingon in the galaxy. The female characters, however, were underdeveloped. Counsellor Troi loved chocolate and frequently lost her empathic powers. Dr. Crusher had a know-it-all son and an episode where she had sex with a ghost. The less said about the short-lived Tasha Yar and the rape planet the better. 

Star Trek: The Original SeriesThe Original Series may be ranked too low, but I couldn’t find a reason to push it higher. The show’s campy elements occasionally overwhelmed creator Gene Roddenberry’s view of a utopian future. The show featured strong character work and sci-fi plotting. Allegories abounded about racism, the Cold War, and contemporary American politics. The episode titled “City on the Edge of Forever” featured Kirk back in the 1930s allowing a young woman (whom he loved) to die rather than change the course of Earth’s history. TOS also established the relationship between Captain Kirk, the logical Mr. Spock, and Dr. McCoy that would anchor the series and six follow-up movies. The show is, and remains, a classic. 

Star Trek Discovery--Discovery is and remains a mixed bag. Visually, it is glorious to behold. CBS has spared no expense in bringing the world of Michael Burnham, Saru, Tilly, and the rest of the Discovery crew alive. The show has pushed new boundaries in inclusion featuring and highlighting LGBTQI+ characters and the cast might be the most talented of any Star Trek series. But the show's writers and producers struggle to find anything truly interesting to say or do with this bottomless well of talent. The series spent 2 seasons trying ret-con itself into the pre-TOS world before going a thousand years into the future. That time jump freed the writers from continuity, but the show still struggles with basic plotting and consistent character development. 


Picard--Bringing Patrick Stewart back as Picard? Great idea. Separating himself from Starfleet over a matter of principle? Oh, hell yeah. Bringing back fan favorites like Riker, Troi, Seven of Nine, and Hugh? Great. Then why does the result feel so haphazard? Mainly because the writers of Picard failed to bring anything new to the table in terms of the character of Jean-Luc Picard. He's the galaxy's most noble British-Frenchman and then he gets caught up in a plot about sentient androids and a galaxy threatening monster from another dimension? Picard--great setup, lousy finish. 

Star Trek: VoyagerVoyager began with a great premise: A Federation starship, stranded over seventy years from home, all alone in the Delta quadrant. Without the support of Starfleet how would they survive? The ship had a strong willed female captain and a racially and ethnically diverse crew. Yet the show squandered it all, never developing its characters beyond single, easily identifiable traits. There’s Chakotay, he’s Native American. We know that because he goes on vision quests. There’s Harry Kim, the navigator, he’s young. There’s Seven of Nine, she used to be a Borg and wears cat-suits to appeal to young male viewers. Then there were the same recycled plots about the holodeck malfunctioning, encountering God-like aliens, and a seemingly endless supply of shuttlecraft even though the show seemingly destroyed them every other episode.  

Star Trek: Enterprise—Undoubtedly the weakest of all the series, Enterprise was a prequel to the Original Series trying to tell the story of the founding of Starfleet and the Federation. Instead, the show recycled too many old plots from the previous series without offering anything new or interesting. The characters (always the most important part of a series) were even blander and more inoffensive than the crew of Voyager. The over-sexualization of female characters continued with Vulcan science officer T’Pol continually subjected to Seven of Nine-esque costuming. This was a show that refought World War 2 (again) with space Nazis, had numerous poorly handled 9-11 allegories, and a series finale that focused on Commander Riker from Next Generation rather than any of its own characters. 

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Jacques Pepin

Jacques Pepin is one of the most famous chefs in America--at least among chefs. Born in Bourg-en-Bresse, France in 1935, Pepin worked in his parent's restaurant growing up. At the age of 13, he started an apprenticeship in a local restaurant. By 16, he was training in Paris. From 1956-1958, as a member of the French military, he became personal chef to several heads of state including Charles de Gaulle. 

In 1959, he immigrated to New York to work in the kitchen of the internationally renowned restaurant, Le Pavillion. In 1961, he declined an offer to become the White House chef under John F. Kennedy. He enrolled in Columbia University, eventually earning a bachelors and masters degree. The university, however, rejected his PhD thesis  on French food in literature because the university viewed it as unserious for academic pursuits. Pepin eventually left Le Pavillion and took a job working at Howard Johnsons where he designed the restaurant's menu. In 1974, Pepin suffered a near fatal car accident and was forced to retire from professional kitchens. 

In the mid-1970s, Pepin reinvented himself as a culinary educator. His textbook, La Technique, appeared in 1976 followed by La Methode in 1979. Pepin did not fill the books with recipes, but rather lavish photographs of the techniques required to become a skilled cook. Numerous famous chefs in America today credit La Technique with sparking their interest in cooking in the first place. In 1982, Pepin joined the faculty of the French Culinary Institute, a new cooking school in New York City. That same year, he filmed a television pilot for PBS called Everyday Cooking with Jacques Pepin. 

Pepin eventually filmed several more series for PBS, including one with his dear friend and famous culinary personality, Julia Child. Together they filmed Jacques and Julia Cooking at Home in 1999. They participated in numerous fundraisers for PBS. Pepin and Child also helped create the gastronomy program at Boston University. 

Today, Pepin, even at the age of 85 and in the midst of the pandemic, continues to film cooking videos for a series titled, Jacques Pepin Cooking at Home. The recipes are simple and delicious and a comforting reminder of the wonders that can come from a simple home kitchen. 

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Bonsai, Philosophy, and More!

 A few months ago, the nursery manager at Underhill Bonsai, Evan Pardue, had the chance to interview Mike Lane, a noted bonsai artist. Their wide ranging conversation includes bonsai, philosophy, and fun places to visit. Enjoy! 

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Crawfish Boil Coins

 While we're all disappointed not to be gathering for the Crawfish Boil this coming weekend, we thought it would be nice to share some of the awesome coins that our own Benson Green has created over the past few years. 

In 2018, Benson came up with this beauty. 

In 2019, he made this one. 

In 2020, Benson created this one. 

Check back in this space next year to see what Benson comes up with next!