Things I Learned About My Ender 3

Things I Learned About My Ender 3

I’m on an Ender 3 support group on Facebook, and nearly all the comments in this group asking for help are from people who did not follow the instructions when doing the setup on their Ender 3’s in the first place. Those who are meticulous about getting the frame absolutely square and the belts as tight as they can get them without binding everything up are getting superior results.

If you’ve just bought an Ender 3, there are a few things you’ll probably want to do or try at some point.

  1. Make sure your frame is square. I’m serious. 90% of the problems you’re likely to have with your prints will derive from not having properly assembled the gantry.

  2. Make sure your bowden tube is properly trimmed (and by this I mean trimmed off exactly square) and then fully inserted into your hot end. If you don’t, you’ll get plastic plugs where your filament heats up and jams your bowden tube, requiring you to partially disassemble your hot end and possibly trim back your bowden tube to get past the clog. Having the bowden tube properly trimmed and properly inserted mostly stops this from happening. There are “fixes” to get around the clog problem, but in general they just add additional points of failure and rarely work as well as setting up your bowden tube properly in the first place.

  3. Replace the plastic extruder clamp with a metal one. They’re cheap, usually under $20, but the filament tends to saw through the plastic clamps over time. Sooner or later you’ll want to replace it.

  4. Get a silent controller board. This makes your printer so quiet that you’ll have to do an eyeball check to see if it’s still even printing, it’s so quiet. They’re about $40. However, these silent boards can also prevent you from making linear advance calibrations that can improve the quality of your prints, so you may find yourself with a choice of quality versus machine noise while printing.

  5. Print a fan cowling for your CPU box to keep crap from falling into your controller box through the vent fan.

  6. Print a muffling fan cowling for your power supply box. This will drop the fan noise made by the machine by half.

  7. Order more bowden tube, and more nozzles, and more pneumatic clamps. These things wear out, and after about four to five months of use, they’ll start to screw up your prints. You do not want to be stuck without spare parts if you’re in the middle of a paying print job and something breaks.

  8. Get a glass build plate, and by this I mean go to your local dollar store, and buy a cheap 9×9 square picture frame. Take the glass out of it, and throw the rest of the frame away. The picture frame glass is a quarter the weight of the official Creality glass bed and causes far fewer problems with Y-axis ringing due to its much lower inertia. If you’d rather use the Creality build plate, don’t be afraid to flip it over and use the untextured side. It’ll leave a mirror-smooth bottom surface on your parts!

  9. Don’t use tape on your print bed. Tape is a substitute for proper bed leveling, and solves problems that haven’t existed since the introduction of heated, adjustable beds. The only time you might want to use it is if you’re using something other than PLA in your printer that sticks like mad to your printing surface, such as PETG. The tape will let you remove the part without breaking your glass.

  10. If you’re having particular problems getting your PLA to stick to the glass, try a fine mist of Aquanet. It’s cheap, and compared to fiddling with the bed leveling to get it precise to the last 0.01mm, it’s a fast solution that gets you on your way and printing parts again. Some purists think this is cheating, because you can resolve sticking issues with better bed leveling, but if you have to get the parts out the door, there’s nothing wrong with doing something quick that works so you can get on with your life.

    If it feels stupid, but it works, it’s not stupid.

  11. Buy eSun PLA+ filament for printing. It runs about 10° C hotter than the usual stuff, produces much more precise, clean prints, and costs exactly the same as whatever you’re using.
  12. One of the things that can happen if you try to drive your printer too fast, is that you can exceed the structural integrity of the filament as it passes by the gear in your extruder. If the extruder can’t feed the filament through the print head fast enough, it’ll start digging a hole in the side of the filament at the extruder head, and then you are basically and royally screwed, and your print has failed.

  13. If you think vibration damping is something you need, buy a $5 yogo mat, cut it into 1 foot squares, and put a stack of four or five squares under your printer. It will kill a lot of the noise and vibration your printer makes, and may well improve the quality of your prints.

  14. Make sure your belts are as tight as you can get them. Don’t worry, you won’t break them. Tight belts means more precise motion and better prints.

  15. Experiment with printing at stupidly thin layer heights. I started experimenting with 0.08mm layer heights, and people I show the prints to, even other 3d printer owners, are amazed that these are 3d printed objects.

  16. Special fan housings can help a bit with bridging, but generally speaking, they don’t improve print quality very much and are probably not worth the effort.

  17. It is possible for an Ender 3 to not want to print because it’s too cold to start with. If your printer lives in the garage or workshop, as mine does, it’s probably not in a heated environment – and that means that it can get down to under 10°C and chill your temperature sensors to the point where the printer’s firmware thinks something must be broken, and you’ll get a MINTEMP error. You could have a bad thermister, or a bad connection trace to it on the motherboard, or a bad connector, but the first thing to try is just bringing the thing inside and letting it warm up a bit. I did this and once I got the temperature of the printer up above about 8°C, the printer realized its sensors weren’t broken, and it started right up.

  18. Get a Raspberry Pi and load it up with a webcam and Octoprint. Being able to run your printer without having to be in the same room with it is heaven.

  19. Having trouble with weird surface artifacts in your prints? Slow down. This is especially true of specialty filaments like silks or silk metallics. They are extremely sensitive to print speed, and what looks like a hopeless print may come out perfectly if you cut the print speed in half.

  20. Have to paint your prints? Sometimes the client wants it painted, and it’ll smell bad for quite a while once you do. White vinegar will get the smell out of the painted surfaces while not endangering the finish. Be sure to rinse off the white vinegar, or your parts will smell like vinegar instead of paint.

  21. Don’t bother with trying to print vibration damping feet, special angled mounting arms for your filament spools. By in large these do nothing but waste your time.

Check back here periodically. I’ll be updating this list of tips as I go, and you may find out something new you didn’t know before.

-30-

3d Printing Opens Vistas

3d Printing Opens Vistas

September saw the arrival of a new Creality Ender 3 3d printer at the Krypton Radio head office. The intent was to create new things to offer as station swag and perhaps create a new line of bespoke merch, something along the lines of props and costume pieces that people might want to buy from us.

I’ve been having a blast with it, and I’m trying to find new ways to use it that will benefit the company and myself. It’s a new creative tool I can use to bring daydreams into the real world.

The Lightsaber

I’d always wanted one of these, from the first time I saw one in 1977’s Star Wars, but the goal had always been out of reach. I printed one. This is the one carried by Obi-Wan Kenobi in the first Star Wars movie. 3d printers print in layers, so there are layer lines. You just sand the heck out of it and hit it with primer, and you’d never know it was 3d printed.

I’m working on modifying this one to add electronics to it, but I may just go with a completely different design, one that already supports the idea of adding a blade.

Sabacc Gambling Coins

These replica coins from the movie Solo: A Star Wars Story were printed in black PLA, like the light saber, then painted with black primer, then I added Rub’n’Buff. I hand-sewed a bunch of bags and put 18-20 coins in each one, and gave them to friends and family when we went to Disneyland’s Galaxy’s Edge last month for Life Day on November 18.

My friends and I had a lot of fun giving them to cast members and watching their reactions, which ranged from gratitude to amazement.

I later found out that the Imperial credits were about half-sized, so I’ll be fixing that on future batches, but having bags of these was really something. I looked for a sabacc deck in the shops while I was there, but none of them had the decks in stock.

The Antikythera Mechanism

The Antikythera mechanism  is an ancient Greek analogue computer used to predict astronomical positions and eclipses for calendar and astrological purposes decades in advance. It gets its name from the Greek island off the coast of which the device was found. It was fished out of the sea in 1901, and assumed to be some kind of archeological mistake – it couldn’t possibly be from ancient Greece, could it? They didn’t have computers – or did they?

The largest piece is this one. It’s about eight inches wide, and seven inches tall, something around there. That’s what I’m currently making.

The instrument is believed to have been designed and constructed by Greek scientists, and was made sometime around 70-60 BC. It was housed in a wooden box, about 13.4″x7.1″x3.5″, and they know this because they found bits of the box around it. After conservation, it came apart into 82 separate fragments, four of which contain gears, like this largest piece.

The Antikythera Mechanism originally had at least 30 meshing bronze gears, and up to 37 gear wheels that helped the device keep track of astronomical bodies like Mars, the Sun, and the Moon. It could predict eclipses, and could tell you when the next Olympic Games were going to be. It was extremely accurate as well, correctly reporting subtle variations in the lunar orbit, for example.

The device, housed in the remains of a 34 cm × 18 cm × 9 cm (13.4 in × 7.1 in × 3.5 in) wooden box, was found as one lump, later separated into three main fragments which are now divided into 82 separate fragments after conservation works. Four of these fragments contain gears, while inscriptions are found on many others. The largest gear is approximately 14 centimetres (5.5 in) in diameter and originally had 223 teeth.

All known fragments of the Antikythera mechanism are now kept at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, along with a number of artistic reconstructions and replicas of the mechanism to demonstrate how it may have looked and worked.

My version started as Cosmo Wenman’s rough layout model of it, about the right shape, but with technically accurate placements of the bronze gears and metal features. Wenman’s finished version makes use of a lot of post-printing texturing and paint, but I brought it into ZBrush and added corrosion detail geometry before sending it to my printer, so a lot of the details on mine will be already there when the printing is done. That will will take two and a half full days on my Ender 3 3d printer.

I thought for a while that my version might be too big, but I took a quick measurement of the main gear while it was on the printer, and yeah, it does look like it’s about five and a half inches across, meaning that the size of my replica artifact is probably pretty close to the real thing.

Once it’s done, it gets a little cleanup with a brush to remove tiny filament strings, artifacts of the printing process. Then it gets painted, and I have purchased an artist’s airbrush and compressor for the purpose. Whatever details that didn’t make it into my sculpt I can probably fudge with paint. I figure once I get going it will take about a full day to paint it properly.

The lighting here shows off the printing artifacts on the surface are going to be sanded off. There’s a lot of handwork to go before I can put any paint on this, and only a few days to go before I deliver it.

Rather than sand it all down, I used acrylic sculpting medium instead and just filled in the raster lines from the printing. Then I painted it all flat black, then airbrushed it and added some finishing touches of Rub’n’Buff to make some of the details pop. My airbrush work is – well, I need a ton more practice, let’s put it that way.

Walt Disney

At Disneyworld in Orlando, Florida, there is a sculpture garden decorated with bronzes of famous Disney characters. One of them is a bust of the great man himself. Somebody took a 3d scan of it, and converted it into a geometry file, and being the fan of his work and the man himself as I am, I had to print a copy of it.

One of these days I’m going to print a really big one. The model is actually a lot better than the resolution of my printer can cope with at this size. Still, it’s gorgeous, and I’ve given away three copies of this thing to my Disney-fan friends so far.

I’m sorry you’re not still here, Walt, The world could use you. I’m doing my best to try to follow in your footsteps, but I’m not doing it very well, I’m afraid. I just don’t have the reach you did – but that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop trying. The world needs every bit of magic we can muster.

-30-

Finally, I’m a Director

Finally, I’m a Director

This is not how I thought this was going to go.

My first director’s credit was supposed to happen 30 years ago. That’s how I saw it all happening in my head, anyway. But I quickly found out that unless you’re born into the system at the right level of connectivity, that’s just not going to happen. If you have responsibilities to anyone but yourself, it’s just not in the cards, because you can’t risk letting them down.

And so it went, until I was 61, and I was finally in a position in my life to try something, because at this point I had to try something to move forward because nothing else was working anyway. And what I did was this.

Aphrodite and Ben from ‘Mighty Aphrodite!’

I created an animated web series almost on a whim, using a machinema engine that ran on my phone. We made a Kickstarter, it succeeded, and by the time we’re done we’ll have four animated episodes, about 3 minutes long each.

Gone with the Wind it is not. But it’s real, and it’s mine, and it’s my first producer’s credit, my first writer’s credit, my first director’s credit. As small a project as this thing is, I brought this into being by sheer force of will, and with the help of my wife Susan (without whose support it wouldn’t have been possible, and without whose participation it would have suffered from a character arc standpoint), and my actor and voice actor friends, we made a thing. It’s up on IMDB now, and it gives proper credits to everyone who worked on it.

The thing is, in my 20’s I thought I was going to be a director by the age of 30. I went to film school, graduated from UCLA, concentrated on screenwriting because it was cheaper than paying for all that film lab work, and I had a bunch of friends at the time who were all going into terrible debt paying for their student films. So I got my degree and out into the world I went.

And part of it was because UCLA at the time was not all that great a film school, and part of it was because I lacked the industry connections to make any impression on anybody, but my career foundered after that, and I went into computer programming and game development instead, and it was only after years of that that I finally came back full circle. Computers were now being used to make movies with, and I sort of slipped in the back door while nobody was looking and ended up with some 30 odd film credits. Unfortunately since I was working for an often neglected department in a very large studio, I almost never got screen credit for the work I did.

No matter. I still did the work, I still learned what a world class organization looked like from the inside, I still learned what world class artists and animators did every day and if not in every detail how they did it, at least what they did and where to look things up.

And now my lifelong dream of becoming a director and writer has come to pass, but it’s on the smallest project one could imagine. But it’s a commercial project, for a company – my own company, which I founded – and there’s an IMDB listing.

What more may come of Mighty Aphrodite! The Web Series? I have no idea, but I bet we can make some waves with it once I get the fourth episode done – and then we can release them all as a single piece, a ‘fifth episode’, if you will, which will be a good solid fifteen minutes of animated narrative.

I’m certainly humbled by the entire process. I imagined myself at the helm of much greater projects than this, but starting with literally nothing but an idea, I and my friends made something happen. We moved the needle.

I’ve always wanted a home at the Magic Store. I didn’t anticipate either that I’ve have to build the Magic Store myself, nor that the roof might be made of cardboard.

This year I’m hoping to put some shingles on that roof.

-30-

Who Watches the Watchmen?

Who Watches the Watchmen?

I wrote this piece a number of years ago. Since then, I have been made Top Writer on Quora for 2018, and this kind of piece I think is one of the reasons why they did that.


Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

The phrase is Latin, and is literally translated as “Who will guard the guards themselves?”

In other words, “Who watches the watchmen?” I have encountered this for years, and I finally figured out the answer to that question.

And it’s a real answer.

The real answer to “Who Watches the Watchmen?” is, “We watch ourselves. We are answerable to our own conscience, ethics, morals and sense of duty. We can trust no one else’s more than our own.”

And that implies that we are being asked to follow somebody else’s ethics and morals without questioning them, and that’s exactly what we’re being asked to do by those very people who ask “Who watches the watchmen?” What they’re implicitly saying is that our own judgment should give way to theirs.

This argument is almost always used not in the search for truth, but in the obstruction of it. It introduces a self-referential logical conundrum that cannot be solved, thereby stopping any reasonable discourse in its tracks. By attempting to declare that there is no clear acceptable answer, the speaker implies that the opponents are intrinsically wrong, and this is a logical fallacy. An unknown solution does not imply incorrect action. It’s basically a false dilemma fallacy, similar to a loaded question such as “Have you stopped beating your wife?” or “Are you going to admit that you’re wrong?”

Those who stand up for the good, the innocent, the right and the just are often publicly attacked by those seek to set themselves on a throne and tell others how to think, feel and act — or worse, seek simply to do society harm and not be caught at it.

The next time you hear someone ask “who watches the watchmen”, think about why they’re really asking this. The answers may surprise you.

The Patreon Quandry

The Patreon Quandry

Obi-Shawn’s t-shirt design for his morning show on Krypton Radio, “Good Morning, Tatooine!”

We use Patreon to keep our sci-fi radio station, Krypton Radio, fueled up and on the air, and it’s been working for years. However, it’s also a struggle, and we’re not doing anywhere near as well as we should be given the size of the market. Getting the word out is an enormous problem when what you do is a service, not putting 100% of your energy into a single one-shot incendiary mortar shell of a geeky project.
Here’s what I’ve learned so far.

Patreon is Hard

The main issue with Patreon is that you have to live there to make it work. You can’t run your stuff out of your web site and visit only occasionally, you pretty much have to move into Patreon and run your entire operation from there.
For most creators, that’s a real problem, because they’ve spent years developing a following on the web and in social media, and it’s very hard to get your fans to follow you over to Patreon, and it’s hard to keep their attention once you do. Patreon is not social media, and it lacks all the things that make people hang around for extended periods. Once your patron is done reading your page, there’s nothing else to keep them there.
Very very recently Patreon has released a plugin for WordPress that makes it possible to post Patrons-only content on your own web site, so that lets you bring the Patreon to the fans instead of having to do it the other way around, and we’re about to start experimenting with members-only content that way. We have no idea how much or how little that will help yet, it’s totally uncharted territory for us.
One important factor with Patreon is that you have to be very very active in it or people will think you’re out of business. A post a week isn’t bad. Two a week is probably optimal.
Another important factor is that you’re going to have to plan your productivity to include creating assets specifically for Patreon that aren’t directly part of whatever creative thing it is that you do. You’ll need videos, graphics, short articles, sound bytes, all sorts of things specifically shaped to the needs of running a continuous crowdfunding campaign. It’s like running a Kickstarter, but you never get a break and it never stops.

But Does It Work?

Well – I can honestly say that we wouldn’t have a radio station if it didn’t work.
Advertising certainly doesn’t work. Nobody clicks on anything, and web browsers are built to filter them out by default. Kickstarters are a pain, and very stressful and make you crazy. Subscriberships are the only way to go if you want to be paid every month for what you do.

What About the Perks?

That’s one of the things we’re struggling with.
We produce audio, so there’s no finite physical product that we can send people. We have to come up with content specifically geared to being output in little parcels that our fans would want, so we’re exploring publishing fiction exclusively for our subscribers.
We’re also developing a sci-fi radio drama, and when that comes out we’ll have props and costumes, and challenge coins, and patches, but it’s a massive push to get it done, and it’s taking years longer than we planned to do this.
We also feature a line of sci-fi / geek t-shirts that we’ve designed ourselves that nobody else carries, and you’d think that would be an attractant, but to be completely honest, apparently nobody gives a @#$#@ about t-shirts. Like, at all. We’ve given away maybe two of them as perks in the last two years when people ask for them, despite the fact that half our patrons are eligible for them.

White Elephant? Why, Yes. Yes We Are.

Part of our problem stems from what we are. We’re a full time sci-fi fandom format radio station, and that makes us unique on the planet (one or two other stations lay claim to this, but they also do things like fill up 60% of their air time with metal or hiphop).  We don’t fit categories. In anything.
Most radio station listing services don’t even have a listing category for us, so we get stuck in “Other”, or “Eclectic”. Nobody searches for “other” when they’re looking for a radio station, and people don’t think to search for sci-fi radio because all they get is podcasts when they try it – so we’re hard to categorize, hard to find, and searched for much less than we’d like because people don’t even realize that full time sci-fi radio (as contrasted to a podcast) is a thing.
Our response for that is to hit as many distribution platforms as we can. We get another dozen patrons, and we will be able to get listed on iHeartRadio. Suddenly we’ll be exposed to 70 million iHeartRadio subscribers, and available in people’s cars, which is where most people listen to the radio in the first place. We’re hoping our fortunes will improve after that.

What’s Next?

Our biggest problem is that since nobody knows we’re here, relatively speaking, we have to maximize our exposure. We have to position ourselves so that the maximum number of people have a chance to find us by serendipitous search.  I can’t tip my hand just yet, but there’s another distribution network we’re looking at in addition to iHeartRadio, and between the two of them we’ll have exposure to a new potential audience of 190 million people that we didn’t have access to before. We’ve never made a jump this big before, and surprisingly, the two services we’re going after will make us big fish in a small pond despite the huge subscriber numbers for each service.
The reason is, once again, that Krypton Radio is unique. Literally nobody else in the world does what we do the way we do it. It’s not like regular radio stations. How many hip-hop stations are there across the country? About 250. Rock? About 360. Oldies? Oh my god, 500 plus of those. Metal?   You get the idea.
But full time sci-fi geek culture genre format stations?  There’s one. When people look for that, they find us, and that’s it. I’m hoping to improve our odds by expanding our “broadcast range” so to speak.
Nine tenths of success is not giving up. We’re already heard in 135 countries and we reach between 65,000 and 100,000 listeners a month depending on the season.
So far, so good.

-30-

“Star Trek: Discovery” Should Have Been Better Than This

“Star Trek: Discovery” Should Have Been Better Than This

When I first sat down to write about Star Trek: Discovery, I had some very clear thoughts about why I wasn’t happy with it. Then I posted them on Facebook, then I copied them here.

After I had done that, I was given a teachable moment, and learned from a writer and director exactly why I was on the wrong track with most of it.

First, What I Thought Was Wrong

Here are my thoughts on Star Trek: Discovery, and why I’m disappointed in it.

After a 12 year drought, we finally have new Star Trek to watch. It should be the return of the prodigal son, but it isn’t. Here’s just a few of the things wrong with the show from my perspective, having nothing to do with CBS’ abusive treatment of the makers of Star Trek fan films, or the bizarre decision to put Star Trek behind a paywall for U.S. audiences.

If you haven’t seen Star Trek: Discovery and plan to, STOP READING HERE, because there are SPOILERS after this. You have been warned. Anything bad that happens to you after having read this warning is therefore your own fault.


People have been asking me what I think of Star Trek: Discovery, and I have to tell them that it’s just not wonderful.

They’re dumbfounded. Yaaaay, Star Trek, there’s finally new Star Trek, yaaaay.

And then I tell them, I’m sorry, but while somehow despite all its faults it’s watchable, and that this is an achievement, all the problems mean it’s not great Star Trek, or even great story telling.

And then they get incredulous, or defensive (even aggressive in some cases), and demand that I explain myself.

So here goes:

  1. If you can’t get a lock on a body without a life sign to beam it back, why can you get a lock on a body without a life sign to beam anything to it?
  2. Spores are how fungi reproduce. They cannot, by definition, quantum entangle. This is not science fiction. It is deus ex machina. What they have created here is magical woo-woo space boogers.
  3. The potentially dangerous anomaly is too far into the danger zone for the ship to fly. So instead of sending, oh, I don’t know, how about a PROBE? No. We send Michael Burnham in a space suit. Wait, what?
  4. If a pile of Klingons and an entire Federation away team couldn’t control the Tardigrade, how did Captain Lorca manage it? And why didn’t he do that in the first place instead of letting it kill all those people?
  5. How is it that a creature than can instantly teleport anywhere in the universe be contained by a security field? Woops, watch your step. Plot holes are everywhere.
  6. We have a primary hull that spins now, like – what is that thing it reminds us most of? Oh yes. #usspizzacutter
  7. The Discovery’s chief of security, one of the most trusted officers on the entire ship, is really such an arrogant, irresponsible trigger happy goon that she gets herself killed over it? Really?
  8. In 2369, on the Enterprise D, the holodeck was this remarkable new technology that had never been in a Federation starship before – and yet, here we are on the Discovery, in the year 2255 and there’s Captain Lorca and Lt. Taylor doing combat training in one, 114 years too early. Continuity is apparently for losers.
  9. Peace loving Vulcans shoot first. Wait, what? What did I miss?
  10. Vulcan soul katra does not work like a telephone. Or shouldn’t. The fact that it does  in Discovery is more space magic deux ex machina. In Star Wars it’s established that you can talk to Force ghosts this way, or send very simple messages over relatively short distances to other Jedi, but in Discovery it works like a 3D holodeck, complete with tactile feedback.
  11. Why did the first two episodes exist at all? These should have been folded into Episode 3 as backstory so that we could start the series actually on the Discovery to start with. This is just bad writing, this is screenwriting 101 stuff. This must be why we’re getting 15 episodes instead of 13 – they padded it with two pointless extra scripts.
  12. Why is the Klingon makeup so over-designed to the point where the actors can’t move or speak in it? What was the point of doing that? They could have saved twenty thousand dollars just using slipcast rubber masks if that’s the result they were going to get. I’ve seen better makeup in fan productions.
  13. Can whoever is in charge of the lights on the bridge please turn them on? Seriously.
  14. Can whoever is in charge of the lens flares on the bridge please turn them off? If there are no damn lights on the bridge, where are the lens flares coming from?
  15. When we saw the delayed reflection of Stametz as the cliffhanger of one episode, why did we completely drop the subject in the next episode? Okay, so that was nothing. Then why was it there? Or if it was something, why was it there instead of someplace else where it would have made more sense?
  16. If the Tardigrade could have jumped away the entire time, why didn’t it do that in the first place? (See above complaint about not being able to jump out of a force field.)
  17. The Tardigrade rehydrated itself in the vacuum of space. Where did it get the water? We could presume that since it could teleport anywhere in the universe, it might also be able to teleport anything it wants to it, but that’s rationalization, not established or set up in any way in the plot.
  18. They ejected the Tardigrade directly into space through a tube that led from the heart of engineering straight to the outer hull opening directly to space. Really?
  19. Why were the stealth detection devices Burnham took onto the Klingon Ship of the Dead so bright, flashy, and noisy? They were custom built for the job, so a conscious decision had to have been made to make them as stupidly non-stealthy as possible. This makes no sense whatever.
  20. Harvey Mudd knows more than probably any one person alive about how to get past the security methods on a Federation starship, and he killed the captain 52 times trying to take the ship, using a time loop device. He’s possibly the single most dangerous man known to the Federation at this point, and was spying for the Klingons, but they let him just sail off with his wife when it’s all over, with no punishment whatsoever.  Wait, WHAT? And whle we’re on it, why are were these episodes even produced? They literally add nothing to the story line, and apart from the marginally necessary first two episodes, are the only other episodes that don’t.
  21. Captain Georgio and 1st Officer Burnham, the two most senior officers aboard the Shinzou, decide not to send trained security personnel on a ship-to-ship mission to a Klingon heavy cruiser. Neither of them is armed with more than a hand phaser,  the two of them together weigh 280 pounds soaking wet. They know Klingons are big, because Michael Burnham killed one. So they beam over to a hostile ship with no knowledge of how many of these hulking, bred-for-combat highly trained adversaries they might be facing. Wait, what?
  22. Surprise, Tyler was Voq’ the whole time. Seven episodes in. Like we couldn’t tell four episodes back. Please.
  23. Surprise, Lorca is from the Mirror Universe, like we couldn’t tell twelve episodes back. Please.
  24. The entire series leads up to handing the Klingon woman the genetic key to the bomb? Hello, just kill her. The bomb can’t detonate if she doesn’t push the button, and she can’t do it if she’s dead, so giving her control of the bomb solves literally nothing. They can’t make it a deadman switch either, because as soon as she dies of old age, kaboom. Or leaves the planet for any reason, kaboom. That’s the weakest ending scenario they could possibly have gone for. And she’s just like oh, yuppa yup, okie dokie, I’ll end the war now. Uuuuuhhh, what? Did everybody just take stupid pills?

How many was that? Two dozen issues? And I didn’t even get into the ridiculous “reimagining” of the Klingons that loaded the actors with so many silicone appliances and different sets of goofy teeth that for the most part it was all they could do to huff out their lines through the unresponsive makeup. They had their occasional moments, but for the most part they simply didn’t work.  Nor did I address the series ending, where all 23 houses of Klingons suddenly decided to act responsibly instead of the leader of at least one house succumbing to Klingon battle rage (something Klingons have always been known for).

And to be frank, that’s not even a comprehensive list of all the script problems, and you’ll notice that I didn’t even touch the jarring discontinuity of Starfleet technology as a significant flaw that affected every single other creative decision they made after throwing that out. It’s not just a fan being butt hurt about the show being inconsistent with established canon. Canon is useful for a reason: if you stick to your continuity, your show fits well with the rest of the established universe and can be taken seriously as an addition to the universe. If you don’t, then what you do looks like a tacky attempt to pump money out of a franchise.

Of course it was restricting. Of course it’s difficult. There’s a cure for that, though. It’s called “writing”.

When red herrings and “deus ex machina” are regular plot devices, and when the writing just falls apart from day one, and when the art direction runs amok, it detracts from one’s ability to actually watch and enjoy the show.

Is anybody actually in charge? Which of the show’s eight or nine executive producers actually producing? I’m guessing not very many, and the ones that are are either overtaxed or not paying attention.

This is why I’m not as enthused as I wish I could be about the new Star Trek. That there would be so much wrong with the show after only six episodes is staggering. It’s also insulting, because it demonstrates very clearly that CBS thinks we’re all just too stupid to notice any of this.

Each episode appears to have had a great deal of spit and polish applied to it, with a great many people applying their very best efforts to make it look as good as they possibly can. The attention to the quality of the acting and the visual design was obviously there, even if we don’t all necessarily agree on what that should have looked like. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be anybody watching to make sure it all meshes together properly, and in many cases it simply doesn’t.

This should be a triumphant return. Instead it’s a deeply flawed exercise in dumbed down “pew-pew” sci-fi, and while I’m sure it’ll be okay for people who don’t care that much about whether a story has internal consistency or not, if I tried to send a sci-fi book manuscript to a publisher with these kinds of problems I’d get it kicked back for a massive rewrite in a heartbeat.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is pulp sci-fi. Star Trek should have been above this.

What They Got Right

Now, in its defense, you can see where the story arcs have been set up, and why, and how the characters are meant to progress from their various falls from grace, their struggles for redemption, and the mirror arcs of characters who are supposed to be in control gradually losing that control. That part of it is working, but I think there’s more to this problem than just acknowledging basic dramatic constructs like Checkov’s gun, that if you show the audience the gun in act 1, that this gun should be used by act 3.

The character of Michael Burnham is complex, and a little alien because of her upbringing. That’s part of why she’s been unapproachable as a character, why people aren’t warming up to her. Hello, she’s been raised as a Vulcan. Of course she’s going to have a severe case of broomstick-in-uncomfortable-places.

As much as we might not like the technology as portrayed in the series, from the standpoint of having to sell this to the general public it makes sense not to make things look like the 1960’s view of the future. The fact that this makes it not mesh well with Discovery being a direct prequel to Star Trek: The Original Series is just something they have to work around. There’s no smooth fix, but in CBS’ defense, frankly, sooner or later you have to give the whole universe a face lift. You can’t stay in the 1960’s forever.

The characters took 10 episodes to make sense in some cases, but eventually they got them where they needed to be from a dramatic standpoint, and from a storytelling standpoint.  A friend of mine called this a “long build”, and that you have to have patience with the process, and more of it will make sense as we go. The simple visceral requirements of the story are met, yes. They could yield some satisfying story arcs out of all this.

In the End, It Falls Far Short of the Mark

But this – this is not only presented as Star Trek, but as science fiction as well, and with science fiction at least, there is an additional overlay of requirement: the story must be internally consistent. In this way it is like a mystery novel. Everything in the story has to feed back into the story and clearly connect with other parts of the story with a decisive *click*. These moments are few and far between in Star Trek: Discovery.

It’s certainly not the worst Star Trek we’ve seen. We don’t, for example, have a story about how a tweaky variant of warp drive turns the captain and the first officer into giant lizards who then have sex and create a new species, like we did in Star Trek: Voyager.

However, this is damning with faint praise. No, to fix Star Trek: Discovery, they’d have to get some people who understand science fiction into the writing pool. It’s obvious, to me at least, that they don’t have them yet.

Whether you enjoy this iteration of Star Trek depends on how much you care about internal consistency and story arc. The acting is pretty good. The stories they tell are a jumbled, jangly mess. Each episode contains some sort of internal contradiction so bad that it takes you out of the moment, ruining the episode and the experience if your brain is engaged at all. And, the first season ends in a jawdropping Whiskey Tango Foxtrot event that makes zero sense given the setup and the history they’ve established for the Klingons.

The first two episodes really have very little to do with the story arc, and were really just back story which should have been used as subtext for the remainder of the season instead of being uselessly produced at a cost of about five million dollars.

Two episodes in the middle have to do with a hilariously misinterpreted Harry Mudd, and suddenly drop the series from being story arc driven to episodic, only to have that course reversed again when they’re over.

A sign that something can be cut from a story or script is whether you’ll notice something missing if you were to cut it. If you cut out these two episodes, and pretend they never existed, nothing happens. Five million more dollars completely wasted. As far as the story they claimed to be trying to tell goes, they could have just filmed the cast shooting soda water down each other’s trousers for 84 minutes. It would have been a lot cheaper, and it would have had the same contribution to the story line.

So they shot fifteen episodes and didn’t have the sense to realize four of them could have been cut without hurting a damn thing, and it ballooned their budget by ten million. 1Every episode out of the remaining 11 had at least one “wait, but THEY JUST SAID…” moment in it, and the whole first season leads up to a belly flop of an ending.

Yes, it’s possible to watch, and even enjoy, Star Trek: Discovery. But leave your brains in the bucket by the door. You can pick them up again on your way out.

-30-