Monday, May 4, 2015

Character Insight No. 143: Best of Grace Lee Whitney (Janice Rand)

This is the latest installment in a series of "Character Insight" articles regarding the rich history of characters in the Star Trek universe.  An audio version will appear on the This Week in Trek podcast, available for direct download here. 


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Welcome back to Character Insight! This week, we honor the memory of actress Grace Lee Whitney, who passed away at the age of 85 this week.  This is the "Best Of" her character Yeoman Janice Rand from TOS.

 
 Janice Rand, 2293.jpg
(Janice Rand as she appeared in the latter movies and in Voyager, courtesy memory-alpha.org)

Grace Lee Whitney grew up as an adopted child in Michigan and she found rapid success as an actress, first on Broadway and then with several guest appearances on well-known television series of the 50s and 60s like Bewitched, Batman, and Cimmaron Strip. She was slated to be a regular main character as the captain's yeoman on TOS, but her role was cut just 8 episodes into the first season.

Although the specific reason for her dismissal from the cast is not clear, it has been rumored that her problems with alcohol and diet pills was part of the problem, as was the need to avoid a regular love interest for the Captain Kirk character. Those problems with alcohol abuse unfortunately worsened significantly for Whitney following her pain from being sacked from this popular television show.

However, this story does end much better, as Star Trek become the bookends on a tumultuous decade in her life. She began her recovery from alcohol addiction in 1980, following an invite back to appear in the first Star Trek movie. She would go on to appear in three other TOS films, and then an episode of Voyager as well as a couple of independent Star Trek episodes produced in 2007.

So while the disappointment of what happened on TOS almost killed her, Star Trek also became a big part of what saved her and allowed her to enjoy life and engaging with fans for 35 more years.

As yeoman on TOS, Whitney delivered many highly quotable lines in her limited run of 8 episodes. One good example is from The Corbomite Maneuver:
Dr. McCoy: [Rand enters the bridge carrying a tray] I thought the power was off in the galley?
Yeoman Rand: I used a hand phaser, and zap! Hot coffee.

In the Voyager episode Flashback, we learn about Tuvok's past on the USS Excelsior while seeing a future version of Janice Rand serving as second-in-command and night duty manager, while still being quotable as ever:
Commander Janice Rand: All right, gamma shift. Time to defend the Federation against gaseous anomalies.

In the sixth TOS movie The Undiscovered Country, we again see Rand serving on the Excelsior, although this time as a communications officer:
Captain Hikaru Sulu: An *incident*?
Commander Janice Rand: Do we report this, sir?
Captain Hikaru Sulu: [turning to Rand] Are you kidding?


Although it is sad that we did not get to see more of Grace Whitney and Yeoman Rand in the TOS series, her appearances in the movies and on Voyager was a nice touch of nostalgia and a great move to bring Whitney back into the fold. Let her struggles and success be a lesson to you, if you are struggling with alcohol addiction or anything else, please talk to your family, friends, or even just random podcasters on the internet. We can listen and help others get through the tough times, much like Star Trek helped Whitney get back on track.

Rest in peace, Grace. You, like Leonard Nimoy, did Live Long and Prosper.

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Feedback can be sent to me with future segment suggestions on Twitter @BuckeyeFitzy. Until next time, live long and prosper...

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Legal Geek No. 42: Google Becomes Biggest Patent Troll of All?

This is the latest installment in a series of "Legal Geek" articles and audio segments regarding current events and trends where the geek world crosses streams with legal land.  An audio version will appear on the Current Geek podcast, available for direct download here.

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Welcome back to Legal Geek. This week, we take a look at the latest stab for ending the patent troll problem, and whether Google is really just becoming the biggest of the patent trolls instead of solving the problem.



 
("So you have a patent granted, now SELL IT!" - courtesy albertschweitzerfoundation.org)

In a week where the Supreme Court argues the issue of gay marriage and more race protests break out in major cities, of course Google goes and makes the most interesting patent story in months to steal this segment. Google announced the Patent Purchase Promotion this week, in which Google will offer to buy any patented intellectual property that an inventor or patent owner wants to sell.

Here's how it will work. From May 8 to May 22, interested sellers can submit what patent rights they seek to sell and an asking price into Google, and Google will decide after reviewing the offers what they will purchase by June 26.  There is currently no clear marketplace for selling patent rights, so what Google is offering here is relatively innovative, while also being potentially scary.

Google is marketing this program as a way to slow the patent troll problem.  Congress has struggled to find the right way to stop trollish patent enforcement activities, while also protecting the rights of legitimate inventors and investors who may need to defend rights in court even when they are not able to practice their inventions on a large scale.  Google thinks that this program will allow patent sellers to sell to them and hopefully keep those same patent rights out of the hands of assertion entities, which are the trolls who buy patent rights just to threaten lawsuits later to extort settlements from many others.

Will that goal actually be achieved? Or is Google really becoming poised to be the biggest of the patent trolls? That's the open question.

Google will, as a publicly traded company, always be concerned about the bottom line.  This patent purchase program will need to generate revenue or saved costs in some manner commensurate with the high expense Google will undertake to procure all these patent rights.  That money could come from cheap licenses to many licensors, a de facto creative commons program for patents in the best case.  Google may also treat some of these acquisitions as a way to avoid lost costs in paying its lawyers to defend lawsuits later if someone else buys rights relevant to their own products.

However, Google could just end up selling the rights later or taking others to court, much like the same patent assertion entities everyone complains about. Google is no stranger to patent lawsuits, having fought numerous battles over patents in the smartphone industry to protect the Android OS.



Bottom line - No single step will solve the patent troll problem for good, but Google is taking an interesting stab with this program. We can only hope Google is investing this money to make a better patent system rather than merely for strategic, or even worse, trolling reasons.



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Do you have a question? Send it in!
Thanks for reading. Please provide feedback and legal-themed questions as segment suggestions to me on Twitter @BuckeyeFitzy

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Character Insight No. 142: Best of the EMH

This is the latest installment in a series of "Character Insight" articles regarding the rich history of characters in the Star Trek universe.  An audio version will appear on the This Week in Trek podcast, available for direct download here.
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Welcome back to Character Insight! This week, we continue our "Best Of" series with a look at some of the best episodes for advancing the character of the holographic doctor on Voyager, also known as the EMH.

 
 EMHMarkI.jpg
(The first version of the EMH, courtesy memory-alpha.org)

Star Trek often does character development best with the different characters like Spock and Data, and The Doctor in Voyager is just another final frontier of character development, specifically holographic intelligence. From the moment the EMH is granted access over his own activation and program by Janeway in season 1, he develops more and more into a regular member of the stranded crew.

In the episode Projections, the Doctor hallucinates about the nature of his real or holographic existence, and his programming defenses do not step in to stop this:
The Doctor: I experienced an elaborate delusion concerning the nature of my existence: human or hologram, person... or projection. Why? Why would my program focus on such an esoteric dilemma?
Kes: Well... I sometimes ask those kind of questions. Who am I? What am I doing here? What's my purpose in life? Doesn't everybody?
The Doctor: Not me. I know exactly who I am and what my purpose is: I am the Emergency Medical Hologram aboard the starship Voyager.

In the episode Lifesigns, the Doctor falls in love with a holographic representation of a Vidiian scientist named Denara who he was treating for the phage, and he must deal with these new feelings and emotions:
Dr. Danara Pel: Before I met you, I was just a disease. But now, everything's different. When people look at me, they don't see a disease anymore. They see a woman - a woman you made, a woman you love, a woman you're not afraid to touch.
The Doctor: Danara, I was never afraid to touch you.
Dr. Danara Pel: Why? Because you're a doctor?
The Doctor: Because I love you.

In the episode Real Life, the Doctor learns how to be a father in a human family while on his free time in the holodeck, including how to deal with severe grief when his daughter dies in an accident:
Lieutenant Tom Paris: I guess all of us would avoid that kind of pain if we could. But most people don't have that choice. The Doctor: Well, fortunately I do. Lieutenant Tom Paris: Is it so fortunate? You created that program so you could experience what it's like to have a family. The good times and the bad. You can't have one without the other. The Doctor: I fail to see why not. Lieutenant Tom Paris: Think about what's happened to us here on Voyager. Everyone left people behind, and everyone suffered a loss. But... look how it's brought us all closer together. We found support here, and friendship, and we've become a family, in part because of the pain we shared. If you turn your back on this program, you'll always be stuck at this point. You'll never have the chance to say goodbye to your daughter. Or to be there for your wife and son when they need you. And you'll be cheating yourself of the chance to have their love and support. In the long run, you'll miss the whole point of what it means to have a family.

In the episode Revulsion, the Doctor and B'Elanna Torres try to help a stranded hologram on a ship, but they end up needing to defeat him when he turns on them after they reveal he killed his organic crew after being driven mad by being treated like a tool rather than as an intelligent being, which is an interesting contrast for the Doctor on Voyager:
The Doctor: Not so fast, Mr. Paris. You are going to help me sterilize every square millimeter of this sickbay. No doubt you've left your oily residue on every hypospray, your sloughed secretions on every console! - Just kidding. In fact, I've had a change of heart about my fastidiousness. A little clutter'll never hurt anyone. Sickbay should have a more organic touch, don't you think? To help our patients feel... more at home? Tom Paris: [to Torres] What's gotten into him? B'Elanna Torres: It's a long story.

Finally, in the episode Latent Image, the Doctor discovers that his memories about a dead ensign were deleted because he had made a decision to treat Harry Kim when he couldn't treat both crew members critically injured on an away mission, which led to a personal breakdown and inability to function. The crew helps him on the second time deal with his feelings and guilt to help him understand everyone overcomes tough decisions:
The Doctor: Causality - probability. For every action, there's an infinite number of reactions, and in each one of them, I killed her. Or did I? Too many possibilities; too many pathways for my program to follow. Impossible to choose. Still, I... I can't live with the knowledge of what I've done, I can't.

Other good episodes to check out for The Doctor include Equinox, Tinker Tenor Doctor Spy, Lifeline, Flesh and Blood, and Renaissance Man. You could honestly do two "Best Of" segments with this character, as his development into a brilliant, compassionate, and loyal crewmate and man is one of the most beautiful character arcs provided in Star Trek history.

The Doctor was played by Robert Picardo, who is a very interesting person to follow on Twitter these days.

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Feedback can be sent to me with future segment suggestions on Twitter @BuckeyeFitzy. Until next time, live long and prosper...

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Legal Geek No. 41: Apple (Patent) Watch

This is the latest installment in a series of "Legal Geek" articles and audio segments regarding current events and trends where the geek world crosses streams with legal land.  An audio version will appear on the Current Geek podcast, available for direct download here.

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Welcome back to Legal Geek. This week, we take a look at whether Apple's new smart watch, released today, will revitalize yet another device market, and whether Apple will have a thicket of patents blocking competitors from entering the market easily.



 Apple Watch
("Here comes the options!" - courtesy inquisitr.com)
Apple has been at or near the leading edge on two of the most recent major technological innovations, at least from a commercial standpoint. The iPhone took smartphones to a different level in 2007 when that market was filled with flip phones and Blackberries, which of course led to competitors like Samsung and Google getting in on the mix as well over time.

Then a couple years later in 2010, Apple did it again with the iPad. All of a sudden, tablet computing was the place to be, forcing e-readers, laptop computers, and even eventually smartphones to become more like these tablet devices. Once again, competitors from Microsoft to Samsung later flooded the market as well.

Apple also happens to be one of the most active patent filing companies in the U.S. and abroad. That means just as much as innovating and developing products, Apple fights with competitors in court to try and secure and maintain superior market position. Apple and Samsung, for example, are locked in a years-long worldwide war over various phones and phone-related patents. The tablet patent market is heating up in court as well.

Today, the first generation of Apple Watch arrives. Just like with the iPhone and iPad, the first generation watch is being released to mixed critical review, but wild customer demand. Assuming watches come back into style over the next couple years, there will be plenty of lookalike competitors trying to cut into this market that Apple could expand, if things go well. It's an interesting gambit for a company which kind of made watches obsolete for many people by making smartphones so omnipresent, but then again, we all said the same thing about a tablet because who wants a bigger device that can't even work as a phone?

What's more interesting is to see whether Apple has started putting up enough of a patent thicket to make entering this marketplace hazardous to other companies. Some of the design patents on the bands for the Apple watch began issuing in March and April despite being filed only back in last August, and there's already 4 patents issued on some of those aesthetic designs. Which means competitors will have to be careful with the watch bands they offer with smart watches, let alone what patents cover the watch itself!


One would imagine that many of the important keystone utility patents, which do not publish as applications for 18 months after filing, will only start becoming public knowledge now and in the next year. The patent office is pretty backlogged, so it could take some time for these more important patents to come into allowance and effect. But if the plethora of design patents on watch bands is any indication, Apple is set to protect this innovation just as much as the others they now litigate frequently.
 
Bottom line - Apple is a leader in innovation and in patent litigation. That does not appear likely to change, even with a new hot idea and no Steve Jobs around anymore.



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Do you have a question? Send it in!
Thanks for reading. Please provide feedback and legal-themed questions as segment suggestions to me on Twitter @BuckeyeFitzy

Monday, April 20, 2015

Character Insight No. 141: Private S. Money

This is the latest installment in a series of "Character Insight" articles regarding the rich history of characters in the Star Trek universe.  An audio version will appear on the This Week in Trek podcast, available for direct download here.
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Welcome back to Character Insight! There's nothing more relevant to taxes than money.  This week, to celebrate tax day finally passing by last week in the U.S., we profile Private S. Money, a recurring character from Enterprise. 

You know what's more annoying than tax day? (Enterprise theme song)
 
 
 Money MACO.jpg
(MACOs and their guns, always together, courtesy memory-alpha.org)

What's not quite as annoying is the inclusion of the MACO troops during the Xindi conflict through most of season 3 of Enterprise. These characters were typically not credited for appearances, but some of them, like Private Money, were in nearly half the episodes and were effectively regular redshirts of the era.

Things start off well for Private Money, as she shows her expertise with a stun baton and a few types of guns and rifles in missions where parts of the crew had to take back the ship from boarding parties such as the Xindi and the Triannons. She also shows well for the MACOs in a combat exercise and sharpshooting competition against the enlisted Starfleet officers later in the year.

But like all redshirts, the good luck can't last forever. During a rescue mission to extract Hoshi Sato from the Xindi, she is shot but survives. The very next day, she is shot again during a repelling of a Sphere Builder ship invasion. The next time we see Private Money, she is hit by a disruptor shot when trying to stop the Augments from preventing a rescue of Arik Soong. She's a true redshirt, soaking up as much if not more punishment than she doles out in security services.

Private Money is not paid to speak, she's paid to fight. Here's a sample of her killer jujitsu:
(Insert audio clip from Chosen Realm)

Private S. Money was named for a key costumer Susie Money, a nice nod to the background cast workers who make shows like this tick. Like other regular MACOs, this background character was a good face to see in the crowd for many episodes, and even more so as a woman who kicks some serious butt.

Speaking of background, Dorenda Moore is the actress who plays Private Money, and she makes much more of a living off stunt appearances and coordinating instead of acting. Enterprise was her only long term acting gig. She's been a stunt double for Natalie Portman in Thor, for Marina Sirtis in Terminal Error, and in Star Trek 2009.

Until next time, keep dodging death redshirts.

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Feedback can be sent to me with future segment suggestions on Twitter @BuckeyeFitzy. Until next time, live long and prosper...

Monday, April 13, 2015

Character Insight No. 140: Boothby

This is the latest installment in a series of "Character Insight" articles regarding the rich history of characters in the Star Trek universe.  An audio version will appear on the This Week in Trek podcast, available for direct download here.
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Welcome back to Character Insight! This week, we profile Mr. Boothby, a recurring character from TNG and Voyager.
 
 
 Janeway&boothby
(Replicated Boothby, courtesy memory-alpha.org)

Mr. Boothby is the groundskeeper at Starfleet Academy. His character is referenced many more times than his actual appearances because he serves as a de facto mentor to many future powerful Starfleet officers. Captain Picard and Captain Janeway are two of these mentees who became something much greater than your average cadet at the Academy.

Boothby likes to give out grand tours of the Academy grounds to new cadets, and despite his curmudgeon appearance, he also loves to dole out wisdom and advice to the young future officers and servicemen of Starfleet. That wisdom can be invaluable, as it proved to save Picard's career following a mistake he made during his Academy days.

Likewise, Boothby also saw right through the ruse when Wesley Crusher and his elite Nova Squadron had an accident that claimed the life of one of the cadets during a training mission. His insight into the squadron and what they likely felt they had to do to keep their lofty reputation on campus led Picard to reveal the truth about the squadron practicing a dangerous and banned Kolvoord Starburst in the episode The First Duty. Just like with Picard, he ends up helping Picard mentor Crusher to save the young man's career.

From The First Duty:
Capt. Picard: You could use a good herbicide instead of pulling the weeds with your bare hands.
Boothby: M-hm... And you could explore space on a holodeck instead of a starship.


Much like other notable one-off or recurring characters, Boothby jumped series and made two appearances on Voyager, albeit not as the real Boothby. He is replicated by the leader of a group of Species 8472 when that species tries to infiltrate the Federation using Voyager as a first step. Janeway negotiates with the leader, playing as Boothby, for the mutual benefit of both parties.

He also shows up in hallucinations of Chakotay later that same year, caused by another group of aliens trying to use his subconscious to communicate with him telepathically. That includes one of the sillier scenes including Boothby, a boxing training scene where he speaks platitudes about the fight.

Quote from The Fight:
Boothby: [about boxing] It all comes down to the heart. Do you have the heart for this? That's the contest. It's not against him, it's against your own natural human desire not to get hurt. That's the real fight.


Boothby was also to appear in the movie Star Trek Insurrection, but his part got cut before filing began. Even without this callback, he is an interesting character who adds some much needed background on both the Academy and the captains of these shows. It would be fascinating to have seen more from this character, including any mentorship he had for others we know and love.


Boothby was played by Ray Walston. He died in 2001 at the ripe old age of 86, and two of his most famous appearances were on the movies Fast Times at Ridgemont High in the 80s and in My Favorite Martian in the 60s.

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Feedback can be sent to me with future segment suggestions on Twitter @BuckeyeFitzy. Until next time, live long and prosper...

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Legal Geek No. 40: The Curious Case of Post-Mortem Right of Publicity

This is the latest installment in a series of "Legal Geek" articles and audio segments regarding current events and trends where the geek world crosses streams with legal land.  An audio version will appear on the Current Geek podcast, available for direct download here.

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Welcome back to Legal Geek. This week, we take a look at the wide variation in local standards for post-mortem rights of publicity thanks to a fun bit of legal research I performed this week for a friend. 



("Einstein, the center of one recent cutting edge case on rights of publicity" - courtesy ck12.org)

The right of publicity, also known as personality rights, protects an individual by providing the right to control how one's name, image, likeness, or other identity features are used in a commercial context
.  In short, companies cannot market products using endorsement-like materials where the person on the marketing products has not consented or licensed those rights to the company. These laws are relatively recent, as the first ones appeared around the 1950s.


The personality rights are based on natural rights and property rights theories, therefore being based on similar legal theories like copyright.  Therefore, in many jurisdictions these rights survive death and pass to heirs, again, just like copyright terms. But in the United States, these personality rights are primarily based on state law, and our union of states vary wildly as far as how long these rights last after death.


27 states have explicitly established some form of rights of publicity, with a little over half these states setting forth the right in a statute or law that has been passed by legislators. The other states only have rights defined by common law, meaning judge-made law in case law decisions focusing on such claims. Perhaps not surprisingly, the standards vary dramatically across these states based on different judges and legislators making the laws, and the most dramatic differences come in post-mortem rights for heirs after the death of a person.

For example, the three states with the longest post mortem personality rights granted by statute or law are Indiana and Oklahoma, at 100 years apiece, and Tennessee, with an indefinite right so long as the persona is in continual use. However, these state laws have not been challenged or made by judges in courts, unlike bigger jurisdictions. But even those judges cannot agree, as California currently provides 70 years post mortem personality rights, Virginia 20 years, Florida 40 years, and New York none. It makes a real difference where you die, as that's where these rights are determined!


If that doesn't seem fair, that's because it is not. While some celebrities or luminaries like Albert Einstein benefit from decisions and law allowing continued control of the deceased person's persona, others like Nikola Tesla do not simply because they died in New York.
 
Bottom line - even though all 50 states can likely be implied to have rights of publicity in some form, the piecemeal state-by-state method of defining the term and operation of this property right has resulted in what appears to be a total mess. You might not like copyright's long term, but at least it is predictable. Perhaps it is time for the USA to consider standardizing the right of publicity as well, both during and after death.



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Do you have a question? Send it in!
Thanks for reading. Please provide feedback and legal-themed questions as segment suggestions to me on Twitter @BuckeyeFitzy