Thursday, December 25, 2014

Elf on the Shelf

It's Christmas, so many thousands of parents are packing away their Elf on a Shelf until next year.  Not familiar with Elf on a Shelf?  It's a Christmas tradition where parents put a little elf doll in their homes.  Then (according to Wikipedia):
Once everyone goes to bed, the scout elf flies back to the North Pole to report to Santa the activities, good and bad, that have taken place throughout the day.
In addition to ratting your kids out to St. Nick, the elf also appears around the home being naughty (breaking things, making a mess, etc.) and providing your children with an excellent definition of "hypocrisy."

No matter what the elf reports, Christmas comes and the kids get their presents.  Rich kids are obviously less naughty than poor kids, because they get more and better gifts.  The elf gets stuck in a closet and spends the next year plotting horrible revenge.

It's such a popular tradition, that they've introduced girl elves and elves of color,

and even "The Mensch on the Bench" for Jewish families.

Many parents are sad to see the little guy go.  He's an excellent reminder that someone is always watching and judging you, preparing to punish you for any disobedience or failure to bow to authority.  Therefore, I have created a new product:

The NSA Surveillance Operator in the Nook

The NSA Surveillance Operator in the Nook sits around your house all year round watching your children for potential un-American activities.

  • Are your kids sharing toys?  That's socialism!  
  • Are they reluctant to say the Pledge of Allegiance?  That's betraying our troops!  
  • Express a desire to separate church and state!  Uh oh, someone might be spying for North Korea or one of them atheist terrorist nations (I forget who they are)!

Every night, the NSA Surveillance Operator flies back to a secret, CIA black site to report to his superiors.  At the end of the year, your children will be evaluated without a trial for enhanced interrogation or just left naked and drenched in freezing water after a rectal feeding in a cell overnight until they die of hypothermia.

The Elf on the Shelf didn't get your kids to behave?  Try the NSA Surveillance Operator in the Nook!  Only $29.95.  Void in countries that respect constitutional freedoms and human dignity.

Sunday, December 21, 2014


Even with his iced tea, his air conditioner turned up to full blast, and two fans blowing on him, it was too hot.  Sweat dripped down from his bangs and clouded his eyes.  A headache had started behind his left eye, where it always started.  He knew as the heat (and the screaming) grew in intensity, it would move around to his other eyes, then his temples.  Before long, he'd have a full-on, raging migraine.

He wiped his face with his handkerchief, a gift from the wardens of the third ring, shook his head and tried to concentrate on his paperwork.  He was always amazed at how much there was for him to sign.  His resources were theoretically infinite, but what with the squabbles between administrators, the guards and wardens constantly requesting transfers to other rings, and the requests for vacation time, he barely had time to himself.

He looked down on a report from the second ring and tried to understand it.  Somehow, two inmates had conceived and birthed a child.  It was theoretically impossible, but it had happened nonetheless, and now the wardens were requesting instructions on what to do with the damned kid.

His head throbbed and he reached for his tea but found it was now as warm as blood.  He put it down and pressed a button on his desk.

"Miss Screwtape," he said.  "Bring me another mint tea.  Extra ice."

In the fifteen minutes it took her to make the tea and bring it to him, his head felt like it was splitting open.  He took the drink, gratefully, but when he lifted it to his lips, he saw the ice had already melted, and the glass was steaming hot.

He cursed and threw the glass at her.  It gave him no small amount of satisfaction when she yelped and sprang from the room.  He immediately regretted it, partly because she was beautiful and he didn't like seeing the hurt look in her lovely eyes, but mostly because he wanted a letter typed up and would now have to do it himself.

As the screams increased in his pounding ears, he pulled out his old, manual typewriter and rolled a sheet of paper into it.  His damp fingers stuck to the dry paper.  One letter at a time, he hunted and pecked through the memo, muttering the words to himself as he went.

"In reference...  To my request... From... June... 1780...  I wish again... To ask..." he said, then paused.  Gritting his teeth he typed the next word. "Humbly.  For the heating... Elements... To be reduced to... Half power...  With all speed."

He typed a quick, formal closing and signed his name.  Then he put it in his outbox for Miss Screwtape to send up the tube.  Well, she'd send it up when he forgave him.  That could be a while.  When she eventually did send it, there wouldn't be an answer.  He hadn't received any since... Well, forever.

Meanwhile, the pounding in his head grew and grew.  The screaming rang in his ears.  Sweat drenched his clothes and dripped onto his work.  He couldn't take it anymore.

Grabbing his jacket and hat off his coat hook, he stalked out into the lobby.  He turned quickly to Miss Screwtape, who impertinently avoided his eyes.

"I'm going to do something about the heat," he said, and walked into his private elevator.

As soon as the doors closed, the heat and the screaming faded.  Relishing in the quiet stillness, he pushed the "up" button.

* * * * *

Isabelle looked down at the grizzled old man, her hands clumsily working a knife over the onion.  She knew there was a proper way to cut an onion, had even tried to do it right a few times, but eventually gave up.  Soon, she had reduced it to a tear-inducing mess on the cutting board.

"I'm sorry, Mr....?"

"Scratch.  Melvin Scratch."

"Mr. Scratch.  It's just...  Well, I think I'd remember hiring a detective."

He smiled and lifted a red, leather briefcase onto the counter next to the box of frozen pierogies.  She didn't think he was carrying a briefcase when she let him in, but maybe she simply hadn't noticed.  She was always so flustered at mealtimes.

He snapped the case open with two clicks and slid a pink piece of paper in front of her.  It was an invoice (she knew because the word INVOICE was printed in big, block letters at the top) for "investigative services."  Her signature was at the bottom.

Now that she thought about it, she did kind of remember.  She pictured herself sitting in his office.  Looking at him from across his wooden desk.  The venetian blinds casting thin strips of light across his face.  She cried while describing her husband's strange behavior, and he offered her a white handkerchief to wipe her tears.

Or was that a movie she saw when she was a child?

"You were right to be concerned about your husband, Ms. Penske," he said, taking a stack of photographs out of the briefcase.

She didn't want to see them.  She didn't want to know.  Why had she hired a detective when it was so much better to be ignorant?

There was a hiss on the stove, and she was relieved to see the pot was boiling over, the water splashing on the hot burner.  She started to turn the heat down, but changed her mind.   Instead, she quickly broke the box of frozen pierogies open with her thumbnail. The dumplings splashed into the foaming water and calmed it.  Cooled it.  She watched them settle on the bottom and wondered what would happen if she put her hand in and touched them.

Not her husband.  Not Carl.  He knew how much she loved him, how much she had given up to make him a happy home to come to every night.  She thought for a moment about those nights he came home late.  It didn't happen very often, and he said he'd been out drinking with coworkers.  Still...

"Ms. Penske," the detective said.  She jumped in surprise.  Somehow she thought she imagined him. "You don't have to look at the pictures if you don't want to.  However, you paid me a considerable amount of money to find out if your husband is cheating on you.  Don't you want to see?"

She tightened her fingers around the handle of the oven door, fought the urge to turn and look, but couldn't help herself.

There was a photo of Carl.  Her Carl.  The man she had pledged to love, honor, and obey.  Her soulmate.  The man she had given up her career for, given the best years of her life to.  The father of the baby growing inside her, making her fat, ugly.  There was Carl on top of her baby sister Tricia. 

Her only sister.  Her only husband.  Naked.

Mr. Scratch flipped to the next picture. 

Tricia and Carl in Isabelle's bed.  Her marriage bed.

Another picture.  This time Carl was with another woman.  An older woman.  Isabelle gasped with shock.

"My mother?" she said.  "But... But she's forty two!"

And the picture seemed to move, like a movie.  No, it couldn't be moving.  Mr. Scratch had just flipped to a new picture too fast for her eyes to see.  But the pictures still moved in his hands; she could hear them.  Carl was jerked over Isabelle's mother with joyous grunts, then he stopped and slid his face down between her legs.

"That can't be Carl," she said. "He never...  Does that."

And a strange, gnawing hatred sprang up into her gut.  Mr. Scratch's voice cut into her, making her eyes leap away from the image.

"I also have photographs of your husband in sexual liaisons with coworkers.  Men."

"Men?" she whispered.

"Yes, he seems to like it when other men penetrate him from-"

And Isabelle realized she was about to become ill.  No, she thought, not in front of him.  She turned away to face the stove, trying to control her breathing.  The pot was boiling again, the steam washed over her face.

She threw up right into it.  Her stomach contorted into knots again and again until there was nothing left.

There was a cool hand on her back.  Someone was holding her hair away from her face.

"There, there," said Scratch from behind her.  "Let it all out."

He handed her a dish towel, and she wiped her mouth.  Her breathing calmed.  She sucked in the warm air.  A cold determination crept into her heart.

"Get out," she said.  "Get out!"

She spun around, ready to yell at him, incoherent with rage, but he wasn't there.  The door was still open, but everything else was gone.  The pictures, the briefcase, even Scratch himself had disappeared.

"It wasn't real," she said, her voice trembling with relief.  "I'm just going crazy.  It wasn't real."

She glanced down and saw the small slip of pink paper still resting on the counter, the invoice with her name signed at the bottom.  Tears welled up in her eyes as she crumpled it up and threw it at the stove, where it touched a burner and disappeared in a flash of flame and ash.

There was a sound of gravel being crushed outside the open front door.  The wheels of a car were coming up her driveway.  Carl had come home from work.

She looked down at the stove again.  Next to the bits of pink and grey ash was the pot, splashed with her vomit.  It was starting to boil again.  She turned off the stove and looked to the side where a block of knives stood.  Carl had insisted on good iron knives, not the stainless steel ones that became dull so easily.  She hand-washed and sharpened them all, every night after dinner.

She slid the largest knife out of the block.

* * * * *

The elevator reached his floor and dinged as the doors open.  He felt the heat wash over him like a wave and he quickly removed his hat and coat.  The screaming had grown so loud, Miss Screwtape was wearing a pair of fuzzy pink earmuffs to block it out, the strap sitting just behind her horns.

She looked up at him, and he saw she was still annoyed.  He was about to motion to her to remove her earmuff so she could apologize when he heard a sound from above.  It was a scream like all the others pounding at his ears, but this one was different.  It was fresh.  It didn't have the mundane, agonized quality of those whose screams came to him day after day.  It was filled with shock and horror, with the realization of where she was.

The scream grew fainter as it fell below to join the others.  Then, as quickly as ice thrown into hot water, the heat diminished.  The screaming dropped to nearly inaudible levels.  And a sigh of relief went up from the pits of Hell.

Miss Screwtape smiled at him and took off her earmuffs.

"Productive day, sir?"

He nodded and watched as she rolled up the letter he had typed and fed it into the pneumatic tube that went "upstairs."

"I don't know why you bother; he never answers." she said, then shot him a questioning look.  "You think He's still up there?"

He tried to think back thousands of years to when he last saw Him.  He couldn't remember what God looked like, wasn't even sure those memories were even real.  Could he have imagined Heaven?  Could he have imagined his fall from grace?

He shrugged and walked past her into his office where the piles of paperwork were waiting for him.  He sighed. It never ended.

As he sat down to deal with his work, he felt the slightest trickle of sweat drip down the back of his neck.  It was already getting warmer.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Roddenberry's Discarded Star Trek Pilot Part 2 (3?)

I was just going to forget the whole Star Trek script thing, when I realized I was out of ideas.

If you didn't get what I posted with Part 1, here it is.  Quick precis: I met with someone (who wants to be called Hells_Housemaid) that had sent me material in the past.  She showed me a script she claims she took from Majel Barrett's trash.  I took a few pictures to transcribe and put here, but lost some (thanks Google!).  She's just sent me a note asking me to post what I have.  HH is short on cash and really wants someone to buy it from her soon.

So, what happens in the script?  I was a little surprised at the plot; it's almost exactly like Where No Man Has Gone Before.  The Enterprise encounters an ion cloud.  Two members of the crew (a man and a woman) manifest psychic powers.  The man, a long-time friend of Kirk's and the ship's chief surgeon, goes bad.  Eventually the woman kills him with her powers and dies.

The only real difference in the story is the beginning.  The episode starts with Kirk walking aboard the Enterprise for the first time.  Commodore Barron officially gives him the ship.  He meets Spock and Scotty.  McCoy is transferred in at the end of the episode after Mitchell dies.

The biggest surprise for me was how funny the script was.  The Enterprise is a new vessel in this version.  Getting it started and out into space comes fraught with problems the crew has to sort out.  Much of the humor comes from Scotty and Spock trying to solve the problems as they keep cropping up.

After some negotiation, HH let me take four pictures of the document plus one for the cover page.  I eventually decided to take shots of the most interesting parts.  Namely, the problems with getting the Enterprise out into space and some of the places where Roddenberry was prescient about our technology.

iPads, teleconferencing, and even digital cameras are in this draft.  Much of it was cut for the final version "Where No Man Has Gone Before."  My guess is the studio execs thought Roddenberry's vision of the future a bit too strange and he cut it back.

From about four pages in after being briefed on his mission and taking official control of the Enterprise:

              INT. BRIDGE

               SULU, UHURA, SPOCK are at their duty stations.  KIRK enters
               through the TURBOLIFT and sits on his seat.

                         Secure all quarters.

                             (into her earpiece)
                         All decks, secure stations.  All
                         decks, secure stations.

                         Release magnetic moorings.

                             (pressing buttons)
                         Moorings away.

               Kirk presses a button on the arm of his chair (right side)
               and holds it down.

                         Mr. Scott, are you ready to try out
                         these new engines?

                         Aye, sir!  Ready and willing.

               Kirk releases the button.

                         Mr. Sulu, ahead time warp factor 1.

                         Warp 1, sir.

               Suddenly, the viewscreen goes dark.  The words "ERROR 1132"

Turns out there's some kind of software malfunction.  They get it fixed and are underway.  Five pages later we get the first appearance of Yeoman Rand:

               INT. BRIDGE 

               YEOMAN RAND (pretty, blonde, demure) hands him an ELECTRONIC

               The elctronic [sic] clipboard is a small, flat computer capable of
               holding dozens of pages of important information.  In
               addition, it can perform simple calculations like a
               calculator, be written on with a pen, has a small light (for
               when the Enterprise's main lighting is down), and can take
               pictures like a camera.

                         Fuel consumption reports for your
                         signature, sir.

               Kirk signs and hands the clipboard back.

                             (hands back)
                         Thank you, yeoman.

                The Yeoman turns a dial on the side to flip to a new page.

                         Departmental transfers.

               Signs and hands it back, but she's turning the page again.

                                   YEOMAN (CONT'D)
                         Just a moment.  You need to sign
                         off on all the promotions.

               Kirk takes the clipboard and flips through several pages
               himself and stops.  He finds several pictures of the Yeoman
               posing seductively.

                                   YEOMAN (CONT'D)
                             (snatching the clipboard
                         Uh... Sorry.  Just testing out the

Kirk calls them "self pictures."  He and Mitchell talk about how he's not allowed to be near her.  Then he gets a call from the Commodore:

INT. PICTUREPHONE ROOM The CONFERENCE ROOM is built with three television sets in the middle of the talbe [sic] positioned in a triangle so everyone can see. These televisions are picturephones and everyone in the room can see and talk to anyone on the other end of the call. The sets are currently showing static. KIRK, SCOTTY, MITCHELL, and SPOCK assemble. Scotty turns a dial and the static slowly clears to reveal COMMODORE BARRON sitting at a room in Starfleet HQ. SCOTTY Can you hear us, Commodore? COMMODORE Hello? KIRK We can hear you, sir. COMMODORE Hello? Can you hear me? KIRK AND MITCHELL We can hear you! COMMODORE I can see you, but I can't hear you. Can you see me? SCOTTY Is your volume down too low, sir? There's a knob at the bottom of the screen! COMMODORE (to someone offscreen) Why isn't this thing working? Did you put this together wrong? MITCHELL This is why technology will never replace humans. . Eventually, there Commodore gives them an assignment to scan a nearby ion cloud.  It changes course and envelops them.  Nothing seems to happen, but fights break out on the ship:

INT. HOLODECK ROOM Three CREWMEN are sitting on chairs, wearing special goggles with earphones, and gloves, staring off into space, seeing things only they can see. The HOLODECK is a fake environment used by the crew for relaxation during the long, space voyages. By wearing special glasses, gloves and earphones, the users can pretend to be in any environment programmed into the Enterprise's computer. The ship's chief surgeon often orders the rest of the crew to periods of "holo time." Two strong ENSIGNS are fighting in the corner. Kirk jumps between them. KIRK Break it up right now, or I'm going to throw you both in the brig! Both ensigns stand up straight. KIRK (CONT'D) Now what's going on? ENSIGN 1 He started it, sir! ENSIGN 2 It was an accident! KIRK What did he do? ENSIGN 1 He erased all my data tapes and filled them with pictures of kittens! . From there, the script is pretty much exactly as the second pilot.

I have to say, ignoring all the technological prescience, Roddenberry's biggest accomplishment here seems to have been in creating an origin story.  If given free rein, would he have invented the multi-episode story arc decades before Babylon 5 did it?

I guess we'll never know.

And if anyone wants the email address of Hells_Housemaid to make her an offer, let me know.

Monday, December 1, 2014

My Week of Not Blogging About Star Trek

For all both of you who regularly read my blog (Hi Mom!), last week was a big disappointment for you.  I'm talking, of course, about my failure to post the content of the unpublished Star Trek script from Roddenberry.  There were several good reasons for this:
  •  Nobody expressed an interest.
    Seriously, not a single email or comment.  Not even a cease and desist letter.  Of course, I have a pretty small readership and at least half of you (Hi Mom!) thought it was a hoax, but come on!  Nobody?
  • I was on vacation.
    Three days in southern California waiting in lines at Disneyland.  Kinda hard to blog.
Note to self: get correct size rain poncho before going to Splash Mountain
  • My camera takes pretty crummy pictures.
    I didn't realize until later that three of the six shots I was allowed to take of the script were too blurry to read.  I've asked Hell's_Housekeeper if she'd send me new copies, and she said she would.  I'm still waiting.  When they arrive I'll transcribe them and put them up here.
In the meantime, allow me to regale you with...

Pictures of dumb stuff I saw this weekend!
(The crowd cheers.  Women throw their bras on the stage.  The King of Sweden hands me a Nobel.)

I went to a Christmas in the Park thingy in San Jose with friends and family.  Mostly, it was a bunch of trees decorated by various groups.  Here's a few I found amusing:

This tree is kind of crummily decorated, unlrdd you take into account it was done by dogs.
This tree was created by a division of the Centers for Disease Control.  Note the use of sterile gloves as tree ornaments.  I'm still confused what early discoveries the CDC made, but I'm guessing anthrax.
Obscure geek joke of the day: this tree was decorated with magic items conjured before a player's spell points ran out.
Every angel in Heaven contributed a decoration to this tree.  Maybe all the ornaments fit on the head of a pin...
If you could see this picture (did I mention my camera isn't working right?) you'd see that Senator Jim Beall decorated his tree with descriptions of all the bills he's passed.  Sounds like a really fun guy to hang out with at Christmas.
They also had a beautifully painted Nativity Scene:
But if you look carefully, you will find that the baby Jesus is a cheap doll from Wal-Mart wrapped in lavender clothes.  No wonder he became a hippie liberal.

I later went across the street to the Tech Museum of Innovation.  I found these in the gift shop:
This is a Himalayan salt lamp.  If you look at the tiny print at the bottom of the health benefits of the lamp are the tiny words "There is no scientific evidence to support this claim."  What's with the shops of science museums selling unscientific crap?  I caught the gift shop of the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago selling Chakra kits, once.  I complained and they took them away then, a few months later, put them back.

These are tiny models of the planets in our solar system.  At the bottom of the package is a warning not to give them to small children as they're a choking hazard.  You really don't want a baby to choke on Uranus.

And, yes, I'm ending on a butt joke.