Computer Reliability

From Dan:

Part of the utopian idea of Star Trek: Into Darkness is the fact that computers and computer systems are essentially flawless, with the exception of interference (e.g. hacking). Chapter 8 spends a lot of time talking about the societal issues that stem from computer errors. Between innocents being arrested and missile systems malfunctioning, there is a wide range of consequences. In Star Trek, they never have the problem of the computer malfunctioning. The only computer system problems which arise in Into Darkness come from Admiral Marcus sabotaging the Enterprise’s warp drive. If nothing had been tampered with, there would have been no issue with the ship’s computer. Following the idea of a computer working until it is tampered with, the crew of the Enterprise find themselves with limited resources after being bombarded with torpedo hits and other shots from the enemy ship. If they had not been repeatedly shot, their systems would still have been fully functional.

The closest thing to a “computer issue” found in Into Darkness is not literal, but an analogous situation when Khan beams the photon torpedoes over to his own ship. He threatens Spock that the torpedoes had better be what he was expecting, to which Spock replies “Vulcans do not lie.” Of course, Spock being half human, he has indeed deceived Khan. Since Vulcans operate solely on logic, much like a computer, they do not lie (just like computers). However, this “computer” has a “bug” which makes it unreliable.

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Professional Ethics in Star Trek: Into Darkness

From Alec:

Star Trek into Darkness delves briefly into the topic of professional ethics. In the opening scene, the crew of the Starship Enterprise attempts to stop a volcano on a foreign planet from erupting, and in the process, prevent the planet’s indigenous species from being destroyed.

And while the crew of the Enterprise do not follow a Software Engineering Code of Ethics like the one presented in the textbook, they do follow the “Prime Directive”:

“No identification of self or mission. No interference with the social development of said planet. No references to space or the fact that there are other worlds or civilizations.” [1]

The Prime Directive aims to ensure that the Starfleet’s advanced technology does not influence the culture of underdeveloped species. Kirk, attempting to rescue Spock from the volcano, exposes the entirety of the Starship enterprise to the planet’s native species. In the process, he disobeys the Prime Directive.

After failing to accurately log the incident, Spock reports Kirk’s actions to the head of Starfleet, Alexander Marcus. As a result of Spock’s “whistleblowing”, Kirk is momentarily removed from his position as captain of the Enterprise.


Roddenberry, Gene, and Gene L. Coon. “Bread and Circuses.” Star Trek: The Original Series. Dir. Ralph Senensky. NBC. 15 Mar. 1968. Television.

Featured Image directly from movie

Work, Wealth, and Purpose in Star Trek

From Alec:

While the topics of work and wealth are not directly discussed within the latest film, the previous Star Trek installments reveal a great deal about these subjects.  When compared with our modern society, it is clear that money in Star Trek plays a very different role. At one point in The Next Generation series, Captain Picard says,

“A lot has changed in the past three hundred years. People are no longer obsessed with the accumulation of things. We’ve eliminated hunger, want, the need for possessions. We’ve grown out of our infancy” [1].

While this statement explains why currency plays such an unimportant role throughout the Star Trek saga, it still raises the question, “what is society’s new purpose?” In other words, if humanity is no longer striving to acquire wealth, then what is the motivation of any of the characters in Star Trek? In the 1996 movie Star Trek: First Contact, Captain Picard explains: 

“The acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force of our lives. We work to better ourselves and the rest of humanity” [2].

In this way, it is clear that society in the Star Trek universe has become less focused on personal benefit and wealth, and more focused on further advancing humanity. At the end of Into Darkness, this goal is made clear when the Captain’s Oath is recited:

Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.


[1] Conway, James, dir. “The Neutral Zone.” Star Trek: The Next Generation. 16 May 1988. Television.
[2] Star Trek: First Contact. Dir. Jonathan Frakes. Paramount, 1996.

Featured image taken directly from the movie.

The Possibility of Khan: Genetic Engineering Today

From Dan:

“Genetic Engineering is a process in which recombinant DNA (rDNA) technology is used to introduce desirable traits into organisms.” [1] Breeding to bring out traits in animals has been around for a long time and has produced successful results, but genetic engineering is a much more targeted and powerful method. In 2009, the FDA released a final guidance for industry on regulation of genetically engineered animals. [2]

Aside from the fact that genetic engineering allows you to produce specific traits as opposed to breeding and hoping that a certain trait comes out, breeding a certain species is restricted to the traits already found in the species or a close relative. Genetic engineering has no such restriction. “A breeder who wants a purple cow would be able to breed toward one only if the necessary purple genes were available somewhere in a cow or a near relative to cows…. If purple genes are available anywhere in nature—in a sea urchin or an iris—those genes could be used in attempts to produce purple cows.” [3] In this way, genetic engineering had breeding beat in specificity of the desired traits, time required to produce the traits, and available traits to apply to a species.

Despite the fact that genetic engineering is not limited to traits that already exist in a specific species, this does not mean that the genes are automatically compatible. There are still risks to genetic engineering. The funny thing about genes is that sometimes, two seemingly unrelated traits can be controlled by the same gene. It’s possible that when using one organism to engineer another, more than just the trait you desire will be shared. For example, a Brazilian nut gene was added to soy beans, and while the soy beans acquired the desired nut trait, they also acquired the allergenic tendency of the nut, producing allergic reactions in the test subjects who were allergic to nuts. [4]

As far as human genetic engineering goes, as we see with Khan in Into Darkness, there is not a lot of data. Currently, the ethics of genetic testing and engineering in humans is still being debated in the scientific community and in the public. People tend to get more scared when they think of applying a technique being used on plants and animals to humans, and many people have reservations on human genetic engineering. Frankly, many people have reservations when it comes to engineering plants or animals that they eat, too. This is typically from a lack of information or knowledge, but it certainly means that people are not happy about the prospect of genetically engineering us. On either side of the debate are the people who don’t want to risk giving people incompatible genes or surprise traits that happen to come with the gene carrying the desired trait, and people who feel that parents have the right to give their child a good life despite not being able to pass down certain traits. One thing that both sides agree on, though, is that no one wants eugenics (except Khan). [5]


[1]. “U.S. Food and Drug Administration.” Genetic Engineering. N.p., 10 June 2014. Web. 03 Oct. 2014. <>.

[2]. “U.S. Food and Drug Administration.” Genetically Engineered Animals. N.p., 11 Sept. 2014. Web. 03 Oct. 2014. <>.

[3]. “What Is Genetic Engineering?” Union of Concerned Scientists. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Oct. 2014. <>.

[4]. “Genetic Engineering Risks and Impacts.” Union of Concerned Scientists. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Oct. 2014. <>.

[5]. Parry, Wynne. “Designing Life: Should Babies Be Genetically Engineered?” LiveScience. TechMedia Network, 18 Feb. 2013. Web. 03 Oct. 2014. <>.

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Set Phasers To Stun: Laser Weaponry

From Alec:

Throughout the Star Trek saga, laser weapons have been the weapon of choice for neutralizing threats. Laser weaponry can be found in everything from the smallest handheld weapons to the primary defense systems of some of the largest ships in the series. But are laser weapons feasible (or even possible) in real life?

As it turns out, yes.

In recent years, Israel has put forth considerable effort in developing laser weapons. In 2015, a weapon known as the “Iron Beam” is planned to be implemented alongside the country’s existing Iron Dome defense system. The Iron beam will allow smaller weapons that are too small to be effectively taken down by the Iron Dome such as mortars and short range rockets, to be destroyed cheaply and efficiently [1].

The U.S. Navy is also working on developing its own laser weaponry. The weapon, known as the Laser Weapon System, or LaWS for short, is designed to destroy small boats and even drone aircraft [2]. The LaWS, much like the Iron Beam, serves to eliminate targets in a much more cost efficient manner. According to Rear Admiral Matthew Klunder, chief of Naval Research, each pulse of the weapon costs under a dollar [2].

[1] Williams, Dan. “Israel Plans Laser Interceptor ‘Iron Beam’ for Short-range Rockets.” Reuters. Thomson Reuters, 19 Jan. 2014. Web. 01 Oct. 2014.

[2] Martinez, Luis. “Navy’s New Laser Weapon Blasts Bad Guys From Air, Sea.”Yahoo! News. Yahoo!, 09 Apr. 2013. Web. 01 Oct. 2014.

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From Dan:

Cryonics (a.k.a. cryogenics) is the process of “freezing” a person so that they may be preserved until medicine and technology have advanced far enough so that they may be brought back to life. The basic principle is that the definition of “death” is dependent on the technologies of the time. For example, “A hundred years ago, cardiac arrest was irreversible. People were called dead when their heart stopped beating. Today death is believed to occur 4 to 6 minutes after the heart stops beating… Future technologies for molecular repair may…[make] today’s beliefs about when death occurs obselete.” [2]

Cryonics functions on 3 facts. First, life can be stopped and restarted if its basic structure is preserved. Even outside of cryonics, people have survived temperatures cool enough to stop the heart, brain, and all other organs for up to an hour. According to some lessons from biology, life is a particular structure of matter. “Life can be stopped and restarted if cell structure and chemistry are preserved sufficiently well.” [2] Second, vitrification (not freezing) can preserve biological structure very well. Basically, if one were to try to freeze a body, they would get exactly that: a frozen body. It would be swollen and filled with ice. Most of that 70% of water that makes up humans would be frozen ice. However, with vitrification, high concentrations of chemicals called cryoprotectants are added to cells so that tissues can be cooled to very low temperatures with little or no ice formation. Thirdly, methods for repairing structure at the molecular level can now be foreseen. As far as Alcor Life Extension Foundation [1] is concerned, nanotechnology is the most plausible solution for the success of cryonics. As long as nanotechnology keeps growing at the same rate at which it is becoming popular, it could lead to extensive cell repair and regeneration at the molecular level.

There are over a hundred patients at both the Cryonics Institute [4, 3] and Alcor [2], with the first case in 1967. [2] People are typically frozen at temperatures below -120ºC [2] or even -130ºC. [5] This is all done in the hope and anticipation that science and medicine will advance to a point where people in cryonics may be revived and able to continue their lives.


[1]. “Cryonics: Alcor Life Extension Foundation.” Cryonics: Alcor Life Extension Foundation. Web. 29 Sept. 2014.

[2]. “Alcor: About Cryonics.” Alcor: About Cryonics. Web. 29 Sept. 2014.

[3]. “Cryonics Institute.” Cryonics Institute. Web. 29 Sept. 2014.

[4]. “About Cryonics | Cryonics Institute.” About Cryonics | Cryonics Institute. Web. 29 Sept. 2014.

[5]. Woodruff, Bob. “Life on Ice: The World of Crazy Cryogenics.” ABC News. ABC News Network, 27 July 2011. Web. 29 Sept. 2014. <>.

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3D Movies and the 3DS

From Andrew:

In general, there are 3 different techniques for 3D images.

Anaglyph systems use red and cyan glasses that block either red light or green and blue light. The biggest advantage of anaglyph images is that since it relies only on color, any color TV or computer screen can display them[1]. 3D movies used to be widely available for home viewing using an anaglyph system, and Minecraft has a setting to turn on 3D anaglyphs. However, since anaglyphs use color to distinguish between the eyes, a portion of color detail[1].

Polarized Systems use left-handed and right-handed circularly polarized light (RealD) or horizontal and vertical linearly polarized light (IMAX) and glasses that filter them out. This allows fully colored images to reach both eyes, producing a more detailed image. The definite advantage is that there is no quality loss in the system. However, normal televisions and computer monitors can’t display polarized 3D, and the projectors and screens that allow for it are expensive [2]; however, 3D TV’s exist that use polarized systems to display 3D images [3].

Active-Shutter systems alternate quickly between two perspectives, and the glasses have LCD shutters that open and close in a synchronized pattern with the display. The advantage is that it produces the sharpest images of the three. Once again, however, these glasses are expensive, and  some users will notice the flicker in the refresh rate [3].

All three of these are significant technologies for 3D viewing, but what about the 3DS? It doesn’t have glasses at all.

Image from Retrieved September 28, 2014.

Image from Retrieved September 28, 2014.

The screen of the 3DS has a layer on top of it, called the parallax barrier, which directs light so that it appears 3D. The parallax barrier is an LCD barrier which can block light to restrict viewing. When you turn the 3D off on the 3DS, this screen becomes completely transparent. When you move the switch, the placement and width of the blocking zones to change the depth of 3D. This technology, however, would be completely unsuitable for television, since it has a very limited viewing angle [4].



[1]. 3DUniversity.Net. “Anaglyph.” 3D@Home Consortium/International 3D Society, n.d., September 28, 2014.

[2]. Martin Bromley. “Passive 3D Using Polarization.” 3D TV Technology, n.d., September 28, 2014.

[3]. Steve May. “Active Shutter vs Passive 3D TV: which is best?” TechRadar TVs, May 24, 2011., September 28, 2014.

[4]. Jonathan Strickland. “How the Nintendo 3DS Works.” HowStuffWorks, n.d., September 28, 2014.

Featured Image from Retrieved September 28, 2014.

Producer’s Intent: Inspirations for Star Trek: Into Darkness

The Star Trek Saga has been monumentally important both captivating and inspiring its viewers. The cell phone, for instance, which was created by developed by Motorola Employee Martin Cooper throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, was inspired by Star Trek’s communicator [1].

In Star Trek: Into Darkness, Director JJ. Abrams made a conscious effort to continue this trend of inspiring viewers to develop an interest in science in technology. In an interview about the film, he noted:

“So many people told us Star Trek inspired them to get involved in science” [2].

To this end, Abrams filmed many of the movie’s scenes in real, high-tech laboratories. The Department of Energy granted the film crew special permission to film at the National Ignition Facility within the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California [2].

When asked about Abram’s decision to film at the laboratory, principal associate director of the National Ignition Facility commented,

“For many years, we’ve been waiting for ‘Star Trek’ to realize they should be here… This is a very futuristic facility… and I think we’ve all been influenced by Star Trek’s vision of the future” [2].

Through their attempts to inspire viewers, Star Trek: Into Darkness also emphasizes the idea that advances in technology can do wonderful things for society. Through its presentation of a Utopian world where benefiting humanity comes before the personal acquisition of wealth, Star Trek: Into Darkness strives to not only continue this notion where the previous series left off, but to boldly go where no man (or movie) has gone before.


[1]. How William Shatner Changed the World. Discovery Channel Canada. 2005. Television.

Chapter 6: Privacy and the Government

From Dan:
Privacy and the government isn’t an issue that explicitly comes up in Star Trek: Into Darkness. That being said, throughout all of the Star Trek series, there are certainly a plethora of occasions in which the topic of, for example, surveillance comes up. At one point in Into Darkness, when the Starfleet senior officers, captains, and first officers are in a meeting at Starfleet HQ, Captain Kirk (or at the time, First Officer Kirk) has the ability to examine a full-freedom, 3D image taken during the event that they are discussing. Video surveillance came up in the chapter, and this is a big component of Star Trek. Even more so, in the rest of the series, between the other movies and the shows, there are a number of times when someone will ask the Enterprise’s computer the location of someone else whether they are on the ship or they’ve gone down to a planet to explore or survey. This illustrates the fact that no one is ever truly lost or even hiding, because the ship’s computer knows where they are, and I can imagine that even off the ship, there is a similar system in place on earth or any of the other planets.