Me, MST3K, and Marissa Picard


So what to do after finally seeing, and getting into, Mystery Science Theater 3000? It being 1996, the answer was: Usenet. The medium is all but dead now, but attempts to reinvent what was great about it continue, without success. I suppose the nearest analogue is Reddit. Or if you imagine the web forum for whatever your favorite subject is. Or the Facebook chat group for your favorite podcast. There’s big technical differences in how they’re organized and administrated. But the important social thing was: here was a way to find and talk with people about stuff you liked. So I got to the newsgroup called rec.arts.tv.mst3k.misc. The name meant it was part of the big group about recreational topics; then the subsection of recreational topics that are about the arts; the subsection of the arts known as TV; the subsection of TV known as MST3K; and then … uhm … miscellaneous. Well, there was a rec.arts.tv.mst3k.admin that just posted “administrative” stuff like show schedules.

It was, like many newsgroups in the mid-to-late 90s, a lively place. Hundreds of people delighting in how they liked something, and how much they liked something, and how they liked it more than other people, and how other people didn’t like the right stuff about it, and how other people should stop liking the wrong stuff about it. You know, like people do. This sounds bog-standard now, but it was new to us all back then.

Some of the most fascinating stuff going on back then was a kind of flame war with a Star Trek fanfic writer. The fellow was named Stephen Ratliff. So far as I know he still is. You remember that episode where the Enterprise crashed into an Irwin Allen Disaster Movie, and the crew has to endure adventures like Worf helping O’Brien deliver her baby and Data popping his head off and Picard getting some kids to climb out of a stuck elevator? Stephen Ratliff was inspired by the kids of that episode and wrote some fan fiction. It has the kids start playing Star Fleet Officer on the holodecks and all that and forming their own little Kids Crew of under-twelve-year-olds. Anyone could have that idea. Ratliff had an idea of pure genius. He came up with some reason to put these kids in charge of the actual starship Enterprise. And then do it again, in more fan fiction.

There had been Mystery Science Theater 3000 fanfiction — taking the text of something and inserting jokes, using the characters from the show — for a couple years even then. But when one MiSTer (get it?) discovered Stephen Ratliff the genre was made. The stories had this magnificent natural absurdity told, in the earliest stories, with remarkable ineptitude. These flame wars on rec.arts.tv.mst3k.misc amounted to people decrying the offensiveness of the Kids Crew premise — ten-year-olds put in command of starships, even Next Generation starships where nothing all that bad ever really happens? — and Stephen Ratliff defending his premise with remarkable patience and grace and the not-quite-off-point argument that kids used to be inducted into the Royal Navy so why not have that happen again?

Sure, even without Stephen Ratliff there’d probably be a good MiSTing genre. The idea is too good. But he made it part of the fandom. Partly by writing stuff that was so joyous to read, and to riff on. Partly by being so interesting to talk about. Marissa, the girl from the elevator, gets adopted by Picard and becomes Princess of Deep Space England and travels in time to hook up Wesley Crusher and Chelsea Clinton before sending a space shuttle to Mars and becomes Lord High Admiral of the Federation and all that? (I swear.) How do you not want in on that?

So I got in, despite having — then — only seen a handful of episodes. I had a good source text. There was this cartoon series based on Sonic the Hedgehog, the video game character. In it he and the gang are rebels trying to save the world from the evil Doctor Robotnik and his robots — you know what? Doesn’t matter. It was popular in the 90s, and a lot of people wrote fan fiction. I found a piece and asked the author for permission to riff it. Asking permission was an important part of MiSTing culture. I mean, we didn’t ask for permission to riff spam. But if it was something someone identifiable wrote, it was at least bad form not to ask permission, and to give the author the chance to veto any truly unfair lines — or, in principle, the whole thing — before publishing. No sense being a cad.

It was well-received. One of my friends who’d written his own Sonic the Hedgehog fanfictions asked me to riff his. Other people in the group started looking to Sonic fandom and finding volunteers. There was much more to the MiSTing community than Stephen Ratliff and Sonic the Hedgehog, of course. There was a lot of fanfiction. There were the bizarre rants and conspiracy theories that people published on Usenet without regard for whether that made any sense. My favorite was someone accusing the English department of my grad school, an engineering school, with working to bring down civilization. (Did we even have an English department?) There was spam. So much spam. There was more normal yet poorly-targeted commercial messages. Someone did a whole Tom Swift novel. We did a lot of writing. I learned from it, a good bit about timing and pacing and how to write host sketches that could plausibly be done on the actual show. (Two or three minutes at most, few characters, few entrances and exits, as little editing as possible. This was my taste. Others wrote sketches that could only be done in fan fiction, where budgets and staging action and all aren’t issues. Their tastes.) Stephen Ratliff continued writing Marissa Picard stories that were gradually getting better, in internal logic and in fundamental writing technique. And sending out announcements so people could organize who’d get to riff his newest work.

He won us over. How can you not like someone who listens to you telling him why his stories suck, and thanks you, and writes stories that stop sucking those ways? We won him over. How can you not like an alert and obsessively responsive set of readers for your every word?

There was a lot that was great in the 90s. Mystery Science Theater 3000, Usenet, and MiSTing, were big parts of my great 90s.

Friday: I bet I have some more of this talk in me.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index rose five points on exciting news that astronaut Peggy Whitson is expected soon to become the most experienced United States astronaut in terms of time spent in space, and also on learning the name of a current astronaut.

142

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Caption This: Running Like A Chicken Edition


As I promised my other blog, the serious one, talked more about comic strips with mathematical themes yesterday. At least it did if the automated posting worked right. I set that one and this to appear without my specific intervention because I think I’m going to be busy? I might be busy anyway.

I’d post an update with a later report of just how busy I was and when except I can’t figure that’s in fact interesting either. My point is, if I did have something posted there yesterday, it might be something interesting to you today.

And if it’s not then I’ll just go back to grabbing frames from Star Trek: The Next Generation, such as for instance this:

Data's disembodied head plugged in to one of the pull-down tray tables in Lower Engineering. From the episode 'Disaster'.
Shortly after this episode Data began reviewing music, if I may make a needlessly complicated Mystery Science Theater 3000 reference. Say what you will, but Next Generation had some great severed-talking-head effects.

“Counselor? Do you know when you might be able to resume my exploration of the idiom `would lose my head if it were not attached’ anytime soon? And in … I am not certain which corridor?”

Have something better? I’m not surprised. Give it a try.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

Traders lifted the Another Blog, Meanwhile by two points today after stretching carefully and bending at the knees before they realized the index was a lot hotter than they realized and nobody had brought any oven mitts.

129

Caption This: Supplemental: Hurrk.


As has gotten to be normal for Mondays I mostly want to point you over to my mathematics blog where I thrill folks by showing off a 1956 installment of Jimmy Hatlo’s comic strip Baby Schnooks’ll Do It Every Time. I don’t know, but it brings in the readers, so who am I to object? There should be another one of those installments come Thursday, so I’ve already got my Next Generation picture all ready to go for it. Also I’m not going out of my way to pick on Next Generation, it’s just that I feel like there’s only one thing to say about the Original Star Trek episode where they left a newspaper on the floor in the background and that’s to point out they left a newspaper on the floor in the background. As ever, if you want to put in your own caption, please do. I like what folks make of this.

Riker sitting on the captain's task chair in the Ready Room.
I get why the Captain would have a laptop on his desk, sure, and having a couple of circuit boards standing free? That’s just good resource organization. Why does he keep a chunk of crystal there, though? That’s way too blocky to be a piece of sea glass, so I’m forced to conclude the set designers don’t know either, they just set that down earlier in the episode and can’t take it out now without someone calling it a continuity error.

“Personal log. I now know how long is too long to spin in my chair.”

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index stayed at 127 today as some of the traders got into a talk about the standards and specifications of decade-old video game systems and everybody else hid under the desk until it all blew over. Not that it isn’t interesting to hear something about this stuff but then when they get into calling enhanced rame rate schemes “hilarious” you know you’re in trouble and should be doing something else.

127

Caption This: Or As Picard Knows This Stuff, Tuesday


I talked some more about mathematically-themed comic strips on the other blog and there you go. I’m not figuring on doing another of these reviews this week so that’s your big chance to read what I have to say about Bud Blake’s Tiger. Well, I think that’s worth doing. Meanwhile as I sit and think up other things to write here’s my usual sort of Next Generation captioning stuff and you’re invited to participate.

Two Picards walking into the shuttle bay, the way pairs of Picards will.
Really, how many times did they come up against duplicates or clones or lost twins or whatnot of the original crew? Is there anyone besides Counsellor Troi who didn’t meet themselves at least once? Also: didn’t Counsellor Troi have advanced training in psychology or whatever her mental-health specialty is? Shouldn’t we be calling her Doctor Troi?

Picard: What the — oh, jeez. No. Not another one of these. No. Shan’t do it. You all deal with your own spacetime anomaly clone alternate-timeline nonsense without me.

Picard: And that goes double for me!

Picard: No, now you’re just encouraging them!

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index dropped today amidst rumors first that actor Bill Pullman had died and then accusations that the person who’d mixed him up with actor Bill Paxton, who had just died, was doing that bit about not being able to tell the two apart. She insists no, she honestly and sincerely just mixed them up and is sorry for the confusion and for

94

Rather Than Asking Funky Winkerbean What The HECK Is Wrong With You


I mean, I want to. Tom Batiuk’s Funky Winkerbean is somehow in the second week of a story in which Funky Winkerbean tries to renew an expired driver’s license. And if that seems like not much of a storyline consider that Batiuk has decided to see just how big a jerk Funky can possibly be during it. Or possibly how big an idiot. Anyway it’s left me seething with rage and so I’m going to turn to more productive stuff like the mathematically-themed comics on my other blog and, oh, I don’t know. Here’s a screen grab from the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Heart of Glory”, known as “that one from the first season where we started thinking maybe the show could be good after all”.

Worf and two guest Klingons of the week standing in sickbay over the body of a dead guest Klingon of the week. All but the dead one are howling at the boom mike.
Boy, I feel bad for the extra caught in this shot leaning against the water cooler. Awkward!

o/` Be-el-ze-bub has a devil put aside!
For me …
For Meeee …
FOR MEEEEEEEEEE! o/`

If you want to put in your own different caption here, please, go ahead.

Thanks, all. Boy am I angry at Funky Winkerbean.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index rose one point in trading described as “partly cloudy” and with “smatterings of applause”. We have no explanation for what this should mean.

106

Statistics Saturday: Actual Star Trek: The Next Generation Plots That Sound Like Parodies Of Star Trek: The Next Generation Plots


With thanks to my love for noticing this.

  • Aliens replace Captain Picard with a double who’d be perfect if not for his rousing drunken singalongs in the bar.
  • A historian from the future turns out to be a con artist from the past. Picard decides whether to risk saving a planet suffering from too much static electricity.
  • Data practices how to sneeze. Also he has an evil twin.
  • In an alternate timeline the Federation is doomed, but Guinan and Tasha Yar are great friends.
  • The transporter makes Picard twelve years old while space pirates take over the Enterprise.
  • A planet of extremely white scantily-clad sex partners wants to execute Wesley for tripping over a flower.
  • Worf has a crush on some fish-aliens, one of whom is Mick Fleetwood for some reason. Troi’s Mom hits on a holodeck bartender.
  • Riker’s the lead actor in Dr Crusher’s play! Also maybe crazy.
  • Worf gets dizzy whenever he falls into a parallel universe.
  • Dr Crusher gets a Ferengi scientist killed when she incorrectly diagnoses another alien as being dead.
  • Troi shows Mark Twain around the Enterprise. Picard pretends to lead a San Francisco theatrical company. (Emmy Award-winning episode, for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Hairstyling for a Series.)
  • Worf finds a planet where Klingons and Romulans live together peacefully and puts a stop to that. Data has crazypants dreams.
  • Poker night holds the only key to escaping a spacetime anomaly.
  • Data makes friends with a little alien girl over his Space Ham Radio, so they save her planet.
  • It just so happens nobody had ever asked if Data was a person or a thing before making him third-in-command of the Federation flagship.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index fell three points, then rose three points and dropped another three points, just to see if it could get your attention from all the way over there in your peripheral vision.

129

Caption This: The Consultant’s Review


Picard and Dr Crusher awkwardly offering handshakes to the seated Vash.
Yes yes I know the woman is Vash and she’s Captain Picard’s slightly out-of-character lightly-romantic entanglement from that Indiana Jones ripoff episode that we all thought was pretty swell at the time but haven’t looked back on, and this still is from that Robin Hood ripoff episode that I certainly thought was one of the worst things they had done not featuring The Outrageous Okona but haven’t looked back on, even if I admit Worf had two good lines only one of which was ripped off from Animal House which I haven’t seen either and don’t judge me.

Woman: “All right, I’ve seen enough. Well. While this may look bad, I don’t think you have reason to worry. I have helped people with even more severe difficulties in high-fiving. And, as they say, the mere fact that you realize you need help indicates that you’re not too far gone.”


And I enjoy when people have their own ideas, so here’s some space for that:


As usual for Sundays I reviewed comic strips over on my other blog. Includes two comics to look at directly instead of just clicking links to read later on! Which for some reason I don’t do for every comic strip I talk about. I don’t know either.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index rose slightly when analysts remembered this Dave Barry crack about employment figures being eaten by a goat. In context it makes sense and you can see why analysts would be thinking about goats eating things.

116

Caption This: Why Even Spend The Whole Episode In Smooth-Floored Caves


Picard, Data, Spock, and some Romulans standing around the cave.
Decades of work figuring out Romulan Tasha Yar’s plot from the episode have finally revealed that the only way it makes a lick of sense if you suppose everybody involved was lying to each other about what the scheme actually was, even when they were doing the big reveal of what the evil scheme of evilness was all about.

“My parents! They’re home already! Guys, we gotta clean this cave up right now!”

[ Do you have a better caption? Maybe. I like this one, but what the heck. Use the space below as you like. Winners to be informed. ]


So over on my mathematics blog, I wrote all about a bunch of comic strips for the 5th of April. I posted it there on the 9th of April, and I’m posting this pointer to it on what WordPress’s servers says is the 13th of April but which my own personal time zone which I let many people share say is the 12th of April. I do this in the hopes of clearing up any confusion.

Caption This: Peeking In On … Are They Up To The 25th Century Yet?


Dr Crusher with her face shoved up against kind of giant microscope type device.
Isn’t sickbay a strange place to keep the ship’s periscope?

[ Picard, off-screen: ] Captain’s log, supplemental. We have entered our third day without success getting the superglue off Dr Crusher’s medical scanner.


(Wrong caption? Go ahead, use this space to offer a better one.)

 


Meanwhile over on my mathematics blog, I’ve had another chance to talk about comic strips. Mostly Popeye. Also I’ve got through the first week of the Leap Day 2016 Mathematics A To Z project, a glossary of mathematics terms written in a way I hope makes sense to non-mathematicians. Please, consider enjoying.

Statistics Saturday: How Many Good Episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation I Figured There Were Versus Time


More good episodes, especially around the Borg episode, and then gradually declines as episodes like the one where Data trains his cat came on.
There was a lot of time spent the first two seasons saying, “No, really, this is at least as good as the space hippies episode of the Original Series, right? Please, I need this to be a better episode than this actually is.”

Not depicted: that day in 1997 when the Internet noticed the episode where Dr Crusher has sex with her grandmother’s candle-ghost; and that day in 2000 when I noticed the Federation kicked the Cardassians out of alliance with them and into the Dominion’s arms. So, good job, warhawks, in making things worse, as ever.

Statistics Saturday: Count Of Words And Non-Words Appearing In Star Trek: The Next Generation Episode Titles


Count of Words Appearing In Star Trek: The Next Generation Episode Titles

Word Count
the 48
of 25
part 15
a 10
man 4
Q 4
time/time’s 2
command 3
Data/Data’s/Datas 3
matter 3
arrow 2
best 2
birthright 2
both 2
chain 2
child 2
descent 2
enemy 2
ensign/ensigns 2
eye 2
factor 2
first 2
gambit 2
ground 2
has 2
honor 2
in 2
life 2
mind/mind’s 2
one 2
redemption 2
unification 2
where 2
who 2
worlds 2
age 1
all 1
allegiance 1
always 1
among 1
and 1
angel 1
aquiel 1
arsenal 1
as 1
at 1
attached 1
avatar 1
battle 1
before 1
beholder 1
big 1
bloodlines 1
bonding 1
booby 1
Borg 1
bottle 1
bough 1
breaks 1
brothers 1
captain’s 1
cause 1
chances 1
chase 1
clues 1
code 1
coming 1
conspiracy 1
contact 1
contagion 1
conundrum 1
cost 1
crisis 1
dark 1
Darmok 1
Datalore 1
dauphin 1
day 1
dear 1
decks 1
defector 1
degree 1
déjà 1
devil’s 1
disaster 1
drumhead 1
due 1
duty 1
effect 1
elementary 1
emergence 1
emissary 1
encounter 1
end 1
Enterprise 1
ethics 1
evil 1
evolution 1
face 1
family 1
farpoint 1
father 1
fear 1
final 1
firstborn 1
fistful 1
force 1
frame 1
freedom 1
friend 1
future 1
galaxy’s 1
game 1
Genesis 1
glory 1
gone 1
good 1
goodbye 1
gray 1
half 1
have 1
haven 1
heart 1
heir 1
hero 1
hide 1
high 1
holiday 1
hollow 1
home 1
homeward 1
host 1
human 1
hunted 1
I 1
Icarus 1
identity 1
imaginary 1
imperfect 1
inheritance 1
inner 1
interface 1
journey’s 1
justice 1
ladder 1
last 1
lease 1
legacy 1
lessons 1
liaisons 1
light 1
living 1
lonely 1
long 1
loss 1
loud 1
lower 1
manhunt 1
masks 1
masterpiece 1
mate 1
me 1
measure 1
ménage 1
mine 1
mission 1
most 1
naked 1
nature 1
neutral 1
new 1
next 1
night 1
no 1
now 1
nth 1
offspring 1
Okona 1
outcast 1
outpost 1
outrageous 1
own 1
page 1
pals 1
parallels 1
Paris 1
peak 1
Pegasus 1
pen 1
people 1
perfect 1
performance 1
perspective 1
phantasms 1
phase 1
play 1
power 1
preemptive 1
price 1
pursuits 1
Qpid 1
quality 1
rascals 1
realm 1
relics 1
remember 1
reunion 1
rightful 1
Ro 1
rosa 1
Royale 1
samaritan 1
Sarek 1
schisms 1
schizoid 1
season 1
second 1
selection 1
self 1
shades 1
ship 1
short 1
silence 1
silicon 1
sins 1
skin 1
snare 1
society 1
soil 1
squared 1
starship 1
strike 1
sub 1
suddenly 1
survivors 1
suspicions 1
symbiosis 1
tapestry 1
terrors 1
theory 1
thine 1
things 1
timescape 1
tin 1
too 1
toys 1
transfigurations 1
trap 1
Troi 1
true 1
unnatural 1
up 1
us 1
vengeance 1
violations 1
watchers 1
watches 1
we’ll 1
when 1
whisper 1
worship 1
wounded 1
yesterday’s 1
zone 1

Count of Non-Words Appearing In Star Trek: The Next Generation Episode Titles

Non-Word Count
2 8
1 7
& 1
11001001 1

Note: Two-part episode titles are based on the episode’s original appearance. For example, “Gambit, Part 1” and “Gambit, Part 2” increase the count for “gambit” by two. “Encounter at Farpoint” and “All Good Things”, airing initially as single, two-hour, episodes, increase the count for the words in their titles by only one.

Note: Episode 139 is titled Time Squared and the title is written that way on-screen. Many sources list it as Time2 and I admit I’d have sworn it was written that way when the episode first aired but you can’t argue with the screen captions even though Time2 is so obviously the title it should have had.

Note: One occurrence of “a” is actually “à”.

Note: You know, considering Troi was a central character for all seven years of the show and kept popping up in other Treks whether she belonged there or not it’s surprising we never learned anything about what her home planet of Betazed was like, other than they get married naked.

And Commander Data Tries Out Something Else Wrong


Data holds Riker by the chin in the famous 'smooth as an android's bottom' scene that always gets on the Top 100 Moments From The Last Two Star Trek: The Next Generation Movies lists.
Both characters hope if they’re very quiet then Star Trek: Insurrection will get bored and go away and they can be in a more interesting movie. Unluckily, they got Nemesis instead.

Riker: “No, this isn’t how wrist puppets work, Data.”

On New Year’s Eve In The 24th Century …


Riker, Data, LaForge, and an unidentified other person stand amongst evidence of horseplay on the SS Tsiolkovsky.
Screen cap from “The Naked Now”, as served by TrekCore.com’s image galleries. If you don’t remember the episode, it’s the one that introduced “fully functional” to the description of Data’s abilities.

Riker: “It appears this crew has been in an all-out fight for their right to party.”

Did I Mention We’re Beaming You Into Beirut?


Tasha Yar, Worf, and two people we never saw before are dressed in shiny blue spandex.
You know, I don’t think I’ve ever actually watched a movie in which “saving the neighborhood rec center” is the plot.

“If our historical databanks about the 1980s are any good, you’re going to fit in perfectly down there. Now go save that neighborhood rec center!”

Fun Activity Puzzle Time!


Can you spot the winner of Cheerios’s “Win An Appearance On Star Trek: The Next Generation” contest in this picture?

Tasha Yar, Worf, and two people we never saw before are dressed in shiny blue spandex.
Yes, I am being needlessly mean to a person who’s never done me the slightest conceivable harm, apart from playing Sela Yar.

Answer: It’s Denise Crosby!

On The Next Thrilling Episode Of Star Trek: The Next Generation


Tasha Yar, Worf, and two people we never saw before are dressed in shiny blue spandex.
A scene from The Next Generation‘s episode “11001001” in which nobody feels compelled to wear their leotards backwards.

Riker: “Have fun being that Devo tribute band!”

Meanwhile, On Deck Ten …


Riker's got this just *perfect* gaze of worry while looking out of camera frame.
While I’m not sure which episode this frame is from, that fact would not horrify the 15-year-old me, because when I was that old it hadn’t aired yet.

“Sooooo … the cybersecurity breach exposed everyone’s holodeck usage, you say?”

How Do We Know It’s The Future?


Dr Crusher and Counsellor Troi exercise in the hallway while wearing leotards backwards.
From the Next Generation episode ‘The Price’, which is not technically the same episode as ‘The Host’, although you wouldn’t know it from just looking at the screen caps at TrekCore. Also for some reason they’re just exercising in the middle of the hallway, like it’s some kind of aerobic flash mob or something.

It is the 24th century … a time when women wear their leotards backwards for some reason.

Statistics Saturday on Labor Day: Humor Blogging In August 2014


So on to my monthly examination of whether anyone actually read my little humor blog here anytime recently. The good news is people seem to have: WordPress’s statistics in fact say I had my greatest number yet of unique visitors this past month, 369 of them, up from July’s then-record of 332. The total number of page views declined very slightly, to 682 from July’s record 704, and this suggests the number of views per visitor collapsed very modestly from 2.12 down to 1.85, but I’m comfortable with that. I reached viewer number 7,864 by the end of the month, and 7,865 just after the start of the next.

I had a nice, broad-based popularity this past month, with a remarkable-to-me 27 posts getting ten or more views, so it isn’t like people just find the one, probably Turbo-based, page and ignore the rest of what I have to write. That’s comforting. August 2014’s most popular posts around here were apparently:

From all the nations of the world the United States sent me the most readers in August (514). The United Kingdom nearly doubled its readership (57, up from 32), and Australia came in at 30 which is again some kind of increase though I admit I don’t know how many. And Spain popped in with ten readers which I didn’t see coming. A single reader each came from Germany, Moldova, Qatar, Sweden, and Uruguay. Germany was the only single-reader country last month. India, which went from one reader in May and June, to three in July, was up to six in August. This is a pretty good trend, though I’m still doing rather better per-capita in Singapore (three).

And, so, what search terms bring people around here? It hasn’t been the kind of month to inspire much poetry but among the search terms have een:

  • robert benchley
  • koko clown end of world
  • turbo the film facts kids (also) what was an interesting fact about turbo the movie
  • 2038 dave barry
  • joan randall barefoot captain future

I don’t understand that last one either.