Star Trek, Bismuth Crystals, and Baby Fatigue

06 Mar 2005

Paul R. Potts

So, we received in the mail a really cool bismuth crystal from an eBay seller. It gives our dining table a wonderful Star Trek feel. To find them, check out the seller’s eBay store, Bismuth Crystals Unlimited:

Ours is a 225-gram crystal, which was the second-biggest one that he had available. These things are fascinating. They are “natural” in the sense that they grow without prompting, in very pure molten bismuth cooled slowly, with the remaining molten metal poured off to expose the crystal, but “unnatural” in the sense that the conditions that make these very large, beautifully-colored crystals would probably never occur in a natural setting. (I say “probably” because it is a big planet and a big universe! Who knows? There might be an planet-sized, chemically- and isotopically-pure crystal floating out there, produced in some incomprehensible stellar process…)

We’ve been watching episodes from the Star Trek (original series) first season DVD set. Most of them have been quite the fun blast from the past, especially “City on the Edge of Forever,” “Balance of Terror,” and “The Corbomite Maneuver.” “Balance of Terror” features some very fine acting, even if the writers can’t keep track of the difference between phasers and photon torpedoes. Kirk’s reputation as a total ham is not truly justified. But last night we stumbled across “The Alternative Factor,” which none of us had any memory of ever seeing before.

We quickly found out just why we could not remember it; even our friend Olivia, who was a seriously dedicated Star Trek fan: it is terrible! The episode features nauseous spinning-screen effects, photographic-negative effects to indicate an alternate universe, and even contains the immortal line of dialogue “Kill! Kill! Kill! Kill! Kill!”

There is the germ of an interesting alternate-universe story in there somewhere, but the storytelling is just awful: everything is told, instead of shown, in long and confusing talky scenes in which the techno-babble phrases like “negative magnetic corridor” pile up thick and fast. The storyline constantly contradicts and muddles itself (initially we are told Lazarus is traveling in time, but this seems to be an unnecessary complication; we’re told that the planet is “dead” and “destroyed” but in fact it looks a lot like Southern California; there are repeated references to alien invasion and end-of-the-universe scenarios, and we are tortured by constant repetition of a painful music cue and cheesy “universe-flipping” effect. At the end, Kirk learns the truth, alone, but suddenly Spock and everyone else seems to have been informed as well, without ever being told. It is just terribly sloppy. Dilithium crystals don’t look anything like the dilithium crystals shown in other episodes. One half of the two-sided hero/villain is identifiable mainly by his exceptionally cheesy facial hair. They definitely weren’t all masterpieces!

As an exercise, maybe Grace and I will take a shot at rewriting “The Alternative Factor.” She has some experience in screen-writing, and I have some experience in writing short stories, so maybe we can come up with something better. It could be fun; it could even play into an interesting home-school exercise for Isaac.

A baby update: Veronica is just past the four-month mark. She can’t quite sit up on her own, but she will happily lie on her belly or back and play with toys. Yesterday she ate a Sears tool catalog. (Well, not really, but she ripped a bunch of the pages out and tried to stuff them in her mouth). She has discovered her toes. She’s very stong, and seems to really enjoy working out: wrestling, doing sit-ups and push ups – basically, anything that gives her a chance to work her baby muscles hard makes her giggle and laugh her head off. She will be crawling very soon!

And me? Although she really is a great baby, and sleeps most of the way through the night, she wants a lot of attention, and we do our best to give it to her. The end result is that I am generally always just a little bit more tired and distracted than it seems like I should be. When she does get to sleep, and I’d like to stay up and study or write, I usually just crash instead. Having a baby at 37 is probably quite a bit harder, in terms of stamina.

Grace certainly has it worse: she is Vera’s caregiver all day, every weekday. She has been really great about trying to give me a little bit of time to myself on some evenings and weekends, but she is definitely tired too. A long winter with multiple bouts of colds and flu has not helped any, either! With any luck as the days get longer and warmer we’ll get some energy back.

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