An Elegant Weapon: Review of Savi at Galaxy’s Edge

This is a guest post by HuzThatWriter.

On June 5th I had the chance to visit Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. First on my list was a stop at Savi’s Workshop.

Who is Savi, you ask? Savi is a friend of Lor San Tekka and is a fellow member of the Church of the Force. I think. What do you mean who’s Lor San Tekka? That old guy Kylo Ren killed at the beginning of The Force Awakens? The Three-Eyed Raven? Yeah, that guy. It doesn’t matter. You don’t see him anyways. You do, however, interact with his followers, the mysterious Gatherers who will guide you in the ancient ritual of lightsaber building.

Jedi statue outside Dok Ondar's Den of Antiquities. Photo: Huzaifa Mogri
Jedi statue outside Dok Ondar’s Den of Antiquities. Photo: Huzaifa Mogri

I walked swiftly asking directions towards “scrap metal”. Don’t say “lightsaber,” for the First Order is in town and such talk is frowned upon. The Gatherers take this very seriously. Everyone in the land is in character. And so you wait in line in an amazingly decorated scrapyard to pay for your scrap metal.

While in line to pay, some of the gatherers will show you cards with examples of four basic styles of lightsaber.

Peace and Justice: Visually these are the most like the sabers carried by many of the stereotypical Jedi during the era of the Republic in the prequel Trilogy. Obi-Wan and Anakin have similarly styled weapons.

Power and Control: This style evokes the blades carried by the bad guys. The aggressive styling and the red accents are reminiscent of Darth Vader and Darth Sidious.

Elemental Nature: Made from natural materials like aged leather, intricately carved bone, wood paneling, and even a rancor tooth. The materials symbolize the Force’s connection with nature.

Protection and defense: My personal favorite and the style I elected to construct. These are ancient unearthed pieces from the time of the Old Republic. The components are almost ceremonial in nature, some of the segments even containing writing from the Sacred Jedi Texts.

After you pay your $199.99 plus tax you must choose one of the four styles of lightsabers. You are given a card, a cloisonné pin, and a return time. You are instructed to wear your pin in a visible location (the design is different based on what style you chose) and to act dumb if the First Order asks you about it.

Group identification card. Photo: Huzaifa Mogri
Group identification card. Photo: Huzaifa Mogri
Cloisonné pin.   Photo: Huzaifa Mogri
Cloisonné pin. Photo: Huzaifa Mogri

As I was close to the front of the line for my particular reservation period, I had about 20 minutes to wander the land. When I returned at the appointed time, I was led to a waiting area.

Photo: Vinnie Shahzad
Photo: Vinnie Shahzad

All the while you are warned that the First Order could show up at any time. And they do. It wasn’t long before Kylo Ren and some First Order Troopers swung by on “routine patrol” for some casual interrogation.

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After assuring them that we were simple scrap traders they moved on to other victims. Following the short interrogation by troopers we were ushered into the actual workshop. This is where the experience went from fun roleplay to absolutely magical.

Spoiler warning for those who would like to go into this without any prior knowledge. Continue reading “An Elegant Weapon: Review of Savi at Galaxy’s Edge”

Unification, part N

Austin Habershaw does the unthinkable: posits that Star Trek and Star Wars are part of the same universe. Along with Warhammer 40K. Lest you fail to click, reader, I will only cite one line, the worst line, the best line:

Humanity did it – it conquered the stars – only to discover that the stars are a terrible, cold place where war in unending and death assured.

Read it, then weep for the terrible truth of it.

Replicated food is not halal or kosher: a secular argument

Fake meat is going mainstream – you can buy burgers at Burger King, White Castle, and Del Taco. Surely Chipotle and McDonalds are not far behind. This is exciting for people like me who are Muslim Eaters obsessed with the halal scene. But plant-based meat is one thing, what about the science fiction dream of totally replicated meat?

The basic concept of the replicator in Star Trek (and now, The Orville) is that food is just molecules, so instead of cooking plants and animals, you can assemble the dish (and the dish upon which it is served) from raw molecules of matter. Which then leads to the inevitable question, would replicated pork be halal or kosher?

Rather than make a theological argument for why it would or would not be, I want to approach that question from the other direction. Why would it be? The basic answer is that the molecules from which we replicate the pork don’t actually come from a pig. They could come from stockpiles of carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen, and oxygen (CHON). There probably would be some trace molecules too, but if the replicator can assemble foods by molecule, then it can probably assemble molecules from atoms. These are just implementation details. Therefore, if the meat doesn’t come from a pig, then there’s no problem. Of course there are additional requirements of halal and kosher with regards to how the animal is slaughtered, etc. But we by removing the animal from the equation, these requirements are moot.

The problem is that the molecules of pigs don’t originate in pigs, either, Ultimately, molecules are formed from atoms, and atoms are formed mostly from cosmological forces (all the good stuff in particular from supernovae). So, consider two groups of molecules. Both are formed from the same supernova explosion of a star that was birthed from primordial hydrogen in the Big Bang. One group of molecules never enters the biosphere and gets processed into raw stock, and then replicated into a pork chop. The other group of molecules ends up in a pig, and then excised into a pork chop. One of these is clearly not halal or kosher. However, the origin of the molecules is identical. It’s purely a matter of how these molecules were arranged since they were created, that renders them non halal/kosher. IN another billion years, both will end up part of the same gas cloud in an expanding red giant anyway, and that brief arrangement into “pig” will just be a tiny blip.

What if you then collected those molecules from the second group, the group that was for an insignificant period of time, a pig, retrieved them from the gas cloud, and then reassembled them into a porkchop? (This is the nonsensical kind of thing that I imagine bored superintelligent post-singularity entities would do for self-amusement, which is so ludicrous but inevitable that it is another reason why I am skeptical of the singularity and AI in general). This reconstituted porkchop is still not halal or kosher.

Think about that. Out of 20 billion years, a negligible period of time being arranged into a pig renders these molecules forever, inescapably, non-halal and non-kosher. There is something profound and eternal about form, about morphology, that transcends time and space.

I don’t pretend to understand my faith rationally. It’s faith, after all. But the above thought experiment says to me that there is something more to halal and kosher, than merely about the animal. There is something inherently impure in the morphology itself. By recreating the morphology, we are in a sense recreating that impurity. So, the only safe answer, is no. Replicated pork is not halal or kosher. Replicate turkey bacon instead.

UPDATE: As a friend pointed out, wild boars do die and decompose, so their molecules can be re-purified if they end up as grass eaten by a cow that is slaughtered according to halal/kosher. So there must be some kind of re-purification process that can undo the impurity of the brief morphological state. So, by analogy, the replicated food in a replicator can be halal/kosher even if the molecules were briefly non-halal/non-kosher. as long as they were “laundered” through the biosphere first. Still, assembling the molecules into a porkchop would still return to the forbidden morphology, so the answer to the main question is still no.

UPDATE 2: In the comments below, J. sends this link discussing in detail whether cloned pigs are kosher. (spoiler: they aren’t). However, the discussion therein still leaves the door wide open for replicated pork. I still hypothesize no.

my god, it’s full of stars

High-resolution original image here. Technical details about the EHT:

Creating the EHT was a formidable challenge which required upgrading and connecting a worldwide network of eight pre-existing telescopes deployed at a variety of challenging high-altitude sites. These locations included volcanoes in Hawai`i and Mexico, mountains in Arizona and the Spanish Sierra Nevada, the Chilean Atacama Desert, and Antarctica.

The EHT observations use a technique called very-long-baseline interferometry (VLBI) which synchronises telescope facilities around the world and exploits the rotation of our planet to form one huge, Earth-size telescope observing at a wavelength of 1.3 mm. VLBI allows the EHT to achieve an angular resolution of 20 micro-arcseconds — enough to read a newspaper in New York from a sidewalk café in Paris.

This image is fated to be as iconic as the Pale Blue Dot and Earthrise.

Of particular note is that the algorithm to combine the data from all the different sources was the product of research by Dr. Katie Bouman, who is the overnight face of women in STEM, deservedly so.

Here’s a wide angle shot of the area around the black hole, from NASA’s Chandra X-Ray telescsope:

Star Trek belongs on television

The Trek movie franchise is dead, again.

The last time I was really excited about a Star Trek movie, it was Generations. I had missed The Voyage Home in the theaters, being only 12 years old, So The Final Frontier was my first theatrical Trek, which completely underwhelmed. I dutifully trekked out to watch Undiscovered Country, but had no real interest because TNG had already been on TV for a few years and completely replaced and redirected my Trek fandom. (Worf’s grandfather was a nice cameo, but that was about it). Generations, though, was the Big Thing. It was going to be everything I ever wanted – old Trek, new Trek, Kirk and Picard. Even the absence of Nimoy and Kelley didn’t dampen my enthusiasm. While I was watching it, I kept trying to convince myself how awesome it was. But at the end, even the (admittedly, magnificently executed) set-piece sacrifice of the Enterprise-D just felt like a tired retread of what Trek had done before.

no theatrical Trek moment will ever match this one.

Afterwards, I watched the new movies just as dutifully, but more out of obligation than anticipation. First Contact just turned me off entirely, packing too much Borg retcon and comparing poorly to Deep Space Nine, which was doing exciting and insane things. Poor Worf just looked bored and eager to get back to the station. I didn’t even bother watching Nemesis, predicting (correctly) that it would be a retread of Khan; and they didn’t even give us a primal yell moment. I ended up watching Nemesis on a plane and didn’t feel like I missed anything.

Except maybe this one.

I keep using the word retread for a reason. The next batch of Trek movies set in the Abramsverse felt like they were trying too hard to make Star Trek into Star Wars. Couple that with the massive retcon underway with Enterprise, and it felt like there was just no real Trek left. And of course, they did a retread of a retread, with Kirk and Spock and Khan all over again, which just felt like an insult.

Beyond changed that. It was comfortable in its own skin, it was fun, it felt like Trek. But it was too late. And because Hollywood is expensive, and actors have contracts, and movies have to compete with other ones, the long march to finally getting a good Trek movie was just unsustainable. There will be no Trek 4:

As of now, Star Trek Discovery is apparently delivering action-packed Star Trek-worthy thrills on CBS All Access while Seth MacFarlane’s The Orville is going the topical sci-fi and talk > action interstellar adventure route over at Fox. Not only is the Bad Robot Star Trek franchise not the only (or biggest) Star Wars-type series in town, it’s not even the only major Star Trek option for fans and general consumers. And with Chris Pine and Chris Hemsworth apparently refusing a pay cut (from contracts foolishly negotiated before Star Trek Beyond opened), Paramount had little choice but to walk away from a movie likely to cost as much as Transformers but earn about as much as Bumblebee.

And I am really, 100% positively, absolutely okay with this. Chris Pine has better things to do than to play Kirk, and that’s fine. Quinto’s Spock was cool, but Spock is like Superman – more of an archetype than tied to any one actor. And the “new” Enterprise could never really compare to the old one, especially when we get to see her again in all her modern television glory at last.

Nothing compares. Millennium what?

If not for Beyond, I’d be saying good riddance to the Star Trek movies. Instead, I am saying Rest in Peace. Star Trek is best when it has time to develop its characters, craft its message, and take its time. Star Trek is about exploring the human condition, with space as a proxy, in the best tradition of science fiction. It never wore the mantle of blockbuster thriller all that well.

Star Trek belongs on television. With Discovery, the upcoming Picard show, and even Orville out there – the ethos of Trek is alive and well, on the small screen. The next generation of Trek is back home.