Feb 13 2024

You can always be Spock

Published by under Thoughts

I’m using Star Trek – The Original Series (1966-1969) as a reference model for this post. For younger readers, this will be a challenge because the characters and their dynamics that I am refering to might not mean anything to you. So let’s start with a little bit of trivia.

The show takes place on a spaceship called Enterprise, its ship number is NCC-1701. Each episode opens with this mission statement, usually spoken by William Shatner, but it has also been spoken by Leonard Nimoy:

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!

The Enterprise belongs to an organization called Star Fleet, operated by the United Federation Of Planets, which consists not only of humans, but also of several alien species.

The Vulcans were the first alien species ever to make contact with humans – they have green skin and pointy ears and are driven by logic and suppress their emotions as much as possible. They still have emotions, though, and especially the male Vulcans have severe problems with those every seven years when they go through a cycle called the Pon Farr, which temporarily basically destroys their logic and fully unleashes the uncontrollable power of their emotions. The first officer of the Enterprise, who also serves as its science officer, is Spock (played by Leonard Nimoy), a Vulcan.

There are also the Romulans, which are the sibling race of the Vulcans with common ancestry – they are not part of the Federation but rather their opponents. They also do not commit to purely logical behavior, but rather seek domination, military power and try to expand their empire. Just as the Klingons, who are a pure, raw and untamed warrior species driven only by seeking glory in battle and conquest. And, of course, they are also not part of the Federation but are its natural enemy. The space between the Romulan, Klingon and Federation territory is called The Neutral Zone – and Federation vessels are not allowed to enter or traverse it (the Enterprise frequently violates this rule, and the notorious Kobayashi Maru test for aspiring star fleet captains evolves around this very scenario).

The Captain of the Enterprise is James Tiberius Kirk, from Iowa, Earth (played by William Shatner). Think of him as cowboy with strong ethics and beliefs, but who disregards orders given to him when they don’t make sense, clash with his own beliefs or would cause damage to either the Enterprise and its crew or another species. He’s also the kind of guy who, if the situation calls for it, shoots first and asks questions later. But usually, he succeeds by thinking outside of the box and by outsmarting his opponents. Kirk is a magnet for women, but the thing Kirk wants more than anything else in life is to sit on the Captain’s chair on the bridge of the Enterprise and be in command while exploring the universe. He’s also the only Captain to ever have passed the Kobayashi Maru test (by changing the parameters of the simulation – also called cheating – as we later learn in the movie Star Trek II – The Wrath Of Khan).

The ship’s doctor is McCoy, better known under his nickname Bones (played by DeForest Kelley). He is an emotionally driven character and known for his outbursts, especially when Spock drives him crazy with his pure logical approach. McCoy and Kirk are close friends, including the occasional sipping of illegal Romulan Ale in the Captain’s quarters.

Montgomery ‘Scottie’ Scott (played by James Doohan) is the Chief Engineer of the Enterprise and usually found on the machine deck. He likes to read tech magazines and, well, drink good Scotch.

Then we have Hikaru Sulu (played by George Takei) who navigates the ship and (Russian!) Pavel Chekov (played by Walter Koenig) who sits at the weapons control and Nyota Uhura (played by Nichelle Nichols) at as the communications officer. By the way, that was a scandal back in the day in the US: Uhura is a black woman who is an officer and in one episode even kisses the white Captain of the ship! Star Trek was decades ahead of its time, and it didn’t need a woke movement for Gene Roddenberry, the creator of the series, to envision and depict a future where races, color or creed do not matter at all and everybody is treated with equal respect.

Readers who might not have grown up with Star Trek as I did should now have sufficient background knowledge to get the metaphors or pictures I am going to use in the next few sentences. (It’s interesting, by the way, that the background trivia takes longer to explain than the actual topic itself.)

It comes down to a few key moments in a job interview I once had for the role of the Head of IT at a research institute. There were around eight to ten PhDs, including two with an additional Professor before their names, in the room interviewing me for this job.

Everybody on the table had a chance to ask me individual questions, and when the round reached a scientist from New Zealand, she asked me why I wanted to take this job. And well, Star Trek, immediately came to my mind, and I answered: “I have been Scottie all my professional life, and now I want to know what it will be like to be Kirk and be in command of the ship instead of just maintaining and fixing it.”

As it turned out, she knew Star Trek very well and asked me more detailed questions that were all within the Star Trek scenario. The head of the research institute (one of the two Professors at the table and a true scientist at heart) happened to be her husband and he also was a real Trekkie. At one point he said: “But why Kirk? You can always be Spock!”

I had never thought of that one before, truth be told, so I could only answer him that that was a very valid point and an interesting idea, but that I was interested in the challenge of taking command.

After the interview, he even said the famous Vulcan phrase Live long and prosper to me for a goodbye. Later he sent me an email that I got the job.

I blame never having thought about being Spock on the way how we are taught by our Western society to think about career paths. We are always blinded by the seemingly glamorous alpha role and position that we easily oversee the things that are not so obviously shiny.

Spock is the second in command, but it always feels like he’s moving outside of the regular command structure. He is the brain in the shadows. He more than once takes command of the Enterprise and saves the day when the Captain is on one of his missions on an alien planet and in danger. Spock then uses his calm mind and brilliant brain and takes charge in his own unique and ego-less way. Kirk might have the balls, McCoy has the heart, but Spock has the brains and intelligence. (Spock is a Sigma wolf. There. I said it.)

I have thought about You can always be Spock again and again over the years and only now fully appreciate the wisdom behind it – and the fact that people with my personality profile definitely should gun for being Spock instead of being Kirk, because it is a much better natural fit. At least when you’re taking a position in an actual organization.

The most natural fit for me would be Han Solo, a privateer with his very own small spaceship, operating completely outside of the boundaries of society – and law. But that’s literally in a different universe: Star Wars, for those of you who do not know who Han Solo, played by Harrison Ford, is.

The closest equivalent to Han Solo in the Star Trek universe would be… Harry Mudd, played by Roger Carmel. But Mudd is a cheating trickster and a criminal lowlife, while Han Solo is, well, someone who flies solo and does whatever it takes to remain free and independent, but he doesn’t do it to merely take advantage of others. So there are only similarities on the surface level.

In the universe of the original Star Trek series, the advice still stands:

You can always be Spock.

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Feb 06 2024

Bass Home Studio Setup

Published by under Hardware,Music,Software

After a break of many, many years, I’m playing the bass again. Since I also want to experiment with sound and different genres and not only record but also try to compose a little, I acquired a few toys that I want to learn how to use:

  • Ibanez SR300E-IPT (The bass)
  • Fender Rumble 25 (The bass amp)
  • Lenovo IdeaCentre Gaming 5 17IAB7 Intel i5 12400F, nVidia 3060 RTX, 32 GB RAM, 512 GB NVM SSD + 1 TB Crucial SATA SSD, Windows 11 Pro for Workstations
  • Sharp 50″ 4K Screen
  • Focusrite Scarlett Solo (USB Audio IN/OUT)
  • Yamaha ATS-C300 (Soundbar/Subwoofer Combo for the Sharp Screen & PC)
  • Jam Origin Midi Bass (turns my bass into a MIDI device via software)
  • Steinberg Cubase 13 Pro (The main DAW)
  • Propellerhead Reason 12 (The virtual synthie rack that I plug into Cubase; I don’t use it as a DAW)
  • Audacity (in case I need an external Wave Editor)

The good news is that with every session that I play the bass, the fingers get less rusty and I’m slowly getting a feeling for the instrument again.

The bad news is that the learning curve for the software is steep and brutal – that stuff is unbelievably complex and complicated, and I have the brain of an IT guy, not the brain of a sound engineer. I guess “I’m thinking it wrong (TM).” But, as always, if I throw in sufficient hours and energy, I’ll get there eventually.

A note on the choice of Steinberg Cubase: Initially, I downloaded a trial version of Cubase 13 Pro and compared it with Ableton Live Lite 11 (a license for Live Lite came with the Focusrite device). During the first minutes, Ableton appeared to be easier to use, at least for simple stuff. But while playing more with both products, the differences in their respective target audience became more and more obvious. Then I compared the list of reference artists that both companies show on their respective websites. On Ableton’s page, mostly musicians from the techno and electro scene were listed – none of the names meant anything to me, that is neither my music nor my crowd and I also don’t need a software that was originally designed for live performances. On Steinberg’s page, names like Hans Zimmer, Alan Silvestri, Accept and Arch Enemy were listed. That message reached me and the choice was made for me right there.

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