Tuesday, July 28, 2009

STbtM 031: Cheating to Win

Soon-to-be-suspended cadet Kirk orders "Alert medical bay to prepare to receive ALL crew members from the damaged ship." Uhura asks "And how do you expect us to rescue them when we're surrounded by Klingons, Captain?" "Alert medical," he repeats superciliously, and Uhura returns to her workstation looking furious.

McCoy reports: "Our ship's being hit. Shields at 60%." Kirk says, "I understand" and reaches under his seat to pull out an apple in homage to Wrath of Khan. "Should we, I don't know… fire back?" McCoy sarcastically asks. "No." "Of course not!" With klaxons in the background the simulator seems to shut down as everyone (but Kirk) bumbles around trying to figure out what happened. I was disappointed that yet again, without any apparent work, study, preparation or effort, Kirk was able to astound everyone around him with a computer subroutine that altered the simulation.

When power returns, Kirk says, "Hm…" then orders "Arm photons prepare to fire on the Klingon warbirds!" McCoy mentions "Jim, their shields are still up." "Are they?" Kirk asks, taking a big bite of the apple. McCoy rechecks his sensors and announces "No, they're not!" Gleefully, Kirk orders "Fire on all enemy ships, one photon each should do it – let's not waste ammunition." "Target locked and acquired on all warbirds. Firing." Granted, this is a simulation and an important feature of the Trekverse, so there's very little to which we might object. My impression is that this scene received good attention from the writers, as even uniform misogyny can produce contradiction free dialogue. Here, however we do have a problem with a status report of "Target locked and acquired."

"Acquired" means that we have sufficient information on enemy location to monitor or target them. "Lock" refers to some optimal targeting state in which directed weapons can adjust automatically to changes in source or target position, movement, or other factors without operator intervention. There is no reason to mention "acquired" if one has already announced "locked". This reminds me of a creationist I emailed recently, whose material included a criticism of evolution as being unable to explain the big bang. I responded that the big bang preceded the replicating entities to which evolution applies, so this objection was a bit like saying that a recipe for apple pie was defective if it didn't include "Step 1: Create the Universe."

We see the ships on the simulator's viewscreens blowing up, after which the tac officer announces "All ships destroyed Captain." Um, actually there are two ships still in the area, but that's splitting hairs and would spoil a pretty nice, funny scene.

Kirk immediately says "Begin rescue of the stranded crew… So, we've managed to eliminate all enemy ships, no one on board was injured, and the successful rescue of the Kobayashi Maru crew is underway."

This was a very fun and satisfying moment in the film, and perhaps one of the better scenes… This scene does remind me of the Physics Olympics I attended at North Texas State University while I was in high school. I walked out of one competition where calculator use was tested. It turned out that a school in Azle, Texas had a class where math students trained for this exam, and when the test began I heard the kid next to me clattering away like a court stenographer, and when I looked, his right hand was a blur as he touch-typed some super complex (for me) equation without even looking at the calculator. I decided to exit the test right then and check out the water balloon catapults. Later, a test was passed out face down on tables, and we were told there were 6 problems on various physics topics. Our instructions were to answer all questions that we believed we could correctly solve in 30 seconds or less. There were time clocks on the tables and when we finished, we were to put our test into the clock on the table, and every answer we got wrong or left blank would add 30 seconds to the time so, we were told: minimize our total time, the lowest total wins.

Through the overturned sheet, I started reading the (backwards) question at the top of the last page while final instructions were given, it was a question regarding power output of a Carnot cycle engine with a couple of heat reservoirs, and although I did not know the appropriate formula, I realized that even if I were really good at these problems, there was no way to derive an answer involving a 2 stage solution with only 15 seconds to accurately complete each step.

The test was about to start. I glanced at the last question further down which was larger than the previous and realized that 30 seconds was almost certainly not a believable time for any of the questions, so I put my test in the clock just as the proctor announced "Begin!" The power to the clocks was turned on, and my paper was stamped "00:00" and I held up my test for collection by the proctor, who looked bewildered, along with my teammates. I waited 3 minutes, i.e.: 6 x 30 seconds. No one stamped a test, and I kept waiting. It was nearly 10 minutes as I recall before one of the best students stamped his test and walked out. I was not a gracious winner – and my gloating inspired the professors to retroactively change the scoring rules after the competition in a manner preventing me from walking across the stage to accept the blue ribbon. The advocacy of my physics instructor and his assistant did get me a first place ribbon privately, with their congratulations on quickly developing such an effective strategy. 

We'll see how that old ability functions when StarCraft II comes out…


R. Anthony Steele said...

It's been my opinion, since the announcement of this film, that this scene was the reason for setting the film as a prequal.

It should have been the shining moment in the film. I kept thinking how much I hated that smug bastard in the Captain's chair.

Funny, I never felt that way about Shatner's performance...


BurntSynapse said...

The differences in portrayals was profound for those who are concerned about character in either an ethical sense, or a dramatic sense. nuKirk was written to be a violent, abusive, tantrum throwing smartass, although I hear there exists a deleted scene where he apologizes to Gaila for seducing her to get at the simulator programming.

muser said...

"I hear there exists a deleted scene where he apologizes to Gaila for seducing her to get at the simulator programming"

Even if that was his ulterior motive I can't imagine his heart (among other things) wasn't in the effort. (I know, I'm a misogynist or anti-feminist or something for saying that. Still, take a look at Gaila):


The Wizard said...

I just have to say that the simulation has horrible sound effects. Did you hear the photon firing SFX? Sounded like a monkey breaking a stick.

BurntSynapse said...

Hi Wiz!

Hm, I hadn't really objected to that based on the need to distinguish the sim from non-simulated scenes. TWoK actually looked a little too realistic for a sim, while this one looked actually a bit more appropriate.

Did I just say that?!

Flashman85 said...

I can't put my finger on exactly why, but something felt wrong about this scene, but not in the way several other parts of this movie felt wrong--more like watching someone finally fulfill their dream of getting married, but to the wrong person. I suppose I had envisioned Kirk's triumph over the Kobayashi Maru simulation to be a little less...cocky. What I remember of this scene fits with the new characterization of Kirk, but it felt more like a joke than a climax or a tribute. Maybe it's just me.

BurntSynapse said...

Hi Flash,

I agree, it was really missing any number of things that could have made it work. As it is, the scene plays very fast, flat, and lifeless.

Kirk's obvious contempt for the sim is given no context other than one mention to McCoy before the Gaila scene, and a ludicrous non-plus, and an actual *refusal* to defend his position and actions at the "council session". Terrible abuse of the characters, story, and audience.

evansra said...

Did anyone wonder why McCoy was manning the helm? "I'm a doctor Jim, not a helmsman," comes to mind. Seriously though, why would medical personnel be trained to operate the bridge during combat?