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Month: July 2016

The hills are alive with the sound of fire

The hills are alive with the sound of fire

Around 3pm on Tuesday I felt a ping from my pocket. It was a facebook post from a neighbor:

firefirefire

Intriguing to say the least.

By the time I opened a browser (I was at work) more posts from neighbors had gone up, but the most frightening one looked like this:

That red roof there in the background by the fire is our building. At that point, I showed my manager and headed for home. Outside the office, I could see things had gotten worse since that photo was posted. The entire Hollywood sign part of the Santa Monica Mountain range was covered in a thick brown smoke. The fire was already visible to the entire city in front and behind the mountain range.

While I drove into the smoke the radio informed me that my street, Cahuenga Blvd East, was closed the entire length of the one-way portion. I still drove up to the barricades and asked if residents were allowed through, but was rebuffed. I parked on the other side of the 101 and watched as fire helicopters dropped water from the reservoir and firefighters brought hoses up the hill.

By that time my phone was “blowing up” as the local (and some national) news media caught wind of the story. When the hills below the Hollywood sign are on fire it makes for an intriguing story headline.

I just watched and held my breath as the fire crept down the hill towards our condo and neighbors stuck inside gave a play-by-play. It was surreal standing right there not able to do anything about it. I never really thought about what material possession I would save in a situation like this before. Pretty sure now that it would be my first electric guitar, a gift from my parents on my 15th birthday that still sits in my living room. But deciding wouldn’t help any if the fire didn’t stop, I guess I just knew what I’d mourn the loss of the most.  (At this point, I should probably mention that Sam was miles away, safe in downtown Los Angeles) It was also odd having folks park their cars next to me to get a “good view” for a few snapshots and then leave.

Since the fire came from the south and our condo is only the third in from the southern end of the entire complex – and we’re on the ground level- our home was in very clear danger. If anything was damaged our unit would be one of the first.

The roof in the center of this video is the roof of our building:

That concrete sluice is essentially the property line. Our condo is to the right on the fire-side (back side) of that taller white part on the roof (the elevator equipment).

Below is a collage from TV reports done by a neighbor a little later after the fire was starting to get contained. That building that bends like an L is our building and we live right in front of that tall round tree below the concrete sluice.

This was my view (after containment) from across the street:

However, the battle was still raging on the backside of the hill:

Luckily, the firefighters got the blaze contained just at the edge of our property line in front of our condo. I’d never before seen such a concentration of fire trucks, firefighters, or fire choppers. The news reported more than 200 firefighters and five water-dropping helicopters were dispatched as the blaze grew from a small brush fire into an 18 acre “all hands” call to stop damage from reaching homes, the 101 freeway, the Ford Theater, and the Hollywood Reservoir.

Now that the danger has passed, the focus of our community is on how best to let the LAFD know our appreciation for saving our homes.

A few more shots from neighbors, some who braved the hiking trail to get close to the fire.

(Note: all photos are copyright of Cahuenga Hills community members and/or identified news media and assumed available for non-commercial use, but I will take down upon request)

Ballooning Birthday

Ballooning Birthday

Birthday Balloon Ride

In years past, Sam and I have traded “excursions” as birthday gifts. She got me a parasailing trip. I got her a plane flying lesson. And so on.

For her birthday this year I wanted to give her something I knew she had on her bucket list but we couldn’t fit into our Europe trip: hot air ballooning.

We were supposed to have a sunset balloon ride on the weekend of her birthday back in May, but the company cancelled the flight because the wind wasn’t right. Since we were leaving for Europe we had to reschedule the flight for June. When that day came they said the other guests didn’t show up (not sure how that’s our fault, why don’t they charge the no-shows and give us a private ride?), so they called us and rescheduled again.

If they asked us to reschedule this third time we were going to throw our hands up and demand a refund. To our surprise they said “come on down!”  We hopped in the car and drove the 3+ hours south to Del Mar. We stopped on the way to eat at the Packing House, a hidden foodie gem that a friend took us to after not snorkeling at Shaw’s Cove a few weeks ago (waves were way too high to go in the water). That time we ate at Black Sheep, which is great if you love grilled cheese and tomato soup (and who doesn’t?!). This time we went downstairs for a sit-down meal at Kettlebar, enticed by a handwritten sign in the front proclaiming Jambalaya!

Turns out Kettlebar has a great selection of Cajun favorites, which is something Sam and I always strive to find more of (and is surprisingly lacking in Los Angeles).

After filling ourselves with seafood, rice, and rolls we inched our way down the PCH to Rancho Santa Fe. The balloon flight took off in a little field next to the horse race track below the ridge with all the ritzy gated communities (our pilot made sure to point out Bill Gates’ house).

The most striking thing about the ride was the smoothness. From start to finish the only bumps came from a very slow touchdown. When up in the air it’s almost as if you’re standing still, albeit at 3,000 feet up. The only noise is the intermittent burn of the flame heating the air in the balloon that keeps the basket aloft. We drifted only four miles in an hour, twirling more than anything else so everyone could see the mountains in the north, the beach to the west and the low hills of Tijuana to the south. The almost-sunset view was great, although it probably would have been more impressive if we’d seen it before paragliding over the Swiss alps, as we’d originally planned. To our surprise we saw powered paragliders joining us in the sky and a glider plane even circled our balloon. I didn’t know either of those things happened down here… maybe a good idea for a future birthday?

We touched down in a field of little green and red shrubs. The shrubs were covered with snails. Millions of snails. We couldn’t walk anywhere without murdering underfoot. But murder we would, as there were two bottles of champagne waiting for us at the back of the van. So we got a little tipsy watching the sun plummet over the Pacific.

(don’t worry, we had the ride in the van back to our car in Del Mar to sober up before the long drive home)

Behold the video evidence:

Acheron Bound and Down: The obvious and disappointing plot of Alien: Covenant

Acheron Bound and Down: The obvious and disappointing plot of Alien: Covenant

The wheels have slowly been turning for some time to make it easier to guess the plotline of the sequel to Ridley Scott’s 2012 Alien prequel Prometheus. That film ended with characters driving an “engineer” (I still shudder at how Scott bastardized Giger’s original space jockey to shoehorn a dumb ancient aliens theory into the franchise – not to mention decrease the special effects budget) ship back to their homeworld. Reports said that the sequel would be called Paradise (then Alien: Paradise Lost), with the homeworld being a place that felt like a paradise but had terrible secrets (like Jesus was an alien, if you didn’t get the most obvious nonverbal plot point of Prometheus).

prometheus15meme

Or maybe it was Prince Charles. Same difference.

Well, I guess Scott kept that “paradise” part, with the limited synopsis of Alien: Covenant stating that the film takes place on a world that the crew of Covenant (a colinization ship) originally thinks is suitable to live on but later finds a dark secret. Of course, speculation immediately built that the planet would actually be the titular Acheron (LV-426) featured in Alien and Aliens, with the derelict being the ship that Shaw crashes (because women are terrible drivers… I kid I kid!).

This will likely be the case, which I’ll get to the evidence of shortly, but it’s a shame. In Alien Dallas stated that the derelict “looks fossilized.” Since the Alien franchise operates on a clear timeline with stated dates we know that if the derelict is the ship we see Shaw pilot in Prometheus there’s no way it could be traditionally fossilized. By definition, a fossilized object is at least 10,000 years old. We’ll put aside the relativistic effects of near light speed travel (as it doesn’t appear to affect the timelines in-story in these movies) for now and work with the canonical fact that only twenty-nine years pass between the events of Prometheus and Alien. Even by Creationist standards that would be some damn-fast fossilizing. Good thing for Mr. Scott Dallas’s line was “looks fossilized.” A scientific observation by Ash or a computerized device would make that statement much harder to write around thirty-five years later.

But it’s going to be that ship, fossilized or not. How do we know? Danny Mcbride inadvertently spilled the beans in a recent interview about his character:

“I’m the pilot of the spaceship Covenant, which is a colonization ship, searching for a planet where we might start life anew.”

“You see, Danny, the engineers are like god and they sent Jesus to Earth. This is all a biblical retelling, so I guess that would make your character . . .”

“Samson?”

“What? Why Samson?”

“He brought the house down.”

“Danny . . .”

“You hired a comedian, Guvnah.”

“This is serious stuff, Danny, I actually believe we came from ancient aliens. We’re walking around the truth here, this might be real!”

“Shit, Ridley, I need to get some of what you’re smoking!”

Okay, so enough kidding around. Here’s the plot reveal: The black goo is the genesis device from Star Trek II and it will be detonated on an already-crashed ship this time. That’s how you fossilize a ship, eliminate all the humans and aliens, and have it all look dusty and dead by the time the Nostromo shows up nineteen years later (Covenant takes place ten years after Prometheus). The transmission was a warning to stay away, one the company (which we now know is sponsoring the mission of the spaceship Covenant as well) had been looking for in that star system since the Prometheus blew up.

I’m reminded of my favorite line from the Simpsons.

Prove me wrong a year from now, Ridley, prove me wrong! But c’mon, Edna, the more information we get about this film the more we know this series has no future! Rumors are swirling now that Scott is no longer planning multiple sequels but will make Covenant the direct antecedent of Alien. That’s awfully hard to do if the planet isn’t Acheron. Awfully hard to do if the goo doesn’t destroy everything on the planet. Awfully hard to swallow for fans of the original film.

Financial Professionals

Financial Professionals

motif

The truth is slowly starting to emerge about investing. What used to be available for those that had the good sense to seek out resources like the Motley Fool is becoming more widespread. Jon Oliver recently threw his weight behind what those behind the scenes have always known. We were taught this in our finance classes in the MBA program but were aware that it’s not common knowledge. If it was common knowledge the major investment firms would start losing money on advising fees. The number one rule of investing is: never invest in single stocks (alone). The second rule of investing is: you can’t beat the market (unless you’re an extreme statistical outlier like Warren Buffet or you cheat).

Knowing this, the best performing portfolio is generally one that contains mutual funds, or mirrors mutual fund stocks. Diversifying these funds based on volatility is best. (Mutual funds are a grouping of stocks that are intended to mirror the performance of the market as a whole while containing enough diversity to safeguard against losses) If that sounds like your retirement account, it’s because it is. Nobody wants to lose money in their retirement account over time, so it’s managed to meet the market. What nobody tells you is that to do anything else is riskier than you might think.

I’m assuming most of my family/friends already know all this, but for any that do not I’m providing personal proof of this abstract concept.

I decided to invest a little money into the “motif” format last year. Motif lets you arrange your own package of stocks (which they call “motifs”), which can then be used by other members (which gives you a little kick-back). I didn’t really do it because it was a snazzy new startup. I was just tired of dealing with TDAmeritrade et al, who make trading and putting together a portfolio nearly impossible for someone (me) who wants to set it and forget it.

I purchased three of their recommended professionally built motifs and created one of my own. I based the picks in my motif on a somewhat capricious method of picking companies I like/use and/or believe are good for the environment.

After a few weeks, last summer’s mini-recession on wall street took hold and my account is still in the negative more than a year later. However, the performance difference between the funds arranged by the “professionals” and myself is striking. The only fund I own that isn’t still in the red… is the one I created. Me. Not a financial genius. Not interested in day trading. Not the kind that attends shareholder meetings or reads prospectuses (prospecti?).

So why didn’t I follow my own rules? Maybe a latent desire to gamble since I don’t know how to play poker, blackjack, or any of the professional gamblers vices. I don’t know, really, maybe just stupidity?

In any case, I plan on smarting up and trading into mutual funds when/if my portfolio becomes positive again.

In the interest of full disclosure: my investments have provided enough dividends that after adding in my cash balance my account is actually already in the green. However, many stocks aren’t required to give dividends, so counting on those in the future to make up for losses would be foolish. Hopefully one day I’ll grow out of doing foolish things…(with money).

 

UPDATE (7/20/2016): Again, not just me saying this.

Three Month Update: The Filter Trap

Three Month Update: The Filter Trap

On April 8th I self-published my second novel: The Filter Trap.  I purposefully didn’t promote the book (or even mention it was up for sale to friends) for nearly a month so I could establish a control period to gauge the effectiveness of later promotions.

When the Kindle promotion (free downloads) launched I advertised it in several places. It was also shared by many friends on facebook (if that was one of you – thank you!). Unfortunately, I have no way to determine where the free downloads came from. Amazon keeps that info to themselves since they want authors to spend money on their proprietary advertising (which you wouldn’t do ever again if you knew 90% of your downloads came from facebook shares or Freebooksy or Goodreads).

The book skyrocketed to the top of the free sci-fi books list, hitting the top three by the third day of the promotion and top 100 of all free books (some authors plaster “Amazon Best Seller” on their cover when that happens, but I feel that’s a bit disingenuous). By the time the five days were over the book had been downloaded for free 3,000 times. It felt good to see that, but unlike movie sales, album releases, and many other forms of art the feedback is anything but immediate for novels.

free days FT

But anyway, 3,000 downloads. Woohoo, right?! A week later we left for vacation and I hoped sales would keep humming in the background. When we had working wifi and I checked in on the book I received less encouraging news.

From those 3,000 downloads only a few reviews trickled in (assuming all the reviews so far are from downloads it’s had a 0.3% response rate), and not all of them good. Three (of only nine to date) were the dreaded one-star review, which is worse than no reviews at all in Amazon’s (and potential readers’) eyes. From the other side of the planet, I watched my sales rank plummet.

Much has been written at greater length by more experienced writers about how authors should deal with one-star reviews, especially capricious ones that don’t seem to contain any actual criticism. The most important advice is always: Do not respond! It was incredibly difficult to do that.

Here are my thoughts on the three reviews, all of which I did not see until I was in Europe (Amazon doesn’t notify authors when new reviews go up, you just have to check your own book page from time to time).

dumbreviews1

For the curious, here is the exact passage (pertinent dialog highlighted by me, not in the actual text) that Mark in Kansas was so upset about that he slammed down the book at only 15% in and gave it a one-star review:

“The water at Crissy Field must be up to people’s ankles,” Allan mentioned to the others in the Hummer as they plowed through the swamp lapping at Marine Drive.

“I seen this before,” the driver said. “I got sent in after Katrina. People were dragging bodies out of flooded homes in knee-high water in the 9th Ward the day after the storm.”

That president failed to act quickly and decisively. I think this president will do better,” Allan claimed.

“You think!” The other soldier turned his head. “This is Katrina times a thousand, all along both coasts.”

They climbed up the hill in silence from Marine Drive.

“Then again, you on his little list, so you’d know,” the driver sarcastically stated.

Passing over the Presidio by taking the 101, he lamented, “Hope he’s right. We almost there.”

What Mark in Kansas isn’t telling you in his nonsensical review is that he’s reacting to a character’s opinion, not an author stating a fact.  Earlier in the story, Allan was set up as an obvious “liberal.” He’s a college professor and scientist who strives for recognition and fame and doesn’t particularly trust conservatives or the military. This was a purposeful machination to build conflict as several times his life is saved by the heroics of the US military. His statement about the president is something a devout liberal would say about Katrina, and it’s only meant to build up to a later reveal and realization that the state of the world cannot be helped no matter who is in the white house. If Mark in Kansas had stuck with the book a little longer he would have seen that.

Instead – kaboom! Let’s make sure nobody else reads or buys this (clearly!) liberal author’s book that took years of work and thousands of dollars to create! Mission Accomplished, Mark! Should I come to your workplace and try to get you fired because you think George Bush is a hero? I bet your boss understands your personal political opinions are not expressed in your work and wouldn’t care. Why don’t you give me that same leverage to tell a story containing characters you may not agree with 100% of the time? Or is the modern conservative bubble so tight that not even fiction containing liberals is allowed to exist within? That’s starting to sound less like political ideology and more like religion.

Golly, I wonder if Proud Mark is aware that Dick Cheney diverted electricity away from hospitals without power to make sure gas pipelines from Texas didn’t go down.  Or that FEMA director Michael Brown insisted the decision to federalize the Louisiana response was entirely political (Louisiana had a democratic governor at the time).  As for the assumption that my character (not me) was wrong in saying Bush did not “act quickly and decisively,” consider that in the immediate aftermath the Bush administration refused aid offered by many countries. Furthermore, the U.S. House of Representatives (despite having a Republican majority at the time) issued a bipartisan report identifying “failures at all levels of government.” That would include the President, wouldn’t it?

But let’s torpedo this book for even having a character suggesting the President had any blame for the plight of the 9th ward. A sensible reader response to a science fiction self-published FREE book, right?

dumbreviews3

The reaction from Sailor Bear (from Texas, obviously) is even more befuddling. He finished the book, making it to the “controversial” ending – but completely misinterpreted it. Spoiler alert: The ending of the book contains a note from the author urging readers to make up their own mind about what the president should or shouldn’t do and then stop reading… or continue to read the original ending. It’s made quite clear that the president is wrestling with multiple interests involved in a world-altering decision. As in real life, there is no solution that will please everyone.  I won’t get into why Sailor Bear might think the decision made is “betraying us all,” (a matter of opinion) because the important part is that he believes this is “acting like our current president.” Essentially if I’d written a book about Hitler in a negative light Sailor Bear would have given that book a one-star review as well because it reminded him of Obama. Whether you approve of Obama or not, it’s ridiculous to believe he’s “betraying us all.” That sounds like the same kind of willful ignorance (usually a smokescreen for racism) that birthers employ.  (disclaimer: I actually never gave the president a name in the book, nor do I state the year the events happen, so any assumptions it’s President Obama are coming from the reader, not from the text)

The craziest part about Sailor Bear’s review is that he clearly hates Obama, yet is angry I made (a character who he thinks is) Obama act the way he thinks Obama really acts. If I had the president decide in a way incongruent with Sailor Bear’s warped view of Obama would he have still given me a one-star review because I was making his black Hitler into a hero?

I guess the lesson here is that it’s a lose-lose scenario for an author to ever put anything remotely political into a book.

dumbreviews2

The third one-star review (from an older white man in Utah… see a pattern developing?), although more cogent (albeit lazy) than the southern boys’, still leaves little crumbs for an author to learn anything by. At several points in the book the characters have to work together to solve problems and “save the day,” making me wonder if he was even reviewing the right book. As for being “emotional pygmies,” I guess I’ll take that as a hint I need to work harder on character motivation and dialogue?

So enough of my whining, let’s pull back the curtain and see how these brave keyboard vigilantes fared fighting for God and Country against struggling authors. Very well!  After Kansas joined the party the book’s overall ranking fell to three stars, and sales dropped to zero for over a month. Even free reads through Kindle Unlimited fell away to almost nothing (after those already reading must have finished up). The overall amazon sales rank for the book dropped by over 75,000 and is still sinking.

purchases and starsfree pages read

You can see my sales in the chart above and do the math yourself. I have nothing to hide here, I haven’t even earned back the money spent on the promotional emails. Thanks to the heroic work of a few conservative readers I probably never will.

One-star reviews aren’t the problem, but the lack of positive reviews from folks who liked the book. In the more serious reader community of goodreads, the book has received more reviews and none were below three stars. Yet, since Goodreads averages reviews across multiple platforms, Mark in Kansas, Sailor Bear, and Mr. Utah 1965 have a long reach and are still managing to keep the book just below four stars.

(UPDATE: 48 hours after publishing this post one more Amazon review went up and two on Goodreads. The amazon review was three stars and the goodreads were… both two stars. So, my original preceding paragraph feels foolhardy and my original next paragraph feels heavier in retrospect. Although I still don’t agree with the one-star reviews, perhaps an average of three is appropriate? This is not providing a lot of motivation to finish the other pieces I’m working on.)

This leads me to believe that although the book may have flaws (perhaps serious flaws) it is impossible to tell how I’m writing via Amazon’s wild west rating system.

The point of this self-indulgent, long-winded post is that the most important thing to self-published authors is getting positive reviews from readers who actually liked the book.  Everybody loves to talk about how much they hate something, but nobody wants to share how much they liked something. Especially if they didn’t absolutely love it.

But those reviews make or break sales rankings. Sales ranking determines who will “take a chance” on your book (if only other $2.99 purchases were so discriminating, I’ve never looked up online reviews while picking out a drink from the 7-11 refrigerator).

If you’ve read anything I’ve done, please leave a review. It doesn’t have to be nice. In fact, critical reviews are the most helpful and the only way an author can improve on blind spots. On behalf of all unknown authors artists, tell us what you think! Honest criticism of the work is infinitely more valuable to the creator than dishonest praise or condemnation.

For those of you who HAVE left an honest review, I noticed you and I’m forever grateful! I suppose the fact that I wrote a big long blog post about the bad reviews and not yours proves the point that we all tend to focus on the negative. Does that make me a hypocrite?

 

 

Fireworks on the Hill

Fireworks on the Hill

July 4th Fireworks
On July 4th Sam and I hiked up the hill behind our condo to watch the fireworks. The part of the trail that connects our property to the ridge line was only dug out late last year after I borrowed equipment from facilities manager and started it myself. After cutting through the first twenty feet and then raking out a path the grounds crew came with shovels and dug the rest of the trail all the way to the top. It must have been back-breaking work in the direct sun, but the manager told me they actually enjoyed it as it was different than the mundane work they’re often tasked with (cleaning up after owners that don’t know how to pick up after their pets, repairing leaky pipes, blowing leaves off the driveway, etc.) In just a few days these guys dug out a dirt trail of switchbacks and steps (not to mention the big rock border they put along it) going up a hill that climbs … I don’t know … a thousand feet?

It’s a good calf workout to get up there, but at most a ten minute journey. My parents had no trouble following me to the peak in December. It’s still seems somewhat serendipitous that (since hiking became-and still is-such a regular part of my life here) I ended up living somewhere with a hiking trail to the ridge that looks over at the bowl and Runyon Canyon on one side and the Hollywood Reservoir, the Hollywood sign, and Griffith Park Observatory on the other.  Of course there is also the ease of bowl access. In the next three months we plan on walking over to see Sufjan Stevens and Sigur Ros. If you don’t live here, the Bowl can be one of the worst concert venues in the city to get in and out of. But I’ve digressed from the fireworks story…

The ridge line to the tiny peak over the Ford Theater is a longer path than the initial vertical way up, but doesn’t change elevation as rapidly. As we walked the ridge we came across one other resident who’d come up (like me) armed with a tripod and a DSLR. It’s an interesting way to meet your neighbors (our community has 173 units).

We reached the peak and settled in around 8:40pm. We were surprised to see fireworks going off from horizon to horizon. It was an incredible view, reminding me of the flight to the ziggurat in Blade Runner’s Los Angeles.

^^That’s a still from the film, not from the peak. Now that I’ve looked it up… I can tell you what we saw was far more vibrant and colorful. Too many explosions to count, all the way down to Long Beach. Some of our wealthier neighbors in the Hollywood Hills were even setting off their own (illegal) fireworks.

By 9pm as many as twenty other residents came up (my own fault for working to publicize the existence of the trail to other residents in the last six months!). That made the experience less magical, but it was still impressive (and the statements of our neighbors echoed that). During the regular fireworks our anticipation built for the main event: The Hollywood Bowl 4th of July Fireworks Spectacular with Chicago. We could actually hear and sing along to the Chicago tunes while watching the fireworks. At 9:30 the fireworks strapped to the back of the bowl went off. As we watched from across the street we all realized we had a better view of the “show” than the bowl audience. Their backs were turned to the fireworks still exploding over the rest of the Los Angeles basin from San Gabriel in the east, Long Beach in the south, and Santa Monica in the West. All that and we didn’t pay a dime for the show.

Well, except for the mortgage, of course!

I have a feeling this will be a new tradition, and the crowd is going to be bigger next year. Maybe I’ll remember to take the UV filter off my lens next year…

Trekonomics

Trekonomics

Before the untimely demise of SFSignal, I had just started reviewing books for the blog (a writing achievement for me!). They only published one of my reviews before John decided to shutter the site as an active source of sci-fi information. However, kind-hearted as he is, he sent me a few of the books that were on my “to review” list anyway.

The first of those books was the (then) forthcoming Trekonomics, by Manu Saadia. My excitement grew after the book was announced, not because of my Star Trek fandom, but because my analytical side often wandered down the same path as Saadia’s, curious about those off-hand remarks about a future with no money and yet the continuing existence of the Ferengi’s. Wondering how labor is managed when there is no financial incentive to work. Wondering how far away that future really is (I’d love to spend all day writing and painting instead of… project managing).

I’m not sure if it’s a spoiler to note that (according to Saadia) the crux of the utopian economy established by the 24th-century hinges on the invention of the replicator and (more importantly) its availability as a public good.

Saadia takes us on an abbreviated tour of the three main television shows (the movies were action vehicles) that deal with the problems of future economy: TOS, TNG, and DS9. If you don’t know what those acronyms are this probably isn’t the book for you.

Much time is spent discussing the replicators and the freedom they allow a populace unburdened by the necessity to work for wages. Or even the necessity to worry about acquiring anything, from bread to billions. What’s not entirely made clear is how a moneyless society deals with the scarcity of unreplicable goods: houses along the beach in Malibu, for example. There are a few throw-away lines in the show that state people just don’t worry about the acquisition and accumulation of material things anymore since they are, in effect, worthless. But property (certainly a material good) isn’t valued because of its composition (the market value of wood, steel, and glass) so much as its relative geographic position (land in Malibu vs. Marietta). In a 22nd century with nine billion (ST:First Contact gives a population count before the Borg take over the planet) how can there not be even more people wanting to live on the mountaintop or beachfront than there are now?

The simple answer is that the economics of the future exist solely within Starfleet and there’s a good reason trips to Earth are rare on the show. Since anyone worthy of praise is inculcated into the organization in some way or another their reward (ostensibly of respect and position) is granted by that organization. Genius is primed early and there are no longer Leonardo-like masterpiece makers hitting their stride later in life.

However, Starfleet admirals have to live somewhere too, don’t they? People still live in Central Park West, right? Are those homes occupied by the families that own them now? Is there a 5th generation Trump still gilding the interiors of prime Manhattan real estate in the year 2365? That seems to run against the grain of a show that repeatedly scoffed at the barbarism of our present. As Riker says in The Neutral Zone after meeting some unfrozen folks like us: “makes me wonder, how our species ever survived the twenty-first century.”

It’s clear to most that perpetuating the capitalist gains obtained by a slim few in part through colonialism, slavery, and racism would not be an objective of the Federation.  Again, the show creates a caveat with a fictional world war three happening in the late 21st century, wiping out most of the property and the owners. But not all. And when the ragtag remnants of humanity rebuild you’d think the first thing they’d do is fight over who gets to live on the beach. The replicator isn’t even invented until at least a hundred years after the great war, so the concept of scarcity lives on and so would property for a good time to come.


In Star Trek Generations we meet Kirk in the Nexus enjoying time in his retirement at his log cabin in an idyllic mountain setting, with no plebians around for miles. The point is made clearer when one learns that some of the scenes (though not of the house itself) were shot at the actor’s real property. In a fascinating symmetry of the show with reality Shatner’s wealth as an actor translates roughly to that of the venerated retired Starfleet Admiral he famously portrays. Both enjoy the very real material wealth of success, despite promises of an egalitarian utopian society.

However, this disparity between ideals and reality in Star Trek becomes more believable when considering what Saadia barely touches on: the outlawing of genetic engineering.

Born dumb? Too bad, you have to stay dumb. Born with sickle cell? No Starfleet for you, Benjamin Sisko! I kid, I kid. But seriously, Geordi is born nearly blind and the solution is to give him future glasses which leave him in constant pain. They could just order up some new eyes from the replicator, but…that’s illegal. Because genetic tampering would give folks unfair advantages. Wait, what? We’ve already established that any beneficial technology is essentially available to everyone in this world. So why artificially handicap anyone, isn’t that a punishment? Since certain unfavorable genetic traits are linked to ethnicity isn’t that a racist policy?

We’ll table that for a moment because obviously on the television shows the genetic tampering law was another necessary cheat of the structure of the show to tackle the inevitable question of why the principle actors would age on a show about a utopian future. As Beverly Crusher explained in the same episode (The Neutral Zone) that made clear the future’s disdain for the economics of the past: “(In the 20th Century) People feared dying. It terrified them.”

Really, Beverly? I dare you to put on a red shirt and say that! No satisfactory explanation is ever given as to why three hundred years later nobody is afraid of death (from natural causes).

Unless there isn’t any!

Back in the real world, we all know that with the dual inventions of machines that can scan and store genetic code from living beings down to the level of individual electron orbits (the transporter pattern buffer) and then recreate those atoms perfectly in every detail in nearly real-time (the replicator) death would be nonexistent except for freak accidents or suicides.

The replicator and transporter machines would not be created for the purposes we see on the show. The first thing anyone would use a replicator for is to grow new organs for cancer patients and the first thing a pattern buffer would do is scan the patient’s genetic code and remove the gene that leads to cancer in the new organ.

Immortality would be granted for only a few at first in our economy. However, in the 24th-century we’re led to believe that any and all technology is free to everyone, especially (and because of) the replicator. No need for doctors to implant your new organs, by the way, we can remove the old and implant the new almost simultaneously via the transporter. Perhaps making transporter masters the most respected occupation in the galaxy. They really should have had a show about Chief O’Brien running everything, right?

What?

Yeah, that’s right: Colm Meaney would finally get to be the big star in the real Star Trek.

However, late in the book, when Trekonomics crosses over into a discussion of our actual future it lacks any significant discussion of the immortality that the utopian society would enable (because of the very same technology that negates the need for money).

Was this deliberate? Immortality throws a wrench into the central tenet of Trekonomics. Without aging, Picard would never retire to the family vineyard. Those in power when immortality begins may never leave. After all, they’ve established their position only because they enjoy it so much. People retire in our world because they’re too tired to do what they love or they (most of us) never really liked trekking to an office in the first place.

One way around this is to enact term limits. However, that seems a highly inefficient way of managing assets whose sole quality is an extreme proficiency for their profession. It would also be extremely dangerous to everyone else on the starship if a captain of fifty years is forced to retire. The learning curve for a successor would be enormous.  And then what? The retired captain has to go do something else, but would probably be first in line for many other things, creating a shuffling of cards like we actually have already in Washington (compare the names in the two Bush presidential administrations, or consider that Bill Clinton’s wife is going to be our president in 2017).

So that proposed economy based on status becomes much tighter or nonexistent. Who inherits Kirk’s mountain retreat when he sacrifices himself to save the galaxy? (not sorry for spoiling, that movie came out before this year’s college graduates were even born)

Any fight at all for status would be much more bloodthirsty or futile for many.

Or perhaps Saadia is right anyway. If more people want to be Starfleet captains, we just build more Enterprises. As Picard says after setting the self-destruct sequence on the Enterprise-E: “Plenty of letters left in the alphabet.”

In a world where there is no cost for building a starship and the only goal of said ship is to explore an infinite galaxy, infinite economic opportunity exists.

We still have the problem of who gets to live in the fancy houses just fifty miles of the center of the universe (Starfleet headquarters) in Monterey Bay.

Perhaps a democratic vote. The ultimate expression of status, the kid voted by his peers most popular. Is Star Trek ultimately just Gene Roddenberry’s fantasy about escaping back to childhood? The future will be just like elementary school: Everything is free and you’re led to believe you can do whatever you want with your life.

So really we didn’t fall in love with a grand vision of the future. We’re being nostalgic for our past. But it’s not a collective past. Star Trek is a first world problem. Privileged Americans who never wanted to grow up. It’s probably why when I talk to friends who escaped childhood poverty (or state-sanctioned murder) in South America they have little interest in the Star Trek universe. They aren’t rejecting a bright future, they’re unable to feel at home in a comfortable past.