One more year in review

It’s the 30th of November, and that means it’s Trekking with Dennis’s third anniversary! I published my first article at the end of November 2019, kick-starting the project that would eventually become this website, and I think it’s worth taking a moment to both mark the occasion and look back at the past twelve months. No, this isn’t my “end of year” article looking at some of my favourite films, games, and television shows (that’ll come around New Year), but rather this is a more personal reflection on the events of the past twelve months.

Back in April, Trekking with Dennis passed 100,000 hits, which is a pretty huge milestone! And – touch wood – we’re on track to make 2022 the most successful year so far in terms of visitors, which is also fantastic news. Although visitor numbers and traffic aren’t my main focus, and I’d still be writing about these subjects even if no one was tuning in, it’s still a rewarding feeling to know that so many people have been interested in my take on some of these topics.

Check back in January for a more detailed look at stats and numbers!

But the past twelve months have also been a bit of a rollercoaster ride. This time last year I was posting at least one article every other day, and that carried on until the spring. But as we headed into the summer I found it difficult to keep up that schedule – I began to lose motivation and suffer from a case of writer’s block. By the time the September rolled around I was only managing a few posts a month, and I ended up taking an eight-week break from late September through to early November.

That break is the longest I’ve taken since starting the website, and truth be told I probably needed it. I’d begun to feel that I was writing some articles (and especially some Star Trek episode reviews) less for enjoyment and more out of a sense of obligation, and I think that comes across in at least some of the pieces I published this past summer and autumn. I’m not sure that those articles and reviews represent my best work, and they’re nowhere near the bar that I aim to reach.

Some of the reviews I wrote this year aren’t as good as I’d want them to be.

So if that’s what happened, what should the takeaway be? What lesson should I be learning from that period of burnout and of writing to deadlines out of a sense of obligation? I guess “don’t do that” is a pretty basic one! Perhaps I’d become a little too interested in sticking to my “every other day” writing schedule, and perhaps I’d lost focus on what this website was supposed to be achieving for me.

When I created Trekking with Dennis, what I wanted was a space on the internet where I could discuss the topics that I was interested in at my own pace. I could choose what I wanted to comment on, which films or television programmes I wanted to review, and talk about them in an open-ended way without word limits. Earlier this year, perhaps fuelled in part by a couple of posts that picked up a lot of attention, I started to forget that, and trying to chase the next big “viral” article became a distraction.

I need to remember why I like writing here!

Speaking of distractions, regular readers may recall that I recently jumped out of the toxic mess that is Twitter. I have an article that goes into more detail about why I thought it was the right time to bring an end to my two-year experiment with the platform, and I’d encourage you to check it out if you haven’t already. But suffice to say that I don’t feel Twitter was a good fit for me, I wasn’t really getting out of it what I’d hoped in terms of traffic to the website, and the general atmosphere on Twitter is one of division, toxicity, and embarrassingly childish behaviour. Dumping the platform has been good for my mental health – even though I occasionally find myself composing a pithy Twitter post in my head and now have nowhere to put it!

Earlier this year I stepped outside of my comfort zone and built myself a PC for the first time ever! As I said at the time, it’s increasingly rare to find wholly new experiences these days, so it was definitely an interesting project. The PC that I built back in March is working great, and it’s my hope that it will continue to serve as my main device for years to come! Constructing it wasn’t a completely smooth experience, but if nothing else that just gave me even more of a sense of accomplishment; tracking down a particularly troublesome issue and figuring out a solution was the icing on the cake of an interesting and fun experience… even if it didn’t necessarily feel that way at the time!

Building my own PC for the first time was a new and interesting project.

In housekeeping news, the website’s old URL is finally going offline. By the end of the year, only the current URL (trekkingwithdennis.com) will be functional, so if any of you still haven’t updated your bookmarks, now is the time! One unexpected consequence of last year’s decision to change the website’s name is that many links within posts and articles didn’t update – and I couldn’t figure out a way to change that! As a result, I’ve had to go back into basically 90% of all the pieces I’ve ever published here – more than 600 of them – and manually edit or remove URLs that are about to become outdated. What a hassle!

Naturally, doing that took a long time! But it was actually interesting to step back and re-read some of the articles and columns from the earliest days of the website. I don’t regularly re-read things that I wrote two or three years ago, so it was fun in a way to take a nostalgic trip back in time! Doing so also gave me the opportunity to fix a few issues with some of those older posts. Some of the earliest pieces that I wrote here didn’t have images, or if they did the images were low-quality, misaligned, or cropped poorly. I took the opportunity to update some of them while fixing the URL issue, and I have a short list of a few other pieces that need improved header images or other corrections.

Manually changing hundreds of links was an annoyance in some ways, but provided an interesting look back in others.

As we take a moment to look back to that day in 2019 and reflect on how far the website has come, it’s genuinely interesting to me to catch a glimpse of that pre-covid world. The pandemic has turned so many things upside down, and looking back to 2019, it feels like there was a brief window of optimism that came in between a decade that had been dominated by austerity and Brexit and the pandemic that was about to bowl us over. That moment coincided with the creation of Trekking with Dennis; it now occupies a strange space as we look ahead to a “winter of discontent” that could see blackouts, food shortages, and even a general strike!

This past year has seen a lot of Star Trek! In fact, there hasn’t been much of a break from Star Trek at all, although my enjoyment of it has been hampered by Paramount’s poor scheduling – putting two episodes on the same day for several weeks running makes no sense. And that’s before we get to the awful decisions Paramount has made that have denied new Star Trek shows to millions of fans around the world.

A lot of Star Trek episodes have been broadcast over the past twelve months.

Star Trek being cut off from much of its international fanbase has damaged the brand immeasurably, and as Paramount Plus continues its painfully constipated rollout, that damage isn’t going away. Looking at the big picture and considering how these decisions have impacted the brand and the fan community are things we’ll have to consider in a future article I think, but on a purely personal level, I felt deeply disappointed in Paramount this year. The Discovery Season 4 catastrophe last November rumbled on for a while, and then came the lack of a broadcast for Strange New Worlds.

Paramount Plus finally arrived here in the UK earlier this year, but having already seen most of Strange New Worlds – and with the series running weeks behind on the UK edition of Paramount Plus – I didn’t bother to sign up. It’s something I will consider in the new year, depending on how things go, but it’s by no means a given. Money is tight and getting tighter – I had to cancel my plans to pre-order Starlink (Elon Musk’s satellite internet service) because it was unaffordable given inflation and other price hikes, and that’s just one example. I don’t have a lot of other expenses that I can see myself cutting back on, so Paramount Plus may not win a new subscriber any time soon.

Paramount Plus is now available in the UK.

The sad thing with the Paramount and Star Trek situation is just how good much of Star Trek has been this year. There were issues with Picard Season 2 and some of the sub-plots in Discovery’s fourth season, but by and large it’s been a good year for the franchise. Strange New Worlds was thoroughly excellent – who knew that making an episodic, exploration-oriented Star Trek series might be a good idea?

Star Trek has continued to be the main topic here on the website over the past twelve months, accounting for roughly two-thirds of the pieces that I’ve published. But there have been some other interesting films and television shows that I’ve checked out, some of which I encountered in the process of doing research for the website. As I said last year, Trekking with Dennis continues to broaden my experiences of media! Television shows like 1899 and Five Days At Memorial, films like The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent and Morbius, and games like Stray and Sniper Elite 5 all came onto my radar as a result of seeking out new and different things. While I haven’t found time to write a full review of all of them, I have included some on lists and as parts of other projects. In a general sense, I find myself thinking more about what kind of films, games, and television shows I want to check out, and sometimes trying out something quite different, all because I have Trekking with Dennis and I’m on the lookout for things to write about and discuss.

There have been some… interesting films this year!

I’ve added a few items to my Greatest Hits page, but fewer pieces made the cut over the past twelve months than in previous years. Partly that’s because of the burnout I talked about earlier; writing fewer pieces, and some of them being of noticeably lower quality, has meant that there haven’t been as many that I would consider to be among my best work.

However, I’m quite proud of my breakdown of Et in Arcadia Ego, my analysis of the Short Treks series and its potential, my review of The Matrix Resurrections, and my two-part look at being a Star Trek fan that I wrote back in February. I also added to the Greatest Hits page my “Kirk versus Picard” tongue-in-cheek debate, and stepping back to years past, I added one piece from 2020 about the survival prospects for brick-and-mortar video game shops as the medium goes increasingly digital. You can check out all of those by visiting the Greatest Hits page.

Whose side are you on?

So I suppose that’s it for now. The website’s third year in operation has been one of ups and downs in some respects. I didn’t plan on taking any time out, let alone being gone for almost two months, but that’s the way it goes sometimes! As I’ve said before, this is a project for fun, not something that I view as a serious job, so I try to pace myself and not overdo it. There are definitely things that I haven’t written about that I feel I should have – reviews of the second half of Lower Decks’ third season being first and foremost in my mind at the moment. However, my current attitude is one of “I’ll get around to it when I feel like it,” and it’s in that spirit that the website will operate in the immediate term!

If you’re a regular reader, thank you for sticking around. Some of the pieces I’ve written over the past twelve months have really taken off and done some impressive numbers (by my standards, at least) and I’m grateful to everyone for tuning in, clicking on my posts, and checking out this old Trekkie’s takes on Star Trek, gaming, and the broader world of geeky entertainment. I have no immediate plans to go back on hiatus, nor to change in any major way what I do here. You can expect more Star Trek reviews and theories, re-watches of older episodes, analysis of the video games industry, and discussion of television shows, films, and games. If you’re new around here, I hope you’ll stick around – or at least check back from time to time to see what’s new!

Here’s to another year. Cheers!

– Dennis
Wednesday, 30th November 2022

All properties mentioned above are the copyright of their respective broadcaster, studio, developer, distributor, company, etc. Some stock images may be courtesy of Pixabay. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

I quit Twitter

They say that social media isn’t an airport: you don’t need to announce your departure. But having recently jumped out of the “hellsite” that is Twitter, I wanted to explain why I decided to put an end to an almost two-year experiment with the micro-blogging platform – and my reasons for leaving may not be what you expect.

In 2022, tech entrepreneur (and richest human on Earth) Elon Musk announced that he planned to purchase Twitter. Some of the changes he made when the deal eventually went through haven’t gone down all too well – but my decision to quit is entirely unrelated to the Musk situation, even though I now find myself as one voice among many who have chosen to leave Twitter at the same time. In fact, the situation with Elon Musk’s takeover is partly why I wanted to share my thoughts; it would be easy for folks to assume that I left Twitter because of Musk, when really the timing is little more than coincidence.

New Twitter CEO Elon Musk.

First of all, I don’t think I was ever a good fit for Twitter, nor was Twitter the right place for me, because of my writing style. If you’re a regular reader, you may know that I have a somewhat longwinded or exhaustive style (I have reviews of individual Star Trek episodes that break the 10,000-word mark, for instance) and that just doesn’t gel with Twitter’s 280-character limit. I find it nigh-on impossible to condense an article or argument into such a short-form post, and while Twitter does allow for writing threads of posts that are joined together, that sort of defeats the purpose – and I found that many people on Twitter would only read one post out of an entire thread anyway.

As a result of posts being so curtailed, the conversation on Twitter, such as it is, lacks nuance. When we’re talking about the world of entertainment, which is my primary focus here on the website, I found that a Twitter post had barely enough space for me to say that I either liked something or I didn’t; there’s very little room for shades of grey or a more detailed explanation of how some elements of a production worked while others didn’t. And the audience on Twitter seems to largely expect that kind of black-and-white judgement.

No, not that kind of Shades of Gray

In practically all of my reviews here on the website, you’ll find me saying both positive and negative things about a film, television show, or video game – because in almost every case, no production is either absolutely perfect nor irredeemably awful. Even in cases where I’ve been scathing about films I didn’t enjoy – such as The Rise of Skywalker or Zack Snyder’s Justice League – I found positive things to say about some aspects of the projects, and likewise in productions that I loved and had plenty of positive things to say – like Star Trek: Discovery’s fourth season finale, Coming Home, or the video game Forza Horizon 5 – I wasn’t shy about picking on elements that I felt were less successful. Twitter, at least in my experience, didn’t really allow me to do that – and most people I interacted with there didn’t seem to want that nuanced discussion in any case.

Most things in life are not black-and-white, with either wholly positive or entirely negative opinions, and speaking for myself, it can be those nuances that I find the most interesting. Twitter, by its very nature, forces users into one camp or another, and when there’s already so much division in the world – and in fan communities – that kind of discussion goes nowhere positive. Taking Star Trek as an example, I feel that there have been some incredible Star Trek episodes since the franchise returned to the small screen five years ago… but there have also been some pretty serious missteps by Paramount Global, as well as some disappointing storytelling decisions to boot. But on Twitter, fans are pretty firmly divided into two camps: those who support new Star Trek and those who hate it. I found it difficult to fit in with either; I was to pro-“new Trek” for those who hate it, and too critical of it for those who never wanted to see a negative opinion expressed and who were quick to label anyone saying anything remotely critical of Paramount as a “hater.”

I’ve been critical of Paramount Global over the past couple of years.

On both sides of an increasingly black-or-white argument, I saw people who openly said that they didn’t want fans from “the other side” to even follow them, let alone interact with them, and these divisions seem to go very deep. One fan had in their Twitter bio words to the effect of “I never want to say anything negative about Star Trek ever” – and I just feel that such extremes of positivity or negativity don’t make for a healthy fan community, nor for a supportive one that can discuss in a civil and polite way the franchises they love. And this was by no means exclusive to the Star Trek fan community – similar divisions and arguments seem to plague practically every community on Twitter, and that’s before we even get to the world of politics!

On a similar note, Twitter reminded me a lot of the kind of stupid “he said, she said” arguments that were common on the playground at school. In the roughly two years I spent on Twitter I lost count of the number of times that “drama” erupted in the Star Trek fan community, with everything from financial scams to racist rants to ill-considered compliments triggering huge waves of backlash targeting certain individuals and their friends. Many times I was told that a person I had followed was “toxic,” and that if I wanted to remain part of whatever clique I had inadvertently stumbled upon then I’d better un-follow a whole host of people extra-quick.

It’s a visual metaphor.

If someone made a mistake – not being racist or anything truly nasty, but just saying something ill-advised or even something that was taken the wrong way – they would often find themselves the subject of hate and abuse, leading to exile. Twitter’s community of medieval peasants placed the targets of the day’s ire in the stocks, tarring and feathering them until the humiliation or attacks got too much, forcing them to leave the platform. I saw perfectly decent people who had friends and fans make a single mistake, write one single poorly-worded post, and get run off the site by sanctimonious self-appointed moderators.

I’d heard people call Twitter “toxic” long before I joined, and I’d even seen some folks refer to it as a “hellsite,” but I confess that I was entirely unprepared for the levels of childishness, of toxicity, and of poor behaviour that I encountered. Fortunately, for the duration of my two years on Twitter, none of that hate was ever directed at me personally, but simply being there and seeing these “Twitter dramas” unfold was enough to put me off.

An average Twitter user getting ready for a day of arguing with strangers about meaningless nonsense.

I joined Twitter with the rather shameless intention of promoting some of the articles here on the website, in the hopes that I’d get a few more clicks from Trekkies and people interested in some of the other things I talk about here. But looking at my stats, the posts I shared on Twitter only ever got a few hundred clicks at the very most, meaning that the experiment was a failure and sticking around didn’t feel worthwhile. I was conscious not to come across like a spam-bot, only ever posting links to the website, so I tried to expand what I did to include memes and jokes, often but not always about Star Trek. But even so, I never managed to attract much of a following.

This isn’t intended to sound bitter, and I appreciated that some folks on Twitter did follow my account and share and like some of the posts I made. I’m grateful for that and for their support. But speaking purely practically, being on Twitter didn’t accomplish what I hoped it would, and the few hundred extra hits that the website got wasn’t worth falling down that rabbit hole and getting sucked in to the politics and the drama that swirls around that infernal website.

Social media just isn’t my strong suit!

Twitter became a time-sink for me, and I found myself scrolling through memes, politics, and even some of those damned arguments and toxic conversations that I talked about earlier. I found I could spend hours just endlessly doomscrolling, and honestly it wasn’t good for my mental health – nor for my productivity. While there were some genuinely interesting accounts sharing fun posts, they were drowned out in an ocean of negativity, toxicity, and argument – and perhaps that’s partly why my own account got lost and never managed to find much of an audience, even in the niches I hoped to break into.

The political side of this was, for me, perhaps the worst part – I found myself unable to resist the temptation to fall down these political rabbit holes, and would waste time in a way that wasn’t positive for my mental health. Politics can be fascinating, don’t get me wrong, and Twitter is, in some respects anyway, an interesting platform in which politicians at all levels can interact directly with their constituents. But for many of the same reasons that we’ve just been discussing, those conversations are black-and-white, and Twitter is firmly divided into camps. Toxicity and hate reign supreme, with the most extreme posts getting the most attention and the most feedback. It really is a nightmare.

I found myself spending way too much time reading and thinking about politics.

I’m glad that a platform like Twitter exists, where people from different backgrounds and with different opinions can interact. I think there were good intentions there – at least in the beginning. And despite his personal controversies, I hope that Elon Musk can find a way to make the platform a success going forward; the world needs a place to communicate, and for all the talk of toxicity and people falling into echo chambers, the one positive thing to say about Twitter – and social media in general – is that it can, under the right circumstances, expose people to points of view that they may not have considered, and with proper content moderation it should be able to direct people away from conspiracy theories in the direction of scientific fact. Twitter has failed on that latter point lately – but no more so than any other big social media platform.

But for me, Twitter was never a good fit. I need to have the freedom to write longer posts, to take positions on the subjects I discuss that don’t fall solidly into “love it” or “hate it,” and just in general my communication skills, even online, are lacking. I didn’t know how to use the site to talk to people or make friends, nor how to really take advantage of its algorithms to drive traffic to my own website.

So that’s it. If you used to follow me on Twitter and wondered what happened to my account, now you know. I have no plans to join any other social media platforms at this time, and while I’m happy to have experimented with Twitter and given it as much of a fair shake as I reasonably could, it was definitely time for me to get out.

No statement in the article above should be interpreted as targeting any individual, fan group, social media page, etc. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Building my new PC

For a couple of years my PC had been in need of a refresh! I’m disabled and spend most of my time at home, and my PC has been everything for me over the last few years: entertainment centre, games console, workspace, and of course, the place where I write all of these articles and do all of the tasks here on the website! When 2021 rolled around I decided I needed to get my act together and get serious about an upgrade, and over the course of last year I put together a list and began to acquire the components for my new build piece by piece.

Though I perhaps know a little more about computers than your average consumer, I’m by no means an expert – as this article will surely attest. That’s why I’m not calling this a “build guide” or “how to build a PC!” There are plenty of far better-qualified people than me who’ve written step-by-step guides on how to do everything, and there are videos on YouTube too. I’d recommend Linus Tech Tips on YouTube, TechRadar’s step-by-step guide, and the Tom’s Hardware forum if you’re looking for that kind of detail – and I’ll include links to all three at the end of this article. I’m writing this for the website to share my experience as a newbie to PC building – and because I enjoy writing!

I’m no expert, so if you’re looking for a detailed guide you’ll have to go elsewhere!

First of all, it took longer than I’d hoped to get everything in place. I kicked off this project just over a year ago, in early 2021, and I hoped to have made upgrades to my old PC by the summer. I then changed my plans and decided to build an entirely new machine from scratch, adding extra time to the project, but I still had hoped to be finished well before Christmas. In the end it was mid-March that I finally got it done – and there’s one additional task that I’ll aim to complete perhaps later this year or early next year, depending on how things go.

When I set out to build my PC I thought I knew the basics; which components I’d need and roughly how much I’d need to spend on them. But what hit me later on were all of the hidden costs, extras, and accessories: things like additional cables, an extra fan, a new DisplayPort cable, a new surge protector, screwdrivers, a static wrist strap, thermal compound, thermal pads, and so on. Because I’ve also changed where I sit and the orientation of my PC, I’ve also needed to invest in a new monitor arm and additional storage under the table that my PC rests on. All of these smaller things added up and delayed the project by at least a month!

Picking up hidden extras like new cables added to the cost.

Because I’ve never had a lot of money, I’ve always chosen to invest in items that I feel are higher-quality and stand a good chance of lasting a long time. The cheapest products aren’t always the best value or longest-lasting, as I’m sure you’ve discovered for yourself! With that in mind, I sought out components with excellent reviews, and even a single negative review about a product or the company’s customer service was enough to send me into a tailspin as I pondered the upsides and potential drawbacks. This also added a lot of time to the project!

This time around I chose to go with an AMD Ryzen CPU, specifically a third-gen Ryzen 7 5800x 8-core processor. After more than a decade of Intel’s dominance in the processor space, AMD’s Ryzen chips began getting rave reviews a few years ago, and it seemed like the best fit. I’m not wildly into overclocking nor do I intend to push the chip far beyond its limits – but I wanted to get something that I thought would be high-quality, fast, and that would really show off what a modern PC is capable of.

My new CPU.

About a decade ago I suffered a major internet outage that left me reeling! For more than six weeks I remained disconnected, growing increasingly frustrated – and increasingly bored. When I got back online I ordered an external hard drive, and on that drive I installed a number of games, made backups of my DVDs, and so on so I’d always have something to do if I was ever in that situation again. I got a second external drive somewhere along the line too, and my workspace has been cluttered with drives, wires, and power cables for the past few years.

With my new PC, I wanted to ditch the external drives altogether. I don’t go places, I don’t have other computers I might want to plug into, so their presence was just an annoyance! With that in mind I installed two drives in my new PC: an M.2 drive to serve as my main C: drive, where Windows is installed, where other software and apps can be installed, and where I can install most of the games I’d want to play, and a second large hard disk where I can keep all of my stored DVD and Blu-ray rips.

Good old DVD box sets…

I chose a Sabrent Rocket M.2 drive for my new PC’s primary drive – again, on the back of reviews and recommendations – and a large Seagate Exos hard disk for my secondary drive. It should be possible to install games on the second drive as well, if space becomes an issue on the M.2 in future, which is also a nice feature to have. Redundancy is the name of the game in that case!

This is my first experience with an M.2 drive. My old PC had a SATA SSD, but it was a very cheap one that never seemed to be especially fast. I think it was a Kingston model, and it was pretty small as well. Basically everything except for Windows – including my collection of MP3s and photos – ended up on an external drive.

My new M.2 SSD.

This might be the most controversial part of the build, but I went for RAM overkill: 64GB of DDR4 RAM. The RAM can be clocked to 3600MHz, which is apparently recommended for Ryzen chips, though out of the box it ran much slower. 64GB of RAM is complete overkill for practically any modern system, so I’m told, but last year I was thinking about getting into YouTube – I had a short-lived foray into podcasting – so I thought I might need the extra if I got serious about video editing or other RAM-intensive tasks.

I chose a decent motherboard to go with all of these components – a “gaming” model from MSI. I also invested in a power supply from Be Quiet that’s rated 80 Plus Titanium – the highest rating available from the premiere ratings organisation for these kinds of things. I don’t pretend to know the exact details of what makes a “Titanium” better than a “Bronze,” but I think it’s to do with power efficiency, particularly during periods of heavy use. It seemed worthwhile to spend the extra money on something more efficient, though, and I made sure to choose a power supply that could more than handle all of the components I was putting into the machine.

The motherboard I chose.

Here’s a problem that I wager most users won’t have to factor in: cats! I have several cats, and they have a tendency to jump on my PC case. With my old machine, I found that the inconveniently-located power button meant that they were frequently turning my PC off with their paws when jumping or walking on the case, so I wanted to choose a new case with a power button either on the front or at least not flat on top. Most cases nowadays seem to have that kind of design; the “old days” of horizontal cases or power buttons on the vertical front of the case seem to be long-gone!

I chose a Be Quiet case in the end; the power button is still near the top, but it’s located on a sloping panel that means my cats could jump up and down without disturbing it or accidentally switching me off halfway through writing an article… or halfway through the latest episode of Star Trek! The Be Quiet Dark Base 900 is a much larger case than my previous machine, but I think that means that there should be good airflow for keeping all of the components cool.

This is what I mean.

The CPU cooler that I chose was also based on reviews and recommendations: I went with a Noctua NH-D15. I debated using a water cooler – one of the all-in-one systems – but ever since I knew a fellow PC builder who ruined his entire system when his homemade water cooling system sprang a leak… let’s just say I’ve been put off! I know that today’s all-in-one water coolers are probably safe to use – far safer than the janky piece of crap my feckless friend built in his basement 20+ years ago – but even so, I felt that an air cooler was the way to go. The Noctua NH-D15 is one of the best-reviewed setups on the market, and it has recently been updated with a special AMD Ryzen mounting bracket, so that was the version I picked up.

I chose to add one PCIe card – a WiFi and Bluetooth antenna. I don’t care about the WiFi particularly as I’ve always preferred to use ethernet for my stationary PC, but I wanted to add Bluetooth functionality. I use a Bluetooth keyboard and I have a couple of other Bluetooth devices that I thought I might try to connect, and considering that it wasn’t hugely expensive to add it in, it seemed worthwhile.

The Bluetooth card.

With prices for graphics cards having been sky-high for years, I knew from the start that I would recycle my current one rather than wait months only to pay over-inflated prices. When my GPU crapped out on me a couple of years ago I replaced it with a modern GTX 1660, so it’s not like it’s a horribly outdated component. It would be lovely to back up all of that new hardware with a ray-tracing graphics card that can really take advantage of modern games… but one thing at a time! That’s an upgrade that I hope to get around to either later this year or next year, depending on prices and how well my PC performs.

So those were the main pieces that I chose. It took a while to back up all my files (and double-back up the most important ones because I’m paranoid like that), but eventually I’d done as much as I could, procrastinated long enough, and was ready to get to building!

I scavenged this graphics card from my old machine. It’ll do for now!

I’m absolutely certain that building a PC in 2022 is significantly easier than it would’ve been fifteen or twenty years ago. Most components slot into place, there are step-by-step guides and video tutorials on how to do everything, and even the instructions that came with the components were easy to understand.

I started by taking the motherboard out of its box, strapping on my anti-static wristband and grounding myself, and making sure I had my new screwdriver kit at the ready! Installing the RAM was the task I chose to do first – it’s something I’d done before and I knew exactly what I was doing. From there I installed the M.2 drive and its heatsink, and then the task I was probably most nervous about: the processor itself.

My chosen RAM.

How many horror stories have you seen of bent pins, misaligned chips, and other CPU disasters? I couldn’t tell easily which way the chip was supposed to be oriented; the little triangle that’s supposed to indicate that was incredibly small and blended in. But after checking, double-checking, and psyching myself up for it, I gingerly placed the chip in its awaiting hole… and we had success! Nothing was broken, no pins snapped off, and nothing blew up. Phew!

Next I applied a small amount of thermal compound (I went with Kryonaut’s “Thermal Grizzly” paste instead of the stock one from Noctua). Doing what I’d seen others do on video, I laid out a small drip of the stuff, no larger than a grain of rice, and then secured the cooler in place. It amazes me that such a large cooler is okay; it looks like it’s hanging there, suspended in mid-air!

The thermal paste I used.

Having done about as much as I could with the motherboard outside of the case, I next had to grab the case itself and start installing the power supply. The Be Quiet power supply that I chose came with a large number of cables, not all of which I ended up using. Some of the cables look very similar to one another, so it took a while to make sure I’d got each one in the right place!

I installed the motherboard, screwing it into the appropriate standoffs in the case. Then I slowly began plugging in each of the various cables, including a bunch of wires that had been dangling inside of the case when I opened it up! I installed the hard disk in the lower corner of the case, and removed all of the other hard disk trays that I’m not using (I’ll hang onto them in case I ever want to add in another drive or something). I hope this will result in slightly better airflow.

A lantern came in handy for extra light – the inside of the case was very dark.

All that was left was to install the GPU and the Bluetooth card in the two PCIe slots. Having done that, which didn’t take very long at all, I checked my watch and was surprised to see it had only been about ninety minutes! Thinking to myself that I’d done a good job, I grabbed a Dr Pepper and went in for a victory sip while the cats sat idly by and watched. To my surprise none of them tried to interfere while I was working… good cats!

But I was far from done, as it turned out. After double-checking every connection and component, I plugged in the PC and hit the power button… and nothing happened. Oh god, panic time! What have I done wrong? How can I even test to see what’s happening if literally nothing is happening?! After a moment of abject panic I tried to think back… what could have gone wrong? Why would absolutely nothing at all happen when I hit the power button?

My reaction!

After checking the very obvious things – was the power supply switched on, was the cable plugged in, was the surge protector turned on, etc. – I honed in on the problem: the power button itself. The power button had to be connected to the motherboard using a two-pin cable, and the connection had to be in a specific orientation (as denoted by a plus and minus symbol). I’d installed it back to front. After reversing the power switch connector I tried again, and to my joy and relief the system sprang to life!

All of the fans seemed to be spinning, and after reaching the BIOS it seemed like everything was showing up: the system detected the existence of its USB ports, its M.2 drive, its hard drive, it had the right amount of RAM… everything seemed to be right where it should be, so I shut it down and prepared to install Windows 11.

My operating system of choice. Ha.

Ugh. Windows 11. We’ll have to talk about this in more detail on another occasion, but for now suffice to say that Windows 11 appears to have been designed by a team of software experts at Microsoft who were given the explicit brief of creating an operating system that embodies every aspect of the word “irritating.” They succeeded beyond their wildest ambitions.

I was told at first that “This PC can’t run Windows 11!” thanks to the ridiculous hardware requirements that Microsoft placed on the new OS. I knew that wasn’t right, because the Ryzen 5800X has the required module to be able to run Windows 11. However, this security feature is not enabled in the BIOS by default, so I had to go in and turn it on manually. Having completed this task, Windows 11 happily installed at the second time of asking.

The screen that greeted me first time around.

That should have been the end of the affair, but there was one final twist in this tale of amateur-hour PC building! A couple of days after putting everything together, slapping myself on the back, and calling it a job well done, the new PC began experiencing random crashes. There would be no warning, no blue screen… just an instant shutdown as if the power had been cut. I was very worried!

These shutdowns produced no error messages worth their salt, just a very basic message in the Windows Event Viewer that said nothing about the cause. After spending a long time on Google and chasing down replies to years-old posts on forums, I tried as many different software fixes as I could find: updated drivers, uninstalled programmes, rolled back Windows updates, re-installed every driver one by one, updated the motherboard BIOS, deleted installed apps… nothing worked. The shutdowns continued, and they seemed to be getting worse. At one point, the system tried and failed to boot five times in a row; it wouldn’t even make it as far as the desktop before losing power.

This was all I could see in the Event Viewer.

After a lot of digging around, which the vagueness of the error message (and the fact that Windows 11’s Event Viewer is cluttered with warnings that Microsoft says are totally fine) did not help, I eventually relented and opened up the case again to see if there could be a hardware problem. It didn’t seem like a typical hardware issue – if there was a nonfunctional or broken component, I would have expected to see this problem from the very first moment I put the system together, not starting days later after everything had been going smoothly.

Every component appeared to be securely in place; the CPU cooler wasn’t falling off, all the cables were plugged into the power supply securely, and the power supply itself seemed to be in good working order. Running out of options I did something that really isn’t recommended – poking around inside the case while the system was powered on. I poked and prodded at the various components as safely as I could, and eventually I hit upon the problem – the cable connecting the power supply to the CPU was just slightly loose. The tiniest bump or prod on this connection switched the system off in exactly the same fashion as I’d been experiencing.

A simple loose connection between the power supply and the CPU was the cause of the problem.

Rerouting the cable in question, and tying it as securely as I could to the inside of the case, seems to have solved the problem. I can only assume that it came loose in the first place thanks to a combination of my amateur workmanship leaving it susceptible to the smallest of knocks… and the cats jumping on top of the case! They didn’t jump on the new case for a couple of days as they were wary of this new addition to the room, but I think their jumping must’ve been just enough to loosen this CPU power cable and cause those irritating random shutdowns. At time of writing it’s been just over a week since I rerouted the cable and the problem has not returned.

So that’s my PC building journey. It was an interesting experience, and while I can’t honestly say that I saved a lot of money by buying my own components, what I can say is that I got exactly the PC that I wanted. I got to choose every part, I got to make sure that I got components that met my requirements – or the requirements I thought I had, at least! – and I got a new experience out of it, too. At my age, brand-new experiences are few and far between!

One of the guilty kitties!

If you’re looking for a recommendation, I’d say that building a PC isn’t for the total beginner. Sure, most components snap together easily enough, and anyone who’s ever built a Meccano set would be able to do that part of it with a few basic tools and the instructions. But knowing where to begin, and where to look in the event of things not going exactly as planned… that required some background knowledge on the basics of how PCs work. If you’ve taken an interest in technology, though, and you know the difference between a CPU and a GPU, or which way around fans should be pointing, then I’d say it’s a fun project – but it is a project, and that requires some degree of effort, preparation, troubleshooting, and an ability to Google your way to solutions!

I’m glad I attempted this project, and hopefully the new PC will tide me over for the next few years with no trouble. I have vague plans, as mentioned, to get a ray-tracing graphics card in the months ahead, but for now I’m satisfied. I’ve copied over all of my files and backups, and I’ve started installing a few games to play – including a couple of titles that my old PC struggled to get running.

Stay tuned for a review of Windows 11 in the days ahead, because I definitely have some thoughts on Microsoft’s latest operating system. Some very critical thoughts!

Windows 11. It has TikTok!

Below you can find a list of the components that I used to build my new PC.

  • Power Supply: Be Quiet! Dark Power 12 850 Watt Fully Modular 80+ Titanium
  • Case: Be Quiet Black Dark Base 900
  • Case Fans: Be Quiet Silent Wings 3 PWM 140mm
  • Extra Case Fan: Noctua NF-A14 PWM 140mm
  • Motherboard: MSI MAG X570 Tomahawk WIFI ATX
  • CPU (Processor): AMD Ryzen 7 5800x 8-Core
  • GPU (Graphics Card): Palit GeForce GTX 1660 6GB
  • RAM: Corsair Vengeance LPX 16GB x4 (64GB total)
  • Solid-State Drive: Sabrent Rocket 2TB Nvme M.2
  • SATA Hard Disk: Seagate Exos Enterprise Class
  • PCIe Bluetooth Card: Gigabyte GC-WB1733D-I
  • Extra Cable: Sabrent SATA III
  • Operating System: Windows 11
  • Tools: iFixit Essential Electronics Toolkit; anti-static wrist strap

Below you can find links to a few websites that I found helpful during my planning and preparation stages:

I’m not an expert and this article is not intended as advice or a guide. You are solely responsible for the outcome if you choose to build your own PC, and I accept no responsibility for any damage or destruction that may result. Some stock images used above are courtesy of Pixabay. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Balancing the cost of living in 2022

If you’ve been a regular reader since last year, you might remember that I pre-ordered Starlink – Elon Musk’s satellite internet. I did so in large part because I live in a rural part of the UK that has been overlooked by fibre broadband, 4G, and basically every other improvement to the country’s ageing, decrepit communications infrastructure. I have broadband, which some rural dwellers still don’t, so in that sense I’m lucky – but my download speed at the best of times caps out at around 7 megabits/second, and at bad times I can barely get online at all.

Starlink originally promised to be available in “mid to late 2021,” before revising that to “early to mid 2022.” I would say, as an aside, that Starlink was very poor at communicating that change to me, and for much of 2021 I was holding out hope that I’d hear something from the company, especially because I’d paid a fairly hefty deposit. Better communication with customers may be something for Starlink to work on, at least from my limited experience with the company!

Starlink is a satellite internet company.

But I’m no longer going to be enjoying ultra-fast space-age internet. I recently cancelled my pre-order – and not because of any complaints about the company or the slowness of their rollout. I can understand that things get delayed, that the queue was long, and when you’re dealing with something as complex as literally launching rockets full of satellites into space, there are going to be bumps in the road sometimes! I’m not a “Karen,” feeling a sense of entitlement, and I want to make that clear.

Unfortunately, though, in 2022 I’m no longer in a position to be able to afford Starlink. The service would cost a little over three times the price of my current internet package, and with rising bills across the board, I can no longer guarantee that I could afford to pay that amount. I certainly wouldn’t want to sign myself up to a contract, committing to pay that money for twelve or eighteen months.

I definitely won’t be signing up for any long-term contracts right now!

Since mid-2020, my electricity bill has already risen by over 25%. That isn’t because I’m using any more electricity – in fact, thanks to things like LED lightbulbs and a better, more efficient heater, I’m probably using less. But the UK’s privatised electricity industry has been jacking up prices left, right, and centre. And that was before the current increase in oil and gas prices internationally sent energy prices skyrocketing.

In addition to the 25% rise that I’ve had to absorb over the last few months, my electricity bill will soon rise by another 50%-60% on top of what I’m currently paying, wiping out a huge chunk of my already meagre disposable income. Inflation is also biting me in the backside, with food prices having risen already in the last few months, and prices for some of my essential toiletries and other goods also shooting up. As a disabled person on a fixed income, there’s very limited room for manoeuvre, and as such I’m having to make decisions like the Starlink one in order to remain financially solvent in the months ahead.

The price of electricity is going up by a lot.

With all of that in mind, I’ve also decided to cancel my Netflix subscription. With Star Trek: Discovery being withdrawn from the service, and relatively few other projects that excited me coming up in the short term, it’s a significant chunk of change saved every month. Because I can’t really get out to the shops very often, and can’t lift anything heavy, I rely on Amazon for a lot of deliveries, and the cost of Amazon Prime per month is more than worth it when I stack it up next to the delivery charges I don’t have to pay, so keeping that one makes more sense. Netflix is a great service and I don’t dislike it, but something had to go, and when it came to a choice between Netflix and Amazon, Amazon won that particular fight.

In the late 2000s and early 2010s, I got into a lot of financial trouble. Suffering undiagnosed mental health issues, working through a divorce, and other pressures in my life saw my spending get out-of-control, and with the abundance of cheap credit that was given out far too readily by misbehaving banks, I found myself in quite a financial pickle after a few years of mismanaged finances and a difficult period of my life. It got so bad that I had bailiffs show up several times and was even threatened with prison at one point.

I faced money problems earlier in my life.

It took a long time to crawl out of the financial hole I’d dug for myself, and even now my credit rating is still so poor that I can’t access anything but the most expensive, high-interest loans and cards. So when I say I can feel my back getting closer and closer to the wall, I really mean it. If the current rate of price rises and cost increases continues, I’m very quickly going to have nowhere left to go!

During the pandemic, the government had provided a small increase to the benefits they pay out to people like me who are disabled, as well as to jobseekers and other low-income folks. This extra money was withdrawn back in the autumn, despite a public outcry, and that’s another reason why I’m left with fewer options at the moment. The current government has proven itself to be far too inflexible, unwilling to make changes to policies even as the situation in the real world has changed (and deteriorated). Even in the autumn, when this policy was still being debated, there were many economists, politicians, and other such folks who had the foresight to see price rises and inflation pressures coming. They warned the government not to go down this road – but their voices were ignored, sadly.

The UK government (Palace of Westminster pictured) is not handling the cost of living crisis particularly well.

The way the government calculates its figures also allows them to manipulate things so they can get away with paying out less than they should. There will be a very modest rise in my income in April, but the rate of this rise was calculated months ago and thus doesn’t account for the current rate of inflation – meaning it will be more than eaten up by the aforementioned electricity bill rise and other price rises.

It’s sad to be starting 2022 with such a bleak forecast and having to scale things back, but this is the reality of our pandemic-riddled world. I fear that we’ve only seen the very beginnings of some of these problems, and that things like electricity and food prices will rise, rise, and rise again before the end of the year. There’s already talk of another significant rise in energy bills in October.

There’s already talk of more inflation and more price rises to come.

I’m not yet in a position of having to choose whether to “heat or eat,” as the current anti-slogan suggests. But because I’d already scaled back as many of my costs as possible over the years, I don’t have a lot more room to make cutbacks. I usually only heat the living room, even in the depths of winter. It’s -3°C outside as I write this early on a February morning, but I find that the one heater I have in the living room is usually adequate.

There are two remaining subscriptions that I could potentially cull, depending on how much worse the financial outlook gets. I currently subscribe to both Disney+ and Xbox Game Pass for PC – though the latter is currently paid for for the next few months thanks to a Christmas present from my sister! But in theory I could save another few pounds a month by cutting those. But once those are gone, that’s all the wiggle-room I have! Those are my only remaining non-essential bills, and as a disabled person for whom leaving the house is a challenge at the best of times, I feel that it’s important to have things like this so I can access entertainment and keep the old brain cells from decaying!

I’m sticking with Game Pass… at least for now.

I’m not in imminent danger of freezing nor of starving… but the fact that, in the UK in 2022, that statement should need to be made at all is pretty telling. I don’t like to get political here on the website at all – but I’m definitely upset with the current government and its inflexibility when it comes to solving these problems.

That’s not to say that I have all the answers, not by any stretch. But in the next few months, and certainly by the end of 2022, something’s got to change. I know I’m not the only one in this position of having to make cutbacks to be able to continue to afford the essentials, and as a disabled person who relies on certain mobility and toileting products, there’s more than just food that I have to buy every month. It isn’t possible to cut back on those things!

There are essentials – like food – that we can’t live without!

So this was a bit of an update, really. I guess you won’t see many Netflix reviews here on the website for the next few weeks and months – but I’ll continue my usual output of Star Trek content, I’ll definitely take a look at anything new from Star Wars, and I’ll keep up my regular commentary on the ins and outs of the video games industry – even if I may not be in a position to play any of the games that don’t come to Game Pass this year!

I try to avoid piracy – except in specific circumstances. If a film, TV show, or video game is available here in the UK lawfully, I’ll either pay for it or skip it. It’s only when greedy, moronic corporations refuse to broadcast their latest shows or make their films available here in the UK that I’ll sail the high seas! And as I’ve said before, I think that’s a pretty fair way to approach it.

If you’re suffering as a result of inflation or any of the other financial issues we’ve talked about today, there is help available. Here in the UK you can talk to organisations like Citizens Advice, and they definitely helped me during the period when I was struggling with debt. I can’t make any further recommendations other than to check what’s available in your local area. I hope that, if you find yourself in choppy financial waters, things settle down quickly – for all of us!

This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Stats and analytics for 2021

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 3-4, Mass Effect: Legendary Edition, and Star Trek: Voyager.

Now that 2021 has come and gone, I thought it would be interesting to look back on the progress the website made over the course of the year. Thanks to my web host and other analytics I have a fair amount of data to measure the website’s performance.

A big caveat: this is just for fun! Running Trekking with Dennis is my hobby, not a serious job, and I don’t write here because I’m desperately chasing huge numbers of readers or “internet points!” I enjoy having a space of my own where I can share my thoughts and review some of the films and TV shows that I’m interested in – and I’d still be here even if no one showed up to read any of it!

It’s time to look at some stats and numbers for 2021.

If 2020 had been a year of slow and steady growth, 2021 was a wild rollercoaster! A couple of articles went “viral” – or at least as close to going viral as I’m ever likely to get – and those two posts accounted for significant spikes in views in June and again in December. Other articles generally did well, and I saw decent views for most of my Star Trek episode reviews, which was great, but those two pieces in particular seemed to get a lot of attention.

Overall, more than 61,000 people visited the website in 2021 – up from 14,000 in 2020. That’s a year-on-year increase of more than 300% – meaning the website more than quadrupled the number of hits this year. That’s astonishing, and the fact that so many people showed up to read articles that I’d written is actually quite a humbling feeling.

The number of visitors to Trekking with Dennis in 2021 could fill London’s O2 Arena more than three times over!

Visitors came from all corners of the globe, too. Trekking with Dennis picked up readers from the heart of Africa, every nation in South America, India, Russia, and even China! I guess I’m allowed through the Great Firewall (at least for now)! Every country in Europe was represented in the stats, including smaller countries like the Faroe Islands. Hi, Faroese readers!

Of course, the majority of views came from the Anglosphere, with the United States being the number one country. The UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and South Africa were all well-represented, too. Considering the website is in English and deals with a lot of American-made films, games, and television programmes, I’d expect to see most of the views coming from those regions.

Hello, Faroe Islands!

In early November, the website’s name changed – and so did the URL. This change was disruptive, but far less so than I had initially thought. Though the number of hits definitely dropped following the change in URL, things actually got back to normal pretty quickly, and in December I saw the second of those “viral” posts I mentioned – something I definitely wasn’t expecting!

Across 2021 I wrote 263 articles – slightly more than in 2020. And those articles contained a combined 649,000 words! To give you an idea of how much that is: it’s the equivalent of approximately eight “average-length” novels, 100,000 more words than Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, or roughly the same number of words as Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. That’s a lot of words!

So let’s take a look at the top ten most-read articles in 2021. These are the ten pieces that I wrote in 2021 that scored the most hits.

Article #10:
Preliminary Star Trek: Strange New Worlds predictions

This was the third part in an unofficial series that I ran in the early part of the year, looking ahead to several upcoming seasons of Star Trek. In this article I looked ahead to Strange New Worlds and made a few predictions – guesses, really – about elements the show might include. As luck would have it, later that same day came the announcements of five new members of the main cast! That was some strange timing, especially considering that this was the first piece I’d written about Strange New Worlds in more than six months at that point.

One of my predictions has already borne out: I said in this piece that I was sure there’d be a redesign of the uniforms, and the teases we saw at Star Trek Day proved me right! With the show still a few months away, though, we’ll have to wait to see if I was right about anything else!

Significant line: “I’m really looking forward to Strange New Worlds. It seems to be offering more of a “classic” take on Star Trek when compared to recent projects, and I’m 100% there for that!”

Article #9:
(When) Will Marvel reset the MCU?

I don’t talk about Marvel a lot here on the website. Comic books and their cinematic adaptations aren’t usually my first choice, and while I’ve enjoyed some Marvel films as popcorn entertainment, I just don’t have the nostalgia or connection to the world of comics that many folks have. Regardless, on this occasion in June I talked about the Marvel Cinematic Universe and its growing complexity – and asked whether a potential reboot or reset might be coming any time soon.

Keeping up with all of the goings-on in the MCU can feel like a full-time job sometimes! And because of Marvel’s love of crossovers, the shared fictional universe that its films and TV shows inhabit can feel intimidating or even offputting to the newbie or casual viewer. As the MCU has moved away from being “the real world plus superheroes” into a connected, shared setting with its own lore and almost fifteen years’ worth of history, it’s become dense and complex. Not every MCU title is inaccessible as a result – but some are getting to that point. Just like the worlds of comic books have been reset (such as in DC’s famous Crisis on Infinite Earths series), I feel it’s inevitable that Disney and Marvel will eventually do the same, rebooting the MCU for a new generation of audiences.

Significant line: “The legacy of characters like Iron Man, Captain America, and the Hulk could pass to new iterations of those characters with new actors taking on lead roles in stories inspired by earlier films, but remaining distinct from them. New backstories could be created, perhaps based on different versions of the superheroes from other editions of their comic books.”

Article #8:
YouTube channel spotlight: Cruising the Cut

Back in February I took some time off from sci-fi and fantasy to highlight one of my favourite YouTube channels from the past few years. Cruising the Cut is part-travelogue, part-documentary, part-lifestyle vlog, and follows the journey of a man who lives aboard a canal narrowboat here in the UK. When I first started watching, Cruising the Cut only had a few thousand followers, but the channel has recently passed the 200,000 mark – a milestone that is thoroughly deserved.

I’ve always had a fascination with the canal network – a series of artificial waterways made in the early years of the industrial revolution. Cruising the Cut often has fun and interesting canal facts, but it’s also the kind of slow, gentle viewing that I think we all need sometimes. High-octane action and tense drama is great – but sometimes taking a break from that and slowing down is just what the doctor ordered!

Significant line: “Canal narrowboats only have a maximum cruising speed of around four miles-per-hour, so don’t expect Cruising the Cut to be zipping all across the country in each video.”

Article #7:
Mass Effect: Legendary Edition – Death by a thousand cuts

“Death by a thousand cuts” was the somewhat dramatic title that I gave to my review of Mass Effect: Legendary Edition in June. I felt it encapsulated my feelings about the so-called “remaster”: that there wasn’t one single overwhelming fault, but a plethora of little ones that built up and contributed to a sense that it was far less than it could have been.

I adore the Mass Effect games, and I went into Legendary Edition hoping to get a good version of the original trilogy. But unfortunately, BioWare and EA took the path of least resistance, putting together a pretty crap “remaster” that I felt was not worth the asking price. There were bugs that had been present in the original versions of all three games that hadn’t been fixed – and I couldn’t excuse such extreme laziness and such a lack of care. I recently crowned Legendary Edition my worst game of 2021.

Significant line: “Legendary Edition represents a phenomenal missed opportunity to take these games and do more with them.”

Article #6:
Star Trek: Voyager – The torpedo and shuttle “problem”

I have to admit I was surprised by the response to this one! In the late ’90s, some fans argued very strongly that the USS Voyager had used “too many” torpedoes and shuttlecraft over the course of its journey through the Delta Quadrant, and the argument did the rounds in some parts of the Trekkie community for a while. Though I hadn’t really seen many people discussing it in recent years, the argument always bugged me – so I finally wrote out my response.

In short, I argued that a combination of resource gathering, trading, and building replacements was more than acceptable as a counter-argument, and in particular the fact that the crew were resourceful enough to build not one but two Delta Flyers was proof of this. Obviously “it’s just a story,” and the number of torpedoes fired or shuttlecraft used was at the whim of the writers. But from an in-universe point of view, I don’t see why it has to be considered a big deal. It seems at least some people are still interested in this argument after all!

Significant line: “It stands to reason that, contained within Voyager’s databanks, are the designs and schematics for both torpedoes and shuttles.”

Article #5:
Star Trek: Discovery – Was there a last-second change for Tilly?

All the way back in January, shortly after Discovery’s third season finale, I wrote this relatively short piece looking at Tilly. This focused on the short epilogue at the end of That Hope Is You, Part 2, specifically the scene in which Captain Burnham arrived on the bridge to assume command for the first time. Amongst the assembled officers and crew was Tilly, but for some reason her uniform colour had been digitally changed – and pretty badly, too!

Tilly was originally supposed to be wearing the red colour of the command division, but seemingly at the last moment her command red had been changed to science blue via some pretty awful digital effects. She was only on screen for a few seconds, but this was pretty noticeable on a re-watch. Now that we know Tilly’s destination in Season 4, I wonder if the original plan at the end of Season 3 had seen her character go in a different direction? Maybe the original intention was for Tilly to remain on the command track, or perhaps even to serve as Burnham’s XO? We may never know!

Significant line: “It’s possible that this literally was a last-second change; the low quality of the texture used for the blue stripe may mean it was something thrown together in a matter of days…”

Article #4:
Star Trek: Discovery – eight “gravitational anomaly” theories

I wrote this list-article shortly after Star Trek’s “First Contact Day” digital event. Sonequa Martin-Green had introduced the first trailer for Discovery’s fourth season, and it was in this trailer that we first got wind of the “gravitational anomaly” – unnamed at the time. I put together a handful of theories based on what we’d seen and heard in the trailer, and even as we’ve hit the halfway point of the season, at least a couple of those remain plausible!

This was the first opportunity I’d had to talk about Discovery Season 4 outside of pure speculation, and the trailer had dropped some hints as to the anomaly that we now know as the DMA. I had fun putting the list together, and going back to past iterations of Star Trek for inspiration – and it seems a lot of people found it interesting, too. This article did well throughout the year, but really saw an uptick in hits around the time Season 4 premiered, and has continued to perform well as the season has progressed.

Significant line: “Star Trek’s past didn’t provide the key to understanding the Burn last season. Will something we’ve seen before come into play in Season 4?”

Article #3:
Mass Effect theory: unlucky humans

Replaying the aforementioned Mass Effect trilogy got me thinking about a theory I’d kicked around when the games were new. In short, my theory was that humanity was particularly unlucky to emerge as a spacefaring race only around forty years before the Reapers attacked. Had the Reapers’ invasion come earlier, or had humanity’s progress toward faster-than-light travel been slower, it might’ve been possible to avoid the Reapers altogether and to emerge into a galaxy with no other sentient spacefaring races.

Had the extinct Citadel Council left behind plans and warnings, humanity could have had a 50,000-year head-start on preparing for the next Reaper War! This was just a fun one, an idea I’d had when the Mass Effect trilogy was new. Giving it the full write-up treatment was fun, but in all honesty I didn’t expect it to gain much traction. Being timely helped this article a lot, though, coming only a few days after the launch of Legendary Edition. I guess there’s a lesson there about getting my articles written on time!

Significant line: “If humanity hadn’t encountered the Mars archive when they did, or if the Ilos scientists hadn’t prevented Sovereign from contacting the Reapers in dark space when it originally intended to, it seems plausible to think that humanity might have been overlooked by the Reapers – at least in this cycle!”

Article #2:
Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 – Unknown Species 10-C: The Suspects

This is the first of the two “viral” articles that I mentioned. Published in mid-December, shortly after the episode The Examples confirmed that the DMA is artificial in nature, this piece really took off! I put quite a bit of work into this long list-article, considering twenty-six different possibilities from past iterations of Star Trek – from The Original Series to Picard – as possible culprits for creating the DMA.

In the aftermath of The Examples, my head was swimming with half-formed theories about Unknown Species 10-C. It took a while to write it all up, but what resulted was definitely one of the more fun and engaging writing projects of the past few months. Discovery’s fourth season – like the third before it – seems determined to go in an unpredictable direction, but even if that’s the case I can still say I had fun considering all of these different possible connections to past iterations of the franchise. And apparently, at least some Trekkies were just as interested in Unknown Species 10-C as me!

Significant line: “I keep thinking back to Season 3 and the Burn storyline, and how the ending to that story was something completely unpredictable and brand-new to the franchise. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Discovery go down that road again.”

Article #1:
Mass Effect: Legendary Edition – what’s the best ending?

So we come to the most-read piece of the year! Published in late May, a couple of weeks after the launch of Legendary Edition, in this article I considered what the “best” ending of the Mass Effect trilogy might be from an in-universe point of view. I tried to consider the pros and cons of the synthesis, destroy, and control endings to Mass Effect 3, giving my thoughts on each.

I suspect that the reason this article got so many hits is that players were looking for a guide to achieving a specific ending to the game – something the article doesn’t provide! So unfortunately, despite this being the best-performing article of the year, I suspect many readers came away disappointed having not found what they were looking for! However, I hope those that stuck around found an enjoyable and thoughtful piece, one in which I did my best to consider how the various endings to the trilogy might impact the Mass Effect galaxy, and the friends Commander Shepard made along their journey.

Significant line: “I have a hard time making this choice – it’s by far the most difficult in the entire trio of games, even though the short epilogue that follows is anticlimactic at best.”

But wait, there’s more!

Those were the top ten most-read articles that I wrote in 2021. But the year also saw several articles from 2020 pick up a number of views, and I thought it could be fun to briefly look at a few of those. We’ll just do the top five, since this article is already running long!

Article #5:
Introducing someone to Star Trek for the first time

This article, from back in June 2020, didn’t pick up much attention at the time it was written. By the standards of the website at the time it did okay, but even then I didn’t feel it was breaking the bank in terms of its view count. But for some reason it did much better in 2021, picking up dozens and then hundreds of views in a slow trickle throughout the year.

In this list-article I picked out fifteen episodes and films that I felt could make for a great “first contact” for a new viewer; someone unfamiliar with the Star Trek franchise. I tried to avoid the obvious ones, like The Wrath of Khan, and suggested a few different stories that showcase the varied nature of Star Trek, and how the franchise can dip its toes in some very different genres. I’m glad that it found an audience in the end – and if it helped even one person introduce a friend or loved one to Star Trek, then it’s more than done its job!

Significant line: “I tried to pick a few examples of stories that hopefully show off not only the franchise at its best, but that it can be different to the preconceived notions many people have.”

Article #4:
Star Trekkin’ – a number one hit!

This is an article that I had a ton of fun researching and writing in August 2020! If you’re a big Trekkie you’ve probably at least heard of The Firm’s 1987 song Star Trekkin’, which, as the title of my piece suggests, topped the charts here in the UK. The song is ridiculously silly, and the music video that accompanies it is even more so, but it’s a weird and wonderful piece of Star Trek’s history that I wanted to acknowledge. It’s also a curiously British thing, in some ways.

I had this song on cassette many years ago, and I can remember listening to it through headphones on the school bus with the volume turned down – just in case anyone could overhear! I also bought the mp3 of the song again when I transitioned to digital music, and I confess that I still put the song on occasionally for both a bit of fun and a blast of nostalgia. Star Trekkin’ is a weird song, but it was fun to write about – and I’m glad that Trekkies are checking out what I had to say about it!

Significant line: “It’s well worth a listen for any Trekkie who hasn’t heard it, and while I don’t promise you’ll enjoy it as a piece of music, you might just crack a smile.”

Article #3:
Can we PLEASE stop calling things we don’t like “objectively” bad?

From the silly to the serious! I wrote this piece after getting sick to death of hearing so-called critics using the expression “objectively bad” to refer to things that they personally didn’t like. I’m not trying to nitpick or get mad about a technicality, but when I hear the word “objectively” used in the context of basically anything in media, and narrative choices in particular, I feel there’s a conscious attempt to try to shut down any counter-arguments. Media criticism is practically always subjective, not objective – no matter what anyone may claim.

There is no such thing as a film, video game, or TV programme that is “objectively” bad – nor “objectively” anything else. There are certainly works of entertainment that don’t follow established rules or precedent, but in every case opinions will vary from person to person. There are myriad examples of works of fiction that I personally hate that I know other people adore. Neither opinion is “objective” – and that’s that.

Significant line: “It’s got to a point where it’s been proclaimed so often that any time I see or hear the phrase “objectively bad,” I stop reading or listening. Any critic making such a statement has lost my respect and lost the argument.”

Article #2:
Five things to watch at New Year (instead of fireworks)

This one is pretty straightforward! In 2020 – and sadly, again in 2021 – many New Year events that are usually televised were cancelled due to the pandemic. For several years in the second half of the 2010s I’d spent my New Years Eves with the London fireworks display on TV basically by default, but with the event cancelled due to covid in 2020 I got thinking about what I might watch instead – and this list was born!

Beginning on the 30th of December 2020 and running through to the early hours of New Year’s Day, this post saw a huge spike in views, and the same thing happened this past New Year. Due to the huge number of hits it had got in the wee hours of the 1st of January it was already quite high on the list, but the extra attention it got in December 2021 propelled it to becoming one of the best-performing pieces of the year!

Significant line: “Hopefully by the time we’re thinking about the next New Year’s Eve, things will be much closer to normal.”

Article #1:
It’s time for Deep Space Nine and Voyager to get the HD treatment

This article was the most-read of 2020, so I’m not shocked to see that it continued to perform well in 2021! In this article I called on ViacomCBS to remaster Deep Space Nine and Voyager, both of which remain in standard definition at time of writing. I argued that the move to streaming should be the reason why the shows get remastered, because the process will be less expensive this time around due to improvements in technology and far less of a need to produce and ship optical discs.

It doesn’t seem like ViacomCBS cares about Deep Space Nine and Voyager right now, sadly, and even though Paramount+ is playing host to both shows (in regions where it’s available), there’s still no sign of a remaster. I think it could be a good investment, because a lot of Trekkies who remember the shows fondly would be interested to see a remastered version; it would certainly drive some sign-ups to Paramount+. There are some decent fan-made remasters that you can find online, though… so that’s something!

Significant line: “A lot of folks seem to have given up on the idea of ever seeing those series in HD given the move toward online streaming and The Next Generation’s lacklustre performance on Blu-ray, but CBS All Access should be Deep Space Nine and Voyager’s ticket to a full-HD remaster.”

So that’s it!

Trekking with Dennis exceeded all of my hopes and expectations in 2021, with more than 61,000 people showing up to read the pieces that I wrote. I’m thrilled with how well the website has been performing, and I hope 2022 will be another good year.

To those of you who joined me in 2021, thank you. I hope I was entertaining, informative, or just a fun way to kill some time! You can look forward to more of the same in 2022, as I have no immediate plans to shake things up or make changes to the kind of things I do here.

2021 was a wild ride in so many ways, and it wasn’t a great year for many of us. Entertainment experiences – like films, video games, and TV shows – are some of the things that keep me going, and writing my thoughts or reviews of some of them is an extension of that. A chance to spend more time thinking and writing about Star Trek and some of my other favourites continues to be an enjoyable hobby, and a great escape, at times, from some of the less pleasant things going on out here in the real world.

Thank you for your support over the past twelve months – and here’s to 2022!

– Dennis
Wednesday, 5th January 2022

All titles mentioned above are the copyright of their respective studio, owner, corporation, distributor, broadcaster, etc. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Another year in review

This isn’t my end of year article summing up some of the highs and lows of 2021. It irks me no end to see people writing those pieces long before Christmas! If you’ve been a regular reader for a while, you might recall that the 30th of November is the website’s anniversary – it has been two years to the day since I published my first article at the end of November 2019. How time flies, eh?

Last year I commemorated the occasion by writing about the website’s first year in operation, and this time I wanted to do something similar. I’ve had two full years of talking about Star Trek and other entertainment subjects now, and it’s always helpful to step back and take a moment to reflect.

It’s been an interesting twelve months!

The biggest change for the website itself came just a few weeks ago. At the beginning of November I changed the name to Trekking with Dennis, ditching the old name and establishing a new identity for the website. This is something I’d been thinking about a lot for several months, and finally being able to pull the trigger and get it done has been incredibly cathartic.

The website’s name changed a few weeks ago.

There have been some immediate repercussions for the name change, though. Traffic to the website took a nose-dive in November, significantly down on where it had been for much of the rest of the year. I’m putting two and two together and assuming that the change in name, branding, and most importantly the website’s URL is responsible for the drop in readership. I’m optimistic that in the longer term, however, that decline will be reversed. Even if not, I don’t write here because it’s my job or because I’m chasing “internet points” and high numbers of clicks! This is my hobby, I do it for fun, and I’d still do it even if readership dropped to absolute zero!

Conversely, twice in the past year I’ve had articles go “viral” – or at least as close to viral as I’m ever likely to get!

The first article was one I’d written in early December, listing Five things to watch at New Year (instead of fireworks). The list is fairly self-explanatory; I put together a handful of New Year-themed films and shows that could’ve made for entertaining New Year’s Eve viewing in lieu of the usual fireworks shows and parties – many of which are usually televised but which were cancelled in 2020. This list was responsible for a massive spike in views which began on the 30th of December, then ran all the way through the 31st and into the early hours of the 1st of January.

This post got a lot of attention around New Year, which was neat to see.

The second article began getting huge numbers of clicks in late May, then in June absolutely rocketed up to become the most-read post I’ve ever written. More people read that one article than read everything I wrote in all of 2020 combined. And I think it’s possible that many of them came away disappointed!

The article in question was titled Mass Effect: Legendary Edition – What’s the best ending? and it was an examination of the three-and-a-half endings to Mass Effect 3, looking at the pros and cons of each. However, I think that the title may have been unintentionally misleading, judging by the search engine traffic! I think folks may have come upon the article while looking for a guide to achieving the “best” outcome to Mass Effect: Legendary Edition – namely the version of the “destroy” ending in which Shepard is implied to have survived. I talk about this in the article, but it isn’t what the focus of the piece was.

This article has become the most-read ever!

I didn’t expect that article to get so many hits when I wrote it. My Mass Effect commentary in general did quite well, though, and I think that’s because I managed to get out several pieces about the series around the time of Legendary Edition’s launch – which is when there was significant interest in the games. Being timely brings rewards, it seems!

This year I’ve made significant improvements to the images used across the website. Some of the images used even as recently as March or April now feel incredibly amateurish and low-quality in comparison. I’ve been doing more with paint.net – a freeware image editor that has become my go-to for any and all image work – and I’ve learned how to do things like add a shadow or outline to text. That has allowed me to make huge improvements to the header images/banners at the top of articles, giving them a more modern, professional look.

The website’s main banner – a core part of the site’s identity – has also been massively improved. Firstly, now that I have significantly more web storage I’ve felt more comfortable using higher-resolution images. Beginning earlier in the year the expanded storage allowed me to use larger, more detailed images for article and page headers, something I feel makes the website as a whole look a lot more modern and professional than it did even at the beginning of the year. The new banner was added earlier this month as part of the aforementioned change of name, but earlier in the year I tried out a variety of different banners with different sci-fi and fantasy-themed backgrounds.

The website’s main banner.

I’ve also added quite a few different “spoiler warning” images – most of which are based on the Star Trek franchise! Again, the quality of these has improved a lot as I’ve become more comfortable with my image editing software, and I think some of the recent spoiler warnings look pretty great! I like to err on the side of caution when it comes to spoilers, so I use spoiler warnings a lot at the beginning of articles and reviews.

Filling time over the past twelve months has led me to research and learn about shows, films, and games I’d never have heard of otherwise. I reviewed titles like Space Jam: A New Legacy, Zack Snyder’s Justice League, and even The Falcon and the Winter Soldier after learning about them in the course of researching topics for the website. Trekking with Dennis has, to a certain extent anyway, broadened my experiences of media this year.

I’ve seen (and reviewed) several different films and television shows over the past twelve months.

I’ve also finally got around to playing a couple of games that had been on my ever-growing list: Control and Red Dead Redemption II. I’ve written up my first impressions of Red Dead Redemption II already, and in the days ahead I’ll hopefully be writing up my final thoughts as I’m close to finishing my playthrough of the game.

Speaking of playthroughs, I didn’t get around to doing another complete “Let’s Play” series of articles. Though I’ve had a number of ideas for games I could choose, I just haven’t committed to one nor kicked off a playthrough in the way I did with Jedi: Fallen Order last year. It’s still an idea that I’d like to revisit in future, so… watch this space, I guess.

I’ve been playing Red Dead Redemption II – but I didn’t write up the whole experience.

During the website’s first year in operation, I’d post articles and columns somewhat haphazardly. Sometimes I’d post daily for a couple of weeks, and at other points I’d take almost an entire week off while writing nothing. Over the last twelve months, however, that has changed. Going back to November 2020 I’ve been posting at least every other day – so there hasn’t been a long gap in between posts in more than a year. Occasionally that schedule has felt challenging, but I’ve been proud of the fact that I haven’t had any significant posting gaps for an entire twelve-month period.

April saw my most intensive posting schedule to date, as I wrote a post every single day for an entire calendar month for the first time. It wasn’t exactly planned, but once I got about halfway into April and I noticed I hadn’t skipped a day, I made it my mission to complete the month! I can keep up that kind of schedule for a while, but not indefinitely. I need occasional breaks, and being able to write articles in advance and schedule them has meant I have actually been able to take breaks across the year without interrupting my posting streak.

In April I published an article every single day.

In December 2020 I joined Twitter. I did so at first because I was having a hard time keeping track of the various franchises and their social media pages, and as I’ve never had a personal Twitter account I couldn’t follow them that way. In February I made a very tentative first post, and across the year I’d sent out a handful of Tweets to promote newly-published reviews and other articles. But as I said last year, social media isn’t really my major focus.

This should absolutely be the subject of a longer essay sometime, but Twitter in particular is a very difficult platform for me to navigate. I’m sure you’ve noticed, but I have a particularly long-winded writing style! Condensing an argument, article, or even just a fan theory into 280 characters or fewer is difficult for me. I also find that, partly as a consequence of the abbreviated posts, the conversation on Twitter can lack nuance. It’s very hard to articulate a complex thought or position on the platform because such short posts don’t easily allow for shades of grey – you can either be on one side of a debate or the other. For someone who occasionally likes to straddle the fence and acknowledge the merits and demerits of both sides of a discussion, or just to explore different interpretations and points of view, Twitter isn’t the best place for me sometimes!

No, not that kind of Shades of Gray

That being said, I’ve recently stepped up my Twitter use. It’s been an interesting world to step into for the first time, and I’ve found it quite fun and occasionally exciting to be able to engage directly with brands and companies – or at least their social media teams. Toward the end of my time working with a large video games company, social media was just beginning to take off as a marketing tool. I had some involvement with social media campaigns in the late 2000s and early 2010s at companies I worked for or was freelancing for, so it’s been interesting in a way to be on the other side of the screen for the first time!

If you don’t follow me on Twitter I don’t just post links to articles and columns that I write here on the website. I do post other occasional Tweets, mostly about Star Trek and the other subjects I cover. I don’t get political, so don’t expect any of that, but if you want to follow me on Twitter you’re more than welcome to do so.

Feel free to follow me on Twitter: @TrekkingwDennis is my Twitter handle.

But Twitter wasn’t the only social media platform that I found myself involved with over the past twelve months. Beginning in July I planned to record audio versions of some of the articles here on the website, using YouTube and Spotify to host these audio files. I later expanded my audio offerings to include what might generously be called a “podcast.” However, I wasn’t very happy with the quality of both the audio recordings themselves, as I lack the technical know-how to make decent-sounding audio, and also, to be blunt, my own vocal performance. Upon re-listening to several audio versions of articles I sounded very wooden and stilted; the kind of performances I’d give 1/10 to if I were to rate them.

So after a sum total of four podcast episodes and about ten audio articles I scrapped the project – at least for the time being. It’s a fun idea, and a concept I’d certainly like to revisit one day, but between the audio quality, my own poor performance, and the rebranding of the website making all of the audio clips and YouTube videos out of date, I think it’s for the best that I shelve the project for now.

Audio recording isn’t my strong suit.

That being said, I did enjoy the podcasting format. Having the opportunity to talk about smaller news stories and topics that wouldn’t necessarily make for a good standalone article was fun, and it certainly broadened the range of things I discuss here on the website. Revisiting the podcast concept is something I might consider in 2022.

It was in June this year – Pride Month – that I first discussed my sexuality and gender identity. Those twin posts were among the most difficult I’ve written over the past twelve months, not because they were technically challenging but because of how personal they were. When I created the website two years ago I intended to remain wholly anonymous, with details of my personal life kept to a bare minimum. By this time last year I’d changed my mind and I’d decided I wanted to openly discuss my asexuality and my struggles with my gender identity – but it took months before I’d be able to finish writing those pieces and feel brave enough to publish them.

In June I finally felt able to discuss my sexuality and gender identity for the first time.

I now proudly display the asexual and non-binary pride flags in the upper-right corner of the website. These symbols are present no matter what page or post someone clicks on, even if the piece has nothing at all to do with asexuality or being non-binary.

Writing these pieces, though incredibly difficult at times, was deeply satisfying and cathartic. Only a few people in my offline life knew these things about me, so having a space where I could openly discuss things that I’d struggled with for decades was a truly incredible experience. It gave me the confidence to be more open in my offline life too. I don’t have a lot of friends or surviving close relatives, but I’ve been able to direct a couple of people to the website where they were able to read my words to gain more of an insight into my personal life. I’ve said before that I’m better at writing than I am at speaking – having these pieces to direct folks to is so much easier than having to explain out loud what it means to be asexual or non-binary.

It’s been a difficult process, but I finally feel comfortable referring to myself as non-binary.

I haven’t added as many articles to the Greatest Hits page this year as I did in the previous twelve months. I think that’s partly because I had some article/essay ideas in mind when I started the website and I slowly worked my way through them over the course of that first year. While I’ve had plenty to write about this year, I guess I’ve just written fewer of those long-form essays.

That being said, my essay on Star Trek: Discovery’s Season 3 Burn storyline is one of the best things I’ve written all year, and I’m happy to show off that one! I’m also proud of my character study of The Next Generation’s Dr Pulaski, and my examination of Luke Skywalker’s characterisation in The Last Jedi that I wrote back in December. I’m sure I’m forgetting or overlooking a few others as well, but those are three of the essays that come to mind when I think back over the past twelve months.

This is one of the best essays I’ve written in the last twelve months. Give it a read if you haven’t already!

So I think that’s enough self-congratulation for this year! As I look ahead to the next twelve months, I can’t really say that I have any major plans or changes in mind for the website or the kind of pieces I write here. I’d like to do another playthrough series at some point, and I’m certainly open to more creative projects in addition to my reviews, theories, discussion topics, list articles, and the rest. But watch this space, I suppose!

The website is very different now compared to twelve months ago. I like to think that, for the most part, these changes have been improvements – and certainly from a purely visual point of view I think the website has never looked better! As we move into the holiday season and 2022 I’m looking forward to keeping up with my regular posting schedule and writing about the subjects I’m most interested in: Star Trek, gaming, and the wide world of geeky entertainment.

Thank you for your support over the past twelve months.

-Dennis
Tuesday, 30th November 2021

All properties mentioned above are the copyright of their respective broadcaster, studio, developer, distributor, company, etc. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Shatner in space

A few months ago I wrote an article about how space exploration has become boring. The title was deliberately provocative, and of course it goes without saying that I’m approaching the subject from the point of view of a layman. But the point I made stands – it’s been a very long time since any mission to space, and even longer since any crewed mission to space, was of anything more than minor interest.

Many space missions in recent years saw unmanned probes launched, satellites placed into orbit, and the only missions with crews aboard visited the International Space Station. The ISS is without doubt an amazing feat of technology and engineering – but after more than two decades of permanent inhabitation, it’s long since lost much of its interest from the point of view of the layman. Scientifically and technologically space continues to be very important, but for me – and many other folks as well – it’s no longer the inspirational, aspirational place it once was.

The International Space Station.

Partly that’s a consequence of the scaled-back nature of crewed missions, the budget cuts space agencies have faced since the end of the Cold War and its associated space race, and perhaps the difficulty, expense, and length of time required to undertake missions to places we’ve never been before. But regardless of the cause, missions to space in the real world have lost much of their lustre over the decades, and no longer feel as special or as interesting as they once did.

But William Shatner’s recent trek to space was different. Even an old cynic like me felt genuine awe and wonder at the idea that Shatner – Captain Kirk himself – was actually going into space. For decades, journeys to space were the exclusive purview of a tiny number of well-trained air force pilots and scientists. Just getting into the astronaut or cosmonaut programmes required either a career as a high-flying ace fighter pilot or a doctorate in a relevant scientific field. There have been attempts to put spaceflight within reach of more people – Christa McAuliffe, who died in the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, was set to be the first teacher to travel into space. But generally speaking, becoming an astronaut and travelling to space was out of reach for practically all of us.

William Shatner aboard Blue Origin’s NS-18 mission.

People like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos have talked in vaguely-defined terms about future missions to space or to Mars that would bring along more civilians and regular folks, but those missions seemed like a long way off. Then came missions in the last couple of years taking paying passengers – but at such a high cost that space felt like a playground for the billionaires’ club and was still beyond the reach of most ordinary people.

William Shatner’s space flight has gone a long way to challenging all of those perceptions. There’s something truly inspirational about the idea of Captain Kirk actually going into space; just writing those words feels incredibly surreal. This character was at the head of a television show and a franchise that, for more than half a century, has done more than any other to inspire people to look to the stars and to look to a future where space travel will be something anyone can participate in. And here he was, actually making that dream a reality in the real world.

Shatner with his crewmates.

It’s impossible to overstate the importance of Star Trek as an inspirational franchise. Generations of people have watched the series and been inspired by its message, its morals, its optimism, and its technology. The franchise has a track record of bringing its technologies to life – everything from tablet computers, wireless communicators, video calling, and more were “predicted” by Star Trek before becoming a reality. And perhaps that’s what makes William Shatner’s space flight so inspiring – he made the dream of going to space come true as well. There’s hope that, if Captain Kirk can actually travel into space, as Star Trek depicted all those years ago, perhaps the rest of us can too.

Not to be impolite, but at the age of 90, William Shatner isn’t in the prime of his life in terms of his physical condition. He looks great for 90, don’t get me wrong, but there’s a bit of a belly, a few too many wrinkles, and the ever-present toupée! But I’m not here to criticise any of that – because it’s those things that make his journey to space even more astonishing and aspirational. Not only is Captain Kirk himself in space, but here’s someone who’s older than any previous space traveller, who isn’t in the best shape of his life, and yet still it was possible to undertake that incredible journey. By simply being who he is, Shatner has once again inspired millions of folks who might’ve felt space travel was beyond them. Perhaps they felt they were too old, or they have a health condition, or something else. But seeing William Shatner at age 90 boarding that rocket and floating around up in space demonstrates to all of us that such a journey might be possible after all.

William Shatner and his crewmates boarding their spacecraft.

To me, that’s the success of this latest mission to space. For the first time in a very long time, a crewed space mission managed to get me genuinely excited and emotional; I felt I was sharing that moment with William Shatner and the others aboard the rocket. His sense of awe and wonder was so genuine, and the way he spoke and conveyed how it felt was passionate and beautiful.

There are still issues with space travel. The fact that it costs such an insane amount of money is going to be a barrier for a lot of people. But that was true of many inventions from the motor car to the aeroplane, and now those methods of travel are available to many more people than they were when they were first invented.

The idea that Captain Kirk could actually go into space has captured the public imagination in a unique way.

It feels like we’re on the cusp of a new age of space exploration. No longer will space be the exclusive realm of government-funded agencies, gated off to all but a select few people who were privileged enough to be able to head down the perfect career path. Commercial spaceflight has the potential to open up space to untold millions of people – and not just for short fun jaunts either. Orbital hotels, moon colonies, the exploration of Mars, and so many more things all feel one step closer today than they did just a few short weeks ago. That isn’t William Shatner’s doing – Blue Origin, SpaceX, and other companies have been building up to this moment for years. But once again, William Shatner brought space to the fore and captured the public’s imagination in a way that only he could.

I have no time for the naysayers. Prince William, one of the last wriggling vestiges of a dying aristocratic elite, had the audacity to criticise Shatner’s spaceflight shortly after he returned to Earth, saying that we should focus our energies on fixing climate change, not racing to colonise new worlds. But why can’t we do both? And not only that, but there’s more to fighting climate change than getting to the precious “net zero” that seems to be the fetish of our current crop of leaders. Space can offer solutions – harvesting solar energy, for example, capturing carbon and removing it from the atmosphere, or even building solar shades to shield parts of the Arctic and Antarctic are among many hypothetical ways that missions in space could have a real-world impact. And for all of the criticisms I made earlier of space exploration and missions to the ISS feeling boring from the layman’s perspective, the scientific advances they provide have already made an impact here on Earth.

William Shatner looking down at Earth from space.

For the first time in a very long time, a real-life mission to space managed to capture my attention – and showed off to millions of people that the dream of space travel, embodied by television franchises like Star Trek, hasn’t died. There’s the real and genuine potential to repeat this feat, and as technology continues to improve and costs come down, maybe spaceflight will be within reach of the average person sooner than we might expect.

All William Shatner did was accept an invitation and take his seat. But that simple act, and the wonderful reaction he had to it, was life-changing – and not just for the man himself. Just as he did in the 1960s when he commanded the starship Enterprise, William Shatner has once again inspired people all over the world, showing us that it isn’t futile to look to the stars.

Some images used above courtesy of Blue Origin via YouTube. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Introducing… Trekking with Dennis!

Starting today, this website has a new name! There’s also a new URL to match, so be sure to update your bookmarks! From now on, you’ll be able to find me here: https://www.trekkingwithdennis.com/

Why the change of name and branding? That’s a great question, and I’d like to take a moment to address this.

When I began working on the project that would ultimately become this website in the autumn of 2019, the name was one of the last things I settled on. And almost from the beginning I wasn’t thrilled with the name that I chose. The original light-hearted intention was that the website’s content would be akin to reading something that your proverbial “Crazy Uncle” might’ve said; sharing rambling opinions on geeky entertainment topics.

Making the website’s name a bit of a joke was, in retrospect, a mistake. It wasn’t the worst name I could’ve chosen, but I’ve had regrets about it almost from the moment the website went live.

Then there are the two constituent parts of the old name. “Crazy” is a term that many people have used to describe me in the past. I have mental health issues, and I’ve been up front about that on a number of occasions. In a way, I kind of felt as though I was reclaiming the word from critics by using it here, but on reflection I’m not sure that’s the way it comes across. The word “crazy” has been used for a long time to malign and marginalise people with mental health issues, and I don’t want to contribute to that in any way.

While I had good intentions with the use of the word, I now consider its usage here over the past couple of years to have been a mistake. Rather than compounding that mistake by doubling down, I’m choosing to drop the word “crazy” from the website’s name entirely.

Then we have the word “uncle.” As I’ve been exploring my own gender identity over the past few years, I’ve accepted myself for who I am: I’m non-binary. Masculine words and terms have no place here, because I’m not male. As I’ve explored more of what it means to be non-binary and to not be male, I’ve become more confident with my own gender identity and my gender expression. Dropping a masculine-sounding noun just makes sense for me now. As we approach 2022, I want my website to better reflect the person I am and the person I’ve become over the last few years; keeping such a masculine title has felt wrong for some time and I’ve been increasingly uncomfortable with it.

So from now on, your favourite(!) website will be known as Trekking with Dennis.

Obviously I chose the first part of this new name based on my love of the Star Trek franchise, not because I’ve suddenly become a long-distance hiker! Star Trek has been a huge part of the website and will continue to be a major focus as we move forward, but I will of course continue to talk about other topics as well. I’m not just a one-trick pony, after all! And if past precedent is anything to go by, some of the most popular articles and columns that I’ve written have been about subjects other than Star Trek!

The old URL – https://www.crazyuncledennis.com/ – will continue to work in the short term, simply redirecting you here, but by the end of 2022 at the very latest it will most likely be permanently shut down. So there’s time for everyone to update their bookmarks and for Google’s web-bots to find the new address and start their trawling!

Thank you for your support over the past couple of years. The website has grown to become so much bigger than I ever expected, and I’m having a great time writing about some of the franchises and subjects that I love and that I find the most interesting. I hope you’ll enjoy Trekking with Dennis as much as you enjoyed Crazy Uncle Dennis.

Here’s to moving forward!

Dennis

5th November 2021

Star Trek: Lower Decks is boldly going for asexual representation

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Lower Decks Seasons 1-2, particularly the episode Where Pleasant Fountains Lie.

This article deals with the subjects of sex and sexuality and may be uncomfortable for some readers.

Growing up asexual is difficult. We live in a world that seems to revolve around sex and sexuality much of the time, with an awful lot of music, art, and entertainment dedicated to relationships and to sex. Graphic depictions of sex on screen may be a relatively recent phenomenon, but even in the 1980s and 1990s sex was a frequent subject on television, in cinema, in music, and in practically every other form of media.

Even the arrival on the scene of more lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans characters in media didn’t bring all that much respite. Who people were having sex with changed, but the fact that they were having sex – and spent much of their time pursuing it in one form or another – had not. The growth in LGBT+ representation in media has been fantastic (though it is still far from perfect) but speaking for myself as an asexual person, it didn’t always succeed at resonating with me. I still felt alone, that my perspective wasn’t being represented.

The asexuality flag or asexual pride flag. You might’ve seen it before – it’s permanently flown in the upper-right corner here on the website.

In the couple of “sex education” lessons that I was given at school, there was no mention of the LGBT+ community, let alone asexuality. Sex was something that “everyone” had and wanted to have, and between the depictions and talk of sex in all forms of art and media through to peer pressure from my adolescent peer group, it was inescapable. The only people who might be celibate were monks, nuns, Catholic priests, and losers who couldn’t find a date. That was the way sex and sexuality appeared at the time I was discovering my own.

In the time and place where I was growing up, away from the more liberal and cosmopolitan cities, even being homosexual was considered something abhorrent, let alone being trans, non-binary, or asexual. People didn’t understand what any of those terms meant because they’d never been exposed to it, and even being suspected of being a “poof” or a “bum boy” was enough to send the bullies into a frenzy.

The new “progress” LGBT+ pride flag.

The process of “normalising” – and gosh do I hate that term – asexuality can only begin when asexuality is visible. There may be a handful of asexual activists both within and outside of the broader LGBT+ movement, but generally speaking the level of visibility remains low. Without that visibility, understanding and acceptance can’t follow. The same is true of any minority group – including transgender and non-binary.

It’s for this reason that I get so irritated when I hear people talking about “too many” gay characters on television, or how “in-your-face” LGBT+ representation feels. It’s like that specifically because these groups have been so underrepresented for such a long time, and by making LGBT+ depictions more overt and obvious, it raises awareness and draws attention to the LGBT+ movement and the quest for acceptance within society as a whole.

Greater representation of LGBT+ people is still needed.

Since I went public with my asexuality, I’ve started displaying the asexual pride flag right here on the website. You can see it in the upper-right corner both on PC and mobile devices. I do that deliberately with the express intention of raising awareness and pointing out that asexual people exist in all areas of life. My chosen subjects here on the website are entertainment – Star Trek, video games, sci-fi and fantasy, among others. But there are asexual people in all walks of life and with as broad a range of interests as everyone else.

Being open about my asexuality was a choice that I made in part because of the lack of representation and lack of awareness many folks have of asexuals and asexuality. Even by offering my singular perspective on the subject in a small way in my little corner of the internet, I feel like I’m doing something to advocate for greater awareness and greater visibility, because without those things I fear that asexuality will never be understood. And without understanding it’s very hard to see a pathway to broader acceptance of asexuality in society.

If you’re interested to read a more detailed account of how I came to terms with my asexuality, you can find it by clicking or tapping here.

Title card for Where Pleasant Fountains Lie.

So we turn to Star Trek. As an adolescent dealing with some of these issues surrounding my sexuality, the Star Trek franchise – and other sci-fi and fantasy worlds – could offer an escape. Science fiction and fantasy tend not to be as heavily reliant on themes of sex as, say, drama or even comedies can be, and I think that may have been a factor in my enjoyment of Star Trek: The Next Generation during its original run.

Despite that, the Star Trek franchise is hardly nonsexual. Characters like Captain Kirk and Commander Riker are well-known for their many relationships, and episodes like The Naked Time and Amok Time, while never showing as much overt sexuality as some more modern shows, do reference the subject. Even characters who have proven popular in the asexual community – like Spock and Data – had sexual relationships. While the Star Trek franchise has been at the forefront of many battles for representation – famously showing the first interracial kiss and with episodes like Rejoined promoting LGBT+ issues – asexuality itself had never been overtly referenced in Star Trek.

Characters like Data have been talked about in an asexual context before.

Though the depiction of Lower Decks’ chief engineer Andy Billups wasn’t explicitly about asexuality, his story in Where Pleasant Fountains Lie presented the first significant analogy for asexuality in the Star Trek franchise – and one of the first ever on television, certainly the first that I’ve ever seen. In typical Star Trek fashion, the episode looked at the subject through a science fiction lens, with Billups’ unwillingness to have sex being tied to the medieval-spacefaring culture from which he came.

Star Trek has often done this. Rather than explicitly referencing a contemporary issue, writers will devise an in-universe comparison. The Doomsday Machine featured a planet-killing superweapon in an analogy about nuclear proliferation. In The Hands Of The Prophets told a story about Bajoran religion clashing with secular teaching in a story that was clearly about the creationism/evolution debate but that made no explicit references. Likewise we can say that Where Pleasant Fountains Lie is a story about asexuality – but one seen through a Star Trek filter.

The episode told a story about asexuality through a typical Star Trek lens.

As an asexual person watching the episode, I was floored. For the first time, a character in Star Trek shared my sexuality and feelings about sex. More than that, as the Hysperians’ plot to trick Andy Billups into having sex reached its endgame, the poor man looked so incredibly uncomfortable and ill at ease with what he was about to do. I’ve been there. I’ve been Andy Billups in that moment, and to see that portrayal was incredibly cathartic.

When I was fifteen I lost my virginity, succumbing to the pressure from my peer group and having talked myself into it. I thought that by doing so I could convince others – and myself – that I was “normal,” just like everyone else. Never having heard the term “asexual,” nor understanding that the way I felt about sex and genitalia was valid, I convinced myself that I must be the one who was wrong, that I was broken and that my sexuality simply did not exist as I now understand it. In that moment I felt a great deal of trepidation. This wasn’t simply the anxiety of one’s “first time,” but I was forcing myself to do something that I fundamentally did not want to do; something that disgusted and repulsed me.

I related to Billups so much during this sequence.

If you’re heterosexual, I guess a reasonable comparison would be having sex with a same-sex partner. Even if you could talk yourself into it, it wouldn’t feel right. And vice versa if you’re homosexual; having sex with an opposite-sex partner would feel fundamentally wrong. That’s the expression that I saw stamped on Andy Billups’ face in Where Pleasant Fountains Lie, and if I had looked in the mirror on that day in my mid-teens – or on any of the other occasions on which I talked myself into having sex with partners both male and female – I would have seen the exact same thing.

I believe that this is the power of representation. To truly see myself reflected in a fictional character has been an entirely new experience for me, and no doubt for other asexual folks as well. Lower Decks may be a comedy series, but this storyline has become one of the most powerful that I’ve seen in all of Star Trek. It was the first time I ever saw my sexuality represented on screen, and for as long as I live I will be able to go back to that moment and point it out to other people. There is finally an understandable, sympathetic metaphor for asexuality on screen.

Chief engineer Andy Billups: asexual icon!

As I stated in my review of Where Pleasant Fountains Lie, the depiction of Billups wasn’t perfect. There was a jokiness and a light-heartedness to elements of the story that clashed with the heavier themes that were present. But in spite of that, Billups’ story resonated with me. It’s an incredibly powerful moment to see any kind of asexual representation, and although there were jokes at Billups’ expense in the episode, he came across incredibly sympathetically. He even had his entire team cheering for him and chanting his name at the end – celebrating how he remained true to himself and didn’t have sex.

No asexual person should ever feel that they’re obligated to have sex. Sex education classes need to include asexuality alongside the rest of the LGBT+ spectrum so that asexual kids and teenagers can understand that the way they are is normal and valid. But education is only one thing that needs to change. Representation in all forms of media is exceptionally important too, and even a single depiction of a secondary character in one episode is already the best and most powerful asexual story that there has been in a long time – possibly ever. As more people become aware of asexuality and understand its place alongside heterosexuality, bisexuality, homosexuality, and other sexual orientations, the stigma or prejudice against asexuals and asexuality that exists in society will – in time – decrease.

Whether intentional or not, Lower Decks has joined the conversation and brought asexuality to mainstream attention in a way that I’d never seen before. It’s now possible for me to point to Where Pleasant Fountains Lie to show anyone who’s interested to learn more about asexuality and to see it represented on screen. That opportunity didn’t exist before, and I’m incredibly grateful to Lower Decks for this episode, this character, and this powerful story.

Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 2 is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States, and on Amazon Prime Video in the UK and around the world. The Star Trek franchise – including Lower Decks and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Fighting the urge to panic-buy

The media is truly excellent at manipulation. Take the UK’s recent petrol and diesel shortages as an example. A “leak” from a private meeting between government officials and industry leaders suggested that the chronic shortage of lorry drivers – which extends far beyond Britain’s borders, afflicting much of western Europe and even the United States – could make it harder to ensure fuel deliveries to petrol stations. The inevitable and quite predictable result of the press reporting this as if it were imminent was panic-buying; a run on fuel.

It wasn’t until the media-reported “leak” that the panic-buying began, which led to the very fuel shortages that headlines screamed were coming. In short, the UK’s current fuel predicament is entirely a media-created problem, but I doubt very much that the responsible parties will ever be held accountable.

There has been a run on petrol stations in the UK over the last few days, all thanks to the media.

The same is true of other instances of panic-buying over the last couple of years. The infamous toilet paper shortage at the beginning of the pandemic was, once again, a media-created firestorm. And many media outlets, particularly tabloids, haven’t stopped trying to create more “shortages” to report on ever since. They prioritise sales, clickbait, and the revenue that panic-inducing headlines provide over any semblance of journalistic integrity, taking photos of supposedly “empty” shelves in supermarkets and showing them to the world under exaggerated headlines promising imminent doom.

My first ever job when I was still at school was working in a convenience shop in a small town. On any day of the week it was possible to find an empty shelf – most shops and supermarkets don’t have large stockrooms any more, with the just-in-time delivery system bringing everything on a daily basis. By the time evening rolled around, some shelves could look pretty bare. It’s at these times of day that many tabloid “journalists” and their photographer allies sneak into supermarkets to snap pictures of empty shelves in a desperate quest to keep the public buying newspapers (a dying format) or clicking on headlines proclaiming that we’re all about to starve to death.

You can find scenes like this seven days a week in most supermarkets, convenience stores, and food shops.

Even if there are individual industry-specific shortages or supply chain problems, these aren’t going to be permanent. The fuel panic has already blown over in much of the country, with only the London area still fully in the grip of the crisis. And promises of additional drivers and tankers backed up by the army should see that settle within a matter of days. Likewise in food, where certain products have been out of stock. These things don’t last forever, because it’s in everyone’s interest, from the government to the shops to their suppliers, to figure out solutions as quickly as possible. The only ones who benefit in any way from these shortages – or reported “shortages” – are the media.

So why, then, am I finding it hard to resist the temptation to join in and start panic-buying?

Partly this is an anxiety thing, and folks who suffer from anxiety to a worse degree than I do must surely be feeling awful right now. Headlines are screaming of shortages in fuel, meat, fruits and vegetables, and even proclaiming that Christmas is about to be “cancelled” due to a lack of festive food and toys. For people with mental health conditions, these kinds of headlines are just awful.

“Christmas is cancelled!” scream the headlines in some failing newspapers.

The rational part of my brain is fighting the irrational side – as it always has to. Are there enough lorries to transport everything I need? Will I have enough food? Will I be able to get enough food for the cats? What about my medication? What about cat litter? What about bin liners? What about this, that, and the other things?

It’s so very tempting to say “I’ll just pick up a couple of extras.” That doesn’t feel like panic-buying, and I can even rationalise it to myself by saying that I’m not panicking, I’m just being sensible and taking precautions in case other people start panic-buying. Besides, the supermarket won’t miss a couple of extra tins of potatoes and packets of cat food, right? They’ve got loads of stuff on the shelves (despite the false pictures printed in the newspapers!)

A shortage of HGV drivers is one factor in some of these “shortages.”

The problem with that mindset is that, when everyone does the same thing, shops run out of everything more quickly. When people who have their tanks half-full stop by the petrol station for a top-up “just in case,” fuel runs out. And that’s exactly what we’ve been seeing over the past week. People who didn’t need to buy fuel, and wouldn’t have under normal circumstances, have started queueing up to top up their vehicles in case there’s a shortage caused by panic-buying… not realising or acknowledging that they themselves are part of the problem.

It’s an easy trap to fall into. And it’s easy to talk oneself into it, too. After all, if there’s even the possibility of things running out, it makes sense to jump in ahead of the panic and stock up, right? The mindset of “other people panic-buy; I’m just being sensible” is a way for all of us to rationalise what is really not rational behaviour. The fear of missing out, of sitting at home without food or toilet paper or petrol wishing we’d taken action sooner is pushing people on, spurring them to take irrational action and do the wrong thing at the wrong moment.

Other people panic-buy, but when *I* rush out to buy things I don’t need, I’m “just taking sensible precautions” or “stocking up.”

In the west, most people have never had to experience a genuine shortage of anything. In the UK, there haven’t really been any major problems or shortages since the 1970s, meaning anyone under the age of 50 can’t remember the three-day week or rolling blackouts. There hasn’t been a petrol shortage since fuel protests in the year 2000, and that was swiftly resolved. While there were supply issues for a few select products – like toilet paper – early last year that are certainly playing into people’s fears, it’s been a generation since the country last endured any major shortages.

With no experience of hard times to fall back on, people are more inclined to panic. Some genuinely fear starvation – though their girth suggests that such a fate would take a very long time indeed. But most people simply fear the unknown: what will a world without easy access to abundant supplies of food look like? Not knowing leaves folks much more inclined to panic.

The UK hasn’t experienced problems like these since Ted Heath was Prime Minister in the mid-1970s.

The media as a whole is being phenomenally irresponsible, though certain publications are worse than others. The incompetent government isn’t helping, of course, and things like a cut to benefits (welfare), a lower-than-expected rise in pensions, tax rises, and major price rises for electricity and gas bills all pile on top of the supposed shortages, adding to a sense of unease and worry among the population. On a personal level, I’m seeing my income shrink right at the moment my bills rise. With people already worried about paying for the basics like food and heating, the threat of food supplies drying up or no fuel at the pumps was the last straw for a lot of people.

It’s understandable, then, why people feel compelled to join the queues at petrol stations or push their way into packed supermarkets to chase down the last roll of Andrex. And I can take some degree of comfort in knowing that I’m not the only one who feels that way. Fighting the urge to panic-buy isn’t easy… but it’s worth doing. In fact, it’s the only way to prevent more panic-buying in the long term. That and not buying any newspaper with a red top or clicking on a clickbait headline on a poorly-coded website.

I’m going to try hard to avoid succumbing and contributing to the panic. Hopefully the reward will be a government that pays attention and actually takes action to fix the systemic issues that got us to this point – but I won’t hold my breath for that. Until then, I think I’m going to take a break from the news and focus on happier things. Like re-watching yesterday’s episode of Star Trek: Lower Decks. Damn, that was a fine episode.

Some stock images courtesy of Unsplash and/or Pixabay. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Ah, September!

I adore the beginning of September. As a kid I hated it, of course – the first week of September means back to school for kids in England – but with those years far behind me (too far, quite frankly) I’ve really come to appreciate what September brings. Even as a kid, September marked the beginning of the slow march to Christmas, and brought with it the end of the summer heatwaves and warm weather. As the leaves begin to turn shades of gold, orange, and red, autumn sets in and the weather cools. The nights start getting noticeably longer, and then before you know it it’s harvest time!

Autumn is, on balance, probably my favourite season. As much as I like seeing the beautiful frosts and snowfalls of winter, autumn has a sense of slowly-building anticipation that winter lacks; the hype before the main event. Just like the days leading up to Christmas are more enjoyable than Christmas Day itself, so too is autumn preferable to winter.

Don’t tell anyone, but Christmas is coming!

Though we don’t have Thanksgiving here in the UK like our American and Canadian friends, harvest time brings with it an abundance of many of my favourite dishes, like apple crumble – the perfect autumn dessert, if you ask me! As a kid we’d go bramble-picking, collecting the fruit you might also know as blackberries to make into desserts or jam. I tend to associate the autumn season with these kinds of fruity, sweet flavours – but you could just as easily add into the mix hearty stews or dishes like steak pie.

Apples – the quintessential autumn fruit.

As an aside, it was only when I moved away from the UK and met folks from other countries that I realised how British cuisine has acquired a truly awful reputation! It never occurred to me that it might be so looked down on by people from other parts of the world, especially because I grew up in a rural community where farm-fresh produce was often available. I can remember attending events celebrating cookery, where local chefs would show off the best (often very expensive) home-grown ingredients. There was even an apple festival that I went to once – around this time of year – which was great fun. And I still have a soft spot for cookery shows on television (or online) – many of which star British chefs cooking British food. But I digress!

Heat never used to be a big deal for me. I lived for a time in South Africa, on the KwaZulu-Natal coast, and summer was warm and humid there. Even when I lived in mainland Europe, temperatures were a lot warmer than they are here. Unfortunately though, as my health has gotten worse over the years I’ve found that my tolerance for heat has declined, and my idea of what makes for a comfortable temperature is now what a lot of folks would call “cold!” This means that I enjoy summer even less than I ever used to, so the beginning of September brings with it a sense of relief. Of course it’s still possible to get a heatwave or hot spell into September, but by and large we’re through what I consider the least-enjoyable part of the year.

Autumn is when the weather cools and the leaves turn beautiful shades of gold and orange.

From an entertainment point of view, September marks the beginning of the traditional television season – though of course such things are increasingly meaningless in an era of ten-episode seasons and on-demand streaming! But it was in September when many shows would premiere or kick off their new seasons – Star Trek: The Original Series and The Next Generation both debuted in September, for example. Even today, with streaming becoming an ever-larger part of the home entertainment landscape, summer still sees fewer new shows and fewer video game releases than the autumn. Got to get those games out in time for Christmas, right?

When I worked in the city in an office – or rather, a succession of offices – September was usually a great time to take a break. Co-workers with kids would often want time off over the summer holidays, and would be grateful to us childless folks for not taking up too many vacation days during the weeks when schools were closed. So by the end of the summer most of them would come back to work, meaning it was my turn for some time off! Though I wouldn’t say this was a tradition I stuck to every year, it was certainly something I took advantage of for several Septembers.

A real harvest bounty!

For a variety of reasons I have positive associations with this time of year, some going all the way back to my early childhood memories of picking brambles in the hedgerows around the small village where I grew up. Or playing conkers! Do you remember that game? If you never got to play, as kids we’d pick conkers – the large woody seed of horse chestnut trees – and tie them to pieces of string. The game then involved two players swinging or flicking their conker at the other player’s – the surviving conker was declared the winner!

So as September begins, we mark the unofficial end of summer. My favourite time of year gets started, and we begin the slow march toward Christmas and New Year – which will be upon us sooner than we realise! I never like to wish away time; none of us really know how many months or seasons we’ve got left, so wishing for a particular time of year to rush by seems rather ghoulish. But every year I’m pleased to welcome September, which brings with it the beginning of my favourite season and favourite time of year. And today, I just wanted to take a moment away from the usual things I talk about here on the website to acknowledge that.

All properties mentioned above are the copyright of their respective owner, studio, broadcaster, etc. Some stock images courtesy of pixabay. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Hear my words!

After experimenting with the format, I ultimately decided not to pursue the podcast or audio article format any further. As a result, you won’t find the episode(s) discussed below, nor will any of the links work.

Literally.

I’ve started recording audio versions of some of the articles here on the website. The plan is that these audios will be available via Spotify, Anchor, and other podcast apps, so search for me on any of these and hopefully you’ll find me! This is very new, so it might take a few days before everything is up and running.

In addition to the audios being available via podcast apps, I’ll be uploading them to YouTube. You should start to see audio versions of certain articles available to listen to right here on the website via these embedded YouTube videos at the bottom of certain articles.

For now, I won’t be going back and recording an audio version of every single article and column (there are almost 400 at time of writing, so that’d take forever) nor do I plan to do all of the new articles going forward; writing is still my primary endeavour here! But some articles that I consider worth publishing in audio format will slowly be recorded and added over the next few weeks and months, and select articles going forward will be similarly recorded.

This could be you – listening to my articles!

The website has grown more this year than I could have expected, and continuing to reach out and share what I’m doing here with a broader audience is something I’m genuinely excited to get started with. Not only that, but folks with visual impairments who find the website difficult to use will be able to listen to audio recordings of these articles. So there are quite a few benefits!

At present, I have recorded and released five articles in audio form, and you can start listening right away. If you’re a regular on YouTube, I encourage you to subscribe to my YouTube channel – which you can find by clicking or tapping here. You can find me on Spotify by clicking or tapping here, and on Anchor by clicking or tapping here. The audio versions should soon roll out to other podcast apps, including Apple Podcasts, in the days and weeks ahead.

I’m on Spotify!

Speaking of podcasts, in addition to the audio recordings of articles I’m also planning an unscripted podcast – The DenPod – which I hope to release new episodes of on a monthly basis. The DenPod will see me recap some of the highlights of the preceding month, including things I may not have been able to cover in-depth here on the website. I don’t currently have a release schedule for the DenPod, but I aim to produce one episode per month at least for now. The first episode of the DenPod will be available in the next day or two (I’m still working on it at time of writing).

In terms of audio recording, I’m using a Blue Yeti USB microphone connected to my PC, and freeware audio editor Audacity. I’m not an expert on these things, but it’s already been an interesting learning experience! I hope to improve my recordings as I continue to familiarise myself with these new pieces of hardware and software. Before I started this project a few weeks ago I was a complete newbie when it comes to audio recording and podcasts. But this latest expansion of what I do here on the website has been a fun challenge, and I hope it’ll become a regular part of the site going forward.

I’m using a Blue Yeti microphone for audio recording.
Picture Credit: Blue Microphones

2020 was the first full year of the website being in operation, and the website saw far more visitors than I could have hoped for. The first half of this year has seen the website continue to grow, and it’s my hope that branching out into audio recordings and an unscripted podcast will not just be a bit of fun, but will see that expansion and growth continue. With the same goal in mind I’ve also started a Twitter account – though I have to be honest, social media isn’t my strong suit!

Click or tap the following links to check out the first articles that have been updated with audio versions:

  • It’s time for Deep Space Nine and Voyager to get the HD treatment
  • Star Trek: Picard Season 2 – new trailer thoughts and analysis
  • The Tomorrow War – film review
  • Star Trek: Lower Decks review – Season 1, Episode 8: Veritas
  • Mass Effect: Legendary Edition – what’s the best ending?

So that’s all I have to say this time! I hope you’ll find this addition to the website to be useful and/or interesting. It’s an idea I’d toyed with on and off for a few months, and I’m excited to get started. Stay tuned for the first episode of The DenPod in the next few days too – a copy will be posted here on the website.

Until next time!

All titles mentioned above are the copyright of their respective owner, publisher, broadcaster, etc. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Exploring my gender identity – where do I fit?

This article deals with the sensitive topics of gender identity and sexuality and may be uncomfortable for some readers.

This is part two of a two-part series. You can find the preceding article by clicking or tapping here.

Last time I talked about asexuality and my long journey to understanding what it is and what it means for me. I’ve been at a point in my life where in my own mind I’ve become settled or comfortable with my asexuality – despite the difficult road to get there – but my gender identity is a different story.

The concept of multiple gender identities beyond the male-female binary is still relatively new to me. It’s only in the last few years that I’ve seen it discussed in a major way, and perhaps for that reason it’s something I haven’t explored in as much depth as I would have liked to. Even though I’ve been on this planet for a long time, I still have no idea where I fit.

If gender is a spectrum, with 100% male at one end and 100% female at the other, I guess I’m somewhere in between. Some moments I feel very feminine, whereas at others I’m at least tolerant of the fact that I was assigned male at birth. Does that make me genderfluid, genderqueer, non-binary, or some combination of those neologisms? I guess so. But I don’t know which to associate with, nor what it really means for me at a fundamental level.

I’ve always used male pronouns in “real life” simply by default – though online I have, occasionally, asked someone I was talking with to refer to me as female. The anonymity of the internet allows for this sometimes, and as with my sexuality it really is thanks to the rise of the internet that I’m able to even consider some of these different feelings instead of continuing to suppress them. I’m certainly nowhere near 100% male in terms of the way I feel – though I am, as noted last time, physiologically male.

But at the same time, the thought of fully transitioning and living as a woman full-time is something I’m not sure I’m ready for. It’s possible that, at some future date and time, I will make that decision; I don’t want to entirely rule it out. But right now, as I write this, I’m not ready to make that commitment.

This isn’t something new, and as I look back on my life and reflect, it seems in retrospect that these are feelings and sensations that have been present for as long as I can remember. As with my asexuality, though, I tried to keep them hidden – even from myself. Denial is something I’ve heard a lot of trans and non-binary folks went through, not wanting to admit the truth to themselves, and I fall into that category too. I grew up in a society where boys and girls were separate – boys played with toy guns and girls with dolls, to put a stereotype on it. The fact that I always wanted a doll or long hair was something I learned incredibly early on to keep to myself.

When I was younger, being labelled a “poof” – a slur for gay men here in the UK – was about as bad as it got. Along with being called a “sissy” or “wuss,” every attack that my peers at school had centred around emasculating their target; calling them homosexual and un-manly was the standard insult. So I, like many people of my generation, grew up denying those feelings and supressing that expression of gender.

Society plays a big role in how all of us identify ourselves. We do not exist in a vacuum, able to say “I’m just me.” We grow up with all of the trappings of whatever culture and society we inhabit, and around the world even today, practically every culture insists on a gender binary that uses biological sex as a basis. And for many people, perhaps that’s okay. A lot of folks assigned male at birth would consider themselves 100% male, and many people assigned female at birth would likewise consider themselves 100% female. If they consider gender identity at all it merely reaffirms their sex assigned at birth. Perhaps in that sense, gender nonconformity, transgender, and non-binary genders will always be outside of the mainstream.

But that doesn’t help someone in my situation. Better education certainly can, as can fair depictions of non-binary and transgender folks in all forms of media. When I was at school, I don’t recall transgender or non-binary issues ever being discussed in a serious educational context; during sex education, citizenship classes, and so on. The only time anyone ever brought up the idea of gender nonconformity it was always an attack or insult – calling a girl “butch” or a “tomboy,” or calling a boy a “sissy” or a “poof.”

This sentiment carried over into entertainment and pop culture as well. When I think back on television shows and films of the ’80s, ’90s, and 2000s, gender expression was viewed negatively – even becoming the butt of jokes in comedies like Little Britain.

When anything other than strict adherence to one’s assigned sex is viewed so negatively and used so hurtfully as an attack, it seems obvious that someone in my position would struggle to acknowledge the truth. These feelings and this way of living had been so thoroughly dismissed, attacked, and insulted by practically everyone I met for decades that the idea I might recognise any aspect of it in myself was incredibly difficult to come to terms with – and I’m still coming to terms with it today.

About five years ago, I began changing the way I dress – at least in private. Rather than jeans, shirts, polos, and the like, I tried out dresses and skirts for the first time. I’ve tried makeup, I’ve tried wearing a wig. All of these things helped me feel a little closer to “me” – the version of me that I am on the inside and want to be.

I’ve been “out” with some friends, too. Trying hard to explain – as I am here – the complexities of the situation. Some were helpful and supportive, others less so. Perhaps because I don’t have a definite answer myself to some of these questions, that makes it harder to explain the way I feel to others. Most of my close friends and all of my family members still don’t know these things about me. The fact that I live alone and only see most of these people rarely means that putting on what I refer to as “the mask” is easier. It would certainly be far harder to be my true self if I were living under the same roof as someone else.

It’s perhaps no coincidence, then, that getting divorced was the beginning of my exploration of this side of myself. When I moved out of my parents’ home I went first to university, where I shared a house or flat with several different people. After university I remained in shared accommodation, and then subsequently moved in with my girlfriend who later became my wife. So I had never really been alone – certainly not alone enough to be open about this side of myself.

For the longest time I kept all of these feelings pushed down as deep as I could. I didn’t want to acknowledge that I was in any way “different” or “abnormal,” because doing so would seem to confirm what those school bullies said years previously. I mentioned last time that the first I ever heard of “asexuality” was in the form of an attack; being anything other than 100% male, masculine, and manly was likewise something I found difficult to countenance because it had always been used in that way.

Regardless, when I was alone these thoughts and feelings, which I had kept hidden for so long, came to the fore. Gradually I began to explore this aspect of my personality for really the first time – trying on new clothes, trying out makeup, revelling in activities that people consider “feminine.” I would meet people online while all dressed up and, thanks to the anonymity of text-based communication, in those moments I could be completely female. I didn’t need to be this fully male character that I had tried to be for so long – and it was liberating.

We’ll talk one day about my mental health, because this expression could apply there too. But when it comes to my gender identity, I don’t know where the “mask” ends and the real me begins. Because I’d gotten so used to pretending to be someone I’m not, parts of that mask are embedded in the way I think. I’m still trying to pick at the pieces – to figure out what is really me and what is the pretend version of me; the character I played all those years.

I call it the “mask” because for the longest time that’s how interacting with people felt. That I had to put on a mask, a pretend version of me. To act out a character. That mask was a manly man, all male, loved sex, liked doing manly things. I’d go to the pub with people I knew and drink beer, talk about sexual conquests, football teams, and the like. I kept this up for years, even allowing my now-ex-wife to fall for the “mask.” This was just the way life would have to be, I told myself. Because the alternative was unthinkable.

There are a lot of people I can still never admit this to in my personal life. I know a lot of people, even friends and family, who’ve expressed the attitude that sex is assigned at birth and that’s final. Trans men are not men, they say, nor are trans women really women. And non-binary genders are “made up” or “nonsense.” Having this conversation with any of them would be too difficult, and would result in too much hurt, even more so because I can’t fully explain myself, nor identify precisely where I sit on the spectrum of gender identities.

I was not ready to get married when I did, nor for a relationship on that level. I’m probably still not ready – if I ever will be. But I saw it as one item on the “checklist” – I had an imaginary checklist in my mind of things that “normal” people did, and if I could only check off enough then maybe I could be normal, too. Get through higher education was one. Get a job was another. Then find a place to live. Finally, get a relationship and get married. That was how I saw myself move through the world – check off these items and convince everyone I was normal, just like them.

Gradually those things fell apart. And when I found myself truly alone for the first time, I was able to begin exploring these supressed facets of my personality. I’m close to finally meeting the real me – it just took forty years to get here.

Where exactly I fit is still not clear. Somewhere in between male and female, I guess. Call that genderqueer, call it non-binary, call it genderfluid, or any of the associated terms that people use. I haven’t decided which I like best yet, or which seems to be the best fit.

As I said last time, two very important things could help someone in my situation in future: education and representation. By better explaining the gender spectrum, more people will realise that it’s okay to be themselves, that the way they feel is valid. More representation in media will show that transgender and non-binary people are just regular folks, the same as everyone else. That there’s nothing wrong with being this way. It will take time for that message to get across to everybody – generations, in fact. And for people of my parents’ generation, perhaps they will never truly understand. Perhaps there are people who are too attached to that way of thinking. All I can really say about that is that I hope those people will at least be respectful in the way they talk and behave.

This article doesn’t yet have an ending. But my website is really the only place I feel comfortable discussing these topics, so I truly appreciate you taking the time to read these words and listen. I hope you can accept me for who I am.

If you are struggling with your gender identity, help may be a phone call or Google search away. Don’t give up! This article only looks at the broad subject of gender and gender identity from one person’s perspective, and is not representative of the subject as a whole. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

I am asexual

This article deals with the sensitive topics of sexuality and sexual orientation and may be uncomfortable for some readers.

This is part one of a two-part series. You can find the following article by clicking or tapping here.

This has been surprisingly difficult to write. When I decided that I was going to take the opportunity presented by a new year to openly discuss my sexuality, I didn’t anticipate that getting the words to flow would be so difficult, but after six months and several failed writing attempts, here we are. If it weren’t for the fact that it’s Pride Month spurring me on, I daresay I wouldn’t have gotten this finished.

This is the first in a two-part series of personal posts here on the website in which I explain or share a little more about myself and my private life than I ever have before. The semi-anonymity of the website has, to a degree, emboldened me to do so. Though some close friends know that I am asexual, it isn’t something I discuss freely or openly with most of the people in my life. I’ve always been somewhat of a private person, and though I have come to accept my asexuality more in recent years, for a long time it was a source of shame and embarrassment, and for years before that, simply an unknown feeling that at various points I repressed, struggled with, and fought against.

So one more time, for the record: I am asexual.

Asexuality is, broadly speaking, the absence of sexual desire or sexual attraction. I would direct anyone interested to learn more about it in a general sense to websites like AVEN – the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network. In this piece I will primarily be discussing my perspective on asexuality rather than presenting a full picture, but asexuality is itself a spectrum with differing interpretations and viewpoints, and those of you interested to learn more about it beyond my singular experience would be well-served there.

Where to begin? This is the question that’s taken up much of my time over the last few months as I struggled to put this piece together. I grew up in a time and place where there was no internet, no Google, and the word “asexual” was used only in a scientific context to discuss the reproductive process of single-celled organisms. Though homosexuality had been decriminalised decades earlier, in the villages and small towns scattered around the rural area where I grew up, LGBT+ people were not commonly out, and homosexuality was not generally accepted by a significant number of people.

At school, the word “gay” was used often by my peer group to describe something they didn’t like. Missed the school bus? That was “gay.” Your favourite football team lost a match? That was “gay.” I don’t know if this was a regional thing, and of course other words were in use too. But I distinctly remember from those days that the word “gay” had become synonymous with something bad or unpleasant. No one I knew was openly gay, and the few people suspected of it found themselves subject to hate and abuse – as I was myself on many occasions for not acting the “right” way or for saying or doing something deemed “gay” by bullies.

As I reached my teen years and conversations in my friend group – which mostly consisted of males – turned to sex, I began to feel like an outsider. Not because I was a virgin, but because unlike any of them I had no interest in sex at all; I didn’t even masturbate. But not being aware of asexuality, nor believing that the way I felt was valid, I joined in with my peers, and even lost my virginity at age 15.

Sex education in this part of the UK in the ’90s can only be described as shockingly bad. I had two lessons called “sex education” that I can recall. Each lasted around an hour and primarily consisted of watching slides on an old overhead projector (the same set of slides both times) that were probably made in the 1970s, while a clearly uncomfortable teacher stood by silently. In a room full of thirty giggling kids making snide remarks, very little education actually happened. The information that was conveyed only described the basic mechanics of sex, the need to use a condom to avoid STDs, and how sex equals babies; it was also purely heterosexual, with not even the scantest mention made of the LGBT+ community.

My parents opted to leave sex education to the school system, never so much as mentioning the subject to me. That may be a generational thing; my parents grew up in Britain in the ’40s and ’50s, and the postwar generation, while “sexually liberated” in some ways, was still very constrained in others. I don’t blame them for the lack of sex education; they wouldn’t have known what asexuality is anyway!

Having heard friends bragging for years about sex and their sexual prowess, I began to think that perhaps if I experienced it for myself I would finally come to understand why everyone treated it as such a big deal. After a brief phase of telling people that I would abstain until marriage for religious reasons – which seemed like a convenient excuse, even though I’m not and never have been religious – I decided that maybe once I experienced sex for myself I’d change my mind and finally be “normal” like everyone else.

This is an awkward thing to have to say, but I am – as Data put it in Star Trek: The Next Generation – “fully functional.” I’m not impotent nor suffering erectile dysfunction, and I am capable of performing in the bedroom, as I found out when I became intimate with my first girlfriend. I felt some degree of trepidation at that moment – was I about to discover the joy of sex? Would I finally understand why it’s been the number one topic of conversation among my friends for years, and why they seemed desperate to engage in it at every opportunity?

In my first sexual encounter, and in several encounters thereafter, all I can remember thinking was: “is this it?” Is this all sex is: just lying down, bashing our genitals together, trying to stay on target and not miss the hole? It was interminably boring, it was hard work, and I quickly learned that it required a great deal of acting to feign happiness lest you upset your partner. But above all, I was disgusted by it.

Human genitals – male and female – are just incredibly unappealing to me. They stink, both as a result of being confined under clothing and by their proximity to the waste extraction system, and are truly ugly to look at. The idea of putting mine in or near someone else’s filled me with disgust. I felt that way then and it remains how I feel to this day.

That sense of disgust was what I tried to supress for a long time. I convinced myself to try different sexual partners, different positions, different kinks, even oral sex – which may be even more disgusting to me than regular sex due to putting one’s mouth on the aforementioned region. Or having someone’s mouth on mine. Neither were enjoyable in the slightest.

In my late teens as I prepared to go to university, I got access to the internet for the first time, and after spending some time online looking up reasons why I might not enjoy sex or why it feels disgusting, I seriously wondered if I might be gay. Having a boyfriend was out of the question because of my family’s attitude to homosexuality, and with no one local to test out my new theory, my gay experiences in those days were very risky – meeting up with strangers from dodgy internet chat rooms and message boards in whichever city was closest. I had a number of encounters with significantly older men during this period – only to confirm my belief that gay sex was no more enjoyable that straight sex.

I’m not aromantic. I do like being in a relationship and I still wanted to have a partner, despite how I felt about the sexual side of things. After moving out and having spent some time abroad, I settled down and met a woman who was my age, and we got along great. There was only one problem: she was very sexual.

I can, for a time, fake that. I can keep up with a partner, pretend to be into it, and perform my “obligations” in order to keep the relationship going. But it was hard work, and all the while I felt as though I was living with some horrible secret. Though other aspects of the relationship were progressing well, the sexual side was eating away at me.

But this was still at a time when the term “asexuality” did not exist in my lexicon. Everyone likes sex, so I felt I had to find a way to like it too, or at least tolerate it. Over time, though, my ability to put on the mask and feign interest in bedroom activities faded, and because my partner – who had, in the intervening years, become my wife – was still a very sexual person with sexual needs, the relationship began to fail. I don’t blame my now-ex-wife for cheating, because I wasn’t giving her something significant that she needed. At the time it was horrible, of course, but on reflection I can understand why our marriage ended the way it did.

It was my ex-wife who first used the word “asexual” to describe me, though she did so as an attack and an insult rather than to be helpful. I denied it, of course; I was a man, and men aren’t asexual. Men love sex, and I couldn’t deal, at the time, with the idea that I was so radically different from everyone else that such a label should be assigned to me.

As my marriage broke down and paperwork was being filed, though, I spent some time looking into what it means to be asexual, and despite my internal objections, every step I took resonated with me. It took years to come to terms with it, but eventually I began to be comfortable enough in my own mind to call myself asexual.

In the years since my divorce I’ve dated different people, and though at first I would not be up front about asexuality, I learned quickly that it was something I needed to do. I need to give a potential partner the opportunity to leave before they find out that I can’t offer them what most people consider one of the key components of a relationship. And, on the flip side, I need to know that anyone I’m considering dating is 100% okay with that.

I’ve had some unfortunate experiences of meeting people who would say that, while not asexual themselves, they loved the idea of an asexual partner. There are myriad reasons why someone would think that, of course, and I don’t believe for a moment that any of these people were lying or being dishonest. But I found out that most of the time, even if they thought they wanted that at first, it wasn’t something sustainable in the long run. Asexual to me means no sex. Ever. It doesn’t mean “not very much sex but still some sex sometimes,” though to some asexual folks it may – if you want a broader perspective I strongly recommend AVEN, as mentioned.

To me, though, being asexual is a label which describes how I felt in every sexual encounter I’ve ever had, both male and female: I didn’t enjoy it, I found it boring, and I found it disgusting. I don’t experience sexual attraction to any other human, and I will not ever have sex with anyone again.

To a lot of people that’s weird, strange, and even beyond the pale. That’s okay, and I understand why people would have those reactions. I don’t want to force people to talk about an uncomfortable topic, nor do I want anyone to think I’m somehow being judgemental – sex is a normal thing, and whatever consenting adults do in private is their business. I just don’t want to participate!

Lately I’ve been struggling again with my sexuality and gender identity, and that’s partly why I decided to talk about this now and make it known that I’m asexual. Despite telling myself for years that being asexual is okay, and simply part of who I am, there’s still a dark part of me – connected, sadly, to my ongoing mental health issues – that tells me it isn’t okay. That I’m wrong or abnormal. And keeping all of this inside – a secret of omission – isn’t helping. I don’t want asexuality to define me, nor to be known forevermore as “that asexual person,” but I also don’t want to keep my sexuality secret any more.

I created this website to talk about the subjects I’m interested in and to give myself a writing project. Though this subject is far outside of what I usually talk about, this is also my only real outlet, and the only place I feel comfortable writing these words and discussing this topic.

In a way, I think my experience growing up asexual and coming to terms with asexuality shows the need for two things: education and representation. Education can show people like me that asexuality exists and it’s a valid sexual orientation or way of being. It’s normal and doesn’t make you a freak or a weirdo. Representation in all forms of media can be helpful there too, showing that asexual people exist in all walks of life.

Representing asexuality is difficult, because at least in my experience and my opinion, it’s easy for an asexual person to be invisible. Asexual folks who have romantic relationships may be seen as straight, bi, or gay depending on who they have those relationships with, and unless we draw back the curtain and look at what’s going on behind closed doors, we don’t really know how an individual’s sexual life plays out – be they a real person or a fictional character. So I’m not claiming to have all the answers on how to perfectly represent asexual characters in fiction, nor am I arguing that any specific story, film, or television show needs an asexual character immediately. It would be great to see positive asexual representation, though.

One of the things I’ve always liked about a lot of sci-fi and fantasy is that sex is not a big topic of discussion in those shows and films in the way it can be in drama or soap operas. Recent years have also seen a lot of stories introduce casts which are more diverse, including characters from across the LGBT+ community. That representation, while not always (or often) explicitly referring to asexual people, does at least show that these settings and stories are willing to embrace people like me, and that’s an incredibly positive thing.

The Star Trek franchise has, to a greater or lesser degree, touched on sexuality at various points. I’ve seen some asexual folks talk about characters like Spock and Data, and while neither were outwardly asexual, I can certainly see why they resonate with many people. Star Trek has been a franchise I’ve loved since the early 1990s, and it’s no coincidence perhaps that it was around that time that I began to deal with some of the issues I’ve outlined above. Star Trek’s optimistic and inclusive future showed a human race that had put its differences aside to work in common cause, where the ideas of discrimination or marginalisation did not exist. That spirit remains present in Star Trek today, with recent shows representing a broad range of identities and sexualities on screen.

There are still things I’m not sure of in my journey with asexuality. Where do I fit in, exactly? Asexuality is a contentious topic in some areas of the LGBT+ community, and for that reason I’ve never been comfortable using terms like “coming out” or associating myself with the LGBT+ community as anything more than a self-described ally. There are a few people I’ve discussed this subject with, both online and in person, and I have to credit the internet with being an amazing tool and wonderful resource for this and many other topics. Were it not for the internet, I may well still have been struggling alone.

So this article doesn’t yet have an ending. I’m asexual, and now you know. I’m comfortable enough in this online space to be open about it, and in the next article I’d also like to discuss my gender identity in a bit more detail. At some point in the future I’d like to talk about my mental health too.

If you’re a regular reader tuning in for sci-fi and Star Trek, I hope you’ll forgive the detour to discuss some personal subjects. Perhaps this piece will be good background in future if I’m able to discuss sexuality and identity within some of the films and series I talk about here on the website. If anything above made you uncomfortable, I apologise. Thank you for sticking with me to the end, I appreciate each and every one of you who read this.

As mentioned, I recommend AVEN – the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network – for anyone looking for more information. If you are struggling with your sexuality and unsure where you fit in, please know that help is available, and may only be a Google search or phone call away. This article only looks at asexuality from one person’s narrow perspective, and as asexuality is a broad community, I do not claim that my experience is fully representative. As always, this article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

I’ve had my first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine!

It’s been almost a full year since the coronavirus pandemic hit the UK in a major way. In late March last year I was advised by the National Health Service that I’m classified as “clinically extremely vulnerable” to COVID-19, and more likely to suffer serious complications from this nasty illness. That didn’t come as a surprise to me – and if you’ve been a regular reader here on the website you’ll know I’m in generally poor health. Because of my pre-existing health conditions I was put into one of the NHS’ priority groups to receive the coronavirus vaccine.

At the end of February I was given my vaccine appointment, and I promptly attended it. The UK’s vaccine rollout has been one of the best in the world, and the NHS deserves a huge amount of credit for the way they’ve handled things. Though there can be reasons to criticise the bureaucracy at the NHS sometimes, there can be no denying that, in this case, having a centralised system has helped immensely. Once the NHS got the ball rolling on vaccinating folks late last year, it became an unstoppable juggernaut, and the UK looks to be on course to have vaccinated everyone who could be vulnerable to coronavirus in short order, with the remainder of the population also vaccinated in time for summer.

I’ve had my first dose of the vaccine!

My vaccination appointment went incredibly smoothly. I arrived on time, and was guided to the right entrance to the health centre by one of a number of volunteers. Once inside I gave my name and date of birth, and was handed a card which noted the batch number of the vaccine. From there I waited in the queue for less than five minutes, at which point I was ushered into a room, answered a couple of questions, and within literally 30 seconds of sitting down the needle was in my arm. And that was that. A very efficient process indeed!

Nobody likes getting an injection, and I will admit that my arm was a little sore in the hours after my appointment. But feeling the needle go into my arm was actually an incredible moment. After a year of shielding myself at home, not interacting with friends or family except online, and not being able to go anywhere or do anything, it was cathartic. It felt like the first step toward a return to normal life, and after the year we’ve all had, I’m more than ready for that!

I wasn’t sure whether or not to share my vaccine experience. This website is really a forum for me to discuss entertainment topics, so it isn’t really a good fit, nor is it something I would usually talk about. But unfortunately the coronavirus pandemic has seen a number of conspiracy theories propagated, including an expansion of anti-vaccine conspiracy theories. In whatever small way I can, I wanted to lend my voice and share my experience to re-emphasise that this vaccine is safe and to push back against anti-vaccine narratives.

In some communities, the reappearance of previously-eradicated diseases like measles, rubella, and even polio is directly and unquestionably attributable to anti-vaccine conspiracy theories, and many of these same conspiracy theory proponents have begun arguing against the COVID-19 vaccine. This is incredibly dangerous.

Protesters in the UK during the pandemic.

Vaccines don’t just work on an individual basis, they work en masse. The more people who get vaccinated, the less chance a disease can break out because human-to-human transmission becomes impossible. Vaccines are not 100% effective on a personal level; they don’t provide everyone with protection due to various factors. It’s therefore up to all of us to protect one another. Receiving the vaccine is about so much more than just protecting yourself – it’s a civic responsibility to protect everyone in society, including those with serious illnesses or compromised immune systems who cannot receive the vaccine for themselves.

This is what many anti-vaccine folks seem to miss – and indeed what many anti-mask or anti-lockdown folks have missed throughout the pandemic. So let’s be very clear: it isn’t just about you. The actions that we take at a moment like this have the potential to affect everyone in society, and the effectiveness of any vaccination programme relies on as many people as possible receiving their dose when it’s their turn.

The sooner we’re all vaccinated, the sooner life can return to normal.

I’m not the only one to have been vaccinated. My elderly parents both received their first doses a few weeks ago, and a number of other friends and relatives have had theirs too. Nobody I’m aware of suffered any ill effects, and I can say with confidence that the vaccine is safe. I know there’s a lack of trust in our governments, leaders, politicians, and even scientists, and part of the reason why conspiracy theories in a general sense have become accepted by some folks is because of that mistrust. I don’t know how to counter that in the long run, nor what the consequences may be.

All I can say today is that I went to my appointment. I took the jab. I got vaccinated. There were no ill effects, no complications. The vaccine is safe, and I’m not saying that because of the result of a scientific study or because a politician said so. That’s my own lived experience. I truly hope that when it’s your turn, you’ll get vaccinated too. Then we can put all of this nonsense behind us and get back to living our lives.

There are several different COVID-19 vaccines available, with more on the way. When you can expect to receive your dose will depend on where you live, how old you are, your general state of health, and other factors. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

I pre-ordered Starlink

February was a month where I was hoping to save some money, putting a little aside for some overdue computer upgrades. But I was pleasantly surprised to hear that pre-orders for Starlink – the satellite internet company owned by Tesla founder and Mars enthusiast Elon Musk – were available here in the UK. I promptly paid my deposit and have signed up for Starlink, which is scheduled to become available in “mid-to-late 2021.”

Usually I encourage people to avoid pre-orders, as they can lead to disappointment. But I’ve been in dire need of upgrading my internet connection for a long time, and with neither fibre broadband nor 5G seemingly on the cards any time soon, Starlink is the best option for me. I live in a rural part of the UK, and while some nearby settlements have been connected to fibre broadband and are enjoying download speeds around 50-60 Mbps and upload speeds of at least 10 Mbps, I’m stuck with copper telephone lines.

A SpaceX rocket launches, taking Starlink satellites into orbit.
Photo Credit: U.S. Air Force/Airman 1st Class Zoe Thacker via WikiMedia Commons

It’s amazing to me in a way just how much data these old-fashioned copper telephone wires can actually transmit. Considering the technology is well over a century old, and that this village had its telephone lines installed sometime in the 1950s or 1960s (yes, rural England was late to the party!) it’s a shock that any internet connection is possible, quite frankly! I remember my father telling me about his childhood in London, when his family was the only one on their street to have a telephone. People would queue up at their front door sometimes to borrow their phone! How times change.

In 2021, the kind of speeds that copper phone lines can deliver are just not acceptable, even using broadband. On a good day I can expect around 7-8 Mbps down and barely 1 Mbps up, which means I can download almost one megabyte of data per second. That’s adequate for streaming, even in high definition, but it means downloading large files is interminably slow! When it comes to video games, which I predominantly buy digitally on platforms like Steam, this can mean waiting literally an entire day – or even longer – just to download the installation files for some of today’s modern titles.

My download speed could be worse… but it could be a heck of a lot better too!

That’s not to mention the unreliability of the service I get from BT – a.k.a. British Telecom. A few years ago, a fault of some kind at BT knocked me offline for over six weeks, and the “best case scenario” download and upload speeds I mentioned often fluctuate and dip below that; some days I can find I have barely 1 Mbps of download speed, meaning doing anything online besides reading text is impossibly slow. As a disabled person who spends a lot of time indoors, I find myself increasingly reliant on the internet for everything from communication to everyday necessities. I do my banking and sort out my bills online. In these pandemic times I use video chat to keep in touch with friends and family. I even order my groceries online! And of course, the online sphere is where I get much of my entertainment, whether that’s in the form of films, television, or video games.

As I said when I criticised the television license, I don’t watch broadcast TV any more, so the internet has become my primary way of accessing entertainment, news, and really everything else. It’s become a necessity in a way I would never have predicted in the 1990s or even the 2000s – and not just for me, but for almost everybody. So I’ve been in need of an upgrade for a while!

I’ve got a new toy to play with coming soon!

I looked into getting a 4G modem and router, but as it happens the 4G availability in my area wouldn’t improve the situation much. It was also much more expensive – almost double the price I currently pay. And as mentioned, neither fibre nor 5G seem to be coming here any time soon. I could move house of course, but I’m settled here and moving into a town simply for the sake of faster internet is not something I’d realistically want to do.

Then along came Starlink! I’d signed up to be notified about the service over a year ago, excited at the prospect of faster internet via satellite. And now I’ve officially pre-ordered it! Hopefully the company will stay on course for their mid-to-late 2021 launch, and all being well I’ll get connected in late summer or the autumn. Be sure to check back because I’ll let you know all about the experience when I finally get connected.

So that’s it. There isn’t much else to say at this stage, really. I’m very excited about this new, fancy-sounding piece of technology, and I don’t mind paying a little extra if my internet experience will be vastly improved. The pre-order process was simple, and I can’t fault it from that point of view. I’m looking forward to faster internet speeds some time soon!

Starlink is available to pre-order now in the United Kingdom and some other locations in Europe and North America. Availability varies by location but over time the company plans a worldwide rollout of the service. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Some stats and numbers for 2020!

As we look forward to some of the entertainment highlights of 2021, I wanted to take a moment to look back and reflect on how the website did over the last year. 2020 was my first full year of running the website, and thanks to both my platform and Google analytics I have a lot of data about the site and how it’s been performing.

First, I thought it could be fun to run down my top five most-read articles of 2020. Obviously I’m excluding the home page and any other non-post pages. Let’s start the countdown!

Number 5:
Cyberpunk 2077 and the dangers of hype

At time of publication this article did alright, but wasn’t exactly lighting up the board. As the release of Cyberpunk 2077 edged closer, however, I began to see an uptick in views. In the article I argued that, while Cyberpunk 2077 may ultimately be a good game, the ridiculously inflated hype bubble was likely to leave at least some players underwhelmed. Because this was published before the game’s release, the controversy the game ultimately generated was not yet known. Despite that, however, I’ve been around the games industry long enough to know an over-hyped title when I see one!

Standout line: “There will be things players can’t do, limits to customisation, and perhaps even the odd bug or glitch that snuck through testing or couldn’t be patched before launch.”

Number 4:
In defence of Luke Skywalker

I was pleasantly surprised to see such a big response to my essay about Luke Skywalker. I didn’t expect to see it in the top five most-read posts considering it was only published at the beginning of December, but I guess that says a lot about how folks responded to it. When I first began working on the website, this was one of the pieces I had in mind. I made several attempts to begin writing it earlier in the year, but I couldn’t get the words out the way I wanted and it ended up being re-written several times before I was happy with it. I know that The Last Jedi remains controversial, but I hope this essay at the very least presents a different side of the argument.

Standout line: “I absolutely see Luke’s characterisation as a mental health story, and not only that, but one of the better cinematic attempts to depict mental health in recent years.”

Number 3:
Could Voyager’s Doctor appear in Star Trek: Discovery?

You guys loved this idea, apparently! With one episode left (at time of publication) it’s still technically possible – and would be an interesting way for the season to end! I had speculated that the Doctor from Star Trek: Voyager – or rather, a backup copy of him from the fourth season episode Living Witness – could still be active in the 32nd Century. Bringing Robert Picardo back would have been fun, and would have tied Discovery to the 24th Century Star Trek shows. We did see some connections this season, but there aren’t many characters who could easily cross over. I didn’t necessarily expect this to happen, but there’s no denying it would’ve been cool!

Standout line: “If I were writing it, the way I’d see him involved would be working alongside Burnham, Saru, and the crew of Discovery to restore the Federation.”

Number 2:
Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 theory – warp drive

This is the second of two of my standalone Discovery theories that apparently people responded to! The odd thing about this one, though, is how many folks were reading it weeks after the season premiered. We knew as early as the first episode that this theory – in which I postulated that warp drive may not work at all – was not true. Yet this piece continues to get clicks, perhaps from folks who haven’t begun watching the season.

Standout line: “In order to understand this theory, we need a basic refresher course in how warp drive works in Star Trek!”

Number 1:
It’s time for Deep Space Nine and Voyager to get the HD treatment

Out of everything I wrote in 2020, this article was the runaway winner in terms of readership – more than three times as many people read this as read any other piece on the website. In this article, which was published back in March, I argued that Star Trek having a new home on CBS All Access (soon to be rebranded as Paramount Plus) should be the catalyst for Deep Space Nine and Voyager being remastered in HD. And the fact that so many of you have been reading and clicking on this post seems to validate that! I plan to follow this up and discuss options for upscaling or remastering older Star Trek episodes at some point this year, so stay tuned for that.

Standout line: “From a branding point of view, it isn’t a great look for CBS All Access to be offering some of its content for its flagship franchise in DVD quality. Netflix doesn’t do that, Amazon Prime Video doesn’t do that, and Disney+ certainly doesn’t do that.”

So those were the top five most-read articles and columns – out of a total of 226. When I started the website I had a few ideas for articles that I wanted to write – some of which have still not been published – but I had no idea I’d end up writing so many pieces on a range of subjects over the course of a year.

Not all of them performed as well as those above, though, so now let’s count down the five least-read posts!

Number 5:
VE Day – marking the 75th anniversary with documentaries

I love a good documentary, and in this relatively short piece to mark the 75th anniversary of VE Day (the end of World War II in Europe) I highlighted a couple. On the day it was published it did okay, but only picked up a handful of views. Looking back, if I were writing it now I’d make sure to give it a better header image which might’ve inspired a few more clicks; as it is now it doesn’t look very professional! But even in May I was still getting to grips with the site and how images worked. I will continue to highlight documentaries that I like – and I note that my piece on the Netflix documentary series Pandemic: How To Prevent An Outbreak did much better.

Standout line: “I’m going to look at two documentaries in this article, one British and one American. They both look at the same conflict from the same side, but with very different perspectives.”

Number 4:
An amazing tech demo

This piece looked at an Unreal Engine tech demo, one which I felt was as close to photorealism as I’d ever seen in a “game.” Even on my PC, which is several years old and is by no means a powerful gaming rig, Mýrdalssandur, Iceland looks outstanding, and it’s not always possible to tell you’re playing a game, such is the level of detail. I thought it was a great preview of how games could look in the years ahead. But I’m a geekdom and gaming writer, not a tech writer, and perhaps this piece just didn’t find favour with this website’s audience – even though I maintain its subject matter is interesting!

Standout line: “The imagery would fit right in with CGI created for the big screen – and looks a heck of a lot better than many of the CGI environments present in films from just a few years ago.”

Number 3:
Children of Mars – a review

At the time I felt that my review of Children of Mars did okay, and it did – by the standards of how many hits the website was getting then. For a short while it was even the most-read piece on the whole site! But this was January 2020, and the number of hits I was getting at that time is much smaller than I’m lucky enough to see a year later. So it’s not a big surprise to see it as one of the least-read pieces. I didn’t like Children of Mars on the whole, its overly-artistic, music-heavy style just wasn’t my thing.

Standout line: “The sequence where Mars comes under attack is worth watching for anyone intent on tuning in for Star Trek: Picard, but as I said it’s barely a minute long, and the rest of the episode, while interesting in concept, ends up being little more than fluff.”

Number 2:
Star Trek: Picard has red carpet premieres

Picture credit: StarTrek.com

As above, this was an article I wrote back in early January 2020 which likewise did okay by the standards of the website at the time, but has been eclipsed by other pieces written since. It’s also very topical, even more so than episode reviews, as it took a look at the premiere of Star Trek: Picard. This article was also a short one, which may be another reason why it was quickly forgotten.

Standout line: “When I’ve said in the past that it’s an absolutely amazing time to be a Star Trek fan, some people will have shrugged. But with such a huge amount of content coming, there really should be something for everyone…”

Number 1:
How football is handling the pandemic

So we come to the least-read article of 2020. And it’s one in which I stepped away from the usual output of the website – entertainment and geekdom – and turned to the world of professional sport. It was also a piece that was topical, dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, and for both of those reasons perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that hardly anyone read it! Despite that, I don’t feel that the website needs to be confined to a single topic or series of topics. There’s room for me to talk about other things – and as I’ve said before, I don’t do this for clicks, I do it because I enjoy it. So while this piece about football was the worst-performing of the year, it may yet be a topic I revisit in future… if I have something to say!

Standout line: “But this situation is not only unprecedented, it’s one which the Premier League and the Football Association seem to have had no contingency plans for.”

So those were the top five least-read articles. Or the bottom five, if you prefer to think about it that way!

Let’s talk numbers. In 2020, over 14,000 of you visited the website. That’s an absolutely insane number of people! When I started writing I had no idea that my articles and columns would be read literally all over the world, but I’ve had readers from every continent except Antarctica! I’ve also seen the website’s readership grow month by month, such that December was the most successful month of the year in terms of hits.

In the first couple of hours on the 1st of January 2021, I’d surpassed the total number of clicks for all of January 2020, and by midday all the views for January and February. When I first started putting together the bare bones of this article I was planning to tell you that the best day for the website was back in October; I saw a big spike in views around the time Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 premiered, with folks checking in with a couple of my big pre-season theories. But to my surprise, December 31st blitzed right past that and became the site’s best day of the year – and best day ever. That was caused by a lot of people reading my article on what to watch at New Year, but that piece was a couple of weeks old so I was surprised to see it take off!

This piece about New Year did very well in the final hours of 2020.

Just going purely by categories, gaming is the most-discussed subject on the website. But adding up all of the various Star Trek categories, the Star Trek franchise beats gaming handily! I added eighteen posts to my “greatest hits” page in 2020 – a couple of which may not stay there forever! But those are the pieces I’m most proud of, and I’d encourage you to take a look at some of those articles and essays if you have time.

Across the 226 articles from 2020, I wrote a staggering 718,796 words.

To put that into context, I wrote more words on this website in 2020 than: Tolstoy’s War and Peace, Atlas Shrugged, Gone With The Wind, East of Eden, The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit combined, or Moby-Dick.

Now I’m not saying that what I’ve written is objectively better than all of those famous works of literature. But… if someone wanted to read the most words possible, and didn’t care what those words were about, my website offers more to read than any of them. Just sayin’!

So that was a self-congratulatory look back at last year. I’m astonished at the positive response to my website and the pieces I’ve written here, and all I can really say is thank you. I’ll keep working on the site moving forward, discussing the topics I’m interested in, remaining positive wherever possible but also criticising where I feel it’s deserved, and hopefully continuing to have fun along the way!

Thank you for your support in 2020, and I hope you’ll check back regularly across 2021 and beyond.

– Dennis
Thursday, 7th January 2021

All properties mentioned above are the copyright of their respective studio, developer, distributor, company, etc. Some stock images courtesy of Unsplash. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Merry Christmas!

Just a short one today. This year has been strange and disappointing for many of us, to put it mildly. When I began to create this website a little over a year ago, I had no idea that 2020 would have seen such misery on an unprecedented scale. It’s times like these where we need to close the door on the outside world and enjoy some wonderful escapism.

As someone with a varied (and growing) set of health problems, I do that a lot. Even pre-pandemic, disability greatly restricted what I was able to do and how far I was able to travel. My youngest sister is due to get married in the spring, and even travelling an hour to get to the wedding venue seems difficult – if not outright impossible. From a purely selfish point of view I haven’t lost as much of my freedom this year – because I’d already lost it gradually over the last decade.

You are not alone this Christmas.

I sympathise with everyone who’s not enjoying the holidays. As a kid I remember big Christmases with my parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles. We could easily have twelve or more people together on Christmas Day. And later, when I lived in the United States for a year, I had fourteen people over for Christmas, fellow foreigners who likewise had nowhere to go for the holidays. Cooking Christmas dinner that year was exhausting! This year is, of course, very different. And like many of you, I don’t have anyone to share Christmas with in person; stricter lockdown rules are in place in the UK this year.

Though it’s become a cliché over the last year, none of us are really alone. We have the best communication tool humanity has ever devised literally at our fingertips or in our pockets, and even just by reading this you’re interacting with me. And I wish you a very Merry Christmas – or Happy Holidays if you prefer.

Merry Christmas!

I’m not a religious person, but Christmas has always felt like an enjoyable time of year. The bright lights, beautiful decorations, and sense of community that comes out has always been appealing. I decorate my home as best I can, and even managed to put up some outdoor lights this year. It meant so much to me when a neighbour of mine sent me a Christmas card and told me how she and her kids had been enjoying the lights on their way to and from school the last few weeks. Even when we don’t see one another, this time of year can bring us together – just not quite in the same way as usual.

Loneliness is something that takes some getting used to, and for people who are especially sociable, that’s going to be difficult. If you’re missing people you can’t be with this year, there is small comfort in knowing that the creation of vaccines should mean next Christmas – or even this coming Easter – has a high chance of seeing normal service resume.

Vaccines are coming!

Until then, let’s find a nice film series or television show to binge-watch as we count down the last days of 2020. Pick up a nostalgic favourite or something new you’ve been wanting to try, grab some nice snacks and a cold drink (or a mug of hot chocolate) and escape this world for a short while. Whether you’re visiting the distant future, a galaxy far, far away, or a fantastical realm, getting out of your own head and revelling in something different is no bad thing. It might just take the edge off.

Though there are many great festive classics to enjoy, if you want to skip this Christmas altogether I wouldn’t blame you. The Expanse is an underrated science fiction series that you can find on Amazon Prime Video, or perhaps something like last year’s The Witcher on Netflix if you’re in a fantasy mood. There’s always Star Trek – Star Trek: Picard Season 1 was great, and you can find that on Amazon Prime Video too if you missed it earlier in the year. The Mandalorian Season 2 has just wrapped up over on Disney+, and The Lord of the Rings film trilogy has just been re-released in 4K on Blu-ray.

Star Trek: Picard premiered in January.

If you’re looking for something different, perhaps something under-appreciated or off the beaten path, I could recommend a sci-fi show from the 1990s called Space Precinct, which is a fun mix of space adventure and police procedural. Then let’s see… Fortitude is an engaging thriller series set in the arctic – perfect for this time of year! The first season of horror-anthology series The Terror is similarly set in the icy north, and is a riveting watch with some absolutely outstanding performances.

On the film front, one of this year’s few big releases Tenet is already available to stream or get on Blu-ray. The Sonic the Hedgehog film from earlier in the year managed to be a surprisingly fun time as well. I’ll always heartily recommend Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Star Trek: Generations – the latter even features a Christmassy sequence. If you have access to the internet you aren’t short of options for things to watch!

Star Trek: The Motion Picture is fantastic.

You could try Fall Guys, the fun obstacle course video game that was released earlier in the year. It’s hard not to have a fun time with that cute indie game – even though it can be frustrating at times! Star Wars: Squadrons lets you pilot your own TIE Fighter or X-Wing, and if you want something gentle, Animal Crossing: New Horizons on the Nintendo Switch has weeks’ worth of fun.

Although it’s a crappy Christmas for a lot of us, there’s still plenty to watch and play to take our minds off it. And if you’re struggling, aside from telling you that you aren’t alone and you’ll get through it, all I can really do is recommend a few interesting options to watch or play. As somebody who lives alone with few friends or relatives nearby, I’m often in this position even in better years. For me, entertainment like television and film can take the edge off. We all need good distraction sometimes.

Wherever you are, however you’re celebrating, and whatever you wish you could’ve done instead, I truly hope you have a Merry Christmas.

All titles mentioned above are the copyright of their respective studio, broadcaster, distributor, publisher, etc. Stock photos courtesy of Unsplash. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

A year in review

I know what you’re thinking – it’s way too early to look back on 2020 as there’s still more than a month left. Believe me, that kind of thing irritates me too – but that’s not what this article is. It was one year ago today that I started the website, and I wanted to commemorate the occasion by looking back at some of the highlights, as well as give my own thoughts on a year spent writing about the things I like.

My first article was published on the 30th of November 2019, and it was just a very brief introduction to the kind of website I intended to create. I would go on to incorporate some elements of that into my “about me” page as I built up the site.

As the 2010s drew to a close, I was hit with a strong feeling of time slipping away. I was reminded of a line spoken by Dr Tolian Soran in Star Trek: Generations: “Time is the fire in which we burn.” Picard, of course, would rebuff that in the film’s closing act, but the line – and the concept it represents – always stuck with me, and although decades are merely arbitrary representations of the passage of time, the impending end of the 2010s led me down an introspective path.

“Time is the fire in which we burn.”

Though I’ve had health problems going back decades, the 2010s saw my health take a sharper decline, one which culminated in disability and a restriction on what I’m able to do, both physically and psychologically. It also saw a divorce, bereavement, financial troubles, and other problems which had me at a very low ebb at points. I don’t say this to seek attention or sympathy though, because by 2019, despite my health issues I was relatively settled in a home I can manage despite my limitations, with my cats for companionship, and feeling generally secure. The ending of the decade, had you asked me in early 2019, seemed no more significant than any other New Year.

By the summer of last year, though, I had begun to think differently. Though it was still an arbitrary date, there’s significance in a new decade. This would be the fifth turning of a decade in my lifetime; an event that comes rarely and often marks change. When looking backwards we talk about “the seventies,” “the eighties,” “the nineties” and so on as blocs of time. Whatever the 2020s was going to bring – and whether I’d still be alive by the end of it – it was going to be a change. A new bloc.

The impending beginning of a new decade pushed me to take the plunge and start a website.

That was the mindset I was in when I decided I wanted to make a website. For several years I’d been commenting on videos on YouTube and on social media posts, but I wanted a space of my own where I could discuss what I wanted to at my own pace. I began looking at website-building options, and after considering a few possibilities I settled on WordPress. The website was born.

The site has evolved massively since I made that first post. Firstly, I stated back then that reviews “are not really my main purpose,” yet I’ve since reviewed 25+ individual Star Trek episodes and several films! I’ve also gotten better with the way I use images, as well as selecting a better overall layout for the site – at least, I think those are improvements! Unfortunately I don’t have any screenshots of the site as it looked back in November, but here’s one of the old headers (complete with the website’s old, defunct name!)

The old website header.

As someone who enjoys writing, having somewhere to publish my musings and thoughts on some of these topics has been incredibly helpful. When I first imagined creating a website, this is what I hoped I’d be able to achieve: posting a selection of articles on the topics I find interesting within the entertainment realm. And when I look back on the past year’s pieces, that’s exactly what I’ve done. Occasionally the site can feel like a burden, but those deadlines are self-imposed. There are no real consequences for me if I don’t publish a review of a Star Trek episode within a couple of days of its broadcast! But in a way, that self-imposed pressure to write to an imaginary deadline spurs me on, and at no point have I felt like I’m writing out of obligation rather than enjoyment. If I had felt that way, I probably would have taken a break.

It isn’t my intention for this website to grow into something large and unwieldy, with a huge social media following. That might seem odd, but I measure success less by the number of people clicking on a page and more by what I got out of writing a post. That’s something I learned over the summer when I challenged myself to try to write every day – something I can keep up for a while, but not indefinitely. As I’ve said before, I don’t have a Twitter account, Facebook page, or any other social media attached to this website. The posts here speak for themselves, and while some have been shared on social media, they weren’t shared by me. That’s not because I don’t want criticism or want to fly under the radar because I write controversial things, but I feel that if what I’m doing here were ever spun out into a “brand” with a huge following, the pressure to write to deadlines and to push out content would grow. I don’t enjoy writing under those circumstances, as I found out when I took on that daily posting challenge.

A lovely stock photo of someone typing.

So after a year, what am I proudest of? That’s a good question – and the answer is right above you: the Greatest Hits page. Those articles are my favourites, where I feel I put out some of my best work. In particular I’d point to my essay on the Borg, my two-part teardown of Game of Thrones Season 8, my critique of television licensing in the UK, and finally, my piece on objectivity and subjectivity that I find myself frequently referencing in other columns, particularly any time I’m about to give a potentially controversial opinion. Those pieces, I feel, all accomplished what I set out to, and I wrote them about as well as I could write anything.

There aren’t many things from this past year that I’m disappointed with or that I would want to cover up. Perhaps I could’ve been less critical of The Mandalorian in my first post discussing the show; I stand by most of the points but perhaps I’d reword some of them to be less confrontational. When it comes to the new generation of games consoles, Xbox in particular, I’ve blown hot and cold on them and as a result, my output on next-gen gaming in general might look a bit confused if you tried to read all of it. In general I feel that both companies made mistakes in the run-up to launch, such as concealing their prices until the last minute. However, I didn’t mean for that to detract from anyone’s enjoyment or excitement for new consoles, and despite the problems with pre-orders and stock availability, I hope both machines are a success. Otherwise I don’t think I’ve published any “hot takes” that I’d like to retract… famous last words!

Hopefully no angry mob is coming for me… yet.

Occasionally, after having published a review or other article, I’ll stumble upon someone else’s take on the same episode, film, or subject, and they’ll make a very good point that I wish I’d thought of! I want my reviews and writings to be my own thoughts first and foremost, so I’ll never read reviews or critics’ opinions before I sit down to write my own review – something I make very clear in my methodology page. Within the Star Trek fan community there are a few reviewers and critics whose articles or videos I regularly check out, but only after writing my own reviews.

So having looked back, it’s time to look forward. What will 2021 bring?

The short answer is probably more of the same. I have no immediate plans to make major changes to the website or the kind of things I do here, so as we move through this holiday season and into the new year I expect to keep up with posting several new pieces each week on topics relating to – as I say at the top – “Star Trek, gaming, and the wide world of geekdom.” I have a few articles in the pipeline that are in various stages of being worked on, and of course I’ll continue to cover major developments as I see fit.

For those of you who have become regular readers over this past year, thank you for your support. If you’re new here, welcome. I hope you find something interesting to read.

See you out there!

– Dennis
Monday, 30th November 2020

All properties mentioned above are the copyright of their respective studio, developer, distributor, company, etc. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Making a few changes… please bear with me.

Just a very quick update today. I’m in the process of making a few changes and alterations to the website. Hopefully nothing will be deleted and none of the content will change, but I want to get a slightly different and more modern look going forward, especially on the homepage.

Previously every blog post was just represented with a title and a short quotation, but I’m looking at adding images too. At the moment these images aren’t displaying exactly how I’d like – you might have noticed a huge image at the top of this post and other more recent articles. Fixing that is a work in progress!

So please bear with me while I make these changes and updates over the next few days, and if things look janky for a while please know that I’m planning to fix it – just as soon as I figure out how!

It’s been that kind of week!

I usually try to write at least two or three posts a week, and with Star Trek: Picard being so prominent on the website at the moment, I’ve been trying to manage at least one non-Picard article in between my reviews and theory posts. The latter has become an unexpected weekly series! But this week I’ve had some technical issues with my computer, and honestly it’s been so frustrating!

I’m not a tech expert. I dabble in the tech world, sure, but when it comes to the details of programming and such I’m well out of my depth, and I rely on Google searches to fix problems when they arise. The most frustrating thing is when something absolutely should work… but it doesn’t. This is the situation I’ve been in this week.

I use a television as my main PC monitor. I know that’s a little unusual, but I like to have things displayed on the biggest screen in the house – and since my PC is also my DVD/Blu-ray player, gaming device, and all-round entertainment centre, even a “large” PC monitor is too small for my preferences. Ever since I got this TV, though, I’ve experienced a certain amount of screen tearing and flickering. I tried changing my graphics card (currently an AMD Radeon 560; we’ll come to that in a moment) but to no avail. I eventually realised that the television will only display 50Hz and the graphics cards I’ve used were – for some inexplicable reason – set to 59Hz by default. So I scaled it down to 50Hz and some of the screen tearing and flickering, but not all, went away.

That was a few months ago and it had been ticking over more or less okay since, running in 4K at 3840×2160 pixels. But this week the flickering got worse, and eventually the graphics card I’d had – a GTX 1060 that was a couple of years old – crapped out on me and stopped displaying any picture at all. I couldn’t get it to work so I swapped in the Radeon 560 I mentioned above. The Radeon 560 is a slightly weaker card, and draws a little less power, but nevertheless should be able to output the same 4K picture. The key word there being “should”.

I can accept that components eventually break down, and while I was disappointed in my 1060’s demise, it’s not the end of the world. But the replacement card just isn’t working right, and despite hours of work and searching I just can’t find any solution.

Firstly, around half the time, the card just fails to display any picture at all. I get a blank screen when I turn on the display; the only solution being to forcibly restart my computer. Secondly, it stutters when switching to and from full-screen mode for videos. And thirdly, when it tries to display a 4K picture, it does so in a “letterbox” mode, with black bars at the top and bottom of the screen. Nothing has fixed these issues. Uninstalling the card, uninstalling the drivers, reinstalling everything, rolling back the drivers to an older version, using AMD’s Radeon software, not using the software, and of course searching online for answers. The Radeon 560, for some reason, will not output a full screen 4K picture, and has those other issues. So I’m stuck with a downgrade to 1080p, which looks fuzzy on my large display – when it works at all. So frustrating!

Because I’m not an expert, when something doesn’t “just work”, and playing around with its settings and looking online doesn’t fix it, it really irritates me. As a disabled person, I rely quite heavily on my computer for contact with the outside world and obviously I need it to work right! It’s also very difficult to open it up and fiddle with components inside, despite me keeping the computer in an accessible place. And as someone on a fixed income, I don’t have money to waste on barely-functional components.

It is partly my fault for choosing a screen that was only 50Hz. I genuinely didn’t realise how much of a problem the television’s refresh rate would be for modern graphics cards. I hope to upgrade the screen later in the year – something similar in size, but I’ll make sure it’s a 60Hz panel instead of 50Hz. Having now essentially busted two different graphics cards with different chips from different manufacturers, the only consistent thing that could be causing these graphics problems is the television itself. I’m hoping a different model will lead to the situation improving.

This isn’t the only frustrating “shouldn’t-be-a-problem” that I’ve had in the last few months, either. I’ve had issues with my phone syncing to my PC and downloading photos and videos, problems with my mail app and client not sending push notifications, bugs in Windows 10 which, upon investigation, were reported to Microsoft up to three years ago and still haven’t been fixed, and others besides. When something has been working, and no settings have been changed, and then for some unknown reason it just ceases to work, I just have no idea why or what to do. The graphics thing is just the latest example – why on earth is it behaving that way? Why do I have to reboot my machine to get it to display a picture? Why does it stutter when going to and from full screen mode? Why can it only display 1080p properly?

Honestly, messing around with this has been so annoying and taken up so much time the last few days that I haven’t felt like writing much. I hope to get something sorted out at the beginning of March as a stop-gap to get me through to later in the year when I can perform some much-needed PC and television upgrades! For now I’ll soldier on, and try not to lose my temper and break the damn thing! I know, I know. First world problems. “My moderately expensive graphics card won’t display an ultra-HD 4K picture on my big screen TV” is not the worst thing in the world. And I’m grateful for what I have.

The internet has been absolutely huge in just my lifetime – I remember when I first got an email account having to ask people if they even had a connection to the web, and having to say to friends I could only be online at certain times because my dial-up connection was tying up the phone line! And now look at where we are, practically everyone has an internet-enabled computer-phone constantly connected via wireless or mobile data about their person at all times. My PC, even though fibre-optic broadband isn’t available, is still connected at speeds I couldn’t have dreamed of back then. And 1080p would have seemed amazing then too, even if it feels like a downgrade this week.

And again as someone with health issues, being able to stay connected and keep up to date with what’s going on in the wider world, as well as shop and organise aspects of my life online, are really important things. As disappointed and frustrated as I’ve been, I try to remember that! It could be worse, after all. And I’m lucky to have the knowledge of computers that I do, so that I can perform some tasks myself. I shudder to think how much it would have cost to have a computer repair person visit, or how inconvenient it would be to send the machine away for repairs. As things stand, it works in a roundabout way, and I know how to get around the bugs that are present. Hopefully in the next few days I’ll get my stop-gap solution up and running so that things can get back to normal. I just wanted to share this little “life update”, since it explains why there’s been more of a gap than usual between articles.

Until next time!

This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.