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One More Time
I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it before, but for the last few years I have been working on a time machine. It’s pretty far along, too. I’m in the process of running down one or two final bugs at this point, though I’m not sure how long that will take.

I’m not so interested in going forward in time, really. I suppose that getting a peek at the future might allow me to conduct some lucrative off-track betting on my return to the present, but no. Untold wealth is kind of appealing, but I’m scared silly of what else I might find in the future.

The idea for me is to go back in time and make a few corrections. Nothing big, really. I don’t want to tackle Lee Harvey Oswald in the Book Depository just before he assassinates JFK or kill baby Hitler in his crib. I’ll leave that to other, more heroic time travelers. I intend to concentrate on my own mistakes, none of which were particularly noteworthy to anyone but me.

Mostly, I just want to get rid of my regret. It uses up a surprisingly large amount of my time, even though some of those mess-ups happened years, even decades ago. I have no doubt that the other people affected by these mistakes have long since forgotten about them. I freely admit that this is mostly about my hang-ups, not theirs. But it’s my invention, after all, so I don’t feel too guilty about it.

As my work stands right now, the go-back-and-change-things part is mostly solved. That was surprisingly easy, as it turned out. It’s the bugs that are proving to be the real challenge. Take, for instance, the unforeseen-consequences bug. What if the small change I have in mind precipitates another change — an unwanted one — that screws things up here in the present? That situation might force me to go back again and do some fine tuning…which might require even finer tuning, and so on. I might end up never having the chance to enjoy my new, regret-free existence.

And then, there’s the innocent-bystander bug. Even though this whole project is about me, my little changes might tangle up the personal timelines of others. That would only lead to more regret, thereby defeating the whole purpose of this exercise.

And so, the work continues. I am, as I say, very close to the finish line with this project. Indeed, it could come at any time. But there’s no rush, right? Once I have a time machine, I can always travel back and invent it in the past.
Back (Again) to the Future
There was a time when I fretted that the proliferation of Star Trek spin-offs would dilute the glory of the original series. Deep Space Nine, Enterprise, and Voyager never matched the boldly go that Kirk and Spock delivered. The aliens in these shows, moreover, were substandard. A human with an ugly rubber forehead is not my idea of a little green man…even if he is painted green. Some of the science ideas were kind of interesting, but that’s only one out of the three legs needed to support my footstool of science fiction fandom. If you know what I mean.

I do not include the The Next Generation in that string of disappointments. It boldly went, and the acting wasn’t half bad for a space opera. It also got points for upgrading the aliens from the original (hi, Warf), and for introducing a high quality android character in Data. It also kept the nifty science themes coming, so I rate it right up there with Gene Roddenberry’s original creation from the 60s.

Discovery, sadly, did nothing to stem the tide of my despair. After Season 1, I had hailed it as the best Star Trek ever. I see now that my judgment was tainted by wishful thinking. The alien upgrades were good, and in Season 1 the science was cool, but the whole mess collapsed in Season 2. Spectacularly, in my view.

I was devastated. A long time had passed since the last TV Star Trek, and I was really hoping it would succeed. In the end, it did worse than fail. It killed my hope and badly damaged my love of science fiction itself. Until last night, I had even imagined that my inner trekkie might wither and die.

Enter Star Trek: Picard, and with it a new hope for the 24th century. I am on guard this time, but I can’t help but be encouraged by this new take on Roddenberry’s aging version of the future. For starters, the show logo uses the familiar Federation logo for the “a” in Picard. I bit hard on that. Then there’s Jean-Luc himself. Thanks to Patrick Stewart and his Shakespearean training, the now-retired Admiral Picard channels some of the best acting ever to grace the Star Trek universe. Plus, he’s a geezer now, which I count as a plus. Stewart, it should be noted, is also the show’s executive producer. What’s more, the writing is top notch. None other than the Pulitzer, Hugo, and Nebula Award-winning Michael Chabon is at the helm, and his chops are clearly evident…at least in the first episode.

As I have said, I am reserving judgment this time. Once phasered, twice shy, as they say. I see from the previews of Episode 2 that Picard will be accompanied on his current effort to save the universe by what appears to be a crew of misfits and oddballs. That concerns me. These characters may provide entertainment, but I worry that they might do something stupid and upend my footstool of fanhood.

Furthermore, there hasn’t been much of an alien presence as yet (unless you count Romulans, who are practically human anyway). Until I see what they’re offering as little green men this time, I am hesitant to go all in. There hasn’t been much in the way of science, either. Most of the quasi tech talk has involved android technology, and that brand of science gets pretty thin pretty fast.

And so, I wait…until the next episode. Hope is alive, but it will take more than flashy CGI and a parade of old actors from series past to win me over. I must be careful; I don’t think my inner trekkie can survive another letdown.
A Leg Up
If you’re like most folks, you feel a rush of sympathy when you see a three-legged dog. You might see one trotting along, limping badly but still moving pretty fast…for a disabled dog. “Poor guy,” you might say, automatically assigning a male gender to a dog. “I wonder what happened to him.” You can’t help but admire his pluck, though. He doesn’t want, doesn’t need anyone’s sympathy, thank you very much.

He might wish he had that missing leg back (if indeed dogs have such longings), but he is getting on with his life and making the best of it. What a good boy! What if, however, some other tragic misfortune were to befall him? What if, God forbid, he were to lose another leg?

Put yourself, for a moment, in Fido’s place. You’ve got three good legs. The two back legs are fine, but (let’s say) one of the front legs is missing. Now, here is the question I’d like to ask you, my furry friend: if you knew that you were going to lose another leg, which one would you prefer it to be? Take your time, please, because you’ll be living the rest of your life with just two legs. Which two you choose could make all the difference.

Before you make such a big decision, why don’t we take a careful look at the options? I”m not a dog myself, but I’ve done a bit of experimenting in my living room to suss out the issues a four-footed creature might face if it had only half that many. Here’s what I’ve come up with:

The main function of legs, as we know, is to move us around. For that reason, the obvious choice would seem to be losing the other front leg. There in my living room, I found it quite easy to move around on just two legs. Now, you might point out I am used to walking on two legs, but I have to tell you that it just feels so natural to me. I’m surprised, in fact, that dogs — or any quadrupeds — don’t do this more often. It would leave your forepaws available gesturing or shaking hands (a normal doggie activity, thanks to us) or games of pattycake.

You might further suggest that the hind legs of a dog aren’t really suited to upright walking. That is hard to deny, but I’ll bet those legs could be retrained to accommodate hopping. Kangaroos do it, and so do bunnies. Why not double amputee dogs? Then, instead of walking our dogs, we could “hop” them.

If you find nothing compelling about the two-hind-leg configuration, let’s examine the other two possibilities. Again, our main concern is locomotion, so which combination of one leg back and one leg forward would work best for such a purpose? In the course of my experiments, I found that it was much easier to stay upright having one limb on either side of my body. This arrangement is more stable for standing up, then, but what about for walking? How exactly would that work?

Not very well, I have discovered. Maybe if I practiced more I wouldn’t lurch into the furniture so often. In my mind’s eye, I can see a hypothetical dog tearing along at breakneck speed with one leg on either side of its body, but I have to admit that my mind’s eye will sometimes play tricks on me. So let’s try your minds eye. Okay, here we go…first the right front leg goes down, then it pushes off. The left rear has to hit right after that, or else the whole process will end in failure. And the right front has got to follow quickly after that, and so on. My mind’s eye is picking up something like an inchworm dancing the Lambada. How about you?

You’ve probably guessed that the last configuration — two legs on one side of the body — would present you with an even greater challenge. According to my research, you would be forced to run with exactly the same style and rhythm as you’d use with four legs… only twice as fast and twice as hard. Still, not impossible, assuming you were able to get started — which I was never able to do. For one thing, I had to tilt over to one side to keep my balance. If my calculations are correct, you could actually run that way, but it would only be in circles. Which, come to think of it, would be great for playing fetch. That, or two-legged dog racing, should it ever become popular.

So that’s it. Under the terms of our hypothetical, those are the only options available. We won’t talk about the two-front-leg configuration because, frankly, that might be thought of as cruel. So make your choice, if you will, and let me know what you come up with. All responses are strictly confidential. And if you are, in fact, a dog…thank you for your participation. Good boy!
My Undead Neanderthal
Alley Oop, as I have said, used to to be one of my favorite comic strips. It has an apish caveman, a time machine, dinosaurs, and a fully human girlfriend who is jaw-drop gorgeous. What’s not to like?

When you add to that the cross-medium immortality that came with the Hollywood Argyles’ 1960 rock ’n’ roll classic “Alley Oop,” you’ve got a strip that has to be in the running for top five of all time (Calvin and Hobbes, L’il Abner, Krazy Kat, and Nancy would round out my list).

I’m pretty sure those other strips all ended when they should have — when their creators moved on. Oop, however, has persisted as a comic zombie. He has been re-animated by a succession of artists and writers under the corporate control of Andrews McMeel and a string of equally soulless predecessor syndicates.

The latest incarnation of this living death recasts the title character as a goofy wisecracker who time travels through a chain of parallel universes while trying to simultaneously spin out a gag a day. Neither the jokes nor the story are enough to keep me going. I only return to the strip because of my morbid fascination with a once noble character forced to live on as one of the undead.

I won’t blame writer Joey Alison Sayers and artist Jonathan Lemon, who currently crank out the Oop strip. They’re producing a daily comic and making a few bucks at it, which is a good thing. In fact, I give them credit for daring to take on a big challenge with the strip: telling a continuing story that produces a laugh every episode. Those two goals are daunting enough by themselves; together, they are next to impossible.

People don’t pay attention to daily comic strips the way they used to. Newspapers are in decline, and with all the competition from other media, there just isn’t enough attention to go around. The drawings have gotten smaller, dropped their color, and narrowed their focus. If you try to stitch together a multi-part story, readers who miss a day can easily lose the thread of your narrative. Once that happens, you're likely to lose them permanently.

Sayers and Lemon do have the benefit of a recognizable and well-liked lead character, and they have tried to use that familiarity as much as possible. Their work has been a marked improvement over that of the two previous caretakers of the strip. They have added a fresh voice and vision of their own in trying to make it work. I salute them for their efforts.

Sadly, however, it has all been in vain. Poor ol’ Alley Oop is dead. Dead as an undead Neanderthal. All that remains is a decent burial for a once-great comic strip star. Once again, I pray to the cartoon gods to end his misery…and mine.
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