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<   No. 3145   2011-09-06   >

Comic #3145

1 SFX: Flash!
2 Paris: There's no place like home!
3 Iki Piki: Indeed. Sensors show we're back in our original timestream!
4 Serron: How do sensors know that?
4 Iki Piki: They... sense stuff.

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I always wondered this about those mysterious "sensors" in Star Trek.

They could be cameras. Or radar systems. Or infrared detectors. Or cloud chambers. Or some sort of Doppler lidar. Or a synthetic aperture microwave array. Any of which would sound much cooler.

But no. We got "sensors".

Don't even get me started on "communicators". Or "transporters".

A reader in the States writes very seriously:
Yeah but see, if you had a character say "synthetic aperture microwave array" in 1966, BAM the channel would have gotten changed as fast as Dad could have whapped Sonny on the back of the head and told him to switch over to Ed Sullivan already.

There's actually a bit in the book The Making of Star Trek where one of the original creators (Roddenberry himself or Bob Justman) explains that they deliberately chose "sensors" as a blanket term because they (a) had no idea what the technology of the future would really be like (they didn't even have it nailed down to the 23rd century at that point, actually) and (b) they didn't want to put too much real science in the science fiction. "Sensors" sounded "technical enough" and, apparently, avoided a lot of letters from actual NASA types complaining about how if a Klingon cruiser is 40,000 km away, it would take ~0.267 seconds for radar to report that, and by then he'd be at point-blank range since he's approaching at whatever high velocity, etc. etc.

Also there was some thought along the lines of how a 1960s Navy radar operator, the guy actually sitting at the CRT watching for bad guys, probably wouldn't know all the technical details of how the device works; he's just trained to watch the screen for blips that don't look friendly and then report same to the CO. This is probably even more true nowadays. Weren't they just switching from valves to transistors in the mid-'60s?

I.E., there were "neckbeards" long before they were allowed to actually grow neckbeards. :D

Seriously, it was bad enough when we started getting stuff like "inverse polarized verteron pulses." Ow, my brain. "Sensors" is so much less weighty.

It's actually quite interesting (to me) reading about how all these decisions got made back then in the interests of making the series more appealing to "regular folks"—trying to strike a delicate balance of believability and entertainment—and then it still got canceled in the middle of Season 2 (and resurrected for one more not-so-great season), and it still took about another 20 years for the number of nerd kids to reach the critical mass needed to make Trek a major, profitable IP franchise.

Trek Nerd-a-riffically Yours, <name>

So there you go. This may kill all of the amusement in my feeble and flippant attempt at humour, but it's actually really interesting, so I felt compelled to share.

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Last Modified: Tuesday, 6 September 2011; 03:11:01 PST.
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