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 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 few “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!

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 “Crazy Uncle Dennis” 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 the official Crazy Uncle Dennis 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 Crazy Uncle Dennis 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:

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 settled or at least tolerant of my biological masculinity. 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 not 100% male in terms of the way I feel – though I am, as noted last time, biologically 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 biological sex. 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 biological 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, after almost four decades.

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 lack 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.

Crazy Uncle Dennis – 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 Crazy Uncle Dennis, 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 Crazy Uncle Dennis 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.

– Crazy Uncle 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.

Crazy Uncle Dennis – 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. Crazy Uncle Dennis 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 last year, but I do have all of the logos and such that I made – mostly in Microsoft Paint. If you’re a regular reader, perhaps you’ll remember some of these:

The original logo from November 2019. It was in use for a few weeks into December.
The second version of the logo kept the Star Trek & Star Wars fonts but changed up the colours, and moved to a narrower format.
By the spring of 2020 I’d changed to this orange logo with a “warp speed” background.
This logo was not in use for very long at all, but features a cool “eclipse” background.
In the summer I switched to this logo, retaining the orange colour and crooked text but moving to a ground-based “staring up at the stars” background.
By late August I’d adopted this style, and the green “D” became the site’s mini logo.

Well that was a trip down memory lane, eh?

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 Crazy Uncle Dennis 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!

– Crazy Uncle 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 blog 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.