History of Star Trek Minutiae

Updated Tuesday, March 20, 2007

It’s been a long road, getting from there to here...

Ahem. Sorry. ☺

My interest in the Star Trek universe goes back to 1993, and the premiere of Deep Space Nine. My parents had been fans of the original series back when it first aired in the 1960’s, though they had never gotten interested in The Next Generation. They decided to give DS9 a shot, and encouraged me to watch the show with them. However, I said no... I wasn’t interested in watching “some dumb show called Star Trek.” (I was more of a Star Wars fan back then.)

Naturally, that’s not the end of the story. My parents watched the show every week, and I gradually got interested, watching bits and pieces of the show. The first episode I watched from beginning to end was “Duet,” a gripping and fascinating drama, and still one of my favorite DS9 episodes. The season finale and the subsequent season premiere got me hooked for good. TNG was on the same channel an hour earlier, and so I started watching that show, too. By the time “The Jem’Hadar” and “All Good Things...” came around the following year, I was a full-fledged Trekker.

That Christmas, I received The Star Trek Encyclopedia as a gift from my parents, and my interest in Star Trek really took off. This book was a literal treasure trove of information for me, a newly converted Trekker, for I had not yet seen many episodes of either TNG or TOS. This book allowed me to discover the true depth and scope of the Star Trek universe, from the phasers and tricorders to Captain Kirk and Captain Picard. But what fascinated me most at the time was the starships. These sleek, mighty vessels were a literal flight of fancy — a flight that took me to another world. I wanted to know everything about them, and the Encyclopedia was just what the doctor ordered.

About the same time, my father purchased my family’s first computer, an old Macintosh Performa 600. It was pitiful by today’s standards (160 MB hard drive, 33 MHz, 4 MB RAM), but it was a novelty to me back then. I started working with the simple ClarisWorks drawing program, creating crude drawings of my favorite ships. Some of the images were quite mutated as I recall; my version of the Enterprise-D had a weird extension of the saucer in the rear and was about twice as tall as it should have been. My early renderings of the DS9 runabout were horribly simple and box-like, and resembled the TNG shuttles more than the runabouts themselves. (No, I don’t have these drawings anymore; they were lost in a disk crash many years ago.)

One program that my father used for his business was FileMaker Pro, a database application. Given my fascination with the starships, my father encouraged me to try out FileMaker and create a little database to keep track of the different types starships. (Little did he know the monster that would be spawned...) Over the next few months, I learned how to operate the program, manipulate data, and program simple scripts, and Starfleet Ship Registry was born.

Starfleet Ship Registry screenshot
An early version of Starfleet Ship Registry. (ca. 1995)
Screenshot of Starfleet Reference Databank
Starfleet Reference Databank v2.1, circa 1998.
Screenshot of Dan’s first website
My first attempt at a web page, circa 1998.

The earliest version was extremely simple, little more than a flat-file database that kept track of the starship names and statistics. As time went on, I continued to learn more about FMP and how it worked, how to use new techniques and new features. Starfleet Ship Registry (or “SFSR” as I called it) continued to grow, to the point where I needed a second database to keep track of the starship class statistics. This was made relatively easy through the use of relational files which linked the two databases together. As time went on, I added more files; a database to keep track of space stations, and another one for all the episodes, and yet another for the Rules of Acquisition. The name Starfleet Ship Registry no longer applied to my creation, and I rechristened it Starfleet Reference Databank.

I didn’t spend much time on the internet back then; my father was a member of the CompuServe service, and so I spent a lot of time participating in their Star Trek discussion forums. It was there that I first started to get interested in the technical aspects of the show, beyond the starships themselves and into the technology that made them operate. I remember some of the discussions about the Defiant and its capabilities, and the functionality of pulse phasers versus beam phasers, and so on. Little details like that.

As I developed my database further, it was close enough to being “finished” (at the time) that I wanted to show it to others. I posted a message on the CompuServe forum; unfortunately, no one responded. Naturally, I didn’t let that lack of interest stop me. I was sure that there would be some people out there who would love to see my work; I just had to reach them. So I decided to create my own web page to showcase my work. I knew nothing about HTML back then, and not much more about the Internet in general, but I wanted to see what I could do.

My father introduced me to Claris Home Page, a simple web page design application which was perfect for my needs. (It’s the software that I used for over four years, in fact.) But even that relatively simple program took me nearly a week to learn, with all the various features and coding that I needed to learn. (Of course, I had schoolwork too...) The end result was surprisingly simple and primitive; plain and simple text with a LCARS background and a few images to illustrate my work. And there was hardly any content, just a page or two of descriptions of the various features of my database.

Of course I never realized at the time that no one would ever find my website without advertisements and links. But I didn’t advertise it, so no one found it.

Flash forward one year...

I entered Washington and Lee University as a freshman in September 1999. One of the greatest things about my dorm room was that it was wired with a T3 internet connection, far faster than any previous connection I’d ever seen. I was able to spend more time on the Internet, because I didn’t have to share any phone line with three other family members. I was able to spend more time surfing the Internet, and I discovered some of the best Trek sites out there, like Ex Astris Scientia and the Trek BBS. (I didn’t neglect my studies, of course...)

I eventually decided to once again try to build a website for myself. I went back to that old program, Claris Home Page, and learned more about HTML, text formatting, and image placement. I created a few pages based around Starfleet Reference Databank, a more detailed introduction to hold my web page. And I began developing SFRD further, intending to finally bring it into the light of day, and host the database online.

That’s when fate, or maybe reality, intervened. Every hosting service I came across that offered FileMaker Pro packages cost at least $40 per month... which was way out of my budget range. I went back to the drawing board, trying to slim down my database to make it more Internet-friendly... but then a thought struck me. Why not create a more complex web page, focused on general Star Trek topics, instead of relying entirely on the database? So I drew up a rough outline of basic topics I could address, from temporal mechanics to general humor. That basic outline still holds today, in the form of the five basic sections of my site: fact, speculation, fiction, opinion, and humor.

Over the next several months, I gradually added bits and pieces to my site. I added the archive of Cureboy’s hilarious The Voyager Coronary from his posts on the Trek BBS, and a couple of Trek-based commentaries to the opinion section that would later be called The Subspace Cafe. By late December I had chosen a title — “The Gigantic Collection of Star Trek Minutiae.” A somewhat wordy and excessive title, perhaps, but I wanted a name that was distinctive and memorable. I think I succeeded.

Screenshot of the original STM home page Screenshot of the original search page
Left: The original STM home page (May 2000).
Right: The first content page design (June 2000).

I spent a lot of time trying to get things “perfect” — unfortunately, perfection is a difficult goal to achieve. By the end of June 2000, I finally bit the bullet and purchased a domain name and a hosting plan. And on July 13, 2000, The Gigantic Collection of Star Trek Minutiae was launched.

As I mentioned before, a website remains an unknown unless it’s advertised. Fortunately, I had friends in high places. I’d corresponded frequently with Bernd Schneider of Ex Astris Scientia, and he graciously promoted my site on his page. This was a real honor, for EAS had been something of a role model for me while I was developing my own stuff. EAS represents the kind of site that is the best of the web — it’s original, it’s accurate, and it’s well-presented. Bernd even gave my site his “Ex Astris Excellentia” award a couple of months later.

Screenshot of STM home page in April 2002
The STM home page, version 2.0 (April 2002).

Of course, the launch of STM was hardly the end of the story. Any good website is continuously under construction. And as time went on, I continued to develop more projects to showcase on my site. For instance, there’s the History of the Earth-Romulan War. That section was originally intended to be a brief overview of the four major conflicts between the Federation and foreign powers. But when I got into a discussion with Masao Okazaki (author of the Starfleet Museum) which eventually lasted for 11 months and 750 emails, I expanded upon one conflict instead, the Earth-Romulan War. Though the article is yet unfinished, I hope it will become a major feature of my site when it’s finished.

Another feature which was added later on is Star Trek: Renaissance. This project was born in January 2001, when a group of fan fiction writers got together to create their own Star Trek series. Although it never quite reached the heights to which we aspired (the project sputtered to a halt in late 2004), I’m proud to have been a part of this endeavor. It was one of the first fanfic projects to publish exclusively in teleplay format, and it offered a unique and interesting (not to mention somewhat subversive) view of the future of the Star Trek universe. We started very slowly, laying the ground work of the series and its planned series arc, developing the characters and their backgrounds, and the setting of the story. The series finally launched on Trek’s 35th anniversary, September 8, 2001. Although the project website was originally hosted as part of STM, it quickly spun off to stand on its own.

Although the original Renaissance web pages have apparently disappeared, I’ve created an archive of the project, including all the episode scripts, character bios, and some of the pictures.

Screenshot of STM home page, third version Screenshot of STM content page, third version
Left: The STM home page, version 3 (July 2002).
Right: A content page, version 3 (July 2002).

In June 2002, I decided to knuckle down and purchase a heavy-duty website development software package. In the preceding two years, STM had grown from a small hobby into a massive project. Although trusty old Claris Home Page was still up to the task, I was seriously considering the possibility of a career in web design, and a more professional application would not only give me more options, but also allow me to learn more about the field before I dove in head-first. After looking at the two major systems out there, I decided to purchase Macromedia Studio MX. After spending some time learning how to use my new “toys,” I set about doing a massive reconstruction of the site. Among other things, it allowed me to finally create pages using the proper, industry-standard code, but it also let me start adding some fancy new designs and tricks. Five years ago, simply having a website was an impressive feat; now, any fanboy with delusions of authority and ability can start up a little page with one of the myriad, cheap web hosts out there. In order to stand out, you’ve got to have a snappy, competent design. (Of course, content is more always important...) In any event, after spending about a month reconstructing the site practically from the ground up — the only thing I didn’t do was retype all of my extensive articles — STM was relaunched shortly after its second anniversary.

Screenshot of STM home page, version 4 Screenshot of STM content page, version 4
Left: The STM home page, version 4 (June 2003).
Right: A content page (June 2003).

They say that when you’re enthusiastic about something, you keep fiddling with it and tweaking it until you’ve got it just right. Well, if that’s true, then I’m very enthusiastic about Star Trek Minutiae! In June 2003, I decided to revamp the appearance of my website yet again. This time, I used my experience at designing a professional website for my father’s company and put it to work creating a really unique look for my site. Perhaps the most controversial change was the new, more detailed background. I decided I was very tired of the plain, black backgrounds that so many Trek sites out there used, so I created something different, the subdued blue pattern that you see on the page now. But I also looked ahead towards future possible redesigns, and used even more CSS and SSI coding to make it even easier to effect changes in the future.

In the fall of 2003, my friend Harry Doddema (whom I’d known for several years at the Flare message boards) suggested the idea of creating a Star Trek wikiwiki — that is, an open, free-link database that anyone may edit at any time. Although I was totally unfamiliar with the wiki format at the time, the idea intrigued me enough to join up. After some trial and error in setting up the wiki database and software, we went to work setting up the basic framework and preliminary articles. The database — which we named Memory Alpha, after the Federation’s central library archive — officially launched on December 5, 2003. Like its older cousin, Renaissance, it was originally hosted as a section of STM, but was quickly spun off to stand on its own. In the three-plus years since its launch, Memory Alpha has become one of the most reliable sources of Star Trek information on the web, has gained thousands of contributors (including some people who actually worked on the shows!), and has even been cited by official Pocket Books publications.

Screenshot of STM home page, version 5 Screenshot of STM content page, version 5
STM version 5.0, circa April 2005.

Over the years, my website has in some ways grown, yet in other ways stagnated. It’s certainly gotten much bigger than I’d originally anticipated, encompassing more pages than I’d ever expected (nearly 600 pages at last count!). But there hasn’t been as much new material, certainly not as much created myself as I’d once planned with such youthful exuberance. The History of the Earth-Romulan War springs to mind, for example. And certainly, I’ve spent more time redesigning the look, feel, and layout of the site than actually updating the content! It’s become just as much a vehicle for me to explore various methods of designing a web page and learning new technologies and coding languages as it is a vehicle for my obsession with science fiction. (And in my defense, my foresight of using CSS and SSI has made it a heck of a lot easier to do complete redesigns without changing all the original pages.)

Looking back (from the Spring of 2007), I think that the focus of the site could almost be considered an inverse indicator of the direction and focus of my “real” life. In my meandering college years, I had plenty of time to waste on lots of code experiments and wistful thinking about the stars. Or, as a wise Muppet once said, All his life as he looked away to the future, the horizon. Never his mind on where he was! Hmm? What he was doing! Certainly, as I’ve left college and developed a career, I’ve had a bit less time to spend on my old fantasies. (The complete lack of updates for almost two years, from May 2005 to the spring of 2007, is evidence of this.) But those thoughts have never gone away entirely.

Reinventing a personal website may be a lot easier than reinventing yourself, but it’s still difficult. Although my interest in Star Trek has waned over the years, I’ve still got plenty of ideas floating around my head. And even if my interest in sci-fi has moved on to greener pastures, Star Trek will still remain my first, greatest love. Though Enterprise has long since come to a deserved but ignominious end, the true spirit of Star Trek lives on in the fans: each one of us brings our own ideas, our own opinions, and our own aspirations to the story. And ultimately, Star Trek becomes a different story for each one of us. Thus, I am certain that Star Trek Minutiae will last for many years to come.

Screenshot of STM home page, version 6 Screenshot of STM content page, version 6
STM version 6.0, circa June 2007.