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The Trek Nation - David Henderson

David Henderson

By Amy Hightower
Posted at July 24, 1999 - 5:00 AM GMT

Welcome one and all to the first Trek Nation Community Profile, a weekly look at some of the prominent figures in the wonderful and weird world of online Trek. I'm Amy Hightower, better known to some of you as Dr. Jekyl and for the first Profile, I thought I'd return to my roots as an on-line Trek fan with David Henderson, owner and manager of Psi Phi.

Question: Who are you, when you get right down to it, really?

Answer: That's a tough one... I think I'm still figuring that out.

LOL. I think everyone is. About themselves, I mean. :) What about age/location/martial status?

What do you do in real life?

I am a computer programmer and website developer.


What exactly does maintaining Psi Phi involve? How big a chunk does it take out of your life?

I don't know that I can really say how much time it takes; a good portion of time is spent in searching other Star Trek sites, filtering out information from rumors, separating believable rumors from unbelievable ones, and figuring out what to include at Psi Phi and what not to.

All in all, I'd say an average of ten hours a week are spent on Psi Phi-related stuff during television seasons, a little less during the summers (June-August).

How did you become involved in the wonderful world of on-line Trek, not to mention Star Trek, full stop?

My first exposure to on-line Trek was a notesfile at IMSA, a math and science academy I attended my sophomore year of high school (1991-1992). That notesfile was only a local thing and didn't have any distribution beyond the school campus.

I first encountered the Star Trek newsgroups (rec.arts.startrek.*) in about 1993. My first encounters with Star Trek websites was probably in late 1993 or early 1994.

When did you first open the doors to of Psi Phi? How has the site evolved since then?

First, I need to give a little background information. During the summer of 1994, before my freshman year at Bradley University, I compiled information from newsgroups, TV Guide, and other sources and posted schedules and episode information for a variety of sci-fi TV shows (at the time, TNG seventh season, DS9's second season, Time Trax, Babylon 5, The X-Files, and a few others) to the newsgroup bu.sf-lovers, which had only local distribution on Bradley's campus.

Shortly before classes started, I was contacted by some other Bradley freshmen who saw my postings and wanted to know if there was a science fiction club on campus. There wasn't, but we met, and eventually we formed a club. Searching for a name other than "The Bradley Science Fiction Club", I suggested Psi Phi, everyone seemed to like it, and so that's what we became.

For the club, in August 1994 I created a single webpage that housed the schedule information that I had posting to the local newsgroup. The URL for this page was the unweildy http://lydia.bradley.edu/ compserv/hotline/homepages /davidh/psiphi.html though that link doesn't work anymore.

Around October, the page moved to http://lydia.bradley.edu/campusorg/psiphi/, where we were one of the first five student organizations to have a web page. This move coincided with the addition of a local mirror of Vidiot's site (which was at the time http://www.ftms.com/vidiot/). This mirror fixed all of the HTML errors in the documents, so that they could be viewed with Lynx, and not just Mosaic.

After I had been operating the mirror for a few weeks, I received an E-mail message from Vidiot (Michael L. Brown) that started out "They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but..."; after I got his letter, I re-did many of the pages in a different style. The biggest change was probably the episode press release pages, which over time went from trying to look identical to the on-paper press release, to what is now available for each page, linking to reviews, ship and location lists, the SOS, credits, and any other relevant pages.

For a brief while in 1995, Psi Phi was at http://www.psiphi.org/campusorg/psiphi/, where www.psiphi.org was just an alias for www.bradley.edu. However, Bradley's Public Relations department was aghast that someone could get to Bradley's home page at http://www.psiphi.org/ so they yanked that away from us.

Then, for another brief while in 1997, Psi Phi moved to http://www.trekworld.com/, but that also turned out to be a disaster, so the site moved back to Bradley again, and stayed there until March 1998, when Psi Phi moved to its now permanent home at www.psiphi.org.

When I returned to Psi Phi recently after a long absence to re-acquaint myself and to do some ground research, I was absolutely flabbergasted to discover just how much the site had grown in the 12 odd months since I was last there. How do you feel about the growth of your site?

While being hosted by Bradley University's computers, Psi Phi has 20Mb to work with... that 20Mb included not only the website, but any club-related E-mail, plus any other documents that weren't on the web. Thus I had to be careful not to use too many graphics, and I couldn't use *any* video or audio simply because they took up too much room.

After moving to http://www.psiphi.org/, the disk space restrictions were gone, and I could add many of the features that I had been wanting to do for some time, including a New Frontier site and on-site discussion areas that were under my control. The move also allowed CGI access, so aside from the discussion areas, I was able to add self-updating "This week's episode" links and other things.

And Psi Phi continues to grow, most notably with the Star Trek Books database, which is coming along nicely.

Psi Phi is .... um, rather plain.... when compared to many other Star Trek sites who love to do LCARS formats and other weird things with graphics. Was this down-to-earth design a conscious decision to make the site more accessible or did it just work out like that?

While Psi Phi was at Bradley, there were extreme constraints on how many graphics were available, simply due to the disk space limits. Because I wasn't able to do much with the visual aspect, I was able to focus more on the content, which seems to be the main reason someone would come back to a site once they've visited it.

More recently, I've been using style sheets to enhance the appearance of many pages, for browsers that use them. I feel that style sheets are more flexible than using graphics, since the appearance of hundreds of pages can be changed with one change, rather than needing to change every page to fit the new design. It's true that not every browser can understand style sheets, but I feel a good look is secondary to good content, and as long as the site can be navigated with no significant confusion, I'm satisfied to leave it be.

You generally are able to post the official press releases and airdate schedules rather soon. Didn't you ever have the desire to report episode news, in the way sites such as TrekWeb, the Great Link or TrekToday do?

I've had some interest in it, but as you say there are other sites that do that, and do it well, so anything I did would probably end up being a duplication of effort that wouldn't bring anything new or different to the table.

Psi Phi has a large portion devoted to Star Trek novels, and you spend a lot of time at the Simonsays web site. Many people believe tie-in novels are of inferior quality - what are your thoughts on this? How do they compare to actual episodes?

Like the episodes (and even the movies), there are good novels and bad novels. But of the bad novels I've read, I've never found one as bad as "Let Him Who Is Without Sin...", "Threshold", or "Profit and Lace". :-)

One thing that I really like about the Trek novels is that they can tell stories on a much larger canvas than the typical episode can cover, and they can get into the characters' heads to show us what they are thinking. A recent example is Armin Shimerman and David R. George III's DS9 novel, "The 34th Rule".

Without getting into details (or spoilers), this book tells a story that simply could not have been shown on television without robbing it of much of its strengths: complex games of strategy being played by Bajor and Ferenginar, fascinating political and interpersonal dynamics, and being able to see what the characters are thinking.

I started reading the Star Trek books about four years ago, first just the DS9 novels, then a few of the other series, and now I read nearly all of the novels. Within those past four years, and comparing with some of the older books I've picked up along the way, I've seen the overall quality of the novels improve greatly. And although telling bigger stories brings bigger risks, I think the crossovers, trilogies, and other "high concept" books have invigorated the writers, who (I suspect) may have been getting tired of doing the formulaic "Enterprise/Voyager/Defiant visits strange new world, aliens have problem, crew helps out, problem is solved, Enterprise/Voyager/Defiant leaves" stories.

The upcoming (for us in Aust and the UK)'Vulcan's Heart'novel is generating a lot of publicity, far more than I've seen for any other Trek novel -it even made my local paper! Why do you think it's generating so much interest?

First of all, Spock was very much the bachelor all through the original series, only expressing romantic feelings when under the influence of Pon farr or alien spores. He was also, from what I understand, considered to be more of a heartthrob among fans han Kirk when the series first aired in the 60's. To the occasional, non-fan viewer, Spock was a gentleman. So the idea that Spock is getting married is one that is a "fascinating" concept not only to fans who know Spock, but also to non-fans who know *of* Spock.

Also, those reviewers who have read the entire book know that more than Spock's heart is at stake. Without giving any spoilers aside from what's on the cover, this is a tale that combines elements from the original series (the female commander from "The Enterprise Indicent") and the Next Generation (Captain Picard from the Stargazer, Captain Garrett and the crew of the Enterprise-C), plus Romulans... and lots of them. It's a complex, but not overly complex, book.

I'm not the world's greatest Trek novel fan (I tend to go more for comic fantasy), though I do admit to owning a few from DS9 and one Voyager novel, none of which I've read in months. Which, do you think, are the best Trek Novels (so I can go out and read them!!)

Like a lot of the other "favorites" questions, I don't really have one favorite, but of the books I have read, here are ten (in no particular order) that I enjoyed and can recommend:

"Has your site brought you in contact with anyone actually working at Paramount?...

At least freelancers who have sold stories to DS9 and Voyager have contacted me in regard to their episodes. I have written to (and received responses from) both Robert Hewitt Wolfe and Bradley Thompson from DS9, and Rick Sternbach in the art department. And for a few days, Rene Auberjonois posted at the Psi Phi DS9 discussion area.

...Do TPTB visit Psi Phi often...

I don't know specifically *who* is visiting, but so far this month, my access logs have shown visits from viacom.com on five separate days, and visits from paramount.com on five other days. During June, fourteen out of thirty days showed a visit from one or both.

...and have you received one of their infamous letters? In the summer of 1996, before "First Contact" came out, I received a registered letter from Mallory D. Levitt, attorney for Viacom, claiming that the fan-written synopsis of "First Contact", which had been circulating on the internet for weeks and which I posted at Psi Phi, was copyrighted material of Paramount Pictures and that I must remove it. At that time, Psi Phi was still at Bradley University, and I was still a student and employee there, so I acquiesced to avoid any legal action, even though I was certain that Paramount/Viacom had no claim on the synopsis.

What's you favourite Star Trek series/episode?

My favorite of the series is DS9, but I don't really have a favorite episode. There are a number of episodes that fit into a sort of "favorite category", episodes like "Duet", "Yesterday's Enterprise", "The Trouble with Tribbles", and most of the other perennial favorites, but I can't pick just one.

Who's you favourite Trek character/actor and why?

Again, it's hard to pick a single favorite. I do really like Andrew J. Robinson's portrayal of Garak, Jeffrey Combs' Weyoun, and Marc Alaimo's Dukat. On Voyager, I enjoy Robert Picardo's work as The Doctor. Dwight Schultz was great as Barclay on TNG, and I liked James Doohan as Scotty on TOS.

The Doc is my fav character. :) Do you have a favourite quote?

Not really.

If holotechnology was created tomorrow, what program would you create?

It would probably be an adventure game, along the lines of the "King's Quest" or "Quest for Glory" series.

What's your favourite ice-cream flavour? Mine's Cookies 'n Cream. :)

Mint Chocolate Chip.

Do you own any pets?

No, not really. My younger brother has a cat named Suzie, who I tend to think of as my own, but she is 40 miles away from me now and I don't get to see her often.

If you could be anyone in the Trek Universe, who would you be?

Q. Either him or the giant space amoeba that ate the USS Intrepid, but I'm leaning more toward Q right now. :-)

Giant space amoeba? I think I missed that one. :)

It's from the TOS episode "The Immunity Syndrome". An amoeba creature ate the USS Intrepid, and Mr. Spock felt a disturbance in the force. :-)

LOL. How about non-omnipotent character, perhaps a re-occuring character or species?

If I can't be omnipotent, why not just wise? I think I'd enjoy being one of Guinan's people, an El-Aurian. But I'd have to be careful not to be like the insane Soran from "Generations", or the obnoxious Martus from "Rivals". :-)

With DS9 gone, leaving Voyager the only Trek on air, many are fearing the demise of the Trek franchise. What do you feel the future holds for Trek?

If Brannon Braga is in charge of future Trek series, I feel that it will never rise past the level of Voyager to reach the quality of DS9.

How do you feel about the much-pulicized departure of Ron Moore from Voyager?

I think it's a pity, but I also think it may have been inevitable. When Ron Moore came on DS9 from TNG, he was a supervising producer in what was as much an ensemble writing team as it was an ensemble cast; he rose through the ranks and had a significant influence on the course of events of DS9. As DS9 came to an end, he was essentially the "second in command" after Ira Steven Behr, with whom he'd been working for five years.

On Voyager, however, Braga had been leading solo for one years, and many of the other writers have been working with him for longer than that. If Ron Moore were to have come in lower-tier as he had done on DS9, he might have fit in, but that would have been a drop in responsibilities and most likely pay, and I doubt he would have wanted that. But if, as reported, he came in as co-show-runner with Braga, he would have brought in a one style (continuity) in to a show with a very different style (The Magical Reset Button), and those two cannot coexist.

In you opinion, are character or action based episodes better?

I like both, but I think the character-based episodes have more of an impact. "The Visitor" and "The Inner Light" are excellent character episodes.

What are three epsiodes everyone should watch?

I'm not sure I can do it in three. If I were allowed four episodes to get a non-fan interested in Star Trek, I'd probably have to include "The Trouble with Tribbles" from the original series, "The Visitor" from DS9, "Living Witness" from Voyager, and "Yesterday's Enterprise" from TNG. They show the range of what Star Trek offers, from irony and desperation to humor and heart.

Well put. :) Unfortunatly, I have to draw this to a close now so a final question: What are your favourite web-sites, Trek and otherwise?

Three Trek sites:

Three Sci-Fi sites: Three miscellaneous sites:

Thank you for you time and participation, David. It's been a pleasure.

Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.


Amy Hightower is co-moderator of the Miscellaneous forum at the Trek BBS.