Jefferies Obit
July 22, 2003 9:48 AM   Subscribe

RIP: Walter "Matt" Jefferies - designer of the original U.S.S. Enterprise and contributor of much of what made Star Trek what it is today. And the guy who the Jefferies tube was named after.
posted by QuestionableSwami (33 comments total)
A sad day indeed.

In the words of James T. Kirk:

We are assembled here today to pay final respects to our honored dead. And yet it should be noted that in the
midst of our sorrow, this death takes place in the shadow of new life, the sunrise of a new world. A world that
our beloved comrade gave his life to protect, to nourish. He did not feel this sacrifice a vain or empty one, and
we will not debate his profound wisdom at these proceedings. Of my friend, I can only say this: Of all the souls I
have encountered in my travels, his was the most . . . human.
posted by aladfar at 9:55 AM on July 22, 2003

Damn, Matt. Looks like I'm hoisting one tonight; Godspeed.
posted by Perigee at 9:57 AM on July 22, 2003

Just about all I knew about him was that he was the guy the Jeffries tube was named after. But that's enough.

I'll join you, Perigee. Damn.
posted by soyjoy at 10:09 AM on July 22, 2003

Really... in the world of television pop culture, is there any icon more recognizable than the Starship Enterprise? And if you won't allow it as an icon, at least as perhaps the most famous fictitious mode of transportation? You see the saucer section, the warp nacelles and the "tube in the middle" -- yep, it's the Enterprise. Well done, Matt.

Now I'll just sit over here and wait for the Star Wars fanatics to start yelling "Millennium Falcon!"
posted by grabbingsand at 10:14 AM on July 22, 2003

I'm gonna tell you a story, soy - I know of all people, you'll probably appreciate it most.

Now that I have run through my first year as a columnist, I've run back through them, and I was a little worried. They're from the heart, all right... but they tend to be (as I'm sure you've recognized) a little on the... preachy side. As are most of my posts in here, I suppose.

Well, last week I had to fill in for our vacationing sports editor, and by Friday afternoon I was pretty much spent. I decided that I'd order some chinese food, get a mindless movie, take it home to the air-conditioning in the bedroom and just zonk out. I ended up picking up "Nemesis," the last of the Star Trek films, since I skipped it in the theater.

So there I was, smeckin' away, watching things get zapped and blow up, and then came the one constant in every episode of every film or episode of the franchise:

"You must understand, it is mankinds destiny to improve himself, to reach higher..."

In a flash I ran through an entire lifetime - rushing dinner to catch the 7:00 weekday show on 48, the feeling of watching the 1701 for the first time on the big screen (too bad they didn't ditch the parts that breathed), the skepticism about the Next Generation that grew into an abiding love.. 40 years.

And all at once I realized. I wasn't writing columns - I was writing "Captain's Logs."

It's amazing how the past affects us - how we mold ourselves based on such early dreams.

But, that's another captain's log, isn't it?
posted by Perigee at 10:21 AM on July 22, 2003

designer of the original U.S.S. Enterprise

something which does not now, and has never actually existed.

much of what made Star Trek what it is today

cheesy sci-fi tv obsessed over by millions?
posted by quonsar at 10:24 AM on July 22, 2003

That was a really good interview with him.
posted by coelecanth at 10:39 AM on July 22, 2003

quonsar: something which does not now, and has never actually existed.

By that logic, Dali (and Picasso, Michaelangelo and the vast majority of other artists) was an irrelevant painter because none of what he painted actually existed.
posted by PenDevil at 10:46 AM on July 22, 2003

Perigee: It's amazing how the past affects us - how we mold ourselves based on such early dreams.

Very true.

Thank you, Mr. Jeffries, and god bless.
posted by Tholian at 10:55 AM on July 22, 2003

Quonsar: isn't it in the Smithsonian?
posted by kaemaril at 10:59 AM on July 22, 2003

quonsar, if it doesn't exist, then answer me this: just what were Bones & Spock standing on while they watched Kirk defeat the Gorn? Huh?? Smart ass!
posted by jonson at 11:03 AM on July 22, 2003

Disclaimer: I'm not a Star Trek fanboi, but I am an industrial design fanboi and Jefferies's work was one of the things which turned me on to this field.

Jefferies may not have designed anything which really existed but he was very influential in the field of industrial design.

Everything he did was conceived in terms of ergonomics, creating a relatively simple interface for very complex machinery.

And this may have been one of the hidden secrets for Star Trek's initial success. Previous filmed Sci-Fi had incomprehensible gadgets with no easily recognizable way of using them, whereas Jefferies's designs made the technology accessible and understandable by people who would normally be turned off by the usual sci-fi magical mumbo-jumbo.

Want to transport someone five hundred miles to the planets surface? Push a button and move the sliders down. Firing a phaser? Again, a simple button push. Need vital signs on an injured redshirt? Simply wave a small scanner over the heart and then look at the resulting vitals. Caught in a time warp and wondering where the hell you are? Analyze various clues via information stored on your pda (tricorder) with matching shoulder strap, or use the wireless network connection to access the main database. Communications over thousands of miles was accomplished by simply flipping your communication device open and using voice-activated commands.

Jefferies may have been the first to visualize how wireless communications, wireless data, pda's, and gps's would work in a practical setting. And these devices were designed to fit easily in the hand, be effortlessly portable, with a clean consistent look which is echoed in many of today's designs.
posted by pandaharma at 11:15 AM on July 22, 2003

A beautiful and iconically unforgettable design which makes absolutely no sense in terms of actual or made-up physics. Preposterous and materials-inefficient surface-to-volume ratio, peculiar and inexplicable deck orientation, a spindly design seeming to consist entirely of weak spots and completely unsuited to the stresses of acceleration, tidal forces or gravity wells.

But I love it anyway. And on preview, what pandaharma said about the other aspects of classic star trek design.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:25 AM on July 22, 2003

The Enterprise: a beautiful, memorable ship, that has lasted lo these many decades and will remain entrenched in our collective cultural/pop memories. But can we all *please* try to purge any memory of the "saucer section separation" crap from TNG/Farpoint?

And what the hell is a "Milennium Falcon?"
posted by davidmsc at 12:07 PM on July 22, 2003

Just remember what most scifi spacecraft looked like in those days: big rockets with fins and lots of silly blinking lights. Their insides resembled WW II submarines more than anything else. His Enterprise, even if it's not a practical design for a faster-than-light vehicle, looks nothing like Flash Gordon's ship.

Jeffries' handheld devices actually looked like something that worked, or at least could work. The simple fact that he even thought about how things might be used set him apart from most of his contemporaries.
posted by tommasz at 12:15 PM on July 22, 2003

But can we all *please* try to purge any memory of the "saucer section separation" crap from TNG/Farpoint?

posted by COBRA! at 12:52 PM on July 22, 2003

But, that's another captain's log, isn't it?

I'll be watching for it next week, Perigee.
posted by soyjoy at 1:25 PM on July 22, 2003

You'll have to forget harder than that, since they separate in other episodes, too, including The Best Of Both Worlds.
posted by NortonDC at 1:33 PM on July 22, 2003

But can we all *please* try to purge any memory of the "saucer section separation" crap from TNG/Farpoint?

Well, since we're assiduously not forgetting it just yet, what I couldn't figure out is how the non-warp-drive section was able to rendezvous with the warp-drive section at some arbitrary planet later on, when it didn't have friggin warp drive.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:36 PM on July 22, 2003

I'm not sure on this, but I believe Jefferies also came up with the idea of labeling many tubes/pipes on-set with the acronym GNDN, which means "Goes Nowhere, Does Nothing" which I always found highly amusing.

And the original Enterprise was a beautiful ship, even moreso after the refit for the movies (the best thing about the first movie is the camera making love to the ship in drydock and in space) ... no other design since has looked as beautiful to me. The less said about the Enterprise-E the better.
posted by WolfDaddy at 1:52 PM on July 22, 2003

That's a damn good point George, one I've never considered before.
posted by pjgulliver at 2:39 PM on July 22, 2003

Yeah, George_S, I hadn't even thought of that. And WolfDaddy - amen, brother...that 30-minutes worth (well, almost) of looking the Enterprise...I'm almost ashamed to admit that it actually has brought me to near-tears once or twice. The first movie was amazing for only two things: the fact that it S.T. was finally on the big screen, and the beauty of the Enterprise. Plot? Development? Eh...
posted by davidmsc at 4:56 PM on July 22, 2003

For a ship travelling in a vacuum, the Borg cube makes far more sense. The Enterprise is a ludicrously weak design.
Sorry the dude's dead, but WTF?
posted by Joeforking at 4:57 PM on July 22, 2003

Another thing that struck me is the way ships always encountered each other in the same plane and oriented to the same local vertical. It wasn't until the second film (the only really good one IMO) that they admitted that space actually has three dimensions.

Spock: He's intelligent, but not experienced. Pattern indicates (raised eyebrow) ...two-dimensional thinking.

Kirk: Z minus ten thousand meters, Mr Sulu.

Me: Hurray!
posted by George_Spiggott at 5:43 PM on July 22, 2003

It wasn't until the second film (the only really good one IMO) that they admitted that space actually has three dimensions.

And it wasn't til the still-way-under-appreciated-even-though-it's-now-ten-years-old Deep Space Nine that space battles (in Star Trek) in 3 dimensions were truly visualized properly.
posted by WolfDaddy at 5:53 PM on July 22, 2003

Sorry the dude's dead, but WTF?

Thre was a crazy guy in Seattle--George Kotolaris. He and his mom were ubiquitous local characters. You'd always see them on the bus or at the Market.

They were crashing parties when they weren't crashing wakes or wedding receptions. And they took pictures with little instamatics. There you'd be talkiing to someone and turn around and there would be George like he just walked in from another comic strip.

So it is here from time to time--it's like we're all sitting in conference rooms with the doors open. Somebody walks by and says something rude because it amuses him at that moment. At least if we could take pictures or something...
posted by y2karl at 6:02 PM on July 22, 2003

We could make a list and keep it on our user pages!
posted by jonson at 6:46 PM on July 22, 2003

George...what's with this...again, I'm finding myself agreeing with you...

Wrath of Khan was definitely the best film, no question.

"The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few"

"or the one"
posted by pjgulliver at 7:42 PM on July 22, 2003

(we are all such geeks)
posted by pjgulliver at 7:44 PM on July 22, 2003

pjgulliver, careful! We can't stop dehumanizing each other now, or what will we do the next time we get in an argument? I might have to admit it when you have a point, and we could get thrown out of our respective clubs! Worse yet, it could spread to other MeFites. This thing could snowball; rapprochement, detente, all them Frog words for "not ripping each other a new one". Is it just me, or is the room swaying? I don't know if the world is ready for this.
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:16 PM on July 22, 2003

"What is this thing? I mean, it serves no useful purpose for there to be a bunch of chompy, crushy things in the middle of a hallway! We shouldn't have to do this, it makes no logical sense, why is it here?"

"'Because it's on the television show!"

"Well forget it, I'm not doing it. This episode was badly written!"

posted by CunningLinguist at 9:21 PM on July 22, 2003

I love you CunningLinguist.

Galaxy Quest is the best mash note to Star Trek ever written.


"We have to get out of here before one of those things kills Guy!!!"
posted by WolfDaddy at 11:04 PM on July 22, 2003

Man, I know this is getting off of the point - Jefferies' death - but I gotta add that one of the few times I have been helpless with laughter for more than a minute was when, in the aforementioned movie, they were trying to pull the ship out of the dock and scraping against the sides, and attempting to act like it was no big deal. Genius. The rest of the movie, for me, went wayyyyy downhill from that point.
posted by soyjoy at 7:28 AM on July 23, 2003

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