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Why is the ship's computer not advanced enough to insert the stardate automatically when a new log entry is added by the captain? Or is there a special reason for it not to do so?

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    Maybe to show that the captain is "sane" enough to remember the date? – Max Dec 10 '14 at 13:57
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    @Max:Would'nt it be better if sanity was examined by a doctor regularly? – Oliver Vogel Dec 10 '14 at 14:39
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    Interesting note... the first season used random (non-chronological order dates), and fans noticed, so they had to start placing the stories in chronological order to placate said fans. That means after the first season, you can also identify the relative order that events should be placed in based on star date values. While they are nonsensical, they do help people identify which episode they're watching relative to other episodes. – phyrfox Dec 10 '14 at 18:07
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    When writing emails, why do you sign "Yours truly, Oliver"? Wouldn't the recipient's email program be able to consult the address book and metadata to display your name based on your address? – Superbest Dec 11 '14 at 1:10
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    @Superbest: I note with interest the way your analogy isn't the closer "When writing email why do you put the date at the top of an email?" because you don't need to because the computer adds it automatically. Your analogy would be closer to asking why the person has to explicitly state it is the captain's log. Which is a good question. Presumably the computer should know who is recording it so why do they need to state it is the captain's log? ;-) – Chris Dec 11 '14 at 9:56

14 Answers 14

91

It's simple: Logs aren't recorded in real time.

During a tense space battle, the Captain can't just take a break to record the fact that someone just attacked his ship, he will remember it and when it happened and then write it down later with the stardate of when it happened, and even the advanced computers of star trek won't be able to remember automatically when the events described happened, or the computer would write the logs itself.

  • 6
    Presumably the ship's computer would be able to log target acquisition, shield status changes, weapon use and other activity on the ship and within sensor range and then heuristically determine that the ship had been in a combat situation... but I get your point... ;) – oliver-clare Dec 10 '14 at 15:45
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    Actually, in ST:TNG, the ship does record its own log. The voiceover entries are always "Captain's Log", or "1st Officer's Log", or "... Personal Log", anyway, they occasionally consult ships logs for exact times of occurences like flares, energy bursts and such. That being said, @Crow is right, you can't call "time out" to make a log entry during tense situations. :) – Thorin Schmidt Dec 10 '14 at 16:08
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    Actually, this totally makes sense. The captain's log if more like an annotation to the ships log that adds what the captain is thinking and planning, which the ship can't do automatically. The stardate is telling the computer where the annotation goes. – ThePopMachine Dec 10 '14 at 17:27
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    This is the right answer, confirmed by the common use of the phrase "Captain's Log: Supplemental." These additions are almost always added during tense or time-sensitive moments, indicating that the log was added later to "supplement" the original recording. Whether it was made during the battle or after, it wasn't recorded during "Stardate 12345" but it is still attached to the "Stardate 12345" entry, confirming that logs don't have to be made in real time. – Nerrolken Dec 10 '14 at 17:37
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    @lordscree Well, presumably a starship does, or could, keep a record of events like firing of phasers, etc. And I suppose we're supposed to accept that the computer can understand the meaning of a person's words, so if the captain begins a log by saying, "When we were attacked by the Klingons near Rigel IV ..." the computer could analyze its records to determine when such an attack took place and attach this date to the logs. But many things that go into a log would not be that straightforward. What if the captain says, "I am noticing increasing conflict between members of the engineering ... – Jay Dec 12 '14 at 21:20
45

It seems to be part of Starfleet protocol to start each new main log entry by saying the Stardate aloud. Presumably this is in case the log itself is damaged and only a part of the recording (the audio portion) survives or in case there's an attempt to selectively edit the recording.

You can see the value of this in the episode TOS : Court Martial where a crewman falsifies a visual bridge recording. Had there also been an audio component, it would have been twice as difficult to create an edited version.

Note that this procedure is also carried out in the real world in formal police interviews and when taping autopsy reports.


There may also be a need to tell the computer in what order to place a log entry. On several occasions (in TOS : By Any Other Name, for example) it's clear that an entry has been created retrospectively. In that particular instance, Kirk creates an entry talking about a trap that he's set for the villains that he's sitting next to:

Kirk : Captain's log, stardate 4658.9. With The Enterprise under control of the Kelvans, we are approaching the energy barrier at the edge of our galaxy. Spock and Scotty have devised a suicide plan to stop the Kelvans. They have rigged the ship to explode on my signal.

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    That does not seem very convincing to me. In the distant future being able to falsify audio and video should be easy. And we are not talking about analog recording devices here. These are files stored on the computer with metadata such as the exact time of recording. – aKzenT Dec 10 '14 at 13:33
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    @akzent - Actually, in 'DS9 : In the Pale Moonlight' we learn that convincingly faking video and audio is far from easy. In fact, it's (nearly) impossible. – Valorum Dec 10 '14 at 13:54
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    yes, as it is now, even the best fake work, can be determined to be fake, and as the tech to create more fake or counterfeit stuff, the tech to weed it out will improve. – Himarm Dec 10 '14 at 14:58
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    When the log is recorded, the Captain is registering his understanding of the current time...I can imagine that in circumstances where relativity can come into play (and potentially confuse events), this might be useful... – Chris B. Behrens Dec 10 '14 at 16:34
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    @ChrisB.Behrens - 2.bp.blogspot.com/-ZoNs99aSWg8/UdSBJKFvb1I/AAAAAAAAAH0/… This makes it pretty clear that the whole thing is just cobblers anyway. – Valorum Dec 10 '14 at 16:46
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Just as current ships keep a log of events that are based upon time, so too are personal and ships' logs maintained in Star Trek. Modern ships, especially larger ones, have Ship, Deck, Weather, Officer's, Maintenance, Engineer's, Flight Ops (for carriers), and other official logs. With all those official logs that a crewmember might be making entries into, it's quite natural that personal logs would reflect this habit as well. And, given that Gene Roddenberry saw StarFleet as an outgrowth of the modern Navy, he sprinkled Star Trek with this and other Navy-isms.

8

First of all, I'm sure it is advanced enough but we do lots of things in real life for historical reasons that have no reason to continue other than we like to do it that way. Starfleet probably has a policy that all log entries will begin that way, and who wants to argue. I'm sure if you look at the files there's a timestamp next to the file; many of which will not match the stardate mentioned in the log entry.

What policies are in place at your work that are silly, but you keep doing them because that's the way the old school boss likes it?

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    This answer is a load of jibberish. "Starfleet probably has a policy that all log entries..." Any sources to back this up? – Ingu Shama Dec 10 '14 at 17:09
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    Hmm. Well, I suppose the only sources would be: 1) There is an organization called Starfleet, which thoughout the show is quoted as having various regulations. 2) Characters making log entries in the show are invariably affiliated in some way with Starfleet. 3) Each character making a log entry starts it out with the same "<name of log>,<stardate>" algorithm. A plausible conclusion to this is that "Starfleet probably has a policy that all log entries will begin that way". Not all answers have to have an explicit source. Drawing conclusions based on observation is a valid research tool – Thorin Schmidt Dec 10 '14 at 20:01
  • @ThorinSchmidt You should go back to the original source documents to back this up. Get the real manuals published by Starfleet, interview real Starfleet officers and ask them why they do this, etc. Well, except that this is a work of FICTION so we can't do that. – Jay Dec 15 '14 at 14:54
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    @Jay, really? it's not real? Are other things on the Science Fiction and Fantasy not real? I don't know what to say. Wait, yes I do. Look at my answer. Gene Roddenberry stated numerous times that he patterned Starfleet after the US Navy, so, he had the characters use lots of navy-style terminology. Since the computer was voice-activated, log entries were begun by telling the computer "<name of log>, <stardate>" if you want source, you can't get any better than the Great Bird of The Galaxy himself. – Thorin Schmidt Dec 15 '14 at 19:02
6

Most everyone here has argued from a functional perspective, but personally I have a non-functional reason.

Tradition. Starfleet isn't primarily military, but they still have a lot of military trappings and they definitely borrow from various naval traditions, like the use of a bosun's whistle (Admiral Kirk is greeted with a boson's whistle when he boards ship in Wrath of Kahn).

Ships logs have always started with the date, ergo to the military (or pseudo-military) they always will.

  • This is an interesting answer, but do you have a canon source to support it? – Null Dec 11 '14 at 19:18
  • @Null only the tendency of the shows to use various naval traditions, protocols, etc etc. Nothing direct, just a bit of inference. (And it's just as much of a source as anyone else is spouting, I'd point out :D ) – RonLugge Dec 11 '14 at 19:30
  • The answer by @Richard does cite canon sources to support the argument. But I get your point and I think inference is fine. I just ask because new users aren't always aware that answers with citations are much more likely to get upvotes. – Null Dec 11 '14 at 19:54
  • @Null while he references several specific events, those are used as examples to support his argument rather than references to the cannonality of his actual argument. I'll go ahead and add a few references to places where oviously 'naval' tradition has held over, but to my mind those are at best secondary referents, subject to the phrase 'the plural of anecdote isn't data'. – RonLugge Dec 11 '14 at 23:03
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The character doesn't necessary have to have uttered the words "Captain's log. Stardate..." while dictating in universe. Generally what we are hearing is a voice-over reading of the completed journal entry in the captain's voice. This reading is part of the movie (TV show), not of the events depicted.

Since it is not part of the on screen action, I don't think it requires an in universe explanation. Whether the film was shot in universe or out, the words were read by the captain at the request of the cinematographer.

Are their scenes were the captain dictats these words on camera? If so, there are are possible in-universe explanations for this too.

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    So you're saying that it's a narrator and no one actually says the stardate in-universe? – Null Dec 12 '14 at 16:01
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    Yes. Having a character narrate a part of the story by writing a letter or diary entry is a well established technique in English literature. When these the stories is made into a movies, the actor who plays the character often reads it from off screen. We are meant to understand that that is what he wrote, not that he actually read it out loud. – David42 Dec 12 '14 at 16:47
  • That's an interesting thought and I think it's plausible. Can you cite a source that says this was the intent? – Null Dec 12 '14 at 16:58
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    @Null - For the record, there are a couple of times when we see Captains Kirk, Picard and Sisko recording log entries. – Valorum Dec 12 '14 at 17:01
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    @Richard It's plausible that the original intent was simply narration but the producers later found it convenient to portray a captain recording the log entry. Unfortunately it means this answer is contradicted by canon. – Null Dec 12 '14 at 17:15
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In-universe reality would have no need to record "Crewperson's log, stardate _____". The computer will handle all of that. Concerns of the date being recoverable if other data are lost, or matching dates up are laughable. Do you think there's a cassette recorder behind the console? Police/autopsy reports speak the date and details because there IS a cassette recorder attached to the microphone, I don't see Starfleet regressing that many centuries.

On this site, do you explicitly write the date and your username in each edit box? Of course not. Stackexchange's server takes care of those details.

The log entries are purely a narrative device to explain things to the audience. Don't forget it is just a TV series.

  • I agree with you, but your answer is not appropriate. Firstly it gives an out-of-universe explanation, and second comments on other answers should be posted as comments under those answers. – Superbest Dec 11 '14 at 1:08
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    There is no in-universe answer for something that is done purely for out-of-universe/reality purposes. – paul Dec 11 '14 at 3:11
  • you could argue the point about the stardate being included, however, recording the log by voice entry would require some kind of key. For instance, several times characters make log entries that are part of their personal log, and make mention of it. The computer needs to be told which log they are making the entry for. A good example are Department Head Logs. The person in that position changes, but the log doesn't. When Dr. Pulaski took over medical, the CMO log didn't start over, it just continued on. Same with the Captain's Log. – Thorin Schmidt Dec 11 '14 at 16:33
  • @superbest Hmm. When the reason why something is done in a TV show or movie is because of real-world practicalities or story-telling necessities, the only possible right answer to "why" might be "because it's a TV show". Maybe the producers were able to come up with some in-story justification. But if not, are commentators supposed to invent an explanation that never occurred to the writers and producers, and declare that the "real" reason? That's non-sensical. – Jay Dec 12 '14 at 20:59
  • @ThorinSchmidt Depends whether people have to log in to the computer before giving a log entry. If so, presumably the computer could know everyone's job title, and so say "user id jkirk@enterprise.com, oh, that's the captain, so thismust be the captain's log". I suppose there is the point about a personal log versus a log for one's official position on the ship. Whether that would be an issue depends on whether they use the same user id and access the same software in the same way. But sure, at least arguably, you might have to tell the computer which it is. – Jay Dec 12 '14 at 21:14
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I don't understand the question. The computer on Star Trek DOES automatically prefix every log entry with the name and rank of the person making the log entry and the date on which they made it. The person doesn't say these things, they just add the narrative. Of course the computer adds this information using a synthesized voice that duplicates the exact voice patterns of the person making the log entry. :-)

Seriously: Arguably, in "real life" the computer could attach to all recorded log entries the name and title of the person making the log, the date, perhaps other information. So when someone played the log, they would hear the computer voice say, "Captain's log, star date 3249.2", and then the person's voice saying the rest of the log entry.

But this would have been broken the flow of the introduction to each episode on the TV show, hearing one voice say the person and date and then another give the narrative. Even if the producers thought of doing that, they might have rejected the idea as cumbersome. Viewers might be confused by two different voices. Would all viewers instantly and automatically realize that this was supposed to be the computer attaching "context" information to the log entry? Or would they have to explain it? As this device was used at the beginning of each episode, that could mean they would have to start each episode with an explanation of how log entries are made, which would get dull very fast for regular viewers. I suspect that even if the producers thought about it, they just dismissed the idea as not worth the trouble of dealing with.

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    Except that on at least three occasions that I know of in the show the person starts out a log by saying their name and the start date. And by that I mean not as a voice over but as action during the show – Thorin Schmidt Dec 12 '14 at 21:38
  • Not true. They do say the date. – Preston Dec 12 '14 at 22:29
  • Umm, did you read the last sentence of my first paragraph? And see the smiley? It's a joke. Ok, if there are episodes where you actually see the character saying the words, rather than just hearing a voice-over (I don't recall such an episode, but certainly possible I'm just not remembering), then yes, the joke doesn't fit. Also, perhaps the chicken was carried across the road by force, and so whether or not he wanted to reach the other side is irrelevant. – Jay Dec 15 '14 at 14:45
  • sorry, I guess I didn't see it. As I recall, one of the episodes involved Captain Sisko having a very rough start to his day. He kept trying to record a log entry, only to have various people bust into his office with little crises needing to be dealt with. So, it was still just being used as a plot device.... – Thorin Schmidt Dec 15 '14 at 19:24
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The "Captain's log" occurs in the earliest episodes of the original series (1960s). At its introduction, it was likely not conceived as a function of the ship's computer, but something more like a simple audio recording (think 1960s audio tape recorder). As such, there would be no automatic date stamping or computer processing of the log. As the original series progressed, the computer and its characteristics gained definition and also capability, but this was after the format of the log had already been established.

The Next Generation introduced a much more sophisticated computer, making the original-series-style logs anachronistic, but the format and style of the "Captain's log" was a hallmark of the Star Trek franchise.

With our 21st century perspective on computer technology, we can look back on the original series and imagine that such a "Captain's log" as depicted in TOS won't make any sense at all by the real 23rd century.

Bottom line: as already stated in other answers, there is no coherent in-universe explanation; you have to step out of it and consider the time in which Star Trek first went on the air, and the storytelling style which Roddenberry chose for the show.

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In-universe explanation: Even though the computer will automatically record the date and time and possibly other relevant information like location and ship status, there is still a good reason for the person making the log to state the date. It shows that the person is aware of the date and can be seen as a formality to establish that the person is of sound mind.

Metacontexual explanation: Clearly, the original Star Trek series was in a time of tape recorders when automatic time stamping just wasn't a thing, so they went with an approach that gave an impression of a military with protocols. The explanation above is a retrofit to make the tradition of the show make sense.

  • 1
    Along these lines, one could speculate that this is just a formality. Why do we shake hands when we meet someone? What practical purpose does this accomplish? None. It's just a custom. In real life people have lots of little rituals that serve little practical purpose. – Jay Dec 15 '14 at 14:49
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Plausible reason:

  • Computers in Star Trek often interacted with via verbal commands. Who can forget Scotty's "Hello Computer".

  • Despite the computer in TNG being sophisticated enough to create sentient beings, it is more like a tool. The computer mainly responds to crew members. It doesn't make it's own decisions, it doesn't question crew members, all it initiates are warnings on the console. With this in mind, it makes sense that a crew member commands the computer to make a log entry for a particular date.

Real reason:

  • Many of the admirals back at Star Fleet HQ are old enough to remember when CAPITAL LETTERS ON THE INTERNET WERE CONSIDERED SHOUTING. Reading a log on the screen in Star Fleet font makes their eyes bleed so they instead prefer the audio replay, which, naturally, requires the star date to be read aloud.
0

Think about the Star Trek universe. All sorts of weird unexpected things happen that screw with the minds of the crew and with the computer. (Time travel is one pertinent example.)

For a third party to understand a chain of events, the chronological accuracy of a log (or any account of events) is necessary (or at least, very useful).

Given the two foregoing points, you wouldn't want the chronological accuracy of the log to depend on just the state of the logger or just on the state of the computer. Accordingly, it makes sense to have the logger enter the date, despite the fact that the computer records the time when the logger logs the entry.

0

It's not by design -

Star Trek, as visionary as it was, was created in a time that was almost 100% analog. To call someone, you had to memorize their phone number, or look it up, and then manually dial out, on a rotary phone, each of the numbers. If you got a busy signal (no voicemail, no answering machines, even), then you'd have to remember the number, again, and dial it out (no stored phone numbers or auto-redial on rotary phones).

If I wanted to see an newscast from a date, either the person reciting the news would mention the date, they'd have to film a card with that information, or the storage canister or date would have to be logged or written on in some way. When people kept diaries, each entry would be marked with the date.

A captain's log is an audio diary entry, basically.

If you wanted to remember when a photo was taken, you flipped the physical photograph (no online storage or digital images) and wrote the date on the back of it.

Probably, they simply did not think outside the box enough to imagine the date and/or time being captured without intentionally notating it in some way.

Since this original process was set as the standard in that way, future versions of the show just kept that tradition for the sake of continuity with what was already established.

-1

The story is written by people. People don't consider everything. You don't have to force an interpretation just to make something fit into your universe. Sometimes things are just a tradition of error.

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