License Plate Games

License Plate Games start screen
License Plate Games start screen

A popular game — at least in the U.S. — to play while riding in a car is finding a license plate for every state.  You might use an app to help you remember state license plates you’ve seen.  There are quite a few of these on various app stores.

But nowadays there are sometimes hundreds of specialty license plates associated with each state in the country.  What if you want to remember every specialty plate you’ve seen for each state?  That’s where my upcoming (very soon) app “License Plate Games” comes in.  Both a BINGO-like license plate game, as well as a state and specialty license plates game will be included.  Don’t play while you are driving, though, and know your state laws.

Many of the state specialty plates are included in the game, though text is used to describe each plate rather than images.  If you would like to see what each specialty plate actually looks like, below are links to websites that may include pictures of specialty plates.

Washington, D.C. (Wikipedia)
Hawaii (Wikipedia)
Massachusetts (Wikipedia – has link to pdf of plates)
New Hampshire
New Jersey
New Mexico
New York
North Carolina
North Dakota
Rhode Island
South Carolina
South Dakota
West Virginia


Outlook 2016 disconnected and related issues

Over the last several days I have noticed issues with sending, and sometimes receiving, emails from Outlook 2016.  Often, Outlook 2016 would report that it was disconnected — the Microsoft Exchange message at the bottom of Outlook that indicates connected or disconnected or Working Offline.  This morning, things got worse.  I had sent a couple of messages that went through, but in my Sent email folder it showed that the messages were copied to a couple of other people and attached a image001.png file I did not attach.  I had no idea why that happened, so I started to search help and online.

There were some references online to attached files, mostly regarding the use of signatures, html, or stationery in emails.  I did not use a signature or stationery, so I focused on html and turned on plain text.  This made no difference for me, so then I just focused on the disconnection issue.

I finally came upon a solution that worked, mentioned in the Microsoft Community on  Back in August 2016, this user had a similar issue to mine where Outlook 2016 was often disconnecting them.  The solution that worked for them — “removing and then adding the email account back into Outlook…” — also worked for me.  At least so far!  Also, when I looked at the messages that previously seemed to have an attached image001.png file and a couple of people I did not send to, the messages were now correct (no wrongly attached files and no people copied).

Just because this worked for me, I cannot guarantee it will work for you.  I am only posting this in case it helps someone who has the same issue as me.

Removing my Exchange email account and adding it back in from Outlook 2016 was easy.  I went to File-Account Settings in Outlook 2016, then selected the email account I wanted to remove.  Then I clicked on Remove (make sure you have the right email account selected, if you have more than 1).  Then I clicked on New, to add my email account back in (you’ll need your password and email address).  This is for an Exchange email account, so I have no idea what to do if you have disconnect issues with a Pop3 or other-than-Exchange email account.

Note that removing your email account from Outlook also deletes your associated email .ost file (offline folder file for synchronizing with the Exchange server) and recreates it.  If you have a lot of email on the server, it will take some time for Outlook to recreate this .ost file.  I have most email in local folders, so it only took a few minutes and my .ost file was completely restored.

Robot arrest

No, I don’t mean a robot arresting someone.  Back in 2010 there was a report of a UAV being credited with making an arrest.

A robot was almost arrested!  According to MIT Technology Review, “At a political rally in Moscow, police are reported to have attempted to handcuff and detain an activist called Promobot.”

Promobot is a robot, and although the incident might have been somewhat of a publicity stunt, it is only a matter of time before intelligent robots get arrested or do the arresting.  Will robots have similar rights to humans, or will there be an entire shelf or more of law books dedicated to robot rights?

Time will tell.  In the meantime — as a time travel writer, I can’t help but like the word ‘time’ — you might enjoy reading my “Science Fiction: Robots & Cyborgs” and “Science Fiction: Time Travel and Robots 2” anthologies.


Do presidential candidates time travel?

Since I write time travel stories, I wonder often about past and future.  For example, today I was thinking about the candidates for president.  In particular, this constitutional ammendment: “Under the Twenty-second Amendment, no person can be elected president more than twice.”

If you believe, even a tiny bit, that someday time travel will be possible, then you might have to also consider that one or more of the former — or about to be — presidents of the United States has already been to the future and back.  What if while they were in the future — and showed their birth certificate from the past to prove their eligibility — they got elected and served two terms?  Then, they return to today and get elected again.  Isn’t that a three term president?  But since they got elected today, wouldn’t the people in the future know because it became recorded history?  The idea of this loop is one of the things that makes time travel fun and challenging to think about.

Or perhaps they served two terms in the past already.  The problem with this is that it would also be in recorded history.  They won’t be allowed to run again.  When they show up in the future, voters will already know this.

A candidate today could time travel to the past and run, but what’s going to happen when they try to prove their birthday?  No one is going to believe they were born in the future.  Even if they could get past that somehow and get elected, wouldn’t it become a part of recorded history again?

I guess the results might differ depending on how time travel works.  If it just creates a new timeline in a different part of the multiverse, then an election in the past for a time traveler that differs from history — for example, getting elected instead of Franklin Pierce — might not be recorded in a different timeline — different part of the multiverse — when they go back to their own time.

So my answer is that president’s probably don’t time travel to get re-elected or serve three or more terms.  But that doesn’t mean they don’t time travel for fun!


Sci-fi TV: Westworld, Timeless, “Star Trek: Discovery”

With the new television season approaching, I thought I would add a quick comment about some new sci-fi shows that interest me.  I don’t have any reviews yet, but here are a few that I’m looking forward to: “Westworld”, “Timeless”, and “Star Trek:Discovery”.

If you, like me, have enjoyed “Game of Thrones”, you’re probably also hoping — like me — that “Westworld” will take the old movie one (or more) step further in this television series.  In any case, it has a great cast.  “Timeless” is time travel, and as a time travel author I always look forward to a new attempt at this genre.  This looks like a modern version of the old show “Time Tunnel” meets Sherlock Holmes’ arch rival.  Will it be any good?  “Star Trek: Discovery” apparently has a female lead character who is not the captain.  If that’s the case, then who will the captain be and why are they not the featured character?  I look forward to find out about all three new shows.

Do we time travel in our thoughts?

Like probably many of you, I’ve been on vacation recently.  I visited several places in the West that made me think about time travel.

If you ponder the oldest sci-fi form of time travel, you might picture a machine of some sort that takes a person forward or backward in time.  There are many other ways to time travel.   Sci-fi romance often incorporates time travel through such things as writing letters, accidents, or even genetic inheritance.  Sci-fi spaceships have often used technology to create temporary or permanent worm holes.  My own stories have used a variety of time travel methods.

But what about the human ability to travel in thought?  This is how I time traveled on my recent vacation, using my imagination — SEE THE LIST AND PHOTOS BELOW.   One might ask whether my thoughts really time traveled?  I don’t know, but now that I’m back home, I can still visit these places in my mind.  Yes, it would be fantastic to actually go back in time and visit the building of Stonehenge or the dinosaurs roaming the land or seeing the super volcano explode — from space, please.

But until I figure out how to do that, my imagination is the best sci-fi vehicle I have.  That’s why I also enjoy writing sci-fi time travel stories.

Place: Alliance, NE; Site: Carhenge; Form of time travel: Imagine Stonehenge (built 3000-2000 BC) in England


Place: Rapid City, SD; Site: Dinosaur Park; Form of time travel: Imagine the dinosaurs playing in beautiful nearby Custer State Park


Place: Bismarck, ND; Site: Steamboat Park; Form of time travel: Imagine this 1870’s steamboat replica plying the Missouri River


Place: Medora, ND; Site: Theodore Roosevelt National Park; Form of time travel: Imagine seeing millions of Bison 300 years ago


Place: Yellowstone, WY; Form of time travel: Imagine the super volcano here that erupted 600,000 years ago


Place: Red Canyon, UT; Site: Flaming Gorge; Form of time travel: Imagine what it looked like before the dam was built




Is predicting the next president like BattleBots?

In my last blog entry I suggested that BattleBots, a show that features robots battling in a ring, can be humorous — largely because we don’t know which robot style is going to win, and because robots aren’t alive.

In the current U.S. presidential battle, the participants also have different styles.  Whether they are humorous or not is in the eyes of the beholder.  But, predicting the winner may be harder than predicting whether a spinning robot with a slicer and dicer is going to defeat — or be defeated by — another bot with a hammer and flipper.

That’s why today I blogged on about some of the various prediction sites and even a related contest held by the American Statistical Association.  I included a BBC News video which describes how some prediction models that supposedly have had success in the past are not in agreement so far this year.

As a science fiction writer, I often wonder just how far scientists and experts will go with predictions, Big Data, and statistics.  If you wonder too, you might enjoy my short story entitled “Surfing the Wave” about a young man who takes statistical analysis to the extreme.  It’s in my e-book anthology, “Science Fiction: Future Youth“.


Battlebots: Yeti versus Lucky

Researchers are working on all kinds of robots.  There are military robots, robots with emotions, robots that detect our emotions, domestic robots — like the popular vacuum cleaner, chat robots, and robots that even do their own research.  But robots do not yet have consciousness, as far as I know — or as far as I understand consciousness, which is to say that consciousness is a difficult subject.

Robots even make us laugh.  Or at least, I sometimes find them funny.  That’s why I chuckle when I watch BattleBots.  The recent match between Yeti and Lucky was a good one.  They put on quite a show, each destroying parts of the other.  If I suspected the robots were aware, I would not condone the activity any more than I would seeing animals in a fight,  But at least for now, I find the conflict enjoyable to watch — sort of mesmerizing like a good computer-age demolition derby.

Someday, I won’t be laughing at robots quite so much, unless they intentionally want to be funny.  And what about robots that want to laugh?  What will they find funny?  If you find this thought interesting, you might enjoy reading my award nominated story, “A Comic on Phobos”, or one of my robot story anthologies.

By the way, you can get “A Comic on Phobos” for free until the end of July, 2016 at Smashwords.  My anthologies can be found on my homepage.

Appliv and mobile app discovery

As a sci-fi writer and Indie app developer, I know how difficult it is to get e-books and apps noticed on publisher e-shelves.

Appliv recently contacted me.  They are reviewing my unique card game “Family Tree Solitaire” — I’ll post the link soon — as one of their app selections for their website in the U.S.  Appliv is a mobile app discovery platform that aids users with reviews and categorization.  It has millions of users in Japan and this year has been expanding globally, including the U.S.

Just search on the internet for “app discovery” and “problems” and you’ll see that app discovery is a major issue for app developers (especially small Indie developers) and users over the last decade.
Apple, Google, and Microsoft stores all have an abundance of software, but it can be difficult for small developer apps to stand out in the crowd and for users to find new and unique apps that might otherwise interest them.  Apple Siri, Google Now, and Microsoft Cortana attempt to help users find what they are looking for, but they are general purpose tools, not necessarily attuned to the issues specific to app discovery.  Pinterest and Facebook are attempting to help developers and users to find apps through stand-out pins and strategically placed ads.

We are perhaps still in the early stages of app discovery tools that make life easier for both developers and users.  Appliv is one of the companies attempting to satisfy this need globally.

Family Tree Solitaire for cribbage?

My version 1.0 of Family Tree Solitaire uses poker rules for scoring family hands.  But there is no reason why I couldn’t use other card game rules, such as those for the popular game of Cribbage.

There are things in Cribbage that might not work in Family Tree Solitaire, such as pegging or putting cards in the crib — although I can think of various ways to incorporate this game play into Family Tree Solitaire – Cribbage — but ultimately a Cribbage hand ends up consisting of 4 cards.  There is also a fifth card that is used in a Cribbage hand, the card that sits on top of the deck.  Using that card as well, the computer could figure out what the best possible Cribbage hand is for a particular set of cards in a family.

I just wanted to put that out there in case there is interest in “Family Tree Solitaire – Cribbage”.  Feel free to share your own thoughts on this idea by replying below.


NeuroQuantology and space exploration

NeuroQuantology is an interdisciplinary journal of neuroscience and quantum physics.  Physicist Roger Penrose’s theory about quantum consciousness is probably the largest reason for the existence of this new — 10 years old — term.  Other research, such as this article about Joe Kirschvink’s theories about human magnetoreception, may also turn out to be related.

According to Wikipedia, “the journal has a 2013 impact factor of 0.439, ranking it 240th out of 251 journals in the category ‘Neuroscience'”  That makes it an outlier among science journals.  After all, the idea of quantum physics being the mechanism of consciousness is pretty out there.  So why am I bothering to talk about it?

The idea of other life — outside of Earth — in our solar system is pretty out there too.  Yet we see stories all the time about water being found, such as the latest about oceans inside of Pluto.  What are the odds that life exists in the oceans in other moons and dwarf planets?  I don’t know, but there is plenty of interest in future exploration of some or all of these places.  It would be fascinating even to find out there are live microbes in some of these worlds.

But how often do we read about discussion of exploration or explanation of our consciousness?  Probably not as much, especially when referring to hard consciousness, yet wouldn’t a better understanding of free will and the human experience be an equally exciting discovery?

It seems to me that a discovery in either case — finding life inside a moon or determining that human free will exists thanks to quantum physics or some other as yet unknown science — would profoundly change our point of view no less than the finding that the Earth is not flat or that it revolves around the Sun.

In any case, I think time will tell.  Which is why I love to think about time travel.

TimeTravelandRobotsTooCover_ForAmazonKindleTime Travel E-book Cover


150 people playing “Family Tree Solitaire”

With almost 150 people playing “Family Tree Solitaire”, I want to send out a big THANK YOU to all of you who have tried my new card game.

While I realize it is not as easy to learn as some other solitaire games, I do feel that once you understand the rules and user interface (navigating the family tree) for the game, it provides an enjoyable and different kind of experience compared to other single player card games.

TIP: Use your memory skills to remember where you are building straights, flushes, runs, or other types of poker hands.  The more you remember, the easier it is to return to the family that has the hand you want to add the current card to.

TIP: As a beginning player, you might find it easier to concentrate on building families with just one of two types of poker hands.  For example, if you always try to build families with flushes — cards of the same suit — it may be easier to remember which hands had the suit of the current card.

TIP: Royal Flushes are worth more than any other hand.  It is often worth trying to get a royal flush, even for a family that already has a straight flush.


Is “The Starry Night” next?

Borrowed Light Studios, below, uses VR to let us  virtually walk through the Van Gogh painting “The Night Café”.  This could become a popular use of VR, allowing both art lovers and VR fans to use the technology to get behind the curtain of the painter’s work.

The Starry Night” is among my favorites paintings — quite possibly my favorite — so I would enjoy seeing a similar VR walkthrough for another of Van Gogh’s most famous paintings.  The town under the surreal stars is a mystery worth exploring.  But could I hike the mountain, and what would I find?

If you, like me, are fascinated by “The Starry Night”, you might also enjoy my short story “Light Echo” in my anthology “Science Fiction: The Arts“.


What did 1 microbe think of the other (10^12)-1?

New research on microbial diversity shows that there may be as many as 10^12 — a trillion — microbial species on Earth.

In the last few years, scientists have learned that bacteria talk to one another, and to cells, via molecules.

There may have been as many as 20 early human species on Earth.  Today, as far as I know, there is only 1 human species left.  Considering the amount of political and social tension among the few billion members of this one species, as a sci-fi writer I find it interesting to ponder whether there are similar social stresses among the countless members of the trillions of species in the microbial community.

You might be wondering how bacteria could even have social tension.  We do know that they make a kind of war with each other, even inside our own gut.  But what do they think of other bacteria?  Do they even think?  Do they have consciousness?  Agree or disagree, there are some researchers who think bacteria may be conscious — or at least much more aware than we give them credit for.  If you find the subject interesting, you might like this 2007 thread on the Physics Forums.

Bacteria have been the fodder for many excellent sci-fi stories, from “Andromeda Strain” — actually a virus — to “War of the Worlds”.  I’ve got a couple of story ideas involving bacteria I plan to write about.  In the meantime, you might enjoy my genetics-related stories in my anthology “Science Fiction: Genetics”.

What did one bacteria say to the other when asked why he supported a different candidate for President?  “My gut reaction isn’t the same as yours.”


Is Family Tree Solitaire a good test for Presidential candidates?

I know what you’re thinking.  What a silly question.  After all, my new game Family Tree Solitaire is only currently played — so far — by about 100 people.  Many game players enjoy a challenge, but often they prefer playing something that is easy to learn at the beginning.  Family Tree Solitaire is perhaps a bit harder than that, but once you learn the rules and get the hang of it, you may find that it is a nice difference from other card games you have played.

With all the presidential debates, I’ve wondered why candidates for President are not tested — like many of us are to be qualified for college (SAT) or a job (interview quizzes, etc).  After all, many government jobs still require that job applicants take a qualifying test — Foreign Service job seekers, for example, take the FSOT.  But what would a test for President look like?

Consider that a candidate to be President of the United States campaigns seemingly 24/7 for the job for a couple of years.  On top of that the costs are enormous, so they have a monumental task of funding their campaign.  Debating is a very necessary skill, as is the ability to meet and greet millions of voters.  Achieving notoriety in politics or business or law or some other profession is also often a prerequisite.  These abilities are all extremely important prior to becoming President.

But candidates don’t take a test, as far as I know.  If there was one, what should it look like?  One company that is receiving buzz in terms of hiring and testing software is Aspiring Minds.  Their motto is “Employability Quantified.”  For example, they have something called AM Situations — “Assessing how a candidate will perform in a real-life working environment.”  Maybe something like that would be a good test for a candidate for President.

Although one can identify a number of skills that a President will need while in office for 4 or 8 years, it is impossible to know exactly what kinds of surprise and very difficult decisions the President will have to make.  That’s the main reason I thought of Family Tree Solitaire.  Once you understand the rules of the game and play it several times, you’ll see that there are some tricky situations and decisions to be made.  The more you learn how to handle those situations, the higher your score will be.

So while I don’t really think Family Tree Solitaire would make a good test for a candidate for President, I do think it might be an entertaining diversion for them.  After all, President Dwight Eisenhower played the card game of Bridge regularly while in the White House.



Can artistic style be cloned?

Of course.  Art forgery, according to Wikipedia, goes back more than 2,000 years.  Students learned from the masters by copying their works.  But what about using a artist’s style in another art form, such as a movie?

MIT Technology Review examined “Algorithm Clones Van Gogh’s Artistic Style and Pastes It onto Other Images, Movies” in a recent article.  While it is fascinating to see moving examples of what today’s computers and algorithms can do with an artist’s style, it is not clear how this new technique can be used.  My first thought is advertising, but I’m pretty sure we’ll see many other uses too.

But does this new algorithm take something away from the style that the artists worked so hard to develop?  In some ways it flatters the artist, but in others it takes away from the uniqueness of the technique.

Several websites — including Arts Law Centre of Australia — discuss whether an artist’s style can be copyrighted.  Most seem to indicate that style itself is not copyrightable, only the work.  But with algorithms like this new one, I wonder if this blurs the lines on what about style is copyrightable.