My original “Star Trek” series top 20 list

I know there are many original “Star Trek” series top episodes lists, but I thought I would add my opinion to the mix.  Over the decades I’m sure I’ve seen every episode numerous times, and I recently watched them again one more time.

As a science fiction writer, I wanted to give my point of view from that perspective.  I think my top 16 episodes explain themselves to those who have watched them.  I’ve included a small description for some of the 20 to point out why I chose them.

If you’re an original series “Star Trek” fan, I hope you enjoy pondering my choices.  Hopefully I’ll have a similar list of my top 20 episodes of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” in the next year.

  1. The City on the Edge of Forever
  2. Pilot: The Cage / The Menagerie (Part 1 and Part 2)
  3. Arena
  4. Balance of Terror (for how it showcases Kirk)
  5. Amok Time (for showcasing Vulcan)
  6. The Trouble with Tribbles (Comedy plus Sci-Fi is hard to do)
  7. The Doomsday Machine
  8. Journey to Babel (for introducing Spock’s parents)
  9. Court Martial (for pointing out that computers can be hacked)
  10. The Galileo Seven (for how it showcases Spock)
  11. The Devil in the Dark (for introducing an amazing alien)
  12. Space Seed (for introducing Khan)
  13. The Enterprise Incident (for introducing the cloaking device)
  14. A Taste of Armageddon (for showing what can happen if computers make all our decisions)
  15. Errand of Mercy (the Organians teach humans and Klingons a thing or two)
  16. Tomorrow is Yesterday (for leading the way to many more “Star Trek” time travel episodes)
  17. Metamorphosis (for introducing Cochran, the creator of the warp drive)
  18. By Any Other Name (might be #20? For introducing the idea of generational space voyage)
  19. The Empath (for exploring a unique idea in television science fiction)
  20. Spectre of the Gun (Entertaining, if not believable)

AI and bluffing

I’ve recently been following the progress of computer AI in playing poker.  One area of interest is that the AI responds to bluffing.  Bluffing is a major aspect of poker that makes it interesting from an AI and gaming perspective.

Around 1977-1978, I programmed a chess playing opponent in 4k of memory on my first computer, a Processor Technology Sol-20 based on an Intel 8080 cpu.

I think the 8080 ran at 1 MHz to 2 MHz, so about 1 million to 2 million instructions per second.  Today’s Intel Core i5 processors run closer to 3 GHz — about 3 billion instructions per second — and that doesn’t even take into account multiple cores for parallel processing.  That’s 1.5 thousand to 3 thousand times faster than my 8080-based computer.  So you can see that at the speed of the 8080 an AI couldn’t depend entirely on cpu-devouring depth searches and tree pruning algorithms to determine its next move.   That’s why I added a bluffing component.

I don’t remember if my computer had 8k or 16k or memory, but just for reference today’s phones with 16GB of memory have 16 million times more memory — since 16GB = 16,000,000k.  Okay, so with just 4k of memory allocated to my chess game to handle the display, game logic, input, output, and AI, I was very limited to what I could do with bluffing.  Actually, the bluffing component was coded so simply that it was almost a random move injector.  But I believe it was that aspect of Fischer — the temporary name I gave to my chess program — that allowed it to sometimes compete with other chess programs at the time.  From time to time it would make a bold move — a leap beyond it’s ability to just search for the best next move —  effectively bluffing that it had a plan that the other program could not discover in a depth search of the possibilities.

So bluffing can be useful even in non-poker games, although that only works until the game has been “solved” by computers.  There are games like Checkers that have been solved by computers, meaning that the entire game is known from the start.  Even some games of Poker, e.g. Head’s Up Limit Hold’em, are largely solved.

In poker, bluffing is not a solution for an AI, but rather a necessary tool.  It’s built into the game of poker.  So far, looking at comments on Reddit, it appears that the best poker AI can play with the best poker players.  Good luck bluffing your way through the tournament.  Also, this might be the beginning of the end for internet poker.

If you have further interest in this subject, you might also like this recent research paper.

AI rights for robots?

At what point do political scientists and others need to consider the future of robot or AI voting rights?  In the New Scientist, Zoltan Istvan takes a look at the matter.

I personally have no guess as to when AI and robots will be conscious or intelligent enough to be considered citizens having the right to vote.  Perhaps it will happen, but intelligence by 2030 that is as smart as humans does not imply they are equals of humans.

Perhaps 2030 will be the right time to start to consider what voting rights should apply to robots and AI.  If so, it should then also be the time to consider what requirements a non-human lifeform must meet in order to have the right to vote.

After all, a calculator can already do math faster and better than most people.  But we don’t let calculators vote.

If you like to ponder about AI and robots, you might also like my stories on the subject in my anthologies.

Determine folder of Outlook message in search results

First, Happy New Year 2017!

I was pleased in 2016 to get many kind messages from fans and visitors to my blog who were interested in Outlook and Windows tips.  So, here is my first Outlook tip of 2017.  It applies to Outlook 2016 and possibly versions over the last few years, but I don’t know if it will work for even earlier versions.

When you search “All Mailboxes” in Outlook 2016, you get back a list of messages.  Unfortunately, it is not obvious how to tell what folder each message is stored in.  Sometimes this is useful to do, since you may want to store a new message in that subfolder as well.  Here is my tip for a fairly quick method for doing this.

Double click on the message of interest in the search results.  Then select File from the menu at the top of the newly opened message window.  You’ll see a “Move to Folder” button, and next to it is the name of the folder it is currently in.

There are other ways to do it, and perhaps some add-on tools actually take you to the folder directly.  For now, this is the method I  use.  Since I don’t need to do it too often, I just navigate to the subfolder myself after I’ve found where the message is.

Playing surgeon

Microsurgeon” (Imagic 1982 and 1983) is the first, or one of the first, video games related to healthcare.  I was never a doctor, but I had a lot of fun making this game and playing surgeon.

My latest interview, with Graeme Mason of Wizwords, is now published (“Making of Microsurgeon”) in the Jan. 2017 issue #163 of Retro Gamer Magazine.  This link is for ImagineShop.co.uk, but I assume issue 163 will be on Amazon and other online stores in 2017.

 

 

Do coding skills = foreign language skills?

On December 5, 2016, FloridaPolitics.com cited that “Florida lawmakers could once again consider whether computer coding classes should be counted as a foreign language credit.  Senate Bill 104 also requires the state college and university system to recognize the credits as foreign language credits.”

While I’m all for students learning about computer systems, architectures, networks, and coding techniques, I do not think that “coding skills” = “foreign language skill”.  As a creative person, I have found that learning a variety of skills has been very helpful in my career.  While I can learn and use new computer languages quickly, learning a new foreign language has never come easy to me.

I wonder if the senator from Florida has read the Slate Magazine article earlier this year entitled “Students Should Learn Programming. But It Shouldn’t Count as a Foreign Language.

Writing 10,000 lines of computer code is not the same as writing a short story.  While both skills are an art, the abilities behind the art are quite different.

Coding requires more than just a familiarity with logic, commands, and semantics.  One has to have an understanding of the system architecture, the project requirements, and often the network and team structure.  At some point, it is quite likely a coder will also need to have an understanding of other technologies and mathematics.  Perhaps that’s why some (or many?) students of coding schools are failing.

Reading or writing in English, let alone writing or speaking in a foreign language, is much more than just understanding the dictionary definition of words and language grammar.    One needs to understand the culture and history behind the language to “get it”.  Just look at how long it has taken for archaeologists to read some of the glyphs on Mayan temples in Mexico.  If it were just a matter of translation using a dictionary and grammar, computers would have performed perfect translation years ago, and AI would have understood the meaning of what anyone says or writes.

I’m all for students learning to code.  I’m also all for students learning a foreign language.  I believe students should learn both skills.  But Florida legislators, please don’t kid yourselves that coding skill = foreign language skill.

The social impacts of robots

When I attended UC Irvine and studied computer science, one of the most influential courses I took was “Social Impacts of Computers”.

To this day, I always think about how new technology will impact society.  Not just the good — such as the ability to make phone calls to family from anywhere, but also the bad — such as the ability to create anonymous criminal or terrorist networks with throw-a-way phones.

So I’m happy to see that the IEEE is now encouraging engineers to think ethically when building new intelligent (AI) hardware and software.   Below is a video of a conference panel this year that discussed the ethics of robot car artificial intelligence.

Genealogy with three or more parents

Today I read an article from MIT Technology Review about “The British government has given the green light for a technique that will let parents-to-be sidestep mitochondrial disease.”  The process involves creating babies with three biological parents.  This topic coincides with my interests in both science fiction and genealogy.

Though it is important to note that “the donor’s DNA will only be present in the form of mitochondria, which don’t play a role in traits like a person’s looks or personality”, there is still a biological relationship between the three persons and the baby.  So some, possibly not all, children born from this technique may one day consider all three parents as part of their family tree.

This is interesting from a genealogy standpoint.  A current analogy is that of adoptees considering making a family tree chart that includes both their adopted parents and their birth parents.  There are ways to do it on paper and with some software programs, but not so easy on most online genealogical family tree websites.

Science fiction no longer applies to this technique, particularly because it’s already been carried out in Mexico.  But science fiction definitely applies to the many genealogy chart and record keeping (e.g. database)  issues that genealogical websites must prepare for in the future.

Today, genealogical sites will have to consider three or more parents.  How do you add two mothers or two fathers or three parents?  In the case of adoption, how do you add four parents, both birth and adopted parents?  But tomorrow — meaning the future — how will genealogy charts and services handle sci-fi concerns like robot siblings (were they born at the place of manufacture or the place they were raised?) or clones?  How about far fetched science like parallel world families (what if science finds a way to communicate between parallel worlds?) or paradoxical time travel cases where you end up fathering yourself?

If you find time travel and robots interesting, or even genetics, you might also like my latest e-book releases.

 

Sci-fi and Golden Globes 2017

I love to write science fiction, in part because I love to read and watch science fiction.  So I’m always excited to see sci-fi related television shows or movies and cast members nominated for major television or movie awards.  Today, the 2017 Golden Globes nominees were announced.  Below are some of the sci-fi and fantasy nominations that I noticed this morning, though I apologize if I missed a few.  Congratulations to all the people involved in these sci-fi and fantasy productions!

Arrival was nominated for Best Original Score – Motion Picture, with Amy Adams (Arrival) nominated for Best Performance By an Actress in a Motion Picture, Drama.

Westworld got a nomination for Best Television Series, Drama.  Also, Evan Rachel Wood (Westworld, Best Performance by an Actress in a TV Series, Drama)  and Thandie Newton (Westworld, Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Actress in a Series, Limited Series, or Motion Picture Made for Television) received nominations.

Some might consider Mr. Robot as sci-fi, but I think it’s more of a thriller/drama.  Rami Malek (Mr. Robot) was nominated for Best Performance By an Actor in a Television Series, Drama.  Christian Slater (Mr. Robot) was nominated for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Series, Limited Series, or Motion Picture Made for Television

Closer to fantasy, Stranger Things was nominated for Best Television Series, Drama.  Winona Ryder also received a nomination for Stranger Things, Best Performance by an Actress in a TV Series, Drama.

There were some fantasy television show nominations as well.  Game of Thrones got a nom for Best Television Series, Drama.  Also, Lena Headey (Game of Thrones) received nomination for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Series, Limited Series, or Motion Picture Made for Television.   Deadpool was nominated for Best Motion Picture, Musical, or Comedy.  Ryan Reynolds (Deadpool) was nominated for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture, Musical, or Comedy.  Caitriona Balfe (Outlander) was nominated for Best Performance by an Actress in a TV Series, Drama.

Network devices not showing in File Explorer

Normally, when you have Network Discovery turned on and then click on the Network folder in File Explorer in Windows 10, you will see devices and computers on your network.  If at some point you no longer see devices and computers on your network in this folder, here’s something you can try.

Example: You are no longer seeing your external networked hard drive in your Network folder.  It will probably show up if you reboot your PC, but here’s something quicker you can try.  Pull up Task Manager — ask Cortana for Task Manager or right click on a non-icon part of the taskbar and select Task Manager.

Select the Processes tab and scroll down to find Windows Explorer under Apps or Windows Processes.  Right click on it and select Restart.  The screen may go black for a moment while the Explorer is restarted and your task icons are restored at the bottom of the screen.  Once done, check to see that you can now see networked computers and devices in the Network folder in File Explorer.

If you’d prefer a video, the one below explains how to restart Explorer.exe, which is Windows Explorer — and File Explorer is affected as well.

Face augmented reality

With augmented reality — think Pokémon Go or Microsoft HoloLens — possibly taking off in 2017-2018, I thought I’d spend a moment pondering the ramifications.

First, there is no guarantee this will be big in 2017-2018.  Though Pokémon Go already took off, it did not involve new hardware.  So I’m really talking about new devices, such as HoloLens and Magic Leap.  Well, Magic Leap maybe not so much, according to some recent reports.

Second, I’m referring to consumers.  If you look at occupations and business, augmented reality is already infiltrating that world.  For example, Dutch police are trying out augmented reality in investigations.

Finally, suppose that augmented reality does become big with consumers over the next couple of years.  Games will no doubt be a large part of that business.  I remember when “Night Trap” (early 90’s, Digital Pictures for Sega CD) was the target of press and concerned adults who didn’t think it was proper to have games that featured young women in scanty clothing.  Now that’s tame compared to the graphic violence in some 3D games.

But what about suggestions of sexual promiscuity or violence in an augmented reality, which consists of both a virtual world (graphics) and the real world (in a building or out on the street)?  We get a little bit of an idea of what to expect in terms of research, backlash, and opinions from a recent article on Aeon.co entitled “Murder in virtual reality should be illegal.”  Although it is about virtual reality, it is food for thought, whether you are planning on making augmented reality games with violence, playing them, or letting your child play games like that.  It is certainly the stuff of science fiction.

In my science fiction writing I’ve touched on related subjects in my stories “Face Facts” and “RemoteDoc”.  “Face Facts” explores a possible side effect of a futuristic facial recognition restoration surgery, while “RemoteDoc” looks at a possible future of robotic surgery.  You’ll find “RemoteDoc” in my latest anthology “Science Fiction: Time Travel and Robots 2“.

Audio only games

Recently Amazon was in the news for launching a voice-only game for Alexa.  Good for them, I’m all for trying new kinds of games.

Sound only games go back a long time, all the way to the 1970’s.  According to Wikipedia, “Atari released the first audio game, Touch Me, in 1974.”  Milton Bradley made the sound-only game an art form with Simon (1978), which became one of the hits of the 1980’s.  To be fair, these games involved touch as well.

Amazon Echo Adventure Games, which can be developed using the Alexis skills kit,  are truly voice only.  They are similar to the kinds of text only adventure games of the 60’s and 70’s, like Zork (1977).  A big difference with Alexa, though, is that the games run in the Cloud — no game code on the device.

Video gamer creates VR surgical simulator

Nice to see ComputerWorld giving recognition to a video gamer (Sam Glassenberg, founder and CEO of Level EX) who designed a VR surgical simulator.

Funny how paths cross.  According to the article, Glassenberg was a lead developer on Microsoft’s DirectX.  When I worked on porting Digital Picture’s “Double Switch” game to Windows 95, I programmed with DirectX 1.0.

We’ve come a long ways since my classic video game “Microsurgeon” (Imagic 1982), but I was happy to be one of the first to tie video game technology to the healthcare industry.

Level EX :60 Trailer from Level EX Team on Vimeo.

Microsoft Edge tab previews

I’ve been using Microsoft Edge quite a bit since extensions were added this year.  Mostly I find it fast and simple, a nice browser.  But I still miss IE’s ability to easily reorganize (and save) my Favorites.  I’m the kind of user that tends to ignore minor inconveniences, but recently I realized just how much tab previews (dropdowns) were getting in my way.

So I looked up how to remove tab previews from Microsoft Edge.  While there is no simple user interface check box for doing this, it turns out there is a Registry key that can be created for turning off tab previews.

Please exercise great caution whenever editing the Registry in any version of Windows.  Instructions for turning off tab previews in Microsoft Edge can be found on a number of websites.  Just look up “disable Microsoft Edge tab previews”.   Here is just one.  You will also find a few YouTube videos on the subject.

I added the suggested registry key with value 0, and now I no longer get tab previews.  I wasn’t using them anyway, and now they no longer drop down and get in my way.

Tab Duplicate clip art

Genetic code privacy

Some of the political talk about technology rights in the past few years has been about encryption and phones.  There has also been a great deal of news about genetics, but since many of us are not geneticists, not all of the issues are easy to understand.

Since many of us have twins in the family or know someone who does, here we have a genetics issue that can easily be explained.  MIT Technology Review recently included an article entitled “Do Your Family Members Have a Right to Your Genetic Code?

As for genetics issues we may face in the future, I’ve written a few short stories you might enjoy that are in my anthology “Science Fiction: Genetics“.

GeneticsCover_ForAmazonKindle

 

Deflecting earthquakes and tsunamis?

In my science fiction story, “Seismic Morality” in my anthology “Science Fiction: Tragedies“, I have described a future where an administrator struggles with how to handle an earthquake prediction that is not guaranteed to be 100% accurate.

In another story, “M. Deidra”, hurricanes can be steered away from major cities, but at a cost.

Nowadays, where science sometimes surpasses science fiction, it appears that early detection of tsunamis and quake-proofing cities may be possible in the not-too-distant-future.

TragediesCover_ForAmazonKindle

Microsurgeon interview in Retrogamer issue 163 — January 2017

Microsurgeon” (Imagic 1982 and 1983) is the first, or one of the first, video games related to healthcare.  It’s been mentioned in numerous magazines, featured on album and magazine covers, written about in books, nominated for awards, recognized at the Consumer Electronics Show, and gotten several good reviews over the decades.

I loved designing and programming “Microsurgeon”, and I always enjoy answering questions about it.  Look for my latest interview — with Graeme Mason of Wizwords — in the Jan. 2017 issue #163 of Retrogamer.

microsurgeon

Robots like to play games too

For years, we’ve read about chess, checkers, and more recently GO and Jeopardy, played by computers with artificial intelligence.  The new trend seems to be robots that play games, whether it is a way for robots to learn or just computer scientists amusing themselves.

There are robots controlled by humans, of course, and drones are a good example of that.  Now there’s drone golf, where a golfer uses a drone to play golf.

Also, artificial intelligence researchers are using games like Minecraft as a testing ground, as well as StarCraft and other games.

Finally, as more evidence, I give you the robot that set the new Rubik’s Cube record.

When does 13 baskets equal almost 20 baskets?

It’s no secret that I like math and games.  It should also be no secret that I like sports.  The first video games I developed were based on the game of Bowling — Mattel Handheld Bowling and Intellivision Bowling.

Sports also permeates a bit of my science fiction writing.  In my latest anthology, “Science Fiction: Genetics“, I’ve included “It’s in the Stars”.  This story is about a couple’s desire to determine the best sport for their child to play, hoping for them to become a star.

I also enjoy watching sports, like baseball and basketball.  So I am very impressed with the new 3-point record set by Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors NBA team last night.  He made 13 out of 17 3-pointers — outside the 3 point arc — to set a new record of 13 3-pointers in a single game.  That’s 39 points just for the 13 3-pointers he made, while it would take 20 2-pointers to score 40 points.

curryshots_11072016_3pointrecord