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.

Science Fiction e-books update

Just a quick note to thank everyone again who has purchased one of my e-books.

“Science Fiction: Time Travel” continues to be my top seller, and I recently published “Science Fiction: Time Travel and Robots 2”.

Now that I recently completed a new video game — “Family Tree Solitaire” — I plan to get back to writing some new sci-fi stories.

More information on my e-books can be seen here on my website.


Family Tree Solitaire on the web now

Now (May 19, 2016) I’ve also posted quick/short rules for the game on my website in text format for printing.  There is also a pdf version of the intro video that you can print.

My latest video game, “Family Tree Solitaire”, is now also on the web for free on  You can also find links to the FREE Windows Store, Google Play,  and Amazon Store app versions too.

Get it on Google PlayGet it on Windows 10AvailableAtAmazon

The web version plays in most modern desktop or laptop browsers that support WebGL: Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge (WIndows 10), Mozilla Firefox, and Apple Safari — in my experience, it doesn’t seem to run on mobile browsers (phones or tablets) yet. It also will not run in Internet Explorer.

Family Tree Solitaire

Now (May 19, 2016) I’ve also posted quick/short rules for the game on my website in text format for printing.  There is also a pdf version of the intro video that you can print.

If you enjoy solitaire, poker, genealogy, and/or memory skills games, I think you’ll enjoy “Family Tree Solitaire”.  Unlike most solitaire games, the main goal is to produce a high score and beat the computer — or your own previous high score.

I have posted detailed rules on my website for “Family Tree Solitaire” in html and pdf format.   I am excited to announce that “Family Tree Solitaire” is available on the Google Play Store.  I hope you will enjoy my new game.

About a year or so ago, I decided to work on a game using Unity3d.  As a classic games developer who has made games for many devices that have come and gone, I like that it has a cross-platform engine.  I enjoy card games, and I wanted to experiment with a different kind of foundation for solitaire: a tree structure — very familiar to genealogists, programmers, and others.  The result is “Family Tree Solitaire”.

Family Tree Solitaire

 I will also be working on putting this game on the Windows Store and possibly a WebGL version.  If I get enough interest, I will also consider a version for Apple devices.

About studying game AI and physics

Recently Gamasutra — The Art & Business of Making Games — featured a couple of useful articles on “7 examples of game AI that every developer should study ” and “7 examples of great game physics that every developer should study.”  Both articles by Richard Moss.

As for the article on physics, the examples are good.  I’m surprised that “Angry Birds” was not in the list.  Perhaps this has already been talked about many times, but it has become a classic that all game designers and developers should understand.

While AI-driven path finding is always useful in games, and playtesting via genetic algorithm is an interesting technique, I did not find an example among the 7 selected which talked about AI in board game opponents?  Perhaps the author doesn’t consider this category to rank high on the list of AI in video games.  I do.

AI in checkers and chess drove my early interest in video games and game AI.  AI in the game of Go recently became a hot topic.  Games like Risk and Stratego continue to challenge AI programmers to produce top players and top video game versions of the board games.  I’m sure there will continue to be AI in board game challenges, as well as card games like Poker and other games that provide incomplete information.

And what about video games that produce new concepts in board and card games?  I will soon release a new kind of solitaire game that I don’t think has been designed before.  Whether it becomes popular or not, I don’t know.  I enjoy playing it.  But at the least I hope it will inspire others to want to make video card games — or board games — that don’t just mimic games we’ve already played many times or seen on toy store and retail shelves.  While my new card game can actually be played with a deck of cards, I do think it is much easier and more fun to play electronically.  More to come on this soon.

Finally, I might also add that serious games like protein folding have something to offer video game designers and developers about intelligence too.  Sometimes the intelligence in the game comes from the users, not the computer AI.  Take a look at what’s out there in serious games.  You might find some very good ideas.

Jewish genealogy research tips

JewishGen posted a list of Mythbusters, which is essentially tips in doing Jewish genealogy research.  I have found these to be useful in my endeavors to learn more about my family history.

One suggestion I might add.  New York arrivals before 1890 would not be to Ellis Island.  Arrivals to New York between 1855 and 1890 would likely be to Castle Garden, but not definitely.

Family Tree clip art

Is square root day political?

Since tomorrow is square root day 4/4/16 (month and day numbers 4 are both the square root of the last 2 digits of the year 16), I decided to propose a (sort of) math problem today. Everyone learns that the square root of 2 is IRRATIONAL (can’t be expressed as a fraction). But the square root of 4 is 2 (or 2/1 as a fraction), not IRRATIONAL.

So what is the square root of a politician? Perhaps it depends on the politician.

I used an online app to quickly figure the dates of the next 15 square root days starting with 4/4/2016, which falls on a Monday.  Using a couple of  online day of the week calculators, I got the following days for the next 19 square root days: 3 Mondays, 1 Tuesday, 3 Wednesdays, 3 Thursdays, 3 Fridays, 4 Saturdays, and 2 Sundays.  Saturday has the most square root days over the next 200 years.

When you look at election days around the world, this would seem to favor Australia, New Zealand, and some other countries where general elections tend to be held on Saturdays.  Also, perhaps interestingly, the next Thursday square root day isn’t until January 1, 2201.  General elections are generally held on Thursday in the U.K.

So is square root day political?  Maybe not over the next million or billion years — I haven’t looked at the distribution of days of the week for that long yet, though it might be fun to do so.  But for the next 200 years, the square root days of the week do seem to favor general election days in some parts of the world.

By the way, the next cube root day is 3/3/27, next fourth root day is 3/3/81, next fifth root day is 2/2/32, and next sixth root day is 2/2/64. And we won’t see another seventh root day until 1/1/01 (which is the year 2101).


Not all AI is having success

AlphaGo’s AI recently had a huge success in beating a world expert opponent in several games of Go.  The main programmer of AlphaGo is now researching using Google’s Deep Mind AI to conquer the game of Poker.

As AI scientists get more involved in teaching the technology to learn how to work with — or compete with — humans, the science fictional aspects of AI will become more of a real concern.  As with games like Chess and Go, some of today’s geniuses are already looking many moves ahead, realizing that AI is on its way to capabilities that we should already be considering today in the making of laws regarding bots and robots.

On the other hand, perhaps society has a built-in way of slowing things down until we’re ready to deal with technology.  Obviously, this didn’t happen with the use of the nuclear bomb, but that doesn’t mean that there weren’t forces trying to stop its use or at least slow down its introduction.  An example today might be related in the MIT Technology Review article “Automated Anesthesiologist Suffers a Painful Defeat.”

Did the automated anesthesiologist fail to please doctors and nurses because it wasn’t adequate for their needs?  Or did it fail because they weren’t ready to trust that it was adequate for their needs?  This is a distinction that I don’t have the answer to, but the article clearly states “It’s not clear how much impact the history of animosity with some anesthesiologists had on the disappointing sales, but it probably didn’t help.”

Like the issues with automated cars and automated robot weapons, there are many legal and ethical implications to consider with automated anesthesiologists too.  If one or more humans die because of a mistake made by an AI, the cost and impediment to technological progress — not to mention the outrage — will be huge.

So while industry seems ready to use robots and AI more and more these days to reduce costs and assist human workers, perhaps professional workers are now pushing back the way industry use to.  Is it only a matter of a little time before that wall breaks down too, or will robots and AI be unable to break into many professional jobs — especially those that are related to human life and death — for many decades to come?

Ekg Signal clip art