Lightsail

The Planetary Society’s Lightsail-A test launched successfully today from Cape Canaveral.  As of this afternoon, it appears that they have heard back from the craft.  If all continues to go well, the sails will eventually deploy.  This first launch is to test the capabilities of the craft, hoping to find and solve any issues before the launch of Lightsail-1 in 2016.

This was the stuff of science fiction, especially since the project was citizen-funded.  Now, along with the other solar sails that have been deployed in the recent past, it may be the beginning of a new generation of spacecraft that sail on sunlight.

Self-driving 18-Wheelers still need drivers

The Huffington Post blogs about the new self-driving 18 Wheeler trucks being tested by German manufacturer Daimler in Nevada.  But they will still require a driver, especially for lane changes, small roads, and emergencies.

A commenter adds that security is another issue.  If the trucks were to eventually go with no human driver, who would handle the security of the shipped goods?  As a science fiction writer and thinker, I immediately pictured a robot accompanying the self-driving truck.  But even then, are we ever really going to legally allow robots or other artificial intelligence to provide security on a truck with the possibility of injuring other humans?

So, at least for years to come, human truck drivers will continue to operate and/or sit in part-time self-driving 18-Wheelers.  If you like the idea of sitting in a big truck, either old-style or self-driving, you might enjoy my class video game “Truckin'” for Intellivision — pretty nice comments on that YouTube page!  Or if you like the smaller variety of vans and trucks, you might also like my short story “Time Enough for Sarah” in my time travel anthology, about a time travel shuttle driver and his daughter.

Time Travel E-book Cover

 

 

How much is a Myr?

If you ever run across the term Myr, it may be because you are reading an article about astronomy.  One Myr is one million years.

Michael Rampino of NYU proposes that there may be cycles of extraterrestrial impacts on Earth, with each cycle averaging around 30 Myr.  He goes further, suggesting that it’s possible that dark matter in the Galaxy may be responsible for comets hitting Earth.  The paper does say, however, that “…It should be noted, however, that a number of other researchers find no evidence of significant periods of ∼30 Myr in either extinctions..or large body impacts…”

The full text of the article can be found in html format here.

Though this may just turn out to be speculative science, it is at the least the stuff of science fiction.  It kind of reminds me of Asimov’s “Nightfall” or the movie “Pitch Black”.  Unknown astronomic cycles are part of the plot of both stories.

Spiral Galaxy clip art

Did Kirk and Scott travel to 1841?

Did James T. Kirk and Montgomery Scott from “Star Trek” travel back in time from to 1841? Did they know each other in 2263, a couple of years prior to their first television episode’s timeline? Well, you won’t be able to prove it using an April Fool’s 2015 document humorously faked by Scotland’s People.

James T. Kirk was reportedly born in 2233 in Iowa, meaning he’d be 30 in 2263. Montgomery Scott (“Scotty”) was born 2222, but in 2263 he would have been 41 — not 35. So I guess even fake census records sometimes get the birth year wrong.

The first “Star Trek” television episode (“Where No Man Has Gone Before” — the second pilot) starring William Shatner as the character James T. Kirk took place in 2265, but this fake document would seem to imply that Kirk and Scott worked together and had the ability to travel in time (probably with a starship) 2 year’s earlier.

Oh, but wait a minute! We have an alternate timeline to consider, since the 2009 “Star Trek” movie created a new path for the crew’s lives in 2255. So if the document had been real, it could have been Chris Pine’s character, not Shatner, and Karl Urban’s character, not DeForest Kelley, who appeared in 1841 from the year 2263. That would imply that a timeline change in 2255 created ripples in the past as well as the future. Have you seen the last two episodes of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” (“All Good Things”)?

Good thing this document is a fake, because otherwise I’d have a headache figuring this all out. Like the study of genealogy, time travel research can be difficult and complicated. Fake documents can make it even tougher.

Isn’t it interesting that Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” published in 1843 — but did he possibly start writing it in 1841? — is considered by some to be one of the first stories about time travel.

Ship clip art

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell coming to BBC America

I read the book, “Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell“.  While I really liked the idea, and the plot as written has merit, I generally agree with the reviewer at Amazon who wrote, “the literary equivalent of ‘are we there yet?‘”

As an author myself, my preference is to write short stories, usually 10 to 20 pages long.  But that doesn’t mean I don’t like to read novels.  I thoroughly enjoyed “A Tale of Two Cities” at about 300 pages, and “Moby Dick” at around 400 pages.  But I mean 700 pages?!   “Jonathan Strange…” better be darn near perfect to get me to read that.  I don’t think it was.

So it isn’t my favorite book, but I still love the idea of the story.  Now it’s going to be a series on BBC America sometime in 2015.  I’m pretty interested, hoping that the screenplay writers will figure out what to use and what to cut, and that it will work much better in this format.  Of course, part of that will depend on the actors, and you can see in the credits that there are some good ones listed.

I’m hoping the television series will be magical!  I don’t know if the video below is an actual BBC trailer, but it gives one a sense of what’s coming.

I was a video game developer, a real job

A story appeared recently in TechCrunch entitled: “Dear Teacher, A Video Game Developer Is A Real Job And Should Be Celebrated“.  I couldn’t agree more!

If the story is completely accurate, it is hard to believe that a teacher would deny a child their place at career day because that child chose to come to school as their favorite video game developer.  Sure, it’s possible that there is more to the story, but what if there isn’t?  What’s wrong with a student saying that they want to be like the developer of Minecraft when they grow up?

I don’t remember having a career day when I was in school, but here’s who I would have chosen to be like if there had been.  I may have wanted to be like Martin Gardner, the Scientific American “Mathematical Games” columnist and science writer — as well as a prolific puzzle book author.  Or I could have found a robot or “Foundation” t-shirt and gone as Isaac Asimov.  Sure he was a professor of biochemistry, but he was best known for his science fiction writing.

What would this teacher have done if a child dressed up as a professional juggler?  What would they have thought of me if I’d decided to come with a t-shirt that read “Oddly Perfect”?  Would they have known that I wanted to become a mathematician and study primes and perfect numbers?

An IGN video below provides industry advice (on how to get a job) from the top 100 game developers.  It takes hard and dedicated work to become a game designer, producer, programmer, writer.  It’s a real job!

NASA smiley faces

The Hubble Space Telescope found a smiley face in space.  I think that’s wonderful.

Too often nowadays, space movies or stories depict space as a dangerous place.  Some of the most popular video games involve war in space.  So it’s really nice to see that our universe can sometimes be a happy place as well — or at least put on a happy face!

But as a science fiction writer, I have to wonder whether this face is accidental or planned.  Imagine if there was an alien race capable of highly advanced technology compared to us.  Sure, it’s possible that they could be menacing and aggressive, as some writers, directors, and even scientists have pointed out in film and writing.  But couldn’t some aliens also be so advanced that they have a keen sense of humor?  What if those aliens decided to send a message to everyone else in the universe that they are a happy race?  Maybe the joke is on those who are so sure that aliens are out to wipe us out.

Chron.com notes another smiley face found on Mars, and some video game companies are making artistic games that fall decidedly in the happier camp.

Though I’ve written my share of sad stories, some even dark, this NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope photo serves as a notice that maybe I should write more happy space stories.  I’ve written some.  I think I’ll write some more.

HubbleFindsSmileyFace

Image credit: NASA/ESA

 

More X-files?

The Hollywood Reporter (and many other websites) say that the X-Files is “coming back as a six-part limited series.”  I really enjoyed the “X-Files” series and look forward to a few more episodes!

The “X-Files” is much more horror and fantasy than science fiction, but I liked the creator and writer’s endeavors to create intrigue and an arc that embraced many individual episodes that showcased all kinds of strange creatures, strange happenings, and mutilated humans.  What will they think of next?

Since much of the original show was filmed in Vancouver, Canada, why not see what Canada news (CBC) has to say about the comeback.

Rope and ride a star

As many of you already know, Leonard Nimoy died recently.  He is probably best known for his role of Spock on “Star Trek”.

I loved watching the new episodes when the show first aired, but it was the reruns on television that kept me entertained throughout college and later in my early years as a teacher and then software engineer.  Spock was a role model, in a way, for how one could be logical and scientific — such as in an engineering career — yet function well as part of a team.

With Nimoy’s passing, I am reminded how much I would like to see new episodes of a “Star Trek” series on television.  I think there is room for it nowadays.  Science fiction Shows like “Defiance” (SyFy), “The 100″ (The CW), “Falling Skies” (TNT), and other series have had elements of the kinds of things we saw on “Star Trek”, but none offer the sheer encompassing thrill of space exploration offered in the original “Star Trek” and the various related series that followed it.

I read an article recently about the “Speediest Star’s Origins Revealed” in Scientific American.  As a science fiction writer, I enjoy letting my mind wander to think about such things, and my first thought was of “Star Trek”.  I imagined an episode where the Enterprise, possibly with warp engines disabled, somehow used that same speedy star to rope it and ride it.

That may be a dumb idea, but it is an example of how I’d like to bring back the imagination of the series.  New space companies have formed over the past decade, and we are just beginning to see how those efforts are leading to new space vehicles and exploration.  Just as these companies will inspire others to develop new technologies and methods to explore space, science fiction television can be useful for inspiring decades or even centuries-from-now generations.

There are still “Star Trek” movies, but I want more.

Ship clip art

Where do you want to go today?

You might remember that in 1994-1995, “Where do you want to go today?” was a big ad campaign for Microsoft.  I started working for Microsoft not long after that, so the phrase kind of sticks in my mind.  But that’s not why I mention it.  Today I’m thinking about the future of travel.

I recently read about a new company called Detour.  They describe themselves as “a brand new way to experience the world. Gorgeous audio walks in San Francisco [and soon, more locations] that reveal hidden stories, people and places all over SF” through your mobile phone.  An interesting idea, especially considering the company was started by Andrew Mason, former CEO of Groupon.  But are attempts like this just a substitute for more enriching experiences, like spending the time to research and read about a place BEFORE you go?

Speaking of BEFORE you go, Terry Jones — former CIO of SABRE, CEO of Travelocity, and founding chairman of Kayak — has taken a new position as Executive Chairman of Wayblazer, a new travel company based on IBM’s Watson technology.  Below are a couple of  videos where he discusses the future of travel.  Wayblazer is an interesting idea, particularly making use of social media and a huge collection of useful facts and opinions.

But is this the future of business travel, or does it include the future of leisure travel?  Does a product/company like TripAdvisor — based on the input of thousands of people’s opinions — or Facebook inform Wayblazer & Watson, or does it eventually compete with it?  In other words, at what point does Watson become so smart that it decides it knows more about a place — and more accurately — than do the opinions of humans?  Only time will tell, especially since Watson and other cognitive computing technologies are really just getting started.  By the way, I should disclose (it’s on my resume online) that I worked for American Airlines SABRE.

Also, I’d like to refer to an article in MIT Technology Review last year “A Beautiful Path” that I blogged about.  Researchers are developing a system using social input that attempts to provide not the shortest or fastest path from location A to location B, but rather the most beautiful.

As a computer scientist I admit I enjoy these ideas, and I wish their designers and developers much luck.  But as a former travel agent, travel-related programmer (SABRE), experienced traveler, and lover of writing fiction, I have to wonder about the future of travel.  I mean, isn’t beauty in the eye of the beholder?  Isn’t part of a successful journey discovering it for yourself for the first time?  Isn’t learning about a place sometimes through accidental discoveries of fun restaurants and unusual places?

People have used travel agents and social media now for a long time to find out more about the places they are going and what they can do there.  So there’s nothing inherently wrong with more and possibly better ways to find that information.  But remember this.  The perfect travel photo  — or memory — often comes from a combination of events and a spontaneous discovery of a rarely seen place seen in a new light.  So gather all the information you want from as many sources as you want, but don’t forget to enjoy your journey.


Intellivision “Truckin'” in a History of Racing Games

Lance Carter’s “History of Racing Games” is an online collection of files and blog entries about racing games from the 1940’s to the present.  I am very pleased to see that my classic game “Truckin'” is listed among the titles.   You can find his pdf file about “Truckin'” here.  I’ve included a video showing “Truckin'” below.

I was inspired to make this game after years of travelling the I-5 freeway in California.  It’s a very long stretch of straight freeway with typically thousands of trucks on the road.  But caravans of trucks carrying goods to market can be seen on major and minor highways across the country.  According to Wikipedia — and I agree – “The trucking industry provides an essential service to the American economy.”

LightSail

The Planetary Society — I’m a member — has planned a LightSail mission.  It will essentially sail in space from the photons from the light of the sun.

This is the stuff of science fiction that is now becoming reality.  I haven’t used this technology in any of my science fiction stories yet, but with some future — yet to be created, as in The Flight of the Dragonfly, 1984 — powerful lasers, as it gets beyond the reach of our sun’s light, a space sailing vehicle may bring us to other solar systems.

According to Wikipedia, “The earliest reference to solar sailing was in Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon.”

Consciousness is a hard problem

Hard Consciousness may be the most difficult problem.  Oliver Burkeman,  for an article in The Guardian, writes about the efforts to solve the mystery and why it might not be solved.

I love reading about consciousness simply because it is one of those problems that may never be solved.  Some of you may know that I wrote a short story called “Oddly Perfect” about a mathematician who goes in search of a large odd perfect number — something which might never be discovered, simply because it may not exist — only to find something even more amazing.  I think the search for an answer to Hard Consciousness is like that.  It’s also like discovering America for the first time or many other explorations in history.  There are many looking for answers, and maybe someday someone will bump into a completely unrelated but pretty important discovery along the way.

If you also enjoy thinking about this subject, you might enjoy the video below with Australian philosopher and cognitive scientist David Chalmers.

Game inventions

On my other blog, NEWWorthy, I recently posted a couple of game-related entries I thought I would share here as well.

Researchers have figured out how to use a quantum light beam to solve a maze in the fastest possible time to date.

You can also read about Cepheus, a computer program that plays an almost perfect game of Texas Hold’em Poker.

Speaking of card games, I have designed a new solitaire type of game, and I’m programming an interactive version in Unity.  It combines some of my varied interests into a new card game.  Look for more on this in 2015.


Back-up computers, tablets, phone data…soon, back-up your brain?

BBC – Future has a thought-provoking — pun intended — piece on the concept of back-up brains.  The idea has been explored quite a bit in science fiction.  Even “Frankenstein” explores this a little in that there is an attempt to restore a dead brain to life.

More recently, the movie “Transcendence” took a look at saving a person’s consciousness to a computer.  By the way, Jack Paglen, who wrote the screenplay,  is said to be working on the script for the “Battlestar Gallactica” movie — some of you may remember that the robots in the reboot television series were able to move consciousness from one body to another.  While “Transcendence” got mixed reviews, a number of them less than kind, it looked at the some of the issues that the BBC – Future article explores.

So this seems to be a hot topic, with Google and others spending a lot of money on AI and all that an artificial intelligence entails.  I was happy to see that the BBC –  Future interview with Anders Sandberg from the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University mentions quantum states — aka quantum consciousness — as a potential gigantic brick wall to building a back-up brain.  Though he doesn’t give it much credence — he says ” I do not think these problems apply” — I guess I still have an open mind about the possibility for a quantum consciousness.

Anyway, back to “Transcendence” for a moment.  While the movie wasn’t great, I think it was perhaps better than what the trailer implied.  In any case, the trailer and the articles mentioned above might be food for thought.

Accidentally dismissed Outlook reminder

I modified a reminder in Outlook, and as I was preparing to delete another reminder, the modified one popped up.  This caused me to accidentally delete the wrong reminder, and I had no idea which one it was.  So I wondered if there was a way to figure this out.  Please note that I have not tried this for Outlook Calendars that are stored on the internet.

If you are running Outlook 2013 or later, I think there is a solution — of sorts — to finding a dismissed reminder.  If you run into this situation, here’s something you can try.  Go to your Outlook calendar and click on the menu “Search Tools” and then “Advanced Find”.  Then select the “Advanced” tab in the find dialog.  Now under “Define More Criteria” select “Date/Time Fields” from the “Fields” drop-down and then “Modified”.   For “Condition” select “Today”, or “Yesterday”, or whenever you accidentally dismissed the reminder.

Click “Add To List” and then “Find Now”.  Outlook will search and find Calendar items that you modified today, including those reminders that were dismissed.  At least it did work for me when I tried it.  I hope it works for you.