The Reading Game

Richard Levine, director at "The Reading Game" Oceanside
Richard Levine, director at “The Reading Game” Oceanside

Out of college, I started my career as a school teacher.  With many long-time teachers staying in the profession back then, it was difficult to find a job in the California school system.  After a stint as a math teacher at a junior high school, I landed a position as assistant director of the Fullerton branch of “The Reading Game”, a franchise of learning centers owned by “American Learning Corp” — which later was purchased by Britannica.  I even started and directed the Oceanside office of “The Reading Game”.

It was during this time that I saw how students learn with varying styles and at different rates.  But all the students I worked with seemed to learn better when they were motivated and having a good time.

Later, as a software engineer and game designer, I applied these lessons when developing “Microsurgeon” and “Truckin'” for Mattel Intellivision.  I wanted game players to have varying levels of difficulty and a variety of choices.  Like putting a little fun into education in my “The Reading Game” days, I put a little education into fun.

Will “12 Monkeys” be a good tv series?

“Twelve Monkeys” was an interesting time travel movie that starred Bruce Willis, Madeline Stowe, Brad Pitt, and others.  One element that I think made it stand out was that time travel was depicted as making a person a bit — or a lot — nutty.  The “Journeyman” television series also showed us a time traveler who experienced headaches and other disorientation — not to mention his jumps were unplanned.

The new “12 Monkeys” series coming to SYFY television on January 16, 2015 could be good, but in watching the trailer (below) I wonder if some of the originality and edginess of the movie-by-a-similar-name will be lost on this new production.  It’s hard to predict, since the SYFY channel had great success in reimagining the original “Battlestar Galactica” series.

In my own writing, I’ve had at least a couple of time travelers who were driven to the edge.  “Timer” in my top selling anthology “Science Fiction: Time Travel” is about a scientist who struggles with the consequences of his time machine.  “The Time of Your Life” features a convict who suffers from Chronoagoraphobia.  This previously published story will appear in my next time travel anthology.

Brilliant mathematician meets Colbert

It’s not everyday we get to see a brilliant mathematician on a television show, let alone a comedy television show.  UCLA mathematics professor and Fields medal winner Terrence Tao was on “The Colbert Report” recently.  I would love to have heard more about the subject of twin, cousin, and sexy primes.  You can find more on the internet about bounded gaps between primes or computer algorithms for generating twin, cousin, and sexy primes.

OSHbots and science fiction

I just blogged a new entry on NEWWorthy regarding Lowe’s OSHbots, robot assistants in their stores.  Since science fiction writers helped to come up with the idea, it lead me to think about my own science fiction stories that consider robots that assist or sell products.  If you find the idea interesting from a science fiction point-of-view, you might like “Like Mother, Like Son” and “Agent Lenore” in my science fiction anthology “Science Fiction: Robots & Cyborgs“.

RobotsAndCyborgsCover

Lighthouse math

So I was reading “10Best: Scenic lighthouses around the USA“, and I had to stop for a moment when I came across “Further south, the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse, built in 1860, stands 105 feet tall and provides stunning views up to 24 miles out to the Atlantic Ocean.”  Why?  Because I remembered the formula for calculating the distance to the horizon depending on the height you are viewing from.

The distance to the horizon is approximately 1.22 * squareroot(height_in_feet), so 1.22 * squareroot(105) in this case.  That’s about 12.5 miles — or a bit more if I include the height of a 6 foot person — nowhere near 24 miles.  So how do you get to see ‘stunning views’ up to 24 miles out?  You would need to see the top of an object that is over 100 feet tall — for example, an island mountain, a tall ship, a bird flying, or perhaps a tall building off in the distance.  Looking on a map, I suppose it’s possible that you could see the top of a tall building in Boca Raton or Port St Lucie, but I don’t see how that’s stunning.  I think the Bahamas are too far away, so what’s out in the Atlantic that is stunning, 24 miles out from Jupiter, and over 100 feet tall?  Maybe a cruise ship.

My numbers seem to coincide with the chart from Wikipedia below.  Is my calculation that far off?  What am I missing?

 

“The Force Awakens”?

According to CNN Entertainment and other sources, Star Wars 7 will be named “The Force Awakens.”  From a movie-goer and scifi writer perspective, I have to wonder what this means in terms of the plot.  So far, I can only guess that it might have something to do with either giving it a Disney perspective — meaning that this is a new beginning to the series, sort of like “Batman Begins” or “Superman Returns” — or maybe it indicates that what we’ve seen of the Force so far is nothing compared to what we’re going to see.  If it’s neither of these and nothing particularly different from what we’ve seen in the past, then one of the silly Twitter suggestions (see the bottom of the CNN Entertainment page) may be more appropriate.

The slide rule

I, and my classmates, used a slide rule in my physics and math courses at UCLA.  I could have purchased a HP pocket calculator for around $400 in 1972, but my slide rule was far cheaper and still adequate for my needs.  Back in the early 70’s, I was probably in the top 10% of my class in how fast and accurately I could compute with a slide rule.

By the late 1970’s, everyone was using a calculator — including me — but I still had my trusty slide rule.  I don’t remember, but I might have even taken my slide rule out a few times to do some calculations when I was prototyping the algorithm for the path of the bowling ball in Mattel’s Handheld Bowling and later Mattel Intellivision’s “PBA Bowling”.

For nostalgia, I still keep a slide rule around in my office.  I enjoyed reading an article on npr.org recently regarding “The Slide Rule: A Computing Device That Put A Man On The Moon“.  I’ve tutored mathematics for many years, and I can usually tell pretty quickly whether a student uses a calculator as a tool or as a crutch.  The calculator is not a wand, and it won’t form equations for you out of thin air.  I wonder how many math teachers today even realize that a slide rule is an excellent example of the use of logarithms?

Infographics can be wrong

When infographics show data in an interesting way, they can help one quickly comprehend the results.  That’s assuming that the visualization correctly portrays accurate data — or at least indicates where the data came from.  When infographics are made to convey an agenda, they are often as misleading as many of the political commercials we see on television.

That’s why I was uncomfortable recently when I saw an infographic on Pinterest — it was posted in several places related to teaching — that asked whether we wanted our kids to “make an app” or “make a difference”.  The agenda seemed pretty clear, and many who commented seemed to indicate that they’d prefer kids who make a difference.

What’s disturbing to me about this — especially when you see the graphic has already tried to decide the answer for you by placing the wrong wants on the left and the right wants on the right — is that it presumes there is one right answer.  This is especially odd because the high technology industry in the U.S. keeps telling Congress that we don’t have enough software engineers — who know how to make an app.

Comparing making an app and making a difference is just a restatement of the age old chicken and the egg dilemma: Which came first?  Is the person who sets out to make an app like Twitter or Facebook somehow less of a useful kid because they had the ability and the interest to make a cool app?  Nowadays the kid who decides to make a difference often needs a cool app like Kickstarter or even their bank’s mobile app to do so.

Infographics at their best are beautiful, creative, and informative.  At their worst, they can be incomplete, misleading, or just plain wrong.  You may find that an infographic conveys information in seconds or minutes that would have taken you hours to read about in a book or magazine journal article.  But like a political television commercial, often you need to read into the details to fully understand the graphic.

How informative is the infographic of infographics below?  Perhaps to be complete it should also show how much additional research is necessary to really understand the information shown in most infographics.

Infographic of Infographics

Dangerous juggling, Halloween style

I enjoy juggling 3 or 4 balls, or 3 clubs, or 4 rings, but I have never tried anything more dangerous than juggling a bowling ball, ping pong ball, and a tennis ball.  That was scary enough for me, but Three Finger Juggling has something truly dangerous for jugglers.  I’m not recommending you try any of these items, and I don’t intend to try them myself, but for the sake of Halloween, I’ve provided the link to their website.

Note at the bottom of their website they claim: “Due to the nature of these props, they are for use of experienced jugglers only…”  I would add that they are not even for use by most experienced jugglers.  These juggling props are DANGEROUS!

T5 next summer

I posted an entry on my NEWWorthy blog regarding the movie “Terminator 5″.  But I don’t really know if it’s NEWWorthy or OLDWorthy, because I don’t know how they are going to try and work in the old timelines with the new one — which is expected to go at least 3 new movies.  Personally, I enjoy the entertaining aspects of the Terminator series, but I try not to think to hard about the time travel aspects.  There are too many holes, especially if you include the television series “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.”

But what if the new movie takes this into account?  Perhaps they will take the route where going back into the past creates alternate timelines.  None affects the other, so you can keep telling the story differently as often as you want.  But then it’s a bit less fun, because plots like T4 no longer make any sense, or at the least they no longer matter.  On the other hand, if going back into the past affects the future, then how do you ever complete the loop back to the first movie?  Maybe you don’t.  Maybe it’s not a loop.  Maybe it’s just a big headache thinking about it.  And maybe it’s better just to enjoy the entertainment and not think about it too hard.

If you would like to chew on more time travel plots, check out my anthology of 4 short stories “Science Fiction: Time Travel”.

Can computers become conscious?

MIT Technology Review had an interesting article recently titled “What Will It Take For Computers To Be Conscious?”  Judging from the Comments section on that page, consciousness is a hot topic.  There’s even a recent remark by Stuart Hameroff, one of the proponents of Quantum Consciousness.

I know that many science fiction and horror stories have dealt with this question in one way or another, but I feel the need to write at least one short story to add to the discussion.  I’ll let you know when I’ve done that.  In the meantime, you might enjoy my “Science Fiction: Robots & Cyborgs” anthology.

Theoretical Physicist Michio Kaku did a good job of describing the basic question a few years ago in the video below.

Game with the human body as a map?

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A few times a year I enjoy perusing the internet to see what new comments I find about my classic video game, “Microsurgeon” (1982 Imagic) — no, that’s not “Microsurgeon” graphics above (see my note below).  Today I was amused to find the answer to a November 2013 question on Quora.com: “Is it possible to create a RTS/FPS game with the human body (and its blood vessels) as a map? And then to use it to help with anatomy training in med school?

I love that a responder posted a note about “Microsurgeon” to indicate that — along with other games — there have already been games that have done this.  While generally speaking this is true, and I do think “Microsurgeon” does a good job with 1982 graphics, I don’t think anyone has yet done a surgery or health-related game where the player can navigate a robot or whatever through a completely — or at least very detailed — accurate map of the human body.  I’ve seen several games with interesting attempts at providing first-person or side shooter type views of travel through veins and arteries, but I’m still waiting to see a really detailed and more accurate than “Microsurgeon” top-down view and gameplay in a modern video game.  I managed a few rough drawings and prototype gameplay some time ago but well after 1982 — (see above) I’m no artist — but something much more detailed and realistic could no doubt be done nowadays

Finally, in order to accentuate what was said on the Quora website in response to the question, here is the text of a letter Imagic Corp. and I received from the University of NC at Chapel Hill back in 1983 related to the use of “Microsurgeon” in teaching various aspects of anatomy and health to seventh graders.

“Ladies and Gentlemen:

A health education group was established this year at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Medical School. The program entitled S.T.E.P. consists of medical students going into the public schools to teach seventh graders about a heart disease called atherosclerosis.

Atherosclerosis is the number one killer in the Western World and only through early prevention by education can we combat it.  One of the educational aids used to teach about heart disease was a Mattel Intellivision video game and an Imagic video cartridge. A group of students played the game to learn how atherosclerosis actually effects the body.

This letter is to thank and give credit to all those responsible for supplying the game. The original idea was spurred by a Wall Street Journal reporter, Laura Landro, who wrote about the game in an article entitled “The Latest in Video-Game Villains: Plaque, Intestinal Worms and Nerds.”

 

Tetris movie?

According to the Wall Street Journal, a “Tetris” movie is in the works.  Considering how many people have played “Tetris”, one would think there will be quite a bit of interest, though it isn’t clear how you make a story from a puzzle.  It will be interesting to see if and how they work Tetrominoes into the storyline.

I worked with Alexey Pajitnov, the creator of “Tetris”, for a few months at Microsoft.  He has a wonderful mind for game design, particularly puzzles.

So maybe the music below will be the theme for the new movie.

Video Games History museum finds home

The Video Games History museum has travelled to E3 and Classic Gaming Expo, but more recently its creators have been looking for a permanent home.  I’m happy to report that — according to Gamasutra magazine — they appear to have found one in Texas.

In the past they have included games I’ve worked on, such as Intellivision “Microsurgeon”, “PBA Bowling” for Intellivision, and Mattel “Handheld Bowling”.  Sometime when I’m in Texas I’ll enjoy stopping by for a look.

I support our national parks

I support the National Parks Conservation Association’s (NPCA) goals for support by our next and future U.S. Congress.  I have visited many national parks as a child and as an adult, and I treasure those moments.  Those experiences have positively influenced my life’s works.  My science fiction story “Home Renewed”, part of my “Science Fiction: The Arts” anthology, is about a boy from Mars who wonders why “old” things are kept around and admired on Earth.  Visit a national park, maybe even one where you can admire a few old buildings.  It’s an inspiration.

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Genealogy translation tools

Family Tree Magazine blog listed some good tools for genealogy language translation.  The tools for entering foreign text are very handy, especially for translating tombstones.  I’d add, however, that Microsoft’s Bing translator works quite well too.  If you attempt to translate a foreign language tombstone, first check out some websites to see if there are common passages of text used in the language and religion you are investigating.

Mathematics inspiration – The Geometry of France

I’ve always enjoyed mathematics, and I still have fun reading about new research, tutoring for the SAT, and participating in online math contests.  On my recent travels in France, I found several fascinating geometric shapes — descriptions below.

The Eifel Tower can’t help but make one think of fractal mathematics, with the shape of the supporting structure being repeated as one looks towards the top.

EifelTower_FromTopOfArcDeTriomphe

The spiral staircase of the Arc de Triomphe is not only mesmerizing from above, but it captures ones imagination all the way up.

LongSpiralStaircaseToTop_ArcDeTriomphe

Though not strictly a geometric shape, this large stone on the Pink Granite Coast in Brittany, France is a beautiful and interesting rock.  One can’t help but think about the winds, rain, sea, and other forces that shaped it.

MonkeyFace_PinkGraniteCoastFrance

This clock looking out from the Musee de Orsay in Paris is an attractive circular lookout.

MuseeDOrsay_Clock

How about the winds and other forces that continue to shape the Dune du Pilat south of Bordeaux, France?  It’s the tallest sand dune in Europe.

DuneDuPilat_France

Moet & Chandon’s 18 miles of caves that house their champagne bottles are pretty amazing.  It’s also impressive that the bottles and stacks of rows of bottles are so perfectly shaped and maintained that there are literally thousands of bottles behind each of the stacks of bottles that you see here.

MoetChandonCave

Life reflecting art or art reflecting life?

I took this photo during my recent visit to the Louvre in Paris.  It struck me as fascinating that the crowd — and it is crowded at the Louvre — scene flowed so well from the painting (The Wedding Feast at Cana by Paolo Veronese, I think; ) across the room from Mona Lisa at the Louvre.  The colors almost seem to cross time from the wedding participants in the painting to the modern crowd — or vice versa.  I had to wonder: Is this art reflecting life or life reflecting art?

PaoloVeronese_WeddingAtCana_Louvre