Cli-fi popularity on the rise

What’s cli-fi?  It’s fiction, often science fiction, that’s climate related.  The first cli-fi I remember reading was Michael Crichton’s “State of Fear”.  It wasn’t one of his best novels, and it has mixed reviews, but I enjoyed it because it made me think about what I know and don’t know about climate change.  In my own writing, my short story “Above the Mississippi” in my e-book “Science Fiction: The Arts” is a cli-fi story — though I didn’t know the term cli-fi when I wrote it.  It’s a Mark Twain like story in a science fiction setting.

ScienceFiction_TheArts_Cover

 

A Beautiful Path

30 years ago I designed and developed “Truckin’”.  I wanted players to deal with travelling salesman or shortest path problems, without thinking of that as a math problem.  During testing, I saw a number of players come up with excellent paths over the roads to reduce time while delivering goods.  Even with the limited number of routes and roads in the games, many players enjoyed the challenge.  Now researchers have developed new algorithms to find not the shortest route, but rather the most beautiful route.  Think there’s a game idea there?  Maybe.  In any case, I’m looking forward to being able to do a map routing online for a vacation by searching for the most beautiful route between cities rather than the fastest route.

Self Driving Cars

Bits on The NY Times blog had a nice piece recently about the challenges of self driving cars.  While it may not be easy to bring self driving cars to city streets, small trip electric automated cars may eventually replace subways and light rail for lots of people who want to go exactly from point A to point B.  Taxis will remain competitive until such time that small trip automated cars can provide rides cheaper and safer.  I have no idea what the time frame will be, but I think it may soon make sense for city leaders who are evaluating future transportation needs to consider how small trip automated cars will fit into the mix.  Mercedes (below) and others are working on self driving cars for the highways, but if car manufacturers can beat the issues for city driving too, the rewards may be huge.

Math and Movies

My love of mathematics is what drove me to a variety of careers in education, game development, software engineering, and science fiction writing.  I often enjoy solving math problems and reading about recent research in mathematics.  If you share my interest in all things math, you might also enjoy this Harvard website I discovered that lists “Mathematics in Movies“.  I’m not sure why they don’t list “The Day the Earth Stood Still” or “Torn Curtain”, so I suggested these as possible additions.  In the trailer below of “Torn Curtain” you’ll see the math scene at about 1:40 into the video.

Microsurgeon makes list of top 10 Intellivision games

It’s nice to see that my classic video game “Microsurgeon” recently made the Retro Gamer Team’s top 10 list of Mattel Intellivision games.  I’m also glad that they picked two other fun Imagic Intellivision games, “Demon Attack” and “Dracula”.  I didn’t know until I saw this 1980′s Sears Catalog video game advertisement on The Retroist website that the ad incorrectly says “Microsurgery” instead of “Microsurgeon”.  Below, the Museum of Classic Chicago Television shows an old Imagic advertisement for Microsurgeon and a few of the other games.

The Best of E3 2014 and “Corpse Killer”?

So why do I think that CNet’s “Best of E3 2014” and the old Digital Pictures game “Corpse Killer” have anything in common?  Because when I saw the game “Dead Island 2″, I immediately thought of the game (“Corpse Killer”) that Ken Soohoo and Ken Melville created at Digital Pictures in 1994 for the Sega CD.  I suppose zombies will never go out of style.

Where do game ideas come from?

If you are an aspiring game designer, then please don’t limit your knowledge or your visions.  Good game ideas can come from any field of study.  For example, if you had enjoyed solving maze puzzles and studied shortest path algorithms many years ago, you might have invented Pacman.  Growing up, I enjoyed going on family driving trips and seeing the trucks go by on the freeway, which lead to my interest in later developing the game Imagic “Truckin’”.  You might not realize it immediately, but an understanding of the travelling salesman problem would help you in playing this game.  To my knowledge, no one — including me — has ever done an analysis of the game to see what the best routes are for the best payoffs.  One of these days I should take a look at that.  Speaking of game ideas from anywhere, maybe the 6th International Meeting on Origami in Science, Mathematics and Education (6OSME) at the University of Tokyo will generate some great game ideas for attending game designers.

Eternal hope for the driverless car?

Are we all so in love with the idea of a car that will drive for us, that we underestimate how long it’s going to be before self driving cars are a reality?  John Markoff recently blogged a piece entitled “Police, Pedestrians and the Social Ballet of Merging: The Real Challenges for Self-Driving Cars.”  Though Google and others continue to do useful and important research on self driving cars, this blog entry brings up some interesting issues.  If you enjoy reading about robots, particularly fiction, you might enjoy my science fiction e-book of published short stories entitled “Science Fiction: Robots & Cyborgs“.

RobotsAndCyborgsCover

 

Death in The Fog

The Fog, also known as The Internet of Things, will eventually contain untold numbers of sensors and devices that work continuously or at intervals over periods of years, decades, or even longer.  Computerworld recently reported that In-Q-Tel’s Dan Geer warned “The longer lived these devices, the surer it will be that they will be hijacked within their lifetime.”

We’re not talking about a simple toaster that lasts long past it’s expected lifetime, but rather smart devices and sensors – even autonomous vehicles — that essentially have a life of their own.  Unfortunately, there will be hackers who will try to break their security.  Society will have to deal with these things.  How long should such a device be expected to survive?  What are the rules that define why one device should be allowed to run longer than another?  Who should be held responsible if programmed death — or perhaps as we’ve called it in the past, planned obsolescence — is not included as a feature in one of these things?

This has been the stuff of science fiction in the past and present, but it will become reality very soon.  Governments, legal systems, and society will have to deal with these things.

Another spooky action at a distance

Almost everyone has heard of Einstein’s description of quantum entanglement as spooky action at a distance.  Now, we have a new kind of spooky action at a distance.  According to The Scientist magazine reporting on interferon signaling, “Interferons released by infected cells typically only travel nanometers to alert neighboring cells. In this study, interferon responses appeared more than a million times farther away.”

It is not known how these messages are transmitted so far and quickly.  Is it possible that it has something to do with quantum entanglement?  That’s doubtful, but it might provide food for science fiction thought.

How to keep up on games research and development

I recently commented in a Game Developers group on LinkedIn about how to keep up on games research and development.  The response to my remarks was very positive, so I thought I’d share my thoughts here as well.

Gamasutra.com, IGN.com, GameSpot.com are some good places to keep up with video games news. As for research, websites tend to be category specific. GamesforHealth.org is the website for the conference that covers Health-related games and research. There are many others like that for AI, Social Media, Education, and other games related research. Even Variety.com has some game-related news, in case you want entertainment/Hollywood oriented games news. If you want science-only research, you might try going to http://arxiv.org/ now and then searching on “games”.  There are usually quite a few in-depth research publications related to an aspect of games and/or serious games. The ACM offers http://cie.acm.org/games/?searchterm=games and IEEE Spectrum provides game news and research on games at http://spectrum.ieee.org/consumer-electronics/gaming. IEEE and ACM also have endless conferences and special interest groups related to games.

For example, this week I found an arxiv research paper on “Solving Triangular Peg Solitaire“, a more generalized version of the Cracker Barrel peg game shown below.  You never know when something like this could lead to later insights on some new game concepts or even a science fiction short story idea.

Links to “Edge of Tomorrow”

I was repairing broken links on my website today and in the process ran into a recent review of the movie “Edge of Tomorrow” that said it was fast and furious.  As a science fiction writer, particularly one who enjoys spinning or reading a good time travel story, I usually take notice of a movie that examines alternate histories.  My e-book, “Science Fiction: Time Travel” is my best selling anthology.

The repeat-the-day theme shown in the trailer for “Edge of Tomorow” brings to mind the movie “Source Code“. What made “Source Code” most enjoyable to me was the relationships between Gyllenhaal and Monaghan, as well as Gyllenhaal and Farmiga. Ultimately, “Source Code” also worked because it made one consider the scientific (alternate reality or timeline), philosophical (saving one versus saving many), and theological aspects of the story. The fact that “Edge of Tomorrow” is fast and furious may make for terrific summer popcorn entertainment — not to mention, put Cruise in a category with Vin Diesel (hee hee).  Actually, I love a good summer popcorn movie.  But this is a science fiction movie that involves time travel, so I’m hoping for more.

Disc golf inspiration

I’ve always enjoyed a good hike in the park, and more recently discovered the sport of disc golf.  I had played and enjoyed Frisbee golf on the campus of UC Irvine back in the early 1980′s, but until about 8 years ago I had not considered playing again.  When I began to notice chained baskets in the park, I realized that the sport was taking off around the country.  While I’m old enough now that a close to 300 ft. drive is a rare achievement for me, I love to play.  The challenge is part of it, but even more so I think it inspires my creativity.  Having to design shots on the fly that will go left-to-right, right-to-left, sail under a forest of tree branches, pass straight through a gauntlet of trees with a creek, fly over the top of a hill, or extend all the way down a steep hill and bank dogleg left or right at the end of flight, not only tests my physical skills but requires me to examine my options.

Whether I’m authoring a new short story or designing a game or solving a mathematics problem, I find I need some of the same thinking processes.  So whatever your pursuits in life that require creative thinking skills, I recommend disc golf and a walk in the park as a warm-up exercise.  Below is one of my best drives ever, playing hole #17 recently at Crooked Creek Park near Chapin, South Carolina.  I played the right disc (Opto Diamond by Latitude 64) at the right time that day.

Metamaterials and FTL

It has been suggested that metamaterials can possibly be used to build a warp drive.  Now Z.Y. Wang, a researcher at SBSC in China, explains the new physics of metamaterials and suggests that “faster than light energy is possible to exist in metamaterial.”  Could this mean that metamaterial cables may be the fiber optic cables of the future, allowing FTL (faster than light) communications across the globe?  Can something big be built out of metamaterials?

As a science fiction writer, I’m fascinated with FTL communications, FTL space travel, and possibilities for time travel.  If you are too, you might enjoy my e-book anthology, “Science Fiction: Time Travel”.

Time Travel E-book Cover

A few thoughts on programming

Computerworld recently offered “the stories behind 13 programming language names”.  Dr. Dobbs, no youngster when it comes to reporting on programming languages, offered this piece on “Basic Turns 50“.

If you are an aspiring programmer looking for the best school to attend, you might also enjoy this Computerworld slideshow entitled “ROI: The 10 computer science programs with the biggest payoff“.

Is HBO’s “Silicon Valley” television series about an imaginary software start-up company completely accurate?  Of course not, but it has fun in examining several idiosyncrasies about that area of Northern California and the people that inhabit the Silicon Valley culture.  Whether you work in the computing field or not, you might find it funny.  Beware though, it’s cable television, so there is raunchy language and humor — and sometimes nudity.  CNet recently did a story about the show.

Fun with math

I usually do the Ole Miss Math “problem of the week” and “algebra” problems when they run the online contest, but lately the site seems to be having problems.  So I went looking for other math problems to work on each week in the meantime.  I enjoy the mental exercise, and it helps me when I tutor math to students preparing for the SAT, GRE, and other exams.  Note that the following websites offer math problems that can be difficult to solve, but if you enjoy math, then you’ll probably enjoy the challenge.  You never know what you might be inspired to work on next.  After reading about perfect numbers, I wrote a story about a math professor who met a multidimensional creature.  It was published, and I look forward to trying my hand at a few more math-related stories.

The Harvard-MIT Mathematics Tournament website has problems and solutions from former contests.

Brilliant.org aims to inspire brilliant science and math oriented students from all parts of the world.

The Art of Problem Solving website has problems and solutions to many former AMC 12 tests.  The American Mathematics Contest 12 (AMC 12) exists to help students on their path to the International Mathematics Olympiad (IMO).