Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination

According to UCSD (The University of California, San Diego), in conjunction with the Arthur C. Clarke Foundation they “are launching a major center to better understand, enhance and enact the gift of human imagination.”  This has exciting possibilities when you consider that Arthur C. Clarke once said, “The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.”

I think this is a great idea, but I wonder a bit about the name of the center.  Arthur C. Clarke wrote about space and the future, so why wouldn’t it be called something more inclusive of aliens and robots, such as “The Center for Imagination”.

In my short story “A Floccinaucinihilipilificatious Life”, tiny Floccin imagines himself more than the sum of his parts.  It’s in my e-book anthology “Science Fiction: Robots & Cyborgs”.

RobotsAndCyborgsCover

Hyperloop?

Elon Musk, the man behind Tesla Motors and SpaceX, has been touting a new form of transportation he calls a Hyperloop.  He says it’s a cross between a Concorde, a rail gun, and an Air Hockey table.  In the past, he’s also referred to it as a kind of Jetson’s tunnel.  Since he won’t say more at this time, there are already guesses as to what he is talking about, such as at Jalopnik.com.

I can’t say at this time whether I believe Musk’s Hyperloop will work or ever be developed, but it intrigues me as a science fiction writer.  What happens when suddenly it is possible to travel from L.A. to San Francisco in a half hour?  How about Albuquerque, NM to San Francisco in a little over an hour?  What if the cost were comparable to a bus ride across town?

We’ve already seen what auto, subway, light rail, bus, and other forms of transportation can do to grow population centers in suburbs and bedroom communities.  Could a Hyperloop have a similar impact, creating population booms just about anywhere in the country?

I explore a different form of future water transportation in my short story “Above the Mississippi.”  It’s in my e-book anthology “Science Fiction: The Arts.”

ScienceFiction_TheArts_Cover

Edutainment

I recently responded to a games developer posting regarding the word edutainment.  The word has been used since at least the 1940’s to refer to a combination of entertainment and education.  A couple of my video games have edutainment elements, so I thought I’d mention them here.

Imagic’s “Microsurgeon”, which I programmed in 1982, was an early edutainment video game, though it was mostly not marketed as edutainment.  Not only was this award winning and well sold video game one of the first related to health, it was used by a couple of colleges to teach jr. high school students about the dangers of smoking and heart disease.  I recently enjoyed reading a recent thread on AtariAge.com about Microsurgeon.

Digital Picture’s “Kids on Site”, which I programmed and co-designed (interactive portion) in 1994, was also an edutainment game.  Players had the opportunity to operate construction equipment by manipulating interactive video sequences on a Sega CD or PC.  Although I don’t know how well it sold, it was considered a fun and entertaining game.  It also intentionally made kids laugh.

My science fiction short story “The Time of Your Life” educates a future prisoner about a different kind of game and time travel.

SF tv shows: “Continuum” and “Orphan Black”

I don’t often make tv show recommendations, but I’ve really enjoyed these two science fiction television shows this past year.

“Continuum” on the SYFY channel seems to be about time travel and a possible scenario if it were possible to travel into the past.  I really like the characterizations and actors, and as an “X-Files” fan it’s great to see William B. Davis in another role.  Kiera’s search for an acceptable resolution to her situation is compelling in a way that reminds me of my own character Sarah in “Time Enough for Sarah.”

“Orphan Black” on BBC America is just completing its first season here in the U.S.  At its core, it seems to be about genetics and nature vs. nurture.  If you enjoy this topic, you might enjoy this well made television series.  Tatiana Maslany is a terrific young actress.  You might also like my genetics-related short story “Liar” in “The Lorelei Signal.” — look for this in my upcoming e-books anthology of genetics-related stories.

“Riddick” 2013 – “Pitch Black”

I’m not really a horror fan, but I love the look of the movie “Pitch Black”.  The elements of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and action are well mixed in this entertaining movie.  In my writing, I don’t have a dark character or planet quite like what’s depicted in this movie.

Now there is a trailer for the movie “Riddick”.  Riddick is the character played by Vin Diesel in “Pitch Black”.  In continuing to tell the story of Riddick, I hope they capture the same interesting mix of SF, fantasy, horror, and action.

Are robots taking our jobs?

Kevin Drum writes “Welcome, Robot Overlords.  Please Don’t Fire us?

At least for now, you might be giggling at the thought of robots taking our jobs.  Robots don’t appear that smart yet, and physically they are still often slow and/or clumsy for certain kinds of tasks.  But what if intelligent software (AI) or virtual presence devices are also robots?

Banks are starting to install ATM machines at banks with live video tellers.  There is still a remote teller needed, but doesn’t that potentially take away a local job?  And what if in the not too distant future the live teller is replaced by a virtual teller?  Self checkout seems to be popping up at more and more locations, even at the library. The library video below struck me as funny (not because it has zombies using the regular checkout line), because recently my wife and I were at a store where the long lines were at the self checkout registers.  We more quickly checked out with a human cashier.   Telepresence robots are being used to provide remote expertise and avoid the cost of long flights.  That might not directly take away a job, but it’s easy to see how it might reduce airline travel.

How many ways are there to program a mobile game?

Reading online about how to develop for smartphones or tablets, there are about a dozen recommended mobile games development tools.  While Unity 3D seems to get the most press, and GameMaker Studio gets mentioned often for ease-of-use, there are many new entries including Monogame – an open source implementation of the XNA 4 API.  Cocos2d is also often mentioned.  You can also find large lists of game engines on Wikipedia here and at MobileGameEngines.

Microsoft’s C# XNA developer tool — which no longer is being worked on at Microsoft — had many indie Xbox developer fans.  Will this tool lead to an increase in the number of games on Windows 8 phones?  Time will tell as some developers port their games from XNA (as in the video below).

The Robot Middle Class?

An MIT Technology Review blog comments on “Race Against the Machine”, a book about robots and how they might change our thinking about employment (or unemployment) in the future.  This might seem like an old topic, since many classic movies, tv episodes, and science fiction novels have already examined the subject, but the recent reality that robots are competing for middle class jobs requires new analysis.  While I haven’t read “Race Against the Machine”, I have commented recently on Robot Careers.

In my story “A Floccinaucinihilipilificatious Life” little Floccin leads a perhaps not-too-far-in-the-future team of repair bots.

Until such time that robots can repair themselves, could it be time to get a job in robot repair?

Genealogy Roadshow on PBS this Fall

You may have seen “Who Do You Think You Are?”, a TV series that examines the family tree of public figures and celebrities.  Now, PBS introduces “Genealogy Roadshow”, a new TV series scheduled for Fall 2013 that will examine the family trees of ordinary Americans.  I would love to have help like this with some of my most difficult and interesting genealogy roadblocks, such as this circa 1900 photo my grandmother kept.  No one has been able to identify anyone in the picture, though I now suspect it was possibly taken on or near my great-grandfather’s farm in Anoka, MN.

Here’s a video from late last year introducing the version of ‘Genealogy Roadshow” that originated in Ireland.

About writing short stories

I love writing short stories.  I think one reason is because it reminds me of designing video games.  You have limited words and imagery  — like bytes and textures — to develop the characters and plot.  The challenge is sometimes difficult, often exciting.  A few other short story writers express their opinion on the subject in the video below.

How streets got their names

Have you ever discovered a street name somewhere, anywhere, that matches the surname of one of your ancestors or friends?  I enjoy genealogy research, and recently I found a street name that matches a relative with an uncommon surname.  I wondered where I could go to find out the name of a particular street.  Here are a few ideas that I hope may help you in your quest for the history of a street name.

If the street is in a big city, there may be a book on the subject.  Here’s a website that lists several such books for big cities in the U.S.  Zillow.com discusses street naming in more general terms.  Wikipedia also has a general description of the subject.  You could also try your favorite genealogy database to search city directories.  If you can go back far enough, you might find that the people living on that street had the same name as the road.

For small towns, you might try sending an email to the local city hall, genealogical society, or main library.  If they don’t have the answer to your question, they might know someone who does.  Same goes for how a city got its name.  By the way, don’t be surprised if the city experts don’t know how their city was named.  This has happened to me a couple of times!

If you search using “how streets got their names” you will get back many other useful results.