UCI makes finals of ACM contest

As a UC Irvine alumnus, I want to congratulate the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences team of undergrads who earned a spot in the finals of the 2014 Association of Computer Machinery’s International Collegiate Programming Contest.  If you like programming and algorithms, you might enjoy some of the past problems here.  Warning, they are not easy!  For example, the 2013 ACM-ICPC World Finals (Dress Rehearsal) problem on tiling Texas looks like a challenge.


Light harvesting and quantum computing

MIT Technology Review recently published an article on Quantum Light Harvesting.   The research hints at the possibilities for an entirely new form of quantum computing.  Interestingly, Scientific Computing posted an article a couple of weeks ago about Heidelberg University research on “Key Processes of Photosynthesis Simulated on the Quantum Level“.  This seems to be a hot topic, so I added a related entry on my Pinterest “Cool Physics” board.

Not only is this topic probably relevant to the future of quantum computing, but the science fiction writer in me also wonders if it may have implications regarding quantum consciousness.  In other words, if these quantum processes are so alive in bacterial and atomic collectives, do the same or similar quantum computing algorithms apply in some way to human brains?

If you find this subject interesting, you might also enjoy the GoogleTechTalk (October 2010) below as an in-depth introduction to light harvesting quantum mechanics.

Intellivisionaries #3: Microsurgeon game discussion and interview

The Intellivisionaries podcast, episode 3, was posted on November 22, 2013.  They discuss my award winning classic video game, “Microsurgeon”, at length and include a long interview with me, Rick Levine.  The timeline is given here and a few of the key starting points for fans of “Microsurgeon” are: (1 hour 21 minutes) start of discussion on Microsurgeon; (1 hour 29 minutes 53 seconds) a fun audio rendition of the Microsurgeon backstory; (1 hour 56 minutes 15 seconds) start of my interview.

You can download the mp3, or stream it (click MENU on the player there and select More Episodes), or subscribe on iTunes.

I hope you have as much fun listening to this as I did reminiscing.  By the way, here’s a tiny extra bit of nostalgia.  I am pretty sure that the name I gave to the art prototyping tool I created for Imagic Intellivision development around 1982 was “Da Vinci”.




Blood count bordering on science fiction

Science fiction has in recent times taken a look at technologies and cultures where people know approximately or exactly when they were going to die.  The movie “Gattaca” depicts a potential future astronaut who fights against a culture that believes that only certain people are genetically capable of making a trip to another planet.  In “Star Trek: The Next Generation” a man from another planet is told that he has to end his important scientific research because his culture believes that people should die at a certain age. My short story “Myron’s Debarkation” (in my best selling e-book “Science Fiction: Time Travel”) incorporates a technology that permits people who know they will die soon to see events of the future.  Now, according to Science Daily there’s a new study that “Helps Predict Life Expectancy Using Complete Blood Count Risk Score“.  That is a bit comforting and frightening at the same time.  Perhaps that is getting a bit too close to “Gattaca” and science fiction.  Below Zuguidemovietrailers shows the “Gattaca” movie trailer.

Locomotion of microscopic robots

Tad Hogg of the Institute for Molecular Manufacturing in Palo Alto, California, has an interesting paper on the “Locomotion of Microscopic Robots in Viscous Fluids.

Science fiction film watchers will remember Brownian motion — or lack thereof, so viewers don’t get sick watching the film and scientists in the film can accomplish their jobs — in the film “Fantastic Voyage”.  In my short story, “A Floccinaucinihilipilificatious Life” — included in my e-book anthology “Science Fiction: Robots & Cyborgs” — a team of tiny, but not microscopic, robots attempt to learn what being alive means.


Surrounded by robots?

Computerworld published an article recently about future military having 10 robots per soldier.  Some may see a future US military force with 10 robots per soldier as good news, while others may be concerned.  Can the military insure that the robot network can’t be hacked in the field?  Movies like “Terminator” have scared some of us regarding a future where robots decide that they can do a better job of handling security and war than we can.

Like so many other inventions that make their way from defense to consumer markets, multi-purpose, networked, and helpful robots will be sold more-and-more as consumer items.  It’s not hard to predict that at least some families will want to have robots to clean/vacuum floors, sweep/clean driveways and patios, walk the dog, feed the pets, do the laundry, put the dishes away, mow the lawn, repair the car, play games with us, etc.  That’s almost 10 robots right there!

If you like thinking about the future of robots, you might enjoy my story “A Floccinaucinihilipilificatious Life” about a team of tiny robots.  It’s in my e-book anthology “Science Fiction: Robots & Cyborgs”.



Unlike Siri, Florence is for healthcare

Speech Tech Magazine reports that in 2014 Nuance is introducing Florence, a virtual assistant for healthcare clinicians.

As we see more robotic surgeries and more virtual or telepresence assistants in healthcare, this makes me think about my science fiction short story, “RemoteDoc” (April 2004 issue of “The Martian Wave”), about a Martian surgeon who’s concerned about her future.  I will probably include this story in my sequel to “Science Fiction: Robots & Cyborgs” e-book anthology.

Panono – Panoramic camera to toss

CNet reports on Panono, a panoramic camera to throw in the air.  It’s a bit expensive, but the images it makes seem to work particularly well on tablets.

This brings back memories of the days when I was at RCA Laboratories in New Jersey and worked on unwrapping Fisheye camera images we used in “Palenque”, one of the first motion video CD-ROM games.  I wish we had a Panono back then.  WIth the beautiful jungle all around us, it would have been fun and useful to be able to get views from higher up.

Microbial mediators

The Scientist reports that researchers were able to show that “symbiotic bacteria can help hyenas communicate with one another.”

As a science fiction writer I have to wonder that if microbes are mediating interactions between hyenas, how much do bacteria participate in human lives and relationships?  I’ve pondered this recently in other blog entries, here and here.

In my e-book anthology, “Science Fiction: Robots & Cyborgs”, a troubled programmer performs a different kind of biochemistry experiment.in my short story “Coded Obsession”.

Math and games

Hat Guessing Games and Traveling Tournament Schedules are a couple of trendy mathematics research problems that could possibly be the basis for new video games.

Just about everyone knows that Tetris, perhaps the most famous video game ever, is based on tiling shapes that fill a rectangular area.  But many do not know that the shapes are called Tetrominos and are related to the field of mathematical tiling.  My own classic video games, “Microsurgeon” and “Truckin”, are loosely based on the travelling salesman and related mathematical optimization problems.  The player is asked to visit locations as quickly as possible, while obtaining resources or curing diseases and maintaining energy requirements.  There are numerous other examples in video games where mathematics — and related computer science algorithms — serves as a basis for at least some of the game play.

So maybe the mechanics of hat guessing games or traveling tournament problems will be incorporated into some interesting future video games.  There is a non-video game of sorts already being offered regarding finding the best solutions to traveling tournament problems.  By the way, there are several flight distance calculators on the internet should you decide to tackle traveling tournament problems.  If you’d like to read more analysis (a pdf file) on hat guessing games, see here.

In the category of “what makes us who we are”?

The Scientist today reported on “Gut Microbes May Impact AutoImmunity“.  Researchers are finding that certain gut bacteria may be associated with certain kinds of arthritis, in particular rheumatoid arthritis.

With gut microbe research seemingly reaching the stage where we used to be with understanding DNA, I’ve been wondering just how much of our health and our personality even is influenced by our gut bacteria.

“What makes us who we are” is something I intend to write more about in my science fiction short stories.  In my published short story “You Can Choose Your Parents” (March 2012, “The Fifth Di…”, selected as best in issue), I examined this theme.  I plan to include this story in my future e-book anthology, “Science Fiction: Genetics”.

Below a bionaut, Jeroen Raes, presents at TedX last year on his research regarding gut flora.

Phone camera and headstone translation

I’ve noticed several phone apps that promise camera-pointing translation.  You point your camera at an object, such as a sign or headstone, and it is suppose to translate it for you.  For example, Microsoft has a translator app for its phone that supposedly does this.  Google Play suggests apps like Photo Translator.  ITunes probably has many such apps.  Here’s one.  Although I haven’t tried one, I wonder if it would work on headstones with foreign text, such as Jewish headstones in America with Hebrew text.  Below is a video demonstration of Bing Translator being used with Windows Phone 8 to read English from a book and translate it into Chinese.