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 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?


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 “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.