Rope and ride a star

As many of you already know, Leonard Nimoy died recently.  He is probably best known for his role of Spock on “Star Trek”.

I loved watching the new episodes when the show first aired, but it was the reruns on television that kept me entertained throughout college and later in my early years as a teacher and then software engineer.  Spock was a role model, in a way, for how one could be logical and scientific — such as in an engineering career — yet function well as part of a team.

With Nimoy’s passing, I am reminded how much I would like to see new episodes of a “Star Trek” series on television.  I think there is room for it nowadays.  Science fiction Shows like “Defiance” (SyFy), “The 100” (The CW), “Falling Skies” (TNT), and other series have had elements of the kinds of things we saw on “Star Trek”, but none offer the sheer encompassing thrill of space exploration offered in the original “Star Trek” and the various related series that followed it.

I read an article recently about the “Speediest Star’s Origins Revealed” in Scientific American.  As a science fiction writer, I enjoy letting my mind wander to think about such things, and my first thought was of “Star Trek”.  I imagined an episode where the Enterprise, possibly with warp engines disabled, somehow used that same speedy star to rope it and ride it.

That may be a dumb idea, but it is an example of how I’d like to bring back the imagination of the series.  New space companies have formed over the past decade, and we are just beginning to see how those efforts are leading to new space vehicles and exploration.  Just as these companies will inspire others to develop new technologies and methods to explore space, science fiction television can be useful for inspiring decades or even centuries-from-now generations.

There are still “Star Trek” movies, but I want more.

Ship clip art

Where do you want to go today?

You might remember that in 1994-1995, “Where do you want to go today?” was a big ad campaign for Microsoft.  I started working for Microsoft not long after that, so the phrase kind of sticks in my mind.  But that’s not why I mention it.  Today I’m thinking about the future of travel.

I recently read about a new company called Detour.  They describe themselves as “a brand new way to experience the world. Gorgeous audio walks in San Francisco [and soon, more locations] that reveal hidden stories, people and places all over SF” through your mobile phone.  An interesting idea, especially considering the company was started by Andrew Mason, former CEO of Groupon.  But are attempts like this just a substitute for more enriching experiences, like spending the time to research and read about a place BEFORE you go?

Speaking of BEFORE you go, Terry Jones — former CIO of SABRE, CEO of Travelocity, and founding chairman of Kayak — has taken a new position as Executive Chairman of Wayblazer, a new travel company based on IBM’s Watson technology.  Below are a couple of  videos where he discusses the future of travel.  Wayblazer is an interesting idea, particularly making use of social media and a huge collection of useful facts and opinions.

But is this the future of business travel, or does it include the future of leisure travel?  Does a product/company like TripAdvisor — based on the input of thousands of people’s opinions — or Facebook inform Wayblazer & Watson, or does it eventually compete with it?  In other words, at what point does Watson become so smart that it decides it knows more about a place — and more accurately — than do the opinions of humans?  Only time will tell, especially since Watson and other cognitive computing technologies are really just getting started.  By the way, I should disclose (it’s on my resume online) that I worked for American Airlines SABRE.

Also, I’d like to refer to an article in MIT Technology Review last year “A Beautiful Path” that I blogged about.  Researchers are developing a system using social input that attempts to provide not the shortest or fastest path from location A to location B, but rather the most beautiful.

As a computer scientist I admit I enjoy these ideas, and I wish their designers and developers much luck.  But as a former travel agent, travel-related programmer (SABRE), experienced traveler, and lover of writing fiction, I have to wonder about the future of travel.  I mean, isn’t beauty in the eye of the beholder?  Isn’t part of a successful journey discovering it for yourself for the first time?  Isn’t learning about a place sometimes through accidental discoveries of fun restaurants and unusual places?

People have used travel agents and social media now for a long time to find out more about the places they are going and what they can do there.  So there’s nothing inherently wrong with more and possibly better ways to find that information.  But remember this.  The perfect travel photo  — or memory — often comes from a combination of events and a spontaneous discovery of a rarely seen place seen in a new light.  So gather all the information you want from as many sources as you want, but don’t forget to enjoy your journey.


Intellivision “Truckin'” in a History of Racing Games

Lance Carter’s “History of Racing Games” is an online collection of files and blog entries about racing games from the 1940’s to the present.  I am very pleased to see that my classic game “Truckin'” is listed among the titles.   You can find his pdf file about “Truckin'” here.  I’ve included a video showing “Truckin'” below.

I was inspired to make this game after years of travelling the I-5 freeway in California.  It’s a very long stretch of straight freeway with typically thousands of trucks on the road.  But caravans of trucks carrying goods to market can be seen on major and minor highways across the country.  According to Wikipedia — and I agree – “The trucking industry provides an essential service to the American economy.”

LightSail

The Planetary Society — I’m a member — has planned a LightSail mission.  It will essentially sail in space from the photons from the light of the sun.

This is the stuff of science fiction that is now becoming reality.  I haven’t used this technology in any of my science fiction stories yet, but with some future — yet to be created, as in The Flight of the Dragonfly, 1984 — powerful lasers, as it gets beyond the reach of our sun’s light, a space sailing vehicle may bring us to other solar systems.

According to Wikipedia, “The earliest reference to solar sailing was in Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon.”