Category Archives: Travel

I’ve been to China

I enjoy many forms of creative expression, including writing, blogging, and game design.  No matter which I’m working on at the time, or thinking about, there’s few better options for enhancing my creativity than to travel somewhere new.  So recently, we headed to China!

My wife was already in Shanghai on business, so I met her in this sprawling and attractive international city of 25 million people.  Upon landing at PVG airport, I couldn’t resist taking the Maglev train at 180 mph for about $6.  If you go, the Maglev direction signs after passing through immigration are clearly marked.  The Maglev gets you within 5 metro stops of Pudong, which was where I was headed.  It’s an easy walk from the Maglev overhead exit across the way to the metro station at Longyang Rd.  The kiosks at the metro station let you choose English, which makes it easy to select the station you are headed to — I was going to Lujiazui, which cost less than $1.  The IFC mall and local hotels — Ritz Carlton and Shangri-La, for example — are very nice.

Other sites we saw in Shanghai: The informative Shanghai History Museum at the base of the Oriental Pearl Tower (an easy walk from Lujiazui station), the historical Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum, very fun Shanghai Disney (the Tron and Pirates of the Caribbean rides are terrific, and the park wasn’t crowded on a 45F degree mid-February day), and the Shanghai Museum (cultural artifacts) and People’s Park.  All are easily reachable by metro at a very reasonable cost.  Just be prepared to stand quite a bit if you go during busy periods, which is most of the time.

Guilin, China — about 100-150 miles north of Hong Kong — is the site of the Li River Cruise and famous eroded mountains which line the river.  The view changes which each twist and turn in the river, with each new sight as exciting as the previous one.  The back of the 20 RMB bill depicts a scene from the river.   We loved staying at the Shangri-La Hotel in Guilin.

Chengdu, China, located east of the mountainous regions of Tibet, is one of the fastest growing cities in the world, now with 14-15 million people.  It is a combination of agriculture, manufacturing, and a large hi-tech area — our Hilton Chengdu hotel was great and located in the hi-tech area.  We were there to see the Leshan Giant Buddha — about an hour by fast train away — and the Giant Panda Breeding Research Base north of central Chengdu.  Through Viator, we arranged our Leshan tour with Lily Chen of WestChinaGo, and she provided us with a memorable day.  The next morning, first thing, we took the metro to Panda Ave. to catch the shuttle bus which goes (about 10-15 minutes) to the Giant Panda Breeding Research Base.  We even were able to take our luggage along, dropping it at the 2nd floor information desk at the Research Base before seeing all the Pandas.  Afterwards, we caught a cab to the airport for our next days’ adventure in Xi’an.

Xi’an, China is about an hour south of the Terracotta Warriors museum.  The Hilton Xi’an has an amazing lobby and awesome service.  In Xi’an, it is worth taking time to see the ancient City Wall.  It was too cold for us to rent a bike, but if you can it looks like fun to bicycle on top of the wall.  Lily at GuideWe was our excellent Terracotta Warriors tour guide.  She even took time to show us the City Wall on the way back to town at the end of our tour.

We finished our vacation with a trip to Beijing.  The first day we visited Great Wall at Mutianyu.  It was 25 degrees Fahrenheit and it snowed!  We rode the chair lift up and got a work out climbing stairs to the next outpost or two.  Got some great shots of the wall in the snow and then return on the chair lift.  We wanted to take the luge down, but they close it when it snows.  All in all, a great time.  Our last day, we took a cab to the east wall of the Forbidden City, and then walked around to the south entrance.  It was easy to purchase tickets there and then enter the fortress wall.  It’s quite a bit of walking (especially in cold weather), but it’s a beautiful piece of history you just can’t miss.  The walk back from the north exit to our hotel was only about 20 minutes, as we stayed at the nearby Renaissance Wangfujing Hotel.  A very nice hotel and quite convenient if you plan to visit the Forbidden City.

Do we time travel in our thoughts?

Like probably many of you, I’ve been on vacation recently.  I visited several places in the West that made me think about time travel.

If you ponder the oldest sci-fi form of time travel, you might picture a machine of some sort that takes a person forward or backward in time.  There are many other ways to time travel.   Sci-fi romance often incorporates time travel through such things as writing letters, accidents, or even genetic inheritance.  Sci-fi spaceships have often used technology to create temporary or permanent worm holes.  My own stories have used a variety of time travel methods.

But what about the human ability to travel in thought?  This is how I time traveled on my recent vacation, using my imagination — SEE THE LIST AND PHOTOS BELOW.   One might ask whether my thoughts really time traveled?  I don’t know, but now that I’m back home, I can still visit these places in my mind.  Yes, it would be fantastic to actually go back in time and visit the building of Stonehenge or the dinosaurs roaming the land or seeing the super volcano explode — from space, please.

But until I figure out how to do that, my imagination is the best sci-fi vehicle I have.  That’s why I also enjoy writing sci-fi time travel stories.

Place: Alliance, NE; Site: Carhenge; Form of time travel: Imagine Stonehenge (built 3000-2000 BC) in England

Carhenge

Place: Rapid City, SD; Site: Dinosaur Park; Form of time travel: Imagine the dinosaurs playing in beautiful nearby Custer State Park

DinosaurPark_RapidCitySDCusterStatePark7_WhiteTailedDeer_

Place: Bismarck, ND; Site: Steamboat Park; Form of time travel: Imagine this 1870’s steamboat replica plying the Missouri River

BismarckND_MissouriRiverSteamboat

Place: Medora, ND; Site: Theodore Roosevelt National Park; Form of time travel: Imagine seeing millions of Bison 300 years ago

Bison_TRNatl_SouthUnit

Place: Yellowstone, WY; Form of time travel: Imagine the super volcano here that erupted 600,000 years ago

YellowstoneFalls5_WYYellowstoneWY_PaintPots3

Place: Red Canyon, UT; Site: Flaming Gorge; Form of time travel: Imagine what it looked like before the dam was built

RedCanyonVisitorsCenter4e_FlamingGorgeUT

 

 

PC gaming making a comeback

Though the mobile games market is huge, and games on PlayStation and Xbox have done well, much of that success has has taken a toll on PC gaming…until now.  Computerworld reports on “The triumphant, magnificent, and unexpected return of PC gaming.

As a long time video games developer, it saddens me to think of the many game platforms that have come and gone.  It’s nice to know that the PC is still hanging in there, possibly even making a comeback.

If you, like me, are interested in the history of video games, you might also like to stop by the National Video Games Museum in Texas near Dallas.  It just opened!

Tower Desktop Pc clip art

What’s new in juggling?

The IJA (International Juggling Association) is having their annual convention in El Paso, Texas this year.  One of the main jugglers featured at the Cascade of Stars show at the end of the week is Emil Dahl.  Like many exciting new jugglers in the past few years, he’s created a new kind of juggling.  It’s called “Magnet Opus”.  Below is a video of his work.  Pretty neat.

Pandora – making virtual reality real

Avatar’s Pandora is coming to Disneyworld’s Animal Kingdom by 2017.  That’s a pretty strong vote for 3D environments and their influence.

Universal Studios has already tried this to some extent, recreating a Jurassic Park environment in their theme park, and more recently the streets and buildings of the Harry Potter stories.  But Pandora is a totally made up world, and it does not exist on Earth at all.  Perhaps Disney’s Star Tours ride, Universal’s Simpson’s ride, and others are more along those lines, unless Harry Potter actually transports to another world when he goes to school.  In any case, they are all fantasy rides with some having elements of science fiction.

With Hololens, Oculus Rift, and Magic Leap — among others — upping the ante for virtual world experiences, is it any wonder Disney wants to get into the game by making virtual reality real?  I wonder how long it will be before you can go to a theme park and then put on your Hololens or Magic Leap headsets to enhance your experience as you walk through worlds like Pandora, Jurassic Park, Alice in Wonderland, Mars, and so many other interesting places of fantasy, science, and science fiction.

If you’d like to experience science fiction the old fashioned way, I have several e-book anthologies of my works you might like.

Trip to India, Singapore, and Cambodia

I recently returned from an amazing journey to India, Singapore, and Cambodia.  Besides the fact that these are fascinating countries to visit, they are also places that inspire imagination and creativity.

As with any trip half way round the world, I was tired — exhausted — when I returned after the long flights.  But now that I have caught up on sleep and chores, I am feeling a renewed inspiration for writing speculative fiction.

In India, I visited the World Heritage sites of Ajanta and Ellora Caves.  Ajanta is a number of Buddhist man made caves with the art still visible in some of them after almost 2,000 years.  An expert guide is necessary to fully appreciate the stories that are on the walls of these caves.

North of Aurangabad, India, Ajanta Caves is a World Heritage site, but really a wonder of the world.
North of Aurangabad, India, Ajanta Caves is a World Heritage site, but really a wonder of the world.

Ellora is made up of Buddhist, Hindu, and Jain temples that are over 1,000 years old and created in an atmosphere of harmony between the religions.  Cave 16 is said to be the largest megalith — made from a single rock — temple in the world.  This exists within the Deccan Traps region of India, a volcanic region so large that it is now thought that this area millions of years ago contributed, along with the well-known Chicxulub impact, to the extinction of the dinosaurs.

Cave 16 is an amazing megalith (made from a single rock) temple in India.
Cave 16 is an amazing megalith (made from a single rock) temple in India.

In Singapore, I visited Gardens by the Bay, perhaps the most spectacular indoor gardens I have seen.  The MRT (subway) is excellent and made it easy to get around in the city.

MRT in Singapore
The subway is very nice and easy to figure out how to ride.
Plants and trees from all over the world
A cooled environment makes this an excellent place to spend a hot afternoon in Singapore. The gardens are beautiful.
The Cloud Forest
There are all kinds of exotic plants in the Cloud Forest dome next to the Flower Dome.

Finally, Siem Reap, Cambodia is the location of the Angkor archaeological site, famously known as a wonder of the world and the place where the “Tomb Raider” movie was filmed.  It is hard to capture on camera, because there is also the heat and humidity, and the smell of the jungle.  It’s an intense experience, and well worth making the trip.

At Angkor Wat in Cambodia
40,000 elephants participated in the building of the Angkor Wat complex
In a Tuk Tuk
A Tuk Tuk is a good way to get around in Siem Reap, Cambodia. We got a driver and tuk tuk for the day to visit the Angkor temples. The open air and associated breezes enhanced the experience of being there.
Trees growing into the temple
The workers at Angkor have a tough job keeping the jungle from taking back some of the temples.

Time travel can be confusing

The time travel television series “Continuum” starts its final season — just 6 episodes — on the SYFY channel (Friday, September 11, 2015.  Those of us who have enjoyed this time-hopping show are happy to have a final season to wrap up the plot, not to mention a few more episodes with this fun and talented cast.  If you need a refresher on what happened in previous seasons, you can take SYFY’s “Continuum 101”.

Not every viewer has enjoyed the trip through time.  Some have stopped watching the show, because they either were confused by some of the events, or often because it didn’t adhere to their political, philosophical, logical, or common sense point-of-view.  That can easily happen with any time travel story, because inherently it is difficult to imagine that time travel can even occur, let alone be understandable in any simple way.

But, for me, time travel stories go beyond mere logic.  After all, how can time travel be logical?  There is the multiverse, where changes to the timeline just create a new timeline, or nature may correct any changes to the timeline.  But these are just theories.  So when I think, write, read, or view time travel, my personal choice is to enjoy the ride.  If it becomes too uncomfortably silly, or crosses outside my believability meter, that may be the point I stop at.  However, I really enjoy time travel as a science fiction theme, so I tend to have a high tolerance for these things.  Maybe others do too, since “Continuum” has a 7.8 rating on IMDB.

Many time travel themes have been experimented with by the writers of “Continuum”, such as back in time, forward in time, time travel romance, betting with future knowledge, and causal loops — when a future event is the cause of an event in the past.  I’m surprised I haven’t seen time travel tourism yet, although maybe I just missed that.  I mean, wouldn’t it be fun just to go to some period in time and enjoy it for an hour or a day?  Mostly on “Continuum” the events appear to be pretty serious stuff, though the Matthew Kellog character has had a sense of humor about it at times.

If you find you enjoy time travel, like I do, you might also enjoy my best selling e-book anthology (“Science Fiction: Time Travel”) which contains four of my published short stories.

 

The Maritimes and vicinity – Wow!

I just got back from a vacation in The Maritime provinces of Canada, as well as Quebec, Maine, and a few neighboring states.  I highly recommend the Maritimes if you haven’t been!

We started in Bangor, ME on our way to the Bold Coast boat tour of Machias Seal Island where seals and puffins and other birds can be seen up close, especially if the weather is nice enough for a landing on this small island.

SealsNearMachiasSealIsland TowardsTheBlinds TwoWisePuffins

From there we made our way to New Brunswick, Canada, where we visited Hopewell Rocks, where ocean levels often range from 0 feet at low tide to over 40 feet at high tide.

HopewellRocks1_RainyDay

You can fly over to Newfoundland, but we chose to sleep in a cabin on the night ferry to Port-aux-Basques, rising the next morning for our drive to amazing Gros Morne National park.  If you’re lucky you might spot a bear (Western Brook Pond, NL) or a moose (Cape Breton Highlands, Nova Scotia), or even icebergs in late July as we did.  Fantastic waterfalls in the Maritimes and region are everywhere, such as Montmorency Falls near Quebec City.

KingsPt_Iceberg15DiscoveryCentre_WoodyPointNewfoundland_GrosMorneNationalParkWBP_BearAndCreeksP1010476MontmorencyFalls_Rick

I’m a writer, so I could easily go on and on about this trip.  I’ve thoroughly enjoyed our visits to France last year and Quebec and the Maritimes this year.  I’ve been thinking about making a small e-book series called “Two Week Drive: The Maritimes”, “Two Week Drive: France”, etc.

You can’t see everything in just two weeks, but the challenge and the excitement of that kind of vacation is choosing what can best be experienced and seen in that time frame.  For my wife and I, and another couple, it worked out great!

 

Is it possible that the future affects the past?

Second Nexus reports that recent physics experiments would seem to indicate that the future affects the past.  If so, that would be a form of time travel.

I love to write about time travel and ponder the implications.  Whether the form of time travel is through messaging into the past or future, suspended animation, wormholes, time machines, or some other quirks of physics, the paradoxes created are mind boggling as well as entertaining.  If you think so too, you might enjoy my “Science Fiction: Time Travel” anthology.

Time Travel E-book Cover

LightSail Test Success

Image: The Planetary Society; LightSail unfurled June 9, 2015

The Planetary Society blog declared the LightSail test mission a success as of today, June 9, 2015.  Above you can see an image of the unfurled light sail, though it won’t be until next year’s mission that another LightSail is used to actually attempt to sail into space.  Below you can see LightSail crossing the night sky on June 8, 2015.

Our ancestors sailed the seas and discovered new lands.  Perhaps today is a step towards future vehicles sailing on sunlight — and possibly laser light, running supply missions, and making new discoveries.  The stuff of science fiction made into reality.

Earth Impact Database

Speaking of Earth impacts — see my previous blog entry — The Planetary and Space Science Centre (PASSC) in Canada has a nice website on the subject of Earth impacts sorted by diameter.  If you have an interest in the subject, or you just enjoy seeing geologic features while on vacation, it’s handy to study the impact locations before your trip.

Many large impacts are now covered by lakes, rivers, grass, etc., and cannot easily be discerned when visiting the site.  However, if you’ve already explored the PASSC website and gotten an idea of what the impact was really like millions of years ago, it is easier to visualize in person what happened back then.  In my experience, it makes the view more impressive!

Impacts are mentioned often in science fiction, and I’ve written a couple of short stories that mentioned an impact of some kind.  “Myron’s Debarkation” is one of them.  Another of my stories, “A Comic on Phobos”, is about an effort by a team of robots to avert an impact.

Meteor clip art

UTM and Geographic Coordinates

Whether you are encountering UTM mapping coordinates because of genealogy or some other kind of research, it helps to know how to convert between UTM and geographic coordinates.  I recently ran into this issue when attempting to locate the exact spot where a meteor impact-related image was taken.  Although the photographer and researcher listed the UTM coordinates for the spot, I wanted to know the geographic coordinates so I could visit the location during vacation.

I’m sure there are many conversion tools on the internet, but here are a couple I encountered.  I used a site at the University of Wisconsin – Green Bay to convert from UTM coordinates to longitude and latitude.  I was then able to use the lat-long data to map it in Google maps.  To verify I got the right place, I used Google street maps and was able to see that the spot matched the photo location very nicely.

There are also tools for doing the conversion to Google Earth that you can find on the web with just a search on “UTM coordinates and Google Earth”.

Globe clip art

Did Kirk and Scott travel to 1841?

Did James T. Kirk and Montgomery Scott from “Star Trek” travel back in time from to 1841? Did they know each other in 2263, a couple of years prior to their first television episode’s timeline? Well, you won’t be able to prove it using an April Fool’s 2015 document humorously faked by Scotland’s People.

James T. Kirk was reportedly born in 2233 in Iowa, meaning he’d be 30 in 2263. Montgomery Scott (“Scotty”) was born 2222, but in 2263 he would have been 41 — not 35. So I guess even fake census records sometimes get the birth year wrong.

The first “Star Trek” television episode (“Where No Man Has Gone Before” — the second pilot) starring William Shatner as the character James T. Kirk took place in 2265, but this fake document would seem to imply that Kirk and Scott worked together and had the ability to travel in time (probably with a starship) 2 year’s earlier.

Oh, but wait a minute! We have an alternate timeline to consider, since the 2009 “Star Trek” movie created a new path for the crew’s lives in 2255. So if the document had been real, it could have been Chris Pine’s character, not Shatner, and Karl Urban’s character, not DeForest Kelley, who appeared in 1841 from the year 2263. That would imply that a timeline change in 2255 created ripples in the past as well as the future. Have you seen the last two episodes of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” (“All Good Things”)?

Good thing this document is a fake, because otherwise I’d have a headache figuring this all out. Like the study of genealogy, time travel research can be difficult and complicated. Fake documents can make it even tougher.

Isn’t it interesting that Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” published in 1843 — but did he possibly start writing it in 1841? — is considered by some to be one of the first stories about time travel.

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.”

Retrogaming Events Calendar

Wikipedia defines retrogaming — yes, they spell it with no spaces, but many websites (about 3 to 4 times as many) use the two words retro gaming — as “the playing or collecting of older personal computer, console, and arcade video games.”  Although there are some comprehensive databases online of game conventions such as Game Convention Central and Upcoming Cons, they aren’t classic gaming specific and they are not always easy to search.

Game Convention Central
So I thought some gamers might like a list of some of the retro gaming expos held throughout the year.  I say “some”, because I’m positive I left many out, including some held in January and February this year.

Please double check the actual dates and locations at the links below, as things can change.  I only listed the dates and places for convenience and you should not count on my information as correct.  Also, the ones marked with a “?” indicate that I don’t know if this expo will be held this year, since no information is available at the time of this blog entry.

Arcade Expo (March 6-8, 2015), Louisville, KY

SXSW Gaming Expo (March 13-15, 2015), Austin, TX

Retro Gaming Expo (April 18, 2015), Vancouver, BC, Canada

Play Blackpool (May 2-4, 2015), Blackpool, U.K.

Retro Gaming Expo (June, 2015?), Seattle, WA

NERG 2015 (June 20-21, 2015), Gateshead Stadium, U.K.

Classic Game Fest (July 25-26, 2015), Austin, TX

Let’s Play Gaming Expo (August 1-2, 2015),  Plano, TX

Classic Gaming Expo (July or August, 2015?), Las Vegas, NV

Retro Con (September 12-13, 2015), Oaks, PA

Play Expo (October, 2015?), Manchester, U.K.

Retro Gaming Expo (October 2015?), Portland, Oregon

Pittsburgh Retro Gaming (November, 2015?), Pittsburgh, PA

Retro Gaming in Sweden

Avatar ride

Although it wasn’t among the best science fiction movies I’ve ever seen, I enjoyed the movie “Avatar” and the effects are amazing.  In 2017 we may yet see the best outcome of the movie in the form of a theme park land at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.  The settings and the action in the movie would seem to be perfect for a theme park ride.

I love science fiction and sometimes science fantasy, which is more of the category of “Avatar.”  In 2017 we’ll see if Pandora really comes to life!