Category Archives: Media

A Viral Raccoon Memorial

dead racoon

Torontoians are many things, Canadian, polite, even patient, but they are not known for their love of raccoons. That’s because the pests live in all parts of the city, have adapted to city life, love the contents of recycle bins, defecate all over the place, and sometimes destroy property. One raccoon climbed 2013 meters to poop on top of a crane. Think of them as fury motorcycle gang members on crank.

How many raccoons does the city have? Nobody knows since there has never been a census but an estimate from the 1980’s put the number in the tens of thousands. Ask a home owner and he will tell you there are more raccoons in the city than people. I knew one resident who hoped the advent of coyotes within the city would curb the raccoon population.

However, this story is about one raccoon, which has been named Conrad for no apparent reason. At 9:05 AM, Conrad was reported dead at the corner of Yonge and Church, This is one traffic light north of Bloor and Yonge, and only minutes from the heart of the financial district. It’s right downtown.

Conrad’s body was reported to the City Services which responded that animal services had been contacted and the raccoon would be removed shortly.

At 3:15 PM, Conrad’s body was still on the sidewalk. However, some mourning member of the public had laid a flower on the poor raccoon’s body and left a condolence card. A framed picture of a raccoon stood at the body’s head.

About that time Councilor Norm Kelly became involved as he tweeted “Please have staff pick up this raccoon at 819 Yonge St.”

At 4:50 PM the body remained unclaimed and the memorial had grown.

At 8:37 PM the body remained and the memorial now contained several bunches of flowers as well as notes from people.

Getting into the spirit of the Dead Raccoon movement Norm Kelly tweeted “Residents are being asked to keep their green bins open tonight in honour of #DeadRaccoonTO,” at 9:12 PM.

At 10:23, after the sun had set on poor dead Conrad, his body remained on the sidewalk. Kind people had added several lit candles to his memorial. Perhaps they held a vigil for him. Someone added a donation box. The message on it read, “The proper authorities will only move the little fella when enough funds are raised. Please donate generously…”

Finally, after 11:00 PM, the city workers arrived to remove the dead raccoon body, but left the memorial on the sidewalk.

In Toronto, the city won’t help it citizens with live raccoon issues. The official position is that humans are the problem, not the raccoons. The new mayor, John Tory, thought the solution would be a new green bin that is raccoon proof. I’m certain I heard the same thing about the previous bin. If the new bins work raccoons will be forced to return to digging in compost bins.

Since raccoons carry diseases such as Raccoon Roundworm, Leptospirosis and Rabies, a dead raccoon on the city street isn’t just a laughing matter. It is a health hazard, especially when the cause of death isn’t apparent.

The impromptu memorial and tweets have traveled all over the place. You might have seen the story in the Belfast Telegraph, Minnesota Public Radio, or on Colorado’s 9News. This is the kind of media you can’t buy and certainly the City of Toronto never wanted.

Maybe the next time the public reports a dead animal carcass on the public sidewalk someone will respond in less than twelve hours, but don’t count on it.

To see some of my short stories go to www.edwardmcdermott.net

 

 

Exoplanets – the Weird and the Wacky

exoplanets

Exoplanets. Science fiction writers have assumed that other stars had planet from almost the beginning. However, it wasn’t until 1988 that Canadian astronomers Bruce Campbell, G. A. H. Walker, and Stephenson Yang published a paper about their discovery. That was fifteen years after the first Star Wars movie.

Since then, the entire subject of exoplanets has exploded. There are 1931 planets in 1222 planetary systems including 484 multiple planetary systems as of 14 June 2015. And some of those exoplanets are far stranger that science fiction writers imagining.

Consider Kepler-16b. This planet with a mass of about 1/3 of Jupiter orbits a binary star system. From its surface you could see two suns in the sky.

Kepler-11 has six planets orbiting in circles smaller than Venus’ orbit. Furthermore five of those planets are even closer to their parent star than Mercury is to our sun. Crowded. This stellar system could force revisions to the current theories about planet creation.

The term Hot Jupiter refers to Jupiter sized planets so close to their star that their year can be measured in days or hours.

Some of the Jupiter sized planets are significantly larger than you would expect. The largest to date is twenty-nine times larger than Jupiter. Is that a planet or a brown dwarf star?

What about a planet that is entirely made of water? It’s possible.

The impact of these discoveries to modern thought particularly touches on two viewpoints. One is the ‘rare earth theory’, which posits that the planet Earth is a unique combination of conditions. The other is Fermi’s Paradox. In 1950 Fermi commented on the size of the universe and exclaimed “Where are they?” Two different sides to the same question about the rest of the universe.

In November 2013 astronomers estimated that 22±8% of Sun-like stars have an Earth-sized planet in the habitable zone. Assuming 200 billion stars in the Milky Way, that would be 11 billion potentially habitable Earths, rising to 40 billion if red dwarfs are included.

40 billion! Imagine that.

To see some of my short stories go to www.edwardmcdermott.net

As we Age

Cell-Phone-Humor

In the spring of 1992, I went to a conference where a fellow with nerd glasses explained that ‘This is the last User Interface you will ever have to learn.’ That was Windows 3.1. Then came Windows 95, ME, XP, Vista, 7, 8.1. Every damn one of them has been different. Seven different ones in less than thirteen years.

For me this is a pain. Heck, I remember when programs were keypunched onto cards. For other people this is more than an annoyance. It limits their ability to use and enjoy technology.

Consider the typewriter. The user interface (i.e. the keyboard) has remained the same since 1873. This despite the fact it was originally designed to slow typists so that they didn’t jam the machine.

The telephone has gone through three user interfaces. Originally, the operator simply lifted the receiver and told the operator what number he/she wanted to call. That gave way to the rotary dialer, circa 1920, and then to the push button dialing which was first introduced in 1962.

In 1970 Alvin Toffler’s book ‘Future Shock’ was published. His shortest definition for the term was when a person decided there was too much change in too short a time.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I want a cell phone to work as a phone. A few years ago I upgraded from my flip phone to a smart phone. There are things about the flip phone that I miss, such as:

  • Charge it on Sunday and it lasts all week long.
  • No pocket dialing.
  • A Display I can read in direct sunlight.
  • A phone that fits in a small pocket.

It’s time for a new phone, and I’m thinking about going back a step. The Android OS for cell phones was introduced on Sept, 23, 2008. Version 5.1.1 of the operating system came out last April. Who really wants five revisions in seven years?

For seniors the ‘Future Shock’ is more intense. While seniors in Canada own cellphones (61%) only a few have a smart phone. “Too damn complicated” is what they say if you ask them.

The problem grows much worse when the senior’s faculties are dimmed with age. One company from Australia has completely redesigned the cell phone, with such people in mind. Some of the features include:

  • Personalised menu with pictures of contacts.
  • Long battery life.
  • Light enough to be worn with the provided lanyard so it is not misplaced.
  • A customized back with critical medical information and address details.
  • Built in protection to avoid bill shock if user forgets to hang up.

However, it’s more than just that the device is complicated. The response time for icons on an Apple screen is 0.7 seconds, but the over-65s have a response time of about one second. The computer demands more than the senior can deliver. The nerves in the finger become less sensitive with age, meaning older people may “touch” far more heavily, especially after years of pounding manual keyboards. Finally, tests suggest that if an older person has a slight tremor, it can be registered on a device as a swipe rather than a touch.

Small wonder seniors prefer real buttons to touch screens.

It is estimated that, by 2030, 19% of the US population will be over 65 – roughly the same proportion that currently own iPhones. That’s a pretty big chunk of the market.

Personally, I want the robot companion from the Movie, “Robot and Frank.” Then I’ll have the robot answer my calls on my cellphone.

To see some of my short stories go to www.edwardmcdermott.net

 

The PEN controversy

charlie

PEN American has decided to give the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo its annual Freedom of Expression Courage Award. This decision has met with some blow back. Six authors have decided to protest the award by withdrawing from the PEN American Center’s annual gala on May 5.

While I knew of the horrific events of January 7 of this year, I didn’t really know the publication. After all it’s in French, a language I have ignored for the most part since I left high school. The protest caught my attention and I did a little digging.

From what I can determine, Charlie Hebdo, isn’t fearlessly uncovering plots, conspiracies, and corruption. Imagine Mad Magazine satire targeting politicians, and religions. In 1982 one of it cartoonists admitted on radio that he was anti-Semitic. He continued to work for the magazine until 2008 when some of his work drew a complaint. The magazine’s editor noted that the publication had been sued thirteen times by Catholic organizations, and seemed proud of it. One Cartoon depicted the ‘Father’, ‘Son’, and ‘Holy Spirit’ engaged in sodomy.

Charlie Hebdo isn’t the only magazine the goes for shock. In 1991, in Canada, the Frank magazine ran a satirical advertisement for a contest which invited young Tories to “Deflower Caroline Mulroney.” Her father, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, threatened physical harm to those responsible. Later he joined with several women’s groups in denouncing the ad as an incitement to rape.

In every democracy there are limits to Free Speech. “You can’t yell fire in a crowded theater.” That’s the gist of a 1919 U.S. Supreme Court written by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. In 2007 the European Union approved legislation that would make denying the Holocaust punishable by jail sentences. Canada and other nations have laws against hate speech.

I’m not certain we need laws against blasphemy to keep people from printing a cartoon featuring rolls of toilet paper labeled “Bible,” “Koran,” and “Torah.” with the headline “In the shitter, all the religions”. However, the world has enough angry people striving for attention of any sort.

I condemn the murder of those people, but I wouldn’t chant ‘Je suis Charlie.’ I certainly wouldn’t buy the paper.

 

To see some of my short stories go to www.edwardmcdermott.net

 

 

Hugo Wars

hugo

In a world of crowd funding, flash mobs, and internet anarchy, it feels that the current Hugo awards controversy was inevitable.

What are the Hugo Awards? Since 1953, these awards for the best Science Fiction and Fantasy published in English have been given out at the annual World Science Fiction Convention (Worldcon). Hugo Award nominees and winners are chosen by supporting or attending members of Worldcon. The rules about nomination are critical to the rest of this story.

To become a supporting member requires buying a membership for forty dollars. A group known as the Sad Puppies took advantage of rules, and the low participation of readers to mount a campaign that nominated their slate of stories for the 2015.

Who are the Sad Puppies? This is a group organized by sci-fi writers Larry Correia and Brad R. Torgersen. Is it really a group? From what I’ve read this year was not the first time these two have tried to influence the nomination process. In 2014, they had some success with about seventy supporters.

What happened this year? On February 1st, 2015, Torgersen published the Sad Puppies 3 slate for this year’s Hugo Awards. On February 5th, the conservative news site Breitbart published an article about Sad Puppies. On April 4th, the Hugo Awards announced the 2015 finalists, featuring many authors and works listed on the Sad Puppies slate.

Now we get to the name calling. The Sad puppies say they wanted to draw attention to authors and creators who were suffering from an undeserved lack of attention due to the political climate in sci-fi. That’s right. This is about politics in Science Fiction.

Not the Science Fiction has been immune to politics. H.G. Wells’ novel ‘The Time Machine’ has a distinctly socialist message. Jack London’s novel ‘The Iron Heel’ chronicles the rise of an oligarchic tyranny in the United States. Who could forget ‘Animal Farm’ or ‘1984’?

Politics, race, roles of women have all been addressed in Science Fiction for decades. Not just in books either. Rod Serling often used aliens to raise an issues related to race in ‘The Twilight Zone’, and the first interracial kiss on American television was shown on an episode of Star Trek.

I remember how the war in Vietnam divided the SF community as it did the world: Heinlein supporting, and Asimov protesting. Both groups ran advertisements in the SF magazines of the time.

Personally, I don’t care if the author is black or white, man or woman. I’m interested in the fun the story gives me. I read Samuel R. Delany long before I knew he was black. And Leigh Brackett long before I knew she was a woman.

However, the issues of race and gender in Science Fiction have come out of the fiction and into our reality. As for the Hugos, it seems that the awards have entered the world of party politics, with the battle lines drawn between the left and the right, the liberals and the conservatives.

I wonder what next year will bring. Attack ads on the internet? Conventions? Will the community divide along political lines? Maybe the Hugos will implode, leaving the Nebula awards as the only ones for SF writers.

Welcome to ‘The Brave New World’.

To see some of my short stories go to www.edwardmcdermott.net

All the connections

Have Gun

On the weekend I was watching an episode of “Have Gun Will Travel”, specifically Season 2 Episode 34 – Comanche. This was a half hour western television series from the 1950’s. If you want to watch it, go to YouTube where you can find all the episodes.

I’m not certain if watching a fifty year old television series says more about me or the current state of television. Stop laughing.

Now the main character on “Have Gun Will Travel” is a soldier of fortune named Paladin, who lives in San Francisco, and works all over the American west. His character is portrayed as a well-read, well-educated man, with a taste for the theatre. Usually he quotes some piece of writing during the show.

Sometimes I know the quote. However in this episode I didn’t. It ran as follows:

And when he fell in whirlwind, he went down

As when a lordly cedar, green with boughs,

Goes down with a great shout upon the hills,

And leaves a lonesome place against the sky.

Catchy isn’t it? I had to look it up. It turns out this is the last lines from a poem “Lincoln, Man of the People” by Edwin Markham who was the subject of one of my blogs earlier. I have a particular liking for another of his poems, ‘The Man with a Hoe’. I found the connection fascinating.

I decided to look up the writers for this series. There were 225 episodes, 24 written by Gene Roddenberry. Other contributors included Bruce Geller, Harry Julian Fink, Don Brinkley and Irving Wallace. This particular episode was one of three that was written by Irving Wallace. He is better known for his novels and the movies they inspired.

It’s get stranger. During WWII, Wallace served in the Frank Capra unit in Fort Fox along with Theodor Seuss Geisel (Dr. Seuss). So there’s only one degree of separation between Dr. Seuss and Gene Roddenberry of Star Trek fame.

Want some other connections? Movies from Wallace’s novels starred everyone from Paul Newman to Tom Selleck, to Jane Fonda, to Cloris Leachman. And this is another connection to me, because Tom Selleck started in ‘Three Men and a baby’ a picture I worked on as a movie extra.

For writers, the connections are many, complex and not always obvious at first sight.

To see some of my short stories go to www.edwardmcdermott.net

Turning The Moon is a Harsh Mistress into Uprising

They plan to make Robert A. Heinlein’s Book, ‘The Moon is a Harsh Mistress’ into a movie. They have a producer (Bryan Singer) and a screen writer (Marc Guggenheim) in place as of a few days ago. This isn’t the first attempt. In 2004 a screenwriter Tim Minear started a screenplay based on the novel. It was shopped around but never got off the ground.

If you haven’t read the novel, I would recommend it. It’s written in an easy style. It has enough action to keep a reader interested. The characters, while one dimensional, are interesting. It also has just a touch of sin, and paints an interesting picture of lunar colonies.

Heinlein wrote the novel in 1965, and it was first serialized in the ‘Worlds of If’ science fiction magazine. That’s where I first read it. It has a computer (not a robot) that talked, and became sentient. It had revolutionaries, and a completely new culture set on Luna.

I’ve written several stories about the moon, in part inspired by Heinlein’s attention to detail; ‘Crash’, ‘Nothing but Vacuum’, ‘No place for a Cripple’, and a few that have not yet sold.

To libertarians this book is one of the ten best in the twentieth century. Milton Friedman praised the novel as a “wonderful” book. Another element of the novel is the line marriage structure Heinlein describes in the novel. In 1966 we hadn’t heard of polyamory. There’s also the key issue that is driving the revolution, and his stark position that you can’t cheat natural laws, just because you want to. That makes Heinlein an early conservationist.

So there’s a lot in the book. Well it’s 115,000 words. So how do they plan to turn that into a 2 hour screen play of 120 pages? Obviously, they plan to cut something, but what?

Here are some hints. They plan to title the movie ‘Uprising’. Marc Guggenheim’s previous screen plays were ‘Green Lantern’ and ‘Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters’. (Before that he wrote comics – ‘Spiderman’ and ‘The Flash’. ) Bryan Singer has some excellent credits. He directed ‘The Usual Suspects’ as well the ‘X-men’ movies. So from this meager information I will predict that movie will concentrate on the revolution, and probably drop all stuff that made the book so controversial.

To see some of my short stories go to www.edwardmcdermott.net

 

 

As Movies Fade to Black

I watched the Academy Awards on Sunday evening for the first time in about fifteen years. It’s not that I didn’t want to see the Oscars, but that time and circumstance defeated me. In the world of cable I remain during my sailing time, a solitary standout. No television. Strangely, while Americans have parties for the Super bowl, they don’t even turn the television to the Oscars.

So I watched the entire thing from the red carpet to the last gasp thirty minutes later than predicted. Sad in some ways to see the faces on the red carpet. There’s no special lenses to hide the passage of time (Except for Nicole Kidman who appears to have gotten younger.) Then the ‘In Memoriam’. I knew more of the people in that segment than among the announcers. See what happens when you don’t pay attention for a decade.

The musical numbers have always been a big part of the show. It’s some real entertainment. However, none of the numbers moved me, with one exception. Lady Gaga nailed those songs from ‘The Sound of Music’, and demonstrated a well-trained, strong voice. In an age of lip-syncing, and pitch corrected recordings, this amazed me. Lady Gaga, who has been known for her shock tactics took the high road.

The dresses were lovely; the red carpet statements were banal. The speeches were a little better, but had nothing that will be played again and again. Remember Jack Palance and his one armed pushups at the age of seventy-three? No? Look it up on YouTube.

Overall, it struck me as nostalgic, old fashioned, and bit sad. While they celebrate, their ship has sailed and the future is pushing them onto the slag heap of history.

International video game revenue is estimated to be $81.5B in 2014. This is more than double the revenue of the international film industry in 2013. Video game growth in some segments is running 20% per annum.

No, movies won’t disappear in the next year. Movies are passive. Go to the theatre and sit. They are great for a date. However, ticket sales (not dollar sales) for 2014 were 1.27 billion, down from a high 1.58 billion in 2002. All the increase in dollars came from increased ticket prices. IMAX and 3D pictures have driven this trend.

Personally, and this is from a man whose favorite movie is in black-and-white with mono sound, I’m not sold on the new technology. I’m still adjusting to HD television and not always happy with the result. How many explosions can a single movie contain before it becomes boring?

Oh heck. I’m sounding like an old fart. It must be time for me to buy a new console and hook it to the television; maybe one of those body motion detectors. Then I could consider video games as a cardio workout. Maybe next year I’ll watch the Video Game Awards Show.

Danegeld

Danegeld?

Gold for the Danes.

After the Viking victory at the Battle of Maldon in Essex, Sigeric the Serious, Archbishop of Canterbury, and the aldermen of the south-western provinces, advised Æthelred the Unready to buy off the Vikings, to pay them to go away. (Got to love those names.)

In 991 the English made a payment of 3,300 kg of silver. In 994 the Danes returned and laid siege to London. Once more, the English paid Danegeld to make them go away. In 1002 and 1007 more payments. In 1012 the Vikings accepted 17,900 kg of silver to go away, but only after sacking Canterbury and killing its Archbishop. No, it wasn’t Sigeric the Serious who died in 994, but one of his successors.

In 1016, Canute, became the first Danish King of England. The Danegeld failed to keep the Danes away.

This fact of history might have been forgotten, but in 1911, Rudyard Kipling published the following poem. Why then and why this topic? In 1911, Kipling had long been predicting a war with Germany. Ten years earlier he became involved in the debate over the British response to the rise in German naval power known as the Tirpitz Plan to build a fleet to challenge the Royal Navy. He published a series of articles in 1898 which were collected as “A Fleet in Being”.

Perhaps Kipling realized his poetry had a greater impact than his political writings.

 

Rudyard Kipling

Dane-Geld

A.D. 980-1016

It is always a temptation to an armed and agile nation
To call upon a neighbour and to say: —
“We invaded you last night–we are quite prepared to fight,
Unless you pay us cash to go away.”

And that is called asking for Dane-geld,
And the people who ask it explain
That you’ve only to pay ‘em the Dane-geld
And then you’ll get rid of the Dane!

It is always a temptation for a rich and lazy nation,
To puff and look important and to say: —
“Though we know we should defeat you, we have not the time to meet you.
We will therefore pay you cash to go away.”

And that is called paying the Dane-geld;
But we’ve proved it again and again,
That if once you have paid him the Dane-geld
You never get rid of the Dane.

It is wrong to put temptation in the path of any nation,
For fear they should succumb and go astray;
So when you are requested to pay up or be molested,
You will find it better policy to say: —

“We never pay any-one Dane-geld,
No matter how trifling the cost;
For the end of that game is oppression and shame,
And the nation that pays it is lost!”

 To end this story: President Ronald Reagan read this poem at a meeting of the National Security Planning Group in 1985.

 

To see some of my short stories go to www.edwardmcdermott.net

Holding back the Tide with Words

Canute_rebukes_his_courtiers

Recently, during a critique of one of my short stories, the reader asked about something and I had one of those epiphanies. Many of the stories and legends I heard and read about as a child have been lost. Younger readers have never heard the stories about King Canute and the tide, Alfred the Great burning the cakes, or Danegeld.

Why? These are stories of England before the Norman invasion. Certainly not a priority period for American educators, or European History professors. Yet, each story has some lesson of importance to the world.

This is the story of King Canute and the waves as I heard it from my Father.

Now King Canute was the king of Denmark, England, Norway and parts of Sweden. He ruled England for nineteen years, and prosperous ones they were for Canute was a leader in a war and a leader in peace. He brought in good laws, and the land was peaceful.

In his court, there was a certain lord who sought to curry the king’s favor with words of praise. Whatever King Canute said, he would stand behind it and would praise the king for his wisdom and his power. One day this lord made his praise more vainglorious than usual.

“Oh King,” The lord began. “Such is the power of your word, that the winds blow at your command and the tides flow as you set them to do.”

King Canute, a man learned in the ways of war and peace, was not impressed. He thought to correct the lord, but struck on a better plan.

The next day the court moved to a new location. At low tide, King Canute led all the courtiers, including the lord of vain words out onto the exposed beach. There, King Canute continued with the king’s business in the normal fashion.

Soon the returning water began reach the court, making more than one person nervous. When a courtier finally mentioned, King Canute stood up and commanded the tide to retreat once more. Then he sat on his throne and continued with the business of the kingdom.

The sea did not retreat. It continued to rise.

Finally, when the water had risen to their knees, the courtiers begged the king to return to land. Looking at the flatterer, King Canute said, “You said I could command the tides.”

“Oh king,” the lord replied. “I was wrong.”

King Canute smiled, and said, “A king may command many things, but he cannot command the winds or the seas, or the seasons. Only God can do that.”

With that the court returned to dry land.

King Canute is a real historic person who ruled England for nineteen years, until November 12, 1035. Look him up.

To see some of my short stories go to www.edwardmcdermott.net

What Star Trek TNG got right and got wrong – 3

If mankind has a hobby (or an obsession) it is the war. Thomas Hobbes called the natural state of man as ‘bellum omnium contra omnes’ (war of all against all). Yet in TNG, the world is at peace. Perhaps that’s why the weapons on TNG are so primitive.

What do I mean? Watch any TNG episode. In most you’ll see the phasers (set to stun) drawn. Then there are a couple of minutes of shooting back and forth with visible beams fired by hand or rifle phaser that miss most of the time.

Today, prison guards in American prison have rifles with laser pointers that show where the shot will go. It cools the jail yard rioter when he sees the little red dot on his chest. Police, when they storm a position, use a stun grenade, also known at a flashbang or flash grenade. These disorient, stun, deafen, and blind the opponent. By the way they were first developed by the British Army’s SAS in the 1960’s.

The closest we have to a phaser is the Taser, which at close ranges does the job, but Riot police also have rubber bullets for standard pistols and rifles, plastic batons (plastic bullets) from specialized guns, and the Bean Bag round from shotguns to strike at a great distance without killing.

For more deadly results, consider the fire and forget facilities in development. US military research agency DARPA says it is homing in on its long-term ambition of producing self-guided bullets, after staging a test in which a sniper was able to shoot at a target at a radically wrong angle, and yet still hit it perfectly. The bullet has fin-stabilized projectiles, spin-stabilized projectiles, and comes in a .50 round. That means a kill from a mile away, or farther.

Want something as an American civilian. TrackingPoint, an Austin-based company, builds smart-rifles with a computer to increase accuracy out to 1,000 yards. After the shooter tags the target the gun adjusts the scope’s crosshairs for a perfect shot when the trigger is pulled. Those Star Trek Phaser rifles haven’t changed since 1966, still with iron sites if any.

Want more fire power. As part of the military, you could add an under the barrel grenade launcher to your rifle today. Then go with a grenade that explodes after it has penetrated the wall and infra-red detection to spot the other guys through the wall.

Did I mention body armor?

Today’s Special Forces have the equipment and training to turn a TNG fire fight into ten seconds of slaughter.

In part, you have to remember that Rodenberry’s view of the 24th century for TNG. It was a utopia where the world is at peace. People are able to receive all of their basic needs. Money no longer exists. Small wonder small arms didn’t advance between the first generation and the second generation almost a century later. We’re not even with hailing distance of the part of the imagined future.

To see some of my short stories go to www.edwardmcdermott.net

 

What Star Trek TNG got right and wrong – 2

We have created some of the Star Trek technology in the last twenty-five-years. In other places we still have to a ways to go. Now TNG showed us the dream. What has been done to make the vision real?

 

What’s happened with the hypospray? That was a medical device to inject liquids into the body. It used compressed air to deposit the injectant into the subdermal layer below the skin of the body, or artery, without the use of a needle. It turns out that this wasn’t 24th century technology, even when TNG was in production. High pressure air injectors have been used by the military as a common initial entry vaccination method since at least the mid 1980’s. There are several models on the market today, principally used by the U.S. military. These devices used compressed air or co2 gas.

 

The latest entrant into the field is a device from MIT. This device uses a Lorentz-force actuator – a small, powerful magnet surrounded by a coil of wire that’s attached to a piston inside the drug ampule. No compressed air required.

 

However these devices do not inject into an artery and are not as safe as first thought. The jet injector breaks the barrier of the skin, so potential biological material can be transferred from one user to the next. One study tested the fluid remaining in the injector for blood after an injection, and found enough to pass on a virus. Blowback from the injection is still a problem. The World Health Organization no longer recommends jet injectors for vaccination due to risks of disease transmission. That’s why you haven’t seen a hypospray in your doctor’s office.

 

What happened to the medical tricorder? There’s actually an X-prize for creating one. The ten finalists have been chosen, and they must demonstrate their devices on humans in 2015 with three winners to be announced in 2016. Top prize is seven million dollars (U.S.). Part of the problem is definition. The medical tricorder of TNG acted could X-ray bones, scan organs like an MRI, test blood and analyze pathogens. That’s a lot in a hand-held device.

 

Specialized devices such as blood sugar monitors have made great strides in the last twenty years. Ask any diabetic. Another specialized testing device uses an app, a smart phone and the smartphone’s camera to deliver screening without the need for laboratories and highly trained staff.

 

For much of the world even this technology is out of reach. Cost is a consideration. Recently, in an attempt to do a mass test for cervical cancer, India resorted to less expensive solution. The test involves swabbing the cervix with vinegar, which turns the precancerous tumors white. The results can be seen in minutes. Using this test and some liquid nitrogen reduced cancer deaths by 31 percent in the testing area. This could save over 72,000 lives if used worldwide. It’s not sexy technology but it gets the job done.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To see some of my short stories go to www.edwardmcdermott.net

What Star Trek TNG Got Right and Wrong

Star Trek, the Next Generation, ran from 1987 to 1994.  That’s about over twenty-five-years ago. A generation. It’s set in 2364AD, or almost three hundred years from the broadcast of the first Star Trek series. I watched the first episode and cringed. It was so bad it set a new low for SF on television. Still, I did watch more. Why? A few years earlier I worked as an extra on a show with Gates McFadden who played Dr. Beverly Crusher on TNG.

I didn’t know Gates. I was on the same show and saw her on the set. If you were to ask me about her, all I could tell you is that she knew her lines, and hit her mark. I guess that is quite a lot when you come to think of it,

I have no need to tell you that the show went on to become a great success, spawned spin off shows and movies as well. I thought it would be interesting to look at technology and see the hits and misses as time moves forward.

In communication, Star Trek was ahead of its time, but we’ve caught up quickly. In the first show they had flip phones, and in the second they had the comm badges. Well flip phones have come and gone. I sort of miss them.  They were small, simple, and could hold a charge for a week, unlike my newer smart phone.

Wearable technology is making the comm badge a possibility. However, it will probably look more like Dick Tracy’s radio. The practical problem with the comm badge is that everyone in the room hears both sides of the conversation. No privacy. With current phones, I have had to remind commuters that their ‘cone of silence’ isn’t working and the entire train car can hear some of the conversation. (Remember this when you call your drug dealer.)

And remember how Captain Picard would go to his ready room to receive a video call from Star Fleet? Today you can do the same with your computer, its camera and Skype. Have you noticed that every laptop has a video camera built into it?

Remember, those pads that people would pass to the captain and he would read, while rubbing his chin? The replacement for paper? Then he would take out the attached stylus and make some marks. Well between ereaders and tablets, we can see the technology here today. However, our tablets are touch-screen, in color and have audio. We don’t need the stupid stylus anymore. Still, it will take a while before paper disappears.

How did TNG do with computers? Frankly I’m surprised they still had computers in the 24th century. Voice recognition and control software comes with your Window 8 machine today. Text to speech has been around even longer.  However, the computer voices on TNG sound much more wooden that the computer text of today. Even Lieutenant Reginald Barclay didn’t obsess over the computer’s voice. Contrast that to the character in the 2013 movie ‘Her’ who fell in love with the voice on his telephone.

Remember the iso linear optical chips on TNG. Current technology is getting there. You can go into any computer store in the world to pick up a MicroSD chip for 64Gig. That could hold about a thousand movies.  Solid State ram drives are available for your laptop. (I put one into a server five years ago.) Optical chips are a current topic in U.S. defense contracts. This would be one to visit in another ten years. That would improve capacity and speed. (Why do we need a one Terabyte microSD device?)

I always wanted a Universal Translator. I’m terrible at languages. Today you can buy a device, or down an app to your smart phone that will translate from one language to another. Furthermore, you can speak into it in one language and it will repeat it back in the other language, out loud.  I don’t think they have one that a third party can speak into in a foreign language and it will echo back in your language yet. Why? I once remember listening to a Pole and a Chinese person argue about the news in English. Accents are still a stumbling block for voice-to-text recorders. Who knows what can be done in twenty years on this?

Life Imitates Art

One of the mantras that writers live by is that they should ground their story in reality. ‘Write what you know.’ I’m not completely certain that this is correct and I have been mulling a story from last November that seems to suggest the complete opposite.

Now I’m going to talk about the Hunger Games. This trilogy follows the problems within a dystopian future. The Hunger Games is an annual event in which one boy and one girl aged 12–18 from each of the twelve districts surrounding the Capitol are selected by lottery to compete in a televised battle to the death. (If this plot seems familiar, it’s probably because the Greek Story of Theseus and the Minotaur starts roughly the same way.)

During the Hunger Games, Katniss befriends a 12-year-old girl from another district, Rue. After Rue dies, Katniss surrounds her body with flowers and gives a three-finger salute which becomes a symbol of revolution in the novel and later the movie.

A powerful graphic image on the movie screen.

The pro-democracy protesters in Thailand adopted this salute as a symbol of their movement. Naturally, the military junta responded. They canceled the release of the third of the Hunger Games in the country in November. Five Thai students who flashed the salute at Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha have been detained. Army officials later confirmed that the students were taken to a military camp and were detained for “attitude adjustment”.

This is not the first time a salute has been linked with resistance. A raised fist has been featured in movements as diverse as Feminism, Black Power, and the Union Movement. However, that symbol goes back to Assyrian depictions of the goddess Ishtar.

We learn from reading fiction. We learn from watching movies about fictional people. In Thailand, they found a symbol, a salute to express their needs. Life imitates art.

 

To see some of my short stories go to www.edwardmcdermott.net

The Invention of the Cross-Word Puzzle

On December 21st in 1913 the first crossword puzzle was published in the New York World.

Arthur Wynne is usually credited as the inventor of the popular word game. Wynne puzzle had horizontal and vertical words with hints in the shape of a diamond, internal black squares. The numbering system was different from todays. Instead of grouping the clue by ‘across’ and ‘down’, the clues were indicated by a start and stop number.

Prior to Wynne invention, there had been word puzzles based on the word square, where the letter were arranged to read the same way vertically and horizontally.

In the 1920’s crosswords became an American obsession. One man shot his wife because she wouldn’t help him with a crossword. A Chicago woman sued her husband for divorce, claiming “he was so engrossed in solving crosswords that he didn’t have time to work.”

Yet Wynne didn’t invent the word crossword. He called the puzzle a word-cross. A typesetter reversed the words and crossword stuck.

At first the only place you could find a crossword puzzle was in the New York World. The New York Times resisted the pull of the puzzle until the 1940’s and only put them into the Sunday paper. Weekday puzzles wouldn’t appear there for another decade.

In the 20’s, a couple of young bloods named Richard L. Simon and M. Lincoln Schuster began publishing books of crossword puzzles. They were very successful.

The term crossword first appeared in a dictionary in 1930.

Want to create crosswords, but need some help? Consider the Crossword Compiler. For $169, you can have the same tool used by the people who supply the New York Times and other.

 

To see some of my short stories go to www.edwardmcdermott.net

It Really is a Wonderful Life

Today, December 20, was the release date for Frank Capra’s ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ in 1946. If you haven’t seen this picture, do so. The film has been in the public domain since the 1970’s.

Let’s go to the beginning. In 1939 Philip Van Doren Stern awoke from a dream that was inspired by Charles Dickens ‘A Christmas Carol’. He wrote ‘The Greatest Gift’ and rewrote it and played with the 4100 word story until 1943 without success. He couldn’t find a publisher. So, in frustration, he printed two hundred booklets and sent them out as Christmas cards that year.

Smart move. RKO pictures thought the story would be a perfect vehicle for Cary Grant. The actor thought so as well. They bought the movie rights from Stern for ten thousand dollars. (That would have been five years’ salary for a policeman at the time.) RKO commissioned a screen play. Then another screen play and then a third one. After that they unloaded the entire project on a director named Frank Capra.

Frank Capra was a well known and very capable director. His films before the war had been nominated for forty academy awards and had won eleven. After Pearl Harbor, at the age of forty-four, Capra enlisted as a major in the United States Army.

When the war ended, Capra and two other directors founded Liberty Films. Capra bought the movie rights to ‘The Greatest Gift’ and hired writers to create another screen play. This is the only time he took a writing credit for one of his films. He also renamed the picture to its present title.

Jimmy Stewart was also back from the war. He had worked with Capra before. Jean Arthur was considered for the role of Mary Hatch but had prior commitments so Donna Reed got the part.

Filming began on April 15, 1946, and ended on July 27, 1946. It took exactly ninety days as Capra had predicted.

The film was originally slotted for release in 1947, but RKO’s Christmas release of ‘Sinbad the Sailor’ was delayed by production problems. ‘It’s a Wonderul Life’ was rushed into the theatres to take its place.

That’s where the story of the film turned sour. The critics didn’t like it. The movie was a financial failure. The film didn’t recoup its production costs. Liberty Films was sold to Paramount Pictures in May 1947.

 

To see some of my short stories go to www.edwardmcdermott.net

Television is destroying itself

I know. People have been saying this since the boob tube first lit up in black and white. And despite all the efforts of the channels, the advertisers, and the producers, television has grown from the three big channels into an array of hundreds.

However, this time, I think they may succeed. Have patience and listen to my thinking.

The reason that television didn’t destroy itself in the 50’s through 90’s was simple. Free entertainment, no matter how bad, will continue to have an audience. Television killed the radio drama, its major competition. That left only reading as an alternative, and frankly the changes in the publishing industry show that industry is even more out of touch with the consumer.

Today that has changed. With the Internet, Netflix, and YouTube, the consumer (viewer) can watch what he wants, when he wants by clicking a few buttons on the computer. Or pad, or phone. Technological advances have changed the way video consumption occurs.

Don’t believe me? Do you believe Nielsen, the television rating people? They have been in the business since 1950. They say “In percentage terms, traditional TV viewing among 18-24-year-olds in Q2 2014 was down by 11.7% year-over-year. Between Q2 2011 and Q2 2014, weekly viewing fell by 21.7%, a sizable figure.”

If Americans bought 21.7% fewer cars than three years ago, it would be plastered on every newspaper in the country.

Now why the change? We there are more alternatives. Video games have grown into a major player. (Sorry about that pun.) They took in about $9.5 billion in the US in 2007, 11.7 billion in 2008, and 25.1 billion in. (I don’t have figures for the last four years, but the trend continues.) Then there’s view on demand from the internet of movies and television shows.

However, my gripe is with the television industry. If they want people to watch movies and shows on the boob tube, you would think they would make it easy for us to find what we wanted. I think they are doing the opposite.

Two years ago, I had a web page I could turn to. It showed what was on television. All the stations by station number for the cable on one scroll down list. If I clicked on a particular station, I could see a listing of the scheduled shows for the next two weeks. Simple, easy to use, and useful.

It’s gone. The web page is still there, but they changed it so I can only see 13 channels at a time, I can’t search for shows, and it doesn’t list the channels by the station number on my cable. I am now forced to use a paper TV listing that comes with the newspaper to find out what’s on.

I’m not the only one frustrated. In a recent humorous sketch I saw, the people were playing a version of ‘Battleships’, searching for the telecast of a hockey game on the myriad of ‘sports’ channels.

If I can’t find the show on broadcast television, I will search for direct viewing on the internet. Television is losing me, and I’m the demographic who still watches it, for the present.

To see some of my short stories go to www.edwardmcdermott.net