Archive for May, 2013

Trek Tech

Saw the latest Star Trek last week.  Not horrible.  Not overly compelling, but not terrible.

But I was struck once again by the JJ Abrams view of future technology.  I would hardly be the first to complain about the busy, nonsensical bridge set or, far worse, the engine room, which looks more like it needs a plumber in charge than an engineer or physicist.

It is okay, however.  Abrams has left himself an out, if he wants to use it, to get himself out of dutch with the trekkies, the old tech nerds that remember the easy, simple sets of the original series (admittedly the result of low budgets) and how the look was updated, but aligned with, in the follow-on series over the decades.

Technology – and again, I am far from the first to say this – goes through three distinct phases.

Phase One is a simple device that barely does the job.  Whether steam engine or integrated circuit, it is enough to prove the concept and only maybe enough to do some meaningful work.  It is weak.  Inefficient.

Phase Two attempts to overcome the inefficiency with add-ons.  A pipe here, a gear there, a jumper wire on that big grey thing.  Layer after layer of complexity is added to the simple device to try to correct the inefficiencies.  Over time, more layers get added.  This is the current state of the automobile engine and the state shown of JJ Abrams’ warp core.

Phase Three happens when somebody figures out, after looking over the Phase Two devices, how to create the simple device that the inventor had wanted to build, but couldn’t quite figure out, in Phase One.  It is a clean design.  Elegant.

So, if Abrams wants to mend fences with the Geek Squad, who screamed when they saw Scotty being flushed through a large cooling pipe in the engine room, he could make it part of his next story.  Somewhere in the next movie, either some Federation inventor or some alien species they come across could have a very simple, non-complex warp core.  It just sits there and quietly pulses light while providing power to the engines and weapons.  Scotty falls in love.  This new design, in some way, becomes important to the plot – or at least a subplot – of the movie.

When the fourth movie starts, some years down the road, we are shown that Enterprise has been extensively renovated.  Not only does the warp core look like something Matt Jeffries would be comfortable with, but so do the engines, the sick bay, and the bridge, all remodeled to take advantage of the new technologies.  The trekkies are happy, the new fans are happy, Abrams is happy, and Paramount is happy.

Why not?  It is win-win.


Categories: Pet Peeves

To Make Regular

A discussion on another blog last week is still in my mind.  The upshot was about how regulations are interfering in our lives in hundreds of little ways that you might not even realize.

The “for instance” in this case was gas cans.  Sure, you’d play hell trying to find an actual metal gas can anymore, but the plastic ones last longer anyhow and have generally worked well.  Until recent years, that is.  Somewhere in the last few years, they removed the tank vent.  So, you are pouring gasoline from your new plastic gas jug into your hot lawn mower and, as the gasoline comes out, it has to be replaced by air.  But there is no air vent!  So the air has to come up the spout.  The same spout you are pouring out of.  What happens?  It chugs, of course.  The flow of gasoline stops for a moment, the air is sucked in, and then the flow restarts at a temporarily rapid rate, either missing the lawn mower’s tank or quickly overfilling it.  This is not what you wish to have happen with a hot engine.

This did not use to happen.  The gasoline jugs had vents – holes with little caps that you opened when you were using it.  So why did they get rid of them?  Well, safety, we are told.  Or emissions, possibly.  Whatever it was, it must have been a terrible problem, if they were willing to risk irregular and random dispensing of flammable liquids.

But then, you will remember all the horror stories of people maimed and killed because some gasoline spilled out the tank vents.  You don’t?  Well, neither do I, but I am sure it must have been happening a lot, if they saw fit to eliminate the vent.

But it does seem like they were regulating just to regulate.  Or maybe they were just throwing a bone to the trial lawyers.  Who is helped by this kind of numbskullery?

It is not just gas cans, however, it is a lot of things.  Been having trouble getting your clothes or dishes clean in recent years?  It might be because they regulated the phosphates right out of the detergents.

I have had to deal with two refrigerators that kept icing up.  Know why?  Turns out, it was Energy Star, the program to lower the electric requirements of various appliances.  What’s the easiest way to lower the amount of electricity a refrigerator requires?  Pull out the defrost coil.  That may be fine in Arizona or Colorado, but go somewhere with humidity and you soon have a real problem.

More and more, from cars to computers to appliances, mechanical products don’t seem to work very well.  Normally, this gets blamed on corporate greed, planned obsolescence, or foreign manufacture.  But I wonder how often the things that are going wrong go wrong because of the myopic or underhanded requirements of the regulators.

Meanwhile, you will be glad to know that there are thick plastic water jugs on the market – and they have vents!  Mark carefully.


Categories: Pet Peeves

Major Tom

In case you haven’t seen it elsewhere, here is the most amazing cover of the David Bowie classic.  Especially good, considering the location.


Categories: Oddities

Christ and Christ-like

Okay, so I find I often miss things as they traverse through popular culture.  One example is this video that apparently went viral a year and a half ago.  The story goes that a young lad with a video camera was trying to sneak up on some deer in a London park, while his father went ahead, walking the family dog.  This is the result.


Once you have watched that four or five times, you should really watch the “remastered” edition.


Categories: Oddities

Another Smash

Another small triumph last weekend.  I took the three short stories that I published on Kindle last year and published them on Smashwords.  They are all now accepted on Premium, which means they will start showing up on other ebook stores soon, like Kobe and iTunes.

The biggest hassle was, like I had to do for Lifeboats, expanding the size of the book covers.  They need to be so many pixels wide and tall.  Luckily, there is a free website that does that for you.

A little bit non-intuitive, but it does the job.

I made a couple of sales and a lot of people sampled them.  Apparently, some folks hang out on Smashwords’ Recently Published page and sniff ’em as they go by.

Next step is to add the Smashwords links to this blog’s Unfree Fiction page.  Will add other links as they become available.

I guess the next trick is to get The Vanguard ready for publication.  This will be a bit of a trick, as it currently exists as something like twenty-seven chapters in twenty-seven files on Google Drive.  I will have to create a Word document for the whole thing, paste in the chapters one at a time, then do all the reformatting bits at one time.  I will start with the Smashwords edition, then see if I can publish that on Amazon without changes.

Gonna need a cover for it.  (Odd – this spell checker likes “gonna,” but doesn’t like “Smashwords,” no matter how many times I use it.)  Also, I am planning to release this under a pseudonym, which in Smashwords means either a separate account or an upgrade to a publisher account – not sure about Amazon.


Categories: Publishing