Saturday, January 23, 2010

What They've Been Doing In Area 51

Well, the cat's out of the bag: the US Air Force is traveling to other planets on a routine basis. All that stuff NASA's doing with the shuttle, space station and plans to go back to the moon someday, are just a smoke screen to keep us from knowing what's really going on.

I submit as evidence this frame, snapped from a USAF recruiting ad that's been getting a lot of TV and internet play. You can see the whole ad here. The helicopter comes in, drops off a couple paratroopers, and as we see clearly in the screen snap, they float down into the jungle, silhouetted against a pair of large moons. Which, of course, means it's not taking place on Planet Earth, which has only one moon (if you don't believe me on this, go out and check tonight).

So, it's a bit of sci-fi, a bit of artistic license, perhaps? Nope--a few seconds later, the ad explicitly states that "IT'S NOT SCIENCE FICTION. IT'S WHAT WE DO EVERY DAY."

Which, of course, leaves us with only two possibilities: first, that the ad is lying to us. We can dismiss this, of course, as we know the government never lies. That leaves only the second option: that the Air Force does in fact conduct everyday operations on another planet, one that's apparently covered in jungles and equipped with two moons.

Somehow, this makes me feel better about the military budget. When you read the news stories about Pentagon projects going massively over budget while delivering bombers that can't be flown in the rain, or the infamous $600 toilet seat, or the latest over-runs on airplanes the military doesn't even want anymore, it's easy to get depressed about where our tax dollars are going. But, thanks to this ad, we know that the money's really been going into the development of technology that's now routinely visiting other planets (and rather cool-looking ones at that).

I can't wait for the next revelation: that all that stuff in "Avatar" isn't CGI after all, but another of the planets where the Air Force is operating every day.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

I Must Confess I Missed Something

We bought a new computer the other day. First new one in something like five years. Yesterday, I migrated all our stuff from the old machine to the new one. And in the process, I realized I'd made an awful, terrible omission from my novel The Last Protector.

They say confession is good for the soul, so here's the oversight: all through the book, we see Ranger Jape routinely using a "softscroll," a sort of roll-up personal computer. And yet, at no point in the story does he ever have to do a backup, software upgrade, virus scan, or other piece of administration. At no point does the softscroll pop up a dialog box saying, "Please Enter An Administrator's Password," or "You Must Restart Your Computer After Finishing This Installation," or "New Software Is Available..." (this last one's particularly amusing: the computer's brand new, just back from the Apple Store, and it needs some 760 megabytes of updated software, including a half-gigabyte update to the operating system itself? Talk about inspiring confidence...)

Well, The Last Protector is science fiction, right? Maybe someday software really will get settled to the point where it doesn't require a steady stream of updates. Or maybe the update process really will become transparent and foolproof. It's only a matter of time and the relentless advance of technology.

Nah. That's more than science fiction; it's fantasy...

Friday, January 8, 2010

Born At the Not-Quite-Right Time

Every now and then, one of my students will look at me and ask, "Were you a hippie?" And then I have to explain that I'm not quite old enough for that. During the great Summer of Love (1967), I was all of thirteen years old, hardly up to the journey from the Chicago suburbs to San Francisco. And during the Summer of Unrest (1968), when war protesters put an end to Lyndon Johnson's presidency, I was still a wee sprout of fourteen (I have since learned that some of the protesters at the '68 Democratic convention in Chicago were as young as 14, but they were a small minority--most were of draftable age, 18 or over). Sorry, but I was born just a couple years too late for the Great Adventures of the Sixties (sigh).

I seem to have been born just a bit too late for a lot of things, some good, some bad. On the one hand, people point at my wide variety of interests and say, "You're a real Renaissance man" (to which I reply, "Could be, but the Renaissance was 400 years ago"). On the other hand, I was born exactly seven days too late to have to worry about being drafted for the Vietnam war. Win some, lose some...

But my big "born too late" was around the space program. I was a fanatic follower of the moon program during the '60s, getting up early in the morning to sit through unending holds and delays, in the hopes of seeing somebody actually rocketing into orbit. I dreamed of a career in the field, not necessarily as an astronaut (that dream ended when I got my first pair of glasses), but at least as an engineer or scientist. Alas, when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, I was all of fifteen years old, and by the time I had to select my college major in 1971, the space program was obviously winding down. When I graduated with my degree in Computer Science, in 1975, people had stopped dreaming of walking on Mars. And so, I went into the telecom field, where I had an interesting enough career. But it was never the same as what I'd dreamed of. I'd been born, oh, about ten years too late for that.

Most of us, I suspect, can point to some way in which we were, with apologies to the Paul Simon song, not quite "Born At the Right Time." And there's not a whole lot we can do about it--unless we happen to be authors. Then, we can at least let a character work through the whole matter. Maybe have the character born at the right time. Or perhaps have the character be, like most of us are, born at the not-quite-right time, and then give him a chance to live out the dream anyway. It's not quite the same as having been born at the right time ourselves, but it's at least a chance to imagine what might have happened. And, perhaps, a chance to find out that maybe the Right Time wasn't so right after all...