Astrobase Command Away Missions Update is Up

Our newest update is up. This time, we’re getting into the details of away missions and how the AI Storyteller ties them together to create compelling experiences for the player.

We’re also taking a moment to get really excited about our Steam Greenlight progress.

We’ve made it to 93% of the top 100 games on Greenlight in 15 days, and our cumulative yes vote curve is a thing of beauty. It’s wonderful to see so much support!

We’ve also got some pretty cool news in the works, which should be released shortly, so stay tuned.

For the full Away Missions update, head over to our Kickstarter page.

Stunning Martian Landscapes

As you may be able to tell by the dearth of posts here over the past little while, my attention is focused elsewhere. I will soon be able to return to spicing up your lives in a most positive manner. In the meantime, I feel the incontrovertible urge to share this link with you. It will direct you to an article on The Verge titled “Alien frontier: see the haunting, beautiful weirdness of Mars.” They have curated some NASA photographs of martian landscapes that will help fire your imaginations to new levels.

Breathtaking inspiration for any science-fiction novelist. Source: / NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Academic Writing: That Feeling You Get When…

I did it! I’ve completed my paper! It’s so exciting to reach a culmination in one’s work. It feels like you are at the top of the world. Well, almost. As you may recall, I’ve been tackling a profound issue as a side initiative at work. A few years ago, I became interested in concepts relating to the technologies that are being developed that may be directly  integrated with our bodies and help us perform more effectively than we otherwise would be able to. You’ll probably already have heard about cybernetics, and gene therapy, so it should be no surprise that very smart people are working on making the stuff of science fiction reality.

I am looking at a very specific subset of  this technology and its ethical implications. In the process of exploring the topic, I’ve had the opportunity to share ideas with some of the leading minds in the field, which has been a great experience. I feel I’ve even helped develop some new ideas that should help move the field forward.

And this is where I get back to the “almost done” part of this entry. It doesn’t matter how great a paper is, until it gets published in a peer-reviewed journal, it doesn’t mean very much. I’ve found the journal I want to submit it to, but now have to modify seventy-plus references to comply with a text format that is slightly different from what I had been using. Strangely, this seems more daunting a task than the months I’ve spent reading into the topic, digesting the ideas and writing the manuscript. Yet, it must be done if I am to submit the paper.

The devil is in the details!

You know that feeling you get when you’ve been scooped?

As some of you may have noticed, I’ve been pretty quiet for the past several days. It’s because I’ve been busy little bee working away at a paper that I was hoping would open the debate to revolutionary concepts and disruptive technologies relevant to my desk-jockey day job. I’ve been examining the ethical considerations of applied transhumanism, and its impact on the future fabric of society. Pretty nifty, eh?

I’m honoured to be able to work in an environment that allows me to think about such things as a side venture to my primary duties, particularly as it’s been itching away at the back of my mind for the past four years. I’d been talking the talk for a while, but finally decided to put pen to paper back in March and had finally completed all of my research and my first draft early last week. I sent the draft out to some trusted advisers and scientific authorities I have had the pleasure of working with in the past. Everyone agreed that I had come up with some pretty groundbreaking material. I was starting to feel very proud of myself.

This morning, one of my scientific advisers sent me a paper published this January that I had not previously been aware of. It covers my topic in stunning detail. The thought processes, arguments, and conclusions are remarkably similar. In a way, I found it reassuring to know that I’ve been on the right track, and that little ol’ me has derived a similar analysis to some folks that are likely far wiser than I am or at the very least who have spent a considerable amount of time and effort examining this particular issue. In another, I’ve just been scooped and all the work I’ve put in needs to be revised, since I need to ensure that I am adding value to the debate, and not simply spouting off what has already been resolved. It’s not quite back to square one, but I definitely need to give credit where it’s due, since the authors of this most recent study appear to have wired the case I was making shut, and have opened up a whole new series of questions I was going to examine at a later time.

Face palm. Totally appropriate response to this morning’s news. Image source: Flickr

Yep. Someone else already thought of it.

This is by no means a failure, but it does force me to go back and put more thought into a subject I’ve been examining for a while. Ultimately, this is a great thing for all involved. I’d better get back to it, before I find out that someone has figured out the next set of solutions before I get to write them down!

A thought for Father’s Day: Thanks Papa!

My father has jealously guarded the title of “Papa” ever since my first days on this Earth. He disdains “Pop”, “Pa”, “Dad”, “Daddy”, and any of the other multitudes of variations on this common honorific. The only deviation he ever embraced was “Chief”, and this was reserved not for himself, but for his own father, a man who molded countless young boys into men as a basketball coach in Indiana.

Now that I’ve had the chance to be a papa myself now for a couple years, I have a much better appreciation of the challenges that my father overcame to take care of his two rambunctious boys. I’ve just got one bundle of joy, and he’s more than enough to keep my hands full, and make me want to tear what little hair I have left clean off of my head. I can’t imagine the patience he needed to put up with our antics. It humbles me to think that there are fathers out there who head large clans of children. The depth of character needed to set a positive path for their offspring is unimaginable. Certainly, there is something that happens when we transition from young man to young father. Mine said there was something that turned on inside of him when I was born. A “papa gene”, he called it. This effect does certainly help, but there is more to it than simple biology.

My father invested heavily into his two kids. We were never wealthy, so it was not money he invested, but time. He strove to give us experiences that enriched our lives, gave us perspective, and made us worldly. He was a professor so we had long summers together to explore the world. We spent long weeks driving around Canada and the US, visiting wondrous places, hiking through mountains, searching the wilderness and discovering the majesty of wild animals.

He created memories. I still yearn for our walks around Banff and Jasper, I smile at the thought of eating fresh caught fish on bannock near the Custer National Park, I wonder at having hiked in Yosimite, and fondly remember summers haying on our grandparent’s farm in Wisconsin. I still remember the sense of loss at leaving Papua New Guinea, knowing that I would never have known paradise had he not taken the time to haul my brother and I out as young kids to tag along on his research expeditions. His science allowed us visit Rome, Bankok, Hong Kong. We spent many a day wandering the hallowed halls of McGill University’s Redpath Museum and his tower office in the Strathcona building where we met brilliant minds, explored medical displays and scanning electron microscopes, and threw paper airplanes into vast open spaces. There are so many experiences I cannot begin to list them all here.

Then there is the sense of wonderment he instilled. He took the time to teach us how to use a microscope to examine pond water, built snow dinosaurs in the yard, waged snowball wars and let himself get caught in a deep snow pit my brother and I had dug to capture him. He allowed us to let our imaginations roam wild by sharing his own barely constrained mind. He had us believing for years that a painting by Frank Frazetta was a depiction of him as a pirate. In our defense, the barbarian’s appearance is strikingly similar to my father’s.

A little known fact is that Frazetta was actually painting my father at work.

He had the courage to let us find our wings, participating in sports and activities that developed our physical and moral fortitude despite the inevitable concern that must have nagged at him that we could be injured in the course of playing football or learning martial arts. He taught us to climb (and maybe even rappel down the inside of a certain dizzying tower in the Strathcona building on a weekend — don’t tell anyone!) and to shoot an ancient .22 rifle. He taught us the Saturday Night Special, a trick he had used growing up in the rough streets of Hammond and Chicago.

You’ve taught us to look forward, think outside of the box, and seek facts to think critically. You’ve lived adventures, being seated on a train full of soviet soldiers during the Cold War, almost gunned down at a checkpoint in Africa, made friends with the discovers of Lucy, searched archives in exotic locations, setting up in Russian, Ethiopian, and Kenyan museums. Made insightful discoveries about human genetics in Denmark, were decades ahead of your time in discoveries relating to Leprosy and the origin of humanity. You’ve inculcated us with a love for nature and a deep concern for the planet’s welfare. You put others before yourself, despite living an ascetic life in the wilderness, trying to pass on your passion and your concerns for the health of the planet by writing a book about it. You’ve made friends with wolves and even dabbled in politics. You’ve set such a rich, diverse, and adventuresome example for us to follow that when I try to describe you to others, I say that you’re sort of the Indiana Jones of Human genetics.

As I look at the life I have been able to live, I can only say: Thanks Papa. It wouldn’t have been possible without you. You’ve set the bar incredibly high. I hope I can do the same for my boy.

Happy Father’s Day!

Oh $#@^! On the expressiveness of toddlers

My boy’s got moves.

I think it is great that young children have no internal filter. This makes my boy extremely expressive. His face beams enormous smiles, and his eyes sparkle more than any adult’s can. When he runs around and decides to strike a pose, wide legged and arms reaching to the sky, he is more commanding than Elvis. I imagine this is what actors try to tap into when they bare their souls on stage or on screen.

The greatest actor in the world clearly has no filter.

Sometimes, though, I wish there was a bit more of a filter. We were sitting down watching an episode of Mythbusters last night. It was about their third attempt to replicate the JATO car myth. My son loved it, even though he is still very young. It had cars and rockets, everything he needs to dash about “oohing”,  “aahing”, and “wowing.” It’s hopefully a great way to get him interested in STEM.

The show culminated with the Mythbusters launching their rocket-powered car off of a ramp in an attempt to get it to soar through the sky. Instead, the car disintegrates into a spectacular cloud of dust, fire, and debris. And that’s when it happened.

“Oh, $#@^!” Say what? What did my kid just say?

“$#@^!, $#@^!, $#@^!” My toddler keeps repeating as the car tumbles into yet another skyward roll.

“You mean, oh boy.” My wife tries to gently correct him, hoping that a lack of overreaction will ensure that he isn’t rewarded with our attention for having uttered such profanity.

“$#@^!” bubbles out as the car comes to its final rest.

I look uneasily towards my wife. She looks back. Her face is a mix of uncertainty and barely contained laughter.

The swearing stops. It is as if it never happened. My boy looks on as the Mythbusters go about examining the wreckage. The toddler is fascinated by the outcome.

Then the replay. “$#@^!”

Gah! We spend a few more minutes coaching him into more suitable alternatives.

I’m not quite certain where he picked it up, because we don’t exactly run around the house lacing our conversations with profanity. He may have heard it once, and then it stuck. What is quite amazing is that he knows exactly in which circumstances it would be used.

I just wish he had picked something a little less vulgar with which to express his surprise and anxiety.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go buy some more soap bars. There’s a filthy mouth that may need some cleaning.

Gouvernement du Québec: en évaluant la loi 14, considérez que le bilinguisme nous renforce et non nous affaiblit

Un récent article de la Presse contient un peu de données scientifiques sur les effets du bilinguisme.

« Le plus tôt est le mieux », affirme Fred Genesee, chercheur au département de psychologie de l’Université McGill qui a fait des enfants élevés en milieu bilingue sa spécialité. « Le cerveau de l’enfant est plus flexible et est à l’aise avec tout ce qui arrive. Plus l’enfant vieillit, plus il peut être difficile d’introduire une nouvelle langue dans la famille parce que ça change le pattern. »

Selon les experts, le plus tôt que nous apprenons une langue, mieux seront nos chances de l’assimiler. Il y aurait peut être même des avantages cognitifs associés à la capacité de maîtriser plusieurs langues. La question que nous devons donc nous poser est si nous voulons un Québec fort et sain, est il mieux de suivre des idéalogies qui ont un attrait émotif, mais qui ne sont pas basées sur des données empiriques, ou sommes-nous mieux servis en prennant des mesures qui sont fondées sur la réalité prouvée scientifiquement?

Choisissez avec soin, chers membres du gouvernement, car nous risquons d’être pris longtemps sur le parcours que vous nous tracez avec la loi 14.

The Armchair Scientist makes a great point about science vs. pseudoscience

As science progresses at an ever-increasing pace, many people find themselves unable to keep up with developments, and prefer seeking shelter in belief. Belief systems provide a framework of simplified rules that allow most of us to make rapid, and often effortless decisions by sifting out the mass of data and focusing in on a few core principles. It is important to note that I do not seek to make a point about spiritual and religious belief systems as a means to achieve inner peace and serve as a code of conduct, but rather to bring attention to the fact that even when we have these beliefs, we must find a way to blend them with science in order to remain open to vast wealth of knowledge about how the world works and how we can stay healthy enough to remain sufficiently prosperous and long-lived to take that spirituality to maximum effect.

Sometimes, these belief systems are based off of conventions that had at one time been believed to be correct by science, but have since been disproved. This is a central tenet of the scientific process. Once new evidence of fact become available, it is essential to question and re-examine a theory in order to build more accurate models. As with all things human, personality and ego do at times become barriers to be overcome in the scientific community as well. The classical laws of physics are a perfect example of a process which had at one time been believed to represent the way everything functioned, but with time, new observations suggested the need for a new field known as quantum physics to account for behaviour which could otherwise not be explained. Because quantum physics are so complex and hard to understand, most of us remain fixed on the idea that physics involve an apple falling on some bloke’s head.

At other times, these rules are the result of anecdotal observations or myths that have been handed down from one person to another without ever having had a solid foundation in reality. Old wives’ tales contain a bounty of such examples of unsubstantiated beliefs used to explain the way the world works. In some cases, there are correlations between these observations and actual fact. Witchcraft obtains results through the placebo effect, not by chasing spirits. Tribal healers have indeed found some roots and herbs that are beneficial through countless iterations of trial and error, but have no doubt also found a trove of treatments which do nothing at all, or can even harm their patients.

The Armchair Scientist has a nice article that reviews the difference between science vs. pseudoscience, and makes the point far more eloquently than I ever can. There’s also a great video at the bottom that is bound to get a giggle or two out of you. Since laughter is scientifically proven to be good for your health,  you’ve got no excuse not to read it.

Fusion drives – interplanetary science fiction takes one step closer to reality

NASA is developing revolutionary fusion drive

NASA is working on a fusion engine that has the potential to revolutionize interplanetary travel. For decades, science fiction has imagined the possibility of humanity reaching for the stars, propelled by the power released by mashing together atomic nuclei. As with so many other technological developments, I have little doubt that many of the scientists and engineers involved on this project had their the seed for this work planted in their youth while consuming mountains of stories about space pirates and green aliens hailing from unpronounceable planets.

This highlights two key issues:

1. Youth literacy is essential. There are so many great ideas out there that simply cannot be adequately covered in a movie, TV show, or computer game, that if kids don’t read, they will have a high likelihood of not being exposed to new ideas to pursue; and

2. Science fiction authors are going to have to stay on their toes. So many ideas that seemed to be possibilities only in the dim future are rapidly coming upon us. Authors will need to stay abreast a wide field of rapidly-evolving science so that they can come up with the next wave of weird and wonderful ideas with which to capture the next generation of scientists and engineers, providing them the drive to try to bring to reality whatever mind blowing concept they read about (or yes, even saw in a movie) when they were a kid.