Saturday, 30 January 2010

Gene Rodenberry for Man of the Century, Steve Jobs comes in second

Apple rolled out the iPad this week, and I'm in love. I also see the light now, I see the direction we're all heading into the future - and the future is Star Trek. Gene Rodenberry's utopian vision of the future - with all it's technology to make our lives better is just around the corner.

This week Steve Jobs held up a 10" device that looks quite familiar, Gene invented it years ago, and called it the P.A.D.D. - which stands for Personal Access Display Device. The prop itself was devised for the Star Trek Next Generation series in the 80s. The name PADD was suggested by a research consultant on the show - Richard Arnold. The production crew for the show actually referred to them as "hall passes" on the show. If you think I'm that much of a geek for just knowing that, I just happen to have a copy of the Star Trek Technical Manual on my bookshelf. Yup, I like tech stuff - even the crap that hasn't been invented yet. Until now.

There's more in this book and from Rodenberry's imagination that now exists, how about your cell phone? Even people who despise the trek universe can readily relate your cell phone to Captain Kirk's communicator from the 1960s TV show. Even the angle that both devices open to conform to one's head was thought of by the original prop designers. Our modern devices follow the same logic, hence making it look like all cell phone designers are trek geeks who's inspiration for modern design draws from the same source.

It's often been said over the years that Rodenberry's innovation and creativity would someday shape our world. It's amazing when you think about it - just how much that's true. The man wasn't just a writer in Hollywood, he was a true visionary futurist. He saw tech trends and his little TV show that almost never made it past the pilot episode, allowed him to exercise his visions - even if it was all just make believe. Today, some of his visions are real.

Enter the iPad.
Steve Jobs must be a trek fan - either that or his entire design group is. This wouldn't surprise me at all. Techies and trekkies are fairly interchangeable adjectives. The iPad is a personal communications device. Sound familiar? It plays video, music, displays books, and does tons more, it's just shy of a computer. It's completely portable, interfaces with other devices wirelessly and effortlessly, basically putting the world at your fingertips in a small easy to carry lightweight package. Just like the PADD from Rodenberry's imagination. Just like the cell phone, he hit the nail on the head with his vision, or on the other hand, the tech geeks just couldn't get his vision out of their minds when designing it. It all falls to Gene again.

Makes you wonder what's next?
So far, Star Trek has given us wireless portable communications, data access in multiple forms, voice interface, portable memory (they invented the idea of a computer disk), wireless earpiece - remember Uhura's headpiece on the series? Look at your bluetooth earpiece! Then there was biometrics, sliding doors and the GPS system. Yup, even that - onboard the ship, the crew could tune into your tricorder or communicator and precisely give your position on the ground, from orbit. Just like our modern GPS system, but thought of by Gene in 1964.

Scientists around the world are thinking of ways to make Gene's other brain farts come to pass. They're messing with laser weapons, point to point transport, and of course the elusive warp drive. These things are dreams for now, but at one time, most of the gadgets on the show were dreams. Now we take some for granted. My kids won't ever remember a time without some of these devices. Warp drive is impossible, so said Albert Einstein. He said that faster than light travel could never be achieved. Einstein's theory of relativity states that which says that it would take an infinite amount of energy to accelerate an object with mass to the speed of light, since the ship itself isn't actually moving. Scientists are now messing with ways to disprove his theory. Read here to find out what they're playing with.

Bored scientists are also messing with molecular transport. They have actually achieved it in labs on the atomic level. Imagine a day when we just step into a booth and reappear at work, or the mall, or wherever. Car companies and big oil companies would obviously squash the research, but it could happen. Rodenberry had a problem with his vision in the early days. Someone asked him how people would move between the ship and a planet. The ship, as his vision say it, couldn't land. He had the idea of shuttles on board, but that just took too long. As with many of Star Trek's toys, the transporter came as a solution to an entertainment problem. How to move the cast around in an entertaining way while at the same time keeping the show going. It's more fun seeing the good captain fighting some ugly alien than seeing him flying to the said ugly alien. Rodenberry simply said we'll beam them down, and that was that. Another lexicon enters the language.

Of all Rodenberry's visions of the future the one I'm afraid we'll never see is his vision of peace.

He was both ridiculed and praised for his views on ethnic and racial integration. He was the first to put an interacial kiss on TV. Nichelle Nichols (Uhura) and WIlliam Shattner (Kirk) kissed in the episode "Plato's Stepchildren", which aired November 22, 1968. It was groundbreaking. Rodenberry took some heat from NBC for this, the network fearing a backlash from the conservatives in the deep south. They insisted that two takes be made of the scene; one with the kiss and one without. The cast and crew didn't like that idea. Nichols related later that they intentionally kept messing up the scene without the kiss and eventually only one take was ever made. The uproar subsided and again, Rodenberry is the first to do something. What a surprise. Today, we wouldn't think twice about it.

Having a multinational crew aboard was a common theme in 50s and 60s sci-fi. Rodenberry added some new flavour to that as well. When the show first aired, there was no Russian helmsman. Chekov was an afterthought. There were scots, japanese, american, and someone from 'the African Union', another of Rodenberry's visions. No Russian. This was after all, the cold war! After the series began there was mumbling from of all places, the Soviet Union, chiding the producers about the lack of anyone from that side of the planet. Rodenberry's solution - Pavel Chekov. the rest is history.

The idea of war and poverty being eliminated by the 23rd century is never going to come to pass, sadly, the one vision of Rodenberry's that won't. But we still have time.

So Steve Jobs and Apple Corporation have done well to keep the dream alive. They have taken the ideas of a true visionary and continued to allow us to benefit from one man's dreams. Apple, and it's competitors may take credit for these little toys that make our lives better and push the boundaries of technology, but at the end of the day, Gene Rodenberry takes the credit. The iPad may have the Apple logo on the back of it, but it has Gene Rodenberry's inspiration inside of it.

Yeah, my secret is out, I'm a trekkie in disguise. Get over it. And I will find a way to have my new iPad have an LCARS interface.

Monday, 25 January 2010


Hi. Haven't been here in a while, I'm trying to get used to new digs at work - again. Yup, for the fifth time in one year, my boss has moved me to another office, this time in Kingsville, 48 kms away. I started the new job on Friday, moving my stuff into my cubicle - I've given up my office for Dilbertville. I set up computers, unpacked boxes and hung pics of my kids on the 'walls'. Today, I started serious work, helping with the papers.

My job is primarily prepress, which is the front end aspect of printing, in which the customers send their files digitally and I scream bloody murder when they're all messed up, thus saving the press manager from screaming bloody murder when he tries to print from garbage. It's fun. Most of the time the files are perfect, we deal with some pretty smart people who know what they're doing. Sometimes though, we get duds; my job then becomes fixing the problem. It may involve fixing it on our machines or in some cases getting the customers to send the files again properly. It's a living. In the next month or so we're to get press upgrades, so I came in just when all the fun happens. It's quite interesting helping with new processes and fixing the bugs in the system. It gives you a sense of real accomplishment helping develop something that will be around for a long time and having your stamp on it - even in a small way.

Kingsville is a nice town. It's the southernmost town in mainland Canada, and quite picturesque. We have often gone there on our days in the county road trips, heading for any of the many attractions in the area, or just to have lunch somewhere. It's just that kind of place you'd want to walk down mainstreet for no apparent reason. I've been doing that since I was a kid - my mom loved a little restaurant on Main Street called 'the Dutch'. It used to be just a lunch counter kind of thing, I will go there for lunch sometime this week, it's been years since I was in there and I'm curious to know if it's changed. In towns like this, things don't change much.

The only real downfall to this new schedule and office is the hours. I now have a one hour commute, instead of my normal 10 minutes on the expressway. One hour of morning county traffic on one of the busiest roads around - Highway 3. In the morning, it's a parking lot. Getting out of Windsor at that time is also a pain, I have to leave earlier and therefore I hit all the rush hour traffic heading for the Oldcastle industrial area. I'm sure at some point I'll find a way around that, which of course, will toss me into the path of a few school buses I've managed to avoid.

My speedometer upon arrival -
48.7 kms one way. Nice commute.

So I haven't been here much lately, I'm trying to adjust. It's only been two days, but they've been long. I was going to write over the weekend, but I was having too much fun to bother. I'll get back at it, and considering I received a message this morning asking if I'd like an advertisement on my site, I guess I should keep going!

Have a good week.