Researching the End of the World

WorldOfTrouble_FinalWhat would do if you knew that an asteroid was going destroy the world?

Novelist Ben H. Winters wrapped up his Last Policeman trilogy last month, a series of novels about how our world would cope with an impending strike by an asteroid.

Ever since I finished the final book, I have been obsessed with the idea of asteroid strikes. So I caught up with Winters to find out more…

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Spy Tools of the Future


What if spies could decode sound vibrations passing through leaves, water and other everyday objects?

Spies of the future will use algorithms to gather information that humans could never dream of capturing. In an astounding breakthrough, scientists are learning how to decode “intelligible speech” by analyzing videotaped sound vibrations. Science Daily has more:

researchers at MIT, Microsoft, and Adobe have developed an algorithm that can reconstruct an audio signal by analyzing minute vibrations of objects depicted in video. In one set of experiments, they were able to recover intelligible speech from the vibrations of a potato-chip bag photographed from 15 feet away through soundproof glass. In other experiments, they extracted useful audio signals from videos of aluminum foil, the surface of a glass of water, and even the leaves of a potted plant.

In this hypothetical future, no space would be completely sound-proof. To keep a secret, you would have to control your invisible vibrations. This technology could also be used to reconstruct conversations from silent movies and Super-8 cameras.

Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Lowell proved that they could use portable cameras on wearable devices like Google Glass to capture and decode passwords. Wired has more about this breakthrough:

they could use video from wearables like Google Glass and the Samsung smartwatch to surreptitiously pick up four-digit PIN codes typed onto an iPad from almost 10 feet away—and from nearly 150 feet with a high-def camcorder. Their software, which used a custom-coded video recognition algorithm that tracks the shadows from finger taps, could spot the codes even when the video didn’t capture any images on the target devices’ displays.

How could spies of the future use these new technologies? How could people keep secrets in this kind of world?

(Vibrating Energy image via Franco)

Robobees & the Future


Should we create a new world with technology or preserve the life around us?

Greenpeace created a darkly satirical video about “NewBees,” exploring a dystopic future where we replace dying species with robotic creatures.

Greenpeace explained the video, linking these fictional “robobees” to corporate interests:

If we carry on with chemically intensive agriculture model, it is quite possible that we may affect our pollinating insects to such a degree that we reach a global “pollination crisis.” This is the imaginary future we do not want. This future where bees and the biodiversity they help maintain, have finally fallen victim to chemically intensive industrial agriculture. So, here is the question: should we create a new world or save our own?

Are you scared of this kind of robotic future?

On Reddit, the video provoked a sprawling debate about how we should handle ecology and our future on the planet. One reader wrote: “Greenpeace asks, ‘Should we create a new world or save our own?,’ in stunning new video depicting robotic bees. I ask, why don’t we do both?”

Another reader had this comment:

Maybe that speaks to how wide the gulf between ideologies can be sometimes. It literally provoked no negative emotions at all, like the creators and I have completely different value judgments. I had no clue this ad was supposed to scare me or make me feel unease. It’s like showing an ad for genetically engineered crops… it makes me think we’re making technical advances that can help us overcome the sometimes-irreversible damage we’ve done to our own ecosystem.

The video was meant to encourage people to sign a petition to save the bees:

Bees and other pollinating insects play an essential role in ecosystems. A third of all our food depends on their pollination. A world without pollinators would be devastating for food production. Who would pollinate all the crops? Hand-pollination is extremely labour-intensive, slow and expensive. The economic value of bees’ pollination work has been estimated around € 265 billion annually, worldwide. So, also from a purely economic point of view, it pays to protect the bees. Insecticides in particular pose the most direct risk to pollinators. As their name indicates, these are chemicals designed to kill insects, and they are widely applied in the environment, mostly around cropland areas.

What do you think? You can watch the complete video here:

Scripts & Scribes Interviews Donyea Rochlin


What mistake do aspiring screenwriters make? Donyea Rochlin explained over at Scripts & Scribes.

In a podcast interview, the excellent screenwriting site interviewed the head of development at True Pictures–getting screenwriting advice, book recommendations and a peek at our work.

You can listen to the podcast at this link.

The interview included a bonus round of 20 questions. Here’s an excerpt:

8.  The best thing I have ever read is…This is a hard question- like what is my favorite movie. There are two things that have stuck with me and I think of often- Mark Twain’s  LETTERS FROM EARTH and THE HORSE DEALER’S DAUGHTER by D.H. Lawrence.
17.  One mistake that most aspiring screenwriters make is… writing what they think people want and not a story they want to tell.
18.  If I knew the apocalypse was coming in 24 hours, I’d… catch a flight to Arizona to be with my sister.  We would hang out in her pool and remember stories of our family – laugh, cry and make the best of the time we have being together.

City of the Future


What do you think your favorite city will look like in one hundred years?

Architect Rem Koolhaas has completed a “vertical city” complex in Rotterdam, bringing a new style of multi-purpose skyscrapers to the city skyline. Bennett Stein wrote about the new buildings for KCRW’s Design & Architecture blog, calling the creator “the Godzilla of architecture.”

Here’s an excerpt from Stein’s essay:

 It’s a diva of biomimetics–you swear it’s a living, sentient thing that watches you as you watch it. And it loves itself so much it’s looking in the mirror all the time—wait a minute, it is a mirror. The building has a reflective shiny exterior of glass and steel which is repeated on the interior in planes of reflective glass and steel.

On a page celebrating the completion of the massive complex, the architecture firm described the new design (pictured above):

The three stacked and interconnecting towers of De Rotterdam rise 44 floors to a height of 150 meters and span a width of over 100 meters … Office employees, residents and hotel guests are brought together in conference, sport and restaurant facilities. The building’s shared plinth is the location of the lobbies to each of the towers, creating a pedestrianized public hub by means of a common hall.

Stein compared the building to the work of Swiss architect Le Corbusier. The 20th Century architect imagined rebuilding Paris with “tall, concrete cruciform towers set in green, wooded parks.”  

In a famous essay about the future of the city, Le Corbusier wrote:

We must create a mass-production state of mind:
A state of mind for building mass-production housing.
A state of mind for living in mass-production housing.
A state of mind for conceiving mass-production housing.

Could you live in this kind of city? Or do you hope for a different kind?

Video Game Marriage Proposal

What if you could propose to your lover while exploring the universe in a spaceship?

One Reddit reader proposed to his girlfriend using a ring-shaped ship inside the indie starship video game, FTL: Faster Than Light.

The dedicated gamer built an entire patch for the video game, making the proposal part of his girlfriend’s gaming experience. His heartwarming proposal illustrates how true love can be exactly like an interstellar space battle.

His girlfriend opened the game and discovered a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure style set of options.

You boarded my heart and went straight for the shields. And then the life-support. And then the weapons. And then the shields. Oh wait, I said shields already. Anyway, I love you. Will you marry me?

The designer built in options for both “yes” and “no,” but this game had a happy ending:

Sorry for the wait. She said yes =) And then she went back through and tried all the other options.

You can see all the images from the video game at this link.

James Joyce in Space

stars23What do you think about when you look at the stars in the night sky?

Today is June 16, the day fans of novelist James Joyce celebrate “Bloomsday“–the fictional date when Leopold Bloom wandered around Dublin in Joyce’s most famous novel, Ulysses.

Joyce never wrote science fiction, but he wrote some gorgeous descriptions of the cosmos.

To celebrate Bloomsday, you should download a free eBook copy of Ulysses. In that book, Bloom stares up at the night sky, seeing “The heaventree of stars hung with humid nightblue fruit.”

Joyce followed that sentence with one of the loveliest descriptions of space and time I’ve ever read:

Meditations of evolution increasingly vaster: of the moon invisible in incipient lunation, approaching perigee: of the infinite lattiginous scintillating uncondensed milky way, discernible by daylight by an observer placed at the lower end of a cylindrical vertical shaft 5000 ft deep sunk from the surface towards the centre of the earth: of Sirius (alpha in Canis Maior) 10 lightyears (57,000,000,000,000 miles) distant and in volume 900 times the dimension of our planet: of Arcturus: of the precession of equinoxes: of Orion with belt and sextuple sun theta and nebula in which 100 of our solar systems could be contained: of moribund and of nascent new stars such as Nova in 1901: of our system plunging towards the constellation of Hercules: of the parallax or parallactic drift of socalled fixed stars, in reality evermoving wanderers from immeasurably remote eons to infinitely remote futures in comparison with which the years, threescore and ten, of allotted human life formed a parenthesis of infinitesimal brevity.

Joyce followed with a meditation on life at the smallest scale, a cosmic counterpoint:

Of the eons of geological periods recorded in the stratifications of the earth: of the myriad minute entomological organic existences concealed in cavities of the earth, beneath removable stones, in hives and mounds, of microbes, germs, bacteria, bacilli, spermatozoa: of the incalculable trillions of billions of millions of imperceptible molecules contained by cohesion of molecular affinity in a single pinhead: of the universe of human serum constellated with red and white bodies, themselves universes of void space constellated with other bodies, each, in continuity, its universe of divisible component bodies of which each was again divisible in divisions of redivisible component bodies, dividends and divisors ever diminishing without actual division till, if the progress were carried far enough, nought nowhere was never reached.

One-Act Science Fiction


Is it possible to tell science fiction stories without computer-generated effects and blockbuster movie budgets?

The First Annual Los Angeles Science Fiction One-Act Play Festival answered that question perfectly, staging a series of short speculative fiction stories onstage at the Acme Theater.

The dialogue reminded me of the classic science fiction radio plays, but the creators spiced up the stories with multimedia material, mind-bending light and sound work, simple props and a team of great actors.

KCRW’s Which Way, LA? blog described how the show came about:

The idea came to actor David Dean Bottrell (“Boston Legal,” “And the Band Played On”) a few years back, after he’d read a short story by Ursula K. Le Guin: How about a festival of science fiction-themed stage plays? … When he opened up the idea, he was deluged with submissions from writers, as well as from performers eager to participate. Further affirmation came on Kickstarter, where he raised over $80,000 to support the concept.

The show last night ended with “Kaleidoscope” by Ray Bradbury, a short story about astronauts stranded in space. More than 60 years before Gravity, this story chilled audiences with the primal battle for survival in outer space.

The play adaptation literally stuck the audience in the middle of a spacecraft disaster. We saw what the great author wrote back in 1951, exposing the raw power and danger of space:

Hollis looked to see, but saw nothing. There were only the great diamonds and sapphires and emerald mists and velvet inks of space, with God’s voice mingling among the crystal fires.

Visit the festival website for ticket information. The festival also has a special NERD RUSH option: “Just show up at the box office and if there are seats available, you can get in for $15. Early arrival is highly recommended.”

You can also listen to the KCRW report on the festival at the link below…