Posts Tagged 'Ideas'

My Future

My attempt at making an X-Wing was cut short...

I made this in High School.

NOTE: Unlike some of my other posts, I’m not linking to Wikipedia on all of these links. I highly encourage you to click on every link here – some of the pages will make you laugh, some of the videos will make you cry, and most of the photos are from my personal albums. Enjoy!

I’ve been meaning to write this post for quite some time, so here goes.

First though, I would just like to say that prior to commencing the crafting of this post I was listening to some really excellent music by a very talented friend of mine. If you enjoy music by such awesome composers as John Williams, Hans Zimmer, James Horner and more, you would do well to click here. In fact, the first track sounds like something Edward Shearmur and John Williams might have written together.

OK, so let’s get something straight here. Not to brag, but I am a smart guy. I don’t always do the smartest things, and I don’t have a whole lot of formal education, but I have an extremely capable mind and I excel at various tasks involving mental labor. I love problem solving, have always enjoyed technically creative hobbies, and have a deep obsession with aircraft and spacecraft that has followed me my entire life. Being good at practical mathematics, I decided at an early age that I would enjoy engineering.

Then I began researching what is required for an engineering degree. Nearly immediately the math scared me away.

I love practical math (geometry, trigonometry and some algebra). As I see things, practical math has some sort of immediately accessible application or I can draw a picture to further understand it. When I started learning some pre-calculus, things went south as I discovered that not all math is practical.

I clearly remember my first pre-calculus class – the teacher wrote a very large, complex equation on the board. Then she started hacking away at it, removing entire segments and portions saying they were “insignificant.” I was overwhelmed and appalled. I consider every part of an equation, formula, system or composition to be intricately and inseparably part of the whole. I quickly wrote off calculus as psychotic and moved on with my life, seeking for a future among careers with as little advanced math as possible.

Turns out that’s difficult for someone with my interests. I thought 3D animation might be good, but after attending a year at the Savannah College of Art and Design I decided that my creativity levels just aren’t on par with the animators and modelers that I admire. In fact, I am too technical to allow the imperfections of real life into my artistic endeavors.

Then I considered becoming an author, but again I feel that my writing style is better suited to technical documents than creative fiction. Sure, I can throw a little humanity in there every once in a while, but most of my writing could have been produced by software. The same went for music composition – I was too robotic about it, even when I put all of my feeling into it.

I considered jobs in robotics, software engineering, piloting, information technology, and many other fields, but alas – they all required too much math. And not just any math, scary math. Psychotic math. At one point I even considered working to pay off all of my debt before just going off the grid entirely, becoming completely self-sufficient with my family in the woods, living off the land. I don’t think my wife liked that idea very much.

Being a thinker, I briefly pondered becoming a philosopher, but that didn’t feel like a very good career for supporting a family.

Then, while reading a book on philosophy, I thought, “getting an education is going to be tough no matter what. I suppose I might just need to study some advanced math.”

For English Class

My Sophomore Year in High School

So, I pondered back along my life’s many interests and hobbies and took another look at engineering. Then my realist side kicked in. Engineering might not be all that I hope it is. It could be especially boring and overly technical (even for me).

However, from my earliest years my first love has been engineering. Whether it be designing new aircraft, making a better space-plane, creating a robot, or dreaming about what the future could be, I was always headed toward some sort of engineering.

When I was in grade school I came up with a design for an aircraft that blended the best of two wing configurations. The F-14 Tomcat already proved that swinging wings could be used to reconfigure an aircraft for multiple flight characteristics even while still in the air, but I wanted to incorporate the maneuvering benefits of forward swept wings (such as those of the X-29) and a swept back delta wing configuration for high speed. So at least a few years prior to this patent being filed, I designed a plane that looked almost exactly like the Northrop Switchblade.

Yes, I designed this one before 1999.

My Switchblade (predates 1999 patent)

Even back then I was reading Popular Mechanics and Popular Science. Boy was I surprised one day to see my plane design in their pages when one of them published an article about the new patent for a switchblade design. I guess that’s when I knew that I needed to get into Aerospace Engineering.

However, the psychotic math and possibility of engineering being boring still kept me hesitant until recently.

I have been aware for a couple of years that the space shuttle program is coming to an end this year. But when I recently learned that the second to last shuttle flight (and final flight for Endeavour) was taking place this month, I became inexplicably depressed. I began to obsessively research everything I could about the Space Shuttle. I fantasized about attending the final shuttle launch in July when Atlantis will become the last of the Space Shuttles to launch. I started watching inhumane amounts of NASA TV, even going as far as to adjust my schedule to ensure I got to see certain events. I daydreamed about building a 1:1 replica of the exterior and interior of a shuttle in lieu of a tree-house for my children later in life. I added a bunch of shuttle paraphernalia to my wishlists on Amazon. Some of the products are too expensive.

From Family 2011

If I tell you everything about my shuttle obsession, we’ll end up with a long, sad autobiography about a guy who stalks space planes.

What I recently realized was that I desperately want to be involved with the future of Aerospace technologies. I want to inspire, design, and launch systems for human transportation both inside and outside of Earth’s gravitational pull. I want the vehicles I design to inspire the world and make space exciting again. I want to inspire people the way many of my favorite planes have inspired me. Planes such as the X-29, the SR-71 Blackbird, the F-14 Tomcat, the P-61 Black Widdow, the F-4 Phantom, or the OV-101 Enterprise.

For underwater exploration.

An underwater exploration vehicle.

When I was a kid I designed various types of craft. From watercraft to spacecraft I had ideas for anything that moves people fast. When I started experimenting with 3D design I tried recreating some of my designs, but ultimately failed. If I had put a little more effort in I may have succeeded, but all of my best 3D work has been the result of just messing around in the programs. Clearly there is a disconnect (have I ever told you how much I hate using that word as anything but a verb?).

This was my favorite sub design.

Submarines are similar to spacecraft, no?

I will close out this post with a few more of my designs. I had to dig them out of a box. I’m glad I kept them, as I find them inspiring at this time. I am about to begin the rest of my life. I am sitting on the edge of a past that offers little in the way of a future for my family. Before me are endless possibilities, and proceeding without direction is terrifying. These seeds from my childhood are offering and awesome insight into my inner dreams and desires.

Clearly there is still a lot of uncertainty. Even Aerospace Engineering isn’t quite specific enough. There are many fields of specialization within aerospace engineering. Of course, it is nice to know that I am still young and I still have time to deal with this uncertainty.

Wow... I drew this?

An underwater scene from WWIII.

For now I will continue with my current job and take advantage of any education benefits I can to work toward my degree.

Oh, and rather than babble on about nothing while sharing these images, I will tell you about a recent experience that helped me make the decision to get into engineering.

We know a family in the area in which the husband and wife are both engineers. When they saw our bumper sticker, and after getting to know me a little, they both decided that I needed to be an engineer. Or, at least that I would make a good engineer.

Based on something I read about.

I envisioned going to school on this.

So we finally got around to visiting them in their home recently and I grilled them for information about their education, their job, and other nerdy things.

I had a good time getting to know more about the work they do. The wife is currently a stay-at-home mother, but her husband is working as a materials engineer. I think he was surprised to learn that I am familiar with many of the concepts he researches at work. My desire to be on the forefront of technological advances and new ideas takes me all over the Internet in search of the new and magical things people are doing in labs.

So while that wasn’t the deciding factor, it was nice to have a talk with an engineer and learn more about real engineering. Plus he was completely dorky and proud of it. I like that quality.

Alright. Time to stop the blabber. Enjoy the last few photos here. Thank you for reading. This is a big deal for me because I have wondered what I would do with my life for the last twenty years or more. To finally have a solid plan in place (again) feels good.

The End.

Yet Another Site

Or should that read, Yet Another Waste of My Time… I have yet to see.

This project is complicated, and I should just let it explain itself. Head over to the main page and start reading. Maybe you can help me out a little!

Thanks.

Side Project & Had to Share…

I started a side project that I want you all to know about, but first I got a chuckle out of something that I wanted to share with you.

You may or may not have heard about the new Microsoft ad campaign.  They hired Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Gates (remember Gates doesn’t work for Microsoft any more, he’s retired) to do an ad campaign aimed at erasing the bad image Microsoft has of being the devil.  The first ad was released earlier this month and I thought it was a good first step but I felt like they should have done a lot more with it (I didn’t laugh even once, which left me wondering why they hired Seinfeld at all).  The second ad came out last week and I just got around to watching it today.  I laughed out loud at this one and you just have to watch it yourself.  I watched it embedded at Engadget, but here it is if you don’t want to click through to their site:

I think it’s an interesting concept and was well executed.  I look forward to seeing more of these ads in the future.

Now, for the project I started.  I linked to it from here sometime last week and even inserted the feed (you may have noticed it if you visit my page often) in the side bar.  The project is called My Favorite Quotes.  If you are subscribed to my feed in a reader, I recommend that you subscribe to this new feed at http://ilikethesequotes.wordpress.com/feed/ and if you just stop by my site every once and a while to read what I have written lately, be sure to look at the My Favorite Quotes feed toward the bottom of my side bar.

Here’s the deal: the feed only displays the quotes, not what I write about the quote.  What I am not trying to do is start a “quote of the week” service (once I’ve got a few more quotes up, I’ll start doing it once a week or so but over the last few days I have written commentary on four different quotes).  The feed only serves up the quotes, but the whole point of the project is that I write my thoughts and commentary about each quote.  Thus, if you see a quote that interests you, be sure to click through to the site to see it in context where you can read what I wrote about it and (please) leave your own comments.

Also, the new site has an About this Project page where you can leave quotes you like in the comments and, if I like the quote too, I’ll do a commentary on it.

I hope you at least enjoy the quotes.  Many of them are humorous and most of them contain a great deal of wisdom.  I also hope you read my comments on the quotes and share your own comments.  As always, I am listening and would love to hear your thoughts.

In other news I have rearranged most of the side bar here (at the Mediocre Renaissance Man site) to remove some of the clutter and make the new features easier to notice.  I shall have to do more if it is ever going to be a truly efficient place to interact with me, but this is a good step forward.

Work on my game project has slowed, no screeched to a halt.  I intend to pick it back up a bit this weekend, but my wife’s patience was wearing thin so I decided to give it a rest.  It has been difficult for me, and I am worried that this break may prevent me from ever completing the project.  I need momentum to get projects like that one finished, and my momentum is all gone.  I will still upload the project even if I never finish it, so you will get a chance to check it out even in its unfinished form.  No time frame on that though, it’s just going to happen when it happens.

Also this weekend I plan on writing a more in-depth review of Google Chrome since I have had a while to test it out and gather my feelings.  I may not actually get around to writing the whole review this weekend, but expect it by next weekend at the latest.

For all you family readers out there, we have new videos to upload, but we’ll just add that to an already bursting list of “todo” items.  Maybe I can start the upload now and let it run while I do other things…

Finally, I have added a page to this site called About You.  I recommend you check it out (not a lot of text, I promise).

All in all, I really just plan on relaxing and playing some games with my family this weekend.  There’s always a list of at least ten things I’d love to do in a day, and if I get around to just one of them I’m happy.  I’m going to go play some SSBB.  Later.

Where I Went

Occasionally I may disappear from time to time. I should hope that anyone who knows me at all would realize that my disappearing does not mean that I have ceased to be actively engaged in something. In fact, when I neglect something like my “thing” here it’s usually because I have something more exciting going on.

In fact, over the last week I have had several more exciting things happening than this.

In small news, we rented a fun game over the weekend. I loved the movie “Wall-e” so much that I just had to try the Wii game. Overall, my impression of the game was a good one. I think the developers rushed through parts of the game, but the majority was well thought out and fun.

The real time sucker for me the last week or so has been related to my last post about the game project. Shortly after writing that post, I came up with the bright idea to set the actual game portion aside and continue with an aspect of my original idea – the part where simple games could be made even by a novice or child.

I remembered the days when I had a TI-eighty-something graphing calculator that allowed for some simple code writing (scripting) in its native language. I was able to program it to play a number guessing game. It would print out on the screen “guess a number between 0 and 100” or whatever two numbers I chose, then I could guess. It would tell me “too high” or “too low” until I got the answer and it reset to “guess a number…” The experience with programming that simple application was enough to spark my interest in computer and web programming and has led me to better learn linear/sequential-thinking skills (I guess I’m a visual/spatial person, and linear or sequential thinking is difficult for me).

What I’m getting at is this: I thought, “wouldn’t it be great if I could write a program that would ease my son into the world of programming!?!” My son is definitely sequentially challenged and could certainly benefit from a bit of computer interaction at the programming level. How do you teach a five-year-old to write code though? So, I devised a plan (like I always do).

The plan was only complicated because of how elegantly simplistic and straightforward it was. It would be able to teach anyone the basics of a simple web programming language known as JavaScript. I developed an outline for a set of lessons that would walk the user through various levels of difficulty in programming functions. The program itself would adapt its interface to grow with the user as he progressed through the lessons and became more proficient.

I may or may not create the JavaScript teaching program, but I am already nearly done with one of the projects the program would walk the user through creating.

In fact, the project has grown into something far more complicated than anything I would ever ask a new programmer to attempt. It has even stumped me a couple of times in big ways.

When I finish it, I’ll try to upload it to my Google page so you can try it out. Quickly, before I go off to bed, I’m going to explain what it is and ask for your input and suggestions.

I’m making a simple game that will be played in the web browser. It is programmed entirely in JavaScript and is (as of right now) designed to be played in one sitting, though each time you play it your choices will create a different experience. If I go back and review techniques for writing and reading cookies to your local machine, I may be able to allow you to save your progress, but for now the entire game resets when you close the browser, refresh the page or load the page.

Right now, the entire look of the game is achieved with text. Here are a couple of screen-shots to illustrate:

Eventually I may take screen-shots like these into Photoshop and modify each individual character to better represent its item (saving the modifications as small images and having the program assemble the images in the same manner as it assembles the text).

For now, I would simply have to explain what each character represents for a person to be able to play the game. The @ symbol represents the main character. The & represents other people, the s and S are snakes, the $ is money, * is health and the C is a lucky horseshoe. Of course, the e is an enemy, as are the Q’s and the snakes. The H’s at the tops and bottoms of the screens are doors, and the I’s are also doors on the sides. The ^ represents a hill that can be walked on, but an A is a mountain and cannot be initially transversed (perhapse special shoes could be obtained allowing one to scale a mountain). The w is water, and a raft (#) is required before one can cross rivers that do not have a bridge (=). Sand and grass are represented by periods, semicolons and commas, and trees are exclamation points.

Of course, there are many other characters that I have used, but it would be a simple job to have the Javascript replace each letter or character with an image and thus create a much less jarring visual experience for the user.

Essentially, I have too many ideas (just for the game engine, the inner-workings of the code that drives the game) to outline everything here. The room on the right in my example was dark (represented by a screen full of E’s) until I used my candle to light it up (many ideas are drawn from games like the Zelda and Link series). I have set my code up to be flexible enough to do almost anything. All I need now are more ideas.

What kinds of stories would you tell if you had an open ended game like this? What kind of adventure would you go on? You can’t bring any friends with you, and your items may be limited (with no features for animating, enemies don’t move and it would be nearly impossible to actually use the bow and arrow – for now I don’t plan on animating anything), but many quests and adventures are still possible. Send me your best ideas and I’ll see if anything sounds fun to me.

My wife has already contributed (Burt and the gummi worm are her handiwork). What ideas will you contribute?

Once I’ve finished the basic game engine I’ll try to post it online somewhere so you can see what it’s capable of. I won’t have a story fully developed by then, of course, but everything should function properly (as of right now, it is possible to lose a battle and end up with negative health points, but you don’t die). I’ll work out the bugs and you can come up with ideas for me. If your idea requires a reworking of the basic engine, but it’s good, I’ll see what I can do. Remember, I’m keeping things fairly simple, but complicated enough to be fun.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering… The portion I expected an intermediate beginner to be able to code was finised within the first day. It consisted of a few lines of code to draw the map and some buttons that moved the little man around in the map. From there I just kind of went crazy… And what if you could collect items? Oh, and what if you could have a raft? Wow, and how about doors? Let’s put some enemies in! We need weapons, and battles, and candles for darkness, and keys for doors, and guys to talk to, and boss battles, and stores, and dynamic items and terrain, and conversations, and why won’t he die?, and, and, and… … …

Overly Ambitious or Genius?

Ever since I was a young child I have had ideas.  Some of my ideas are novel, others impractical, while most of them are hardly noteworthy.  The problem is, not much has ever been produced from my ideas, other than the ideas themselves.  In the end, all I am left with are more ideas.

Take, for instance, an idea I had as a Freshman in High School in 1997, the same year the Nintendo 64 gaming system was released.  The idea began brewing long before then, but I know for sure that I began imagining the particulars during that first year of High School.

My idea really took off that year because we got our first glimpses of what some of our favorite games could be like in a fully three dimensional world.  Playing Mario 64 I was impressed with the level of freedom the extra dimension offered, but I still felt limited.  So I began imagining my own version of the perfect game.

It began with my version of the perfect Mario 64 game.  In stead of levels limited at the edges by invisible walls or impossibly steep hills, why not connect all of the levels?  There could be extra terrain blending the different environments that each level contains, and the whole thing could be one massive world.

On that note, my logic continued, why not make the whole thing into a giant planet?  It could be the Mario 64 world.  A whole planet filled with Mario levels.

Then we got a new game, Mario Kart 64.  This, being another Mario game, instantly began crowding its way into my already busy imaginary Mario world.  In the Mario Kart game, one track takes place in the same setting as the beginning of Super Mario 64 – outside the Princess’s Castle.  I thought it would be cool if you could get out of your race kart and enter the castle.  Of course, in my imaginary 3D Mario world, this would be possible.

The next game I remember getting and loving completely changed my imaginary game forever, and that was Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire.  This game allowed me a visual companion that took my 3D game into new galaxies.  Of course, it didn’t happen so fast.  At first, I saw the opportunity to have other planets and space ships that could fly around in space, allowing you to land on other planets.  Then, another game (this one for the PC) got me thinking even more.

I just spent the last half hour researching and trying to find the name of this game I used to love playing, but found nothing.  I have no idea where I got it, but it was a shareware game where you controlled a small ship and tried to conquer a galaxy.  There were two or three star systems, each with planets in orbit.  It was a simple, 2D game but I loved playing.  You used the up arrow key to fire a single thruster, left and right to rotate and orient the craft (like Asteroids) and the down arrow key to fire your weapon.  The physics reminded you that there is no friction in space, and gravity can pull you off your course.  The planets weren’t all that much bigger than the orbiting landing platform you began on.  You moved out from your planet and found unclaimed planets to make your own.  All of your planets worked on upgrades for your ship such as new weapons, shields, etc.  There was a complicated system for colonizing and developing your planets, but it seemed to take care of itself in the background as long as you kept flying around claiming more planets.

The trouble was with your opponent, who was constantly trying to attack and conquer your planets.  Anyhow, there was a little more to it that that, but I think you get the point.  I decided my game had to have aspects like that.  You could either play around on the surface, or you could go from planet to planet and try to gain control over as many of them as you could.  Then I got to thinking about other jobs, tasks, and so forth that could keep a person busy in a universe like this.  People could play the game to race, to run around on missions like in Golden Eye 007 or Perfect Dark, try to save people like the Star Wars game, fly people from planet to planet, compete for money, use the money to buy ships, cars, and other things…  The list kept growing.

Eventually, I realized this sort of thing would be more fun with other real people if they could be connected over the Internet.  In a recent letter to a loved one, I wrote the following (this person is still using a dial-up connection to the Internet):

Too bad you’re on dial up still.  I was just remembering dial up this week when I was recalling my first experiences with the Internet.  My dad’s place of work had supplied him with a  notebook computer and he had some responsibilities online.  He subscribed to AOL for Internet service at home, and I remember hearing about websites and pages from friends, on television and at school, and wanting to check them out online.  So, I would occasionally ask my dad if we could go on the Internet to look at one thing or another.

Every time we went online it was an adventure.  Not from the discoveries, learning or witnessing of new technology as one would hope.  The experience was an adventure because our connection would get refused a couple of times, then we’d get on with a painfully slow connection speed, and lose the connection five minutes later, only to repeat the whole process again and again.  I remember my “last straw” was when we decided to try filing our taxes online for the first time.  It took many, MANY hours.  Again, not because it was confusing or difficult, but because our connection was unreliable and slow.

A few of these “adventures” and I was convinced that the Internet was a useless, frustrating fad that would pass before I graduated high school.  That was one of my last wrong predictions.  As soon as I heard about “T-One Lines,” “Cable Modems” and “DSL,” I realized that the Internet didn’t have to be a slow, unreliable pain in the rump and a whole flood of possibilities became apparent.

Among that “flood of possibilities” was the idea that the Internet could connect gamers so they could interact in the same virtual world or universe.  Little did I know, but online games were already in existence, and at around the same time as I was developing my ideas for an online multiplayer game, MMOG‘s were also developing into the 3D worlds they are today.  Now, games very similar to the final version of my idea exist (and they are making their creators a lot of money), but they lack the personality and flavor of my imaginary universe.

Spore and Second Life are two examples of ideas like mine that were capitalized on rather than sat on.  In Spore you get something more complicated than what I imagined but more centralized and less ambigous.  However you get the same level of scale and interactivity.  In Second Life you get the social networking, interactivity, creativity, ambiguity and freedom, but you still don’t have the video game style play.  I just think the themed worlds would be fun (imagine a Link and Zelda world).  I also think playing as your favorite video game character should be an option, as well as the traditional creation of an avatar.

In the end, though, my idea is still an idea.  I’m writing about this because I am once again faced with an idea that keeps escalating.  If I don’t squelch the proliferation of ideas soon, my idea will once again become too impractical to create.

Once again, my idea is for a game.  It is a simple game this time though, one for children or adults.  At first, while designing the code on paper, I realized that a modular approach would be easier to work with and make the whole project more flexible.  Then I decided I would like the program to help create the code for the game, making the game easier to edit and change.  I thought it would be good to make the game files separate from the code so it wouldn’t be hardwired into the actual program.  Then I decided to integrate the editing function into the final product so users could create their own games like mine, telling their own story.  Then it just got more complicated and more intricate until I realized I was going to have to back some of the features out if I’m ever really going to program this thing.

Only once did this tendency of mine to escalate ever pay off.  I was in High School, designing a program to help decode some encrypted messages for a contest I was working on in the evenings (instead of doing homework at home).  It worked out because I started getting the extra ideas while I was actually executing the project.  I started with a simple program that helped count characters and plot a graph to help me decode substitution ciphers by character analysis.  Then I got involved in a harder, multi-alphabet substitution cipher that required yet another function in the program to facilitate its decryption.  Eventually I got it to work, and it did its job beautifully.  I was very proud of this program, and to this day I regret the harddrive crash that wiped away every last line of its code.

The dilemma I am faced with is one of practicality.  Is it better to cut off an idea before it gets out of control to keep it feasible, or is it better to dream big, aim high and resign myself to a life full of ideas that I will never bring to life?  I like dreaming big, I love my ideas, but they are too big to execute.  This world we live in moves so quick that if I don’t do something about an idea fast enough, someone else will think of it and do it before me.  I have had numerous ideas that became big a few years after I dreamed them up.

Am I an overambitious, lazy and unrealistic dreamer or am I an under-ambitious genius who lacks the necessary gumption to do something about his ideas?  What do you think?

Call to Arms

I propose that the whole idea of an operating system that needs to restart in order to update or fix errors is fundamentally flawed and has its roots in the days when processor time and memory use were drastically more limited and more carefully budgeted in programming than they need to be now. If we continue to hold on to programming habits and traditions formed in those early days, future progress may slow or even halt when our technology begins demanding more efficient, dynamic infrastructures on which to think and perform calculations. When such a day comes, we might be left scratching our heads wondering what the big holdup is – unless we are ready.

For what reason do we have files in our systems that the operating system needs to protect from change while running? I believe that this may have originated in the days when the first two digits of the year were dropped to save space in the memory. The programmers didn’t consider that eventually the year wouldn’t start with a nineteen, or that such savings in memory would be trivial in just a few short years. I think that in order to keep the processor free to run programs in the operating system, programmers avoided having to reference certain system files more than once while the operating system is running. By reading them once at startup, then deeming them “untouchable” during operation, they avoided having to read the same information several times while running. Whether I have this particular detail correct or not, I think the basics of the idea are based in processor usage or memory management somehow. Either way, programmers did not realize that one day computer processors would be capable of performing calculations several times faster than most users would require of them and memory would be measured in terabytes rather than kilobytes.

In order to clearly see a need for change, we can travel into the future. Imagine a robotic surgeon performing an emergency surgery in a remote area of the world. This robot may be completely autonomous, or it may be remotely guided in some capacity by a human surgeon. The operation begins, the first slice cleanly revealing the innards of our poor, doomed example subject. A few cuts later and a major organ will be in jeopardy. There will be a thirty second window to take needed precautions to prevent this patient from being seriously injured or even killed. Our multi-limbed machine is fully capable of performing this task in under ten seconds, but suddenly, as the thirty second window opens, a fatal error occurs in the operating system code. A blue screen of death shines in the background while our patient is beginning to die in the foreground. A redundant system realizes the problem and restarts the main computer. Backup processes would have been able to carry out the instructions necessary to save this man’s life, but the data has been corrupted and needs to be restored. Luckily, this is the future, and our system restarts in just under ten seconds. The local data is restored by logging into the robot’s online data cloud and reconstructing the damaged areas. Finally, nearly fifteen seconds in to this critical countdown the surgeon begins saving the dying organ. Unfortunately, the process takes twenty seconds, and fatal damage has already been done. The patient dies.

Admittedly, even more redundant systems would probably exist on such an important machine, several of which redundancies would be fully capable of accessing uncorrupted, collectively managed data and completing the surgery without incident. My point wouldn’t be made quite so clearly though if redundant systems had saved the patient. The question is, why should our systems need to restart when an error is encountered? Shouldn’t proper, modular programming techniques be able to circumvent the need to completely reboot the whole operating system? It is both expensive and impractical to simply give every important computer system several redundant iterations of itself.

With processor speed so high and memory so freely available, I don’t see why we can’t have a certain amount of built-in redundancy for every individual computer without having to install physical clones of the computer. Systems exist that will add redundancy to data storage (like the Drobo), but even these techniques cannot prevent your system from needing to restart after certain errors. In a modular operating system, a fatal error should only require the affected module to restart, not the entire system. If the module that encounters the error is a critical system module that would cripple the entire operating system while disabled, then a redundant module should exist to prevent the user from being affected by the error.

For another silly example from the future, let’s visit the computer system that handles traffic movements. This system monitors traffic needs and controls traffic flow in an entire city. It networks with traffic computers in other cities to gather data about movements between the two cities. It connects with individuals’ calendars to help them get to appointments on time. This computer is a very busy system. Once a week, though, at three am (on Wednesday), it logs in to its manufacturer’s website to check for updates. If it finds any updates, it stops traffic for ten seconds while it reboots.

Ridiculous? Yes. If a computer is controlling traffic, the vehicles may be moving at amazing speeds. Ten seconds holding still, rather than moving at five hundred miles per hour, could mean big financial loss for businesses that rely on the quick movements of goods or people. Ten seconds not moving might seem like an eternity to a mother in labor on the way to the hospital, or a young man who has swallowed his iPhone and can’t breathe.

The traffic computer should be able to make changes to its system files without needing to shut down and restart. A modular system that isn’t afraid to reference itself dynamically should be able to make changes on the fly without exhibiting the archaic behavior of our current computers.

Why should we wait for such changes in operating system philosophy to become necessary? We are ready now, we have the processing power now, let’s do this – now. I call on operating system programmers everywhere (and anyone else who wants to help) to organize and begin redesigning the operating system from the ground up to be modular, redundant, resilient to errors and dynamically capable of updating without ever needing to restart, reboot or shut down.

Premature Magnum Opus

Nearly a month ago I announced a new project. I had been toying with the idea in my head for several weeks at the time, and finally decided to do it. I had a plan. I designed and wrote out the details. I never got the first piece finished.

I started it, but didn’t finish.

This actually isn’t very uncommon for me, but it was not supposed to happen. I know what went wrong, and now I’m trying to recover from the wreck that was my great project.

The idea was to interview people who I found attractive (not on the outside, but inside) and write about each one revealing their beauty in my writing. It pains me to remember that I had some wonderful ideas on how to do this. I had parts of the essays about certain people written already in my head. I had all of the details worked out for what the essays would be like. I should have written all of that down. Lesson learned.

I failed to write down those particulars, but I didn’t fail to begin an essay. The plan was to write essays about three or four people I already knew to get the project jump-started. Being the social klutz that I am, I didn’t want to hurt the feelings of my wife by leaving her out, and I really wanted to write about her anyhow, so I made hers the first essay. For fun, I went ahead and did the interview with her (so she could help me test the questions). I took notes. I got an idea. I started writing.

What I wrote was ridiculous. It was horrible. Here was my dearest, most beloved among all mortals, and I was writing an essay about her that even she wouldn’t like. What was I thinking?!? Where had I gone wrong?

Yesterday it occurred to me that what I was trying to write was my magnum opus. My wife is my eternal companion, my greatest lover, my best friend, the most beautiful, significant person in my life, and I was trying to put my thoughts and feelings for her into written language. I may write well, but not that well. Not yet. In my fear of offending her through omission in the project, I actually blundered the whole thing. I tried to do what I am not yet able to do.

Now, a month after the project’s inception, I have the beginning of an essay I can’t use and the train has wrecked. I have long since forgotten the taste of the project in favor of other, newer ideas. I already have plenty of troubles with the thoughts and ideas that race around in my mind, avoiding capture and dodging my view. While I don’t believe the ship has sailed for this project, it will certainly have to simmer in the background for a time while I attempt to let my subconscious reconstruct the ideas and rekindle the energy I’ll need to pick it back up.

When I do begin again, I will begin with someone I can write about at my current skill level. Perhaps another close friend, or a complete stranger. When I get the train going again I will be prepared to accept my limitations and there will be essays to read. I’m sure my wonderful wife will understand, and she will have something to look forward to down the road when my skills have advanced and I feel that the time is right. Someday I really will write my magnum opus. Someday those words will come. Until then, I shall have to write about people who mean much less to me; people for whom I have the words to write about them.


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