To Boldly Go-ogle

Technology and science fiction have a relationship that is both practical and whimsical. The works of Jules Verne influenced the first rocket scientists. Those scientists then influenced writers like Gene Roddenberry who created Star Trek. People who grew up watching Star Trek (or being exposed to other sci-fi of the day in books, film, and radio) entered the workplace and tried to capture the vision of the future by advancing what the resources we have today.

Cell phones (and more directly to Trek, flip phones), tablet computers, holographic projectors, lasers, different type metal alloys – the list can go on and on – have all been brought to the real world after being dreamed in fiction.

One of the most anticipated creations of 2013 is Google Glass. By now the story of the enhanced glasses is almost commonplace. Competitors have even launched a continuation of the mobile device revolution, in anticipation of wearable computing being the next hot trend.

What will Google Glass be able to do? Right now we don’t really know. Based on the limited demos Google has put into the public eye, it should have picture-taking functionality, some degree of voice recognition, GPS awareness, and an internet connection, either built in or through a link to a mobile phone. What strikes me now is not the actual abilities of Google Glass but the big leap that the technology is taking over what has appeared in sci-fi. This is not an exhaustive list, but a look at a segment of the genre that has a special place in my heart: Star Trek.

As something of the standard bearer of sci-fi for almost half a century, Star Trek has shown us many fantastic devices (warp drives, transporters, holodecks, cloaking devices) that can be only hinted at with a modern understanding of technology and physics. Others, like the PADD, personal communicators, and computers that can respond to voice commands, have arrived hundreds of years early without a tremendous drop in capability from their fictional relatives. Even needle-free shots at the doctor’s office are just over the horizon, and there are already medications that can be administered through a patch and glues that replace stitches.

One of the most memorable scenes in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan was when Dr. McCoy gave Captain Kirk a pair of reading glasses. Simple, functional, reading glasses. The 1982 vision of 2282 (that’s a new easter egg for me) was the same way things had been done for centuries.

In the context of the movie, the glasses were a symbol that the crew was aging. Kirk, the brash, young captain from the 1960s TV show was now an elder statesman in Starfleet. Because of the impact of Kirk’s aging and stepping back from the day-to-day Starfleet action we don’t know for sure if classic glasses are all that the future has to offer, but it seems like the common solution.

That’s just fine though because Star Trek: The Next Generation takes place nearly a century later. During the time of Captain Picard, replicators are in nearly every room of the ship, holodecks could bring any scenario to life with full interactivity, and one of the bridge officers was an android. At this point, nearly a century later, we should expect that wearable computers, in the form of smart glasses, if they exist, have taken the same technological leap.

However, in The Game, Commander Riker returns from a vacation on Risa with headsets for the crew to play a 24th century video game. The graphics were more Virtual Boy than virtual reality. Geordi LaForge wore a VISOR, but for normal humans, the game headsets were seen as a nifty piece of technology. We’ll forget that the headsets also administered a form of mind control in this analysis.

Deep Space Nine took place at essentially the same time as The Next Generation and tackled the smart glasses yet again. For Captain Sisko and his crew, the glasses acted as a HUD (heads up display) while controlling an alien ship. Again, this is surprisingly limited and also somewhat unnecessary given that they were onboard the ship, full of diagrams, screens, and computer interfaces.

As a collection of science fiction TV shows many episodes consisted of a basic plot of: detect planet or ship, beam to the planet/ship to investigate, and either return to the ship or continue to solve the issues of the day. Every mission brought along the all-powerful Tricorder, a handheld scanner, but not a set of standard-issue glasses providing scanning capabilities, video and photographic functions, communications when the crew splits up. It could be a map, guide book, translator and more! Word Lens, an app for both iOS and Android devices, already lets someone hold a camera up to a sign or text and read the word in their native tongue instead of the language it was printed in.

With an expected developer release of Google Glass in 2013 we should know more about the capabilities of Google’s device within months, but no matter what Glass can do at launch and in the coming years, it will put Star Trek’s vision of the future to shame. Score one for the 21st century.

The Hall of Unexpectedly Few

Yesterday marked the first time since 1996 that the BBWAA (Baseball Writers’ Association of America) failed to elect at least one player to the Hall of Fame. For a year that was anticipated to be challenging due to the sheer number of qualified candidates –  with or without PED users – an empty slate is nothing short of disappointing.

 

Craig Biggio came the closest to election with 388 votes but fell 39 short of the threshold.

One positive take away: Biggio and Jeff Bagwell, longtime Houston Astros teammates, will once again have a chance to be elected together. Other people have made arguments on both sides about what the voters should do so I won’t say any more than this. At the end of the day the Hall of Fame is just a museum and there should be room in that museum for players who tell the story of the game.

Bullpen Phones Go Wireless. What?

Baseball is a sport steeped in tradition. It moves slowly, it changes slowly, the game is played…slowly. So it comes as a big shock to me to imagine managers picking up a cell phone to call the bullpen.

But there you go. And this magical new communication will be powered by T-Mobile.

I guess the old fashioned bullpen phone will be the story I tell my kids. Like my dad told me about the bullpen cart.

While I normally am usually somewhere between unfazed and mildly annoyed by new ads and sponsorships appearing in front of every part of the game, I like that this is a functional partnership. Even if a cell phone may not really be necessary bullpen technology.

Under the agreement, T-Mobile will provide MLB with a new On-Field Communication System, powered by T-Mobile’s powerful nationwide network technology. The first use of this technology will be in a wireless voice system connecting managers in select Major League dugouts to coaches in bullpens. This dugout-to-bullpen system will start to roll out in 2013 and the new On-Field Communication System solution will offer greater mobility as well as options for future innovation within the game.

— http://www.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20130108&content_id=40895452&vkey=pr_mlb&c_id=mlb&tcid=TMO_TW_010813&partnerId=aw-5954574031703122309-996

It’s a strange switch on the face of it, and I would prefer MLB address technology like “instant replay” or “iPads for managers in the dugout” before upgrading (downgrading?) the bullpen phone, but MLB (through MLBLAM) has been on the forefront of tech for a while so I’m watching with…medium interest.