THE HOLODECK AS REALITY

RECREATING THE WORLD ON THE HOLODECK


For a long time, I followed writing prompts. I liked the challenge of finding something to say about a random topic. And I was interested to see the commonalities and differences between my thoughts and everyone else’s.

REUTERS/Noah Berger

Lately, though, I want to write about other stuff. The crazy political stuff. The insanity of our failure to make any changes to our gun laws. The wild weather.

Talk about crazy. Insect plagues (not just here … all over the country) … and temperatures so high they turn forests to tinder. Flooding down the middle. Drought out west. Tornadoes threatening Chicago. Chicago? Mother Nature, like Howard Beale in “Network” screaming “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!”

network-howard-beale-horizontal-large

Network is a 1976 American satirical film written by the great Paddy Chayefsky. Directed by Sidney Lumet, it’s the story of a fictional television network willing to do anything and everything — including assassinating one of its own anchors on live television — to get better ratings. When the movie came out, it was almost science fiction. Now, except for not yet assassinating a reporter or anchor live during prime time, the rest seems tame compared to what’s truly going on.

Sometimes, I wonder if maybe Donald Trump was invented by TV network executives to get higher ratings for the news. It worked around this house. We hadn’t watched news on television — except for sports and weather — since Garry stopped being part of it.

Now, we watch the news every day just to see what new madness is in progress. “The Daily Show” seems more attuned to the surreal nature of current events than any of the standard stations.

daily show trevor noah

Not all that long ago, I had no trouble figuring out what was real and what was not. Now? There’s such a massive crossover between reality and “art,” I feel as if I’m living in the holodeck. In case you don’t remember (or never knew), the holodeck was a virtual reality facility on the Enterprise (especially on “Next Generation”). It was used to recreate environments — real and fictional — via “hard light” (solid and touchable) holograms.

holodeck

In our world, no such technology exists.

Yet.

So they tell us.

Except that I’m beginning to wonder. Maybe these past couple of years are a creative exercise by some mad computer genius designing a world that could never be. Except … it does. Exist. We are living in it.

Or … maybe … we’ve slipped into an alternate dimension. Because after all, could this world be real?

OOZING TO KILL

OOZE


It oozed beneath the door and consumed anyone in its way. The teenagers — Steve McQueen’s first movie (billed as Steven McQueen) — warned the grown-ups, but they wouldn’t listen to the kids. It oozed everywhere, growing bigger and oozier with each passing moment.

The Blob. It came. It consumed. It oozed. And eventually, was destroyed.

Keep watching the skies … but don’t forget to look under your door!

WHEN DOGS RULE THE WORLD – CITY (1952), CLIFFORD SIMAK

City is a 1952 science fiction novel by Clifford D. Simak. The book is episodic with eight or nine (depending on which version you read) short stories that have “bridges” between episodes. Version of the book after 1980 includes the ninth tale, “Epilogue.”

The novel contains eight stories which are the mythology of the Dogs. Each tale is preceded by doggish notes and learned discussion. An editor’s “preface” notes after each telling of these legends, suggest that puppies will ask many questions, for example:

1st-edition by source fair-use en wikipedia.org

“What is Man?” they’ll ask.

Or perhaps: “What is a city?”

Or maybe:”What is a war?

There is no positive answer to any of these questions.”


In the world where these stories are legends, there are no humans, no cities, and no war.

Generally, I find old science fiction awkward and occasionally dull. In City, the technology and science is dated, but the concepts are as innovative and unique as they were when I first read the book in the 1960s.

This “remembered human world” questions whether or not humankind will continue as a species, but not for the usual reason. Quite the opposite.

In these stories, earth was repaired in every way you can imagine. There is enough of everything — food, money, housing. Roads are useless because everyone flies. Cities are empty. Everyone lives in the country. Crime disappears and mutants have strange powers, especially telepathy.

The stories focus around one wealthy family named Webster and their robot Jenkins, . Over time, the name Webster becomes the noun “webster,” meaning “human.” Each story builds on a previous one. All discuss the breakdown of the urban world. The breakdown isn’t a bad thing because human life is enormously better.

And then, there’s Jupiter.

Doug Webster hates the new world. He’s an agoraphobic. Although the word “agoraphobic” is never used, Webster (all his family members share the same issue) becomes ill if he is has to go out into the bigger world. At some point, Webster provides dogs with speech and improved vision. Meanwhile, the breakdown of civilization allows roaming mutant geniuses to make their own odd changes to earth. Joe, a wandering mutant, decides to see what would happen to ants if they remained active and free of hunger year round.

The ants form an industrial society and eventually take over “our” earth while humans go somewhere else — as do the dogs. A lot of stuff happens and there isn’t a lot of specific information provided. You will need your imagination.

Dogs see other worlds. They always have. Their worlds are “cobbly worlds.” In case you were wondering, cobbly worlds are why your dog barks at seemingly nothing. Dogs bark to warn the cobblies to stay away. Other worlds familiar to us, are invisible to Dogs.

Ultimately, humans abandon earth and dogs have nothing but mythical memories of humans. They are not even sure we ever existed. The stories in this book are their myths and legends. A few dogs believe humans existed, but most do not. I really enjoyed the book. I also enjoyed the audiobook. If science fiction is your thing, this book is worth your time.

And don’t forget about those cobbly worlds.

IF TELEVISION WAS REAL – BY TOM CURLEY

I watch a lot of TV. Probably too much. I’m fond of action shows. I’m really fond of all the various comic book shows.


The single thing these shows have in common is they all have at least one computer genius. A girl or guy geek who’s the best hacker in the business. They always have at least a half-dozen computer monitors in front of them. Each one has 10 or more windows open with lines of data scrolling by at about a hundred miles an hour. They can do anything and everything. Instantly.

falcontradingsystems.com

falcontradingsystems.com

BOSS: I know this is illegal, but I need you to hack into the CIA, NSA and FBI servers. They have the most secure and impenetrable firewalls ever designed. Can you do it?

COMPUTER GENIUS: I was into all three 15 seconds ago, sir. The ones that work for the FBI can find anything in 10 seconds or less.

FBI BOSS: Our serial killer is male, early thirties, white, and probably living in a two square mile region south of Albany, Georgia. He’s left handed  and likes string cheese. We need to narrow our search …

FBI COMPUTER GENIUS: Found him! His photo, home address and a copy of his permanent High School record have already been sent to your phone.

Not the real bad guy

Probably not the real bad guy, but this got me to thinking. What would these shows look like if they were happening in the real world?

BOSS OF SUPER SECRET GOVERNMENT ORGANIZATION TASKED WITH SAVING THE WORLD FROM SUPER BAD EVIL DOERS:  OK, listen up. You two are the world’s best black hat and white hat hackers. We’ve brought you here because a Super Bad Evil Doer has stolen software that will allow him to access all the world powers’ nuclear codes. He is demanding 1 trillion dollars in ransom or he will launch all the missiles at once and destroy the Earth. You each have a whole bunch of computer screens in front of you with dozens of boxes open scrolling lines and lines of stuff. You have less than 10 minutes to somehow find our Evil Doer and figure out a way to block him from launching those missiles. Can you do it?

HACKER #1: Yes, but we will need to write some specialized software, at least 10 to 20 thousand lines of code.

BOSS: My God!  Can you do it in time???

HACKER #2: Already done sir. Now all we have to do is upload it to the Evil Doer’s computer. Ready to send in 3, 2 ….

HACKER #1: NO! NO! NO!

HACKER #2: What’s wrong? OH GOD NO! NO! NO!

BOSS: What’s happening?!

HACKER #1: My computer is shutting down!!

HACKER #2: MINE TOO!

BOSS: Are you being hacked? Have your computers been infiltrated by some kind of malicious software? Does the Evil Doer have a genius hacker of his own???

HACKER #1: WORSE! Windows just installed updates! It’s rebooting so the updates can take effect!

windows shut down

BOSS: Can you stop it!??

HACKER #2: It’s too late! Look! It’s already started rebooting and configuring the updates!

windowsupdateinstalling_40853_l

BOSS: There’s nothing you can do???!

HACKER #2: No sir. Look at the screen. It says “Please do not power off or unplug your machine while updates are in progress”!

windows updates 1

BOSS: How long will it take to reboot?

HACKER #1: God only knows! Look! It’s still installing update six of ten! This could take an hour! Even more.

BOSS: We have less than ten minutes before nuclear Armageddon! What are we going to?

HACKER #1: Wait! I’ve got it! I can use my smart phone!

HACKER #2: Yes! We will have to adapt about 15 thousand lines of code but …

HACKER #1: It’s done! OK now all I have to do is input and send the kill command. “NEUTRALIZE ALL NUCLEAR LAUNCH CODES”. And … done!

BOSS: Thank God!

HACKER #2: Oh NO! You entered “NEUTRALIZE ALL NUCLEAR LUNCH CODES”!!

HACKER #1: What?! Damn you AUTOCORRECT!

autocorrect

BOSS: What do we do now!!

HACKER #2: You know what? Pay the ransom. I’ve had it with Windows. I mean look, it’s still on update 6 of 10! We’re going to be here all day!

HACKER #1: I agree. Pay the money. This is just too much trouble. I’m telling you, ever since my phone updated to iOS 9.0.1, nothing works right.

HACKER #2: Tell me about it.

ios-9-overnight-update

As the two hackers walk off into the sunset discussing whether or not upgrading to Windows 10 would make the situation better or worse, small mushroom clouds appear in the distance.

doodleordie.com

doodleordie.com

Yeah, that’s pretty much how it would happen. Here’s the actual TV show.

 

WHEN YOUR WORM HOLE APPEARS – USEFUL NOTES FOR THE TIME TRAVELER

Time travel is the ultimate addiction. One day, I realized the large window in my bedroom had become a wormhole. I flipped out.

It had begun as a day like any other. Coffee. Making sure the dogs had biscuits. Wash those few dishes in the sink. Clean out the drying rack. Look at the sky, wonder if it’s going to rain. Wondering why it matters so much anyhow. It’s just another day, right?

Then there’s the whirling twirling thing in the blinds. A vortex! While I’m standing there trying to figure out how to get into it, wondering how come they don’t appear at a more convenient location … like at floor level, for example. Am I supposed to leap over my dresser? And I need a clue how to designate when and where I want to go and return. Because I do want to return!

It turns out (surprise!) the vortex knows. Everything.

NASA’s own time machine

Just focus your mind on when, where and how long you want to be wherever it may be and voilà! The vortex takes care of the rest, like an exceptionally good travel agent, but much cheaper. The danger is going through the vortex with your brain muddled. You can wind up some strange places … not places anyone wants to be. Don’t drink and time travel! Also, you don’t have to jump or climb into the vortex. Just stand as close as you can and reach into it mentally. Cool beans, right?

If you are one of the lucky ones who’ve had a vortex appear for you, I’d like to offer you some practical advice.

  • Don’t drink, smoke dope, or take other mind-bending substances before you travel elsewhen.
  • Avoid the 14th century. It’s too depressing.
  • You should get vaccinations for defunct diseases. Talk to your doctor.
  • If you have a really cool doctor, let him or her in on the secret. Some can be bribed with an excursion of their own. And it’s a good bet you’ll eventually need medical support, so why not start out ahead?
  • Wear appropriate clothing. Layer. Sometimes the seasons aren’t predictable. A small carry-on piece of luggage in a natural fiber such as canvas is a good investment.
  • Take your camera. Take extra memory chips and backup batteries. You aren’t going to be recharging anything.
  • Leave the cell phone home. A ringing cell at the wrong moment can produce unexpected — and unpleasant — results.
  • Tell your mate what’s going on. Nothing upsets a relationship more than your appearing out of nowhere. Why not take your other half along for a couple of rides? Maybe he or she will love it too.
  • Try to land in an open area. Arriving mid-air or inside a wall or tree produces bad trips. Sometimes death. Be clear in your mind so the vortex can read you. Wherever you are going, do a little research. Google Earth and history books can be helpful in giving you good visualization capabilities.
  • Try not to lose yourself in time. If you overdo it, you can forget who you are supposed to be, who your children are, your friends, family. Everything. Most of us want to go home eventually.
  • Don’t tell everything to everybody. You want to keep the press out of it. Far out of it.
  • The future is scarier than the past. Spend time in known history before you venture forward. You’ll be glad you did.

Vortexes don’t last forever. Make the most of your opportunity while it’s available. Enjoy your travels, my friends. Welcome to TIMING OUT of life! It’s the best ride you’ll ever take.

HOW STUPID ARE WE?

When I lived in Israel, there was a true story, heavily publicized in local papers, about a family who sold their house and used the proceeds to buy lottery tickets. They reasoned they had to win. Win big. After which they would buy a new house. It didn’t work out as planned. They ended up with a giant pile of worthless lottery tickets — and no house. It was a living example of “what could possibly go wrong” logic.

No people, no country, no place on earth is exempt from an unyielding belief that something great will happen in the middle of what is obviously a truly bad plan. It’s a people thing.

Watching television gives me many opportunities to ponder “what could possibly go wrong?” For example, last night, we saw an old CSI episode with Ted Danson in charge. He was using his lovely daughter as bait for a serial killer.

Really. What could possibly go wrong with that?

It took all the creativity of a team of writers to come up with a happy ending. It was unbelievable in the sense that I didn’t believe it. Garry didn’t believe it. I bet even the guys who wrote it didn’t believe it.

I try not to take this sort of thing personally. Can it be that the producers of television series think we are quite that stupid? I suppose these days, they may have a point … but they’ve been writing stupid scripts for a long time. Probably as long as there has been television.

When I worked at Doubleday, we wrote about books because, you know, Doubleday is a publisher. There were very few rules about how to write. We were allowed a great deal of creative freedom. But there was one big warning: never write “down” to your readers. As the editor in charge of the Doubleday Romance Library, I got to read surveys on who actually reads romance novels, an oft-maligned genre of literature.

These light, fluffy stories — all pretty much the same plot — always sold extremely well. It seemed that fans of the genre could not get enough of them. Yet survey after survey showed that the readers of romance novels were, of all of our reader groups, the best educated.

How could that be? Well, it turns out that many people in high-pressure professions don’t necessarily want a steady diet of serious books. They wanted books without ugly deaths or torture. They liked knowing there would be a happy ending and if they forgot to finish the book, it didn’t matter. It didn’t mean they didn’t read other stuff, but this was the marshmallow cream of literature.

Whoever is in charge of the story lines and scripts for television series have forgotten about not talking down to us. They think we are stupid. Okay, may some people are — but not everyone and not all the time. When the show gets sufficiently stupid, I stop watching. When the stories get ridiculous and the “what could possibly go wrong?” factor outweighs other entertainment values, I move on.

For me to accept a story, to suspend my disbelief, you need to give me a hook. Something that lets me accept whatever is happening as “possible.” Like, there you are on planet Alphabetazoid in the far away galaxy of ZYX900042 and everyone speaks colloquial 21st century American English. You want me to believe it? Tell me they are using their “Universal Translator.” Or they have babel fish in their ears. I want to believe, but you have to offer me a little help.

Of course, that’s useless when confronted by the vast real life ocean  of human stupidity. People who really do sell their homes to buy lottery tickets and vote for people who will destroy their lives. People who live an entire life composed of “what could possibly go wrong with that” scenarios.

In real life, I will trudge on dealing with stupidity because that’s life … but at least on television, give me a break. Help me believe. Because I may be naïve and unaware … but usually, not too stupid.

Life is stupid enough. I don’t need extra help.

OUT OF THE TIME WARP: FAMILY MEMBERS YOU NEVER MET

CELEBRATING THE FAMILY WE NEVER MET AND MAYBE DON’T WANT TO

You just can’t trust a time portal. As soon as you think you can relax, eat a little dinner, another old family member drops by. Or, rather pops up.

“So,” says Uncle Shmuel, who has appeared out of nowhere and now miraculously speaks vernacular American English — albeit with a heavy Yiddish accent. “Nice place you got here. I see you keep your animals in your house. That one there sounds like a pig but looks like a dog.”

“They are our pets, Uncle Shmuel. The oinker is Nan. She just makes that sound. She’s kind of old. I think that’s the dog equivalent of ‘oy’.”

“Pets, shmets. Animals. In the house. What’s next? Toilets? Never mind, your life, your choice. Oy.”

“Can I give you something to eat? Tea? Coffee? Cake? If we don’t have it, I can go out and buy some.”

“Are you Kosher?”

“Uh, no. Not Kosher,” and I shiver, thinking of the bacon and ham that yet lives in our kitchen. “Oh, wait, here’s my husband. Uncle Shmuel, I’d like you to meet my husband Garry.”

Shmuel looks shrewdly at Garry, then at me. “He doesn’t look Jewish.”

Garry’s eyes twinkle. “But really I am,” he says and deftly pulls a yarmulke out of his pocket. You have to hand it to Garry. He’s very sharp. The yarmulke has “Joel’s Bar Mitzvah” printed across the back in big white letters. Fortunately, Shmuel doesn’t notice.

“So,” Shmuel continues after a pregnant pause, “You still have problems with Cossacks?”

“No. No more Cossacks, but too many politicians,” I reply.

“Cossacks, politicians, there’s a difference?” he asks.

“Not so much,” I admit. He’s right. There is no difference, except maybe for the absence of a horse.

“And for a living, you do what?”

“We’re retired. But before that, I was a writer. Garry was a reporter. On television.”

“What’s a television?” I look at Shmuel. That’s when I realize we are about to embark on an extended conversation. All I say is: “Oy vay is mir!” Which seems to sum it up.

Oy vay. Can someone set the table?