Trilobis and Jelly-Fish Habitats

I always love it when I stumble across new and interesting design concepts, even when they are clearly outside the realm of my own reality. The model habitats proposed by are perfect examples of forward thinking ideas, even if they do leave some vital questions unanswered. Before I go on, I want to mention that I found this through a post on a new UK-based blog I am reading, Why Don’t You Blog, which is rather ironic given that Sub-Find is actually based in BC, the province next door to me in Canada. Why Don’t You Blog is a cool collaboration site that touches on a lot of subjects, and I love their quirky take on everything from Doctor Who to World Politics.

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Past and Future Paradigms

I haven’t raved lately about Modern Mechanix, that ultra-modern purveyor of the yesterday’s tomorrows for us, but day in and day out they put up articles from the past that are both fascinating and challenging, making us think about yesterday, as well as today and tomorrow. One of the key themes there that I find so compelling is the idea of showing the “mistakes” of the past, the eddies and backwaters of history’s rivers. Whether its the electric harpoon and its efficient aid in the whaling industry, or the plans for the “do-it-yourself dive helmet,” many posts at Modern Mechanix use real examples from the past to remind us the things that didn’t quite work out as planned in all cases.

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Ecclectic corner

Well, I’ve found yet another place to waste time on the internet. I posted earlier today about the 1965 World’s Fair pictures from National Geographic, and in the course of writing that, I wanted to find a link describing the 1939 Westinghouse time capsule. A Google search on “1939 time capsule” brings up the link I linked to in that article as the first link.

The discussion of the 1939 time capsule is a page on a site called, which seems to be a wonderful collection of somewhat odd and eccentric articles. I’ve just spent the past couple hours going through the “Tales of Future Past” section, which is a collection of some amazing SF artwork from pulp fiction magazines of the early part of the 20th century. Through the work of illustrator Frank R. Paul, we travel through a rather fantastic voyage of life in the universe, or at least the imaginings of life in the universe from 70 years ago.

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Revisiting the World’s Fair

There are lots of reasons why I am addicted to the Modern Mechanix blog. Aside from the fascinating stories from science of yesterday, aside from the humourously over-sold new products, aside from questionable safety concerns, there is the photography. Getting a glimpse of life from yesterday is one of the things that fascinates me most about all the posts over there.

Recently, they posted the full 26 page layout on New York’s 1964/65 World’s Fair form National Geographic, and while the photo series isn’t as nature oriented as the typical National Geographic spread, the photos are just as interesting. I always find the antiseptic vision of the future from the American atomic age to be particularly fascinating, and the pictures of the City of Tomorrow model (pages 17 and 18 ) really made me smile.

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10,000 Reasons Civilization is Doomed

10,000 Reasons Civilization is Doomed

Many thanx to my friend Edb from New-Continuum for sending me this link. Some of the reasons are funny, some are silly, some are serious, and some are insightful … every one I’ve read has made me think though :). For the record, you knew I had to add my own …

Reason #2308: We think in terms of minutes and hours … months and years at most. The world operates in terms of decades and centuries … or millenia and epochs. We are out of step with the world we live in.
By Elron Steele on August 26, 2006

Its an interesting list … go have a read for yourself. I think there are a few at least that everyone can agree on, but if nothing else, its good for a bit of fun 🙂

Modern Mechanix » 1977: Bally Home Library Computer – Early E-Commerce

Modern Mechanix » 1977: Bally Home Library Computer – Early E-Commerce

This is one of my absolute favorite ‘geek’ blogs. Popular Science, Popular Mechics, Scientific American, National Geopgraphic, all have a long history of publishing interesting information about the future. In fact, they still are. But looking back on some of the articles and pictures they’ve run is wonderfully instructive, both about the perils of the ‘next big thing’ and about the inexorable march of progress.

The article I’ve linked above is about what might actually have been a pretty impressive piece of technology in the late 70’s. The fact I don’t remember a thing about it, and a similar comment by the person who rights this blog, makes me think it never made it much farther than grandiose marketing, lol.

The article/ad I’ve posted here is so wonderfully overblown, and its reminiscent of how limited the computers of the 70’s were, but more importantly how little public understanding of computers there was as well. From the perspective of the e-commerce world of 2006 the first paragraph is wonderfully quaint … “This is the story of an incredible product. So incredible that we know of no future consumer product that will have such a far-reaching technological impact on society.”

As the blog author noted, the refernce to the IBM 5100 is a bit ‘off’ … like comparing apples and elephants. The 5100 was a fully featured terminal, with its own screen and tape drive attached. Part of the reason for the $10000 price tag (or more) of the 5100 was that it was fully functional out of the box, so to speak.

Another interesting ‘dig’ at the 5100 was the talk of a smart computer. Its worth parsing what they said, in relation to the capabilities of the 5100. Essentially, Bally is toting the advantages of hard-wiring over programmable logic circuits, and history shows us which side one out, lol. “A smart computer can complete a function faster and more efficiently because it depends less on the data it gets and more on what it can already do.” Thats just a long-winded way of saying we’ve hard-coded certain functions into wiring. The 5100, on the other hand, boasts generalized functions through software.

At the time, there WAS significant speed advantages to be had by hard-coding finctionality into chip wiring, and making devices that could only do one thing, but very effieciently. Machines like the 5100, and less expensive, ‘garage’ machines like the Altair’s and the Apple’s really did go out on a limb at the time, making machines that were general purpose, sacrificing speed for function. We still see single-purpose … or embedded … chips in things like microwaves and VCR’s and DVD players … but the ship for Bally’s “34 integrated circuits [providing] an internal library of over forty tasks that it performs” sailed long ago in the area of personal computing.

Still, its worth noting the scope of this project, had it fully succeeded. It sounds like it would have been a pretty decent basic e-commerce setup even by today’s standards, and in 1977, that would have been quite the acheivement, IMO. Fascinating idea for sure, and I love looking back at these sorts of things. I think we can learn as much from what hasn’t worked as what has.

A surprising omission …

Its a bit surprising as I look back over this blog that I’ve made nearly 130 posts over a couple of months, and I’ve yet to make a post about Star Trek. I suppose the fact that Enterprise went off the air last year has something to do with it … for the first time in more than 20 years, there’s no active Star Trek TV series in production, so there’s little new to talk about.

But its still an omission … while Star Trek over the years has had its share of bad acting, hackneyed writing, and questionable special effects, it also represents a rather impressive ‘canon’ of creative material. Between the TV series, the movies, the comic books/cartoon shows, and the novels, the amount of creative energy expended in the Star Trek universe over the past 40 years.

The franchise has an anniversary of sorts this year … it was Sept 8, 1966 that the first episode of Star Trek was broadcast on NBC, so the franchise as an ‘accepted’ piece of entertainment is 40 years old this year. Of course, there was a pilot episode before the 1966 series start, in 1964, and by all accounts was in Rodenberry’s head before that, but 1966 seems a good year.

I didn’t see the original series when it first aired. In fact, I was born the Monday of the week that Star Trek first aired in 1966, so I was a bit young to have caught it the first time around. Regardless, from the first time I saw the show, in re-runs in the 70’s, I knew it was something of interest.

It goes beyond the writing or acting, some of which were less than memorable. You can certainly point to classic stories and episodes from all Star Trek forms, but there’s an ethic that has always run underneath the Star Trek universe. It was shallow, and weak in the original series, but if it hadn’t been there, that original series wouldn’t have survived its faults. Instead of succumbing to its flaws, instead of becoming the cliched ‘wagon train to the stars’ that it was originally billed as, it was able to rise above its limitations.

And rise above in spectacular fashion. After 4 more TV series (plus a cartoon show in the 70’s), some 10 movies, and countless books, the official Star Trek universe has grown vast and diverse. What began life as the barely 2 dimensional world of Kirk and Spock, now spans space and time and culture. There are few parts of our culture … from the design of flip cell phones through medical scanning technology … that haven’t had some tangential impact from Star Trek.

I think the reason for this ubiquity is that underlying ethic I mentioned before, the one that let that original show, and a few movies, rise above their worst moments. It started weakly, brashly, with a lot of style but little substance, but it was there … the notion that despite all the evidence to the contrary, humans were eventually going to work out how not to kill each other and focus on larger issues. Initially, this was little more than a technology cult, worshipping at the alter of the mechanization of the future. But as the series and movies progressed, the substance fleshed out.

The final triumph of Star Trek, the reason that it is still relevant 40 years after its first episode aired, is that there was always hope for the future. The underlying notion, however preposterous it seems from our perspective today, that we would all someday work together for the betterment of all people, instead of competing with each other for the profit of a few, is why Star Trek continues on today with talk of an 11th movie. Its worth noting that as we are 40 years after the first Star Trek episode, we are also some 57 years early for another important anniversary … in 2063, in Boseman, Montana, Zefram Cochrane will make the first warp flight, and bring Vulcan contact with earth for the first time. Or so the story goes, anyway *G*