Category Archives: Zero Calvin Technology

Examples of the technological ideas in Zero Calvin popping up in the real world.

Hyperloop Evacuated Tube Transport – Meet the Beginning of the ODIN Transportation System

Yesterday, I started hearing about some billionaire with a hair-brained but revolutionary idea for a new form of transport. This isn’t just any random billionaire, mind you – this is Elon Musk, the co-founder of both PayPal and Tesla Motors, as well as the founder of SpaceX. So you see, he has a pretty good track record for pushing through large-scale projects. So what was this big idea of his? He calls it Hyperloop. It is a tube-based transportation system in which pods zip around in a low-pressure environment (to minimize air friction). His proposal is for using it inside congested cities and between cities less that 1000 miles apart.

Now, if you’ve read Zero Calvin then you are probably noticing some similarities to my concept of the ODIN system. However, there are some key differences. For one, his vision is quite limited in scope compared to mine (but a more realistic first step in gaining public acceptance non-the-less). Also, Hyperloop will be a raised system, while ODIN is below ground within cities but above ground for larger trunk lines between cities. Also, Musk hasn’t released much info on his concept of the actual tube system itself, but it appears on first blush to be a very linear point-to-point system. Still, this is massively exciting news and another important step in shaping our world into that of Zero Calvin’s.

OK, here is the even more interesting bit of news – Mr. Musk isn’t the only one thinking about tube transport. In fact, there is a company/organization called ET3 (et3.com) that is pursuing the creation of an evacuated tube transport system that is so scarily like the ODIN system that I would be tempted to hit them up for royalties if they hadn’t already been formed some six years prior to the writing of Zero Calvin (unbeknownst to me). At any rate, the similarities are amazing. I urge you to check out their site and nose around. They speak of a tube system that is set up like a computer network and controlled in much the same way. The pictures of their “capsules” are very similar to my description of the “packets”. I believe they even mention using an electric coil system similar to a rail gun to accelerate and decelerate the capsules, which I also hinted at in Zero Calvin when I wrote “His packet dropped into the ODIN system. He saw rings around him, coils. Faster and faster he went. The rings turned to blurs.” In fact, take a gander at this video and let your jaw drop as you see the “six-shooter” arrangement that I describe in Zero Calvin as the capsule/packets are being loaded into the tube. Unfortunately, I did not see them using my nesting idea yet. Perhaps someone there missed that chapter?

The truly awe-inspiring idea of the ET3 project is the scope: global! Forget easing the California congestion or “slightly” faster trips between cities. These folks see us not only whizzing from coast to coast, but also right over the Bearing Strait and into Asia and Europe. If we could ever pull it off, this would stomp air travel into the dirt. OK, that’s an exaggeration, but it would be a fantastic compliment to air travel.

Of course, just like Google Glass (Display Lenses), this idea is being met with equal parts interest and revulsion. And that’s fine. Cavemen didn’t chisel a wheel one morning and a Ferrari the next. The important thing is that we are all talking about it. No, strike that. The important thing is that people like Elon Musk are talking about it. Because people like Musk have the vision, money, and drive to shape our world. Here is me with my fingers crossed.

Bitcoins – Another Key Component in the Ariel System

In case you’ve never heard of them, Bitcoins are a decentralized digital currency based on peer-to-peer Internet connections. The Bitcoin system relies heavily on cryptography and has a nifty feature where the transaction log is stored by everyone so that transactions can be verified by a safety-in-numbers approach. Also, it takes computational “work” to update the transaction log (called a block chain), so forgery is difficult and becomes impossible the more time passes after a transaction. It’s quite clever – you can read more about it on the Bitcoin Wiki page.

If you’ve read my book, Zero Calvin, then this concept might sound familiar. In Zero Calvin, I describe an artificially-intelligent computer network called Ariel (think if it as Google on steroids), which has an economic component to it called Karma. This system is composed of several nodes that store information and crunch data redundantly across the nodes. Any information or decision can therefore be verified by checking it against several other random nodes. How cool is it that the Bitcoin chaps have created a way to make this kind of system a reality?!?!

By the way, I do not own any Bitcoins and have no plans to purchase (or “mine”) any in the future. I urge you to use your own discretion if thinking of spending any “real” money on them. In my opinion, it’s better to buy hard assets like gold, silver, or land. I know that may sound odd considering this is a step towards my utopian vision, but it is still a new and often misunderstood system and the simple fact is that people don’t really trust electrons, so I’m doubtful of its ultimate mainstream adopt-ability. I’m also freaked out by the thought that if I lost my Bitcoin “wallet” then it’s game over – that money simply disappears from circulation forever.

With that said, I am still hoping for Bitcoin to succeed and bring us all one step closer to a Zero Calvin world.

Oh, by the way, the creator of Bitcoin goes by the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto, but we all know who the real creator must be – and his initials are K.B.

 

The Toilets are Real!

Bio Bidet Electonic Toilet Seat

The toilets in Zero Calvin really do exist!

As most of you know, Zero Calvin was released in 2003. in it, I wrote about high tech toilets that wash and dry your bum for you. Here is some of what I wrote:

 

 

 

The toilet appeared to Calvin to be machined from one solid piece of aluminum. It had elegant carvings, or rather, it had elegant castings of vines, leaves, and flowers covering all available surfaces except the seat. The seat was smooth and contoured to fit the shape of a human’s bottom. The seat did not lift up, presumably to prevent conflicts over its recommended position while not in use. It was very elegant for a toilet, if not a little clinical.

Calvin sat down on the toilet and looked about the bathroom for a newspaper or magazine to read; there was none. He exhaled dejectedly and merely pretended to read a newspaper. After a few minutes, his business was complete. He looked about the small room for the toilet paper; there was none. He exhaled dejectedly and decided he was damned if he was only going to pretend to wipe.

He started to get up to search the room. The second his weight was off the top of the seat, two nozzles nestled deep inside the toilet shot his bottom with a mixture of precisely warmed water, gentle solvents, and light scents. This, needless to say, came as a shock to Calvin. He jumped forward with surprise. With his body still bent forward to facilitate getting off the seat, he nearly hit his head against the sink, which was watching all the action from the opposite side of the small room. The sink was very glad that Calvin did not hit his head against it — as was Calvin.

Calvin was recovering from the shock when a number of logical dots began connecting in his head. Hmm, he thought. No magazine, he thought. No newspaper, he thought. No toilet paper, he thought. No paper at all, he thought. The toilet is also a bidet, he thought. Yuck, he thought.

He took a number of deep breaths while working up his courage. He closed his eyes tightly and backed his way slowly toward the toilet again. With immense bravery, he sat back down on the offensive toilet seat. Milliseconds before his bottom connected with the seat, the nozzles took aim and fired again. At first, Calvin was embarrassed by the water being shot at his bottom. Then, he was even more embarrassed by the fact that it actually felt good to him.

Approximately ten seconds went by and the nozzles switched to the drying cycle, which produced a similar surprise in Calvin as the initial attack had done. He recovered and sat back down. Ten more seconds of warm air and his first intimate encounter with 216 K.B. technology was finished.

He stood up and began to pull up his pants. As he did so, the toilet began its cleaning cycle. Two more nozzles ejected from a point approximately six inches above the toilet seat while two long rubber blades appeared from a compartment just above the toilet seat.

Calvin laughed hysterically as the windshield wiper apparatus scrubbed the seat clean. He continued to laugh for over two minutes. As he did so, the nozzles and blades neatly hid themselves again and the toilet politely flushed itself. Calvin eventually had to stop laughing because his ribs were starting to hurt.

I swear that I had no idea that these things actually existed in the real world. At that point in my life, I was only vaguely aware of the classic English-style bidet. So imagine my shock when I encountered one in a Japanese hotel room in 2007! OK, they don’t have windshield wipers attached to them, but they do everything else and more. Here is video of me mucking around with one in Tokyo:

In fact, I was so “moved” by these things that I actually own one. The one I have is by a company called Bio Bidet (http://www.biobidet.com/BB1000_SupremeBidet.htm) and it has made my life so much more civilized. Seriously, if you are still smearing poo around your backside with pieces of tree, you are so in the stone ages. OK, they tend to be pricey – around $500 USD – but you can’t put a pricetag on quality of life. Here are some of the features:

  • Heated toilet seat (This is worth the money alone. So very nice in the winter time.)
  • Bidet (It washes your bum for you!)
  • Heated Dryer (Isn’t as useful as one may think, and I still end up wiping to dry myself.)
  • Exhaust fan (This is truly marvelous and the best feature of all, even better than the heated seat. Let’s face it, when we are young our “shit don’t stink”, but as we age, well, it can get a little nasty sometimes. The exhaust fan is excellent and works for me every time. I’ve had friends that have still managed to overwhelm it, though. I think they need to change their diets, personally. But I digress.)
  • Remote Control (Really, it has one. Mainly so that you can put the controls wherever you want. But it is also loads of fun when company comes over for the first time.)

So yes, you can actually have a Zero Calvin toilet seat and, in fact, I highly recommend it.

 

Google GLASS: The Precursor to Zero Calvin’s Display Lenses

Zero Calvin - TarpaZero Calvin was published in November of 2003. In it, I describe lenses/glasses that are worn over the eye which are both video screens on the inside and cameras on the outside. They work in conjunction with PCs (short for Personal Communicators) to form the core user interface to the Ariel System (part Internet, part artificially intelligent pro-active search engine). Here is how I described both PCs and Display lenses in the book:

“PCs are an integral part of the Ariel system. They are the human interface to Ariel and essentially turn every human into a node on the network. You might consider them the natural progression of the cellular phone you had in your days.

“PCs are small, flesh-colored devices implanted behind the ear. Aural input to the brain is provided by directly coupling a mechanical transducer inside the PC to the malleus bone inside the ear. Coupling is accomplished via a tiny rod that passes through a small incision in the back of the ear. This allows the PC to create sound inside the wearer’s head without making any audible sound waves, thus keeping incoming voice messages and music private to the wearer.

“In a similar fashion, a connection is made from the stapes bone in the ear to the PC. This is used as the audio input to the device, turning one’s own ear into a microphone. It is worth noting that with the proper control circuitry, this system can be used as a hearing aid for the elderly or a hearing enhancement for anyone.

“Visual I/O is a little trickier. The standard method of providing optical input to the wearer of the PC is via display lenses. Display lenses are nothing more than lenses that act like a camera on the outside, and a video screen on the inside. They can be purchased from any retail electronics store and come in an almost infinite number of designs, everything from Sony’s classically designed iWear to Oakley’s outrageous X-Specs.

“During normal operation, the lenses simply display exactly what the camera sees, thus appearing to the wearer to be transparent. Most models come with luminescence attenuation and boosting — a fancy way of saying sunglasses and night-vision. Some of the more exotic models offer cool features like: thermal imaging, infrared imaging, ultra sonic imaging, and fitness imaging. This last one might be new to you; it makes the wearer’s husband or wife look more fit and attractive than they actually are.

“Apart from enhancing the wearer’s vision, the lenses also display text and video from the Ariel system. This enables them to receive text messages from friends, family, co-workers, and Ariel herself. It also allows them to watch TV, movies, or any other video source, look-up and read information on any subject, and view controls for the objects around them.

“The lenses are physically attached to a person’s face by small metal tabs that fit inside small flesh-colored sockets along the inside circumference of the eye socket. The metal tabs double as the electrical contacts for the display lenses. Wires are run subdermally from the eye sockets to the PCs behind the ears.”

<snip>

“Now, you may be wondering how on earth one is meant to control the PC. Well, Zero, wonder no more. There are many different ways to control the PC. The most common method is via a touch-sensitive panel attached to the back of the teeth. By rubbing and pressing their tongue along the back of their teeth, the wearer can control a cursor on the display. Picture a touch pad on a laptop from your time, but stuck to the back of your teeth. Looking at an object and touching the membrane in the correct spot brings up a control panel for that object. In a similar manner, one can look up information on the Ariel system and communicate with other people through text messaging via an ‘on-screen’ keyboard. That, as I promised I’d explain, is how I contacted Drakke. One also has the option of speaking to Ariel or other people with one’s voice just as you did in your days when using a telephone. Out of courtesy to others around them, most people avoid this in public areas. There is nothing more annoying than listening to someone talk to themselves.

“Oh yeah, I almost forgot a feature: the courtesy light. This is a small light implanted atop a person’s ear. It is used by the PC to signal when the wearer is using the system, or “off the hook” as we call it. This warns others that the wearer is not available to talk to them at the moment. In such a predicament, one usually just leaves a message for them on the Ariel system.”

Google GLASS: The Precursor to Zero Calvin's Display Lenses

Google GLASS: The Precursor to Zero Calvin’s Display Lenses

Sounds pretty damn cool, right? Well, we already saw the precursor to Personal Communicators (BT headsets) appear just one year after Zero Calvin was published. Now less than ten years later we see another awesome technology surface: Google GLASS. I’ve never explicitly stated it (until now), but I always imagined that if anyone were going to create something like the Ariel System, it was going to be Google. Check out the videos below:

I think you get the idea. And even though Google is playing up the “voyeuristic” aspect of these glasses (you bet the porn industry will be buying about half of these), I think that is only scratching the surface of what a device like this can do in the hands of the search engine monster that is Google. For one, I see GLASS being able to provide you with information in real time for the things around you, WITHOUT you having to ask for it. I think that is going to be the key, and it will definitely take our world one decently-sized step towards the future I painted in Zero Calvin. Since GLASS has several positioning sensors as well as back-end technology like Google Goggles (for image recognition), it is only a matter of time and programming.

To give you some examples, walking into an art gallery, you look at a Van Gogh and GLASS brings up the artist, title, and a little blurb about good old Vincent. You take a picture of it, and later, when reviewing the picture you ask Glass to order you a print. Another example is, of course, help with directions, both street-level and for the interior of buildings like airports – or even the museum that we mentioned earlier. Looking for a specific work of art? Ask GLASS. Glass could also serve as instructor. Want a paper penguin? GLASS could show you the steps as you fold the paper. How about replacing the universal joint in your car? GLASS gives you hands-free instruction the whole way.

Another way I see GLASS being used is as a standard interface model. What I mean by that is most electronics and appliances would no longer need their own user interfaces. Simply looking at the object and issuing a voice command would cause GLASS to display the controls and possible commands. Since GLASS has GPS and Bluetooth, it can easily inventory all compatible machines in its proximity and allow the user to effortlessly control any of them. Change the channel on the TV, dim the lights, preheat the oven, call your friends, look up a recipe for tonight’s dinner, follow a cooking show as you make the meal, in short, effortlessly control the world around you – hands-free. Hell, you could stream Pandora from GLASS to your car stereo and create a new “channel” without ever looking away from the road. And the whole time GLASS could be showing you directions to the movies as you order a ticket in advance.

Here is an example from Zero Calvin of using Display Lenses as a generic interface system:

Calvin went to lift his luggage, but he was dismayed to find that there were no handles. As he studied the suitcases, they became brighter, and a menu appeared: ON | OFF. Calvin shrugged and chose on. What could it hurt?

The suitcases crept toward Calvin. He backed away from them. They crept toward him. He backed away from them. Calvin then realized that they were supposed to follow him. He left the room and met Tarpa in the hall, his luggage creeping along after him.

And another one:

Tarpa pointed to a blank wall. She said to Calvin, “That’s the TV. You can control it by speaking to it. Watch.” She then spoke to the blank wall, “Voice command television.”

“Television on voice command,” came a voice from somewhere above them. Calvin looked up but could not see the source.

“I’d like to see the first episode of Knight Rider,” said Tarpa with a small grin. Five seconds later, the first episode of Knight Rider was playing on the wall in high definition video and crystal clear audio that made real life seem dull.

Tarpa turned back to Calvin and said, “It’s quite intuitive — just ask it what you want to see. You can also do searches by actor, year, genre, etc. I’m sure you can figure it out. I have to go now. One of the other staff will be in to check on you from time to time.”

Calvin didn’t answer; his attention was on an important matter. Tarpa left the room and alerted the others to the situation. They agreed to baby-sit Calvin for the day.

There are plenty more examples in Zero Calvin. In fact, this kind of technology is the cornerstone of the book. If you haven’t read Zero Calvin yet, I encourage you to check it out. You’ll see why I am so very jazzed to see Google take an interest in augmented reality glasses. I think it must be every speculative fiction writer’s dream to see their tech ideas come to life, and with Google GLASS it really is the beginning of the Ariel System from my imagination.

Bluetooth Headsets: The Precursor to Zero Calvin’s Personal Communicators

Zero Calvin was published in November of 2003. In it, I describe a cellphone-like piece of electronic gear, but one that is much smaller and is surgically implanted behind the ear. They are called PCs (short for Personal Communicators) and they work in conjunction with Display Lenses to form the core user interface to the Ariel System (part Internet, part artificially intelligent pro-active search engine). Here is how I described them in the book:

“PCs are an integral part of the Ariel system. They are the human interface to Ariel and essentially turn every human into a node on the network. You might consider them the natural progression of the cellular phone you had in your days.

“PCs are small, flesh-colored devices implanted behind the ear. Aural input to the brain is provided by directly coupling a mechanical transducer inside the PC to the malleus bone inside the ear. Coupling is accomplished via a tiny rod that passes through a small incision in the back of the ear. This allows the PC to create sound inside the wearer’s head without making any audible sound waves, thus keeping incoming voice messages and music private to the wearer.

“In a similar fashion, a connection is made from the stapes bone in the ear to the PC. This is used as the audio input to the device, turning one’s own ear into a microphone. It is worth noting that with the proper control circuitry, this system can be used as a hearing aid for the elderly or a hearing enhancement for anyone.

<snip>

“Oh yeah, I almost forgot a feature: the courtesy light. This is a small light implanted atop a person’s ear. It is used by the PC to signal when the wearer is using the system, or “off the hook” as we call it. This warns others that the wearer is not available to talk to them at the moment. In such a predicament, one usually just leaves a message for them on the Ariel system.”

The precursor to Zero Calvin's Personal Communicator

Bluetooth Headsets: The Precursor to Zero Calvin’s Personal Communicators

In the interest of brevity, I snipped out the parts about Display Lenses, but I urge you to read about them in my article about Google’s exciting GLASS device. Anyway, we see from the excerpt that PCs are communication devices worn behind the ears. We also see that they have a light that lights up to alert others when you are on the phone. Sound familiar? Yep, less than one year ofter Zero Calvin was published, the Bluetooth standard was released and everyone started wearing Bluetooth headsets! OK, admittedly Bluetooth headsets tend to be mostly in the ear rather than behind them, and later in the book I described the courtesy light as being red instead of blue. Just the same, I about shit a brick the first time I saw someone wearing one.