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Bill Roper's Journal
Recovery Reading 
19th-Dec-2006 11:07 pm
I went back to work today although I'm still recovering from this weekend's food poisoning episode.

Now, the thing about food poisoning is that it gives you the remarkable opportunity to spend a lot of time on the toilet. For me, this means a chance to catch up on my reading. Thus, in the past few days I've read all of the current comics that had piled up to be read and have annihilated the back issue stack, reading through everything I had of Beyond, The Maze Agency, 1602: New World, Kurt Busiek's Conan, and so on.

It was with some pleasure then that I found that the subscription edition of Heinlein's The Door Into Summer had arrived today, as I needed something to read. Now, this book is one of my favorites and a fast read, so I'm already well into it. And I reached the point where Dan -- in the far-flung year 2000 -- had to take a trip downtown to find a 24-hour branch of his bank so he could get some money.

Of course, in the real far-flung year 2000, he would have gone to an ATM. Could Heinlein have predicted that in 1956? Maybe. He certainly predicted many other things, including AutoCAD, although he called it Drafting Dan.

But he missed totally on the idea of having cash available on nearly every street corner if you had your card with you.

So -- not just Heinlein! -- what are the everyday things that we take for granted that our science-fiction writers of the mid-20th century never would have imagined?
20th-Dec-2006 06:59 am (UTC)
The internet and the personal computer, not to mention other varieties of personal electronics. Heinlein had his spaceship navigators using slide rules (while zipping around the solar system in rockets that never got built).

Moore's Law, and the even faster growth curve of rotating magnetic memory, have lead to things that really were unimaginable in 1956. You can now go to Fry's and buy more compute power and storage than existed in the entire world of 1956. I don't know the exact numbers; it would probably fit in your pocket now.
20th-Dec-2006 03:18 pm (UTC)
Someone argued in another discussion on this topic fairly recently (my fuzzy memory fails me as to who or where) that _A Logic Named Joe_ (which I haven't read) predicted the Internet unusually well. In general, though, SF writers pretty much failed to imagine the rise of modern computing devices or their implications.
20th-Dec-2006 08:03 am (UTC) - On the other hand
We really could use that "Protean Pete", and we only got "Hired Girl" about 30 years late.

Computer voice recognition is pretty much where he expected it to be.
20th-Dec-2006 10:47 am (UTC)
"the subscription edition of Heinlein's The Door Into Summer"

What's involved with that?
20th-Dec-2006 04:13 pm (UTC)
Meisha Merlin Publishing is doing the complete Heinlein, shipping one book a month in "definitive" editions. We're up to the fifth book now.
20th-Dec-2006 05:25 pm (UTC)
Oh great, another way to make a lot of money disappear. Just the thing I needed.
20th-Dec-2006 02:14 pm (UTC)
What stands out in my mind are the lucite squares in the original Star Trek series that were used for data storage. I believe those were the forerunners -- if not the inspiration -- for floppy disks.

I really wonder how many gigabytes we can store in one of those data crystals as seen on Babylon 5.

The future isn't what it used to be. :)
20th-Dec-2006 03:28 pm (UTC)
I've often pondered how it's the mundane things that don't get foreseen. Things like how photocopiers and word processors changed the office. Tippex! How mobile phones (or even mobile videophones!) wouldn't be secret agent gadgets but universal. Computers as a business commonplace and household accessory (Lensman books with 90 parsecs/hour spacedrives but librarians doing a data search by rejecting punched cards from a stack!). High level programming languages and user-applications rather than everyone having to know binary. CDs and memory sticks instead of punched metal strips (Asimov) or reels/spools/tapes. Calculators and computers to automate maths - how many times do you see Heinlein or Smith characters pull out their slide-rules? Automatics generally - the idea of rockets not needing a manual pilot. Computers for recreation - the only video games in 2001 are playing HAL at chess, draughts, pentominoes etc!

Oh, and we take for granted that there's no moonbase yet...
20th-Dec-2006 05:51 pm (UTC)
Yeah, but the thing about food poisoning is that it also leaves you feeling like crap.
21st-Dec-2006 08:13 am (UTC)
Computers inside other machines, that help run those machines - like the computerized components on cars.

iPods (which were NOT predicted by STNG as claimed by SciFi Channel's amusing How William Shatner Changed the Future by the way - THAT system was the ship's full computer system, NOT a portable!)

RFID chips. The classic SF writers didn't get those and even Gibson didn't really get those. He had an interface more than anything else. Don't think they're common? Look at your next prescription bottle or UPS package.

Flying Cars - I'M STILL WAITING, GUYS!!!

Laser surgery.

Corneal implants for cataract patients.

The cure for myasthena gravis (we've pretty much got that bad boy beaten according to Dr. Bob), even though it gave us the Waldo...

Online banking.


Self testing units for diabetes and home dialysis units.

LCDs - some of the BEST flashlights now use these little doovers...

That's just a few on a tired, late night after a gig...

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