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Interview with Andy Weir, author of THE MARTIAN, on SFSignal.com

Interview with Andy Weir, author of THE MARTIAN, on SFSignal.com

My interview with Andy Weir, author of the bestseller THE MARTIAN, is live on the two-time Hugo award winning SFSignal.com.

An excerpt:

LARRY: In the Ares 3 mission team in THE MARTIAN, you have a Commander, Pilot, Doctor and three “mission specialists” (to use the NASA term). Could any of the others have coped with being stranded better than Watney?

ANDY WEIR: Excellent question. I’ve actually put some thought in to that. I think most of them would have died under the circumstances, with the exception of Johanssen. Johanssen is a software engineer and electrical engineer. She would probably know how to fix the communication system and get back in contact with NASA right away. So she would have had all of NASA to come up with ideas to keep her alive.

LARRY: Agreed, but without the botany skills, it would have been a race between how long it would take her to get comms back online versus when she started to run out of food. One of my favorite employees came to me one day and said she’d been offered her dream job and could no longer work for me. I told her I could outbid them, but she said it was working in video/images/audio for NASA. I cried and asked her to hire me in the future. In recompense, she sometimes regales me of astronaut stories (and has shown me the refrigerated vault where the original Mercury, Gemini and Apollo films were kept before they were translated to digital!). One astronaut story was of an ISS astronaut who would put signs in front of the cameras (which the world could see eventually, via the Freedom of Information Act, as you use in your book) some that would say “Please make up room.” Astronauts are smart asses. So is your Mark Watney. What research did you do for his character? Who did you speak with?

ANDY WEIR: I didn’t do any research at all on astronaut personalities. I had no contacts at NASA or JPL before the book came out. I made his personality up for the story.

At the time, I figured it was unrealistic. I assumed real astronauts were much more serious and professional. But after the book came out, I got emails from NASA personnel and actual astronauts saying the personalities of Mark and the other Ares 3 astronauts were very plausible. So I guess I stumbled in to that one with luck.

Mars, The New Space Race

LARRY: The type of hobbyist passion for space one has to have to make a simulator to make sure orbital dynamics are correct seems to be making a resurgence.  That passion and enthusiasm may head toward the levels it hit during the space race days (which I enjoyed experiencing while my Dad was chasing Apollo rocket stages in the South Atlantic working for RCA) which spawned many industries and general interest from citizens. Then most of the world and most Americans went into a lull, with only events/accidents similar to what you portray in your book (Apollo 13, the Space Shuttle tragedies) re-kindling any interest. Now with SpaceX, Planetary Resources and other companies in the news, and with other countries pushing themselves into space, interest seems to be flaring up again. THE MARTIAN and books like it could be nice fuel for this, since your book is ‘near-future’, describing technology that is mostly in-hand and could be used. As an enthusiast, what levers and buttons do you think need to be pushed to get Americans and the world excited about the need for space travel, and a Mars landing in particular?

ANDY WEIR: I’m not sure how to get Americans excited over the prospect. The truth of the matter is that there is no profit motive for going in to space, so it’s hard to justify spending the tens of billions a manned mission to Mars would cost. Though there is one thing we Americans have a history of valuing over money, and that’s national pride.

The Chinese are working on their space program and have a manned Moon landing planned for the 2020s or 2030s. If they see that through, you may see Americans start to demand a better space program.

 

Read the entire interview at SGSignal.

Google Glass

On being a Google Glass-hole

It’s not a very attractive phrase, but it does seem to be prevalent, and addresses invasion of privacy concerns.

And, yes, I have joined the ranks of Google Glass “Explorers”, Google’s name for folks interested enough to shell out an amount of cash larger than the cost of a fully loaded MacBook Air for the chance to test, play and develop.

There are several pieces that my company is working on that, for obvious reasons, I won’t divulge here. But I will describe my experiences, some good, some bordering on not usable.

Ordering was straightforward, there were several options of shades/shields, single and stereo earpieces if you don’t like the built in audio, and a few other odds and ends. It arrived quickly, intact from Louisville, KY.

Hinge and prism/screen

Fitting to one’s face is not intuitive, at least not for me. There are several videos online on how to do it, but I didn’t see one that said the screen (which looks like a prism in front of the right side) is actually on a hinge. Until I discovered that, the projection from the screen was always a bit out of my site, too far to the left. When the info on the screen is a bit out of focus, I found the somewhat obvious solution of moving the Glass (not Glasses, that’s a marketing no-no) forward or backward on my nose brings it into focus.

My Glass came with software version XE12. I connected it to my iPhone via the App Store Glass app, which is supported starting with XE12 (per the release notes). I have a Samsung Note 2 I plan to test with as well.

Battery life is a challenge…ok, it sucks. I’ll have some statistics I’ll add before too long, but it is back to the recent old days of “if you don’t remember to plug it in, it won’t last long.”

There are three ways to take photos, and taking photos is key to several things we want to do with Glass with company projects (and with some personal experimentation):

  • You can say “ok, glass, take a photo”. This works really well when you are around lots of people, if you want to be the center of unwanted attention;
  • You can tap the camera button on Glass.
  • You can wink, if you have this feature enabled (and you have software version XE12, as noted above)

The “Wink” feature has the most promise, as it is hands and voice free. But there appears to be a significant delay between when you line up your photo, wink, and then Glass takes the picture. You have to hold you head aimed on the subject, and have it framed. I’m going to try to measure the delay.

Videos are, by default, ten seconds, unless you hold down the photo button while taking a video. Then you have to tap the button again to stop (there may be another way to do this that I haven’t discovered yet). I took a video while power-washing the driveway; yes, that may seem a bit over the top, but training applications are certainly a big part of what Glass could help with…plus I wanted to show my son that under all that muck our old basketball stencil was still there. Video quality was good, but it took a while for the videos to get uploaded to the sync sport (at Google Plus), so it is certainly not close to an always on technology. The audio is pretty impressive, considering I had a gas-powered power washer going.

Getting the videos out of the Auto-Backup at Google Plus is currently a process that has too many steps. You cannot link to the videos. You cannot upload them from Auto-Backup straight to You-Tube (many people have been complaining about that for a long time). I’ll figure out a way to share the videos later.

From a development standpoint, there are currently two options: the GDK to run apps on Glass, and a Mirror API, which allows access to several programming languages and allows mirroring of certain information onto Glass from an app. That looks like the most promising route.

More next time.

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