Realistic Science Fiction

It occured to me today, that I have developed quite a penchant for science fiction novels. When I was younger, I used to read lots of fantasy instead. The reason that I used to detest science fiction is because I have never gotten the correct exposure to it, until I picked up Cryptonomicon at an MPH warehouse sale back home. That changed my entire perception about scifi.

The author of Cryptonomicon, Neal Stephenson, is an extremely good author of science fiction. I loved the way that he blended real world events in with fictional events, to advance an extremely believable plot along. That was my first ever exposure to, what I call, realistic science fiction.

When I tell people this, they tend to ask me what I mean by realistic science fiction as fiction, by definition, is not real. Well, believable science fiction would be fiction that is so grounded in reality, that you can believe that events actually transpired as described in the story.

Since then, I’ve read his other books, The Diamond Age and Snow Crash. I also have the Baroque Cycle sitting on my shelf. This is his first massive 8 book work and is a series of historical novels. I’ve not touched it yet as I know that once I do, I would not be able to put it down and it will suck up weeks of my life. I’m saving it for when I finish my PhD.

Sitting right next to this set is another important scifi set from William Gibson, his Sprawl trilogy. Right next to these two are a bunch of books from Alastair Reynolds. I am presently contemplating on getting some books from Ian Banks. I’m still looking for his books at the local cheap book store.

The only issue that I have with the bookstores is that they tend to shelve the science fiction and fantasy books together. I guess that, sometimes, it’s not easy to separate the two categories. But, there is a very simple rule of thumb. Science fiction involves the use of technology while fantasy involves the use of magic.

Sufficiently advanced technology is like magic, though.

Engineering Drama

I was just wondering why there aren’t any popular engineering based shows on television. There was never a shortage of police and lawyer shows when I was growing up. I am sure that anyone can name a whole bunch of them. There is also currently no shortage of medical nor science-based dramas today. There is even a successful series based on mathematics! But there really isn’t any popular engineering based show on television. The closest that we ever came to one was probably MacGuyver. I loved watching the show when I was a kid and I even got myself a penknife because of it. But the only beef that I have with the show is that he always solved any and every problem with his penknife, which is thoroughly unrealistic.

So, I was just musing to myself these last few days about what some of my friends said. An engineer’s job is not sufficiently dramatic enough for public consumption. There is plenty of drama in our work but it’s just not particularly exciting to people outside the field. If you stick a bunch of engineers in a room together, we can get very worked up over how every little thing works in this world. We are very passionate about what we do and our jobs affect the lives of everyone in this world, even if nobody will really realise it.

But, I don’t really see how our work can possibly excite regular people. Our daily jobs basically involve studying lots of documentation, attending endless meetings, and working with such total focus that we zone into our own little world where nothing else exists other than us and the work. We do not work with regular people and so, although our work touches their lives, it does not do it directly. So, there is no human drama either.

This isn’t to say that engineers do not lead regular lives. We do face all the same trials and tribulations as any other person in this world. We learn to handle them as well as we can. Sometimes, our intensive training in logic and reasoning is useful in helping us cope with the problems, while sometimes it can be a bane at our side. But I sincerely believe that if somebody wants to make a dramatic series about engineers, it is certainly possible. If they can turn a boring mathematician’s life into a successful series, they can certainly make an engineering series.

So, I doubt that drama is the main reason why it’s difficult to make a television series out of it. I think it’s the fact that the normal kind of work that we do, takes many months and possibly years. Engineers do not work in the here and now but we have to work on something that will only see the light of day in the distant future. Our work cannot be rushed simply because the laws of nature cannot be rushed. It isn’t going to be so interesting to watch a bunch of people go through the same daily mundane routine in order to slowly work towards building something beautiful.

The only people who can stomach this kind of drama are probably bird watchers and other engineers. But I still think that it’s possibly to make a show about engineers as long as we focus on the human element, rather than their jobs. The engineers could always have family who are non-engineers and we can borrow some drama from their work to spice things up. It is certainly something that can be done. Let’s give the series a classy French name, like “Ingenieurie” and make a serious show that highlights how, although engineers have a rather different take on life, we are still all the same in the end of the day.

PS: Remember to not make the show about an engineer saving the day with his penknife. We do not use penknives and we do not always save the day. In fact sometimes, people die when we are not careful with our work.

TehTarik Next

At our most recent TehTarik gathering, I have been asked to anchor our next discussion on Malaysian issues. The last session was a success and we all managed to learn things about Malaysia that we did not know of before. So, I would like to try to build on that and make the next session a good one too.

My areas of interest are fairly limited and in order to be a good anchor, I will need to be sufficiently knowledgeable about the subject area, so that I can inject stuff to keep the conversations going.

A friend suggested that I might want to talk about the MSC. It may be a good idea, if only to discuss ideas on how to reinvigorate the whole project. I’m fairly certain that not many people know what the MSC is actually about and what has happened to it. So, for some of the passport Malaysians here, it would be an opportunity for them to learn something about our past.

Another possible topic to talk about would be local universities. I doubt that many people here actually know of what’s happening in the local universities and there are many misconceptions. Therefore, it might be educational to actually talk about local universities and what we should do about them. And for this topic, I can actually invite some other postgrads here who were from local public universities, to help with the discussions.

Yes, that would be a good idea. Even if it isn’t educational or useful, at the very least, we would be able to get some foreign and local grads to exchange views and dispel myths. Personally, I’d like to leave race out of the picture and talk about academic aspects of the system. It might even be possible to broaden the topic to tertiery education, in order to include topics on scholarship fundings and foreign universities.

So, all that is left now is to find an angle to approach the subject and come up with a short, concise, reading list for everyone to read, in time for our next gathering in a fortnight.

With Metta.

First Post!

Update: In case you didn’t realise, you need to click on the “Front Page” link above to access the main page of the blog!

Hah! I’ve finally decided to cast away the old and start anew. I have had a lot of fun, blogging, this last couple of years. However, it’s time I grew out of the cradle of a hosted service and do my own independent thing.

I am hoping to make a clean break from my old blog, which I feel, has become a little too emotional for my own good. Even the layout and design of this new blog reflects the clean and clear policy. In addition, I have not imported or brought over any of my previous mad ramblings from the old blog. I am hoping that this experiment in re-engineering myself, will work.

The result is this non-personal blog, which I will update as regularly as I can. This will hopefully become the focal point for my thoughts on various subjects viewed through my highly myopic lens of a technology romantic. I shall try my best not to make things too dull.

Previous readers who used feedburner as the feed subscription, would not need to change a thing as the feed has been transferred over. I did not want to lose all my faithful readers either. Other readers who wish to subscribe to this new blog can click on the feed subscription link at the top. Email subscription is also available via the same service.