Wordsworth wrote an endless poem in blank verse on” the growth of a poet’s mind.” I shall attempt a more modest feat for a more distracted age: a blog, “Things which a Lifetime of Trying to Be a Poet has Taught Me.”

Time to have a little fun with a Star Trek motif. We note in passing that Captain Picard has exquisite taste.


Some people swear by coffee
As loud as loud can be;
But for the truly civilized,
A cup of Earl Grey tea.

Some long for port or cognac,
White wine or vin rose`;
But far more elegant than these:
A small sip of Earl Grey.

Some swear by Coke or Pepsi,
The Uncola or RC;
But those who really want the best
Request some Earl Grey tea.

And some must have their Perrier;
Some could have had V-8.
But those whose taste is most refined
All think Early Grey is great.

The captain of the Enterprise,
He sails a starry sea;
He asks the Replicator for
A cup of Earl Grey tea.


The captain of the Enterprise,
When first he rises up,
He wants the status of the ship
And Earl Grey in his cup.

The captain of the Enterprise
Will always end his day
With a page or two of Shakespeare
And a cup of hot Earl Grey.

The captain of the Enterprise,
He drinks it by the pot.
Unto the Replicator,
He says, “Tea—Earl Grey—hot!”

While too much Saurian Brandy
Or too much Romulan Ale
Can give you trouble, you can drink
Your Earl Grey by the pail.

Yes, some folks swear by coffee
As loud as loud can be.
But for the truly civilized:
A cup of Earl Grey tea.

Remember: for more poetry like this, go to https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/ and order Stars Through the Clouds! Also look for Inklings of Reality and Reflections from Plato’s Cave, Williams’ newest books from Lantern Hollow Press: Evangelical essays in pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. And look for Williams’ very latest book, Deeper Magic: The Theology behind the Writings of C. S. Lewis, from Square Halo Books!

Donald T. Williams, PhD


Bucket List (New Poem)

A poem by Donald Williams

Masefield longed to go down again to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all he asked was a tall ship and a star to steer her by.
But I would like a Treasure Map and a bonny, loyal Crew
Including Flynn the Librarian, Thor, and Doctor Who;
Our vessel the starship Enterprise with the Tardis built into her bridge,
And lots of Earl Grey in the Replicator and plenty of Pie in the fridge,
And dangerous Dragons to seek and slay, and Orc-Heads to cleave with zest,
And Villains sufficient to challenge us, but never derail the Quest.


VR: Where You Can Punch A Shark In the Face

Virtual Reality Explosion: Soon You Too Can Punch A Shark in the Face


A few stories come up here and there in the general news media about advances in virtual reality technology, but if you haven’t been paying attention to more specialized tech sources, you probably don’t know about the apparent explosion of new VR ventures currently happening. The recent E3 (Entertainment Electronics Expo) showcased a very strong showing of several gaming companies’ attempts to enter into the new field, and while you may not be interested in video games, this industry has a specific interest in pushing the envelope for VR technology which will soon be adopted in nearly every other industry.

Virtual Reality: A Science Fiction Fantasy?

Oculus Rift DKIIWe’ve been trying to figure out how to make virtual reality a real thing ever since it was a fake thing in science fiction. The idea of simulating the real world through mechanical or otherwise synthetic means is by no means a new concept: flight simulators, driving simulators, and immersive artistic experiences have been around long before the computer, relying on a mix of mechanical and electronic means. One famous example, usually considered the first comprehensive VR machine, was Morton Heilig’s Sensorama, built in 1962.

In fact, there were plenty of past attempts at kick-starting the virtual reality industry predicted by science fiction for years. Famously, Nintendo created a whole console devoted to the idea, but numerous flaws caused it failed utterly, spoiling the video game industry on the idea for decades.

I9 has a great article outlining several failed virtual reality technologies, including those mentioned above.

So why is this such a big deal now? Well, for the first time, the technology is not only viable and effective, but hyped beyond all reason.

The Oculus Rift: The Standard-Bearer of a New Generation of VR

About a year ago, a small engineering firm put up a Kickstarter campaign to build their new VR Head Mounted Display, dubbed the Oculus Rift. I’ve highlighted this one before, but since my last coverage, the company has not only met record-smashing success selling development prototypes alone, but they’ve been acquired by Facebook. People are still a little confused about why exactly the social media titan would want a VR headset, but apparently they want to create the largest virtual reality network in history, planning for 1 Billion simultaneous users. So basically, any anime, game, movie, or tv show you’ve ever seen with a massive VR game world is basically coming, thanks to the big FB.

Needless to say, people are really getting excited about this thing. The Holodeck? Seems to be right around the corner. Speaking of Star Trek, George Takei even got in on the fun during his Youtube segment  Takei’s Take, where he played an Oculus Rift game where you punch a shark in the face (skip to 2:46 for the actual Oculus Rift demo. Spoilers: he didn’t do very well):

It’s pretty hard to imagine what using one of these devices is really like, but there are plenty of people raving about them. Here are some impressions people have gotten from trying the Oculus Rift out at E3:

Not surprisingly, lots of people are jumping on this bandwagon right-quick:

Sony Project Morpheus

Looking to be a major contender, Sony’s really trying to beat Microsoft to the punch and to be the first game console maker with a first-party VR headset. Anyone with a Playstation 4 will be able to hook up a Morpheus and play virtual reality games, which really will pull VR into the mainstream market.

Cmoar Mobile MR Viewer , Vrizzmo

Several companies are catching on to the fact that many people already tote around a small, HD screen with motion sensors and computing power: smartphones! Cmoar is a specialized unit with interchangeable lenses which will let users swap out for different uses, including games, movies, and even Augmented Reality with the front-mounted camera. Vrizzmo, another unit made by De Jet Works, takes a simpler, cheaper route by giving you one set of adjustable lenses to slide your phone into.

These are just a few examples, and there are sure to be many more coming. The future of VR seems to actually be here.

Don’t Want to Wait? Build Your Own!

RoadtoVR.com has been my go-to for VR news of late, but one set of articles I keep coming back to (without yet doing anything with them) are their Do-it-Yourself guides for building your own VR head mounted display for roughly $20. That’s right! You don’t have to wait for consumer models to come to a store near you. With a little elbow-grease and surprisingly little technical know-how, you can make your own lens and phone assembly like those phone-based unites described above. I want to do this for myself (once I get a decent phone, that is!), but until then I’ll be watching the news for more details about the coming VR revolution!



Science Fiction Roundup: Updates on Lasers, Railguns, PETMAN, and Virtual Reality

Hello everyone! Last week I started into examining the historical context of Cyberpunk within the history of Science Fiction, but I decided to put that on hold until next week as I reexamine my direction for the series. It’s been a month since my last round of posts, and there have been loads of articles that I have wanted to talk about, so I was going to do a Round-up at some point anyway. Might as well do it now! If you’re not familiar with these posts, my rules for them are thus: find cool articles about science and technology that would make a cool or interesting story idea. Enjoy!

The Navy Really Does Get All the Coolest Toys

If you haven’t been following my Roundups for a while, you might assume that Naval technology has basically stayed the same since the World Wars, other than the inclusion of more nuclear subs and sophisticated jetfighters. As cool as cannons the size of trees are, the Navy has been trying to find effective replacements for their outdated systems and gradually retrofit their ships. There are two major and surprising directions that this development has gone: lasers and railguns.

LaWS (Laser Weapons System)

The navy has been looking at lasers for a while, and I’ve taken a look at many projects, some of which are now defunct. But the idea of lasers on battleships has stuck around, and one current solution is being introduced for the U.S.S. Ponce, commissioned in 1971, to get a shiny new laser to shoot drones and enemy speedboats. The weapon is actually much cheaper to operate than conventional weapons, and much faster and more reliable than the typical cannon solutions.

Source: PopSci

GA Blitzer Railgun

It’s not hard to imagine this on a spacecraft or future tank. I’ve actually been following this particular weapon system for a while and seen it go from warehouse-sized machine to something looking much more like a cannon. The railgun fires its projectile with staged electromagnetic pulses, hitting air, sea, and land targets up to 200 nautical miles away. It’s so effective, there’s almost no application it isn’t good for, making it a solution for naval combat, artillery strikes, anti-air, and even missile defense.

PETMAN 2: The Return

I’ve covered this particular robot several times now due to his high publicity and coolness factor. PETMAN, another project by Boston Dynamics, the creators of BigDog, another well-known robot developed for DARPA, the research and development arm of the US military. They still claim this is just for testing new chemical suit designs, but I don’t buy it.

Source: 33rd Square

Virtual Reality Glove? Please.

Virtual reality is one area of science fiction and technology that I get really excited about. It’s all about immersion: how do you make the user feel like they’re really present in the simulated environment? The visual aspect of this is quickly being solved, however, the method of control is very difficult. Sure, you can give someone a controller and leave it at that, but some companies are vying for more elegant solutions. Thalmic Labs’ MYO has the advantage of being useful for many applications (I don’t think I’d mind at all using that armband for every computer interface, if they found a way to make it easily transferable), but adding natural motion controls that rely on actual muscle movement rather than trying to teach a computer to read an understand gestures is probably a much more direct approach than the motion control technologies we see in other industries (the current generations of video game consoles, for example). Extrapolate this to the entire body, and you’ve got yourself a full-fledged VR suit.

Source: Singularity Hub

Virtual Reality Meet Virtual Exertion

Sorry for the Vimeo link, it looks like there isn’t a Youtube equivalent. This project, from University of Wisconsin-Madison, struck me as very closely related to the MYO project above. I’ve talked about virtual reality at length, especially the problems associated with attempting to replicate the holodeck from Star Trek, and it hadn’t occurred to me to go about it this way, at least as a stopgap. I remember quite clearly straining my muscles when pretending to lift some heavy, imaginary thing when I was little. I even still today, when playing a videogame where something has to be lifted or pushed, often strain my own muscles when immersed in the task. Using this sort of feedback, where the computer  measures your strain to determine how much force to apply to an object, seems like a very effective way to integrate force feedback into virtual reality without running into the problem of requiring couch potatoes to actually perform strenuous tasks.

That’s it for this week! I hope these ideas will come in handy for your science fiction stories. Until next week, do you think that motion controls like the MYO will become the norm? Why or why not? Let me know in the comments below!


Review: The Hobbit, Part 1. Directed by Peter Jackson.

Review:  The Hobbit, Part 1.  Directed by Peter Jackson.

Reviewed by Donald T. Williams


I am going to shock everybody and actually try to be fair to Peter Jackson.  (This is coming from someone who has called his movie version of The Lord of the Rings a “betrayal of Tolkien’s vision”—and for good reason, given what Jackson did to some of Tolkien’s characters.)  The first installment of the new Hobbit is not as bad as I feared.  It has Jackson’s virtues as much as it suffers from his weaknesses.  The sum total was a movie I could enjoy if not quite love or fully embrace.

To the Prancing Pony!

The film is simply gorgeous visually.  When I get the DVD I will be constantly tempted to pause it just so I can savor the landscapes.  And it is not just that they are beautiful—they are appropriate (especially The Shire) to Middle Earth as we have always imagined it, guided by Tolkien’s descriptions.  The costuming is delicious too.  On the other hand, while some of the Dwarves look satisfyingly dwarvish, others (including unfortunately Thorin) inexplicably look more like short humans than dwarves.  If you can get it right, why not do so consistently?  We wonders, yes, precious.

Film critics have almost universally panned the flick as poorly paced and dragging.  This just goes to show that critics are not fans.  They made the same mistake with Star Trek: The Motion Picture, complaining about the long scene when Scotty gives Kirk a shuttle tour of the hull of the newly refitted Enterprise.  But those of us who had come to feel affection for that ship loved every second of that sequence.  Those classic lines, in what may still be the most elegant of all that great vessel’s incarnations, deserved every frame that was spent on them—if you are a true Trekker.  Similarly, Tolkien’s real fans almost universally just want to be in Middle Earth.  If Middle Earth itself is convincingly incarnated—this is Jackson’s greatest gift—we don’t really need anything to happen there.  We would gladly watch a three hour slice of daily life in The Shire or Rivendell and leave contented.   The plot (and Tolkien gave us a great one) is almost a bonus.  (I am exaggerating to make a point.)  I think this explains why fans have liked the movie better than the critics do.

Bag End

Oh, yes, there is a plot, too.  This is where Jackson’s weaknesses show.  He tries to give an apologetic for his approach early on by having Gandalf say that “Any good story deserves embellishment.”  This line encapsulates a profound difference between Jackson’s and Tolkien’s views of the world—for it casts doubt precisely on the trustworthiness and truth of the ancient legends, whereas Tolkien was all about discovering the truth that was in them after all.  One thus cannot imagine Tolkien’s Gandalf saying such a thing.  It highlights Jackson’s view of the legendarium as malleable art, raw material for self-expression, whereas Tolkien was careful to maintain the illusion that it is history.  This is a significant difference.  The historian uses art in telling his stories, but he must bow to the higher value of faithfulness if he is to be a good steward of his sources and his task.  Tolkien of course knew that his pose as historian (merely the translator and editor of The Red Book of Westmarch) was a fictional strategy—but it is one that speaks to the kind of fiction he was giving us.  And this is what Jackson seems incapable of understanding.

J. R. R. Tolkien

Embellishment goes further than adaptation.  Some changes to the story are necessitated by its adaptation to a different medium.  Some purists do not understand that.  But In Jackson’s Lord of the Rings, his self-granted freedom to “embellish” gave us characters with personalities and motivations that we did not recognize, and it undermined Tolkien’s motif of Providence by having Frodo (more “dramatically”—ahem) push Gollum off the cliffs of doom rather than having him fall by accident or “chance” (if chance you call it) as in Tolkien’s scene.  I thought  then and think now that such “embellishments” had earned the epithet of “betrayal.”

I saw nothing on that level of betrayal in the new Hobbit, nor anything that would demand that kind of departure from Tolkien’s tale in the subsequent installments.  (We shall see.)  But this does not mean that Jackson’s propensity for embellishment is innocent.  Tolkien’s approach to fiction emphasized what he called in the essay “On Fairie Stories” an “inner consistency of reality.”  That is how he gave us a fantasy world that is more believable than most realistic fiction.  There were by contrast three moments when I did get impatient with Jackson’s Hobbit, though not for the reasons of pacing given by the critics: All involved a violation of Tolkien’s principle.  The first was Radagast’s rabbit-sled.  Really? The second was the long fight/chase scene in the goblin cave, which ends in a fall that no one could have survived.  (Tolkien allowed himself to add the laws of magic to reality as we perceive it, but not to break the laws of physics.)  The third was Jackson’s version of the rescue from the forest by the Eagles, with multiple bodies just happening to fall right onto the backs of multiple eagles who just happened to be flying below them at just the right moment.  No group is collectively that lucky, not even in fantasy.  There is a difference between Eucatastrophe and silliness.

The Hill, Hobbiton

In sum: there is much to enjoy, but the aesthetic impact of the whole is marred by Jackson’s embellishing hubris.  Jackson exceeded my expectations (which were lower than the pits of Barad Dur).  So we have some things to praise, some to criticize, but nothing (yet) to damn.  But, hey, we’ve still got two installments to go!  No doubt something will turn up.


Donald T. Williams, PhD

Toccoa Falls College


Check out Dr. Williams’ books at Lantern Hollow Press:  Stars Through the Clouds: the Collected Poetry of Donald T. Williams (2011); Reflections from Plato’s Cave: Essays in Evangelical Philosophy (2012); and Inklings of Reality: Essays toward a Christian Philosophy of Letters, 2nd edition, revised and expanded (2012).  Order (each $15.00 + shipping) at https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/.