Looking back: 1994

In 1994, I finished up a three-year lecturing contract at the National University of Singapore, and returned to Australia. That year saw the launch of the Netscape Navigator web browser (I wrote my first web page) and the opening of the Channel Tunnel between France and the UK (I was to take a train through that tunnel some years later). A plethora of movies was released – Stargate was one of the better ones:

In science, the Wollemi pine was discovered in Australia, stirring up a media frenzy. Martin Chalfie transferred the jellyfish gene for green fluorescent protein to the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, eventually sharing in the 2008 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for this work. And Comet Shoemaker–Levy 9 crashed into Jupiter, leaving visible marks in the Jovian atmosphere:

In France, the Chauvet Cave was discovered. It contains cave art dated to around 30,000 years ago. And superb art it is – those ancient cavemen knew a thing or two:

American Solar Challenge 2018: The run to Burns

I recently got my hands on the GPS tracker data for the American Solar Challenge last July. Above (for the 6 Challengers completing the stage) and below (for the Cruisers) are distance/speed charts for the run from Craters of the Moon to Burns, which seems the stage of the route with the best data (at this time of year I haven’t the time for a more detailed analysis). Click on the charts to zoom. Small coloured circles show end-of-day stops.

Stage times were 15:Western Sydney 8:05:16, 101:ETS Quebec 8:20:13, 2:Michigan 8:25:08, 55:Poly Montréal 8:42:52, 4:MIT 9:07:58, and 6:CalSol 9:30:12 for Challengers, and 828:App State 10:22:37, 559:Bologna 12:13:57, and 24:Waterloo 15:29:12 for Cruisers (note that Bologna was running fully loaded on solar power only, while the other Cruisers recharged from the grid).

The data has been processed by IOSiX. I’m not sure what that involved, but I’ve taken the data as gospel, eliminating any datapoints out of hours, off the route, or with PDOP more than 10. Notice that there are a few tracker “black spots,” and that trackers in some cars work better than in others. The small elevation charts are taken from the GPS tracker data, so they will not be reliable in the “black spots” (in particular, the big hill before Burns has been truncated – compare my timing chart).

American Solar Challenge 2018 Tracker Data

I just got my hands on the GPS tracker data for the American Solar Challenge last July. Out of the 13 cars from Michigan, MIT, CalSol, Western Syd, Illini, Waterloo, Minnesota, GA Tech, Poly Montreal, ETS Quebec, Bologna, W Mich, and App State, most were not being tracked during large stretches of the route (see the map above). That restricts what I can do with the data, but I will do something. Stay tuned.

Superman is boring

Superman, as orginally described, was invulnerable. Having a hero with superpowers that are too strong makes for a boring story, because a good story needs conflict. There are several ways of handling that, of course.

1. Kryptonite weakens my powers

According to some accounts, kryptonite was invented specifically to make Superman less invulnerable and boring (Paul Fairchild explains why this was a bad decision). Kryptonite, of one kind or another, is a classic solution to the problem of an overly strong superhero which, to some extent, has been used by multiple authors. It can be overused, however. If your superhero is always weak, why have such a character at all? A better variation of this approach is for the protagonist to carry his or her own metaphorical kryptonite inside, as some kind of “fatal flaw.”

2. My powers come at a heavy cost

This is one of the easiest ways for an author to ensure that his or her character does not overuse their superpowers. These superpowers may cause pain, coma, physical harm, or other damage that enforces a break between uses of the superpowers. For example, the psychic Greg Mandel in Peter F. Hamilton’s Mindstar Rising and its two sequels suffers severe headaches when his powers are used to excess. Variations of this approach are used in a number of fantasy novels.

3. My powers disturb or frighten me

A good example of this option is Doctor Who, in the eponymous TV series, who often needs to be talked into taking action. The advantage of this approach is that it produces a great deal of interesting dialogue on why the superpowers are disturbing or frightening.

4. I am still learning to use my powers

This option is particularly common in young adult fiction. It allows the author to have an attempted use of powers either succeed or fail at any point; but this makes sense with a young protagonist. The young magician Pug in Raymond E. Feist’s Riftwar Saga is a good example. So is Luke Skywalker in the original Star Wars movie trilogy. To some extent, Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings can be viewed as having a combination of (3) and (4). But, however the author does it, I think that some limitation on superpowers is essential for a story to remain interesting. What do you think?