Outside the temporal box

When I picked up my daughter from school today, she was proudly carrying a ring binder full of drawings and things she’d done over the past week or so. She was very happy until we got home and started showing them off to me, and found that one sheet had not been hole punched.

“Daddy, can we go out and buy a hole punch now?”

“No Sweetie, the shops are closed. We can go tomorrow.”

“Can’t we go yesterday?”

I’d like to think that I’m doing a good job in raising my daughter to think outside the temporal box!

Watch the time machine!

Place a thermometer into boiling water, and it will read 100 degrees centigrade. Now plunge the same thermometer into a bucket of ice. The difference in temperature is (at least) 100 degrees, but there is a lag with the thermometer reading. It won’t immediately read 0 degrees, but it will go through the intermediate temperatures (albeit quickly) from 100 degrees, down to 0.

It can easily be argued that the thermometer is in part reading the temperature of itself – it’s own internal temperature, rather than the true ambient temperature.

Keep this in mind as we take an instantaneous journey through time in a time machine…

In an earlier post I demonstrated how the progression of time through space is instantaneous. But how does time progress in a time emachine?

Consider this. A person goes in a time machine and is instantly placed from the present to say 100 years into the future (as far as “instant” is possible…let’s call it experienced time).

Will the watch he’s wearing read t = 0 and instantly transform to t = 100 years? Or like the thermometer, will it pass through all the intermediate times like the thermometer read intermediate temperatures? Will he?

It might seem that a watch, by changing from one state of time to another, intrinsically needs to go through the intermediate times. But this implies a non instant travel. It sounds a little paradoxical that instant time travel means travelling [instantly] through all times in between!

Alternatively, does the watch measure the moment of ambient time, such as a GPS receiver ‘checking in’ to a satellite clock signal? Or does it measure the progression of experienced time?

I mentioned that this particular time machine operates instantaneously. That is to say that the “experienced time” is zero. Ambient time, therefore undergoes an instant change. This raises the question of how is an instant change in time possible?

Let’s pause for a moment on a slight detour and consider a well known thought experiment. On a train.

A train is traveling at a constant speed of 125 mph towards the west. A fly is buzzing in exactly the opposite direction, on a collision path with the train.

The collision inevitably takes place, and I think it’s fair to say that neither the train or the fly are aware of the event.

Now let’s consider the movement of the train and the fly.

The train is moving to the west at constant speed, collides with the fly, and continues its movement to the west (with a very slightly reduced velocity owing to increased combined mass with the fly).

The fly was flying towards the east. It collides with the train, then moves with the train towards the west. This means that the fly’s velocity changes sign, i.e. it goes from an arbitrary positive, through zero, to negative.

At the moment that the fly had zero velocity, it was in contact with the train. It might seem logical to assume that the train must therefore also have a zero velocity…but we know from experience that this is not the case.

We have therefore defined an infinitesimally small moment in time, but how to explain it? (Aside – this is the great thing about time travel – one question leads to another! 🙂 )

I was spinning on a roundabout with my daughters last week trying not to retch. They were fine; they were sitting near the middle, whereas I was on the outer rim. How was it possible that I had a greater linear velocity than they, and yet we were all in contact, much like the fly and the train?

The clue is that we were sitting on the same roundabout, undergoing the same angular velocity. Even the infinitesimally small point in space in the dead centre…was still rotating at the same rate as the rest of us.

And there it is. Angular velocity. I suppose that it’s not for nothing that people talk about the wheel of time! 😉

So back to our question of how is local ambient time experienced in an instantaneous time machine. Could it be that the local time is compressed or contracted to a point of ‘zero time’, (not to be confused with t = 0, an arbitrary reference time point) and regrows back to a new time? This zero time point would be analagous to the ‘fly point’ of zero velocity, or the zero space point on the roundabout.

Progression along the radius of the roundabout maintaining constant angular velocity showed that these zero points are possible. How that can be translated to time, or get it to regrow again…well there lies the magic of a time machine!

Follow the Leader

Consider the chart below. The curves are two simple sinusoids, and represent, say, the variance of the height of two swings above the ground as they swing in a simple harmonic motion.

Which of the swings, blue or red, would you say is in the lead?

Which sine curve is in the lead?
Which sine curve is in the lead?

For most, the instinct is to believe that the blue swing is in front.

But this would be wrong! The blue swing in fact lagging behind the red swing!

Even with the x axis labelled as “Time”, we are predisposed to visualise the sine curves in space and not in time.

When we read off the sine wave maxima on the x-axis we can see that the blue swing reaches it’s maximum height at t = 1.5 seconds, whereas the red swing already reached it’s maximum height half a second earlier at t = 1 second.

So the red swing is in the lead.

Somehow it seems counter intuitive, that the red swing got there first. It made its history first. It’s sitting there in the past, yet it’s in the lead.

I suppose it depends on how you look at it. Maybe it’s just swings and roundabouts!

Paul

Time in an Instant

There is nothing instant about “instant”.

Not in coffee, not in two shakes of a lambs tail (or a coffee spoon) and not in love at first sight.

I’ve harped on before about the importance of the speed of light, and how nothing can go faster than it.

In the latter article I gave the example of the Earth rotating around a non existent sun after for some reason the sun ceased to be; the transmission of information that the sun ceased to be (one parameter being the existence of gravity) would take some 8 minutes to reach the Earth. The Earth would therefore remain in orbit around a non existent sun for those transitional 8 minutes.

Archimedes had his brainwave whilst he was taking a bath. I had mine during a shower, watching the waste water spiral down through the plug hole. In true Archimedian style I thought to myself “Screw it.”

Why? Surely there must be something out there that can exceed the speed of light.

And I might have found it.

Let’s return to our orbiting Earth (or at least, remain firmly affixed to it’s surface, thanks to our gravitational friend).

As far as we are concerned, sitting (or showering) on the Earth, everything is hunky dory until the Sun disappears, the light goes out and we are flung into space obeying Newton’s second law of motion (i.e. that we travel in a straight line at constant speed unless an external force [in this case, the Sun’s gravity] is applied.

We know that the sun must have vanished 8 minutes ago, so let’s call that moment t = 0 and the present t = 8.

So from the perspective of the Earth at t = 8 we know that the sun vanished at t = 0.

And on the sun, the sun vanished at t = 0. At the same time, i.e. at t = 0. The event of our hindsight knowledge and the event itself was simultaneous.

Is hindsight instantaneous?

I think the example shows that the progression of time across space is instantaneous, although I do concede that it’s a bit strange to give time a speed when it is itself a term in the equation! (speed = distance divided by time!

I’ll conclude with a quote from Bill Nye (more time and time travel quotes here):

“When we see the shadow on our images, are we seeing the time 11 minutes ago on Mars? Or are we seeing the time on Mars as observed from Earth now? It’s like time travel problems in science fiction. When is now; when was then?” – Bill Nye.

Paul

The Importance of History: An Unexpected Part 2!

Yesterday (or was it last week? 😉 ) I posted a timely thought which explained why history is important. I used an example of flipping an unbiased coin which repeatedly turned up tails, and stated that even though historical performance would suggest another tails on the next flip, the chances of heads showing on the next flip was still 50%.

I think a 50% chance of a heads showing is incorrect. It should be higher!

This is because that there are 2 possible outcomes of a flipped coin, so 50% chance of getting either one of them. The implication then is that with 2 coin flips, we’d expect 1 head and 1 tail. With 4 flips we’d expect 2 heads and 2 tails.

With 100 flips, we’d expect 50 heads and 50 tails.

But who’s to decide the order in which those heads and tails come? Alternate? Or all one and then the other?

So take the example in my original post where 50 flips had given tails. I’d stated a 50% probability of the next flip being heads. But if the probability is 50% for 100 flips, then the probability of the 51st flip being heads is now…100% !!!

So it seems that history is even more important than I had previously thought…although I wonder whether this is because we know something about the future i.e. there will be 100 coin flips and then no more.

But let’s add in a parallel consideration…we’ve considered this particular coin, but shouldn’t we be taking in all coins, and all of their flips, ad infinitum? That would mean we’re back at a 50% chance of a head.

So boundary limits impact the probability; events at all places at all times impact the importance of history and what that history means for the future.

Interesting that although I’m now a little wiser in the future…a little hindsight about foresight would have helped when I first wrote!

Paul

Is History Important?

I’m not one for history. It relates to things in the past. Not necessarily forgotten about, but it’s been, it’s gone, and it’s over. Done and dusted.

But however dusty those history books might be, I do concede that history is important. I hold no sympathy for the “You don’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been” line, but history can effect the present and the future.

Here’s an example.

An unbiased coin is flipped, and tails comes up.

It’s flipped again, and again it’s tails.

And it’s tails again and again and again, and so on…at 50 flips the coin is still coming up tails.

The probability of heads coming up for the 51st flip, mathematically speaking, is still 50% i.e. there is an equal chance of getting either heads or getting tails.

But given the history, what would you bet on…heads or tails?

See how history is important?! 😉

Paul

Review: The Photo Traveler by Arthur J. Gonzalez

The Photo Traveler by Arthur J. Gonzalez

I won a PDF copy of The Photo Traveler from Arthur J. Gonzalo as part of a Goodreads.com giveaway. This review, as with all my others (past and those to come) is my honest opinion.

Synopsis

Gavin is a 17 year old boy who seems to have had more than his fair share of suffering in his early life. He leaves his abusive adoptive parents and finds his grandparents who tell him that he can travel back in time by reciting a chant when looking at a photo.

Gavin learns that whilst this hereditary ability can be fun, there are rules which must be followed. He’s also warned of a danger in the form of other families who wish to harm him.

The Time Travel Element

Gavin is able to travel back in time by vocalising a chant when looking at a photo. As a photo traveler he is taken back to the moment in time when the photo was taken. He returns to the present when he recites another chant.

This method of time travel is beautifully illustrated when Gavin meets his parents ‘in’ a photo. When he asks how long they’d been there, they reply (along the lines of) “Same as you – we can’t have arrived before the moment that the photo was taken.” It is a simple restatement of the method of time travel, but I thought it was elegantly expressed in application.

Time experienced in the past occurs in real time – if one hour is experienced in the past, then the photo traveler will have been missed in the present for one hour. Gavin nearly always returned back to the present because he considered he’d be missed.

A single photo can be used more than once, though this never occurred in the novel. It seemed to be a strange oversight, especially given that Gavin had specifically asked the question of whether it was possible to his grandparents.

That said, there was a nice touch was where Gavin and Yogi agreed to meet each other at a location in a photo each of then had access to over the internet.

Given the ease at which a single defined moment in time could be traveled to I felt that a lot of opportunities for time loops were missed. In fairness I suppose time loops aren’t a compulsory requirement in time travel novels (but they do make great reads!)

Writing Style

The Photo Traveler is written in the first person from Gavin’s viewpoint. This makes the novel easy to read and quickly engages the reader with Gavin. Unfortunately, I found that this style of writing became inherently irritating in that it reads as account by a teenager who’s out to impress his mates with a story – a lot of telling not showing, superlatives and over dramatisation.

Even the dialogue from his grand parents was very childish, but I’d like to think that this was Gavin’s ‘translation’ of what they really said into his own vernacular in the narrative.

Maybe this style of writing would be more welcomed by young adults in the target audience…it’s just me that’s too old! 😉

Gavin

Gavin’s character is key to the novel, given that it is through his eyes and interpretation of events that The Photo Traveler is written.

The references to Gavin’s troubled early years reminded me a little of the Butterfly Effect movie where similarly, the main character had a dark childhood. The events subsequently became hook points in the movie (and indeed, the sequel to the first movie used pictures and not text to time travel), so I was wondering whether there was a purpose to Gavin’s difficult childhood. Gavin’s history, I think, provided a little bit of depth to his character.

I started out liking Gavin who generally sees things in a positive light and tends to put other people first. Or so our melodramatic teenager would have you think of him. It becomes clear later that Gavin’s actions are in juxta-position to his self inflating words and thoughts.

For example, he finds the love of his life in Allana, the sister of one of his college mates. The complication is that Allana was killed in a car crash several years ago, and the only way they can meet is by Gavin’s photo traveling. Gavin has only 3 photos of Allana and therefore feels restricted in that he can only see her during those 3 moments when the photos were taken. He takes no effort to get more photos of her, or indeed, to revisit her by ‘reusing’ any of his 3 photos.

No, he wallows in his own self pity and goes on to have tantrums and fights. My enthusiasm and empathy for him as a young adult fighting to overcome his history evaporated.

His interactions with other characters at times seemed a little overdone. Whereas in a movie these encounters, be they conversations or fights, might last a few seconds, I felt that reading through a couple of pages didn’t add anything to the plot. Then again, this again might have been Gavin’s exaggerated interpretation of events given in hindsight.

The Plot

I found this a little vague…

At first I thought it may be Gavin’s quest to find his parents, but he finds them very quickly.

Then there was a lot of harping on about vials and being in danger. But there was no real evidence of a continued threat to Gavin. Indeed, I found the whole vial thing and fluid from a purple underground river a little contrived and underdeveloped. Maybe this will turn into something more substantial in subsequent books.

And there was Gavin’s love interest with Allana – his ‘dead’ ‘older’ girlfriend who was living in the past but dead in the present. I found this the most interesting aspect of the Photo Traveler. Gavin had found lots of photos of Allana but had taken only 3. They had a baby. They shared a link through her brother and his mate. This was bursting with time travel opportunities, paradoxes and conundrums, but sadly nothing much seemed to come of that.

Lacking a clear plot, I found myself reading on a chapter by chapter basis, rather than as an entire novel with a clear theme running through those chapters.

Other Points

A nice touch in the novel was that photo travelers are drawn to photography. Perhaps this would make sense, or be expected, but I thought that this added some depth to an entanglement of hereditary nature and personal interests.

Sadly, aspects of some events within the novel came a little too easily. For example Gavin was able to find his parents within just a couple of days where his grandparents had been unsuccessful; I questioned Gavin’s grandparents’ motivation for not engaging in time travel which came across as a weak get out clause for sitting back and doing nothing.

Gavin’s own motivations and thoughts at times were quite fluffy and lacked solidity. Again, perhaps this age related, but it made things unrealistically too easy. He just knows this is the right photo, and he just feels this connection with this character, and so forth. Typical mysterious lexicon from a teenager? I can’t remember(!) but a little more substance would have firmed it up nicely.

The end of the novel came so abruptly that I re-downloaded my PDF file to ensure that it wasn’t corrupted. It wasn’t. The novel ends in much the same way as most of the chapters – with a melodramatically played out cliff-hanger. Cliff hanger? More like a gentle grassy slope.

By the end of the novel I really couldn’t care less for Gavin, his friends, or family or whatever, so cliff-hangers tended to play very little significance. I was hoping for a conclusion to something or other (to whatever the story line was about…) but there was nothing save for a suggestion to keep my eye out for Part II, the Peace Hunter.

Summary

The Photo Traveler is an easy to read novel aimed towards young adults. It has a very interesting method of time travel, and one which has the possibility to open many avenues for time loops and rewritten histories.

Like H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine, this novel is written in the first person. It describes events as seen through Gavin’s eyes, a troubled 17 year old who’s had a tough childhood. Unfortunately he’s a bit of a pleb and empathy with him soon deteriorates – his melodramatic self serving viewpoint spoils the novel as the first person style of writing becomes inherently irritating.

Whilst I found the main story line unclear there are several small scale incidents which make the Photo Traveler an easy page turner and a good book to take on a holiday.

There are some very nice applications and expressions of the method of time travel in the Photo Traveler and I’d recommend this novel to any young adult looking for an introduction to the time travel genre.

Paul

Warped space time?

I recently bought myself a new wall clock. It was an impulse purchase, but at only 2 Euros I couldn’t go wrong. Or so I thought until I had a closer look. Can you spot it?

Time and space are intricately intertwined
Time and space are intricately intertwined

A wall clock with a manufacturing printing error sold off for only 2 Euros? Or a cunning representation that both space and time can be intricately linked…as well as warped?

I’m going with the latter!

Time for a time change

The clocks go back an hour tonight. The addition or subtraction of an hour twice a year in an effort to optimise daylight hours has been going on for years, and yet still causes countless people to get confused, turning up too late or too early to various appointments.

It might seem like some sort of pseudo time travel when people turn up at different places at times they thought were different, but it’s just time (or it’s representation) moving onwards (or backwards as is the case now) and not taking us along with it on it’s hourly journey.

Spring forward, fall back.

Now it’s Autumn. We ‘gain’ an hour, but lose the sunlight. I for one am happy as I can stay in bed longer tomorrow morning. In theory anyway – I have two young children that haven’t mastered the concept and will still wake 3 hours before I’m ready to get up.

For the rest of you…enjoy the pseudo time travel! Your time is precious – use your hour wisely! 🙂

Time Travel in Movies Flow Chart

This flow chart contains a diagrammatic representation of time travel in movies.It’s informative but not exhaustive. Be warned that it may contain spoilers

Movies containing elements of time travel are depicted in this flow chart created by mr-dalliard. Be warned that although the chart is informative it contains spoilers!

Click to enlarge, and enjoy!

Time Travel in Movies Flow Chart
Time Travel in Movies Flow Chart from mr-dalliard.tumblr.com

Happy travelling! Paul

Review: The Mirror by Marlys Millhiser

The Mirror by Marlys Millhiser

Synopsis

The_Mirror_book_cover

Many reviews describe The Mirror as a horror book. I must admit that I can’t see it as such, though do concede that some of the events therein are certainly not desirable. I suspect that the horror label is more to do with previous books the author has written.

The premise of The Mirror is simple – a mirror acts as a time portal and selectively throws people, not of their own choosing, into the past or future. The book revolves around two such affected characters, Brandy and Shay, who are grandmother and granddaughter respectively and who swap temporal positions on the eve of their weddings. This calls to mind the grandfather paradox…

Writing Style

The Mirror is written in three sections, each told, allegedly, from the perspective of the grandchild (Shay), the mother (Rachael) and then the grandmother (Brandy). However, there is very little interplay between the characters and / or events which I felt to be a hugely missed opportunity.

Indeed, the sectioning of the characters was somewhat moot as the novel was written more or less in chronological order and showed no overlaps or time loops.

The author kept alive the idea that the person who had travelled through time was trapped in the body of someone else. This was done by describing the body as a third person, for example, “Shay gave Brandy an apple to eat.” This was a very powerful technique, and one which helped to see events through not only the eyes, but also the feelings of the main character.

I found the novel quite a ‘feminine’ book with a lot of detail regarding period pains and discomfort etc.. It was certainly a heads-up to me of how few books I’ve read by female authors (not of deliberate choosing, but just the way it’s turned out!).

The Time Travel Element

The time travel machine is a mirror, and there is no indication of how it works – it is black box…albeit very reflective! 😉

Although how the mirror functions remains a mystery, it was a nice touch that there were symptomatic descriptions given, for example, electric tingling, etc.. There were also references, though brief, of momentary glimpses of the past or future in the mirror’s image. I’d liked to have seen more significance given to these images.

Shay

Shay did not spend long in confusion over her situation when she was thrown back in time to that of her grandmother. Much of the story describes events which occur in the new time frame, and at times I found this quite tedious. It didn’t seem to add anything to the plot, and seemed to be there almost for the sake of it.

Actually, the plot line remained somewhat of a mystery to me. I thought it might have been a quest for Shay to get back to her original time, but her efforts to do so were given no more attention than the mundane goings-on in her new found life style.

Perhaps these involvements in everyday life added depth to the character; by the end of the section I felt I knew the character fairly well. There were also nice little comments in italics which showed what Shay was thinking, and this often harked back to her own time and showed the juxta-positioning of the time lines.

One particularly irksome angle of the Shay timeline was reading dialogue from Thora K. Thora speaks with a regional Cornish accent and this is delivered to the reader through phonetic writing. I found it really tiresome to read and at times needed to read the syllables out loud to be able to understand what the author was trying to get her character to say. I’d have preferred to have ‘invented’ the accent in my own head, after knowing that Thora spoke in such an accent.

Rachael

Rachael is an interesting link in terms her peculiar biology; her mother is her future daughter, and her daughter goes on to become her grandmother. Sadly, this was not really developed into anything particularly worth of note. It is only towards the end of the last section that Rachael starts to piece together what had happened, and even then I thought it was dealt with weakly.

Brandy

Brandy was a delightful character. This surprised me as I was expecting to be bored to tears with old fashioned ideas and morals being out of place in the modern world. In contrast, it was a refreshing insight into our modern world see though the eyes of a girl.

Brandy seemed to adapt to her new temporal surroundings a lot quicker than her grand daughter did. I don’t know if this was because a modern way of life is ‘easier’ than an outdated one, or whether it was simply a difference in character.

The High Low-Light

I was very interested to know what was going to happen when Shay living in Brandy’s body was going to meet herself when she was born as a child.

The moment happened very quickly, and was over in a paragraph. OK then.

There was hint of a recovery when Rachael began to catch on to what had happened – ironically this was quite a drudge to read through given that it was at the end of the book and things were coming to a close. I think it would have made much more of an impact if the truth had been realised much earlier on in the novel.

Summary

In harsh summation, I found this to be a very tedious book to get through. Yes, 2 characters swap places in their position in time, so there’s an element of time travel, but that’s about it. For the most part the reader is reading about how a girl from the modern time finds it in the past, and vice versa.

I found the story line therefore to be unclear – it was more of a drama than anything else where the reader was invited to get involved, but there is very little to keep me wanting to turn the pages

Very disappointed 🙁

A Picture Paints a Thousand Seconds

Recently, the following question was posed in the Goodreads.com Time Travel group:

“If you discovered a way to travel through time by using a photograph, which photo (personal or historical) would you use? Feel free to include…an explanation of why you chose it.”

I wanted to repost my response to that question here as my answer will serve as an introduction to a forthcoming post.

Here it is…

I’d use a picture that my 3 and a half year old daughter made with my wife a few months ago. It shows a picture of a watch and a clock, and shows the abstractness you could imagine from a young child.

Or is it abstract? Perhaps it’s an accurate statement of the real workings of time!

Time travel basics 101
Image credit: My daughter!

Why do I choose this picture? I think my daughter’s understanding of time and the possible ramifications for time travel is excellent given the conversations I’ve had with her about time. I’ll quote from a post in my Daddy blog about children’s understanding of time.

Me: (showing her a clock) “That fast hand goes all the way around, and that’s one minute, and then that long hand moves forwards a little bit. And when it goes all the way around, then that’s one hour and the short hand moves from number 1 to number 2.”

Daughter: “But Daddy the hands are moving all at the same time!”

If the second, minute and hour hands all move together, does this mean that seconds, minutes and hours all pass at the same time? Are seconds, minutes and hours pretty much all one and the same? Maybe they are for a three (and a half) year old. Everything happens at once, NOW…

Daughter: Can I have this now, Daddy?

Me: No, You can have it later, Sweetie.

Daughter: Is it later now, Daddy?

I’m also sure that on the day she gets married and I walk her down the aisle, I’ll be taken back in time to these childhood moments…but I don’t think I’ll need the picture then!

As for when the picture would take me…I don’t really care, as long as it would take me back again to my family. These moments in time are far too precious to lose!

This post won me a copy of “The Photo Traveler” by Arthur J. Gonzalez. I’m currently reading it, and I’ve been asked to provide a review.

So stand by!

PS: I’ve only ever won 2 things. This was one. The other was a rag doll at a tombola when I was 8. Although my daughter might disagree, the time travel novel comes out tops!

A different temporal perspective

When I was a small child the image of the “BBC test card girl” was a misnomer. She looked like she was old enough to be my mother.

Now that I’m older and a little bit wiser, I can see that the girl is in fact…a young girl.

BBC_Test_Card_Girl

The image is the same – but she looks younger than she used to, to me, back then.

What has happened in these last 30 odd years? I’m sure that Carole Hersee has aged, yet she appears to look younger, whilst looking the same in the image. And I’m sure it’s not the makeup.

And to confuse things further, here she is more recently..

BBC Test Card Girl Today

There is clearly a different temporal perspective at play here…

Review: Selected Shorts by David Goodberg

Selected Shorts and Other Methods of Time Travel

David Goodberg

I don’t like to write negatively about an author’s creation, but my frustration in ploughing through this collection of ‘shorts’ drives me to vent.

Am I missing something? This isn’t so much a selection of short stories, but more a collection of ideas, each of which don’t seem to have been fully worked up into a coherent short story. Only a handful of them are related to time travel.

Some of the time travel ideas are interesting and hold potential, but the delivery is very poor and the theme behind each story is spurted out to the reader in a contrived soliloquy towards the end of each story. The writing style is telling-not-showing and dogged with the continual use of superlatives with very little description. If this was the ‘most beautiful woman he had ever seen in his life’ how did she look? If the main character ‘usually had no problem with small spaces, but this time he did’…why? What was different this time? The flesh around the bones of the story line, for me, rots with leprosy and falls to pieces.

Another nail in the creator’s coffin is the renaming of a familiar object such as a microwave oven, and (re)presenting it as a futuristic invention. Admittedly, it’s not plagiarism or a breach of copyright, but it shows a lack of creativity and is an irritation to read.

I was really disappointed when I read these short stories. I was hoping for clever endings or a twist in the plot…or something. At least a conclusion. Instead, there is just a…stop. Having finished one story, I found myself starting to read the next in two trains of thought; one thinking “surely this one must be better than the last”, or else in a morbid fascination of how terrible a short story can be and providing a source of inspiration in writing something better.

Some reviewers make the comment that the each story is not self contained, but should be read in conjunction with the others. I saw no common line through the stories, no common history, or no common characters. Indeed, there is misalignment between events and dates between stories.

In summary, the pun of a drawing of someone holding up a pair of shorts on the front cover pretty much shows the depth of writing…shallow and childish. It’s a real shame, because I think that with a just a little more thought, these stories could have been something fantastic. Instead, they read as a first draft at best.

Review: The Butterfly Effect

The Butterfly Effect

Synopsis

Evan is a young boy who suffers from blackouts which appear to be associated with moments of stress in his life. Perhaps this is not surprising given his troubled childhood – his father is held in a mental institution, and he lives with his single mother and a pet dog. His mother is loving and tries her best to bring him up and look after him. When she is shown a grizzly drawing Evan drew but couldn’t remember anything about, she takes him to see a doctor for a brain scan (a poignant point given his father’s mental condition). The doctor recommends that Evan keeps a journal to help him develop his memory. Ewan is diligent in this, and keeps his journals under his bed.

He is friends with Lenny, and also with Kayleigh with whom he has a soft spot. Evan and Lenny tolerate Kayleigh’s brother Tommy who shows signs of violence, even at an early age. As Evan grows up, he continues to get involved in a number of incidents with his friends, usually lead by Tommy, which lead into various forms of trouble. His blackouts continue, and often seem suspiciously strategic, absolving him of any responsibility in these events. Frustrated, his mother takes him out of his home town, and we see Evan showing Kayleigh a handwritten note through the car window which reads “I’ll be back for you”.

The movie slides to Ewan’s life as a college student, where we learn that he’s had no blackouts for 7 years. He comes back to his dorm after a night celebrating with a date who finds his journals under his bed and asks him to read one. He finds a section just before he blacked out, and on reading it finds himself back as a young child in the time of the blackout he has been reading about. He realises that he is reliving moments in his past and attempts to change them for the better.

Opinion

The first part of the film seems slow to start off, and is naturally focused on Evan’s difficult childhood with its gritty details. Be warned that some of this is quite disturbing owing to the subject material. At this stage it would be easy to think of this movie as a psychological drama, but things start to get interesting from a science fiction / time travel viewpoint when Evan grows up and stops having his blackouts. This is when he discovers how to go back in time to the moments of his blackouts to try to change things for the better – whilst he’s blacked out as a child, he’s reliving the moment as an adult.

The matching between the present and the past is crafted beautifully, providing the viewer with information and insights which were naturally missing the first time round.

As a viewer I really felt for Evan – it is easy to share in his confusion when the repercussions of actions in the past filter through time and affect his present. I was particularly touched in that Evan strives to make things better for his friends and family, rather than for his own gain. This is made most clear when he tries to help his mother, and ultimately in the ending of the movie. In differing versions of his present, Evan loses friends and girlfriends, and towards the end, physically more.

The basic idea of going to the past to deliberately alter the future but suffering unforeseen consequences is certainly not original, but I thought that The Butterfly Effect applied it in an interesting…and perhaps more realistic…way than an other ‘easier’ film would have handled.

Despite the slow start, I really enjoyed this movie, and what I found to be missing at the start in terms of content was easily made up for when revisiting it through Evan’s eyes the second time round.

Time travel

Reading a journal (and in one case, watching a home movie) to travel back in time is perhaps a little similar to reliving a memory, but in this case, it’s more literal. No attempt was made to explain how this method worked, but this added to the sense of Ewan’s confusion when it happened, as well as its lack of credibility when he tries to explain it to others. Fundamentally, the time travel element is treated as black box, and is a vehicle where the viewer is invited to climb aboard and share in the mystery surrounding it. The movie touched slightly on the idea that Evan’s time travelling ability was hereditary and was passed down to him from his father.

I have read that there is an alternate ending available on DVD which reinforces this interesting idea – realising that there is no way for the past to be improved and that he himself is a cause of much of the suffering in the altered timelines, Evan kills himself in his mother’s womb, thus preventing himself from from being born. Evan’s mother refers to her earlier miscarriages, leading to the idea that he had brothers and sisters with the same time travelling ability and who had also reached the same conclusion. These suicides echo Evan’s father’s harrowing attempt to murder Evan.

Review: The Time Machine, H.G. Wells

The Time Machine

H. G. Wells

This is perhaps the most famous of time travel stories, and is often heralded as being among the first, despite being predated by Well’s own short story “The Chronic Argonauts”.

Synopsis

The main character remains unnamed throughout the book, and is referred to only as the time traveler. He builds a time machine, and goes forward in time to a period when mankind does not exist in a condition as they do now, but rather as a dipolar population consisting of Eloi (carefree and innocent creatures) and Morlocks (savage and brutal). During the course of the time traveler’s visit, he formulates various theories as to how the Eloi and the Morlocks came into being, as well as their interactions with each other. The truth is finally crystallised when he is able to visit a museum where he learns of the true course of development of Eloi and Morlocks from modern day man.

The time traveler returns to the present day only a few hours after he originally left, and relates his experiences and thoughts to friends over dinner. The following day he makes preparations to make an additional trip, promising to return shortly, though the reader is informed that the return of the time traveler was still awaited after 3 years.

Opinion

No discussion is entered into as to how the mechanics of time travel operate in this story. Rather, time travel is used more as a tool enabling Wells to give voice to his creativity for a futuristic world. The Time Machine is therefore not really a sci fi novel as such, but never-the-less, an easy read which introduces the possibility of incorporating time travel into a novel.

Is time travel really impossible?

Maybe some don’t dare to believe that time travel is possible, but this view is changing! The understanding of the science behind time travel is improving

Is it or isn’t it…who really knows?

Most of us probably don’t dare to believe that time travel is possible, but I think this is changing! The understanding of the science behind time travel is getting better understood, and an increasing number of scientists are now finding ways which one day might unlock the mystery of the time machine blueprint. The hard study and the calculations continue.

But even if we don’t know how to travel in time now…that doesn’t mean it’s impossible…does it?

Why isn’t time travel impossible?

There are so many paradoxes associated with time travel that you could well be forgiven for thinking that time travel is not possible. The “grandfather paradox” – where you go back in time and kill your grandfather (why would you do that?!) thus preventing your own existence to go back and kill him in the first place is perhaps the most famous of these paradoxes.

Or if time travel was possible, surely we would have met time travelers who have come to our time from another time by now?

Grandfather paradox? It’s all relative!

So on the face of it, it would seem that the idea of time travel is just that…an idea. It has certainly captured the attention of many science fiction authors, and even poets. And recently…scientists. Yes, there have already been many eminent scientists who have gained funding for looking into the possibility of time travel – and to find a way to make it happen. They do this by turning to Einstein’s theory of relativity.

Einstein’s theory of relativity is used to describe our understanding of time and space. Actually, time and space are so heavily intertwined that they are referred to collectively as “timespace” as one affects the other. By studying the theory of relativity, scientists hope to discover a solution to its equations which permit time travel. So has there been any success?

Interestingly, success has been found in the opposite sense…that is to say that nothing has been found which forbids time travel. So that is good news for those of us who would like to travel in time – though we are still no closer in finding out how we can do this. Or are we?

Time dilation

The theory of relativity describes “time dilation”. Time dilation refers to how a second of time can take longer in some situations than in others. This is slightly different to the perception of time which Einstein himself has been quoted as saying “When you are courting a nice girl an hour seems like a second. When you sit on a red-hot cinder a second seems like an hour. That’s relativity.”

Here’s an example of time dilation. There are 2 identical clocks. Let’s call then clock A and clock B. Clock A is put on a jet plane, whilst clock B stays on the ground at the airport. The jet plane takes off, travels at high velocity around the world and lands back at the airport. The times on the two clocks are compared…clock A (the clock which was on the plane) shows that less time has elapsed than shown by clock B at the airport. Why? Because travelling at speed causes time to slow down. That is time dilation.

Another example of time dilation is seen in the satellites used in GPS navigation. In this case, there are two causes of time dilation. The first is the high speed relative to the Earth at which the satellites travel, and the second is the decrease in gravitational potential the satellites experience in orbit. The clocks on board the GPS satellites actually need to be corrected for the effect of time dilation!

The existence and reproducibility of time dilation is a good step towards realising the possibility of time travel. But are we any closer to making our time machine?

Faster than light

Perhaps. Experiments have been conducted which have shown that faster than light speed travel might be possible with some sub atomic particles and arguably this is a step in the right direction for moving on towards building a time machine. However, the energy input required is astronomical, and to reiterate…this was only a sub atomic particle! Perhaps the understanding of an alternative theory of timespace would show a solution to time travel where the energy requirement is not a practical limitation.

Conclusion: the answer is…

Having said that the subject of time travel is now receiving more attention from scientists, that is not to say that all scientists are in support of the existence of time travel. Many scientists have discredited the idea entirely, and it is clear that the question of whether time travel exists or not is still a topic of hot discussion.

So is time travel possible?

I think that presently, it is not possible in the way that we would like it to be – the days of the fabled time machine are far away. I do hope that one day in the future we will be able to travel back to the past, or into the future and experience other times just as we can experience and enjoy the present, though at the same time I am cautious about the possible dangers. Many of us are still not able to navigate safely through space (just think of all of those road accidents…) and I’m sure that navigating through time is a much more complex issue.

And we still don’t know about those time travel paradoxes…

Thankfully, even if real life time travel doesn’t exist, we can still read about it in science fiction!

For a more detailed look on the possibility of time travel (and how), take a look at my time travel 101 main page. If you have time! 😉

What is the role of the speed of light in time travel?

You’ve probably found that there are many references to the speed of light when reading about time travel. This brief articles hopes to explain the relationship between the two.

The speed of light is not just the speed that light travels – in some ways that can be considered to be a coincidence. The speed of light is the speed limit of the known physical universe, and is just shy of 300 million meters per second. This speed limit relates to everything, including the transfer of information. This might be counter-intuitive, but there is no such thing as “instant”! (And I’m not one to argue with Einstein!)

So how is this related to time travel?

Einstein’s theories show that time can dilate in a number of circumstances. Time dilation is where the passage of time occurs at a different rate in one situation than it does in another. For example, time passes more quickly for someone experiencing a lower gravitational acceleration than for someone who is subjected to high gravitational forces. Another example, and relevant to our discussion here, is that time passes more slowly for someone who is travelling at speed in comparison to someone who is stationary.

This means that if someone flew in a jet engine at high speed, his watch would register a shorter time of flight that someone who remained standing in the airport waiting for his return (this might explain why planes are always late! 😉

The greater the difference in relative velocities, the greater the effect of time dilation. For the velocities that we are easily able to acheive in everyday life, the effect of time dilation is very small (in the order of milliseconds.) However, if we could gain very high velocities, and travel at them for sufficient lengths of time to accrue the time differences, the effects can be noticeable.

This is of significance to the time traveller. If I travelled at a sufficiently high velocity, my experience of the passage of time is slower for that of someone waiting for me to come back. In practical terms, in my point of view, I’d fly for say 1 year, but someone waiting for me would have waited for a year and a month. In effect then, I have travelled 1 month into the future.

If then, I travel at a greater speed, the effects of time dilation are proportionally greater; I travel at twice the speed I did before for 1 year, and my expectant welcome committee would have waited for 1 year and 2 months.

It follows that the faster I travel, the further into the future I can transport myself. It also means that my journey doesn’t need to last as long – instead of travelling at high speed for 1 year, I can travel at a faster speed for 1 month. Or an hour. Or a second. There is greater efficiency in time travel at higher speeds.

And we know that the fastest speed we can travel is the speed of light! This is why achieving light speed is considered to be important in time travel.

There are two important things to note here…

The first is that in this way, time travel into the future is possible, but not the past.

The second is a possible time travel paradox – the so called twin paradox. I mentioned that I travelled at high speed for one year, whilst someone remains stationary on Earth. But relatively speaking…who’s to say that I wasn’t stationary, and it was the Earth-bound person who moved away at speed? In real terms, each of us would find that the other person has experienced more time than themself, and this is not possible!

Actually, the ‘solution’ to this quandary is in the means by which I gain high velocity. If my journey starts on the Earth, my velocity is zero in relation to my observer. I then accelerate to high velocity. Here then is the solution – acceleration brings about a further time dilation effect for me as the traveler (as well as time dilation by moving further away from Earth’s gravitational field). These differences would ensure that our relative experiences of time passage are different from each other.

As a side note – what would happen if the speed of light really could be exceeded?

I hope that this explains the relationship between the speed of light and time travel!

What is time travel?

There are many definitions of time travel but most compare travelling through time with travelling in space. I suppose this makes sense in a way, although there is a definite difference: we have control when we travel through space, but we all travel through time by doing nothing, and we can do nothing about it. I’d argue that time travel, then, needs some sort of control in how we move through time.

I’ll write later on the speed of light and its importance in time travel, but the two must not be confused; for now I’ll clarify with an example:

When you look up at the stars, it is commonly said that you are “looking into the past”. This is because the stars are so distant that the light travelling from them takes several years to reach us…so we see them as they were this many years ago. But is this a form of time travel? Are we really looking into the past?

I don’t think so. I think this is more similar to watching a movie of say, your children, which was taken some time ago where again, we are watching past events. I suppose the difference is that you can watch those home movies again and again, whereas we can only see the stars for that one ‘real time’ moment.

I believe that a certain level of interaction is key for time travel. If I went back in time, I could qualify that statement by describing the people and places and things that I saw that I otherwise would not have been able to see. There is a new exchange of information. With a home movie, we can’t look out of the camera view, or talk to the people on film (or hear back from them). A time traveller, on the other hand, would be able to look wherever they wanted, or interact with the people and objects in the new time.

I hope that this has answered the question of “what is time travel?”

Further examples of what is and isn’t time travel can be found here.