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June 2009 | Volume 12 / Number 6
The Zippy Files

When Fantasy Becomes Reality, Sort of

There’s been a long debate over whether science fiction/fantasy writers have some kind of precognitive ability. Jules Verne may have described the modern submarine so accurately in print that it could not later be patented, but submarine-like devices, diving suits, and rebreathers had been demonstrated in the 1860s. On the other hand, H.G. Wells, in his 1895 novel The Time Machine (as well as in his earlier, more obscure story, titled, The Chronic Argonauts.) described the Block Theory of the Universe, which holds that time is a fourth dimension of space dimension. This was written a decade before Einstein’s theory of special relativity and the work of the German mathematician Hermann Minkowski, who in 1907 realized that the theory of special relativity could be described using a four-dimensional spacetime. Wells’ later 1914 description of a zeppelin-dropped atomic bomb is also strangely prescient, so much so that that Leó Szilárd later remarked that Wells’ story helped give him the idea for the bomb when nuclear fission was finally discovered.

In the world of electronics, it’s practically a truism that anything you can conceive will ultimately become real. As a boy in the 1960s watching the crew of the starship Enterprise use their communicators every week on the TV series Star Trek, Yours Truly couldn’t help thinking that although it was theoretically possible to build such a device, integrated circuits had just been discovered and the device if built at that time would have looked more like a really big walkie-talkie – or one of the early Motorola (News - Alert) cell phones.

Now, however, playing on the pangs of nostalgia simmering in aging geeks and nerds everywhere, a working replica of the original Star Trek communicator is on the market. It’s not wireless (no cellular service, EVDO, WiFi or Iridium (News - Alert)-like satellite communications capability), but you can use its USB connector to plug it into a computer running Windows XP, Vista, Tiger or Leopard, where its built-in microphone and speakers will help you make VoIP calls using Skype (News - Alert), iChat, AOL Instant Messenger, and so forth. There’s also a volume control and mute function. You can mount it just about anywhere via its velcro backing. It even has a button that, when you press it, cycles through 9 different voice phrases of the original Enterprise crew that include: “Enterprise, this is Kirk.” (Captain Kirk) “Spock here, Captain.” There are also the standard communicator sound effects from the original series. Now you can satisfy you’re inner Trekkie/Trekker by spending all day flipping open the mesh cover, just like any other respectable member of a Trek “away team”, except that now you can make terrestrial VoIP calls.

Said to be the only officially approved replica of the original series communicator available, the new Star Trek USB Communicator originally retailed at $75, but I’ve seen it offered on (News - Alert) for $23.99. IT

Richard “Zippy” Grigonis is Executive Editor of TMC’s IP Communications Group.

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