All posts by Travis Gerhardt

When it comes to big lights and glitz, few places out do Las Vegas. With it’s current population less than 600,000, over 37 million people visiting every year, and the Las Vegas McCarran Airport ranked the 8th busiest in the world, Las Vegas is definitely a tourist hot spot. But in 1992, 80% of the Las Vegas casinos were on the Las Vegas Strip, outside of city’s core where it all began. In an effort to bring tourists back to the centre and revitalize the core, the city of Las Vegas started a contest for big ideas. One of them was a life-sized version of the Starship Enterprise, submitted by the Goddard Group.

The Starship Enterprise, as envisioned in the original Star Trek series, was 288 meters long, 72 meters high, and 127 meters wide. To put that in perspective, the ship would need an area of roughly nine US football fields arranged in a 3×3 square and would have been just over half the height of the tallest building in Las Vegas at the time. One big issue was how to support the huge saucer section, but that was quick solved by putting the ship in “dry dock”, thereby giving the engineers an elegant way to support it from below.

With the basic design done, the Goddard Group set about getting every reference shot they could from the television series, determining how the fictional ship actually looked inside, and trying to fit it in with the Las Vegas motif. The contest required that the building add to the core and not take money from the already starving casinos, so they settled on having tours of the ship, some dining areas, and even some rides. After they put it all together they came to a price tag for what they called “The 8th Wonder of the World”: $150 million ($193 million today).

They met with the Las Vegas downtown redevelopment committee and Mayor Jan Jones, and were told that their Enterprise design had won the contest and would be approved if they could get Paramount, the holders of the Star Trek copyright, to sign off on the project. After contacting the studio and negotiating a basic deal with the president of licensing, all that remained was getting the approval of Paramount’s CEO, Stanley Jaffe. With the mayor, redevelopment committee, Paramount’s licensing department, and everyone else loving the idea, this final meeting seemed like a formality. And with that, the mayor and redevlopment committee boarded a private jet out to Hollywood.

The presentation went well and while everyone in the room was excited, Stanley Jaffe was not. At the end of the meeting, he said that while he liked the idea, he could not endorse it because if it failed, it would be too damaging to Paramount. With that decision, five months of work was discarded and the committee went with the second-place design. And that’s how the Fremont Street Experience, a 460 meter long display of lights canopying Fremont Street, was built in Las Vegas.

Today’s Tangent: When NASA was creating the first Space Shuttle, they had chosen the name Constitution before then President Ford declared would be called Enterprise, perhaps due to the large number of letters he received from Star Trek fans. On September 17, 1976, most of the original Star Trek cast and creator Gene Roddenberry were present when the Space Shuttle Enterprise had its dedication ceremony. Even though Enterprise never went into orbit, it did prove the Space Shuttle concept and spawned Columbia and four other shuttles that would be used over the next 30+ years.

Jump ahead to 2003: Star Trek is now in its fifth series and the Space Shuttle Columbia is re-entering the atmosphere on February 1st. Unfortunately, Columbia broke up on re-entry and the seven astronauts on-board were lost. It was a sad time for the space program, and the writers of Star Trek: Enterprise set out to do something about it. They gave the Starship Enterprise a sister ship and called her Columbia, reminiscent of how Columbia was the Space Shuttle made after Enterprise. Characters of the new ship also got a patch with seven stars on it, one for each of the astronauts lost in the tragedy.

When it comes to senses, we often hear that humans have five: sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. This list is at least as old as Aristotle, who mentioned those same five senses in his “On Sense and the Sensible“. Despite the 2000+ years behind the list, it’s actually incomplete as humans have between nine and twenty-two.

First, we can split touch into three separate parts: tactile, temperature, and pain sensations. How can we tell that these are different senses? One way is by when we can sense these things: we don’t have to touch a fire to know it’s hot, but we would have to touch a burning log to know its texture. As explained at How Stuff Works, scientists found that we have separate nerve receptors for each of those senses, which is another reason they’re counted as three instead of one.

Next we can add in equilibrioception which is our sense of balance and gravity caused by the fluid in our inner ear. Now close your eyes and touch your nose. Your ability to know where your limbs are without sight is called proprioception and brings our list of senses to nine.

But how many senses are there total? This is where it gets more tricky as certain senses can be split further. Sight is actually caused by four distinct types of receptors: blue cones, green cones, red cones, and rods. The cones account for our colour perception while rods give us night vision, so depending on how you count it, sight is either one, two, or four senses. We can also split temperature perception into heat receptors and cold receptors, and pain should also be split into pain and itch detection.

What about our digestive system? We sense when we’re thirsty or hungry, and when we have to urinate or our intestines are full. Taste could also be broken down into five sub-senses (sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami) as we have separate taste buds for each one. (Note that spicy is not a taste as capsaicin directly stimulates the pain and temperature receptors in the tongue.)

After all that we’re at twenty-two. But the list doesn’t have to stop there, as humans can sense the passage of time, or at least guess how much time has passed within a few percent. And even though we can sense acceleration, such as when a car speeds up, that’s probably just an extension of how our inner ear measures gravity. Regardless of how you count it, humans certainly have more senses than five.

Today’s Tangent: Magnetoception is the ability to detect magnetic fields, which birds and some other migratory animals have so they travel large distances using the Earth’s magentic field as a guide. Deep in the ocean, animals like sharks and rays use electroreception to navigate their surroundings and also detect the Earth’s magnetic fields. As for humans, there are magnetic bones in our nose that might allow us to detect magnetic fields. Interestingly, when subjects had a magnet attached to their head, blindfolded, and then rotated, they couldn’t tell which way they were facing better than randomly guessing. In some cases the magnet actually disoriented humans making it harder to detect directions, which means that we might be able to detect magnetic fields after all.

When it comes to marriage, three things hold true: the man proposes, the wedding is the bride’s day, and the bachelor party is a controversial affair. However, this year men should beware, especially if you’re living in Britain or Ireland. On leap years like this one, a woman is allowed to propose and is entitled to compensation if the man declines.

The tradition seems to have started before the 17th century, as Eric Felten from The Wall Street Journal relays:

A play from the turn of the 17th century, “The Maydes Metamorphosis,” has it that “this is leape year/women wear breeches.” A few hundred years later, breeches wouldn’t do at all: Women looking to take advantage of their opportunity to pitch woo were expected to wear a scarlet petticoat — fair warning, if you will.

There is some disagreement as to when the tradition started though, as one folktale says Saint Patrick created the law in the 5th Century after Saint Bridget complained about women not being able to ask the men they fancied to marry. Another attests that in 1288, Queen Margaret of Scotland created a law requiring that if the man refuse such a proposal, he give a pair of leather gloves, a single pose, one pound, and a kiss; interestingly she was five at the time and no record of this law remains, so it’s unlikely to say the least.

We do know that as of 1908, the tradition was popular enough to appear on postcards like the one pictured above. Most of the images involve maidens either waiting for the leap year to come or getting there traps ready to use on unsuspecting men. But by 1972 the women’s liberation movement was gaining significant ground and women were beginning to propose without restriction. Without the need for the ritual, it fell into disuse.

Today’s Tangent: The leap day was seen as unusual because it only came every four years (more accurately, 97 years out of 400), and was considered a middle state between February 28th and March 1st. Such inbetween states were said to have strange properties, such as the state of being betrothed — the couple was neither single nor married but in the middle. Given this, it was bad luck to get photographed because it jinxed the relationship; by flaunting their togetherness in a picture, they were risking it not happening.

As this is the inaugural post in the ALOBAM series, I wanted to explain a few things. First, ALOBAM stands for “At Least One Book A Month”, meaning that each month I want to review at least one book. Second, most of the books I’ll read are science fiction, because that’s where my interests lie. I may include some non-fiction books in the future, but we’ll see how this goes first. Finally, my reviews will be broken into stages of various spoiler levels, allowing people to read a review at their comfort level, perhaps even reading it in parallel with the book.

Triggers is the 21st book written by Robert J. Sawyer, a highly acclaimed and multiple award winning speculative fiction author. I’ve read all of his works and enjoyed them all, so fans of the great Canadian writer will not be disappointed. It also provides a very fast-paced and thrilling story, which is different from what he usually writes, but is done beautifully. Further, the book deals with present day (or given the context of the story, November 2012 after the most recent presidential election) so there’s no spaceships, aliens, or much else to overcome. The only science that’s touched on is a bit of quantum physics and how the brain works, but it’s explained well enough that it’s easy to pick up. All in all, I give it an 8 out of 10.

General Information:

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The inside cover says the president is shot and that a terrorist bomb detonates while he’s in surgery; what it doesn’t say is these events happen within one day. The entirety of the book spans only three days, with the majority transpiring on the first day, making for a much faster pace than I initially realized. Further, the chapters are small with 51 chapters spanning 338 pages, which is a marked change from other SF books with 20 page chapters. It’s a good meld of the science fiction and thriller genres.

As a Robert J. Sawyer fan, I was very pleased with his newest book. Every time I get one of his books, it’s very hard to put it down and I’ll often read them in a day, staying up into the night. The same was true of this book, but there were still two things that I was disappointed by coming as a long time reader.

First, the novel strongly overlapped with his other novel Mindscan in regards to the science he used because both dealt with conciousness transfer and quantum entanglement. One of the things I always look forward to in science fiction is learning new science, and this is the only time I’ve read one of his novels and not had that craving satisfied.

Second, I had an idea of what was going to happen at the end of the novel by about page 60, and this suspicion only grew as I read more. The build to the finale was beautiful to experience though, and it went in a slightly different way than I thought, but the core idea was still there. I was a bit let down by the lack of a twist, something I thoroughly enjoyed at the end of his WWW Trilogy, Golden Fleece, or many of his other novels. Still, even knowing where it was headed, I loved the journey.

Midpoint Discussion:

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The characters are very well developed and have their own stories, which they need because we’re reading their minds, all 21 of them. Some characters are only mentioned briefly as we track down the chain of the affected, but the ones that stay are the most interesting. I loved seeing how everyone interacted and began understanding how other people see the world, slowly building bonds between each other and working together. I really enjoyed seeing people use the mind links as a tactical advantage, asking people to read each other to find out if there were a threat to national security, what they were planning to do with the link, or even just scoring a date.

One thing I noticed in Sawyer’s WWW Trilogy was how he started with multiple unrelated threads and then wove them together in the end (with one notable exception I’ll comment on some other time). Triggers follows a similar pattern, because even though we discard some of the characters as the story progresses, the ones we stay with continue to be important in surprising ways.

Final Thoughts:

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I didn’t like the anticlimatic nature of learning about CounterPunch. In any other Sawyer novel, I feel that discovery would have warranted more serious contemplation, but here it felt lighter than what Kadeem Adams witnessed in Iraq with the dead babies. That was given a lot of weight, and when the President is once again addressed with the question of if he should go through with CounterPunch, he uses the argument in reverse. Instead of saying “I can’t let any more babies die in war,” he instead concludes “I can’t let any more US soldiers put their lives in risk, to see such atrocities like that. As a superpower, I have to crush this rebellion completely.” I can understand both sides, but I am surprised it didn’t weaken his resolve at any point.

I did enjoy the final solution to CounterPunch though, and how the situation increased in intensity. The whole story arc of the connected minds and how they changed was very well executed, and although I knew the connections would grow to more than first order and probably end in a group mind, I loved hearing the story. Sometimes it’s not about a twist ending but enjoying the journey, and on that I applaud Robert J. Sawyer. It was a wonderful ride.

Clue is a game of deduction where everyone plays as a detective trying to solve the murder of Mr. Boddy. Each player gets a set of clues and they postulate who committed the murder, where, and with what weapon, while the other players provide a piece of evidence against the suggestion. Whoever thinks they know the solution to the murder gives their accusation and then checks the answers, winning if they are correct and losing otherwise. And you’re playing it inefficiently.

Clue Original SheetThe game of Clue comes with sheets like the one on the right, listing the six people, six weapons, and nine rooms that could be involved in the murder. The first step is crossing out the clues you have, because you know those rooms, people, and weapons could not be used in the murder. As the game progresses and you make suggestions, you gain more evidence and cross out more possibilities. Sometimes you get lucky and suggest something that no one can deny, giving you direct insight into the murder, while other times you can discover information through a process of elimination.

The basic process is very simple, and I’ve provided a sample below. On the left I’ve crossed out my own cards and then whatever cards I’ve seen throughout the game, and I’ve also discovered that Colonel Mustard is the murder (I suggested that Colonel Mustard used the Knife in the Kitchen and no one could deny it). Further, I could check off the Rope as the murder weapon, as I know that’s the only remaining weapon. Unfortunately, I don’t know much about the room, so I have to do more research there.

Clue Original Sheet CheckmarksClue Original Sheet Checkmarks

On the right, I’ve replaced the marks with letters denoting who provided the information. T is for Travis and E is for Envelope (we keep the answer inside an envelope), while C and J are for the other people playing. This lets me keep track of who has what cards and then I can focus on one person at a time, which can be a fast method of getting information. It’s a small improvement, but useful when you’re playing with more than one person.

This was alright for a while, but I knew it wasn’t perfect. Every once in a while someone else would make a suggest that no one could deny, and there’d be a lot of excitement at the table. But what did they find out? I’d put stars by the three things mentioned, then try to eliminate some of them as time went on, eventually discovering the same piece of information. It was a clunky system, and I was ready to take it to the next level: I designed my own sheet.

Clue Upgraded Sheet

In the top left of the sheet I had a place for player names, a letter to represent them, and the number of cards they had. Below was the standard card table with convenient short forms and a place to write the player who had that card. At the bottom was a table for what I knew about the murder; even though this information was available above, it was helpful to have it repeated in isolation.

Clue Upgraded Sheet Questions Top

The most important part was the large table on the right, listing all the guesses made throughout the game. The first column is for the person asking the question and last column is for who answers them. The person, weapon, and room columns all work the same: you write down the card code in the left part and the person who has the card on the right. I’ve given an example below:

Clue Upgraded Sheet Questions Top Example

Here the accusation is “Miss Scarlet, in the Conservatory, with the Lead Pipe.” We can see that two of the cards are accounted for, but we don’t know who has the Conservatory. Yet, we know that the person who answered doesn’t have Miss Scarlet or the Lead Pipe, so we’ve discovered that they have the Conservatory, something we didn’t know before.

Now yes, this could have been done with the old system, but let’s say that we didn’t know who had Miss Scarlet on this turn. Later on we discover that J has it and then go back to turn 9 and input it, thus finding out who has the Conservatory. Clearly having this additional information is very useful, but we can do even more. After using this sheet for a few games, I added in additional improvements and optimized the sheet for three people (I’ve been play testing with three people).

Clue Latest Sheet

First, I added another column to the right of the question table for the card that was shown so I can easily see what I’ve deduced. Second, I replaced the number of cards each person has with a countdown list, so I can keep track of how many cards I’ve seen from each person (the questions you ask change significantly when you know someone’s entire hand). Third, I wanted an easy way to keep track of which cards I’ve shown to each person so I can keep part of my hand hidden from everyone, so I included a table for that on the left. Finally, I added two additional columns to the standard card tracking table, one for each of the other players. These columns allow me to track who doesn’t have a card, and sometimes determine which cards are hidden just by who passes to certain questions.

This last addition is the hardest to understand, so here’s an example. It’s the very first turn and I suggest that Mr. Green used the Revolver in the Billiard Room. J is the first to answer but passes and C shows me the Revolver. Since J passed and I didn’t have any of the three cards, I know that J doesn’t have Mr. Green or the Billiard Room, so I cross out those squares in her column. Later on, J suggests that Professor Plum used the Lead Pipe in the Billiard Room. C passes and I have both Professor Plum and the Lead Pipe, so I show one of those to J. As a bonus though, I know that C doesn’t have the Billiard Room, so I cross that square out in her column as well, meaning that the Billiard Room is one of the three hidden cards. Just like that, I’ve solved the mystery!

Potential Pitfalls:

Throughout all of this we’ve been talking about how I’ve upgraded my game through these sheets, but as soon as I did that it everyone else wanted the new sheets. Stepping up my game meant that everyone else rose to the challenge, and now I had a lot more to defend against. I’m going to leave advanced tactics until later, but here are a few quick points:

If you’re smart, so are your opponents: The first time everyone used the sheets, I was amazed by how much smarter we were playing. At the end of the game, everyone was within one card of having the answer and I was impressed to hear the logic they used to figure things out. Yes, I shouldn’t be surprised the sheets helped them play better, but I was pleased with how much closer the matches were.

The sheet is only as good as your copying skills: Especially in the question table, you have to continuously update fields with the information you learn. Did you just figure out who had Mrs. White? Go back through all the questions and see if that helps you deduce something else. Did someone just pass on a suggestion? Check if that tells you about what’s hidden. Did you just find out all of someone’s cards? Quickly cross out their entire column in the card table and that can help you solve the case.

The bluff: While the game requires you to show the cards you’re asked for, people can still bluff. For example, someone can ask a question involving three of their cards, and once everyone passes it might seem like the person just figured something out, when they’re actually bluffing you. This is incredibly effective against these new sheets because you’re keeping track of everything. Use this tactic wisely and sparingly; you’re also telling your opponents that neither of them have those three cards, so they’ve learnt a lot for free.

The slow down: I kept track of my most recent game where everyone had the sheets and it lasted 48 minutes and had 22 questions. This means that though we’re playing smarter, we’re playing slower. Keep this in mind when using the sheets for the first time.


Clue is a complex game of deduction, and so much is lost with the old sheets. I’ve created a new sheet optimized for three people and the PDF is here. For a real challenge, give them to your opponents as well and get ready for a lot more detective work. If you have any suggestions regarding the new sheets, let me know.