#PumpkinSpiceLatte is back – what’s the verdict?

Wow…where did the summer go? No better sign of the end of summer than the return of Starbucks’ IMG-20160901-WA0012Pumpkin Spice Latte. It was the drink that made me fall in love with Starbucks years ago, and the drink that made me fall out of love with them a couple of years back, when they changed the recipe to one with a nasty aftertaste.

Hey, I’m a coffee freak after all, even hosting a show for Google called #CoffeeWithAGoogler! Playlist is here.

Well, I just had my first one of the year, from Starbucks in Pine Lake, Sammamish….and it was awesome! Yay! Now all I have to do is resist going to get another one.

#WeNeedDiverseBooks and my writing

The #WeNeedDiverseBooks hashtag on twitter is a very important one. But I have to wonder, when people ask for diverse books, what are they really asking for? I’ve seen some folks simply be satisfied by having more characters of color, or more women in Sci Fi.

But that’s not enough.

It’s my honest belief that we all need the diverse viewpoints that people from other cultures, countries, political systems, histories, races, genders and ages can give us.

Why? Let me start with a story about why I went with a North Korean character in Soo-Kyung. It starts with China. I’ve spent a lot of time there, and I’ve taken my kids there. Back when I was plotting ‘Space Cadets’, my daughter came to me, frustrated.

She had been sharing her experience in China with some of her friends. How much she enjoyed the street food, the shopping, the overall atmosphere. They, being cliched, white, republicans couldn’t accept it. To them, China was Communist, and full of people wearing uniforms, carrying little red books and riding bicycles. When she showed them photographs, it wasn’t enough. She must be mistaken. That can’t be China. Because, to them, all their life, China was something else. And in the face of contradicting evidence, they still denied her experience.

The best books are those that have characters whose heads you can get into, who you will love, whether or not they are the type of person you can know in real life. And this is why we need diverse books — for people like my daughter’s friends, wouldn’t it be great if they could fall in love with a character whose experience is so different from their own that they can learn from it, not make assumptions about a culture they don’t know, and be better people for it?

And that brings me to North Korea. You can get on a plane today, go to China, and see and learn for yourself what it’s like. You can’t do that with North Korea. As such, with its ‘hermit state’ nature, it’s easy for stories to flourish about what it’s really like in that unusual country. It’s easy for us to jump to assumptions about the average person on the street, because of what we’ve heard about the regime.

I spent a lot of time in South Korea, and visited the DMZ between the countries. What struck me most starkly about it was how people from there spoke about the North. It was very different from how we talk about it here in the USA. While we focus on the regime, they focussed on the people. Women in South Korea are exceptionally beautiful, yet the men there always spoke, in hushed tones, about the beauty of the women in the North being far superior. And while they didn’t support the regime, their admiration for the people was palpable.

And while I didn’t get to visit the North to see what the average person was like for myself, I got as close as I could. From this, the character of Soo-Kyung Kim was born. Someone who has been through the worst life has to offer, both in peace and in war. Someone who is exceptionally beautiful both inside and out. And someone who looks at the world outside, the way we look at her hermit kingdom inside — with her own biases. In essence, someone who is real, and when we look at people closer to our society through her eyes, then maybe we can learn something about ourselves. And maybe we can learn something about how to look at her culture, and other cultures, that we may not understand.

I hope you love her as you read this book. She’s very much a supporting character, but as the story grows and matures through the sequels, so will she. She has a wonderful story arc, so please, stay along for the ride, and look beyond the flag on her shoulder.

Space Cadets, the first book in the Frontier series, is now available on Amazon.com and coming to all other retailers.

From StreetView to SheepView

SheepView1If you’ve ever attended any of my talks, in particular about Geo, you’ll know that my very favorite Google technology is StreetView — a part of Google Maps that allows you to go down to street level and virtually walk around the environment. It’s done using countless millions of pictures, taken by vehicles driving down the streets, and geocoded. It has a wonderful user interface that let’s you explore the world around you — just like you were there.

For example, here’s a famous landmark in my home town of Drogheda, Ireland — it’s called Laurence’s Gate.

You can see all kinds of weird and interesting things in Streetview. It’s a great way to explore the world.

So, when it came time to map the Faroe Islands in the north Atlantic, some enterprising folks realized that while there aren’t that many roads for StreetView vehicles to drive on, there are lots of sheep! So, using the Street View camera loan program, locals have started mapping the island by putting Street View cameras on the back of sheep!

Learn more about the project on the Google Geo developers blog, or check out this surround video taken from the back of a sheep!


Google Indie Games Festival Coming Soon!

On Saturday September 24 ,2016 Google will be hosting the first Indie Games Festival. Admission is free, and available here.

It’s designed to celebrate and showcase indie game development — with more than 65 billion apps and games having been downloaded from the Google Play store. We’re committed to helping developers thrive and want to highlight the best available games.

It’ll be hosted at the Terra Gallery in San Francisco. Hope to see you there!


Faster than Light?

44d21708872e4719bb1dd306f01e8f9bWorking in tech, with a background in Physics, naturally I’m excited by the advances going on in Quantum Computing. So, with the recent launch of the Chinese Satellite, claiming to be the first to use Quantum encryption technologies, I was intrigued.

Quantum physics is the study of the weirdness underpinning reality. In short, it tells us that reality isn’t as real as we might think, and that all matter, made up of subatomic particles, isn’t real, but instead is a probability cloud of position and energy. Shrodinger’s cat is a famous thought experiment that attempts to explain how this works. The idea behind Quantum computing is that a computing process, instead of being a single entity in real space, might be countless processes acting in parallel in superposition quantum space. As such, computationally intense calculations — such as encryption or decryption could be done many orders of magnitude faster than traditional computers.

What’s all this got to do with FTL? Well…I started reading Xinhua’s release on the launch, and was amazed to find this little beauty:

“The satellite’s two year mission will be to develop “hack-proof” quantum communications allowing users to send messages securely and at speeds faster than light.”


“In practice it means that calculations can be carried out faster than light.”
Overmarketing? Or are the Chinese onto the technology for interstellar travel as a side-effect of encryption? Enquiring minds would like to know!

But seriously — I think this is probably a misunderstanding or mistranslation of the concept of Quantum Entanglement, where instant communication over any distance without a time lag is theoretically possible. And while this is technically ‘faster than light’, there’s no movement involved…

Bug in NHL on Xbox

While playing EA Sports NHL game with Chris tonight, we had a very interesting bug…check out the video for what would be the hit of the century!

That’s gotta hurt!

Introducing Firebase Authentication

For most developers, building an authentication system for your app can feel a lot like paying taxes. They are both relatively hard to understand tasks that you have no choice but doing, and could have big consequences if you get them wrong. No one ever started a company to pay taxes and no one ever built an app just so they could create a great login system. They just seem to be inescapable costs.

But now, you can at least free yourself from the auth tax. With Firebase Authentication, you can outsource your entire authentication system to Firebase so that you can concentrate on building great features for your app. Firebase Authentication makes it easier to get your users signed-in without having to understand the complexities behind implementing your own authentication system. It offers a straightforward getting started experience, optional UX components designed to minimize user friction, and is built on open standards and backed by Google infrastructure.

Continue reading “Introducing Firebase Authentication”

The Light of Another Star

Shining brightly in this Hubble image is our closest stellar neighbour: Proxima Centauri. Proxima Centauri lies in the constellation of Centaurus (The Centaur), just over four light-years from Earth. Although it looks bright through the eye of Hubble, as you might expect from the nearest star to the Solar System, Proxima Centauri is not visible to the naked eye. Its average luminosity is very low, and it is quite small compared to other stars, at only about an eighth of the mass of the Sun. However, on occasion, its brightness increases. Proxima is what is known as a “flare star”, meaning that convection processes within the star’s body make it prone to random and dramatic changes in brightness. The convection processes not only trigger brilliant bursts of starlight but, combined with other factors, mean that Proxima Centauri is in for a very long life. Astronomers predict that this star will remain middle-aged — or a “main sequence” star in astronomical terms — for another four trillion years, some 300 times the age of the current Universe. These observations were taken using Hubble’s Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2). Proxima Centauri is actually part of a triple star system — its two companions, Alpha Centauri A and B, lie out of frame. Although by cosmic standards it is a close neighbour, Proxima Centauri remains a point-like object even using Hubble’s eagle-eyed vision, hinting at the vast scale of the Universe around us.

Given the announcement today of an Earth-like planet being discovered around Proxima Centauri, I wanted to share a chapter from my upcoming book, the second in the ‘Frontier’ series, and follow up to ‘The Space Cadets‘.

In this Chapter, the first African American Space Cadet, Aisha Parks, along with her co-pilots Soo-Kyung Kim (North Korea) and David (Israel) get to visit an identical planet where, after taking the first interstellar selfie, they make an epic discovery….


Continue reading “The Light of Another Star”

Meet me at droidcon London

I’m delighted to announce that I’m speaking at droidcon London 2016 on October 27th and 28th. I also spoke there last year, and have to say that it is one of my favorite conferences in the world. The location — at the Business Design Center in London in perfect, and the developers that attend are awesome. As a speaker it was a privilege to be there laDroidCon-London-punkst year, and I’m ecstatic to have been invited back again! I hope to go every year 🙂

I’ve been to all kinds of conferences, all over the world, but there’s something so unique about this one. I really love hanging out with developers in London — from all over the UK and Europe. You have a vibrancy and an enthusiasm for your work, and applying technology to it that is inspiring to me!

I’ll be doing a lap around Firebase, talking not just about the technology itself, but why we at Google believe that this is one of the best things to happen to developers in a long time. We’ve put a lot of thought into this techn
ology, and it spans way beyond Mobile Backend as a Service. Our goal is to help you build great mobile and web applications, grow your customer base with great tools, and earn a decent living for all your hard work. I’ll be talking about where we’re at with the technology, and the fact that we’re really only getting started. It’s a long, fun, road…and I hope you’ll join me at droidcon to learn about it!

Feel free to ask me anything, and I’ll do my best to answer, or, if you prefer to just have a ‘Coffee with a Googler‘, I’d be delighted to! 🙂

New Render: Aisha Parks

Aisha Parks is the first African American girl admitted to the elite space academy in my novel ‘Space Cadets’

aishamainAs I work on republishing the book, I am doing some test renders for how I envisage the characters. Here’s one of Aisha. Let me know what you think! 🙂

You can see the full res image here.

Space Cadets: Several years after humanity was pulled back from the brink of an all-out nuclear war, the United Nations built a Space Academy. It’s purpose: To ensure that we’d never again face extinction. Space Cadets follows the first African American student accepted into this academy, and her discovery that human extinction is closer than we may think.