Celebrating 50 Years of Humanism in Star Trek

Posted on 19th January 2018 by Ryan Somma in Enlightenment Warrior

The following is the full-length version of a shorter commentary I wrote for The Humanist in 2016. The version at the link has the benefit of editorial oversight and fact-checking. This version is the messier director’s cut:

Optimism for the Future

Optimism for the Future

It feels like we live in a culture where movie and television studios are perpetually finding ways to make stories darker. It’s a pop culture where viewers tune in for their weekly dose of misery on The Walking Dead, depravity on Game of Thrones, and where even classic children’s heroes like Batman and Superman are portrayed as mass-murdering vigilantes in Dawn of Justice. Comic book and science fiction fans have even coined the term “grimdark” to describe this apparent one-upmanship of doom and gloom constantly barraging us.

In contrast, through five decades and across three generations the Star Trek universe has remained positive, philosophical, and moral. Star Trek portrays a society built on Enlightenment virtues and embodies what a humanist future might look like. With six television series totaling 716 episodes across 30 seasons, 70 million books in print, over 40 video games, a new television series in the works, and this summer marking its 13th feature film, Star Trek endures because there is nothing like it in American media: a positive vision of humanity’s future based on rationality, science, and human-improvability.

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Take our Daughters and Sons to Work Day 2016 – 3D Modeling with OpenJSCad

Posted on 1st April 2016 by Ryan Somma in Science Etcetera

What follows here is an outline of activities we did for TODS Day 2016.

Hello World!

OpenJSCad 3D Modeling

  1. Open JS Cad is a programming environment that allows you to build 3D models that you can print.
  2. Controls:
    • Rotate XZ: Left Mouse
    • Pan: Middle Mouse or SHIFT + Left Mouse
    • Rotate XY: Right Mouse or ALT + Left Mouse
    • Zoom In/Out: Wheel Mouse or CTRL + Left Mouse
  3. Copy the following code into the program’s Coding Window:
  4. 1
        function main() {
            var word = vector_text(0,0,"HELLO WORLD!");

            var bagOfShapes = [];        

            word.forEach(function(char) {
                bagOfShapes.push(rectangular_extrude(char, {w: 6, h: 6}));

            return union(bagOfShapes).translate([-100,0,0]).scale(0.5);

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Arduino Time Zone Portal LED Project

Posted on 27th February 2016 by Ryan Somma in Geeking Out
Bally Time Zone / Space Time Pinball Backglass

Bally Time Zone / Space Time Pinball Backglass

Photograph by Matthew Allison


I recently became interested in arcade history. Pinball history is particularly fascinating for the way inventors have come up with so many mechanical innovations over the years. From the first springer launch to the first speaking pinball to incorporating a wide variety of illusions, pinball remains something that simply can’t be replaced with virtual versions.

While investgating a 1972 Bally Time Zone pinball machine (also known as Space Time), I found an innovation that screamed 1970s. Check out the “portal” in the bottom center of this video:

Unable to fit an entire pinball machine in my home, I went for attempting to replicate this one part. With the popularity of the Maker Movement and easy-electronics development with the arduino, I decided to see how quickly I could replicate this piece with LED lights.

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A Tale of Two AI’s: “Her” VS “Ex Machina”

Posted on 7th June 2015 by Ryan Somma in Mediaphilism
Ex Machina
Ex Machina

Human beings have speculated about Artificial Intelligence for over 2,000 years, our fantasies evolving as our technology evolves. More recent films, like Steven Spielberg and Stanley Kubrick’s A.I., Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, and George Lucas’ THX-1138 all tackle the hard questions and present insightful ways of looking at the issue. Most recently, I was wowed by the Alex Garland’s Ex Machina, a film about an AI undergoing the turing test, where the consequence of failing means that intelligence being turned off and discarded. It had me revisiting another recent film about AI, Spike Jonez’s’ Her, a film that left me disappointed and frustrated, and I thought it would be useful to compare and contrast the two films to articulate why one worked and the other didn’t.

This post assumes you have seen both films. Spoilers abound.

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Celebrating the Winter Solstice at The Humanist

Posted on 20th December 2014 by Ryan Somma in Ionian Enchantment
Winter Solstice Article in The Humanist
Winter Solstice Article in The Humanist

The Humanist has posted my celebration of the Winter Solstice, the annual cosmological event around which almost all of the season’s holidays orbit, in the article The Darkest Day: A Quintessentially Humanist Celebration.

Here’s a sample:

The winter solstice connects me to Galileo, who revealed humanity’s true relationship to the Sun, usurped our place at the center of the universe, and was among the myriad revolutionary intellects that ushered in the Enlightenment. Those rational minds set humanity on the path of scientific and cultural progress to which we owe all our technological conveniences, modern egalitarianism, and a quality of life that would appear magical to all the generations before us. Every day our news is filled with the scientific discoveries of their philosophical descendants, always further resolving our understanding of our place in the cosmos.

And so the most significant yearly event in human history, the one upon which all other major winter holidays are founded, is quintessentially humanist. Before our ancestors began seeing “fairies in the garden,” as Douglas Adam describes it, and added religious layers over the solstice, they simply looked out over the dawn horizon and saw the Sun rise over a particular mountaintop or tree and knew it was going to start climbing north again. And that gave them hope.

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Nicolas de Condorcet’s “Progress of the Human Mind”

Posted on 2nd November 2014 by Ryan Somma in Enlightenment Warrior,Mediaphilism
Marquis de Condorcet Quote

It frustrates me bitterly that the works of the Enlightenment are almost forgotten in America’s universities. Science classes ignore them because scientists must focus on the most current understanding of our world. Humanities classes ignore them because the Age of Enlightenment, with its rationality and empiricism, is seen as the oppressor of creative expression.

But we owe so much to this age, which abolished god-appointed kings, established the sciences that so dramatically improved our quality of life, and brought forth the rational radical ideas of equality and human rights. The Enlightenment is the foundation for humanism, and I think everyone should celebrate the myriad brilliant works of the revolutionary minds who contributed to it.

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Number Spiral Mandalas with HTML Canvas

Posted on 21st July 2014 by Ryan Somma in Geeking Out
HTML Canvas 12-times Spiral
12-Spiral in HTML Canvas
(Primes highlighted in red)

Mathematics is about exploration, not the rote memorization of algortithms. It’s about finding patterns, appreciating how numbers relate to one another. That’s why I love programming. Much of writing code involves experimentation with mathematics, tweeking a variable to see what comes out of a complex function. It’s wonderful when a program doesn’t give you the answer you designed it to; that means you are about to learn something.

I was really inspired by this post on Moebius Noodles about Joey Grether, who creates spiraling artwork with the number 12 that seeks patterns in the lines of numbers radiating out from the center. Reminiscent of Ulam’s Spiral, building a spiral around a clock, with 12-segments in the rotation, puts multiples of 3 at {3,6,9,12} o’clock, multiples of 4 at {4,8,12} o’clock, multiples of 2 at {2,4,6,8,10,12} o’clock, and primes at {1,5,7,11}.

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How the IPCC’s Climate Report is a Model of Good Science

Posted on 22nd February 2014 by Ryan Somma in Ionian Enchantment
Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis
Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis
Credit: IPCC

Weighing in at over 1,500 pages, surveying the results from thousands of journal articles, and written by 259 experts from fields including meteorology, physics, oceanography, statistics, engineering, ecology, social sciences and economics, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s report Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis is the single most thorough, most comprehensive, and most accessible document in existence for understanding what we know and how well we know it concerning the subject of Anthropogenic Climate Change. The IPCC will publish four reports this year, but this first is my favorite. Any discussion on the subject of Climate Change should orbit this document.

More importantly, anyone wanting to understand the science and understand what constitutes good science, should pay attention to this document. How do we define “good science?” Let’s see how it applies to this latest report:

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Creative Commons Children’s Book: ABC’s of Biodiversity

Posted on 23rd December 2013 by Ryan Somma in Creative Commons Works,Ionian Enchantment

Download a PDF Version Here (30MB)

Download a PPTX Version Here (103MB)

This book is another tool in the myriad strategies we parents use to teach our children. The ebook format allows something print books don’t: an alphabet book with 10 examples of each letter. This means there are 260 images in this book. That can be quite overwhelming, but that’s nothing compared to the Earth’s actual biodiversity.

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Evolutionary Wonders in a Newborn Baby

Posted on 20th October 2013 by Ryan Somma in Ionian Enchantment

Want to get closer to your primal beginnings? Have kids. During nine-months of pregnancy, you will learn about all the evolutionarily-influenced mechanics of giving birth, from the fetal acrobatics involved in maneuvering an enormous head required to house our big brains through a birth canal constrained in size so that human females can walk upright. Next time you look at a newborn baby, take a moment to appreciate these many echoes to our primitive origins.



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