Sign up for our newsletter and get the latest HPC news and analysis.

Author’s Notes on The Observer Effect

The following essay contains spoilers about The Observer Effect, a SCI-Fi original short story involving a scientist who uses Big Data to try and prove the existence of God. And while that tagline may serve to set up your expectations, there’s a lot more to this story.

I write one of these Sci-Fi originals every year for PrintN’Fly, our travel guide to the annual SC conference. I wish I could do more fiction, but my travels for insideHPC and insideBIGDATA keep me pretty busy writing fresh content each and every day.

The Observer Effect has its roots in a book I’ve been kicking around in my head. The working title is Tales from the Red Shift, a collection of short stories connected by inexplicable events. I have an ever-growing collection of these stories in my notes from my life here in Portland, and new ones seem to be popping up on a regular basis. A couple of these tales found their way into The Observer Effect, and I think they just may resurface in interesting ways in Tales from the Red Shift.

The following parts of The Observer Effect are based on true events:

  • The escaped mental patient paid a visit to my friend Beau this past summer. Beau was preparing breakfast for his young son at 7:00am one morning when he heard a sound from the den. A barefoot man in surgical scrubs was standing in the middle of the room looking around. “I’m looking for a phone,” he said. The man looked to be heavily sedated, so Beau told him he would give him a phone if the man went outside and waited on the porch. The man complied, and Beau locked the door and called the police, who apparently had been searching the neighborhood for the man for several hours. As proof that fact is stranger than fiction, Beau tells me that the man started down the block and proceeded to peel a bumper sticker off a neighboring car before the police arrived.
  • The deli heist happened a few blocks away the very same day. My friend Greg discovered that his car window had been smashed the night before. Nothing had been stolen though, as his luggage was still in the back seat. After Greg talked to the detectives, they called him back and told him that the surveillance camera showed a couple with a baby casing the parking lot. They then left after only spending a minute in the deli. A short time later, a man in a hoodie arrived and appeared to press the button on some kind of remote control when the footage went blank. According to the detectives, a “Russian gang” has been using WiFi jammers to circumvent security cameras before robberies.

I found these two incidents remarkable, and the fact that they happened on the same day was great fodder for me as I tried to come up with a way that they could be somehow connected.

So what about the other pieces of the story?

The Shadow Project on Kickstarter is a mobile app designed to help people remember their dreams. I helped sponsor the project as I was very intrigued idea of creating a worldwide database of dream content. What if we are already sharing dreams and we just don’t know it? What would the implications of that be? That was the spark for the story in The Observer Effect.

The cosmic simulation in the story was inspired by two things.

I hope you enjoyed The Observer Effect.  It was great fun to write.