Bob Shallit

Exhibit explores how science fiction becomes science fact

Baxter, an industrial robot that can be trained to do multiple tasks, is part of the Tech Trek exhibit starting Friday at the State Fair.
Baxter, an industrial robot that can be trained to do multiple tasks, is part of the Tech Trek exhibit starting Friday at the State Fair.

Multiple second acts are in store for the “Tech Trek” exhibit debuting Friday at the California State Fair.

The fascinating show, developed by Sacramentan Troy Carlson, examines how once-fanciful ideas hatched in the popular culture of science fiction have become reality today. Think space travel, mobile phones and 3-D printers.

What’s really intriguing is how quickly this exhibit – in expanded form – is being booked across the country by museums and others eager to host it following the State Fair gig.

First off is a run at the L.A. County Fair in the fall, then a stint at the Arizona Science Center starting next February, followed by stops at the Pacific National Exhibition in Canada, the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, then major museums in Portland, Chicago and Boston, among others, extending into 2019.

“This one has more interest than anything we’ve ever developed,” said Carlson, the Old Sacramento retailer who started doing exhibits as a side business a decade ago only to have the side business become his main revenue generator.

The appeal of Tech Trek, Carlson said, is showing the links between futuristic concepts dreamed up by writers like Jules Verne and H.G. Wells or TV shows like “Star Trek” to products that are a routine part of life today.

Such as the hand-held “communicators” Captain Kirk and crew used – forerunners of mobile phones. Or the lifelike computer in “2001: A Space Odyssey” that foreshadowed the development of artificial intelligence.

We’re trying to make people a little more comfortable with the technology that’s become a part of our lives.

Troy Carlson, Stage Nine Exhibitions

Included in the State Fair exhibit will be demonstrations of 3-D printing, appearances by a working robot named Baxter that “learns” as it’s taught new tasks and a replica of the hoverboard used by Michael J. Fox in “Back to the Future.”

Carlson spent a couple of years developing the concept for Tech Trek but wasn’t sure if it would catch on.

Then, this January, he was hosting a representative from the Arizona Science Center who was interested in booking Carlson’s “Sweet!” exhibit on the history of candy.

On a whim, Carlson told the rep about his idea for a show on the convergence of science fiction and technology – and showed him a mere eight-page document with a draft version of the new idea.

“He called me a week later and said, ‘We want it, we want to debut it,’” Carlson recalled, marveling that the museum would commit to an exhibit without seeing it first.

“That’s when we thought we might be onto something.”

Coffee wars on J Street

Pachamama Coffee, the farmer-owned cooperative that has had its distribution operations in midtown since 2012, will be going head to head with some java juggernauts when it opens its first Sacramento retail shop in August.

The store, at 3644 J St. in a site vacated last December by The Cultured & The Cured, is just a just a block away from a Starbucks and a Peet’s.

But that’s no biggie, said Mollie Moisan, Pachamama’s director of outreach.

You’re going to run into a Starbucks or Peet’s pretty much anywhere you locate, she said.

Besides, she added, “We have a different customer,” referring to people who want single cup “pour-overs,” made to order, vs. previously brewed java.

Game of drones

The Thunder Valley Casino Resort has a new eye in the sky: a lightweight drone.

The Lincoln casino recently acquired the camera-equipped, remotely controlled aircraft for $1,300 and has been sending it aloft to take video footage of Thunder Valley’s summer concert series and the Whitney Oaks golf course.

“It gives a completely different perspective” on those activities, said Thunder Valley spokesman Doug Elmets, who posts the footage on the company’s website and social media outlets.

Elmets said he’s not aware of any other companies using drones to promote entertainment in the area. At least not yet.

“My presumption,” he said, “is that other entities will follow our lead.”