All Is Grist

Thoughts. 'S really almost a SF-thoughts post, but a lot of it, indirectly.
  • Found out I was wrong, that sound TV's Frank makes does have an IPA letter. I was just looking in the wrong place. It's not a click, it's an implosive: the voiced velar implosive, written [ɠ].

    The way one writes that sound Frank makes, then, is [jʌɠwiː]. "Cuckoo kids out for cuckoo kicks. [jʌɠwiː]!"

    (This IPA is so much more fun than the other kind, though admittedly it's not hard to be more enjoyable than a beer so over-hopped you'd be forgiven for thinking you got hold of a toxic chemical equipped with a safety-bitterant by mistake.)
  • Decided one of the zled languages uses a click in some places where the other two members of its group have a stop—the dental click, the sound Americans spell "tsk" and Brits spell "tut" (and God only knows about Australians, Canadians, or South Africans; my guess is Aussies and Afrikaners write "tut" but Canada is a 50-50 chance of either).

    That zled language uses it to replace the alveolar stop (t) in certain words; I haven't worked out the entire rule but since it's so far only shown up as the first letter of two proper names, one of a supporting character and one of a mythological figure, I figure I'm okay. Not sure if I should change some of their other sounds too, like maybe make some of their Ds into a voiced velar implosive (I can't hear the difference between voiced and unvoiced clicks, not having been raised speaking isiZulu).

    I discover that human languages don't like to end syllables or words on clicks; the Khoisan languages only put them at the beginning of root-words, while Hadza, Sandawe, and the Bantu languages with clicks can also put them at the start of syllables within words. Some of my alien languages, however, end syllables on clicks; fundamentally it's not much weirder than you people ending words with aspirated voiceless stops (my dialect of American English doesn't "release" those stops at the ends of words—"bock", "bot", and "bop" are hard for speakers of other dialects to tell apart, when we say them).
  • Re-doing my pistol round. The bullet is still 9 millimeters diameter, 16 millimeters long, but I realized that .357 SIG is weak—its resemblance to .357 magnum is greatly exaggerated. Decided to go with actual .357 magnum. 1 gram, even, of nitrocellulose will move a 12-gram bullet at 430 m/s (giving a muzzle energy of about 1.1 kilojoules). It'd take 420 milligrams of octanitrocubane to achieve the same thing, which has a volume of 203.883 cubic millimeters.

    Going with the 10.77 casing diameter of .357 SIG means the "casing" is 13.4 millimeters long, and goes 12.1 millimeters up up the side (so only a quarter of the bullet sticks out past the top—a lot of these caseless rounds are practically telescoped). Thus, the round becomes 9×13 millimeter—two whole centimeters shorter than the CIP designation for .357 magnum. (Overall length is less than half that of .357 magnum, 17.35 millimeters as opposed to 40.)
  • Thought I'd go a bit into depth on my PK armor. Decided, the standard Peacekeeper armor is a sheer-thickening fluid undersuit, which might also contain the power-assist exosuit (not in the same systems, they'd interfere with each other), under a breastplate that's harder. Might also wear shoulder, elbow, and knee plates, but like now, those are optional. The helmets come with or without faceplates.

    Remember the Australian lady in the short story there on my DeviantArt? And how she says most special forces don't do heavy armor? The special forces guys—Peacekeeper Special Purpose Forces, to give them their full name—wear only the flexible undersuits, without the breastplate or any of the other rigid parts. Their helmets always have the faceplates. Due to their clothes being less bulky, I imagine they get referred to by other Peacekeepers as things like "longjohns" or "union suits".
  • In another entry under the heading "even Cracked knows that's stupid", we have the guy in Jurassic World who wants to weaponize raptors. See also the xenomorphs in Alien, and the idiotic plot of straw corporation Weyland-Yutani to weaponize those.

    Aside from what that article points out, about living things making lousy weapons—xenomorphs made a little sense, at least, for the Engineers, since they had no future plans for Earth—is the ugly hypocrisy and Freudian projection involved in this leftist trope. Go look up who made the closest thing to a doomsday weapon ever. It wasn't a corporation. It was two leftist darlings working in tandem: the government and academia, i.e. the War Department and a bunch of physicists.

    Incidentally, what's with this idea you sometimes see, that the Manhattan Project guys were dupes? Who, pray, in the US military, is supposed to have bamboozled Einstein and Oppenheimer into building a fission-bomb without their realizing it? How's that supposed to work? "Gasp! You monster! Those equations we keep having to explain in layman's terms for you—their implications! You knew all along—about this concept some of us personally created about half the theoretical underpinnings of!"
  • Partly for xenobiology purposes, partly for my own interest, I've been looking into the transition from lobe-finned fish to tetrapods. Some cool stuff. Apparently our spines being shaped the way they are, rather than like those of fish, is one of the features in question. Another one? That so many land animals taste like chicken, and not like fish, the "fishy" taste being something to do with substances produced by the death of aquatic animals' tissues.

    Of course the limbs are the big change. The fins of lobe-finned fish are kind of like horse forearms, just a stack of joints, up to a point, where they start dividing. You can identify one of the divisions as the precursor of the radius and ulna. The transition from the bunch of bones that makes up the fin, to tetrapod digits, is kinda vague; we can point to some bones toward the end that became the carpals and metacarpals, but how exactly the phalanges show up is sketchy.

    Oddly, lobe-finned fish have bones in their limbs that aren't connected to the rest of the skeleton. The two halves of the pelvic girdle were once just the ends of the "leg"; they fused to each other and to the spine I think some time during the fish-to-tetrapod transition. The shoulder, of course, is only held on by the clavicle and muscles. I think some of the ancient lobe-finned fish (not coelacanths or lungfish) had ribs; those are fairly obviously modified vertebral processes.
  • The interesting thing about coilguns and railguns is that they don't seem to work differently from regular guns—not in some of the ways you might expect. Like, you might be surprised by railguns with muzzle flash and smoke almost indistinguishable from a firearm, but that's the plasma. I don't know if they make quite the same "cork popping" sound as guns, but if they have the precise same sonic boom, if they fire at supersonic velocity.

    Which reminds me, it's probably not accurate to say that lasers make a gunshot noise from the wound. They almost certainly do make a "pow" sound, but, not being contained and pressurized like a gun barrel, it's probably not as loud. Probably more like popping a potato in the microwave or a soda can in the freezer—which probably solves the "no suppressing a laser" problem , since that's about the sound-level a suppressed firearm does.


Shoot All Week

Another gun post. Title's a reference to the Henry repeater, "the damn Yankee rifle they load on Sunday and shoot all week." It's a pun: "repeat" and "firearms", i.e., another gun post.
  • Had occasion to get down to brass tacks about my coil vulcans. The man-portable, three-barrel ones fire relatively standard HEIAP ammunition with ferrous-metal "driving belts" (which some modern .50 caliber machinegun rounds seem to have), to give them 20-millimeter performance in a 13-millimeter package. The six-barrel ones mounted on aircraft are 30 millimeter, basically a magnetic version of the GAU-8 or GSh-6-30.

    Instead of "spinning up" electrically, like most American vulcans, or via gas, like the Soviet ones, I think 24th-century coil vulcans actually do it with their recoil—and given a 390-gram 30-millimeter round at 845 m/s has a muzzle energy of 139.235 kilojoules, the recoil is considerable. You might as well get some use out of it. (Yes, you can use recoil to spin part of a gun; the Mateba and Webley autorevolvers did it, along with cocking the hammer.)
  • The coil-vulcans mounted on battle-spacecraft ("starfighters") are only 5.56 millimeter, because they go at 1% c and mass only 4 grams, the same as M855 "ball" M16 bullets. The kinetic energy calculator says the muzzle energy for that is 4.3 megagrams of TNT.

    You can counter part of that with a soft recoil system, but that usually only halves the recoil energy, so you're still talking about slamming the vessel with just over two tonnes of TNT every time the thing fires. Maybe those ones spin up electrically, and the topological inertia protections keep the guns from tearing the ship apart.

    Ooh, I like that. The topological protection would cause huge "muzzle flare" for the people who use topological sensors. (Since they use metric-patching guns, their own weapons are equally detectable, if not more so.)
  • Brought back bayonets on zled lasers. Since my favorite weapons are halberds, thought I'd have their bayonet be heavy, for chopping as much as stabbing. The shape would be a bit like a skeggöx "beard" (some of which came to a point), upside-down and at a somewhat different angle.

    The bottom half of the hexagonal prism that forms the outside of zled lasers has an accessory rail set in it, something like the Smith & Wesson TRR8 . The bayonet attaches to the rail, rather than with a special lug or socket. They don't need a laser-pointer, because laser weapons can be used for their own, by using the same optics as the weapon does: the dot you're sighting with suddenly explodes. (You can also use the laser's optics for a scope; zled lasers have a little panel that pops up under the rear sight to show a reflex-image of the laser-optics picture.)

    Their long lasers are 117.7 centimeters long, of which 91.4 cm is the optical cavity. That's the equivalent of a human having a gun 97.7 centimeters long—and remember, they wear their lasers like swords. 97.7 centimeters is about seven centimeters shorter than the M1860 light cavalry saber.
  • Decided my zled anti-materiel laser does about 30 kilojoules; it's about five thirds as strong as the .50 BMG we use in our anti-materiel rifles, and about three-fifths as strong as the 20×110 millimeter round used in the strongest anti-materiel rifles currently in existence.

    The normal zled laser is 10 kilojoules, which is high for an infantry weapon but not unreasonably, for a society where all soldiers wear armor (also where they don't have to worry about recoil). I have the anti-materiel laser use the same power-cartridge as the normal ones; it just goes through them three times as fast.

    The anti-materiel ones are basically the same shape as the standard ones, but their lenses are wider, so they can focus at a longer range.
  • The laser equivalent of machinegun fire is continuous-beam; burst-fire is presumably a brief zap for a set period of time. Since for optical wavelengths you have to pulse the zaps, you can talk about the "burst" in terms of the number of pulses.

    Whether "burst" or full auto-fire, the main way you use it is to keep the enemy behind cover while your allies advance, just like machinegun fire. As anyone who's played Reach (at least on Legendary) will tell you, continuous beams are just as likely to make you keep your head down as a machinegun is.
  • I think I've pointed out that the oft-quoted "shots per enemy kills" numbers don't actually show anything about "reluctance to kill", they show use of suppressive fire. Besides, we don't actually have a way of tracking how many rounds have been fired; at least some of those "shots" stats actually use "rounds shipped over" (e.g. to Vietnam) as a proxy measure for "rounds fired"—never mind they're two quite different things.

    But apparently, one of the major studies often cited in support of the "reluctance to kill" interpretation, the famous one by Brig. Gen. S. L. A. Marshall, was, at best, deeply flawed...if not fake. Apparently Marshall didn't even actually ask the people he interviewed the questions he claimed to be answering—as in "how often did you fire?" or "how often did you actually shoot to hit the enemy rather than just at him?"

    Of course, none of that changes the fact artillery, not small-arms fire, is the main killer on battlefields. There was a reason Stalin called it the God of War. (Well, in premodern war, dysentery was the main killer, but the only people who'd name that "God of War" are Nurgle's Plague Marines.)
  • This paper (Google the title to find the article as a pdf) says it takes 6 megajoules to accelerate an 18-kilogram projectile to 420 m/s. Now, .50 BMG Raufoss, like the coil-vulcans basically shoot, has a muzzle velocity of over twice that—915 m/s—which comes out (if it scales linearly) to 13 and 1/14th megajoules. Of course, the projectile masses only 43 grams, not 18,000, which (agaim, assuming linear scaling) means a power-requirement of 31,226.1905 joules. That means to power the coil-vulcan for 1000 shots requires a silicon-air battery massing only 1.65 kilograms.

    Late addendum: The GSh-6-30 shoots 390-gram bullets at 845 m/s. That would mean that firing each shot takes 43,591.2698 joules, which, assuming 1,350 rounds (the maximum capacity of the A-10 Thunderbolt) requires a silicon-air battery of 1,148.75 grams. That's about the size of a motorcycle's battery.

    The aircraft autocannon's battery is smaller than the "1,000 shots at 31 kilojoules" battery because I did the first one backwards, and divided the battery's energy density by the power requirement instead of the power-requirement by the energy density. The correct battery size for the 13-millimeter coil vulcan would be 609.55 grams, the same as a lithium-ion battery used for power-tools nowadays.
  • Zled uniforms are armored; they can block the "sidearm" hand lasers up to pretty close (within about thirty meters, typical "battle zero" for the Beretta M9; up to ten meters, they keep the wound smaller, reducing the bleeding), and at least are better than "exposed skin" against the long laser (so it's only lethal out to, say, half a kilometer instead of a whole one). The interesting thing is, the main way the uniform is armored is it's got a layer of energy-dissipating stuff sandwiched inside it, peeking out at the ruffles on the cuffs; the cuffs glow when the uniform has to dump a lot of energy.

    Zled powered armor isn't just powered in terms of lifting assistance (which, given it's designed for people who can lift several times their own weight, is really just "cancel out its own weight and that of any other equipment"). It's also made of "smart" material, adjusting its molecular structure to cope with any attack. The only way to get through is to hit it with too much to cope with at once; zled long lasers can do it by hitting from about 150 meters away, their hand lasers from about a sixth that. Humans do it with anti-materiel rifles or actual anti-tank grenades.
  • If the Serdyukov SPS is the future-y Makarov, what's the future-y version of the M1911 (America's service pistol for most of the Makarov's run)?

    My vote is the Detonics Defense MTX, an entry for the Modular Handgun System competition for picking the M9's replacement—which somehow manages to be a 10(+1)-round M1911 while still being .45 ACP.

    If one wanted a futuristic M9 (America's service pistol when it won), I would go with either the Px4 (P×4?) Storm, or possibly the 90two. Probably the first one, just to punish the 90two for its stupid name.


All I Survey IV

Random thoughts.
  • I made my AIs be in Prolog because Prolog is cool, and also because Prolog is a big deal in AI. I may have to specify, though, that they're actually in Prolog and JavaScript; Prolog is declarative-only, JavaScript is imperative.

    Why JavaScript, and not, say, Python? Python's not an ISO standard. JavaScript is. Why, then, not C#, which is very similar to JavaScript and is an ISO standard? There are a whole bunch of bridges between Prolog and JavaScript, many more than there are between Prolog and C#.

    I guess I'll be adding references to ISO 16262, then.
  • That thing I harp on about people putting things in their work that are dictated by "drama" rather than "what makes sense", has made it very difficult for me to watch movies and TV. For instance, one complaint I had about Dark Matter (really about the only one) was the part when the android (that's her name, "the android", they're going for a weird minimalist approach with the whole series and somehow it doesn't piss me off) goes out on the hull of the ship to fix something, and gets knocked out by the static on the hull. Um..."tether"? The barely-Iron Age ancient Hebrews knew about that one, they tied a string around the priest's leg before he went into the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur, so if he was struck dead by the presence of God they could get his corpse out without violating the sanctum.

    Or, everything in Jurassic Park (the first one) that has to do with the Velociraptors. Aside from their naked skin and sideways hands and having voice-boxes, I mean. For instance, that redshirt guy who dies at the very beginning? Well, how the hell did that happen—except that they designed their pen incredibly badly? Leaving to one side that one raptor would not be strong enough to move the car-thing, we, um, kinda have a handle on moving big, dangerous animals so your staff don't get eviscerated. A Velociraptor—even if we're pretending that's a senior synonym of Deinonychus, and was noticeably smarter than a sparrow (which it wasn't)—is not more dangerous than a Bengal tiger. It's probably a lot less dangerous. We are talking about a cassowary here, basically, those aren't even as dangerous as peccaries, let alone Bengal tigers.
  • I found on the the intertubes that Kenshiro, the human-mimetic robot, uses (=is capable of outputting) five times the power its predecessor Kojiro could. And I find that the motors on Kojiro have 40 watts of output power, and there are about a hundred of them. Now, I don't know if that means 40 watts each or 40 watts total; I'll assume the former.

    That means Kojiro has a power requirement of 4 kilowatts—comparable to DARPA's Atlas—and therefore that Kenshiro has a requirement of 20. If true, that means over 200 times the energy requirements of an average human being (2000 kcal/24 hours=96.85 watts). That's also 78.57% more power than is used by TOPIO, but remember, Kenshiro also has (64/39=)64.1% more degrees of freedom than TOPIO (and 16/7 as many degrees as, =128.6% more degrees than, Atlas).

    Remember also that Kojiro and Kenshiro are barely even an "alpha"-build on human-mimetic robotics. Remember thirdly that with the average 72 kWh laptop battery, you can power a 20 kW system for 3 hours 36 minutes—and with 24% of its mass (the percent of the average human's mass that's fat) made up of polyvinyl-gel lithium-air battery (11.14 kWh/kg), you can power a 180 centimeter, 74-kilo version of Kenshiro for 9 hours 53 minutes 32.35 seconds.
  • Changing the way my human ships are named. I had gone with a Chinese-style system—"Type [Number]"—which is how they name e.g. missiles, and indeed also naval ship-classes, in China, but not how they name spaceships or aircraft. So at first I went with the same system as my guns: a two-letter abbreviation of the company name (e.g. GA for General Atomics), followed by a one-letter abbreviation for the type of ship (M for mothership, E for escort ship, P for patrol ship, etc.), then a number.

    But then I decided to change it to the actual Russian system for naming aircraft (my gun-naming is a modification of the Russian one), with a two-letter representation of the names of companies that are single words ("Ka-27", a helicopter from Kamov), before the number, and a three-letter one for companies with two-word names ("MiG-29", the fighter plane from Mikoyan-Gurevich). "KoE-382 mothership" has a nice ring.

    The number after the prefix is "years since 1945 that it was introduced", because they're Peacekeeper ships and the UN was founded in 1945. The aforementioned KoE-382 was introduced in 2327. (That's also where I get the numbers for the guns.)
  • Revising that classificatory scheme gave me an idea for the zledo: so now, instead of collating things by letter and number, they collate them by the periodic table. So, e.g, instead of "Variant C" or "Model 14", they say "Lithium Variant" or "Silicon Model". (Still think they add sub-versions numerically, but ordinally—"Oxygen Model, third variant" would be our "Model 8, version 3".)
  • I think that the idea of rugged individualism on the American frontier, which as I have pointed out has no reference to reality, may have been born of literary romanticism. No, I don't mean dime-novel Westerns, as much as those did distort the popular conception of the pioneer phenomenon.

    I mean the Transcendentalists, who, after all, were the big thing in American literary and intellectual life just before the pioneering enterprise really kicked into high gear. Sure, the fact is that nobody was really self-reliant out here, except some half-demented hermits; sure, the "pioneers" were people who jailed you for cussing and hanged you for stealing livestock. But the idea of getting away from society and its supposed corrupting influence, living a "self-reliant" life in a state of nature more unrealistically idealized than any two "Noble Savage" theorists, was a powerful influence on the popular conception of the frontier.

    Transcendentalism covers the period from about 1836 up into the 1870s or even 1880s, though it lost influence starting around 1850. That pretty much is the "frontier era". And they were huge; the American branch of Romanticism is almost inseparable from Transcendentalism.
  • Apparently it's hard to make lithium-air batteries rechargeable...and lithium reacts violently with water, kinda a big deal for robots that have to live in environments humans do. Not to worry, though, silicon-air batteries are, according to Wikipedia, more efficient, theoretically (they're just as hard to recharge but my thing's set in the 24th century, they've had time to work on it). The new number given for silicon-air (a new study, maybe?) is 14.23 kWh/kg; that lets a 74-kilo, 180-centimeter Kenshiro-clone that's 24% battery operate for 12 hours 38 minutes 10.46 seconds.

    I'm keeping the gel itself as a subcutaneous layer of polymer. It's subcutaneous not to supply all the body with power (most of the power is supplied by wiring), but to evenly distribute the "like a three-year-old" weight of the battery. It's also brightly colored (dyed), because it looks cool, but also because you want to be able to know when your robot has been punctured. I'd said it was polyvinyl, but that turns out to only mean PVC (polyvinyl chloride), and apparently the main polymers used in batteries are things like PAN (polyacrylonitrile). It has a number of properties to recommend it.

    They don't really need to cause the liquid PAN to solidify when exposed to air under conditions other than the oxidation of the silicon suspended in it—i.e. clotting, to keep them from bleeding to death—because my androids normally have a small amount of limited-lifespan nano-bot goo, for self-repair. In an emergency where the nano-bots weren't working fast enough, they could probably spray something on the wound to harden the "blood" around it.
  • My setting has something called "toothpaste", but it's actually mouthwash. Mouthwash with non-replicating nano-bots suspended in it, that activate when inside a mouth, and seek out and destroy plaque and germs. "Paste", you see, as distinct from "goo", is the term for non-replicating nano-bots.

    They also have programmable nano-bot hair-gel, because of course they do (it can also act as dye—dye that can be removed at a moment's notice). People wear shirts powered by their bioelectric fields that have slogans in light-emitting polymers; I think some people might wear programmable images and patterns on their clothes.

    Nobody has moving images on their shirts, though, because that would be freaking annoying. "I'm a walking animated Flash-ad"—that's not a sentence that would ever be spoken by a mouth with all its teeth.


Blast It

I should've realized that you can't necessarily fit all the explosive inside the grenade. 30 grams of ONC has a volume of 14,563.11 cubic millimeters, whereas the "based on shotgun slug" grenade-design I was using only has a volume of 5,282.41 cubic millimeters—the HEDP round would need to be 2.76 times the volume of the slug. The 20.71 grams of ONC for the air-burst one, meanwhile, has a volume of 10,053.4 cubic millimeters, a volume 1.9 times that of the slug.

All is not lost; a polymer-cased grenade is presumably much less dense than a slug. (I find, incidentally, that the slug in question, given its mass and volume, has roughly the density of thulium, 9.33 g/cm3. It's also the density of the molybdenum-alloy "mandrels" used for piercing stainless steel tubes, so, maybe they're made of that, for improved armor-piercing characteristics?) If we wanted to make the HEDP round work the same, it just has to be 62.83 millimeters long, or about as long as a modern 3" shotgun shell (remember, shotgun shells' actual length is about half an inch shorter than their listed length); the air-burst round has to be 43.25 millimeters long, or about as long as a 2.25" shell.

One thing this probably means is that, while they can load tubular magazines with any combination of shot, slugs, and grenades they feel like, they have to load box magazines with all the same thing. (Actually if the 1.75" Aguila "minishell" is any indication, they may have to load their tube-magazines with all one thing too, or else have some mechanism to vary the "size" of the motion in the feed mechanism. Apparently the minishells have feeding problems in many guns.)

Les armes à feu spéculatives 3

Thoughts on SFional guns.
  • Recently had occasion to design my setting's .50 BMG equivalent. .50 BMG is actually exactly 13 millimeters, I don't know where that "12.7×99mm NATO" business comes from. The bullets are typically a full 60 millimeters long. Now, to move a 49-gram bullet at 860 m/s requires 14.515 grams of nitrocellulose propellant, so it'd take 6.096 grams of octanitrocubane. 6.096 grams of ONC (density 2.06 g/cm3) has a volume of 2959.369 cubic millimeters.

    Going with the base-area of the .50 BMG, which has a case-diameter of 20.4 millimeters, resulted in a somewhat gawky final product (the propellant "casing" went less than halfway up the bullet). So instead we're gonna go with the shoulder diameter, 18.1 millimeters. Now we just say that the cylindrical volume of a cylinder of that base-area, height undefined, minus the volume of the bullet, equals the volume of the propellant. Then we add the volume of the bullet and propellant, divide by the case area, and get a height for the "casing" (actually the propellant) of 42.45 millimeters. The "casing" sticks out 2.55 millimeters around the bullet (and out from behind it), and goes 39.9 millimeters up the side.

    Hence, I guess, my Peacekeepers' sniper-round is "13×43". With an overall length of 62.55 millimeters, and a total cartridge-weight of 55.1 grams, it's a lot lighter than a round of .50 BMG, which weighs 116.8 grams. That means that your sniper can carry a lot more ammo—over twice as much. Currently, .50 BMG snipers usually carry 50-100 rounds, which weighs 5.84-11.68 kilos; 100 rounds of the caseless only weighs 5.51 kilos.
  • Apparently, I was wrong, octanitrocubane would not smell like camphor. It's in the same family of explosives as RDX and HMX; the former is what's in C4. Commercial C4 has "odorizing", "taggant" additives put in to make bombs made of the stuff harder to hide (I don't think the military bothers)—the main "taggant" in the US is apparently very noticeable to dogs, I don't know how noticeable humans find it. But apparently, on its own, it smells "bituminous", i.e. tarry. Personally I like that smell, like fresh asphalt, but I'm apparently in a minority on that one.

    Also, I must be more careful about specifying it's denatured octanitrocubane. ONC, see, is a high explosive; firearm propellants are low explosives—they deflagrate (burn) rather than detonating (kablooie). But, when Heckler and Koch were making the G11's caseless ammo, they (in order to solve "cooking off" issues) used a propellant consisting mostly of RDX, denatured so it would burn slowly enough to propel ammunition—and not explode in the user's hand. (The reason they went with RDX is it's harder to ignite than nitrocellulose is, hence it solved the "cooking off" problem caused by no longer having the ejection of spent casings for a heat-sink.)
  • Recalculating, I find I can, in fact, have my 12-gauge round be caseless. Went with twenty pellets of #3 buckshot, the same as was used in the M576 buckshot-grenade for the old M79 grenade launcher—which isn't really a grenade, it's literally a shotgun shell you shoot from a grenade launcher. But I decided to make the pellets out of the same tungsten alloy as those found in the QBS-09; taking their diameter of 5.3 millimeters and their mass of 1.4 grams, we get a density of 17.96 g/cm3, which makes #3 buckshot (diameter 6.4 millimeters) weigh 2.465 grams—twenty of them mass 49.3038 grams. I'll come back to that.

    Decided to make the propellant straight nitrocellulose, not denatured ONC, for this one: we want the propellant to take up room. The loading tables for a 49-gram load say it takes 2.0088 grams of powder; that, in nitrocellulose (density 1.40 g/cm3) has a volume of 1434.857 cubic millimeters. Now, the closest you can pack spheres still results in wasted space—the maximum efficiency of packing equal spheres is 74.048%. Twenty pellets of #3 buck has a volume of 2745.166 cubic millimeters; in effect, though, it has a volume of 3707.279 cubic millimeters, wasting 962.113 cubic millimeters. We just have to fill that in, though, with our propellant. The remaining 472.744 cubic millimeters? We divide that up among the twenty pellets, solve the resulting volume for its radius, and come up with a coating .17 millimeters thick. Interestingly, #3 buckshot with that coating exactly comes to the edge of a 20-millimeter diameter circle when you pack it hexagonally, as if this arrangement were fore-ordained.

    You stack your twenty pellets in one layer of seven, one layer of three, one layer of seven, one layer of three. I checked, it fits. This arrangement results in a round 24.29 millimeters long, and, again, 20 millimeters in diameter; the remaining volume around the pellets and propellant is presumably filled up by some kind of flammable filler—"liquid wadding"?—to make up the rest of the cylinder. (I envision it being a clear, resinous-looking substance, I'm not sure why except that it'd look awesome.)
  • Now, it turns out I miscalculated before, on the number of rounds a shotgun can hold; shotgun-shell lengths are apparently the length of the casing before being crimped down (or after firing), and are about half an inch longer than the actual length of the round. So 2.75" shells are really 2.25 inches long; a QBS-09's magazine is 28.575 centimeters long, the Benelli M4 and Remington 870's magazines are 40.005 centimeters, and the Mossberg 590's magazine is 45.72 centimeters. That means the QBS-09 can hold eleven rounds (nearly twelve—its 24th-century equivalent probably the full dozen) of our caseless 12-gauge round, the Benelli and Remington can hold sixteen, and the Mossberg can hold eighteen (nearly nineteen—the full nineteen, again assuming a generous future).
  • A shotgun slug with a weight of 49 grams isn't all that unusual, though that's kinda a big one (1.75 ounce). But it requires the same amount of nitrocellulose the buckshot does; with this one, we can go with ONC. I find a typical 12-gauge slug is about 17.65 millimeters in diameter and 21.59 millimeters long. That requires (2.0088/2.38=)843.696 milligrams of ONC, which has a volume of 409.561 cubic millimeters. Treating the slug as a cylinder, we find that the denatured-ONC propellant "casing" sticks out from it 1.175 millimeters, and goes 16.94 millimeters up the side of the slug. That brings its total length to 22.765 millimeters, meaning it pretty much fills out shotgun magazines the same way its buckshot counterpart does (you could carry one extra in a Benelli, Remington, or Mossberg).

    Presumably the shotgun grenades would have the same mass as the slug, and the same amount of propellant. There's basically no easily available information on the 20 mm kind, but I find that an "air burst" 40 mm grenade contains 32 grams of OCTOL (air-burst seems to be the main thing the OICW would've been used for—same seems to go for the less-experimental, or at least less canceled, Daewoo K11 and Chinese ZH-05). Now, ONC (not denatured this time) is six-elevenths more effective than OCTOL, so to get the same explosive yield requires only 20.71 grams; the rest is the casing and fuze. The armor-piercing type of 40 millimeter grenade requires 45 grams of Composition A; ONC is 48.75% more efficient than Composition A, meaning it'd take a full 30 grams to make an AP grenade (presumably they can miniaturize the fuze and make an ultra-light casing, it's the 24th freaking century).
  • Do you remember my coil vulcans? They use the "gatling" mechanism to reduce wear on the coils. Well, it occurred to me, the likely ammunition for that gun, whether vehicle-mounted or carried by powered-armor troopers, is something like the Raufoss Mk. 211 High Explosive Incendiary Armor Piercing round, which uses a steel core and a tiny amount of RDX to accomplish, in a .50 BMG round, effects you usually need 20 mm to achieve. Of course, being a coil-gun round, some of it's going to be different—it'd probably have at least a small amount of exposed iron, for instance (maybe a "driving band" like on artillery shells?).

    Average troops equipped with lifting exosuits could use it with a tripod, maybe, though I don't know of anyone who's used the GAU-19 (chambered in .50 BMG) that way—and the Soviet Yak-B machinegun is only used on the Hind. You would need powered-armor troopers to use the thing without a tripod; the recoil of the GAU-19 is 2.2 kilonewtons at 1,300 rounds per minute, but goes down to 1.7 at 1,000 rds/min and up to 2.8 at 2,000. It takes about 2.7 kilonewtons to knock over a 113-kilo man (a basketball player, specifically, in what's basically a horse-stance); therefore, it takes only 1.7 kilonewtons to knock over a 70-kilo man in the same posture (not that you stand like that while shooting a machinegun). Presumably for handheld, or even mere tripod applications, you'd keep the rate of fire at 1,000 rds/min.

    A thousand Raufoss-equivalent rounds would weigh 43 kilos; each link of a disintegrating belt weighs about 2 grams, a thousand of which is another 2 kilos, bringing the total to an even 45. The GAU-19/B weighs 48 kilos, so you really want that power-lifting exosuit—which may also be necessary to using the thing by hand, I wouldn't be surprised if the reason nobody uses .50 BMG tripod guns now is the sheer difficulty of pointing the thing. (By going with titanium instead of steel, the links could weigh as little as 1.1 kilos; and if we use polymer like the LSAT—which you may have to, with caseless—1,000 links weighs only 500 grams.)
  • One thing I realized, since my setting's "assault rifle" is chambered in something that approximates .30-06: they don't need much special equipment to be a "designated marksman". So, in my setting, there is no DMR; they just attach a bipod and scope to the standard assault rifle via its accessory-rail.

    Since it's a bullpup AK-type assault rifle, I guess it looks like the Polish Jantar carbine (prototype/demonstrator). Or, even more, like the Kalashnikov Concern AS-1 and AS-2, of which there seems to be, more or less, one image on the whole internet. (Your guess is as good as mine why they're green.)

    While I'm at it, the bullpup ARs my USMC uses, are basically like this, the K&M Arms modernized Bushmaster.
  • The main underbarrel grenade-launcher used in my setting is also a shotgun, like a cross between the M26 Modular Accessory Shotgun System and the M576 buckshot grenade in reverse.

    It occurred to me that my Peacekeepers would classify all their shotguns as grenade-launchers—because it's no longer the least bit remarkable that they can be used for 20 millimeter grenades. It's not that uncommon to classify things oddly, in militaries; several Russian shotguns are designated as carbines, and not all of them have rifled barrels like the KS-23. Or how about the US's pathological aversion to the words "light tank"?

    I'm not sure how prevalent 40 millimeter grenades are, for my Peacekeepers, though zledo use their equivalent here and there. I suppose the humans probably prefer the 20 millimeter ones for the high end of "small arms", and use the 40 millimeter grenades for their equivalent of the Mk. 19 grenade machinegun (and its successors).


Sierra Foxtrot 6

SF thoughts.
  • Turns out I was apparently overestimating the collective mass of the human species. Our average mass, including children, is 50 kilograms. Since a hefty proportion of our population is not full-grown, we actually mass more like 350 billion kilos. The Earth, for comparison, masses 6 septillion kilos. (Or, humanity as a whole masses 350 teragrams, but the Earth masses 6 yottagrams...meaning the Earth is 17,142,857,100 times the mass of all of humanity.)

    Remember that next time a Watermelon Green waxes overwrought about this "tiny" planet. Also, the mass of the Earth's atmosphere is 5 quintillion kilos, i.e. 5 zettagrams. That's relevant not only to discussions of climate, but also (and in my estimation more importantly) to discussions of whether terraforming by any society that we'd recognize as ours (and still recognize as such when it finishes) is good science fiction or rank nonsense.
  • There are two shows on Syfy right now that involve space-travel—I know, I'm scared too. One, Killjoys, is fair-to-middlin'; the other, Dark Matter, is (so far) genuinely good.

    Killjoys' problem is its bad worldbuilding, basically. You wouldn't be mining in person in that kind of setting, certainly not for yttrium—yttrium being one of those metals it's a lot easier to get from asteroids, when you have the option, and putting boots on an asteroid is a waste of money. Likewise you wouldn't be harvesting crops with migrant farm-workers, certainly not outdoors (indoor farming is a lot more efficient, both in terms of land-use and in terms of crop yield—you grow the crops under magenta light).

    We haven't seen as much of Dark Matter's worldbuilding, but that's a good thing: they reveal their setting gradually, and the characters' amnesia justifies their being as in-the-dark as we are. Dark Matter also has a much more likable cast of characters and a more livable setting, since, unlike Killjoys, it's not composed entirely of bad dystopia clichés (piled up without regard for whether they make a lick of sense).
  • I wonder if people are going to think that the fact zledo call the space-fold drive "the light-speed bridge" is a Transformers reference, i.e. to the space-bridges. It's not; I had been only very casually a fan of Transformers when I decided that's what they call it (if "those are kinda cool but I can name exactly three of them" counts as even "very casual" fandom).

    No, actually, zledo calling their FTL "light-speed bridge" is a reference to Hilaire Belloc's essay "On Bridges". Specifically, to this part:
    A bridge is a violation of the will of nature and a challenge. "You desired me not to cross," says man to the River God, "but I will." And he does so: not easily. The god had never objected to him that he should swim and wet himself. Nay, when he was swimming the god could drown him at will, but to bridge the stream, nay, to insult it, to leap over it, that was man all over; in a way he knows ... that all that he dreads is his inferior, for only that which he reveres and loves can properly claim his allegiance. Nor does he in the long run pay that allegiance save to holiness, or in a lesser way to valour and to worth.
    In the same way, the zledo regard their FTL drives as "a violation of the will of nature and a challenge", except that they don't have the concept of "nature" in our sense of "happens on its own". But they do regard the FTL tech as a defiance of mere brute creation, something proper to man.
  • Another show that's out this season is Humans, or rather HUM∀NS (which I prefer to pronounce "Hum-for-all-n̩s"). It's kinda...not good. Actually it's terrible. The thing is a bunch of paint-by-numbers Transhumanist clichés, and none of the characters except William Hurt's (because he's never bad no matter what he's in) is worth a damn. Neither of the parents of the main family seems to mind, or even think it notable, that their kids will not so much as get up to answer a phone; later, when the dad leaves the room so his wife can talk to their daughter, the wife leaves too!

    And, seriously, you can't just skim the Wikipedia article on Transhumanism, throw the appropriate buzzwords into your dialogue, and call it a day. Give us an actually original take on the idea of AI, or don't waste the money on a show about it. Of course, this show doesn't actually waste any money on anything, because it is set, in all regards, in the contemporary UK. It's apparently set in 2046, i.e. 31 years in the future, but all their material culture looks just like that now. Because nothing will change in 31 years—everything we have now looks exactly as it did in 1984, right?

    Also, come on, 2046? You think we'll have androids that can pass for humans in good light by then, or anyone actually wanting to use them for anything except a novelty? We might just maybe kinda sorta have some specialized applications of robots in some very few things; we might make much more use of automation in countries where the demographic collapse has been particularly harsh. But nobody who understands the problems with the TinmanTypist trope should expect much of that to involve androids, and nobody who plays many video games should be particularly sanguine about the reliability of any androids we do use. (I'll leave to one side the absurdity of anyone making self-aware androids—ever, let alone in 31 years.)
  • Supposedly, a tiger can hear a human heartbeat from twenty to thirty meters away. Now, if tigers' ears are as much better than human ears as cats' ears are—five times as good—then that's probably not right, given you can't hear a heartbeat from four to six meters away, but there is more to the story than brute acuity. Cats, and tigers, being solitary predators, are much better at picking certain sounds out from ambient noise.

    Another thing they can do is pinpoint a sound to within five degrees, which comes to eight centimeters a meter off—and 2.19 meters, at the aforementioned twenty-five meters (on average) that they can hear your heartbeat from. So, basically, though a tiger can't find you by scent (there's a saying somewhere in Southeast Asia, I forget where specifically, "If the tiger had to find food by his nose, he would starve"), it can find you very quickly by its ears.
  • One of the anime out this season, Classroom Crisis, about a voc-tech high school owned by a rocket company (on Mars) that's getting restructured by its parent corporation, was all right for the first two episodes, but then it filled me with rage. You ever hear of the "leftist sucker-punch", where something ideological sneaks into a work that's mostly irrelevant to politics? (The sucker-punch is also found in right-wingers—*cough*Terry Goodkind*cough*—but it was named by a conservative, I think John Nolte.)

    Well this show had an "idiot sucker punch". The accountant working for the corporate-shark type who's restructuring them gives their factory to the space-car division, then tells them they have to use the garage where their type of rocket was invented—which has been a museum for the last several decades—instead. And they sit there and take it!

    No, sorry. What would really happen would be the rocket-engineer/teacher would turn to her and say, "I'm sorry, what level math did your degree require again? Do you understand that none of this equipment has been used in decades, and to re-attach the utilities, and then run diagnostics, repairs, and replacements on the equipment—to say nothing of the lost time becoming familiar with decades-outdated equipment and the software it runs on—will cost as much as our old facility? To say nothing of whether you can even use this garbage to make contemporary rockets."

    It's basically this Dilbert strip. The reason I call it an "idiot sucker punch" is, it's obviously driven by consideration of "what will advance the plot", rather than "what makes sense" or "what is not an expression of open contempt for our audience". That's just as bad of work as that produced by inserting ideology, although it's probably less morally reprehensible.
  • The thing (well, one of the things) people forget when they generalize from chimps and bonobos to humans, is that our last common ancestor with that genus (Pan) lived 5 million years ago.

    5 million years ago, there weren't any mammoths or mastodons. Yet. I.e., entire lineages of elephant came into being and went extinct in the time separating Homo from Pan.
  • A 12-gauge cartridge is 20 millimeters in diameter. A 12-gauge slug, of course, is 18.53 millimeters in diameter—the diameter of a sphere of pure lead that will mass 1/12 of a pound—but, for purposes of military SF, the diameter of the cartridge is more useful (not least since it's a nice round number). So, the upshot? In my setting, 12-gauge is called "20 millimeter". I think the shotgun shells won't be caseless, but made of a material that is entirely burned up and expelled when the round is fired, something like the paper cartridges you'd see in the early 19th century.

    It's apparently quite common to use 2.75-inch-long rounds in military shotguns; that seems to be, for instance, what the QBS-09 semi-automatic shotgun uses, as do the US's military-issue Benelli M4s, Mossberg 590A1s, and Remingtom 870s. I don't know that you'd need quite that much room, given you need 42% as much octanitrocubane propellant to get the same performance you get from nitrocellulose propellant, but the biggest factor in how much space a 12-gauge round requires is the nine pellets of 00 buckshot. Packing the pellets as closely as possible—in triangles, not seven-sphere hexagons—apparently means a height of 22.5 millimeters, or just under one inch. The higher-powered loads of 12-gauge 00-buck seem to use about 2.46 grams of (nitrocellulose) powder, which is 1.03 grams of ONC; given ONC's optimal density of 2.06 grams per cubic centimeter, you're looking at exactly 500 cubic millimeters, which, at a diameter of 20 millimeters, is a disc 1.59 millimeters thick. If the pellets simply sit on top of the ONC "powder", you wind up with a shot-shell with a minimum length of 24.09 millimeters. Assume another, say, 14 millimeters, of wad, to bring the whole thing to an inch and a half long—38.1 millimeters.

    The QBS-09 has a magazine with a capacity of five rounds of 2.75-inch; the Benelli M4 and Remington 870 go up to seven rounds, while the Mossberg 590 can do eight. That is to say, the QBS-09 has an effective magazine capacity of 34.925 centimeters, the Benelli M4 and Remington 870 both have an effective capacity of 48.895 centimeters, and the Mossberg 590 has a capacity of 55.88 cm. If the rounds for those shotguns were only 3.81 centimeters long, then the QBS-09 could hold nine rounds, the Benelli and Remington could hold twelve, and the Mossberg could hold fourteen.


De scripturae romanicos physicales

Thoughts upon subjects directly or indirectly relevant to the writing of science fiction.
  • People seem to think DNA records information. But it doesn't. DNA is no more an information-storage medium than a player-piano or Jacquard loom is a computer—because that's what DNA is, a very complicated, chemical version of the rolls in a player-piano or the cards in a Jacquard loom (and no, none of those is actually "information" either). DNA and RNA do not "tell" anything how to make a protein; particular regions of them actually make the proteins—"template", the term used in polypeptide synthesis, is a manufacturing term, not a computer term. There is no information involved.

    There's a reason this misconception exists; it's a constant refrain in the grim dirge of human history. Humor theory came into existence in an era when hydraulics was cutting-edge tech. Descartes's "ghost in the machine" was in the heyday of clockwork, when half the cities in Europe were competing over who could build the most elaborate Glockenspiel. And this idea that DNA is information comes when the cutting edge of technology is computers. (If we enter an age dominated by biotech, I expect we'll see a Renaissance of hylozoism.)
  • I have elsewhere mentioned that the Bechdel test is worthless. But I thought it would be fun to illustrate why. Queen's Blade passes it. Triage X passes it. The anime of Blade and Soul passes it. Sekirei even passes it, and it's a harem/super girlfriend show.

    See, the Bechdel test is based upon a proxy-measure, so, like all proxy-measures, it's extremely unreliable, and can yield disastrously or at least ludicrously false positives. (That aspect of proxy-measures is why all "litmus tests" are suspect, religious tests for public office as much as stupid checklists for writers.)
  • I must correct myself: the time-dilation planet in Interstellar is not that way due to the planet's gravity. It's that way due to the gravity of the black hole it's orbiting. (Its time-dilation is "one second inside is seven years outside", which is to say a factor of 220,903,200.)

    Not that the origin of the time-dilation changes much; that level of time dilation means they can probably literally stick a hand out and touch the event horizon. The tidal effects at that distance mean the planet would probably have crumbled up and fallen into the black hole, leaving nothing behind but a plume of hard radiation. Long before that, the gamma-ray Hawking radiation as the black hole dissolved would've fried the planet into a lifeless cinder. Which is also what would happen to any ship approaching it. Also, that close to the black hole? The escape velocity is so close to lightspeed, it pretty much is lightspeed for all intents and purposes.

    Christopher Nolan should be known henceforth as Christopher J. Nolan—to commemorate the fact he obviously belongs to the Bert I. Gordon/Robert L. Lippert/Edward D. Wood, Jr. school of sci-fi filmmaking. (It's kinda like "Mark David Chapman" or "Lee Harvey Oswald" or "James Earl Ray". Actually, in "quality cinema" terms, it's exactly like that.)
  • Zledo, given their size and the fact they're in many respects more like a bird than a mammal, have a significant advantage in space-travel—and dogfights. See, apparently what determines your odds of going into G-LOC ("g-force loss-of-consciousness") is your blood-pressure: the higher the better. And if zledo are more like birds than like mammals, well, their "mean arterial pressure", given they're the same mass as an ostrich, is 145.5 mm Hg (ostriches in one study had a MAP of 165-220, while in another they ranged from 60-137; the average is 145.5).

    Humans' MAP ranges from 70 mm Hg to 110 mm Hg, so the average is 90. (I would use a more typical "systolic over diastolic" number, but that's not the format I get ostrich blood-pressures in, so I'm using the same stat for humans to get an apples-to-apples comparison.) Also notice that all but the lowest value for the ostriches is higher than the highest healthy one for humans; the 60 mm Hg ostrich (which is the minimum safe MAP for a human) was probably in some kind of trouble. (Not unlikely given those ostriches were sedated—you go take the blood-pressure of a conscious 300-pound omnivorous dinosaur, if you got a problem with that.)

    Huh, logically, that means women would have higher g-force tolerance...but only after menopause. (At which point I would imagine their risk of bone trouble more than makes up the difference, given that ejector-seats will literally make you shorter.)
  • Has anyone else noticed that all of the female villains in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. are that way because of something men did to them? Whedon got precisely what he deserved from Twitter feminists (not because there was anything wrong with Black Widow in Age of Ultron, but because when you ally with cannibals, eventually you wind up on the menu). While he might be a good little feminist ideologue, he actually doesn't seem to like women all that much.

    Now, in reality, of course, all villains should be motivated by something sympathetic; everyone in the real world is, with precious few exceptions. No, that historical figure you just thought of isn't an exception; that minor psychopath who makes his private life a living hell, that that other one of you thought of, might be one. But also, the fact is that women are much more likely to do things on behalf of other people than for abstract principles; study after study shows a marked difference in how the sexes conceptualize things like "duty". So it's quite likely that a female villain is likely to be acting from obligation to someone else, to protect those she loves or because of the ideals and goals of some other villain. Lady Macbeth was not something Shakespeare just made up.

    But that is not the same thing as every female villain only being that way because of abuse by men. Hell, most of Whedon's heroines are the same way; River, everyone in Dollhouse, Buffy herself when Whedon feels like denouncing his own characters and setting for things he made them do. (You know, like how the problems with Alien 3 and Resurrection are the fault of the director not spinning the straw of Whedon's script into gold.) You could chalk this up to Whedon being a by-the-book academic Marxist feminist theorist—the class-war arises from the oppressor (even in revolt the proles are dependent, in case you needed another reason to hate Marxism). But it's interesting that even a lot of feminists are starting to realize the problem, although (like Western Marxists confronted with the gulags) they claim it's because Whedon was never really a feminist, rather than because feminist ideology actually has a very low opinion of women.
  • Why do people in science fiction always age weirdly quickly? Not, like, in an Oisin/Urashima Tarô "what do you mean time-dilation isn't fairyland" kind of way; I mean how they die or are ancient at ages that are relatively young now. The lady running the station that gets Compiled in Halo 4 is supposed to be 51—but she looks a bit old to be early 50s by modern standards, let alone 26th-century ones. Or how Ripley's daughter died of old age, in Aliens? Yeah, well apparently in 2179, "old age" means 67, because Alien was set in 2122 and the kid was 11. People don't usually die of old age at 67 now!

    It's hard to find realistic projections of future lifespan, what with all the transhuman cultist-cranks running around, but it is quite reasonable to project lifespans over 100 years by the middle of this century, and probably a few decades longer for the 22nd-24th. On average, I mean; there would be people living for decades longer, just like we don't particularly raise our eyebrows at the occasional 90-year-old or centenarian.

    In order to determine what is or is not "old" for your setting, in terms of how characters are viewed by other characters of their society, what you do is, you take your projected future lifespan, and you compare it to modern ones. Say, e.g., that a woman in your future can expect to live to 114, where now she can expect to live to 81. Well, the average age of menopause now is 51, for your future setting, you divide 51 by 81, and multiply it by 114—menopausal women in your setting are just under 72, so, quite literally, their 50 is our 35. (Not sure where you put menarche: it happens earlier now than in most previous eras, between our better nutrition and the hormones in our water from contraceptives, among other things.)
  • The aforementioned transhuman cultists and their silly ideas about immortality (it's just barely conceivable that humans might someday live to 300, but immortality...not so much, or rather, snerk, not so much), are just one of many ways that people reveal themselves truly unable to cope with the scale involved in this cosmos. You see it also with environmentalists (many of whom are admittedly transhumanists). They really do think humanity can actually do something to "nature". In reality, even something like the Chicxulub impact is far beyond our capabilities—our entire planet's nuclear arsenal has a yield of 7,000 megatons, i.e. 7 gigatons. But Chicxulub was 100 teratons, i.e. 100,000 gigatons—i.e. 14,285 and 5/7 times our entire nuclear arsenal. And as you may have noticed, life on Earth survived Chicxulub (you could strip the planet's surface of life by nuking all of it, perhaps, but the relatively few detonations involved even in a major Mutually Assured Destruction nuclear exchange would leave the vast majority of the planet essentially untouched).

    The simple fact is that, physically speaking, human beings are, individually, 70 kilos of volatile chemicals in an equilibrious arrangement, and collectively, we don't even mass half a trillion kilos (490 billion is 10 billion short). Yes, we can screw things up, causing drastic problems for local ecosystems wherever we are. But life on Earth as a whole? It barely knows we're there. Hell, if you don't happen to be looking at the night side of the planet, when all our electric lights are lit up, you wouldn't be able to tell there was a technological species on this planet. Did you think it was odd that the very same people who embrace transhumanism's promise of giving humans godlike power should also espouse the environmentalist ideology's belief that humans are evil? Nonsense. Both ideologies are two sides of the same coin: total overestimation of humanity's capabilities. Or as House put it, "Technical term is narcissism. You can't believe everything is your fault unless you also believe you're all powerful."

    Speaking of human beings and their flawed estimations, how many environmentalists do you think understand that our conception of "normal" for this planet's climate is completely off-base? All human civilization—indeed, most of the genus Homo—has existed in an interglacial of the Quaternary Ice Age, which started 2.6 million years ago. But for most of the planet's life-history, there haven't been any ice-caps; the Antarctic one formed in the early Oligocene (33-odd million years ago), while the estimates for the Arctic one range between 700,000 years ago (the middle Pleistocene), and 4 million (the early Pliocene). Antarctica was in much the same place it is now, in the Cretaceous, but there was no ice-cap. (The other Ice Ages were the Huronian, which lasted from 2.4-2.1 billion years ago, right after the Great Oxygenation Event; the Cryogenian, AKA "Snowball Earth," which lasted from 850-635 million years ago and included the greatest glaciations in Earth's history; the Andean-Saharan which lasted from 450 to 420 million years ago; and the Karoo Ice Age, which lasted from 360 to 260 million years ago.)
  • People need to knock off the comparisons between freefall and diving. This was occasioned by a discussion of whether any astronauts had ever had sex in space, and someone said "Well, if divers do it..."

    But divers might as well be home in bed, compared to freefall. First off, if you're floating in water, you are by definition not falling. Does nearly everyone when they first get into the water, diving, throw up? Because that's what people do when they first get into freefall. Your circulatory system is also messed up, because the whole thing is used to having to push against a gravity well; you get blood pooling in your upper extremities. Possibly because of something with your circulation, or because of something else being out of whack, you also lose a lot of immune function.

    (Incidentally, it's extraordinarily unlikely that anyone has ever had sex in space, or ever will until we develop some kind of artificial gravity; certainly there is no evidence for it, other than one proved hoax and one, possibly two, totally unevidenced and very doubtful rumors about particular astronauts. Aside from the fact that for the first few weeks, people spend a lot of time "just having thrown up", which is not exactly sexy...you have the, uh, circulatory issues. Blood-flow is kinda important to sex, you know? And finally, there's basically no privacy up there. Maybe enough for changing clothes, but for sex? Very doubtful.)


The Dimension of Depth

Bit of a rant. Ain't done nothing like this in a while, eh? (Title's a Walt Disney quote: "We have created characters and animated them in the dimension of depth, revealing through them to our perturbed world that the things we have in common far outnumber and outweigh those that divide us.")

Among the six shows out this season that I thought were worth watching (there's probably more than that: this is a good season), is Plastic Memories. I think I'm going to stop watching it, because of its central conceit.

Now, like most anime about robots, the four-year lifespans and centrality of memory should be pretty familiar, because they are of course borrowed from Blade Runner. All anime with robots in them are riffs on Blade Runner; this is not unoriginality, any more than jazz is, because the fun of both is in seeing what this particular person will do with their riffs. You can get things as disparate as Naomi Armitage and Dorothy Wainwright out of that well.

But the thing is, the replicants' four-year lifespan was engineered in, to keep them from accumulating enough experience to question their lot (although then implanting memories derived from humans' experiences more or less neuters that; I think the plot-hole was present in the book too—been a while since I read it—and it's best not to apply non-schizophrenic logic to a Phil Dick story). You wouldn't build AIs like that without it being intentional; if your AI has a four-year lifespan, keep working on it. (I will allow "rampancy" in Bungie games because those are "neural clones", and the emulation is unstable, which emulators often are.)

The Giftias in Plastic Memories, though, have a four-year lifespan because apparently their designers said "Aeh, close enough." Who would design a product like that? How would you go about incorporating them into people's lives (they gloss over whether Giftias are sold, or what) without someone pointing out it's practically emotional abuse to let them get attached to someone who can never live longer than four years without turning into a monster? Who would view the people who come to "retrieve" Giftias as anything other than Dr. Deaths propping up a callous, monstrously incompetent system?

Understand, I don't think that Plastic Memories has a pro-euthanasia agenda, or anything—indeed, I think its plot is slightly tone-deaf for a society with Japan's demographics, in a way that no competent person advocating such a policy would be. I think that the people behind it just wanted to make a show about people whose job is "retiring" obsolete robots and how they angst about it.

But that's not how you do science fiction, not if you're an adult. The premise of Plastic Memories is impossible, because nobody would leave an AI with that flaw, or mass-market them if for some reason the flaw wasn't fixable. There might be a slave-caste of four-year-lifespan androids for certain specialized tasks, but nobody else would ever see one unless they were dealing with the applications where androids are actually an advantage over humans. You could get quite a bit of interesting television out of that, but it wouldn't really work as a slice-of-life show with a slight romance angle. (It could give you "Lifetime movie cancer-patient" romance, coupled with lots of drama RE: the applications where a four-year lifespan for an employee is not a liability or is even an asset, but that would be a very different show from Plastic Memories.)

And that brings me to my point: the setting of Plastic Memories is not being treated as a world: it's being treated as stage-dressing.

The ane-ue, since I accidentally got her turned into a filthy strung-out junkie hooked on Transformers Prime, has put up a "character" Tumblr where (in between explaining Kzinti don't have external genitals Cybertronians are sexless beings and so cannot be shipped) she roleplays as Starscream. She's got a campaign up, protesting the callous way Starscream was treated by season three of the show, and by the movie, especially the ending—where, after spending an entire (half-length) season nerfed into full-bore comic relief that Team Rocket would pity, he gets comeuppance befitting an actual villain. Right after Megatron walks off Scot free, after basically saying that a few days of Unicron doing to him what he'd done to Starscream for millions of years made him have a change of heart.

The writers, in the third season, nerfed Starscream. They had him do stupid things like try to use brute force against Predacons (and forget that an ornithopter might as well be walking, if it has to keep pace with a jet), and let him be bullied by Miko, and somehow be able to be shaken up by jostling that a human being (which is not, to my knowledge, designed to take re-entry or multi-G turns, unlike a Seeker) had been just fine in. Why? Well, partly because they thought Stephen Blum made funny noises as "freaked out Starscream". But also because they were moving the plot from Point A to Point B, and needed to spotlight Miko as if she was a relatable character (rather than a future serial killer), and needed to have the Wreckers live up to their till-then somewhat hollow chest-thumping. (Not only was Starscream nerfed so Wheeljack could seem smart—that whole tracking-device debacle was Ender's Game levels of "we made everyone else stupid rather than come up with a decent plan for the hero"—but Soundwave was, too. And Soundwave's courtesy title, which properly precedes his name whenever used, is actually "Excellent work", even in the Bayverse let alone the Aligned continuity.)

They deliberately made Starscream small and sleek in this version, so he would have to use his wits—and then in the third season he becomes a witless moron. They let Soundwave, who is a communications device and has the Nemesis' ground-bridge slaved directly to his nervous system, so he can bridge people basically by flexing a muscle, get trapped between two ground-bridges (if the proximity of the two vortices holds them open, that needs to be stated—again, when it comes to technologies and phenomena you made up, "if you didn't say it, it didn't happen"...and that doesn't explain why Soundwave didn't just immediately bridge himself back again, with his sensors he'd figure out what was going on in a tenth the time it took Ratchet).

I realize that the final season was rushed, and they probably had to shoehorn the Predacons in. But that is my point: they were doing shoddy work, however good their excuse. (Besides, they did the same "this guy's totally evil, never mind we never really showed you that" thing with Breakdown, and that was in the second season.) It is shoddy work to treat a character as a counter on a game-board. It is shoddy work to treat a setting as stage-dressing. Why on Earth would Starscream, of all people, try to browbeat Predaking, who he knows is stronger than him? It's true he's a petty borderline-psychopath who loves power-trips: but he only trips on power he's got. He might very well zoom off, and proceed to pelt Predaking with missiles from "over-the-horizon" range (the only thing keeping him from doing that to Megatron—they've got cameras on missiles, so he wouldn't even miss the look on his face—is his huge mental block where Megatron is concerned), and then zoom back in to gloat, once Predaking was bludgeoned by concussion-effects and possibly glowing red-hot around the edges. It'd even make sense for him to do that, miscalculate, and get trounced by a Predaking who was less missiled-into-submission than Starscream thought. But hit it with a stick? Why the hell would he do that? Do Cybertronians even think of "random cylindrical bit of debris" as being a bludgeoning-instrument? Tool use actually appears to be genuinely secondary to their mindset, since their anatomy changes to accommodate their tasks.

I realize this impulse, to treat characters as props and settings as stage-dressing, has always been with us. "You'd only build a ship like the Nostromo if you knew it'd be the setting of a horror-movie." But I really think it's gotten worse lately. I don't know if it's the success of Game of Thrones (where the characters exist only to set up the "twists" and the torture-porn—and the regular kind), or ideology (certainly Miko—who, with her total lack of fear around thirty-foot metal Nazis, is the person Goren meant when he said "...Tweak the upbringing another way, [people like that] become psychopaths"—is probably an unusually virulent strain of the stupid version of "strong female character"), but writers seem to care less about character than they used to, even as recently as 2010 or so. (It'd be ironic if the animus against "Mary Sues", where everything works out okay for your character, were involved, given that Miko could basically have been created to be an example of a Mary Sue, and all.)

I think it might be a combination of factors; Whedon and Martin between them being praised for "torturing" their characters, only sometimes figuratively, for example, is almost certainly one—since valuing that kind of thing encourages treating characters as tokens on a game-board, and settings as the spaces they move around on. Certainly nobody who cares about worldbuilding in a work of speculative fiction can like Firefly or ASoIaF, since neither of those settings makes sense for ten consecutive minutes. Another might be the changing nature of media, between the diminishing returns for various kinds of producers and the way social media's affected "word of mouth", fiction-producers might be reacting with something akin to what's known in online media as "clickbait"—with more shallow "twists" and more spotlight on characters or character-traits the "community" likes, rather than on what actually serves the actual story in question. But is there any factor that makes this not bad work, even if it's bad work with an excuse? I'm thinking long and hard and can't find one.


Sierra and Two Foxtrots

Science fiction and fantasy. Most of the latter is related to RPGs.
  • I had wondered if I could get away with having one of my planets have no life, and yet have an atmosphere humans can breathe. See, oxygen is highly reactive, and ordinarily bonds to other things; it is only found on Earth in a free state because it's exhaled en masse by all our photosynthetic organisms. Things weren't always so, for life on Earth, and in fact the Great Oxygenation Event is believed to have caused a mass-extinction that makes the Great Dying look like a rounding-error, because almost everything then living on Earth was anaerobic. (The presence of free oxygen is a trait exoplanet searches look for, because it indicates a planet might be host to life of the stage after a Great Oxygenation.)

    But, fortunately, the planet in question is in orbit of a K-type star—it orbits at .25 AUs, which is the particular K-type star's Goldilocks Zone. And apparently, M-type stars, at least, might have planets whose atmospheres have free oxygen without life. See, while M-stars are much dimmer overall than Sol, they give off almost the same amount of far-UV light. Far-UV breaks up many oxygen compounds on contact with the upper atmospheres of planets. The amount of light in any wavelength falls off with the square of the distance, so a planet orbiting an M-type star in its Goldilocks Zone is getting far more far-UV than a planet orbiting a G-type star. This probably has little effect on its surface—atmospheres are almost entirely opaque to far-UV—but in the upper reaches of the atmosphere, oxygen is being freed from compounds by radiation, at a rate comparable to that done by organisms on Earth.

    I think I can brazen out that the same process is in play in orbit of a K-type star, although they're intermediate between M and G; certainly their Goldilocks Zone still gets a lot more far-UV than ours does, even if it's not quite as much as an M star's does.
  • It seemed silly to me that the scythe was listed as a martial weapon in 3e D&D, but on reflection it makes sense. If you aren't careful with a scythe, you'll chop the ankles of bystanders or possibly yourself. Plus you have to learn to sharpen it—you use a dry whetstone, and go by the sound. You can also do all kinds of things to a scythe by using it wrong, from loosening the handle to scratching it on the ground.

    And then it occurred to me that the typical human commoner wouldn't have to waste his one feat on Martial Weapon Proficiency (scythe)—because humans get two feats at first level. And of the PC-race humanoids (what we grognards reflexively call "demihumans"), only halflings are likely to need to scythe—elves, dwarves, and gnomes don't farm, at least not the kind of farming that requires scything down grass to make hay.

    If you read that Belloc essay, by the bye, you will discover where Tolkien got the Hobbits: the aboriginal inhabitants of Britain. Belloc says of them that it "is on account of their presence in these islands that our gardens are the richest in the world." He also says they "love low rooms and ample fires and great warm slopes of thatch", which is a Hobbit-hole summed up in twelve words.
  • I discover that a zled vocal apparatus isn't as much like a bird syrinx as I'd thought: since a bird syrinx is in the chest, at the bottom of the trachea, instead of in the neck, at the top, like human vocal cords. And, come to think of it, a human's vocal cords are as "hyoid" (y-shaped) as bird ones are—you have a vocal fold on each side of your windpipe—with the bird's lateralization actually being something different.

    So I guess zledo actually have a vocal apparatus wholly unlike anything found on Earth, instead having two layers of cord, one to make complex "speech" sounds and the other basically only trilling. The latter, I think, might be down lower, allowing a zled to almost deepen trilled sounds like a subwoofer—or like the only-partly-ossified Adam's apple of the pantherines, which can stretch out and vibrate much more deeply to let roars become louder.

    I'd already had zledo use trilled shouts—roars—which can carry for miles, for premodern military signaling. I would imagine that, for one thing, the need for military buglers wouldn't come up: your sergeants can literally bellow like lions. Lion roars can be heard five miles away, after all. (For more surreptitious signaling, the Signalers' Sodality used heliographs, which are still one of their symbols.)
  • Slightly redoing the zled year. I'd been using the "simple" way of calculating where a planet orbits: stick it at a spot where it gets the same amount of sunlight Earth does, relative to its star's luminosity. But you have a bit more wiggle-room than that, since habitable zones are often almost a whole AU wide; so I decided to stick Lhãsai a bit further out, giving them a year 532 Julian days long—shorter than their year was when their primary was 59 Virginis, but still noticeably different from Earth's.

    I also discovered that I can't stick the khângây at ν Phoenicis, which is where they'd been; its current estimated age of 5.7 billion years is a bit too old. Changed their primary to "HD 211415", AKA "GJ 853 A, HIP 110109, HR 8501, LHS 3790, LFT 1702, LTT 8943, SAO 247400," and a couple of other designations about as memorable as a ZIP code for a place you never send mail to. But, I think it might also be "37 G. Gruis"; that name shows up a bit in literature, and HD 211415's number, in the catalog the Gould designations (that's what the G. stands for) are from, is 37. It's in Grus ("the crane"), too, so I think that's its name (for some reason the genitive of grus is gruis—it's third declension, but most third-declension nouns don't end in -ús in the nominative). In my setting, the human colonials refer to the star as "Three-seven Golf Gruis"—when they don't just call it the khângây word for "sun", anyway.

    I had had the khângây have never thought their star went around their planet, but that might be unlikely: even at an orbital distance like the one I gave them (they have a slightly longer year than the zledo), the parallax of the nearest star to them (which is only about 1.2 light-years away—which probably changed their space-development substantially) is about 3.9 arc-seconds. The maximum naked-eye resolution for a human is .6 arc-minutes, which is 36 arc-seconds. Thus, they would need over 9.2 times the visual acuity of humans, and while their vision is markedly superior to that of humans in some respects, they have no need for the same eyes as a hawk, because they don't hunt anything like how a hawk does.
  • Was looking into a few things in Pathfinder. I kinda like their hybrid classes, although they're basically just doing what I was doing with 3.5's gestalt-class alternate rule, except neglecting paladins and psions—and incorporating the utterly superfluous oracle, witch, alchemist, and gunslinger. (Actually, I might give you alchemist.) But their decision to give wizards and sorcerers d6 hit-dice just doesn't sit right; mages should be "glass cannons". Sure, hybridization/gestalting can get you mages who use some other class's bigger hit-die, but when you go all-in for spell-power (the gestalt wizard-sorcerer, which is the hybrid class called "arcanist"—but also gestalt wizard-psion or sorcerer-psion), you should still be rolling d4s.

    "'Tis the duty of the wealthy man/To give employment to the artisan." Let those fighters and barbarians earn their keep by acting as bullet-sponges for the mage, dagnabbit!

    And seriously, anyone who has different stats for margays and cats, or parrots and kakapos (or, for that matter, for parrots and ravens): you are officially OCD. Give the cat a climb speed and you have a margay, or an ocelot for that matter (I'd give the margay the same climb as its run, and knock 10 feet off for the ocelot); give the raven an eagle's bite damage to make a parrot (actually regular ravens should have no claw damage at all, but should do 1d4 peck damage—they're not raptorines and don't use their talons, if their claws are even worthy of the name); take the parrot's fly speed away and you have a kakapo. You also don't need separate stats for deer and stags, since, y' know, stags are deer, and all.
  • I don't care for Pathfinder's flanderization of the races. Snooty elves, dirty ignorant goblins, workaholic dwarves? Why, what a bold new direction you're taking things in! If I were to do something that stupid (which I wouldn't), well, how about do it to humans for a change? Give every other race (except orcs and ogres) a +2 bonus to Spot checks to find humans—because of the smell. And make humans take penalties as if they were multiclassing even in their first class—"jack of all trades is master of none", after all.

    Personally I find it much more interesting to take the stereotype in a new direction. I've talked about my dwarves having a gift-economy, for example; that's something I hadn't seen people do with the "really love craft and wealth" stereotype. My goblins are a combination of the bugbears' stealth with the hobgoblins' warlike ways (and my "bugbears" are just the biggest, full-grown male hobgoblins). They are, however, still lawful evil—their stealth functions a bit like the Predator hunting-code. (My goblins don't eat intelligent beings, though, whereas my ogres—which includes orcs—do. Ogres and orcs just don't eat each other.)

    The elves in my campaign sometimes trick humans into dangerous situations, possibly including deadly ones—but only in adolescence, an age when (as an elf points out in the story I'm setting in my campaign) humans kill each other in duels over winks at bar-maids and break their neighbors' skulls in armed raids. My elves have some elements in common with Warcraft trolls, like axes and pointed teeth (though not tusks—and I made them the same height as humans now, though much lighter; bigger than humans was weird). I think their stealth, too, functions by a Predator-like code (cloak of elvenkind, anyone?), though of course it applies to fewer targets than the goblins'.
  • Decided that triangular casings on zled lasers requires just too big of triangles. A 6-centimeter (or, actually, 6.435—aliens, they don't use nice round numbers of our units) lens, to be inscribed in an equilateral triangle with a minimum "tube" thickness of .32175 cm (which is a nice round number relative to a zled unit), requires a side-length of 11.14575 centimeters. So decided that all their weapons are hexagonal; that means the 6.435 centimeter laser is only 8.17354 cm wide, which is much more doable (being almost exactly three centimeters less). (The hand-lasers, with 3.2175 cm lenses, are now only 4.4583 centimeters wide, where before they had been 5.5729 centimeters.)

    Also decided not to bother with scabbards for their swords: or at least, not fixed scabbards. Instead, both the swords and the lasers have retractable sheaths, which, in the swords, slide down from the hilt when a control is activated. The same control whips the sheath away as the sword is drawn, so it's out of the way when the speed-draw strikes. The guns, on the other hand, just have retractable lens-covers (which may well retract entirely into the casing when the laser's in use—ultra-advanced materials don't have to be all that thick to protect the lens). Both laser and sword have some kind of automated hook-up that attaches them to weapon-belts, or to attachment-points on armor or spacesuits; part of what this change means is the speed-draw just became a much simpler motion, "unhook and attack" rather than "clear holster/sheath, attack".

    Pity I can't keep my long-gun iaido idea, though.
  • Female characters' armor being sculpted to their boobs does not offend me because it's sexist. It offends me because it's apparently a really bad idea; it's basically like sticking a splitting-wedge right over your sternum. And there are ways to have armor that doesn't have that problem while still making it look appealing. The "sweater-girl" look doesn't have a noticeable cleavage, and it's not exactly a burqah; armor can conform to feminine curves without being a liability. See, e.g., Cherche, from Fire Emblem: Awakening. And also Flavia and Sully.

    Incidentally, the "girl in skimpy armor" thing is not the same kind of problem. While it is a vulnerability, in real life, lots of people did fight like that. Watch a samurai movie sometime. There's always guys running around with only kote and suneate, and maybe a happuri. Armor, after all, is itself a liability, that's why we stopped wearing it for quite some time (in the West: east of, oh, Slovakia or so, people were wearing armor till right up into the 19th century). It's hot and heavy. That makes it a pain to slog around, especially for the smaller-framed (which, while it means your armor is smaller and therefore lighter, also means that so are your muscles). A woman would be quite likely to shed the heavy breastplate and just keep the armor for her arms, legs, and head.

    Yes, I just decided "to slog around" can be used transitively.


De Romanicorum Physicalium 10

Pensées sur l'SF.
  • For those who are sanguine about the Pre-Tribulation Rapture Singularity, here's a little reminder of things Kurzweil thought would happen by 2010 (from a talk presumably somewhat before then):
    1. Images written directly to our retinas.
    2. Ubiquitous high-bandwidth connections to the Internet at all times.
    3. Electronics so tiny it's embedded in the environment, our clothing, our eyeglasses.
    4. Full-immersion visual-auditory virtual reality.
    5. Augmented real reality.
    6. Interaction with virtual personalities as a primary interface.
    7. Effective language technologies.
    #1 ain't happened. #2 ain't happened. #3 ain't happened. #4 ain't happened. #5 ain't happened. #6 is vague but if it means AI snerk, and if it means "virtual avatars" snerk, guffaw—it ain't happened, the only question is how ridiculous it was to think it would. And #7 ain't happened.

    That's a track-record that shoots right past Harold Camping and into William Miller/Samuel S. Snow country.
  • I think that zled skulls, while they have the flare at the back of the mandible, like a hippo, to accommodate a swell of jaw muscle, still have the wide-looped zygomatic arch, like on a felid's skull, because even though their jaw-muscles no longer attach on the top of their head, they still go most of the way up the sides. This translates to big "cheekbones".

    Also, instead of having that gap on the upper, outside edge of their eye-sockets, seen in most of the Carnivora and, indeed, in many other Laurasiatheria—bats, peccaries, pigs, rhinos, tapirs—their eye-sockets look like those of a tamarin attached to the zygomatic arch of a jaguar. Except, zled eyes (unlike mammal eyes but like bird ones) are immobile...and they have the sclerotic ring that supports that (they also have very shallow eye-sockets compared to mammals, which, one, gives more room to jaw muscles but two, and more importantly, lets them have more of the image in focus without having to move their eyes—a bird's eyeball is shaped like an M&M, a flattened ellipsoid rather than a spheroid).

    Reading up on tamarins suggests zledo are, in many ways, basically a carnivorous version of them; tamarins, after all, are mostly monogamous (I think a large minority of them are polyandrous), live in nuclear-family groups, and have anatomy that can be described as halfway between cat and (other) monkey—they have claws as well as thumbs, for example. They even have jaw-shapes designed to accommodate big muscles.
  • People are awfully optimistic about using graphene (2-d carbon hex-grids, like flat buckminsterfullerene—they sometimes make it by literally cutting nanotubes down the side and unrolling them) to store hydrogen. The trouble with storing hydrogen is its tendency to blithely outgas right through the very walls of the tanks; it's smaller than the gaps between the atoms most tanks are made of. One proposal is to bond the hydrogen directly to the graphene to make graphane; you can get it out again by heating it. Another is to have the graphene fold itself into "origami boxes" around the hydrogen; you get it out with an electric charge. But the origami-boxes are apparently only 9.7% hydrogen by weight. The rates I find for graphane with the hydrogen directly bonded vary by the alkali metal used as (I think) a catalyst for the bonding, but the rates listed are 12.20%, 10.33%, and 8.56%, for lithium, sodium, and potassium respectively. Meanwhile, boring old methanol gives a by-weight efficiency of 12.6%, and it's almost certainly cheaper even if you use a ruthenium-catalyzed process to get the hydrogen out. Water is 11.19%. Ammonia is 17.75%, and apparently you can separate it out with sodium amide, which costs very little; that, I think, is the real wave-of-the-future for hydrogen-powered vehicles.

    (Gasoline has exactly twice the energy density of ammonia, by volume, and six times by mass according to the only source for that second number I can find—ammonia isn't very dense—but fuel-cell vehicles are apparently 75% efficient while internal combustion engines are only 20% efficient, frittering away most of their energy as waste heat. Apparently you actually need 69% more ammonia to fuel a fuel-cell car than you do gasoline to fuel an internal-combustion one...but ammonia is literally 20 times cheaper. You'd probably close the gap, price-wise, with refrigeration: pure ammonia actually boils before room temperature, so you'd need something to keep it cold. A full-size Ford sedan only got 14.4 miles to the gallon in 1952, whereas one now gets 23, meaning you needed 60% more gas—and 1952 was the middle of the Golden Age of Route 66, so I don't think the fuel-economy will pose much of an issue.)

    I'm not sure what the solution is for space-travel, where every gram of wasted mass counts (every kilo of hydrogen, even if you store it as ammonia, comes with 5.63 kilos of "waste" nitrogen). Maybe just budget around outgassing a portion of your propellant. The current state of the art in storing (presumably gaseous) hydrogen, "quantum passivation", where you electropolish a stainless-steel pressure vessel to a mirror finish and then fire it in a furnace between 673 and 803 Kelvin, has an outgassing rate of 2×10-15 "torr-liters per second" (i.e. 2×10-15 liters per second at a pressure of 1 torr, which is 1/760 of a standard atmosphere). At that pressure, 1 liter of hydrogen masses 0.08988 grams, which means an outgassing rate of 1.7976×10-16 grams per second. Stainless steel hydrogen tanks routinely have pressures of 20 megapascals (150,012.337 times as big), which would give an outgassing rate of 2.696621810×10-11 grams per second, or .85 milligrams per Julian year, so I'm pretty sure you can take it. I think when you store it in liquid or "slush" form its outgassing-rate is reduced, though—my guess being you divide the gaseous-outgassing rate by what percentage of the mass of your liquid or slush hydrogen is actually bubbles of gaseous hydrogen. (Presumably for aerospace applications you're not going to use stainless-steel vessels, but then, for a spacefaring civilization you can probably get the same performance with other materials—if you google "quantum passivation" most of your results pertain to semiconductor research.)
  • Slush hydrogen, incidentally, is 16-20% denser than liquid hydrogen, meaning that every megagram of it takes up 11.29 to 11.86 cubic meters, instead of 14.11 cubic meters for liquid hydrogen (liquid hydrogen's density is 70.85 kg/m3, so slush's density is 84.35-88.56). Spacecraft propellant tanks are spheres (because they're the ideal shape for pressure-vessels); the slush-hydrogen ones require tanks 2.78 to 2.83 meters in diameter for a megagram of propellant, while those of liquid hydrogen need tanks 3.00 meters in diameter.

    Suppose you go with a rocket with dimensions comparable to, say, the SASSTO—but sporting a proton-chain rocket that gives an exhaust velocity of 10% c. (I find single-stage-to-orbit designs a good model for high-end "starship" type ships, I think I've mentioned that before.) If you go with the SASSTO's 10.34 mass ratio—remember, it's not the weight with propellant (97,976 kg) over the dry weight (6,668 kg), it's over the dry weight plus the payload (2,812 kg, which brings the total to 9,480 kg)—and a proton-chain rocket, you wind up with a speed you have to circle the block a few times to come down from. 7.5% c seems to be about the cutoff point to brake in a timely manner, for which you want a mass ratio of 4.5; that would bring the "dry" weight (if the payload is unchanged) up to 18,960 and 4/9 kg. It's up to you how you want to interpret the change; me, I interpret it as the ship getting bigger. Take the cube-root of the increase in mass, and you wind up with a SASSTO 26.63 meters long and 9.35 meters in diameter. (Incidentally, if you look at the SASSTO, I think the closest approximation to its volume—if you don't want to screw around with figuring out how to take the volume of each conic section of the tapering parts—is an ellipsoid.)

    Anyway. A 4.5 mass ratio means your interplanetary SASSTO carries 76,203 and 5/9 kg of propellant. Slush-hydrogen, max density, would require 860.45 cubic meters of tank to hold it all; supposing you cart that around in seven rings of seven balls each (the most efficient way of storing spheres is to stick them in hexagons, with one at each point and one in the middle), you get 49 spheres each 3.22 meters in diameter. A quick "eyeballing it" diagram in Inkscape suggests they'd come to a total of 19.1 meters long, if you nested them front-to-back as well as side to side (offset each ring by 90° and you can nest each sphere into the space between the spheres behind it); if not, of course, you're just getting (3.22×7=)22.54 meters. You probably have to make your ship longer to accommodate that; to keep the mass, remember to divide the diameter by the square root of whatever factor you increase the length by. Make it twice as long, for example, and you have to make it narrowed by a factor of √2.
  • Looks like DARPA has Jossed me. Their Warrior Web suit is worn not as chaps, but under the clothes like long underwear (sure, "wetsuit", that's what it's like). The Wikipedia article on DARPA (the Warrior Web project doesn't have its own entry) refers to it as an "exosuit". So I guess that's what I should call the equivalents in my books. Mark your calendars: on 5 May 2014, DARPA said they planned to actually equip a squad with them to compete against another squad in various carrying and mobility tasks—"30 months from today". Thirty months from then is 5 November, 2016.

    Also, things need 100 watts. An average laptop battery provides 72 kWh (or 259.2 MJ, if you prefer SI units like I do). That means it can power a Warrior Web suit for 720 hours, which as you may have noticed is thirty freaking days! I'm sure an "average laptop battery" is not what you want to be depending on in the middle of nowhere while people are shooting at you, but the point is, powering that for an extended period of time is not exactly Arc Reactor business for our current capabilities.
  • A four-minute mile—something else the suit's supposed to enable—doesn't sound all that impressive; it's the standard for all male middle-distance runners, although it was a standard that was breaking a record in 1954. But...middle-distance runners don't compete with a backpack and a rifle, wearing body-armor. A guy wearing an exosuit would take 23 seconds to close from the (arguable) effective range of the M4 carbine (it's actually effective to about 400 yards, but at 200 yards its performance starts dropping off rapidly, because of its shortened barrel), to its "battle zero" range (which seems to be 25 yards, in most sources I can find). He also needs 32 seconds to go from the effective range of the M1 Garand to its battle zero (440 yards to 200 yards—yes, the Garand's "zero" was the range at which the M4 starts to suck). That second number is important to me, remember, because my Peacekeepers' round is based on the .30-06.

    Some looking around on things that go that fast (other than middle-distance runners) revealed to me that I was wrong, zledo don't go as fast as bikes, when they run. They go faster. Well, not faster than racing bikes; those go 40 kilometers per hour, which I think I'd set as the specific speed of a running zled (a four-minute mile is 24 kph). But the average bike only goes 15.5 kilometers per hour. Zledo weigh the same as an ostrich, and while their legs aren't built like ostriches' (they're built more like a carnosaur's), the carnosaurs could put on impressive bursts of speed, with Allosaurus doing something in the 30-55 kph range. Zledo aren't distance-runners by any means (which is why they domesticated the zdhyedhõ'o, cursorial predators like giant dogs), but for trips of a couple of blocks they can do on foot what we'd need bikes to do. They can also, in a fight, jump 8 meters forward (closer to 10 with a running start) or 3 meters straight up. They come from a planet that's somewhere between the Mesozoic and the Pleistocene on the "murder world" scale, and it also has 8% higher gravity.
  • Atlas, the bipedal robot from the folks who brought you the BigDog (Boston Dynamics, a robotics company owned by Google but with, y' know, concrete accomplishments instead of eschatological bafflegab), has recently been equipped with a battery, instead of an off-board power tether. This battery is 3.7 kilowatt-hours, and powers the robot for an hour—so I guess we can conclude its typical operations require 3.7 kilowatts. (Convenient ratio, that.) A 3.7 kWh Li-ion battery would, apparently, weigh between 37 and 13.962 kilos (because they run from 100 Wh/kg to 265 Wh/kg). Atlas' mass is 150 kilos, so its power plant takes up 24.667% to 9.308% of its mass (that second number is very nice).

    Now, Atlas is not really that much like a really humanlike robot (I'll get to those in a second). It is, however (not least because it was made for DARPA) an excellent model for a walking mecha. Scale a 1.8 meter, 150 kilo Atlas up to 10 meters tall, and you get a mecha that weighs 25,720 kilos; assuming that power usage scales with mass, it uses 634.43 kilowatts to operate. We scaled its power-plant along with the rest of it, so its 2,394-6,344 kilo battery can still provide it with an hour of operation. You probably want it to operate for longer than an hour, though, so I'd go with lithium-air batteries for the mecha. Those (11.14 kWh/kg) give you, on the small end, 42 hours of operation, and on the large end, 111. Or go with a smaller battery, shorter operating times (hey, a full day of operation would only require 1,366.8 kilos) and use the extra weight for armor and weapons.

    Maybe I'll go with lithium-air batteries after all, for my mecha; methanol is less than half as good a power-source, only 5.472 kWh/kg compared to 11.14.
  • But for humanoid robots that you might actually mistake for human in good light and clothing other than a Mother Hubbard dress, the model has to be Kenshiro. (So, I guess Atlas, as a model for robots, is already dead.) Kenshiro is a Japanese robot that is actually scaled like a human, albeit a not-full-grown one—at 158 centimeters and 50 kilos, it's the size of a Japanese twelve-year-old boy (and about 4 kilos lighter, but roughly the same height, as an American thirteen-year-old girl). If it were as tall as Atlas, it'd only weigh 74 kilos.

    I can't find its power-usage stats; since its structure is monumentally more complex than Atlas it probably, at least for now, uses much more power. Eventually a day will come when they get it down to the energy use of a human being, which is 115 watts for a man the size of the scaled-up Kenshiro (and 105.5 watts for the original-sized version). Yeah, you can figure out how much power it takes to be you by converting your calorie intake to kilowatt-hours (hint, one kWh=3600 Joules) and then dividing by 24. (I just do it with Google's calculator.)

    Of course, a robot with performance superior to a human is probably going to mass more, and will certainly require a bigger power-pack to justify its superior power. You burn energy moving things, remember. Significantly superior strength would also require reinforced joints, which adds more weight and power-pack. This is the thing: while a robot could probably be given superior performance to a human, you can't realistically give it drastic upgrades and still let it ride around in our cars or pass for human for one second after it accidentally pulverizes someone's foot on a crowded sidewalk—and, again, power requirements. Tôka kôkan is the first law of a lot more fields than just alchemy.