Sierra Foxtrot 8

Science fiction thoughts.
  • Had been toying with ways to make zled fur less like that of mammals. One thing that occurred to me is to make their guard-hairs more like the barbs on feathers, with little "barbules" on them, but without the "barbicels" that weave the feathers together into flat surfaces. (The difference between their guard-hairs—guard-barbs?—and down-hairs/barbs, is the same as the difference between guard- and down-hairs in mammals: the guard ones are slightly stiffer and straighter, while the other ones are not stiffened at all, and thus are floppy.) Think they also have awn-hairs/barbs, which are intermediate between down and guard and actually make up most of many animals' visible coats.

    With two exceptions: their whiskers are now very narrow full-fledged feathers, with a central rachis and the barbules connected by barbicels; and the wing-plumage of their fowl (which, remember, are "mammals"), which may've evolved from something like the whiskers that cats have on their wrists. Incidentally, I am also changing the name of the aforementioned fowl-plumage from "flight quills" to "flight plumes". Yes I realize that I might as well just call them "feathers" ("So instead of calling me 'dragon' in your tongue, you call me 'dragon' in some other tongue?") if I'm going to call them the French for "feathers".
  • "Sea lion and squirrel" is the comparison I made for how much interaction aliens who are nothing like humans would really have with humans, but I don't know that I've ever actually mentioned what it's from. It's from this:
    Usually the "dad" moments are Joel, where Mike is more of a sibling (older or younger as the gag of the moment demands) to the Bots, but this is a rare instance where Mike takes on a parental role.
  • I'm currently reading Reading the Enemy's Mind, which is about the CIA/DARPA Project Star Gate (which, despite the title, didn't actually involve much telepathy research). Apparently, most of the "psychokinesis" observed by the project involved the manipulation of metal. So...is that really psychokinesis, or is it electrokinesis? The definition of a metal is an element with a particular set of electrical properties (that "non-metallic" substances can take on those properties under some conditions is why we talk about, e.g., "metallic hydrogen"); "metallic bonds" are the third kind of molecular bond, along with covalent and ionic, because metals' electrons behave oddly. (Almost like those of a plasma, except solid—it is almost true to say that we've been making "plasma swords" since 5,000 BC.)

    Another interesting facet of their research is that though they reported fairly significant effects, those effects were not very controllable—people could produce significant displacements or distortions of objects, but not on command. Now, arguably, that might've just meant that they needed more practice; every martial artist knows there's an intermediate stage where you can sometimes get a technique right, before you can do it correctly whenever you want. But, of course, the fact they would plainly need a lot more practice to be viable, meant that the PK experiments, at least, weren't worth continued funding. (The remote-viewing experiments showed more promise, but, ultimately, not enough for them to be worth it, either—at least not in that political climate.)

    Another point: aside from how the book's author claims that The Amazing Randi's "bent" spoons that purported to debunk Uri Geller's claims didn't look like the ones he'd seen during their psychokinesis experiments...has anyone noticed that Randi's entire argument is "affirming the consequent"?
  • I mentioned earlier that I couldn't find the title of the third NCO in a Marine platoon? The answer apparently is "RTO", i.e. Radio Telephone/Transmitter Officer. He's normally a corporal, from what I can tell, which, yes, is an NCO rank in the Marines. (Sometimes instead of the RTO corporal, apparently—the Wikipedia page contradicts what the USMC "Basic Officer Course" materials say—Marine rifle platoons have a "messenger", who's a private or PFC.)

    Apparently there's actually a fourth person at the platoon level—a Navy hospital corpsman. Possibly a fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh; there can be as many as four corpsmen with a platoon, probably "one with the command plus one per squad", but I imagine that partly depends on logistical circumstances. Not sure what rank they are—presumably either Hospitalman (E3, lance-corporal in the USMC) or Corpsman Third Class (E4, USMC corporal), at the platoon level.
  • In the first Halo game, they apparently had wanted the Elites to have tails, but nixed it when they realized the only place to put a tail while driving a vehicle was up between the legs, which looked unfortunate. I get around it with the zledo by a simple method that, sadly, wouldn't have helped Bungie: as I've mentioned, zled vehicles are designed on the assumption the user is sitting on the floor, and his tail simply wraps around his legs, like a sitting cat's. It wouldn't help Bungie because humans would find sitting on the floor of a car uncomfortable, aside from how hard it is to make that look right in a video game (especially an Original XBox game).

    Rather than sitting seiza, zledo sit with their knees up in front of their chests, and their feet—and ankles—flat. They can't really sit kiza, their feet alone aren't quite made for it and their ankle bones (remember, a third joint in their leg, like in a frog) are probably too long. The only issue is that they don't necessarily fit in human cars (for several reasons, of which the configuration of their legs is only one), and if they sit on a human car's seat as they would in a zled car, they might accidentally dig their foot-claws into the upholstery.

    I think they need a bit less room in their driver's seat, because they don't have steering wheels. In general, the control-apparatus of zled vehicles are more like their military equipment—zled cars have controls like those of a tank, more or less, although I think originally instead of two levers, they just had handlebars. (Nowadays, since their wheels are spherical, they steer exactly like tanks). Fun fact: it's more or less impossible to find detailed images of the control apparatus of tanks, even obsolete ones, and for any other kind of self-propelled gun, fuhgeddaboudit.
  • The complexity of making a mechanical counter-pressure glove—specifically with mapping the "lines of non-extension" of the hand—is why the BioSuit, if we ever actually use it, would still need inflated gloves. Possibly with improved computer modeling, coupled to 3D printing, we might be able to fix that. Another thing I thought of is something with auxetic material? I think the way auxetic foam expands at a right angle to how it's stretched might allow it to fill in a gap created by bending your finger. (You can make an airtight auxetic foam, it just has to have "bubbles" with elastic sides.) If the auxetic material is too delicate, well, like I said, you'd probably wear protective layers over your mechanical counter-pressure suit.
  • Thinking of having the zled lasers have a ring-shaped knuckleguard, something like the grip on the concussion-rifle ("Elite-shot") in Reach and Halo 4, but with the actual trigger mechanism still on the back of the grip. The "barrel" (actually "optical cavity") folds down, on a sort of "track" set into the guard, when you replace the mainspring cartridge.

    I think their long lasers have the exact same kind of grip as the hand lasers, just with a longer, wider barrel (twice as wide, in fact, lens-wise anyway). Ditto their anti-materiel laser (which has a slightly wider lens to focus at longer distances, as well as putting three times as much power into each shot). Not sure what to do with their grenade launchers.
  • Decided that, in my future history, they don't use the word "dinosaur" (it comes up in reference to the khângây). Nope. "Mesozoic birds."

    There are a couple of reasons. The most basic is "senior synonym"; birds were classified in 1676 or 1758 (depending whether you go by "first systematic classification," or "first classification within our current scheme"). Dinosaurs weren't classified till 1841.

    And the other reason is that the "avian" vs "non-avian" distinction seems to break down on examination. The common ancestor of all dinosaurs was bipedal, a defining bird trait; some of its descendants just dropped back to all fours. (While we're on the subject, it's not entirely accurate to say dromaeosaurs evolved into birds, as we know them. Not least because dromaeosaurs evolved from birds, their common ancestor could fly.)
  • Was playing Halo 5; if anyone tells you this is not absolutely the best Halo game, I cannot tell you to cut ties with them, because that would mean you won't be able to prevent them from voting. Vale is best character: she's a weeaboo who's obsessed with the Sangheili ("Sangheiliaboo" is what I've been calling her, by parallel with "Koreaboo").

    But anyway, it occurred to me: how do Sangheili talk? At first I just realized that "Vadam" and "Mdama" make no sense as surnames, since Elites have no lips to pronounce "m" and "v" with. But then I realized, they also don't have tongues to pronounce "th", "l", and "d" with. So...maybe their vocal apparatus is actually some secondary mouth-parts in the hole behind their jaws? I think they might have a tongue back there.

    Or perhaps there is some way for them to pass air through the mandibles (which has the advantage of it making sense for their jaws to move when they talk, which a vocal apparatus in their "inner" mouth wouldn't need). But I wonder, can you actually do a "voice" if you can't close the air-chamber you use? Blocking off parts of the airway, after all, is how our consonants are produced, while changing its shape gives you vowels.


De scripturae romanicos physicales II

More SF writing thoughts.
  • Decided that the nuclear warheads used in space by all my civilizations are actually neutron bomb warheads. See, the metric-patching effect makes the zled (and khângây) ships immune to EM radiation, because the space-time distortion shunts it around the outside of the metric-patching. Something like 90% of a "conventional" nuke's energy is X-rays, with the remaining 10% neutrons; a neutron-bomb's energy is 80% neutrons and only 20% X-rays.

    The zledo and khângây might use nuclear shaped-charge/Casaba Howitzer missiles, actually. Humans can't detect them very well, so they have to depend on the blast-radius of explosives (only nukes make a big enough radius in space, since there's no atmosphere to transmit shocks), but people who have topology sensors for tracking metric-patching engines can aim a lot better. (Human ships other than motherships and their parasites also use particle beams, due to the zled ships being immune to EM.)

    A Casaba Howitzer delivers up to half its energy as a wedge of plasma (again, shaped-charge). The ones we thought of using for the "Orion battleship" concept were "a few" kilotons; half of a few kilotons is still at least several hundred tons of TNT.
  • Since we're coming up fast on the day Marty and Doc Brown arrive in the "future", I thought I'd point out that "Mr. Fusion" is a very bad idea. First off, you want to give fusion lots of room—it's only "safer" than fission because it can't go critical and its waste is (somewhat) more convenient, the reaction itself is much worse.

    And second, seriously? Organic waste? The thing is, we are never realistically going to be doing much proton-chain fusion, not in the foreseeable future anyway (in my setting they only do it for interstellar rockets and they need extremely hypothetical space-time topology tech to do it). Most of the fusion we can actually create would be more along the lines of deuterium-tritium fusion, vastly less energetic than proton-chain fusion.

    But even proton-chain fusion mostly only involves hydrogen. To fuse carbon—like makes up a significant portion of organic wastes—we're talking about the CNO cycle, which is the dominant form of fusion in stars at least 30% heavier than the sun. You really don't want to be anywhere near that kind of fusion.
  • I'm unsure how, exactly, to detail the backstory of psi-powers, in my setting. (For humans—the zled Noetic Legion is a relic of ancient times, purged of its tribal-religion/"pagan" elements. Ditto the khângây equivalents, mutatis mutandis.) Actually not only don't I know how to detail it in-story, I don't entirely have it worked out.

    I do know that humans began asking the zledo, once they heard about the Noetic Legion, how you go about finding psi-powers; of course, people who aren't willing to undertake Noetic Legion semi-monastic discipline can't develop psi very far. (At least, without the methods used by the super-evil secret project designed to enhance psi-users that figures prominently in several of my characters' backstories.)

    I also know that the pressure to investigate psi—culminating in the psi-project—picks up after the thoikh attack (which is also what brings humans and zledo into conflict, because nothing is trouble like "psychic existentialist" trouble).
  • I haven't decided if some recent examples (e.g. in Dark Matter) really qualify, but there still nevertheless seems to be this weird idea, at least in visual-medium science-fiction, that nukes in space are somehow comparable to nukes in atmosphere. Either in terms of the threat-level or in terms of the moral issues.

    But nukes in space are just x-ray bombs, really (unless you turn them into neutron bombs); they don't have the air to be converted into plasma (remember, atmospheres are opaque to x-rays past a very short distance) or to transmit the blast. They can still be nasty, especially the neutron kind (though lining your spacesuits and hab-sections with boron nitride might mitigate some of that); the x-ray levels that can get through your ship's shielding may well be enough to superheat your atmosphere and kill you instantly—not to mention igniting your propellants—so, not that nasty.

    You basically, whether using neutron or conventional nukes, are going for "nearsies count", not big area-effects. Think proximity-fuze AA shells, not surface-to-air missiles.
  • DURUS, the walking robot from SRI International designed to be better than Boston Dynamics' Atlas, is the prototype for something called PROXI, which will include a head and arms and thus be 20 kilograms heavier than DURUS's 80 kilograms. When they get it all integrated, the PROXI system will supposedly be able to go for eight hours off one charge of its 19 kilogram, 7.92 megajoule Li-ion battery.

    That comes to a 24-hour-period use of 23.76 megajoules, or just a tiny bit under one megajoule per hour—the average human requires 9.26 megajoules for a 24-hour period, 385.71 kilojoules an hour. Then again the average human does weigh only 62% what PROXI does, and thus would use 14.93 megajoules per day, or 622.12 kilojoules per hour, if they were the size of PROXI.
  • So you know that guy in Germany who was killed by a robot in the VW plant? Yeah thing is, that's a damn industrial accident. We've been having them for about a quarter millennium. Fundamentally there is no difference between getting crushed by a car-building robot and getting ripped in half by a steam press. There is nothing to do with robots or AI or "robolaw" involved, this is a thing that, again, has been going on since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution (probably since before that, actually—it's also no different if the machine that kills you is powered by water-wheels or wind rather than steam).

    Now, one could make a case that requiring "safety-space" sensors and programming on industrial robots would've prevented this death. I don't know that the reduction in the very small number of deaths would necessarily be worth the extra expense and complexity; on the one hand it certainly would be worth it to the families of the few people who die yearly, but on the other the "extra complexity" part could well lead to an increase in accidents if the safety-space programming's bugs are dangerous. (I suppose if every encountered error resulted in a shutdown you'd be okay, but that might be crippling to your productivity.)

    Every innovation comes with tradeoffs. And robotic factories are hundreds of times safer than their predecessors; it is not trivial to discuss whether we can reduce the danger even further, but such reductions, since the factories are already very, very safe, may well represent more tradeoffs than their increased safety (again, if any) can really justify. I know that sounds heartless, but "If the highest aim of a captain were to preserve his ship, he would keep it in port forever."
  • I don't think I've mentioned it, but I think, in general, that shape-shifters have no place in science fiction (space opera is another story). At least, not aliens whose species are shape-shifters, or humans (or aliens, for that matter) "mutated" to be shape-shifters. Sorry, but the number of things in a species' evolution that all have to go just right for them to be shape-shifters makes it about as likely as those planets in Star Trek that precisely parallel Earth history without having copied Earth. Ditto mutants: how the hell do you engineer that in, let alone it happening on its own?

    I will allow robot shape-shifters, although I still don't think the T-1000 would also be able to make blades or other weapons (the T-X makes a lot more sense, with its endoskeleton, except for the "taking control of cars via nanomachines" thing). Even the robot, though, would only be able to change its shape to resemble certain people—a certain range of heights, a certain set of builds, and probably only members of one species (if your aliens' builds are close enough to that of humans that one robot can easily mimic both—at least without significant shifts in its endoskeleton—your aliens need more work).

    You're still probably going to want to have your robot hack any biometric scanners, though; the ruse probably won't hold up otherwise.
  • I was trying to get into Ergo Proxy, with intent to eventually finish it; unfortunately it's paced like Ghost in the Shell after the Quaaludes wear off (i.e., marginally watchable, unlike GitS). But I noticed something: why is it that dystopias, even when those dystopias are supposed to be all antiseptic and "plastic fantastic", always consist mostly of poorly-lit rundown apartment complexes? I suppose it's just because they're unintelligently copying the visual style of Blade Runner, however little sense that makes for their setting. Still, people, do some actual work. (It's even true of Psycho Pass, which has no excuse at all, given the level of social control their setting entails. Actually Psycho Pass seems very unsure of how closely controlled it wants its setting to be, just in general.)


Rannm Thawts Six

Post 555!

  • Someone, making the dumb "both parties are really the same" non-argument, compared them to the War of the Roses, in being between two branches of the same family. I think there was some Two Minutes Hate directed at the unthink of hereditary power.

    Anyway though I thought it was funny because the "third party" was actually the winner of the War of the Roses...and his son plunged England into the bloodiest political revolution in European history to that point, or at least since Roman times.
  • I know I've mentioned that the two space-elevators in my setting are in Entebbe, Uganda and Macapá, Brazil. I recently found out that the two places with the most thorium are India and Brazil. So I think how my setting's history works is that India and Brazil use their thorium to become second-string powers, relative to China and Russia and the US, as China and Russia currently are relative to the US.

    India also uses Entebbe's space-elevator to move goods into space; India and Uganda have something of an alliance. I mentioned in "Even Bearing Gifts", pt. 1 (on my DeviantArt) that India and Uganda were going in together on Indra at 289 G. Hydrae-Qīngqiūliù. Since they have fusion power, thorium's not as important as it was in the era of fission-power, but India no more stopped being a mover-and-shaker with the technological shift than Russia stopped being one with the end of the Cold War and Warsaw Pact. (And yeah, my setting used fission—thorium not uranium—for its main power-production for a certain portion of its future history.)

    Incidentally I think fusion power (as opposed to e.g. fusion rockets) is reasonably two hundred years off; it was twenty years between the first demonstration (and artificial creation) of fission, in the Cockcroft-Walton experiment, in 1932, and the first use of a fission-reactor for "commercial" power production, at Obninsk, USSR, in 1954. Fusion is ten times stronger than fission—actually getting it for power production is a lot more complicated than that implies, but I think saying "ten times as long" allows for scientific breakthroughs in the interim—and we first demonstrated "past the break-even point" fusion last year.
  • I may be the only one bothered by this, but can someone sit the people who make anime down and explain to them that military units are not designated at random? Sometimes it's the translation, admittedly, but, e.g., "Antimagic Academy 35th Test Platoon" actually (I checked the kanji) does call the eponymous unit "platoon".

    Only...it's got four members. That's a fireteam. A couple of those make a squad, and a couple of squads makes a platoon. You may realistically be talking upwords of forty people in a platoon (I believe USMC infantry platoons are 42—three thirteen-man squads of three fireteams and a squad-leader, plus the 1LT or 2LT who commands the platoon, a "platoon sergeant", a "platoon guide", and a third NCO whose actual title I can't find). So the title is only off by an entire order of magnitude.

    I suppose the excuse might be that they're the Antimagic Academy, but on the other hand Ranger School platoons (and squads) are, to my knowledge, the same size as the real ones, since it's best to train as close to real as you can.
  • Supposedly Lucasfilm owns the rights to the word "droid". Because Lucas claims he coined the word in 1977. Which may come as a surprise to Mari Wolf, whose story "Robots of the World! Arise!" used the term in 1952. Besides, it's short for "android". (According to Google Ngrams, there's a small peak in usage of "droid" in 1843-1844—no idea what that means—then a tiny blip exactly a century later. And then the usage climbs steadily in 1971, not 1977.) But I think I'm on a fairly safe footing, legally, especially since I restrict it to actual androids (well, and gynoids) and always spell it with an apostrophe.
  • "Smart liquid" tablets for the blind are now a thing, or at least the beginning of a thing. I'd kinda figured someone would do this, actually, but now someone did. Which is awesome. There's a minor character in my books who's blind (not all forms of blindness are probably ever going to be curable, though of course at some point many of them will be), and I imagine she has a display like this on her handheld.

    I think another thing people in my setting might do is use their handhelds as mice (mouses?) to interface with monitors, basically allowing a full desktop at home and a handheld while out—either the monitor or the handheld just projects a keyboard, when used as a desktop. That might also be the most convenient way to have office-workers log in (and thus "punch the clock") at their desks (you're always going to need a certain number of people physically present in physical offices, at least for some jobs).

    You'd still have big-ish desktop computers, but they'd be much more "niche", mostly restricted to servers and some extremely hardware-intensive tasks, like code-breaking. I believe I've mentioned that zled Signalers (computer-science "guild", named for their original military role) rent out server-space on their big desktop computers? I also mentioned at least in passing that all my normal technological civilizations (not the thoikh) charge a premium for bandwidth on FTL-communication satellites.
  • So...robots with glowing eyes. You want 'em. I want 'em. Everybody wants 'em. And who can blame us? Robots with glowing eyes are awesome, especially if they can turn red when your plastic pal who's fun to be with has snapped his tether and is about to kill a coolie. Only one problem: the light is usually either from the whole iris, or else actually from the pupil itself.

    The trouble with that is that you get back-scatter into the retina (or equivalent—"image sensor", I guess), causing blurred vision. The glowing pupil would be worse, and is probably an inappropriate imitation of tapeta lucida. So what to do? Easy. Your glowing robot-eyes are a ring, like the one on the XBox power button, around the outside of the iris. That should be far enough from the "business" end of the pupil to keep the glare minimal.

    Incidentally, I'm still trying to figure out how to work in, and work up to, a scene where one of my androids says something like "You seem to be confused about the kind of bot you're dealing with", and then cups his hands over his eyes, to show that they glow red. (Their eyes also flicker—blinkenlights—when they do certain things, like link to each other.)
  • Decided to stop watching Heavy Object about four minutes into the second episode. The premise is just too stupid. It's about these giant armored vehicles that can even stand up to nukes, and they revolutionize warfare because the only way to beat one is with another one. Only, bull. Aside from the power-requirements, you would win a few battles, maybe a war, with those, and then people would start putting nuclear shaped-charge warheads (AKA "Casaba Howitzers") on air-to-ground missiles. The first Object barely survived being hit with a "conventional" nuke, so a nuclear shaped-charge would definitely do the trick.

    Even the series says fights go to the Object that can secure a favorable firing position first. Well planes that can drop nuclear shaped-charges can secure a favorable firing position in nothing flat; that armor loses to air is more or less an iron law. The only reason the main battle tanks used by us, the Russians/Soviets, and the Chinese seem to be the invincible power they are often mistaken for, is that none of us ever fights anyone with a respectable air force, we fight people with no air force at all or whose planes are generations out of date. Our air forces make quick work of main battle tanks.
  • Had an interesting discussion a while back about how, so far from being an "atheistic religion", Buddhism is more aptly described as "a-everything-but-God-ist". I specifically mentioned that Buddhism adopts the apophatic monism of advaita in order to escape from the infinite regress which anatman—a type of atomist nominalism—naturally leads. Someone characterized this as "turtles all the way down". But no, it occurred to me, actually it'd be truer to say that Buddhism says "Ultimately the turtles all rest on the Ground of Being, so only worry about that."

    As a bonus, the explanation is a pun.


All Is Grist 2

Piensas al azar.
  • Turns out I was wrong, here, when I corrected the grammar in that line in Snow Falling on Cedars. Every other criticism of that flabbergasting douchebaggery stands—like that aware means "pathos" not "beauty"—but apparently the grammar itself was not incorrect, just a bizarre idiom that I was not acquainted with till I came across mention of the Japanese book-listing SF ga yomitai! on Mike Flynn's blog.

    Normally the "ga" particle means nominative, but in some instances, apparently, it's used to mean a passive (without using the passive verb conjugation). I suppose it's kind of like how "se habla español" literally means "Spanish speaks itself" rather than, what it means idiomatically, "Spanish is spoken" or "one speaks Spanish".
  • I know I've mentioned that the zled for "damn" is "drown it in hell", and their image (not doctrine) of hell is an infinite water-filled void you sink through forever. This was for two reasons. One, of course, was just that I wanted an alternative to the usual fiery or frozen hells of human cultures. The other was an interesting fact I came across.

    Do you remember in the Disney Peter Pan when Captain Hook is threatening Tiger Lily with drowning, and says "There is no path through water to the Happy Hunting Ground"? That was a real Ojibwa belief (so is Peter losing the shadow, at the beginning—J. M. Barrie seems to have got hisself a book from somewheres).

    What's really weird is, it was also a Náhuatl belief—Tlaloc had to construct an afterlife for those who died by water, they were barred entry to Mictlan. I think something similar shows up in a bunch of other New World cultures, as well; it's kinda a thing, here, that drowning is "a fate worse than (dry) death".
  • When people, rightly objecting to political correctness, say that calling people from East Asia "Asians" rather than "Orientals" is silly, because "Asian" covers everywhere from the Middle East to Kamchatka, they actually embarrass themselves, and play into the hands of the PCniks.

    Because quick, what is the point furthest east that the "Orient Express" traveled to? Oh. Right. Istanbul. What state does the phrase "oriental despotism" originally refer to? Oh. Right. Ottoman Turkey. Remember, when the German Empire complained in World War I that the Allies, by allying with Russia, were binding themselves to a "semi-oriental" power, what was Chesterton's comeback? Oh. Right. That by allying with Ottoman Turkey, Germany was binding itself to a power entirely oriental.

    The fact, kiddies, is that "oriental" and "Asian" are entirely co-terminous terms. "Oriental" just sounds old-fashioned, which is the only reason I say "Asian" instead (well, and a slight preference for avoiding unnecessary fights with idiots).
  • There's an anime this season, Charlotte, that's...well, for about eight episodes, it's pretty good. Then it decides to turn into a wan "Days of Future Past" knockoff, only with even stupider decision-making. At least they're on the run from organizations that want to use their powers, rather than the "bigotry" of people worried about guys who can topple buildings with their minds.

    Nevertheless, very disappointing; it develops all these characters and then ignores two-thirds of them almost completely for the last third of the series. What is it about the concept of people with superpowers that makes it so hard to get stories that involve that topic right? You could at least knock off something other than an X-Men arc that'd recently been made into a major movie.
  • It's hard to be sure, because I can't get that good of a look, but I think that the Minority Report series may be continuing the movie's tradition of cutting-edge production design. Specifically, I think the soldiers here and there in the crowd scenes have a version of digi-camo that's based on a hexagons, not squares.

    Yeah, I know, "hexagons are high-tech" is arguably overplayed, but it's that way for a reason. Namely, it looks freaking awesome. Besides, it could well be that the hexagons are dictated not just by Rule of Cool, but could be diagetic—there could be a structure built into the uniform, perhaps making it a cloth armor, that has hexagonal cells.

    Should we be worried that this show's on Fox? I know I said "with robots" but it really could be that they hate good science fiction, period (which, again, has nothing to do with Firefly).
  • According to "Recoil Considerations for Railguns" by Eric L. Kathe, recoil force is an order of magnitude lower than the "ballistic loads", which I think means your recoil energy is one-tenth your muzzle energy (as a rule of thumb). Which presumably means that the 1% c, 4-gram projectile (muzzle energy of 4.3 tonnes TNT) only has the recoil force of 430 kilos of TNT, which a soft recoil system reduces to 215 kilos. Still not something you really want hitting the front of your ship every time it fires its gun, though, especially not at 4,000 rounds per minute, so, still gonna go with topological inertial protections.

    It occurs to me they might want to upgrade the muzzle velocity, since the zled ships themselves move at 1% c. Maybe 2% c? That brings the muzzle energy to (22=)4 × 4.3=17.18 tonnes TNT. That means you've got 1.72 tonnes TNT recoil force, only reducible to 859 kilos with a soft-recoil system, so the topological inertial protection is even more necessary. It also makes you as well-equipped to fight zled ships as someone shooting at F-35s with a Vulcan. A muzzle velocity twice the speed of your typical target is probably pretty typical for weapons in aerospace applications (although then again, the Goalkeeper CIWS does shoot rounds that are only 30 m/s faster than the missiles it shoots down).
  • You can express firing-rates in Hertz. For instance, the M61 Vulcan, with a fire-rate of 6,000-6,600 rounds per minute, fires at a frequency of 100-110 Hertz. 110 Hertz is the key of A2. The GAU-8 Avenger has a fire-rate of 4,200 rounds per minute, which is 70 hertz—just slightly higher than C#2/D♭2, while the GAU-12 Equalizer can fire at the same rate as the GAU-8, or, in the GAU-"22/A" on the F-35, at 3,300 rounds per minute, which is 55 Hertz, A1.

    The Gryazev-Shipunov GSh-6-30 has a fire-rate of 4,000 to 6,000 RPM, which is 66 and two-thirds Hertz to 100 Hertz, just above C2 ("low C") and a bit above G2, respectively. The Gryazev-Shipunov GSh-6-23 has a crazy-town 9,000 to 10,000 rounds-per-minute fire-rate, 150 Hertz to 166 and two-thirds Hertz—so it fires halfway between D3 and D#3, or else a little above E3.

    So basically all aircraft autocannons are still pretty much playing bass—which is interesting, because the guns themselves sound like buzzsaws (which might be the mechanism spinning the gun as distinct from just the firing).
  • John W. Campbell apparently said, and encouraged his writers to remember, that "an alien thinks as well as a human, but not like a human". Only, one, most aliens don't, actually; the only ones I can think of who actually think as well as humans but not like humans are Cherryh's kif and atevi, and both of them are probably unrealistic (because the kif probably wouldn't become sapient and the atevi seem to often find things troublesome that are actually easily explained—given that "society" is treating unrelated conspecifics as kin, in the first place, "you guys are like my kin though we share no blood" is not something that anyone who has a society should find terribly difficult). Races like Kzinti are actually stupider than humans; many if not most aliens have blind-spots no human society ever had. And every attempt at a "really alien" alien is usually less like a character than it is like a prop (a distinction I get from John Wright).

    And the second point is, who told Campbell there was more than one way to think? I am at least passingly familiar with four Native American/American Indian philosophies and five Old World ones, they are not actually any different from each other—nothing in Navajo thought is not found in China or the pre-Socratics, the Sioux are Platonic hyperrealists, the Nahuatls and Hopi are almost down-the-line Chinese philosophers. Existentialism, Buddhism, Chinese thought, Aristotle, and Plato are all recognizably talking about the same things, albeit coming to different conclusions on some of the questions. Why it's almost like philosophy deals with an external reality and therefore only certain interpretations of it are actually tenable! Besides, remember, Campbell was one of the rubes who fell for Sapir-Whorf. The fact is that nobody that humans can talk with at all is going to think that differently from a human; and the only people humans can't talk with at all, are probably not remotely the same kind of thing humans are. Sure, maybe energy beings are difficult for humans to talk to (if they even talk), but another animal that evolved from some other rock's pond-scum? Give us some time, we'll figure it out.

    Honestly the biggest barrier might be needing some way to simulate their vocal apparatus, if their language even uses sounds—but sign-language is not fundamentally a different thing from spoken language. If the alien communicates with flashing bioluminescence, you're still going to have patterns of flashing lights you can classify as "nouns" and "verbs" (though a lot of the nouns might be verbs morphologically, and all of the adjectives might be).


Sierra Foxtrot 7

Pensées sur l'SF. 553 is 7 × 79, and the sum of nine consecutive primes (43 + 47 + 53 + 59 + 61 + 67 + 71 + 73 + 79).
  • Realized I had had space-combats take place at the top speeds of spaceships, which...malarkey. At 7.5% c, which is what my humans' starships do, you cross one light-second in 13 and one-third seconds. At the speed of zled starships, 12% c, it's only 8 and one-third. That's not a lot of time to fight, and if your enemy manages to hit you with a few 100-gram rounds, each will hit like a 6-kiloton W54 tactical nuke.

    So I decided that ships only speed up to their top speed when they're making the dozens-of-AUs trip to safe space-fold distance, and the first thing they do when they fold into a system is decelerate to "tactical" speed. That makes parasite craft make much more sense, especially for the humans; the motherships can save their propellant for carting their parasites around, and leave the combat maneuvering to the parasites. The parasites, likewise, are usually launched via catapult, and mostly use their engines for high-G maneuvering (decided their crews are in tanks of acceleration gel, since they're too small for a full-blown topological inertial-compensation system; the one attached to their autocannon only has to counter one force in one direction, the recoil, and thus can be smaller).

    "Tactical speed", thus, is about .6% c, for humans, and about 1% c for zledo. (Though zled ships, with metric-patching engines, don't fly by expelling a propellant, they don't have an unlimited budget for their flight, either. It takes more power to impart more velocity, so the maximum speeds their engines are capable of are only a bit better than those of human ships; it's the maneuverability/acceleration that's superior.)
  • I was worried that maybe the rebreather I used as a model for the air-recycler on the VAJRA suits was too heavy. SCUBA air-tanks, see, are often weighted, so that they don't force you to float when you'd rather dive (remember, they're full of air). But I looked up rebreathers for mining, firefighting, and mountaineering, and nope, 15 kilos seems to be pretty normal. One firefighting unit was 12.8 kilos, but I doubt it lasts as long as the 15-kilo ones.
  • So a bunch of people say you wouldn't use mechanical counterpressure suits, because they're skintight and therefore look unflattering. One, they're not actually all that skintight (on the outside); MIT's BioSuit is not even as form-fitting as a wetsuit, and people of less than optimal body-configurations do things requiring wetsuits. It's about like a motocross jumpsuit.

    Besides, even if it were true, nobody says you can't wear something over your spacesuit. On Mars for example you'd probably want a fairly heavy cloak—think Jawa cosplay—since Martian dust can get blowing pretty fast—and is also toxic and magnetic and pretty much something from one of those murder-worlds evil Galactic Emperors put prisons on.

    Other places you'd probably have a relatively light protective cover, as an extra defense against punctures (which are no longer deadly but "frostbitten hickey" still hurts).
  • In the 1988 comedy/shotacon movie "Big", at one point, the child-transformed-into-Tom Hanks is shown a toy idea, a building that turns into a robot. His response? "I don't get it. It turns from a building into a robot, right? Well, what's fun about that?"

    What indeed.
  • I didn't mention this at the time, but I think the demise of Almost Human proves that Fox is biased against good science fiction, as the Browncoats claim—as long as that good science fiction has robots in it. (Obviously a bias against good science fiction has nothing to do with Firefly one way or another.)

    Maybe it'll take a third show (Sara Connor Chronicles was the other) to prove the point, but I don't know what it is with them. Maybe there are just budgetary issues? Sarah Connor was probably relatively expensive, and Almost Human was the first sci-fi show in quite some time that didn't look exactly like every other show on TV.
  • Speaking of good sci-fi shows, the Minority Report series shows no little promise. The only real complaint I have is it's a little too insistent with the "See? It's the future! Our future! See? Damn you, see?!" I expect it'll settle down after the first few episodes, though.
  • So it occurs to me that the appropriate term for flying animals of an alien biosphere is not "fliers", but "fowl". The word, cognate with German Vogel, derives from the same root as "fly" and "flight" (there's probably some metathesis involved in the difference between "fgl" and "flg", Germanic languages are into metathesis).

    Likewise "fish" is an appropriate term for the endoskeleton-equipped swimmers; it's not monophyletic on Earth, either, and both its synonyms, "pisces" and "ichthyes", are "a typological, but not a phylogenetic classification". (Incidentally, whales are too fish—specifically Sarcopterygii. Of course, so are giraffes and ocelots and Presbyterian ministers.)
  • An aspect of my setting, with implications for my "future history" that I can't be bothered to flesh out (or rather am content to leave implicit), is that in the 24th century, every ethnicity is referred to by its continent of origin, as Asians are now. I.e., blacks and whites are called Africans and Europeans (yes, even if they're from America). Non-white, non-black Hispanics, and Native Americans, are both referred to as American.

    "Asian" on its own usually, in my setting, means East and Southeast Asians, not people from Central or South Asia (because I'm not British). I think Central and South Asian are called either "Central Asian" and "South Asian", or possibly Middle Easterners and Sub-continentals (leaning toward the former, since it's concise). Also I'm pretty sure North Africans are called "North Africans", although none have come up.

    Yes, that system glosses over mixed-race people. So does ours, but this system has the advantage of not referring to people, many of whom are lighter-skinned than most Navajos, as "black".


Protect Yourself, Or Deal Some Damage

Skyrim line, smiths say it. Good title for a post about weapons and armor.
  • Really got down to brass tacks about my armor. At times it felt like I was crawling over the brass tacks. But now I know pretty much exactly what my armor is made from, both human and zled. The zled armor is a boron-nitride nanotube suit under plates of a metamaterial that, though little more massive than silica, can shift its structure in nanoseconds to meet an attack with the (local) density of osmium and the melting-point of tungsten. In between there's a suit of auxetic foam, like we're currently experimenting with for blast-curtains and EOD suits. Decided zled irregular troops don't wear STF armor, they just wear the auxetic-foam/BN nanotube armor without the metamaterial plates. (One benefit the BN gives is radiation-shielding, especially vs. neutrons.)

    The humans' STF armor is actually nanotube-reinforced polymer textile (somewhat like Kevlar, but not Kevlar—I went with a different kind of polymer, because some of the properties I needed to know don't exist for aramids e.g. they don't melt, they sublimate/disintegrate), soaked in a polyethylene glycol gel with silica in it. As I said, PK special-forces wear only a "union suit" made of the stuff, while the heavier armor also features a cuirass and some limb-plates made of stiffer panels of the same material. The VAJRA powered armor is two-layer, the inner being ferrofluid—nano-scale magnetite powder suspended in PDMS (siloxane)—governed by sensors much like the ones in magnetorheological brakes, but much faster, single-digits of microseconds rather than milliseconds. The outer layer is boron carbide sandwiched with good old-fashioned homogeneous steel; the whole thing, minus power-plant, environment-system, and power-lifting system (i.e. just the armor itself) weighs about 18.5 kilos.
  • While I was torturing myself doing this, I came across a way for the zledo to tune their lasers: one of the things you can do with optical metamaterials is tunable filters. One paper I found involved a filter tunable over a range of 3,650 nanometers, although it started at near-infrared and went into mid-infrared, whereas what I need is near-infrared to near-UV—but that's a range only 770 nanometers across, so once one has the tech to tune to UV at all, in principle tuning to near-IR is relatively simple.
  • Other things I came across doing this? Nanocellulose, which is extracted from cyanobacteria or wood pulp, and is clear, stronger than Kevlar, and electrically conductive. They're thinking of using it in organic LED displays that can be rolled up, certain window applications, and it can also be used as, e.g., food thickener, because it's still just "dietary fiber". Its one weakness? Still cellulose, and not very dense, therefore it soaks up moisture—even from air—and puffs up. At the very least, serious waterproofing is required.

    I think the humans make windows and maybe display-screens out of aluminum oxynitride...which is also known as "transparent aluminum". You can get better performance from 4.1 centimeters of AlON than from 9.4 centimeters of bulletproof glass—the AlON will stop .50 BMG at that thickness (presumably only from a certain distance), glass won't—so it'd obviously be a popular choice for e.g. VIP vehicles.

    A substance that I think zledo and possibly also humans put as a coating on weapons to let them cut through practically anything, is n-tert-butoxycarbonyl-protected diphenylalanine, or BOC-protected diphenylalanine to its friends. It's apparently as strong as Kevlar and can only be scratched by diamond—and in itself it's clear (but pH dependent, apparently, so you probably don't want to make your whole weapon out of it—"got to periodically re-apply the coating" vs. "the whole blade dissolved").
  • It occurs to me that, if you're going to use Raufoss-style HEIAP rounds in your coil vulcan, while only firing at the muzzle velocity of modern .50 BMG, then why not use .50 BMG and leave the coil part at home?

    So now the coil vulcans still shoot .50 BMG Raufoss-type HEIAP rounds, but shoot them at a muzzle velocity of 1,578.445 meters per second—giving them the same muzzle-energy as 20 millimeter, before the HEIAP is factored in, i.e. basically giving the same performance as 20 millimeter HEIAP rounds from a 13-millimeter package.

    Assuming it scales linearly, that muzzle-velocity means power-requirement per shot of 53,867.5675 joules, which, with silicon-air batteries, means that 1,000 shots uses a silicon-air battery massing only 1.052 kilograms.
  • To calculate the total weight of a VAJRA suit, we add in the weight of the power-assist exosuit and an air-recycler. The Warrior Web weighs about 9 kilograms, so we'll say the VAJRA version—which will let you flip, though not throw, a car—is the same. The lightest scuba rebreathers I can find weigh 15 kilos; while what a VAJRA suit has is not just a rebreather but a true air-recycler, that's a good figure for the weight we're talking about.

    That, of course, brings the total mass of the suit to 42.5 kilos, the weight of a twelve-and-a-half-year-old. The exosuit, of course, cancels that out, and the weight also makes it a lot easier to, e.g., stand up to the recoil of your "muzzle energy (therefore recoil) of a 20-millimeter" coil-vulcan. It also makes it slightly harder for a zled to just fling you like a rag-doll, though not enough harder that it actually prevents it ("All right, we'll goad this guy into tossing us like unwanted toys. After eight or nine of us, he'll be too tired to keep fighting!")
  • This article on coilguns and railguns says, about using them for anti-missile CIWSs, quote:
    If incoming round interception can be accomplished with good reliability, it will make armored vehicles as obsolete as knights on horseback.
    Can you count the errors in that sentence? I see at least two. One is, "good reliability" is not the same thing as "100% reliability". We've had missile-interceptor CIWSs on ships for decades, we still armor them.

    The second is, knights in armor weren't rendered obsolete because of something that shot down bullets; they were rendered obsolete because bullets became good enough that wearing enough armor to stop them became prohibitively heavy. Taking the risk of not having armor rather than have to slog around 50 pounds of steel, was the option they went with; there was no alternative to armor (except "run for cover more quickly than armor permits") that did it.

    Besides, what if your enemy decides that, indeed, anti-tank missiles aren't worth the effort, because of your electromagnetic CIWS...and then he shoots your vehicle with a laser, or with an EM gun much like the one your CIWS uses (e.g., a 30 mm coil version of the A-10's GAU-8 Avenger, which is also used on the Goalkeeper CIWS)? Boom (literally)—bet you wish you'd had some armor on that slag-heap that used to be a vehicle.
  • I realize, of course, that recoil force ("felt recoil", anyway) is a fraction of actual muzzle-energy, but, on a spaceship at least, it isn't all that different. Recoil on a planet goes down into the ground through the shooter's body, or through the mounting of a mounted gun, but recoil on a spaceship has nowhere to go. (The same is also true of airplanes; certain large autocannons—the Gsh-6-30 on the MiG-27, notably—need special mountings, and still cause unpleasant noise and vibrations, the latter of which can even damage fuel tanks, avionics, and landing lights.)

    Another factor is that rail- and coilguns are quite likely to have more recoil forces than firearms, since their "ejecta" consist of a bullet and a negligible mass of plasma, whereas a firearm is ejecting all the gases produced by burning its propellant, along with the bullet. You can put vents on the top or sides of a firearm's muzzle to let some of the ejecta escape at a different angle; that's not possible on an electromagnetic gun. (Maybe some kind of counterweight piston like in the AEK-971, self-contained—maybe connected directly to the bullet's motion down the barrel—rather than using propellant gases?)
  • Recall, please, that the reasonable distance for space-combat is one light-second, which is just a bit under 300,000 kilometers. How to design a space missile? Let's start by giving it a dry mass equal to the launch-mass of the biggest air-to-air missile ever, the Soviet K-100 series, since those 750 kilograms are going to be necessary to hold our 600-kilo magnetic-confinement fusion rocket. Then give it a mass-ratio equal to that of the AMRAAM (19:11, given its Isp of 254 seconds and cruise speed of Mach 4—I don't think that's a national-security issue).

    That mass-ratio, coupled with MC fusion's 8,000,000 meters per second exhaust velocity, results in a delta-v of approximately 1.5% (1.4678%) the speed of light. That can cross a light-second in 68.13 seconds, or 4,400.37 kilometers in one second flat. A direct hit of an entirely-empty missile, at that speed, hits with the force of a 1.74 megaton nuke; since the most space available for the warhead is 136 kilos (if it scales like the KS-172), the actual explosive (not counting the kinetic kill—you don't make space-missiles dependent on direct hits), and the maximum achievable in a nuke is 6 megatons per megagram, the explosive yield of such a missile is 816 kilotons, around the yield of Soviet RT-2PM Topol ICBMs.


Be Cool, Be Cool

A laser calculator I find online (I think some of its assumptions are simplified) says that the waste heat of a 10 MJ laser is 882.353 watts, assuming 85% efficiency (50% is considered the max for the near future—currently we top out at around 12%—but the 24th century isn't quite "near" future, and the zledo are 300 years more advanced than we are). I find an efficiency for micro-channel heat-exchangers of 1.5 kW/cm2 (presumably per second); at .882 kilowatts, that means almost exactly 1.7 shots per square centimeter.

A zled laser's power mainsprings can supply it with power for 48 shots. One face of the hexagonal prism casing on a zled laser is 4.053 centimeters wide; suppose we put a band of micro-channel heat-exchangers around the laser (toward the end), but not covering the bottom face or the bottom half of the two faces touching the bottom. If we do that, we basically have 3 whole faces and 2 half-faces to work with, giving us (3+(2×(1/2)=)4, for a total width of the heat-exchanger of (4×4.053=)16.212 centimeters. That, right out of the gate, means that merely by being one centimeter wide, we can exchange the waste-heat of (4.053×4×1.7=)27.56 shots. Make it an eighth of a bãgh—"aliens don't use nice round numbers of Earth units"—or 1.60875 centimeters, and it's got the ability to dump the heat of 44.34 shots, meaning that, if that cooling-efficiency is per-second, it can dump the heat of firing its entire charge, in one and one-elevenths seconds.

The hand laser has a waste-heat of a bit over 282 watts; assuming the same kind of heat-exchanger, that comes to 5 and 5/16ths shots per square centimeter. The faces of the hand laser's hexagonal casing are a little over half the width of those of the long laser (not exactly half because though the lens has half the diameter, its casing is the same thickness), 2.533 centimeters. The hand laser's springs power it for sixteen shots; a band a centimeter wide can dump 17.23 shots. Make it a twelfth of a bãgh, or 8.58 millimeters, and it can dump 14.78 shots' worth of heat in one second, and the whole spring in just over 1.08 seconds.

Incidentally, my old calculations for laser power-supplies forgot the fact that lasers are inefficient; I just went by the power of the beams themselves. What 85% efficient actually means is that for every twenty joules you pour into the laser, you get seventeen joules out as laser (and what our current best, 12%, means, is that for every twenty-five joules you put in, you get three joules of laser—we're not looking at laser weapons except on nuclear ships for a long, long time). So I guess that, assuming the .1 megajoule/kilogram minimum for polymer molecular springs, powering the 3.2 kilojoule hand laser for 16 shots would require a 602 gram power supply, while powering the 10 kilojoule long laser for 48 shots would take one weighing 5.6 kilos. Fortunately, polymer molecular springs have a theoretical maximum of ten megajoules (their range is apparently two orders of magnitude wide); merely going up to the "1 megajoule/kilo" kind gives us a lighter spring than the one the hand laser uses. Except it probably weighs a bit more, the extra weight being reinforcement (you really, really don't want a spring under that kind of tension breaking on you).

Note: I messed up the calculations, earlier, for the width of the hexagon. It's better now. I think I was also doing something wrong on the calculations for the hand laser's heat exchangers.


De Colores

So, I'm making a change: now zled lasers are "frequency agile". What this means is, for close-in work you set them to near-infrared, for medium range you set them to visible light, and for long range (or anti-materiel—or shooting through two people at once—at close range) you set them to near-UV. I discovered that switching from near-infrared to visible light (specifically c. 500 nanometers, which is at the green end of blue-green) doubles the range at which a 10 kilojoule "long" laser will do the damage I need it to do, in a scene in my book (sniping troop-transport choppers, specifically by lasing holes in their tilt-rotors). Switching from that to 250-nanometer near-UV doubles the range again, to the point where it can vaporize 10.5 centimeters of aluminum (I figure a good proxy for any other aerospace material) at a whole kilometer. Go down to 210 nanometers (you want to stay above 200 nanometers or you're not talking "near UV" any more, and a planetary atmosphere becomes opaque) and you can vaporize 10.5 centimeters of aluminum at 1,190 meters.

I don't think I need to have them be very scary, "gets its laser from ionizing radiation" free-electron lasers—which it's also kinda hard, if not actually impossible, to make man-portable. I've found several papers online about other ways to do frequency-agility in lasers; I'm not sure they demonstrate the ability to tune the laser all the way from 250 to 1000 nanometers, but zledo invented the space-fold drive the year we landed on the moon, Earth's 2015 tech is not exactly indicative of what they can do in the 24th century. I imagine there's a fire-selector on the laser, somewhat like the one that switches an assault rifle between full-auto, burst, semi-auto, and safe (actually many assault rifles only have burst or full auto, e.g. the M16A2 only has burst, while the AK often if not usually only has full-auto). I imagine the typical troops get a series of pre-sets to switch between—near-IR, one or maybe two near-UVs, at least one visible wavelength—while the sniper-types might have a more fine-tunable device.

The main reason one changes one's laser's wavelength is for range, so there might be a "ideal range for" indicator next to the wavelength-selector. Then again perhaps not, since a lot depends on e.g. whether one is fighting armored or unarmored opponents, and how armored, or whether one is doing anti-vehicle stuff.

Interestingly apparently near-infrared is more likely to blind you than visible, since the whole eye is transparent to those wavelengths; it's not that big a concern, though, since even 24th-century humanity has medicine that can regrow those cells, and the zledo are 300 years more advanced. Still I imagine most military personnel wear protective contact lenses, and they might be a part of civilians' "survival kits" for if shit hits fans before they can evacuate. Not sure if zledo do things like put in contacts with their fingertips or with the backs of their extended claws—maybe they stick the lens to their fingertip and open their eye with the back of their claw, that's somewhat like how humans put in contacts. I imagine having a whole third-eyelid nictitating membrane (also called a "haw" on horses at least) makes the whole thing a bit more difficult.


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 still 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.