2016/01/31

Be Cool, Be Cool (Redux)

It's official: zled lasers use the "adjustable-angle grip inside ring" thing, have their thumb-trigger on the side of the grip (it's pushed down, with the thumb, so bumping it with one's fingers doesn't set off the laser). The springs both hand and long lasers use are the same diameter as their lenses, although I also think there are bigger springs sold for certain applications (I don't think the long-laser's springs will be usable in the hand-laser). This means the standard hand-laser springs are 1.85 centimeters long, and the standard long-laser ones are 4.34 centimeters.

Another thing I decided was to use cylindrical casings for the lasers, rather than hexagonal-prism. They have an accessory-rail underneath their optical cavity casing, the way that, say, the TBL-37 37-millimeter gas-gun does, under its barrel (though not, of course, an actual Picatinny rail).

Changing the shape of the casing necessitates recalculating the heat-exchangers' size (which were based on less precise figures anyway). The long laser's waste heat (at 85% laser-efficiency) is 881.56 watts per firing; the efficiency of microchannel heat-exchangers is 1.5 kilowatts per second per square centimeter. This means that if we want it to only take one second to dump the waste-heat of firing off the entire spring's charge, it'll take 28.21 square centimeters; however, the people designing the thing don't use seconds. If we want it to take one dothã (c. 0.518 seconds), it'll take 52.495 square centimeters of heat-exchanger.

The outer diameter of the long laser is 8.775 centimeters, for a circumference of 27.567 centimeters; since the heat-exchanger is only on the top half, one dimension of the (effectively rectangular) heat-exchanger is 13.784 centimeters. Divide 52.495 by 13.784, and we discover that the long laser's heat-exchanger is a band 3.954 centimeters wide.

Doing the same thing for the hand laser we find a waste-heat of 282.09 watts per firing. It'd take 5.813 square centimeters to dump the waste-heat of emptying out the entire 16-shot spring (assuming one dothã to dump all the heat); the outer diameter of the hand laser's optical cavity is 5.5575 centimeters, meaning its circumference is 17.459 centimeters, and the dimension of a heat-exchanger along its top half is 8.7297 centimeters. That means the width of the heat-exchanger band is a mere 6.658 millimeters.

2016/01/28

Kind of a High End Gift Shop II

561 is 3×11×17. Speculative material culture thoughts.
  • Was reading a thing, for sci-fi writers, about how cell phones now can do stuff most personal electronics in science fiction can't do. But one of the examples was cloud-based translation in real time.

    Two problems; first, of course, is that machine translation doesn't really work yet (and add in voice recognition and you're making things even harder). Second is that having your conversations translated in real-time is basically asking your service-provider to record all your conversations.

    Now, on the one hand this is great, because it means I don't have to rewrite anything. On the other hand, why do so many people not seem to realize that "the cloud" knows where they are at all times?
  • I think, from my research, that the way you're going to build houses in the future both will and will not change. What will change is how the walls are put up; what won't, is what the walls are usually made of. See, how you'll put the wall up in the future will be with a 3D-printed nylon matrix, but once it's up, you're pretty much going to add the normal foam insulation you do now. Then, you'll use the matrix as a support-structure for plaster and concrete (interior and exterior walls, respectively), only sprayed on rather than poured.

    Another thing people might do with drywall is install it the old-fashioned way, pre-fabbed, but with the drywall, though still fundamentally basically gypsum plaster, modified to be a phase-change material. The way that works is, when heated or cooled past a certain point, part of the drywall changes from solid to liquid, or vice-versa, changing its physical properties; this gives it improved thermal characteristics (both retention and transfer, depending on the phase) compared to regular drywall. The best way to do it seems to be using polyethylene pellets saturated with paraffin and mixed into the gypsum before it's pressed into drywall sheets; the two alternatives, soaking the drywall sheets in either paraffin or a fat, seem to be a fire hazard.
  • With regard to the zled spring-powered lasers, I decided to do them with carbon nanotube springs. The zled long laser is 9,991 joules per shot, and hold enough charge for 48 shots. That means its total charge is 479,568 joules. Given the energy densities of carbon nanotube springs of .3 megajoules per kilogram and 3.4 megajoules per liter, you wind up with a CNT spring that masses 1,598.56 grams, and has a volume of 141.05 cubic centimeters. The hand laser's shots are 3,197 joules each and it holds 16 shots, for a total of 51,152 joules; that means a spring that masses 170.51 grams and has a volume of 15.04 cubic centimeters.

    If we go with a spring cartridge that's the same diameter as the lens of the hand laser, which is 3.2175 centimeters (exactly one-quarter bãgh), the spring for the hand laser is only 1.85 centimeters thick. The one for the long laser, meanwhile, if it's the same diameter as the hand laser's spring (maybe make 'em usable on either?), is 17.35 centimeters (almost seven inches). If I don't feel like worrying about that, well, the long laser's lens is twice the diameter of the hand one, for a spring 4.34 centimeters thick. (Maybe you can still use the long-laser cartridges on the hand laser, it just looks dorky, like a "snail-shell" magazine for a handgun.) Think I'll go with the first one; the long-laser spring-cartridge just sticks out the back real far, used in the hand-laser.

    One thing I'm getting rid of is the break-action; now the lasers have the circular hand-guard, and the end of the laser sticks past it in back. Thinking instead of the grip being part of the circle, the grip is a post inside the circle, that has an adjustable angle (I think made of memory-material, to mold to your hand). I had worried that would make the thumb-trigger unworkable, but it can be on the side instead of the back. That'd probably give you a firmer grip anyway.
  • The total weight of an average VAJRA trooper in armor is, as mentioned, 104.5 kilos (the VAJRA troopers are both male and female). Add in the weight of 1000 rounds of 13-millimeter HEIAP plus polymer-linked belt (43.5 kiograms) and you get 148 kilos. And then the weight of a three-barrel Gatling gun (I use the 20-millimeter M197 rather .50 BMG GAU-19 because it has to deal with that level of muzzle-energy and recoil) is another 60 kilograms, bringing the total to 208 kilograms.

    The average recoil force on the M197 when fired at 1500 rounds per minute is 5.8 kilonewtons, which might actually still be enough to knock a VAJRA trooper over. On the other hand, though, the canceled XM301 cannon from the equally canceled RAH-66 Comanche attack helicopter had a recoil force of 3.5 kilonewtons.

    Since it requires 2.7 kilonewtons to knock down a 113-kilogram basketball player, it would (assuming it scales linearly with weight) require 4.97 kilonewtons to knock over a 208 kilogram VAJRA trooper. (Actually it'd take more than that, because the VAJRA trooper has the center-of-gravity of a 166.5-centimeter average human, not a basketball player.) So 3.5 kilonewtons is not enough recoil-force to knock over the VAJRA troopers! (But 5.8 would be.)
  • I had had transport aircraft (not fighter-planes) propelled by all-electric jet engines. Only, there's probably no way to do that; you might be able to heat the air electrically before sucking it through your fans, but it'd be incredibly inefficient. It'd be much more efficient to just use superconducting ducted fans, like those Airbus is working on for their VoltAir concept.

    Indeed, you might not need superconductors; we've already demonstrated an electric plane, the E-Fan, with performance comparable to other ultralight planes like the Cessna 162 in everything but range. With the kind of battery technology my setting has, the range issue would go away. Then again you might need superconductors for the kind of performance big ducted fans do, I'm not sure.
  • There's a type of battery called "Cambridge crude" which, while not particularly impressive in terms of energy-density (1.08-1.8 megajoules/liter, 0.468-0.9 megajoules/kilogram, compared to gasoline's 32.4 and 44.4, respectively), has the interesting property of being a liquid. Okay a sludge, hence its name.

    What's important about that is, you can pump it in and out of cars relatively quickly, or simply swap your tanks in or out (also proposed with the batteries of the VoltAir). I imagine that that (possibly the second one) might be what drivers do with the silicon-air batteries my setting uses; metal-air batteries normally involve liquids, and one probably doesn't want to wait while they charge. They have comparable energy density to gasoline (actually better—51.223 megajoules/kilogram, 75.924 megajoules/liter), and it can be time-consuming to charge metal-air batteries.
  • It seems like the "blood" of my androids won't be a polyacrylonitrile gel after all. Silicon-air batteries apparently work by dissolving silicon in an "ionic liquid" composed of oligofluorohydrogenate (a flourine salt) and 1-ethyl-3-methylimidazolium (an imidazole derivative).

    Then again, apparently ionic liquids are fairly viscous, so maybe it'd still behave something like a gel; they might also add something to it to let it "clot", so your $450 million dollar android doesn't bleed to death. (And that's just the price for his brain, his body probably costs a pretty penny too—though a drop in the bucket compared to the AI and the hardware to run it.)

    They also, as I think I've mentioned, have a dye in it, to make leaks noticeable (since I think it's clear, on its own).
  • I've mentioned zledo perfume their clothes. Actually their military has clothes lined with odor-absorbing resins; it's a bad idea for your enemy to smell you coming (some Asian cuisines are just a straight-up liability), and their enemy for most of their history certainly could. They probably had activated charcoal centuries before we did, and not just because they didn't take a century or two off for retro cosplay.

    So it occurred to me, their cops and soldiers (actually their cops are soldiers...like France's are), if married to civilians, probably kiss their spouse goodbye (well, you know, the zled equivalent), and then spray down with an odor-eliminating spray. Probably they do that at work, rather than "say goodbye, spray down" on their own doorsteps, that'd just be weird. I imagine there's probably some kind of spray-dispenser in the locker-room.

    If the spouse of a soldier or cop is one of their professional hunters, they probably don't have to bother about that, since the professional hunters also have to worry about being smelled.

2016/01/21

De scripturae romanicos physicales III

SF writing thoughts.
  • I'd intended to have the dying words of a character involved in cybernetics be "Madeleines in tea would be disgusting", which is a Proust reference indirectly but directly is a Serial Experiments Lain reference (and Lain in its turn contains the only Proust reference in an animated TV show). Then, however, I find out that many if not most madeleines are lemon-flavored, not the disgusting almond-flavored first-aid emetics I've always thought of, and that wouldn't be nearly as revolting in tea.

    On the other hand apparently Proust made the whole thing up; madeleines don't do what he describes, no matter how dry or stale they are, and when you do get crumbs they have no flavor. Apparently the original line was dry toast, which for some stupid reason he changed to madeleines even though madeleines don't work for the scene. Why not toast? Isn't the imagery better when the thing you're using in it is something that can do what you describe it as doing?

    Like, what, did he think people would judge him for dipping his toast in the tea? Was he trying to ride some then-current "madeleines in tea" wave? Did he always panic and order a Manhattan or something? Maybe I'll have the guy say "Nobody eats madeleines in tea, I don't know why Proust didn't just say 'toast'—that was what he actually dipped in the tea anyway."
  • Zled society, at least in its dominant civilization, is quinquefunctional, where Indo-European society is trifunctional (and, arguably, East Asian society is quadrifunctional, with "those who rule and study" a distinct class from both "those who fight" and "those who pray", though scholars/administrators may also take a military or religious role). The five basic classes in zled society are priest and warrior/noble, of course—and then farmer, craftsman, and merchant, each in its own class rather than lumped together into "those who work". "Farmer", of course, includes miners, fishermen, and professional hunters—anyone whose wealth is in land rather than capital or expertise. The merchants are a go-between class, selling the produce of the farmers and craftsmen.

    I'm not sure how merchants who deal directly in agricultural products dress, but those who deal with craft-sodalities dress in plaids or stripes of the sodality's colors. (Zled craft-sodalities, as I think I've said before, are "lumpers" where our guilds were "splitters"; furriers, tanners, weavers, and fullers would all be the same sodality for them, they were four different guilds for us.) Merchants have sodalities like those of craftsmen, but they don't offer much training (beyond things like bookkeeping, presumably); they mostly function as an insurance co-op. Likewise the farmers have sodalities too, which are basically their "village" associations (which are a lot more vaguely geographical than our villages, especially with their modern tech).
  • Zbin-Ãld, the zled official language, has a feature I don't know any human language does. Its adjectives are only attributive, not predicative. In other words, you have to say "it's a strange thing" rather than "it's strange".

    It's quicker than it sounds, though, because another thing they do is apply adjectives to pronouns—"it's a strange it", which isn't grammatical in English (actually they're pro-drop, so they really say "being a strange it").

    They also, rather than calling each other "dear", etc., say things like "dear you". That's kinda like something you do get in, e.g., Japanese, e.g. "ore-sama" and "anata-sama" ("lord me"—exactly as arrogant as it sounds—and "lord you"—sometimes used with customers—respectively). But Japanese hasn't actually got pronouns, grammatically, and those are honorifics, not adjectives.
  • If you're going to use a technology or the issues surrounding it, for your story, make sure you actually understand it. E.g., opposition to genetic engineering of humans is nothing like depicted in the season (series?) finale of Minority Report. First off, "germ-line" gene-modification doesn't mean "in utero", it means "in the gonads" (hence "germ line", the "germ cells" are the precursors of the gametes)—it refers to making your gene-modifications inheritable.

    One generation-worth of genetic modification is potentially risky enough; making the modification inheritable could mean if you screw it up badly enough, you'll never be able to fix it. Now, once you do have the modification tested for safety, you could conceivably make it heritable—as I have said before, genotypes aren't Pokémon, we're not trying to "catch them all"—but our understanding of genetics is in its infancy, as shown, for example, by this Google Ngrams chart of the word "epigenetics". Note the meteoric rise after 2000.
  • I know I've talked about the Jingo/Gnostic/post-colonial narrative, on display from Attack on Titan to Elder Scrolls to (some of) Halo. Apparently, though, I'm actually much too generous, because here, Fabio Paolo Barbieri makes a convincing case that this narrative, as typified by X-Men, is actually Nazi.

    Now, of course, he could just be mistaking the standard paranoid oppression-narrative for its Nazi form. He (unwisely in my view) objects to characterizing Nazism as Marxist, though one wonders if he objects to calling Ceausescu's ideology Marxist, or what differences between Hitler and Ceausescu he can point to that justify excluding one and not the other. (Other than the foreign-policy differences that are probably attributable to Ceausescu having seen what happened to Hitler, I mean.) Barbieri also made some very wide-of-the-mark attacks on Goldberg's Liberal Fascism—despite himself having said, I believe, that Fascism was an outgrowth of the Progressive movement, and ignoring Goldberg's evidence of direct influence of Mussolini on FDR's policies (and admiration by Mussolini for FDR's policies).

    Nevertheless the narrative in question, wherever you stick it in your ideological taxonomy (it occurs to me that maybe I'm just a "lumper" while Barbieri is a "splitter"), is a pernicious, morally reprehensible brand of paranoia typical of totalitarian ideologies. On that, at least, all perceptive observers probably ought to agree.
  • A device I find very funny is the idea that while aliens might surrender to superior force, humans never do. You get it a lot in science fiction, where the alien conquerors had never met a species as stubborn as humans.

    Which I guess is why the language most of those stories are in is 60% words from Latin and French, right? (Adopted entirely voluntarily by the English, one assumes?) And I guess it's spoken where it is because the Britons were through using the island? And half the remaining words in English are from languages spoken in the British Empire, most of which was acquired without the total genocide of the territory in question (even in Ireland they only killed about an eighth the population).

    The fact is that the only reason humans are not extinct is we have methods of deciding who wins a conflict, other than "who's not all dead". And it's especially ironic to write such a conceit, in a culture where the standard response to being looked at by a stranger, is to assume the primate submissive posture. Russians and many East Asians think you look deranged if you smile at strangers—note that customers are not strangers, for East Asian purposes, but are for Russian ones.
  • There's this new (2014) literary movement/SF subgenre, spawned from Tumblr, called "solarpunk". It's about making "sustainable" future utopias (hence its naming itself after the maximally 30% efficient power-source that usually involves things like arsenic to manufacture its equipment). The word "post-scarcity" gets bandied about a lot, despite claiming that its speculations are "achievable with current technology" (an end to scarcity isn't achievable with current physics—or any other coherent model of the universe we actually inhabit).

    Basically, it's the kind of "hippie commune" science fiction you also get in Iain M. Banks, only with the tree-huggers more prominent than the free-love orgies. Also, it seems, generally lighter on the transhumanism (and probably on the incipient genocidal fascism, although it's only been a little over a year, give 'em time). I'm trying very, very hard to see how this is "punk"; if the "joiner" thing that cyberpunk mutated into was called "cyberprep" (not that cyberpunk's by-the-book Hollywood leftism was really punk), wouldn't this subgenre be more accurately termed "solarwaldorf"?
  • Someone on one of the anti-SJW Tumblrs had a good point about the do-it-yourself pronouns: languages have "open" lexical categories, like nouns and maybe even verbs (almost everyone can just start saying "airplane", say, or "veto", if they hadn't previously had those objects or activities), and "closed" lexical categories (like prepositions, articles, and pronouns). Since pronouns are nearly always a "closed" category, you can't actually make up new ones.

    Even in languages like Japanese, whose "pronouns" are actually nouns (other than various "this/that/yonder" constructions), you really can't make up your own, unilaterally. While it is true that a character can, say, use something like "Mokona" as Mokona's personal reference, that is because "Mokona" is also Mokona's name, and one of the accepted members of the closed "pronoun" category is "own name" (all Japanese "first person" references can be equally well translated as the third person, e.g. both "boku" and "sessha" basically mean "your servant", with "sessha" adding a "humble" or "clumsy").

    You most certainly can't have a character in a Japanese work use, say, "piggû-û-ui" as their first-person reference, and then reveal their name is "Buranjinguzunojôtei". You're only going to annoy your readers. And that's Japanese, which has a dozen quasi-pronoun personal references per grammatical person, and where a character using weird pronouns dragged from the tomb is an accepted literary device. How much less can you get away with it in an Indo-European language that actually has personal pronouns as a separate (and very small) lexical category?

2015/12/03

Itty-bitty Living Space

Okay so the power in question isn't really "phenomenal" or "cosmic".

But anyway I was thinking. Can you beam power to nano-bots? They're smaller than the wavelength of microwave-power transmission; a dipole antenna is about half a wavelength long, so even if you made the entire length of a 500-nanometer bot into an antenna, it'd still only be able to receive wavelengths of up to one micrometer (can you beam power in the near-infrared?). Fractal antennas, maybe?

The frequency recommended for microwave power-transmission is 24 GHz, 12.5 millimeters wavelength. Apparently an "electrically small" antenna is one whose maximum dimension is less than the wavelength λ (specifically the "free space" i.e. "propagating in vacuum" wavelength but "wavelength" simpliciter, for our purposes) divided by 2π. 12.5 millimeters over 2π is 1.989 millimeters, which is to say "almost exactly 2"; the maximum dimension of a 500 nanometer bot is λ/25,000. Is that feasible in an antenna? I doubt it; you'd probably have to pack it pretty tight.

Another option might be ultrasonic power transmission. You can use that for all kinds of things; it might some day replace microwaves not only for wireless power but for at least some data, though of course it's totally worthless for a spacefaring civilization. (It's apparently subject to jamming just as EM is, which is fortunate.) And in air at room temperature, the frequencies at which ultrasonic power-transmission works (45-75 kHz) have much shorter wavelengths than those used for microwaves—4.576 millimeters to 7.627 millimeters. That means much less space is required for the receiver (though I wonder if there might be "noise" issues—literal and figurative noise, given we're talking sound waves—at the nanometer scale).

I guess I'll go with ultrasonic power-beaming, for my weaponized nano-bots. It occurs to me that since zledo can hear sounds up to 65 kHz (same as tigers), this choice gives me plot options. (It also gives me an excuse to keep the humans using EM for power transmission on one of the planets—that the sunspots of a BY Draconis variable play hell with EM transmission is an important facet of one of my characters' backstory. Then again ultrasonics, in the frequency-range and decibel-levels (145-155 dB) involved in wireless power, don't seem to be much use for transmission beyond about 1 meter per decibel—at room temperature, and depending somewhat on humidity and air-pressure.)

Medical nano-bots, of course, can be powered from their host's body in various ways, e.g. by heat, blood-flow, borrowing some of the body's electrolytes, etc. (Maybe while undergoing nano-bot treatment you have to drink lots of Gatorade.) So I probably don't have to worry about that.

2015/12/01

War Never Changes III

Military science fiction thoughts.
  • Apparently "gray goo" is more or less impossible; biological materials (as distinct from "organic materials" as such) are too complex to be easily incorporated into nano-bots. Also there's the fact that nano-bots are too small to move around much; at their scale, drag is apparently crippling.

    There's actually a simpler problem: at the scale of a 500 nanometer bot, moving one meter is the equivalent of moving a DJI Phantom quadcopter drone 1,150 kilometers. Apparently ten to twenty is considered relatively long-range for those. That problem might partly go away if you can beam them their power, I suppose.

    I think you can still weaponize them, but, only small-scale. You basically have a precision-targeted form of germ-warfare, or possibly something that can eat the concrete and rebar from your enemy's bunkers and send them crashing down on top of him. (The former is still probably ethically questionable; the latter is insidious but probably okay.)
  • Someone was talking about what it sounds like to vaporize (they said "disintegrate", but vaporization is the easiest way to accomplish that) someone's limb. And I said, "Boom."

    Because, to vaporize a human, bones and all, takes 3 gigajoules, equivalent to 717 kilos of TNT. Therefore, by the "rule of nines" (or actually "of elevenths"), to do it to an arm takes (9% of 717=)64.53 kilos TNT, and a leg would take (18% of 717=)129.06.

    That means that vaporizing someone's arm is roughly equivalent to hitting him with an AIM-7 Sparrow air-to-air missile with an RDX warhead (40 kilos of RDX is 64-odd kilos of TNT). In the arm. Probably would've been simpler to just shoot him.
  • Just decided, just like how zledo don't distinguish tanks from other artillery (referring to them as "armored guns"), and their space-force is a branch of their artillery, they also consider their air and naval forces to be artillery (air and sea, basically). After all, what makes naval vessels (apart from aircraft carriers) important is their guns and missiles; what makes air a factor, militarily, is bombs and missiles. Interestingly, there has been machinegun artillery, like the Bofors 40 mm autocannon—and it, like aircraft autocannons, is mostly used in an anti-air role.

    I think the org-chart for zled artillery is basically like the US Navy, and not just because they crew spaceships. You can think of a single artillery emplacement as being something like a single boat, a large group of them as like a large ship or a fleet; the logistics aspects are similar as well. About the only thing that's different is the actual "self-propelled vehicle" aspect, and that, too, is arguably comparable to the drivers and mechanics in a mobile artillery unit, or the power-plant and similar jobs, in a fixed base. I think their "Air Force Bases" are actually more like carrier aviation that happens to stay in one place, too.

    And then, of course, their ground forces (I'd wanted to say "infantry" but really "infantry and cavalry", at least historically though they still use pack-animals), which in their military has a subordinate role to artillery (as it did in every Western military at least from Napoleon on, if not longer), is like the Marines, who are a branch of the Department of the Navy. You do need infantry to make artillery effective; not only are guns worthless if their crews get overrun, but a guy with a heavy machinegun can pin down enemy forces long enough to bring in fire support (of which even we consider close-air support to be a sub-set).
  • Is it just me or do personal force-fields make no sense? I mean, how's it work? It can't repel most bullets magnetically, they're not ferrous. Gravity-based tractor beam?

    Hmm. An M-16's NATO-standard ammunition is a 4-gram bullet moving at 940 m/s. Suppose the force-field starts working in a two-meter radius from the user, and stops the bullets by the time they reach a one-meter radius. To stop a bullet fired from close range (where it's still moving roughly at its muzzle-velocity), in one meter (which the bullet will cross in 1/940th of a second) means an acceleration of 883,600 m/s2. That acceleration, applied to a mass of 4 grams, is still 3,534.4 newtons.

    That's as much force as accelerating an average adult human (62 kilos, taking both sexes into account) at 57 m/s2, or 5.81 G's. So your personal force-field means flinging people away from you at the equivalent of "zero to sixty in .47 seconds". (You'll recall that the Goa'uld personal force-fields, in Stargate SG-1, address this, and only work on objects moving above a certain speed. But I question the usefulness of a defense-system that doesn't protect against tomahawks.)
  • The average (adult) human male is 173 centimeters tall, while the average female is 160. Thus, the average adult human is 166.5 centimeters tall. The average man masses 70 kilos, the average woman 54; the average is, as mentioned, 62 kilograms. If humans were made of automotive alloy (guessed where I'm going with this?), they'd mass 105.283 kilos, 125.283 if they were also wearing full-body steel plate armor. And if that armored figure were ten meters tall, it'd mass 27,142.47 kilograms.

    The 100-kilogram DURUS/PROXI robot uses 2.2 kW⋅h (7.92 megajoules) every eight hours; if it were the ten-meter, 27.14 megagram mecha, it would use 597.13 kW⋅h (assuming power-use scales linearly with mass). That sounds terrible, until it's pointed out the M1 Abrams uses the equivalent of 10,020 kW⋅h over the same period. And there's 40% of the land-surface an MBT can't go on, whereas a mecha can, on nearly all of it. (Of course, the only way the mecha can beat the MBT is by using missiles...unfortunately for the tank, the mecha's modularity means it can use missiles.)

    Basically, I think I just invented the guerrilla tank. Provided the guerrillas have some mad scientists handy, anyway. Indeed, the backstory of my mecha involves them being used for precisely that. (It's a lot more plausible than "Minovsky particles", anyway.)
  • In some ways it's like reality is doing us a favor, writers I mean. Consider: while soon the only manned air combat will be close-air support, that's also the easiest to write and the least counter-intuitive kind. (CAS is also the only air-combat you'd be likely to use mecha in.)

    Or how at the ranges space-combat happens at, "close enough to control in real time" is practically the same thing as "on board", so there's no reason not to cut out the middle-man and just use manned spaceships (AI probably never reaching the point where you'd trust it with nukes).
  • Speaking of nukes, what's with this idea that space combat would involve something else? Use anything weaker in your missiles, and that fuel is probably better spent carrying more ammo for your KE weapons; and anything more exotic is going to be too big to schlep into space or too expensive to waste on a warhead. (Maybe something fragmentation-based.)

    That said, I think my setting's humans use antimatter to catalyze fusion in their bombs, whereas zledo can miniaturize topological confinement enough to make true pure-fusion weapons. The former, unfortunately, is volatile—antimatter containment is a bitch—but, I mean, you're not any less dead with a "magazine hit" involving far more conventional weapons.
  • Something occurs to me, RE: zled artillery. Given they can throw a small car (their women can flip one), they can pretty much manually load even the 750-kilo shells fired by giant things like the Soviet 2B1 Oka or the Atomic Annie nuclear howitzer—let alone the little 90-kilo shells the M110 fired (and not even bothering to bring up the 47-kilo shells the M109 fires).

    On a related note, part of the problem with putting (human) women in all the same roles as men, in the military, is they physically can't "hump" a lot of the equipment. A lot of the people pushing for a unisex, fully-coed military have bought into the fantasy of "push-button war"—which, again, even Hideo Kojima knows will never actually happen.

    Hideo Kojima having a more accurate conception of military realities than you do is a kind of shame a culture would invent harakiri to cover, even if it'd never had the practice before.

2015/11/18

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 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.

2015/10/19

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.)

2015/10/10

Rannm Thawts Six

Post 555!

Thoughts.
  • 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.

2015/09/30

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).

2015/09/23

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".