2016/05/15

The Actor's Best Critic

Stuff about my lasers, most of it involving their lenses one way or another. Hence the title, a Sydney Greenstreet quote:
The lens is the actor's best critic... showing his mind more clearly than on the stage. You can get wonderful cooperation out of the lens if you are true, but God help you if you are not. ... You're at the mercy of the camera angles and the piecemeal technique.
Discovered a reason not to use c. one-micron wavelength for the near-infrared lasers zledo use: it's still a blindness-hazard at that wavelength. Went with c. one and a half microns—the blindness-risk is between 350 and 1400 nanometers (near-UV poses some risk of physically burning the surface of the eyes themselves, but they are at least opaque to it). Of course, with both zled and human medicine of my books' era, they can actually re-grow your retina if they have to, but that's probably a costly, time-consuming, and possibly painful procedure. (Presumably they can also correct for the vision-problems albinos have, by the same methods...though that might have to involve straight-up dyeing their eyes, since there is actually a reason their retinas don't grow in right, and giving a normal retina to someone whose eyes still can't block light is probably flat-out dangerous.)

Might need to double-check when they use green lasers, while I'm at it—maybe they don't? Visible light is bad RE: blindness-risk because, y' know, your eyes are designed to catch as much of it as they can, and all. Think their civilian lasers are only near-infrared, since at the range of most civilian self-defense even that's adequate even against their body-armor (and near-UV, since it can over-penetrate, is probably a liability risk). Also not having the frequency-adjuster probably keeps the price down, always more of an issue for the private individual than for a professional military.

Also discovered that c. 250 nanometers, which I'd had as their near-UV band, is UV-C and, apparently, gets quite attenuated by air—as in the attenuation-graphs I can find seem to stop cold at 300 nanometers (I think they might be assuming the ozone-layer, rather than the low-ozone lower atmospheric layers, since ultraviolet light you're likely to need to know about, is mostly part of sunlight). Went with just over 320 nanometers, just inside the UV-A range, but still outside the blindness-risk range. UV-A can go easily through air, and even window-glass—which is opaque to UV-B and UV-C. I think UV-A also has the least attenuation in air of any part of the UV (lower than 200 nanometers, air, as such, becomes completely opaque to ultraviolet; ozone, mostly found in the upper atmosphere, is mostly opaque to UV-B and completely opaque to UV-C, but transparent to UV-A).

A nice thing about changing these is that laser-ranges seem to scale linearly with wavelength—a 532-nanometer green laser has half the range (ignoring atmospheric attenuation) of a 216-nanometer near-UV laser, and twice the range of a 1,064-nanometer near-infrared laser. So changing from c. 1 micron to c. 1.5 microns just meant I had to divide the ranges by 1.5; changing from c. 250 to c. 320 is going to mean dividing by 1.25 (or multiplying by .8)—because they're actually 1/400,000th of a zled unit vs. 1/500,000th, which makes their ratio much tidier than 25/32nds.

On the other hand, discovered the lenses I'd given them were actually too small, for decent ranges. For some ungodly reason, the laser-performance calculator I use, uses lenses' radiuses, when one normally talks about them in terms of diameter (not just lasers, either-a 50-millimeter camera lens is its diameter, not its radius).

In view of this, made the hand laser, which had been one-quarter bãgh, or 3.2175 centimeters, one-third, or 4.29 centimeters. This makes its heat-exchanger, still 5.813 square centimeters in total area, a mere 3.389 millimeters wide, because the outer diameter of the laser is 5.46 centimeters (I realized I'd made the outer casing way too thick, 1/11th bãgh rather than, much more reasonably, 1/22nd—since even that is 5.85 millimeters.) Its nanotube spring, on the other hand—same diameter as the lens—would be 1.06 centimeters wide. Since that's just the spring, and it has a thick casing (because springs are freaking dangerous), as thick as that around the laser itself, we wind up with a spring-cartridge 2.23 centimeters wide.

The long laser goes from being one-half bãgh, 6.435 centimeters, to being two-thirds, 8.58 centimeters. Its heat exchanger, still needing an area of 52.495 square centimeters, is only 17.138 millimeters wide (its outer diameter is 9.75 centimeters, since its casing is also thinner now). The nanotube spring to power it, at the new diameter of the lens, is 2.44 centimeters wide, in its cartridge-casing 3.61 centimeters.

2016/04/28

De scripturae romanicos physicales IV

SF writing thoughts. Was basically another speculative material culture, mil-SF, and exobiology post, but I also talk about languages. So, writing post.
  • Did you know there's an exception to the rule that birds (or diapsids in general) don't pee? Ostriches. And turkey vultures (which are actually condors). A couple other birds, too—all of them from hot climates. Urinating is an excellent method of dumping heat, that's why you sometimes shiver when you pee, it works even when you'd rather it didn't.
  • In my setting (because it seems most realistic), not only are nano-bot weapons primarily actually micro-bot weapons, with the nano-bots mostly acting as a germ-warfare payload (like how you combat malaria by going after mosquitos), but the terraforming projects that would involve nano-bots actually just use the nano-bots as something like termite gut-flora, and the termites themselves are ant-sized microbots.

    Of course, in my setting, the terraforming project is an "in case we need it millennia from now" thing, not a "we already did it before ever setting foot there" thing. In terms of "terraforming", I mean, as used in science fiction; they do, of course, do various things to prep the soil, etc., for colonization. Even on planets where humans can live without habitat domes, I think they have medical nano-bot injections to help them cope with anything odd about the atmospheres involved.
  • Decided that instead of using auxiliary verbs for the causative, Zbin-Ãld reduplicates the vowels in its tense- and aspect-affixes, with a glottal stop in between—kinda like how Uto-Aztecan languages mark one of their generally two classes of plurals, except that's always the first syllable of the stem, rather than the vowel in the syllable-nucleus of both prefixes and suffixes (Zbin-Ãld uses prefixes for one and suffixes for the other, tense and aspect respectively). That might slightly increase the number of apostrophes in words, since they already insert a glottal stop between affix and stem, if the stem starts or ends with a vowel.

    It now also marks the reflexive by applying both the ergative and absolutive particles to the agent of the verb (which, yes, does effectively make an intransitive verb transitive, but causatives slot the verb they modify into the next rank, in terms of "valency", i.e. the number of "arguments" involved in a verbal predicate). The reflexive-causative is important because it's how they mark their honorific constructions; as in Nahuatl, I think that, idiomatically, the two morphologies effectively cancel each other out and rather than being a reflexive causative semantically, it's just an honorific version of a normal construction.
  • Although they use their reflexive causative for that idiom, I think they still mark other things, including the actual (semantic) reflexive causative, by auxiliary verbs (plus, I think, the subjunctive). Since "you cause yourself to do" is the honorific, to actually say "you make yourself do something", they might say something like "You forced yourself that you might do it", with "do" in the subjunctive (just a particle, in Zbin-Ãld). They also have an "I am livid that you would do that" construction, like the -teiyagaru form in Japanese, with "dare that you (might) do", and express the dubitative with "guess that you (might) do", and form polite imperatives with "I (we) request (that) you (might) do" (and a more emphatic request of "I (we) beg that you (might) do"). They probably also use that kind of construction for an inferential/renarrative mood and various other "evidential" constructions, with "it seems that you (might) do", "I hear that it (might) do", etc.

    On the other hand the desiderative (want to) and permissive (allowed to/"may") are single particles. So are two different necessitatives, one for ought to/"should" and one for has to/"must" (though for things like "I have to do my homework" they say "should"). They combine the latter necessitative particle with the subjunctive of the verb "to be", for the assumptive/deductive mood, "must be that you (might) do". They also use a single particle for a verb-mood that is probably a specific type of the speculative, which means able to/"can", and ought to be called the "poderative" (there is a verb-ending for that in Japanese but apparently it's classed as a voice, not a mood, which I don't buy). Zbin-Ãld also uses that last thing for informal requests, like how English (and Czech) say "Could you pass the mustard?" as a request between "Pass the mustard" and "Please pass the mustard"—but theirs isn't a question.
  • To inflict locust-style devastation on an area, let's say you have 40 million micro-bots (roughly the number of locusts in a square kilometer during a "swarming"). And that each is ant-sized, i.e. roughly the size of a grain of long rice, 70 cubic millimeters. Now, at the density of carbon fiber (what insect-based bots seem to usually be made of), we're talking about 25 milligrams each; 40 million of them weigh one megagram, and have a volume of 2,800 liters—which, assuming square containers, have 75% density, so really a volume of 3,733 and one-third liters.

    If you take them in something like this US military medical storage-chest, it basically takes 18 of them to contain it all, say three trips of six chests. Each of the chests weighs 19 kg; if each of the canisters containing the bots is half a liter, and there are 200 of them per chest (not sure how the dimensions of each canister would play out), well I seem to find a typical weight for a half-liter vacuum bottle of 300 grams, so figure 200 of them is another 60 kg per chest, for a total weight per filled chest of 134 and 5/9 kilograms per chest; each cartload of six of them would weigh 807 and 1/3 kilograms, which I think the biggest carts used in shelf-stocking do sometimes handle.

    The 1-megagram of micro-bot locusts can do more damage than real locusts because while a locust can eat its own weight in a day, a micro-bot is not limited by the need to digest—or being diurnal (since they're probably not solar-powered, at least at night). Locust-bots with beamed power (or that use environmental electrolytes for fuel) can probably devour three, maybe four times their weight in the course of a day, either using nano-bots inside them as something like termite gut-flora or else just using the nano-bots as an anti-personnel weapon while the micro-bots do anti-materiel damage.
  • I got to thinking, what if there were an ecosystem with no autotrophs, and the herbivore-analog survived by directly eating electrolyte salts from its environment? From that point on, the rest of the ecosystem would work like ours does, with various levels of carnivore eating the...halivore, I guess?...for its salts and whatever its tissues were made of. (Probably the salts would also get shuffled back into the environment by the decay of such organisms.) I suppose their "energy biosphere" probably wouldn't be based on carbon-fixing, so their tissues would be radically different from ours. Maybe that would be what silicon-based life would do?

    Maybe they exist in seas of molten metal or something. It also occurred to me that such an ecosystem would only be more efficient than one based on photosynthesis in a dark environment, either subterranean (see previous remarks RE: "molten metal"), or perhaps under highly pressurized oceans, on planets far from stars or even without stars ("rogue planets"). They might well have senses like radar, and almost certainly sonar; there might be wavelengths that make prey or predators show up against a background of molten metal or highly pressurized seas (though most thalassogens are, I think, opaque to radar—probably sonar and electrosensitivity would be more important to them). Then again on a Venusian type planet you'd still be able to see via EM, even though visible light would be less useful.

    It also occurred to me that "herbivore role taken by creatures that directly consume a mineral that serves as an electric power-source, while other creatures eat them to get that mineral"...is basically Cybertron's ecosystem. They're even made of inorganic substances!
  • It occurs to me that maybe the reason zledo are significantly more reptilian in terms of things like their moisture intake (and output, since they don't pee), is that their planet is not in any part of a glaciation-phase, and yet has less ocean than Earth does in an interglacial of a glaciation (we're in an Ice Age now, just not the most extreme part of it; what pop culture calls an "Ice Age" is properly termed a glacial maximum). It's drier—especially during Ice Ages—and therefore more watertight anatomies, like those of reptiles and birds, would be favored (I think their other major lineage of vertebrate-analogues, roughly analogous to reptiles if zledo are mammals, has a similar setup).

    Presumably during its glaciation phases Lhãsai is outright scary dry; it's also colder than Earth even when it's not in a glaciation phase so when it is in one, presumably it approaches Karoo Ice Age levels of severity (but not, quite, "Snowball Earth", Cryogenian Ice Age levels). Zledo are stronger and faster than humans, yet intelligent, because everything else in their biosphere is bigger and scarier than Earth-life (as I've said, they're somewhere between Oligocene/Pleistocene and full-blown Mesozoic on the "everything is huge and scary" scale). And the reason everything else in their biosphere is stronger, faster, and just generally huge and scary, is that their planet is scarier than Earth is.
  • I like the idea of reporting names, so I decided that under ordinary circumstances, zledo and humans refer to each other's military hardware by code-names, since they may not always know the actual name of something an alien made—or be able to pronounce it. Zledo call human stuff by random names, like "Shower" and "Gown", like how we call Russian fighters things like "Faceplate", "Fargo", and "Fulcrum" and their cargo-planes "Condor", "Cossack", and "Crusty".

    I had had the UN call zled hardware by the names of mythical beasts, but that was a bit too like Halo, where all Covenant vehicles except Scarabs, Locusts, Choppers, and Prowlers are named for undead beings. So instead, I decided to name them all poisonous plants. They use e.g. "Monkshood" for one type of zled mothership and "Mancenillier", French for manchineel, for another one. The others are sometimes in English and sometimes in one of the other UN official languages (none in Spanish, because it's hard to find the Spanish common names of plants, Spanish Wikipedia doesn't have most of them).

    I fudge on one because even though the words are supposed to start with S, I actually used Sh—the Arabic word for "hemlock", Shûkran. But in Arabic, the Sh is written as S with a diacritic mark (ش is س with three extra dots). I made sure that the other one I named with S actually started with S ("Sokírki", the Russian word for larkspur), since Ш and С are not variants of the same letter.

2016/03/23

Lives, Fortunes, Sacred Honor 2

Thoughts on alien biology, speculative material culture, and military science fiction.
  • I might've overestimated the viability of nano-bots as any weapon other than an artificial plague. The things probably can't eat through metal any faster than bacteria, since they're the same size and have to use comparable methods. And bacteria seem to corrode metals at a rate of about 0.8 millimeters per year.

    Maybe couple the nano-bots with micro-bots, spread them as basically robotic Dengue fever? Robots with components at micrometer scale, a few millimeters long (i.e., the size of gnats) would make an effective delivery system, and could target particular people, in a society where everybody's wired in so they can be charged for using your wireless electricity.
  • Turns out I was wrong about why hollow-points are less lethal than ball-rounds. It's not because hollow-points don't leave exit wounds for you to bleed to death out of. There is, apparently, more bleeding from a hollow-point than from a ball round, even with the exit wound from the latter.

    It's just that hollow-points' superior stopping power (whatever the hell that is) means it takes far fewer shots to incapacitate an opponent, so you go down after having to have fewer holes put in you. More bleeding from two wounds is a lot less likely to kill you than less bleeding from six.
  • I don't know if I mentioned it here—searching the blog doesn't seem to think so—but the khângây had had their forearms actually be their metacarpals, and their arms had the same direction of joint as their legs, backwards from us. But I realized that having a forearm made of metacarpals would be very hard to rotate. So now khângây arms, and presumably legs too, are set up like zled legs, with two of the wrist/ankle bones made into a third joint, crossing over so they can rotate (in the case of zled ankles and khângây wrists, but not khângây ankles, since as cursorial predators they probably want more rigid leg-structures). The ankle bones in question are the talus and calcaneus, on Earth at least, so I guess the wrist ones would be the scaphoid and the lunate, or the equivalent.
  • I would dearly love to know what they were smoking when they made d20 Modern/Future. Specifically, the ranges they list for the weapons. E.g., a Barrett M82 "Light Fifty" is listed as having a range-increment of 120 feet, meaning its maximum range is 1200 feet. But the actual (effective) range of the M82 is 5,907 feet, meaning its range increment ought to be 591 feet—118 squares.

    Perhaps they should do like first and second edition D&D did, and have combats that only take place via ranged weapons use yards instead of feet (each square equals five yards). That brings the range-increment down to 39 squares. Or they could have those combats use the d20 Modern "chase" scale, where one square equals fifty feet. That brings the maximum range down from 1,181 squares to a much more manageable 118 squares (which, remember, was the range increment, the old way).

    (While we're at it, the top speed of a Learjet is 4,730 feet per standard round, not 1,100. More importantly, its stall speed is 977 feet—say 980—per round.)
  • I do believe I've pointed out that the alien-sex options in games like Mass Effect, while pace Kevin McCullough they don't actually involve actual porn, do involve "you only put that in for prurient reasons", which is the quintessence of porn. The asari are, I'm sorry, a personal insult to the audience (as well as laughable hypocrisy, from that studio).

    Maybe people should pull their heads out of their ideological sphincters and realize that their sexual ideas don't even hold for most of their own species. What are the odds they'll hold for someone who doesn't have a bonobo for his closest relative? What if they're more like black vultures, with a strict pair-bond and violent repercussions for any straying?
  • I do not know if you object to this in the way that I do (I kid, we both know you don't), but the ruins in Elder Scrolls games always annoy me. They're all supposed to be from the Mythic Era, the time of the Dragon War, or at least the First Era, the time of Ysgramor and the Ayleid Empire and the fall of the Dwemer. But real ruins that are five thousand years old get themselves mistaken for hills; you can't move around in them. I suppose it's justifiable in the games because there are draugr and Dwemer constructs moving around; maybe when they're not trying to kill adventurers they keep the place maintained (it'd be awesome to show that in a game, game-designers). I can't really see it with the Ayleid ruins, though, since the only things in those ruins are mindless zombies and skeletons, and imps.

    I suppose in a way the same goes for the ruins on Installation 05, in Halo 2, or the Sangheili ruins in Halo 5. But in the former case there's the Sentinels and other Forerunner AIs maintaining the place (plus Forerunners have at least a limited matter-creation capability), and in the latter, the Sangheili might maintain the site. And we don't know when the Sangheili ruins became ruins; Vale only mentions when they were built.

    But I came up with a solution for something in a book where I needed a ruin: the ancient site is actually within a natural cave, a sacred site beneath a city of a vanished civilization on an alien world (not of a vanished "alien civilization" in the sci-fi sense, though—aliens' equivalent of the Sumerians or Indus Valley, basically). I also had to research how you get water in a place like Machu Picchu—the sacred site is a sacred spring, though Machu Picchu's springs are, I think, glacier-runoff while the one in my book is volcanic. I add that, in fact, mineral water and hot-springs are major regional products, down to the "present" day (like how some of those Central European baths probably long predate the Romans—if not the Indo-Europeans).
  • Found out, birds don't have scales. I mean, they do, but they're not actually analogous to mammal scales or those of other diapsids. They're actually modified feather-buds. What apparently happened is they turned their scales into feathers, and then turned some of their feathers back into scales. That's less unusual than it sounds; the hoofed mammals, turtles, and...some kind of reptile...lost their fins, and then the whales, sea turtles, and ichthyosaurs re-evolved them.
  • Decided on how zledo recharge their lasers' CNT springs. They just have an external power-source work the electric motor in reverse, winding the spring.

    They also use springs to power their handhelds; given the energy densities of CNT springs (3400 kilojoules per liter and 300 kilojoules per kilogram), and the 19.62 kilojoule power-requirements of an iPhone (to do the most power-intensive things like the "personal hotspot" function), which the iPhone can do for eight hours on one charge, powering a zled handheld with a similar power-requirement over one standard Lhãsai day would require 60.94 kilojoules. That's a spring with a volume of 17.92 milliliters, massing 203.13 grams; if it's a tenth of a bãgh wide, the spring, wound into a cylinder, would be 42.11 millimeters in diameter.

    For most of the rest of their electronics, zledo just power them wirelessly via topo-comms, either from a home-generator or "grid" power. (They power their handhelds and lasers internally for the sake of reliability, and stealth in that latter case.) My humans also power their consumer electronics (other than military hardware) wirelessly, using ultrasonic power-beaming inside houses but powering the houses themselves pretty much the same way we do (except they have the option of fusion-generation).

2016/02/22

All Is Grist 3

Random thoughts.
  • Apparently I haven't mentioned it here, but the Indo-European genders were, originally, "animate" (modern masculine) and "inanimate" (modern neuter). "Feminine" was a set of inflections within the animate/masculine that pertained, originally, to collectives or members of collectives—which is reflected in the fact that most herd-/flock-animals, to this day, are feminine by default (cow, goose→bull, gander) while other animals are thought of as masculine (dog, tiger→bitch, tigress).

    Relatedly but distinctly, whenever people try their Sapir-Whorf idiocy RE: gendered pronouns saying something about a society's treatment of women, I always say, "Find me one difference between Arab and Turkish, or Polish and Hungarian, treatment of women." The first half of each pair has grammatical gender; the second half of each pair doesn't and never did. (Well, Hungarian does distinguish persons from objects, but that's a different grammatical gender-system from the masculine-feminine one that's alleged to be "problematic".)
  • That Transcendentalist legend about "rugged individualism" on the "frontier" always has a negative impact on worldbuilding. A while back I was reading a fictionalized speculation about Mars colonization that portrayed theft of spaceship components as a major component of Martian laissez-faire attitudes, barely even disapproved enough to technically count as a black market.

    But that is not how frontier people behave. On a frontier, transportation can mean the difference between life and death, because being stranded between settlements could get you killed. We tended to take a very dim view of people who screwed with transportation. Dim as in "We lynch you on the barest suspicion of horse-thieving, sometimes even of unwittingly buying a stolen horse".

    And that's on Earth, where the harshest frontier conditions still involved breathable air and living things humans can eat. On Mars? We'd lynch you for not wiping your feet.
  • Saw Snow White and the Huntsman for the first time. This and Frozen lead me to think there might be some sort of thing going on—because that's two movies the last few years where the "true love" is a type of love other than what it has meant since the first "courts of love" in the 1100s. Is this a part of the same bizarre erotophobia that also makes people freak out when you mention that marriage is primarily a sexual relationship? Or just some kind of misguided reaction against the "Prince Charming" narrative as popularized by Disney?
  • Discussion of women in combat (and recent decisions concerning same) brought something interesting to my attention: losing a large number of young women is simply not comparable to losing a lot of young men. Most species are set up to be able to soak the loss of a lot of young males, since testosterone leads to risk-taking; if a bunch of young men die in a war, the young women just seek slightly older husbands. It doesn't work in reverse, though, because there is a time-limit on female reproduction, one that's not present in males.

    I think, given demographic issues are a part of my future history, that the Peacekeepers aren't quite fool enough to field large numbers of young women in ordinary combat infantry. They let them into Special Purpose Units (including Hammershield), since you could lose all of SOCOM and not notice it (demographically speaking I mean, wouldn't be great for the military); also our current SOCOM is arguably over-staffed relative to what "special forces" is supposed to mean. But they don't let women into the combat infantry.

    Even so they probably don't have quite our 14.5% female military; probably more like the 1980s Soviet Army's 11%.
  • Think I won't have the zledo using Casaba howitzer/nuclear shaped-charge warheads. Instead, going with a 3D topological defect, like their defect-gun (except that's one-dimensional, a cosmic string): a "cosmic texture", the 3D equivalent of a cosmic string. Now, textures (if they exist) are not as localized as cosmic strings, so I think I'll call it a "pseudo-texture" weapon, much more localized but, I think, even less stable (you don't want something like that sticking around).
  • Apparently it's not entirely true that predators don't roar when they attack. It's true they don't do it when they attack something they're hunting, but if you're hunting them, they roar when they charge. Essentially the way it works is the charge and roar are designed to say, to another predator, "I am too dangerous to be worth your time!"

    (Incidentally, when you hunt a leopard with dogs, apparently the leopard will often completely ignore the dogs. They are apparently smart enough to know you're their real problem, and go straight for you. Don't mess with cats, basically. They're as smart as they are vindictive.)
  • Sometimes in space opera, and indeed in people who think they're not writing space opera, you get the idea that we'd actually be able to pose a threat to energy beings. It's quaint, like claiming your little tribe's warriors could totally whup a hurricane in a fight. (I don't actually know of any tribes that were ever that stupid, by the way.)

    Let's say that creating a character-actor's body in order to interact with the crew of the Enterprise is only as hard for an energy being as "not dying" is for us. The average basal metabolic rate for a human is 1493 kilocalories over a 24-hour period, which is to say 0.0723 watts. Meanwhile, creating and maintaining the 62-kilo average human body (for a being that has total matter-energy conversion capability)? 5.58×1018 watts. If an energy being is as much "bigger" than the energy to maintain a human body, as the human body is bigger than the energy to keep it alive, then the energy being is 4.31×1038 watts (or joules per second). That's over two million times the energy required to split the Earth in half, every second. Have you got two million Death Stars to shoot the energy being with, all in one second? If not, don't waste your breath. (You'd need to hit it with energy in excess of its total because unlike organisms they're not differentiated, and have no vital organs or tissues—they're a formless energy aggregate.)

    This also has implications for the arrogance involved in the higher levels of the Kardashev scale, which are sometimes compared to "gods" (even I've done it). But one of these energy beings is equal to the entire energy-output of a trillion Kardashev II civilizations, and even of ten Kardashev III ones. Does "each of them packs the throw-weight of about ten entire civilizations, each of which you can barely conceive of" sound like someone you want to mess with?

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 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.