De scripturae romanicos physicales II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Rannm Thawts Six

Post 555!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    As a bonus, the explanation is a pun.