Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Thoughts on an alien species

I want to get down a few thoughts about an alien species.  The basic idea is a species who's individual members are too small too possess the raw brainpower to be highly intelligent,  but are linked by a natural sense (electrically or magnetically based) to form a multi-body intelligence.

The idea is hardly new.  Olaf Stapledon has at least one collective species who evolved from bird-like flocking creatures in Star Maker, while a there is a Poul Anderson story (sadly, I cannot recall which one) in which intelligences are formed of three members distinct symbiotic species linking physically.  And there are always the Borg.

I'd like to pose something that is individually large enough for a single body to have intelligence (perhaps at the level of a chimpanzee) and a member of a small enough collective (perhaps half a dozen members) that it cannot be looked at as disposable the way an intelligent ant colony might think of a single ant.  Currently I find myself picturing it as small (dog sized) and with a body plan like a compact centaur.  In fact, one my sources for this idea is a discussion the possible uses of Baccus 6mm Centaur infantry as 25mm figures mounted 3-4 to a base and claiming that they used the group mind to concentrate the fire of individual small lasers.

I expect something like this might evolve from pack hunters who used the ability to coordinate hunting.  In the ecosystem where this evolved I would expect it to be a widespread capability, like magnetic orientation in many species of bird.  Special pleading would be required to explain how a "bioradio" of sufficient bandwidth to distribute cognitive processes is present in this ecosystem; however it is not hard to see how it could confer useful advantages once evolved.

The interesting questions are social.  There are a number of dimensions on which "micro-centaurs" could organize themselves socially.  Lets express them as diametric opposites.  Let us also assume that the individual units are either male or female, and that there is some level of sexual dimorphism and a distinction of capabilities (although ranging widely between individuals) roughly aligning with 20th century human gender stereotypes -- because, after all, humans are all we have available to play head games with:
  • Genderist vs Multi-Genderists:  Genderists believe that a single collective should all be one one gender, while multigenderists believe that an collective can be made of any combination of unit genders.  I can see genderism being considered natural where sexual division of labor is commonplace such as hunter-gatherers while more settled societies may want to mix capabilities within a single individual.
  • Immortalists vs Discretest.  Immortalists believe that the collective should take advantage of its potential immortality by socializing offspring as part of the collective with older members; new collectives would be formed by older members separating along with some younger members.  While units would die, the collective would like on.  Discretests believe that each collective should experience the full cycle of life and death.  Offspring are socialized within age groups and raised as distinct individuals, dying when all units have passed on.
  • Extentionists vs Independentists.  Extensionists believe in forming super-collectives to work together on serious problems or simply for the self-transcendent experience.  Independentists believe that the right to self-determination of the individual collective is foremost.
Of course, not being micro-centaurs we can view these three dimensions abstractly.  For the m/Cs themselves each culture consider the three choices to be "normal" and "disgusting perversions of nature and God's will" whatever the choices their culture makes are.  The closest analog to human would be Genderist, Discretist, and Independentist -- mostly because our biology offers us no options.

And this does not get at questions like reproductive and child rearing practices.  Do multi-genderists reproduce with themselves, or are there the equivalent of incest taboos?  How do inheritance laws work?  How do class structures work within each society? Are domestic animals somehow integrated in the collective in an evolutionary path like the one that led to dog/human symbiosis or would that evolution stop at a lower level of integration?

And what is a collective like to interact with?  Do they use voice as well as bioradio to communicate with each other?  How about with other collectives?  If they can speak, if only to talk with humans,  would there be one spokesbeing or might conversation rotate around the members like a well-timed comedy routine?  Would this all vary by the individual (a word that rapidly loses its utility)?

What would an isolated unit be like?  Sure, it he or she has the intelligence of a chimp but chimps are *not* stupid and our unit would have the habits of "civilized" behavior.  Would the last unit of a dying Discretist collective be like a human with Alzheimer's, remembering that it once though larger thoughts and knowing that it is more prey to its emotions than ever it was when it was in its prime.

Heck, if they speak, what sort of pronouns might they have for multi-genderists?  Would they have a family of pronouns that expressed two-thirds-female-one-third-male? Different pronouns for units and collectives?  Genderist cultures would probably have different pronouns from muli-genderist, and would have to use borrow-words from one-another's languages to hold a conversation.

Add to all this the fact that it "takes all sorts to make a world" and the mini-centaurs would have their own managers and workers, criminals and heroes, artists and engineers and I think you could have a very interesting society to explore.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

What data do we need about stars and star systems

For each star the bottom line numbers we need are Luminosity (preferably visual and bolometric), and mass.  It's also nice to have radius.  It is also useful to have some potential characteristics, like variability or flares.  It's good to preserve the conventional spectral classification in a form that people are used to seeing it in.

Do we need the temperature?  Might be worth keeping.

For groups of stars - binaries and the like - we need the base data required to construct orbital elements in case they become important.  Ideally this will be consistent with at least the well known binary system parameters.  For that I will need a binary or variable star catalog with the appropriate cross-identifications.  And all of this needs to be compactly encoded.
  • Using bit fields, 16 bits will be plenty for the "classic" spectral type including interesting features
  • Real (4 bytes in Derby) will be plenty of precision for floating point numbers.
  • Integer (4 bytes) will be plenty for "object IDs"
I will work up individual star data 1st, then look for other characteristics.

    Friday, May 27, 2011

    Spectral types in Hyg

    These are interesting data.  We all know Oh, Be A Fine Girl Kiss Me.  It used to include "Right Now Sweets" until the R, N and S types were demoted.  However, spectral classification is a lot more complicated than that.  Thankfully, with a few exceptions, the data look to be reasonably amenable to parsing.  Which is good, because aside from nulls there are at 4013 distinct values in the 119000 catalog entries.  We need to develop (and encode in the database) enough understanding to provide input to a  game-grade star system generation model.

    There are a couple of interesting peculiarities in the data, and I am not sure yet how to interpret them.  For example A1III/IV is clearly an A1 which is somewhere between a super-giant and giant.  We can just drop it into one of the two categories or encode it as is and assign an intermediate mass.

    How about A8/A9V? I think, judging from other entries, is a main sequence A type intermediate between A8 ad A9 I am fairly sure F6IV + F6IV is a binary with a pair of F6 giants. G0/G1:+... on the other hand would be a start somewhere between G0 and G1 of uncertain luminosity with a fuzzy spectrum in a pair with -- well "..." just means Damned If I Know.

    So, the two next tricks are:
    1. Develop a coding that incorporates what we need to know.
    2. Implement a parser that takes one of these descriptions and plops out our code.

    Handling bad catalog data

    I am making progress with processing the "Hyg 2.0" dataset.  One of the challenges in dealing with any large body of data is dealing with imperfect data reduction.  The Hipparcos mission is a dismaying introduction to this  issue for people accustomed to dealing with hand-editable volumes of data.  The author of the "Hyg 2.0" file made this decision:

    Distance: The star's distance in parsecs, the most common unit in astrometry. To convert parsecs to light years, multiply by 3.262. A value of 10000000 indicates missing or dubious (e.g., negative) parallax data in Hipparcos.
     There are 705 such stars in the data.  Only two are brighter than 6th Magnitude; only 1 has a Flamsteed number.  Amazingly, one is in Gliese.  The brightest are hot giants and so will be well out of our range of interest.

    For the solitaries with simple spectral types it's not hard to compute a magnitude-based distance and recompute the distance.  For multiple star systems it gets a bit more complicated.  My thinking right now is to ignore the lot.  Nothing there is going to be familiar enough to draw attention to itself for anyone but an expert; I may re-digest them later but I think that the "Backfill" approach will be close enough for gaming and fiction purposes.

    Thursday, May 26, 2011

    Do we really need FTL?

    With one very simple nudge, we can turn our magic FTL drive into something that lets causality sleep at night: make it into a light-speed drive.  The travelers experience no time in transit but planet-bound observers, who are pretty much all in the same frame, will agree that 1 second passes for every light second traveled.  Isaac is not our friend, but at least Albert is.

    Now, I'm working on this as an environment for fiction, as a potential RPG setting and as a strategic gaming environment.

    There's lots of fiction that manages without FTL travel, and provided the gaming party stuck together an RPG could still work fine.  However, can a strategic game -- or for that matter comprehensible military SF -- function without FTL travel?  Can you, indeed, have meaningful wars?  Conflict, certainly, but anything we could recognize as move/countermove?  Strategy?  I don't really know.

    I am not sure I want to start down the no-FTL path but it is interesting to think about.

    More FTL limits

    Lets impose another limit.  The summary of what we have:
    1. Limitations that make sense
    2. Jump Drive 1.1 - What I don't like
    3. An implication of the FTL system
    4. Travel to another star
     So far, I have not placed much restriction on where one enters hyperspace in relation to where one emerges.  Lets do that now.   The restriction is that one travels on a straight line between the centre of mass or the origin system and the centre of mass of the destination.  Further, that line cannot pass through a point where the "flatness of space" criterion is invalidated (a safe enough bet, given the sparsity of stars, but still).  We can assume that the parameters are reasonably loose, say a volume roughly equal to that of Jupiter; still, it means that you do have some travel in system between jumps to get to the next departure point.  This may be enough to allow a relaxation of the distance related time penalty to allow simply instantaneous jumps.

    It may imply that we have instantaneous knowledge of the movement of mass -- at least at a stellar mass level -- within a binary system.  Which starts to give me problems I must think through.

    Also, Ken Burnside has made a good point in a post in this discussion:

    The real question in any kind of strategic campaign game is this:
    How do you prevent Pearl Harbor style attacks from ending the game?
    If you have something like Traveller jump numbers, you get something like hard frontiers. At the extreme end, you get something like Starfire warp points.

    If you have the ability to go from any star to any star, with only travel time being the deciding factor, you get nebulous frontiers.

    If you can go from any star to any other star with all travel times being the same, you get no frontiers.

    A problem with 'campaign games' is that hitting with overwhelming force as the first move can be a winning strategy, not because you've delivered the decisive blow to your opponent, but because you have made the game not-fun and your opponent quits.

      Tuesday, May 24, 2011

      An interesting body layout

      Brachiating terrestrial cephalopods ( posted on youtube Update: And now pulled.  Link rot is a horrible thing).  From a BBC program about hypothetical life in the future, but also an interesting   body layout for an alien intelligence.

      Sunday, May 22, 2011

      Read this book

      Court of the Crimson Kings by S.M. Stirling.  A good friend game me a copy when I was in hospital a couple of years ago, and it is one of the best pieces of SF I have every read.  For our purposes, you must have a look at the Martian biotechnology.  Absolutely 1st rate; an alien species with this sort of technology is a must-have.

      Click for some sample chapters!

      Saturday, May 21, 2011

      What were we trying to do again?

      First, I want to put in a link to a nice chart of the closest dark nebulae.  How much complexity this might add I am really not sure at the moment; but at least we are good out for 300 light-years or so.

      Lets go back to 1st principles on the star map front.  The overall objective is to produce an interesting future history that can provide a good base situation for a strategic wargame, an SF novel or two, and an RPG campaign, possibly all at once. The secondary objective is to enjoy the journey, which may mean giving the any particular attention that it deserves.  This is my hobby, not my job, and playing with this is fun by itself.

      The role of the star map in this exercise is to provide the stage upon which the play is acted out.  It has to be large enough that, even though the human action is crowded at the centre, there is a sense of awesome extent toward the wings.  It should be large enough that other species may have their acts on the same stage without a sense of confinement.  In other words it has to be big enough to be empty and impersonal.  Not just stated to be, but experienced to be in the sense of "show, don't tell".

      So, how do we manage the data if we want to push the boundaries out, say, 150 parsecs to include a round million things?  And where do we get the data if we want to do that?

      Part of the solution (as I picture it at this moment) is "make it up"; the other is "broad strokes where detail is not needed".

      I don't want to contradict reality, but at the same time I am willing to sweep some annoying realities under the carpet.  So, lets say we start with a catalog down to 9th magnitude. That particular catalog has just shy of 120,000 objects - it is all of Hipparchus plus all of the Yale Bright Star. If an object is dimmer than about 6th or 7th magnitude the human eye can't see it from Earth.

      So what I propose is this (using a competent database such as mySQL or Derby and lots of Java programming):
      1. Take all of the "good" systems -- those with clean positions -- and build a starting dataset with absolute minimum information compactly encoded with each cataloged system.  By compactly encoded I mean about 20 bytes/system -- mostly be relying on putting bulky information in secondary tables that are only used when detailing is needed.  This minimal table will start with 120,000 rows.  It will end up with lots more.
      2. Cleanup.  The initial data will have real-world grit.  Astronomical catalogs are never as simple as the undergrad textbooks let on, especially for entries such as spectral type -- generally because the observation has never been made.  This has to be purged so that everything is expressed with an entirely synthetic cleanness that will fit well with a computer implementation of some reasonable random star system generation rule.
      3. Backfill.  We have base object density for nearby objects.  As we move out from Sol, more objects will fall below the magnitude limit of the catalog, whatever that is.  We make up for it by completely randomly generating objects up to more-or-less the expected density that are dimmer than the required magnitude at this distance.  That means that out ratio of made-up to measured entries would go up as the distance from Sol increases.  While someone with a better catalog will soon discover the fake bits, it will never contradict what someone (even in a dark place) can see when they look up.
      4. Big Picture.  In an approach familiar to Traveller GMs, identify the star systems that are good candidates for habitable worlds, and randomly generate them along with any key infrastructure.  Then identify the systems on the minimum cost jump routes between them and generate big picture items -- in Traveller, for example, the presence of a Gas Giant was always important.
      5. Make choices and detail where important.  Pick major species homeworld and detail those systems, for example.
      6. Drill down when needed.  Until the players or plot are about to enter a system, or the fleet is about to have a battle in it, the details don't matter.  Until the players are planning to land on a planet, the weather does not matter very much.  ("Lets see, your flight plan calls for a landfall on Earth.  Near Winnipeg.  In February.  Got a parka in the locker?").  Once something is generated, it goes in the database; but we are never going to have to develop complete data for a million stars, 10 million planets, 100 million moons and odd rocks.
      You know, I think this might work.

      Cork 1: Space is crowded

      In Habitable Planets for Man (Elsevier, 1970) Stephen H. Dole identifies 42 stars within 22 light years of Earth that are candidates -- although only 14 of them have (in his estimation) odds of having a planet in excess of 1%.  One way to confine exploration is to plop Earth-like worlds down at all of them, give all of them sapient inhabitants, let half of them advanced technological civilization, a quarter of those superior to ours; and put No Trespassing signs everywhere.

      There are a couple of things I don't like about this.  The most significant is that space shoudl feel empty.  It's one thing to say that it takes 6 months to get to Alpha Centauri; it is quite another, and more powerful, to play through plodding through systems with nothing in them but rock-balls until you get to something interesting.

      Still, some parts of this idea is good.  If Space is just plain empty of complication and competition it can get tired pretty quick.  There has to be variety somewhere -- in one direction, open frontier; in another, unpleasantly advanced aliens nearly on our doorstep.

      Keeping the Djinn of exploration corked in the bottle of data

      One of the interesting problems in trying to use realistic data and a reasonable projection of the future is that, unlike the 2D closed planet we are used to, the amount of data - the number of interesting or strategically significant places we should consider - goes up with the cube of the distance traveled.

      The related problem is that space is (effectively, for our purposes) unbounded.  Magellan's expedition sailed for 3 years in as straight a line as they could manage, but they still ended up back in Seville.  Such are globes.  While space may curve on itself over a sufficient distance, for practical purposes if we are going to concern ourselves with individual suns and planets, you have to turn around if you want to get back.

      So, lets say we want to take about six months to get to Iota Persei.  Lets also say that for plot reasons we want to have a 30 year old colony there.  That means that we could have data back from expeditions that have traveled at least 15 times as far from Sol.  Since i Persei  is about 10 parsecs away, that means our dataset should carry out 150 parsecs, and we might have some brave souls out as far as 300 parsecs.

      The dataset I am currently using extends about 15 parsecs.  This is a volume of 14 thousand cubic parsecs.  Now the catalog I have been playing with has about  a thousand objects, for a density (using less rounded numbers) of 0.701 objects per pc^3.  Projecting that out to 200 parsecs give about 2 million objects.  At 300 parsecs we are talking 8 million.

      And its not like we are talking about invisible stuff here.  There are catalogs right now down to an apparent magnitude of +21.  If we consider an M6 at the dimmest star we want to talk about having a planet that's absolute magnitude +12 -- which a catalog down to +21 we could see such a star out to 600 parsecs.  Even M8, which is getting down there, is visible to 100 pc.

      So, I want my earth-origin protagonists to have a good sized sandbox to play in; but I need reasonable ways to keep them in the sandbox.  But right now, I need some coffee.

      Wednesday, May 18, 2011

      Travel to another star

      I've been digging through my old graph theory books, and the HabHyg near star list, to look at the interstellar movement rules we discussed before.  I have also been looking at Iota Persei, a nice solitary G0V star that I have decided will have a nice, earth-like world in orbit around it.  I have also decided to add a cost in time to jump travel proportional to e^distance (in pc).

      Given that, here is the shortest (in time) path from Sol to Iota Persei.

      N HabHyg Name Sector Type Mass (Sol) Abs Mag distance time
      0 0 Sol 0:00:00 G2V 1.00 4.85 3.11 22.34
      1 12 Gl 905 0:00:00 dM6 e 0.13 14.79 1.42 4.14
      2 31 DO Cephei 0:01:00 M6 V 0.13 13.29 2.51 12.30
      3 98 Gl 34 B -1:1:0 K7 V 0.74 8.64 1.63 5.12
      4 161 Gl 53 B -1:1:0 M8 0.10 11.61 1.77 5.88
      5 257 Gl 51 -1:1:0 M5 0.21 13.88 1.47 4.35
      6 318 NN 3126 -1:1:0 M4 0.38 11.03 1.93 6.86
      7 354 NN 3182 -1:1:0 DC9 0.50 15.25 1.10 3.00
      8 378 Iota Persei -1:1:0 G0V 1.10 3.94

      Now, I will confess that this is output is not that pretty straight off.  Each row shows the star we are jumping from, the basic specs for the star, and the distance (in pc) and time to the destination star; that destination is on the next row.

      The mass is estimated (by hand at the moment) based on the spectral class.  Gl53B has no spectral type in the dataset, so I plugged it based on the magnitude.

      NN3128 is a continuous degenerate star (a cool white dwarf with no discernable spectra lines).  The data to determine the mass probably does not exist yet.  White dwarfs are very old star between .5 and 8 solar masses.  The "C" types are probably very old.  I have no particular faith the the assigned mass; but I doubt that anyone will pay any great attention to it in the near future.

      One of the things you have to be willing to do in SF is make decisions that fit very imprecise data -- decisions that no scientist would every be willing to stake a reputation on.  If we are not willing to do that, we have to either waffle our game and plot lines around the fuzzy bits -- you can do that in a novel but not in a game -- or stuff everything to the far side of some convenient dark nebula.

      The next thing I need to do with this table is work out what happens at each jump according the the rather complex "jump radius" rules I defined early in the blog.

      Tuesday, May 17, 2011

      Time units

      I always liked H. Beam Piper's approach, so let's use it:

      Seconds are such a fundamental unit that we are not likely to replace them.  Granted they were once based on rotations of the Earth, but they are now firmly grounded on wavelength and frequency.  With the rest of the SI units, they relate to too much in engineering to be replaced at a whim.

      Since day, month and year are so firmly connected to Earth, they will probably not be used between planets.  Instead, most people use hours when referring to standardized events and durations.  Days and years are a purely local affair having fallen out of technical terminology entirely.

      Finance might be an exception; however I expect contracts will become even more baroque and obfuscated than they are now.  Under the hood, financial system will probably end up working in hours.

      For planetary time, I expect clocks will simply be programmed prior to arrival to reset to zero at local (or zone) midnight.  Passenger spacecraft on long (and they will all be long) voyages would probably slowly shift time to the cycle of the planned port of disembarkation; so no jet lag for the interstellar traveler.

      Tuesday, May 10, 2011

      Star Manipulation

      I have been playing with jump distances and the HabHyg50ly file Winchell Chung has provided on his Project Rho site.  If I set the maximum  jump distance to 3.5 parsecs then all but one star in the list is reachable from Sol -- a K0 solitary that is on the edge of the map.  Since that is near the edge it would probably be reachable if we had more data.

      That leaves two tricks.  The easy one is to establish costs and approximate travel times, trying to make sure that a 50ly sphere is plenty.  A hard one is finding a way to justify the 3.5 parsec maximum, and the costing structure.

      Sunday, May 8, 2011

      A bit more history

      I took the future out to 2150 with about a billion people on earth, and 100,000 in orbit.  Let's get a bit more drastic and specify 500 million on earthbound.  However, with energy constraints removed with fusion power and a century of practice in space development we can take the next step:
      • 200 years - Colonies exploiting Jovian and Saturnian moons.  Earth stabilized and beginning to re-terraform.  Lunar and cis-lunar space a single confederation but one with a lot of tension between components.  Map only barely recognizable.
      If we allow 2% growth in space (population is probably young, but childless.  Space is limitless although not cheap) and 1% on Earth (not high; fusion makes energy, and thus fresh water, cheap; but some measure of social pressure to constrain consumption).  Also, let .01% of Earth's population emigrate to space each year (high at the start, but less of a factor later).  By 2250 we can expect to see over a billion people on Earth, and just over 20 million is space -- say Jupiter at around 13 million, 5 million around Saturn, and a couple of million in Cislunar space.

      While the one of the historical theme of the development of civilization from about 1000AD has been the consolidation of Nation States and even trans-national entities like the EU, the collapse of the 21st Century has broken those up.  Instead we have a networks of loosely confederated polities retaining extensive rights to self defense and yielding little true sovereignty to central authority.  Some of the effective polities, such and many of the space habitats, are legally closer to corporations than to states as we would recognize them.  In addition, the high level if migration during and after the collapse have left the concept of nation as it was considered normal in the 20th Century entirely unrecognizable.  Overall, the political structures are closer to the 15th Century Holy Roman Empire than anything we are used to now.

      The three largest groupings are The Cislunar Union (Earth, Earth Orbit, and the Lunar colonies), The Jovian Confederation, and the The League of the Ring Worlds (aka Saturn).  However, it is not unknown for interest groups across two or more of  groupings to form alliances along fracture lines and compete for resources and power against other members of their own groupings.  These contests generally fall short of full-scale warfare, but that has as much to do with the overall availability of resources and the willingness of the central authorities to draw very firm lines around the rights of sub-groups.  Indiscriminate bombing, ethnic cleansing, nuclear weapons and planetary bombardment in particular are so firmly sanctioned as to be unemployable by any polities who's leaders wish to die in their beds.

      Wednesday, May 4, 2011

      Fleshing some future history

      I'm going to expand on the first couple of points from the timeline of my first post:

      • 100 years - effective space transportation, orbital and lunar habitats, Earth in real crisis.
      • 200 years - Colonies exploiting Jovian and Saturnian moons.  Earth stabilized and beginning to re-terraform.  Lunar and cis-lunar space a single confederation but one with a lot of tension between components.  Map only barely recognizable.
      • 300 years - Stardrive invented.  Political relations stable in Sol system but stresses develop in the development of nearby usable worlds.
      What is my thinking here, and what is the sol system like at the cusp of the invention of stardrives?

      Well the first century is the rough one.  For a future that can only averted by an unprecedented level of international cooperation go to this site and watch the TVO video or listen to the podcast.  Sure, you don't trust scientists and everything is fine.  I'm married into science, I know climatologists who have worked on this, for that matter I know Coast Guard captains who have sailed the arctic over four decades; climate change is real, we are causing it, and it is probably going to get very bad.  In the interests of fairness, and since I am allowed to choose any premise I want for a future history, any comments debating either side of the reality of this prospect will be deleted.  Heck, maybe we will get lucky (or smart) -- most of the future histories rooted in the 1950s started with a global nuclear war.

      Anyway, here's my line for the 1st century:
      • In the mid-21st century a number of very wealthy people around the world realize that the earthbound component of any crisis could be very hard on themselves and their heirs.  Under the guise of space tourism they fund (and persuade their governments, under the cover of ideological competition and patriotism) the development of the first permanent orbital habitats.  Within a few decades the technologies for ground-to-orbit travel, long-term environmental control, and permanent space habitats advances more than was ever considered possible during the first century of space flight.
      • With CO2 control a desperate priority, the gloves come off of nuclear research and development.  Small, economical and reasonably safe fission plants become commonplace, and nuclear fusion becomes a reality early in the 22nd Century.
      • The development of halphyte agriculture, including algal based fuel extraction, not only helps make up for the massive loss of farmland as the world becomes dryer and hotter, but feeds back into the development of colonization technologies when we finally find other worlds. 
      There is, in the end, a stable situation short of the final disaster -- the loss of human technological civilization -- but it is a near run thing.  And it is not reached before
      • The great die-off.  The vast majority of the world's populations live in those parts of the world at greatest risk.  The evaporation of the glaciers that feed the river systems of India and Pakistan, Southeast Asia and China are an unmitigated disaster; both famine and war ensue.
      • The pressure from the climate refugees escaping the disaster completely disrupts the wealthy countries of the North.  While the fundamental grounding of the larger northern nations is preserved at some core level, the political organizations are completely re-organized.
      By  2150 the population of Earth is less than a billion, clustered around the arctic ocean and bits of the South Atlantic organized into a single confederation of small and factious polities; a few hundred thousand live in Earth orbit and on the lunar colonies.  The coastlines of the icecap-free planet are unrecognizable.  But we have made it through.  Food production is actually going up, population is starting to increase, and the great debate is in the division of resources between re-terraforming the Earth, and finding elsewhere to establish human presence. 

      Next post, off to the planets!

        Tuesday, May 3, 2011

        Medical technology

        Where do we want medicine in our future to be?  The distance into the future is not very great, and is on the other side of what might be considered a dark age.  Keep in mind that most of the improvement in human lifespan has come from public health measures, antibiotics, and (in the rich world) the decline of really nasty forms of industrial labor.  All some what offset, one expects, by environmental hazard.

        The following are choices, not predictions:
        • We will not move backwards on public health (except in local cases of infrastructure breakdown).  
        • Bacterial evolution will bring the omnipotence of antibiotics to an end within a century (if it has not already done so).
        • Environmental hazard in a world on the other side of an ecological crisis, and with a significant part of the human population living in artificial habitats, will probably be reduced at least in terms of simple pollution.  
        • While I doubt that we will be much messing with our own genes -- it is far more complex than a Star Trek episode -- I expect it will be possible to tailor a bacteria to fulfill any of a number of functions.  For example we could allow it to be possible to add a bacteria to one's intestinal fauna to allow the digestion of non-terrestrial proteins.  
        • Given the need for so many microgravity environments and so much time in space travel, space medicine will be well advanced.  It will be possible to spend years in microgravity with no ill effects given moderate exercise and the correct treatments.
        • While we can't re-grow limbs, advances in AI and human-machine interface technology will permit realistic and effective prostheses.
        • Question -- would the same technology lead to close bonding between man and machine in industrial and space applications?  Would the pilot jack in to the spacecraft for example?


          I draw your attention to this map, from the project rho star-mapping site.  It is a subset of this map, showing only stars similar enough to our own to be good candidates for Earth-like planets.  Both push out to 50ly.  I think this is a good start point.  We want to emphasize the habitable systems and allow the small red dwarfs be significant only for compelling strategic reasons -- that will punch out the limits of the map, since as we go out to 50ly there are probably a lot of dim stars missed.

          I also need to establish a frontier zone so that "known space" has an "outside" that is within the scope of the data we have.  And most of all, I have to find a way to present the data that works and is easy to visualize and work with.

          Monday, May 2, 2011

          An implication of the FTL system

          Using the limits I have drafted, there is nothing to stop one from jumping from system to system as fast as you want without entering deeper into the system.  There will have to be some kind of cost, but I do not want it to overwhelm the remass cost for entering deeply into the system.

          But I have not thought of a reasonable limitation that I can justify against something real like conservation laws or uncertainty theory.  I do not want anything too arbitrary.  Not only does it smack of artifice, like the Traveller "100 diameter" limit, but it is too tempting to overturn it with a convenient deus ex machina.

          It does not need be too severe, either.  Just enough to slow things down.  I like the idea, in fact, that there is a benefit for having facilities in habs in an outer gas giant.  Transports might, for example, refuel at the gas giant on system arrival and departure.  Warships certainly would.  Bulk traders might never go in-system, instead shipping goods launched between other points in the system and a transit station on a Hohmann trajectory.

          I am up for suggestions.  Extra points if the answer some how invokes either Boltzmann or Heisenberg.  In fact a process involving establishing location and velocity based on pulsars (or the local navigation beacon, which gets turned off in a war unless needed) might do the job if there was some way to justify the time involved on external criteria rather than processing power.

          Tools Support for Jump

          One thing that does occur to me is that mission profiles as simple as "travel from a to b" are going to be complex enough that it will be worth building an application (hopefully, a simple one) to do the computations.

          I'm a computer programmer.  This should not be a big deal; and while I hope to be able to run as strategic game with this platform, I am not doing a mass market product.

          Sunday, May 1, 2011

          Jump Drive 1.1 - What I don't like

          One problem with the parameters in Concept 1 is that it is a very viable drive for bopping around withing a solar system - not between orbits, but say from Jupiter to the Trojan Points.  If I want to keep the importance of jump drive down and preserve in system movement we have to push the jump limit out of the system entirely.  This is not great for a conventional RPG.  Travel times from 1 AU out to say 10 AU, which is just outside Saturn's orbit, run about 90 days within the fuel strictures of the design system we are using.  But they are doable and I expect that I will get better at both ship design and mission planning.  They also keep the Vmax below the scarier percentages at the speed of light.  At 5cm/s^2 (5 milligees) we just barley break 0.1% light speed while traveling 9 AU's.  With turnover we have a 4 month trip but could easily rendezvous with a refueling station in say a Saturn orbit.

          So, flatness of space <6*10^-5 m/s^2.  Solar gravitational potential energy at that point is about 90 megajoules/Kg .  I will crunch some numbers for main sequence stars to see what sort of limits this imposes.  And I have *still* not talked about jump distance.

          A quick preliminary number crunch is interesting.  Basically, if I am jumping to a less massive star, I have to go past the "flatness" criterion boundary in  my own system to find a sufficiently flat destination in my my target system that has an equivalent gravitation potential energy.  To jump to a more massive star I will jump to a target well outside its flatness boundary (Minkowski Boundary?).  It might even make sense to jump up a ladder of increasing massiveness depending on the exact placement of stars and their relative masses.

          Jump Drive Concept 1 - Limitations that make sense I hope.

          Here are a set of limitations that we can probably live with and that might work.
          • Conservation of momentum.  Any vector you start with you keep -- including your motion relative to a nearby planet, the velocity of that planet around it's star (about 30km/s for earth around the sun), the proper motion of the start and it's motion around the galaxy (if we are headed for Barnard's Star that's 106 km/sec for the radial component of proper motion.  Galactic orbital velocity here is about 250km/s but if we keep within a few dozen parsecs of earth that will not really rear its ugly head).  These are relatively modest velocities -- if the total delta-v we needed was 500 km/s and our ship could do one G we would deal with the velocity change in about 14 hours.  Part of the astrogator's job would doubtless be setting up our departure vector so it nicely complemented our arrival vector.
          • Conservation of potential energy.  If we try to translate directly from Earth orbit to Jupiter's orbit we would experience a gain of about 700 megajoules of gravitational potential energy per kilogram of our mass.  That energy has to show up somewhere - probably as heat, and with no real way to redirect it.  The ship probably melts, certainly all the water on this ship (including the crew) boils.  On the other hand, if we precisely jump to the right place in Earth's orbit -- or a point in another solar system with the same gravitational potential -- everything is peachy.  
          • Sufficiently flat space.  The acceleration due to solar gravity at 1 AU is about .006 m/s^2 or .0006g.  Earth's gravitational acceleration is at a similar magnitude at about 1 light second and is an order of magnitude less at 2 ls -- lunar orbit is about 1ls.  If we let folks jump when the sum of magnitudes of acceleration is below, say .001 g that would require a trip of about a light second from earth, or a bit less than a day at 1g - and closely compatible with out worst-case velocity correction time.  
          So, what do you think?  Since we will be using reaction mass to power all this moving around in real space, I want to make the jump itself very cheap indeed - basically no measurable  fuel consumption, not much more than keeping the reactor going.

          This does not address how far the jump gets you or how long it takes -- that can be another post.

          Gravity, and other laws we like, plus a handwave or two.

          I want to keep the handwaves to a minimum.  

          No artificial gravity.  Stuff that is possible like rotating habs, constant acceleration, and velcro booties sure.  But that's it.  No floaty cars, and spacecraft decks that face some pretend down.  Down is where the engines are.

          No stealth in space.  You did read Atomic Rockets, right?  I believe him.  To a point -- there is a difference between detection and resolution and it has to be kept in mind.

          You must sacrifice reaction mass on Newton's altar to have velocity.  Fuel -- that which becomes energy -- is actually a small part of the picture.  Re-mass, on the other hand, matters.  While we are at it, there are no privileged frames of reference.  While I plan to use Squadron Strike, this does rule out the use of movement modes 0 and 1.   This statement makes sense if you read the Squadron Strike rules.

          No ansibles.  I like the whole 18th century no-faster-than-a-ship communications model.  Empires became boring when everything could be referred to the colonial office back home.

          There are a few inconvenient truths I will gloss over.

          Getting from a planetary surface to orbit is inherently hard, especially without damaging the planet.  There are some promising technologies forever on the horizon, and we have some future to work through the problems.  At the moment, shuttle technologies used to transition between orbit and planetary surface will "just work" with some restrictions around g-ratings, atmospheric density, and fuel and maintenance cycles.  Major interplanetary craft will not.

          Now, something a lot less real world, but very useful.  Squadron Strike has two shield mechanisms, Shields -- think Star Trek -- and Prismatic Globe -- think Alderson Field from Mote in God's Eye.  These solve a couple of problems that end up patched in the Traveller game.
          • Nukes.  No amount of tin is going to stop a shaped thermonuclear shaped charge.  Yes, they can shape nukes.
          • How do you manage containment on that fusion reactor?  Why the shield of course.  A lot of they serious consequences of an adequate exhaust velocity on enough stuff to achieve a couple of gravities acceleration on something the mass of a cruiser requires serious handwavium padding to protect reality from the implications.
          I will pick one of the two -- probably Shields because they are slightly simpler and less obvious in their source inspiration.  I think the shield technology might make sense as the steam-analog technological MacGuffin that  destabilizes the interstellar system for a time.  The only thing I am not sure of at the moment is how well it works in an atmosphere -- or in other words how hard a vacuum it needs.

          Finally, I am not going to go too deep into inter-planetary biological incompatibility except in cases where I want to make an exception for some particular point.  Earth plants will grow with minimal (but not zero) effort, local proteins will be edible (perhaps after you add specially adapted bacteria to your intestinal flora). Invasive species will be a problem.  We want worlds worth fighting over, not worlds worth nuking from orbit to get at the valuable unobtanium without interference (I'm looking at you, Pandora).

          On the plus side, other worlds will be alien, and I will go though some effort where needed to develop the evolution and biology.  Also, remember while humans may find a meeting of mind and spirit with aliens from another world they will not be able to breed with them; and anyone who wants to probably needs major therapy.  I mean, seriously, you are more closely related to the slime growing on the inside of your toilet then you are to anyone you are going to to find on an alien planet no matter how good they are at DBA.

          And now, a little praise for a game system.

          Ken Burnside, of Ad Astra games, has produced  Squadron Strike, the most amazing marvel of a game which I will use for tactical resolution.  It allows three dimensional movement, displays ship attitude, comes with a design engine, and if used correctly respects a big chunk of Newtonian physics -- the only game that shows more respect is it's sister game Attack Vector.