Mar 282017

So, on Monday SpaceX did a static test fire of their next Falcon 9. This one will, hopefully, launch a payload to orbit next week. But the spiffy thing is that it *already* launched a payload to orbit, a Dragon ISS resupply mission in April 2016.

SpaceX has a pretty good record of recovering their boosters. That’s handy on its own… by recovering a booster, SpaceX can examine it for wear and tear and whatnot to make future boosters better. But the real goal is of course to make them as reusable as a jetliner. Successfully pulling off this next launch and recovery will go a long way towards making that goal happen.

 Posted by at 12:08 am
Mar 272017

Fingers and Speedbump stand guard at the back door… there were two cats out there. Junior, a black cat somewhat related to Speedbump, and Frankie, the neighbors cat who roams over here now and then. Those two… don’t really like each other. Their arguments provide endless entertainment for my cats.

 Posted by at 3:59 am
Mar 272017

Here are two unrelated concepts:

1: The relative worth/merit/importance of certain professions, skills, talents, people. This is politically relevant these days on a number of fronts. On one hand, the debate over the minimum wage. Are some jobs even *worth* the minimum wage to the employer? On another hand, there’s the neverending myth of the “wage gap,” which has provided endless fodder for political hacks. On yet another hand, there are people getting themselves deep into college loan debt while majoring in ethnic or gender studies and whatnot.

2: A common science fiction trope… the Ark. The world is coming to an end and only a relatively few people will be able to hop on the rocket to Mars, or the giant ship that’ll ride out the pole shift, whatever.

Put these two together, and I present to you “The Ark Test.”

“The world is coming to an end. A limited number of people will be saved to set up a colony on another world. Conditions will be difficult. The colony will not have the resources for the superfluous. Everyone will need to contribute, and in a meaningful fashion. So: will *you* be invited along?”

Another way to look at it might be “just how big will that colony need to be before you are invited along?”

If you are a doctor or a mechanic or an inventor, soldier, electrician, farmer, chemist, engineer… you could probably imagine that your skills would be of use. If you are a checkout clerk? A professional political protester? A 17th Century French Lesbian Love Poetry major? Yeah… it’ll have to be a *big* colony.

This of course says nothing about the earning potential of certain skillsets… pop stars, actors and the like can make tens of millions of dollars per years, honestly and aboveboard. But if humanity is reduced to, say, 400 people living in a subterranean cavern or on the surface of Mars… the need for the likes of Justin Beiber or Beyonce will be minimal. Will the colonists still need to be entertained? Sure thing. But the likelihood is that a nuclear technician will be able to sing better than a pop star will be able to maintain a reactor.

The Ark Test might not serve any quantifiable purpose, but I think it might be useful in putting things into perspective. Especially for people who think that they are special or important… to put some thought behind their choices and try to determine just how useful they’d really be. How important they and their skills, education and vocation really are.


 Posted by at 2:22 am
Mar 242017

Fiction writing is way down on my list of priorities, but I still poke away at it from time to time. When I wrote “Going to Gimli,” the plan was that it’d be the first of three short stories that would form one overall story arc, with the insane notion that I might actually turn it into a novel. After finishing “Gimli” I wrote one complete story that *wasn’t* part of the original plan, but it’s a direct sequel to Gimli. I guess it’d be story 1.5 of the three planned. I’m now something like halfway through story 2; it’s going slowly.

“Gimli” clocks in at about 30,000 words. Story 1.5 (tentative placeholder title is “Run Spot Run”) is about 25,000 words; story 2 (tentatively “Return to Origin”) is so far about 25,500 words. All told about 80,500 words. Novels are generally about 300 words per page… so I’m already at about 270 pages. That *used* to be a respectable length for a full novel, but thanks to the likes of Stephen King and J.K. Rowling, it might be considered only a short one. Still… I was surprised to find out how much I’ve got.

I suspect that a good editor would go through my manuscript with pruning shears, a  chain saw, a flame thrower and eventually a tactical nuclear device, removing perhaps half of it. But given that I’m technically only half done, when finished it’ll actually be a full novel’s worth of stuff. Whether it’ll be *good* stuff remains to be seen.

If interested, see my first story “Mass Disappearance,” followed by “Going to Gimli,” and then two story fragments, “Launch” and “A Matter of Some Gravity.”

 Posted by at 1:36 am
Mar 232017

A day after the fact, I finally got around to watching the latest episode of SyFy’s “The Expanse,” “The Weeping Somnambulist.” Like basically every other episode of both seasons of this series… it was a damn fine show. But there was a single moment that made me bust out laughing harder than I have in weeks.

In my view, the most entertaining character in both the books and the TV series is Chrisjen Avasarala (played by Shohreh Aghdashloo, who played the Starfleet Admiral in charge of the improbable Yorktown starbase in “Star Trek: Beyond”). She is a sharp-witted and terribly foul-mouthed old Indian lady, an executive at the United Nations. This being late-night SyFy, they get away with more profanity than you normally expect out of non-pay TV… heck, Chrisjen said something at one point that got censored basically as “fuc*.” But the best bit, the very best bit, came as Chrisjen was questioning a Martian Marine. Several episodes prior, a battle had broken out between the forced of Mars and Earth on the surface of Ganymede; the firefight on the ground then expanded into ships in orbit pounding each other, with civilian infrastructure getting trashed in the crossfire. (One of the great things about “The Expanse” is that battles here are fought in confusion, and often for mistaken reasons.) So Chrisjen is yammering away as politicians often do, going on about something seemingly irrelevant to the discussion, when one of the Martian delegates interrupts her and asks “where are you going with this?”

Chrisjen’s reply to that question was just a thing of beauty, made possible by Shohreh Aghdashloo’s masterful acting. The screenshot below was from that very Moment Of Awesome; she may look quite jolly and friendly, but, dayum, she weren’t. It shut up the other feller right now.

If you’re not watching “The Expanse,” you really should. It is set in a world where humanity is conquering the solar system using Hard Science… and they have encountered alien technology that is damn near magical in its capabilities. This may irritate some hoping for “pure” hard-SF, but there is a long, proud history of “technology so advanced dumb humans think its magic.” Lovecraft perfected it 90 years ago; Star Trek made occasionally spectacular use of it. And it’s a major feature of my own “Zaneverse” world…

UPDATE: Here’s a clip of the bit in question. Prepare for awesome… not only for Chrisjen’s response, but for her description of the economics of the future. Which are unfortunate, but I have a hard time seeing how things can really go differently.

Longer version of the same scene, includes the later oddly-semi-censored “fuc*:”

 Posted by at 9:59 pm
Mar 232017

Well, here’s an issue I never would have predicted:

Why American Farmers Are Hacking Their Tractors With Ukrainian Firmware

In short: John Deere has made it so that if your brand new tractor breaks down, the only people who can repair it are officially sanctioned dealers. The problem is, farmers are often hours or days away from repair that way, and are of course used to doing their own repairs. So, what to do? Farmers are learning to hack their tractors.

I’m kinda torn. on the one hand… you sign the license agreement when you buy new stuff. You made an agreement.

But on the other hand… these agreements are kinda forced upon you. A new tractor is something that a farmer often can’t really see as anything other than a requirement, so a farmer is being forced to sign under duress. And Ambassador G’Kar pretty much nailed the legitimacy of an agreement signed under duress.

So… the free enterprise system is taking over. Small-time repair shops are figuring out how to game the system, how to bypass security systems, override or replace software. Three cheers for entrepreneurialism.

In a way, this system reminds me of the War On Some Drugs. Without drug prohibition, there’d be far fewer people learning the ways of criminality. Without these anti-repair systems, there’d be far fewer people learning how to hack systems. So, good jorb, John Deere… you’re setting things in place to make sure there will be a thriving system in place to hack self-driving cars and drones. You’ve doomed us all.

Who would have expected that the proximate cause of the robot apocalypse would be John Deere?

 Posted by at 1:18 pm