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Squids in Space!

STS-134 is going to fly with a tank full of baby Euprymna scolopes in its payload.

Time to go home; our work here is done.

(Note: the science20 contributor can't spell "Endeavour", the name of the space shuttle. Which is named after Captain Cook's ship, hence the British spelling.)



Well, I for one welcome our new cephalopod(ian?) overlords.


Cthulhu fhtagn?


Better be careful - haven't they read Stephen Baxter's Manifold: time?


We are certain that these are squid and not lobsters?


Yes, they're squid. It's all part of a NASA plot to really, really annoy Margaret Atwood by making it possible to have stories about squids in space that are demonstrably non-fictional, let alone not science-fictional.

(I believe they're working on the squids' elocution right now.)


So long, and thanks for all the shrimp.


I refer you to OGH's hard SF.


On a more serious note, I'm not clear why this experiment is even being done. The experiment is ostensibly about morphogenesis of squid embryos under micro gravity conditions. Has the experiment been done on earth with the embryos rotating as a simulation? What is the control for the space experiment to exclude other effects of the ISS environment? It's cute, makes for fun headlines, but actual science?


Tolley - are you chicken?

It's a pity they don't talk...I do hope they've named one Sheena.


@Alex Tolley from a link in TFA:

"To examine the impact of microgravity on this symbiosis a two-pronged approach is used. First the symbiosis is examined under simulate microgravity using rotating bioreactors called high-aspect-ratio rotating wall vessel bioreactors (HARVs). The HARVS provide a low-shear environment for both the host and symbiont, thereby simulating the space environment. Second, a small pilot experiment will be flown on the STS-134 shuttle mission to examine the symbiosis under natural microgravity conditions. Our objectives for this project are as follows: to monitor the normal developmental timeline of symbiosis and examine the host immune response under microgravity conditions."

So yes, proper science, done properly :)

Now, if I was a school kid, I'd be writing letters to Elon Musk asking him to fly my experiment on the next Dragon launch...


It would be better if they were lobsters.


Oh come on, Alex. It's perfect NASA-level astrobiology.

Me? Cynical? Why did you ask?

The better question is, why squids and not snails. Aquarium snails are tough little buggers and develop fast. The idea may be to study how molluscan embryos develop in free fall, just because they're a different clade and all that.

Obviously, the problem is that snails in space sounds too frenchy. As I said, this is NASA level biology, and I'll bet they'd use Architeuthis eggs if they could get them in quantity.


Can we expose the squid to recordings of original Galaxy Quest while we're about it?


By Grapthar's hammer, that's brilliant!


Your time will come, Rock Lobster!


Thanks for the info on the prior study.

The question is "why this experiment?" What do we learn that improves our knowledge of human spaceflight? Or are we really following Baxter's plot?


But why even molluscs at all? IIRC squid are only model organisms for neural systems, not development. Snails - not at all.

I hate to sound all Proxmire-ish, but why this experiment? What knowledge will we gain for the cost? There are a lot of questions about vertebrate physiology in partial g that have yet to be answered, and could be partially answered with mice in slow centrifuges in orbit to simulate 1/6g and 1/3g. So far only earth based simulations have been used to test bone loss and these studies do not address the myriad other physiological processes that we need to know before we set up bases on the Moon and Mars. Of course, we can always set up those bases and find out afterward... (We've only been in space 50 years, with long duration Skylab, Salyut, Mir and ISS for decades in total. And, AFAIK, still no good partial g studies.)

Really, how hard is it to focus on relevant science?


I hate to sound all Proxmire-ish, but why this experiment? What knowledge will we gain for the cost? There are a lot of questions about vertebrate physiology in partial g that have yet to be answered

There's your answer in a nutshell: because if you're interested in space colonization we need to know about a lot more than vertebrates. Or don't you see any use for snails and other moluscs? (Or calamari in your colonists' diet?)

In anything, studying invertebrates will give us a vital baseline for how tissue differentiation works before we add in complex stuff like bones and cartilaginous support structures. And embryonic squid are pretty much transparent -- makes them easier to study. And there've already been some preliminary studies on rodents in microgravity, anyway. This is breaking new (and important-ish) ground.


They can't spell Endeavour right! It's on the patch!


We need to study squid in space because their nervous systems, so heavily involved with sensory and motor operations in the tentacles, are the best animal model we have for bush robots, which, as so much SF tells us, will be the workers of space industry. Then again, I like Charlie's reasoning: calamari are one of my favorite foods.


No, that's the correct -- British -- spelling.

The space shuttle is named after HMS Endeavour, Captain Cook's ship.


"if you're interested in space colonization we need to know about a lot more than vertebrates."

Firstly, who said anything about colonization? I specifically stated bases. And we will need to understand human physiological responses to low g environments well in advance of that of squid (or even snails). [As a reminder, the experiment is for micro-g, not partial g, and is studying a specific developmental process involved with acquiring symbiotic bacteria. But perhaps you really do think these squid will be piloting ships :)].

Secondly, you have punted on why squid, as opposed to some other, far better understood, model organism. It is usual in biology to study model organisms so that there is a large body of contextual science associated with the study.

The point, as you well know, is that these experiments cost a lot of money to run. Given the resources available, why is this particular experiment being selected over what is probably a very large raft of animal experiments that are more directly relevant to human spaceflight?

Back in 1975, I wrote a thesis paper with the question concerning whether we could travel to Mars in micro-g, or did we need ships with artificial g. All I had was some data from the first, 3 months mission of Skylab I. 35 years later and that question is still not answered. I consider that a pretty fundamental question.

And why are you risking raising your blood pressure with me? You are supposed to be relaxing from exhaustion.


Firstly, who said anything about colonization?

Oh, you know, I thought it was a matter of some interest to you. Can't think why.

I think the real question we need to ask is why "these experiments cost a lot of money", when they're so obviously vital to any long term humans-in-space program. The Shuttle is evidently a crap system for doing this kind of research -- massively over-complicated and costly and has insufficient on-orbit endurance -- and as for Mir, it took about 80% of the crew workload just to keep it maintained and habitable once it was complete.

I think we badly need a dedicated orbiting life sciences lab (animal, not human -- that comes later) with the ability to run experiments over periods of weeks to multiple-months or even years (life expectancy of a lab rat is typically 18-24 months). A rotating annexe would be useful, but could be internal -- a centrifuge inside a Bigelow spacehab, sized for small mammals at under 0.5g, for example. Hanging it off the ISS would make it much easier for human maintenance. Why isn't NASA doing something along those lines? Could it be because that's not really the point of NASA?


"I think we badly need a dedicated orbiting life sciences lab (animal, not human -- that comes later) with the ability to run experiments over periods of weeks to multiple-months or even years (life expectancy of a lab rat is typically 18-24 months). A rotating annexe would be useful, but could be internal -- a centrifuge inside a Bigelow spacehab, sized for small mammals at under 0.5g, for example. Hanging it off the ISS would make it much easier for human maintenance."

Absolutely! The ability to test rats over several generations would be very valuable (one of the definitive animal models and a good human proxy).
And with that lab I would like to see more scientists work there, rather than having the astronauts do the work and return samples. I'd even accept good robotics/telechirics to be worked from the ground - anything that allows a working scientist to make observations directly and modify experiments in response to observations or problems. (Remote operations experience would be good for the first Mars flights as orbiting crews could manage ground robots in near real time).

As you say, the real question is why it costs so much. Creating a simple lab that could be installed in a hab might offer a serious cost advantage.


What is the point of NASA?

Well we need the remaining cash to bail out banks, pay for untenable entitlements and kill people we have never met and probably can't find on a map, so space exploration is low on the priority list at the moment.

I was fortunate enough to view a night launch from the air off of Daytona. Daytona Approach had us hold about 5 miles off the coast in pitch black conditions. When the shuttle lifted off it passed through several layers of clouds. When the Shuttle passed through a lower marine layer it lit the sky to nearly day light conditions.


Squids in SPACE!! SPACE!!! SPACE!!!

but, seriously, I think if one were to design a planet- orbiting functional day-to-day work ship. An orbital-junk grabber / Repair platform . A Squid or Ammonite -shape would be ideal. I think this is really product R&D.


Has anyone let Peter Watts know?


Or, arguably, HM Bark Endeavour.


hey, hydrostatic skeletons are where it's at in zero-g.

i'd rather an octopi helper than a simian one.


Since we're having fun. It would be an interesting problem to design a spacesuit for a squid. Perhaps a hard suit with flexible arms for the tentacles - lots of constant volume "joints" needed. Perhaps the suit should not have "arms" and the squid should have waldos? The air supply would need to dissolve O2 in water with a pump to aerate the gills. Then there is the waste handling... Communication might be interesting too. Perhaps sensors to detect the chromatophores states and translate them. But what about reception of signals? A chromatophore pattern visual display unit?


The space program is not all about putting hairless apes into orbit. LEO is an ideal laboratory for all manner of science, not just space-related stuff. Are you going to start complaining about GPS and Earth mapping satellites as well? They aren't space oriented either.


So enlighten me. Explain why the "squids in space" experiment should be done before the suggested "mice in a centrifuge" experiment. Indeed, why not explain why this experiment is being done? What is the question being asked, and why is the question interesting?

I'm all for doing as much science as possible. But this isn't a low cost experiment, nor are resources infinite. So what is the justification for the resource allocation?


It might not be as cool as lobsters in cyberspace but it is a good start...


Your question is answered in the link Charles has provided, so you can answer your question via a single quick click, thereby negating you going through the ever so torturous process of googling the answer. Go click and see the answer to your question now.


Okay I'm assuming that you haven't clicked through because you've failed to do so so far, so let me just quickly explain; The bobtailed squid has a special bioluminescent region on its underside – the process in bobtailed squids and in most other organisms for ensuring orientation of a specific cellular function is, we think, gravity dependant, and the development or malformation of the space squid's glowy patches provide a very visual and very easy to detirmine measure of whether or not the morphology of the squid does rely on gravimetric reference to detirmine the correct orientation of cells during tissue specialisation.

It is also an experiment proposed by high school students rather than NASA proper, and if it wasn't going up another probably slightly silly high school derived experiment would go in its stead so fuck the zero sum game that appears to be driving your fury at the squids in space, Mrs. Atwood.

And again, I'm very sorry about the incivility, but the link was right next to the bit where the squid were mentioned and you saw that squid were going into space enough to be upset and ask question answered by the link... and... I'm used to seeing people fail at googling, I'm totally used to THAT, but this was CLICKING FAIL, how does someone fail at clicking!? It's the one function that a person HAS to be able to do to operate an internet, even a small one, so HOW...


you'd want to design chromatophore-specific iconography, so your cephalopod can communicate what it needs to.

the spacesuit is a saline-filled bubble with CO2 scrubbers and reach-in "arms".


The squid will be navigating, right?


and making wisecracks about the monkey pilot "eating bananas".


Get a room, guys... OH! That's not right!


In short, NASA seems to want to know if a representative sample of terran life can function in microgravity. A more direct approach might be possible, but potentially tragic. Squid will do for now.


Did someone mention Googlng? Well this is a little bit of a diversion from the Wonder of Squid but if Our Host will permit it here is a link to " Space Farm " ..

"From the lake-size drinking ponds of the dinosaurs to the tiny cubicles of the International Space Station, Triops have succeeded at the long, hard process that is survival. Now they, along with annual Killifish, are being studied in space (and on Earth) by scientists who hope to discover the mystery of their survival: diapause.

You, too, can study these bizarre survivors! Create a full eco system in your own home from living embryos that will remain dormant... until you add water! "

Er, well, you see I was doing a little - breakfast influenced - casual research on whether or not much research had been done on the process of egg laying in zero g and came upon, ' With Space Farm eco system, you can study the same creatures that scientists hope will unlock the secret to human space travel to distant planets! '

I Must get out more. Must get out to the supermarket to buy more eggs and also bacon there's a thought ...' Pigs In Space '


Or possibly "HM Barque Endeavour". The spelling is optional when referring to the rig.


It is also an experiment proposed by high school students rather than NASA proper, and if it wasn't going up another probably slightly silly high school derived experiment would go in its stead

I think you might have provided the answer. This may have more to do about PR.

This link to a review article on the connection between the squid model and mammalian gut flora indicates where the relevance may lay, although it seems like a [long] stretch to me.

I still read this as a PR stunt first - i.e. how can we do something that connects K-12 education through to universities - and science second.


Do you enjoy being a contrarian, Alex? Fish gotta swim, bird gotta fly and all that.


Of course it's a PR stunt; the whole NASA manned space program is a PR stunt! Always has been -- go back to Mercury and the political context surrounding it and it was all about getting one-up on comrade Kruschev.

Later, it was about preserving the US Aerospace Engineering faculty in being after the private sector hit the thermal wall in the late 60s (and the process of incremental improvement that had been running since the 1900s finally hit the buffers -- kind of like Moore's law for aerospace).

The shuttle was a make-work program during the 1970s and early 80s; then the ISS was a make-work program from the late 80s through the 00s.

Now the last of the 1960s engineering generation are hitting retirement, the org needs a new raison d'etre. It may even be totally obsolete -- the army of draughtsmen it took to design an airframe in the 1960s have been replaced by software run by a much smaller number of experts, and in the meantime the commercial space industry is showing signs of flourishing. But in the meantime, NASA pork has been scattered all across the USA, and like all bureaucracies, it has acquired a strong survival instinct (all those nice stable jobs). So you can expect more PR gestures (like this one) than usual over the next few years.


Let's just say I like to engage in argum...err, vigorous discussion. :)


I think the space race had deeper geopolitical meaning than "PR stunt". Sputnik and the increasingly larger payloads lofted to orbit to the fear of God into the US that the USSR could similarly lob atom bombs. Orbiting bombs a few hundred miles overhead was a distinctly unpleasant Damoclean threat.

But once the US had "won" the moon race, obviously [the human spaceflight part of] NASA tried to maintain its raison d'etre with what, in hindsight, looks like increasingly desperate rationales. In that respect, it is no different from many other organizations. That Nasa engages in PR stunts to stay funded may say a lot more about the US than about the broader issue of human expansion into space.

One can only hope that the emergence of the new space powers focuses the US' and Nasa's minds on real goals and achievements for human spaceflight, rather than the sham we have experienced for the last 30 odd years.


You'll notice I said that NASA's manned space program was a PR stunt.

The ICBM race and the spysat race were lower-key (from a public perspective) but no less significant.

There was also the military manned program -- Almaz in the USSR and X-20 and then MOL in the USA -- that was funded because of a perceived need for the tech. However, the advent of better integrated circuits essentially killed them by the late 1970s, even in the USSR. (CCDs and high bandwidth comms meant that spysats could beam intel down to Earth without either needing capsules to retrieve film canisters, or compact manned space stations where cosmonauts could change reels manually then ferry them home.)


You'll notice I said that NASA's manned space program was a PR stunt.

I did. I agree with most of what you said. I've often taken the opposite tack and challenged the need for manned missions, for example, to NEOs. I think we will get a lot more scientific value for money from robotic missions. Robotic technology will increasingly gain relative advantage over humans in this regard, recapitulating the space stations vs satellites history. If c wasn't a constraint, I wouldn't bother with manned flight at all and just remotely operate machines. Since it is a constraint, and we don't yet have AGI, there is a role for humans to be local to the action, if costs can be driven down sufficiently. I think extreme risk aversion has contributed to that high cost.


On another NASA-related subject, are any of Charlie's fans attending the NASA tweetup at JPL on June 6? I'm excited to have been accepted as one of the participants!

Charlie, is there a question you'd like me to ask the NASA administrators at the event?


HM Bark Endeavour Right. There are (IIRC) TWO replicas of this ship currently in existence. One is at Whitby, Yorkshire, England - where Captain Cook came from. And there's one at the Australian Maritime Museum, Darling Harbour, Sydney NSW. There's a Virtual tour of her available as well.

The latter was built in this country and then sailed out. I was fortunate enought to go and see her at Greenwich, before she sailed. Given that the original carried not only Cook, but Sir Joseph Banks. one of the greatest Botanists ever, it was a fascinating experience


No idea. (Also: I don't do Twitter.)


Charlie, I've been following your blog for a few years, so I know you don't use Twitter. With writing and running this high-quality interactive blog, there is no way you'd have much time for it.

I'm glad to be viewing the Mars Curiosity rover at JPL before it ships to Florida for launch. We are finally entering an era of robotic exploration that brings increased speed and analytic tools that are much closer to the capabilities of a human explorer.


But perhaps you really do think these squid will be piloting ships :)]. Of course not ! they're embryos. Do you thnk We are stupid ? We know they have to grow up and need a spaceship driving licence !


Urm, yes, that's what I said. The article is spelling it Endeavor. All the shuttles are named after UK ships.


I think we were confused by you bothering to mention it, since Charlie had already mentioned right at the top in the first place.

Later, it was about preserving the US Aerospace Engineering faculty in being after the private sector hit the thermal wall in the late 60s

A lot of what the Defense Department and the civilian engineering and scientific agencies in the US did in the late 1970's and 1980's had to do with trying to preserve the ability to manufacture and maintain older technologies or to continue to develop new technologies in certain application areas. For instance, my late father-in-law, who had been a civilian engineer working for the US Army SIgnal Corps on microwave communications and radar systems for many years, spent a good part of his retirement working ¼ time on ways to keep assembly lines for microwave tubes open. All civilian applications had moved to semiconductors, but military applications like fighter plane radars needed high-power tubes because of their resistance to EMP and their high power-to-volume ratio.

Similarly, with the Cold War winding down, less and less money and effort was put into R&D of rad-hardened avionics; something that will always be necessary for both manned and unmanned spaceflight. But unless there's a fairly steady demand for products, the R&D won't be cost-effective, and civilian corporations won't be willing to undertake it on spec, so NASA tried to keep the technology developing despite the sporadic schedules of new missions requiring it.


I think we need to broaden this to Cephalopods in Space. Otherwise octopi, cuttlefish and nautiluses (nautili?) will be complaining of discrimination. Of course there will be the inevitable "piloting while octopus" incidents. And how many tentacles should be kept on the controls?

New Scientist has a piece on the bad effects of sound on squid organs ["Shipping noise pulps organs of squid and octopuses "]. Will their spacesuits need to be insulated from rocket vibrations?


Space exploration and experiments are great, but I'm still waiting for a major world leader to announce a goal of attaching a tracking device on an adult giant squid.


Space exploration and experiments are great, but I'm still waiting for a major world leader to announce a goal of attaching a tracking device on an adult giant squid.


I guess we all have these little ticks that only self-imposed editing can conceal: for some reason I go with the English spelling behaviour as opposed to the Americanized behavior. This doesn't extend to words like color or flavor for some reason.


I'm still waiting for someone to attach a major world leader to an adult giant squid. Sharktopus has nothing on Gaddafopus.


Tracking a giant squid? That's going to be a fun technical challenge -- if it's possible at all!

(Most of their time is spent at phenomenal depths where radio signals -- such as GPS, or whatever you'd use for getting updates from a tracking device -- don't penetrate.)


Erm, not quite.

Atlantis - an american research vessel for Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute Columbia - the privately owned ship Columbia that explored the NW pacific (US) Discovery - HMS Discovery, the ship for Cook's third voyage, also the name for the ship that took Scott on his first successful survey of the antarctic. Endeavour - HMS Endeavour, from Cook, as discussed above Enterprise - named after the aircraft carrier (and potentially the Star Trek vessel, which in turn came from the carrier originally)

So two out of five were british, but you were at least half right that all were ships.


Also "not quite"; check the opening titles for "Star Trek: Enterprise", which feature a ~Napoleonic wars "HMS ENterprise".


Not to mention the HMS Challenger...

From Wikipedia

Eight ships of the Royal Navy have been named HMS Challenger, most famously the survey vessel Challenger that carried the Challenger expedition from 1872 to 1876.


The fifth Challenger was a screw corvette launched in 1858, converted to a survey ship in 1872 in preparation for her famous voyage, hulked in 1880, and sold in 1921. The research ship Glomar Challenger and the Space Shuttle Challenger were named after this ship.


From Wikipedia:

The name Enterprise comes from a long series of ships. The first was the French frigate L'Entreprise, captured by the British in 1705. The British rechristened the ship HMS Enterprise for use by the Royal Navy. A further nine Royal Navy commissioned warships carried the name "Enterprise". The first United States ship to use the name USS Enterprise (1775) was a Revolutionary War-era sloop-of-war. The seventh American ship to carry the name, the Yorktown class USS Enterprise (CV-6) is the most decorated ship in the history of the U.S. Navy, and the only Yorktown class aircraft carrier to survive World War II. The eighth American ship to bear this name (CVN-65), was the world's first nuclear aircraft carrier.

I don't have it immediately to hand, but in the movie "First Contact", there is a display case in Piccard's cabin with the line of ships preceding the Enterprise E. Does that have the Napoleonic era Enterprise as one of the vessels, or does the line start later?


OK, so what is the other USS Enterprise currently in the US Navy?

I've found a couple of "history of the Enterprise" pics on the web which show one vessel earlier than CV-6 (the WW2 USS Enterprise). I infer from USN records that the picture used shows the 1813 engagement between the 1799 USS Enterprise and HMS Boxer. Both ships are rigged as brigs. This isn't the same as the more famous frigate actions, but appears to be as fair a fight as a fellow could honourably wish for, HMS Boxer being taken, and both captains being killed.

HM Bark Endeavour was not rigged as a barque: the term was used by the Admiralty for all sorts of nondescript vessels, and Endeavour was ship-rigged.


Radio is right out for tracking anything that can go to those depths, but maybe now we can get some use out of those long-range sound detection systems the US Navy built all over the place to spot Soviet subs. Sound carries quite well at depth, so battery life of a pinger ought to be reasonably good, and triangulation should give reasonable location info.


Looks like they just use spaceships in that scene.


Sound's problematic. Leaving aside the question of how much such an apparatus would weigh, and the size of batteries you'd need to ping away at a sensible data rate for a couple of months, high-intensity sound pulps squids' delicate auditory mechanisms -- there was some recent reporting on this (sonar in particular disorients squid permanently and renders them unable to feed).


For short term stuff, you can use inertial tracking and spit out radio buoys to report.

With some short term behaviour known, you might be able to sneak down a microsub to update the inertial tracker occasionally.


there's also the question of how to get the tracker onto the squid. you can't remove them from pressure or they're calamari. really, really stinky calamari (we have a Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni in the national museum here, apparently it reeked of ammonia (?) when they brought it on-board).

so... you'd need to go to them, trap it, tag it, release it.

there's a jules verne chapter if ever i saw one.

but, assuming you could. put the tracker on to capture information until the solid-state drive is full, or the primary battery is dead. tracker then releases, secondary battery inflates bubble to lift device to surface where it beeps to GPS.


Charlie, guess I'll settle for better video of living giant squid, which is still a technical challenge, but doable with current technology.


I love how this thread could possibly give scientists ideas on how to track giant squid. Before that is attempted, it would help to have more advanced and more numerous unmanned deep-sea robots that can locate and get video of the blasted things!

Some people have advocated a government-funded sea exploration agency that is similar to NASA in ambition, though with the state of the U.S. economy, to get a similar budget would require financial help from other countries.


OK, so what is the other USS Enterprise currently in the US Navy?

Unfortunately, the existence of Wikipedia makes this sort of thing much less of a challenge than it would have been a few years ago.


Oops. That short a beginning and I missed that!


OK... i'll come clean.

i'm actually working for the NASA and we're thinking through how to militarise giant squid.

we figure it'll give us an edge on the chinese in the space race. they can't see past the Kung Pao.


I thought the point was to figure out how to inoculate US Navy SEALs with Vibrio fischeri, so that they can use the bioluminescent bacteria to hide their silhouettes during attack dives, just as it does with the squid. The reason for doing this in space is that the inoculation has to survive SEAL training and prep, which involves HALO insertions and substantial times in altered weight regimes (riding jet fighters in, jumping out of planes, and so on).

Seriously, though, the only good-ish reason I can think of is that V. fischeri glows. Probably some dude thought that glowing bacteria would illuminate some sort of bacterial colonization process, and that would be useful in micro-gravity, because (as we do, really know) pathogenic bacteria really do behave differently in space, and they're not nice enough to glow. How squid embryos are similar to human astronauts, and how Vibrio is similar to Streptococcus, are left to the readers' imaginations.


Totally, and completely off-topic, but (even allowing for the original writers and newspaper's prejudices) what does our host - and others think of THIS article ?? Perhaps, Charlie could start a new thread, especially given the undelying scenario in "Halting State" - and presumably in "Rule 34"


Greg, I note with interest a recent opinion poll that found support for Scottish independent was stronger in England than in Scotland. This is read up north as "now the oil is running dry they want to get rid of us", and it's not going down well.

My guess is that right now the only thing that would make Scotland vote for full independence would be David Cameron ordering a snap referendum from Westminster with the vocal intention of doing so to spike the SNP's wheels. (In five years time things may be different, of course.)

What I think will happen is that Alex Salmond is smart enough to push the referendum as far back as he can, and to add a bunch of alternatives to it, like:

[] Full independence as a Republic within the EU

[] Full independence within the EU, but keep the monarchy

[] Stay within the UK but demand a full federal structure, independent tax raising powers, and full control over everything except foreign policy.

[] Stay within the UK but demand more tax raising powers [ more than the Scotland Act provides for ] ...

[] Retain the status quo

Played properly it'd be a great negotiating tool, and the first signs are that this is what he's got in mind -- he's already mooted adding intermediate options that fall short of full independence.


Since Charlie's happy to "play ball", by what piece of accounting sophistry does 10% of the population become responsible for 28% of the National Debt? I'm not even trying hard to kick holes in the article.


Time for my own opinion on this.

As people may realise, I think that the outbreak of WWI, resulting in the clock-stopping/suspension of the Government of Ireland Act, 1914 was an unmitigated disaster - especially after the insanities there of 1916. What we really need is a con-federal United Kingdom of GB (ALL the countries) with separate local parliaments, and the current one at Westminster being responsible for foreign and defence policy, and co-ordination for internal cross-border issues, especially transport and health, and some taxes. Almost everything else would be "locally" governed.

But, I don't think this is likely to be what we get... unless Ireland's economy REALLY crashes, and they exit the Euro. In which case Britain will almost certainly leave the EU, but remain inside the free-trade area (like Norway, for instance). As for Ireland's financial problems, try reading This truly scary article by Morgan Kelly, professor of economics at University College Dublin.

I think the only comment I can make about that is ... AARRRGGHH!


Despite my usually being perceived as a Scottish Nationalist, I actually agree with you, with the note that I think England needs to be federalised at a regional level because what is right for London is not necessarily the same for the "West Country", Midlands, "North East"..., never mind for "Northern Ireland" (only ~2/3 of the Irish kingdom of Ulster is part of the UK), Scotland or Wales.


Greg: What we really need is a con-federal United Kingdom of GB (ALL the countries) with separate local parliaments, and the current one at Westminster being responsible for foreign and defence policy, and co-ordination for internal cross-border issues, especially transport and health, and some taxes. Almost everything else would be "locally" governed.

I'd vote for that.


Possibly because 2 of the bailed out banks (RBS and HBOS) were nominally Scottish?


The last time I looked Halifax was in Yorkshire, England, UK! Also, you've named the only 2 Scottish banks to have been bailed out.

Hmmm, if we can attribute that (never mind that it was caused by UK national financial mis-regulation) then I want to attribute MoD spending as well, on the basis that 90% of all MoD spending occurs South of the Severn-Wash line. Perhaps we could try the same exercise with the Civil Service, using the physical locations of the CS staffers as locations for spending?


The really scary part? Morgan Kelly is the guy who publicly predicted the crash - and its severity - in 2007. In fact, he was one of the targets of Bertie Ahern's famous "Sitting on the sidelines, cribbing and moaning is a lost opportunity. I don't know how people who engage in that don't commit suicide because frankly the only thing that motivates me is being able to actively change something." (Delivered on World Suicide Prevention Day, by the way; such a classy guy...)


Although Halifax was the dominant partner in HBOS, HBOS was registered in Edinburgh. It was partly political to prevent a Scottish institution disappearing.

I'm not disputing that its all nonsense. The amount of crap spoken about the amount of debt, who owes what, and how much of problem it is rivals the No to AV for mendacity.


Changes subject again

Browsing on Amazon I saw a "paperback" of Rule 34 available for pre-order; RRP was about £13 so do you know if that's a "trade paperback" (HC pages in a soft binding) Charlie?


HBOS is a pantomime horse. Nutshell version: Halifax Bank (formerly the Halifax Building Society, a staid bricks-n-mortar mutual society, until they floated on the stock market and went whoopee! and started buying up bad paper) got into difficulties in 2007. Bad difficulties. After Northern Rock Bank (another ex-building society) went bust and had to be nationalized, the government had a brain-wave: why not get a staid, sober-sided institution to buy the semi-derelict and turn it around? So the Bank of Scotland was nudged into buying up Halifax. They stuck an "H" in front, but it was very clear that the Edinburgh-based head was leading the Halifax-based tail.

Unfortunately Halifax's liabilities turned out to be much bigger than anyone had realized, and BoS wasn't 100% clean either, and in the end the government had to buy a majority share in them, too, in order to keep the resulting mammoth from drowning in a tar pit of bad debt (and taking down about 15-20% of the British population's bank accounts at the same time).


"Rule 34" will be published in the USA by Ace as a hardback (SRP $24; probably discounted to $16 in places like, and in the UK by Orbit as a trade paperback (SRP: £16, probably discounted to £13 on


Except that the Halifax-BoS merger took place in 2001. I was working there at the time.


My copy - hardback - has been on order from bookdepository for months ..

" Rule 34 (Hardback) By (author) Charles Stross

Free worldwide delivery

£11.87 Save £3.95 (24%) RRP £15.82 Free delivery worldwide (to United Kingdom and all these other countries) 53 days to go Pre order "


Charlie is thinking of the merger with Lloyds.

Also, the deals that really did for HBOS were the commercial property ones, not the residential mortgage ones, and the division of labour at the time of the merger was that BOS's personal banking was rolled up into the Halifax, while their (relatively tiny) business banking operation was merged into the (much bigger) BOS corporate division up in Edinburgh.

That line of business was given to a BOS lifer, Johnny Cameron, to manage. He did so well he's been banned from ever working in a bank or insurance company again.


I will admit to prejudice here, and thus to an explanation of why I didn't leap in to mention LLoyds Bank and its takeover of HBOS.

Briefly ..LLoyds Bank is a component of my modest investment portfolio .. so modest it shuffles its feet and hides in corners at party's whilst blushing bashfully ... and Lloyds was famous in the Great Debt Inflation for being DULL, DULL, DULL and not being Adventurous like, well, Northern Rock and ...the others of the Greed is Good fraternity with its share price held firmly down as a consequence ... but LLoyds dividends were steady and stable.

So it was that LLoyds was the only UK bank that was left- after the Great Un-Veiling of massive but Legal International Bank Fraud - that was in a position to take over the massively insolvent HBOS and thus Save The World ..err, save The Brown who twisted its Chief Executives Arm fiercely that he might do his patriotic DUTY. Thanks to that LLoyds is now in dire trouble and has imported .. oh the irony! .. a Spanish Banker to save its Bacon.

" The Lisbon-born banker will receive a total package worth around £8.3m in 2011. He has agreed a basic salary of £1.035m a year, plus an annual bonus of £2.32m. In addition, nearly £4.35m of Lloyds shares will be placed into a long-term incentive plan that will vest in 2014, subject to various targets being hit. Lloyds will also pay Horta-Osório an allowance to cover his pension provision, worth £610,000 in 2011.

The total bill could be even greater, as Lloyds will also compensate Horta-Osório for "the loss of deferred cash and shares" at Santander. Details of this payment will be included in Lloyds' next annual report "

Who sez crime doesn't pay ?

Of course LLoyds dividends have been suspended - so much for my Convention Attending Fund - and, rather more significant, large numbers of 'umble bank clerk equivalents have lost their jobs in a manner that is in no way attributable to the UKs government-- but the World IS Saved eh wot?

So, No Harm Done !


On the squid experiment: I don't mind these PR stunts. I'll happily co-finance more of them via my taxes. My local Prime Minister should consider this a Strongly-Worded Suggestion.

On the Scottish Question of the Moment: Those five options sound like a sensible menu to put into a referendum. Hoping it works out well for everyone to be affected by the consequences, whatever is chosen.


Cheers Charlie; it's about what I thought, but there was next to no info on the page other than author, title and price.


For anyone interested, Pharyngula has a letter from the guy in charge of the project, that explains what they are trying to do.


Miss Squiddy has a rival for hte future domination of space: the water bear, which has it's own built in spacesuit.


Additional to that link to the bookdepositary. If you haven't pre-ordered Rule 34 yet, or have other Stross books that you want to buy, then you might like to know that bookdepository is running a 10% off promotion. They sent me an e mail notification but I see that the promotion is available to all customers ...


There was a British exploration ship called HMS Enterprise as well - she was on two of the Franklin search voyages.



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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on May 10, 2011 11:17 AM.

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