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Salt Beings

Thanks so much for Charlie's introduction, and for his extremely generous invitation to post here. I've enjoyed Charlie's books, especially Rule 34, and the discourse on this blog. I will see what I can come up with, while Charlie and my other lucky friends head off to a spaceship conference. And they complain of jet lag? For me just a trip to Oxford Street (from rural Ohio) would be worth the jet lag.

My book that Charlie kindly mentioned, The Highest Frontier, turned out to be controversial. Greg Benford and Don Sakers loved it, but someone else feared reading it would make himself ill, while yet another wanted to see "if the test readers live." I thought readers might pause at the zoophiles, the twin towers scene, or the gay-married college president. But the main flashpoint was salt (NaCl). Could table salt become a controlled substance?

Salt's taste and antimicrobial power run through human history. There have always been salt roads, salt taxes, and salt wars. Salt trade drove the rise of cities like Liverpool, and destroyed cities in Europe and Asia. Gandhi's independence movement began with a salt march. In America, the Iroquois called colonial Europeans "Salt Beings" for their obsession with it. Today, in modern medicine, the salt wars continue.

In The Highest Frontier, Jenny Ramos Kennedy is a Cuban-American student-athlete who goes to college in a casino-financed space habitat. She likes to capture ultraphytes (invasive UV-photosynthetic extraterrestrials) and keep them in the cellar, just as kids today keep skunks or pythons. But unlike pythons, cyanide-producing ultraphytes make the bioterror list. Ultraphytes (today's colonial Salt Beings) are actually halophiles, life forms that need high salt. To curb the spread of ultraphytes, Homeworld Security controls salt. If that sounds about as useful as controlling toothpaste in your carry-on, read and find out.

The orbital spacehab is something I'd like to learn more about. Could an orbital spacehab really get made by 2100? Engineering is not my field, but from the Wright brothers to commercial jets took 50 years. Today, the International Space Station does surprisingly well with pathetic investment; what if someone were to stake more? I wonder if the folks who built Vegas could put something more outrageous in space. And when the government outlaws vice on Earth, they'll need someplace off-world to keep it--and tax it.

What most interests me space biology. My microbiology textbook opens with the Mars Phoenix lander. Could we grow space lift cables as bacterial cell walls? Some bacteria related to anthrax already grow as thread-like macrofibers, which genetic engineering might convert to nanotubes. The cables would be self-healing, amid all that Kessler debris. Could photosynthetic bacteria run fuel cells and make hydrogen? This is no longer fiction, it's science today. Could solar microbes someday power a space habitat? We need power generation off-world, the sooner the better, because all large-scale energy sources have large downsides for planet Earth.

Have to run and check my drug-resistant bacteria, but let me know if the test readers live.

58 Comments

1:

This one did. Hi from rural Indiana!

2:

While I'm skeptical about about the use of microbes to create the materials for carbon nanotubes, there is a lot of room to use biology to "grow" space structures from inorganic materials. The key, or course, is to source the materials from low delta V locations and be prepared to wait a while while the structure grows. The main benefit I see is the possibility of creating self healing structures that will withstand micrometeroid and radiation damage.

Bigelow wants to add water bladders to his inflatable habs as a radiation shield. I think we need to go a lot further, making the hull a thick volume of water and ice, and using this water to provide the water for drinking and bathing, as well as propellant mass for spacecraft engines.

As for tough materials to make these hulls and the structures inside, silks are looking very good. So if you see a spider web in the hab, don't break it, that is the repairer's home.

3:

Tell the bacteria I said to say "Hi" the next time you see them! :-)

Other things that are about as useful as "controlling toothpaste in your carry-on" would include not letting me have a pen-knife, but lettimg me keep my pen!

I have no idea if bacteria could build buckytubes (this is more your field) but we're certainly looking at the same pages in "science of strong materials" books by making the stalk of our beanstalk from very long bucktubes!

I think Alex has already said a fair amount of sensible/useful stuff in #2, so I'll sign off for n...aaaagggghhhhh! ;-)


Oh dear, splash one test reader. ;-)

4:

I haven't - yet - read The Highest Frontier, a failing I intend to remedy at the soonest possible. I'm sure I'll survive.

I have been working on a group of stories set in a future where Earth has destroyed itself and is imploding. Space platforms become the only possibility of survival for those with money or influence enough to secure a place. Your speculations about orbital space-habs are thus extremely interesting to me. Like you I'm not an engineer. I'm just positing that if a thing becomes necessary enough it will come into being. I'll allow the Charlie's to explain how.

5:

>> let me know if the test readers live.
I did survive (la la la la !) but wouah ! how much field you bring to us in just one topic !
Every Charlie's guest is a delight but ... you're a Turkish delight !
Seriously, for the salt affair, I grew up in a french town where the medieval salt taxes is still a big history. Have you ever heard of MANDRIN ? a 17th century outlaw who fought against salt taxes (la gabelle) and was killed by the power. Some kind of french Robin Hood (that actually existed) whose memory is still very big (I learned a popular song about him when I wasz a kid and my children are learning it by now).He his known as a precussor of the revolution (even if that might be legend !)
As I did not (by now) read your books, please, tell me, do you think in a science-fiction novel there could be this sort of background (popular memory, kid songs) and is it important to you ?
And I have an other question : are your books going to be translated ? (and when?)
last thought :
>>>from the Wright brothers to commercial jets took 50 years.
And it's 40 years since the last Apollo ... Hurry up !!

6:

Yes, I try to use popular and historical background in science fiction, although it's tough because we all know different histories. Much of Highest Frontier references the American Frontier and Teddy Roosevelt, who I bring back through "virtual history." Your MANDRIN sounds like a great start for a story.
I certainly hope I'll get translations but I can't say when yet.

7:

>about the use of microbes to create the materials for carbon nanotubes

Alex, it may be a stretch, but bacteria and plants do build complex aromatic structures such as lignin. In principle, enzymes can build literally any organic molecule. They catalyze reactions that baffle organic chemists, such as group transfer from one carbon to the neighboring one (Vitamin B12 catalysis).

Spider silks are amazing; and if microbes can be made to grow them, there will be even more possiblities for technical application.

8:

In theory, you could build quite a lot with bacteria and fungi that secrete materials, given proper (admittedly science-fictional) bacteria, superadvanced culturing techniques, and molds to grow them in. An example I threw into a story was a shovel blade with a pearlite steel rind and a sponge-steel core, grown in a mold by iron-secreting bacteria. Another was using fungi as a structural material in place of concrete (something researchers are testing now).

In fact, I had a lot of fun designing a biotech-based society that was quiet and cool. It was powered by kudzu-like vines that turned sunlight into carbs, and then fungi (and other systems) shunted the carbs into other biological systems that provided services like light and data transmission. Their computers ran on "algae doped with quantoplasts in a biofilm matrix, photonic data transduction, oligosaccharide crystal memory, with polymycelial nutrient translocation." Yes, the whole thing was tongue in cheek. Feel free to comment on whether plastids could be hacked to process data.

The nice thing about such SF biotech is that it's quiet and cool, running near room temperature, without the noise that one associates with modern industry. The problem, of course, is that it's slow. For example, a shovel blade can be forged in a few minutes by a blacksmith, but it might take a month or more to grow in a mold. It's a technology for situations where high energy technology is either unaffordable or dangerous. It certainly might work in a space station, especially one where time is plentiful, but resources and environmental parameters are tightly constrained.

9:

"For me just a trip to Oxford Street (from rural Ohio) would be worth the jet lag."

For me Oxford St is a nightmare, and rural Ohio a far better place to be.

10:

Adapting biology from extremophiles there's no need for engineered biotech to be room temperature, fyi.

Salt as a controlled substance reminds me of Judge Dredd, where sugar is a controlled substance. Of course Dredd's world is a satire of our own and such things are played for laughs but I did read somewhere about sugar being restricted for certain native populations because their efficient metabolism led them to rapid diabetes and other such diseases if they had unrestricted access to the white stuff. So it may not be so far fetched...?

11:

Extremophiles gets back to the post-oil issue: we live at room temperature, and having industrial processes that don't require a lot of energy to heat or cool can be really useful.

That's something I realized a while ago: we're so habituated to time being critical, and so habituated to technology being hot and/or loud and/or toxic, that we automatically assume that's the way things have to be. Automatically reaching for the extremophiles simply feeds into this assumption.

But is it really the case? 'What if' is a classical SF question, and starting from the assumption that hi tech manufacturing could be totally livable leads to some interesting, even entertaining, consequences.

More importantly, questioning the necessity for loud/hot/toxic technology gets at the whole (in my opinion, counterproductive) idea that we have to destroy the environment to make life easier for us in the short run. It's obviously a stupid trade-off, and finding ways out of it is a worthwhile exercise.

12:
If that sounds about as useful as controlling toothpaste in your carry-on

No, it sounds about as useful (and practical) as controlling water in your house.

Salt being controlled -- to the point that it deserves the name "controlled substance" -- pretty much means no home cooking, just re-heating. Restaurants would be on the border of impractical, as each grain of salt would need to be accounted for. Salt would need to be under lock and key, and require extensive documentation to purchase.

And we're talking about salt, something that you produce on your skin when you sweat, something that you can get out of the ocean pretty easily.

13:

I was just pointing out that biotech need not be room temperature, not that it need be always high temperature.

I'm all for a long lasting bio-shovel that took 6 months to grow.

As long as I don't have an urgent need for it NOW.

14:

"... it may be a stretch, but bacteria and plants do build complex aromatic structures such as lignin. In principle, enzymes can build literally any organic molecule."

AFAIK, large sugar based macromolecules are disordered. I'm not saying it is impossible, but if carbon nano tubes could be made chemically, one has to wonder why chemical synthesis hasn't been obviously showing results.

"≈...if microbes can be made to grow them [Spider silks], there will be even more possiblities for technical application."

That has been achieved. The problem is how to spin then into threads with the desired properties.

15:

FOr a while, during the mid 1980's HIV scare, blood was almost a controlled substance. Couldn't work with a cut in food preparation or serving. Blood banks were extremely careful about accepting blood as there were no tests to eliminate contaminated blood.

Jasper Fforde has oats as a controlled substance for bears in his "The Fourth Bear" fantasy[?].

I get salt as a controlled substance in certain situations. Very novel.

16:

And we're talking about salt, something that you produce on your skin when you sweat, something that you can get out of the ocean pretty easily.

Well, they've managed to make controlled things that grow as weeds or as fungi, so salt doesn't seem that bizarre. You'll have trouble amassing grammes of it by sweating, after all.

17:

An off-the-wall question:
What do you think the likelihood is that microbial organisms could be evolved to selectively uptake isotopes of specific metals?

18:

I suppose isotopic separation is possible. C4 plants take up carbon with a different isotopic proportions than C3 plants. Mind you, the enzymes aren't selecting for the specific isotopes, it's (AFAIK) a side effect of the way the two different versions of photosynthesis operate. So far as I know, isotopic sorting would have to be a similar "side effect" of a processing system, rather than an enzyme that could separate isotopes based on weight. If someone else knows better, I'd love to hear it.

19:

The only thing that bugs me about salt is that it has this bad habit of accumulating wherever water is getting vaporized or filtered. If you're trying to curb the spread of halophiles by keeping salt concentrations low, that's going to make recycling water...interesting.

If you're trying to use salt to smuggle halophiles, that's a slightly different matter, but countermeasures against bacterial smuggling need to be more sophisticated than that. Here's one (real world) example of why: http://news.discovery.com/tech/spies-hide-secrete-message-bacteria-110927.html

20:

>You'll have trouble amassing grammes of it by sweating, after all.

Yes, you've hit the point about concentration. Of course our bodies are full of salt, but extreme halophiles can't grow in saline; nor even in seawater. They need brine, like in a salt production pond.

On the other hand, a (hypothetical) multicellular halophile could have an organ system that concentrates the salt inside.

21:

The only problem I have with featuring salt in a science fiction story is that I can't shake the salt devouring creature from planet M-113 out of my mind. It got in when I was a teenager and it's stuck in there, popping up at the slightest mention of salt and aliens. It sort of crowds out otherwise good stories that have to do with space and salt.

Bio based nano fabrication is the ONLY kind of nano fabrication I'm willing to bet on.There are too many power issues and control issues to make cost-effective mechanical nano robots ever, in my view. Bio is the only answer if you want nano factories.

Vegas was built on existing pioneer trail and railroad stop infrastructure and survives by selling "entertainment" at the highest price possible and the lowest expense. They're a really cheap bunch and they count on glitter and the effects of the myth (and liquor) to appear impressive. They're not ready to invest in any serious kind of tech infrastructure. Just look at their attitude towards their monorail. They wanted it to pay for itself completely!

Even in 2100 the cost of placing a truly safe new Vegas in space would still be higher than placing a new Vegas near shipping lanes on an artificial island in the ocean. We still won't have licked the radiation safety issues 89 years from now. Better look ahead to 2200 to place new Vegas deep inside an asteroid or a gas giant's Moon, once there's regular traffic going that way.

22:

No, you could not make salt a controlled substance on planet Earth, that is dumb. Hell we cannot even relly control opium and that is a lot easier to get your hands around.

In a space hab, maybe.

As far as what can be done by 2100, might as well ask how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. 80 years is too far out. It's fair game for anything really

23:

>What do you think the likelihood is that microbial organisms could be evolved to selectively uptake isotopes of specific metals?

Various enzymes separate isotopes. The most famous is RuBisCo, the enzyme that fixes CO2 in all plants and cyanobacteria. RuBisCo favors C-12 over C-13. The effect is large enough to reveal isotope anomalies in microbial fossil rocks three billion years old.

However, metal atoms such as copper or iron are larger than C and the relative mass differences of their isotopes are small, so I'm not sure how well enzymes might distinguish them.

25:

Though not a controlled substance in the drug-related sense, the British during their rule in India did control the sale of salt, even going so far as to build a fence of sorts across the sub-continent (wikipedia). There was a pop history book about it a few years ago called something like A Hedge Across India but I can't remember exactly what. I recall reading the blurb and not quite believing it. I wish I'd bought it now.

26:

you could not make salt a controlled substance on planet Earth, that is dumb.
You could be a little more respectful, considering the good professor is here at Charlie's invitation.

You can control salt, incidentally. As Joan alluded to, British Imperialists controlled salt distribution in India not long ago, and in the past it has been common for the ruling despot to have a tight monopoly on salt production for their region. Sure, you could still distil salt yourself, but not in any great quantities.

27:

There's things everybody knows that are not so. Head to head tests at the time had Vegas better than Jap cars in some ways and close in all. its still the same thing. banks will not give car makers the time and money to get it right before they want there money back. that's what a UAW team heard Jap's say about the Vega.
As one Great American said its not what you don't know that hurts, its what you know that's not so that bits you on the butt. And that's what America is running on now. looks like people did not read your into before they started telling you what you had already said.

28:
but if carbon nano tubes could be made chemically, one has to wonder why chemical synthesis hasn't been obviously showing results.

I'm not sure that anyone's trying very hard to make nanotubes with any sort of chemical synthesis because the physical techniques like controlled flame, arc discharge, and chemical vapor deposition are capable of relatively high volume, low cost production. And CVD in particular can be controlled to produce single-walled tubes or multiple-walled tubes with specific numbers of walls.

Biochemical synthesis would have some obvious advantages, but they're not advantages that current researchers are likely to care about. Producing space elevator cables isn't so much about creating perfect buckytubes as it is about creating a polyphase material, typically an epoxy matrix with embedded buckytubes (unless, of course, you can guarantee the creation of single tubes with lengths in excess of 60,000 kilometers).

29:

I would not be surprised to see a mission to move an asteroid into Earth orbit well before the end of this century. It would take years, perhaps decades, to complete the move, but that's not a big problem if you want to use it to build a station that would last for a century or more, and that would be funded by selling metals and/or volatiles mined from the asteroid. Of course the odds are good that there'd be enough gold and platinum metals in the rock to tank the precious metals market forever, which would make a lot of gold-standardites unhappy.

30:

rich @ 17
Already there
There are rare Cuprophile bacteria. They are now being used to improve clean-ups of contaminated land.
I believe the lower Swansea valley (Afon Tawe) is one such area - it used to be one of the most heavily-polluted pieces of land on the planet.

Some years ago, I noticed taht in an area where I was on holiday, one of the very minor roads was labelled variously "the WHite Way" and "Salt Road" snaking gently NW along, parallel to the Cotswold ridge.

31:

Producing space elevator cables isn't so much about creating perfect buckytubes as it is about creating a polyphase material, typically an epoxy matrix with embedded buckytubes

This is almost certainly correct in principle, but I'd think we need to be looking at being able to make buckytubes in at least the range 10..50mm like in fibreglass coremat, and preferably similar lengths to those used in carbon fibre matting like is used in the monocoque of a lot of modern track-racing cars.

32:

Hi Joan,

You might want to let your publisher know that at least one person read Charlie's fabulous intro, clicked the Kindle edition link intending to impulse purchase, only to be told "This title is not available for customers from: Australia".

I know publishing and contracts and stuff are hard - buy do these people really not understand the internet???

Iain

33:

I know publishing and contracts and stuff are hard - buy do these people really not understand the internet???
They don't understand international trade, never mind the interweb.

I remember being told by Bob (fake) Shaw that the reason he stocked so many US import titles was that he could buy them, air-freight them to the UK, pay UK import taxes on them and then sell them cheaper than he could buy and sell the UK imprints (when available). I know the separate US and Uk territory rights sales are a "nice little earner" for Charlie but that doesn't make not being able to buy (or being overcharged) for $title any less annoying for the rest of us.

34:

Have you read Mark Kurlansky's wonderful book Salt: A World History? Everything you didn't even know you didn't know about the history of salt.

35:

>There are rare Cuprophile bacteria. They are now being used to improve clean-ups of contaminated land.

Yes, there are all kinds of metal-using bacteria. Even uranium and plutonium are used to "breathe" (reduce with an electron donor). Bacteria that "breathe" with uranium are used to clean up uranium waste.

The earlier question, I believe, was about isotopes of a given element. I don't know whether enzymes can separate different isotopes of copper, or different isotopes of uranium.

36:

Salt being controlled -- to the point that it deserves the name "controlled substance" -- pretty much means no home cooking, just re-heating. Restaurants would be on the border of impractical, as each grain of salt would need to be accounted for. Salt would need to be under lock and key, and require extensive documentation to purchase.

I think you will be pleasantly surprised if you google "the Great Hedge of India".

37:

Actually, if you read your history, the British made an unsuccessful attempt to levy a mandatory tax on salt. And failed to successfully enforce. And that was almost a hundred years ago when doing that kind of thing was a lot easier

Now if the question is "is it possible to tax salt" or "is it possible to enforce a government monopoly on salt production" then the answer is "maybe" as long as the tax is not so high as to force people to seek alternative means.

Again. We cannot even stop the import of illegal drugs, which are relatively hard to make/grow yourselves under many circumstances.

38:

A War On Salt is perfect for people like Harry Anslinger, as it's a case of a war that cannot be won, and would require a huge security apparatus. A War On xxxx might be practically unwinnable, but a War On Salt, that's impossible to win even in a perfect world with an infinite budget - that's great.

It doesn't need to be won, just fought.

39:

According to Wikipedia, even the ridiculous-sounding great hedge brought in 12 rupees in revenue for every one spent on it.

40:

Hothouse By Brian Aldiss has spider webs between Earth and Moon.

41:

No, you could not make salt a controlled substance on planet Earth, that is dumb.

Wrong.

One of the proximate causes of the French Revolution was the irritation caused by the Monarchy's war on salt. Thing is, in the 18th century pickling in salt was about the only readily available way of preserving many foodstuffs. (Canning and refrigeration hadn't been invented; sugar or alcohol were alternatives, but you try eating sausages pickled in sugar solution ...)

Going from memory: the French crown gave the Farmers Generale a monopoly on the salt duty -- a tax on salt -- and the legal right to tax sales of salt. (Which came from the evaporation pans down on the Mediterranean coast.) At the various customs checkpoints, shipments of salt had to be stopped and proven to have paid their tax. The problem became so acute during the fiscal crises leading up to the revolution that the FG found it profitable to build a wall around Paris, with gates as chokepoints to permit enforcement of the salt tax ...

So yes, salt has historically been treated as a controlled substance by at least one superpower in not too distant history.

42:

This question goes back to an earlier discussion on this blog, wherein I speculated about the feasibility of engineering a trans-membrane pump that could latch onto a small molecule chelating two large metal ions, and either yank the lighter atom into the cell, or leave both ions adrift in the extracellular medium. (Presumably, ATP->ADP powered, natch.) The particular twist being that it's to discriminate between two isotopes of the same atom, one with 92 protons ...

The use for yeast containing Uranium enriched to 50% U235 is left to the imagination of the reader.

43:

I don't think examples from hundreds of years ago apply in this case. There were was a time when mercantilism was kind of a big deal governments tried to control a lot of things. The prime thing to learn from that period is as technology advanced all those efforts basically failed and were abandoned.

What is the recent example?

Also I am wondering what "controlled substance" means? Taxing is not what I would normally think of as "a controlled substance" nor is "having a monopoly on". Drugs are a controlled substance and they are neither taxed nor is there a government monopoly on them. I normally think of that word as applying to things that are borderline illegal, like drugs or guns.

44:

>The particular twist being that it's to discriminate between two isotopes of the same atom, one with 92 protons ...

Right. I know people who might answer that question, and I'll ask (although I hope they don't get the wrong idea.)

45:

OK, plants can discriminate isotopes for metals including zinc:
http://elements.geoscienceworld.org/cgi/content/abstract/5/6/375

The uranium claims out there look more dubious, but I think if zinc works, uranium would be a reasonable extrapolation for science fiction.

46:

How did drug prohibition start? Punitive taxing of the product.

47:

In this case, it's also following on from some speculative work we've been doing with $NUCLEAR_CO looking at possible techniques for post-operative cleanup and initial decommissioning. Filtering waste with microbes to strain HLW from ILW could be a major cost-saver. And might make reprocessing a far more organic project.

48:

Also, the Raj eventually adopted a more sensible plan - they equalised the tax rates on both sides of the barrier, rendering it irrelevant, and nationalised salt production.

Lessons regarding drugs and also carbon taxes/cap-n-trade left for the imagination of the reader.

49:

@ 46
etc
Drug Prohibition?

ALWAYS starts from (usually religious) narrow-minded interfering nannys who know better than you do what is good or bad for you. And usually because "god" or some preacher) has told them so.

There MAY be the added side-bebefit of making a buck on a controlled trade, but that is very secondary.

Bastards

50:

The religious zealots typically get co-opted by the police-state types who want to build an enforcement empire for their own aggrandizement. Large expenditures by governments and law enforcement angencies only happen if the people running them benefit from the expenditures; any ideological benefits are over and above that, not primary. Phil Knight mentioned Harry Anslinger @ 38; he's a classic example (and part of his motivation was a tooth and nail competition with J. Edgar Hoover over who was going to be the national policeman). The US War on Some Drugs is another good example; it allowed the creation and metastasis of the DEA; a process very similar to the life cycle of the Department of Homeland Security. You can always find ideological hangers-on to such initiatives, but the same basic clusterf*ks would occur without them.

51:

@ 50
I won't disagree with that.
Mainly because the religious nutters and the police-state tugs are usually the same people.
Think of who invented the Inquisition and the Police State, respectively .....

52:

I was watching QI last night, and the question came up, "Who Expects the Spanish Inquisition?"
.
.
.
.
Waits...
.
.
.
.
.
It turns out that the Spanish Inquisition would give you thirty days notice that they were going to call on you. Time to get your affairs sorted so that you could say something like, "I didn't realise that was heretical. I have abjured the heresy and confessed my sin and am truly penitent."

So everybody expected the Spanish Inquisition. Which isn't much like a Police State.

53:

To be honest, the salt thing didn't catch my attention but the character from Eurabian France [1] did because quite frankly you're not the sort of author I'd have expected to see buying into the Eurabian* twaddle.

* Basically all it did was give the French character one more thing to bitch about in the US; the implications for social restrictions for the character seemed to be paralleled by different rules with the same outcome for the American girl. We're not talking Kratmanesque stuff here.

54:

@ 52
Erm ... the Police State was NOT a catholic invention, it was a Calvinist one ....
"In Geneva, it was as if the walls of the houses had been turned into glass"

55:

The character was inspired by a college friend of mine. The book's characters include three different Islamic women, Shia as well as Sunni. The Qur'anic flood story is a central theme.

56:

In our Civil War, the South had hills full of people who were for the Union. They had always warred with you guys. They did not have much and would give nothing to the Confederacy. And the Rebs kept getting shot out of the hills when they dared to go there. Instead of just leaving them be, the Rebs started raiding in force and taking the salt. In the winters the pro Union Men, Woman and Kids died with no saved food.

57:

Joan: "Could an orbital spacehab really get made by 2100? Engineering is not my field, but from the Wright brothers to commercial jets took 50 years. "

Perhaps I'm being harsh, but statements of this form ('Wright Brothers to XXX took only Y years') are a sign of lack of thinking. Charlie has pointed out that many technologies have S-curves, where there's a stage of rapid growth, and then a leveling off. We've been in that stage for flight for several decades now.

58:

Ah, salt, the white devil...(still don't know why _frozen_ food has so much of it, even the so called healthy stuff; hello, it's _frozen_! {does Gilbert Gottfried voice}).

Ahem. But reading about the gabelle made me realize just how horribly a tax can be written and administered in the real world. Although...I've come up with an inland fantasy country with restricted trade, and the power structure controls the distribution of sea salt. And so everyone who doesn't pay their taxes gets goiters. Heh.

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