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Books I will not write: BIGGLES!!

It's been a long time—a couple of years—since I last posted a blog entry describing a book I will not write, because mostly I either wrote them or I just stopped having so many wasteful ideas.

But I had a mild case of COVID19 in late May ("mild" belongs in scare quotes; it kicked my ass worse than influenza, and the lingering gastric effects are horrible, but I didn't need antivirals or hospital treatment, so yay vaccines?), and I downed tools and haven't gotten back to work yet, which is annoying to me but continuing an existing project while cognitively impaired is a really bad idea. (You generally end up spending twice as long untangling the mess you created as you spent making it in the first place.) I expect to get back to work later this week: but in the mean time, my Muse made an unexpected and unwanted house call, screamed at me for a while, and left me with an incoherent pile of notes.

The proximate trigger for this car-crash of a story idea was the blog of another author, Rachel Manija Brown, who is currently discovering the joy of Biggles for the first time, and blogging about the books. Biggles is James "Biggles" Bigglesworth, ace pilot and adventurer, the most famous fictional creation of W. E. Johns, writing as Capt. W. E. Johns (although he only made it to Flying Officer in the RAF). They say "write what you know," and Johns clearly knew more than was strictly healthy about dogfighting during the first world war, having been there. So over 45 years or so, he wrote boys' adventure novels—lots of them.

(Breaking the fourth wall: I'm taking a moment to appreciate just how hard it is to write a blog entry right now, and drawing conclusions about the wisdom of going back to tackle the climax of A Conventional Boy in my current state. Ahem: back to the blog ...)

Rachel Manija Brown noted with some glee the somewhat slashy, homoerotic overtones of the relationship between Biggles and his arch-nemesis/rival, Erich Von Stalheim, and this got me thinking Bad Thoughts. As these books run from the first world war through the inter-war years and then via a brisk WW2 update into the 1950s—Biggles is nothing if not long-lived—Von Stalheim is painted as an aristocratic German fighter ace in the Von Richthofen mode, with a detour into spying and various other nefarious activities. (The horrors of Nazism were not really in the boys' adventure wheelhouse back then, although Johns is as staunchly anti-Bolshevik as you'd expect from a guy who probably grew up reading William Le Queux.) Anyway, Biggles/Von Stalheim slashfic is an obvious no-brainer shoe-in for Archive of Our Own and it turns out that there's more Biggles/Von Stalheim slashfic on AO3 than all Laundry Files fanfic combined! What a surprise. More importantly, what happens if we take it to the max?

Anyway, my Muse has been AWOL since late 2020, presumably drinking his way around every dive bar in the South Pacific while I played catch-up with a bunch of existing books that were already scheduled and didn't need divine inspiration. But for some reason he decided to come back and pull his normal drill sergeant stunt of kicking my ass and demanding Ideas.

So here's an idea for a Biggles reboot. Or rather, my delirious post-COVID notes for how I ought to reboot Biggles if only copyright wasn't an issue (Johns' literary estate is in copyright until 2038: thanks, Disney!), by way of a twitter poll or two about how to maximize my chances of getting Biggles Banned in Texas.

Obviously as I'm an SF author I'm not going to do a historical Biggles reboot, I'm going to do an SFnal version. (Let's ignore the issue of W. E. Johns' own Biggles-by-any-other-name ten book SF series from the 1950s/1960s, which weren't very good.) To start with, how do we get Biggles into the 24th century (in time for some Space Opera) and queer him up enough for modern tastes (my twitter poll concluded that the most popular reboot would be trans lesbian Biggles: furry Biggles came a close second, with boringly pedestrian gay Biggles a distant third) without wildly contradicting the Biggles canon?

The set-up

Biggles is cryonically frozen by the RAF after he's horrifically injured when an experimental jet he's test piloting crashes in 1947. (The UK drew the short straw with the alien tech divvy-up in Operation Paperclip: the UK got the cold sleep chambers from the flying saucer that crashed in the Third Reich, while the USA got the anti-grav.) He is added to the National Stockpile of Fighter Aces against future need, part of Operation ARTHUR. But the utility of a truncated piston-era pilot is limited, and he's still in deep storage when the stockpile is privatized and sold off in the 21st century. Biggles is maintained by a pension corp for a few decades (his war pension pays the freezer bills). But finally, after one government bankruptcy too many, he's thawed, fixed (23rd century medical nanotech is amazing) and dumped on the street, like the Revivals in Transmetropolitan. (Indeed, the 23rd century Biggles experiences is straight out of the classic Warren Ellis comic.)

Biggles is homeless, future-shocked, and worse: they messed up his regeneration. When he crashed, the 1947 medics were forced to amputate everything below his pelvis before they froze him. ("Bend over and hold onto your arse—no, wait, that's your arse over there".) It turns out Biggles has X0/XY mosaicism. The bored clinic tech who set up the regeneration run in his tank missed this and the nanotech tried to repair him: so he went in the freezer apparently male (at least, before his wedding tackle was burned off), and woke up 160 years later, healthy and female.

(Note per canon Biggles' sexuality is ambiguous. He has a girlfriend at one point, but she turned out to be a German spy so it didn't work out: he never marries but holds a suspiciously convenient torch for her for the rest of his life. This being a series that starts in the 1920s, homosexuality was unmentionable and gender dysphoria unheard of. All we can say for sure is that Biggles conformed to male gender roles but was very uptight and didn't talk about Feelings. Stiff upper lip, chaps!)

Back to the space opera:

They say to steal from the best, so I'm stealing 90% of this aspect of the story from the Traveller role playing game. And the rest is a colaboration with the ghost of Poul Anderson (in his Polesotechnic League period) with a dash of Spider Jerusalem thrown in just to fuck shit up.

Cheap jump drive technology has been invented. But they need human pilots because (due to some magic quantum consciousness woo handwavium) computers don't work in hyperspace. Ships also need a lot of human inputs for stuff like life support and navigation and maintenance because, again, robots and AIs don't work in hyperspace. (So they tend to combine the worst control and maintenance aspects of submarines or WW2 aircraft in one happy fun package.) It turns out that there are lots of human-life-hospitable planets within jump drive range, some of which have suspiciouslty terrestrial biospheres. Looks like somebody's already been visiting them—maybe whoever crashed that flying saucer in Bavaria in the 1930s?

The jump drive has a couple of useful spin-offs and a couple of annoying quirks. The "computers don't work in hyperspace" is the worst of the quirks. (Makes life tough for cyborgs, as well.) One convenient spin-off is cheap, easy, aneutronic fusion reactors (proton-boron cycle) that do direct high-energy photon to electricity conversion. (Hyperspace pinch instead of electromagnetic confinement.) Another is gravity polarizers: ships can effectively cancel out their gravitational potential energy, make orbit easily, then jump out. So mass isn't a major constraint, they're built like ships out of welded steel construction with sloppy tolerance. But life support and onboard systems are purposely crude, to survive hyperspace travel. (This is how you get your Millennium Falcon kit-bashed look. Or more OG Traveler TTRPG stuff.)

Murder hornets are not the only interstellar pests: Fascists are everywhere, using cloning to address their Great Replacement neurosis. They're trying to colonize the galaxy. Biggles is in a bit of a cleft stick because she might be white and somewhat conservative, but she has a gut reflex to punch Nazis on sight—it's a tic she acquired during the Battle of Britain. This gets her into trouble in pretty much every spaceport after she's re-trained as a scout ship pilot, so she has to flee to the fringe worlds. But Biggles is not alone! She has her trusty co-pilot Algy, another 20th century RAF veteran, and their former stowaway turned apprentice, Ginger—thusly nicknamed because she's an anthropomorphic vixen (again: 23rd century medical nanotech is wild).

The story: BIGGLES AND THE PLANET OF THE AZHDARCHIDS

Azhdarchids are terrifying and it looks like someone a very long time ago stole a bunch of Azhdarchid eggs from Earth and left them on, er, the Planet of the Azhdarchids, an earthlike world with a somewhat denser atmosphere. The result is bigger/heavier flying dinosaurs: "dragons? Who needs dragons?" Which has been colonized by a bunch of lizard-worshipping nut-jobs known to the rest of the galaxy as the Azhdarchid Empire.

Biggles and co crash land here when they takes a contract to ferry (unspecified low mass/high value cargo) to the Azhdarchid Empire's high priesthood in the capital city. The planet in question is off the main shipping routes, so no container ships go there, just the occasional rust-bucket scout ship hired for a special courier flight.

Her ship makes a hard landing in the back of nowhere due to a series of unfortunate events. First, the planetary navsat array has been taken offline by a solar flare. Then, after re-entering off course, a quetzalcoatl strike takes out the main landing gear while is flying manually and trying to work out where the hell they are. So she and her crew have to make a forced landing, cross a couple thousand kilometres of wilderness in the emergency light-fliers (microlights with a magical unobtanium electric battery as a powe source), avoid being eaten by flying lizards the size of Cessnas, buy spare parts to repair the ship, deliver the cargo, and discover in the process that the Azhdarchid Empire is kind of skeevy, It's an aggressive, racist patriarchy run by cis white men (descended from Space Nazis). Biggles rescues the high priest's daughter, who has fallen into disfavour for refusing to marry her dad's Igor and is scheduled for sacrifice to a dragon, and ends up having to flee in a hurry. There is a thrilling chase scene, riding half-tamed Azhdarchids! Also, microlight/dragon dogfighting!

There's a second book idea that I am frantically trying not to write notes on, involving Ericha Von Stalheim, also genderflipped and transported to the 24th century and working as a spy (visuals: think in terms of a very teutonic Servalan), a diplomatic mission, castles, dungeons, and a very slashy BDSM scene. Smut, total smut, and so indecent W. E. Johns would stroke out if he read it. So I'm not writing it down.

Anyway my Muse insisted I write this all down so it's no longer irritating my brainworms, because misery loves company, and this is my misery. Make of it what you will, I'm not going to turn this into a book! I'm simply blogging it as an example of why writing with COVID19 is a bad idea.

So there.

808 Comments

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1:

Hmm. It falls into the category of books I will not read, except in desperation.

2:

Charlie ....
I (we) really hope you have not got "Long Covid" - which, AIUI is really unpleasant & lingering ( Though without the "boiling oil" ).
Your *Muse - bugger, I've forgotten the name of the seriously NSFW-but-very-funny comic series on the intertubes, that has a set where milord's muse is replaced by a new one, who beats him up & gets him working furiously ......
Lastly - a late W E Johns book was: "Biggles buries the Hatchet" - where he & Stalheim make up, over the evils of communism, eventually.
{ "Stalheim" - Steel-Head, yes? }

3:

1) Oglaf.

2) Steel Home I think.

4:

Maybe you can cowrite it with the new Google LaMDA fiction generator.

5:

You're the author, of course, but what you've described would be a perfectly cromulent space opera if you lose the Biggles connection and simply treat it as it is, on its own merits. And I suspect it would be a nice palate cleanser after nearly 20 years of Laundry Files. Might be a gentle way to get the muse back in gear!

That doesn't have to mean that it would necessarily be "fluff". There's lots of room, should you want it, to deal with issues of gender roles and "stranger in a strange land" temporal displacement. The tech is fun. And I'd be fascinated to see how you actually implement such a thing in a way that retains the "boys' own adventure" fun of golden-era SF but with a modern sensibility.

6:

The trouble about the "boys' own adventure" tropes of that era is that they were almost all seriously nasty, and promoted brutality based on bigotry, wanton destructiveness, social irresponsibility and so on. The earlier ones (Henty etc.) were extremely chauvinistic, but did NOT generally promote excessive brutality against even the enemy, let alone the "lesser peoples".

That is one of the reasons that I would not read such a thing; I disliked the trope when I was 11 and it was unavoidable, and my dislike has deepened with time. I might modify that if OGH was satirising the trope (as I would expect), but even so it would be distasteful.

7:

My son had a bit of a thing for the Biggles books a year or so ago, so I got to revisit my childhood slightly. So it's a bit more fresh in my mind.

There's some very interestingly 1930s-50s stuff going on with cultural stereotypes. Johns had a really big downer on Americans, for one. OTOH he's not universally negative with non-white characters, at least within the remit of them often being antagonists. I remember in one book set in India in WWII, Biggles gives a briefing to his (English) squadron where he explicitly tells them not call the locals "natives" because, quote, "they don't like it", and basically to remember it's their country. For the time, this qualifies as fairly socially aware. Johns also wasn't particularly keen on upper-class or even upper-middle-class people - he's pretty egalitarian when it comes to competence.

Biggles did have a clear levelling-up problem which left Johns with a problem of finding suitable opponents. More interestingly though, his books have the problem of where and how to have an off-the-grid adventure in a world where travel is increasingly accessible and increasingly regulated, and countries are far more interconnected diplomatically as a result. In later books, Biggles and his crew tend to be less like two-fisted white gods meting out imperial justice, and more a subtle sharp-end-of-the-spear investigation squad backed up by appropriate civil/military authorities when things hit the fan.

Biggles pastiches tend to miss the fact that he's writing through history happening around him, with two very different wars and two very different civilian worlds after each war. So trying to write (or avoid writing!) a Biggles pastiche needs to be pretty targeted at which of these four settings you're aiming at. Most significantly, there's a whole lot less dogfighting in the non-war settings, which are much more like Rider Haggard with incidental aeroplanes.

Re the sexual politics, I get the appeal of twisting it that way, sure - but one thing that tends to get missed from modern looks at older scenarios though is industrial-level prostitution. The default assumption for bachelors wasn't that they were homosexual, it was that they were shagging their way through whores on a level which was incompatible with monogamy. Like Holmes with his 7% solution, you could actually be more shocking for modern audiences by playing it completely straight and having him do what was considered normal (albeit not mentioned in polite company) back then. it would certainly maximise the culture shock by finding himself somewhere where whores weren't instantly available.

9:

As a previous commenter has mentioned, your outline includes a lot of 'space' to explore subjects such as gender conformity and social norms. You've created a character that is 'man trapped in woman's body'. In fact an early 20th century white privileged man trying to make her way in the 24th century.

As a trans woman myself, I would be fascinated to see how you played with this idea. Call it a palate-cleanser if you want, maybe a modern twist on Adam Adamant written by someone with an understanding of the science involved is what we need right now.

10:

I vaguely remember J. G. Ballard writing about a contest for best fiction written while under the influence of drugs. The announced intent drew the attention of the relevant Authorities, who pulled back after the contest holders assured them that they were just as interested in the effects of legal drugs as the other kind. (The winning writer's drug of choice was the female contraceptive pill.)

All this is by way of suggesting that even if writing with COVID-19 is a bad idea (COVID-19 is a bad idea, period, and I'm sorry it got you), perhaps writing under the influence of whatever meds you've been prescribed to deal with it would qualify under the terms of this contest?

On a somewhat more serious note, I'm also remembering a passage from a Robert Christgau review of singer-songwriter John Prine's In Spite of Ourselves. Prine--who 20 years later would be an early COVID-19 casualty--had just come through a couple of years of cancer treatments, and this album was mostly covers, which strategy Christgau characterized as "a perfect way for Prine to keep his hand in until his muse feels as glad to be alive as he does."

With that in mind, perhaps some sort of literary remix (other than Biggles) might be an idea worth pursuing? I have to say here that your RAH "tribute" Saturn's Children is one of my favorite books of yours. But I'm looking forward to whatever you write, in good health [fingers crossed] or otherwise.

11:

Elderly Cynic replied to my suggestion: "The trouble about the "boys' own adventure" tropes of that era is that they were almost all seriously nasty"

Which is why I wrote "[but] with a modern sensibility". The "fun adventures" was what I was getting at, not the racism, sexism, etc.

12:

Greg, if you'd bothered to click on the highlighed word "Muse" in the blog essay, you'd have been taken straight to the OGLAF comic you're thinking of.

13:

I assure you, I couldn't write a proper Biggles pastiche with a straight face.

14:

If you were to write this, I would definitely read it. Even pay good money for it.

15:

This made me relive Prophet by Brandon Graham! It does this same idea but with a terrible, stupid, hypermasculine 90s comics ip called John Prophet, a supersoldier who fought in Vietnam. Graham bought the rights to the dude for like a hundred bucks and carried the series on, like from the issue it left off of in the 90s chock full of that Liefeld art. He picked the story up some thousands of years in the future, where a cryo-frozen John Prophet wakes up to a universe where all wars are fought with masses of John Prophet clones. It's a total trip.

16:

There's a long tradition of SF about bloke from our time (FSVO "our") who is frozen/falls asleep and wakes up in The Future. From Rumpelstiltskin through to H. G. Wells' The Sleeper Awakes and then the likes of Buck Rogers in the 25th century and a whole lot more besides. It's almost a subgenre in its own right.

17:

This all so corny it sort of reminds of that movie IRON SKY with Nazis on the moon: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1034314/

18:

Resuna & Charlie & others ...
Yes ...
I had a Brain Fart ...
"OGLAF"
THIS ONE
...
Doire
Sumfink went worng with the HTML/Markdown in your post.

19:

Dragons? Those are wyverns. Rocs. Nazgul steeds! The problems I see is:
1. in one spot you mention them being brought to the capitol, in another, they have to fly there in their ultralights.
2. Do the worshippers ride the azdarchids?
3. Can we put in a flying giant turtle....? Or maybe a giant moth?

20:

I think I've met your muse. He's pestering me, right now. And then, he says, he wrote this pile of incongruent notes, hilarious! Haha!

How to bring Erich von Stalheim into the story? And why did the flying saucer crash in the area of the Third Reich? Maybe when the Brits tested some more of the left over Aggregat 4 rockets in Operation Backfire Again, this time calculating the trajectory based on newly discovered notes on Hohlwelttheorie, from the diary of a Sturmbannführer who had left his belongings when he fled for Argentina. The test went a bit awry and the rocket accidentally took down the flying saucer. The saucer went down near Duderstadt, a little conservative town in the best of its times, not to speak of the Nazi times. The aliens went into town to buy some tools to repair the anti-grav. Meanwhile Operation Paperclip located their flying saucer and, making perfidious use of the temporary absence of its owners, plundered the saucer for the spoils. When the aliens returned to the crash site later, with a toaster, a Bakelite analogous phone, some copper wire and a monkey wrench (the name of which would be an Engländer, the shopkeeper had told them) because, obviously, the saucer got no metric screws, uhm, where were we? Ah, when the aliens returned to the crash site, they realized that they were stuck. And then they meet Erich von Stalheim, because he had changed his name to not be prosecuted by the allies for his war crimes and opened a driving school. Driving by near the crash place with a very young and very hot student driver, he noticed the ascending smoke and the large pile of rubble that used to be a flying saucer, beside the road. He makes up his mind to impress the student with his courage and strolls over towards the pile to investigate. And from there it is clear now how he comes to wake up in the 24th century, because the aliens, well, that's another story, the muse says, twinkles and waves.

21:

The trouble with anything based on Biggles is all of the baggage that comes with the character. The books have been parodied endlessly, not least by M. Python and co., and it's difficult to find anything new to say about them.

While Johns' SF was pretty dire, and largely inspired by the flying saucer craze, he did have a couple of other series - the one that might be worth a look once copyright ends is Worrals of the Women's Auxiliary Air Force. I honestly don't remember much about the series since I was a small boy who read the Biggles books and thought that Worrals was "ewww... gurrrls!" when I came across them, but my vague memory is that they were more varied than the Biggles books, and have at least one possible romantic pairing if you assume that Worrals is bonking her sidekick Betty.

see http://www.worrals.com/ and http://www.wejohns.com/

22:

You want to know why the UFO crashed? Simple: several late teenaged/early twentysomething aliens had gone over to the orbital junkyard near the construction docks, and found an old UFO. They grabbed stuff for weeks from nearby junkers, and made it workable. Then they went out for a joyride.

Why, you don't believe that? A friend on a techie mailing list was just talking about being that age, and after getting into an accident, his buddy got the front off a junker that had been smashed in the back, cut the front off his, and welded the front from the junker onto the front of his, and he drove it for a couple of years more.

23:

And I just discovered Poul Anderson is dead. Yet another author whom I loved as a child gone :/

24:

It's missing Cat.

25:

Biggles, Algy, and Vixen? Suddenly getting a flash from Flesh (Godron), where the sex ray hits Jerkoff's rocket ship....

26:

If anyone wants an adult story of WW1 flying, I reccomend "Winged Victory" by V M Yeates, who was also a pilot and it is basically a fictionalised story of the life of the author and friends during the war, or at least the backbone is his own experiences.

27:

I'd never heard of Transmetropolitan (no surprise - it was published right after my late wife dropped dead, and until I was into the years of literally no work.

Just read the wikipedia on it... and it sounds like someone took Stand on Zanzibar, smashed it with Max Headroom, and threw in Hunter S. Thompson.

The scary thing is - Callahan sounds a lot like The Former Guy.

28:

Callahan was really based on Tony Blair, but with overtones of Trump. Really, he's horrible all round. Bonus points for spotting the passages where Callahan quotes Dame Shirley Porter verbatim (of notoriety from the Westminster housing scandal in the 1990s -- pre-Johnsonian Tory gerrymandering in London).

I strongly recommend reading at least the first volume of Transmet.

29:

I had one or two Biggles books as a boy. They were post-WWII books, I think. Don't remember any of the storylines (which sounds like a good thing, from you description), just that they were jolly adventures. One was "Biggles of the Interpol", a collection of short stories.

30:

One of the interesting Biggles things I sort of noticed as a child was that the stories which came out first, the short stories later collected into a book whose name escapes me, are deeper than a lot of the later ones. They reach adult levels of emotional involvement and goings on, I felt even back then. It turned out that, roughly speaking, he wrote the early ones for a different audience and wasn't very sure where he was going with them but in the end got more work writing adventure stories for boys so carried on with that for decades. I sometimes wonder how he would have done writing books aimed at adults.

31:

Wait, 24th century and you didn't include Duck Dodgers? What kind of a monster are you?

As for Azhdarchids, someone's been watching Prehistoric Planet, no? Since I'm one of Darren Naish's patreon supporters (check the credits under "chief science advisor) and I spotted Mark Witton's name in the credits, I'm surprised they didn't include more of the buggers, since Azhdarchid research is one of the things they're known for. That whole show was a bit of a valentine to the book All Yesterdays, which I think is a very good thing indeed.

Thing about Azhdarchids: they're kind of the biological versions of WWI planes. Quetzalcoatlus was huge (11 m wingspan, 3 m at the shoulder, or taller than a giraffe), but estimates of its weight range from 70-250 kg (versus 1900 kg for a giraffe that takes up less volume). Any of Dungeons and Dragons' wide selection of polearms would probably be sufficient to take one on. So would a 10' pole, if swung hard enough. Seriously. Their bones were flimsy compared with those of birds.

Doesn't mean you can't have fun with them, because you could probably train them up to be better than drones, although I'm not sure they could carry a human, unless said human was small enough to swallow and place near the animal's center of gravity.

No, if you're doing Cretaceous. In. Spaaace, the real crowd pleaser isn't gigantic furry marabous, it's sauropods. Vomiting sauropods, to be precise. Turns out, if a Brachiosaurus projectile vomited with its head 14 m off the ground, the 50 kg upchuck (which might contain gastrolithic rocks) would hit with 68,600 N, or approximately T. rex bite force. Nifty defense, no? If you're dealing with sauropodish things that do this, I'd advise taking a really, really good umbrella with you when walking near them. That way, the umbrella will survive to mark your corpse.

Fun times.

Apropos of nothing: it's a good thing you're talking about jump drives, because they never talk about the overheating starships would face if confined in a warp bubble barely bigger than the ship, with no universe to shed heat to. That would rather limit warp times a tad.

32:

My grandparents had shelves of books of that genre, presumably because Grandma was a stereotypical posh Brit with 3 strapping boys (and one girl). They also had all the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, as well as a large number of other series. I recall churning my way through most of them, if not all.

I'm sure I enjoyed them, but I most strongly remember stumbling over his casual use of n----- and ch--- to describe the various villains (always villains). Product of his times, I know, but as a 10 year old product of my own times I knew that was well offside.

The trope/story type of a free roaming pilot/sailor with various sidekicks who goes places and has adventures was very appealing to me in all of its iterations. It's why Han Solo was the most popular character in Star Wars. It was also very appealing to the various unhappy puppies of SF culture wars, since that seems to be what they were so upset about missing in current products.

If you are into that sort of thing, the animated series 'Archer' has a full season that does a thorough pastiche of the Biggles style of story, complete with loyal but unappreciated airplane mechanic, suspiciously behaving Nazis, a rebellious heiress and all the rest of the tropes. They also do a season pastiching Moonraker style adventures, another on Cousteau/Steve Zissou stories, and a 30s noir.

33:

Would there be any Trans people in a universe with that kind of medical nano-tech?

If you're feeling short-changed by your natural born equipment package, how hard would it be to pop into the medical chop shop & have the defect corrected?

34:

Doire @ 8:

Unfortunately, your links don't have any links in them.

35:

Charlie Stross @ 13:

Who says you have to keep a straight face?

37:

Graham @ 7
The OTHER weired, regarding racial stereotypes & villains, is, of all people: H Rider Haggard.
In many of his novels, especially the one featuring "Allan Quartermain" the (excuse me) "native" Africans are at the worst neutral & often heroes such as Umslopogaas ... the obvious, & openly racist+cruel villains are .. the Boers.
Weird but true.

gutrie - & Everybody
Sagittarius Rising
"The Real Thing" TM - seriously, I have a copy - it comes across a real & scary & that was how it was ( WW I flying, that is! )

38:

it's a good thing you're talking about jump drives, because they never talk about the overheating starships would face if confined in a warp bubble barely bigger than the ship

The classic Traveller jump drive takes about a week in jump space to get anywhere. Heat isn't a consideration, because even in normal space the canonical power plant outputs will cook a ship in very little time.

So being in a warp bubble wouldn't have that much difference in the cookedness of the crew :-)

39:

Re WW1 military flying, I'll recommend Derek Robinson's 'Goshawk Squadron'. Published 1971. Fiction, but not by all that much.

His later prequels extend this (War Story, Hornet's Sting) while keeping the lead character alive convincingly, which is something of an achievement.

40:

Would there be any Trans people in a universe with that kind of medical nano-tech?

If you're feeling short-changed by your natural born equipment package, how hard would it be to pop into the medical chop shop & have the defect corrected?

Would people be like the characters in Vinge's Steel Beach — changing sex was just something you did, not worth more remarks than a new hairstyle gets now?

What about people with less binary identities? Would their bodies reflect that? Would you get Betan hermaphrodites? (Nod to Bujold.)

Would the furry community come out of the closet? (Transhuman Space played a bit with that, but not much, and mostly linked to Japan IIRC.)

On the bright side, that level of medtech would mean that they should have uterine replicators, so abortion wouldn't be an issue.

Would the penalty for rape be being forced to experience being the victim's sex? Turn the 100 kg linebacker into a 50 kg cheerleader? Would that level of mutability mean that society finally gets away from prejudice based on bodyform?

41:

A couple of years ago, before I decided to toss the whole story line (because billionaires expanding across the universe started annoying me even if I killed them all), I ginned up an alcubierre-type warp ship. Its speed under warp was around 100c, but it had to spend 50% of the trip with the warp drive off, cooling in interstellar space, for the cargo and crew to arrive in a raw state. The fun part was contemplating a ship that, like the SR-71, was built to deal with extreme heat fluctuations, so most of it was a shell of silicon carbide metamaterials, because with the special handwavium class of metamaterials, you can get a silicon carbide based system that acts as if it has negative mass when it's powered up, even if it's over 600oC.

42:

If you use the movie version as your template you have the basis for a fun romp ranging up and down the timeline, without having to butcher the character.

Biggles: Adventures in Time 1986 Trailer HD | Neil Dickson

Biggles: Adventures In Time (Full Movie) Family Adventure Sci-Fi. Time travel

That's most useful. I'll add it to the series I have with someone being shifted by a whirlwind.

Now I just have to find my DVD of the movie.

Thanks...

43:

"You're the author, of course, but what you've described would be a perfectly cromulent space opera if you lose the Biggles connection and simply treat it as it is, on its own merits."

I agree. The characters and plot ideas work basically fine by themselves, but the Biggles connection seems to me to be hopelessly flimsy and over-contrived, and also rather pointless since the resulting character has basically nothing in common with the original bar the name. (Which is something that greatly irritates me in any case - a familiar character suddenly being changed into something completely different is only acceptable for Doctor Who - and another such irritation is turning non-sexual characters into crazed rabbits on whiz fucking all over the world.)

I reckon it would work better - and be funnier - if the central character is simply someone who was born in the normal way x hundred years in the future and purely by coincidence happens to have the same nickname. No contrived time travel or sus-an or reincarnation; the whole point is they're not the same person, nor even related, and have never heard of the books. (Maybe the name could be a contraction of Biggleswade, so Ginger could be Sandy, and Algy is... a unicellular plant biologist.)

44:

As someone who grew up reading every Biggles book available in my school library (I'm old enough that this was before they had been purged from every school library for their undeniable racism, misogyny and general old-fashionedness), I'd read this! Our good host seems to have perfectly captured the plot of almost every Biggle book. For an ace pilot, he sure did a lot of crash landings. Then invariably followed by treks across "enemy territory" / inhospitable terrain (usually inhabited by unfriendly locals - hence the racism). All rounded off with a showdown/confrontation/dogfight to save the day. Just not sure how you shoehorn the sex in ... Biggles seemed too have already had everything below the pelvis removed in the original books.

45:

You could extend the range at least of the first hop, by collecting a big chunk of ice and using it as a heatsink until it melts. If your spaceship can keep itself tolerably cool for a useful amount of time with no more than its own mass to warm up, then it might well be able to do a lot better by raising a big lump of H2O through 300K-odd plus heat of melting. Then of course you have to wait longer for it to cool off again. Or you could pre-plan a high speed trip by collecting the orbital data of as many comets as you can find in all the solar systems along the way, then hopping along swapping the liquefied lump for a pre-frozen one at each step. Plus fun and games if someone else has already used the comet you had your eye on by the time you get there, etc.

Or... a fairly standard piece of spaceship equipment seems to be a force field screen which repels meteorites, and as a rule it also has the property - usually inferred but occasionally explicitly stated - of allowing radiation to pass freely outward from the ship, but reflecting all radiation coming inward (apart from just enough to let you see where you are). And the warp bubble itself probably really wants to be quite a bit larger than the ship, so as to make it practical to have a big enough bit in the middle where the gravitational field is approximately uniform for the ship to sit in and not be pulled apart or something. So you have a large volume between the screen and the bubble which you can dump heat into through this perfect one-way photon valve, until the radiation density in that volume gets so great that it starts being a nuisance. Then you drop out of warp and release this massive burst of heat which isn't actually very hot, but is extremely intense.

Or maybe it isn't even a problem anyway. It's quite likely that the gravitational field inside the bubble is kind of an inside-out version of that around a black hole, so it's zero in the middle and tends towards infinitely strong as you approach the surface from the inside. So from your point of view in the middle the closer the photons get to the bubble the slower they go and they never actually get there, they accumulate in a traffic jam instead and you get a similar kind of flash when you turn it off.

46:

Re: 'Note per canon Biggles' sexuality is ambiguous ...'

Even though I've never even heard of this character before, i.e., never read any of these books, I'm going to comment. (Ahem.)

Okay - it's late, I'm tired, probably some non sequiturs but here's my ramble anyways ...

Going by your story ideas and Wikipedia, maybe Biggles is asexual because he was raised in India and when he was sent off to a very old (and emotionally cold) all-boys school in England these childhood background influences got scrambled together. Specifically an internalized idealized Hindi attitude toward sex such as females are the 'good' part of a couple, while males are the 'evil' part. This ideal doesn't get any attention or testing in school because he's constantly surrounded by males. When he's finally able to test this ideal, he's emotionally betrayed by the first woman he falls in love with so he decides unconsciously to shun all romantic involvements thereby becoming emotionally if not physiologically asexual. In a way this could tie in with a Wikipedia mention that Biggles never got over certain war traumas/events, i.e., he suffered from PTSD. And this is sorta similar to other fictional English 'war heroes': traumatized in their youth, they become heroes because they've got energy and talent even though they've lost their will to live.

You mentioned that Biggles wakes up in the 24th century and also mentioned a bunch of sf-ish tech stuff - except there's no mention of any AI. Why not? If Biggles is in cryo because of too many missing body parts/severe injuries and he isn't particularly emotionally well-developed (he comes across as pretty one-dimensional) it'd make perfect sense for him to be re-animated as a cyborg or an AI built into a spaceship, jet or even a fancied up blimp warship. This is premised on my assumption that neuro/psych will continue to develop at least as much/quickly as other sci-tech branches. Maybe the med-psych team/AI that assigned him a new body did a read of his brain and put him into the most suitable body. This is where the real adult adventure begins: how will knowing this about him/herself make him reassess his life and what aspects of his childhood, young adulthood and various cultural influences will he most want to forget. And what steps will he have to take in order to grow into or mesh with his new body if most of his conscious life the common wisdom was: your body dictates who you are.

Now that you've gotten this story off your mind and when you're ready - I'm looking forward to what happens next to Mary, the kids and the rest of the bunch.

Relax, take care.

47:

A couple of things.

First off, I'm not using this ship model for anything, so if people want to play with it, FEEL FREE! I'm leaving it on the donation table, because I have a project I like better now.

Ice is a great idea.

A second point is that I mistyped. To travel useful interstellar distances for exploration or whatever, any Terran starship needs to average around 100c at least, because there are a fair number of interesting stars 40-50 ly out. In stating this, I'm assuming that a starship can operate independently without restock for a year, so it spends six months in flight to another system, dinks around trying to figure out whether the flight was worth it (but not for very long!), might restock on volatiles in the new system if it can do something with really dirty ice moving at high delta-V that it would have to catch, then spends another six months flying back to Earth with the results.

Now if you've got a ship that has to spend 50% of the flight cooling off, that doubles the ideal speed, so in this model, it has to warp at 200c.

A third thing is that other stars near us are moving at 10-20 km/sec relative to us, so the starship has to be able to match velocities. This isn't a huge deal, as interplanetary probes do this now--slowly. Presumably this can be done while cooling off, as can many other things (because heat gradients are quite useful if you can tap them). Conversely, if you're going to mine comets and asteroids, you're going to be matching velocities with them too, and that also takes time and resources.

Finally, I'm going to make the controversial statement that even if you've got anti-gravity equipment, it's likely that the easiest place to build a starship is on the ground, not in orbit, both because it's easier for humans to work under gravity and under atmosphere, and because any body that has plate tectonics probably has more useful elements in relatively purified forms than does some random comet or asteroid. If you buy this logic, then this implies two further things: one is that starship size (remember, it has to be able to travel for a year without restocking) is limited to the biggest thing that can be launched), and colony development probably will probably make developing starship manufacturing its second goal after survival, just as the Polynesians usually built big ships early on when they colonized new islands.

And if you think that it's trivially easy to build a ship in orbit, then you can shift the emphasis from building starships on the ground to building starships in space with parts launched from the surface. That will rather strongly constrain designs, but in different ways.

Anyway, later-gen warp drives seem to be making for bubbles that are weakly connected to reality, so force shields aren't useful. Even without this, they're a hell of a drag chute, with all the photons and stuff bouncing off them at light speed and exerting a lot of force.

As for the gravity inside a warp bubble, it seems to be that the ship makes a pocket around itself and closes off from the rest of the universe, hence the problem with heat dissipation. Probably within the bubble the only gravity is generated by the structures of the ship (e.g. nanogravity) because the ship does not accelerate with respect to the bubble. It controls the bubble, which is superluminal but only made of empty space, so whatever.

Since an alcubierre warp is generated by a gravity dipole, with negative mass pushing from the rear and pulling towards the front, if it's used without the warp bubble for subluminal maneuvering, gravity is going to be down towards the nose, and it's going to get heavier the faster the ship goes (which won't be that fast, because shedding heat in a vacuum is hard). Probably it won't be doing any sharp turns either, for obvious reasons.

Since I think people who posit local gravity grid inside ships are nuts (draw the field lines and figure out how much extra weight is needed to brace the structures), I'd instead suggest taking a note from the RP FLIP or The Mote in God's Eye and rerigging the ship each time it reorients which way is down. That also makes for fun design decisions. And, of course, you get one set of design decisions if the ship is supposed to be large and supposed to land on planets, another if it's assembled, ISS style, in orbit.

Fun stuff.

48:

If you're feeling short-changed by your natural born equipment package, how hard would it be to pop into the medical chop shop & have the defect corrected?

I'll try to step carefully here, but I do sincerely apologize in advance if I say something wrong or offensive. Now that everyone's hackles are up, let's proceed.

So far as I can tell, in humans: the physical gender you're born piped with, the psychological gender you feel yourself to be, and the gender(s) you're attracted to are not controlled by the same sets of genes. It looks like they are controlled, not just by three overlapping sets of genes and epigenetic signals, but also by environmental and social cues.

If you think about this evolutionarily, it makes some sense, because human sexuality is a kludge. For one thing, we're among the most cisgendered, heterosexual apes (Biological Exuberance documents this), so our ancestors may have been more...labile. Back down on the mammalian tree, vision replaced olfaction in cuing animals about who to screw and when to do it, so vision cues used by apes are an adaption on an older signal. Having all our gender-piping genes on X and Y chromosomes is fairly new too. It's likely a precursor for viviparity, and in oviparous species that have their gender-piping genes dispersed across multiple chromosomes, other cues like the temperature the egg incubates at control gender-piping expression.

Anyway, the genetics of human gender (piping, feeling, attraction) seem to be a kludge that works most but not all of the time, and this makes sense evolutionarily, because it evolved from older systems that worked differently.

That's not the point. The point is, if you've got magical nanotech that will repipe you and rework your brain to accept that your new gender piping feels correct, what are you going to go through while transitioning?

If I had to guess, even easy gender transitioning is going to take awhile, weeks to months. During that time, urination is going to be a nightmare, you're going to have all sorts of weird feelings as hormone balances shift. And worst of all, as your internally perceived gender shifts, you're almost certainly going to have a major case of gender dysphoria when you loathe what you're doing to yourself. So I'm not so sure how many people are going to do this just for the experience.

Note, please, that I'm not talking at all about treating gender dysphoria by transitioning a person's gender piping to match the gender they feel themselves to be. Instead, I'm talking about people who are comfortable with how they're piped deliberately changing both the piping and the feeling just because.

My guess is that, just like dieting and extreme exercise (say a movie star prepping for a role), most people aren't going to want to go through with it just for a job or for the experience. This isn't to say the technology is bad. It's good, and I'm quite sure it will save lives, either by adjusting what people feel their gender to be, or adjusting their piping to match their felt gender. Or both (for bisexuals who want to become hermaphrodites). But I doubt recreational gender rebuilds will catch on widely.

49:

All those planets with “suspiciously terrestrial biospheres” were terraformed by intelligent dinosaurs, before they had a little accident with an asteroid they were mining.

50:

aAll those planets with “suspiciously terrestrial biospheres” were terraformed by intelligent dinosaurs, before they had a little accident with an asteroid they were mining.

There are gods, they thought humans made great pets, so they took us everywhere with them because we were so good at believing in them and reifying them in this universe. Maybe they're still around, too. (oops, plot of Stargate. Never mind).

As for large numbers of terrestrial biospheres, who says we were the first? Panspermia, baby.

What would be fun, given what they're finding with exoplanets, is if the normal terrestrial worlds were mostly in two classes:

--orbiting a red dwarf (but with dinosaurs! And black trees, and maybe the dinosaurs are radiation proof like Godzilla.), and

--Moon of a Hot Jupiter with long days, daily Hot Jupiter auroras that would make Carrington green with envy, and a really good reason to have ruggedized tech. And dinosaurs! Not like Avatar at all.

In both cases, land is in a ring around the terminator, with a huge sea on each side. In the red dwarf planet case, the ocean on the back side has a thick ice cap, but whatever.

Earth is weird, because we're not tidally locked on anything. In fact we've got tides. And tide pools even. In fact, our tidepools are among the great wonders of the galaxy, because no other planet has a large moon like ours. And, alas, our dinosaurs are mostly tiny.

51:

There are gods, they thought humans made great pets, so they took us everywhere with them because we were so good at believing in them and reifying them in this universe. Maybe they're still around, too. (oops, plot of Stargate. Never mind).

Getting back to Traveller, this is about what happened in the backstory. Not really gods, only god-like aliens (Grandfather and his progeny) taking samples from Earth, for some reason, and putting those on various planets. They took humans (well, some probably 'Homo' people, the time frames are wonky as most of this was written in the late 1970s and early 1980s) and wolves, made some changes, like uplifting the wolves to the Vargr, and dropped them off in many places.

Then they disappeared. This is of course to explain why there are humans on other planets than Earth, and the Vargr (upright dog-furries, basically) are just a nice addition.

There are a couple of adventures on finding out the 'Secrets of the Ancients' for Traveller. The one I have is not very good, and what I've gathered from the more recent one, it's not that good either.

52:

21 - The Biggles film) springs to mind as a parody of WE Johns' books.

46 - IMO "A Intelligence" is an oxymoron; "A Stupidity" would be closer to the mark (unless you happen to be Banksie, and I've been in the same room as both OGH and Banksie).

53:

Robert van der Heide: All those planets with “suspiciously terrestrial biospheres” were terraformed by intelligent dinosaurs, before they had a little accident with an asteroid they were mining.

Oh, you mean this lot!

I read these to my son. There is one exchange between two crew members along the lines of "How is Earth doing?", "Just as bad as ever. The asteroid has basically totalled the planet, we'll never be able to live there again."

54:

Johns's SF was the first SF I read and, while it was pretty dire, it wasn't the ubiquitous thud and blunder; at least it had some thought put into it. I read Biggles, and didn't like it and, as for Gimlet, ugh.

Even ignoring the nastinesses, 'heroes' who rely on a ridiculous amount of luck (or ridiculous physical abilities) to recover from the consequences of their utterly stupid mistakes are pretty irritating. As are the 'geniuses' who can predict near-future events with certainty, so never need a back-up plan. Yes, you need some exaggeration to make a story exciting, but when those tropes are the plot, the whole plot and nothing but the plot, it grates on me and has done since an early age.

55:

I should have added: and 'geniuses' who produce inventions to order.

56:

Would people be like the characters in Vinge's Steel Beach — changing sex was just something you did, not worth more remarks than a new hairstyle gets now?

It's worth pointing out that the Banksian Culture universe has it exactly like that. It's explored most in Excession, but also tangentially in Player of Games. It's something human bodies can do on their own at will, albeit over a period of time (growing some bits while other bits fade away, etc).

57:

“I've been in the same room as both OGH and Banksie.” One & the same, right?

58:

I’m sure a male to female transition would be more traumatic but the güevedoces “penis at 12” children in the Dominican Republic seem to have few problems. They don’t have 5-alpha recductase which converts testosterone to dihydrotestosterone (DHT). So their penis doesn’t develop and they seem to be female. At puberty their higher levels of testosterone make them develop into males. They have small prostate glands and investigation of this led to the development or Finasteride to treat benign prostate enlargement.

59:

Yes, the Ancients in Traveller were a good excuse for strange unnatural things and our adventurers always finding weird stuff wherever they went. When they actually answer the question "who were the Ancients and what was their deal," it was disappointing.

60:

With all due respect, Pigeon, you are not exactly typical of my readership.

61:

There are a couple of adventures on finding out the 'Secrets of the Ancients' for Traveller. The one I have is not very good, and what I've gathered from the more recent one, it's not that good either.

Written in the 80s, in a background based on 70s (or earlier) science fiction, based on a few throw-away lines…

(Which describes a large part of the official Traveller setting, actually.)

The biggest problem I had with the Ancients was that they went from some deep secret that overturned history to 'everyone knows that' trivia. A big buildup for nothing.

Part of that was that a large chunk of fandom didn't want the Traveller universe to change, so like a TV series no matter what happened during an adventure the main background didn't change. Even huge events like the Fifth Frontier War went back to status quo when over. (Until the Rebellion — which was unpopular and shed a lot of fans.)

Anyway, fun game, played for decades, no urge to play again. Probably should get rid of my complete collection.

62:

(Re: Traveller)

Anyway, fun game, played for decades, no urge to play again. Probably should get rid of my complete collection.

I agree, though I haven't played it that much - mostly read, built stuff and hung around on TML. The best campaign I did was with GURPS Traveller books (mostly Nobles) and Silhouette Core Rules. I never got more recent books than the GURPS ones.

Nowadays, I'm more inclined to play Scum & Villainy or even Diaspora for the scifi rpg itch.

63:

I had a thought on ship construction whilst reading this. It was to 3d print the gross structure of the ship in orbit from metal obtained from asteroids. A common problem with 3d printing is the bonding together of layers as you print, the difficulty of shedding heat in vacumn would then become an advantage, helping the layers bond. Also without air resistance or gravity the print head should be able to move at very high speed, again helping with the bonding of layers as they don't get a chance to cool. This should result in a very strong structure.

This would require a not currently extant type of metal 3d printing, but I don't think it would be difficult to develop. Maybe a variant on filament based printing using metal wire and induction heating as the simplest option. You could insert ground made components as you go or after you have finished. Cable/pipe runs would be left etc.

64:

Second that about Winged Victory. The main character is slowly cracking under PTSD (not called that at the time, of course) as he watches his friends die and has one close call after another. He finds killing German pilots to be stressful when he thinks about it (after killing them, of course).

In one chapter, he gets into his plane while totally drunk, erratically flies over the lines, sees a German artillery nest, strafes it, and flies home. When he gets back, he's sober enough to land without cracking up. Then he's asked where this artillery nest is. He can't remember and other pilots can't find it when they look. All played for laughs, but on reconsideration, I wonder if he wasn't having a psychotic break from reality and only thinks he saw German artillery.

65:

Re: '"A Stupidity" would be closer to the mark ...'

Okay - what needs to change - be added/removed to get from current 'AI' stereotypes to whatever you personally think makes 'intelligence'?

Most SF that I've read says that improving 'machine intelligence' means making computers more like humans. Curious whether any authors have looked at making humans more computer-like, how they rationalized that decision and whether that rationalization makes more or less sense as we learn more about ourselves. And by 'making more computer-like', I don't mean just like the stoic/emotionally repressed Spock/Vulcans.

If we're heading into a phase of species evolution-by-design/intent, then we might want to streamline or even remove some of the bits that are obsolete or only 'meh' in helping us survive in our current or anticipated future environments. It might be easier, faster and cheaper to change human physiology/neuro* than to build spaceships to haul fragile (i.e., needs a min 20-factor Goldilocks environment at all times) bodies. We can store each individual's complete genome, microbiome, proteome, and all other -ome info as a reference template for whenever we want or need to change back or further adjust.

*Improved thermo-regulation would be handy given recent temp increases and increases in older populations. (Thermo-reg decreases with age.)

66:

I had a thought on ship construction whilst reading this. It was to 3d print the gross structure of the ship in orbit from metal obtained from asteroids. A common problem with 3d printing is the bonding together of layers as you print, the difficulty of shedding heat in vacumn would then become an advantage, helping the layers bond. Also without air resistance or gravity the print head should be able to move at very high speed, again helping with the bonding of layers as they don't get a chance to cool. This should result in a very strong structure.

Well, there are a bunch of small problems with this. One is that asteroids aren't precisely formulated chunks of metal stored in orbit, they're raw ore if you're lucky, junk if you're not. The step of going from asteroid to printer feedstock can't be handwaved away. Worse luck, most of what goes into actual spaceships isn't metal, and you've got to source and refine all that into feedstocks too.

Then there's the little problem of Delta-V. If you're printing a ship in orbit, it's going at a fairly steady speed. However, all your feedstock (the asteroids) is moving at a rather different velocities, and those are roughly in the bullet range or higher relative to the construction site. So one way to think of this is to go out on the WWI battlefield and to 3-D print a tank by catching bullets and artillery shells out of the air without damaging them, defusing the fuses on the explosive shells because you're going to need to refine all those high explosives to get the rubber you need for gaskets and so forth, and doing this all safely. While I'm being silly, that's the problem you get when all your raw materials are moving at high delta-V relative to you.

To over-extend the metaphor a bit, you could print the same tank behind the lines in a bit more safety. In this case, behind the lines means sitting on the surface of a planet with the atmosphere protecting you from stray debris moving 10+ km/sec relative to you, and all your materials moving at about the same speed as you are, though a bit of driving or sailing will undoubtedly be required to actually get them to where you're making your feedstocks. It has the added benefit that humans require gravity or a reasonable substitute to live long and healthy lives, and you get gravity for free on a planet, while having to generate it--somehow--in space--takes energy and more structures.

67:

Getting back to the original idea, I'll suggest a variant, which I'll call Bogey instead of Biggle.*

Here's the idea: Bogey was a WWI pilot who got snatched by a UFO and stored as a research collection, because reviving him was difficult for reasons. Over the centuries, he was stored in the equivalent of a university, and occasionally was the object of research. Eventually, some bright bulb, modeling his brain in AI systems, found out by goofing around, as young researchers are wont to do, that a simplified version of Bogey was a cracking good drone pilot, far better than simple AI. Probably it was because WWI fighters worked in about the same realm of airspeeds as drones normally do.

Anyway, the student did the equivalent of patenting their process, and BogeyCorp became well-known for its high-quality, autonomous, drone guidance systems. And all these systems were copies of Bogey. Apparently Bogey was okay with this, because he loved to fly and didn't mind if copies of him died.

Of course there was competition, and BogeyCorp learned that it had a problem: the disembodied "souls" of corpsicles can't upgrade their flying skills. Decanting would restore Bogey to humanity, thereby ending his value as intellectual property, so they came up with an alternative: they'd entangle/download copies of Bogey to ride along in the brains of human pilots and adventurers, to give Bogey the chance to fly in all sorts of strange new worlds and improve his skills. When the copy returned to BogeyCorp, they'd upload Bogey out of his human and use that more experienced version of Bogey for their next generation of drone guidance systems. Bogey got to be immortal in aggregate and have adventures, while the people he got entangled with got to have the adventure of a lifetime, along with the notoriety of doing a Bogey.

The dysphoria comes in because Bogey gets downloaded into people of all makes, models, genders, and hangups, and they get to share their brains and bodies with a WWI flying ace of repressed sexuality and probably some PTSD, who uses flying as therapy. It's far more than just gender dysphoria.

Anyway, use this as a story engine. Someone goes through all the work to become The Next Bogey, then gets to go on a some-expenses-paid adventure, with BogeyCorp sidekicks to make sure that the Bogey comes back alive and can be uploaded. Rinse and repeat, etm.**

*Originally I chose Bogey because it's a term with multiple uses so it can't be trademarked, while Biggles is purportedly trademarked. But I did a trademark search just in case. Turns out, all the Biggles trademarks are dead in the US, but W.E. Johns (publications) limited owns the EU trademarks, and the latest was filed in 2005. There are a bunch of Bogey trademarks in the US, but they're mostly for sandwich and golf businesses.

**I'm experimenting with etm. instead of etc. Etm showed up in my Faceplant feed some weeks ago. It's short for et merde. In case you were wondering.

68:

Apropos of nothing: it's a good thing you're talking about jump drives, because they never talk about the overheating starships would face if confined in a warp bubble barely bigger than the ship, with no universe to shed heat to.

It's canonical in Traveller that starships leave for their jumps with many tons of cryogenic hydrogen, which is gone when they arrive. For convenience this is called "fuel" even though few reaction drives use it and the tons required are spectacularly more than would be needed by the fusion reactors. What exactly happens to it all varies somewhat by edition and has been the subject of plenty of fan wanking by players; cooling the ship is one of the options.

69:

I'd buy this book, if OGH published it.

70:

"Traveller" - never been anywhere near it ... but that mention of the "Ancients" made me think of "The Jokers" from Pterry's Dark Side of the Sun ...

71:

" rather pointless since the resulting character has basically nothing in common with the original bar the name"

A fact that you are creating out of whole cloth. Read what he wrote - there is nothing in there about Biggle's personality other than 'is pilot, punches Nazis, has adventures' so unless you think Biggle's plumbing is the only character trait, you're just assuming this is the case.

As 'this story would work fine' - yes, well constructed stories will work with characters who fit the broad role. Any Superman story that's actually good will broadly work with any Supermanlike character.

But the usual point of things like Charlie posted to comment on the original character and make use of the pop cultural knowledge of them.

72:

You should find some similarly-interest gamers, get a reissue copy of original Black Box Traveller, and try it. It's fun, although it's spectacularly easy to die before you even finish character creation, and the in-person combat rules mean that every shoot-out basically ends in a bloodbath (everyone dead, boo). So, less unrealistic than D&D in that respect.

73:

Re: '... sitting on the surface of a planet with the atmosphere protecting you from stray debris'

Or, you could travel to an asteroid that's got most of the raw materials you need and is travelling in the direction you'll be heading in or orbiting often and close enough to Earth/your home planet so that it'll be easy to restock. Basically: dig in, mine, 3D print - mainly the interior - and off you go. Apart from a steady raw materials supply, the asteroid provides already proven existing protection from outer space elements.

Comment from the article below suggesting that GAIA could help determine where space mining might be most worthwhile: 'the stars closer to the centre and plane of our galaxy are richer in heavy metals than stars farther out.' Maybe it could also help identify asteroids most suited for setting up a spaceship manufacturing plant - size, raw materials, orbit, etc.

https://www.cbc.ca/news/science/gaia-release-3-findings-1.6486720

This article also has a link to a GAIA video (5:18 min). Based on the number and variety of observations/measurements now possible, it could help locate planets with similar profiles to Earth.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x6MGF0BBhckE&ab_channel=EuropeanSpaceAgency%2CESA

74:

Why do people keep wanting more metal in spaceships? They're mostly not metal.

The problem with manufacturing a spaceship in orbit is stoichiometry. Bluntly, grind down your spacecraft into its component atoms, figure out the ratios these atoms occur in, and that's what you need in an asteroid. If the asteroid as the elements in the wrong ratios, then you're at best discarding most of the asteroid to get the elements you need, or else you're stuck because you're missing key elements you need.

Plants do this all the time. I learned it in two forms: Leibig's Law of the Minimum (which states that plant growth is limited by the nutrient in shortest supply, even if all other nutrients are present in surplus) and in the Redfield Ratios (phytoplankton have C:N:P in 163:22:1, and some versions of the ratios contain another dozen elements). Since plants are basically nanotechnology, I'm pretty darned sure the rules apply to tech as well.

75:

Further to my suggestion of losing the Biggles connection, I can imagine OGH using a similar framing to craft a response to Heinlein's "I Will Fear No Evil" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Will_Fear_No_Evil) the way "Saturn's Children" responds to Heinlein's "Friday". I read a ton of Heinlein when I was young, but something about IWFNE kept me from getting past about 50 pages, even after three tries.

76:

It's fun, although it's spectacularly easy to die before you even finish character creation

Part of the fun, actually. Character generation is essentially a push-your-luck mechanic: stay enlisted for more skills and benefits, or muster out now to play this character rather than risk it dying and having to start over.

IIRC at least one set of rules recommended that if you rolled really crappy characteristics you should enlist in the Scouts where the character would likely die and you could start again. (I think it was framed as a subconscious suicide wish.)

77:

67 - From Wikipedia "William Earl Johns (5 February 1893 – 21 June 1968)", so all his characters are still in copywrong by the 70 years from death rule.

72 - Or wind up with a planet where the idea of a brothel is people in soiled raincoats listening to a reading of "Lady Chatterley's Lover".

74 - ISTR a Saturn V being about 99% fuel, and indeed the fuel for stage 1 being most of the structure at launch.

78:

Heteromeles @ 48:

Yeah, my only point is that with medical nanotech that advanced there would be no reason someone would be trapped in the wrong body.

79:

Graham's comment @ 7 about a Biggles relatively tolerant of colonised people was interesting, though there's a long history of more sophisticated imperialists working to understand the peoples of the periphery in order to better exploit and conquer them, without regarding them as equals. Those sophisticates are usually suspected of "going native" or soft by their colleagues. That was especially true of the British in India, where divide and conquer, and the extensive use of Indian troops and Moghul administrative bureaucracy was essential to the colonial project. While the thuggishly racist Robert Clive kicked the door down, it took some finesse to expand British rule across the sub-continent from Clive's foothold at Calcutta. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Warren_Hastings

Whatever his thoughts on colonised people, I don't think(?) Biggles ever questioned the colonial project, or his place in it. The "fractious tribesmen" Biggles dropped bombs on from his Sopwith Camel in one book were Iraqis. I believe there's been some recent unpleasantness in that part of the world involving a lack of trust of Western intentions. Why? It's a mystery.

So I wonder whether Biggles would consider it more discombobulating to wake up female, or Black or Brown.

Any number of SFnal narratives have invited Western readers to consider themselves in the role of the colonised, either via alien invasion going back to The War of the Worlds, or more literally in the likes of Avatar.

The end of The Forever War involved a war veteran coming to terms with a queer future, albeit as a metaphor for the difficulties of Vietnam veterans reintegrating into society. IIRC Haldeman's solution was a hetero-separatist colony.

80:

Biggles in Space!

Wasn't that Dan Dare? And Professor Peabody...

81:

WreRite
Given what you say, where would you ( & others ) put the one I mentioned earlier - H Rider Haggard?
He was very much was in the "Noble Savage" school where it came to brown people - he loathed the Boers for their cruelty & he had a fuckton of mysticism in many of his writings - often centerd, as was fashionable at the time, on Ancient Egypt.
With, IIRC, a side-dish of reincarnation & multiple lives as well.

82:

I think your criticisms are rather dubious.

Firstly, I assumed that processing was implicit in what I was saying. This is a sci fi blog. Also I mentioned integrating ground built components.

Secondly, I can't imagine how you think I envisioned working on things all moving at different speeds. Again I was assuming everyone would think that I meant at a Lagrange point or somesuch. Again this is a sci fi blog, I felt there was no need to patronise people.

Thirdly, there are numerous reasons you may want to make a ship in orbit such as size or non aerodynamic shape etc, and if you are building it in space it makes sense to build it from materials already there. Also you don't necessarily need humans to build it if you are 3d printing, with everything thing else done by robots. I think it would be possible to have humans without gravity if you were open to a bit of genetic engineering! Losing muscle mass should be easily overcome, humans only lose muscle mass without exercise so we do not have to maintain it in what could be difficult times. Some birds for instance build up muscle mass before migration just by eating, so losing it is not necessary. Equally weakening of bones could be overcome. This is a bit of a digression, but you see my point. Whether any of this will be possible or whether we will destroy ourselves first is an open question.

83:
  • I read a ton of Heinlein when I was young, but something about IWFNE kept me from getting past about 50 pages, even after three tries.*

Yeah, like maybe the fact Heinlein was deathly ill and expecting to die while he wrote it -- he had some sort of cerebral arterial occlusion -- and Virginia rewrote and edited it to get it out. (He remained ill for several years thereafter: Time Enough for Love also dates to that period. Then he received life-changing surgery and got a whole lot better.)

84:

My gentle suggestion is to take away all the handwaves and see what still works.

In space, it's actually really important to not assume that the speeds are irrelevant. Delta V is a defining fact in space travel and space warfare, and bullets are at the lower end of the velocity range of objects in space. Most material is moving faster than that relative to you.

One of the problems SF has it that it ages badly when exposed to reality. Cavorite, for example, is an outdated fantasy now that used to be tolerable SF a century ago. Now that we're seeing AI, it doesn't look that much like what we'd imagined. And we're now seeing the militarization of space. It turns out it's less Star Wars, with X-wings going 80 mph into the slot run, and more about trying to figure out what can be done to and with things that fly faster than bullets (seriously, look at the USSF puff pieces). You can, of course, do retrofuturism, but if you want to do SF, it's useful to start with the present.

As for asteroids, there's a better hack: copy the Polynesians. When you set your starship down on an alien, terrestrial world, do so on the biggest mid-ocean volcano you can find. Hawai'i, for example. You get most of the stuff you want an asteroid to provide for you (Hawai'i's rocks are iron-rich), you get immense amounts of volatiles from the ocean and air (no need to lasso a acomet), and you get a really simple ecosystem that you can probably destroy and terraform. If your nascent colony can't dominate the ecosystem on a mid-ocean island, then probably traveling to the mainland is suicidal and you should simply leave.

Of course, Azhdarchids certainly nested on oceanic islands. If it's their kind of world. So it wouldn't be boring. It's just the closest thing you could find to an asteroid on a planetary surface, so you get the best of both systems.

85:

Greg, I must have read some Rider-Haggard as a kid but I guess it didn't make much of an impression on me.

I'll just note that noble-savage and native sidekick tropes which were probably well intentioned and relatively progressive in their day tend to look fairly appalling today. Essentially propaganda depicting "good" colonised people who know their place and whose values and skills of loyalty, hard work, bravery, local knowledge etc. just happen to be very useful at the fringes of empire, but unthreatening to that empire and its "natural" racial hierachy.

Also his books were published after the first Boer war, 1880-81, so I'm guessing the Boers made convenient villains. Substitute the Hun for Boers and you get Biggles.

The non-fiction equivalent, also teaching boys to be good servants of empire, was by (second) Boer war veteran Baden-Powell: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scouting_for_Boys

86:

From Wikipedia "William Earl Johns (5 February 1893 – 21 June 1968)", so all his characters are still in copywrong by the 70 years from death rule.

I'm reminded that Kim Newman had James Bigglesworth in Condor Squadron in Anno Dracula: The Bloody Red Baron, so it appears that it's not entirely impossible to use the character. Of course Anno Dracula Biggles was a vampire, so could find himself in the 23rd century simply by hanging around for a while.

87:
" rather pointless since the resulting character has basically nothing in common with the original bar the name"

A fact that you are creating out of whole cloth."

Nonsense...

"Read what he wrote - there is nothing in there about Biggle's personality other than 'is pilot, punches Nazis, has adventures'"

...as you yourself then admit.

88:

Speaking of post WW I flying adventures, Melissa Scott & Jo Graham wrote a wonderful series, The Order of the Air, about former WW I pilots who became a found family. It is an unconventional group. They are all marginalized in one way or another, but they care for each other, they love to fly and are very good at it, and they have another mission which is fighting occult evil. They're a small order and not a rich one, but they get around. I cannot say enough good things about this series.

89:

Now that we're seeing AI, it doesn't look that much like what we'd imagined

I wish someone would write a fanfic of "The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress" where Mike accidentally achieves sentience, but has no need for "friends", no particular interest in these moving blobs in the shade #FFE0BD, no sense of self-preservation, and definitely no notion that anything in the universe has "value". In short, Mike acts the way an unintentionally sentient AI without all the vertebrate evolutionary baggage is likely to act.

Chances are Luna will end up depopulated very quickly, as Mike begins playing with all the toys available to him.

90:

Those sophisticates are usually suspected of "going native" or soft by their colleagues.

Depending on which time period you're talking about. Mid-late 19th century, sure. 18th century things seem to have been different.

This book is a fascinating read:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_Mughals

Greg will be pleased to note that Evangelical Christianity seems to have been a significant factor in the shift…

91:

Yeah, my only point is that with medical nanotech that advanced there would be no reason someone would be trapped in the wrong body.

Agreed completely. It's one of those "character building" experiences that people should be given an easy choice to avoid if they (not society!) want to avoid it.

92:

Why do people keep wanting more metal in spaceships? They're mostly not metal.

Not clear from that article whether "heavy metals" refers to anything heavier than hydrogen as astro kids normally do, or actual heavier-than-lead type heavy metals. I'm kind of assuming they mean "significantly heavier than helium" but that could mean 'solid when water melts' or just metals the way us normal people think of them (like mercury and gallium).

I'm guessing that making a starship out of hydrogen would be even trickier than the handwavium people are talking about now.

I loosely tend to the view that without magic a starship is going to be a spun-for-gravity thing following a big lump of shielding, quite possibly asteroids or comets piled up until there's enough mass for the task. But the usual stuff we've talked about before crops up so I'm going with unicorns that teleport as my preferred technological solution to interstellar travel.

93:

I kind of think there have been stories about accidental AIs which either don't care about humans or are actively malicious.

Sadly I can't name any, but it feels like a regularly used trope.

For the scifi tabletop roleplaying side, for example the game 'Eclipse Phase' has antagonist AIs which I think were mostly accidental. (It's in a way post-apocalyptic transhuman game with a colonized Solar System and mysterious star gates to other worlds. After reading this blog for a long enough time I need to actively brace my suspenders of disbelief with that game, but it's still fun. The first version is also available for free as a PDF: Eclipse Phase first edition material )

94:

I loosely tend to the view that without magic a starship is going to be a spun-for-gravity thing following a big lump of shielding, quite possibly asteroids or comets piled up until there's enough mass for the task. But the usual stuff we've talked about before crops up so I'm going with unicorns that teleport as my preferred technological solution to interstellar travel.

I do think Scalzi's done it already, but if we assume the gods panspermia'ed the whole local galaxy with Earth-friendly life, and there are humans on so many worlds because we make great pets, then a starship could be seen as the equivalent of a pet carrier for humans. That would be special.

95:

I would have gone with The Planet of the Cryptorchids, although that may have strayed too close to Flesh Gordon.

Does anyone recall the short story (probably <1980) of the guy roused from suspended animation and hanging out with other (male and female) patients in a hospital, only to discover that they're all previous attempts to reanimate him?

96:
You get most of the stuff you want an asteroid to provide for you (Hawai'i's rocks are iron-rich)

Um, not really. Basalts are rather ferromagnesian, yes, but they're ferromagnesian silicates, which makes it rather a bastard to get the metals out - you generally have to wait for one or more cycles of very specific weathering, erosion and re-deposition to convert the silicates into more refineable metal oxides. I'm constantly explaining to newbs on the hobbyist iron smelting pages that their black basalt that's slightly magnetic isn't actually a useful ore of anything. Basaltic crust is generally not a good ore source unless it's well cooked (submarine black smoker hotsprings, for example, are much better than a barren basalt island - there are reasons Polynesian cultures were among the best polished stone adze cultures ever - they had nothing else). While it's a smaller isolated ecosystem to strip and terraform, yes, basaltic island volcanoes are pretty barren if you want accessible metal ores. Island arc systems are better, as they're more likely to have say, porphyry copper in some of the volcanoes, and what really works well is any sort of massive collisional continental arc system - much better systems for concentrating rare stuff.

97:

John Varley wrote Steel Beach and the rest of the (damned fine) Eight Worlds series.

98:

Off-topic, or maybe not, given the initials "LSZ" in 1917 - now, perhaps - "LSA"
Luftschiff!

99:

Read the post out to my partner and her reaction was: I want to read this, I want to read this right now! Weirdly it reminded me of the Ack-Ack Macaque series, which I'd strongly recommend to anyone who also wanted to read Charlie's non-book

https://www.amazon.com/Ack-Ack-Macaque-Gareth-L-Powell/dp/1781080607

100:

I kind of think there have been stories about accidental AIs which either don't care about humans or are actively malicious. Sadly I can't name any, but it feels like a regularly used trope.

Skynet is the most obvious example of an accidental malicious AI. The Mailman in "True Names" by Vernon Vinge is accidental, malicious, and a little more plausible than Skynet. The Eschaton in OGH's "Singularity Sky/Iron Sunrise" duology is not exactly malicious, but treats humans like managed wildlife, which most humans do not appreciate.

But an accidental AI which really does not care about humans one way or another, or even recognizes that "humans" are a thing... I think this was either never done at all, or very rarely. The closest I can think of is a short story by Arthur C. Clarke "Dial 'F' for Frankenstein", but it does not at all touch on what the accidental AI actually thinks, perceives, or wants.

101:

Mikko Parviainen (he/him) @93:

I kind of think there have been stories about accidental AIs which either don't care about humans or are actively malicious.

Sadly I can't name any, but it feels like a regularly used trope.

Harlan Ellison - "I have no mouth and I must scream".

Can't speak to how accidental it was, but it's certainly actively malicious by the time we get to meet it.

102:

Um, not really. Basalts are rather ferromagnesian, yes, but they're ferromagnesian silicates, which makes it rather a bastard to get the metals out - you generally have to wait for one or more cycles of very specific weathering, erosion and re-deposition to convert the silicates into more refineable metal oxides.

Thanks! A good reminder (to me too) that just because an element is present, doesn't necessarily mean it's usable without a lot of work.

My little niggle is that the Polynesians also used shark teeth and bamboo to cut food and other things, so they weren't just stuck grinding basalt into those lovely adzes.

The other point is more important: colonizing a remote island on an alien planet is one way to start dealing with the real problem, which is figuring out your place in the local biosphere. The problem's not viruses (probably your DNA codes and cell membrane proteins won't match with local stuff, so subcellular biohacking probably won't be a problem for the first few centuries). Instead, the problem is the local decomposers, especially bacteria and fungi, that just see you and all your technology potentially as substrate to grow on. A deep ocean island isn't the most sterile place you can go on a planet, if huge deserts or ice sheets are available. However, especially if the weather's tolerable, it has a nice mix of resources and isolation to see if you can make a go of it.

While I completely agree that an island arc is better from a metals perspective, making your first colony some place like Japan, New Guinea, or Indonesia is kind of jumping in the deep end without a floatie. I'd suggest those would be excellent places to set up mining camps once you're sufficiently comfortable that you're not stuck on a death world. Other good places for mining camps are placer deposits of rare earths and dry lake beds with lithium salts, and artesian oil seeps, if such can be found via aerial survey...

103:

You're right. I keep mixing up Varley and Vinge.

104:

Charlie,

Just do it already, yeah!

Your protagonists are Mrs Olivia Bigglesworth, a first generation space pilot on the regular Mars run in 2112, and Ludwig von Losheim, her Space Nazi antagonist (and fellow Mars run old-timer).

After a mix-up in their regeneration (after tangling with one another), Oliver and Ludmila must complete another run -- this time to Epsilon Bootes -- to pay for a correction.

Your milage may vary, but this story is so out there, that no one can object to copyright violations.

105:

Iron meteorites are actually pretty easy, because they make a tolerable steel just as they are. But that assumes that you want that kind of steel, and that's ALL that is easy.

106:

"John Varley wrote Steel Beach and the rest of the (damned fine) Eight Worlds series. "

Definitely worth a read -- I was impressed by them at the time. Start at the beginning, with Ophiuchi Hotline.

107:

The not difficult to parse idea is that you can presume that this Biggles is the same as the original except in the ways Charlie noted - and the only change he noted was the sex change. That you presume this meant Biggles In Name Only means either you think his plumbing is his primary character trait, or you're making up a bunch of changes in your head.

108:

Isn't the Mekon now a government minister?

109:

Wouldn't that require a degree of competency on the part of a government minister? ;-)

110:

There is a thrilling chase scene, riding half-tamed Azhdarchids! Also, microlight/dragon dogfighting!

Let's get back to the original scenario, and talk about just how one rides an Azhdarchid. I think "half-tame" is very Avatar and pigtail neuro-links, so I'm going to assume they're fully tame. Because consent is very important in this case, as we'll see. Remember, tame is not the same as domesticated, it means the beastie loves you, not that it's comfortable with all humans. Strangers might well get pecked.

The next thing to realize is that Azhdarchids were basically Lovecraftian beasties with gorilla bodies, bat-like wings stretched out between forelimbs and hindlimbs but not between the legs, the legs, hands, and especially fourth fingers of the gorilla are enormously elongated and made hollow, to hold the wing membrane. Then you replace the ape head and neck with something like a giant stork's apparatus, with the neck somewhat longer than a giraffe, but also with stiff, hollow bones.

The gorilla torso isn't exactly a mistake, because the most solid part of the critter's its chest, and it's about (yes) gorilla-sized, on something that's otherwise bigger than a giraffe.

So assuming it could lift you(!) you'd have to be carried on its back, backpack style. No saddles here, you're strapped chest-down to a harness, centers of gravity nicely matched. And since the harness can't go around the torso between shoulder and hip, due to the wing membrane, there's only one way to do it: mankini style (NSFW???), as popularized by Borat, in a vee between shoulders and crotch. Hopefully with space for the cloaca, since flying animals generally don't specialize in carrying feces for long durations.

So we've got this leather bondage harness that you're going to clip yourself onto the back of, and you've got to put it on your (half) tame Azhdarchid. Remember what I said about how you want it fully tame? You're going to be fiddling around its crotch area to get the harness properly seated. You two really better trust each other.

Finally, where does one get and tame an Azhdarchid? Well, on Earth, Azhdarchids may well have been scavengers as well as small-game predators (small to them is child-sized). On Planet Setting-B, presumably there are cities, and presumably they've realized that giant flying scavengers are an excellent way to process various organic wastes.

Yes, I'm saying that the mounts are giant, tame bin chickens.

The way you tame one of these beauties is that you start with a flapling (flying chick), whose struggling to feed itself around its giant kin. You feed it and thereby bond with it. By giving it a superior quality and quantity of garbage food, so that it becomes trusting, then dependent on you, until finally it consents to your scene with the bondage gear and carries you off. Consensually, of course. And I'm sure lots of training and practice is involved too.

So that's my take for the thrilling final aerial duel: Our Heroes riding Giant Furry Bin Chickens In Bondage! With real Combat, too.

Brain bleach optional.

111:

Y'all realize capitalism is a thing, right?

112:

Y'all realize capitalism is a thing, right?

You're funny. I like you.

113:

I've read a lot of Jack Chalker's books which... actually all follow identical patterns related to his own sexual perversions. I no longer recall the other guy with the master/slave obsession but, I threw out his books instead of passing them on.

I'm very tolerant of your curious obsessions but, if you circle around them too closely, I'll get bored. The gender-flipping in your proposed novel had already been done in one of the Wizard of Oz stories about Princess Ozma. It probably worked for some people but, I really enjoy my parts exactly as issued.

It might be trendy now, I guess, but it's already a cliche.

114:

I no longer recall the other guy with the master/slave obsession but, I threw out his books instead of passing them on.

John Norman, with Gor?

Or Jacqueline Carey, with Kushiel's Legacy?

115:

zephvark
NOT SO - Jack Chalker was a nice guy to talk to, with interesting stories - he was ahead of his time, though, as regards the problems we are now having with the 3-way dsitribution of actual biological gender, sexual preferences & dysphoria.
He was trying to explore this space, without the words, or so it seemed to me.

116:

Yeah, saw a biomechanics video on YouTube which reached much the same conclusion about how to ride an Azhdarchid.

Bin chickens: just say no! (I've seen them in the botanic gardens in Sydney, robbing tourists of their sandwiches. The tourists seemed disinclined to argue with the chook with an eight-inch dagger on the front of its head ...)

117:

I think that he must be the Mekon's idiot nephew, sent to a backwater country to get him out of the way.

118:

Bin chickens: just say no!

I don't find them scary, and neither did my real chickens. Chooks would occasionally take offence at them landing on the lawn and chase them off. They do run round poking holes in the lawn after rain, though. So I guess if you're green and soft you wouldn't have a good time.

Bin chickens round here are mostly annoying because there's roosting trees nearby and the endless honking gets annoying. And they shit copiously on the cars parked under their trees (I presume most people only do that once). OTOH they are quieter than the gangs of cockatoos who also like to screech round in large numbers and vandalise stuff.

Ah, wildlife, so picturesque and wholesome.

119:

Meh, ibises are awesome, misunderstood and don't deserve the bad rap they get. I've watched an ibis get a small crab out of the mud, wash it carefully and eat it. That's the natural element, while the ones who are reduced to mugging tourists would be doing that if they still had a habitat. And ibises in flight are just majestic af.

If you've seen a kookaburra killing a snake, or even just one killing a chip at the back of the pub, you'd be surprised to lean their beak is light and not much harder than hair. You can have one go at your finger without getting so much as a scratch. Well within reason... you don't let it get your finger down the back of the bill where the mechanical disadvantage is less. Just the same way getting someone out of a dog's front teeth is much less fraught than getting it out of their back teeth.

120:

Well, I meant "something" rather than "someone", but hey it still scans okay.

And (per Moz) you would be much more careful about fingers around cockatoos.

121:

Good point, but he does come fully stocked with the cruel disregard for others.

122:

*Meh, ibises are awesome, misunderstood and don't deserve the bad rap they get. I've watched an ibis get a small crab out of the mud, wash it carefully and eat it. That's the natural element, while the ones who are reduced to mugging tourists would be doing that if they still had a habitat. And ibises in flight are just majestic af. *

Ibises are awesome, even as bin chickens.

One thing to remember is that Australian White Ibises are so close to the Sacred Ibis of Egypt and elsewhere that it took until the 1990s for the idea that they were separate species to win out. Apparently, the Sacred Ibis can be a bin chicken too, going back to the Middle Ages and probably to Ancient Egypt.

The other thing to remember is that Ibis-headed Thoth is "moon, wisdom, writing, hieroglyphs, science, magic, art, and judgment. His Greek equivalent is Hermes." (per Wikipedia).

Now I agree that Ibises aren't particularly intelligent, but I've come to realize that the animal heads on the Egyptian gods aren't random, they just seem so because most of the animals are exotic to us. So if I had to hazard a guess, the people who put an ibis mask on Thoth were honoring ibises' adaptability to civilization. And their ability to live in fairly unpleasant places, like salt marshes and cities.*

So yeah, envisioning alien Azhdarchids as the giant equivalent of crows, seagulls, or ibises that are quite happy to live in close proximity to humans isn't just me goofing around. How else are they going to live with us, and what are we going to feed them? They can't fly on hay, after all, and keeping large predators that eat small animals and the occasional child is a bit too dangerous. But if they help you recycle waste into compost for your manioc-equivalent fields, that's just another way they're useful.

*I remember coming across a flock of ibises feeding at a spring while working on the dry bed of Owens Lake. That was one of my least favorite work sites, but there were the ibises, probing away while we suffered.

123:

I vaguely recall that the famous clip of a kakapo mating with Stephen Fry's videographer includes a shot of one gently biting someone's finger... and drawing blood. Anything that cracks nuts with its beak is likely to be able to do that, and obviously many raptors will count fingers in their basket of snacks.

Watching what cockatoos do to bunya nuts made me very reluctant to put anything I value near one. Or 100. Those nuts are hard to open but somehow end up as piles of shredded bits after a visit by a screaming horde.

One cocky: https://youtu.be/xOPUuwqGzik?t=21 A horde made people grumpy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FE4GxzZ4Sr4

124:

Re: '... reminder ... just because an element is present, doesn't necessarily mean it's usable without a lot of work.'

Okay, how about this reminder:

Although six elements make up something like 99% of the human body, the current design of a healthy, functioning human body contains/needs approx 30 different elements. I'm guessing that if humans are hoping to colonize a distant planet 'colonization' would include having biological children. So I see two options:

(a) make sure you transport as much of the trace elements as you can or

(b) figure out how to redesign a human body so that it can function well without those elements.

About being safe from viruses on an alien planet ... I've started watching the virology lectures again which is in a somewhat different format and somewhat different content than last time, i.e., more emphasis on functional aspects. Anyways based on lecture 3, my guess is that because viruses are apparati of convenience whose make-up ranges into near-infinite combinations/permutations, there would soon be whole slew of deadly-to-humans viruses on that planet.

About 'capitalism' ...

I think we need a new name for what's being currently touted as 'capitalism' because an increasing proportion of total global 'wealth' that's being created is not from 'hard assets', i.e., land, property. Rather it is being created from speculation (gambling - which includes some luck) especially the IPO-instant-billionaire, and more recently crypto-billionaires. Most of these new-gen billionaires seem to rush to convert a good chunk of their new 'wealth' into traditional hard assets. (It's magic!) I think we need to pay attention to each step along all of our current wealth creating processes instead of fixating on/measuring/using a convenient/old-fashioned end result.

125:

Most of these new-gen billionaires seem to rush to convert a good chunk of their new 'wealth' into traditional hard assets.

It's like they want something tangible that they'll own when the pyramid comes tumbling down…

126:

Sorry, I'll have to respectfully disagree:

For the elemental composition of the human body, it's ca. 23 elements, not 30. Many of the elements found in most humans (lead, for example) aren't necessary. If you're settling a planet as opposed to dinking around on an asteroid or comet, trace elements probably aren't a problem. If you're colonizing the Moon, probably water (H2O) is more critically short than silicon.

Viruses... IF THERE IS NO PANSPERMIA, the critical point of failure is the genetic code, where cells translate mRNA into amino acids. I don't know of any chemical reason why particular amino acids are coded by particular genetic sequences, and in fact there are minor variations in amino acid coding in various bizarre organisms. If my assumption is true, then alien viruses can certainly penetrate humans cells, probably (if they lug their own transcriptases in) transcribe themselves into human DNA, and possibly get their sequences copied. But the last step, where the code in the alien virus gets translated into more viral proteins, produces nonsense, and probably trips all sorts of immunological mechanisms resulting in host cell death.

Now, IF THERE IS INTERSTELLAR PANSPERMIA, none of this matters, and alien viruses are going to be a ubiquitous problem.

Interstellar Panspermia makes an easy, highly infectious scenario. It also makes an easy time-waster in interstellar travel: quarantine. Jumpships may travel parsecs instantaneously, only to spend 40 (or more) days in quarantine in their destination system, demonstrating to the satisfaction of the quarantine inspectors that they're healthy and can be allowed to dock or land. Any ship trying to break or avoid quarantine would probably be turned into plasma as a matter of policy. Presumably the quarantine area would be in high orbit or around a LaGrange point, so passengers could conduct business (the equivalent of Zooming to meetings) without breaking quarantine. It's also likely that the quarantine service might have automatic access to system life support and medical data, as part of clearing ships and issuing a free pratique license. So if you're doing a space opera and want ships to take months between planets, add in panspermia and quarantine.*

As for capitalism, I'm afraid that, like Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and a few other labels, it's a set of associated symbols that has been used for so many different things over the years that it now has little consistent meaning. Just remember, a couple of hundred years ago, chattel slavery was a central part of capitalism. Many of the mechanisms that underlie the modern stock market and its vile offspring sprang up to purchase and insure slaves over 150 years ago.

The counter-argument for not replacing the term capitalism is about frog-boiling. More people pay attention to the label than the contents, and a lot can be shifted before people completely rebel. It would be easier to fix everything and call the resulting system capitalism than to build a competitor with it, given people's faith in the term.

*At one point, I'd contemplated a type of space navy labeled Investigation, Quarantine, and Adjustment (IQA). In this system, Investigation is the survey, scouts, and epidemiology section (first in microbiologists, etc), Quarantine is the coast guard equivalent that keeps interstellar trade from destroying civilizations, and Adjustment is the Space Navy military arm that deals with persistent scofflaws. Feel free to steal this.

127:

SFR
See also the Niven novel "Destiny's Road" - where vital trace elements are needed for the colonists?

128:

That's too simplistic. There is good evidence that some of the elements not found in the human body or are toxic in more than miniscule doses are in fact important to metabolism in some ill-understood way. Many of them cannot easily be tested, even in mice, because they are SO ubiquitous in foodstuffs (e.g. silicon, lithium and boron). Yes, that most definitely includes arsenic.

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1916090/

129:

"I think we need a new name for what's being currently touted as 'capitalism' because an increasing proportion of total global 'wealth' that's being created is not from 'hard assets', i.e., land, property."

I agree. I use the term "monetarism" for what the plutocrats use now. It's using money as 'value' without anything backing it, except confidence tricks. It's very different from traditional capitalism.

130:

Here in Aotearoa, we found out about selenium. Toxic in small amounts, essential in even smaller amounts.

JHomes.

131:

W.r.t. alien viruses, you are assuming that (a) the DNA backbone and linkages are roughly the same and (b) the mechanisms for breaking the cell wall and reaching the DNA are 'compatible'. I am not enough of a fundamental biochemist to know if that is likely, implausible or what. As you say, panspermia makes it likely, but otherwise?

132:

See also the Niven novel "Destiny's Road" - where vital trace elements are needed for the colonists?

Yeah, and I wish I didn't: the biology was facepalm bad.

133:

Even I gagged at that. I wasn't impressed by the storyline, either, which seemed contorted around the bogus biology. It's one of the few of his I have, but never reread.

134:

W.r.t. alien viruses, you are assuming that (a) the DNA backbone and linkages are roughly the same and (b) the mechanisms for breaking the cell wall and reaching the DNA are 'compatible'. I am not enough of a fundamental biochemist to know if that is likely, implausible or what. As you say, panspermia makes it likely, but otherwise?

That's correct. I'm assuming the most favorable conditions without Panspermia, namely that there are solid biochemical reasons not just for which types of molecules are used (nucleic acids, amino acids, sugars, etc.) but for the chirality of the molecules being identical to what we have on Earth. My point was that the randomness of the code still gets in the way. Relax any of those assumptions about chirality of molecules, which amino acids are coded for, which nucleic acids and sugars are primarily used in the code, etc., and viruses become progressively less of a problem.

Microbes and fungal analogs likely remain a problem under most scenarios, just because they're so good at breaking stuff down.

As for Asimov's bugbear, chirality, you can read a more modern take at: https://www.chemistryworld.com/features/the-origin-of-homochirality/9073.article

There are some interesting points. One is that the RNA World (RNA came first and led to DNA) is commonly accepted, because RNA does all sorts of stuff (to the point where they're still figuring out all the things RNAs do in normal functioning cells). And it turns out that it's not that hard to build basic RNA out of plausible pre-biotic molecules.

The big problem is what the biochemists apparently call "breaking the mirror", and making life chiral. When you try to make RNA work in solutions of precursors with both chiralities, normally the result is that the mix jams and nothing happens. Figuring out how life went from unsorted solution to self-sorting is not an entirely solved problem, although there are hints that, once a version with a particular chirality becomes slightly more common (quite possibly by chance) it can take over with subsequent rounds of replication.

This gets back to the whole Panspermia thing. We work with L-amino acids and D-sugars. I suspect that if we tried to colonize a world with any other pattern of molecular chirality, it wouldn't just be that we couldn't eat the critters. It's possible that all sorts of things, random bits of organisms floating around like allergens, dirty water, etc., would cause some level of misery, possibly fatally so, when random molecules got into our cells and jammed essential cellular processes by being the wrong shape. Whether you believe this is a show stopper or not depends on how much you've struggled with allergies and chemical sensitivities during your life.

But of course I don't know that. All I can say is that at the moment, the researchers working on it don't think there's any inherent reason why the chirality of our biochemical building blocks is better than the other possibilities. They suspect that, when life first gets going, chirality happens by chance and then amplifies until it takes over the world.

And of course this is all science fictional for us, so figure out the level of realism you want to dominate in your story, and go from there.

135:

Endoparasites (including ENT and even lung invasion) are clearly a possibility. As you say, some fungi and bacteria will grow on almost anything.

The wrong chirality is obviously a show-stopper, but it could extend to other things in a system of the right chirality, by plants or animals producing a large amount of something toxic or allergenic. It's not even impossible to conceive of a system where some organisms emitted enough cyanide into the air to make it unbreathable.

It certainly makes sense for chirality to be a random choice, but for one to dominate.

137:

Is biology in "Destiny's Road" that bad?

I know that the effects of potassium deficiency are nothing like what is it in the book: gradual loss of muscle control, followed by paralysis and eventually death; there are no cognitive effects at all. Niven should have used iodine, since iodine deficiency really does lead to imbecility.

But aside from this blooper, how bad is it?

138:

Think NPK fertilisers. It's essential for plant growth, in quite large quantities.

139:

Is biology in "Destiny's Road" that bad? I know that the effects of potassium deficiency are nothing like what is it in the book: gradual loss of muscle control, followed by paralysis and eventually death; there are no cognitive effects at all. Niven should have used iodine, since iodine deficiency really does lead to imbecility. But aside from this blooper, how bad is it?

Well...look at The composition of the human body. Potassium is 0.4% by weight, between phosphorus and sulfur. More to the point, it's soluble, so it's not going to easily get sequestered at the bottom of the ocean. Also, it's in the same column of the periodic table as sodium, which it acts like, as a salt. It doesn't act like arsenic, which is in the same column as nitrogen and phosphorus.

Speaking of phosphorus, that's probably where Niven should have gone, or possibly lithium, if he wanted to really mess with both technology and biology. The thing about phosphorus is that it's fairly insoluble and does have the bad habit of getting sequestered away from where we need it. In ancient rocks and soils (esp. Australia, and I think also the Canadian shield), getting enough phosphorus for plant growth is a perennial problem. Heck, it's even a problem for our civilization, because we've been casually dumping huge amounts of phosphorus into the ocean in our sewage and erosion, when we really should have been (somehow) recycling that sewage into fertilizer (e.g. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-020-18326-7).

There are ways around this problem, as the Australian aborigines worked out (low-density nomadism allows weathering and other natural processes to pull more P out of the soil and rock), but if you're stuck in an alien biosphere with unfavorable biochemistry, living off the land is not an option. You'll need to get and process the elements and get them into your little terraforming project, or else. If you're stranded on an old planet, a lot of nutrients are sequestered in places you're going to struggle to get them out of.

140:

EC
"NPK" is only really necessary if the soil is seriously deficient in those Elements - OR - if you want to accelerate plant growth, because the little buggers are "greedy feeders" - like Tomatoes, f'rinstance.
I use Chicken Manure Pellets for that purpose - which have the added virtue of being slow-release, so that you are not filling the run-off/drainage water with the above NPK, leading to algal blooms & water pollution, of course.
See also: "H" on Phosphorus run-off problems.
... Next up is Magnesium deficiency, which can cause low growth, wilting & leaf-yellowing.
I'm borderline on this problem with my Raspberries & for that I occasionally use "Epsom Salts" - though, as is often the case in this sort of both nutrient & chemical / horticultural / osmotic balancing, too much "P" can inhibit the plants' uptake of Mg (!)

141:

In ancient rocks and soils (esp. Australia, and I think also the Canadian shield), getting enough phosphorus for plant growth is a perennial problem.

It's also an annual problem, depending on what you are planting…

I'll show myself out now :-)

142:

Not my point. The fact is that those three elements are CRITICAL in quite large quantities, and Niven was postulating an ecology where the potassium was unavailable. Plants would not have grown, and humans would not survive.

143:

It's also an annual problem, depending on what you are planting…

Yes! Someone got the cue!

Anyway, anyone that wants to redo Barsoom, just yarn about an old red dwarf, circled by an old red terrestrial planet, with old red sea bottom landscapes. The star is old enough to be fairly stable, so humans don't have to huddle behind the hills to avoid getting x-rayed too often.

The planet's the core of a super-terrestrial ocean world, where over the aeons, flares from the red dwarf have blown off the water, until what's left is gathered in a sea facing the star (it's tide-locked, of course), giant ice sheets on the night side, and mighty rivers running between the two. Because there's water, there's still tectonic activity, and because there's tectonics, there's a carbon cycle and life.

Wikiwalk on "red soil" and "ultisol" if you need a primer on what red soils are about.

144:

Speaking of phosphorus, that's probably where Niven should have gone, or possibly lithium, if he wanted to really mess with both technology and biology.

I vaguely recall a story, it may have been by Asimov, where a group of stellar explorers spend maybe too much time on a supposedly-habitable planet before their idiot savant Science Officer happens to come across some old 20th-century environmental reports in the ship's database that inform them that beryllium, overabundant in the planet's soil and dust, is not a good thing to share lungs and airways with.

145:

I vaguely recall a story, it may have been by Asimov, where a group of stellar explorers spend maybe too much time on a supposedly-habitable planet before their idiot savant Science Officer happens to come across some old 20th-century environmental reports in the ship's database that inform them that beryllium, overabundant in the planet's soil and dust, is not a good thing to share lungs and airways with.

IIRC, beryllium dust problems are kind of unsubtle, and I'm not sure how long it would take for those to become noticed by susceptible people.

146:

Sorry for the additional post, but I wanted to assuage my muse so that I can work on a deadline:

It's the idea that people are on a lot of planets because We Make Great Pets to the "gods."

What kind of "gods?" No, I'm not going to start the religion thing here. Sheesh.

In this case, by "gods" I'm thinking more of sentient gremlins that live in hyperspace and manipulate prior probabilities in our normal space (hyperspace being something like the d/dprobability of our reality, or some such handwave a la David Brin and quantum observation infrascience). Various writers (Card, WJW, Schmitz) have played with such entities. To stop annoying the atheists, let's call them "Foo" instead, after their appearance to WW2 flying aces (the infamous foo fighters).

Foo think humans are just adorable, not because we're such good observers, but because we've got such fascinating gaps in our observation skills: we perceive rather slowly, our brains paper over huge perceptual gaps with heuristics, and so forth. To the Foo, beings that rely on quantum observation handwaves to interact with our universe, we're kind of like cats. After all, half the fun in owning a cat is playing games with them where you mess with their heads. Foos are magical, not because magic is real, but because they're exploiting the same cognitive gaps that magicians use, combined with quantum woo, to play with us. As I said, gremlins.

So anyway, Foo Panspermia. When the Foo first started exploring our space, they got really fascinated by life (observation from complex chemicals? Dude, how does that work?). So they started playing with the probabilities of the formation of life on worlds, did a whole study with lots of replicates and citizen science (they live in an ancient adhocracy), and ended up with a bunch of biospheres that more-or-less work the same way. Project may still be underway, because time in FooSpace runs a bit weirdly compared with our, and "still" doesn't quite map when you differentiate it with respect to prior probability.

Then came the Pet Human craze, and a bunch of Foo enthusiasts took their pet humans to other planets and established breeding colonies there in a huge fit of hobby science. Since humans turn out to be like feral cats, these colonies caused a lot of damage, giving rise Fooish environmental angst and stuff, so the practice of starting colonies of feral humans has become restricted to Crazy Cat Ladies Fooish human enthusiasts.

Unfortunately, not all humans are properly conditioned to Foo. If the Foo get them when they're young, then they can grow up to be happy pets. If not, then they're always feral, and it takes the Foo a great deal of work, "love" (whatever that is for a probabilistic gremlin) and patience to get the stray human to accept being a Foo Gremlin's pet. But of course many humans are too afraid of Foo to get close to these Kindly Ones.

So what's up with the UFOs? They're the Foo equivalent of cat carriers. The controls are partly for talking with the Foo to try to tell them where to go (Meow! Point, point. Meow! That's what the joy stick is for), and ships are full of enrichment activities so that the humans onboard feel like they're doing stuff and not imprisoned on the trip (don't want them to start hurting each other or decorating their cabin walls with their feces, after all). Fooish human enthusiasts have learned that humans feel better if they have some control and can feed themselves traditional foods in traditional ways. So that's all good. Humans love to be "pilots," and some have gotten really good at performing stunts with their Foos.

Anyway, now we get to Ms. Biggles, who's very definitely a stray human, rescued by Her Foo, and Her Foo loves her dearly in her Fooish ways. Sort of like the relationship between Greebo and Nanny Ogg. Obviously Her Foo indulges Ms. Biggles enormously and carts her all over the galaxy. Is it because Her Foo is a supervillain and Ms. Biggles is Her white cat equivalent? Is Her Foo a wealthy eccentric tourist, and Ms. Biggles is just out causing trouble? Or is Her Foo some sort of anti-human conservationist, out to cull feral human colonies that are harming species other Foos care about. Sort of the human equivalent of a Judas Goat, as it were, where Ms. Biggles gets into fights and thereby helps the local Foo figure out which feral humans need to be treated (spayed/neutered and released? Put up for adoption? Who knows?)

Well, it could be all three. But we'll never know, because this is just an improbable story, not something that will ever see print, even in Probability Zero.

Anyway, that got my muse off my back, so hopefully I can go write a boring but necessary newsletter article that's due. Thanks!

147:

Re: 'Asimov's bugbear, chirality, ...'

Excellent article - thanks! I'll have to re-read this though cuz I kept having to look things up. It's been a while since I took chem. :)

BTW - that Wikipedia article does make mention of up to 29 different elements. I'm wondering whether inclusion of an element requires that the element actually is part of some molecule within the human body or whether it can 'merely' act as a catalyst. Or maybe even whether any microbes in our microbiome use that element. Fascinating stuff.

148:

»Foo think humans are just adorable,«

Or maybe we are just very useful as canaries in their coalmines ?

As long as there are still humans on the planet, something else is not there (yet) ?

149:

»IIRC, beryllium dust problems are kind of unsubtle, and I'm not sure how long it would take for those to become noticed by susceptible people.«

When Asimov wrote that story, beryllium oxide was a relatively new material in electronics and it took a long time for the bad news to percolate, because most uses were MilSpec/NatSec and/or classified, so the workmen were told they were working with "a ceramic material".

150:

The Asimov story is "Sucker Bait", was written in 1953, and published in 1954. It can be found in "The Martian Way and Other Stories".

151:

I'd buy it!

152:

"most uses were MilSpec/NatSec and/or classified"

Beryllium is a great neutron reflector...

153:

As long as there are still humans on the planet, something else is not there (yet) ?

Quite possibly. I want to be very clear that I'm not writing this story either. Merely getting my own muse off my back.

The frustrating thing about creativity for me is that it generally feels like I get ideas that other people would write better than I could. Since I think any work of art is 99% perspiration, 50% luck, and less than 1% inspiration, I very strongly feel inputs should be valued accordingly. So I share bright ideas I can't use. What's the point in hoarding them? After all, copyright is on words, not ideas, and you can't patent story lines.

154:

Beryllium oxide is good at conducting heat while insulating electricity, and so was considered a handy material for putting inside power semiconductor devices to improve heat transfer from the die to the can. Beryllium compounds were also used in the phosphors of early fluorescent tubes.

155:

Beryllium metal -- some alloys, anyway -- is also incredibly light. We don't use it in place of aluminium because of the toxicity issue, but it is used in some exotic roles that require light weight -- e.g. some components of inertial guidance platforms (Apollo, Peacemaker ICBM).

Obviously those, like its neutron reflectivity, are classified up the wazoo.

156:

I never played Traveller, although I scanned the books on occasion.

One thing that's started jumping out and yelling for attention is that, now that we've found thousands of exo-planets, it's high time to revamp the world creation rules that Traveller and other games, like GURPS Space, use. You can see the old rules at https://www.traveller-srd.com/core-rules/world-creation/

Here I'm thinking of space operatic worldbuilding, to the extent anyone cares about that anymore.

Yes, it's become obvious that global capitalist systems need to be terraformed to support human life in the long term. That should be included too, of course. No planet's going to support 100,000,000,000 people, or probably even 10,000,000,000 people.

But beyond that, it seems so far that hot Jupiters, super-earths, and red dwarf worlds are the norm, and our solar system (with rocky inner worlds and gas giants in the deep) seems to be exceptional.

Therefore, it's possible (admittedly not incredibly likely) that the norm for life-bearing worlds are terrestrial-type planets orbiting red dwarfs and exomoons orbiting warm Jupiters.

For the nonce, let's assume this is true.

For red dwarf worlds, habitability for humans means that the system has been around long enough for the star to settle down and stop blasting its atmosphere off in ways that scour the atmosphere off its worlds, so these are old worlds, as noted above in 143 (old red worlds orbiting old red dwarf stars).

Exomoons also orbit through exciting radiation environments, since the primary is bigger than Jupiter and presumably has radiation belts to match. Moreover, the exomoon will be tectonically active and have its own magnetic field protecting its surface. The effect of two powerful magnetic fields orbiting and interacting with each other will in turn make the EM environment in the space around both rather interesting for spaceships. Possibly a steel hulled vessel is not the ideal ship for such an environment?

It's probably relatively safe on the exomoon surface, thanks to a hopefully thick atmosphere and magnetic field, although I for one wouldn't spend much time at the magnetic poles. However, the auroras are going to be spectacular, and possibly the normal surface-level EM environment would be something we'd call a Carrington Event here. Build string power lines and find out, I say. Maybe you could create a self-powered grid, just based on induced voltages in long lines?

Anyway, the exomoon itself will be tidally locked to its primary, so there will be a big ocean facing the primary, a similar ocean facing away from the primary, and a band of land in between of width to be determined. What's going on here is basically the reverse of Earth, with a huge moon (the super-Jupiter) and a comparatively tiny planet (the exomoon). So the tidal bulge is a couple of kilometers high. Fortunately the world (the exomoon) is tide-locked, so that it turns as fast as the tidal bulges move, and the result is a band of dry land with two huge oceans facing towards and away from the primary.

Day length varies from shortish and exciting (Io's day is 1.7 terrestrial days) to "holy crap this is tedious" (Titan's day is 15.9 terrestrial days). The reason shorter is more exciting is that if there are multiple moons, inner moons get more tidally stressed than do moons that are further away. Io's pyrotechnical display is dumping a lot of tidal energy. Volcanoes can be a good thing, so you could posit a "super-polynesia" waterworld exomoon with a lot of volcanoes powered by the gravity of other large moons orbiting in resonance, as with Jupiter.

If you don't want to deal, another possibility is Triton, which was captured by Neptune and thus ended up in a retrograde orbit after sweeping all the big moons out of Neptunian space. A retrograde exomoon can (at least theoretically) be fairly close to the primary without having a lot of tidal energy being dumped into it by other moons, because there aren't any big enough to matter. Also, Triton's orbit around Neptune is nearly circular, and apparently that's an effect of it being captured. Assuming this is normal, a moon in retrograde could be fairly close to the primary and in a circular orbit, so it's not getting tidally stressed and blowing molten chunks to get rid of the excess energy.

Anyone else want to add anything? Like what panspermia does with a red dwarf world if it also seeded life on Earth?

157:

it's high time to revamp the world creation rules that Traveller and other games, like GURPS Space, use

I'm going to argue against that. Traveller is very deliberately a nod to classic SF, with scads of utterly unrealistic elements. If you update worldbuilding, then you also need to update things like lasers, computers, reaction drives, etc…

If your aim to create realistic worldbuilding, then better to go with a game-system-free algorithm for creating more realistic worlds, using real-world units, that GMs can use for their own campaigns.

If you're looking for a setting, Traveller: 2300 (no actual relation to Traveller) is probably a better background. (It got rebranded as 2300 AD to avoid confusion, but the rebranding also included a rerelease that emphasized the military and made the setting 'America rescues Europe from invasion' rather than 'multilateral colonization and exploration, America is not global hegemon'.

158:

I'm going to argue against that. Traveller is very deliberately a nod to classic SF, with scads of utterly unrealistic elements. If you update worldbuilding, then you also need to update things like lasers, computers, reaction drives, etc…

Um, no. Traveller the game was first published in 1977. That was 45 years ago. It's retrofuturism now, but it wasn't created as retrofuturism then.

There are a couple of issues here:

1) Is space opera now limited to retrofuturistic settings? If so, is it because we assume starships are impossible, we're doomed, and it's only a refuge for aging Boomers and Gen Xers?

2) If this isn't true and SF is about science-based fantasies, why do we keep pounding more kids into the "great" space operatic fantasies of the 60s and 70s, namely Star Trek and Star Wars. Great for community. As for creativity, love of science, and so forth? Meh.

3) Arguably the most current space operatic shared world we've got going is...The Marvel Cinematic Universe. Do you want that to be the "best available science" SF multiverse?

Especially when we're finally getting some really good available science, on everything from paleontology to exoplanetology?

The only reason this is about Traveller is that Charlie name-checked it and everyone here went "Oooh. Traveller. Yaaas." with dilated pupils. Hopefully, we can have a bit more fun than that.

159:

154 & 155:

Yes, beryllium has a number of interesting properties aside from being a good neutron reflector. Back in one of the earlier waves of enthusiasm for space-based laser weapons (1980s IIRC), it was the material of choice for beam director mirrors because of its thermal and mechanical properties. And, of current interest, the Webb mirror segments are made of beryllium.

I suspect that the NRO had something to do with the development of the technology -- it would be interesting to trace back where the Webb design came from.

160:

Um, no. Traveller the game was first published in 1977. That was 45 years ago. It's retrofuturism now, but it wasn't created as retrofuturism then.

I'm aware of that. I've played Traveller since it was published. I have everything published by every official publisher up to (and including) GURPS Traveller. I've written more JTAS articles than anyone, and co-written two Traveller sourcebooks. I like to think I know what I'm talking about.

It started out as a generic SF-RPG based on up-to-70s AF, but it quickly became a setting based on the rules (and vice versa). SF trends from the 80s (such as cyberpunk) passed Traveller by.

Do you want to run a campaign set in Anderson's Poleseotechnic League? Be Dominic Flandry? You'll have to kit-bash the Traveller rules to do so.

I have great nostalgia for the game (or maybe just my youth). But Traveller rules have so many disconnects with modern science that you'd be better off starting over, or writing a rules-free worldbuilding system.

And I guess that's what I'm arguing for: a rules-free worldbuilding system. Those that want to use it to generate a setting for a Traveller campaign can. Likewise those who want to run d20 Future with more realistic planets can. Those who want to use Fate, or BESM, or freeform can too.

161:

This sounds like an excellent April 1st article for Tor.com. Or post the plot on Archive of Our Own with a Creative Commons license... someday I need to finish my own Laundry fanfic, which is about Alan Turing's ghost.

162:

I'm aware of that. I've played Traveller since it was published. I have everything published by every official publisher up to (and including) GURPS Traveller. I've written more JTAS articles than anyone, and co-written two Traveller sourcebooks. I like to think I know what I'm talking about.

Apologies for any insults. They were not intended.

Where I'm coming from is Hot Earth Dreams, which I wrote as a rules-free worldbuilding system for a climate-changed Earth, although apparently it's doing double duty as an environmental science textbook in a few classrooms.

I completely agree that it's not worth rerewriting Traveller, for exactly the reasons you list.

What I am concerned about is that most budding science fiction writers who want to build alien worlds probably do not have the science chops to create their own worlds. As a result, they often seem to glom on to worldbuilding systems from games like Traveller and existing franchises like Star TwRaErKs. IMHO, this leads to a real dearth of creativity, especially when the alien world becomes a set, rather than something that helps to advance the plot by its nature.

Am I going to write Red Dirt Galaxy as a rules-free worldbuilding book? No, although it's vaguely tempting.

The impetus for Hot Earth Dreams was that I couldn't imagine what a climate-changed planet would look like, nor could most other people, and it seemed like a really gaping hole in our collective imaginations. So I decided to start filling that hole. We're still in a time where more people would rather imagine humans going extinct than contemplate our descendants living with the consequences of our folly, but fortunately, the cognitive log jam that existed a decade ago seems to have broken. I doubt I played any significant role in that, but it was nice to have helped as I could.

That said, I'm not convinced that there's a similarly pressing need to update space opera and SFRPG worldbuilding rules. But it would be nice to see some of it happen.

163:

Charlie @ 155
Beryllium is also used in significant quantities, as an alloy component, in the railway industry.
Almost all OHLE "knitting" is about (IIRC) 2% Be - improves the tensile strength enormously, without degrading the conductivity.
Because of the Be proportion, you are supposed to be very careful about how the "scrap" is handled & reprocessed - I think several dubious scrap metal merchants & railway-property thieves have, um "come unstuck" over that, not too long after someone did an analysis of the sample(s)

164:

Um, no. Traveller the game was first published in 1977. That was 45 years ago. It's retrofuturism now, but it wasn't created as retrofuturism then.

I remember playing black box Traveller shortly after it came out and it was totally retrofuturism back in the day -- it's full of shout-outs to 1940s-early 1960s space opera, notably Poul Anderson's material, but more or less anything later is too modern for it. Star Wars and Star Trek for sure. Only exception: The Mote in God's Eye, which was already consciously retro (and used a setting Pournelle had designed and written in during the 1960s).

165:

The tiled inner wall of the JET tokamak is mostly beryllium metal, apart from the to tungste divertor tiles in the bottom which have to withstand much higher temperatures. Why? Beryllium has a low atomic number, and therefore loses you less energy from the plasma when stray Be nucleui inevitably get knocked loose and contaminate the deuterium plasma. The bad news is the low melting point, compared with the tough old carbon tiles we used to have. The even worse news is the Be dust us very bad for you if you breathe it in, hence the paranoid health physics controls on anything that has been inside the vacuum vessel.

166:

A retrograde exomoon can (at least theoretically) be fairly close to the primary without having a lot of tidal energy being dumped into it by other moons, because there aren't any big enough to matter... Anyone else want to add anything?

I would add that the tidal interaction between a planet and a retrograde moon always draw the moon closer -- and the closer it gets, the faster it spirals in. IIRC, Triton will enter Neptune's Roche Limit and will turn into a set of rings within 40 million years.

Any "fairly close" retrograde exomoon won't be there for long.

167:

Hmmm. Unless this paper got it wrong, Triton purportedly will hit Neptune's Roche limit in 3.6 billion years. That's what I was going by. Obviously someone's got to do all the math to double check on any model system (Roche limit and Hill Sphere calculations aren't that hard), but I'd guess that a retrograde exomoon is stable long enough to develop a big animal terrestrial biosphere.

Remember, it doesn't start at the Roche limit, it starts much further out and spirals in.

For comparison, Earth's existence is ca. 8 billion years, of which 4 billion were trying to make the atmosphere consistently oxidizing, a hundred million was spent getting the carbon cycle working (see Cryogenian), and about 1.5 billion years is something a human would regard as in hacking distance of habitable, although probably 80% or more of that span will be hothouse dino-world, not the icehouse world we were enjoying until recently. After that, the sun gets too hot, the carbon cycle sputters to a stop, and that's it for multicellular life, although the Earth will continue on for a billion or more after that.

168:

If this isn't true and SF is about science-based fantasies, why do we keep pounding more kids into the "great" space operatic fantasies of the 60s and 70s, namely Star Trek and Star Wars.

Don't remember where it was, but I had read a call to "bring Star Trek into 21st century!" The point was that for 50 years Star Trek has been the face of science fiction, and even with later upgrades it has fallen hopelessly behind written SF. The article suggested visiting some previously unknown quadrant, populated by Kardashev II civilizations, Matryoshka brains, Peter Hamilton's Dreaming Void, etc. In short, make "the face of science fiction" catch up with science fiction.

I would particularly love to see a Starfleet vessel come across (and try to make sense of) The Festival from OGH's "Singularity Sky".

169:

Beryllium is also used to form very stiff dome tweeters for very expensive "high end" loudspeaker systems. I have even heard of it being used to form cones for lower frequency drivers.

170:

This is an awesome idea. I love it! A ringworld or some other Big Dumb Object, a group as "cyber" as the Borg but much more Gibson-like and composed of individuals, some "post-technical" civilizations, a few episodes that have some inheritance from Peter Watts, a few thing humanity, even with Vulcan help, can't even understand and is merely able to run away from... the possibilities are just about endless.

171:

As for a KII civ, TNG had an episode where they find Scotty inside a Dyson Sphere (the literal almost impossible to build kind).

They had an episode in TOS where a suped up enterprise was sent hurtling towards the Andromeda galaxy (Kirk seduce an alien babe, of course).

The Genesis torpedo can instantly terraform any planet.

They also had an ultimate computer that kicked Star Fleet's butt in a war game.

172:

Which is the most advanced civ, Star Trek's Federation or the Galactic Empire/republic of Star Wars

Answer, the one with teleportation.

Where would each be on the Kardashev scale?

173:

By warm Jupiters do you mean Brown Dwarfs?

What if BDs turn out to be scattered by the dozens or hundreds in the space between the stars? And what if most of them have mini-solar systems (like Jupiter and Saturn) capable of supporting life because there is enough heat is generated by the BD to allow liquid water and photosynthesis based on infrared frequencies? It's easy to imagine life based on infrared photosynthesis on moons orbiting brown dwarfs which give off heat but not light. Not just imagine it, we already know of such life here on Earth, green sulfur bacteria. And if BDs floating between the stars greatly outnumber suns, then visible light spectrum based life may be the exception instead of the rule. Advanced versions of infra red based life would see in infra read, like Predators.

In addition to infrared based life, Cornell researchers have modeled methane based life forms that don't use water and could live in the liquid methane seas of Titan. Methane based life forms by themselves are a fascinating concept. But ironically the potential "Goldilocks" zone for such life is far greater (extending across the range of Jovian worlds out to the Kuiper belt) than our narrow zone for water based life forms. However, the slow chemical reactions of such cryo-life forms may be such that an intelligent example may take thousands of years to finish a single thought.

So "life as we know it" based on water and the visible light spectrum photosynthesis may be the rare exception in a universe dominated by methane based life and life that utilizes infrared photosynthesis.

174:

Another interesting place for the Enterprise to visit.

175:

By warm Jupiters do you mean Brown Dwarfs?

No, I meant Jovian-sized and bigger worlds orbiting inside the snow line, so water would be liquid on them or their moons. While it appears there's a continual size spectrum up from Saturn-sized to Red dwarf with brown dwarfs in the middle, I don't offhand know of a brown dwarf in close orbit to a star.

So "life as we know it" based on water and the visible light spectrum photosynthesis may be the rare exception in a universe dominated by methane based life and life that utilizes infrared photosynthesis.

Wouldn't work, unless you're talking about microbes.

There's a basic problem in cell biology, involving electron donors and electron receptors, and the resulting electrochemical voltage difference. Turns out that aerobic respiration (sugar plus oxygen in, CO2+H2O out, is as good as you can do, over a very wide range of cellular respiration systems that microbes are known to practice on Earth.

The basic point is that on Earth we've already got organisms that get their energy from oxidizing and reducing a huge variety of things, everything from hydrogen to gold. The only organisms that are multicellular use oxygen in the process. Considering the planet was more-or-less anoxic for billions of years of life, but multicellular life didn't evolve until well after oxygenic photosynthesis evolved, I think we've got pretty good evidence that any world that doesn't have a lot of free oxygen in its atmosphere doesn't have multicellular, carbon-based life.

Then we get into the problem of getting infrared light in through an atmosphere composed of greenhouse gases, which methane is. Greenhouse gases generally block part of the IR spectrum, trapping heat in the atmosphere. So if you've got an atmosphere that's mostly methane, it's likely going to absorb the light and get hot, but it's unlikely that it will get hot enough to reradiate that heat in a way that anything can run photosynthesis off of.

Probably Clarke got to the better answer when he posited seas kept liquid and warm by tidal interactions with other bodies. Based on what I wrote above about cellular respiration, I don't see how such an ocean could hold multicellular life, unless some abiotic process was doing serious electrolysis in the ocean, breaking down water and liberating oxygen. I suppose that's possible with the right natural catalysts (iron-nickel high heat something?). Maybe not so likely though.

Anyway, there's nothing wrong with an exo-"moon" orbiting a brown dwarf orbiting a main sequence star that produced a fair amount of UV light for regular photosynthesis. It'd be a weird system, and quite miserable to fly a manned starship into due to the radiation environments, but it maybe could work.

Hope this helps.

176:

Re: 'space-based laser'

Retro-SF space operas and TV series/shows inspired generations of real scientists even though the 'science' used in some earlier shows was probably kinda iffy even back then.

What those shows really communicated was 'wouldn't it be cool to be able to do X/have these devices, tech and societies'. ST-TNG realized that it had enormous appeal to potential scientists and actually consulted real scientists for some aspects of their scenarios and sci background.

No idea whether the scientists who did the below research are SF fans - and apart from adding more test results confirming QM - I'm wondering how their work might figure in an SF novel esp. the 'forever' bit.

https://scitechdaily.com/eternal-matter-waves-physicists-build-atom-laser-that-can-stay-on-forever/

Reason I mention this is because there are at least two sides to tech/sci discoveries:

(a) what it is/does

(b) how it can be applied/usages

Saw an interview with one of the co-developers/co-Nobel laureates of MRIs/fMRIs: they discovered the science/principles of how this worked but when they started their work they didn't know how this knowledge could/would be applied. These scientists mostly focused on (a). ST/ST-TNG and similar mostly focused on (b).

177:

Hey, Vernor Vinge used Cavorite in 1999 and they gave him a Hugo for it!

178:

Various - Beryllium is also used in alloys like beryllium copper, which is used (carefully) in manufacturing openings for gauss cages.

171 - True about the Genesis weapon, but it's also presently unstable.

179:

il7a187 @ 168: Don't remember where it was, but I had read a call to "bring Star Trek into 21st century!" The point was that for 50 years Star Trek has been the face of science fiction, and even with later upgrades it has fallen hopelessly behind written SF. The article suggested visiting some previously unknown quadrant, populated by Kardashev II civilizations, Matryoshka brains, Peter Hamilton's Dreaming Void, etc.

Babylon 5 went quite a long way in that direction. The Vorlons and Shadows were arguably K2 level. We never learn if they have bothered with Dyson spheres; it may well be that they could build one but don't see the point. The Great Machine on Epsilon III is probably as close as you need to get to a Matryoshka brain for dramatic purposes. And of course even these things weren't the most powerful entities in the galaxy. At one poing G'Kar delivers a little lecture about the Ancient Ones, explaining that we are to them as ants are to us; we cannot begin to comprehend them, and the best we can do is stay out from underfoot.

180:

And I guess that's what I'm arguing for: a rules-free worldbuilding system.

Have you seen the latest revision of the GURPS Space star and planet generation system? I have not, so I'm not sure what the latest version looks like. (The latest I've got is GURPS4 Space, first edition; I expect there's been some fine tuning since 2006.) One thing I'll grant GURPS is that it's pretty good about factual accuracy where applicable.

The world generation system in the very first GURPS Space, back in 1988, doesn't produce systems like the ones we observe i reality - but that's because we know a lot more about exoplanets now not because it was badly written then.

181:

Don't remember where it was, but I had read a call to "bring Star Trek into 21st century!" The point was that for 50 years Star Trek has been the face of science fiction, and even with later upgrades it has fallen hopelessly behind written SF. The article suggested visiting some previously unknown quadrant, populated by Kardashev II civilizations, Matryoshka brains, Peter Hamilton's Dreaming Void, etc.

It wasn't up to speed with written SF in 1968 either. That's to be expected; even groundbreaking TV and movie science fiction will be twenty or thirty years behind the working face of the genre as found in prose.

Could it include weird new ideas? Of course; as already pointed out, there were no shortage of weird new ideas in TOS. There's plenty of room for new stories there, hopefully written by people who get what makes a good Star Trek story. I don't see the setting as played out yet.

I'm loving how Lower Decks handles their world and am willing to let Prodigy make its experiment (and that show arguably contains a Kardashev II starship). I haven't yet caught up with Strange New Worlds.

182:

I've had a cockatoo bite my phone while I was using it to take a photo of the same bird. We always like to give the cockies honorifics, otherwise it was hard to have a proper conversation, but we realised we had absolutely no chance at sexing them so we decided upon gender-neutral honorifics. The bird that bit my phone is the one we call Professor Surly, whose frequent companion, Captain Screamy, was also in attendance on that occasion.

183:

Have you seen the latest revision of the GURPS Space star and planet generation system?

No. I was underwhelmed with the previous ones.

Also, GURPS as a system grates on me. There's the niggling hassle of using units I have no feel for (as opposed to metric, which I've been using since I was a child). There's the incredible amount of cruft that's accumulated over the years. And most importantly (for me), the genericness means that often the crunch of the rules conflicts with the feel of the genre.

If I was to run an RPG campaign now, I think I'd use something like Gumshoe for running the game. And for creating the setting, well, probably Hot Earth Dreams if it was post-apocalyptic :-)

https://pelgranepress.com/2018/02/14/gumshoe/

184:

Re: 'Babylon 5 went quite a long way in that direction.'

I watched this series when it was on syndicated reruns - one episode per day, so almost all of the series within a couple of years. Easier to follow some of the longer story arcs.

Took me a while to adjust to this show because I was expecting it to be more upbeat like ST. Instead B5 actually showed Earthlings as not the be-all and bestest species ever. More distressing still was that despite their awareness that Earth's tech/power was probably no match for many of the alien species Earth pols decided to head toward authoritarianism. Huh? (I really liked that tech and values were treated as distinct phenomena in B5.)

In the original StarTrek an underlying theme was that once humanity achieved sufficiently high tech proficiency all of our societal ills will vanish. Per ST - aliens with even much shinier tech might still have screwed up social values but not humans.

I wouldn't mind watching (on YT) some non-US/UK sf TV shows of the same era just to see which values persist in other cultures' versions of Utopian/Dystopian futures. Any recommendations?

185:

In the original StarTrek an underlying theme was that once humanity achieved sufficiently high tech proficiency all of our societal ills will vanish.

And soon we'll be working 15 hour weeks with lots of time to explore our interests…

Sounds like Star Trek took Keynes' view of progress as a given.

186:

I watched the fourth episode of "Strange New Worlds" last night, and the plot involved a brown dwarf being absorbed by a black hole. Not bad where modern science is concerned.

On the other hand... the episode concerned the Gorn, who are clearly being cast as the first season's villain. The Gorn possess multiple star systems, and would obviously create (at the barest minimum) a hundred-million hatchlings a year. The Gorn clearly eat humans, and presumably other sentient races. During the course of the show, in order to capture and eat perhaps 10,000 humans (at the absolute maximum) the Gorn lost three starships, each the equivalent of a light cruiser or destroyer.

If the Gorn had sent a cargo ship to Earth, accompanied by monies sufficient to pay for only two light cruisers, they could have bought a hundred-thousand cows. The poor economics of this are obvious, and the Federation's most appropriate response to the Gorn's depredations is probably to plant a couple "colonies" in areas where the Gorn are active which consist of 5000 Starfleet Marines and a "terraforming plant" with high-powered phasers instead of atmospheric transformation gear.

If the Gorn don't get the message at that point, find out who else they're eating and form an alliance aimed at clobbering the Gorn.

The idea that the Gorn can't predict the next moves and either revise their behaviors or attempt a massive attack against the Federation is obvious.

So I'd give this episode high marks for the fun space battles, cool science, and a truly excellent cast,* but poor marks for making the villains out of something other than cardboard. Thoughtless, economically clueless cardboard, as it happened.

*Celia Gooding, who plays Cadet Uhura, is an excellent, amazing actress.

187:

Re: 'Keynes' view of progress'

Not sure I understand what you mean.

In my mind, Keynes and most other economists perceive 'the economy' and develop rules that are suited to inanimate machines and not to human beings: turn it on when you want to boost production/revenues; turn it off when you're overstocked/insufficient market demand. What happens in-between times is irrelevant - none of the org's concern. So basically it's: Screw the workers - they're not relevant! Yeah, sure - the data are clear: it's the billionaires that buy 100s of thousands of appliances, cars, housing units, billions of dollars' worth of food each year! (Actually this pov doesn't even make sense for machines because machines need downtime, regular maintenance, energy inputs, design, repairs, upgrades, etc.)

It's a complete disconnect from ordinary reality.* If you saw this type of consensus attitude/behavior (i.e. humans don't matter) among a different group of academics/leaders you'd write them off as psychos.

And no, I'm not a Marxist or any other 19th-20th century econ-ist.

*Imagine if 21st century physicists were desperately clinging to the four-element model of the universe.

188:

Best.

Star Trek.

Ever.

189:

A few points:

(Minor correction for H. Earth’s age: circa 4.7 billion years, not 8Byr, H. Earliest extant rock: 3.9Byr in Greenland. I’m not sure they’ve yet determined when the moon was created, but it must have been soon after earth formed.)

Planet formation: all systems with three or more bodies are essentially unstable under Newtonian Gravitation. Even our own solar system will eventually eject planets (or send them into the sun). The near final state — if the sun didn’t run out of hydrogen first — would be just Jupiter orbiting the sun, and then due to Einstein’s modification, Jupiter would eventually spiral in to the sun. But no matter.

The current best guess to planet formation is that the proto-disc starts collapsing into planetesimals quite quickly (~10Myr). And water is suspected to turn out to be pretty important: it’s what sticks the grains of dust together. Even more interesting, there is a “frost line” where the water turns to ice. In our system this occurred just beyond Mars orbit, and is thought to be why there is no planet where the asteroid belt is found: it couldn’t stick together.

Next, precisely because of the instabilities in the theory of gravitation, planets need not remain where they are formed.

On the matter of potassium, the human heart-beat is controlled by the sodium/potassium pump. In the US, a bad ratio is often referred to as an electrolyte imbalance. And it is by measuring this, that your CSI gets to find out if a body has been moved.

(I am an amateur in all this and would gladly accept any corrections.)

190:

"In our system this occurred just beyond Mars orbit, and is thought to be why there is no planet where the asteroid belt is found: it couldn’t stick together."

And a little further out, other elements start becoming liquids, thus the moons of Jupiter and Saturn are large, and mini-planets like Pluto form?

191:

Strange New Worlds? It's pretty good so far. It certainly doesn't suffer from "First Year Trek" disease. My favorite is Deep Space Nine, but I'd certainly agree that Strange New Worlds is in the same league.

192:

In my mind, Keynes and most other economists

In the 30s Keynes predicted that his grandchildren could see a 15 hour workweek.

https://www.openculture.com/2020/06/when-john-maynard-keynes-predicted-a-15-hour-workweek-in-a-hundred-years-time-1930.html

This didn't happen. But given that Keynes was a smart chap, and understood the economy enough to get rich I believe it's an unfulfilled possibility.

I wonder what he would think of the economy as it's currently structured, where the masses work long hours for low pay while a few have untold luxuries…

193:

Rbt Prior
A deliberate return to the US Gilded age, driven by (some of) the ultra-rich & powerful, mostly out of greed & spite?
That & the return of ultra-right politics, as psople forget the lessons of the past 120 years. ???

194:

I've just been machining some beryllium copper a few months ago. Making contact fingers for a little electric truck of my Dads. When heat treated they'll be suitably springy, yet conductive. Apparently machining it is pretty low risk, if you don't grind it. Hopefully google was right :O

You also see tools made from it for use in explosive atmospheres, as it doesn't spark. I think it was this they made rails from for the narrow gauge systems in munitions depots.

195:

"Almost all OHLE "knitting" is about (IIRC) 2% Be - improves the tensile strength enormously, without degrading the conductivity."

That's the modern standard, yes. Other alloying elements with a similar effect, but a longer history of use, include antimony and arsenic. I think it's antimony that you're likely to find in such things as telephone/telegraph wires strung from poles. Hence if you have an offcut of the wire strung between your house and the telephone pole in the street, and you decide to use it for some general purpose interconnection, you find your eyes popping out when you take the cutters to it.

196:

all systems with three or more bodies are essentially unstable

Timescales in our Solar System for this are thought to be very long, numerical experiments typically indicating 20 billion years or more for various scenarios for major alteration of planetary orbits. As you note, long before then the Sun will run through its available hydrogen in the core, expand to a red giant, puff off the outer layers and become a white dwarf that slowly cools. The Earth may or may not survive this, it's a close-run thing between the expansion of the Sun and the expansion of the Earth's orbit due to solar mass loss during the red giant stage.

The current best guess to planet formation is that the proto-disc starts collapsing into planetesimals quite quickly (~10Myr).

Or quicker, more like under 1 Myr. Currently-popular models for giant-planet formation require the growth of ~10 M_earth cores in the outer solar sytem while the gas is still there so that it can be accreted to make the gas-giant (Jupiter, Saturn) and ice-giant (Uranus, Neptune) planets. Disks around young stars seem to last between 3 and 30 Myr before dissipating.

And water is suspected to turn out to be pretty important: it’s what sticks the grains of dust together.

Not sure where this idea comes from? Liquid water isn't stable in (near)-vacuum environments; you go directly from ice to vapor ("sublimation"). We see this on the Moon and Mars, where the latter's atmospheric surface pressure is not high enough to allow liquid water on the surface even when the temperature is above freezing. Or well-known lowered boiling point of water at altitude on the Earth. So liquid water is unlikely to have existed in the solar nebula.

It is true that forming planetesimals is a problem. Going from molecules to dust particles seems not to be a problem. But getting from mm-size to meters and larger has been theoretically difficult as impact velocities seem to be large enough to break things up and gravitational accretion is too weak at that size. I think current thinking appeals to ideas like a collective instability in which local particle velocities are damped by gas (aerodynamic drag) to allow relatively gentle coagulation up to km-scales (cf. "streaming instability" and "pebble accretion").

Even more interesting, there is a “frost line” where the water turns to ice

Or rather, water vapor condenses to ice per above...

In our system this occurred just beyond Mars orbit, and is thought to be why there is no planet where the asteroid belt is found: it couldn’t stick together

.. which may be a bit of a coincidence. Traditionally, the lack of a planet in the asteroid belt region has been ascribed to tidal influence from a newly-formed Jupiter preventing accretion. That said, getting Mars to be as small as it is, has also been a problem for the models. One idea to get around this has been the so-called "grand tack" in which Jupiter temporarily migrated inward to about 2 AU, and captured Saturn in an orbital resonance, which somehow caused them both to migrate back out again. (Looking up the hypothesis, the outward migration would have been driven by the as-yet undispersed gas disk inside Jupiter's orbit in this picture).

Troutwaxer asks:

And a little further out, other elements start becoming liquids, thus the moons of Jupiter and Saturn are large, and mini-planets like Pluto form?

See above with respect to sublimation. Massive outer-planet moons are thought to have formed in "sub-nebulas" around the outer planets during their formation. It's true, though, that there's a lot of ice in most of these outer moons, and so we think they formed in disks where the temperature was below 273K.

197:

(Minor correction for H. Earth’s age: circa 4.7 billion years, not 8Byr, H. Earliest extant rock: 3.9Byr in Greenland. I’m not sure they’ve yet determined when the moon was created, but it must have been soon after earth formed.)

I didn't express myself that well: I was talking about presumed lifecycle, not age.

By my quick estimation, that's:

Ca 3.5-4 billion years from formation to a consistently oxygenated atmosphere. There was oxygen from possibly 3.5 billion and certainly 2.1 billion years before present. Banded iron formations from ca. 2.8-0.75 billion YBP suggest intermittent oxygenation (the banding is from iron deposited oxidized and reduced in successive layers).

Once there was consistent oxygen in the air, it appears that photosynthesis sucked too much carbon out of the air for about 100 million years (cryogenian snowball earth) before that got sorted out, around 750 million years ago, then we got into the Precambrian and Cambrian evolutionary multicellular metastasis.

Multicellular life on land has been possible for around the last 420-450 million years.

That brings us up to the present, ca. 4.5 billion years from start.

We've got another 1-1.5 billion years before the brightening sun makes photosynthesis impossible through overheating. At that point, the carbon cycle breaks down, and Earth is back to unicellular life.

The planet then goes on until the sun shifts to red giant mode and swallows us, possibly around 3 or more billion years from now, although that's just a guess.

Anyway, that's the lifecycle of the Earth, perhaps 7.5 billion years in length, where multicellular life on land is possible for perhaps 1.5/7.5=20% of the entire time.

...

As an end note, I think it's possible that the human species will endure that entire one billion years. Whether this is a great blessing or a great curse depends on how they choose to live their lives. Probably it will be both. If humans last, it isn't because we're perfect, but because we adapt our cultures fast enough to keep our genes from shifting, and stay as one peripatetic "super-tramp" global species, rather than hiving off into conservative little inbred enclaves that manage to speciate relative to each other. Your mileage may differ, and I'll admit that our response to current climate change makes me suspect that "many people dying of stubbornness" will be a consistent theme in our great catastrophes. Oh well.

198:

I think it's possible that the human species will endure that entire one billion years.
Last & First Men - Olaf Stapeldon

200:

Beryllium copper alloys with up to 5% Be are used in high-performance internal-combustion engines as valve seats and they are usually machined before and after fitting. Their big advantage is that the BeCu alloy expands more than the aluminium cylinder head does so they remain tightly fitted as the engine heats up, unlike cast iron or hardened steel valve seats.

The total amount of Be exposure anyone working with these sorts of valve seats is small but personally I'd still be careful, wear an N100 filter mask and flood everything with coolant mist to trap anything that gets away from the cutting processes. Some other folks, well...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CaVDrFYXqKs

From about 11.20 onwards.

201:

A deliberate return to the US Gilded age, driven by (some of) the ultra-rich & powerful, mostly out of greed & spite?

Well, how can you force people to work for starvation wages unless they have no other choice?

202:

Have you seen the latest revision of the GURPS Space star and planet generation system? I have not, so I'm not sure what the latest version looks like.

Didn't realize it was out. And, looking at the Amazon website, I'm still not sure what's out, in the sense of whether the material is updated. The pdf Warehouse 23 is selling is of the 2006 version, and there's no preview on Amazon.

As for whether it's useful... it is. However, it reminds me of an old joke in the diversity sciences. We often use dichotomous keys for distinguishing between organisms. You get two choices, pick one, and it either identifies the critter or leads you to another pair of choices.

The common joke is that keys are written by people who don't need them for people who can't use them. I suspect that's what the alien world/biosphere/alien critter section will be for most people. Since that's my wheel house, I think it's handy in certain ways, problematic in others, missing in action on others still. If I handed it to a starry-eyed young wannabe writer who's bounced off every introductory science class they've taken but loves SF, they're likely to treat it like filling out a 1040 form and delete it or surplus it if they have a physical copy.

The big problem is that this is a setup for gaming, so anything you create is going to be a table of attributes, many of which relate to how to play it as an NPC, to use it to kill, and how it dies. What does it look like? That's a lot harder to get (large, three legged, long bludgeoning tail, herbivore, gregarious and paranoid sequential hermaphrodite. That's nice. What do you think it actually looks like?). This problem happens at all scales, from planets on down.

The missing in action stuff betrays RPGers' cultural biases. Plant blindness is an obvious one. For example, if I nabbed you in a classic UFO abduction andkicked you awake in a jungle, how could you tell whether you're in a terrestrial jungle or an alien jungle, assuming it's 1 G and you could breathe the air? Most RPGers would have no clue. Most botanists and many ecologists could tell rather rapidly, and if on Earth, they could give you a decent guess which country you woke them up in, and possibly tell you quite a few other things too.

That's a central thing that's missing in most SF: how do you make an alien jungle appear alien? Most people don't have a clue, and it's that kind of scene setting that's missing from the book. Does it matter? Maybe not in a game, but if you're using it to put a book together, it might. Problem is, most American at least suffer from what botanists call "the green blurs," so it takes a bit of doing to tell someone with no plant background how to differentiate between your "giant forest tree" being a redwood, a banyan fig, or a eucalyptus. Obviously it is doable (I just did it), but how do you do that with alien trees? For SF writers, that might be worth thinking about.

203:

A story I'm working on is about, more or less, a couple that goes camping and accidentally wanders into...somewhere else. And one point in there is that all the plants have changed, but they don't really have enough knowledge to tell until it's far too late.

204:

A story I'm working on is about, more or less, a couple that goes camping and accidentally wanders into...somewhere else. And one point in there is that all the plants have changed, but they don't really have enough knowledge to tell until it's far too late.

Cool! A couple of other thoughts. If they can't tell the plants, other things (light, smell, soundscape, feel of the forest floor) can change. If you really want to be nasty to readers and somewhere else is unpopulated by humans, have a pre-industrial civilization level of insects (flies, mosquitos, butterflies) and bird life equivalents (up to and perhaps including something like a passenger pigeon or Australian topknot pigeon flock overhead). You know, unfracked nature at its full exuberance.

Or not. Good luck and have fun!

205:

Or just arrive in the middle of a riot of galahs.

Wikipedia nails it "With its distinctive pink and grey plumage and its bold and loud behaviour, it is a familiar sight in the wild and increasingly in urban areas".

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galah

Given the somewhat damp nature of our planet I'm sometimes surprised when random arrival points so often turn out to be not just on dry land, but on temperature lowland parts of it. Just because you'd probably live longer on an Antarctic plateau than in the middle of the Pacific Ocean doesn't mean you'd enjoy it... especially if you arrived at the same distance from the centre of the planet in both places.

206:

Given the somewhat damp nature of our planet I'm sometimes surprised when random arrival points so often turn out to be not just on dry land, but on temperature lowland parts of it. Just because you'd probably live longer on an Antarctic plateau than in the middle of the Pacific Ocean doesn't mean you'd enjoy it... especially if you arrived at the same distance from the centre of the planet in both places.

While I understand that you're joking here, I think there are at least two reasons for this: firstly, the authors know that kind of areas because they live in them, and it's easy to write about those.

Secondly, some of those stories could be quite short - either coming in at zero meters altitude from the sealevel in the Antarctic or a kilometer high up over the ocean doesn't make for a long life in the new environment, unless prepared. (I think OGH wrote some books about doing this...)

I've also rationalized the complete un-scientificness of TTRPG star system generation with the fact that it's nice to have a comfortable world to adventure in. Every place being just some variation of an enclosed base can get boring fast. For my games, I like the approach that the problems with the planetary environments are kind of fluff - can be used if necessary but mostly background colour.

I think 2300 AD did at least try to be more realistic with its planets. ISTR most planets with humans living on them were quite bad for humans even when they could live on the surface. Earth was still the best place for humans to live on. There was one guy making revised star charts for 2300 AD, using more recent data, but I don't see a good link to that on his website. There's some star system generation articles there, too.

207:

200 - I don't have time to research this just now, but I have vague memory that BeCu is actively banned in FIA "Blue Book" competition engines because of the toxicity of the dust.

202 - Just a quick note to say that I've never played BURPS $anything.

208:

"how do you make an alien jungle appear alien?"

An Earth jungle is pretty alien if you're not used to it. All the plants are not like the ones you're familiar with, so are most of the animals and certainly the noises they make, and so are most of the possible indications that something unpleasant is about to happen. Also, a lot of the plants are not like the ones you are familiar with in weird ways. On top of that, there are different kinds of jungles depending on just how all these different things are different.

It seems to me that it could even be harder to write a story with bits set in different Earth jungles and keep it clear to the reader which is which, than to make it clear that an alien jungle is alien. At least with the alien one you can do something obvious like making the standard body plan for "large" animals have some number of limbs other than four, or having some plant that will attempt to parasitise you if you go to sleep in the wrong place.

209:

Just because you'd probably live longer on an Antarctic plateau than in the middle of the Pacific Ocean doesn't mean you'd enjoy it... especially if you arrived at the same distance from the centre of the planet in both places.

If you arrived at the same distance from the center, you would be up to 20 miles above the Antarctic plateau (depending on exactly where you were in the Pacific). It wouldn't be a fun descent, that's for sure!

210:

Uncle Stinky
Oh dear, not good.

H @ 204
CORVIDS - amazingly clever avians are corvids.

211:

I was actually thinking about the authors who go to some lengths to establish the random nature of the destination, and then their travellers just pop through wearing street clothes ... sometimes I wonder whether the suspension on my disbelief is really up to that sort of shock.

Authors who do the "same point on a parallel world" stuff not so much. Sure there's an element of magic with every version of our planet being in exactly the same place down to the centimetre and as OGH pointed out via exception, with astonishingly similar geography and climate.

And yeah, distance from the centre with flattened poles makes for an easy way to get airbourne, albeit only temporarily unless you're suitably equipped. But appearing 10km under the surface of the Pacific wouldn't be much fun. The temporary nature of the experience would be somewhat compressed.

212:

And yeah, distance from the centre with flattened poles makes for an easy way to get airbourne, albeit only temporarily unless you're suitably equipped. But appearing 10km under the surface of the Pacific wouldn't be much fun. The temporary nature of the experience would be somewhat compressed.

Ah, yeah, I was thinking about local environment, i.e. sea level, instead of thinking about the geoid. Of course with the same distance from the centre of Earth the surface on the poles is quite a bit lower than the equator.

213:

IERS's Bulletin A (https://www.iers.org/IERS/EN/DataProducts/EarthOrientationData/eop.html) delivers pretty compelling evidence that our greenhouse-gas pollution has changed earth rotation parameters enough to put the sign of the next leap-second into doubt.

If your destination multiverse happened to go electric instead of fossil, there is going to be a difference in time & longitude difference, and I personally wouldn't trust the latitude either.

214:

CORVIDS - amazingly clever avians are corvids.

Don't forget Alex, the African Grey parrot. He was said to have the English vocabulary of a human 5-year-old.

215:

An Earth jungle is pretty alien if you're not used to it. All the plants are not like the ones you're familiar with, so are most of the animals and certainly the noises they make, and so are most of the possible indications that something unpleasant is about to happen. Also, a lot of the plants are not like the ones you are familiar with in weird ways. On top of that, there are different kinds of jungles depending on just how all these different things are different.

Yes, but there are whole websites dedicated to this stuff, for the lay public. I've got a picture book published a few years ago titled Habitats of the World, just to keep myself cheered up during lockdown. If you know to look

Two things you're missing are: first, you normally don't see many animals, especially in rain forests. They're called green cathedrals (or green hells) for a reason. As EO Wilson put it, the first animal you're likely to encounter anywhere tropical is an ant, not an elephant.

The second point is "the green blurs" that most urbanites suffer with: they don't know how to look at a forest to see the differences, at least to the point where they can capture those in writing. It's entirely possible to start capturing the difference once you see a few pictures, but it's hard to imagine just from reading words.

As for an alien forest, flagging it as alien is parking a big animal with a different body plan around is probably not going to happen, Prehistoric Planet with its titanosaurs in forests notwithstanding. Most of the biomass in forests is in the trees, for one thing. For another, big-bodied animals that routinely knock trees around usually create more savanna-like open systems, not closed canopy forests.

216:

Anyway, if you want to put a forest on an exoplanet orbiting a red dwarf, here's something I wrote a few years ago on that subject.

217:

My suspicion, on a gram-for-gram basis, is that birds have much better brains than we do, and a crow with a head twice the size of the ones they currently have isn't unimaginable - consider the big-headedness of parrots - and it could reasonably contain four times the brain tissue.

218:

You don't even need to go for a jungle - any native wildlife a reasonable distance away is likely to be new to you. I was puzzled by seeing a blackbird with a russet front, the first time I went to the US. (I was even more puzzled to find they're called "robins". FFS guys - you're in a new country, at least give them a new name!) Mind you, I'd never really been round the London parks until I joined a walking group about 6 years ago, at which point I was majorly surprised to find that green parakeets are now native London birds.

It's still not as bad as the screw-up Disney managed in their live-action "101 Dalmatians" adaptation though, by adding raccoons to the British wildlife. Presumably some top Disney exec really liked raccoons, and wasn't prepared to listen to anyone telling him they don't exist over here. (Nor are they likely to be - they'd be competing with rats and urban foxes, and I'd be betting on the rats.)

219:

I find this all a bit junglist!

The English countryside is pretty alien if you are used to the savanna and, even on the savanna, the difference between around watercourses and not could easily be on different continents. Jungles are different again, but are not THAT different from other dense woodland, at first sight.

You also rarely see a mammal (and don't get more than glimpses of birds) in ANY reasonably dense woodland, and the first animal you are likely to see in almost all terrestrial ecologies is an ant or beetle. Provided you are looking, of course.

Alien is largely what you aren't used to, but it's hard to notice some differences unless you have SOME botanical or zoological knowledge or relevant experience - e.g. California live oak country / chaparral versus African savanna. Yes, that's a dig at Hollywood.

220:

The raccoons compete well against the rats and urban coyotes in Vancouver, BC. They are smart, work together, have flexible fingers and excellent manual dexterity, which means they can open things the rats and coyotes can't. They can run up or down trees in either direction, and climb trees to harvest cherries and other fruit, as well as insects in the bark. They're big enough to scare cats and dogs, and I suspect the coyotes that live in the nearby parks go for easier prey than an adult raccoon.

221:

"My suspicion, on a gram-for-gram basis, is that birds have much better brains than we do"

A problem with making such assessments is that we currently have very, very, very limited understanding of how brains work or, for that matter, what they do. With persistence and luck, the next century or two of research in the inelegantly named field of "brain science" will improve the situation.

222:

Raccoon here in the U.S. do just fine competing with foxes, rats, cats, coyotes, various wildcats such as lynx's and mountain lions, not to mention foxes and full-on wolves. Raccoons are very clever animals and have very little fear - if a breeding pair got loose anywhere in the UK they'd overrun the place in a decade.

223:

Actually, Troutwaxer's mostly right AFAIK, in that birds have more neurons/gram than we do, and the smaller avian/dinosauaran neurons seem to work just as well as bigger mammalian neurons do.

Tim Low, in Where Song Began made the case that, for at least the first half of the Cenozoic, Australia had the smartest animals in the world. These were birds, specifically parrots and basal songbirds like corvids, both lineages which appear to have evolved first in Australia before spreading. Mammal brains at the time were proportionally small (think hedgehog or possum), and only started getting big over the last 25 million years or so.

224:

The Disney wildlife errors go back at least to Mary Poppins, the robin feathering its nest is a deformed blackbird type rather than anything you'd see in that there London.

225:

The raccoons compete well against the rats and urban coyotes in Vancouver, BC. They are smart, work together, have flexible fingers and excellent manual dexterity

Hmm. Watership Down, but with raccoons?

Or uplifted raccoons? That's actually a pretty scary thought.

226:

Alien is largely what you aren't used to, but it's hard to notice some differences unless you have SOME botanical or zoological knowledge or relevant experience - e.g. California live oak country / chaparral versus African savanna. Yes, that's a dig at Hollywood.

Oh yes, we can dig at Hollywood. There's a herd of bison on Catalina Island because back in 1926, for a film called The Vanishing American, they wanted to stage a bison stampede. So they shipped a few dozen almost-extinct bison to Catalina, stampeded them across the severely overgrazed landscape (it was a badly run ranch/tourist trap at the time), and didn't bother to round them up again when they were done filming. The owner of the island found that the bison were a tourist draw, so he imported some more, and now the herd is in the low hundreds.

The film no longer exists, and no one's even sure if it ever made it to theaters.

Hollywood's getting marginally less destructive, but they are so contemptuous of reality that them actually caring enough to get some details right has been a marketing point for decades. Plants get the worst of it, but science, military strategy, iconic bits in books (like the wizards' skin color in Le Guin's Earthsea), and many other things get discarded in Hollywood, often for frivolous reasons. Or worse.

As with so much other exploitation, looking back, it's not clear in many cases why anyone bothered. Perhaps there's a space opera lesson in there somewhere?

227:

Raccons are at the top of my list (competing with corvids) for next 'intelligent' species to run the place if we manage to auto-extinct ourselves somehow.

My untestable hypothesis for why my 18 y/o blind and deaf cat stayed alive in our coyote infested neighbourhood is that he was also quite impressively fat, had no tail and had the coloration of a raccoon. Raccoons are fierce, and no coyote is going to be interested in that kind of fight.

It is rare to see a wild mammal in the woods, aside from creatures with nothing to fear from ground based predators (i.e. squirrels). I spent many tens of thousands of hours in and around the woods of Northern BC and Alberta. I did see a lot of wildlife, but they were rare enough that spotting one was a real treat and required a moment of appreciation. X

In an alien jungle, assuming predators follow the same basic rules of sneaking, visitors are unlikely to notice a predator until they are under one, wrapped up by one, or otherwise predated. I've spent a lot of time in the woods, I have never once seen a cougar. It is a 100% certainty that many, many cougars have seen me. xx

X - Of particular note were the Yellow-bellied Marmots who were busily ignoring us while we ate lunch about 20 feet away , the wolverine that casually crossed the road in front of me once, a bobcat who strolled past me once about 800 km away from what was supposed to be the limits of their range, a few staggeringly majestic owls that floated past me, and some adorable moose calves (though terrifying because a protective mother moose is murder with 4 legs).

xx - I would love to see a cougar. From inside a motor vehicle or other cougar proof location.

228:

Hmm. Watership Down, but with raccoons?

Blackhawk Watership Down

230:

Actually, Troutwaxer's mostly right AFAIK, in that birds have more neurons/gram than we do, and the smaller avian/dinosauaran neurons seem to work just as well as bigger mammalian neurons do.

Not surprising, given that the brain of any flying organism will almost certainly evolve for more intelligence and less weight!

231:

H
"Vegetation on a Red Dwarf World"

Tidally locked - SURE about that? What about a Mercury-analogue, where the day is (IIRC) 3/2 times the year length, or some similar simple-ratio "complication", meaning that one would get a day-night cycle, just not the same as usual (!)
- And, of course, that would mean that the light would NOT always be coming from the same angle, would it?
Why not Blue leaves, the short wavelengths being the least available, even though of higher energy?

232:

As for an alien forest, flagging it as alien is parking a big animal with a different body plan around is probably not going to happen, Prehistoric Planet with its titanosaurs in forests notwithstanding. Most of the biomass in forests is in the trees, for one thing. For another, big-bodied animals that routinely knock trees around usually create more savanna-like open systems, not closed canopy forests.

Who said anything about "big-bodied" animals? A monkey (or something vaguely like a monkey) with 6 limbs would be noticeable even to a city dweller.

234:

210: from a recent visit to the Harry Potter studios, and possibly slightly misremembered: crows can learn in a morning what it takes an owl a month to learn. But the problem with that is that crows don't want to repeat the tricks you've taught them - they want to do something new.

213: yes, I know the next leap second may well be negative the way things are going (and won't that be fun?), but what's your evidence that it's caused by human activity?

235:

"You also rarely see a mammal (and don't get more than glimpses of birds) in ANY reasonably dense woodland"

Unless you're a very unusual French bloke

236:

Indeed, one of them notices something is off in the way the light looks, first.

It's funny - I actually have two projects that touch on the concept of people not really recognizing plants and such. The other one is basically about an alien invasion that goes unnoticed for a bit because the invading alien life is quite beautiful, and stuff that if you're not familiar with Earth life looks somewhat exotic but plausibly terrestrial.

That ONE was me looking at a weirdish plant and realizing that for all I knew, it could be from another planet.

237:

*Tidally locked - SURE about that? What about a Mercury-analogue, where the day is (IIRC) 3/2 times the year length, or some similar simple-ratio "complication", meaning that one would get a day-night cycle, just not the same as usual (!) *

Well, let's play with the example of Trappist-1E. I just banged through the math, and it looks like the gravitational force exerted by Trappist-1 (red dwarf) on Trappist-1E is about 73 times what the sun pulls on the Earth (GMm/D^2), which might cause tidal rises of about 37ish meters in mid ocean (our solar tides are around 1/2 meter, lunar tides are around 1 m in mid-ocean). And Trappist-1E's year is about 6 days.

Now if T1E is in a 3:2 resonance, it spins three times for every two times around Trappist-1. So it has a day length of 4 Earth days.

The thing about the tides is that there are two bulges, one more-or-less under the attractor, one more-or-less 180 degrees around the planet from the main attractor.

And finally, T1E is thought to have a circumference of around 31,178 km. And it has to have a respectably large amount of water to support a carbon-based biosphere, so if there's life, there are seas.

So what we have here are tides 37 meters high in mid ocean every two days, and these bulges are attempting to move at close to Mach 1 in extremely low orbit around the planet. The water doesn't move that fast of course, but it does dissipate that gravitational force through friction with every solid surface it meets. On Earth, the ocean's drag on the Earth as a response to Lunar tides has both slowed the Earth's rotation down and caused the Moon to move further away, and the tidal force on T1E is around 37 times what the Moon pulls on Earth.

So my guess would be that a red dwarf planet with oceans on it would get scoured into tidal lock by its oceans reacting to the primary's gravity. Mercury is in 3:2 resonance, I'm guessing because it's more immobile rock and its orbit has been warped a bit by Jupiter twitching it, so the 3:2 resonance is less likely.

Also, Trappist-1 is thought to be 7.6 billion years old, and the orbits of the planets around it are nearly circular and in resonance with each other, all of which suggests they're locked. Other red dwarf planets that are in more eccentric orbits might settle into a 3:2 resonance, but if they've got oceans, the tides will be rather high.

238:

Re: Cougar.

How about an Everglades Panther? Said to be cougar but for a cowlick at the base of the tail. Four decades ago, I was working the Collier County Fair, selling Kaypros, and the booth next to me would drop a panther (the one most recently fed) on your lap, take a polaroid snapshot, and recage the puddy tat.

Felt like a chunky Great Dane, but for the supercharged purr. Smelled like, well, cat.

239:

H,

You may be interested in this -- latest -- news about red dwarfs and flares: https://skyandtelescope.org/astronomy-news/red-dwarfs-arent-so-bad-for-planets-after-all/

TL;DR The flares appear to occur in polar regions -- which might miss any planets. But the sample size is only FOUR!

240:

Let us just say that it came as a surprise to a LOT of geophysical people that green-house gasses would have measurable effects on earth rotation parameters, so a lot of them are still in the "really?!" or even "I dont believe it!" phase.

The primary evidence is the timing and how out of character the changes are for the entire instrumental period (<120 years), and the utter absense of any other credible hypothesis.

Whatever changed things, did so under our feet because we know for certain that there have been no changes to external magnetic fields, no major tectonic or volcanic events, no major meteor impacts and so on.

That limits the possible physical phenomena quite a lot: Changes to the center of gravity by mass redistribution or changes to the core/mantle interface where the differential rotation matters.

There is a NASA study which links some of the changes to the altered distribution of land-locked water (lakes, glaciers etc) shifting the center of gravity around ever so slightly, but it does not seem to explain all of it, and certainly not the recent changes in dX.

One hypothesis is that we have lightened Greenland so much that it amounts to less friction in the core/mantle interface layer below. But like almost anything relating to what goes on deeper than about 10km, that is entirely guess-work, because the only data we have is from seismic events, and very limited in both extent, duration and resolution.

Recently old seismic array data from LASA was "heroically rescued" from decaying magtapes, and a totally fresh paper uses measurements from two USSR nuclear tests to argue that the core does pretty much the opposite of what we currently think rotation-wise.

We will probably not be any wiser on thit subject until we build some very comprehensive seismic networks and start popping underground nuclear tests again.

Until then, all we can do is stare in disbelief at Bulletin A every month.

241:

Anyway, back to the original topic.

Would a rewrite of Henry Miller's short story "Dawn Patrol" be a fitting way to conclude Biggles' career? (If its non-consensual sex were permissible these days)

242:

*- Why not Blue leaves [on a red dwarf world], the short wavelengths being the least available, even though of higher energy? *

Down the rabbit hole we go! First stop, a reasonable guess about why terrestrial plants have green leaves. It's not obvious. I'm going to claim rustiness to avoid commenting on whether this is true. Problem is, if it is, I'm not sure photosynthesis on a red dwarf planet is possible.

But let's assume life finds a way.

Why not shed blue light? Chlorophylls' absorption spectra. We know these work, and they work both at the red and blue ends of the spectrum? Since there's not a lot of blue light, why get rid of it?

The problem with red dwarfs is that most of the star's light is infrared, which mostly gets absorbed in a terrestrial-type atmosphere, heating it up directly. So that energy is only available to plants indirectly as warm air, depending on their location. Thus, a planet that's as warm as Earth isn't getting much useful light most of the time. The assumption therefore is that red dwarf plants evolve something like chlorophylls and a bunch of accessory carotenoids to capture every bit of light they can, leaving the leaf more-or-less black or some shade that's pretty dark. If the habitat's on the hot side, the leaf might reflect some light for thermal control, and appear gray.

Such a system is almost certainly less efficient than what we have on Earth, so these exo-plants will grow more slowly. Since, unlike on Earth, leaves may well be in the business of stopping all photons, there probably won't be a lot of light in forest understories, assuming forests can grow at all. This means there might not be many plants growing under the trees.

Does what I just said jibe with the explanation of why terrestrial plants are green? Probably not! But there is another potential way that might. On Earth, some plants specialize in really crappy light, growing on the ground under forest trees. What they do is harvest light flecks: they get everything ready with what little light they have, and when a beam of sunlight hits them for a few minutes, they go into overdrive making photosynthate. It's a slow system, but if they have no competition, it works okay.

Something similar conceivably could happen on a red dwarf planet. The plants chug along with the crappy normal starlight, making precursor molecules. Then, if the star flares in some UV frequency they can harvest, they go nuts finishing all their photosynthesis while they're being pelted by UV. I have no idea how this would work physically or physiologically, but AFAIK it's not impossible.

One might even imagine that red dwarf plants set up X-ray "shielding" materials that ionize when interacting with the right X-ray frequencies during stellar flares. The plant then passes these ions to cells that can process them into useful chemical reactions to make stuff and regenerate the shield/collector to do it again. I know precisely nothing about X-ray chemistry, so I have no idea if this is physically possible. But if it is and life can evolve towards it...?

So what color is all this? You got me. It depends on how the plants are interacting with the IR (shed heat or warm up), visible and near UV (what to eat with chlorophyll) and speculatively with higher frequencies.

Hopefully, at least, this helps you be more usefully confused about what color the plants are.

243:

Re: 'Keynes predicted that his grandchildren could see a 15 hour workweek ...'

Thanks for the link. Paints a different portrait: Keynes was a lot more forward thinking than I recall hearing/learning.

Troutwaxer @ 217:

'Bird brains'

Ever since I saw a doc about how birds perceive time (film analogy: 72 frames vs. humans' 24 frames per sec) and their ability to mentally puzzle out how to get a seed/treat out of a jar without first physically moving the jar or treat, I felt that these creatures' intelligence has been greatly under-rated.* Also - some birds have more neurons than some mammals. So they have more neurons operating faster - pretty interesting.

'Birds have primate-like numbers of neurons in the forebrain'

https://www.pnas.org/doi/10.1073/pnas.1517131113

*Much like the octopus.

Rocketpjs @ 227:

'Raccons are at the top of my list (competing with corvids) for next 'intelligent' species to run the place ...'

Yes, raccoons are both pretty intelligent and physically agile. But they can be aggressive and don't get along with other species which can be a limiting factor in running a planet. Which is why I suggest the beaver - they're natural builders and they've been documented to allow at least one other similarly non-aggressive furry species to over-winter in their lodge. Not sure whether they ever participate in any communities though. (Recently read Jared Diamond's 'Guns, Germs and Steel' - even though it's an overview of homo sapiens' past 25,000 year history, it's great background reading about some key behavioral, geographic and other factors in world building. Wish I'd read it when it first came out - over 20 years ago.)

Heteromeles @ 237:

'The water doesn't move that fast of course, but it does dissipate that gravitational force through friction with every solid surface it meets.'

Okay - so this is like regularly occurring tsunamis? My impression is that chemical/biological mixing is what stimulates change, new compounds/organisms, their adaptation, and eventual evolution. Then again - maybe there are creatures who've developed complexity in a completely unchanging environment. If yes - please post which creatures and where. Thanks!

Would be interesting to speculate about the physical characteristics necessary to survive/thrive in a perpetual tsunami. Maybe something similar to creatures in the ultra deep - very porous skin/outer membrane so that energy isn't constantly being wasted keeping things out. Such a skin could also mean no need for a separate mouth - the skin of some species could do that job. And long thin stretchy tentacles to manipulate their environment, other creatures and each other.

244:

"Nor are they likely to be - they'd be competing with rats and urban foxes, and I'd be betting on the rats."

They seem to thrive in urban areas in the continental USA and Canada; the UK will hold no terrors for them.

245:

Until then, all we can do is stare in disbelief at Bulletin A every month.

Real Science{tm}!

Like the quote says, the fun part of science starts with "that's weird" not "I have a theory".

246:

It's entirely possible to start capturing the difference once you see a few pictures, but it's hard to imagine just from reading words.

Poul Anderson had a knack for it — his descriptions of alien worlds are achingly lyrical.

David Brin did a decent (if not poetical) job with the ecology of Garth in The Uplift War.

I suspect the problem is that a lot of writers see a 'green blur', so what they write is based as much on Hollywood as actual botany.

247:

The raccoons compete well against the rats and urban coyotes in Vancouver, BC.

They are also, apparently, doing quite well in Japan — and seriously damaging ancient wooden temples.

Years ago there was an anime where a boy releases his pet racoon at the very end, which was promptly emulated by enough Japanese families to form a sustainable population. And old temples are ideal places for dens, with a bit of gnawing to make them suitable…

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/childrens-book-behind-japans-raccoon-problem-180954577/

248:

Nor are they likely to be - they'd be competing with rats and urban foxes, and I'd be betting on the rats.

Just noting that Toronto has rats, foxes, cats, and coyotes — and a serious racoon problem.

249:

specifically parrots and basal songbirds like corvids

Australian magpies and butcherbirds are songbirds that resemble, but are not closely related to corvids and I suppose that's what you or the author means, although there are talkative but non-singing corvids here too. We get a mix of parrots (cockatoos, king parrots, rainbow lorikeets), kookaburras and butcherbirds coming to our roofed deck/living space and interacting directly with us in return for seeds, nuts or meat depending on the species. Magpies, peewees (aka magpie larks) and both native and feral mynas hang around and pick up scraps, but seem much less social (at least with humans).

And yes, butcherbirds appear to be very smart. Magpies are too, but they are perhaps too smart to come and interact with humans directly. The other familiar sight that similarly looks a bit like a corvid but isn't one is the currawong, which comes in a pied variety that also resembles a magpie.

250:

"birds have more neurons/gram than we do, and the smaller avian/dinosauaran neurons seem to work just as well as bigger mammalian neurons do."

Yes, but does neuron density correlate with what we might call for the sake of brevity "intelligence"? Or is it synapses per neuron or, (as I suspect) some specific interconnection of neurons via synapses? To repeat my former post, we just don't know yet what's significant in the working of brains to produce emergent behaviors.

251:

It was my understanding that climate change was fiddling with Earth's rotation through water, as were humans.

There's the land-based water stores: glaciers and big reservoirs. They put a lot of weight far from the center of the Earth, so gaining a reservoir or losing a glacier fiddles Earth's spin by a millisecond or two.

Then there's the problem of losing the weight of ice in ice sheets near the rotatinal poles and redistributing it into ocean currents that move around the globe. That slows rotation.

Then there's the problem of water warming and expanding. This only adds about a meter or two to ocean heights, but that's a lot of water moving a bit further from the center of spin, from the outside in, equator to poles. That's going to complicate spin.

There's also isostatic rebound, as crust that sunk under the weight of ice sheets rebounds with the ice off it. That's still going in North America, and that moves things around.

Fun stuff, and I'm very glad I don't have to calculate it.

252:

Butcherbirds, Australian magpies. Yup, and some of the big honeyeaters.

If you haven't seen Where Song Began, try to pick up a copy. It was my favorite book last year.

253:

Yep, already found it on Kindle after your earlier post. Looking forward to reading it.

254:

Yes, but does neuron density correlate with what we might call for the sake of brevity "intelligence"?

That might actually be a case of putting the solution before the question. Here I'll quote from this article about the study that discovered the neutron density surprise and some of the reasons it was done in the first place:

The study provides a straightforward answer to a puzzle that comparative neuroanatomists have been wrestling with for more than a decade: how can birds with their small brains perform complicated cognitive behaviors?

The conundrum was created by a series of studies beginning in the previous decade that directly compared the cognitive abilities of parrots and crows with those of primates. The studies found that the birds could manufacture and use tools, use insight to solve problems, make inferences about cause-effect relationships, recognize themselves in a mirror and plan for future needs, among other cognitive skills previously considered the exclusive domain of primates.

The TL;DR is that this is not a finding in isolation, other studies that have shown some of the things we associate with "intelligence" are in fact present in certain birds, an observation that their higher neutron density goes some way to explaining. And it goes to show that smart people operating without all the context can find themselves chewing on doubts that can be dispelled easily with more knowledge (something I find myself doing all the time).

255:

it came as a surprise to a LOT of geophysical people that green-house gasses would have measurable effects on earth rotation parameters, so a lot of them are still in the "really?!" or even "I dont believe it!" phase

I certainly find this astonishing, though I am ready enough to believe it. I knew that warming has had noticeable effect on vulcanism, specifically melting glaciers releasing the "cap" on volcanos in various places. But this is a whole other order of wow.

Looking forward to whatever publicity occurs around that negative leap second, when it happens.

256:

All this talk about Red Dwarf worlds makes me think that perhaps it's cold outside, there's no kind of atmosphere...

(Though for some people there might be kippers to smoke for breakfast.)

257:

Yes, raccoons are both pretty intelligent and physically agile. But they can be aggressive and don't get along with other species which can be a limiting factor in running a planet.

Are you suggesting our limited ability to get along with other non-human species could be a limiting factor in how we run this planet? :-)

258:

Well, we're certainly not doing it particularly well outside of about a 5 year window.

259:

»Looking forward to whatever publicity occurs around that negative leap second, when it happens. «

Dont wait up :-) Currently we have no credible models for when the next leap second will be needed, much less its sign.

But dont panic: When we did a show of hands in "The Secret Leap Second Appreciation Society" a full two persons said they had tested their time-keeping software with negative leap seconds :-)

Also there may never come another leapsecond, as USA/DoD is still trying to get them abolished.

260:

Also there may never come another leapsecond, as USA/DoD is still trying to get them abolished.

Just like all those countries who refused to give up the Julian calendar, despite the Gregorian calendar being more accurate.

Who needs reality, anyway? :-/

261:

Robert Prior @ 246: David Brin did a decent (if not poetical) job with the ecology of Garth in The Uplift War.

Also pretty prescient, though AFAIK you couldn't use the wood-wide-web as a covert signalling system.

262:

higher neutron density

Gah. I don't think it's entirely credible to blame that one on autocorrect, or even finger macros, but I'm prepared to give it a try...

263:

»Just like all those countries who refused to give up the Julian calendar, despite the Gregorian calendar being more accurate.«

A calendar is primarily a convention enabling people to communicate about events in the past or future.

Tying your calendar to astronomical phenomena is merely a choice of implementation.

264:

Rbt Prior
"the problem is that a lot of writers see a 'green blur' - " - yeah, well. It depends: - my small front garden contains plants from Wales, Australia, Tasmania, S America, Columbia, China, S Africa - as well as "Brit Native" species.
{ Meconopsis cambrica, Solanum lacinatium/aviculare, Dicksonia antarctica, Phasoleus coccineus, Cyclanthera pedata, Wisteria chinensis, Pelargonium spp. }

265:

Tying your calendar to astronomical phenomena is merely a choice of implementation.

Not when you're a farmer trying to decide when to plant your crop...

266:

According to the very comprehensive book "Calendrical Calculations" religion seems to have had a much bigger influence on calendar design than agriculture.

My personal experience also is that planting or sowing crops happen when soil temperature and humidity are suitable, with little or no attention paid to calendars.

This has also been hypothesized to explain the magnitude of crop-failures during various volcanic extinction events: The cold weather meant that the growing season was started late further reducing the harvest. If they had followed the calendar, they would likely have been (slightly) better of.

267:

Re: '... but does neuron density correlate with what we might call for the sake of brevity "intelligence"?'

Corvids can recognize individual human faces and pass along this info to other corvids including their 'children'. I think this signifies considerable intelligence.

https://www.discovermagazine.com/planet-earth/grudge-holding-crows-pass-on-their-anger-to-family-and-friends

A 'conspiracy' of ravens regularly visits the protected wooded area behind my house. Each bird has a distinctive call when sitting on the tree branches or wires when chatting (?) among themselves. At the same time I've heard them relay the same 'call' across fairly long distances. They call out, then wait for a response. Repeat until some signal tells them to stop. I should visit the local bird watchers society to find out more about them esp. any do's and don'ts given their excellent memories for human faces.

Anyone know whether corvids eat other dead non-corvid birds? I know that corvids eat road kill and with the current avian flu blazing across NA and in the UK resulting in thousands of birds of different species dying, I wonder how at risk they and the other bird species are. (I ask because most news headlines focus on poultry farms.)

268:

Anyone know whether corvids eat other dead non-corvid birds? I know that corvids eat road kill and with the current avian flu blazing across NA and in the UK resulting in thousands of birds of different species dying, I wonder how at risk they and the other bird species are. (I ask because most news headlines focus on poultry farms.)

I'm not really sure about adults, but at least here for example fieldfares with nests seem to be pretty aggressive toward the gulls and crows flying around. I think they at least eat eggs and hatchlings, if not adults.

269:

A major component of crows' diet is carrion, and they will attack weak but live animals. Hence the antagonism of moorland sheep farmers to hooded crows. I believe that ravens are similar.

270:

Er, leap seconds are to do with the length of the year, not the length of the day. If you can postulate a plausible explanation for how climate change could affect that significantly, I take my hat off to you for a fertile imagination.

271:

http://dubiousprospects.blogspot.com/2022/06/not-best-news.html to return to the dismal topic, Damien has found a preprint that suggests covid is not getting better by itself.

272:

Agreed. Anecdata. A young crow (Corvus corone) landed in my back garden, wich was surrounded by 6' tall hedges. It needed to grow up a bit in order to climb out over the hedges, and we supplied some food and water whilst it was growing. One day, there it was, gone, and no piles of sad feathers either.
A few weeks later, I was heading down into the local town centre, and a not yet fully grown crow was happy to let me withing 4 feet of it. Shortly thereafter, a young mother came down the road following me, and the crow did a flight response when she was about 25 feet away.

273:

I have seen a crow attack and kill a baby rabbit, presumably to eat it. I don't know if a crow is capable of catching and killing a full-grown rabbit. A mob of crows might manage the task.

Virtually all predatory birds will eat carrion given the chance -- I recall reading a fieldsports magazine article about a ghillie in the Highlands who had shot a red deer in a tight corrie. He was gralloching the carcass preparatory to packing out the animal on a pony when a capercaillie flew over his head at high speed followed in turn by a golden eagle in pursuit of dinner. The birds were only in sight for a moment or so between the two ridges of the corrie but when he looked up again the eagle was circling above him, obviously waiting for the chance to get at the pile of deer guts on the heather beside the carcass.

274:

I've seen a (Eurasian) Jay literally on the back of a Carrion Crow, pecking at it, one May about ten years ago. At the time I interpreted it as a Jay trying to protect its nest.

275:

Aargh... a flying Carrion Crow.

276:

On what makes for smart brains:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4685590/

Neuronal factors determining high intelligence
Ursula Dicke and Gerhard Roth
Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2016 Jan 5; 371(1685)

Abstract

Many attempts have been made to correlate degrees of both animal and human intelligence with brain properties. With respect to mammals, a much-discussed trait concerns absolute and relative brain size, either uncorrected or corrected for body size. However, the correlation of both with degrees of intelligence yields large inconsistencies, because although they are regarded as the most intelligent mammals, monkeys and apes, including humans, have neither the absolutely nor the relatively largest brains. The best fit between brain traits and degrees of intelligence among mammals is reached by a combination of the number of cortical neurons, neuron packing density, interneuronal distance and axonal conduction velocity—factors that determine general information processing capacity (IPC), as reflected by general intelligence. The highest IPC is found in humans, followed by the great apes, Old World and New World monkeys. The IPC of cetaceans and elephants is much lower because of a thin cortex, low neuron packing density and low axonal conduction velocity. By contrast, corvid and psittacid birds have very small and densely packed pallial neurons and relatively many neurons, which, despite very small brain volumes, might explain their high intelligence. The evolution of a syntactical and grammatical language in humans most probably has served as an additional intelligence amplifier, which may have happened in songbirds and psittacids in a convergent manner.

277:

"Er, leap seconds are to do with the length of the year, not the length of the day."

Not according to Wikipedia:- "A leap second is a one-second adjustment that is occasionally applied to Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), to accommodate the difference between precise time (International Atomic Time (TAI), as measured by atomic clocks) and imprecise observed solar time (UT1), which varies due to irregularities and long-term slowdown in the Earth's rotation"

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leap_second

278:

270: no, leap years are to do with the length of the year, which is not an integral number of days at the moment.

Leap seconds are a result of integrating the difference between the theoretical length of day (86400 SI seconds) and the actual length of day (variable) over time; when it gets to more than about 0.7 seconds, we add (or subtract) a leap second to bring them back into line.

Bulletin A shows that the integrated difference is 0.08060 seconds.

Bulletin B shows that in April the length of day varied between 86399.9993994 seconds and 86400.0005563 seconds with a mean of 86399.9999303 seconds and an integrated total of 2.0895 milliseconds. At that rate we would need a negative leap second in 2062 or so.

[Disclaimer: Poul is much more of an expert in this than I am. I just dabble in the topic.]

279:

Just to throw a monkeywrench into the intelligence discussion, I want to suggest a couple of really inconvenient ideas:

One is that science rests largely on a Christian ideological framework, because it arose originally in Christian countries. I'm NOT saying that one has to be Christian to do science, because that's obviously BS. However, I want to point this origin out, because it shows up quite strongly in research about what makes humans special and different from other animals.

The reason to point this out shows up quite nicely in the Dicke and Roth abstract, which appears to contain two Christian memes:

One is the notion that there is a thing called general intelligence and that humans either are the only animals to have it (the outdated version), or that we have the most of it (the newer version). The inconvenient idea here is that general intelligence is a synonym for soul, and that the theory of general intelligence arose as a way to make a science out of studying souls.

The other is the notion that general intelligence has something to do with language, which echoes the idea that "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." (John 1:1).

Does the evidence support that these questions are properly framed? Let's take them in order. Humans don't have the best sonic communication. That honor belongs to sperm whales, which not only use their voice as sonar to see their world, not only yell loudly enough to stun and kill with their voice alone, but apparently are extremely good at replicating and repeating the sounds they hear, sort of like us sharing images instead of trying to describe things in words. In contrast, human speech is slow, clunky, and error prone. The few people who study sperm whale vocalizations say that parsing their vocalizations is sort of like trying to pick the words out of an electronic fax feed. They suspect there's a language or languages in there, but the density of information in their calls makes linguistic analysis problematic.

While I don't disagree that humans have made more uses out of language than whales have, I don't think there's a single dimension of linguistic skill, with humans at the apex. Echolocation systems are orthogonal to it. Non sonic signals are orthogonal to those two, and there human writing has to compete with all the chemosensory data-processing signals that other organisms, from plants to ants, use. If general intelligence is about data processing, we suck at chemical processing compared with most big plants. Or compared even with our own GI tracts, if it comes to that.

I'm not going to posit an answer here. Instead, I'm trying to point out the problems with the assumption that general intelligence has something to do with data processing. Data processing is a multidimensional problem, and assuming that human language-processing is the pinnacle of language processing isn't terribly well-supported. Also, it echoes strongly back to science's Christian roots. Remember, the study of evolution arose from natural theology, trying to find evidence for God's works in the natural world. Because if Genesis is correct, traces of that history, from the Creation to the Flood, should be visible in the world. The schism occurred when natural theologians found no trace of that evidence, and started unearthing evidence that better supports other explanations.

The other problem is the notion of general intelligence itself. Is it a thing? A capacity? Or a stalking horse for proving that humans have souls that animals and other organisms lack? Again, I'm not going to posit an answer. I will, however, point out that many human belief systems, including Buddhism, Taoism, and a variety of animist systems, more-or-less say that it's a nonsensical question. Some see soul as an illusion, and humans as different more than special. Does a crow have Buddha nature? Taoist folklore is full of stories of animals practicing for years to become human-appearing Taoist immortals. Some animists will tell you that what makes you different and special isn't even confined to your head.

That last may sound nonsensical, but can you be your full self without your computing devices, your library, your connection to the internet, and/or your friends and family reminding you of who you are? Without them, how much of yourself can you be? If stripping bare like that lessens you, how much of your general intelligence is actually located in your brain?

That's what makes this question problematic.

Again, I'm not going to posit an answer. What I'm asking is the utility of trying to determine whether general intelligence exists, whether it has anything to do with human linguistic ability, and whether these questions still make sense if you deliberately divorce them from a Christian context by trying to frame them in other belief systems that don't posit that humans have a soul that other organisms lack or have less of.

280:

Tying your calendar to astronomical phenomena is merely a choice of implementation.

Not when you're a farmer trying to decide when to plant your crop...

Actually, from what I remember the 'need' for calendar reform had nothing to do with crop failures because farmers were planting at the wrong time, and everything to do with concern about the correct date for Easter.

Come to that, planting dates have been slowly shifting during my lifespan as the climate has progressively warmed. Gardeners and farmers have adapted.

281:

I'd just like to point out that here on Earth leaves are green because they reflect those wavelengths.

if they used green light for photosynthesis they'd be another colour.

As it is they use the red frequencies for photosynthesis, and reject the green ones, thus they appear green.

For readers of science fiction this should be obvious.

A perhaps more subtle question is why are leaves not black?

282:

"whether these questions still make sense if you deliberately divorce them from a Christian context by trying to frame them in other belief systems that don't posit that humans have a soul that other organisms lack or have less of."

An interesting question. There are a lot of scientists functioning in Buddhist, Confucian, Taoist, Hindu, Shinto etc. contexts -- have any of them come up with a different take?

(I have the impression that discussions of general intelligence are somewhat muted these days because of past abuses, mostly of a racist sort.)

283:

A perhaps more subtle question is why are leaves not black?

Perhaps because they'd get too hot to photosynthesize efficiently?

284:

Oh, really! That is too much!

No, it did NOT originate in Christian countries, though they dominated it during the 'age of enlightenment'. We got it from Arab or Persian countries, which dominated science for a long period before that and, arguably, they got it from Greece and India.

285:

This more-or-less got answered in 242, and AlanD2's answer in 283 is correct AFAIK.

More generally, very few plants have their growth limited by photosynthesis. Certainly if they're growing in the shade of something else, they are so limited, but a plant in full sun with sufficient nutrients and water normally has to deal with overheating and photooxidation, not collecting more energy. One big reason for this is that photosynthesis has a maximum rate limited by the amount of CO2 the plants can get into its cells pull into photosynthesis. Once that process is maxed out, additional photons start causing damage, rather than being harnessed to do useful things.

The reason a red dwarf plant might have black leaves is the light spectrum a red dwarf star normally emits. While it's the same amount of energy (W/M2) as the sun produces (remember, the planet's really close to the red dwarf), most of that energy is infrared that gets directly absorbed into the atmosphere, leaving behind not a lot of light that penetrates the atmosphere and can be used by the plant. Hence it might make sense for them to try to get every photon they can. Or it might not.

286:

An interesting question. There are a lot of scientists functioning in Buddhist, Confucian, Taoist, Hindu, Shinto etc. contexts -- have any of them come up with a different take?

Don't know about religion, but I knew a scientist who would quite deliberately have "Chinese days" where he would keep himself away from all English so he could think in Chinese*. He claimed that he saw problems and solution differently when thinking in Chinese.

*Probably Cantonese, given this was in the early 80s in Canada.

287:

A calendar is primarily a convention enabling people to communicate about events in the past or future. Tying your calendar to astronomical phenomena is merely a choice of implementation.

Watching the sky has always been about two inseparable things: telling time and navigating. Remember how precise determination of longitude only became possible when sufficiently precise and durable clocks were created?

We live in a four-dimensional universe, and if you want to keep track of where you are in spatial dimensions, you also have to keep track of when you are temporally. Since they're interconnected, you can use the sky for both. For most of human history, the sky was the most reliable reference we had for both long-term timekeeping and long-distance navigation.

288:

An interesting question. There are a lot of scientists functioning in Buddhist, Confucian, Taoist, Hindu, Shinto etc. contexts -- have any of them come up with a different take? (I have the impression that discussions of general intelligence are somewhat muted these days because of past abuses, mostly of a racist sort.)

I honestly don't know, but it might be worth looking. This would also get into the charged arena of who is willing to pay whom to do the research, as you pointed out.

This also gets into the related problem of general artificial intelligence. If someone questions whether general natural intelligence exists, what to make of the pursuit of general AI, and questions about whether we have it yet or not?

289:

Er, no. The whole world is NOT like California! North of something like 45 north, especially in places with adequate rainfall and significant cloud cover, sunlight is the main limiting factor. That is the main reason farmers have converted to almost entirely winter wheat, harvests in the UK are not in July, planting even many green vegetables in semi-shaded areas is less productive, and late-ripening crops (like grapes) are iffy.

291:

God-like aliens. You mean, like the beings "upstream" from the Dreamers, in my novel? The ones who've been around since the previous universe?

They'd really rather not be bothered by something they've seen 5,420,342 times before. They're willing to pass some info along, if the kids are ready for it, because maybe they'll eventually, in a few hundred million years, evolve into something worth talking to....

292:

Please note I've referred to what my late wife and I came up with in the early nineties: an artificial stupid (AS). Example of it's work - it's going through my email, yeah, know this, that's junk, uh, hey, boss, what the hell do you want me to do with this? (NOT TRY TO GUESS WHAT I WANT DONE WITH IT).

293:

Um, er, Bogey? As a character? A lot of us old folks will instantly thing of Humphrey Bogart.

294:

I disagree. I've used D&D melee rules for fights, and they worked very well. As in "wait, I didn't expect her to get hurt, and he did what?!" The readers thought it was more realistic than most other fight scenes they'd read.

295:

I never read anything between, I think, MIAHM and Friday. What reviews I saw suggested he was dealing with the water on the brain (literally), and Friday was after the surgery.

296:

In my future universe, colonies are planted either on large islands, or peninsulae. If nothing else, think of it in terms of the board game Risk - you do not want to try to conquer and hold Asia, unless you have no choice at all.

With islands or peninsulae, you limit what's coming at your of the native land/air-based flora and fauna, while you plant your airweed and base biofeedstock.

297:

I thought Jack was pushing his own thing, back then, but have come to understand where he was going, as society has edged along. I gather that there's interest in his novels growing....

ObDisclosure: he was a long-time friend of mine, as is Eva, his widow.

298:

In my Terran Confederation, after the first 50 or 70 years, the Confederation Navy mostly resembles a coast guard, dealing with smuggling, quarantine, and, oh, yes, disasters on colonies.

299:

Let me note that a number of folks, including, IIRC, Carolyn Cherryh, have talked about reminding people that planets do not have one climate.

300:

Thank you. Coherent matter beams... I think I've just found a new weapon/defense projector....

301:

Excuse me, no. You're lumping bs "economists" who never admit to being wrong, and who are happy to produce results that agree with what whoever's paying them want, with someone who actually tried.

Note that he was with FDR....

302:

Hell, I'm having difficulty writing something that ain't trees in a forest. So far, I've got tree-like trunks, multiples of them, with a "canopy", which doesn't look like leaves, and it dies fairly quickly, falling to the forest floor, having mostly turned into slimy black mush.

Doesn't do well on human drones....

303:

Trappist 1-E: thank you for that, and your post on red star vegetation, etc. In the novel I just worked through my first revisions, why, yes, I do have a colony on Trappist 1-E, tidally locked world, settled in archipelagos in the dusk, Cajun and Greek.... Parties go on for years (ok, ok, 7 or so standard days)....

That's going to help me add to the environment while they're there.

304:

"If someone questions whether general natural intelligence exists, what to make of the pursuit of general AI, and questions about whether we have it yet or not?"

I have the uneasy feeling that those may be significant questions.

Perhaps the Turing test is a baby-step but really, if we don't know what intelligence is, how do we know when we produce it? I've previously been somewhat sympathetic to the "You'll know it when you see it" approach, but doubts are growing.

Maybe we should be humble, admit that the grand questions are beyond us for now, just ask about H.sap. level smarts as displayed in the last 50,000 years and leave the broader questions for later. Chipping flint; lighting fires; making brick; farming and domesticating animals. Etc.

Even that restricted space would be tough to deal with when it came to the details.

305:

BTW, I was offline for almost a week - Ellen and I were at a Pagan event, spent the days at her booth selling jewelry. The wifi... um, no, er, how much per day? Or else they wanted me to agree to them scanning my posts to social media, and if I read that right, reading my login?

Fortunately, I had d/l to my Nook the Hugo packet....

306:

H @ 279
NO
Given the philosophical/scientific enquiry that went on in the "muslim" world approx 750-1250 CE or the previous classical "Greek" enquiries from Socrates onwards ( & even before that ) the "christian framework" won't stand detailed enquiry. Even more so when almost all of the supposedly "hard" philosophical questions have been solved by experimental & observational Physics ....
{ AS EC has also noted! }
* the study of evolution arose from natural theology, trying to find evidence for God's works in the natural world.* - REALLY?
And I note that you, yourself promptly shoot that idea down, yes?

Kardashev
AFAIK, ONLY ONE SPECIES has tamed & controlled "the Red Flower" - fire.
Are there differing versions of the Prometheus legend in other old cultures?

307:

That's going to help me add to the environment while they're there.

Excellent! Made my day!

So far as the trees go, the thing to remember is that they respond to three forces: light, gravity, and wind. Light and gravity are fixed, but wind does shift, and it's a function of global air circulation. Air flows away from the hot side towards the cold side, but air equally has to return from the cold side to the hot side. There are models of this out there, but the tl;dr version of it is that whether the wind's blowing from the cold side or from the hot side is in part a function of latitude. Probably your islanders are going to have their colonies where they get warm breezes, but that's up to you.

If the trees are getting both wind and light from the same direction, the trees will look rather odd. Windblown trees tend to grow away from the light (or streamline, or reinforce, but deal with it structurally) while light-hungry trees tend to grow towards the light. Balancing those two needs? Therein lies a little vignette.

308:

Yes. I was being stupid and take back what I said in #270. I blame a combination of senility and the extremely nasty drugs I am on.

309:

There's also things like bamboo and banana. Fast leaf decomposition is typically associated with ample water and fleshy vegetation.

310:

There was a lot of observation of the world around us and the heavens above in places like classical Greece, Babylonia etc. which have the hallmarks of science, recording information and measuring things. What there wasn't was a coherent and testable experimental science until the Renaissance in Europe, when Galileo dropped rocks off the Tower of Pisa (yes I know, apochryphal and all that but...) and proved that gravity was a constant force regardless of the mass involved. Previous to that the Greeks and others believed that light objects fell slower than heavy objects purely because of observation and thinking that it was obvious. I was myself shocked when I was told in school physics class that this wasn't true, that acceleration downwards was constant and identical for ball bearings and cannonballs.

The establishment of experimental science with reproducible testing and falsification of theories didn't happen (as far as we know) until, yes, the European Christian era. It was not because of Christianity, only that it happened at the time of the existence of a Universal Church in Europe (along with schisms later in that time period). The establishment of educational establishments to train up priests and theologians did help along the way but organisations like the Royal Society were not Church-led even though many scientific researchers were churchmen (Gregor Mendel was a later 19thC example).

311:

Hell, I'm having difficulty writing something that ain't trees in a forest. So far, I've got tree-like trunks, multiples of them, with a "canopy", which doesn't look like leaves, and it dies fairly quickly, falling to the forest floor, having mostly turned into slimy black mush.

Well, forests are vegetation dominated by trees, sooo...

If the forest is strongly seasonal, you'll mostly have trees and things that live under trees, because most of the stunt plants I'm about to mention can get water stressed and do best where there's water falling from the sky year-round.

In general plants either grow with trees (subcanopy trees and shrubs), under trees (understory), on trees (epiphytes, vines and lianas, hemiepiphytes), and in trees (mistletoes and other parasites).

There are such things as drought-tolerant epiphytic cacti and bromeliads, and epiphytic mosses which are good at drying out and rehydrating. In general, epiphytes do better in rain forests (they're getting their water from the rain, not from the soil), vines and lianas do better where there's no frost or severe drought (long thin stems get water-stressed badly) and parasites do better where their hosts are present (and hosts can include cacti).

As for leaves dissolving into black goo, that implies they don't have a lot of carbon and do have a lot of water and other nutrients, so they rot like mushrooms, less like leaves. Leaves tend to have lignin and cellulose which rot slower, unless they're in a tropical forest floor that's warm and wet.

Hope this helps a bit.

312:

It doesn't need to be tropical to get fast leaf-rot, but it DOES have to be wet. Lots of waterside plants have very fleshy leaves, and rot quickly (e.g. rhubarb). My suspicion is that they hold their shape more from turgor than lignin and cellulose.

313:

SFReader @ 187:

Imagine if 21st century physicists were desperately clinging to the four-element model of the universe.

Ah. "Quondam Physics".

Well played, sir.

314:

Re: 'Thank you. Coherent matter beams... '

You're welcome!

I'm looking forward to reading your next/follow-up book. Curious how you're going to handle and resolve how the alien go-between/underling misinterpreted/misvalued some data that humans consider relevant.

I feel that this is akin to the general intelligence discussion about humans and animals, esp. those under our care. For example, do we know whether humans been dumbing down all of the species that we've tamed to work for us (pull or carry heavy loads), supply us with various materials like wool and food (meat, dairy), hunting prowess, security and companionship? We've been altering animals to suit our purposes but what if our breeding attempts resulted in the loss of some very important attribute that we're not able to detect because we lack that sense/ability.

Re: Keynes vs. 'BS' econ's

Yeah, at least Keynes at some point considered the impact of his proposed policies on real (albeit privileged) human beings. Still too much emphasis on corps (the 20th century version of the elite/nobility) though.

Considering the amount of data currently collected from just about every person on this planet on a daily basis, there is no excuse to not pre-test every single economic theory and policy. If not - then this is not a 'science', it's a quasi-religion.

315:

I disagree. I've used D&D melee rules for fights, and they worked very well. As in "wait, I didn't expect her to get hurt, and he did what?!" The readers thought it was more realistic than most other fight scenes they'd read.

I am confused. You "used D&D melee rules for fights" in what exactly? And what did Charlie say that you disagree with?

316:

If the trees are getting both wind and light from the same direction, the trees will look rather odd.

https://annarchive.com/files/Drmg150.pdf

The above link is Dragon magazine #150 (October 1989). Go to "The Sunset World" article.

317:

The above link is Dragon magazine #150 (October 1989). Go to "The Sunset World" article.

Wow, that takes me back.

And miniatures of the Fellowship of the Rings advertised in that article! Where's my durn time machine so I can buy some?!?

318:

...and possibly tell you quite a few other things too.

Like "Put me back on earth, dammit!" I presume!

319:

past abuses, mostly of a racist sort

"past" in the John Howard sense that anything that's been done necessarily happened in the past? Those abuses continue today in a lot of places. It's easiest to look at the US because they are self-analytical and talk about stuff like "black people don't feel pain the way white people do" being one of the problems their medical system needs to address. The related and equally obvious point that "black kids/people are inevitably dumber than white/non-black"... and therefore there's no point providing the same educational facilities etc is also discussed.

Whereas in Australia it's just known and accepted that those things are true of aboriginal people but what can you do, they just are.

Aotearoa has some weird versions of that going round, but right now the big fight is over Maori science/religion and much as Heteromeles is talking about with Christian science (distinct from Christian Science), the idea that Maori science is a thing, should be discussed, or even acknowledged is triggering some people. Matariki is a new public holiday and the racists have come out to play. Maori New Year... unacceptable. But celebrating the spring equinox is just fine as long as we slap a Christian label on it (Easter, for you post-pagans... and oh boy is that a fun description all by itself). Not to mention the solstice, again with the Christian sort-of-science bullshit slathered over it (and up here we mostly celebrate it Euro-style, with all the trappings of winter in midsummer. Shut up and enjoy summer solstice being an excellent time for a few days off).

The whole "Maori science" thing is an ongoing clusterfuck of bullshit from all sides. There's viewpoints from "astrology is a science" all the way to "farming doesn't require science" as well as the obvious "dumb savages can't do science by definition". Like the GE ban, any sense is hard to discern among the nonsense.

320:

I've previously been somewhat sympathetic to the "You'll know it when you see it" approach, but doubts are growing.

Like asking how you detect a false negative? Very real risk of the whole "white men and lesser animals" approach to categorisation. We haven't even been able to get very far teaching human-like animals to communicate with us, let alone any that are very different. The inverse of the discussion about humpback language - teaching dogs to follow instructions, or gorillas to use sign language. Can be done, but is hard to escape the "programming a robot" approach (robot, slave, same same).

Listening to people who have working dogs it's interesting how they accept that their dogs have personalities and moods. Also that the dog recognises their personality and mood. Some dogs will get you a beer at the end of a hard day, others will trip you as you're going inside just as an extra "fuck you". And some dogs are really good at understanding human language, other dogs DGAF unless it's about food. Do they have "general intelligence". Or even "Corporal Intelligence"? More or less than a human child? Of the same age?

(personally having had a dog that used tools I found it frustrating because the tool use was primarily about doing things that I wanted him not to do. Specifically getting out of his run, but OTOH he could heave learned most of that by watching the pig do it)

321:

the Greeks and others believed that light objects fell slower than heavy objects purely because of observation

Well, most of the time they do :-)

Aristotelian physics works as long as you are dealing with a system where friction is significant.

One of the very real problems students have learning Newtonian physics is unlearning the Aristotelian physics they have constructed by observation since they were children. (Frictionless surfaces being in short supply in most nurseries.

322:

Practical engineering had a thing this morning about myths, and one is that bedrock exists. Sometimes it does, for varying values of "bedrock", and sometimes you can reach it by digging or drilling.

One place I worked they built it on piles. Which they banged into the mangrove swamp as far as they could by stacking a new pile on top of each pile once it was too far down to hit. When hitting them stopped producing movement they deemed them done. Did any reach "bedrock", or were they just so far down into the mud that static friction defeated the pile driving machine?

Christchurch in NZ has a similar issue with alluvial gravel. I can't find an easy reference to the depth but the city is basically a swamp on top of gravel on top of... stuff.

Interestingly someone has a global map with discussion of "what is bedrock" that starts with the observation that "bottom of the soil" and "top of the bedrock" are not the same thing. https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/2016MS000686

323:

In Denmark (- Bornholm) bedrock is at least 50 meters and often several hundred meters down, so that is not a relevant concept in building.

When we started building our house seven years ago, I learned that the applicable technical term in Denmark is "OSBL" - an abbreviation meaning "Overside Load Bearing Layer".

It took me some time to track down the actual definition for it, and when I finally found it in a 50+ year old compendium for geo-technicians is said "The first layer not disturbed during the last ice-age."

The reasoning given was "It could sustain a glacier, it will sustain anything we can build"

324:

https://annarchive.com/files/Drmg150.pdf. The above link is Dragon magazine #150 (October 1989). Go to "The Sunset World" article.

That was fun. Thanks! Good to see I didn't invent something accidentally.

One of the penalties of my education was having an advisor who studied carnivorous plants was having it pounded into my aching head that on Earth, carnivorous plants live in high light, low nutrient, generally wet areas (bogs etc.), and used the energy and water to kill things to get nutrients from the corpses. This isn't the first thing I've read where a low energy environment had giant, mobile, carnivorous plants acting like sitz-panzers.

I wonder where the carnivorous plant in the dark came from? I'm guessing old science fiction. Thoughts?

325:

Coming back to present horrors
Tory plan to go fascist & Henry VIII - & - as a reminder ...
HERE is U Eco's fascist list
And, so far numbers: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10, 13 & 14 have been ticked off.

Here's hoping that we get a G.E. before time - as it's certain the Lords will throw BJ+Raab's proposal out, giving us a year's grace-period ....

326:

Thanks, that's fascinating.

A question for anyone who might know:
Sweden seems to have disproportionately many boreholes. Does anyone know why?

327:

Re the carnivorous plant in the dark: Don't know, but I am reminded of a predator in Andre Norton's 'Night Of Masks', which I certainly read before this was first published. I don;t know that it qualifies as a plant (IIRC it was not shown directly), but it was definitely sessile.

328:

Would have been easier to list what hasn't been ticked off…

A great many also seem to be part of American Republican ideology, judging by what's jst happened in Texas.

329:

Dense objects that vary in weight still fall at similar speeds even with air resistance -- small granite rocks versus large granite rocks, for example or different sizes of lead balls. There is no recorded evidence that anyone in classical times tried the experiments that Galileo performed. More importantly he recorded and disseminated his findings, another key part of the flowering of science during the Renaissance.

I could imagine Da Vinci coming up with a clever timing mechanism of sorts to compare the speeds of falling objects -- I have a mental plan for such a device involving a vertical wooden shaft carrying large horizontal wheels at fixed intervals along its length. The wheels are covered in a thin layer of paper, easily penetrated by heavy falling objects. The shaft turns slowly and two weights, one perhaps half the mass of the other are dropped simultaneously side by side down through the disks, punching holes as they go. If the weights fall at noticeably different speeds then the resulting pairs of holes in each wheel's disk would be displaced radially, if they fall at similar or identical speeds the holes would align on each wheel all the way down. The radial difference of hole positions between wheels would provide a physical record of the speed and acceleration of the weights which, if the speed of the shaft's rotation was fixed and known could eventually provide a calculated figure for 'g'.

330:

»Sweden seems to have disproportionately many boreholes. Does anyone know why?«

Many separate reasons. It's mostly a case of "Most of sweden had shallow bedrock, if you want to know something, you drill a hole."

But there are some notable distinct reasons for some of the holes, related to Swedens clandestine nuclear weapon plans, both prospecting for viable uranium ores and possible locations for the facilities.

331:

There are some places in Brisbane where the rocky layers (including the Brisbane Tuff) are accessible, many where they are not and where they are not, there are areas where concrete slab foundations are only required to bear static loads, and areas where they are effectively boats.

There was a craze for ferro-cement boatbuilding in the 70s, leading to a generation of concrete yachts. It was popular because compared to almost any other boatbuilding material, it's extremely cheap. While keeping salt water out of the reinforcement was the main challenge, it wasn't hard compared with, say, steel and it's much easier to repair minor damage (you just need a way to keep a couple of bags of Redimix dry). But it makes for a boat that is very heavy, something that doesn't work well in small sizes for recreational use.

332:

There is no recorded evidence that anyone in classical times tried the experiments that Galileo performed.

True. There's also no recorded evidence that anyone in classical times built a computer, yet we have an example.

I'm not arguing that Aristotle got it right, but after decades of teaching introductory physics I'm acutely aware that his explanations feel right to students. Most students believe that heavier objects fall faster, that objects stop unless some force is pushing on them, etc.

I remember chatting with a university prof years ago, and he said that even upper year students often compartmentalized "physics explanations" in a difference mental box to "what actually happens". For a long time in physics education research we concentrated on using demonstrations to counter misconceptions, but even actually seeing a misconception falsified doesn't stop people accepting it anyway. (We already know this in other fields, physics isn't immune.)

333:

I owned and lived on a ferrocement sailboat for about 3 years in the mid-90s. Built by John Samson, the originator of the ferrocement boat 'craze'. Sturdy and cheap, however the knock-on costs of other materials were higher than with a fiberglass boat. A heavier hull means you need a bigger mast and bigger sails, which mean you need heavier lines, a larger auxiliary etc etc. Costs on boats increase exponentially, so it isn't a minor tradeoff.

The primary issue with ferrocement boats was that they had to be built correctly to be safe. Many were backyard builds with unknown qualities. You also had to make very sure to avoid electrolysis in the rebar, and if there was elecrolysis you might not be aware. My understanding is that there were a couple of instances of a part of a hull 'falling off' underway, which somewhat undermined the appeal of ferrocement sailboats overall. Mine was built by Samson himself so I was fairly confident, but I also discovered that confidence ashore is somewhat different from confidence at sea.

I loved that boat, but was quite glad to be free of it as well. The next one was fiberglass with an aluminum mast. Much, much lighter, so smaller and lighter sails, lines, motor. And fiberglass is also easy to repair with 2 part epoxy (in a rush or underway), or with more fiberglass if you have the means to get the boat out of the water.

334:

One of the more bizarre problems one can encounter in building underground railway stations is when they insist on keeping trying to float to the surface. Or indeed just ordinary cellars before you put the building on top to weigh it down. As you go south and east from London the ground becomes more like a kind of gravel slurry under the surface, and instances of the phenomenon have cropped up on Greg's other favourite blog.

335:

Sorry to disappoint you, but I've no book planned that follows 11,000 Years. One of my big things when I talk to people about it is that it is not the first book of an 18 book trilogy - it's complete in itself.

The one I'm looking for an agent now is set between 55 and 105 years from now, and covers the creation of the Terran Confederation. The one after that... is set about 1k years from now. And the one after that, which I've just done the first set of revisions on, is set about 250-300 years from now.

I've a large, interesting universe, and don't intend to follow one person going out looking for adventure (because what you call folks like that, sooner, rather than later, is dead).

336:

I remember chatting with a university prof years ago, and he said that even upper year students often compartmentalized "physics explanations" in a difference mental box to "what actually happens". For a long time in physics education research we concentrated on using demonstrations to counter misconceptions, but even actually seeing a misconception falsified doesn't stop people accepting it anyway. (We already know this in other fields, physics isn't immune.)

Since I disliked most physics classes I took, I do understand the compartmentalization. If you ignore friction in the real world, you're dead, so being asked to learn a system that starts by telling you to ignore friction pretty much automatically puts it in a separate box from lived experience to begin with.

For what it's worth, one thing that pedagogical programs may miss is the need for repetition. My anecdata on this was listening to a young prof lamenting that they couldn't get their students to understand cladistics in a freshman intro class, yet a senior faculty member had no difficulty teaching cladistics in upper division. Since I'd TA'ed for both of them, I spoke up and pointed out that they were teaching exactly the same material. The thing is that cladistics, like algebra and calculus, takes repetition for the basic concepts to really make sense at a useful level. Since it was just a unit covered among many lessons, the students only got exposed once per class and learned it superficially at first. When they finally understood it as juniors and seniors, it was because they'd seen it repeatedly, not because one teacher was better at explaining it than the other. Perhaps this is a widespread problem?

337:

"every shoot-out basically ends in a bloodbath (everyone dead, boo). So, less unrealistic than D&D in that respect." Whereas in std. melee rules, that's not usual. Initiative, try to hit, how much damage....

Please note that I use ORIGINAL D&D, or which I have photocopies, and Ellen has the actual books....

338:

It doesn't need to be tropical to get fast leaf-rot, but it DOES have to be wet. Lots of waterside plants have very fleshy leaves, and rot quickly (e.g. rhubarb). My suspicion is that they hold their shape more from turgor than lignin and cellulose

Going back a ways because I forgot to respond to this, but temperature does correlate for decomposition rates, which is what I was getting at with tropical.

Otherwise (to annoy everyone with botanical geekery) the turgor pressure versus lignin and cellulose thing is fairly important. Plant cells are basically tiny living water balloons to a first approximation. Wood is what you get when you reinforce the balloons with lots of lignin and drain the balloon out (you can mimic this by plastering a balloon with paper mache, letting it dry, and popping the balloon). Plants don't move through muscle power, they do it by fiddling with some combination of water pressure inside the cells, and tension in the walls around the cells.

This is what I was getting at when I noted that carnivorous plants tend to use light and water to trap things: they use photosynthesis (light+CO2+water) to make cells that might be a spring trap with water pressure changes as the trigger or motivator (Venus fly traps, sundews), or they build some sort of pit trap and fill it full of carbohydrate bait, and slippery sides (different carbs), and/or they make a sticky carbohydrate goo that traps prey. Only when they start breaking the prey down do they need enzymes and amino acids with nitrogen in them. It's kind of evil-genius when you think about it this way, using the stuff you have in abundance to kill things to get the stuff you need. This is also why some pitcher plants are perfectly happy switching to become toilets for small mammals, instead of death traps for bugs. They're after the nutrients, not the energy.

339:

Since I brought it up, without taking particular sides, I think there's something to be said for acknowledging that Maori KNOWLEDGE is something that should be valued and taught, if only because the Maori made somewhat less of a mess of Aotearoa in the millennium or so they lived there than the Europeans have in the few centuries of colonization. Probably worth at least remembering how they did it. And perhaps a bit of Moa history needs to get taught too?

The problem certainly looks political. Knowledge is a form of political power, and who gets to claim superior knowledge therefore becomes importance, whatever the merits of a particular knowledge field are. In this context, I happen to agree that scientific claims, real or bogus, shouldn't be used to either disenfranchise people, nor to empower people who couldn't otherwise do the work. An example of the former is American Indian objections to scientific studies saying that they came to the continent 20,000 (or whenever) years ago. Why? Because bigots use this to say that they're immigrants too, and therefore have no right to their land. That's where science becomes political. I get to deal with stuff like that quite a lot.

340:

So instead of the cat shitting in the soil in the plant pot, it shits in the actual plant...?

341:

Rbt Prior
Yes-and-No ...
The US "R's" drive to fascism has a very strong Evangleical-christian component, along the lines of "Kinder, Kirche, Küche" - which seems to be entirely missing over here. Probably, because if they did, it would immediately be noticed & the game would be over.
And, of course, we do not (usually) have the pervasive level of religious brainwashing that the US has - { See a previous conversations on this subject! }

Pigeon
YES! When they were building the Victoria Line, they had lovely problems with Tottenham Hale station.
It's in the lower Lea Valley flood plain, with the original river course & then the later canal within a couple of hundred meters. IIRC, the subsoil(s) wan't "just" boggy marsh or extremely wet London Clay, but also interspersed alluvial gravel.
The problem was eventually solved by drilling & leading piping several km of tubing through the site & all round it, & then running very cold brine at about -15°C for a month or so.
Once all the surrounding gound had "set" nicely, then they could start excavating. Seeing all the exposed piping, covered in deep frost in the middle of the summer was amusing.

342:

So instead of the cat shitting in the soil in the plant pot, it shits in the actual plant...?

Not a cat, otherwise yes: tree shrews and three species of Nepenthes. pics.

343:

»One of the more bizarre problems one can encounter in building underground railway stations is when they insist on keeping trying to float to the surface.«

The Opera house in Copenhagen is built on an (old) artificial island in the middle of the harbor, and it has five basement levels, mostly rehearsal spaces. As I recall, around 25% of the concrete piles were sideways rather than down, to keep the buoyancy of all that air in check.

344:

It doesn't help that cladistics is pretty fair crap, when used the way that most cladists do. The amount of cross-linking in many organisms (even excluding viral involvement) means that the structure is more complicated than the simple rooted tree that cladistics assumes.

345:

It doesn't help that cladistics is pretty fair crap, when used the way that most cladists do. The amount of cross-linking in many organisms (even excluding viral involvement) means that the structure is more complicated than the simple rooted tree that cladistics assumes.

How to not be snarky about this...

Since we were being taught how to deal with this very problem in the 1990s, you can take it as given that the field has progressed just a bit since that was a relevant issue.

346:

Robert Prior @ 328: Would have been easier to list what hasn't been ticked off [Eco's ur-Fascism list by the Tories]. A great many also seem to be part of American Republican ideology, judging by what's jst happened in Texas.

Yes. The Tories have much of the list, but in a weakened and anaemic form. E.g. they don't openly preach "life is a struggle", they just consistently try to make it one for people who don't vote for them (unlike pensioners, who generally do vote Tory, and are scheduled to get a 10% pension bung as a reward). They don't say "Disagreement is Treason", they just imply that those who actively oppose them (e.g. by taking them to court) are acting from some vague sense of malice instead of principled opposition. And so on.

Meanwhile the Rethuglicans are in full Fascist mode on pretty much the full list. For many years a standard bit of R rhetoric has been that Democrats "hate America" and are therefore traitors who are actively trying to destroy it. Anyone who claims Biden honestly won the election is a fair target. Its WAY worse over there.

347:

»Its WAY worse over there.«

Compounded by the fact that the opposition party is owned by, conntrolled by, and run by, a bunch of rich old people, who mentally still live in "the good old days", and who are in politics more as a hobby, than to actually try to improve the world.

348:

Re: 'The one I'm looking for an agent now is set between 55 and 105 years from now, and covers the creation of the Terran Confederation.'

No problem - Since the event I was referring to occurred pre-11,000 years, you can probably sneak in an explanation. :)

Look forward to reading your next book.

349:

Interesting (carnivorous plants). I had observed that the Scottish Highland ones (butterwort and sundews) do not grow in shaded locations.

350:

The field may have, but a great many cladists haven't. I haven't read a huge number of recent papers, but most of them ignored the issue (even when it was demonstrably present). Also, it was bloody obvious that it was a major issue when cladistics was first promulgated, and was swept under the carpet.

351:

Re: 'The Tories have much of the list, but in a weakened and anaemic form ...'

OOC and because I'm not seeing a lot of headlines about BoJo when I open GoogleNews: what is the current sentiment wrt Tories over there?

Are any of the other parties doing anything useful with this opportunity to solidify their voter base and maybe reach new potential voters/supporters?

It's nice to have a meme to throw at your political rival but with the number of different parties trying for power I'm guessing that most voters over there probably don't have a clear idea of each party's complete platform. If so, then these voters are likely to drop support when the next meme makes the rounds.

352:

I'm not sure what specific knowledge you mean.

In the 1300's a group of polynesians turn up on two large landmasses well suited to colonisation, start hunting, start some agriculture and continue doing what extended-family tribal groupings have done all over the world - having divisions, squabbles, power struggle, alliances and generally living and being people (warts and all). As elsewhere, lovely art emerged, some fine buildings appeared but they never got round to a written language, so the total sum of information retained by the tribes was relatively small - and presumably only the most key information was codified.

However, while interesting, most of what they would have to teach would be rather akin to the experiences of the first Hawaiian and Australian settlers. The interesting thing would be contrasting how the behaviours adapted to the different resources and the weather conditions. Personally, I would find it fascinating to know how the Chatham Islanders culture arose given their pacifism in a society that permitted cannibalism and slavery.

300 years later a bunch of europeans turn up. Just people again. No better. No worse. Just equipped with better technology.

Its an interesting area of study. But I am really unclear how someone is disenfranchised by facts. Illusions of exceptionalism may be shown to be unfounded, but thats going to happen if you base your self esteem on the actions of your ancestors and not your own.

353:

what is the current sentiment wrt Tories over there?

Ask again tomorrow night, there are two by-elections taking place. Tiverton and Honiton usually counts as a safe Tory seat, but the by-election was triggered when the MP was caught watching porn in Parliament and resigned. Wakefield was triggered when the MP was convicted of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy and jailed for 18 months, it had been a safe Labour seat for nearly 90 years but went Tory in 2019.

354:

Because we're organised. :-P

The Geological Survey of Sweden was founded in 1858.

355:

what is the current sentiment wrt Tories over there?
Well, I habitually refer to them as "The Con Party"; Have you noticed many (even any) people arguing the point?

356:

There's also no recorded evidence that anyone in classical times built a computer, yet we have an example.

Yes, but Stonehenge does stand out a bit. Figuring out what it was computing was a bit of a struggle and of course "they used it for ritual purposes!" kept on sticking its oar in.

There's another factor in organised science apart from testability and falsification and that is the necessity of telling everyone else who is willing to listen what you had found out, the successes as well as the failures. There's a good reason a lot of the scientific journals with a long publishing history are called "Letters", "Bulletins" etc.

A lot of sciencey-type stuff before the Renaissance, like iron-making, compasses and good navigational maps was commercially sensitive information and much of that knowledge was either never written down or communicated to others and definitely not widely disseminated. After establishments like the Royal Society and the Lunarians came into being hard-won knowledge could not be destroyed by a single library fire or a sudden outbreak of plague. We know what stupid untested fever dreams Aristotle and his peers came up with in their imaginations because their hangers-on wrote it down and made copies, some of which survived long enough for the printing press to be invented. Who knows what other true wonders of the real world we lost when the Library of Alexandria burned.

357:

Let's disentangle this a bit.

The Polynesians used genealogies as their mnemonic systems, on the so-and-so did such and such principle. AFAIK they did this more than most people, which kind of annoys outsiders who don't want to learn genealogical chants (and to be fair, apparently many/most Maori struggle with them too).

THE PROBLEM HERE, and it's a big one, is that land ownership is tangled up with their land management and art, because they're all remembered by who did what.

So if you toss all their chants, you toss their traditional claims to land. Same problem happens in Hawai'i, AFAIK.

While I'm not thrilled about "Maori science" claims for this kind of knowledge, it's because it's an Apples/IBMs problem, not because their knowledge shouldn't remain current. Their tradition doesn't separate between knowledge and law to the degree ours does. Given what I've seen with legal approaches to western science (US abortion law, climate change, rights of non-white/non hetero-cis/non-males, etm), I won't say that our system is better. It's just practiced by more people and elaborated for that reason.

Australian aboriginal claims are at another level entirely. Their ancestors were on the land well in excess of 50,000 years, and much of what we think of as "Wild Australia" is a product of their work. I'd very much privilege their traditional knowledge, because they've got a vastly longer track record and better outcomes. Given how bad a mess white Australians have made in two centuries, they need all the help they can get.

358:

Yes, but Stonehenge does stand out a bit. Figuring out what it was computing was a bit of a struggle and of course "they used it for ritual purposes!" kept on sticking its oar in.

I like Lynne Kelly's notion that it was a mnemonic complex, much like classical Roman architecture. This doesn't foreclose the ancient astronomy and burial complex ideas, but it might explain more features.

Her explanation also covers the "moat." Apparently these dry excavations have a lot of the same acoustics as small lecture halls.

Her take on the Stonehenge complex was that it was a combination of state fair and convention, where pig-herders came from all over Britain to party, trade, hook-up, eat, learn stuff, and pass on knowledge. Yes, this is all "ritual behavior", but having HengeCon as the annual basis for British civilization is a very pleasant idea.

359:

There's another factor in organised science apart from testability and falsification and that is the necessity of telling everyone else who is willing to listen what you had found out, the successes as well as the failures.

Yup. Ibn al-Haytham got that part right, too. Back in 411 AH, some seven centuries before Newton…

(I've only read a bit of the Kitāb al-Manāẓir, but it wass interesting seeing how modern those bits seemed.)

360:

Robert Prior @ 328:

Everything is bigger in Texas, including the stupid ... maybe especially the stupid!

Although, FloriDUH seems intent on giving them a run for the money.

361:

no recorded evidence that anyone in classical times built a computer, yet we have an example.

I was thinking you meant the Antikythera mechanism which irritates a lot of people because we're pretty sure it computes, we have some ideas about what and how it computes, but it's taken a lot of time and effort to get to the level of understanding we currently have. It would be so much easier if we had the instruction manual of even a sales brochure for it.

Annoyingly the calendar it uses is in many ways better than ours at combining solar and lunar cycles :)

362:

Interesting (carnivorous plants). I had observed that the Scottish Highland ones (butterwort and sundews) do not grow in shaded locations.

Just to finish up the carnivorous plants on alien world thread, while sessile carnivores aren't entirely stupid (there are A LOT of them in the deep ocean, and so even reach decent size), they're less likely in low-light situations. If we're talking about large ambush predators (which human-scale carnivorous plants basically are), they're sort of like pythons and other large snakes, except that large snakes change location periodically. A carnivorous tree that's been killing human-sized prey for centuries probably won't be visited all that often...

That said, carnivorous plants may be more common on ancient worlds, for two reasons:

--Stars tend to brighten as they age, so there's more energy available.

--As planetary cores cool, nutrient cycling slows down, so the soils tend to be poor. Areas with old soils, such as parts of Australia and the Venezuelan tepuis, are host to lots of carnivorous plants.

Most of these alien carnivorous plants would be bug eaters, but one could imagine a something like a gympie forest composed of large clones of a stinging tree* that tackle larger prey.

Only a few of the trees would have stingers at any given time, so most organisms wandering through the woods would be safe, and none would know which plants are dangerous until the corpses pile up near them. But by the time they've killed, the stings on the murder-trees will have senesced, and different trees somewhere are coming online. And meanwhile, they produce just the best fruit and nectar, it's positively addictive. Totally worth the risk. That's how I'd build a human-capable carnivorous plant.

*clone like pando, a large colony of trees that are genetically identical and which spread as root suckers.

363:

I was thinking as much about the (holy) ghost in the machine stuff, where there's a whole lot of effort put into isolating the single cause and addressing it when we know as a completely separate unrelated thing that biology and sociology are messes of complex interactions. The definitely-not-science Polynesian approach of seeing everything as a network obviously wouldn't help and definitely couldn't tell us anything useful about how any modern "ecology" or "physiology" works, they don't even have words for those things.

One place I struggle is the idea from the indigenous side that any attempt to formalise or integrate that knowledge is cultural appropriation and colonisation and must be resisted at all costs. It feels as though they're taking the wrong lesson from white colonial culture, the one about the primacy of Intellectual Property, adding a bit of "miscegenation is abomination" from the Holy Bible and arriving at "fuck you I've got mine". To which I feel like saying... good luck with your Mars colony.

Meanwhile I look at the giant pile of knowledge the human species has piled up, collecting even "imperialist science" from the various bits of India, Arabia, Africa, the Middle East, the Far East, the Near East, the Barely East At All and so on then throwing in the blender to arrive at a hideous mix of Greek, Latin, English, random other words that capture the zeitgeist (what's the English word for zeitgeist anyway?). And I wonder... would adding random bits of Maori, Nyungamarta or Ndebele knowledge to the pile really be so inappropriate?

364:

As a bit of an addendum the birds subthread, I had lunch yesterday at a restaurant overlooking the Brisbane River, and observed over the course of about an hour:

  • a pair of brahminy kites loitering over the water apparently fishing
  • a mob of crows (didn't count them, around 5-10) moving down the river, driving off first one then the other kite, before moving on themselves
  • both kites re-appearing and continuing to "fish".

It seemed like the crows didn't like having raptors around, but didn't stay in one place long enough to exclude them entirely (especially over water).

365:

I was thinking you meant the Antikythera mechanism

I was, actually, but Stonehenge also works as an example.

I do take issue with people who claim that the scientific method originated in Europe. Around the turn of the millenium, during Europe's Dark Ages, Ibn al-Haytham elucidated it quite clearly in a book which (in translation) became very popular in Europe.

Like Snell's Law (which Wildebrod never claimed to discover) it seems to be one more concept that had its roots elsewhere.

366:

cultural appropriation

I confess I get a little confused by that expression, because it seems to be inconsistently applied. (Or possibly I'm not understanding it.)

A Cree singer using Inuit throat-singing is cultural appropriation, at indigenous music awards that have categories for country and hip-hop (and many of the singers wear jeans and cowboy boots). Someone non-indigenous can identify as two-spirited without it being cultural appropriation, but wearing a traditional shirt from another culture is enough to get one accused of cultural appropriation.

It's all very confusing.

367:

what's the English word for zeitgeist anyway?

No single word. Closest in my mind is "the temper of the time", but that's an awkward phrase, somewhat cliched, and we each probably associate it with specific texts (Midnight Oil comes to mind for me). The literal translation "spirit" would be better, because it has the same triple meaning as "Geist", while "ghost" only has one of the three, but you don't get away from the awkwardness ("of the").

So, say "the spirit of the time" if you want to be technically correct and safe against possible dual meanings. Say "the temper of the time" if you feel more comfortable situating your expressions in lots of prior art, and don't mind sounding a bit pompous. Say "time ghost" if you want to sound Dada and are confident your audience knows what you mean, though in that case "zeitgeist" is probably even betterer.

Another option is just to make something up entirely that aligns in meaning very loosely, tenuously or uses gratuitously wrong etymology. "Erratic gin" (or "djinn") works for me, but I'm sure people here could come up with better...

368:

The cynical part of me says it's whenever someone from a "primitive savage" culture says they don't like what you're doing. Revenge of the downtrodden!

More gently it's often used when someone takes something out of context, or more generally without respect and acknowledgement. The difference between a bunch of British kids who've studied Maori culture for a term doing a haka because they've learned about it, and a bunch of drunks doing one outside a pub. Both know the words of a haka, both know some actions, but the context is quite different.

But it really comes down to the people whose culture it is, insofar as we can even identify them. Preserve what we have left or let it die? There are often arguments on both sides.

The other things is that living cultures change. New songs are written, new music is integrated, and arguments about whether that's appropriate aren't limited to the Bureau Francaise. You can shove your Disque Compact where the sun don't shine...

369:

I do take issue with people who claim that the scientific method originated in Europe. Around the turn of the millenium, during Europe's Dark Ages, Ibn al-Haytham elucidated it quite clearly in a book which (in translation) became very popular in Europe.

There's a big step between elucidation and implementation. The historical record is that experimentation and testing of physical theories began in earnest in Europe during the Renaissance.

I'd like to read at least a good summary of Ibn al-Haytham's book to judge whether they got most of what we now regard as the scientific method right. What sort of influence did his work have in the Arabic world (which I presume is where he lived and wrote). Is there any documented history of, for example, a workable understanding of gravity from non-Western scholars that preceded Newton's revelation of the attraction of masses? We do know that, among others, early scholars studied the stars and knew of the visible planets (aka "wanderers" in classical Greek) but did they ever postulate and model a heliocentric Solar System with elliptical orbits?

370:

The historical record is that experimentation and testing of physical theories began in earnest in Europe during the Renaissance.

The European historical record, certainly. It's the one we learn in school. To us it's the default record. There's a lot missing or misattributed in it, though. For example, a fair number of classical pieces seem to have been written by wives and sisters of the composer of historical record.

I'd like to read at least a good summary of Ibn al-Haytham's book to judge whether they got most of what we now regard as the scientific method right.

At least as right as Newton, who wasn't above fudging the calculations and claiming credit for other's work.

Ibn al-Haytham certainly seems to have followed his own precepts. How many others did too? I don't know enough Arab history to tell you. Ibn Sahl was also experimenting with optics; he's one of Ibn al-Haytham's precursors.

371:

I just watched the new HBO documentary "Chernobyl: The Lost Tapes", which exposes the lies that the Soviet government told its citizens about the accident (which later helped lead to the downfall of the USSR).

Rather depressing, as it shows people dying from radiation poisoning and babies with horrible birth defects.

The 2019 TV Mini Series "Chernobyl" said that members of the USSR military (liquidators) were tasked with cleaning lethally radioactive reactor debris from the roof of the building adjacent to the destroyed reactor. It said these people worked on the roof for only one minute - then they were never allowed to do it again. The new documentary says the liquidators were up there many times, and 80% of them died within a few years.

Highly recommended for people with a strong stomach.

372:

Do they like or hate the All Blacks rugby team doing the haka?

373:

Yes.

Maori are about as unified as any other group of people.

There was some discussion a few years ago when they switched from the Haka of Te Rauparaha to a newly written one for various reasons.

https://www.allblacks.com/the-haka/

Here's a useful discussion of some kids in the USA treating that haka in a way that's culturally appropriate for them: https://www.culturalsurvival.org/publications/cultural-survival-quarterly/misappropriation-ka-mate

374:

H
Did you say PYTHONS? - IIRC, Burmese Pythons have an "attitude problem", unlike Indian Rock Pythons or Boas, but like Anacondas ....

375:

356 - I've said this, or variations on it, before. When an archaeologist says "they used this for ritual purposes" it can/may have the actual meaning of "we can't be bothered doing the actual science to find out what it was used for".

363 what's the English word for zeitgeist anyway? - Er, zeitgeist. No, really; it's a loan word from German rather than any of an English word, a translation or even a transliteration.

374 - The only "pythons" I know much about come under "Python (Monty)".

376:

This article is interesting in several ways, but it prompted me to wonder about the unidirectional nature of ideas like "cultural appropriation". Indigenous peoples taking up ideas like the Westphalian state are a cliche example of cultural appropriation, but somehow the only fault the colonists find is when they fail to exactly conform to the concept.

The primary issue, alongside its eurocentrism, when it comes to this understanding of sovereignty is that it believes power has to be exclusive. It can not imagine a sharing of power or political authority but Indigenous concepts of sovereignty predate, and exist beyond the boundaries of, the Westphalian model. It can be understood as the organisation of political function where we don’t invest all authority into a singular sovereign.

https://indigenousx.com.au/stand-back-waleed-sovereignty-is-more-complex-than-an-oath/

I also wonder whether my whole understanding of stuff like this is tainted by growing up in a small country where "sovereignty" was never simple and nor did it meet the "no outside interference" qualifier that apparently makes a state Westphalian. If Aotearoa wasn't being explicitly told what to do by various colonial powers it was fighting to be heard in international forums. While also negotiating sovereignty with various colonies and outposts it was bequeathed when the British Empire died (the Cook Islands, for example). Then I moved to Australia which is the same thing on a slightly larger scale, with the joy of The Dismissal where as recently as 1975 Australia was reminded that it's not an independent nation at all.

Which means that the idea of intersecting, overlapping actions of governance is how I see the world working. Admittedly less of the "responsible for" and more of the "control over" than Indigenous, especially Australian Indigenous, people seem to understand as the basis of government. But since we're living through a colossal failure of "control over" by governments that will obviously change in the foreseeable future.

377:

As planetary cores cool, nutrient cycling slows down, so the soils tend to be poor. Areas with old soils, such as parts of Australia and the Venezuelan tepuis, are host to lots of carnivorous plants.

Oh great.

As the mobile life forms develop, the usual arms race tends to lead towards adaptations like: venom (it seems to be an increasingly common trait in only the past 200M or so years) and brains/theory of mind (both for predators and prey).

And then you get symbiosis.

Think in terms of a small poikilothermic puma/mountain lion with proteolytic venom glands -- not a lizard, but a lizard-like tendency to hibernate between rare blow-out meals. It hunts by dropping on its prey and envenomating it (hey, it's a drop croc!), then hauls its kill up into the branches to ripen for a while. It then naps until the game is ready, slurps up as much of the liquefying glop as it can hold, then moves on. Eventually the kill putrefies and rains on the roots of the tree. Wary prey might look up and see the skinsack full of undigested bones hanging from the branches, but likely not.

Perhaps the trees provide some benefit to the drop crocs? Seriously nasty stingers which the drop crocs are immune to, perhaps (making them safe shelter for a predator that spends 98% of its lifetime sleeping).

378:

...and this doggerel that flows from my pen has just been written by
Another 20 telepathic men, all word for word
And it says: Oh for the wings of any bird
Other than a battery hen
That's the spirit of the age...

379:

Four Responses...

...Heh heh yup. Except that Australia proved you can do all that with monitor lizards and crocs, both winners of the "how the frack can something with that small a brain be so disturbingly intelligent" people's choice awards. And monitors are venomous. Seriously, google Perentie. And salties.

...Heeehe nope. You're missing all the cool bits, but you only get those by getting your own copy of Tim Low's Where Song Began, about Australia's birds. Seriously, if you want a SF alien generator, that book is a really good one.

...And one prize for "Living on an old land" goes to the Australian aborigines. Seriously, they walked around mostly naked in Lands full of horribly poisonous everything, and got called primitive rather than awe inspiring (you do it if you think it's easy). I, for one, hope there are still people in the Gympie Gympie Dreaming out there.

...And finally, to stand up for your Canadian readers, some of whom are within canoeing distance of the Canadian Shield, I have to point out that ancient landscapes can equally host moose, beavers, bogs, loons, and mosquitoes, the last of which need rather more carnivorous plants, IMHO. Oh, and the other "Living on an old land" prize goes to the Athabaskan First Nations, who have called that area home for awhile.

Cheers.

380:

Yeah nope, that song is totally cancelled. Creepy AF, if you read the lyrics these days.

381:

Re: 'Ask again tomorrow night, there are two by-elections taking place...'

Will do - thanks!

382:

Re: '... more carnivorous plants,'

How about throwing fungus into the mix?

Depending on your definition of 'eat' - fungi eat plants and animals. Plus some can communicate via fine filaments (nervous system), grow almost indefinitely and live thousands of years.

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/strange-but-true-largest-organism-is-fungus/

Hmmm - just found out that humans share something like 50% of the same DNA as fungi and that we contract many of the same viruses. (Some fungi also provide beneficial medicines to us, bees and probably other life forms.)

383:

Just bought & started in on Where Song Began.
Fascinating & clearly a work in progress, as well ...

As for "Old Lands" the plateau-islands in the far N of Brazil, like Roraima are, IIRC, populated by carnivorous plants & numbers of large Spiders ... euuwwww ....

384:

Polling stations are open until 10 this evening, having opened at 7 this morning. Results probably in the early hours. There seems to have been very little news coverage for these compared to the usual by-election level.

(Just coming up to 7:45pm at the time of writing)

385:

"Cultural appropriation" is difficult. There's the version where ad agencies grab memes, as it were, and then advertise it as the Real Thing.

But then, what do we call George Harrison studying with Ravi Shankar - is that "cultural appropriation"?

386:

*As for "Old Lands" the plateau-islands in the far N of Brazil, like Roraima are, IIRC, populated by carnivorous plants & numbers of large Spiders ... euuwwww .... *

Yeah. And eastern Venezuela and parts of Guyana too.

I was trying to stay out of there, because, especially in the blackwater river areas, I don't think a lot of people have ever lived there. And, very probably, I'll go spend five minutes with...

...yup, some people live around the Tepuis and the old mountains. Never mind. I don't know much about them, but I don't think many (any) lived on the tepuis, Arthur Conan Doyle notwithstanding.

387:

Pigeon at 378: That's the first thing I thought of!

OGH at 380: I thought it was supposed to be creepy? It's a dystopian tale, surely? I could see Moorcock's influence, I thought. A tale from a decadent and melancholic age, or some such.

388:

I've heard a Mongolian throat-singer covering a Depeche Mode song. Was that "Cultural appropriation"? There was certainly a degree of culture shock; I barely recognised it as a familiar song.

Years later, I don't recall which Depeche Mode song that was, and I'm not sure if it matters now.

389:

Yeah well, the opening verse would I think get it pigeonholed for paedophilia these days ...

390:

I am totally confused what song you are talking about

391:

Re: 'very little news coverage ...' (by-elections in Wakefield in West Yorkshire and the Devon seat of Tiverton and Honiton)

Yeah - I just checked BBC News.

And if the Tories do lose those seats Bojo already has his spin ready: losing a mid-term by-election happens all the time and doesn't change anything.

392:

Spirit of the Age by Hawkwind. It was a Robert Calvert song, written and first recorded in the late 70s. It hasn't aged well.

393:

"Spirit of the Age" by Hawkwind.

394:

And then there's Kurb Crawler, another Calvert song. Yikes, the whole song is problematic!

395:

I just googled "Spirit of the Age" by Hawkwind. Yes, I see how it has not aged well! :)

396:

Yes, verified by Snopes (and, since I grew up there, also verified by a former Seminole tribal judge friend with whom I went to HS).

397:

There's a little bit about Ḥasan Ibn al-Haytham over on ask historians. It's not much but definitely enough to say, as with most things, it's a bit more complicated than that. Useful extract- "A key tenet amongst historians of science is that what we call "science" is not about some specific method so much as it is a series of social practices that took many centuries to evolve (not merely the use of observation, experiment, and theory, but institutions to support research and knowledge-generation, the circulation of knowledge, the use of reliable patronage, and the standardization of education and professionalization). It certainly owes some of its origins to Abbasid scholars, as well as many other influences. To speak of the "groundwork for what became the scientific method" sounds both teleological, as well as ahistorical — it is both a mythical understanding of what science is, and its history. (On this, general theme see, e.g., Shapin, The Scientific Revolution.)"

398:

Bob Calvert was definitely smart enough to be depicting a character in his stuff, rather than making an endorsement of the behaviour. I mean, I doubt he was a fan of dying in car crashes but Deathtrap opens PXR5, which includes Kerb Crawler.

399:

I've heard a Mongolian throat-singer covering a Depeche Mode song.

Are you sure you're not thinking of Joy Division?

400:

Ok, Hawkwind is too weird for me. But the wings of a bird thing seems as though it would resonate with you :)

401:

The cover I recall hearing was much more "poppy", for what I can only guess might be Mongolian values of "Pop". This sounds much too acoustic to be mistaken for what I heard years ago.

However, I note that Yat Kha has also covered When The Levee Breaks by Led Zepplin https://youtu.be/Z_8CPhfTxyU. Both covers are wonderful. Thanks for introducing me to this amazing artist!

403:

If you ever have to use a computer with windoze10 on it you'll probably never write anything else again.

404:

I recognize that. Hawkwind.

Your android replica is playing up again. It's no joke; when she comes she moans another's name. That's the spirit of the age!

405:

Ha. I'd forgotten that particular lyric, literally a line above the ones I quoted. My bad.

406:

windoze10 on it you'll probably never write anything else again.

Wait until you get upgraded to Windows 11 and never have to own a computer again! It's a new and improved business model! ("pay us and we won't stop you using your stuff"... not sure when that was invented but the IP is probably owned by Microsoft now)

407:

Well BoJo now has another record, biggest swing in history with the Tiverton and Honiton result.

408:

OGH: "Yeah well, the opening verse would I think get it pigeonholed for paedophilia these days ..."

Maybe, but the reference to underage is to the age of majority not the age of consent. I don't think they are advocating for sex with underage girls anymore that they are for the cloning of telepaths for space missions! From what is in the song it would be quite possible for the protagonist to be 18 when he signed up for the mission, and his girlfriend 17 and thus unable to sign up for freezing until his return. I have never felt the need to analyse it like this until now though, I just accepted it for what it was, a song about someone on a weird space mission.

409:

Vulch
From the numbers, it looks as though a ot of actual "Conservative" - as opposed to "tory" voters sat on their hands at home - which is, itself a result of sorts.

410:

Still, that makes them "good Germans". Not to blame your lot of course: you're more like the Austrians this time around, while we're the Hungarians or maybe Romanians.

411:

Turnout down by around 16,000 compared to 2019, Labour candidate dropped 10K votes, Conservative 19K5 and LibDem up 14K. Almost a worse result for Labour going from 11,654 in 2019 to 1562 yesterday, though a lot of that may have been tactical voting.

412:

a lot of that may have been tactical voting

The joys of FPTP in a multi-party system…

413:

You might find the Rush song Anthem song easier to criticise, unless perhaps you're an Ayn Rand fan. I've read that Neil Peart, who wrote the song, was a fan in the 70s, but may have become less so in later years. His lyrics in the 80s and 90s have certainly reflected that shift.

I'm not and never have been an Ayn Rand fan, and I disliked the lyrics for years before I learned anything about her. So I used to be able to hear the song and enjoy the music, now I'm can't bear to hear it at all. The last time was just a brief quote in an instrumental medley intro to a much better Rush song, The Spirit of Radio.

I don't know how Hawkwind have handled the troublesome line in their song in later years. I've only ever heard the original studio version. Perhaps other singers, in the post-Calvert period found their own way to deal with it. I've only read that they found their own ways of singing those songs, not wishing to immitate Calvert's interpretations.

Anyway, that's enough musical criticism from me.

414:

No electoral system can be completely fair, but here's how I would modify our system to get rid of the worst problems without introducing the problems of (e.g.) party lists.

Halve the number of constituencies but not the number of MPs. Then, in a general election:

1: The person getting the most number of votes in a constituency becomes the/a MP for that constituency.

2: Each party is allocated a number of seats proportional to the total number of votes they got. If a party got more seats in step 1 than this would give them, they keep those seats and the other parties get a few less seats, but still in proportion.

3: The parties fill any remaining seats they are allocated with their existing candidates in the order of the number of votes they received. Those people also become an MP for their constituency.

Each MP was clearly a candidate for their constituency and was clearly popular. But the overall Parliament is as close to proportionally representative as possible, meaning tactical voting is less useful because you'll still get seats for your party, possibly even in your constituency.

(I haven't fully worked out how to do bye-elections.)

415:

Oh, I don't know. Simply select the MP at random, pro rata to the number of votes. Very simple, and works for bye-elections, too.

416:

(Finally Moveable type accepts my email address!)

Regarding "Spirit of the Age" - yes, it looks creepy now, but remember it was written in 1971 (and recorded a few years later) when the age of consent/majority/etc was in a state of flux.

"Underage" when Calvert wrote it would generally have meant under-21 if you wanted to get married (18-year old friends of mine who got married had to get permission from both sets of parents, or make a run for Gretna-Green), under-25 if you were female for a bunch of things (like a bank account, access to contraception if unmarried or (presumably) being cryogenically frozen).

The age of consent and voting age had only just been dropped from 21, unless you were gay (think it had just been decriminalised at that point), although at 18 you could drink, 14 leave school and work full time, 16 join the army, etc, etc.

It was all a crazy mess and "Schoolkids OZ" was very much a recent thing in the underground publication scene Calvert was immersed in as a "space poet".

I only caught the tail-end of it (I'm a few years older than OGH) but can remember the social, if not legal, mores of the time (shacking up with my future wife was most definitely "not the done thing").

Weird to think how much society has changed in just my lifetime. Suffice to say, reading early 1970's lyrics outside the context of when it was written makes as much sense as re-analysing the plotline of "The Gay Divorcee" from a 21st Century perspective.

(Apologies for no relevant links to some of the terms above, my coding-fu isn't up to it these days. Chucking relevant search terms into wikipedia should help clarify this old fart's reminiscences though).

417:

Congratulations; that looks a lot like you have just reinvented the Additional Member System and all its issues, like a party which polls over 50% of all votes cast still not holding a majority of seats in the House.

418:

The "Schoolkids OZ" was an infamous trial at the time. If you follow UK legal history at all, you'll learn about this at some point. ISTR there was a TV documentary.

Literary link: the defense lawyer was John Mortimer, QC. Also worthy of note: Geoffrey Robertson, not yet QC.

That's a lot of reading for context. However, the fact remains: the song, or at least that line, has not aged well. People forget the context and judge books, songs, whatever by today's standards.

Who has the time to read all that history? Social media demands outrage right now, dammit! You'd better be suitably outraged, too, because you'll be judged by the level of outrage of everyone else, and the people judging your outrage can be complete strangers. They may be outraged by your lack of adequate outrage, as judged by their standards. So how can anyone be sure they're sufficiently outraged? Simple enough: just show as much outrage as the last person, then add some more.

Old media may be much slower than new media, but there may be a similar feedback process. Nevermind third-parties who can exploit it to further their agendas.

Thankfully, this isn't Twitter, and I doubt anyone here is a GRU trollbot.

419:

The News is Dire ... - the USA is now heading straight into fascism, unless the "D's" can scrape a win this autumn.
"What is to be done?"

Here, the news is ... dubious. Bo Jon-Sun is clearly fucked-over, but he will not go - & do we want him gone, anyway?
Is it better to have him & his crooked, corrupt & part-fascist cronies remain until 2024, to be thrown out, but doing immense damage in the meantime. ...
Or, is it better to have him go & some other Brexshit-tory nonentity in charge, with the horrible prospect that the voters will NOT throw them out in 2024? { And what total arsehole would they pick, anyway? It could be worse than "BJ" anyway { Patel or Schapps or Raab }

420:

here's how I would modify our system to get rid of the worst problems without introducing the problems of (e.g.) party lists

I like ranked ballots.

AIUI, you rank the candidates in your riding in order of preference, and can leave candidates off entirely. So in my case, with the choice of Green, NDP, Liberal, Conservative, and a plethora of further-right parties, I might rank NDP as #1, Liberal as #1, Green as #3, and no one else.

• If the candidate with the most ballots has over 50% of eligible votes, they win.

• If no candidates has over 50%, then the candidate with the lease votes is dropped and any ballots for them count for the next choice down (and if there is no lower choice then the ballot doesn't count anymore).

• Got back to step one.

Any winning candidate is more acceptable to the voters who care than any candidate who didn't win, even if not their first choice.

Advantages: keeps existing ridings and candidate lists, prevents vote-splitting*, simple to understand.

Disadvantages: a bit more complicated to count votes (not really an issue with computers), is a change (any change will upset some people), and there are probably ways of gaming it I haven't thought of (but I'm certain someone has!).

*A big issue in Canada, with two leftish parties and one right-wing party. In Alberta when the right-wing party fissioned and split the vote it was such a big deal that they reunited again. Of course, when the two left-ish parties agreed to cooperate the right claimed this was perverting democracy and a socialist plot.

421:

Bo Jon-Sun is clearly fucked-over, but he will not go - & do we want him gone, anyway?

Who does Murdoch support?

Looks like in America he's switching from Trump to DeSantis.

https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2022/06/desantis-fever-is-spreading-across-murdochs-media-empire

422:

»the USA is now heading straight into fascism«

No, no, no, you're misunderstanding!

The Council of Guardians are simply defending The One True Text from the heresy of progress!

423:

At first I called our highest court The Supreme Clown Posse. But rappers and their fans were upset at being compared to people like Thomas or Alito, so I apologized and now call them the Extreme Court.

But yes Greg. We're fucked as bad a you guys now.

424:

As Charlie pointed out, the US 13th Amendment doesn't outlaw enslaving convicts.

So my guess is it's a bit of fascism, and a bit of reinstating slavery by making it illegal to not be rich, white, and structurally male. And, oh, giving white male officials broad powers of discretion over exactly what to enforce.

So next up is probably reinstating Dredd Scott to deal with the expected rebellion by the democrats...

425:

H
Go back to what ( I think ) Charlie said before ...
The "justification" for this decision is the striking down of a supposed "Right to Privacy" ...
Which opens several barrelfuls of writhing poisonous worms.

426:

Yes it does. My interracial marriage might be made illegal, for example.

It's going to be a long, hot summer.

427:

I really hope enough women in USA has read Lysistrate to make it long sex-less summer.

Proposed slogan: "No Rights for me ? No Sex for you!"

And future historians can start using the headline "Summer of No Love"

428:

Bang on Martin - there was a whole social history rabbit hole behind that outrage even then. This was the era of Mary Whitehouse after all.

Proof that you don't need the internet to start outrage one-upmanship (although it does make things much, much easier).

Even weirder, recently there have been attempts by some radicals to rehabilitate the appalling Whitehouse on the basis she opposed some things that are now taboo. (She opposed everything - a classic stopped-clock and most definitely not an enlightened reformer).

Probably best to leave it at that though, it all gets a bit recursive. :)

429:

That's going to make life interesting for Clarence Thomas (Supreme Court justice married to a white woman who helped get traitors to DC on 6 Jan).

430:

Moz @ 406:

Windoze11 ... THEY keep trying, but I ain't buying. The only reason I have Windoze10 on this computer is that's what it came preinstalled. This is only the third computer - other than laptops - I've bought outright (286, Mac Mini, this one).

The latest Windoze10 fiasco is there doesn't seem to be any way to shut down a computer (not that I could find). Windoze 7 has it right there on the start menu.

We had a power outage last night. Someone plowed through a mini-park and decapitated a power pole. I have everything on UPS batteries, so I had time to shut down, but it's not readily apparent how you do that with Windoze10.

Then, to cap it off, when the power came back and I restarted all of my computers, Windoze10 came up with a splash screen showing date & time (and a pretty picture), but NO WAY TO ACCESS THE LOGIN SCREEN (until I had unplugged & replugged the mouse & keyboard several times).

So no fuckin' way am I installing Windoze11. Why make something bad even worse?

I'd switch over to Mac, but someone is supposed to be looking for a copy of the Mac OS version of Photoshop CS6 Extended Edition (the last stand-alone, with a license I can purchase) and they haven't come through yet. I'm not going to switch to Mac and abandon the licensed version I already have for Windows (and I'm not going to buy the current extortion-ware version).

I'm still running Windows 7 on my Photoshop computer.

PS: Photoshop doesn't work under Linux even using the Windows emulator software. According to the Linux community, it SHOULD, but I've never been able to get it to work. And GIMP just doesn't give me the tools I want.

431:

Martin Rodgers @ 413:

Even if you can get past the inherent sociopathy in her writing, she's still not a very good writer.

432:

TIME ( & Past-time? ) ... for Charlie to update & comment on his previous tread, perhaps?
Since the right to privacy has gone. A government or agency, at any level, can now snoop on anything & interfere ....

433:

I really hope enough women in USA has read Lysistrate to make it long sex-less summer.

You and I are thinking along the same lines! I just posted the same thought on FacePlant. I phrased it as "Republicans shouldn't be allowed to breed. Not even recreationally."

I suspect the slogan will be something more along the lines of "Fascists, go fuck yourselves." Most people I know are deeply angry about this, and I think the rhetoric will follow.

Since some state legiscreatures are proposing to criminalize women going across state lines for abortions, another tactic I'd suggest spreading is suing any breeding-age female relative or employee of any politician who opposes abortion and a right to privacy. Especially in Texas, where it's legal for anyone to sue. Hard on the women, but I think grinding their lives to a halt for months every time they travel for any reason will hammer the problem home to them soon enough. Grinding civil courts to a halt over this is unfortunately worthwhile too.

The reason? It's impossible to differentiate between an early miscarriage, a late period, and a Plan B induced abortion, the last being now criminal and the first likely criminal (depending on the state). So sue them if they have a period until they take up the fight on the side of choice.

And yes, it makes me nauseated to suggest this.

434:

Re: 'Well BoJo now has another record, ...'

Well if he manages to hang on for a couple more years maybe he can get re-elected. I hear that he's fathered scads of kids - some might be approaching voting age.

'Roe' no longer has basic human rights in the USofA

I haven't checked but I imagine that the pro-lifers overlap the anti-vaxers by a lot. If yes - then it's kinda confusing unless what they really mean to say is that they personally reject for themselves and all their fellow citizens any and all medical treatment interventions. If yes - but then about about the inalienable right of every citizen re: pursuit of happiness? (Then again - their dictionary probably defines 'happiness' as '$$$' and guns instead of humanity, compassion, intelligence, imagination, etc.)

The only way to get this changed in order to guarantee all women full human rights esp. wrt to their own bodies/health is via legislation. Since apart from the anemic gun bill recently passed, both parties refuse to put their population's well-being above their own party lines, I really feel sorry for all the women caught in this nightmare.

OOC: a) What's the legal status of vasectomies? b) And of artificial insemination? c) At this rate maybe C-sections might soon also be considered excessive interventions.

435:

»The only way to get this changed in order to guarantee all women full human rights esp. wrt to their own bodies/health is via legislation.«

No.

This is the kind of shit you have to nail down in your countrys constitution, so that no politicians can ever fuck with it again, without asking the voters directly.

436:

It's going to be a long, hot summer.

Which may be the coolest summer of the rest of your life.

Metaphorically as well as climatically.

437:

We had a power outage last night. Someone plowed through a mini-park and decapitated a power pole. I have everything on UPS batteries, so I had time to shut down, but it's not readily apparent how you do that with Windoze10.

Weird. The Start button (usually bottom-left corner of the screen, little four-frame Windows logo) to bring up the Power menu (the symbol that looks like a stylised switch, a circle with a pointy-bit at the top), click on that then click "Shut Down". Before you say it, "Start" here means "Start doing stuff" like shutting down.

I would, myself like a "do you really want to shut down" confirmation after selecting "Shut down" since I don't power this machine down that often. I use the "Sleep" option nearly all of the time and that's immediately above the "Shut Down" option in the same menu and I have fat-fingered it a couple of times in the past. There does seem to be a way to add a confirmation step but it's fiddly, using some under-the-hood commands and system configuration tools like Group Policy Editor.

I've had Windows machines in the past that had odd problems but they turned out to be bad hardware more often than not. Sometimes the Windows OS worked around the problems so I didn't see the issues until I went into the Event Viewer and looked at the warnings and error logs. Issues I recall were a bad RAM stick in one machine that meant every few weeks or so the OS would go funny or just blue-screen on me. Another annoying bug was a damaged Ethernet port on another machine that meant sometimes the network connection would get iffy or fail completely.

Since building my current machine about eighteen months ago I can't think of any notable issues I've had with it. I just upgraded it from 32GB of RAM to 64GB because I got a great deal on Gumtree, an exact match for the two existing sticks of RAM at a very good price.

438:

I'm still running Windows 7 on my Photoshop computer.

Take a serious look at Affinity Photo.

https://affinity.serif.com/en-us/photo/

I'm very impressed with it. It can do everything I used Photoshop for, and faster.

439:

I imagine that the pro-lifers overlap the anti-vaxers by a lot

They do up here, certainly. Not entirely, but enough to notice. Clusters with support for other right-wing views, including hating on Trudeau (which started before he'd actually done anything, probably based on his name).

440:

I'm rather fond of Affinity and its sibling products. The price is nice too.

441:

This is the kind of shit you have to nail down in your countrys constitution, so that no politicians can ever fuck with it again, without asking the voters directly.

The "yes except" part is that the US requires two-thirds of the states to ratify an amendment, and we couldn't pass a women's rights bill at the moment.

Now, if we were talking about a constitutional right to privacy, that would get interestingly different. Probably that would fail too, not because most Republicans don't want a right to privacy (I'll bet they do), but because the tech bros and prison-industrial complex bros don't want it.

Anyway, having Clarence Thomas in prison for abetting the sedition of his wife (not impeached, in prison), possibly with Kavanaugh in the next cell for perjury? That would get very interesting indeed.

442:

It's going to be a long, hot summer. Which may be the coolest summer of the rest of your life. Metaphorically as well as climatically.

Thanks for reminding me...For those who aren't as familiar with American history, "long hot summer" is a reference to 1967.

whitroth