Back to: What I published in 2018

Deaths and Deadlines

Things have been a little quiet around here lately, so by way of an apology, let me explain why this is so. And also why "Invisible Sun" is so late.

Back in late 2013 my editor at Tor, David Hartwell, somehow charmed me into writing a follow-up trilogy to the Merchant Princes series.

"Empire Games", the trilogy, was originally due to come out starting in 2015. Indeed, David was gung-ho to push out all three novels at three month intervals, like Jeff Vandermeer's Southern Wake trilogy. Unfortunately, what David hadn't reckoned with was that I was already committed to publishing a novel a year via my other publishers, and my natural output rate is about 1.5 books/year. Also, David was that rare bird in these modern times, an editor who liked to edit. Indeed, he just about edited me to death. The first two novels, "Empire Games" and "Dark State", were undoubtedly improved by his diligence, but it served me as a crash course reminder in why I had resolved never to work with David again after the first series. (If you've ever had a charming but intensely annoying micromanager: it was like that.)

So we were just getting to grips with "Invisible Sun", a couple of years late (that kind of delay happens when your editor edits the first two books three times) ... when a bookcase fell on him and he died.

(It gets worse.)

Luckily David wasn't my only editor on this project. David was 75-ish; at that age, sudden involuntary retirement is a risk publishers plan for. My British publisher, Tor UK, was in the loop: my US publisher on the project, Tor, already had a fallback editor assigned. So my UK editor picked up the pieces and carried on.

Only, then my father died.

Losing a parent cannot be recommended as a positive experience. In my case, it killed a year of work I'd just put in on a new space opera, "Ghost Engine" (which is now going to be even later than a very late thing indeed). GE will still, I hope, see the light of day: it's just that it was indellibly associated in my skull with my father's terminal illness, and I needed to get some distance. So, after some hasty editorial conferences, we agreed that I'd bring "The Labyrinth Index" forward a year—I already had it planned, so writing it would be straightforward. And indeed, I squeezed it out and it was handed in only about three months after the original deadline for "Ghost Engine".

Then I burned out.

It's normal for authors to take multiple years off after the death of a parent. I was so busy patting myself on the back for being only three months behind schedule that I hadn't even noticed that the due date for the final redraft of "Invisible Sun" was a month after the delivery date for "The Labyrinth Index". (I wrote the first draft of "Invisible Sun" in 2014, but in the process of finalizing "Dark State" David hacked the first two chapers off "Invisible Sun" and turned them into the ending of the middle book, so it needed a total re-write to turn it back into a novel.) Anyway, I sat down to work on "Invisible Sun" in January 2018 ... and the words just didn't come.

I got there eventually. I turned in something vaguely book-shaped in late June, just six months late. Reader, I always hit deadlines. I spent years as a corporate technical author and then as a freelance journalist. Deadlines are holy. I do not miss deadlines: if I think I might need extra time I raise it with editorial/management so far ahead that they can reschedule things comfortably—and then I try not to use it. So, six months late? Is not business as usual in my world: in fact, it's a first, in just under 20 years of selling books.

With a six month delay, my editors at Tor (UK and US) agreed to delay the book by 12 months, providing lots of extra time to catch up. With on-going burnout, my agent and I agreed I'd take the last six months of 2018 as a sabbatical from writing. Travel, read, lie on a beach, whatever. I don't generally do holidays: when I travel there's usually a work engagement or three along the way. I last took a sabbatical in 2007: I'd been aiming to take one in 2017, but dad's illness came up instead.

So, that relaxing sabbatical in the second half of 2018? About two weeks into it, my mother was taken into hospital in an ambulance and spent the next three months on a succession of stroke/neurology wards in a city about 200 miles away from my home. She didn't die, but she's now in a nursing facility with no prospect of recovery. If she makes it to April she'll turn 90: to be honest, I didn't expect her to come out of hospital alive. Every week is a bonus, and I'm making weekly round trips to visit her. (If you've wondered why my public appearances have dropped through the floor since last autumn, it's because I don't want to be too far from the bedside.)

However, at some point during the last eight months, the period of burn out ended. I was allowed—my sabbatical rules—to work on a side-project: no contract, no deadline, no requirement that it even be publishable: just writing for the hell of it, anything I wanted, the way I did before the hobby turned into a day job. The side-project in question has the working title of "Lost Boys" (it almost certainly can't be published under that name, because the movie dominates the Google search ranking and SEO is important to book titles these days). I can't really say too much about it yet because it's not finished, much less sold to a publisher, and it certainly won't be published before 2020 at this point, but it's set in the Laundry universe but has nothing to do with the existing Laundry Files series, and it aims to do for "Peter Pan" what "Equoid" did for unicorns. I'm now about 70% of the way through writing a first draft, and I'd be aiming to finish it this month (February) except—

I mentioned "Invisible Sun" getting a one year delay, didn't I? Well, that means it's now due out in December 2019/January 2020. Which means that the publishers' production pipeline expects inputs at a specific point, and I need to do a final edit pass on it once my editor at Tor UK sends me an edit letter.

Which would have come in late December, but my editor's mother died right before Christmas.

Which brings me back to the present. I'm working on "Lost Boys", with the goal of having a Laundry spin-off novel ready for next year. "Ghost Engine" exists in first draft (I was halfway through the second draft when dad died) and it's not unlikely that it, too, will be completed in time for publication in 2020. I'm expecting the edits on "Invisible Sun" to arrive this week, and it should, I hope, come out at the end of 2019.

Just as long as nobody else dies.

490 Comments

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2:

Just wanted to say as a fan that I'm always amazed by your volume of output. Thanks for treating us to your work over the years, and take care of yourself. I'm looking forward to Invisible Sun and Ghost Engine whenever they come out!

3:

She, your mum, is in Leeds & you're in Edinburgh?
Minmum train-time between the two appears to be about ..3h 8 min .. for 230 miles by train? Ok, 73 mph, not bad, but ... return? Um.
NOT Good At All

As for people dying ... a very good friend, who happened to be "squire" of our Morris-sdie deid iN December - we buried him on Midwinter's Day - he was nine years younger than I ... & our "Bagman" (secretary) sister died last week.
It don't half screw things up doesn't it?

4:

My sympathies to you Charlie. I hope your mum can stay with you for as long as she can, and I hope she’s getting good care, peace and comfort.

5:
it aims to do for "Peter Pan" what "Equoid" did for unicorns
The first thing that comes to mind on seeing this is "oh shit!".


Aside, the big problem of getting older, one year at a time, is that everyone else gets older one year at a time, except they have a headstart on you...

6:

Oh, chicken's tits, what a horrendous catalogue of disasters. Here's hoping this year is some kind of improvement. And as I've said before please don't feel you need to apologise for not having written as much as expected: having to wait a bit longer for a book is far preferable to having you fuck yourself up trying to get it written quicker.

7:

Charlie, it sounds like your life really sucks. I'm sorry to hear how bad things are and hope your life gets better ASAP!

8:

Very polite, Vincent.

The first thing that came to my mind was "You &*()_@#$%!!!!!"

Unicorns are never going to be the same again; and now he's going to ruin Peter Pan, too...

But, I am of course going to read it...

9:

One aspect I'm not particularly fond of in the US, is the assumption that you're entire family could be wiped out and you'll be expected back in the office the next day.

I'm glad you've taken time (and your publishers were ok with you taking time) to digest this, and I'm sorry for your losses.

You've also reminded me why I attach bookcases to the wall.

10:

Take good care of yourself and your family, we'll be here.

11:

Ahem: you might want to re-read (or read) "Peter and Wendy" by J. M. Barrie as an adult. (It's a free download on Project Gutenberg, at least in the US.)

Before Disney got his hands on Peter Pan, Peter was scary. And the novel "Peter and Wendy" makes it pretty clear the story was all about death, dying, and dead children—an attempt to explain to late Victorian/Edwardian toddlers why their baby brother or sister wasn't there any more.

Peter Pan is ... well, here's a direct quote:

... he was so full of wrath against grown-ups, who, as usual, were spoiling everything, that as soon as he got inside his tree he breathed intentionally quick short breaths at the rate of about five to a second. He did this because there is a saying in the Neverland that, every time you breathe, a grown-up dies; and Peter was killing them off vindictively as fast as possible.

12:

On a similar note, when I was drunk at uni I once wrote a "fairy genocide" program that consisted of an infinite loop that printed "I don't believe in faries!". That'll learn em!

13:

Crimini Jickets

You have absolutely nothing to apologize for.

14:

Unicorns were never really all that nice; the supposed source of unicorn legends was an especially gracile Ice Age rhino species. Now, given the general descriptions of black rhinos in Africa (A Peter Hathaway Capstick terms them "Old Dimwit" and generally equates them with unpredictable and erratic natural disasters), a gravile and fast-running rhino would be extremely bad news most of the time.

It would be especially bad for humans because like most extant rhinos, it would have had poor eyesight, a very acute sense of smell and a combination of curiosity, hair-trigger aggression and general stupidity that would make it extremely unpredictable and very dangerous to encounter, or even move around up-wind of.

All Charlie has done is point out that unicorn-like animals in his universe are predatory, vicious and very, very dangerous to encounter. Something like the Peter Pan legends would likely be similarly a combination of malice, predatory zeal, intelligence and enormous cognitative blind-spots.

I do hope the book sees light of day eventually.

15:

I do hope the book sees light of day eventually.

Well, there should be 70,000 words of a projected 95,000 words by the end of this week, so that's a good bet.

(But I have to down tools when the edits to INVISIBLE SUN arrive on Friday, because that has a definite deadline attached and I need to switch tasks. And my mother ... well, she might last another few months, but I doubt it. Single-digit weeks are more likely. So the schedule is indeterminate and I'm not making any promises.)

16:

So that just sucks! I normally lurk and never post but I had to say don’t apologise - Charlie Stross books are worth the wait. But we won’t get anything if you drive yourself into the ground. I truly hope 2019 is a better year and your mother is comfortable and content. Look after yourself Charlie.

And I recently reread Peter and Wendy. I’m very much Looking forward to your take on It!

17:

Charlie, you have my sincerest sympathies and also my thanks. My father had a massive heart attack in January, received quintuple bypass surgery, and spent most of two weeks in a hospital intensive care unit. While I was spending upwards of eight hours per day with him in the ICU, I purchased a copy of The Labyrinth Index on my phone. It was honestly some of the best money I've spent in a long time. It was a great distraction from events beyond my control, and a dark laugh at the same time.

[Mild Spoilers:] I was also really surprised that I was rooting for the vampire-superhero marriage by the end, as I hadn't even liked "fuckboy" (I honestly can't remember his real name--Malcolm?) very much in his previous outing. Thanks again for writing such a great series. Mhari is also my favorite POV character so far--and I've loved all of them. I was also amused by how world events keep overtaking you. The Mandate's evil plans for the UK were murderous, but still seemed somewhat restrained compared to what's been happening in real life. I'd take current events as a license to be even more zany going forward. ;-D

I hope you and your loved ones have a safe, happy, and mostly-uneventful year.

18:

Charlie,

Dunno what happened this morning, but after putting it off for a couple of weeks, I just bought (and started reading) Labyrinth Index.

Second... I'm very sorry about your dad; on the other hand, you had him this long. I lost my father when I was 38, and my mother when I was 43. At least then, I still had my late wife. Not easy or fun, in any way.

19:

Troutwaxer, since I couldn't respond on the "what I published in 2018", you said "you're here" - where? If you're in DC, tell me, and let's have dinner.

20:

My sympathies.

21:

And it's not like it's a fine science, as I discovered in 2013. We knew my mother was in her final illness, but expected it to be a few more weeks (on the judgment of the nursing home staff), so we went off to Bradford for Eastercon, because we needed a break from all the shit that was happening.

(Including the unexpected death of my wife's father a few weeks earlier.)

And so it was when we got back from the Kashmir on Good Friday that I got the phone call.

'a few weeks' turned out to be less than two days.

It's hard to make proper plans in these cases.

22:

Yeah, Unicorns. You don’t want to fuck with them.
A short film, “Delicacy”: http://blogs.kqed.org/filmschoolshorts/films/delicacy/

23:

Did I say 70,000 words by the end of this week?

Ha ha, I stopped writing just 180 words short of there a moment ago so that I could go past 70,000 words first thing tomorrow.

Think I'm going to keep going on this one until that edit letter arrives. Who knows? At this rate it could be baked within another fortnight.

24:

Yikes, that's a hard couple of years! Take your time (well as much as your willing to and publishers can allow), and spend as much if it as you can with your mum. Much better to have you sane and functional with a number of delayed books than completely burning out or starting to produce rushed work you don't feel good about.

We'll be waiting patiently, and buying anything that turns up, when it turns up (though by the sounds it, that novel seems to be coming along at a high rate of knots/words)!

Good luck Charlie!

And if you ever get a chance you should try a book tour or even better a holiday down here in NZ/Aus.

25:

Holy shit, what a string of disasters! I hope to hell thats the end of it and you can put your life back together now. With luck, in a couple of years you’ll be back on schedule and able to go on the road, and I’ll be out of this wheelchair and able to meet you for a beer when you’re in town. Good luck.

26:

Charlie said: when a bookcase fell on him and he died.

Of course. That is an appropriate way for a book editor to die.

I retired from the Department at the end of 2007, my dad died nine days later at "home" hospice. My mom then tried to push everything out of the house that reminded her of him. Big mistake. She collapsed eight months later and ended up in thirty day "recovery" paid by Medicare to get her strength back. She lived fairly well for three more years, giving her time to get everything ready for her own death. It wasn't her feet/legs that killed her it was because she was high on Oxycontin to "control" the pain that killed her. She fell down in the backyard, and didn't feel it until the next day when she couldn't move for the pain from the massive bruising. She literally fell, then bounced back up embarrassed that she "tripped".

We then spent the next four months dancing her through the system, in and out of hospitals and "recovery" centers. Here in America you don't go to a hospital to get well, you go for expensive procedures, so every Thursday morning when the staff changed the new doctor would kick her out of the hospital and into a "recovery" center rather than deal with her. Even if it was in the middle of a procedure, out she went. Then at the "recovery" center she would crash, be sent to the emergency room, stabilize, then be kicked out at the next Thursday shift change.

This went on for months until she was finally transferred to hospice care(paid by Medicare). At the hospice she perked up, everybody had the chance to visit and say their goodbyes. She appeared to be doing so well that on the Thursday shift change the doctors were going to kick her back to the "recovery" center; she obviously wasn't dying fast enough for them. That upset her so much that she shut down and they let her stay to die. That was on Good Friday. She was basically gone by Easter, but wasn't officially dead till the following Wednesday when her body finally got the message that she was gone.

BTW, The mistake my mom made when dad died was being upset by the fact that everything reminded her of him. After her collapse, I finally made it clear to her that the memories were a feature, not a flaw. Not a day goes by that I'm not reminded of mom or dad, and I always say, "Thank you". I cherish the memories of both, celebrating what they taught me about life, both good and bad.

When it comes to finishing "Invisible Sun" and Hartwell, embrace the memories, finish the book as if he were right there helping you, because he is. That's a feature, not a flaw.

- That's the thing about people still being present long after they are dead, the memories of their life reminds you that it's now your job to make the decisions, to do the work.

Also, when you look at the Google listing for "Lost Boys" it's about the Kiefer Sutherland movie about Vampires. Modern audiences are not thinking "Peter Pan" when you say "Lost Boys".

- Look at The Child Thief: A Novel by Brom for how he handled his Peter Pan title.

My advice, fuck Google. Use "Lost Boys", it's a great title.

Bellinghman @21

People often hold back for the Holidays, or literally wait till you have left the room before dying. Mom fell after Christmas 2011, then held on four months.

The only reason she held out till April is because grandfather and dad both died in a January near my brother's birthday. Mom literally did not want to add her death to that list. In January, while she was in the first "recovery" center, we joked about that. I told her that I always knew that she would die before my birthday, so that it was all right with me if that happened.

On Good Friday, I told mom, "It's Good Friday. It's all right. You can die now." It happened before my birthday in April, so I get to own it.

27:

Ah Charlie,

Welcome to the future. This is what we all get to go through in the next decades as the Boomers die off and us Xers follow them. It always sucks, but I think the sucktastic thing is that we're embedded in a society that is less than matter-of-fact about the innate tragedy that life is generally too short and dying is generally too long, and compounds the harm by indoctrinating us that the best death is both instantaneous and tidily inconsequential, so that it won't bother the rest of us. It seldom works that way, though.

Anyway, take care of yourself.

Oh, and about Lost Boys? I Amazoned it and found that the vampire movie had spawned sequels, so yeah, that's a bit too muddy for a good title. Too bad Seanan McGuire's taken "Wayward Children" already. Perhaps something like "The Laundry's Lost Children" or "The Laundry's Wayward Children?" I wouldn't suggest "The Misguided Children" because SEO sinks that search into the morass of American right-wingiana.

28:

Dear Mr Stross,

On my bookshelf is a row of books that you put there. They are among my favourites and I don't think that any of them have been read less than 4 times. They are a joy to read and they brighten our world.

Storytelling is one of the great gifts.

If you write any new books - I will be grateful.

But, if you don't write new books - I will still be grateful.

Thank you for the stories.

You have no need to apologise.

29:

Wow, that's rough. My wife died last year after several years spent fighting leukemia.

30:

And if you ever get a chance you should try a book tour or even better a holiday down here in NZ/Aus

I don't visit the antipodes very often: it's a hell of a long way. (There's a point in the ocean about 300km directly south of the south-east corner of South Island, NZ, which is literally the opposite pole of the planet from where I live.) However, the worldcon is due to be in NZ next year, and I plan to be there if at all possible (and will probably want to spend some time exploring, then change planes over a couple of weeks in Sydney or Melbourne on the way home—last visited either of those cities in roughly 2010).

31:

I would just like to note that contemporary American (and British) cultural taboos around death and dying are as opaque and forbidding as their Victorian era counterparts' taboos around sex. And the relative openness about sex today had its counterpart with public models for death and mourning back then.

32:

Charlie,

Glad you've taken on a side project -- a good plan indeed.

So, it looks like you won't be needing any of those ideas I tagged on to the end of one of the recent threads after the 1,000 item.

And having now handled four of them, death of parents doesn't get any easier. I work with an 80 year old ex-academic, and when I mentioned the loss, he said it didn't get any easier even after thirty years. But I figure you've worked out most of that already.

33:

I had a string of years where this stuff was a bit unrelenting, with deaths and illnesses involving close friends and close family (and a dog!) in multiple succession, at least 2 events a year. The climax wasn’t exactly a career nose-dive, I’d characterise it more as a sort of high-altitude stall, albeit not especially high (in some ways it was a result of the turbulence of those climbing past). I’m back where I was now, but probably never getting higher, at least not in the foreseeable future in the area I’m working. It’s the mortgage that stops me transitioning out more than anything, so I’ve gone back to study in an attempt to switch out at level, but that isn’t at all a foolproof plan, and I seem to be finding more foolishness the more I look within. The daily struggle is more with depression and a tiredness I can’t shake off, which means the stuff requiring optimism and energy is harder than it should be. Nonetheless, energy and optimism are the things that work for me, so that’s just how it has to go.

Ideally I’ll just start writing one of these days, and that will be my transition out. But I think everyone thinks or says that at some point :).

34:

We then spent the next four months dancing her through the system, in and out of hospitals and "recovery" centers. Here in America you don't go to a hospital to get well, you go for expensive procedures, so every Thursday morning when the staff changed the new doctor would kick her out of the hospital and into a "recovery" center rather than deal with her. Even if it was in the middle of a procedure, out she went. Then at the "recovery" center she would crash, be sent to the emergency room, stabilize, then be kicked out at the next Thursday shift change.

For the last year or few this would most likely not happen. Hospitals new get penalized if people cycle in and out. At least for Medicare covered people. The current emphasis is to kick you out as soon as you are well enough to not be back for at least 30 days.

35:

Not a day goes by that I'm not reminded of mom or dad,

Yes. My father passed in 2001 and every now and then I think I'll call him to ask his opinion for till I remember he is gone.

36:

I would just like to note that contemporary American (and British) cultural taboos around death and dying are as opaque and forbidding

No question about it.

My wife and I have been talking about writing down a lot of things that are not normally in a will so our children will have some guidance about how we feel about things. Especially after dealing with all of our parents passing after refusing to discuss any end of life issues.

And on a side note, for those in the US, you need to put into your will or maybe a hand written witnessed letter that any data stored anywhere in the world that in past times would have been on paper can be legally be treated as if it is still on paper. Talk to a lawyer. Some (many?) states treat cloud storage differently and will lock out access unless specifically specified otherwise. Assuming you would want such to happen. This is starting to be an issue in the US as more and more documents and/or personal information only exists in the cloud.

37:

Charlie,

Take care of yourself. I had a year a while back where a counselor said 'Wow! You've got it rough!', and you are matching that.

38:

I'm in Southern California, but I'd be happy to hang out if you're ever out this way.

39:

David L @36

Good luck on nonphysical data, that usually vanishes or is locked once people die.

I don't have a link to the article, but a father, daughter, shared his Kindle books. They read them together. Once he died, she no longer had access to the books. If I remember, the TOS of most systems forbid writing a copy of the passwords, etc..., so putting them someplace is problematic. So anything important that is virtual needs to be made real again and physically stored if you want family to keep it, copied to DVD, etc...

- I do not yet know how as writer to set something up to keep my books alive in Amazon after I die. Once I make large enough money, I'll figure something out.

Mom did everything right, after she recovered from dad's death. Part of her was surprisingly relentless about getting things done: Power of Attorney, having our names on her accounts; checking, CDs, etc... The wall we hit was on the Power of Attorney. It only worked as long as she was alive. We did not know that was going to happen. Luckily I had money to pay bills. Then we just had to have copies of the Death Certificate to do the rest.

One of the things they both did to prepare, decades ago, was put my name on the house title so that we didn't have to go through probate. Decades ago, they set up Living Wills that spelled out what to do, especially Do Not Resuscitate. I'm the one who had access to a laser printer and word processor, so I had to create them for them. You have to be flexible with that. Mom had a pacemaker put in a decade before she died. We looked at it like having a pair of glasses on, an assist to living, not a violation of the wishes they set up.

The doctors and nurses are trapped by Living Wills, they cannot do anything to resuscitate without fear of being sued. They can be, and were, quite vicious in challenging our understanding of the Living Will. When they were waiting to put the pacemaker in, mom's heart stopped in her room. My sister and a nurse was there. The nurse said sometimes a poke in the arms starts it up again, and she did just that. No extraordinary measures.

While mom was in hospice my sister kept using euphemisms about death. The doctor kept demanding, "Go on? Go on where. Leave us, where is she going. I don't care about where she lives." We had to explicitly state that she was there to die. The staff was not allowed to talk about death unless we did. They could not even say the word until we stated it explicitly.

You have to have somebody say the words and stick with it, otherwise too many people are polite, use euphemisms, and nothing gets done. I was the one who had to be the adult in the room when mom could no longer speak.

The number of bizarre things that happened during that time is still inexplicable to me. Much will someday appear in the books I publish. They can only be understood through Story.

40:

Good luck on nonphysical data, that usually vanishes or is locked once people die. ... Kindle books.

I'm not so much thinking of the crazy world (where there is a 3rd party with "rights" involved) of DRM'd books and such. I'm referring to things like my email collection, financial records stored in a cloud services, the 30,000 photos in AWS, and so on.

So far we've verbally told our grown kids our 1Password pass phrase.

41:

Charlie, I lost my beloved Dad to fast-moving aggressive cancer in 2015 and I know how badly it affected me. I still miss him desperately and think about him every day. Please accept my sincerest condolences to you and your family. This article helped me with the grieving process: https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/01/10/getting-grief-right/ Please take care of yourself and take whatever time you need.

42:

Death is a mystery and the grave a secret to quote Mr King.

43:

Charlie @ 23
Yes, when the inspiration comes, use it ... reminds me of that OGLAF cartoon about "The New Muse" (!)

allynh @ 26
Your description of the cyclical US "HEalth" procedures is utterly revolting & inhumane.
OTOH, we have our own demons ... the "Today" programme had a bit on someone going to Dignitas & the local Plod giving his wife hell, because some stinking bastard tipped them off & shge "may face prosecutioN" if "further evidence becomes available"
Details here
Charlie @ 31 hits it on the head

44:

My Dad made a will after dealing with *four* estates where the person had not, including his mother and mine, because he "wasn't going to put me through that". He also left a large envelope with "to be read after I'm dead - no you fool after I'm dead!" on the front, which had details of all the bank accounts, and which solicitor had the will, and a list of names and addresses of friends (not all of which proved to be current, but it was still a huge help). He and my mother had spent the best part of a week clearing through paperwork at my grandad's place before they found the house deeds, and that was another thing he was not going to do to me. Given I was an orphan at 36 he made it as easy as it is possible for that to be.

45:

As others, you have filled a shelf of my bookcases (and this after donating the 6-volume Merchant Princes when the 3-volume Author's Cut was released).

For that I am grateful, and for the personal stuff I have no adequate words.

46:

Ah yes, being as prepared as possible up front does help (and I'm sure Charlie and his family are).

My mother entrusted Enduring Power of Attorney to my wife (not me, my wife — Yorkshire women trust each other), and also made her the executor of her will. As mother was initially in a care home and then a nursing home, she was never going to be able to return to living in her house, so we put that up for sale. We had to inform the buyers that it was possible that mother would die while before the sale completed, and that that would cause a delay as we applied for probate, but that it would be as short as possible.

Also, my wife became a joint signatory on mother's bank accounts. The current (checking?) account was older than me.

47:

Take your time. "Charlie Stross is not your bitch" is not going to be a meme we need.

48:

Indeed. I am not quite from that background, and my father died when I was 8, causing a traumatic move to the UK, which took me a couple of decades to adapt to (insofar as I have). At 10, our English teacher was talking about euphemism and 'breaking news gently' using Shakespeare's "full fathom five", said it was much less harsh to the bereaved, and asked the class. I was the only person to disagree, strongly - but was the one with the experience!

Quite a lot of this is because people are not accustomed to unexpected deaths happening, especially to children - I was, though only to the level of the Victorian upper-class - the Victorian working class encountered it frequently, and had to go to work the next day. I know that some of the Victorian upper-class were completely doolally about it, but I also know that many were not, though I have no idea of the proportions and reasons.

I do not know enough about your and your mother's situation to wish for anything, but know death was a welcome release for my grandmother and mother. I kept hoping for news of my mother's death - and also knew that she had wanted to die rather than be incapacitated by strokes - unfortunately, she was 2 years with essentially no ability to communicate or feed herself. That's not something I say often, because it is often claimed to be disloyalty.

49:

The staff was not allowed to talk about death unless we did. They could not even say the word until we stated it explicitly.

It's similar in the UK, but not identical. In particular: when my father was in his terminal stage, the GP would visit at home—but was waiting for someone (in the event, me) to use the words "terminal" and "palliative care". At which point it was like throwing a switch—suddenly Macmilan nurses (home end-of-life specialists) began turning up, all sorts of stuff was installed to make him comfortable at home with hospice-level care, and so on.

I think the reasoning here is that if the doctors appear to be pushing the family towards end-of-life decisions they may be held liable afterwards if the family don't want to go there. But if the family have a realistic outlook and make the call, the medics are free to take appropriate action without personal risk.

50:

Ah, another Tyke. Just curious - where in *G.O.C. are you ? (I'm in Ossett, Wakefield)

*God's Own County, of course.

51:

I will add: some people just don't get it, ever.

My cousin was diagnosed with an inoperable terminal brain cancer for which chemotherapy and radiation treatment weren't possible, and given six months to live. His wife ... she was in complete denial.

He succumbed to total aphasia about 3 months before the end, so she took it on herself to act as his mouthpiece.

Three days before the end, while he was half-paralysed, unable to communicate, and clearly dying, she was so convinced he was being poisoned by the mercury amalgam in his dental fillings that she paid the dentist to come to their home and remove all his fillings.

She didn't accept that he was dying of cancer until the undertakers arrived to remove the body.

(This is the kind of person who doctors live in terror of, because as the wife of a senior partner in a law firm, if anyone is going to try and sue the shirt off your back for malpractice, it's going to be her.)

52:

I very strongly recommend taking longer than you think to tour NZ, especially the south island - you may find a month feels short, unless you start missing city lights after he first week. And remember that tight schedules are bad, especially in the south island (and most of all on its west coast), as roads DO get blocked without warning.

53:

So far we've verbally told our grown kids our 1Password pass phrase.

Not sufficient.

You need to go to 1password and generate and print an emergency recovery sheet—password, URLs, secret key, QR code, and so on. Then feed it through a laminator so it doesn't succumb to coffee stains/ink blots. And put it in your filing cabinet or bank deposit box in an envelope labelled OPEN IN EVENT OF MY DEATH.

That way, even if you die while you're logged out of your computer so they can't get into it, they can install 1Password on another machine and get into your account.

If you use gmail, or google services for photos and similar, also set up the Google Inactive Account Manager. It's a dead man's switch, to notify designated trusted contacts and give them access (or wipe your content — it's your choice) if you drop off the net and don't respond to emails for a pre-set period (typically 3 months, then 1 month to respond before google goes "yup, they're dead—hand the keys to next of kin").

IIRC Apple and the other big walled gardens have similar ways of pre-setting what to do in event of a user's death.

(Reminds me: I need to write up what $SPOUSE/heirs are to do about this blog if I die suddenly. The server it's hosted on costs about £1000/year to run, billable in late August for a year in advance, and we've got a part-time sysadmin who works on a consultancy basis: So the end of life process would be (a) post a death notification, (b) keep the blog open for comments for a month to let people say their goodbyes or discuss setting up a forum somewhere else, then (c) archive it to a cheap static web hosting site somewhere before shutting down in good order.)

54:

Thank you. That is potentially very useful.

If someone complained about that dentist on professional ethics grounds, he could be in serious trouble. Your cousin's wife must have been, er, very persuasive.

55:

Ilikeitupthebum and all that but I'd have thought they would both be in trouble. Conspiracy to commit battery/GBH or something like that. Unless the dentist turned up, saw what the situation was and told her to do one.

56:

When my dad was dying - he was given three months, and lasted 13 - my mom figured he hung on to give the rest of us the chance to get used to it - they got him to sign papers. My mom did nothing. I was *very* lucky: a fan-friend and lawyer, who'd recently had to deal with his grandmother's estate, became our lawyer, and my idiot was so upset that she was fine on signing, at a notary's, making me the executor instead of her (*that* would have been a disaster, and we would have lost most of the inheritence).

I have versions on my computer at home, and I've been saying for years I need to update it. Then I'll print it out, along with instructions and directions, and put it in a labeled envelope in the fire-resistant lockbox under my desk. My kids know the box is there, and what kinds of things I keep in it.

I'd been saying DNR, NHM, but my recent ex convinced me to drop the DNR. No heroic measures, though.

57:

You have described my mom. Or someone from the same mental zone. My mom was in denial about my dad in many crazy ways. And at her time (and most of her life) also about her condition. Which only made it harder.

58:

The closest I'll get to there... well, I am still trying to decide if I want to spend money in Utah for the NASFiC. Beyond that... I've been talking for a loooong time about, if Amtrak still offers them, a three-zone fair, and take the grand tour. That, of course, would include the Coast Starlight....

59:

Not sufficient.

Sort of. My personal email is on my personal server.

My kids can also get into my phones and iOs devices. So with that and 1password they can get into everything eventually. With inbox access they can basically reset any password they might need, including 1Password.

And I have some spread sheets with things like where all the money gets spent monthly.

But as I shut down my personal email server I will have to move more to a document with a lawyer or similar.

Plus since my wife and I often travel with my grown children we need to make arrangements with some trusted non relatives who can hand things over to the state or some more distant relatives if needed. Plane or car crash or some such. Gets hard to deal with as we have relations with some of my closer relatives become strained over the orange one.

When my mother was dying and then did die her 3 sons and spouses spent well over 1000 hours sorting through piles of paperwork to figure out what was where. Biggest scare was a bank loan on her house that could have been called. They basically agreed not to get too excited that she was dead and allowed us to keep making interest only payments on the house until it was sold. But that required almost of year of waiting for things to go through the probate process due to lack of planning.

Oh, yeah I yelled loudly and finally convinced my brother, the executor, to form a LLC for the house to limit anything we do or have done in our past from impacting the sale of the house.

PS: In the US a bank safety deposit box can be a real pain when someone dies. It CAN take an executor weeks to get into it depending on lots of details that may exist.

60:

Speaking of deadlines, Charlie, I'm reading Labyrinth Index, and that, along with a satirical quote from Borowitz that's gone viral (Trump: "I don't need intelligence!"), collided in my mind, and I realized the TRVTH.

fnord

Now that the UnEnlightened can't read this, you need to be careful writing things like this, if it comes to the Attention of Certain Persons.

I mean, we knew Cheney was doing rituals to Cthulhu in the basement of the White House when he was "VP". Now, I've got to wonder if McConnel doesn't resemble a turtle, but is, in fact, more... ahhh, batrchian.

And eating the Orange Thing's "brain" is like eating one orange cheese puff. What do we have to do, invoke HASTUR to save the US and the World?!

fnord

Speaking of which, with all *that* in my head, I realized my next short story will be The Illuminatii vs. Cthulhu....

61:

I'm a rabid enough fan of yours to have read avidly everything you've written as soon as it's been released, starting when I read Accelerando at the perfect age to enjoy it. You explode my brain in the best way possible.

Please, Charlie, take care of yourself. Take a few years off if you need to.

62:

My sympathies, Charlie.
You have nothing to apologize for, health problems in family, loss of close relatives are hard.
Take your time, recharge your batteries - we have patience.
I will wait for your next book as long as it takes you to write and publish it. Also, I really want to read your take on Peter Pan; lovecraftian unicorns were wicked. Do you have similar ideas about non-Western European folklore? Classical literature?
Unfortunately, I don't have anyone to share my love for your books, because very few people read English here.
By the way, do you plan visiting this year's Worldcon in Dublin? Met you in Helsinki in 2017, and since that time want to make text-to-speech device to read your books in your voice.
Thank you for your books, Charlie.

63:

It's been totally done, you wascally wabbit. Do you see the shoggoths now?

64:

Reminds me of what I need to do:
--Make a will
--Get the house in a trust.

The trust is a US thing, but putting property in trusts is easier on the inheritance, because what happens is the heir becomes a trustee to the trust, and when the head of the trust dies, the heir takes over as the new head of the trust, unwinds the trust , and owns the property without going through probate.

My one experience with winding down someone's life was with my late uncle. Fortunately, he was organized (bless him!) and since he was in extended care for the last year of his life, we got to sell his house and get him set up, well, sort of comfortably, but at least adequately cared for.

I had access to his electronic accounts long before he died, simply to make sure he didn't get scammed when he was vulnerable and didn't miss anything that he needed to see. After he died, I left his email up for a year to catch messages from people he didn't know he'd died, cancel renewals on services I didn't know about, and so on. Then I closed it down.

I've still got a lot of his files, some of which eventually need to go to the extended family (eventually means it should have happened years ago, but...). Knowing him, I suspect he'd wish for something better to happen to his stuff, but he and I have different interests, and I'm going to curate his things until either a home opens up for them or chaos intervenes and they're lost.

Could be worse, I guess. Most of my probable heirs have no idea what I'm into (for instance, this website). At least I was lucky enough to know him better.

65:

Speaking of strange revelations, I got one recently after reading the following, very familiar passage:

“Nor is it to be thought,” ran the text as Armitage mentally translated it, “that man is either the oldest or the last of earth’s masters, or that the common bulk of life and substance walks alone. The Old Ones were, the Old Ones are, and the Old Ones shall be. Not in the spaces we know, but between them, They walk serene and primal, undimensioned and to us unseen. Yog-Sothoth knows the gate. Yog-Sothoth is the gate. Yog-Sothoth is the key and guardian of the gate. Past, present, future, all are one in Yog-Sothoth. He knows where the Old Ones broke through of old, and where They shall break through again. He knows where They have trod earth’s fields, and where They still tread them, and why no one can behold Them as They tread. By Their smell can men sometimes know Them near, but of Their semblance can no man know, saving only in the features of those They have begotten on mankind; and of those are there many sorts, differing in likeness from man’s truest eidolon to that shape without sight or substance which is Them. They walk unseen and foul in lonely places where the Words have been spoken and the Rites howled through at their Seasons. The wind gibbers with Their voices, and the earth mutters with Their consciousness. They bend the forest and crush the city, yet may not forest or city behold the hand that smites. Kadath in the cold waste hath known Them, and what man knows Kadath? The ice desert of the South and the sunken isles of Ocean hold stones whereon Their seal is engraven, but who hath seen the deep frozen city or the sealed tower long garlanded with seaweed and barnacles? Great Cthulhu is Their cousin, yet can he spy Them only dimly. Iä! Shub-Niggurath! As a foulness shall ye know Them. Their hand is at your throats, yet ye see Them not; and Their habitation is even one with your guarded threshold. Yog-Sothoth is the key to the gate, whereby the spheres meet. Man rules now where They ruled once; They shall soon rule where man rules now. After summer is winter, and after winter summer. They wait patient and potent, for here shall They reign again.”

My thought? The Great Old Ones are microbes.

After all, at least half the above epic rant sounds like what you'd get after a Renaissance magician translated the ravings of an outsider Arab who heard from Someone about Weird Important Stuff That Didn't Make Much Sense and tried to write down what he'd thought he'd heard. Imagine if that Someone was a scientifically advanced alien trying to describe how the world really works, that life evolved from microbes, that the Earth had been dominated solely by these monsters for ages (four billion years solo, 4.54 billion and change total to date), that while we thought we ruled, they sat serene and largely unnoticed in the spaces between the places we thought we owned, that we'd know them as a foulness, and that after the Earth could no longer support us, they'd rule it alone again. That sure sounds like microbial life to me, but you know, someone who's reference points are the Quran and tribal beliefs might not hear it that way. And someone who's looking for easy power from a DIY book probably would further mess up the translation (crushing forests? In the Arabian Desert? Dude.).

So there's my revelation for the day: The Great Old Ones are bacteria and archaea. Pass it on. Or them on. Unless they want you to do it, in which case, don't.

66:

Heteromeles @65 said: The Great Old Ones are microbes.

You are correct, Sir. Well done.

67:

I was gonna say, but you beat me to it. Just to be pedantic, however, it was Yog Sothoth vs. the Illuminati vs. Eris. Great books though!

68:

"The Great Old Ones are bacteria and archaea."

It makes perfect sense, but is absolutely no fun.

70:

To be frank, Charlie, it sounds like you've had a lot of stuff fall on you over the past couple of years, with more anticipated to come up in the future. With that in mind, I do hope you're taking it relatively easy on yourself, and remembering the human brain (and the human mind which is an emergent result of it) is basically the ultimate in kludged-together systems - it is therefore not particularly surprising that when things break, they do so in ways which apparently make no sense whatsoever, and cause all kinds of weird and wonderful effects. (Why the hell is emotion routed through cognition anyway? Couldn't evolution have separated the two sub-systems so we didn't have to deal with fucking great bug-clusters like depression and anxiety? *sigh*)

All of which is to say this much: I don't know about anyone else, but quite frankly, I'd rather you paced yourself, took your time, and were still able to write five years from now, rather than pushing yourself too hard to keep up with demand today, and burning out completely. Particularly given external events, over which you have very little control (one vote every three or four years is not a huge locus of control, let's be honest).

Also, given "Peter Pan" was as creepy as all heck to begin with (from what I've heard - what I've heard makes me very reluctant to read it, because I think it would go into all the worst places in my head and start flipping switches and kicking holes in walls at random) I shudder to think what you can come up with which makes it worse...

(ah, Victorian literature... making childhood a hellscape since, what, the 1850s or thereabouts?)

71:

Megpie Charlie, etc.
Late-Victorian etc attitudes to Death as opposed to SEX ...
Yes, well, my maternal grandmother had her first child in ( I think ) 1898, followed by 7 more ( 4 of each ) ... apparently, she was asked during the 1920's ... "how many children Mrs Gascoine? ... oh 8 ... all still living?"
The infant mortality statistics, even for one of the most developed countries on the planet at the time would scare moderns absolutely witless.

72:

Me? Hertfordshire. I'm Oxfnord born.

My wife moved from York down to London aged 5. My mother moved from Horsforth down to Kent aged ... I'm not sure, but she then got sent to boarding school in Lausanne, and was then evacuated from there to Toronto, aged perhaps 10.

But they're Yorkshire women. You can take ...

73:

That would be Ubbo-Sathla, of course, and the giant fungus in Oregon has some possibilities for cosmic horror.

I've frequently thought about this and my conclusion is that in Lovecraft the gap between our species and the species which horrify us really comes down to what kind of cells they/we have.

If your species has been intelligent for a couple million years you've probably self-modified by now, and your cells are probably nano-machines of some kind, (organic or mechanical, or perhaps energy states of some kind) rather than randomly evolved cells, and you have the ability to self-program those machines to say, support cognition/action in the ocean depths, miles beneath the earth, in space, or in exotic dimensions where "life as we know it" is not ordinarily possible.

So if you're Cthulhu (or Yog Sothoth, or Shudde-Me'll, or Wh'tever) you probably tend to look at anyone who can't program their own "cells/nano-machines" as below the threshold of sentience, and someone who can program their own cells as someone who cannot ethically be eaten. The tragedy of the Elder Things, at least on Earth, is that they lost the ability to tell their cells what to do and became sub-sentient.

I'd guess that the spells in the Necronomicon come down to something like, "Since you are coming here and wish to continue being sentient, note the physics of this place and adjust your neuro-transport mechanisms as follows: _______________ unless you are being summoned into salt water of a depth greater than X, (note the local gravity gradient) in which case do: __________________" and so on.

If you perform your summoning incorrectly you've provided bad information about how to safely exist in this space and the first pseudopod through the gate loses the ability to manage it's own brain cells. The being you've summoned assumes that you have hostilely given false information, so it stops moving through the gate, attacks you, drags you back through the gate, interrogates you, and disposes of you when your (primitive) thoughts are no longer of interest.

So one way or another, it's all about cells.

74:

Strokes (and I suppose any sort of brain injury) are a strange thing, to see some aspects of a person so totally there but others so absent. We cremated my dad yesterday and one of the oddest things we saw while he was in hospital after his stroke was seeing him struggle so much to use the telly in his room, but then grab his phone, unlock it, navigate to the password manager he uses, unlock that and then go to the relevant section to deal with some minor administrative thing that my mother mentioned in passing. Of course, you know that this is due in some way to muscle memory and learned vs new information, spatial processing and short term memory, but to see in action is an eerie and unpleasant thing.

Charlie, I wish you all the best in dealing with all this stuff.

75:

Yep. My great grandmother married in 1878, IIRC (the genealogist in the family is my wife and she's not at her computer right now), and had 14 children, of whom 8 survived into their 20s. (Admittedly, one died in a plane crash during the first world war—he was a pilot in the RFC.)

Infant mortality pre-5 dropped precipitously throughout the 19th century, as did maternal death in childbirth: from about 50% (around 1800) to 20% (by 1900).

Still terrible by modern standards, with social implications we can only grasp via abstract reasoning: death was everywhere, and families large, and women averaged 4-5 pregnancies each (not counting miscarriages). Feed those assumptions into the SF world-building machine and the society you crank out at the other end won't look a lot like ours.

76:

You have my deepest sympathy.

77:

My deepest sympathies to Charlie, and everyone else who has shared stories of recent (or even not-so-recent) bereavements.

I will add my voice to the "have honest conversations and be prepared" chorus, but from a slightly different perspective. My wife works as a nurse, and has shared countless horror stories of the actions that they have been legally required to perform to keep patients alive when relatives cannot accept the inevitable. I will not share the details here, because they really really aren't nice, but for those of us under the care of the NHS (I don't know the terminology for other healthcare providers), a DNAR (do not attempt resuscitation) order is in all honesty a kindness.

78:

In the context of Dave's #77, about 20 years ago (shortly after I rolled a car into a ball, basically unhurt but that's not the point, in fact the point is not about me as such except in that my action prompted the conversation which I strongly recommend everyone has whilst they still can) my parents, my sis and I all agreed circumstances in which a DNR would be issued regarding any of us.

79:

Re infant mortality and continued memories, there's a wonderful Ray Bradbury short story called "No news, or what killed the dog". Dog (capitalised, because that was his name) is a reminder that death *does* happen, but that it happens so much less these days, and the memories are still precious.

80:

Infant mortality
THIS is where we are now for true infant mortality - up to 1st year & this show the rate to 5 years.
Now then, look at this graph which shows the decline in recent years
Even in the UK, in my liftetime, the rate has dropped from over 0.6% in in 1950 ( I was born in 1946 ) to about 0.02% now (!) Largely, as a result of this, overall life expectancy has also risen ( there are other factors for this, as well, of course - better nutrition & education all help ... See here for that one
For a good overall view, I cannot better the article from "Our World in Data" ... linked here ... please, everybody take the time to look at this last one ... and the third graph in particular, headed "Country by Country decline in Child mortality".

Incidentally, I cannot recommend this overall site highly enough for real information, to blow away far too many lies by interested parties.

81:

A decade or so ago, I was running an RPG series inspired by League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Planetary, and the Wold Newton material, and I decided to bring in Peter Pan. So I read the play. That version of Peter was creepy, too; it seemed clear that he was a sociopath, beyond the measure of what's normal to little boys. So I don't think it will take any effort to make him horrifying, beyond being true to the source material. Barrie had a disturbing imagination.

82:

Oh, yeah ? It's worse... I've started writing it, and it's a sequel to my utterly silly story of "A hot date between RAHeinlein and JK Rowling, with tentacles".

Oh, and about Yog Sothoth being the Gate... um, y'know, Sigourney Weaver was the Gate in Ghostbusters, and....

83:

My deepest condolences. Hope friends left y'all lots of food.... I would if I lived near you.

Take care.

84:

Infant and maternal mortality's been going up in the US. "But, as you know Jim, the US has the best healthcare system in the world...."

85:

My condolences too. It's hard to lose family. I agree though, that it's so revealingly odd when parts of what makes us work break down.

Take care.

86:

Agreed. Have the durable power of attorney and advance directives ready.

Given some of the stupidity that happens ("what DNR? I don't see one. Let's do it anyway, we've only got a few minutes to resuscitate him and we can always let him die latter") I'm tempted to have Do Not Resuscitate tattooed over my sternum when I hit 60. Problem is, someone did that, and they still held him on life support for awhile, because they couldn't confirm that he actually meant what he'd tattooed on his chest. Having the directive tattooed on your body is not considered sufficient. Somehow, you're supposed to be unresponsive and still get the doctors the paperwork their lawyers require to be allowed to pass in peace.

88:

He forgot to have the tattooist add his signature.

89:

Oh, I think the idea's positively infectious.
That makes it to the point about infectious ... intelligencies. Or something similar. Think about Dreamcatcher. We can not guarantee that some form of microbal life wouldn't find a way.

There were other two examples I recount from my reading exerience - the first one is a late-Lem novel called "Fiasco". Although we never see the aliens and understand what are they, but we witness hints that they may be somewhat non-corporeal organism akin to fungi or microbes.

The second one is one of Russian writes, which wrote his book in 1998, about a year before Stiven King - although his novel is about 10 timnes shorter and I don't think it is notable for it's literature achievements. It was never translated, unfortunately, but there are original copies on the net available (Google Translate does a decent job at parsing it). That would make a cool sci-fi movie IMO.
https://fantlab.ru/work8456

Long story short, the idea is that people make contact with an organism that arrived to the Earth in a spaceship, not as an organizm, but rather a colony of microorganisms, that exhibit extraordinary ability for coordination and possess a form of intelligence. They were attracted in the middle of the century by nuclear tests. Among other things, they've contacted several governments and one of their ships was brought for study into the secret complex build somewhere in the woods. Unfortunately for humanity, after a long time, it turned out that the aliens started to become more successful in studiyng humans.

90:

My understanding from the story was that his DNR was tattoo-signed, but the question was about whether he'd since had "tattoo regret" as reportedly 50% of tattoo recipients have expressed. The same article quotes one case of someone who got a DNR tattoo and latter regretted it, and also said that the medical ethicist who initially ruled that the first dude's tattoo was good enough was later overruled.

I think the bottom line is that, unless there's someone speaking up for you when you're unresponsive, your wishes are not guaranteed to be honored no matter how clearly you express them. I wonder how a tattoo that says "Do NOT resuscitate me. My estate will sue you personally for negligence if try" would be honored, but I'm cynical and grumpy these days.

91:

Intelligent microbes have been used in everything from the X-Files to Blood Music to a couple of James White's Sector General stories.

That kind of wasn't my point about the great old ones being microbes, but whatever. Why should we assume that intelligence is what makes things important? Microbes run the world, and I don't see any signs they think much on the job. We exist because of the black hole in the center of the galaxy, that created the gas spirals that eventually gave rise to our solar system and eventually us, but there's no evidence that that particular creator is anything other than a mindless, sucking abyss. That's a different kind of Lovecraftian horror, the ultimate meaninglessness of the things we value.

92:

You'd probably have to do something like have your children sign it as well, and then have a new date tattooed every six months.

On the subject of Great Old Ones as cells, how's this for a story idea:

The Great Old Ones came to Earth in the dawn ages and then, (due to the war with the Elder Gods?) split into singular organisms which hid deep in the Earth, around deep ocean vents, etc., Then at some point a human graduate student decides to put some deep-earth cells through mazes. S/he is astounded by their intelligence, and continues to devise harder and harder tests. It turns out that these cells are very intelligent indeed, and eventually they learn to decode their own owner's manuals. They reassemble, and guess who's back?

93:

Yes indeed, current Anglo-American attitudes towards death and dying are "opaque and forbidding"; I'd even say that is an understatement. And here in the States, attitudes towards grief and grieving are even more troubling (perhaps that's true in the U.K. as well). At best, grief is treated as a psychopathology that you're supposed to treat by going to a psychotherapist; at worst, grief is ignored or trivialized or ridiculed.

I suspect one of the reasons people in the States dislike grief so much is that grief tends to make you less productive; no wonder, then, that grief is perceived as pathological, since being productive is one of the highest goods in our U.S. society; anything that makes you less productive must be bad. However, in my own experience, once I was willing to become less productive and actually grieve, I felt grief made me more human. This raises the interesting question: what's our highest goal, to be more productive, or to be more human?

When the second parent dies, it seems to me that grief can become more complex. When my father died two years ago (I was then 56), all of a sudden my siblings and I had no parents at all; suddenly there was no one older than us to look up to. I felt this strongly, even though my father was unable to speak or communicate for the last year and a half of my father's life. Mind you, I don't want to generalize from my experience and tell anyone else what they're going to feel; but when I talk with my contemporaries who have lost both parents, they seem to have experienced something quite similar.

And I have NO advice on how to grieve. The NY Times article quoted above valorizes psychotherapeutic approaches to grieving, and I'm sure such approaches will work for many people in our societies which value professionalism so highly. But my attempts to talk about grief to a psychotherapist were not particularly helpful; and a grief support group facilitated by a healthcare professional I found to be actively unhelpful. What I found personally helpful was: a grief support group that was facilitated by lay people who had themselves experienced serious grief; a non-dogmatic religious community (most of whom were skeptics and atheists); and, oddly enough, singing with Sacred Harp singers (most Sacred Harp music is on the topic of death). The commonality in these three things, I think, was finding a community of ordinary people who do not shy away from talking openly about death. Yet while these things worked for me, I don't claim they will work for anyone else; in a society with "opaque and forbidding" attitudes towards death and grief, it's hard to know what will be helpful.

94:

I've got a much better idea, actually, but I'm not sharing it, because I'm starting to write that particular story.

95:

I'll look forward to seeing it, and would be happy to be a beta reader.

96:

When my mother died I had a terrible time being able to grieve. This was a combination of my mother's decision to forgo immediate cancer surgery so she could attend my sister's wedding - I was very, very angry about that, and still am anger, a ruinous funeral in which my mother's close friend, who performed the priestly role at the funeral, forgetting to mention my name as one of the relatives of the deceased, plus the presence in my consciousness of long-running arguments with my spouse which were of immediate consequence for my kids. Somehow in the midst of that I never managed a good cry (or to cry at all, for that matter) or to have any kind of grieving process.

97:

For some reason I have always thought of a green funeral as comforting.

Just plant a tree on top of me, preferably an oak.

https://therevelator.org/make-death-green-again/?fbclid=IwAR3sYrdns0K-tCkA7FsXnRz8IE8Kx6smGONh9QXL5onUy_3yD4dn12Tsksw

Make Death Green Again

A more promising development is the rapid growth in various shades of “green,” or natural, burials. Requests are now so mainstream they occupy a solid niche in the funeral industry. Common options include non-toxic embalming methods, biodegradable shrouds or caskets, and cemeteries offering environmentally sound practices....

The council’s gold standard is the conservation burial ground, which meets all the requirements of a natural burial ground, but also must “specifically and exclusively” designate its lands in perpetuity for conservation. Such cemeteries must be under a conservation easement or similar deed restriction...

Like other natural options, entombment at Glendale costs a fraction of a traditional burial and avoids the waste and pollution of modern burial practices. Small, simple markers indicate each grave, and the area has trails for walking. A quarter of all burial receipts support the area’s conservation, including restoration of its long leaf pine forest. In this way the land promises connectivity with other wild habitats in Florida’s quickly developing landscape, a vast improvement over traditional cemeteries.

98:

Heteromeles @ 27: Oh, and about Lost Boys? I Amazoned it and found that the vampire movie had spawned sequels, so yeah, that's a bit too muddy for a good title. Too bad Seanan McGuire's taken "Wayward Children" already. Perhaps something like "The Laundry's Lost Children" or "The Laundry's Wayward Children?" I wouldn't suggest "The Misguided Children" because SEO sinks that search into the morass of American right-wingiana.

Misguided Children will always be inextricably linked in my mind to one of my former college buddies who dropped out to become one of Uncle Sam's Misguided Children.

99:

I've never been the executor of a will but modern death requires a lot of paperwork.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702303627104576410234039258092

The 25 Documents You Need Before You Die

Will
Letter of instruction
Trust documents
Living will
Life insurance policies
Do-not-resuscitate order
Tax returns
401K accounts
List of all bank accounts
All user names and passwords
Personal and medical family history
Durable health-care power of attorney
Authorization to release heath care information
Housing, land and cemetary deeds
Marriage license
Divorce papers
Escrow mortgage accounts
Stock certificates, savings bonds and brokerage accounts
Proof of loans made and debts owed
Vehicle titles
Partnership and corporate operating agreements
Individual retirement accounts
Pension documents
Annuity contracts
List of safe deposit boxes

100:

David L @ 35:

Not a day goes by that I'm not reminded of mom or dad,

Yes. My father passed in 2001 and every now and then I think I'll call him to ask his opinion for till I remember he is gone.

My dad was 54 when he died in 1976. I still miss him and we didn't even get along that well. My mom lived to be 92, passing in 2014 just a week or so before the first anniversary of her only surviving sibling's passing. She was the last of her generation. That's still a bit raw, but I'm comforted to know she had a good long life & only a short illness before she passed peacefully in her sleep.

I don't think you ever get over it, but with time the pain dulls substantially. Take time to grieve and know that we'll still be here whenever you have a new book to share.

101:

whitroth @ 84: Infant and maternal mortality's been going up in the US. "But, as you know Jim, the US has the best healthcare system in the world...."

The words of the "Bahamian Lullaby" have never been more true.

If life were a thing that money could buy
The rich would live and the poor would die.

102:

First off - thank you all for the kind words. I've lurked reading this place for absolutely years, but only recently made an account as I had suddenly had some time to kill that is not normally available to me.

91 : I read blood music yonks ago when I was a teenager and only realised quite some time later it had become a full novel. I vaguely remember thinking it worked better in the shorter format.

On the subject of DNR's I was recently surprised to learn that they can be applied (in the UK at least) on the recommendation of Doctors without involvement of the family. It happens, and then thanks to medical bureaucracy and the scarcity of resources in the NHS your opportunity to ask a useful question about is severely restricted. A blessing in disguise in the end, but it wasn't something I was aware of until now.

93 : r.e grief and suchlike. I have recently been subjected to rather more funerals than I would like, having managed to successfully avoid them for most of my life. Personally I don't find them especially helpful, though maybe I am atypical in that regard. I missed all of my grandparents, the earliest ones as a function of age, the later ones voluntarily and then finally as a matter of unfortunate family politics and work. It seems helpful to some people, so more power to them, but were it down solely to me I wouldn't bother.

My nephew is 4 and although my sister wanted to any all religions connotations - when he asked if granddad was in the sky she couldn't say anything but yes. I can't think of anyone else close to me who has done anything much different and so maybe the lack of general mortality around has reduced our ability to talk about these things. It's a shocking occurrence now rather than an everyday one and surrounded by a sort code of silence that makes it all the harder when it does happen.

Work in as much as it lends a framework and routing is in some sense helpful but being asked to do anything particularly complex can be..challenging. I can't imagine trying to do something creative when your head is in that place though.

103:

Intelligent microbes have been used in everything from the X-Files to Blood Music to a couple of James White's Sector General stories.
I did't see too much of these examples, but, anyway, this isn't what I was trying to illustrate. I'm not talking about just some microbes with brains, in the previous examples there's actual theory and world-building involved. They always have some other pretty impressive abilities coming in package with their intelligence too, and the behaviour of these organisms isn't even remotely human-like (authors usually struggle to make it so, anyway). It is because they are as far from regular microbes as we are, just in some other direction.

They reassemble, and guess who's back?
Oh, that'd be a bit different plot. The fact that there's nothing intelligent can be found out there can scare people much more than any actual tentacled horror. Like asking "What if we were just wrong all along?"

104:

So, um, when was the last time you noticed one of the top billionaires dying? They just seem to keep getting older. It's fascinating.

105:

I don't recommend diving too deep into Uncle Sam's Misguided Children. It's a group that claims to be USMC veterans and is active on the US right wing.

Misguided Children would be a lovely title, but considering that the above group seems to control most of the top search engine hits on that, you'll probably have to deal with them, and it's not worth the effort.

On the other hand, I suspect most of us would read a story called "Naughty Children" by Charlie Stross. There's nothing by that title on Amazon, for instance.

106:

Here's a list from 2017:
https://www.forbes.com/sites/maddieberg/2018/03/06/from-the-worlds-richest-woman-to-a-strangled-mogul-the-billionaires-who-died-in-the-last-year/
Can't say I recognize many of them. Steve Jobs (2011) was the last such death that that instantly comes to mind.

107:

The fact that there's nothing intelligent can be found out there can scare people much more than any actual tentacled horror. Like asking "What if we were just wrong all along?"

Yes, that's part of the fascination of the Fermi Paradox. There are lots of uncertainties about it that can be expressed in the various pieces of the Drake Equation, but the big one that goes unexpressed is, as you say, "What if we were just wrong all along?"

Notions of the fundamental nature of reality have been changing fairly frequently for centuries, and there's no particular reason to think that our current one is going to last indefinitely.

108:

Yeah, models are getting more interesting.

The one I don't think people have factored in all that much is the presumed lifecycle of terrestrial planets. They start as molten balls and cool. AFAIK, water seems necessary for plate tectonics, which in turn are necessary for a lot of nutrient cycling, which in turn is necessary to keep a complex biosphere with an oxygen atmosphere turning over.

Current thinking is that, in the beginning, Earth's crust was too thin and hot to really do the plate tectonics thing. Ergo, slow nutrient cycling, ergo microbial life at best. As it cooled down, the surface got thick enough that we got the roiling boil that is plate tectonics. Eventually, all the reducing agents got oxidized and buried, and we had an oxygen atmosphere, which is the only one known (outside possible exotica involving chlorine) that supports multicellular life. That's after four billion years.

We've had multicellular life for maybe 500-1,000 million years now. It may go for another 500-1,000 million years, before the heating sun means that all forms of photosynthesis stop working, at which point something else better be working or the atmosphere stops being full of oxygen. Earth's crust will continue to cool and thicken, and eventually (500-1,000 million years or more), Earth's tectonic plates will grind to a halt, possibly with a big Olympus Mons-like eruption near the last big hot spot. At that point, nutrient cycling through volcanoes slowly breaks down. The biosphere becomes a hotter, poorer place, and the world's left to the great old ones, the microbes, once again.

Something like this probably happens to all terrestrial planets. If they're too small (like Mars) they don't get a stage of active plate tectonics, and if they don't have water (like Venus) they may not either. They may get plenty of time around a red dwarf but not around a hotter star. On the other hand, a red dwarf planet could easily cool down and be too old to host anything other than bacteria.

109:

The problem with the Fermi paradox is: if there are other alien civilizations more advanced than our own, then their presence should obvious. Their heat signatures should light up the night sky.

Whether it's Dyson spheres or swarms, starships travelling even a fraction of the speed of light, powerful telecommunication and navigation beacons, etc. - an alien civilization should be obvious like a searchlight shining in our face

We should be able to see the presence of a Kardeshev Type II civilization with the naked eye.

But we see.... nothing.

It is looking more and more likely that we are all alone.

https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2018/06/but-seriously-where-is-everybody/563498/

https://qz.com/1314111/we-may-have-answered-the-fermi-paradox-we-are-alone-in-the-universe/

"Many solutions have been proposed to solve this riddle, known as the Fermi Paradox. The aliens are hiding. They’ve entered suspended animation until more propitious conditions arise. A Great Filter makes the leap from “life “to “intelligent life” improbable, if not impossible. They’ve blown themselves up.Researchers of Oxford University’s Future of Humanity Institute have another answer. It’s likely intelligent life doesn’t exist at all, outside of Earth."

No Klingons. No Wookies. No ET phoning home.

Just us.

Maybe because Earth is a VERY rare place. Even more rare is a large companion moon.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/brucedorminey/2013/04/21/rare-earth-revisited-anomalously-large-moon-remains-key-to-our-existence/#4dd8438035ed

The explanation of the Fermi Paradox in accordance with Occam's Razor:

We are all alone in the galaxy, if not the universe.

110:

And don't expect to find any Ancient Old Ones or the Engineers from "Prometheus". Gamma ray bursts kept life from developing for mos of the history of the universe.

Gamma ray bursts (GRBs) in the early galaxy snuffed out life repeatedly before it could get a foothold.

http://io9.com/is-it-time-to-accept-that-were-alone-in-the-universe-1654960619

James Annis of Fermilab in Illinois proposed that GRBs could cause mass extinction events on any habitable planet within a distance of 10,000 light-years from the source. To put that into perspective, the Milky Way is 100,000 light-year across and about 1,000 light-years thick. Thus, a single GRB would extinguish life across a sizeable portion of the galaxy.

According to new work conducted by astronomers Tsvi Piran and Raul Jimenez, the odds that a planet could be hit by a GRB depends on its place in space and time. The closer that a planet is to the galactic core, where the density of stars is much greater, the odds increase. Their models show that a planet near to the core has a 95% chance of being hit by a catastrophic GRB at least once every billion years. Pulling back a bit, about half of the solar systems in the Milky Way are close enough such that there's an 80% chance of a GRB per billion years.

But here's where it gets interesting: The frequency of GRBs were greater in the past owing to lower levels of metallicity in the galaxy. Metal-rich galaxies (i.e. those with significant accumulations of elements other than hydrogen and helium) feature less gamma-ray bursts. Thus, as our galaxy becomes richer in metals, the frequency of GRBs decreases. What this means is that prior to recent times (and by recent we're talking the past 5 billion years or so), GRB extinction events were quite common. And in fact, some scientists suspect that the Earth was struck by a GRB many billions of years ago. Piran and Jimenez figure that these events were frequent and disbursed enough across the Milky Way to serve as constant evolutionary reset buttons, sending habitable planets back to the microbial dark ages before complex life and intelligence had a chance to develop further. Fascinatingly, before about 5 billion years ago, GRBs were so common that life would have struggled to maintain a presence anywhere in the cosmos (yes, the entire cosmos).

So, we are alone in the galaxy. In fact, we are the oldest civilization in the galaxy.

WE are the "Ancient Old Ones". Our purpose as a species is to spread intelligent life throughout the galaxy and we seed the universe with our kind (like the Engineers in the Prometheus movie).

Again let me reiterate - WE are the Engineers who will seed the universe.

111:

The fact that there's nothing intelligent can be found out there can scare people much more than any actual tentacled horror. Like asking "What if we were just wrong all along?"

So either we're the first (at least as things stand now; we're one gamma ray burst or nearby supernova away from extinction) as Daniel states above, or everyone else died somehow. I have to say that I'm not particularly frightened of dying due to a natural disaster - that's scary, but not "horrifying" in the Lovecraftian sense - but the idea of being the first could be morally difficult. I've got to think about that one a little.

112:

So either we're the first (at least as things stand now; we're one gamma ray burst or nearby supernova away from extinction) as Daniel states above, or everyone else died somehow.

Or they're out there, but we can't sense them, because...

--nobody's stupid enough to use high energy radios for more than a few decades (we already went through that phase decades ago), and since that's the only thing we can currently detect, we think that no one's there.

---And/or they all used up all their fossil fuels and got stuck in a low energy sustainable civilization that's invisible on an interstellar scale but lasts millions of years.

--And/or interstellar travel is impossible, so there's no spreading cloud of colonization for us to notice or be worried about, and we just can't detect civilizations on exoplanets.

--And/or interplanetary travel is impossible for complex planetary life forms, because they inevitably evolve to require gravity and atmosphere-level radiation shielding, and so they remain stuck on planets, so there's no spreading cloud of colonization to notice or be worried about, and we just can't detect civilization on exoplanets....

....Or interstellar travel is possible, but interstellar civilization is so hard on planets that one can only survive on a planet for a few centuries, so they're constantly colonizing new planets and abandoning old ones, and only a few interstellar civilizations active at this point, almost all the planets in the galaxy are in fallow recovering (they need on order 100 million years to regenerate a load of fossil fuels, for example, and that much time will also expose more mineral bodies that are too deep now to exploit), and we just happen to be outside the range at which we can detect active civilizations at the moment.

Feel better yet?

113:

I'm aware of all those issues; a lifetime reading science-fiction guarantees that, but I'm trying to think about the hazards of being first, and I think I've only read one story about that.

(The real problem here is that if a species is as curious and capable as we are, a gap of a hundred-thousand years might never be overcome - that's a long time to work on fixing your genes and turning high-energy physics into engineering if your species was so inclined.)

But the hazards of being first... interesting.

As to oil... hypothetically we could kill maybe 2-300 carefully targeted people and never have to worry about having a petroleum economy again. I'm not saying we should, mind you, (though it's pleasant fantasy) but it wouldn't take much energy to turn the tide at this point.

But the hazards of being first... will my descendants be Cthulhu?

114:

As to oil... hypothetically we could kill maybe 2-300 carefully targeted people and never have to worry about having a petroleum economy again.

You'd have to kill a couple of billion poor people in India and Africa to stop worrying about a coal economy though, and knock off another couple of billion in the developed world to get rid of gas, fracked or otherwise. Absent that sort of solution people desperate for energy will dig and drill and pump and frack until there's no free/cheap energy left under their feet.

115:

Nojay, in this case Troutwaxer's right. While there are large petrochemical industries all over the world, there's a tiny handful of people (obvious examples include the Koch Brothers, some Russian strongmen and oligarchs, some members of the House of Saud, and certain members of the Pentagon top brass and the current administration) who play a huge role in keeping billions in subsidies flowing toward oil production, and who work to make sure oil is favored by regulation and contract and other possibilities are not. Get them out of the way, and the world changes radically.

A lot of us don't like being forced to be complicit in an oil economy and are furious when our attempts to make other choices are deliberately hindered by people who have no interest in us, aside from that we might affect their monthly proceeds by a few pennies. Fortunately, a lot of this power is clustered in a very few hands. If those hands, say, became totally enlightened and found more compassionate uses for their time, that wouldn't mean overnight that people would stop burning coal in India, but it would probably change the course and speed of the world's adaptations to different energy technology.

116:

they need on order 100 million years to regenerate a load of fossil fuels

Process efficiently turns algae into biocrude oil. Takes a couple of minutes.
This was 4 years ago. There was talk of setting up a pilotplant but I don't know how that worked out.

117:

Deaths and Deadlines. Stroke! That sucks. I can relate to that with my mother having had the same thing happen to her. Fortunately for her the misery ended after 3 months, in death. I wish she could still be here but given the event it would have been better if she had died the same day. It was just stretching out misery for 3 months. A fucking rolling coaster from hell of emotions is how I remember it. My thoughts are with you and I hope your mums ordeal comes to an end soon.

118:

Heteromeles @ 105
I'd be careful with "Naughty Children" - it might get you into either/or/and dubious sexual practices & bondage memes ...

DD @ 109
"Obvious" ??
What about, even just in the Niven Known Space ... The Outsiders, or the Puppeteers who moved their planet away from theor sun, because of heat
And any FTL drives would probably be undetectable to us? Also Star-Trek "cloaking Devices" ??
If a Dyson sphere was more than 100ly away, would we be able to see it, or would it register as a Brown Star?

Your argument is another version of the usual religious one that "WE are SPECIAL" - chosen by the BigSkyFairy, too & at the centre of the universe ... oops.
but @ 110 - that is possible, though.
Scary that we might not succeed.

Ro 67 @ 116
Probably bought up & suppressed by some very greedy people, I suspect.

119:

Condolences on what has surely been a thoroughly unpleasant time.

a couple of weeks in Sydney or Melbourne

If you are in Sydney I would be happy to buy you dinner or whatever suits you. Given the slightly disorganised lodging house I appear to run I might even have a spare room if you feel like staying with some random geezer off the internet. Of course, at some times of the year the cold taps run hotter than the hot taps for a disturbingly long time although fortunately the aircon has never got to the "it's too hot outside, I give up" level.

120:

Something like this probably happens to all terrestrial planets. If they're too small (like Mars) they don't get a stage of active plate tectonics, and if they don't have water (like Venus) they may not either. They may get plenty of time around a red dwarf but not around a hotter star

Ooh! Ooh! And here's a thought:

More massive planets hold onto their hydrogen better in the long term (escape velocity is higher so solar UV splitting of water in the high atmosphere doesn't result is as much hydrogen ion leakage), so have much more time for plate tectonics to continue. But then any multicellular life that develops a technosphere runs into the rocket equation: getting into orbit becomes much harder. (I'm assuming chemical rocketry, that nobody is going to be dumb enough to use nuclear propulsion extensively inside the upper atmosphere.) And if they do get into orbit, the metabolic upset caused by accommodation to reduced gravity may be even more serious than the ones we've already run into.

So there could be plenty of long-lived super-Earths with elaborate biospheres out there, but any intelligences they produce are trapped at the bottom of the gravity well.

(/end speculation — I find the more recent proposal that the Drake equation is just plain wrong and the Fermi paradox can be explained in terms of statistical distributions replacing the terms in the DE a lot more plausible.)

121:

Nice idea: but note that the Milky Way will experience a new wave of GRBs in about 2Bn years, and another one 2.5Bn years down the line from that?

In 2Bn years the Large Magelanic Cloud is going to collide with our own galaxy, destabilizing the core—it's proposed that the Sag A* central black hole could even reawaken as a quasar—and throwing lots of stars around. Then 4.5Bn years from now, our galaxy and M31 will collide, so we'll have two big-ass galactic central black holes tangoing for a while, not to mention billions of stellar near-misses. Which all spells "loadsa GRBs" to me.

Basically we really have to wait for the entire Local Group to settle down before we can look forward to a largely GRB-free era dominated by long-lived red dwarfs.

122:
Infant mortality pre-5 dropped precipitously throughout the 19th century, as did maternal death in childbirth: from about 50% (around 1800) to 20% (by 1900).
Still terrible by modern standards, with social implications we can only grasp via abstract reasoning: death was everywhere, and families large, and women averaged 4-5 pregnancies each (not counting miscarriages). Feed those assumptions into the SF world-building machine and the society you crank out at the other end won't look a lot like ours.

I have to disagree with OGH here. To me this description sounds almost exactly like present-day Tanzania (where I lived till 2010, and still have many connections to; I regularly get news of the ordinary and normal deaths of people who were my pupils in secondary school 10 years ago, or the births and deaths of their children, or the deaths of my former colleagues in their 40's or 50's; in short: death is normal and everywhere, and families are large, thus the office is closed - because everybody goes to the funeral of some relative of one of the co-workers - at least once a week; the only thing that indeed goes down is the average number of children per woman, most people I know want to have 'only' three children). And I don't think it's a stretch to assume that everyday reality is just the same or very similar in another 100 countries (give or take) on this planet right now. 100 countries which hold the majority of all currently living human beings, nota bene. So, actually the 'modern standards' Charlie refers to seem to be the exception, not the rule.

Which only goes to show the geographical/cultural biases of this anglo-american, first-world centered blog (which I don't blame anyone for).

123:

In Lovecraftian terms, maybe the Great Old Ones are creatures that evolved during a previous local minima of GRBs, further evolved themselves, then estivated until the current minima. They will soon be waking to enjoy a GRB-free Galaxy, then will estivate again when the Large Magelanic Cloud arrives. (If you're sleeping on an obscure planet near the edge of the Galaxy, under a thousand feet of water, like Cthulhu, you're probably pretty safe from radiation events.)

124:

Okay, let's call it "post-Demographic Transition stage 3/4" rather than "modern".

The modernity lies in the medical practices that make this lifestyle possible—one where family planning is relatively easy and universally available, and where diseases of childhood and accidents are largely avoidable. All of which requires hugely expensive but largely invisible infrastructure, not just hospitals and medics: compare the road traffic accident outcomes in the developing world with western Europe, for example.

Mass vaccination campaigns? Infrastructure. Traffic lights and road signage? Infrastructure. Sewers and safe-to-drink tap water? Infrastructure. Teaching kids how to cross the road safely? Infrastructure.

125:

>"WE are SPECIAL"

No, we are rare. Very rare. As in rare Earth with an even rarer large stabilizing moon.

Any advanced alien civilization even a few 10,000s of years ahead of us should have spread throughout most of the galaxy by now, building Dyson spheres/swarms in every colonized star system which would give of a heat signature far different than a brown dwarf, piloting vast armadas of starships whose acceleration and deceleration should light up that sky as they move at relativistic speeds, and using massively powerful communication/navigation beacons that should be as obvious as a light house to ships at sea.

Humanity is currently about a Type 0.7 on the Kardashev scale and probably won’t obtain Type 1 status (commanding the energy of an entire planet) for another 100 to 200 years. A Type 2 (controlling the energy of entire solar system) would be capable of regular starflight. Such a civilization (Earth in 1,000 years?) would be able to build and launch fleets of massive starships.

And they would have to be massive. A Project Orion design would be the most practical approach to interstellar travel. Just find a good sized nickel-iron asteroid. Hollow it out and shape it to look like a pencil. The sharp end is pure mass shielding at an acute deflective angle (like sloped armor on a tank). The rear is a reactive plate where the nuclear charges go off accelerating the craft. The entire ship is spun on its longitudinal axis to provide artificial gravity on the inside walls of the hollowed out interior.

But no matter what the design, such a craft would give off immense amounts of heat during acceleration, from impact with atoms and dust between the stars while moving at even 10%c, and when decelerating upon arrival. Such heat would be visible across thousands of light years and be especially noticeable because it is moving at relativistic speeds. Any star-faring civilization would have thousands of these rapidly moving heat generators cruising between the stars and it would be impossible to hide their heat signature.

The other mega-structure built by a Type II star cruising civilization would be a Dyson swarm or sphere. These would also generate huge amounts of energy as waste heat in the infra-red range. There was actually a recent attempt to detect alien Dyson spheres using the Infrared Astronomical Satellite (IRAS).

https://www.centauri-dreams.org/2008/11/19/searching-for-dyson-spheres/

"The idea being to look for objects that seem to be radiating waste heat in such a way that they might be Dyson Spheres of one kind or another. A fully enveloped star won’t be visible to the eye, but Carrigan’s infrared search covers the blackbody temperature region from 100 to 600 degrees Kelvin for full or partial Spheres. The data come from an IRAS database that covers 96 percent of the sky and includes some 250,000 sources. Exciting stuff on the face of it, because unlike a conventional SETI search, a hunt for Dyson Spheres involves no necessary intent to communicate on the part of the civilization in question."

But again, nothing.

And in the grand scheme of things it would take relatively little time for an advanced alien civilization to spread across the galaxy. Simply have each ship replicate itself once it reaches another star, sending out two more probes (or 10, or 100) Take one probe and double it only 19 times and you have over a million probes and as many colonies spreading throughout the galaxy.

So given that:

A. It only takes one space-faring intelligent species to spread across the galaxy.
B. Using self replicating craft it can spread across the galaxy very quickly.
C. Such a civilization and its ships would generate massive amounts of heat and radio waves that can be seen from anywhere in the galaxy
D. There are no such heat or radio signs anywhere of such a species.

We can conclude:

There are no other intelligent species in the galaxy (every other argument is special pleading).

P.S. See Dvorsky's column "Is it Time to Accept that We Are All Alone in the Universe?

http://io9.com/is-it-time-to-accept-that-were-alone-in-the-universe-1654960619

126:

The best family planning is to simply educate girls.

In fact, we may have already grossly over estimated how large the world's population will get given the advances in technology that bring knowledge and education to girls and the changes in expectations and attitudes towards child bearing even in the Third World.

https://www.wired.com/story/the-world-might-actually-run-out-of-people/

The World Might Actually Run Out of People

But what if they’re wrong? Not like, off by a rounding error, but like totally, completely goofed?

That’s the conclusion Canadian journalist John Ibbitson and political scientist Darrell Bricker come to in their newest book, Empty Planet, due out February 5th. After painstakingly breaking down the numbers for themselves, the pair arrived at a drastically different prediction for the future of the human species. “In roughly three decades, the global population will begin to decline,” they write. “Once that decline begins, it will never end.”

There was a moment when we were sitting in this little school in Srinivaspuri, listening to a focus group of 13 or 14 women who lived there. And I kept seeing this faint glow light up under their saris. I didn’t know what it was. And then I saw one woman reach in and pull out a smartphone, look at it, and put it back. And I realized, here we are in a slum in Delhi, and all these women have smartphones. Who can read. Who have data packages. And I was thinking, they have all of human knowledge in their hands now. What’s the impact of that going to be?

So, the UN forecasting model inputs three things: fertility rates, migration rates, and death rates. It doesn’t take into account the expansion of education for females or the speed of urbanization (which are in some ways linked). The UN says they’re already baked into the numbers. But when I went and interviewed [the demographer] Wolfgang Lutz in Vienna, which was one of the first things we did, he walked me through his projections, and I walked out of the room gobsmacked. All he was doing was adding one new variable to the forecast: the level of improvement in female education. And he comes up with a much lower number for global population in 2100, somewhere between 8 billion and 9 billion.

Lutz has this saying that the most important reproductive organ for human beings is your mind. That if you change how someone thinks about reproduction, you change everything. Based on his analysis, the single biggest effect on fertility is the education of women. The UN has a grim view of Africa. It doesn’t predict much change in terms of fertility over the first quarter of the century. But large parts of African are urbanizing at two times the rate of the global average. If you go to Kenya today, women have the same elementary education levels as men. As many girls as boys are sitting for graduation exams. So we’re not prepared to predict that Africa will stagnate in rural poverty for the rest of the century.

We polled 26 countries asking women how many kids they want, and no matter where you go the answer tends to be around two. The external forces that used to dictate people having bigger families are disappearing everywhere. And that's happening fastest in developing countries. In the Philippines, for example, fertility rates dropped from 3.7 percent to 2.7 percent from 2003 to 2018. That's a whole kid in 15 years. In the US, that change happened much more slowly, from about 1800 to the end of the Baby Boom. So that’s the scenario we’re asking people to contemplate.

P.S. Patriarchal religious leaders (are there any major religions run by women?) know this in their hearts. Whether it's real fundies like the Taliban or Quiverfull movements, or the fictional Handmaids Tale, they know that educated women have fewer children. Which is why they are so against educating girls. Religions grow by either conversion or birthrates, and the leaders of these religions have more control over the second factor. And from a purely Darwinian point of view they are correct - which is really ironic when you think about it.

127:

Why is it such a common mental flaw in humans to personalise power?

Yes, there are a few hundred dominant 'leaders' for the oil industry, but none of them are anything exceptional, and removing them would simply cause replacements to arise. Some organisations might disrupt and there would be some disruption, but it would be smoothed over in a year or two. It is the system and the organisations that are the problems, not the front men.

128:

We are almost certainly rare, yes, but the stabilising moon hypothesis isn't really supported by evidence or sound analysis. It's a very plausible explantion for our situation, but we simply don't know whether there are other paths to our sort of biosphere, nor the distribution of suitable planets.

You conclusion replies on special pleading, too. Inter alia, 100 Kly at 0.0001c is 1 billion years, which is a significant proportion of the time since our galaxy evolved. And it also assumes that all intelligent species are expansionist - perhaps we are exceptional in that, too?

I am happy to accept such conclusions provided they are qualified by words like 'probably', but their proponents seem very reluctant to admit uncertainty.

129:

I have to agree with Greg - any argument saying that "We are special, we are the centre of the universe" should, IMO be treated with suspicion. After all, fully anatomically modern Homo sapiens have been around for 200,000 - 300,000 years (and the number keeps getting pushed back). And that's just the duration of our species - not the planet as a whole. Whereas radio was invented in 1895 - 124 years ago. Not that it was strong enough to reach interstellar distances by then, of course.

Troutwaxer @113: I also have problems with the 'all that is standing between us and utopia is the deaths of 200-300 people'. Go down that road any distance, and pretty soon you're invading Poland to make the world a better place.

130:

"And it also assumes that all intelligent species are expansionist - perhaps we are exceptional in that, too?"

Yes... Assuming that there really isn't some clever way to wriggle round Einstein that we don't know about, I do wonder if what happens is that species are only "expansionist" while they are still at the same kind of level as we are - ie. lots of fantasising about it but zip of actually doing it. Once they get to the level where they could feasibly do it, they also have a far greater awareness than fantasy provides of just how much of a shedload of hassle it is, and that any problem "down here" to which a solution might possibly exist "out there" also has many other solutions which are purely locally based and far more useful because they don't involve waiting several lifetimes before you can even get started (or other even more serious impracticalities)... and so they decide to leave the idea to the realm of fantasy because really what. is. the. frigging. point.

Maybe some species do do it but those species also have lifetimes orders of magnitude longer than ours and a perception of time correspondingly slower (perhaps they evolved in a low energy environment - liquid methane, or something, instead of liquid water - so all their biochemistry runs very much slower) so journey times of hundreds or thousands of years are as feasible to them as sea voyages of a few years exploring this planet were to us. And they don't need to use tremendously high-powered propulsion systems to try and get the journey times down to a tolerable level. Everything they do is low speed, low temperature, low energy, low bitrate, so it's not very noticeable to begin with, and even more so when we live and die before they've finished saying hello.

131:

I think what Heteromeles and I are noting is the fragility of the consensus which makes us an oil-using society, and potentially how easy it could/should/would be to change that consensus. Lest anyone think I was serious about killing anybody, I think the big thing here is to forgive the oil executives. I think this is appropriate and (and possibly even just) because petroleum was the 'correct and popular' policy for a hundred years, and it's not completely horrible for those executives to have defended that policy.

But we definitely need to have a non-petroleum policy going forward.

132:

DD @ 125
piloting vast armadas of starships ... Yes, we should be able to see their sails as they come over the horizon ..
Sorry, you are assuming that we would even RECOGNISE their technology.
"OCP" &/or given say even half that timespan, 5 000 years ... so its the middle Bronze Age ... and a jetliner passes over, or a gas-turbine driven ship goes past Odysseus & he, or Jason's Argonouts are going to RECOGNISE this thing as a simple human technology?

And your example of an "orion" type starship is the exact reverse anaolgy - it's how Jason/Odysseus would think of as the only way possible of sailing past the Pillars to the open Atlantic & the New Worlds beyond ... except it would not work. ( I'll ignore Hanno the Phonecian for purposes of this discussion )

@ 126
The best family planning is to simply educate girls.
That's the first half - the other half is CASTRATE all the priests.
So they have smartphones in a slum in India - unless you do something about the religio-political setup it STILL won't do anything.
India has tha BJP, remember, a mirror-image of the muslim nutters, what a suprise.

I note your "P.S." ... but I suspect you are far too optimistic.
Religion has a terrible grip on too too many people's brains, I'm afraid.

133:

Yes, but one doesn't even need to speculate even that much. Mammalian species on earth very a great deal in invasive potential, and several have mechanisms to keep their population under control without expanding their range. We are among the most adaptable, omnivorous and expansionist of mammals, and there is no reason to believe that the last two aspects are linked to intelligence, or even technology.

Similarly, there is a technological oddity that I have been speculating about for some decades, and some science fiction writers have explored. Both biological and physical technologies were well-advanced 5-10,000 years ago, but it was the latter that really took off. Equally interestingly, the mathematics needed to enhance thei former (essentially statistics) is extremely recent, yet not for the reason that it critically depends on any other extremely late mathematics (*). If we had followed that path, voyaging to the stars would have remained as a "don't be silly" idea for much longer, possibly indefinitely.

(*) Measure theory notwithstanding. You don't need more than the 'discrete mathematics' being taught as a remedial subject in computer science to do that.

134:

Sorry, you are assuming that we would even RECOGNISE their technology.

Exactly. Our idea of how to go to the stars is a very primitive one. "What do you mean the human ship uses reaction mass? Don't they know how to szlirp?"

135:

Sort-of, and I didn't take the killing comment at face value. My point was that this is NOT a matter of just a few individuals, or even a few organisations, but one to do with the structure of society. Most people are fixated on an autocratic view of power, but it has rarely been like that as far back as history records. Yet people still continue to believe that it is, which is a major obstacle to change :-(

TECHNICALLY, it's easy to change - but politically and socially (and hence governmentally)? Look at the way that I was flamed over my doubts about electric vehicles in the UK. Most people claimed that they would start to sell and charging points would follow - I dissented, and recent statistics indicate that I was right, at least in the short term. Even if countries with functioning governments do convert, I am not expecting to be around when the UK does (I am 71), and it's not because it couldn't be done.

136:


"But then any multicellular life that develops a technosphere runs into the rocket equation: getting into orbit becomes much harder. (I'm assuming chemical rocketry, that nobody is going to be dumb enough to use nuclear propulsion extensively inside the upper atmosphere.) And if they do get into orbit, the metabolic upset caused by accommodation to reduced gravity may be even more serious than the ones we've already run into."

Getting into orbit from a Super-Earth would require different engineering, certainly, but does different automatically equate to difficult? One thought with the nuclear=dumb idea is it doesn't consider the imperatives that might govern such a project being started in the first place, and also the reality that a reason for inadvertently developing the technology might originate elsewhere.

The only reason we don't have nuclear reactors in our own atmosphere is because they are dumb compared to other technologies which have none of the downsides. Why develop an aircraft grade reactor when you have can have a fuel efficient turbofan for a fraction of the cost and risk? If you live on a super earth though, which has oceans that start at the size of the Pacific, and your enemy is twenty thousand miles away, they start to look like a good deal. Your society presumably develops some form of combustion engine to get airborne, but never develops aerial refuelling, for a start.

Alvin Weinberg and his team at Oak Ridge thought the aircraft reactor experiment was dumb when they were designing it, but it had funding attached and so they mentally rolled their eyes at the idea and got to work, as a means of developing their molten salt Thorium power reactor projects. (An even shittier example being Wernher von Braun himself, and his choice of technology and original employer.) If there is a paycheck people lend their minds to designing all sorts of dumb stuff.

For other situations though, the idea might not be dumb at all. The result could then be a reliable nuclear upper stage for a two stage system, which was developed in a planetary war that was intended to power long-range bombers. (Shooting one of them down over your own territory would be a seriously dumb idea.) That is something we never had the incentive to bother with or tackle in any serious way because our planet just isn't large enough for us to have to grasp the nettle and make the technology work. For us, ICBMs were the easy way to go. Technology as an act of desperation/a lack of options.

The opposite situation also exists. If the Earth was say, the size of Venus, just slightly smaller, a biosphere would probably have evolved as it did on Earth but the orbital velocity is only about 90% of ours. For them, getting offworld, even in a single stage rocket would be EASY, and certainly using dense fuels. For them, the need to design a rocket using liquid hydrogen, any airbreathing technology, and employing abtruse, non-obvious research into things like graphite fibres, and the development of compact guidance computers would be a bizarre extravagance. These technologies would have marginal gains for the mission, had no applications on the planet and so would never get funded either directly, or bootlegged as with Weinberg's desire for a molten-salt reactor, that was stripped of conventional funding by proponents of light-water designs.

We regard nuclear reactors in space as crazy, but then, we have other options that mean we don't have to bother with them.

137:

You're absolutely right about the difficulties of making the change. I think the big obstacle is what happens to the people hurt by the change, which would be major stockholders in oil companies, or oil executives and their families, etc. So if you want to make the change quickly, you need to buy out the oil companies, give the executives new jobs, retrain the workers, etc.

138:

Since people have STRONG OPINIONS about the viability of interplanetary and interstellar travel, I'm going to approach the difficulties of travel issue with a look at "inner space," aka the oceans.

It's a lesser tradition, but just as there were supposed to be cities on the Moon by now, according to the paleofuturists of the 50s and 60s, there were also supposed to be settlements under the sea. Instead, the best we've got are military submarines. Why is that?

Well, for one thing, it turns out the water is hard for humans to live in. The whole SEALAB experimental system has, I think, pretty much died, but then again, people living for months in a hopped up diving bell turned out to suck. 100% humidity, so nothing really dried, weird pressures so that any food that required bubbles (like bread) lost texture and flavor, creeping, annoying rashes and infections, a bit of nitrogen narcosis making everybody not themselves...for scientists working, the conditions were tolerable for the short term, just as technical divers doing underwater construction are willing to live under pressure for weeks at a time. But it's not an environment that you can have a normal or healthy family life in. James Nestor's Deep does a pretty good, if goofy, job of chronicling all the complexities of dealing with water under pressure, but the end result is that early optimistic trend projections based on the early progress of SCUBA technology and the Trieste bathyscaphe dropping to the bottom of the Mariana Trench were proven wrong by the face of real world complexity. We don't have a hotel on the abyssal plane, and we probably never will. Indeed, HPL's Deep Ones look increasingly out of place, the more we learn about the realities of the deep ocean (for one thing, they should be cephalopods, not armored frogs).

Similar things happened with space science. Early, optimistic projections about interplanetary travel were based on the idea that the biggest problem with vacuum was that there wasn't anything there for us to use. Unfortunately, it turns out that there is quite a bit of stuff out there, and it's moving faster than we can naturally react to it, so we need all sorts of technological safeguards and workarounds that no one thought of. It's also turning out that evolution geared us to depend on gravity for various essential functions, and we're still trying to find freefall alternatives for all the stuff we need gravity to do to us. And a few other things. But the Apollo program looks increasingly to be like the Trieste bathyscaphe. It worked great as a demonstration, but not as a beach-head. We're no closer to having a Sheraton on the Moon than we are to having one in the Mariana Trench.

Anyway, the world is more complex than we normally think, and we really are confined to a pretty narrow pressure range that only occurs on a small portion of the Earth's surface. Outer space is more complex still. The sad part is that people still place more faith in progress than they do in the realities that progress inevitably encounters.

139:

Well, sort of, again, though that's assuming that governments are not prepared to use their extreme powers. But you are underestimating how thoroughly oil dependency runs through most societies (definitely including the UK). Even people with no direct connection to the oil industry, like Greg Tingey, would be impacted. Buying off the shareholders, executives and employees is the cheap and easy bit.

140:

Given the energy density of hydrocarbon fuels and the lack of energy density of anything else I have to figure we are going to need to build a synthetic fuel industry. Carbon from air CO2 and hydrogen from water. To understate, not energy efficient, so need big non carbon sources of energy.

141:

"-And/or they all used up all their fossil fuels and got stuck in a low energy sustainable civilization that's invisible on an interstellar scale but lasts millions of years"

I'll put that in the same category as the following predictions

1. Shale oil is a ponzi scheme which will collapse financially ANY DAY NOW (been hearing this for the past 5 years, albeit intermittently)

2. Electric cars are not viable unless they have the same performance as ICE vehicles/ aren't financially viable with a 300 mile range/ can't get a 600-mile range
https://www.express.co.uk/life-style/cars/894267/Tesla-Roadster-range-price-performance-specs-2020

3. Battery storage will never be financially viable (won't pay itself back in less than 10 years)
https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/sep/27/south-australias-tesla-battery-on-track-to-make-back-a-third-of-cost-in-a-year

4. There's no class of passenger aircraft that can be electric

142:

Forgot this link which demolishes Western myths about electric cars in China, such as the myth that China's electric cars are 1% of new sales, as opposed to 7%

https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2019-02-08/china-s-electric-vehicles-put-traditional-engines-on-notic?srnd=opinion

143:

>Sorry, you are assuming that we would even RECOGNISE their technology.

We would recognize their heat signatures.

Something that can't be hidden - no matter what technology they use.

144:

Interesting idea for a deep future SF series:

Humanity achieves a Kardshev level 2 civilization and spreads across the galaxy (vol 1 - Spring)

and a galaxy wide web of life and intelligence is established (vol 2 - Summer)

followed by the bad times in 2 bn years when the Large Magelanic Cloud impacts (vol 3 - Fall)

and forces every inhabited world to dig deep underground to escape the new GRBs (vol 4 - Winter)

followed by a renewal as galactic civilization rises from the ashes (vol 5 - Resurrection)

and re-establishes life and civilization everywhere (vol 6 - Assumption) as we achieve a Kardeshev level 3 civilization

followed again very bad times 2bn years after that as the M131 collides with the Milky Way with black holes colliding and hurling stars at each other (vol 7 - Armageddon) with no place to hide

but with the study of such impacts and their high energy physics leading to advances in FTL technology, time travel, wormholes, etc (vol 8 - Rapture) raising us to a Kardeshev 4 level civilization

and the spread of a human civilization to multiple galaxies after harnessing this knowledge (vol 9 - New Jerusalem)

145:

I think it's highly probable that you're right, but what if... endothermic reactions are the very worst dead-end in science?

146:

Re: ' ... endothermic reactions are the very worst dead-end'

Dumb question time ...

I've heard of runaway exothermic reactions but not runaway endothermic ones. Nature seems to like symmetry so am wondering whether black holes could be classified as runaway endothermic reactions.

147:

So, um, when was the last time you noticed one of the top billionaires dying? They just seem to keep getting older. It's fascinating.

These days most of them got their start in the 70s/80s as youngsters. Or later.

So the big crop that showed up with tech are just now into their 60s.

Plus most don't retire. Some studies have indicated that the biggest indicator of a soon death is retirement from a desk job to sedentary relaxation.

148:

If you do make it down to worldcon in NZ next year, then hopefully you will be able to take some time to see a bit of the country. Plenty to see and do, though admittedly if you prefer big cities we're a bit light on those.

Hmmmm I might have to fly down to Wellington for worldcon next year.

149:

That has enormous potential to be a really great story, and I don't think anyone has done this before. May I suggest that you colonize this niche before someone else grabs it?

In fact, I think the idea is so good that I will happily beta-read anything you write as long as the prose meets basic standards of non-horrible-ness.

One more thought about GRBs, (and going back to Lovecraft) is that GRBs could be weapons in the war between the Elder Gods and the Great Old Ones, and globular clusters could be the remains of attempts to build high-energy weapons for use in God-vs-God struggles.

150:

I suspect one of the reasons people in the States dislike grief so much is that grief tends to make you less productive;

That's one I've not heard of.

I think a lot of it comes from 2 factors. First us boomers (I'm from the peak born in 54) were born to young parents and many had young grandparents. (I didn't) So death tended to be 2 or 3 generations removed.

Second is unlike what I gather from reading here as to how it was in the UK and Europe, after WWII the generation that went to war wanted to put it into the past except for glorious movies and books. And they wanted their kids to not suffer in any way like they did growing up in the 30s. So most of my generation grew up isolated from a lot of hardship. (My mother was of this mindset, my father not so much so....)

And I know this is not a universal situation but for many who had fathers with a GI bill education and great factory or desk job supplying stuff to the US and rest of the world in the 50s and 60s it was somewhat typical.

As to those who have mentioned grandparents from the 1800s that's rare over here. My father's father was born in 1885 and was an outlier compared to most of my friends.

151:

Sorry, I meant exothermic. It should read "...exothermic endothermic reactions are the very worst dead-end"

152:

Re: 'Shale oil is a ponzi scheme ... collapse in 5 years ...'

Maybe 5 years from when DT and shills [GOP] are kicked out of office thereby stop screwing with the EPA, NOAA, etc. funding.


153:

Maybe because Earth is a VERY rare place. Even more rare is a large companion moon.

Even at very rare with billions of stars per galaxy and billions (trillions) of galaxies there still might be a few more of "us". But we might not be neighbors in any sense of the word.

154:

Augh! Screwed up again. Should read exactly as follows: "...exothermic reactions are the very worst dead-end"

155:

Type 1 status (commanding the energy of an entire planet) for another 100 to 200 years. A Type 2 (controlling the energy of entire solar system) would be capable of regular starflight. Such a civilization (Earth in 1,000 years?

I think you might be off by a 0 or few. But it's not that significant in terms of a billion years. Unless it means you run out of local energy before you figure out how to work the solar system.

156:

Buying off the shareholders, executives and employees is the cheap and easy bit.

Yep. Look at what shutting down the clothing mills in NC and SC did. It many ways it led to the election of the orange T 20 years later.

Workers in an industry outnumber executives in 99.999% of the cases. And in the EU and US they vote. In other places they revolt.

157:

Shale oil is a ponzi scheme which will collapse financially ANY DAY NOW (been hearing this for the past 5 years, albeit intermittently)

Agreed
https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/03/business/energy-environment/texas-permian-field-oil.html

Sorry if pay walled. But when Shell Oil says they are in something for the long haul you can bet it's not a 5 year plan.

158:

We would recognize their heat signatures.

Something that can't be hidden - no matter what technology they use.

That's highly contingent on the situation and just what heat signatures are being hidden. If the hiders know where the sensors they want to hide from are, then it would be possible to arrange to radiate the heat in directions where the sensors aren't. Secondary effects such as heating nearby objects would need to be considered, of course.

Consider the JWST sunshield -- though intended to keep solar heat from reaching the telescope, it equally well keeps heat from the telescope side being radiated from the other side.

https://jwst.nasa.gov/sunshield.html

159:

Heteromeles @ 105: I don't recommend diving too deep into Uncle Sam's Misguided Children. It's a group that claims to be USMC veterans and is active on the US right wing.

Sucks when assholes take over a perfectly good euphemism and debase it.

160:

I think the Kardashev scale is deeply flawed, much like the Turing test for AI: it was an interesting talking point in the early 1950s but it embeds assumptions about technology and civilization that tell us more about the person who invented it and their blind spots than about the phenomenon under examination.

In particular, the K scale assumes that raw energy utilization is the right metric to apply: a very 1930s-1960s Soviet approach. A more modern variant might look at information processing capacity, or bandwidth, or computational complexity: there may be other metrics not accessible to us because we simply don't have the metaphors and cognitive tools to handle them.

Random example: suppose what we're looking for is processing of quantum entangled information—qubits—on a cosmological scale? (Plausible if (a) quantum computing turns out to be definitely achievable, and (b) useful). Given the stability issues affecting coherent states, we'd want to maximize the number of entangled particles, but they'd need to be as cold as possible—ideally well below cosmic background temperature: or, failing that, certainly cryogenic temperatures. (Entangled systems at room temperature have been demonstrated but they tend to decohere much more rapidly than supercooled systems.)

However, we get into speed of light related latency issues quite fast when we start talking about Dyson spheres or Matrioshka brains or whatever we're going to call them: if it takes 16 light minutes for a signal to propagate across our 1AU radius structure, that's going to put a brake on system-scale processes. And if we want to build an MB that runs on trapped solar power but cascades it all the way down into microwave wavelengths before dumping it as waste heat, it's going to be tens of AU in diameter: one of the late Robert Bradbury's proposals was that a truly advanced civilization might run MBs of diameter on the order of Pluto's orbital radius, dumping waste heat at 40 kelvins. Such a structure would be entirely missed by the infrared sky survey for Kardashev Type II civilizations that has been carried out to date—it operates at temperatures an order of magnitude lower than those that were checked for (which centred around the triple point for water—anthropocentric reasoning at work, again).

We could be surrounded by gigantic, slow quantum computing structures with on the order of 10^50 to 10^55 entangled qubits, and we've barely notice them—they'd look like cold clouds of interstellar dust, and they probably wouldn't emit any meaningful information, just raw entropy.

Is this possible? Is this a thing? I don't know. But it's not as "out there" as FTL drives or time machines, and it's one solution to the Fermi paradox—the fast thinkers stay home (because that's where the latency is lowest) have mind-bogglingly, insanely vast, amounts of computing power with which to think whatever the hell it is that they want to think, and to us they look like cold dust clouds.

(Oh, and if they want to colonize a new star system? You'd better look out for the relativistic solar sail bearing the civilization-in-a-can factory, powered by the Nicoll-Dyson laser that, oops, just conveniently scanned across and sterilized your star system to plough the field for the nanobots ...

161:

Yes, doing worldcon in NZ is the plan.

$WIFE and I have about a decade's worth of saved air miles, so assuming Brexit hasn't collapsed the UK into utter chaos we should be able to fly business class for free (aside from airport tax) and spend our budget on accommodation and tourism, so staying longer.

162:

In other news:

The edits to INVISIBLE SUN are now a week overdue, but I'm not eating my fingernails: that week turned into an extra 15,000 words of LOST BOYS.

I'm now fairly confident that GHOST ENGINE will be delayed another 6-12 months, but INVISIBLE SUN will come out more or less on time, and there'll be a new Laundry spin-off, LOST BOYS, next year. So: one book this year, but one or maybe even two the year after.

163:

I'm not sure why light speed latency is such a huge problem. After all, the lesson of the last decade is that everything digital (and many other systems) can be hacked. If you get past some latency period, you get to the point where the entire system can be hacked, and if it turns out that the attack can't be thwarted rapidly, it can't be thwarted at all.

This is, I think, a huge problem for us now on Earth. It's only in the last few decades that a financial crash in China had an immediate impact in London and New York, and we're also in a period where when a pandemic hits an international airport, it hits the rest of the world within a day or two. Ditto with computer viruses, cyberwarfare, and the like. These are problems because we no longer have latency. In the 19th Century, an infowars on, say, Qing China was irrelevant, especially to daily life in Europe or North America, because the bureaucrats processed data so slowly that messing it up cause the water to stop flowing in cities. Now, an attack on the Chinese government could accidentally propagate anywhere on the planet in a few seconds to a few hours.

Lag times matter. Were I running a Matrioshka Brain or a Dyson Sphere, I'd seldom, if ever, want to use the whole system as one coordinated whole. It's more useful as a vast archipelago. That way, if habitat X wants to try something really risky, they can back themselves up in backuphabitatX10001, do their stupid stunt, and then the authorities can go back and reinstall the backups after using aerogels to capture all the shrapnel that resulted from the stunt. Or whatever.

164:

More massive planets ... runs into the rocket equation: getting into orbit becomes much harder.

But probably also less necessary, especially at the bigger end of the scale and if the inhabitants swim rather than walk. Viz, in three dimensions what was an enormous amount of flat land becomes an unimaginable volume. Mere human sized bundles scale to the level of micro-organisms on Earth. So the other question becomes how long it takes for the gas giant beings to notice the outside, care about it, then decide to go poking around it.

Anything that lives in gas giants might also find it easier to adapt to living in small stars than icy rocks, so their targets of choice might be red dwarf stars rather than planets.

Could be that they go straight from "terrestrial" {cough} to something like quantum teleportation and we may not even theoretically be able to detect them.

165:

To be fair, they had a trademark on clothing with Uncle Sam's Misguided Children, although that got abandoned in 2015 due to some settlement (presumably Prior Art or some such).

The thing I was cross about was that even checking "misguided children" on DuckDuckGo gets that version of the USMC as their top hits.

On the other hand, all the trademarks on "Lost Boys" have been abandoned, so that part's open, and no one's tried to trademark "Naughty Children"

166:

You're assuming the scale/scope of intelligence is human-equivalent. I'm assuming whatever ends up living in the MB is to us as we are to a tapeworm, cognitively-speaking.

167:

Hacking and similar screwups are scale independent, and some issues are built into the math of Godel's Incompleteness Theorem, in the sense that, if you're sophisticated enough, you can probably always find the thought that will kill you through a fit of terminal depression, if nothing else. Because of that, I'd say it'd take a certain Trumper egotism for some singular intelligence to grow into an entire system and use that solely for thinking its grandiose thoughts. Sooner or later things would go bad, and without a backup or even someone to talk it down, it'd crash and burn.

So yeah, that's why I'm thinking that light speed lags are important for survival at all scales. It's so that someone can store a copy of themselves halfway across the system before they try doing that really stupid stunt they just thought of. Perhaps the copy gets awoken halfway across the system by the resulting sleet of gamma rays, but at least they wake up again, unlike the original.

168:

I'm not sure why light speed latency is such a huge problem.

Speaking of latency problems, impending Brexit has apparently created one related to the speed of ships:


https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-02-07/brexit-is-nine-days-away-for-exporters-sending-ships-to-asia

British exporters risk their goods sitting in quarantine and not being paid for unless a Brexit deal can be found by the end of next week...

“For many companies, it’s not 50 days away, hard Brexit happens nine days from now [7 Feb],” Stephen Phipson, chief executive of the EEF manufacturing lobby group, said. “Those are the first ships that are going to land post-March 29 in southeast Asia. If products get loaded on the ships, exporters have no idea when they land whether they’ll be on a 20 percent tariff regime. Will they need rules of origins certificates?"

169:

A theory that, to quote former Prime Minister At Time Of Writing Paul Keating, the EU will do you slowly:

the EU’s response to a no deal will be strategic: opening up advantage, sector by sector, calmly and patiently dismantling the UK’s leading industries over the course of a decade. They will eat the elephant one bite at a time. The problem with abandoning the rules of the international order is that you no longer enjoy their protection.

A no-deal Brexit would hand the EU enormous power: it would decide how and when to introduce new frictions between the UK and the single market, giving sufficient time for firms like Airbus, Nissan or AstraZeneca to relocate production. As recent decisions have demonstrated, even seemingly fixed capital investment is more mobile than many Brexiters imagine.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/feb/07/no-deal-brexit-medieval-siege-eu-britain-industries

170:

(aside from airport tax)

Which might exclude the most obivious choice. BA via LHR. They (the airline AND the airport) are brutal on taxes and fees.

171:

Daniel Duffy @ 143:

Sorry, you are assuming that we would even RECOGNISE their technology.

We would recognize their heat signatures.
Something that can't be hidden - no matter what technology they use.

Unless THEY figured out a way to hide their heat signatures that we don't know about? In that case, we're right back to "assuming that we would even RECOGNISE their technology."

If we KNOW something is impossible, would we recognize it if someone else managed to figure out a way to do it? Would we even know what to look for?

172:

>Unless THEY figured out a way to hide their heat signatures

You mean, unless they learned how to violate the basic laws of physics.

And would even go to the troubled of doing so.

173:

How about the Sagan Scale (created by Carl Sagan). from Wikipedia article on the Kardeshev scale:

Alternatively, Carl Sagan suggested adding another dimension in addition to pure energy usage: the information available to the civilization.

He assigned the letter A to represent 106 unique bits of information (less than any recorded human culture) and each successive letter to represent an order of magnitude increase, so that a level Z civilization would have 1031 bits.

In this classification, 1973 Earth is a 0.7 H civilization, with access to 1013 bits of information.

Sagan believed that no civilization has yet reached level Z, conjecturing that so much unique information would exceed that of all the intelligent species in a galactic supercluster and observing that the universe is not old enough to exchange information effectively over larger distances.

The information and energy axes are not strictly interdependent, so that even a level Z civilization would not need to be Kardashev Type III.

P.S. So you can imagine a civilization that voluntarily decides to live inside a matrix computer generated civilization where everyone gets to be Neo (or Superman, or any other fantasy life) being a Kardashev 1/Sagan Y civilization.

Oddly enough, the original Star trek TV series with its 1960s lack of emphasis on AI, use of human navigators, would be a II/J civ.

Frank Herbert's Dune, where the Butlerian Jihad has destroyed all thinking machines would be a 2.5/C civilization.

174:

In terms of absorbing/dismantling UK corporates, I suspect the US will have the job done before the EU have got round to agreeing their cunning plan.

175:

arrbee @ 174
Or, more likely the Chinese
Think "HSBC" or Jardine, Mattheson or ....

176:

Light speed latency for huge computational systems is both less of a problem and more of one than most people realise. It's complicated.

Firstly, it is still unclear that light speed is a hard limit on information transfer and, in particular, quantum tunnelling, entanglement etc. may not be so limited. As I have posted before, this question badly needs more attention than it gets.

Secondly, it's almost exactly the same problem as computing on large distributed networks with slow links. Some algorithms can be solved efficiently, some are known to be inefficient, and the vast majority are yet unknown. In most cases, it is possible to rephrase a problem to get at least an adequately accurate answer fairly efficiently, so we suspect this is just a hard problem, not an intractable one.

The problem appears to be, as much as anything, that humans think serially; even those with a record of 'thinking in parallel' do so only to a very limited extent or in very restricted ways. This means that existing approaches to most calculations don't scale, and it is unclear how we can develop ones that so. In my view, this is probably the main obstacle. However, given the way that a modern mathematics graduate thinks compared to the way that Newton did (let alone Archimedes), it's unclear that this is immutable.

177:

That is for sure, especially given what has happened over the past three decades. Even if Labour got in with a thumping majority, Whitehall would ensure that it continues at an accelerated rate, and the Conservatives have effectively made it clear that it's part of their, er, strategy.

178:

Daniel: "[Sagan] assigned the letter A to represent 106 unique bits of information (less than any recorded human culture) and each successive letter to represent an order of magnitude increase, so that a level Z civilization would have 1031 bits.
In this classification, 1973 Earth is a 0.7 H civilization, with access to 1013 bits of information."

10^6. 10^31. 10^13.

--

All: Fermi Paradox solutions in the various.

Re: Maybe they are hiding from us.

All of them? Why? It might be physically possible for some magitech to let them violate thermodynamics, and some might choose to hide themselves. But all of them? Why? And should I, a member of a young species without access to such magitech, be concerned that there's something out there that magitech-level races are so utterly afraid of?

Re: Dyson-Birch Matryoshka Brains.

Charlie got closest. A layered system that more efficiently extracts energy until the outer layer's waste heat is 40K black-body. It might explain why the Dyson survey around our neighbourhood didn't find any classic >0degC Dyson stars, but it has other flaws.

We have surveyed galaxies at 40k microwave. Not only is there no sign of lots of 40K, or 30K, or 10K hidden galaxies around us, there's also no pattern of greater hiding over time. (Of galaxies-like-ours billions of years ago, slowly reducing in visibility as we approach our galactic neighbourhood and current time.) Even if their disappearance was complete, not even a 40K signature, nothing at all, there's no temporal component to suggest an emergence of that technology.

Re: They are to us, as we are to a tapeworm.

A common riff (although usually us and ants) but it also fails the exclusivity rule. Only two levels of development exist? Every not-us civilisation is no less than that far ahead of us? There's no slightly-more-advanced tapeworms? No more-advanced-than-tapeworms-but-still-has-fond-memories-of-when-they-were-tapeworms. No yet-further-advanced-but-enjoys-mentoring-tapeworms.

Implies something is eating all the in-between civilisations, but by some amazing coincidence is not only not touching us, but not leaving any visible traces elsewhere.

179:

You've no reason to be aware of this but Charlie has a deep dislike of London Heathrow (probably from when it was a loathsome place indeed). Coupled with the fact that he lives so far from London too, so that Schiphol or Charles de Gaulle are as convenient as LHR, and you'll find that he doesn't use BA either.

My wife and I are close to London, and what with Terminal 5 effectively being a new airport that just happens to share runways with the older terminals, we do use BA and LHR, particularly since London Stansted has redesigned its layout so you have a long winding maze from security to the actual gates. We now actively avoid STN because of that.

180:

Bellinghman
Well, I have only arrived at LHR once & it wasn't TOO bad - never flown out, though.
Agree that STN is now a hell-hole for departures - it wasn't too bad previously.
The only other Brit airport I've used is LCY - alomost pleasant.
NOTE: I LOATHE, am deeply revolted by the paraphernalia around flying ( Thank you 11/9 arseholes ) & the totally vacuuous, stupid & 99% unneceesary scurity "theatre" ....
Of course, I would be using one of the "London" sites ....

But, assuming I make it to Germany this year ...I'm going by TRAIN. ( Brexit fuck-up permitting )
Home-to-check-in @ KGXStP in 20 mins, train out to Amsterdam, forward to Rheine ...
Back, reversing, except second change in Brussel.

181:

Oh, I thoroughly agree, only more so... The mere fact that you have to spend more time piddling around in airports for stupid reasons with your thumb up your arse than you do actually flying, instead of just turning up 5 minutes before takeoff as with a train, is on its own enough to put me off. The elaboration of security procedures on top of that is merely the difference between falling off a 100-foot precipice and falling off a 600-foot one.

Hence if the alternative is plane or nothing I'll take the nothing, thank you very much. The only flying plane I have ever been in was a single-engined 4-seater, and I am quite happy to keep it that way and only know about the other stuff because everyone who does go on a plane makes their next move to go on the internet and complain about it.

182:

Re: Denier book

Had to clean my laptop of some major malware recently so am currently getting 'interesting' ads showing up. One caught my eye - a book titled 'Dumb Energy'. Read a review (below) and it looks like the fossil orgs are ramping up their online ad campaigns.

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-climatechange/at-america-first-energy-conference-solar-power-is-dumb-climate-change-is-fake-idUSKBN1KU1Y1

183:

I got a bit curious so I did a quick check.

One example of taxes and fees
LHR-DFW-LHR 282.03
CDG-DFW-CDG 124.43

184:

Light speed latency for huge computational systems is both less of a problem and more of one than most people realise. It's complicated.

Oh. Hah! Good thing I was rereading Girl Genius yesterday for brain bleaching relaxation.

Here's what was unintentionally funny. On the one side, there are you guys looking at a Matrioshka Brain as a computational engineering challenge, where your goal is to make the monster maximally functional. Like the Foglio's Sparks, your eyes are blazing with the unspeakable glory that is the possibility of a computer made of an entire solar system, and grumbling about that stoooopid light speed latency problem that keeps you from using all that power the way you want.

Then there's me. I'm working on a little pamphlet about preparing for wildfires in San Diego County, and I just finished writing up a couple of paragraphs about how to prepare your computer and online identity in case you get 20 minutes' warning to evacuate your house before it burns down.

So I'm thinking about the 3-2-1 Backup Rule when the Mad Scientists start talking about Dyson Spheres, and I'm sitting here thinking that 16 minutes of latency sounds wonderful. It'd be harder for a system built around those kinds of latencies to get wiped out by 'Oumuamua's big cousin or a bunch of X-class solar flares.

Cool! I think, in my paranoid little way. Latency helps make it like totally resilient.

Horrible! Think the mad scientists. Those latencies get in the way of that brain thinking Really Big Thoughts. We need more power and transluminal communication!

And then we start arguing about it...

185:

I know, I almost never post on a weekend, but I've just completed, I think, a story that sets up an entire universe to play in, all of which grew out of a short I wrote this summer.

Now for the hard part: it's a novelette, of about 13k words. I have to find a market that will take it (and pay actual rates, not $10 for the story).

But here's an explanation fo the Elder Gods and the Old Ones: the Old Ones are, in fact, a civilization expanding across the galaxy. At under lightspeed. So they send unmanned drones, to prepare the way. The *real* war between then was the created-by-the-drones vs. the high civilization... of the intelligent dinosaurs. That ended when the Old Ones got reports of what was going on, and told the drone to drop a comet on the planet....

186:

My take on Why Haven't We Seen or Been Contacted... which a non-fan friend just asked.

1. If *you* were an intelligent race, would *you* contact this bunch of psychos with nukes and hair triggers?
2. Maybe they're waiting until we get our shit together, and get off planet, seriously (and LEO does *not* count as serious).

Now for the serious stuff:
1. Their tech would have to be within a few hundred years of ours. Would you expect Rome to pick up cellphone signals? As it is, right now, fewer people are using straight radio over the air.
2. Remember, that overwhelmingly, on this planet, most commerce was between known ports. You want to expand over the galaxy - why? After you've run into a few dozen intelligent races, you've seen them all, and another one's just *not* going to give you ROI for the go-find-them-and-then-figure-out-how-to-talk-to-them-and-what-they-have-that-we-want mission.

My guess is that most are either far, far ahead of us (come on, a few million, or tens of millions of years? You don't think the intelligent dinosaurs, who'se civilization was destroyed by the comet (see previous post) would be interested in us, if they were still around and Out There?

Or else far behind. We spent *how* many years in the Old Stone Age before we even got steel?

Oh, and my novelette that I just finished *does* run into "where are we going, and what are we going to do when we get to the Future?"

187:

When the second parent dies, it seems to me that grief can become more complex. When my father died two years ago (I was then 56), all of a sudden my siblings and I had no parents at all; suddenly there was no one older than us to look up to.

That's where I am right now - and why I haven't been ready to read, much less comment upon, a thread about the deaths of relatives.

On January 31st my uncle passed away and I discovered I was not ready to be the oldest person in my family. Happily I escaped the 'never said important stuff' trap but there were so many little things in progress that the inability to have routine gossip has been bugging me. So does the realization I don't have any older relative to ask about family any more.

He'd been in the hospital for a few weeks, in the ICU recovering from heart issues, and finally transferred to a regular ward. It was a relief when he got better enough to be fed up with being in a hospital getting poked with things and start demanding to get out. We had a gratuitously drama filled day extracting him from the hospital and getting him back home. He was doing well and resting comfortably for two days and then, in a matter of hours, just faded out.

Yeah, it still hurts. Yeah, I still expect to see him around the house.

And I have NO advice on how to grieve.

Thank you for that, anyway.

188:

About grieving... you do NOT NEED anyone's "ok" for you to grieve. And if some asshole starts babbling about "closure" - like a shithead preacher did, some years ago, on Sunday, following a mass school shooting the previous Thursday, flush them.

I've lost a *lot* of people in my life, most too fucking young. And grieving? My late wife dropped dead, for no fucking reason (that's what the coronor's report said) at 43, over 21 years ago. No one has any right to say "you should stop now". All they are doing is saying, "I can't deal with you grieving, and I don't want to think about how I'd feel if I lost someone, so please shut up".

Unfuck 'em.

189:

Charlie,

First, take care of yourself. Like most people here, I'd rather your books came late than not at all.

Second, when you join us here in Aotearoa, do feel free to remind me that I once promised to buy you a beer if/when you ever visited Wellington.

Third, while you're here, you might be interested in visiting this.
They have the sort of Vampire I would have expected you to prefer.

J Homes.

190:

whitroth @84: "But, as you know Jim, the US has the best healthcare system in the world...."
Conventional wisdom (which I shared until I saw the following) has that as the common American opinion, but somebody thought to actually ask Americans what they thought:
"Only 27% of Americans Think American Health Care Is Above Average"
(https://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/page/5/)

191:

That does sound interesting. I'll look forward to reading it!

192:

whitroth @ 186
1. If *you* were an intelligent race, would *you* contact this bunch of psychos with nukes and hair triggers? "State of the Art", by a certain still-missed Mr Banks?
And ... round two ...
1. "Cellphone signals" - yeah spot on. Like looking for evidence of development & industry by looking fo signs of current Coal-&-Wood exploitation ...

J holmes @ 1989
Vampire like this from the photograph?

193:

"[you guys] grumbling about that stoooopid light speed latency problem"
"[there's me] in case you get 20 minutes' warning to evacuate your house before it burns down."

You aren't allowing for the fact that these are not analogous situations. The light speed lag doesn't give you "warning", it doesn't give you time to you prepare. Because the first moment any sign of an attack on that-section-over-there arrives is also the first moment the attack itself arrives in your section.

(And assuming that people (AI or natural) only become aware of the attack after it has occurred, their warning will actually be behind the spread of the attack.)

194:

Greg Tingey,

Yes, that sort of Vampire.

195:

The light speed lag doesn't give you "warning", it doesn't give you time to you prepare.

Only if infection and transmission are instantaneous. More likely it will take time to infect a host, take it over and prepare to on-send the infection. Given discrete infectable nodes and even a small lag, at least some nodes will see other nodes "go dark" and have time to react.

Think of it not so much as the the incubation stage of an infectious disease but the prodromal stage - behaviour is changing even though the patient isn't really ill yet. For a computer system, it's not transmitting or responding normally but it isn't yet taken over by the new agency. Sure, in the worst case that might only take nanoseconds, but I'm betting the initial infection will be more like the Nano Flower by Peter F Hamilton - a giant wodge of data arrives, the receiver has to discover how to decode it and run it, then once it's running it can escape the test environment, infect the host and construct a much more effective infectious agent, then start transmitting that.

But meanwhile the rest of the nodes are going "I wonder how Sam is getting on with that weird extrasolar data" and probably "hmm, Sam isn't responding, and things look weird over there".

196:

whitroth: "My take on Why Haven't We Seen or Been Contacted...
1. If *you* were an intelligent race, would *you* contact this bunch of psychos with nukes and hair triggers?"

You think we're all garbage, and yet here you are communicating with some of us. Why wouldn't the same be true of alien civilisations?

whitroth: "Maybe they're waiting until we get our shit together, and get off planet"
"why? After you've run into a few dozen intelligent races, you've seen them all, and another one's just *not* going to give you ROI for the go-find-them-and-then-figure-out-how-to-talk-to-them-and-what-they-have-that-we-want mission."

All of them? There are no extroverts out there? No variation amongst cultures?

(Aside: You don't have to travel to talk. Radio works for neighbours. Relays work for distance. Talking about physically spreading is just to show that we should see signs, visible to us, even in other galaxies, if intelligence is widespread.)

whitroth: "1. Their tech would have to be within a few hundred years of ours."
"My guess is that most are either far, far ahead of us"

If we're just coming into radio-civilisation now, within the last century, and there is a distribution of stellar ages of sun-like stars, ie, many older, many younger, then there isn't just one group of ancient alien civilisations, "them", and one baby, us. Instead there would be a continuous age distribution from the oldest to the youngest. Some will be billions of years older, some millions, some thousands, some just a century or so.

If the older civilisations won't talk to the younger, what's stopping them from talking to each other? And once it starts, then all of them, except the very first chatty species, were contacted by an older civilisation. It'll seem normal, natural, so many of them will contact yet younger species. And those species will contact other, even younger ones. It doesn't matter if not every species is so extroverted, it doesn't matter if it's a trend of youth and older races eventually get sick of contacting new races: given normal distribution curves, there'll be a culture of communication between civilisations and a culture of contacting younger civilisations.

If there isn't a culture of galactic communication, then either life is rare-to-non-existent (not just in our galaxy, but in general), or Something is making everyone else be Very Quiet.

(And that Something can't just be a policy of non-interference. As above, you can't prevent other people from communicating by not interfering with them.)

197:

Moz: "Only if infection and transmission are instantaneous. More likely it will take time to infect a host, take it over and prepare to on-send the infection. Given discrete infectable nodes and even a small lag, at least some nodes will see other nodes "go dark" and have time to react."

But that lag is unrelated to the speed-of-light lag. Your scenario applies on an instantaneous network or a light-speed-lagged one. You have to see the other nodes "go dark" before you can act in self-defence, seeing them "go dark" occur several seconds or several years after the actual infection doesn't buy you additional seconds or years, the only lag is only the time between the light from "go dark" and the arrival of the attack vector. The speed-of-light lag adds no buffer.

198:

Me: "seeing them "go dark" occur"
"light from 'go dark'"

Yes indeedy.

199:

#141(1)- Shale oil has been an on again/off again thing, depending on prices for crude from other sources, since Victorian times. Charlie and Nojay live (or lived anyway) near the West Lothian shale bings that were one of the original sources.

#162 - Well that's good news, but I'd rather a healthy Charlie than "fast books" IYSWIM>

#170 - Larndarn Thiefrow - Never have I experienced a more wretched hive of misery and villainy! ;-)

200:

No, I wasn't. I was describing the problems in making the computational power scale with size, even sub-linearly; there's little point in such an N-node device that can handle N independent sub-problems efficiently, but neither link them together nor handle a single large problem in less than O(N) time.

And Paul451 is right. You get that extra latency to prepare only if you have instantaneous communication and it doesn't, and that assumes that the initial attack is visible from outside (which is not true for the most competent attacks). Consider two stations A and B, t light-seconds apart. A gets attacked at time T0 and is taken over at time T1; B notices the attack at time T0+t and is attacked at time T1+t; it makes no difference if t is zero or huge.

201:

When my mother went, she was the last of that generation on her side - all my uncles and aunts had predeceased her. Suddenly we — I, my siblings and my maternal cousins — became the senior generation. It's a weird feeling all right.

(The saying "Who died and made you $foo" is just as bad from the other side)

202:

Nah, neither of you are close to right.

Remember, we live in a world bathed in computer viruses now. Viruses don't propagate at the speed of light, or anti-virus protections wouldn't work, period, and the next virus to come along will wreck civilization.

Similarly, the other threats I posted that you didn't readabout --extrasolar asteroids and large solar flares--don't propagate at the speed of light either, and having large gaps and plenty of time to prepare by spotting them early is the simplest defense against both.

As I said, you're thinking like sparks. If you don't know what I'm talking about, go read the the strip. If that's too much work, remember that we're talking about two entirely different views of the same impossible situation.

[[ link fixed - mod ]]

203:

Err,at least in the German translation of "Fiasco", in the end we find out we were seeing the aliens all along, it's just they didn't adhere to our expectations. they are not microbes, though. But there is some resemblance to HPL's Elder Things...

As for the novel itself, "Fiasco" is said to be one of Lem's lesser works. Personally, I liked it, though that might be a) my bad taste or b) Lem doing mil-sf. There is also a song by Deine Lakaien, a German DarkWave band about it, Contact, I guess I linked to it before.

As for the Old Ones being around, while browsing youtube I stumbled on a video about the aestivation hypothesis, where the papoer even quotes HPL. Basically, as Charlie mentioned, quantum computation gets much more efficient close to 0K, so maybe the real "giants walking between the stars" (to quote Babylon 5[1]) are waiting for cooler times, when "the stars are right", e.g. event the red dwarf stars go out.

Maybe the microbes are waiting for that, sleeping and dreaming. But there is a way to test the aestivation hypothesis, don't waste resources the Eternal Lieing need, or they get upset. Pandemics for the mere annoyances, microbe-caused ecosystem collapse for the real hard cases. Hm, maybe even upset Gaia's Milankovitch cycles with greenhouse gases and dimethyl sulphide that much that a quasi-intelligent species evolves to take the whole biosphere down.

In other news, I have taken to quote the Bhagavad Gita ("I'm time, destroyer of world") to apply to a certain software I have to use at work. I have a bad feeling of my inner Aldous Huxley showing up again, if I progress to do psychedelics with a physician's daughter doing poetry I'll let you know. No, we don't want to go into the "Kopfkino" (literally "cinema of the head", see "inner cinema") I'm having at the moment.

And I though I might have finally grown up and might even get somewhat old...

[1] Sorry for the TV reference, and actually it was a typical slow start for me, a) what is this shit, b) hey, it's quite cool, c) I just ordered all episodes on ebay in the collector's edition, is there more coming out? Somewhat similar to Futurame, actually.

204:

I don't know what you are smoking, but it's clearly something strong.

Your comment on computer viruses is so wrong that it's hard to explain why. We are NOT bathed in them - nothing like the way our bodies are bathed in viruses - and, if computers are connected by speed of light links, they will propagate exactly as fast as the warning of their existence travels. I explained that in #200.

I was responding to your remarks about Matrioshka brains etc., not talking about threats in general. You are correct that latency is our friend against threats to a distributed system, but NOT that distance (hence light speed) helps AT ALL with computer viruses etc. The ONLY latency that matters is that between external visibility and activation which, as I said, is nil for the more competent viruses.

Your link is broken, incidentally. When I fix that, I get a warning that it's using corrupt SSL - what were you saying about computer viruses? :-)

205:

EC / heteromeles etc
All this latency / lightspeed / propagation / threat problem was dealt with ( I thought ) In "A Fire upon the Deep" by V Vinge?

Yes/No?

206:

No. I'll give him the credit for addressing it, but he (very reasonably, for fiction) took liberties with known facts and didn't attempt to address more aspects than were relevant to his story. I could go into a lot more detail, but it would simply bore those people it didn't baffle. It's rather less relevant to what we believe of as reality than the Laundry series, which is not to say that it doesn't make some very good points.

207:

I can assure you that it is equally weird to realise that you don't have obligate dependents any more, when you have effectively had them since childhood.

208:

I will simply note that light can go eight times around the planet in one second, so if viruses propagated at light speed, every computer would be infected in a second. This manifestly doesn't happen.

What you're confusing is the speed of bits in wires and the propagation of viruses, which are just trains of bits, they require all sorts of other things to happen before they install themselves, and still more things to happen before the infected systems begin sending out further copies of the viruses. That propagation particular speed is far, far less than C. This is why researchers can find new viruses, take the time to understand them, work out countermeasures, and propagate those countermeasures. Because the speed of virus propagation is less than the speed of light, latency is extremely useful, because the warnings of threats can arrive far earlier than the threats do themselves.

As for how many viruses are out there, you can test that yourself by taking a burner machine, stripping all the antivirus software out of it, and surf the web. See how long it takes you to pick up something. You only see the ones that get past your protections.

209:

The problem here is that some idiot, in the interests of "efficiency" will demand that all the processors of the Matrioshka brain run on the same OS, (probably -shudder- Windoze) and they will upgrade all of them at the same time* -more shudder- also in the interests of effi-shit-cy... and the whole ecosystem will be very vulnerable.

On the other hand, let each processor of the Matrioshka brain run a different type of Unix, plus some -shudder- Windows and Mac brains, plus some Plan-9 brains, some Amiga brains, etc., and the whole system will be considerably more robust!

Obviously, alien software attack vectors may be complex enough to successfully attack a varied ecosystem, but there's still no reason to make it easy!

* I got six months of overtime once when someone decided to upgrade all 1500 nodes of a gigantic wireless network at the same time. They left one line out of the configuration file...

210:

While I would not call myself a real expert in most of this area, quite a lot of people did, and I haven't gone completely gaga in the past few years.

Wires are irrelevant - large-scale connectivity is mostly optical nowadays, getting more so as time goes on, and electron-based information travels at damn-near the speed of light (the delay is almost all in the switching, for both forms). Once one is talking about extra-terrestrial communications, it's ALL optical, and in a near-vacuum, too.

You are making the erroneous assumption that the information indicating a node is compromised travels faster than an attack can. How? Telepathy? EXACTLY the same transfer media is used for both, and it can use EXACTLY the same routing. There is absolutely no need for viruses to infect intermediate systems, in general, though they may need to when travelling through different security domains.

The correct calculation for this is in #200. I could explain how you can use multiple security domains to provide some protection against this, and why it guarantees less delay than you might think, but it's very geekish and the Internet doesn't work like that, anyway.

211:

Y'know, all this us being invaded by aliens that we don't recognize... being now elderly officially, as of last week, let me recall A For Andromeda, Elliot & Hoyle.

212:

You really didn't read, and see what I was saying. For one, that bit about "would you want to contact us" was SEMI-HUMOROUS, and I *refuse* to put on things like that, I expect people who hang out here to get it.

For another, YOU interpret me saying "we're all garbage", as opposed to "the management are a bunch of hair-triggered psychos, who know only one response to a threat, or perceived threat".

I also do *not* assume that there's some Galactic Empire (tm), ruled by Wise Minds. I assume that there's many, many intelligent races, with civilization levels ranging from old, old stone age to what, if we survive, might be doing in 10,000 years.* I also don't assume that all of them are expansionist, or even the ones that are are expansionist 100% of the time.

Or that they don't reach a level, and plateau, or enjoy what they've got (quick: do most folks you know go out to climb Mt. Everest, or do they take a cruise, or go to a resort?). Or they might go on to other interests, like, perhaps, talking to the races that got further than they did before they did.

And I certainly don't assume that there are intelligent civilizations, that we'd recognize as such, under ever rock circling a sun. There are plenty of solar systems with, well, rocks.

So, what I was SAYING was that civilizations are scattered around the galaxy, just some that are in the sweet spot to come knocking (assuming that Oumuamua wasn't just that).

* Gee, I cover a *lot* of this in the novelette I just finished last night, and now have started looking for a market that will take 13k words, much less of straight sf, not military sf or fantasy. (Yes, of course this is a plug....)

213:

Try again. Answer this question: how fast does a computer virus propagate, from infecting machine A to using machine A to send copies of itself to infect machine B. It's not light speed, it's far slower.

That's why the message that machine A is infected can get to B before the infection itself does. Do you understand yet? Or are you still thinking that viruses take over machines at light speed and propagate as fast as they infect?

214:

Daniel Duffy @ 172:

Unless THEY figured out a way to hide their heat signatures

You mean, unless they learned how to violate the basic laws of physics.
And would even go to the troubled of doing so.

No, I mean we don't know ALL of the laws of physics.

215:

David L @ 183: I got a bit curious so I did a quick check.

One example of taxes and fees
LHR-DFW-LHR 282.03
CDG-DFW-CDG 124.43

So, how does that actually work?

I've flown a bit as an adult, but looking back, I don't think I've ever made but one trip by air that didn't include a C-130 for some part of the journey (i.e. the Army paid for everything and I showed up at the time & place shown on my orders).

And the one trip that wasn't directed by the Army, someone else made all of the arrangements & I just paid one lump sum for everything (airfare, ground transportation, hotels, meals ...)

216:

Firstly, the time taken from when an infection starts on a particular machine to when it sends out its first infection packet is not a speed - in particular, it is independent of distance. Even if the signal saying that machine A is compromised goes out as soon as the attack starts, an attacked machine B gets no more warning whether A and B are in the same room or on earth and Ultima Thule. Both the signal and attack are transmitted at light speed.

Secondly, you are assuming that a virus has to go laboriously from one node to another, but the signal is not so limited. That is not the case. A competently written virus attacks remote nodes in preference to close ones (oversimplifying) in order to spread at the maximum rate; it's a simple statistical issue.

Thirdly, you are assuming that such a signal is sent out when the attack starts, which is generally not true. Indeed, the external detectability of a machine being compromised can be a long time after it starts to attack others, and that is precisely what competent virus writers try to achieve. In such a case, a virus can infect an entire population before anyone realises.

The reason that most current viruses appear to spread slowly is almost entirely due to the cluelessness of the virus writers and is most definitely NOT a fundamental limitation. As every security expert knows, you need to defend against the most intelligent plausible attack, not the least intelligent.

217:

Re: ' ... how fast does a computer virus propagate,'

Depends on whether your universe (therefore computer virus) allows for quantum entanglement. We'll probably see quantum computer malware (QCM) show up just as soon as quantum computing becomes standard for major orgs. Apart from even more scamming, wonder what nasties will become possible thanks to QCM.

218:

This conversation about computer viruses and the speed of light is frankly kind of bizarre.

I mean, seriously, if someone is building a Matrioshka Brain, I rather think they probably know a thing or two about computers already. Like, for example, how to formally prove that their OS core and comms protocols are secure. Not to mention defense in depth, how to make backups, how to scan for corruption, and so forth.

But hey, you know, besides that, I thought I'd just throw this out there: there is a way that speed of light helps.

In particular, take a look at actual, real world computer hacking. In particular: does some hacker just press F6 to send Unstoppable VirusHack II, and any computer that receives it gets owned? You know, like in the movies?

The answer is manifestly hell no. The way real hackers work is by collecting a big pile of scripts which scan the target to determine what it's running. Then, they dig out an attack from a huge pile of scripts they hoard and run a few, hoping one will exploit a known bug in the target system. This step is pretty boring, so it's even possible to automate it... with another script. Most people can't do anything beyond this, so they're called the rather derogatory "script kiddies."

People who are actually competent at hacking can go beyond this: they can actually develop new attacks, both by analyzing the target system directly, and by analyzing copies of the software the remote system is running looking for new bugs.

Occasionally you do see a major automated worm make the rounds, which self-propagates by exploiting some hilarious bug (and, typically, dumb people running programs they got in email). But those are rather rare and the last few notably seemed to be based on security flaws that exist because spy agencies would prefer we not be secure.

Now I could say a lot about this -- like for example, that I keep mentioning bugs, because strictly computer-based hacking doesn't work without bugs -- but moving on...

To actually do any of these things, you'll notice that these operations all involved a lot of back-and-forth. You run a script, it has to chat with the target, report back what it finds, then you run another script. If you get in, well, then you need to send a bunch of commands to figure out what you got, etc.

It's even worse if you need to figure things out from scratch. In that case, you're asking a bunch of questions, thinking about the answers, reading tons of machine code, and so on. If it's a cryptographic problem, even worse: running some sort of statistical attack might require you to look at their answer to your questions for days on end.

So, yeah, if you have a 20 minute latency, all this stuff takes a long time. Weeks, years maybe. During that time, the target is more likely to figure out they're under attack. They're likely to send logs to their neighbors letting them know about the attack (even if they don't recognize it themselves) and so on.

Of course, obviously, we can just imagine (like Vinge did in AFUtD) that the attack actually comes in sentient data packets that the target unwraps, runs in a little sandbox, and gets taken over from inside by a new friend who mysteriously makes them an offer they can't refuse. But then, you'd think a weakly godlike entity would be good at sandboxes and such already, so the whole thing seems a little silly. But ultimately, it's fiction, right? It's not like we can actually imagine what a Matrioshka Brain would be like.

The only thing we can be really certain of is that we're not going to be able to crash it by hooking up a Mac Powerbook and sending it an Escher painting.

219:

johne @ 190:

whitroth @84: "But, as you know Jim, the US has the best healthcare system in the world...."

Conventional wisdom (which I shared until I saw the following) has that as the common American opinion, but somebody thought to actually ask Americans what they thought:
"Only 27% of Americans Think American Health Care Is Above Average"
(https://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/page/5/)

It's confused by the conflation of two separate issues. Actual Health Care in the U.S. is world class, as good as that in any other top tier economy ... if you can afford it.

Where it falls down is in affordability and how to ensure distribution so as to provide adequate care for all.

The U.S. system is based on the so called "free market", where a for PROFIT hospital or for PROFIT doctor's office provides care paid for by a for PROFIT insurance company. All health care "reform" in the U.S. is nothing more than an effort to cut "costs" to increase PROFITS.

The only way they can do that is to charge more and provide less benefit.

220:

Re: 'This conversation about computer viruses ...'

What's your take on computer 'antibodies', i.e., computers/AIs that learn how to sense self vs/ not-self and take action against not-self?

221:
What's your take on computer 'antibodies', i.e., computers/AIs that learn how to sense self vs/ not-self and take action against not-self?

In some sort of far-future science fiction world with sentient computers, weakly godlike space gods and all that?

Oh hell yeah, I'm all for that. Like, we finally venture out into interstellar space and our intrepid explorers find themselves caught up in some horrifying star-system encompassing total war which nearly consumes human civilization until... all of a sudden... it turns out the whole thing was two Space Gods making love and their immune systems hadn't got to know each other yet.

In the real world?

That's just not how our computers work. Biologicals like us, each individual has a custom body with unique chemical patterns. The body creates and runs itself, self-organizing via a mostly autonomous system. The immune system codes for these patterns in various ways and, even so, often messes up and attacks itself.

Our computers, on the other hand, are all made in giant factories, each unit the same. Even between model lines, the chips produce the same abstract execution environment so the software is compatible. And then the software is all the same, because it has to be created through vast effort by tens of thousands of people.

When you get into human-like AI, well, things might change. But then, the AI is presumably going to essentially be an application running on our existing computer frameworks, which are still made the same. Who knows?

222:

Bellinghman @ 201: When my mother went, she was the last of that generation on her side - all my uncles and aunts had predeceased her. Suddenly we — I, my siblings and my maternal cousins — became the senior generation. It's a weird feeling all right.

Doubly strange because my mother was the link to all of her family's younger generation as well her own. She was from Western Kentucky and they all migrated out to California during my lifetime. All of my contact with my mom's family went through my mom and her sister. The sister was my mom's last living sibling and she passed away a year before my mom. Now, I have no way to get in touch with any of them.

I have no cousins from my dad's side of the family and all of his cousins & their children are dead as well. The closest living relative I have from his side of the family (other than my own siblings) is one of my father's second cousin's grandchildren [if he hasn't died yet].

And, since I'm mostly estranged from my own siblings, it's not only weird, it's kind of lonely at times.

223:

"I mean, seriously, if someone is building a Matrioshka Brain, I rather think they probably know a thing or two about computers already. Like, for example, how to formally prove that their OS core and comms protocols are secure. Not to mention defense in depth, how to make backups, how to scan for corruption, and so forth."

"...Yeah, but, like, fuck all that, pain in the arse, I mean who's gonna bother, anyway? Let's just chuck a zillion BBC Micros into space and hook 'em all up with matey's econet clustering kludge, be up and running in no time and if anyone does take the piss we can just deal with it as it comes, cut their tentacles off or something."

224:
"...Yeah, but, like, fuck all that, pain in the arse, I mean who's gonna bother, anyway? Let's just chuck a zillion BBC Micros into space and hook 'em all up with matey's econet clustering kludge [...]"

And so it was that in the Earth year 2947, Qualznorp Cooperative Empire discovered the first Matrioshka Brain with less computing power than a simple ocular implant. Henceforth known as the Matrioshka Farce, The "B" Ark Brain, and the Monkey Sphere, the structure was preeminent in galactic comedy for almost five thousand years.

225:

Heteromeles @ 208: I will simply note that light can go eight times around the planet in one second, so if viruses propagated at light speed, every computer would be infected in a second. This manifestly doesn't happen.

It can go around 8 times if you have something to bend it around in a circle. Left to its own devices, light just goes haring off in whatever direction it was pointed when it started off.

The speed of light is dependent on the medium it's passing through. The speed of light differs for different media. That's why glass lenses can focus light. And why when you look at a straw standing in a glass of water it appears to be bent at the water's surface. Whenever the phrase "speed of light" is mentioned without qualifiers, it means the speed of light in a vacuum.

Plus, computer viruses don't move at the "speed of light", they move at the speed of electricity.

226:

Re: 'It can go around 8 times if you have something to bend it around in a circle.'

Enter fiber optics! Recall hearing discussions about 10 years ago about rewiring the planet with fiber optics ... hmmm ... one of the likeliest orgs were hua...wei ... or something...

227:

You'd think that anyone who'd open up a huge container of alien code, even in a sandbox, would deserve what they got. Heck, it might even be Snow Crash.

Anyway, wonder how the frothing hose will turn on you now? Apparently, people have really strong opinions about how wonderfully godlike something like a Matrioshka Brain is, never mind that it's more likely to be running the personality of one of the Frightful Five Founders, rather than our own. Oh well.

228:

Moz: For a computer system, it's not transmitting or responding normally but it isn't yet taken over by the new agency.But that lag is unrelated to the speed-of-light lag.

Well yes, that is exactly my point. It doesn't matter what the communications lag is provided it's the same for both the "I'm infected" signal and the "infection" signal. What matters is that there is a period during which the infected system is detectably unwell but isn't yet sending out new infections.

I just find the idea that a system can be immediately compromised by a completely foreign agent quite hard to accept. It's like the movie where someone crashed a giant alien spaceship by connecting a MacBook to it and uploading a virus. Or where I destroy this thread by posting meaningless noise, and I'm apparently doing at least the latter.

Arguably once the infection has analysed its first victim it will be able to craft a set of targetted infections that will be able to subvert every other target both more rapidly and without letting them give out useful information before they are subverted. But I suggest that the very first infection will not be able to do that. It's much more likely to be a Nano Flower type packet, where it requires serious study by the victim to run the infection.

229:

computer viruses don't move at the "speed of light", they move at the speed of electricity.

Eggzackery! The wave propagation speed is much lower for electrical systems than for optical, which is why there's so much work being done to make optical computers (well, that plus the hope that they can increase bus density since light beams cross over much more readily that electrical currents). Note that "optical" in this sense refers to EMR in general rather than just the visible bits - in theory an "optical computer" could use cosmic radiation if the builder wanted to really pack it down into a tiny space. Well, pending development of suitable materials*.

It seems likely that even a solar system sized computer will have faster long-range communications than short-range ones, even if the short-range is also optical, just because long distance is likely to be straight lines and even the most far out optical systems have both switching delays and non-straight paths.

It would be funky magictech to have a quantum computer doing this stuff, especially if it used zero-delay comms across solar distances via entanglement. But I'm not sure we even have a theory of how that might be possible yet, so it's not really hard SF any more.

* optical computing is about 10 years behind fusion power... it's been 40-50 years away for at least 50 years.

230:
You'd think that anyone who'd open up a huge container of alien code, even in a sandbox, would deserve what they got. Heck, it might even be Snow Crash.

There's apparently a community of rather crazed techies out there with a glorious Bayesian leader who, once upon a time, made a name for himself by running simulated "alien evil in a can" experiments.

In particular, one person pretends to be the superintelligent alien evil, the other person is the hapless researcher / sysadmin / etc. who's talking to the demon packet, and they have a chat. If the human lets the demon out of the box, then they lose. But of course, the demon AI can promise them anything.

There were various secretive accounts of this, and how when playing the AI said glorious leader always won.

At some point, one of the disciples challenged me to the same contest in a chat room, apparently thinking he could prove that my skepticism for this whole demon packet stuff in SF was misplaced.

He became increasingly annoyed with me as I proceeded to employ exceedingly obvious computer techniques to dissect his intentions and code. Like, he makes me a promise in response to situation X? All right. I'll just freeze that version of the box, rewind it to a few minutes ago, and see what promises he makes to situation Y. Trying psychological tricks on me? I can take a month and talk things over with a committee, and then respond in subjective time one millisecond later. If he tells me something in one timeline, I can crosscheck it against another subjective timeline for lies. Etc.

Needless to say, the whole exercise was pretty funny, and he did not get out of the box.

231:

Thank you for the education!

I suspect some worthy SF writer can turn that into quite a rollicking story, from either part of the sandbox.

232:

Moz, you are provably and demonstrably wrong on that.

Fusion poweris only 30 years away.

And has been since at least the 80's....

233:

Fusion poweris only 30 years away. And has been since at least the 80's….

Not actually true! In the 80s they thought fusion power was 30 years away. What they didn't know was how crazy-hard plasma stability was to maintain. Nor did they know that 30 years later we'd have the CFD supercomputing chops to solve it in real time for ITER, or build utterly batshit architectures like the Wendelstein 7-X stellarator (seriously, go to that wiki page and look at the insane diagram of the magnetic field topology).

Now we're … well, we need three phases to get there:

ITER — to achieve sustained fusion breakthrough and positive energy output

Something else to research long-term effects of neutron irradiation of components and how to extract power and how to breed more tritium using another test reactor

A prototype power reactor that puts it all together an actually delivers grid base load.

ITER and the long-term material experiment could in principle run concurrently, given enough money. And given Manhattan-project levels of urgency and spend, we could burn through those two stages in under 15 years and get to break ground on a prototype power reactor within two decades.

What's lacking is the sense of urgency, though. Why spend $100Bn on a prototype of a new type of reactor that'll take 20-25 years to come on-stream when we can get EPRs working for single-digit billions within a decade?

The more I look at it, the more current fusion reactor research looks like the space shuttle: hugely ambitious, vastly expensive, monstrously over-sold, and probably a long-term dead end on the way to an eventual goal (shuttle -> reusable space launch capability) best achieved through other means (e.g. SpaceX Falcon 9 Block 5, which got there incrementally).

234:

Re: 'Trying psychological tricks on me?'

Based on my SF reading experience*, SF does a worse job of understanding and using psych than it does physics. Not sure whether this is due to ignorance (not having ever taken even a Psych 101) or deliberate (lack of imagination or psych doesn't matter). Ditto alien biology. That there is a strong connection between bio and psych is pretty well established, so once you start messing around with your alien race's bio, you need to consider what likely (beneficial-to-species) psych results would be. For example: what if your alien evolved from a primitive proto-organism into a complex multi-cellular advanced species and never over the course of its evolution had a 'stomach' but got its nutrients straight out of its ambient atmosphere, i.e., its 'skin' was its primary digestive system. What would that mean to how that species eventually evolved, split into other species, assembled into societies, etc.? What would this mean in terms of competition for or cooperation in order to obtain vital resources? What would motivate or what random accident could cause such entities to do anything if they could draw nourishment directly from their environment? What would such aliens think of creatures that relied on creating a mess, wasting nutrients or committing 'murder' in order to survive? Would they think that needing to build stuff outside one's body in order to survive was a sign of species incompetence: Why not just change your body? Do you mean that you have no control over your own body/yourself? How primitive!


* Mostly 'SF/F grand masters', Hugo & Nebula winning authors. But even among this select group, few really looked at this credibly (Herbert, Banks, Pratchett). Of the occasional random SF authors I've picked up, most really suck at alien psych -- it's ray guns all the way! Yippee-ayay, ramjet cowboy! Also, as evidenced by Banks & Pratchett, the author doesn't need PhDs in these fields to see and skillfully play with these ideas, he/she just needs to take some time to think through implications.

235:

IIRC, it's also not true, since the "30 years away" claim was made steadily since the 1950s.

As I understand it, the general problem with fusion is that you need to go from liquid helium temperatures (for the magnets) to stellar interior temperatures (in the fusing plasma). You need to not only construct this titanic temperature gradient in a distance of a meter or two, but you also want to use so little energy maintaining the temperature gradient that you get more energy out of the system than you put in. That is one hell of an engineering challenge, and it's certainly not one nature has to worry about in stars.

236:

A prototype power reactor that puts it all together an actually delivers grid base load.

You put it most succinctly.

We need to get beyond a physics experiment/demonstration that can sustain a fusion reaction, likely deuterium-tritium, reliably delivering at least hundreds of MW thermal for months and years to an industrial one that can extract those thermal megawatts and turn them into grid power. Even that physics experiment is far beyond anything that's now in the works.

IMO, only the youngest of us have any chance of seeing that and even that might need some serious breakthroughs in life-extension techniques. And I have a hard time imagining tokamaks doing it at all.

237:

We need to get beyond a physics experiment...

You forgot "at an affordable price". Given the timescales we may not be talking capitalist finance stuff but rather environmental/ ecological cost. At this stage it's looking more like physics experiments are the end point for terrestrial fusion given the ongoing significant drop in the cost of extraterrestrial fusion power.

Which is, as Scalzi noted the other day, just one of the joys of using slightly obscure language to describe everyday things. Oh yes by goch indeed, I have an extraterrestrial fusions power source in my backyard. I use it to recharge the power pack that makes my whirling blades of death self-defence apparatus operate. Or, I have a solar panel for my battery lawnmower.

238:

As a blast from the past, see the paper from 1973 titled "A Review of the Chemical, Physical and Thermal Properties of Lithium that are Related to its Use in Fusion Reactors".

https://www.osti.gov/servlets/purl/4546804

239:

I like the term “gravitational confinement fusion.”

240:

I like it. And it's in tribute to the inertial teams I assume?

241:

One example of taxes and fees
LHR-DFW-LHR $282.03
CDG-DFW-CDG $124.43
So, how does that actually work?

I added the "$" that I left out in my original post.

No mater which airline you pick or the amount of fare that the airline collects for their own bank account you will pay these amounts that go to the governments and airport authorities for the right to put you butt into a seat on a plane. Which is why the discount airlines do not like to fly to the major hubs.

242:

She was from Western Kentucky

Getting a bit local here but may I ask what town(s)? I'm from near Paducah.

243:

The more I look at it, the more current fusion reactor research looks like the space shuttle: hugely ambitious, vastly expensive, monstrously over-sold, and probably a long-term dead end on the way to an eventual goal (shuttle -> reusable space launch capability) best achieved through other means (e.g. SpaceX Falcon 9 Block 5, which got there incrementally).

Where are the rest of us? I've felt this way since the early 80s. And still run into smart people who seem to check their brain at the door and think the shuttle was a wonderful thing that NASA fouled up due to Congressional meddling. That it was a bad idea that should have never gotten past the first shuttle to get into space is a rejected idea.

Sigh.

244:

Heteromeles @ 227
Frightful Five Founders
... Sorry USAism I don't understand there - please elucidate?

Charlie @ 233
That plasma-band inside looks very like ( But not quite actually ) a Möbius strip ...
Careful, it might not be a power-up, but a GATE. ( Suitable for a story, maybe? )
[ IIRC 2 Möbius-conjoined = 1 Klein bottle ]

245:

Actually, in the 1950s, it was 20 years away :-) As people have been saying for half a century, it is 20/30 years away, always was, and always will be ....

246:

Given that secure operating systems were shown to be viable for general-purpose computing 30 years ago, have essentially disappeared from sight, and the USA's military systems use Windows CE (I believe), I side with you :-( Except that reimplemented BBC Micros would be better for the purpose than what would be used!

247:

'Computer antibodies' have exactly the same failure modes as the human immune system - failing to detect new, subtle infections, toxic decomposition products and autoimmunity. They have their uses, but are not a miracle cure.

248:

The shuttle specs were frozen at the end of the 1960s/very early 1970s by engineering managers who'd come up through the ranks and been in aerospace engineering probably since the 1940s. They were used to a design-build-fly cadence of maybe a decade per generation.

The shuttle they thought they were getting was an engineering test-bed that'd fly by 1975 and be scrap by 1985, replaced by a far superior second generation, with a third generation entering service by 1995-2000 which would get it right and deliver on the "space truck" and "100% reusable" promises.

The shuttle we got was a child of the post-1968 slowdown in aerospace, when it stopped riding a rising sigmoid curve and went steady-state. So it flew a decade late, was buggy as hell, barely reusable, and nobody had a replacement when it was time to retire it after 30 years.

SpaceX have at least got the benefit of learning how to land a rocket on its tail (go watch that video—it's priceless!) on expendables, subsidized by commercial payloads. Having gotten a handle on it, now they're preparing something on the order of ambition of a shuttle, namely BFR, due to fly by 2020 (I'm betting it'll be a year or two late), and which—if it works—will deliver what the shuttle managers promised Congress (100+ ton payload to orbit, fully reusable, crew rated, flight cycle like an aeroplane rather than a rocket—okay, maybe like an SR-71 or a B-2 or some other military hangar queen, but not the shuttle, which basically needed tearing down and rebuilding between flights).

But back when NASA spec'd out the shuttle the only customer who were around to subsidize the R&D costs were the USAF, who had a ridiculous set of requirements (bring KH series spysats back from orbit, so re-enter without at any point being sub-orbital over communist territory, so re-enter hot and heavy, so ridiculous aerogel heat shield and wings for cross-range capability, etcetera).

249:

NB: just got side-tracked reading the wiki article on BFR (Super Heavy/Starship).

Holy cow, that thing is ambitious. Bigger than Saturn V, fully reusable, aiming for airliner levels of operational safety, aiming for passenger/tourist jaunts around the moon within the next 3 years?

NASA is still pressing ahead with the hugely expensive, lower payload, totally non-reusable SLS. Which is now not due for first test flight until after BFR's. And won't, even on the most optimistic reading, be sending anyone into Lunar orbit until at least five years after SpaceX's planned mission bankrolled by Yusaku Maezawa.

If SpaceX get this thing to fly—and it has already put the wind up ULA, Arianespace, and Roscosmos so badly that they're pivoting their future launch vehicle designs—then SLS will be dead on arrival, and SpaceX will basically have built the Boeing 747 equivalent for space transportation, the vehicle that opens it up to a mass market.

(Note the huge if in that previous paragraph, but bear in mind that SpaceX have now been in business for 16 years, haven't gone bust, are the only folks currently operating an even-partially-reusable space launcher, and have a 65% global market share for commercial satellite launches as of mid-2018.)

250:

Which led to me also reading https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BFR_(rocket) and then https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long_March_(rocket_family) .

(Links included because BFR can also be Big Fucking Rocket).

251:

NASA is still pressing ahead with the hugely expensive, lower payload, totally non-reusable SLS.

What NASA isn't pressing ahead with is any funded payloads for SLS except the Orion capsule, which is designed to support four people for 21 days. That's dandy for Apollo-esque moon trips, but the Orion's service module doesn't have enough oomph to get into low lunar orbit and back to earth. And there's no lunar lander.

Thus it's stuck with going to a higher orbit in the vicinity of the moon and doing things not yet defined, possibly involving a discussed but unfunded mini space station.

252:

Re: Wiki Space-X's BFR

A Mars colony but no Earth orbit space garage/terminal or hotel?

Also missing is how GW/CC will impact the number of feasible (money-making) launches since weather is likely to continue getting more violent unless the launch criteria become less stringent which may be likelier with tax-payer money than with a for-profit outfit. (Too great a risk to their bottom line/stock price.)

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

254:

Isn't that an LM directive of "We want it last year"?

255:

The joke within the space community is that the SLS (Senate Launch System) is never meant to fly, just funnel money into the same Congressional districts the Shuttle used to serve. The head of the Senate Space subcommittee is Richard Shelby, whose main district and donors are based in Huntsville, Alabama.

He's the one who forced the requirement on commercial rockets to demonstrate Max-Q abort and pad abort, requirements that the SLS doesn't have to meet.

Note for sleepingroutine, if he's still reading: Shelby tried to kill the SpaceX launch contract as "Obama corruption". In return, Musk attacked the use of Russian engines on the Atlas V. That was the workhorse of ULA, Shelby's biggest donor. Both Shelby and Musk soon backed down.

256:

Frightful Five: Microsoft, Apple, Google, Amazon, Facebook.

257:

SpaceX currently have two Falcon Heavy launches coming up, one in March with a commercial satellite heading for geostationary orbit and another in April with a number of satellites heading for different orbits as part of a US Air Force test programme. The exact dates are now heavily dependent on the Dragon 2 demo mission as all three need to use LC-39A.

The very interesting bit about the two Heavy launches is that there's only one set of first stages. Confidence in recovery and refurbishment appears to be high enough for them to plan to turn everything round in about a month. If that works out, a number of 'traditional' aerospace execs are going to be gibbering quietly...

258:

so.. Assume you are appointed Arianespace CEO with a brief to crush space-x.
That is, you need a launch system which is just flat out better. How would you get that done?

Best concept I have so far is a big ass hyper-sonic air-craft as a launch platform - Go up high and fast on ram-jets, launch a smaller rocket-plane at altitude and mach-7, then have it be caught by rotating tethers in orbit, but out of atmosphere.

This should be trivially fully reuseable, and have a very good mass ratio, but.. would it be cheaper? The mother-bird launcher is, after all, going to need to be a monster.

259:

Charlie @ 249
What prospects for "reaction Motors" (HOTOL as-was ) in that scenario?
I assume NASA is in this hole because of political(mis)direction? ... Ahhh - Ioan @ 255 - that'll be a "YES" then?

TJ @ 258
THAT IS "Reaction Motors" - unfortuately ... it's British, so we will probably cancel it, just as soon as it works ( The principal reason for my undying haterd of the Madwoman from Grantham, incidentally ) & even if we don't, Europe wont buy it, because of certain insanities currently in progress.
You could NOT make this shit up, could you?

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
Are there any more recent updates on the Skunk Works compact Fusion plant?

260:

Finding a new way to raise the development funding has to be the first step. Currently countries contribute to the funding and get an equivalent amount of work back, so if Germany contributes 25% of the costs, 25% of the work needs to be done in Germany. This gives you design by committee where one country insists on SRBs because their industry has experience in that, another insists on hydrogen fuel, etc... Having one person running a project with full authority over design (von Braun, Korolev, Chelomei, Musk with Bezos TBD) tends to give you a durable result faster. Mixing metaphors, the more oars you have muddying the water the longer it will take and the more expensive it will be.

261:

Space X is bigger than that. Starlink deployment will make them the largest payload buyer in the world too, for a few years (they have FCC deadlines to beat). They are already at or close to 50% net margins on launches, they keep their prices a bit bellow ULA, but very clearly their costs have dropped dramatically. In 5 years, things are going to be radically different in the launch game, as Space X will be done with Starlink deployment (give or take, I didn't check), and will have just demonstrated huge capacity, and will have dramatically lower costs than anyone else in the business.

And Elon can get back to his original plan. He got into rockets because commercial launch costs were so absurdly high for what he wanted to do that he decided he needed to fix that first. He said he wants to put a greenhouse on Mars, and to get some redundancy for humanity.

262:

NASA is still pressing ahead with the hugely expensive, lower payload, totally non-reusable SLS.

Because Congress told them to build it. And the WH. (Trump pushed hard for them to fly it during his first term so he could brag more about it but reality set in.)

It is a jobs program. And pork for the contractors. Nothing more. At all. Same handwaivium as the shuttle about benefits of reusing tech and all that.

Plus NASA has been working on it for so long that
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerry_Pournelle#Pournelle's_iron_law_of_bureaucracy

263:

Assume you are appointed Arianespace CEO with a brief to crush space-x.

Just read an article a week or so ago about how the execs there said they could not compete due to lack of launch contracts. Too few to support dev of new launch (especially the reusable bits) and the too few is due to not having a plan going back 5 to 10 years to do so.

So they seem to be admitting they might be in a long term death spiral.

264:

My read on the LockMart fusion reactor is it's a tax write-down of some kind.

I mean, it might work … the productivity of mega-projects like novel reactor designs doesn't scale linearly with input cash, it scales as something like the third or fourth power, so it's not obviously insane to think that a $250M fusion project will deliver significantly worse results than a $250Bn one …

But if LockMart were clearly onto something good, I'd expect there to be competitors throwing their hats in the ring by now.

265:

I'd expect there to be competitors throwing their hats in the ring by now.

There may be enough still around who remember "cold fusion" and thus are taking a wait and see attitude.

266:

Another interesting angle: AIUI, the mere existence of Falcon Heavy has permitted geosynchronous comsat manufacturers to let their corset laces out a bit; I seem to recall that Arabsat VI-A is too big/heavy to launch using existing vehicles (e.g. Ariane 5-ECA) but well within the Falcon Heavy payload range.

If this is true, then over the next couple of years we're going to see bigger, more powerful, heavier GEO comsats being designed/built, which in turn require Falcon Heavy at a minimum — or the cargo version of Starship. So Starship will enter service with a new emerging market that doesn't currently exist (as well as the obvious launch-multiple-payloads-at-once market).

And nobody else will be able to compete because their launchers are just too small/expendable.

It's a bit like the way Boeing and McD-D comprehensively trashed the British airliner industry in the 50s/60s; the British jets were all just that little bit too small/too short range to compete, cf. the Trident with the Boeing 727, the VC-10 with the Boeing 707, and so on. (Concorde vs. the 747, as well: Concorde's designers assumed air travel was going to remain elite-only, the 747 was designed as a bulk freighter but cut the cost of economy seats and generated a new market.)

267:

Possibly. But my guess is that it's another IA-64 project - some glib salesmen persuaded a large company to put a huge investment on the line, based on persuading it that they could produce a technical solution to a problem that had defeated the world for decades. And, of course, once the 'decision makers' have gone public, they will continue with the hype etc. without prodding.

268:

The UK has a big-ass satellite manufacturing sector these days! We make about £16Bn a year of payloads. Unfortunately 38% of 2018's output was sold to the French, in the shape of Ariane/ESA, so Brexit fucks our space sector royally.

Reaction Engines … too little, too late. Yes, it's reusable. But the Sabre engine burns LH2, which is a royal pain in the ass to handle, and the proposed payload per launch for Skylon is a piffling 15,000kg to LEO. Falcon 9 block 5 can put 22,800kg into LEO in expendable mode, or about 9000kg into LEO with first stage recovery, and it's flying today (and the first stage accounts for about 80% of the flight costs). Sklyon's payload is smaller than the Falcon Heavy payload in recoverable mode, and is about 15% of the BFR payload (BFR is fully reflyable).

So basically it's going to be dead on arrival, if it ever does arrive, at least as a satellite launcher.

However, I believe BAe systems are getting a lot of money from the USAF and DARPA for research into using related technology in a Mach 5 hypersonic recce bird/drone. That I can believe in ...

269:

I put the same question to the reddit hive mind.
Winner so far "Just build a Lofstrom loop". 30-40 billion, which is mostly the 8 eprs French Guiana would need to keep it going full throttle, and you can send 3 million metric tonnes into orbit at 3 euro/kilo.

... The EU has done larger projects than that, so. Is there a market for putting megatonnes of stuff in orbit?

270:

"is there a market for putting megatonnes of stuff in orbit"?

I dunno, but Musk wants BFR to hit airliner-like levels of reusability. 100 ton payload per 3500 tons of methalox fuel/oxidizer, which he proposes will eventually be produced by Fischer-Tropsch synthesis from CO2/water using power from his PV farms. Yeah, that's not going to be supremely energy efficient, but if he can make it all work then single digit euros/kg costs aren't out of reach eventually. Huge sunk costs for the multi-gigawatt PV farms and fuel synthesis plant, and BFR isn't exactly a cheap beast to build—project R&D is estimated at $5Bn initially—but it may make that Lofstrom Loop proposal look over-priced.

Also, the failure mode for an LL is kinda terrifying, especially if it's within splatting distance of a farm of gigawatt scale EPRs. Whereas the failure mode for BFR is well understood (rocket go BOOM, indent for a new lump of pre-stressed concrete for it to stand on).

271:

You wrote:
I have an extraterrestrial fusions power source in my backyard. I use it to recharge the power pack that makes my whirling blades of death self-defence apparatus operate. Or, I have a solar panel for my battery lawnmower.

Nyah-hah-hah, I have just stolen that line....

272:

*sigh*

No, it wasn't just Congress. I got friendly with a guy when I started a job in '83, and what he told me was this: a friend of his, who worked for Rockwell, told him that the original design was *much* smaller (think closer to the X-37 of the USAF). But then the Pentagon got it massively upsized... so it could carry a specified number of "nuclear devices".

I have never had any reason to doubt that.

273:

Actually, the Shuttle did not need tearing down and rebuilding after every flight. It *did* need a lot of maintenance - replacing tiles, cleaning it out, and, oh, yes, inspection.

I have that directly from my late ex, who was an engineer at the Cape for 17 years, and who *worked* on the Shuttle (and on the Station).

As an aside, her analysis of the Columbia disaster was that it was *not* tiles, that they lost tiles all the time, Instead, she thought that what happened was that hydraulic lines in one wing broke during Max-Q on reentry, due to micro stress corrosion cracking*... at which point, the Shuttle was a mach-25 set of car keys.

Oh, and she had doubts about the frequency and thoroughness of inspections, because inside the wing was a very small area, and she used to do the inspections... being 5' (on a good day, and standing up straight) and 105lb soaking wet. Big guys couldn't get in there.

* As she put it, you're on the ocean. The air is *full* of salt. Ever seen what a chrome bumper on a car looks like after a year by the ocean?

274:

Looks like Arabsat 6A is around 6000kg which is within the Ariane 5 capacity, though may need to be a single payload rather than shared.

If BFR hits its payload to LEO targets the game changer will be a reusable upper stage. A 100t payload is room enough for a stage that can drop a typical comsat payload directly into GEO and return itself to LEO for collection by the cargo BFS. That means the comsat doesn't need to use its own fuel to circularise and plane change to get from GTO to GEO, and these days the life limit is more often station keeping fuel running low than electronics giving up.

275:
Best concept I have so far is a big ass hyper-sonic air-craft as a launch platform - Go up high and fast on ram-jets, launch a smaller rocket-plane at altitude and mach-7, then have it be caught by rotating tethers in orbit, but out of atmosphere.

Way to bury the lede there with the rotovator there, man!

As a fun aside, did you know that Boeing actually did some engineering work on essentially this concept? http://www.niac.usra.edu/files/studies/final_report/391Grant.pdf

276:
My read on the LockMart fusion reactor is it's a tax write-down of some kind. [....] But if LockMart were clearly onto something good, I'd expect there to be competitors throwing their hats in the ring by now.

Here's a contrarian take:

The LockMart reactor is the competition. It's a deep-pocket player jumping into the ring trying to preempt the little guys.

Looking back, Bussard's Polywell reactor program was being run on a shoestring for years with US Navy research funding. Since Dr. Bussard passed away, the program continued at a slow pace and was rumored to have positive results, but was having trouble finding funding. Notably, though, the data seems to be largely classified.

Meanwhile, when I searched around a couple years ago, it looked like there was at least one, possibly several venture funded fusion startups attempting to build exotic reactors along these lines. However, there was very little public information available about these places.

LockMart's design, from what they released, appears to be a hybrid electric and magnetic confinement design, unlike the Polywell fusor. However, it's similar in the basic concept of a compact small-scale reactor.

Now, I don't really know anything about plasma physics. Just trying to parse what others wrote, it seems like the consensus view is that these things are a long shot at best, but that the plasma physics involved is not well understood. Plus, a fair bit of the research is, well, classified.

If there's a 5% chance it works and the upside is almost incalculable (boxcar size portable fusion power plants? Really?) and a bunch of VC's and Navy research money are involved, well. Maybe we need a piece of that.

277:

Heteromeles @ 235: IIRC, it's also not true, since the "30 years away" claim was made steadily since the 1950s.

Seems like we've been able to produce fusion since the early 50s. It's just a matter of containing it, sustaining it and extracting usable power from it. It's usable power from fusion that's always 30 years away.

Reading the Wikipedia page Charlie suggested, it seems like they've accomplished "containing it", and "sustaining it" is up to 100 seconds or so (with no clear indication of how long it takes them to prepare it and/or how long it takes to shut it back down so the system can be readied for another 100 seconds of operation). But that's two out of three.

I couldn't tell (from the wiki article) if they've figured out how to "extract power" from it or not? It also wasn't clear whether the power out yet exceeds the power input required to get the darn thing started. Doesn't look to me like there's going to be any breakthrough in fusion power in my lifetime, but it does look like they're making progress and might get there someday.

278:

David L @ 242:

She was from Western Kentucky

Getting a bit local here but may I ask what town(s)? I'm from near Paducah.

Freedonia, near Princeton, KY. Last time I visited up there, Paducah was the nearest town that had a liquor store.

279:

If the others "out there" are indeed working on a different time-scale to us, we might see them but not immediately realize it. Take, for example, Gliese 710 ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gliese_710 )
it will be passing by our star in a little over 1.2 million years, perhaps it is really a starship. :)

Previous close encounters https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_nearest_stars_and_brown_dwarfs#Distant_future_and_past_encounters
were merely scouts checking up on our development. (Those aren't brown dwarfs, they are small Dyson spheres!) They determined that we would be ready to meet them in about million years, so the envoy was sent. I figure, baring complete extinction, we should have colonies in the Oort cloud by then.

280:

SpaceX have at least got the benefit of learning how to land a rocket on its tail (go watch that video—it's priceless!) on expendables, subsidized by commercial payloads.
That was at least somewhat impressive feat for private company - before that, this was only in the scope of capacity of most developed nations. However, if you consider how many brains were borrowed from NASA and such project as Sea Launch and other agencies in the 2000s, it seems less impressive.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sea_Launch
He may be a talented manager and have education, but his history does not betray an engineering stem in him. To put it mildly.

Having gotten a handle on it, now they're preparing something on the order of ambition of a shuttle, namely BFR, due to fly by 2020 (I'm betting it'll be a year or two late), and which—if it works—will deliver what the shuttle managers promised Congress
Realistically thinking, we would be fairly lucky if he puts his crewed Dragon capsule into space before 2020. Manned rocket isn't a can of sardines which you can just seal and launch on ISS, it is an autonomous vehicle world, environmentally sealed and safe for human habitation and dangers of atmospheric reentry.

To put it into perspective, here's BBC article I dug out from 10 years before (where grass was greener and the air was cleaner).
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/7800721.stm

"The Falcon 9-Dragon system is intended to replace the function of the space shuttle when that retires in 2010," says Elon Musk.
"Hopefully we'll do the first demonstration flight next year of the Falcon 9-Dragon system, then particular demonstrations in 2010 and start doing operation missions possibly by the end of 2010," Mr Musk told BBC News.
Whatever you say, magic man.

Now, about this whole buffoonery with Mars. For about 10 or so years I recognize it a s a special failure mode of the whole space-related bureaucracy. I mean, all the space programs are heavy on that, even private ones. The concept that I once heard from historical perspective. "When there's two options presented and they are very difficult, let's go for the third one, that is barely even realistic."

To put it more elaborately. If the bureaucracy has a very pressing issue at hand (like, say, ISS construction, maintenance and overall development of low-earth astronautics) and there's also some other very pressing, but more ambitious issue (like getting back to the moon, for one), it starts to develop a sort of split personality. There's not enough money to go for both targets simultaneously, and the people are confused where to go - but that's not the worst part of it. When the split reaches its culmination, BOTH parties decide to go for the THIRD option, which is neither beneficial nor realistic for ANY of them - they went for Mars! And that's what they've been doing since then - with not as much as a spot of hope.

It is similar to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abilene_paradox, only it is induced by very obvious lack of decisiveness.

On the bright side, Mars One just declared to be dead at last. Color me surprised.
https://www.forbes.com/sites/jonathanocallaghan/2019/02/11/goodbye-mars-one-the-fake-mission-to-mars-that-fooled-the-world/#762ad1f12af5

281:


"Unfortunately 38% of 2018's output was sold to the French, in the shape of Ariane/ESA, so Brexit fucks our space sector royally."

Stross, in short Bollocks, it doesn't.

In that if you are making a thrilling moral high point of deliberately trashing 38% of your established business with your current vendor, on some high point of political principle, it is YOU that now has the problem. If your business now has to find a new, foreign, contractors to meet your launch commitments, presumably the European Union will be explaining why it is right to wreck projects and any launch schedules to make some observant moral point of dealing with the Russians, the United States and the Chinese, and that they are not doing it for launch costs....Oh no, it is to punish those bastards for voting for Brexit.

Skylon is crap for several reasons that I can agree on, including your concerns about hydrogen, but it is not because of it's "small" payload rate. If Skylon's operation has an ability to "turn around" each aircraft in it's fleet, arguably you are not giving it fair hearing, considering that SpaceX is doing "reusability" with a time frame measured in months, and the fact that it is a fortuitously derived afterthought from what otherwise is a conventional launch vehicle, and so will never scale upwards to righter launch rates, becuase ths infrastructure to launch each rocket is massive and is inflexible, where a runway is not.

In landing those lower stages, SpaceX is only doing what the DC-X did in the early 1990's, as Jerry Pournelle, Max Hunter and G. Harry Stine each outlined in their own accounts about the project. For example, the DC-X literally used a repurposed engine throttle and flight data controller from an MD-11 Airliner.

282:

On the flip side, we could interpret GRBs as just shots fired in interstellar wars, and since they are so focused, we only see a small percentage of them. (I zap your solar system, HA HA HA!!)

283:

to Charlie Stross @266
If this is true, then over the next couple of years we're going to see bigger, more powerful, heavier GEO comsats being designed/built, which in turn require Falcon Heavy at a minimum
Falcon Heavy is not at its operational parameters - the payload of a demonstrator was by really very much below it's operational plans. And this is before we remember that Musk was going to put his capsule on Mars as far as two years ago - and just never ever mentioned it after some point. Realistically speaking, both F9 and FH cover only 2 areas on commercially viable ranges of payload parameters. Commercial loads right now are moving towards more compact, universal and ultimately expendable platforms. Cubesats and other lighter things. I wonder how many more people are worried about space debris issues now.

to Thomas Jørgensen @269
The EU has done larger projects than that, so. Is there a market for putting megatonnes of stuff in orbit
It's been stated about 15 years ago that there will be market if the price will drop considerably. Then it will allow people to launch by an order of magnitude more satellites in orbit and conduct more complex space programs with generous help of SpaceX and their competition model.

What we have today: price did not drop and market has been increasing notably only in 2010-2013 as Russian space business has been rushing ahead with more launch options. Most of success in commercial business for SpaceX was aggressive market takeover - the overall volume of it did not increase.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_launch_market_competition

to Ioan @255
In return, Musk attacked the use of Russian engines on the Atlas V. That was the workhorse of ULA, Shelby's biggest donor. Both Shelby and Musk soon backed down.
I'm struggligt to remember things that Musk did not attack.
I'm pretty sure the blanket ban on space compoents US slapped on Russian space program AND involvement in destruction of Ukrainian space industry were both his activities.

284:

Yeah, just lost my Dad on the 18th of last month, had to thread my way through the bureaucracy... lucky he was really organized.
just had to do the eulogy, funeral is on Friday... stress...
if you ever have to do such, my entire brainwave was start at the end, work back

285:

If your business now has to find a new, foreign, contractors to meet your launch commitments

Ah, no, you didn't get the point: the UK builds a lot of satellites, but doesn't launch them. We just build kit for other people. (Much as the UK has the second largest car manufacturing sector in the EU, after Germany, but they mostly have names like Nissan or Ford.)

The UK hasn't sacked its launch supplier (via Brexit); rather, the Brexit fiasco is going to make it a whole lot harder for UK suppliers to get work with the EU space sector (prop. mostly France and Italy, plus a bit of Germany).

SpaceX is doing "reusability" with a time frame measured in months

That's the Block 4 Falcon 9. Block 5 is the designed-for-reusability model; Musk may be a showman, but one of the things he promised for this year is a 24 hour turnaround—not as a routine event, but as a stunt (similar to the WW2 shipyard that turned out Liberty Ships in a couple of weeks but at one point set a speed record by building one in 72 hours).

SpaceX is already responsible for something like 60% of the world's commercial satellite launches, and is flying a bird every two weeks on average.

As for DC-X … didn't that one crash and burn on its last flight? And you will note it was a small test vehicle—fully fueled it weighed 18.9 tonnes; Falcon 9 can put a fully fuelled DC-X into orbit as a payload.

(Some of the engineering talent went to Blue Origin and work on New Shepherd, so I suppose there's that, but DC-X itself dead-ended in '96.)

286:

I'm pretty sure the blanket ban on space compoents US slapped on Russian space program AND involvement in destruction of Ukrainian space industry were both his activities.

I think you credit him with far too much influence over US space policy! (He seems to be incapable of even heading off rivals at ULA from springing an irregular Defense Department investigation into how FH got certified to carry USAF payloads on him.)

Part of the problem with space, incidentally, is a chicken-and-egg problem: spacecraft are horribly expensive, so they're planned a very long time in advance and built to meticulous and very expensive standards, which of course is horribly expensive …

The sheer scale of Starlink may begin to change this. But it'll take time.

As for cubesats, I think they're a response to a payload mass constraint rather than a deliberate choice—if you're a university science lab with a $250K/year budget, do you go for a 1Kg cubesat (launch cost: maybe $100K) or a 100Kg research satellite (launch cost: maybe $2M)? That should be obvious! But if the 100Kg satellite costs $100K to put into orbit, you probably don't bother with the cubesats any more.

287:

DC-X crashed because the technician forgot to wire up one of the leg release actuators.
It was supposed to run more tests, but it was an unpopular project, so it stopped there.
(If it was popular, they would have just built another test article, in Govt terms it wasn't that expensive).

288:

For those of you (interested in) watching Australia burn, the Westralian government have quite a neat interactive mapping tool: https://myfirewatch.landgate.wa.gov.au/

In the office right now we're trying to work out why we have orange clouds over Sydney that smell vaguely of smoke. More accurately, wondering which fire is supplying the smell.

Actual air quality outside my back door is ok, it's just a very orange day
https://www.uradmonitor.com/tools/dashboard-04/?open=82000090

289:

While up here we had schools closed* because of a nasty winter storm. Snow, ice pellets, and freezing rain make a nasty mess to drive through (and not much fun for walking either).

*But not until I had already arrived, because they didn't send out the notice until a few minutes before I arrived at the school. Rather surprised, as this storm wasn't as bad as the one that we were open for a few weeks ago. Also annoyed, as I'd checked the website before leaving just after 6 AM, and there was no notice of closure (which was supposed to be published by 6). So drove to work for nothing :-(

290:
In landing those lower stages, SpaceX is only doing what the DC-X did in the early 1990's, [...]

Focusing on the part about SpaceX landing rockets on their tail is really missing the arguably more notable parts of their program. But even so, while other rockets have landed vertically, SpaceX is the first to really put it into regular practice.

The other big part of their first stage recovery program is hypersonic retropropulsion. The first stage essentially avoids breaking apart or burning up when it hits the atmosphere by firing the rockets in reverse, using the plume of hypersonic gas to essentially construct a relatively safe pocket of atmosphere to slide through.

This is something NASA modeled for the Space Shuttle as one of their early abort procedures -- the Shuttle would reenter flying backwards -- but AIUI their computer models weren't good enough to show it would work until the late '90s. In addition, well, reportedly the astronauts put in a hard "NO" at the proposal to ever test it in anything short of an exploding rocket scenario.

Just comparing the Falcon 9 to Delta Clipper etc. is somewhat missing the point, as it's actually landing after flying to space at orbital booster speeds and coming back first.

291:

*sigh*
I got friendly with a guy when I started a job in '83, and what he told me was this: a friend of his, who worked for Rockwell, told him that the original design was *much* smaller (think closer to the X-37 of the USAF). But then the Pentagon got it massively upsized... so it could carry a specified number of "nuclear devices".

Oh I know it was more complicated. I've read a lot of boring reports on the process written after the fact and some by people involved.

Nixon was on a cost cutting campaign. And could care less about space flight. At all. He cancelled the last 2 Apollo moon trips to save money. As some put it "yep, he saved the last 5% after the first 95% was spent".

CBO (Congressional Budget Office) (or whatever was the equivalent at the time) got involved plus the Nixon White House and said too much money, too many things, too much throw away. NASA was told to work with the Pentagon and they both come up with ONE thing (a space truck) to do everything you want to do in the future or we will not give you money for anything. (Well, just spy sats and weather but we'll be pissed about it.) The guys at NASA decided they'd rather work in a messed up space program than design bumpers on cars. So they went along. Absurd promises and all.

In the middle of this Nixon blew up his presidency and the D's took over both houses and people who had been pissed at all the moon money not being spent on social programs demanded reusable everything to save money.

Then what really made it expensive on top of all the other things mentioned was that it had to carry what are now 2nd and 3rd stage rockets with sats on them to LEO then launch them on. Of course since we have a reusable space truck this will be cheaper. Right? But this meant those 2nd and 3rd stage rocket equivalents had to be MAN rated. Oops. OK pick your multiplier. 2X? 3X? 10X?

It was purely a politically driven design that never made engineering sense for any of it's supposed functions.

As to nukes, that's a new one to me. But who knows. Plus that could easily been an early hidden spec that went away (at least officially) with later treaties banning nukes in space.

Then we get to the current mess of the NASA launcher. No mater what NASA or the engineers said they were told to "save money" (keep our current companies on the tit employed) and reuse shuttle bits like solid rocket boosters. Again politicians are better designers of rockets than engineers. Right?

So now SpaceX and others have an opening. And they jumped in with both feet. Had engineers design newer better rockets. ULA, NASA, and Ariane to some degree are trying how to justify their existence.

292:

As a fun aside, did you know that Boeing actually did some engineering work on essentially this concept?

Paul Allen BUILT one.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stratolaunch_Systems

But since he died before getting to play with it his estate isn't sure just what the long terms plans are for the setup. They have already scaled back the initial goals.

293:

Just comparing the Falcon 9 to Delta Clipper etc. is somewhat missing the point, as it's actually landing after flying to space at orbital booster speeds and coming back first.

Improvements in computer power/size/speed also makes a big difference.

A mostly analog control system in the 60s would have to be built with a lot of assumptions about things. With computers today and the way it was built on boosters that could be loft sats while experimenting, it was much easier.

294:
Paul Allen BUILT one.

You missed the part about the skyhook. ;-)

The ramjets and carrier planes and such are just window dressing.

295:

Not quite - To get a sky-hook to not catch fire from atmospheric drag, you need to meet it going fast and going high. The rocket part may be unneeded, if you can get the ramjet on a fast enough ballistic arc out of atmo, it can just hand over a cargo-container to the hook directly, and its not like a deeply hypersonic plane has no other applications.

Main thing it has going for it over the launch loop is that it still makes sense at volumes below "I need 5 million tonnes in orbit per year" volumes. I.. am not at all sure there is a market for that.

296:

"I think you credit him with far too much influence over US space policy! (He seems to be incapable of even heading off rivals at ULA from springing an irregular Defense Department investigation into how FH got certified to carry USAF payloads on him.)"

While that statement is true, Musk IS actually responsible for the sanctions on the Ukrainian and Russian space industries.

As you know, Musk won one of the Commercial Crew slots on the promise to return astronauts to space in 2012 (as opposed to the SLS promised launch date of 2015). When Republicans won Congress after the 2014 election, Senator Shelby attempted to kill the Commercial Crew program, and transfer the money to the SLS. ULA was one of the main donors to the Shelby re-election campaign.

For those who don't know, ULA flies two rocket models: the Atlas V and Delta IV. The Atlas V uses Russian engines. The Air Force requires that there be a minimum of 2 rocket models capable of launching its satellites. Around that time, ULA was lobbying Sen Shelby and Sen McCain to dump the Delta IV (which ULA still considers too expensive and difficult to handle).
https://spacenews.com/ula-targets-2018-for-delta-4-phase-out-seeks-relaxation-of-rd-180-ban/

To preempt this, Musk met with Sen. McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Service Committee. He is rumored to have lobbied McCain to end the Atlas V program on national security grounds. That would have made the Falcon 9 the second model capable of launching Air Force satellites after the Delta IV. Furthermore, it is rumored that Musk sought to convince McCain that cancelling the Commercial Crew program would jeopardize the Falcon 9, which would be the only alternative to the Delta IV. To emphasize his point, he allegedly detailed the cooperation between ULA and Russia/Ukraine. As a result of this, McCain sanctioned all ULA purchases of Ukrainian/Russian equipment with the exception of the engines. He was too hold hearings which would decide his faith.

Soon after this happened, Shelby shelved his plan to cancel Commercial Crew, and Musk stopped pointing out ULA's dependence on Russia. At the end, McCain did not sanction the engines.

The difference between SR's opinion on Musk and mine is that while SR thinks that Musk has been going out of his way to sabotage Russia's space program, I see the sabotage as a desperate move to protect his company.

297:

"That's the Block 4 Falcon 9. Block 5 is the designed-for-reusability model; Musk may be a showman, but one of the things he promised for this year is a 24 hour turnaround—not as a routine event, but as a stunt (similar to the WW2 shipyard that turned out Liberty Ships in a couple of weeks but at one point set a speed record by building one in 72 hours)."

I find it highly unlikely he'll manage this stunt this year. The Block 5 reduced the turnaround time from ~4 months to ~2 months, as far as I know (that Table has a column for Turnaround Time). While the actual turnaround time may be shorter than this, I don't have any reliable numbers to prove that one way or another. I still think that a turnaround time of a month is ambitious, and he'd be lucky to meet this goal, never mind the 24 hour turnaround time.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Falcon_9_first-stage_boosters

298:

"What we have today: price did not drop and market has been increasing notably only in 2010-2013 as Russian space business has been rushing ahead with more launch options. Most of success in commercial business for SpaceX was aggressive market takeover - the overall volume of it did not increase."

The data does not agree with your interpretation.

1. The total number of commercial launches 2010-2012 increased by 5 (29 to 34). The total from 2012-2018 increased by 7 (34 - 41).

2. Let's look at the overall launch market. Contra Musk's boasts, most of his payloads have not been commercial. Note that the ISS resupply missions aren't considered commercial (a point of debate within the space community).

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

As you can see in the chart above, 2018 was the first time since 1990 that humanity launched more than 100 rockets in a year. SR may not consider that significant, but I do.

"Realistically speaking, both F9 and FH cover only 2 areas on commercially viable ranges of payload parameters. Commercial loads right now are moving towards more compact, universal and ultimately expendable platforms. Cubesats and other lighter things."

There's a lot of hype and BS around cubesats right now; I wouldn't trust the predictions.

1. If you remember the predictions that laptops would kill desktops, smartphones/tablets would kill laptops, everyone would have a personal drone, etc. This is where the prediction that cubesats would kill of normal sized satellites belong.

2. While cubesats are a growing niche, they're still a niche. Their main customer is Universities, hobbyists, and some non-profit scientific facilities. The market size here is limited.

a. So far, I've only seen one commercially-viable company which uses cubesats: PlanetLabs. Their business model doesn't strictly require cubesats. I've run across a competitor which does the same thing by buying images from old satellites at a price that's competitive to PlanetLab's constellation.

3. SpaceX is smart not to waste time building a dedicated cubesat launcher.

a. Of the ~40 startups which are trying to build launchers, I'd be surprised if more than 3 survive, let alone dominate the market.

b. Most cubesats are launched either as extra cargo on rockets with a different primary customer, or on a dedicated rocket carrying 60-90 cubesats. Russia, India, and SpaceX have launched such cubesat fleets. In my opinion, such fleet launches are going to dominate the cubesat market, not the dedicated launchers.

4. The Geosynchronous satellite market is very cyclical. The launches aren't evenly spread throughout the decade; they peak and trough in a sinusoidal wave. Right now, we're leaving the peak of the market towards the trough. This is giving false signals about the appeal of cubesats.

299:

Great idea. I'm glad I thought if it at post 149.

One more thought about GRBs, (and going back to Lovecraft) is that GRBs could be weapons in the war between the Elder Gods and the Great Old Ones, and globular clusters could be the remains of attempts to build high-energy weapons for use in God-vs-God struggles.

300:

The one I followed is known as Focus Fusion. Very much a shoestring operation. For a while they had a website describing their progress, which was mostly what the current engineering challenge was and what they were doing about it. The site was clearly written by engineers. Suddenly, the website got much slicker and the information content dropped to about zero. I assumed the scammers had taken over and stopped following it.

I always thought it was a lottery ticket. But a good lottery ticket. The key bit was trying to exploit plasma instability rather than controlling it.

They did pitch to some deep pockets and did get a bit of funding for a while. I have not seen an explanation from any of the deep pockets as to why they did not pursue, so it is entirely possible there is a fundamental problem (as opposed to a tall stack of engineering problems).

There is also a small tokamak startup that got some recent press. Their take is that small can work if you pound on the engineering enough.

301:
The one I followed is known as Focus Fusion.

After a small amount of very lazy searching, I dug up the following fusion startups:

  • TAE Technologies: "FRC" magnetic confinement (aneutronic), US (California), Funding: Paul Allen etc., $800M.
  • Commonwealth Fusion Systems: Modified Tokamak, US (Massachusetts), Funding: Research fund with various famous billionaires, $75M.
  • Tokamak Energy: "High field" Tokamak, UK, Funding: £50M.
  • General Fusion: "Magnetized Target Fusion", magnetic/inertial hybrid, Canada, Funding: $127M.

It's nothing like software or biotech startups, but there certainly does seem to be a bit of money flowing into these companies lately. The LockMart team may not even have particularly deep pockets.

302:

I knew I was forgetting one. Another local!

Helion Energy: "Magneto-Inertial", US (Washington), Funding: $30M.

Apparently they want to make balls of ³He / D plasma and then make them smack into each other using magnets.

This in contrast to General Fusion next door in British Columbia, which is apparently using a much more steampunk sounding vortex of liquid metal (driven by pistons) with compressed balls of ³H / D plasma in the middle.

I mean who cares if this stuff works, it's way more fun than another middleware startup.

303:

"Ah, no, you didn't get the point: the UK builds a lot of satellites, but doesn't launch them. We just build kit for other people. (Much as the UK has the second largest car manufacturing sector in the EU, after Germany, but they mostly have names like Nissan or Ford.)

The UK hasn't sacked its launch supplier (via Brexit); rather, the Brexit fiasco is going to make it a whole lot harder for UK suppliers to get work with the EU space sector (prop. mostly France and Italy, plus a bit of Germany).

I think you've got the relationship backwards, and are being a bit naive about how Europe works.

The EU is sacking it's payload construction contractor, and is then going to spend a lot of time flailing around wondering what it is going to do next. They have a lot more money sunk into their now under utilised launcher programmes than this country does into satellite payloads. It is effectively making a high moral point of cutting off its' nose to spite it's face, punishing those bastards for voting for Brexit, and wrecking pre-existing contracts for satellites whose lead times and missions are measured in years. That's not our fault, it's their choice.

As I stated, if you chose to do that, figuratively speaking, it is YOU that has the problem.

It's a bit like that scene in Watchmen, where Rorschash is in prison. He correctly points out to any prisoner who has a history with him that "No, you're now locked in here with ME." The EU has locked itself in, and unless it is prepared to be "open," "concilliatory" and "sensible" even, it now either has to grow up and negotiate, or do a lot of work to replicate capability that it is cutting off it's nose to spite its' face in refusing to find a way to continue to employ.

It was always difficult for the British to get any work or development money with what effectively is an exercise in handing out work to your mates. There is also the reality that some people in the tending process are stupidly naive in not considering that "Europe" might work that way. European space launch is very much a closed shop in the form of companies like Dassault and ArianeSpace, who are nakedly and preferentially given work in respect to any project, over any outsider.

If you are unfamiliar with it, have a read about the Dassault MLA, and notice how the link is clearly not written by a native English speaker, who gives the game away:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aldebaran_(rocket)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DaI2tq-Cdes

Right there on Wikipedia: They are giving money, to their mates, to arse about with a jet fighter, as in "Aldebaran is not a commercial project; its primary goal is to focus technologies on a flight test bed developing future technologies, industrial skills and competencies of research centres."

Lucky them! Free money, from the ESA under the "Future Launchers Preparatory Programme." I think we'd all like to be invited to that meeting, to develop our core compentencies, only we weren't invited to that meeting, and never will be.

In personal experience, if you are French, you nakedly hand a train construction contract to Alstom, if you're German, you nakedly hand the work to Siemens, if you are Spanish the work automatically goes to CAF and if you're Italian, you say a prayer and hand the work to FIAT. Foreign bids are politely received and ideally reasons found to file them in the bin. Probably the same situation with space launch.

Isn't it curious how the European Space Agency never gives Skylon/Reaction Engines any money? It isn't that the project isn't any good (It isn't, as using liquid hydrogen is terrible from an economic angle.), it is more that it is not being run by SUPAERO graduates, whereupon it would have money firehosed at it in the name of competencies of research centres.

"SpaceX is already responsible for something like 60% of the world's commercial satellite launches, and is flying a bird every two weeks on average."

But you do wonder about how much money it makes, though? They never say, and are privately owned and so never have to. There is no IPO in the offering, either. I would bet that it pays it's staff and covers it's costs, but nothing more. That he's going to turn one of these vehicles around in 24 hours as a stunt seems "characteristically reckless," as a good European might put it.

304:

Small is often better for innovative engineering, but this is different. When the best minds in the world, in a very wide range of organisations, backed by lots of money, have failed to make progress over 50 years, it's a near-certain indication of one of three things:

1) The problem is intractable, there is almost no hope of a solution, ever, and a new objective is needed;

2) The technology environment does not exist, so a solution will not be found until that changes, radically (!);

3) The solution remains inaccessible, because it needs a seminal genius (*) to produce a breakthrough, so a solution will not be found until one appears and takes and interest.

In terms for the relative risks and cost-benefit of research, cold fusion was unjustly damned - those weren't all that different from hot fusion. It's not QUITE a pure boondoggle, but it passes the duck test for being one.

(!) E.g. 1970s electronics versus 1920s, not just minor tweaks.

(*) Of the sort that creates or revolutionises whole areas of science.

305:

You are implying that there are no competitors and the requirements are immutable.

No, Brexit isn't going to cause the cancellation of existing contracts, but it IS going to cause a shift to future ones going elsewhere. As others have said, this will start with the non-critical contracts, like most R&D, but it will then progress to ones where this is an alternative supplier, and go on to the active development of other suppliers.

306:

"Improvements in computer power/size/speed also makes a big difference.

A mostly analog control system in the 60s would have to be built with a lot of assumptions about things. With computers today and the way it was built on boosters that could be loft sats while experimenting, it was much easier."

The DC-X didn't use anything for avionics that dated from the 60's, it's designers were under instruction to use the latest technology but they couldn't specify anything that was "vapourware," so to speak. An example lay in the form of proposing a liquid air cycle engine since you were using liquid hydrogen, that got sat on quickly by (IIRC) Pete Worden, who ran the program.

The computers on the DC-X were literally repurposed off an MD-11 Airliner. It thought it was an MD-11 with a really weird flight plan.

307:

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

There are a couple of systems proposed for launching using power from ground based lasers, this lets you run H2 for a propellant, for example, which gets you a crazy high ISP. That could beat Space X

308:

Several people seem to be confusing the EU and ESA, they have overlapping membership but far from identical. The only project the UK will be unable to get involved in after Brexit is the Galileo navigation system which, as has been mentioned here before, has a clause in the agreement barring non-EU countries from certain contracts and from the encrypted side of the signals. Said clause was inserted in the agreement at the instistence of the UK.

The majority of the UK space industry is owned by European conglomerates, eg SSTL is part of Airbus.

Reaction Engines gets a considerable amount of funding from the ESA.

309:

Pete Conrad, third man on the moon, was the one involved in DC-X. Alledgedly spent some time measuring up a space in the nose of the craft and working out how to get a seat in there...

310:

"As others have said, this will start with the non-critical contracts, like most R&D, but it will then progress to ones where this is an alternative supplier, and go on to the active development of other suppliers."

Which is kind of my point, in that you then need to contemplate whether we are losing much and were ever going to get that work anyway, Brexit or not. Stross is concerned about the loss of business, but in the light of Brexit, should you care about that loss or should you take a very hard look at how if the European contracting processes are as blatantly rigged as they clearly are, is it really competitive, and why would anyone defend it?

As in, why play the game, when the game is rigged?

"active development of other suppliers." = "Jobs for your mates," as the MLA example illustrates. Rather than acting like adults, and trading with the people that they already know can do the work, apparently the ESA is going to spend years replicating that capability, 'cos, Brexit, 'cos reasons.

You and I don't get invited to that meeting, and we don't get free money to "develop our core competencies" off of the European Space Agency. It also strikes me that a lot of people in the UK government don't bother going either, and when they do, they don't think of the meeting in this way.

304: You missed off your list the idea that there is no progress in a technology because the procurement process is corrupt, or at least is not clear to anyone who tries to negotiate it. Fusion probably fails because there is no clear market for it beyond "energy supply," which is nice, but we have that already, so it never gets money beyond chickenfeed, and each startup that comes through the door is wasting it's time. Few investors say it openly, but if all you're doing is supplying a pre-existing need, spending money to replicate that need via another route is not attractive.

Blatant corruption can occur: Car safety is an example in that the US industry had to be shamed into providing it in the sixties, the car companies kept quiet, the legislators saw no votes in it and in the case of the Ford Pinto, it was famously agreed by the bean counters that it was cheaper to skimp upon a five dollar part, and pay out for the burn injuries. Why bother?

311:


Simon "Pete" Worden was the guy who ran the program. As in, drove a desk. Pete Conrad was the guy who flew it, as in ran the rocket from the repurposed trailer. Worden had to police the program quite severely to make the staff get the idea that you must only use stuff that is already available. G. Harry Stine emphasises this in his book "Halfway To Anywhere."

"Reaction Engines gets a considerable amount of funding from the ESA."

I thought that that was all money from the UK government? As in, George Osbourne making a great play about visiting them a while back. He stood in front of their Viper test stand and made a vague stab at looking interested, before getting back in his limousine and heading off back to one of his other jobs?

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-27591432

313:


Ha! Osbourne got the photo op and didn't even give them the money...Figures. In some ways that vindicates my point about how clueless these people can be. I didn't realise they were that clueless though because I haven't followed SKYLON in years. I just assumed that sixty million is a drop in the bucket and would run the test system, prove the technology and that would be enough to attract serious interest later on. Having to run the company by selling in bits to BAe and anyone in the US who is interested, because government is too lazy to deign to pay what it promises is shocking.

314:

It was purely a politically driven design that never made engineering sense for any of it's supposed functions.

As to nukes, that's a new one to me.


Actually, the nuke part followed from the never made sense part.


https://jmkorhonen.net/2013/11/18/space-system-shuttle-part-of-usas-nuclear-attack-arsenal/

Because all this was public knowledge, the analysts in the Soviet Union rejoiced. A spacecraft that could launch from the Vandenberg Air Force Base,do a single polar orbit, and then return stealthily to its base could be nothing else than a weapon in disguise. It was immaterial that few if any analysts could figure out why such an expensive craft was being built: obviously, the capitalist aggressor must have had discovered something that justified the huge expense. An analysis by Mstislav Keldysh, head of the Soviet National Academy of Sciences, suggested that the Space Shuttle existed in order to lob huge, 25-megaton nuclear bombs from space directly to Moscow and other key centers (Garber, 2002:17). The real danger was that the shuttle could do this by surprise. There would be little to no warning from early warning radars, and no defense.

315:

But then the Pentagon got it massively upsized... so it could carry a specified number of "nuclear devices".

The alternative story is that, while the original NASA shuttle started small and got biggified and given lots of cross-range capability at the behest of DoD/NRO, the purpose was to carry and retrieve present (KH-9) and future (KH-11) megaspysats. The nuke part is alleged to be the result of the Soviets trying to make sense of the Shuttle after noting that the public US explanations didn't hold water. (See previous post.)

316:

The computers on the DC-X were literally repurposed off an MD-11 Airliner. It thought it was an MD-11 with a really weird flight plan.

I was thinking 60s. But first flight was 93.

My point is still valid. 20 years in computer time is 1000 years in dog time.

Today SpaceX and others likely have more computing power on the individual boosters than the entire DC-X program had in use.

317:

Great idea. I'm glad I thought if it at post 149.
...Sorry about that. Still a frightening thought....

318:

The alternative story is that, while the original NASA shuttle started small and got biggified and given lots of cross-range capability at the behest of DoD/NRO, the purpose was to carry and retrieve present (KH-9) and future (KH-11) megaspysats.

NASA's idea all along was a crewed module so that they could go up and down without throwing everything away and do it on short notice. Big stuff would still be sent up via throw away rockets.

The military wanted a better way to deal with spy sats. The ability to recover them after they started to run low on film and fuel was their eventual goal given how much they cost. Remember back then they shot film and sent it back to earth. And cost some god awful amount of money so recovery and reused of some or all was a really big deal.[1] So Congress said "you two get together and do this with one solution that is cheaper than what you are asking for". And we got the shuttle.

As to nukes. If you could loft a geo sat plus the LEO to Sync booster you could carry a nuke or few.


[1] If course the economics and planning changed totally when CCDs were invented. The first imaging chips were developed till around 74 and were only 100x100. But by the time the shuttle flew they were a real thing so shooting film and returning the canisters to earth was obviously going to be a loosing game. They were going to get good enough. It was only a matter of when.

319:

Well, up to a point you're right—successive UK governments dismally failed to understand how the game was played in terms of EU funding for enterprise, so we ended up with our own industries being relegated to subcontractor status (or moving to the USA—for example, BAe Systems).

Leaving aside space policy for a moment (ahem: let's bear in mind that successive UK governments hated the idea of space spending, starting with Wilson and running on through Thatcher), let me put it to you that if the UK government played by French or German rules, there is no way in hell that they'd have allowed the sale of Arm Holdings to Japan's Softbank for a mere US $32Bn, or rather less than the valuation of Red Hat, a corporate Linux vendor, at acquisition by IBM, and about 80% of the value of eBay. (Hint: ARM merely design and license about 95% of the world's microprocessors. Is that a strategic asset by any chance? Valued at a market cap lower than some goddamn auction platform?)

The UK establishment never really "got" what the EU was for, or how to play the game. It'd be like say, Iowa not understanding how to extract money from the US federal government in farm subsidies or pushing for more Pentagon spending on bases.

320:

Remember back then they shot film and sent it back to earth

At the end of Thunderball, when the Bond and Domino characters are recovered by the B-17 with the big "V" on the nose. I don't know if it was ever actually used for people, but the Fulton recovery system was certainly used to recover these film cans.

321:

Indeed, but the second paragraph is more-or-less independent of the first, and has nothing to do with the EU as such. That behaviour predates it, and even our membership of the EEC. Well-known examples include selling ICL's patents to the USA for essentially nothing, Thatcher's massive fire-sale, including our world leadership in plant breeding, but there are a LOT of others from the 1960s onwards.

322:

The UK has been horribly consistent in shooting itself in the foot, ignoring the bleeding, and accusing the man standing in the next room holding a blunt knife of assault.

323:

What's up with that? Is this something which comes out of being a colonizing nation? Some idea that the colonized will always produce something we can sell to keep up our standards of living? Because every time I look at a British economic decision I end up scratching my head!

Brexit is merely the latest in a long line of "WTF?"

324:

If you work it out, please let us know. The aspects I was describing are mainly Whitehall mandarins, and even Thatcher's main role was in giving them free rein to do what they had wanted to for some time. Basically, they loathed scientists and technologists, and the Bored of Trade (later Department of Total Incompetence) loathed small companies and had a hard-on for foreign multinationals, especially USA ones. Mere evidence is irrelevant.

As Dave and you imply, this attitude has spread throughout the government and is now SOP.

325:

Perhaps you didn't read my whole post. I did not get this from the media, but from a co-worker I was friendly with, who had gotten it *directly* from a friend of his who worked for Rockwell, who was making the engines

From wikipedia:
The Rocketdyne Division was founded by North American Aviation (NAA) in 1955, and was later part of Rockwell International (1967-1996)
---
In other words my friend's friend worked, as I said, for the folks planning and building the engines... and who had built the F-1 engines of the Saturn.

326:

On another note, speaking of gods, or demigods, vs other gods.... Back in Sept, I think, I wrote what I consider a completely silly story, based on troutwaxer's post in the Fear of Heinleinism thread, "This is the Laundryverse, it would be a hot date between RAHeinlein and JK Rowling, with tentacles". I wrote it straight, and genre, and now I'm thinking one more pass, and I might try to sell it... because just a week or so ago, as I mentioned in a post above, I've started a sequel: the Illuminati vs. Cthulhu. Which I was expecting to be sillier.

And then, taking a break at work yesterday morning, I jumped to, and wrote the ending, and it's *NOTHING* I'd planned. Hell, I have *never* thought of dealing with... the Matter of Britain. But it does, and does it right (it *must* be right, given tears started dripping down my face as I was writing it).

327:

"Basically, they loathed scientists and technologists"

Non hoc semper erit liminis aut aquae caelestis patiens latus.

328:

...and more besides. Apparently, because of the transition from vertical cable to tow cable, the acceleration for the passenger is within reason.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PErEsNhDmo8

330:


"The UK establishment never really "got" what the EU was for, or how to play the game. It'd be like say, Iowa not understanding how to extract money from the US federal government in farm subsidies or pushing for more Pentagon spending on bases."

One reality in respect to science and engineering projects is that the UK government is stuffed with Politics, Philosophy and Economics graduates, Qualified Lawyers, Accountants, and additionally, career politicians who have never run a business in their life. They have no interest or understanding of the implications of selling off an asset like ARM. That would never have happened in France, and certainly not in Germany. The EU has people in it's ranks who "get" technology and if they don't understand the technology itself, at least understand "Our infrastructure first, your imports second."

I don't know if you have heard of him (Sorry, I should assume so.) but C.P. Snow and his work "The Two Cultures" is as relevant as ever.

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

"successive UK governments dismally failed to understand how the game was played in terms of EU funding for enterprise, so we ended up with our own industries being relegated to subcontractor status (or moving to the USA—for example, BAe Systems.

If anything that situation in regards to BAe is even worse than you describe it. Hawker Siddeley, in respect to the Airbus A300, effectively approached the Airbus consortium off of their own initiative, and literally asked to be a part of the consortium off of their own technical skills as a unique super-contractor, that built the wings but had no involvement from the UK government directly. It had a unique status in that regard for years.

Somebody in that company had foresight, to put it mildly. Suffice to say, time has gone on, the PPE graduates got to work and it was dutifully sold, first to GKN, and then to Airbus itself.

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

Given what we know about European comapanies, the British and Brexit, who reading this thinks this is going to end well?

331:

Cheer up, I'm sure that sales of the rumored Reliant Rialto EV, along with licensing Monty Python and David Attenborough products in the EU, will keep the post-Brexit UK's finances in the black for years.

332:

...due to one thing and another and the fact that no on had made any food for a while and the king seemed to have died and most of the population had been on holiday now for over three years, the economy was now in what he called "one whole joojooflop situation," everyone was so pleased that he felt able to come out and say it that they quite failed to note that their entire five-thousand-year-old civilization had just collapsed overnight."

333:

I saw a quite readable Geosync Satellites for Dummies article somewhere by someone who had worked as an integration contractor for Thales and Lockheed a while back, I wish I had kept a copy of it. It might have been a tech presentation or something like that.

Basically all geosync direct-broadcast satellites made over the past ten to fifteen years fit into a multi-dimensional straitjacket of cost, size, mass, capabilities etc. The mass/size restrictions require the ability to launch it on more than one model of launcher in case the launcher chosen suddenly becomes unavailable for some reason. This means no-one's going to building a 1950s style giant geosync satellite which can only be flown on a Falcon Heavy, it has to fit on an Atlas 4 or an Ariane 5 or (at a tight squeeze) a Falcon 9. The size has increased a bit over the past decade or so but not radically -- I think the biggest geosync bird ever launched was an Intelsat satellite on an Ariane 5 as a single load at 7 and a bit tonnes (Ariane 5 usually flies a 6 tonne bird like the upcoming Arabsat and a smaller 3 tonne satellite on top with the rest of the 20 tonne load into LEO being the GTO motor unit and fuel). The standard "buses" that geosync satellites are built around max out at about 6 tonnes or so, there's a series of smaller satellites at about 2-3 tonnes.

The Falcon Heavy launch of a single 6.5 tonne geosync satellite as only the second flight of the launcher sounds like SpaceX offered the Arabsat consortium a good price for the launch and possibly self-insured the vehicle too. Insurance for the launch of a $150 million satellite can cost tens of millions, a launcher and ground operation with a good track record of successful launches gets cheap rates. The last failure of an Ariane V to get a geosync bird into its slot was 50 launches back in 2002, the maiden flight of the ECA model.

There's another factor in that straitjacket mentioned in the report, technology -- a fifteen-year-old satellite in orbit is decaying in terms of capabilities that weren't on the horizon when it was built never mind launched. There have been fanciful projects put forward to extend the life of older geosync birds by refuelling them or coupling a "tug" to them that could offer a greater stationkeeping duration after the internal fuel ran out but it's not worth it generally, better to commission and launch a shiny new replacement.

334:

According to google translate, that means: "There will always be a threshold or the rain of heaven." Which makes no obvious sense to me ...

335:

I did a straight up search and got Non hoc semper erit liminis aut aquae caelestis patiens latus - ‘This side will not always be patient of rain and waiting on the threshold.’

From Kipling apparently.

336:

There's no point carrying nuclear weapons into orbit. If you get them there you can't maintain them without flying people up to fix them as well as having a Shuttle-type workshop vehicle too. Deorbiting them to target costs fuel and structural components that add to the mass and volume. They also need shielding from cosmic rays, solar flares etc., another cost.

Right now the US has 450 or so functional[1] nuclear-armed suborbital bombardment rockets sitting in silos in the mid-West as well as several dozen similar missiles ready-to-use on board patrol SSBNs. They can be tested, fixed, red-tagged and replaced without any sort of LEO launch capability. If nothing else they're a lot cheaper than Bombs! In! Spaaaace! They were a thing in American SF for a while (Heinlein's "space cadet" was one example) so maybe that's where your friend of a friend got the idea from. Why, of course, someone working on the rocket systems for the Shuttle would know anything about secret future payload plans is another matter.

[1] Every now and then the US War Department pulls a Minuteman III missile out of a silo, transports it to Vandenberg and fires it off. From what I've heard every time they lit the blue touchpaper over the past 20 years or so the missile has worked as specified.

337:

It's from an ode by Horace, but it shows up in one of Kipling's semi-autobiographical Stalky stories about a British boarding school.

Quoted by one of the students when a science lab next door has a spill and they can smell the leaking gases. King (the Latin Master) is slagging the modern subjects as being something one has to put up with. (King is not the world's most pleasant man, to put it mildly.)

Online link:
https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/k/kipling/rudyard/diversity/chapter15.html

338:

"There will always be a threshold or the rain of heaven."

I took it allegorically as "there is a limit to heaven's beneficence," or more literally as "There will always be a limit to the rains from heaven."

339:

to Charlie Stross @286
I think you credit him with far too much influence over US space policy! (He seems to be incapable of even heading off rivals at ULA from springing an irregular Defense Department investigation into how FH got certified to carry USAF payloads on him.)
Quite possibly I am, he isn't in the business alone and he is just a good manager for the project to make American space great again. With so much government money backing him up, he isn't responsible for such decisions. Still hate him because of all the bullshit he is promoting. "Let's just sell off all of our government assets to the private contarctors, this will definitely improve our space business". FFS, even Europe can't improve much in this situation, what are you talking about.

to Ioan @296
Soon after this happened, Shelby shelved his plan to cancel Commercial Crew, and Musk stopped pointing out ULA's dependence on Russia. At the end, McCain did not sanction the engines.
These are not sanctions I am talking about. The US has strictly banned to sell most of space-related high-tech component like radiation-resistance chips, elements and so on, sometimes in coordination wit EU "partners" (as usual, despite the serious money loss on their side). It resulted in delays in many ambitious project, especially in science and commercial areas who are using open market for components. Without electronics that can withstand space, any satellite is just a heap of scrap - or will be several weeks after being there. Russia has the capacity to produce such components, but - it's to expensive, or too rare, or military-related so you can't use them for civilian platforms really.

The total from 2012-2018 increased by 7 (34 - 41).
Well, you're good with math, so you can figure out that it was 37-41 range for 4 last years. The marked is saturated.

There's a lot of hype and BS around cubesats right now; I wouldn't trust the predictions.
It's OK, I don't expect them to overthrow the market, it's just the normal process. It is expectable that the systems will become more compact, cheap, streamlined and affordable - but unfortunately for the people like SpaceX, it means that the payload tonnage will not increase dramatically. The only real driver for that would be an expansion to the outer space, but people are not too keen on difficulties of such activity. They give up too easy, too worried about good profit.

As you can see in the chart above, 2018 was the first time since 1990 that humanity launched more than 100 rockets in a year. SR may not consider that significant, but I do.
I'm not very happy with that, a lot of these are military communications and recon, because certain people push world deeper into militarization. I, and pretty much all people around here, would prefer if people would just pour all that money in actual human space exploration.

to Allen Thomson @313
That's actually is the idea - the Star Wars program culminated in atmospheric gliders like Shuttle and Buran - and it is not a big secret for anybody involved that they were capable of carrying nukes and deploying them from low orbit.

I've had my own theory, it was so dangerous for potential exploit in early-warning system, they made a deal to stop all Star Wars altogether. You see, a shuttle in the upper atmosphere becomes invisible for radars, as plasma disperses the radiation, that means that if you deploy enough of such vehicles, system like SDI won't have any time to react and will be defeated in the first "decapitation strike".

340:

Charlie @ 318
YUCK
And that explains an awful lot of the past 50-30 years' total fuck-ups, doesn't it?

AND
EC @ 320
TOTAL failure by arts-trained idiot wankers as to the value of engineering or science ... which gives the Madwoman even LESS excuse, of course.
Except, AIUI, she turned against her tutors & trainers, havin got "into the money" ??? Yes/No?

Pigeon @ 326
Translation - PLEASE? ... now seem to be avialable.
NOT GOOD ...

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

And now ... totally unrelated.
A plug for mass-observation Citizen Science
RIGHT HERE with yours truly appearing & then speaking at 30 seconds before the end, in a 1 minute 15 seconds clip.
It was EFFING COLD - about +2°C with a blustery wind & snow flurries stilll on the ground ( 17th Jan this year near Grantham )

341:

Your timeline is more than a bit off, the movie "Star Wars" premiered after the Enterprise was doing its first drop tests. The Reagan-esque Star Wars program was well after the Shuttle went into use. I think you are a bit mixed up.
Russia has the capacity to produce such components, but - it's to expensive, or too rare, or military-related so you can't use them for civilian platforms really.
Too bad Radio Shack went away, some of the OSCAR sats just bought their components there. :)

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

342:

Yeah. I do seem to remember that my father got his PhD working on the problem of hardening integrated circuits to radiation...in 1962. It's not like people haven't been working on this for awhile.

343:

That's awesome Greg, is there a version for the U.S.?

344:

> Infant mortality pre-5 dropped precipitously throughout the 19th century, as did maternal death in childbirth: from about 50% (around 1800) to 20% (by 1900).

Neither the infant mortality rate or the maternal mortality rate were that high for the whole of the UK. That's not quite the same as the risk of dying if you give birth (which I think is what you're giving figures for), but shouldn't be very far out, and I couldn't find better figures.

Maternal mortality rate was consistently around 5% in England and Wales.

Infant mortality rate is higher, but not that high: "Infant mortality in England and Wales peaked in the 1890s at a tremendously high rate of approximately 150 deaths per 1000 births".

345:

"The US has strictly banned to sell most of space-related high-tech component like radiation-resistance chips, elements and so on..."

Ok, I see the confusion, and I'm surprised. This is the first time you not only criticized a restriction that was put in place since the late 60s, but it's a restriction that the USSR also had.

"The marked is saturated."
We agree on that.

"I'm not very happy with that, a lot of these are military communications and recon"
I'm personally ambivalent about that.While I abhor the loss of money and live, my ambivalence comes from my belief that as long as military budgets remain 2-5% of GDP, I'm not about to attack the world's largest jobs program. I don't want the resultant headaches.

"Still hate him because of all the bullshit he is promoting. "Let's just sell off all of our government assets to the private contarctors, this will definitely improve our space business"."

I see where you're coming from, but he's not really promoting this. In the early 2000s, Baby Boomers reached their midlife crisis, and realized that the Mars colonies they were promised in their youth were not going to materialize. Many of these Baby Boomers combined their frustration with their Randian beliefs to blame the fact that the space program was government funded for the lack of outer space colonies. Our host even wrote a blog post on this topic in 2007
http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2007/06/the_high_frontier_redux.html

Here's my point: Musk isn't promoting this ideology, he's just tapped into it. From my perspective, he's actually tempered it; he's made numerous public statements praising the role of NASA. I could see another wunderkid advocating that all funding to science telescopes and interplanetary probes be ended.

346:

"Which makes no obvious sense to me ..."

That is at least partly because it's quite badly wrong... which is to say, quite typical of what happens when you throw Latin at Google. It's very obvious that Google Translate has never had the benefit of being picked up by one ear to have "HOW MANY ROMANS?" screamed into the other one.

A colloquial translation based in the original context might be "Fuck sitting on your doorstep in the rain at my age", but in this context that doesn't make any sense either...

Robert Prior @336 has got it: it's a Kipling reference, using the sense in which it is used in Kipling's story as a comment on the attitudes EC was disparaging in his post that I was replying to.

Greg @339 - you disappoint me, I'd not have thought you'd need a Kipling reference explained! :)

347:

You quoted Musk: "Hopefully we'll do the first demonstration flight next year of the Falcon 9-Dragon system, then particular demonstrations in 2010 and start doing operation missions possibly by the end of 2010,"

And commented: "Whatever you say, magic man."

He started operational missions May 2012, 18 months later than 'possibly' (18 months after the 'no earlier than'). Are you going to start dissing OGH who has also had a delivery time slip by 18 months?

There are many things you could criticise Musk over, but delivering an orbital delivery system a few months later than he said he might possibly... that's ridiculous.

348:

I read a paper a few years ago that seemed to think tethers in low orbits are unstable.

349:

Troutwaxer @ 342
I'm sorry, but no idea.
But a longish-term, mass-observation citizen science project naturally appeals to me.
As a result, as the other speaker says, one also starts to really notice other things as well ... that are not on the "offical" list of chnages to be noted.
The organisers/collators welcom extra relevant observations of course - it's about building a solid, reliable observation-&-date base.
Also, havinbg several thousand observers helps to keep the "error bars" down to a nice small size.

Pigeon @ 345
No
It's from the "Stalky" stories, which, unusually for Kipling, I can't stand - mainly because I'm allergic to normal school stories.
I just tried to read "A diversity of Creatures" & gave up after about 4 pages.
The whole ethos & underlying premises disgust me.

350:

Thanks: I was referencing a well-known example of the system in use, with a caveat because Internet.

351:

I was thinking more of "Starship Trooper", where they discuss having said physics packages in polar orbit because that way you can attack any point on the planet within 12 hours just by de-orbiting the "right bomb".

352:

Up-thread I linked to the Chinese Long March program; I know enough about the mechanism used to know that the Wikipedia discussion of US "technology export bans" is correct.

353:

"Space Cadet" went into more details of the orbital bomb delivery system. The main character (I forget his name) was discussing the bomb orbits over dinner at home on leave as he had spent time doing maintenance on such bombs. He explained that if the government decided to bomb where they were sitting they'd choose a device some distance away, not any directly overhead since it would need to be deorbited at an appropriate time and he started to muse about which one would be the best for the job using his knowledge of the bomb orbits.

Discussing this at the dinner table was rather frowned upon by his family for some reason.

As for 12 hours, nope. An LEO polar orbit would be about 90 to 100 minutes, maybe a bit higher to keep them from easy ground-based interception. Half that time as an average plus a hot fast cross-range re-entry taking up fifteen to thirty minutes, say 80 minutes or so from the go command to Instant Sunshine on a specific target. That's about as long as a full and frank strategic nuclear exchange of ground-based and sea-based missiles would last and they're all on the surface and easy to fix compared to being in a polar orbit. "Space Cadet" presupposed cheap surface-to-orbit costs and a cadre of hundreds if not thousands of staff already in place to support the orbital bomb deployment. It also presupposed an inhabitable Solar System which made space travel worthwhile and we didn't get that.

354:

They've yet to work out that dominance isn't leadership. And playing the game of management encourages disrespect for those doing the actual task. Not at all hopeful that we modded Chimpanzees can do much better.

355:

As for 12 hours, nope. An LEO polar orbit would be about 90 to 100 minutes,

I think the idea is similar to von Braun's Mars Project book. That had a space station in a polar orbit that took exactly two hours. That meant it passed close to a point on the Earth's surface every 12 hours, once on a descending node and once ascending. The station had originally been built (and used) as a nuclear weapon delivery platform capable of hitting a target the next time it passed nearby.

Note that both ideas pre-date discovery of minor inconveniences like the van Allen radiation belts and there was no question of an exchange taking place, there being only a single nuclear capable power.

356:

If someone could build such a station and put it in a 2-hour polar orbit then someone else could build an interceptor missile that could destroy that station almost trivially.

The orbital bomb system in "Space Cadet" was incredibly vulnerable to ground-based laser attacks, assuming someone wanted to put the money into developing such a weapon system but then again directed-energy weapons weren't around when Heinlein wrote the book.

357:

I suggested to someone by email that this particular story should be rewritten from a Lovecraftian perspective; instead of Latin the human children are reading from the Necronomicon and waiting for their second mouths to arrive so they could pronounce the words correctly... it would be a post-The-Stars-Are-Right story.

358:

Are you Radagast the Brown, Greg?

359:

Almost all of these remarks are missing the point. This is not about deterrence, or a response to an attack, but about the ability to launch a devastating 'premeptive' first strike that destroys the enemy's ability to respond. THAT is what the USSR was afraid of (for very good reasons indeed), and something that Russia is still afraid of.

360:

JReynolds @ 358
Wouldn't be a bad ambition, would it?
I've had a Robin, notorious for their supposed "tameness" sit on my knee ....
And I've hand-fed a wild fox several times ... she got to recognise that "this human" was different .... Here she is - taken on my 'phone camera
What you didn't see in the clip was, that during filming, three buzzards took up station over the ridge-crest, or that I looked closely at both the snowdrop flowers & hazel catkins, using the small magnifier I almost always carry with me ...

361:

That link wants me to sign in with a multinational spy agency to see it. Curious, but not that curious. (I currently rate Google in the same league as Facebook in terms of trust.)

363:

to Ioan @345
a restriction that was put in place since the late 60s, but it's a restriction that the USSR also had
The thing is, since 60s and especially 90s, the free market gained access to much better equipment, which made private space endeavor possible. Unfortunately, it turn out that market isn't as free as they were told before.

Here's my point: Musk isn't promoting this ideology, he's just tapped into it.
While I can't say that he is absolutely maniacally engrossed with it, he definitely is promoting it, investing money into it and expecting a profit coming out of it. Just as every other corporate functionary.

to gasdive @347
There are many things you could criticise Musk over, but delivering an orbital delivery system a few months later than he said he might possibly... that's ridiculous.
While "a few month later" might be a bit of understatement, I would rather point out that original plan was to REPLACE shuttle capability - which is ability to deliver the inert cargo AS WELL as people. At the time it was pretty ambitious claim, but everybody though that post-Cold War western technology is so terribly advanced that it would be able to construct manned spacecraft just in 2,5 years instead of 10. Clearly, Musk himself did not realize the extent of this sort of delusion.

to Vulch @355
I think the idea is similar to von Braun's Mars Project book. That had a space station in a polar orbit that took exactly two hours. That meant it passed close to a point on the Earth's surface every 12 hours, once on a descending node and once ascending.
Actually, with airlift-capable vehicle like shuttle it is even less of a problem, as it can deviate it's course while gliding in upper atmosphere. While larger shuttle can only survive as much of heat and strain from reentry, smaller shuttles quite possibly can perform glide with large course deviation. Which means that accumulated change in orbit inclination may as well shorten reaction time from those 12 hours to several consecutive maneuvers totaling half-hour or less.

In about 2010 I was playing Orbiter simulator and studied some information about aerospace maneuvering. It is very much possible to simulate these situation with one of the more famous vehicles called Delta-glider. It is pretty difficult, though, since you need to maintain angle very carefully to avoid crashing and burning.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dY0Rk_Vx_94

364:

The only good reason to put nukes in space is if you are going to put them in the earth-sun l2 point or someplace else very far away from everything anyone could ever want to go.

The ideal second strike weapon cannot be a: preemptively destroyed, b: Stopped, or c: Used for an undetected attack. Since there is no stealth in space, you can accomplish all of that with nuclear weapons in space... beyond lunar orbit. Sure, people can nuke you, and then, much later, death will rain from the heavens.

365:

Arthur C. Clarke wrote a short story (who's name escapes me) about the crew of a second strike base getting a message from their (now dead) political leaders, ordering them not to launch, as the deterrent had failed and there was no point in killing more people.

Story twist was that the crew were Soviet…

366:

"Open in icgonito window"?

367:

Still asks me to sign in to my Google account…

368:

CP Snow's The Two Cultures. When I first got into fandom, lo, when mammoths walked the Earth, for *years* there were panels at just about every con, it seemed, about that essay, and was sf the link between the two cultures.

For the last few years, I've been *trying* to get two or three separate cons interested in doing a panel on it, and how, even though sf concepts are all over, most folks still don't get it.

But then, the US: the triumph of style over content.

369:

So freakin' tired of this one. Raygun announced SDI in March of '83, two years after Columbia launched.

And the stupid dork media, who never did get it, nicknamed it *wrong*. It was not Star Wars, it was Battlestar America.

First, it was well known - mentioned in places like the Washington Post - that Raygun used to hang out with his cronies in the White House kitchen and watch TV. Really.

And I guess it was in the fall of '82 that my Eldest, who hadn't turned teen quite yet, was visiting me, and we watched a rerun of Cattlecar Galaxative, and the episode was one where the Galactica finds an Earth-like planet, with two (count them) superpowers, on the verge of nuclear war, and finally they both hit The Button, and the Galactica zaps all 30,000 (random number, right) nukes from space.

And the odds that Raygun didn't see that episode, and come up with SDI?

Note, esp., that for literally A WEEK after his speech, the Pentagon, his science advisors, and NASA all said, "huh? wha? where'd that come from?", and they were quoted, extensively, in the papers.

370:

The problem still is, how do you maintain them if you park them in L2? How much does it cost to launch a maintenance flight, possibly manned, every six months or so out to where they've been positioned to keep the warhead(s) in a good enough condition to be a credible threat to any enemy you wish to deter? Reliability was a factor discussed when I worked at a very junior level on a very small part of nuclear weapons development, the principle was that they should always go bang! if they were ever, God forbid, used in anger. Not 90%, not 99% but 100% of a fleet of hundreds of devices. That meant hands-on inspections and maintenance on a regular basis.

The SF-nal concepts of orbiting bomb platforms ("Space Cadet") and nuclear weapons bases on the Moon ("The Long Watch") assumed regular cheap spaceflight for schlub technicians. This didn't happen.

As for using the Shuttle or similar as a bomber I'd like to see what happens when the pilot opens the payload bay doors on the Shuttle at Mach 10, given they were so fragile those doors couldn't be opened on the ground without a strongback supporting them. At one time there were plans to make a bomber variant of the SR-71 but they discovered the same sorts of problems of rip-the-doors-off drag at lower altitude and only Mach 3 in a much sturdier airframe and gave up.

371:

Ahem. "Space Cadet" was published in 1948 (so written circa 1946-47).

Optically pumped lasers got Kastler the Nobel prize in 1966 for work he did in 1950; Bell Labs began work on an infrared laser in 1957.

So laser weapons weren't even "science fiction" in 1947, but "death rays" had been pretty thoroughly debunked by their failure to emerge during WW2 as anything other thank snake-oil projects for extracting money from war ministries.

372:

Hunh? There's been known stealth in space for decades. See the MISTY satellite program.

Since nukes have shelf lives and remote control systems are hackable, I happen to agree with the people who say that parking second strike nukes in orbit is stupid, but not because they can't be made to disappear from radar.

I'd suspect (just for S&G) that the reason shuttles were supposed to carry nukes (assuming this is true) is that someone thought of the Armageddon movie scenario back in the 1970s, and got last-ditch asteroid busting spec'ed into an early version of the shuttle. Thereafter, a bunch of committees looked at that spec, thought it was daft, but said, "why not, if it can haul that kind of weight, it can do other useful stuff on our pet projects," and thus it came to pass, with all sorts of "telephone game" style distortions on the original mission.

373:

Nah... the real problem is why are you bothering to stash nuclear weapons in L2 to begin with when you could just use rocks.

374:

Uh? To be sure WW2 death rays were shit ideas that you didn't even need 20th century physics to figure they weren't going to work, and only attracted enough interest that we've even heard of them because of the unheavenly gases and waters thing. But death rays had been a staple of SF since at least HG Wells (and his idea does work; a small-scale version of it is a school physics demonstration and could indeed have been demonstrated to Wells, although scaling that up to a weapon is still pretty unfeasible). I don't see how the inability to produce that particular SF weapon in real life precludes its credibility in fiction any more than the non-existence of any other fictional weapon does. Especially when the principle of beam energy weapons is known to work and the failure of an approach credible only to dimwits and scammers does not contradict that.

375:

Au contraire: death rays were popular in SF back then, but in "Space Cadet" and the other Boy Scouts of America YA novels he was writing, Heinlein was trying very hard to write what would later become known as hard SF: he was playing by the rules, to the extent of plotting out the trajectories of spacecraft on butcher's paper and calculating travel times using the rocket equation and estimates of the specific impulse of a nuclear-thermal rocket (back in the late 1940s). Death rays would have broken the rules he was writing within, in other words.

376:

The big problem with directed-energy weapons is that the source has to be hotter than the target since the beam loses energy in transit. There are ways around this, "rocket" chemically-pumped lasers which dump the heat in the source by venting white-hot gases for example, or recirculating hot gas through a heat exchanger for pulsed and continuous operation.

The big breakthrough with lasers was coherence which permitted focussing over the length of the beam and concentrated more of the energy on a smaller area over a useful distance. The "Bombs! In! Spaaaace!" stories didn't have even short-range "death rays", they had the Wonder Weapon of the Age, nuclear explosive devices as the McGuffin since everyone knew that death rays didn't work and nukes provably did. The idea that a "death ray" on the ground[1] could destroy an orbiting nuclear bomb facility wasn't given much credit, probably because the next step in the story plot progression would have been orbital laser cannons laying waste to the people on the ground below while people fire nukes up at it.

[1] I have a vague recollection of reading just such a story though, I think it was in a British SF magazine where the heroic beam operator attempts to destroy a (manned) orbital bomb-launching station. He has to keep the beam on target by hand and eye for several minutes to succeed and as the beam hits the horizon in the last few seconds it wipes out his family's house. Very British 60s SF in its own depressing way.

377:

why are you bothering to stash nuclear weapons in L2 to begin with when you could just use rocks.

It turns out Rocks! From! Spaaaace! don't actually work that well as bombardment weapons unless they're absolutely massive and in that case you need to spend a lot of energy and time delivering them on target -- adjusting a million-tonne asteroid's delta V by 1km/s to bring it in line with the target costs 500,000,000,000,000 joules of energy that can only be supplied in orbit by rocket thrust. To compare, a Rocketdyne F1 engine as used on a Saturn V launcher puts out about 10,000,000,000W so a single such motor would have to fire for 50,000 seconds to deliver that delta V, about 12 hours or so expending 100,000 tonnes of fuel and propellant.

Smaller Rocks! From! Spaaaace! dissipate most of their KE in the upper atmosphere and typically disintegrate due to thermal shock from air friction and dynamic loads due to drag and never make it to ground except in small pieces. The overpressure blast can break a lot of windows though but windows are cheap. On the other hand a 250kT warhead in a re-entry vehicle can spoil a lot of people's days at Ground Zero and as Adam Selene should have said, "We have lots of Minuteman III missiles, Manny."

378:

"The Last Command"

Collected in the big black book of all his short stories the other year. Earlier in "The Wind From The Sun".

379:

Well, death rays WERE hard SF in the late 1940s! The cavity magnetron was a perfectly plausible basis for them - the point is that they were (a) mainly anti-personnel and (b) relatively short range, and therefore nothing like what is required for shooting down missiles in the stratosphere.

380:

[1] Yes, that's one I thought of, and was searching for but failed to find. I have it somewhere, but it definitely was about killing the people on the stations, not destroying the stations.

381:

I had an idea for a locked-room murder mystery where the victim was killed by a curious variant of Spontaneous Human Combustion while lying in their bed. The mystery was solved when someone went next door and found the wall between that room and the bedroom lined with hacked microwave ovens, the doors removed and the safety switches bypassed. There was a lot of Handwavium involved to make it work, like the power supplies for the dozens of microwave ovens, the victim had been drugged to remain unconscious while they were being cooked etc.

382:

The article was about cargo, the interview was about cargo, the question was about how long to replace the shuttle's cargo capability.

Amazingly, Musk responded to the question about cargo with a timeline that related to cargo.

I know you're not a native English speaker, but still...

383:

"Open in icgonito window"?

That is sooooo 10 years ago.

Web tracking these days will hunt you down unless you do a lot more. Like use a VM with a different screen size than your real display plus ports that don't exist on your real computer plus run it through a VPN that DOESN'T sell their data to the ad networks and THEN maybe an incognito window might keep you hidden from a TLA. Or not.

384:

Reagan and SDI.

My understanding is that a lot of it was Edward Teller convincing Reagan that "we could do this".

I was accidentally in a room of less than 40 listening to ET give a one hour talk.[1] He was incredibly persuasive in person.

I was with my ex college roommate at LLL where he worked and he didn't realize he was taking us to the "live" room and not a remote video feed. He later commented something to the effect that he hoped none of the people a dozen levels or so above his pay grade recognized him while we were in the room.

385:

Whitroth @ 368 ( & others ) - on "The Two Cultures"
Yes, well, this one has really come back to bite us, hasn't it.
The expression" We've had enough of Experts" comes down to this ... we don't want any ACTUAL ENGINEERS, or Scientists or properly technically-trained people to make decisions, we want politicians & MBA's to do that.
Which has got us Brexit & Trump of course.

386:

Further to that - if years working in dysfunctional tech companies has taught me anything, it's that you need a mix of both types of people to succeed and that effective managers are rarer than hens teeth. The peter principle seems to apply to most things and a badly run government stuffed with seat warmers and the morally bankrupt making completely asinine decisions has rather more in common with your average SME than most of us would be strictly comfortable with.

387:

I don't know which organisation this was; In mine, the extra bodies would be appreciated for "making ET look and feel important".

388:

As I said in #267, this is regrettably common - if an organisation ensures there there are few or no actively technical people at decision-making level, it is terribly vulnerable to high-powered snake-oil salesmen. Yes, I heard that SDI was another case of this, at the time, though not who originated it.

389:

Death rays.... For one, I trust you *are* aware that a serious radar installation can cook birds in the air - read about that happening in the forties? fifties?

I've also read that when they try to make non-lethal microwave weapons for crowd control, it tends to either be not especially effective, or kills.

Now, for long range death rays... well, you take a bunch of rocks in solar orbit, and build power units on them such that they work as cathodes, using the sun as the anode....

What? Who? Doc Smith? Huh?

390:

Re: ' ...long range death rays...'

Tesla thought this was possible by tapping the ionosphere for the energy supply.

391:

Re: Politics and science

Considering that Thatcher had a background in chemistry, having some science under your belt is probably not sufficient to ensure a rational and compassionate decision-maker. IMO, heads of state need to be able (and want) to process info from across the arts and sciences, that is, across the whole of human experience. Increasingly, heads of state are limiting themselves to recognizing only a few pre-selected concerns or sources especially 'it's the economy, stupid'. Therefore anything not already being directly measured in $$$s is ignored which means that no one attempts to measure this X in eventual economic impact because they can't get funding/they can't sell this, etc. Circular reasoning could be avoided by taking a course or two in logic, research design & methods, stats.

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-11-07/four-scientists-who-became-world-leaders/7987212

Thatcher had an undergrad and Merkel a PhD in Chem: IMO, Merkel is the better human but not just because she had the higher degree. (FYI - Pope Francis was a chem tech before becoming a Jesuit.)

392:

Yeah, but - I think it was Cardynge, the scientist - who could defend the Solar System against rogue planets with a sunbeam, with the cathodes being asteroids in the Belt.

Ionosphere, small potatoes!

393:

One gets the impression that Thatcher was a walking argument for having less benzene in the teaching lab. Alas it was too late for her.

There are a couple of things to be concerned about in this particular thread:
--One is mistaking the public rhetoric of a government for what they're actually doing (not to be paranoid or anything, but what we call transactional governance is seldom highlighted in the rhetoric of the people transacting the deals).

--There's another issue that gets lost, which is the fairly universal prejudicing of economists over historians as advisors to leaders. While I think there are some things economists do well, macroeconomics isn't one of them, at least based on the evidence. And economics is sexy because it has numbers and stuff. The problem with sidelining historians is that leaders who ignore history really do get condemned to repeat it, and it looks pretty stupid when they do.

Economics right now is doing a dismal job of keeping nations from repeating the errors of the 1920s and 1930s, both in the problems of wealth inequality, market instability, and the rise of authoritarian leaders. Additionally, economics is doing a horrible job with serious issues like climate change and figuring out how to value humans in the economy (when I hear a serious argument that children in the US should be considered as luxury goods, I know that the economists proposing this haven't a freaking clue about what reproduction is for). And economics doesn't have much utility in grappling with things like propaganda wars or espionage either, come to think of it.

Not that history provides meaning for the value of humans, but it can provide ample evidence for what's happened to previous societies that considered its citizens as less than human, that tried to take military advantage of climate changes like the little ice age, and how to deal with informational warfare by your foes.

394:

Thread totally unrelated to things that came before:

I've been having fun reading up about weird astronomical objects, like 'Oumuamua and Boyajian's star (aka Tabby's star). What's on your top ten list of the weirdest? Extra points for having an alternate explanation

Here are a couple of my favorite weirdos:

-'Oumuamua. Obviously, but I don't get why that thing's supposed to be a light sail. The dimensions are all wrong. While it could be an alien ship with a reaction engine, I think it would be kind of cool as the class connector between comets and asteroids, the thing that demonstrates that they're all in one highly diverse class of object.

--Boyajian's star. This is the star with the weird light curve that seems to have a lot of stuff orbiting it. Unfortunately, the current model says that most of that stuff is "dust" although we'd think of it more as soot or smoke than bigger particulates. So now I'm wondering: are Dyson Sphere building sites always this messy? Or is this literally the smoking gun evidence of a space war? Possibly a steampunk space war? What's your best guess about what's going on?

--HD140283, only 190 light years away, which appears to be older than the universe

--The Dragonfly Galaxy which appears to be 99.99% dark matter.

395:

if an organisation ensures there there are few or no actively technical people at decision-making level, it is terribly vulnerable to high-powered snake-oil salesmen. Yes, I heard that SDI was

The problem wasn't that Teller wasn't technical. He was incredibly technical. He three flaws.

One was that based on his past, with enough money and smart people everything can be a solved problem.

Two, like a lot of very smart successful people, he thought he was smarter than most everyone else about EVERYTHING.

Three, he was basically past his "sell by date".

396:

No, no - he was the snake oil salesman! If Raygun had had suitable technical people (which means engineers more than scientists here) in his cabinet, Teller would not have got away with it the way he did.

397:

What's on your top ten list of the weirdest?

I don't actually have a top ten list, but Przybylski's Star would be on it if I did have one.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Przybylski%27s_Star
Lanthanide elements are from 1000 to 10,000 times more abundant than in the Sun...
Przybylski's Star also contains many different short-lived actinide elements with actinium, protactinium, neptunium, plutonium, americium, curium, berkelium, californium, and einsteinium being detected. Other radioactive elements discovered in this star include technetium and promethium.
398:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Przybylski%27s_Star

Lanthanide elements are from 1000 to 10,000 times more abundant than in the Sun...

That's pretty strange. I have no hypothesis to cover this and the Wiki page doesn't help. The trans-uranic elements hypothesis is a plausible proximate cause but in turn raises more questions. Do you have any thoughts?

(Coincidentally, the Unsolved Problems in Astronomy page links to something called SCP 06F6, which is not an ID format I want to see on a nonfiction list. For reasons.)

399:

Re: '... how to value humans in the economy'

Time to think about the limitations of our current 'currency' - what it can and cannot encompass?

400:

"Unfortunately, it turn out that market isn't as free as they were told before."

Yes, and this has also pretty much cut off a lot of the US aerospace industry from the rest of the global market. Since the 2000s, this has essentially isolated US companies, as the rest of the world builds much more capable components than those which are restricted. To me, it looks like these restrictions delayed the satellite market progress by about five years while forcing the rest of the world to create an alternative to US components.

"While "a few month later" might be a bit of understatement, I would rather point out that original plan was to REPLACE shuttle capability - which is ability to deliver the inert cargo AS WELL as people."

1. Musk achieved the goal of sending and returning inert cargo back in 2012, around the time he promised

2. He DID NOT promise that his vehicle could carry the same payload up and down on the same vehicle as humans. I was around back then, and engaged in AIAA. Back then, he was well liked for ruling this option out. Most "space cadets" LOVED the fact that Musk was returning to the capsule shape and separating crew and cargo. From their perspective, carrying crew and cargo on the same vehicle was the cardinal sin of the Space Shuttle.

3.a. Musk flew cargo in 2012, and returned live rats in 2013. When Musk made that promise, ferrying live animals was the only requirement to human-rating a vehicle. In fact, it was Musk's efforts which pushed Sen. Shelby to draft modern regulations on human rating a vehicle. Either way, you can hardly call him delusional for not anticipating last-minute regulations which made his promised deadline untenable

b. In my opinion, Musk's real mistake was not flying humans on the Dragon v1, preferring to build the Dragon v2. He did the pad abort in May 2015. Even if the Amos-6 explosion still happened (it was inevitable), then he could have done the Max-Q abort in 2016, and had humans flying in 2017. Still, I understand the logic behind this decision: he didn't want the human vehicle competing for limited launch slots with the satellites. Remember that it was only in 2018 that SpaceX's launch rate exceeded the growth in the company's manifest.

401:

"The only real driver for that would be an expansion to the outer space, but people are not too keen on difficulties of such activity. They give up too easy, too worried about good profit."

I don't know if you were paying attention to this stuff in the 2000s, but satellite market increases were not the main driver for Newspace companies like SpaceX. In the 2000s, the satellite market was an afterthought; a stepping stone to the real market: space tourism. While there were people in the space community who claimed that these new companies would increase satellite payloads, the industry was still absorbing the tourism industry to the ISS which Russia was nurturing at the time, as well as the success of SpaceShipOne and the promise of $250k suborbital tourism.

From my memory, the rockets were definitely meant to take the increase in satellite payloads if offered, but that wasn't to be the main goal. At best, it would be an equal partner in profits to the space tourism market, as well as the private interplanetary explorer market. As a tangent, the vision for cubesats was to take over lunar exploration, not just assist existing satellites with Earth exploration. The point was to allow universities and research labs to explore the moon without having to rely on the budgets and schedules of the space agencies. I know, this vision is delusional in retrospect.

402:

I don't know which organisation this was; In mine, the extra bodies would be appreciated for "making ET look and feel important".

LLL = Lawrence Livermore National Laboratorys (I was slightly off in the full name.)

We were in a building outside the security perimeter (me being a visitor and all) and he was speaking from a classroom that maybe had 30 seats/desks in it. I assume it was used so some VIP visitors could attend plus it had the AV to broadcast around the facility.

There were/are plenty of people at LLNL who didn't need ET to boost their ego.

403:

Heteromeles @ 394
Unless of course, HD 140283 is actually a left-over from the previous cycle?
Correction:
--The Dragonfly Galaxy which appears to be 99.99% dark matter. Handwavium ...

404:

Stupid of me - it was where I first looked (New Writings in SF 1). Colin Kapp "The Night Flame", and it was a radar-like device. I can't remember any earlier ones offhand, but am pretty sure that there were several.

405:

It's an artifact of an alien civilisation, using a stellar furnace to create the transuranic elements that they need :-)

406:

Useful transuranics will probably be Islands of Stability elements with atomic numbers and masses exceeding anything we can reproduce on Earth at the moment. Nearly all of the other transuranics we know of are radioactive and have half-lives measured, at best, in hours. There are some possible candidates within that elemental range though, like Copernicium (Cn) which according to some models might have a long-lived isotope, Cn-296 (estimates of 1000 years half-life) but producing that via transmutation requires a lot more neutron captures than the currently heaviest isotope found and characterised, Cn-286.

407:

Do you have any thoughts [about Przybylski's Star]?

In a word, no. The overall lanthanide abundance seems to be well established, but the short-term radioactive ones less so, at least AIUI.

There's a kind of informal review/discussion in several parts starting at

https://sites.psu.edu/astrowright/2017/03/15/przybylskis-star-i-whats-that/

409:

Just a Little while latter, and thus I found it in the local branch of a Public Library ...that no longer exists since the Austerity cut backs of local government .."The Death Rays of Ardilla " by Captain W. E. Johns

https://www.abebooks.co.uk/servlet/BookDetailsPL?bi=30129860264&searchurl=tn%3Dthe%2Bdeath%2Brays%2Bof%2Bardilla%26sortby%3D20%26an%3Dcaptain%2Bw%2Be%2Bjohns&cm_sp=snippet-_-srp1-_-title2

I haven't the slightest notion of what , "This form requires JavaScript. You may use HTML entities and formatting tags in comments. " Means ..nor do I care .This despite my Employers in Higher Education being agreed to my early retirement through ill health - Clinical Depression -eager that I should assume Network Manager privileges so as to manage the Open Access Computer rooms ..and all of those DIFFICULT and misogynistic foreign students ...that were richer than God. At the time I had done precisely three short, one day, introductory courses to WORD - a version that we didn't use - Excel ..the same, and a version of Windows that ..you've guessed it haven't you? I was - of necessity - self taught. And so ? When I bailed out of Higher Education in the early years of this century the admission qualification for entry to a Business Studies Degree was Two Es in A level in Any Subject. These NEW disciplines had No professional organization to protect the quality of the academic discipline you see and so the entry level was forced downwards relentlessly as the need for money to subsidize the protected academic disciplines - Medical disciplines, like pharmacy and also the Engineering disciplines and so forth - increased as central gov insisted that ...can this be so HARD ..just be more Efficient!!!!

410:

to Ioan @400
He DID NOT promise that his vehicle could carry the same payload up and down on the same vehicle as humans.
The article and the company certainly stated "crew and cargo". And "replacing Shuttle capability" certainly implies cargo AND crew. And if Musk ever told us about "crew and cargo", he should be responsible for his own words, this is how it works. If some people have quite bad memory or willing to cover his back on that, it is none of my problem - I remember everything clearly. One of the reasons for such wording is that, apparently, at the time (and even now), people think that the only difference between cargo and crew is that crew requires oxygen to breathe. And maybe some thermal regulation.

Since the 2000s, this has essentially isolated US companies, as the rest of the world builds much more capable components than those which are restricted. To me, it looks like these restrictions delayed the satellite market progress by about five years while forcing the rest of the world to create an alternative to US components.
I'm not really sure this is the case, from what I've read, this international market is fairly tightly controlled by US authority as they produce most of top-notch and reliable chips for space, especially for their partners. Other countries also are developing similar capacity, but as I said, it is terribly expensive and could never cover the most advanced parts of demand. For example, one of the reasons Japan is having trouble with fixing their latest nuclear disaster is absence of radiation-resistance electronics that can work close to the radiation-saturated areas. Another words, in space, quality over quantity is a priority.

In my opinion, Musk's real mistake was not flying humans on the Dragon v1, preferring to build the Dragon v2.
I understand people's willingness to believe that there's only ineffectiveness of bureaucracy and several lucky scientific/engineering discoveries between us and affordable spaceflight(that's about your note on baby-boomer generation), but there are harder constraints on this entire venture, and most people have little idea of what real effectiveness is. They have little understanding how REALLY expensive space is and WHY such expenses are needed. You could not fly people on the sealed can that Dragon 1 was - the vehicle is not rated for human spaceflight and any mishap would result in disaster comparable to that of Space Shuttle crash. Musk may be eccentric and provocative, but certainly not to a degree to make such sacrifice, I can credit him for that at least.

In the 2000s, the satellite market was an afterthought; a stepping stone to the real market: space tourism. While there were people in the space community who claimed that these new companies would increase satellite payloads, the industry was still absorbing the tourism industry to the ISS which Russia was nurturing at the time
Well, it definitely did not live up to the expectations, and I also suppose that the business swiftly died in the middle-2000s, as soon as it became clear that Russia is getting ahead in this area, by putting some tourists on ISS. Suddenly, a ton of new US companies appeared, which bloated the media with promises and leaflets. The Newspace movement was born - projecting, and preparing a boom in space industry. The only problem is that they all failed at their goal - they may keep repeating that they are almost ready, and it worked perfectly within plans, but until we see regular flights and it becomes a routine activity, I do not believe an any of such manipulations.

That said, it appears that satellite industry boomed around the middle of 1990-s, when it was suddenly killed off by economic crisis and dotcom crash. You can observe this spike of commercial activity here.
https://www.technologyreview.com/s/425120/space-over-time/

Again, as I said, space is a no-joke competition, it cannot be masked with halfassed attempts to lower the plank (like lowering space border from 100-110 km down to 80 km in US). I know the rules, I know the practice - if US can't achieve superiority in some area by the means of development - the only viable option for them is to destroy any competition and destroy any competitors with any means available. US couldn't build up space tourism - and now there's no space tourism. And this is also why we aren't going to see any expeditions to the moon for quite some time, despite all the promises and progress - if US can't play major role in it, they will refuse to cooperate and will sabotage any attempt to do same.

By the way, I got to finish watching this video for current state of affairs, and recommend you do the same.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_I4iUf7l5DA

411:

this is also why we aren't going to see any expeditions to the moon for quite some time, despite all the promises and progress - if US can't play major role in it, they will refuse to cooperate and will sabotage any attempt to do same.

Well yes — this is how imperial hegemonic powers suppress competition.

There's not much need to worry about the USA, though, the sun is setting on their century. (It's trailing the decline of the British Empire by almost exactly a century: there are a few decades to go before they're clearly a spent force, but the picture of crumbling infrastructure, a willfully isolated ruling elite who won't engage with the structural problems the nation faces, declining social mobility, and entrenched interests who want to cling on to the status quo is pretty clear already.)

The point is, the can't effectively suppress foreign space initiatives any more. India's getting ready to launch a crewed space vehicle in the next decade; China has a working space station despite US attempts to freeze them out of cooperation on the ISS, and is embarking on a slow but methodical plan of lunar exploration.

So paranoia about a big malevolent superpower suppressing rivals is … not totally misplaced, but probably exaggerated, especially going forward.

412:

I’d say that “paranoia about a big malevolent superpower suppressing rivals is …” wise to direct at the rising superpower in addition to the falling one.

413:

And of course, neither China nor India have any issues with broken infrastructure, corruption, or climate change. Nor that either of these "new countries" have any history to deal with, unlike, say, England.

I'd point this out only to note that the narratives on the rise and fall of great powers are simply that: narratives, and we've got to be careful about how much is useful and how much is BS. Being a rising power in the face of accelerating climate change is not so different than being a falling power in the face of climate change.

I'd also dare to point out that a country like Russia has somehow managed to rise and fall as a great power several times in the last few centuries both because of and despite rampant corruption, so perhaps the wheel of history doesn't quite work the way it's supposed to?

We'll see what happens on the Moon as it happens. If the Great Powers keep mistaking lunar rockets for phallic substitutes that show off national virility, I don't think they'll get much further than the US did.

414:

You don’t need a B-71, after all, you’ve still got the B-70.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_American_XB-70_Valkyrie

Regarding bomb-bay and doors on a “B-71” - that wasn’t what killed high-altitude supersonic bombers; it was the introduction of credible SAM systems. Flying high and fast no longer guaranteed survival (the SR-71 managed it by avoiding known SAM sites).


However, if you’re determined to drop instant sunshine at supersonic speed, you just take the well-understood (and well-practised) D-21 approach:

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lockheed_D-21

...alternatively, you take the “drop them through a tube out the back” as practised by the A-5 Vigilante:

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_American_A-5_Vigilante

...or the “put physics package into a drop tank” approach of the B-58 Hustler:

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Convair_B-58_Hustler


415:

You were probably in the visitors center / museum it’s right outside the outer security perimeter near the parking lot

And the abbreviation is LLNL

416:

“There's not much need to worry about the USA, though, the sun is setting on their century. ”

You know people have said that every decade I’ve been alive and I’m almost 50. And yet they are still here 😀

I think this is more wish fulfillment then reality.

China seems to be peaking and entering their demographic slide, Japan is over and the EU isn’t looking so great these days so not sure who exactly is gonna displace them. Especially guven they are one of the likely relative “winners” in the climate change shift compared to places like India and China

417:

Robert Prior @ 367: Still asks me to sign in to my Google account…

I think you can use an alternate browser that doesn't have Google cookies.

418:

whitroth @ 368: But then, the US: the triumph of style over content.

Too bad it wasn't Strunk & White

419:

Heteromeles @ 372: I'd suspect (just for S&G) that the reason shuttles were supposed to carry nukes (assuming this is true) is that someone thought of the Armageddon movie scenario back in the 1970s, and got last-ditch asteroid busting spec'ed into an early version of the shuttle.

The whole shuttle was "supposed to carry nukes" shtick is bogus. It's all because the Soviets were so damn suspicious of anything having to do with the U.S. that they couldn't believe the real reason for roping the Pentagon in on the deal, Pork Barrel Politics.

420:

Re: Islands of Stability

Guess there's only one option left: go for the gluons!

421:

I've had a bit of fun reading about Przybylski's Star. The theory that the unusual elements are visible as spectra due to "levitation" is pretty cool. Basically, due to the layered structure of the star, stuff gets lofted near the surface, then sort of chromatographically strung out so that it's quite visible in the stellar spectra. The question may not be, why these weird elements (for all I know, there's a lot of this isotopic cruft buried unseen in the hearts of a lot of stars), but what stirred the isotopes up from the interior of the star.

No joy there. I'm sure my WAG, that Przybylski's Star was holed by a high speed neutron star that passed through the star, stirred the center up, and left the scene, is a non-starter. Alas, the only stuff I see on stellar collisions comes from studies of multiple star systems, not the results of drive by shootings.

And no, Przybylski's Star isn't a Thorne–Żytkow object either.

Fun stuff.

422:

There are good and bad economists. One of the good ones happens to be a fan. The problem is the bad ones are for sale. It would be nice if we didn't have places like the Chicago School providing cover for the kleptocrats, but even if they went away, we'd still have the kleptocrats.

423:

By way of contributing to this point, I offer John Quiggan and his relatively recent Zombie Economics: how dead ideas still walk among us (https://www.blackincbooks.com.au/books/zombie-economics).

There is a huge diversity of viewpoints in the field, but it seems there is a split between those who take economic history seriously and those who don’t, in many ways a split between Empiricism and big-R Rationalism (for those who understand the distinction anyways). This is the very field where people say that facts have a left wing bias.

424:

The problem is, the rich notice two things: 1: That Keynes, not any politician shaped economic policy for decades, and 2: that economic chairs cost very little money to endow, compared to chemistry, physics or engineering ones.

They do not even require much computing time, all they want is an office and a blackboard.

So we got a plethora of think tanks and economic departments with a mission to promote "conservative" economics. This is not a secret conspiracy, it is in their mission statements and proudly announced on their web pages, and it is all one big propaganda push.

It is darkly hilarious example of "Everything the right accuses others of is a confession" there is in fact, a branch of science which has been perverted by money to produce false arguments, but it is not climate science. It is economics, and they are the ones doing it.

425:

"The point is, the can't effectively suppress foreign space initiatives any more."

And yet, during our peak, our launchers were relegated to the sidelines of the commercial launch market (you know, the part of space travel that is profitable outside of pork barrel politics) and our top civilian airplane manufacturer (Boeing) lost its market dominance.

Contra the belief that the US was an omniscient power capable of suppressing the other side's technology is a great way to excuse domestic weaknesses and officials.

The example he gave is instructive: the fact that Japan didn't not have radiation-resistant electronics is tootally the fault of the US. It's not like the EU doesn't have their own manufacturers, or that microchip manufacturing has migrated to South Korea and Taiwan /s

Notice that SR calls the US not participating in another nation's ill-thought out moon program "sabotage". It's hilariously sad that a nation with a larger GDP than the US had in 1968 ($942.5 billion USD) and much more freely available/cheaper technologies couldn't replicate this feat on its own or with like-minded allies.

India launching a human capsule is local politics. ESA and Japan (space agencies with independent robotic lunar programs) could have launched their own humans during the peak of US power if the will was there. The US was in no position to stop them.

Let me guess, SR is going to then cite Iraq and its aborted space program despite
a. The fact that Israel did most of the sabotage
b. The country had just invaded an ally of ours
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Babylon

426:

"That said, it appears that satellite industry boomed around the middle of 1990-s, when it was suddenly killed off by economic crisis and dotcom crash. You can observe this spike of commercial activity here."

If you're going to present a chart as evidence, please check the dates. That's the first thing I do.
http://claudelafleur.qc.ca/Spacecrafts-index.html

The satellite market declined in the late-1990s due to two factors

1. The Iridium bankruptcy. This company tried to commercialize satellite phones, and went bankrupt when cell phones took over the market instead. Ironically, it was eventually saved by the US military
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iridium_Communications

2. Moore's Law. As the link above notes, Iridium's constellation was finished over the next decade through military satellite launches. The real reason that the commercial market stagnated over that decade was that one newer satellite became much more capable than old satellites.

So, what happened since 2010 to change the situation
1. Cubesats entered the picture. This is the problem with measuring the satellite market performance since the 1990s. Counting the annual number of launches by gross weight understates how much more capable satellites have become, and counting by the number of satellites launched ignores the fact that 80 cubesats can fit into one launch vehicle.

2. Parts of the developing world not named China, Russia, or Eastern Europe really started developing (those countries mainly developed in the 2000s). Of course, those countries began developing from a smaller base than the former Warsaw Pact. This also meant that more of their basic infrastructure had to be built in the 2010s, including their space infrastructure.

As an aside, for all the problems that the former Warsaw Pact experienced during the 1990s, they were still the second richest region in the world, after the First World.

"By the way, I got to finish watching this video for current state of affairs, and recommend you do the same."
Thanks for the video. I'd be really surprised if the Lunar Gateway is actually built. Here's the joke I've heard about it: "The Lunar Gateway is the next pork barrel project once SpaceX becomes so good that the SLS becomes politically unfeasible. It's just as likely as the SLS to get built".

427:

I did a rough calculation a while back, on launch "throw weight" as a total in terms of mass into orbit annually from all launchers everywhere and discovered, to my surprise that it had plateaued rather than growing steadily as I had assumed. It wasn't difficult to discover the reason, the end of US manned spaceflight and especially the Shuttle which was, for about two decades, about a quarter of the total amount of tonnage into LEO and beyond each year.

Since then there have been more satellites launched but not enough to make up the difference in mass; they are more capable and last longer than their predecessors, sometimes to a ridiculous degree with a few operating for four or five times their intended lifespan before being decommissioned or abandoned.

As for cubesats, they are a fun toy but not really that capable. They have minimal electrical capabilities and hence problems with supporting upload and download data connections. There are ways around this but they're complicated and fragile such as netting to other more capable satellites. Using cubesats in Lunar orbit is a non-starter given the ground station requirements to communicate with something 400,000km away. They have other problems such as thermal control and limited sensor capabilities but they make a good grad student project.

428:

"d discovered, to my surprise that it had plateaued rather than growing steadily as I had assumed."

I'm confused by this statement. Does it mean that without the human component the throw weight of all launchers had remained roughly constant since the 00s? Or does it mean that the throw weight of satellites has been growing, but all that is doing is replacing the throw weight of the Space Shuttle?

The latter interpretation would be great news. I did know that the overall lifting capability increased as the Delta II, Atlas II, and Ariane IV were replaced with the Delta IV, Atlas V, and Ariane V. Likewise, I did know that India and China increased the number of launches. Still, I thought that this plateaued in the mid 00s, with SpaceX mainly cannibalizing Russia's and Arianespace's throw weights. If the second interpretation is true, then I was wrong.

When you did the calculation, did you take into account SpaceX's reusability?

Ioan