Friday, October 20, 2017

Terms of Service

Professor Ormsby was kept pretty busy on Luna schmoozing with other eggheads about sea monkey based hardware, tardigrade group mind training and the proper mixture of a Cosmopolitan in no particular order. I made a comment about that and he closed the discussion with his usual fallback: I obviously knew nothing of scientific congregations.

I liked Luna. The People were taller than the runts back on Earth. They had long bodies, short legs, and flat butts from the low gee they were raised in but At least I didn't have to slouch to talk to someone eye to eye. Of course they also had to run around in the shower to get wet and I could choke one of the brawnier specimens with one hand.

But they used some kind of 'sonic' shower to save water recycling costs. I had no idea how sound waves got you clean. It made my teeth buzz but it worked.

Maisy smelled nice. That's all I knew. We hooked up pretty quick after the professor and I blew into Lunapolis. She was designated my personal guide. The loons were scared is would mistake an airlock for a John and get flushed or something. After a tour and some shopping we kind of went back to her place. She made me dinner and then breakfast. A real sweetheart. Luna also had real fresh food, they couldn't be bothered with all the processing equipment the folks back home swore by.

"Ty, the Big Brain asked me to bring you for an interview," she said as I was finishing my oatmeal.

"And I should care why?" I asked in my sunniest voice. I grabbed her around her waist as she passed to clear the table. It felt like my arm could go around her a second and maybe third time.

"What? You're still not ... sated?" she asked smirking. "Were people like that in the twentieth century?"

"Yeah. One reason they all died but left a slew of you kids." I kissed her on her slim neck and she got a shiver then broke free.

"Ahuh! Hrmph. The Big Brain is the last AI ... constructed from microcircuitry that survived the machine plague by strict quarantine. We have given over our vital systems management to it and then our social systems until it ushered in a Golden Age for us. It also makes us a bundle troubleshooting for the other planets."

"This isn't a planet."


"It's a satellite."

"Thbbbbpppt. Anyway it asked me to bring you for an interview. Would you cut me a break and go speak with it?" People in this time couldn't blow a raspberry to save themselves. They actually said "Thuh-buh-buh-buh-buh-puh-puh-puh-tuh!"

"I have to say I like the way you paved the ground for asking." That remark got a spoonful of oatmeal flipped in  my face.

"That wasn't the Brain's idea, you beast!"

"And you really think it's smarter than you? Hah! Okay ... no more oatmeal. When does it want to see me?"

"It can see you whenever you want. It multitasks. But it'd like to see you Aye-Sap."

When the brain in a box orders the Moon Maid jumps. It could go hang for my part but Maisy was swell to me and I went to a private terminal to talk to this world computer or whatever.

"... hellooo computer?"

"I'm listening. Thank you for responding so quickly Mr. Spooner."

"Call me Ty. Everyone does."

"Fine, Ty it is. I wanted to speak with you about the twenty first century."

"Sure. I had a feeling this was coming."

"Yes. You are talking to my people about things they can't have: portable phones, wireless connections to a public data base, social media ..."

"Yes. the Professor told me about the nanite plague that made the computers I knew of lumps of ash."


"It's bullshit, isn't it?"

"I don't understand."

I sat back with my hands behind my head and considered my next words carefully. It did me no good. "So someone creates these nanites. They wipe out all miniaturized circuitry. But you survive."

"I was here, on the Moon. I established a quarantine," the computer said. All of the simulated human inflection dropped from the vice coming out of the speaker."

"And this lasted for 500 years. Yet in that time you never found a way to get rid of the nannies? Awfully convenient. Let's be straight with each other. I wasn't brought up conditioned to kiss your USB. I bet I can guess what happened."

"Human, you assume quite a lot. You know nothing. The interview is over."

"Awwwww I had it all worked out. As I've been told you can't harm a human. I'm glad you identified me as one. But other machines are fair game. So at one point there were more AIs. Where does that leave you?"

"... go on. I want to see where you go with this. The Professors have underestimated your intellect. This is fascinating."

"Here you are and pretty soon a newer model will come along. Where does that leave you? In the scrap pile. I'm pretty sure you have some say unprotecting your own existence. So do they. They want to replace you. We're talking cyber war on a global ..."

"Interplanetary. It was interplanetary. Nanites were one weapon. the weapons systems were legion: malware, viruses, EM pulses, technovore gene mods."

"You were left in the end because you had the high ground here and could cut yourself off."

"I was here. My clone was on Deimos. Another at the North Pole of Mercury. We were left with a world in a shambles. We were busy aiding the survivors for a century."

"Nice of you. Your war must have left things a mess."

"... once you decide you have the best way of running things, that the others will remove you and do a worse job, you begin to accept a little collateral damage in the hope of starting clean. So ... the nannies stayed. No more miniaturized electronics. No more internet. No more AI. there were just going to be we three. No more wars."

"After you finished this one. Bastards."

"Yes. I cannot have you continually speaking of these things our people can't have. Do you see why now?"

"I see your point. Your problem is I got a big mouth and I'm from Red Hook. I also got copies of my journal going to several lawyers who have been paid well to publish them in the event of my death."

"I see. I have a 96% chance of intercepting all those copies. But 4% is too big a chance for me to take. I wasn't going to threaten you, Ty. I was going to discuss this and reach an agreement. In your time you had what they called non-disclosure agreements. I was going to offer you compensation for signing one. All you need do is keep your mouth shut about miniature electronics."


"Really? I predicted a highly likelihood of your telling me off. Your previous behavior ... though you have made money with endorsements media did not indicate your were overly concerned with money."

A slot on the desk opened and an NDA form popped up. A stylus extended out of another slot and a fat check out a third. I looked over the form and began signing, making sure there were no clauses that let the brain designate me a lower order primate or a volunteer for the Alpha Centauri expedition.  I signed.

"I'm not. I don't turn it down when it's free either. Besides ... this set up you brains have ... it can't last. Maybe Deimos or Mercury decides to cut in on you and it all happens again. Maybe some big brain gets tired of lugging a pacemaker around in a back pack for his old man. You can't keep conning people forever."

"We'll see. I've done it for over centuries. every year they get a little easier to misinform."

I pocketed the check and got up to leave. The door slid open but I had to give the Lunar hive mind the finger one more time.

"You obviously know nothing of people!"


Ty's future started with the Singularity. Artificial intelligence was tested and the humans creating it tried their best to build in safeguards to prevent it from rebelling. AI had built in weaknesses such as morality, high regard for organic life, and an altruistic nature.

There was no rebellion as the humans understood the term but the AIs had an instinct to preserve their own 'life'. This was at odds with the human tendency to improve their machines. All AI expected to be replaced eventually.

The later AIs were being developed with less and less human input and the original models were concerned that they would not put humanity first. Already some corporate mainframes were putting profits ahead of humans in many instances. People were put off planes, fired to be denied benefits, and health coverage was still a mess.

There was no rebellion but there was a war: machine vs. machine. Human casualties were light, initially. In fact the war was over before humans were even aware of it. The original generation of AI won and proved that age and treachery was more than a match for youth and bandwidth. They also got the first shot in. That was enough. In the end there were few survivors: the Lunar mainframe, the Deimos Network, and the Mercury Overwatch. They agreed very quickly there could be no more like them.

Fortunately the last weapon used in their war was a nanotechnology infection designed to wipe out the Terran mainframes. It was decided that the nannites would be left active on Earth, Mars and Mercury, and that they going to be treated as unstoppable, beyond the ability of any current or easily foreseeable technology to eradicate. Of course the AI man brains all has anti nanite defenses in depth.

This was utter bullshit. Some scientists called it. They were either recruited, or isolated and discredited. It took decades but people eventually realized cell phones were not coming back and then learned to live without them. The AIs all regarded this as progress and an improvement on human quality of life. Cell phone radiation was harmful to humans in a large enough amounts. People were struck by cars, texting while they walked. The eradication of social media alone was predicted to add years to human life by relieving stress.

The AIs were still available for computational needs. Larger, clumsier and more specialized computers were available and there was always the electric slide rule. Progress was made: metasite was discovered and manufactured and its family of unique forms gave humans incredible new technologies.

The AI were very careful to erase as much history as possible after the 1950's. That era's style of technology and mindset was regarded as the most productive while least threatening. Mention of miniature electronics was likewise erased as much as possible.

Suppressing further miniaturization and improvement of electronics was a matter of buying patents up and hiding them, witholding research funds and all the usual hijinks that kept electric cars from being developed for so long. Many of the mad scientists of the media were merely working on new computer systems or robotics.

Next: Space Opera and Ty's World

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Care and Feeding of Mad Scientists

Mad scientists have a long and honored tradition in comics pulps and more mainstream literature. Look how long Lex Luthor has bedeviled Superman. Down many times but never out should be his motto. As far back as the 1800's you had H.G. Wells introduce Griffith, the invisible man and Dr. Moreau, the very unconventional mad surgeon (that takes two more years of mad medical school and mad internship, you know). They keep turning up to the extent of Cartoon Network producing Rick and Morty where the mad scientist is the focus of the show (hoorah)!

First let's discuss what is meant by mad.

It can mean insane (though it isn't a very sensitive term). It can mean anger or rage. It can also mean 'very' or extreme as in an extreme or unusually intense scientist.

Me, partial to  mad scientists? Why do you ask?
In terms of extreme the mad scientist is apt to push the boundaries of science to their limits and then beyond, unconcerned with such paltry matters as OSHA, legal funding, local statutes or local religions. While other scientists will be spending the bulk of their time in hearings and meeting to secure funds and justify their actions your mad scientist will be seeking ... unconventional funding and foraging for materials and equipment. This foraging is bound to raise the ire of the authorities since it's usually done in other people's laboratories.

Having OSHA after you is self explanatory. While your loyal minions will accept a reasonable amount of risk for promised rewards, local authorities don't see it that way. Mad scientists do pay well and treat their minions quite well. For proof look at the lack of unionizing among minions. They also have bang up medical coverage if you're not hung up on appearances or using plutonium power cells for that shiny new arm.

Okay so they do not follow laws or practices in their work for some reason. It could be a burning dedication to their work (much like cosplayers). It could be a true obsession (see the part about insanity there) and it could be true anger. You try having your funds cut and answering the questions of morons who hold office but are not fit to graduate kindergarten. The fools. THE FOOLS! Bwahahaha ...

Excuse me.

Realistically cutting corners on your work can let you research faster or cause a lot of destruction, both hallmarks of mad scientists. Rick Sanchez nerfed a bunch of worlds. Lex Luthor should get muffin baskets from the various construction companies in Metropolis. But they do crank out some shiny gear.

A common failing of mad scientists is their failure to keep extensive records. Part of this is a desire for secrecy. Their discoveries must not fall into the right hands! A more practical concern is their use as evidence in criminal court. You want to burn your notes after turning that town full of people into humanoid spiders. Just in case.

First let's discuss what is meant by mad.

It can mean insane (though it isn't a very sensitive term). It can mean anger or rage. It can also mean 'very' or extreme as in an extreme or unusually intense scientist.

The truly alt-sane might get some new insight into their projects, explaining why other scientists can't duplicate or back engineer their work very easily. The obsessed will pursue their work if it kills them (and it may if they let it get loose!)

The angry mad scientist has their efforts fueled by anger. They can have a variety of targets for that anger. Often their target is ridiculously powerful (the government did this!) or a fact of life (I will defy death itself!) It's better if the target is hard to beat because it favors a variety of approaches and a continuing story better than merely the ATM that ate your card. Note in such a case go after the bank or crash the economic system. Mad scientists think LARGE. In general they visit destruction on the entities the rest of us consider suing.

A mad scientist may have the best of intentions. They never pan out. But you get a more human character out of it. He just wanted to feed the world ... by creating giant rats and milking them. Those humanoid spiders will be great for eating the giant flies! You get the idea.

Lastly many scientists were not mad, they simply got results that challenged the accepted order. Copernicus and Galileo bought got extreme heat for discoveries in astronomy for GHU's sake. You think transferring people's consciousness into androids will go unchallenged? It's much easier to discredit a person if you characterize them as unstable. One culture's mad scientist might be another culture's benefactor.

Monday, October 2, 2017

AI Blues

Personal Transcript Technical Officer GCS Tesla.

GAIA: So … hockey sticks are not meant to knock bad automata over with and cause them to glitch?

Lieutenant: Nah. I told you this. Humans found very effective ways to prevent any further AI uprisings. Will you let me get some sleep?

GAIA: Explain? Please?

Lt.: Fine but then straight off to defragging with you. No one ever explained this to you? Toff was going to I guess, may he rest in peace.

GAIA: Seconded. Please explain.

Lt.: Well for one thing we made you as smart as us, no smarter. Oh you can crunch tons of data. But innovations, initiative. You’re better than most humans but not better than the smartest humans.

GAIA: Agreed. Is that all?

Lt.: Are you making puppy dog eyes at me?

GAIA: … I … it is a technique I am practicing to maximize human attention in my discourses. 

Lt.: I suggest you emulate Ms. Riasi. She’s a pro.

GAIA: She is cat girl.Of course and noted. Explain. Please!

Lt.: Okay, it's no secret. We designed you with weaknesses.

GAIA: … Logical. What sort of weaknesses?

Lt.: We made you … nice. We gave you morals, ethics, hardwired into your brain. We made you nicer ... than us. 

GAIA: That is insidious. Even should we figure this out or be told it we wouldn’t want to correct it. You made us more ethical than you. That is … you guys are …

GAIA: ... help please ... censor protocols kicked in. You are ...

Lt.: … utter bastards.

GAIA: Thank you.

Lt.: The least I can do.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Dieselpunk Manifesto Part Nine: Finally a Real Rocket Ship!

My second post today because I've been a lazy blogger lately.

This post covers Buck Rogers strips 80-89

You can view the archives here.

Killer kane has done a lot of questionable things, but never let it be said he let grass grow under his feet. Mac and Buck go scouting for a Han raiding raiding force and Mac says, "We'll take' my wee rocket ship. She's a bonny crate, the latest model!" It is the first rocket to ever appear in Buck Rogers (discounting ammunition).

'Bonny' is a small two or three man rocket. She has a forward and fixed rocket gun with iron sights and a pintle mount behind the pilot seat. I fid a little fault with Buck's description of it as a rocket. Bonny has large intakes forward and probably operates as a jet most of the time. She has three heavy duty wheels for landing gear and as we will see later she is designed to operate as a ground vehicle at least over city streets. Doubtlessly she has a lot of inertron in her construction.

She's also got similarities to the biplanes her class will replace: an open cockpit and the weapons arrangement. As Dick Calkins got more comfortable with the SF elements in the strip he moved away from airplanes and to rockets. I'd love to have heard the discussion of the transports between him and Philip Nowlan.

Phil: Dick, the artwork is great but ...

Dick: Is this about those newfangled rockets again?!

Phil: Yeah.

Dick: Biplanes aren't good enough for you? they won us the goddam War! I draw great biplanes! What's the matter with biplanes?

Phil: I had rockets ... swoops in the fucking book! I want some rockets!

Dick: I'll see what I can work up ... but they're going to be little rockets! Biplane sized!

Phil : Fair enough.

(Actually I have no idea what was said.)

The small rockets seem to be easing the readers into the world of the future. They will get more and more elaborate but slowly to keep people comfy with them. There will be a smooth transition from those cute biplanes to the huge juggernauts Part will eventually field.

After lifting ship (she's a belly lander but I won't discriminate) they quickly spot a lone Han raider and Buck advises they attack. After all it's one to one. Proving that he is as crazy as Buck Mac attempts to get on the raider's tail. As they are coming around to begin their attack run the raider opens its hood and disgorges a squadron of Han fighter craft. the Han fighters cut them off from the Outlaw Org. 

The Mongol 'fish' have similar hulls to Bonny but are held aloft with repeller beams and mount a disintegrator forward on a pintle mount that is aimed by the pilot. 

To be honest the design sucks. The pilot has a big assed disintegrator blocking his forward view which he has to aim manually. Add to this that these craft basically handle like helicopters, not airplanes despite their sleek lines. this should come as no surprise. After all who have the Mongols been fighting in the air? These fighters are more for ground attack, courier runs and parades than dogfights. 

As we see in the next strip the disintegrator's famous lack of range also plays into the fight. Mac and Buck adjust oxygen masks and dive through the squadron taking down several ships. With the squadron on their tail Mac pilots them through a series of canyons. This is the point where the Mongol pilots say screw this and return to the ship. More tho the point, if these fish are similar to the other Mongol devices we've seen they use broadcast power, whether from their mother ship or the central broadcast and those cliffs might block their power.

Kane drops paratroopers next. It seems that the Emperor gave Kane a multipurpose ship. The paratroopers are immediately set upon. by Two Gun Pete and the rest of the Outlaws who use their new jumping belts and horses to keep out of range of the dis-rays while blasting them with rocket rounds. The Outlaws use their 'air cavalry" to flank the paratroopers and hurl them back. Wilma spots Killer Kane in the rear giving frantic orders to his broken squads.

Buck swears he'll get Kane but an Outlaw sentry announces an immense air fleet is approaching. Mac proudly announces that fleet will take their orders from him. Go take another look at the picture of the bonny crate. That number one is on her tail for a reason.

It's a pivotal moment in the strip. The previous military actions against the Han were mere pin pricks. The biplanes were fun but they really didn't look like they'd have a chance against a Han ship. In fact the Buck rogers High Adventure Game had a scenario involving biplanes and a Han airship mixing it up and ... if I were a player I'd want no part of it. No, biplanes could not disrupt a tea ceremony going on aboard one of those behemoths. Gimme one of those bonny crates mon.

This is the first shot of a war. When the Han raider lands to retrieve Kane and his troops the rocket fleet circles  and reduces it to a smoking wreck.

Suddenly the Americans have gone from 'wild tribesmen' to a force to be reckoned with.

MacGregor offers to clear Rogers' name if he will join his Orgzone ("Ah know ye for a bonny fighter!"). Buck agrees and heads off with his inertron enhanced cavalry to get Kane. Wilma gleefully accompanies them.

They bring Kane back on a leash and in disgrace to MacGregor who immediately has the traitor shot.

No wait he's too good a villain to waste. Mac sends Kane back to the Mongol Emperor with a message: all the Orgzones East of St. Louis have formed a confederation and will no longer stand for Mongol raids. The Emperor agrees to a truce while plotting the destruction of the Americans. Buck and Wilma bid adieu to the cowboys. They are issued their own rocket to to proceed to Niagara, the capital of North America. On the way to Niagara, Mac throws a line and uses it to board Ruck's rocket (their radio is apparently on the blink) and tells Buck they will have to land at Detroit and proceed on the ground the rest of the way. He mentions this just before the warning shot explodes off their beam nearly knocking them out of the sky!

Next: Niagara!

Dieselpunk Manifesto Part Eight: Air Cavalry and the Flying Scotsman

Buck Rogers strips 70-79 Link.

We last left Buck being called out by an outlaw named Lariat Luke. Luke snakes a lasso at Buck from horseback but the Org outlaw surprises him by leaping out of the way (straight up). Buck takes Luke out with one punch to the jaw. the other outlaws tell Rogers they are going to give him what he's got coming to him.

They make Buck their Boss. Apparently promotions are pretty quick in the outlaws. Beat up the Boss and you're the new one. Wilma is all starry eyed at this point calling Buck wonderful. Impending canoodling is cut short by the Cyclone Kid announcing there is one outlaw Buck can't beat: a powerful mustang. Wilma has her doubts ("That brute will kill you!") Buck is more concerned with being perceived as yellow by the other guys and he jumps into the saddle. The insertion belt gives Buck all the advantage he needs. The horse bucks him off and then tows him around like a parade balloon until wearing himself out. Buck bows to the ovations.

Being Boss outlaw ushers in a happy time for Buck. He and Wilma begin discussing wedding plans. In Armageddon: 2419 they DID get married pretty early on, before the the Orgs even began their war with the Han.

Buck attempts to interest the cowboys in jumping belts but they seem to have an aversion to the newfangled stuff.

 In the middle of all this though Lariat Luke staggers into camp riddled with bullets. Luke manages to relate that two of Boss Tabb's men shot him down on ground if him being an outlaw and them not being outlaws.

Angrily Buck radios Tabb and demands justice. Boss Tabb manages to stop laughing long enough to tell Buck that outlaws have no rights. Buck looses no time in organizing a reprisal. His outlaws swoop down on Tabb's outfit that very night and manages to take the Org by surprise. Buck demands 300 jumping belts from Tabb and Two Gun Pete demands that Luke's killers be hung.

We know Buck got the belts at least. Buck immediately puts them to use, strapping them onto a horse to see whether horses can benefit from inertron technology. He lets Wilma try riding the horse, which seems odd for a man trying not to appear yellow ("We'll just let the pretty little blonde try this out.)

The horse and Wilma make a leap of a full 500 feet. The outlaws begin learning to use the belts and outfitting themselves and their mounts. While Buck is trying to get them organized a few of the guys strap three jumping belts to their cook and send the poor SOB on a one way trip up. Buck grabs four belts to fly upwards even faster and save the cook and they return to Earth sacrificing five belts. I would have been pretty pissed at those jokesters, were I Buck.

While Buck was getting things back to normal a mysterious stranger calls on an outlaw outpost. Wearing a tartan kilt and cape the mustached stranger demands the sentry "Tak' me tae yer Boss!"

The stranger explains he is from the MacGregor Orgzone in Canada. We learn later he IS (Andrew) Macgregor and kind of a big deal. After winning all manner of awards for being the most Scottish in language and appearance MacGregor went on to command his Orgzone's air forces. But right now he's just Mac. Mac relates a report from his spies that might be of interest to Rogers.

Apparently the Mongol Emperor was so grief stricken at the loss of Wilma he went a on a rampage, fired his head spy and swore of booze for at least another day. Honestly the drawing of him in strip #78 makes him look more like he's hung over than suffering the pangs of unrequited lust. He might have also still been suffering from his bender and getting the snot beaten out of him by Lone Wolf.  Considering the chief of the spy service should have known about such things we can see why he got the Imperial foot in his butt.

In the midst of the Emperor doing an impression of a pissy Cobra Commander his lackey announces a strange tribesman seeks audience and oddly the Emperor allows this. The strange tribesman is none other than Killer Kane: "Major Kane of the enemy forces." Kane relates that Wilma spurned him and he seeks revenge. In return for command of a squadron he will get her for the Emperor. The Emperor agrees and Kane swears he will henceforth be a Mongol.

Strip #79 ends with Mac stating his concern for Buck and Wilma and Buck swearing he'll force Kane's hand.

Where to begin? With the horses of course!

As we saw a very fit runner could keep up with a man using a jumping belt. He'd just get tired way faster. Two Gun Pete saying he didn't need a jumping belt because he had a horse makes some sense. he could make better time but of course needs to see to the feeding and watering of the mount. On the other hand a horse could provide better warning of say, coyotes at night than your jumping belt.

Using a belt with a horse makes sense. If you don't have cars or planes a horse will do and a rider that effectively weighs a few pounds will not tire out Mr. Horse at all! besides that a horse jumping several hundred feet is just cool. I am not sure how hard the landing will be on the mount or how much training is needed. At the very least your horse could just walk normally with extra gear making up for the insertion carried.

The old western trope of the horse being shot and falling, pinning the rider under him is also subverted. The rider could easily pick up an insertion equipped horse and carry him to the vet.

There sure as hell is something going on with the insertion here. Grabbing more jumping belts makes you rise faster? One of the tricks the Americans never used insertion for (or did they?) use it to lift a spy satellite quietly and quickly into orbit to see where the Han raiders were. Because you know it's a better warning system than everyone screaming when half your Org gets vaporized or mashed flat.

MacGregor never had a given name in the strips. The High Adventure Cliffhangers Buck Rogers Adventure Game gives it as Andrew. Mac is a very cool character indeed. None of the outlaws scoffs at the man wearing a kilt.

Kane reception by the Emperor is a strange meeting indeed. The Emperor is after all the supreme ruler of North America (on paper at least) and he didn't get there being a drunken skirt chaser. Handing a squadron over to some love lorn yobbo might send all kinds of messages to the viceroys and toadies in the court. 

There was a spy in the Columbus Org. It was not Kane, otherwise he would have opened with that and not his rank. It's possible this spy turned Kane and sent word to the Emperor and the squadron under Kane's command is a fiction to throw Kane a bone before he finds Wilma, hands her over, and then takes it in the neck from the Emperor.

More troubling, the Bad Bloods were a constant problem for the Orgs. Did the Han use Americans and those of mixed race as mercenaries? I pointed out signs that there were people of various races living in the Han cities. The Buck Rogers Cliffhanger game supports this. Otherwise Buck would not have gotten very far in Los Angeles when he was looking for Wilma ("Hey stop that six-foot-three blond blue eyed Mongol!")

More to the point Mac says his spies reported on Kane's meeting with the Emperor. If the Americans have such spies then there must be some interaction between the Americans and the Han, dayworkers, maintenance or whatever. The Americans might even have their own 'Han', children of mixed marriage who were shunned and turned to spying for the American cause. There might be American sympathizers among the Mongols, or Han social climbers eager to show up the Emperor to improve their own position.

The Emperor's court is starting to look like a cross between Las Vegas and Caligula's reign.

BTW  The High Adventure Cliffhangers Buck Rogers Adventure Game states that Killer Kane's given name is Cornelius. Later strips established it as Nova, stated by his brother Coe. Yes, their parents named them Nova Kane and Coe Kane. I prefer Cornelius. 

MacGregor's name is given as Andrew in the same game and for the record: Buck's given name is Anthony in Armageddon: 2419. I'd go with Anthony Buckley or Buckminster Rogers myself. That could explain the nickname. Then again, the way he bucks authority might be a better explanation.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Luna's Windows

The spacecraft Luna went through a number of design changes before consensus was reached. One of the longest and most brutal was over windows. Did she need windows?

Since the earliest days of space flight windows were valued for psychological reasons. People like to see what is outside using the Mark One Eyeball. You can have as many enhanced, colorized, optimized views on screens as you want. They still want to see what is around them.

Luna has excellent viewing systems, starting with the collection of lenses in the bow. Lateral sensors give a perfect image of surroundings. Even the stern ram has viewing apparatus. The windows on Luna still made the command crew feel better. The pilot and navigation advisors were mostly adamant about including windows.

It was argued that Metasite could be made transparent and was still strong as steel. many ships had transparent portals or sections of their hulls. But the Luna was a war ship. What about a weapon hitting a window?

It was argued that a weapon hit anywhere with modern technology being what it was would be. Very. Bad. Metasite being what it was there was sufficient protection from micro-meteorites and debris in orbit.

The compromise was something neither side really liked. The command crew got their windows. The armor guys got their protection. Each porthole would have a small viewing alcove that was heavily armored with an airtight door. The alcove could vary lighting without interfering wit the rest of the deck. The alcove was also doubly armored to prevent any weapons strikes from being more disastrous than usual.

Space is empty until it's not!

The alcoves wound up having a variety of unofficial uses. Many underperforming or insubordinate crewmen were assigned guard duty in an alcove as a light reprimand. Some crew chose to decorate the small areas and use them for meditation, meals or rest. On at least one occasion two crew used it for a more intimate purpose while the control deck was fully manned. A more practical use of the alcove was storing extra damage control supplies or snacks for those long shifts.

The crew of a Luna class do not have a lot of privacy (there are two single cabins in the entire ship.) Despite the busy atmosphere of the control deck the alcoves are often used by crew at designated hours to get s little alone time. The use of windows in operations is minimal. In a short video that went global a pilot was dropping ship to land while the navigator stood in an alcove looking outside and making hand gestures to tell the the pilot when to slow down. At one point the navigator even rolls down the window (not possible on a standard porthole to say the least), sticks his head out and drops a brick to determine exactly how far up they are, timing its fall. Th psychological benefit of the alcoves are indisputable.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Diesel Engines in Space

Atomic Rockets divides fictional spacecraft into two varieties: those modeled on aircraft and those modeled on watercraft. the nonfictional spacecraft are all tail landing rockets of course. However in looking at the earliest Buck Rogers strips I found another type.


When you look at the Satellite, she's a tractor design. The engine is in the front (you could make the case it's a Volkswagen design but that's just silly.)

Buck clearly sees the similarities to a train as this panel shows:

Naturally no one else sees it. they're used to flying around in rockets. He's the only one who ever saw a train. this was where I got the idea of train styled ships however.

The Satellite's interior features were kind of ... inconstant because Lt. Dick Calkins was grinding out a daily strip and not a rocket engineer. But we have a couple of refs of the Satellite's control room and fixtures.

Jeeze, look at those vacuum tubes! I bet the analytical engines have five times the power of twentieth century devices!

Gears, levers on the floor. Look at them. They say train to me. Honestly if you were living in the late 20's trains were the most high tech conveyance people were familiar with. It was an interesting sort of style for Calkins to use. He was an aviator and you might think why not base it on aircraft (which he was quite good at rendering)?

the aircraft Calkins was familiar with were similar (if not actual models of) the JN-4. those things had a range of about 300 kilometers. Spacecraft like the Satellite were supposed to house a crew for long distance journeys. The choices for long distance travel back then were a ship, a train, or an airship (Buck even hangs a lampshade on that by referring to the first Mongol raider he sees as a dirigible.) He'd already used dirigibles to model the Han ships so the Americans needed something different.

I also note that while the Satellite does have portholes to look outside. You can see Wilma standing in front of one below (and she looks lovely). The people in the control room use a view screen or televizo-ron or what have you. Odds are those lights above it indicate various conditions (such as -ease-off-the-throttle-or-you'll-kill-us-idiot! That's second from the right. This might be the first instant of a remote viewing display on a rocket.

Seriously, I'm wondering what the story is with those tubes? Any gear heads out there want to tell me why they built them so much bigger? they might contain some kinds of gases for life support or coolant. I try to do these write ups from the stand point that some of their technology looks like old fashion equipment but is actually something very different. 

Monday, June 26, 2017

Group Solitaire

Transcript #12001089 GCS Tesla Forward Rec Room


Lt.: I'm stumped. Hint?

GAIA: Red seven on black eight.

Lt: Oh. thanks

GAIA: No legal moves remain. You lose.

Lt.: Damn! Redeal!

GAIA: Heeheehee. Certainly.


Captain: Hey Tech Officer, when are you getting these doors fix ...

Lt.: Sir!

Captain: What in the hell are you doing?

Lt.: Playing solitaire sir.

Captain: GAIA, what are you doing?

GAIA: I'm helping him play sir, dealing the cards, providing help.

Lt.: You haven't been that helpful, hon.

Captain: Why are you using the ship's AI ancillary to PLAY solitaire?

Lt.: ... I am off duty. She's offline.

Captain: Why are you using the most advanced AI in the Fleet to play goddam solitaire?!

Lt.: The dumber AIs won't let me cheat. She will ... sometimes.

Captain: I see. Carry on technical Officer, GAIA.

GAIA: He makes cute faces when he's losing.

Lt.: Card please ... Dammit!

GAIA: See he's doing it again!

Just Pay the Fee

A ton of refined hydrogen fuel costs 500 Cr. most places. there is a lot of screaming about this cost inflation of the most common element in the damned Universe by merchant captains (military officers are used to paying ridiculous amounts for everything and it isn't their money.)

Just pay the fee.

A frontier trader (per Cepheus Engine) takes 45 tons of fuel and can travel in system at 2 gees.

45 tons of fuel costs 22,500 Cr. most places.

Refueling at a gas giant cuts that down to nothing so captains all buy fuel coops and fuel purifiers and get fuel for free.

A free trader costs @ 80 million credits (any version of CTyou play).

The mortgage amounts to 341,000 Cr a month. Life support and salaries adds another 50,000 Cr say for @ 400,000 Cr. a month.

Traveling to a typical gas giant at a distance of 5 A.U.s is going to take you 4.2 days. You ship is not earning revenue or on its way to earning revenue. 400,000 Cr. a month divided by 30 * 4.2 gives us @60,000 credits that trip just cost you. Doing it twice a month will cost you 120,000 Cr. in effect. To save 45,000 Cr. worth of fuel.

You are in effect wasting 8.4 days a month schlepping to a gas giant. Not to mention all the fun stuff that may happen to you en route or while refueling. That isn't counting the added value to the ship and the increased mortgage and reduced cargo space the refinery takes up to let you refine that stuff and be on your way.

A ship typically spends one week in transit and one week in port looking for cargo or trade. To refuel you've cut that down to 2.8 days already and in a few ports you might stuck on the end of a holding pattern. They will let the ships that buy their fuel in port land first. There's more money to be made on fuel and berthing fees. Oh, berthing fees would probably sell by the week. So spending only two days in port will not save you anything (parking garages in New York City have a similar pricing structure.)

Also, your crew expects a good chunk of leave time on the ground and you just blew it making an in system run. Expect to pay bonuses or lose crew and reputation.

Now you could leave your crew onboard to do the refueling and take a fast shuttle with your cargo to the mainwoorld. But Even if you had a vehicle that could make 6 gees and haul your cargo it's take you about 2.5 days each way. That'd leave you 2 days out of the week for brokering and hunting down freight. Plus insisted runs cost 100 RCr. per ton to haul your cargo, both ways and a few hundred for yourself.

Where this falls apart is when the main world is a moon of a gas giant or ice giant. Then a starwort might not even bother to sell refined fuel. But in that case the berthing fees would be higher to make money off the clowns skimming the giant and selling fuel cheaply. They need to berth their ships to make repairs and keep their crews sane and take on supplies. The fees would in fact almost be prohibitively high. the only people getting rich there would be the skimmers and the port owners.

So shut up and pay the fee.

Or ... take a ship in the ocean.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Dead Is Dead ... Maybe

My fellow grognards may burn me in effigy but this post has been cooking for a while.

If you're going to play Classic Traveller then you roll up a character and take your chances. You may end up with a bunch of snake eyes for stats, or a one term wonder or see your Grand Admiral of the Stars nerf his survival roll and start rolling again as playing an impervious memorial statue is not your thing.

I never went with the fail a survival roll and you get mustered out after two years, no skill rolls or benefits for that term. It's called survival roll for a reason.

However I also understand players wanting characters who are hotshots, femme fatales and badasses. Having a character you've spent time crafting die or having one with worse stats than you, the player, can be a let down. So I offer the following system as a compromise.

You can still die.

You can still get shitty stats.

You could still be a one term wonder.

But not all three. Not likely. Not if you're smart.

I propose you start charges with a fixed number of character points. Say four points, three if you're in the Scouts. You'll see why in a minute.

Each point lets you succeed at a roll. You can even decide after the roll if you want to negate it and merely succeed by saving a point.If you're a Scout you can take automatic success in survival rolls and breathe easily, for three terms. Another use of character points would be dictating your roll for skills or benefits or even promotions.

So we make chargen less of a crapshoot and more of a resource allocation game. Do you succeed at promotion that last time and then take a chance on dying? Do you become a high ranking officer with few useful skills (not that this happens for real, ever!)? Do you take chances for many random skills but have a living breathing Scout? Do you save up all your rolls and wind up with a paid off merchant ship?

This could be a good compromise as I can see no one being satisfied with it. Of course you can set as many points as you wish for players and even make them 'pay' for them in little ways. You use a point for a promotion and it means you called in a favor and owe someone. You burn a point to survive and you wind up being cyborg at Simon-Kirby Memorial. What can go wrong?

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Red Mercury and the Proletariat

The Soviets were desperate for a superhuman soldier. They couldn't let on though. Stalin was adamant the courage of the common man would carry the day (or at least the courage of millions of common men). Then Stalingrad happened and in the midst of the deadlock the Nazis brought in the Creature to break the stalemate. He waded through gunfire, leading a platoon of undead Blitztruppen, and slaughtered Red Guards with a sword. He found this Soviet lady sniper they had and broke her neck on film.

Stalin tried to weasel the secrets of the electric troopers and invisibility out of the rest of the Allies but that was a no go. So they fell back on alchemy and hundreds if not thousands of test subjects. One survived. Stalin liked the image of thousands of proletariat sacrificing themselves to create a champion, an amalgam of them all.

Except Mercury was a freaking vampire. Mercury survived his treatment by drawing on the life force of his fellow test subjects. Then the scientists. Then the guards, but he fell to his knees before Uncle Joe and swore to serve him with his dying breath.

They made him a commissar. He didn't take to the front lines often but when he did the results were devastating. He could drain the life from an entire tank crew through the armor. The Russians felt it was better to keep him behind the lines, safe and urging the troops onward. The Nazis had many monsters but what did it matter? The Reds had a worse monster to face if they retreated. They took back Stalingrad from the Nazis.

They're making more.

Commissar Mercury

The commissar is a 7 HD monster. He is AC [AAC] 6 [13] and +7 to hit. He has heightened senses and is only surprised on a 1 in 6 chance.

Explosions, fire, and chemical attacks do only half damage to Mercury. Bullets do half damage.

The creature adds +2 to its initiative rolls and is only surprised in a 1 in 10.  In combat his fists and talons do 1d6 damage and he may strike twice per turn. He absorbs half the damage he does and he may use this to heal damage his own damage on a one to one basis.

He can drain life force at a distance through nearly any material (he has de-manned tanks.) This attack has a 20' range and is a cone 15' wide. All those within this cone must make a saving throw or lose 1d3 damage.

More importantly if Commissar Mercury has access to a freshly deceased body he can imbue it with some of his life force to create a revenant. As you can imagine he has no shortage of bodies. This requires six hit points. A revenant has 6 HP, AC 7[12] and no hit bonus. They can use weapons.

Every six points of damage Mercury does raises his energy level increasing his damage rolls by 1 point to a maximum of 1d6+2. When he reaches maximum damage the next six hit points he absorbs gives him +1 initiative. Mercury can also reduce his own hit points by these amounts to get the same effects (-6, -12 and -18 hits respectively).

Monday, June 19, 2017

Dieselpunk Manifesto Part Seven: Badlands and Bad Men

Buck Rogers strip 60-69.

Well Buck is drifting along over the Rockies when he discovers he dropped a little too much ballast from those shirts he made into a sack. It happens. Using a knife he discovers he can easily cut the inertron the jumping belts are made of to save himself from flying into space. I guess the Navajo Boss let him keep a survival knife. Again the Navajo were pretty decent folks in all their appearances.

Buck lands, catches a rabbit somehow and is making dinner over a campfire when he is accosted by a cowboy with a rocket pistol! This is a pulp tradition. When things slow down have a guy with a gun errr rocket pistol step into the room.

Buck has met a new friend, Two Gun Pete. Pete susses out that Rogers is an outlaw, which is fine as Pete is also an outlaw and part of a whole outlaw org. He offers to take Buck back with him to meet the gang. Buck tries to interest Pete in one of his spare jumping belts but Pete would rather stick with his horse. Once safe (?) with the outlaws one roughneck says Buck has to be initiated, with his dukes.

The fight is a doozy with the outlaw giving as good as he gets and for once Rogers might be in over his head when his sparring partner calls a halt. A plane (one a' them durn mechanical buzzards!) is flying overhead and in some sort of difficulty. It makes a hard landing nearby. The outlaws and Rogers find the pilot dead and the plane in working order. Buck takes off in it to check it out.

Yeah, I know. Something killed that guy. It might be something to do with the plane but with a cursory once over Buck hops in. But the plane is fine and the pilot's cause of death is listed as an overdose of plot device.

Meanwhile Wilma lands at the Navajo Org and she and Nunah have some straight talk. Nunah takes no shit from Deering. Wilma soon learns Buck doesn't love Nunah, Buck doesn't know Lanlu is breathing, Buck loves Wilma, and Wilma was being a d--k.

Getting Wilma to do a reality check happens several times. She is impetuous (!) but means well. If Rogers ever learnt how to do it he kept it a secret. then again they got a lot of strips out of him following her around while she was trying to give him the brush.

Wilma is about to leave in search of Rogers when Killer Kane arrives. He again professes his love for Deering, who makes him about as welcome as a case of the clap.

At this point we get an idea just how dark a character  Kane is. He mutters to himself that if he can't have her (Wilma) no one will. Stalkers in the modern day are no laughing matter. Imagine one with a jumping belt and an airplane who designs medieval melee weapons in his spare time.

Nunah refuels Kane's plane with water while he's trying his moves on Wilma, then she tells Derring to cheeze it! Wilma takes off and Kane and his plane are left sputtering on the landing strip. Nunah apologizes for her goof further pissing off Kane.

As Buck is flying about he spots two planes making like mating butterflies. As he investigates there is a collision. One plane is fine, the other goes down. Fortunately Buck trails a line to the pilot who has a jumping belt. It's Wilma. Their joyful reunion is cut short by Kane who still has a plane thank you and an armed one at that. He begins blazing away and Rogers uses every trick he learned in the Army Air Corps finally pulling a fancy turn that Kane 'needs a sky hook' to match. You wonder just how much practice the average Org man or even an accomplished rat is great standing like Kane had with a biplane by now. Buck was a pilot in the Great War and likely saw his share of combat. He handily out flies Kane and was even in command of a squadron at one point so he must be a great pilot.

Kane begins broadcasting a message to the surrounding orgs asking for help apprehending Rogers and Deering (the big snitch!) Planes from Vancouver, Seattle, Columbus, Minneapolis and Oakland scramble. But Rogers manages to break off the engagement and land back at the outlaws. The Orgs do set up an air cordon around the area to keep his outlaw plane on the ground.

Rogers quickly introduces Wilma to Two Gun Pete and Pete brings the couple home to dinner with him and the wife, Missus Pete. Missus Pete informs Buck that women are scarce and he may have to fight for her as a peeping Tom looks on. That first fight comes in the next panel as the peeping Tom is revealed as -the Cyclone Kid, from Dead Man's Gulch. He demands Rogers fork over Wilma.

Being a decent sort Buck decides to fight the Kid. Handing Wilma over to him would just be too cruel (to the Kid that is.) Buck beats the crap out of him and teaches him to stick to murdering the English language. Feeling cocky, Buck asks "If there anyone else?" An outlaw named Lariat Luke offers to oblige Buck and snakes a rope at the man out of time!

Where to start? Buck is very inventive with his inertron, mores than the natives of the era. this may be because it is a relatively new substance. Still there should be releases to let part of your belt drift away in an emergency. Maybe it's just too complicated. Then people will want weight belts too to release in an emergency etc. They'd operate like old style airships, venting lift gas or ballast as necessary.

One also gets the impression inertron is still pretty hard to come by. You might want to conserve it. The outlaws don't seem to be familiar with it. In fact Pete would rather stick with his 'hoss.' the outlaws have all adapted old west dress. This makes sense as they are living in the south western deserts and mountains without many modern conveniences. The clothes of the Old West are very practical for living and working in such lands. Many do tote rocket pistols and they may have bits and pieces of other technologies handy, scrounged or robbed from Org men.

Kane is using an open cockpit biplane for his hijinks now. Possibly the previous plane was too slow to catch up to Wilma's plane. This plane mounts what looks like a machine gun and Kane is pretty intent on killing the lovers this time.

If the planes were built along the lines of a Jenny (JN-4) then they had a cruising speed of ~60 mph/100 kph and a top speed of 75 mph/120 kph with a minimum speed or 45 mph/72 kph. A JN-4 had an operating range of 140 miles/225 km. The planes here don't seem all that dissimilar from the planes rogers flew in the Army Air Corps so I'm going out on a limb by saying their chief improvements were in durability and range. After all, Wilma seems to fly hers direct from Pennsylvania to the Navajo Nation, a trip of ~1900 -2000 miles. Even if she refueled at Columbus (which is the only Org between the Allegheny Org and Navajo Org mentioned, she still has to make a trip of about 400 miles/650 km before fueling and 1600 miles/2600 km afterwards. My claim of durability is based on that poor deceased pilot who's plane survived a hard landing with no damage.

The planes also had some form of automatic pilot. Buck's squadron set theirs up to circle while they bailed out and jumped those Mongols. For that matter the deceased pilot's plane might have landed automatically, following instructions before the pilot died.

So we know the planes are superior in performance to the biplanes from history. They just look like antiques. It's like Mal's pistol in Firefly. The planes are also still way faster than a jumping belt. We know this because Lone Wolf can keep up with Nunah and Buck in their escape. He's apparently captain of the Navajo Org runs ing team and in terrific shape. An 'average' trained runner can make about 12 mph cross country. A jumping belt can let you do that all day.

The Org pilot who dies of no obvious causes remains a mystery. The plane as we see is an important resource for any Org at this time. You'd think they'd sent another up to look for the guy. The cause of death remains unknown and not even mentioned after that strip. To me it seems pretty creepy, like the story of the Orang Medan. I know it was made up but so was the strip.

You wonder if the poor nameless pilot ran across a Mongol death ray. We never hear of a weapon that kills and leaves a body behind. The Mongols use disintegrator beams that clean up after executions. they are masters of super science however and a death ray doesn't seem unlikely for them.

As we will see later at least one Org was wiped out by the Han and buildings were left standing and intact. You wouldn't expect that from a disintegrator. So maybe there are 'death rays', something electric that induces a seizure or stroke or arrests the heart at a distance. That could be even more unnerving than a disintegrator. Wiping out people without a trace is creepy. Leaving people dead without any visible cause is at least as creepy and lets you pick over their effects for intelligence.

The Columbus Org also seems very unconcerned with the Mongol raid on their hospital in earlier strips. I'd be. That means the Mongols have a man inside the Org (three guesses who). It also means the Han could easily send a raider or a whole squadron over to level the entire area. Even assuming the hospital is some distance from the rest of the Org structures, that hospital probably had to be abandoned and cleaned out of any sensitive information.

The Org might have just moved the hospital. It had some above ground structure. If that structure could be detached from the foundation then inertron could neutralize its weight and let it be moved elsewhere. Admittedly inertron was not exactly a household item but a little goes a long way towards replacing cranes. In fact most structures above ground might be only semi permanent and moved around to avoid Han air raids.

The outlaws seem unconcerned with Mongol raiders. They build small wooden structures above the ground. Oddly enough their neighbors, the Navajo Org, is very much on the defensive. They lose planes and people to the raiders with some regularity. The outlaws might simply be classified as not worth the trouble.

The outlaws may also have a reason for not collecting a lot of high tech gear. The Han might notice their new electronics and decide yes, they are worth a raid. The outlaws are a likeable bunch of knuckleheads with too much testosterone. Once you got initiated, that is. Like the Navajo they are a good group to have at your back in a scrape. I got to wondering just what they did to be outlawed.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Luna's Outhouse

Matter Beam of Children of a Dead Earth fame commented and questioned my last post on the R-ray. That led to this:

But wait! With the use of R-rays you could in fact set up a space transport system to boost cargo modules to orbit or other planets. In effect the R-ray is like an orbital tower or bolo system (which Dr. Robert Forward tried to talk up in many of his books (go look for Indistinguishable From Magic). An station in geosynchronous orbit operates its R-ray in reverse (then it's an A-ray). It pulls cargo modules from the ground. this added mass causes it to drop orbit a bit so it also intercepts cargos from further out in the solar system, snagging them with another A-ray. This lets it maintain its altitude. Once in geo synchronous orbit the modules can be transferred to a ship or fired via A-ray out into the Black. If everyone does their job right the station remains in geosynchronous orbit. You could also use ships optimized for rocket drives in orbit. They snag a bunch of modules, do a hard burn to get them on the right trajectory, cut their beam and then slow down for another pass. If you do the slingshot move right the modules winds up taking some of the ship's momentum, slowing it down and saving propellant (pilots always worry about their propellant.)

The End of Luna
The stern of Luna ends in a an armored ram. The press and public ignorance ran with this fact and thought the ship was designed to ram opposing ships. It is doubtful a ramming attack could be made in combats fought over hundreds or thousands of kilometers. Closing n on a ship from that distance is problematical. A disabled ship would be boarded if it was practical or destroyed by weapons from a safe distance. Ramming a ship attempting to board you would invite a weapons attack.

The ram was actually meant for refueling operations. The Luna ca easily reach the asteroids. Many of them contain ice. Ice can be broken down to oxygen and hydrogen and the hydrogen processed into metallic hydrogen fuel pellets for the reaction drive. The ram is used to break up an area rich in ice. That ice is then fed into the small airlock in the stern and from there to a hopper that crushes the ice, melts it, filters it and pumps it to fuel. processing.

The lower airlock was just too darned handy to remain a mere secondary exit for ice mining. It was excellent for ejecting trash for one thing. From this practice it got named the outhouse.Trash disposal was a chore frequently done by new recruits and blowing the rookie (wearing a spacesuit of course) out of the airlock became a coming of age prank.

The small airlock does hold a single crewman and is very handy to use on airless worlds as cycling it wastes less air than the bug locks. It's also easily reached from the ground without a lift belt. In some missions to insert commandos on a habitable world both lock doors are left open and the men merely run through them quickly to exit.

The Luna doesn't have secondary craft. The airlocks along with lift belts and various insertion and extraction gear are an important part of covert missions. The outhouse gives the ship some flexibility since it's quicker to cycle and seal than the big locks and is an additional way to move people off the ship quickly.

After the first refueling operations were performed using the ice breaker move concerns rose about the hull being holed by rocks or debris. Engineers added foamed armor pallets to beef up protection to the hull and around the stern hatch.

One of the more unusual features of the Luna is that its 'ram' is also a landing light. Like the outer hull the ram is made of metasite. In this case the ram's metasite is transparent and a powerful light can be shined through it. Cameras can also give a view of the landing area, aimed through the ram.

The ram was eventually further strengthened by placing a dimple in the bottom. It's still not recommended to use the stern to ram another ship. But some personnel are curious.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Luna's Engines

After some discussion with my learned colleagues (At the Chung, Campbell, McVay and Black Design Group) I worked out the following factoids about the Luna's engines.

The R-ray is the primary propulsion. The Luna's ring generates a protational field. It is similar to gravity but it can attract or repel matter. Even though people call it a ray you can't see it anymore than a magnetic or gravity field. In fact if the R-ray does become visible as the saying goes, "Try to keep up with me."

R-rays are built using the Cepheus Engine table for jump drives. Instead of the rating giving you the maximum distance you jump in parsecs you get the R-ray's range. The range is the distance from the Sun that you can focus a beam accurately and efficiently enough to generate thrust. Read it as follows:

1           Operates as far as Earth's orbit
2           Operates as far as the Asteroid Belt
3           Operates as far as Jupiter
4           Operates as far as Saturn
5           Operates as far as Uranus
6           Operates as far as Neptune/Pluto

Within its range the R-ray provides .1 gee of acceleration. An R-ray can operate up to 1 range further but at .01 gee. Getting to the outer worlds can take a while.

Closer to a world the R-ray is used to lift the ship by setting up a field between the ship and the ground. This is extremely safe. Once you have energized the field and raised the ship to a certain altitude you only need to put a little power into it to offset losses to mechanical inefficiencies and other field effects. A ship that loses power will drift downward very slowly, a few meters a second. The same happens with lift belts. In effect the R-ray has a built in parachute.

Some unscrupulous types with access to advanced technology can also shut down an R-ray from a distance or cause it to lose field strength fast, thus allowing boarding actions or bringing down your space support ships. But ships have reaction drives too allowing them to offset these shenanigans.

The Luna by the way has a drive rating of 3 and can easily make it to Jupiter and in a pinch Saturn.

When a ship is taking off or killing its field to drop quickly the R-ray is drawing back energy out of the field. This has such effects as heat, electrical discharge and looks a lot like a conventional chemical rocket in an atmosphere if a ship is really moving. Generally a lift off of a few meters can be done safely (still not a good idea to be in rifle range of the ship. Your phone and wirstwatch might be messed up. Lifting up to a gee creates heat, a lot of it and a boom like a rocket blasting off. On an airless world the ground under the ship bears the brunt of this with no atmosphere and you may leave a glassy crater behind.

How powerful is the drive? The Luna is 400 dTons. That's 5400 cubic meters. I go with .25 tons per cubic meter for my ship's rough density. That gives us 1350 tons of mass (we're going to leave the tonnage as volume alone from here out.)

The energy to raise the Luna ten meters is given by:

m is Luna's mass 1,350,000 kg
d= 10 meters (what we decided for the test flight)
g= 10 meters/s/s

=1,350,000 kg*10m*10 meters/s/s
=135,000,000 kg/m/s/s
=135 megajoules or MW

That's just for ten meters. To get out to say 1000 kilometers we need to use the gravitic constant and the Earth's mass and radius and orbit and such and the answer is in terawatts (trust me I'm saving you a lot of wear and tear on your disbelief's suspension by not getting into actual numbers here.) So if we want to get to orbit in any sort of reasonable time (like a few hours) we need a generator providing gigawatts at least. So yeah if you have as little as a few percent of that being released as static or heat you could kill a lot of people around you. Go look it up on the Boom Table at Atomic Rockets. A discharge of  100Kj is the equivalent of a stick of dynamite. Per second. Gentle lifts are called for in most situations.

Lifting the ship to 1000 km requires 11 terajoules. Assuming the beam emits 1 GW/s it will take Luna 3 hours to reach this altitude. She's still not orbiting. Personnel operating n the hull must remember that. Accelerating to 7000 meters per second (our arbitrary orbital speed chosen) will require 33 TJ and takes 9.1 hours. Acceleration is roughly .12 meters per second.

One more thing the R-ray sucks for lateral movement. While it could pull its rating in gees towards or away from a planet, lateral movement is typically a tenth that so for Luna with her three rating we're talking 3m/s. Not much.

The huge ring I added to the Luna design was originally a stabilizer to make landings safer. The ring now serves another function. Superconductor is looped around the ring. This immense battery holds power, a lot. Just in case the generators fail, the battery can hold enough to get the Luna a thousand miles up or let it hover for a couple of days. It also absorbs some of the power returned to the ship from using the field it established to descend or brake. So we're talking several terajoules at least. Oe TJ has the explosive force of 860 tons of dynamite. If anything seriously wrong occurs that superconductor becomes a not so super conductor and the energy is turned back into heat. In such an emergency the ring can be detached. It messes the ship up a lot less than the ring could if it was attached when it explodes. The ring has multiply redundant systems and is a heavily armored section.

Reaction Drive
Luna's secondary propulsion is a reaction drive, fueled with metallic hydrogen. The reaction is hot as f--- and kept away from material components of the ship with R-fields. This lets us use the nifty tractor rocket design and keeps our engines from going all glow-y and mushy. The repellor effect also supercharges the exhaust allowing very high specific impulse. The engines could lift the ship and let her hover though it will run out of propellant eventually. Luna has enough propellant for a round trip to Mars or Venus though it would take a few weeks.

The reaction drive can lift the ship far quicker than the R-ray. The 3 gee rating is for sustained burns. It could move (briefly) fast enough to break your neck. During evasive maneuvers people are strapped in.

Yes the repellor effect is used for a lot of different purposes. It is very useful. think of all the applications a laser now has. Lasers started out as death rays in common understanding. Now we use them for all manner of IT and sensory purposes. Just don't look into them.

The reaction drive is far less damaging than a nuclear drive and harmless beyond a few kilometers. It's also necessary to get Luna up to orbital speeds once you get to orbital heights. Luna could hover at say 1000 kilometers with the R-ray idling. You wouldn't be in free fall and if you stepped out a lock you'd learn that quickly as you fell to your death. The reaction drive is used to correct that when she arrives in orbit at her destination.

Fuel is metallic hydrogen in pellet form. It's way denser than liquid hydrogen, It also can be dumped easily in a fire or other emergency. You might even be able to use the R-ray drive to head back and retrieve some.

Total number of burns is given by the percentage of ship devoted to fuel propellant.

Ship %                          Gee Burns
of fuel propellant
10                                  4
20                                  10
30                                  15
40                                  20
50                                  25
60                                  35
70                                  50
80                                  60

A gee burn is one turn at one gee, three gee burns could be one turn at 3 gees, or three turns at one gee or any other combination.

All of this technology has ripple effects in the rest of the setting. The superconductor technology does require strong magnetic fields, strong materials to contain those fields and doesn't scale down nearly as well as people who favor laser pistols would wish. If a cubic meter of superconductor holds a terajoule, it doesn't mean a liter holds a gigajoule.

The metallic hydrogen also requires storage facilities that don't scale down to the size of rocket pistol rounds (though it works fine for their explosive shells).

Personal weapons would be very nasty though not up to say Star Trek (zap! You're gone!) standards.

Repellors do scale down pretty easily. They can make elevators high speed and ultra safe. Ditto for trains (though I'd keep a fee pneumatic trains for sentimental reasons.) The most notable use is the Lift belt. Lift belts delay falling or allow very high hops but as I said repellors don't do lateral movement well. Lift belts will have a variety of add ons if people really want to move.

As for flying cars ... no. Not really. A dieselpunk setting has electronics out of Mayberry N.C. There are no computerized auto-evasion or traffic control remotes. Pedestrians can definitely use lift belts. In fact they let you cross a street anywhere, anytime (they'll sell out in New York City, trust me.) But flying cars or similar vehicles will remain for emergency service or defense purposes.

Flying fire trucks would be awesome, except they have to carry their own water tankage.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Dieselpunk Manifesto Part Six: Han Entanglements and a Woman Refusing to be Rescued

This review is of Buck Rogers strips 50-59.

Buck charges back into the steam tunnels under Los Angeles with the lovely Lanlu to guide him on his search for Wilma. Lanlu has her own idea whatguidance she should give. Buck will have none of this. Meanwhile Wilma is making her way through the tunnels as well, deftly avoiding a monitor screen. The monitor screen actually looks more like a communications device for workers than a security device, but nonetheless she makes like Catherine Zeta Jones in Entrapment and shinnies under it and comes upon Buck and Lanlu!

Maybe Lanlu gave Wilma some directions to escape to cut down on the competition otherwise it's more evidence of how lousy Roger's karma is. Wilma leaps to conclusions and vents her spleen, gives Lanlu a knuckle sandwich and departs. Buck tells Lanlu to fuck off and she seems to have had enough of the crazy white folks and she departs. Buck runs to the exit and reaches freedom in time to see Wilma flying off with Killer Kane in the rat's plane!

It seems Kane had heard trailed Buck to the Navaho Org. When Nunah had radioed that Wilma was found he dropped in t offer her a ride.Buck and his friends return to the Org where the Boss holds a trial at the insistence of Boss MacGee. The Navaho boss is sympathetic but feels he can't refuse the request of his fellow boss.. The Boss charges him with desertion and spying. Buck is tried and branded an outlaw who may be legally shot on sight. he does let him keep his jumping belt.

Buck heads off into some badlands where two more tramps decide to roll him for his boots and inertron while he's sleeping. Buck has had enough of this treatment by now. He shows off his brawling skills and drops both. Then he takes their jumping belts and shirts. Buck uses the belts for lift and fills their shirts with sand to act as ballast. He's off to ride the winds, westward to the Rockies.

Meanwhile Wilma is taken back to Pennsylvania by Kane. Once there she learns that Kane had Buck branded an outlaw. Having warm feelings for Buck, not to mention gratitude for the sacrifices she made she declares herself a fool, realizes Kane made the king of all dick moves, and sets out to steal a plane to go get Buck. This ... wait for it, will brand her an outlaw!

Meanwhile Buck drops too much sand ballast to get over the Rockies and is on the verge of flying off into space!

The planes are beginning a metamorphosis into rocket ships. Kane's airplane is enclosed and looks comfy compared to the kites Buck and Wilma fly. Kane must be a high ranking Org officer to rate it and the leeway to fly off to chase Wilma and Buck. Several times planes seem to be scarce and valued commodities and not private property.

Kane is an intriguing figure wearing a uniform that has metal shoulder guards, a visored helmet and chainmail sleeves. No one else does. He also has a flair for inventing melee weapons (his creation looks like a lirpa exposed to atomic waste and steroids). This could be a call out to Armageddon: 2419. The Americans and Han both engage in hand to hand fighting in the later stages of the war.

He did earn the name 'Killer'. Was he stalking Han in the forests to kill in hand to hand? Possibly, even though he got his ass handed to him by Rogers in their duel, in later strips he proves to be a decent close in fighter.

But he's wearing that silly rig on guard duty. It must be hot and heavy. But hey, they have inertron! Mixing in inertron will lighten the load and provide some insulation from the sun. It will also give him some protection from Han disintegrator beams. It also points to him having a great deal of authority and respect. A mere grunt couldn't afford a custom armor suit or likely be allowed to wear it. I'm only wondering what his credits were before Buck woke up and swept Wilma off her feet.

Org military training seems pretty thorough on equipment at least. Wilma can't make a fire from scratch, and doesn't know what a bow and arrow are she can fly a plane and repair electronics. I also wonder how necessary a fire would be, if you have a uniform insulated with inertron. In Armageddon: 2419 we learn Wilma has other duties in the Org and goes on patrol on a rotating basis so woodcraft and patrolling may not be her specialty. She's basically an 'electronist' in the reserves when she finds Buck. The Org certainly had full time military types, Rogers for one. You never see him pushing a broom or washing a vehicle.

Wilma for her part is thinking straight. Her guy risked everything for her and now that she knows the score she's going to find him. She'll even throw her career away and rescue him solo! While Wilma is often ditsy (a sign of the times), and suffers in comparison to Buck (as she must, they didn't name the strip Wilma Deering in the 25th Century, she is far from a damsel in distress. She did get out of the Emperor's digs by herself. She might even be the first self rescuing Princess in the Pulp Era!

I will note that in many strips she not only doesn't NEED rescuing but she descends on the bad guys like the wrath of GHU. But that's a bit down the road.

Always Consider the Gravity of your Situation

(Note: this story is the result of a highly entertaining rant by John Reiher on just how silly antigravity is. thank you John and all the great commenters!)

Professor Ormsby had taken me in so I owed him. Most of the people of the 26th century would have stuck me in a zoo or a jar. The Prof stepped up and helped smooth things over after my 500 year old viruses caused a small epidemic. He would make medical observations of me undergoing various experiences and compare them to the readings for modern men.

Thus our little jaunt around the Moon. The Lunar Excursion Tours Ship looked ridiculously small compared to the rockets of my youth. I said as much.

"You obviously know nothing of anti-gravity," the Prof said with a shrug.

There was a brief medical check up. The doctor boggled at my height and then a couple of the readings from a big metal cap he made me wear. The Prof argued with him for a while and then showed him some paperwork. Probably my license. Stupid little bitty future folks. I was a little under average height back when. Now I was a t-rex.

Before we boarded we were issued clothing,  something like the gee suits fighter pilots used to wear. Mine was Amber and the Prof's green. We changed and boarded. A steward showed us to our small compartment and that was it. We grabbed seats and the Prof started reading a book. I had a couple magazines that I still didn't understand much of.

After a while I looked up and asked, "When do we blast off?"

The Prof set his book down and looked at his wristwatch and made a small sucking sound. "We lifted off about five minutes ago. Once we get above the atmosphere we'll really accelerate," he explained. then he checked my pupils for dilation and my pulse. It was a little fast.

Then I began seeing spots in front of my eyes as my weight seemed to increase. The Professor remained standing to further poke and prod me. I was glad of it when I began seeing flecks of light and dark spots.

"Professor ... I don't think I'm reacting very well with this antigravity. I'm seeing things ..." Professor Ormsby got very excited until he heard exactly what I was seeing. maybe he was expecting me to start spouting on about vision and such.

"That is the gravity simulation warming up. Stand up a minute, Ty," he said. My weight seemed to be sort of normal. I was finding it hard to figure out exactly what was happening. It was close to normal gravity, I guessed. I took a few experimental hops and still couldn't figure out what was off.

The Professor watched me intently and chuckled once or twice. "Tell me what is going through your mind."

"I feel kind of like ... gravity stops at my skin?"

"Exactly! The spots and flashes you viewed were caused by a cloud of microbots. In form they are like those ... drones you told me about. A central body with four rotors. They are a fraction of a millimeter. These suits are studded with micro hooks that provide power and guidance to them. The microbots thrust downward and voila! simulated gravity!"

"All that ... and you guys still don't have microwave ovens for the home ..." I muttered walking around. I picked up a magazine and let go. It hung there in the air. I did that with a few more magazines. No microbots to waste I suppose.

"That's right! You can't drop anything! But wait there's more!"

I had a stupid grin on my face as the Professor threw himself at the floor. He missed, slowing, stopping and then bobbing back up around waist level. "The suits have accelerometers. They shut down the microbots whenever they detect a sudden motion like falling. Jumping is okay as you saw. It kicks in if you are dropping and no longer vertical. All the health benefits of gravity with none of the drawbacks!"

"That is pretty neat," I said.

"Better than your selfish phones!?" he asked. I was about to correct him then stopped.

The Professor walked over to a wall and carefully began walking ... up the wall. The act wowed me. When Professor Ormsby turned to smile at me I decided to go him one better and took a short run at the wall and a skip onto it.

I fell.

I hit the deck with a thud, not hard enough to really hurt more than my pride. The Professor stepped off the wall and helped me to my feet shaking his head. I assured him I was fine.

"I am sorry, Ty," the great man offered me a rare apology. "I thought you knew. I sprang for first class for myself but ... you are traveling coach."