Better Living in the Desert… and How Nobles Are Made

Parisian architecture firm OXO Architectes, in association with Nicolas Laisne Associés, r...

The Empty Quarter has always been modeled after a ‘realistic’ view of the economy – that is most people are at the bottom, and few at the top, regardless of ideology (see: Pareto Principle). Certainly, the very existence of the Imperial Aristocracy assumes this.

(But note the scare quotes around ‘realistic': a true post-scarcity economy will still have people at the top and people at the bottom, but they will not be divided by their material wealth. This is looking to be more in line in reality, where impoverished peasants will eventually have 2 TB smartphones hooked into the cloud, before the smartphones get smarter than he is…)

Anyways, getting back to the ‘realistic’ economy.

While the desert environment is as poor and as barren as possible, there will be those cultures who either bring in a lot of money, or find a way to get riches from the sands. These high-tech, wealthy folk will need suitable accomdations, which is where the “Sustainable “vertical city” envisioned for the Sahara” near-arcology comes in.

The conceptual project calls for a massive community of housing, offices, hotels, and a mu...

How sci-fi is that?

This is how I view the high-tech immigrants of Gobi system live, who love the wildness and the fierce environments of the sector… but prefer to keep their distance from the actual residence. “A ten light-year buffer zone should be good enough…”

The sustainable technology slated for the build is extensive, and rather ambitious (Image:...

The rich do want to enjoy their riches, and live ‘in the style they have grown accustomed to’, but certain kinds of rich people prefer to greatly separate themselves from the poor.

But there are those wealthy men who don’t mind plunking their estates right in the middle of the ghetto or the favela. But even these tycoons have walls and guards – “All gardens must have walls, and all walls must have armed men” – and few are so connected to the surrounding community that they can just go out on a stroll, dripping with wealth, without a bodyguard or three.

Traveller sociology: I suggest that those elites who can do this are generally Vilani, who are recognized and legitimate feudal-technocratic-corporate leaders of their communities. They pay the local Vilani as employees, and the local Vilani protect their meal ticket… the leadership arrange for security for their estate, but are willing to set aside 20% of their armed assets to provide law & order for their neighbours Beyond the Wall. The corporate masters take responsibility for their surroundings – and by taking responsibility, they gain legitimate authority.

“This is how Ruling Houses are made.”

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Enhance Your Eye

From Gizmag:

Imagine being able to see in black and white or with an Instagram-like filter, or to have what you see through your eyes transmitted wirelessly, simply by swallowing a pill. Or imagine having vision so sharp and accurate that your visual acuity is on par with the most sight-adept people in the world. Italian research studio Mhox hopes to one day make this a reality with its EYE concept, which would offer 3D bioprinted eyes that replace your existing eyeballs.

It sounds like science fiction, and in many ways it is, with a projected availability of around January 2027….

EYE (short for Enhance Your Eye) will come in three models: EYE Heal, EYE Enhance, and EYE Advance. The former would simply replace the defective eyes of the blind and visually impaired ,while the latter two would offer enhancements such as filters, wireless communication, and high-acuity (“up to 15/10″) vision. All three versions will be customizable in size, shape, and structural characteristics according to the needs and preferences of the individual.

These are bioelectronic models: as I would rather not have the NSA tap into whatever I am looking at, I’ll have to wait for the pure biological types.

Always waiting… *sigh*

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Bespoke Security

For tycoons and noble types

Managing the life of Sergey Brin is big business.

Through Bayshore Global Management, the Google Inc. co-founder has hired former bankers and philanthropy experts to help manage his $30.1 billion fortune. He’s employed a former Navy SEAL and SWAT team veteran for security, and a yacht captain to handle his aquatic endeavors. A fitness coordinator, a photographer and archivist help run his life.

[…]

“Family offices are expanding and people are setting new ones up,” said Natasha Pearl, chief executive officer of Aston Pearl, which serves single-family offices that have at least $400 million. “It’s increasing demand for employees who can be trusted to keep the families’ private lives confidential.”

[…]

Brin is the 21st richest person in the world, according to the Bloomberg ranking. Controlling a fortune of that size requires professional security. Bayshore’s brought in the former Navy SEAL to provide protection, according to a LinkedIn profile. A former U.S. Secret Service agent directed security programs, and a former SWAT team operator oversees the family’s properties and emergency procedures.

A family office of about 50-500 people, for billionaires and those reaching for that mark. And the number one demand is discretion.

That’s actually doable for corporate elites… but Nobles have to stay in the public eye, press the flesh, attend public functions, and get involved in controversies. The very nature of the job means that powerful enemies are simply part of the package.

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Engine Cost Savings…

The United Launch Alliance (ULA) has entered the reusable launcher race with its Next Generation Launch System (NGLS), also known as the Vulcan rocket. This replacement for the current generation of launch systems will incorporate a rocket engine assembly that jettisons from the first stage and is snared in mid-air by a helicopter after reentering the Earth’s atmosphere.

[…]

In flight, the Vulcan lifts off like a conventional system, but after releasing its payload, the first-stage booster engine assembly detaches and re-enters atmosphere using an inflatable heat shield. After parachute deployment, the booster engine assembly is hooked and captured by a Chinook helicopter. The assembly is then recertified and reattached to a new Vulcan first stage. ULA says that this results in a 90 percent savings in propulsion costs because the engine assembly makes up 25 percent of the booster weight and 65 percent of the booster cost.

In the Six Subsectors – where everything is on a budget, and expensive, out-of-area technology tends to get abandoned – I can definitely see a place for this. And another job for the many busted starships out there with ruined jump drives – but whose maneouver drives can still kick in reliably.

(The same renewed for the various aging fleets of dodgy grav vehicles – and pilots who had the back of their chairs cut out, to make room for the parachute when the antigrav finally gives up the ghost.)

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Catching Bad Guys

I am impressed with the Joker’s level of intelligence and situational awareness here. And yes, call me wimpy, but I still feel it’s psychotic enough to not actually show the video here.

Fortunately, the vast majority of criminals in the Empty Quarter aren’t up to his caliber. Unfortunately, a very small number actually do reach that mark: and guess which group of Imperial Ministry of Justice agents are going to be sent to take him down?

(Waves to the PCs.)

(Referees: Can you imagine the Joker with psionic skills?)

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Real-life Vehicle Design

I will never design anything but imaginary vehicles for the Far Future, so I greatly admire real vehicle designers, with that combination of brains and guts that’s so difficult to find nowadays…

An interesting article on Sea-doo Sparks an be found here: but what especially interests me was the bit on the development of the jet-ski… then the overdevelpment… then the return to the roots.

In the mid-1990s, US Personal Watercraft (PWC) sales sat around 200,000 per year. These days, you’re looking at less than 50,000, according to BoatingIndustry.com. Even before the 2008 global financial crisis, they were in the 80,000 a year range. The simple fact is, they’re nowhere near as popular as they used to be.

Part of that could come down to social factors. Irresponsible jet ski riders gave the devices a bad rap in the late 90s and 2000s, and many areas enacted new laws restricting where and how they could be used. But another part of the story has to be the direction of their development – bigger, faster, heavier, more horsepower, more expensive.

For a device that’s essentially a toy, and serves very little practical purpose unless you happen to conveniently live across a lake from your local milk bar, the cost is hard to justify. A powerful jet ski with a trailer can easily set you back upwards of US$20,000 – and with well over 200 horsepower on tap from gigantic engines that tend to run flat-out most of the time, they guzzle petrol at a truly frightening rate as well. Not to mention the sheer size of the things – you’re giving up a whole large car spot in your garage to store one.

Which leads us to why Gizmag’s spindly editor Noel and I, two motorcyclists, are out here testing a jet ski. Because Sea-Doo has developed a new PWC that sells for around half the price of a regular jet ski. One that looks like it might turn the whole industry’s fortunes around, and one that’s targeted at people who would never have thought of getting into the market before – and that, right there, is us.

An interesting tale. A absolutely hard-core Traveller fan could gather a good set of these hidden development tales, then rewrite them to fit the Traveller setting. Better yet: get the more techie PCs involved in the design of equipment (complete with competitors, theft, beating deadlines, raising money), and then testing it in the field…

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1) The Blessings of Destruction 2) Dying on Swords

A family that lived in a rural area in Germany during World War II may not have suffered greatly. No bombs fell on it. No troops invaded. The family may have had a small farm, and therefore had access to meat, butter, and other consumer goods that were regarded as delicacies by the end of the war. But if that family lost a husband or a son during the war, as a result of conscription, the widows did not regard themselves as better off because of a higher ratio of per capita investment.

– Gary North, “The Blessings of Destruction”

Reading this, what jumps into my mind’s eye is some corporate-trained Vilani drone from a wealthy Imperial Core world, explaining to an increasingly hostile group of Solomani widows in the Quarter why the deaths of their husbands and sons is good for the interstellar economy.

If I was a betting man, I’d put money on the likelihood of that outsider PR flack still being alive, oh, 10 minutes from now…


“It needs but one foe to breed a war, not two, Master Warden, and those who have not swords can still die upon them.” – Eowyn, from The Return of the King

The Arabs, East Indians, and the Bwap are all patriarchal cultures, and will not arm their women (Bwap: females) during wartime. Violence is solely a male endeavor for these local cultures.

Now, there are real benefits to such policies, as it tends to put women off-limits during the run-of-the-mill testosterone-driven conflicts within a society. Even assuming invasion and conquest, the women become war prizes, instead of simply being dead like their menfolk. Wartime rape remains as likely as you expect: such is the tradeoff for being able to live, and so care for your surviving children.

Life is ugly in wartime, especially for the losing side. And warzones tend to be areas where choices between highly unpleasant alternatives can be found in abundance.


The Vilani (and Vilani-style cultures) don’t fight the way the Solomani fight.

Due to the early introduction of electricity, mechanized war, and computer-assisted warfare – millennia before the Solomani entered the Industrial Revolution –  Vilani women have long been welcomed into the various Vilani military forces.

(Sometimes after bearing their required four children: sometimes before. It depends on what the Tradition mandates, in a given circumstance. And no, Vilani gender roles has nothing to do with revolutionary mores (which they greatly despise), and everything to do with practical, pragmatic realities.)

As is well-known, the Vilani solidly affirm genocide as a weapon of war (the very notion of ‘rules of war’ is patently ridiculous in their pragmatic eyes): but even they don’t like to waste useful labour, if they don’t have to. Still, a subjugated people should be wary about making the Vilani occupation too expensive: these conquerors are much more likely to glass a world, then give up their demands for comprehensive, exceptionless obedience and utter cultural domination.

“But if the Vilani were so hard-core, how on earth did Earth survive the more dangerous early Interstellar Wars?”

“Does the phrase ‘a thousand years of decadence’ mean anything to you? Frankly, I’m very impressed that they were able to put up a substantial fight for 200 years!” (AD 2110-2299, by the way)


Like their ancestral wolves, all Vargr hunt, war, and kill, male and female alike. They are somewhat different in style, though: males tend to go for flashy, charismatic kills, while females are more businesslike and efficient. As both sexes are quite comfortable with violence, and are armed with teeth and claws, rape isn’t part of the equation: for Vargr, aggression isn’t keyed to sexuality as it is for men, but simply to the kill and to the feast (and the in-pack status contests).

Such hard restrictions between violence and pleasure is absolutely essential for a carnivorous species: a pack that violate such mores will become a very extinct pack, very quickly. Even the hyper-violent Blood Vargr look out for their packmates like nobody’s business, and are very gentle with their pups… all things considered.

Of course, pregnant female Vargr are not seen on the battlefront (excluding invasions into their territory), and cubs are not to be found except for pacified areas, where the older ones can practice their hunting and killing techniques on weakened or wounded prey.

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45 Years…

45 years after Apollo 13: Ars looks at what went wrong and why

You’ve probably seen the film—but the reality is a lot more complicated.

A useful article, for the detail-oriented Traveller referee.

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1) Buying a Watch, Imperial Noble Style 2) Profitable Blood-ties

Buying a $349 Apple Watch is not the same as buying the $10,000 version.

“Hold on: exactly why are you spending $10,000 on a glorified iPod with iPhone connectivity?”
“It’s not the object, my dear boy, it’s the statement.”

Right up front, it’s clear that Edition appointments are different from regular appointments. There are far fewer available slots, and the appointments last for a luxurious half an hour instead of 15 minutes.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I walked in—I spent some of the time in between appointments watching that scene from Pretty Woman so I would know how to handle it if the employees took a look at my sensible sneakers, untucked shirt, and falling-apart laptop bag and determined that I couldn’t possibly have the means to afford a five-figure watch.

Luckily that didn’t happen, and I was quickly whisked off of the packed show floor and into a small private room by an almost ridiculously helpful, pleasant Apple Store employee. I was offered a bottle of water. I declined, but it’s a nice touch. The employee and I sat across a small table from one another and we chatted, and I asked questions while we waited for the Editions to be brought into the room.

FYI: Imperial Nobles expect a decent glass of chilled wine, minimum.

Whether because of coincidence or extra training, though, the employee in the Edition room really knew her stuff, and she ably answered all the questions about functionality and bands that I asked. The only questions she couldn’t answer were the ones that Apple itself isn’t providing answers to—most importantly, how long can one expect one of these $10,000-and-up watches to be supported.

Now, this is an interesting cash flow opportunity.

After all, there is a regular stream of fairly wealthy visitors from the Imperial Core into the benighted Six Subsectors: as administrators, as aides, as business managers. They all have their TL 14 toys and gadgets, which needs servicing in a region that – with the exception of two systems – lack the ability to maintain them properly.

(The Imperial mainstream is TL 12: of the 134 Imperial systems in the sector, there are thirteen systems that can handle this level of technological sophistication.)

This is where the Iper’mar – a local group of high-tech interstellar nomads – excel, and they (like the rest of the locals) don’t like outsiders horning into their business turf. But they are first and foremost businessmen – not religious warriors, mystical philosophers, change-hating traditionalists, nit-picking bureaucrats, pack-oriented hunter-killers, or racial supremacists – so a stable “mutually beneficial agreement” is actually possible in this case…

…but don’t let their pragmatism lull you into complacency. They are ‘good with robots, not rifles’ but they wouldn’t have survived long in the Empty Quarter without a certain amount of (indirect, implicit, ‘built into the system’) aggression and hostility to outsiders. ‘Marrying in’ is the best way to really get into the inner circles of trust and tribe, but that carries it’s own price tag.

(Yes, a hefty dowry is expected – but the credit cost is just the visible tip of the iceberg…)

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Heaven, Hell, and Discoveries

The Bolivian salt flats would make a good fit for the Six Subsectors: a beautiful region, where the earth mirrors the sky, with hidden mineral wealth waiting to be exploited – and fought over.

Visually, it’s a heavenly landscape in many respects: but with the hot desert land covered with salt (when not covered with a salty brine), it meets an amphibian Bwaps’ definition of hell to a high degree of precision.

“It’s easy to spot the Bwaps – just look for the little guys wearing moonsuits.”

For just $15 a day, tourists can lodge with peasant families in homes without running water or electricity – and outhouses used as bathrooms.

But despite the loss of home comforts, they can join in with local activities – such as the annual llama-shearing season in August, or joining llama caravans that deliver salt blocks to remote villages in exchange for food and other goods.

Make that 15 Imperial Credits a day, and that can be a LOT of money for a low-tech desert shepherd with a few extra rooms in his humble home.


 

Just a couple of interesting settings for a (low-tech) adventure.

I most like Positano, Italy.

For years, it was just a poor fishing village on the Italian coast. But then in 1953 John Steinbeck wrote these words about the region: “Positano bites deep. It’s a dream place that isn’t quite real when you’re there, and becomes beckoning real after you’ve gone.”

Since then, tourism has exploded.

This could well be a spot in any backwater sector, after a famous Imperial Core writer came for a visit, liked what he saw, and proclaimed his discovery in the Right Circles.

Who knows: perhaps a canny Traveller introduced the place to the honoured guest, and was able to get to the head of the line when the monied visitors started to flood in…

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