Scoopable Asteroids and Thousand-Year Lifespans

Both interesting articles are from the Creation-Evolution Headlines site.

Fluffballs in Space

A near-earth asteroid named 1950 DA is barely holding itself together, astronomers have found.  In Science Magazine, Eric Hand asks “Why hasn’t this asteroid disintegrated?”

Planetary scientists have found an asteroid spinning too fast for its own good. The object, known as 1950 DA, whips around every 2.1 hours, which means that rocks on its surface should fly off into space. So apart from gravity, some other sticky force—identified in a new study—must help to hold the asteroid together.

Nature gives an even more graphic description:

Our logical concepts for how asteroids should behave have taken another knock, as evidenced in a paper by Rozitis et al. on page 174 of this issue. The researchers establish that a kilometre-sized, near-Earth asteroid known as (29075) 1950 DA is covered with sandy regolith (the surface covering of an asteroid) and spins so fast — one revolution every 2.12 hours — that gravity alone cannot hold this material to its surface. This places the asteroid in a surreal state in which an astronaut could easily scoop up a sample from its surface, yet would have to hold on to the asteroid to avoid being flung off.

Scientists’ best explanation is that atomic forces called van der Waal’s forces are providing the edge over gravity alone, otherwise this body should be too flimsy to exist.  These are the same atomic forces thought to allow geckos to stick to walls and ceilings.

I am unsure how this could be worked into a Traveller adventure, besides that of a scientific curiosity.

(Thinks like a Vargr space pirate…)

This would be a great way to hide a starship, or – with careful planning – a boarding party. Or a resupply base, or a supply stash.  (Or Long-Lost Pirate Treasure…)

These fluffballs are a lot closer than the Oort Cloud, and it’s ‘just another pile of rocks’ to the sensors of most Imperial Navy patrol ship. Densitometers could do a better job of sniffing out something odd, but you have to go relatively close to set the alarms off.

For system defense, you could also stick in a small missile launch pad, with the missiles built to handle a slow launch from the dust ball, to rapidly accelerate after getting free of the rocks.

Or for Deep Time Travellers (aka Long-term Low Berth sleepers), it could be a nice, cosy place to spend the next thousand years, outlasting the UnTraditional Terran Ramshackle Rule of Man to end, so the 5,000 die-hard Vilani colonists can again awake to rebuild the Vilani Empire of the Stars…

(Or be picked up by Vargr pirates, eaten enslaved, and sold as high-value living curios, as the case may be…)


And, speaking of Deep Time Travellers…

Entrepreneurs Seek to Cure Aging

One year after Google created a company named Calico with the goal of extending human life, Menlo Park investor and Stanford-trained radiologist Joon Yun has launched a $1 million science competition with the lofty aim of “curing” the disease more commonly known as aging [sic].

While Calico’s plan remains largely opaque, Yun has laid out specific criteria for the 11 teams that have already signed up to compete for the Palo Alto Longevity Prize, which focuses on improving “homeostatic capacity,” or the ability of an organism to bounce back to normal in the face of stress.

And what is ageing?  It’s a treatable condition caused by “Inflammation, stress (and) chronic disease,” according to one stem cell specialist.  Yun is urgent about this contest, saying that “every day 100,000 people die unnecessarily of age-related illness.”  The contest will start with test mammals and eventually move on to human trials.

Won’t longer life spans hurt the economy?  What about overpopulation, and drains on the earth’s resources?  Those concerns are addressed and dismissed by advocates, who believe innovation can solve them.  Sonia Arrison says,

Arrison, a Palo Alto-based author and teacher, claims that increasing the healthy life span, by extending the sweet spot of adulthood that combines vigor with the wisdom of experience, will give the world’s best minds more time to innovate solutions to humanity’s problems.

How could life extension be achieved?  Two methods are mentioned: stem cells and genetic engineering.  Doris Taylor thinks the trio of inflammation, stress and chronic disease can be addressed with stem cells.  Yun thinks hacking the “source code” (the human genome) is another approach.

Ultimately, I think we’ll crack the age code and we’ll hack aging [sic],” Yun announced. “And if we do, not only will health care be transformed, but humanity.  At that point we’ll have unlocked human capacity.

Scientists know that telomeres—the end caps on chromosomes—shrink each time a cell divides.  When gone, the cell dies.  Some cells use the telomerase enzyme to replace lost segments of telomeres.  Learning to control that process might allow cells to reproduce an unlimited number of times.  That’s one reason cancer cells are able to proliferate and keep on going.

I’m already looking forward to those Old Testament lifespans!

Eric Weinstein, managing director of Thiel Capital, one of the tycoon’s investment funds, spoke at the launch. People are squeamish about major advances in biomedicine, he said, fearful of disrupting the natural order. But innovations that begin in controversy, such as in vitro fertilization, are accepted by succeeding generations.

We find ourselves sitting on top of our own source code,” said Weinstein, referring to DNA. “We are being invited, either by a deity or by selection, to hack, to create, to collaborate, to join.

“Natural Selection”, of course, is mere random chance, and can’t invite anyone to do anything (or, for that matter, state that “A” is righteous and “B” is evil.) God, on the other, can invite us to get to work… and I believe that He does.

After all, it is He – and not random, meaningless noise – who tells us that Life (and knowledge, and wisdom) is desirable, and Death (and ignorance, and foolishness) is to be avoided.

But I wonder how the long-lived Vilani would handle it? Especially if that traditionalistic, pragmatic, collectivistic people find the innovative, idealistic, individualistic Solomani outliving them…

(See: “Solomani Rim War, Version 2.0″)

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Moby Dick

A lengthy quote, from the first chapter, Loomings:

Call me Ishmael. Some years ago—never mind how long precisely—having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me.

[...]

Now, when I say that I am in the habit of going to sea whenever I begin to grow hazy about the eyes, and begin to be over conscious of my lungs, I do not mean to have it inferred that I ever go to sea as a passenger. For to go as a passenger you must needs have a purse, and a purse is but a rag unless you have something in it. Besides, passengers get sea-sick—grow quarrelsome—don’t sleep of nights—do not enjoy themselves much, as a general thing;—no, I never go as a passenger; nor, though I am something of a salt, do I ever go to sea as a Commodore, or a Captain, or a Cook. I abandon the glory and distinction of such offices to those who like them. For my part, I abominate all honourable respectable toils, trials, and tribulations of every kind whatsoever. It is quite as much as I can do to take care of myself, without taking care of ships, barques, brigs, schooners, and what not. And as for going as cook,—though I confess there is considerable glory in that, a cook being a sort of officer on ship-board—yet, somehow, I never fancied broiling fowls;—though once broiled, judiciously buttered, and judgmatically salted and peppered, there is no one who will speak more respectfully, not to say reverentially, of a broiled fowl than I will.

[...]

No, when I go to sea, I go as a simple sailor, right before the mast, plumb down into the forecastle, aloft there to the royal mast-head. True, they rather order me about some, and make me jump from spar to spar, like a grasshopper in a May meadow. And at first, this sort of thing is unpleasant enough. It touches one’s sense of honour, particularly if you come of an old established family in the land, the Van Rensselaers, or Randolphs, or Hardicanutes. And more than all, if just previous to putting your hand into the tar-pot, you have been lording it as a country schoolmaster, making the tallest boys stand in awe of you. The transition is a keen one, I assure you, from a schoolmaster to a sailor, and requires a strong decoction of Seneca and the Stoics to enable you to grin and bear it. But even this wears off in time.

[...]

What of it, if some old hunks of a sea-captain orders me to get a broom and sweep down the decks? What does that indignity amount to, weighed, I mean, in the scales of the New Testament? Do you think the archangel Gabriel thinks anything the less of me, because I promptly and respectfully obey that old hunks in that particular instance? Who ain’t a slave? Tell me that. Well, then, however the old sea-captains may order me about—however they may thump and punch me about, I have the satisfaction of knowing that it is all right; that everybody else is one way or other served in much the same way—either in a physical or metaphysical point of view, that is; and so the universal thump is passed round, and all hands should rub each other’s shoulder-blades, and be content.

Again, I always go to sea as a sailor, because they make a point of paying me for my trouble, whereas they never pay passengers a single penny that I ever heard of. On the contrary, passengers themselves must pay. And there is all the difference in the world between paying and being paid.

The old books are rather lengthy – as they were written for a more literate audience than today – so a fair bit of chopping was needed for this quote. But I’m sure you get the point:

  • Ishamel hits the ships to push off boredom – and it’s safer than getting into fights;
  • He is never a passenger, as passengers don’t get paid;
  • While he respects cooks (nod to the Vilani), he has no special position on the boat: just more deck muscle pushing and pulling and getting things done;
  • Since he has no special position, he has to swallow his pride, and get to work like a slave – but a paid slave, if you will, and only serving as he wishes, to get the coins he needs. and in the end “Who ain’t a slave?”
    • (An interesting question when the book was published in 1851 – when real-deal slaves still worked American land…)

If I can make a sci-fi universe where Ishmael can get his work done (and Captain Ahab can hunt down his whale), then I will be pretty satisfied.

Tidbit: “…only 3,200 copies [of the book] were actually sold during the author’s life.” as Wikipedia puts it.


From Gutenberg, from the introductory Extracts, we get some interesting ‘alternate-universe’ quotations that can be of use to a Referee.

  • “Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah.” —Jonah.
  • “There go the ships; there is that Leviathan whom thou hast made to play therein.” —Psalms.
  • “In that day, the Lord with his sore, and great, and strong sword, shall punish Leviathan the piercing serpent, even Leviathan that crooked serpent; and he shall slay the dragon that is in the sea.” —Isaiah.
  • “And what thing soever besides cometh within the chaos of this monster’s mouth, be it beast, boat, or stone, down it goes all incontinently that foul great swallow of his, and perisheth in the bottomless gulf of his paunch.” —Holland’s Plutarch’s Morals.
  • “The Indian Sea breedeth the most and the biggest fishes that are: among which the Whales and Whirlpooles called Balaene, take up as much in length as four acres or arpens of land.” —Holland’s Pliny.
  • “Scarcely had we proceeded two days on the sea, when about sunrise a great many Whales and other monsters of the sea, appeared. Among the former, one was of a most monstrous size…. This came towards us, open-mouthed, raising the waves on all sides, and beating the sea before him into a foam.” —Tooke’s Lucian. “The True History.”
  • “He visited this country also with a view of catching horse-whales, which had bones of very great value for their teeth, of which he brought some to the king…. The best whales were catched in his own country, of which some were forty-eight, some fifty yards long. He said that he was one of six who had killed sixty in two days.” —Other or Other’s verbal narrative taken down from his mouth by King Alfred, A.D. 890.

That’s quite a set of sea monsters there!

But what interests me most is this:

  • “In the year 1690 some persons were on a high hill observing the whales spouting and sporting with each other, when one observed: there—pointing to the sea—is a green pasture where our children’s grand-children will go for bread.” —Obed Macy’s History of Nantucket.
  • “I built a cottage for Susan and myself and made a gateway in the form of a Gothic Arch, by setting up a whale’s jaw bones.” —Hawthorne’s Twice Told Tales.

In real life, it’s impossible to build an economy on domesticating and raising whales for meat.

But in the sci-fi world of your choosing, it could be very different. The daily bread of the residents can come from ordinary fish and seaweed, thanks to aquaculture: and the whales be used as a sweetmeat, fetching prices high enough for ships from other stars to pay a visit.

And yes, the bones can be used for building material for high-class & Noble homes (if  the whale-analogues are rare and prestigious) or cheap shacks (if the whales are common and of little value locally).

OK, a few more quotes:

  • “The whale fell directly over him, and probably killed him in a moment.” —”The Whale and his Captors, or The Whaleman’s Adventures and the Whale’s Biography, gathered on the Homeward Cruise of the Commodore Preble.” By Rev. Henry T. Cheever.
  • “It is generally well known that out of the crews of Whaling vessels (American) few ever return in the ships on board of which they departed.” —Cruise in a Whale Boat.
  • “The Whale is harpooned to be sure; but bethink you, how you would manage a powerful unbroken colt, with the mere appliance of a rope tied to the root of his tail.” —A Chapter on Whaling in Ribs and Trucks.

There are no space-whales in Traveller: but frankly, the whale-analogues of the waters of strange worlds are sure to be dangerous enough. Who knows: perhaps some can onlybe harpooned from air/rafts, and the more cunning ‘whales’ have leaned how to drag down the air/rafts to a watery grave…

  • “So be cheery, my lads, let your hearts never fail, While the bold harpooneer is striking the whale!” —Nantucket Song.

I quotes that simply for it’s gloriously anti-PC value.

“What the people of this world thinks, is very different from the people of that world.”

“Worlds? Ha! Back where I come from, you can find that kind of cultural difference simply by travelling 50 miles in any direction!”

And, speaking of different value sets:

Scan2aScan2bThat 1958 cover and typeface is quite distinctive of a certain time and place; as is the book list on the back, with separate selections for boys, girls, and children.

And now? The culture is quite different from that of 50 years ago, as are the adventure stories, and – for that matter – the number of children interested in reading books.

And 50 years in the future…?

But Moby Dick has lasted for quite a long time, because of a certain timeless quality, something special and unique that other stories don’t have.

Who knows? Perhaps the Traveller universe has that same quality, and will still be entertaining 50 years from now!

 

 

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Useful Notes for Artillery Units

A recent article in Popular Mechanics outlined the right and wrong ways to use artillery – like myself, they are using the recent conflict in Ukraine as a springboard.

Useful pointers for Traveller Refs:

  • Artillery is good at keeping people off-balance – ‘surprise packages from the sky!’ – but “As the U.S. Marine Corps puts it: Shooting without maneuver is a waste of ammo.” It can be used to cover an advance, or as a kid of siege tool, whacking units trying to escape a city.
  • Like aerial bombardment, shelling won’t break the resistance of any population without a follow-up of 17-year-olds with guns – but this fact hasn’t stopped anyone from just killing civilians left and right. The PCs may well be living examples of this, with (for example) quite remarkable levels of hatred for the Vargr raiders who shot up their hometown.
    • A truly “make the rubble bounce” artillery/aerial/orbital bombardment may manage to force a surrender – but it may still not be enough, and invading and fighting on the broken ground isn’t going to be fun.
    • NBC strikes will do it: but that’s because everyone in the blast radius will be dead via radiation/viral/chemical poisoning. And if they’re not dead, then you may still have a fight on your hands…
  • “In a tactical sense (opposition) troops have been smarter in their application of artillery, using it in clever and sly ways to maximize its impact. For one, they have taken shots from (opposition) soil, ruling out retaliation.” Referees should take the idea and run with it: and PCs in the field with strong situational awareness and an ability to ‘work the angles’ should be rewarded for doing so.
  • “Critical strategic areas like airports have changed hands several times recently, and a stalemate has developed. And despite a cease-fire, the artillery duel goes on—it’s a cheap and easy way to keep the other guy from advancing or getting too comfortable. Soldiers with any sense are dug into bunkers and buildings. “

And life on the front goes on – until it suddenly doesn’t.


I am confident that there are relatively few Travellers interested in role-playing in field artillery teams. Even though they have some serious say in the battlefield, they are just not as sexy as Marine boarding units or Long Range recon and raiding.

(P.S.: Modern naval boarding is rarely contested nowadays, as total surprise is the key. Modern pirates usually use very fast boats, and attack poorly defended targets – but in Traveller, both the guns and the crewmen are often armed and ready.)

Despite the relative lack of adventure potential, there are still good tales to be told from the gunners. A casual search drew up a host of stories from World War II and Vietnam, which can be reconfigured to an interstellar setting.

From the standpoint of the storyteller Referee, there has to be an emphasis on the actual work of a team firing a gun, the need to avoid counter-battery fire, and some way to make technical problems interesting (in a more realistic game, a fair bit of math can be tossed in for the PCs to figure out). Most modern artillery is indirect, so you don’t actually get to see your enemy, which weakens the dramatic potential.

Artillerymen have a higher survivability level than infantry (never-mind bomb & mine disposal men (never-mind Imperial Scouts)), so if the Referee wants a tale that focuses on the experience in being in the Army, fighting at home or on foreign worlds, then artillery is a pretty good choice. “Less drama, but more colour and variety – and more ways to interact with the environment than high-adrenaline fear and violence.”

From my civilian perspective, it seems like the right choice for (psychologically) older soldiers, who have a more complex story to tell.

(And in wartime, direct violence has a way of sneaking up on everyone, most certainly including artillery units. They are at some distance from the battlefront, and distance can mean life, but IEDs will be looking for you anyways, artillery is still a prime target for other artillery and bombardment, and the enemy may manage to slip in a covert force to kill you and your friends. Especially notable in regard to teleporting Zhodani soldiers…)

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Trusty Sword

If you are interested in making your own RPG game, Trusty Sword looks to be an interesting place to be. It can’t hurt to visit!

They do offer free materials, fonts, art galleries, and a great cover designer. They are also in Beta, but I expect some good things from them.

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Minor Changes – Issues #18 & #24

Just a few minor changes were made to Issues #18 and #24. You can download them from the Download page, as seen in the menu bar…

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A Bit of Inspiration

A good Referee can find lots of inspiration if he knows where to look.

Especially during the Solomani Rim War, the most massive war since the Final War of the Ancients.

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Pirates, Insurgents, and Farmland

Reading “Here’s How The World’s Richest Terrorist Group Makes Millions Every Day” and “Why Terrorist Groups Are So Bureaucratic” gives quite a number of story ideas.

One revelation: all those high-level sources of continual chaos all have their Vilani and Bwap bureaucrats, pounding paper, running around with carbon forms in triplicate (or  hard drives with RAID 1 mirroring, as the case may be), trying to control costs.

I do remember an example of one captured document in which Ayman al-Zawahiri castigates a Yemeni cell for essentially a sloppy expense report: “Will all due respect, this is not an accounting… you didn’t write any dates, and many of the items are vague.”

Yep, sounds very Bwap to me! I’m curious to know how many cell leaders actually keep an itemized expense account of what goes into arms, what goes into training, and what goes to the private retirement fund.

Then again, if you are running any organization that involves millions billions of dollars and tens of thousands of men, you are going to need guys with green eyeshades. Mafia, properly disciplined pirates (not the rippers, whose main drive isn’t the money), insurgencies, slavery pipelines, SolSec networks… everyone is going to need an accountant.

An interesting way to infiltrate an organization.


I really shouldn’t be amazed at just how much illegal money can be made, if you know what you are doing, but I am.

But if you use ISIS as a proxy for your favourite ambitious pirate band, you get some interesting things…

Oil isn’t the only resource that ISIS has leveraged to its advantage. In a recent interview with Der Spiegel, Brookings Doha Center fellow Charles Lister explains how ISIS uses its control of food and water supplies to further its goals:

Money is key here. It is well-known that the IS is almost entirely self-financed. Its money comes from the control and illicit sale of oil and gas, agricultural products like wheat, the control of water and electricity and from imposing taxes within areas it controls. It is literally earning millions of dollars each week, and a great deal of this money is pumped into social services.

ISIS’s advance throughout northern Iraq has put vast quantities of prime farmland under the control of the militant organization. Large portions of five of Iraq’s most fertile provinces are currently under ISIS control.

These provinces are collectively responsible for producing 40% of the country’s wheat crop. The militants have also raided between 40,000 and 50,000 tons of grain from government silos in the north of the country.

If you plug out “ISIS” and put in “two dozen Ikonaz Vargr raiders, backed up with 10,000 high-tech Ikonaz Vargr & Vilani troops”, you get a rather interesting scenario of an invasion and takeover of… well, certainly not an entire world. Perhaps 0.1% of the world’s surface, or 0.5% of the land surface of Earth.

If said invaders manage to resist an attempt by other governments to retake the land, and perhaps even gain some local legitimacy — remember “a great deal of this money is pumped into social services”? — the Alien Invaders could eventually morph into the Extraterrestrial Vargr Free Trade Zone, or even something like the Republic of Rrougraz.

It’s still amusing, though, seeing interstealer interstellar pirates wondering how to deal with all this prime farmland. “The flatfaces don’t even use it to feed billions of rabbit-analogues, like civilized Vargr do – they just pound, cook, and eat that yellow grass directly! How weird is that?”

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From Traveller to D&D

An article, Ships without crew set for the seas, notes that in 10 years or so, all the major cargo ships will be fully automated.

(..and so, no more pirates. Or at least, no more low-tech, violence-oriented hijackers from the Horn of Africa. Now, when it comes to computer-hacker types from Romania…)

Traditionally, Traveller bans automated ship crews (as a matter of Imperial legislation), as this pretty much destroys 80%+ of the adventures possible in the setting. As a game, this can be kept up, no problem – but new players in the future will not see Traveller as sci-fi, but as some kind of retro-future.

This transition is probably inevitable, and will only get more obvious and inescapable in the future.

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Connecting the world with ant-sized radios

Unfortunately, I can’t foresee all – or even the major – applications this development will cause. It’s like being present at the time of the invention of the first working silicon transistor at Bell Labs in 1954.

I have little doubt that the implications are massive – with “the Internet of Things” being only a part of the picture.

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Actual Explorers

I encourage men to be actual men: to be the self-sacrificial leaders, explorers, fighters, defenders, and judges they were created to be.

But if men will not stand, then we must turn to women instead. This is definitely not the way it was meant to be – “If men won’t defend their country, then the country isn’t worth defending.” – but what’s true for a nation isn’t necessarily true for exploration and discovery.So, let Jolandie Rust’s plan to ride her motorcycle around Africa solo be respected (and I remain amused by her tech-head plans for her ideal home), and her bravery honoured, even though she will be (rightfully) protected by both governments and men, in the wake of the robbery of her bike. (After all, how can I gainsay her bravery when there are no circumstances where I would ride a motorbike across Africa, regardless of any promises by anyone? “Honour belongs to those who earn it!”)Still… the entire situation reminds me of a typical village scene, where the men lounge around chatting while the women haul heavy loads on their heads, for the sake of their family. It makes me grit my teeth.

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