Site Relocation!

Please note that this blog has been moved to a new location,

This would be a good time to update your bookmarks, etc.

Thank you.

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Robot Replacements – Reflections

Bill Cameron has put up an interesting reply to Robot Replacements, which I feel compelled to reply…

Reads like a pamphlet for the "Society for the Sovereignty of Man
over Machine"

Good catch! Actually, I was pushing ways to make money off of the shift to robotic manufacturing, but there is also a strong flavour of “Pay Attention – this is important!” to the post.

You can catch people’s eyes by greed, or fear. Or, in this case, a combination of both!

(But really… a good adman should just focus on one theme for max impact, not both.)

“The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed”.
— William Gibson

While the Third Imperium isn't a post-scarcity economy by any
stretch of the imagination, it's still intriguing to mull over
just what all those billions on those high TL worlds actually do
to fill their days.  My guess is more Dickensian than the
"Improve yourself" utopia of Star Trek.

Well, yes. The Imperium always was a far tougher place to live than Star Trek’s Federation:

The overall tech level is definitely lower. (Teleportation? FTL radio? Replicators? Antimatter powerplants?)

The overall distribution of technology is lower. (There are no truly ‘poor’ worlds in the Federation, just cultures who choose to abstain from various goods… but could get those goods anytime they want.)

There is a far higher level of cultural homogeneity, especially among humans, within the 60’s-based, California-touched Federation than there is within the 70’s-style Cold War-influenced Imperium.

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace, you

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope some day you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

The Imperium isn’t the Federation, to put it mildly.

Scarcity is a serious aspect of Imperial life, and people still value their kin more than they do strangers. There are noticeable levels of low-level violent conflict at the best of times, and almost no one in the Imperium (or even in the Solomani Federation!) is truly WEIRD – Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic.

Educated? Well, literate, yes. I assume that education tends to be tied to your work caste, although there will be many, many exceptions.

Industrialized? I will fully agree here, if only because you need a high level of industrialization to support a large population.

Western? Hmmm. I would suggest that the upper levels of both the Imperium and the Solomani remain within the Western Enlightenment/Nationalist/Secularist political tradition (European-style Absolute Monarchy for the Imperium, European-style One-Party Racialist for the Solomani).

I am not so sure about the planetary cultures, though. As a rule of thumb, I’d stick the high-pop/high-tech worlds as close to the Western mainstream: but the less powerful the world is, the more likely it has gone off to do its own thing culturally.

(With special recognition for Vilani and non-human dominant worlds… with the Vilani important enough to alter the definition of “mainstream” in the Imperium.)

Eventually, there will be some new cultural matrix, probably from the Imperial Fringes or the Borderlands, which will drastically reshape Imperial Space. But that never happened in Canon Traveller. *Shrug*

Rich? Democratic? No way!

While none of the polities making up the EU, US, and rest of the
West yet have official "minincome", "negative income tax", or
"guaranteed standard of living" policies, there are plenty of
social programs which in the aggregate come quite close to
providing the same.

I suspect that there will be quite a strong push for some sort of Minimal Income. It’s going to get (even more) ugly culturally as a result – and that’s before the finances behind the program crash.

<Stifles rant on health care expenditures.>

Since all the robot factories are going to aggressively compete with each other — and the transition will happen in East Asia first — the fat is going to get burnt off fast, and you’re going to get today’s standard “3% profit level” rapidly.

The effect of this "retreat from work" on the tax base - the
same tax base which creates and supports the single mothers those
young men are avoiding - is only beginning to be felt.

It seems to me that if - IF - the majority or even substantial
minority of all those billions on all those high TL worlds are
"minincome" recipients in one way or another, then the needs
of social stability seem to require a higher level of
"social engineering" on the part of governments than that
which we would be comfortable.

Suddenly the POP code DM to the LL roll in sysgen makes more sense.

Traveller still has a few cards up her sleeves? Excellent!

My bet? There’s going to be a “filter” coming up for post-industrial civilizations, something like “the Great Filter” that is postulated for alien species as a resolution for the Fermi Paradox.

If you assume that

  1. There is a vast number of life-bearing worlds in the galaxy
  2. There are no interstellar civilizations in our galaxy

Then there is something that is eating alien civilizations before or soon after they hit STL interstellar technological levels.

(We are actually at this level now. If we really wanted to, we could send colony & exploration ships to the nearby stars – at astronomical expense and century-long timescales, yes, and probably after decades of prep work, but it is doable with our current technology.)

In the same way, we are facing a (civilization-wide, rather than a species-wide) Great Filter. How are we going to have a motive to work and grow and multiply and learn, in a post-scarcity economy?

Continue reading

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My Model of a Traveller Crewman

“If you have a piece of land, you have to be able to protect it.”

“I never had to shoot anyone, but…”

Cody would make a great Traveller crewman.

Or a better-than-average Scout. Kinda weak on the “self-preservation vs curiosity” instincts like most Scouts — he tries out cyanide here — but at least he can handle a rifle.

“When the man puts on gloves, you know it’s serious!”

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Robot Replacements

From Bloomberg:

The appeal for factory owners is clear: German robot maker Kuka AG estimates a typical robot costs about 5 euros ($5.38) an hour to operate over its life. The hourly compensation cost of U.S. manufacturing was $36.49 per employee in 2013, according to The Conference Board.

In Traveller, we get sentient robots at TL 12. That may well be true in real life, depending on where you tag TL 12… but robots are going to get a lot more common in the next two decades, way before we get to that level of know-how.

And in some countries, the future will arrive sooner than others. Especially those nations that are 1) very wealthy, 2) have a love of high technology, and 3) depopulating fast.

From Marketwatch:

Professor Richard Thaler, an expert in behavioral economics, talked to MarketWatch about his ‘lazy’ investing strategy that allows investors to maximize their returns while doing very little.

In essence, Gartman explained in an interview, robots are enabling Japanese corporations to turn a demographic liability into an asset. Once roboticized, those corporations will easily outperform firms from other countries that are more dependent on labor.

After all, he argued, “Robots don’t go on strike, they don’t sexually assault other robots, don’t ask for health care, don’t protest, and they do their job consistently and for the most part flawlessly.” As a result, Gartman predicts, profit margins at Japanese companies will “rise sharply and perhaps relentlessly.”

It’s no accident, he continued, that Japan is already at the forefront of the robotics revolution. And its lead is likely to widen even further, as the country is forced demographically into investing even more in that revolution.

Strange: we already know the first country where robots will outnumber humans, but there has been few scenarios where the implications of this has been chased down and spelled out.

An interesting Traveller scenario, yes?

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Imperial Fashion

From Iilsuika

Your hairstyle can have political significance, especially in tightly conformist cultures like the Asian and Vilani peoples.

Few Travellers are going to bother ask ahead about the significance of a haircut or a beard, or a style of clothing. Referees should remind them of it, when the situation warrants.

What’s the use of being a Noblewoman, if you can’t indulge in outrageous fashion statements?

I personally doubt that the Far Future is going to be dominated by today’s same-old, same-old. Especially when there is a truly vast range of possibilities out there, waiting to be brought to life!

Any Imperial Dynasty that lasts long enough will have a period of “Regrettable Errors in Judgement” — like certain fashion choices made in the early 800s, say — that are best not dwelt on.

Looking up on what happened to these outliers, black sheep, prodigal sons, outcasts, disinherited heirs, and family secrets, though, could be quite interesting. And maybe financially rewarding.

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We don’t actually own the stars, until our children can lawfully inherit it from us.

But when that day comes: when we can see our children built up on what we made, and our grandchildren go even farther than we ever went… then we can rest easy: all our work, all our pain, it all actually meant something in the end.

In the Biblical view, Inheritance is the last of the five covenental points:

  • Transcendence/Immanence/Sovereignty
  • Hierarchy
  • Ethics/Laws
  • Oath/Sanctions
  • Succession/Inheritance

In Imperial terms, you have

  • The Emperor
  • The Nobility
  • Imperial Law
  • Imperial Oaths, Honour Codes, and Justice
  • Lawful Succession & Inheritance

And on the scale of a starship, you have

  • The Captain
  • The Crew
  • Ship’s Law
  • Ship’s Justice
  • Changing/Dissolving Ship Ownership
    (Ship shares comes in here)

Military ships can run a Captain’s Mast for minor offenses, and can turn to formal Military Trials for major issues.

For civilian ships, things are more murky – see the current state of cruise ship law for more info.

But that’s all from the Traveller point of view.

Most Imperials are not Travellers, but remain on just one world all of their lives. Most (but not all) have families: many (but not all, perhaps not even most) have children.

As a rule of thumb, they want their children to inherit what they built up, and make their family grow even stronger and wealthier over time, building up the family name.

This attitude has broadly died out in the West: but our society is not organized around aristocratic/clannish/familial lines:

  • The Archon
  • The Family Elders
  • Familial Law
  • Familial Punishment
  • Familial Inheritance (including property and businesses)

I myself prefer the nuclear family model, with every son sent out to found his own family and work out his own calling, and every daughter to join with a suitable man of her choice, with only ties of sentiment and love (not command or authority) linking the extended family together. But there are many Solomani cultures who disagree with me: and I can see the Vilani disagreeing as well.

But after all that, I still believe that “A good man leaveth an inheritance to his children’s children: and the wealth of the sinner is laid up for the just.” (Proverbs 13:22), and — more to the point — a majority of Imperials, even the more decadent ruling Nobles, also want to leave something good for their children after they die.

Of course, I would want my wealth to be used as tools of dominion, to further extend Christian civilization. But other families would have other goals, from the Roman-style glory of the family name, to protecting their own nation, land, and race; long-term tasks like terraforming a world or taming a continent for your own people, ideology and culture; or even the interstellar arena, like gaining a senior position in a vast megacorp, following the family tradition of Imperial Service, or leading the exploration and settlement of a distant subsector.

Merely because you preach the goals to your children, does not mean that they will take those goals as their own. And even if they seem obedient, they may well change their minds after your body has cooled and your assets transferred to their name.

But then again, they may well catch your vision, and — after changing it somewhat to make it their own, for better or for worse — become rightful heirs not only to your genetic legacy and your property (and any Imperial fiefs & titles!), but to your spiritual legacy as well.

(Yeah, I miss those glorious covers of yesteryear. Sure, the art here isn’t all that good: but it tells a story, and it’s definitely imaginative, speaking of daring adventures on a far away future world. What more could a Traveller want?)

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Chechen Wars

This is not a bad template, for a major military campaign within the Imperial Empty Quarter.

(An alternate universe Empty Quarter: too many Hindi, Vilani and Bwap to make this a perfect fit.)

An interesting consideration: who gets to play the hardcore Emperors, Stalin and Putin?

Looking at this from another perspective, the video provides good food for thought for any really troublesome Imperial border zone… as well as typical Imperial military errors. “Sending armoured columns into a rebel city stuffed with anti-armour weaponry? Not the brightest decision ever made…”

A bonus video, with an anti-emu attitude I can sympathize with.

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Every Traveller Comes From Somewhere

As I tend to push for a immersive Traveller environment, I’d like to take the time that every Traveller actually comes from somewhere, and there’s a reason why he isn’t at home.

Many expatriates still keep some ties to back home: typically familial or religious, sometimes linguistic or even military. Even today, some nations are visibly bolstered by their diaspora: not just Israelis and Mexicans and Vietnamese, but Armenians and Indians as well.

Even a great power like China can be occasionally dependent on their overseas families: in Mainland China’s case, it was the Chinese of Malaysia & Indonesia, as well as the United States, Singapore, and Taiwan, who provided the know-how and the cash to get the country going after its disastrous experiment with Maoism.

(And then, there are those nationalities who don’t worry too much about the Motherland…)

A Traveller crew, returning home to give a hand at the hour of need, would make an interesting storyline. Especially if the reasons why they left in the first place are addressed…

For example, for a long time the Communist government of Vietnam turned a blind eye, when remittances from Vietnamese-Americans were stolen by postal workers. A Traveller who sent tens of thousands of credits home, only to find out that most of it was stolen before it got to his family, might find a pointed way to express his displeasure… especially if the tech gap between himself and the local authorities is large enough.

Nations with jet aircraft should not annoy visitors with starships.

On the other hand, the money escapee North Koreans send back home has changed local perceptions of the defectors, from “enemies of the State” to “helping hands from abroad”. North Korean State Security is far more interested in getting a percentage for itself, rather than stopping the money flow entirely and killing the golden goose.

Ideological purity won’t put meat on the table, after all!

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Near Death Experiences

A few days ago, this site was off-line, with the domain for sale.

Now, it was recovered by the rightful owner, so all is well. But, it is a good reminder that you can’t guarantee that a given site will be there tomorrow.

So if you like the material and want to keep it, there are a couple of site copiers out there.

Even better: if you have your own ideas on expanding Traveller, why not raise up your own site? Get your ideas and thoughts out there, maybe a few posts a week, and if people like what you do they’ll let you know!

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Exploring Titan With Aerial Platforms

From Universe Today

Last week, from Monday Feb. 27th to Wednesday March 1st, NASA hosted the “Planetary Science Vision 2050 Workshop” at their headquarters in Washington, DC. During the course of the many presentations, speeches and addresses that made up the workshop, NASA and its affiliates shared their many proposals for the future of Solar System exploration.

A very popular theme during the workshop was the exploration of Titan. In addition to being the only other body in the Solar System with a nitrogen-rich atmosphere and visible liquid on its surface, it also has an environment rich in organic chemistry. For this reason, a team led by Michael Pauken (from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory) held a presentation detailing the many ways it can be explored using aerial vehicles.

The presentation, which was titled “Science at a Variety of Scientific Regions at Titan using Aerial Platforms“, was  also chaired by members of the aerospace industry – such as AeroVironment and Global Aerospace from Monrovia, California, and Thin Red Line Aerospace from Chilliwack, BC. Together, they reviewed the various aerial platform concepts that have been proposed for Titan since 2004.

One thing I have always regretted is the distinct lack of drone/robot use among Classic Traveller Scouts. A planet – or even a decent-sized asteroid – is a big place.

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