City-State Surprises

From Singapore’s Best Kept Secret

1. If Singapore is invaded, our airbases in Indonesia, Thailand & Brunei will scramble and bomb our own CBD. If we can’t have it, they can’t either. The late Lee Kuan Yew believed firmly in the Scorched Earth philosophy. (We also have a First Strike philosophy with corresponding First Strike capabilities, but that’s commonly known and not a secret.)

2. Singapore’s oil/gas prices are independent of Saudi (OPEC) prices, as most of our stuff is piped in from Indonesia. (GOOGLE: Natuna gas fields.)

3. We have a secret rice stockpile to last a year for every natural citizen. It will be rationed.

4. The Singapore Government doesn’t trust SAF troops to guard their key personnel (Cabinet Ministers), so that job is outsourced to Gurkhas of Nepal.

5. Our water supply is now FULLY INDEPENDENT from Malaysia. But they haven’t figured it out yet.

I like the way Singapore’s government thinks – although, if I resided in Singapore, I’d quietly relocate out of the CBD…

Now, much of the Imperial Empty Quarter is not up to the tech level of Singapore, AD 2016 *sigh*. However, every last Imperial world in the sector knows about their two annoying pirate problems – the pirates who like to shed blood for the sheer entertainment value, and the pirates who are entirely too organized, professional, and high-tech for their own good.

And absolutely everyone has a plan to deal with the arrival of Unexpected Visitors.

A bit more detail:

  • Reliable mercenaries with an impeccable reputation can get some very, very nice billets. (Waves to the Gurkhas)
  • When things get tough, locals are getting to the front of the line: this include food rations, as well as medical care. A PC team stuck on an airless ball can well have to scramble for unauthorized sources of water, food, heat, and air…
  • Scorched earth policies can work, even in high-tech environments: but they will involve a lot of pain.
  • First air, then ammo,  then water, then heat, then food. Depending on where you are, electricity comes into the ranking as well. Gravity just doesn’t cut it: medical care is on a case-by-case basis.


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From the Bosom of the Party; From the Throne of the Emperor

Using the Communist Party of China – as seen in the Wall Street Journal – as a jumping point for the Solomani Party. Imperial equivalents in italics.

When is an anti-corruption campaign against corruption… and when is it just a useful tool against your political enemies?

This can be used straight, but for that Imperial favour, replace anti-corruption with anti-psion… or even a purge against secret Solomani moles.

Will you read the Party Newspaper… or ignore it, and find your own sources of news? The Party long ago gave up trying to make everyone listen to the State Organs… but if the Party cadre start ignoring the Official Version, then there’s going to be trouble soon enough.

The greatest threat is not so much the rise of political groups that directly challenges the party’s claims of racial superiority: most Solomani love to soak in the flattery. No: the real problem is the usual – but very potent – endemic tribalism (Chinese vs. Indians, Christians vs. Muslims, etc), as well as clashing interests (local Solomani industrialists and traders vs. the Solomani Party-backed megacorp Transstar)

The Imperium doesn’t actually do much direct news control, to it’s credit. (There is that secret Jump6 communication network of MegaTraveller: but that’s more getting a leg up on the public, and being able to ‘get the time to set up the right optics’ than anything else.)

In my Imperium, information control is more along the lines of the usual ‘mainstream media’ forms, but with a lot more diversity and a far more restricted Party Line. The Imperium doesn’t really care about individual or planet-wide views on God, sexuality, socialism, the environment, etc. so long as the masses – especially the starfaring classes, and the masses on high-tech/high-pop worlds – respect the Emperor & the Imperial Military, hate psions, and despise the Solomani Party.

(Obedience and paying taxes to the Emperor is more a function of the planetary governments than individuals, who rarely leave the 100-diameter border of their homeworld or enter the Imperial starport – the locations where Imperial authority is actually enforced, outside of the military and (possibly) regions of the subsector and sector capital systems.)

An excerpt:

Earlier this month a Chinese police officer shot and killed an unarmed man after a scuffle at a train station in the northern province of Heilongjiang, igniting a nationwide debate over whether the shooting was justified or whether authorities acted properly.

Replace “Chinese police officer…. train station” with “Confederation Marine… starport” and you can have a similar debate within the Solomani Confederation. Remember: it’s a confederation, not an imperium, so public opinion and debate on what ‘our military is doing’ is quite legitimate. There is also a strong ‘local militia’ flavour when it comes to military organizations, which should also be noted in such controversies.

These kind of debates just don’t happen in the Third Imperium. That starport is the Emperor’s property, and those soldiers swore an oath to the Iridium Throne, and are on the Emperor’s payroll. His property… his money… his rules.

Now, this does not mean that the Emperor encourages his soldiers to just shoot anyone they feel like: he wants a lot of happy, safe traders and passengers streaming through his starports, and spending all sorts of money as well. His troopers are also expected to use their brains, as well as their weapons, to handle, deescalate, and limit problems. And there are bottom-line business benefits to having a predictable, generally just set of rules and regulations: and the Imperium is expected to turn a profit (and help most interstellar businesses turn a profit, as well.)

But, when the chips are down, the Emperor going to get what the Emperor wants, regardless of local opinion.

(Conversely, of course, the planetary government(s) are going to do exactly what they please, as well.)

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Bricking Your Ship, Silencing Your Car

From Gizmodo:

Earlier today the Guardian reported on mounting “fury” over a mysterious “Error 53” appearing on iPhones repaired by unauthorized repair providers. The report includes a quote from an unnamed “specialist” journalist (whatever the hell that is) who claimed that Error 53 will “will kill your iPhone.”

But let’s roll that back a little, because Error 53 isn’t doing the bricking. It’s a symptom of the bricking, and that bricking is actually a security feature working as intended by Apple.

The Touch ID sensor is uniquely tied to the iOS device so that a thief couldn’t do something like snag your phone, replace the sensor, and then have access to all the credit cards you’ve linked to Apple Pay.

iOS device repair companies like iCracked are well aware of this feature and will actually manually move the Touch ID sensor from the broken glass face plate to the new face plate to make sure the phone stays functional.

Apple confirmed to Gizmodo that this is a feature and not a mystery error punishing you for using an unauthorized repair provider.

First off: there are all sorts of “unauthorized repair providers” in the Empty Quarter, of highly unpredictable levels of competence. (But all can pour out the buzzwords and sales patter like nobody’s business!)

Secondly: the by-the-book Vilani (and, to a lesser extent, the techno-arrogant Iper’mar) have few qualms about punishing those who don’t follow the regs, violate IP rights, or challenge fat-n-happy corporate revenue streams (Vilani) or try to tamper with technology that lesser beings have no business nosing in (Iper’mar).

Third: it wouldn’t be nice for a Referee to decide to ‘brick a starship’ because the PCs decided to do something unauthorized in the programming, or use starship parts of mysterious origins (with the carbon scoring hastily scrubbed off). Most Empty Quarter starships are low-tech enough (and rewired/hacked enough) to be very forgiving of various on-the-fly upgrading… but the newest, more high-tech starships are more touchy, and need to be “broken in” by an old tech hand. (Expect to pay top dollar for this!)

Fourth: it will soon be common knowledge that your car will spy on you, and report your activities to the police. Older drivers don’t realize this yet… but they will. It should be standard PC operating procedure to plug in a quick module to a vehicle’s computers, to teach it discretion. (This is especially true for self-driving cars, or the self-driving air/rafts of the future).

This may or may not set of alarms of the supervising software/traffic police computers, depending on law level, tech level, and culture. Solomani cops quickly grow bored with routine and detailed supervision: but the Vilani love detecting anomalies, and move quickly to correct bad behaviour.

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Clarifications: The Law of Accelerating Returns & Moore’s Law

Some material to expand on one of the most scientific/technical important articles ever written, Ray Kurzweil’s The Law of Accelerating Returns.

Peter Diamandis outlines the difference between Moore’s Law and the Law of Accelerating Returns here.

And Kurzweil himself gives his own view of the mutual reinforcement of Moore’s Law and the Law of Accelerating Returns here.

Bonus material on Computers That Can Learn:

Side note: if we are really going to have 10,000 years of technical advances within this century, then if FTL travel is in any way physically possible (as opposed to only transmitting information), we will probably discover it by 2120.

(Material also used on the Across the Stars blog.)

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Error Correction: Stellar Reaches #26

Unfortunately, there were a fair number of bad links & other errors in  Stellar Reaches #26. They have been corrected, and you can find the new edition in the Downloads section!

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Thirty-Two Symbols

Why Are These 32 Symbols Found in Caves All Over Europe?

No, I have no idea.

But, it would be great to transplant the idea to Traveller, and let inquisitive PC’s chew on the mystery. I’d set a bunch of symbols to be found singly or in small clusters, maybe -20,000 years Imperial.

(A.k.a., “10,000 years before the first Vilani ventures into space; 8,000 years before the First Imperium; and 280,000 after the Final War. About the time the last of the Ancient warbots on Vland run down, according to the Imperial Encyclopedia.“)

I’m not sure how I’d modify the symbols. Perhaps make them high-tech ‘hard light’ holographs, a good number of TL’s above the Imperium (but still below the Ancients).

Or just leave them as-is, and let the PCs figure out why human caveman symbols are orbiting systems as scattered as Deneb, Antares and Alpha Centauri.


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Sci-fi computer games have changed a lot, since Traveller’s heyday in the late 70s/early 80s. For one thing, there wasn’t even an internet (for public use) at the time…

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Silovik vs. Oligarchs

From Wikipedia (Slightly edited for language):

Silovik is a Russian word for politicians from the security or military services, often the officers of the former KGB, GRU, FSB, SVR the Federal Drug Control or other security services who came into power. It can also refer to security-service personnel from any country or nationality.


The term silovik, literally translated as “person of force”, originated with the phrase “institutions of force”, which appeared in the earlier Boris Yeltsin era (early 1990s) to denote the military-style uniformed services, including the military proper, the police (Ministry of Interior), national security (KGB/FSB) organisations and some other structures.

And again (more Russian script deleted):

Silovik, plural siloviks or siloviki  (from Russian sila – strength, force), a collective name for ministers, generals and other officials of “siloviye vedomstva” – force departments – ministries and other departments which have arms (weapons) and ability to use armed force, such as Army, FSB(KGB), MVD (Police). Term siloviks is often used in context of their inclination to force methods in solving of problems.

Actually, this would make a nice tag for military-build Imperial Nobles.

You could build a convoluted frenemy situation between the military vs corporate nobles (Silovik vs Oligarch, Guns vs. Money). Toss in some complicating factors – the Noble Houses, the Imperial Dynasty, Tribal shoving matches, and the occasional Wild Card – and you’ve got yourself a nice, complicated relationship snarl – fueled by money, guns, and the various forms of the Tribe – for the PCs to navigate.

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Life in a Can

“…and they rode away into the sunset.”

“What’s a sunset?”

“Well, I don’t know, but my granddad saw one once.” — from Writing Prompts

It wouldn’t be this bad usually: if you have the tech to live in a space colony, you probably have the tech to watch videos of planetary life.

(But feeling rain and wind, or even the sunlight on  your skin on a hot day, is a lot different than seeing it on a screen!)

On the other hand, you could be living an underground life, an undersea life, or on a permanently cloudy world. Hmmm…

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Against Space Colonization

I myself am strongly for space colonization: and I think that it will happen to some extent, but – due to cost – not in any large scale for a few centuries yet. We need the time for compound interest (in wealth and technological advancement) before a serious attempt to set up long-term outposts and self-sufficient orbital settlements can be made.

But it is good to hear the other side of the argument, which is where the interview with ESA director Jean Jacques Dordain comes in.

The excerpt that draws my eye:

SS:What do you tell them? Because, once human being went to the moon, it was obvious that we could actually walk on other planets. What do you tell them now, because the moon is done. What do you tell them? “We should conquer Mars”? Are you actually an advocate of Mars colonization?

JJD: Colonization – I don’t know, but we should certainly go to Mars with humans, and we should certainly stay on Mars – humans will stay on Mars, I think it is just a matter of calendar. I never said that it’s not “if” – it’s “when”. We have some time. If you go to Mars 10 years later – what’s the difference? It may make a difference for me, because I will not see it, but it will not make a difference for humanity. I must say, if we had gone to North Pole 50 years later than today – it would not change anything. I am convinced, yes, that humans will go to Mars, for me it’s not a question, it’s just a calendar.

SS: I’m just trying to understand what’s at the root of…you’re saying “exploration is inherent for mankind, exploration makes us human and it must involve a human presence” – so you are for human presence everywhere, but – is it exploration just for discovery or exploration to conquer?

JJD: I think it’s more for discovery and also to make the future on planet Earth possible. I must say that there is no alternative of planet Earth for humanity. This is maybe something that we have learned from space. There is no other place where this humanity can live. We cannot live on different planets in Solar System and going to an exoplanet will be much too far away, at least with the technologies that we know. So, we have no alternatives but to stay together on planet Earth. Now, does that mean that we should continue to find all resources that we need just on planet Earth, that it’s number one, and maybe we should find some raw sources in other planets or on the Moon, for example- I don’t know. That is number one, number two – going to the other planet is also to understand what is future of planet Earth. Couple of billions of years ago, Mars, Earth and Venus were sister planets – and we have evolved very differently. There was water on Mars, we know it, the was, certainly, an atmosphere around Mars. Where is the water? We still find some traces. Where is the atmosphere? Today, we are living on planet Earth because there is water and atmosphere, so understanding why Mars has changed so dramatically since its creation would be certainly very interesting, to understand where we are going to ourselves. So, planet Earth is not isolated. I remember, that I ever started a speech by saying “space does not belong to Earth”, it’s the Earth which belongs to space, and we don’t have a chance to understand planet Earth if we don’t understand the overall system where we are living in, so I think that the Moon is not anymore “something” – it belongs to our environment. Mars – also, Venus – also, so I think that we have to understand that and we have to explore, because exploring Mars is also exploring planet Earth. Our future is on planet Earth, and we have to make our future possible. I am sure that our future on planet Earth, for humanity – not for me, it’s too late – but, to make the future of humanity on planet Earth possible we’d better understand the system we are living in.

I agree that space is really, really hostile, and it will take a vast amount of money, time, and effort to shift the dial, even a little.

But even just a little bit of steady growth here at the start – say, one new space city every 50 years, or one new star system every thousand years – would lead to major dividends down the road.

I don’t believe in the spaceship Earth concept: that implies a limited, fixed set of supplies, and that simply is not true, given the rate of human development and science. But the physical size of Earth is a fixed constant: even if you go all out, into underground living and oceanic societies, you are going to hit a limit. But I don’t think that we are near that limit, as we can easily hold a trillion people on our current planetary surface area – assuming advances in energy production, the first true bottleneck.

(The final bottleneck, I suspect, will prove to be time more than territory. But we will see.)

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