“Convert VHS tapes to DVDs”

Bill Myers has a nice little article on how to do this here.

“Err… why is this in the Stellar Reaches blog?”

“Because a large percentage of Traveller fans are also sci-fi movie fans. And I don’t want to see vast numbers of pre-2000 sci-fi movies to simply disintegrate over time.”

“Anything special you are thinking about?”

“The original Return of the Jedi flick. Also, if there’s a chance that a blog reader knows someone who knows someone who has an actual, genuine pre-1990 VHS copy of Star Wars, I want that man to know how to save that file for future reference.”

“OK. One more thing… who are the Traveller fans who don’t like sci-fi movies?”

“No-compromise Golden Age readers, who stopped reading new SF when Asimov died in 1992.”

“You aren’t actually one of these grizzled old timers, are you?”

“Not really…” (shifts eyes around)

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Practicing to be People

 I remember especially the cook and her son. We all had difficulty communicating with both of them. They moved in a strange manner. The cook kept telling us that we were not supposed to come into the dining room yet. Subsequently, there was considerable discussion by attendees about the peculiarities of the cook, the son, and the location. I don’t recall who first made the comparison with the Twilight Zone. I do remember my comment. It just sort of popped out. “Everyone here seems to be practicing to become people.” There was general agreement. – Gary North

That would be an interesting encounter: working for odd clients, or staying at a strange inn or hotel, where everyone is apparently practicing to be people. It makes me wonder why they would be practicing, what are they getting wrong, and where these imitators came from…

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Battles of the Ancient Past

The Trojans and Byzantium in the same time period…

…sigh…

But then again, I assume that most of the denizens of the Empty Quarter have King David zooming around in a F-18 fighter, bombing up the Canaanite biowar terrorists being personally led by Hitler on horseback.

I’d love to know what the Emptyheads think of World War II… might as well ask the neighbours about the Battle of Megiddo and the military strategies of Pharaoh Tuthmosis III.

…sigh…

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What a Platoon Officer Actually Does

Yeah, the video is geared to the World War I/II style of combat, but it’s still vastly better than simply “CHARGE!”

Regarding snipers shooting officers with submachine guns with great enthusiasm (and the natural preference of said officers to carry ordinary rifles in response): in the Empty Quarter, Solomani-origin officers (…early in the war, anyways…) tend to insist on standing out from the common men. For cultural, even genetic reasons, this is especially apparent for Vargr officers.

Naturally, attitudes will have been swiftly adjusted six months into the conflict, for the surviving officers… willfully insane, “I want to hit them with my sword!” officers excepted.

I will give the Vilani credit here: they always want to blend in with the group in any case, tend to better remember the lessons of the last war, and have been dealing with bullet/laser snipers for a far longer time than the Solomani. Recall that at the time the First Imperium was founded, Terrans were still using swords & shields, and the stirrup had yet to be invented.

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Lies About Space, Mysteries about Space

Just some bubble-gum videos, that could spark a story or three…

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Stellaris, Religion, and Magic

In the upcoming game Stellaris, materialistic cultures get science bonus, but spiritualistic cultures get special psionic powers.

I have to admit: this makes for a more entertaining game with a bigger fan base than the boring truths of the matter: most everyone loves magic (“D&D, anyone? How about a superhero comic?”), and mystical/psionic powers that get you results without actually working for it.

I grant that it can make for a decent fit for the Traveller universe. The Zhodani are the archetypical psionic race, and are in part structured around a religious philosophy, Tavrziansh (GURPS Traveller, Alien Races 1, page 6), which is seen as something like “green Buddhism” by Solomani travellers. (The visual tie-ins with the stereotypical Oriental Arab of yore – far more 1800s exotica than 2000s psychopath – also helps here.)

Note also that the Thought Police’s actual Zhodani name is Tavrchedl’, “Guardians of Our Morality”: a certain resemblance between this and the Saudi Arabian mutawwain (Religious Police) is not accidental.

However: despite the paraphernalia about foci and mental discipline, there is nothing particularly ethical/righteous about psionics. The mystical/mental powers are just another form of power, that work regardless of the morality of the man using it.


Discussion: Magic as Technology

“Why can’t materialistic cultures get their hands on this spiritual power?”

Because they are materialist, silly! For them, nothing exists except matter and energy.

“So thought and mind and logic does not exist. Or at least, these things are just chemical-sourced illusions in the eyes of a materialist.”

You got it!

“For some reason, I’m not particularly surprised. But still… why the religious bit?”

Because – not in Traveller, really (where psionics works as a mechanical tool), but in most of history – you get this mystical ability to get something you want without working for it by contacting spiritual forces, and making deals with them.

“Ah yes. Witchcraft.”

The position of the secular-minded Imperial Government is not all that far from your own.

“To the contrary! The Imperial Government is far more fearful of witches – pardon me, psions – than they need to be: they are far more pathetic than threatening nowadays. No need to waste money and time on has-been failures… or give a government the delicious opportunity to redefine witches to include, well, anyone that opposes State Power.”

*Sigh* It’s Just A Game!


Discussion: Religion as Profit-Building Truth

“It’s a game that teaches certain lessons. But more  an opportunity to point out just how far educated Swedes are from understanding the nature of a religiously-understood law-bound created universe, where obedience to the Commandments creates a wealthy and powerful society for largely logical and reasonable reasons, as desired by a logical and reasonable Creator-Judge.”

Man, they don’t even teach that in Swedish churches nowadays!

“Again, no surprise. Assuming anybody bothers to go there…”

So, a religious society – or a Christian one, anyways – is a society that sees the universe as the creation of a Lord that wants people to understand it…

“…and gain understanding, dominion, and mastery over it…”

…which of course leads to science.

“Which never happened with the Greeks, by the way, despite their worship of numbers and love of logic & philosophy.”

Slaves are far more useful, cheaper, and immediately available!

“A lower maintenance cost, too. Also, eminently replaceable after too much abuse.”

That’s a very low value you’re putting on the Image of God.

“When you get the opportunity, ask Jesus about that thirty pieces of silver. His response will be quite enlightening.”

You’re such a Christian!

“Someone’s gotta do it! And I admit, I like the reward scheme.”

You’re such a Capitalist!

“Winning is better than losing: in life, and in eternity.”

You’re such a Missionary!

“Both Stellaris – and Traveller, for that matter – have their own gospels to preach. Traveller’s message is far more interesting and complex than Stellaris, though, and worth far more thoughtful engagement.”

Stellaris is a computer game written by a bunch of secularist for the enjoyment of the general population. Stop demanding so much from it!

*Shrug*

And you did recommend it right here on this blog didn’t you?

“I like quality work. What can I say?”

I bet you Christians couldn’t make a better game!

“And I agree… to our shame. We’ve been slacking off, and it shows.”

Humph. Anyways, back to Traveller! Here I am, thinking it was a war-game, or an opportunity to act out some heroic stories of the Far Future…

“That it is… but there’s an actual universe in there! A fictional universe, but an interesting one to play with – and psionics is an integral part of it, an element of fantasy that got stuck in Campbell’s skull…”

A bit of fringe science that caught the fancy of a ton of space opera readers. Never mind the movies…

“Every sinner has a bit of larceny in his heart, and wants power and wealth without paying for it. And the implied flattery to the (usually well-educated) SF reader that Powerful Thinkers can change things with the power of their thought is definitely welcomed.”

Flattery will get you everywhere!

“On this earth. Not so much elsewhere.”

Don’t you pray every day, like a good Christian should?

“Obedience is better than sacrifice. A lot more difficult, too.”

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Imperial Power and Local Religions

The Entree

While many rulers of the Third Imperium has a sentimental attachment to both Vilani traditionalism/ancestor worship – as well as Stellar Divinity – there is no strong religious influence on the interstellar government: the focus is on keeping the money and the power coming for its own sake. There is no militant secularism or uncompromising hostility to religion – not even in 993, where the Nobility is more atheistic than the historical baseline – but no deeply pious spirit either…

But if there ever is one, it’s going to be Vilani, not Abrahamic. I imagine its form as something along Japanese Shinto, but with a greater focus on public ritual, clan & corporate spirits and traditions, and corporate reverence & worship of major corporate founders and leaders, as well as the Roman-style worship of the family spirit. (Or Japanese style: different flavour, same product.)

But, unlike Rome and Japan, I don’t think that there was ever a true Imperial Cult/Imperial Shinto, focusing on the worship of the Vilani Emperor: after all, no image of the Shadow-Emperor was permitted, and what is paganism without an image to bow down before? Household and corporate images are definitely permitted, though. I wouldn’t be surprised if, way back in the midsts of early Vilani history, there was indeed a God-Emperor… but he turned against the traditions in the Glorious Name of Himself, and – after the ugly civil war finally disposed of him – the Highest Power was seen as Impersonal Law (a la the Dharmic religions) and not as a Personal Creator-Judge (in the style of Abraham and his children.)

The Meat

From North’s Confiscation In The Name Of The People:

Pilate recognized the nature of the game that the Jewish rulers were playing, with him as the pawn. They were placing him between the rock and the hard place: either do their bidding or face public disorder which would undermine his reputation in Rome. As a politician, he recognized the political nature of what the priests were doing at his expense. They were painting hint into a corner, Jesus had verbally put him in his place in terms of biblical authority, which Pilate did not respect, but Jesus was not trying to use him for His purposes. The priests were, and they invoked Roman politics in their manipulation: “We have no king but Caesar.” Politicians do not like to be manipulated by other politicians. Pilate therefore preferred to let Jesus go. So, when he finally capitulated to the rulers for the sake of Roman politics, he gained symbolic revenge. “And Pilate wrote a title, and put it on the cross. And the writing was, JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS. This title then read many of the Jews: for the place where Jesus was crucified was nigh to the city: and it was written in Hebrew, and Greek, and Latin. Then said the chief priests of the Jews to Pilate, Write not, The King of the Jews; but that he said, I am King of the Jews. Pilate answered, What I have written I have written” (John 19:19-22). He thereby publicly announced that Jesus was the heir to David’s throne, and he, Pilate, had smashed it. Rome got the credit, not the Jewish politicians. This annoyed the Jewish politicians, which was Pilates’s goal.

There are a lot of religion-driven (…and race-driven…) power-politcal games being played out in the courts of the Imperial Empty Quarter.

In todays post-Hebrin Rebellion period (when the Hebrin Caliphate was crushed by the Imperium), there is no direct challenge to Imperial authority, not even now (993 Imperial), when the Imperial Fleet and most of the ground forces has left the scene.

That being said, religious beliefs are still quite powerful locally, and can be troublesome to inattentive Imperial Nobles. They sometimes still find ways to get revenge against religious opposition – see the now-deceased Sector Duke Marcial, Stellar Reaches #24, page 81 ff. – but more often or not, there is some kind of compromise. Rarely is there a decisive victory of the local religious groups over the Imperium, if only because the Imperial government doesn’t get involved in the lives or governance of most of her citizens.

“Sure, you can chop off as many infidel heads as you want in your Law Level Crushing Islamic Paradise, but the moment you cross that 100-diameter mark, you had better behave, or the Imperial Navy is going to come down on you like a ton of bricks.”

Despite getting most everyone to quiet down, the Six Subsectors remains the Six Subsectors, and so there will always be someone who is willing to challenge the Imperial Government in the name of a greater cause. The nature of the challenge – long- or short-term, violent or cultural or economic – and the seriousness of the challenge dictates the scope, strength, and nature of the response. Also, there is always someone watching, someone with a cell phone camera, unless special care is taken to avoid this.

Incidentally: note that Imperial defeats are, by their nature, not nearly as well-known as Imperial victories. The victor in such a match generally accepts the Imperial terms of victory, which generally includes some kind of public acknowledgement of Imperial Authority and avoiding publicly rubbing the Imperium’s nose in it, at least not off-world or in interstellar media. Only a PC adventuring in one of the more obscure corners of the Imperium – and able to understand what is happening before his eyes – will recognize a serious Imperial defeat when he sees it.

 

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Dr. Da Vinci

“Your starship really needs a Dr. Da Vinci!

After all, what happens when one of your men get a sucking gunshot wound, and the nearest surgeon is a good fourteen lightyears away? Do you seriously believe that your on-board medic or EMS tech can handle that?

(And if you do have an on-board surgeon… ever wonder why he signed up at a massive cut in pay to be as far away from his homeworld’s medical boards as possible?)

But any certified medic can handle one of our simple-to-use, flexible, regularly updated Dr. Da Vinci’s! Able to handle all of the major species, from human to all the Droyne castes… and more! Build right here, in our sector, on the world of Yogesh, with technology superior to most – right up to the Imperial Average, Tech Level Ceee!

Yes, this advanced, lifesaving, money-saving technological marvel can be yours for the easily financed price of 350,000 Credits. It comes complete with a five-year maintenance package, effective at any Imperial Starport at Class B or above: at an additional cost, access to our maintenance and upgrade services can be extended to a wide range of cities and spaceports where we maintain our service & repair shops.

Contact us right now, and as a special bonus, you will be given a unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to partner with the legendary interstellar medical service, Charity LIC, in a pilot program to provide desperately-needed care to every world in our sector… at a suitable price point, of course. Sure, this could be a simple top-up business on the side, to help your ship and crew glide over hard times like the current pirate-caused decline in trade. But, guided by the vision of a special few entrepreneurial captains, it could grow into so much more! I urge you to contact us for more information.

Dr. Da Vinci – saving lives, everywhere.”

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The Inverted Tiered City

Personally I would set up such a TL 8-10 city as something a long-established power – a dynasty, aging-yet-respected ruler, or even a major nation/tribe/religion at the height of its power and influence – would create to make a lasting name for itself.

The real tech magic is in getting large amounts of water to pump up from the centre of the city, and then flow out. You’re going to need some meson cannons to tap into an underwater source, and densitometers to find an aquifer that won’t dry up after a few years – and, if you want that water to flow for the long term, some kind of pump to push water back underground, to again emerge in the centre of the city.

That kind of engineering doesn’t come cheap. Even if you want it engineered to be maintainable at TL 8-10 (to fit the limited abilities of the Empty Quarter), there’s going to be some serious initial high-tech work, to make it happen.

 

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Coursera: Imagining Other Earths…

From Coursera:


Are we alone? This course introduces core concepts in astronomy, biology, and planetary science that enable the student to speculate scientifically about this profound question and invent their own solar systems.

  • Subtitles available in English
  • 20 hours of videos and peer assessments

Syllabus (summarised, per week)

  • The Universe is Big!
  • What is Life?
  • Why is Mercury Hot?
  • Snowball Earth
  • Planetary Atmospheres
  • Mercury and Venus
  • Mars
  • The Moon
  • Small Bodies of the Solar System
  • Kepler’s Law and Search for Extrasolar Planets
  • Kepler and Transits
  • Einstein and the Search for Planets
  • Properties of Stars
  • Stellar Evolution
  • Quantum Mechanics and Fingerprinting Planets
  • Optics and Imaging Planets
  • Formation of the Earth and the Origin of Water
  • Biochemistry of Life
  • Is Earth Special? Origin of Life
  • Evolution of Life
  • Extremophiles
  • Extinctions
  • What makes a Habitable Planet?
  • Habitable Zone, Fermi Paradox & SETI

Well, it might be a good course to check out. If only to discover the right questions, or for Trav Refs to build a credible fairly well, without too many seams showing…

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