Saturday, July 20, 2019

One small step for man

Fifty years ago, man set foot on the moon for the first time.  Years from now, when the United States of America has ceased to exist, we will still be remembered by historians as the first nation, as Robert Howard might put it, to tread the virgin soil of Luna beneath our booted feet.

I was born in the 1970s, so I obviously missed out on these early space milestones.  My biggest "space" experience as a child was watching the Challenger explode on live television.  But in recent years, I've come to appreciate just how unlikely the whole moon landing was and therefore how impressive and fantastic it is that we pulled it off.  It really was a marvelous achievement.

Neil Armstrong has sadly passed on, but Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins are still with us, and I hope they have a wonderful day full of fond reminiscences and celebrations on this day, the fiftieth anniversary of their mission's triumphant climax.  They deserve it.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

One out of two ain't bad

Laptop just updated.  It was a Dell update, not Windows.  Lately, these Dell updates have been failing for whatever reason.  This time, though, one out of two updates successfully installed.  It feels like a victory.

In other news, I've finished outlining the remainder of book 4, so I can resume writing again.  I intend to push hard to the end and finish within a few days.  After that, I've got some author-related chores to do, including outlining the rest of the books in the series.  Once those chores are done, I'll start the second draft of book 4.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

On the "storm Area 51" idea

Please don't.  I know it sounds exciting and all, but please don't do this.  Those soldiers aren't just there to look pretty.  They will arrest you if you venture too close to the base.  And if you resist arrest, they'll shoot you.

But even if that wasn't the case--even if the soldiers turn out to be all bark and no bite--the desert itself will try to kill you.  Dehydration is a thing.  Sunstroke is a thing.  So are scorpions and rattlesnakes and Gila monsters and whatever other perils exist out there.

It's not worth the risk, folks.  I know I sound like a party pooper, but please don't storm Area 51.


So I've been taking a break from writing for the past few days in order to re-outline the remainder of the book.  And I'm making progress, too.  I've about decided how I want it to play out.

The problem with outlining is that it doesn't feel like I'm being productive.  I tend to measure productivity in terms of word count.  It feels like I'm meandering.

Thinking about generation ships, though, might have sparked an idea for a story.  And there's the other story I've been rolling around in my head for a while, too.  So I've got a few irons in my mind's fire.

So even though I'm meandering, I'm making progress of a sort.  I can live with that.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Generation ships

I've been giving some thought to the concept of generation ships, i.e. a spaceship that takes so long to reach its destination that it requires multiple generations of passengers for the duration of the voyage.  This has been done before in science fiction, obviously, but I've never done it, and I'm not sure I could do it due to the social issues involved.

The first issue is size.  How many passengers should be in that first generation?  We're talking about the seed of a new population here, so it needs to be enough people to prevent genetic issues relating to inbreeding.  A few dozen at the very least.  Preferably over a hundred.  The problem, though, is that the bigger the group, the harder it is to keep order.  Which brings us to the next challenge...

Government and economy.  What sort of system do they set up?  A command economy?  A free market?  Something in between?  How vital will production be?  Will the passengers have to grow their own food, or will there be decades' worth of prepackaged meals on board?  If the latter, then those rations will be used as money and as a means of oppression in much the same way that third-world dictators use food as a weapon.  There's also the possibility of spoilage.  Accidents happen, and all it would take is one incident to ruin part or all of the food supply.  A freezer short-circuits, a plague of rats gets into the pantry, etc.  Also, in this scenario, the population would have to be strictly controlled since the food supply is a zero-sum game.  There are many ways such population control can go wrong.  See China's One Child policy for a modern-day example.

If, instead of prepackaged food, they have to farm or herd, then some will produce more food than others due to differences in intelligence, education, work ethic, etc.  This will result in some families being wealthier than others, and that will spark envy, and that will spark crime.  The ship will need a police force.  It will need laws and rules and courts.  Human nature being what it is, bribes, blackmail, and threats will occur.  Over the course of generations, the potential for riots and rebellions grows.  There will be war.  Perhaps even genocide.

Or perhaps a command economy is instituted, in which case all food is collected and everyone is promised an equal share from the communal pot.  The problem with this is the same problem faced by the Plymouth Colony in 1623: famine and starvation.  Here's Governor Bradford's account:

“The experience that was had in this commone course and condition, tried sundrie years, and that amongst godly and sober men, may well evince the vanitie of that conceite of Platos and other ancients, applauded by some of later times; -that the taking away of propertie, and bringing in communitie into a comone wealth, would make them happy and florishing; as if they were wiser then God. For this comunitie (so farr as it was) was found to breed much confusion and discontent, and retard much imployment that would have been to their benefite and comforte. For the yong-men that were most able and fitte for labour and servise did repine that they should spend their time and streingth to worke for other mens wives and children, with out any recompence. The strong, or man of parts, had no more in devission of victails and cloaths, then he that was weake and not able to doe a quarter the other could; this was thought injuestice. The aged and graver men to be ranked and equalised in labours, and victails, cloaths, etc., with the meaner and yonger sorte, thought it some indignite and disrespect unto them. And for mens wives to be commanded to doe servise for other men, as dresing their meate, washing their cloaths, etc., they deemd it a kind of slaverie, neither could many husbands well brooke it. Upon the poynte all being to have alike, and all to doe alike, they thought them selves in the like condition, and ove as good as another; and so, if it did not cut of those relations that God hath set amongest men, yet it did at least much diminish and take of the mutuall respects that should be preserved amongst them. And would have bene worse if they had been men of another condition. Let pone objecte this is mens corruption, and nothing to the course it selfe. I answer, seeing all men have this corruption in them, God in his wisdome saw another course fiter for them.”

Of course, the government could make those people work.  But then you get into questions about what sort of world you're trying to build on the new planet and how slavery aboard the generation ship plays into that.  If you're going to institute a feudal or caste system from the outset, then the only people you'll get to sign up for the trip will be those who want to be harsh taskmasters and those who are desperate enough to volunteer for serfdom.  That's not a recipe for long-term success on an alien world.  Might as well just stay on Earth.

One of my biggest beefs with a lot of SF is the portrayal of human in space colonies as little more than saintly robots.  Where's the vice?  Where's the envy and covetousness?  Where's the corruption and oppression?  Where's the violence?  These things are endemic to the human condition.  You can gather a few individuals together for a little while without much harm, as we currently do in situations like the International Space Station, but when you're talking about a generation ship, you've got too many people involved for too long a time to credibly omit humanity's worst characteristics.  There's nowhere to go; everyone's stuck on the ship with each other.  There's no social pressure relief valve.  Given enough people and multiple generations in a confined space, there will be mass violence.

That's why I can't think of a way to make a generation ship work in a way that's socially satisfying.  Humans are simply too flawed to make it work.  On Earth, we can move to other countries, or move to the wilderness to live as hermits, and basically get away from each other if necessary.  That can't happen on a ship. 

If we go to the stars, I think it will have to involve cryo-sleep or ultra-fast travel or something else that allows us to get there in a single generation.  The faster, the better.

Friday, July 12, 2019

This table rocks

Okay, first a disclaimer: I don't have any sort of relationship with WORX whatsoever.  I'm simply a satisfied customer, no more, no less.  I paid full price for this thing.

Now, on to the product...

A few months ago, I purchased a WORX Pegasus folding workbench.  Amazon product page:

This week, I've been using it to do some woodworking.  I used the clamps to hold pieces of wood in place while I drilled and sawed.  More importantly, I put some pressure on the edge of the table while using the jigsaw.  You never know, when sawing something that's hanging off the edge, if your table will start to tip over.  This table did not.  It remained solidly in place the whole time, even while I was pushing on the edge of it to hold the wood still.  That was what spurred me to write this post: its stability in the face of what could have been a challenging moment vector.

The table is lightweight for something its size and ruggedness.  It folds up nicely for carrying.  The only real negative thing about it is there's no carry handle.  I carry it by the waffle pattern of the polymer reinforcements instead.  That's a minor thing, though.  I can still truck it up and down stairs one-handed.  Product is all-around awesome.

If you need something like this, then I recommend this one.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Progress report

Still working on the first draft of book 4 of Wheel of Fire.  I reached page ten of my twelve-page outline, but then I had to stop.  The rest of the outline wasn't satisfactory.  I'm abandoning it.

I'm now re-outlining the last part of the book.  So the writing is on pause, but as soon as I've got the conclusion outlined, I'll start writing again.  This book is taking a meandering path to KDP, but it'll get there.

That's the good thing about being an indie author.  I can make changes whenever I need to, and there's no external deadline to cause me stress.  I sometimes wonder how many traditionally published authors turned in manuscripts that they knew were sub-par but couldn't be improved because they simply ran out of time.