Putting the life back in science fiction

XKCD strikes again
September 12, 2016, 8:17 pm
Filed under: alt-future, climate change | Tags: ,

Got to hot link this one (here’s the permanent link).   I suspect some climatologists will grumble about how smooth that line is, and I caught one probable error and a couple of maybes (dates in the middle).  Otherwise, it’s his usual thought provoking work.

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Labor Day Silliness: America as Rome, part duh

While I don’t want to kill the previous conversation, I’d like to post a rather silly question, if you’ve got some down time this weekend and want to swat at it.  The idea is based on the USA kind of following in the caligulae of the Roman Empire as it crashed.  The question is, when Washington DC floods due to sea level rise, what city becomes the new capital, the American Constantinople?

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When you colonize a planet, what do you mine first?

Just a brief, science-fiction question.  The background is that I realized I didn’t know much about, but I suspect it turns out to be terribly, terribly important for designing colonies on other planets:

When you colonize a planet, what do you mine first? Continue reading

Repurposing Dwarves
August 28, 2016, 8:50 pm
Filed under: fantasy, science fiction, Speculation, Worldbuilding | Tags: , ,

Ah August, that wonderful time when I learn how to navigate selling used stuff on Amazon (pro tip: if it’s selling for much less than $3.00, don’t bother, because that’s about where Amazon’s fees per item tend to land, at least on the stuff I’ve looked at).  And while I’ve been inputting inventory, I’ve had time to think about language, and red dwarf solar systems, and the repurposing of words.

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Hot Earth Dreams and Space Opera

I was going to post this on Charlie Stross’ Antipope, where there’s another interesting discussion developing on space opera.  So as not to chunk 1,450-plus words onto that message board, I thought I’d post my thoughts over here, for those who are interested.

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News and updates
August 15, 2016, 9:27 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Just a brief update and a few links.

As others have pointed out, we’re getting a bit of climate changed weather.  Not here in Southern California, where the Red Flag fire alert they just issued is normal for this time of year,  but climate change is nipping at Louisiana, where it’s flooding, the Persian Gulf, and elsewhere.  A couple of years ago I hoped that the climatologists would turn out to be wrong about weather systems getting both slower-moving and more energetic (more energy means more water goes into the air, and that water tends to come out rapidly too), but it looks like they were right, we’re coming into an era of kaiju-class weather systems.  Sucks that climatology is up there with evolution in terms of rigor.

OnThePublicRecord has two good posts out about the various hypocrisies that plague water use in California (here and here).  The Cadillac Desert rule that water runs uphill to money remains fully in force, although I agree with the OTPR desire for more populist use of water in California, at least while we still have it.   The second post is particularly interesting for any futurists out there who are confident that we can feed more people with less farmland.  This is the political side of that particular argument, and we can (and probably should) argue the moral utility of feeding the many to enrich the few and trash the poor who could also have used that water.  It’s a standard tactic, really: it’s easy to fight a morally black-and-white issue, so one standard defense by the bad guys is to make their systems as morally complex  as possible, so that even the good guys get entangled in the sleaze, ideally profiting a bit from it too.

Aside from getting sucked into dealing with a bunch of tedious land use issues, it being high season for new developments in this part of the world, I’ve also been learning how to sell used books on Amazon.  While I suppose it’s more efficient on the Bezos/systemic level to dump too-popular books at GoodWill (e.g., the ones that sell on Amazon for less than a dollar), and to hold onto the others in the (probably vain) hope that they’ll find buyers, I really miss being able to walk into a used bookstore with a box of used books, get some store credit, and walk out with a couple of newer books to enjoy.  Even though Amazon makes it easy to sell stuff, the chores of inventory, packaging, and taking boxes to the post office are tedious.  It’s basically a slow and random decluttering exercise, but unless I just want to donate a bunch of books and stuff, it needs to be done.

Still, it gives me time to think.  Two of the issues I’ve been contemplating are the psychological aspects of dealing with climate change (as in, how do you deal with a country that prefers denial to possible Pre-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and what does that do to the people who actually care?), and whether it’s possible to close the gap between the permaculturalists, who see anything bigger than a village as unsustainable, and feeding a sustainable-ish civilization of billions?  That gap would have to be closed with some pretty sophisticated market design, at the very least.  I haven’t figured out enough to put it in an essay yet, but I’d welcome random thoughts and questions.

Happy Dog Days, all.

Facepalm with a hit of nitrous
July 28, 2016, 7:01 pm
Filed under: climate change, futurism, Real Science Content, Uncategorized | Tags: , ,

I’ve been advocating for a partial switch to an ammonia-based economy, on the theory that, while NOx is an air pollutant, it’s better than CO2.

Facepalm time: N2O, good ol’ nitrous oxide, which is another thing that comes out of of using ammonia for fertilizer or burning it, is a greenhouse gas 100 times more potent per pound than CO2.  Right now, it’s 5.9% of US greenhouse gas emissions.  It supposedly lasts about 114 years in the atmosphere, until it gets broken down by some process or other (I’m being lazy about all the bits and bobs in the nitrogen cycle, because it’s hot here, and with a flex alert on, I’m not running the AC). Unlike CO2, it doesn’t look like it sequentially saturates large sinks and stays around for hundreds of thousands of years in the atmosphere.  Rather, it just breaks down slowly.  About 40% of the N2O emitted in the world is from human activities, and it can be cut, in some circumstances, through catalytic conversion technology.

Here’s some really basic information on it (link to EPA)

The basic sources for atmospheric N2O are:

  • conversion of nitrogen fertilizers to N2O by bacteria.  This is the big one, and more efficient fertilizer use and better land management can cut this to some degree.
  • it’s a combustion byproduct, so it comes out the tailpipes of gas-burning cars.  Catalytic convertors can help with this.
  • various industrial processes produce N2O as a byproduct.

Now, the simplistic solution is hydrogen, except that (IIRC) burning hydrogen using air also may release some N2O, because there’s a lot of nitrogen in the air.  Converting to fuel cell-type devices that do electrochemistry rather than combustion and using catalytic convertors on combustion-powered systems probably is the way to go.

It does get more complicated than that.  While catalysis is the simple-minded solution, it’s also prey to the usual simple-minded problems with polluters who don’t keep that part of their car (or other system) working, and thieves after the platinum in the convertors.  It’s the usual, intractable problem: environmental problems, greed, and stupidity don’t mix.

So, what do you think?  Pitch any desire for an ammonia economy out the window and pray for hydrogen and better batteries?  Double-down on catalysis, which catches NOx better than CO2, and start prospecting for platinum at the side of the local highways?  Stick with fossil fuels and assume we’re all doomed?  Some combination of all three?

Oh well, tonight I get to watch  the latest episode of the newest superhero series: Suit Woman vs. Generalissimo Cantaloupe.   I’m not sure binge watching is the right word for it (more the opposite), but it does seem to be the thing everyone’s talking about this season.

Why more droughts matter more than some droughts
July 20, 2016, 9:53 pm
Filed under: climate change, Real Science Content, Speculation | Tags: ,

So I’ve finished reading 1177 B.C., The Year Civilization Collapsed, as I mentioned in the last post.  It’s a good book, and it’s also a good lesson in why I might want to wait until I’m done reading a book before blogging.

It turns out there’s multiple lines of evidence that there was a drought in the eastern Mediterranean around 1177 B.C.  However, if you know anything about Mediterranean climates, you’ll know that droughts happen.  Was this one different?  That part’s unknowable, but a book I read earlier this spring does point to how the eastern Mediterranean can get into a big problem when two droughts coincide, and that’s the little lesson for today: it’s not just the local drought that’s the problem.

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News and Dark Age Apophenia
July 9, 2016, 10:59 pm
Filed under: climate change, fantasy, fiction, Worldbuilding, writing

Sorry about the long silence, but I’ve been researching a new story setting, just for fun.

The news is that I’ve got another guest blog up on Charlie Stross’ Antipope. It’s about the possible consequences of Mark Jacobson’s plan to power the US using only renewable electricity.

And now for something completely different, what I’m doing on my summer “vacation.”

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Water, salt, sediment, and power. And the future

Well, I finally finished reading Mark Reisner’s Cadillac Desert (Amazon link), and I highly recommend it, if you haven’t read it already, even though the original text was written in the 1980s.  For those who haven’t read it, the thumbnail is that it’s a muckraking history of water works in the US, primarily in the western US in the 20th Century.  The reason I strongly recommend it is not just for what Reisner got right (or apparently got right), but also what he got wrong, like his prediction of the huge water crisis of 2000.

I’m not going to do a book review here.  Rather, I’m going to talk about some of the things I got out of it, including how hard it is to predict when water crises will hit.

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