Friday, February 01, 2013

Links 01/02/13

'Foster + Partners were responsible for the design of the base’s modular living units. These structures, pressured, inflatable capsules containing various living spaces, would be transported along with the 3D printer aboard a space rocket. Once landed, the tubular modules would be unpacked and inflated; the robot-controlled-printer would then print a regolith shell layer by layer directly over each lodging, effectively burying it in a thick protective crust of lunar soil.'  Beats shovelling lunar dirt over your inflatable hut by hand.

Talking of lunar dirt, NASA plans to use its Regolith Advanced Surface Systems Operations Robot to extract water, air and fuel from the lunar regolith. Kind of like Moon, without the Helium 3.

The Road To Endeavour blog, which has been following the Opportunity rover's progress across the surface of Mars, has posted a nice piece on the 9th anniversary of its landing, 9 years on Barsoom.

 Meanwhile, out at Saturn, the Cassini spacecraft has been watching a gigantic planet-girdling storm choke on its own tail.

And back on Earth, we have to contend with a coffee apocalypse and the possibility that we've reached peak genius.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Same As It Ever Was

They sat, the man and the woman, in the middle of the narrow crescent of a white beach, looking out across calm blue water that stretched, punctuated here and there by low green islands. The sheer wall of the tent curving up, and beyond its lattice of huge diamond panes a low range of bare and dusty hills stretched across the near horizon, sharp against the black sky.

‘You remember this place,’ she said.

‘Of course I remember it,’ he said.

‘The last time we talked. When you tried to explain why you were leaving. And now . . .’

‘It hasn’t changed. The view. It hasn’t changed.’

‘Why should it change?’

‘There you are.’
‘We don’t need to talk about that again. We talked ourselves out the last time, years ago.’

‘And nothing has changed. But that’s all right. It’s what you are. What your family are.’

‘Did you come here to pick a fight with me?’

‘I came here to say goodbye.’

‘Because it’s part of the program. The thing of yours.’

‘Not just me. There are thirty-two others. Three ships, eleven souls in each ship.’


‘Some believe so. Souls, minds, personality clusters.’


‘We won’t think of ourselves as copies.’

‘Even though that’s what you are. What you’ll be. They’ll open your skull, pare down your brain micron by micron, and rip its structure and activity into a viron inside that little can of a ship. The process destroys the original, so all that’s left will be the copy. The ghost of a dead man.’

‘You can’t talk me out of it.’

‘I know. I never could talk you out of anything, and I’m not about to try now.’

‘So what are you trying to do?’

‘I don’t know. Introduce a note of realism into your fantasy, perhaps.’

‘I know what I’m doing,’ he said. ‘And even though you won’t admit it, I know it’s important.’

She didn’t reply. They sat quietly for a little while. The woman looking off at the view of the lake and the islands, the hills stark against the naked black sky. The man running white sand through his fingers, looking sideways at the woman. She had aged well. Slim as ever, hair white now, pure white hair in a bowl cut, lines of course, a certain stringiness at the throat, but the same squarish tip to her slender nose, the same small bow of a mouth, the mouth he’d once loved to kiss and rekiss.

He said, ‘Okay, I admit that this is part of it. Saying goodbye to your family and your friends. To the people who were important in your life. Who are important. Doing it, being able to do it, I admit: it’s a tick mark. But I would have come here anyway.’

She said, ‘You always did find it easy to say goodbye.’

‘Now who’s trying to pick a fight?’

‘You were never satisfied. Never content with what you had. You always wanted something else. My mother warned me, but I never listened.’

‘Your mother? I always thought she liked me.’

‘She liked you, but she knew you. My father didn’t like you, and didn’t care to think about why.’

‘Well. Maybe they were right.’

‘Don’t. Don’t . . . indulge me.’

Another silence. Small waves ran up to the beach, over and over. A bird slipped sideways on the warm breeze, dipping low over the water, gliding on.

‘I never asked for forgiveness. I always admitted that I was wrong to go. But I couldn’t stay. I couldn’t give you what you wanted kids, stability . . . I wanted more than that. Lovely though this place is, I was dying here,’ he said, smiling at his own hyperbole.

‘There are all kinds of cities and settlements right here on Callisto,’ she said. ‘And cities and settlements on Ganymede and Europa, too. Ten thousand gardens and habitats in the Belt. There’s Earth and the Moon. There’s Mars. Mercury. All the places further out, Saturn and Uranus and Neptune. Pluto and Charon, kobolds, the centaurs, the scattered disc . . . And that’s not enough?’

‘I guess not.’

‘I’m trying to understand.’

‘I’m trying to explain. I thought I had explained.’

‘It was a nice little speech. Leaving the cradle. The brave pioneers, the brave new worlds.’

‘Maybe it’s people. I think sometimes it’s that,’ the man says. ‘Everywhere you go, people are much the same. They make a big deal about little local differences in customs and protocols that really aren’t a big deal. And everywhere the same conversations about art and politics and the economy, the same gossip, the same ways of earning kudos . . . It’s all the same, everywhere. But out there, it’s blank. It’s new.’

‘Except other people are already out there, aren’t they? One of the first ships to light out, isn’t it headed where you’re headed?’

‘It’s old tech, that ship. A big, old, slow multigeneration ship that can’t make more than a fraction of a percent of light speed. It left more than a century ago, and we’ll overtake it inside a year after we launch. And we’ll get there centuries before it does. And that won’t be a problem because we don’t want what its crew and passengers want. They want the planet. The exoearth. We want the asteroid belts. The two belts, the comets . . .’

‘As if you couldn’t find a rock of your own here.’

‘And in ten or twenty years, the neighbours come calling. There’s nothing new, here. I don’t mean that’s a bad thing for you. You like things the way they are. But for me . . .’

‘You always had a low boredom threshold. I liked that, once upon a time. Your love of life, your fearlessness. The kid from Earth, coming all the way out here just because you wanted to see what it was like. You made everything into an adventure.’

‘We had some good times together, didn’t we?’

‘We had the wanderjahr.’

‘Driving along the equatorial mountains of Iapetus.’

‘Camelot, Mimas. Paris, Dione—’

‘We’ll always have Paris,’ he said, and smiled, but she didn’t understand the reference. ‘We had some high old times. But afterwards, I couldn’t hack it. Life here. I said I was sorry then. And I’m sorry now.’

‘No, you aren’t,’ she said neutrally. ‘You know your problem? You can’t change.’

‘I can’t change?’

‘You’re still that kid, looking for thrills. You haven’t grown up. You can’t grow up.’

‘If you ask me, it’s over-rated.’

‘Kids go on wanderjahrs because it helps them find out who they are,’ she said. ‘The experiences, the new places, the different people. It all gives a certain perspective. But you just liked to travel.’

‘Maybe I already knew who I was.’

‘You see? Same as you ever were.’

‘Not for long, according to you.’

She looked sideways at him. ‘Perhaps that’s why they chose you. People like you. People who can’t change. Perpetual adolescents.’

‘People who want adventure. Who are willing to risk everything to create something new.’

‘Say you get there. You survive the journey. Then what?’

‘We find CHON and metals, build the machines that build the really big construction machines. And we quicken kids, and teach them what to do. We’ll be like the guardians, the guides. And they’ll build new habitats and settlements, new cities. New ways of living around a new star.’

‘And then? When that gets old?’

‘There are always more stars. One thing about uploading into a viron, you don’t ever have to die. I’ll be have a front-row view of ten thousand years of history. A million years.’

‘Like anyone who hasn’t ever grown up, you really do fear death, don’t you?’

‘Uploading is dying, according to you.’

‘It’s a kind of death, but not the real death. And not real life either.’

‘Compared to this?’  The man gestured, meaning the lake and the islands, the trim little villages scattered around the rim of the tent.

‘People find who they are,’ the woman said. ‘They move on from childish things. Small things, ordinary things, everyday things, they become important. Hard things like raising kids become important. Work becomes important. My work on quantifying morality, you don’t think anything of it, but it’s not only important to me, it has mass, it has significance. It has made a significant contribution to setting a universal standard of kudos. Part of it is incorporated in every bourse in the system.’

‘I don’t mean to dismiss what you do.’

‘But you do. You did. You walked away from it. And now you’re walking away from everything else, into this awfully big adventure of yours. And you’ll keep running away.’

‘I’ll keep moving on. I’ll always want to find out what’s over the next horizon. And I will find out, too.’

‘You’ll keep on running. And never look back, never come home. Never stop to think why you’re running.’

‘I should have known that you wouldn’t understand.’

The woman studied him with a look of unquantifiable sadness. She said, ‘You are what you are. I am what I am. And sometimes I tend to slip into the formal mode of academic discourse when it isn’t appropriate. I’m sorry.’

When she stood, the man reached for her, saying, ‘I’m not angry or anything. Listen, I have a couple or three hours before the flitter leaves for Rainbow Bridge. We could hang out here a while, call up a picnic, maybe, you know, say goodbye properly . . .’

The woman laughed. ‘That’s exactly what I mean,’ she said, and turned and walked off across the breast of the little island, its rabbit-cropped turf and scattered trees vivid and green against the black sky and Jupiter’s slanted pastel crescent.

‘The front-row view of a million years of history,’ the man called out, but the warm wind took his words and the woman walked on to the little skiff beached on the far side of the island, to her home, to the life she’d made.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Evening's Empires - Some Key Words

Gajananvihari Pilot. Pabuji's Gift. Kabadiwallahs. The iconography of the Bright Moment. Microscopic jitter. Tick-tock philosophers. Head doctors. Dacoits. Discorporate tankies. Ascetic minstrels. Skull feeders. Spire builders. The Free People. 207061 Themba. The forests of Vesta. Chandelier cities. Ophir, the world-city, a.k.a. The Caves of Steel. Free People. Fei Shen, the Flying Mountain, a.k.a Wufen Shan, the Fifth Sacred Mountain, a.k.a. First New Shanghai. Monoliths. Tannhauser Gate. The Republic of Arden. The ten thousand collectives of Europa. The Commonwealth of Sugar Mountain. The Memory Whole. Seraphs. Waypoints. The Great Expansion. The True Empire. Vacuum organisms. Cratered rubble-piles blanketed in deep layers of dust and debris, mountains of nickel-iron, stony mountains of pyroxene, olivines and feldspar, rocks rich in tarry carbonaceous tars, clays and water ice. Pirates of the asteroids.
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