Super Massive Black Hole Power Plant

I just love this kind of thinking…

The structures of the power plant basically revolve around the central SMBH in Keplerian motion to form “Dyson Shells.” In an advanced case of Type II, the central star is almost fully covered to form “Dyson Sphere”. Here we discuss the case of structures partly covered, or the Dyson Shell type, and call it a Dyson Sphere. Unlike a stellar environment, or Type II Dyson Sphere, there are complex structures like relativistic jets, accretion disk and accreting matters, rapidly rotating stars, etc., and hence it would be very difficult to construct a fully covered structure, like a system studied by Birch over a large gaseous planet (e.g., Jupiter). However, it is not easy to set numbers of power plants with similar distance orbiting around the central SMBH. Hence, it would be a possible solution to set the power plants on a solid framework, something like structures studied by Birch. Some areas should be kept uncovered to yield emanating jets and accreting flows.

Super-Soldier Ants

Over at The Register:

Ants can grow from larvae into many different bodily types, including soldiers, workers, or queens, depending on how they are fed and raised within the colony. The team analyzed the genetic structure of the supersoldiers and found the mechanism for their growth, a juvenile hormone.

When the team applied the hormone to larvae from these species, they found it easy to create the super soldiers. The surprise came when they tried a similar technique with species that don’t normally produce such heavy soldiers. They found that they could still create supersoldiers in these species, by activating genotypes from a common ancestor of the pheidole genus.

Ah, meat and bread for the science fiction writer. Sort of makes me think about Pournelle and Niven’s The Mote in God’s Eye. It also makes me think about a battle version of the Brumallians in Hilldiggers.

Where's My Robot Butler?

I’ve been watching some You Tube videos and reading up on some stuff about the ‘technological singularity’. Vernor Vinge’s ideas about this relate more to an explosion in technological development brought about by artificial intelligence, but there are other definitions out there. I was watching one video in which someone tracked the doubling of technological development from two thousand years ago and posited that the first doubling came in about 1600 (I think) and that successive doublings have been getting closer together so we’ve now reached the point where it happens once a year. Following this exponential curve we can suppose that we’ll reach a point where we get doublings every hour.

Without artificial intelligence we’re getting a ramping up of technological development through the Internet. Scientist, technicians and engineers can now communicate instantly, all over the world, which is certainly accelerating things. Ideas can propagate worldwide as fast as someone can type. Admittedly this can also apply to silly ideas following the axiom that a lie can circle the world faster than the truth can get its boots on, but silly ideas can also be torn apart quickly because a lot of brains are at work – the stupidity of crowds is countered by the synergetic intelligence of the Internet (a kind of artificial intelligence, if you like).

But putting all this aside I began pondering on how often now I keep getting those, ‘Hang on a minute’ moments. I love reading the kind of stuff that can be found on The Next Big Future, just as I enjoyed reading about them in science magazines a few decades ago. But my wish is to see these wonderful things actually reaching people and more and more now I’m seeing it happening. Yes, we have the Internet, all those mobile phones and all that instantly accessible data; all that computing power, music, graphics and games. But where’s my robot butler? Where are the physical as opposed to media/communication advances? Where is the hardware that does more than just shuffle about information and actually uses it in the physical world? Deep Blue might have beaten Kasparov at chess, but was incapable of moving its own pieces.

Some car adverts spring to mind. We have the cars that don’t need keys, use voice recognition, can recognize traffic signs and can park themselves. This is quite stunning for someone whose first car was a Vauxhall Viva loaded with filler and driven to the scrapyard after three months. This springs to mind. I used to run and program a big CNC milling machine, which was cool, but now it seems the technology is being developed to ‘print’ solid objects. How long, I wonder, before we’ll be able buy something similar to connect up to a home pc? Then there’s exponential increase in the speed DNA is being sequenced

These are just a few of those developments, which I expect we’ll be seeing more of, where the virtual is becoming actual; where information technology is reaching out into the real world. I could spend days on the Internet finding more examples; where the computers are actually being given ‘hands’, but I won’t.

Can you think of some more?

Jain Tech on the Way

I love it when a rush of articles like this appear on TheNext Big Future. Here we have a microscopic engine:

“We’ve developed the world’s smallest steam engine, or to be more precise the smallest Stirling engine, and found that the machine really does perform work,”

Here we have further efforts at miniaturization using carbon nano-tubes:

Three dimensional integration is a hot field within electronics since it offers a new way to package components densely and thus build tiny, well-functioning units. When stacking chips vertically, the most effective way to interconnect them is with electrical interconnects that go through the chip (instead of being wired together at the edges) – what are known as through-silicon vias.

Here we have nano-springs:

In order to exploit the particular material properties that appear at the nanoscale, it is first necessary to fabricate materials with nanoscale structures in a controlled and repeatable fashion. Reliable methods for the fabrication of simple shapes such as nanorods, nanocubes and nanotubes are now available, but more complex shapes still pose a challenge. Sungho Park and co-workers from Sungkyunkwan University in Korea have now reported a promising method for the synthesis of palladium nanosprings.

Quantum entangled photons:

Researchers from the University of Science and Technology of China, Hefei in collaboration with colleagues in Germany and Austria have now demonstrated a system that allows photons to be entangled and stored in a manner suitable for quantum computing.

And photonic chips for quantum processors:

A multi-purpose optical chip which generates, manipulates and measures entanglement and mixture – two quantum phenomena which are essential driving forces for tomorrow’s quantum computers – has been developed by researchers from the University of Bristol’s Centre for Quantum Photonics. This work represents an important step forward in the race to develop a quantum computer.

Of course with steady developments like this we might end up with some sort of self-replicating technology that grows like a plant, or a fungal mycelia…

The Windup Girl — Paolo Bacigalupi

My opinion about this book is difficult to nail down. It was rich and textured and engaged all the senses, the characters were fascinating, too, and the extrapolation and some of the ideas were excellent. I particularly liked the kink-spring technology and the semi-retro tech based on it, like the disc guns that are a reminder of a childhood toy. I enjoyed the genetic manipulation and the wind-up girl herself, though of course there were shades of Blade Runner there. However, what gave me pause was the heavy reliance on scares generated by the ‘green’ movement and the MSM, but of course, in present day establishment thinking, it is right on.

We have the scares about global warming and sea-level rise here, and you all know my opinion on them. Yes, we do have global warming, and we’ve had it since the Little Ice Age and it hasn’t come close to being as high as in the Medieval Warm Period and has flat-lined for over a decade. As for sea-level rise, putting aside Al Gore idiocy and desperate IPCC spin, the last time I looked it was few millimetres a year (as it has been for 8000 years), and if we can’t cope with a metre rise in sea-level in three or four centuries then we might just as well give up right now (it has also been dropping for the last three years). However, the clue is in the label. This is science fiction so writing about a future globally-warmed and flooded world is valid, though, extrapolating from historical climate cycles, and writing about a new Ice Age, would be more so.

Then we have the scare about genetic modification or, more specifically, the fear of GM under the control of the evil corporations (sigh). Here we seem to be going into Daily Mail ‘Frankenfoods’ territory, combined with the ‘capitalism is evil’ shibboleth of the left. I am a little doubtful about the idea that our scientists are going to abruptly pull masses of world-devastating monsters out of their arses that billions of years of competitive evolution has failed to manage. But whatever, again this is valid for science fiction, and is of course a very useful spanner in the SF toolbox. I also get tired of that constant portrayal in fiction and film of the evil corporation. It strikes me that corporations seem to come up with most of what improves our lives, while it’s the governments that enjoy bombing people back into the Stone Age.

(I also have to wonder … where are the windmills and tide-generators supplying if not electricity then joules for those kink-springs? Where, with such advanced biotech, are the tank-grown hydrocarbons and the CO2 absorbing microbes? Where, also, are the nuclear power stations? Maybe in the rest of the world?)

Thereafter, if the scares were true, the extrapolation in the book is on the button. I do see Luddite environmental police (white shirts much like Hitler’s brown or black shirts) destroying illegal and dangerous technology and pillorying those who are profligate in energy use. I do see an economy based on calories, and the kind of life-styles depicted in this book. And I do see human life being cheapened.

Now I have to add something more. I have, over time, started to make it a rule that I won’t review books I either don’t like or don’t finish. That I finished this book, considering my personal opinions, is testament to how much I enjoyed it. It’s a valid look at a future from one point of view and, unlike what I have seen in other SF books that venture into this sort of territory, the characters are people struggling to get on with their lives in difficult circumstances, and are not vessels created just to deliver righteous homilies.

Cue the visits by trolls to enlighten me in the ways of correct political thought.   

Higgs Boson

It appears that the good people at CERN have either discovered or are close to discovering the Higgs boson or ‘God particle’:

Rumors swirled today that data may have been found that supports the Higgs boson at ~126 GeV. Reliable sources have speculated the data will show a certainty, that something’s there, to about 4.2 sigma, the threshold for official detection is 5 sigma, but that only triggers many rounds of attempted confirmation.

Physics blogs are alive with chatter about a possible sign of the Higgs boson – or perhaps an entirely unexpected particle – in data from the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva, Switzerland. But the claim has not gone through the experiment’s vetting process and could easily turn out to be wrong, physicists say.

Why does this matter? I submit that knowledge for its own sake is a good thing, but also, who knows what sort of technologies such a discovery would lead to? Similarly, what kind of territory are we being led into by those FTL neutrinos? Here’s an article that purports to explain why the Higgs boson matters but, for myself, one of the commenters nailed my feelings about both this particle and those neutrinos:

Translation: the standard model describes a universe that doesn’t actually exist, and so instead of conceding some fundamental defect in the standard model, they assume it must be right and instead there is a missing piece of the puzzle. Much like dark matter and dark energy, the Higgs boson is another epicycle.

And for illuminaton:

Slang for bad science
In part, due to misunderstandings about how deferent/epicycle models worked, “adding epicycles” has come to be used as a derogatory comment in modern scientific discussion. The term might be used, for example, to describe continuing to try to adjust a theory to make its predictions match the facts.

Yup, there’s a lot of that about.

Kardashev Scale

Noting this article on Next Big Future reminded me about the Kardashev Scale, and reading up on it again can certainly be a stimulus for the imagination.

The Polity, I suspect, is merely a Type I civilization, perhaps sliding into Type II territory with the construction of a Dyson sphere. The Heliothane, of Cowl, are also edging into Type II territory with New London sitting over the sun and tapping energy from it. Go check out the links to get your mind blown … so to speak.

The picture here is one from Halo, which seems to have some seriously cool artwork.

Space Ships

There’s an interesting article over at the Register about the progression of the design of spaceships in science fiction. This comment struck me:

“The silliest thing about alien spacecraft, which are designed only to travel in space, is that they are made to look aerodynamic, which is of course unnecessary, since there is no air… remember the Apollo LEM? That is how aerodynamic a spacecraft needs to be…”

Well, no, actually. In fact that statement in and of itself shows a lack of imagination. Certainly, something that’s travelling slowly through vacuum doesn’t need to be aerodynamic, but if you’re nudging the speed of light it’s probably not a good idea to present a large flat profile to even disperse interstellar matter, in fact streamlining seems like a good idea. And who says ‘designed only to travel in space’? Why shouldn’t these ships also be designed to enter all sorts of atmospheres, penetrate dust clouds, even surf in the fire of a sun?

And let’s not forget that the statement above is all about utility, about what ‘needs to be’. If you are capable of building interstellar vessels I submit that you’ve probably moved a bit beyond that. Why shouldn’t you do the Klingon thing and make your vessel in the shape of a hawk or similar. Why shouldn’t you, if you want, build your starship in the shape of a sailing ship, a shark or even a Ford Fiesta?

There is a large gap between what you must do and what you can do. And, let’s face it, when it comes to interstellar flight, we’re a long way from knowing what needs to be incorporated.


Nice interview here at the Register on the same (sort of) subject: Gavin Rothery was visual effects supervisor on the British sci-fi smash Moon, and has been a creative force on a welter of hit video games, and so has a lot to say on the subject of spacecraft design.

FTL Neutrinos Update

Apparently the ftl neutrinos have been refuted:

Their claim is that in getting to superluminal velocities, the neutrinos should lose energy by producing photons and electron/anti-electron pairs (“e+e- pairs”), in a process “analogous to Cherenkov radiation” (the “blue glow” in nuclear reactor water, so beloved of movie-makers).

“A very significant deformation of the neutrino energy spectrum and an abundant production of photons and e+e- pairs should be observed,” the ICARUS group says.

This hasn’t happened, they assert: “We find that the neutrino energy distribution of the ICARUS events … agrees with the expectations for an undisturbed spectrum of the CERN neutrino beam.

“Our results therefore refute a superluminal interpretation of the OPERA result,” the group writes.

Okay, who can see the huge hole in the logic here? Let me explain: by conventional theories the neutrinos can’t travel faster than light but, by conventional theory, if they do go ftl, they should do the above. This is what is known in physics as having your cake, the other guy’s cake, and eating both while disappearing up your own arsehole.