Fighting Robots

I got an email from Dr. DNA today. Yeah, I’d seen this. I can’t wait… of course, it will all end in tears, but dang, what fun till it does.
First they clean our floors as cute little roombas,
Then the battle to the death for our amusement on the gladatorial arena,
How long before they link up and overthrow the rule of us decadent meat bags?
I have seen that movie…
…it does NOT end well…
sincerely, yours in giant fighting robot science,

Space Mining

asteroidsCongress Passes the Space Act,411747

Space Mining is now legal.

So, technically, you can go mine your asteroid and bring home the materials for profit. A few small problems:

  1. No spaceship can get to the asteroids right now
  2. No mining ships have even been seriously designed
  3. No fuel depots in space
  4. No customer base for space materials

This is one of those self-squaring circles. Once you have space miners, you’ll need fuel depots, which will need/buy space materials, which it can buy from miners, who it is fueling up to go back ….

Unfortunately, absent A -> B there is not B-> A.

There were some presentations at Dragon Con about this state of affairs and I think they’ll go far. It might take a few years, decades, but I think it will happen. Robotics will lead, robotic miners, water depots. Smelters, metal printers.

The real problem lies in creating a self-sufficient world in orbit. That world can have humans in it, then there will be humans there. We’ll begin to live in space sometime, I hope soon.



Nanowrimo is kicking my butt!


Ok, so like tweeting. Putting 2000 words down on paper is actual work. I’m glad I have a day job. It is hard work writing a novel, hard work doing what I do for a living. Doing both is a bit of an extreme sport. I’ve got to write a paper – work – while writing a horror story – not work. I’m up a creek.

However, as of today I’m pushing 10,000 words. Not a bad total, but only 1/5th of the way to the nanowrimo “win” and only 1/10 of the way to a book. (assuming these un-edited pages were any good at all, they aren’t.)

So, if I keep this up, in 50 days I’ll have a novel. I’ll 7/5 this because I believe in weekends, after November, so just over 2 months … then some editing, lets call it a rough draft in December and an edited first draft that I could send to an editor, at the end of January of February.

Hopefully, by then, I have a word from Baen on “The Broken Man.” I’m a bit tired of how long the line is in their slush pool. I’m 30 novels back, which would take me – professionally reading – about 30 days. Of course, who gets to read professionally… oh yeah, editors on slush piles. hmmm. Ok, so enough of my snarking. I’m going to get back to work.

I’m sorry I’m not sciencing today. I’m definitely scheduled to “science” for a Pie Party this November. Given that my wife has promised a pumpkin pie, well, of course I’m coming. Save me some cool whip! Oh, and a slice of apple too.

Real science thought for the day. We keep assuming that the next generation tech is better than the current one. Why? Where are we wrong?

Always good for a fight.


new hill

I’m starting a book for National November Writing Month. (nanowrimo) I’m going to write a new novel in the Waylaid series…which consists of one novel. No great shakes yet, but I’m working on it.

If you want to join in on my pain, look me up on nanowrimo.  @Sablehawk of course.

This isn’t science fiction, but I’m willing to help anyone who wants it. I know science fiction as well as anyone. This novel is more fantasy/history based.


Plasma Gun – Mad Science Stories


There has been a lot of discussion the last few days about some fellow who printed a “plasma gun” and was shooting a bb at 450 ft/s. I’ve got some experience working with Dr. Mohamed Bourham back in 1992 – 1995. Plasma Engineering at NCSU. So I feel like responding to the usual threads.

The usual crap is:

  1. This must be fake.
  2. Regulate this before someone gets hurt.
  3. Really this isn’t very impressive.


  1. I don’t know much about 3D printing, ask Chad Ramey if you need to know. He runs (ran last year) Georgia Tech’s 3D lab. I’ve done some laser cutting and some milling, mostly plastic but a little steel. But, you can basically 3D print any shape. Usual limitations involve re-curvature and support of extended structures, same as any model building.
  2. Seriously, regulating 3D printing is as purposeless as regulating sex acts between consenting adults. Completely F*d up. Unless you decide to regulate the transfer of CAD files on the internet. You are outa luck.
  3. First off, 3D printing is cool, but milling is better. You can do a much better product with a 3D milling machine and a block of steel. Lexan makes a great ablative barrel material and a good bullet, but that’s it. This is a cute toy which could be sold next to the CO2 powered (paint ball) markers. No more dangerous (unless you shock yourself playing with wiring.)

So, what is a Plasma Gun?

Technical term – Electro-Thermal Chemical Plasma Device. Why? You use an electrical current to heat plastic so that it chemically changes into gas. The gas, mostly Hydrogen, is further heated to become a plasma. You get some Carbon deposition along the walls, which is good for encouraging all the current to flow through the gas. The Hydrogen gets hot, like 30 – 50,000 degrees Celsius. I normally divide by 11 k and call it electron-Volts, so around 3 eV.

The plasma expands at a much greater speed than speed of sound, so it won’t be limited to 1 km/s. Depending on how much energy you can get stuffed into that plasma. Well, a Dragon Con friend of mine asked for a plasma story, so I figure I can write that up today.

So, Here is the story. I was working in the lab and we had an idea to do an experiment, accelerating a 10 gram mass of Lexan with a plasma pulse. We were trying to determine how much momentum was coming down the barrel as a function of V applied. This mattered to some materials experiments we were working on. (Trying to separate out the thermal shock from the physical shock) So Eric and I decided to give it a try.

So, the ETCP device is set up in a wire Faraday cage about 10 feet on a side, lined with lead bricks. Hey, we worked in a reactor, there were lead bricks spare. We built three cubicles out of them, and lined them all with Faraday cages…we made a lot of EMP.

The device is solid stainless steel, bolted to the table, which is bolted to the floor. Very Immobile. The end was pointed directly at the wall, so if we pulled the rear seal off the experiment, the “bullet” er Lexan Mass would fly out of the back and hit a target in the center of the wall. We hooked up a pair of laser beams to measure the crossing speed of our 5 foot racetrack, and got to business.

I carved a bunch of 10 gram Lexan masses. They were about the size of your pinkie fingertip. (Little things) Eric put some bolts into the wall and suspended a chunk of Aircraft Aluminum, 3/4 inch thick, 4 inches wide, a foot long. We ran up a charge on our mass of capacitors. When we got to a good charge, I’d insert a bullet and we’d duck into our control room, turn on the warning light for 5 minutes, and he’d fire the gun. The Lexan converted to plasma on arrival on target, completely destroyed the bullet.

A few hours, a new charge, a new bullet, a new shot, a new velocity. Science! Each shot made a huge, single, noise. Like smacking a garbage can with a hammer. Scared the neighbors something awful.

So, at around 45,000 V, the shot made a sound like ringing a dinner bell, *ding a ling a ding a ling a ding a ling a ling a* It went on for a few seconds, louder, dimmer, louder, dimmer, louder… done.

We looked at each other, what the heck? Checked out the room, no damage, but the target was behind the control station folded in half. Marks on the walls, all the walls. Oh crap. The 10 gram mass of Lexan had folded the aluminum in half and bounced it off of every wall, probably twice. Dr. Doster decided that we didn’t need to be doing that experiment any more. But hey, we got to 3.54 km/s. Beat that.

Future of Space Flight – Interplanetary Civilization

The final question is “Why are we doing this at all?”

  1. The Exploration Gene?
  2. Use of Resources on Earth is Limited?
  3. Protection of the Human Race?
  4. Growth.


  1. There will always be arguments of “Because it is there,” forever and ever. Humans are like that. But honestly, seeing Earth from orbit would be awesome, but the space between Earth and Mars is full up of NOTHING. Almost as bad as space between Earth and Jupiter, Saturn, Pluto, the next star. 99.99999 % of space is nothing. The other 0.000001% is amazing views…which, since we can’t see them with the naked eye, might as well be seen with a camera.
  2. We can extract resources in space without digging up the Earth. Yeah, not so much. There are good reasons to dig up resources in space, but we can cleanly extract resources from Earth for thousands of years before we NEED anything from an asteroid. Especially considering the cost of delivering it to the Earth.
  3. Sure, I would feel “safer” with mankind an interstellar species…but if we can’t make it on Earth, we won’t survive long in space. Filtering Earth water is EASY compared to water rationing on a colony.

Colony: “What is our acceptable Cyanide level again, honey? I think we have a pressure leak in one of the grey water tubes. Well, don’t drink anything till I check for bubbles in the piss tank.” When THAT sentence is comparable to

Earth: “Gosh, I think we’ll need to start a billion dollar desalination plant again or our almond harvest may fail.”

So, 4. Growth.

Science is easy, but its really easy when no one is checking your answers. I can define a specific spectrum as a “Magnetostar, magnetic-spinning neutron star” and have people nod wisely, but … its just a model. Heck, almost everything in Astronomy is just a model. (Really, really good models, don’t get me wrong, this is science, but we can’t really check the answer, can we?)

Engineering isn’t like that. When we build something, you can kick the tires, or whatever it has, and determine if it is better than the previous model. But if you want something good in the future, start building in the present.

In time, humanity will move into space as a natural progress. We will find ways to survive in the big dark, we will extract resources – sunlight is the easy one – and build habitats. In time, we will have an Interplanetary Civilization. Each build is hard, each round of improvements will take decades. People will die. Habitats may fail. But, this is growth.

The development of one project for the International Space Station improved water reclamation from waste by over an order of magnitude. ECLSS.


Before, we only reclaimed less than 50% of water, now we reclaim 95%. A person used over a cubic foot of water a day, now that is down to cubic inches. Improvements will continue to be made, but they don’t happen automatically.

And those way-out science models drive some of these concepts. When we see a light curve that indicates something passing in front of a star, we get an idea of size. It blocks 20% of the sun’s light… wow, that’s big. It has weird gaps in it… it is cloud-like? It might be a meteor swarm, or it might be a habitat cloud.

Unfortunately, at over 1000 light years, it is unlikely that we’ll ever get answers of engineering questions from these aliens, if they exist. But, if the engineering is possible, we will do it and I’d prefer sooner to later.

Let me check my notes