Sunday, January 29, 2012

43 Atoms of Stuff!

Grab 50 atoms from anywhere on (or in) the Earth and 30 of them are Oxygen; 10 of them are Silicon, and 3 are Aluminum. These three elements are the most abundant on Earth, and Oxygen is the third most abundant element in the Solar System. Planning for living out there is mostly about finding volatiles, organics and Nitrogen plus trace amounts of Phosphorus, Calcium and Potassium for life support, and because we'd like to live among living things, not just man-made systems... at least I'd like to, and I expect we'd be saner and healthier that way!

But back to those 43 of fifty atoms; they make up silly silicates (ceramics, glass and stone) and aluminosilicates (like the mineral feldspar), since Aluminum will cut in on Silicon, by turns rudely or politely, and make Geology, and the chemistry of the same, so much more interesting. In molecular nanotechnology Carbon is king, but it has problems. It oxidizes or burns; despite being strong and doing neat 3-D tricks, it doesn't do some things very well. It doesn't self-assemble like proteins will, or silicates. Silica forms strings and chains and sheets; leaves voids useful for sifting and for cabling with other polymers on the small and on the sly. It's what lab chemistry happens inside of, in the form of glass, or on. We historically have built with it, shaped and fired it, formed it into molten glass, and molested it chemically to make photovoltaic cells. It's everything, pretty much, that we need it to be, and it's everywhere, out there in space or on the Earth, that we want to be!

The last time I thought much about MNT design, I assumed that, like anything else, people would back different approaches with their time and money. Some of the futurists made it sound like the hardware and software of each approach would be like a software language and hardware platform, like the Old Wintel duopoly vs. Mac and Linux; now Google Android/Linux versus Apple, so-

Feldspar.adp (Aluminosilicate Design Protocol)- "Everything we need (almost!), everywhere we want to be..."

Adamantine.mnt (not dmnt, or dmnd for 'Diamond' 8-) is a copyright-protected diamondoid carbon-based design protocol. C, or Carbon.cdp is a similar, also copyrighted protocol shared by a consortium of public and private entities.

Protean.ptn and Banana.bnn are protein-based design protocols. Protean is copyright-protected and Banana is open-source.

Feldspar and Adamantine in this scenario would be competing to bring smart materials to market, and the latter is also competing with the 'soft' MNT to create universal assemblers, which I really doubt we'll see until the last half of the century (and therefore I'm probably wrong 8-). Feldspar and Adamantine aren't purely silicate- or carbon-based, but the materials are, and would be about products. Protean and Banana (B-eh? N-eh? N-eh?), the soft nanotech, and also involve genetic engineering, and integration. What I think I'm doing is simplifying a chaotic future, ten-twenty years on...

So, can we form long-chain inorganic silicate polymers? If we can, would they be a good replacement for plastics? It's what I'm thinking about, for the 73 Part Development of the Solar System... Assume that this is twice as heavy as mylar, but we can incorporate amorphous silicon-on-silicate (PV, 9-10% efficiency, at a daily are of 6 KW-hr/m^2 per, call it .57 KW-hr/m^2, ~18 MW-hr for a 100 meter sphere) into the structural sheeting for our aerostat. Mine the surface of Venus with robotic airships, export nitrogen and carbon, build with aluminosilicates that we can expect are in abundance in the planetary regolith.

Hydrocarbons don't go away, and neither do plastics, but they would be replaced as feedstock becomes more valuable as food (fertilizers) and scarce and dear. Replace the original plastic solar power bubbles with silicates, glass-fiber or fiberglass, and with amorphous silicon(thin film solar cells)-on-silicate structural sheeting. Build the Billig Tower (Climate Control/Dehumidifier) out of a small mountain of slag and mine-tailings.

Designed to provide water and hydroelectric power, and also hurricane deflection. Everyone will want one, and the cities not protected by one will demand that Atlanta or Jacksonville stop aiming storms at them!

The Return of Benedict Strange

... and The Committee on WTF2D@BS???

I've been running a supers game set in 1930 Chicago for a month now and was lost as to what to do next, but we ended well last night with a good cliffhanger for what has turned into a pulpy horror game (my fault- Brett wanted an archeologist with supernatural powers, and that suggested Cthulhu to me! 8-)...

A few notes on last night's Thrilling 30's Game-
The remains of Benedict Strange apparently reanimated and Strange took over Art Miller, big strapping young lad, former football-player. Back on track for a medical degree, working part-time with the Coroner's Office as a gofer. BS-Miller attacked and might have killed Ramirez, but was interrupted and Ramirez fought it off.
How did R survive? Why did the interruption and the resistance matter? What is special, if anything, about R?
Why was BS-Miller plus the cop supercharged? What is the connection between Strange and the Murders-on(along)-the-Bus(-route) Killer?

Victor Ramirez drifted in an out of it all day. The last clear memory was of pain and shock, and of pure horror. He had nightmares, again and again, where that college kid, Arthur Miller, had come out of the cold lockup. Ramirez had resented him, but not too much; he was a good kid and liked to joke around. In the dream, the nightmare, he had called out to the six-two former quarterback, and the giant had turned to the coroners' assistant with empty eyes, those big baby-blues washed out and utterly cold, devoid of life. Ramirez took a step back as something oily and malevolent seemed to flow into and fill those windows onto a deeper darkness...

Ramirez had tried to run then, far too late. A shockingly tight grip had taken hold of his right arm, had wrenched it in its socket, had all but torn it from his shoulder. Ramirez had struck out wildly, hit the thing which wasn't Artie in the chest, once, twice, three times, screaming, but the fourth, weakest hit had somehow had some effect. The monster staggered heavily, and let go. Ramirez had fallen, in too much pain to focus, but he had heard voices and the monster went away, along with consciousness.

That came and went through the rest of the morning. There was blood, lots of it, and hard-bitten nurses crying out at the sight of him, a surgeon, a finely skilled cutter whose eyes lit up at the challenge, muttering, "This will take a few deft stitches, won't it? Veins and arteries and tendons, oh yes..."

Shock gave way to blissful morphine. He remembered the pale winter-afternoon sun on the wall and people talking about him as if he wasn't there, which mostly he wasn't. Then darkness with a little back-scatter from the street-lights outside. The hospital rhythms slowed, and the hospital inhabitants, mostly, slept.

In that long stretch between midnight and dawn his morphine drip grew thin and ran down. The pain was his friend, however; without it, as the hours dragged and he puzzled out sounds, pieced together what must have happened, he would never have had any chance at all.

The right arm was a mess, but it was still there, and he felt a weak pulse through chilly fingertips. He wasn't fool enough to try to unwrap the dressings, but yeah, it was still there. Pain radiated from deep bone-bruises, sutures, an abused socket and tendons. Still there, he thought with a hysterical chuckle. "Madre dios!"

There was a cop at the open door who ducked his head into the room. "You awake? I'll get a nurse-" But he stiffened and grabbed his pistol a he turned back to the hallway. "Who's there?"

No answer. But Ramirez felt the darkness, a deeper darkness, gather itself out there, and he felt fear.

There were two quick shots without a warning. Panic or good instincts, and Ramirez was inclined to think it was the latter, but the third shot was muffled, and then the cop struggled with something, gun hand forced up, twisted. There was a horrible crack and meaty crunches as the cop screamed, but then the other monstrous hand was up under the cops' chin, squeezing the life out of him at the throat and twisting, breaking things, forcing the head around, likewise at an unnatural angle. A voice full of gravel, but still barely recognizable as Artie's, once, said, "You won't be neeee-ding that anyyyy-moooor."

The cops' head separated from his body, spraying blood. The thing licked spatter from its lips and smiled at Ramirez as it set the head on his right shoulder, and smooshed it into the back of its' own, back to back and just a little bit off-center. Then it proceeded to loot the body some more.

Ramirez realized that at least some of the screaming was his own.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Cheap access to Space

I've been looking at Birch's space schemes yet again... everything from the orbital ring system, to dynamic suspension members and terraforming Venus and Mars. I don't have the math or engineering background, but I like how he talks about actually paying for all this blue sky!

Basically, there has to be a way to provide and pay for cheap access to space. My Solar Power Bubbles provide highly mobile power generation and is a 'mad scheme' which should pay for itself, without really being 'blue-sky'. Modifying the idea to build a soft, inflatable version of the Billig Tower, to provide localized climate control, starving hurricanes of moisture and steering them away from cities and coast-lines, while also providing drinking water and hydropower, is 'blue', but a logical next step. Launch services from altitude for micro-satellites is a deeper blue, but most 'blue-sky' of all is a mass- or Free Electron Laser-beam launching orbiters.

That's what I'd expect of the nano-slick; in fact, I've been there, done that, and I'm going to run through it again. A massive flock of 60 meter nano-slick bubbles, each with a free-electron laser or maser, focusing power on the underside of a myrabo lightship, or ablating carbon-fibers or polymers off of the backside of the orbiter... how do you make FEL??? I'm going to wave my hands and assume carbon-stuff can be formed into a phased array FEL and go back to the flock, lighting up the backside of a dense plastic disk, or cone for stability. Power wastage is a major sin, but we have a lot of capacity...

A meter cone orbiter is 1m*1/2m^2*pi/3 or pi/12m^3, approximately 11/42, call it 1/4m^3 and density of 1.2 g/cc, or 300 kg. We're leaving the engine at home, ablating material off of the orbiter and guesstimating a specific impulse of 260 seconds, call it all of 250 m/s^2 (which sucks! 8-), but our fuel and payload are one and the same for this example; payload is just what's left of the cone when it reaches orbit and re-circularizes, somehow... nearly 8 kilos to 9500 m/s, a payload fraction of a little over 2%. Scale up, make the thing a double cone 3m wide and 3m long,and it's 8 1/2 tonnes at launch, 200 kg into orbit (Vinny-rated, in other words...).

Power to feed the drive is ~10 times (250m/s)^2*8500kg, or 553 billion joules, 154 MW-hr of electricity, over four hours output from a 585m nano-slick bubble. The polymer and payload are trivial outputs for one of those; they produce 99 tonnes of nano-slick material or other carbon-stuff every day. Even for 1km solar power bubble, that's still over six hours of electrical production, worth over $15K at ten cents a KW-hr.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Johnny Nanoseed

I spent some time working on this tonight, when I should have been writing! But it was fun to noodle around, and I've got some ideas for a story or two out of it-

(Let's see how this works)

Friday, January 6, 2012

MNT, Again

I've been revisiting my nano-slick thought-experiment. The latest version, with certain limitations, grows to three-quarters of the surface area of the Moon or Africa, continent-sized, although it's spread out enough so that it doesn't kill off the ecosystem of the ocean it floats on...
My power numbers were a little off, by an order of magnitude, but the 'patch' still produces five-sixths of current energy use. Getting it where we need it and in the form in which we currently use it is problematic, as is all the change we are necessarily bringing about, which is what I can write about, of course!
But I am a damn silly fat man and like my comfort, part of which is that I dislike the thought of others in want. I would like for them to have the same standard of living I take for granted, or the equivalent. I think that, in general, people should leave other people the hell alone. I don't expect for people not to be people; I know the damned human race much too well to expect saints. But the sinners can go about their business as they like, provided that they leave each other in peace. 'An none be harmed, do as thou will.'
To begin with, this is about Humanity. With all due respect to environmentalists, Earth is the Mother of Man and Woman, and while it can do perfectly well without us, and is being harmed by us, short of total nuclear war, we can't really destroy the planet (and even then...). We can destroy human technological civilization, crash the population and reduce it to subsistence, a hand to mouth existence based on muscle-power and scavenged tech. I am concerned with the quality of human life, and therefore, like Abraham Lincoln, I guess I'm a humanitarian. To paraphrase him, I would do anything to guarantee the survival of my species, which I both love, hate, fear and yet still, I hope for. If I could guarantee a handful would survive to start over elsewhere, I would. If I felt the necessity to destroy my own people, and to allow a xenophobic collectivist culture to take the lead for the next little while, I would do it.
The 0th rabbit out of my hat is the nano-slick, which I did a lot of hand waving about. It would be the culmination of years of work by thousands and cost billions of dollars. But all of the necessary capabilities are within the realm of the possible- carbon-fibers, structural diamond, carbon-based PV cells (failing that, thermo-electrostatic Stirling Engines!), carbon dioxide electrolysis, even harvesting methane clathrates as fuel and feedstock (build your own private robot navy on a nearby seabed)! The 1st rabbit is more hand-wavium, the food-maker. Here I assume that carbohydrates, vitamins, fats and fillers could be made and processed into serviceable food-stuffs. I imagine it would give Iron Chef a whole new lease on life and reality TV... The 2nd rabbit, the hydrogen airship, half a billion vehicles with a ton of cargo capacity, is more of the same.
What does a human being need to live and be comfortable, day to day? Forget about work, something useful worth the doing, and excitement versus ennui... I think we really won't have to worry about boredom. Plenty upsets everything and we still would be living in interesting times, only more weird and wonderful yet!

We need water, gallons of clean, potable H20 for drinking, cleaning, etc. Food of course, and a comfortable climate, clean air that is warmed or cooled from ambient temperatures, about 30 KW-hr of electricity per day, transport, bandwidth and infotainment...
Let's say we need 100 gallons of water, per person, per day, about 400 liters. We can gather it from the aquifer, if there is one, desalinate or sterilize sea or waste-water, collect the precipitation which falls on our homes (call that a 200 m^2 times 760 mm per year (per, general), 152 tonnes, ~2900 kg a week, or 414 liters per day), or produce hydrogen elsewhere, ship it in and burn it with oxygen. For 400 liters/kg of water, we need ~44 kg of hydrogen, in a H2 airship tanker, perhaps with water ballast- 40 kg of H2 and 40 kg or H20! Since 2 kg of H2 provide 26.8 kg of lift, this should be very easy to achieve.
Food is satisfied with the food-maker, a handy little number that manufactures a couple kg of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, sugars, vitamins, fillers and other things into tasty, delectable eats (or I'll turn the food science dude and a platoon of iron chefs lose on the problem! 8-). Input raw feed stock or try not to think about the probably source of the organics, add more energy whilst breaking the molecules down into more basic chemicals and heat-sterilizing, and then reassemble into the aforementioned sugars, fats, carbs, proteins vitamins and fillers.
Climate control assumes there is a space, a volume and area within which each person is living. A dome, an A-frame, or a boring salt-box with a hipped roof and gutters, all with a 100 m^2 footprint (this works out to ~1,000 SF, a 'starter' house. A four-person family home of 4K). The simplest design is a 10 meter square, >5 m ceilings, a 30 degree, hipped roof with a 7.5 m peak. Or a 12.5 by 8 meter rectangle, 5 meters plus a hipped roof and 3.125 m peak. Or an L-shaped (or any other arrangement of four 5 m square elements), 15 by 10 meter job, with a 6.25 m peak.
The structural members are articulated, so that it can self-assemble on site, move mass around within, and open or close doors or windows. Want a moon-roof, or a sliding wall partition? Got it. There are 'triple-pane' walls of the same nano-slick, reformatted as a wall, a door or whatever, 3 cm thick, 1.11 g/cm^2, 11.1 kg/m^2. A 500 m^3 box with no roof (or an apartment in a cityscape) masses 4,440 kg, less internal compartments, 6,660 kg with four 5 m square elements.