Thursday, July 19, 2012

A Little Moon Dust

The world needs cheap, clean energy. We don't need to put more frakking poisons into the ground, we don't need heavy shale oil, brought to us by incompetents who keep having spills in our water-sheds, from Wyoming to Michigan and coming soon to the Mississippi. What we really need is point-of-use power generation, which is wind-turbines in our glass and steel canyons, solar roofs on our homes and garbage turned into energy. This wouldn't solve our energy problem; we're addicted to cheap hydrocarbons, our economy is based on them (I build food service equipment, some of which is fueled by natural gas or LP, and some of it uses electricity by the half kilowatt and on up; the 36" Electric Griddle has 3 240 Volt, 4,000 Watt elements, for 12 KW!). But it would help, a lot, with our switch over to some other way of powering our vehicles, and providing electricity for the grid. How do we do that? Drop rocks from the Moon, of course! 8-P

11 km/s skimming atmo less 2 km/s to get it off the Moon in the first place, is 121 Megajoules, less 4 MJ, or 117 MJ per kg, some 32.5 KW-hr/kg, about $3.25 worth of electricity. If a million people need 30 KW-hr/day (Wild-Ass-Guess, one kilo of moon dust), that's 10^6 kg/day and 30 GW-hr. Three hundred million Americans need 300,000 tonnes of Moon dust a day; 7 billion people need 7 million tonnes/day, about 80 tonnes/second. 210 billion KW-hr is $21 Billion per day, 210 TW-hrs/day. 7 billion people need 11 MW-hr/year, $1100 worth of electricity (which is more than most of the world can afford), 77 Petawatt-hours worth $7.7 Trillion.

Real demand is probably closer to 30 Billion KW-hr a day, $3 Billion, 30 million tonnes of Moon dust per day, and 35 tonnes per second. If peak demand was 400 tonnes per second, we need a launch capacity on the Moon of 400 tonnes/s, call it 4 million kg worth of mass-driver @ $1100/kg, $4.4 Billion worth, which could only happen if it gets built out of lunar materials.

We need a catcher in low Earth orbit to grab that moon dust and harvest that energy, about 33 times what we need on the Moon, over 132 million kilograms; again, it'll mostly have to come form the Moon, and still cost in the neighborhood of $150 Billion. That supplies 11 trillion KW-hr of electricity, worth about a Trillion dollars at 10 cents a KW-hr. A couple of pennies on the KW-hr would pay for the system in a year... so my numbers must be so much moon dust.

BTW, if we want to stockpile building material in LEO, just slow the moon dust down by 3 km/s, and still get nearly half of the energy... and since we're designing an order of magnitude of extra capacity into the system, we could do it, make money, provide energy for a world thirsty for clean power and maybe build Vinnies' private space program at the same time? 8-P

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Rings and Things

There were bright oval rings in the night sky and hysteria on the air-waves. Bernard Arden McKenzie had turned his radio off hours ago, preferring listen to Marion Call, some old Filk, science fiction folk music, or  the man in black, Johnny Cash, and finally he had dug up the entire audio version of 'Team of Rivals'. Listening to how the Illinois lawyer, born in Kentucky and plagued with misfortune and misadventure, had put together his ship of state, was all somehow soothing.

He had taken the long way home. It seemed somehow like he had been driving away, for years, and now that he had decided to come home that he'd driven down long, ancient valleys, into midnight hollows, past Indian ghosts of that first great American apocalypse which had made room for the pilgrims and others, had left a garden tended by one hundred million dead souls...

Bernard shook himself. "Morbid, much?" He said to himself, glancing in the rear-view mirror and catching a glimpse of his own ice-cold pale blue eyes, the brown and grey hair, the deep lines, worry and laughter. He chuckled. He had always been able to make fun of himself, which was good, considering most of his work.

He turned into his sister-in-laws' lane just as the night as giving way to day; daybreak. The last morning of the old world? He wondered, not joking, and not morbidly. He was anticipating something wonderful, come what may.

There was his brother's old car, and his nieces' graduation present, his old jeep. There was a big dark green rental SUV and a contractors' truck, plumbing and HVAC, Jack Knight's 'Sir Fix-A-Lot'. Bernard had a chuckle at that too, and paused, looking through the back of it. Plenty of kultch, but no junk; a place for everything and everything in it's place... He nodded with approval and turned to walk up to the door, which was just opening.

"Uncle Bernie!"

Bernard watched his niece come out of the house, running to him, and he felt unaccustomed emotion; a fierce pride, in his brother and his family. The kidlet had turned out alright... She hit him like a linebacker and he let out an 'oomph'. He braced for the bear-hug, for she was a hugger who put all of her strength into it. She'd done that at her Dad's funeral and almost bought him to his knees.

"Uncle Bernie," she whispered in his ear, and he felt her damp cheeks brush his neck.

"Why so sad, Beautiful? Busy Bee? Been breaking hearts?"

"You're horrible!" She said, laughing.

"You know I am; and you're Beatrice."

Her mom was on the porch now, with two men, one of whom Bernard knew well, and he sighed. The other was a young man with eyes only for his niece.

"Oh-ho, you have been taking hearts!"


"If I'd known so many people would land on my front step this morning, I'd have gone to the supermarket," Stella Mckenzie commented wryly. She indicated Special Agent Bruce Granger, of the FBI. "This is one of yours, I take it?"

"He's looking for me, is what he is, aren't you Bruce?" Bernard said, turning to Granger.

"I'm sorry as hell, Bear, but you really weren't that hard to find. I talked my boss into sending me, y'know..."

The young man said nothing, just stood clear. Granger and Bernard both noted how he moved and Granger stepped off of the porch, putting a few more yards between them, and moving a few yards closer to his charge.

"Would truly be a shame if things were to get any more complicated than they are, Bear," Granger said. Not a threat, exactly. Just voicing an opinion, or at least that was the way Bear chose to take it.

"I understand, but... can I at least have a little while?"

Granger blinked, and then he nodded. "Sure thing..." he said slowly. Both men turned to Stella, who saw that everyone was now looking to her.

"Well... breakfast, anyone?"


Mother and daughter, and boyfriend, headed into the kitchen, but not before Beatrice introduced Axel Knight. Bernard looked pointedly at the truck. "Who's Jack?"

"I work for my older brother, who owns the business. I've been working for him since high school."

Beatrice rolled her eyes. "Uncle Bernie..."

Bernard waggled his hand like a stage magician. "Look, no shotgun. Not pulling the male relative thing, sweetness. Not at all..." and he smiled at Axel, showing all of his teeth.

Axel coolly offered his hand to shake; firm, direct, and no bull-shit. "Beatrice thinks the world of you, sir."

"'Sir'?" Bernard winked at Beatrice. "You got a little something on your nose there, son."

Axel shrugged, a slight grin on his face. Bernard nodded to himself. The boy- man, the man just might do.

Granger brought in a little bag of oranges from the government issue sedan, and conceded to eating a few pieces of bacon, but otherwise acted like a man condemned to a death sentence by his doctor, sadlywatching them consume a magnificent country meal, home-fries and sausage links, a mountain of steaming scrambled eggs, pancakes piled high- Axel and Beatrice took over from Stella halfway through and she sat down with a sigh. "Such good appetites, except for you, Mr. Granger."

Granger shrugged.

"Go ahead and eat, man! It may be the last good feed you'll get for a while..." Bernard shut up as Granger leaned forward and he also saw that the Fed was not the only one looking at him expectantly.

"Would you care to elaborate?" The FBI agent asked with a grin.

"Yes, Uncle bernie, I know you know all about what's going on!" Beatrice was nodding vigorously. Bernard though about idols with feet of clay.

"I'd say that there is a need to know, but you wouldn't want me to disclose national secrets, would you, Special Agent Ganger?"

Granger shrgged again. "I've got NDA's in the car for them to sign, and a scary lecture prepped..." he looked Bernard pointedly in the eye. "And, yes, I think it's high time you briefed me on what I need to know to do my job."


Write about puppies and kittens...

I want to create gardens in space... habitats up there. Roll up a strip of the planet, a few tonnes of stuff/m^2.

For the truly massive abduction scenario, I assumed 10 tonnes/m^2, millions of tonnes strip-mined from the Earth's surface replaced by millions of tonnes of asteroid water... make it rain! 8-P

Final Rotoavator Ring design is 1/3 the circumference of the Earth, there are pi^3 or 31 of them, the strip is 1/3 divided by pi^12 or 14 1/2 meter, 47 feet wide, which rolls up into a cylinder just under 14 km wide and 14 km across (strip times pi^6, about 1K).

The Rings ease into position, dumping momentum simply by dumping or grabbing mass. The ring drifts back out by letting go of mass, water and structural cable. The 10 tonnes/m^2 is released at the top of the ride and goes into interplanetary space at just under 6 km/s. The strip is roofed over with a simple tall A-frame, all as part of the grabbing maneuver. Now that serves as a simple free-floating habitat, a long volume which is in free-fall, falling away from the planet. The next step, not the final step, is to roll this up into a cylinder. That is just a matter of shortening the edges of the strip, so that it starts to curl. Two edges slide past each other and 'zip' together, lapping itself every 45 km or so. Either a squat cylinder, or a long one about 10 times as long as it is wide, 4.5 by 45 km (1/3CotE/pi^7 by 1/3CotE/pi^5).

(much later 8-)

The sky opened up, with thousands of filaments coming down to Earth at great speed, spearing the ground inches apart. Bernard saw his niece and her beau running towards himself and the house, shouting as they came on. The filaments parted around Beatrice, fluffed out somehow, and wrapped her in a shroud. A curtain of filaments fell between them and Axel struggled through it to get to her. That was all the more he saw before the sky fell upon him.

But he could hear, muffled like a snowfall, the panicked yapping of the neighbors' dog, a horse whinnying in fear, Granger softly cursing and speaking with Stella inside the house. His obscured vision seemed to clear and Bernard had the distinct impression that the filaments themselves were emitting light like some sort of cloth display. He saw the filaments wrenching the two young lovers apart very clearly, as if he was only few feet away instead of across the yard, some forty feet from them. And then their fingers touched, brushed against each other and Axel lunged, grabbing her hand. The filaments seemed alive, self-aware, sentient or perhaps sapient, that is to say 'wise', and they ceased attempting to pull the two apart.

There was a groaning and the house behind Bernard lurched, pulled up into the sky, and then he went along with it, pulled softly but inexorably to the 'ground' by his own weight, now more than doubled, and Bernard would have nodded, if he could have.

"We're on our way..."

Things were quiet for a little while, perhaps a full minute, except for the yapping dog and a distant, whistling wind, and then Bernard heard a grunting coming his way from the house. "Granger, you damned fool," Bernard shouted as best he could, and the effort winded him. Finally he added, "Stay where you are!"

"I love you too, man," Granger said, adding, "But I'll manage, somehow. It seems to be getting easier. To move, I mean."

Bernard thought about that and then tried to lift his hand. It seemed almost as if- "They don't want the dumb animals to hurt themselves, so maybe they're assisting, like a soft exoskeleton?"

"Speak for yourself; I'm no dumb animal. I got me a degree from Shipp and everything..." Granger stopped to take a break. "Whew, this is too much like work!"

"Uncle Bernie!"

Bernard stared as Beatrice and Axel came crawling towards them at triple-time, the filaments not just parting but pulling them along until they were lying on the grass at the front porch.

"Alright, everybody just calm down... Stella?"

"I'll be with you shortly... the 'magic fingers' seem to be sending me out there to you," Stella said matter-a-factly, merely raising her voice a little, and presently she came into view.

"Anybody hurt?"

"I fell down on my ass..."

"I sympathize greatly with your ass, Granger, because it has to put up with you just like I do," Bernard said between clenched teeth. "I meant, no broken bones, anyone?"

It seemed that they all were in remarkably good shape and spirits, considering the mass abduction and all... The wind beyond the filament curtain had died away, and when Bernard looked over towards the edge of the lawn, about where Axel had been standing, it seemed like the land just stopped. Which it had. Beyond, falling away, was the edge of the Earth, the sky a pale band and black above that, the edge of space. They were already soaring up above it all, turning on the inside of a wheel which was pulling them to the outside with maybe a gee and a half of force, all the while the Earth's gravity was still dragging them back down a 'hill' that was growing steeper as the minutes passed. Bernard found that something, the filaments probably, was holding them in place as the hill went to thirty or forty degrees and then seemed to get less and less steep, all while the force pulling them to the 'ground' fell steadily away, and the bowl of the Earth changed into an enormous ball that grew ever smaller.

"Wow," Axel breathed.

"I agree," Bernard said. "Wow."

Then the bottom seemed to fall out from under them and they were free-falling into the sky. Bernard saw that his niece was looking at him and smiling.

"'Second star from the right, and straight on till morning!'"

"Love you, kidlet."

"Love you more, Uncle Bernie."

"Love you most."


Bernard felt a sideways tug, a very slight acceleration that went on for several tens of seconds and then died away. Where the filament curtain-wall that hemmed in their long and narrow world came together far above them that line brightened until it was sunlight strong. The starry black to either side turned. The Earth lay beyond them, almost beyond view, obscured as it was by the rest of the strip of the Earth's surface with which they'd been carried aloft. The crescent moon lay off to the side and ahead of them. It rose and set about once a minute and a very mild force now tugged him ever so gently to the grass again.

"I feel so light," Beatrice said to Axel, and then sprang up and up, shrieking and laughing, easily clearing the roof of house where she had been born and raised, and drifting back down lazily, light as a feather, like a leaf on the wind... She landed softly by the chimney and waved down at them.

"Come on up here," she called down to them. "The view is pretty-"

There was a bright, actinic flash and the filament curtain went dark off to one side, back behind them where the Earth lay; that way had been more or less South and so Bernard thought of it as 'South'. The dark patch in the sky moved as the strip habitat turned so slowly on its long, long axis; protecting precious cargo, stolen treasure, Bernard thought.

Beatrice came back down, clambering along by her finger-tips as the force pulling her down was not fast enough for her need to be with them.

"Was that what I think it was?" Stella asked in the general silence. Bernard only then realized that the hoarsely yapping neighbor-dog had shut up.

"If you think it was a nuke, then yes, it was," Bernard whispered. Granger futilely cursed the general stupidity of mankind. Thinking how a lot of people had probably just died, Bernard could not disagree.

"Who was it? Where was it?" Bea's voice had an edge to it which hurt Bernard's heart.

"It kind of looked like we were over Europe, maybe the Middle East," Granger said. "The French? Israel? Russia? Maybe it was Uncle Sugar," he added gruffly. Bernard reached around, grabbed his friend's shoulder and squeezed. Then Stella and her daughter caught him between the two of them and pulled Bernard and Axel into a group hug. Granger protested feebly and wiped surreptitiously at his eyes. He looked out at the lawn and saw the neighbor-dog looking looking hopefully.

"Oh great, we've been adopted..."


A place too far from here; a place too strange for human hearts...
There is, even yet, an alien compassion for us poor humans.
Perhaps they see something of themselves in us?
Do they hope for us, are they waxing nostalgic,
Perhaps, for a second childhood by proxy?
Or do we stand ready to redeem them in some way,
So like they were and fated to do them one better?

(even later on 8-)

"'I'm smiling because I'- I can't see the rest of his tee-shirt to read it all," Beatrice was saying to her mother. The little boy in the red tee was looking about tiredly, lost. There were dried tears on his cheeks. He looked to be about five.

"Honey, leave it be, things are- Beatrice!"

Bernard watched, bemused, as his niece marched right over. Axel fell in step with her, and their hands met, fingers interwove... He filed that sight away for some dark moment, some future need. There was bound to be something else, what with the mass abduction, the alien war between parties unknown, plenty of potential, always. He took the good with the bad, and knew to appreciate ever erg of good that came his way.

"What were you thinking?!"

"Hmm?" Bernard said helpfully.

"Why didn't you try to stop her?" Her mother wailed. The dismantling, piece by piece, of her home had been too much for Stella. Bernard pulled her over and hugged her.

"Stop her? Stop our goodwill ambassador to the worlds? Perish the thought. I might as well hold back the tide, or command the bee to not seek out the flower, the flower to grow, the sun to shine, the rain to fall; in fact, she is a force of nature. Human nature, and a force for goodness and light."

The little boy was smiling. Beatrice had knelt down and was wiping his face with a wet cloth. Axel stood by, taking a sip of water from their makeshift canteen, a one gallon plastic tea-jug. He slung it over his shoulder, adjusting the cloth sash Stella had come up with and considered the young woman and the child, a slight smile on his face growing. He nodded to himself. When Bea picked the boy up, he made horsy whinnies and the laughing child was transferred to Axel's shoulders. They galloped back over, Beatrice hurrying to catch up with them.

"I see we've picked up another stray," Granger commented quietly, for Bernard's ears alone.

"It seems like we have..." Bernard said, turning to his friend. "Are you going to tell her 'No'?"

Granger snorted and dug through his backpack, found an apple from the abandoned house they had raided. "Not gonna happen. Here, pass this along."

"Not brave enough to give it to her, yourself?" The two men laughed. Bernard reflected that they were an upbeat little band.

"In this little army, she ranks me."

'I'm smiling because I know I'm saved', the tee-shirt read. Bernard felt the pit of his stomach drop away, considering all the ways you could take that. It had been a bad couple of days, back on the third rock from the sun, back in the solar system.


Tell me a story...

"What kind of a story?" Bear asked. The petite woman with the heart of a lioness was leaning back against his chest. They were taking a break for lunch, treed temporarily by 'Mort and Morticia' on the roof of a McMansion, but just for today the small herd of a dozen walking dead was somebody else's problem. Stan and Daria had presented him with a 'vacation slip', entitling him to twenty-four hours without worry, as a birthday present. Bear, or 'Dillon Miles', according to his birth certificate, trusted in those two, and so did his 'traveling circus'; no one at all had broken their vowed '24 w/o worry'; at least so far.

"I don't know... a tale which tells the teller?" April Zahn looked over her shoulder at him, smiling impishly, and Bear kissed her on her nose.

I would give you all of me, Bear thought, but I can't. So let me give you some small part of me which is ours... "I used to run a bowling alley, for my uncle. Kept things running, kept the peace..."

"Shocking! And here we thought you ran a landscaping company," April murmured, referring indirectly to his signature weapon against zombies, a pruning hook.

"I did help out my brother-in-law with his business, when he was swamped in the late spring and early summer, until my nieces and nephews could chase a push-mower..."

They both were reminded of folks who were not there. The hurts were not too fresh now, ached numbly and without the urgency of months ago.

"How many?"



"He and my sister were happy, but very tired..."

"I should think so!" She frowned. "Why so many?"

"He'd been an only child, and she, she always liked children. Had a gift for nurturing them, and for herding cats, of course." After a moment he added, "After a few years of marriage and no kids, just lots of doctors, they didn't think that they could get pregnant, so they adopted, and then, five and counting, she had the twins. They were so surprised, and so pleased."


"They were strange people. They didn't believe in accidents or failure; they believed in blessings." He sighed.  "Daria's sort of people, sons and daughters of Mary, if you get that reference, where Stan is a son of Martha... you do know the 'Sons of Martha', right?" April nodded.

"They know they are saved, and believe in providence... but also in being prepared, being open to the possibilities," she said. "Trust, obey; 'fear God and dread naught', which I've always found to be a curious thing- Fear God?"

"A bit of double-think which was why I loved them but never understood them." Bear stared off into the distance. "I wish that I could have saved them."

April reached around and took his face in her hands, turned it gently so that they were looking into each other's eyes.

"They save you, they keep you alive. Good memories."


Something for my poor, sadly neglected blog-

The three youths, late teens to early twenties, sat down at the table next to the fat man with his laptop. They weren't there so much to eat as to socialize, or whatever passed for that, with them. The man, likewise, was much more interested in social media, and ignored them as best he could. But after the sixth 'beyotch' or the seventh 'nixx', he looked over at the white kid acting all 'hood' for the benefit and with the approval of his two black friends.

"Whatchu staring at, beyotch? Ima gonna mess you up!"

The man held his gaze for a few seconds and then turned back to his PC. From time to time he looked up again as the loudmouth dropped another bit of noise pollution.

"Nixx keeps looking at me... whatza mattah wi' him?"

The fat man looked up again and just smiled. The youths finished and took off with a final round of verbal abuse, and the man nodded to himself and powered down his laptop, putting it away.

Outside, he walked across the dark parking lot, past the gazebo where the three youths were arguing in front of a sign which read, 'No Loitering!' The man turned away from them, and in the early evening darkness he smiled, but the youths could not see this. He crossed the little shopping center to a lonely car next to the closed supermarket; perhaps one of the reasons these youths were so bored and abusive was that the town closed up early, out here in the middle of no and where, the man mused. He made a show of getting his keys out, dropped them in a convenient nearby sewer, pretended to panic and waddled around the corner, fleeing.

Predictably, the predators had to give chase, laughing.

They ran around the corner of the supermarket, and seconds later there were multiple screams, which terminated abruptly.


"Do you know what I like about these little hunting trips to Dirt?"

The white kid opened his eyes. It was hard to see anything in the bright glow, every surface lit up with a soft green light, like being under the forest canopy on a summer afternoon, only brighter. He recoiled in horror at the fat man, opened up like a meat-suit, with something purple and slick coiled inside. Then he realized that there was no blood, and the thing inside was speaking to him. It was also eating peanut butter straight out of a jar, with its tentacles.

"The challenge. Your species is really rather cunning, for omnivores, and your governments really so reasonable, when confronted with unpleasant facts. Of course, with you three, not so much, not so cunning nor challenging. So stupid, I really would be doing your species a favor..." The purple slug-thing twirled its eyestalks at him and trilled. The body-suits' head sighed dramatically. "But that would be illegal; I've filled all my tickets for this hunting trip, and your government wants too much for the next tier. You, my young and stupid friend, are not worth my money, but it was amusing, and I do hope exciting, for you as well?"

The three youths remembered mocking laughter, and woke up, stripped but not naked. They wore a layer of peanut butter instead.

(I apologize for nerfing the language, which offends me and might get me into trouble with Big Bro 8-)