Dynastic Thinking

Yes, I can definitely imagine some of the many Imperial dynasties working just like this.

(And quite a lot of Vilani families, too!)

That’s just the way it is, if you’re thinking big-time – but your big -time plans will take a few centuries to put in place.

‘One weak link…’ doesn’t only break a dynasty: it breaks the power of compound interest, as well! And both things are very valuable, in the mind of a Vilani dynast.

Which means that something needs to be done with those weak links: either harden them, or cut them off from the family chain.

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At the Ragged Edge of My Comprehension

If I concentrate, I can understand what is being taught here.

If I don’t focus… as a commentator said,

“Sometimes I like to pretend I understand this stuff.”

Fortunately, Traveller doesn’t bother with teleportation… except for psionics, which is another name for magic anyways, so no worries there either.

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Judging Empires

How are empires (or even nations) to be judged before God and men?

At least before God, there is a clear answer, as per Matthew 25:31-46.

But before unbelieving Men? What is the yardstick they would choose – if they could come to any agreement at all? Who determines what is evidence, what brings an empire honour, and what brings dishonour? Why revere Han China but loathe the Mongol Empire? Why exalt Rome and hate the Nazis?

For India (as an example) would it be better being part of Imperial Japan – or the Soviet Union – than the British Empire? Which empire was better, or worse… and in what ways?

Between a strong military, an enriching economy, high ideas, advancing technology, predictable justice, freedom of life and liberty and property, a unified culture, a creative people… which is more important?

Questions that are worth bringing up before the Imperial Moot sometime. It would be interesting to hear their answers.

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Colonizing the Arctic

“For homes and businesses, it will almost be like building on a different planet.”

The road networks of the arctic needs to be built with special (read: expensive) techniques and materials, too, due to the permafrost.

And colonizing the Arctic is a lot more easier than colonizing the Antarctic… but it makes a good, safe playpen, to practice colonizing moons and other worlds.

Of course, none of this – nor any serious plan to colonize the oceans – is going to happen in our lifetimes: the population of the planet is going to top out at something around 11 billion by 2100, as birthrates continue to fall. “And why colonize some frozen wasteland, when there is all this depopulated towns and cities in Europe we can move to instead?”

It would be nice to be on the grow, to colonize the Arctic, to lay down plans for submerged cities and orbital habitats… but all that requires a growing population.

A growing, educated, and productive population: sheer numbers alone won’t cut it.

“So, we are all going to sit around and wait for the childbearing Africans to pick up the pace?”
“I’m an optimist, so I think it will happen… sometime in the next two centuries or so.”
“And what’s the guarantee that they won’t pick up Sterile Richman Disease in due course, just like the Europeans and the East Asians?”
“I can’t give you a guarantee. Hopes and prayers, maybe, but no guarantee.”
“So all those Dyson Swarms and Orbital Habitats and even Arctic Cities will turn out to be just so many fantasies in the air.”
“Maybe. The door is open, but it is up to real human beings to make the real multi-generational commitment to get it done. If no one walks through the door today, then no one gets the prize tomorrow.”
“So then… back to Traveller Dreaming.”
“All great achievements begins with a dream, a vision. Only jailers hate dreams.”
“Worthwhile, noble dreams? Perhaps. But you can’t stay in dreamworld forever: actual results must be created. That takes work, as well as vision.”
“And children, who also see and desire and will work for the goal.”

(Duplicated in my religious/futurist Across the Stars blog)

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The Psychopathic Patron

Some patrons are more dangerous to the PCs than others.

One particular character is a patron who promises to pays well… but runs you through the wringer, making all sorts of unreasonable demands, and always had some excuse for not paying on time (or ever, if he thinks that he can get away with it.)

This is a subtype of the Psychopathic Patron. I would recommend that such patrons be limited to the more peaceful campaigns and social PC parties: military types will be sorely tempted to let their rifles — or the starship laser turrets — handle the payment re-negotiations.

(Yes, there are a select few psychopathic patrons actually will be expecting this: encounters with such folk should be treated as a climax or the boss fight of a campaign.

Most psychopaths merely talk big, and are experienced with social manipulation. When faced with men bearing guns and a really hostile attitude, they’re going to fold like a cheap suit.)

So, I’ll be raiding a Daily Mail article that is mainly angled to women who have to work for a psychopath, at least for a while.

(As psychopaths are broadly male, those women employees who not clued in how men play the social power game can use the advice.)

With some modification, it can also be useful for merchants who need to get paid from a particularly aggravating customer.

(Again, someone who is stuck in a bad deal he can’t just walk away from… at least without leaving a lot of money on the table.)

And finally, slavery is a going concern in the Empty Quarter, if not as blatant and widespread as before the Hebrin Rebellion. Slaves will find the following rules useful for life extension and generally staying out of the focus of their master’s rage.

(You can’t walk away if you are chained up… physically or otherwise.)

The psychopath does not, and never will, respect you. You are a possession who is only worth keeping around as long as you deliver value. One of the values that all psychopaths prize is the adoration of those beneath them (to them, this means everybody). A psychopath will value you more if you defer to them in every way. In their mind, you are a mindless, stupid beast ruled by your feelings. You cannot change that, but they are much happier to have you around and less likely to attack you if you acknowledge them as your superior on a continual basis. An easy way to do this without going over the top and coming off as a flattering fool (although you will be surprised how obvious you can be and still have them believe you) is to follow the rules of polite conversation.

To implement this, adhere to the rules in The Politeness Maxims and, in general, regard yourself as being in a conversation with a harsh and arbitrary old-school headmaster who will tolerate no aberrant behaviour from unruly students such as you. Never talk back! And never become sarcastic or rude. Play a completely straight bat.

Before you open your mouth in the presence of the psychopath, always ask yourself ‘Am I being polite and professional?’. Do your best to avoid unnecessary contact. This does not mean give them the cold shoulder. It just means you don’t drop by their office for a chat. Whenever you speak to them, do it within the confines of your role and for an explicit purpose.

This is also highly useful advice when talking to Nobles, as well.

And no, I don’t actually think that most Nobles are psychopaths… and those who are prefer to wear a mask most of the time. “Don’t startle the horses” and all that.

A psychopath will pump you for information they can use against you and others. You can defend against this by not disclosing anything to your psychopathic boss and making sure you understand the privacy settings on your social media. Do not discuss anything that is not entirely business related. But even when you do this, they may find something they can use. Beware of entrapment. This can, and often will, come from pawns rather than the psychopath themselves. If the psychopath suspects you are not wholly in their control, they will send a pawn in to good cop, bad cop you. Do not disclose anything to anyone at work, no matter how friendly they seem.

“Keep your mouth shut” remains remarkably useful advice!

(Also, “two can keep a secret if one of them is dead.” With certain patrons, it’s best not to know critical information, especially any key weakness that can hurt or destroy that patron.)

Always be honest even when it is against your interests. The psychopath will offer you an opportunity to fudge a bit. They might allow you to claim more expenses than you are otherwise entitled to. They may ignore you pilfering from the firm. They may allow you to take credit for something you did not do. No matter how much the psychopath makes it seem like you’re all in this together, make no mistake, they are gathering dirt on you and they will use both that dirt and the weakness you displayed to manipulate you in the future. Learn to say no – and mean it – when anything slightly dodgy is being proposed. Otherwise they will use your weaknesses of character against you.

In the Empty Quarter, you’d have to change the details slightly. It isn’t integrity and honesty and sticking to the rules that is the critical point: it’s loyalty to tribe and race and religion. The stakes are higher too: apostates are killed on many worlds, and people who challenge their clan come to sticky ends.

You can’t stop a psychopath lying to you. But you can stop believing them. Adopt the credo of the investigative journalist. Do not accept anything you are told until you have heard it from at least two independent sources. When your psychopathic boss tells you that your workmate has been seen interviewing at a competitor’s firm, he is probably trying to get you to tell him what you know. Don’t fall for it, don’t disclose any information and don’t believe the statement until you hear it from the person concerned. Your safest strategy is to assume that every factual statement the psychopath makes is a lie designed to manipulate you in some way. Your best defence is to play a dead bat and knock the ball into the pitch. Answer only the question that is asked and if no question is directly asked, say nothing. Under no circumstances should you respond by divulging any information or by acting on the basis of the lie. When you are alone write down exactly what they said. It will come in handy.

I like that part about two independent sources: that’s a really good rule of thumb, even for ordinary rumourmongers, shady contacts, etc.

The psychopath will micromanage you. They regard you as a fool who needs constant direction. They will be irrational and will ask you to do things which are the business equivalent of moving dirt from Pile A to Pile B and back again. You cannot afford to be offended by this. The psychopath will notice your reaction and will use it against you. Your response to any new imposition must always be emotionless compliance.


If your psychopathic boss wants a daily report completed in triplicate, then that is exactly what you should provide. Doing exactly as the psychopath demands and documenting those demands is one of the most powerful weapons you have against them (but more on that shortly).

Keep an eye on documentation. It’s an extremely powerful weapon in bureaucracies, if you know how to use it. (Ask your Bwap friends for details.) The right report, ‘somehow’ falling into the right pair of hands, can cause more widespread chaos than an orbital bombardment.

Do not let their display of emotion (positive or negative) influence your assessment of them or what they are doing or saying. If they appear angry with you it is because they wish to provoke an emotional response. If an empath boss were unhappy with you then this would be good reason to worry about your work relationship. A psychopath does not have a work relationship with you any more than they have one with their office pot-plant or their stapler.

Know where you stand.

There is an old concept, a warning not to get to familiar with your seniors or the customer. A good idea to keep in mind.

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Claytronics, Programmable Matter, and 3D Holographic Controls

From wayyy back in MegaTraveller, I always remembered the different kinds of fancy control surfaces available. From the MegaTraveller Referee’s Manual, page 60:

Computer and Control Panels: A computer is required to aid the operator or operators in controlling the craft’s functions. A computer multiplies the effects of the ship’s installed control panels if the control panels are of the “linked” type.

Several types of control panels exist:
Mechanical: Basic gauges, dials, and mechanical controls.
Electronic: Electronic gauges and electromechanical controls.
Computer: Computerized controls with detailed and informative flat computer displays.
Dynamic: Dynamically reconfigurable flat 2D controls. The operator may reconfigure the controls in a moment’s notice to fit preference or operating style. Limits the Tech Level reduction of a skill level to – 1
Holographic: Dynamically reconfigurable contoured 3Dcontrols with tactile feedback. The operator may reconfigure the controls similar to dynamic controls. Limits the Tech Level reduction of a skill level to – 1

And for the Tech Levels..

TL  Type
5     Basic Mechanical
6     Enhanced Mechanical
7     Electronic
8     Electronic Linked
9     Computer Linked
10   Dynamic Linked
13   Holographic Linked

So, when I saw this mockup of claymation…

Or, perhaps, programmable matter…

My mind went right to those TL 13 Holographic Controls…

…which would be a misnomer here: there is a clear difference between holographs (projected light fields, to create a 3D image) and programmable matter (which includes claytronics).

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Interview: Clarke on Space

From an interview with Sir Arthur C Clarke, from March 1, 2008.

(FYI: Sir Arthur died on  March 19, 2008.

As a “British science fiction writer, science writer and futurist, inventor, undersea explorer, and television series host” who lived for decades on an exotic and distant world nation, he would work out pretty well as a famous Traveller, especially if he has his own starship. Of course, he would need a crew…)

Clarke: I’m often asked why I didn’t try to patent the idea of a communications satellite. My answer is always, ”A patent is really a license to be sued.”

Well, inventors who discover something profitable often discover they’ve been robbed by some corp with dozens of lawyers.

Fighting them would:

  • put you in a lot of debt (while the corp barely notices the expense);
  • consume your personal time (while they just go home, after taking up plenty of billable hours)
  • and you’ll probably lose, after all that (the corp has friends in various bureaucracies and political networks, while you don’t.)

I don’t blame Clarke from walking away from all that.

Das: Do you remember what got you thinking about geostationary orbits?

Clarke: I can’t pinpoint the exact reference….I’m not sure who first mentioned the idea. One of the moons of Mars is always in a stationary orbit…that’s probably a reference.

Das: Did you discuss your paper with someone else before publication?

Clarke: Probably discussed it with my friends in the Interplanetary Society. I never received any additional input, so it was all my own work.

Nature is really, really inspiring! Especially when you start looking at the details, how things work together, why this cycle is so predictable.

Das: Do you consider the paper on geostationary orbits your most important contribution?

Clarke: It’s definitely my most important contribution. And maybe in a generation or so the space elevator will be considered equally important.

Das: Ah, yes, the space elevator, another technology that Clarke has championed. The idea of a space elevator is basically a huge cable connecting the Earth to space, along which payloads can be launched using electromagnetic vehicles. The cable would be tethered to an object beyond the geostationary orbit, while having its center of mass in a geostationary orbit. Current plans call for a cable about 50 kilometers long. Clarke first wrote about the space elevator in his 1978 book, The Fountains of Paradise.

Clarke: I’m often asked when do I think the space elevator will be built. My answer is about 10 years after everyone stops laughing. Maybe 20 years. But I am pretty sure that the space elevator is an important element in future space travel.

Das: Can you elaborate a little more on the space elevator?

Clarke: The space elevator is exactly that, reaching from the Earth’s surface to the stationary orbit. Getting to space purely by electrical energy, and you recover it all on the way down…a very efficient economical system and the key to the planets. The chief expense of space travel when you build the space elevator is catering and in-flight movies.

It’s going to take some doing, to build it: both money and political commitment.

I don’t see anyone doing it soon in the West, as government money is going to be spoken for by the welfare budget, especially for the oldsters.

Maybe China, in fifty years. There’s an outside chance that India or Brazil could do it in a century or so. I think that the US  is more likely to go into private rocketry than a megaproject like the beanstalk: perhaps the wiser choice. “No single point of failure, for twelve angry men with explosives to take advantage of.”

Das: Now that private entrepreneurs are entering space exploration, do you think they will get into this? Like a Virgin Space thanks to Richard Branson, for example?

Clarke: I’m sure that there will be quite a few interesting rackets.

Das: So what do you think of private entrepreneurship in space exploration?

Clarke: It can never be fully private, because it is so expensive. Aircraft initially were funded by governments, and the same for the space elevator.

I don’t know if the Wright brothers realized how soon, relatively speaking, aircraft would pay for themselves.

Every time we go up a ‘tech level’, prices are cut 75%, while reliability jumps up.

“Just saying.”

Das: So now that people are talking about manned missions to Mars again, something you’ve written about for many years, what are your thoughts on sending humans to Mars?

Clarke: I should say that we could send a manned flight to Mars in 10 years if there was the incentive, but certainly in 20 years.

Das: And what about terraforming Mars, changing Mars so that it is more like Earth? You had a book about the process in the 1990s. Have your ideas changed since?

Clarke: Start terraforming Mars by remote-control systems…it’ll be a joint process, humans and machines…. I hope the machines don’t get annoyed with us!

I doubt that the machines will ever be self-aware… but that’s as much for theological reasons as for scientific limitations. “You can’t replicate what you can’t even define!”

Das: And always, at the end of day, Clarke’s thoughts turn to space.

Clarke: I still can’t quite believe we that have just marked the 50th anniversary of the space age. We accomplished a great deal in that time, but the golden age of space is only beginning.

Das: The visionary Sir Arthur C. Clarke.

I agree… but I suspect that, due to demographic & economic/budgetary reasons, we are going to have a generational hiatus in hands-on space exploration/exploitation. But when things pick up again — maybe in 2050? — it’s going to be really interesting!

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