Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Replicator Is Active

Yes, 3D printers do work in micro gravity. At least if they're designed to do so. The 3D printer from Made In Space was sent up to the ISS to be tested.

And it's made it's first object - a part for, well, itself. The faceplate with the Made In Space and NASA logos will help hold wiring in place on the printhead.

Now, astronauts will be able to use the printer to manufacture small parts and tools. This is absolutely key. Instead of having to send up every part the ISS might need, all Earth has to send now is the design (which is digital) and a suitable amount of raw materials.

The next part of the test will be to print an object and see how it compares to an identical one made on Earth, to see just how well the extruder is actually working compared to one running in normal gravity.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Violence And Consent

Our language talks a lot about consenting to sex. We have words for sex without consent - rape being the most obvious and the nastiest.

It's generally felt that you can consent to sex, and that sex without consent is "wrong" - although there's a lot of discussion about what constitutes consent and whether certain forms of sex without consent aren't as "bad" as others.

What we don't talk about as much is that in our society we also have situations in which we consent to violence.


Yesterday, 12 NFL games were played in America. On November 29, American television will show five "sets" (Sorry, I don't know the correct term) of boxing matches.

There are three laser tag, 6 paintball and 1 airsoft arena listed in the immediate Google search for my area.

And I would bet that quite a few of the people who read this blog post will, at some point over the Thanksgiving weekend, sit down and play a violent video game. Some of them at least will be playing against other players.

When we play a contact sport, enter into a wargame arena or "live fire" LARP or even play a violent video game, we are consenting to violence. If we watch a contact sport, we are acquiescing to the fact that the competitors in football, rugby, hockey, polo, martial arts tournaments, fencing tournaments, etc are consenting to violence.

This consensual violence is, of course, under strict rules. NFL players wear armor. Paintball and airsoft players wear eye protection. We take steps to limit injury. But it is still violence. It is violence that is okay - because the participants have agreed to be involved in it and agreed to accept the risks of being a victim of controlled violence.

But as a society we don't talk about consensual violence. We don't talk about the fact that we pay boxers to beat each other up for our entertainment. I suspect that even the people going to one of those paintball arenas this weekend wouldn't say they "consented to violence" even though they've consented to have people shoot non-lethal guns at them and are calling it fun. (I've never done paintball, but I've done laser tag and airsoft stuff).

We don't talk about it being a thing, even though it is. It's okay in our society to try your best to beat somebody up if they agreed to it and you both think it's fun - and it should be.

But now, let's get back to that sexual non-consent thing. Violence without consent is assault. Sex without consent is rape. Rape is seen as a kind of assault.

Rape, though, isn't seen as quite the same kind of assault as, say, punching somebody. And I don't mean at the level of it being a worse violation. Society excuses rape. She was "asking for it." Her skirt was too short, or she drank too much alcohol, or he's in prison for something.

There's that tragic feeling, sadly common, that you can consent to sex without actually specifically consenting to sex.

And I think there's a parallel here. When somebody gets raped, people look for a way to excuse the perpetrator.

This happens with violence too. Now, to be fair, sometimes the victim of violence really is asking for it. If you point a real, realistic or realistic non-lethal gun at somebody and they shoot you, that's not the same thing.

But if somebody is a victim of violence and the excuses come out - sadly almost always when the perpetrator is white and the victim is black - some of them become very close to the excuses for rape. "He should have pulled up his pants/not worn that hoodie/stayed sober/not walked in the road."

Consenting without consenting. "Asking for it."

We need to have this conversation as a society. We need to turn around and say nobody is ever asking for it. People can consent to violence. People can also do things that remove their right not to consent to violence - usually by attacking or threatening first.

But nobody "asks for it." There are only two justifications to use violence against another person - either it's consensual violence with rules and everyone agreed to it or they are a genuine threat to yourself or somebody else.

Wearing gang colors does not make somebody a threat. Pointing does not make somebody a threat. Not pulling your pants up is unsightly (but I'm sure some people would say the same thing about the eyebleeding purple shirt I'm wearing right now) but doesn't make you a threat.

Let's bring the conversation about consent out of the sex arena and apply it to everything. Let's understand that violence is something that can be consensual and then look at the ways people use another person's behavior as an excuse to commit violence on them...and let's say that hitting somebody for their clothes or because they used a word you didn't like is no different from trying to rape a woman because her skirt is too short. No different and no better.

Monday, November 24, 2014

SpaceX and Reusable Rockets

One of the problems with landing a reusable rocket stage is...what if it goes wrong?

Elon Musk's answer to it is to land the rocket stages at sea...but we're not talking ditching. Instead, the rocket will be landed on an autonomous drone, based off of some aspects of an oil rig. That doesn't, of course, give much space for the rocket to land on, but the SpaceX team seem convinced they can pull this off, partly with the help of grid fins that deploy during the descent.

What do you thing - is this getting into overcomplicated territory or is it going to be just plain awesome? (Well, it's awesome. If it works).

Friday, November 21, 2014

Friday Updates


Strange Voyagers backers - we are very close, believe me, but our artist gave us some extra art. Now we have to get that into the layout...

I'm not going to make any promises, but I can assure you I've seen all the completed art and it won't be long now.

I will be doing a Facebook party next Friday (Yes, I know, black Friday and people may not be able to come) for the launch of "Mother." Show up for a chance to win a free copy.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Oh dear...

Tagging fish is a normal part of studying them. The tags generally used are small acoustic tags, that emit a distinct sound (sound is the easiest thing to transmit underwater). Fish can't hear the tags, so it doesn't affect...

...oh dear...


It turns out that while fish can't hear the sound, seals can. And not being stupid, the seals have worked out that that little beep beep beep means "dinner." And if seals can hear them then whales and dolphins probably can too.

We might need to come up with another way to tag fish.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014


We've gotten very used to having GPS technology available. In fact, some people are dependent on it (to a worrying degree - I don't like talking to 30 year olds who can't read a map).

GPS glitches for all sorts of reasons. Losing line of sight on the satellites at a key moment, really bad weather, dark matter...


Yes. It seems dark matter actually alters GPS signals and sends them very minutely out of sync. Something which might help us in our quest to understand a substance that might make up more of the universe than hydrogen.

(Although likely the gravity detecting clock will be more useful).

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Silent Years: Mother Available For Pre-Order!

Dorothy Mayling thought her worst problem was the long-standing family feud over her sister's choice of husband. Or her son's grades. Then the rumors started - bird flu in Seattle, SARS in Washington State? The truth is a hideous, terrible disease, one that slowly steals away the ability to speak and reason, turning people into nothing more than zombies. Worst of all, it was meant to be a weapon. Can Dorothy hold her family together as the world ends around them and people fall, one by one, to the silent plague?

Release date: November 18.

Pre order your copy now!