Jan 132012
 

Yes, they're awesome. Doesn't mean they don't suck.

January 13, 2012

This article was originally pitched to Cracked, who rejected it. I see their point, but I put so much work into it that I thought it would be a waste to just let it sit on my hard drive. Enjoy!

Science fiction is full of weapons of mass destruction, everything from planet-cracking lasers to miniaturized railguns that can put a hole in a tank. Some of these weapons have been the basis for real-world weapons and technological innovation. Others, however, should probably stay as fiction.

They should remain fictional, not because humanity should give up the idea of bad-ass weaponry to stave off the eventual robot uprising, but because some of these weapons would get the designers shot in real life.

If we had the technology to build these devices, would we really want to? This isn’t about whether the weapons suck in the show and everyone just ignores it. This is about the basic physics. Would we want these weapons at all?


Wraith Hive by ~wraithhive on deviantART

6. Organic Weapons (Stargate Atlantis, Star Wars, Farscape, etc)

I’ve talked about this one before, but it bears repeating.

Science fiction, and to some extent fantasy, is full of “advanced” races using organic ships and weapons. In Star Wars, the galaxy was nearly destroyed by the organic technology of the Yuuzhan Vong. In Stargate Atlantis, the Wraith decimated the Pegasus Galaxy in their hive ships and lay waste to the Ancients, a race so advanced that they are known as the Gatebuilders. In every instance, technology based on organic systems has proven superior to good ol’ metal. There is some basis for this.

A year ago, scientists in Israel developed a super-strong nano-material much harder than steel. There’s also a spider that creates silk tougher than Kevlar, and harvesting it would be a boon. It seems us puny humans are just trying to catch up with Mother Nature.

In the real world…

Hive ship would go squish. Quickly.

Organic substances have proven to be VERY strong, but they lack something the fiction insists is the real advantage of a living ship or weapon: regenerative capabilities. A self-repairing system could take a punishment but just heal itself as the battle progresses. In the fiction, this is protrayed as something like Wolverine’s regeneration. However, to be able to regenerate implies that the structure is porous, that it isn’t completely solid. Think of bone. Even though it’s one of the strongest organic materials in our bodies, it’s still generally brittle because nutrients and proteins need to be able to get in to keep the system alive. In a battle, “porous” translates as “squishy.”

And that’s only the first problem. Organic systems don’t have the kind of electrical conductivity needed to really run much more than a few gadgets. Think about it. How damaged do your nerves get when you get a small current running through your body? We are the conductive equivalent of pudding.

This is a byproduct of the chemical properties of organic systems. The weakest link will break first, and in this case, all that living tissue is going to make for a weak electrical system. Don’t believe me? Try using a piece of bacon to fix a short circuit. You’ll either get no charge going to and fro or you’ll get a really crispy piece of bacon if you turn the current up high enough.

Mmmm… electrical bacon.


Eraser Railgun’s by ~MALTIAN on deviantART

5. Relativistic Kinetic Weapons (Halo, Mass Effect, Eraser, etc)

If you’ve played any video games in the last fifteen years, you know about these. Guns work on a very simple principle. Aim at target. Make bullet go fast. Bullet makes target go away. If you have a super-strong material to build the barrel and the benefit of a thermonuclear reactor pumping out a few thousand gigwatts of electricity, why not take it to its logical conclusion and fire a slug at a significant fraction of the speed of light? In Halo, Mass Effect, and Eraser, this is standard operating procedure and the ammunition usually punches clean through anything short of a planet. In the real world, we’re developing railguns, though they’re nowhere near as powerful. They’re still awesome, though.

So that’s what you’d want in a fight against heavily armored opponents. You want a gun that fires a gram of dense metal so fast it would make Superman look slow. Make it fully automatic and you have a gun that could shred a modern battleship in less than it takes to say “fire.”

In the real world…

This weapon also has two problems. Look at these scenes in Eraser. Notice anything? Ahnold is not being fried by the friction on bullets traveling at thousands of miles per hour. THIS is what a railgun bullet looks like when it’s just moving a few times faster than sound. Now imagine the kind of heat created by something moving that fast. There’s also the problem that a gun that fired even a gram at that speed would fly out of the shooter’s hands fast enough to probably turn said shooter into pudding.

Okay, that’s the second pudding reference. I’m hungry.

There’s a third problem, though. Let’s say we actually had these relativistic weapons and installed them on something very large (like a battle-ready starship) and we fired them in a vaccum so we we didn’t get dangerous trails of flaming atmosphere. NOW we’re talking.

Except the gun wastes a ton of energy.

In the real world, gun manufacturers realized that a faster, heavier bullet could take down a target. A .45 ACP bullet, for example, is pretty good for taking out things like robbers, small game, and velociraptors. However, it has a problem. It carries so much energy that it can easily go through a person and damage property or other people behind the target. That’s why gunmakers developed hollow-point rounds. These bullets have a concave tip that lets the bullet expand and transfer as much energy as possible to the target, causing more damage and not wasting the bullet’s energy.

This isn’t a small concern. Let’s say you have a bullet that weighs 1 kg. To get it moving at 10% the speed of light, you’d need the energy of a 107 kiloton nuclear warhead. That’s more than five times as much as the Hiroshima bomb. If the bullet goes clean through a target, as the fiction proposes, and it still poses a threat, that means it still has most of its energy. This would be a horrendous waste of resources.

Imagine shooting a needle at five hundred miles per hour at someone. Sure, it could go clean through, but it would do less damage than just punching the guy.


Star Trek TOS Hand Phaser by ~wolfmage75 on deviantART

4. Phasers (Star Trek)

Ah, the humble phaser. It’s been a staple of  Star Trek since the 1960’s. “Set to stun,” has inspired real-life weapon manufacturers to create weapons that can both kill or simply imcapacitate. In fact, even people who’ve never watched Star Trek have probably heard of the phaser. It’s a classic, lethal weapon in the lore of science fiction.

In the real world…

Have you seen these things?! No, really. Just go through a few of these pictures and see if you can tell me what’s wrong with the general design in a phaser. Nothing? I’ll give you a hint.

Phasers have no gun sights, trigger guards, safeties, or any number of safety features you’d want on a weapon that can vaporize a person. Ask anyone who uses guns on a regular basis if they’d like their sights filed off or their trigger guards removed. These aren’t there for cosmetic purposes, folks. Taking them away will make a gun look streamlined, but you’ll also have a HIGHLY dangerous weapon that could go off if not handled properly by even a professional.

And speaking of handling a phaser…

Notice how the handles are curved. In order to hold and shoot one of these puppies, you have to bend your wrist at an unnatural angle. It’s the only way to hold them and even pretend to aim. Really. Tilt your wrist downward and try holding that position for more than five minutes. You can’t, can you? Now take a look at where the designers put the battery pack.

It’s in the handle, but not like a magazine on a modern semi-auto. The battery is actually made up on the handle’s forward section. You have to remove it from the front, so the only way to swap batteries in the middle of a battle is to turn the weapon upside down, flip it so the barrel points at you, then remove the battery and slap a new one in.

You got that? To switch the battery on a phaser, you have to end up with a loaded phaser pointed right at you.

Even if the tech behind the weapon worked, if it could kill and stun at will, good luck finding someone to actually use one of these suicide aids.


Another mecha by *AndreeWallin on deviantART

3. Humanoid Mecha (ANY Japanese anime, it seems)

The sight of a colossus of titanium and guns walking into a battlefield would be enough to make any hardened soldier soil his BDU’s. Anime loves this one, and it’s almost become required practice to have one or two of these for every franchise. Warhammer 40K has its own versions, all equally humanoid, and the general rule seems to be that your best fighting machines should look like the things that pilot them.

Tell me you wouldn’t crap yourself if you saw this heading towards you with a sword that could cut a skyscraper in half?

In the real world…

There’s a reason aircraft carriers are sometimes darkly referred to as “bomb magnets.”

The bigger it is, the more chance it will become the target of choice for every weapon on the battlefield. That’s really the smaller problem, though. If it’s tough enough, the mecha might survive, and drawing attention could actually inspire fear in the hearts of the enemy as they see a giant man-shaped weapon’s platform.

But you’d have to actually get the thing built, though.

Military design is, ideally, an exercise in doing the most with the least. It’s the same principle as engineering. You want systems that are simple and get the job done. Just take a look at this space shuttle design. It’s nothing but a cone and an engine. That’s all it needs. Now ask yourself why a piece of military technology would need a torso, legs, and arms?

It wouldn’t. A piece of military hardware that houses guns should do one thing: bring the guns to the fight and maneuver them. Look at a modern destroyer like the Iowa-class. The entire ship exists solely to get the guns places. Its infrastructure is built around those things: ammo, maintenance, mobility, etc. A humanoid battle platform would be a waste of resources.

Just building a humanoid mecha would cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Sure, there are bombers that cost more, but those bombers are nothing but weapon and engines. A humanoid mecha is thousands of tons of metal not counting fuel to get the thing going.

Save the money and just buy a missile launcher and a humvee.


Halo Plasma Rifle by ~dano555666 on deviantART

2. Plasma Weapons (Halo, Star Trek, Babylon 5, etc)

The humble plasma weapon is a catch-all term for anything that fires blobs of colored light that burn a target.

Plasma is gas that’s been stripped of its electrons. It’s in everything from computer monitors to thermonuclear reactions, but for weapon purposes, you probably want the nuclear-reactor type. The surface of the sun is made up of plasma, which should give you an idea of how ass-scorching hot the stuff can get. However, scientists recently broke a record and created plasma at 2 billion degrees Kelvin.

The sun, by comparison, is only 15 million degrees Kelvin.

Imagine firing star-blobs at your enemy and searing them with the power of your own miniature sun in a gun. You would rain death and destruction with the power of Helios himself and be a god among the warriors of the world!

In the real world…

Get that burn ointment out. In fact, grab a bucket of the stuff.

Let’s take a trip back to elementary science class. When material heats up, it expands and becomes less dense. It’s the reason a hot air balloon floats in the cooler air. Heat something to supernova levels, though, and it expands a lot. Like, a lot a lot. Plasma is so thin that it makes regular air look like pudding. That’s made out of lead.

And that’s three references to pudding. When’s lunch time?!

This pudding air creates the first problem. If you’re firing your plasma gun in an atmosphere, that’d be like trying to launch a supersonic ping pong ball underwater. Or a potato gun inside concrete. It’s not going to go very far. The plasma goes splat against the air which might as well be steel based on density differential, but that’s not the worst part.

At its most basic level, plasma is steam. Steam has this nasty habit of wanting to expand. That’s why tea kettles whistle. But that’s just regular, run-of-the-mill steam. It’s not heated to millions of degrees. No tea needs to be boiled to millions of degrees.

Even if you somehow managed to keep plasma together and level and fire it fast enough so it could blast through our super-dense air, and even if this plasma weapon was only used in space where you don’t have lead air to worry about, it would still want to expand, and QUICKLY. Trying to shoot plasma at a target is basically trying to focus an explosion. Just imagine trying to remove an appendix at fifty feet with a stick of dynamite and you get the idea.

Plasma is not only too diffuse to move through the air, but it’s so hot that it will expand almost instantly in every direction, creating a cloud of death and destruction.

Said cloud of death and destruction will, however, be made up mostly of the atomized bits of your own gunners.


The Death Star by ~tigershark94 on deviantART

1. The Death Star II (Star Wars)

What? The Death Star? Sure, it had a single little point that had to be shot to blow the whole thing up, but it took a Force-sensitive with plot armor to do it. The second one would have been fine if it was finished, so why say that the Death Star II was a terrible weapon? This one could blow up ships with pin-point accuracy. Once shielded, it would have been like trying to attack a small planet. It had enough stormtroopers that, statistically, one of them would have hit something every minute.

Well…

Here’s the thing. The sources differ on the size of the second Death Star, but they all agree it was much larger. Volume increases faster than diameter. The second Death Star is between 3 and 6 times in size, meaning the internal volume was between 27 and 216 times larger than the original one. Death Star II was built in less than two years. That means that in the time it took to build the ONE massive superstation, the Empire could have used the same materials to build a small fleet.

In real life, it’s one of the reasons massive ships were so controversial in the early 20th century. If you destroy the one big ship, you’re out one whole ship, crew, ammo, and all. It’s the ultimate case of putting all your eggs in one basket. It’s a similar problem to the humanoid mecha. If something is that big, you better believe the enemy is going to throw anything and everything at it to get it out of the battlefield as quickly as possible.

And that’s it. Hope you all had a good week, I’ll see you Monday with a video, a short article, and hopefully I get this new grantwriting job I was pitched.

Stay safe, keep sharing links, and I’ll see you in two days. In the meantime, please enjoy this video of an epic space battle from the Freespace mod The Fall of An Empire.

Nov 022011
 

Or IS he?!

November 2, 2011

Why is Halloween so much fun?

If you’re a kid, you get free candy and get to dress up and essentially play all day and night. You get to watch horror movies and act out in the darkest way possible without getting arrested (for the most part).

But as an adult?

I’m going to warn you right now. I’m about to get all philosophical up in this post.

At some point, we stopped enjoying life. We go to work, cash a paycheck, and go about our routine. We’ll watch a television show or learn a hobby to pass the time, but we seem to have lost the spark of being able to play and enjoy life. This has to do with work and time as much as anything, and it’s not like we couldn’t make an extra hour in the day if we really wanted it. It’s just inconvenient. We work and act professional, and for most people this “professionalism” bleeds over into everyday life.

We become the suit we wear. The formality becomes normal.

And then Halloween comes around and we can wear a mask or a costume that, ironically, usually tells us more about us than anything else. Mary wanted to dress up like a bloody clown because she likes to creep people out. I dressed up like a calaca because I enjoy the mythology and symbolism of Dia de los Muertos.


+ Halloween+ by ~OMiyukixO on deviantART

It’s odd, but a lot of people get to be themselves more on Halloween than any other day. They let loose. It’s like they’re drunk without the hassle of drinking. There’s a general feeling that you can do anything on Halloween and it doesn’t count, so you get to see who is reserved, who is really a freak, and who likes to show off.

Maybe I’m over-analyzing it, but I think more adults need to just loosen up and have fun. Do something childish. My dad is a consummate professional in everything he does, but get him to a car museum and he turns into a little boy in a candy shop. I’m almost thirty and I work as an educator and freelance writer, but yesterday, my fiancée and I watched Tom and Jerry yesterday for a good hour.

Grow old. Just don’t grow up too much.


halloween yin by *Apofiss on deviantART

And now, to make up for the lack of articles in the last two weeks, here are some links made of awesome. Enjoy!

  • However, the best costume has to be Princess Vader. It’s so cute and epic it’s on a level on its own.
  • Here are some other epic costumes that also deserve honorable mention.
  • The airwaves are full of scary things. Like Jersey Shore. These broadcasts, however, are much scarier for other reasons.
  • I loved watching the Treehouse of Horror specials, but they seem to have gotten kind of lame lately. When I read this ranking, I was glad I wasn’t the only one who thought so.
  • I said everyone needs to calm down and just have fun with Halloween. It seems even Planned Parenthood got in on it. They released a very important memo about the dangers of vampire sex. And yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like.
  • You think Halloween is creepy and scary movies are gory and unnerving? Try Halloween a hundred years ago. The costumes back then were pure, unleaded nightmare fuel.
  • These guys pulled the perfect prank. It’s creepy, unnerving, they caught it on tape, and they managed to not break any laws. Behold the horror of Timmy!
  • And finally, let’s get over Hump Day with a little metal. And Halloween. Halloween metal!

Nov 102010
 

Also, they don't have Social Security numbers.

November 10, 2010

It’s amazing the things you learn when you listen to people you disagree with.

It seems I’ve been a murderous psychopath for most of my life. After years of watching horror movies and seeing kids get dismembered, I finally snapped and went on a killing spree that left hundreds dead. The gore and viscera clung to my machete as I inspected the grim scene before me. Exposure to this one obviously isolated part of my life had turned me into a mindless killer.

It all made sense!


The Slasher by ~MisterMorgendorffer on deviantART

And then I stopped watching Fox and remembered how stupid Bill O’Reilly can be. For the last few weeks, he’s been going on about this “Muslim problem” in the world. It goes something like this: most of the foreign danger right now comes from terrorists who are Muslim. Therefore, Islam is contributing to our problems and those of other nations. Moderate Muslims are not speaking out, he says, and so the religion itself is the problem.

If you believe that, then you also believe we have a science problem, a white guy problem, a black guy problem, and a myriad of other problems in this country.

And by the way, moderate Muslims HAVE spoken out against extremists.

Taking a small sample of a whole and using it judge or make a generalization about the entire group is called what, folks? Racism? Stupid? It doesn’t matter. This is the mentality that takes isolated incidents and applies the resulting conclusions to the entire group. Minorities, art, and religion have all, at one time or another, been targets of this kind of myopic thinking.


Intolerance by ~klakier666 on deviantART

Let’s look at O’Reilly first. Yes, a lot of the people who are threatening the country right now are Muslim and they claim their religion is one of the main causes for this hatred. However, how many Muslims are there in the world? I think at last count it was close to a billion. Maybe more. And how many of them are plotting to kill us? A small fraction. The religion’s been perverted and twisted into something that most Muslims would never embrace and yet Bill here thinks it HAS to be the religion that’s the problem.

I guess it wouldn’t have made sense to claim that it was the brown skin that made them do it. Or the heat.

It’s the same way violent video games and movies keep getting blamed every time some kid grabs a gun or does something equally stupid, even if said kid says it’s something he saw in a game, or a movie, or something else. How many people watch horror movies every year in this country alone? How many people are playing Call of Duty, Halo, and other games where you can put a nice armor-piercing round through some n00b’s head?


Noob Rule 1 by ~guitaristburke on deviantART

Violent video games don’t make psychos any more than horror movies make killers or Islam creates mass-murderers. They just help give an excuse for the behavior. I’ve watched horror movies and played violent games for years and I’ve never done anything like this, and I guarantee that 99.9999% of the people who also do this share the same track record.

This also brings up a question artists need to ask themselves. What impact will our work have on the audience? There is no shortage of lunatics who claim to have been inspired by books, music, and movies. I’m sure Lennon and McCartney shuddered when Charles Manson said he was inspired by Helter Skelter. As I’m writing Charcoal Streets, I wonder if anyone will take some unintended message from my work. I wonder if someone will read “Designer Drug” and find justification for drug abuse. In the right light, any of these stories might trigger a very undesirable reaction in the right kind of individual.

I’m publishing them anyway.


book by ~AlphaONE666 on deviantART

There are really, really dumb people in the world. I mean, they make you feel like you could win a Nobel or edit Wikipedia for spelling errors in one hour. Take O’Reilly, for example. In his mind, he sees Muslims threatening us, so the religion must be the problem. Funny how he doesn’t think the economic collapse was a white guy problem or how the overcrowding in our prisons is a black and Hispanic problem.

Maybe he does. I don’t know.

It’s just safer to blame the minority, isn’t it?

All these excuses (religion, movies, books, music) tell us more about the person making the accusation than the actual work itself. I know more about O’Reilly than I do about Islam based on his remarks. I know more about people who say music speaks to them and tells them to kill or hate than I do about the music.

That’s the wonderful thing about actually listening to other people talk about their beliefs. They tell you so much without knowing it sometimes.


ignorance by ~magdaa0770 on deviantART

And now for something new. Rapid-fire news!

  • Speaking of the think-tank that is Fox News… I know I posted this on the Facebook page yesterday, but I had to repost it. Glenn Beck, who does not even understand the mechanism for evolution (whether he believes it or not) thinks he can explain QUANTUM PHYSICS to us and how it is part of the progressive conspiracy. This is a man who has admitted he does not have anything amounting to a formal education. People who do, people who spend their entire lives studying advanced physics and the workings of the universe still have trouble grasping some of these concepts and Glenn “I Learned in a Library” Beck thinks HE can do better?!
  • A straight couple was denied a civil union in what can only be described as the greatest blow to heterosexual couples since gay couples were allowed to marry in some parts of the world… Or something like that. See, the couple wants the legal benefits but not the “marriage” part. The British government says it can’t do that. So… it’s okay for gay couples, but not good enough for straight couples. How telling…
  • I like Dakota Fanning. I think she’s a good actress and, if she stays out of the Lohan-Olsen trail, she should do just fine. She’s also apparently awesome enough to be crowned homecoming queen twice. And she’s a senior at 16.
  • Are those healthy carrots just too full of vitamins and minerals for you? Fry the fraker and make carrot bacon!
  • I really don’t like using Macs. I’ll admit part of it is unfamiliarity with the system, but the other is the way you really have no control over fixing something broken short of sending it off somewhere. I like doing my own repairs. Anyway, this blogger apparently went from Mac to PC and found the experience… nice.
  • How can Optimus Prime possibly be any cooler? Could he ride a T-Rex into battle? Run for president? How about a steampunk-inspired Optimus Prime? He’s not just a truck… he’s a freakin’ TRAIN!
  • I keep talking about the coming robot apocalypse and how we seem to be helping it along… and now we find out that robots think humans are bacon. No lie. A robot designed to taste wine and food scanned a human and read it as pork. Yup. Forget about plugging us into the Matrix for fuel. The machines are just going to eat us.
  • Olbermann got suspended for making political contributions, was brought back, and started his show yesterday like THIS. I have my disagreements with the man, but I’ll say this… He knows how to do his job. That was hilarious.
  • And finally… I know this is three years old, but do you know a snooty rich wench who thinks she’s better than you because she’s white and married wealthy? Well, now you can teach her a few… important Spanish phrases to help with the illegal immigrants she hired. Trust me. It’s a Spanish lesson you don’t want to miss.