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DShomshak last won the day on January 2

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  1. DShomshak

    More space news!

    The April 28, 2018 issue of The Economist has a nice little article about the just-released dataset from the GAIA star-mapping mission. Dean Shomshak
  2. Technical query: Can the capsule's aperture stretch wide enough to hold large objects, or is the aperture fixed and anything placed in the capsule must be narrow enough to fit through the opening? Dean Shomshak
  3. DShomshak

    More space news!

    A recent NOVA episode gave quite a thorough explanation for it all, accessible to non-scientists. (Including a recreation of the 1840 experiment that showed that CO2 absorbs infrared.). EDIT: The title was, "Decoding the Climate Machine." Or maybe "Decoding the Weather Machine." I watched it again, and both titles appeared on screen. Short version is that any "skepticism" about humans causing climate change requires several areas of very well established science to be wrong, in ways that could be detected in a community college science lab. Plus a conspiracy so vast and baroque that it dwarfs the Illuminati, Trilateralists, Freemasons and Antarctic Space Nazis put together. ADDENDUM: "But how do we know the CO2 comes from fossil fuels?" Cancer addressed this, but the only other known phenomenon -- at least, the only one I've heard of -- that might pump that much CO2 into the atmosphere that quickly is a flood basalt event, like the ones that created the Deccan Traps or the Channeled Scablands of Eastern Washington. And I think we'd notice a few million square miles of fresh, glowing lava. SECOND ADDENDUM: Also, note what Cancer said before: The magnetic field is weakening on a timescale of tens or hundreds of thousands of years. Climate change is, measurably, happening on a scale of decades to centuries -- a thousand times faster. Dean Shomshak
  4. Elizabeth Tasker, The Planet Factory This book on exoplanets is very good. Science writer Elizabeth Tasker supplies an overview of exoplanet research from the first detections to more-or-less now. The best thing about this book, though, is that it isn't just a "book of marvels" (i.e., "Planets orbiting a pulsar? Golly!") or even a statement of current knowledge and theory. Tasker chronicles how theories of planet formation change with each new discovery, describing the explanations and theories that didn't pan out as well as the current best guesses, and she doesn't shy away from admitting the areas of controversy and phenomena yet to be understood. It's a look at science as ongoing process. But there are still many marvels. Anyone designing planets for their SF game will find lots of inspiration for bizarre and memorable worlds. Dean Shomshak
  5. DShomshak

    Galactic Champions-eque material?

    Then again, it might be more useful to BDH if we examine existing settings that mix space opera with super-powers. How do they set the balance between tropes and elements? I’m not that familiar with the obvious paradigmatic cases, Legion of Super-Heroes and Green Lantern; I’ll leave those for other people. Instead, I’ll look outside comic books, at the Lensman series by E. E. Smith. The Lensman books pretty clearly privilege space opera over superheroes. Or, at least they have clearly separated areas of applicability. The Lensmen have super-powers, but these are limited to telepathic effects. Their powers don’t obviate the need for space armor and blasters, let alone starships or the ridiculously powerful star system-scale weapons such as sunbeams and planetary nutcrackers. (Look 'em up.) OTOH, mortal technology cannot perform telepathic effects — and those effects can scale up to galactic levels, until the final battle is a telepathic assault by the entire Lensman corps against an entire species of Pure Evil... which even the mightiest technological weapons of the setting could not do. Does anyone else have examples of how settings juxtapose space opera and superheroics? Dean Shomshak
  6. DShomshak

    Galactic Champions-eque material?

    Hey, I finally thought of something relevant! (And have a chance to post it.) A few things, in fact. There's been a bit of talk about “Supers Vs. Starships.” I see two possible solutions to this issue, one general and one specific. If I understand the perceived conflict, the question is: How can supers matter in a setting where space battleships carry weapons of tremendous power? One shot from a battleship’s main laser or bogon torpedoes or whatever, and a hero or villain becomes ionized vapor. One suggested solution is that high-end supers are so powerful that even the most powerful mundane-tech weapons might not kill them, so the sort of institutions that build space battleships don’t even try. I don’t like this proposal. Either you’re pruning back the SF in order to protect supers, or you’re pushing the power of supers so high that you make all other beings mere set decoration. Or pets. You can tell a story in which only a handful of the people in the universe matter — they are the gods, and everyone else just tries to cope with their conflicts and tantrums, a la Zelazny’s Creatures of Light and Darkness — and those can be great stories, but in many ways you are short-changing the space opera side. I’d suggest that it’s less a matter of power differential and more one of where weapons systems can go. You can see this even in mundane modern warfare such as Afghanistan: Tank guns can turn humans into gobbets of charred meat, but you can’t carry tank guns on house-to-house searches for insurgents. Much less battleship main guns or even heavier weapons. Or as one pundit observed during the Kosovo conflict, a jet plane armed with the biggest, smartest bombs can’t do diddly to stop one man cutting another man’s throat in a ditch. Heavy weapons are only useful in certain kinds of fights, against certain kinds of enemies. That will be the same in a space opera/superhero hybrid setting. The reason Superboy hasn’t been killed by a space battleship is not that he’s more powerful: It’s that you can’t easily get a space battleship in a position where it can get a clear shot. And Superboy won’t be just hovering there in space like a dummy waiting for the big gun to fire. Battleships are great for shooting at other battleships, or at cities or other big targets. They are not so good for shooting at small, highly mobile targets. For that, you send out the TIE fighters (or appropriate setting analog). Who are agents. Procede as with any other battle between supers and agents. The second reason is specific to the superhero genre. The above argument doesn’t rule out building a special battleship with the maneuverability and targeting to take on Superboy… but for the same price, a government can fund a project to create an Omega Crystal — the greatest, yet most compact, power source known to galactic science! — and use it to power a battlesuit, or a robot, or something, that can engage with Superboy directly and, you hope, win. Or find a telepath you hope is loyal and enhance him with ultra-advanced psychotronic brain implants. Or cyber-enhance your greatest commando. (Continue list indefinitely.) In short, create another super with appropriate space-opera trappings. From a story POV, the advantage of these two related approaches is that you aren’t forbidding any stories in advance. Maybe someday you’ll want to do Superboy Vs. Battleship, and make each a credible threat to the other. You just need to work a little harder to set up the situation. Maybe Prince Evillo decides he *will* pay for a battleship mobile enough, with weapons accurate enough, that it can fight Superboy. Or maybe the Dark Circle lures Superboy into a trap where a battleship can shoot at him, and the challenge is to escape the trap. Dean Shomshak
  7. DShomshak

    More space news!

    The March, 2018 issue of Scientific American has an article about the TESS and CHEOPS planet-hunting space telescope missions. Dean Shomshak
  8. A few days back, the BBC asked an American teacher's thoughts about Trump's proposal of arming teachers. This teacher happened to be a former Marine (I don't remember the weapons in which she claimed expertise, sorry). She gave an eloquent and reasoned explanation of why this was a Very Bad Idea. Sure, you can find one person to support any conceivable POV. But this is not the only military or former military or police person I've heard who was dubious that the solution to gun violence was more guns. Dean Shomshak
  9. DShomshak

    Galactic Champions-eque material?

    Finishing what I started before, the only social/political system that provably *doesn't* self-destruct is the hunter/gatherer band, which was humanity's (and pre-humanity's) sole form of social organization for at least a million years. On the one hand, this system owed much of its stability to the external constraint of next to no technology. Once somebody figures out agriculture, you get atom bombs in a comparative eyeblink. At least, we did. I suspect (though I have no expert opinion to back me up here) that we are subtly gene-programmed with attitudes adapted for hunter/gatherer life in small bands, and the further we get from that lifestyle, the more unstable our societies become. Take away the physical and social technologies built to support them, and society quickly regresses to the primordial mode of tiny communities, all intensely suspicious of each other and prone to attack each other at the drop of a hat. See the Central African Republic, Congo or the rest of that neighborhood, for instance. Shifting gears to Istvatha V'han: One of the more subtly creepy moments in Brave New World is where the World Controller explains that experiments have been made to create a better society with greater human dignity... but they all failed. The Brave New World, with all its horrifying inequities, is the best that humanity can ever achieve -- or at least, it is the only system found that keeps humanity contented and at peace with itself. Contnentment, he admits, might not sound like a very inspiring goal. But you might feel differently when anthrax bombs are falling around you. Istvatha V'han could easily make a similar argument. Having traveled through multitudes of universes, seeing multitudes of societies at every level of developments, she has seen what works and what doesn't. And authoritarian, imperial rules has the best track record for keeping the largest number of people living in peace and prosperity for the longest period of time. It's just basic untilitarianism: the greatest good for the greatest umber. PCs are unlikely to be in a position to challenge her based on their own experiences. I hope at some point to contribute something actually relevant. Dean Shomshak
  10. DShomshak

    Galactic Champions-eque material?

    I don't have tome to read the thread (and don't know when I ever will, so I don't know how relevant this is to, well, anything. But Aristotle, back when he invented political analysis, saw that every political system contains the seeds of its own downfall. All possible political systems, he said, fall in 3 categories: 1) Monarchy: one person rules. 2) Oligarchy/aristocracy: A small group rules (small relative to the total population, anyway). 3) Democracy: Every citizen rules. (Leaving aside how you define "citizen," which can make the system Not Democratic At All by modern standards.) Monarchy is good because authority is clear and decision-making swift... if the monarch is competent and dutiful. But no matter how good a monarch is, there's no guarantee that successors will be competent, too. Eventually, you get a monarch who is stupid, evil, lazy, or otherwise damaging. Get enough, and the system collapses. Oligarchy is good because the weight isn't all on one person. But the ruling junta members will eventually fight each other as they try to seize sole power and become a monarch. Their infighting will tear society apart and the system collapses. Democracy is good because any policy has the support of a majority of citizens, there's a bigger pool of talent and ideas. It has the strongest connection to the populace. But people are easily swayed by demagogues and lack the discipline and self-control to see the big picture and the long-term benefits of short-term privation. They do dumb, self-indulgent things, vote in a tyrant, or otherwise cause the system to collapse. So every society is screwed, right? Well, maybe not. Aristotle concluded that the way to avoid each mode's inevitable self-destruction is to have all three modes at once. If the monarch is bad, he can be curbed by the oligarchs or the people; if the oligarchic power-brokers start infighting too much, the people and the monarch can knock their heads togather; if the people are led astray by a demagogic tyrant, the oligarchs can withdraw the support of key institutions or the monarch can chop the demagogue's head off. Which is how modern democratic republics operate, notably including the USA. (The Founding Fathers had classical educations; they knew their Aristotle.) Mixed government still isn't a sure-fire key to avoiding political self-destruction, but it does provide some checks against simple forms of self-destruction -- if the populace has the sense to stick with it. Dean Shomshak
  11. Recommended reading: Timothy Snyder, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century. Snyder is a historian of 20th century central and eastern Europe... which means, chiefly, Nazism, Communism and miscellaneous fascisms. In brief, his argument is that brutal despotisms follow a fairly consistent playbook in seizing power. Knowing the playbook might help one avoid fresh tyrannies, and resist them when they happen anyway. And yes, he is thinking of Donald Trump. It's a short book, but pointed. For an example, one lesson is, "Defend institutions." Would-be tyrants rarely start out with the power to commit atrocities; they achieve it gradually by breaking and subverting the civil service and private groups to their will. And here's Trump, trying to break the FBI. "Be a patriot" discusses the difference between patriotism and nationalism. Snyder also provides a brief (page and a half) list of Trump's unpatriotic acts, from mocking and insulting war heroes and their families, to placing Russia-beholden people in his campaign and administration. (More than half a page of one-sentence examples right there. As Snyder puts it, the point is not that Russia and the U.S. must be enemies. They don't. The point is that "As a patriot, you serve your own country.") A few of the lessons actually relate to our favorite hobby and these forums: "Maintain a private life" and "Learn from people in other countries." Tyrannies try to make everything about them, to butt in on every activity. It's important not to let them, keeping parts of your life and associations they don't touch. And contact with people in other countries helps one resist the closed fantasy-world that tyrants use to keep people docile, scared and confused. If worst comes to worst... it's good to have friends abroad to whom one can flee. I certainly hope the American people do not let the Trump regime get that awful, but I would like to thank the non-US posters for the outside perspective they provide. Dean Shomshak
  12. DShomshak

    Galactic Champions-eque material?

    At risk of immodesty, I'll suggest my Spells of the Devachan mini-supplement (available through the HERO store!) as a source for a galactic-scale magical milieu. No one has shown enough interest for me to write Foes of the Devachan, Worlds of the Devachan or anything else, but I'm sure you can file the serial numbers off other Hero System material and use it as the demonic Catabolics, the sword-and-sorcery magi of savage Perilune, the plasma entities of Irradion, and so on. Dean Shomshak
  13. DShomshak

    Galactic Champions-eque material?

    Your experience, then, is quite different from mine. But I do not claim to know what "most players" are like: only what the people I play with are like. Dean Shomshak
  14. DShomshak

    Galactic Champions-eque material?

    If you want "tongue in cheek," then use Harry Harrison's Bill, the Galactic Hero as a model for the space marines. (There will of course be space marines.) Dean Shomshak
  15. DShomshak

    More space news!

    Also, the February issue of Scientific American has a nice article about Low Surface Brightness galaxies. There seem to be a lot of them. We haven't seen them before because, well, Low Surface Brightness -- enough that it's really hard to see them through the glare of our surrounding Milky Way. It's sort of like being in a lit room, trying to look out a window at the night outside. The astronomer who first postulated them got the idea while observing a huge, super-luminous galaxy. He whimsically wondered if some alien astronomer might be looking back at the Milky Way -- then realized that astronomers in that galaxy wouldn't see *anything* of the outside universe. Their own galaxy is too bright. Which blows my mind. A galaxy is a very big place (especially this one) -- but still, the inhabitants might never know there's anything beyond. EDIT: Until they discover gravitational waves. Then they will know about a wider universe of colliding black holes and neutron stars. From neutron stars, they might infer the existence of other galaxies... but still might never know their form. Neutrinos might also give some clues to the wider universe, but I'm not sure what. Would they even be able to detect the cosmic microwave background through the electromagnetic glare of their own galaxy? Even stranger, there are at least two different types of dim galaxy. One sort has lots of gas and few stars, but the overall light curve is quite bluish. These may be "late bloomer" galaxies in which star formation was somehow impeded. The other sort has very little gas and the stars are more red; likely old. They aren't just tiny dwarf galaxies, either: The first of these dim, diffuse galaxies discovered, Malin 1, has 7 times the diameter and 50 times the mass of the Milky Way. Both sorts violate current theories of galaxy formation and development. And they aren't flukes: Hundreds have been found already. All evidence suggests there are many, many more -- perhaps as many as the brighter galaxies already known. Dean Shomshak