Tag Archives: Technical

Visual aids


Not a good day so far. Writing is again at the zero level because I’m busy running around doing other people’s errands. Small things being blown up out of all proportion, and being dumped in my lap. Like it’s my fault they were broken in the first place.

Still. One must persevere in these situations.

I’m beginning to understand why movies cost so much to make. My own first dozen attempts at doing readings for a simple YouTube vid are so full of slurring, fluffs and swearing that I’m beginning to doubt whether English is my first language or not. This is puzzling, because at Drama School, sight reading was at the top of my skill set. There’s also the issue that any vid I make approaching a Gig in file size overloads my little cameras memory controller, and the file will not download. Although considering the standard my sight reading has sunk to, I’m currently thanking goodness for the delete key. There is no way I’m inflicting that on an unsuspecting world. Even for the sheer comedy value.

Nuclear Fusion and Starship design – a few thoughts -Part 2


Having nailed my colours to the mast with regards to my fictional version of Nuclear Fusion, I’d like to continue digging my literary grave with a few thoughts on faster than light travel and Starship construction.

Current thinking seems to favour the ‘space warp’ / wormhole method of sidestepping ‘normal’ space times limitations as documented in the writings and theories of Albert Einstein and others.

Now as far as travel through such portals is concerned, my own thinking is in total concurrence. The only way of transcending the speed of light is via some other dimension or set of dimensions, like the theoretical realms of sub space or hyperspace. Where my view diverges from many of the concepts on offer is in the areas of field dynamics and thus starship design, and here I would like to offer the following thoughts, structured as postulates.

Postulate 1; Such a ‘Starship Drive’ would require power in the Gigawatt, Terawatt, and possibly even the Petawatt range, from a Nuclear Fusion reaction.

Postulate 2; Such a starship could only travel through the realms of sub or hyperspace in a heavily magnetically shielded ‘warp’. Unshielded media, signals or ordinary matter, even if they could enter such a realm, such as by a ‘Stargate’ type device would immediately become disorganised and lose cohesion. Perhaps explosively so. This would rule out any form of Teleportation of unprotected matter.

Postulate 3; Star ship design would have to be governed by the field dynamics of an electromagnetic field. Using this paradigm, the most efficient shape for a starship would be perfectly globular or cylindrical to provide a medium to establish a tight magnetic circuit close to the hull. At least field densities sufficient to allow a transition to a different set of space time dimensions.

In my fictional universe, Starship design favours blank cylinders with no windows, only camera and radar displays to show the outside. Also sub space, at least to our eyes, would be effectively invisible, as our eyes and senses are limited to the wavelengths of the visible electromagnetic spectrum, which might not be valid in a sub or hyperspace type transition. We would have no means of directly viewing such a set of dimensions, except being able to view the inside of a magnetic field boundary, which I describe as a uniform silky black.

My reasoning is thus; whilst all the external bits and pieces bolted on look very pretty, Starships of the “Enterprise” or irregular hull shapes would likely require too much energy, and the field shape would contain too many irregularities for the magnetic field to properly protect and enable translation between transitional space time and normal space time. A smooth and regular field shape is more desirable and easier to maintain than one that is all odd angles.

This issue is addressed in The ‘Sky full of Stars’, where a flaw in field dynamics design results in ‘Quantum foam‘ damage to the hull of the ‘Vancouver’ (A transport starship), nearly results in disaster for Paul Stovek and Lan Yue.

Quantum foam being microscopic vortices of subspace that momentarily exist in the wake of a subspace field collapse during transition to ‘normal’ space. The end result is transforming solid material into a porous sponge like lattice of hull material. In the case of the narrative, a titanium alloy. Such is my fictional interpretation of current thinking, anyway.

Nuclear Fusion and Starship design – a few thoughts – part 1


I’ve been re-reading ‘The Sky Full of Stars‘ again, trying to poke holes (well, more holes than necessary) in the narrative, and thought I might blog a few explanatory notes behind my vision of the technology. Today’s subject is Nuclear Fusion as a means for providing the energy for a Starship Drive. This is nothing new. Fusion as a literary device has a long and venerable history. Nuclear Fusion, and the wealth of energy it could theoretically deliver is a goal (currently) beyond the dreams of Physicists.

Real world Nuclear Fusion ‘in the wild’ occurs when a sufficient mass of hydrogen atoms are sufficiently compressed to create the fireball that becomes a star. ‘Star nurseries‘, where this process has been observed are a well known astronomical phenomenon. It is also observable in H-Bombs, which are a relatively crude means of getting hydrogen to fuse in sufficient quantities for a multi-megaton yield explosive device.

With Fusion, the first trick seems to be to get plasma at sufficient heat, pressure and density into a single point to initiate a self sustaining reaction. The second is getting usable power out of such a reactor without melting the entire installation. Such is the potential violence from the theoretical energy release.

Creating a controlled superheated plasma has been achieved many times before, including actual incidences of fusion, but only sporadically. Part of the problem seems to be in the plasma streams themselves, which tend to ‘arc’ to earth quite readily like lightning bolts. Stopping the plasma behaving in this fashion is heavy on power input, because even with heavy duty superconductors, the amount of electricity needed for the required electromagnetic containment field outstrips any output many times over. Focussing a super powerful laser at a single pellet of hydrogen isotope has also been tried.

The only current means of achieving even partially controlled Nuclear Fusion require huge amounts of energy to spark off a reaction. This is the current reality of nuclear fusion technology. Unless some new fusion milestone has been passed recently, and skipped merrily under my radar.

In my fictional world, I have a vision of a controllable nuclear fusion reaction as a hybrid between the ‘Wiffleball’ or Polywell (WB-6, 7, 8 After the theoretical work of Robert Bussard, later Richard Nebel) and the more ‘conventional’ Tokamak based designs (ITER etc). A critical point of fusing hydrogen atoms (Forgetting the technicalities surrounding Isotopes of Hydrogen for the moment) is developed by focussing a number of plasma streams into a ‘pinch point’ at which the conditions for a fusion reaction become possible.

One of the phenomena that may make this vision possible is the ability of plasma to ‘self organise’ into helices if a sufficient charge of electric current is passed through the plasma itself (See this result from the RFP Experiment, Padova Italy in 2009). Thus reducing the propensity of the heated plasma to arc to the nearest earth. What I propose is arranging several lower power Tokamak type toroids on edge so they form a kind of ring doughnut shape with a pinch point in the centre, where all the plasma streams converge in a narrow central core; charging the plasma so it forms helices, then synchronising the helical plasma streams to create one or a series of hot spots where sustainable heat, pressure and plasma density for continuous and controllable nuclear fusion may be created.

Getting any power out, of course might prove a little tricky. Although a charged particle stream from a Fusion reaction should be enough to induce electrical current via a series of coil windings or discharge points, as well as some form of rapid heat transfer mechanism to create steam to drive an electricity generating turbine. Preventing those melting might prove an issue, but those are mere technicalities.

At the moment my conjecture is purely a literary device, rather like the use of the hypothetical realm of ‘subspace’ for faster than light travel, or ‘space warp’. Yet like so many literary devices, perhaps my version might give a real world physicist a second thought, which in turn might go some way to provide a workable solution for the dream of almost limitless energy. With Fusion, there is always the constant feeling that we are on the cusp of something great and powerful. Yet like so many other other inventions, like heavier than air powered flight and the mass mobility of the automobile, there are one or two missing pieces in the jigsaw before we have the whole picture.

Readings, a study in frustration


One of the things I’m trying to put together is readings of my work to go up on Youtube, and embed back to this blog. I have a nice little camera with enough capacity to take decent quality video’s. I have a tripod, and a place to sit.

My problem is my household; despite repeated requests for some quiet to read aloud, I’m beset by a dog who whines and snuffles for attention every time I open my mouth and he’s not the focus of my every motion. My wife and stepdaughter have a habit of demanding my attention immediately, now, right this second, no matter what I’m doing, no matter where I am. With an unerring sense of bad timing, the doorbell rings with callers. The phone goes with some blasted autodialled nonsense trying to sell me stuff I don’t and will never want, or a call to my wife. It’s not so much the interruptions to what I see as vital market preparation activity. It’s the lack of privacy and personal space that grates.

Under these circumstances, any videoed readings tend to get interrupted, frequently. Short of hiring time at a professional studio, I don’t know what to do. Nevertheless; I shall persevere. One of us has got to give in, knuckle under, surrender, break, fracture, shatter, eventually. Who knows, in the words of the old folk tale; the Horse may learn to sing.

Return of the ‘Penny Dreadful’


Back in the 19th, and early 20th century, there was a type of cheap sensationalist fiction called the ‘Penny Dreadful‘. Serialised fiction which is echoed in the less literary ‘Graphic Novels’ of today. Of late I’ve found myself thinking that there’s a gap in the market as far as eBooks are concerned.

Having considered the matter, there’s always been a market for such material, from Romance to Thriller, from Supernatural to Science Fiction. It’s called ‘pulp’, and there was once a modest living to be made from it.

Now I’ll be the first to concede that I’m no towering intellect. I’m a working stiff with an occasionally elegant turn of phrase. Yet even I can see echoes of the Victorian past and mass literacy that rode on the back of such reading material in the growing market for independently published eBooks.

There are those high-minded individuals who sniff at such poor literary fare, disparaging anything which does not live up to their personal ideals. For my own part; I think this attitude is counter productive to mass literacy, and expecting everyone to prefer Dickens or Orwell rather misses the point. The idea of the ‘pulp’ end of the market should be to provide a springboard to get the less literate actually reading. Providing a set of low rungs on the literacy ladder that the less motivated or able can readily clamber onto. Although I personally draw my own line at tales of Vampires and Zombies. Just never seen the appeal.

The truly great thing about the new eBook market is that no-one sees you hanging around the e-comic book store and makes sniffy comments about age, intellect, or darker associations. There’s no-one in online book stores to pass judgement on the contents of your eReader. It’s incredibly cheap, democratic, and there’s nobody telling you what to read. I think it would be a crime against mass literacy if we let the narrow tastes of the high minded dictate who reads what.

As far as reading is concerned, we all have to start somewhere, and we all have different tastes and comfort zones.

I will be presenting my own contribution before Christmas. One ten thousand word serialised eBook a month; and if demand is good, perhaps more often.

Some notes on eBook formatting


Just had a story rejected as an eBook over formatting issues. Easily resolved, but a thoroughgoing pain to have to go over and redo work you thought you’d completed a month ago.

The trick seems to be that my specific eBook publisher needs the source document to have the story spilt into specific segments, like chapters. Now I find cutting up a story like this a bit limiting sometimes, as chapters can get in the way of a narrative flow by cutting it into distinct chunks. For some narratives they work, but for others, not. I find they tend to slow the flow of a story down too much, especially if you’re dealing with multiple related story lines.

For my Novella, ‘The Odd Machine‘ which is out as an eBook, I had to chop the story into fourteen distinct ‘chunks’ to satisfy the eBook criteria, with the factual story notes as a fifteenth section. As someone who can read at over twelve hundred words a minute when the mood takes him, I find chapters in this format are often too short and detract from the pleasure of reading.

When formatting, the simple rules to follow seem to be these,
Firstly; ensure that all indented paragraphs have no extra tabs in them. Always use the ‘Paragraph format’ tool with the ‘first line’ option selected. If you can get away with it, don’t use tabs in your manuscript at all.
Secondly; in the MSS file, the eBook title should be in ‘Heading 1’
Thirdly; the chapter headings should be in ‘Heading 2’ and any subsections in ‘Heading 3’. Anything else doesn’t seem to work.

Following these simple rules should ensure that your eBook gets out into the marketplace without any unwarranted and annoying formatting related delays.

New Page


I’ve gathered up all the links to my currently published work on a single page, which I’ve added to the blog. I’m quietly pleased about the result, because anyone who wants to access my work now has a single point of contact.

Between visits to Vets for poorly pup, nursemaiding old friends through bereavement, house moves, and subsequent skirmishes with bureaucracy, it has been a very busy time. Throw in the odd run in with food poisoning and Google shutting off my email, not to mention extra shift work, I think I’ve coped admirably. Did I mention it was raining heavily and that snow is expected this Friday?

All grist to the mill. Carry on remorseless. The world turns on.

I have no mail


Google has arbitrarily suspended my primary e-mail account for ‘unusual activity’ and is demanding my cell phone number to re-activate. I do not wish to give them my cell phone number, or other personal details.

I find the best way to avoid ID theft on the Internet is not to make your personal details available in the first place. This includes Google. If asked, I’d be inclined to think that their own security is compromised, and they don’t know how to fix it.

In the meantime, all my e-mail is inaccessible. At present I’m inclined to describe Google in terms that are short, Anglo-saxon, and considered obscene in polite society.

Update: Still fuming, but have got my e-mail back online with a changed password. Now I need to reset my e-mail client. Which is annoying.