Fiction, Humour

The Totally Credible Heroes

Superheroes, but all their powers are incredibly minor:

  • Übermensch has 5 milliwatt laser eyes, giving him the power to entertain cats and give PowerPoint presentations without the need of a laser pointer. He has occasionally dazzled himself while shaving.
  • Water-Woman has webbed hands and feet, so can swim quite fast. She also has a habit of talking to seaweed, but it doesn’t reply.
  • The Sprinter can run a half-marathon at the speed an average person can sprint 400 meters. He has been banned from most sporting events, even the ones he would lose.
  • Mr Boring is so dull nobody pays him any attention, making him essentially invisible to anyone except security guards.
  • Cat Man likes to dress up as a cat, but denies all suggestions that he is a furry. The claws are his own fingernails cut into points, and not particularly dangerous.
  • Cyber-Woman has cochlear implants which can be connected to her phone via Bluetooth. She also has a prosthetic leg which looks pretty futuristic, but doesn’t do anything unusual.
  • Doctor Komisch has a PhD in the politics of the British Isles in the 13th century, and is a practicing Wiccan priest. He is skilled at cold-reading, but none of the spells he knows do more than make him feel happy.
  • Titanium Man likes to build his own jet packs and similar flying apparatus. His jet packs are very expensive to build and consume a lot of fuel.
  • The Greek is a dominatrix with a kevlar rope lasso. She is a skilled interrogator, and can get the truth about 95% of the time.
  • Miss Tesla can generate and sense weak magnetic fields from her nerves, allowing her to read and edit the magnetic stripe on any credit card she can touch, to open magnetically sealed doors, and to pick up small ferrous objects that would otherwise only be reachable with a magnet on a stick.
  • The Human Dragon can belch methane. It only catches fire with an external source of ignition, and is much like a street entertainer performing fire-breathing only slightly less impressive.
  • The Face-shifter has unusually elastic skin and far more tiny face muscles than normal, and can perfectly mimic the face of anyone… provided they have similar melanin levels, no obvious moles, birthmarks, or current sunburn. They cannot transform their hair, but they have heard of wigs and hair dye.
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Fiction

Sapiens Plurum contest entry

This was my entry into the 2019 Sapiens Plurum short story contest. In news which will shock precisely nobody, as this was my first attempt at writing a short story for a contest, not only did it totally fail to win, it didn’t even get an honourable mention.

“‘Save the world’, dad said”

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history, Politics

History, according to the British

If you’ve ever wondered why the UK acts the way it does, consider that my formal history lessons at school went like this:

  • Boudica had a perfectly justified but ultimately futile fight with the Romans
  • Saxons exist
  • “William the Conqueror” came, saw, and conquered liberated and/or unified the country
  • “The” Manga Carta
  • Civil war War of the Roses
  • Henry VIII
  • Civil war Catholics or Protestants argue about which one is sent from God and which is the unholy spawn of Satan’s armpit hair
  • Witch hunts
  • “The civil war”
  • The Spanish Armada is defeated by Britain being awesome in a totally unspecified way
  • Britain decided to end the slave trade but only after profiting from it greatly and at around the same time as everyone else in Europe, probably because the industrial revolution had started and manual labour was becoming less important
  • The Industrial Revolution, which according to this version of events consists entirely of “Steam Engine → power loom (that it exists, no description given) → one specific picture of Isambard Kingdom Brunel
  • Queen Victoria, who never smiled, perfectly embodied the essence of what it means to be British by calling herself “Empress of India”, marrying her first cousin (Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha) and being the head of state when the Great Famine hit Ireland and a million people starved to death
  • World War 1
  • World War 2, where the UK stood alone against the Nazis with only the help of USA, the USSR, the British Empire, the French resistance, the Danish resistance…

In addition to my sarcastic strike-through comments, notice what is missing:

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Science

Electrodynamic Lagrange points and fusion reactors

In celestial mechanics, the Lagrangian points (/ləˈɡrɑːniən/ also Lagrange points,[1] L-points, or libration points) are the points near two large bodies in orbit where a smaller object will maintain its position relative to the large orbiting bodies. At other locations, a small object would go into its own orbit around one of the large bodies, but at the Lagrangian points the gravitational forces of the two large bodies, the centripetal force of orbital motion, and (for certain points) the Coriolis acceleration all match up in a way that cause the small object to maintain a stable or nearly stable position relative to the large bodies.

“Lagrangian point”, Wikipedia

I’ve only seen this concept in reference to gravitational fields. I suspect an equivalent may exist for electric fields, which may be useful for developing an improved electrically confined fusion reactor (AKA the sort that school students make every so often as science fair projects, which currently have so many flaws that almost nobody expects them to ever become useful power sources).

Why would it be useful? Let’s begin with the current problem: electrostatic fusion reactors have two grids, one a cathode and the other an anode, to create the electric fields which accelerate the ions enough for nuclear fusion to happen. Unfortunately, fusion is very unlikely compared to the ions simply bouncing off each other, which means even a very spacious grid — 99% empty — isn’t empty enough, and most of the power gets wasted by the few ions which hit the grid each time they fly past.

Some designs try to get around the grid problem. For example Robert Bussard (yes that one) has designed the Polywell reactor which uses a virtual cathode: a cloud of magnetically confined electrons. Another possibility I’ve never had time (and probably resources) to simulate was finding out if the so-called “star mode” of a Farnsworth Fusor, where the ions primarily flow through the gaps in the grids, might be caused by a magnetic field generated by the current flowing between the grids — if it is, you could enhance that field relatively easily, and boost the efficiency. This probably still won’t make it a net power producer (anything I can think of will have been thought of a hundred times already by the professionals), but it might still be interesting for other things.

This brings me to the idea of a Lagrange point as a virtual cathode, where the virtual cathode is the dynamic balance of the electric charges as they move.

It might not be possible at all (gravity is always attractive, unlike electric fields, and this may cause extra problems when you have a plasma field rather than claiming equivalence from a few point-like masses to a a few point-like charges); and even if it is possible at all, it might require a prohibitive power consumption (accelerating a charge produces electromagnetic radiation, slowing the charge down in the process).

Of course, the equivalence of moving electric fields and magnetic fields makes me wonder, again, if a hybrid electric- and magnetic-confinement fusion reactor could do better than either on their own.

Disclaimer: I’m a software engineer, not a doctor of physics. If a proper scientist disagrees with me, trust them.

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Noteworthy

XKCD-2152

Hover text: “Sitting here idly trying to figure out how the population of the Old West in the late 1800s compares to the number of Red Dead Redemption 2 players.” — https://xkcd.com/2152/ — This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 License.

Population of old (1900) American West: 4.277.402
Number of Red Dead Redemption 2 sales: >24 million.

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