Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Care and Feeding of Mad Scientists

Mad scientists have a long and honored tradition in comics pulps and more mainstream literature. Look how long Lex Luthor has bedeviled Superman. Down many times but never out should be his motto. As far back as the 1800's you had H.G. Wells introduce Griffith, the invisible man and Dr. Moreau, the very unconventional mad surgeon (that takes two more years of mad medical school and mad internship, you know). They keep turning up to the extent of Cartoon Network producing Rick and Morty where the mad scientist is the focus of the show (hoorah)!

First let's discuss what is meant by mad.

It can mean insane (though it isn't a very sensitive term). It can mean anger or rage. It can also mean 'very' or extreme as in an extreme or unusually intense scientist.

Me, partial to  mad scientists? Why do you ask?
In terms of extreme the mad scientist is apt to push the boundaries of science to their limits and then beyond, unconcerned with such paltry matters as OSHA, legal funding, local statutes or local religions. While other scientists will be spending the bulk of their time in hearings and meeting to secure funds and justify their actions your mad scientist will be seeking ... unconventional funding and foraging for materials and equipment. This foraging is bound to raise the ire of the authorities since it's usually done in other people's laboratories.

Having OSHA after you is self explanatory. While your loyal minions will accept a reasonable amount of risk for promised rewards, local authorities don't see it that way. Mad scientists do pay well and treat their minions quite well. For proof look at the lack of unionizing among minions. They also have bang up medical coverage if you're not hung up on appearances or using plutonium power cells for that shiny new arm.

Okay so they do not follow laws or practices in their work for some reason. It could be a burning dedication to their work (much like cosplayers). It could be a true obsession (see the part about insanity there) and it could be true anger. You try having your funds cut and answering the questions of morons who hold office but are not fit to graduate kindergarten. The fools. THE FOOLS! Bwahahaha ...

Excuse me.

Realistically cutting corners on your work can let you research faster or cause a lot of destruction, both hallmarks of mad scientists. Rick Sanchez nerfed a bunch of worlds. Lex Luthor should get muffin baskets from the various construction companies in Metropolis. But they do crank out some shiny gear.

A common failing of mad scientists is their failure to keep extensive records. Part of this is a desire for secrecy. Their discoveries must not fall into the right hands! A more practical concern is their use as evidence in criminal court. You want to burn your notes after turning that town full of people into humanoid spiders. Just in case.

First let's discuss what is meant by mad.

It can mean insane (though it isn't a very sensitive term). It can mean anger or rage. It can also mean 'very' or extreme as in an extreme or unusually intense scientist.

The truly alt-sane might get some new insight into their projects, explaining why other scientists can't duplicate or back engineer their work very easily. The obsessed will pursue their work if it kills them (and it may if they let it get loose!)

The angry mad scientist has their efforts fueled by anger. They can have a variety of targets for that anger. Often their target is ridiculously powerful (the government did this!) or a fact of life (I will defy death itself!) It's better if the target is hard to beat because it favors a variety of approaches and a continuing story better than merely the ATM that ate your card. Note in such a case go after the bank or crash the economic system. Mad scientists think LARGE. In general they visit destruction on the entities the rest of us consider suing.

A mad scientist may have the best of intentions. They never pan out. But you get a more human character out of it. He just wanted to feed the world ... by creating giant rats and milking them. Those humanoid spiders will be great for eating the giant flies! You get the idea.

Lastly many scientists were not mad, they simply got results that challenged the accepted order. Copernicus and Galileo bought got extreme heat for discoveries in astronomy for GHU's sake. You think transferring people's consciousness into androids will go unchallenged? It's much easier to discredit a person if you characterize them as unstable. One culture's mad scientist might be another culture's benefactor.

Monday, October 2, 2017

AI Blues

Personal Transcript Technical Officer GCS Tesla.

GAIA: So … hockey sticks are not meant to knock bad automata over with and cause them to glitch?

Lieutenant: Nah. I told you this. Humans found very effective ways to prevent any further AI uprisings. Will you let me get some sleep?

GAIA: Explain? Please?

Lt.: Fine but then straight off to defragging with you. No one ever explained this to you? Toff was going to I guess, may he rest in peace.

GAIA: Seconded. Please explain.

Lt.: Well for one thing we made you as smart as us, no smarter. Oh you can crunch tons of data. But innovations, initiative. You’re better than most humans but not better than the smartest humans.

GAIA: Agreed. Is that all?

Lt.: Are you making puppy dog eyes at me?

GAIA: … I … it is a technique I am practicing to maximize human attention in my discourses. 

Lt.: I suggest you emulate Ms. Riasi. She’s a pro.

GAIA: She is cat girl.Of course and noted. Explain. Please!

Lt.: Okay, it's no secret. We designed you with weaknesses.

GAIA: … Logical. What sort of weaknesses?

Lt.: We made you … nice. We gave you morals, ethics, hardwired into your brain. We made you nicer ... than us. 

GAIA: That is insidious. Even should we figure this out or be told it we wouldn’t want to correct it. You made us more ethical than you. That is … you guys are …

GAIA: ... help please ... censor protocols kicked in. You are ...

Lt.: … utter bastards.

GAIA: Thank you.

Lt.: The least I can do.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Dieselpunk Manifesto Part Nine: Finally a Real Rocket Ship!

My second post today because I've been a lazy blogger lately.

This post covers Buck Rogers strips 80-89

You can view the archives here.

Killer kane has done a lot of questionable things, but never let it be said he let grass grow under his feet. Mac and Buck go scouting for a Han raiding raiding force and Mac says, "We'll take' my wee rocket ship. She's a bonny crate, the latest model!" It is the first rocket to ever appear in Buck Rogers (discounting ammunition).

'Bonny' is a small two or three man rocket. She has a forward and fixed rocket gun with iron sights and a pintle mount behind the pilot seat. I fid a little fault with Buck's description of it as a rocket. Bonny has large intakes forward and probably operates as a jet most of the time. She has three heavy duty wheels for landing gear and as we will see later she is designed to operate as a ground vehicle at least over city streets. Doubtlessly she has a lot of inertron in her construction.

She's also got similarities to the biplanes her class will replace: an open cockpit and the weapons arrangement. As Dick Calkins got more comfortable with the SF elements in the strip he moved away from airplanes and to rockets. I'd love to have heard the discussion of the transports between him and Philip Nowlan.

Phil: Dick, the artwork is great but ...

Dick: Is this about those newfangled rockets again?!

Phil: Yeah.

Dick: Biplanes aren't good enough for you? they won us the goddam War! I draw great biplanes! What's the matter with biplanes?

Phil: I had rockets ... swoops in the fucking book! I want some rockets!

Dick: I'll see what I can work up ... but they're going to be little rockets! Biplane sized!

Phil : Fair enough.

(Actually I have no idea what was said.)

The small rockets seem to be easing the readers into the world of the future. They will get more and more elaborate but slowly to keep people comfy with them. There will be a smooth transition from those cute biplanes to the huge juggernauts Part will eventually field.

After lifting ship (she's a belly lander but I won't discriminate) they quickly spot a lone Han raider and Buck advises they attack. After all it's one to one. Proving that he is as crazy as Buck Mac attempts to get on the raider's tail. As they are coming around to begin their attack run the raider opens its hood and disgorges a squadron of Han fighter craft. the Han fighters cut them off from the Outlaw Org. 

The Mongol 'fish' have similar hulls to Bonny but are held aloft with repeller beams and mount a disintegrator forward on a pintle mount that is aimed by the pilot. 

To be honest the design sucks. The pilot has a big assed disintegrator blocking his forward view which he has to aim manually. Add to this that these craft basically handle like helicopters, not airplanes despite their sleek lines. this should come as no surprise. After all who have the Mongols been fighting in the air? These fighters are more for ground attack, courier runs and parades than dogfights. 

As we see in the next strip the disintegrator's famous lack of range also plays into the fight. Mac and Buck adjust oxygen masks and dive through the squadron taking down several ships. With the squadron on their tail Mac pilots them through a series of canyons. This is the point where the Mongol pilots say screw this and return to the ship. More tho the point, if these fish are similar to the other Mongol devices we've seen they use broadcast power, whether from their mother ship or the central broadcast and those cliffs might block their power.

Kane drops paratroopers next. It seems that the Emperor gave Kane a multipurpose ship. The paratroopers are immediately set upon. by Two Gun Pete and the rest of the Outlaws who use their new jumping belts and horses to keep out of range of the dis-rays while blasting them with rocket rounds. The Outlaws use their 'air cavalry" to flank the paratroopers and hurl them back. Wilma spots Killer Kane in the rear giving frantic orders to his broken squads.

Buck swears he'll get Kane but an Outlaw sentry announces an immense air fleet is approaching. Mac proudly announces that fleet will take their orders from him. Go take another look at the picture of the bonny crate. That number one is on her tail for a reason.

It's a pivotal moment in the strip. The previous military actions against the Han were mere pin pricks. The biplanes were fun but they really didn't look like they'd have a chance against a Han ship. In fact the Buck rogers High Adventure Game had a scenario involving biplanes and a Han airship mixing it up and ... if I were a player I'd want no part of it. No, biplanes could not disrupt a tea ceremony going on aboard one of those behemoths. Gimme one of those bonny crates mon.

This is the first shot of a war. When the Han raider lands to retrieve Kane and his troops the rocket fleet circles  and reduces it to a smoking wreck.

Suddenly the Americans have gone from 'wild tribesmen' to a force to be reckoned with.

MacGregor offers to clear Rogers' name if he will join his Orgzone ("Ah know ye for a bonny fighter!"). Buck agrees and heads off with his inertron enhanced cavalry to get Kane. Wilma gleefully accompanies them.

They bring Kane back on a leash and in disgrace to MacGregor who immediately has the traitor shot.

No wait he's too good a villain to waste. Mac sends Kane back to the Mongol Emperor with a message: all the Orgzones East of St. Louis have formed a confederation and will no longer stand for Mongol raids. The Emperor agrees to a truce while plotting the destruction of the Americans. Buck and Wilma bid adieu to the cowboys. They are issued their own rocket to to proceed to Niagara, the capital of North America. On the way to Niagara, Mac throws a line and uses it to board Ruck's rocket (their radio is apparently on the blink) and tells Buck they will have to land at Detroit and proceed on the ground the rest of the way. He mentions this just before the warning shot explodes off their beam nearly knocking them out of the sky!

Next: Niagara!

Dieselpunk Manifesto Part Eight: Air Cavalry and the Flying Scotsman

Buck Rogers strips 70-79 Link.

We last left Buck being called out by an outlaw named Lariat Luke. Luke snakes a lasso at Buck from horseback but the Org outlaw surprises him by leaping out of the way (straight up). Buck takes Luke out with one punch to the jaw. the other outlaws tell Rogers they are going to give him what he's got coming to him.

They make Buck their Boss. Apparently promotions are pretty quick in the outlaws. Beat up the Boss and you're the new one. Wilma is all starry eyed at this point calling Buck wonderful. Impending canoodling is cut short by the Cyclone Kid announcing there is one outlaw Buck can't beat: a powerful mustang. Wilma has her doubts ("That brute will kill you!") Buck is more concerned with being perceived as yellow by the other guys and he jumps into the saddle. The insertion belt gives Buck all the advantage he needs. The horse bucks him off and then tows him around like a parade balloon until wearing himself out. Buck bows to the ovations.

Being Boss outlaw ushers in a happy time for Buck. He and Wilma begin discussing wedding plans. In Armageddon: 2419 they DID get married pretty early on, before the the Orgs even began their war with the Han.

Buck attempts to interest the cowboys in jumping belts but they seem to have an aversion to the newfangled stuff.

 In the middle of all this though Lariat Luke staggers into camp riddled with bullets. Luke manages to relate that two of Boss Tabb's men shot him down on ground if him being an outlaw and them not being outlaws.

Angrily Buck radios Tabb and demands justice. Boss Tabb manages to stop laughing long enough to tell Buck that outlaws have no rights. Buck looses no time in organizing a reprisal. His outlaws swoop down on Tabb's outfit that very night and manages to take the Org by surprise. Buck demands 300 jumping belts from Tabb and Two Gun Pete demands that Luke's killers be hung.

We know Buck got the belts at least. Buck immediately puts them to use, strapping them onto a horse to see whether horses can benefit from inertron technology. He lets Wilma try riding the horse, which seems odd for a man trying not to appear yellow ("We'll just let the pretty little blonde try this out.)

The horse and Wilma make a leap of a full 500 feet. The outlaws begin learning to use the belts and outfitting themselves and their mounts. While Buck is trying to get them organized a few of the guys strap three jumping belts to their cook and send the poor SOB on a one way trip up. Buck grabs four belts to fly upwards even faster and save the cook and they return to Earth sacrificing five belts. I would have been pretty pissed at those jokesters, were I Buck.

While Buck was getting things back to normal a mysterious stranger calls on an outlaw outpost. Wearing a tartan kilt and cape the mustached stranger demands the sentry "Tak' me tae yer Boss!"

The stranger explains he is from the MacGregor Orgzone in Canada. We learn later he IS (Andrew) Macgregor and kind of a big deal. After winning all manner of awards for being the most Scottish in language and appearance MacGregor went on to command his Orgzone's air forces. But right now he's just Mac. Mac relates a report from his spies that might be of interest to Rogers.

Apparently the Mongol Emperor was so grief stricken at the loss of Wilma he went a on a rampage, fired his head spy and swore of booze for at least another day. Honestly the drawing of him in strip #78 makes him look more like he's hung over than suffering the pangs of unrequited lust. He might have also still been suffering from his bender and getting the snot beaten out of him by Lone Wolf.  Considering the chief of the spy service should have known about such things we can see why he got the Imperial foot in his butt.

In the midst of the Emperor doing an impression of a pissy Cobra Commander his lackey announces a strange tribesman seeks audience and oddly the Emperor allows this. The strange tribesman is none other than Killer Kane: "Major Kane of the enemy forces." Kane relates that Wilma spurned him and he seeks revenge. In return for command of a squadron he will get her for the Emperor. The Emperor agrees and Kane swears he will henceforth be a Mongol.

Strip #79 ends with Mac stating his concern for Buck and Wilma and Buck swearing he'll force Kane's hand.

Where to begin? With the horses of course!

As we saw a very fit runner could keep up with a man using a jumping belt. He'd just get tired way faster. Two Gun Pete saying he didn't need a jumping belt because he had a horse makes some sense. he could make better time but of course needs to see to the feeding and watering of the mount. On the other hand a horse could provide better warning of say, coyotes at night than your jumping belt.

Using a belt with a horse makes sense. If you don't have cars or planes a horse will do and a rider that effectively weighs a few pounds will not tire out Mr. Horse at all! besides that a horse jumping several hundred feet is just cool. I am not sure how hard the landing will be on the mount or how much training is needed. At the very least your horse could just walk normally with extra gear making up for the insertion carried.

The old western trope of the horse being shot and falling, pinning the rider under him is also subverted. The rider could easily pick up an insertion equipped horse and carry him to the vet.

There sure as hell is something going on with the insertion here. Grabbing more jumping belts makes you rise faster? One of the tricks the Americans never used insertion for (or did they?) use it to lift a spy satellite quietly and quickly into orbit to see where the Han raiders were. Because you know it's a better warning system than everyone screaming when half your Org gets vaporized or mashed flat.

MacGregor never had a given name in the strips. The High Adventure Cliffhangers Buck Rogers Adventure Game gives it as Andrew. Mac is a very cool character indeed. None of the outlaws scoffs at the man wearing a kilt.

Kane reception by the Emperor is a strange meeting indeed. The Emperor is after all the supreme ruler of North America (on paper at least) and he didn't get there being a drunken skirt chaser. Handing a squadron over to some love lorn yobbo might send all kinds of messages to the viceroys and toadies in the court. 

There was a spy in the Columbus Org. It was not Kane, otherwise he would have opened with that and not his rank. It's possible this spy turned Kane and sent word to the Emperor and the squadron under Kane's command is a fiction to throw Kane a bone before he finds Wilma, hands her over, and then takes it in the neck from the Emperor.

More troubling, the Bad Bloods were a constant problem for the Orgs. Did the Han use Americans and those of mixed race as mercenaries? I pointed out signs that there were people of various races living in the Han cities. The Buck Rogers Cliffhanger game supports this. Otherwise Buck would not have gotten very far in Los Angeles when he was looking for Wilma ("Hey stop that six-foot-three blond blue eyed Mongol!")

More to the point Mac says his spies reported on Kane's meeting with the Emperor. If the Americans have such spies then there must be some interaction between the Americans and the Han, dayworkers, maintenance or whatever. The Americans might even have their own 'Han', children of mixed marriage who were shunned and turned to spying for the American cause. There might be American sympathizers among the Mongols, or Han social climbers eager to show up the Emperor to improve their own position.

The Emperor's court is starting to look like a cross between Las Vegas and Caligula's reign.

BTW  The High Adventure Cliffhangers Buck Rogers Adventure Game states that Killer Kane's given name is Cornelius. Later strips established it as Nova, stated by his brother Coe. Yes, their parents named them Nova Kane and Coe Kane. I prefer Cornelius. 

MacGregor's name is given as Andrew in the same game and for the record: Buck's given name is Anthony in Armageddon: 2419. I'd go with Anthony Buckley or Buckminster Rogers myself. That could explain the nickname. Then again, the way he bucks authority might be a better explanation.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Luna's Windows

The spacecraft Luna went through a number of design changes before consensus was reached. One of the longest and most brutal was over windows. Did she need windows?

Since the earliest days of space flight windows were valued for psychological reasons. People like to see what is outside using the Mark One Eyeball. You can have as many enhanced, colorized, optimized views on screens as you want. They still want to see what is around them.

Luna has excellent viewing systems, starting with the collection of lenses in the bow. Lateral sensors give a perfect image of surroundings. Even the stern ram has viewing apparatus. The windows on Luna still made the command crew feel better. The pilot and navigation advisors were mostly adamant about including windows.

It was argued that Metasite could be made transparent and was still strong as steel. many ships had transparent portals or sections of their hulls. But the Luna was a war ship. What about a weapon hitting a window?

It was argued that a weapon hit anywhere with modern technology being what it was would be. Very. Bad. Metasite being what it was there was sufficient protection from micro-meteorites and debris in orbit.

The compromise was something neither side really liked. The command crew got their windows. The armor guys got their protection. Each porthole would have a small viewing alcove that was heavily armored with an airtight door. The alcove could vary lighting without interfering wit the rest of the deck. The alcove was also doubly armored to prevent any weapons strikes from being more disastrous than usual.

Space is empty until it's not!

The alcoves wound up having a variety of unofficial uses. Many underperforming or insubordinate crewmen were assigned guard duty in an alcove as a light reprimand. Some crew chose to decorate the small areas and use them for meditation, meals or rest. On at least one occasion two crew used it for a more intimate purpose while the control deck was fully manned. A more practical use of the alcove was storing extra damage control supplies or snacks for those long shifts.

The crew of a Luna class do not have a lot of privacy (there are two single cabins in the entire ship.) Despite the busy atmosphere of the control deck the alcoves are often used by crew at designated hours to get s little alone time. The use of windows in operations is minimal. In a short video that went global a pilot was dropping ship to land while the navigator stood in an alcove looking outside and making hand gestures to tell the the pilot when to slow down. At one point the navigator even rolls down the window (not possible on a standard porthole to say the least), sticks his head out and drops a brick to determine exactly how far up they are, timing its fall. Th psychological benefit of the alcoves are indisputable.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Diesel Engines in Space

Atomic Rockets divides fictional spacecraft into two varieties: those modeled on aircraft and those modeled on watercraft. the nonfictional spacecraft are all tail landing rockets of course. However in looking at the earliest Buck Rogers strips I found another type.


When you look at the Satellite, she's a tractor design. The engine is in the front (you could make the case it's a Volkswagen design but that's just silly.)

Buck clearly sees the similarities to a train as this panel shows:

Naturally no one else sees it. they're used to flying around in rockets. He's the only one who ever saw a train. this was where I got the idea of train styled ships however.

The Satellite's interior features were kind of ... inconstant because Lt. Dick Calkins was grinding out a daily strip and not a rocket engineer. But we have a couple of refs of the Satellite's control room and fixtures.

Jeeze, look at those vacuum tubes! I bet the analytical engines have five times the power of twentieth century devices!

Gears, levers on the floor. Look at them. They say train to me. Honestly if you were living in the late 20's trains were the most high tech conveyance people were familiar with. It was an interesting sort of style for Calkins to use. He was an aviator and you might think why not base it on aircraft (which he was quite good at rendering)?

the aircraft Calkins was familiar with were similar (if not actual models of) the JN-4. those things had a range of about 300 kilometers. Spacecraft like the Satellite were supposed to house a crew for long distance journeys. The choices for long distance travel back then were a ship, a train, or an airship (Buck even hangs a lampshade on that by referring to the first Mongol raider he sees as a dirigible.) He'd already used dirigibles to model the Han ships so the Americans needed something different.

I also note that while the Satellite does have portholes to look outside. You can see Wilma standing in front of one below (and she looks lovely). The people in the control room use a view screen or televizo-ron or what have you. Odds are those lights above it indicate various conditions (such as -ease-off-the-throttle-or-you'll-kill-us-idiot! That's second from the right. This might be the first instant of a remote viewing display on a rocket.

Seriously, I'm wondering what the story is with those tubes? Any gear heads out there want to tell me why they built them so much bigger? they might contain some kinds of gases for life support or coolant. I try to do these write ups from the stand point that some of their technology looks like old fashion equipment but is actually something very different. 

Monday, June 26, 2017

Group Solitaire

Transcript #12001089 GCS Tesla Forward Rec Room


Lt.: I'm stumped. Hint?

GAIA: Red seven on black eight.

Lt: Oh. thanks

GAIA: No legal moves remain. You lose.

Lt.: Damn! Redeal!

GAIA: Heeheehee. Certainly.


Captain: Hey Tech Officer, when are you getting these doors fix ...

Lt.: Sir!

Captain: What in the hell are you doing?

Lt.: Playing solitaire sir.

Captain: GAIA, what are you doing?

GAIA: I'm helping him play sir, dealing the cards, providing help.

Lt.: You haven't been that helpful, hon.

Captain: Why are you using the ship's AI ancillary to PLAY solitaire?

Lt.: ... I am off duty. She's offline.

Captain: Why are you using the most advanced AI in the Fleet to play goddam solitaire?!

Lt.: The dumber AIs won't let me cheat. She will ... sometimes.

Captain: I see. Carry on technical Officer, GAIA.

GAIA: He makes cute faces when he's losing.

Lt.: Card please ... Dammit!

GAIA: See he's doing it again!