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Archive for June, 2011


It’s clear to me that a staple diet in the future of PC gamers will be F2P games. Clearly, with the shift of TF2, it’s now a much more respected model of business and thus feasible. Perhaps this was Valves plan for years, perhaps it was a last minute thing. The success of League of Legends also cannot be ignored.

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Chapter 3: A tangled Web

 Scuttling across an asteroid, the large spider sank its fangs into the icy rock. Feeding on the minerals within, it soon became satisfied. Releasing it grip, it floated away into the ether before taking a more controlled course towards the mother ship that lingered, observing her brood. Across the entire belt, hundreds of these metallic spiders were doing the same, feeding and retrieving minerals for the Queen.

 A method such as this for mining was a fine art indeed. The farming and nurturing of spiders was simple. Convincing them of their duty was somewhat more complex. Once started however, the process was extremely efficient. At each feed the spider retained a minimal amount of the extracted substance, used for replication. Over time the spider would assimilate the materials gathered and begin to produce more of itself, creating 3 or 4 much smaller robots that would begin to feed also, grow to a substantial size through assimilation of harvester materials and the process started again, snowballing exponentially. These complex procedural coding sequences allowed for efficient if complex mining. It did allow for large scale ease, however. A set of Queens could be dropped off in a number of belts, each beginning with a few spiders. Over time, they would begin to replicate until eventually the process was so largely scaled that it may take a matter of hours for entire asteroid belts to be consumed.

 The Artificial Intelligence within the spiders was set so that they would see themselves as natural beings, purely with the aim of growing. They had no real idea of their true purpose. Of course, it is rare that the sole aim is total and utter devastation of rescources. The Queen has a limited cargo capacity, and as such the spiders need to be controlled so as not to consume everything. On board the Queen are various sensors allowing for scans and data of the belt quantities, quality and materials so that numbers of spiders can be redirected and allocated to certain tasks, increasing the optimum yield from each mission. Once a belt depleted, spiders assimilate themselves into a new Queen, meaning there is very little waste and the scale increased further.

While the traditional mining method used by much larger corporations was indeed effective, but required far too high set up costs for them to be available to a small groups of miners. The process was slow and waste high. Should the spider technology be known to large corporations, efficiency and profit would sky rocket. In the interest of recourse balance, they thankfully did not.

The Hub received new transmissions from the Queen. Data reports and updates, nothing too exciting. They weren’t ready yet, but the extraction was going well. The Hub itself was currently in orbit behind one of the moons on a bordering planet Cardum. Rich with untouched asteroid belts, it was a perfect place for these elusive miners to find refuge. The moon was a much better hiding spot than orbiting the planet. Scientists tend to be annoyingly attentive and may notice a large blue station floating across the sky.

A prototype Queen entered the docking hub, fresh with data from a test flight. Rather than needing collecting, Yanis had been experimenting with sub light engines allowing remote collection.

As he accepted docking procedures, Yanis observed through the bay window a new day dawning. Encroaching from the edge of the Moon, a large, green expanse rotated effortlessly into view. No matter how many days went by, the view never grew old or any less spectacular. However, something felt distinctively different today. Not being able to pinpoint it, Yanis ignored the gut feeling and went back to work.

It was then the room was drenched in red, flashing light. Having only ever seen this in training scenarios, Yanis darted his eyes around the various data feeds to try and work out. As soon as he located one that might help him, the alarm stopped and everything went back to normal.

“What the?….”

Ignoring his previous work, he went to work out what had happened. Within a few seconds he had displayed on the panel in front of him all the data logs within the last few minutes. Ruling out most of the usual issues that would have caused visual clues, he was left with all sensors having read normal except for one: Gravimetric. A huge, unusual, out of the ordinary, well into the extraordinary spike was displayed on the graph.

The technology used for these scanners was rare and only used really for mining vessels. Designed to initially work out density and size of celestial bodies, usually asteroids, it scanned the space time surrounding an object and analysed the imprints and distortions that objects had upon it. Thus, they could work out how dense one asteroid was compared to another, irrespective of size. Computers and algorithms then displayed this information in a visible and understandable format, visualising it for humans to act upon as necessary.

With the spiders this had become somewhat redundant, a more hands on approach used, but none the less this technology served useful for random day to day tasks such as identifying objects as ships or debris.

In solving the mystery of what had caused this spike, several possibilities passed through Yanis’ mind. It could not have been natural, while the scanners detect black holes, they tend to be more sustained than what appears to be no more than a minute. Such a localised effect in a short space of time suggests that it was controlled. The Hubs sensors didn’t alert them to a new object in the area, meaning whatever it was it was either stealth, small, or both. Human? Likely, other races hadn’t ventured very far into this sector yet. Plus, any ship too large but cloaked would have still caused a gentle increase in the gravimetric data, where there was none. So whatever it was, it was small. The ability to cause such a spike? Experimental weaponry or technology of some sort. Something people wanted to keep quiet either way as they’d come to this quiet system to test it.

Gragd entered, confused by the alarms.

“What happened dad? Anything dangerous or?”

“I’m not sure. Quite possible, we shall see”

“Uhh…okay then. Whatever”. Gragd left the room in equal befuddlement, but reassured in the knowledge that whatever it was, his dad hadn’t the foggiest what it was and any further questioning would lead to nowhere.

Yanis decided to look at the planet below. The ship had activated the technology between the moon and the planet, so whatever it was it was designed to be aimed or used on Planets rather than in the empty voids of space. It was then that he saw what was wrong. Smoke was spreading from a single point: Cardum. Horrified and confused why he hadn’t seen this earlier, he began to locate the image files that the Hub took every few hours. The Hub did this for any detected point of interest automatically, meaning any life form, movement, ship, moon or otherwise ignored by humans wouldn’t go unnoticed and could be recorded at a later date if necessary. Updating for changes every few hours, the computer had noticed a change in the state of the city settlement, and documented accordingly.

Zooming in for a closer look, the devastation was clear. In the minutes that had passed since the alarm, the city had already began to be consumed by lava. The smoke hadn’t spread very far yet but was growing in volume at an alarming rate as the city began to smoulder.

Clearly it was a weapon. A few hours before, the city was whole, the landscape peaceful. On such a large planet to choose a target, choosing the only settlement clearly meant the attack was directed. As far as he knew, all that the planet was home to were scientists, nothing threatening enough to require continent scale destruction such as this.

A priority flashed to the forefront of his mind. Overtaking the questions, confusion and worry came a much more urgent task: save lives. His mind had already taken care of the practicalities, no immediate threat was known and as such the trip was safe despite giving away their location. It seemed though, that even if survivors had the will to report their location, they did not have the means.

In the hanger stood a compact cargo ship. Equipped with the basics, he fired up the engines and set out. It was already carrying emergency supplies, anything else could be dealt with later or back on the Hub. Opening a video link to the Hub, Yanis’ face appeared on the living room wall where he explained everything he could fathom.

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A splutter emanated from the device as data was received.

 “Elizabeth! We’re getting high density yields 300m down from here.”

 “That’s what I like to here. Keep scanning. I’m going to head to the surface and let HQ know. We can have teams down here tomorrow to do deeper sweeps.”

 As Elizabeth moved towards the surface various readouts on her visor began to grow back to life as signal was re-gained. They’d had only been 30 minutes or so into the cave system, but the density of the rock around them clearly so thick in mass that any signal was denied access. Parallel to the tunnels was the city, a new and growing complex that had only existed for a matter of years. The tunnels had only just been discovered in the recent exploration phase once all the critical systems were up and running within the colony.

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I’m currently in the process of re-writing and editing the book I wrote for NaNoWrimo last year. As such, I thought I’d upload it as I went along for you all to comment, enjoy or critique. All feedback/comment is welcomed, and please feel free to share/pass it on!

Shadow

Loitering in orbit over the planet was a single, small ship. All was still. Silence whispered with the galactic winds. The planet below was ignorant to the vessels existence. To Veo, battle cruisers had always seemed cumbersome, and as such an ignorance to his proximity was both vital and amiable. When on contracted missions such as these, his own vessel was much more preferred. Sleek, compact and deadly, many years had been spent by Veo creating his beauty and only true love in the universe. An almost infinite flow of money had allowed him to create the most feared, respected, but most importantly, advanced, vessels within The Company.

(more…)

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I like electric cars. I like the idea of them, and though see the issues with manufacturing them, the benefits for their use in cities and densely populated areas for short journeys cannot be argued with. For me, I wouldn’t mind one. I do about 10 miles a day, hardly a large enough mileage to warrant paying so much for ever increasingly petrol prices. An electric car would be perfect, could pop to work and back each day in a nice little ‘smug-mobile’ due to saving the environment, and save on petrol.

The LEAF

However, there is one major and glaringly obvious issue. Cost. The cost of electric cars is currently far too high. Only now are we seeing the ‘affordable’ range coming into reach in the shape of the Nissan Leaf. I was shocked to find that these are £20,000 with the gov’t grant of £5000.

While many may like the idea of owning one, electric cars are currently stupendously over priced. Companies have spent far too much time and frankly, money, making electric cars the same as petrol. They have made high performance cars to go  ‘ooh, ooh, look at this car, it’s as fast as a petrol car’ which frankly, while impressive, is besides the point. People buying electric cars currently don’t want or necessarily need speed or high performance, nor can they afford it. That time, money and research should be focused on making them affordable. After all, isn’t this what the whole point of them is? Having widely-used electric cars will in theory help the planet. At the very least will reduce our reliance on petrol and reduce the oil companies power. Once a base range of electric cars that people can both afford and use day-to-day, performance will naturally increase with the technology.

Slightly more attractive ZoeEV

Renault, have however taken a step in the right direction. Their Zoe EV is expected to be around £14,250 which is much more manageable and realistic in terms of actual purchasing power. Not cheap enough, but a step in the right direction. The way they achieve this price too is via renting the batteries rather than selling. This reduces cost for consumer, but also means that newer batteries can be installed hassle free, as they’re swapped out at petrol stations. But one company isn’t enough. Frankly, until the VW Group get an equally tempting proposal out of the door, I shaln’t hold my breath.

To solve this issue beyond just moaning at manufactors, the question of government grants needs to be assessed. £5,000 clearly isn’t enough for people to currently be willing to upgrade. The infrastructure isn’t yet in place for long-distance journeys, and all round investments need to be made and to educate the public as to whether this is indeed a valid alternative. Increasing gov’t grants to make electric cars not only affordable but tempting will go some way to increase demand, thus causing manufacters to get their act together.

This, coupled with my various plans for making a self sustaining and self sufficient UK would detract from much of the political issues petrol creates, both national and international. At the end of the day, the adoption of electric cars cannot be too detrimental, assuming it is done well.

While it’s great that electric has been displayed to do high performance things to show it’s not sub-par to petrol you could kind of do with having a car people will actually buy and use  as that’s the whole point in making them Green. If a few people take them up, the impact will be minimal. Let’s hope that soon electric cars become more widely recognised as a valid alternative and a valid fuel source.

Let us also hope, that newer models will have better, less clichéd names such as the LEAF. And less white interiors. Look nice, but impractical for kids!

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Recently people have have noticed me going on about the advantage to the consumption of insects. This may seem rather trivial due to the proliferation of reality TV, however, I see it as an exciting opportunity to introduce a new source of food in our diet, while being sustainable and ultimately practical source of feeding our ever expanding population.

There are two articles really that sparked my interest in this idea. It may seem odd at first, but hopefully can neutralise the idea from the portrayed wackiness for entertainment sake that we’ve become used to.

Firstly however, I’d like to briefly describe the benefits of insects as a food source:

  • Sustainability – Insects are much smaller than cows to farm. They produce less methane too, meaning less green houses emitted but also more consumed due to space for trees and no deforestation
  • Efficiency – Much larger quantities can be produced quicker, cheaper and in less space. Also harbour all the nutrients that meat does.
  • Already used in food – “The US Food and Drug Administration allows, for example, up to 75 pieces of insect in 55mm of hot chocolate and up to 60 aphids in a portion of frozen broccoli.
  • High class restaurants often use them in exotic dishes already
  • Lower health risks – Due to insects being different to us so much, co-infection is much less likely. “less than 0.5% of all known insect species are harmful to people”
  • Morals – I dare say vegetarians are more likely to eat them due to a lack of morality attached with insects like there are with mammals. Stress to livestock is caused through enclosed environments – something insects naturally dwell in.

Insects are plentiful, multiply and grow to adulthood rapidly and require little food to sustain them. They are the perfect source of protein. As countries in the west and developing world wake up to the looming threat of food shortages, it’s time that governments seriously considered an alternative source of protein.

My passion for this subject is not to say that I wish to see every restaurant dealing in only-insect food sources. Rather, I think that it is an appropriate time to approach the topic with a more serious attitude, a realistic application of entmophagy that is beyond the merely surreal. It provides a pragmatic solution to the food issues currently facing the world, and increasing populations in the west are set to only further this. It is time for us to adjust to the idea of entomphagy as a real solution, a real idea, a real meal. If we become more willing to the idea as a culture, were we faced with a more prominent scenario of being required to eat insects, we are in a much better position to adapt and survive. They can be introduced slowly through increasing amounts of pastes and nut-replacements they are used for. Once this is successful and more importantly, widely known and accepted, then direct consumption is a possibility. However, it is still possible that huge benefits can be gained from using them as increasing amounts of substitutes (which they already are) which people are probably blissfully unaware of.

Efficiency and Sustainability

The main issue currently with livestock farming is that it’s both wasteful and dangerous to the environment. With much of the rainforest being cut down to provide room for livestock farming, we are perilously close to loosing the ‘lungs of the world’ – the Amazon rain forest. With livestock contributing up to 18% of greenhouse gases, cutting down the rainforest to replace it with a contributor is vastly counterproductive. With insects being much smaller, we can grow them in much larger quantities in much smaller spaces. There’s also the fact that we can easily stack farms on top of each other rather than being restricted to one plane. It’s not exactly common to see cattle navigating stairs.

Equally, being cold blooded, insects require much less food input for what we gain as energy is not wasted on body heat.

Ten pounds of feed yields one pound of beef, three pounds of pork, five pounds of chicken and up to six pounds of insect meat.

This is a 60% yield compared to 10% of beef. Equally, more of the insect can be consumed. 20% of a cricket is inedible, compared to 30% for pork or 65% for lamb. So all around, they are much more efficient and thus more sustainable in an age where the green credentials are vital to judgement.

There’s not much more I can say really. It’s a fairly simple idea, with many benefits to be gained. It’s simply a case of changing and accepting the mindset to increase insects in our diet. We are already someway there with using insects instead of livestock and other less sustainable sources of food in using them as dyes or substitutes. But we have a long way to go before it is widely accepted within western culture. In South Asia it is already widely accepted and a necessity as livestock cannot fulfill all of the needs in such a densely populated region. It is time for us to begin to change the way we think and become more comfortable with the idea of entomophagy, for one day we may have to do the same.

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I speak a lot against Trident, and the huge amount of money it’s wasted/ing. At roughly £100bn, here is what I propose to do with the spare cash.

Nationally, I think we should adopt a non-aggressive stance. This is to say that we do not interfere unless necessary in countries that are not our own. E.g Iraq, Afghanistan etc. For instances like Libya, we have commitments to organisations such as the UN (and various others) that can help deal with these issues, and I do not think we should become directly entangled with affairs such as these. The main reason being that it often just ends up causing a much bigger mess than intended. Unless there is a imminent and direct threat to our people then I do not think we should go out searching for a fight. Namely because it just causes further issues with our reputation as a whole, and I can hardly see ‘terrorists’ (whatever you take that to mean) as being particularly warming to us as a nation or indeed stopping attacks if we suddenly invade their domestic countries for whatever reason.

The definition for imminent and direct threat is perhaps vague, but I think common sense has to be applied really. However, I see the occurence of the arms race during the 30’s leading to WW2 as a much more direct threat and in need of an appropriate response than a country the other side of the world. I see a need for armed forces, but a smaller, better equipped is much more necessary and ideal in my view than a bloated and over stretched one, clinging hopelessly on to a fallen empire.

Money saved from schemes such as Trident, as well as money saved by not starting wars (this is not to say ‘cutting’ funding for the military, merely scale back their operations) should be placed into public scientific research. Rather than having military research being conducted and then adopted for social uses, the focus shall be on social uses that can if necessary be adopted for military application. This way, many more people will see the benefit of huge volumes of money being spent into technological advancement, rather than there being a delay. In the event of a war, this increased and widely supported research on technology will be able to give us the edge. Public science adopted for military, rather than military for public.

The wider range of stakeholders this would cause for more ethical and above all more useful and practical research to be carried out. While exoskeletons are useful for the military, they are much more useful to aid disabled people. However, due to mainly being of military origin, it is expensive and hasslesome to re-apply the technology to a public market. This takes time and while the benefit may eventually be gained, would it not be better to have the technology refined by large scale usage that people actually gain befit from rather than have it locked away, with 2 or 3 people using? The benefits of crowdsourcing have been seen, and should be utilised as widely and officially as possible.

A recent article I read on the value of research ties in to this. It’s fairly short and well worth a read.

“Meyer says that US climate programmes have in the past two decades benefited from public investment of more than US$30 billion, but have largely failed to produce information and participation in the forms that policy-makers and the public wanted.

“Instead, researchers and, especially, their funders must embrace the idea that public and stakeholder participation can help to define research priorities. And they must do more to track and communicate all outcomes. Policy-makers need to ensure that those with direct needs for climate-related information — businesses, regional planners, government departments — have a greater say in the kind of services and knowledge that they expect publicly funded researchers to produce, and in assuring the quality and relevance of what is delivered.”

This is not to say that areas that are unpopular should be ignored. Certainly, I imagine the TV would not have been seen as a worthy investment of research funds, and in the same way that arts council funding goes to smaller, innovative projects, I think research budgets should too. For example, if 50 years ago you asked if someone wanted a mobile device that they could display their emotion in only 140 characters, I dare say the answer would be no.

For fear of using a buzz word, I’d like our research to be more democratic. How practical this would be to implement I’m not sure. Nor am I saying that the general public should necessarily control the direction of scientific communities. What I am saying however, is control should be removed from large weapons manufactors and private security firms. These companies can still exist, and I’m sure will do a sterling job in supplying the military where necessary, but they should not influence our social development technologically as much as they do.

Our development as a nation, a society, a people, should be guided by us. While war is necessary at times, it should not be the focus of our technological advancements. I’d much rather see the UK be the leader in scientific advancement and creating the next generation of scientists and engineers to show off to the world than it be seen as a war mongering, grumpy and slowly deflating entity like it is now.

 

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