The powered fighting suit is coming

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There’s a great article on the Wall Street Journal about industrial unpowered and powered exoskeletons that got me thinking about this. But it’s behind a paywall, so my brief take on it below.

Well, I’ve been talking about this for a while. I’ve based my original trilogy on the concept, too. What is it? The birth of the human augmenting powered exoskeleton; an innovation that will revolutionize both industry and warfare.

Paired with a controlling AI, this is the counter to “Terminator.” It will also make conventional infantry more or less obsolete, and will trigger a new arms race. Imagine, most of the small arms in the world (and unarmored humans) will become obsolete against these new armored armies.

It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to picture one of the suits pictured above (the Sarcos Guardian XO) fully enclosed in armor with an array of weapons, both lethal and non-lethal.

This is also a counter to the age-old arguments against women serving in infantry units. It is true that the average woman doesn’t have the upper-body strength of the average man. Upper body strength is completely necessary to lift and carry 50 odd kilos of weight along with weapons and have a reserve left over for the fight at the other end. Powered fighting suits render the old biological differences moot.

All that is required is hand-eye coordination, basic intelligence, discipline, training and courage. Women have as much potential as men in those categories, so wars in the future will be fought by both sexes across the board.

Think as well about the law enforcement applications. What criminal is going to want to shoot it out with one of these? I guess the Darwin Factor would get rid of the really dumb ones, but the smart ones would put their weapon down and their hands up.

The only thing holding this back is a power source. Once that’s cracked, Katie bar the door.

From the female draft to 2nd Amendment questions, this is going to shake things up both in society and the military.

Take it to the bank.

 

 

Making useless stuff useful

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I grew up in a coal-mining region, and I live there still. The landscape is dotted with countless abandoned coal mines and “brownfields,” or old industrial and frequently contaminated sites. What to do with all of this blighted and seemingly useless terrain? I think on this a lot.

Well, an article caught my eye. It seems that there are researchers who are busy figuring out how to place farms into abandoned mine shafts- a splendid idea. Worldwide there are probably millions of these dangerous and currently useless holes, and many of them are located very near or in metropolitan areas. Why not exploit them for agriculture? Also, a useful link on a related subject was provided to me by Dirk De Jager. There’s a lot of potential here.

The technology is there, and with near-constant temperatures and “weather,” these mines-turned-farms could produce about six crops per year as opposed to the standard two or three.

Some questions I have are what the plan is to remediate Acid Mine Drainage, and ensuring safety in what are frequently unsafe and unmaintained shafts. Besides that, the promise of this possible future form of agriculture is good.

The fact is that we are running out of arable land for a growing population. And an unchanging fact is that if you don’t grow it, then you have to mine it. Why not turn played out mines into “land?”

Makes sense to me.

 

How times do change

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A friend of mine is on vacation in Vietnam, and he’s having a very good time with his family. Apparently the people are cool, the place is bustling with energy, and the beer is cheap. Also, it’s a beautiful place rich in history and scenery, a country worth visiting. Sounds very much like a place to go, to unwind and relax.

But for some, Vietnam is the last place they would visit.

I asked my uncle, a US Army veteran of the A Shau valley, 1969-70, if he would ever want to go back. His face clouded over and he shook his head. He’ll never return.

To this day I don’t hear Vietnam mentioned in tones other than sorrow and fear from relatives and older friends. Not to mention how I see that land and the war that was fought there stamped on acquaintances, patients, up at the VA hospital.

If you talk to many Vietnam veterans, it is as if time stopped in 1966 or ’69. They are still frightened young men who have been sent out to kill their fellow men in those dark, forbidding forests, rugged hills or swampy rice paddies. If you get to know those fellows, they will tell their stories.

Some of the stories are very dark, searing tales of loss and horror. Friends who died or were maimed, civilians caught in the cross fire, enemies lying broken and dying. All of it told on the canvas of an emerald green land, foreign and unknowable.

These old men sit, with their worn faces and tired bodies, and in their minds they are eighteen years old again. They pull a trigger or a lanyard, they load bombs or ride in a Huey.

Vietnam is a real place to them, a dark corner in their heads.

But what they see isn’t real anymore. The Vietnam that they knew no longer exists. The youngest baby in the war is middle-aged now. That infant, now an adult with grown children, remembers not one single thing about those days.

This is a blessing. All wars, no matter how cruel, eventually end. With time, the most bitter foes can become friends. For some, that is, but certainly not all.

For many that fought, who can’t bear to ever return, the war is not over. It lives on like a curse, it colors each day. For tens of thousands, the word “Vietnam” will always be draped in black, chiseled in white marble at Arlington.

I understand.

Someone said that no war is really over until the last soldier that fought is dead. By that measure, the final echoes of the Vietnam war will fade around 2075 or so. My war? Who knows. It’s still being fought.

If you believe in God, pray for peace. Then make sure you vote for wise leadership in whatever country you inhabit.

Let’s keep places like Vietnam happy and carefree for everyone going forward.

 

 

A fine 2019, everyone.

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Alright, so wishing everyone a fine New Year isn’t exactly the most cutting edge website fodder ever.

However, I wish it to you all with sincerity.

2018 had its ups and downs, and it was the first year since 2015 that I didn’t manage to get anything published. However, I have fair confidence that that will change this coming year. I’ve got at least three collaborations going at this time and you all will find out about those fairly soon.

A lot happened on the space front this past year. Branson, NASA, and Musk produced, all you have to do is glance back through the archives (or google those three items) and you’ll see what I mean.

Of course, there was other stuff as well. Stock market meltdowns, tsunamis, political developments. I’d rather not dwell on that stuff, I try to be a glass-half-full kind of guy.

So to all of you out there, in whatever country, state or province you find yourself, go out and have some fun with the New Year.

You’ve earned it.

Jason

Betrayal

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I will always remember the men of 2nd Rifle Company, Afghan Army. You can see them above advancing along a goat path into combat. A bare hour later and we were in contact with the enemy, our mutual foe. Hundreds of Afghans were on the scene, only about eight Americans. I was one of them.

Why am I talking about this today.

Well, I’ll tell you.

A whole lot of the fighting (and dying) overseas has been borne by our allies. The President acted like a knave yesterday and betrayed them along with our national interest.

In the past 24 hours the US Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, resigned in protest over the President’s policies. He is the first cabinet level secretary to do so in over forty years. To say that this is a big deal is a slight understatement. General Mattis, USMC (Ret.) is the real deal. And he couldn’t stand to watch as the post-war order was systematically destroyed on his watch, and his brothers in arms were left out to hang.

So he did the honorable thing and resigned, as an officer and gentleman should when he is asked to support the unsupportable.

Unsupportable? Yes. It is unsupportable and morally bankrupt to march out of Northern Syria and leave our steadfast allies, the Kurds, to die by inches at the hands of the Turks in the north or the Syrians in the south. Mr. President, ISIS has not been defeated, and the Russians and Iranians will be the immediate benefactors of your decision.

It is disgusting to leave our Afghan allies in the lurch, another component of yesterday’s barrage of bad decisions. My men, the remaining soldiers of 2nd Company, will inevitably be hunted down and killed by the Taliban. Some will switch sides, but all will retain enduring memories of Uncle Sam’s perfidy. And pissed off Afghans act on their hatreds.

I know EXACTLY the extremely awkward and dangerous situation that the President has just placed our combat advisors in. Months, years, decades of building trust with allies in the region, gone. Your brothers in arms, betrayed.

Their trust has evaporated. Blown away like the dust covering the shallow graves of the fallen.

Way to go. Like a petulant child, the President has chosen to take his ball and go home.

But this isn’t a game. Lives are on the line, not an endless series of pointless real estate deals, hookers, and snorts of blow.

General Mattis understands this deep in his bones. The President does not.

It’s just a shame the former Secretary of Defense didn’t post his resignation on Twitter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stuck in the creative mud

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There may be a convention out there that forbids an author to discuss upcoming book plans or ideas. If so, then I’m going to step on convention.

You see, I have a bit of a situation. There’s a project that I’d like to write, but all I have is the sketch of a first scene. I’m a bit at a loss as to what direction to go with this, but I am itching to write the novel.

The protagonist I’ve got down cold. What has me is the antagonist(s).

So the hell with it, I’m going to post the sketch, and see if any of you readers have a good idea as to where to go with this. I’d love to hear from y’all.

Government conspiracy? Aliens? Demons? A combination of all three?

Snippet follows, by all means post comments or shoot me an email through the “contact” page above.

Here goes.

An idea

So a guy gets approached by some suits who say they are FBI. He is sitting in the cafeteria at the VA. There is something off about the two suits. One is smirking, the other one looks dead. Their eyes are as black as the nameless dark. Something is very wrong. As quick as a snake, he stabs one in the leg and throws his food tray in the face of the other and makes a break for it. Somehow he knows that the jinni have finally come for his immortal soul.

***

Seven years earlier he woke up on a firebase in Afghanistan to the sound of wild shooting. His interpreter runs up to him and shouts about the jinni, they have taken everyone. He grabs his rifle and sees that all of his fellow advisors are dead, without a mark on them.

Everyone but him.

What do ya think?

Jason

Cellular Agriculture

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OK, so long time readers will know that I’m a big fan of steaks. Too much of a fan, really. So an article behind the paywall of the Wall Street Journal caught my eye, it was called “From Grass-fed to Lab-grown: How Meat is Evolving.” I posted the link, but you’ll have to pay to read the full story.

However, I can give a summary.

First, let me say that this is pretty exciting for me for a number of reasons. Number one, it feels so science-fictiony. Instead of slaughtering animals, we harvest a muscle culture and expand it in the lab using petri dishes. No dead animals, same result. You can have your steak and eat it too.

Number Two. Did I mention no dead animals? It bears repeating. I grew up on a farm, slaughter was a part of life. I’m not sure how many chickens, rabbits, cows, pigs, etc. that I have killed or witnessed dying, but it was a lot. Well, I’ve grown sick of killing. If I can source meat without it, I will, even if I have to pay a premium.

Number Three. Lab grown meat conserves land and resources. I believe the old rule of thumb for cattle was one acre of graze per head. Imagine how many acres would be freed up for other agricultural uses if we’re not raising beef. The world has a lot of hungry mouths to feed- an untold number of acres could be freed up for grain production etc. if we convert a fraction of our meat intake to lab-grown sources.

The article has an accompanying video in which a man takes a taste test at both a lab in the US (chicken nuggets), and a credit-card sized piece of steak in Israel. Both passed muster. The amazing part was the steak- apparently its a lot easier to produce a ground-meat style product than one chunk of muscle mass. Has something to do with how stem cells are manipulated during the production process.

It seems that lab-grown meat is still in its infancy, and some of the chief hurdles to introducing it are regulatory. Of course. I can imagine how this will be fought. It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see all the competing interests that will come to play in this field, both environmental and agricultural.

Personally, I think that the best approach would be for consumers to have a choice. Meat harvested from traditional sources, and lab-based alternatives. If even a fraction of our meat is sourced from a lab, it will mean enormous resource savings over the long term.

After all, if it looks, smells, tastes and cooks up like meat, then it is meat. Of course, it may be that lab-grown meat is not allowed to be called “meat,” and there’s a law in Missouri to that effect. I can see the day when a fast-food chain has two tiers of hamburgers- a cheap lab-grown burger, and expensive grass-fed beef. There are a lot of possibilities here.

I will be following this closely, and I’m curious if I’ll see these meat products on grocery shelves at some time in the near future.

As long as they don’t call it Soylent Green.

Watching the world die

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Alright, long time readers will know that I’ve spoken before about the really cool project Australian author John Birmingham has. Quick recap- he’s writing a book about the apocalypse one step at a time, in the open and with input from subscribers. Anyone can join the process for a mere two bucks a month, with different levels of participation up to eight bucks a month.

I think the ten dollar stage is sold out. For two bucks- less money than a Starbucks- you get to read the book as its made, one chapter at a time. Also, there are a fair bit of apocalyptic fan-fic shorts on the site, including one by me.

Time has gone by since I last discussed this with you all, and right now Mr. Birmingham is on a tear. There is a lot of material on his site, I think the book is about half-written. I believe that three books are planned in the series. Mind, there are straight chapters plus analysis for those who are keen to look behind the curtain, as it were.

Well, I simply love this stuff. I have thoroughly enjoyed observing the process, as well as participating in a small way. It’s been worth every cent, and I encourage you all to check it out.

One last bit about this opening book in the series, without giving away any spoilers. If you want to see an AWESOME take on the true potential for cyber warfare, pay your two bucks and read what’s been completed to date. This thing has me checking my email with some frequency to see if there’s a new post- it’s very good. And at the moment things are reaching a real head and the downward slide has begun for sure and certain.

Hopefully someone from the DOD reads this and then reads his book- I don’t think the US or our allies are prepared for the oh-so-believable cyber mayhem as described so far.

And that’s just one aspect of the yet-to-be-named book.

Do check it out.

 

 

The Cruel Stars

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So let me drum up a little early excitement for a new book and universe being launched by John Birmingham on the 20th of August, 2019.

As you can see from the above image, the book is called The Cruel Stars. It is the first in a series of books based on humanity’s far future. You can read the premise on the link I included above, Lord knows the professional marketing types do a better job with that stuff than I.

Full disclosure: I was part of the beta process for Cruel Stars. I’ve read the first draft of the book, and it is pretty damn good. Read a lot of sci-fi, and JB nailed it with this space opera.

Of course it bears the hallmarks of Birmingham’s style. Hard hitting action. Realistic good guys and bad guys, with plenty of shades of gray. A living “world,” or worlds, rather.  Excellent scenes, memorable lines and solid interaction. A well planned plot that drives implacably to a can’t-put-me-down ending. What this guy writes is worth reading, there is a reason he is one of my top three authors.

Me, I’m putting my money where my mouth is and I’m pre-ordering two hardcopies. One for me, one for my dad.

Sometimes the wait is worth it, and this is one of those cases.

Go ahead, pre-order a copy. You know you want to.

Some other stuff I’m keeping my eye on.

An article caught my eye the other day, it seems that another object is hurtling toward us from deep space, and if it impacts the planet it will carry quite a punch. A 50 megaton punch. I rather dislike large meteorites, they can cause no end of trouble. However, we’d still be huddling in caves from the dinosaurs if one wouldn’t have really smacked us 66 million odd years ago. If a big enough one hits us again, it’s back to the caves.

Also, read about a Chinese researcher who has done the first gene-editing on a human embryo, the purported purpose of the experiment was to prevent future HIV infections. Hate to say it, but gene editing is the wave of the future. And it’s a wave we may not want to ride. However, the curious tinkerer types simply must keep messing with the latch to Pandora’s box. Read the article and ask yourself if a child is a suitable vehicle for an experiment- the parents opt in, but the kid has to deal with any unforeseen effects. Unethical seems an understatement.

Finally, another probe has landed on Mars. The Insight probe will be drilling down into the surface and relaying data back to scientists here on Earth. My mind boggles at how you can shoot an unmanned spacecraft to a planet hundreds of millions of kilometers away, hit the target, successfully decelerate, land, and deploy a sensitive scientific instrument.

I know I’ve been critical of NASA from time to time on this site, but hats off to the team responsible for the latest of a string of Mars exploration vehicles.

Bravo!

Blood of Heirs, a review

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BLUF- An excellent debut fantasy novel by Alicia Wanstall-Burke. Read it.

Well readers, it’s not every year that I spend the day before Thanksgiving reading like a madman in a fantasy novel, and staying up late into the wee hours penning a review. Blood of Heirs was worth it. What an excellent novel. Really.

Ok, let me throw out a few facts. First, fantasy isn’t really a big thing of mine, but I read the premise to this novel along with a sample and I was hooked. Second, I am very glad I bought this book and read it, and it’s a pleasure to review.

Ms. Wanstall-Burke did an amazing job with her world-building, and there are no flies on her characters, either. Both the world and the people in it were realistic, identifiable, and sympathetic. These were not cardboard-cutouts. No, the world and personalities in it came alive in my mind as I feverishly burned through the pages.

The plot was excellent, the book was a great page turner. I liked how the two chief protagonists, Lidan and Ran, would switch off, this helped expand Alicia’s world, and kept me constantly engaged.

Also, I enjoyed the interplay of the supernatural with the “earthly” action- I thought this was very well crafted, and displayed real storytelling mastery on the part of the author.

For a debut novel, this one smoked it out of the park.

If you are a fantasy fan, this is a must-read. Hell, if you’re a fiction fan of any genre, the same.

Go out and get a copy, I think you’ll be well-satisfied. I know I was.