Pink Alert: Other Emergencies on the Starship Enterprise

The Enterprise-D had famously color-coded alerts.

redalert

Yellow Alert: Get generally sort of (but not too) ready to deal with the unknown. Wonder why you’re not permanently in this condition aboard the Federation flagship.

Red Alert: Crisis situations are better dealt with in poor lighting when you can’t hear each other.

But you need more than an autumn color scheme to deal with the infinite diversity of space. Here are the alerts you never saw on the show.

White Alert: Ship undergoing bullshit which we could end in a second if we remembered we had a transporter.

Intruder Alert: See White Alert.

Indigo Alert: For a technotopia, we sure do seem to have a lot of effective serfs running around in the background on this ship.

Pink Alert: The only women on staff are the emotional one, the one who looks after you when you’re sick, and the one who serves you drinks, and no-one seems to have a problem with this.

Gamboge Alert: Unnecessarily obscure words being used to dress up a fairly basic idea. (In this case yellow).

Showers-of-Sparks Alert: We’re just gonna let these irredeemably violent aliens pound on the ship for a while before we start fighting back. Good luck everyone!

Black Alert: Total power failure to all systems except gravity, because losing life support is free plot tension, but filming people floating is incredibly expensive.

Hypercolor Alert: The far reaches of space have thrown up an event with remarkable similarities to late twentieth century Earth, again.

Pink-layer-of-liquified-human-flesh-on-the-walls Alert: The inertial dampers have failed.

Scorchmarks-on-the-walls Alert: We have holodecks, tranpsorters, and replicators which can direct energy to any location in three dimensional space, but rayguns still need to be manually aimed by people who can’t aim.

Rave Alert: The lights strobe through all possible colors as the comm system relays funky beats, replicators auto-synthesize a psychotropically active fog, and the crew strip naked and have all the good times while the ship’s ultra-computer runs everyday functions far better than they ever could. This happened every time a Star Trek writer decided they couldn’t be bothered writing  Star Trek and stuck the officers in the holodeck instead.

For more things your favorite fictions didn’t tell you, behold An Infinity Of Alternate Bat-men, and Pacific Rim: The Story of the Irish Jaeger.

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Back To The Future Timeline

Behold, bonus material for you wonderful website readers! The prototype timeline for my Cracked Back to the Future article. We dropped it because it was a mind-bending tangle of continual disaster, even though that made it an even better representation of the BttF timestream.

bttfAt first glance there’s about twenty things I’d like to go back and improve, so it’s lucky for me I don’t have paintshop or a time machine on my new computer.  Otherwise I’d never get anything done in the present.

For more timelinery, check out The Terminator Timeline and The Evolution of Arcade Games.

Three Words of Wonder: Baryonic Acoustic Oscillations

The military is full of TLAs, Three Letter Acronyms, contractions of common phrases which seem intended only to convert even everyday things into an official code that outsiders can’t understand. Conversely, science is stuffed with three word phrases which people treat as technobabble, despite defining exactly what they do, representing extraordinary things with incredible compresion. For example: baryonic acoustic oscillations.

Baryons build most of everything you’ve ever experienced. Every atom consists of a technically massive nucleus made of baryons (protons and neutrons), lots of empty space, and a quantum dusting of leptons (electrons).

Acoustic Oscillations are mechanical waves, like sound, where air shakes back and forth when it’s set in motion by a drum beat or vocal cords. This air shakes the next bit of air, which shakes the next bit, which gets into your ears and shakes bits of your skull so that you can hear it and rock out to Daft Punk.

Put them together and you’ve got Baryonic Acoustic Oscillations, mechanical waves shaking the matter of almost everything. Which is exactly what happened. There are waves across the entire universe, sounds which shook all of existence back when it was small, and we can still see them. Waves half a billion light years across have been measured in the clustering of everything in the universe.

Our existence is a tiny blip in a cosmic sound. All of existence is still shaken, echoes of a universal harmony. That’s how amazing this science is: even trying to describe it causes involuntary poetry.

Every scientific phrase is like this: words which specify exactly what’s going on. That’s what words are for! They aren’t technobabble, they’re teaching, encoding cosmic understanding in a few syllables. Words are how we interpret everything. Not just communication but comprehension. Our brains are built out of protein and fat but the stuff inside – you know, the us – thinks in words. Our vocabulary is the LEGO we build our own minds from. We all start with the same boring set of two-by-four bricks. Adding extra words is how we get the cool space and dinosaur sets. Every word we don’t understand is a chance to permanently upgrade ourselves. And to better understand the awe of matter itself doing a Mexican wave across creation.

DC VS Lobo, And How To Save The Main Man

DC have announced that the new Lobo will be seriously grimslim, a logical infiltrator of high-society. Which is like announcing that the new Darth Vader will be a sympathetic flower arranger, famed for his tender fingers and honeyed voice.

Logically infiltrating high society

Logically infiltrating high society

Lobo was loved as a brutal overparody of the super-tough-mega-badasses. The new version looks he’s modeling GQ’s Interstellar Assassin accessory range.

lobonew

Here’s the thing: that’s great. There’s nothing wrong with creating an attractive athlete  to round out a cast of heroes who usually look like they’re smuggling steaks under their latex. The only problem is that after seventy years of making Super-money DC are psychotically centophobic. If you marry into a DC editor’s family, you’re invisible until your spouse introduces you as a reboot of a recently deceased existing relative.

“Wow, Uncle Vanya! Good to see you again! I see your legs have grown back, you’ve forgotten Russian, and you’re a woman now – excellent, we need more representation in the female market! I don’t suppose you could turn black? No worries. Well, wait there while I get the scissors to cut holes in your clothes.”

You want a well-groomed killer with a moral code? Fantastic! Create one! Adapt one! Do anything except humorlessly gut a one-joke character who’s the exact opposite of that, removing the one joke so that’s all that’s left is a hyphen, which becomes a minus, because you’ve done even less than create zero, you’ve actively destroyed something someone else created.

You want some reasons for a coiffed killer? Come up with one! At the bare minimum all you need is two new words: their name and their planet and that’s it, you’re done, you’ve brought in a new character without revealing your inability to even conceive of things which don’t already have copyright. Here, take some:

  • The prince of a planet which has known peace and perfect hair care for millennia becomes bored, and enters an interplanetary gladiator tournament. His adapted hairstyling blades are undefeatable. His victory spurs him to tackle more challenging prey throughout the galaxy.
  • P’heh-ritty Bhoy from the Twilight-sure-is-popular-these-days nebula.
  • Outcast-effete from a world of savage high technology, where the progress of technology has not displaced the tribal dominance of the alpha, Silven Jemme finds that his hideously smooth skin, deficiently unprotruding abs and weakly straight hair is attractive in the outside universe. He embarks on an odyssey of overcompensation.
  • John Smith from planet M3-blueseas. Note how this is still more original than what they did.
  • Get the Final Fantasy license. It certainly wouldn’t be the worst storyline you or they have ever done, and you could chop the entire internet in half by pitting Superman against Sephiroth.
  • Reveal the new Lobo to be a blatant parody of the urge to re-reinvent established characters for the latest fads, in the same way Lobo was reinventetd as a parody of overmuscled super-toughs.

YOU CAN STILL DO THAT LAST ONE, DC. THE IDEA IS YOURS!

For more rebooted rage, read The Worst Supermen Ever and The Most Amazing(ly Stupid) Spider-Man Reboots.

The Z Machine Is Science-Faction

“The Z Machine” sounds like something out of science-fiction, but it’s the largest X-ray generator in the world. Which sounds even more like science-fiction. And if it that’s what it sounds like, it looks like something Michael Bay would cut from a movie’s storyboards for being too awesome to exist with current special effects.

Which is why physicists built it with real current effects instead.

More lightning than Zeus enraged by Thor rubbing cats on him.

More lightning than Zeus enraged by Thor rubbing cats on him.

The PBFA-Z (Particle Beam Fusion Accelerator, Z-pinch version) subjects a target to a current of over 20 million amps – more than  six hundred simultaneous lightning bolts – and pressures of over 10 million atmospheres. It can reach temperatures of over two billion degrees and melt diamond. Which is the kind of amazing wrong-sounding you get when you adventure into physical realms beyond the calm, damp, and miniscule speck of reality which supports human bodies. You turn diamonds into Dali paintings.

Anyone can create high temperatures by adding Amperes – people with Christmas lights and a deeply misplaced sense of achievement learn that every year – but the Sandia system is piling power against the physical limitations of reality itself. Add enough energy to anything and it isn’t there anymore. The Z Machine is built to pour power into things without melting itself in the process. It’s so far beyond anything we normally understand about machines, it uses water lines to transmit power, and lightning bolts mean it’s working properly.

It’s pure plasmapunk, vast energies barely but definitely channeled by our brilliance.

Checking one of the 36 warp cores they apparently stole from the Enterprise

Checking one of the 36 warp cores they apparently stole from the Enterprise

Science-fiction is all about people and how they react to revolutionary advances. A common metric for the quality of these stories is how well developed those advances are. Science fact develops them as well as they can be – in fact, they only can be because science develops them – and how we react becomes the science-fiction story. Real science uses the world as a narrative. Society is an analog computer calculating stories in response to the ideas injected by the inventors. And the equipment looks every micrometer the part of a machine to change the world.

This is what they look like before the install the restraints and the British secret agent

This is what they look like before the install the transmission lines, target core, restraints, and British secret agent

(All images from sandia.gov)

For more glorious technojoy, behold 9 Badass Spacecraft Landings and 9 Amazing Laser Systems.

Pacific Rim: How The Kaidanovskys Survived

Pacific Rim was a daring film in many ways, not least in how it focused on what were clearly intended to be supporting characters just so that the coolest kaijufuckers in all creation could get on with their jobs.

If a genie ever offers me the job, costume, body, or sex partner of my dreams, the answer will be the crew of the Cherno Alpha, and I don’t care which.

If a genie ever offers me the job, costume, body, or sex partner of my dreams, the answer will be the crew of the Cherno Alpha, and I don’t care which.

How did they survive being crushed and exploded and also drowned by Leatherback?

  • In that last shot she isn’t screaming as the water rushes in, she’s warning the god-damn Pacific to get the hell out of her mech. The exterior “explosion” is actually all the water rushing to obey as quickly as possible. They reboot what’s left of Cherno, grab the limb they lost, and beat Leatherback to death with their own giant severed arm.
  • The explosion blasts the pilots into Leatherback’s open mouth. From there they punch their way into an air bladder and concussively navigate Leatherback to the surface and also to death.
  • They reach through the acid-melted hole in the cockpit pod to tear strips off Leatherback and seal the rents. Making what’s left of Cherno seaworthy, they erect a sail of Leatherback-leather and sail into the distance and new adventures.
  • You know how that little Dutch boy plugged the hole in the dike? Kaidonovsky man is not little! He plugs the hole in the cockpit pod with his gigantically manly frame. Leatherback is too intimidated by the view to trouble them further.
  • Pressing the “emergency submergence” knob on their shoulderplate, the pilot suits deploys rebreathers, giving them plenty of time to get away. What, you thought their suits were covered in extra bits the other countries didn’t have for fun?
  • Glorious blonde hair doubles as signal flare, comrade! Range hundred miles! Even at bottom of Pacific! Rescue easy! We train hold breath all time.
  • They grit their teeth, grinding oxygen out of the water to breathe, and physical chemistry is simply too terrified to disagree. They swim out and destroy Leatherback hand-to-hand. We find that the Russian government had only constructed Cherno to contain the Kaidanovskys, not assist them, as they go on to defeat the world’s weakened armies and rule the planet, unifying it against all future threats.

More Pacific Rimmery:

An Infinity Of Alternate Bat-men

In the parallel universe of Earth-53, the Wayne family take a shortcut through Crime Alley to return to their car after a screening of Zorro. A mugger tries to steal Martha’s pearl necklace and ends up shooting both parents, traumatizing their son, Bruce. He swears this will never happen again, dedicating his life and his family’s billions to improving up the Gotham police force.

Earth-64: Bruce replaces the Park Row municipal street sign with a vast flashing neon sign reading “They call this called CRIME ALLEY, you idiots, DON’T GO DOWN THERE.” Ironically, the intense illumination and epileptic strobing of the sign render the alley utterly crime free.

Earth-232: The Wayne Foundation revolutionizes the world by perfecting bio-mimetic nanotech materials, but goes bankrupt after flooding the market with synthetic pearls. Pearls become so common they’re used as a cheap building material. Crime Alley is forever cobblestoned and lustrous.

Earth-441: Demented filmmaker Bruce Wayne purchases and destroys all extant copies of every version of Zorro. He spends his fortune constantly re-filming and re-releasing reboots of the pulp swordsman, as praised for their repeated mastery of revolutionary new cinema techniques as they are criticized for always ruining the third act by having Zorro time-travel to the present to stab a gun-wielding mugger.

Earth-722: A traumatized Bruce Wayne realizes that there can be no street crime without streets. He excavates and floods all roadways to create a network of canals, renaming Gotham as “New Venice”. Most desperate and starving criminals cannot afford rebreathers, and the remaining thugs becoming much easier to spot on their motorized gondolas. These are swiftly defeated by the city’s new champion of justice, Aquaman.

Earth-2289: Master psychologist Bruce Wayne spots the key flaw in the Gotham criminal population. He becomes a Broadway producer, hiring every thug in the city to act as costumed chorus lines for the greatest musical stage show ever made. Without minions the Gotham criminal scene collapses. The show goes on tour, hiring all those drawn to strict-yet-ridiculous direction and uniformed clothing. Spin-off shows start in Metropolis and Central City, spreading to every country of the world. Every criminal organization loses its membership. The Joker dies when he can’t resist the urge to honk the horn while assembling his own dynamite-laced bumper cars.

Earth-15743: Bruce Wayne realizes that, holy shit, his parents were shot. He convinces Superman to take, like, five minutes to fly around the city destroying all illegal guns. Wayne Industries funds a global campaign to repeal the Second Amendment. The Joker becomes spokesman for the NRA. This is considered a step towards moderation and sanity by the organization, since it means replacing Wayne LaPierre.

For more Bat-madness, behold:

Plasmapunk Is Steampunk For Real

Plasma physics is steampunk for this century. An old fashion has come back  again and this time it’s science as well as style, a fusion fashion. We are genuinely building the future with the same aesthetic that drove locomotives across the continents. Clanking constructions of metal controlled by the most delicate intricacies of intellect, titanic forces tamed by humanity to tame the globe for us in turn. And this time the globe is no mere Earth but Sol itself. The technology is even based on the transformative power of a newly-harnessed state of matter. Instead of using fire to boil water, our tanks are filled with something hotter than the flame itself.

See the huge sections being lowered in. Something so massive hasn’t been created by such intelligence since the Incredible Hulk, and this will be more powerful

Huge sections of the Wendelstein 7-X stellarator being lowered into place. Something so massive hasn’t been created by such intelligence since the Incredible Hulk, and this will be more powerful.

Steampunk is tremendous fun, but we don’t no longer need to play make-believe in the mud of the past. Plasmapunk offers the same glories without the downsides. We don’t have to overlook some seriously suspect aspects of the period, or ignore incredible advances in the technology we all love. Vacuum tubes might look cool, but transistors are man-made miracles, and this way we get to connect our most advanced computers to the winding coils and glassed chambers of sparks and plasma.

A fusion reactor built by the brilliant William Jack.

A fusion reactor built by the clearly brilliant William Jack

The best part about plasmapunk is that it’s real. Every socket and shining rivet has to be exactly where it is, every conduit and inspection hatch designed to do something, and that incarnated intelligence shines through every aspect of the structure even before you ignite the starstuff inside.

A plasma chamber with all the gleaming bolts and piping a steampunk could ever need. (University of Iowa)

A plasma chamber with all the gleaming bolts and piping a steampunk could ever need. (University of Iowa)

In plasmapunk you don’t have anyone gluing a bunch of gears to leather boots and claiming it looks cool, when that’s more agonizing to the mechanically-minded than building a machine to scrape the same brass cog-teeth down a blackboard because at least then they’d be used for doing something. Punk has never meant copying what went before, or trying to just look the part. It means forging a new identity against the old system. And plasma power sources are going to break the world as we know it right open. Fusion energy doesn’t just mean cheaper electricity in the same way the steam engine didn’t just mean saving on horse feed.

We have countless subcultures dedicated to the past, re-enacting the old, and rebuilding the ancient using improved parts and digital cameras and the ability to stop for lager and chocolate biscuits instead of being stabbed to death in a fields. Pop-cultural hordes based on cartoons, comic books, and something called a Bieber. Now imagine an identity forged from the future being built right now. Because science is already there.

The Wendelstein 7-X Stellarator

The Wendelstein 7-X stellarator is the coolest name ever made. And I mean we made that thing for real. It’s proof that the most amazing terms have always been in the science, not the –fiction. It’s so gloriously impressive I don’t need to worry about whether my firstborn will be a boy or a girl: either way they’re set, and are going to have the most impressive business cards in history.

The Wendelstein 7-X

The Wendelstein 7-X stellarator

The Wendelstein 7-X stellarator sounds like something Marvin the Martian would use to destroy Daffy Duck, along with the entire planet responsible for such a violent nudist. The stellarator does exactly what the name says, and what that name says is that we are gods. The latin suffix “tor” forms an agent noun, something which performs the action of the base word. A motor performs the action of moving you, an accelerator performs the action of accelerating you, and a stellarator performs the action of being a star.

Plasma in Japan’s gloriously literal Large Helical Device, a superconducting stellarator

Plasma in Japan’s gloriously literal Large Helical Device, a superconducting stellarator

The Sun is a gravity-powered fusion reactor, the power plant for all life on Earth. We don’t have the three hundred thousand Earths we’d need to build another Sun, but here’s the thing: gravity is the weakest force in the universe. Electromagnetism is a hundred thousand million billion quintillion times stronger. Which means we can start our own reactions without gaining nearly as much weight.

The key to electromagnetic fusion is the toroid (aka the donut). We zap the gas up to fusion temperatures with electric currents and electromagnetic radiation and hold it in place with magnetic fields instead of a gravitational one. The twisting Wendelstein, which is even more powerful than the wrestling move it sounds like, comes from the need to confine all the particles equally. In a regular donut shape gas at the inner edge feels feel stronger forces than gas on the outer edge, leading to leakage, so the torus twists to pass the circulating plasma back and forth between the inner and outer edges, averaging out the forces.

Above: Theory Below: Practice

Above: Theory
Below: Practice

The result looks like someone started building a Mobius strip and couldn’t stop until they’d included everything humanity had ever learned about science. Which is almost exactly the case.

The result looks like someone started building a Mobius strip and couldn’t stop until they’d included everything humanity had ever learned about science. Which is almost exactly the case.

An array of master-crafted metal mobiii

An array of master-crafted metal mobiii

The result is a masterpiece of modern science, combining our most advanced theories with our most impressive technologies. Every curve calculated and crafted, every addition the result of lifetimes of work. It’s an installation in every sense of the word: something put together by humans, a location designed to perform a task, and an artwork intended to change life for everyone exposed to its effects.

You also end up with people building themselves into techno-Dali paintings.

You also end up with people building themselves into techno-Dali.

It’s beautiful, and I realized: plasma physics is steampunk for this century. Continued in “Plasmapunk Is Steampunk For Real“.

Illegal Mezcal in the Worship St Whistling Shop

The Worship Street Whistling Shop sounds like magical story business where people are whisked away to a better world, and since it’s an excellent cocktail bar that’s exactly what it is.

whistling

This is a bar you could live in. Down a flight of stairs, with two sharp corners between warmth and the outside world to make sure even light can’t get in to remind you of your worries. It’s not a basement bar but a hobbit hole, a Bag End of booze safe from any thought of the passage of time. The sun and moon are their own problem: we’ve got a liquor shelf and light low enough to let you enjoy them forever. You couldn’t be more comfortably cut off without a goose down mattress and a morphine drip.

Celebrating international Tequila day meant enjoying the Illegal Mezcal.

mezcal

According to the rules mezcal isn’t truly tequila, made outside Jalisco province from different varieties of agave, but if you’re letting fussy definitions get in the way of enjoying yourself you’re getting tequila wrong. A month in sherry-washed casks matures the mezcal, an oak-panelled finishing school to elevating the much-maligned liquor from the slums of slammers. Mezcal has always been the equal of Scotch. This drink is the impassioned speech to convert the prejudiced, an olfactory oratory demonstrating the strength and intelligence of this wonderful drink.

The scent alone overpowers any naysayers. It deserves the word, no mere “aroma” of something that should only be sniffed, nor a “smell” warning you of chemical vats, this is a scent you must follow to find and consume the source. Smoked barrels of liquid beauty. So soft in the mouth, it’s silken agave, a sensation you can hold over your tongue as long as you want without a hint of burn, with warmth on the swallow.

The ginger beer and lime chaser is everything those words could and should be and it’s still only an afterthought to the mezcal. Sharp tingling clarity, this could cleanse your palate while your tongue was bleeding. The greatest taste of any liquor is the first sip, and this alternation lets you have as many first times as you want.