Solar Voodoo: Burnt Offerings to the Sun

In 2017 the Solar Orbiter will be sent to stare directly at the sun, proving that nothing is dumb if you’re smart enough. We’re throwing an outer space gris-gris of space age titanium and burnt bone at the source of all life. We’re rocket shamans.

The shaman cyborg material is in the heat shield: titanium with its surface oxide layer blasted off to be replaced with black calcium phosphate. Aka bone char. The burnt bones of animals. You might think the heat shield should be shiny but in space the big problem isn’t staying warm, it’s keeping cool. There’s no material around you to conduct or convect heat, only space (hence the nam). Insulate yourself and you’ll bake long before you eventually freeze. Which will only happen because you’ve stopped generating heat, caring about temperature, and breathing. Since the Solar Orbiter’s systems generate their own heat it’s more important that they be able to radiate than reflect.

The surface coating isn’t paint: the black calcium phosphate takes the oxide’s place in chemical bonds, creating an armor of dead metal material to stand up against the source of all life. The burnt bone skin is made by Irish company Enbio and is rather brilliantly (and exactly oppositely to brilliantly) called “SolarBlack“.

We’re reducing the sun’s bounty to burnt ash and offering it back to learn more about existence. It’s a scientific sacrament. And will work a lot better than burning good animals for greek gods. Who are good model here, because we’re tackling Apollo like ancient heroes: pitting everything we’ve ever learned (from cave paint to aviation metallurgy) against an awesome power in the heavens.

We’re studying the Alpha and Omega, the source of all life, the shining light in the sky which gathered up our land and sea, which stirred the soup until it started moving around by itself, and even now bathes it with warmth and every way of surviving. Every movement you’ve ever made, every thought you’ve ever had, the creator is there. Because the adenosine triphosphate bonds you’re breaking to exist were all made with solar energy. Which is also the inevitable end of our world. When it swells up red-faced, like a middle-aged Zeus, it will burn our Earth bare of anything even approximating life.

Art often envisages a god as shafts of sunlight, or a blazing ball in the sky, and it turns out the metaphor wasn’t wrong, it was revesed. The sun doesn’t describe a creator. The creator is a description of the Sun.

I love the combination of space-age and cave-age technology. Because they’re both still technology. And they both still work. Sticks still work, and no matter how advanced your iPhone it won’t help when you need to prod something. There are doubtless other ways to make black calcium phosphate, but it’s still best to let something else do most of the work. Biological organisms are still the masters of nanofabrication. Just think of it as an extreme form of smelting.

And I love the idea that the mission to our big star will sit on the outer-space menu with another little star beside it.

Solar Orbiter(*) 1 billion

*This item is not vegetarian.

Space is the Place with

Google Glass is an Observation Gun

“Maybe I’m recording everything you say. Maybe I’ll upload it the internet. Maybe I’ll leave it in context or maybe I’ll reality-show your ass into any appalling arrangement I like. So I guess the question is, do ya feel lucky? Or rather, do you feel I’m worth the effort of carefully vetting every single thing you say to me?”

Google Glass isn’t cyber-spectacles, it’s a camera crown, turning the wearer into an electronic Queen: you have to watch your manners and anything you do near them might end up online anyway.

Wearing glass seems like a great way to be far too much trouble for anyone to ever talk to. It’s like talking with hi-beams on. We’ll need Google dimmers, a gentle green light which lets us know when we’re not being recorded as opposed to the old red light which let us know we are. Instead, Glass has a green light which lets you know that you’re being recorded and that it’s time to leave. And it’s still worthless. Because it might take as many as five whole minutes for someone to work out how to remove the light. Which turns the device into a Regnidörhcs experiment: you don’t know whether the contents of the box are observing you or not, and you won’t until they affect the rest of the world.

So you’ll have to ask the wearer to remove Glass instead. It’s an observation gun: the mere presence of the device says far more than the intent of the wielder. Ownership of a device doesn’t give anyone the automatic right to threaten other people with it.
People are going to be asked to take it off, and some of them are going to be assholes about it.

On the upside, it looks like a fantastic way to prevent anyone from ever bothering you again. I talked about how headphones can shield you from the rest of the species over at Cracked, but Glass could gift us elective untouchability.

Advance further into the future with

We’re Not Wireless

We’ve named the future for an obsolete past. We talk about wireless technology, defining almost every gadget not in terms of what it can do, but what it doesn’t have to do anymore. Wireless technology is the modern horseless carriage, an incredibly dated term defining our future on how we don’t have shit everywhere anymore. The only difference is that the shit is now knots of tangled cables, leashing us to our desk in ways that even Alexander the Great couldn’t cut through because he needs to charge his iPhone.

Everything else advertised in terms of lessness uses that as its primary advantage. It has to, because the loss damaged everything else about it. Less fat in ice-cream, less sugar in soda, less thing in thing-based-entirely-on-that-thing. But wireless technology isn’t for people who want to pretend they can change their bodies without changing their lifestyle. Wireless is an epoch. Wireless will soon be only slightly less assumed than breathing. And the word still talks about a time when you had to help the computer physically carry electronic bits from A to B.

We should have a word which talks about what we’ve done, not what we don’t have to do any more. We’ve filled the air with music. For over a century you just needed a few carefully beaten bits of rock to hear harmony wherever you are. The music doesn’t come from the radio. The box doesn’t call the station and say “I’m here, send a packet of albums.” Every square meter of the world is washed with a thousand waves, and the radio antenna isn’t a key unlocking the secret, but a window through which it can climb into the small room of our sensory apparatus.

You’re being bathed in the latest news, heartfelt phone calls, tweets and tumbles and fun and love and an endless array of song. That’s worth a better name than “We don’t need to use a metal rope any more”.



Test-firing the Falcon 9 Reusable prototype

Behold, a rocket booster which won’t just hurl humanity into space, it’ll come back and  ask for more. The Falcon 9R is designed to punch through the sky then kiss it better with rocket fuel, decelerating on descent until it lands neatly back on the original launch pad, ready for refuelling and the next cargo of coolness. Which means that SpaceX is finally building Thunderbird 3.


The best bit is how it’ll be tested by destruction. Future Falcon 9 launches will test the landing system in action, completing their space-business before roaring back to Earth to see what happens. The test landings will be in the most uninhabited bits of water they can find, as SpaceX candidly expect all kinds of explosive education in how not to land before getting it right.

That’s the human race in college – learning how to do things right by making all the awesomely fun mistakes first. Because we’ve finally grown up enough to start thinking about leaving home. People talk about losing the stars, but back in the sixties we were heroically reaching far beyond our grasp. Now the technology is so accessible there’s an online form to fill for lofting off the Earth.


Putting things in orbit used to need a Presidential decree. Now it needs a printer. We’re just getting started.

The Dystopianest Drug Future

Dystopian sci-fi loves the drugs. Because both are fun. But science-fiction drugs are usually about as dystopic as a hangover – unpleasant, but an incredibly predictable result of what we’re already doing. They might have stupider names and grant the occasional superpower, but they’re still the same story of “addiction bad make bad guys bad.”

Even worse, they still make the user feel good. That’s not dystopic. You can’t claim the nihilist bleaktimes when it’s still possible to get high off your laser-tits. People are still making things, feeling good, hell, there’s even an economy. Film all the teal-filtered rubble and sheet metal you want, a world where you can still fly with the magic unicorns is a less scary one.

A truly dystopian future would leach that trade of all value, making a mockery of even wanting to feel good. You’d have hordes of people queuing up to sacrifice their dignity to perform meaningless acts in return for worthless product, abasing themselves to an uncaring machine for tins of sugar water like lab rats with login details.

Which is already happening.

You give the machine access to your facebook feed for a can of soft drink. People selling their digital selves to a corporation. I am tragically disappointed. I always thought virtual hooking would mean TRON-lingerie and mopping up the holodeck. Instead you’ve got “The Like Machine”.


This couldn’t sound more like a social media horror story. Because that’s exactly what it is.

More technojoy with 5 Ass-Kicking Vehicle Weapons Conversions, and The Retro Gaming Drinking Games.