Apr 26 2010


Looking through the old story ground files I compiled for reference. The station I created for it back around the year 2000, Outpost 1..

Suddenly a memory comes to me of the more recent trailers for Mass Effect 2..

It’s only a rough likeness, but it’d be nice to think the group had a fan in BioWare. ;)

[20/06/2010: Amalgamating old posts from “Dreamwidth Creative Blog” into sci-fi-fox.com to re-purpose DW blog account.]

Apr 25 2010

Homestead Space – Idle Thoughts and retrospective..

For about 7 years I was part of a wonderful little writing group calling itself the “Homestead Space RP”. It started off as some casual freeform roleplay set in the equally freeform “Homestead Space” universe (essentially Earth, but hundreds/thousands of years after the disappearance of humans and the subsequent appearance of anthropomorphic animals. Attempts to set this in stone were never really completed).
It evolved into an increasingly verbose multi-author writing group, until it eventually came to a halt in something of a “perfect storm” of personal priorities, time and an increasing number of story threads, as well as differently evolving writing styles.

Although the groups email list has essentially been quiet regarding new writing for several years now, my mind often wanders back to it’s wonderful mix of concepts and characters.
One of my favourites was the extra-galactic race, the Vulpinian Empire. An ostensibly anthropomorphic fox race from Andromeda, and the creation of my good friend Jason.
This expansionist bureaucratic advanced race had as their vanguard to the Milky Way galaxy the elderly Space Battleship Yamamoto-inspired “Firefox” Battlefox-class battleship, and eventually it’s six “sister” ships. They often edged into power-gaming territory, but still remained improbably plausible. They were both often far more advanced than local technology, but also hindered greatly by centuries of improper and insufficient maintenance in their bottom-rung placement in the Navies of the Empire and it’s far more recent vessels. A powerful, but essentially elderly combatant. And that’s what I loved about it. Okay it didn’t fit with the more local entrants, but it wasn’t a local entrant. It was huge, dirty, quirky, and essentially lovable for all of it’s 6-mile long bulk.
The USS Enterprise is the Apple iPod of spacecraft; shiny, new, untouchable, irreparable, even ethereal and delicate. The Battlefox class ships were more like a shit-kicked old laptop by comparison; battered and held together with tape and hand-soldered repairs, but still a laptop with the right killer apps on board.
A military laptop. Made in Russia. With depleted uranium.

It shared that sort of Red Dwarf vibe; too old to live, too big to die. It’s crew were loyal through adversity, it’s AI was quirky (and emerged into full sentience), it’s main weapons failed often enough that it was a plausible combatant, it’s casualty figures were on par with it’s extreme size, and it’s esoteric features fitted both it’s piecemeal maintenance history, advanced technology, and previous roles.
A weapon that destroys black holes sounds like power-gaming if it’s not been mentioned before. Perfect for suddenly removing the problem of a player possessed by the destructive spirit of a fragment of neutron-star. But it fits perfectly when one of the ship’s previous roles was hunting down their own races creators; a species known to use singularity manipulation as a principle technology.
A vessel that’s essentially a battleship in space seems improbable and impractical, but well fits an expansionist race as an invasion craft. It provides the maximum protection to the planetary ground-fire on approach, and essentially lands a multi-mile high walled fortress on the planet when it does touch down, fully ready to repel ground and aerial attack alike, as well as unload ground troops and gear through lower decks. Even landing it at all would likely cause small earthquakes, and at any speed; a wake of earth to plough through anything.
A powerful vessel that’s still essentially expendable, but more approachable to less technological races when you’re eyeing up the galaxy next door and don’t want to cause a panic yet.

It was a pleasure to write about for me with the ease continuity could be fixed up retroactively.

In the latter days of the group, my (then fictional) company Starborne Works took on a local maintenance contract for the small fleet after they became stationed there to help defend against local threats as (officially) a good-will gesture from the Empire. It would provide the ‘fox fleet with their first proper repairs in decades or centuries, as finally affordable with the local labour. I was hoping there would also be an additional subtext of eventually testing the small fleet’s loyalty with how accepted and helped they’d been in this galactic backwater verses their own near non-person status “back home”.

But before that eventual plot-point I got some way into writing essentially a jungle-adventure-in-space. The essence of it was to be that with some 300 years between the first and last ‘Foxx-class ship being produced, there had been design changes, and in the intervening centuries a lot of the design rationale and master designs had been lost. So with royal approval (the Empire worked under an elected queen and council-class) one of my own prototype Fluke-class ships was to accompany the FireFox all the way back to Vulpinian Space and the decommissioned shipyard where the craft had been built.
The yard however was now buried under many miles of more recent derelict structures. Docks, bays, research, development and testing labs and areas, offices, storage and maintenance. Afterall you don’t really need to worry about space in space, only about having something to hang onto. Hundreds of kilometres in diameter, the rough-sphere of old facilities had finally been officially shut down as a safety hazard once a new yard had been made in a nearby system. But somewhere, many kilometres below the surface, were the ‘Foxx design offices and drydock. Long since built around/over, and with many hazards making teleportation an impossibility, a team was to trek down into the depths of the pseudo-jungle. A maze of unstable structures, overgrown hydroponics, radiation hazards, mutated vermin, and still-active power, security and maintenance systems. And finally in the cavernous dry-dock beside the offices, the discovery that although funding was cancelled on the final 8th ship; the substantial part of it’s superstructure was laid down first. Somehow forgotten in centuries of paperwork, a fresh hull complete with some of it’s reactors and drive systems.

To be brief, the contract allowed the salvage of anything pertinent to the repair and maintenance of the ‘Foxx fleet, and Sci (as the roleplay character) was not going to leave this prize behind. Managing to jury-rig the drive systems for a brief “pulse”, they were to be able to knock the hull into hyperspace where the FireFox would then be able to tow it out from under the relative location of the station and back into real-space.

And at some point on the journey home, Sci confesses to his personal AI that surely the best way to work out how to repair and upgrade the other ships would be to have one to work on from scratch.
Such work would also reveal the secret “fail-safe” devices implanted in the other ships in case of rouge-AI. Ostensibly the product of untrusting council members, long-gone.

And so, several years later, I readily imagine this short exchange between Sci and the perpetually unflappable Queen Victoria Vulpinia after a bottle of champagne-analogue has shattered prettily off the hull of the freshly commissioned “GhostFoxx”…

“My lawyers told me something else interesting too. Apparently the service contract lists both items of salvage for repair and research purposes as well as the stock parts held by my company, as property of my company.”

Her body stiffened an imperceptible fraction, eyes locking out into the distance, and a strangled quiet squeak briefly fought to get past her tightly closed but still-smiling lips.

“Apparently it’s for liability reasons. I just thought it was amusing that a ship that technically belongs to me is now publicly serving in a foreign navy.” He paused a moment to follow the Queen’s frozen but polite gaze out into space, “Though of course I could hardly say it’s really ‘mine’, it belongs to Ghost herself, the product of the open mixing of our two AI types. All the benefits of your technology and our more expandable, even independent you might say, architecture. She could grow up to be anything!” He laughed good-naturedly, “Ah, they grow up so fast.. Good thing she’s part of a friendly government’s navy really. Oh, she did mention that one of the lower council departments of your senate sent her a gift. Some device that could give her quite a light-show apparently. Rather than keep it to herself though and have it installed so close to her AI suite as they rather heavily suggested, she thought she’d have it installed near that Vulpinian listening post on Phobos so we could all appreciate the show if they decide to activate it. She did say she wondered if any of the other AI’s got such thoughtful gifts when they were commissioned.. ooh, the cameras! Smile!”
He finished abruptly with a grin and leaned in to put an arm around Victoria’s waist, giving the rather honest appearance, though not for the apparent reason, of shocked intrusion of the royal personal space.

[20/06/2010: Amalgamating old posts from “Dreamwidth Creative Blog” into sci-fi-fox.com to re-purpose DW blog account.]

Apr 25 2010

Oyster “Clamshell” Idea


I shouldn’t be surprised that the cheapest RFID reader is from China. This might be something to get in the next few months. I’m interested to see if I could create an Oyster Card reader to show current balance and if you’re “touched” in or out.

I’m currently imagining something the size of one of those old credit card sized calculators. The little ones that used to run on solar. The best way would probably to package it like the card holders used on ID lanyards, where the card is slipped into the holder. To my mind this would mean the reader coil would be within a millimetre of the cards aerial, meaning it could get away with extremely low-powered use.

While it came to mind, it would probably be impractical to try and top up the reader’s batteries through induction charging when the bundle was swiped through a terminal.

That said though, there is some small encryption used on the Oyster cards. It’s supposed to take less than a second to crack on a laptop, but this tiny reader idea is not a laptop. I suspect though that the card could capture the key when the bundle is first put through a reader. That is, if the key isn’t already universal and/or the portion of data requested isn’t the bit that’s encrypted.

As a general purpose reader it would fail, but as a single-purpose device it’s at least a plausible concept.

I doubt it would get any support from TFL however, since I imagine they make quite a bit of money from people forgetting to touch out (or finding terminals are broken) and having cards charge the daily maximum fee instead.
And I feel a large number of commuters would appreciate an end to waiting half an hour for a bus only to find their card doesn’t have enough credit on it for them to get on board!

Knocked out in China, I think they’d probably sell well for a fiver. Maybe a tenner, but I feel it’d leave space for someone to undercut you then.

Anyone got any actual RFID experience to tell me if the idea’s feasible?

[20/06/2010: Amalgamating old posts from “Dreamwidth Creative Blog” into sci-fi-fox.com to re-purpose DW blog account.]

Apr 25 2010

Right, emails sent, forum posts done, new sales ideas broached, quotes sent for.

Time for breakfast.

[20/06/2010: Amalgamating old posts from “Dreamwidth Creative Blog” into sci-fi-fox.com to re-purpose DW blog account.]

Apr 22 2010

Get angry and build robots. Part 2.

More tinkering today.

Pulled the frame apart and flipped it over to give the motors more ground clearance and enough space for a trailing castor.
Rather than cut up the push-scooter bearing tubes, I made a new longer one from a piece of old vacuum cleaner nossle and bolted it into the clamp from an old satellite dish mount. That gave me some bolt holes and nice steel plate to attach some more scrap 1″ box section to as an angle-block. Another couple of bits of smaller box-section went on top again to provide rigidity.

I’ve run out of M6 bolts now though, so will have to get some. Studding would probably be better though.
The motor assemblies were already made up, so it’s really only the frame that’s the product of the last couple of days.

The motors look a little wonky because they’re not bolted down properly. Neither are the bearing-blocks, which’ll need three more M10 carriage bolts. Probably want to put some fibre washers between the motor mounts and frame to help prevent damage to the aluminium gearbox housings.

Here it is with the existing battery box roughly in place.

It’s a large box because it contains a commercial van battery (12v, Lead-acid), as well as positive and negative bus-bars, keyswitch, automotive fuse panel and emergency-stop button on the rear hatch.
May had a high-current plug to it too to allow it to provide jump-starts. If I find one of them laying about anyway.

No motor controllers as yet. I still need to test the stall current of the motors (12v, 180Watt, ~220rpm geared).
Wheels are ten-inch pneumatic sack-barrow wheels. Freewheeling hubs were previously ground off and fixed hubs with a coupler-dog brazed up and bolted on.

Got some aluminium car-phone enclosures with surface-mounting holes that should take a controller each quite nicely.

Whatever this ends up being, it’ll be pretty powerful and be able to go a long way.

Need to make mounts to secure battery box and fork-extensions to turn the current front wheel into a castor. Wanted a pneumatic castor, but there’s not enough space under the frame currently. Maybe later.

Will keep my eyes on the river; see if a shopping trolley turns up. A trolley basket could be a good addition to it for the moment.

[20/06/2010: Amalgamating old posts from “Dreamwidth Creative Blog” into sci-fi-fox.com to re-purpose DW blog account.]

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