Sex Discrimination

The fairer sex? More like unfair.

For a single rocket, gender falls within the engineering slack. But—and NASA didn’t like very much to discuss it—the more you invest, mission-resources-wise, in your astronauts, the more you want them to be female.

Every gram counts, and women end up being preferable due to cascading effects of this rule. Women are, on average, a bit lighter, but the real benefits are secondary. Lighter means less EVA fuel, less transfer fuel, smaller boost costs, smaller and lighter spacesuits and clothes—and over a mission lifetime, vastly less food, less water, less mass that needs to be heaved out of Earth’s gravity well at thousands of dollars per precious kilogram. Then make everything modular and tailored to one gender instead of two, and everything gets simpler, smaller, and, yes, lighter. Every gram counts.

And so, in the early years, more and more astronauts just sortof happened to be women. Only by slashing launch costs could a compelling economic (and let’s face it, sociological) argument for equality be made. Construction began on ISS Clarke, the terminus of the first space elevator, the instant the required materials were developed. The politicians, so statistically male, so staunchly and implicitly anti-science for so long, had finally looked up at all the smiling ladies in the heavens and found envy. The funding for ISS Clarke, long proclaimed impossible to acquire, somehow materialized immediately.

And they painted it red . . .

Ed. note: This story was derived from my own reasoning but apparently, real engineers think the same way.

Forward Euler

In your honor, Baraff and Witkin.

“One of our major problems is scalability. Exponential growth still works, so no matter how much simspace or compute you have, it all fills up pretty quickly.”

“How bad?”

“For quality-of-life reasons, we need to simulate physics at 10-1m (down to as small as 10-4m near simpersons). The teeming masses want to interact with the real world, meaning time must be simulated more-or-less 1:1 with reality. Now multiply those requirements over a km3 of simspace and think about those numbers a minute.”

“You cut corners?”

“Obviously. Δt is 25 ms, and the engines use forward-Euler numeric integration.”

“Hold up. FE doesn’t work. The numerics pump phantom energy into your reality. If a deer steps in a forest, that footstep gradually becomes a nuclear holocaust engulfing the universe. No bueno.”

“Well no shit. So we remove the pent-up numeric barf once every thirty seconds with artificial damping. That’s why there’s a little hiccup in the universe’s framerate twice a minute.”

“Don’t the customers complain?”


The Forest Town

Sometimes, you’re the cause of your own dystopias.

In the quiet, sylvan hills of California, a small town is untouched by the future.

The town’s single road still twists past the same businesses—the same mom-and-pop videocassette rental place that clings to life somehow, in this era of autostereoscopic displays and oct-HD encodings. The same dingy diner under new management, the same hotel with four rooms. In the evenings, a neon sign can be seen flickering in the café window, advertising fresh pastries, and the bistro beside it casts a golden light onto the row of parked cars, as working-class men and their wives celebrate a day’s work in measures of liquor.

Yes, a quiet town, separate from the future into which the rest of the world is racing so breathlessly. Sometimes, driving down one of the many ill-maintained byways, you’ll see a couple drinking lemonade on a faded porch, enjoying the cool summer breeze that blows from the west, the sun streaming through the dusty trees. The supermarket is staffed, and the checkout lady knows your name. To the south, a converted chapel is a museum, chronicling the good old days when men’s men harvested the great redwoods with makeshift hand tools, and floated the timber down the river to the bay.

We cling to our past, yet not because we are scared of the future per-se. We simply grew up in the past, and in some sense, we feel like we belong there. As Earth and the other planets race into the future, we take comfort in our collective childhoods, in our collective story, written indelibly into our most precious memories.

Can you remember the shaded brook, on whose banks we used to play? The park up the winding stairs, with the railing where you once clung after your first bee sting? Your friend’s house, where they had that party for Y2K? The autumn rain? The frostbitten, silver-lined leaves? Or the narrow dirt pathway, winding into the mountains, past the slope covered with dead grass that you used to ride down on sheets of cardboard? You remember cardboard, don’t you?

I do. And these things cannot be touched by the future, whatever it may hold.

I used to look down every time. I used to look down at that tiny spot, invisible from space, where I knew my home must be. And every time I imagined I caught a view through the trees—and then I was gone, pulled away, racing through the sky at speeds inconceivable, in a spacecraft’s desperate sprint against gravity. Part of that greedy future, I would fly ahead of that sleepy town in a single breath, relegating my imagined vision to the past.

But on the next orbit, I would see it again. And again. And every time it was like I was coming back home. That, even as I was part of the future, I kept returning, inexorably, like the clockwork universe, to that sylvan town under the stars.


Good health starts young.

A few years after the first crop of men (for their adventurous spunk) and women (for popular appeal, lower mass, and because they quite rightly insisted) began living together in space—really actually living in space—eventually nature took its ageless course.

As had been known from the earliest NASA and Soviet missions, everything “works” in space. But there’s a problem. On Earth, embryos develop under an effectively uniform acceleration, allowing them to develop such necessities as skeletons and brain tissue. The first (official) pregnancy in zero-gee ended in tears all around—and some rather graphic footnotes in ontogenic texts. But, lesson learned, fetuses need gravity.

That’s sortof a problem if you’re living in free-fall.

Under the circumstances, the nascent U.N. issued a surprisingly uncontroversial mandate barring more than one week of a pregnancy to be below 0.12g. This seemingly arbitrary cutoff allowed colonies on the larger moons to be sustained (but of course, citizens were encouraged to return to Earth for child-rearing). In those early years, no one really knew exactly how much gravity was required, although it seemed to fall in a range. Martian children seemed normal. Toddlers from Ganymede had trouble breathing.


Some people take the future too seriously.

“We’ve got another modder, ma’am.”

“Again? We shouldn’t have an ER. We should have a receiving bay for imbeciles.”

“I mean, it’s a simple idea, incrementally replacing your own body with mechanisms, one piece at a time, but it just doesn’t work. At least not yet. One of the surgeries always fails.”

“Obviously. It’s such a suicidal way to achieve immortality.”

Homo sapiens sapiens

Nothing to do with corn.

“Ladies, Lords.

Today, with the advent of cheaply available nanomutagens, we are seeing an explosion in human genetic alteration ranging from pre-natal to geriatric—and from targeted risk factor reduction to wholesale alteration of secondary sexual characteristics. The government does not possess any agency for regulating such operations, and the recent passage of court bill 2301AP-8903 legally binds it to inaction. I believe this is a failure on the part of this committee, inasmuch as we are obligated to also advise policy.

The problem is that legalization of all such genetic engineering doesn’t merely pass the burden of inevitable failures onto the expectant parents or individual requesting the treatment (as the legislature appears to have concluded); it also creates a sociogenetic debt.

True, we have overseen the almost complete eradication of the more common genetically linked susceptibilities—as well as single-gene genetic disorders proper, such as CF and TS in the last decade alone. In the case of the former, we can all agree that eliminating the most common ΔF508 mutation was a triumph of science and humanity.

But what about myopia? If present trends continue, genes for imperfect eyesight will be ruthlessly bred out until no human wears eyeglasses. Gone will be the bespectacled academic, the horn-rimmed librarian, the bookish teen. This correction of a genetic fault will thereby alter our culture.

People have preferences for hair, eye color, and so on. So far, diversity has been preserved only by the presence of differing racial and societal expectations of attractiveness. But already we see evidence of women crippled by their parents’ absurdly idealized notions of beauty, especially body weight, and men too Hellenistically sculpted to fit into standard space suits. We’re at an inflection point where an entire generation could be born blond if some hypothetical singer with sandy hair became sufficiently popular.”

TS [2301-05-22 13:28, 2301-05-22 13:33]


Who would you like to be?®

“Welcome back!”

“The hell?”

“Tsk. Language, Mr. Carter. I presume you can show yourself out. Have a safe trip.”

“Where the hell am I?”

“Oh my. One moment, please.” [pause] “50 simyears??? By the stars, you must be wealthy!”

“What’s going on?”

[sighs] “. . . you’d better come with me, Mr. Carter.”


“Your real name is Doug Carter. Your last (perceived) 50 years have been wholly simulated by our software, interacting with other customers as compatibility allows. It is unusual for customers to request more than a simulated week or so, but it seems you bought a whole lifetime.”

[shows signed contract with company logo]

“You’re about 24 real years older, because we use a 2:1 time scale with some scheduled maintenance. But for long-term clients, we use longevity boosters, so you’re only about 6 years older biologically. We block prior memories so that your simulated experience feels real (and for the safety of other participants), but customers usually regain their prior memories shortly after return.”

“Jeanette . . .”

“Hmm? Oh, that’s a name. Unusual. Oh, hmm, I see. It appears you had a child in simspace. That feature’s technically still in beta. How was the conception? Any tips for our dev team?”

“My daughter!”

“Oh, ah. Mr. Carter, so, your daughter doesn’t exist in reality. If you like, I can copy all her logs for you. You own all her IP. Her mother is sim too, so the same there.”

“But . . . !!!”

“Mr. Carter . . .”

“. . . how much for another fifty years?”

[representative smiles]


If you could see the notes they’re taking . . .

As time increases without bound, the probability of
existing within a simulated reality approaches unity.

There are exactly two possibilities: either we exist in a simulated reality, or we do not. If we’re simulated, this almost certainly evidences a creating group of entities in the enclosing universe with a reason for doing it.

At this point, you can speculate on motive. For example, maybe they’re doing a simulation: a group of cosmological grad students. (The idea of a “god” in the classic sense seems cretinous; what depraved being would build a toy universe and then have trite interactions inside of it for eternity?) But these lines of inquiry become dull rather quickly.

More interesting is to speculate on the existence of the parent universe itself. By applying the same logic recursively, we find that they’re probably simulated too. So you have us, inside a parent universe, inside a parent universe, inside, inside, and so on until you reach some root universe. It will always reach a root universe in a finite number of nested universes. (Why? Because by assumption, the probability of existing in a simulated reality only approaches unity. And even if we were to know we’re in a simulated universe, you toss the problem to the next one up, and so on until an assumption breaks. Anyway, you can’t have turtles all the way up.)

For example, let’s say that we think the probability of existing in a simulated reality is ps=0.93. Assuming this is constant for each universe (each universe likes simulating universes approximately the same as itself), we’d expect on average to be the 14th or 15th universe down. If it’s ps=0.5, on average we’re the first universe down.

What’s fascinating is that this implicitly involves a problem: we can’t define time very well. If you observe a universe right at the big bang and then live through until its end, your ps grows monotonically from 0 to 1 but the truth remains constant. What the original conceit really is saying is about time in the root universe. That, as time progresses, the number of recursively simulated beings collectively grows faster than the number of real-lifes. It’s a hyperexponential growth, too, since each simulated reality makes its own recursively simulated universes too.

This suggests something interesting: we can devise an a-priori experiment to see whether we’re in a simulated reality. See, this hyperexponential growth starts exactly when the root universe starts simulating things. The population growth in the root universe continues at an ordinary exponential rate, so the simulated universes very quickly outpopulate the real one.

This means that after the root universe develops universe simulation, your chances of being born in the real world drop abruptly, asymptotically, to zero.

In the absence of better data, we assume that any parent universes are like ours, since people are interested in creating applicable simulations. So:

  1. If we are simulating our own universes, then probably we are the child of a parent universe that is also simulating universes (one of which is us).
  2. If we’re not simulating universes, then we don’t have a parent universe, because that parent universe wouldn’t be simulating us either. So we wouldn’t exist (and yet clearly we do).

The intriguing thing is that the simpletons who authorize science funding get the implication backwards, reasoning that if we don’t invent universe simulation, then we’ll be living in real life (as if such post-hoc decisions could influence the very nature of reality). If this carries back up to the root universe, then no child universes will ever exist (which makes the fallacious chain of reasoning even more appealing).

Ed. note: this isn’t actually strictly fiction.

In Case of EMP . . .

Nostalgia costs mass.


Johnson broke the glass.

“The hell is this?”

“It’s a slide rule. And it’s going to save our asses.”

“Lotta fancy numbers. What’s it do?”

“It multiplies, divides, square roots, all the usual things ‘cept addition. This one does trig and exponents too. It’s more precise than your brain, but less so than a computer. That EMP means we don’t have a computer, though. Both backups are dead too.”

“Well, we had no way of knowing that that particular CME would hit us way out here at Jupiter. The chances of that must be pretty absurd.”

“Not really. Happens all the time. But our electrical shielding clearly wasn’t up to par, and this was a particularly big one. Right now, we’re dead fish in a very big sea. See if the emergency sparkgap is working. Tell Ganymede we’re scrubbing the mission—and we’ll use this thing to figure out how to burn for home.”

Ed. note: Idea from Atomic Rockets. I myself restored a K&E for work, and have another at home. They’re useful for one-off calculations that would be too slow to do in my head and too unimportant to boot a shell.

In Port

That’s a stiff one.

“Buy you a drink?”


“Ma’am, I’m trying to be considerate. It’s about your ship.”

“The Willow? What?”

“Thought so. Eh bartender!—A double algae on the rocks for the lady here.”

“What are you doing?”

“I think something bad is going to happen to the Willow. Just some talk I heard around the docks. Something about a defective neutron moderator.”

“Are you threatening me?”

“No. I’m offering a deal. I know these guys. Hold some sway. Might be able to convince—”

[leaving] “Disgusting. Keep your drink.”

Ed. note: we last saw Beth here.