Question: Dark Stuff

In recent questions:

What’s the status of dark matter/energy in the setting?

Munson sez: ‘There ain’t no such thing. Somebody just needs to correct their math, is all.’

The honest answer is “I haven’t established that yet”…

…but here’s some bullshit I just made up that should not be considered official canon:

If the in-‘verse theory of information physics (and its non-local hidden variable implications) is true, then the universe has a lot of metadata to keep track of. (Traditionally described as kept “Elsewhere”.) The more interesting interactions happen in any given location, the more metadata is generated.

Let us now handwave some sort of information-energy equivalence, or at least that information has its own effect on the space-time metric. (In honor of the original author who came up with this one, we can call it Pratchett’s L-Space Hypothesis.)

Conclusion: dark matter is actually all the universe’s metadata distorting space-time from its secret lair. It tends to halo around galaxies because that’s where all the interesting stuff happens.

(Let the weeping of the physicists now commence.)

((For those who don’t mind a particularly silly universe – and this one is definitely not canon – we could also postulate that dark energy, which has the opposite – universe-expanding – effect, is produced by ignorance; or, I suppose, technically, computational operations which could have happened but didn’t produce it as a byproduct. So study hard, folks, and keep thinking — or the universe will explode!))

Money, Money, Money

A longer-than-fits-in-the-margin response to a comment on the last post:

How do you make money, the symbol of exchange-value, properly match the actuality of exchange-value?

Have a fully backed currency (eg gold) and do really nasty things to anyone who so much as thinks of the possibility of maybe theoretically devaluing (read: cheating) it.

Not only no, but hell no.

What is a currency? Well, it’s a medium of exchange, a unit of account, and a store of value, each of which has its own requirements. To function as a reliable store of value requires, inter alia, that its value remain stable across time.

This has generally proven problematic for both fiat and commodity (i.e., including “backed”) currencies. But first, let’s look at what that definition actually means. A single unit of currency is nominally a quantum of exchange-value, representing 1/[money supply]th of total exchange-value. So what’s total exchange-value?

Answer: total exchange-value is the production of the entire economy denominated in that currency; all the goods and services which people are willing to trade for using it.

To be a reliable store of value implies that what yesterday’s unit exchanged for today’s unit will also exchange for, and that tomorrow’s unit will exchange for what today’s unit exchanges for. To make this happen, ceteris paribus, the money supply must precisely track total exchange-value.

(There are obvious complications in accounting for this, inasmuch as it should, for example, avoid changing the value of money due to secular expansion and contraction of the economy, but should not attempt to compensate for, for example, decreases in prices due to, say, increased resource availability or improvements in total factor productivity. Which is to say, you have to carefully separate authentic shifts in value from those which are merely caused by your own scarcity mismatching. But let us assume away these complications for now.)

This is problematic for fiat currencies partly because figuring out total exchange-value is a hard problem (we do it, for example, mostly by looking at long-term price changes after the fact and applying a bugger factor by eyeball), but mostly because governments find it very hard to resist the urge to screw around with monetary policy. And inflation is awfully convenient if you get to keep the seigniorage, since it essentially functions as a stealth asset tax.

Aurifer was built to solve the former problem; the latter one? Well, that one is hard unless you happen to have people who really, really love money to put in charge and prevent it from being debased.

This is really problematic for commodity currencies, though, because you can’t control the money supply at all. What you have is what you get, and the value of your currency wanders all over the map just like the price of every other commodity. As Robert Houghton mentioned in the previous post’s comments, the experience of the Spanish post-Mesoamerican conquest is instructive, as their gold-glut-driven hyperinflation is the perfect go-to example for “but though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy”.

Which is to say: properly-managed fiat (which isn’t really fiat at all, because it is backed by something, just something abstract – which is what really backs all currencies, in the end – but I digress) may not be the best game in town for a reliable store of value, it’s just the only game in town.

Electronic currencies can be messed with, and the only reason the Eldraeverse gets away with it is because the guys obsessed with things like the rule of law, property rights and such also just so happen to be the top dog.

Technically, the Empire gets away with it because they just so happen to have the aforementioned money-lovers and a friendly fiscal god, not to mention the real check-and-balance, a free market in currencies rather than a de jure or de facto state monopoly.

The rest of the Worlds may, and indeed does, vary.

(We shall avoid making jokes about the volatility of the one mercury-based currency out there, or the stability of those based on (radioactive) power metals.

But we shall take a moment to note that the ergcred goes into crisis with every new power-plant megastructure that comes on line, the Bantral labor-hour [back when the People’s State was a going concern] traded externally for rather less than Chthonic Railway tokens, the linobir bloodnote’s worth depends on which clan issued it and what they’ve killed recently – as is its physical makeup, more often than not – the gAu’s value is inversely proportional to distance from the Core Markets, and the Kameqan thal is worth EXACTLY WHAT LORD BLACKFALL SAYS IT IS.)

IRL, gold will probably do just fine if the population keeps growing to keep pace (roughly) with the amount of gold out there (don’t forget, hardly anything reacts with / corrodes it). The Eldraeverse is often just a tad more utopian however.

Though mind you, the energy cost of stripping a planet / solar system / whatever of all its gold is going to be pretty high, perhaps even to the point where it’s not cost-effective to do so. The highest figure I’ve seen for gold on Earth is ~2.5 million tonnes (the lower figures are under 10% of that however), discounting the estimated 20mt in ocean water (GLHF filtering all that though)… combine that with the likelihood of finding much gold in asteroids (probably low, assuming denser asteroids tend to form / hit planets earlier than lighter ones), and there may not be THAT much [insert rare metal here] available.

This turns out not to be the case.

The best estimates I’ve seen for mined gold through all human history is on the order of 180,000 tonnes, with the USGS estimating that there’s maybe 50,000 more to mine, with some awaiting discovery on top of that. Not counting currently unexploitable sources like ocean water or mining the planetary core.

Let’s look at one particular example right here in our solar system: 16 Psyche. That particular asteroid is a nickel-iron metallic (i.e., probably chunk of the core of a protoplanet), and as such is much higher grade ore for both iron and all the other metals amalgamated into it than anything that exists on Earth now, and probably ever. It’s also about 120 miles across.

The iron alone is worth about $10 quintillion, before we even start looking at the gold and other precious metals. Ain’t no population can fuck fast enough to keep pace with that.

(On one hand, I might be stacking the deck a little since 16 Psyche is by far the biggest metallic asteroid out there. On the other hand, it’s a quintillion-dollar motherlode of the kind of ore that makes smelters do the dance of joy that is sitting right there, right now, just waiting to ruin incautious commodity traders’ whole decade, and there’s no point in pretending it ain’t.)

tl;dr When I wrote that the Age of Space was accompanied by the price of gold dropping to around where the price of iron used to be, and the price of iron zeroed out, I wasn’t just pulling numbers out of my ass.

(In-‘verse, when they want to drive this point home to people from peripheral worlds, they take them to see Celestial Mechanics, ICC’s main gravity tractor. The one that uses about 10% of Earth’s entire historical gold production – or a little over twice the total US gold reserves – neatly divided into kiloton slugs, as ballast.

This is assuming they didn’t get the point when some scruffy free trader filled his hold with exotic native handicrafts in exchange for the spare set of trimming weights that’d been slopping around the ship’s locker since ever, for a cool 10,000% profit margin.)

Fully backed (and crypto-) currencies are also nice in that nobody has central control over them when it comes to policies like printing money. Oh sure, you could have built up a secret stash of gold/BTC/etc, but that’s not nearly as easy as typing a few numbers into a computer to create new money. Plus, someone might (a) realise this, and factor your secret stash into the market prices, (b) steal it, or (c) destroy it (insert Bond reference here ).

That same quality, though, makes them lousy stores of value, because without the ability to match the money supply to the total exchange-value, you end up with either inflation, or deflation, or worse, both. Cryp has its virtues in terms of fiscal stealth, and as an investment, but it sucks as currency, because it fails one of the major purposes of the stuff.

Finally, stuff like gold has the handy trait of working at much simpler tech levels, for want of a better phrase. If that Carrington Event fries an eldrae colony’s electronics and they’re out of touch for a year (I’m sure they have fancy solutions, but it’s the principle not the specifics I’m concerned with), gold will still work just fine.

The solution is called “use the coinage as coinage without verifying it for the moment”. It’s not like the Empire wasn’t using gold, etc., coinage for centuries before anyone invented practical electricity.

But they were also aware that what gave that currency its value wasn’t the metal, it was the little engraving saying “By Our Imperial Word, One Esteyn”. Now that’s a promise you can take to the bank.

But it turns out that creating a liminal hyperintelligence that indwells your currency such that it can regulate its own value from a fiscally omniscient perspective works modestly well

I’m just a bit dubious about how this might work across anything more than planetary distances. Surely lightspeed lag would cause problems if this currency is seeing a lot of use? “Fiscally omniscient” sounds iffy to me.

There is FTL communication available, note (see “tangle channels”), but the important thing to make this work is that the instance-syncing can keep up with the speed of economic transactions. Where there’s light-lag, Aurifer’s instances updating each other is slower, but so is transaction clearing, so it can still keep up.

Question: Useless Machines

Specialist290 asks:

So what do the eldrae make of the idea of “useless machines”?

The most famous example, of course, being the machine whose sole purpose, once turned on, is to turn itself back off. (Like so: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z86V_ICUCD4 )

Insert usual disclaimer about the reliability of capsule summaries of the opinions of over a trillion sophonts.

Well, for a start, they aren’t “useless machines”. Useless machines manifestly fail to work properly. These are “amusing mechanical follies”, like Rube Goldberg designs, which are… amusing. Also decorative.

(The ur-example of the class *there* is actually a Precursor artifact, nicknamed “The Uncrater”, a black-box widget whose sole function appears to be declining to be packaged up in the current local language, then quietly disintegrating any packaging material used to attempt to do so.

You’ll find it indexed under “Amusing Mechanical Follies”. Also under “Suspected Precursor Practical Jokes”, and “Seriously, Guys, What The Hell?”)

 

Question: What’s in a Name?

From Henry Quirk:

What was the inspiration for the Hariven (its design)?

…and…

In-universe (in Eldrae-speak): what does ‘Hariven’ mean?

On the former — no specific inspiration, I’m afraid to say. I just designed the smallest possible viable freighter for the setting, then went through it to strip out all the awesomeness, and then again to make sure that it could be repaired by the interstellar-era equivalent of a shade-tree mechanic with a lump hammer and a roll of duct tape.

On the latter – absolutely nothing, I’m afraid. (It’s not an Imperial design, after all. It’s the sort of design that has Imperially-acculturated celestime architects summoning their chaises longue with severe fits of the vapors. The closest it comes to that is that its drive is a hack of an open-sourced Nucleodyne Thrust Applications design.)

Instead, it’s named after its designer, one Sev Harik Venn, of the League of Meridian, who figured he was designing a kit Citroën 2CV for the Expansion Regions and that the lawsuits probably wouldn’t get back as far as him. In that, he proved to be exactly right, retiring in the 5100s with a large pile of cash, a string of mistresses, and an eventual death from extreme lipidification of both livers.

 

Random Stuff/Questions

Randomness: I’ve just rewatched Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Thus, for anyone who wasn’t around the first time it came up, this is your reminder that wuxia is a good model for what classical melee combat looks like in the ‘verse – only glowier, since space magic, unlike qi, has that as a side effect.

(It only gets crazier when done in microgravity.)


Question: how much are the Imperial Couple permanently vastened by on their coronation; and why?

In the modern day, quite a lot. Coronation comes with a semi-Fusion with the Imperial Presence, which is one of the Transcend’s archai, in addition to serving as a repository for the memories – or, in the earliest cases, the eidolons – of all their predecessors.

(The same thing applies to the various Ministers of the Throne, although on a more temporary basis, who have a synnoetic relationship with the appropriate member of the Ennead, the nine archai which correspond roughly to the Ministries – the Comptroller, the Warmind, the Signet, et. al.. A busy meeting of the Stellar Council can burn through a lot of cycles.)

Why? Well, who can afford a competence gap?


More Randomness: This story; which can be summed up as “Ontario initiates basic income pilot program; people make decisions based on program as it was explained to them; new government cancels program abruptly; people whose decisions were retroactively made bad are really, really pissed at being stabbed in the back”.

Makes an excellent case study for EX0487: Exosophontology of Mass Coercion, I deem. Probably in that subsection titled “Democracies: Naturally Treacherous or Just Incompetent?” (See, this is why we think social contracts, being all implicit and unilaterally modifiable, are what is technically known as “bullshit”. Actual contracts, now those are something you can build a society on.)


Question: In lieu of my previous question: What does the local culture make of the idea of what TVTropes calls the “Humongous Mecha“?

Mostly, that it’s a damn silly idea. Let’s take what could be a perfectly respectable armored vehicle, then give it a huge target profile, a statically unstable single-point-of-failure (in the sense of “shoot it in the ankle, it falls over”) locomotion system and probable ground pressure issues, then strip off some of the ranged weaponry and replace it with melee-range kit.

Then let’s throw the designer out the airlock for thinking any of that was a good idea.

Whatever coolness factor it may have is entirely overwhelmed by the audience’s awareness of just how many Idiot Balls the responsible parties were holding. They may have a certain intimidation factor going for them, but there’s already plenty of that available, and if you need to turn it up to eleven, there’s always the Fight In The Shade maneuver.

(Walkers, they have, for handling certain types of terrain, but they’re sensible low-slung spidery-legged types.)


Randomness: Marines 3D-print a barracks. The world gets a little more like Starcraft every day.

But we have not yet gone full ‘verse until they can print a version with a bioprinter inside that goes on to 3D print Marines


Question: On the subject of pronouns (and particularly Japanese pronoun equivalents): Does eldraeic have any that would fill the role of kisama ( 貴様 ) or onore ( 己 ), for those moments when you really need to call someone out?

It’s not a pronoun, but it is an affix that can be attached to a pronoun. Or anything else, of course.

(And it’s not defined yet, so I can’t quote it for you.)


More coming, but let’s go with this for now…

 

Notice to Querents

Okay. I regret having to do this, because by and large I enjoy engaging with my readers and satisfying their curiosity, but —

I am, as of now, declaring a complete, conclusive, and perpetual moratorium on all “gotcha” questions. (I am not providing a definition, because definitions can be gamed; if you think it’s one, it probably is.) This is because endless nitpicking of edge cases in legal, ethical, and social systems are – whether or not it’s intentional – turning my openness into an Internet comments section on a political web site, and are about as enjoyable to engage with as an Internet comments section on a political web site. This is, obviously, rather toxic to my creativity, mood, and digestion, even leaving aside that most readers, I believe, would rather that I wrote new stuff rather than reciting Space Libertarianism 101.

Other questions – even on legal and ethical issues – continue to be welcome, but you may feel free to assume that in this particular area, if an outcome seems Obviously Bloody Stupid, that it doesn’t work that way in the absence of citeable canon evidence that it does without needing me to explain to you exactly how.

That is all, and this change in policy is not up for debate.

 

Next Question Batch

So today I was catching up on another work I’ve been following on another site, and one of the chapters reminded me of some of the discussions we (all, collectively) have had about the UBI / Citizen’s Dividend here.

(Click through to read and scroll down to the bit starting “Welcome, XIAOTING, LI.”.)

What would the eldrae think of the ethics of implementing a UBI “with strings attached” as portrayed in that excerpt there?

In their own context, that’s unconstitutional at least twice over. (Since I’ve published the Charter on here, determining exactly which ways are left as an exercise for the reader.)

In other people’s context? Well, what position do you think the self-designated Freest of the Free have on jerking people around with conditioned promises?

(Or, for that matter, calling something Universal when it patently isn’t? If you want to bribe people into good behavior – or even listening to your homilies on good behavior – hire and pay ’em. Don’t try and dress up bullshit as beefsteak.)

While reviewing some of our older discussions, I re-read this line from a still older post:

>What possible use is there for a [nuclear] bomb that completely obliterates the economic value of whatever you’re fighting over?

Which prompted the idle thought: What would the Imperial military think of a military from another culture (like, say, *here*) where “countervalue” ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Countervalue ) is considered an acceptable strategy, and is explicitly so named?

To remind the groundlings, that was one person’s comment at the time that the nucleonic device was invented (“for purely peaceful purposes”).

It may also be useful at this point to summarize the general position of the Imperial Military Service on such things, which amounts to:

“Even at their best, countervalue strikes are ungentlesophly, and have no place in civilized warfare.

(pause)

“Regrettably, however, we aren’t always fighting civilized wars with gentlesophs – indeed, if anything, zakhrehain are now in the majority – which poses something of a problem. There are plenty of idiot savages out there with rulers willing to accept military losses as the cost of doing business, especially where asymmetrism and the like are concerned, and in many of those cases, zorching a city may be necessary to remind them that there are unacceptable losses; the kiloton-of-prevention-is-worth-a-gigaton-of-cure approach. Fortunately, most of these rulers have a populace of foamy-brained fanatics backing them, so at least most of your collateral budget won’t be what you might call strictly innocent.

“And then there’s seredhain, of course.”

So, while to a certain degree it’s in how you use it, you may expect them, as a rule of thumb, to be unimpressed with anyone who prefers countervalue as a strategy.

Does the Empire maintain any “class 5” biohazard facilities i.e., biohazards capable of intelligently working to escape?

Don’t they call those “prisons”? 🙂

The safest way to contain those sorts of things, of course, is to rip a mind-state and genetic reconstruction profile, then split them into one-third XORs and file them at three of the Aeon Pit facilities. Where that’s not possible… well, there are certain facilities located out in the deep black, where frozen-down entities are kept strapped to antimatter charges. Or that’s what I’ve heard. Speculation, y’know.

…or there’s always the Eft Sédir Containment Facility, out at Eye of Night. You can’t beat a gravity prison over a black hole for security – if anyone looks to be escaping, just cut the skyhook, and it’s a one-way trip to oblivion.

(Freight Containers)

What’s the mass of these containers when empty?

Do they have a standard loading mass? What about stacking height under standard gravity / thrust? A big part of the containers here is that they’re rated for stacking and you need to load them at less than labeled gross mass.

A regular 4B08 masses around 1,800 kg empty; loads 31,400 kg net. As for stacking height – you can stack them up to twelve high under standard gravity, as a rule of thumb, but gravity of course varies and thrust varies even more.

(Of course, if you have a vector-control core to evenly spread change in momentum out across your entire starship, the containers don’t feel relative acceleration and you can stack them as “high” as you want, so long as the mass will hold together under non-thrust stresses and you don’t mass-out or bulk-out the ship in the process.)

What’s the Eldrae radiation safety limit structure look like. I’m guessing that they’ve got more biological tolerance than humans due to environment and immortality, also pretty sure that they didn’t get sidetracked into believing the linear-no-threshold model. Much of our reactor design (especially in the later designs) is predicated on minimizing radiation exposure at all costs. If you can tolerate coal-plant-in-Denver levels of radiation exposure without batting an eye it makes much of the containment design easier.

It’s complicated, as you might imagine, because of various interacting factors, which don’t necessarily affect all types of radiation in the same way. I haven’t computed it in detail yet, but my rough rule of thumb is that at the low end of the curve, you can double, as a guesstimate, the acute and chronic exposure dose for a given effect, and end up in roughly the right ballpark. It doesn’t hold as well at the high end.

Where things get particularly complex is with an immune and self-repair system built for immortality, and it’s effects on say, cancer, or as it’s known there, the small rot. Effectively, if it hasn’t suffered a huge insult, that immune system will pretty much shrug off even minor tumors, or even larger ones if the main body is cut out; only chronic exposure that drives them metastatic (the wandering rot) is likely to actually kill you.

So there aren’t lifetime limits because you can’t damage yourself permanently with chronic low exposure; just exposure-per-time limits to ensure that you don’t push your body beyond the point at which it can no longer repair itself.

(As for all the various names attached to the small rot? Well, those are because a lot of people had, before there were proper measuring devices available, the habit of pushing themselves until the first symptoms of blue-blotch fever (named for the easy bruising that’s often an early sign of chronic radiation syndrome) appeared, then taking a lengthy sabbatical to recover away from nucleonic furnaces and the like, then going back to do it again… and again… and again…)