gravity well

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pages: 279 words: 75,527

Collider by Paul Halpern


Albert Einstein, Albert Michelson, anthropic principle, cosmic microwave background, cosmological constant, dark matter, Ernest Rutherford, Gary Taubes, gravity well, horn antenna, index card, Isaac Newton, Magellanic Cloud, pattern recognition, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Ronald Reagan, Solar eclipse in 1919, statistical model, Stephen Hawking

The image of such an astronomical object stealthily entering a theater, absorbing all of the patrons, enlarging itself, and moving on to another venue might not be all that far from the popular stereotype. Several black hole properties bring blobs to mind. If a black hole is near an active star, for instance as a binary system, it can gradually acquire matter from the star, due to its mutual gravitational attraction, and become more massive over time. Nothing is mysterious or unusual about this process except that black holes form particularly steep gravitational wells. Astronomers observe this accumulation of material through images of the radiation emitted as it falls inward toward the black hole. The physics of black holes derives from Einstein’s general theory of relativity. In 1915, with the ink on Einstein’s gravitational theory barely dry, German physicist Karl Schwarzschild, while serving on the Russian front in the First World War, discovered an exact solution.

If the LHC represented a danger, perhaps, as in the case of Gregory Benford’s novel Timescape (1980), scientists from the future would relay messages back in time to warn us. Or maybe, as in John Cramer’s novel Einstein’s Bridge (1997), they would try to change history and prevent the LHC from being completed. A traversable wormhole is a solution of Einstein’s equations of general relativity that connects two different parts of space-time. Like black holes, wormholes are formed when matter distorts the fabric of the universe enough to create a deep gravitational well. However, because of a hypothetical extra ingredient called phantom matter (or exotic matter) with negative mass and negative energy, wormholes respond differently to intruders. While matter dropping into a black hole would be crushed, the phantom matter in a traversable wormhole would prop it open and allow passage through a kind of a space-time “throat” to another cosmic region. The difference would be a bit like attempting passage through a garbage disposal versus through an open pipe.

pages: 360 words: 110,929

Saturn's Children by Stross, Charles


augmented reality, British Empire, business process, gravity well, indoor plumbing, invisible hand, Isaac Newton, Kuiper Belt, loose coupling, phenotype, Pluto: dwarf planet, Plutocrats, plutocrats, theory of mind

Mercury to Mars was boring in the extreme (except when punctuated by moments of mortal terror), but at least I had the creature comforts of an aristo-class berth and a pair of surly servants. But now I am embarking on a voyage into the outer system aboard the Indefatigable, and it makes all that has gone before seem like the lap of luxury. Our archipelagic economy obeys certain fixed rules, according to Jeeves. The inner system is rich in energy and heavy elements, with short travel time but middling-deep gravity wells. The moons of the outer-system gas giants are replete with light elements and shallower gravity wells, but their primaries are far apart. Finally, the Forbidden Cities scattered through the Kuiper Belt’s dwarf planets are loosely bound—and very far apart. Consequently, Mercury exports solar energy via microwave beam, hundreds and thousands of terawatts of the stuff, and uranium and processed metals via slow-moving cycler ship and magsail. Venus exports rare earth metals—albeit in smaller quantities, at greater cost—while Mars contributes iron, carbon dioxide, and other materials.

“Ungood,” he says mildly. “Do you have the money to pay for off-world passage?” I take another mouthful. “Now that’s the problem. Living here has been more expensive than I expected. I don’t want to hit on my sisters unless . . . well. Emergencies only. And while I’ve been saving, at this rate It’ll take me another six years to raise steerage back to Luna.” Two hundred Reals, minimum—the Venusian gravity well is expensive to escape. “I was hoping you might know someone?” “I might.” He plays a brief chord progression. “Can you make yourself scarce for a few hours?” I drain the pitcher and feel the weight in my digestive tract. “How many do you need?” “Make it three: I have to make inquiries.” He takes my empty pitcher and lobs it across the bar, straight into Milton’s third hand. “I’m going to miss you, girl.”

I can repair a handful of faults myself, but right now I’m down about 4 percent below normal—which will take time to fix—and if I let it slide below 10 percent I’ll have to look for medical help. (And won’t that be fun, with my depleted savings?) So. A hotel it is. I don’t ask for much—privacy, a door I can lock, molten water on tap, pressure, and oxygen. But swift-footed Mercury is at the bottom of a very deep gravity well, eleven kilometers per second below even rosy-cheeked Venus, and not many people come to visit. Those who do are evidently rich, or they’re indentured miners, and there’s barely anything between the swank and swag of the Cinnabar Paris and an unpressurized bag hanging from the underside of a conveyor feedline. In the end I check my schedule and discover that the gap between my arrival and the departure time Ichiban mentioned is only about six days (Earth, not local), so I bite the numb patch that’s appeared on my lower lip and go wheedle my way into the cheapest the Paris has to offer.

pages: 489 words: 148,885

Accelerando by Stross, Charles


call centre, carbon-based life, cellular automata, cognitive dissonance, commoditize, Conway's Game of Life, dark matter, dumpster diving, Extropian, finite state, Flynn Effect, glass ceiling, gravity well, John von Neumann, knapsack problem, Kuiper Belt, Magellanic Cloud, mandelbrot fractal, market bubble, means of production, packet switching, performance metric, phenotype, planetary scale, Pluto: dwarf planet, reversible computing, Richard Stallman, SETI@home, Silicon Valley, Singularitarianism, slashdot, South China Sea, stem cell, technological singularity, telepresence, The Chicago School, theory of mind, Turing complete, Turing machine, Turing test, upwardly mobile, Vernor Vinge, Von Neumann architecture, web of trust, Y2K, zero-sum game

It's happened before, for seconds to minutes at a time, on six occasions during the voyage so far. She's not sure what causes the beam downtime (Pierre has a theory about Oort cloud objects occulting the laser, but she figures it's more likely to be power cuts back at the Ring), but the consequences of losing power while maneuvering deep in a quasi-stellar gravity well are much more serious than a transient loss of thrust during free interstellar flight. "Let's just play it safe," she says. "We'll go for a straight orbital insertion and steady cranking after that. We've got enough gravity wells to play pinball with. I don't want us on a free-flight trajectory that entails lithobraking if we lose power and can't get the sail back." "Very prudent," Boris agrees. "Marta, work on it." A buzzing presence of not-insects indicates that the heteromorphic helmswoman is on the job.

Ivan the extreme concrete geek has an arm round her shoulders, and she leans against him; he raises his glass, too. "Lots more launchpads to rubberize!" "To NASA," Bob echoes. They drink. "Hey, Manfred. To NASA?" "NASA are idiots. They want to send canned primates to Mars!" Manfred swallows a mouthful of beer, aggressively plonks his glass on the table: "Mars is just dumb mass at the bottom of a gravity well; there isn't even a biosphere there. They should be working on uploading and solving the nanoassembly conformational problem instead. Then we could turn all the available dumb matter into computronium and use it for processing our thoughts. Long-term, it's the only way to go. The solar system is a dead loss right now – dumb all over! Just measure the MIPS per milligram. If it isn't thinking, it isn't working.

Greenpeace has sent squatters to occupy Eros and Juno, but the average asteroid is now surrounded by a reef of specialized nanomachinery and debris, victims of a cosmic land grab unmatched since the days of the wild west. The best brains flourish in free fall, minds surrounded by a sapient aether of extensions that out-think their meaty cortices by many orders of magnitude – minds like Amber, Queen of the Inner Ring Imperium, the first self-extending power center in Jupiter orbit. Down at the bottom of the terrestrial gravity well, there has been a major economic catastrophe. Cheap immortagens, out-of-control personality adjuvants, and a new formal theory of uncertainty have knocked the bottom out of the insurance and underwriting industries. Gambling on a continuation of the worst aspects of the human condition – disease, senescence, and death – looks like a good way to lose money, and a deflationary spiral lasting almost fifty hours has taken down huge swaths of the global stock market.

pages: 648 words: 170,770

Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey


gravity well, Kuiper Belt, pattern recognition

And let Ceres know we’re going to be late. Holden, where does the Knight stand?” “No flying in atmosphere until we get some parts, but she’ll do fine for fifty thousand klicks in vacuum.” “You’re sure of that?” “Naomi said it. That makes it true.” McDowell rose, unfolding to almost two and a quarter meters and thinner than a teenager back on Earth. Between his age and never having lived in a gravity well, the coming burn was likely to be hell on the old man. Holden felt a pang of sympathy that he would never embarrass McDowell by expressing. “Here’s the thing, Jim,” McDowell said, his voice quiet enough that only Holden could hear him. “We’re required to stop and make an attempt, but we don’t have to go out of our way, if you see what I mean.” “We’ll already have stopped,” Holden said, and McDowell patted at the air with his wide, spidery hands.

An advance by the Outer Planets Alliance was the constant bogeyman of Ceres security. Living in the tradition of Al Capone and Hamas, the IRA and the Red Martials, the OPA was beloved by the people it helped and feared by the ones who got in its way. Part social movement, part wannabe nation, and part terrorist network, it totally lacked an institutional conscience. Captain Shaddid might not like Havelock because he was from down a gravity well, but she’d work with him. The OPA would have put him in an airlock. People like Miller would only rate getting a bullet in the skull, and a nice plastic one at that. Nothing that might get shrapnel in the ductwork. “I don’t think so,” he said. “It doesn’t smell like a war. It’s… Honestly, sir, I don’t know what the hell it is. The numbers are great. Protection’s down, unlicensed gambling’s down.

If the crowd was watching them face each other down, they weren’t breaking things. It wasn’t spreading. Not yet. “So. Friend. You only kick helpless people to death, or can anybody join in?” Miller asked, his voice conversational but echoing out of the dock speakers like a pronouncement from God. “The fuck you barking, Earth dog?” Shirtless said. “Earth?” Miller said, chuckling. “I look like I grew up in a gravity well to you? I was born on this rock.” “Inners kibble you, bitch,” Shirtless said. “You they dog.” “You think?” “Fuckin’ dui,” Shirtless said. Fucking true. He flexed his pectorals. Miller suppressed the urge to laugh. “So killing that poor bastard was for the good of the station?” Miller said. “The good of the Belt? Don’t be a chump, kid. They’re playing you. They want you to act like a bunch of stupid riotboys so they have a reason to shut this place down.”

pages: 315 words: 92,151

Ten Billion Tomorrows: How Science Fiction Technology Became Reality and Shapes the Future by Brian Clegg

Albert Einstein, anthropic principle, Brownian motion, call centre, Carrington event, combinatorial explosion, don't be evil, Ernest Rutherford, experimental subject, game design, gravity well, hive mind, invisible hand, Isaac Newton, John von Neumann, Kickstarter, nuclear winter, pattern recognition, RAND corporation, Ray Kurzweil, RFID, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Schrödinger's Cat, silicon-based life, speech recognition, stem cell, Stephen Hawking, Steve Jobs, Turing test, V2 rocket

Such devices, sometimes called von Neumann probes after the mathematician John von Neumann who worked on the concept, do also have a practical problem that to make an easily replicable device mechanically would require it to be simple—and yet the task it has to perform, refining ores, producing complex machinery and electronics, is very complex. We simply couldn’t build a device that could replicate itself from raw materials like this at all, let alone one that then had the ability to power itself out of the Earth’s gravity well and navigate between the stars. It may well never be possible. The final option for consideration is that aliens know that we’re here, but don’t want us to be aware of their existence. Perhaps they have cloaking technology (see here) to be able to move among us unseen. Perhaps they have some kind of noninterference directive as in Star Trek (though that never seemed to stop Captain Kirk getting involved) or they might simply regard us as too unpleasant or inferior to bother to mix with.

Unlike a rocket, which continues to be powered until its fuel runs out or it is switched off, a cannon can only impart momentum to the payload while that projectile is within the barrel. As soon as the shell emerges, the only forces acting on it are the Earth’s gravity and air resistance, both of them slowing the projectile down. So the shell has to be moving sufficiently quickly to get away from the Earth’s gravity well, requiring a speed of around 11.2 kilometers per second (7 miles per second). This need for speed means that the vessel has to endure a huge amount of acceleration in the brief time it is in the barrel and is being pushed forward by the expanding gases of the propellant. The shorter the barrel, the faster the required acceleration. Even if Columbiad had been 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) long—40 times bigger than Verne’s actual creation—the acceleration that the astronauts would suffer would be around 600 g—600 times the force of gravity on the Earth.

They’re clearly more confident in their life-support systems in the movie as well, as these astronauts wear boiler suits instead of the space suits with helmets used for the real mission. It’s surprising, given the experts involved, that there are a couple of major technical issues with the spaceship in Destination Moon. Most obvious is that stylized 1950s shape, so familiar from the covers of science fiction magazines of the period. There are no stages, something that is essential in a rocket leaving the Earth, as the sheer amount of fuel needed to get out of the Earth’s gravity well requires huge tanks, which are themselves very heavy—dropping stages was known to be an important essential for constructing a true space rocket from the 1920s, and it’s surprising Oberth didn’t pick up on this as he had in the earlier movie. Presumably he was overridden by the art department. The whole ship also lands on its tail on the Moon—both a difficult task and requiring a wastefully large amount of fuel.

pages: 586 words: 167,497

Abaddon's Gate by James S. A. Corey


gravity well

It was no more a martial art than a crocodile taking down a water buffalo was; just speed, strength, and a couple billion years of survival instinct unleashed. Her tai chi instructor would have looked away in embarrassment. The bodybuilder sloped down to the floor, blood pouring from his mouth. The insect-eyed man pulled away from her, which was the wrong thing to do. She hugged his locked joints close to her body and swung from her hips. He was bigger than she was, had lived in the gravity well all his life. He buffed up with steroids and his own cheap augmentations. She didn’t need to be stronger than him, though. Just stronger than the little bones in his wrist and elbow. He broke, dropping to his knee. Melba—not Clarissa—swung around him, sliding her right arm around his neck, then locking it with the left, protecting her own head from the thrashing that was about to come. She didn’t need to be stronger than him, just stronger than the soft arteries that carried blood to his brain.

Holden cleared his throat. “Welcome aboard,” he said. Chapter Seven: Melba I f the Earth-Mars alliance hadn’t collapsed, if there hadn’t been a war—or two wars depending on how the line between battles was marked—civilian ships like the Cerisier would have had no place in the great convoy. The ships lost at Ganymede and in the Belt, the skirmishes to control those asteroids best placed to push down a gravity well. Hundreds of ships had been lost, from massive engines of war like the Donnager, the Agatha King, and the Hyperion to countless small three- and four-person support ships. Nor, Melba knew, were those the only scars. Phobos with its listening station had become a thin, nearly invisible ring around Mars. Eros was gone. Phoebe had been subjected to a sustained nuclear hell and pushed into Saturn.

When she was done, everything Holden had touched would be tainted by association, including the destruction of her family. Her father. Somewhere deep in the structure of the Cerisier, one of the navigators started a minor correction burn and gravity shifted a half a degree. The couch moved under her, and she tried not to notice it. She preferred the times when she could pretend that she was in a gravity well to the little reminders that she was the puppet of acceleration and inertia. Her hand terminal chimed once, announcing the arrival of a message. To anyone who didn’t look carefully, it would seem like just another advertisement. An investment opportunity she would be a fool to ignore with a video presentation attached that would seem like corrupted data to anyone who didn’t have the decryption key.

pages: 488 words: 148,340

Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson


back-to-the-land, cognitive bias, cognitive dissonance, dark matter, epigenetics, gravity well, mandelbrot fractal, microbiome, traveling salesman, Turing test

The Coriolis effect of the ship’s rotation would be uninflected again. This was probably irrelevant to Freya’s feelings of weightedness. They had to prepare several ferries in their landing fleet, and move them from storage to the launch bays. They were going to descend to their new home in little landers they called ferries, small enough that they would be able to accelerate them back up out of the moon’s gravity well, to return to the ship when they needed to. The idea was that first they would send down the designated suite of robot landers, full of useful equipment; then the first ferries containing humans would go down and land by the robotic landers. These were now targeted for Aurora’s biggest island. They would check to see that the robotic facilities had properly begun to gather the oxygen, nitrogen, and other volatiles that would, among other things, allow the ferries to refuel and blast off the surface back to the ship.

Food also was a factor; if too many people came down, they could neither grow enough food on Aurora, nor keep growing it on the ship to send down to Aurora, having to an extent abandoned the farms on the ship. Without a careful transition they could inadvertently create food shortages in both places. And they didn’t have the means to get people back up to the ship very quickly. Return was not easy; Aurora’s gravity well and atmosphere meant their spiral launch tube assembly, now built and working well, could only launch so many ferries, as they had to split water and distill the fuels, and also smelt and print the ablation plates for them to deal with the rapid launch up through the atmosphere. Return to the ship was a choke point in the process of settlement, there was no doubt of that. It had not been planned for.

It was tidally locked to F, and rotated around F in almost exactly twenty days, so it was not much different from Aurora and E in that regard. It was a rocky moon, and completely dry except for a little comet-impact water ice. Up until now it had been presumed to be lifeless, being almost free of water. But the experience on Aurora had made them more uncertain in judging this matter. Some people pointed out that meteorites had to have been ejected from Aurora by asteroid impacts, and some of them cast up the gravity well to land on F’s Moon 2. That such rocks could have successfully transferred the Auroran life-forms, given the lack of water and air on F’s moon, seemed unlikely, but it could not be entirely ruled out. Life was tenacious, and the pathogen on Aurora was still not understood. Even naming it was a problem, as some called it the cryptoendolith, others the fast prion, others the pathogen, and others simply the bugs, or the thing, or the stuff, or the alien, or the whatever.

pages: 337 words: 93,245

Diaspora by Greg Egan


conceptual framework, cosmic abundance, cosmic microwave background, Fermat's Last Theorem, gravity well, Jacquard loom, Jacquard loom, stem cell, telepresence, telepresence robot, Turing machine

Though neutron stars were far too small to be observed directly about twenty kilometers wide, at most-they packed the magnetic and gravitational fields of a full-sized star into that tiny volume, and the effects on any surrounding matter could be spectacular. Most were discovered as pulsars, their spinning magnetic fields creating a rotating beam of radio waves by dragging charged particles around in circles at close to lightspeed, or as X-ray sources, siphoning material from a gas cloud or a normal companion star and heating it millions of degrees by compression and shock waves on its way down their tight, steep gravity well. Lac G-1 was billions of years old, though; any local reservoir of gas or dust which might have been used to make X-rays was long gone, and any radio emissions had either grown too weak to detect, or were being beamed in unfavorable directions. So the system was quiet across the electromagnetic spectrum, and it was only the gravitational radiation from the dead stars' slowly decaying orbit that betrayed their existence.

Although Orlando was determined to be part of the expedition, he seemed daunted by the prospect of confronting the exotic reality that the new C-Z clone would inhabit. Paolo surveyed the hall. Less than a hundred citizens had decided to be cloned, but half the polis had been through the Exhibition. It was almost deserted now, though, and the angle of the light, cued to the number of visitors, gave an impression of late afternoon. They approached the first exhibit, a comparison of gravity wells in three and five dimensions. The gridded surfaces of two circular tables had been made magically 300 DIASPORA 301 elastic in such a way that placing small spherical weights on them produced funnel-shaped indentations, with the effects of the gradient in each case mimicking the gravitational force around a star or planet in the different universes. The force diminished with distance as if it was being spread out over, respectively, an ever larger two-dimensional surface, producing an inverse-square law, or a four-dimensional hypersurface, yielding a visibly steeper inverse-fourth-power effect.

It rolled hack and forth in the trench, cradled and confined by this hollow in the energy surface, the extremes of its elliptical orbit now revealed as nothing more than the farthest points it could reach as it tried to climb either the central spike or the gentler slope of the outer wall. When the ride stopped, the exhibit offered them three chances to flick a particle into orbit around the second gravity well. Orlando accepted. The first two particles he launched spiraled down to a collision, and the third went skidding off the rim of the table. He muttered something about wishing he was deaf, dumb, and blind. The exhibit transformed the surface to show the effect of centrifugal force. The inverse-fourth-power attraction of gravity was stronger than inverse-cube repulsion near the center, so even when the reference frame began to spin, the well remained a well.

pages: 576 words: 174,529

Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks


gravity well, means of production, place-making

He found it at last, disguised as part of the left forearm casing, a small plasma hand gun. He felt like shooting it at something, but there was nothing to aim at. He put it back. He folded his arms across his bulky chest and looked around. Stars were everywhere. He had no idea which one was Sorpen’s. So the Culture ships could hide in the photospheres of stars, could they? And a Mind—even if it was desperate and on the run—could jump through the bottom of a gravity well, could it? Maybe the Idirans would have a tougher job than they expected. They were the natural warriors, they had the experience and the guts, and their whole society was geared for continual conflict. But the Culture, that seemingly disunited, anarchic, hedonistic, decadent mélange of more or less human species, forever hiving off or absorbing different groups of people, had fought for almost four years without showing any sign of giving up or even coming to a compromise.

Just before the Clear Air Turbulence went back into warp and its crew sat down at table, the ship expelled the limp corpse of Zallin. Where it had found a live man in a suit, it left a dead youth in shorts and a tattered shirt, tumbling and freezing while a thin shell of air molecules expanded around the body, like an image of departing life. 4 Temple of Light The Clear Air Turbulence swung through the shadow of a moon, past a barren, cratered surface—its track dimpling as it skirted the top edge of a gravity well—and then down toward a cloudy, bluegreen planet. Almost as soon as it passed the moon its course started to curve, gradually pointing the craft’s nose away from the planet and back into space. Halfway through that curve the CAT released its shuttle, slinging it toward one hazy horizon of the globe, at the trailing edge of the darkness which swept over the planet surface like a black cloak. Horza sat in the shuttle with most of the rest of the CAT ’s motley crew.

The ship was about a hundred meters long, twenty across the beam and fifteen high, plus—on top of the rear hull—a ten-meter-high tail. On either side of the hull the warp units bulged, like small versions of the hull itself, and connected to it by stubby wings in the middle and thin flying pylons swept back from just behind the craft’s nose. The CAT was streamlined, and fitted with sprinter fusion motors in the tail, as well as a small lift engine in the nose, for working in atmospheres and gravity wells. Horza thought its accommodation left a lot to be desired. He had been given Zallin’s old bunk, sharing a two-meter cube—euphemistically termed a cabin—with Wubslin, who was the mechanic on the ship. He called himself the engineer; but after a few minutes’ talk trying to pump him for technical stuff on the CAT, Horza realized that the thickset white-skinned man knew little about the craft’s more complex systems.

pages: 660 words: 213,945

Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson


Colonization of Mars, double helix, gravity well, Menlo Park, mutually assured destruction, Ralph Waldo Emerson

Phobos: people at the dining table next to him talked of shoving it up into a braided orbit with Deimos. It was out of the loop now, a new Azores, nothing but an inconvenience to the cable. And Phyllis had argued all along that Mars itself would have suffered the same fate in the solar system at large, unless the elevator were built to climb its gravity well; they would have been bypassed by miners going to the metal-rich asteroids, which had no gravity wells to contend with. And then there were the moons of Jupiter, Saturn, the outer planets. . . . But there was no danger of that now. • • • On the fifth day they approached Clarke and slowed down. It had been an asteroid about two kilometers across, a carbonaceous hunk now shaped to a cube, with every centimeter of its Mars-facing surface graded and covered with concrete, steel, or glass.

Everything is moving already. But to get something from the (moving) surface of the Earth into orbit around it, requires a minimum v of ten kilometers per second; to leave Earth’s orbit and fly to Mars requires a minimum v of 3.6 kilometers per second; and to orbit Mars and land on it requires a v of about one kilometer per second. The hardest part is leaving Earth behind, for that is by far the deepest gravity well involved. Climbing up that steep curve of spacetime takes tremendous force, shifting the direction of an enormous inertia.History too has an inertia. In the four dimensions of spacetime, particles (or events) have directionality; mathematicians, trying to show this, draw what they call “world lines” on graphs. In human affairs, individual world lines form a thick tangle, curling out of the darkness of prehistory and stretching through time: a cable the size of Earth itself, spiraling round the sun on a long curved course.

Security was supposed to be entirely their purview, and they gave out approval for private security pretty routinely; but a hundred people? John instructed Pauline to look into the UNOMA dispatches on the subject, and left for dinner with the Afrikaaners. Again the space elevator was declared a necessity. “They’ll just pass us by if we don’t have it, go straight out to the asteroids and not have any gravity well to worry about, eh?” Despite the five hundred micrograms of omegendorph in his system, John was not in a happy mood. “Tell me,” he said at one point, “do any women work here?” They stared at him like fish. They were even worse than Moslems, really. He left the next day and drove up to Pavonis, intent on looking into the space elevator notion. • • • Up the long slope of Tharsis. He never saw the steep, blood-colored cone of Ascraeus Mons; it was lost in the dust along with everything else.

pages: 414 words: 105,153

Ringworld by Larry Niven


dark matter, gravity well, Mercator projection, supervolcano

Why shouldn’t it take two males and a nonsentient female to produce a baby?) Then the presumed Ringworlders could see at a glance that many kinds of sentient life could deal amicably with each other. Yet too many of these items—the flashlight-lasers, the dueling stunners—could be used as weapons. They took off on reactionless thrusters, to avoid damaging the island. Half an hour later they had left the feeble gravity wells of the puppeteer rosette. It occurred to Louis then that aside from Nessus, whom they had brought with them, and aside from the projected image of the puppeteer Chiron, they had seen not a single puppeteer on the puppeteer world. After they had entered hyperdrive, Lotus spent an hour-and-a-half inspecting every item in the lockers. Better safe than surprised, he told himself. But the weaponry and the other equipment left a bitter aftertaste, a foreboding.

“I know that.” It was too obvious. They had to get off the Ringworld; and they weren’t going to move the Liar by themselves. True barbarians would not be help enough, no matter how numerous or how friendly. “There is one bright aspect to all this,” said Louis Wu. “We don’t have to repair the ship. If we can just get the Liar off the ring, the ring’s rotation will fling it, and us, out of the star’s gravity well. Out to where we can use the hyperdrive.” “But first we must find help.” “Or force help,” said Speaker. “But why do you all just stand here talking?” Teela burst out. She had been waiting silent in the circle, letting the others thrash it out. “We’ve got to get out of here, don’t we? Why not get the flycycles out of the ship? Lets get moving! Then talk!” “I am reluctant to leave the ship,” the puppeteer stated.

“How could I lead my species away from the honorable path of war? The Kzinti gods would revile me.” “I warned you about playing god. It hurts.” “Fortunately the difficulty does not arise. You have said that I would destroy the Long Shot if I tried to take it. The risk is too great. We will need the puppeteer hyperdrive to escape the wave front from the Core explosion.” “True enough,” said Louis. The kzin would back into the nearest gravity well if he tried to take the Long Shot into hyperdrive. Knowing that, Louis asked, “But suppose I were lying?” “I could not hope to outwit a being of your intelligence.” Sunfire flashed again in Fist-of-God crater. “Think how short a way we came,” said Louis. One hundred and fifty thousand miles in five days, the same distance back in two months. A seventh of the short way across the Ringworld.

pages: 320 words: 92,799

Old Man's War by John Scalzi


back-to-the-land, gravity well

"Quite obviously, to get where you're going once you're in your new universe," Alan said. "No, no," Ed said. "I mean, if you can just pop from one universe to another, why not just do it planet to planet, instead of using spaceships at all? Just skip people directly to a planet surface. It'd save us from getting shot up in space, that's for sure." "The universe prefers to have skipping done away from large gravity wells, like planets and stars," Alan said. "Particularly when skipping to another universe. You can skip very close to a gravity well, which is why we enter new universes near our destinations, but skipping out is much easier the farther away you are from one, which is why we always travel a bit before we skip. There's actually an exponential relationship that I could show you, but—" "Yeah, yeah, I know, I don't have the math," Ed said. Alan was about to provide a placating response when all of our BrainPals flicked on.

The troopship was not equipped for space rescue and was in any event gravely damaged and limping, under fire, toward the closest CDF ship to discharge its surviving passengers. A message to the Dayton itself was likewise fruitless; the Dayton was exchanging fire with several Ohu ships and could not dispatch rescue. Nor could any other ship. In nonbattle situations she was already too small a target, too far down Temperance's gravity well and too close to Temperance's atmosphere for anything but the most heroic retrieval attempts. In a pitched battle situation, she was already dead. And so Maggie, whose SmartBlood was by now reaching its oxygen-carrying limit and whose body was undoubtedly beginning to scream for oxygen, took her Empee, aimed it at the nearest Ohu ship, computed a trajectory, and unloaded rocket after rocket.

Scratch Monkey by Stross, Charles


carbon-based life, defense in depth, fault tolerance, gravity well, Kuiper Belt, packet switching, phenotype, telepresence

Nothing there but some robot relay stations. Next out is Wirth, the terraforming project. It's a Venusiform environment. Anubis is meant to be building aerominers to blow holes in the cloud layer and shut down the greenhouse, but it's gone to pieces and the whole operation is running on automatic. There are some ships connected with it, drones running out into the near cometary belt and tipping ice cubes down the gravity well. But it's more or less going on all by itself. He won't even let us near the ships." "Yes, but where are we?" "I'm getting to that." Boris didn't like being interrupted. He moved his finger through the dirt, drawing a concentric circle far outside the orbit of Wirth. "There's a gas giant called Turing. Saturn-sized, medium-scale. It's got a couple of large moons, including Pascal. We're in L5 relative to Pascal, leading it by sixty degrees in its orbit.

The eye of the storm is a small black hole: a spark of evil light in the abyss. It burns with a cold heat, blasting a sleet of hard gamma radiation out into the darkness of space. The hole itself is smaller than a protein molecule, a tiny knot of tortured spacetime that weighs as much as a mountain range. A halo of decaying matter swirls around it, dragged ever inwards by a force of gravity turned in on itself. As it closes in on the sump at the bottom of the gravity well the accretion disk heats up, until atoms split in the incandescent glare of an on-going explosion. A hot spray of high-energy radiation floods off it, hosing across the plane of the gas giant's system of moons. The hole is being used as a synchrotron source, an energy weapon bright enough to shine across interplanetary distances. A dark shape hides behind it, indistinct but almost as large as the colony: the physical body of the Ultrabright attack drone.

She hung before it, suspended on monofilament cables from the docking hub and the side wall like a spider webbing the bell of an enormous flower. The Bronstein was a true space ship; not some hyped-up atmospheric shockwave rider, but a freighter capable of going anywhere in the system. It could operate with or without a human crew, having been designed for maintaining the cloud of drone platforms dispersed throughout the Ridgegap system. Decades ago, those platforms had pumped a steady stream of raw materials down into the gravity well of Turing. Some had been assembled into this colony. Others had been diverted in-system to the venusiform world Wirth, their impact showering the clouds of that planet with tailored algae. Days ago Oshi had given the order to have the Bronstein and its sister ships powered up and readied for flight. Where to go was an interesting question; the Ultrabright attack craft was driftings towards a parking orbit around Turing, its monster engine powered down.

pages: 292 words: 85,151

Exponential Organizations: Why New Organizations Are Ten Times Better, Faster, and Cheaper Than Yours (And What to Do About It) by Salim Ismail, Yuri van Geest


23andMe, 3D printing, Airbnb, Amazon Mechanical Turk, Amazon Web Services, augmented reality, autonomous vehicles, Baxter: Rethink Robotics, bioinformatics, bitcoin, Black Swan, blockchain, Burning Man, business intelligence, business process, call centre, chief data officer, Chris Wanstrath, Clayton Christensen, clean water, cloud computing, cognitive bias, collaborative consumption, collaborative economy, commoditize, corporate social responsibility, cross-subsidies, crowdsourcing, cryptocurrency, dark matter, Dean Kamen, dematerialisation, discounted cash flows, distributed ledger, Edward Snowden, Elon Musk,, ethereum blockchain, Galaxy Zoo, game design, Google Glasses, Google Hangouts, Google X / Alphabet X, gravity well, hiring and firing, Hyperloop, industrial robot, Innovator's Dilemma, intangible asset, Internet of things, Iridium satellite, Isaac Newton, Jeff Bezos, Kevin Kelly, Kickstarter, knowledge worker, Kodak vs Instagram, Law of Accelerating Returns, Lean Startup, life extension, lifelogging, loose coupling, loss aversion, Lyft, Marc Andreessen, Mark Zuckerberg, market design, means of production, minimum viable product, natural language processing, Netflix Prize, Network effects, new economy, Oculus Rift, offshore financial centre, p-value, PageRank, pattern recognition, Paul Graham, peer-to-peer, peer-to-peer model, Peter H. Diamandis: Planetary Resources, Peter Thiel, prediction markets, profit motive, publish or perish, Ray Kurzweil, recommendation engine, RFID, ride hailing / ride sharing, risk tolerance, Ronald Coase, Second Machine Age, self-driving car, sharing economy, Silicon Valley, skunkworks, Skype, smart contracts, Snapchat, social software, software is eating the world, speech recognition, stealth mode startup, Stephen Hawking, Steve Jobs, subscription business, supply-chain management, TaskRabbit, telepresence, telepresence robot, Tony Hsieh, transaction costs, Tyler Cowen: Great Stagnation, urban planning, WikiLeaks, winner-take-all economy, X Prize, Y Combinator, zero-sum game

Harvard professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter puts it best: “When dealing with a rapidly changing environment and the fluid boundaries of business units that come and go, more work will be done by crosscutting project teams, and there will be more bottom-up self-organizing.” Why Important? Dependencies or Prerequisites • Increased agility • More accountability at customer face • Faster reaction and learning times • Better morale • MTP (as a gravity well) • Self-starting employees • Dashboards Social Technologies Social technology is an overused industry buzz phrase that has been giving CIOs heartburn for the last decade. Regardless, however, it has had the effect of pushing old analog business environments to become more digital, low-latency environments. Social technologies—whose analog counterpart, of course, is the so-called water cooler effect—create horizontal interactions in vertically organized companies.

A final word on managing fast-tracked growth comes again from Chip Conley, who created the Joie de Vivre chain of specialty hotels and is now part of Airbnb’s senior management team. Conley found that the more information-based we become, the greater the need to rely on rituals and meaning to stabilize companies and keep teams motivated. Thus, as ExOs take on larger numbers of employees, individual tasks and functions increasingly need the gravity well of an MTP to provide purpose. Although that would seem to add to the burden of bigger companies trying to become ExOs, the fact that established companies are better at those rituals, stories and legends—the glue that holds organizations together—works to their advantage, especially when they are accelerating exponentially. In the next chapters, we’ll take on the toughest nut of all and look at what large organizations need to do to retrofit ExO thinking into their world.

Our recommendation, however, is to follow its lead: Big companies need to move away from the old-school, predictable mission-and-vision statements currently sported by most Fortune 500 companies. Instead, they should migrate towards a Massive Transformative Purpose. As we mentioned earlier, we predict brands will find and merge with aspirational MTPs that will steer them towards providing real value to society—in other words, to a triple bottom line. In order to inspire their teams, attract new top talent and create gravity wells for their communities, big companies should do the same and formulate their own, unique MTPs. This will not only establish the right image—based on reality—for the company’s stakeholders, especially among younger workers within the organization, but it will also serve as a guiding principle when key decisions need to be made. Allstate, for example, could have put together a perfectly serviceable mission statement along the lines of, “Deliver products and services that protect the financial future of our customers with a superior distribution network of agents and affiliates.”

pages: 270 words: 64,235

Effective Programming: More Than Writing Code by Jeff Atwood


AltaVista, Amazon Web Services, barriers to entry, cloud computing, endowment effect, Firefox, future of work, game design, Google Chrome, gravity well, job satisfaction, Khan Academy, Kickstarter, loss aversion, Marc Andreessen, Mark Zuckerberg, Merlin Mann, Minecraft, Paul Buchheit, Paul Graham, price anchoring, race to the bottom, recommendation engine, science of happiness, Skype, social software, Steve Jobs, web application, Y Combinator, zero-sum game

Naturally, those hires didn’t work out. So while we care about the skills of a potential employees, whether or not they “get” us is a major part too. I realize that not every business has a community around what they do, but if you do have a community, you should try like hell to hire from your community whenever possible. These are the folks who were naturally drawn to what you do, that were pulled into the gravitational well of your company completely of their own accord. The odds of these candidates being a good cultural fit are abnormally high. That’s what you want! Did a few of your users build an amazing mod for your game? Did they find an obscure security vulnerability and try to tell you about it? Hire these people immediately! 4. Do a detailed, structured phone screen. Once you’ve worked through the above, it’s time to give the candidate a call.

Caliban's War by James S. A. Corey


clean water, gravity well, phenotype, sensible shoes, statistical model

No one backs a player who’s going to be powerless next year. We play for the long term, and that means looking strong for the duration. Errinwright knows that. It’s why he played it this way.” Outside, another shuttle was lifting off. Avasarala could already hear the roar of the burn, feel the press of thrust and false gravity pushing her back. It had been thirty years since she’d been out of Earth’s gravity well. This wasn’t going to be pleasant. “If you get on that ship, they’ll kill you,” Bobbie said, making each word its own sentence. “That’s not how this game gets played,” Avasarala said. “What they—” The door opened again. Soren had a tray in his hands. The teapot on it was cast iron, with a single handleless enamel cup. He opened his mouth to speak, then saw Bobbie. It was easy to forget how much larger she was until a man Soren’s height visibly cowered before her.

He was looking for Strickland. Or the mysterious woman in the video. Or whoever had built the secret lab. In that sense, he was much better off than he had been before. On the other hand, he had been searching Ganymede. Now the field had expanded to include everywhere. The lag time to Earth—or Luna, actually, since Persis-Strokes Security Consultants was based in orbit rather than down the planet’s gravity well—was a little over twenty minutes. It made actual conversation essentially impossible, so in practice, the hatchet-faced woman on his screen was making a series of promotional videos more and more specifically targeted to what Prax wanted to hear. “We have an intelligence-sharing relationship with Pinkwater, which is presently the security company with the largest physical and operational presence in the outer planets,” she said.

There weren’t any, and repeating herself in simple storybook rhyme would probably come off as condescending. She stopped the recording, cut off the last few seconds of her looking into the camera in despair, and sent it off with every high-priority flag there was and diplomatic encryption. So this was what it came to. All of human civilization, everything it had managed, from the first cave painting to crawling up the gravity well and pressing out into the antechamber of the stars, came down to whether a man whose greatest claim to fame was that he’d been thrown in prison for writing bad poetry had the balls to back down Errinwright. The ship corrected under her, shifting like an elevator suddenly slipping its tracks. She tried to sit up, but the gimbaled couch moved. God, but she hated space travel. “Is it going to work?”

pages: 388 words: 102,994

The Ringworld engineers by Larry Niven


gravity well

They stood eight feet tall, and though they scrupulously avoided bumping human tourists, carefully tended claws slid out above black fingertips if a human passed too close. Reflex. Maybe. Sometimes Louis wondered what impulse brought them back to a world once theirs. Some might have ancestors here, alive in frozen time in the domes buried beneath this lava island. One day they’d have to be dug up ... There were so many things he hadn’t done on Canyon, because the wire was always calling. Men and kzinti had climbed those sheer cliffs for sport, in the low gravity. Well, he would have one last chance to try that. It was one of his three routes out. The second was the elevators; the third, a transfer booth to the Lichen Gardens. He’d never seen them. Then overland in a pressure suit light enough to fold into a large briefcase. On the surface of Canyon there were mines, and there was a large, indifferently tended preserve for the surviving varieties of Canyon lichen.

It was far too small to pass Ringworld repair equipment. This was a mere escape hatch, but it was roomy enough for Needle. “Fire,” Louis said. The Hindmost had last used this beam as a spotlight. At close range it was devastating. The floating building became a streamer of incandescence with a cometlike head of boiling concrete. Then it was only dust cloud. Louis said, “Dive.” “Louis?” “We’re a target here. We don’t have time. Dive. Twenty gravities. We’ll make our own door.” The ocher landscape was a roof over their heads. Deep-radar showed a hole in the scrith, dropping to engulf them. But every other sense showed the solid lava crater in Mons Olympus descending at terrible speed to smash them. Kawaresksenjajok’s nails in Louis’s arm were drawing blood. Harkabeeparolyn seemed frozen. Louis braced for the impact. Darkness. There was formless, milky light from the deep-radar screen.

pages: 311 words: 94,732

The Rapture of the Nerds by Cory Doctorow, Charles Stross


3D printing, Ayatollah Khomeini, butterfly effect, cognitive dissonance, combinatorial explosion, complexity theory, Credit Default Swap, dematerialisation, Drosophila, epigenetics, Extropian, gravity well, greed is good, haute couture, hive mind, margin call, negative equity, phenotype, Plutocrats, plutocrats, rent-seeking, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, telepresence, Turing machine, Turing test, union organizing

Today is Huw’s big day. He’s been looking forward to this day for months. Soon, he’ll get to say what he thinks about some item of new technology—and they’ll have to listen to him. * * * Welcome to the fractured future, the first century following the singularity. Earth has a population of roughly a billion hominids. For the most part, they are happy with their lot, living in a preserve at the bottom of a gravity well. Those who are unhappy have emigrated, joining one or another of the swarming densethinker clades that fog the inner solar system with a dust of molecular machinery so thick that it obscures the sun. Except for the solitary lighthouse beam that perpetually tracks the Earth in its orbit, the system from outside resembles a spherical fogbank radiating in the infrared spectrum; a matryoshka brain, nested Dyson spheres built from the dismantled bones of moons and planets.

Oh, how they’d fiddled, pestering him with questions about what he wanted his new body to be like, which upgrades and mods it should have, trying to tempt him with talented penises and none-too-subtle surrogates, such as retractable unobtanium claws and bones infused with miracle fiber and carbon nanotubes. He’d waved them off, refusing even to take in all the wonders on offer: no, no, no, just give me back my actual, physical body, the body I would have had if none of this had taken place, if I had been a man who was born to a woman, grown to maturity in the gravity well of my ancestors. Once he’d gotten through to them, they’d complied with a vengeance, and now Huw heaved himself out of bed every morning with the aches and pains of baseline humanity on throbbing, glorious display. He showered himself, noting the soap’s slither over every ingrowing hair, every wrinkle, every flabby nonessential extruding from his person. He squinted at the small writing on cereal packaging and held it up to the watery Welsh light that oozed through the kitchen window, moving it closer and farther in the hopes of finding the right focus-length for his corneas, which had been carefully antiqued with decades’ worth of waste products, applied with all the care of a forger re-creating a pair of exquisitely aged Levi’s.

pages: 310 words: 89,653

The Interstellar Age: Inside the Forty-Year Voyager Mission by Jim Bell


Albert Einstein, crowdsourcing, dark matter, Edmond Halley, Edward Charles Pickering,, Eratosthenes, gravity well, Isaac Newton, Kuiper Belt, Mars Rover, Pierre-Simon Laplace, planetary scale, Pluto: dwarf planet, polynesian navigation, Ronald Reagan, Saturday Night Live, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, Stephen Hawking, V2 rocket

The first half, or inbound, part of Voyager 2’s flyby past Saturn was as routine as flying a tight trajectory past a gas giant planet can ever be, and made it possible to capture more of Andy Ingersoll’s giant planet atmosphere movies (covering Saturn’s northern hemisphere), and distant flybys of Titan and the icy moons Mimas, Dione, and Rhea—all of which had been photographed at higher resolution by Voyager 1. It was then that things got . . . interesting. As the spacecraft fell deeper into Saturn’s gravity well and started to speed up (Voyager 2 was eventually accelerated from 36,000 miles per hour to nearly 54,000 miles per hour by flying a gravity-assist trajectory behind Saturn) and get closer to the planet and the rings, the kinds of maneuvers that the sequencing team had to build into the instrument observations became more and more complex. Specifically, the cameras and other instruments on the spacecraft’s scan platform had to be pointed around more rapidly, and over a wider range, than they had been pointed in a very long time.

During Voyager 2’s Uranus approach, however, there were no such moments. Rather, the reality of these new worlds came into view slowly, over many weeks, with a grace and air of anticipation that more accurately reflected the gentle gravity assist that we were all actually going through, riding along with the spacecraft. During those last ten hours, though, as Voyager plunged deeper into the gravity well of the seventh planet, we all experienced plenty of breathtaking moments. One by one the five large icy moons were revealed to us from Voyager’s high-resolution images, and a total of ten new, smaller moons would eventually be discovered lurking in the images. All the large moons are heavily cratered, attesting to their generally ancient ages. Oberon and Umbriel are the most cratered, suggesting that they have changed little during their more than 4-billion-year histories.

pages: 360 words: 101,636

Engineering Infinity by Jonathan Strahan


augmented reality, cosmic microwave background, dark matter, gravity well, planetary scale, Pluto: dwarf planet, post scarcity, Schrödinger's Cat, technological singularity, Ted Kaczynski

They're not flare stars, and while normally this is a good thing, it makes it distinctly difficult to make observations of the atmosphere and surface features of 1061 Able through Mike by reflected light; the primaries are so dim that even though our long baseline interferometer can resolve hundred-kilometre features on the inner planets back in Sol system, we can barely make out the continents on Echo One and Echo Two. Now, those continents are interesting things, even though we're not going to visit down the gravity well any time soon. We know they're there, thanks to the fast flyby report, but we won't be able to start an actual survey with our own eyes until well into the deceleration stage, when I'll be unpacking the -" I feel a sudden jolt through the floor of the tank. Lorus's voice breaks up in a stuttering hash of dropouts. And the lights and the polisher stop working. The Lansford Hastings is a starship, one of the fastest mecha ever constructed by the bastard children of posthumanity.

Outreach has millennia of experience to draw on, and back in the Community a population of hundreds of billions to produce its volunteer missionaries, its dedicated programmers, its hobbyist generals. Many of the Babylonian weapons are stopped; many of the Babylonian ships are destroyed. Others, already close to Babylon's escape velocity and by the neutron star's orbital motion close to escaping from it as well, are shunted aside, forced into hyperbolic orbits that banish them from the battlefield as surely as death. But the ring's defenders are fighting from the bottom of a deep gravity well, with limited resources, nearly all the mass they've assembled here incorporated into the ring itself; and the Babylonians have their own store of ancient cunning to draw on, their aggregate population a hundred times larger than the Community's, more closely knit and more warlike. And they have Ninurta. Ninurta, the hunter of the Annunaki, the god who slew the seven-headed serpent, who slew the bull-man in the sea and the six-headed wild ram in the mountain, who defeated the demon Ansu and retrieved the Tablet of Destinies.

pages: 324 words: 91,653

The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi


augmented reality, cognitive dissonance, gravity well, haute couture, music of the spheres

‘Whatever it was that you did,’ Perhonen says, ‘looks like they want you back.’ 2 THE THIEF AND THE ARCHONS What did I do? Mieli’s heart pounds as the pilot’s crèche embraces her. Something went wrong in the Prison. But it was just like the sims. Why are they after us? She summons the combat autism the pellegrini built into her. It enfolds her like a cool blanket, turns the world into vectors and gravity wells. Her mind enmeshes with Perhonen’s, thinking fast thoughts. Objects: Perhonen. Scattered Trojan asteroids, clustered around 2006RJ103, a two-hundred k nugget of rock, inhabited by slow-brained synthlife. The Prison, a diamond doughnut thirty lightseconds behind them, the origin of Perhonen’s current vector, dense, dark and cold. The Archon bladeships, coming in fast at a .5g, much more delta-v than the gentle tug of Perhonen’s lightsail.

Calmly, she ejects it, watches it drift away, still mutating and shifting in slow motion like a malignant tumour, forming strange organs that fire molecule-sized spores at Perhonen’s firewall until she burns it with the anti-meteorite lasers. ‘That hurt,’ Perhonen says. ‘I’m afraid that this will hurt a lot more.’ She burns all the delta-v in their emergency antimatter in one burst, swinging the ship into the shallow gravity well of 2006RJ103. Perhonen’s flesh groans as the antiprotons from the magnetic storage ring turn into hot jets of plasma. She diverts some of the power to pumping up the binding energies of the programmable matter rods in the hull. The Archons follow without effort, approaching, firing again. Perhonen screams around Mieli, but the autism keeps her mind on the task at hand. She thinks a q-dot torpedo around the strangelet in Perhonen’s tiny weapons bay and fires it at the asteroid.

pages: 378 words: 111,369

Gateway by Frederik Pohl


blood diamonds, gravity well, Magellanic Cloud, oil shale / tar sands

He dwelt on the old stars that gave birth to us all, spitting silicates and magnesium carbonate into space to form our planets, hydrocarbons to form ourselves. He talked about the neutron stars that bent the gravity well around them; we knew about them, because two launches had killed themselves, sheared into rubble, by entering normal space too close to one of those hyper-dense dwarfs. He told us about the black holes that were the places where a dense star had been, now detectable only by the observable fact that they swallowed everything nearby, even light; they had not merely bent the gravity well, they had wrapped it around themselves like a blanket. He described stars as thin as air, immense clouds of glowing gas; told us about the prestars of the Orion Nebula, just now blossoming into loose knots of warm gas that might in a million years be suns.

pages: 1,263 words: 371,402

The Year's Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Sixth Annual Collection by Gardner Dozois


augmented reality, clean water, computer age, cosmological constant, David Attenborough, Deng Xiaoping, double helix, financial independence, game design, gravity well, jitney, John Harrison: Longitude, Kuiper Belt, Mahatma Gandhi, mass immigration, Paul Graham, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman: Challenger O-ring, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, Skype, stem cell, theory of mind, Turing machine, Turing test, urban renewal, Wall-E

He could hope that the hunting ship would not survive the passage, but the Enemy, however voracious, was surely never so stupid as to run a scoop ship through a neutron’s star terrifying magnetic terrain with the drive field up. That was not his strategy anyway. Jedden was playing the angles. Whipping tight around the intense gravity well, even a few seconds of slowness would amplify into light-years of distance, decades of lost time. Destruction would have felt like a cheat. Jedden wanted to win by geometry. By calculation, we live. He allowed himself one tiny flicker of a communication laser. Yes. The Enemy was coming. Coming hard, coming fast, coming wrong. Tides tore at Jedden, every molecule of his smart-ice body croaked and moaned, but his own cry rang louder and he sling-shotted around the neutron. Yes! Before him was empty space. The splinter ship would never fall of its own accord into another gravity well. He lacked sufficient reaction mass to enter any Clade system. Perhaps the Enemy had calculated this in the moments before he too entered the neutron star’s transit.

But it was probably that—and the fact that Black Alice couldn’t hit the broad side of a space freighter with a ray gun—that had gotten her assigned to Engineering, where ethics were less of a problem. It wasn’t, after all, as if she was going anywhere. Black Alice was on duty when the Lavinia Whateley spotted prey; she felt the shiver of anticipation that ran through the decks of the ship. It was an odd sensation, a tic Vinnie only exhibited in pursuit. And then they were underway, zooming down the slope of the gravity well toward Sol, and the screens all around Engineering—which Captain Song kept dark, most of the time, on the theory that swabs and deckhands and coalshovelers didn’t need to know where they were, or what they were doing—flickered bright and live. Everybody looked up, and Demijack shouted, “There! There!” He was right: the blot that might only have been a smudge of oil on the screen moved as Vinnie banked, revealing itself to be a freighter, big and ungainly and hopelessly outclassed.

And if you are, and if you see something on the ground, do you pick it up? James Alan Gardner has made many fiction sales to The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Asimov’s Science Fiction, Amazing, Tesseracts, On Spec, Northern Stars, and other markets. His books include the SF novels Expendable, Commitment Hour, Vigilant, Hunted, Ascending, and Trapped. His most recent novel is Radiant. His short fiction has been collected in Gravity Wells: Speculative Fiction Stories. This is a story about a ray-gun. The ray-gun will not be explained except to say, “It shoots rays.” They are dangerous rays. If they hit you in the arm, it withers. If they hit you in the face, you go blind. If they hit you in the heart, you die. These things must be true, or else it would not be a ray-gun. But it is. Ray-guns come from space. This one came from the captain of an alien starship passing through our solar system.

pages: 945 words: 292,893

Seveneves by Neal Stephenson


clean water, Colonization of Mars, Danny Hillis, digital map, double helix, epigenetics, fault tolerance, Fellow of the Royal Society, Filipino sailors, gravity well, Isaac Newton, Jeff Bezos, kremlinology, Kuiper Belt, microbiome, phenotype, Potemkin village, pre–internet, random walk, remote working, selection bias, side project, Silicon Valley, Skype, statistical model, Stewart Brand, supervolcano, the scientific method, Tunguska event, zero day, éminence grise

And that was a primitive beast, but it had a basically infinite supply of energy in the nuclear reactor, and a vast stock of propellant in the form of ice. The “steampunk” propulsion system had much lower efficiency, however, than a properly engineered rocket motor. Consequently, the mass ratio that would be needed to slow Ymir down from the high-speed elliptical orbit with which it was falling into Earth’s gravity well, to match the much slower, circular orbit of Izzy, was about thirty-four, which meant that 97 percent of the ice currently attached to Ymir was going to be melted, turned into steam, and jetted out its makeshift nozzle just to slow it down. The remaining 3 percent, however, would still weigh as much as Izzy and Amalthea put together. Split into hydrogen and oxygen, it would supply the rocket fuel needed to power the Big Ride, all the way up to Cleft.

To compensate for the losses, they had jury-rigged all the other engines they could get: the big one from the Caboose, all the propulsion units that had once been part of the Shipyard, and a few spare motors from straggler arklets that had become separated from the Swarm and found a way to rejoin them. Despite the reduction in engine power, Endurance was at least as maneuverable now as she had been at the beginning, when she had wallowed at the bottom of Earth’s gravity well, burdened with years’ worth of propellant. She weighed half as much now as she had in those days. The burn went on for a while. It concluded with a change in attitude and a burn in another direction. Doob didn’t have to read the numbers on the screen to know what they were doing. They’d been planning it for three years. They were in a highly eccentric orbit now, a pair of hairpin turns welded together by straightaways a third of a million kilometers long.

Small changes in velocity out here led to enormous transformations in their orbit down there. Endurance, by dint of enduring for three years and persevering in her plan, had reached Cleft’s distance from Earth. But she’d always been in the wrong plane: the same plane that Izzy had started out in, the plane that had been chosen, seemingly a million years ago, because it was easily reached from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. Down there, deep in the gravity well, changing that plane would have been catastrophically expensive. If they’d had an Earth to go back to, it would have been cheaper to start from scratch and build a new space station than to move Izzy to the plane where the moon had once orbited. Up here, though, by burning the engines at apogee, they could nudge it closer and closer to the desired plane at much lower cost. So they’d been doing little plane change maneuvers at each apogee.

pages: 746 words: 239,969

Green Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson


double helix, gravity well, means of production, oil shale / tar sands, phenotype, skunkworks, the scientific method

Now the cable below the areosynchronous point was being pulled down by Mars’s gravity; the part above the areosynchronous point was trying to follow New Clarke in centrifugal flight away from the planet; and the carbon filaments of the cable held the tension, and the whole apparatus rotated at the same speed as the planet, standing above Pavonis Mons in an oscillating vibration that allowed it to dodge Deimos; all of it controlled still by the computer on New Clarke, and the long battery of rockets deployed on the carbon strand. The elevator was back. Cars were lifted up one side of the cable from Pavonis, and other cars were let down from New Clarke, providing a counterweight so that the energy needed for both operations was greatly lessened. Spaceships made their approach to the New Clarke spaceport, and when they left they were given a slingshot departure. Mars’s gravity well was therefore substantially mitigated, and all its human intercourse with Earth and the rest of the solar system made less expensive. It was as if an umbilical cord had been retied. He was in the middle of a perfectly ordinary life when they drafted him and sent him to Mars.The summons came in the form of a fax that appeared out of his phone, in the apartment Art Randolph had rented just the month before, after he and his wife had decided on a trial separation.

This was probably the most divisive issue facing them, Nadia judged, and attendance at the workshop reflected it; the room on the border of Lato’s park was packed, and before the meeting began the moderator moved it out into the park, on the grass overlooking the canal. The Reds in attendance insisted that terraforming itself was an obstruction to their hopes. If the Martian surface became human-viable, they argued, then it would represent an entire Earth’s worth of land, and given the acute population and environmental problems on Earth, and the space elevator currently being constructed there to match the one already on Mars, the gravity wells could be surmounted and mass emigration would certainly follow, and with it the disappearance of any possibility of Martian independence. People in favor of terraforming, called greens, or just green, as they were not a party as such— argued that with a human-viable surface it would be possible to live anywhere, and at that point the underground would be on the surface, and infinitely less vulnerable to control or attack, and thus in a much better position to take over.

One might say that every left-handed and ambidextrous brain is organized differently. You know most of Hiroko’s ectogene children are left-handed. Yes, I know. I’ve spoken with her about it, but she claims she doesn’t know why. She says it may be a result of being born on Mars. Do you find this plausible? Well, handedness is still poorly understood in any case, and the effects of the lighter gravity . . . we’ll be sorting those out for centuries, won’t we. I suppose so. You don’t like the idea of that, do you? I would rather get answers. What if all your questions were answered? Would you be happy then? I find it hard to imagine such a— state. A fairly small percentage of my questions have answers. But that’s rather wonderful, don’t you agree? No. It wouldn’t be scientific to agree. You conceive of science as nothing more than answers to questions?

pages: 665 words: 207,115

Across Realtime by Vernor Vinge


fudge factor, gravity well, Isaac Newton, job automation, Magellanic Cloud, means of production, technological singularity, Vernor Vinge

They smelled a winner, and old Tellman was going to lose a little of the money he had been winning off them earlier in the day. Rosas and Naismith and Tellman just watched and held their breaths. With virtually no fuel left, it would be a matter of luck whether contact finally occurred. The reddish disk of the destination planet swam placidly along while the mock spacecraft arced higher and higher, slower and slower, their paths becoming almost tangent. The craft was accelerating now, falling into the gravity well of the destination, giving the tantalizing impression of success that always comes with a close shot. Closer and closer. And the two lights became one on the board. "Intercept," the display announced, and the stats streamed across the lower part of the screen. Rosas and Nais-mith looked at each other. The kid had done it. Tellman was very pale now. He looked at the bills the boy had wagered.

"See here, Paul, you heard what Mike said. The kid practically killed him this afternoon. I know how people your, uh, age feel about children, but-" The old man shook his head, caught Mike with a quick glance that was neither abstracted nor feeble. "You know they've been after me to take on an apprentice for years, Sy. Well, I've decided. Besides trying to kill Mike, he played Celest like a master. The gravity-well maneuver is one I've never seen discovered unaided." "Mike told me. It's slick, but I see a lot of players do it. We almost all use it. Is it really that clever?" "Depending on your background, it's more than clever. Isaac Newton didn't do a lot more when he deduced elliptical orbits from the inverse square law." "Look, Paul... I'm truly sorry, but even with Bill and Irma, it's just too dangerous."

"Intelligent life is a rare development. "I spent nine thousand years on this, spread across fifty million years of realtime. I averaged less than a twentieth light speed. But that was fast enough. I had time to visit the Large Magellanic Cloud and the Fornax System, besides our own galaxy. I had time to stop at tens of thousands of places, at astrophysical freaks and normal stars. I saw some strange things, mostly near deep gravity wells. Maybe it was engineering, but I couldn't prove it, even to myself. "I found that most slow-spinning stars have planets. About ten percent of these have an Earth-type planet. And almost all such planets have life. "If Monica Raines loves the purity of life without intelligence, she loves one of the most common things in the universe.... In all my nine thousand years, I found two intelligent races."

pages: 570 words: 151,259

Broken Angels by Richard Morgan


friendly fire, gravity well, Lao Tzu, the High Line, urban sprawl

Each of those bites is nearly a kilometre deep.” “Why don’t I just sell seats in here,” snapped Vongsavath. “Mistress Wardani, will you please return to the cabin and sit down.” “Sorry,” murmured the archaeologue. “I was just—” Sirens. A spaced scream, slashing at the air in the cockpit. “Incoming,” yelled Vongsavath, and kicked the Nagini on end. It was a manoeuvre that would have hurt in a gravity well, but with only the ship’s own grav field exerting force, it felt more like an experia special effect, an Angel wharf-conjuror’s trick with holoshift. Vacuum combat fragments: I saw the missile coming, falling end over end towards the right side viewports. I heard the battle systems reporting for duty in their cosily enthusiastic machine voices. Shouts from the cabin behind me. I started to tense.

Elsewhere the curving walls simply broke their sweep as they met an intersecting circumference. At no point in the first space we entered was the ceiling less than twenty metres overhead. “The floor’s flat though,” murmured Sun Liping, kneeling to brush at the sheened surface underfoot. “And they had—have—grav generators.” “Origin of species.” Tanya Wardani’s voice boomed slightly in the cathedric emptiness. “They evolved in a gravity well, just like us. Zero g isn’t healthy long-term, no matter how much fun it is. And if you have gravity, you need flat surfaces to put things down on. Practicality at work. Same as the docking bay back there. All very well wanting to stretch your wings, but you need straight lines to land a spaceship.” We all glanced back at the gap we’d come through. Compared to where we stood now, the alien curvatures of the docking station had been practically demure.

pages: 361 words: 143,442

Ender's shadow by Orson Scott Card


defense in depth, gravity well

Now she had hundreds of hands and feet, or perhaps thousands of them, all wiggling at once. That's why she wasn't responding intelligently. Her forces were too numerous. That's why she wasn't making the obvious moves, setting traps, blocking Ender from taking his cylinder ever closer to the planet with every swing and dodge and shift that he made. In fact, the maneuvers the Buggers were making were ludicrously wrong. For as Ender penetrated deeper and deeper into the planet's gravity well, the Buggers were building up a thick wall of forces _behind_ Ender's formation. They're blocking our retreat! At once Bean understood a third and most important reason for what was happening. The Buggers had learned the wrong lessons from the previous battles. Up to now, Ender's strategy had always been to ensure the survival of as many human ships as possible. He had always left himself a line of retreat.

We are, when the cause is sufficient, insane. They don't believe we'll use Dr. Device because the only way to use it is to destroy our own ships in the process. From the moment Ender started giving orders, it was obvious to everyone that this was a suicide run. These ships were not made to enter an atmosphere. And yet to get close enough to the planet to set off Dr. Device, they had to do exactly that. Get down into the gravity well and launch the weapon just before the ship burns up. And if it works, if the planet is torn apart by whatever force it is in that terrible weapon, the chain reaction will reach out into space and take out any ships that might happen to survive. Win or lose, there'd be no human survivors from this battle. They've never seen us make a move like that. They don't understand that, yes, humans will always act to preserve their own lives--except for the times when they don't.

Wireless by Stross, Charles


anthropic principle, back-to-the-land, Benoit Mandelbrot, Buckminster Fuller, Cepheid variable, cognitive dissonance, colonial exploitation, cosmic microwave background, epigenetics, finite state, Georg Cantor, gravity well, hive mind, jitney, Khyber Pass, lifelogging, Magellanic Cloud, mandelbrot fractal, peak oil, phenotype, Pluto: dwarf planet, security theater, sensible shoes, Turing machine

One out of three is good going, especially for a student.” ELITE A Brief Alternate History of the Solar System: Part One What has already happened: SLIDE 1. Our solar system, as an embryo. A vast disk of gas and infalling dust surrounds and obscures a newborn star, little more than a thickening knot of rapidly spinning matter that is rapidly sucking more mass down into its ever-steepening gravity well. The sun is glowing red-hot already with the heat liberated by its gravitational collapse, until . . . SLIDE 2. Ignition! The pressure and temperature at the core of the embryo star has risen so high that hydrogen nuclei floating in a degenerate soup of electrons are bumping close to one another. A complex reaction ensues, rapidly liberating gamma radiation and neutrinos, and the core begins to heat up.

A million years pass as the sun brightens, and the rotating cloud of gas and dust begins to partition. Out beyond the dew line, where ice particles can grow, a roiling knot of dirty ice is forming, and like the sun before it, it greedily sucks down dirt and gas and grows. As it plows through the cloud, it sprays dust outward. Meanwhile, at the balancing point between the star and the embryonic Jovian gravity well, other knots of dust are forming . . . SLIDE 4. A billion years have passed since the sun ignited, and the stellar nursery of gas and dust has been swept clean by a fleet of new-formed planets. There has been some bickering—in the late heavy bombardment triggered by the outward migration of Neptune, entire planetary surfaces were re-formed—but now the system has settled into long-term stability.

pages: 239 words: 56,531

The Secret War Between Downloading and Uploading: Tales of the Computer as Culture Machine by Peter Lunenfeld


Albert Einstein, Andrew Keen, Apple II, Berlin Wall, British Empire, Brownian motion, Buckminster Fuller, Burning Man, butterfly effect, computer age, creative destruction, crowdsourcing, cuban missile crisis, Dissolution of the Soviet Union, don't be evil, Douglas Engelbart, Douglas Engelbart, Dynabook, East Village, Edward Lorenz: Chaos theory, Fall of the Berlin Wall, Francis Fukuyama: the end of history, Frank Gehry, Grace Hopper, gravity well, Guggenheim Bilbao, Honoré de Balzac, Howard Rheingold, invention of movable type, Isaac Newton, Jacquard loom, Jacquard loom, Jane Jacobs, Jeff Bezos, John Markoff, John von Neumann, Mark Zuckerberg, Marshall McLuhan, Mercator projection, Metcalfe’s law, Mother of all demos, mutually assured destruction, Network effects, new economy, Norbert Wiener, PageRank, pattern recognition, peer-to-peer, planetary scale, Plutocrats, plutocrats, Post-materialism, post-materialism, Potemkin village, RFID, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Richard Stallman, Robert Metcalfe, Robert X Cringely, Schrödinger's Cat, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, SETI@home, Silicon Valley, Skype, social software, spaced repetition, Steve Ballmer, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, Ted Nelson, the built environment, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, the medium is the message, Thomas L Friedman, Turing machine, Turing test, urban planning, urban renewal, Vannevar Bush, walkable city, Watson beat the top human players on Jeopardy!, William Shockley: the traitorous eight

To get a feel for what matters in gaming it is worth revisiting their earliest history, before gaming’s visuals came to rival the realism of cinema and television. Although there was a tic-tac-toe game and a tennis simulator in the 1950s, it was really Spacewar!—developed by students at MIT in 1962 for their own amusement—that stands as the urtext of gaming. With two armed ships shooting at each other while spiraling down a gravity well, Spacewar! established a few conventions of gaming that remain powerful today. These include conflict, time limits, and graphic interaction. The game itself was a useful way to gauge the speed and accuracy of the Digital Equipment Corporation’s PDP minicomputers, and the company began to ship later units with the game in the core memory. This ensured an ever-growing group of users, who would go on to create later pioneering games for arcades and the growing home market, including Pong, Space Invaders, and Pac-Man.

pages: 208 words: 67,288

The Magic of Reality: How We Know What's Really True by Richard Dawkins


Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, Buckminster Fuller, double helix, Ernest Rutherford, false memory syndrome, Fellow of the Royal Society, gravity well, if you see hoof prints, think horses—not zebras, Isaac Newton, phenotype, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, the scientific method

Mainstream stars mostly consist of hydrogen, the simplest of all the elements. The ‘slow-acting hydrogen bomb’ in the interior of a star converts hydrogen to helium, the second simplest element (something else named after the Greek sun god Helios), releasing a massive amount of energy in the form of heat, light and other kinds of radiation. You remember we said that the size of a star is a balance between the outward push of heat and the inward pull of gravity? Well, this balance stays roughly the same, keeping the star simmering away for several billions of years, until it starts to run out of fuel. What usually happens then is that the star collapses into itself under the unrestrained influence of gravity – at which point all hell breaks loose (if it’s possible to imagine anything more hellish than the interior of a star already is). The life story of a star is too long for astronomers to see more than a tiny snapshot of it.

Toast by Stross, Charles


anthropic principle, Buckminster Fuller, cosmological principle, dark matter, double helix, Ernest Rutherford, Extropian, Francis Fukuyama: the end of history, glass ceiling, gravity well, Khyber Pass, Mars Rover, Mikhail Gorbachev, NP-complete, oil shale / tar sands, peak oil, performance metric, phenotype, Plutocrats, plutocrats, Ronald Reagan, Silicon Valley, slashdot, speech recognition, strong AI, traveling salesman, Turing test, urban renewal, Vernor Vinge, Whole Earth Review, Y2K

Annette grins broadly for her own reasons, raises a glass in toast. Ivan the extreme concrete geek has an arm round her shoulders; he raises his glass, too. “Lots of launch pads to rubberise!” “To NASA,” Bob echoes. They drink. “Hey, Manfred. To NASA?” “NASA are idiots. They want to send canned primates to Mars!” Manfred swallows a mouthful of beer, agressively plonks his glass on the table: “Mars is just dumb mass at the bottom of a gravity well; there isn't even a biosphere there. They should be working on uploading and solving the nanoassembly conformational problem instead. Then we could turn all the available dumb matter into computronium and use it for processing our thoughts. Long term, it's the only way to go. The solar system is a dead loss right now -- dumb all over! Just measure the mips per milligram. We need to start with the low-mass bodies, reconfigure them for our own use.

pages: 294 words: 80,084

Tomorrowland: Our Journey From Science Fiction to Science Fact by Steven Kotler


Albert Einstein, Alexander Shulgin, autonomous vehicles, barriers to entry, Burning Man, carbon footprint, Colonization of Mars, crowdsourcing, Dean Kamen, epigenetics, gravity well, haute couture, interchangeable parts, Kevin Kelly, life extension, Louis Pasteur, North Sea oil, Oculus Rift, oil shale / tar sands, peak oil, personalized medicine, Peter H. Diamandis: Planetary Resources, RAND corporation, Ray Kurzweil, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Ronald Reagan, self-driving car, stem cell, Stephen Hawking, Stewart Brand, theory of mind, Watson beat the top human players on Jeopardy!, Whole Earth Catalog, WikiLeaks

Space flight is extremely punishing, both physically and mentally, so no one has any idea how humans would fare over that duration. But an asteroid, one that’s passing close to the Earth, is a few month’s voyage, which makes them a very good place to learn to crawl. Even more important to our off-world plans is water. “Most aerospace engineers feel,” continues Sears, “that water is the real key to off-world colonies. Carrying water out of a gravity well is extremely expensive. But there is a whole class of asteroids that are 25 percent water. We call them mudballs. So a rocket ship could stop off at an asteroid on the way to a space colony and tank up on water. There’s no cost. Just warm up a chunk and off you go.” Nor is this where possibilities end. As far out as asteroid mining or Mars’s colonies might still seem, there’s much more in the works.

pages: 824 words: 268,880

Blue Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson


anthropic principle, cognitive dissonance, Colonization of Mars, dark matter, epigenetics, gravity well, James Watt: steam engine, land tenure, new economy, phenotype, stem cell, the scientific method, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith

“So you’ll do it anyway,” she said at last. They continued to watch her. She saw all of a sudden that they would no more do what she told them to do than would boys ordered about by a senile grandmother. They were humoring her. Figuring out how they could best put her to use. “We have to,” Kasei said. “It’s in the best interest of Mars. Not just for Reds, but all of us. We need some distance between us and Terra, and the gravity well reestablishes that distance. Without it we’ll be sucked down into the maelstrom.” It was Ann’s argument, it was just what she had been saying in the meetings in east Pavonis. “But what if they try to stop you?” “I don’t think they can,” Kasei said. “But if they try?” The two men glanced at each other. Dao shrugged. So, Ann thought, watching them. They were willing to start a civil war. • • • People were still coming up the slopes of Pavonis to the summit, filling up Sheffield, east Pavonis, Lastflow and the other rim tents.

It was deeply contradictory, Ann thought; because they were weak, Nadia was saying, they could not afford to offend, and therefore they must change all Terran social reality. “But how!” Ann cried. “When you have no fulcrum you can’t move a world! No fulcrum, no lever, no force—” “It isn’t just Earth,” Nadia replied. “There are going to be other settlements in the solar system. Mercury, Luna, the big outer moons, the asteroids. We’ve got to be part of all that. As the original settlement, we’re the natural leader. An unbridged gravity well is just an obstruction to all that— a reduction in our ability to act, a reduction in our power.” “Getting in the way of progress,” Ann said bitterly. “Think what Arkady would have said to that. No, look. We had a chance here to make something different. That was the whole point. We still have that chance. Everything that increases the space within which we can create a new society is a good thing.

But these were precisely the kind of people least interested in hearing about Jackie’s plans for a systemwide alliance. And already there had been local disagreements strong enough to have caused trouble; among the people sitting around the table were some serious enemies, Zo could tell. She watched their faces closely as the head of their delegation, Marie, laid out the Martian proposal in the most general terms: an alliance designed to deal with the massive historical-economic-numerical gravity well of Earth, which was huge, teeming, flooded, mired in its past like a pig in a sty, and still the dominant force in the diaspora. It was in the best interests of all the other settlements to band with Mars and present a united front, in control of their own immigration, trade, growth— in control of their destinies. Except none of the Uranians, despite their arguments with each other, looked at all convinced.

pages: 573 words: 163,302

Year's Best SF 15 by David G. Hartwell; Kathryn Cramer


air freight, Black Swan, experimental subject, Georg Cantor, gravity well, job automation, Kuiper Belt, phenotype, semantic web

For a moment, the sun fills the Tank again, paints the whole bridge crimson. Then it dwindles as if devoured from within. I notice some fuzz in the display. “Can you clear that noise?” “It’s not noise,” the chimp reports. “It’s dust and molecular gas.” I blink. “What’s the density?” “Estimated hundred thousand atoms per cubic meter.” Two orders of magnitude too high, even for a nebula. “Why so heavy?” Surely we’d have detected any gravity well strong enough to keep that much material in the neighborhood. “I don’t know,” the chimp says. I get the queasy feeling that I might. “Set field-of-view to five hundred lightsecs. Peak false-color at near-infrared.” Space grows ominously murky in the Tank. The tiny sun at its center, thumbnail-sized now, glows with increased brilliance: an incandescent pearl in muddy water. “A thousand lightsecs,” I command.

Most of space is tranquil: no diel or seasonal cycles, no ice ages or global tropics, no wild pendulum swings between hot and cold, calm and tempestuous. Life’s precursors abound: on comets, clinging to asteroids, suffusing nebulae a hundred lightyears across. Molecular clouds glow with organic chemistry and life-giving radiation. Their vast, dusty wings grow warm with infrared, filter out the hard stuff, give rise to stellar nurseries that only some stunted refugee from the bottom of a gravity well could ever call lethal. Darwin’s an abstraction here, an irrelevant curiosity. This Island puts the lie to everything we were ever told about the machinery of life. Sun-powered, perfectly adapted, immortal, it won no struggle for survival: where are the predators, the competitors, the parasites? All of life around 428 is one vast continuum, one grand act of symbiosis. Nature here is not red in tooth and claw.

pages: 659 words: 203,574

The Collected Stories of Vernor Vinge by Vernor Vinge


anthropic principle, Asilomar, back-to-the-land, dematerialisation, gravity well, invisible hand, Machinery of Freedom by David Friedman, source of truth, spice trade, technological singularity, unbiased observer, Vernor Vinge

This is not to say that Ilse’s makers were without contrition for their mistake, or without praise for Ilse. In fact, several men lost what little there remained to confiscate for jeopardizing this mission, and Man’s last hope. It was simply that Ilse’s makers did not believe that she could appreciate apologies or praise. Now Ilse fled up out of the solar gravity well. It had taken her eleven weeks to fall from Earth to Sol, but in less than two weeks she had regained this altitude, and still she plunged outwards at more than one hundred kilometers per second. That velocity remained her inheritance from the sun. Without the gravity-well maneuver, her booster would have had to be five hundred times as large, or her voyage three times as long. It had been the very best that men could do for her, considering the time remaining to them. So began the voyage of one hundred centuries. Ilse parted with the empty booster and floated on alone: a squat cylinder, twelve meters wide, five meters long, with a large telescope sticking from one end.

pages: 348 words: 185,704

Matter by Iain M Banks - Culture 08


back-to-the-land, germ theory of disease, gravity well, megastructure

He had always imagined that even though it claimed he was in complete control it was secretly still keeping an eye on him and making sure he wasn’t doing anything too crazy, anything that might end up killing them both, but now – right now, as the Primarian craft thatshould not have been there suddenly filled the star-specked darkness of the sky ahead, spreading entirely across his field of vision – he realised the old ship had been true to its word. It had left him alone. He really had been in full hands-on charge of it the whole time. He really had been risking his life, and he was about to lose it now. Twenty-two ships. There had been twenty-two ships; they’d agreed. Arranged in a pair of sort of staggered lines, slightly curved in tune with the planet’s gravity well. Quitrilis had gone up to have a look at them all but they were boring, just hanging there, only the one that had been there from the start even showed any sign of traffic with a few smaller craft buzzing about. The Oct Movement Monitoring and Control people had sort of shouted at him, he’d got the impression, but an Oct shouting was still a pretty involved, incomprehensible experience and he hadn’t taken much notice.

Syaung-un was not average; it was half a million years old, the greatest world in the Morthanveld Commonwealth and, amongst the metre-scale species of the Involveds, one of the most populous settlements in the entire galaxy. It was three hundred million kilometres in diameter, nowhere less than a million klicks thick, contained over forty trillion souls and the whole assemblage rotated round a small star at its centre. Its final, open braid of cylinders altogether easily constituted sufficient matter to produce a gravity well within which a thin but significant opportunistic atmosphere had built up over the decieons of its existence, filling the open bracelet of twisted habitat-strands with a hazy fuzz of waste gas and debris-scatter. The Morthanveld could have cleaned all this up, of course, but chose not to; the consensus was that it led to agreeable lighting effects. TheHence the Fortress dropped them into a Nariscene-run satellite facility the size of a small moon – a sand grain next to a globe-encircling sea – and a little shuttle vessel zipped them across to the openwork braid of the vast corded world itself, slipstream whispering against its hull, the star at the world’s centre glinting mistily through Syaung-un’s filigree of cables, each stout enough, it seemed, to anchor a planet.

pages: 460 words: 107,712

A Devil's Chaplain: Selected Writings by Richard Dawkins


Albert Einstein, Alfred Russel Wallace, Buckminster Fuller, butterfly effect, Claude Shannon: information theory, complexity theory, Desert Island Discs, double helix, Douglas Hofstadter, epigenetics, experimental subject, Fellow of the Royal Society, gravity well, Necker cube, out of africa, phenotype, placebo effect, random walk, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Silicon Valley, stem cell, Stephen Hawking, Steven Pinker, the scientific method

Assuming there was a simple one and looking around the Internet, I was astonished at how diverse the definitions were and how very, very detailed each one had to be in order to include ‘this’ but not include ‘that’. If you think about it, a collection that includes a fruit fly and Richard Dawkins and the Great Barrier Reef is an awkward set of objects to try and compare. Douglas laughed at himself, and at his own jokes. It was one of many ingredients of his charm. There are some oddities in the perspective with which we see the world. The fact that we live at the bottom of a deep gravity well, on the surface of a gas-covered planet going around a nuclear fireball 90 million miles away and think this to be normal is obviously some indication of how skewed our perspective tends to be, but we have done various things over intellectual history to slowly correct some of our misapprehensions. This next paragraph is one of Douglas’s set-pieces which will be familiar to some people here.

pages: 353 words: 101,130

Schild's Ladder by Greg Egan


framing effect, gravity well, invisible hand, Turing machine

So the Quietener was ringed with countersources, their orbits timed to stretch space at the center of the device when the bodies they mimicked squeezed it, and vice versa. As Cass passed within a few kilometers of one of the counter-sources, she could see the aggregate rocky surface that betrayed its origins in Mimosa's rubble of asteroids. Every scrap of material here had been dragged out of that system's gravity well over a period of almost a thousand years, a process initiated by a package of micron-sized spores sent from Viro, the nearest inhabited world, at ninety percent of lightspeed. The Mimosans themselves had come from all over, traveling here just as Cass had once the station was assembled. The scooter's smooth deceleration brought her to a halt beside a docking bay, and she was weightless again.

Zoe's Tale by John Scalzi


gravity well, indoor plumbing

“It doesn’t mean we don’t have a relationship.” I put my PDA away and greeted Enzo as he came up, still holding his face. “So you got that,” he said to me. I turned and smiled at Gretchen and Savitri, as if to say, See. They both rolled their eyes. * * * * * In all, there was about a week between when the Magellan left Phoenix Station and when the Magellan was far enough away from any major gravity well that it could skip to Roanoke. Much of that time was spent watching dodgeball, listening to music, chatting with my new friends, and recording Enzo getting hit with balls. But in between all of that, I actually did spend a little bit of time learning about the world on which we would live the rest of our lives. Some of it I already knew: Roanoke was a Class Six planet, which meant (and here I’m double-checking with the Colonial Union Department of Colonization Protocol Document, get it wherever PDAs have access to a network) that the planet was within fifteen percent of Earth standard gravity, atmosphere, temperature and rotation, but that the biosphere was not compatible with human biology—which is to say if you ate something there, it’d probably make you vomit your guts out if it didn’t kill you outright.

pages: 355 words: 106,952

Visit Sunny Chernobyl: And Other Adventures in the World's Most Polluted Places by Andrew Blackwell


carbon footprint, clean water, Google Earth, gravity well, liberation theology, nuclear paranoia, oil rush, oil shale / tar sands, place-making, ride hailing / ride sharing, sensible shoes, Silicon Valley, special economic zone, the scientific method, young professional

Then the reclaimer would come in, turning its bucket wheel through the sand in the windrow, lifting it onto a conveyor belt on its back, which fed another conveyor belt, and another, transporting the sand great distances out of the pit. There were once thirty kilometers’ worth of conveyor belts operating in Syncrude’s mine, and if you’ve ever tried to keep a conveyor belt running during a harsh northern winter—who hasn’t?—you’ve got an idea of why they finally opted for the shovel-and-truck method. To approach the bucket-wheel reclaimer was to slide into a gravity well of disbelief. It was difficult even to understand its shape. It was longer than a football field, battleship gray, its conveyor belt spine running aft on a bridge large enough to carry traffic. The machine’s shoulders were an irregular metal building several stories tall, overgrown with struts and gangways and ductwork, hunched over a colossal set of tank treads. A vast, counterweighted trunk soared over it all, thrusting forward a fat tunnel of trusses that finally blossomed into the great steel sun of the bucket wheel.

pages: 334 words: 103,508

Icehenge by Kim Stanley Robinson


Buckminster Fuller, colonial rule, Colonization of Mars, double helix, gravity well

I bumped into file freaks and learned new codes, and learning them took me into data banks that taught me even more. Trying to visualize it, I could see myself as a tiny component in a single communications network, a multibank computer complex that spanned the solar system — a dish-shaped, invisible, seemingly telepathic web, a wave pattern that added one more complication to the quark dance swirling in the sun’s gravity well. So I was not in a maze, I was above it, and I could see all of it at once — and its walls formed a pattern, had a meaning, if I could learn how to read it…” I stopped and looked around. Blank faces, neutral, tolerant nods. “You know what I mean?” I asked. No answers. “Sort of,” said Elaine. “But our time’s up.” “Okay,” I said. “More next time.” One night after a party in the restaurant’s kitchen I wandered the streets, my mind in a ferment.

pages: 368 words: 96,825

Bold: How to Go Big, Create Wealth and Impact the World by Peter H. Diamandis, Steven Kotler


3D printing, additive manufacturing, Airbnb, Amazon Mechanical Turk, Amazon Web Services, augmented reality, autonomous vehicles, cloud computing, creative destruction, crowdsourcing, Daniel Kahneman / Amos Tversky, dematerialisation, deskilling, Elon Musk,, Exxon Valdez, fear of failure, Firefox, Galaxy Zoo, Google Glasses, Google Hangouts, Google X / Alphabet X, gravity well, ImageNet competition, industrial robot, Internet of things, Jeff Bezos, John Harrison: Longitude, John Markoff, Jono Bacon, Just-in-time delivery, Kickstarter, Kodak vs Instagram, Law of Accelerating Returns, Lean Startup, life extension, loss aversion, Louis Pasteur, Mahatma Gandhi, Marc Andreessen, Mark Zuckerberg, Mars Rover, meta analysis, meta-analysis, microbiome, minimum viable product, move fast and break things, Narrative Science, Netflix Prize, Network effects, Oculus Rift, optical character recognition, packet switching, PageRank, pattern recognition, performance metric, Peter H. Diamandis: Planetary Resources, Peter Thiel, pre–internet, Ray Kurzweil, recommendation engine, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, ride hailing / ride sharing, risk tolerance, rolodex, self-driving car, sentiment analysis, shareholder value, Silicon Valley, Silicon Valley startup, skunkworks, Skype, smart grid, stem cell, Stephen Hawking, Steve Jobs, Steven Levy, Stewart Brand, technoutopianism, telepresence, telepresence robot, Turing test, urban renewal, web application, X Prize, Y Combinator, zero-sum game

Eventually, they decided to figure out how useful. “It’s a supply chain problem,” explains Dunn. “The ISS is at the back end of the longest, most complicated, and most expensive supply chain in existence. Launch costs are roughly ten thousand dollars a pound. And any object sent into space has to be durable enough to survive the eight minutes of high g-forces it takes to get out of the Earth’s gravity well—which means building heavier objects. But any additional weight imposes a double penalty: Not only does every extra pound cost extra money, but it requires extra fuel to get off the planet, which means even more money.” Plus, when parts aboard the station break, resupply can take months and months. This is why there are over a billion manifest parts (meaning they’ve been paid for but have not necessarily flown yet) aboard the ISS.

pages: 804 words: 212,335

Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds


game design, glass ceiling, gravity well, Kuiper Belt, planetary scale, random walk, statistical model

Hardly surprising: Palsy had set up physical breaks in the command network, chasms that no amount of software intervention could possibly bridge. To get the shuttles online, Volyova would have to physically reset all those breaks — and to do that, she would have to find the map she had made, four decades earlier, of the installations. That would entail, conservatively, several days' work. Instead, she had minutes in which to act. She was sucked into — not so much a pit of despondency, as a bottomless, endlessly plummeting gravitational well. But, when she had dropped deep into its maw — and several of those precious minutes had elapsed — she remembered something; something so obvious she should have thought of it long before. Volyova began running. Khouri crashed back into the gunnery. A quick check on the status-clocks confirmed what Fazil had promised her, which was that no real time had passed. That was some trick; she really felt as if she had spent the best part of an hour in the bubbletent, when in fact the whole experience had just been laid down a fraction of a second earlier.

pages: 549 words: 139,625

Startide rising by David Brin


gravity well, haute cuisine

Startide Rising Uplift Book 2 By David Brin Prologue FROM THE JOURNAL OF GILLIAN BASKIN Streaker is limping like a dog on three legs. We took a chancy jump through overdrive yesterday, a step ahead of the Galactics who are chasing us. The one probability coil that had survived the Morgran battle groaned and complained, but finally delivered us here, to the shallow gravity well of a small population-II dwarf star named Kthsemenee. The Library lists one habitable world in orbit, the planet Kithrup. When I say “habitable,” it’s with charity. Tom, Hikahi, and I spent hours with the captain, looking for alternatives. In the end, Creideiki decided to bring us here. As a physician, I dread landing on a planet as insidiously dangerous as this one, but Kithrup is a water world, and our mostly-dolphin crew needs water to be able to move about and repair the ship.

pages: 623 words: 155,587

Anvil of Stars by Greg Bear


gravity well, place-making, zero-sum game

“Just ourselves.” Martin considered this, saw nations arising, people disagreeing, history raising its ugly head, the inevitable round of Eden’s end and reality’s beginning. But he did not tell Theresa what she already knew. Fantasies were almost as important as fuel at this point. “Do you think they’ll know when they die?” Theresa asked. Martin understood whom she meant. Down at the bottom of the gravity well, on the planets. The Killers. “If they’re still alive…” Martin said, raising his eyebrows. “If there’s anybody still there, still conscious…not a machine.” “Do you think they can be conscious if they’ve become machines?” “The moms don’t tell us about such things,” Martin said. “Can they be guilty if they’re just machines now?” “I don’t know,” Martin said. “They can be dangerous.” “If there are a few still in bodies, still living as we do, do you think they are…leaders, prophets…or just slaves?”

pages: 476 words: 132,042

What Technology Wants by Kevin Kelly


Albert Einstein, Alfred Russel Wallace, Buckminster Fuller,, carbon-based life, Cass Sunstein, charter city, Clayton Christensen, cloud computing, computer vision, Danny Hillis, dematerialisation, demographic transition, double entry bookkeeping, Douglas Engelbart,, Exxon Valdez, George Gilder, gravity well, hive mind, Howard Rheingold, interchangeable parts, invention of air conditioning, invention of writing, Isaac Newton, Jaron Lanier, John Conway, John Markoff, John von Neumann, Kevin Kelly, knowledge economy, Lao Tzu, life extension, Louis Daguerre, Marshall McLuhan, megacity, meta analysis, meta-analysis, new economy, off grid, out of africa, performance metric, personalized medicine, phenotype, Picturephone, planetary scale, RAND corporation, random walk, Ray Kurzweil, recommendation engine, refrigerator car, Richard Florida, Rubik’s Cube, Silicon Valley, silicon-based life, Skype, speech recognition, Stephen Hawking, Steve Jobs, Stewart Brand, Ted Kaczynski, the built environment, the scientific method, Thomas Malthus, Vernor Vinge, wealth creators, Whole Earth Catalog, Y2K

According to Damien Broderick, the author of The Spike, the Air Forcecharted the curves and metacurves of speed. It told them something preposterous. They could not believe their eyes. Speed Trend Curve. The U.S. Air Force’s plot of historical speed records up to the 1950s and their expectations of the fastest speeds in the near future. The curve said they could have machines that attained orbital speed . . . within four years. And they could get their payload right out of Earth’s immediate gravity well just a little later. They could have satellites almost at once, the curve insinuated, and if they wished—if they wanted to spend the money, and do the research and the engineering—they could go to the Moon quite soon after that. It is important to remember that in 1953 none of the technology for these futuristic journeys existed. No one knew how to go that fast and survive. Even the most optimistic, die-hard visionaries did not expect a lunar landing any sooner than the proverbial “year 2000.”

pages: 852 words: 157,181

The Origins of the British by Stephen Oppenheimer


active measures, agricultural Revolution, British Empire, Eratosthenes, gravity well, mass immigration, out of africa, phenotype, the scientific method, trade route

Cluster I1a-4 also characterizes southern Scandinavia. But like I1a-3 – and unlike I1a-2 – it favours Oslo (9%) and Bergen (8%) rather more than Denmark and Frisia (4% each). Like I1a-2, I1a-4 has a scattered distribution in eastern England and around the British coast, and an age suggesting a Neolithic or Late Mesolithic entry (Figure 5.7).79 I1a-7 is the most southerly of the Ian clusters, having a centre of gravity well below Norway. However, it lacks a clear Danish identity, being found equally in Denmark, north-west Germany and, particularly, Frisia, with isolated instances in northern Scandinavia, Switzerland and France. In frequency and diversity,80 I1a-7 is more British than Continental. It has a Bronze Age date in Britain accounting for 9% of British Ian types.81 As we shall see in Chapter 11, there are a number of reasons for rejecting the notion that the presence of Ian in England and eastern Britain is simply a reflection of the much later Anglo-Saxon or Viking invasion.

pages: 448 words: 116,962

Singularity Sky by Stross, Charles


anthropic principle, cellular automata, Conway's Game of Life, cosmological constant, Doomsday Clock, Extropian, gravity well, Kuiper Belt, life extension, means of production, new economy, phenotype, prisoner's dilemma, skinny streets, technological singularity, uranium enrichment

The former set up a wave of expansion and contraction in the space behind and in front of the ship: it was peerlessly elegant, and more than somewhat dangerous—a spacecraft trying to navigate through the dense manifold of space-time ran the risk of being blown apart by a stray dust grain. The jump drive was, to say the least, more reliable, barring a few quirks. A spaceship equipped with it would accelerate out from the nearest star's gravity well. Identifying a point of equipotential flat spacetime near the target star, the ship would light up the drive field generator, and the entire spaceship could then tunnel between the two points without ever actually being between them. (Assuming, of course, that the target star was more or less in the same place and the same state that it appeared to be when the starship lit off its drive field—if it wasn't, nobody would ever see that ship again.)

pages: 496 words: 154,363

I'm Feeling Lucky: The Confessions of Google Employee Number 59 by Douglas Edwards


Albert Einstein, AltaVista, Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, barriers to entry, book scanning, Build a better mousetrap, Burning Man, business intelligence, call centre, commoditize, crowdsourcing, don't be evil, Elon Musk, fault tolerance, Googley, gravity well, invisible hand, Jeff Bezos, job-hopping, John Markoff, Marc Andreessen, Menlo Park, microcredit, music of the spheres, Network effects, P = NP, PageRank, performance metric,, Ralph Nader, risk tolerance, second-price auction, side project, Silicon Valley, Silicon Valley startup, slashdot, stem cell, Superbowl ad, Y2K

It was the middle of March. Time to put away the space heater and break out the cargo shorts and sandals. April was right around the corner. My first April at Google. My first April first. My first opportunity to undertake the torqued brain aerobics and flop-sweat composition that I came to know as the Google April Fools' joke. April Fools' Day would become a perennial black hole in my calendar, a gravity well into which my attention would be sucked from increasingly great distances in time. Sergey, on the other hand, loved April Fools'. His sense of humor didn't stop at the boundaries of good taste, and when it came to April Fools', he dynamited decorum and put moderation to the torch. The cruelest month, indeed. I was headed into Charlie's Café when I ran into Sergey. The day was warm and my mood was full of springtime.

pages: 445 words: 129,068

The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon


bioinformatics, gravity well, hiring and firing, industrial robot, life extension, theory of mind

I feel it with my fingers—someone has stuck gum or candy there and the cleaning compound hasn’t taken it all.Once I notice it, I can’t not notice it. I slide my brochure between me and the rough spot. Page 42 Finally the program moves out of history and into the present. The latest space-probe photographs of the outer planets are spectacular; the simulated flybys almost make me feel that I could fall out of my seat into the gravity well of one planet after another. I wish I could be there myself. When I was little and first saw newscasts of people in space I wanted to be an astronaut, but I know that’s impossible. Even if I had the new LifeTime treatment so I would live long enough, I would still be autistic. What you can’t change don’t grieve over, my mothersaid. I don’t learn anything I don’t already know, but I enjoy the show anyway.

pages: 462 words: 142,240

Iron Sunrise by Stross, Charles


blood diamonds, dumpster diving, gravity well, hiring and firing, industrial robot, life extension, loose coupling, mass immigration, mutually assured destruction, phenotype, planetary scale, postindustrial economy, RFID, side project, speech recognition, technological singularity, trade route, uranium enrichment, urban sprawl, zero-sum game

Iron doesn’t fuse easily: the process is endothermic, absorbing energy. When the guts were scooped out of the star and replaced with a tiny cannonball of cold degenerate matter, the outer layers of the star, held away from the core by radiation pressure, began to collapse inward across a gap of roughly a quarter million kilometers of cold vacuum. The outer shell rushed in fast, accelerating in the grip of a stellar gravity well. Minutes passed, and from the outside the photosphere of the star appeared to contract slightly as huge vortices of hot turbulent gas swirled and fulminated across it. Then the hammerblow of the implosion front reached the core … There was scant warning for the inhabitants of the planet that had been targeted for murder. For a few minutes, star-watching satellites reported an imminent solar flare, irregularities leading to atmospheric effects, aurorae, and storm warnings for orbital workers and miners in the asteroid belt.

pages: 443 words: 123,526

Glasshouse by Stross, Charles


cognitive dissonance, experimental subject, gravity well, loose coupling, peer-to-peer, phenotype, prisoner's dilemma, sensible shoes, theory of mind, white picket fence

The Linebarger Cats mostly go back to their prewar activities, a troupe of historic re-enactment artists in the pay of a retiring metahuman power who has spent the past gigasecs sleeping through the chaos. But not all of us can let go and forget . . . ONCE upon a time, when I was young and immortal, I jumped off a two-kilometer-high cliff on a partially terraformed moon orbiting a hot Jupiter. There was a fad for self-sustaining biospheres and deep gravity wells and it was selling itself as a resort—that's my excuse. I did it without a parachute. Gravity was low, about three meters per second squared, but it was still a two-kilometer drop toward a waterfall that obscured the jungle canopy far below with a haze of rainbow fog. I was trying on a mythopoeic body, and as I dropped I spread my wings for the first time, feeling the tension in the enormous thin webs between the fingers of my middle-hands.

pages: 390 words: 114,538

Digital Wars: Apple, Google, Microsoft and the Battle for the Internet by Charles Arthur


activist fund / activist shareholder / activist investor, AltaVista, Build a better mousetrap, Burning Man, cloud computing, commoditize, credit crunch, crowdsourcing, disintermediation, don't be evil,, Firefox, gravity well, Jeff Bezos, John Gruber, Mark Zuckerberg, Menlo Park, Network effects, PageRank, pre–internet, Robert X Cringely, Silicon Valley, Silicon Valley startup, skunkworks, Skype, slashdot, Snapchat, software patent, speech recognition, stealth mode startup, Steve Ballmer, Steve Jobs, the new new thing, the scientific method, Tim Cook: Apple, turn-by-turn navigation, upwardly mobile

Elop’s decision to announce Symbian’s forthcoming death in January 2011, yet not have any Windows Phone handsets to sell, had a dramatic effect on the company’s primary customers – the carriers. Six months after that announcement, and three months before it had any Windows Phone handsets to sell, Nokia too made an operating loss on its handset business. The next two quarters were profitable; then the money began bleeding out again. By the end of 2012, both Nokia and RIM were trapped in a financial gravity well. According to Dediu’s rule of thumb – which was quickly taking on the force of a law of nature – it was only a matter of time before each would succumb, either to a takeover, merger, or breakup. Nokia’s response, as it tried to pull itself out of the dive, was to differentiate itself through phone features such as wireless charging and high-quality cameras. At the launch of one handset, I asked Jo Harlow, its head of Windows Phone, why people should buy a Lumia device (its Windows Phone brand) rather than any other brand.

Foundation's Edge by Isaac Asimov


anthropic principle, gravity well

BLISS REACTED TO THE SWOOP DOWN TO GAIA with a naïve excitement. She said, “There’s no feeling of acceleration.” “It’s a gravitic drive,” said Pelorat. “Everything accelerates together, ourselves included, so we don’t feel anything.” “But how does it work, Pel?” Pelorat shrugged. “I think Trev knows,” he said, “but I don’t think he’s really in a mood to talk about it.” Trevize had dropped down Gaia’s gravity-well almost recklessly. The ship responded to his direction, as Bliss had warned him, in a partial manner. An attempt to cross the lines of gravitic force obliquely was accepted—but only with a certain hesitation. An attempt to rise upward was utterly ignored. The ship was still not his. Pelorat said mildly, “Aren’t you going downward rather rapidly, Golan?” Trevize, with a kind of flatness to his voice, attempting to avoid anger (more for Pelorat’s sake, than anything else) said, “The young lady says that Gaia will take care of us.”

pages: 478 words: 142,608

The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins


Albert Einstein, anthropic principle, Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, Ayatollah Khomeini, Brownian motion, cosmological principle, David Attenborough, Desert Island Discs, double helix,, experimental subject, Fellow of the Royal Society, gravity well, invisible hand, John von Neumann, luminiferous ether, Menlo Park, meta analysis, meta-analysis, Murray Gell-Mann, Necker cube, Peter Singer: altruism, phenotype, placebo effect, planetary scale, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Schrödinger's Cat, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, stem cell, Stephen Hawking, Steven Pinker, the scientific method, theory of mind, Thorstein Veblen, trickle-down economics, unbiased observer

The difference doesn’t really matter for present purposes, except that the second interpretation already takes care of Haldane’s ‘any’ philosophy. The dedicatee of this book made a living from the strangeness of science, pushing it to the point of comedy. The following is taken from the same extempore speech in Cambridge in 1998 that I quoted in Chapter 1: ‘The fact that we live at the bottom of a deep gravity well, on the surface of a gas-covered planet going around a nuclear fireball ninety million miles away and think this to be normal is obviously some indication of how skewed our perspective tends to be.’ Where other science-fiction writers played on the oddness of science to arouse our sense of the mysterious, Douglas Adams used it to make us laugh (those who have read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy might think of the ‘infinite improbability drive’, for instance).

Beggars in Spain by Nancy Kress


Cepheid variable, double helix, gravity well, index card, indoor plumbing, job automation, phenotype, union organizing

Consider, in the past century, the gaudy excesses of the roaring twenties and the antiestablishment contempt of the sixties. Consider, in our own century, the unprecedented prosperity brought about by Y-energy—and then consider that Kenzo Yagai, except to his followers, was seen as a greedy and bloodless logician, while our national adulation goes to neo-nihilist writer Stephen Castelli, to “feelie” actress Brenda Foss, and to daredevil gravity-well diver Jim Morse Luter. But most of all, as you ponder this phenomenon in your Y-energy houses, consider the current outpouring of irrational 76 nancy kress feeling directed at the “Sleepless” since the publication of the joint findings of the Biotech Institute and the Chicago Medical School concerning Sleepless tissue regeneration. Most of the Sleepless are intelligent. Most of them are calm, if you define that much-maligned word to mean directing one’s energies into solving problems rather than to emoting about them.

pages: 216 words: 115,870

The Player of Games by Iain M Banks - Culture 02


always be closing, ghettoisation, gravity well, invisible hand, Network effects, New Journalism

He sat in the front section of the converted module theLimiting Factor had picked up from the GSV. He and Flere-Imsaho had boarded the little craft and said their au revoirs to the old warship, which was to stand off the Empire, waiting to be recalled. The hangar blister had rotated and the module, escorted by a couple of frigates, had fallen towards the planet while theLimiting Factor made a show of moving very slowly and hesitantly away from the gravity well with the two battlecruisers. 'What's what?' Flere-Imsaho said, floating beside him, disguise discarded and lying on the floor. 'That,' Gurgeh said, pointing at the screen, which displayed the view looking straight down. The module was flying overland towards Groasnachek, Eä's capital city; the Empire didn't like vessels entering the atmosphere directly above its cities, so they'd come in over the ocean.

pages: 298 words: 151,238

Excession by Iain M Banks - Culture 05


continuous integration, gravity well, hive mind, place-making

Pittance was a huge irregular lump of matter, two hundred kilometres across at its narrowest point and ninety-eight per cent iron by volume. It was the remnant of a catastrophe which had occurred over four billion years earlier, when the planet of whose core it had been part had been struck by another large body. Expelled from its own solar system by that cataclysm, it had wandered between the stars for a quarter of the life of the universe, uncaptured by any other gravity well but subtly affected by all it passed anywhere near. It had been discovered drifting in deep space a millennium ago by a GCU taking an eccentrically trajectorial course between two stellar systems, it had been given the brief examination its simple and homogeneous composition deserved and then had been left to glide, noted, effectively tagged, untouched, but given the name Pittance. When the time came, five hundred years later, to dismantle the colossal war machine the Culture had created in order to destroy that of the Idirans, Pittance had suddenly been found a role.

pages: 270 words: 132,960

Use of Weapons by Iain M Banks


centre right, double helix, gravity well, job satisfaction, oil shale / tar sands, trade route

'What...' the Ethnarch Kerian gulped, drawing his legs up under the covers. 'Whatare you here for?' The intruder looked mildly surprised. 'Oh, I'm here to take you out, Ethnarch. You are going to be removed. Now...' he laid the gun on the broad top of the bed footboard. The Ethnarch stared at it. It was too far away for him to grab, but... 'The story,' the intruder said, settling back in the chair. 'Once upon a time, over the gravity well and far away, there was a magical land where they had no kings, no laws, no money and no property, but where everybody lived like a prince, was very well-behaved and lacked for nothing. And these people lived in peace, but they were bored, because para-dise can get that way after a time, and so they started to carry out missions of good works; charitable visits upon the less well-off, you might say; and they always tried to bring with them the thing that they saw as the most precious gift of all; know-ledge; information; and as wide a spread of that information as possible, because these people were strange, in that they despised rank, and hated kings... and all things hierarchic... even Ethnarchs.'

pages: 263 words: 121,207

Look To Windward by Iain M Banks - Culture 07


gravity well

It nodded at the GSV, which was close and bright enough now to be casting its own light over the surrounding landscape, like a strangely rectangular golden moon floating over the world. 'Thatis the sort of thing Hub Minds can't help get worried about,' the avatar said, hoisting one silvery eyebrow. 'A trillion tonnes of ship capable of accelerating like an arrow out of a bow coming close enough to the surface for me to feel the curve of the fucker's gravity well if it wasn't fielded out.' It shook its head. 'GSVs,' it said, tutting as though over a mischievous but cute child. 'Do you think they take advantage of you because you used to be one?' Kabe asked. The giant craft seemed to have come to a halt at last, filling about a quarter of the sky. Some wispy clouds had formed underneath its lower surface. Concentric shells of field showed up as barely visible lines around it, like a set of cavernous nested bubbles floating in the sky.

pages: 1,280 words: 384,105

The Mammoth Book of the Best of Best New SF by Gardner Dozois


back-to-the-land, Buckminster Fuller, Burning Man, call centre, Columbine, congestion charging, dark matter, Doomsday Book, double helix, Extropian, gravity well, Mason jar, offshore financial centre, out of africa, pattern recognition, phenotype, Silicon Valley, slashdot, Stephen Hawking, telepresence, Turing machine, Turing test, Winter of Discontent, Y2K, zero-sum game

The most obvious external feature of their modification was that they had an extra pair of “arms” instead of “legs,” and this meant that most of the public places in Moscoviense were designed to accommodate their kind as well as “walkers”; all the corridors were railed and all the ceilings ringed. The sight of fabers swinging around the place like gibbons, getting everywhere at five or six times the pace of walkers, was one that I found strangely fascinating, and one to which I never quite became accustomed. Fabers couldn’t live, save with the utmost difficulty, in the gravity well that was Earth; they almost never descended to the planet’s surface. By the same token, it was very difficult for men from Earth to work in zero-gee environments without extensive modification, surgical if not genetic. For this reason, the only “ordinary” men who went into the true faber environments weren’t ordinary by any customary standard. The Moon, with its one-sixth Earth gravity, was the only place in the inner solar system where fabers and unmodified men frequently met and mingled – there was nowhere else nearer than Ganymede.

Annette grins broadly for her own reasons, raises a glass in toast. Ivan the extreme concrete geek has an arm round her shoulders; he raises his glass, too. “Lots of launch pads to rubberize!” “To NASA,” Bob echoes. They drink. “Hey, Manfred. To NASA?” “NASA are idiots. They want to send canned primates to Mars!” Manfred swallows a mouthful of beer, aggressively plonks his glass on the table: “Mars is just dumb mass at the bottom of a gravity well; there isn’t even a biosphere there. They should be working on uploading and solving the nanoassembly conformational problem instead. Then we could turn all the available dumb matter into computronium and use it for processing our thoughts. Long term, it’s the only way to go. The solar system is a dead loss right now – dumb all over! Just measure the mips per milligram. We need to start with the low-mass bodies, reconfigure them for our own use.

pages: 1,396 words: 245,647

The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Mystic of the Atom by Graham Farmelo


Albert Einstein, anti-communist, Arthur Eddington, Berlin Wall, cuban missile crisis, double helix, Ernest Rutherford, Fall of the Berlin Wall, Fellow of the Royal Society, financial independence, gravity well, Henri Poincaré, invention of radio, invisible hand, Isaac Newton, John von Neumann, Kevin Kelly, Murray Gell-Mann, period drama, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Simon Singh, Solar eclipse in 1919, Stephen Hawking, strikebreaker, University of East Anglia

The journalist Jim Crowther did not, however, stop trying to involve his retiring friend in public affairs: in mid-November 1940, he tried to persuade Dirac to attend a meeting of the Tots and Quots dining club, an informal gathering of academics who were interested in exploring how their expertise might be useful to society (the name of the club is a reference to the Latin quot homines, tot sententiae: ‘so many men, so many opinions’). Its twenty-three members in 1940 – including Bernal, Cockroft and Crowther – were often joined by guests, such as Frederick Lindemann, H. G. Wells, the philosopher A. J. Ayer and the art historian Sir Kenneth Clark.42 The location of the club’s political centre of gravity, well to the left, was reflected in the outcome of their debates, most of them held over a few bottles of wine and an indifferent meal in London’s Soho. The meeting Crowther wanted Dirac to attend, on Saturday, 23 November 1940, was scheduled to discuss Anglo-American scientific cooperation and was to take place in Christ’s College, Cambridge. Crowther knew the best way to encourage Dirac to attend: ‘It would be quite unnecessary for you to join in the discussion if you did not wish to.’43 Crowther succeeded, and Dirac listened to a wide-ranging discussion about ways of promoting scientific cooperation with American scientists, until shortly after midnight.

pages: 764 words: 188,807

The Prefect by Alastair Reynolds


gravity well, Turing test

"We have a full-scale manufactory complex in the trailing endcap," Caillebot said. "We used to make ships. Lovely things, too: single-molecule hulls in ruby and emerald. It hasn't run at anything like full capacity for decades, but smaller habitats occasionally contract us to build components and machines. The big enterprises on Marco's Eye will always out-compete us when it comes to efficiency and economies of scale, but we don't have to lift anything out of a gravity well, or pay Glitter Band import duties. That takes care of some of our finances." "Not all of it, though," Thalia said. "Right?" "We vote," Thory said. "So does everyone," Thalia replied. "Except for Panoply." "Not everyone votes the way we do. That's the big difference. There are eight hundred thousand people in this habitat, and each and every one of us takes our voting rights very seriously indeed."

pages: 634 words: 185,116

From eternity to here: the quest for the ultimate theory of time by Sean M. Carroll


Albert Einstein, Albert Michelson, anthropic principle, Arthur Eddington, Brownian motion, cellular automata, Claude Shannon: information theory, Columbine, cosmic microwave background, cosmological constant, cosmological principle, dark matter, dematerialisation, double helix,, gravity well, Harlow Shapley and Heber Curtis, Henri Poincaré, Isaac Newton, John von Neumann, Lao Tzu, lone genius, New Journalism, Norbert Wiener,, Pierre-Simon Laplace, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Richard Stallman, Schrödinger's Cat, Slavoj Žižek, Stephen Hawking, stochastic process, the scientific method, wikimedia commons

General relativity doesn’t predict that space and time didn’t exist before the Big Bang; it predicts that the curvature of spacetime in the very early universe became so large that general relativity itself ceases to be reliable. Quantum gravity, which we can happily ignore when we’re talking about the curvature of spacetime in the relatively placid context of the contemporary universe, absolutely must be taken into account. And, sadly, we don’t understand quantum gravity well enough to say for sure what actually happens at very early times. It might very well be true that space and time “come into existence” in that era—or not. Perhaps there is a transition from a phase of an irredeemably quantum wave function to the classical spacetime we know and love. But it is equally conceivable that space and time extend beyond the moment that we identify as “the Big Bang.” Right now, we simply don’t know; researchers are investigating different possibilities, with an open mind about which will eventually turn out to be right.

pages: 584 words: 170,388

Hyperion by Dan Simmons


gravity well, invisible hand, New Journalism, Norbert Wiener

There was little else he could do. The squid reached atmosphere before the three Ouster assault boats reached the squid. The boats undoubtedly were armed and well within range, but someone on the command circuit must have been curious. Or furious. Kassad’s squid was in no way aerodynamic. As with most ship-to-ship craft, the squid could flirt with planetary atmospheres but was doomed if it dove too deeply into the gravity well. Kassad saw the telltale red glow of reentry, heard the ion buildup on the active radio channels, and suddenly wondered if this had been such a good idea. Atmospheric drag stabilized the squid and Kassad felt the first tentative tug of gravity as he searched the console and the command chair arms for the control circuit he prayed would be there. A static-filled video screen showed one of the dropships growing a blue-plasma tail as it decelerated.

pages: 729 words: 195,181

The mote in God's eye by Larry Niven; Jerry Pournelle


British Empire, clean water, gravity well, risk tolerance, the market place

"I'm curious, Captain. Why didn't you do what Dr. Horvath suggested?" "I-" Blaine sat rigidly for a moment, his thoughts whirling. "Well, sir, we were low on fuel and pretty close to Cal. If I'd kept pace with the probe I'd have ended up out of control and unable to keep station on it at all, assuming that McArthur's Drive didn't burn up the sail anyway. We needed the velocity to get back out of Cal's gravity well . . . and my orders were to intercept." He stopped for a moment to finger his broken nose. Merrill nodded. "One more question, Blaine. What did you think when you were assigned to investigate an alien ship?" "I was excited at the chance of meeting them, sir." "Gentlemen, he doesn't sound like an unreasoning xenophobe to me. But when his ship was attacked, he defended her. Dr. Horvath, had he actually fired on the probe itself-which was surely the easiest way to see that it didn't damage his ship-I would personally see that he was dismissed as unfit to serve His Majesty in any capacity whatsoever.

pages: 630 words: 179,233

Pathfinder by Orson Scott Card


clean water, gravity well

“You decided on ‘wallfold,’ by analogy with the small pens constructed by shepherds.” “All nineteen of the wallfolds will start with exactly the same combination of genes—except one.” “The one that has you,” said the expendable. “And yet I’m the one that you all claim had some kind of influence over the jump backward in time, and the duplication of the ships.” “We do not ‘claim’ it. It’s a certainty. Your mind, cut off from the gravity well of any planet, destabilized the combination of fields we created in order to make the jump past the light barrier. Theoretically, all nineteen computers on the original ship made a slightly different calculation, but your mind caused all of them to be executed at once, resulting in nineteen equivalent ships making the same bifurcated jump.” “Bifurcated?” “Bifurcated means ‘split in half.’ The theory of the jump is that one vehicle jumps forward through space while an identical vehicle begins to move backward in time, retracing the entire journey.

pages: 571 words: 162,958

Rewired: The Post-Cyberpunk Anthology by James Patrick Kelly, John Kessel


back-to-the-land, Columbine, dark matter, Extropian, Firefox, gravity well, haute couture, Internet Archive, pattern recognition, phenotype, post-industrial society, price stability, Silicon Valley, slashdot, Stephen Hawking, technological singularity, telepresence, the scientific method, Turing test, urban renewal, Vernor Vinge, wage slave, Y2K, zero day

Annette grins broadly for her own reasons, raises a glass in toast. Ivan the extreme concrete geek has an arm round her shoulders; he raises his glass, too. “Lots of launch pads to rubberize!” “To NASA,” Bob echoes. They drink. “Hey, Manfred. To NASA?” “NASA are idiots. They want to send canned primates to Mars!” Manfred swallows a mouthful of beer, aggressively plonks his glass on the table: “Mars is just dumb mass at the bottom of a gravity well; there isn’t even a biosphere there. They should be working on uploading and solving the nanoassembly conformational problem instead. Then we could turn all the available dumb matter into computronium and use it for processing our thoughts. Long term, it’s the only way to go. The solar system is a dead loss right now—dumb all over! Just measure the mips per milligram. We need to start with the low-mass bodies, reconfigure them for our own use.

pages: 603 words: 182,781

Aerotropolis by John D. Kasarda, Greg Lindsay


3D printing, air freight, airline deregulation, airport security, Akira Okazaki, Asian financial crisis, back-to-the-land, barriers to entry, Berlin Wall, big-box store, blood diamonds, borderless world, British Empire, call centre, carbon footprint, Cesare Marchetti: Marchetti’s constant, Clayton Christensen, cleantech, cognitive dissonance, commoditize, conceptual framework, credit crunch, David Brooks, David Ricardo: comparative advantage, Deng Xiaoping, deskilling, digital map, edge city, Edward Glaeser, failed state, food miles, Ford paid five dollars a day, Frank Gehry, fudge factor, full employment, future of work, Geoffrey West, Santa Fe Institute, George Gilder, global supply chain, global village, gravity well, Haber-Bosch Process, Hernando de Soto, hive mind, if you build it, they will come, illegal immigration, inflight wifi, intangible asset, interchangeable parts, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), intermodal, invention of the telephone, inventory management, invisible hand, Jane Jacobs, Jeff Bezos, Kangaroo Route, knowledge worker, kremlinology, labour mobility, Marchetti’s constant, Marshall McLuhan, Masdar, mass immigration, McMansion, megacity, Menlo Park, microcredit, Network effects, New Economic Geography, new economy, New Urbanism, oil shale / tar sands, oil shock, peak oil, Pearl River Delta, Peter Thiel,, pink-collar, pre–internet, RFID, Richard Florida, Ronald Coase, Ronald Reagan, Rubik’s Cube, savings glut, Seaside, Florida, Shenzhen was a fishing village, Silicon Valley, Silicon Valley startup, Skype, smart cities, smart grid, South China Sea, South Sea Bubble, sovereign wealth fund, special economic zone, spice trade, spinning jenny, stem cell, Steve Jobs, supply-chain management, sustainable-tourism, telepresence, the built environment, The Chicago School, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, The Nature of the Firm, thinkpad, Thomas L Friedman, Thomas Malthus, Tony Hsieh, trade route, transcontinental railway, transit-oriented development, traveling salesman, trickle-down economics, upwardly mobile, urban planning, urban renewal, urban sprawl, walkable city, white flight, white picket fence, Yogi Berra, zero-sum game

It’s incorrect to describe these men and women as the “architects” of the aerotropolis or as planners in any conventional sense, because their particular craft has little to do with any traditional notions of centralized planning. Besides, they’re too hamstrung by zoning laws and the intransigence of developers to do anything other than park their clients where they want to be—next to the nearest on-ramp. This approach has its obvious flaws, the worst of which is the hideous, unsustainable sprawl barely held in check by the hub’s gravity well. All the same, Louisville and Memphis both languished until they deliberately embraced the overnight carriers calling each one home. It’s striking how their past, present, and future so closely mirror each other, just as FedEx and UPS are reflections of their futile attempts to outflank each other. Whereas Memphis had once been the seat of King Cotton, Louisville was a tobacco depot on the south bank of the Ohio, sitting above the rapids that forced steamboat captains to lug their shipments ashore and past them.

pages: 615 words: 189,720

Galileo's Dream by Kim Stanley Robinson


clockwork universe, dark matter, Dava Sobel, gravity well, Murano, Venice glass, music of the spheres

On the table between them were plates of small cubes and slices of a vegetable substance unknown to Galileo, the bits flavored with ginger or garlic or various peppery spices he was not familiar with, which made his tongue buzz and his nose run. The water was berry-flavored; he drank deeply, feeling suddenly very thirsty. He surveyed the dim turquoise and cobalt buildings beneath them. Europa was a world of ice, Io was a world of fire. Were Ganymede and Callisto then earth and air? “Have you had more conversation with the thing under us?” he asked Aurora. “You were telling me about it before. It seems to know gravity well, you said?” “Yes.” “What about the compound temporality, the vector of three times?” “That’s been hard to determine.” “Show me the exchanges with it.” Aurora smiled. “It’s been eleven years since the ice was broached and the sentience confirmed. Most of the interactions have come to dead ends. But an abstract of it can be found here.” She indicated their table, and Galileo looked at it and saw long strings of mathematical symbols and graphically organized information.

pages: 607 words: 185,228

Antarctica by Kim Stanley Robinson


Exxon Valdez, Fermat's Last Theorem, gravity well, hiring and firing, late capitalism, Occam's razor, Turing test, Zeno's paradox

Majestically they floated down the Zaneveld, over flat ice next to one of the main rubble lines, shooting over small cracks and rocks that would have eaten a snowmobile; floating down a slight incline, effortless and smooth. Carlos and X were sitting back, feeling quite pleased with themselves as Val peered suspiciously over their shoulders. Then the ice tilted downward just slightly more than it had been before, and suddenly the hovercraft was like a ball in a gravity well demonstration, speeding up distinctly, and what was worse, sliding off to the right. With a brief clatter the craft ran directly over the nearest rubble line, and then it was flying downslope-the true downslope-right toward a gnarly shear zone underlying Wiest Bluff, on the other shore of the Zaneveld. Carlos sat forward and turned the craft to the left, and it responded, swivelling on its axis; but they merely continued sideways in the same direction they had been going before.

pages: 816 words: 242,405

A Man on the Moon by Andrew Chaikin


cuban missile crisis, data acquisition, gravity well, index card, Internet Archive, invention of the telephone, Isaac Newton, Norman Mailer, V2 rocket

Without some other way to turn around, would they simply speed past the moon, condemned to a lonely death when their oxygen supply ran out? Fortunately, the laws of celestial mechanics—whose strictness gave space flight an extraordinary predictability—made it possible to give Borman’s crew a built-in ticket home. The trajectory specialists had taken advantage of this in an elegant creation called the free return. By aiming Apollo 8 at just the right distance from the moon, they could use the lunar “gravity well” like a curve in a toboggan course, to bend its path around the moon and send it back toward earth. In theory, it was possible to fire Apollo 8 out of the starting gate so precisely that it would fly a perfect figure 8 around the moon even if Borman’s crew never touched the controls. There wasn’t a man in Kraft’s trajectory division who wasn’t so confident of this that he would have offered to go in their place.

pages: 1,386 words: 379,115

Judas Unchained by Peter F. Hamilton

car-free, complexity theory, forensic accounting, gravity well, megacity, megastructure, planetary scale, trade route, trickle-down economics

‘Looking good,’ Alic told his arrest team. His heart started to beat a lot faster as the carriage squeaked and rolled onward. * Oscar simply couldn’t take his eyes off Tiger Pansy. She’d caught him staring quite a few times, and he’d managed to deflect her questioning gaze with a polite half-smile. He knew it was getting close to rudeness now, but she was so out of place here her attraction was akin to a star’s gravity well. But then, would someone like her care about middle class standards of rudeness? And what does that judgement say about me? Damn, was Adam right about what I’ve become? ‘You’re going to have to stop that,’ Anna said, and moved to stand in front of him. ‘I know,’ he mumbled awkwardly. Her smile became evil. ‘If you’re a big fan, you should get over that shy streak and go ask her for an autograph.’