Nikolai

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About Nikolai

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    Sr. Spacecraft Engineer

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  1. Nikolai

    Your Finest Hour in KSP

    I made a "lawn chair lander" for Jeb around Minmus. The thing was docked to, and sat on top of, the capsule, and was very little more than a rover body with a command seat and monopropellant tanks. I got Jeb out of the capsule to EVA to the "lander", undocked, and gently pushed away from the capsule to put the thing through its paces. Everything looked good. I was even pretty sure I could handle the weird perspective on the navball. Time to take this thing down. Aim retrograde and fire thrusters! I forgot that the capsule was behind me. It took me a few moments after the initial chaos to figure out what had happened. The collision had knocked Jeb clean out of his seat, sending him and the "lander" spinning off in different directions. I restored focus to Jeb, but he was unconscious. I spammed buttons like crazy, trying to get him to wake up before I lost sight of the "lander". (This was before astronauts on EVA got their own navball; I wasn't sure I could find my way back if I didn't wake up in time.) Thankfully, I did -- the lander's marker remained in sight even after the capsule's marker went dark. I fired up the jetpack, flew back to the spinning contraption, and climbed back into the command seat. The batteries had gone dead. And the solar panels were damaged to the point where they weren't recharging anything. Thankfully, the struggle back to the lander got me back to within marker range of the capsule, so I got out of the seat and flew back there -- then piloted the capsule back to Kerbin. My heart had started pounding when the capsule smacked into the lander. It didn't really calm down until the capsule successfully splashed down. I was so proud that I hadn't killed anyone that I left that useless lander in orbit around Minmus for months. I've had arguably closer scrapes since then, but that was the first time I felt like I'd done something impossible.
  2. Nikolai

    What happened to awesome space movies?

    I have to wonder if some part of the apparent paucity of awesome space movies is because of the difficulty of finding an audience. Make a movie that adheres to physical reality that takes place in space, and you have to be very careful and precise with your special effects. Most people will never notice, and will not be drawn to your movie for that reason. Of the remainder, there are those who will get lost in the subject matter, and refrain from seeing movies like yours because they're hard to understand. The only ones who are left are the people who will potentially appreciate your efforts -- but for them, you'd better get every detail right and display it in precisely the right way, or they'll focus only on the things you missed (or the things they think you missed). Witness the number of people who dislike Gravity because Neil deGrasse Tyson couldn't figure out why Clooney's character would "fly away" after releasing the tether, even though superimposing multiple exposures makes it perfectly clear that he was at the end of a rotating system (as does paying attention to the stars in the background when the camera shows close-ups of the characters). Or who dislike Gravity because they paid close attention to local physics, but they totally screwed up orbital mechanics. (There are those who avoided Gravity simply because they didn't care for the movie generally. I imagine, unfortunately, that they tend to get lost in the noise.) I imagine that once you eliminate the producers who stay away from realistic space movies because they don't like them or because the subject matter is intimidating, the ones who are left -- who would have to be kind of intelligent, honestly, if they want to make a realistic space movie in the first place -- might be left asking themselves why they should bother.
  3. No, silly. We just equip all of our rockets with corkscrews now.
  4. It was more somber than I expected. First Man appears to be trying to argue that a family tragedy that occurs early in the film is what provides his motivation to take on one of the hardest jobs ever offered. And obviously, I can't rule that out completely, but that idea that he's driven enough to tackle being an astronaut seems to be at odds with how it portrays Neil Armstrong -- almost robotically going through the motions at times (especially when he's at work), angrily isolating himself from family and friends. While Neil was a quiet person, this anger and self-imposed, somber solitude seems to be at serious odds with the footage and pictures we have of the man, where he doesn't seem at all reluctant to offer a genuine smile from time to time. I think the filmmakers wanted to highlight the isolation of astronauts generally -- to the point of . And there's value in that -- you certainly get a feel for what it might have been like to fly machines that were basically a powerful engine with as little else as possible. But on the whole, I think it leads to a certain emotional imbalance in the film. It's well worth watching, and some of the shots and attention to detail are striking, but I don't think you get the dramatic emotional highs and lows that keep me coming back to movies like Apollo 13 and The Right Stuff.
  5. Not sure what you mean. If an asteroid or its parts is stopped in the atmosphere, all of the kinetic energy of the asteroid will turn into heat. That's a given. That's how this works. If there's enough heat, it can disrupt climate patterns. How much heat? Enough to do the job. What kind of "scientific proof" are you looking for?
  6. The "Launch" button in the upper right of the screen when you're in the VAB or the SPH should spawn a menu. That menu contains the new "Dessert" launch site and airfield. If you're not seeing that, make sure you have the updated expansion.
  7. Nikolai

    Bad science in fiction Hall of Shame

    The tabletop RPG Space: 1889 pushed manned interplanetary travel back into the late nineteenth century by positing that Newtonian physics was correct after all -- most saliently, that the luminiferous aether actually existed -- and that Thomas Edison developed an "aether propeller" to react against it. (It was steampunk a quarter-century before the term was even coined.) The colonial skirmishes that took place on Earth were extended to the inner Solar System. (The outer Solar System was relatively unexplored because gathering enough sunlight to power the boilers was difficult.) I love the setting to death. Mercury is tidally locked to the Sun, with one face boiling hot and the other freezing cold with a "twilight zone" in between that is marginally habitable. Venus is a primitive Earth the way the Victorians thought of it, with swamps, volcanoes, dinosaurs -- and lizard-people thrown in for good measure (that are at the Stone Age in their technological development). Mars is home to no less than three intelligent species, even though large amounts of that planet's water dried up about 50,000 years ago: The Canal Martians, which live at the cities that can be found at the junctures of enormous canals that draw water from the melting poles during each hemisphere's summer; the Hill Martians, which exist as nomadic tribes that wander the desert wastes covering the globe; and the High Martians, which live in caverns that they've dug into the mountains. Most of the action takes place on Mars, because (a) it's the most well-developed world besides Earth, and (b) because "liftwood" grows there, a plant with wood that, when treated properly, has anti-gravitic properties. Unfortunately, the original game was rather clunky, with four different sets of rules for playing: One for character role-playing and advancement; one for vehicular combat; one for man-to-man combat; and one for scientific advancement (so your mad scientist players could make their lightning guns and what-not). The four systems didn't intersect in any meaningful way. It seems to me that this was a major barrier to players adapting and playing the game. A few modern publishers have adapted the setting to more modern (read: more streamlined) systems, like Ubiquity and Savage Worlds. Exactly how the aether propeller works is left vague, and aside from notions of things like "aether wakes" that make the area around planets a bit more tricky to navigate, not much else is done with the concept. A shame, IMHO. Even so, it seems to me that the game deserves more attention than it gets.
  8. Nikolai

    Bad science in fiction Hall of Shame

    Yes -- yes, they do. I note that "induce organism to climb nearby vertical object" is a lot less complicated than the tasks we ask zombies to perform in tracking prey (especially when we're talking about an organism that will regularly climb vertical objects in search of food under certain circumstances anyway). Toxoplasma gondii simply causes the rat it infects to become less averse to the smell of cat urine, increasing the chances that that rat will be preyed upon. It doesn't generate a desire to be close to cats. And again, it's a rather long road from this to behavior as complex as prey tracking. If you want to posit a human parasite that causes us to become irrationally angry in the presence of certain smells, for example (vaguely like The Screwfly Solution), and thus manipulate our behavior, that's reasonable given what we've seen. Turning humans into zombies, though? You'd have to alter an awful lot of behavior, it seems to me, and simultaneously alter an awful lot of our rather intricate and interconnected biology in a way that's kind of unprecedented from an observational standpoint.
  9. Nikolai

    Bad science in fiction Hall of Shame

    There's a line somewhere between back-engineering what you want the results to be (I want zombies with properties X, Y, and Z; what kind of virus can I posit that will grant those qualities?) and reasonable extrapolation of reality (This is what viruses are known to be capable of; what scenarios are possible given those known facts?), and from your description, this work seems firmly to be on the side of the former -- which, if I'm being pedantic, I wouldn't call "realistic". Logically consistent, perhaps, and that's fun in its own right, of course (I like time travel tales that try to be logically consistent, for example, though they could never be termed "realistic"). And I personally probably wouldn't care one way or the other about these categories while actually consuming the entertainment. But some people -- especially the sort of people who would put up a "Hall of Shame" like this one -- seem to come down pretty strongly in their preference of hard science fiction, and the difference to them between the two categories above might be very important. Just one of those endlessly fascinating quirks of the human psyche, IMHO.
  10. Nikolai

    Random Science Facts Thread!

    I don't mean to deny this at all. Lots of real innovations require the confluence of several different parts to hit their full stride, and you're absolutely right that the printing press and innovations to it were an indispensable part of bringing down the cost of printing substantially.
  11. Nikolai

    Do you like anime?

    Well, I haven't seen much anime, sadly, but what I've seen, I've liked. My impression is that I've been extraordinarily lucky to see really good series (e.g., Planetes and Cowboy Bebop). And but anyway, I'm excited for the premiere of Steins;Gate 0 later this week.
  12. Nikolai

    Random Science Facts Thread!

    Right, hence my use of wording like "cheap paper" and "materials like scrubbed lambskin". The barrier to ubiquitous printed goods was the cost more than the precise composition of the stuff in question. The invention of the printing press was indispensable -- it immediately reduced the labor necessary for generating the printed word -- but printed material remained expensive for a while after its invention simply because of the cost of materials. That's true of quite a few technologies. In fact, I've often heard it stated that that's how you know a technology has matured -- people innovate new ways to accomplish the goal of the thing, such that the end result doesn't really resemble the original design very well.
  13. Nikolai

    Random Science Facts Thread!

    You want meta? One of the big innovations in Western communications was the creation of cheap paper. Prior to that, books tended to be made of long-lasting materials like scrubbed lambskin. With cheap paper, though, you could literally print vast amounts of material that was meant to be read one day and thrown away the next. This leads to broader dissemination of information via newspaper, which also leads to things like people insisting that there ought to be freedom of the press. Some of this freedom (and cheaper materials) are used to print and distribute escapist fantasy like pulp science fiction. Keep that in mind for a minute. Right around the same time (very roughly speaking), deforestation was getting to be a problem in parts of Europe that were too cold during some parts of the year for humans to live comfortably. People started looking for alternative fuels. Something that was readily available in some parts of the world was coal, especially if some of it happened to be lying close to the surface. As a few centuries went by and people needed more coal, however, more elaborate mining systems needed to be devised. Getting further underground raised the problem of keeping the mines dry. A symbiotic relationship developed, whereby coals kept pumps running, and the pumps kept the coal mines operating. Some of the best coal mines were in Scotland. More than a few Scots got pretty good at servicing the machines that operated the pumps. The idea that Scotsmen were good engineers became something of a stereotype. Which means that if you're writing a far-flung science fiction opera about a starship flitting between star systems (a genre people will be more or less familiar with now that paper's been cheap for a while) into a cultural background where all this has been allowed to soak for a long time, and there's an engineer keeping the starship running, and you want people to understand that he's pretty good right off the bat, you might want to employ a little bit of shorthand and make him Scottish.
  14. No. /s EDITED TO ADD: That was probably unnecessarily mean-spirited. Yes, it does.
  15. Nikolai

    Woomerang launch site

    Oh, no doubt. It's my experience as a software developer, though, that people outside the industry asking for a small thing that shouldn't be too much trouble really don't know what's actually involved -- and, of course, one person's "bit" is another person's "far too little to be interesting, and they shouldn't have bothered". I don't want to look a gift horse in the mouth here. Players have been asking for a second launch facility for years, and now we have one.