29 January 2013

FWS Topics: 10 Things That Didn't Happen Like They Were Promised

Being in my mid-thirties, I'm looking back on what the world was supposed to be like in the year 2013 from the point-of-view of a child who grow up in the 80's. From conception, I think, I've been a science fiction geek and lover of the future. So much so, that I always felt that I was born too early, and hard reality of 2013 has only broadcast that feeling more clearly. Growing up in the 1980's, you felt like technology that was in sci-fi movies was right around the corner. After all, we were the first generation that had computers (the Apple IIs) in our schools, most of our pop music was made with computers (I'm reminded of Gary Numan's 'Are Friends Electric?'), and we hung out at the video game arcades. Adding to this sense of the impending future was the increased American manned space program via the shuttles, Space Camp, and bold plans for future manned space missions. For me, that was the most exciting thing happening at the time, because I wanted nothing more than to be an astronaut, and it seemed in the 1980's that the human race was on the edge of being a spacefaring species. During the 1980's, there was a groundswell of culture that was looking towards the future, not the past. I can remember magazines like OMNI, Odyssey Science Magazine, and National Geographic Our Universe along with loads of pretty over-sized books that detailed our future in space and with robots with glorious 1980's concept art. To make matters worse, my elementary school stocked plenty of books about space, robots, and the future, setting me up to believe that a bright future with hoverboards, flying cars, and missions to the red planet were around the corner...how wrong we were.Here is my list of ten things that didn't turn out like the books and visionaries said that they would. This Calvin and Hobbes from 1989 encapsulates my feelings on the matter:

There seems to be an unwritten rule in science fiction that the skies of the future cities would have to be filled with dual-use vehicles, that are at home equally on the road as they are in the sky. This is one piece of technology is often a symbol of the advanced nature of the future time-period, like the Rolls-Royce 'copter from the 1958 Starship Troopers novel, the Doctor Who flying car or 'WhoMobile', the Police Spinner from BLADE RUNNER and so on and on and on. This trend still continues through today, just look at the remake of Total Recall complete with flying cars. Science fiction has been lying to us for generations on the promise of flying cars, even into my generation about the common man having access to the skies with their basic everyday transport, because for all logically reasoning, flying cars WILL NOT be a reality to the common citizen.
Why? With ground based wheeled vehicles, humans do enough property damage and killing themselves by drinking or get confused, or texting (I work in a Trauma ICU)...can you imagine if two flying cars had in-flight collision or engine failure while over a densely populated area? This could mutant every MVA into a shower of airborne kinetic projectiles. Drunk drivers would be transformed into drunk pilots on a more massive scale than the current air transportation system. Instead of traffic signs, or houses, or even parked cars, drunk pilots would plow into building. Another reason would be the technical and mental challenge of transforming drivers into pilots. Even if you dumb down the controls via computers, and equip these flying car with VTOLs, your average driver couldn't become a pilot, and most of the time, they shouldn't be. Then there is the consideration of resources, namely greater fuel demand  and construction of an air traffic control system on a unthinkable scale.
If there are to be a real flying car, it could be similar to uber-expensive Bugatti Veyron...a plaything for the very rich and nearly none of us little people will ever see or drive (FWS has two for Starbuck runs). These future personal VTOL vehicle could resemble the failed ultra-expensive Moller M400 Skycar concept. The  best current example of a flying car from sci-fi is the Terrafugia Transition.

I wouldn't lie...I wanted to be the first man on Mars...to see those vast red sand cold deserts, untouched by man, and to see the vastness with my own eyes. That seem within reach when I was in grade school. Sadly, my math skills, coupled with the lack of national will forced my walk on Mars to be scrubbed. Pity...I wanted to see the Face on Mars! For much of us that grew up in the 1980's, Mars looked like a real possibility, the Space Shuttle missions were seemly common, and plans for Space Station Freedom were on track. From there, it was an easy jump to being back to the Moon, then Lunar outpost, then Mars. Then warp drive. In 1987, I read an official NASA timetable for this very scenario, and now in 2013, we should have been two years away from a Martian landing, and the ship to get us there, would now being constructed at Station Freedom. Today, there is a good sized International Space Station in GSO, robotic rovers are rolling around Mars, and private space companies are a reality, there is even a spaceport in New Mexico....I guess that is something....now, where are my moon boots?


Nothing says the future more than a robot doing the cleaning or serving you Jack and Cokes while your playing Black Ops: II on Live. For my generation, the likelihood of robotic servants was high, I mean..c'mon...I had an Alphie and the Nitendo R.O.B growing up! More than just those simple machines were being sold at local Radio Shacks and from the Sharper Image catalogs. I can still remember going to the Radio Shack at Eastland Mall in Tulsa, that was stocked with the Omnibot 2000 and the Robie Sr. robots for sale. The sight of these robots created a belief that by the time I had my own home, that robots would attended to the cleaning. Yeah...I just mopped my floors and waiting for them to dry...I guess I'm my wife's robot.
 For the most part, the robot crazy of the 1980's crashed, and these unloved and underused robots could be found on Ebay today. So, what happened? Robot technology was not what it was cracked up to be, most of the robots of the 1980's didn't do much, even the expensive Topo by Androbot Inc, were little more than fancy expensive toys. However, we are just getting close to true personal robot servants of sci-fi with robots like the iRobot Roomba, the Husqvana auto-lawnmower, and the cat-box cleaner, litter robot. With robots like Honda's ASIMO, we can only hope the day is coming when I have a Cylon to do my mopping.

My first G.I. Joe was Flash from the original 1982 lineup. and if someone had told me in the mid-1980's that our military would still be using the same assault rifle that they had used since Vietnam, I wouldn't have believed them. After all, science fiction of my early years (1982's Megaforce anyone?) and even my G.I Joes were telling me that future wars would be waged with laser rifles.This fantasy perspective has been around the earliest science fiction, War of the Worlds, Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers, that our future heroes would have laser blasters in their hands. That didn't happen...yet.
The reality is that in the last decade, military lasers can be found on nearly every one of the US soldier's M4s, with the AN/PEQ light aiming system, which is now in its sixth generation. Also, the US Army and Navy are about to deploy defensive DEW systems onboard ship and portable systems for FOBs. The continuing issue with military laser rifles is power and lethality...remember even Flash had a power-pack on his back...wouldn't want to hump that around the mountains of Afghanistan!

The commonly held believe when I was a kid, was that Terra was going to be dangerously overpopulated, and due to the limitations of space travel, humanity would have to turn to underwater colonies for Earth to be room enough. A number of experts cited that we knew more about outer space than the very deep portions of the ocean. Some believed that we would better served to establish an underwater exploration agency, than going to Mars.When I was in high school, science fiction gave us a vision of an underwater colonies...that was NBC's SeaQuest DSV and early, there were movies like the Abyss, Leviathan and Deep Star Six. 
There are plans for floating cities, like what was featured in Black Ops: II, and there  plans for an underwater city near Amsterdam. but the sad reality is that were is no government or private underwater colony or mining platform...my brother works for Shell Oil at their New Orleans HQ, and he has told me as much. The only thing even close to Deep Core are a few ultra-luxury underwater hotel rooms that are, of course, in Dubai. I guess my Porsche personal-submarine will have to wait.    

Another technological hallmark of the incoming future were always the video phones, and they were projected much different by science fiction that what actually occurred. Interestingly enough  this is one of those promised future technologies that actually did come true...sort of. From the Jetsons, to BLADE RUNNER, to ALIENS, to nearly every single science fiction work, there were bulky, hard-wired phone booths, and TV-like home phones that used video along with voice. Since the 1960's, there have been video phones marketed for home use, and all of them met with little or no success. Anyone that own a phone video needed to have a the same system on the opposite end. In all of my years, I've never known anyone with one of these systems, and I knew people that had a 3DO and a Intellvision!
While these expensive and bulky systems never took off, smart digital phones, like the Apple iphone have been able to delivery on the promise of face-to-face video calls on the go, and webcams and Skype give us face-to-face communication at home. On of the interesting things about this video phone technology is their lack of use and why that is. I don't know anyone that uses Skype or webcams (expect for porn),  and I believe that most people still prefer voice communication. After all, with video, you have to look good, and cannot lie about what you really doing. Think about it...how many times have you texted or talked on the phone while on the toilet?
For the most part, science fiction missed the boat on mobile digital smart telephones and their massive impact on the society of today. Even for someone like me that had a cellular phone in 1994, the technology had progressed at an alarming rate, it is almost unbelievable the revolution in mobile phone technology that has occurred since I was in high school in the mid-1990's. Another thing that simply cannot understand about current phone culture is texting. I would have seemed so backwards back in the day.

For close to three generations of Americans, they grew up under the shadow of full-scale thermonuclear conflict where the few survivors of the nuclear winter blasted world would scour the burned out cities for food and fight off cockroaches and rodents of unusual size. We can be very thankful that World War III never happened, because this delightful little blog wouldn't be here and I hate cockroaches. What replaced an full-scale nuclear exchange between the Warsaw Pact and NATO is something worse, and more real...nuclear terrorism. I do not doubt that one day that some wing-nut with a belief that they are doing something right for their empty belief will get their hands on a loose nuke or dirty radiological material and set it off in a major metropolis...and it will be in my lifetime. So, can I have the Cold War back...?


When I was in 4th or 5th grade at Hoover Elementary School in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, my reader had a story by Issac Asimov about two children discovering a real, printed book. 'The Fun They Had', relates how much school and education is different in 2157 than 1987, computers built into every desks, robot teachers, and punch-card homework. I can remember magazines and books talking about a more computerized classroom that could connect to the global community, and elimination of paper-and-pencil work. That seemed completely possible when Hoover got their two Apple II computers. Another element of the future classroom that occurred to me in later years, that these future classrooms of science fiction were more Montessori type models that the dictatorial public schools of my childhood. The sad reality of today's schools does not match up with the vision of sci-fi. I could imagine my child going to a futuristic looking building with all manner of technology....yeah....that didn't happen. Every student now normally has a home computer, and portable computers in their hands with the advent of smart phones, and even in my daughters special needs classroom, they have the interactive Promethean Board.
Some of you might know that I am a 6th-12th grade history teacher (who could never find a teaching job), and while technology has made the leap into the hands of nearly every student, the classroom of the 'future' is much more draconian and terrifying than my years or what most visionaries were predicting. With No Child Left Behind and funding being based on scores on tests, and the continuing slide of the American education system, not to mention school shootings, schools have become less about education, and more about control.

In 1982, I witness the magic of TRON, and I could see a future were their virtual worlds to play in...to be someone or something else. With the advancement of video game and computer technology is looked possible. During the 1990's, virtual reality was a hot future technology that stirred the public interest with movies like Lawnmower Man, the short-lived FOX series, VR-5,and Max Headroom along with  the flopped Nintendo Virtual-Boy.
During these days, you could imagine a future were you were the player in a VR simulated world, like a personal holo-deck, or using it in the classroom to experience times past.What happened to that? In someways, we do have VR simulated worlds via the internet. Is not Second Life, World of Warcrack, and Call of Duty, simulated worlds? Minecraft anyone? There is also VR software that helps NASA integrate with their Martian Rovers. The US Military uses VR technology for training, from pilots, to special operations, allowing for soldiers to have an safe experience prior to a live training operation. 

I can remember when every pulp sci-fi rag, movie, or TV show would project that by the 21st century, we all would be wearing jumpsuits and silver moon-boots. These new future treads would be topped off with wearable computers, head-gear that linked into the telephone/data network, and intelligence sunglasses that adapted to the light conditions. It seems so possible when I was a kid with of those massive high-top air-pump Nikes and Reeboks (I had both!), the 'Hyercolor' T-shirts that reacted to body heat, Gargoyle sunglasses, and when Gore-Tex started to take off. If we examine Back to the Future: II, early 21st century people could buy power-lace Nikes, self-drying, self-adjusting jackets...yeah, that didn't happen...or did it? The closest thing to the jacket that McFly wore are the high-tech weather-resistance hoodie-jackets that are designed to wick moisture internally, resist water on the shell, and be designed for adaption to changing weather conditions (thanks, Global Warming!).
My favorite band: School of Seven Bells 
 In addition to these features, the high-tech hoodies have special places for your smartphone, and mp3 player, allowing you string some earbuds through your jacket. But there is no self-drying feature. When BTTF: II was made, large, self-lacing athletic shoes seem possible, especially when air-pumping shoes in stores (yes...I had both the Nike and Reebok pumps), and there heat-changing dyes, but like much of the futuristic clothing seen in science fiction, they forgot about fashion. While there are freaks like Lady GaGa and Nicki Minaj running around, for the most part, fashion has not changed that much since the 1960's. We still wear leather jackets, Navy pea coats, polos, jeans, cotton sweaters, scarfs, sunglasses, and suits. Sure, small things change, like hair styles, the popularity of colors and brands, there is not a great deal of overall fashion change. A sweater is still a sweater, a leather jacket is still a leather jacket...men are not wearing 'skants' skirt-like Starfleet uniforms.


Here is a crazy article on the 11 things that came true in BTTF:II


  1. Christopher PhoenixJanuary 29, 2013 at 4:01 PM

    What's funny is that every generation has its own particular vision of the future, perhaps relating far more to the developments and concerns of the time than any future century. No one really can predict the future, and there are a lot more factors than just whether or not we can imagine how to build a gadget. Historical trends and consumer desires matter as well.

    All that said, I wanna put my two cents in concerning these future developments that didn't happen they way they were supposed to!!

    Flying cars- well, I think that something like the personal air vehicles from SF could exist someday. The biggest challenge may be creating the air traffic control system to control the craft, not creating the craft themselves. Think of UAVs with people for cargo, not "flying cars". The computer will fly the air taxi of the future, and coordinate with local air traffic control network to stay on track and avoid collisions. You won't fly it at all, other than telling it where to go. I'm not sure if the craft would be designed to drive on roads- maybe it would just take off and land at local landing pads.

    As for robots- if you have read much about robots, you will realize how difficult it is to design a robot to complete the simplest of everyday tasks. So much as holding up a glass of orange juice without spilling everywhere calls for a complex robot arm. What about climbing stairs, dusting, carrying dishes of food, etc.?

    Also, modern robots aren't very good at dealing with messy environments where they must solve problems and identify unknown objects. We need at least a rudimentary "artificial intelligence" able to learn and tell the difference between your cat and an old boot.

    I'd say these domestic robot servants are quite feasible in principle, but call for technology a bit more advanced than we have now. The late Ray Bradbury warns us that maybe we should not be too quick to let new electronic servants take over our lives, though. His short story "The Veldt" shows what may happen if we allow servo-mechanisms and electronics to replace human interaction and independence, and the results aren't pretty. Imagine if a robot tucked in your child at night and read her a bedtime story- what use would you, the parent, be then?

    Videophones actually DO exist, in a way, but people don't seem to want them. I once saw an old, humorous illustration of woman using the videophone- having just gotten out of the shower, she was wrapped in a towel and hiding around the corner out of sight!! This is the main problem of the videophone- whoever is calling can see you, so you must be presentable. You can't lie about who you are with or where you are, either. Telephones already let us communicate well enough. All a videophone does is introduce complications, really.

  2. Christopher PhoenixJanuary 29, 2013 at 4:38 PM

    Robot servants may be best left to cleaning the floor, not raising your kids, but we all agree that we need laser guns!!

    The basic problem with the laser gun is the power source, and the mass and bulk of modern lasers and other beam generating devices. Until a ray-gun can fit in our hands, and still be lethal, we can't use them as personal weapons.

    But, assuming we can build them someday, what kind of ray-guns might we get? The various sorts of radiative energies available can disrupt the pattern of neuronal firings, cellular structure, and chromosomal integrity.

    A laser can burn skin instantly- or burn right through flesh if it is intense enough. Intense pulses can cause mechanical-acoustic damage by explosively vaporizing a small part of a target. One problem seems to be that unless a laser burns through the outer layers of a target, it cannot affect the internal organs, so perhaps other radiations might be more effective.

    Microwave guns, working on the same principle as your microwave oven, could kill by cooking you alive. This would cause a deadly flash fever and failure of your internal organs- or, at higher power levels, denature your proteins much like Heinlein's imaginary Stokes Coagulator. Your bacon will literally be fried. If it was powerful enough, you might explode from the inside out.

    Microwaves do have some problems, though. Moisture in the air can absorb and dissipate the beams (as with most such weapons). A microwave beam will tend to spread out more as it travels due to its bigger wavelength, too. On the other end of the spectrum, shorter wavelengths like hard X-rays and gamma rays could kill you with a lethal radiation dose, without even causing much visible damage.

    And, of course, there are various types of particle guns, which could shoot high energy electron beams or maybe heavier particles like protons. And maybe there are even more types of weapons we have not imagined.

    Don't forget sonic weapons- an intense ultrasonic beam can liquify flesh, and low frequency sound waves are known to cause nausea. The Nazis experimented with a sonic cannon that would liquify incompressible internal organs. Sonic weapons seem somewhat more limited by the atmosphere they operate in than other weapons, though.

    I suspect real ray-guns will look very odd to us. EM radiation is directed with lenses, mirrors, or antenna, so the "muzzle" of the gun may actually spread out into one of the those little dishes you see in old pulp SF illustrations!!! As in this illustration, for example- http://paleo-future.blogspot.com/2007/04/space-colony-pirates-1981.html

    Note the odd looking "muzzles"?

  3. Christopher PhoenixJanuary 29, 2013 at 4:56 PM

    The funny thing is nowadays, interstellar travel seems far more exciting than mere interplanetary. With the Kepler telescope going up and finding all those exoplanets, very exciting things are happening today in space.

    Personally, I am more interested in interstellar travel these days than mere interplanetary- although missions through our solar system are a precursor to missions beyond, of course.

    I imagine a space program aimed at building telescope arrays on the Moon to find Earth-like exoplanets. Eventually, we hope, one will be found- and then more. Interstellar precursor probes, like the hypothetical TAU mission, would be dispatched to scout out the edge of our solar system.

    Then, various developments in solar sails, fusion rocketry, antimatter rocketry, and/or beamed energy propulsion will send the first probes to be our first emissaries to those distant planets. Followed, eventually, by crewed starships- even if we have to travel for decades to reach our destination. Perhaps a propulsion breakthrough will shorten the trip- who knows?

    The ultimate goal of such a program would be finding and exploring nearby planets with biospheres, but I am not so sanguine about colonization. In a few generations, the colonists would undoubtedly destroy a pristine alien biosphere that offers more in the way of knowledge and experience if we leave it intact. It isn't clear that an alien environment will be safe for humans, either, but these are questions that won't be answered until we get there.

    More grandiose than a Mars mission, surely, and perhaps even more far-fetched- can you imagine any society that is living on Earth today working for decades to send probes to faraway exoplanets or laboring for a century to build a multi-generation starship?

    In regards to Lunar colonization, you should know that that image heading your blogpost is, quite frankly, bullshit. Spacesuits are too expensive to make specially tailored to a child, especially since they will outgrow them quickly. No one in their right mind would let a child on a dangerous EVA- they don't have the responsibility to handle a situation in which a single wrong move could be fatal. And, said child is being exposed to dangerous levels of radiation and microgravity (or low lunar gravity) during critical periods of her development. The Moon just ain't a paradise- or a kindergarten, for that matter. Yep, outer space is no picnic.

    It is a nice illustration, though. We can interpret the child as the human race, still playing with sandcastles on the shores of an endless cosmic sea!! See, everything is more fun when you have the soul of a poet. ;D

  4. That picture is from my favorite sci-fi cover artist, Michael Whelan and I thought it was prefect for the blogpost, but I agree that it is bullshit...no father would allow their kid to hang out in a spacesuit. Space is a dangerous thing, and kids are not careful. What did you think about the Calvin and Hobbs cartoon? Gods, I miss them!
    I am surprised that someone for the new generation knows of the TAU Probe project...good research! Paleofuture is a great site!
    There is a blogpost in the works that is come weapons post on the scientific reality of lasers, which I call 'the killing light'. This blogpost is going to take some very hard research, because, I do not fully understand the difference between different forms of lasers.
    The issue for me was in the 1980's was that robots seemed so damn close, but if I and the rest of the public had understood that robotechnology does not exist and constructing a robot to be Rosie for the Jetsons would be a real bitch...but it will happen one day. Fear that day, readers...the Cylons are coming!
    I hope that everyone always enjoys the pictures, I work very hard to find the right ones...I personally love those from Back to the Future II.
    You should check School of Seven Bells...love them deeply.
    Thanks for commenting and reading!

  5. Christopher PhoenixFebruary 7, 2013 at 7:43 PM

    Calvin and Hobbes? I always loved those guys. Calvin seems pretty obsessed with the classic 1950s vision of the "future", judging by the strips where he pretends to be Spaceman Spiff. XD

    One thing we have not discussed yet is that ever-popular fate of those who fall afoul of death rays, vaporization!! Are you going to make mention of that in "The Killing Light"? Many death rays will burn, cook, coagulate, zap, or otherwise inflict harm on a target while leaving it mostly intact, but it wasn't long before rays appeared that could utterly vaporize or otherwise annihilate a target.

    The first true disintegrator ray appeared in an unauthorized sequel to HG Well's "The War of the Worlds" called "Edison's Conquest of Mars", in which the inventor designs a ray capable of reducing any object to basically nothing by bombarding it with etheric vibrations. The first time the term "blaster" was used, in the bad pulp SF story "When the Green Star Waned" written by Nictzin Dyalhis, the blaster smote targets into nothingness. The various ray guns in E.E. Doc Smith's fiction seemed to actually VAPORIZE targets, unlike many other rays, so you had better not be standing to close or you will end up slightly fried. The hand phasers from Star Trek can disintegrate hapless targets on its highest settings, without producing vapor or even raising the temperature of a room.

    Indeed, most disintegrator beams in SF seem to work by disrupting the forces that hold matter together by technobabble means, like "disrupt molecular bonds" or even "neutralizing mesons" etc. so that a target to "ceases to exist!!", without causing undo damage to its surroundings. Very few stories actually tell us where the matter goes, unless it is assumed to harmlessly dissipate into the atmosphere or something. The Martian green blob gun from the original "War of the Worlds" movie neutralized mesons, but no one bothered to tell us where a marine's mass went when he dematerialized. Conversion to energy is sometimes suggested for these kinds of weapons, but this would only work if that energy were something harmless like neutrinos.

    As for real physics? It takes a lot of energy to break molecular bonds. Atoms bond together into molecules because they have less energy in that state, like a rock sitting in a valley instead of being perched at the top of a hill. To break up matter into its fundamental constituents, we must pump an incredibly intense flux of radiation energy into it with enough energy to cause all molecular bonds to fly apart, all atomic bonds to fly apart, and then the whole mess will cool and and become solid and liquid matter again. Only, by this time, the target will be scattered ashes instead of a solid object. This will take a lot of energy, and be a very messy process that produces a huge cloud of superheated vapor. If we vaporize a person, very likely their bones will be left because they are harder to vaporize. Those hand phasers would probably be a heck of a lot messier in real life.

  6. Thanks for the research and information...it is going to make that Killer Light post much easier. The vaporize setting, or even the super-odd and creepy Varon-T disruptor, is something that nearly no one talks about, but in the 'Laser: the Killer Light' blogpost, which I am a little scared to write, will cover that...with some cool pictures.
    And yes, Spaceman Spiff will make an appearance...I do miss Calvin and Hobbs...their appearance in Robot Chicken made me damn near piss my pants!

  7. Christopher PhoenixFebruary 8, 2013 at 3:13 PM

    I've noticed that. Very few people mention the phaser's "vaporize" setting, probably because they don't take it very seriously- vaporizing someone without scorching nearby walls and creating a cloud of vapor? That's just silly. As I said, most "disintegrator rays" seem to work by some technobabble process often involving somehow interfering with the forces that hold matter together so it falls apart into dust or a haze of subatomic particles, or otherwise "vanishing" the target without leaving much debris. I wonder if these rays were inspired by squeamishness- they cause the maximum of destruction while leaving the minimum of burnt body parts to sweep up!! In a TV show, the SFX will be much easier (just a simple optical fade effect) and it won't be too graphic for most audiences.

    But, if we interpret disintegrator rays as rays that reduce targets to vapor with intense heat, there is no reason why we can't vaporize our enemies. We just need to pump enough energy into the target so that the atoms and molecules begin shaking so hard, they break the bonds between them and fly apart into vapor. Then, once this vapor cools down, it will become solid and/or liquid matter again, but by this time the original target will be scattered ashes. This is not what people are led to believe happens in the SF shows. Rather than dismiss a film extra with an optical fade effect, we are going to truly burn him to ashes.

    I'm not sure how much energy it would take to completely vaporize a human, but a disintegrator ray will need to deliver a lot of energy very quickly in order to effectively vaporize objects. One way to estimate this is to assume that humans are just bags of water, and calculate how much energy is required to vaporize 90kg. of water- about 200 million joules, according to this estimate I found at the link below. But, this is only a back-of-the-envelope estimation. Apparently, the flash of light emitted by a nuclear fireball can cause exposed flesh to flash into steam and flay victims to the bone if the radiant flux exceeds 400J/cm squared, which works out to about a few million joules if I assume a 60cm spot (enough to cover the torso of an adult human). That is one factor the 200 million joule estimate ignored- water vapor (steam) tends to expand quickly and could easily strip the remaining bones of flesh, at which point most people would say the target was vaporized.

    So, I think we can safely say that energy levels on order of several million joules or more are required in order to vaporize hapless human(oids). Don't quote me on that, though, I am just playing. XD To put that in perspective, a rifle bullet delivers about 1.5 kilojoules, so three orders of magnitude more energy is required to vaporize a target as opposed to poking a hole in it with a bullet.

    I have questions about the spot size of the beam- the beam can't heat what it does not hit, so would we need a spot size larger than the target to effectively vaporize it? Possibly- but would the heat spread out from the impact point to vaporize bits of the target that hang out of the beam, or would there be burnt messy bits around the edges?


    Bottom line- it takes a LOT of energy to vaporize someone. And, the bones will be harder to vaporize. Crematoria often have to crush remaining bones, and since we are trying to kill bug-eyed aliens, not provide cremation services, we will probably stop at vaporizing the flesh and leave the bones intact.

    Pretty pictures? :-) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qKp5oAHHNCI


  8. Christopher PhoenixFebruary 8, 2013 at 8:17 PM

    Checked out the School of Seven Bells- they seem pretty good, I'll have to find more of their music.

    You know, one topic you didn't cover in this blogpost is the food of the future. All sorts of predictions have been made about what we would eat in the future, ranging from the amusing to the outright alarming. Have you seen this retro video on "the kitchen of the future"? In the far future year of 1999, all food is to be stored in preprepared frozen portions, and a computer will suggest meals based on a families' nutritional requirements. Once selected, the meal is rapidly thawed out and served in under two minutes. Microwavable frozen foods have become a reality. Handling of our meal choices by health-conscious computers, not so much.


    Personally, I just use my ray-gun to heat food packets. A little habit I picked up at an isolated colony world without the useless modern amenities.

  9. 200 million joules! Great Scott! That figure is going into the blogpost! I also agree about the lens sizes...will this be the future arguments like the 9mm vs. .45 debate today?
    That video is great...that is one of the more forgotten episodes of trek that I remember having some solid writing. That must be one hell of a battery in those things to do that!
    The Food of the Future blogpost is being researched, and I have some killer photos for a full blogpost! I am hoping to post that article sometime in the next month.
    Bit of trivia, if you watched any of the recent videos of SVIIB, I got my haircut like Ben Curtis's...pretty rad...lots of product though.

  10. Christopher PhoenixFebruary 9, 2013 at 4:08 PM

    Yep, according to that calculation it takes 200 million joules to vaporize a human, if we assume that we are about 90kg. of water and ignore denser constructions like bones and teeth. Very likely, the disintegrated victim's bones will be left in a charred pile. The amount of energy required to "flash exposed flesh into steam" and flay targets to the bone, as described in the Nuclear Weapons FAQ, seems to be rather less, but this is probably not as clean as we'd like.

    I was wondering about the spot size, not the size of the laser's aperture. Many lasers in fiction have pencil-thin beams that focus to a point on the target, but the laser could also expand in a cone to illuminate a large part of a target, or spread out into a plane. If we want to completely vaporize a human, we probably need a the beam to illuminate most of his or her body or the beam might just drill straight through without vaporizing the mass not directly hit by the beam. I don't think the excess heat will be enough to neatly vaporize the rest of someone's body if the beam only hits a small area of their chest.

    And, yes, you will need one hell of a battery to contain enough juice to vaporize a bunch of people- and in battle, a disintegrator ray will need to deliver this energy many times, in a short span of time.

    Heh, there are several interesting inconsistencies with Star Trek phasers and other disintegration weapons you can see in that video. The beam strikes a small portion of the unfortunate assistants' chests, and then some bizarre chain-reaction type effect spread over their bodies in the second or so after the beam and finished striking the targets. The hapless disintegratees vanished- leaving no debris or gas clouds, and with apparently little excess energy dissipating into the environment. The Varon-T proves that phasers and other similar weapons in ST work by some chain reaction, the bad guy in that episode states that it "disrupts" the target in the same manner as a phaser, only much slower- and more painfully.


    I can't help but think that given the amount of energy required to vaporize a human in a single zap (ignoring that most weapons in SF don't actually seem to vaporize stuff, but to somehow make it dematerialize), it would make sense to use a lower power "kill" setting that can kill a target while leaving it more or less intact in pitched battle rather than draining all your power packs vaporizing people. Remember the TOS episode "The Omega Glory"? The crazy Captain Tracy kills a whole bunch of Yangs with his phaser pistol, and Spock later finds the bodies and tell tale spent power packs- Captain Tracy must have set it on a mere "kill" setting rather than vaporize to conserve his shots.