Friday, 8 September 2017

Head Shot - Cover Design

I have a dozen or so short stories that are long out of print and decided to make them available for free via Smashwords. Each time I upload one I will write something about them. Head Shot is too short to talk about plot or idea without spoiling the whole tale and so I thought I would talk about cover design.

I am doing all my own cover design because I thought it would be fun and force me to do more graphical work, which I've been failing to do lately. I would advise against doing it yourself if you have never done anything like this before. It's not brain surgery admittedly, but it is easy to go thoroughly wrong and it would be terrible to burden a great tale with less than great art. My story is OK so OK art is fine, or at least I hope both are OK. And I have created covers for magazines and books before.

Head Shot is one of my horror stories and I decided all my horror tales would have stark simple covers. It is also set in the future so I was thinking something sterile and crisp. I ended up with two images very quickly.

The images were created in Inkscape, a free vector graphics tool. It has a brilliant 'clone' option where you can make one shape, or group of shapes, then create multiple copies. I created my head and shoulders from a few simple forms, merged them then set about them with the clone tool. The handy thing about this option is that if you change the original all change.

My other horror covers are black and white. Here I needed one figure to stand out from the crowd. A cliche cross-hair idea to pick out one 'target' came to mind and was quashed. Colour was my only option left hence the introduction of red to make one 'person' stand out. The red text worked linking the title to the single figure. Since the cloning method would change all the heads to red I had to copy a head then align it before changing the colour.

I also toyed with removing one of the figures, but the story was not about a missing man. Inkscape uses layers and this let me put different parts of the image on different layers allowing me to switch on and off items to see what the effect was like. I kept coming back to the two images above.

Which did I pick?

The single red head-and-shoulders. It seemed to me punchier especially since there are only two characters in the story and neither of them is ever in a crowd.

Which would you have picked?

If you want to now how I created the head and shoulders or more about the cloning option in Inkscape let me know. By the way in my links is a much more skilled Inkscape user.

Useful Links

Inkscape - a great free vector graphics tool. Works on linux, Macs and Windows
Smashwords - a self-publishing website, which gives access to many markets.
Logos by Nick - A very skilled logo designer who uses Inkscape. His YouTube tutorials are comprehensive though can be daunting since he covers everything in detail. Don't be put off.
Nick Saporito's You Tube Videos
If you're interested you can check out my other covers here.


Thursday, 3 August 2017

Painting Aviatrix Two in Krita

I paint, draw, scribble and sigh when I finish because it's not quite what I'd hoped for. I explore while trying to learn and have fun along the way. This blog entry is my latest attempt at a digital painting with details of how I did it. The first stages use pencil and paper.



Working on Lay-Out Ideas

Sketches - Coming up with the idea


I wanted to do something a bit steampunk with a twenties vibe. I had never deliberately made a digital wallpaper and thought that would be a fun experiment. It would need a lot of clear space to avoid a distracting or busy look. My initial idea was one figure giving an upright focus with probably something smaller opposite it in the frame giving balance to the piece.

I messed around with shapes, toying with poses. Although these images are rough I was imagining the scene in detail. There are a couple of pages of my feeling out the layout, which I am not going to curse the Internet with.

The Chosen One still needs some work


Where the image really starts.
I thought airship, but maybe a view from an airship with an adventurous steampunkesque lady. I wasn't sure if she would be passive or active so the next rough had her doing 'something'. I thought she was too 'stretched out' so tried to make the pose more relaxed.

I scanned this in and played around with it until it was arranged to my satisfaction. Then I went back to pencil and paper to detail up the lady.



Clean Pencils Scanned in

The Aviatrix

Use references. Only a genius, and few of us are, can produce a perfect image without recourse to some kind of reference. I used a whole mass of them, clothing catalogues, bits out of magazines, the Internet. Nothing is actually copied, just giving a guide to shapes and form.

The scarf looks a bit stiff and I'm not sure about the face. It's probably my ambition being way above my talent. This will be the foundation for the work. I scanned in the pencils then adjusted it to my wallpaper size 1920x1200 pixels. Afterwards I realised I should have it would have been wiser to paint bigger with a higher resolution then reduce, but hey, this was an experiment. I learnt something and that's the point. 
Initial monochrome. Note: my colour palette

Painting in Krita

I love Krita. It's completely free, which is not why I love it, but it helps. I've used GIMP, Photoshop and Painter in the past and this was the first program where the tools and I were as one. I'm low on talent, but I definitely can't blame the tool.

There are many ways to paint physically and digitally. I haven't found a solid technique and am still exploring. This one I went for developing a monochrome form of shapes, lights and darks then using layers set to various blending modes to give me the image.

Layers. Note the group and crossed out alphas
Over the top of the monochrome layer I put one layer set to Multiply and another to Screen. By laying flat colours on these layers it will coloured the image. Colours and there intensities can be quickly changed by adjusting opacity, blending mode or a swipe with a new flat colour. It also leaves you free to adjust the monochrome structure beneath it all without having to push the colours around. For example as I was doing this, I could rework the scarf and spot the lady's neck was a little too long.

Top tip: If you want to paint the flats without worrying about going over the edges, group all the layers and set the monochrome one to Lock Transparency (that's the chequerboard square), and colouring layers to Inherit Alpha Yes (that's the alpha symbol crossed through).

The picture on the left shows how I've done that, but also the extra flesh and pattern layers where I could play with details and colour without fear of wrecking my work. If the pattern or skin tone didn't work the layer can be deleted. I love layers!

Now many artists complete their whole image like that. Unfortunately I get confused with what layer I am on and adjust the monochrome with colour or delete details in the wrong place. Once I'm happy with the colours I save a back up then flatten to one layer and carry on painting. I feel more comfortable pushing pixels around on a single layer.

What I haven't shown so far is the quick background I threw together. This was created with an airbrush for the clouds and using the symmetry tool to create a balustrade duplicate it, then line tools for the hand rail. The rope was a photo manipulated. I take a lot of photos for reference. Boy, do I get some strange looks when I take a picture of a stain on concrete or a rusty scaffolding pole.

Halfway there, probably.
There is no balancing object yet and I'm not done with the face. Patterns were created on their own layers adjusted and arranged then merged after picking a blending mode that works.

Surfaces look a bit 'plastic perfect' and so the detailing comes next. That took as long as it did to get me to here.







Blimp in the Background

I was searching for something in the background and found a doodle in a sketchbook. Top left is a blimp and I thought it would be perfect to go in.

I scanned it and painted straight to colour then had a merry old game sliding all round the picture until I was happy. At one point it almost became a fleet of airships mixing with the clouds.

This was all part of detailing. That takes hours for apparently little effect. I probably spent five hours making tiny changes, tweaking highlights, overlaying textures adding paint strokes to 'finish' the image. At the end I'm still not happy with it, but I've learnt there is a point to say 'STOP'. Two days later I managed it.

The Final Image


It's an improvement over my last work though I want to do better. I shall keep trying and, hopefully, learning.

If you want to see the full sized image you can find it here: Aviatrix Two on DeviantArt

Useful Links

krita.org Where to download and learn about Krita
+David Revoy A brilliant artist who uses Krita and who I've learnt a lot from.
+Krita Google+ Krita group, worth visiting to learn the latest news.

Do I watch too much YouTube?

David Revoy's YouTube Channel He's twice on my list because he does the best Krita tutorials I've seen or read. You will also learn a little about Inkscape too.
GDquest's YouTube Channel This fellow is a game artist who uses Krita heavily and explains the tool in detail.
Trent Kaniuga's YouTube Channel Not a Krita user; however, techniques are transferable. I've been enjoying watching him work so here he is.
My Collection of talented people's Tutorials I think I watch too much YouTube. Tutorials from the people above and others that I regularly return to.


Saturday, 18 February 2017

Blades vs Guns

Do you bring a knife to a space fight? This was my dilemma.

I was writing a story and bladed weapons turned up on a spaceship. I wasn't planning for them to be there and yet there they were. Sometimes this happens. I'm writing a story and its internal logic overrides what I think of as sensible reasoning. Worse than knives, which are useful tools in their own right, these were swords barging into my futuristic tale. So the question I agonised over was: should the swords stay?



Could I justify keeping blades in a SF story?

The long held romanticism of bladed weapons keeps them in fiction. Think Excalibur (King Arthur) or Sting (The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings). In sagas of old, whole sections would be given up to swords and their history, even their making. Swords were technological marvels and signs of power so of course they were going to be significant in the past. Amazingly Science Fiction, even when set in a high-tech universe, keeps coming back to swords. Most prominent is the Star Wars Universe and their obsession with the Light Sabre. It's interesting how they don't have Light Bayonets or Light box-cutters.

I am writing a (much) harder SF yarn with rapid targeting systems, powerful guns and no 'space magic'. Sword vs multi-barrel chain gun...hmmm I don't think so.

Star Wars also brings up the myth that a sword or knife will protect you. They go as far as stopping blaster bolts. I've seen Internet pages where people talk of Ninjas deflecting arrows or even bullets with their Katanas. The myth is strong, as they often are. Don't expect a blade to protect you that way. Yes, I too have seen demonstrations of skilled martial artists parrying incoming arrows, it's just not the norm. In my story universe of hyper-sonic projectiles my characters wouldn't survive a second attempting that.

All my arguments were saying get rid of the things, yet they were clinging in there.

Are there other excuses to keep antiquated weapons in a hi-tech story?

Frank Herbert writing Dune got away with it by introducing them as a way to combat personal defence force shields. No force shields in my story.

Ritual is a great way to keep the over-sized razors in. Think of officer's swords in our twenty-first century armed forces or Star Trek's Klingons' obsession with them for their ritual combat. I had no such luck. There were rituals because I had people in my story and boy do we breed rituals, but none about swords.

A final nail in the coffin was that ever since guns became a reliable tool they've dominated combat.

There is a little counter to that point. Close in the balance changes and many law enforcement services have a standing rule to shoot any blade wielding person if they get within a certain distance. That distance is a bit negotiable. I've heard 15 feet (4.6m) and 21 feet (6.4m). Seems a long way away doesn't it? Knives can still be effective because it's amazing how fast a distance can be closed with adrenaline running hot in your veins.

My view was that someone wouldn't pick a gun over a knife despite the shifting dynamic as the two parties get closer. There was no magic, no force fields (no technical excuse) and no ritual; therefore, they would not be used in the future. I had logic on my side and I could erase them from my fiction - job done. One of my characters disagreed.

When a character argues the case.

Occasionally a character will get away from you, he argued that in space they were perfect. Yes, I know I sound like I've gone barmy arguing with a character, but it happens. His reasoning was thus:
  • Stealthy
  • No recoil in zero-g
  • No stray projectiles or beams
  • Multifunctional
No pun intended: could I shoot down his list?

Stealth. No sound, no light, no smoke or heat makes them hard to spot. It is one of the reasons they are still used by the military today. If high-tech sensors are involved suddenly that's a big plus. Particularly give you're going up against machines (See Humans vs Robots).

No recoil. If you're in zero-g and not anchored, thanks to Newton's Laws of motion, if you fire a gun the bullet will go one way and you the other. Makes an accurate second shot difficult. Note: a firer's high mass and therefore inertia means they wouldn't be flying backward at the speed of the bullet, but they would will move. If you're in a suit designed for gun firing, thrusters on board could compensate - see I'm arguing back.

No stray projectiles. One of the big dangers of shooting is when the shooter forgets bullets often go through the target. If the shooter hasn't kept that in mind tragedy can follow. If you're in a spacecraft the last thing you want to do is damage something vital that is be keeping you alive. Stray shots could do that, accurate shots might do it too.

Since it's list week and these rules can never be repeated too many times I've written the four rules for gun safety below. Rule Number Three applies here. If you ever write about a character shooting a gun, keep these in mind, whether they follow these rules or don't will say a lot about the person you have created. Also if you ever shoot - follow these rules!

Multifunctional. Unlike guns, which tend to be for putting holes in things. Blades cut, and you can choose what you cut. Even a sword, which is a tool for butchering humans, can be used for more than carving flesh. If they are sturdy enough they can cut rope, clear plants, severe wiring, hammered into the ground they become an anchor, if shiny they can act as a mirror to see round corners or signalling. Imagination is the only limit.

Did the Swords Stay?

Did my character's arguments hold sway, or did the little voice going: 'don't be stupid, this is daft, swords - are you having a laugh?' win out? Yes they stayed, and as swords are want to do, they gained names and grew into significance. I did have one further excuse: my characters had to make their own weapons.

In my defence two of my other characters thought it was daft too, but their arguments failed like mine.

Four Rules of Shooting

They are sometimes in a different order.
  1. Assume and treat a gun is loaded at all times.
  2. Never point a gun at anything (or anyone) you don't want to destroy.
  3. Think about where the bullet will go after it has hit the targets.
  4. Never put your finger on the trigger until you intend to fire.

Useful Links

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Where are the Belaying Pins?

A while back I wrote about how most ships, right up to the 18th century, not matter how large, didn't have wheels to steer them (Where's the Ship's Wheel?). I also wrote about the movable target that is the ship's galley (Where's the Galley?). I'm at it again. This time it's belaying pins.
A fight breaks out, my hero has no weapon, he's near the ship's rail so grabs up a belaying pin and...are belaying pins there? Would you use one for a weapon? In the Golden Age of Hollywood hardy sailors were always grabbing belaying pins to use as weapons. They look like clubs and are in racks ready for snatching in that desperate hour to save the ship. When I found out what they were, I started to wonder. It might be like pulling the gear lever off your car to hit someone while still expecting the car to function.

What's a Belaying Pin?

It's wooden 'pin' usually as thick as the rope it holds and is used for coiling up spare line and rope, weather that rope is loose or actively part of the rigging. It provides an anchor point for the line thus keeps ropes and lines tidy. On a ship tidiness is next to...not dying in a terrible accident because some idiot left a line loose.

They were also used to keep lines taught; that is hold a boom and/or sail in the correct position and are designed as as quick release for lines. Pull the pin out of its rack and the line is free for re-trimming the rigging or in a heap on the deck.

Have a look online and you'll see wonderful pictures of them in use. The web site below describing hand-to-hand weapons suggest they'd make a handy club. I'm not sure you'd yank one out if it was going to release rigging thus change a set sail or dump a pile of neatly coiled spare rope on the deck. Tripping over is a quick way to get killed in a fight, your ship lurching unexpectedly because some fool pulled the quick release on a sail is another. However, I'll admit, if I was in a personal life/death situation and needed a club creating a tripping hazard or ruining the smooth motion of the ship would not be the first thing on my mind. I did some research and there are accounts of them being used as weapons. Interestingly the ones I found tended to recount events when the ship was docked meaning the sails would be furled and the criticality of pulling the quick-release would be less important. 

When did they start being used?

My story was foggily set some where between 1620 and 1650 and I thought belaying pins would have to be there. Then I started my research...belaying pins start appearing when ships gained more complexity; that is, as size increased and typical cargo vessels changed from a single main mast to multiple masts. One article I found suggests the 14th century with them becoming more common in the 15th. I found a model builders' discussion site proposing an even earlier use (modelshipworld.com discussion) and I can see the logic in that. Often something is invented but is uncommonly used before becoming the default solution to a problem. Trouble is the Internet must always be treated as an unreliable witness and I wanted to find a definitive answer. The discussion did mention the Mary Rose. I've visited that fantastic time capsule and didn't see a belaying pin; that doesn't mean the person saying they saw them was wrong because I might have been looking in the wrong place. I checked out the models in the museum and couldn't see anything and searched the solid historical books I use (see below) with little success. Then I had an idea and checked out the websites of historical vessels rebuilt. My first thought was of the Golden Hind. This would be before my story's time and therefore a clincher - hopefully.
Model of Mary Rose at the Museum of the same name
There are two versions of Drake's ship in the UK: one in Brixham, Devon and the other, known as Golden Hind II, docked in London (its website is here). I had a good look at both websites and found the Brixham version had a page showing belaying pins (Goldenhind.co.uk). Checking through the London one and on a page describing Tours of the ship there are belaying pins (look behind the two men fencing).

Both sites admit there are no plans for this famous ship; however, the shipbuilders of these replicas will have done far more research than someone simply wishing to spin a good yarn. I think that shows they were in use by the late sixteenth century and well ahead of my story.  Could they have been used earlier? I haven't found anything concrete yet, like most things, existence and commonality didn't happen together, think mobile phones. I shall keep searching and if I find something update this entry.

For my story it was too easy that where the fight broke out, there would be waiting belaying pins, even if they were standard furniture on a galleon they wouldn't be in long lines waiting for my brave lad's hour of need. What happened in my hero's desperate fight? He had to be inventive, a rope end is a good weapon, throwing a trencher - a square wooden plate - would work or knowing barrels used to be disassembled when empty to save space, gives useful clubs. He survived but the ship was a mess.


Useful Links

A Webpage describing hand-to-hand weapons and the belaying pin is in there.
A Modeller's View on the Belaying Pin
Good article on the history of belaying pins - it gives all the other names for them too.
The Mary Rose Museum

Useful Books

Tudor Sea Power by David Childs
The Galleon by Peter Kirsch


Thursday, 1 December 2016

Lingering History - Archaeology of Words

I was writing a story and had my character 'inching' toward a corner. It was a far-future story where inches were ancient history. I live in a country that's been metric for a generation and I've never heard anyone say 'centimeter-ing'. I heard a guy say he'd taken some good 'footage' when recording a video on his smartphone except there's no light sensitive reel of film in his clever piece of tech.

It's not just our language that lingers behind the technological curve. I use various pieces of software and often click on a picture of a floppy disc to save the file. Except floppy discs are 'ancient' history in computing terms. I wonder how long would the icon representing saving data will remain?

That made me wonder what more ancient things have remained with us, some of them so old we've kind of forgotten they still effect us. Sometimes it is a legacy in the language, often the legacy runs deeper, like time.

Twenty-Four Hours in a Day

This was invented by one of the earliest civilisations, the Sumerians, over 6,000 years ago. Twelve is a good number because has many factors and can be factored up and down. It was why the British used to use pounds, shillings and pence (with 240 pence in the pound and children were taught to memorise their 12 times table). Anyway back to time, 12 hours of daylight, 12 hours of night made sense to them. They preferred equal numbers of hours of darkness and light, that meant they stretched and shrank their hours with the changing seasons.

Located in what is now Iraq, the people of Sumer could get away with it, further toward the poles, where the season change meant hours of daylight would were significantly longer or shorter, it needed a bit of fixing (our Greek ancestors did that for us) and there you go.

I started with 12, but the Sumerians had a thing for the number 60, sound familiar? Yep, 60 seconds to 60 minutes, I'm sure they tried 60 hours in a day first (no evidence of that, it's just me). They did go for 360 days in the year. That's twelves and sixties. Funny how we ended up with 7 being lucky.

Next time you check the time you are looking at something that was probably decided by the Sumarian Committee for Time Standardisation and revised by the Greek Committee for Hour Fixing thousands of years ago.

Clockwise

While talking about time, ever wondered about 'clockwise' and why analogue clocks and watches turn in that particular direction? It wasn't a 50/50 chance where some watchmaker picked a direction and all the others went: "Woa man, that's the coolest way to turn we'll all copy that!" It is because that's the way the shadow moves on a sundial in the Western Hemisphere. Early clocks had only one hand because most clock users weren't interested in minutes and seconds and one hand was much like the single gnomon of a sundial.

Next time you look at your analogue watch you're looking at a simulated sundial marking out a time system developed by some clever Iraqi mathematicians millennia ago.

Upper Case and Lower Case

My laptop has a Caps Lock to switch between capitals and small letters. Capitals are often described as upper case and the smaller ones as lower case. Ever wondered why?

In the days before electrons were troubled to create letters on screens, or lasers cured plastic on paper, or ink was sprayed with microscopic precision, it was lumps of lead held in a frame pressing ink to leave the required mark.  Individual dies - or type - were required for each letter and punctuation mark, small letters, used more were held in open racks or cases close to the typesetter and capitals, that were less heavily used were held in cases above them. So in the lower cases were the small letters and in the upper cases the capitals.

Wedding Ring - Fourth Finger Left Hand

We humans are creative beings. Sadly we spend a lot of that creativity hating and developing ways to hurt our fellows. On the up side, we spend even more of it decorating ourselves; be it with snazzy clothes, interesting hairstyles, beards that look like semi-colons for the chin or add-ons like tattoos or rings through our noses and ears. All these have been going on since we've been around since we've painting amazing hunting scenes in caves or 'Wodder's a Jerk' with a spray can on the side of a garage.

Most of why we do these things are so ancient we've forgotten why. One I know about is wedding and engagement rings. In Western culture (I don't mean cowboys culture thought its a subset.) if you meet 'The One' and want to make it formal and engagement ring is the start followed by a wedding ring after the joining ceremony. Why is it that particular finger?

Well what is dominant in the Western culture today and pushing its way into others started off as an Ancient Egyptian tradition. Our Egyptian cousins believed there was a blood vessel that lead straight to the heart and there was been a belief that that is where emotions are seated since probably before we used to daub 'Ugh is a jerk' with mud-based paint in caves. Doing so is putting a ring around the heart.

It started with the Eyptians, was borrowed by the Ancient Romans and the rest is history, or bang up-to-date, depending what day it is.

Oh yeah, it doesn't have to involve diamonds.

Dashboard

This is a lazy one. The dashboard in your car holds all the dials, buttons and probably computer screens by the time this is published. That's not what it once was. It was the board on a cart or carriage that shielded the driver from being dashed with mud and dirt from the road. Think, they'll be dashboards on spacecraft in the future.

Don't worry, I'm not going to talk about why men and women's buttons are on different sides, though it's worth looking up. Let's do one more, even lazier.

Iron

'Car' is short for 'Horseless Carriage' and Iron is short for 'Smoothing Iron' and mine isn't iron. I do the ironing with an assembly of plastic, aluminium and copper. There's probably a little iron in there with the lead solder. Yep, irons used be shaped lumps of, well, iron heated over the fire then pressed on to clothes to, er...press clothes.

Maybe future washing machines will deliver laundered clothes fully pressed, I wonder if they'll have a little icon of an iron to show when the the ironing process is underway.

Useful Links

Learn More about the Sumer Civilisation - a brief summary from San José State University.
A Summary of how the Sumerians 'created' time. - a less flippant explanation about Summer and time.

Monday, 29 August 2016

Humans vs Robots

Do you think you can beat a robot in a fight?  It seems quite common in science fiction, particularly SF movies, for a human to defeat a mechanical foe. I don't think it's that easy, or maybe even possible.

I watched a documentary recently about a factory that had a machine for checking bean quality. It looks at hundreds of beans per second. In milliseconds it would recognise a rotten one and knock the rapidly moving object out of the flow of healthy beans. Imagine that technology where the beans are a crowd of humans, the machine has face recognition software and it is controlling a high powered gun. The intended target wouldn't have a hope. That's picking a face from a crowd, consider a charging mass of troops and the same system designed to head-shot every one. Mechanical, efficient, heartless slaughter. There wouldn't even be a chance for the combatants' nerve to break and run away.

Feel confident you can beat the machine now?

Computer games give insights into things one can't face in every day life, for me today its battling robot war machines.

At present I'm playing a computer game called Overwatch. It's a fun shooter with all sorts of characters. One character is  an object lesson in the problem between fictional war machines and real ones.

His name is Torbjorn. He builds an automatic 'sentry gun', a robot gunner that quickly spots and fires on any enemy it sees. It's disliked because it is very hard to beat, especially when there is more than one. Tirelessly it watches, locks onto an enemy and, if it is you, you're in trouble.

After a month of play the developers are already 'nerfing' the gun, making its projectiles less damaging, because it's too effective. Also in competitive play only one is allowed. Still it kills quickly and mercilessly.

It's a good lesson if you're writing science fiction about robots.  If you think of all the famous robots in SF films and some in literary SF, the robots described are often slow and imprecise.  In Star Wars its all about living creatures, yet surely computers as sophisticated as C3P0 will act faster and be stronger. Robots that advanced should be doing all the fighting, who needs flaky Jedi or Sith. A droid army should just wash over a flesh and blood enemy. That's not the story Mr Lucas wants to tell or others. He likes the romance of the less sophisticated defeating the more. Think Ewoks. He's not alone, remember Avatar had the same fantasy.

I'm not down on Star Wars alone. Look at Robocop (the 1987 version) or Star Trek (Check out the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode 'Arsenal of Freedom' for slow bots that shoot with rubbish accuracy.) or Dr Who, most of their machines are no match for flesh and blood, except in reality they are.

Killer Robots are Already Here

The irony is weapon technology outstripped the Star Wars before the first film came out. In the early twenty-first century robot killing systems exist and are very effective. ED-209 from the early Robocop film was behind what was out there already. Not yet 'thinking', but that's not required to kill.

Used to protect warships, Close-in Weapon Systems like the American Phalanx or Dutch Goalkeeper are rapid fire guns that can pick out and destroy supersonic targets at 2 to 3 miles (3 to 4km) in seconds. The X-wings diving on the Death Star would have been shredded. In Star Trek, the slow photon torpedoes would have been intercepted before harming any spacecraft. Who needs shields. In fact this tech may become the first 'shields'.

Then  there are anti-aircraft missiles that can now identify the type of aircraft they are fired at and work out the best way to destroy the target. This is done in the fraction of seconds between launch and impact. Missiles 'thinking' like that are basically robots.  Then they're are the helper systems that assist the warfighter such as computers for snipers, 'smart' mines that listen for an enemy and identifies it before calculating out how to kill that particular foe.

I used to play fighter aircraft simulators and discovered and then researched the auto-firing air-to-air gun. It was a system where the pilot would select the gun and the target then fly into a dogfight. The human could concentrate on the flying and the trigger wouldn't need to be pulled. At the optimum moment the gun would fire automatically. If the cannon shells in the gun are 'smart' then the flyer has facilitated a robot launching another robot.

Think that's more of a weapon-assist rather than a robot, consider this...

Killer robots are already here. It's well known that flying drones have been used to deliver bombs - that's kill people. In the recent tragic shooting of police officers in Dallas, Texas, a bomb disposal robot was used to kill the suspect. (Read about it here). Yes, both those have human operators, but its not long before the human 'trigger puller' is reduced to the person who gave the order to deploy the weapon system.

There are concerns that once the human is removed from the system, then what will be the outcome?Think a sad teenager running amok with a gun is bad, a single war machine mistaking civilian villagers for enemy combatants will be a tragedy on a different scale. Can you raise a white flag faster than a bullet can travel a hundred meters? Many engineers and scientists are concerned about this and set up the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots.

I'm not going to talk about morals, though it is worth thinking about. There is a campaign to stop landmines, the indiscriminate killers they are. Killer bots would be worse because you might get 'lucky' with a mine and lose a foot or hand, but then the mine is spent. A bot would quickly recognise it's first shot had failed and act to finish you off. No hope of survival there.

Anyway, I wasn't going to talk morals, I'm going to talk about how you beat them, if you can.

Can you beat killer robots?

I always like to think about how to beat the unbeatable or survive the unsurvivable. It's a hobby. Check back to my previous post Avoid Unbelievable Reality in Your Stories where I discuss the impossible like surviving a fall from a great height or being shot at point-blank range.

Head-to-head, if you're an ordinary soul like me, I think you'd be dead. It would be like me going up against a cage-fighter. What if you were a highly-skilled warrior - you'd be dead. The moment the machine recognised you as a threat - boom. Body amour might delay the inevitable, but it would likely be programmed to defeat any protection.

The easiest way to defeat any opponent is before it sees you as a threat, for killer machines stop them being built or destroy them in their factories.

Next is to hit them before they see you. Consider the challenge of trying to sneak up on a prey animal using sight, hearing and smell to detect you, consider a machine might not be limited to our senses, but use radar, thermal imaging and all the wonders of science to spot your approach.

Doesn't look like much hope, but there are ways.

Decoys are the first. Military aircraft use them to fox homing missiles with flares and chaff to confuse their senses. Some forces even use fake aircraft to draw the attention of weapon systems while killing blows are delivered by the real fighters.

Maybe infantry will be carrying decoy systems in the future, or have fake targets running along with them.

The old favourite camouflage is next. Don't look like a target. Challenge the machine to recognise it has to shoot you.

Finally is how you attack. Thinking guns, bombs or magic glowing swords? What about software? Get into the enemy's head (or processor) has always been a good way to win. It could be as you step into the fray your 'wingman' has hacked the system first. Maybe your 'wingman' is a robot fighting the robot for you in cyberspace or for real.

If you've got any ideas on how to beat machines let me know.

It's interesting the Overwatch back story is about a war with thinking machines and the strange solutions humanity selected to win what appeared to be an impossible war. Their final solution - make peace.

Now if only humans could do that, wouldn't this world be great?

Useful Links

Play Overwatch - Learn about the game.  Learn about it's lore too.
Campaign to Stop Killer Robots
Here's a list of close in weapons systems and videos - slow loading bulky page
M93 Hornet Anti-Tank Mine - Is this a mine, which should be banned, or a killer robot, which should be feared, you decide.
Ways to fox surveillance tech  - Ideas to confuse machines.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Bigger Levers

When we create technology we're creating bigger levers.  Levers amplify our motions and all other tech does the same.  Computers amplify our ability to calculate, communicate and create. Telescopes allow us to see further, cars; travel faster and sunglasses; look cooler.

You get the point.

It amplifies the good and the bad in us, worst of all the stupid.  Be careful out there our levers are getting bigger and more powerful and it's really easy to smack someone in the back of the head when you forget how long your lever is.

Enough said:o)