Archive for June, 2010

Mosaic: Consequences

June 29, 2010

So, obviously I don’t want the Earth to lose structural integrity immediately after the boundary event, so the first rule is that when you have something solid on both sides of a boundary, they fuse together, forming an extremely strong weld.  Even with that, I expect that the various currents involved in plate tectionics are fairly chaotic, so we are probably going to have a globe-wide earthquake immediately afterward.  I picture it lasting a long time, but being fairly low-intensity and too evenly distributed to set off Tsunamis.  At the same time, the weather is obviously chaotic, so no two bordering cells are likely to share pressure, temperature, or humidity, which in turn means lots of weather (rainstorms, mostly) at the borders.

I may have been a bit pessimistic about planetary orbits.  Depending on how the alternates end up being distributed, Mercury and the Jovian moons may end up merely losing a noticeable percentage of their mass and gaining a bunch of co-orbital companions.  The larger asteroids are still going to be in trouble, I’m pretty sure.

Another thing to consider is orbit.  I’m basically declaring by fiat that there’ll be nothing up there that, now out of contact with the civilzation that built it, will begin to rain down nuclear death or anything like that, but there may be a fair amount of junk up there, since both the technologically advanced and the post-apocalyptic timelines could be represented in that belt, which may cause a debris cascade and close off orbit for a good long time.  Even if not, there may be things dangerous enough up there that they’re best left undisturbed.

Not much going on in the oceans, I’d say.  Big fish-kills on the border from temperature changes, of course, but most of the parallels will probably have richer stocks than the baseline to start with.

Next up will be more on Location and possibly a decision, so that I can get on with the distribution question.

Mosaic: Location (1)

June 25, 2010

Well, I’ve been spending a bit less time thinking about Mosaic this week in favor of Little Game Chef, but I thought that I would at least begin the discussion of the location chosen (SF bay area).  I’ve done a little of the research on the food situation, and it’s actually looking fairly good, with a reasonable amount of good farming available in most prospective cells.  Which means that I can keep a decent amount of some the larger cities and still not have mass starvation as part of the plot.  Which is good.  Running out of oil/gas is a far bigger short-term problem in this situation.

One of the good things, narrative-wise, about this area is that you get a lot of population and a surprisingly tiny military presence, but probably enough industry to gun up fairly quickly at need.  The presence of a lot of cutting-edge biotech companies will help a lot given the disease environment…
Speaking of disease, next post will discuss the immediate consequences of having the universe split into an infinite mesh of city-and-suburbs-sized polyhedra with divergent historical timelines.

Mosaic: Sample

June 18, 2010

So, the geometry programming task is more or less complete, and I’ve used it to drop a grid over a map from openstreetmap and show the sort of hing I’m talking about here:

Sample Mosiac Map

Click for full-size

So, it looks like my average cell sizes are approximately what they ought to be.  This particular map would leave me torn between the east-and-north bay region and the peninsula on to use as the prime cell.  Probably would pick the latter, but I’d still hate to lose Berkeley, and, of course, one of the basic requirements for me is that at least one bridge gets bisected.

More detail on selection criteria next week,m as I generate and select one of these things.

I will note, by the way, that my original estimates of how many cells there would be on the surface to get to this scenario were a bit low.  I had thought that about 5-10 thousand of them would show up, but in fact 147832 polyhedra pass the first level of testing for intersection.  (Their bounding boxes intersect the sphere.).  Now, not all of that many actually intersect the surface: about a third of the ones in the big map bounding box I generated actually made it to the map, for example, and that’s after another level of culling.  But I still expect at least an order of magnitude more cells than I expected.  Some of them may be smallish ones, where only a corner of the 3D cell nips the earth, like the little triangle between Alameda, Moraga, and San Leandro on this map.

Mosaic: Motivations

June 16, 2010

Brief update on the geometry code: I’ve successfully generated W-P honeycombs and intersected them with spheres to the point where I could have a world map for a much more modest version of the idea, with only a few hundred cells.  That’s about the limit, computationally, for a whole-world map, so next I’ll set things up to focus on a smaller longitude/latitude bounding box and put in the real-world size values I want, and start actually saving some maps and trying to pick between them.  Which means that it’s time to focus more deeply on where the lines should wind up being drawn, and so I’ll discuss the motivations involved in this subgenre in general and for this project in particular.

One of the motivations of this sort of setting is, I think, a rejection of globalization: the desire to write stories about modern human beings in a setting that is much less complex than the modern world that is their context.  This is clearly not what I’m going for here, exactly, since the world I’m setting up is going to be even more complex in a lot of ways.

The other, more significant thing going on in these settings is an effort to revisit or retell the story of America (with an early foreign war substituting for the revolutionary one) in a way that avoids or subverts the original sins of the nation’s birth (genocide and slavery).  So you get a group of unwilling colonists, who thus cannot be blamed for the act of colonization itself and who have no possible route to home or any other form of exile.  (And, unlike the Australia story, they aren’t all criminals either)  You get to utterly reject not just the idea of the colonists practicing slavery, but usually to put them at the forefront of a global abolition movement.  And, of course, you get to have your colonists take a far, far more liberal policy toward whatever technologically-backwards local peoples they may encounter (who are, in this type of story, more likely to be whiter than the colonists themselves as it happens.)

This is close to what I’m aiming at, story-wise.  But I’m going to be looking at a different sort of colony story.  One where most of the neighbors are very nearly equal in technology, often superior in numbers and military might, and generally very hostile.  Something that is to the Crusader States what Island in the Sea of Time or 1634 is to America, in other words, although possibly not quite as doomed.

Next: how that motivation leads to a border choice, and some of the benefits of my chosen location.


June 14, 2010

So, at this point I’ve mad a lot of progress on the geometry/graphics part of the project.  Right now I can generate both of the types of polyhedra I need, with inside?() functions, and have intersected a few grids of them with planes and spheres and gotten the general sort of cross-section I want.  In doing so, I’ve learned that this is sufficiently computation-intensive that when I ramp up to the full Earth-sized honeycomb I am going to need to get fairly clever about cutting down the number of tests per map pixel.  But before that, I need to actually start generating Weaire-Phelan networks rather than loose grids of the two types of cells.  At any rate, I hope to have some map candidates to put up in about a week…which means that I need to start seriously thinking about what my ultimate criteria for the “home cell” should look like, about which more later.

Mosiac: Geometry Redux

June 10, 2010

So, as I start to get ready to actually do the Geometry project as mentioned in the earlier Geometry post I’m realizing that I’m making the problem far more difficult than it has to be by trying to do everything graphically.  (Model the sphere and the Weaire-Phelan structure and then isolate their intersection, then reproject onto flat maps as needed.)  There is going to be a lot of computation here, and there’s no need to try and do it all in real-time as I manipulate my globe map.)  Instead, I’ll just do it all with pure geometry, saving the graphics for the very end step.

In pseudo-code/outline form:

1) Generate the vertices and bounding planes for all of the cells under consideration (a box slightly larger than the Earth.)  Also, pick a displacement and polar angle for the Earth in a reproducable way.

2) Loop through the surface of the Earth, in latitude/longitude order with a fairly high precision.  For each point, determine which cell it is inside.  (Testing each cell is the least clever way to do this, but I may not need all that much efficiency here.)  If the point is in the subset of the map that we’re most interested in, assign a color.  Otherwise, maintain a bounding latitude/longitude box for each cell.

3) Output will be a colored map (Mercador projection), suitable for overlaying as a transparency on an actual map of a region, as well as a complete list of all of the surface-intersecting cells and their locations on the globe, bounding-box form.  Can generate other local area maps by re-executing as needed, of course.

Much simpler.  The writing order looks to me like (1) define a single tetrahedron (irregular tetrakaidecahedron), (2) write and test the inside?() function, (3) intersect it with a sphere, writing the main look and output portions, (4) Generate a small [much bigger cells] Weaire-Phelan structure and try with that, and finally (5) Do the full-scale version.  Then I’ll need to generate some maps, which means I’ll need to know about what I want to have inside my local area/prime cell.


June 9, 2010

So, I mentioned that there’s a problem with the simple distribution of points of divergence.  The problem is that by talking strictly about points of divergence we are creating a ‘special’ timeline from which the others are diverging, and are furthermore putting our history into a very special place of being one of two timelines that follow that special timeline to the maximum possible extent.  This violates one of my starting principles, so we’ll have to fix it.  Right now, we’d get a graph somewhat like this:

When what we want is something more like this:

Now, while it’s certainly possible and easy to straight-out generate a tree of 3, 000-10,000 alternate histories, that’s not really what’s going on in this world and so I want to avoid that.  What’s actually going on isn’t the generation of such a small number of alternates, but rather that there exist a nearly infinite number of alternate histories, and we are choosing 3,000-10,000 of them at random (the ones that intersect the habitable portions of the Earth’s surface), and we want that process to generate a tree of this sort rather than a simple fan like this graph:

Which would just be thousands and thousands of culturally alien human timelines.  It’s not that I don’t want a fair number of culturally alien human timelines, but I also want a large quantity of ‘traditional’ alternate histories.  So instead of looking for a single point of divergence, what I’m going to have to do is divide the relevant parts of history into cohorts (which will probably be done on a logrithmic scale in time), and in each cohort, divide the timelines into a fairly small set of  possibilities, according to some kind of Power Law distribution.  Then do the same with each group that contains more than one timeline in the next time cohort closer to the present, and so forth.  This being a complex algorithm with lots of knobs and fiddly bits that don’t look easy to guess in an emperical/results-based way, it looks like this is Programming Task #2.  I’ll then match it to the labels of the cells on the map generate before (while feeling utterly free to fudge the ones in the immediate neighborhood of the prime cell for story purposes), and be ready to go.

Mosaic: Distribution (1)

June 8, 2010

The second major issue in setting up this place is the distribution of the alternate timelines, or more specifically, the distribution of points of departure.  But let’s lay down a few more setting assumptions first.

Unlike the GURPS Infinite Worlds setting, the “local time” for every alternate world in this setting is going to be the same 201x, the only time that it’s even remotely possible for the Earth to be in the same area of space.  I’m going to have to make lots of  assumptions about whether specific historical events were highly contingent and unliklely to have repeated in other timelines with even slightly different circumstances, and which were more or less inevitable, and that’s going to dramatically affect what the cells are going to look like, and my initial assumptions are threefold: (1) the evolution of intelligence was highly unlikely, so anything diverging more than a couple million years ago is going to be untamed wilderness.  (2)The industrial revolution was fairly unlikely, so most timelines diverging before 1750 or so are going to stay fairly low-tech, and (3)Surviving the modern age was somewhat unlikely, depending on discovering nuclear weapons at the very end of a major world war, so there will be more ruined wasteland zones than high-tech ones apart from the post-1950s-divergers.

Implicit in these assumptions is a general picture of what I want the post-Mosaic world to look like: a handful of high-tech powers, many lower-tech sectors between them, and a fair number of depopulated or never-populated wildernesses and wastelands among them.  This is going to guide the distribution issue.

The question is what is the distribution of timelines and divergence points.  First, there is a ‘bottom’: I can’t have too many divergence points earlier than 100 million years ago, because that’s about the period over which the orbit of the Earth is chaotic: cells diverging that long ago are more likely to contain empty vacuum than any version of the Earth.  So we can’t have more than a couple from that far out and still have a viable setting.  (Since this is where we’re setting the limit, there’s some bad news for anything much more chaotic in its orbit than Earth: Mercury, Pluto, and the gas giant moons may end up belts with no piece larger than a single cell.  The larger asteroids will certainly end up  pulverized.)

My eventual decision, at least for a first pass, is to distribute them in a roughly normal distribution against a log-time axis, with the peak somewhere around 3000BC/5000YA[Years Ago].  The technobabble around that will have something to do with the whole ‘evolution of consciousness in the bicameral mind’ stuff, and imply that concious minds began translating more quantum events into macro-scale divergences.  But there’s another problem in the distribution that needs to be fixed, which will be taken up in the next post.

Mosaic: Geometry

June 7, 2010

There was a third influence on the original idea that I forgot to mention in the original post: Jack Chalker’s Well World.  That was certainly the kind of nigh-infinitely diverse metasetting I was going for (see also Larry Niven’s Ringworld, for that matter.)  So I started thinking about dividing the surface of the world up into hexagon-shaped cells.  But this seemed to regular and planet-centered to at all fit with the ‘natural event’ ultimate cause. [which will, when the time comes to deliver technobabble, probably involve false vacuum collapse and the mass-energy implications of an EWG multiverse]  If this is going to be happening to the entire universe (either instantaneously or in a wave spreading at the speed of light), I need a three-dimensional shape for the cells, which meant a little research into solids that can be used to tile a three-dimensional space.

It turns out that the most interesting simple way to tile a 3D space is with the Bitruncated cubic honeycomb, in which the unit cell is a Truncated Octahedron (think a d8 with the corners cut off).  That is an interesting shape, and it turns out that for a long time it was believed to be the most efficient way of tiling 3D space in terms of the surface area required.  That led to a little more research on what the actual most efficient way known of doing this, which is something called the Weaire-Phelan structure.  If you take a look at that wikipedia page, you’ll see a note that it was used to inspire the design of the “Water Cube” at the 2008 China Olympic.  A good picture of that can be found in this article here.

Yes.  That was what I wanted my world map to look like.  If this were a quick-and-dirty project I’d probably literally just steal a wall from the Cube, drop it down on my local area map, scale to preference, and go from there.  But this isn’t a quick-and-dirty project, which means that the way to go here is all-out: model a Weaire-Phelan foam of the appropriate scale, intersect it with a sphere, and then project that sphere onto a series of flat maps, first to generate the local area, and second to count the number of cells that aren’t completely oceanic or Antarctic.  This is computer programming task #1 in the overall project, then.

New Project: the Mosaic

June 4, 2010

Is anyone still reading this other than spambots?  Not sure, although the Combobulator appears to still be working, so there is that. At any rate, I’ve started working on a new worldbuilding project and thought it might be useful to present the ideas behind it as thoug h I were explaining it to someone else.

The inspiration for this comes from two places: first, a desire to do something with the “smallish community of modern-day people suddenly cut off from civilization” genre [S.M. Stirling’s Island in the Sea of Time, Stephen King’s Under the Dome, to name a couple.]   And second, my general like of ‘multiple-alternate-realities-mashed-together’ scenarios.  [I was never a fan of Rifts, because of Palladium rules, and the obvious runaway power escalations, but the basic idea was interesting.  But I’m more thinking of a couple of takes on the idea from Kenneth Hite, like the Halley’s comet mashup world suppressed transmission or the seven linked world setting in GURPS Weird War II.  Except that I want to turn it up to 11, with not seven or a dozen or so alternates but thousands of them.  Basically, the idea here is to stick one of them, centered around whatever subset of the SF Bay Area works best for story purposes, and use that surface area as more or less average to tile the whole map of Earth into (As it turns out) about 11,000 cells, each with a different alternate history represented.

So that’s the basic idea.  It presents a couple of interesting issues to pull on, especially when I add a few constraints on the internal logic of the situation.  (The first of these is that the cause for this state of affairs should be natural, which is to say not the result of intentional acts by any people or alien space bats.  The second is that the cell with the people from our timeline should be as non-special as possible while complying with the third constraint, which is that the cells be interesting and present a variety of ‘worlds’.)  It’s my intention to discuss those issues here over the next couple weeks while I sort them out.  There will probably be math involved, and possibly some programming as well.
Anyone out there whocan pass a Turing Test, feel free to stop by the comments and say ‘boo’ or whatnot, I’ll be glad to hear questions, reactions, ideas, objections, or whatnot…