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William 04-17-2008 11:00 PM

Real-Life Weirdness
This thread exists to stock people up on random tidbits from the news and interesting real-life happenings that sparked gaming ideas. Anyone with an interesting observation, a link to an unusual photo, etc., is cheerfully invited to add to the pile. If you're a GM looking to rummage reality for things your fiction can try to top, welcome!


Fears about the Brookhaven collider first centered on black holes but soon shifted to the danger posed by weird hypothetical particles, strangelets, that critics said could transform the Earth almost instantly into a dead, dense lump. Ultimately, independent studies by two groups of physicists calculated that the chances of this catastrophe were negligible, based on astronomical evidence and assumptions about the physics of the strangelets. One report put the odds of a strangelet disaster at less than one in 50 million, less than a chance of winning some lottery jackpots. Dr. Kent, in a 2003 paper, used the standard insurance company method to calculate expected losses to explore how stringent this bound on danger was. He multiplied the disaster probability times the cost, in this case the loss of the global population, six billion. A result was that, in actuarial terms, the Rhic collider could kill up to 120 people in a decade of operation.

“Put this way, the bound seems far from adequately reassuring,” Dr. Kent wrote.

Alvaro de Rujula of Cern, who was involved in writing a safety report, said extending the insurance formula that way violated common sense. “Applied to all imaginable catastrophes, it would result in World Paralysis,” he wrote.

Besides, the random nature of quantum physics means that there is always a minuscule, but nonzero, chance of anything occurring, including that the new collider could spit out man-eating dragons.
So I was reading this article and the "man-eating dragons" bit caught my eye, but really what got me thinking was the "120 people per decade" bit. Now, if Infinity ever did send a probe to a world where the strangelet catastrophe had hit, of course the probe would go dead and there would be no return, and the Service would mark the timeline off as inaccessible. But I was also caused to consider a Cabalistic interpretation. Namely, what if the Collider had to cause 120 deaths per decade, one way or another? And so, lest the Earth be rendered into featureless particle goo, every month a condemned prisoner is hauled to the central facility...

tshiggins 04-18-2008 08:58 PM

Re: Real-Life Weirdness
Here's mine, from


Full moons are said to be behind many strange things, but here's one you didn't know about: At full moon, our favorite satellite is whipped by Earth's magnetotail, causing lunar dust storms and discharges of static electricity.

This new finding, announced this week by NASA, is important to future lunar explorers: Astronauts may find themselves "crackling with electricity like a sock pulled out of a hot dryer," according to an agency statement.

The effect on the moon was first noticed in 1968, when NASA's Surveyor 7 lander photographed a strange glow on the horizon after dark. Nobody knew what it was. Now scientists think it was sunlight scattered by electrically charged moon dust floating just above the surface. That fits with data from NASA's Lunar Prospector, which orbited the moon in 1998-99. During some crossings of the magnetotail, the spacecraft recorded big changes in the lunar night-side voltage.

How it works

Our entire planet is enveloped in a bubble of magnetism generated by the rotating core. The solar wind, a stream of charged particles, pushes the bubble away from the sun and creates a long tail of magnetized material downstream.

"Earth's magnetotail extends well beyond the orbit of the moon and, once a month [at full moon] the moon orbits through it," said Tim Stubbs, a University of Maryland scientist working at the Goddard Space Flight Center. "This can have consequences ranging from lunar 'dust storms' to electrostatic discharges."

Here's what Stubbs and colleagues now think is happening:

At full moon, the moon passes through a huge "plasma sheet" — hot charged particles trapped in the tail. The lightest and most mobile of these particles, electrons, pepper the moon's surface and give the moon a negative charge, the researchers explained.

On the moon's dayside this effect is counteracted somewhat by sunlight: Photons knock electrons back off the surface, lessening the negative charge. But on the night side, electrons accumulate and the charge can climb to thousands of volts.
What happens when the first astronauts visit the dark side of the moon?

Six_Gun_Sam 04-18-2008 09:07 PM

Re: Real-Life Weirdness

Retired professor of climatology, Dr. Tim Ball argued that climate change is not due to manmade causes such as increased CO2. Environmental issues are being politicized and exploited, he said. It is arrogance that we can stop climate change, and human energy into the system is miniscule-- global climate change is caused by natural cycles mostly related to the sun and the oceans, he noted.

The bullying atmosphere about the future of our planet is misguided, and environmental extremism leads us away from the real issues, he commented. For instance, fears of overpopulation begun in the 1960s have not played out, and if anything, there is a bigger problem of declining populations, Ball offered. He also addressed water concerns-- droughts are part of a cycle, such as in the Great Plains of North America, which undergoes a 22-year pattern.

It is a myth that fossil fuels are running out, and the increased usage of biofuels such as ethanol is threatening world food production, he detailed. For more, see this article Ball wrote for the Canada Free Press.
I remember in the 70's when the big deal was global cooling.

Agemegos 04-18-2008 09:31 PM

Re: Real-Life Weirdness

Originally Posted by Six_Gun_Sam
I remember in the 70's when the big deal was global cooling.

Only in the popular press. Newsweek is not a scientific journal.

There was a cooling trend from about 1940 to 1970, which was caused by particulate pollution, mostly sulphates from industrial smokestacks. It was observed in the 60s, its causes were discovered, remedies were applied, and the cooling had ended by 1972 when the journalists started making a flap.

If you read that the next ice age was coming, that story started when a scientists said "I don't know whether this effect could trigger an ice age" and a journalist decided that "this effect could trigger an ice age" was simpler, less confusing, and more likely to make a good story.

In no way does the existence, discovery, diagnosis, and remediation of particulate cooling between 1940 and 1970 show that atmospheric science is indecisive or unreliable, nor does it cast doubt on the observation that Earth is now warming as predicted by Arrhenius.

Six_Gun_Sam 04-18-2008 10:49 PM

Re: Real-Life Weirdness
You have blinded me with science!


Anyway global warming is junk science and/or myth and nothing you say will ever change my mind. So let's not drift the entertaining thread William created, ok?

GhostInTheMachine 04-19-2008 07:04 AM

Re: Real-Life Weirdness
Whatever happened to that easiest ways to end the world thread? It had a link to 50 ways the world will end and it had some crazy stuff in it.

Flyndaran 04-19-2008 07:12 AM

Re: Real-Life Weirdness

Originally Posted by Six_Gun_Sam
Anyway global warming is junk science and/or myth and nothing you say will ever change my mind. So let's not drift the entertaining thread William created, ok?

I think (scientific statement) is stupid, but let's not talk about science...
If you do, then I will get very angry.

That drive by slam is far more annoying that anything of substance you could have written...

But let's not drift into petty arguments. ;)

Flyndaran 04-19-2008 07:18 AM

Re: Real-Life Weirdness

Originally Posted by GhostInTheMachine
Whatever happened to that easiest ways to end the world thread? ...

Just mention Nazis. That is the easiest way to end any thread.
Hah! I kill me... but that's not enough to end the world... wait I am a solipsist, so I guess that would end the world.

Ending the world is a vague title. Does it mean destruction of the planet, all life, or just us pesky humans?

Six_Gun_Sam 04-19-2008 10:09 AM

Re: Real-Life Weirdness

Originally Posted by Flyndaran
That drive by slam is far more annoying that anything of substance you could have written...

Thanks for the compliment.

William 04-19-2008 10:18 AM

Re: Real-Life Weirdness
This is the "Roleplaying in General" forum. I would appreciate it if posts remained gaming-related.

This is an interesting ruins site by the name of Nan Madol. It was a temple/palace complex. As potential gaming sites go, this one has the interesting feature that it's Venetian -- the sites are on artificial islands, separated by water channels! A series of constricted islands combines a limited amount of mobility with some of the aspects of a "ship in a bottle" game. And, of course, bordering the ocean means there's always the potential for something horrific to RISE UP FROM THE DEPTHS. Unless the players have diving equipment. (How else you gonna explore the sunken, flooded levels where the magical artifacts are?)

I haven't been able to find much of a map. Here's one.

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