Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Six (or Seven) Old Technologies That Peak Oil Will Resurrect, Causing Steam Punks To Cream Their Shorts.

Unless you've been living under a rock for the last ten years or so, and considering my imaginary readership, that's not unlikely, you've heard of Peak Oil, or the point when all the gas runs out and society grinds to a shuddering halt, a new Dark Age descends, everything goes straight to fuck and starts to look like a certain Mel Gibson franchise.

Now, aside from the prerequisite survivalists, rich douche-bags with private armies, and “I told you so” eco-crusaders, the only group that should be looking forward to end of oil are, of all people, the steam punks.


Cause the future's so dark you gotta light gas-lights.

That's right, the technological clocks gonna get turned right back to half-past Victorian, only with a few modern twists.

Just like those cosplaying freaks like it.

6: Gasification plants, aka Gas-works:

Back in ye old coal-fired days, nearly every city or sizable town had a “gas-works”. Usually built of brick or stone, with huge cool looking chimneys and a railroad heading straight in. In other words, the sort of place your average steam punk aficionado would risk life and limb to enter, just to pose for pics in front of some eldrich tangle of tubes.

A typical gas-works usually consisted of several “coke ovens” which, sorry hipsters, didn't bake cocaine, but rather smoldered coal, removing impurities and making it burn more efficiently. The gases that this process gave off were called, imaginatively enough, “coal gas”, and were piped through the city to fuel street-lamps, light homes, and power furnaces, and even make you hallucinate and waste away from slow poisoning, like Edgar Allen Poe.

(Ya hear that Goths? That's right, put down that screw-top Chardonnay you keep claiming is blood and just huff some coal fumes! No seriously. Please. Do us all the favor.)

Now, these days you can't even put a lump of coal in your sister's spoiled brat's stocking without some Eco-crusaders smashing your skull in with a sustainably harvested ten-foot chunk of tree, so why the hell would these things be making a comeback?

Because you can get the same sort of gas by smoldering wood, garbage, yard-waste, and agricultural waste, and if you use the resulting charcoal as fertilizer (called “biochar”, 'cause putting “bio” in front of a word gives Capt. Planet a woody) you actually start to reduce and trap carbon that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere, causing global warming.

Admittedly, the tweaked out quasi-Waterworld that could result from global warming makes most steam punks squee like Pedobear at a Brazt convention, but that's another article.

Municipalities the world over are starting to look at “Biochar” plants as an inexpensive and possibly profitably green way to reduce waste and energy costs. Hopefully they'll build them out of brick and stone with huge chimneys and a railroad leading in...

5: Gaslights.

“Hang on a tic”, I hear all my imaginary readers remark, “I can get the point of modern day gas-works, but gas-lights? WTF dude, we have electricity!”.

To which I respond smugly, “Yeah, but will you have light-bulbs?”

Gas-lights work by burning gas, either straight out of the pipe, filtered through a wire-mesh mantle (like every camping propane lantern you've ever used) or to heat up lime, which glows super-bright at high temperatures, hence the “lime-light” that ye old thespians bathed in. Gas-lights are simple, easy to manufacture out of metal or ceramics, and work, well, pretty much as long as you have gas.

Insert Fart Joke Here.

You done?


Light-bulbs on the other hand burn out. Even the super-eco-greeny kind filled with healing energy and fairy farts. Oh, they last a long time, but they do burn out. And they aren't easy to recycle, let alone manufacture.

See, in a future without an seemingly endless stream of high-energy fuels, just making the glass for said bulbs would cost a small fortune. Then add all the energy necessary to ship in the materials (including for all you eco-yuppies who want to ban incandescent bulbs, highly toxic heavy metals to make fluorescents) to the factory, and then ship all those easily breakable bulbs out to the consumers during an energy crisis, and a $3 gas-light made in Bob's backyard out of old pipe fixtures that will last about forever suddenly seems like a better option.

Soon enough, we'll all be wiling away the wee hours to sputtering, flickering gaslights, the only lighting to use when creating steam-driven exoskeletons, or...

4:Syngas cars

“Syngas”. Just say it with me now, “syngas”. It even sounds steam-punky.

Syngas (sometimes called, with complete lack of poetry or precision,”woodgas” or “producer gas”) is the technical term for the gas that comes out of gasification plants. In 1901, Thomas Hugh Parker figured out that you can run a car engine on the stuff, and what's more, figured out you could attach a small-scale gasification plant to your car.

During WWII, because of fuel shortages and rationing, nearly every civilian car in Europe ran on syngas. Hell the Germans even had tanks running on the stuff. During the OPEC embargo in the 70's FEMA, in a fit of common sense sadly never again repeated, produced a study of how to quickly and cheaply convert vehicles to run on syngas in case of another oil-shortage.

These days, with oil prices going through the proverbial roof, people have started converting cars and trucks once again. The resulting conversions are usually a mess of strange piping, radiators, flaming vents, smoking metal drums and all the other aesthetic properties known to make steam punks harder than kilned hickory, although nothing this author's seen compares with the coolness of this.

3:Steam engines:

Let's face it, this article had to include steam engines. It just had to. But steam punks aside, there is a very good reason you'll likely be seeing more and more steam-driven vehicles around soon, and why those vehicles will likely look like something you'd imagine China MiƩville driving around.

See, steam engines, whether turbine or piston, work by converting heat into expanding gas (water-vapor) and using the resulting energy to do mechanical work. The exhaust gases from whatever you burn to heat the water are simply wasted. Internal combustion engines, whether turbine or piston, convert the force of expanding gas, caused by combustion, into mechanical work. The heat produced is considered a waste-factor.

See where I'm going with this?

Combine the two into a steam-gas hybrid, and you're looking at theoretical increases in efficiency of 35-45% ( but of course, once actual engineering steps in and pisses on physics' parade, its more like 30%, max). As an added bonus, all the parts and materials you need are sitting around in the form of good-ol' fashioned metal, not highly-refined lithium, cadmium, and other cool sounding toxic materials. Lest you think I'm pulling this out of my ass, BMW is already on it.

I mean, sure, you could buy some sissified electric/internal combustion hybrid that looks like something out of an 80's sci-fi series, or you could have a friggin' syngas/steam hybrid monster with friggin' turbines! That runs on garbage! Or the bones of your enemies! And desalinates the water from flooded coastal cities while you're at it!

And speaking of steam and turbines...

2: Ships and Locomotives.

What's cooler than the aforementioned syngas hybrid? Well, how about a syngas-hybrid-clipper ship, cruising the sunken cities of the near future trading in rare technology, spices, and genetically enhanced love-slaves? Or shuddering steel locomotives flaring flame and spouting steam as they hurdle across the bleak windswept ruins of what once was called Wash-Ing-Town?

Thing is, rail and water based transport are about the most efficient technologies for moving large amounts of people or goods that anyone has ever come up with. Cars (even awesome syngas hybrids) don't even come close, and don't get me started on airplanes. What's more, trains and ships can use a wide variety of power-sources that just don't work that well when squeezed into a car frame.

Take electricity, for example. For a car to run on volts, it needs a lot, I mean A LOT, of batteries, and some method to charge them, which is usually too heavy to include in the vehicle in question.

Not so for trains. Because they run on fixed tracks, a third rail or overhead power line are you need to rocket across the wastelands. The same is true for steam/syngas. Trains can carry larger amounts of heavier fuel than can cars, making them the land-transport of choice for our post-oil future commutes to the gasworks. And those fixed tracks they run on are worlds easier and faster to lay down than building roads, using less energy in the process.

As for ships, not very long ago, almost all of the world's trade goods traveled by sea. That's why its called “shipping” after all. Even today, “shipping” is mostly driven by well, ships. Admittedly oil-powered ships, but ships nonetheless, because it's the most efficient way to move large amounts of anything from one place to another. Hell, they used to do it with sails alone! So when the oil runs out, be prepared to see huge tanker-sized clipper ships, complete with solar-panel sails, or huge wind turbines and steam engines plying the seas.

Hopefully fighting off cool pirates and not these a-holes...

And speaking of ships...

1: Airships

Every steam punk worth their bronze-painted Nerf®-gun knows that the ultimate level of steamy coolness is the airship (or “Zeppelin”, but never, ever “blimp”). Why, just imagine sailing the skies in your own air-yacht, spitting your cheroot stubs over the side onto the roofs of the little people, fighting off sky-pirate attacks with your steam powered rotary cannon and general aeronautical badassetry.

The thing is, its not that far off. Modern, and even old-school fixed wing and rotary aircraft burn fuel like a pyromaniac at Burning Man, whereas lighter-than-air-vehicles, (LTAV, or “nambla”) use much less fuel (especially those that use helium/hydrogen/methane/ammonia instead of hot air) than heavier-than-air-vehicles (HTAV, or “nambla”). Add in the fact that they can be sailed with prevailing winds, have large surface areas that could be covered with photo-voltaic panels (PVP's, or...ok, I'll quit), and could be made tough as anything with the use of carbon-fiber, Kevlar, or even genetically engineered spider silk (squee!) and the airship might just come to dominate the skies of our increasingly steam punk future.

Just don't call it a “blimp”.

Seriously dude.

Rotary cannon, remember?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Numbered lists and the difficulty of daily ranting.

So I'm trying to get back on the write-o-cycle, having fallen off roughly two years ago, but it's proving to be more of a challenge than I thought.

For starters, this time around, I'm doing a lot of writing that isn't going up in the form of a daily blog/rant/thingy, and is aimed instead at a slightly more commercial audience. So I'm working on churning out snarky numbered lists for, angry-yet-non-threatening political rant for, and useful and informative how-to articles on

Of course, none of the above have "hired" me, nor do I know exactly how to submit my work to them, but hey, keeps me busy and let's me occasionally convince myself that I might at some point make some money off of it.

Thing is though, that the more I think of writing as a job, the less I want to do it, and the fewer and fewer topics I want to discuss on my blog, as I think "hey, wait a sec, shouldn't share that for free", which then makes me feel like a total money-grubbin' capitalist a-hole.

But every now and again I come up with something that won't fit anywhere but my blog, some short little ditty that just has WRB written all over it.

Like this.

America Explained in 4 Simple (but false) Statements.

4. "The American Dream" aka "Pull yourself up by your bootstraps."

For starters, practically no one in Merka has bootstraps anymore, we all get to wear shitty fall-apart-at-the-sight-of-weather sneakers manufactured in off-shore sweatshops and sold in box stores so huge our fat asses can't make it from one end to another without renting an electric scooter. Aside from that, this statement ignores the reams of data gathered over the last 50 or so years that shows that not only is upward mobility no longer a trend in Merka, but that downward mobility has been the rule for years now, even before the Great Re-possession. The reason Merkans still hold on to this ridiculous belief is based on...

3. "If you're poor, its you're own fault for being lazy/sick/stupid/black/brown/ etc."

Merkans hate poor people. Poor people not only make the whole country look bad, but for some weird reason there are always people in the government trying to take away our money and give it to no good lazy poor people. Oh, we'll happily spend tax money on police and prisons to lock them up, but actually trying to prevent poverty-based crime (and the VAST majority is poverty based) by obtaining some measure of *shudder* "economic equality" is straight out freedom-hating-socialist heresy because...

2. "Competition brings out the best in people".

O rly? So the same thing that induces people already making assloads more than your average working Joe (who does something worthwhile with his labor) to take illegal steroids to further wring cash and endorsements from people stupid enough to believe smacking a globular chunk of leather with a stick makes you a role-model brings out the best in people? The same thing that "forces" companies to lay-off thousands and move their operations abroad to avoid taxes, labor laws, and that pesky lack of slave-labor is a good thing? Really?!?! So a system wherein insurance companies and HMOs compete with each other to screw as much money out of the public while providing as little of that there expensive medical care as possible brings out the best in the assholes? I can only imagine that without competition they morph into some huge encephalitic elder god bent on murdering existence...

1. "There can be no common good without personal greed".

Okay, fine, they don't say it like that. Mainly 'casue they've given up on even the idea of a "common good", but this is what's behind all the "trickle-down" talk, the bullshit about "rising tides lifting all boats". People believing this, and believing that a piece of paper with a government seal justifies it are the reason that fully half the resources of this country, hell, of the world, are owned by a tiny fraction of the population, who don't give a flying fuck about the "common good" and would sooner slit your throat and sell your organs on Ebay than part with even a fraction of their vast wealth.

To summarize:

Most of you reading this are members of the new global underclass (you are just lucky enough to be at the top of that particular shit heap). In all likelihood, no matter how smart you are, how creative, or how hard you work, you will stay a member of the new global underclass. Because like all caste-systems, you are born into it.

The people you work for, who likely pit you against your fellow workers, while pitting the company you work for against other companies in an endless drive to "beat" the "other" "team" are in all likelihood the also the owners of the "other team". They will continue to pit you against other people just like you to force you to accept lower wages, fewer benefits, and eventual indentured slavery because "competition brings out the best in people". These same asshats will then claim that any move made to bring any-level of fairness to this fucked up situation will result in global economic misery (like we don't have that now) because if they are not allowed to make obscene profits off of your hard labor, you won't receive your minimum wage paycheck next week.

Where's that rifle????

PS: Yes I have sources to back this up. No I didn't post them. Why should I go through the trouble, I mean look at the Tea Party, not only did they essentially take over America, they did it without siting any real sources! Mostly they just pulled xenophobic libertarian shit out of their fat ignorant asses and flung it into the public debate like so many masturbating zoo monkeys.

Can't beat 'em...

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


I had this glorious plan.

I was going to write a scathing denounciation of wealth and the wealthy, to be concluded with a soaring call to arms, for the masses to rise up and smash the egocentric, greedy bitches who are actively destroying their fellow human beings and the very planet that supports us.

I was going to. Totally rip into it. Tear shit right the fuck up.

Then I did a bit of research.

I got depressed.

I laid down and took a friggin' nap, like an over-active toddler.

Shit is worse that most of you think, especially when its worse than I think.

More tomorrow.

Beer now.