Friday, November 19, 2010

Searching For McGuffinite

Humans will reach the planets in this century; at least there is a rather good chance that we will, without ever needing to be explicit about Step Two. The inherent coolness of space travel, along with national vanity and parochial economic interests, has turned out to be sufficient for half a century. There is no inherent reason why this should not remain the case into or through the midfuture, as our steadily growing capabilities carry us outward.

What this highly plausible space future does not have room for, however, is most of our favorite space tropes. Last post I made a comparison of space to Antarctica. The popular literature of polar exploration is tiny, and most of what there is deals with the early days. (Amundsen and Shackleton are the two names I remember off of hand.) Real space travel may turn out very similar. People will work very hard and spend a great deal of money to see to it that dramatic adventures do not happen in space.

Nor does the human scale of the thing lend itself to space opera. In the early interplanetary era - and, in all likelihood, for a long time after - there may be hundreds of people in space, but probably not thousands and certainly not millions. There will be a space economy, but no economy in space: the ships will be transports, not liners, and certainly not tramp freighters. (Sob!)

For story purposes this is not what we want. We want a lot of people in space. We want the outposts to grow into bases, then towns, then cities, and of course we mostly want them to end up fighting space battles with each other. For this we need a justification.

At least in 'Murrican science fiction, the profit motive is enshrined as probably necessary and certainly sufficient reason to go into space on whatever scale is desired. This attitude is not just confined to the libertarian-minded; Evil Megacorps in Space are a variation on the same theme. (I am not sure how it is elsewhere. Clarke's space midfuture, at least in his earlier stories, seemed not unlike the 'realistic' vision I portrayed above.)

The most popular profit motive has been mining. This is only natural. Mining fits the broad Western trope, and it does take people to the most Godforsaken places.

You have to make a few friendly assumptions to get space mining for terrestrial use to pan out (so to speak). But the subtler problem is then what? Suppose we learned that the rings of Saturn are full of McGuffinite. There is not going to be a rush of would-be Belters heading out to be Ringers instead.

Instead there will be some very big consortium formed, or a handful of them, probably with more than cozy relationships with existing national or para-national space agencies. A very focused program will develop the technology to do one thing: Go to the rings of Saturn, extract McGuffinite, and bring the stuff back to Earth. This effort will not go anywhere or do anything else. (With a limited but potentially important exception I'll get to below.) It will involve the necessary minimum number of humans in space, especially Saturn space; from every operational perspective the optimum is zero.

And once in place, beyond Earth orbit the mining operation may scarcely interact with other space activity. Mining transports headed for the Rings do not stop off at Mars or Titan. The experience of developing countries is that resource extraction infrastructure is not very helpful. The rail line runs from a seaport to the mine, and even the seaport is chosen for access to the mine, not its potential as a general trade entrepot.

Resource extraction is an economic monoculture, and like other monocultures it does not support a rich ecosystem.

The most popular political McGuffinite, a great power arms race, has a rather similar problem. As earlier discussions here have shown, great power warfare scenarios offer little role for space cruisers in whatever form. Only for laser stars that may well be robotic, and kinetic killer buses that will certainly be.

A somewhat different matter is resource extraction in space for use in space, such as the popular lunar shipbuilding industry. This is not McGuffinite, because it is not a reason to go into space. It is something you do only when you are already in space, and in a big way.

And of course there are other complications. Building spacecraft requires an enormous industrial base, and every pipe wrench has to come up from Earth unless you set up a pipe wrench factory or at least a fab. The lower energy cost of orbit lift from the Moon can evaporate quickly when you consider all the front end and operating costs.

It will be a long time before we have production industries in space.

An exception could be propellant, because space travel uses so much of it, and it is fairly simple stuff. Once we are regularly going somewhere with accessible volatiles, there will be consideration of obtaining propellant from them. This is not as simple as it is often made to sound. For example, all the ice on Mars is no use to deep space craft unless you lift it to Mars orbit, a major spacelift operation even if you can do it with a one stage vehicle. And there is no space infrastructure on Mars but what we take there.

I would say that the early interplanetary era ends on the day that a ship makes a routine burn in Earth orbital space using propellant that did not come from Earth.

Propellant production differs from McGuffinite mining in one crucial respect: It is inherently tied to the rest of the space infrastructure. And space travel is no longer entirely geocentric; for the first time, some of what happens in space stays in space.

Still a long ways from the Solar Confederation versus the Planetary Union, but everything has to start somewhere.

If I were working out a future history with a serious illusion of plausibility, I would stay away from McGuffinite. It is an ancient, overused crutch, and not a convincing one. Given worlds enough and time (and both are available), exports to Earth may well arise, as consequences rather than cause of space exploration. These may be - almost certainly will be - entirely unexpected and counterintuitive.

To quote myself, from last year's 'A Solar System For This Century':

Someone will find out that burgundy grapes grown in a Martian greenhouse have a distinct flavor. Pretty soon they are shipping back little airline size bottles that sell for $500, with just enough for a toast, and 'robustly Martian' ends up being used to describe burgundies from lands where Charles the Bold once ruled.
Unlike McGuffinite, Martian burgundy doesn't have to be globally profitable - paying back the cost of going to Mars in the first place, or even the cost of the transport system. It only needs to be locally and marginally profitable ('marginal' in the formal economic sense, not precarious). Those little bottles only need to pay for themselves, their contents, and the extra propellant to get them to Earth. Ivan Q(ing) Taxpayer already paid for the transport ships, though you'd never know it from the collected works of the wine industry council.

Multiply such serendipities and, gradually, the human space ecosystem grows more complex. Oenologists now have a place on Mars, bringing a body of specialized knowledge and also an outlook on life and civilization.

This sort of thing takes time, probably lots of it, because it cannot be planned, it can only evolve. It may not happen. Indeed it probably will not happen, even in a future of interplanetary travel, because space travel is inherently so difficult.

But it is the one most likely path to get you from Earth to space opera.

The imagined image of Cassini, as so often, comes from Atomic Rockets.

Monday, November 15, 2010

First Stage

We can already do, and have done, a great deal in space. We have scouted all the major planets, landed on the Moon, Venus, Mars, and Titan, and dropped among the clouds of Jupiter. We have passed through the heliopause into interstellar space.

The International Space Station has shown that crews can live and work aboard a spacecraft for years, with no emergency requiring evacuation to Earth or urgent support from Earth.

This is the primary requirement for human interplanetary travel. At a fundamental level, add a drive bus and you are good to go. Nor is any really major handwave needed for a solar or nuclear electric drive capable of reaching Mars in 2-4 months. (If Mars leaves you cold, adjust for the destination of your choice. It will probably be colder.)

All you need to wave is a check for $200 billion or so, to pay for developing your vehicle and mission from conceptual design to flight testing and human spaceflight certification.

Do not expect to get there for much less than that. The Airbus A-380 and Boeing 787 Dreamliner - commercial products of private industry, working in a mature kindred technology - each cost some $15 billion to develop. Such projects simply require an enormous amount of costly engineering work and one-off fabrication.

SpaceX and Scaled Composites do not prove otherwise. They prove only that the ecosystem has a place for small, agile skunkworks that can underpay top talent to work on exciting projects. Even technologies like 3-D printing won't really change the equation, because initial space costs are mainly engineering costs, and engineering at the cutting edge remains a craft trade.

But for a trillion US dollars or equivalent, give or take, you could probably build yourself a decent start on the classical rocketpunk midfuture: a second generation station with spin hab; outposts on Luna and Mars with ships to serve them; a human mission to Jupiter; altogether up to a few hundred people living in space. Call it the Clarke-Kubrick vision, though it could equally well be called the Ley-Bonestall vision.

The specifics are all freely subject to change. Commenters have challenged such rocketpunk-era verities as an orbital station as transfer point, and of course there are debates about where we should actually go and in what sequence. But this infrastructure, or something comparable, is the trillion dollar admission ticket to everything else.

A trillion dollars is a lot of money. More precisely it is a staggering, awesome, incomprehensible amount of money. It might end up being more than we are willing to spend on space travel in this or any century. But it is not impossible money. It is comparable to NASA's cumulative budget from its beginning to the present day, and about twice the cost of another public transportation system of similar age, the Interstate Highway System.

I am very doubtful that the private sector can or will take us into deep space on its own. But the largest corporations have revenue and market capitalizations of a few hundred billion dollars, so - given persuasive enough reason to believe that it would be profitable - it is not utterly out of bounds to imagine a global commercial consortium raising a trillion dollars.

The time scale of space is really, in large part, the money scale of space. If space spending in the later 20th century had remained at Apollo levels we might well have had the Clarke-Kubrick vision on schedule in 2001. At the levels of space spending and resulting space progress that we have seen over the last 35 years it is about in line with what we might expect for 2101.

It could as easily be 2071, or 2171. (Or never.) Given a sufficient (hand)wave of great power muscle flexing it might be 2031. But I will use 2101 as my conservatively optimistic benchmark. This presumes that we continue going into space in the same rather muddled, low-keyed, but persisting way we have since those heady early years.

So. At the start of the 22nd century, or broadly comparable date of your choice, we have regular interplanetary travel, but still very little of it, and what there is is very expensive.

Production jetliners, as I've often mentioned, cost about $1 million per ton at the factory ramp. But commercial jets can be sold for that price because Boeing and Airbus expect to build several hundred of them, spreading out the development cost and permitting semi-mass production efficiencies.

The first generation of interplanetary ships will be handbuilt prototypes. The second generation will still be largely handbuilt, though modular construction will begin to allow limited production runs of standard hab pods and the like. So a ship capable of carrying 10-20 people on an interplanetary mission, with departure mass of 1000 tons, dry mass 500 tons, gross payload 200 tons, might cost $5 billion assembled on orbit and ready for loading.

Adjust ticket prices accordingly. Suppose that your ship can make 10 round trips to Mars in a design service life of 25 years, so charge each round trip $500 million up front. Add another $500 million for 500 tons of propellant lifted from Earth - don't expect launch cost under $1 million/ton at the modest traffic volume of the early interplanetary era. And don't expect to get it from anywhere else, not at this stage.

So (simplistically!) $1 billion for our ship to make one round trip to Mars. It carries 20 people in transport configuration, so that will be $50 million, please. For a first class ticket $100 million - not for the caviar and steaks but the chef and stewards.

I confess a personal weakness for Pullman class interplanetary travel. The Realistic [TM] space travel alternative of doing basic preventive maintenance on microgravity toilets for 200 million miles would get old even faster.

But a note of practical caution to my libertarian minded readers. A world with so much loose money sloshing around the economic elite that it can send a Pullman car full of billionaires to Mars every two years is also a world with thousands of Paris Hiltons. Never mind poverty and social injustice. At some point sheer annoyance will bring out the guillotines.

Ahem, back to the point.

What happens after the early interplanetary era, in the second century or two of space travel, is much more conjectural, even by the necessarily naive standards of this essay.

Personally I think that by far the most likely human space future, through the 22nd century and well beyond - in short, through the midfuture - is far more like Antarctica than Heinlein: a chain of scientific and technological outposts, gradually extending outward.

Space is remote, costly to reach, difficult to live and work in, implacably indifferent to human life, and filled with things that fascinate us.

It is probably not filled with McGuffinite.

The human Solar System may well belong to artists, not writers. A deep space effort like this provides all of the lovely images - dawn on Mars, gliding through the rings of Saturn, everything Chesley Bonestall imagined and more - but not many plot lines, and certainly not the favorites among this bloodthirsty audience.

Which might be a feature, not a bug: a Solar System touched more by our aspirations than our failings.

That is probably not what you want, but I will save other possibilities for another post.

The image of an ESA concept for Mars exploration comes from a Romanian space website.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Home Away From Home

The comment thread on my previous post about space patrols raised the issue of base stations for more prolonged missions, extending to years.

This has application far beyond military or quasi-military patrols. In fact it is fairly fundamental to any extensive, long term human presence in deep space. Whether or not we put permanent bases on the surface of Mars, Europa, or wherever, we will surely place permanent or semi-permanent stations in orbit around them. Particularly because the stations can be built in Earth space, where the industry is (at least initially), and flown out to where they will serve.

Hab structures intended for prolonged habitation should be fairly large, if only because if you are going to live for years in a can it should be at least be a roomy one. And they must be thoroughly shielded against radiation, much more than ships that you only spend a few months aboard every few years.

So let us play with some numbers. Make our spin hab a drum, 200 meters in diameter and 100 meters thick. Volume is thus about 3.14 million cubic meters. The ISS has about 1200 m3 of pressurized volume and a mass of some 300 tons, for an average density near 0.25, but the mass includes exterior structures such as keel and wings. Let average interior density be about 0.16, for a mass of 500,000 tons.

If we allow 100 cubic meters per person the onboard population (whether 'crew' or simply residents, or a mix) can be up to 30,000 people. This is about twice the density of a middle class American urban apartment complex. Given that much of the usable volume must be working areas, public spaces, and so forth, the actual crew or population might be more on the order of 10,000 people, equivalent to a decent sized small town or a fairly large university or military base. Thus the hab has 10 times the volume of an aircraft carrier and twice as many people.

Spin the hab at 3 rpm and you get almost exactly 1 g at the rim.

By my standard rule of thumb the cost of this hab is on order of $500 billion. That is a steep price tag, but on the other hand it is only five times the cost of the ISS, and you need very few of these unless you are engaged in outright colonization.

Now, shielding. The standard for indefinite habitation is about 5 tons per square meter of cross section. (Earth's atmosphere provides about 10 tons/m2.) Portions of the hab where people do not spend much time, and exterior to where they do spend time, can be counted toward the shielding allowance. So let us say that the outer 10 meters of the interior (about 35 percent of the volume) are used for storage, equipment rooms, and the like. This provides about 2 tons per square meter of shielding, 40 percent of the requirement.

The remaining 3 tons per square meter of exterior shielding must cover about 125,000 square meters of surface, so shielding mass is about 375,000 tons, adding 75 percent to the mass of the hab, now 875,000 tons. This shielding need not be 'armor.' As I recall, water provides pretty good shielding against GCRs, your biggest radiation problem, and water is so useful that having 375,000 tons of it on hand in a reservoir will never be amiss.

Moreover, to move the hab you can vent off the water (or pump it out) and not need to lug the mass, assuming you can replace it wherever you are going. The deep interior of the hab, more than 25 meters from the surface (about 28 percent of the volume) is still shielded by the rest of the hab structure, so the hab can carry a reduced population during the transfer.

You are still moving a half million ton payload, so don't expect to rush it unless you have a really badass drive bus handy. Habs being repositioned across the Solar System probably travel on Hohmann orbits, and have drive accelerations of a few dozen microgees, good for about 1 km/s per month of steady acceleration.

For a smaller hab structure, scale down the linear dimensions by half, to 100 meters diameter and 50 meters thick. Structural mass, volume, and capacity are all reduced by a factor of 8, to 400,000 cubic meters, 60,000 tons, and a crew / resident population of about 1500-4000. Our 'mini' hab is now broadly comparable in volume, mass, and crew to an aircraft carrier.

Surface area is only reduced, however, by a factor of four, to about 30,000 square meters. Moreover, the smaller hab provides less interior self-shielding. If we keep the same proportions our internal reserved zone is just 5 meters deep and provides only 20 percent of the needed protection, not 40 percent.

We now need about 120,000 tons of shielding - twice the unshielded mass of the hab. If we move the hab fully shielded our payload mass is 180,000 tons. Remove the shielding and payload mass is just 60,000 tons, but no part of the smaller interior is fully self-shielded, so any crew on board during a 'light' transfer must be relieved every few months. On the bright side, if you have a 100 gigawatt drive bus floating around, or about $100 billion to buy one, you can take a fast orbit and get there in a few months.

The image shows a drum-hab station ship with a spin hab of the full sized type described above, 200 meters in diameter by 100 meters thick, fitted with a heaviest class drive bus for transfer. I am delicately ignoring details of the connection between the spin drum and the hub structures.

The shuttles approximate the NASA Shuttle, as a visual size reference. The deep space ships docking up to it are large fast transports, 300 meters long, ten times heavier than the patrol ship discussed last post. The station ship itself is about 675 meters long by 450 meters across the outrigger docking bays.

In my image the station ship is no aesthetic triumph. Allowing for my limitations as an graphic artist (compare to commenter Elukka, from the last comment thread), the transport class ships don't look too bad, but the station ship merely looks tubby instead of grand. Some modest architectural improvements might yield a more impressive appearance with little change in overall configuration.

Of course the interior will matter immeasurably more to the people on board. Mostly, presumably, it will resemble the interior of a very large oceangoing ship, corridors and compartments, probably including some fairly imposing public spaces, comparable to the grand saloon of a 20th century ocean liner or even larger. It can be as elegant or as sterile as you like (or both, depending on deck and sector). The third popular choice, rundown industrial gothic, is constrained by how far you can go in that direction before the algae dies or the air starts leaking out.

So find yourself a cubby and make yourself at home. You might be here for quite a while.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Space Patrols

We now return you to your regularly scheduled blog.

The discussion thread about 'temperate and indecisive conflicts' veered, among other things, into a discussion of patrol missions in space. [Oops, wrong thread - the discussion arose on the 'Industrial Scale of Space' thread.] My first reaction was that (so long as you aren't dealing with an interstellar setting) there is no place in space for wartime patrol missions. But the matter might be more complicated, and for story purposes probably should be.

According to The Free Dictionary, patrol is The act of moving about an area especially by an authorized and trained person or group, for purposes of observation, inspection, or security. This fits my own sense of the word, and is in fact a bit broader, 'security' including SSBN patrols, which are not observing or inspecting anything, just waiting for a launch order if it comes.

In a reductionist way you could say that all military spacecraft are on patrol, since they are all on orbit, and if they are orbiting a planet they have a very regular 'patrol area.' But this is not what most of us have in mind. We picture a patrol making a sweep through an area, looking for anything unusual, ready to engage any enemy they encounter, or report it and shadow it if they cannot engage it.

Back in the rocketpunk era it was plausible that, say, Earth might send a patrol past Ceres to see if the Martians had established a secret base there. But (alas!) telescopes 'patrolling' from Earth orbit can easily observe the large scale logistics traffic involved in establishing a base; watch it depart Mars and track it to Ceres. If you want a closer look you can send a robotic spy probe. If you engage in 'reconnaissance in force' by attacking Ceres, that is a task force, not a patrol.

In an all out interplanetary war there may be plenty of uncertainty on both sides, but very little of it can be resolved by sending out patrols.

But of course all-out war is not the context in which the Space Patrol became familiar. I associate it with Heinlein's Patrol; apparently the 1950s TV series had an independent origin (unlike Tom Corbett, who was Heinlein's unacknowledged literary child).

The rocketpunk-era Patrol, which in turn gave us Starfleet, was placed in the distinctly midcentury future setting of a Federation. This is as zeerust as monorails. But plausible patrolling is not confined to Federation settings. It can justified in practically any situation but all out war.

Orbital patrol in Earth orbital space will surely be the first space patrol, and could be imagined in this century. It might initially be a general emergency response force, because travel times in Earth orbital space are short enough for classical rescue missions. On the interplanetary scale, with travel times of weeks or more likely months, rescue is rarely possible. But eventually power players will want some kind of police presence or flag showing in deep space.

As so often in these discussions, I picture a complex and ambiguous environment in which policing, diplomacy, and sometimes low level conflict blur together. To take again our Earth-Mars-Ceres example, there are kinds of reconnaissance that cannot be carried out by robots (short of high level AIs). If Ceres closes its airlocks to liberty parties from a visiting Earth patrol ship, that conveys some important intelligence information.

The ships that perform these missions will be fairly large (and expensive). They must carry a hab pod providing prolonged life support for a significant crew: at least a commander and staff, SWAT team of espatiers, and some support for both.

Let us say a crew of 25 - which is cutting the human presence very fine. Now we can venture a mass estimate. Allow 100 tons for the hab compartment plus 25 tons for crew and stores plus 75 tons other payload, for a total payload of 200 tons. Let the drive bus be 200 tons for the drive, including radiators, and 100 tons for tankage, keel, and sundry equipment.

Our patrol ship with a crew of 25 thus has a dry mass of 475 tons, mass fully equipped 500 tons, plus 500 tons propellant for a full load departure mass of 1000 tons. Cost by my usual rule of thumb is equivalent to $500 million, perhaps $1 billion after milspecking, expensive compared to military planes, cheaper than major naval combatants.

This is no small ship. If the propellant is liquid hydrogen the tanks have a volume of about 7000 cubic meters, equivalent to a 7000 ton submarine. The payload section is about two thirds the mass of the ISS and of roughly comparable size, though the hab is probably spun giving the prolonged missions.

Armament is necessarily modest. The 75 tons of additional payload allowance probably must include a ferry craft for the espatiers and an escort gunship or two, plus their service pod, leaving perhaps 15-20 tons each for kinetics and a laser installation. The laser might be good for 20 megawatts beam power, with plug power from the 200 megawatt drive engine.

This ship is no laser star, but the laser is respectable. Assuming a modest 5 meter main mirror and a near IR wavelength of 1000 nanometers, at a range of 1000 km it can burn through Super Nano Carbon Stuff at rather more than 1 centimeter of per second. Its armament is also rather 'balanced.' My model shows that this laser can just defeat a wave of about 1000 target seekers, each with a mass of 20 kg, closing at 10 km/s - thus a total mass of 20 tons, comparable to its kinetics payload allowance.

Deploying troops, or personnel in general, is impressively expensive: About three fourths of the payload and cost of a billion dollar ship goes to support and equip a crew of 25, with perhaps a dozen espatiers. For comparison the USS Makin Island (LHD-8) displaces 41,000 tons full load, carries a crew of 1200 plus 1700 Marines, and costs about $1.8. So by my model it costs about as much to deploy one espatier as 80 marines.

And this ship is about the minimum patrol package, so standing interplanetary patrol is a costly and somewhat granular business, something not everyone can afford.


Apparently this cover is from the current reissue of Heinlein's Space Cadet.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Rix Pix 2010: Cold Bath

For the most part I keep this blog free of my politics, except as my broad political philosophy shapes my opinion on the topics discussed here - which is quite a bit.

But I have made a long term tradition of putting out my US election forecasts and commentary, originally as an email. Now that I have a blog I hijack it. The nearly half of you who come from elsewhere can skip this without perceptible loss; in fact so can my fellow 'Murricans. But I actually invite you to stick around; some global perspective would be interesting in comments.

I am a yellow dog Democrat, and we're gonna take a shellackin' tomorrow night.

This is the least of surprises. The country has a nasty economic hangover, and who is the electorate going to take it out on but the party in power? (I could say a word or two about the Bundesbank, for whom every year is 1924, but they aren't on the US ballot.) I think the argument that Obama's policies helped keep us from going over a cliff is valid, but it is not a vote getter.

House of Representatives - net Dem loss 56 seats, GOP takeover

House Democrats will bear the brunt of it. My call is thoroughly middle of the road, and leaves the next House with 235 Republicans and 200 Democrats, an 18 point GOP margin. Some of those Republicans are convincing evidence of interstellar travel, but they will be shuffled off to the remoter reaches of C-Span and YouTube, and the GOP House will focus on keeping the legislative branch tied up in knots, which is both easy and effective for them.

Senate - net Dem loss 6 seats, Dems retain majority

Senate Democrats will also take a drubbing, but will probably keep the majority, not that narrow Senate majorities are good for a whole lot, especially when the other party has the House.

Sorry, Harry Reid. He may be remembered as a very effective Majority Leader, but Nevada is a stranded space colony, and the colonists will send the Imperial governor out the airlock. I won't be so sorry about Feingold; a bit self righteous and a bit of a showhorse were a bit too much.

President Obama

He is not on the ballot, but will take a media beating in the short run. This is irrelevant to his political fate. Barring the unforeseen, meaning mainly a crisis abroad, that will depend on what happens to the US economy over the next two years. Adam Smith's animal spirits did not come across for him and the Dems this year, but I would not bet against them two years from now.

I know the economic conventional wisdom is that a sluggish economy will persist for years, but the ECW usually just mirrors the recent past. In some alternate world we will turn away from consumption and austerity will become a way of life. This is the same alternate world where 9/11 made Americans serious and thoughful about foreign policy.

In the real world we are 'Murricans. We like to buy stuff. We have had to put it off because some of us lost jobs and more found out their homes weren't piggy banks after all (or found they were broken ones). We will start buying stuff again. So the economy will probably pick up enough for Obama to claim credit in 2012, whether he deserves it or not. In the meanwhile he will discover the world, because that is what presidents do when they can't get anything through Congress.


The Golden State is apparently on a different planet in this election from the rest of the US, and politically a much more habitable one. This in spite of the fact that the Great Recession hit harder here than in most places, and a dozen lost colonies' worth of abandoned housing developments.

Perhaps that is because the face of the GOP in California is Arnold Schwarzeneggar, who as it turned out was not only no Terminator, but also no Ronald Reagan. As it looks now, Barbara Boxer will be re-elected Senator, but at least to me the big story will be the second coming of Jerry Brown, who I voted for in the 1970s and have already voted for again.

And on the footnotes of politics front I will go out on a bud, as it were, and venture that Proposition 19 will pass, making personal possession of marijuana legal under state law.

The image of the Acropolis comes from a collection of travel photos.