Doc Science

Intorducing Doc Science:

Note : This is not really a short story but a combination of six posts I put up over at the Never So Few blog. I am going to use some of this background in the Star Siding Road novel I am working on ever so slowly. —Wes 01-26-09

I was at my local Moose Lodge tonight before all this started. One of the regulars, a guy I new but not well, walked in and then over to me, sat down on the next barstool and asked, “Are you that Wes Guy from the Inter-webs?”

“That’s a pretty personal question from someone I hardly know,“ I said, “By me a drink and I might answer it.” I only did that cause I had talked to the guy before and thought it might get me a free one. Everyone calls him Doc, or Doc. Science when he‘s not around.” Not so much out of respect but cause that’s what he asked us to call him when he joined and it is easier that way. We are a friendly bunch most times.

“I saw your web-site,” he said.

“You and about two others,” I said. What are you looking to get from me Doc?”

“You know Wes,” the Doc began then paused.

“Know him well,” I said. Ha Ha!

“This is serious stuff and I can tell from reading you that you are going to get it so back off Wes. Tommy (Tommy is the Bar Keep) get Wes a beer.” I started to pay attention.

“It’s all about the Energy Budget.”

“What’s all about the Energy Budget? What are you talking about Doc?”

“Do you have any Idea how hard it is to get anything moving at the speed of light?” the Doc asked.

He had found out that I was running a SF blog, actually two, and he was excited about that and wanted to talk. He much more so than me. But since the Doc was buying I had the time and inclination came easier with every slurp.

“You have a stupid and unworkable system for FTL travel,” he told me, getting right to the point.

(FTL means faster than light for those wondering). And yeah if you needed that clue you are visiting us by mistake. Sorry bout that. Come again.

“Ok Doc, I don’t insist it works. It’s all handwavium with a fair measure of gimmickry and rickrack. But if we don’t move faster than the speed of light things get pretty slow in the novel. This is like long range exploration but the people on the trip can’t die of old age.”

“Sure,” he said, “FTL works but you are not considering the Energy Budget.”

“Tell me about it.”

The Doc was looking dry starting to shake just a bit and so I called for a round. Only two others at the bar this early in the afternoon and happy hour was in full swing.

I could handle this round and it might come back in doubles. We get these round wooden disks called bar chips when a round is called for and you are not ready yet. Two of those suckers owed me.

The Doc took a swallow, his eyes brightened up, and he said.”It’s all footpounds. All energy is footpounds. Nothing more and nothing better.”

I was ready for that. “Sure Doc. But what’s the point? Why tell it to me?”

“You—You and that Dog character, he has problems but no time for that now. You both are writing about some of the things that I have been working on for most of my life. Long distance, FTL, and I can make your stories come out and the numbers balance.”

“Come out? Balance? What are you getting at?”

“The energy budget.”

“You keep saying that. This energy budget thing,spill it Doc. I gotta get home before the cops start the drunk watch!” (They sit outside our parking lot after midnight.) We leave from the rear drive but it does get annoying and it was early and I was trying to speed this thing up.

“Foot Pounds. A pound of anything moving at 3 Kilometers a second has just as much energy as a pound of a high explosives like TNT, or Octal, or…” I stopped him right there he was getting too frisky. He stared, eyes magnified through the double thick magnifying eyeglasses he wore. They almost looked like mine without the sideshields.

“And that has what to do with FTL travel,” I asked while wondering if he was buying the next round—and how soon.

“What’s the deal with pounds and KPS,?” I asked. “If you are telling the truth and actually have looked at both sites you know we use English measure at Never so Few and that metric stuff at the FutureVerse. Take one or the other, we can handle it!”

“It’s foot-pounds and I am gonna tell you why. It all goes back to the fact that there are 7000 grains in a pound.”

“Ok, I can buy that so?”

“Look, If I take one pound, raise it one foot above the ground and drop it. You know what that is?”

“A footpound?”

“Exactly! And that pound is falling at 8 foot, or call it feet, a second when it hits the ground. And that goes back to black powder artillery, horse power and the gold standard of kilowatt hrs. This is something neglected in your education. Am I right?”

I didn’t want to stop him as he was ordering another, “Tell me more.” The Doc took a short break at this point and I will do the same except for saying that as he slid toward the door he said. “A pound moving at the speed of light—Kinetic Energy worth 5 Mega-tons of TNT. The door slammed behind him.

This story will continue soon but I fear the end is a long way off. —Wes

was back at the Moose. Doc Science came in and took a seat around the corner of the bar where he couldn‘t see the TV screen and slid a drink chip on the counter. I turned my eyes from the screen and said. “One thing you said last time we talked got me thinking.”

“Hard work wasn’t it?” he said as his Blatz and a glass arrived.

“Not too bad compared to writing,” I said. “Tell me Doc, how do you tie in black powder artillery to faster than light travel?”

He went on to explain it this way: “Back when cannons were made of wood they exploded and burst quite frequently. The makers banded them with better leather and then metal hoops but that didn’t solve the problem, they kept exploding and killing gunners and setting ships on fire.”

“When metal cannons took over from the wooden ones, say the sixteenth century things got better but casting metal was an art and not a science. Bronze was much easier work with than Iron so the better and lighter pieces of artillery were made from that metal. Church bells all over Europe were melted down and recast as cannons. It didn’t take too many wars, and there were a lot of wars, and you had yourself a shortage of church bells. So the race was on to reliably cast iron.”

“It turned out that the real secret was getting iron ore from the proper mines as the impurities and other metal content in the base iron controlled the strength of the finished product. Nevertheless, while this was all being worked out, iron cannon took over from bronze in most applications. So now I ask, how much gunpowder are you going to put down the barrel when you fire that six-pounder of yours? “

“Good question Doc, I’ll get another while you answer it.”

“Two pounds! And if you were firing a nine-pound shot you would use three pounds of powder, a twenty-four pounder took eight. Always a three to one ratio. And that was because the resistance to acceleration of the cannonball, after the powder was touched off. If you used a higher percentage it would cause the pressure inside the barrel to exceed the burst strength.”

“What if they made the barrels thicker?”

“That would help, but light weight for ships and field artillery was very important. At sea you put too much weight up high and the ship turns over in a storm. Too much weight of any kind and she rode too low. On land moving the guns around to where they were needed, with the kind of roads existing back then, and with only horses or men to drag them around was the limiting factor. But there was one more reason. Adding powder, even if the gun didn‘t explode, didn‘t do all that much for the range or destructive power of the shot.”

“I got it—because there is only so much energy in a certain amount of gunpowder.”

“Very good. And now I will show you how to figure out how much energy. And to do that we are back to foot-pounds again. Now this will take a bit of math. Very simple math but you need to understand these two equations.

—1. Velocity = Acceleration x Time. V=at.
—2. Distance = Velocity initial + ½ Acceleration x Time x Time. S=v(i)t + (a/2) x t^2.”

“That second equation’s not so simple. Why are you calling Distance ‘S’ in the short version? And how long before we get to FTL?”

“Patience, patience. For the first part of your question, because that’s how it was taught to me. I used to have a friend who went to Catholic school and claimed it should be a D instead. I have seen it both ways. I think the ‘S’ goes back to Latin or something. It is kinda like millimeters and inches, doesn’t matter what you use so long as you are consistent and explain up front. In most everything else I am going to talk about we can assume the initial velocity in that equation is zero so we can simplify number 2 like this: S = a/2 x t x t.”

“So you’re saying if I know two equations, S = a/2 x t x t and V=at, I can tell how much energy in a pound of gunpowder?”

“Oh yes, it really is that simple. And for now you only need to know one more fact, not even an equation. And you probably know it already. The acceleration caused on a free falling body in the Earth’s gravitational field is 32 feet per second for every second until it hits the ground. And we call that 1 G.”

“Ok and we call that 9.9 meters per second in Cardoman books because they are using metric but they mean the same thing if you stay consistent.”

“Right again, but this is about energy and foot-pounds so no more metrics for now. I said last time we talked that if you dropped a pound from one foot above the ground it would be moving at eight feet a second when it hit. Using equation 2 we can demonstrate how that works. Replace S with 1 and a with 32 and then we solve for t. 1 = 32/2 x t^2 or 1 = 16 t^2 or 1/16 = t^2 and finally t = ¼. and that is ¼ second naturally.”

“So if you then take that quarter second and place it into our first equation, you get V = 32 x ¼. And that comes out to eight feet per second. And Voila! A foot-pound is a pound moving at 8 feet per second. I am not going to demonstrate the next two examples but work them out for yourself if you have any doubt. If you drop that pound from 4 feet it will take a half second and be moving at 16 feet per second when it hits and we call that 4 foot-pounds. If you drop it from 16 feet it will be going 32 fps when it hits and of course that is 16 foot-pounds.”

“This is getting complicated now Doc. You were going to keep it simple.” The couple of people listening when he started talking about cannons had all by now turned their attention back to the ‘Monster Trucks’ racing in three feet of mud. That was what was on the TV screen in one corner of the bar.

“Not at all,” he handed me a pen and a napkin. “Tell me about dropping a pound from 64 feet.”

“Not so quick here Doc. You’re trying to pull a fast one. I can figure that a pound falling from 64 feet is going to be moving at 64 feet a second when it hits 2 seconds later. But how do I know that pound has the same amount of energy as if I dropped 64 lbs from 1 foot?”

“Hmmm,” he said, “I really didn’t want to get into that right now. I could say that 64 lbs times 1 foot equals 1 lb times 64 feet. That’s by the straight up definition of a foot-pound. To talk more directly about energy I am going to need another very simple equation. Can you handle that?”

“Try me.”

“Here goes. Energy equals mass times velocity squared.” He took back the napkin and wrote it down. E = m x v^2. “Now there are complicated ways to say what mass means in that equation, but we are talking about lbs and they are good enough for what I am trying to get across. So let’s just say that the energy of a moving thing = lbs x velocity ^2. That means the energy in a foot pound = 1 lb x 8 fps x 8 fps or 64 of those energy things but that is still the same as saying a foot pound.”

“That means if I drop 64 lbs form a foot I get 64 x 8 x 8 mass times velocity squared. It is the same thing as 64 foot-pounds, just another way of saying it. Now if I drop a lb from 64 feet I get energy equals one times 64fps times 64. You see, they come out the same?“

“I’ll take your word for it. Get back to cannons though. That’s what got the others listening before and it’s your only hope for another free drink!” He was going at slower than his normal pace due to all the talk.

“Well, using gunpowder, and enough so as not to blowup the cannon barrels it was found that the cannon balls were traveling around 1200 fps when they left the cannon. It varied quite a bit but that is a good high-end number. And I say again adding more powder than that three to one ration didn’t help much. It either burst the barrels or sent a lot of flame and unburned powder out of the muzzle after the ball was out of the gun.” Then his eves brightened.

“I just thought of this. Remember when I said V=at, sure you do. And Energy = 1/2mV^2. So that means E = 1/2m(at)^2. But wait, no, that’s not going to help now but we might use it later.”

“Anyway here’s what you do. Take a three-pound cannon ball and one pound of powder. The velocity of the cannonball is 1200fps. Divide that by 8, the speed of a lb falling from a single foot. You get 150. Square that number and you get 22,500. Multiply that by the three lbs of cannon ball and you end up with over 67000 foot-pounds of energy in the cannonball. Now that’s black powder, and the ball isn’t getting all of the powders energy.”

“There is also the energy making the gun recoil, and the wasted energy that heats the barrel, and the energy that gets expelled in gases and powder residue. That cannonball would be lucky to capture a quarter of the energy from the pound of powder. So we can now estimate that a lb of black powder contains somewhere around 250,000 ft lbs of energy at a minimum.”

“Very good Doc, but that doesn’t get us any closer to FTL energy budgets, and you haven’t said a word about 7000 grains in a pound yet, or talked about horse power, or modern explosives like TNT. And I got to go. We will pick this up next time.”

I was back at the Moose Lodge again. Not much else to do in Munising in the winter once you finished plowing the snow from your driveway. It was a couple of days before New Year’s and the snow mounded up from keeping the Lodge’s parking lot clear was already over twenty feet high.

Good thing the city comes around with payloaders and puts it into dump-trucks, then carts it out of town to eliminate, or no one could get down Main Street after Thanksgiving.

Wasn’t long and the Doc came in, seeing me he took his regular seat. I don’t know why it is this way, but most everyone sits at the same seat, if it’s unoccupied, every time they come in.

Doc placed a drink chip on the bar and said, “Kids! They’re up on the snow pile sliding down into the middle of the street again.”

“You told them to stop didn’t you?”

“Course not! Too damn many kids in this town. They oughta’ be in school anyway.”

I can’t say I totally disagreed—but it was six o’clock in the evening. I went to warn them off, but they must have stopped just when the Doc came in and moved on to more scholarly pursuits. I reseated myself and we took up our conversation from where we left off last time.

“Doc, I think you brining in that E=mv^2 equation the other day was unethical, you said you would explain this all with only the S= (a/2)t^2 and V=at. Then you went and found that the energy in a lb of blackpowder was more than 250,000 ft lbs using some kind of division by 8 and the E=mv^2 thing.”

“You‘re right Wes, I shouldn’t have done that. Here is how it works using just the two equations I claimed I would use: If a cannonball is moving at 1200 fps then at 1G of acceleration it will be true by rearranging V=at into the form of t=V/a that dividing the velocity of 1200 fps by the acceleration of 32 fps per second it takes a cannonball 37.5 seconds to get moving that fast.”

“So we need to ask ourself, if I fired it straight up—how high it would go before it stopped and started falling again. Now we already know that an instant before it hit the ground, due to gravity, and not counting air resistance, it would once more be moving at 1200 fps.”

“Now, if I use the second equation I get, S= (a/2)t^2, I get 32/2 * 37.5 * 37.5 = 22,500 and that is in feet. It is the height from which I would need to drop the ball so that 37.5 seconds later it hit the ground. And also, just like last time, for a one lb cannonball I only need a third of a lb of powder so multiply by 3 and I get 67,500 ft lbs. And again like last time, if I am only capturing 25% of the powder’s energy I can say again that a pound of black powder has over 250,000 ft lbs of energy. See I didn’t need that third equation at all.”

“Ok, I will check the math later, but for now why not just give me the answers and skip any more math demonstrations?”

“Sure, it might be hard for me but I will do my best. And now we can get into more modern powders.”

“Great. Doc, good thing I wasn‘t holding my breath.”

“I know that you’re a hand-loader Wes. Every one knows, due to all the noise out by Castle Calvert in the summer. And I know that when you hand load, the standard unit of weight for bullets and the amount of powder you use is the grain. And there are 7000 grains in a pound. That of course goes back before there was anything called pounds or kilograms and was used as a standard. It was the weight of a dry grain of wheat or barley.”

“Now that could lead to confusion because a barley grain is quite a bit heavier than one of wheat. By 4/5th, or maybe it’s the other way round, but it got standardized at 7000 per lb a long time ago. And now it is time for me to improve my liquidity and catch up with you, so why not tell me what your favorite hand-load is?”

“Favorite? Now that’s a tough one to answer.”

The Doc put down his Blatz and said, “Just use one you like.”

“Ok, keep this a secret, but for accuracy I use a 168 grain hollow point boat-tailed .308 with 44.5 grains of Varget, and shoot it from a bolt action Savage with a 26 inch barrel. According to my chronograph the bullet is moving at 2920 feet per second when it exits the muzzle.”

“See, there are some numbers that don’t bother you. And how many foot pounds of energy does that give the bullet?”

“Well the usual standard number for a .308 is about a little under 2700 ft lbs. I’m saying average cause it depends on the particular bullet weight and speed. And that depends on a lot of things like the length of the barrel and exact powder type. But if you know the bullet weight and muzzle velocity you can look it up on a chart.”

“Use those two equations I gave you and you won’t need a chart. Go ahead and figure it out. But use 3000 fps to keep it simpler. No—here use this.” He pulled a small calculator from his shirt pocket and placed it down in front of me. “I’ll double check your numbers with this.” Then from the long narrow leather case he always had hanging from his belt he pulled out a—slide rule!

“Gee Doc; I always thought that case was for a knife!”

“A knife? What would I do with a knife? Go ahead and do the numbers.”

“Here goes, 2920 fps divided by 32 means it takes 91.25 seconds to get going that fast. But I gotta say Doc; it happens a lot faster than that.”

“Sure, that just means the energy is going into the bullet at a faster rate. Doesn’t change the amount of energy. Think of it like putting water into a swimming pool. You can do it fast or slow but the amount of water when it’s full stays the same. Energy works the same way.”

“If you say so. Well then 32 divided by 2 times 91.25 times 91.25 and I get 133,225 ft lbs.”

“Wrong. Wrong, wrong! Does your bullet weigh a pound?” The Doc had the answer all computed on his slide rule by the time I finished punching in my numbers.

“Oh, I get you. So I divide 7000 grains by 168 grains then multiply and get 5 million 5 hundred fifty thousand. . . No that can’t be right. Ah I should have divided 168 by 7000. Give me a second. Now I got it it’s .024 * 133,225 and that is 3197.4 ft lbs. Quite a bit more speed and energy than the numbers for a standard, store-bought round, but that is one of the advantages of hand loading. That and the cost each time you pull the trigger.”

“Very good, buy the man a Blatz. I mean you buy me one Wes, and I‘ll take it over from here.”

“That sounded like a fair enough trade.”

“Because you are using 44.5 grains of powder we can divide 7000 by 44.5 then multiply by 3197 and get a little over 500,000 ft lbs of energy in the modern powder you are using for your handloads. Twice as much as the black powder and your rifle is getting more of the energy out of that powder than a cannonball got from the powder it was using. That’s because modern manufacturing gives tighter seals and tolerances. Say you are getting 33% efficiency and a pound of modern smokeless powder contains, in the neighborhood of 1,500,000 ft lbs of energy. And that gets us finally to TNT.”

“Gun powders are propellants. By that I mean they are formulated to burn slower than explosives like TNT. If they didn’t the sudden pressure when they ignited would blow out the barrel of even a modern rifle.”

“Explosives generally are formulated for, contain and are capable of delivering, more energy per pound then propellants. So here is the number you have been waiting for—One Pound of TNT can deliver 2 Million Foot Pounds of Energy! What a nice number. One pound of high explosive equals 2 million foot pounds of energy. And it gets even better than that as you will see when we start talking about horse power.”

“Horse Power! At last! And can FTL be far behind?”

I wanted to stick around, but agreed to put off any more discussion till the next time. It was snowing again and I needed to get back home before the county plow buried the end of my driveway,

– – –
New Years Day and I was back again in my normal watering hole. I skipped the party the night before, too much excitement and way past my bedtime. This time for once the Doc was here first. He saw me come in and put a chip in front of my usual chair. He really must want to talk bad. But I wanted to see where he would go next so I took the seat without hesitation.

“Now Wes,” he started, “let’s talk about something that your buddy the OldDog will lap up. Ha ha ha! Get it, Old Dog, lap up? The Doc had an inflated view of his own sense of humor, “I mean the Scots contribution to what we know as energy in our modern era. And I am going to start with a guy from Scotland named James Watt. He was the big guy in early steam engine development. Others were first but he made it practical.”

“By the 1700’s, in England, they had cut down the forests to build their sail fleet and it was still cold in the winter. Not as cold as here in Munising, but still cold. Fortunately they found they could heat with coal, and England had lots of coal. It was under ground and needed to be mined. Hard handwork, but less labor overall than logging, especially since the remaining trees were needed for building ships.”

“The major problem in the coal mines was that since they were underground they tended to fill up with water after the top layers of coal were removed. To mine the coal from lower sections the water needed to be pumped out. Again and again because it kept trying to refill the pumped out sections. That’s where steam engines first came into wide use.”

“Before steam engines the pumps were powered by horses. Watt improved the steam technology. But to prove it he needed a way to measure the improvement. And Watt determined, or it might have been someone else, but Watt used the numbers, that a horse, your average pump-horse, cold lift 550 lbs of water one foot in one second, from a mine or anywhere else. A horse could lift, and do it all shift, lift 550 lbs, one foot, each second it was on the job.”

“So One Horse Power is what we call the energy it takes to lift 550 lbs one foot in a second. And that is the same thing as 550 ft lbs of any other type work done per second.”

“Doc, that is far too even a number, I bet the real number was more like 551 or 548.7.”

“Pay attention! Just like I do things, Watt was going after the essence of the problem. A little fiddling with the numbers is perfectly acceptable if the change is within the margins of error. Why? Because unlike men—all horses were not created equal. Here is where I am going to bring in my second amazing number. Remember my first one was the amount of energy in a pound of modern explosives, If you multiply 550 ft lbs per second by the 3600 seconds in an hour you get—Ready for it?—1,998,000 foot pounds.”

“Why that is so close to the 2 million foot pounds of our estimate for the energy in a pound of TNT. . . That for all practical purposes they are indistinguishable! So from here on in I am going to consider them the same and interchangeable, just as James Watt would do. A one horsepower engine, running for an hour, is energy-wise, indistinguishable from exploding a pound of TNT. Now ain’t that something!”

“Whoda’ thunk it?” I said, “Glad my lawnmower hasn’t heard the news. “ And then I decided to switch from beer to schnapps; a very good winter type drink so long as you drink it straight up. I bought a round for the bar. Doc took a chip. He was grinning ear to ear.

“Want to hear some of the other number coincidences I know about?” he asked.

“Maybe later Doc, I think for now we should keep on with this energy thing and FTL budget.”

“Good Idea,” the Doc said, and then called for a Blatz, schnapps was a bit too exotic.

“Next came this other Scot, undoubtedly a relation of this Oldiwan of yours, as my mother always told me, ‘Take the Scot an inbred lot, they’re all the same by any name.’ She had a way with words and no PC on that side of the family.”

“Anyway, James Clerk Maxwell was the name of this particular Highlander. He united energy of all forms with how it worked electrically. And put it all on a strong mathematical foundation. I won’t get into details, but by the time he was finished the unit for electrical energy was called a Watt. The French were involved by this time to so compromises were made.”

“When all was said and done a horsepower hour’s worth of foot pounds, in electric terms, was deemed equal to about seven tenths of a kilowatt hour. And that’s how you get billed for it today, by the kilowatt-hour. The metric system was corrupting us even that long ago, well over a hundred years back. Look it up if you need to be exact. If it were up to me one kilowatt-hour would be the same as one horsepower hour, but I wasn‘t around to fight that battle. I also think it was the last major fight in which the French came out on top.”

“Didn’t they win the fight when they wanted to leave NATO in the Fifties or Sixties?”

“I suppose they did, but the opposition didn’t put up much of a struggle. France was a very busy country back then. So close to the end of WWII they had a lot of things that needed doing. A big one was making sure that trees were planted on both sides of every street in each town and village in the entire country. “

“Why would they bother doing that Doc?”

“So in the future Germans could always march in the shade!”

Even I had to laugh at that one before he continued. Next he asked me about my electric bill and my own energy budget. I knew because of that question that he was finally getting a little closer to one of the things that started this string of conversations off. The energy budget for a ship to reach any kind of near FTL speed. We were closer but I figured it would take another few installments.

– – –
I was in town on a Friday. Thursday and Saturday were more usual. Snow had kept me out for a few days and I was done with my weekly runs, and talking with Tommy when the Doc came in.

The major reason for this trip was to get a new snow-thrower belt and make sure I had enough supplies on hand that I could make it through the next two months without leaving home. Munising was already over a hundred inches of snow and I was taking precautions. It was fish-fry night and the lodge was filling up nicely. The Doc got took his seat in the corner and got right to the point.

“So Wes,” he asked me, “How much was your last electric bill?”

“Hard to say Doc, it was an estimate. In the neighborhood of seventy bucks. that was what I was billed for.” In northern Michigan the Upper Peninsula Power Co. reads the meter every other month or so. Months they don’t read they guess based on the last years usage. It seems to me they usually guess high but it comes back with a low bill in the following month. They make the profit on the interest.

“And what was the price per Kilowatt?”

“Take off the tax and they said I used 431 KW, and charged $69 for it, so that makes it 16 cents a KW. They break it down into a lot of different charges, power supply and customer service, but $0.16 is what I write the check for.”

“Wes, what we want to deal with here is just the raw energy cost, not the charges for the transmission lines and meter readers, advertisement, lobbying, and all that other stuff. I can tell you that the cost at the generating system plant, just the stuff that makes the electricity, all across the country varies from say 5, to 7 or 8, cents a KW.”

“A few places with paid for dams or paid for nukes might cost less. I take that back. If they do cost less there will be other charges added on. But I will use a lower number in the rest of my estimates. I am going to say that a KW of electric power can be had for a penny a KW. Good luck buying it for that, bur it makes the math easy and if you don’t like it multiply by what you will.”

“Sure, good number, power ought to be cheaper in the future anyway.”

“You’re an optimist Wes. Care to by a round and see if it’s cheaper than last week?”

I bought the round and conceded the point. “I see what you are getting at here Doc. We know that with your lowball price a KW has the energy content of close to a pound of explosive or a couple of million foot-pounds. But a pound of HE will cost a buck or more. Hand load powder in small lots is closer to twenty. So go ahead and tell me, if I could plug my starship into the local electric grid what would I pay to buy enough Kilowatt hrs to get me up to lightspeed?”

“I said before, and you can now do the math, that one pound moving at the speed of light is the equivalent 5 megatons of energy from an explosive. That is 10 to the 10th lbs 10,000,000,000 lbs of high explosive. At a buck a pound 10 Billion dollars.”

“Ok but we are buying power electricity at a penny a pound equivalent. So what you are saying is to get a pound moving at the speed of light, if we do it by battery power, stored electricity of some type, it will cost 100 Million Dollars per pound! But what if we could generate energy at less cost?”

We can work on that later but I want to use the numbers we have for a moment. In your FutureVerse books you have a Generation-4 Starship that weighs 30,000 tons. If you multiply that by 100 Million dollars per pound you can see that all the money everyone on Earth might earn in the next hundred years might just get that ship up to lightspeed. And then you have to slow it down again!”

“No one said they were cheap to run!” The Doc had a smug look and I knew he wasn’t done yet.

“I am going to help you out a bit here Wes. You don’t really need a ship that heavy. Heck destroyers used to displace 4,000 tons or less. I will downsize your fleet to a bunch of 500-ton ships. That’s still plenty big and the will weigh an even million pounds each.”

Ok, do that Doc, the math is easier but you are forgetting the Handwavium I use in my drives!”

“Just trying to keep you from waving so much your wrist breaks and your fingers fall off.” The Doc moved his empty bottle of Blatz into the gutter on the bar’s front edge. Tommy brought another and I paid. I was thinking fueling a starship might be cheaper than fueling the Doc. Then I remembered this joke that I thought up after we left the Moose last time.

“And by the way Doc, Prior to WWII what did the German High Command call their enemies in France?”

‘French Toast?” — Damn, he must have heard it before.

He went on without a pause, “A million pound, that’s 10 to the 6th, times 10 to the 10th and it takes 10 to the 16th KW to get that downsized ship to lightspeed. A large sized industrial powerplant generates 1000 Megawatts per hour. Or 10 to the 9th KWH. That means if you could buy all the power that generating plant produces, and store it somehow.—Why in a hundred and some years you could launch your ship.”

“Doc, I got Handwavium, I need Handwavium. Let’s move on to something else.”

“Good idea Wes. This has gotten too involved. I have a few things to say next time about my most recent research. All is not as bad as I made it look. We can talk more when you come in next week.”

– – –
“Doc, it’s time to end these energy posts and get on to something else.”

“Sure Wes, we can do that, but I want you to see that there is a very interesting thing going on in all of the calculations we are doing.”

“Interesting for some but not for most I would say.” — I was getting tired of the math myself. — “And you keep talking about Earth-based power plants. What about solar power. The sun sure puts out a lot of that.”

“Solar will never work. Sure there is a lot of power but no way to harvest it. Solar cells won’t come close. You could take a solar farm a hundred miles on a side, assume near perfect efficiency, and get it into orbit down near Mercury, and you still only get enough power each hour to boost 20 lbs to light speed. You are talking about 30,000 ton ships at the small end of your range. That’s more than 300 years to accelerate up to lightspeed and another 300 to slow down again! And consider the cost of the panels and getting them in place. Trillions of dollars would leave you short.”

“There is a simple connection with Einstein’s relativity stuff that should be evident. Remember the equation for kinetic energy where E = MV^2? Why that is the same as E=MC^2 where C equals the speed of light. Take away the relativistic effects, and that’s what Handwavium is all about, and the numbers are the same. And that means: If we could convert a pound of mass into a pound of energy, That there would be enough to accelerate another pound to ‘C’— ‘C’ is the abbreviation for the speed of light.”

“Ok, how does that help us out with our starship drives?”

“It means you don’t need to carry along a powerplant hundreds of times more powerful than anything ever built before. You could just say you were using anti-mater. But better yet—just get out beyond the hyperlimit and use the Casimir Effect to grab all the energy you need for the transition, And store however much you can in your storage rings for when you come back to normal space. Now let me explain the Casimir Effect.”

“No need for that Doc, I’ll trust you and that’s the way it will work. But I am not going to go into any detail in the novel. Just a secret between you and me. Are we done with this now?”

“Almost. One more thing—if you ever make it big, I have this FTL prototype, only weighs about 110 lbs. If you ever come across 70 or 80 Billion Dollars we could give it a try. Course to do it right and get it back and see if it worked would be a bit more.”

“Gotcha’ Doc, it’s on my list. Now I want to know the reason why you’ve been growing a beard and wearing sunglasses every time I see you, even at night.”

“I’m not sure you really want to know Wes, and it will take some time.”

“Time I got. Let’s hear it.” —To be Continued.