Sunday, July 19, 2009

The End May Indeed Be Nigh

Just returned from my friendly neighborhood Walmart Super Center. Along with the usual bachelors shopping (thank you Boston Market) I stopped in the sporting goods department for my weekly ration of disappointment. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that as of 7:00pm this date, Federal 230gr. FMJ was to be had for US$14.97/50 rd box (plus the usual Governor's gratuity). If memory serves, this is in line with the price they charged for Winchester White Box 100rd packs in days past. I don't know if this is a local rule or not (the sales clerk didn't know off-hand), but each individual customer was limited to six boxes per transaction specifically to thwart the delivery truck stalkers. The cavernous echo that characterizes my wallet limited me to only four boxes, along with a 555rd bulk pack of .22lr from Winchester ($15.97+), which brought the grand total to US$82.11.

One event does not a trend make, but can we be nearing the end of the Days of Whine and Woe-is-Me's on the ammunition front?

Tying together two more usually disparate interests, what effect might the arrival of molecular manufacturing have on these types of products? I cite ammunition specifically because each cartridge is actually composed of several distinct components of separately tight construction tolerances which provide a micro-cosmic example of the macro application of the molecular construction concept generally.

A brief re-cap of firearms development history; essentially, first came muskets that required the shooter to hand mix powder and bullet as part of the re-loading exercise, followed by cased cartridges containing powder and bullet in one construction. I note all this as illustration of what I regard as the most likely development path that molecular construction technology will follow over it's development process. The gradual discovery of the means to build the various components of an object to ever-greater refinement along with the means to assemble them into a particular tool (or application if you prefer). Ultimately, of course, to be able to manufacture a complex construct from a unified process - raw molecular materials in, refined tool (application) out.

One of the objections I often read is that molecular manufacturing doesn't/oughtn't include biological processes. I submit that technology like modern, fully-automated ammunition manufacturing puts the lie to such constraints, combining as it does both metallurgical and chemical development processes. It seems but a small stretch to envision a biology-based process that results in a component of future ammunition's gunpowder mixture, not to mention the possibilities of biologically manufactured and applied coatings for fully assembled rounds. In fact, I suspect I am being not far-sighted enough in my considerations here.

Physicist Richard Feynman speculated that molecular manufacturing could be achieved without losing the ability to create a finished product at any time during the development cycle (see here for relevant discussion and further links). I submit that we see that principle being practiced in industries like firearms and ammunition without really recognizing it. Whether or not we deliberately follow his suggested course of action further into the future, or even achieve his manufacturing capability objective at all, I believe that our instinctual recourse to technologic development will provide humanity with ever-greater individual capability and that we will continue to challenge our individual capability limits however capable our technology might become. That's the difference between life and existence, isn't it?

And on that note, I think I'll schedule a little range time for myself in the not-too-distant future - seeing as I now have something to shoot and all.