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<   No. 1434   2006-12-30   >

Comic #1434

1 Quercus: {appearing on the bridge} The Allosaurus has been unloaded and we've been paid. Let's hit the town and I'll see if I can find a new cargo.
2 Serron: See?! More reasons why Quercus should get a reduced profit share!
3 Iki Piki: What? He's the one actually doing all the work around here.
4 Serron: Exactly! He's not letting me do my job!
4 Spanners: I vote we increase his share...

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The tide has gone up slightly.

Either that or I forgot to include the foreground grass and tarmac Lego baseplate through the windows when I took the photos.

2016-08-16 Rerun commentary: The practise of running a cargo vessel with no pre-planned schedule, instead picking up new cargoes and determining the next destination on an ad-hoc basis port by port, is referred to as a tramp trade.

This used to be common on Earth in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when steamships, termed tramp steamers, plied such a trade, living port by port as they took on cargoes which decided their next destination. The tramp trade has died off a lot as bulk freighters and more organised shipping took over, but still exists in some parts of the world.

As old-fashioned as it seems now, a tramp trade is however a great model for a spacefaring story or roleplaying game. It has a good mixture of old-world romance, unpredictability, and opportunity which suits storytelling.

EDIT: Reader Jonathan R. writes:

There's an interesting angle on the tramp trade with respect to information, I think. Tramp trade will work (and be the only viable method for haulage) if the intelligence about cargoes cannot move significantly faster than the cargoes themselves. The East India Company didn't have tramp clippers, because they knew very well when the tea harvest would be in, and the demand for it in Europe (especially in England). However, the coastal tramp trade in fish, and coal, and grain, and pottery, and whatever was how cargoes were moved in the 19th century all around the British coast, because shippers would assign cargo to the sloop in port rather than send unreliable, slow mail to assign it to a specific vessel.

I'm not sure if the Space theme universe has faster-than-matter information transfer (it clearly has faster-than-light travel for the spaceships!), but if not that would be a good reason for tramp trade. And packet ships!

I don't think it's come up anywhere in the story so far, but the Space setting indeed does not have faster-than-light communication - except for sending a ship with a message. Radio communication (or its analogues) are limited to light speed. This is because ships have to navigate through hyperspace to get to where they're going. You could skew a radio signal into hyperspace, but there's no way to direct it once it's there, so it just gets lost (and it has no way to skew itself back into realspace either).

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