Blood and Treasure III

Speculative biology and material culture.
  • A thought occurred to me: if I simply give zled males and females the same muscle-mass percentage (61%), without changing their overall mass, then their dimorphism isn't nearly as strange. Because extreme as it seems (males weighing roughly half again what females do), if it's the same percent of both male and female zled bodies, it's the same ratio of muscle mass between the sexes as humans have.

    It's just that male humans are 42% muscle and females are 36%, and male humans mass 69 kilos to females' 54. 42% of 69 kilos is 28.98 kilos; 36% of 54 kilos is 19.44 kilos. That's 49.1% more total muscle mass for male humans—which is also how much more muscle-mass a male zled has than a female one, now, it's just that a male zled is that much bigger than the female overall, while a male human seems closer in size to a female one.
  • That incident where a Tesla-driver got killed by his self-driving mode not knowing the side of a semi from clear skies, made me think: why not put radar in self-driving cars? It doesn't have to be powerful, just ten or twenty meters range or so, and it would prevent the kinds of problems caused by image-recognition software.

    Another use of radar that makes perfect sense to me, is using it Halo-style to detect where people are in a building, when cops investigate it. This, apparently, has been ruled to be a violation of privacy, but...what? If the cops have sufficient grounds to be shining a flashlight inside a structure, then they have sufficient grounds to be pinging it with radar motion-detectors. It is exactly the same thing as shining a flashlight, it's just a different kind of light being used. (Okay so technically radar isn't an optical wavelength. Still "light" in the broader "all EM radiation" sense.)

    I get the feeling this is like those incidents where kids had porn on their iPhones, or whatever, at school. There is no need for a new school rule, there are rules that cover both phones and porn at school; at most you need to make the inspections more often. But because a new technology is in play, clearly, we need to panic.
  • Incidentally, in case you wondered, the dimorphism of humans is even less pronounced in terms of muscle-mass percentage, compared to genus Pan. Bonobo males average 52% muscle, while females average 37%. A male human is only 42% muscle, to the female human's 36%. I would like to also give you numbers for chimpanzees, but apparently the muscle-mass percentage of Pan troglodytes is a secret.
  • Zledo have bird-like eye anatomy, a sclerotic ring and a nictitating membrane that covers the eye, and coats it in a thicker, more viscous kind of tears than what comes from the other two eyelids. In a split from the avian model, both types of tears drain directly into the nose, like in Carnivora mammals.

    I think, though, that like many animals other than humans (dogs, cats, elephants), many animals on the zled homeworld shed tears when in pain. But zledo, who are more intelligent than dogs or cats and have a complex social life like humans, shed tears like humans (and perhaps elephants—the evidence is anecdotal and inconclusive) when emotionally distressed, as well as when in physical pain.

    I actually have a worldbuilding reason that zledo need tears.
  • I forgot one of my basic tricks: use plant things in alien animals (and vice-versa). So decided, zled milk, that's liquid inside their body but solidifies in air? It's not like lanolin (an animal wax). It's like cocoa butter! Except a wax, not a pure fat. But still, cocoa butter's melting point is between 307 and 311 K, which is to say 2 Kelvin less than zled body temperature. (It's also less, at least at the low end, than human body temperature, hence the "melt in your mouth" aspect of chocolate.)

    Or maybe jojoba ester, which is used as a substitute for spermaceti (sperm whale wax) in many cosmetics, which melt anywhere between 288 and 343 Kelvin—except those have to be transesterified from jojoba oil. (Then again maybe I could've just used an animal model, spermaceti, in the first place. It's liquid above about 303 Kelvin, and even apparently smells like raw milk, but solidifies at lower temperatures.)

    I was thinking it might have to do something weird to be dissolved in water, since waxes don't, but then again neither does butter-fat, so whatever keeps Earth-milk emulsified might work on the wax-like substance dissolved in zled milk. Upon examination, I discover that the enzymes that do that on Earth are called "lipases", specifically the bile-salt dependent lipase, which is also produced in the pancreas.
  • Discovered, from an 18- to 20-inch barrel, .30-06 is not particularly preferable to .308 Winchester. If you want to get the better performance, you have to go with at least 22 inches. What that means is that my Peacekeeper rifles got two inches longer—but since they're bullpup, that means the main one is only two inches longer than the M4 carbine, and the USMC-cadre one is an inch shorter.

    Also, didn't mention here (I did on the DeviantArt, on the story it shows up in there), but the Peacekeeper rifle, being chambered in a battle-rifle round, obviously isn't called an "assault" rifle. It's called an automatic rifle, or just a rifle. Although in German, and more importantly (globally-speaking, no offense Germany) French, the distinction between "battle rifle" and "assault rifle" does not appear to exist (and Russian calls both "automatic [rifle]", which seems to also be what Chinese does). The distinction does seem to exist in Spanish, and I don't know enough Arabic to look.
  • In other news RE: my guns, decided to go back to ring-shaped grips on zled lasers. I saw Bubuki/Buranki, and fell in love with the series of circles that make up the grip and stock of Shizuru's Tsurarai. Think this means the springs load via a break-top mechanism, always my preference anyway. Also think maybe the bottom-rear portion of the ring-grip will be an accessory-rail, for attaching a stock, one that retracts into itself when the laser is on a belt.

    Kinda giving some thought to having the swords also have a ring-shaped hilt. Maybe with an arrangement where the hilt is a ring, then there's another ring at right angles to it forming a guard, and then a half-ring forming "sword-breaker" quillions. The ring-shaped hilt, aside from being cool, also has room to let you use it in both hands, without needing a long katana-type hilt. I don't think the leverage is quite as good but when you're as strong as a zled that doesn't matter as much.
  • Can you believe I apparently (if Google is searching this blog accurately) haven't mentioned "pinkhouse" agriculture? The way that works is, you do hydroponics in big racks where plants grow stacked up, and you light them with lamps that glow bright magenta, through using a mix of red and blue LEDs (you use LEDs because they're really efficient, not only in terms of your power-bill but in terms of waste-heat, which means you can get them closer to the plants without a risk of burning them or starting a fire). This makes the plants grow better—as in 20% faster.

    The advantages for space-colonies are obvious. And I think I've mentioned here or there that modern zled farming is mostly under their cities? (Aside from plants, they raise colonies of a sort of termite-locust thing, except probably not anything like that destructive if it gets out.) This lets them leave most of their planet as wilderness, which allows them to hunt—a major concern for a civilization where "professional hunter" is a common job and it's taboo to domesticate any vertebrate-analogue prey animal.

    If it seems weird that they have lots of professional hunters, consider that we have them too, they just hunt fish.


Rannm Thawts Eight

Thoughts, "uncorrelated but not uncaused", as it is written in the tomes of the learned.
  • I had thought that Suicide Squad represented a shift to DC movies being like DC shows, and actually taking place in a comic-book world, in the same way that The Flash, Arrow, and even Legends of Tomorrow are unafraid to be what they actually are. (Although Arrow took a season or two to ease the mundanes into it—wasting Brother Blood in the process. I accept that, though, since it laid the groundwork for everything to follow.)

    But it turns out the shift of the "cinematic universe" started sooner: with Batman vs. Superman. It's got flaws; it's not actually accurate to say its Luthor is trying too hard to be the Joker, but he does come across as a very coked-up, sleep-deprived Luthor. (But, if you just imagine Clancy Brown saying his lines, you'll realize he's actually a tenable interpretation of Luthor, although he's supposed to be more Objectivist/Nietzschean than simply destructive and malevolent.) It still unfortunately has Snyder's Man of Steel Superman, a whiny little Hamlet-figure rather than "even more powerful Vash/less aggressive Goku", which is the real nature of the character (at least pre-New 52). And perhaps most importantly, "Secret identities? What the hell are those?"

    And yet still, most of the negative reviews, which I was all too willing to believe, were wrong; it is actually a Superman movie. The "they stop fighting because Clark says 'Martha'" accusation, for example, is unfounded. What actually happens, is Clark says "you're going to let Martha die", which, I mean, Bruce Wayne—every time he closes his eyes, he sees those pearls falling. Saying "you're going to let [same name as one of the parents you're obsessed with] die" is guaranteed to get his attention.
  • There is a lot of talk in discussions of the rationality of Christianity and the "science vs. religion" business of how pagans, unlike Christians, worshiped "immanent nature gods". But...no they didn't. The gods of paganism are only immanent within nature in a very late phase of pagan thought, as the people begin abandoning their old religions for philosophical schools, or reinterpreting them in the terms of philosophical schools (the related idea that gods are divinized ancestors originates with Euhemeros, who was contemporary with Alexander). It's fitting that "religion is a bad attempt at science" is used against Christians by their enemies, frankly, because it was used by Christians against pagans, with exactly as little justification. Nemesis is a pagan goddess, after all.

    In actuality, pagans who really believe their gods are real (which may well not include any phase of the Greco-Roman civilization that we have direct records of) absolutely don't think of them as immanent within nature. Even the Greco-Romans don't usually, neither in myth or in ritual; what, exactly, about "nature" is "immanent" in Hades' taking of a black goat sacrificed at a crossroads at midnight, by worshipers who turn their back to the carcass? "Immanent within nature" seems to have been the private theory of a few thinkers, no more typical than Young Earth Creationists are of Christianity. And when you get to people who lack the cosmopolitan, Pascal's Bet-hedging agnosticism of the civilized pagans, people who know their lives are "on the knees of the gods"—because for hunter-gatherers and pure-subsistence agriculturalists, they are—"immanent in nature" is the last thing you'd say...even of the gods of nature.

    The Hopi Kachinas, for example, are not the rain. They send the rain, or even just good luck with the rain, if it is in accord with cosmic order to do so, in answer to the Snake Clan's prayers. (Anyone who defends praying for the sick and then makes fun of rain-dances: are you a hypocrite or just an idiot?) While the Navajo goddess Changing Woman is somehow related to the seasons, and she's married to the Sun...what, exactly, about "nature" produces He-Kills-Hostile-Gods and Born-for-the-Water?
  • Decided instead of eight seasons, in my campaign's calendar, to go with "year-tithes", tenths of a year (for the human, solar calendar; the lunar elements remain unchanged). The interesting thing about year-tithes is that if half of them have thirty-seven days and half have thirty-six, you wind up with a 365-day year. (Ignoring leap years.) This is also convenient because in my campaign's human civilization there are ten major deities.

    Also did my dragons. Made them all chaotic neutral, since a dragon is basically a gigantic cat. Instead of making them just color-coded, I gave them slightly more complex color-schemes based on where they live—swamps, forests, glaciers, volcanoes, and then instead of deserts my lightning-breathing blue dragons live on clouds (I never understood why blue dragons lived in deserts).

    I also have shadow dragons, more or less unchanged; also giving thought to somehow incorporating amethyst dragons (I need one whose breath-weapon is force, that being my sixth "element").
  • Because people commenting on memes I was reading(?) on Facebook are obsessed with him, I had occasion to look up the work of John Green. Vapid YA chick-lit? To be sure. Also, gut-wrenchingly pretentious. And yet despite that, also really, really stupid. For example, in The Fault in Our Stars: "That's the thing about pain. It demands to be felt." This is listed as "profound" at several websites about writing and literature and such-like, every single one of which has no excuse not to know better. Because no, see, the actual thing about pain is, it's a feeling. You just said "That's the thing about a kind of feeling. It demands to be felt." Who knew L. H. Franzibald actually existed?

    And then there's such gems of impossibly pretentious, stultifyingly stilted and stagey verbal masturbation as "I enjoy looking at beautiful people, and I decided a while ago not to deny myself the simpler pleasures of existence." If you meet someone who claims to be sixteen and he says things like that, don't say I didn't warn you when he starts reanimating the dead or emitting brainwashing-waves to turn people into his puppets, or something. Because clearly, that is a demon-lord, and one half-assing his human disguise, at that. Is John Green concerned at all with his characters not sounding like they were written by entirely-too-impressed-with-themselves middle-school creative-writing club members? Seems like not.

    (There's apparently also a scene, in The Fault in Our Stars—which I am apparently not the first to think of calling The Fart in Our Stalls—of the protagonists making out in Ann Frank's house. At which, I am told, literally, "everybody claps". J. M. Greenzibald should just name his next book Lord of the God-Kings and have done. Although honestly that's actually a lateral move from An Abundance of Katherines.)
  • I was trying, in my campaign, to come up with a cosmology that was not the Great Ring, dear though it is to my planewalker heart. Basically went with a thing sorta sketched out in the Manual of the Planes of having Shadow and Ethereal merged, and replacing the Astral with "Spirit-world"...which as it turned out is basically the Oriental Adventures, "Rokugan" cosmology (minus the "Taint" aspect of the Shadowlands).

    Decided to call them "Dusk Country" and "Dawn Country", respectively, evoking the idea that the twilit parts of the day represent a "thinning" of the boundary between this world and that. There are actually three of both planes: one Dusk and one Dawn for the planet, and one of each for each moon. I think the people originally from the moons (elves and dwarves) go to the appropriate Dawn Country, despite currently living on the planet; it's only the Material Plane of the moons that's been taken over by fiends and monsters.
  • I have not mentioned it here, I think, but apparently, IQ tests only measure how much you think like the people who write the tests. That's why we have to re-norm them upwards every decade or so; we're not getting smarter, the mass media is making us more homogeneous. And it's trivially obvious that the average person 100 years ago was not mildly mentally handicapped, but that's where they score based on where the tests are currently normed—again, because we are more uniform and homogenized than they were. (Presumably the over-100 scores just mean you think more consistently than the people who wrote the tests, but still along the same lines.)

    A test, grouping objects with the objects they "go with", was given to the Kpelle people of Liberia. They scored low, because they insisted on putting vegetables with the tools you use to process them, rather than with other plants or maybe other foods. When asked, they said they did so because a wise man would never do it differently (the most useful way to arrange plants really is with the tools you process them with). The researchers said "Okay, so what would an idiot do?" Then they grouped the objects in the prescribed, high-scoring manner. Your "smart" is literally someone else's "idiot".

    I was thinking of this when I came across that stat, chanted by self-righteous WEIRD people who think they understand science, that "spanking children lowers their IQ". Actually, spanking children is primarily a class-/non-WEIRD "marker", and the less like the WEIRD people who write IQ tests you are, the more likely you are to spank your children. They, then, will score lower, because the culture you pass onto them is less like that of the test-writers.
  • A term I think I invented is "Neon Kowloon". It describes the aesthetic of movies like Blade Runner, the rain and squalor and inexplicably ubiquitous Asianica(?), where everyone's umbrella has a glowing tube, all the Coca-Cola ads were imported from Taiwan, and stubbly detectives eat ramen at street-stalls in the rain.

    It's the aesthetic that cyberpunk was trying for, mostly unsuccessfully; apparently William Gibson landed on the same concept around the same time and freaked out about twenty minutes into Blade Runner, worrying that people would think Neuromancer, then in-progress, was ripping it off. But really the same "Japan will take over the world" vibe was in the back of everybody's minds at the time, so it would've been stupid if people had thought he ripped off the movie (which I don't think they did think, although they did seem to think it was actually good, so maybe "think" is not the word I want). Besides, Blade Runner doesn't have any stupid VR video-game user interfaces.

    I don't include Firefly in "Neon Kowloon" because fundamentally it describes an interesting aesthetic and production-design, something that Firefly has not, in fact, got. At all. Firefly is all the shallow orientalism of the cyberpunk that's trying for Neon Kowloon, but without even their partial success at actually capturing it.
  • My brother recently got me into Young Justice, and, while it ain't bad, it does have the (fairly common) issue that it doesn't so much "end" as it just stops. Also apparently all black males in the DC Universe are Kevin Michael Richardson this time around? Which, I mean, I like his voice as much as anybody, but there are limits to even his range as a voice-actor. Certainly he ain't no John Stewart, for instance—he's a rather booming, hail-fellow-well-met type, and John is actually the most unassuming of the 2814 Lanterns. (In part, I think, because he's a sniper, and not in the Jun-A266 "oddly chatty for a sniper" sort of way.)


Playing with Fantasy II

Fantasy RPG thoughts.
  • I like psionics; as I've mentioned, it's the thing my dwarves use instead of arcane magic. Only...I hate power-points. I also consider the sorcerer kinda a waste, just a wizard who doesn't know what he's doing. So, decided, in my campaign: sorcerers are still powered by Charisma, get their spells according to the same table, but those spells? Psionic powers. This doesn't hurt dwarves, as it normally would, because my dwarves take a penalty to Dexterity, not Charisma.

    (In 3.5 the psion became Int-based, rather than each ability-score powering one of the psionic disciplines. They also introduced "wilders", psion-sorcerers powered by Charisma who were very much the answer to a question nobody asked.)

    In my setting, where wizards are powered by Int and therefore, manipulate things by knowledge about them, sorcerers (=psions) are powered by Charisma, and manipulate things by feelings about them. So they also have an element of the wilder. Don't think I'll have psychic warriors; there never really was an arcane-magic equivalent (as a basic class), so it's not like they fill a necessary void.
  • Decided my campaign's calendar will be lunisolar but work out like the more-or-less purely solar Mesoamerican ones. While the solar year is divided into eight seasons (or rather, both the beginnings and high-points of the seasons are marked, a bit like on the Chinese calendar), the phases of the two moons provide each day with a secondary name.

    There are two sets of day-names, one based on one moon's twenty-seven day period, and the other on the other moon's sixteen-day period; they sync up every 432 days, and then they also sync up with the year every 432 years (I'm skipping the fact neither moons nor planets are actually likely to have periods evenly divisible into days). Those two sets of day names come from the elves and dwarves, each of whom is from one of the moons, originally.

    And the reason that they assign a different name to each day of the planet? Why, when you live on the moon, the planet is always visible overhead, if you're on the right side of it. And the fact it runs through a full cycle of phases every twenty-four hours would quite certainly get noticed, as would the fact that there is a certain number of those cycles in each of your world's days (which from the planet are the moon's phases).
  • It's actually something of a challenge to model witchcraft, as an anthropological phenomenon, in a D&D game. None of the normal classes really cut it; certainly warlocks (which in 3.5 at least were also crazy OP, at least at low levels) won't do. I considered the goofy cultists of the demon- and devil-lords, from Book of Vile Darkness (blech), but still not enough like a skinwalker.

    Instead, I decided to gestalt the "mountebank", as updated to 3.5e in Dragon Magazine Compendium, with the sha'ir from the same book. Only instead of elemental and genie-based powers, gave the sha'ir evil powers and ties to fiends. Likewise changed the basis of the mountebank's powers from "bargains with demon lord" to "deliberate breaking of taboo".

    The resulting witches are both the mages and the priests of an ancient human civilization that once tormented my campaign-setting, but who are vanished now. (I think I mentioned them before, the ones the elves and dwarves caused an Ice Age to break the naval power of?)
  • Along with being sorcerer-based, my psions now have familiars. Because I hate psicrystals, they're talking rocks. Another thing I did is that both elves and dwarves normally take familiars from animals native to the moons they left behind, weird technicolor critters with modified anatomy, like green nocturnal ravens with slit-pupils or fire-resistant yellow bats (which, being based on flying foxes, have no echolocation but do have Scent, and give a bonus to their master's Intimidation checks rather than Listen, because flying foxes are really territorial).
  • Don't think I mentioned it here, but I have had some chance to play 5e with my brother and his friends. In general, I approve of most of the decisions they made, or at least don't disapprove (although trying to minimize your references to gender more or less renders the entire drow culture non-existent, what with them being reverse-Taliban and all). This is, at least, an Impressionist painting of Dungeons & Dragons, even if it falls short of the detail some of us would like.

    I won't, however, be making the switch myself, because aside from how there is nothing good in 5e that's not there in 3e, is the fact that they have all the classes use the same attack table. Which...what? Fighters are good at, y' know, fighting, that's why their attacks get better every level. Wizards are not good at it. Clerics and rogues are only okay at it. (Also? Adding a "path" for monks to have elemental powers à la Avatar, is stupid. Shades of 4e's sad MMORPG mimicry.)
  • My setting only has one "race" of fiends, made up of basically every "guy with horns and wings" fiend, from imp to balor, regardless of Blood War faction or home plane (since my cosmology's different). Then I added succubi.

    Also added an ability like the one "pseudonatural creatures" have: the fiend can do something that reveals it's not a guy with horns and wings, but rather an eldritch abomination that operates by fundamentally different laws. Like by opening its mouth to reveal a functioning eyeball, bending a joint the wrong way, or opening a vertical mouth in the middle of its chest. (This is actually stronger than how the pseudonatural creature does it, since that only imposes a -1 penalty on attacks against the creature, while the fiends make anyone who fails a save be "shaken"—a -2 penalty to several rolls—for the duration of the encounter.)

    I'm having trouble coming up with how to mechanically represent the context, but I think I'll have elves and maybe dwarves occasionally do something similar, except with half the penalty (-1 rather than -2), and probably applied to their own social rolls. Your eyes glowing and your body hair turning to leaves, or flames and smoke erupting from your eyes, whenever you're agitated, is probably a matter of some social delicacy. (Presumably the penalty applies in reverse, to Intimidate checks.)
  • I decided to base all my races' size-dimorphism on animals. Elves and dwarves have males 15% heavier and about 5% taller, which is the mass-ratio, and its cube-root, for foxes and wolves. Gnomes have males and females almost the same size, because male and female beavers (monogamous rodents!) are very close in size.

    Goblins and ogres (which includes orcs) are polygamist. So, goblins (and hobgoblins), I based on cats (since they're mutant elves and elves are foxes), with males 30% heavier and 11% taller (the ratio seen in a lot of species, e.g. snow leopards). Ogres I based on apes, males twice as heavy and 21% taller, though there isn't a direct tie to dwarves (whose ratios are based on wolves). One thing this means is female ogres are actually Medium-sized, not Large (though they're at the big end).

    Decided to keep females larger, for the dark elves (who, aside from matriarchy, don't look or act much like drow, since they worship a mistletoe parasitizing the World Tree and revere thrushes instead of spiders). Turns out tanuki have the opposite dimorphism ratio from foxes, so used them. For the dark dwarves (who are mostly duergar, except for coloring, with some elements of derro), I used dingoes, since they're a sleazy wolf subspecies. (Oddly, though coyotes are gross, they are apparently more consistently monogamous than wolves are.)
  • Decided that elves using axes was weird to no purpose, so now they're back to using bows and swords (although the bastard sword is a martial weapon, for them, so they can use it one-handed at leisure). Also decided to have gnomes use axes, since they're forest-dwellers. This leaves dwarves using picks and hammers, since they're subterranean smiths.

    Also gave the elves' leaf-armor an overhaul; now their more heavily-armored warriors wear scale armor made of dark-leaf, from the Arms and Equipment Guide (the alchemically-treated leaves of the darkwood tree). Lighter-armored elves, instead of wearing leather, wear wood and bark armor, from the same book...but it's half as heavy and has two points lower armor-check penalty, because it's made of darkwood. Based gnomes' equipment, made from mushrooms, on "chitin" armor (since that's what mushrooms are made of), but applied to more than just heavy armor (and not as expensive). My dark elves, who are pirates, now wear masterwork shark-skin armor. And gave the orcs and ogres stone weapons.

    I also went back to using coins instead of trade-beads, though they're triangular and have holes in them for threading them on cash-strings. My players found learning a new currency system more trouble than it was worth, even though it was just a re-skin of the old one.


Sierra Foxtrot 9

Thoughts sur l'SF.
  • Watched Tremors 2: Aftershocks and Tremors 3: Back to Perfection. Graboids make a certain degree of sense, although that line in the first one about them "predating the fossil record" is gibberish. I can even kinda see them being Precambrian; things a bit like graboids do actually show up in the Ediacaran, the last Precambrian era. But what makes no sense, is the shrieker and ass-blaster phases. Specifically (leaving to one side that the shriekers as portrayed probably violate conservation of mass—with only minimal tweaking they wouldn't), they hunt by infrared.

    The trouble is, endothermy appears to have shown up some time in the Permian, when it becomes a distinctive feature of at least some therapsids and avemetatarsalians—which you probably know by their extant members, mammals and birds. Even if we assume the graboids only appear at the very tail-end of the Ediacaran (542 million years ago), and that the earliest therapsids (275 million years ago) were endothermic, which they may not have been (though by the Triassic it seems like both therapsids and avemetatarsalians were—indeed "an endothermic archosaur that survived the Permian-Triassic 'Great Dying' extinction-event" seems to be the common ancestor of all the avemetatarsalians), that still gives us a gap of 267 million years in which the later two phases of the graboid life-cycle hunt by a sense that is completely useless. All the available prey before the therapsids show up is exothermic—in infrared, they're invisible.
  • In my continuing quest to not have d20 Future be useless, I think one needs to revise the space-vehicle rules to be in line with the Alternity ones. That gives a PL 7/PL 8 scale of 60 miles per hex (1 megameter per hex in 30-second rounds, converted to 6-second rounds in which one normally only moves for half the round, rounded to the nearest 10 miles). It gives a PL 6 scale of 1650 feet per hex (50 km per hex in 5-minute rounds, divided into 6-second rounds that are only half movement—rounded off).

    The "tactical" speeds of human and zled ships, .6% c and 1% c, respectively, are (respectively) 5,901,426.3 feet per second and 9,835,711 feet per second. That gives speeds of 3,577 and 5,961 hexes on the PL 6 scale, but 31 hexes and 18.6 hexes on the PL 7/PL 8 scale. So maybe go with 310 miles, i.e. 500 km, per hex, for the latter scale? Gives speeds of 3.6 hexes for the humans, and almost exactly 6 hexes for zled ships. Maybe round off speeds to the nearest half-hex, have the human ship do 4 hexes on even-numbered and 3 on odd-numbered rounds, or something. (Or we can do 155 miles per hex and give the zled ships a speed of 12 hexes and the human ones a speed of 7, I suppose that'd work.)
  • I said, a few years ago, that zled powered-armor was STANAG 4569 level 4 (vehicle) armor. That means it can stand up to 14.5-millimeter AP rounds from 200 meters. Two other things this means is it can withstand a 10-kilo anti-tank mine, and can also withstand 155-millimeter artillery detonating 30 meters away.

    Level 5 can withstand 25-millimeter armor-piercing discarding sabot rounds fired from 500 meters and 155-millimeter artillery from 25 meters away, while Level 6 can take 30-millimeter armor-piercing fin-stabilized discarding sabot rounds, also at 500 meters, and 155-millimeter artillery from merely 10 meters away. For those two, they don't even bother listing anti-tank mines it can withstand, they'd probably have to be too big to be a practical risk (because there are no actual mines that big and it kinda defeats that whole "IED" thing if I need a forklift to transport my bomb and a backhoe to dig the hole for it).

    Notice there is no NATO-rated armor-level that can withstand a direct hit from artillery? Yeah there's a reason for that. Artillery is the Win Button in any conflict where you don't have to worry about what it does to infrastructure (or other kinds of collateral damage), provided you support it correctly. (It's even pretty good against tanks, provided it can target them, since the range of artillery guns is usually about twice that of a tank gun and they shoot much bigger shells.)
  • Even granting the "strong" position on climate-change, or at least the "as strong as is not shoeless hobo apocalyptic ranting" position, it seems to me that the problem is still mostly a matter of you people planning things very, very badly. Because you build cities on flood-plains. And below sea-level, in hurricane-prone areas. I don't see why the entire global economy and many nations' economic development should be hobbled because some people are stupid.

    Admittedly, some of this poor planning affects me personally. Two of my state's major cities would be in deep trouble during a prolonged drought...like the kind this region had during the Medieval Warm Period. But honestly, our problems have (relatively) simple solutions. We should be investing in large-scale desalination and trans-continental water pipelines anyway. (How to make them cheap? Thorium fission. Which, again, we should be doing anyway.)

    You worried about the sea-levels rising? Well don't; a few stretches of swamp will become full-blown shallow bays, and that's really pretty much it. (Okay so Venice is kinda screwed, as perhaps are parts of Florida and Cajun country.) But pumping in desalinated ocean water to irrigate the now drought-plagued southwest might make up the difference.
  • Looking into what, exactly, humans would use as a nerve-agent against zledo yielded disappointingly little in the way of results; almost all our nerve-agents involve preventing acetylcholine from breaking down, and zled physiology doesn't use it. (That's why they're immune to sarin and alcohol doesn't affect them quite the same way.)

    One thing I did decide, though, is that caffeine is considered toxic, by them; they use a lot more sodium-gated nerve channels than we do, and apparently caffeine blocks those in some animals (notably guinea pigs). Presumably not very strongly—so I decided it was once used as a blood-pressure medicine, the way we use calcium-channel blockers. "Here, have a hot cup of Amlodipine." (Nine and a half times the maximum dose, by the way, although Amlodipine is unusually strong compared to some of the other CCBs.)

    Another thing that means is that our novocaine/lidocaine type anesthetics are basically ω (omega) conotoxin, which we also use as an anesthetic, but it's "100 to 1000 times as effective as morphine". So in the doses we usually get novocaine and lidocaine in, zledo would be re-enacting scenes from Pulp Fiction.
  • Another thing I discovered, researching that, is that not using calcium in their nervous system apparently means they wouldn't be susceptible to lead-poisoning, or at least much less badly. It's transported into the nervous system by "calcium ATPase pumps". (Incidentally, they don't use ATP either, nor its relatives; they use some other group of nucleoside phosphates, since their genetic material, being based on sulfones instead of ribose, uses different nucleosides in the first place. I don't know enough to say what they do use, though.)
  • What's with all the people predicting that we're not going to have people delivering our stuff anymore? Perhaps I can excuse it because a lot of the people writing about it are European, but even they should know better. Here's the thing: drones, unless they're the size of Predators and basically forbidden from being anywhere near populated areas (because shit, you want a 9/11 every other week?), have a range in the double-digits of kilometers. Go look at a map of the Western US: inside a drone's range from pretty much any major city, there's nothing.

    No, what'll happen instead is that the warehouses of your online-shopping sites will ship things out, and then, from regional hubs, the drones will depart. Yes, I am in fact endorsing the idea there won't be postal services; there really won't be much reason to keep them around, in a future where people don't send anything but packages, considering that private parcel-services already do that just as well.
  • Something occurred to me: if my space colonies raise ostriches for meat rather than cattle, what about milk? Well, if I recall correctly, about 2.14 million humans live in space in the mid-24th century of my setting. Apparently the average per-capita milk consumption of China, the US, Russia, Brazil, Uganda, India, and Mexico (which make up most of my future's colonists) is about 120 kilos per year. One dairy cow can currently produce up to 12,240 kilos a year, which seems like a reasonable thing to expect of genetically-enhanced space-cows.

    So to produce enough milk for all those people, requires a mere 21,010 dairy cows. Apparently you also need at least one bull per 50 cows; if we want to keep the numbers tidy, say 318 bulls with 33 cows each and 239 bulls with 44 cows each (look, we high-functioning borderline-obsessive people have our own-idea of "tidy numbers"), you're talking a total of 21,567 cows. That shouldn't be too resource-intensive for planetary colonies, though maybe for station-colonies; maybe stationers do with some kind of milk-substitute (you probably can't get milk from an "in vitro" cloned udder, not attached to a cow, without resources nearly comparable to the cows, if not worse once you factor in lab facilities).

    What? You wondered too.


Rannm Thawts Seven

Didn't feel right not having a post this month. Last day to get it in. Random thoughts.
  • One cool thing in powered armor is that there may be ways to use the power-assist systems not only for strength and speed, but for flexibility. Basically the same actuators that let it carry increased loads (or at least cancel out its weight) also expand or contract sections around its joints, so you get very nearly the full range of motion you have stark naked. Another thing that that might let it do, is more or less put itself on, or at least be put on in whole sections rather than piece-by-piece.
  • Was thinking about the xiāngshēng (generating) and xiāngkè (overcoming) cycle of the Chinese elements—the pentagon and the pentagram, respectively, that together make up the Seiman or Seal of (Abe no) Seimei. And I thought it'd be cool to make one like that for the D&D energy types—maybe even come up with a cosmology where those are the "elements" (there are ice para-elementals and lightning quasi-elementals that could easily be "promoted" to full-blown elemental status).

    An easy relation is sonic between fire and ice, because of thermo-acoustic cooling (and heating)—like in the gimmick used by not-Justin-at-all in Enen no Shôbôtai; not sure how to connect those three to acid and electric, but acid and electric definitely connect to each other (since "acid" is a description of the electric properties of a liquid). Maybe electricity to fire via thermo-electricity and then acid to cold? Though acids generally require relatively high temperatures to work.

    Still no idea how to arrange them, since you're simultaneously "overcoming" fire and "generating" cold, in thermo-acoustic cooling. Maybe electricity in between (since you need something to get the sound from)? But that still leaves acid out. (Similarly, what do you use for acid elementals? I'd considered magma para-elementals but with acid-damage instead of fire, but turns out ooze para-elementals do acid damage. Also I needed to go to the Planescape fan-site to find lightning quasi-elementals' 3e stats, they seem to have taken the quasi-elemental planes out of the canonical cosmology.)
  • I realized the real problem with the Many Worlds Interpretation (not to be confused with Multiverse Theory). It's intrinsically unverifiable, or very nearly so; it makes string theory look like "thus do I refute thee" in terms of empirical demonstration. Those other universes are giant Russell's Teapots. Ironically, many people adopt Many Worlds because they fear the possible metaphysical implications of the Copenhagen Interpretation, which might lead to the very thing Russell's Teapot is intended as an (almost laughably wide of the mark) attack on.
  • You know "minimalist shoes", the sneakers with the toes and all? One of the big brands, Vibram FiveFingers, got sued for over three million bucks for making false health claims. The people who advocate such shoes (by making legally actionable false health claims) often say that your feet are perfectly designed for walking. Only...what? No they aren't. They're hastily jury-rigged for walking, at least bipedally; because as little as 3.9 million years (and no more than 4.2 million), we were still quadrupeds. (Our backs and intestines and a bunch of our other features are also less than optimized for our current posture—and we choke a lot more than other animals do, because of the weird throat-anatomy required for talking.)

    It occurred to me, though, zledo might be better optimized for bipedalism. I toy with two reasons; the first is that it might be more common in their biosphere, as it was in the Mesozoic, and even the norm for their lineage as it was for dinosaurs (the quadrupedal dinosaurs' ancestors dropped back to all fours, at some point). The second, and the one I lean towards, is that, apparently, all the "lesser" apes are almost exclusively bipedal, when they're on the ground, and zledo were originally mostly arboreal, similar to those apes (and they're still a lot more arboreal than we are). I'm not sure why "lesser" apes walk on their hind legs, on the ground; could be their hands are so specialized for brachiating that they don't work as forefeet any more.

    Which, it occurs to me, might explain why zledo have tails, and long ones. Apparently gibbons, on the ground, walk around with their arms out, to balance. Maybe the zledo's ancestors did that, and had short tails as a result, but as they increasingly needed their hands for things like making tools, they started using their tails to balance, instead.
  • Was going through old Dragon magazines in PDF format, and noticed something: prior to the 1990s, what we call "post-apocalyptic" was called "post-holocaust". Probably because they had a particular apocalypse in mind, and it involved burning. I think it's also interesting how the mechanism of the apocalypse became vaguer after that point, since there was no longer the (semi-)immanent threat of nuclear annihilation.
  • Pepper spray does not work on birds. See, the whole reason that capsaicin exists is because to birds, it just tastes like vanilla, but it mimics the structure of the neurotransmitter that mammals use to detect heat (the whole family of neurotransmitters that capsaicin affects—also those that peppermint does—are called "vanillinoid"). Being painful and unpleasant for mammals, but harmless and tasty for (fruit-eating) birds, is a mechanism to protect the seeds of peppers, which get crushed by mammals' teeth but survive birds' beaks intact.

    The fact that pepper spray does not work on birds involves risks for people like mail carriers, in some places—because peacocks and turkeys, for instance, are very aggressive (to say nothing of rheas, emus, cassowaries, and ostriches, for people in the southern hemisphere). It's apparently a genuine problem in some Northeastern US states, getting attacked by wild turkeys while delivering mail, because their pepper-spray (for dogs) doesn't work.

    So, instead? I would suggest someone working on an aerosolized artificial grape flavoring. The main ingredient, methyl anthranilate, apparently affects birds the way capsaicin affects mammals (by a parallel mechanism, I think—they don't use the same neurotransmitters we do, but they do use similar ones). It's used as a bird repellent for certain crops, and on golf-courses, so coming up with a spray-form shouldn't be too hard. (I imagine that keeping birds, or certain kinds of birds, from eating their fruit, was why certain New World grapes—notably the thing we would eventually breed the Concord grape from—evolved to have methyl anthranilate in their skins, in the first place. Maybe for some reason it's better for the grapes if mammals eat them?)
  • People give shows a lot of flak for portraying hackers and such-like doing a bunch of really fast typing, which, fair enough; most of hacking is throwing some programs at something and getting a burrito while they find a weakness. But sometimes, people expand that to include showing a whole bunch of typing by programmers. But programmers still do a lot of pretty fast typing, at least if they actually write their own code (apparently some programmers just dictate what they want and a coder puts it in actual code, which seems weird to me but I suppose it's not unlike being a medieval Hungarian leader and having all your decrees transcribed from Hungarian into Latin).

    I don't actually show much, if any, of the hacking in my books, on the hackers' end; I don't know enough not to embarrass myself. But I do think zled signalers actually do some really fast typing while hacking...because they sometimes have to write ad-hoc hacking programs. I bet that happens a lot more often in "cyberwarfare"—during actual wartime conditions—than under most other circumstances, especially if the opponent is an alien. You don't even know what "ad hoc" means till you're trying to figure out how to find and exploit weaknesses in a system whose entire design-philosophy is literally from another planet. It's not the kind of thing you can actually just upload from a PowerBook 5300.
  • Speaking of why "spicy" flavors evolve, apparently cinnamon-trees have "spicy" bark in order to keep worms out. Which is pretty hardcore, if you think about it. "Oh, you want to lay your eggs inside me? I'm gonna burn your larvae alive."

    Incidentally, in certain parts of the US, actual cinnamon is relatively rare—because what they usually use instead is actually casia, a member of the same genus with a much stronger flavor. "Casia" is also one of the few known loan-words surviving from Sumerian, where it was called "katsi" and was a popular spice for mutton.


The Actor's Best Critic

Stuff about my lasers, most of it involving their lenses one way or another. Hence the title, a Sydney Greenstreet quote:
The lens is the actor's best critic... showing his mind more clearly than on the stage. You can get wonderful cooperation out of the lens if you are true, but God help you if you are not. ... You're at the mercy of the camera angles and the piecemeal technique.
Discovered a reason not to use c. one-micron wavelength for the near-infrared lasers zledo use: it's still a blindness-hazard at that wavelength. Went with c. one and a half microns—the blindness-risk is between 350 and 1400 nanometers (near-UV poses some risk of physically burning the surface of the eyes themselves, but they are at least opaque to it). Of course, with both zled and human medicine of my books' era, they can actually re-grow your retina if they have to, but that's probably a costly, time-consuming, and possibly painful procedure. (Presumably they can also correct for the vision-problems albinos have, by the same methods...though that might have to involve straight-up dyeing their eyes, since there is actually a reason their retinas don't grow in right, and giving a normal retina to someone whose eyes still can't block light is probably flat-out dangerous.)

Might need to double-check when they use green lasers, while I'm at it—maybe they don't? Visible light is bad RE: blindness-risk because, y' know, your eyes are designed to catch as much of it as they can, and all. Think their civilian lasers are only near-infrared, since at the range of most civilian self-defense even that's adequate even against their body-armor (and near-UV, since it can over-penetrate, is probably a liability risk). Also not having the frequency-adjuster probably keeps the price down, always more of an issue for the private individual than for a professional military.

Also discovered that c. 250 nanometers, which I'd had as their near-UV band, is UV-C and, apparently, gets quite attenuated by air—as in the attenuation-graphs I can find seem to stop cold at 300 nanometers (I think they might be assuming the ozone-layer, rather than the low-ozone lower atmospheric layers, since ultraviolet light you're likely to need to know about, is mostly part of sunlight). Went with just over 320 nanometers, just inside the UV-A range, but still outside the blindness-risk range. UV-A can go easily through air, and even window-glass—which is opaque to UV-B and UV-C. I think UV-A also has the least attenuation in air of any part of the UV (lower than 200 nanometers, air, as such, becomes completely opaque to ultraviolet; ozone, mostly found in the upper atmosphere, is mostly opaque to UV-B and completely opaque to UV-C, but transparent to UV-A).

A nice thing about changing these is that laser-ranges seem to scale linearly with wavelength—a 532-nanometer green laser has half the range (ignoring atmospheric attenuation) of a 216-nanometer near-UV laser, and twice the range of a 1,064-nanometer near-infrared laser. So changing from c. 1 micron to c. 1.5 microns just meant I had to divide the ranges by 1.5; changing from c. 250 to c. 320 is going to mean dividing by 1.25 (or multiplying by .8)—because they're actually 1/400,000th of a zled unit vs. 1/500,000th, which makes their ratio much tidier than 25/32nds.

On the other hand, discovered the lenses I'd given them were actually too small, for decent ranges. For some ungodly reason, the laser-performance calculator I use, uses lenses' radiuses, when one normally talks about them in terms of diameter (not just lasers, either—a 50-millimeter camera lens is its diameter, not its radius).

In view of this, made the hand laser, which had been one-quarter bãgh, or 3.2175 centimeters, one-third, or 4.29 centimeters. This makes its heat-exchanger, still 5.813 square centimeters in total area, a mere 3.389 millimeters wide, because the outer diameter of the laser is 5.46 centimeters (I realized I'd made the outer casing way too thick, 1/11th bãgh rather than, much more reasonably, 1/22nd—since even that is 5.85 millimeters.) Its nanotube spring, on the other hand—same diameter as the lens—would be 1.06 centimeters wide. Since that's just the spring, and it has a thick casing (because springs are freaking dangerous), as thick as that around the laser itself, we wind up with a spring-cartridge 2.23 centimeters wide.

The long laser goes from being one-half bãgh, 6.435 centimeters, to being two-thirds, 8.58 centimeters. Its heat exchanger, still needing an area of 52.495 square centimeters, is only 17.138 millimeters wide (its outer diameter is 9.75 centimeters, since its casing is also thinner now). The nanotube spring to power it, at the new diameter of the lens, is 2.44 centimeters wide, in its cartridge-casing 3.61 centimeters.


De scripturae romanicos physicales IV

SF writing thoughts. Was basically another speculative material culture, mil-SF, and exobiology post, but I also talk about languages. So, writing post.
  • Did you know there's an exception to the rule that birds (or diapsids in general) don't pee? Ostriches. And turkey vultures (which are actually condors). A couple other birds, too—all of them from hot climates. Urinating is an excellent method of dumping heat, that's why you sometimes shiver when you pee, it works even when you'd rather it didn't.
  • In my setting (because it seems most realistic), not only are nano-bot weapons primarily actually micro-bot weapons, with the nano-bots mostly acting as a germ-warfare payload (like how you combat malaria by going after mosquitos), but the terraforming projects that would involve nano-bots actually just use the nano-bots as something like termite gut-flora, and the termites themselves are ant-sized microbots.

    Of course, in my setting, the terraforming project is an "in case we need it millennia from now" thing, not a "we already did it before ever setting foot there" thing. In terms of "terraforming", I mean, as used in science fiction; they do, of course, do various things to prep the soil, etc., for colonization. Even on planets where humans can live without habitat domes, I think they have medical nano-bot injections to help them cope with anything odd about the atmospheres involved.
  • Decided that instead of using auxiliary verbs for the causative, Zbin-Ãld reduplicates the vowels in its tense- and aspect-affixes, with a glottal stop in between—kinda like how Uto-Aztecan languages mark one of their generally two classes of plurals, except that's always the first syllable of the stem, rather than the vowel in the syllable-nucleus of both prefixes and suffixes (Zbin-Ãld uses prefixes for one and suffixes for the other, tense and aspect respectively). That might slightly increase the number of apostrophes in words, since they already insert a glottal stop between affix and stem, if the stem starts or ends with a vowel.

    It now also marks the reflexive by applying both the ergative and absolutive particles to the agent of the verb (which, yes, does effectively make an intransitive verb transitive, but causatives slot the verb they modify into the next rank, in terms of "valency", i.e. the number of "arguments" involved in a verbal predicate). The reflexive-causative is important because it's how they mark their honorific constructions; as in Nahuatl, I think that, idiomatically, the two morphologies effectively cancel each other out and rather than being a reflexive causative semantically, it's just an honorific version of a normal construction.
  • Although they use their reflexive causative for that idiom, I think they still mark other things, including the actual (semantic) reflexive causative, by auxiliary verbs (plus, I think, the subjunctive). Since "you cause yourself to do" is the honorific, to actually say "you make yourself do something", they might say something like "You forced yourself that you might do it", with "do" in the subjunctive (just a particle, in Zbin-Ãld). They also have an "I am livid that you would do that" construction, like the -teiyagaru form in Japanese, with "dare that you (might) do", and express the dubitative with "guess that you (might) do", and form polite imperatives with "I (we) request (that) you (might) do" (and a more emphatic request of "I (we) beg that you (might) do"). They probably also use that kind of construction for an inferential/renarrative mood and various other "evidential" constructions, with "it seems that you (might) do", "I hear that it (might) do", etc.

    On the other hand the desiderative (want to) and permissive (allowed to/"may") are single particles. So are two different necessitatives, one for ought to/"should" and one for has to/"must" (though for things like "I have to do my homework" they say "should"). They combine the latter necessitative particle with the subjunctive of the verb "to be", for the assumptive/deductive mood, "must be that you (might) do". They also use a single particle for a verb-mood that is probably a specific type of the speculative, which means able to/"can", and ought to be called the "poderative" (there is a verb-ending for that in Japanese but apparently it's classed as a voice, not a mood, which I don't buy). Zbin-Ãld also uses that last thing for informal requests, like how English (and Czech) say "Could you pass the mustard?" as a request between "Pass the mustard" and "Please pass the mustard"—but theirs isn't a question.
  • To inflict locust-style devastation on an area, let's say you have 40 million micro-bots (roughly the number of locusts in a square kilometer during a "swarming"). And that each is ant-sized, i.e. roughly the size of a grain of long rice, 70 cubic millimeters. Now, at the density of carbon fiber (what insect-based bots seem to usually be made of), we're talking about 25 milligrams each; 40 million of them weigh one megagram, and have a volume of 2,800 liters—which, assuming square containers, have 75% density, so really a volume of 3,733 and one-third liters.

    If you take them in something like this US military medical storage-chest, it basically takes 18 of them to contain it all, say three trips of six chests. Each of the chests weighs 19 kg; if each of the canisters containing the bots is half a liter, and there are 200 of them per chest (not sure how the dimensions of each canister would play out), well I seem to find a typical weight for a half-liter vacuum bottle of 300 grams, so figure 200 of them is another 60 kg per chest, for a total weight per filled chest of 134 and 5/9 kilograms per chest; each cartload of six of them would weigh 807 and 1/3 kilograms, which I think the biggest carts used in shelf-stocking do sometimes handle.

    The 1-megagram of micro-bot locusts can do more damage than real locusts because while a locust can eat its own weight in a day, a micro-bot is not limited by the need to digest—or being diurnal (since they're probably not solar-powered, at least at night). Locust-bots with beamed power (or that use environmental electrolytes for fuel) can probably devour three, maybe four times their weight in the course of a day, either using nano-bots inside them as something like termite gut-flora or else just using the nano-bots as an anti-personnel weapon while the micro-bots do anti-materiel damage.
  • I got to thinking, what if there were an ecosystem with no autotrophs, and the herbivore-analog survived by directly eating electrolyte salts from its environment? From that point on, the rest of the ecosystem would work like ours does, with various levels of carnivore eating the...halivore, I guess?...for its salts and whatever its tissues were made of. (Probably the salts would also get shuffled back into the environment by the decay of such organisms.) I suppose their "energy biosphere" probably wouldn't be based on carbon-fixing, so their tissues would be radically different from ours. Maybe that would be what silicon-based life would do?

    Maybe they exist in seas of molten metal or something. It also occurred to me that such an ecosystem would only be more efficient than one based on photosynthesis in a dark environment, either subterranean (see previous remarks RE: "molten metal"), or perhaps under highly pressurized oceans, on planets far from stars or even without stars ("rogue planets"). They might well have senses like radar, and almost certainly sonar; there might be wavelengths that make prey or predators show up against a background of molten metal or highly pressurized seas (though most thalassogens are, I think, opaque to radar—probably sonar and electrosensitivity would be more important to them). Then again on a Venusian type planet you'd still be able to see via EM, even though visible light would be less useful.

    It also occurred to me that "herbivore role taken by creatures that directly consume a mineral that serves as an electric power-source, while other creatures eat them to get that mineral"...is basically Cybertron's ecosystem. They're even made of inorganic substances!
  • It occurs to me that maybe the reason zledo are significantly more reptilian in terms of things like their moisture intake (and output, since they don't pee), is that their planet is not in any part of a glaciation-phase, and yet has less ocean than Earth does in an interglacial of a glaciation (we're in an Ice Age now, just not the most extreme part of it; what pop culture calls an "Ice Age" is properly termed a glacial maximum). It's drier—especially during Ice Ages—and therefore more watertight anatomies, like those of reptiles and birds, would be favored (I think their other major lineage of vertebrate-analogues, roughly analogous to reptiles if zledo are mammals, has a similar setup).

    Presumably during its glaciation phases Lhãsai is outright scary dry; it's also colder than Earth even when it's not in a glaciation phase so when it is in one, presumably it approaches Karoo Ice Age levels of severity (but not, quite, "Snowball Earth", Cryogenian Ice Age levels). Zledo are stronger and faster than humans, yet intelligent, because everything else in their biosphere is bigger and scarier than Earth-life (as I've said, they're somewhere between Oligocene/Pleistocene and full-blown Mesozoic on the "everything is huge and scary" scale). And the reason everything else in their biosphere is stronger, faster, and just generally huge and scary, is that their planet is scarier than Earth is.
  • I like the idea of reporting names, so I decided that under ordinary circumstances, zledo and humans refer to each other's military hardware by code-names, since they may not always know the actual name of something an alien made—or be able to pronounce it. Zledo call human stuff by random names, like "Shower" and "Gown", like how we call Russian fighters things like "Faceplate", "Fargo", and "Fulcrum" and their cargo-planes "Condor", "Cossack", and "Crusty".

    I had had the UN call zled hardware by the names of mythical beasts, but that was a bit too like Halo, where all Covenant vehicles except Scarabs, Locusts, Choppers, and Prowlers are named for undead beings. So instead, I decided to name them all poisonous plants. They use e.g. "Monkshood" for one type of zled mothership and "Mancenillier", French for manchineel, for another one. The others are sometimes in English and sometimes in one of the other UN official languages (none in Spanish, because it's hard to find the Spanish common names of plants, Spanish Wikipedia doesn't have most of them).

    I fudge on one because even though the words are supposed to start with S, I actually used Sh—the Arabic word for "hemlock", Shûkran. But in Arabic, the Sh is written as S with a diacritic mark (ش is س with three extra dots). I made sure that the other one I named with S actually started with S ("Sokírki", the Russian word for larkspur), since Ш and С are not variants of the same letter.


Lives, Fortunes, Sacred Honor 2

Thoughts on alien biology, speculative material culture, and military science fiction.
  • I might've overestimated the viability of nano-bots as any weapon other than an artificial plague. The things probably can't eat through metal any faster than bacteria, since they're the same size and have to use comparable methods. And bacteria seem to corrode metals at a rate of about 0.8 millimeters per year.

    Maybe couple the nano-bots with micro-bots, spread them as basically robotic Dengue fever? Robots with components at micrometer scale, a few millimeters long (i.e., the size of gnats) would make an effective delivery system, and could target particular people, in a society where everybody's wired in so they can be charged for using your wireless electricity.
  • Turns out I was wrong about why hollow-points are less lethal than ball-rounds. It's not because hollow-points don't leave exit wounds for you to bleed to death out of. There is, apparently, more bleeding from a hollow-point than from a ball round, even with the exit wound from the latter.

    It's just that hollow-points' superior stopping power (whatever the hell that is) means it takes far fewer shots to incapacitate an opponent, so you go down after having to have fewer holes put in you. More bleeding from two wounds is a lot less likely to kill you than less bleeding from six.
  • I don't know if I mentioned it here—searching the blog doesn't seem to think so—but the khângây had had their forearms actually be their metacarpals, and their arms had the same direction of joint as their legs, backwards from us. But I realized that having a forearm made of metacarpals would be very hard to rotate. So now khângây arms, and presumably legs too, are set up like zled legs, with two of the wrist/ankle bones made into a third joint, crossing over so they can rotate (in the case of zled ankles and khângây wrists, but not khângây ankles, since as cursorial predators they probably want more rigid leg-structures). The ankle bones in question are the talus and calcaneus, on Earth at least, so I guess the wrist ones would be the scaphoid and the lunate, or the equivalent.
  • I would dearly love to know what they were smoking when they made d20 Modern/Future. Specifically, the ranges they list for the weapons. E.g., a Barrett M82 "Light Fifty" is listed as having a range-increment of 120 feet, meaning its maximum range is 1200 feet. But the actual (effective) range of the M82 is 5,907 feet, meaning its range increment ought to be 591 feet—118 squares.

    Perhaps they should do like first and second edition D&D did, and have combats that only take place via ranged weapons use yards instead of feet (each square equals five yards). That brings the range-increment down to 39 squares. Or they could have those combats use the d20 Modern "chase" scale, where one square equals fifty feet. That brings the maximum range down from 1,181 squares to a much more manageable 118 squares (which, remember, was the range increment, the old way).

    (While we're at it, the top speed of a Learjet is 4,730 feet per standard round, not 1,100. More importantly, its stall speed is 977 feet—say 980—per round.)
  • I do believe I've pointed out that the alien-sex options in games like Mass Effect, while pace Kevin McCullough they don't actually involve actual porn, do involve "you only put that in for prurient reasons", which is the quintessence of porn. The asari are, I'm sorry, a personal insult to the audience (as well as laughable hypocrisy, from that studio).

    Maybe people should pull their heads out of their ideological sphincters and realize that their sexual ideas don't even hold for most of their own species. What are the odds they'll hold for someone who doesn't have a bonobo for his closest relative? What if they're more like black vultures, with a strict pair-bond and violent repercussions for any straying?
  • I do not know if you object to this in the way that I do (I kid, we both know you don't), but the ruins in Elder Scrolls games always annoy me. They're all supposed to be from the Mythic Era, the time of the Dragon War, or at least the First Era, the time of Ysgramor and the Ayleid Empire and the fall of the Dwemer. But real ruins that are five thousand years old get themselves mistaken for hills; you can't move around in them. I suppose it's justifiable in the games because there are draugr and Dwemer constructs moving around; maybe when they're not trying to kill adventurers they keep the place maintained (it'd be awesome to show that in a game, game-designers). I can't really see it with the Ayleid ruins, though, since the only things in those ruins are mindless zombies and skeletons, and imps.

    I suppose in a way the same goes for the ruins on Installation 05, in Halo 2, or the Sangheili ruins in Halo 5. But in the former case there's the Sentinels and other Forerunner AIs maintaining the place (plus Forerunners have at least a limited matter-creation capability), and in the latter, the Sangheili might maintain the site. And we don't know when the Sangheili ruins became ruins; Vale only mentions when they were built.

    But I came up with a solution for something in a book where I needed a ruin: the ancient site is actually within a natural cave, a sacred site beneath a city of a vanished civilization on an alien world (not of a vanished "alien civilization" in the sci-fi sense, though—aliens' equivalent of the Sumerians or Indus Valley, basically). I also had to research how you get water in a place like Machu Picchu—the sacred site is a sacred spring, though Machu Picchu's springs are, I think, glacier-runoff while the one in my book is volcanic. I add that, in fact, mineral water and hot-springs are major regional products, down to the "present" day (like how some of those Central European baths probably long predate the Romans—if not the Indo-Europeans).
  • Found out, birds don't have scales. I mean, they do, but they're not actually analogous to mammal scales or those of other diapsids. They're actually modified feather-buds. What apparently happened is they turned their scales into feathers, and then turned some of their feathers back into scales. That's less unusual than it sounds; the hoofed mammals, turtles, and...some kind of reptile...lost their fins, and then the whales, sea turtles, and ichthyosaurs re-evolved them.
  • Decided on how zledo recharge their lasers' CNT springs. They just have an external power-source work the electric motor in reverse, winding the spring.

    They also use springs to power their handhelds; given the energy densities of CNT springs (3400 kilojoules per liter and 300 kilojoules per kilogram), and the 19.62 kilojoule power-requirements of an iPhone (to do the most power-intensive things like the "personal hotspot" function), which the iPhone can do for eight hours on one charge, powering a zled handheld with a similar power-requirement over one standard Lhãsai day would require 60.94 kilojoules. That's a spring with a volume of 17.92 milliliters, massing 203.13 grams; if it's a tenth of a bãgh wide, the spring, wound into a cylinder, would be 42.11 millimeters in diameter.

    For most of the rest of their electronics, zledo just power them wirelessly via topo-comms, either from a home-generator or "grid" power. (They power their handhelds and lasers internally for the sake of reliability, and stealth in that latter case.) My humans also power their consumer electronics (other than military hardware) wirelessly, using ultrasonic power-beaming inside houses but powering the houses themselves pretty much the same way we do (except they have the option of fusion-generation).


All Is Grist 3

Random thoughts.
  • Apparently I haven't mentioned it here, but the Indo-European genders were, originally, "animate" (modern masculine) and "inanimate" (modern neuter). "Feminine" was a set of inflections within the animate/masculine that pertained, originally, to collectives or members of collectives—which is reflected in the fact that most herd-/flock-animals, to this day, are feminine by default (cow, goose→bull, gander) while other animals are thought of as masculine (dog, tiger→bitch, tigress).

    Relatedly but distinctly, whenever people try their Sapir-Whorf idiocy RE: gendered pronouns saying something about a society's treatment of women, I always say, "Find me one difference between Arab and Turkish, or Polish and Hungarian, treatment of women." The first half of each pair has grammatical gender; the second half of each pair doesn't and never did. (Well, Hungarian does distinguish persons from objects, but that's a different grammatical gender-system from the masculine-feminine one that's alleged to be "problematic".)
  • That Transcendentalist legend about "rugged individualism" on the "frontier" always has a negative impact on worldbuilding. A while back I was reading a fictionalized speculation about Mars colonization that portrayed theft of spaceship components as a major component of Martian laissez-faire attitudes, barely even disapproved enough to technically count as a black market.

    But that is not how frontier people behave. On a frontier, transportation can mean the difference between life and death, because being stranded between settlements could get you killed. We tended to take a very dim view of people who screwed with transportation. Dim as in "We lynch you on the barest suspicion of horse-thieving, sometimes even of unwittingly buying a stolen horse".

    And that's on Earth, where the harshest frontier conditions still involved breathable air and living things humans can eat. On Mars? We'd lynch you for not wiping your feet.
  • Saw Snow White and the Huntsman for the first time. This and Frozen lead me to think there might be some sort of thing going on—because that's two movies the last few years where the "true love" is a type of love other than what it has meant since the first "courts of love" in the 1100s. Is this a part of the same bizarre erotophobia that also makes people freak out when you mention that marriage is primarily a sexual relationship? Or just some kind of misguided reaction against the "Prince Charming" narrative as popularized by Disney?
  • Discussion of women in combat (and recent decisions concerning same) brought something interesting to my attention: losing a large number of young women is simply not comparable to losing a lot of young men. Most species are set up to be able to soak the loss of a lot of young males, since testosterone leads to risk-taking; if a bunch of young men die in a war, the young women just seek slightly older husbands. It doesn't work in reverse, though, because there is a time-limit on female reproduction, one that's not present in males.

    I think, given demographic issues are a part of my future history, that the Peacekeepers aren't quite fool enough to field large numbers of young women in ordinary combat infantry. They let them into Special Purpose Units (including Hammershield), since you could lose all of SOCOM and not notice it (demographically speaking I mean, wouldn't be great for the military); also our current SOCOM is arguably over-staffed relative to what "special forces" is supposed to mean. But they don't let women into the combat infantry.

    Even so they probably don't have quite our 14.5% female military; probably more like the 1980s Soviet Army's 11%.
  • Think I won't have the zledo using Casaba howitzer/nuclear shaped-charge warheads. Instead, going with a 3D topological defect, like their defect-gun (except that's one-dimensional, a cosmic string): a "cosmic texture", the 3D equivalent of a cosmic string. Now, textures (if they exist) are not as localized as cosmic strings, so I think I'll call it a "pseudo-texture" weapon, much more localized but, I think, even less stable (you don't want something like that sticking around).
  • Apparently it's not entirely true that predators don't roar when they attack. It's true they don't do it when they attack something they're hunting, but if you're hunting them, they roar when they charge. Essentially the way it works is the charge and roar are designed to say, to another predator, "I am too dangerous to be worth your time!"

    (Incidentally, when you hunt a leopard with dogs, apparently the leopard will often completely ignore the dogs. They are apparently smart enough to know you're their real problem, and go straight for you. Don't mess with cats, basically. They're as smart as they are vindictive.)
  • Sometimes in space opera, and indeed in people who think they're not writing space opera, you get the idea that we'd actually be able to pose a threat to energy beings. It's quaint, like claiming your little tribe's warriors could totally whup a hurricane in a fight. (I don't actually know of any tribes that were ever that stupid, by the way.)

    Let's say that creating a character-actor's body in order to interact with the crew of the Enterprise is only as hard for an energy being as "not dying" is for us. The average basal metabolic rate for a human is 1493 kilocalories over a 24-hour period, which is to say 0.0723 watts. Meanwhile, creating and maintaining the 62-kilo average human body (for a being that has total matter-energy conversion capability)? 5.58×1018 watts. If an energy being is as much "bigger" than the energy to maintain a human body, as the human body is bigger than the energy to keep it alive, then the energy being is 4.31×1038 watts (or joules per second). That's over two million times the energy required to split the Earth in half, every second. Have you got two million Death Stars to shoot the energy being with, all in one second? If not, don't waste your breath. (You'd need to hit it with energy in excess of its total because unlike organisms they're not differentiated, and have no vital organs or tissues—they're a formless energy aggregate.)

    This also has implications for the arrogance involved in the higher levels of the Kardashev scale, which are sometimes compared to "gods" (even I've done it). But one of these energy beings is equal to the entire energy-output of a trillion Kardashev II civilizations, and even of ten Kardashev III ones. Does "each of them packs the throw-weight of about ten entire civilizations, each of which you can barely conceive of" sound like someone you want to mess with?


Be Cool, Be Cool (Redux)

It's official: zled lasers use the "adjustable-angle grip inside ring" thing, have their thumb-trigger on the side of the grip (it's pushed down, with the thumb, so bumping it with one's fingers doesn't set off the laser). The springs both hand and long lasers use are the same diameter as their lenses, although I also think there are bigger springs sold for certain applications (I don't think the long-laser's springs will be usable in the hand-laser). This means the standard hand-laser springs are 1.85 centimeters long, and the standard long-laser ones are 4.34 centimeters.

Another thing I decided was to use cylindrical casings for the lasers, rather than hexagonal-prism. They have an accessory-rail underneath their optical cavity casing, the way that, say, the TBL-37 37-millimeter gas-gun does, under its barrel (though not, of course, an actual Picatinny rail).

Changing the shape of the casing necessitates recalculating the heat-exchangers' size (which were based on less precise figures anyway). The long laser's waste heat (at 85% laser-efficiency) is 881.56 watts per firing; the efficiency of microchannel heat-exchangers is 1.5 kilowatts per second per square centimeter. This means that if we want it to only take one second to dump the waste-heat of firing off the entire spring's charge, it'll take 28.21 square centimeters; however, the people designing the thing don't use seconds. If we want it to take one dothã (c. 0.518 seconds), it'll take 52.495 square centimeters of heat-exchanger.

The outer diameter of the long laser is 8.775 centimeters, for a circumference of 27.567 centimeters; since the heat-exchanger is only on the top half, one dimension of the (effectively rectangular) heat-exchanger is 13.784 centimeters. Divide 52.495 by 13.784, and we discover that the long laser's heat-exchanger is a band 3.954 centimeters wide.

Doing the same thing for the hand laser we find a waste-heat of 282.09 watts per firing. It'd take 5.813 square centimeters to dump the waste-heat of emptying out the entire 16-shot spring (assuming one dothã to dump all the heat); the outer diameter of the hand laser's optical cavity is 5.5575 centimeters, meaning its circumference is 17.459 centimeters, and the dimension of a heat-exchanger along its top half is 8.7297 centimeters. That means the width of the heat-exchanger band is a mere 6.658 millimeters.