Well Happy New Year. Last year, th' ol' blog ended up with 185 posts: the product of two Higgs primes.

Light 'n' fluffy nitpicks, mainly 'bout fiction and pop culture. Yes I'm anal.
  • Apparently it's supposed to be some kind of thing, what kind I'm not sure, that Dr. Who features the line "reverse the polarity of the neutron flow"? Some seem to think it's a flub, others that it's an in-joke for people who actually took 10th grade Chemistry. But there's a problem: neutrons have polarity, that's why there's antineutrons. They differ from standard neutrons in baryon number. However, if one's opponent is using something involving neutron flow (which is probably meant for "neutron flux" or "fluence", and which is almost always a bad thing unless you want something to undergo fission), if you suddenly replace his neutrons with antineutrons, oh yes will things ever go pear-shaped for him. Antimatter-matter reactions are bad, no matter what particle you're getting 'em from—something designed to contain a fission reaction is rather poorly-equipped to cope with them, for instance.

    Speaking of Dr. Who, I discovered an excellent impolite name for British people: "teabag". It is variegated in its multiplicity, isn't it? As with all ethnic epithets, use with caution—not on otherwise decent people who just happen to hail from Airstrip One, for instance, save jocularly.

  • Cracked.com (!) actually pointed out that the "jus prima noctem" (or whatever the Latin is supposed to be, Braveheart gets it wrong)/"droite de seigneur", i.e. the right of feudal lords to deflower virgins among their tenants, never existed. They point out that all the historical records that mention it, attribute it to countries other than the historians'—while neither it, nor anything remotely like it, can be found in any law code, ever. I.e., it was propaganda.

    Now, while those who repeated that myth (Mr. Gibson!) reflect on their shame, in being Dan Browned by freaking Cracked, there's a passing allusion to the idea in Pernoud, that's interesting. She mentions that some other historian had shown it originated as wordplay. She didn't unpack the remark, but, uh, "jus" in French is "juice", while in Latin it's "right", and some medieval law codes did prefer to have proof that a marriage had been consummated. So...is it a multilingual blue pun, i.e. "Juice of the first night"? Read Chaucer: those medievals loved them the puns and dirty jokes.

  • I don't care if they are bigger than Egypt's, Mexico's pyramids aren't pyramids. They're ziggurats. If you make a bunch of steps up to a temple complex, we have a word for that, and it's ziggurat, not pyramid. Sorry. The Mexican pyramids aren't tombs, unless you count the bones of the sacrifices in their foundations (lots of ancient societies did that; some say that, and not the fact he'd cursed the city walls for a stupid joke, is why Remus was killed).

    Speaking of, the Spanish did, in fact, greatly overestimate the number of sacrifices the Aztecs performed—they would've needed multiple main altars, with the efficiency of a mechanized slaughterhouse, to do the numbers in the accounts. But it's not that the Spanish were badmouthing the Aztecs: they just repeated what the Aztecs had told them. See, they thought slaughtering tens of thousands of "washed slaves" made them look badass—it seriously didn't register with them that the Spanish might just think they were crazy people (which, since they thought "genocide by altar" made them look cool, they kinda were).

    It's sorta like Saddam Hussein, or any idiot who gets shot while committing armed robbery with a candy bar: if you try to get your way with people by telling them how horrible and dangerous you are, it's your own damn fault if they believe you. And if they turn out to be quite capable of taking out who you said you were, let alone your actual wuss-ass self, well, you picked that fight, cupcake.

  • I really hate to defend Star Wars, but yes, the hyperdrives in that perform the jump to light-speed. Not beyond it.

    Only, in hyperspace. Which—depending on which version you like—is either a dimension where light has a different speed (relativity assumes the "speed of light in a vacuum" is invariant for 3+1 spacetime, it says nothing about higher dimensions, because it doesn't include them), or one where distances are radically closer together (in any version of more-than-4-dimensions-physics, most of the higher dimensions are actually really small—as is time, in 3+1; we experience it as infinitesimal moments laid out in a line because of how it's shaped). So going multiple light-years near instantly is perfectly justified.

    Damn it, remember what Tycho said: Star Wars is about space-wizards who live in the past-future. If your biggest problem with those ships is their FTL drives, I have to take your hard-SF credentials away.

  • Screw you, sitcoms. Turns out, researchers have confirmed what Chesterton said in What's Wrong with the World: men are actually better at cooperating than women, at least as long as the groups aren't co-ed. Why?

    Because other men are guys who help you kill a mammoth. While other women are competitors for the silverback's time, whose brats will take resources that could go to your brats.

    That feeling in your gut that sitcom families, with their all-knowing, serene mothers and dumbass, hypercompetitive fathers, were full of crap? Science has vindicated it.

  • This one time, I had to explain to a person that we call whalesong "whalesong", uh, because it sounds like singing. I know, counterintuitive. Also, however, because it'd be creepy if we called it "whale howling"—think they'd sell many New Age recordings of that?

    But that got me to thinking: that is totally what we'd call it, if Jacques Cousteau had been Iacob Costescu. "And now," he'd narrate (please read in a Romanian accent), "we bid goodbye to the dark undersea forests, and their unseen denizens, hearing only the pounding of our hearts, and the forlorn howling of the whales."

  • I concede that I don't like Jar-Jar, though if he were just slightly competent I totally would. I do, however, like the rest of the Gungans. See, I'm a C. J. Cherryh fan: I like characters who talk in creoles (mahendo-sat trade language number one fine, got?). I'm sorry, but the problem is not that Gungans don't talk Basic right, it's that any other aliens do.

    Although come to think of it, Star Wars is pretty good about that—other than Admiral Ackbar and the Neimoideans, can you think of any aliens who talk normal English? Yoda's weird verbal tics are apparently supposed to represent him having learned Basic 800 years ago, while Chewie can't form the sounds of any language but Wookiee; Greedo's race are mercenaries who work for the Hutts and, thus, speak Huttese.

    But no, Universal Translators make way more sense, right?

  • You know in Back to the Future III how all the cowboys make fun of Doc for saying that in the future, people will walk for fun? As if nobody did that in 1885?

    Someone better tell the actual 19th century cowboy who wrote "Streets of Laredo", considering the first line of that song.

  • I do not like the Bourne movies. The main reason has to do with shaky-cams and people using throws that emphatically require the assistance of the throw-ee, but I am also less than pleased by their treatment of the book. The book is politically centrist, while the movie appears to have been changed to coincide with the Marxism-as-understood-by-a-halfwit-undergrad of Mr. Damon.

    Also, though, seriously, the fights suck ass. And the same problem as in most "evil spy conspiracy" movies, that the hero is only alive because his opponents forget to be evil at crucial times. See also 8 Days of the Condor and Firefly.

  • I have actually heard humans (ostensibly) claim that Westerners were stupid for pronouncing Chingis Khaan (yes I can romanize Mongolian Cyrillic) as Genghis Khan, but it's important to remember that, in the Middle Ages, the default spelling for foreign words was the Latin one, pronounced ecclesiastically. "Jengis", where the G is hard, is pretty close to the proper Mongolian pronunciation, and it's how "Genghis" is pronounced in ecclesiastic Latin.

    As in so many things, I suspect the mispronunciation as "ghenghis" originates in the Renaissance or Enlightenment, when people began going back to the pronunciation of Classical Latin, where all Gs are hard. That or it was the Reformation, since English is all willy-nilly about whether Gs are pronounced hard or soft (did you know the UK still spells jail as "gaol"?), and their severed ties with the continent would drastically lessen their chances of hearing it pronounced properly.

  • Ducky in NCIS mentioned that photography didn't really catch on until the US Civil War, and then, it was because the soldiers needed pinup photos. Am I the only one who thinks the Rule of the Early Adopter is the most embarrassing thing about this species? And we get into some pretty stupid, well, monkey business, so that's saying something.

    Another episode of NCIS had them saying a suspect couldn't have eaten cheese blintzes because he's lactose intolerant, but technically, lactose intolerant people can eat lots of cheeses—aging cheese breaks down the lactose. On the other hand, when you say "cheese blintz" I think of a sweet dish, with cream cheese, and that's not aged, so huh. But just in general, seriously, you people need to be cautious, vis-a-vis cheese and lactose intolerance: it's too often lazy writing.

    Also, if anyone drank as many energy drinks as Abby does, they would be perfectly spherical and weigh 800 pounds. Unless maybe the acute diarrhea (which is a side-effect of a caffeine overdose, along with how your eyes start tracking separately (as I'm here to tell you)) is a justification, i.e. she's de facto bulimic? Or maybe it's sugar-free, in which case she should still have a caffeine overdose, and would, well, look like a bulimic, from the diarrhea. And she probably wouldn't be able to walk, from the skeletal muscle loss (she drinks a lot of energy drinks, and the symptoms of a massive caffeine overdose are even worse than acute diarrhea).

PS. Speaking of aliens and human languages, my felinoids render the letters "F" and "V" as IPA "φ" and "β" (because their jaws and lips aren't mobile enough), and, since their languages don't have indefinite articles, usually forget to say "a(n)". They have trouble with our "R" sound, too, usually rendering it as "L" or "Ghl" at the beginning of words, and as one of their trilled (or "purred") vowels followed by "gh" in the middle or end of them. They also tend to turn "yu" into "yi" and "yo" into "ye", because they don't generally palatalize consonants before "O" and "U". Thus, your species (whose name they learned from English speakers) is called "hyimãn"—it needs to have one of its vowels be purred, to mark it as a noun (kinda like how the Jesuits appended "-us" to the end of Kǒng Fuzǐ, so they could talk about Confucius in Latin).

Yes, I actually thought all this out. I do at least spell their dialogue normally.

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