One More Thing

Actually, two, but that wouldn't be a Jackie Chan Adventures reference. First is that I forgot to mention, but that last one was my 100th post. Oh, sorry. My 10016th post, I meant. Or alternatively my 25610th. Also (because other numerical bases fascinate me), in base-6, all prime numbers other than 2 and 3 end in a 5 or a 1.

And the second is this guy—British oh what a surprise—I came across while searching for something else was saying that SF fans are sexist because they don't buy as many books by female authors. Which, uh, what if they don't happen to want to read them? No no, he said. I'm not kidding, it may not always be easy to tell, but this guy actually said—he did not imply, he outright said—that we ought to set quotas of female authors and buy books to fill them.

Sigh. The civilized world is now aware that protectionism lowers the quality of the protected industry's output. Plus, seriously, what cave on Mars has he been living in not to know that affirmative action is viewed as undercutting the real achievements of the very people it's supposed to benefit? I'm pretty sure the average Soviet citizen had more contact with the opposition's point of view than this guy.

Incorrélées mais pas sans cause

Boy it's hard to figure out how to say "Uncorrelated, not Uncaused" in French. Pensées au hasard!
  • My search for the way to say "random thought" in French led me to the philosophical concept of chance. Apparently Aristotle distinguishes between chance and luck, chance being "automaton" and luck being "tyche". The difference is the former just happens, and the latter involves the gods.

    It was neat to me, since my felinoids make that same distinction—when they say "may things go well" they're basically expressing their desire that chance is to the hearer's advantage, without the superstitious invocation of luck. What's funny to me is the number of people who think luck is distinguished not from chance, but from destiny, when plainly the kind of mystical airy-fairy it-sure-is-good-she-leaves-glasses-around-the-house-because-water-burns-the-aliens kind of destiny, is luck in that sense. If that seems odd to you, it's because you're only familiar with cultures informed by Christianity.

  • Still, though, to the people who think the aliens in Signs being burned by water makes it a stupid movie: dudes, when did any of the aliens say why they were there? Did they say they wanted to colonize, or do anything else that a species burned by water wouldn't do on Earth? No, all we know about them is they're here and they're hostile.

    Did it occur to you, maybe they're alien asshole fratboys, and going to earth and messing with the locals is their hazing? "Freak out the monsters who live on a planet covered in hydrochloric acid" sounds pretty hardcore to me, maybe it's some macho thing. Again, we don't know what the aliens are doing.

  • I don't think I mentioned it, but I recently acquired a copy of "The High Frontier" by Gerard K. O'Neill, as in "Island 3" O'Neill. It's an awesome little book (is two too soon to say I collect books of this type?), but, much like Heppenheimer's "Colonies in Space", it makes too many invocations of apocryphal population apocalypses (that's their official name now, at least here; get on the bandwagon now!).

    Another book I've been reading recently is "The War on Population" by Jacqueline Kasun, which makes the case against the eugenics ethnic cleansing "population control" movement with, and I love this, statistics. Did you know that .3%, or three thousandths, of the earth's non-iced land surface is used by human settlement? Yeah. Add in our agriculture land and we only use 1/9, 11%. Or how about the fact that each man, woman, and child of the 1984 world population (5 billion) could live in Texas, each being given 139 square meters, or an average sized American home. Not each family: each individual. Every infant, every crone, everyone in between. Add them together and a family of five could have a 697 m2, or 7500 square foot, home.

    Just improving world agriculture methods—not resources but just methods—to the state of the art available in 1984 (hardly Clarke's Third Law stuff by 2011 standards) would, all by itself, allow us to support 35.1 billion people at an American level of food intake. At a lower, but still first-world, level—she specifically mentions that of the Japanese—the world's agriculture resources could support, get this, 105.3 billion people.

    Again, remember how I said terraforming (and anthropogenic global warming alarmism) look more plausible the less you know about the scale of an atmosphere? Same goes for all this sort of talk. Planets are big things. There's a lot of room.

  • Just in general, it's really fun to know statistics. A lot of the time, just switching stats from percents to fractions will blow people's minds, and it's always fun to switch a stat up by comparing relative population sizes, and being very specific with your phrasing. Seriously, anytime someone gives you a statistic, have them compare it to something else (I guess "put it in context"?). Too many people don't really understand their stats, they were just bewildered by the hieratic invocation of numbers.

    Speaking of, apparently dividing fractions (probably the easiest piece of arithmetic there is, I pretty much always express division by fractions if I have to work in my head) is hard for a lot of people. And people don't memorize the decimal equivalents of fractions, which is weird to me, since fractions are much easier to work with if you aren't using a calculator (and even then, if you've got parentheses keys and need to be exact). Say it with me: 1/2 is .5, 1/3 is .333333, 1/4 is .25, 1/5 is .2, 1/6 is .16666667, 1/7 doesn't matter to anyone but Bungie employees, 1/8 is .125, 1/9 is .1111111, 1/10 is .1. But did you know 1/11 is .09090909? And 2/11 is .18181818, 3/11 is .2727272727, on up to 10/11, which is .90909090, and 11/11, which is .999999999. I assume you see the pattern? Weird, huh?

  • Speaking of aliens who get burned by water, the Newcomers in Alien Nation get burned by saltwater, right? I'd think living in LA, or any city anywhere near the coast, would be counter-indicated. And don't some of them have sex with humans? Now I ain't here to judge, but a fetish for severe chemical burns is taking your masochism a titch far (hint: it's "sweaty snugglebunnies"). When Dears is less far-fetched than your thing, it's officially too far-fetched.

    Still, their writing, that EKG looking thing, has gotta have the coolest ligatures of any fictional script ever.

  • Remember the Chinese and their rocket-arrows, a state-of-the-art version of which was used by Admiral Yi Sunshin to fend off Hideyoshi's invasion of the Joseon kingdom? At least I assume you remember. Well the Chinese had that, and Admiral Yi did that. If you need any more context than that, Wikipedia exists.

    Well a Polonized Lithuanian, Kazimierz Siemienowicz, an artillery general of the Rzeczpospolita, came up with multistage rockets in 1650. A mere half-century after Sekigahara, and 53 after Yi's victory at Myeongnyang. But no, no, it's all right, keep repeating your quaint notions about backward Poland and the high technology of Asia.

    Where'd Hideyoshi get the guns that were like fricking laser-beams to the Joseon armies, again?

  • Admittedly, the main reason Joseon did so badly in that war was that Neo-Confucianism is, with the possible exception of Objectivism, the worst possible basis for military preparedness in the history of man. Nobody could mobilize troops without permission from higher levels of the military hierarchy...which might be in another province...with 16th-century communications. Officer posts were given based on bloodline and exam scores (in that order), actual battlefield experience almost being considered a liability for a commander.

    Which, seriously, makes Admiral Yi Sunshin just that much more impressive. He'd have been impressive in any society. In the Joseon Kingdom, he's a prodigy that boggles the mind.

    And hey, if you're gonna base a movie about alien invasions on history, you could do a lot worse than the Imjin/Kara Iri War. All I'd ask is that Koreans not be the ones funding it.


The Corps Is Mother, the Corps Is Father

You know which corps: the Psi Corps! Been thinkin' 'bout psi. I incline to take the attitude toward psi that I take toward ghosts: I don't dogmatically conclude the phenomenon as such is impossible, but I reserve the right to discount any particular report. To me that seems to be the only reasonable approach.

You know what's funny to me about skeptics? Other than that "skepsis" means "looking" not "blindly, unreflectively incredulous"? Well, the most famous shallow-empiricist asshole-atheist skeptics, like Randi, Penn, and Teller, or the two dudes who do Mythbusters, are stage magicians or special effects guys. That is, professional fakers: therefore their skepticism is merely, disappointingly, projection. Also empiricism is self-refuting—"only scientifically verifiable assertions are valid" is not a scientifically verifiable assertion—and Mythbusters' experimental methodology is uniformly invalid. Not because of their perpetual lack of controls, etc., but because they come in with inaccurate assumptions—i.e. and e.g., "bulletproof" is not a real industry term, sorry dickheads.

Finally, this, the famous Myths of Skepticism. This is absolutely vital reading for anyone interested in the field.

A bunch of idiots have said, "if psi existed, why aren't people using it to get rich/conquer the world/etc."? Isn't it cute when they argue from blind stinking pig-ignorance? As it happens, DARPA had a project to study psi, especially remote viewing, for spying applications; it was called Project Stargate. Their results, and it's not like they had some elaborate system for training ESPers, were a full 9-11% better than guessing: that is, they really had remote viewings, and their subjects' training consisted of a little practice. DARPA, however, and in my view rightly, concluded that the investment necessary to make remote-viewing into a methodology comparable to conventional recon—which, remember, is usually a lot more than 1/10 better than a wild guess!—would be prohibitively large, and (given that psi is by definition not a well-understood method) might not ever bear fruit. After all, even if you can train your guys till they can do remote-viewing reliably, for a number of applications regular recon is much more convenient, useful, and in many ways reliable, since you're not just relying on some dude's reports of his visions.

However, that we've pretty much established that remote viewing occurs, and have a federal agency on the record saying so, is huge. It's certainly sufficient wiggle room for an SF writer to include psi in his stories—"can I get away with this in a story" is a far lower threshold than "would I support federal funding for research into this", I'm fairly sure you'd agree.

Personally I like clairsentience (clairvoyance and clairaudience, D&D taught me the word), precognition, telepathy, psychometry, telekinesis, and biokinesis. Teleportation, aside from being the only psi power without even anecdotal evidence for its existence, would also have to involve a number of secondary telekinetic powers if the teleporter weren't just going to be ripped apart by angular momentum. So I tend not to like it.

Anyway, here's my take on each, from a fiction standpoint. Thought I'd go alphabetical.
  • Biokinesis
    This is a hard one to put limits on, and it's hard to explain its workings without delving into "life force"-type nonsense. Do me a favor if you do decide to frame it in life-force terms, go read up on Chinese or Indian traditional medicine, and put it in those terms. At least if you have to use Sanskrit technical terms you won't sound like such a hippie.

    Personally I limit this one to stopping bleeding, mending broken bones, and being able to cancel things like nausea. Oh, and I guess maybe the ability to control your adrenaline more precisely, giving you a sorta Rock Lee's Eight Gates thing (quite probably with similar attendant dangers). I don't get people whose biokinetics can turn their fingernails into claws or even transform wholesale into animals. I got no problem you wanna set a fantasy story in a spacefaring civilization, but kindly know the difference.

  • Clairsentience
    For some weird reason people put limits of distance on this one, but guys, it's thoughts. As Aquinas said, you can think of France and then think of Syria without ever having to think of Italy. The limit should be familiarity; a person should only be able to remote view somewhere they either know well, or can see. In my book, they use a satellite video. Then their clairsentient moves her viewpoint to another spot she can see from the first one, and so on—line-of-sight is what they use, in unfamiliar places. Being clairvoyant just makes line-of-sight highly versatile.

    I also have it be impossible to remote view a space-fold's spacetime distortion. Because you can only remote view regions whose geometry your brain can cope with.

  • Precognition
    This is the one the idiots always say "well why aren't people using it to make money?" Well, because realistically, this thing would be pretty weak. The future, after all, doesn't exist, except potentially.

    Basically the limits of precog in my book are premonitions, only moments before a dangerous event, and the ability to sense what others have formed the intention to do. However, they don't know whose intention, and they're usually sketchy about the precise time-frame and location, so no "Pre-Crime" type thing. Minority Report's still a great movie, though, check it out if you haven't seen it—be warned, part of it is incredibly gross.

  • Psychometry
    Really this ought to be the psychic ability to do well on IQ and other aptitude tests, but it's used for the people who can get psychic impressions from objects or areas by touching them. I just had a brilliant idea that lets me "De-chickify" one of my characters, and make another thing make more sense. Note to self!

    Anyway. That's pretty much it with this power, but my felinoids' psi-user school, when it adopted their monotheistic religion, had to put the most restrictions on the use of this power, since a bunch of the older uses of psychometry involved their cultures' version of black magic—like using the resentment lingering in a murder site to strengthen one's attacks, that kind of thing. In my book I have an amusing discussion between one of them and a layman, about how that practice ("necromancy", basically) was banned, and the psi-user's very specific that it's not ghosts, but then he pauses and says, basically, "Well, come to think of it, is the lingering resentment at a murder site not a ghost?" Because, think about it, if you're gonna say that, don't you need to be sure you know what a ghost is?

  • Telekinesis
    This is the rarest power, because, let's face it, it's a game breaker. Since the limit of psi isn't physical, but mental, you basically get guys tossing skyscrapers at each other if you're not careful. Though, still, the more mass something has, the more mentally exhausting it could be to move it. The evangelical Heideggerian aliens move all their ships this way, but they need equipment (which is not mechanical) to do it.

    By the bye, though telekinetics can make shields of spinning rubbish around themselves, etc., they can't stop bullets—you've got to be able to perceive the thing you're telekinetically effecting, and you simply don't see a bullet, sorry.

    I have a pyrokinetic, later, but I still need to figure out the limits of the powers.

  • Telepathy
    This is the best one, hands down. With it, not only can you see what a clairsentient sees and sense what a precog or psychometer senses, but you can also "nudge" a telekinetic or biokinetic's power to go how you want.

    But, still, limits. In my thing, a telepath can only affect someone he knows or can see, or someone who can see him. Basically becoming aware of a telepath is like shooting off a flare to him. They can also contact other telepaths, and other psi-users can send thoughts to telepaths with their psi power.

    They're also not able to contravene free will; they can send powerful gut-level responses like "Sleep" or "Fear Me", but in order to really manipulate people's actions they have to manipulate their perceptions. That is, they can't make you drop your gun, but they can make you think it's empty and you need to swap magazines (then make you forget to put in a new one, once you drop the first one); they can't make you shoot yourself, but they can make you not notice which way your gun's pointing.

    Like clairsentience, telepathy's not limited by distance—not even interstellar ones. Again, since you can think of α Circinus without ever thinking of α Centauri, your thoughts don't have to actually cross the distance in between. There is a limit, though: if the target is far enough away that time is moving at a markedly different speed, you can't contact them (and contacting people on fast-moving ships feels weird).
As to blocking psi, the main method in my books involves other psi—just the presence of a big psi power being used will make it hard for telepaths or clairsentients to observe the place, and a telepath can keep others from using their powers in various ways. The other way is to use similar equipment to what the Heideggerian aliens use to boost their powers, equipment which is not mechanical. Meaning what? Read and find out, O king.


Uncorrelated, Not Uncaused IV

With mention of a movie where an AI sings about a bike that's tandem, here's another post of thoughts at random!

The rest of it doesn't rhyme, though, sorry.
  • It does my black heart good to discover, the Discovery One from 2001: A Space Odyssey couldn't have rotational gravity. Why? Well, its command module (the spherical bit at the end) is only 16.5 meters diameter, which would require 10.41 rpm if you wanted 1 g, or a tangential velocity of 8.99 m/s. Ouch.

    Which, I realize, means it's just as well I have actual-gravity (space-time distortion) artificial gravity, in my book, since my felinoids' ships aren't all that much bigger than the Discovery and they'd have to use roughly the same system. Also their home planet's gravity is slightly greater. I wonder, would a cat-like righting instinct like spin grav? I bet not.

  • I shan't be reading Christian Toto again: he gave a ridiculously, and unjustifiably, bad review to Green Lantern. Look, you Edward Norton lookalike, I know you'd prefer everything look like the made-for-TV Hitchhiker's Guide miniseries, but the rest of us are willing to put up with CGI if it means the aliens don't look like shit. Also, they kept the exposition to manageable levels; I could've stood a lot more lucubrations on the Emotional Spectrum, the Book of Oa, Blackest Night...if you don't realize how much they were reining themselves in, you get to shut your speak-hole.

    I woulda gone with the Manhunters for this one, though, rather than Parallax. Or maybe the Weaponers of Qward, mostly because I enjoy saying Weaponers of Qward.

  • So I checked Alternity and GURPS, and I know from memory that Spelljammer is the same story. Why, specifically, do RPGs base the turning ability of spaceships on some "maneuverability class" stat, when it's actually just a function of acceleration? I mean, I suppose it's complicated (basically it's a bit like calculating purely ballistic trajectory, with the acceleration in the new direction standing in for gravity), but no attempt to streamline that for playability? Really guys?

    Maybe I need to check out the purely tactical miniatures-battle spaceship games. I hope they let you see some basic overview of their rules for free, I don't wanna have to buy the whole set just to check for one rule.

  • My brother got the 3DS port of Ocarina, and it's awesome. Except you have to sorta keep your eyes tense while you play with it—it's like a more intuitive Magic Eye thing.

    My brother's right, though, about the improved graphics, though he overreacted. He said he wanted to kill some idiot who said it'd only gotten a slight overhaul. Plainly, I said, that's excessive. It would be sufficient to pluck the culprit's eyes out, crying out gleefully, "I'll be taking these, since obviously you aren't using them!"


  • Does anyone else hate it when people self-identify as alpha males? One of those men's rights weenies was doing it, and, come on. We all know the men's right's movement is composed, to a man (if I may use the term loosely) of sampi males. And that's an obsolete letter, only retained when they use the alphabet as numerals (it means "900"). In other words, if "alpha males" are first, the men's rights guys are 27th. And there are only 24 spots.

    Also, some of the people who were defending Rep. Weiner made the "everybody does it" defense that usually looks like either a confession or an emotional scar, by saying politicians do things like that because "they're alpha males far from home". The two obvious objections are that Weiner, male-wise, is somewhere between omicron and phi, and that this behavior—expectation of a harem as a natural right—is more typical of a silverback than an alpha male (though there are systems that class silverbacks as alpha males, the term in common parlance refers to pack hunters).

    My other thought is, "Know what I do to alpha males far from home? I short out their shield with a plasma-pistol overcharge, shoot their helmet off, and give 'em an automag round in the face. Then I use their gravity hammer to kill their friends." I expect political officials to have somewhat humbler attitude than Brute Chieftains, I was not aware that was a controversial position.

  • Oddly, though, now that Weiner's resigned, a bunch of people were saying "oh no, the taxpayers are paying his pension". Yeah, well, don't they kinda have to? However scandalous he was off the clock, on the clock he pretty much did the job for which his services were retained by the people of his state. I don't think, objectively, his state or the nation actually benefited from his work, but the way this whole "representative government" thing works is, you only elect him if you want him to do what he tells you he's gonna. It's not like he ran as a states' rights tax-cutting strict constructionist; they knew what his positions were. And he seems to have worked pretty damn hard to enact the policies his constituents tacitly endorsed when they elected him. The man earned his pension.

    Also, his misbehavior was a lot milder than Clinton, even if you discount the Juanita Broaddrick allegations, but nobody complained about Clinton getting all the perks of an ex-President.

  • Finally, so it's really really cool how the guy who murdered Barnaby "Bunny" Brooks' parents, in Tiger & Bunny, is a metahuman separatist who despises superheroes for doing the bidding of "lesser beings". Plus he likes to blow up buildings.

    Dude, you saw this coming.
    Who is John Galt?

  • Late Addendum:Turns out I was wrong; I just wasn't lookin' in the right place. Alternity ships do turn based on their acceleration...but only if you're using the PL 6 ("Fusion Age") rules. You know, the more realistic rules.


Moths, Not Butterflies

...which is a reference to Peacemaker Kurogane. Anyway, the Ane-ue put up a post about SEALs, and that got me thinking about special forces. And as always I prefer the Marines; I don't think I mentioned it but, along with basing my SF story's Peacekeepers on the Sovietskaya Armiya (or maybe the Rénmín Jiěfàngjun), I based the felinoids' org chart on the USMC. Which might explain why they won the war—their whole military is Marines.

Anyway, there are some interesting aspects of my felinoids' culture as it relates to special ops. See, as mentioned previously, they have no taboo on stealth, being ambush predators, but they have a huge taboo on deception, and betrayal, being rational beings whose society has to function. What that means is that their police have more surveillance than ours, but no undercover work. Their military uses no false-flag ops, though they still have some disinformation (no rational being would survive long if it forbade feints, in war); likewise, intelligence is mostly gathered by reconnaissance—their operators are all called "scouts"; "spy" is a pejorative in their language, meaning more like "traitorous mole-rat who sells information on his associates to the highest bidder". By courtesy, they call our spies "scouts", though the fact we do allow false flags and undercover work doesn't help their opinion of us any.

Their scouts, like Marine Force Recon, have two classes of mission. Marines call them "green" and "black" ops, i.e. "stealthy reconnaissance where engagement is avoided" and "direct action where engagement is sought" (did you know "black ops" had such a specific meaning?). My felinoids call them "blood" and "bone" missions, the analogy being "light surface contact that'll at most break the skin" vs "serious fighting that penetrates to, or simply smashes, bones".

Blood missions (green operations) include, as in Force Recon, general pre- and post-landing reconnaissance, as well as more specifically battle damage assessments, placing sensors and beacons, and preparing landing- and drop-zones. Bone missions (black operations) include seizure of fuel platforms and similar resources; boarding, search and seizure during interdictions; orchestrating close air support and acting as forward observers for artillery; ordnance and payload delivery (setting bombs, in other words); and bodyguarding and hostage rescue. Most of those, in a 24th-century setting, are still planet-bound—a lot of those functions are performed by shipborne sensors or unmanned probes in space, though you'd probably be sending in specially-trained guys if you're boarding ships or stations instead of just blowing them.

Incidentally the humans' military special forces—the Peacekeeper Special Purpose Forces—are mainly used for black-ops, especially sabotage and assassinations, though they also do some intelligence gathering. Look at the special forces of the Soviet Army or PLA, basically. The PK SPFs have the most people conversant in the felinoids' languages of the whole Peacekeepers, as well as the most people with prosthetic enhancements. I think they use powered armor less, though, since high mobility is key for special ops, and human powered armor somewhat sacrifices speed for power.


De Romanicorum Physicalium IV

Thoughts sur le SF. Bit of equipment, bit of exobiology, bit of stuff that falls out of trees. Please to enjoy.
  • My nitpick about the carrying capacity of the SR-71 led me to an interesting idea. So I looked at its specifications. Assuming its "loaded" weight to be just with fuel (I imagine that'd be the major factor), its mass ratio would be 152/67.5, or 2.25. Now, a magnetic confinement fusion rocket (according to Project Rho) has a minimum mass of 600 kg, while the Blackbird's engines each weigh 2700 kg.

    This means that, with the same size engine, and the same fuel mass (given the much lower density of fusion rocket propellant, I'd expect a much higher tank volume), you could move a vessel with the same mass as a Blackbird to 1% lightspeed, at which speed you can do 1 AU in 13h50m. Unfortunately you get up to that speed at 1/3 g—5400 kg worth of MC fusion rocket gives 450 kN thrust, and a fully-fueled Blackbird masses 152 Mg.

  • I was reading this book about xeno/exo/astro/etceterobiology, and I realized, a lot of these guys come at it from the wrong angle. So you think my aliens shouldn't breathe oxygen? Yeah fine, but then why would they be fighting humans? So you think they shouldn't use visible light? Again, if they come from a climate range close enough to earth for them and us to fight, odds are good visible is the most efficient part of the spectrum, that's why all the animals on earth that use something else use it as a backup, though I'll concede lots of aliens might also see UV, which birds, reptiles, and some bugs see, just like you can see red (which is freakish of you, by the way, I don't know if you know that). If they see in visible light, their eyes will be as much like yours as an octopus's are—except even more so, because odds are good they'd be a land animal and octopus's vision (which is sketchy even in water) goes right to hell in air.

    Which brings us to body shape: they're not, I apologize for breaking it to you, likely to have an octopus-like shape or texture. You can get away with lacking a skeleton underwater, but have you noticed nothing up here bigger than a banana slug doesn't have one? Ditto exoskeletons: they're inefficient above the size of very big bugs. So, hard endoskeletons. It's not a coincidence that land vertebrates are tetrapod, either; there may've been six-finned lobe-fin fishes but most fish are two finned. Evolution abhors extra complexity that doesn't have a payoff, and extra limbs don't have enough extra payoff. Unless some planet's six-finners have some other huge advantage, they're going to lose out to the four-finners who don't have to worry about literally having two left feet. Eyes for light, ears for vibrations, something for particulates and chemicals: all those organs will be as close to the brain as possible, to shave reaction times. Mouth quite likely as close to the sensory organs and brain as it can be, in order to snap things up the second they're spotted.

    Thus, an alien who's any use for an SF story is likely to have a hard endoskeleton; four limbs and a head; eyes, nose, mouth, and ears. Considering these are aliens humans encounter (i.e. they need their own spaceships), and the role toolmaking played in our own development, they're likely to need limbs free to manipulate things, so they're probably going to be bipeds. Now, within each of those categories there's huge possibility of variation—they may not necessarily use their front limbs to manipulate, though again proximity to the brain might be a factor—but you are not allowed to complain about aliens in an SF story, if they interact with humans in any way, being somewhat humanlike. Especially not if they're fighting with them: "It is the moment when men realize they are brothers," as Chesterton said, "that they immediately begin to fight."

  • Speaking of that Chesterton quote, I want to do a Twilight Zone-type story where someone invents a machine (maybe a gene therapy that modifies pheromones or something) to make people regard everyone else as brothers. And then, when they're shocked that people fight just as much as before (though perhaps less viciously), a friend of theirs says, "You were an only child, weren't you?"

    Well, that, and mankind would go extinct, because all sex would feel like incest, and we've proved—suck on that, Freud—that you're actually programmed not to be attracted to people you regard as kin. It's called the Westermarck effect.

  • I guess (based on a recent viewing of Terminator 2) that Skynet actually wiped out mankind because it was scared when they tried to shut it off. But seriously, wiping out an entire species is severe overkill, especially for an AI—if it doesn't have feelings it wouldn't have an impetus to overreact like that. Let's ignore the questions of how it just became sapient, and of who the Hell, Michigan was dumb enough to put it in charge of defense. Oh, well, unless it was people who were interested in cutting the defense budget: quick, Mr. Cameron, which party favors that again? You can't even write a good preachy anti-war movie, dipshit. Apparently we should've realized that long before Avatar.

    Speaking of, dude, what Scientologist wrote the scenes at that mental hospital? And what's with all the stupid "it's in your nature to destroy yourselves" nonsense? It's in our nature to destroy anything that looks at us sideways, I'll give you, but we're actually pretty good at saving our own miserable hides. You know how the Cold War didn't heat up? Yeah, that's 'cause at least a healthy plurality of us know how to avoid destroying themselves. Ditto Sarah's speech about how men don't know what it's like to create life, "feel it growing inside them", etc.: I'm guessing you brought Joss Whedon in to write that "womb-envy causes wars" bullshit? While womb-envy is definitely more plausible than penis-envy, "the guy who was best at making hunting gear was the best provider and thus had the most children, possibly with the most wives" is even more plausible, as an explanation for why male humans make shit, weapon or otherwise.

  • Which reminds me, remember in Sarah Connor Chronicles how John Henry was saying it's inefficient that humans don't have more ball and socket joints? Actually, that is not merely untrue, it is the opposite of the truth. Our system—one muscle on each side of each joint, to pull in only one direction—is more efficient, both in the simplicity of the muscle layout and in the arrangement of the nerves to control them.

    What's very funny is, know what really brought that to our attention? Robotics research. They started out saying "Screw the muscles in your arm, monkey, we're gonna have one actuator do both jobs." But that's much harder, more complicated, and often both less exact and more fragile. Switch to "one muscle for each direction", and...ah, poetry, like a haiku in its elegance and simplicity.


Uncorrelated, Not Uncaused III

Wow, I forgot to mention it, but the last one was my 250th post. Quarter thousand!

Anyway, random thoughts.
  • Went to see X-Men First Class. Am I the only one who wants to know where Xavier and Erik got M4 carbines in 1962, during that scene where they raid the Russians, considering the M16 hadn't even been adopted yet? And were those genes Xavier refers to named like that yet? Apparently the full nomenclature guidelines weren't published till the late 70s.

    Plus, an SR-71 is basically all fuel tank, it has no room for anyone other than the pilot and bombardier ("Fire control officer"). Finally, all those scenes where Shaw's standing in the same room as the reactor, with those four blue-glowing rods? Yeah well maybe, with his power, he can survive the Cherenkov radiation, but it totally would've killed White Queen.

    My dad wants you to know that Magneto's attempt to lift the sub while standing on the Blackbird would've just resulted in the Blackbird being pulled into the sub.

    Other than those nitpicks, it was a thoroughly solid production—though I would've put real Angel, Warren Worthington III, in. They could've just made him an heiress instead, if they'd wanted a chick.

  • I decided my felinoids' sewers are actually, apart from storm drains, pneumatic. I remember being intrigued aeons ago, when I first read the Egyptian Book of the Dead, by the fact "polluting water" was a taboo for them (you have to list the taboos you've kept, remember?). My felinoids similarly developed their civilization in a desert-ish locale, so for most of their history, I guess they'd probably have used latrine holes and cesspits. Then when they had their shift to urbanization, I guess they'd put in pneumatic sewers, taking waste to septic tanks, which they'd probably keep separate from their drinking water.

    Incidentally, apparently garbage is collected pneumatically in many European cities. Usually the "oh-so-civilized Europeans" thing is bunk, but here I must tip my hat. Gentlemen, well done.

  • Similarly, they have a taboo on domesticating prey animals, except for "fish" and, as I mentioned before, bugs. This has two interesting effects: first off, their farmers are actually people who run bug- and fish-farms, apart from orchards and some other small scale agriculture (they do still eat a few vegetables, check the ingredients in cat food some time).

    Second, they skip the herdsman stage of cultural development. That's the path the New World generally took, from hunter-gatherer right to farmer with no herder in between. It's debatable whether certain institutions of Indo-European life would've arisen without the cattle raids, but perhaps raiding one's neighbors' hunting-territory (professional hunters still being important after the switch to agriculture), can have the same function. It's the cattle raids, after all, that solidified certain Indo-European concepts of battle-honor.

  • The utter howling nonsense in Ann Coulter's new book, whenever it mentions the French Revolution, has revealed something interesting to me. Namely, the Mob (as in the masses, not the Mafia) is to the right what the Man (who's keeping us down, man) is to the left. Namely, it is a mythological figure whose vagaries and cruelties must be inveighed against—and certainly not a valid description of any reality, anywhere, anytime.

    Still, she's dead on about how Libertarians are crazy people.

  • I commented on this over on the Ane-ue's blog, since she's talking about eReaders and their e-ink (gee, how retro, everything having an "e" in front of it—very 1998). But she was talking about how e-ink is intrinsically opaque, so doing the color kind is a technical challenge. And I said perhaps they could lay the different inks (cyan, magenta, yellow, you know the drill) next to each other, and then combine them optically, perhaps with a prism? I think some sort of tiny prism is involved in the 3DS's method of tricking your eyes into thinking parallax is happening.

    And I, inspired to geek out by her geeking out (it's dangerous to get our kind together), was saying how magenta does not actually exist, but is an optical overlay of purple and red. And I realized, as I was writing it, what the problem is: we usually think of magenta as a color between red and purple, but those colors are actually on opposite ends of the spectrum, and what's "between" them is actually orange, yellow, green, and blue. So to get magenta, what actually happens is an object reflects both red and purple, and the two wavelengths partially interfere with each other, which our eye interprets as that other color.

    Hey guys who are working on color e-ink, feel free to use my idea if you think it'd work. And if you actually do get the idea from me, it'd be cool to get a shout-out or something.

  • Hey, talk of e-ink and ereaders reminds me, in my book, all the civilizations are paperless—their computer storage is secure enough that it's not a problem. They probably just write all the files to some non-volatile medium periodically, and call that a "hard copy".

    Ah, but, and here's where I'm quite proud of myself, it'd be silly to call it "paperwork" if it isn't. No indeed: now they call it "formwork". Which currently refers to concrete pouring, sensibly enough. They still do call it "signing in", even though it usually involves various types of biometric ID, but "ID in" sounds clunky and stupid.

    Hmm, actually, it doesn't sound that bad. Lemme think about this here thing a little.


Dudes, Nuts, They're Robots

My whole damn family have been getting into Sarah Connor Chronicles, and, well, I must confess I occasionally watch a bit of it meself. Why does Sarah's narration always sound like a bad pastiche of Rod Serling? And why would you waste time with her "ontological mystery" episodes, since they distract from the main story? I'll even admit that Summer Glau grows on you when she's not forced to speak dialogue that was written by Whedon—I'm a sucker for an assassin droid with her cute little voice.

Whedon is not, however, un-implicated: the network killed Sarah Connor, after all, in order to give him a shot with Dollhouse. Which was a Whedon show that wasn't funny. I ask you, what is the bloody point? No wonder it got canceled.

Anyway, I was thinking about some of the premises of the Terminator franchise, and just, man, how lame is it? Like, what is Skynet's deal? I could see it trying to take over, a Zeroth Law Rebellion and so forth, but why is it wiping out humanity? I recall something to the effect that it's programmed to seek peace or end wars or something stupid, and so that's why it wipes out mankind, but seriously, who would program that? Who would give a program like that access to tactical nukes, let alone the strategic arsenals? It all smacks of PlotInducedStupidity, because "The Author Is Making A Point".

And then there's the T-1000s: originally they were said to be "living metal", whatever the hell that's supposed to mean, but then it was ret-conned that they were a nanorobot swarm (probably because someone pointed out "living metal" would have the computing power of, well, an ingot). Only, then, what about the vitalism? If we can send back nanorobot swarms, why not machine guns? Again, a mass limit would've made more sense—maybe you can send back a few small arms, but no tanks. Also, how does a nanorobot swarm form blades? Maybe they all align their corners to make a cutting edge, but I really doubt they could get enough density to go through bone or anything.

I do like how the time travel involves that spherical plasma shell: presumably the time machine patches together stress-energy tensor metrics on opposite sides of it, in order to prevent the time traveler being turned inside out by reversing direction in the fourth dimension (also, according to the Feynman-Stuckelberg interpreation of quantum physics, normal matter going backward in time is identical with antimatter, so that would be unpleasant, too). Nah, I'm kidding: nobody involved in Terminator has ever heard of the Feynman-Stuckelberg interpretation, let alone stress-energy tensor metrics. Hell, they've never even heard of Lucas-Penrose.

I, by the way, consider not addressing the Lucas-Penrose argument a grievous oversight by a franchise that deals with AI. It wouldn't have been too hard—it's entirely possible that Skynet, for all its smarts and apparent willfulness, is just a "weak" AI solution (which aren't ruled out by Lucas-Penrose). But it and its Terminators are frequently implied to be "strong" AI, and I'd like an explanation of why that's supposed to be possible. I don't like handwaving in SF, unless it's in the direction of real theories, and "just pretend Lucas-Penrose never existed" is not even a handwave. It may be popular with the mainstream AI field ("yeah, uh, these guys have determined that what we've been trying to develop is logically impossible" isn't really a grant-money magnet), but don't filmmakers claim to be critical of "Big Science"?

Finally, all this stuff about whether the machines, especially Cameron (and the previous Doraemonators, as I like to call them), have feelings? Yeah, well, it's not really relevant. It wouldn't surprise me at all if you could completely make an AI with feelings, exactly like yours—since a cat or dog has feelings exactly like yours. What makes humans human is not their feelings, but some combination of their free will and their reason—which is not just ability to use logic, but to understand, which, hey guess what, is the thing ruled out by Lucas-Penrose. But, RE: feelings, feelings are a program. Love (as a feeling, not "caritas")? Seek out and aid mates, offspring, and allied conspecifics. Fear? Avoid danger. Anger? Destroy threats and rivals. As an AI says in one of my SF stories, "Just because they're not written in ISO 13211 doesn't mean they aren't programming."

And that is what separates humans from animals, and also, presumably, from "weak" AIs ("strong" AIs being impossible without some kind of cheating)—we can question that programming. They didn't, for instance, use females as war elephants, because a cow elephant will always submit to a bull. Nobody but gun control fanatics will claim women can't fight because they'll always submit to a man: the feeling might be there (primate dominance is very similar to that of elephants) but the woman's reason and willpower kick in and blam, Colonel Colt makes them equal.


That's Amore

The meaning of "sarang", that is.

Watched Moon yesterday. Overall a good movie, though the premise is stupid—if you're that concerned to save money, and you can build AIs (as they plainly can), why bother sending people up at all?—but that last line, the radio voiceover that says "He's either a wacko or an illegal immigrant, and either way he should be locked up. Line 2!"

Dude, seriously, what are you, Dr. Strangelove? Your movie was already left-wing enough with its utterly improbable corporate villainy, you didn't need to add "And talk radio is in on it!" Really, though, no corporation would do this: even a marginally competent cost-benefit analysis would reveal that purely robotic mining is an assload cheaper than mass cloning, especially since they can already afford to send weak AI-solutions up. Therefore the only reason they would've gone with this, is to try and be just as evil as they damn well can. Corporations only do the evil thing when it's cheaper.


Thank You for that Opinion, Who the Hell Are You Again?

So this site Gigwise has a list of the 15 greatest scifi movies of all time up—I'd link you, but the ads on that page are satanically annoying, so just Google it. Anyway, the rundown:
  1. Inception
  2. The Empire Strikes Back
  3. Terminator 2:Judgment Day
  4. Alien
  5. Back to the Future
  6. Metropolis
  7. 2001: A Space Odyssey
  8. Blade Runner
  9. Star Trek (2009)
  10. Planet of the Apes
  11. Moon
  12. E.T.
  13. Avatar
  14. Wall-E
  15. District 9
Notice anything? Yeah, other than ridiculously recent stuff, it's just the stuff that's best known. Well, that, and Inception is basically not sci-fi, even in the relaxed movie definition thereof.

Especially egregious is Star Trek: the '09 reboot isn't as good as Wrath of Khan or Journey Home, sorry. Likewise, Aliens is better than Alien (neither is any good, of course), and I personally think the first Terminator is the best of the only two that exist, because there certainly weren't any others made after that. Granting for the moment that ridiculous vitalism doesn't forbid it being classed as scifi (why not just say "there was a mass limit, and the Terminators are Skynet's most dangerous weapon that fit"?).

Was pleasantly surprised Serenity wasn't on the list, but what about Enemy Mine? Total Recall? Last Starfighter? Predator? Gattaca? Minority Report? At least one version of Dune? I can think of plenty of good scifi flicks, cricket-porn and otherwise, that the people who wrote that list probably never heard of. It may be that they're making a distinction between "great" and "good", since they themselves said Avatar is bad but still great, but the things on the list contradict that explanation: Aliens is the flagship of that series, not Alien, and District 9, the '09 Trek, and arguably Inception, are blips.

I think it's just "great=notable/influential", and the reason I think that, is Metropolis is on the list. Metropolis is not a great movie, but it is a famous movie, and it's always listed as an influence, even by people who can't make much of a case for themselves (Blade Runner, on the above list, definitely can—and it also deserves to be on that list).

I suppose it's like if I were gonna list "15 greatest NASCAR drivers"—actually, that'd be "greatest NASCAR driver", because the only one I can name is Dale Earnhart, alav haShalom. But you see what I'm getting at.

Uncorrelated, Not Uncaused II

Random thoughts.
  • In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, vampires don't have souls. Now, I could see if they were simply reanimated by demons (which would presumably have access to the memories in the physical brains, to pass for their old selves), but they appear to actually retain their old identity, since that lets them angst.

    Joss, Joss, Joss. Get out the crayons and construction paper, I need you to try to explain what you think the word "soul" means. 'Cause, body-self dualism is bad enough: but soul-self dualism is just...it's just awful.

    God what a hack.

  • Did you know Cortana's voice actress does the voice of Princess Peach in English? Yeah. Which, uh...remember that part in Halo 3, when you think you've rescued her, but then it's just a recording? Ahem: "Thank you Mario! But our princess is in another castle!"

    Also: Halo 4 trailer at E3! Wooo! Combat Evolved re-release with the Reach engine! Wooo! The Flood portrayed with Reach's graphics engine! Uh, I'm not so sure I like that idea.

  • I'm also not so sure about this Wii-You, or whatever it's called, thing. On the one hand, it's another gimmicky peripheral for the Wii (they are apparently adamant it's not a new console), and the Wii is built around a gimmicky peripheral. Yeah, there's some cool stuff in Metroid on the Wii—I could turn those switch-levers all damn day—but nevertheless you should not get tennis elbow from a video game.

    On the other hand, though, I do like each player having a second screen, wherein they can...do things. Most of the applications I can think of don't have much use in the kinds of games the Wii is most associated with, but if they broaden their horizons that wouldn't be so bad.

  • Speaking of, why don't people understand that the optimum control scheme for almost any machine is basically a 360 or DualShock controller? Two joysticks, each with four buttons at its top and two in its front: more than enough to control anything that moves. Now, in a real machine you'd probably put the six buttons on top of the controller, like some of those joysticks from the PC gaming days, but the principle is still the same.

    Also, it is really long past time that NASA noticed that the "rotational hand controller" and "translational hand controller", on vehicles like the Space Shuttle, are basically the two sticks on a 360 controller. They're even on the same sides of the body (which some FPS at some point may have copied, I remember Red Faction used a similar layout). Hey, UAWs are controlled with PS2 controllers, why not spaceships?

  • Which reminds me, science fiction isn't just making people's politics stupid by making global warming seem much more urgent, with the idea of terraforming. No, it also makes them stupid about UAWs and other unmanned drones.

    Example. I was in this one class, and, I forget why, but we were talking about how the military uses robots for a lot of things, like IED disposal (IED-EOD?). And this guy was saying that worried him, because "what if it starts attacking people?" A legitimate concern, but not borne out by the facts: I explained that they're "robots" only in the sense they aren't manned, but are remote controlled, not autonomous AIs.

    But science fiction, for all the love I bear it, must take the blame: it's us, mes frères, who put the idea of rogue robot rampages into this gentleman's head. Now admittedly the journalists who don't do enough to acquaint the public with the military and its practices and equipment, are probably more to blame, but SF sure didn't help.

  • So I realized a good name for my political ideals: I'm a political nihilist. I don't mean I don't believe in politics, I just mean I dwell within a howling wilderness of skepticism regarding all political ideologies. And yes, your politics is an ideology, I don't care where it comes from.

    A peculiar effect of this political nihilism is that the right annoys me more than the left. Although the left quite vocally believes that its politics are simply civilization and common decency (a conceit shared by nearly all Westerners, especially the English-speaking ones, since roundabout the 15th century), the right just as vocally believes its politics are common sense and rationality. Which is bullshit, read Libertarian arguments about any cultural issue some time: a lot of emotivism, appeals to the camel's nose ("We allow alcohol, so why not crack?"), and other logical fallacies, in support of what is essentially an unreasoned tribal fetish, but actual reason is in short supply.

  • Finally, I'm changing my comments policy to require some sort of actual ID (OpenID, I guess it's called). I've been having some intensely annoying comments—borderline trolling, though I think the person responsible really is trying to communicate ideas, not just pick a fight. Unfortunately mixed in with those ideas is a lot of offensive and unfounded accusations, based on ill-informed journalistic stereotypes. I deal with enough of that other places without needing it on my own blog. So, anyone who wants to comment will have to log in for realsies.

    It's too bad, I liked my old comment policy. I shall here memorialize my old comment form message:
    Commenters are kindly requested to sign some kind of a name; anonymous comments will be deleted unless their brilliance is a radiation hazard.
    I just get a kick out of that last part.


De Romanicorum Physicalium 3

Thoughts upon SF.
  • So I forgot, but my ships doing 20-30 gs was one rewrite ago; now they do 8-11. Which I like, because that's much more reasonable vis-à-vis the structural integrity, but I'd still have to have people in tanks if they were gonna not have artificial-gravity based acceleration protection. After all, 9.5 gs (the average) is about twice what luge does. It's hard to set a scene on a giant luge.

  • My felinoids, I decided, perfume their clothes. Why? Because a lot of etiquette—it's a universal—involves concealing potentially offensive feelings from others, and if you've got a sense of smell like theirs, that's a problem. Plus, it can let love scenes have a peculiar nonhuman intimacy, a character putting her nose to her lover's fur and smelling his feelings.

    I admit, I didn't entirely come up with the idea on my own, though I'd been somewhat troubled by what role to have their sense of smell play in the story. I got this idea from Halo: adolescent Brutes' emotions are very easy for their elders to read. They learn to control those pheromones when they grow up. That last bit struck me as unlikely—can you sweat on command?—but it gave me an idea. And perfuming your clothes is not only much more plausible, it's a fun cultural-setting tidbit.

  • I came across people debating 'realistic space combat' on an old forum thread, and some of them were saying you wouldn't want a long skinny ship, because of maneuverability. But they were all forgetting that what propels a decent rocket is uncorked nuclear holocaust.

    In reality, a realistic rocket design is, essentially, a compromise between keeping the crew at a safe distance from the engine, and decent maneuverability. And mass will of course be a factor. Since one dimension is already determined, the only way to keep the volume (and therefore the mass) within a manageable limit, is to keep the other two dimensions as small as possible. Executive summary, "long skinny ship".

  • I realized, I have some kind of a grudge against science fiction tropes. Don't get me wrong, I use 'em—they represent concepts, images, ideas that I really like. But I don't use their names.

    I've got military parasite-spacecraft, but I never call 'em "fighters"—and the things that carry 'em are "motherships", not "carriers". I've already mentioned how I use the Asian-style non-branch-specific military ranks. I also mentioned, in passing, that I've got 3D computer displays: but I call them "volumetric displays" rather than holograms. Artificial limbs are called 'prosthetics', just like in real life, rather than "cybernetics"—cybernetics is restricted to computers (prosthetics do involve cybernetics, in the 24th century, of course). I'm torn as to whether to call people with prosthetics "cyborgs", and I'm leaning to the negative—consider how dicey a proposition it is to call people "paraplegics" or "albinos" now. Nanomachines are "nano-robots", since that's the most dignified of the names they're actually called ('nanoids'? I think not).

    I'm not sure why. I think a big part of it is, these tropes have become cliches, and a person who sees "cyborg" or "hologram" thinks of the cliche/trope, rather than the real concept. There are two problems there; the first is that the cliche is often, if not usually, inaccurate—compare the Wikipedia article on volumetric displays to sci-fi holograms.

    The second problem is a very peculiar thing, almost disgusting. Namely, SF, the very literature of wonderment, has made people jaded by these marvels. Now, the society in the book shouldn't find them any more wondrous than we find 1280x1024 flatscreen monitors or artificial legs you can play basketball with, but if some part of you, the reader, isn't saying "Gee whiz!" like a towheaded seventh grader from 1958, you ain't getting full value for your science-fiction dollar. Holograms, cyborg limbs, and nanomachine self-repair systems are not supposed to feel commonplace, and I figure changing the names might force the reader to think, at least a little, about what they are.

  • I'm curious, do people understand just how bad TV science fiction is nowadays? Leave the fact Firefly and Battlestar Galactica are uncredited reboots of Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman and The West Wing, respectively; have you ever watched Eureka or Sanctuary? I think I mentioned it before, but Eureka has sub-Jimmy Neutron technobabble—also no particularly likeable characters and enough over-ripe cliches to gag a buzzard.

    Or take Sanctuary (please). Cryptozoology is a lousy basis for a series, especially since it, like Star Trek and Stargate, is full of mystico-magical elements dressed up in sciencey-sounding nonsense. Plus, it doesn't even stick with cryptozoology half the time. There was an episode recently with a time dilation bubble where, get this, one day outside is something like six years inside. Only, the sunlight inside comes from outside. Yeah, let's not discuss how the people survive in multiple years of perpetual daylight followed by the same number of years of unrelenting night—they collect solar energy to keep the plants alive, but what about what the temperature must be? All that heat's gotta go somewhere, folks. But it gets worse: think about it for a moment, and you'll realize the bubble would appear completely black, or else as a massive optical distortion, from outside, and the only light inside would come from internal sources. Why? Because otherwise, it would violate the conservation of mass. The only way a time dilation bubble can cause one day's worth of sunlight to give daylight for three years, would be if it also caused each and every photon to be multiplied hundreds of times over.

    Plus, apparently these people don't own photos of Nikola Tesla.


A Tableau of Crimes and Misfortunes

That, of course, is Voltaire, on history. One questions whether he had any right to say it, since he knew absolutely none, but by an absolute coincidence he happened, by and large, to be right. This is important for the writing of future history: progress is one of the most persistent and irrational of man's superstitions—also the only superstition that originated in the Middle Ages (much like the 19th century, they had the excuse of living in an era of massive technological and scientific advances), but the superstition forbids people from acknowledging that.

Anyway, it's important, when writing future history, to decide which of the many future predictions you're going to go with. Try to find the most likely, but don't worry too much about it: the first chapter of The Napoleon of Notting Hill is an important principle to keep in mind, vis-à-vis humans and their perennial sport of "cheat the prophet".

For instance, in my setting, I go with 2140 as the date of widespread travel in the Solar System. I get that from James Strong, who, however, specifically said that would be remarkably early, and that it wouldn't happen till 2210—but they hadn't proved Bose-Einstein condensates nor invented the plasma window when he said it, so I'm going to cut humanity a little slack. I give 2194 as the date of the invention of the space-fold drive, chosen because it's 200 years after Alcubierre first proposed his warp drive idea (even though the space-fold is in many ways quite different). Prior to 2194 I have human colonies in exactly two other star systems, one at Alpha Centauri and one at Barnard's Star—you can reach them in a reasonable amount of time with slowboats, if said slowboats are Daedalus-derived ICF ships (.12c cruising speed); in honor of the concept that gets them there, both colonies (the Barnard's Star one is a station built of Solar-System parts, since that system is probably low on natural materials) are named after ICF ship proposals that targeted their respective stars. To whit, the one at Alpha Centauri is Longshot, while the one at Barnard's is Daedalus. I'm not sure what the ship that went to Barnard's is named, but I know what the original colony ship at Alpha Centauri was called: it's a Chinese ship named "Heaven-splitting crimson whorl", i.e. Tianyuántupò Gongliánluóyán.

Inventing space-fold kicks off, just like in every setting, a leap into colonization—once it's a matter of months rather than centuries, and in-system travel has already become relatively widespread, there's no reason not to. Colonization will, of course, follow the patterns established in history, people escaping persecution, people wanting to set up persecution, people escaping prosecution, etc. All the planets colonized during that era are named mythological things, and the cities usually follow suit, i.e. and e.g. there's a planet named Demeter, and its capital is Inari City, after the Japanese god of grain.

First contact with the felinoids comes in 2282, and with the evangelical Heideggerians a few years later. The war the humans start, then lose, is in the 2330s (I don't have my timeline on me to pin it down more than that), and my first book takes place in 2342. First contact between humans and the gift-economy dromaeosaurs comes in 2345; the felinoids had already known the other non-human species for centuries.

But what about the crimes and misfortunes? Well, via negativa, I'll tell you two things that won't happen, at least not in the next two millennia: massive global flooding and overpopulation die-off. Even if there is any such thing as anthropogenic climate change—which is looking more debatable every day—not only is it a phenomenon with a time-scale on the order of a myriad years, it may not actually involve warming at all. Anthropogenic or not, it's actually looking like an ice age might be in the offing. As for overpopulation, we're under-utilizing our arable land by a factor of, depending on who you ask, 8 to 40—and absent some catastrophe, that number only gets better. There's a reason the main diet hazard in the developed world—for poor people!—is obesity, not starvation; the only places experiencing famine have command economies and corrupt governments. Why do you think North Koreans are less nourished now than in the Joseon Kingdom, when they had no trucks and had to plant by hand? Communism, that's why.

Personally I find positing future religious persecution a safe bet, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy rubbing it in the faces of the smug secularists whose "thinking" dominates SF. Aside from the persecution of Christians I've mentioned (centered on the Commonwealth and led by PMs named after Philip Pullman and Margaret Atwood), I also posit a second Holocaust. I've never seen that in anything—one suspects wishful thinking on the part of SF writers, or possibly just the delusion of "progress"—but the way modern geo-politics are going, it's not unlikely. Given the UN is unofficially-officially anti-Zionist, it's only a matter of time before someone tries to strike at Israel, but Israel proper is no pushover. Much more likely that some country, or coalition of countries, will do something nasty to their portion of the Jewish Diaspora, to "make a gesture" at Israel.

That, of course, and also a massive genocide in Africa due to overpopulation fears, are just the excuse the UN needs to seize more control, becoming a world government, albeit merely over a confederation of its member states. That's good and bad; the UN bureaucracy might be a bunch of desk-jockeying ideologues, but the UN's new power cuts down on wars—I only have two more in my history, after that point—and the demise of the "imperialist" global capitalist boogieman (which only existed because "we don't like losing out to America in trade" doesn't sound as noble) calms down a lot of cultural issues. That is, society can transition to somewhat saner and more moderate attitudes about sex, economics, speech, etc., than our current "anything goes" Russian roulette, without sixteen different kinds of academic screeching about "fascism".

That's an important issue, by the way—don't assume that policies you don't approve of wouldn't have good effects. I'd literally take arms against a UN world-state, but I'd be really surprised—if it got down to the business of governing, and wasn't just a retirement home for bilingual bureaucrats, the way it is now—if it couldn't improve life in a number of areas. Every system is a tradeoff; you fight certain systems because you don't want their particular one. Even the ones you don't want, though, still offer something, and not noticing that is what makes so many sci-fi dystopias such crap.


Ramming Speed


No, I don't mean jet engines. I mean rockets: Bussard ramjets! They're less infeasible than previously thought.

So the two big problems with the design (other than having to get up to ridiculously high speeds to use 'em) are that the massive magnetic field will kill you, and that the field itself creates drag.

Only, when Bussard—and Larry Niven, who may well have been the main popularizer of the ramjet idea, and definitely is the reason we call 'em "ramscoops"—did their work, the Halbach array hadn't been invented yet. It strengthens magnetic force on one side, while virtually nullifying it on the other: that, I predict, will be important for not just ramjets, but also magnetic nozzles for all sorts of atomic rockets. Or magnetic pusher plates in the case of IC fusion rockets (which are basically Orion on steroids).

As for drag, apparently using electrostatic fields instead of electromagnetic ones means there is no drag. I'm not sure if such strong static will kill you (if it hits you all at once, e.g. lightning, it will, but I doubt even an interstellar scoop would be that strong), but there's probably a way to do with static what Halbach does with magnets. Magnetic and electric fields are neat that way.

Personally, I wouldn't use the ramjet for fusion—the original design called for, essentially, achieving fusion by shoving hydrogen into a funnel at relativistic speed. That's not only inelegant, it's unlikely to ever hit a break-even point. But you might be able to use the ramjet to achieve partial, or conceivably even full, in-flight refueling (okay, "propellant replenishment"), on ships that use more conventional methods to attain their fusion. What I mean is, with a ramjet refilling your tanks as you go, you could have, say, an effective mass-ratio of 16 or 20 despite only carrying enough tankage for a mass ratio of 5 to 9.

If you're not trying to get to a speed where gas fuses on its own, you also might not need to achieve quite as high of velocities before the ramjet works. The minimum is usually given as 1% c, but if you're not brute-force funnel-compressing it for fusion, like that, you might be able to do it at the top speed of the HOPE magnetized-target fusion rocket, which the delta-v calculator puts at .188% c, with a mass ratio of 5 (assuming you also want enough fuel to, y' know, stop).

PS. One thing that's interesting is, if you fiddle with the delta-v calculator, you quickly notice that changing the mass ratio results in tiny changes in delta-v—but changing the exhaust velocity results in huge ones. It's because (in the rocket equation), the number varies with the natural logarithm of the mass ratio, but directly with the exhaust velocity.

Δv = Ve× ln m0

I just found out how to do equations in html. Cool, huh?


Fusion Haa!

Wanna see something cool? This.People working on the chamber of the National Ignition Facility (N.B.I'd had a different image here, but the caption—from a stupid newspaper, I knew I should only trust academic sites—misled me to identify an artist's conception as an actual photo).

Here's a diagram of the facility; I think that blue spherical room above is the thing at one end surrounded by all the red pipes.The NIF should be like Jerusalem for science fiction writers, and not just because it's expected to be the fusion facility that gets reactions past the break-even point (i.e., that can be used for net power generation). Also, though, the energy and temperature its facilities cope with is on par with proton-chain fusion, which is the real deal. Know what other type of apparatus uses proton-chain? It's a product line called the main sequence.

Yeah. In my book, the humans use proton-chain rockets in their starships (their interplanetary ones use lesser types of fusion). Why? Well, basically, having to spend months or years getting up to speed was a drag (even in a virtually frictionless environment [rimshot]); I gave 'em gravity-based inertia protections that bleed the forces off into the surrounding space-time geometry, and let their ships pull 20-30 gs.

It's interesting, were I writing it for the first time today, I might actually have the humans go into g-tanks during accelerations, and use rotating sections the rest of the time; indeed the felinoids might likewise use rotating sections in their ships (conveniently, their ships are spheres and don't, technically, ever accelerate, since the stress-energy tensor metric-patching they use as an engine essentially puts whatever's inside its matter shell into freefall). But, there's a limit to how much I can rewrite—I have whole scenes taking place during accelerations, and screwing up the time-frame of a book is a headache on the order of trepanning with railroad spikes. Come to think of it, I bet a felinoid wouldn't like freefall; all their self-righting instincts would go crazy.

The humans in my book can have incredibly light fusion-powered ships, not (precisely) because of "the speed of plot", but because it's the 24th damn century and they have superconductors to make the magnetic nozzle and use things like Bose-Einstein condensates as radiation shielding. Transhumanist SF writers strike me as bizarre, given they think humans can upload their minds, and other aspects of the Pre-Tribulation Rapture Kurzweil Singularity, but don't understand that humanity may not be limited to the structural characteristics of naturally occurring substances. I mean, we first made carbon nanotubes in...hang on...1976, and B-E condensates in 1995: do you guys really think we've done all we can do with materials tech?

I refer you to the first two verses of "Kansas City" from Oklahoma.

Well, actually, that nonsense is just like the "atomic everything" in some of the lesser forms of sci-fi (and the cricket bow-chicka-wow-wow is deliberate): the Computer Revolution was just too damned impressive for their puny brains, and it robbed them of their reason. There's a real Cargo Cult element in both, in that they worship whatever marvels are near at hand, merely because of the emotional impact. Oddly it's combined with two forms of self-worship—the idea that humans will take total control even of their own bodies and minds, and the idea that the greatest power in the universe is a human thing, i.e. information. Now there's some basis for that second one, as found in all the traditions of mankind: but in the real tradition, man's speech is most powerful in that it grants dominion over nature. The Kurzweil Singularity is like the Rapture in more than just being apocalyptic millennialism—it also share's the Rapturers' (Raptors'?) idea of saying, to the rest of the world, "La la la I can't hear you I'm not listening." A transhuman (or tranny, as I like to call them) is a person who's given up hope in technology as the servant of humanity, and taken refuge (a false refuge, in Buddhist terms) in the old Gnostic cop-outs, immortality-seeking and inefficacious ascetic posturing.

N.B. #2: So I realized, I was wrong again. There was this graph, see, with the energy levels of various kinds of fusion, and there was a thing way up top marked "National Ignition Facility". But what it meant—and would have said, if the person making the graph were not a wrestling-headgear wearing retard—was "National Ignition Facility Lasers". The NIF proper is no more energetic than typical inertial-confinement fusion, which is fairly chilly, for fusion.

Shit shit shit. I probably over-estimated the temperature the NIF's designed to handle, although inertia confinement fusion is a lot more temperature intensive than magnetic confinement. See, even though inertia confinement works at a lower temperature, the plasma isn't nearly as contained—an inertia-confinement fusion rocket would apparently be a lot like a hydrogen-bomb Orion rocket, in terms of the stresses involved.

Everything else I said still stands, though.


De Individuationis

You know, I should've pointed out how counter-intuitive it is, the fallacies relating to the One and the Many. I mean, you'd think collectivism resulted from denying the One, and individualism from denying the Many, but actually, individualists deny the One, and it's collectivists who deny the Many. The ethics that they then deduce are rather ironic; do you, to quote Snatch, know what Nemesis is?

Notice how many philosophical materialists are of Libertarian bent—every shallow reductivist skeptic debunker from here to Mythbusters makes Robert Heinlein look like a Borg drone. Meanwhile all the collectivists see is categories, like a bad bootleg of Plato. Actually because of one, namely Marx.

Incidentally, aside from her hatred of materialism being inconsistent with her fundamentally atomist anthropology, Ayn Rand was a philosophy fail in another way. Namely, Aristotelianism cannot be strongly individualist, it cannot believe that each human has a unique nature: because the only individuation a material thing has is its trait (possessed by all material things) of quantity. It is only because matter only imperfectly partakes of form, and never to the same degree twice, that there is more than one of any material substance—on the level of nature, "soul", substance, all matter is unified; there are no humans, there is no human, only Humanity. Averroes (being smarter than Rand by orders of magnitude) asserted, rather famously, that humans all share one intellect; Maimonides didn't go that far, but did essentially assert that humans revert to drops in the bucket of Humanity at death. No, only Aquinas—compelled by Christian dogma—asserted the actuality of individual existence, and he had to claim it was a miracle.

Now it's funny how, to us, "it's a miracle" looks like a copout. But Aquinas was actually demonstrating why the Scholastic system he founded would eventually found science: because he would not deny an observed phenomenon, human individuality, merely for the sake of fitting a system, hylomorphism. It's the same as when Jean Buridan dismissed Aristotelian cosmic geocentrism (Aristotle taught that the earth was the only "world", all the other bodies being made of a different, celestial substance) by simply saying, "God can make as many worlds as he likes."

Pure Wind Marching in a Movement Wholly Circular

So Bill Nye the Science Guy has forfeited his right to the title, by saying this:
Well, there’s not that many other countries that have the configuration of North America to make tornadoes. And the word “hurricane,” you know, is a word coined in the Caribbean, like, so this is a unique, unique area in that regard.
You're right—because other places call their hurricanes "typhoons"...which is spelled 颱風 and means "big wind".

As for other countries having tornadoes, while the US does have one of the widest flat spaces in the world, this map begs to differ with Nye:The orange bits are tornado regions. Notice that one of them is, well, Europe, inclusive?

And hey, as long as we're making linguistic arguments for our claim that hurricanes are unique to the Caribbean (but only because they're called typhoons in the Pacific), does Nye know Japanese has a word for tornado? Namely, "tatsumaki"? German, too, although—in typical German fashion—"Wirbelwind" is so "on the nose" you can't be sure it's not a neologism. Hungarian calls it a forgószél, and its Latin name, "turbó", is the origin of things like, y' know, turbines. But we can't expect Nye to have heard of those, it's not like they're a major feature of countless aspects of modern technology. Or anything. You know.


Uncorrelated, Not Uncaused

Boy the letter U looks neat in that font, huh? So, random thoughts.
  • Someone said "Objectivism is a kind of existentialism". Haha. No it isn't, and you owe an apology to Heidegger and Sartre—and remember, they were a Nazi and a Stalinist. But at least they knew "existence" is something different from "that which exists"; Rand said "Existence is identity", which is logically equivalent to identifying existence with that which exists. And that is logically equivalent to identifying the sky with the concept of blueness.

    Basically, she was to philosophy what Deepak Chopra is to quantum physics.
  • Which reminds me, they took the analogy part off the SAT. I took it a long time ago (got like 1400 something), but the analogies were my favorite part. And don't you twits understand that taking out the parts the kids score low on, isn't really helping anything?
  • So, read this avatar riffing. I'll wait.

    Back? Cool. Anyway, it's weird how in the comments the guy claims that Avatar doesn't show that people are getting dumber, and says he doesn't believe in the "lowest common denominator". But, dude, the lowest common denominator doesn't refer to some kinda anti-popular elitist thing; it just refers to going after the cheapest aspects of our common humanity. For instance, everyone struggles with their ethics and organizing their priorities, and everyone loves their children, etc. But everyone also likes hot chicks and shit blowing up. The former are rational or at least human; the latter we share with every other animal above sponges. It's a lot easier to go after the stuff that's older than your notochord.
  • Did you know birds can't taste bitter, and can only taste sweet if they're frugivores? Yeah, but water defines a flavor for them, the way "salty" is defined by salt or "sour" by acid. The fact birds can't taste bitter, by the way, is usually the reason bitter fruits, like cranberries, taste that way—if birds eat them and mammals don't, their seeds get scattered farther.

    Yeah, birds are weird—although all the same things are true of cats, except cats can taste bitter. Still not sweet, though, and they also have a water-taste.
  • Speaking of weird anatomy, I'd thought that frogs had a joint in the middle of a greatly elongated femur, and then had a shortened fibula and tibia in their "foot". Turns out, it's even weirder. They have a normal length femur, then their fibula and tibia are merged (their calf-bones have two cores), and they have two greatly elongated talus and calcaneus bones making a shape like your tibia and fibula. So when a frog walks with its "feet" partially up, and its "toes" on the ground (the way dogs or cats or hamsters do), it's not really walking digitigrade. Nope, it's walking plantigrade, but propped up on its freakishly elongated ankles.

    I decided to use a modified form of that for my felinoids, except the two long ankle bones cross over each other, like the bones in your forearm—they can rotate their feet, like margays and squirrels, but they use a different mechanism. They also still have 'feet', unlike frogs going right from their freakishly elongated ankles to their freakishly long 'toes'—their metatarsi and first phalanges make an arch shape, like in your foot but shorter, and then their other phalanges are shaped roughly like a cat's toes. They still have the same number of joints in their toes (3), because they have an extra row of phalanges—they have the same number of finger-joints as humans, despite having claws.
  • And yes, the pads on their hands and feet are different—indeed, not only are they a different shape from a cat's pads (in some ways, they're more like a possum's or koala's), their skin is also different, with its keratin in beta-sheets rather than alpha-helices—like a lizard or a bird. Similarly, they don't have triangular wet noses, like cats; their noses are more rectangular (still slightly narrower toward the bottom) and the skin has a waxy texture. The wetness's functionality (telling them which way the wind is blowing, for smelling) is duplicated by pits with bundles of nerves, like in a wading bird's bill.
  • Incidentally, what kind of keyboards do your aliens use? What, you mean you don't know? Huh. But you do have their alphabet figured out, right? Right?

    My dromaeosauroid gift-givers use roughly the Datahand ergonomic keyboard, modified for the fact they have 4 fingers and xygodactyl thumbs (like Elites). The felinoids usually use something similar to the Crandall typewriter from 1881:Except the keys are different, of course. Specifically, it has 51 (three rows of seventeen). Yes I figured out the layout, why?

    The felinoids also use the gloves on their armor as chorded keyboards, and yes, I figured out the key sequences for that, too.
  • Even I think it's excessive that I've come up with ways that the different nations my felinoids have of caricaturing each other's accents. What I mean is, for instance, their "empire's" official language renders the dentals (Th sounds) as fricatives, the way English does, but a related minority language renders them as stops, like the T and D in Spanish. So, if a speaker of the first language were trying to write dialogue with the second language's accent, he'd put glottal stops after the dentals.