Further Stuff that Falls out of Trees

Potpourri, oué?
  • You know those commercials for alternative energy, with the scrawny non-actor little girl in the saggy bikini frolicking unenthusiastically in water while lucubrating chirpily on hippie-approved energy sources? Without mentioning those sources' relative inefficiency, or that Kennedies and Streisands wouldn't let you build the facilities in advantageous spots anyway?

    I bet commercials for nuclear power (you know, the one that actually works?) would drum up a lot of support just by kicking a simulacrum of the twee little hippie-larva into a reactor core.

  • So I decided that the MC-fusion ships in my book go with the .48 gs acceleration, and use artificial gravity to make the ship more comfortable. The more powerful ships, which do around 10 gs (except for one that does 51), have more powerful and precise artificial gravity systems, for compensating for their big rockets' accelerations.

    I don't think the artificial gravity system can be used as an engine on its own, à la the Kzin gravity planer; I think it's restricted in where it can place the locus of the gravity. I've left it a bit vague—since if I knew how to do it I'd be patenting it, thank you—but I think it uses the Casimir effect.

  • So if you ever have a lit class, or something, where people do haikus, permit me to suggest this one, as a corrective of the vaguely naturalistic inconsequence of the typical haiku. Okay technically it's not a haiku, it's a senryu (much more interesting, by the bye), but do you think a lit teacher knows the difference?

    If it does not sing
    Go ahead and kill the bird
    (It is a cuckoo).
    Yeah, I just did the English version right now, so that's why it ain't so great.

    It is, of course, Oda Nobunaga the Devil King, whose motto, let's recall, was Tenka Fubu: [All] Under Heaven by Force of Arms.

  • I recently found Wikipedia's page on Soviet political jokes. And damn, those may be the funniest things I ever heard. Here's one:
    Stalin's giving a speech, when someone sneezes. "Who sneezed?" Stalin asks.

    Nobody answers; so Stalin has the first row stand up. "Take them to the firing squad!" he orders. "Who sneezed?"

    Nobody answers. Stalin has the second row stand up. "To the firing squad!"

    "Now, who sneezed?"

    Just as he's about to send the third row off to the firing squad, a man in the back raises his hand. "It was me," he says tearfully.

    "Bless you, comrade," Stalin says.
    Messed up, huh?

  • So everyone's all excited about the new Avatar (as in Aang) series, but, uh, why is it set in the Taisho era? I allow Taisho settings only on condition they involve psychic opera troupes (that are also troops). Okay, well I'm actually a little more lenient than that, but dude, apart from some of the fire-nation's tech, they jumped right from Emperor Chi-U of Baedalguk's Red Devil Army to the era of steam.

    Maybe I'm just really negative, but somehow I doubt lightning will strike twice.

  • Which reminds me, you know hihiirogane, in Japanese mythology, and yugi in Korean? And orichalcum, in the west? Well you know what I realized?

    Wait, lemme back up. Hihiirogane, orichalcum, and yugi are legendary, lost, red metals, said to be far stronger than the weapons of common men. Orichalcum is from Atlantis, by the bye. But anyway, there's all this speculation about what they are, and they're pretty much the go-to substitute for mithril in fantasy settings.

    Only dude, I think they're actually just bronze, and their magical qualities are the exaggerated memories of Stone Age peoples, encountering it for the first time. If that doesn't get hold of you by the nerdy bits—don't you just boil over with story ideas?!—I'm gonna have to take your card away.

  • Finally, and speaking of cards, don't you want someone in our current political scene to say "Dude, you've already tapped the race card this election cycle. You have to untap it and wait till the next one."


The word you least want to hear from your atomic rocket engineer.

I made a mistake, led astray by your civilization's insistence on using "metric tons", as if that was a real unit. It's not even a weight—it comes from "tun", as in the barrel! What's next, "metric hogsheads"—as units of weight, no less?!

Anyway, I goofed. The engines on a Skylon mass 19,659.2 kilograms, but I calculated it as if they massed that many tons. See, if you go by a mass of 19,659.2 kg—that is, 19.6592 tons—then the MC fusion engine has a thrust of (50 kN per .6 tons of engine=50kN*32.7653=) 1,638,265 N. Which is impressive, but can only propel a 345 ton ship at a measly 4.75 m/s2, or .48 gs.

I thought that number looked crazy high. Turns out, yeah, by a factor of 1000.

Before you ask, the reason the acceleration is only 1/2 g to the Blackbird-based rocket's 1/3 g, the Skylon-based rocket masses 345 tons, while the Blackbird one masses 152.

Back to the ol' drawing board, and quintuple check all my factors this time. Oj gewahlt.

Maybe I'll just bite the bullet an' use the good old Discovery One. Or Two.


The Great Integrity

Buckminster Fuller on tension.

So remember my "imagine mass as a volume suspended within a three-dimensional wire mesh" idea, RE: relativistic gravity? Yeah, so it occurred to me, that's why it's a "stress-energy tensor metric".

Imagine the fabric of space-time as a tarp, stretched taut across a surface. And then imagine that a massive object is a volume slipped between the tarp and the surface. If you slip a second object in between the tarp and the first object, the tension in the tarp will push the second into the first.

Basically, gravity is almost like the "force-normal"—it's born of the tension, the "elasticity", of space-time itself resisting deformation.

I really doubt this is actually a revelation—given the scientists themselves basically named it after that "tension"—but I hadn't really thought of it this way before.

PS. So I decided, speaking of tension, that my aliens' words for projectile weapons actually mean "thrower", "snapper", and "spitter". That is, projectiles propelled by leverage (like spears), by elasticity (like arrows), and by pressure (like bullets). It doesn't make itself felt in the English, since the word just translates as "guns", but since they use stress-energy tensor metrics to propel their bullets, I guess they're actually calling them slingshots.


Settle Down, Victory Women

First line of the Anglo-Saxon charm against bees.

Anyway, so my sister mentioned the phrase "bee's knees" in a comment, and, it got me to thinking. Like, maybe those 1920s "nonexistent=awesome" expressions, of which there were dozens (only "bee's knees" and "cat's pajamas" survive), might have been in continuity with the tradition where Mjolnir and the chains binding the Fenrir-wolf are made of things like "the sound of a cat's footsteps" and "the beard of a woman".

I know, weird idea. But not impossible. The other day I was noticing how my Dad, who's from Massachusetts, distinguishes the vowels in "marry", "Mary", and "merry"—they're the vowels in "man", "main", and "men", respectively. Notice anything? Yeah, "marry" and "merry" are short, and "Mary" is long—at least if we remember the Great Vowel Shift changing most of the long vowels to diphthongs. Not coincidentally, it's determined by double consonants. That is, my father, born the same year as the Today Show, follows a Germanic vowel-length rule that probably dates to when nouns ended in *-az. Given that, it's not unthinkable that 1920s slang could retain continuity with the Migration Era writers of the eddas.

And I realized, that's what bugs me about Michael Moorcock and his illiterate statement that Tolkien is "the prose of the nursery" (admittedly, all my examples that also use Tolkien's diction were, uh, poetry—I should've said Scott, Stevenson, and Dickens). Is it even legal to write fantasy, as Moorcock does, if you're so unacquainted with folklore as not to know the role nursery literature plays in preserving the ancient traditions of a people?

But no, apparently it never occurred to Moorcock that more than just legends ("fairy tales") had been consigned to the nursery—a whole tradition of poetic diction dating to the days of skalds and bards, also took refuge there. Why? Well, because it wasn't the diction of the Bible.

Meet the new Puritan, same as the old Puritan.


MC Fusion: It's Not Just a British Rapper Anymore

So I was thinking of using magnetic-confinement fusion rockets, for my book—the humans use them for in-system travel, saving the big beast inertial-confinement proton-chain rockets for their starships (which have to get to the edge of the system as fast as possible, thus they like the proton-chain rocket's ∆v of 15%c, or 7.5% for normal purposes). But MC fusion engines have such a low thrust! Remember my example of basing the mass ratio and engine mass on the Blackbird, how you'd get a ∆v of 1%c, but only at 1/3 g? Yeah, well, I tried it with the Reaction Engines LLC Skylon. It has a mass ratio of (345/53=)6.5, and with the MC-fusion's exhaust velocity, you get a ∆v of 5% c (again, 2.5% if you're into stopping).

As for the engine mass, well, I had to find it myself, based on the thrust-to-weight ratio, but each SABRE engine a Skylon has, has a mass of 9829.6 kg. Which would come to an MC fusion engine (massing 19,659.2 kg) with a thrust of 1,638,269,990 newtons. Which would move a ship massing 345 tons at...484 gs! I guess we call it the Raspberry Jam Express! Even with the artificial-gravity based inertia protections, that seems like a lot.

Fortunately, a ship with an MC-fusion rocket would be unlikely to be as small as a Skylon, since you have to contain the reaction within the ship itself. Let's say our system-ship is four times the size of a Skylon, which by the square-cube law gives us 22,080 tons. This translates to a nice, comfy acceleration of 3.8 gs—mere roller coasters do that, they might not even need artificial gravity! Also, at a rate of 2.5%c, the ships do 1 AU in 5h32m, and, assuming comparable payload to the Skylon, they can carry 960 tons each, or approximately as much as an oil barge.

Incidentally, you can probably use smaller ships with IC fusion, since the fusion reaction actually happens outside them. I'm not 100% sure, but I think the 1000 ton minimum size listed for IC fusion, on Project Rho, is a mistake. I think so because 1000 tons was used in that Friedwardt Winterberg paper I mentioned, but that was the mass of the whole spacecraft. Really an IC fusion system would only have the same mass as listed for Project Orion—indeed, there isn't really a lot of difference between an IC fusion rocket, and an Orion ship with hydrogen bombs. And the minimum mass for that is 8 tons.



Random thoughts, new post title, same great taste. Also less filling.
  • You know what is an excellent thing to keep in mind? The Japanese word "Amaeru". It means something like "behave like a spoiled child; of a client/protégé, to presume upon the indulgence of one's patron/benefactor".

    Remember that concept, for instance, next time you see a denunciation of Christian ideas about the sexes, by some dumb broad who'd either be an only daughter with no first name, or wolf-food, if she lived in pagan Rome. There's a curious calming effect, when you realize the idiot you're dealing with only lives because of the very thing it is denouncing. You feel a bit like God must: an ironical, patient amusement, with the monkeys' complaints about the world that, in a very real sense, you gave them.

    It's just hard to get mad or defensive, when you realize that you own them. Just tell yourself, "It is only by the largesse of me and mine that the insect can buzz thus; how great our might and generosity, that we don't even ask anything in return!" It's not even a lord-tenant relationship, since both sides are necessary to that, and neither can afford to shirk its obligations. Just think of them as your house-pets.

  • Speaking of obligations, you know how Libertarians like to equate taxes with armed robbery? Sigh. I'm sorry, but a rational person knows that providing law and order (you know, what governments are for?), and enabling the commercial activities Libertarians mistake for the whole of human life, entitles the government to, well, a cut. Yeah, cute, you're John Galt, sure. Where do you find the time to be so goshdarn brilliant, if someone else isn't protecting you? I mean, especially since you don't have any employees (again, Rand invalidates her own criticisms of Marx, she doesn't even know what capitalism is).

    Of course, the defender-class, too, has obligations—all functioning systems are based on mutual obligation. In the case of the government, it loses its right to taxes as soon as it stops providing a certain minimum of law and order (and by extension, protection from outside enemies), whether through incompetence and corruption, or through conscious implementation of bad policy. It arguably also lacks the right to use the money it collects from its dependents for purposes other than law and order.

    Basically, governments' legitimacy—from which comes their right to taxes—rests exclusively on subduing their people's enemies, "foreign or domestic"; they don't have the right to use taxes except toward that same end. One might extend the duty to defend the people to things like disaster relief, but the only thing governments are for is force: that's why they get to use it.

  • So it is widely acknowledged that the Revised Romanization of Korean has really weird vowels—in order to avoid diacritics, they use "eo", "eu", and "ae", which, especially the first one, are pretty damn counter-intuitive.

    I mean, hey, how about we just restrict ourselves to the tiny number of diacritics you can write on a Mac keyboard? Let's, say, use Å for "eo" (that's the sound it is, in Scandinavian languages), Ä for "ae", and, uh, maybe Ũ, for "eu" (hey, Estonian uses Õ for the middle back unrounded vowel, and the rounded equivalent of that is O). Or hey, how about if we remap the current "o" and "u" to Ô and Û, and use O and U for "eo" and "eu"? Then we use E for "ae", and move the current "e" to Ê? Then the only diacritic we need is circumflex.

    Of course, usually, circumflex marks vowel length, and that is actually a phonemic feature of Korean. But then, Hangeul doesn't mark it either (reports of its linguistic perfection are greatly exaggerated—it's arguably no better than kana, since those at least know they're encoding a moraic language).

  • Realized, a better description of my SF story would be "space bylina". Byliny were a form of Russian epic poetry, dating to Kievan Rus. Many of my alien characters are basically bogatyrs, and arguably the felinoids' emperor is comparable to Vladimir the Fair Sun. Well, crossed with Suoh Tamaki.


    Actually I don't have any felinoids like Alyosha Popovich (the guy on the right), but I got a bunch like Ilya Muromets (center) and Dobrynya Nikitich (left). In fact, arguably, the felinoid cop is Dobrynya, and his brother is Ilya.

  • I don't know if I've mentioned it here, but it's interesting how many things are actually just fortunate coincidences. For instance, you know how both the major schools of Jewish theology (Kabbalah and Maimonides) are pantheist, as is the theology of Avicenna? Yeah, well, Aquinas doesn't actually get full credit for the fact Christian theology isn't. It's just that in a pantheistic cosmos, the Incarnation has no meaning; only his desire to retain orthodox Christology saved him from making the same bungle.

    Or the fact I mentioned above, how kana, unlike hangeul, accurately record the moraic nature of their language? Coincidence. Kobo Daishi, who invented kana, based their forms on the syllabic use of hanzi, but he based their function on Sanskrit (specifically either the Gupta or Siddham abugida). Why's that important? Sanskrit, like Latin, has a "syllable-timed" accent, which is extremely similar to morae in most contexts.

  • Hey, you know all those people who think it's just awesome to expose government secrets? How has the government not realized that the obvious remedy is to publicize their Social Security numbers and home addresses? And then, when people start whining about "privacy" (or better, the "constitutional right" to privacy, which does not exist), just look right at the camera and say, "Information longs to be free, bitch."

  • Once again I'm glad of the "no resemblance" disclaimer in Pumpkin Scissors, 'cause, the autoloader for the tank? Yeah, both we and the Russkies experimented with those, but we both currently load our tanks manually. Why? In a cramped tank cabin, there's a permanent danger of an autoloader attempting to feed the crew into the gun. Besides, a well-trained crew is only marginally slower.

    Scorpions, I think, have an interesting answer: only one driver/gunner, and an autoloader behind the cockpit (the gun being rear-mounted gives it its name), all the other functions a tank crew would perform presumably being done by computers. Which reminds me, I bet you'd prefer not putting armored Spartans in most of your vehicles, since the fact they each weigh a half-ton can't be good for your fuel economy (wonder what the UNSC uses for fuel, anyway). Similarly, Warthogs' suspension must be incredible.

  • So the people who fansub the second season of Baka Test keep translating Hideyoshi's "Washi...ja" way of talking as "thou...dost". It's a valiant effort, but I don't think they really capture it. First off, "washi" isn't remotely that archaic, and second off, it's got a connotation of "old man" speech.

    Really, if you were gonna try to capture how odd it is that Hideyoshi talks like that, you'd have to render his speech as "grizzled old mountain man". You know Rancid Crabtree, in Patrick McManus stories? Imagine if a guy who talked like that, looked like this:


Sorya Genjitsu Ssu-ka?

Japanese. "Is that real?". Reality check de arimasu.
  • Today's Penny Arcade features Karen Traviss' Mandalorian conlang. It was a mistake to draw my attention to it.

    Sit down before you hurt yourself, little girl, it embarrasses the grownups to watch you. That Y vowel? Yeah, that's not a separate, different sound. It's an I. Those apostrophes? Yeah, go read the Wookieepedia article on all the work that language gets out of its apostrophes, and then laugh yourself sick. Apostrophes—which are called "sighs", even though a sigh is the glottal fricative (H), not the stop—stand for, get this, a pause before final vowels, an "indication of breath" (whatever the hell that means), to indicate emphasis, and to indicate the letters dropped by contractions. Remember what Vonda N. McIntyre said about languages made up by English speakers sounding like they were made up by English speakers? Each of those functions would be done by a separate character, Ms. Traviss, unless the Mandalorians were inexplicably basing their orthography on English.

    The verbs' infinitives (because they have infinitives, unlike Japanese or Navajo but, by an astounding coincidence, just like the European languages Ms. Traviss is likely to have studied in high school) end in R—again, just like Romance languages. Indeed, just like western European Romance languages, considering Romanian's end in A and Italian's (like Latin's) in -re. I guess Mandalore had contact with France and Spain at some point in the past. Amazingly, the negative is with "N", and adjectives add "-la" (which is "-al" spelled backwards) and "-yc" (which is just a stripper spelling of "-ic").

    Worst is the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, as understood by a special-needs eighth-grader, stuff, like not having a word for hero (in which Traviss demonstrates she doesn't know what the word means—"being prepared to die for your family and friends, or what you hold dear" was "basic citizenship" in ancient societies, ma'am, "hero" means something else), or not having passive verbs. Now, there are sociological aspects of verb voice—in Japan and Korea a major part of honorific speech is making the honoree the agent, and never the patient, of passive verbs—but any language that lacks them is going to find itself in serious trouble, since sometimes the patient of an act has to be the subject of a sentence about it.

    Oh yeah, and by the way, apparently being primarily spoken, rather than written, makes a language easy to learn. You know, because Navajo and Hopi and Nahuatl and Irish and Basque are so much easier than Japanese, French, Korean, Spanish, and Danish. Right?

    Traviss Asdzaan bizaad shił doo yá'át'ééh da, yá?
  • Ever read the book Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell? It's a kick in the pants to the idea of meritocracy, because it shows how much of anyone's success is opportunity, and, basically, luck.

    It has, however, two factual errors and one bad argument, all in the section about rice paddies. It says that landowners let their rice-farmers keep all their surplus, over a fixed sum, in South China and Japan and Korea. I don't know about farming in South China, but I do know about Japan and Korea, and quite frequently in both those countries, farmers got to keep exactly none of their rice—they lived on millet, AKA birdseed, and the rice all went to the daimyo or the yangban. Also, the description of European peasantry is a strawman caricature that's pretty much been debunked to hell and back, certainly for all eras before the late Reformation (the system of tenant farming did break down a bit, some places, when the Renaissance and Reformation ruined the world—but certainly nothing described applied to medieval farmers, I'll tell you that for free).

    More importantly, though, the argument about Chinese being advantageous for math is simply bogus. It's true Chinese numbers are short, and their arrangements may be easier for mathematical analysis. But that doesn't explain why monolingual English-speaking Chinese-Americans are good at math, nor why Indian kids, whose numbers are in Hindi (which is as convoluted as any other Indo-European language, number-wise), are just as good. Of course, the whole argument is essentially another dumbed-down Sapir-Whorf: "Oh, isolating languages, with their highly analytic grammar, are better for math than inflecting ones!" Yeah, tell it to Euclid and Brahmagupta. All the greatest Chinese mathematicians were building on Indian math, sorry.

    Still, all told, definitely a great book, at least when it sticks to sociology and statistics—the second it steps into linguistics or history, it starts to founder.
  • I suddenly realized, you know how people have called Whedon a Geek God, and even said he's a geek himself? Seriously, take film/TV geeks out of that equation, and, no, no he isn't. That's like saying Fellini or Godard was a geek. No, film geeks are into his stuff, but he wasn't one himself.

    Similarly, there's a list of ways to provoke geek arguments floating around on the web, and #2 is to say "Joss Whedon is a hack". Now, I've called Whedon a hack myself, but that's really like calling Anna Nicole Smith a bitch: by all accounts bitchiness was not her character flaw, ideally we would be more precise in our denunciations. The specific type of bad writer Whedon is is not, in fact, precisely the same thing as a hack.

    Every single thing you can dislike about Whedon, from his faux-philosophical noodling to his preachy plots and one-dimensional characters to his catastrophically implausible settings, is due, on examination, to one factor. He's shallow. He cannot be bothered to learn what existence and reality are (nor what the word "God" means), or how and why societies set up their sex-relations the way they do, or how actual people behave (the Operative, for instance, makes a Metal Gear villain look believable), or how much energy is involved in terraforming. That's boring. Or at least tiring. And Whedon, being a fat, self-satisfied Anglo who's too rich to walk, has never been in a situation where not knowing your stuff can have immediate bad results, therefore he's never had an incentive to bother.

    Whedon is not a hack. He is a fat stupid shallow rich Anglo hack who was very deeply affected by repentence and reeducation camp Women's Studies at Wesleyan. Also he has a forehead like a hydrocephalic.


Pour la mérite

Yes, the other name of the Blue Max! But not actually related to that one bright spot in the darkling history of the Prussian Empire!

I was thinking more about the fallacious idea of "meritocracy", which automatically creates abuse of power—if, even in theory, you think you deserve your power, well then obviously you're better than those who don't have it, and have rights they don't. You can see the mindset in the Gospel of Prosperity, you can see it in Confucianism, you can see it in the fatalism of South Asia that responds to girls being sent into brothels with a shrug, you can see it in the 9th chapter of John.

It is a lie, and the second the West began to believe in it, our doom was sealed. Why? Let's let Chesterton explain it:
If we ask a sane man how much he merits, his mind shrinks instinctively and instantaneously. It is doubtful whether he merits six feet of earth. But if you ask him what he can conquer—he can conquer the stars. Thus comes the thing called Romance, a purely Christian product. A man cannot deserve adventures; he cannot earn dragons and hippogriffs.

...How different the Pagan and Stoical feeling was from this has been admirably expressed in a famous quotation. Addison makes the great Stoic say "'Tis not in mortals to command success; but we'll do more, Sempronius, we'll deserve it."

But the spirit of Romance and Christendom, the spirit which is in every lover, the spirit which has bestridden the earth with European adventure, is quite opposite. 'Tis not in mortals to deserve success. But we'll do more, Sempronius; we'll obtain it.
It is not our way (nor is it the way of any Buddhist who accepts the Mahayana sutras—it is not Christendom that created Sun Wukong) to take only what we can earn; it is the whole point of our two great faiths that man is not saved by works.

I have a discussion of it in one of my SF books, about how, the minute you talk about meritocracy, you are not only lying, but you are handing tyrants the best sophistry they ever had. Joseon Korea used it; the Nazis and Soviets used it; Anglo liberals still use it. We did not inherit our power—so plainly, we must've earned it. You actually get the madmen acting like their thefts, or inheritance of stolen goods, are signs of the Mandate of Heaven.

And then one of the felinoids says how their system, though professionalized, still retains one key idea from feudalism: the idea of all power being contingent on the performance of obligations. Since the power is avowedly, indeed emphatically, a gift, there is no illusion that one deserves one's rank. Rather than leaders viewing their power as a bauble, given as payment for their lofty achievements, it is the future, not the past, where they "earn" it: feudal gift is forfeited if one fails in the attendant obligations. But, though they no longer think of their rank as a reward, ambition for promotion remains as an incentive—obviously the basis for bestowing a rank is the likelihood of being able to fulfill its duties. And past performance is the most reliable (or, well, least unreliable) indicator of future performance.

Late Addendum: Holy mackerel, this is my 108th post this year. I'm on fire, huh? It's not even August.



Something completely different: booze! I had a bunch of cocktails, and ideas for cocktails, recently, and I thought I'd share them.

First, and my favorite because it involves both the booze core and the space core, is the Michael Collins. No not the IRA guy, the guy who piloted the first Apollo orbiter. The recipe:
Michael Collins
ice cubes
2 oz. vodka
2 oz. Tang
soda water

Mix the Tang—2 ounces uses 1.5 tsp of powder; 1 tbsp of powder makes 4 oz. Place ample ice in large glass. Add vodka and Tang. Top up with soda water and stir well. Serve with a straw).
Yeah, since you replace the gin with vodka, it's basically an Astronaut Screwdriver. But, an Astronaut Screwdriver doesn't have soda water—the other name for the Michael Collins is the Low-Torque Screwdriver.

Speaking of Screwdriver variants, swap the vodka in one for tequila and you have a Trotsky's Ice Pick.

I also have two boilermakers. One is actually just a boilermaker, but I find they're best with Dos Equis and Jack Daniels. The other is the Carpenter Bee, which is J. W. Dundee Honey Brown and that whiskey-based honey liqueur.

Next up is the Mounds Bar, which recipe is as follows and I quote:
Mounds Bar
ice cubes
2 oz. Malibu
1 oz. Crème de Cacao

Place small amount of ice in large glass. Add Malibu and crème de cacao. Top up with milk, stir well, and serve.
There's also the Whack and Unwrap (i.e. "chocolate orange"), which is the same as the Mounds Bar but replaces the Malibu with triple sec.

There's also my mother's Plum Margarita, which replaces the limeade with prune juice and the triple sec with slivovic. Try it, you'll like it.

Another thing I realized about Tang, is if you use tang powder as the flavoring in icing, you can totally make icing that tastes like a Hostess orange cupcake.


Uncorrelated, Not Uncaused VI

  • Some of my relatives had a traffic delay on their way to Tombstone, Arizona, because of some giant mining machinery—the thing apparently took up two lanes' worth of space. I wasn't with them, but their account got me thinking: maybe that's why Scarabs have the legs. After all, they were invented as mining equipment. It'd certainly be more convenient if your mining machinery could just step over traffic.

  • Speaking of Tombstone, you know when idiots think "this isn't the Wild West" is an actual thought on the matter of gun control or self-defense? Yeah, well, the per capita murder rate in several of the Western states is higher now than in the 1870s; "wild" means more than one thing.

  • So my brother replayed Twin Snakes on the Game Cube. I did not remember this game being so childish, but holy God what a twit Kojima is. He makes Tarantino look like an organized crime expert.

    But it's interesting: Kojima's anti-American bullshit is not the type of anti-American bullshit typical of Japan. That's usually right-wing, oh-boohoohoo-Hiroshima-and-Nagasaki-but-Nanking-never-happened type stuff. No, Kojima's is, by the book, the American type of anti-Americanism. Metal Gear games' takes on the military, history, politics, economics: each and every one is the standard set of American, specifically Hollywood, talking points. That's probably why the games often do better here than they do there, but shouldn't Kojima be ashamed of only knowing about the world through movies?

  • I love the way so many of the characters act surprised that Snake isn't a Terminator kill-bot. I mean, Mei Ling's got an Air Force rank: it seems unlikely to me that she'd be completely unacquainted with military people (Marine jokes about the "para-military branch" notwithstanding). Kojima does know everyone in the military goes through basic, right?

    It's sorta like in the second one, not only do the Marines not just shoot Ocelot when he shows up uninvited (they totally would), but Whatshisname Dolph calls himself a soldier. Okay, maybe this is more a flaw in the translation, but Marines do not refer to themselves as soldiers, ever. Remember, marines are Marines; soldiers are members of the
    Ready for

  • Which reminds me, why don't people get that whether an enemy soldier is good or evil is immaterial to military ethics? It's not an execution; it's war. Moral agency has no bearing on the question of whether or not someone—or something—poses a threat that must be removed by force; a grizzly isn't a sinner, but you might have to shoot it anyway. The only time when questions of guilt, innocence, informed consent, and the rest enter into that sort of question, is in the context of retaliatory military action.

    War, by the way, is the form of conflict, between two communities, where the two sides have recourse to force to achieve their aims. Once the conflict, and recourse to force to resolve it, are determined to be justified, it is in principle always moral to kill combatants on the other side. Surrendered military personnel have relinquished combatant status, so killing them is like killing greengrocers; non-combat military personnel, similarly, are exactly like civilians who happen to be building bombs—you aren't allowed to directly target their lives, but they are ethically permissable collateral damage. That's why you can bomb munitions factories, but nerve-gas is off the table.

  • You know how it's rather difficult to explain the relativistic model of space-time? I find things like the expanding universe easiest to explain by the concept of a 3d grid: the points may stay at their old coordinates, but the grid itself is getting bigger.

    Similarly, I believe it was xkcd that mentioned the flaw in the "mattress pressed down by bowling ball" analogy, for relativistic gravity (i.e. space-time curvature): namely, what's pressing it down? It's inelegant to use a model that includes the thing you're explaining. So I came up with another: imagine the space-time grid as a net of wires, going in three directions at 90° from each other, and masses as objects of varying volumes, bending the wires around themselves.

  • Have you ever heard that Objectivist canard that says something like "nobody can oppress you without your consent"? I was just reminded of it by someone, criticizing Whittaker Chambers' famous review of Atlas Shrugged, because he said "It consistently mistakes raw force for strength, and the rawer the force, the more reverent the posture of the mind before it." And of course they chimed in about Rand's contempt for mere force.

    Snerk. Rand didn't hold force in contempt, she merely held physical force in contempt. Every other form of power—monetary, intellectual, sexual, etc.—she held not merely above the law, but as constituting a new law. But what do you expect? She was just as much of a weakling as Nietzsche, but both more self-aware and less healthy; while he admired physical force though he lacked it, she despised it, ruled it out of bounds, because she lacked it. And also because force blows her theory that "we choose to be victims" clean out of the water: you don't have to consent to be killed. Someone has to meet you at least partway, to use economic, intellectual, or social power against you; absolutely anyone, indeed anything, can use force.

    Another factor in her hatred of force is there is no spinning it: absent treachery, the winner of a fight is the stronger fighter. It is absolutely vital to a cult-leader like Rand that she can twist out of any test that might disprove her—and the fact that Objectivists would make one shitty-ass army means she has to avoid a fight like the plague. Also, force is fundamentally egalitarian—compare the most arrogant Indo-European warrior aristocracies, for instance, to even the humbler Confucian intellectual aristocracies. Bullets don't care how many stars are on your epaulet or stripes are on your cuff; they can't be bribed, guilt-tripped, seduced, or double-talked. They'll just kill you.

    If I might quote a far better Russian thinker, "Some people think they can outsmart me. Maybe; maybe. I've yet to meet one that can outsmart bullet."

  • Where do people get their weird ideas about hereditary rank? For instance, did you know that in most systems that developed hereditary leadership, the leadership was originally elected? Usually the wealthy clans of a group would elect one of their number to lead them. Eventually, of course, either one of the elected was so powerful, or else one clan got elected so often, that the post became a part of the hereditary rights of the clan.

    Personally, I can't see how any rational person can object to hereditary rank, at least in theory (whether you think any current system of hereditary rank works properly is another matter). If people have a right to leave property—which, again, is a much less controllable form of power than political office—to their descendents, then why can't they leave political office? Plus, while we essentially expect middle-school civics to be sufficient training for leadership, a hereditary system can raise its leaders from infancy to cope with their obligations.


But What Does It Feel Like?

I remember once, Tycho was saying something, I think in connection with Kirby's Epic Yarn, about the depiction of fabric in that being weird, because fabric's so familiar, while videogames routinely give us alien superconductors, and we have no idea what those should look like. I don't entirely agree—Reach has flawless renditions of various metals, and snow and sand and junipers, and Elites' plastic-looking armor and the Covenant's ablative heat-shield barriers; ODST and Halo 3 more than know their way around brushed concrete (New Mombasa looks a hell of a lot like the University of Arizona campus) and the high-density black plastic that gun casings are made of—but certes, one might do a better job with the portrayal and description of SF stuff.

It's fairly easy to do with fictional substances; my felinoids' swords look like vaguely pearlescent white plastic, and their guns look like they're carved from chrysoberyl. One ought, though, to extrapolate as much as possible from scientific theory, e.g.:
  • Spacefolds, since they create an event horizon, cause a portion of a starfield to black out for a moment.
  • Similarly, metric-patching engines make a sphere of blackness around a ship.
  • People in airlocks are likely to have their ears pop, if the pressure between the two ships isn't equal.
  • F-class and K-class stars probably look a lot like the sun in their planets' skies, except slightly bluer or redder, respectively; this might have weird effects on colonists' circadian rhythms.

But what about real equipment? Through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered, I've found the following bits of factual information:
  • Aerogel feels like packing foam.
  • A mechanical counterpressure spacesuit is like wearing a wetsuit.
  • Spaceships' dust shields, as distinct from ablative reentry shields, are usually black, with a dull, powdery sheen. Why? They're graphite.
  • It doesn't matter what color you make spaceships, since their exhaust and quite possibly their radiators are going to be glowing at least a dim red anyway.
  • Spherical tanks are best for resisting pressure (their volume's also the easiest to calculate). You need one m3 of tankage for every 71 kg of liquid hydrogen fuel.
  • Caseless rounds look like itsy-bitsy shotgun shells sculpted out of clay.
Remember, the purpose of writing is to convey the thing in your head to the reader's head. The more vivid you make it, the better you've done your job.


Incorrélées mais pas sans cause: 2ème

Random thoughts.
  • Forgot to mention it, but another difference between my felinoids' "birds" (that are actually members of the same mammal-analogue class as them) and our birds, is that rather than having their sternum modified into a keelbone, it's modified like the vertebrae of a number of animals—each sternebra has a big crest on it, for muscles to attach to.

    Also on the "RE: previously discussed" front, the ane-ue mentioned in the comments that she worried about the side-to-side strength of those honeycomb tires, for power slides. But I don't think that'd be much of an issue; tube-shapes tend to be at their strongest along their length, and the honeycomb shape converts a tire from a flat cylinder into a number of tall thin ones packed together.

  • This season's shaping up to be pretty good now, anime wise; Sacred Seven has another decent episode under its belt, Mayo Chiki is so far so good, the second season of Baka Test is chock full of everything we loved from the first one (if you don't love Shouko, there is something wrong with your thinky bits). I'd completely forgotten about Itsuka Tenma no Kuro Usagi ('Sometimes the Devil's Black Rabbit'), but I had read the manga, and the anime actually looks a bit better. Kamisama Dolls' anime is a lot faster than the manga was, and the added little touch of the eponymous mecha singing whenever they move more than makes up for the fact at least one of them looks like an elongated rice-cooker with arms.

    Mawaru Penguin Drum is...odd. Some of the plot things (the one dude kissing the girl, who is at least ostensibly his sister, on the mouth: icky!) are in questionable taste, the philosophical noodling is believable but fallacious, and the basic premise is like something Phil Dick would write if he wanted to get really weird. On the other hand, sultry swaggering avatar-girl in angry-eyed Rock-Hopper Penguin hat. You see, it's a tossup!

  • You know Suits, the new show on USA, with the lawyers? What I think is interesting is, it's all the feudal politicking you could ever need, and without the deliberately sordid gutter-wallowing and unhistorical slanders from jackrags like George R. R. Martin.

    And yes, the dynamic in play in the law-firm in Suits is, quite completely, feudal. It's actually sort of funny, to me; because the exact sort of person who frequently says nasty things about the feudal era, is the sort that wants to minimize the only alternative to feudalism, namely the professional state. A rational society, of course, uses both in different spheres; currently we have government and military be professional, and business be feudal. Other eras have had everything be feudal, though business was less so than government in several major eras in western history.

    One recalls that Ann Coulter said something about so many of the people on some Worst Person in History list working for the state...but including Vlad the Impaler. Uh, no. Basarab Vlad III the Impaler, son of Vlad II the Dragon, lived in a society that had no state, except possibly the Orthodox Church, and a dim sense of being a part of Byzantium.

  • Speaking of, I don't remember who it was, but some right-wing ass was saying something about the Pledge of Allegiance being bad, because of allegiance's meaning of "the obligations of a vassal to a lord". And then this titan of intellect, this staggering paragon of learning, says something about serfs.

    Hah. Hey idiot, mouths also close, did you know? 'Cause 'vassal' is a term that only applied to nobles. You know that thing we currently call chivalry? In the older chansons de geste, it was known as vassalage. Allegiance is the duty sworn by one lord to another lord, in exchange for cession of land; the lord who receives the land and takes on the duty is the vassal, while the one who cedes the land and receives the duty is the liege. Of course, most lieges were themselves vassals, and in the Middle Ages (since monarchy barely existed), the only difference between a king and a baron was the king was "sovereign", that is, he had no liege.

    While I'm on the subject, you know how you'll frequently hear that such-and-such a politician or executive "treated his department like his own private fief", or similar? Yeah, well, private fief is a questionable term. The tenor attaching to fiefs (the land ceded in the above arrangement, and the origin of the word "feudal") is complicated—our Roman-derived property concepts are ill-equipped to deal with it. The holder of a fief had the right to use it and modify it other than destructively, but not the right to alienate it; and they only held it as long as they continued to carry out obligations.

    What's funny is, all political posts actually are fiefs: they are held in feudal gift from the constituency, and they carry with them obligations, dereliction of which results in the loss of the fief. Feudalism actually supplies a much simpler and more direct vocabulary for discussing our politics than the Classical terms we largely restrict ourselves to. That's probably why High Medieval France had pretty much everything Americans flatter themselves they invented, and without the accompanying morass of bullshit.

  • 'Nother example of how every salutary development in American politics is just a half-assed reinvention of the medieval wheel, ever hear of the Taxpayers' Bill of Rights movement? Though there are stupid extremist forms of it, its moderate, non-retard version usually restricts the amount and number of times taxes can be increased in a given legislative term, and also often requires putting tax increases to a popular vote before they can be passed.

    And thus does the American Republic lay claim to a right every dirt-pushing serf in 11th century France took for granted. No really, a lord couldn't raise his tenants' customary dues—essentially an income tax, though actually a set proportion of the harvest—without their consent. Oh, and property and sales taxes were always temporary ad hoc measures, don't let's forget that.


Yes, Now We Are a Family Again

Spell it, 'space'. S. P. ...Ace. SPACE. Space.
  • I think I might've mentioned this before, but go watch the Serenity's exhaust. I've seen cigarette smoke move faster. A rocket's fuel efficiency is directly proportional to its exhaust velocity (and inverse-exponentially proportional to its mass ratio); the Firefly class must make an M1 Abrams look like a Prius. And given it has no propellant tanks, you'd probably have better delta-v with a truck's cigarette lighter and a punctured package of Jiffy Pop.

    Also, apparently not only did the 3D model used in the movie have individual rivets added, and the cargo bay redesigned with rounded sides because they're better for containing pressure, but each room's color scheme is supposed to reflect the personality of the person most associated with it. Uh, mightn't all that time have been better spent cracking open a few books 'bout rockets? I'm sure there are board books or something that even Whedon could understand.

  • The first Alien was on, and, does it ever really explain how they knew that distress signal was a distress signal? I doubt very much that ship was outfitted for SETI, so how did it even recognize it as communication?

    Also, you'd totally send in some kind of remote (I'm guessing a mining ship would have bundles of 'em), rather than going in person. And if you see a big ol' nest full of alien eggs, you deserve anything, no matter how biologically impossible, that happens to you. Aside from how what comes out of the eggs might be dangerous—lots of animals hatch hungry, and they might find food by some method that can't tell an alien's nutritionally useless—being in an animal's nest is just as suicidal as getting between a momma grizzly and her cub.

  • Here's a question: what's with all the SF settings where spaceships have more-or-less completely replaced air vehicles, with the possible exception of flying cars? Don't people understand that a vehicle suited to orbit insertion isn't really suited to most air tasks (it's not really suited to interplanetary flight, either, that's why you'd also use a different ship for orbit-to-orbit)? Why do they think we didn't replace 747s with Space Shuttle orbiters in the late 70s?

    In my book, there's lots of air units, though a lot of them are Twin Tilt Turborotor (come to think of it, I probably got the idea from Halo's Hornets), rather than jets or helicopters. Then again the spaceships use landers, too; the closest thing I have to one of those multi-role spaceships is that the habitat section of one of the starships can be detached to act as a lander. Also, most of the orbit-insertion is either two-stage or non-rocket, though the really rich guy (again, he has reactor licenses) has a single-stage-to-orbit lander.

  • Which, hey, reminds me, if the Serenity's so damn junky, how come it can do VTOL SSTO and orbit-to-orbit? I don't remember Mal toking joints wrapped in the Magna Carta and lit with matter-antimatter annihilation—in places where pot's illegal but they don't dare bust him for it—do you? Because that's how rich you'd need to be to own a ship that can do that.

    As he often did before his work turned into Alfred Kinsey fanfiction, Heinlein explained it quite well in Space Jockey:
    The traveling-public gripes at the lack of direct Earth-to-Moon service, but it takes three types of rocket ships and two space-station changes to make a fiddling quarter-million-mile jump for a good reason: Money.

    The Commerce Commission has set the charges for the present three-stage lift from here to the Moon at thirty dollars a pound. Would direct service be cheaper? A ship designed to blast off from Earth, make an airless landing on the Moon, return and make an atmosphere landing, would be so cluttered up with heavy special equipment used only once in the trip that it could not show a profit at a thousand dollars a pound! Imagine combining a ferry boat, a subway train, and an express elevator. So Trans-Lunar uses rockets braced for catapulting, and winged for landing on return to Earth to make the terrific lift from Earth to our satellite station Supra-New York. The long middle lap, from there to where Space Terminal circles the Moon, calls for comfort-but no landing gear. The Flying Dutchman and the Philip Nolan never land; they were even assembled in space, and they resemble winged rockets like the Skysprite and the Firefly as little as a Pullman train resembles a parachute.
    Quite ironic, the Heinlein passage I quote here even has a ship named Firefly.

  • If you have characters traveling in the Solar System in an SF story, you really ought to know where the planets are. They don't sit in a neat little line, you know. And hey, it's not like it's all that hard to figure out where they ought to go, we have computers now.

    There used to be neat little Java programs on the interwebs that'd calculate the planets' locations for you, but I can no longer find any of them. But not to worry; you can still use Celestia (the freeware star-viewer program), set it to your desired date, and then center the view at Sol, with an angle of 90° latitude and a fairly wide distance. Yeah, not ideal, but serviceable (don't come crying to me, I had to use Celestia to figure out which alien constellation Earth is in).

  • Speaking of, there still are alien constellation generator programs. One that I used revealed that, for my felinoids (given the axial tilt I'd chosen for them, with η Boötis as their pole star), Orion is zodiacal—and yeah, it's almost completely unchanged from their home system, all its major stars are way far away.

    Because I'm not in the market to suffer horribly, I don't really want to make a whole sky full of alien constellations. So I just combined the zodiac (in their case, since their year's made up of about 10 periods of one of their two moons, a 10-sign one) with the Chinese system, where the whole sky is divided into segments. That'll at least let me give stars their names in their language (like the Chinese, they just name them after the segment they're in, plus a number).


Vérification de la réalité

Reality Check!
  • Ann Coulter's new book should be boycotted. Why? She seems to think there's some association between Anglo-Saxon culture and having an orderly, peaceable revolution.

    Now, let us leave to one side the Sons of Liberty tarring and feathering, lynching, and just generally terrorizing Tories; the fact of the matter is, the major reason the American "Revolution" was orderly was, it wasn't a revolution, just a secession. Secessions are usually comparatively orderly; look at Ireland or the breakup of the Soviet Union. Revolutions, real ones, are much nastier, because they have to get more done. "Slightly modify the system in use here according to long-fetishized Liberal principles, and cut ties to the exploitative homeland" isn't exactly major surgery. "Abolish the monarchy whose incumbent is the patriotism of the people, disregard four and a half centuries of entrenched legal and property rights, and attempt the first, only, and last rational republic in the history of the egg-sucking ape-race of Adam" is a bit more invasive of a procedure.

    And yet, Annykins, remember, the Terror killed about 20,000 people, under imminent threat of invasion. Not only did the English kill twice that many in Ireland 5 years later, with no national peril whatsoever—while gang-raping every single woman who caught their attention, with special care to violate virgins—they had also killed at least twice, and more like 2.5 times, as many during the Reformation. Because that's what you compare the French Revolution to: the English Reformation was a revolution, not a secession. And it was a filthy brutal thing that, point by point, presaged not the French Revolution, but the Bolshevik Revolution. It followed all the same stages; Cromwell and the Puritans would be the shift from Leninism to Stalinism.

    The only rational definition of American exceptionalism is "the only good thing the Saxon dog ever did"; it's important to remember that right up to about 1900, we regarded the English as what they are, to every decent human society: an enemy.

  • I was reading this Jewish columnist, Jeff Dunetz, who said, get this, that the Blood Libel was started by Crusaders "worried that their families would fall into the hands of Jews".

    Pffft. Okay so first off, protecting the families of crusaders was a high priority for all the (incredibly powerful) charitable institutions of the medieval world—in the unlikely event that those crusaders' liege-lords wouldn't take them in (if you don't know how feudalism worked, you shut your noise hole about the Middle Ages, got it?). Second off, the first medieval blood libel is that of St. Hugh, which dates to 1255, right after the Seventh Crusade and 15 years before the Eighth: the timing is a bit off for it to directly relate to the Crusades.
    Late addendum: Especially because both the countries where the St. Hugh business was most influential, England and France, were more or less boycotting the Seventh Crusade...because they didn't like the Holy Roman Emperor who was leading it. I hate to invoke the shallow skeptic's catchphrase but this myth has been busted.

    There's this association used by a lot of Jewish writers, blatantly bigoted and risibly unhistoric though it is, between the Crusades and anti-Semitism. Only, there are only two incidents that can form a basis for it, and neither holds up to any scrutiny. The first is the Rhineland massacres during the First Crusade, but those were by the followers of the rabble-rousing lay preacher Peter the Hermit, who were no more crusaders than the Westboro Baptist Church is the DoD. Indeed, it was actual crusaders that diverted on their way to the Holy Land to wipe out Peter and his mob.

    The other example would be the sack of Jerusalem. Only, aside from the fact it only killed about 3000 people (and that only because the defenders had deliberately provoked the besiegers; nothing like that happened at Antioch), I'm pretty sure almost all the victims were Muslim, not Jewish. Why? Byzantium, my son, Byzantium. Byzantines had the same policies RE: Jews as the ancient Romans, and the Roman policy on Jerusalem was that Jews were only allowed in exactly once a year, on the anniversary of the end of the Bar Kokhba rebellion, and then only to visit the Wailing Wall (that is in fact how the custom of wailing at that wall began).

  • It was very odd, once, on this one blog, seeing one of the commenters treating the Bar Kokhba rebellion as if it was a victory for the Jews. I didn't have the ability to comment, but if I had, I would've pointed out that, though they certainly fought bravely, Jewish status in the Empire was utterly annihilated as a result. Not only that, but the humiliating lamentations imposed as a condition of surrender continue to this day—people still go to the wailing wall and wail.

    Imagine if World War II had never happened, and in 3794, we still found Germany paying France reparations, though virtually no German remembered why (or if neither World War had ever happened, and 3746 France was still paying Germany reparations over the Franco-Prussian war of 1870). That ain't the behavior of the victor.

  • Speaking of Crusader massacres, you know what's interesting? If you look at reactions to the sack of Constantinople (just like Jerusalem, deliberately provoked by the defenders: pro tip, if you're under siege, don't taunt the besiegers), the Byzantines' main problem seems to have been that Hagia Sophia was desecrated. It was the Latins themselves who denounced the rape, massacres, and looting. Why?

    Well, because Byzantines—like Confucians and everyone else who despises war—pretty much considered rape, massacre, and looting par for the course, when you took a city. But desecrating churches just wasn't done. The Latins only raped, massacred, and looted when they broke discipline (that's why they also desecrated the cathedral); the See of Rome had made conscious efforts for the previous half-millennium to minimize that sort of behavior, in its communicants.


Blood and Bones and Feathers

It's a line from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, selected completely without reference to its original context.

I did some more thinking and research—it ought to be possible to block all business links automatically on Google searches, since searching "ribs" brings up 8 vigintillion sodding restaurants—and I decided my felinoids' ribs are going to be roughly the same as earthly ones. Except their sternum's segments (sternebrae, yes they have a name) aren't fused, but jointed, like a cat's or possum's, and their manubrium only joins to the first rib and the clavicles, rather than the first two ribs and the clavicles, and I don't think they have a xyphoid process (I assume their solar plexus takes a different route). Each of their sternebrae (including the manubrium) joins to one rib, enhancing flexibility. And their ribcages are lined with highly elastic connective tissue, and the segments of the sternum separated by elastic pads, similar to in the spine.

I don't think I've mentioned it, but their homeworld has no bird-analogues, only mammal-analogues and archosaur-analogues (for warm-blooded critters, I mean). The "archosaur" flyers are more like bat-snakes than birds, but they do have a feathered flyer. Well, technically they're modified quills, like on a porcupine...because it's a "mammal". 'Course, their keratin[-analogue]s is β-sheets, like reptiles', not α-helices like mammals (all their hair might be considered feathers), but anyway, their fliers are basically...sea-lions. With wings. I'm not sure about their tails, if any; I think they might have feather flight-quill crests on the side of their hind legs that they can spread to act as a horizontal stabilizer. And I'm not sure about their feet, either—maybe something like a possum's. And they're probably not monophyletic, though they do all have sea-lion (and probably also fur-seal) type faces; they have a lot of herbivorous species, and carnivore-descended herbivores (like pandas) tend to use adaptations that are incompatible with flight, like large bodies and sedentary habits. So some of them are more like earless rabbits, or kangaroos, or something.

I think I'll use the heartcase, geodesic frame, and tensegrity-rib ideas on other aliens. And as for the longeron thing, well, like I mentioned, there are already animals on earth with those, they're called the "uncinate processes" and the only birds that don't have them are screamers and Archaeopteryx.


Don't Miss the Forest for...

Don't say I never gave you anything. So I was looking up Vlad the Impaler, because, why not, and I realized, there was a phrase I wanted to know how to say in Romanian. So I clicked over to the Romanian Wikipedia (like ya do), and found the part about his tactics against Mehmet (hint, if the Turks think you're over the top, you are the Liberace of torture). I couldn't find the right word, though, so I copied a likely-looking paragraph into Google Translate, and, low and behold, I found something out:
Pădure de Țepi
Oh yes, it's "Impaler's Forest" in Romanian. Actually it's forest of spikes (I think it might actually be Vlad the Spiker).

Incidentally, I learn lots of things by switching Whiskey Papa articles to other languages. Like, in an older version of one of my SF stories, I had some Chinese space pirates, one of whom was a 10-year-old girl, the younger sibling of some of them. And in one scene someone mentions piezoelectricity, which is not a word the average 10-year-old knows. So she turns to her relatives and says, "What's 'aatdihnhaauhyìng' mean?" (we all know Chinese space pirates should speak Cantonese). But it was a matter of but moments to find 壓電效應, thanks to Wikipedia.

(Insert Quote Tying Together Material Culture and Exobiology Here)

What? I can't always come up with clever titles. I had some more thoughts on SF equipment and alien biology.
  • Remember the "tweel" thing? Turns out, there's a much better idea, the non-pneumatic tire. Basically it uses a rubber honeycomb instead of a pneumatic tube to absorb shocks. They're already designing them for Humvees.

    And they look goldern awesome:Here's what they look like when they squish down:What's neat is they're a lot more resilient than pneumatic tires, but you could obviously still walk over and slash the honeycomb section out of some poor bastard's tires. That's important in my line of work, for drama and whatnot.
  • I realized, my felinoids' feet (with the two ankle-bones that cross each other so they can flip their feet) are basically very short human forearms at the end of their legs, and they walk on thumbless hands. That is disturbing as all hell, but it also activates the gee-whiz center of the SFionist brain. On a related note, I think it's the norm on their planet not to have a fibula. Birds and frogs do just fine without them (theirs are fused with their tibia—their calf bones often still have two separate cores, though).

    I'm trying to figure out how their ribcage, and presumably ribcages in general on their planet, should be different. One idea I had is that it could be a little like a second skull, with a "heartcase" that parallels the braincase; I imagine a felinoid would have one a bit like a snake's skull—with lots of flexible parts—while the giant Cape hunting dogs (with leg anatomy and running gait more like a horse) that they domesticate as mounts would probably have a more standard rigid "skull" in their chests. Gotta think about it a bit more, though.
  • Their cars that don't have wheels anymore, but have the undulating snake-belly nanomaterial? So I decided they basically have them on runners, like on a sled, and the engine consists of the system that makes the runners' surfaces, uh, slither(?).

    What's cool is, their tanks would be a hell of a lot less vulnerable—treads are relatively a weakpoint on tanks—and without having to have them levitate like Wraiths do. It always just bugs me, floating vehicles: any advantages would be far outweighed by the power requirements (as in, even something the size of a big motorcylce has to carry a powerplant that makes an amp feedback noise and 'splodes).
  • On the other hand, you know my perpetual impatience with the puerile cries of "where's my jetpack?" Forget about that one I mentioned before, there's an even better answer: "It's in the movie 'Agent Cody Banks', with the kid from Malcolm in the Middle."

    In that, apparently (dude, you think I've seen it?), there's a scene with the SoloTrek XFV, which is a personal VTOL aircraft. According to Wikipedia, you can't call it a jetpack if the pilot's strapped to an exoskeleton that bears the thing's weight, but I don't believe I ever agreed to define the terminology that way. Also, the damn thing actually uses jet engines; the things you Zinjanthropi are always harping about are actually rocket packs. Yes I'm splitting hairs, you would too if you were this sharp (I just came up with that line, you can use it too if you like it).

    The XFV was apparently a bit dangerous (it disintegrated in an accident, though the pilot was all right). But its successor the Springtail Exoskeleton Flying Vehicle, is probably a bit safer than a parachute. And remember, this was a DARPA project: XFVs (always use an X in an acronym instead of an E if the word starts with "ex" or "extra", gentlemen) might well replace chutes in several military applications at some future date.
  • Another idea I had on the alien ribcage front, probably for another species, is to use what's called longerons between the ribs, to hold the thing together. Longerons (stiffeners, stringers) go perpendicular to the 'ribs' in a plane, and hold it rigid...something, it occurred to me, like those struts that come off the sides of a bird's ribs (birds have really rigid ribcages).

    And yet another idea, possibly for the felinoids, was a geodesic frame like they'd sometimes use in airplanes, or maybe some sort of tension or tensegrity frame like in freaky-looking skyscrapers—maybe have a light geodesic frame for structural support and muscle anchoring, and have outer (subcutaneous?) hardened sections take over the ribs' protective function. I just can't decide!

    By the bye, a shark's body is basically a tensegrity frame, did you know? They don't have much in the way of a ribcage; instead, their abdominal muscles are connected right to their skin, and those tooth-scales they have hold the whole thing tense. You'd need bony elements in a land animal (sharks on land get crushed under their own weight), but you could definitely have some sort of tendon-ligament tensegrity system.
  • Huh, how have I failed to mention T[erahertz] rays up till now? A terahertz ray is EM radiation whose frequency is between microwaves and infrared. They pass through a bunch of things, but they're much lower-energy than x-rays: they're especially good for dentistry, weapon detectors, and seeing into buildings.

    Speaking of, did you know thermal imaging won't actually penetrate buildings? Yeah. But T rays will; they can pass through wood, masonry, plastic, and ceramic (metal and water stop them, though).
  • If you are not an electrical engineer...actually, quite possibly even if you are...let me amend that. If you are not well-versed in the theoretical underpinnings of electricity (lots of engineers are of the "I don't care how it works, just that it does" school), you may well have asked, as I once did, "What's the difference between a capacitor and a battery?"

    Well. Apparently, a capacitor stores charge electrostatically, and a battery stores it electrochemically. A battery causes chemical changes (the example I saw is sulfuric acid and lead in car batteries changing to lead sulphate, and back again), while a capacitor just shuffles electrons around between two poles with an insulator between them. Also, capacitors charge faster and don't wear out until they physically fall apart, while batteries charge slow and eventually succumb to the cold hand of Second Law. On the other hand capacitors' voltage drops as their charge drops (apparently with the square, since apparently 1/2 charge=1/4 voltage), and normal capacitors can't store anywhere near as much charge.


Uncorrelated, Not Uncaused V

Jibun no rambun de arimasu!1 Oh, and happy anniversary of the day when the Founding Fathers demonstrated they didn't know what "self-evident" means.
  • Interestingly, you could probably use the Ugaritic cuneiform alphabet (I think it's actually an abjad) as an abugida, despite it only having three vowels. Just get a Unicode font for it, and then use some of the characters, superscript, as vowel diacritics. If you wanna use it for writing Indo-European languages, you can remap consonants that Semitic and Indo-European don't share onto vowels—historically, glottal stop onto A (though an abugida usually assumes A, so maybe glottal stop onto vowel-canceller) and voiced pharyngeal fricative onto E have been popular choices. Why do I say that? Hint, what Phoenician letters became Greek's vowels?

    You could also—I totally wanna do this sometime—use Egyptian logograms to represent the consonantal roots of Semitic words (since Egyptian shares most of them, e.g. Arabic Salaam, Hebrew Shalom, is Egyptian Sanab). And then maybe put Hebrew or Arabic vowel notation, a la furigana, to show the specific form being used.

    Why would you do either? I was thinking of doing it for a fantasy story, sorta Conan-esque, with the ancestors of various peoples (all named in proto-languages) living side-by-side, unhistorically. Come to think of it maybe it'd be better to use Old Persian cuneiform rather than Ugaritic, since (with the exception of Ethiopian), abugidas are an Indo-European, not a Semitic, thing. Or maybe use the Luwian logograms to represent the Indo-European roots, and do something else (Linear B syllabary?) to represent modifications to the root.

    Hey, fantasy books are for nerds anyway.
  • So-so anime season so far. Sacred Seven looks all right, Blood-C is a disturbing take on the franchise (a frequently face-planting dejikko as Saya, Queen and Doom of the Chiropterans? Oooooookay.) Kamisama no Memo Chou is just trying too hard, and Ikoku Meiro no Croisee ain't bad, but the Japanese learned too much about France from the English, who've somehow managed to understand the French less than they understand the Irish (and the Japanese probably understand the Irish better).

    But! Mayo Chiki looks to be a less-filthy M. M. (I've read the manga—few indeed are the anime whose manga, if they exist, I haven't read before I see them). Kamisama Dolls is an interesting premise, and cool mecha designs, but someone spilled a grape soda all over the pacing and it got all gummed up. Nyanpire is on giant snow-white mountains of the drugs, at least from all appearances.
  • Finally, a 2nd season of Baka Test is just what my doctor ordered (I have a chronic shortage of screwball ecchi comedy). I been re-watching the first season in preparation, and, uh, what a weird show. "Akihisa's shoulder devil giving him pitying looks" for the win!

    I like the returnee-chick (Minami?) more than Himeji (Himeji's cuteness is a little too one-dimensional), though, and I find I have somewhat limited patience for love triangles. Especially where nobody ever frickin' comes out and admits their feelings.
  • I decided, my felinoids' internal combustion engines used biodiesel, except it (of course) wasn't discovered by someone named Diesel, so they just call it "transesterified vegetable oil". And I'd wanted them to have a reason to keep riding the giant Cape hunting dogs that're their equivalent of horses, and it occurs to me, diesel engines (I think biodiesel performs like diesel rather than like gas) are loud. While catlike hearing is accompanied by little muscles that clamp down if the ear-bones start to vibrate too much (their night vision is also accompanied by pupils that dilate vastly quicker), they still don't like loud noises.

    Plus, biodiesel has less carbon monoxide and more nitric oxide, and the felinoids' blood uses a reversibly oxygenated iron-sulfur protein instead of hemoglobin. Iron-sulfur proteins are dissolved by nitric oxide (though they've probably evolved some of the same resistances to it that our bacteria have)—biodiesel engines would be as dangerous to them as fossil fuel is to us. And they can still kill themselves in their garage with the fumes.
  • I forget why I was looking, but two things I just found out about have now been added to my book (this is sorta turning into an SF equipment post). The first is aerogel, just in general, and also in its use as a capacitor. This stuff is incredible, and it's totally what my humans use for batteries (oh butts, now I have to change "battery" to "capacitor", even though there isn't much of a distinction).

    The second was these things, from Michelin, called "tweels"2. Basically, instead of inflated, puncturable tires, they put flexible, shock-absorbing spokes around the wheels. Which is awesome sauce, and, again, that's what my humans use (but they just call 'em wheels, because, dude, "tweels"?). What do the felinoids use? For power generation, dilaton alternators—quantum scale waterwheels hooked to the expanding fabric of spacetime (they're effectively inexhaustible, but they don't violate thermodynamics; not only do individual units eventually wear out, they slow down the universe's expansion about as much as waterwheels lower sea-levels). And for tires, I'm not sure; I think they might use some kind of piezoelectric undulating nanomaterial, more like a cross between a tank's treads and a snake's belly than a tire properly so-called.
  • Read a paper by Friedwardt Winterberg (turns out "Fredward" really is a name), on IC-fusion deuterium rockets. Apparently, you could, with such a rocket, propel a 1 gigagram spacecraft at one g...with a total delta-v budget of, get this, 9.5% c (at a mass ratio of 4.5, since the exhaust velocity is 19 mother-loving-million m/s). I mean, yeah, to you and me and other SF readers, that acceleration sounds pitiful, but we don't actually have inertia protections. And you'd realistically only use half your delta-v, so you can stop at the end, but 4.75% c ain't nothin' to sneeze at.

    Also, I love reading scientific papers that are written with a German accent, like using gerunds in the wrong spots and switching prepositions around. To reference a rare not-horrible Mel Brooks role (maybe 'cause he wasn't writing it), "When a German scientist says hold onto your hat, he's not just whistling Dixie. Hat! Hold! Gut!"


Vox Audita Perit, Littera Scripta Manet

Roman proverb, "the heard voice perishes, the written letter remains." I was thinking about alien alphabets. It took me forever to find an angle to approach the process from. Then I found an article on the sadly defunct "Lyzrd's Stomp" website, about making alien alphabets for model-building, and I've created two alphabets based on its principles. I thought I'd share what I learned from that site here, but add in some thoughts about alphabets from a linguistic standpoint. I am, after all, a science fiction writer.
  1. Classification

    "Alphabet" is actually, often, an inaccurate term. Hebrew and Arabic are actually "abjads", and Devanagari and Thai are actually "abugidas". Japanese (kana, anyway) is a "syllabary", and Chinese is a set of "logograms".

    See, an alphabet is only an alphabet if it writes consonants and vowels with the same type of character. An abjad, like Arabic, writes the vowels as diacritics, if at all (though it uses some of its consonants for long vowels—e.g., y is "î", w is "û", and ' is "â", in Arabic). And an abugida assumes that every consonant has an intrinsic vowel; in most Indian abugidas the intrinsic vowel is "a". Other vowels are written with diacritics, as is the "vowel canceler" (at least in abugidas for languages with biliterals).

  2. Development

    As far as we know, all four of the world's alphabetical systems began as logogram sets. And yes, there are only four—cuneiform, hieroglyphics, hanzi, and Meso-American glyphs—and cuneiform and Meso-American are extinct. Other than Chinese, Japanese, and Korean, all writing systems in the world are, directly or indirectly, derived from hieroglyphics. Actually, Linear A, which might be related to the Luwian glyphs and possibly the Indus Valley script, represents a fifth, but it was pretty much extinct by the Golden Age of Greece, and we don't actually know that it wasn't derived from Egyptian (or possibly cuneiform) somewhere along the way.

    What's interesting is, everyone starts with logograms. Then they eventually start writing in syllabaries or abugidas, sometimes in combination with the logograms. Then come abjads, and finally alphabets. Usually, when people try to create alphabets for their languages (if they don't just adapt another alphabet, e.g. Greek becomes Etruscan becomes Roman), they create syllabaries; Persian derived its from cuneiform, Sequoia derived his from Roman, and Kobo Daishi derived his from Siddham Sanskrit (and the man'yogana system for writing Japanese phonetically in hanzi).

  3. Can You Write It With a Ballpoint Pen?

    Right. So. My brilliant teacher from Lyzrd's Stomp started with, quite sensibly, "look at our alphabet". Notice that the characters are made up of different kinds of stroke. For example, in Arial and other "Helvetica" scripts,

    A E F H I K L M N T V W X Y Z

    are all straight lines, while

    C O S

    are all curves, and

    B D G J P Q R U

    are a mix of curves and straights.

    Now, I do something a little different from him, since my purpose wasn't merely decorative. Take a good long look at, say, the Romulan alphabet from Star Trek: what the hell tool do you write that with? I mean, I get that that's a typeset font, and all, but what does the handwritten form look like? It's really hard to tell.

    So what I do is, I keep my scripts' basic form simple (because my script has to stand up to the "would anyone actually be able to write that?" test). I make a bunch of glyphs—more than I need, so I can choose my favorites—from those elements, curves, straights, and mixes. Then I assign them to phonemes. It doesn't matter if some of your letters look like some of ours, though you might wanna avoid having the doubles stand for the same sounds. Actually having some false cognates is realistic, look at Cyrillic, with its H=N, C=S, and P=R (and cursive M=cursive T, which I have never understood).

    At this step, it helps to think about your script's history. For instance, my felinoids' script derived from (a tiny portion of) one of their civilizations' logograms, that one of its successors used it as the basis of an abugida. But then a third civilization changed it to an alphabet. As a result of its history, though, the vowels—which were originally the abugida's vowel-diacritics—are written half the height of the consonants.

    Speaking of, though it's quite likely a script will have both a script and print form, it's extremely unlikely that it'll use the case-distinction we use (the only other alphabets that have capital and lowercase copied them intentionally from Latin languages). The only exception is Greek (which acquired its two cases in a parallel development with Latin-script languages), and though it has capitalized letters in proper names, it doesn't put them at the beginning of sentences (come to think of it, German uses our alphabet but capitalizes every noun). There might be different situations where another alphabet switches between script and print forms (remember how spell names are always italicized in D&D?), and, like in my felinoids' alphabet, there can be other reasons for a size distinction.

  4. Linguists Don't Write Fruit Receipts

    I know, I know, you love hangeul to death, and the "turn it 90 degrees" thing in Aboriginal Syllabics is kinda neat. But those scripts could not possibly be, or look, more artificial, not even if every glyph had "© Dow Chemical" written real tiny at the bottom. Unless the culture the writing is for is a totalitarian dystopia dominated by an academic ideology (like Joseon Korea was), or was taught by missionaries from somewhere else (like the various Indians who use Syllabics), they'd never have a writing style like that. Scripts don't develop like that. Both Sinai script and kana derived from using logograms phonetically, not from any linguistic analysis.

    I urge you not only to resist the urge to nerd out while creating your script, but actually build in little historical oddities. The order of the Roman alphabet comes from casting off, then re-acquiring, Greek letters; the Cyrillic "i" looks like a backwards N because it's based on a cursive eta (apparently already pronounced "i"). Not only do my felinoids write their vowels small because of an abugida's vowel-diacritics, they also write the glottal stop (which is a consonant) as small as a vowel, because originally it was the abugida's vowel-canceller. They write the two "purred" vowels the same size as the consonants, though, because those two characters derive from the abugida's vowel-initial syllables (I'm not sure why, maybe the purred-vowel diacritics were too similar to the others, or ugly, or something).

  5. Numbers

    Take care when writing your numbers. Above all, no dots. Sure it's easy, and there have been real-world systems that did it (most Meso-American peoples denoted numbers with dots, and it's how Romans wrote fractions), but it's also lazy and unattractive. Plus, think about writing: how easy are dots to blur together? Pretty damn easy.

    Personally, I like acrophonic numerals. Our own number system (the Hindu one) is mostly acrophonic, except that 1, 2, and 3 are cursive tallies (2 and 3 are sideways), while all the others are the first letters of their Sanskrit name, written in Brahmi. Cool, huh? Plus you don't have to come up with more letters, which is nice (maybe strikethrough or underline them when they're being used as letters), and you can have people make jokes by reading numbers phonetically, the way people do in Japanese (like how Shinigami's phone number in Soul Eater is 42-42-564, or "dying-dying-killing").