Comentario 4

Pensées aléatoires.
  • Eliminating thoikh funerary cannibalism. Funerary cannibalism is actually an idea I find intriguing, and apparently the fact many human populations are resistant to kuru, which by rights would be called "mad human disease" suggests it was once a widespread practice. But the thoikh (all of whom are psychometers) cannot abide to be in the same room with Foucaultian transgressivists, so having them practice any kind of cannibalism weakens the theme. Also cannibalism is over-played (e.g. the Bosmer in Elder Scrolls, although how they can still join Namira's cannibal-cult when for them it's the worship of an Aedra is never explained), which is kinda a freaky little fact about our pop-culture.

    Had considered maybe having the thoikh have evolved as an apex predator (which, again, are the only things that can become sapient—which is not the same thing as saying all apex predators will become sapient), but then become herbivorous. There's a bear and a...mustelid, -ish, that did that. Because they're still Carnivora (capital-C is a particular order, not just "any meat-eating animal", T. rex is a carnivore but not a Carnivore), though, they can't digest cellulose well and pretty much spend all their time eating and sleeping, which is why the bears are too dumb to breed and the mustelid-ishes are so dopily adorable.

    Instead I'll have the thoikh have an African wild dog/Asian dhole type of social structure, where instead of having a dominance hierarchy they have a submission one—dominance isn't marked but submission is. That's not actually terribly unusual. On the flip-side some animals do it in reverse, cats for instance have absolutely no submission postures, a cat "submits" by ceasing to offer threat-postures. But I don't know of any gregarious animals with that behavior. (Incidentally, blind cats, who can otherwise survive okay due to their other senses being so good, tend to get the crap kicked out of them by other cats, because visual cues are very important in feline social interaction and a blind cat is the definition of "kûki yomenai" and "nunchi eopseumnida", literally in that second case, "nun" is Korean for "eye".)
  • Been watching Almost Human with my dad. It's, what, six episodes in? And it hasn't once pissed me off. Me being me, I begin to wonder, "what are they planning to spring on us?"

    I kinda like how they have very Vangelis electronic pseudo-sax, and people walking around with neon-lit umbrellas. I mean hell, they were ripping off Blade Runner either way, they might as well do it with some freaking style.

    I'm a call this thing right now, though, the captain is the real villain of the piece. She told Kennex he's special. Nobody but a villain tells your protagonist he's special unless he's obviously an alien or some such thing.
  • I haven't talked about it here (now it's ending), but I liked this anime season. "Kyôkai no Kanata"/"Beyond the Boundary" takes a little getting into, but your time is well rewarded. I like the siscon dude's sister, like when she replaced everything on her brother's iPod with yaoi drama-CDs after he signed her up for not-AKB48-at-all auditions without her permission. "Yûsha ni Narenakatta Ore wa Shibushibu Shûshoku wo Ketsui Shimashita"/"Unable to Become a Hero I Reluctantly Got a Job"/Yûshibu for short is also good, although its fanservice is inelegant and its girls' figure-drawing needs work. I just love the whole "trained to become a hero, now works in retail because he has a degree he can't use" aspect. Also the magic runes that look like circuit diagrams.

    Probably the best series out this season was "Ore no Nônai Sentakushi ga, Gakuen Love Comedy wo Zenryoku de Jama Shiteiru"/"My Mental Would-You-Rather is Really Interfering with My School Love Comedy"/Nôcome for short. I enjoy a good severely messed up raunchy comedy, and this one probably had a higher rate of laughs than Baka Test (although Baka Test was stronger in other areas). The girl with the short silver hair is a new type, which I shall presume to name the "hendere".
  • Occasioned by something else similar, but there are people who complain when, e.g. during a D&D game, you describe something by reference to something modern/this-worldly. "My character wouldn't know what a freight-train is," they say, after you've compared some monster to one.

    The only response is, "Yeah dude, but your character also doesn't need the thing described to him, he's there seeing it. Now are you gonna kibbitz my attempt to convey the wholly imaginary to your mind, or can I get back to that attempt?" Objectively, things are like the things that they are like; a person who had never encountered either before would, once acquainted with them, know their likeness.
  • Got a fairly recent translation of The Tengu's Discourse on the Martial Arts, the one sold as "Demon's Sermon on etc." (a tengu is only a demon in the original Greek sense, "crow-fairy" would be a better description). It's interesting, basically a collection of fables illustrating a certain number of related points, but one sorta wonders if there has been some mistake, when even the translator refers to the themes the stories illustrate as being "Zen". To my knowledge, Zen, while it may be an odd combination of Pelagian and quietist, is still a type of Buddhism. Yet each of these stories is about not sweating reincarnation and the cycle of rebirth, because the life of everything is just as its karma dictates it should be. "Everything is properly born to the station its karma dictates, and must fulfill the law proper to its station" is not any kind of Buddhism I know of, since it happens to be Hinduism; "did away with the caste system" is something even Americans know about Buddha!

    I'm guessing that the actual worldview informing the essays was not Buddhist, Zen or otherwise, but Neo-Confucian. Japanese Neo-Confucianism never persecuted Buddhism, and was almost as likely to quote Buddhist writings as Confucian ones. Part of that, though, was that Japanese Buddhism had already been partly tamed by Kûkai's identification of Amaterasu-Omikami with Mahavairocana Tathagata. To a degree, of course, the main form of Japanese Buddhism avoided being quite that deracinated (most of the Japanese populace has always been Pure Land, which is fortunately as devoted to "What is necessary to be saved?" as any altar-call Evangelicalism), but Kûkai's interpretatio japonensis filtered to other Buddhist sects from his own Shingon. While Pure Land Buddhists are still primarily concerned with soteriology rather than theology, Japanese Pure Land practitioners still thought of Shinto and Buddhism as the same religion (until the actual laws against it, at the Meiji Restoration). Nobody else in Asia ever did that; while everyone in China and Korea who worships the native pantheon will say "Buddhist" when asked what religion he is (because that defines his conception of the cosmos and his place in it), they don't identify Guan Yǔ or the Dokkaebi-daegam as Buddhist figures.
  • The Japanese word "shumi" ordinarily means "hobby", but it's also the polite term for "fetish" (I actually get the logic there—fetish-subcultures are made up, if you think about it, of somewhat alarming hobbyists). It sometimes makes people in anime seem crazy, though. For instance, in Fullmetal Alchemist, at some point someone (Sergeant Brosch and Lieutenant Ross?) ask why Al's always wearing armor. Since he can't very well say "We tried to bring our mother back to life in violation of the strongest taboo of alchemy—also the laws of our militaristic police-state—and the armor is actually his body now", Ed says, "It's kinda his hobby." And the others react as if that was deeply disturbing, which doubtless struck most of the American audience as quite an overreaction. But remember: they might interpret it as "It's kinda his fetish." Their reaction is actually quite mild if you interpret it as "Sweet kindly Alphonse with the little-boy voice that belies his huge frame, is also a twisted gimp who goes everywhere in full-body fetish gear."
  • I think a lot more aspects of the human condition are explicable by reference to ethology than most analysis seems to think, and without recourse to silly outré Just-So stories. Ownership is territoriality, (romantic) love is the creation of pair-bond, reverence is dominance behavior. Of course, all those things are colored by the fact humans are the only animal that knows it or anything else exists, and that can actually abstract concepts—being an animal, though, humans apply territoriality and dominance behavior to their concepts, exactly as if they were physical places and creatures. Also only humans, in the whole of Earth's biosphere, have a thing called "society", where unrelated conspecifics negotiate their territorial disputes rather than fighting over them.

    That is, on the other hand, one of the dirty little secrets of animal behavior—everything we and animals share is transformed by our peculiar ability to abstract and conceptualize, and most of the things put forth as evidence we differ from animals only by degree is, on examination, only very qualifiedly evidence at all (when it's not just outright fake). The linguistic abilities of apes, for example, are generally grossly exaggerated, and often are more a combination of wishful thinking (and innocent pareidolia) with their trainers' insight (insight which anyone gains from interacting with any animal, whether it's been taught sign language or not). Even the most promising of bonobo language experiments have yet to demonstrate sentences more complex than "subject object location"—being very generous with our interpretation of particular juxtapositions of uninflectable symbols—and not even the faintest glimmering of abstract conceptualization has ever been even hinted at.


Sierra Foxtrot 5

エスエフの思考、五話。 I don't know what you count blog-posts with, but "話" is used for TV episodes and volumes in a book series.
  • I happened to see a National Geographic article about the speed of human expansion. From Ethiopia (origin of H. sapiens) to Tierra del Fuego (last place settled by prehistoric man), is 21,000 miles. It took 60,000 years for us to get there. Do you happen to know how many stars we can realistically reach, with one of the several interstellar rockets proposed in the 60s and 70s, in 60,000 years? Here's a hint: Assuming hydrogen-bomb powered Orion rockets, which we could build tomorrow if we had to, you can do 4-5% of the speed of light (if you're into stopping at the end). In 60,000 years, that's 2700 light-years of travel.

    Interestingly, a lot of things about interstellar colonization seem like they'd put civilization back on a Neolithic footing—an interstellar civilization, if possible at all, would not be like even a Bronze Age civilization, let alone an Iron Age or later one. Remember how I compared them to water-monopoly empires? That's something you get in the Neolithic and Chalcolithic (which includes the earliest stages of Egypt and Sumer); people like to claim China is one but that's not really defensible if one analyzes the details of Chinese history.

    That sounds terrible, until you remember how many other science-fiction themes are basically trying to put things back on Paleolithic terms, and not Upper Paleolithic, either. Gender feminism and transhumanism are, both of them, attempts to undo Behavioral Modernity, the former by dispensing with sex-role specialization and the latter by modifying the body instead of just making tools.
  • Saw Pacific Rim. It's not bad, but man is it dumb. Just one way, that I think other people have pointed out: no way no how is the Gypsy Danger "analog", it's precisely as conventionally computerized—ipso facto "digital—as any of the others. And it being nuclear and it being "analog" are in no way related. What they could and should have said is that, being nuclear, it has lots and lots of shielding on all its electronics that the non-nuclear ones don't.

    Of course, the other issue is, why on earth would you hook people's brains up to your giant robots? You can just have them wear mo-cap suits if you're married to the idea of having the mecha ape their motions—like the pilots in G Gundam and Pricilla in GunXSword—and have them train to synchronize, if you're also married (bigamously?) to the idea of having one to control each half. We know exactly how to train mecha pilots to synch, see episode 9 of Evangelion. You probably have to come up with another justification for two pilots, although I can think of a whole bunch of perfectly plausible reasons to need two pilots in any vehicle. (Also, one word: "Gattai.")

    And really, the only reason you'd hook the things to people's brains is if you wanted to significantly increase the likelihood of losing two pilots, instead of just one, when things go wrong (see also "you'd only design a ship like the one in Alien if you knew a monster would be crawling around it at some point").
  • Do people realize that saying risibly false things about global warming's risks only undercuts the credibility of the policies they favor? You get it a lot in science fiction stories, with the whole world or significant portions of it flooded (Water World being the extreme case). The simple response to that is, "Only if the Earth gets hit by a whole lot of solid-ice meteorites." The other scenarios are equally millenarian (which in practice means "apocalyptic for the sake of being apocalyptic, without reference to facts").

    Leaving all questions about anthropogenic global warming to one side, it cannot actually threaten the lives of a large portion of humanity. Newsflash, even if the ice-caps melted completely (which they won't, there are no models of climate change that predict complete ice-cap melt), the planet remains thoroughly livable; its coastlines barely even change. We, uh, do actually know how much water is contained in the ice-caps, and how much that amount of water would change sea-levels.

    One thing that I do not think people understand is that we haven't always had ice-caps. Antarctica was in roughly the same place it is now, in the Cretaceous and Paleocene, but it had no ice-cap (there wasn't one at the north pole, either). Animals with the same physiological needs as modern ones lived in both regions. And hey, if you're so scared of global overpopulation (which is far less likely than any form of climate change—including the one depicted here), "10.6% more of the planet's land surface is now habitable" seems like something you should want!
  • Similarly, nuclear winter can't happen. It requires that dozens of things about the particular dust at the point of impact and the particular way the particular bomb's particular blast hits it, all simultaneously be in their absolute pessimal condition. It is an absolutely textbook spherical cow, and people cite it like it's "Storey's Guide to Raising Beef Cattle".

    Carl Sagan made up nuclear winter because he didn't like Mutually Assured Destruction, and wanted to hide behind clericalism and authority because he was incapable of ethical reasoning ("it's wrong to take each other's civilian populace hostage even if it prevents a shooting-war"—how freaking hard was that?).

    And, seriously, "clericalism". Sagan's conception and portrayal of science is pretty much dedicated to denying any human failings on the part of an elite class that wears white robes. The narrative he peddles isn't even run-of-the-mill Catholic or Jewish clericalism, though, it's full-blown Calvinist or Cathar clericalism, with scientists as the Perfect members of the Spiritual Elect.
  • RE: "animals with the same physiological needs as modern ones", another thing that irked me about Pacific Rim is that the dinosaurs are said to have been a test-run of the Kaiju. Uh...please explain how the creatures with the blue acid-blood are served at KFC and nobody noticed?

    Of course then again, they repeat the "dinosaurs with two brains" thing nobody has believed for at least twenty-seven years, so maybe we should just assume they're going by children's books about dinosaurs published while we were still doing moon landings. (Also, the flying kaiju would've been much scarier if it'd been built like an azhdarchid rather than a vampire bat, but that, too would require some actual knowledge on the part of filmmakers.)
  • I saw "Impostor", or rather about the first fifteen minutes of it, and then I had to turn it off. It lost me with its "Oppenheimer saw nuclear weapons were evil and was branded a Communist sympathizer". Two things. One, Oppenheimer has been proved to be a Stalinist agent (he was also a sexual predator and attempted to poison at least one person that annoyed him). When one of the guys at General Atomics was trying to start an international coalition of scientists who refused to work on nuclear weapons, he expected Oppenheimer's help, because of Oppenheimer's much-publicized remarks about nuclear disarmament. Oppenheimer begged him not to start the group...probably because an international group might include Soviet scientists.

    But two, and much more important, why would a guy in a dystopian police-state bring that up while looking out at the bomb he's building? Aside from the fact you're beating your audience over the head with your symbolism, the war is different—the Soviets were not regularly air-raiding US cities, the Centauri were doing that to Earth. Also, if the state in your setting is so all-fired evil, they don't have to elaborately frame the dude. They can just liquidate him without a trial, or with proceedings that aren't so much a trial as an expression of contempt for the concept. And they will, the second he starts comparing the weapon he's working on (for the regime) to other weapons in history whose designers "realized" the "madness" of their weapons. The fact you think a state needs to frame people is what separates us from the Soviets, it's kinda ironic that you undercut your moral-equivalency allegory with your moral-equivalency allegory.
  • One thing I've recently been getting into (all that fooling around with batteries led me to some interesting places) is non-nuclear explosives. Like, say, if you need a bomb-plot in a science fiction book? A hypothetical one that's 5.47 times as strong as TNT is "octaazacubane", although really we should just call it "metastable nitrogen", because that's what it is (metastable anything is weirdsville, and often a pretty dangerous part of town, too).

    Then, not so hypothetically, there's RDX, also known as cyclonite and hexogen (I like "hexogen"). It's 1.6 times as explosive as TNT, and we've been using it in military applications since World War II. There's also HMX, AKA octogen (the main reason I like "hexogen" for RDX), which is 1.7 times as explosive as TNT, and yet can be disguised by mixing it with flour—and you can even cook it and eat it, it's not toxic. It was also used in World War II, we supplied Chinese guerrillas with it disguised as flour, under the codename "Aunt Jemima".

    If "only 2/3 more powerful than TNT" doesn't cut it for you, how about hexanitrobenzene? It's 1.8 times as powerful as TNT. DDF ("4,4'-Dinitro-3,3'-diazenofuroxan"—your guess is as good as mine how to pronounce those numbers) is 1.95 times as powerful as TNT; something called MEDINA (methylene dinitroamine) is apparently 1.93, but it apparently doesn't keep very well. And then there's always octanitrocubane. A cube of carbon with an NO2 at each corner, it's 2.38 times as explosive as TNT. It's also currently so difficult to make that it's more expensive than gold, but in a science-fiction setting it would presumably be easier and therefore cheaper (same goes for metastable nitrogen).
  • Did some calculating, to have realistic numbers for the zledo. Apparently the portion of a cat's mass that's muscle is 59-63% (i.e. the average is 61%). It doesn't vary by sex; cat dimorphism is mostly just a matter of brute size, not proportions. The portion of a human that's muscle is, on average, 42% for males and 36% for females. I decided to go with (36/42*61=)52% for zled females, since they do have different builds between their sexes.

    What this means is that an average human male (mass 70 kilos) has 29.4 kilos of muscle. A zled male the same size as him (who would look a lot smaller, because their proportions are different—when I say "humanoid", I mean "four-limbed biped with a head") would mass 104 kilos. In both cases, 40.6 kilos is the amount of the body that's not muscle, it's just that it's 58% of a human's mass and 39% of the zled's.

    What that means in terms of mass is, assuming similar proportions for the individual muscles, a zled's muscles are ((61/42)1/3—also as it turns out (52/36)1/3) c. 13% thicker than a human's. That results in 27% greater cross-sectional area, which is the main determinant of strength (assuming identical performance in their muscle tissue). They come from a planet with 8% higher gravity than Earth, though, so their muscle tissue is actually slightly better, performance-wise—but that's a good baseline.


Auxiliary Power

More power-source thoughts.
  • That last post, and a Facebook discussion on a thorium-powered steam-driven car (which actually heats its steam by pumping a laser with the radiation from a heat-boosted thorium sample), gave me occasion to look around radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs).

    I'm not sure where, if at all, my humans will use RTGs; their rockets are designs whose main problem is what to do with all that extra energy, and you'd have to be nuts to put most RTGs on a ground- or air-vehicle. Then again I don't really go into teeny-weeny space station outposts (all the space-stations I mention are colonies along the lines of "O'Neill Island" designs), maybe some of the smaller ones use RTGs. I imagine the big colonies use some mix of solar and fusion, maybe some fission (presumably thorium-fueled).
  • Another thing I realized is that zledo would probably have made much more use of strontium-90 in their RTGs (back when they still used 'em), since the main danger of strontium-90 exposure (if you don't physically crack open the containment capsule in an RTG with your hands, or aren't nearby when the capsule is opened by an accident) is that it gets into the soil, where it is incorporated into plants and water, where you can eat or drink it—and then your metabolism incorporates it into your bones. Their bones are made of a type of biogenic silica, so they don't have to worry about that.

    Of course, they probably have to worry more about tin-126 (since it's in the same line as silicon on the table), albeit chiefly as a nuclear-fallout component, since it doesn't really form in ordinary fission power-plants, and they never used nukes on planetary surfaces. They did use them in space, both for weaponry and to ignite Orion rockets—actually, I'm considering making them have used Orion rockets from planetary surfaces, since you can do that relatively safely by putting an even bigger armor plate under the rocket, and coating both armor plates in a thick layer of graphite. (The one flaw with that link, by the way, is it says we're "more than prepared" to use nuclear bunker-busters, when in actual fact absolutely nobody seriously considers doing that.)
  • One other thing? I think I'm going to have zled equipment powered by regular mainsprings, rather than "dilaton alternators" or Planck-scale mainsprings. Cool as the dilaton alternator is—it gets around the relative inefficiency of gravity as a power-source (consider how much water has to move through typical hydroelectric plants) by going down to the scale where gravity's force is much greater, before it leaks into other parts of space-time geometry—I'm doubtful as to whether it would be very portable ("giant lab apparatus", etc.).

    The mainspring of a windup-radio provides 4 watts for 25 minutes, which translates to 1 and 2/3 W/h...which is six kilojoules, meaning (the power of a spring is proportional to the change of its length i.e. to the tightness of its winding) a just slightly longer or more tightly-wound spring is enough for four shots of 1.6 kJ laser. A little research into windup phonographs reveals they often had multiple springs in their motors, so maybe zled lasers just use regular, non-nano-material springs, with, say, four extra springs in the hand-laser and a big ol' stack of, say, twelve in the long one (reducing the number of shots per magazine—or "barrel" as the housing of a mainspring is actually known—from 18 to 16 and from 50 to 48). Don't know if they're gonna call 'em "barrels" when they're being used to power what is basically a gun, that's just likely to cause confusion.


Not Included

Material culture thoughts, chiefly as it turns out concerning power-supplies.
  • Someone might (you see it happen often) take exception to me saying that things like anti-gravity might be used in buses and airships, after I explicitly compared that kind of ultra-tech to nuclear fission. We'll leave nuclear-powered spacecraft, which have already been fielded, to one side, not least because the Soviets were less than meticulous in their disposal of the scary pieces. But the thing is, fission is a special case; we need weird radioactive substances to pull it off and it's easy for the reactions to get away from you. That's not the case for, e.g., fusion, which simply stops happening when you stop making it happen (which is why we can't use it for power yet), although other issues with fusion probably require a certain minimum facility size. It probably wouldn't be the case for most things involving the Casimir effect. (Antimatter, on the other hand...)

    I was thinking that all those hand-held ultratech devices in our fiction would probably strike a future society much like the Ford Nucleon strikes us, but then it occurred to me that a lot of science fiction still seems not to understand that fusion is incredibly dangerous—just because it doesn't go critical or require uranium doesn't mean it's not a nuclear reaction that involves loads of lethal radiation and megakelvin temperatures. It's extremely doubtful fusion can ever be produced, as a power-source, in anything much smaller than a fairly good-size fission facility. Fusion power-plants almost certainly require lots of room and lots of sheer brute mass, between the fact fusion produces temperatures beyond any process that ordinarily happens on a planet, and the radiation, both EM and particle. (Even if aneutronic fusion were remotely feasible right now, and it's orders of magnitude less so than many things we still don't actually know how to do—even helium-3 isn't wholly aneutronic unless you fuse it to itself instead of deuterium—you'd still need huge facilities to magnetically contain the protons).
  • The space-requirements of fusion, of course, means that the planes and buses (and mecha) in my books use some kind of battery. I've reexamined AMTECs (alkali-metal thermo-electric converters), and decided that their energy-density (2-3 kW·h/kg) isn't really that great. Think I'll go with silicon-air batteries, since they're almost as energy-dense as lithium-air (8.47 kW·h/kg for Si-air vs. 12 kW·h/kg for lithium-air) and yet made of the eighth most common element in the universe (second-most in the Earth's crust), rather than an element rarer than platinum, palladium, neodymium, and cerium. Those are theoretical energy densities, mind, not the ones we're gonna actually get for the foreseeable future, but it's set in the 24th freaking century, so I figure I can get away with that.

    An electric motor is three to four times more efficient at driving a propeller than an internal combustion one. If we assume an average improvement (3.5 times as efficient), then to propel, say, an Ilyushin Il-18 transport plane, which has four Ivchenko AI-20M internal-combustion turboprops with a power of 3,170 kW each, would require only (12,680/3.5=)3,623 kW. If we assume the same mass of batteries as the Il-18 carries fuel (30,000 liters, which has a mass of 23,850 kg given the density of jet fuel), then the battery provides (8.47*23,850/3,623=)56 hours of operation, which is plenty respectable. Dividing its listed max range by its cruising speed gives 10.4 hours, for which you'd only need 4,448.5 kg battery.

    An electric motor is 2.5 times as efficient as an internal combustion engine in powering a car—again, electric motors spin, and what does a drive-train do? To propel a Prévost X3-45 bus (the kind used by both the current and previous US Presidents, as well as by bus-lines like Greyhound), which has a 324 kW Volvo D13 engine, you need (324/2.5=)129.6 kW. If we assume the same mass of battery as it currently carries fuel (787 liters, which masses 582.4 kg given the density of gasoline), the bus gets 38 hours of operation. Dividing its tank by its fuel economy (1.58153 km/l) gives a range of 497.6, which takes 6.63 hours at highway speeds. To power the bus for that time with batteries takes only 101.4 kg of battery.
  • While we're at it, an M1 Abrams tank has a power-plant of 1100 kW, which an electric motor could replace with 440 kW; at 1406 kg of battery, the mass of its 1900 liters of gas, it gets 27 straight hours of operation. Dividing its range by its top speed gives 6.36 hours operation; the silicon-air batteries to power that are only 330.4 kg.

    A, say, Honda Accord, has a 138 kW engine (=55.2 kW electric), and carries 65.1 liters of gas, which masses 48.2 kg. Carrying a comparable mass of Si-air battery means it gets (8.47*48.2/55.2=)7.4 hours of operation, which translates to over 550 miles range at highway speeds. Dividing its tank by its fuel economy of 14.88 km/l gives 4.375 hours activity, which can be powered by 28.5 kg of battery.
  • Of course, a mecha is not a car. Let's take the example of, say, TOPIO, the Vietnamese ping-pong playing robot, since ASIMO is a poor model for military hardware. TOPIO uses a 48-volt, 20 ampere-hour battery, which is probably derived from an electric scooter battery. All the scooters I can find with that battery have 15 horsepower engines, so we can assume that it's got an effective 11.2 kW power plant. If we scale the 188 cm, 120 kg TOPIO 3.0 up to 10 meters tall, we get a weight of 18.1 megagrams, which presumably needs 1,686 kW to power it. If it carries as much battery as the similarly sized (17.7 megagram) M18 Wildcat anti-tank armored gun carried gas (624.6 liters, massing 462.2 kg), we get...2.3 hours of continuous operation.

    Whoa, I guess they weren't kidding when they said a bipedal design is power-intensive! Hang on, though, y'all, I got this. I never put a ring on silicon-air batteries' finger, we maybe can go with something else. Lithium-air gives us (12*462.2/1,686=)3.3 hours. Maybe do the whole "the mecha never go far from some other form of transport" thing? ...Come to think of it, Asimo's battery is a whopping 1/8 its mass; just stick 2,262.5 kg of lithium-air battery on the thing, that gives us 16.1 hours. We can go half that to get 8 hours operation, which is all anyone expects of a tank, as the Abrams demonstrates, above. Plus, 1,131(.25) is only 3.07 times the weight of the Tesla Roadster's battery, and the Roadster only masses 1,235 kg.
  • Androids, I think, might have to use something a little weirder, since if they use a battery the size of ASIMO's (7.7 kg), then, even if it's lithium-air, they'll only get eight and a quarter hours off the charge. Then again 22.4 kg, the amount of lithium-air battery you need to get a day's activity, isn't unworkably heavy. It's basically slightly more than the mass of an average human's torso, but androids don't have organs or need to make sure that tubes running through their body (one of which opens at both ends) aren't interrupted.

    Maybe they'll store the power supply in structures more like those sticker-batteries, but presumably thicker, all over their bodies, under the skin—since we're just now beginning to work with lithium-air batteries, it's possible we'll have figured out how to make them work like that in the mid-2300s. The reason I suggest they'd have a "battery" layer is that, well, humans store our energy like that—it's called fat. If we assume an android with an overall mass of 120 kg, like TOPIO 3.0, 22.4 kg is only 18 and 2/3 percent its body mass, which is right between the male and female recommended body-fat percentages of humans. Maybe some lighter-duty models only mass 60 kg and have enough battery for 12 hours (or only need half as much power since they're moving half the mass).

    ...Holy shit. So a little further reading reveals some lithium-air batteries aren't solid, but use gel-polymers based on, basically, polyvinyl, both to separate their cathode from their anode and as an ion-transport medium. And the way metal-air batteries work is they need to be oxidized. My androids need to breathe! Even better, when they get injured? I have something for them to bleed that's not only more directly important than coolant (or hydraulic fluid, which I hadn't used but had considered), it pretty much actually is blood!
  • Finally, I think I mentioned that mecha weapons carry their own power-sources. The rail-rifle I conceived of, that operates like a tank gun, would propel a projectile much like a modern KE-penetrator. Assuming tungsten carbide (in a ferromagnetic discarding sabot), and comparable dimensions to modern penetrators (an average of 2.5 cm diameter, an average of 55 cm long—volume of c. 270 cm3), it would have a mass of 4.22 kg. With a muzzle velocity of 2,000 m/s (very modest), each shot takes 8.44 MJ. That's the equivalent of 2.34 kW·h; a single-kilogram lithium-air battery gives sufficient energy for five shots (tanks usually carry around 40 rounds, which is the equivalent of 8 kg of Li-air battery). A total mass of c. 300 kg, counting the magazine and its battery, seems reasonable—and puts the rail-rifle more in the size-range of an anti-tank cannon like the 25 mm Hotchkiss Mle. 1934 than a tank gun. Except its bullets are twice as long as a typical anti-tank cannon's.
  • All those people who think robot, or, God forbid, cyborg arms could have whatever number of times greater strength nanowires offer over muscle? Uh...what's powering that?

    If they're moving hundreds of times as much mass as a human can, or a humanlike mass hundreds of times faster, they're going to be using hundreds of times that much energy, and as I've just demonstrated, it takes the whole weight of an average human's torso to power a robot of normal strength for just one day, with the theoretical optimum of a currently-experimental battery.

    Also, of course, good luck finding materials to make those robots out of. A robot that has to be made of materials as costly as wholly-hypothetical orbital insertion structures like space elevators just to resist the strength of its own muscles...doesn't sound like a good idea to me, how 'bout you?
  • If you think about it, the scale of outer space essentially (lacking FTL) puts space-expansion on the same time-frame that humanity's original expansion over this planet was. It took myriads of years for humanity to leave Africa; it took several more for them to leave Eurasia. The great civilizations of the New World, in the Renaissance, seem to have been roughly comparable to where Europe was 13-20 millennia ago—because it took them that long just to get over there. The Maya, whose last major center fell into decline in the 1200s AD, were not measurably superior to the Epi-Olmec (neither had anything over the Olmec but writing), and the Olmec began in the 1500s BC—much as many Neolithic Old World sites were inhabited by recognizably continuous material cultures for thousands of years, compared to the rapid upheavals of the Bronze and Iron Ages.

    We think of space-travel as slow only because it is only possible to people whose material culture has given them the ability to circumnavigate the globe in a bit under a day and a half. But what if you could give Neolithic people interstellar rockets? Would they think of reaching Alpha Centauri in forty years with Project Longshot (which I think would have an average speed of 12% lightspeed) as very long? How long did it take to settle Polynesia, or the Valley of Mexico? Two generations to reach a new place is pretty typical, actually, in prehistory. Admittedly that's mostly because foragers and pastoralists (not to speak of subsistence farmers) have to travel much slower than the actual top speed of humans on foot, but the point is that "we arrive in a new place and set up our new center generations after we left our old one" is not, taking the broad view, actually some new phenomenon for the human race.


As Balzac Said of Marriage

"What a commentary on human life, that humans must associate to endure it." (As quoted by Belloc, I can't find the original but I assume it's in Physiology of Marriage.) Thoughts upon society, mostly not fictional.
  • I think a huge proportion of people's folklore about the "brutality" of the Middle Ages...comes from the freaking Mongol invasions. I know the "throwing dead animals over walls to cause diseases in besieged cities" tactic was a Mongol thing, for example, and I don't know of any Europeans that used it. I don't think Europeans did that even in the Hundred Years War, and remember, that was their World War I/Vietnam.

    But, I mean, seriously? Isn't that kinda like saying "the Inca" persecuted Jews and brought enslaved Africans to work in silver-mines? I mean, a lot of the people involved in those activities in Peru were probably of Inca blood, but those are rightly regarded as issues for which the Spanish Empire must answer.

    Is it too much to ask that when forming opinions about a culture, you discuss things it actually did, and not things its enemies and conquerors did? Seems pretty basic to me, but I guess no?
  • And the Mongols were nuts. In 1207, Beijing (then Zhongdu) and the surrounding area had a population of 2 million. After the Mongols sacked it in 1215, the population was 376,000. Now, some of that was probably population loss due to the Jin Emperor moving his capital (since the Mongols had already besieged Zhongdu once), but still, probably at least a million died, given that the besieged city had 100,000 defenders and a populace of 108,000 households. Remember, this was before the One Child Policy (and also before the outlawing of polygamy)—the 13th-century Chinese had very large families.

    That's one battle, at least a million dead, probably closer to a million and a half, all but 10% of them civilians. Meanwhile, the sack of Jerusalem in the First Crusade? 3,000-3,500 dead. Less than that at Byzantium in the Fourth Crusade. All Crusades combined, over 300 years and with most of the dead being Christians massacred by Turks (who, again, always sacked cities they took), killed about 1.5 million, as many as Genghis Khan taking one city. But somehow people actually talk about the Crusaders as remotely comparable to the brutality of the Mongols.

    The only theory where that makes sense is if we assume that "Abrahamic" monotheists' lives count for several hundred times as much as Chinese Buddhists'—you explain the "Three thousand dead at Jerusalem is just as bad as over a million dead at Zhongdu" analysis, otherwise!
  • One canard that gets trotted out is "Oh, the Crusaders committed cannibalism at Maarat!" But, aside from the fact that I only know of one account of that that wasn't written about a decade after the fact (that of Fulcher of Chartres), that's not atrocity cannibalism; read the context it's mentioned, in Fulcher and in all the other accounts. If it happened at all (which, again, debatable), it was starvation-cannibalism. It's something that happens in sieges, to both sides when the besieged city is in a desert.
  • It occurs to me that the device—I myself have employed it—of comparing death-tolls as percents of global population at the time, is flawed. It can still be useful in some circumstances, but in absolute terms it isn't a valid methodology. Namely, it is assuming "scarcity" affects the value of human life. The lives of the members of small nations are not more valuable than the lives of members of large ones; the value of human life does not diminish as the number of humans increases.

    Again, Japan and China lost equal proportions of their civilian populations in World War II, but the Chinese losses represent ten times as many actual deaths. That means that there were more murders and "collateral damage" inflicted on Chinese civilians than Japanese ones, it does not mean that Japan and China suffered equally. All a larger population-base means is that China also had ten times as many people to grieve the loss of friends and relatives.
  • I recently decided to watch Equilibrium on Netflix. I had to turn it off after forty-seven minutes, and surprisingly, it wasn't the gun-katas that did it. No, it wasn't even the pointless inclusion of a bunch of Christian imagery for an obviously secularist, atheist ideology, nor the tin-eared failure to understand that Christian asceticism is the palate-cleanser of the oenophile, the bland preparation for sublime ecstasies. The movie does raise the question "Do these filmmakers hate Christians more than they hate their audience?", but their hatred for their audience was actually the clincher, and most noticeable in something else.

    It was the the basic premise. Who would be dumb enough to try to ban emotions? Leaving to one side how any drug that could do away with emotions would impede every other brain function, if history shows anything, it's that the emotions are the most efficient means of social control imaginable. And how would a culture like that possibly fail to notice that one of its enforcers has gone off his meds? They spot people in the line for trains who've gone off their meds, neither Batman nor Boromir would've made it past their own front doors in that condition. Lame excuses about "trying to optimize" wouldn't fool anyone (plus, since he wasn't doubting yet, Batman would've reported Boromir's "turning in contraband myself" excuse, and all their comrades would've been briefed on it, so he'd never have got away with using it himself).

    And, seriously. You do exist for the sake of your existence, that's not circular, some things are just ends in themselves. You certainly don't exist for the sake of emotions. Emotions mean nothing, they have no intrinsic value. All they are is cognitive shortcuts, a survival characteristic because it frees clock-cycles in the brain, so it doesn't have to adjust a body's operating parameters in real time. You feel to live, you do not live to feel; if you did then emotions would be worth more than life and the exquisite sensation of a razor-sharp blade separating flesh would constitute "justified homicide".
  • A weird trope, seemingly out of nowhere, that shows up in Japanese works (especially though not exclusively) is the "I will make you sick of war" antihero version of the "war for the sake of peace" paradox. You see it in Lelouch Lamperouge in Code GEACPS GEASS and Treize Khushrenada in Gundam Wing. Does anyone know where that crazy-town idea came from? I suppose it has a certain appeal to a nation that in living memory shocked the conscience of Asia (and see those Mongol entries above for why that's hard to do), but I don't think even the most delusional of Japanese nationalists would seriously maintain that was what Imperialism was about.

    Quite honestly, Mutually Assured Destruction—the embryo of which was probably Tesla's "Peace Ray" and which is probably an outgrowth of the Blue Water School of 19th century British foreign policy—is saner than that. And Mutually Assured Destruction is much crazier than its acronym suggests, lots of really, really crazy people would still balk at "both sides explicitly take each other's civilian populace hostage". I mean, "attack me and it won't go well for your people" is always somewhat implicit in national defense, of course, but the primary reason ought to be "we will water our fields with so much of your blood you won't have enough strength left to protect yourselves"; it's actually still just a little frowned on to explicitly threaten non-combatants, and no sane man is in any hurry to change that.
  • If you needed another piece of evidence that the US nuked the wrong island off the coast of Eurasia, how about the persistent habit of British people of referring to all elements of dialect that differ from their own usage as "slang"? Sorry, but "slang" is a form of jargon used for, among other things, in-group identification and as a marker of informal register. Dialect differences persist across registers and groups, when spoken in the same region—official documents in America don't abruptly start calling elevators "lifts" or trucks "lorries", now do they?

    For some reason the fact that "mad" means "angry" in America, specifically, is always described by British people as "slang" (it does admittedly occur more in informal speech than formal—but not all informal-register vocabulary is slang). Of course, part of it is that the British educational system is both worse than ours (an enormity one might take as some kind of eschatological omen), and somehow even more committed to unwarranted "self-esteem". The end result is a bunch of functional illiterates unaware of the distinction between "American slang" and "an Americanism" who nevertheless think themselves qualified to talk about language.
  • As a general rule, by the way, anything about grammar that's different between British and American English is often a matter of German influence, more Americans being of German descent than anything but—maybe, depending on your stats—Irish. For instance, "math" vs. "maths"—in American English it's singular, in British plural (I seem to recall Canada uses both in different contexts, but don't let's get sidetracked). In German, it's "die Mathematik", with the feminine singular "die" not the plural one. Or "different than", which British people tend to think is grammatically incorrect? "Anders als" in German.

    Incidentally, almost every instance where American is more like German is also one where American is more like Middle English; "mathematic(k)" was the word in the late 1300s (when it replaced a word that'd probably be "tallycraft" in Modern English). "Different than" is what every other Germanic language still uses (and while we're at it, "different to", Britain, seriously? come on, we leave you alone for a couple centuries and you let the language go to seed). Ironically, given their rabid Jingoism where French is concerned, a lot of the differences between British English and American—which are also differences between Modern British English and Middle English—shift English closer to Romance usage.


A Few Words

Post 500. I don't have any idea of what to do to commemorate the occasion. I wanted to do a blog post on language and writing though.
  • Idioms crop up in places where you least expect them, in descriptions of things you assume are straightforward. For example, if you read a lot of fan translations of manga and anime, you'll probably have come across phrases like "severed wrist" or "severed neck" (well, if you read crime manga). How do you mail someone a severed wrist or find a severed neck at a serial killer's house?

    Easy. Japanese expresses severed body-parts not by the name of the part, but by where it was severed. A severed head is called a neck; a severed hand is called a wrist. Pro translators tend to know that, and thus translate those things by the equivalent expression in English, but amateur fan translations are done by people who apparently never stop to ask, "Wait, 'severed wrist'? Does that mean they, like, just have the seven bones of the carpus? Maybe the distal ends of the radius and ulna?"
  • I realized that the trend of my recent edits to my book, one that I think all science fiction should follow, is toward the realistic portrayal of advanced technology. I.e., very little of the gravity control, metric-patching, or other high-level tech should be available in handheld or even crew-served devices; it should all be the purview of large labs and reactors, possibly in large vehicles like airships or buses but not in anything even as small as a car.

    The one thing I do still have is that zled wireless communications still use topology—they send their signals as wave-form distortions in space-time. But that's actually not too far-fetched—they just have a tiny amount of exotic matter that acts as an "antenna" by making microscopic distortions. It is to gravity control or metric-patching what the Farnsworth fusor is to actual power-generating fusion. Presumably they have the distortions follow a pattern different from natural gravity fluctuations (which presumably occur from every tiny bit of mass in existence), so they're detectable despite being small.
  • Which reminds me, I regularly use the expression "reinventing the wheel" to describe "science-fictional for the sake of being science-fictional" devices...and then I go and put snake-belly nanomaterial treads, on sled-like runners, on zled cars. No more; I'm changing them back to wheels.

    Or at least to spheres. The main advantage there is actually durability—a sphere-driven car can keep a damaged area of its wheels away from the road and still function exactly like a wheeled car—which is the kind of thing the zledo would think of; they're also neurologically much more equipped to take advantage of the increased maneuverability of spheres over wheels.

    It seems like "brushless direct-current" motors are the way to go with this; they have more power and durability and the trade-off, "potentially less rugged, more complex, more expensive control electronics" is a trade-off zled technology is more than able to make.
  • The last season or two of Law and Order Criminal Intent went downhill sharply, quality-wise. With the exception of the Jeff Goldblum episodes, which seem to have had a wholly different writing staff, the dialogue suddenly became strangely stagey and overwritten, everybody running scared of the verb "to be" and using highfalutin' adverbs while describing grisly felonies. It sounded like rather purple novelistic narrative prose, not dialogue.

    Niven's most important writer-rule: "Everybody talks first draft." People don't talk the way the narrative about them does, because people are not books and their audience isn't reading what they say. That's important enough for the dialogue in a work of prose; for the dialogue in a TV show, it's absolutely vital, as vital as "make sure you don't accidentally load live rounds in the prop guns".
  • I guess this counts as writing since it shows up a lot in journalism, and could well show up in fiction, but pretty much nobody is ever killed with a "high-powered" rifle round. Assault rifles are not high-powered. 5.56 NATO is .223 Remington; the AK-47's 7.62×39mm is probably the weakest .30 caliber round currently in wide use; the AK-74's 5.45×39mm is on par with the freaking .22 Hornet. In many places, if you hunt anything bigger than coyotes with the AK-74's round, or bigger than pronghorns with the M16's, you will go to jail for animal cruelty, because they are not powerful enough to reliably get humane kills. Assault rifles, in sporting terms, are varmint guns, or at best small-game (you could probably hunt smaller deer with 7.62×39mm).

    The .308 Winchester (in the form of 7.62 NATO) does, admittedly, see some limited battlefield use as a sniper- and designated-marksman gun, but even that's more of a medium-game rifle, grossly underpowered for anything much bigger than a (typical) elk. The kinds of animals you take with "high powered" rifles properly so-called are mostly in Africa; pretty much nothing in the New World except musk-ox and the largest grizzlies and polar bears is big enough to be worth the trouble (oh, also walruses—I always forget those are big game). Because that's what a high-powered rifle is, it's basically an elephant gun, and in military terms, an anti-materiel rifle. More people have probably been murdered with staplers—not staple-guns, just staplers!—than have been shot with anti-materiel rounds, those bullets are too expensive to waste on soft meaty targets like humans.
  • I was thinking about the impossibility of spacefaring libertarianism, and how a space-colonizing culture would, virtually latae sententiae, be a "water monopoly" empire. Of course, not actually based on water, nor air—hydrogen and oxygen are in abundant supply in space. Nor over some goofball nonsensoleum you can use for lame-brained petroleum allegories; superconductors, the real basis of space travel, don't actually occur naturally, and pretty much can't.

    No, no, the thing the "empire" has a monopoly over (other than the aforementioned superconductors, which are again not a natural resource)...would be protein. And carbohydrates. Pretty much, just like the fact that the only place you'd fight over in space are life-supporting planets, the big commodity in space would be the products of the biosphere you originated from. Even synthetic nutrients would require equipment the average asteroid miner wouldn't be able to afford, in terms of either space or money.

    Of course, that doesn't actually mean space colonization would have to be wholly state-controlled (nobody but an idiot or a libertarian—but I repeat myself—actually believes that anything is a dichotomous choice between "state" and "individual"). It would actually, as I think I've mentioned, be on the basis usually found in conditions where survival is hard, e.g. the mores and customs of subsistence-farming villagers, who are not a state but who are also under no obligation to help anyone who doesn't play by their rules. And their rules are the very opposite of the ones usually depicted in science fiction.
  • I think the problem with a whole bunch of comic stories along the lines of "What's So Funny About Truth, Justice, and the American Way?", made into the animated movie "Superman vs. The Elite", is that they tend to be idiot plots, where Clark refuses to make his argument until it's much too late. I realize that that prevents your story from happening, but then, that's why we call it an Idiot Plot.

    I mean, all he has to say is, "Dude, I can rip your arm off with two fingers. A terrifying alien monster that can turn you into mist faster than your eyes can perceive, is holding himself bound by your rules. And you're bitching about it? What do you think will happen, when I give myself the right to pass judgment on those of you who don't measure up to the standard of an untiring borderline-immortal whose endocrine system is almost entirely under his conscious control?"
  • Of course the other issue is, as the first seasons of the animated Batman realize but no other DC content since, heroes should say, not, "We can't kill (people like the Joker)" since at some point it pretty much becomes criminal negligence. Instead they should say, "I won't kill. That's for the courts. If you as a community decide to give the Joker the chair, the needle, or the gas-chamber, I won't shed any tears, but I'm not in the business of extrajudicial executions." (Or, "The fact we don't perform extrajudicial executions is the nice, legally-clear, liability-averting thing that separates the Justice League from any common lynch-mob.")

    And seriously, there is no legitimate excuse for the Joker to not get the death penalty; he's not psychotic, he didn't believe himself to be acting in self-defense. He's just freaking evil, and he's personally murdered more people than Che Guevara, without the aid of an entire totalitarian state's military and police to bring him victims. Plus? There's no reason he can't be constantly breaking out of Death Row instead of out of Arkham. Hell, coming up with ever more stringent security for him, and then ever crazier ways for him to get out anyway, is something relatively easy that adds interest automatically, like "What'll be the Riddler's clue this time?" or "What kind of constructs does this Green Lantern use in a given situation, and how and why are they different from the ones that Green Lantern would use?"


In RE: Previous

Addenda to the last one.
  • I'm not going to modify the narrative much, but I have decided that zled kinship will incorporate a bunch of different birth-order terms, as well as general "sibling" terms. There'll be a slight difference, in that the specific ones mean both "elder/younger sibling" and "whichever order of child", depending on who they're used in relation to.

    The beta or whatever of a wolf pack, after all, is the beta to both the alpha and the gamma, with the hierarchy-terminology independent of the place of any individual member. It's like how the same person is "offspring" relative to their parents and "sibling" relative to their siblings, but is, say, first lieutenant to both their colonel and their sergeant.

    Late addendum (to addendum): I guess the short way to put it is that "sibling" and "parent" explicitly describe the relationship, while "alpha" and "beta" (or "colonel" and "lieutenant") only implicitly describe it.
  • Realized I don't have the technical know-how to make my own laser ideas from scratch, so I'm borrowing other ideas. Part of this, since that's what my sources use, means they're near-infrared rather than mid, and thus can have much more normal lens material (probably not glass though). One thing I discovered, and which is weird, is that since they don't shoot something that's affected by gravitational pulls (but is affected by the space-time distortion that causes gravity), lasers' range actually depends, in part at least, on the target material. It's much easier to burn flesh than steel so "effective range" for a laser beam depends on the target.

    Another thing is, lasers are basically cameras, they don't need feed mechanisms from magazines. They also don't have recoil so, while they do need some way to steady them, they don't require a full-size stock. This allows me to radically change the design of zled guns, which if you recall I'd had look like Winchester-Henry-Marlin rifles and old Smith and Wesson break-top revolvers. Now, though? I'm thinking quite a different set of guns, taking my "deceptively primitive-looking" idea, with zled tech, a step further. Namely? Matchlocks. Lasers that look kinda like Tanegashima matchlocks!
  • I decided to go with moderately lower-capacity batteries for the lasers, because it makes the issue of "every battery is like a grenade" less daunting. Possibly of more significance, I didn't want to change the number of shots per load that I'd written when they were still guns. But 1.6 kJ per shot, 18 shots per battery, gives 28.8 kJ, or the equivalent of 6.34 g of TNT—the propellant load of a single round of .300 Remington Ultra Magnum. A 50-shot, same power long laser (which has increased range due to having greater depth of field) still only has 80 kJ, 17.6 g of TNT, 4 rounds of 7 mm Remington Magnum.

    Also, though, humans have roughly the same issue—it's hard to make all 30 rounds of our ammo go off because you've pretty much got to strike the primer to ignite the propellant. But with caseless ammo, the heat-sink of the casing is no longer there (there are other issues with that that I've gone over), and a good hit with a laser might cause the ammo to cook off in the magazine, simultaneously exploding and sending all the bullets flying at once (presumably into the weapon's wielder's arm or hand).
  • My guns' caseless ammo is electronically-fired (the G11's isn't, oddly). I was wondering what the difference was between the electronic guns' batteries, and those of the zled lasers, so I did some research. The only electronically fired gun that exists just now, the Voere VEC-91, uses two 15-volt batteries (Eveready 504s, from what I can find). Given 30 volts and a current of 216 coulombs (I looked it up), those batteries have an energy of 3.24 kJ...which is the equivalent of .7 grams of TNT.

    Yeah, the humans' guns are in no danger from their batteries—it's the 205 kJ (45 g of TNT), plus 30 pieces of expressly-designed-to-kill-you shrapnel, in every 30-round magazine, that they have to worry about. (Or 90 g of TNT in a 60-round casket magazine.)


Sierra Foxtrot 4

Thoughts on SF.
  • It occurs to me that zled kinship terms, involving compounds consisting of "relation + sex", are—entirely by accident!—essentially the notation used by ethologists in describing pack-structures. The alpha male and alpha female (note the elements involved) are the parents; the beta male and beta female are (usually) the eldest son and eldest daughter, and so on.

    I am torn as to whether I ought to actually change the narrative to address this. I personally dislike aliens being described primarily in ethological terms, because it tends to lead to shallow aliens that simply behave like their eco-niche, rationality secondary. On the other hand the shallow critics always get offended when your aliens are too much like humans (though that tends to involve wholly unsupported assumptions about the variability of human culture, let alone how different aliens would be).

    I suppose I shall have to please myself and not the critics; I don't have to live with them.
  • Apparently there is an idea, I've run across it in online discussions and brushed the edge of it in the spaceship rules of various SF RPGs, that there are ships in science fiction that don't run on rockets. Which, except for the relatively few reactionless drives, is poppycock. Outside of some very technical definitions, "rocket" means anything propelled by the expulsion of a heated exhaust—if it's got glowy things on the back and they even ostensibly push it, it is a rocket. The exhaust could be pure light, but a photon rocket is still a rocket, which is probably why they call it that. The Enterprise is a rocket, using antimatter as fuel and the byproducts of matter-antimatter annihilation as a propellant (despite the fact there's no reason not to use the warp-drive as a slower-than-light drive). Every ship in Star Wars is a rocket, using ion engines in a manner widely known to be physically impossible. Every ship in Firefly is a rocket, though for some reason they can negate their rest-mass with their artificial gravity tech (but cannot use that tech directly as an engine?). The ships of the Covenant are rockets, which use exotic matter with negative mass as a propellant to impart extra exhaust velocity.

    Notice, two of those things, the Star Trek and Firefly ones (i.e. the two shows in the category "formulaic hackneyed children's program by an overrated vapid ideologue whose cult of personality always blames third parties for their Dear Leader's very real failings"), don't actually need rockets. It's actually much easier to use any model of warp-drive space-time you care to name as an STL drive than as an FTL one, you don't have the massive energy requirements or the "naked singularity" issues. And while artificial gravity, if you happen to be able to get it, can do a lot of things (people in my books bleed off the force of their accelerations into the surrounding space-time, while still using rockets), I know of no models of it that can actually negate rest-mass—certainly of no models that can do that that can't also be used as an engine in their own right. Any gravity-control that can negate rest-mass can almost certainly also directly induce an inertial vector. Much less rarefied models of gravity control can be used as engines, for instance the Kzin gravity planer, which pretty much just makes things "fall" in the desired direction (until it amps the "gradient" back down).
  • There is a future history that made a very bold move, bold almost to the point of offensiveness, but it's seldom been either praised or blamed for it, because that move is concealed from much of its audience. Namely, there is a major science fiction franchise with a eugenicist-to-the-point-of-genocide totalitarian state...that names most of its weapons in Hebrew. We just didn't notice because "Zion", the name of this state, is usually Romanized as "Zeon"...because that's how it's pronounced in Hebrew. No, seriously, look at the names of Zeon mobile suits. "Zaku" ("Zach"), "Elmeth", "Aggai", "Z'Gok", "Zudah", "Gouf M'Quve"—all of those sound a hell of a lot like Semitic languages, and I can find Hebrew meanings for several of 'em (and I barely know how to look up Hebrew).

    Now, I wouldn't necessarily say this is related to the fact that Japan is the one place outside the Islamic world where "Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion" sells well. It's entirely possible that Kill 'Em All Tomino was just doing the obvious inverts-your-expectations thing, and had his Space Nazis be Jewish. Japan's Jewish population is roughly on par with its "clairvoyant albino" population (lower, if we count fiction), so Tomino wouldn't have been raised to be sensitive to the juxtaposition; to him it would probably look only about as offensive as having a black-dominated America that discriminates against whites, which was pretty much "combo platter #3" for science fiction writers in the late 70s.
  • I had considered having the pistols in my SF books shoot small caliber, hard rounds, like the ones shot by the FN Five-seveN pistol (which has 20 rounds in a somewhat smallish pistol). The Five-seveN shoots the same rounds as FN's P90 PDW/SMG ("PDW" is "personal defense weapon", the kind of thing you see a lot of, for instance, helicopter crews carrying—hence probably why the Air Force SG teams in the Stargate shows use P90s), chambered in FN's in-house produced 5.7×28mm. It's got its advantages, after all, and "small caliber pistols" seem to be a trend in a lot of science fiction.

    But...the thing is, the Russian Serdyukov Vektor pistol holds 18 rounds, and it's chambered in 9×19 mm Luger—or in a special hardened anti-armor 9 mm round, 9×21 mm Gyurza. You're gonna see a lot more of that second thing, and its NATO equivalents, as the armies of the world start equipping all their guys with body armor (and start fighting each other, rather than terrorist brigands, again). There doesn't seem to be much reason to start using small-caliber ammo—against unarmored opponents, who would come up a lot in a law-enforcement context, 9 mm is about as small as you wanna go—and the 9×21 mm can load from most of the same magazines as standard Luger rounds (actually NATO's just gonna start making AP variants of Luger, not borrow the Russian one).
  • Is it possible to have science fiction RPGs that don't take place in either a space-opera universe or one with only humans? I ask because the milieu of a lot of RPGs, regardless of genre, is basically borrowed from D&D, but the convention of that kind of setting RE: other races—the local blacksmith is a dwarf, the most popular bard in the kingdom is a half-elf, the thieves' guild is run by a halfling who has his gnome friend make all their tools—is intrinsically space-opera, if you move it out of a fantasy setting. You can't really have that kind of thing, much, when half the things on an elf's plate will poison you and your food might as well be Yuuji's Diet Coke and jellied agar for all the sustenance it'll give him.

    And that really is what aliens would be like. Anyone who complains about "upright quadruped" aliens, but not about the fact they can eat human food, is simply straining gnats and swallowing camels. As I said, it's an uphill battle to come up with reasons for humans and aliens to fight; it's at least as difficult to come up with reasons for them to trade. They can't eat your food. Your clothes wouldn't fit them and might be hideously allergenic. The only things I can think of are possibly related to fine handicrafts, artwork, etc., and by extension media, but monkeys have radically different taste in music from us and we diverged from them probably under 25 million years ago. There is the free exchange of ideas, but unfortunately, that exchange tends to be free as in beer as much as it is free as in speech. Plus, what would be the demand?

    It's very difficult to come up with a way for aliens to interact with humans in an RPG context that doesn't break the suspension of disbelief. Maybe it'd be workable if the game was more like the old World of Darkness, as written rather than as actually played, with the emphasis on intrigue rather than on shoot-and-loot.
  • What's with all the far future settings—I mean like the ones set more than a millennium in the future—where everyone has our names? Not only names we recognize as being from our language, but names assigned to the same sex of bearer and applied by the same socio-economic principles? 1000 years ago a lot fewer people were named Muhammad, and just about nobody was named Mary (it was held too sacred to be given as a name, just like Jesus was—the Spanish were awarded the right to name their children Jesús as a reward for Lepanto).

    And yet you go to the far off year 3127, and the salt of the earth rugged individualist (who somehow has failed to note that he depends on the gubmint for his air) is still gonna be named Jed. The black dude is still gonna be named Tyrone (which is, by the way, Latin for "n00b", I suggest we retire it as a personal appellation). The corporate shark lawyer—because those, which pretty much came into being in the late 1970s, will totally still exist in the 32nd century—is still gonna be named Leonard, with the vague implication he's concealing the name Lev so as to pass for a goy. Why? Stop it! Five or six centuries is fine, people in the 15th and 16th centuries were named much like we are, but past that?

    If cultural shift doesn't radically alter what names you give, linguistic shift will make them sound completely different. No language now existing was recognizable as itself (and not as simply related to itself) 1000 years ago, except ones that were already dead and fossilized like Latin, Sanskrit, and Hebrew (and other than Sanskrit, nobody pronounced those like they'd been pronounced while they were still alive). English still had cases back then, and ð, ƿ, æ, and þ were part of the alphabet! Sound recording might slow linguistic change, but it doesn't stop it—and we can only with difficulty understand the transitional form between Middle and Early Modern English (which, if we assume sound recording slows drift by half, is where 1000 years puts us).
  • Have you noticed how cheap anti-gravity always is, even in settings put forth by their partisans as "hard"? Mass Effect and Firefly would be the two big offenders; Firefly, as I think I've mentioned, has people cheerfully working under floating sleds as if they were propped up on tire-jacks, but, uh, if it's pushing up with enough force to make what's basically a utility trailer float, it's also pushing down with as much force as the trailer would. Mass Effect has people inducing what are canonically gravitational distortions from within their own bodies, without so much as having to eat more (like, five or six sticks of dynamite) afterwards.

    The fact of the matter is that anything you could do to distort space-time would, realistically, be on the order of nuclear fusion—if so convenient, since we can produce nuclear fusion very easily (in devices no bigger than a backyard barbecue), albeit not safely nor as a sustained reaction. Living tissue generally prefers to be good and far away from anything like that; aside from the risk of whatever energies are released (simply as byproducts) by whatever phenomenon you're getting your anti-grav from, is the fact most of the theoretical possibilities prefer vacuum. I suppose theoretically you might produce the Casimir effect in a Thermos bottle, but you probably couldn't manipulate much gravity with it.
  • Which leads me to conclude that my metric-patching guns are an awful lot of tech for small arms; I'm taking a much more serious look at lasers. Armor will actually have some effect on them, as much as on bullets. One thing I thought was interesting is this, from the Atomic Rockets' discussion of the idea:
    Assuming a worst case of 5 kilojoules per shot and a rechargeable magazine containing 50 shots, the magazine is packing 250 kilojoules. This is the equivalent of ... 55 grams of TNT (For comparison purposes, a standard 8 inch stick of dynamite is about 208 grams and hand grenades used by the US Army have explosive charges of 56 to 226 grams of TNT).
    True, but keep in mind, a given soldier is carrying around about 45 g TNT-equivalent explosive just by picking up an M4 with a 30-round STANAG magazine—5.56 NATO rounds generally use about a gram and a half of propellant, and nitrocellulose propellant is almost exactly as explosive as TNT. Admittedly, it's harder to make all 30 go off at once, but on the other hand there's less lethal shrapnel when a laser's battery explodes.
  • I figure, on zled handguns ("hand lasers"?), I'm gonna go with about 18 shots per "magazine" (i.e., battery). Long guns ("long lasers") would be stronger, of course, since they have more depth of field, and they might get more battery-life from the volume of their batteries. An interesting thing is that a laser-weapon's "barrel" is actually its optical cavity, and its "muzzle" is actually its output coupler (and it ends in a lens). Which, huh, wonder if I should add some stuff about lens caps for the lasers (I suppose being holstered, or sheathed in the case of the long ones, will protect the lens okay).

    I think the beam itself will be in the mid-infrared (near-infrared and near-ultraviolet can have harmful effects when they reflect; far ultraviolet prefers to only exist in vacuum; far infrared has diffraction issues). The lenses would have to be made of something like the flourides of zirconium, thorium, or barium (all of which can form glasses), since normal glass (and clear plastic) are opaque to IR. (No, that doesn't have armor applications—human flesh is opaque to red light, what happens when you shoot it with a red laser?) IR also has relatively short range, especially in atmosphere, so you don't have to worry about knocking satellites out of orbit with it.

    They'll definitely be pulsed lasers rather than long play-over-the-target ones. Pulsed lasers perform more like gunshots—down to producing similar wounds—which is much easier to write (and rewrite) around.


Who Are You?

(It probably helps to know that kid in the clip is an evil god who likes to toy with people before murdering them.)

This article, about how atheists almost universally argue against a God who's actually just a god, just a being rather than Being, reminded me of something a little weird and frivolous. (I wouldn't read the comments on that article unless you want to see very impolite atheists make the author's point for him.)

Namely, in Slayers (I believe it comes up in the anime but they don't go into any detail, but definitely in the books), Lina's version of the Giga Slave, based on her translation of a fragment of the Claire Bible, has the line, "混沌の海にたゆたいし 金色なりし闇の王/Konton no umi ni tayutaishi, konjiki narishi yami no Ô/Golden king of darkness drifting upon the Sea of Chaos".

But then, when she actually "reads" the Claire Bible itself—or rather is infused with the memories of the Water Dragon King, which are the Claire Bible in its original form—she modifies the invocation. Her second version says, "混沌の海よ たゆたいし存在 金色なりし闇の王/Konton no umi, tayutaishi sonzai, konjiki narishi yami no Ô/Golden king of darkness, drifting being, Sea of Chaos"—because the Lord of Nightmares is not something that can drift upon the Sea of Chaos, she is the Sea of Chaos, because she's the Ground of Being of the setting's pantheistic cosmology, and all things, including the gods and demons as well as the Four Worlds they fight over, were brought forth from her.

How sad is it, though, that a book series whose target audience is in middle school, from a country where people go to their temples exactly once a year (plus births and funerals), has more understanding of natural theology than people who dedicate their lives to attempting to refute other people's religion? The significance of L being "Mother of All Things", as Xelloss calls her, is more or less irrelevant to Slayers, it's something I doubt 9/10 of people pick up on even when they're seen the novels as well as the show, but seriously, Kanzaka put more philosophical work into what is pretty much a MacGuffin than Anglophone atheists put into their whole worldview.


More of the Same

More random thoughts.
  • It occurs to me, given the two meanings of Latin carus and its descendents (cher and caro), that caritas has the base meaning of "valuation". Carus and its reflexes mean both "beloved" and "expensive", so plainly "valuation" is the domain that caritas pertains to. And consider: what is Christian charity, if not constantly keeping before your mind the infinite value of each person, as the image of God? That is what all the "charitable" precepts, from almsgiving to forgiveness to evangelization, spring from.

    (And when it's asked why we value others for the image of God, and not themselves, we reply that we only value ourselves for our imaging of God—or put another way we only value ourselves because of our experience of existence. "Image of God" is the same as saying "self-awareness capable of conceiving of existence", cf. Summa Theologica Pt. I, Q. 93, Art. 6.)
  • Recently watched an anime called PSYCHO-PASS. It's future dystopia police drama in a Judge Dredd-meets-Minority Report kinda way, and the whole time I'm thinking "shades of Gil Hamilton" (although organlegging ain't just the stuff of science fiction anymore).

    I really like the cultural setting and props—how, for instance, people go to offline meetups in holo-cosplay of their virtual avatars, and everyone's furniture (and, it seems, their clothes) is some basic utilitarian thing dressed up by holograms. It's especially cool in the scene where they turn the hologram on in a dead guy's house, and there's a hologram couch only half overlapping the real one...because the couch was moved. It's probably the coolest science fiction cop series I've ever seen.

    If the central conceit seems farfetched to you, don't worry, they do explain it. Also the ending could've been better, but it could've been a lot worse.
  • It would be fun, if anyone were actually concerned with justice in the historiography of science (so, in a perfect imaginary dream-world), to rename the three laws of motion to reflect reality, rather than Isaac Newton's lies. Only the third (any body acted upon exerts an equal force on the body acting upon it) is Newton's. The second (the acceleration of a body is directly proportional to, and in the direction of, the net force acting upon it, and inversely proportional to its mass) is Descartes's—hence why Newton very carefully went over his notes and erased all reference to Descartes. And the first (in an inertial reference frame, an object is either at rest or moving at a constant velocity, unless acted upon by an external force), is Jean Buridan's, who died in probably the early 1360s.

    Now, Newton cleaned up a lot of the sawdust from Descartes's and Buridan's formulations of those principles, and related them to Kepler's laws of planetary motion, so that's not to say Newton was just a plagiarist. He was only occasionally a plagiarist, and he built and improved upon what he stole. Plus Descartes was probably asking for it for having ripped off his coordinate system from Buridan's student Nicol Oresme. Newton also got his Nemesis (she sees all and hears all, and men do groan beneath her righteous chains) in the form of that ugly dispute with Leibniz over calculus, although neither one could ever really establish himself as having definitively had the idea first, which may not be quite as satisfying as one having plagiarized the other and then getting credit for what he stole, as Newton did to Descartes, but the frustration they both endured is certainly a sufficiently Sisyphean fate.
  • It's really weird, but a lot of people seem outright offended by the idea that marriage is primarily a sexual relationship. This came to my attention discussing gay marriage; I pointed out that strictly speaking a gay couple can never have "sexual intercourse" as biologists define the term, and the other guy freaked out and accused me of thinking marriage is just about sex. But...marriage is sex. (Seriously, the Sacrament of Matrimony? Not the wedding, bud.) Everything else about it follows from sex, it is the form "mated pair" takes for a sapient species, and what exactly is "mating"?

    I kinda think a lot of people don't think of sex as a biological imperative. Sure, they think they need it (and at an individual level you actually don't), but they don't think of what "biological imperative" actually means, or the reason that that particular thing is one—or indeed, it's the origin of all the others, but nobody seems to ask themselves how or why that's so. If sex was food they wouldn't even see the joke, much less get it, in that gag in Baka Test where Yuuji buys all that food for himself, then tells Akihisa he bought food for him too—diet cola, konjac jelly, and jellied agar. (Total calories: 0.)
  • I think I might have to work in a reference, in my SF, to the fact that each individual function of the brain is basically an independent "weak" AI. Every single thing you do is essentially processed by a separate computer system specialized in that one area, with hundreds of times more situational-analysis capability than the very state of the art in our computer science. And that's not even bringing in cognition, which is something else entirely.

    The fact that the dumb lizard in charge of your fight-or-flight response is, in actual fact, a program of complexity exceeding the greatest our computer science can achieve, and that by orders of magnitude, is important perspective for the excessively sanguine predictors of mind-uploading. We can just about program situational analysis on par with a rather impaired reptilian hindbrain—can the greatest heights of human cognition be far behind?!
  • The real problem with Wikipedia is not that anyone can edit it; it's that they sometimes can't. The article on medieval cuisine is currently a collection of screeds by people that would like to keep calling that era the Dark Ages—with "dark" as a euphemism for a racial slur starting with N. It's because exactly two books, by literature professors not historians, are used as the source; and any time you edit it to look less like Humberto Fontova on Castro (except Fontova is fact-checked), and more like non-polemical academic history, the change gets deleted.

    The other example of how Wikipedia doesn't get edited when it needs to, is, if you want the ranks and insignia of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces, yeah, you're gonna have to hunt around a bit, 'cause the Wikipedia article? It's got the English and the kanji, but romanized Japanese? Nope. The formatting for those tables is such a nightmare that that thing is pretty much never gonna get fixed. I was gonna do it myself, I opened the edit window and everything—and then ran away from a giant dense morass of weird code. I don't even think those are normal Wikipedia tables.

    Eventually I did find the International Encylopedia of Uniform Insignia, although finding the Air and Maritime JSDF was kinda a hassle (that link's just Ground). Fortunately, Asia doesn't have branch-specific ranks; just change "Riku" (ground) in the army ranks to "Kai" (sea) to get naval ranks and to "Kû" (sky) to get air-force.
  • In my previous post I described Buddhism as having its "πάντα ῥεῖ" atomism/nominalism "closely bound up" with metempsychosis. But I understated the case. India does not have atomism "closely bound up" with metempsychosis; its atomism-nominalism is functionally identical with metempsychosis.

    This is another thing I realized in that fateful debate with a Hare Krishna that made a Thomist of me. See, he argued that one cannot disbelieve in reincarnation, because at every moment the mind inhabits new bodies. Much like the question "Do you ever step in the same river twice?", in his view—which is the version of atomism found throughout Indian thought—the changing traits of the body, as it is subjected to decay and regeneration, utterly annihilated the very concept of "the same body".

    This troubled me greatly; I found myself falling back on dimly-remembered, half-understood Thomistic formulations about essence and accidents, simply to assert that things are themselves moment by moment, no matter what their parts do. This is, by the bye, the essence of Aristotelianism, its shahada; if you're not a mitigated realist you do not follow the Philosopher.
  • Finally, another anime I recently saw is (the anime of the game) Sengoku Basara. It rocks. Aside from that being what warfare in a D&D setting probably looks like (a bunch of spear-carriers and a couple lunatics with lightning bolts), it's just so damn cool. "Hot blooded" is a thing I tend to favor in a character, and Sengoku Basara has it in spades; they should've named the series "Testosterone: The Animated Series" (I guess the games should be "Testosterone: The Game"?). It's probably best if you think of the thing as taking place in Valhalla; if you try to compare it to real history you'll hurt yourself.

    I especially like the scene where Yukimura claims the burning of a man's soul outlasts the dissolution predicted in Buddhist cosmology—yeap, he claims to be too macho for the Three Marks of Conditioned Existence. And the part where Oda Nobunaga (played with appropriate levels of arrogance by Wakamoto Norio) introduces himself as "The darkness in men's hearts given human shape." And just anything with Date Masamune or the rest of the Date clan, really, like how they mostly don't wear helmets, except for Masamune himself, because it'd mess up their pompadours—or how Masamune's horse has handlebars on its bridle and novelty tailpipes on its stirrups.


Footwear, Navigation, Packaging, Agriculture, Monarchy, Sea Temperatures, Porcine Aviation (2)

It's that time again, the walrus said. Random thoughts.

Did you know 495 is 99×5? It's really obvious with a moment's thought. I recently chose not to put in that moment's thought, and then I felt silly. (Its prime factorization is 32×11×5.)
  • I just discovered that the thing Mugai in "Joujuu Senjin!! Mushibugyo" says several times in both the anime and the manga—太秦は神とも神と聞こえくる 常世の神を 打ち懲ますも/Uzumasa wa kamitomo kami to kikoekuru, tokoyo no kami wo uchikitamasumo/Uzumasa is famed as a god among gods, for he slew an eternal god—is from the Nihon Shoki.

    The "eternal god" in question is the Eternal Worm (常世虫), a strange worm-cult that seems to have been put down by Hata Uzumasa-no-kimi Sukune, first head of the Hata clan (Chinese immigrants who brought silk-worms to Japan). The Eternal Worm is the main villain at least of the Mushibugyo anime (the manga isn't translated that far).

    Imagine if America had TV shows with huge swaths of the plot based on the Venerable Bede, with characters quoting passages from his writing during fights. Japan...is there a definition of "Crazy Awesome" you haven't made it your goal in life to act out?
  • Ironically, in a Cracked article about things being attributed to the wrong countries, the crackbabies—four of them!—said the Maya worshiped Huitzilopochtli. Not only is that true of exactly zero Mayan peoples ("Huitzilopochtli" is Nahuatl, not a Mayan language, for either "Left Hand to the South" or "Hummingbird on the Left Side"), not even all Aztecs (or rather, Mexica) worshiped him. He was specifically the tribal tutelary of the Tenochca, who elevated their patron god to the spot in the pantheon originally belonging to Nanahuatzin.

    The Tenochca are the people you think of when we say "Aztec", the ones with the terror-state and the mass-scale human sacrifice. The other major Mexica alliance, the Tlaxcaltecah, had human sacrifice, but on a much smaller scale. Where the Tenochca had a "triple alliance" whose "three" power-centers were actually one capital (Tenochtitlan) and its de facto vassals (Texcoco and Tlacopan), Tlaxcala's four centers (Ocotelolco, Quiahuiztlan, Tepeticpac, and Tizatlan) all actually did share power in their confederacy.
  • Apparently some Buddhists, or Westerners who self-identify as Buddhists, object to characterizing Buddhist non-duality as a form of Monism. But...nothing Buddhists say about non-duality is notably different from what Neoplatonists say about the Source (which is, of course, the One, Τὸ Ἕν, the Monad). Indeed, the same things are pretty much said about God by some Christians. Essentially, those Buddhists' objection is like those very simple, sheltered Christians one sometimes gets, who absolutely lose it when they discover parallels between Christianity and pagan thought (Christianity is a heathen religion, from the Buddhist point of view).

    The fact of the matter is that everybody inhabits the same cosmos, and there are only a limited number of ways to think about it. Especially when your ideas share a pedigree with the other ideas in question. Buddhism, an Indian school of thought, has a hell of a lot of background in common with Greek thought even if we assume Alexander the Great and Hellenism had no influence on it, and they did. Buddhism is the idea that the Problem of Universals is resolved by positing that the Universals are an illusion born of transitory epiphenomena—some of which are "awareness" of various kinds—attempting to impose order on the the underlying formlessness of πάντα ῥεῖ ("everything flows").

    It's different from Neoplatonism in its Heraclitean nominalist-atomism, and in that atomism being closely bound up with metempsychosis (which Indian philosophy tends to assume as a given)...and in pretty much nothing else.
  • If you needed yet another reason to loathe and despise Mass Effect, how about that its FTL communicators are called "quantum entanglement communicators"? And the number of idiots, e.g. at Cracked and Kotaku, who think that you actually could get that? They all got it from Mass Effect, demonstrably, since if (like Xenosaga) they'd come by the error honestly, they would probably have said something about the EPR paradox and "spooky action at a distance", but no, only "quantum entanglement". Because they mistook Mass Effect for a science text.

    I realize that a major component of my being more forgiving in Xenosaga's case is that I simply like Xenosaga better, but a part of why I like Xenosaga more is that it doesn't posture as other than what it is (which is a JRPG where the collective unconscious is used as a warp drive). Mass Effect is basically Dragon Age in space, with all that that implies, only it gets treated as something more than "space opera bordering on science-fantasy" (which is what Xenosaga is, too).
  • My younger sister had an interesting point about Ender's Game, namely that knowing "the point is to seize the objective, not kill all the enemy" does not make you a genius, it makes everyone else a moron. Ender is perpetually triumphing over pathetic strawmen, some of them ethnic stereotypes that were dead when the book was written, let alone when it's set ("Spanish honor", in a book written a decade after Franco died). Because, again, Ender's Game is just a Mary Sue self-insert fic vindication fantasy.

    At the time of these remarks, though, I'd just been binging on the Baka Test novels. And it occurred to me, when Yuuji is described as a strategist, that's because he does things like deliberately tank his grades to lure another class into attacking, then ramp his score up just before the fight, and single-handedly wipes out their assault team. You know, actual strategies. I would say that Card was more concerned with other aspects of the story than coming up with real strategies to demonstrate Ender's genius (despite Ender's genius being what the book's about), but what other aspects? The aliens that behave exactly like Hymenoptera and even have DNA? The politics we're told next to nothing of?

    The only thing that shows a lick of work being put into it is the elaborate moral rationalizations—like a computer programmer who put the most work into a piece of code that turned out to be a bug.
  • I just saw the anime of Katanagatari. It is terrible, but you won't know that till ten episodes in—and it's a 12-episode show—so I will tell you how it's terrible so you don't waste your time. The cursed swords they're after are not cursed, they're all made with technology stolen from the future by Shikizaki Kiki's clan of fortune-tellers. Then nearly everybody dies very stupidly, pretty much just because coming up with satisfying endings is hard, and light novels are the absolute bottom of the barrel in terms of Japanese fiction. (Also because the kind of pseudo-intellectual Jakigan-kei who is the target audience of all too many fantasy light novels is, like his American cousin, still in a stage of "impacted adolescence" where plots that deliberately don't satisfy seem "honest" and "mature".)

    I also really, really hate Shichika's sister, she's a Villain Sue. But she gave me a very interesting idea for a scene. First you set up a "I can copy your moves by seeing them once or twice" character like her, by having them kill a bunch of sympathetic Red Shirts. Then you bring in another person (the real antagonist of the plot), probably along the lines of Kuroudo Akabane from GetBackers—or Xelloss. The move-copier starts to basically say, "It's useless, I can copy any technique I see", etc....but falls silent halfway through, as their body falls one way and their head another—and then the real antagonist clicks his sword back into its sheath. "That sounded like a cool ability," he says cheerfully, and then nods to the corpse before stepping over it and continuing on his way.
  • It seems to be especially prevalent in anime, but why does anyone treat "Tepes" as a surname for vampires? Leaving to one side the "no connection except an Irish guy naming one after him 400 years later" issue, "Tepes" (the first and last letters should have commas under them) is not a surname. It is an epithet; Vlad's surname was Basarab. Romanian history refers to noblemen by epithets; aside from "Vlad of the Stakes" you have "Mihai the Brave" (Mihai Viteazul) and "Radu the Great" (Radu cel Mare) and "Vlad the Monk" (Vlad Călugărul)...all of whom were surnamed "Basarab", it was a big clan, hence the epithets.

    But since it shows up in anime so much, I kinda want to ask the people who do it, what if a Romanian thought Dokuganryû ("One-Eyed Dragon") or Dairokutenmaô ("Devil King of the Sixth Heaven") or Oni no Fukuchou("Ogre Vice-Head") was a heritable surname? (Of course, they might counter that Katakura Kagetsuna's nickname of "Kojûrô" was passed down in the Katakura family, but the point still stands.)
  • The question, which I am sure has plagued your sleepless nights, "What Indo-European languages, other than Welsh, have the voiceless (alveolar) lateral fricative?", has an answer. That answer is, "One Tuscan dialect spoken in northern Sardinia—'Sassarese'—and three Scandinavian languages—Faroese, Icelandic, and the 'Trønder dialect' of Norwegian."

    Another question that doubtless keeps you from deep healing sleep is "What are two uvular consonants in the last places I expected to find them (you expect to find them among Semitic languages, what with q and all)?" And it, too, has answers (actually it has a bunch, but past a certain point it's not actually "I didn't expect that" but "I expected nothing"). The R in most dialects of French and German is a uvular fricative (sometimes it's a trill), and the "syllable-final" (actually moraic) N in Japanese is actually a uvular nasal.
Thought of the deliberately unsatisfying ending of Katanagatari reminds me of something. As in so many things, Keima says what we're all thinking.