There Were Giants in the Earth

Title's (of course) a reference to Genesis 6:4, although translating "nephilim" as giants is questionable at best (it means either "the toppled-down" or "the topplers-down", depending on whether it's originally passive "nafilim" or causative "nifilim").

Spec fic thoughts, involving megastructures, megafauna, giants, or giant robots. The one about Macross has both those last two (because Veritechs would be armor in anyone else's war, but against the Zentraedi they're just what I'm gonna call prosthetic infantry).
  • Saw Jack the Giant Slayer; spoilers follow, skip to the next bullet point if you want. It wasn't bad—and giving the giant leader a Belfast accent was an interesting choice (I think they're the only people who say "about" as "aboit")—but I had some issues. First is "This thing is pretty much a specifically Cornish legend, you know, you can't just sorta absentmindedly hand it off to Britain as a whole." And I'd've liked to see one of the Jack stories that doesn't involve the beanstalk, like Cormoran and the pit-trap (just giving the giant leader Thunderdell's two heads doesn't count). Come to think of it Jack could've stood to be remotely like the hero of the folktales, i.e. solve his problems by cunning and not a little ruthlessness, rather than the usual mix of blind stupid luck and plucky determination. Also? The king is supposed to be Arthur. Those knights? Round Table. It'd be wiser to set the thing in a fantasy kingdom with perhaps some unexamined similarities, and that's what I thought was going on (not only does everyone have plate armor, one of 'em also has a Pickelhaube, monocle, and Prussian handlebar mustache). Then the ending shows freaking modern London.

    Also, considering the movie without direct reference to the legends, the biggest complaint is "not enough of Ewan McGregor's character". Then (actually more keenly felt), selling the horse to buy thatch? Leaving to one side the odds of a serf owning a horse, why are they sitting in the middle of a well-mown field and buying thatch? Thatch is hay. You get hay when you mow fields. Figure it out. And also, all that drama of everyone dismissing Jack when they're back down the stock, how everyone sorta shunts Jack aside? Well, they wouldn't do that—bureaucratic indifference, impersonally dismissing a guy who's, say, saved one's daughter, is a state bureaucracy vice, something no feudal chief would ever do—but there's a more urgent difficulty. Namely, when Ewan McGregor says "now you're one of us" and gives Jack the royal knights' badge, he just freaking knighted him. Words mean things in a feudal society, that's why they killed each other over them. Especially when those words are accompanied by the gift of insignia.
  • Speaking of giants, I'm trying to get into Macross 7, then hopefully watch Frontier. Only...know what Macross would benefit hugely from? Having some damn Zentraedi, that's what. The first one had a bunch, notably Britai and Exsedor (yes, I'd prefer to spell then Zjentohlauedy and Vrlitwhai, too, but what's the original spelling of Exsedor? Ekxsedworl?). The later series, though? One token girl per show, plus the occasional general and a handful of hybrids.

    Speaking of the token girl, yeah, the drummer in Macross 7, Veffidas, is one. There's apparently a minor meme out there that she's a transsexual. She isn't, she's just a big girl (build-wise, I mean, compared to when she was 8 meters tall she's downright tiny)—at one point she refers to herself as a Meltran, and that means female Zentraedi. Transsexuality for a Zentraedi is like Marines randomly wearing Army uniforms, their 'sexes' are two branches of their military, and have been for at least a quarter million years (until they met us, anyway).
  • I think that mecha would need separate power supplies for their weapons, if the weapon isn't just a percussion-fired slugthrower. Fortunately, we already power our railguns and similar with things called compensated pulsed alternators, or "compulsators" to their friends. And we're working on reducing their mass; I don't think it's excessively optimistic to say that by the time we can make a light-tank sized mecha we can build a light enough compulsator to power its railgun.

    Of course, the compulsator would eventually need to be recharged—but it's hardly too much to ask that it be able to fire c. 40 rounds, like most modern tanks. And, because it's a mecha, with hands, it's perfectly modular: when its railgun runs out of ammo, it can pick up something else, e.g. from a disabled ally or enemy. (And no, a mecha wouldn't shoot its weapons by actually pulling triggers with its fingers, it'd have control surfaces to interface with the weapons in its hands ).
  • I think my thesis RE: dark fantasy—that it is fundamentally juvenile, tenth-graders trying to seem mature by being pointlessly sordid—is demonstrated by the giants in the Song of Ice and Fire books. Because sometimes giants abduct people. Sometimes the men come back, but the women never do.

    Oh yes, tell us again how mature you are, with your "Ur huh huh huh, like, the giants sometimes take human women off to, huh huh, rape them to death". Seriously, are we sure that George R. R. Martin and Byron Hall are not just pen-names of the same person?
  • You know Morino in Ôkami-san? They never go into it in the official translation but some of his talent comes from his grandfather being a matagi, a traditional Japanese hunting-complex that is, I think, probably also the source for the guys in Mononoke Hime with the boar-skins.

    And I was thinking, the matagi apparently had their heyday because of the need to hunt bears in groups, and have gone into decline since the rise of firearms. But why don't fantasy writers examine things like that, and the Navajo hunting complex, or any of a whole bunch of other cultures, for, oh, dragon slayers, for example? Or any other major magical nasty, in fantasy. Humans only are where we are because we gang up, half the monsters in the Monster Manual are markedly less terrifying than elephants (and they have fewer hit dice, too).

    Which reminds me, people need to stop saying dragons would realistically reduce humans to livestock. Dragons don't get along with each other, they're basically bears, or cats. The matagi model works on bears, remember? And at least one work (the manhwa Dragon Hunters, not to be confused with the cartoon) based their dragon-hunters on traditional Korean tiger-hunts (which used to be a thing).
  • Talk of time-keeping on space colonies in that last post prompted me to look up stuff about circadian rhythms and space travel, since I expect living on a planet with a 20- or 30-hour day would be a bit weird (Mars is nice that way, its days are 24 hours, 39 minutes, 35.24 seconds long, which is, oddly, only 27 minutes longer than your brain's clock, rather than 39 minutes longer like you might expect). Unfortunately most of the research on sleep in space necessarily involves stations and shuttles in low Earth orbit; we've only ever sent seven manned missions out into serious space (which here, sadly, means "circumlunar orbit"). Conditions down here are different from conditions e.g. in the Lagrange points. 'Course, L-point colonies can do whatever the hell they want for their days, assuming they don't link their spin-gravity to their day-length like a bunch of goofballs.

    I say you'd be a goofball to link your day-length to your spin-grav, by the way, because an 8-km-diameter O'Neill Island Three cylinder, one of the biggest things we can even figure out how to build, still makes one rotation every two minutes to get 1 g of gravity, and that's practically a strobe-light as far as your circadian rhythms are concerned. You'd be much more likely to use the mirrors to redirect sunlight into the hab-cylinder for 12 hours; if you were in a creative mood you might even give your colony seasons. You could also use the electricity generated with some mix of reactors and solar to light the sky directly, it's entirely possible that having windows on a space-station is more trouble than it's worth, as is the case for spaceships.

    A Bernal sphere (16 km diameter), by the bye, needs one rotation every three minutes, an Island One sphere needs 1.9 per minute, and an Island Two sphere takes one every 2 minutes 36 seconds. Even a 1000-km-diameter Bishop Ring would need one rotation every 33 minutes, which is still really freaking fast as a length for your day.
  • Bishop rings, by the bye, are really dumb, in one specific way: they're open. Sure, you might be able to retain the thing's atmosphere by the spin gravity, but the air wouldn't be remotely thick enough to block the radiation (you'd probably block most of it with the outside of the ring, but there'd still be massive reflected radiation from, e.g., the mirror-collectors). Enclosing your space-stations has purposes other than holding the air in, remember.

    Huh, I don't think Halo rings (which as the Wikipedia article on Bishop Rings mentions, are just giant versions of the same thing) would have thick enough atmospheres to block all that radiation. I suppose the Forerunners probably shield those, though, and they are a hell of a lot bigger, and made of totally not skrith at all some Forerunner metal.


Does This Have a Pattern?

Random thoughts. Probably. I don't know if they have a theme or anything.
  • I think a factor in John C. Wright's misinterpretation of Buddhism as nihilism, one that I didn't mention, is that for some bizarre reason "sunyata", which means "emptiness" (also "contingency" in the ontological sense), is often translated as "non-being". It makes no sense, since Buddhism is actually a monism so extreme it denies logical negation (basically, "not-A" is unreal because it only has meaning relative to "A").

    It was particularly bad of me not to have mentioned that issue, though, because I myself have been guilty of the "non-being" usage. My sole defense is I was referencing the version of Journey to the West that I had read, which uses it that way in translating Guan Yin's speech to the Monkey King, I believe vis-à-vis the Bear Demon. Not much of a defense, is it? I'm sorry.
  • I know that I have touched on this before, but where, oh where, do people get their ideas about "rugged individualism" in space? We actually know the exact spirit that makes for good spacemen. It is, indeed, typical of the American pioneers. But it is essentially unknown in modern America, except among recent immigrants—because it is a spirit best seen in modern East Asian countries.

    Basically, being a downtrodden dirt-farmer—which is the human condition generally, but was also highly typical of the settlers of the American West—makes one well-suited to space travel, but has absolutely nothing to do with "individualism". What made the American frontier work, and has made Asian cultures work, is the desire not to be a burden on one's group.

    How is it that a hatred for receiving charity is as typical of cultures characterized as "collectivist" as it is of one characterized as "individualist"? Maybe it has something to do with neither of those words actually meaning anything, as a description of a real human culture.
  • Seriously, if you have space-colonists who have to be very careful so as not to suffocate or die of radiation poisoning, you are not going to have Niven's Belters. You are going to have a culture like, well, every subsistence culture ever, complete with extremely strict, shame-based, village morals.

    I suppose we should cut Niven some slack—Margaret Mead still had a few tattered shreds of credibility, when he wrote the first stories with Belters—but come on. Nonjudgmentalism is pretty much a rich people thing; eccentricity is a luxury. Even middle-class people can't afford it, that's where the whole concept of "bourgeois morality" actually comes from.
  • Read this. I don't say that you have to use this for anything you write, but you should certainly look into it. The peculiar conditions of Martian timekeeping are of purely intellectual interest even if you don't decide to use it.

    I don't know if I should try incorporating this into my books; I know that people use Modified Julian Days, the ISO 8601 calendar, and also local calendars, in space-colonies, but that's about as much detail as I go into. Presumably their day is a mean stellar day for their planet, while stationers and those aboard ships only use the 24-hour Julian day, measured in the 24-hour Universal Time system (GMT but cooler).

    I don't know how people planetside tell time. Maybe they go very old school and talk about physical times in terms of, e.g., noon or sunrise, and then periods in between by "halfway to", or something—maybe they just measure from noon or midnight or wherever in as many hours as it takes. I'm sure whatever a colony decided, its inhabitants would get used to it. Or they'd have a psychotic episode.
  • Seriously, what is the deal with coffee in science fiction? I don't only mean the whole "everyone in science fiction drinks coffee, even the aliens, even though it's never named that", thing. I mean...Frenchmen don't drink their coffee the same way Americans do. Similarly, British science fiction: you do know nobody else takes their tea the way you do, right?

    Seriously, it's bad enough you can't just have them call it "coffee", and can't come up with an original thing for aliens to drink (zledo drink broth and straight hot water), but you seriously think everyone drinks their hot caffeinated beverages the same way you do? Read a book!
  • The fatal flaw, I think, of Marxist analysis, is an oversimplified assumption. Namely, that all exploitation is zero-sum. See, Marxism's analysis of capitalism is otherwise far more correct than the analysis capitalism's defenders usually use. Capitalism really is the system where you, not having the means to produce salable goods, have to seek employment from those who own those means. So far, Marx is right, and his critics—who usually, rather than actually analyzing the system of labor in question, wax lyrical about creative entrepreneurial genius—are wrong. (Or they conflate capitalism with Free Trade, which it predates by about 150 years—mercantilism is still capitalist, thank you very much.)

    But then Marxism goes on to assume that you, though ultimately a dependent for your economic survival on someone with whom you have no true relationship, are simply exploited by your employer, deriving no benefit for yourself. Which is simply false. People who begin as employees ending up in the investor-class themselves is barely remarkable; for them to at least end in management is the norm. That's all any system can ask; a system where the farm-boy Kikuchiyo can be expected to become a samurai, and not unlikely a daimyô in his own right, is not exploitative in the true Marxist sense of the term.

    Admittedly the Marxist "zero-sum" analysis was far truer in the 19th century (another undisputable fact many of capitalism's defenders do dispute, which is pretty much a "Castro led a popular revolt"-level lie), but Ireland and India were also parts of the UK at the time, and Prussia was a state, not just an ethno-region like Moravia.
  • When Marxism is expanded beyond economics to race and sex, it has to introduce two other assumptions, due to the exploitation narrative generally not being as purely self-evident. Namely, first, that all differences are inequalities, and second, that all inequalities are exploitative. Thus, if more of an ethnicity go into skilled labor than the professions, there must be discrimination in the professions—it can't at all be because, say, one culture values mechanics and plumbers while another values lawyers and doctors.

    This is especially goofball in the relations of the sexes, because while there are egalitarian societies without classes, and not all societies will have all, or even more than one, ethnic group present, all human societies have both sexes present (except for things like monks, nuns, or most ship crews until very recently). Is that a Chesterton quote you see on the horizon? You bet your bippy it is, cupcake.
    You could compare it with the emancipation of negroes from planters—if it were true that a white man in early youth always dreamed of the abstract beauty of a black man. You could compare it with the revolt of tenants against a landlord—if it were true that young landlords wrote sonnets to invisible tenants. You could compare it to the fighting policy of the Fenians—if it were true that every normal Irishman wanted an Englishman to come and live with him.
    —"The Suffragist", A Miscellany of Men
    If it is a thing that existed before 1936, I can find you a GKC quote for it.
  • Turns out (is that a pun?), I can't take any bitter satisfaction in the rotating section of the ship in 2001: A Space Odyssey being too small. Clarke knew it was too small, but he was overruled, just like with the radiators. Hollywood, everything you touch you destroy.

    This is a more realistic version, done by people at NASA. This is actually pretty much how the version in the book worked, by all accounts (I haven't read it).
  • Tank armor is endlessly fascinating, although I mainly use it as a jumping-off point for speculations about powered armor and walking mecha. For instance: which is most effective, HESH, kinetic-energy penetrators, or shaped charges? Right, it depends.

    I think, based on how I've described their armor's performance, and a perusal of NATO's STANAG 4569 vehicle-armor standards, that the high-end armor the zledo wear is the equivalent of Level III vehicle armor—i.e., they are not armored like tanks, but they are armored like an up-armored Humvee (I can't find much on American military vehicle armor, for some reason, but they're basically as bullet-resistant as this Russian armored car).


Stuff and Stuff III

Thoughts on fictional material culture. Well, tools in general, actually, writing is not, strictly speaking, material culture.

This post is #469, which is 7 × 67. You can arrange 469 dots in a hexagon.
  • The big downsides of hydrogen-powered cars are that it's difficult to get hydrogen, and it leaks out of anything. Apparently, though, the answer, is to keep the hydrogen inside the passengers—specifically, in their bladders. Yes, people have developed a way to get hydrogen from urea, because it only takes 30.08% as much energy to separate hydrogen from urea as from water.

    So...basically, if your Warthog is low on fuel, don't pour water in the tank, pee in the tank. Gross, yes, but also awesome. The future euphemisms just write themselves—"'Scuse me, I gotta go top off the Jeep."
  • Was watching Batman Beyond with my brother, and he was simply freaked out by the AI newsreaders. So I had to demonstrate to him that Ananova was a thing, and people actually thought that irksome crap was the wave of the future.

    Only...it's really not. It really, really is not. Not for the foreseeable future; dead tree media and TV news are on the way out but they're mostly being replaced by little glowy pixel media and podcasts, just as dependent on actual people talking as Larry King Live. Plus, we nowadays mostly associate simulated-sounding AI voices with a certain catty homicidal maniac; not the person you want reading your news.
  • Research into the Maya syllabary leads me to suspect I may've been wrong, when I said that nobody would ever write something that looks like, e.g., Romulan (or Interlac). I could readily see a writing system deriving from something like the Mayan syllabary, whose characters would resemble those shapes.

    Of course, I still think it would be a pain to write such an alphabet in pen; Mayan is arguably more inefficient than Sino-Japanese, since Mayan syllable glyphs are not, unlike kana, markedly simpler than logogram glyphs. Compare the syllabic signs listed here to any table of hiragana or katakana—seems like a lot of work for the same information, doesn't it?
  • Aside from anything that comes from your engine, the big radiation source in space (if nobody tries to nuke you) is the Van Allen belt, particularly if you use space elevators, and galactic cosmic rays, which admittedly sound totally fake. Only, good news: they're both ionizing! You can shield against ionizing radiation using superconducting magnets...which are a prerequisite to many decent rockets anyway.

    Also, the guy who wrote "The Hazards of Space Travel: A Tourist's Guide" seems to think radiation in space will cause spacers to have to use IVF, with gametes frozen before they ever depart, to have children safely. Only, our current standard of radiation-protection is no more indicative of what a really spacefaring civilization would consider normal, than the workshops of the Aurignacian culture represent the production capabilities of the Classic Maya. Also? Lead-lined codpieces. Or gold-lined: remember, asteroid mining makes dense metals much cheaper.
  • A search of the blog doesn't seem to think so, but if I've mentioned this before, scuzați. Anyway, the handhelds in my SF setting? On watch fobs. Also wallet chains. Their handhelds, after all, are their clocks and wallets and keys, as well as their phones and personal computers.

    I don't know, I like watch-chains and wallet chains. Maybe I played too many JRPGs in my formative years, but chains as a fashion accessory are always good. And I happen to prefer that fashion accessories serve a purpose, and while "idiot-mittening" your phone may not be very grand, it is a purpose.
  • This, speakers that go over your shoes, is a genuinely goofy idea. But at the same time, it does achieve a look very reminiscent of a lot of video game and anime characters' clothes. So...what if speaker-spats were the mark of some subculture defined by a music and dance style? We've had those before, they even made movies for them (Breakin', for example, the sequel to which is the reason every second installment of anything gets referred to as "Electric Boogaloo").

    Also, you know techno and electronica, various varieties of which are still major players in pop music? Yes, well, they have an older name. Namely, disco. Seriously, electronic pop is fundamentally built on the same principles it was back in the 70s; it's probably because that kind of music is A) easy to create and perform and B) easy both to dance to and to listen to if you're not dancing (volume issues to one side). Just as men's clothes haven't changed radically since the late 18th century (in some regards since the mid-17th), I think it's quite likely that certain branches of pop music will not change that much.
  • Also on the handheld front, this bamboo smartphone got me to thinking, why do SF portable electronics tend to look just like those of the culture that made the series? Remember how I've said that lots of things in a space-colonizing civilization will be bamboo and silicones? Silicone can do any other polymer's job, and bamboo, if you don't happen to like its bare appearance, can be lacquered in any color.

    Similarly, why not have aliens encase their electronics in stone, like some Fabergé eggs, e.g. this one? The casings we make for electronics now are basically artificial stone, and we also use stone for things like handles.
  • You know how artificial gravity generators and warp-drives in SF tend to look like nothing, except each other? We do actually know what those devices would look like, or at least part of them. Yo:
    This is a Casimir effect experimental apparatus. And all our remotely not-magic ideas about making artificial gravity, or any other kind of space-warping, involves the casimir effect. So your machine will have to have a part that makes it happen.


Sobre el arte del plumífero 3

Thoughts upon the craft of a pen-pusher.
  • One of the entries in the Turkey City Lexicon is this, called simply "Not Simultaneous":
    The mis-use of the present participle is a common structural sentence-fault for beginning writers. “Putting his key in the door, he leapt up the stairs and got his revolver out of the bureau.” Alas, our hero couldn’t do this even if his arms were forty feet long. This fault shades into “Ing Disease,” the tendency to pepper sentences with words ending in “-ing,” a grammatical construction which tends to confuse the proper sequence of events. (Attr. Damon Knight)
    I think I have a new pet peeve (not to say "grounds for induction to the Red Lantern Corps"): prescriptivism from the linguistically ignorant.

    Because, see, what Knight or whoever first came up with this does not understand, is, English's aspects frequently do not do the tasks their job titles imply. We use our present progressive as a simple present and our unmarked present as a frequentive (compare "I'm shopping at Wal-Mart" to "I shop at Wal-Mart"). This is because we're working around the fact Germanic languages are absolutely impoverished in their ability to express verb aspect. One of the other aspects we work around our lack of—admittedly one that I don't think any Indo-European language actually marks—is the semelfactive, the term given to the Navajo ending for when a verb happens as part of a process. And guess what, the morphological ending we give the semelfactive semantic function (yes, I needed to put it like that)? Progressive.

    Anyone who disputes this: "Pocketing the money, I handed over the negatives." Has your mental disease reached the point that you will claim that sentence describes two simultaneous actions? If so, all I can ask is where you learned English, and who taught it to you—and what the false-advertising laws are, in your doubtless far-flung foreign land. Also perhaps what species originally concocted your native tongue.
  • I know I've talked about this before, but I keep seeing it and so I'm going to keep taking it out on you. The whole idea that characters need to change, that static characters are bad, is something that comes from novels—because in novels, the characters' psychological journey to self-discovery (blargh) is what the book's about. In a romance, the protagonist can be static, because the story is dynamic (i.e., things actually happen). Conan doesn't develop—thief to mercenary to pirate to king, he's still the exact same guy; he calms down a little in his old age and that's about it. Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser don't actually change at all, not till they stopped being worth a damn anyway; Leiber just went back in the 70s and wrote a bunch of prequels about them (look at the publication dates of the individual stories). James Bond, Sherlock Holmes, the Stainless Steel Rat (which is even worse than Bond, by the way)—all of them are static.

    Also, when you try to mix "character development" (in this sense rather than in the sense of "establishing who the hell this guy we're reading about is") with a non-novelistic, stuff-actually-happens, plot, you know what tends to happen? Anita Blake, that's what happens—like all change, change in characters is, at least as often as not, decay, rather than improvement. The "lolicon rapist", post-c. 1969 version of the Gray Mouser is the same thing, come to think of it. I'd wager if Bond or Holmes started getting novelistic "character development", they'd basically turn into Hannibal Lecter, who's pretty much the stereotype they're based on taken to its logical extreme. Consider also the trainwreck that Criminal Intent became when they started giving Goren "character development", or the later seasons of House.
  • I have elsewhere mentioned the gobsmacking exercise in hypocritical self-righteousness that is Ursula LeGuin's "Science Fiction and Mrs Brown". But I mostly restricted my remarks to LeGuin, since it was a science fiction post. Now it's Woolf's turn.

    Only, I don't have to write it, because (as in so many things) Theodore Dalrymple already did. One point he missed, though, is that Woolf's Three Guineas, with its asinine idea that female suppression occurred in warlike eras, therefore women's emancipation will bring peace, is a "cum hoc ergo propter hoc" fallacy. It's also illiterate Eurocentrism, because in societies (the Apache, for one) where the women own the property, guess who decides when to have raids and wars? It ain't the men.
  • I am not fond of "show, don't tell", and yet I am also annoyed by the irrational taboo on descriptions. It is especially irksome that these come from the same people. Some things should be told, others shown. Virtually nothing can be tabooed; not food, not scenery, not clothes, hair, or equipment. If you need to describe those things, then they need to be described. The only actual rule RE: what you should or shouldn't describe in depth is sex-scenes—after a certain point you're writing porn—but that's an ethical, rather than an aesthetic consideration.

    Just keep in mind what you're doing. I have scenes where I describe very little, apart from fight moves—because they're fight scenes. I also have scenes where I describe what a person does with their dirty clothes after taking a shower. It depends on what you're trying to accomplish; in the fight scenes I'm obviously going for...whatever action scenes are for, actually all the terms used to describe their purpose seem reductive. In the putting-away-laundry scene, I'm trying to establish character and a feeling of "everyday life". That's really important in any genre, but especially in SF, since their everyday life is different from ours (the water for the washing machine in question has to be synthesized from carbon monoxide and methane, for instance—the planet they're on has its colony under domes).

    The importance of establishing the everyday life of characters is something I learned from anime; I think it may be indirectly related to wabisabi and Buddhist "impermanence" and that sorta thing. It's also present in Tolkien (which I read before I'd seen any anime except Cities of Gold and the old Toei fairytales, but I didn't recognize it there), and also in Chesterton (who I didn't really read till I was in my 20s).
  • I realize, my anathemas pronounced on what are known to Tropers as SpaceWhales, and also on creatures like the Outsiders in Niven, is basically the old "every sapient alien species represents an ecosystem the size of Earth's" thing. So, if you want space whales, you will need space seaweed, space krill, space anchovies, and space remoras—possibly in something like the debris disks we've found around some stars, that are much denser than our asteroid belt. Also you still probably can't have the Outsiders, because they are photosynthetic sapients and a plant has no need of a slug's brain, let alone a human's. They might need something like a jellyfish's or amoeba's "brain", to travel to where, e.g., there's more of some non-photosynthesized nutrient, but they're not going to be any smarter than that.

    Actually, space-borne life, assuming an ecosystem large enough, might well be more likely an encounter for a space-faring civilization than silicon-based. Silicon life is probably only somewhat less likely than carbon—while it has the same bonding positions those bonds would function somewhat differently. But remember, silicon life is likely to exist at temperatures where, e.g., sand is a gas (2503 K, in case you wondered). So anything those people could make a spaceship out of, is likely to be too heavy for them to launch it...since anything lighter would probably melt if not vaporize in their atmosphere. They are thus unlikely to be spacefarers.
  • A major source of "prescriptivism by the linguistically ignorant", and thus of my rage, is half-educated people who think current technical usage is "correct", and the common usage from which that technical usage derives is "incorrect". E.g., poisonous and venomous mean the same thing, I don't give a tinker's damn at a rolling doughnut how biologists use them. A poisoner—one who deliberately puts toxins into food for the sake of doing harm—is called "veneficus" or "venenarius" in Latin; the toxin itself is "venenum", the origin of "venom". "Poison" literally means "a drink, especially medicinal or toxic", in Old French. Another product of the same root is "potion". You really want to pretend "Forerunner" and "Precursor" are two different things?

    Or take "bug". "Bug" means "creepy crawly"; though currently restricted to insects or occasionally all arthropods, it has probably been applied not only to insects but to arachnids, gastropods, myriadopods, and probably lizards, frogs, and snakes (the same by the way is true of "reptilia" in Latin, though going the other way). If you tell me "bug" is restricted in meaning to the Hemiptera, I'm going to laugh in your stupid face. Words are themselves a science, and that science says that common usage is derived from (I know this is very challenging for you) the usage that is common. Pillbugs and mudbugs are crustaceans, not insects. The biologists get to correct me on this when they stop calling birds with hands "terrible lizards", mmmkay?

    Also? It's called a damn buffalo, not a bison. Your precious water buffalo were first called that in 1758. Ours, again, first called "buffalo" in 1635. While the name was first applied to the African buffalo, in the 1580s, ours obviously have more right to be called that than the Asian ones do—the African one isn't closely related to either.
  • I'm sorry, also, prescriptivists, but you feel "good" or "bad". "Well" and "ill" are both adverbs and adjectives, "well" is related to "weal" and "wealth" (which latter is to "well" as "warmth" is to "warm"). And you should never say you "feel poorly" or "feel badly about something", anymore than you'd say something "tastes poorly". Adverbs, see, modify verbs or adjectives—so if you "feel poorly", it means you are bad at emotions (or tactile sensation, I suppose). I feel poorly, so I see a psychologist; when I feel bad, I either apologize or see a doctor.

    Also, why do we assume "no split infinitives" comes from Latin? Old English had an infinitive formed with an ending, not a "to", just like Latin; it seems to have been with "-an" (compare German "-en"). And again, German also prefers not to split its infinitives (it has both an ending-infinitive and a "to" infinitive). Basically, as Western European languages transitioned from inflected synthetical grammar to ever more isolating analytical grammar, they came up with all kinds of weird rules to try to make new constructions make sense with the old rules.
  • Why is Mesoamerica so totally untapped by fantasy writers? I suppose a part of it is that its actual history is pretty much the opposite of the narrative. I.e., most people know the Aztecs were bloodthirsty, do they know they deliberately destroyed their subjects' records (the Spanish only destroyed ritual manuals, and not even all of them)? Do most people know the Postclassic Maya were basically "Renaissance Italy"? Only I don't think the Borgias routinely married their aunts.

    But the real history of the place is like something already out of a fantasy book. The Tenochca Alliance (what we think of as "Aztecs") deliberately inverted a major portion of their culture's ethical values...purely for the sake of power. Namely? Cannibalism is the biggest taboo Uto-Aztecans have, to the point where the Hopi try to blackmail anthropologists into hushing up its occurrence among the Anasazi.

    You people keep rehashing your self-congratulatory myths about the Middle Ages, when there was a real-life honest-to-god Black Magic empire you could be basing stuff on? Just get out.


De Romanicorum Physicalium 7

Just what it says.
  • I don't know if I mentioned it, but I think if you were going to have a realistic space-combat game, you'd need some way to approximate rocket accelerations. Basically, I think, your best bet would be to treat the rocket's motion as ballistic—with its old heading as its momentum, and the new one as gravity.

    I still have no idea how one would approximate that on something like a hex-grid, though; I assume you could work out a rough conversion of hexes of momentum/hex-sides you can turn/new number of hexes you slide next turn, etc., depending on a given ship's acceleration and heading, but I bet the math is a beast. This is why I don't make games.
  • In a similar vein, I'm pretty sure I'm doing my travel times, delta-v, and so on, a bit off. E.g., I don't know how to calculate the precise delta-v to slow back down after accelerating to cruising speed, so I just say "half the tank to get going, half to stop". Isn't that, at some level, correct?

    And again, fiction; as long as people who were said to be traveling at a speed between two points of stated distance apart, arrive at the appropriate times, it's fine. How much historical fiction keeps track of how long horse-travel takes? (Although Lewis was being a whiny-baby complaining about Tolkien, Shadowfax is not a normal horse.)
  • Incidentally, you may wish to peruse Wiktionary's glossary of atmospheric entry jargon. I found out, the things I usually call "landers" hereabouts should be called "entry vehicles". Which are not to be confused with "reentry vehicles", which are what the layman usually calls "nuclear warheads", in their submunition-fired-from-ICBM form. (Yes, ICBMs nowadays have multiple warheads and can strike multiple targets—they're basically evil motherships.)

    Speaking of reentry, Yuri Gagarin has an asterisk next to his record, according to the International Aeronautic Federation (yes, the Space Race was refereed by an international aerial-sports body). See, to count as a successful manned spaceflight, you've got to land in your craft. The Soviets couldn't figure out how to do that safely yet, so Gagarin parachuted down while his craft crashed. To this day, the FAI (the acronym is in French) only acknowledges Gagarin as the first human in outer space—"first manned spaceflight" is John Glenn. (Seem unfair? Do you consider any other experimental flight successful if the pilot has to bail—because his craft wasn't designed to land? The only aircraft I know of that aren't designed to land are kamikaze planes.)
  • In all fairness to Maxine Waters' "170 million jobs lost" gaffe, I, too, have made errors of a factor of 1000 (assuming the number she wanted was 170,000). I bring it up here because my own gaffe involved rocket calculations. In my defense, some of the numbers I was working with were in metric tons, others in kilograms; Waters cannot claim some similar confusion RE: a "kilocapita" unit for counting people (which totally should exist, though).

    Also, though, I eventually caught my error, because I noticed the numbers were too high. Did Rep. Waters at no point notice that—given the US workforce is only 134 million people—she was talking about 127% unemployment? She never looked at her "jobs lost" number and thought "and that would bring unemployment to...?" I don't know, it seems like the sort of thing you'd consider, since shouting unemployment percentages has long been a great way to gin up the voters.
  • You know my thing about how a scholarly people like the Chinese—moreso in the ultra-scholarly Classical form—have a very isolating, analytical language, while warlike peoples like the Apache and Zulu have very "complex" (in layman's terms) synthetical languages? And how that's the reverse of the naïve expectations of most writers, who clutter up otherwise good science fiction with Sapir-Whorf stupidity? I think it's not entirely the writers' fault.

    See, the scholarly prestige-languages of the Western world—Latin and Greek—and those that Westerners were most likely to be familiar with from other cultures—Sanskrit and Classical Arabic—are all of them synthetical and highly-inflected. Thus, the Westerner assumes, scholars just naturally talk that way. Unfortunately he does not pause to consider...why is Classical Arabic a prestige language? Why do people who pray in Sanskrit have control over such a broad swath of territory? What was the reason all the scholars used Latin and Greek?

    Notice the trend there? The Arabs, the Romans, Alexander's Greeks, the ancient Hindus: all of those languages are used by scholars because they were imposed on such wide territories by force of arms. That is not the case for Chinese; Korea and Japan adopted Chinese writing purely from the desire for the advantages enjoyed by Chinese civilization. While the Han did impose a common culture on their neighbors within China, for the most part it was so long ago as to have become legend; within historic times (and up until Communism) the only people who had Chinese culture systematically imposed on them were the Yue, and even the southern portion of them (Vietnam) didn't actually start speaking Chinese, but only adopted Chinese writing.
  • Speaking of Sapir-Whorf, a perennial idea used by SW-besotted provincial-honky science fiction writers is the idea, e.g. in Samuel Delaney's Babel-17 or Ayn Rand's Anthem, that lacking a first-person pronoun will destroy one's ability to distinguish reality from one's perceptions, or otherwise interfere with knowledge of the self.

    Only...it sure doesn't seem to have hurt the Japanese any—"the self" and "reality vs. perception" are just a little important in Zen, you know? Japanese hasn't got any personal pronouns, not technically; they're all actually nouns or demonstratives. Instead of saying "I talk to him", you say "this person talks to that person," or something equivalent. And they are not noticeably egoless—this is the homeland of Oda Nobunaga and Uesugi Kenshin we're talking about here.

    Basically, linguistic speculations by people who only speak English (or some other modern European language) are, at best, laughably bad. At worst they usually involve a lot of risible, effectively-racist Jingo cheerleader self-congratulation, right out of Oswald Spengler.
  • The business with that bolide in Russia—in the province the Russian general in Metal Gear Solid is from, Chelyabinsk—has of course brought much speculation RE: asteroid moving. And sadly, nobody ever says a word about Project Orion. I mean, you people always complain about how we've got these nuclear arsenals with no use—well there's a use.

    Seriously, even the 1st-gen 1959 version of Orion could get 80 MN from a single 1.7 gigagram engine—which my math says is enough to push a 6500 ton asteroid at one G. 1700 metric tons sounds like a lot, but most of it's the pusher-plate...and please remember the world's nuclear arsenal is 17,000-odd bombs. Reverse Nobel-dynamite made-for-peaceful-purposes-used-for-war thingy, really, if you think about it.

    Huh. What'd Nobel make dynamite for, anyway—did you ever wonder, what peaceful purpose you invent explosives for? Presumably construction or land-clearing, I guess.
  • That thing above about how the differences in Japanese thought from that of Indo-European speakers do not map one-to-one onto the differences of Japanese from Indo-European languages—the concept "ego" is not unknown to them, despite the fact they have no personal pronouns—is the fundamental weakness of Sapir-Whorf.

    Namely, languages that lack a syntactic structure still have the idea. Japanese and Chinese lack a grammatical plural—yet they are entirely capable of expressing the idea "more than one member of the same class" (albeit that is not what their plural-like structure actually expresses). English verbs are very data-poor compared to the verbs in Navajo—Navajo can say in a single word what English has to express by "he used to carry each of the two thin stiff things along"—yet I just conveyed that concept, didn't I?

    Any language can say anything, because the external reality, from which the concepts expressed by words are abstracted, is universal. Only fundamentally muddleheaded philosophy could ever have made so many people believe what may be the second stupidest form of nominalism ever.