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.


Sierra Foxtrot 3

This is post 494, 2×13×19. More about science fiction.
  • Many and various are the ills that can be laid at the door of science fiction writers. One example that's come up recently (thanks to the newly-discovered Higgs boson casting doubt upon "naturalness") is that people conflate "multiverse" with "many worlds". This is science fiction's fault, because every stupid alternate-reality story (there are no intelligent alternate reality stories except one that is mostly not one, "Cascade Point" by Timothy Zahn) is based on many-worlds, but it calls the set of many worlds "the multiverse". But "multiverse theory", though a poor name, actually refers to something totally different.

    See, the "multiverse" the Higgs boson may point to simply means that this "universe" is actually only the portion of space-time geometry (however many dimensions it may have) that functions by what we think of as the laws of physics, and that we can exist in. "Many worlds interpretation" is that goofball idea that every probability wave-form creates a universe for each possible result, because you're not comfortable with the Copenhagen interpretation showing that there's something special about minds. Basically, the "multiverse" vs. "many worlds" is like the difference, in Dungeons and Dragons, between the Prime Material, Astral, Ethereal, Outer, and Inner Planes—only the first of which does not intrinsically involve rules modifications—and between two different Prime Material Planes, which generally follow the same rules with only minor modifications.

    Hmm. Maybe this isn't entirely the fault of science fiction writers, but rather also the fault of scientists who read science-fiction and didn't notice that the name they borrowed from those stories already applied to a different theory.
  • I often carelessly describe myself as writing hard SF, and I probably shouldn't. "Hard SF" tends to mean that the stories are about specific technical things and the way some (technically gifted) person deals with them. The Known Space stories that don't have to be Known Space stories, because they're about dudes orbiting Venus or exploring Pluto, would be examples (so is "Neutron Star", though that's avowedly Known Space thanks to having Puppeteers and General Products hulls).

    My science fiction is mostly about politics, and scheming therein, and the way some person whose technical expertise mostly involves killing people deals with it. I do explain my devices by reference to actual theory (rather than handwavium), including the artificial gravity and the FTL, but I also have psionics (though I only call them "psi", and deliberately subvert pseudo-science explanations for them). I think I probably sit halfway between science fiction (strictly defined, which pretty much means "hard") and space opera, without going too far into soft SF.

    Though I also have...other things...used as an end-around for, e.g., AI (also as the only rational source for defense from psi), I don't think it makes sense to classify my thing as "science fantasy". I am not writing fantasy stories set in a traditionally SF setting, I am writing science fiction stories set in a broader cosmos than the comfort-zone that philosophical "naturalism" made up, with no rational basis, because its adherents are afraid of ghosts.

    I think I write "chewy" science fiction, as I have said previously. Much of it actually has a genuinely hard crunchy shell.
  • Where do people get the idea that War of the Worlds is against imperialism (something I was reading while writing this said so)? Again, as I have said before, Wells was an absolutely rabid imperialist (all Fabians were—the least imperialist British socialist was Orwell, and he was still a froth-mouthed no-Popery Jingo). By and large, and until indecently recent times, British Socialists acquired their Pink by mixing the supremacy of the White Race with painting the map Imperial Red. (Now they're just straight-up Marxists, painting the map red in service to a different, even more bloodstained and illegitimate, empire.)

    War of the Worlds is simple biological determinism, Social Darwinism, about as anti-imperial as Robert Heinlein's theme that humanity will continue genociding other species until some other species genocides it. That is in fact basically what it is about, the idea that races have destinies and life-spans and "appointed times", and when your time is up, go out like a gentleman. But even then—have you actually read the thing?—you may have noticed the humans still @#$%ing win in the end, by a deus ex machina no less, because Wells' Jingo heart couldn't bring itself to finish it logically.

    (The ending is just as illogical and deus ex machina if it's an anti-imperialist allegory, by the bye, but everything Wells said in any other context shows it isn't one.)
  • I think I have elsewhere remarked on the fact that Gagarin is only the first man in space, he did not make the first manned spaceflight (because "flight", to count as successful, must involve landing, and Gagarin's craft was designed with the assumption he'd bail out partway down). But did you know Sputnik, also, is only an achievement in a very qualified sense?

    It's a metal beach-ball with a very primitive transmitter attached to it, and four big antennas. Its surface is polished enough to let it be seen from Earth, and it broadcasts meaningless beeps on AM radio. That's all it does. Well, that, and galvanize America into the biggest industrial gear-up since World War II, revamping an entire generation's math and science education and leading to America's victory not only in space (the Moon Landing was pretty much the end of the Space Race) but in the Cold War, since the semiconductors and microprocessors that spelled the USSR's doom were direct results of the space program.

    And no, the fact the Russians did much more work with space stations than we did does not affect the question of who won the Space Race. The main reason the US didn't do as much there (though Skylab stacks up favorably with the Salyuts and Mir any day of the week) is because we had much better communication satellites (see "semiconductors and microprocessors", above), which did a good 7/8 of the things you want space stations for.
  • One of the several articles out there about Orientalism in Firefly notes that it lacks the idea of "Oriental despotism"—because if it did its braindead political morality-play might look racist, instead of just stupid—but it neglects to note that "Oriental despotism" mostly referred, in its actual usages, to the Ottoman Turks. And the Ottomans, on an average day, made the Qing Dynasty look like Jeffersonian democracy.

    Of course, then again, the writer actually thought Edward Said's take on Orientalism was valid, when it is in fact just an early example of Post-Colonialism, i.e. the Yankee myth and the Marxist myth stuffed into a blender and made even stupider. Then again a lot of people think Said originated the idea that "Orientalism" meant cultural appropriation, but really that criticism has always been implicit in many uses of the term.
  • There's a Gundam series I never knew about, and I don't mean one of the more obscure UC spinoffs. "Gundam AGE" is the latest normal Gundam show with its own timeline. It's pretty decent, although it's got a middle school-age cast for the first part, and an obnoxious talking ball (Haro), the absence of which from Wing was providential, as if it'd had one I almost certainly would've hated that show (I had only recently recovered from the original Battlestar Galactica's thrice-accursed robot dog), and thence probably the whole franchise.

    One nitpick was the whole thing at the beginning where they're evacuating the space colony. They say they can't get to the escape craft because each only holds 100 people, and since it's an O'Neill Island 3 cylinder it can be assumed to have a population of several million, but...that's a glaring design flaw. If your craft has lifeboats, it should always carry enough for everyone, did the Titanic sinking teach you nothing? Besides, on a space-station colony, a designer would have to be stupid not to build a shelter that can double as an escape pod into every building—big ones, in bigger buildings.
  • If you were collecting examples of how Doctor Who not only is not science fiction, but continuing to air it demonstrates that the British public are the sworn enemies of science, how about "TARDIS"? TARDIS is an acronym. It stands for "Time And Relative Dimension In Space". Now, aside from how that can in no way be the name of a time-machine, or any other machine, since the name does not tell you what it does...time is also a relative dimension. Or multiple relative dimensions, in some models.

    Even if TARDIS were originally "TARDIS machine", i.e. a time-machine but also a relative-dimension-in-space-machine, it doesn't change dimensions of anything, except possibly its own interior. The TARDIS doesn't change size or make anything else bigger, it moves. That's not change of dimensions, it's change of coordinates! (Oh, I guess Doctor Who also demonstrates the British public are the sworn enemies of geometry. That's nice to know.)
  • What do I have to give you or threaten you with, O my camaradoes, to get you to knock off writing "head vs. heart" stories? Star Trek and Doctor Who have, between them, beaten that dead horse to stiff peaks. Stop it. Leaving to one side you're just rehashing the head-injury ward version of certain Protestant movements, everybody who argues against emotions always argues emotionally. "The most sentimental thing in the world is to hide your feelings; it is making too much of them. Stoicism is the direct product of sentimentalism," as Chesterton said.

    The fact of the matter is that emotions are cognitive macros, pre-set parameters for your nervous system, to quickly put your body in the optimum configuration for reacting to certain common situations. They are, like all macros, broad strokes, and may need to be corrected manually to avoid errors. That's it. That's their sole significance; they are nothing more nor less than that. The factory pre-sets are not considered the definitive feature of any mechanism I am aware of.

    Also? This.