Blood and Treasure II

Although the first one with this title was slightly different, it really is the best name for a mixed xenobiology/speculative material culture post.
  • With regard to "laterality", I already made zled writing go left-to-right (yes, I have their alphabet worked out), so the majority of them write right-handed (lefties have to hold their hands funny to avoid smudging their ink, when they write left-to-right; that righties have to do that going right-to-left is why the Greeks switched the direction Phoenician was written when they adopted it for their language).

    I think zledo have opposite lateralization from humans, though, so either they regard writing as a novel/emergency activity (maybe because it's communication—social interactions are right-brained in Earth vertebrates), or else they do like cockatiels apparently do, and work on it with the opposite side from the one they'd look at it with (cockatiels usually manipulate food with the left foot, despite feeding being governed by the left side of the brain, which controls the right foot). Probably the first one, 'cause I don't think science has a handle on why cockatiels do that yet.

    I think they use the left hand (routine or familiar things, opposite of Earth) to eat (try holding a fork in your off-hand if you think there's no handedness in eating) and maybe when working on things that require no writing, since toolmaking arguably isn't a "novel"/"emergency" situation (even if the tool is novel its creation is usually roughly as routine as most feeding behavior).
  • A search of Le Blogue suggests I haven't mentioned it before, but did you know apiculture (beekeeping) is actually really unusual? In most cultures honey is a luxury, because you have to hunt down a wild honey tree and knock it down to get the stuff. Beekeeping is only known from China, the Maya, and Egypt—that last probably where the Jews and Greeks learned it (apparently the Babylonians tried to adopt it, but couldn't pull it off). African bees (a subspecies of European bee, hence why the two can breed) are so nasty because there is no apiculture in Sub-Saharan Africa; because the only way to get honey was to hunt it wild (destroying hives and killing lots of bees in the process), the people there basically, by accident, selectively bred their bees for aggression. A hive that's too dangerous to approach can't be hunted, after all.

    Mayan honeybees, meanwhile, are stingless. Maya apiculture was so important to some of them, especially the Chajoma (a branch of the Kaqchikel), that mead, along with pulque and corn beer, is one of the indigenous liquors of the New World; the Chajoma are actually called "beehive people" in the Popul Vuh. Personally I feel that we should study the causes of Colony-Collapse Disorder—then induce it in all European/African honeybee colonies in the New World. Replace the monstrous disgusting vermin with Mayan honeybees, which can't kill anyone. We'd probably have to breed them for a while to get their honey-production on par with the European ones, but anything is better than killer bees. Bringing in the Asian giant hornet would be better! (Those things hunt bees, and Euro-African bees don't have adaptations for defense against them.)
  • Speaking of mead, objectively, there are only eight kinds of fermented alcoholic beverage in the world. The two biggies, accounting for the vast majority of beverages, are ale made from grain, which includes sake and beer and the stuff made from millet and (American) corn; and cider made from fruit, which includes not only cider, pear-cider, and wine, but also things made from various melons and squashes (and even banana beer). Then you get mead from honey, blaand from whey, kumis from non-separated milk (usually of a horse), ibwatu/munkoyo made from sugary roots (which probably also includes the fermented-potato stuff that vodka is distilled from), neera and similar things made from sugary nectars, and pulque fermented from various sugary saps (which includes "palm wine").

    That last one arguably also includes things like boj and basi (the things we distill to get rum) that are fermented from sugarcane, since the juice we get cane sugar from is mostly sap. If you choose to count those separately, there are nine kinds of fermented liquor in the world. I came up with another one in my books: zledo have a drink made from fermented bug-shells, which have their chitin-analogue broken down into its component sugars, and then fermented into alcohol, by the gut-flora of a ruminant-analogue. (They have a legume-analogue they ferment by the same process, although that's arguably not that different from "ale", above, since none of their seeds correspond one-to-one with grain or legumes; indeed, they use the word for that stuff not only for our beer, but for our wine, since "fermented seeds" and "fermented fruit" look very similar to them.)

    It occurs to me that the mushroom-derived liquor consumed in Quarmall (in Nehwon) and by the drow in D&D, probably has to use something like the method zledo use with the bug-shells. Fungi, after all, have most of their carbohydrates locked up in chitin (rather than in cellulose like plants). I wonder if that makes Quarmallites go blind? Fermenting more complex carbohydrates tends to result in methanol, a problem seen sometimes in moonshine, when its makers use corncobs as well as the corn itself in their liquor.
  • The other day, I mentioned that "tortilla" means "little cake" ("torta" being "cake" like "strawberry tort"), and my dad asked why flat things are called cakes. I said that the original form of "cake" is what's encountered in "hotcake" or "pancake". The reason many medieval texts refer to, e.g., "cakes and ale", is because bread is actually a luxury item that requires centralized infrastructure. Originally only castles, and later major urban bakeries, could produce it, because only they had big ovens to bake it (or meat) in; ordinary people made their cooked flour-dishes by cooking on griddles and hearth stones. (Part of what this means is that piki-bread, of which you probably never heard, is misnamed—it's actually piki-cakes.)
  • So, apparently, you're going to eat a lot of sour, soy-sauce flavored, and spicy things on spaceships, and drink...tomato juice, apparently. Why? Airline food. I imagine most spaceships would probably have similar conditions inside to those on an airliner, i.e. relatively low pressure (airliners have the same internal pressure as is experienced at 2438 meters) and low humidity (c. 12%). That's why airline food tastes bad, taste-buds are used to having a certain amount of air and moisture to work with. The hardest hit are sweet and either salty or sour, so spaceships, like airlines, would lean heavily on things the passengers can still taste, like bitterness and savory (which I will call "umami" when someone explains why saying "savory" in Japanese makes more sense). Maybe that's why dry champagne is stereotypical of first-class? Astronauts eat hot sauce the way inmates smoke, although if they're not in free-fall you wouldn't have that trouble.

    Of course, some people would have less trouble with it that others; the few times I've been on airlines, and the one time I was on one that had a meal rather than just a snack, I didn't notice any problem with the food other than it being mass-produced school-lunch type fare. Why? I live at 2130 meters, and while my town's humidity is usually in the 40-50% range, I regularly go to Tucson, where the humidity is often 20% or lower (and they're still at 728 meters, which isn't comparable to the Colorado Plateau but it ain't the Eastern Seaboard, neither). My taste-buds are used to a much harder life than the average person's.

    In my setting, "modern" (c.2340s) spaceships have good enough climate control, vis-à-vis things like humidity, to have a stock of food that doesn't have to be over-seasoned or designed to work with the few taste-buds that still work correctly, because now they all do.
  • Was looking into capsaicin, for purposes of xenobiology. Decided zled physiology is much less calcium-heavy, since their bones are made of silica, so they use more sodium-gated nerve receptors, including in their TRP-channel analogues. What that means, among other things, is that while they have a chemical like capsaicin that activates their heat-receptors, just like we do, it doesn't work that way for humans...who experience it more like eating jellyfish venom. (Among the many hellish things in jellyfish venom—and seriously, what sea-god did we all anger?—is a sodium nerve-channel modulator, which is the main origin of the painful "being sliced with electrified red-hot razors" sensation from jellyfish stings.)

    Just one of many reasons not to eat alien food: aside from there being a very good chance you're allergic to their proteins (inasmuch as "allergic" means "the immune system mistakes it for a pathogen", and immune systems tend to err on the side of caution, for a reason), something they use to add a bit of "punch" might affect you as an agony-inducing neurotoxin. (It occurs to me that zledo might find poison-dart frogs spicy but otherwise harmless—assuming they take their antihistamines for the Earth proteins—since batrachotoxin, like jellyfish venom, also increases sodium influx in those ion-channels. Also, zled pepper-spray, which they presumably use mostly as a bouncer's weapon since they see no problem in carrying lethal weapons for self-defense, is probably lethally toxic to humans.)
  • With regard to the "split your skull by slapping it" thing, it apparently takes 2300 Newtons to crush a human skull. Given a jaguar-sized zled, it doesn't seem unreasonable to think they can do that, given that a tigress was measured inflicting 6200 Newtons while swatting around a ball (and no, tigers do not hit full-powered when playing). A heavyweight boxer named Frank Bruno apparently struck with 4100 Newtons. So why don't heavyweights split each other's heads?

    The deciding factor, probably more relevant than sheer brute force, is technique—two people can hit with the exact same force and get entirely different results, depending on things like "snap" versus follow-through, and the precise nature of the blow (e.g., a capoeirista can hit you just as hard with a bem são as with a martelo de bico, but the results are nothing like each other). Boxers are not trying to split each other's skulls, for multiple reasons—apart from the obvious ones (it's not actually a fight), is the fact that sending the opponent to the mat is enough to start the count in and of itself.

    Presumably it is more difficult for an untrained zled to get all the force of his blow into an opponent's head, rather than much of it just sending the opponent flying—though their entire adult male population has the equivalent of boot-camp and reservist training. It actually comes up that a zled who hits a helmeted human has a much better chance of breaking his neck than of smashing his skull (rapid head- and neck-movement—like that caused by a force that might, conceivably, split the skull if it hit differently—is theorized to be the source of most of boxing's one-hit KOs, by the bye).
  • Wasn't satisfied with the battery-powered mecha, so decided to do some searching around. Maybe methanol? Might use methanol for fuel-storage on spaceships, actually; they just split the methanol to get the hydrogen out (in a ruthenium-catalyzed process), without worrying about all the hydrogen that escapes simply through the gaps between atoms. Maybe use it in hydrogen fuel-cells, too. True, using methane as your storage-medium doesn't do a thing to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, but since we can use copper-oxide nanorods coated in cuprous oxide to synthesize methanol from carbon dioxide, that's probably a non-issue. (Late Addendum: Using methanol to store spaceship-propellant hydrogen adds too much weight, since methanol is only 12.6% hydrogen. It's still promising for every other purpose, though.)

    Methanol as a fuel isn't markedly different from gasoline—it's much less mass-efficient (5,472 and 2/9 watt-hours/kilogram versus gasoline's 11,777 and 7/9), but, one, that still means it only takes 3.25 kilograms/4.1 liters to power a 10-meter mecha (1,686 kilowatts) for one hour, and two, it's much less polluting and volatile than gasoline. Plus, methanol is easy to make, while gasoline has to be, pretty much, mined, and that only from places that have hosted life for millions of years. I figure 39 kilos/49.2 liters (which is 49,200 cubic centimeters—remember, SI units) is sufficient size for the fuel-tank...since it gives a full day of power. (Late Addendum 2: There's also the advantage that methanol is harder to ignite than gasoline, burns at a much lower temperature, and can be put out with water—all advantages for a military fuel.)

    Ruthenium, you might think (read the comments on that article I linked), is "one of the most expensive and rarest elements on the world", as that commenter put it. Here is where the mad scientist makes remarks about your lack of vision...because asteroid mining is an abundant source of ruthenium (indeed, all ruthenium mined on Earth was once on asteroids, since all the ruthenium actually incorporated into the Earth in its formation is currently deep inside it).