Tenuous Stuff from Which the World Was Made II

Worldbuilding thoughts, more or less. Thoughts about stuff directly or indirectly related to worldbuilding, certainly.
  • Back in February of this year, we actually passed the "break-even" point in fusion. Admittedly, only by 1%. Still: this is very important. From "how to pass that point at all" to "how to get far enough past that point to actually be useful" is a much smaller step than the one between "not past the break-even point" and "actually past it". Of course, everyone who wants fusion-power ought to be asked "How about just thorium-fueled fission power, for now?". And everyone who points out "fusion has been twenty years away for sixty years"—same question. If you think (possibly correctly) that fusion is unrealistic for the near future, why don't you advocate something useful? (Answer: because raining on others' parade is more ego-gratifying than being constructive.)

    Even uranium fission is a better solution than sitting around whining about the lack of fusion power—and much better, even in terms of radiation, than continuing to use coal-power, which is the main thing our societies actually use when they aren't using fission. But greens and their opponents are united in their lack of concern for how people actually live—mostly because they are also, almost to a man, united in being (upper-)middle-class Westerners who can take "we will have relatively cheap electricity" for granted. How to get electrical power, and the amenities it provides (which include sanitation and medical care along with luxuries) is not immediately their problem, so they feel free to yammer endlessly about the theory of it, without actually bothering about the practical aspects.
  • I was thinking, there is a period in Korean history called the "North and South Kingdoms Era", or Nambukgukshidae (the hanja are 南北國時代); it's from 698 AD to 926 AD. It's bracketed on either side by Three Kingdoms Eras, the later of which is called the Later Three Kingdoms (don't worry, in Korean "Later Three Kingdoms" is distinguished from "later Three Kingdoms", as in the late part of the era just called "Three Kingdoms", by more than just a capital L).

    That fact leads me to suspect that future historians, assuming that Korea does not stay divided forever (and I wouldn't put money on the North getting one more Dear Leader into office), will probably consider the current era of Korean history to be a Later North and South Kingdoms Era. Don't worry about the "kingdom" part; the hanzi "guo", 國, which is simplified to 国 in Japan, is also used in the names of republics; its basic meaning is "state" or "domain", without specifying how they're governed.

    The hanja for "Later North and South Kingdoms Era" would be 後南北國時代; it's pronounced Hunambukgukshidae.
  • In making zled laterality (handedness) "task dependent", where they use one hand to write and a different one to eat, apparently I've, quite by accident, put their laterality on the same basis as that of dogs (and perhaps cats and bears). You may have heard that male dogs are left-pawed and females right-pawed, and that cats are either right-pawed or have the same division as dogs, but there's apparently only two research papers that found laterality in dogs to be sex-linked, and one of them primarily found it when performing the "shake hands" trick, less when removing something stuck to the snout or an object over a piece of food. And I've been finding several other studies that not only challenge the "sex-linked laterality" hypothesis, but that show some evidence dogs show "handedness" mostly with new tasks, becoming ambidextrous as the task becomes more familiar (not sure how that handedness breaks down, though presumably not by sex, since the papers describing it also challenge the idea of sex-based handedness in dogs). There's also a paper I found that suggests lateralization in dogs is linked to immune function, with left-handed dogs having more lymphocytes and fewer granulocytes than right-handed ones (not sure whose immune system that means is better). Also? Apparently ambidextrous dogs are more likely to be afraid of loud noises.
  • Beans and corn, of course, are the staple crops of the New World, the ones that made all but one of the hemisphere's civilizations possible (some of the Mound Builders were agriculturists but hadn't domesticated corn—they grew squash instead). That's a pattern you get worldwide: grains and legumes, in combination, are the Agricultural Revolution, because the two in combination are complete protein. (For humans—try to keep dogs on that diet and I hope they use you as a protein supplement.)

    In Rome it was lentils and wheat; in medieval Europe it was peas and wheat. In Southeast Asia, Japan, Korea, and southern China, it's rice and soybeans—but in northern China, it's actually wheat and millet, and soybeans. (Actually in Japan and I do believe Korea millet was grown along with rice, since the farmers were not allowed to keep much of their rice, and lived on millet instead.)

    I'm not sure what the African legume was, other than peanuts; their big grains seem to be wheat and rice. In the Near East the legume seems to be chickpeas (maybe those are big in Africa too—other than North Africa, I mean?) and lentils, and they eat wheat and rice. In India the legumes are good ol' peas and lentils, plus mung beans and kin, and the grains are wheat and rice. Barley, come to think of it, probably shows up in India and everywhere west of it; I'm not sure about in Africa, though.
  • Getting rid of zledo having bayonets on their lasers, since they also use swords, and they can buttstroke just fine (and by "just fine" I mean "to a pulp"—imagine being pistol-whipped by a jaguar). I think they might also use the lasers to parry with when swordfighting, much like using a belaying pin in one hand and a cutlass in the other; while their weirdly designed sword-blades can probably actually cut the lasers if they hit just right (they aren't using metal anymore), it would have to hit just right. You parry with a (metal) sword, and if the other guy hits that just right he can snap your blade.

    Incidentally, I'm still torn whether zled swords should just be made of ultra-weird nano-engineered material, or actually have a small power-supply artificially strengthening their molecular bonds, like a sword made of General Products hull. On the one hand, you could probably get really funky properties from a substance whose every grain you brush into place with nano-bots; on the other, General Products hull sword! Actually it occurs to me I've hinted at something that kinda splits the difference—as I have it now it seems their swords aren't ordinarily powered, but instead of grinding or honing them to sharpen them, they do it electronically, re-aligning the structure of the blade and cutting edge to its optimal configuration.
  • Apparently Whorf, as in "Sapir-", came up with his theory based on Hopi lacking grammatical tense—that they have "no words, grammatical forms, construction or expressions that refer directly to what we call 'time.'"—which, he said, meant the Hopi have a "timeless" existence, whereas Westerners are obsessed with times and dates and slaves to the clock. There are two issues with that. The first, and probably more important, is that Hopi does have grammatical tense. The second, and perhaps illustrative of how linguists are not anthropologists, is, the Hopi lifestyle is absolutely rigidly determined by time, with days and seasons (maybe months, too) extraordinarily important in every aspect of how they conduct their affairs.

    Right, Professor Whorf, a people who have an annual rain dance at the same time every year—plainly, they have no way of referring directly to "time". A subsistence-agriculturist society is blissfully unconcerned with things like "seasons". A people almost all of whose ritual life takes place at certain prescribed times of day, nope, they plainly get by without having words for "time". I mean, they're not allowed to talk about their creation-story except in winter (a taboo they imparted to the Navajo, along with large portions of the mythology in question), but no, the season of the year has nothing to do with "what we call 'time.'". Nothing whatsoever, not a single, solitary thing!
  • I made an interesting discovery while researching how a species with a tapetum lucidum does the close-in tasks we associate with "intelligence". Tapeta lucida, after all, cause scattering of light, which blurs images—it's a bit like having cataracts. I had had zledo go with the method used by some crepuscular birds (I want to say nightjars?), of only having tapetum lucidum in half the eye—but in reverse, since zledo would have to see what's in their hands, under their eyes, in detail, while crepuscular birds have to deal with well-lit sky and poorly lit ground (think sunset, the earth is black while the sky is still light).

    But that's a weird thing to evolve (it seems like they might as well just not have a tapetum lucidum at all), but then I found out, sharks have a tapetum lucidum that is "occlusible", which is usually used to refer to the teeth fitting together in the mouth but here means "can be hidden" (it apparently means "closing", of eyes, as well). See, interspersed with the shiny crystals that make up their tapetum lucidum, a shark has melanocytes—pigmented cells. When the light is good, the melanocytes expand, blocking the tapetum lucidum and giving the shark good detail vision (your guess is as good as mine why they have it, since their way of investigating the world is "put everything in your mouth", not "look at it very carefully"). I think it's a bit like the various chromatophores in chameleon skin, but a lot simpler.

    I imagine that occluding the tapetum requires a certain amount of time in good light, so zledo wouldn't be blinded by bright flashes. On the other hand, going indoors after being outside in the dark might make their vision crummy for a few seconds (chameleons take about 30 seconds to change—octopuses, on the other hand, seem to only take 2-10 seconds), in terms of fine detail. (Also, the pigment they use for it isn't melanin, but anthocyanidin—the chromatophores in question presumably being "anthocyanidocytes".)
  • Incidentally, it's not true that chameleons don't use their color-change for camouflage. While, indeed, most chameleons do actually use the ability for social signaling—"living mood-rings" is the phrase that's bandied about—at least one kind of dwarf chameleon, "Smith's", does.
  • Zled markings, being made of anthocyanidin (the base color of their fur is structural; the only pigment present in their manes, though, is also anthocyanidin, while the manes ordinarily don't have structural coloring), are sometimes blue and sometimes red. It's differentiated by the pH of the anthocyanidocytes in the follicle, blue if the pH is 7 to 8 and red if it's 3 or less (and purple if it's 6-7, and blue-green if it's 8 to 10). Different ethnicities ordinarily have either red or blue anthocyanidocytes and thus markings—something like the "oily" or "crumbly" earwax genes present in human ethnicities. I think the genes aren't co-dominant, so a given individual would get one or the other; purple and blue-green markings, thus, would probably only be due to mutations or pathological conditions.

    Fur color, meanwhile, which is structural (like the blueness of jays), I think is co-dominant, so you might get pale-green children resulting from green and yellow parents (or vice-versa), or yellow children from green and orange parents. I think instead of purple children from blue and orange parents, you'd get green (since it's not a matter of mixing pigments, but of the structures in their hairs being midway in size between the two wavelengths). You'd also probably get the children of intermarriages sometimes having the "wrong" color, e.g. the blue and green people usually have blue markings, while the orange and yellow people usually have red, but they might get markings that don't match their fur-color. (The yellow-orange people don't have markings, except on ear- and tail-tips—which are blue—so I think their intermarriages sometimes result in children with faded markings, that might be the "wrong" color.)