Rannm Thawts Five

Random, as I said, thoughts. 536 is 23 × 67
  • Turns out, I may have been wrong—it might be possible to ferment mushrooms into alcohol, without creating methanol. You just have to break the chitin down into fructose first, for which, apparently, you use bacteria cultures—specifically of the Vibrio genus, which are the agent responsible for seafood-associated gastroenteritis, and also are the thing that breaks down all the chitin the world's aquatic arthropods shed. Maybe in a fantasy setting you store your mushrooms in jars with raw oysters?

    The Vibrio bacteria break the chitin down into sugar; you have to use raw mushrooms, since a cooked mushroom's chitin content drops from 8% to 2.7%. Then you boil the resulting sugar, perhaps with the remains of the mushrooms, which kills the bacteria. Then you add your yeast and ferment as normal. I would think the non-chitinous parts of the mushroom lend a flavor to the resulting brew, too.

    Of course, the genus Vibrio is best known for a little fellow called Vibrio cholerae—and notice what the specific name is. Compared to cholera, even methanol from moonshine is nothing to worry about. Though, you'd probably use V. parahaemolyticus, which usually causes much milder, food-poisoning kind of symptoms, and is found in freshwater snails. (And, again, boiling solves the problem, and it's a part of all brewing.)
  • I don't know if you recall, but I had expressed a wish for a JRPG that didn't feature some eighth-grader's attempt at deconstruction. You know, where every character, group, and institution didn't have a bunch of dark secrets and hidden agendas.

    It's called Fire Emblem, and it also features an actually half-decent romance mechanic and, in the latest one, Awakening, time-travel that isn't crap. I don't play turn-based JRPGs for "challenge", so I play it on "normal" difficulty and "casual" mode—especially that second one, because without it, people can get killed in your fights, and that's no fun. (Although I still don't know how the alternative works, because whenever I lose a character, I reset, exactly as I would without the casual-mode on.)

    A tip: play it in Japanese. Aside from Awakening having Ono Daisuke, Kana Asumi, Sawashiro Miyuki (!!), and Koyasu Takehito, is the fact they haven't done a good job dubbing a game into English since Infinite Undiscovery in 2008. Be warned, though, the "subtitles" are actually the close-captioning of the English (I think—confirming the suspicion would require playing it with English voices, and that ain't happening), and often aren't actually what the Japanese says—to the point of "Kega de wa arimasen ka?" being translated "Hang on tight!" (it means "Are you unhurt?").
  • Searching the blog suggests I haven't mentioned it before, but if I have, excuse the repetition: zled milk is solid at room temperature, rendered liquid by their body temperature. How? Zledo, like ostriches (which have the same mass) have a body temperature of 313 Kelvin (40° Celsius, 104° Fahrenheit). Cheeses begin to melt long before that point, and not having been cultured, it doesn't have the kind of protein-matrix that holds cheese together up to c. 322 K (49° Celsius/120° Fahrenheit) or even higher.

    Now, it doesn't exactly turn into "cheese", per se, when it cools—more a nutritious wax (although arguably that's what cheese is), something like lanolin, which has a melting point of 311 K/38° Celsius/100° Fahrenheit. (The Lhãsai mammary is a sebaceous gland, while the Earth one is probably a sweat gland.) The milk of zledo is still consumed in liquid form (because they nurse), but when they consume the milk of domestic animals (mostly zdhyedhõ'o, the dog-horse things), they don't drink it, they eat it. (Its texture when cold is more like soft cheese—brie, say, or camembert—or even like butter, than it is like lanolin, though; they slice it.)
  • This won the 2013 Best Short Story Nebula, and was nominated for the 2014 Hugo in the same category. And truly, the writer displays an ability to touch the emotions reminiscent of...Edward D. Wood, Jr.

    Because seriously, this is a level of risible bathos on par with Bride of the Monster. Maybe, just maybe, this...textual output...can work its way up to the artistic level of a Roger Corman flick—something like, say, It Conquered the World. But I wouldn't get my hopes up. (Maybe get Beverly Garland to give it a whirl—though it might be beyond even her talents, in a way that even "act like this is a threat" wasn't.)

    Is it impolite to point out it's "T. rex", not "T-Rex"? Or that they didn't have any voices at all, "rough, vibrating" or otherwise? They also, if they had any lips at all (see previous post—dinosaurs probably didn't have much in the way of lips, along with their lack of real cheeks), certainly didn't have the kind that can be curled back to bare "fangs".

    Ed Wood III here, in her author-profile, says her husband is a "dinosaur fanatic". It's funny to me because this is obviously some weirdass "hurt-comfort" fantasy of theirs where he also gets to be a paleontologist (never mind the kind of physique, mien, and bearing that generally go with field-work like that). It's also heavy-laden with ideologized adolescent persecution-complex. And this not only got published in an actual magazine—an alleged SF magazine, no less—it also got the Nebula, and could've got the Hugo! (This is starting to look less like work of the Ed Wood/Roger Corman kind and more like work of the Legato Bluesummers/Sephiroth variety.)
  • Scorpion may be the world's single worst show. Like, ever. Its basic conceit is "stupid person's idea of smart people"; and it's risibly implausible from its smallest details to its overaching plot-structure. It is, in other words, an infinite fractal of jaw-dropping incompetence, every aspect of its creative enterprise being one-dimensional yet having mathematical properties that let it resemble a surface.

    This show is so bad, my father—who sat through the reboot of Battlestar Galactica until the very end, when the whole rest of our family had bugged out in the second season (he had no illusions about its quality, he just has a very high threshold of pain)—was either the first or the second to decide, after only the first episode, that it was not worth watching.

    Plus, seriously, writing the title the official way—"</Scorpion>"—is moronic. It's annoying to write in an HTML editor (because it gets interpreted as code, and thus vanishes, if you don't write it with "character entities"), which completely neuters the point of having it, in this day and age. Why did they do that—did they realize they were going to get mocked for thinking "nothing says hip and edgy like closing your nonsensical XML tags"? What does the "scorpion" tag indicate, anyway—and who would need it? (Mortal Kombat's code probably doesn't include a lot of XML.) At least the forward slash in Face/Off won't make it instantly vanish if you write it that way, outside of the file-system of a PC.
  • Did some research. There's a guy in my third book who has electric-eel type electrocytes replacing some of the muscle-tissue of his forearms—letting him deliver shocks with his hands. (He's a transgenic assassin with the genes of electric eels spliced into his DNA. His partner is a girl with the genes of poison-dart frogs, who can kill anyone whose mucous membranes touch hers—except for him, because he's also got genes from the fire-bellied snake, Liophis epinephelus, the only known predator of dart-frogs, in his saliva glands and mucous membranes.)

    What I was researching was whether his powers also work on zledo. A lethal current for a human is, apparently (sources vary, but I'm going off what the electric eel article on Wikipedia says is the minimum to cause heart fibrillation), 700 milliamperes for longer than 30 milliseconds—an electric eel applies 1000 milliamperes over 2 milliseconds, which is why they seldom kill humans unless they stun them and cause drowning. Our assassin friend can flex his electrocyte-muscles longer than an eel can, though (I guess 21 milliseconds is necessary, at one whole amp?); he's a human being with willpower and spec-ops training. Also, eels don't know, and aren't anatomically set up, to grab both of their enemy's biceps at the same time, to be sure current goes through his heart (although they do coil around the chests of animals, which isn't creepy at all).

    It was hard to research this: if we're supposed to be able to find "anything" on this wonderful Internet thing, can you tell me how strong a current has to be to induce electronarcosis in an ostrich? I found out how strong to do it to a calf, though (a calf at typical slaughter-weight is the same size, c. 100 kg, as a female zled), and it's 1250 milliamps. (It doesn't say for how long, probably a couple dozen milliseconds like a human.) I think I can conclude—since he hasn't got the amperage to stun or kill a female zled, let alone a male one—that no, his powers do not work on adult zledo, even without the fact their military uniforms have an energy-dissipating lining. He'd probably go after the exposed head, going for electronarcosis instead of cardiac arrest, anyway, if the zled was not his target.
  • So...I had to describe part of an adolescent character's school-day, on a planet with a different day-length from Earth. I'm not complaining; it's cool to describe daily life under circumstances other than ours. I consider that the sine qua non of science fiction. But it forced me to come up with a way to do timekeeping on that kind of planet. And, as always, when there's already a real solution to the issue, I use the real solution.

    When NASA sends a probe to Mars, its timekeeping consists of dividing Mars' day (24 hours 37 minutes 22 seconds) into 24 hours of 60 minutes of 60 seconds. Those seconds, though, are 2.7% longer. So I did the same thing. One thing that's interesting is, if humans and aliens both do this, the difference of their units becomes, on every planet, the same as the number of units they divide the day into.

    What I mean is, zledo divide their day into 12 zbeihõlto of 120 aecho of 120 dothã'o; in terms of their equivalent of "Julian" time, their time-units are not evenly divisible by ours (because their day is not the same length ours is). But on a colony world, where they and we redefine the base unit (second and dothã) according to the stellar day's length, theirs is simply twice what ours is—because they divide a day into exactly twice as many dothã'o as we do into seconds.
  • It is occasionally said, and truly—therefore not often enough—that writers' workshops have ruined more than one good writer. The essential problem is that a lot of people, for one reason or another, turn off their brains when asked to evaluate a narrative work. I don't know if they're trying to be helpful, and assume that the audience is entirely composed of oblivious thickheaded children, or what, but they certainly act as if that's what's going on.

    For instance, a student film by the ane-ue, this one, with the ghost train. Did you notice the wanted poster of No-Name, there right at the beginning? Yes, well, when ane-ue was getting feedback on her storyboards from her class, somebody asked, and I quote, "What does she have that the bounty hunters want?" You know. The woman on the wanted poster. What does she have, that the bounty hunters want? Gee, Davy, do you think it might be a bounty on her head?!


De romanicorum theoriarum IX

Speculative fiction thoughts.
  • Has anyone ever considered that maybe what they like about the laughable drivel that passes for worldbuilding in Firefly is that there's nothing there? And thus they can project their own personal prejudices into it? Or you explain how so many right-wingers managed to think a Joss Whedon work was not a very long-winded personal attack on them, specifically.

    Or put another way, Firefly's setting is the worldbuilding equivalent of Bella Swann. Its "flaws", after all, are about as realistic as her alleged clumsiness and unpopularity—in this otherwise fascistically exploitative setting, we have a form of squeaky-clean sanitized prostitution that never has nor ever could exist (let alone in a totalitarian society), because Whedon wants to fantasize about dignified "spiritual" whores. Just like how Bella is supposed to be so clumsy and dorky and gawky, and yet four guys practically ask her out in the first chapter, because Meyer's audience wants to fantasize about turning down lots of suitors before they get Mr. Right.

    But at least Twilight is a bleached-britches bodice-ripper where all the bodices are ripped offstage; nobody expects coherence. What's Whedon's excuse for whitewashing prostitution, the most efficient means of producing misery the human race has ever invented? A less charitable person might suggest a common origin between Firefly's paeans to the beauty of the sex-trade and the fact its good guys are the Space Confederacy. (The charitable explanation—that the Browncoats lack the moral ambiguity of the Graycoats merely because Whedon and Minear are too unintelligent and immature to grapple with the moral complexities of the Civil War—is also the one that fits the facts, namely that Whedon and Minear are a pair of rock-stupid adolescents.)
  • There are exactly two types of birds with cheeks, I discover. Parrots (most noticeable on the largely bare-cheeked macaws), and the california condor. And there are no muscles in the condor's cheeks, they're just an extension of its dewlap. Aside from the interest of this to paleo-artists (because exactly two extant dinosaurs have cheeks, and they almost certainly developed them quite late), is its interest to science fiction writers. Do your aliens have cheeks? Now would be a pretty good time to consider it.

    Zledo have cheeks, and indeed lips much like mammals (though more like a cat's than a human's, hence why they can't say "F"), but the flesh, its keratins being in β-sheets, probably looks a bit more like that of macaws (except a different color, and at no point giving way to beak). Khângây don't have cheeks, they have only as much "lip" as lizards, and produce sounds that other species perceive as "labial" with their extremely complex vocal apparatus, the same way birds do. (They also don't have teeth, they have cutting-surfaces like armored-jawed fish.)

    ...I just decided right now that thoikh don't have cheeks or lips, meaning when they talk it looks unsettlingly like their face splits in half...and their teeth, which are onyx-colored, fold backward when their mouths close, like a snake's (although they look more like a crocodile's). They also, I think, have a second row of teeth in the roof of their mouth, again like a snake. (I imagine that they pronounce "labial" sounds through clenched teeth, instead—presumably you can still get some air through when your teeth fold against each other—which sounds a bit like a V. That might be what khângây languages do, actually, although their vocal apparatus also lets them mimic the sounds people with lips make.)
  • Hey, here's a wild idea: stop teaching the same stuff in English class that was taught 100 years ago. No, this isn't a "dead white men" argument; it's a "let's teach a new set of dead white men" argument. A hundred years ago we were already teaching, or at least encouraging students to read, Dickens, in schools. But Dickens? Pot-boiling pulp magazine writer.

    Do you know who we should be reading in school now, or at least encouraging students to read? Burroughs (Edgar Rice, not William S.); Howard (Robert E.); Lovecraft; Smith (Clark Ashton). The whole Campbell SF stable, too. For literary quality, although not vastness of scope, I'll put any of those dudes (maybe not Lovecraft or the Campbell guys) up against Dickens any day of the week. And hey, you want kids to learn about existentialism in literature? Well cupcake, where you think they'd rather learn it from, Waiting for the Frigging Play to End Already Godot by Samuel "Black Lotus" Beckett...or Conan the Cimmerian?
  • You may or may not recall that in 1st and 2nd Edition D&D, elves had level-limits. (They also "do not die" at their final age-category, but departed via not-the-Grey-Havens-at-all, which tended not to make much sense in most campaign-settings.) And then there's the stick-in-the-mud ultraconservative portrayal, mostly a caricature by stupid people who don't know the difference between "chaotic good" and "lawful neutral". But it occurred to me, there's another way to model elves. Ravens are only playful and curious for the first three years of their lives. After that, around the time they usually mate (they are physically mature at a year old but don't usually mate till three), they become strongly neophobic, hating new things and having a lot of trouble adapting to new locations or conditions. What if your elves were the same way, only desiring new experiences until they hit their middle-age category, and then becoming strongly averse to anything different from what they're accustomed to?

    It's not exactly how I'm doing it in my campaign, although I think elements of it will be, but it is an interesting idea. It's also a lot less stupid than "people who live a long time must be really boring", never mind that "boredom" is only a part of your emotional repertoire because your life is so short (and thus you can't afford to waste much of it). Elves, having so much more time to kill, are probably endlessly fascinated by things you barely even notice (hey, why'd you think they have a bonus to Spot checks?), and continue to find joy in their pleasures long after humans would become jaded and sated. (That part, that they don't get bored as easily as humans, is definitely something I think my elves do; I might have humans shocked by how much they enjoy things that humans usually outgrow. "Ancient yet seemingly childlike" is often an aspect of the portrayal of elves, after all, and Chesterton actually points out the connection between that and the fact boredom is due to human weakness, I think it's in Orthodoxy.)
  • Zledo, at this point, are only "felinoid" very broadly speaking. You could also call them "long-armed tyrannosaur-apes", and they've got frog-feet and shark-pupils in bird-eyes, and a dental arrangement not found on Earth, and their "fur" is equally well-described as "really simple feathers" (and some of what their fliers got, you can cross out those first two words).

    And I decided quite some time ago actually, their jaw anatomy, at the back of the jaw, isn't like humans, cats, or tyrannosaurs—it's like pygmy hippos. Go look up their skulls: on the back of a hippo's jaw is a deep rounded "bowl", for holding giant muscles. I think zledo have this (which gives them a rather heavy, tyrannosaur like jaw, although their big eye-sockets and braincase make it less noticeable) because I don't think I can swing a sagittal crest anymore, not considering they have a brain volume like a slightly scaled-up Neanderthal.
  • In my D&D world—where, recall, elves mostly use axes and dwarves seldom do—I decided, the gnomes' weapons are martial versions of the sickles they use to harvest mushrooms (which are the basis of their material culture; fungi are made of chitin, not cellulose, so they can breed mineralized forms to approximate metals, like the hard parts of bugs). I use the stats for (Small-creature versions of) the khopesh and its relatives (like the sapara and kukri), although a real khopesh's cutting-edge is on the outside, because they actually derive from axes, not sickles. (Gygax was probably misled by the kopis, the Greek sword-sized kukri.)

    I also give the gnomes the sling as their main missile weapon, which is implied by the Arms and Equipment Guide (which I just got), since gnomes are alchemists (although that book also seems to think gnomes are tech-guys, and they aren't, except on Krynn and in space). Likewise, I gave my halflings (a subrace of humans in this setting) blowguns instead of slings and rocks, and gave them a partial protection from poisoning themselves when using poison darts; they don't regard the use of dart-poison as evil, although they do regard using poison in food as not only evil but as flat-out diabolism. Nomads regard hospitality as sacred, after all.

    Incidentally, you may be aware that the only reason D&D druids use scimitars is that Gygax didn't want to bother coming up with stats for sickles (never mind a sickle is for all intents and purposes somewhere between a knife and a hand-axe). But really, it makes perfect sense for D&D druids to use scimitars, because, um..."machete". Kinda a natural fit for people who spend a lot of time in dense plant-life, you know?
  • Researching the previous post, I came across quite a bit of information on bats and birds that didn't make it in. Bats, basically, are the helicopters to birds' jets. They have superior maneuverability in certain regards, like being able to hover, but they're much slower, can't go nearly as far, and have a hard ceiling on how high they can fly (although unlike helicopters, it's less a matter of physics than of anatomy—mammal lungs are simply inferior).

    Another interesting point is, because of how bats' wings are set up, they function in many ways more simply than bird wings. See, a bat's wing is all connected, so (like helicopters) they can't change the shape of their flight surfaces (and can't glide), and have to do all their maneuvering by how they beat the air. A bird's wing, on the other hand, because it's not a continuous tissue but many independently articulated feathers, can be controlled like the elevators, ailerons, and so on of an airplane.

    Had a thought, in studying that: what if a species evolved flat, flipper-like arm-wings, that didn't fuse their fingers, but instead turned each finger into an independent flight-control surface? I think that's what the main fliers of the khângây homeworld will do.


Blood and Bones and Feathers II

Xenobiology thoughts.
  • Did you know that manatees don't have eyelids? Nope. Their eyeball sits in a sphincter, and they push it out (to open the eye) or in (to close it) by the same mechanism that lets you swallow and vomit (to use the least disgusting example I could think of). Not saying your aliens have to do something that weird—I mean, sharks have eyelids like ours—but just...don't take "eyelids" for granted. (Interestingly, I think octopuses do something similar to what manatees do, sticking their eyes out or drawing them back in to protect them.)

    Also, manatees should be called "sea elephants", not "sea cows". They are Afrotheria, related to elephants and hyraxes but not to any of the other clades of plant-eating mammals (such as the Ungulates or rabbits) or aquatic mammals (such as the Pinnipeds or Cetaceans)—all of those three (yes, three, Cetaceans are Ungulates, Pinnipeds are Carnivora, rabbits are rabbits) are Laurasian.
  • That fact, incidentally, that Afrotheria are a whole different lineage from Laurasian animals, is fascinating. Actually apparently there are three, aside from Afrotheria—Euarchontoglires or Supraprimates, which as the second name suggests includes primates, but is also rodents, lagomorphs, tree-shrews, and colugos; Xenarthra ("weird joints") which is only the tree-sloths, armadillos, and anteaters; and the Laurasiatheria, which is shrews, hedgehogs, bats, ungulates, and carnivorans (and pangolins, which are not related to Afrotherian aardvarks or Xenarthran anteaters). It's interesting to me in part because we might be looking at a division in the mammals that's as fundamental as the Saurischia-Ornithschia split in the dinosaurs—assuming that that split is fundamental. (Given that "Ornithschia" means "bird-hipped", and yet birds are Saurischian, "lizard-hipped", dinosaurs, "ornithschia" and "saurischia" might well be polyphyletic groupings. And since we mostly only work these things out with DNA testing, we'll never know now.)

    It's also interesting just in general, that, for instance, elephants are so weird partly because our last common ancestor with them was some time in the Cretaceous—because Africa was an island, like modern Australia, from the breakup of (West) Gondwanaland until the Neogene, i.e. from 110 million years ago to about 23 million. Every hoofed mammal in Africa—which includes not only antelopes, giraffes, wild asses, zebras, and camels, but also hippos and rhinos—only dates to the Neogene. Same, I think, for the African carnivorans and primates—Africa before the Neogene had elephants (albeit the first ones were the size of large housecats), but no antelope, lions (and the felidae somewhat predate the Neogene), or monkeys. On the flipside, the rest of the world didn't have mammoths or mastodons until the Neogene, either—specifically the late Miocene or early Pliocene, probably a bit after 6 million years ago. I bring this up here because it's cool, but also because you should probably block out the cladistics of your aliens and their ecosystem.
  • All those "six sexed species" science fiction stories fall afoul of another principle, besides the "how does that work for every other species in their biosphere?" and "wouldn't that be more efficiently handled by something like a termite-colony's caste system?" ones that I raised.

    Do you remember Kes in Star Trek: Voyager? And how her species gives birth only once in their lives...to one offspring? Which means (your novella's handwave isn't canon, Trekkies) that every generation of her species is half the size of the one before it. A six-sexed species fails basic math just as hard. There is a reason that a "replacement" birthrate, for humans, under optimal conditions, is "slightly over two children per reproductive unit". On average, you're gonna get roughly half male and half female; the "slightly over" is wiggle-room for accidents. So having one kid of each sex, with the occasional extras-per-litter, get to reproductive age, means you have enough breeding pairs to keep the numbers up.

    If your breeding-system requires six individuals, then you require six children per reproductive unit. Every family has to have six children survive to breeding age, plus a bit of change to account for unforeseen deaths, just to keep the numbers steady. That means that, right out of the gate, as an intrinsic part of reproduction as such, every single species on your planet finds surviving, as a species, three times as hard as life on Earth.
  • I've recently inclined to the position (I haven't mentioned them much in the books, and never in any detail) that the non-"mammal" fliers on the zled homeworld (Lhãsai) are something like Sharovipteryx, except able to flap their hindleg-wings. Maybe the wing-membranes are more like bat-wings, with membrane stretched between fingers? Or toes, rather. And they could knuckle-walk on their hindlegs when not flying—which can give you some speed, watch the dragons in Skyrim do it sometime. Only one genus on Earth ever went with Sharovipteryx's strategy, but that means it can be done. (That's also one more genus—which is to say an infinity—more than ever had a six-sex reproductive system.)
  • In Korea, they put a type of hagfish (it's like a lamprey) into a bucket, and then tap the bucket with a stick, agitating the fish. Hagfish secrete mucous slime when they're frightened, I'm not sure if it makes them harder to find or slipperier or what. Well, the Koreans agitate the hagfish until it's filled the whole bucket it's in with slime...then they fish the slime out and cook it like egg-white. Mm-boy.

    While no earthly consideration could persuade me to try any dish containing hagfish slime, it is an example of the unsuspected possibilities in an ecosystem. And "what your aliens eat" is an important world-building concern.

    Here's a less disgusting example. Have you ever actually seen an agave? Or more to the point, touched one? The term "agave nectar" probably makes you think of something like an aloe (apparently some crazy people use "American aloe" to refer to the centuryplant, a type of agave they don't make pulque from), but no, agaves are tough, woody plants, probably less "succulent" than prickly-pear or even saguaro; the edges of each leaf are hard and shriveled and stringy, since the edges form the spikes. It's the core of the plant, once the leaves are chopped off, that you get the "nectar" (really sap) from. If someone pointed to an agave just growing there, and told you that you could make liquor from it, you'd think he was nuts.
  • You know Protista, the taxonomic kingdom? Well, no, you don't, because apparently, that kingdom doesn't exist. Apparently now the term means "a polyphyletic catch-all term for any eukaryote that's not a plant, animal, or fungus". It's considered doubtful whether the, what, three? kinds of algae, are all the same thing, let alone whether any algae are the same as dinoflagellates, euglenoids, amoebae, apicomplexa, or trypanosomatids (that last one causes African sleeping-sickness, which is in the top ten most horrifying diseases on that continent—and consider some of its competition).

    And then, a whole bunch of what we thought were bacteria are actually "Archaea", which are the weirdest little suckers you will ever see. Not only do they do things like live in volcanic vents (and your belly-button), but they have weird cell-membranes and some of them "eat" not only things like sugars but also things as bizarre as ammonia, metal ions, and gaseous hydrogen. Some of them photosynthesize, some of them fix nitrogen; apparently none do both (which is one of their differences from bacteria, cyanobacteria being one of the main nitrogen-fixers and taking their name from their blue-green chlorophyll).

    Much as I call Lhãsai's small, be-exoskeletoned creepy-crawlies "bugs", I imagine that the term for their microscopic life would be "germs" (maybe "microbes"). They probably have multiple kinds (probably an organelle/organelle-less division, like what separates eukaryotes from prokaryotes), but since the last common ancestor of their life with ours was the gas the Milky Way formed from, none of our technical terms are appropriate. And no, Cargo Cultists, "bug" isn't a technical term.
  • It occurs to me, I need to add an explanation to something. I've mentioned that zledo taboo scavenging, and thus "scaveng·er/ing" is a cussword in their language (although, arguably, "scavenging at graves" is actually just the cannibalism taboo, not a double—you'll see why in a second). The thing I need to clarify—justifying this point's inclusion here—is, "What's scavenging?", for a species where most members don't kill their own food, but buy food killed by others? Its base meaning is "eating meat you find", of course, but it's obviously not scavenging if you "find" it in your fridge, purchased from a hunter.

    The answer is, "scavenging (as a taboo) is eating something killed by an animal other than man". Or otherwise eating meat you find lying around—they could probably eat an animal they road-killed, but not roadkill scraped off the road. It's somewhat similar to the Jewish concept of "treif" (literally "ripped", as by wild animals—like the Mothers of Invention album), although they apply that word to all non-kosher food (which may or may not imply that people who eat it are animals; it's probably just a convenient shorthand whose potentially impolite implications were not noticed). Navajos and most other Native Americans actually have the same taboo, probably because you can catch some fascinating diseases eating things coyotes have been chawing on.

    Thus, "scavenging at graves" is a zled cussword that's only concerned with the cannibalism taboo, since the issue is eating people, not how you got the opportunity to eat them. They still call it "scavenging", though, because its base meaning ("eating found meat") would usually apply, and it also has a dysphemistic sound. ("Scavenge at the graves of the people you murdered just so you could commit necrophilia", a zled "cluster F-bomb" a character employed in a scene I wrote recently, just works better than "eat the corpses of the people etc.")
  • Sauropods had really weird forefeet. They weren't that much like elephants' hands; for one thing, they don't appear to have had a pad like an elephant. There wouldn't be room. The metacarpals were bundled together into a more-or-less circular column (sauropods had horseshoe-shaped footprints), and generally, the only digit you could actually see (and the only one with a nail) would be the thumb—and that was only visible by its nail. The Titanosaurs didn't even have that—nor any phalanges, as far as we can tell they walked directly on their metacarpals (it's not that weird, chimps and gorillas walk on their metacarpals, albeit by folding their phalanges out of the way).

    The sauropod hindfoot seems to have been more normal, although, despite seemingly having five digits, they only seem to have had three nails, which might mean two of them weren't visible outside the flesh. Also? They walked plantigrade in back, like bears, rather than semi-digitigrade like elephants. That's apparently a fairly new idea, the plantigrade part, but apparently it makes the angles of their necks and tails much more natural (and the new angles, apparently, showed them to have massive neck-muscles). Another thing we're recently discovering about sauropods is they had spikes, some of them long and scary, on their backs and necks (and on the whips of diplodocid tails); rather than being all smooth like in Land Before Time they're actually more like iguanas.
  • It occurs to me that, the Lhãsai flier that's in their "reptile" class, might have α-helix keratins instead of β-sheet ones, i.e. switch the "mammal" and "reptile" associations for their biosphere. That would mean they probably have a skin more like a dolphin or pig than a lizard. I'm also thinking maybe they wouldn't be hairless? Maybe their covering will actually be chitinous chaetae—I know, that tends to imply an invertebrate on earth, but one, lots of fish apparently have chitin, and two, aliens.

    I think I've mentioned that the Lhãsai fliers that are in the same class as zledo have heads like sea-lions? Or maybe like otters or beavers—they're aerodynamic, and those are streamlined for water. I think I'll have them be polyphyletic instead of having a common ancestor, as beavers and otters' last common ancestor is the Boreoeutheria. Not sure how the transition from aerodynamic fur, stuck together like waterproofed fur, to full-on flight-quills occurs; probably it doesn't look quite like the transition from contour to flight feathers, but is definitely similar.


All I Survey III

  • It's almost shocking how naïve many science fiction theorizers are. For instance, people often wax lyrical about the advantages of sci-fi "stunners"—how if something goes wrong, you just stun people; if there's a riot, the cops just stun everyone; if the cops abuse their power, everyone else just stuns 'em. I suppose that kind of vie-en-rose optimism was permissible in the 1970s, since everyone else was also doing it. Now, though? "Oh, great idea, a long-range date-rape drug that doesn't show up in toxicology." Fortunately, a convenient, "point and click" stun-gun, that doesn't stand a good chance of killing the target, is probably impossible. The only thing I could think of that seemed realistic, for my setting (it's an action story, people being unconscious without dying is a necessary plot-device), was medical-nanobot darts. Those show up in a screening—indeed, they would probably log who used them.

    Everything else I considered was unlikely to produce convenient unconsciousness, without a significant chance of killing or permanently incapacitating the person they're used on. Plus, I mean, something that'll reliably incapacitate humans would probably just annoy zledo—which "less lethal" weapon designed for use on humans would you like to take with you, to deal with a jaguar?—while things that would reliably incapacitate zledo would be likely to kill humans. Medical nanobots, though they're probably not quite as tidy as I have them, are at least a lot more precise than any of the alternative methods. (It's kinda funny, to me, by the way, that "less lethal" tech is all, pretty much, some variation on the blackjack or the cattle-prod—think about what rubber bullets and "active denial systems" actually are. Hell, even the nanobots are pretty much just a high-tech Mickey Finn.)
  • The discussion of those who wish to introduce shari'a law into the governance even of some portion of some Western community, is usually not accurate. The trouble is not "states within the state"; that is the same as "Common Law" (you might've noticed "states within the state" is a phrase originating from the Huguenot controversies, i.e. not in a Common Law jurisdiction). Did you know that Navajo religious law is recognized in the United States? Yeah, because Common Law asks "what is your custom?", and when you decide inheritance disputes for the Navajo, the custom bears the name of the goddess Changing Woman.

    But Changing Woman's Law is recognized by the Navajo as pertaining only to them, and not to those who did not receive that law (from Talking God, not Changing Woman, despite the name). Hence why its other name is "Our Grandmother's Law", the "we" being the Navajo. Shari'a, on the other hand, is very different from any other law-code recognized in the Common Law, because shari'a acknowledges no other law, and claims authority over all—Muslim, 'Ahl al-Kitab, and mushrikûn/kaffir—alike. (Shari'a doesn't actually even acknowledge a distinction between civil and criminal law, although they're hardly alone in that.) That would be the problem of allowing the incorporation of shari'a into the law of some community, if there is one—Islam can be considered to deny the authority of non-Muslims to adjudicate even in terms of shari'a. No rational state deliberately delegitimizes itself.

    Of course, in Common Law, there is precedent for it—Spain and the Crusader Kingdoms adjudicated for Muslim subjects with no problems. So...it may not actually be a problem. Rather (given what circumstances generally motivate the suggestion of incorporating shari'a), it's probably, under current conditions, a symptom of a problem.
  • Tom Simon, the Superversive, at one point denies the existence of "pro-drop" languages, based on the fact that Spanish verbs actually include their subject "argument" in their inflections. Well and good, but you've really only demonstrated Spanish isn't one. Japanese and Korean? They are. They are languages that can omit the subjects of their verbs, when it's (ostensibly) clear from context, and yet in which the only thing any subject can inflect a verb for is register—and that, only in relatively few contexts (the humble/honorific dichotomy, as a component of business/service speech).

    Until you have seen a speech obviously (from context) about the person doing the speaking, i.e. first-person, translated as in the third person and about a member of the opposite sex—as I saw in a fan-sub just a few months ago—you may not appreciate just how explicit Indo-European languages are, in terms of little things like "who is the subject of this sentence?". (On the other hand, until you have seen a character convey that they were born as the daughter of a samurai house, and regard human beings as individual servings of food—an example I made up just now, I dunno, she's a vampire or something—simply by their choice of first-person pronoun and how they inflect numbers, you may not appreciate that there are, in fact, things that even the most highly-inflected Indo-European languages actually leave to "context".)
  • More and more I am convinced that there are only two things that would really spur large-scale interstellar colonization, since the "Earth is used up" thing would really only spur space-habitat colonization (aside from requiring ever more far-fetched handwaving to justify). No, the only things that can really motivate humans to leave this star, are ambition and fear—either "because it's there", and humanity, as such, is a thing with the right to spread to every corner of the universe (at least that someone else isn't already at first); or "because they're there", and "they" are at least a potential threat, so we need to expand beyond our one star-system.

    That second one requires that the "they" be themselves interstellar—and intelligent. All unintelligent risks are either predictable and manageable in the long term (yes, even stars going nova...which we won't have to worry about for the time-frame it is not a joke to plan for, anyway), or just motivate, again, moving to space-habitats (asteroid impacts being the obvious example—leaving to one side that with a few rockets and the world's nuclear stockpiles, we can move asteroids that are on collision courses with Earth).

    In my book, I use both—initially humans expand to other stars for ambition, but then the thoikh kill 2% of the human species in practically no time at all, with the explicitly stated goal of annihilating all of them (depending on the result of a test humans don't know they're taking). Humanity responds (after the thoikh stop their attack, the test having been—barely—passed) by a new wave of colonization, motivated by the desire to spread out their population base, making it harder for a single attack to wipe out the whole species. Between the zledo being a lot stronger than the UN—and thus people the expanded population-base can hide behind—and piggybacking on zled infrastructure saving money (losing 2% of the species causes a recession), the places they choose to colonize are all worlds already inhabited by zledo. This, of course, leads to the friction that causes the UN-Imperial War.
  • If you—perhaps doing the Lord's work in pointing out that Firefly ain't all it's cracked up to be—say that Cowboy Bebop was a space-western, well, congratulations, people like you are the reason they put mining in the film of Enemy Mine. Were you really confused about how there are no dogs in Straw Dogs?

    Cowboy Bebop is, full-stop, in terms of its actual plot (which takes up about six episodes), a space yakuza movie, or at least a space HK-style Triad film. Please, what element, other than television Indians and the mere word "cowboy", does it actually have in common with westerns? Other than the things Westerns have in common with basically the entire "gun action" branch of fiction, I mean.

    If Bebop is a Western, please, what Blaxploitation movie isn't a "modern-day Western"? (Shaft in Africa? No, Quigley Down Under was still a Western, and it was in Australia.) Because Bebop has a lot more in common with Blaxploitation than it ever did with Westerns.
  • I don't think mankind would use much beef in space-colonies (pace Firefly and their "space cattle-drives"). Now, it might be different if your colonial effort comes after having to abandon the Earth—you'd be bringing all the animals, and cattle only exist because we eat them, wild cattle are extinct. But colonizing because you have to abandon the Earth is, as I said, a stupid premise; so you can pick and choose, and what you're gonna pick is less resource-intensive than cattle. In my books, people raise ostriches in the colonies. If you don't like your steak well-done (and if you do, "I'm sorry, but please leave"), it's not much different from beef, and it's much more efficient. Ostriches produce half again as many young as cattle (it takes them one-fifth the time to get them: 42 days incubation vs. 200 days gestation means 30 chicks a year vs. 20 calves), take 63% as long to get to slaughtering weight (407 days vs. 645), and use, from what I can tell, 1/6 of an acre per head compared to the 2 acres per head that seems to be a typical minimum for cattle.

    I assume that people prefer the texture and structure of "real" meat, that actually comes from an animal; currently, in-vitro meat makes "pink slime" look like filet mignon. The "ethical" considerations of vegetarianism are, frankly, BS unless you're a Buddhist (and thus don't kill plants for your food, either). But it is possible, I suppose, that a society that can 3D-print organs for medicine, can also 3D-print in-vitro meat to give it a texture and structure like real meat—although it would be pointlessly expensive and complicated. Moral grandstanding is the main motive of Western vegetarianism; while "have your supposed moral superiority while indulging all your appetites" is certainly an impulse, and one that people will pay extra in order to indulge, vegetarianism specifically has just spent the last 200-odd years attacking the eating of meat, as such, along with the slaughter of animals for the purpose. So I figure it's slightly more reasonable to suppose that people will continue to either eat meat or be moral-posturing vegetarians, than to posture morally about slaughtering animals, while 3D-printing their meat.
  • It occurs to me that a lot of what's called "Freudian" analysis (though to be fair, Freud himself wasn't quite that stupid) is a "correlation/causation" error. E.g., the old leftist-peacenik bromide about weapons being phallic—when it's actually that the shapes of both guns and penises share a common origin. Namely? They're both designed to shoot stuff. Bullets into animals to end life, sperm into ova to begin it—point is, they look the same because they do the same thing. Likewise, the "phallic" shape of missiles? Aerodynamics. Not to get graphic but both missiles and penises are designed for smooth forward motion. I hate to break it to you, but that principle predates sexual reproduction itself; there are unicellular organisms that reproduce by fission, and are streamlined and thus "phallic". (That's also why swords are "phallic", come to think of it.)

    When tall buildings are supposed to be phallic, on the other hand, you just have raw, undiluted idiocy. Right, the only reason to build defensive watch-towers or high-rise apartments in crowded cities in a tall, thin shape, is a sublimated obsession with the penis—there certainly can't be any other reason. (Interestingly, it occurs to me, the watch-tower and the high-rise have their shapes for opposite reasons. You make a watch-tower thin so it can be tall and still minimize the amount of material you have to move and manipulate to build it, whereas you make a high-rise tall so it can be thin and still fit all the population you need to house. The watch-tower one is also the reason most realistic rocket-ship designs are long and thin, even if they don't have to be aerodynamic, since you usually want your habitat and electronics a good space from the rocket nozzle, and yet need to minimize the mass.)
  • Watched some of Tokyo Ghoul with my brother; apparently the second season not only goes off the rails, but completely departs from the manga, too. Personally, though, even before the derailment the whole thing strikes a discordant note, for me—because there is absolutely no justification for ghouls, which live on human flesh and can breed (albeit usually unsuccessfully) with humans, to have the physical capabilities they're depicted as having. I mean, it hunts humans, and go look up what kind of large predator does that—it's not exactly even the junior varsity squad.

    Plus, if it's made from the same kind of tissue as other terrestrial life (and it has to be, to eat our flesh or breed with us), then it ought to be as easy to kill as terrestrial life is. Admittedly, that can easily mean much tougher than a human, but this "you can only take them down with weapons made from them" is bullshit. I would forgive all of this if they were actually supernatural—this series was pretty much a by-the-book Vampire: The Masquerade campaign anyway—but if you're going to give me science-y technobabble, then unfortunately, you're required to run things by those rules.