Rannm Thawts Seven

Didn't feel right not having a post this month. Last day to get it in. Random thoughts.
  • One cool thing in powered armor is that there may be ways to use the power-assist systems not only for strength and speed, but for flexibility. Basically the same actuators that let it carry increased loads (or at least cancel out its weight) also expand or contract sections around its joints, so you get very nearly the full range of motion you have stark naked. Another thing that that might let it do, is more or less put itself on, or at least be put on in whole sections rather than piece-by-piece.
  • Was thinking about the xiāngshēng (generating) and xiāngkè (overcoming) cycle of the Chinese elements—the pentagon and the pentagram, respectively, that together make up the Seiman or Seal of (Abe no) Seimei. And I thought it'd be cool to make one like that for the D&D energy types—maybe even come up with a cosmology where those are the "elements" (there are ice para-elementals and lightning quasi-elementals that could easily be "promoted" to full-blown elemental status).

    An easy relation is sonic between fire and ice, because of thermo-acoustic cooling (and heating)—like in the gimmick used by not-Justin-at-all in Enen no Shôbôtai; not sure how to connect those three to acid and electric, but acid and electric definitely connect to each other (since "acid" is a description of the electric properties of a liquid). Maybe electricity to fire via thermo-electricity and then acid to cold? Though acids generally require relatively high temperatures to work.

    Still no idea how to arrange them, since you're simultaneously "overcoming" fire and "generating" cold, in thermo-acoustic cooling. Maybe electricity in between (since you need something to get the sound from)? But that still leaves acid out. (Similarly, what do you use for acid elementals? I'd considered magma para-elementals but with acid-damage instead of fire, but turns out ooze para-elementals do acid damage. Also I needed to go to the Planescape fan-site to find lightning quasi-elementals' 3e stats, they seem to have taken the quasi-elemental planes out of the canonical cosmology.)
  • I realized the real problem with the Many Worlds Interpretation (not to be confused with Multiverse Theory). It's intrinsically unverifiable, or very nearly so; it makes string theory look like "thus do I refute thee" in terms of empirical demonstration. Those other universes are giant Russell's Teapots. Ironically, many people adopt Many Worlds because they fear the possible metaphysical implications of the Copenhagen Interpretation, which might lead to the very thing Russell's Teapot is intended as an (almost laughably wide of the mark) attack on.
  • You know "minimalist shoes", the sneakers with the toes and all? One of the big brands, Vibram FiveFingers, got sued for over three million bucks for making false health claims. The people who advocate such shoes (by making legally actionable false health claims) often say that your feet are perfectly designed for walking. Only...what? No they aren't. They're hastily jury-rigged for walking, at least bipedally; because as little as 3.9 million years (and no more than 4.2 million), we were still quadrupeds. (Our backs and intestines and a bunch of our other features are also less than optimized for our current posture—and we choke a lot more than other animals do, because of the weird throat-anatomy required for talking.)

    It occurred to me, though, zledo might be better optimized for bipedalism. I toy with two reasons; the first is that it might be more common in their biosphere, as it was in the Mesozoic, and even the norm for their lineage as it was for dinosaurs (the quadrupedal dinosaurs' ancestors dropped back to all fours, at some point). The second, and the one I lean towards, is that, apparently, all the "lesser" apes are almost exclusively bipedal, when they're on the ground, and zledo were originally mostly arboreal, similar to those apes (and they're still a lot more arboreal than we are). I'm not sure why "lesser" apes walk on their hind legs, on the ground; could be their hands are so specialized for brachiating that they don't work as forefeet any more.

    Which, it occurs to me, might explain why zledo have tails, and long ones. Apparently gibbons, on the ground, walk around with their arms out, to balance. Maybe the zledo's ancestors did that, and had short tails as a result, but as they increasingly needed their hands for things like making tools, they started using their tails to balance, instead.
  • Was going through old Dragon magazines in PDF format, and noticed something: prior to the 1990s, what we call "post-apocalyptic" was called "post-holocaust". Probably because they had a particular apocalypse in mind, and it involved burning. I think it's also interesting how the mechanism of the apocalypse became vaguer after that point, since there was no longer the (semi-)immanent threat of nuclear annihilation.
  • Pepper spray does not work on birds. See, the whole reason that capsaicin exists is because to birds, it just tastes like vanilla, but it mimics the structure of the neurotransmitter that mammals use to detect heat (the whole family of neurotransmitters that capsaicin affects—also those that peppermint does—are called "vanillinoid"). Being painful and unpleasant for mammals, but harmless and tasty for (fruit-eating) birds, is a mechanism to protect the seeds of peppers, which get crushed by mammals' teeth but survive birds' beaks intact.

    The fact that pepper spray does not work on birds involves risks for people like mail carriers, in some places—because peacocks and turkeys, for instance, are very aggressive (to say nothing of rheas, emus, cassowaries, and ostriches, for people in the southern hemisphere). It's apparently a genuine problem in some Northeastern US states, getting attacked by wild turkeys while delivering mail, because their pepper-spray (for dogs) doesn't work.

    So, instead? I would suggest someone working on an aerosolized artificial grape flavoring. The main ingredient, methyl anthranilate, apparently affects birds the way capsaicin affects mammals (by a parallel mechanism, I think—they don't use the same neurotransmitters we do, but they do use similar ones). It's used as a bird repellent for certain crops, and on golf-courses, so coming up with a spray-form shouldn't be too hard. (I imagine that keeping birds, or certain kinds of birds, from eating their fruit, was why certain New World grapes—notably the thing we would eventually breed the Concord grape from—evolved to have methyl anthranilate in their skins, in the first place. Maybe for some reason it's better for the grapes if mammals eat them?)
  • People give shows a lot of flak for portraying hackers and such-like doing a bunch of really fast typing, which, fair enough; most of hacking is throwing some programs at something and getting a burrito while they find a weakness. But sometimes, people expand that to include showing a whole bunch of typing by programmers. But programmers still do a lot of pretty fast typing, at least if they actually write their own code (apparently some programmers just dictate what they want and a coder puts it in actual code, which seems weird to me but I suppose it's not unlike being a medieval Hungarian leader and having all your decrees transcribed from Hungarian into Latin).

    I don't actually show much, if any, of the hacking in my books, on the hackers' end; I don't know enough not to embarrass myself. But I do think zled signalers actually do some really fast typing while hacking...because they sometimes have to write ad-hoc hacking programs. I bet that happens a lot more often in "cyberwarfare"—during actual wartime conditions—than under most other circumstances, especially if the opponent is an alien. You don't even know what "ad hoc" means till you're trying to figure out how to find and exploit weaknesses in a system whose entire design-philosophy is literally from another planet. It's not the kind of thing you can actually just upload from a PowerBook 5300.
  • Speaking of why "spicy" flavors evolve, apparently cinnamon-trees have "spicy" bark in order to keep worms out. Which is pretty hardcore, if you think about it. "Oh, you want to lay your eggs inside me? I'm gonna burn your larvae alive."

    Incidentally, in certain parts of the US, actual cinnamon is relatively rare—because what they usually use instead is actually casia, a member of the same genus with a much stronger flavor. "Casia" is also one of the few known loan-words surviving from Sumerian, where it was called "katsi" and was a popular spice for mutton.