Sierra Foxtrot 10

SF thoughts. 40 minutes to get it in this month!
  • They caused skin cells to become stem cells and then turned those stem-cells into ova, without causing massive tumors this time (or at least so they say; I wouldn't be surprised if the science-journalists are glossing over a lot of messy detail). If this breakthrough applies to humans—which it might not, the experiment was mice and human ova are notoriously delicate—on the one hand it means artificial reproductive technology doesn't need to strip women's ovary-follicles anymore, which is perhaps a good thing (in the sense that improving the conditions for your slaves is a good thing...except they're still slaves, which is not dissimilar to the Build-A-Bairn Workshop that is artificial reproductive technology).

    But now I have to retool something in my book, because now I can't have muggers harvesting ovaries from their victims, which kicked off a major plotline in my third book. It's actually genuinely difficult to come up with street-crime in a cashless society, you can't mug people for things that require their biometrics to work and in a 24th century society smartphones are no longer very valuable (they also almost already have systems that make it hard to re-sell them, so by then they'll almost certainly be that way). One thing I might do, since it would require the least re-writing, is have them be regular muggers; the person they're attacking is an investigative journalist, so she might have a reason to be flashing around precious metals.

    (Incidentally a bunch of articles, about the effect on crime of going cashless, seem to think you'd put drug-dealers out of business. Sweet innocents, black markets would just switch to doing business in gold and similar precious substances; one peculiar effect of a switch to a cashless economy would be to bring back the gold-standard, and not in the "convertible to bullion" sense, in the "English colonists using Spanish pieces-of-eight" sense.)
  • Turns out I was wrong when I said English sometimes uses its present progressive for a semelfactive aspect. It uses it for a seriative, or something like it (semelfactive is one instance of a repeated series, seriative is one of a series of distinct acts). If I'm reading the description right; it's always iffy explaining verb-aspects to people whose grammar doesn't mark them explicitly.
  • One's research into the future of warfare would be a lot easier if journalists were literate, and would take the trouble to actually understand the things they themselves write.

    Take for instance all these journalists claiming the Army doesn't want its tanks, and thinks they're useless, so the contracts to keep manufacturing them are scandalous boondoggles. But actually, when you read all the quotes that the writers themselves cite, all the Army ever seems to be saying is that they don't need more tanks, and the contracts to expand the tank "fleet" may constitute a boondoggle.

    But, of course, "Army's tank-needs being met, questions need for further tank procurement" doesn't cater to anybody's fantasy about "push-button war" the way "tanks are obsolete" does. And that's always at least the subtext—all too often the text; it is frequently about two paragraphs before armchair generals start in with the "spend the money that goes to tanks on drones" ritualistic chanting.
  • The khângây languages inflect their words by pronouncing them to different tunes. The ones they don't bother teaching to aliens have phonemic chording (they don't teach them to aliens because most people cannot produce a chord with their voice-box), with verbs being pronounced as a chord of the notes their subject and object are on. (Maybe the ones aliens do learn mark gender/number/etc. agreement by having the words all in the same key?)

    But I discovered, there's actually a conlang that does something similar (to the one without chording, of course). It's called Solresol, and its words are composed entirely of seven phonemes (plus pauses between words): do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, and ti. Words, therefore, have many syllables, while khângây words have relatively few, since they use notes for inflections and distinguish actual words themselves by the same system as other languages, vowels and consonants. Maybe the one that doesn't have phonemic chording has a whole bunch of key-changes within a sentence that the others don't, the way Chinese has far fewer possible syllables than English but has to make up the difference with tone?

    It also occurs to me that maybe the khângây languages are written something like Byzantine hymns, with the notes of a word being expressed above or below the consonant-and-vowel line. Of course unlike Byzantine notation, theirs would be absolute instead of relative, because Byzantine notation's relative method seems like a pain in the butt.
  • I don't think I've mentioned it before but the thing about all those projections of drastically increased human lifespans, is they are generalizing from data that basically doesn't exist. See, we're not living longer because we've found anything like a way to push back the actual potential lifespan of the human animal. We're only living longer, on average , because fewer of us are dying young.

    Living into one's eighties, nineties, or even over a hundred was never unheard-of; it's just that more of us do it now than before. And, incidentally, the current life-expectancy? Still just over half the projected physiological maximum of this kind of animal. Get the average up to more than c. 8/15ths of the way there, before you start worrying about pushing it past that point.
  • If you wondered, St. Barbara and St. Maximilian Kolbe might be patron saints of rocket-scientists (okay so Kolbe isn't official but he should be), but St. Joseph Cupertino is the patron saint of astronauts, because his levitation looks an awful lot like weightlessness. St. Nicholas is the patron saint of cosmonauts, I think, because he's patron saint of pretty much everything Russians do (think the Guadalupana for Mexicans).

    I'm not sure who should be patron saint of space-colonization; really anybody involved in a colonial effort anywhere would do, or St. George who is among other things patron saint of explorers. Mary Help of Christians is patron saint of Australia, while of course the Guadalupana is patron of the New World (as are Innocent of Alaska and Herman of Alaska, on the Orthodox side of things).
  • Mob Psycho 100 is a breath of fresh air, so good I can actually tolerate its art. Why? Its theme. "You're not special, superpowers won't make you happy, and we are all commoners." Or in other words, "Everybody's special. Which means that no one is." The thing should be required viewing for everybody who writes that kind of story. (Ironically a lot of the fan discussion is whining about how "conformist" it is. Congratulations on being, like Claw's 7th Division, "middle-schoolers who never grew up".)
  • I don't know how I managed to miss the TALOS (Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit) exoskeleton. Projected for 2018, it's intended for people who have to kick in doors; rather than issuing one to everybody, you issue one to the point-man and the more lightly armored guys come in after.

    Interestingly, it, like the Big Dog, sidesteps problems with batteries by getting its power from good ol' internal combustion, specifically one using a "high efficiency hybrid cycle" that's 60-75% efficient and quiet, to boot. (Technically it uses the engine to charge a battery but the same is true of lots of other things that still don't count as battery-powered.)


Blood and Treasure III

Speculative biology and material culture.
  • A thought occurred to me: if I simply give zled males and females the same muscle-mass percentage (61%), without changing their overall mass, then their dimorphism isn't nearly as strange. Because extreme as it seems (males weighing roughly half again what females do), if it's the same percent of both male and female zled bodies, it's the same ratio of muscle mass between the sexes as humans have.

    It's just that male humans are 42% muscle and females are 36%, and male humans mass 69 kilos to females' 54. 42% of 69 kilos is 28.98 kilos; 36% of 54 kilos is 19.44 kilos. That's 49.1% more total muscle mass for male humans—which is also how much more muscle-mass a male zled has than a female one, now, it's just that a male zled is that much bigger than the female overall, while a male human seems closer in size to a female one.
  • That incident where a Tesla-driver got killed by his self-driving mode not knowing the side of a semi from clear skies, made me think: why not put radar in self-driving cars? It doesn't have to be powerful, just ten or twenty meters range or so, and it would prevent the kinds of problems caused by image-recognition software.

    Another use of radar that makes perfect sense to me, is using it Halo-style to detect where people are in a building, when cops investigate it. This, apparently, has been ruled to be a violation of privacy, but...what? If the cops have sufficient grounds to be shining a flashlight inside a structure, then they have sufficient grounds to be pinging it with radar motion-detectors. It is exactly the same thing as shining a flashlight, it's just a different kind of light being used. (Okay so technically radar isn't an optical wavelength. Still "light" in the broader "all EM radiation" sense.)

    I get the feeling this is like those incidents where kids had porn on their iPhones, or whatever, at school. There is no need for a new school rule, there are rules that cover both phones and porn at school; at most you need to make the inspections more often. But because a new technology is in play, clearly, we need to panic.
  • Incidentally, in case you wondered, the dimorphism of humans is even less pronounced in terms of muscle-mass percentage, compared to genus Pan. Bonobo males average 52% muscle, while females average 37%. A male human is only 42% muscle, to the female human's 36%. I would like to also give you numbers for chimpanzees, but apparently the muscle-mass percentage of Pan troglodytes is a secret.
  • Zledo have bird-like eye anatomy, a sclerotic ring and a nictitating membrane that covers the eye, and coats it in a thicker, more viscous kind of tears than what comes from the other two eyelids. In a split from the avian model, both types of tears drain directly into the nose, like in Carnivora mammals.

    I think, though, that like many animals other than humans (dogs, cats, elephants), many animals on the zled homeworld shed tears when in pain. But zledo, who are more intelligent than dogs or cats and have a complex social life like humans, shed tears like humans (and perhaps elephants—the evidence is anecdotal and inconclusive) when emotionally distressed, as well as when in physical pain.

    I actually have a worldbuilding reason that zledo need tears.
  • I forgot one of my basic tricks: use plant things in alien animals (and vice-versa). So decided, zled milk, that's liquid inside their body but solidifies in air? It's not like lanolin (an animal wax). It's like cocoa butter! Except a wax, not a pure fat. But still, cocoa butter's melting point is between 307 and 311 K, which is to say 2 Kelvin less than zled body temperature. (It's also less, at least at the low end, than human body temperature, hence the "melt in your mouth" aspect of chocolate.)

    Or maybe jojoba ester, which is used as a substitute for spermaceti (sperm whale wax) in many cosmetics, which melt anywhere between 288 and 343 Kelvin—except those have to be transesterified from jojoba oil. (Then again maybe I could've just used an animal model, spermaceti, in the first place. It's liquid above about 303 Kelvin, and even apparently smells like raw milk, but solidifies at lower temperatures.)

    I was thinking it might have to do something weird to be dissolved in water, since waxes don't, but then again neither does butter-fat, so whatever keeps Earth-milk emulsified might work on the wax-like substance dissolved in zled milk. Upon examination, I discover that the enzymes that do that on Earth are called "lipases", specifically the bile-salt dependent lipase, which is also produced in the pancreas.
  • Discovered, from an 18- to 20-inch barrel, .30-06 is not particularly preferable to .308 Winchester. If you want to get the better performance, you have to go with at least 22 inches. What that means is that my Peacekeeper rifles got two inches longer—but since they're bullpup, that means the main one is only two inches longer than the M4 carbine, and the USMC-cadre one is an inch shorter.

    Also, didn't mention here (I did on the DeviantArt, on the story it shows up in there), but the Peacekeeper rifle, being chambered in a battle-rifle round, obviously isn't called an "assault" rifle. It's called an automatic rifle, or just a rifle. Although in German, and more importantly (globally-speaking, no offense Germany) French, the distinction between "battle rifle" and "assault rifle" does not appear to exist (and Russian calls both "automatic [rifle]", which seems to also be what Chinese does). The distinction does seem to exist in Spanish, and I don't know enough Arabic to look.
  • In other news RE: my guns, decided to go back to ring-shaped grips on zled lasers. I saw Bubuki/Buranki, and fell in love with the series of circles that make up the grip and stock of Shizuru's Tsurarai. Think this means the springs load via a break-top mechanism, always my preference anyway. Also think maybe the bottom-rear portion of the ring-grip will be an accessory-rail, for attaching a stock, one that retracts into itself when the laser is on a belt.

    Kinda giving some thought to having the swords also have a ring-shaped hilt. Maybe with an arrangement where the hilt is a ring, then there's another ring at right angles to it forming a guard, and then a half-ring forming "sword-breaker" quillions. The ring-shaped hilt, aside from being cool, also has room to let you use it in both hands, without needing a long katana-type hilt. I don't think the leverage is quite as good but when you're as strong as a zled that doesn't matter as much.
  • Can you believe I apparently (if Google is searching this blog accurately) haven't mentioned "pinkhouse" agriculture? The way that works is, you do hydroponics in big racks where plants grow stacked up, and you light them with lamps that glow bright magenta, through using a mix of red and blue LEDs (you use LEDs because they're really efficient, not only in terms of your power-bill but in terms of waste-heat, which means you can get them closer to the plants without a risk of burning them or starting a fire). This makes the plants grow better—as in 20% faster.

    The advantages for space-colonies are obvious. And I think I've mentioned here or there that modern zled farming is mostly under their cities? (Aside from plants, they raise colonies of a sort of termite-locust thing, except probably not anything like that destructive if it gets out.) This lets them leave most of their planet as wilderness, which allows them to hunt—a major concern for a civilization where "professional hunter" is a common job and it's taboo to domesticate any vertebrate-analogue prey animal.

    If it seems weird that they have lots of professional hunters, consider that we have them too, they just hunt fish.