Mélange II

The random thoughts must flow. Post #582, which is 2×3×97.
  • In my continued quest to end up on a watch-list somewhere (did I ever mention that I once googled "explosive more powerful than TNT" and "how far do you evacuate from a bomb" in the same week?), I have been doing some research on what weapons-inspectors look for. (Actually that would probably only result in being on a watch-list if I was an official of certain governments, and they're probably already on "watch-lists" a lot more direct than the metadata kind.)

    The reason for this research on my part is, I needed to figure out how you'd discover that a space-station had been armed, when it wasn't supposed to be. So far what I have is a "Hall effect" type ion-thruster, for attitude control, that's actually a particle beam in disguise, detectable because it's a very odd configuration for a Hall effect thruster. And also (I'm still sketchy on some details ) some kind of obvious "embarked craft" that don't show up as such, because they're actually missiles. Something to do with the tankage and refrigeration thereof, since what do you need all that slush hydrogen for on a largely-immobile space station?

    The latter is different from modern weapons detection, yet also similar; I don't think you'd have the issues with storing nuclear-propelled missiles'propellant that there are with the liquid propellants of a lot of chemical rockets (which are corrosive and thus can't be left in the tanks long-term). The need to fuel missiles right before launch, and therefore a need to have facilities that can do that, is how we detected certain Chinese missile silos, in the 1980s and I think '90s. Still, not a whole lot looks like a fusion-rocket propellant tank except a fusion-rocket propellant tank.
  • Had occasion to read Arthur Machen: The Great God Pan, The White People, and The Novel of the Black Seal. That first thing, Stephen King called "...One of the best horror stories ever written. Maybe the best in the English language." Which, given that King is one of the worst major writers ever published, in English or any other language, tells you something. Its climaxes are rushed, and its central conceit was actually done better by Lovecraft in "The Dunwich Horror" (crossed with "From Beyond").

    Similarly The Black Seal is simplistic. The thing about "the good people" is not that they're called that because they're the opposite; if they were simply bad half the difficulty of dealing with them would vanish. They're called that because you want to stay on their good side—which they do in fact have. They are as likely to help as to hurt you, and which one they intend is almost entirely unpredictable. That is why they're frightening, the unpredictability—that and the fact that if you treat them as hostile when they weren't, their very well-honed sense of vindictiveness (coupled with their completely non-existent sense of proportion) comes into play.

    All in all The White People is probably the best of the three, although if anything it's even more rushed than the others, and the conceit about "great sins" is almost endearingly naïve. You actually do have to do something "socially" evil to be a genuine "great sinner"—incest, fratricide, cannibalism, or necrophilia are the usual methods. Interestingly the concept of an "Aklo" language comes from that story...but it's letters. (Which is reconcilable with Lovecraft's use of the term, by the way.)
  • Does...does anyone actually know anything about the evidence for this oft-quoted "medieval Europe was more racially diverse than it's portrayed" claim? I ask because so far as I know we only have the most perfunctory knowledge of medieval demographics, beyond mere population numbers. Also our entire concept of "race" is an Early Modern one; medievals simply didn't think in those terms. To the medievals a Mongol Nestorian and a dark-skinned Ethiopian were brothers in Christ (if perhaps separated by heresy or schism), and fellow citizens of the oekumene, by definition never worse than a "funny foreigner". Whereas it was the blond-haired blue-eyed Norseman who was the barely human savage. (White supremacists get very angry when you point out Ethiopians have more claim to be "Westerners" than Scandinavians do.)

    Given they didn't think in anything like our terms about the subject, how can we say definitively what their circumstances were with regard to it? They certainly wouldn't keep any records pertaining to a concept their civilization lacked, in any form that we could easily interpret—certainly not, at the very least, without lots of interpolation. (Leaving to one side that they didn't keep records of that sort on really any subject; modern highly-detailed censuses developed with the modern centralized, bureaucratic state. Medieval censuses, if they happened at all, were very basic things like "who, where, what holdings"—I don't even think the Domesday Book makes any distinction between Saxons and Normans apart from what the reader can guess from their names.) So, again, if anyone can actually set the evidence before me, I'd really appreciate it.
  • Discovered that, although the acetylcholine-related nerve-gases—which is most of them—don't work on zledo (who haven't got acetylcholine), the few that are based on tetrodotoxin and saxitoxin, which are sodium channel-blockers, might. They might have effects more like calcium-channel blockers since zledo use sodium for the things Earth life uses calcium for—their "spicy" is our "jellyfish venom"—but since among the calcium-channel blockers are ω-agatoxin and ω-conotoxin, we can conclude that a saxitoxin nerve-agent would be effective. It'd probably have to be modified somewhat, of course, to work on their physiology, but we know you can weaponize them: we did, they're called the "T-series" nerve agents (saxitoxin specifically is TZ).
  • It seems Chinese, at least as used by the PLA, has special radio forms of some of the numbers—zero is dòng "hole" instead of líng, one is yāo "small" instead of , two is liǎng "double" instead of èr, seven is guǎi "cane" instead of , and nine is gōu "hook" instead of jiǔ. This is, of course, important because in my book I not only use the Chinese names of stars along with the Western ones, I also have colonists use the radio forms of letters and numbers.

    There's also a Japanese radio syllabary (iroha "ABCs" for "i", rôma "Rome" for "ro", hagaki "postcard" for "ha", etc.), but it comes up less in the book, as you'd expect given the relative global influence of Japan and China. Though come to think of it I do have my future Japan indexing things like units and equipment in "iroha" order (a trend of de-Westernization is common in most of my future Asian countries), and a few groups of Japanese nationals are major secondary characters.
  • I confess to a fair amount of Schadenfreude that the new Mass Effect is having so many problems. I don't like BioWare; they are simultaneously puerile gutter-wallowing and trite preachiness, like if Mark Millar got born again and started writing Chick Tracts. They also absolutely suck at worldbuilding (particularly in Mass Effect—having romance options with aliens makes no sense, you stupid horny monkey)—and one of the examples of that is also evidence of their hypocrisy. Namely, as I think I've said, the asari are not only a blatant insult to the audience's intelligence, they're also a laughably egregious instance of the "male gaze".

    Still, though, did they mean to make it look like Isayama Hajime was their art director? I mean it: look at those Uncanny Valley folks (plotting a war on the mountain people to take their treasure), and their eyes that never quite focus. Don't they remind you of that (in)famous panel where Jean says "What is it Ehren?" while cocking his head in such a manner as to suggest he's actually a marionette made, and hastily, from his own corpse? And then there's those character designs themselves; most people in the game look like they fell out of the tree they make the Ugly Stick from, and hit every branch on the way down. With their head, resulting in massive brain damage.
    Personally I hope this makes people go back and reevaluate their bizarrely inflated assessment of previous BioWare works, although if Dragon Age: Inquisition couldn't do it, I probably shouldn't get my hopes up.
  • In more encouraging news, a name to watch is David J. Peterson, the least of whose achievements is making conlang silk purses from the sow's ears that are the Dothraki and Valyrian cultures in Game of Thrones. He also made the Dark Elf language in Thor: The Dark World, the English-based creole language used by the people who stayed on Earth in The 100, the languages in Defiance, the languages in Emerald City, and the language used by the druids in the TV series of Shannara (there is a TV series of Shannara, which came as news to me anyway). Some of these languages—I have read up on them on their shows' various wikis—actually make me want to watch some of these shows, and the only one of them that's actually genuinely good is Thor. (Though no consideration on Earth, not even my love of conlangs, could make me watch Game of Thrones or, probably, Defiance.)
  • Much interesting stuff in paleontology that I haven't mentioned here. Of course the big one is that Burmese amber with the feathered tail of a small coelurosaur preserved in it. "DIP-V-15103", AKA "Eva", is its name. Apparently it was a juvenile, with brown feathers on the back and white feathers on the underside (at least on its tail). I still maintain that we need to start phasing out the word "dinosaur"; maybe eventually we'll actually get the fact the things were more bird than reptile (to the extent birds are not reptiles) to penetrate the popular consciousness. (I am probably alone in thinking Jurassic World should've been a reboot, not a sequel, so they could have more accurate animals.)
  • And then there's how apparently (according to at least a slight majority of studies of the subject), Smilodon had very little sexual dimorphism. At least S. fatalis; there probably aren't enough S. gracilis or S. populator specimens to compare like that (no La Brea tar pits in the range of S. populator or while S. gracilis was around). A somewhat more doubtful set of findings suggests Smilodon might've lived in groups, or possibly hunted in packs.

    Combined (given what reduced dimorphism often means), these two facts suggest that they may have actually lived in monogamous, nuclear-family groups—or even packs—unlike any modern felid (but like some other feliforms, like some hyenas and many mongooses). Because clearly, "cat as big as a small horse with the teeth of a tyrannosaur" wasn't scary enough; let's also have them form wolf-packs! (It's also possible they lived like jaguars, which have unusually low dimorphism despite having the same mating-system as other non-gregarious cats.)

    Incidentally, given that Smilodon appears to have lived in forest and bush, it's most likely we should restore it with a spotted coat (the tiger's coat is too unusual to assume for something extinct, but isn't impossible). Probably like a lynx or wildcat, but conceivably even something like a jaguar, ocelot, or clouded leopard.
  • Given that monogamy is always easier to make a culture around—most humans do not "normally" practice polygamy even when their culture gives them the option—and that they're ridden by people who live in forests, my elves' "blood cats", which are intelligent, should probably be like a Homotherium with some Smilodon traits (keeping the nearly-certain Homotherium gregariousness but in the form of Smilodon possible monogamy—think Cape hunting dogs). That would also justify their mass, the same as S. populator—which was suggested for one Homotherium specimen by one researcher, but is probably either excessively high, or represents an extreme outlier.

    Also decided that the orcs ride mammoths too, but with the "Young"/small-version template applied. I.e., something like the pygmy or Channel Islands mammoth, Mammuthus exilis. They were only the size of a large buffalo, 5 feet 7 inches tall and 1,680 pounds. (I also decided the ogres specifically ride something like a steppe mammoth Mammuthus trogontherii, or M. armeniacus, 12 feet 10 inches to 14 feet 10 inches tall and 23,000 to 31,600 pounds—African bush elephants only get to 13 feet tall and 22,930 pounds.) Something I thought would be cool for intelligent elephants enslaved by ogres is that they are regularly mistreated by their masters...and eat them when they get pushed too far. Because normal elephants do that, very possibly because they know how much it freaks us out.