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made me laugh

Here's a bit from the latest chapter in seekeronthepath's Avengers fic:

Clint pouted. "Belfast worked out fine in the end."

Natasha rolled her eyes. "At one point, Clint, I killed a man with a sporran. You turned a bagpipe into a blowgun because you lost your bow. We had tartan bandages when the extraction team arrived."

—That was even better than Clint reading Green Eggs and Ham to the Hulk. . . .

alien food

Yesterday morning, we had our usual oatmeal for breakfast, with ginger and applesauce. It tasted a little strange to me, enough so that I wondered if I had mistakenly put garlic in rather than ginger, or if my butter had turned. This morning, chorale and I both noticed an odd taste. Today was a cinnamon day, so she asked if I had put in chili powder instead of cinnamon; but I checked and the cinnamon was on the counter and none of the chili powders was. Still, there was a pervasive flavor difference, as if we were eating some grain other than oats.

Then chorale mentioned that the flavor seemed like cumin, and that solved the mystery: I had bought both bulk rolled oats and bulk ground cumin from Sprouts, and they had put them into the same bag, as I learned a couple of days ago when I transferred that bag of oats into the cardboard contained—I had been wondering what had happened to the cumin! The flavor's not actually intolerable—it would work well, I think, in an oatmeal-based meatloaf—but it's a bit unsettling for breakfast. It's kind of amazing that the cumin flavor managed to get into the oats, since they were both in plastic bags, one sealed and the other tied off.

arithmetic

I'm in the process of rereading Stranger in a Strange Land, for the first time in some years. This time I noticed that in the scene when Mike and Jubal fly to Washington for a conference with Secretary General Douglas, Mike is told that the city was built a number of years ago that he translates into 108 Martian years. That's 203 earth years—Heinlein says "a little more than two centuries ago," which is consistent.

Washington was founded in 1791-1792. So the novel takes place starting roughly in 1995. We're told early on that the second manned expedition to Mars was a quarter century after the first, so Mike was born on Mars in 1970, only nine years after the book was published. By that time, there is already a colony on the Moon and a corporation, Lunar Enterprise, in whose stock Mike's parents have invested—it's part of what makes him incredibly rich.

So now I'm impressed, first, by how thoroughly all this has become an alternate history, and second, how incredibly optimistic Heinlein was about space travel.

Kromm, into thy hands. . . .

I just finalized the first draft of my new GURPS book, wrote a cover letter, and sent it off. Now it goes to dr_kromm for review and critique.

This is more than a month ahead of the deadline I had asked for. I wasn't sure how hard it would be to do the conceptual work and the game mechanics for this project, which is rather more "out there" than most of what I do. Not everything I initially thought of including turned out to be doable, at least in the space I had; I set aside some content that needed long explanations in favor of using the space for a larger number of elements that could be explained more straightforwardly. I also saved a little space by treating other published supplements as capable of fitting into this book's framework and not repeating or reinventing their content.

So I've spent the past week tightening the prose; working out how to handle a couple of final design ideas that I really wanted to do, but was having trouble getting to work; and writing the customary fictional vignette. I had fun with that; it's both a historical period piece and a literary allusion!

Age of Ultron

Having mentioned it in my previous post, I thought I would actually say something about it in a separate post.

All spoilers, all the time!Collapse )

celebration

On May 1, 1985, chorale moved in with me. Five moves later, we're still together. So we celebrated.

In the morning, we went to a local theater to see Avengers: Age of Ultron, which we had been looking forward to for quite a while. Whedon did a remarkable job with it; it wasn't a disappointment after the first Avengers film, neither in the main storyline nor in the character interactions. I'm not going to call it the culmination of the genre—I'd count both The Incredibles, as a great classic of the genre, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which I consider the best of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films and the best recent superhero film, as superior—but I certainly found it enjoyable. I was really impressed with how efficiently Whedon made his dramatic points, enabling him to get a lot of them into the story.

Then, on the way home, we stopped at Saffron, our favorite Thai restaurant. I had drunken noodles, one of my long-time favorite Thai dishes; chorale tried khey thew pad pong kari, a shrimp curry dish with noodles.

And now we're back home and she's working on her philosophy term paper, while I relax a bit before picking up my current editing job.

the voice of God

I suppose it was inevitable that, when I posted about the ongoing controversy over the Hugo Awards and the Sad Puppies people, someone would bring up Vox Day. Some comments:

1. Vox Day actually isn't part of the Sad Puppies group of authors; he has his own separate thing, Rabid Puppies. So calling them to account for his actions, or saying they ought to have restrained him, looks a lot like guilt by association. We have freedom of expression; they can't force him to keep quiet. And there are hardly any causes without lunatic fringes. (And to play devil's advocate, what if Vox Day is actually a false flag operation by someone seeking to discredit the Puppies?)

2. I don't have the impression that Vox Day's fiction would appeal to my tastes, so I haven't sought him out—just as, for example, I haven't sought out Rachel Swirsky, whose "If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love" seems to be cited in the Sad Puppies group as an example of what's wrong with the Hugos. So I have no ability to judge the literary merits of either.

3. However, it seems that objections to Vox Day often turn on his having unacceptable political opinions, a contentious manner of expressing them, and a tendency to use abusive language. None of those, however undesirable they may be, is actually relevant to his literary qualities or merits; and if people are objecting to his winning a Hugo on those grounds, rather than talking about the flaws of his writing, it really does support the Sad Puppies' claim that the Hugos have become politicized. Remember what Auden wrote in his elegy for Yeats:

Time that is intolerant
Of the brave and innocent,
And indifferent in a week
To a beautiful physique,

Worships language and forgives
Everyone by whom it lives;
Pardons cowardice, conceit,
Lays its honors at their feet.

Time that with this strange excuse
Pardoned Kipling and his views. . . .

4. The only thing by Vox Day I've read is an argumentative nonfiction piece; in fact, one that's made him infamous as an advocate of throwing acid in women's faces, which is taken as showing that he's unspeakably vile, not merely politically wrong. Even if that were relevant to the question of his literary qualities, the article in fact says no such thing; the generally recognized description of it as doing so is totally misleading.

5. What Vox Day is doing is an argument based on a false hypothetical: If A were true, then X would be true. His critics have seized on this as "Vox Day said that X is true," whether because they are so eager to condemn him that they jumped all over a passage that sounded bad, taking it out of context, or because they simply don't know how to identify the logical structure of an argument. And probably a lot of people have never actually tracked down and read his piece, but just reacted to what was said about it, and to out of context quotations from it.

6. To be specific, what Vox Day said was that, if you believe in secular, utilitarian ethics, with its foundation on the greatest good of the greatest number, then of course you can justify doing harm to individuals for the sake of social goods such as stability. The education of women in Muslim countries leads to social instability, and so a utilitarian case can be made for preventing it. And if that requires harsh measures and violence, it's for the greater good. In contrast, as an adherent of traditional Christian ethics, Vox Day rejects utilitarianism and therefore is not committed to endorsing such harsh measures. He seems to be suggesting that secular morality leads to conclusions its adherents would find unacceptable, and that therefore they ought to reject it and adopt his views, rather in the spirit of a mathematical proof by contradiction.

7. Vox Day's characterization of utilitarianism may not be correct, or his argument from utilitarianism to acid-throwing logically valid; but that doesn't alter his intent in offering them. Seemingly he's being rejecting as a potential Hugo winner, not merely on the political ground of the loathsomeness of his views, but on the ground of views that he does not adhere to, that he knows are loathsome, and whose loathsomeness he assumes in arguing that his opponents' views lead to loathsome conclusions and should therefore be rejected.

8. I don't think I share many of his views. He's a Christian conservative, seemingly of Catholic leanings; I'm an atheistic libertarian. He thinks that the only possible source for a morality that puts limits on raw power and the denial of human rights is God; I think that we can have knowledge of moral principles that have no need of God to certify them. I also don't much like his argumentative style or his resort to deliberate provocation, and I feel less motivated to read his fiction than I did before looking at that piece. But none of that is relevant to the disparity between what he actually said, and what he is widely condemned for having said, in this particular case.

And I think as far as I'm concerned I've said as much about Vox Day in particular as I'll ever want to say.

fictitious physics

Antigravity is an old idea in science fiction, going back at least to H.G. Wells. Wells gives a comparatively physical theory, in which his scientist comes up with a gravitic insulator that stops gravity as rubber or glass stops electricity, and the consequences include the column of air above it suddenly having no weight and being pushed into outer space by atmospheric pressure; later writers have tended to treat "antigravity" as simple a convenient source of directional forces, more or less equivalent to a reactionless drive.

But even Wells's version isn't quite physically realistic. He envisions gravity as a kind of current, like electricity; in fact gravity is a kind of field, like the electric field. And in terms of fields "insulators" are "dielectrics"; they don't stop electric fields but only attenuate them.

So what would a gravitic "insulator," a diagravitic, to coin a word, do to gravity?

For electricity, there are four basic relationships. Fundamentally, force x distance = work or energy. Force per unit charge is electric field strength; work or energy per unit charge is electrical potential, or voltage. From this it follows that electrical potential = electric field x distance.

The analogy for gravity is force per unit mass being gravitational field strength. But force per unit mass is just acceleration! And acceleration x distance is gh, which is just gravitational potential per unit mass.

So if you have a diagravitic, then gravitational acceleration above it will be lower, and as a result, so will gravitational potential. That means that objects above it will weigh less—but not zero. But also, effectively, any object above it will effectively be at some multiple of its former height. On the other hand, it won't have zero weight, or be effectively infinitely far away from the center of the earth. I think the atmosphere will still tend to rise upward into space—you have less force in the column of air than in the surrounding air—but I don't think you can make a solid object weigh little enough to fly off into space, not unless you have a huge diagravitic strength. The human body weighs about 1000 kg per cubic meter; simply to make it lighter than air you'd need a relative diagravitic strength of more than 800!

I think you'd have to have boundary effects. With a diagravitic strength of, say, 5, the potential at 1 m above sea level would be the same as that at 5 m above sea level outside the column. I don't think you'd just have a discontinuity; a very sharply slanting equipotential surface seems more likely. But that means that if you shot a gun straight at the boundary, the bullet would effectively be climbing steeply uphill! You'd have a vector of acceleration pointing outward and slightly downward. It seems as if it would act as a repulsive field pointing away from the zone of lowered gravity. Close to the diagravitic plate the repulsion would be weak, but it would increase in proportion to height, I think. At a sufficient height you'd have a potential barrier that would stop bullets.

Functionally I think this would act like a siphon with one end in the lower atmosphere and the other end in interplanetary space. So that much at least Wells was probably right about.

the current Hugo Awards controversy

I first heard about the current Hugo Awards controversy via Sarah Hoyt, who is definitely in the Sad Puppies nexus, and subsequently via Instapundit, who pays attention to a lot of fannish things. Subsequently I started seeing it mentioned on livejournal, largely by people who don't sympathize with the Sad Puppies group. Most recently I heard from a friend about its showing up on the Heinlein Forum on Facebook (a site I avoid entirely myself).

What strikes me as sad about the whole business is this: If I know whether your political leanings are conservative or progressive, I can predict your outlook on the Hugos with an extremely high reliability, even though the Hugos are a fannish literary award that in theory is not based on politics at all. To me that says both that those two political leanings are not matters of rational political philosophy or ideology, but of tribal loyalties and in-group detestation of the out-group; and also that opinions on the Sad Puppies controversy were rarely arrived at rationally, but mostly as an expression of tribal political loyalties.

And of course each group will agree enthuasiastically that that's entirely true about the other group, but insist that its own views are purely a matter of rational judgment.

progress

Work on the new GURPS book is continuing, and I have to say I'm making some hair-raising extrapolations of existing rules to address the topics I'm looking at. And that's not even mentioning the ones where I'm out of my depth and am sending queries to dr_kromm! I hope he's finding them entertaining. . . .

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