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language change

I lately saw, and not for the first time, a discussion of a near future setting that referred to "androids." From the context, it was clear that this meant human-shaped machines.

Back when I was in my teens, science fiction writers called such entities "robots." "Android" meant a humanlike being made of artificial living tissue. Apparently that convention goes back to the 1940s (Edmond Hamilton used it in his Captain Future novels). It was also used in some comics, particularly Legion of Super-Heroes, set in the 30th century. So I find it jarring that the term is now used for machines. I think that this was probably a result of George Lucas using the term "droid" in Star Wars, though he didn't limit it to humanoids; R2D2 is certainly not humanoid.

Subsequently, what used to be called androids have started being called "bioroids"; apparently a number of anime series have done this. It's a portmanteau of bio- (for living being) and -roid (cut down from "droid"). To my mind it's a really inept one, because it treats "roid" as if it were a root word rather than a single surviving letter from andr- plus a suffix.

But this whole subject is full of silly word choices. Android comes from Greek aner, andr-; but that's Greek for "adult male human being." It's poorly suited either sexless or sterile beings, or to beings that could be either sex. On the other hand, some writers have coined the word "gynoid" for artificial lifeforms shaped like female human beings, and while the impulse to precision might be creditable, the word itself is badly formed; the Greek root for "adult female human being" is gyne, gynec-, so the word ought to be "gynecoid." The generic word for beings of either sex would be "anthropoid," but that word was already used for nonhuman apes, so it would have caused confusion. Maybe they should have gone to Latin and used "hominoid," though that might have been confused with "humanoid" or with "hominid." Really, the whole thing is a mess; they should have stuck with "robot" (which originally meant a synthetic living being in human shape) and coined some other word for mechanical beings. Maybe they could have stuck with "automaton," which has a really long history.

There, I feel better.

The Messiah

Last night, C and I listened together to the complete Messiah, in a version by the Tenebrae Choir and London Symphony Orchestra. It's an amazing and moving piece of music. It struck me that nearly everyone knows about the Hallelujah chorus, but I found several other parts equally compelling: the opening "Comfort Ye My People," "Unto Us a Child Is Born," "The Trumpet Shall Sound"—and the final "Worthy Is the Lamb" even more so. Listening to it brought tears to my eyes.

I have to say, as a non-Christian, that one of the greatest things Christianity has given the human race is music.

a note about style

I decided, earlier today, to reread Heinlein's Double Star, one of his adult novels from the 1950s. I've long considered it one of his best, and I still feel that way now. But I also noticed several passages that said things I think now, and that are probably the first places where I encountered those ideas. In particular, at one point, Lorenzo (the protagonist) is rewriting a speech that he's supposed to deliver in the role of John Joseph Bonforte, leader of the Expansionist Party:

I started out simply substituting synonyms, putting in the gutty Germanic words in place of the "intestinal" Latin jawbreakers.

Analyzing the stylistic effects of different language strata within English has become one of my regular working tools as an editor and as a writer. I can't think of any place where I might have seen it before I first read Double Star. So thanks, Mr. Heinlein.

an adventure

A week ago, C and I went to San Diego for, among other things, a memorial: John Rogers, the long-time president of Comic-Con, had died recently, much too young. Both of us knew him; C had met him when they were both in 8th grade and they had been friends ever since, whereas I met him when I was working on Comic-Con.

On Thursday morning, as we were leaving for the train, we noticed that it was looking rainy, and tool coats and an umbrella. It turned out to be a good thing! We got off the first train at Oceanside and stepped into a downpour. We were in time to catch the next train, though just barely; the Metrolink had been delayed by traffic issues and flood warnings. Our next stop was at Old Town, where the rain wasn't quite so heavy but was unrelenting. A few minutes later we caught the trolley for C's father's neighborhood. At the other end, we saw the sky lit up repeatedly by lightning. We had planned to pick up dinner at the Jersey Mike's a few blocks from C's father's house; we went through with that, but then we had a fairly long walk—and the sidewalks and streets were often inches deep in runoff; by the time we got there, the water had been over the tops of our shoes. It wasn't a full-on flood, but it was alarming to struggle through.

We don't often get dramatic weather like that; years ago, a friend of mine reversed an old joke about England to say that California has climate but no weather. But this was memorable.


Several people I get e-mail from, including our cat sitter and two members of the Libertarian Futurist Society board or directors, now routinely have their messages dumped into my Junk folder. So I have to scan through it and check if I've gotten anything from them. As a result, I've seen a couple of instances of what seems to be a new trendy spam header:

Penis Enlargement Remedy

I didn't think most men thought of that as something they needed to have fixed. . . .

the math

A meme that seemingly has been going around in the past few days is to object to the Senate election outcomes as "undemocratic" because they don't reflect the "popular vote." There are things to be said about this in terms of Constitutional law and political philosophy, but I won't discuss that here. I just want to look at the arithmetic.

The figure I've seen cited is that 55% of the "popular vote" went to Democrats. There were 35 Senate seats in play. Now, 35 x 55% = 19.25, which rounds to 19. As of when I write this, Democrats have taken 23 seats, and two remain undecided. So in terms of the "popular vote," Democrats have about four more seats than they're entitled to. I would be interested to see which Democrats are prepared to cede the two undetermined races to the Republicans, and which four of the Senate seats they won they're prepared to surrender, for the sake of democracy. Clearly the Republicans are underrepresented in proportion to the "popular vote"; they got only 10-12 seats, which is a lot less than 45%.

that familiar feeling

In this weekend's session of my Mage: The Ascension campaign, one of the players came up with the idea of discrediting an adversarial character by creating faked evidence that he had sexual relations with dead bodies. This led to roughly half an hour's discussion of necrophilia and other deviant practices and of ancient Greek cultural history (there are legends of Achilles raping a dead Amazon), along with puns on "necromancer." It was like being back in San Diego with some of the ruder players in my circle there—not something I had expected to see up here, with a new group recruited from available players. Apparently they thought it was unusual, too; seemingly even the previous session, which involved a player character seducing an older woman from the Technocracy, was not the usual thing. But I don't think I did anything major to bring it about, other than allowing the players to roll for such ventures when they suggested them; I thought I had entirely accepted the idea of running a campaign without "adult" themes.


In tomorrow's election, our Congressional district is in the still somewhat unusual position of having two minority candidates: Mark Takano, the Democratic incumbent, looks to be Japanese and middle-aged, and Aja Smith, the Republican, is young and black. Smith's Web site also makes a point of her being a military veteran. Takano is predicted to have a substantial lead. But over this weekend, the mail brought two different pro-Takano advertisements, both emphasizing how much Takano had done for veterans during his Congressional career—which looks like an attempt to undercut one of Smith's selling points, especially since I don't recall seeing it mentioned earlier in the campaign season. I wonder if Takano is less certain than the polls suggest he ought to be?

it is accomplished

Today the statement for one of my credit cards arrived. It showed $0.00 balance and $0.00 payment due. That gives me a sense of accomplishment! Now I can focus more fully on paying down the other one.

in which I have an adventure

C and I decided to go down to San Diego this week, originally for her father's birthday (he's in his nineties). This changed when he decided that he was ready to have the memorial for his wife, who died in mid-2016. C and her two siblings decided that it would be better to have it sometime close to his birthday, to minimize travel costs, and made the arrangements; C's part was finding a minister (through the hospice that cared for her mother) and writing a short biography. The military cemetery offered them a time on Friday; C's father's birthday is on Sunday, so they had a day in between for recovery.

But given cat sitting costs, I couldn't afford to stay down from Thursday afternoon till Monday afternoon, so I decided to attend the memorial and come back on Saturday (with C's agreement).

Normally I would have taken the Coaster to Oceanside and gotten onto the Metrolink line to Riverside. Inconveniently, Metrolink was doing track work, and the Oceanside track was closed! Some research showed that I could come back by Greyhound, starting in downtown San Diego and ending up in San Bernardino, where I could catch a local bus for Riverside. The Greyhound part of the trip lasted 4 hours and 45 minutes, which seemed a bit long, and cost $35, a bit pricy, but both were manageable.

I found out when I got the ticket that the reason for the length was that I had to get off in Santa Ana at 2, and then catch another bus at 3. The hour interval was actually a bit reassuring, especially when the bus on the first leg ran twenty minutes late; I sat down to wait the other 40 minutes. Then 3 o'clock came round, and no San Bernardino bus! So I went in and asked, and learned that the bus I was waiting for still hadn't left Los Angeles, and I had the prospect of arriving at least an hour late.

Inspiration struck: This was also a Metrolink station, and I was able to ascertain that a train for Riverside was scheduled to leave at 4 pm. I called the information number for Metrolink (following an Amtrak agent's helpful suggestion) and learned that the train was indeed running. Of course, it meant that I wouldn't be using the rest of my Greyhound ticket, but at that point it was a sunk cost; for spending a modest amount more (it turned out to be $5), I could get to Riverside not much later than I had expected to get to San Bernardino, and quite a bit earlier than I was actually likely to get there. So I ended up taking Metrolink, ending up nearer home, and having a more comfortable trip into the bargain.

But I must say I'm glad I learned the principle of ignoring sunk costs, so many years ago. That and having a cell phone let me do this with a calm mind, and perhaps do it at all.