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the cycle of video

Just lately, between finding shows that we want to watch and having new seasons become available for streaming, C and I have had an exceptional number of video options. Currently we're experimenting with trying to set up a regular one show each weeknight (taking weekends off). Our current roster is as follows:

The Expanse: Fairly hard science fiction with political intrigue and astronautic combat in a future solar system without interstellar travel. Complex characterization and a lot of dramatic moments.

Legion: Derived from Marvel Comics' X-men, but it's more a show about people with superhuman powers than a superhero show. The first season was a bit surreal; the second season is more so.

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel: A young Jewish woman at the end of the 1950s discovers a genius for standup comedy, in a style akin to Lenny Bruce, and sets out to make a career of it. Actually as much drama as comedy, though her comedy bits are funny when they're meant to be funny and painful when they're meant to be painful. Suffers a bit from anachronism; the dialogue uses phrases that only came into use decades later.

The Orville: We were cautious about this, as its presiding genius is the man who made the loathsome The Family Guy, but it's turned out to be significantly better than that; its characters deal with Star Trek-like situations in a way that takes them seriously despite the humor.

And speaking of which, Star Trek: The actual original series, in the original broadcast order (except that neither of us wanted to watch "Charlie X"). It's fascinating seeing the classic tropes emerge one by one, the unevenness of the writing—but also seeing how often Starfleet had people of African or Asian descent in important roles; Roddenberry really was ahead of his time.


After a couple of months of discussion, outlining, and more discussion, tonight I signed a contract for another GURPS supplement. The schedule on this one is a little uncertain, as my previous project, the tech-oriented one, may come up for playtest between now and its first draft deadline. But I've got a lot of ideas for what should go into it, so I'm hoping to make rapid progress. And the two projects are quite different, so they won't fight for the same parts of my brain.

market changes

Back in 2008, having learned of the approaching digital television transition, we invested in a new television: a 24" Samsung model. As it turned out, we didn't get much use out of it as a TV: the one broadcast program we were following, Lost, had such reduced signal strength after the transition that we couldn't see any image. Instead, we used it for DVDs. When we moved to a one-bedroom apartment, it was a real puzzle where to put it, since we didn't have a place for our entertainment unit and had it hauled away—and then I got a bright idea: Since it had multiple ports, we put it on C's desk as a monitor for her computer (very useful when she was writing papers!) and also used it for watching video. We kept that arrangement after moving to Riverside.

Now, just over ten years later, it's stopped working and has to be replaced.

My first thought was to go back to Samsung; it's hard to complain about 10-year longevity, and the multiple ports were very handy. But looking at various suppliers, including Samsung itself, showed that things had changed. In the first place, it was no longer possible to get a "television" that was under 32"; most of them were 40" and up, really not a good fit to C's desktop, where it would have to live. To find a smaller model, I had to look at "monitors." But in the second place, in that category, nearly everything Samsung makes now has a curved screen. I had my doubts about that, and some reading online suggested that curved screens give a more immersive experience if looked at along one specific vector, but the image is distorted if you sit anywhere else—and we occasionally show video to guests. I'm not sure who Samsung's target market is now, but it doesn't seem to be us.

What we're going to try now is an Asus model. It's slightly larger, 27", but we can make that work; it has Bang and Olafsen speakers, which C says is a good line; and it has multiple ports and comes with a DVI-to-HDMI adaptor cable, so we can still use it with both the computer and the player. The reviews we saw sounded generally favorable, so we're hoping for the best.

Sorry, Samsung, it was a great relationship while it lasted, but we seem to have grown apart.

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.