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 Post subject: PCK - comments as I go
PostPosted: Mon Dec 13, 2010 10:29 pm 
Sanci
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One slightly sucky thing about a board divided into forums is that the divisions don't reflect how real conversation works. A discussion of the LCK fits most naturally into L&L (and sometimes C&C) and a discussion of the PCK fits most naturally into NOTA, but as far as I'm concerned the LCK and PCK are two halves of the same thing. There are better ways, but implementing them would involve writing my own board management software...

However, I've started reading the PCK properly (one page at a time) so it will be a while before I go back to the linguistics. Currently I'm reading the Astronomy and Geology chapter, which starts on page 38, and so far have no major complaints.

Most minor quibbles are consequences of the very condensed presentation of information. Sometimes this compactness is manifest in Mark coming down on one side of a hotly debated topic (e.g. the possibilities of planets orbiting red dwarfs, of which Mark is pessimistic), and sometimes it's manifest in segments that read kind of like revision notes or course summaries, leaving the reader to fill in the gaps. For example, on page 41 "Start with the mass M relative to the sun" would be clearer if it said "Start with the mass M of the star relative to the sun", and shortly afterwards astronomical units are introduced without actually mentioning what AU stands for. That whole section reads exactly like a refresher course, intended to remind students of things they've already been taught.

One thing not mentioned that could have been (of course, there are an infinite number of such things, so this is hardly a criticism) is the speculation that larger planets may be more suitable for life than our own. More generally, there could have been more of a discussion of the consequences of planets with different physical properties.

I've only found one scientific error so far. "Mars just has a couple piddly ex-asteroids orbiting it" (p44). Actually, the latest thinking is that Phobos is not an ex-asteroid at all, but this is pretty inconsequential in a book about conworlds - Phobos could have been a captured asteroid.

I'm enjoying it.

Edits:

Length of year is 'p' (for period, presumably) on page 42, but 'y' on page 45. Being consistent would be better.

The section on currents (52-53) is particularly brief. (Or maybe I just say that because I studied oceanography back in the day.)

I think I've spotted a more significant fault. Starting from page 50 (in the climate section), the cardinal directions of winds are mentioned a lot but with few hints on how to generalise to other worlds (e.g. one that rotates in the opposite direction). More discussion of the underlying mechanisms would be helpful here. For example, "west" probably often means "against the direction of rotation". Related, on page 57 we read that cold deserts should be placed "in the temperate zone, shielded from rain by high mountains to the west or south". Should "south" read "equator-ward side" here?


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PostPosted: Tue Dec 14, 2010 9:14 am 
Sumerul
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Zerrakhi wrote:
One slightly sucky thing about a board divided into forums is that the divisions don't reflect how real conversation works. A discussion of the LCK fits most naturally into L&L (and sometimes C&C) and a discussion of the PCK fits most naturally into NOTA, but as far as I'm concerned the LCK and PCK are two halves of the same thing. There are better ways, but implementing them would involve writing my own board management software...

You can just put them in the same thread, you know. Nobody's making you follow the board's divisions precisely, they're just guidelines so people know where to look for things. I'd say both fit well into C&C, since the LCK and the PCK are about Conlangs and Conworlds respectively, after all.

Just thank your lucky stars there aren't more forums. I've been on some boards with a huge long list of forums and I end up with no idea where to put a thread. There was one board with regional forums that weren't even being posted in; they were just taking up space on the front page.


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PostPosted: Tue Dec 14, 2010 10:17 am 
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Am reading biology chapter - comments later.

Meanwhile, I got to thinking about what I would have done for the front cover picture, and what comes to mind looks, in a rough sketch, like this:

Image

I actually work in graphic design, but trust me, what I do there is nothing remotely like the above. For a start, we don't use Microsoft Paint...


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PostPosted: Thu Dec 16, 2010 4:58 am 
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Have finished biology chapter. Quick comments:

  • Page 72, "Bipedalism developed when we left the trees of the savanna, and hunted by running after game." True, provided we're careful to distinguish between "developed" and "began". I just think maybe the text could have made that distinction more explicitely.
  • There's a note on page 88 about how agriculture is technically part of culture or technology, but no similar note on page 80 to explain what robots are doing in the biology chapter. (Personally I felt that if any section of the book so far could be shortened, to make room for adding more material in other sections, the bit about robots is one I would cut back. But that's probably just me.)
  • Page 85, "Reducing bitterness - e.g. wild almonds are poisonous". As everyone knows, bitter and poison are not the same thing. There is a connection (the bitter taste as an evolved sense against detecting some poisons), but the text assumes the reader already knows that.
  • On page 97, more of a discussion on the limits of photosynthesis with respect to energy efficiency etc would have improved this section. I'm sure I've read articles about that somewhere.

I've also noticed that the entire index is out of whack. For example, the index says photosynthesis is on page 102, when it's actually on page 97. It's the same with other topics - they're generally discussed a few pages behind wherever the index says.

I'm focusing on the negatives here because I've been reading Mark's writings for a decade now, and things that are well-written and comprehensive don't surprise me. :)


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PostPosted: Thu Dec 16, 2010 9:45 am 
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Zerrakhi wrote:
the cardinal directions of winds are mentioned a lot but with few hints on how to generalise to other worlds (e.g. one that rotates in the opposite direction).


A world that rotates in the "opposite direction" and has an axial tilt of t is equivalent to a world that rotates in the "right direction" and has an axial tilt of t + 180 degrees.


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PostPosted: Thu Dec 16, 2010 1:03 pm 
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I really like the book. I do get the idea that it's aimed more at beginners though, and though I would consider myself far from the world's greatest conworlder (I don't tend to do a great deal of research, and rather take the approach of "as long as it seems realistic to me, then I don't care") most of it I either knew already or could have tracked down with very little effort. Still a great resource though.

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PostPosted: Fri Dec 17, 2010 6:03 am 
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I've now finished both the History and Culture chapters.

  • I have very little to say about the History chapter, except that the bit on pages 105-106 about software for making atlases seemed out of place. I would have stuck that at the end of the Maps chapter.
  • Moving on to Culture, another thing that seems out of place is the "Sex and Sexism" section, which coming in between "Law" and "Economy". Wouldn't it make more sense to put it after "Economy" so that "Law" is next to "Economy" and "Sex and Sexism" is next to "Clothing"?
  • There's some talk about corporations (e.g. page 165), but I think it's a mistake to write as though the reader is likely to have a handle on what that word really means. For practically everyone in modern Western society, "corporation" is pretty much defined as "thing that C often stands for at the end of acronyms".
  • The referencing isn't always as good as I'd like. For example, I'd like to know more about where the Ancient Egyptian document mentioned on page 181 comes from.
  • The Culture chapter as a whole is huge. Personally, I think it's a virtue in a book to have chapters of roughly the same length. I'm not sure what would be the best way to achieve that, but it probably involves subdividing the chapter somehow and/or shifting parts of it into other chapters.

Criticisms over, here are some things that might be of interest, and are related to topics covered in the chapter.

  • Regarding law, here's a written encapsulation of some of the traditional laws of an Australian Aboriginal culture.
  • Regarding clothing, here's a garment I invented out of a bedsheet once. It is extremely comfortable, but there would be problems with it in most cultures. (A male erection is extremely visible, for example.)


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PostPosted: Fri Dec 17, 2010 7:50 am 
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Going back to the astronomy chapter for a moment, and Mark's opinion (page 41) that being tidally locked to a star would most likely destroy a planet's atmosphere, here's a reference that's more representative of what I hear from astronomers.
Quote:
This means one side of the planet is always experiencing daylight. One side of the planet is always experiencing darkness. This means that there is a horrible wind going from one side to the other and you get these giant convective cells. [...] So it’s thought, according to some weather models, that maybe, just maybe, there’s a permanent rainfall, an ongoing storm on the dark side of this planet. We’re still figuring out weather, we can’t even tell you what the weather’s going to be like tomorrow on our own planet. But, that’s what the weather models are showing.

The weather would make a huge difference to the sort of life that might evolve (personally, I suspect it would stay in the oceans), and it's certainly not a good place to put a typical Earth-analogue conworld. But Mark's opinion that the atmosphere would be destroyed altogether is distinctly pessimistic.


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PostPosted: Fri Dec 17, 2010 6:49 pm 
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Comments on the Religion chapter. Not all of these are criticisms.

  • On page 193, the bullet point beginning "mental peace really helps" doesn't make sense to me, because "iPods, DVDs, mystery novels, TV, video games, and sleep pills" have very little to do with mental peace.
  • There's lots of stuff I fully agree with, for example the importance of narrative coherency in understanding why people believe (page 195). Very true.
  • From page 198, "Racism used to be justified by the story of Ham, son of Noah" -- I just want to say I've heard of that, and I have a book of Christian apologetics published in 1971 (and well out of print) in which the authors see fit to argue against this interpretation. So apparently some people were still making that claim as recently as the early 1970s. Amazing.
  • On page 207, the idea of vices being organised into opposing pairs is taken from various moral systems here on Earth (for example, it was how Aristotle described morality). Why not credit some of them?
  • I guess Terry Pratchett doesn't get mentioned alongside Neil Gaiman on page 209 because systems intended to be humorous don't count?
  • On page 215 there are some historical claims for which references would be nice (e.g. "paganism acquired a trinity and an ethical cast under the influence of Christianity").


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PostPosted: Fri Dec 17, 2010 7:30 pm 
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Zerrakhi wrote:
Going back to the astronomy chapter for a moment, and Mark's opinion (page 41) that being tidally locked to a star would most likely destroy a planet's atmosphere, here's a reference that's more representative of what I hear from astronomers.
Quote:
This means one side of the planet is always experiencing daylight. One side of the planet is always experiencing darkness. This means that there is a horrible wind going from one side to the other and you get these giant convective cells. [...] So it’s thought, according to some weather models, that maybe, just maybe, there’s a permanent rainfall, an ongoing storm on the dark side of this planet. We’re still figuring out weather, we can’t even tell you what the weather’s going to be like tomorrow on our own planet. But, that’s what the weather models are showing.

The weather would make a huge difference to the sort of life that might evolve (personally, I suspect it would stay in the oceans), and it's certainly not a good place to put a typical Earth-analogue conworld. But Mark's opinion that the atmosphere would be destroyed altogether is distinctly pessimistic.


What oceans? Take semi-tidally-locked Mercury, for instance: the daylight temperature reaches 430° C— and the local day lasts for 176 Earth days.

And on the other side it's a crisp -180° C, so I'm not sure what kind of rainfall he's talking about.

Venus is different, of course; it has enough atmosphere that temperatures are equalized despite the insanely long local day. But with a surface temperature of 460° C, it's no holiday destination either.

I'm mainly throwing cold water on the romantic but implausible picture of a sliver of habitable land along the sides of the tidally locked planet, somehow retaining an atmosphere and climate like Earth's though the rest of the planet is hellish.

(Thanks for the close reading. I'm cursing and/or sobbing over the index. Argh...)


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PostPosted: Sat Dec 18, 2010 8:44 am 
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We're not talking about planets for which Mercury or Venus are useful as analogues. We're talking about something more like the earth with respect to the total amount of energy it receives from its star, but closer to the star because it's a smaller star. (Of course, whether it's unsuitable for a conworld because it has no atmosphere, or unsuitable for conworld because it's too hot on one side, too cold on the other, and too windy in the middle, it's still unsuitable for a conworld. At least for an Earth-analogue, surface-inhabited one, and the sort of world it could be we can scarcely imagine.)

I found no problems in the Magic and Technology chapters, so moving on to the War chapter:

  • The book is often haphazard with respect to which terms are explained and which are left to the reader to look up. The gloss on rifling (page 255) appears exceptional when so many other terms in the War chapter, less likely to be familiar, are unexplained. (We could argue all day about which ones those are.)
  • I don't think I've ever seen "cannon" in the plural before, as in "cannon were added"/"arrays of cannon" (page 256).
  • The Tsar Nicholas reference on page 257 seems to assume the reader is familiar with the quotation. This is a matter of pragmatics in the linguistic sense, and might be fixed by adding the word "once" (i.e. "as Tsar Nicholas I once said").
  • Page 265: "Meanwhile the left half of the Carthaginian cavalry routed the Roman horse opposite them" is not going to win grammar prizes any time soon. What, half of the entire Carthaginian cavalry versus one Roman horse?
  • I had trouble following some the Great Battle overviews, because the descriptions are so condensed. I get the impression they're intended more as recommendations to look the details up than as self-contained summaries.
  • Page 279: "But suppose we have a workable STL drive". We already have Slower-Than-Light drives, in fact there's probably one in your car.
  • Page 281: "can have wars that resemble interplanetary ones" -- hang on, they are interplanetary; they involve different planets. (Also, Stargate could be cited as another an example here.)

What's with all the weird dashes, with spaces after them but not before? It's not just the book: I recall seeing the same idiosyncratic punctuation all over the Almeopedia. (There are six examples in the Flaids article alone.)


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PostPosted: Sun Dec 19, 2010 1:05 am 
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I've finished! Just a couple of comments on the last few chapters.

  • On pages 294/295, in the Maps chapter, the bit about drawing combined lobes on the computer isn't as clear as it could be. In the following quote, I've inserted extra words in square brackets that I think add clarity: "The middle top lobe, for instance, is [a half-spear that has been] stretched 300%."
  • On page 337, in the 3D Modelling chapter, the phrase "block out the walls" is a little obscure, and liable to confuse. It's got nothing to do, presumably, with blocking out the walls by sticking your hand between them and your eye.

Overall, the book contains a lot of great stuff, and much of it is well presented. But it does read more like the draft of a great book than like the actual great book itself, and would benefit a lot from a second edition.


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PostPosted: Sun Dec 19, 2010 6:51 am 
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Zerrakhi wrote:
We're not talking about planets for which Mercury or Venus are useful as analogues. We're talking about something more like the earth with respect to the total amount of energy it receives from its star, but closer to the star because it's a smaller star. (Of course, whether it's unsuitable for a conworld because it has no atmosphere, or unsuitable for conworld because it's too hot on one side, too cold on the other, and too windy in the middle, it's still unsuitable for a conworld. At least for an Earth-analogue, surface-inhabited one, and the sort of world it could be we can scarcely imagine.)

I found no problems in the Magic and Technology chapters, so moving on to the War chapter:

[list]
[*]The book is often haphazard with respect to which terms are explained and which are left to the reader to look up. The gloss on rifling (page 255) appears exceptional when so many other terms in the War chapter, less likely to be familiar, are unexplained. (We could argue all day about which ones those are.)
[*]I don't think I've ever seen "cannon" in the plural before, as in "cannon were added"/"arrays of cannon" (page 256).

I have


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PostPosted: Sun Jan 02, 2011 8:37 am 
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Zerrakhi wrote:
  • On page 215 there are some historical claims for which references would be nice (e.g. "paganism acquired a trinity and an ethical cast under the influence of Christianity").
I keep meaning to tackle Plotinus's Enneads one of these days. He was the founder of Neo-Platonism, highly influential right down to the Renaissance, and his Trinity consisted of the One, the Intelligence, and the World Soul. Unlike the Christian Trinity, these were not equal, but the Intelligence was an emanation from the One and the World Soul in turn an emanation from the Intelligence. The One was too transcendent to create and is entirely unaffected by the activity of the Intelligence, who created the world.


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