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Fantasy flow charts, one female-biased: https://www.reddit.com/r/Fantasy/comments/879zov/intro_to_femaleauthored_fantasy_flowchart/

Statistical tests for cause and effect. https://medium.com/the-physics-arxiv-blog/cause-and-effect-the-revolutionary-new-statistical-test-that-can-tease-them-apart-ed84a988e
I'm told _Causality_ by Judea Pearl is also relevant.

Ancient walled cities, to crude scale. https://alexander.co.tz/experiments/walledcityscale/
And Kowloon. http://mapfrappe.com/?show=52710

From last year: how zoning laws cripple the US economy. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/06/opinion/housing-regulations-us-economy.html

Urbanists react to the Wakanda of Black Panther: https://www.architecturaldigest.com/story/the-real-life-possibilities-of-black-panthers-wakanda-according-to-urbanists-and-city-planners

RPGs: fantasy localism or microclimates: https://udan-adan.blogspot.com/2017/11/localism-adventure-as-microclimate.html

Aladdin's mother was Chinese in old pantomimes https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Widow_Twankey

Guns and "self-defense": police are trained to run from attackers with knives within 21-30 feet. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tueller_Drill

2015 article on early fountains. https://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/20/science/electricity-free-fountains.html

Rise and fall of the American SRO https://www.citylab.com/equity/2018/02/the-rise-and-fall-of-the-american-sro/553946/

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non-high school anime

Lots of anime features high schoolers or middle schoolers. Or the SF or fantasy equivalent thereof. Or has teenagers who save the world. Lots and lots. But not all!

Seirei no Moribito, set in a fantasy past analogue of Japan. Main character is a 30 year old spearswoman.
Mushi-shi: the adventures of an adult guy who deals with magical insects.
Spice and Wolf: a medieval merchant and his Really Seven Hundred Year old companion.
Fate/zero: big magic fight, mostly adults.
Baccano!: crazy train robbery shenanigans.
Bunny Drop: man adopts a six year old girl. D'awwww. (The second half of the manga does get weirdly skeevy, but the anime is fine.)
Darker Than Black: weird things happened to the Earth. This comes later. Adults and occasional kid.
Restaurant to Another World: nothing really happens, with interesting characters and food porn.
Samurai Champloo: Couple samurai plus a young woman have adventures.
Cowboy Bebop: coulple guys with a ship plus a young woman plus a hacker girl have adventures.
Monster: adult doctor and psychopath and others.
Planetes: orbital garbage collection.
Record of Lodoss War: D&D game the anime.
Slayers: very different D&D the anime
Black Lagoon: thugs and a rogue salaryman.
Gankutsuou (Count of Monte Cristo in Spaaaace)
Le Chevalier d'Eon: Pre-Revolution French intrigue.
Michiko and Hatchin: adult woman and a girl she feels she has to take care of.
Ghost in the Shell: special post-cyberpunk police force.
Akatsuki no Yona: the princess is a teen, but the others are at least a bit older, and it's not remotely scholastic.
Akagami no Shirayukihime: I'm not sure how old Shirayuki and Zen are, but it feels more like college-aged fairy tale than high school.
Kino no Tabi: Kino might be high school aged, I have no idea, but the stories aren't remotely like that.

There are also some I didn't particularly enjoy, but in the spirit of completeness:

Samurai 7: seven samurai defend a village.
Sengoku Basara: a bizarre eversion of the unification of Japan.

Or one I never saw much of:

You're Under Arrest: Japanese traffic cops, IIRC.

Some are college environments, which can be like high school, but also not:

Nodame Cantabile: music college students.
Honey and Clover: art students? I forget
Genshiken: college anime/manga club.

Special mentions to:

Shin Sekai Yori, which starts before high school, and skips forward into adulthood.

As a bonus, most of these aren't skeevy, especially in the standard fanservice ways of panty shot or boob jiggle. Some have sexiness, like Horo being naked a lot, or Faye Valentine's choice of clothes, but even those feel more natural in context, and most you could probably show to non-pervy straight women or kids without feeling embarrassed or awkward. Or at least, awkward about violence or body horror instead...

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refactoring $*#&*# Python

Once again, into the Pyth circle of hell. This time trying to convert our code from Python 2 to 3. 2to3 does much fo the grunt work of print() and 'from . import', though it didn't always get the latter right. But instead of string and unicode, we now have string and bytes value types, and a strong barrier between them. And of course no static compiler to find up front when types might be mixed up. And yes, we're weak on unit tests, especially tests that exercise all possible code paths. Things seem to mostly work now, but will they under all conditions? Who knows?

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conservative tax cuts -> failed state

The Economist on the crisis in Oklahoma.

'Highway patrolmen are told not to fill their petrol tanks to save money. Those caught drunk-driving are able to keep their licences because there are no bureaucrats to revoke them. Prisons are dangerously overcrowded, to the point that the state’s director of corrections publicly says that “something is going to pop”.'

'He has also had to reduce Spanish classes and, for the tenth year running, delay buying new textbooks.'

'So dire is the shortage that school districts have found 1,850 adults without the necessary qualifications, given them emergency certifications, and placed them in classrooms.'

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links: cities improving transit

Seattle added 60,000 downtown jobs while decreasing the use of cars to get to them. https://usa.streetsblog.org/2018/02/15/seattle-cut-car-commuting-downtown-while-adding-60000-jobs/

Other cities have been revamping their bus networks into higher frequency grids, using the same consultants as Houston.

Columbus: https://usa.streetsblog.org/2017/05/02/columbus-just-launched-a-completely-redesigned-bus-network/

"100,000 more Columbus residents will be within a five-minute walk of buses that arrive at least every 15 minutes, and 110,000 more jobs will be within a five-minute walk of transit, according to TransitCenter. Total bus service hours on Saturdays will increase 50 percent, and Sunday service will increase 120 percent."

Indianapolis: https://usa.streetsblog.org/2017/07/11/the-bus-network-redesign-in-indianapolis-will-be-like-launching-a-brand-new-transit-system/

"The new funding will pay to increase bus service by about 70 percent. The share of Indianapolis low-income households within a half-mile of a bus line that comes at least every 15 minutes will rise from 16 percent to 51 percent; the number of jobs near frequent transit routes will double; and all routes will operate seven days a week.

"The most remarkable element of the plan, which is scheduled to be fully implemented by 2019, is the grid of frequent bus service in the city core. The current system relies on bus routes radiating from downtown that don’t come very often, much like transit networks in many American cities that prioritize peak-hour service connecting outer neighborhoods to the jobs in a central business district."

"Currently, there are only three corridors where buses come at least every 15 minutes all day. The new bus grid will establish routes with at least 15-minute frequencies on a dozen corridors across the city"

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mothers in SF

I attended a Boskone panel on women in SF. It was mentioned that mother main characters were scarce, then that even scarcer were women for whom motherhood was not the impetus for action. Naturally I tried to make a list.

Maternal main characters:
* _Saga_. I forget their names, but the narrator's parents are the focus of action, as is keeping the infant narrator alive.
* _Paladin of Souls_: Ista. She is a mother, but it's not what she's doing.
* _Barrayar_: Cordelia's motherhood is critical.
* _Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen_: Cordelia's son is well into independent adulthood; OTOH, the story is driven by Cordelia's desire to be a mother again.
* _My Enemy, My Ally_: Ael is deuteragonist (along with Kirk) of this Star Trek novel. Her motherhood is incidental to her actions.

Maternal side (but important) or ensemble characters:
* _Children of the Lens_: Clarissa MacDougall had been active as the Red Lensman; I think she sees action again in this book, with her children grown.
* Star Trek TNG: Dr. Crusher. I think her being a doctor is important more often than her being Wesley's mom, but I've barely seen TNG, so I don't know.
* Star Trek III: Carol Marcus, Genesis scientist and mother of David Marcus.
* Nanoha (TOS and A's): Admiral/Commodroe Lindy Harlaown commands a dimensional starship; her teen son servers under her; she also adopts a girl in or after A's.
* Nanoha StrikerS: sort-of main character Nanoha adopts a child during the series, and the "best friend" whom she shares a bed with becomes "Fate-mama" as well.

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More from Winter World

Some animals such as frogs and caterpillars really do freeze solid; he describes being able to tap a frozen caterpillar on the table, before thawing and reviving it. Such animals have adaptations to encourage freezing in body cavities, while keeping ice crystals out of cells.

One moth in the high Arctic spends most of the year frozen, eating growing a bit in the short thaw period, and repeating this for years before finally finally moving from the larval stage.

A lot of it is really about dehydration. Some African moth larva can lose 92% of its water to survive the dry season; in this state, it can survive being dipped in liquid helium! He describes adding water as "instant insect."

A couple of Heinrich's chapters end on an annoying note: he seems depressed by practical studies, extolling the spiritual uplift of pure research without any practical application. I'm all for the quest for knowledge, but you don't have to put down practicality like some pre-cryptography number theorist... He also has vague moral concerns about human cryonics.

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Winter biology

I'm reading Winter World by Bernd Heinrich, an author I know from Ravens in Winter and Mind of the Raven. Some facts:

* Hibernation is pretty much about getting past food shortages, not cold per se. Animals with enough food stored up or otherwise available are happy to frolic all winter.

* Hibernating mammals rouse themselves multiple times to enter REM sleep. This can cost them half their winter energy expenditure. Apparently having a body temperature of 3 C doesn't exempt you from sleep deprivation and it's important to do something about that.

* Word of the week: sub-nivian, or beneath the snow. As in chipmunks live in a hidden sub-nivian world of snow tunnels and food caches. Wikipedia spells it "subnivean climate".

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soft-boiled eggs

I don't have a clear memory of how I was thought to cook soft-boiled eggs, which is sad given that I did it a fair bit. I have a dim memory of slipping eggs into boiling water to sit for a couple minutes, but I don't know. What I have done for years is to bring eggs in cold water to a boil, turn the heat off, and let them sit for 3 minutes. (For hard, sit for 15+.) That worked well.

Worked well with my old pot, anyway. Now I'm in a new place, with someone else's pots... so I tried making them against yesterday. "Bring to a boil" was a bit problematic, as the lid has a vent hole in it. And I let the eggs sit for four minutes because I got distracted. Result: eggs much closer to hard than soft, with no runny yolk. :(

I tried again today! I didn't even let the water come to a full boil, and waited exactly 3 minutes. Plus, instead of taking out each egg one at a time, I moved all three to a cold water bath before dissecting them. Result: some runniness, but yolks still partially hardened.

So I'm thinking the greater mass and size of the pot I'm using is a factor. Maybe there was something to the "slip eggs into boiling water" idea, though that has risks of splashing with boiling water, thus why I stopped.

Friends have suggested egg timers, though ones based on temperature sound more useful than simple timers. I can use a stopwatch just fine.

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measuring distance on maps

I'd long relied on Google Earth's ruler tool. I didn't like the hassle of installing it on the VM I'm currently using. So I looked, and found Google Maps has one! Just right-click on a point.


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Basil Davidson

I used to own a book by him, on Africa, the title of which I now forget. Story of Africa, maybe. My friend S has an earlier book by him, Lost Cities of Africa, which I started reading; I am torn between fear of wasting time on an old -- 1959 -- books, and enjoying the rhythm of his prose style. I should say that he's well respected as s historian of Africa, sympathetic to its peoples while not going overboard in ahistorical 'redemption'.

In reading up on him, I found this obituary. He had a rather interesting life, such as being a special forces operative helping partisans in eastern Europe, and being a radical journalist, often blacklisted for being too friend to Communism, though not one himself. Later he threw himself into African history, with strong anti-colonial opinions.

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I gave to this book to G in 2003; I just re-read that exact copy. It's a neat book about... I'm not sure how to summarize it. The first chapter is about standard cube-square scaling laws as applied to animal size, and why elephants are shaped differently from antelopes. But most of the rest of the book is about warm vs. cold bloodedness, to which scaling is one but not the only issue. Were dinosaurs warm blooded, or something in between; why there aren't more 'in between' animals; why warm bloods dominate large fauna on land and in the oceans; why cold bloods dominate rivers and are (or were before humans) prominent in Australia.

Very small animals are all cold blood, because warm can't eat enough and keep enough heat at that scale. Small animals are split; hiding is a good strategy, being warm has high costs, the world is more complex and has more niches at a small scale. Hiding doesn't work well for big animals, who are also driven to a simpler 2D world, so being ready for action has very high value and warm bloods dominate... unless food is so uncertain that you get long intervals of not eating, as in rivers or Australia.

Also river ecology is complex and poorly understood. Naked mole rats are practically cold blooded mammals, protected by their tunnels and living in very marginal areas, where the food tends to be a limited number of large roots. Ostritches used to span a wide area, like Greece, Moldavia, and China.

There's also discussion of how warm bloodedness evolved in the first place, given the high costs. Answer, we don't know, but there are a couple theories. One is that some ancient large animals in stable climates were mass homeotherms, with fairly stable temperatures even without working at it, so they optimized their enzymes to adapt to that (enzymes have narrow ranges of optimal performance; lots of organisms have more genes than humans probably because they needs lot of alternative cellular biochemistry), then when some branch shrank again, it was easier to invent warm bloodedness rather than re-invent a whole slew of enzymes.

The other idea is that boosted aerobic performance is beneficial by itself, and eventually some animals were boosted enough that they were significantly warm blooded as a side effect. This feels less elegant to me, but Lavers said it was favored at the time of writing.

The last chapter is on global mixing of species, thanks to human transport, and making a worrying analogy with the Permian mass extinction, which followed mixing (supercontinent) and global warming (massive volcanism, probably.)

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A terrible Christmas article

A friend shared this https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/christmas-jesus-christ-birthday-25-december-brits-ignorant-nativity-christianity-bethlehem-a8094496.html for reasons of his own; I find it notable as a case of a newspaper trying desperately to find pearls to clutch. The tone is of shocking British ignorance about Christmas, but it only makes sense if you assume that every single Briton should know about it. "Almost one in ten didn't know!" "Only 8 in 10 knew!" If you instead consider that nearly 8% of Britons claim non-Christian religions[1], and 25% no religion at all, and the possibility that some people will troll pollsters with dumb answers, then 80-90% of Britons knowing the basics about Christmas and Jesus's life is pretty damn good. The only things that fell below that level were Maundy Thursday, which I've barely heard of myself, and Jesus probably knowing Greek, which I'd grant is non-obvious to the average person knowing little about the ancient world.

I wonder if pollsters have done calibration questions, like "can you name the Queen?"

]1\ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion_in_the_UK

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eating out costs

There's a deli near my office where you can get a breakfast for $5-6. Say $5. 6 of them would be $30.

From the store, a dozen eggs is under $2, decent bread is under $5, call it $7 including butter costs. 6 sausages can be $6-9, so $13-16 for six almost-equivalent breakfasts.

Almost because I think the deli breakfasts include potatoes, which I'm not cooking fast for breakfast anyway. Unless I microwaved frozen hash browns. Another $3-5 for that.

Of course, this deli seems unusually cheap for Boston. Probably more common to be $8 menu, $10 after tax and tip, after which you're looking at $60 for 6 of those.

The same place sold me a basic pastrami sandwich for $7. From McKinnon's I can buy pastrami for $8/lb; a quarter pound in a sandwich would cost $2, under $3 including bread. I don't know how heavy the deli sandwich was, though it probably included a pickle. Again, it's cheap; other places would be $8-12.

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This link goes to a longish article on the complexity of sentences and changes therein. Those who are familiar with the literature of the 18th or 19th centuries, including such documents basic to the USA as the Declaration of Independence, may have noticed a difference in the length and complexity of many sentences from those periods, compared to those of the current era. The author says that there is a real difference, across not just time but also languages: it is written languages which most reliably embed clauses in each other like Russian dolls. Even oral languages which have the tools for such behavior may have likely acquired them from contact with written languages.

Does that mean purely oral languages are simpler? Nay! Though their sentences are allegedly childishly simple (examples given include "It will be possible? You will teach me. I will make bread." "He came near those boys. They were throwing spears at something then."), their complexity "erupts" elsewhere, with frighteningly complex word formation, such as in polysynthetic languages.

However, not all complexity is the same. The author claims that the word-formation form of complexity requires massive amounts of memorization, by speakers "marinating" in the language from childhood, and makes analogy to a rise in compound words in modern English whose meaning is not derivable by pattern. (Examples given: "A house boat, for example, is a boat that functions like a house, but a housecoat is a coat you wear in a house, and a housewife fits neither pattern.") Whereas syntactical complexity is generative: once learned, you can generate it, and decompose it, with equal ease and glee.

My lay grasp of linguistics is far from able to judge the accuracy of the claims. I would note though that it's not a matter of the article contrasting modern Western languages to indigenous ones like Yupik: the claim is that the earliest written languages also showed the pattern:

"According to linguist Guy Deutscher, the earliest clay tablets (about 2500 B.C.) of the ancient language Akkadian reveal few embedded clauses. The same is evidently true of the earliest stages of other ancient written languages such as Sumerian, Hittite, or Greek. Although these languages boasted a profusion of grammatical features suitable for expressing subtle nuances of meaning, and included a variety of fancy word-building techniques, they avoided complicated sentence recursion."

(Bold emphasis mine.)

So instead of recursive embedded clauses, you get long run-on sentences of chained clauses. Which rings a bell about something I found odd in translations of old Sumerian and Akkadian writing.

Finally, the article tries to link this to esoteric vs. exoteric communities. Small isolated communities can build up memory-taxing stores of word building patterns, which in turn keep the community isolated; large and diverse communities need something with clearer rules. The esoteric community needn't just be some small ancient tribe: modern scientific discourse is identified as an area where sentence complexity diminishes, while non-transparent compound nouns or phrases grow in use.

"Evidence shows that the most insular scientific communities have led the march away from elaborated sentences in favor of complex, compressed nouns: Science articles in specialist publications such as the Journal of Cell Biology contain fewer relative clauses and more noun compounds than articles in publications like Science, which target a more diverse community of scientists."

(That said, I recall a friend's advisor explaining scientific language differently: given a desire to appeal to many people for whom English is not their first language, the acts of keeping sentences simple and free of colorful idioms, and using unambiguous vocabulary, are virtues.)

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Against Facebook

Long and with some bits you can skip over, but thought-provoking.


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Winter Tide

Winter Tide is awesome and y'all should read it. At least if you liked the novelette it springs from.


Ada Palmer "non-review" of the story. http://www.exurbe.com/?p=2951

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Red Delicious?

The Davis Square farmers' market is still going, mostly selling apples, squash, and fish. I got a bunch of apple varieties which I won't be able to identify when I eat them, apart from some outliers. They had a sign saying New England Red Delicious was the real Red Delicious. I was skeptical, as I few but horrible memoies of RD apples, dry and mealy. But I figured I'd give them a chance, bought one, and ate it.

It was a lot better than my memories, crunchy and moist. And... otherwise utterly bland, with some odd mucusy bits, unless that was left over cantaloupe juice in my mouth. While it was in fact the best Red Delicious I've ever had, I feel safe in letting it be my last.

At least all the other apples should be better!

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Damien Sullivan

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