Monday, December 16, 2013

Reading changes

I'm going to have to ditch reading Dance of Cloaks, because it's due and I'm not even close to finishing it.  Too busy to read it in the last three weeks while I have it, and by library due date is up, and because someone else put a hold on the book, I can't renew it.  I'll try again later.

That's not necessarily bad; because I'm also reading City of Rogues on my Kindle app, I was finding that I was getting the too books occasionally confused.  They were too similar in tone, feel, and characters for me to really successfully separate them in my head.  Probably one of the reasons I didn't make as much progress as I'd hoped.

Once Christmas is over, I hope to see my schedule free up a bit, so that I can more easily get through library books within the time frame that the lease period is.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Hobbit, part 2

I ended up liking The Hobbit last year more than I thought I would, although I freely admit that I went in with pretty low expectations.  In spite of that, my expectations for this second Hobbit movie are extremely low, especially in light of some new news that's popping up lately.

You may wonder why I'm chasing spoilers for a movie that's still coming, but 1) I don't care as much about spoilers as some do, and 2) c'mon, I first read the novel thirty some odd years ago, and I've read it many times since then.

I haven't been happy with the additions that wormed their way into Jackson's LotR movies.  With The Hobbit, a novel of considerably less content, stretched out into three lengthy movies, it was clear that even with using the Gandalf and Dol Guldur stuff at the same time, that a lot of crap would have to be added to pad out the movies.  We'll really start seeing that this time around, and the previews have given us our first glimpse into what that will mean--this ninja, Joss Whedon-esque "warrior babe" elf.  Who, it appears, will now be torn in some kind of love triangle thing between Legolas and... Thorin Oakenshield.  Girls all over can now decide whether they belong to Team Thorin or Team Legolas.

Holy crap.  No wonder the Tolkien estate is ticked off.  Adding a cheesy girl-porn romance angle to The Hobbit sounds like just about the worst decision I can possibly have imagined.

Expectations have plummeted and are now in complete freefall.  Ugh.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

New DNA analysis provokes suprise, opens questions

One of the conceits of science is that it is an ever improving journey towards "The Truth™" and that we've come a long way and know a lot of stuff.  Sadly, the credibility of the science industry has taken quite a beating in the news lately.  One article I read suggested that only 6% of experiments that were the basis of our pharmaceutical industry were repeatable (with another paper by another agency coming to similar, although not identical conclusions.)  Controversy after controversy has plagued climate science, and now the consensus is that anthropogenic global warming is not real--although that's merely a footnote; consensus is not science.  In fact, that methodology is a big part of the problem (that and the politicization of certain sciences.)  Peter Higgs (of Higgs-boson fame) says that in today's environment, he never would have been able to propose the Higgs particle.  He never would have even been able to think of it, much less get it published, in the professional climate that exists today.  Nature even published an experiment that highlighted the ease with which fraudulent (to say nothing of sincere yet shoddy and wrong) scientific papers can be published. 

This means, of course, that models, theories, and years--decades, even--of work can be built on assumptions that turn out to be faulty and flawed.  In which case, our science has done nothing to bring us closer to The Truth™, and in fact has led us away from it on a chase after a red herring.  This can be a traumatic event for scientists, who continue to try and prop up and explain models that really no longer fit the data.  One would think that eventually The Truth™ will win out, but it is often not so sure.  A great example of this is the spectacular and somewhat embarrasing failure of the Large Underground Xenon (LUX) team, as well as the XENON-100 team, to detect any sign whatsoever of the supposedly ubiquitous dark matter.

And yet, astronomers will continue to insist that dark matter, and dark energy, must exist, even though to an impartial observer with no horse in that race, it certainly appears that dark matter is merely a mathematical fudge factor that allows equations to balance rather than a real property of our universe.  And if it requires a mathematical fudge factor to cause our equations to balance, that certainly calls into question the validity of those equations, and the models on which they are based.

It is at this point that one usually pulls out the credentials card; citing the fact that the person making the criticism is not part of the secular priesthood of Scientists™ and therefore unqualified to point out criticisms that anyone can readily see.  The same thing happens in climate science, when climate scientists insist that in spite of all the record low temperatures, the 15+ years of no warming, and the numerous allegations of fraud and bad science which have propped up the global warming paradigm, that global warming is still very real, and a consensus of scientists say so (in spite of the fact that these scientists are not necessarily climate scientists, and in spite of the latest polls of climate scientists who affirm that there is in fact a consensus that anthropogenic global warming does not exist.)  The same was shown in the contempt by Egyptologists for Robert Schoch's water erosion data on the Great Sphinx of Giza--rather than address his arguments, they retreat back into their existing models and say that there is no room in their models for this data, no matter how good it may or may not be, it can't possibly be true, because it doesn't fit their model.

This, of course, is not science.  It's the absense of science.  It's dogma.  Models don't precede data, data precedes models.  If data exists that contradicts the establishment model, and the data is good data that can't be dismissed as fraudulent or mistaken, then the model needs to change to accomodate it.  If the model is completely thrown out, and an entirely new model needs to replace it, then so be it.  That's science.

Anyway, there's been a lot of talk about how DNA evidence is throwing off all kinds of archeological, and even paleontological, models.  One of the latest is that modern human DNA showed up some 4 times earlier than it was supposed to, throwing all kinds of paleontological models about the spread and development of early humans into a mess.  Another one is this article which throws similar disarray into our models of the spread of people into North America.

This one is of particular interest to me, because I've long thought that our models of the settlement of the Americas was overly simplistic and inherently unlikely--in spite of the scientific "consensus" around it, which is taught in schools and in textbooks around the country.  With the appearance of the Kennewick man, the Spirit Cave mummy, the Solutrean hypothesis, and many other findings that seemed to stand in contradiction to the dogmatic model of a monolithic Clovis migration from Berengia as the sole ancestry of the pre-Columbian settlement of the Americas.

The article linked attempts to link this European DNA to Kennewick man, which is absurd, as it ignores the fact that Kennewick man is not European, and appears to be most similar to the Jōmon people, or other Asian populations that predate the current east Asians--proto-Ainu or Polynesians, for instance.  Other articles on the subject, that have popped up, have Europeans migrating to the Lake Baikal area, and from there staging migrations into North America--after marrying a bunch of local girls first, I presume.

But the reality is, this data doesn't solve anything; it in fact does quite the opposite.  It further muddies the waters.  It criticizes the existing model, without really offering anything in return, other than perhaps circumstantial support to other "fringe" theories, such as the Solutrean hypothesis.  But accepting them based on this data doesn't really give us a clearer picture of the settlement model of the Americas.  It just highlights the need for a revolution in our existing archeological models to one that comfortably encompasses all of the available data.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Baboons in Dark•Heritage

I've been playing a bit of Temple Run 2 on my Android, and I just saw Catching Fire.  I also not too long ago saw After Earth (I waited until it came out on DVD to try it.)  What do all of these have in common?  Killer baboons.  Well, technically the Temple Run monkeys are some kind of weird skull-headed ape, but close enough, right?

It's amazing to me how scary baboons can truly be, if they're large, in large numbers, and suitably angry or territorial or hungry.  The animals in both movies mentioned were among the creepiest scenes in each movie.  Of course, keep in mind that they are larger than any living monkey.  The mandrill, closely related to the baboon (and with the famous "painted" face is probably what many people think of when they hear the word baboon anyway) is the world's largest monkey, but large males average about 50-80 lbs, with exceptionally large ones only reaching just shy of 120 lbs.  The monkeys in Catching Fire, by rough estimate, looked like they weighed a good 200 lbs. each or so.  Maybe even more.  They were as large as a jaguar.  Perhaps this, then, is why E. Gary Gygax chose the mandrill as the basis for his Prince of Demons, Demogorgon.  The two mandrill-headed demon, with scaly tentacles is an iconic image from Dungeons & Dragons and perhaps one of the better inductions into the canon of fantasy overall.

Large, territorial, and occasionally even carnivorous baboons also inhabit DARK•HERITAGE.  For the most part, these live in Kurushat (which has an Old World Pleistocene fauna) although some have made it to the north.  Macaque-like monkeys of various sizes, mostly cat and dog sized, live throughout the Mezzovian Main region, and are common in Terassa itself, where they live somewhat in symbiosis with humanity in the cities themselves, but on the rooftops and the trees.  A few are even domesticated, or feral.

Larger savana baboons wander the grasslands of Baal Hamazi.  Here, they are the prey of cougars, bone-dogs or lions, although they are fierce fighters, and with three to four inch long fangs and 200 lbs. or so of stocky muscle, as well as traveling in mobs of fifty to five hundred, they are an intimidating prospect unless somehow separated from their group, or injured, sick or elderly.

Most disturbing of all the baboons of the north, however, are those that live in the Hsan Jungle, a place notorious for it's intelligent, albeit savage, apes and monkeys.  Not too terribly disimilar to the apes of Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes, this society is largely made up of arthropoid man-apes that are not gorillas or chimpanzees, but some close relative of the two.  Baboons of similar intelligence live among them, although usually of a lesser caste.  They are, however, more numerous, and make up many of the soldiers and workers of ape society.  Their god, a semi-legendary figure who may actually be yet living as an immortal sorcerer, is an anthropoid baboon; with gorilla-like strengh and size, human-like erect gait and a baboon-like muzzle and face.  Some depictions also have him with curved gaur-like horns on his forehead.  It is claimed that he taught the apes and baboons of the area to speak and to think, a possibly legendary reference to the use of sorcery to raise them to the intelligence of humans.

This society, in part due to its savagery, but in part due to its isolation and the fear and loathing that all humans give to the notion of intelligent, weapon-wielding baboons and apes, this society has not expanded beyond the Hsan Jungle very far.  Their only semi-friendly relations with any human society is with the debased and corrupt humans of Sarkomand and Inganok.

Update on the What I'm Reading bar there to the side:  For the last month or two, I've shown that I'm reading Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn.  Eagle-eyed observers might wonder what in the world is taking me so long to get with it.  In reality, I am not reading that at all.  I intended to.  I read the prologue chapter, thinking that I would begin, and I added its image to the What I'm Reading bar there on the side.  But I never really started it.  I haven't picked the book up since I got it off my shelf and read the first few pages.  In reality, I've been reading non-fiction; researching potential hiking locations for our summer trip to Yellowstone, the Tetons and elsewhere in the Rockies, browsing through free ebooks on my Kindle app for my Android, and picking up a few other library books.  I recently finished the hardback Avengers vs. X-men anthology, which confirms my prior belief that I've probably parted ways with Marvel Comics for good.  I didn't love it, even though it was nominally the best that the company could come up with in the last few years in terms of major events.  I haven't loved anything that they've done in years except for the early run of Ultimate X-Men, the Ultimates, and Ultimate Spider-man, all of which ran aground in disappointing and frustrating and inexplicable developments.  That, and Dan Abnett's take on the Starjammers, using Alex Summers, Rachel Summers and Lorna Dane as replacements for Christopher Summers, Hepzibah and others.  This space opera superhero drama was one of the best runs of Marvel anythings in quite a long time, and the rise of fall of the character of Vulcan.

I also read a number of free ebooks of dubious quality.  Or rather, I started too, but chucked a bunch of them in disappointment.  Rather, I filled my Kindle app with some tried and true titles from the public domain, including the first two Tarzan books, the first three John Carter books, and the complete works of HPL.  Eagle-eyed observers may note that I show HPL compilations on my To Read list.  Given that I consider myself a Lovecraftian fantasy blog, it may seem odd that I'm appearing to not have read these books before.  Well, I haven't.  I have read, of course, most of the actual stories within each of them, but not in the compilation form that I own them now.  And for each compilation there are at least some stories that I've never read.  So, I show all of the HPL library as to be read, even though I've actually read most of it.  Many times, in fact.  Currently, I'm going through Tarzan of the Apes on my Kindle, even though I own a copy of it in print form already: a copy that I've read many times, with the great Neal Adams cover.  What a great book.

In addition to that, I've picked up A Dance of Cloaks from the library, which I can't renew (since it's still classified as a "new" book) so I'm going to spend more time on that before I pick up Mistborn again.  With any luck, I'll finally really start reading Mistborn over the Christmas break.