Fantasist's Scroll

Fun, Fiction and Strange Things from the Desk of the Fantasist.


Automation in Conlanging

Filed under: — Posted by the Fantasist during the Hour of the Snake which is mid-morning.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

I see a disturbing trend…

I spent a little too much quality time on a conlang BBS this week. Well, it’s not a real BBS, but it’s one of those new-fangled, PHP-based web-BBS things. I hate them. I much, much prefer the old-fashioned e-mail list or newsgroup.
Anyway, I got all wrapped up in a discussion about the virtues, or lack thereof, in automated word generators. It started with someone reccomending my old generator, which is really based on code from Chris Pound. Well, someone complained that it would be nice to be able to specify the phonology of the words to be generated. So I worked for several months at PERL and finally coded up my Conlang Wordmaker, which will look really familiar to people who have used Langmaker. Well, when I posted that, it sparked a number of things, but one person made the comment that they “damn well would never use a word generator” to make their conlang. Well, that sort of irritated me. And, when I get irritated before my morning coffee, I tend to type rather sharp replies.

But, sharp replies aside, what’s wrong with using a word generator? I mean, a piece of beautiful furnature that was assembled with power tools isn’t any less beautiful, is it? Is something done by hand, in the slowest, hardest way possible, inherently more worthy of praise? I don’t think so, but apparently quite a few conlangers do seem to think so. And, as I’ve poked around the web, it seems to be a sentiment that conlang people in general have taken to be a Universal Truth. But, why?

I think it’s because so many of them are, or were, linguists or linguistics students. Academia is anchored to a rigid system of learning that tends to insist people follow certain patterns. I have a college degree, but most of what I know that I truly prize, I learned on my own far, far away from a classroom. I think far outside the box that academia tends to force scholarship into. For instance, in learning things like PERL, I learned that whichever way works, is a good enough way. Sure, there may be other ways, but if it works, it’s good enough way. So, too, in my “day job”. I manage servers in a corporate envrionment, so I often don’t have time to find the “best” way. I have to make it work, usually on a budget, quickly. I apply that maxim everywhere in my life.
So, how does that relate to conlanging? Well, I’m not really too hung up on phonology or morphology. I don’t care to spend hours upon hours making a rigid, highly technical scheme of phonology and morphology. It matters more to me how the language sounds. If I’m looking for something that sounds a little bit like Cantonese as spoken by a Polyneasean, what difference does it make how the words are formed? All that matters is that I get my end result, a conlang that sounds right.

I’m not in favor of form over function. I never have been. For most things, I’d rather it get done quick and dirty than never get done at all. So, I’m in favor of using whatever tools get the job done for a conlang. I don’t care if you steal words from a natural language and “mutate” them into a new conlang. Do whatever it takes to make a language that adds that realism to your fiction! What matters isn’t the process, but the art that you create!


Dark Beer is good for you!

Filed under: — Posted by the Fantasist during the Hour of the Dragon which is in the early morning.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

No, really, there’s a scientific study!

Right here on MSN Health they say that dark beer is good for you. Or, at least, better for you than the lighter beers. Something about the “flavonoids” that make it dark help prevent blood clots, which help prevent blood-vessel related problems. (This is also how that whole red wine thing works, too, by the way.) So, what the heck, it’s Friday, go have a nice, dark beer. For your health!


Artificial Virus

Filed under: — Posted by the Fantasist during the Hour of the Hare which is in the early morning.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

No, not a computer virus.

That’s right a real, live virus that was created in a lab. According to this article on USA Today, such a thing now exists. Once confined to the slum of science-fiction, completely artificial virii now exist. Thursday, November 13, a team lead by Craig Venter announced that they had created an artificial virus based on a real one in just two weeks’ time.
Now, at this point all they did was make a virus that infected bacteria, but how long before they’re moving on? Where will it end? With a “flu” like Stephen King imagined in The Stand? Or will it be more subtle than that? Or less?
Will we eventually feel that it’s okay to “manufacture” animals through the same process? Will we make unicorns and minotaurs? Where do you draw the line?
I sure don’t know, but it’s a little more confusing now that the line has been redrawn for us. The only good thing about all this is that it gives science-fiction writers a whole lot more to write about!


Phone Number for Life?

Filed under: — Posted by the Fantasist during the Hour of the Hare which is in the early morning.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

Starting yesterday you can keep your cell number when you change plans.

At least, in some metropolitan areas. The rest follow on May 24th. Unfortunately, the article on Wired News doesn’t say which areas start getting this option today. Still, it’s nice to know. I know that I have hesitated to change plans because of the hassle of getting my new number to everyone. I mean, I have a lot of people who contact me via my cell phone. Not least of which is my wife and recruiters!
I wonder how long it will take before we’re assigned phone numbers at birth, like Social Security numbers…

(Oh, and yeah, I posted this at my other blog yesterday.)


Space, for sale to the highest bidder

Filed under: — Posted by the Fantasist during the Hour of the Hare which is in the early morning.
The moon is a New Moon

Yep, you can bid on a space mission on eBay.

Seriously. Of course, I’m not sure what the average Joe would want with a satellite, but you never know. It does have a camera, according to this article on Wired News, but is it really worth the price? Well, I guess we’ll see.
Personally, I like it. Sure, I’m not going to bid on it, but I like the idea of privitizing space this way. After all, how else are we going to get out there? What’s more, how else are we going to make it cheap? Cars and planes used to be horribly expensive, until everyone started using them. Now, almost every family owns a car and everyone flies somewhere. Okay, maybe not in their own plane, but still… Combine this with a little space tourism and we might actually start to get out into space!


Review of The Power of Babel

Filed under: — Posted by the Fantasist during the Hour of the Snake which is mid-morning.
The moon is Waning Crescent

I finished The Power of Babel by John McWhorter this past week.

And, it was pretty damn good! Okay, allowing for the fact that I’m interested in linguistics and history and historical linguistics, it’s still a good book. As my be guessed from that last sentence, The Power of Babel is about the history of language. Not a language, but all of them. Mr. McWhorter effectively uses examples from numerous languages from every continent and cultural region I can think of that has language.
In the very first chapter he outlines the five basic ways that language changes and then sets out to describe them in the subsequent chapters. I think he does and well enough that a rough, amatuer linguist like me can really understand what he’s saying. He even has a whole, thick, meaty chapter dedicated to pidgins and creoles, which is a subject that fascinates me. He talks about the social and economic pressures that drive language change, which I thought was quite insightful.

Now, I have to admit, I got this book with the sole purpose of getting ideas for conlanging. I was not dissapointed! The linguistic ideas came hot and heavy. Everything got touched on in this book: grammar, phonology, morphology and how they all alter over time. I have to say that I liked this even better than the Language Instinct, which was a very good book.
If you have even a passing interest in historical linguistics, buy this book and read it!


Real-World Maps

Filed under: — Posted by the Fantasist during the Hour of the Hare which is in the early morning.
The moon is Waning Crescent

Ever wonder how MapQuest gets their maps?

Well, apparently, they send out two techs in a car to drive around and record which way they go! No, really, I’m not making that up. Don’t believe me? Then check out this article on TechTV. It’s a brief interview with two of those techs based out of Chicago who do just that. Of course, they rely on GPS and a laptop to record the information, but they still have to get out there and actually drive it. Could be an interesting gig, if you like driving around all day. Anyway, it’s an interesting article.


Return of Farscape

Filed under: — Posted by the Fantasist during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning.
The moon is Waning Crescent

Okay, this rocks!

According to this article on, Farscape is making a comeback. There’ve been rumors, but now the production office “down under” has actually opened up again and work has started. Now, rumor has it that the new project is a mini-series, not a full-blown series, but still, it’s something! I mean I really hated how the series just ended without resolving anything.
Another interesting tidbit is that this will be a project totally independant of the SciFi Channel, who broadcast the original series. That, of course, begs the question: Where will the series run? If it runs on the SciFi Channel, I hope they get gouged on the price. It would be poetic justice if they spent more on the mini-series than it would have cost to finish the last season. In any case, it’ll be cool to see the show again.

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