Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

IF Comp 2018 Review: Abbess Otilia's Life and Death

Triviality: if you can run a 400m in under 60 sec., you are moving as fast or faster than a (British, pre-war) cavalry charge.

Source: Doctrine and Reform in the British Cavalry, 1880-1918, by Stephen Badsey.

Creating a 'cavalry' tag for this, 'cause you're going to hear a lot more about it.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Thursday, October 04, 2018

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Markia hystrix, the Lichen Katydid - this particular one's apparently in Costa Rica:



Thursday, September 20, 2018

Through a tangled and half-forgotten path: Occupations of the Poor

Child-strippers: "Old debauched drunken hags who watch their opportunity to accost children passing in the street, tidily dressed with good boots and clothes"
River-finders, who would "haul[] out the flotsam of wood which might be used for firewood of a baby;s cradle, or the occasional corpse which could be turned in for a reward"; they were apparently a hereditary class.

Source. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

"Old men should not read the Romance of the Three Kingdoms; young men should not read the Water Margin."

Being 'nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita' (Saint Hilda and Saint David, pray for us!), I feel it safe for me to read either. The explanation for this particular proverb I received when I first heard it was that young men are given to fighting, and the Water Margin is excited, while old men are given to deceptions, and the Three Kingdoms is full of machinations and schemes. But on reflection I think this interpretation is wrong.

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Sunday, September 02, 2018

Friday, August 31, 2018

Some believe that [Vipera aspis. the asp] was introduced to Sicily by the Carthaginians during their conquest of the island in the years 398-368 BC, The basis for the speculation is that the Carthaginians were known to load a small boat with a collection of venomous snakes and push the boat toward enemy ships as a means of terrorizing their opponents prior to combat.
I'm skeptical, to say the least, but the claim is from Snakes, Gordon H. Rodda, Encyclopedia of Islands, ed. Rosemary G. Gillespie and David A. Clague, University of California Press, 2009, pg. 845.

Monday, August 06, 2018

In vengeance, Peculiar:

Some Limericks.

He must be a quintessential fool who does not realize that the following fifty limericks are a document of enduring value. And I beg leave to say that the collecion has been made not for such people, but for those who can appreciate its significance.
... 
I shall quote none of them. Caveat lector asinum.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Further Mexica content: Emily Short's review of MEXICA, procedurally generated stories around Aztec legends.

The creator, Rafael Pérez y Pérez, has articles here :

MEXICA: a computer model of a cognitive account of creative writing
The Three Layers Evaluation Method for Computer-Generated Plots

As what we watch and read becomes more closely monitored, proc gen art will become the new pulp. I'm laying down a marker, here.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

I never know how late to these parties I've arrived, but here:

Things I Won't Work With

A quick paragraph or two from some selections:

From "Sand Won't Save You This Time":

Let’s put it this way: during World War II, the Germans were very interested in using [chlorine trifluoride] in self-igniting flamethrowers, but found it too nasty to work with. It is apparently about the most vigorous fluorinating agent known, and is much more difficult to handle than fluorine gas. That’s one of those statements you don’t get to hear very often, and it should be enough to make any sensible chemist turn around smartly and head down the hall in the other direction.
From "Azidotetrazolate Salts":

An early favorite has appeared in my “most alarming chemical papers” file for this year. Thomas Klapoetke and Joerg Stierstorfer from Munich have published one with a simple title that might not sound unusual to people outside the field, but has made every chemist I’ve shown it to point like a bird dog: “The CN7 Anion”. The reason that one gets our attention is that compounds with lots of nitrogens in them – more specifically, compounds with a high percentage of nitrogen by weight – are a spirited bunch. They hear the distant call of the wild, and they know that with just one leap of the fence they can fly free as molecules of nitrogen gas. And that’s never an orderly process. If my presumably distant cousin Nick Lowe does indeed love the sound of breaking glass, then these are his kinds of compounds. A more accurate song title for these latest creations would be “I Love the Sound Of Shrapnel Bouncing Off My Welder’s Mask”, but that sort of breaks up the rhythm.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

With Mexica in the news of late, what with tzompantli and skulls and whatnot, it's worth remembering what an astonishing civilization they were.

Here's the Florentine Codex online. If the Aztecs had survived Cortez, kids would watch cartoons informed by their toltecat aesthetic, play Eagles vs. Jaguars, and beg their parents to let them take macuahuitl classes.
Reconsidering the lurid tale of Nag Hammadi.

(ht to Marginal Revolution)

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Indo-European dog and wolf sacrifice traditions: linguistic and literary sources now supplemented by archaeology? This speculation strikes me as very weak sauce scientifically, but it's intriguing and certainly quite romantic.

HT: LanguageHat

Thursday, May 10, 2018

I strongly suspect that more or less everyone in the world who would find this useful already knows about it, but nevertheless: Eastern Orthodox liturgical texts in various Alaskan indigenous languages.

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Peculiar's post about fishing for salmon in Nevada got me thinking about how skewed our baseline intuitions are regarding faunal populations. We are very poor at considering how abundant animal life was even three or four hundred years ago, let alone imagining back in deep time. We wildly underestimate what "normal" looks like.

On that subject, here's a charming paper which uses historical Chinese sources to estimate gibbon populations over a four hundred year span, before local extinction.

They (gibbons) appear in some of the Judge Dee stories, I believe as a deliberate attempt to give an air of authentic antiquity (the stories themselves being written over a millennium after that perspicacious gentleman's life). The Van Gulik novels are worth tracking down, being the work of a Dutchman writing English mysteries based on deliberately anachronistic Chinese stories of the eighteenth century written using Tang dynasty sources. Guardians against cultural appropriation can work out who owes what to whom.

I'm giving this a 'primates' label, optimistic that it will see heavy use.

Monday, May 07, 2018

Remembering when one could fish for salmon in Nevada. Not in the Pleistocene, either, just before they dammed the Snake.
We now value tolerance over physical courage. Steve Bannon is literally Hitler.

There, I just saved you ten minutes.

Not disputing the above, mind you; just vexed at shallow classicism.

Thursday, May 03, 2018

I now know where John C. Wright gets his ideas: mad Roman semi-demi-scientifiction.

Compare the following passages. First, from Titans of Chaos:

"I saw Mulciber's giants, fallen, with technicians in long brown coats walking across helmet-tops, directing spider-machines at their repairs. I saw fleets and battle-barges of Mavors, thrown onto shoals and rocks, with lizard-faced Laestrygonians bailing and shouting orders to running sailors.
I saw one group of Atlanteans in outer space, abandoning a tumbling space vessel, which glowed cherry red as its orbit decayed into the poisonous atmosphere of Venus. Atlanteans in black and silver armor dropped out of the airlock like pearls on a slightly curving string, one after another, and fell out and away from the dying ship."

Now,  Lucian of Samosata's A True Story
:
"That day we were entertained by the king; in the morning we took our place in the ranks as soon as we were up, our scouts having announced the approach of the enemy. Our army numbered 100,000 (exclusive of camp-followers, engineers, infantry, and allies), the Horse-vultures amounting to 80,000, and the remaining 20,000 being mounted on Salad-wings. These latter are also enormous birds, fledged with various herbs, and with quill-feathers resembling lettuce leaves. Next these were the Millet-throwers and the Garlic-men. Endymion had also a contingent from the North of 30,000 Flea-archers and 50,000 Wind-coursers. The former have their name from the great fleas, each of the bulk of a dozen elephants, which they ride. The Wind-coursers are infantry, moving through the air without wings; they effect this by so girding their shirts, which reach to the ankle, that they hold the wind like a sail and propel their wearers ship-fashion. These troops are usually employed as skirmishers. 70,000 Ostrich-slingers and 50,000 Horse-cranes were said to be on their way from the stars over Cappadocia. But as they failed to arrive I did not actually see them; and a description from hearsay I am not prepared to give, as the marvels related of them put some strain on belief."

This post took me over an hour to write, since I got caught up reading Titans and forgot that I was writing it. This said by way of fairly direct recommendation.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Monday, April 23, 2018

Happy St. George's Day, all!

Today it is traditional to gather dandelions for wine. I will not be doing so, since, not to put too fine a point on it, dandelion wine is terrible stuff.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

From the Atlantic: Was There a Civilization on Earth before Humans?

"We’re used to imagining extinct civilizations in terms of the sunken statues and subterranean ruins. These kinds of artifacts of previous societies are fine if you’re only interested in timescales of a few thousands of years. But once you roll the clock back to tens of millions or hundreds of millions of years, things get more complicated."

Hey guys, try to keep up. I can't be the only one that's read Toolmaker Koan or The Green Marauder. Or Jack Vance, come to that.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

In November 1917, a local oil baron united Chechen, Ingush and Ossetian peoples in a Mountain Republic, allied with Germany. The Republic had the distinction of being defeated by both sides in the Russian civil war – first by the Reds, in March 1918, then by the Whites, in May 1919.
Just one of many very obscure and short-lived nations from Russia's civil war. The Republic of Uhtua, the Soviet Republic of Soldiers and Fortress-Builders, Green Ukraine (which was in the Far East), the Confederated Republic of Altai, the list goes on. Some of them had interesting flags too.

Friday, April 06, 2018

"An Inordinate Fondness for Wasps" is a damn good title.

Here is the paper itself.
>We challenge the oft-repeated claim that the beetles (Coleoptera) are the most species-rich order of animals. Instead, we assert that another order of insects, the Hymenoptera, are more speciose, due in large part to the massively diverse but relatively poorly known parasitoid wasps.