Wednesday, December 26, 2012

As on many things I like, I tend to glut myself on Interactive Fiction, then ignore it for months on end. But Bee is well worth anyone's time.

UPDATE: new link.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

One of the perks of living in New Mexico (and we need a few!): a low profile on this map of natural disaster risk. Tornadoes are quite rare, earthquake risk very moderate, hurricanes sound kind of nice around here. We just have some hail and a couple volcanoes to live with, and our volcanoes are the mild type that might spit up a small cinder cone every few thousand years, not looming behemoths like Rainier or Shasta. The map doesn't include forest fires, which would give the Rockies a much stronger showing, but it's really only a relatively small number of homeowners down here for whom wildfire is a serious worry. Our main afflictions are drought, wind and idiocy, which I suppose I'll take over tornadoes and earthquakes.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

I love that some web administrator for the USDA saw fit to illustrate a rather P.C. news release from the Forest Service with an image of the, errr.... striking One-Hung-Low pictographs from the Middle Fork of the Salmon:

My larger version:

Friday, November 09, 2012

Check out this very enjoyable little educational video about Constantinople's land defenses. Of course, some of these may still be seen, walked and climbed, in the neighborhood of Istanbul's wonderful Sunday morning pigeon bazaar, among other places.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Self-healing concrete: it uses dormant bacteria that produce limestone on contact with water. Very cool!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Monday, October 29, 2012

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Cache of 140 WWII Spitfires discovered in Burmese jungle: very cool!

... the Spitfires are buried in the original crates with their wings folded back along their bodies, covered in grease and wax paper. Their joints are even tarred and they're expected to be in pristine condition.

Via Adventure Blog.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Shark falls from sky onto golf course
Today's challenge: name a common element uniting Turkish conspiracy politics, a Muslim faith movement, American charter schools, the Poconos, and New Mexico legislative junkets.

The answer: a man named Fethullah Gülen. Claire Berlinski boldly endeavors to make it all comprehensible.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

What a joy to stumble across an amazing, beautiful and utterly useless talent that I've never even heard of: contact juggling!

Via Pithless Thoughts.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Giant elk-shaped geoglyph discovered in the Urals, dating to the 6th-3rd millennium B.C.

Hat tip to Forging the Sampo, who also has some good thoughts and quatations on elk in Finnish folklore and the Kalevala.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Friday, October 12, 2012

For those who, like me, have lost track, here's an update on Kennewick Man. Though I note that the story pointedly avoids discussing the more controversial aspects of the find.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The phrase "shot with a drone in Pakistan" brought something else to mind, but it's nice to see one of the upsides to drone technology: awesome mountaineering footage. I want one!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Photographing light in slow motion: the line in the video which puts it in perspective is that at this time scale, watching a bullet move through that coke bottle would be a year-long movie.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Lists of six most meaningful songs are making the rounds on the Internet, and it makes pretty nice fodder for a neglected blog:

What was the first song you ever bought?

Sigh. Do we have to? I suppose this is meaningful in that it reveals what influences surrounded you at a period of life probably marked by extreme cluelessness and impressionability. My first personal music purchase was The Best of Simon and Garfunkel. Grrrrrr. Could have been much, much worse, I suppose.

What song always gets you dancing?

As any acquaintance will testify, very few powers on earth get me dancing. If I stick to the literal question, the closest answer is probably Balkan music. But if we take it in the sense of a song that consistently rouses the blood, I'll take Tom Russell's Tonight We Ride (with Gallo de Cielo a very close second).

What song takes you back to your childhood?

Bill Staines' Sweet Wyoming Home: we had a cassette dubbed from LP that got a lot of play on long car rides across the west (I may still have it). Plus, I was in fact a child with a sweet Wyoming home. Those early Bill Staines recordings always call up the feeling of bundling up in the shotgun seat (no boosters or such in those more enlightened times), wrapped in a blanket in the cold before dawn, frozen sage, the invisible loom of the Tetons, and off across the basins and ranges as the sun came up. I can't find an online version that's really satisfactory, but this cover by someone named Windy Bill comes the closest for me, despite imperfect sound.

Runner up: Bach's Brandenburg Concertos. They were the hold music on my mother's office phone system for years, and I still have them memorized. Music doesn't get any better than the Brandenburgs, so whoever set up that phone system, I owe you a beer!

What is your perfect love song?

Some possibly apocryphal person said that the three categories of song in existence are "I want a girl," "I love my girl," and "I lost my girl." Sadly, an awful lot of songs classified as love-y fall under categories 1 and 3. But a "perfect" love song really ought to be in the second group. And personally I'd prefer it to be genial rather than overwrought, happily enamored but in it for the long haul. It really doesn't get any better than the ironically titled I Don't Love You Much Do I? with Guy Clark and Emmylou Harris.

Incidentally, this also holds largely true in opera arias and duets, where simple "I love you" music uncomplicated by other matters is unexpectedly rare. But there's always the Pa-pa-pa-pa duet from The Magic Flute.

If we open it up to "lost my girl" numbers, Bucking Horse Moon is a damn fine song.

What song would you want at your funeral?

Let's not screw around here, what I want at my funeral is the Eastern Orthodox funeral service. For bonus tracks, I'll take any resurrectional music from Holy Week and Pascha. I especially like the Lamentations for Holy Friday, though unabbreviated versions that don't omit much of the best stuff are not to be found on the Internet.

Time for an encore. One last song that makes you, you.

I love Eurasian folk music, and there's no sound that captures open expanses, mountains and basins, weather and seasons, longing for travel and love of place, like Tuvan music. Sevek Aldyn-Ool singing kargyraa is a perfect example. I've always been very fond of Eshten Charlyyry Berge (It's Hard to be Parted From a Friend) by Huun Huur Tu as well.

English Civil War reenactor dispenses some Cavalier justice

Monday, August 20, 2012


....two splendid boletes, the consolation prize of a lousy season, in an undisclosed location in northern New Mexico. Nice big ones too! The larger one on the right had some wormy spots but was mostly good, while the one on the left was immaculate.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Operas so far....

We actually went to opening night this year, as it happened to be Mrs. Peculiar's birthday. Tosca was on offer, and it was a decent workmanlike Tosca. The tenor, Brian Jagde, stepped in late in the game after the scheduled performer found himself afoul of New Mexico allergies; he was quite good, if not quite stunning. The same goes for Amanda Echalaz, the soprano. Raymond Aceto was sadly rather underpowered as Scarpia, a disappointment as much of Tosca's appeal is to delight in Scarpia's black villainy. The productions main characteristic was that vertical objects like the church dome and the heights of Castel Sant'Angelo were turned horizontal. I suppose what this achieved was to make the audience disoriented and therefore more willing to suspend disbelief, and to exhort them to contemplate death by falling. But it wasn't really distracting, and aside from a clumsy scene change the whole thing chugged along nicely. We're thinking of going back in standing room for one of the last performances, which will have the estimable Thomas Hampson stepping in as Scarpia.

Last night was The Pearl Fishers by Bizet, which turned out to be an exceedingly silly opera. I've never been a huge fan of Carmen, alas, so I was happy to hear something else from Bizet. It's pretty much a paint-by-numbers grand opera: love triangle; decent, loyal baritone in a bad position; virgin soprano priestess who turns out to be remarkably easy; bass oppressor; and an ardent tenor with the foresight and self-control of an ungulate during the rut.

The famous baritone/tenor duet proved indeed to be the opera's highlight. Bizet apparently knew it too, inasmuch as he later quotes it whenever he wants to evoke some easy poignancy. But there were certainly some other good bits. The tenor had a very nice aria in Act II, the love duet wasn't bad, and there was a good thunderstorm with angry mob. And the end, in which the entire village is burned so the feckless tenor and soprano can escape, was entertainingly amoral. Bizet's orientalist touches were unfortunately pretty weak in this one, and it generally felt like the plot wasn't enough to carry a full-scale opera; it would have done better condensed to a one-act offering in the fashion of Les Indes Galantes*.

The soprano, Nicole Cabell, was excellent and held the evening together, with the added benefit that she looked her part, beautiful and dusky with no suspension of disbelief required. Tenor Eric Cutler also cut a fine figure. Wayne Tigges, the wicked bass, was a bit wasted on the small role; I really wanted to see his character take charge and start dishing it out, but it's not that kind of opera. The set was a rather spare subcontinental temple, complete with stone Buddha foot, but with the odd addition of a giant picture frame. This worked nicely to frame a dumbshow flashback during the big duet, but failed to be very meaningful otherwise.

Lest I sound too negative, it's always worth remembering that the sheer amount of human genius required to compose and stage even a merely adequate opera is staggeringly high. I can't muster much reverence for The Pearl Fishers, but a night of fine singing, an excellent orchestra (always the case in Santa Fe) and melodrama is a pleasure never to be sneezed at. I'm looking forward to some odder offerings in the next couple week: Strauss' Arabella and Rossini's obscurity Maometto Secondo.

* Speaking of which, I regret to say that I don't think we'll be seeing this production at the Santa Fe Opera, adjacent to Tesuque Pueblo, anytime soon:

Monday, August 06, 2012

Teasing a cat* with a laser pointer is patented. Pay up, folks!

* Or "any other animal with a chase instinct"; I guess that encompasses babies.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Music for monsoon season, the latest entry in Forging the Sampo's Finnish Folk Music Fridays, which I highly recommend!

And if we here in New Mexico were Uralic pagans, we'd be all over this rain prayer to Ukko.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

If I had a lava lake handy, I would do this all day long:

(And if you're a little slow, that's a bag of trash, not a person, the YouTube label notwithstanding.)

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Apparently Amanita muscaria, so commonly known as toadstools in the vernacular, are called in parts of Pakistan "snake umbrellas."


Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Monday, May 14, 2012

Friday, May 11, 2012

Possibly the best opening line for a blog post ever:
We’ve spoken before about how awesome medieval bestiary lore is, but I fear I’ve given the impression that it’s all self-castrating beavers and Christ signification. It is both of those things, of course, but there’s so much more!
After which we learn the ways of love as derived from Medieval zoology. Hat tip to Sarah Hoyt, guestblogging at Instapundit.
A brief and petty post: it's time to retire the "Canada has no freedom of speech/First Amendment" nonsense. Here's the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Fundamental freedoms 2. Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms: (a) freedom of conscience and religion; (b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication; (c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and (d) freedom of association.
It's a bit more complex than that, since certain limitations are accepted on these freedoms, but it's absurd to deny the very existence of such a freedom.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Arctic Henge:
The Arctic Henge at Raufarhöfn is under construction. The Henge will harness the Midnight Sun at the Arctic Circle. It is inspired by the mythical world of eddic poem Völuspá (Prophecy of the Seeress). The Henge will be 52m in diameter, containing a Dwarf Path including the names of 72 dwarfs which form a year-circle in which each dwarf has five days. A crystal at the top of an 8-metre-high column will throw light all over the Henge. Each dwarf will have his name and character, and visitors can find their own Birthday Dwarf.
Just because:


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Deleted scenes from The Life of Brian: as usual, it's pretty clear why these didn't make the cut. Nice context for the Suicide Squad, though.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

A very cool graphic depicting wind throughout the continental U.S. (follow the link: it moves). At the time of this writing, there appears to be a sucking gateway to an unspeakable demon dimension somewhere around Shamrock, Texas.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

On Things I did not Know Existed: An epic poem on syphilis. The author was apparently one of the more influential early proponents of the contagion theory of disease. My Latin does not permit me to translate; here you may find some englished excerpts.
Slowly a caries, born amid squalor in the body's shameful parts, became uncontrollable and began to eat the areas on either side and even the sexual organ. Then the symptoms of this defilement betrayed themselves more clearly. For as soon as the clean, kindly light of day had retreated and brought on the melancholy shades of night, and the innate heat, which at night usually makes for the deep internal parts, had abandoned the surface of the body, and no longer nursed the limbs now covered in a thick mass of humors, then the joints, arms, shoulder-blades and calves were tormented by intolerable pains.
It is worth remembering that syphilis dropped off sharply in virulence, kill rate, and agonizing pain after its initial introduction into Europe; previously, it certainly earned its name of the "Great Pox".

Monday, March 19, 2012

It is St. Joseph's day, a good day for eating much and brewing beer. Here's what St. Teresa of Avila had to say of him:
I took for my advocate and lord the glorious Saint Joseph and commended myself earnestly to him; and I found that this my father and lord delivered me both from this trouble and also from other and greater troubles concerning my honor and the loss of my soul, and that he gave me greater blessings than I could ask of him. I do not remember even now that I have ever asked anything of him which he has failed to grant. I am astonished at the great favors which God has bestowed on me through this blessed saint, and at the perils from which He has freed me, both in body and in soul. To other saints the Lord seems to have given grace to succor us in some of our necessities but of this glorious saint my experience is that he succors us in them all and that the Lord wishes to teach us that as He was Himself subject to him on earth (for, being His guardian and being called His father, he could command Him) just so in Heaven He still does all that he asks. This has also been the experience of other persons whom I have advised to commend themselves to him; and even to-day there are many who have great devotion to him through having newly experienced this truth.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Red Deer Cave people: a possible new human species, unearthed in Yunnan Province, China.

Hat tip: Chas.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Apropos of John Bellairs, I didn't realize that Edward Gorey did his illustrations.
This'll really piss off the Greeks!

Turcophile though I am, I can't say this is in the best taste. Plotting papists notwithstanding, they're really stretching to portray the Ottomans as noble underdogs in this fight. But, historical nuance be damned, the giant cannon and the carrying of the ships over the hill to the Golden Horn are events which really deserve to be portrayed on film, and it wasn't likely to happen in any context besides Turkish nationalism (though John Bellairs' Trolley to Yesterday could make a good movie).

They should do the battle of Manzikert next. I'll bet it could be filmed largely on the actual location too: pretty sure it's still nice and empty out there in Muş. And Alp Arslan with his giant mustaches tied behind his head is surely a dream role for some actor.

Hat tip: Byzantine Blog.
I am prepared to believe any conspiracy theory whatsoever that involves the Denver airport.

Via Rod Dreher.

Friday, February 17, 2012

New frontiers in long-distance hiking: a proposed Great Plains Trail. Pretty neat idea, though I imagine securing access and easements would be a long, long process. But I'd certainly check out the New Mexico sections if it ever comes about.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Video of a wooly mammoth in Siberia? Don't I wish! Now that the world is flooded with cheap, user-friendly cameras intended to produce usable pictures even when handled by drunks in bars, mysterious blurry footage is real hard to take seriously.

On a similar note, apparently there's been an uptick of sasquatch sightings in the Chuska Mountains (New Mexico-Arizona border in Navajo country), of all places.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

My kind of poem:
Please Sir, God of Death
Don’t make it my turn today,
not today
There’s fish curry for dinner.

-Bakibab Borkar
Via photographer Rajan Parrikar, who notes that the poem "captured the essence of what it means to be Goan".

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

I can't believe I've lived over three decades unaware of this:
Below the thunders of the upper deep;
Far, far beneath in the abysmal sea,
His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep
The Kraken sleepeth: faintest sunlights flee
About his shadowy sides: above him swell
Huge sponges of millennial growth and height;
And far away into the sickly light,
From many a wondrous grot and secret cell
Unnumbered and enormous polypi
Winnow with giant arms the slumbering green.
There hath he lain for ages and will lie
Battening upon huge sea-worms in his sleep,
Until the latter fire shall heat the deep;
Then once by man and angels to be seen,
In roaring he shall rise and on the surface die.

-Tennyson, The Kraken
Hat tip to Derb (apropos of something very random)
Vermin Supreme for President:

Sunday, January 08, 2012

I'm quite amused by the New Mexican's cover art for the state centennial:

Fragment of an unfinished libretto:
Signori, ascoltate! Credimi, mio ben!
É un vil menzogno, bugiardi son tutti.
Io giuro, credimi, per carità,
Texano non son io!

FRA MARTINEZ (con l'ultimo velen):
Spergiurerai tu stesso davanti a Dio?
La verità io so, ai popoli la proclamo:
Texano voi siete!

Vil traditor!

Al patibolo! Al patibolo!

-from I Carnefici di Taos (Act II finale), dated January 1912, Prawne family archives

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

What distinguishes a really nice map from a generic, mass-produced map? may be the last important paper map ever to depict our country.
True and sad. I will also note that aficionados of clickable, zoomable, interactive maps seem to have a habit of dying a dog's death on backroads of the American West. Cartographic geekery can save your life!