Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Second star to the right...

Should I start a category of posts for "tropes that get me every time?"  For some reason, this well-known line from Peter Pan provides instant feels.

There's something ineffable -- especially to this person who's thought a lot about the equations that govern the physics of the stars -- about setting such a whimsical course into the boundless, impossible ether.

Weirdly, I don't think J. M. Barrie ever wrote the line the way everyone quotes it.  When I searched through the text of his original plays, all I could find is

"Second to the right, and straight on till morning."

Peter gave this as his address, and I'm sure the star was implied.  I just can't find direct mention of anyone saying "second star" prior to the Disney movie.  Did the star get added somewhere on the stage during the decades between 1904 (first production of the play) and 1953 (the movie)?

The line crops up in the strangest places.  At the end of the movie Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, Captain Kirk seems to set a course for Neverland...

I guess nobody on the Enterprise cared too much that the original "undiscovered country" (in Hamlet's original "To be or not to be" speech) was actually a reference to death.  Still, Captain Kirk was known for flouting no-win scenarios...

Another place where I hear echoes of this line are in the lyrics of Bruce Springsteen.  First, in 1973's Blinded by the Light,
Well, I jumped up, turned around,
Spit in the air, fell on the ground,
Asked him which was the way back home.
He said, "Take a right at the light,
Keep goin' straight until night,
And then, boys, you're on your own."
Not an exact quote, mind you, but I see it hiding in there.  Then he followed it up, later that same year, with Rosalita (Come Out Tonight),
Well, hold on tight, stay up all night,
Cause Rosie, I'm comin' on strong.
By the time we meet in the morning light,
I will hold you in my arms.
Maybe that's even a more distant echo of the original.  Am I hearing it whenever people rhyme "night" with "light?"  I don't know, but two years later, Bruce explicitly takes on the role of Pan himself in Born to Run, in which he addresses his girl by her true name,
Wendy let me in, I want to be your friend,
I want to guard your dreams and visions.
You know the rest, and you know the name of that place those tramps go, where they can walk in the sun.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Give me Star Trek (Cygnus version)

Six months... probably the longest the blog has gone without an update.  I really want to be posting here most often, but life is busy.

A week or two ago, I saw an interesting Star Trek related meme by someone named Skye Gray (but it's hard to pin down its true origin).  I thought it really got to the hopeful heart of the franchise.  However, Discovery wasn't represented -- meaning it was probably made prior to 2017 -- and there were a few pieces of the puzzle that I didn't quite think were optimized.  Thus, I made my own version... 

Click for dreadnaught-sized

Trek fans may find aspects to complain about (Pine and not Shatner? Broccoli for Courage?) but I stand by my choices.  Share if you like, and live long & prosper.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Tumbling into New Media

The blog's been a bit quiet lately... not so much because of lack of things to say, but mostly just work & life doing their thing.  I am mulling over long-term plans for the 2018 April A-Z Challenge.  If it happens, some fraction of it will be a serialization of the story that I started writing about 3 years ago and haven't talked about much since.

Focusing on the here and now, I've also (impulsively) decided to give tumblr a try.  "Another blog?" you may say, "You can't even keep up with one, dude!"  Well, the tumblr format is a little more "micro" than what I'm used to around here.  For some reason, I associate this blog with archiving my long-form deep thoughts.  Many ideas come and go because they can't be expanded into something that I think is servitorludi-worthy.  Tumblr is also more about quick reblogs and memes.  Those can still be deep and impactful, but there's less of a mental cover-charge (at least for me).  Thus, let me introduce My Own Weird Way...

Before anybody asks...
  1. Yes, the title is based on a line in the song Santa Monica by Everclear.  I'm not a rabid fan of theirs or anything (though I always loved that the lead singer was a guest actor on "Ned's Declassified"); I just always kind of liked that line.
  2. The header image is the Cygnus Loop (duh), with overlaid hexgrid and Star Fleet Battles counters, just for kicks.
So although I may occasionally do tumblr things about the main topics of this blog (Glass Bead Games & Role Playing Games), I'm planning on being much more free-range with my fannish & esoteric interests.

In other words, I have no idea what will show up there, but it's going to be fun & interesting!

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Bright lights, big geekery

For those times when a fully thought-out post is too much for each topical tidbit, there's the "five things make a post" post!

1. My family and I were lucky enough to be within driving distance of the Great American Eclipse on Monday, so we went on the moonshadow quest.  We didn't spend our precious 2 minutes and 25 seconds taking crappy cellphone pics, since we knew the professionals were out in force.  Here's an example from someone from NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center:

If you can wait a bit, you should check out what Dr. Miloslav Druckmüller (arguably the best eclipse photographer in the world) will have to show for his trip to the States this week.  It may be another month or two before he posts his results, but trust me, they'll be worth the wait.

Should I join the thousands of others who are having trouble putting their experience of totality into words?  It was my first one, and I can honestly say it was a hugely different experience than looking at pictures online.  Truly remarkable.

= = = = =

2. I'd been getting out of the habit of reading novels lately, so a few weeks ago I decided to catch up on a reputed sci-fi classic.  I devoured Dan Simmons' Hyperion (and its second half, The Fall of Hyperion), and came out of it pleasantly enchanted by his vision of humanity in the year 2852.  I liked the "Canterbury Tales" framing vibe of the first book, and how he broke out of it in the second.  After hearing that a TV miniseries may be in the works, it got me thinking about a "dream cast" of actors who could portray Simmons' memorable characters.  I'm planning on reviving my YouTube channel and creating a slideshow video to illustrate those choices.  Fun!

= = = = =

3. A little more than a month ago, I was also fascinated by a serialized story posted online, titled "17776: What football will look like in the future."  I'm not a football fan, but this story was about much more than the gridiron.  If you want your mind blown, I won't say another word.  Just click on that link and don't be prepared to come up for air for a while.

= = = = =

4. The internet has allowed many of us to indulge in nostalgia in lots of different ways.  I forget how I came across it, but I found a description of a series of children's encyclopedia books that my Dad had when he was little.  The Vintage How and Why Library was published in the 1930s and 1940s, and I got to read them when I was a kid in the 1970s.

Nothing substantial to say, other than the most memorable bit being the Art Deco style renderings of majestic gods and men.  Also, don't let anyone tell you that elves with those swept-back ears were an invention of 1990s video games!  :-)

= = = = =

5. Speaking of the 1990s, here's some more nostalgia:

Version: 3.12
GS d !s a+ C++ U+(-) !P L+ E--- W++ N++ o-- K w !O M V
!PS !PE Y+ PGP t+ 5+++ X+ R+++ tv+ b+ !DI D--- G e++++
h---- r+++ y++++

The above is my carefully constructed Geek Code, which is supposed to help others size me up in a single glance.  (I'll pass over the well-trodden irony that this gives the once-excluded the tools to become the excluders.  In practice, I think nearly everyone who used this code used it to find kindred spirits.)

I've (kinda sorta) wanted to make this for almost a quarter of a century, but I never did it back in the day.  The above string of identifying marks is brand new, but it's weird that the definition of the code hasn't been updated a long time -- so long that its home page has expired and the above link goes to a saved page at the Internet Archive!  Although most of the items are true for 2017-Cygnus, I did have to scratch my head a bit to recall my fine-grained ideological stances on the VMS operating system, Kibo, and the X-Files.  :-)  On a few of these things, I had to punt.  I used the exclamation point (!) to mean either "this thing is so foreign to me that I have no idea" or "it's just none of anybody's bidness."

Monday, August 7, 2017


“The truth, the human experience of magic -- our ancestral, animistic awareness of the world as alive and expressive -- was never really lost. Our senses simply shifted their animistic participation from the depths of the surrounding landscape toward the letters written on pages and, today, on screens. Only thus could the letters begin to come alive and to speak. As a Zuni elder focuses her eyes upon a cactus and abruptly hears the cactus begin to speak, so we focus our eyes upon these printed marks and immediately hear voices. We hear spoken words, witness strange scenes or visions, even experience other lives. As nonhuman animals, plants, and even 'inanimate' rivers once spoke to our oral ancestors, so the ostensibly 'inert' letters on the page now speak to us! This is a form of animism that we take for granted, but it is animism nonetheless -- as mysterious as a talking stone.”

- - -  David Abram, The Spell of the Sensuous

Wednesday, May 24, 2017


The family and I finally saw Interstellar (2014) a few days ago.  I'm sure this bit is probably the part that gave rise to the most negative hits in the reviews ("oh, great hard sci-fi, great special effects, but what was thaaat?").
Too short a clip to be a spoiler, I suppose.

Forget those reviewers.  Best part of the movie, I say.  Or, rather, I said?  Those specific ideas have been rattling around in my head for the past few years, is what I'm saying.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Mathematical Rebirth

It's been a busy spring, but I want to be sure to post to the blog when there's something I'm excited about.  Given that this something has to do with games, spirituality, and math... I think it counts.

When I was 12 or 13 years old, I became obsessed with a little book in my school's library.  Rebirth: The Tibetan Game of Liberation described a strange cousin of "Chutes and Ladders."  Seemingly originating in the 13th century, this was a game of 104 squares that essentially led you from hell (at low numbers) to heaven (at the top).  You started out near the middle, at square #24, and you rolled dice to determine where you go next.  You can go up or down, of course.  Each square has its own unique set of rules for where the dice take you next.  You can get stuck in some squares for a long time.  The closer you get to Nirvana at the top, the less of a chance you have for going back through the nasty stuff at the bottom...

"Playing" this game is supposed to be a meditative exercise that gets you thinking about your karma, and about how all the ups & downs of life are just transitory distractions from the important things -- well, the important things if you're a Buddhist, anyway.  :-)

I've never been a Buddhist, but I was obsessed with this thing as a kid.  Along with D&D's systematized lists of gods and outer planes, I suppose I was eager to find some mathematical rigor in the often woo-woo world of spirituality.  I copied out the board onto a large piece of cardboard.  I still have it, 40 years later.  Here's a piece...

A few days ago I got to thinking about this game again, and I looked up some details online.  For the fun of it (shut up), I wrote a computer program to simulate the square-by-square rules and was thus able to run thousands of random games.  It was cool to learn that the most probable number of "turns" was about 93.  The shortest possible game I think runs about 18 turns, and the longest ones that my computer churned through were about 430 turns in duration.  Oh, the wheel of karma can sometimes be cruel.

I was also curious about how the game tended to progress from the lower to the higher levels, so I made a graph of 200 random games, with time normalized such that the longer and shorter games all are squeezed into the same start-to-finish range:

I find it interesting that there's such a tight cluster of activity in the lower realms (below about square #26) in the first third of the game, then the probabilities spread out to nearly everywhere.  Once you're about two thirds of the way done, though, you rapidly converge on the higher nirvanas and make increasingly steady progress to full enlightenment.

I also found an article by someone named Jonathan Doner, which proposed that the overall concept of this game could be "reskinned" straightforwardly to other spiritual traditions.  (I'm so doing that.)  The article goes on to talk about how playing the game could be a useful means of general education for an enlightened citizenry -- a possible path to the ancient Greek concept of paideia, perhaps.  For sure, it reminds me of the lofty sacramental goals of my own little slice of nirvana: the Glass Bead Game.  We'll see where this leads....