Friday, December 28, 2018

Holiday Roundup

Ever since my new job started in 2015, this blog has definitely taken a back seat.  I'd like to try to reverse that a bit, and maybe by posting a quick list of highlights (from 2018) and wishes (for 2019), I can kick things into gear.  Anyway...


1. A few months ago, I was hugely flattered and humbled to receive blog comments from one of my favorite authors.  The wonders of the internet...


2. This year, an old classmate of mine from 5th & 6th grade (roughly ages 10-12 for non-US readers) joined Facebook, and we spent a few weeks over the summer reminiscing over the groovy late 1970s.  Digging into old boxes from that time revealed something else that I had forgotten:  As a kid, I once wrote to sci-fi author Arthur C. Clarke, and he wrote back!  It was just a form letter, but he added a few flourishes at the top and bottom...

For the life of me, I don't know why I didn't remember this when I wrote this post.

By the way, I'm not sure what the "P.T.O." at the top meant.  Clarke's letter came from his home in Ceylon... now Sri Lanka... so, maybe "Pacific Theater of Operations?"  Doesn't sound right.  "Please turn over?"  I think the sheets were typed on one side only.  Any ideas?


3. This blog has gone into some oddball territory, but I'm not sure if I've ever talked much about my love of coins.  I never really amassed a huge collection, but I've always liked the history, symbolism, and lore.  I also have had a sweet spot for the pre-decimal coinage of Britain... you know, pounds, shillings, pence, farthings, and so on.  At two different times this year, I took a deep dive and constructed some interesting graphical images.  First, some nice visual examples of the classic types, with their amounts laid out clearly:

Next, after finding an auction catalog of weights of silver coins -- listed by monarch from the Dark Ages to the 20th century -- it was interesting to tabulate and plot how British silver money has been "debased" over time... i.e., how the amount of silver needed to make up one "pound sterling" got smaller over the centuries.  Here's the data:

Click on any of these to enlarge

Note the gradual drift downward from 1400 to the late 1600s... until Isaac Newton came in (as master of the mint!) around 1700 to bring together perception and reality!  There's also a mini-history of metal-working technology in this plot, too.  The spread of weights gets narrower over time, as mass production became more accurate.


4. What do the following songs have in common?

The Who's Baba O'Riley, Slade's Run Runaway, BTO's You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet, and Rush's The Necromancer (final part: "Return of the Prince").

I'll attempt to hide the answer on your screen... just highlight the text to see it:

The majestic I-V-IV-[V]-I chord progression!  (That second [V] in square brackets is optional; just lengthen the IV if it's missing.)  I don't know why, but that particular progression does it for me every time.  Finding quasi-universal patterns like this is a fun side-quest in my search for a playable Glass Bead Game....


1. Believe it or not, I'm still working on a piece of short fiction that I first got excited about in 2014.  The first draft is about halfway done, and I've gotten some feedback on that half from the best writer I know.  I've got my fingers crossed that I'll grab enough time to finish it this year.

2. Yes, I'm also continuing to add notes to my corpus (corpi?) of thoughts about: (a) the Glass Bead Game, and (b) my own D&D retro-clone Homebrew '82.   Low low priority these days, but still going.

3. I've been slowly working my way through the 33 short stories in Dangerous Visions, the ground-breaking book edited by the late Harlan Ellison and published the year I was born.  This anthology exemplified the "New Wave" of the time, and it was only this year -- after collecting Harlan's works for the past few decades -- that I found a copy at a used bookstore.  As I read each one, I'm writing spoiler-free mini-reviews, and ranking the stories into 3 groups (skip, okay, wow).  I'll publish them on the blog when I'm through the whole thing.

4. I'm kinda sorta still doing tumblr, even after the controversial purge of NSFW content earlier this month, but I'm mainly just collating and reblogging stuff I find cool.  I'll occasionally scan images from old comics or magazines that I haven't found online, or maybe post some of my numismatic musings (see above), but I'm not a super-user by any means.

I hope everyone who got to the bottom of this post has an awesome 2019!

Friday, December 14, 2018

A little nonsense now and then... relished by the wisest men!

And this man had no idea that Willy Wonka's defense of snozzberries comes from a longer poem, simply titled "Ode," by one Arthur O'Shaughnessy:
We are the music-makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers
And sitting by desolate streams;
World losers and world forsakers,
On whom the pale moon gleams:
Yet we are the movers and shakers
Of the world for ever, it seems.
With wonderful deathless ditties
We build up the world’s great cities.
And out of a fabulous story
We fashion an empire’s glory:
One man with a dream, at pleasure,
Shall go forth and conquer a crown;
And three with a new song’s measure
Can trample an empire down.
We, in the ages lying
In the buried past of the earth,
Built Nineveh with our sighing,
And Babel itself with our mirth;
And o’erthrew them with prophesying
To the old of the new world’s worth;
For each age is a dream that is dying,
Or one that is coming to birth. 
I'll be pondering this one for a while.
[I hope to have some other blog updates coming soon...]

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