Monday, March 23, 2015

A to Z Theme Reveal

Please, pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.  What's that he's saying?  "You can't do a theme reveal post if you've already revealed your theme over a month ago!"  Shhhh, Wizard.

- - -

Starting next Wednesday, I'll be doing A-to-Z themed posts on the theme of MANIFESTOS.  I've posted my calendar on the right-hand side of the blog.  Since teaching will still be kicking my butt quite regularly between now and May, I've given myself a bit more slack: 3 posts a week instead of 6.  I hope you all stick around after the challenge month is over to see how it all turns out.

Why manifestos?  They're tiny packages filled to the brim with passion, meaning, and truth!  Or at least some interesting person's view of how best to pursue passion, meaning, and truth.  As I mentioned a few posts ago, I'll broaden it out a bit to also include some manifesto-ish songs, poems, essays, and codes of life.  Some are just pure linkbait lists from the centuries before BuzzFeed.  :-)

Other notes:

Although I'm avoiding the manifestos that make me sick to the stomach -- and I've definitely come across some that do -- I'm not going to the opposite extreme of including only the ones that I agree with completely.  I'm trying to not shy away from some that I'm not quite sure how to feel about.  My goal isn't to endorse the content of every single one, of course.  Take from them what you want.

I'm also not an expert in many of the manifestos that I'll discuss.  Some are long-time faves, but others I just learned about in preparing for the challenge.

It's funny how many of them can be classified as being on one side or the other of a particular tug-of-war that's been going on for all of human history. The two sides in that war are:

Be nice to one another
Do your own thing

By exploring my 26 chosen examples, I'm hoping to see new ways that we can reconcile those two clashing impulses... or maybe even come to understand them as not contradictory opposites after all?  We'll see!

Monday, February 16, 2015

Time... to play

As I've been planning out the posts for my April A-Z adventures in the realm of fiery manifestos, I realized that I hadn't found any that are specifically about role-playing games.  There's no shortage of passionate commentary about them -- see, for example, Alexis and JB and Cyclopeatron.  But I've been looking for something that mixes the passion, the old-school spirit, and some decidedly new-school futurism into something that might catch fire as a 21st century gaming manifesto.

I haven't found that yet, but I did just find the seeds of all of those things in a recent, excellent post by Noisms, titled Storytelling and Immersion, or We Are Ahead of the Curve.  Go ahead and read it; it's not long.

The references to Willy Wonka and Blade Runner were fun, but the eye-opening idea for me was that the key to a decades-old goal of web enthusiasts -- i.e., the promised land of hypertext and social 2.0ness and interactivity of every kind -- may have been already been invented back in the 1970s by some wargamers in a basement in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.  Dungeons & Dragons, and all its descendants, found an engaging, fulfilling way to combine "...the very participatory aspect of games with the narrative absorption of storytelling" (to quote the Frank Rose interview that Noisms came across).

I won't get into the details of precisely how D&D-type games "generate" engaging and immersive stories.  Suffice to say that not everyone agrees about how to best accomplish this!  Often times the best stories emerge in ways that the players never imagined they would.  Many game masters attempt to manage the narrative beats of rising and falling tension, only to have their players come away with a wildly different take on the emotional roller-coaster that was played out in real time.

All this makes me also want to think about the possible intersection of RPGs (role playing games) with GBGs (glass bead games); the twin celestial luminaries that I aim to follow with this blog.  I've done much less cross-comparison than I've wanted to... this post is only the 3rd in the history of this blog to use both the RPG & GBG topic labels!  But I'll definitely be thinking more about this in the weeks and months ahead.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Taking the A-to-Z plunge!

I have no idea if it was the smart thing to do, but I did it anyway!

I just signed up for the 2015 Blogging from A to Z challenge.  After doing the challenge in 2012 and 2013 (see post summaries here), I took a break in 2014.  Although I'm starting a new job this year, I also had a moment of inspiration a few months ago that pretty much decided the perfect set of topics to write about...

Thus, this year's theme is an A-to-Z of Fiery Manifestos.

"What?" you're thinking, "Is Cygnus going political?"  Although I'll profile a few manifestos that had specific governmental changes in mind, I'm aiming to cast my net much more broadly.  So I'm also including declarations of principles, iconoclastic essays, some awe-inspiring poems and songs, and other sundry "laws of life" that people have felt strongly about over the years.  Not all manifestos are called manifestos.

It's the passion that's the unifying principle, here.  If a person has had enough insight to compress their pursuit of Meaning and Truth into a short document -- and if they do it with enough red-cheeked verve that it inspires others to get off their duffs and change their lives -- then I'm there.  I've always been a sucker for these things.

Right now, I'm planning on breaking one of the cardinal rules of the A-to-Z game: the calendar.  With everything that I have to do at work between now and April, I think it's best to plan spreading my 26 posts over more than one month.  I'll start on April 1st as always, but my current plan is to do 3 posts a week (Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays), which will have me hitting the letter "Z" around the end of May.  I hope that doesn't break the brains of the good people in charge.  But, well, being a bit of a rebel certainly fits in with my theme!  :-)

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Very Inspiring Blogger Award

Many thanks go out to the Armchair Squid for nominating this little corner of the internet for the Very Inspiring Blogger award.  If you're not reading Squid's insightful thoughts on books, comics, movies, Star Trek, family life, and tennis, then what the heck's wrong with you? by all means go check him out!

Rules!  There are rules, right?
  1. Thank the person who nominated you, and link to their blog.  (Yup!)
  2. Display the award logo.  (These are easy, right?)
  3. Nominate 15 other bloggers (more or less) and provide a link where they may be found.  (Hmm, getting harder...)
  4. Go to their blog, leave a comment to let them know they have been nominated.   (Still harder...)
  5. Mention three things that inspired you the most during the past few weeks.
Oh, let's do that last one next.

First, there's my lovely wife, Mrs. Cygnus.  While the boy and I have been out in our new, Rocky Mountain Way locale for the last few weeks, she has been back on the east coast, getting the old house ready to sell, finishing up her job, and packing up the remaining stuff to be shipped out very soon.  Inspiring doesn't even begin to cover it.  She'll be rejoining us this weekend.

Second.  I'm teaching 30 undergraduates about outer space this semester.  The room I teach in has an old-style chalkboard (those are getting harder to find these days) and the chalk they give us is quite messy and powdery.  After one class of multiple erasings, it's hard to see the cloudy, almost-whitened board.  They don't seem to regularly wash the things, either, so as the week goes on, it gets cloudier and whiter.  It's kind of a running joke in class.

So what did I find last week when I came in to start teaching?  Three of my students up at the board with sponges and a water bucket they must have "borrowed" from some nearby supply closet.  We had a clean blackboard that day, I tell you!

(Was this strictly "inspiring?"  I don't know, but it sure warmed my heart.)

Third, is something that I'm not allowed to talk about yet.  Sorry!

My nominations:

In recent years, the term "blogging" has seen quite a bit of cognitive drift.  Thus, I'm not sure if many of the places I visit online are officially called blogs or not.  Let me just give you a list of links to some of these fun places, and hopefully they'll make your days better.
  • I have no idea what the title Xanthor's Perfect Cromulence means, but it's a Tumblr blog full of retro-awesome science fiction imagery and factoids.
  • I know I've blogged about fellow Glass Bead Game enthusiast Ron Hale-Evans before, but I don't think I've pointed you to his Pinboard page, on which he posts daily lists of URLs that he's found interesting.  I usually discover or learn something interesting whenever I catch up on his linking.
  • In the "definitely not a blog" department, I've been enchanted by a series of stop-motion animation videos on youtube.  Doctor Puppet gives us new adventures (usually wordless, but narrated) of Doctor Who and his companions, in adorable puppet form.  A must-see for those who, um, put their hand in the hand of the man from Gallifrey.
  • Jon Peterson, who runs the blog Playing at the World, is a professional historian of wargames and role-playing games.  He doesn't update the blog often, but each entry is a treasure-strewn dungeon crawl of historical baubles.
  • If you're a fan of humor that is sometimes grotesque, usually NSFW, and often head-scratchingly bizarre, please pay a visit to LiarTown, USA.
  • A lot of people are already reading, a blog about "science, culture, and the world of tomorrow," but I thought I'd give them a plug anyway.
  • Oh, Porky, where art thou?  For purely selfish reasons, I wish this old-school gaming mogul would start blogging more frequently again.  His insights on games, narratives, philosophy, and cosmic weirdness are beyond compare.
Only seven?  Sorry, that's as many as I can think of right now.  Many of these sites I've never commented on, and I'm probably not going to start because of this award.  Still, by all means visit them and show them some love.

Thanks again for the award, Squid!

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Poet Laureate

From the Book of Zimmerman, Chapter 1974:
Then she opened up a book of poems
And handed it to me;
Written by an Italian poet
From the 13th century.
And every one of them words rang true
And glowed like burnin' coal;
Pourin' off of every page
Like it was written in my soul, from me to you,
Tangled up in blue.
Ol' Bob has never really clarified the issue of the identity of that poet.  The interwebz are full of speculation, but I've never had cause to wonder.  See, I've always known -- pretty much with absolute certainty -- that it was Petrarch that he must have been talking about.  (14th century... 13th century... who's counting?)

Why Petrarch?  Simple... his poetry spoke to me, too, through a wormhole that cut right through 6 centuries and 2 languages.  Definitely the same exact effect as Bob's burnin' coal.  I've been as uplifted as Bob's lyrical narrator,

Blessed be the day,
And the month, and the year,
And the season, and the time, and the hour,
And the moment,
And the beautiful country, and the place
Where I was joined
To the two beautiful eyes that have bound me.

I've been as tortured,

I find no peace, and yet I make no war;
and fear, and hope; and burn, and I am ice;
and fly above the sky, and fall to earth,
and clutch at nothing, and embrace the world.

One imprisons me, who neither frees nor jails me,
nor keeps me to herself nor slips the noose;
and Love does not destroy me, and does not loose me,
wishes me not to live, but does not remove my bar.

I see without eyes, and have no tongue, but cry;
and long to perish, yet I beg for aid;
and hold myself in hate, and love another.

I feed on sadness, laughing weep;
death and life displease me equally,
and I am in this state, lady, because of you.

And I've been given wake-up calls similar to those that Petrarch tried to give the dry scholastics of his day...

Suppose that you have learned by heart the deeds
of illustrious heroes throughout the ages.
What good is this if it does not change
the way you live your daily life?

I also was always touched by the wide-eyed zeal with which Petrarch pursued the goal of being the first Italian poet to be crowned with a laurel wreath since the ancient Roman practice fell out of favor centuries before.  The guy had chutzpah... much like this other guy who just appeared on the cover of AARP's magazine!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Alpha-Bytes: Somtow's Inquest Script

It's been well over a year since I've done an Alpha-Bytes post (last one was November 2013, I think).  My initial description was that these posts were a place for me to "...gush geekily about my favorite alphabets, ciphers, and alternate writing systems."

Earlier in 2013, I posted about one of my favorite slipstreamish, sci-fi, alt-hist, weird-lit authors: Somtow Sucharitkul.   I bemoaned that I couldn't find any online examples of the alphabet he created for his "Inquest" series of novels and stories.  Well, if you want something done right...

Ai! Click for bigger versions.
The above comes from the prologue of 1984's Utopia Hunters.  Apologies in advance for cellphone-pic quality, but I'm not able to put them through a proper scanner. The next one is from the same book's epilogue:

I'm not sure if all that weeping and yearning is representative of the rest of the books.  It's been almost 30 years since I've read them, but I might give them another whirl if I end up finding them all.  (These were a recent windfall at $1.48 apiece at a used bookstore in my new town!)

Alas, I don't have a one-to-one list of each glyph's phonetic meaning.  A quick scan of these examples tells me that it might have been meant as a far-future evolution of the Roman alphabet.  There are quite a few quasi--almost--sorta similarities between some symbols and their intended vowels or consonants.  Still, the overall appearance is hauntingly alien.

Somtow's exploration of language went even further in 1985's The Darkling Wind.  We saw these glyphs translated into not one, but two different alternate tongues...

Apologies again, this time for cutting off the rest of the Lowspeech and all of the English translation that spills onto the next page.  Later in the book, Somtow explored a graphical layout reminiscent of the one I transcribed in my post about him, this time laying out the relationships between the godlike beings that dominate his Inquest universe...

I have a vague recollection of seeing a page or two in one of the other novels that gives a full description of the script and its quirky phonetics.  If I see it, I'll update!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Archipelago of Last Years

Well now, it's been a freaky end to a freaky year.  Today was the day the movers delivered (most) of our stuff to our new place in the Rockies.  The word "most" in the last sentence was the source of some of the freakiness, but all is well.

I'm reminded of the Rankin-Bass TV special Rudolph's Shiny New Year.  In that story, once a year ends, its elderly embodiment (who starts out as a Baby New Year) goes into retirement on his or her own private island.  I'm not sure I'd want an everlasting island to commemorate all the drama and stress of my own 2014, but it seems to be leading to somewhere good for my family and me.  So maybe it ought to be cherished, sleepless nights and all.

For this blog, 2014 saw a bit of a slow-down.  There were only 35-ish posts, which is a bit less than half my average of about 80 for each of the previous three years.  Still, I was able to participate in some extremely fun blog-hops, including Squid's Cephalopod Coffeehouse, the nostalgia-filled Then and Now (in which we revisited old faves to see how they held up), and our own Songs of Summer.

I finally managed to work up a full play-by-play example of a "Glass Bead Game."  It was based loosely around Beethoven's 9th symphony, and it used Charles Cameron's fantastically easy-to-grok "Hipbone" format.  Here's a run-down of the 10 moves in that game:
On the fantasy role-playing game front, I didn't get to work much on Homebrew '82, my own fantasy of what this kind of game should be like.  However, I did make some progress in figuring out how I'd run such a game... the making of detailed maps turned out to be not too terrible a task... and I realized that much of the day-to-day world management expected of a Dungeon Master should be outsourced to some very personalized software.

For 2015, the big decision I have in front of me is whether or not to forge ahead with the infamous April A-Z Challenge.  In the previous post, I mused about some ideas for it that came shooting into my brain unbidden last month.  I'll probably wait a bit, to see how drained I get by the first few weeks and months of my new job.  :-)  There's also that fiction piece that's been beckoning to me since Halloween.  Whatever happens, I think it's going to be an exciting 12 months!

Have a Hap-Hap-Happy New Year, everyone!