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!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Other News: Abby Normal Edition

Okay, just a couple of other updates, mostly in the "life is weird" department.

Despite my crazy situation regarding moving (or maybe because of it), last weekend I was the victim of a two-hour frenzy in which I conceived of an absolutely awesome theme for a month of A-to-Z themed posts... and I managed to fill all 26 slots with cool, alphabetically appropriate topics.

When I used the word "victim" above, I was serious: it came upon me like a tidal wave, to quote Mr. Loaf.  Not completely out of nowhere, since the ideas did build on some other thoughts I've been having.  Still, it was stupefying to see it all coalesce so quickly.  To quote another pop culture icon,

But now, the question.

Should I do it?

I took a break from the April A-Z challenge this year after doing it in 2012 and 2013.  It takes time and energy, for sure.  Some writers may see the word "challenge" and chuckle in comparison to their daily output.  It's apt for me, though -- especially for the new year, in which I'll be dealing with a new job and a new home.  But... but... I'm tempted to give myself something more or less familiar to do, so it's not all newness on every front.

No firm decision yet, but I'll be meditating on it.

The other thing isn't quite news, but it's fun to report on being enchanted by something shiny, out there in the weary world.  Random car-radio dial spinning found me at Emerson College's radio station (which you can listen to online).  I forgot how invigorating and electrifying college radio can be.  This station uses the word "discover" in their logo, and yes, you bet, I'm discovering a lot.  In just a single 24 hour period, for example, I managed to be swept away by...
  • Al Green's soaring original version of Take Me To The River... I had no idea that the Talking Heads version was a remake.
  • Yaz's Only You.  Celestial tintinnabulations that I don't think I've heard before.
  • An all-Hebrew, a-cappella version of Under the Sea from The Little Mermaid.  Youtube doesn't seem to have the exact version that I heard, but there are several others!  Much more fun than it had any right to be.  The word "sardine" remained untranslated.  :-)
- - -

Edit (Dec. 2, 2014):  One more very cool song just discovered on WERS... The House, by Air Traffic Controller.  Don't let anyone say you can't tell a powerful little story in a couple of verses and a chorus.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Round-trip Roundup

In Harlan Ellison's Eidolons, there is an ultra-short story within a story (maybe just 500 words) that begins:
"I awoke at three in the morning, bored out of sleep by dreams of such paralyzing mediocrity that I could not lie there and suffer my own breathing."
The remainder of that paragraph-long piece tells how the protagonist's boredom was "cured" by an unimaginable sequence of horrible calamities.  The piece ends with the only possible reflection:
"Somehow, the universe always provides."
Well, for me, the universe is providing.  :-)  No horrible calamities as yet (fingers crossed), but getting ready to move across country is making for some big-time disruptions that my goodly wife and I haven't experienced since our 20s.  I got home yesterday from a quick trip to sign an apartment lease.  Finding a place that's okay with our four felines was stressful, but luckily the in-person part was completed in just one day.  A red-eye flight got me home before a big snowstorm hit the Rockies.

But!  The chaos of packing has unearthed some interesting artifacts.  I found the colorful plastic name-tag from my first job: picking up garbage at a Six Flags theme park.  (No image to post, but just think of the "pieces of flair" from Office Space.)  I found a copy of the Norse myth play that I wrote at the age of nine.

A more recent layer of strata revealed the robot costume that we made for my son when he was 5 or 6...

A bit of garage mold necessitated a ceremonial disposal, but not before fully documenting the find, like good archaeologists.  :-)

There were also a few things that connect with the history of this blog...

Yup, this was pretty much a true story.  Below is the most surprising find...

...which completes the documentation of the Alphabet of Neptune that I previously revealed to the world.  The above symbol, by the way, is the "Interplanetary Peace Sign."  Nice.  If there's interest, I could conceivably post a translation of the whole booklet.

There hasn't been much time for writing fiction, but on the plane I added quite a bit to the copious notes and outline for the story that I talked about last time.  My characters now have names.  :-)

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Murphy's Law: Halloween edition

Holy frijoles, I can't believe it's been a month to the day since I last posted.  Getting our house packed up for our upcoming move has taken up nearly all of my free time... and we still don't know precisely where we'll be hanging out the "Cygnus Family" shingle come January.

I got the urge to post because, wouldn't'cha know it, fate picks now for the following.  No more than 36 hours ago, I got the first glimmer of an idea to write a story -- part sci-fi, part sci-fact, part semi-autobio.  I've done short form fiction on the blog before (urp), but with emphasis on the short.  This thing is likely to end up being longer than a typical blog post; it may also blow past the canonical 7,500 word boundary between "short story" and "novelette."

I've already amassed something like 2,000 words on the outline alone.  It won't let me alone.

Ah, we'll see if this momentum continues.  But now, to commemorate the impending night of the rending of the veil between worlds, let me just point you to another story, this one completely wordless, that I think captures the heart of the All Hallows season nicely.  With cute kitties!  :-)

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Songs of Autumn?

A few months ago, some of us hosted a blog-hop called The Songs of Summer, in which we waxed nostalgic about a handful of favorite hot-weather songs.  I originally thought of this as a way to share virtual "mix-tapes," but we ended up not using that particular phrase because it may have excluded bloggers too young to know about that particular piece of DIY-cassette history.

But, last weekend, as we've been starting to pack up our belongings for a big cross-country move, lookie what I found...

What could be in that dusty feaux-leather case?  What do you know... a combination of store-bought cassettes and mixy mixes.  (You can spot those from their dot-matrix-printed labels.)

Please click on all these images to make them (slightly more?) legible.
I hope my phone did a decent enough job in rendering these crackled gems.  The above was side one of the case; here's side two:

Too many memories to list them all here.  When I was first getting into Canadian prog-gods Rush, I made the era-spanning tape called "Tempus Fugit," but later it got mothballed as I eventually bought every one of their albums (on CD... but that's a later geologic era).

There are a few that I'm a little afraid to listen to.  The hand-scrawled tape titled "Scrambled Eggs" contains an impromptu collection of sound effects, clips, and recordings of myself & friends doing strange things in a college dorm room.  Were we actually funny?  Like I said, afraid to know for sure.  There's also a mix-tape of love songs from an ex ("A Shade of Music"), but don't flip it over to hear what I assembled after the breakup ("Heart of Darkness").  :-)

I tried to give my artistic side some room to play in making the tape covers.  It's amazing the things you can do with Steve Jobs' original 128K brick...

WBVR was the unofficial name of the collection of music and stereo equipment of a set of 4 engineering & physics students (well, I was the only physicist).  The name comes from the Beave, whom I've mentioned before.  His 45's were the core of the collection.

If you look closely at the Monkees' Greatest Hits (cobbled together from whatever we had... no relation to an actual greatest hits album), you'll see the rainbow logo of Six Flags Great Adventure, which the four of us visited on the emblazoned date to see the Monkees play, along with Herman's Hermits, the Grass Roots, and some other 60s wonders.

I thought I'd give you a look at one song list, this from the tape labeled "Carpe Diem."  (Gosh, I wonder what movie we'd just seen when I came up with that name?)  I always popped this one into the walkman when I needed a bit of an optimistic lift...

...though I can't for the life of me remember why I thought of "American Pie" as an appropriate inclusion for an optimistic, seize-the-day-ish mix tape.  :-)

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Less Than Favorably Reviewed

A few months ago, the indomitable Suze posted a review of a well-enjoyed movie about which the critics were less than glowing.  It spurred in my mind the idea to take this on as a theme.  Naturally, there have been plenty of times when the erudite balcony-sitters have been out of step with popular opinion, but what happens when both the critics and the public are arm-in-arm in agreement against an army of one:  me?!

(I also admit to almost forgetting about this idea until the site posted something similar a week or so ago... a virtual confessional for admitting unpopular geek likes & dislikes.  So, thanks io9!)

I've got a set of micro-reviews of 6 films that hold a special place for me, but maybe not for many others:  3 movies that everyone seems to love to hate... 1 television mini-series that's thought to be a crap sandwich compared to the novel that inspired it... and 2 well-regarded movies that are often lost in the shadows of even more popular & acclaimed "siblings."

First, there's the 1996 blockbuster Twister.  Yes, it's a cliche-filled summer action movie... but it also features the red-blooded pursuit of scientific data.  Having been released the year I defended my PhD, it definitely holds a special place in my heart.  The film made lots of money during its release, but its embrace of crazy spectacle often leads people nowadays to treat it like a bit of a punching bag.  That's too bad, I say.  The lead actors (Carol the Waitress and Private Hudson) did an okay job, but the real soul of the movie was the motley crew of sidekick researchers, including Cameron from Ferris Bueller and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman.  I'll make a detour for Aunt Meg's steak and eggs any day.

Hawk the Slayer was a low-budget fantasy movie from 1980 that capitalized on the rise in popularity of Dungeons & Dragons.  Most peoples' memories of the film tend to focus on either Jack Palance's egregious scene chewing, or on the Tolkien-esque adventuring party: a Spock-like elf, a wise-cracking dwarf, a bald giant (well, "slightly taller than average dude")... i.e., pretty much the randomly rolled PCs one would get from 3d6 in order.  I haven't seen this movie in probably 20 years, but I can't imagine that re-watching would change my nostalgic "so bad it's good" opinion.  Lots of others just delete the "it's good" part.  :-)

Eddie and the Cruisers (1983) seemed to want to be a bunch of things at once.  Is it a decade-spanning murder mystery?  A tragic story of regret and lost love? A meditation on how intense creativity (replete with shout-outs to Rimbaud) is corrupted by success?  Or was it just a vehicle for an up-and-coming band who got to do an entire soundtrack?  The critics seemed to think "none of the above," but this one always pulls me into its gravitational pull when I come across it.

I first encountered Stephen King's "It" when its miniseries version aired in 1990.  I went on to read the 1000+ page novel it was based on, and was kind of put off by the latter.  The author is a master, of course, but I actually liked how many plot elements were streamlined to make a workable film.  (The less said about the book's "ritual of Chud" the better.)  I also really liked many of the performances... especially John Ritter and Annette O'Toole as Ben and Beverly, and of course Tim Curry in a career-cementing role as Pennywise.  But despite the all-star cast, I have a feeling the critics and King fans overwhelmingly prefer the book.

Hmm, I notice that one common element in all four above movies is that the protagonists are all parts of a diverse and fun-loving "rag-tag team."  Maybe all of them -- not just Hawk the Slayer -- would make for good tabletop RPG adventures!

Next, the two well-regarded movies that I'm in the minority for thinking that they outshine the other more famous output of their cinematic auteurs...

Bogey and Bacall were legendary (as were Bogey and Bergman).  But you can keep your Casablancas, your Big Sleeps and Have Nots.  I've seen them all, but I've got to maintain that the real gem is 1948's Key Largo.  It's just so much psychologically deeper and more interesting than those others.  Maybe it's that this one had an engaging bad guy (Edward G. Robinson's infinitely quotable Johnny Rocco) that was a worthy opponent to Bogart's stoic war vet Frank McCloud.  The romance angle with Lauren Bacall was a bit secondary to the plot, but it was still quite sweet.

The Coen brothers are known best these days for a series of Oscar-nominated classics.  Everyone loves Fargo, The Big Lebowski, O Brother Where Art Thou, No Country for Old Men, and so on.  But pride of place, to me, goes to 1987's Raising Arizona.  It soars, this movie; it soars.  It's got tons of clever lines, twisted humor even in the set design and lighting, and Nicolas Cage's most out of control hair.  It's also got acres of heart, combined with a slightly ambiguous ending that calls back to the Molly Bloom soliloquy at the end of Joyce's Ulysses.  Okay, then.

- - - - - - -

FYI, I originally wrote a bit more to list a few opposite cases to the above: movies around which everyone seems to link arms and sing Kumbaya, but I can't stand.  But I deleted that noise... the world doesn't need more negativity.  Just go treat yourself to one of the 6 imperfectly perfect gems listed up above, and I'll be happy.

Friday, September 12, 2014


Holy crap, has it been more than a month since my last post?  If I searched, I could probably find myself saying "life has been crazy" about a dozen times over the life of this blog... but this hiatus has been living proof.

Hmm, where to pick up the golden thread?  In the last post, I teased about something Star Trek themed that I found at a New Jersey flea market.  They were 'zines!

I have a soft spot for these typewritten, photostatted, fan-produced gems. They were the forerunner to today's fan fiction forums, and they highlighted the true love that fans can muster for their favorite imagined worlds.  The two zines that I found were from the "movie era" -- specifically, the 2nd issue of More Missions, More Myths (1985) and the stand-alone story The Honorable Sacrifice (1981).  They're probably not in any way valuable or collectible... but this was the first time I've seen any Star Trek fanzine "out in the wild."  For $2.50 a pop, how could I go wrong?  :-)

I regret to say that I still haven't been able to start reading these stories, but I'll post if I have insights.  On first glance, I wasn't surprised to see Spock as the primary focus of most stories, but McCoy was much more a major player, throughout, than I thought he'd be.

- - - - -

Just about any "other news" I can think of to report seems to revolve around the Doctor...
  • We're only a few episodes into Peter Capaldi's run as the 12th Doctor.  So far, I don't think my prediction for him to be all empathic, intuitive, and Cancerian is holding up too well, but we'll see how the season progresses.  Still, Cancers are supposed to have major sweet-tooths, and we saw this Doctor noshing on something creamy and delicious early in the latest episode.  Good thing he kept his utensil with him...
  • I was surprised to see 10th Doctor David Tennant rambling about his love for the almost-forgotten 1980s band The Housemartins in this clip.  (It's labeled a "deleted scene," but it was actually in the episode... just playing silently in the background while he's riffing.)  But, to the point: the Housemartins rock!
  • My son, just starting his second year of middle school, recently completed a Language Arts assignment to write a multi-paragraph story.  He brought home his writing, and I was proud as all get-out to see a developing story about how River Song hid a secret message in the Declaration of Independence, to lure the Doctor to come back to 1776 and fight off a Dalek invasion at Independence Hall.  He even had Amy Pond saying "Oi!"  :-)
Anyway, I hope to be able to post a bit more frequently as the fall goes on.  Allons-y!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

New Jersey pictorama

A trip to the Jersey shore isn't complete without a visit to the beach.

But of course some of the Garden State's weirder attractions deserve some homage, too.

 (I learned more from the dinosaur artist's wikipedia page than I ever learned living a quarter of a mile from him for decades.  I have no idea what's up with that Tin Man, but Jersey's certainly got heart...)

I also was glad to show my son the school where I went to kindergarten through 4th grade...

and to go digging for treasure at the local swap meet,

However, we had just as much fun rooting around my parents' musty attic...

and checking out the local flora and fauna.


A heavenly good time.

FYI, that flea market contained what I think is a pretty rare find... at least in my geeky universe... and I'm planning another post to talk more about it.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Project Rockfish

Much of the history of this blog has been about my getting re-acquainted with old-school role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons.  I still haven't gotten back into the groove with an in-person group, but I haven't ruled it out.  If I do decide to take the reigns and perform as the world-building "Dungeon Master," there's one aspect of it in which I've decided to go decidedly new-school...

I'll need a computer at the table.

This may be sacrilegious to some, for whom anything beyond "paper, pencils, dice, and the imagination" is no-go territory.  I'm happy to stick with low-tech for a lot of it, but in order to weave a world worthy of capturing the attention of players, I'll need to have a spare brain on call.

So with apologies to the non-D&D-types out there, I'd like to use this post to archive my current ideas for what I'd consider the ideal set of software tools to have at the gaming table.

The name for this project, up in the title to this post, came to me upon hearing of the sad passing of actor James Garner, who played a character that inhabited the kind of world -- i.e., never boring, always on the cusp of adventure, yet grounded in flavorful verisimilitude -- that I'm trying to help build with these tools.  (If you don't know the appellation "Rockfish," go find some episodes guest-starring Isaac Hayes as Jim's old pal Gandy...)

Jim was using a new-school answering machine in 1974!
RPG insiders will quickly see that the following outline contains tools for building a "sandbox" type world.  This probably all could be done with dice and lookup tables, but the sheer number of random numbers needed makes it ideal for a computer.

- - - - - - -

(1) Weather

For each new day in the campaign world, I'll click a button and it will tell me the following day's
  • high & low temperature
  • times of sunrise & sunset (for me only); approximate durations of light & dark times (for the characters, who don't have wristwatches) 
  • moon phase, & times of moonrise & moonset
There will be a pulldown menu for me to choose the current terrain type (forest, mountain, desert, etc.), which will influence the
  • precipitation amount & type
  • clouds (probably only 4 discrete types: clear / partly / overcast / fog)
  • wind (4 types, too?  calm / light breeze / brisk wind / gale-force)
The program should be smart enough to rule out crazy combinations (snow in the desert) but still contain small chances for weird & interesting phenomena (thundersnow, will o' the wisps).  From all of the above, the program will also display customized charts for
  • character movement rates,
  • visibility distances, and
  • chances of getting lost while exploring outdoors.
- - - - - - - 

(2) Random generation of micro-locale details

This is only for when the players are entering a "new" (previously unexplored) region that I hadn't yet mapped out in detail.  If they've been here before, it will still be the same.

For a new wilderness hex, I'll have a handful of input options that specify its overall terrain type, and whether there are any major features (like coastlines or big rivers) in it.  Then it will generate a set of random landmarks, small waterways, paths, hills, animal dens, and so on.  (Definitely will be inspired by Alexis' work, here.)  These are keyed to the terrain type (e.g., a desert hex may have an oasis; a mountain hex may have a bubbling geothermal vent).  Some weird things -- graveyards? kooky hermits in huts? -- may crop up nearly anywhere.

For a new village, town, or city, it will generate some rough guidelines about the
  • population
  • overall spatial layout
  • main products produced by them
  • quirks about their traditions (governmental? religious? other?)
  • notable NPC resident(s)
  • yes/no answers to common player questions about specific types of shops or industry that are there or not (e.g., blacksmiths)
- - - - - - -

(3) NPC generation mini-module

If a new NPC (non-player character) is called for, there will be a screen that I can refresh to get a description of a random person's
  • basics: gender, age, name
  • place of origin
  • profession, station in society, and/or experience level
  • 1 or 2 distinguishing physical features (height, hair color, weight, clothing)
  • notable personality traits
  • major items they're carrying (money, food)
  • rumors they may convey to PCs
- - - - - - - 

(4) Random Events

This is the heart & soul of the program... but I've blogged before about what I'd want this to look like.  In short, it kind of unifies several other existing ideas in role-playing games, including
  • wandering monsters
  • random NPC encounters
  • location-based "shenanigans" (thinkin' of you, Jeff)
  • town/city rumors
  • adventure hooks/quests
  • things that seem like adventure hooks/quests, but aren't  :-)
- - - - - - -

  • I know I'm reinventing the wheel, but I've got to do it my own weird way.  I've already been scouring the internet for random tables that can be used to feed this behemoth.  As I build it, I'll keep a good honest log about where the ideas came from, in case I ever decide to make the code public.
  • In practice, I plan to override these random results from time to time, because there are some specific events and NPCs that I want to make sure the players encounter, at specific times.  I'll try my best not to turn these into opportunities for excessive railroading, or quantum-ogre-ism, or Mary-Sue-ism.  :-)

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Songs of Summer

Here we go!  This is my entry in the Songs of Summer bloghop, hosted by the Armchair Squid, Suze, and yours truly.  (I'm posting early, but not as early as Yaz Pistachio did...)  The goal is for each of the participants to post about 5 of their favorite summer songs, so between us we can swizzle up an awesome mixtape of tunes to carry us through the fall and winter.

I wonder if summer memories tend to overlap strongly with coming-of-age (high school?) memories.  I could have filled this list, and several more, with songs from just a couple of pivotal years.  You'll see those years represented below, no doubt, but I did try to stretch a bit both backward and forward in time from the days of Bueller and Spicoli.  :-)

1. Under the Boardwalk, by the Drifters.

I grew up just 20 minutes from the Jersey shore, so for me the idea of "summer songs" pretty much requires something that gets sand in your shoes.  It took me a while to figure out which sunny, beachy song would help me get this theme out of my system.  I could've chosen anything by the Beach Boys, of course.  Springsteen's Jersey Girl hits close to home, but the lyrical protagonist is kind of a jerk. The Ramones' cover of California Sun is awesome, but I only discovered it a few years ago.  Nah, I've got to go with this 1964 classic.  It's never gone out of style.  This is the prototype, the patriarch, the Ur-beach-song, for me.

2. Magic, by the Cars.

Okay, now let's jump into history.  It's June 1984.  Junior year of high school is ending, and little do I know that this will be the summer that changes everything for me.  More on that in a bit.  All I know in June is that some strange things are going down.  My best friend -- who normally was as straight-laced and nerdy as me -- was rebelling against the system and about to go to summer school for his transgressions (speaking truth to power, I still say).  I'd just had my first "real" kiss, after the Junior Prom, and was about to start working my first "real" summer job.  Life was feeling pretty topsy-turvy.  So, when I saw Ric Ocasek walking on water, crooning about how summer turns him upside down... and is like a merry go round... I knew I had my theme song for the coming months.

Twisted, under sideways, down.

3. Rock Lobster, by the B-52's.

Ah, but did I really know what life had in store?  Not quite.  Fast forward to August 1984.  I left my summer job early because I got into a three-week program for future scientists at a local college.  Even my nerdy, D&D-playing friends joked that I was nuts to voluntarily go to anything resembling schoooooool during the summer.

Suffice to say, going away to that program was a defining moment in my life.  For one thing, it helped me discern what I could, should, and would do, career-wise.  That was huge, but it wasn't the most important thing.  It put me in a dorm with 99 other kids who, more or less, were just like me.  Have you had this experience?  The realization that "These are my people," which feels both like a weight being lifted, and like an urge to close your eyes, fall backwards, and crowdsurf?  Down, down, down...

At a weekend dance party, one of these 99 fellow weirdos put on this weird record by a weird band I'd never heard of before, and whose crustacean-ish song I still don't claim to understand.  To this day, though, it brings me back to that time.

4. Your Love, by the Outfield.

I went on to my senior year of high school a changed Cygnus, and graduated in 1985.  Then came college in the fall, which found ways to keep blowing open my doors of perception even beyond what I've mentioned already.  New friends, new things to learn.  And I also had Philadelphia as a playground -- a big city to explore with those new friends.  In early 1986, we got the spring fever bad, and started making firm summer plans probably around March.  I earned some of my worst grades in college in that spring semester, but our many walking trips to the museums... parks... bookstores... oh, anything and everything... of Philly were worth cutting class for.

This silly pop song by a British one-hit wonder band was peaking along with our wanderlust, and I remember sitting back in the dorm room, playing it over and over on vinyl 45 with my two best college friends.  That song (whose lyrics, for some reason, I never cared to think one whit about) cemented those friendships and helped build us into the adults we wanted to be.

5. Nightswimming, by R.E.M.

I'm not sure if I have a coherent story about this one.  It was released in 1993, and I most associate it with a trip I took to a conference in Quebec in 1996.  Ten years after that Philly spring, I was a graduate student about to defend my PhD thesis and (finally!) go out into the real working world.  This trip was to a drop-dead gorgeous lakeside resort (Lac a la Truite, St-Michel-des-Saints), and we swam and kayaked on that lake in between talking science in the conference rooms.  It's still one of the only times when I've stood with my colleagues under a sparkling night sky and talked about life, love, and stellar astrophysics.  I don't know... something about this song just meshes with that moment.

Remembering that night
September's coming soon
I'm pining for the moon
And what if there were two
Side by side in orbit
Around the fairest sun?
That bright, tight forever drum
Could not describe

It's been interesting... and a bit scary... to use music to go deep into autobiography, here.  Apologies if I've blathered too much about peak experiences.  There were of course lows to match the highs, but summer isn't the time to focus on them.

Now, go (blog) hop around to see the other participants, good people!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Ceád Mile Fáilte

A couple of interesting news items today.

First, I've noticed that the total view count odometer for Servitor Ludi has just "turned over" at 100,000.  This number is small potatoes for a three-and-a-half year old blog, but I'm proud nevertheless.  Thanks so much to all readers past and present.

Second, I ought to announce that in January 2015, my family and I will be moving.  I've gotten a new job in Colorado, and it looks like our stretch of roughly 18 years in New England are just about over.  That pretty much matches the only other span of time I've spent in one place -- birth to age 18, in New Jersey.  (To quote Archie Bunker, "Nobody wants to live there, but someone has to!")

Does English have a word that simultaneously means "excited," "optimistic," and "nervous" -- with a hint of "scared out of our wits" thrown in for good measure?  Well, let's call it kltpzyxm.  We're quite kltpzyxm about this next step.  :-)

Post title:  Irish for "a hundred thousand welcomes."

Friday, June 27, 2014


So, have you ever been bored in a meeting or lecture, and found yourself doodling randomly on a piece of scrap paper?  Here's how to turn that scribbling into a suuuper mystical act of prophetic fortune telling.

This post is a microwave-quick introduction to the ancient art of geomancy, which in the middle ages was often considered the "down-to-earth" counterpart to traditional pie-in-the-sky, head-in-the-clouds astrology.  It's been written about since at least the 11th century, but it's lesser known these days than many of its magical cousins (e.g., Tarot cards, rolling bones, I Ching, and so on).

Artist unknown; img yoinked from here
There's a traditional system for doing this that you can find on plenty of web sites, but I'll give you the bite-sized version.  It's summer, after all -- you've got stuff to do.  So here's the deal:  take out your pencil and paper, and sit at the ready, thinking about your future.  Try to zone out, or trance out, just a bit, so that when you do the next step, you won't be tempted to count along.

The next step is to start making a row of dots with your pencil.  That's all.  Once you've done a few dozen, just stop when you feel it's right to stop.  Like I said, don't count along!  You're following in the footsteps of desert mystics who poked similar dots in the shifting sands of the Sahara.

Now, take a breath or two, then repeat the above three more times.  You'll end up with four rows, each with essentially a random number of dots.  (This act of poking your pencil is called "squilling" by the official geomancers, by the way.)

Okay, now you can count up the dots in each row.  Does the first row contain an even or odd number of dots?  An odd number can be shortened to just one dot.  An even number is shortened to two dots.  Do this for all four rows, and you'll be able to construct a symbol that looks something like this:

The traditional system would have you repeat this process several more times, then permutate and recombine these things like little strands of mutating DNA.  But let's just be satisfied with one symbol for now.  Feel free to dig deeper if you like.  (And yes, there's an app for this, too.)

There are 16 possibilities for these "geomantic figures" -- or sigils, or geomes, or hexadecagrams -- occultists love inventing words.  I've combed the ancient texts and extracted what I thought were the most artful and poetic interpretations of them, and assembled them into this here meme-worthy infographic...

Be warned that there are some not-so-nice possible outcomes.  You'll see "sadness" and "loss" in the above list, but that's life.  Sometimes we need to lose to know how to win, as the great man says.  You'll also see, from the bottom two symbols in the list, that J. K. Rowling must have perused this list at some time in the past, too...  :-)

Hmm, I feel I should keep going with the disclaimers.  Let me just quote an old Usenet colleague, who once ended a similar kind of post with:
Nobody believes what I say, not even me. The above is a joke for all legal, moral, or ethical purposes, and is not meant to be ingested.  Yeah, right.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

New Blogfest: Songs of Summer

Ah, summer.  Sunny mornings full of possibility, lazy poolside afternoons, and rockin' nights lit by tiki torches.  What songs bring back the sunscreen and beach-sand to you?  What songs defined your one perfect summer, be it decades ago or just getting started with today's solstice?

Welcome to the Songs of Summer bloghop, hosted by the Armchair Squid, Cygnus, and Suze.  On Friday, July 11, 2014, please join us by posting 5 of your favorite summer songs, and sharing some memories about them.  Maybe between us, we can build the perfect soundtrack to accompany us over the next few months.  If possible, include links so we can hear these gems.  And, if you're in the southern hemisphere, join us to dance those winter blues away!

Please sign up to the link list on the site of our friendly neighborhood cephalopod, then post on July 11.

See you there!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Then and Now Blogfest... goes Down Below

Today's the day!  Well, right now it's the night before the day, but I feel getting a jump on it.  In any case, it's time for Then and Now, a blogfest hosted by the Armchair Squid, Nicki Elson, Suze, and Nancy Mock.   The idea is to celebrate some things (like movies) that were important to us in our younger days, and to revisit them and see whether they've aged as gracefully as we have.  :-)

I already spilled the beans that I would be re-watching the 1987-1989 TV show Beauty and the Beast.  I ended up watching 11 out of the 22 episodes of the show's first season.  I'm not sure if my thoughts will gel into one continuous narrative, but let me just start typing and see how far down the rabbit hole -- or New York City subway tunnel -- I go.

First, I was pleasantly surprised to see a name in the credits that many people will recognize.  Although the show was created by Ron Koslow, a major force behind it was fantasy writer George R. R. Martin (now infamous for his long & convoluted beard Game of Thrones).  He wrote many of the best episodes, and produced nearly all of them.  Although I'm not into GoT, I can see him starting to develop the ear for moral ambiguities, idealistic crusades, and heartbreaking plot twists for which he's now well known.

On the surface the show is a love story, even if it's based only loosely on the original fairy tale.  The trope that recurs again and again, though, is how romance can be the conduit to discovering one's highest and truest ideals.  Maybe one can never live up to those ideals with 100% fidelity, but just knowing they're there is a steadying influence in a chaotic world.  Even the other people who are around Vincent and Catherine's love are energized, vivified by its power.

I'm probably apt to underplay the twists and turns of the love story itself.  I must say that, other than the obligatory action-adventure plots (straight out of Knight Rider, Starsky & Hutch, and cousins) the love story is the most hackneyed part of the show.  Let me just copy and paste some thoughts from my notes, with no editing:
Ha!  As characters, Vincent & Catherine are such children!  so over-wrought...   (writing attempts to be fairy-tale-ish; is often treacly)  Back then, I was wannabe Byronic, too.
The "such children" line would have shocked the hell out of 20-year-old Cygnus, let me tell you.  I looked up -- way up -- to that love story, and probably idealized it far too literally.

The other major aspect of the show was the utopian community Down Below the streets of New York, created by tragic figures "Father" and "Paracelsus" in the 1950s.  Out of the unfairness of the world above came an attempt to build a more just and loving society.  It looked like they had roughly 100 people in those secret caverns and chambers, and they were aided by selfless "helpers" up above.  The scenes down below are by far my favorites, and the warm ambience, cluttered bookshelves, and soft background clanging of pipes (which they use for Morse code communication) paints a serene picture of paradise to me.

Paradise doesn't come without costs, of course.  There's the danger of their world being discovered.  Some denizens are probably on the wrong side of the law, even if they've been redeemed by the depths.  There's also the issue of Vincent, the mutated (?) lion-beast-man with the soul of a poet.  He was discovered on the steps of St. Vincent's hospital as a baby, and was raised lovingly by Father down below.  If the sunlit world got a hold of him, one can only imagine terrible fates ranging from John Merrick's sideshow to E.T.'s hazmat-suited goons.  Each night-time journey up to Catherine's balcony comes with a universe of peril.

Throughout the first season, the stakes kept getting raised.  I'll admit that my comment about the leads being "such children" comes from the earliest episodes, when it seemed like too much too fast.  But they grew into their sturm und drang.  After a while, good people started dying.  Vincent found a worthy adversary in the Nietzschean Paracelsus.  Catherine found it ever-more psychologically draining to simultaneously be a good district attorney and keep all these secrets -- including the most life-affirming and transformative love she'd ever experienced -- from the other people in her life.

As I hinted in my earlier post, it didn't last.  At least they didn't maintain an ever-static status quo, to keep the series going.  Oh, George.  Your Red Wedding is nothing to me, after the events of the cliffhanger between seasons 2 and 3.  I didn't re-watch these.  I'm not sure I ever want to.

Strangely, my mind kept thinking about the long term.   Wondering how much of the self-imposed secretiveness of the world below was because of the need to protect Vincent.  What would happen decades into the future, after Vincent's passing?  I kept thinking about how some of the youngest people down there -- inventive Mouse, bold Jamie, impetuous Kipper -- could someday lead their community back up into the sunlight.

Maybe they would have kept Vincent and Catherine's love in their hearts, even after all those years.  The ones rejected by society, who found redemption down below, could then help energize, vivify, and redeem the rest of us.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Unexpected (Cartographic) Gift

A few posts ago, I brought up the fictional "Avalon Lost" setting that I've been pondering for the Homebrew '82 role-playing game rules variant.  I've been rolling that little pocket universe around in my head lately (for more, see posts numbered 13-18 in the long list here).  Being a very visual thinker, I've been wanting to be able to set down more about where things are happening, so of course that brings us back into the world of maps!  :-)

Also being probably too anal retentive about details, I realized that I wanted a way to plot out a map at an arbitrary zoom level.  Kind of like if I had Google Maps of Camelot and environs for my alternate-history year 560 AD.

As I was searching for the data that might let me do this, and starting to get depressed about how much work it would be, I discovered something exceedingly cool.  The program that I use pretty much every day for making scientific graphs and plots also happens to be used by a lot of geologists and geographers.  Turns out, they bundled some accurate world coastline and river data into the standard-issue version of the code.  Every day for the last 20 years, I've been logging into a system that can do what I wanted!

So... after writing about a page of code... I got this...

Clicketh if thou likest spam a lot
...which has a few problems, but overall ain't too shabby.  The PDF I made this from can be zoomed-in to something like 1-mile resolution.

So, if I ever finish volume 1 of Homebrew '82 (the generic rules for players), and also manage to churn out volume 2 (tips & tools for GMs), I now have something that would serve as the backbone of a super-duper set of maps for volume 3 (the setting guide for the "Avalon Lost" world).

Easy peasy!

(Above: sarcasm alert... there's soooo much going on in life right now, so I'll probably mark the time in decades before getting all that stuff done.  Still, I'm grateful to have an outlet to think & post about stuff like this that's disconnected from the "real world.")

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Then and Now: Beauty and the Beast

In anticipation of the blogfest being hosted next month by the Armchair Squid, Nicki Elson, Suze, and Nancy Mock, I'm here to celebrate something that was hugely important to me when I was younger, and to reflect on whether I see it differently now.  Because of the dual nature of this exercise, I'm splitting up my contribution into two posts.  In this one, I'll spill my reminiscences about something I haven't watched since it first aired a quarter century ago.  Then I plan to re-watch a lot of it over the next couple of weeks, and then (on the blogfest day of June 13) I'll let y'all know whether I'm looking through rose-colored glasses or not.

Our kind hosts are thinking mainly about movies.  However, as I scanned through my DVDs and old VHS tapes, one old TV show kept clamoring for attention...

The series "Beauty and the Beast" ran from 1987 to 1989 -- two stellar seasons with the main leads, followed by a half-season that many fans want to forget.  By all accounts, it was a supremely geeky show.  Any discussion I have about it must be covered in labels reading "You had to be there" from top to bottom.

The tragic romance angle was prominent -- Ron Perlman's heroic lion-man "Vincent" pined for Linda Hamilton's suave district attorney "Catherine."  She loved him, too, but she had to juggle her life in the sunlit world of New York City with Vincent's hidden "world below."  (Not in the sewers... below them. They made it look very cozy.)  It was courtly love to the extreme. Vincent alternated between reading poetry to Catherine and rushing to her rescue when she would inevitably get into trouble.  Its twist on the fairy tale was that the "Beast" never turned back into a handsome prince, so the lovers could never really be together.

As a 20-to-22 year old poetry-writing college kid, I do admit that the romance angle appealed to me.  I would have given everything I had for a love so pure and complete.  But I think my fascination with the show came more from the utopian "world below" populated by Vincent and his secretive compatriots.  The people down there had more than a whiff of magic and mysticism about them.  It was a tight-knit family of individualistic misfits, some of whom escaped the upper world into the tunnels, and others who were born there.  Catherine became one of many "Helpers" who aided them and kept the existence of their world a secret.

Above I mentioned a third half-season that fans want to forget.  Suffice to say that the tragic romance of the first two seasons became even more tragic in the resolution of the second season's final cliffhanger.  (Linda Hamilton probably had to leave to start lifting weights for Terminator 2...)  I stopped watching out of protest after it looked like they were bringing in another love interest for Vincent.  Still, for several years after I kept kind of a light on inside for that fictional universe.  It was something special.

I've got the first season on DVD, and I've identified approximately 10 episodes that I'd like to re-watch.  On June 13, I'll let you know what modern-day Cygnus thinks of it!  :-)

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Don't ask me why

Argh... I really don't intend to let the blog sit for weeks at a spell.  Last month I groused about not having enough time, and I suppose that's still true.  But I think I'm also in the middle of a blogger's block of sorts... nothing much seems to solidify as the subject of an interesting enough post.  Still, it does me good to "core dump" my thoughts here every so often, even if there's no über-significant theme to it...
  • I'm planning on posting something fun to the Then and Now blog-fest on June 13, hosted by a quartet of awesome people.  The idea is to spotlight a movie that was a part of your life when you were young, but now which adulthood lets us view through a different lens.  There are so many movies to choose from, and I still don't know which one will rise to the top.
  • This fall, the TV networks seem to be planning not one, but two new shows about 1960s astronauts and the space race.  I don't think either one looks particularly great, but this news made me recall my plans to design a space-race themed game.  I'll probably be digging into those outlines and drafts to see what can be done with them.
  • The comments in Squid's post about the Star Trek episode Journey to Babel took a left turn into discussion of colors and synaesthesia -- the unconscious mixing up of sensory stimuli.  Although I've never experienced it directly (i.e., tasted the color blue, or heard the smell of roses), I have always associated specific colors with the 26 letters of the alphabet and the 10 digits.  These were set in stone in my brain at a very young age, and they haven't changed at all over the decades.  They've been helpful in memorizing names and dates, I think.  I also once attempted to render these mental colors in bits and bytes.  I'll post them here, and if anyone can use them to divine any truisms or secrets about my inner mental workings, I'd love to know... :-)

  • The title of this post was inspired by the song that's been going through my head for the past few days.  (Hmm, much more about Cygnus' gray matter in this post than I anticipated.)  Actually, the more I thought about the lyrics, the less sense they made.  Oh well, you can't go wrong with the Piano Man...
All your life you had to stand in line
Still you're standing on your feet
All your choices made you change your mind
Now your calendar's complete
Don't wait for answers
Just take your chances
Don't ask me why

Monday, April 28, 2014

The Ode to Joy Game, Completed

It's done, folks.  I started this game by placing pieces of music in the middle and bottom spots on the Hipbone board, so let's go with another song for the top spot.  In the tenth and final circle I place John Lennon's 1970 song "God."

(I've got to thank Michelle, who suggested adding Lennon to the board in the very first post of this game!)

If you've never heard this particular song before, go have a listen before reading the rest.  Lennon wrote it just after the breakup of the Beatles, and he was trying to convey (among other things) that an era has really and truly ended.  Sadness runs through it, for sure...

God is a concept
By which we measure our pain
I'll say it again
God is a concept
By which we measure our pain

...but there's also some clarity of thought that one may not have associated with Lennon at this crazy time of rapid change.  He takes a left turn into listing some of the "idols" that he's discovered he can no longer believe in.

I don't believe in magic
I don't believe in I Ching
I don't believe in Bible
I don't believe in Tarot
I don't believe in Mantra
I don't believe in Gita
I don't believe in Yoga
I don't believe in Kings

Then it gets more personal.  I remember the first time I heard this next part, decades ago, on the radio while driving by myself.  I almost had to pull over.

I don't believe in Elvis
I don't believe in Zimmerman
I don't believe in Beatles
I just believe in me
Yoko and me
That's reality

I suppose this was controversial when it was released -- possibly of the same flavor as his earlier "We're more famous than Jesus" statement.  However, I say he's just following 1 John 4:8 here.  If you take "God is love" to its logical conclusion, then one's communion with the divine must be filtered through the direct experience of love.  John was thinking specifically about romantic love, which for him in 1970 was all new and sparkly, trumping and coloring just about everything else.  But I think that there are other kinds of love that can serve in this rapturous capacity -- fans of "boom de yada" have got to know what I'm talking about.

Okay, I won't belabor it with more words.  Links, can't forget the links...

The connection to Beethoven's Ode to Joy is clear, right?  Would you be surprised if the personified goddess "Freude" in Schiller's lyrics was really called Aphrodite?

The connection to psychoactive ergot fungus.  Well, I don't have a list of the substances that inspired Mr. Lucy in the Sky in his late 60s songwriting, but those albums ended up being mystical initiations for millions.

The connection to the Queen of the Night?  If you're thinking of Mozart's villainess, I don't know if I have a good link -- other than how Yoko was characterized by angry fans, maybe!  However, the Queen's amorous joys were conveyed by Aleister Crowley's own version: Nuit, the goddess of Infinite Space.  On a fateful day in 1904, he heard her tell him that "Love is the Law" of a new era of mankind that was just dawning.

Even though there's no direct link to Aerosmith's "Dream On" (in the bottom spot), there's symmetry here, in that Lennon ends the song with words as wistful as Steven Tyler's...

I was the Walrus
But now I'm John
And so dear friends
You'll just have to carry on
The dream is over

I don't think he meant that to be a downer, since he was filled with hope at getting to be "just John" for a while.  Of course, I wish he got to have more time for that next phase of his life than he ended up getting.  But all the evidence points to those next 10 years as being filled with lots and lots of joy.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Cephalopod Coffeehouse: Zamyatin's We

Wow -- I think it's been half a year since I've been able to participate in the Armchair Squid's wonderful gathering of online book lovers.  A few weeks ago I happened upon Yevgeny Zamyatin's 1921 short novel "We."  I thought I knew the landscape of bleak 20th century dystopias pretty well... Orwell, Huxley, Rand... later Bradbury, Vonnegut, Burgess, and a host of movie-makers.  I didn't know about Zamyatin, who was the granddaddy of them all.  (Turns out that Orwell and the rest knew about him, though!)  The manuscript of "We" was smuggled out of the young Soviet Union and translated into English many years before it would ever see publication in its native language.

Readers of Nineteen Eighty-Four and Fahrenheit 451 -- and fans of Logan's Run and Brazil -- won't be surprised by the broad-brush outlines of the plot.  Mathematician D-503 (no names here) is living in the perfect collectivist world, and is happily working towards humanity's greatest achievement: a huge rocket called the Integral that will bring mankind's well-ordered lifestyle to the stars.  Archaic concepts like freedom and individuality were bred out of humanity thousands of years ago.  But what happens when he meets I-330, an alluring woman who has some frustratingly outdated ideas about life?  And why does he start seeing the word "MEPHI" scrawled in graffiti on the walls of his perfect city?

I had to pause quite a few times to marvel that "We" was written in the late 19-teens, long before so many of these sci-fi tropes were set in stone.  Zamyatin's protagonist is writing a day-by-day account of his life to be stored aboard the Integral and be read by the surely primitive beings on other worlds.  The alienness of his society is conveyed by the fact that most adjectives (and other descriptions of what D-503 sees around him) don't contain cultural references, but instead refer to Kandinskian abstractions like pure colors, geometrical shapes, and mathematical concepts.  In stark contrast to all this rationality is the ever-present diary format, which is meant to be raw and unedited.  Often there are sentences that just trail off with no resolution, allowing the imagination to....

Many cautionary future tales suffer from the weakness of being too heavy-handed -- so much so that you can't quite picture how anyone let it happen, or how anyone manages to carry on living day after day.  But Zamyatin conveys some of its appeal.  The people aren't the hypnotized drones you might expect.  Most of them live engaged, stress-free lives in a world in which they are living out their purpose.  I've got to say that I was a bit hypnotized by the ordered bliss at times!  Of course, every few pages the protagonist would contrast his perfect world with the ancient, barbaric chaos of liberty, and the reader is immediately reminded of what's coming.  Maybe I'm just a sucker for mathematically ordered music:
"Crystal chromatic degrees converging and diverging in infinite sequences and the summarizing chords of Taylor and Maclaurin formulae with a gait like Pythagorean pant-legs, so whole-toned and quadrilateral-heavy; the melancholy melodies of diminishing oscillations; pauses producing bright rhythms according to Frauenhofer lines, the spectral analysis of planets... What magnificence!  What unwavering predictability!  And how pitiful that whimsical music of the Ancients, delimited by nothing except wild fantasy..."
It kind of reminds me of Hermann Hesse's futuristic realm of Castalia in The Glass Bead Game -- i.e., inhabitants living a sparkling inner mental life, while being surrounded by social conditions that we'd find stifling and unacceptable.

Although there are some parts of the novel that drag on a bit, there are some truly original insights and ideas.  I won't spoil the ending, but I can say that, in a way, it's more intriguing than the endings of all the dystopian books and movies I mentioned above.  I'm glad I found this novel, and I highly recommend it as an alternative if you're considering dipping back into Orwell or Huxley yet again.

"We" have assumed control.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Ode to Joy Game: Move 9

It's been long enough since my last post in this series that I should probably give a quick recap.  This is an extended Glass Bead Game in which an initially blank set of interconnected spaces is gradually "filled in," each with an idea that can be expressed graphically...

...but also can be talked about in words (here's discussion on moves 1-3; here's move 4, then move 5, then 6 and 7, then the 8th one).  The fun of this exercise is in making sure that the spaces connected by lines correspond to ideas that can be "linked" to one another, too.  This particular game is being played using Charles Cameron's Hipbone board, which has 10 spaces in a pattern the occultishly-minded among you may recognize.  As you can see, we're getting close to the end now.

My 9th, penultimate move is to place Ergot Fungus into the most upper-right space.

I hear you all saying "Ergot what now?"  Bear with me.

Ergot is a fungus that grows mainly on rye, barley, and wheat plants.  Thus, it's been a problem for farmers ever since Neolithic people started settling down in agricultural communities.  (My image for it above is really just an icon for wheat... it's hard to find a picture of ergot itself that doesn't make you want to go take a shower.)

But here's the thing: if you ingest some grain products that were infested with ergot, you can experience a huge range of symptoms.  In large doses, it's disgustingly poisonous.  In medium doses, there's nausea, seizures, and manic delirium.  In smaller doses, it acts as a psychedelic hallucinogen.  Ergot poisoning was called "St. Anthony's Fire" in the Middle Ages, and it's been blamed for the "bewitched" behavior that set off the Salem witch trials.

It's also rumored that some kind of ergot drug was given to the initiates of the ancient Greek Eleusinian Mysteries. 

I could go on for several posts about the Greek mystery cults... I just think they were the coolest thing ever.  (I once got an article published about one of them in a "real" book, but that's a story for another time.)  In Eleusis, people were initiated into secret rites over a continuous period of almost 2000 years.  They kept their secrets so well that we still don't know a lot of what went on there.  We do have some snippets:  There was a mystery play involving Hades' abduction of Persephone, and the goddess Demeter's long search for her daughter.  The initiates fasted, listened to songs and speeches, and finally were shown sacred objects that conveyed the deepest mystical truths.  We know what one of them was:  "an ear of corn, in silence reaped."

These snippets have been speculated upon for centuries.  One reasonable idea is that Persephone's annual travels -- going down to Hades for part of the year, returning to the upper world in spring -- symbolizes the annual cycle of agriculture. (John Barleycorn, anyone?)  It was certainly a big deal for mankind to harness this particular aspect of the natural world, and seeing the spring come around again can certainly engender a feeling of awe.  You know what tomorrow is.

The suggestion that initiates had their mystical experience served up with some psychoactive ergot kind of suggests the Eleusinian hierophants were the original Merry Pranksters.  Those going in search of a direct experience of the divine have often made use of dangerous substances... and dangerous practices.  Putting the substances aside, it's always seemed to me that the rituals of mysticism and magic are, to an extent, a deliberate means of driving oneself crazy.  Mysticism: through the depriving of the brain of its usual worldly inputs.  Magic: through the overloading of the brain with too many inputs.

Anyway, there's a lot more I could talk about, but I'll leave it there.  I haven't had any of these direct experiences, but it is kind of comforting to know they're "out there" firming up a wider world than our usual everyday consciousness sees.  Here's a fascinating scholarly blog that discusses all this stuff in more depth.

Lastly, here are the links to the other connected ideas on the game board:  To the Olympic Spirit below, there's the fact that both the mystery cults and the original ancient Games were both religious festivals that tell us a lot about the Hellenic pagan world.  To the Queen of the Night to the left, we know that this character from Mozart's Magic Flute was the chief priestess of a kind of pagan cult of sorts, and the hero Tamino is put through some psychedelic initiations of his own.  To Beethoven's Ode to Joy in the central spot... well, let me just copy and paste a bit of the etymology of the word ecstasy:
ecstasy (n.) 
late 14c., "in a frenzy or stupor, fearful, excited," from Old French estaise "ecstasy, rapture," from Late Latin extasis, from Greek ekstasis "entrancement, astonishment; any displacement," in New Testament "a trance," from existanai "displace, put out of place," also "drive out of one's mind"
I'm out of my mind with excitement for the final move in the game.  I'm not sure I'll get to it prior to Friday's planned post as a part of Squid's Cephalopod Coffeehouse, but we'll see.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Slouching towards Spring

Sigh... there are still piles of snow here and there, refusing to leave.  It kind of mimics my own internal sluggishness regarding the blog these days.  The rest of life occupies roughly 25 hours a day, leaving little negative space for this here enclave of ludology.

Nevertheless, I'd like to make time for a miscellaneous update, if only to peek my own head up above the waves, like a periscope, to get my bearings.
  • Last week, my family and I finished watching the single season of Space: Above and Beyond, a phenomenally well-written 1995-1996 sci-fi TV series that should have gone on longer.  We've now just started in with the Eccleston season of Doctor Who.
  • I'm so not a computer game person, but for a couple weeks I've been mildly addicted to 2048, an popular browser-based abstract puzzle game.  I haven't yet beat it (current high score: 20,980), but I'm balmed to know that there's SCIENCE behind why it's so addictive.
  • I've had my final two moves in the "Ode To Joy Game" (see the most recent post) planned for at least a month -- with game-board images already "in the can" -- but I haven't been able to get the text of the posts written yet.  Hopefully soon.
  • Although I had an awesome time doing the April A-Z challenge in 2012 and 2013, I didn't manage to think of a good enough theme this year, so I'm taking a break.
  • Okay, was anyone else as upset as I was about last week's series finale of the sitcom How I Met Your Mother?  I don't think I've mentioned here that this was one of the only weekly sitcoms that I watched pretty regularly.  Its ending was well-written, kind of shocking, and will surely continue to be divisive amongst fans.  I'll link to a (spoiler-filled) article or two that reflect some of my own feelings about it, and just leave it at... poor Tracy McConnell!
  • It's been a while since I've done any work on my Homebrew '82 role-playing game rules variant, or on the associated "Avalon Lost" campaign setting (scroll down to posts 13-18 here).  However, a few days ago I did get, all in a flash, a mindwarping idea for the final adventure in the Avalon Lost universe.  I might write it up for the blog, as long as I remember (if I ever start DMing in the future) not to tell my players that this blog exists.  :-)
  • Later this week comes April 8, 9, and 10, three special holidays in Aleister Crowley's new religious tradition of Thelema.  It's the 110th anniversary of the writing of the Book of the Law.  In recent years I've fallen out with my own tradition of reading the three chapters on their associated days, but I'm planning to make time for it this year.
That's all for now, friends.  More soon.