Artifacts and Transmogrification: Guardian Druid and Holy Priest

Legion, the latest World of Warcraft expansion, has a new feature: artifacts. Instead of replacing your weapons with more powerful weapons as you level up, you get an artifact weapon that increases in power as you play. Artifacts put a new wrinkle in the transmogrification game.

(Quick primer for those of you not playing World of Warcraft: as you play the game, your character acquires new gear—weapons and armor—which make your character more effective. They also appear on your character’s model in the game. Transmogrification is a system that lets you change the appearance of your character’s gear so you can make your character look how you want.)

The artifacts all have brand-new, unique models and its clear that a lot of time and design effort went into them. In some cases, the results are beautiful. In other cases, not so much. Some are real works of art, but they may not fit your character’s aesthetic. I find I react very differently to artifacts on different characters.

My guardian druid, for example, doesn’t like her new fist weapons, not one little bit. On the left below is what her gear looks like in its natural state. Her artifacts are now transmogrified to a pair of colorful, jewel-like weapons and I’ve built the rest of her set around their colors.


My holy priest, on the other hand, loves his new staff. His previous set, on the left, was based on dusty reds and bronzes. With his new artifact staff on the right, he’s totally getting his blue on.


I’ve got lots more characters in different specs with different styles still to level up and get transmogged. I’ll drop some more pictures when I get there. Are you using the artifacts? Transmogging over them? Transmogging in response to them? Share your thoughts.

Of Dice and Dragons is an occasional feature about games and gaming.

For Writers of Dull Titles of Best of Books Lists

The other day I saw yet another recommended books article with a headline of the type:

  • [number] Books You Must Read
  • [number] Books Every [persontype] Should Read

Ah hah hah hah haa. No. So much no. A non-descriptive headline isn’t an attraction, it’s a turnoff.

Writing a header like that, enthusiastic as it’s probably supposed to be, just comes across as lazy, narrow-minded, lazy, self-centered, and lazy marketing-speak.

Flickr Mundo Resink Frustration Detail

It makes me think that your interests, oh dear random person on the Internet, aren’t even in the same galaxy as mine. Worse off, it sounds like you don’t care enough about your job to throw in even one modifier, not one, to narrow down the audience for your list.

There are no books you get to flat-out tell me I must or should read. For one, you’re not the boss of me. You don’t get to dictate my choices. For another, you’re not the arbiter of universal taste. What you promote is not and cannot ever be a must of anything for the rest of humankind. Furthermore, you know nothing of me; literally, not a thing. You don’t know whether I’m interested in whatever it is you’re promoting, whether I hate it, whether I’m lukewarm, or whether it might be a PTSD trigger. Assuming your recommendations are a must for everyone else is dismissive of priorities, experiences, and circumstances that differ from yours. Lastly, your puny title tells me absolutely nothing about your list. There’s not even an indication of whether we’re talking about fiction or non-fiction. I won’t waste a click on a header that’s laughably generic. Congratulations, you’ve just wasted both your time and your employer’s dollars.

Instead, tell me why I might want to have a look at your list. For example, the headlines below have a significantly higher likelihood of getting a click, provided I’m remotely interested in the topic / genre / protagonist / etc.:

  • [number] Books to Read If You Like [topic]
  • Exploring [genre] Worlds: [number] Books for Newcomers
  • [number] Books with [type of protagonists]
  • Our Favorite [genre] Books in the Style of [popular title]
  • Love [author]? You Might Also Like These [number] Books on [topic]
  • New Books for [popular title] Fans to Check Out
  • [number] Books to Consider for [topic] Enthusiasts
  • Darker, Edgier [genre] Worlds
  • The [number] Most Inventive Books that Break [genre] Barriers
  • [number] Worlds to Delve into If You Like [author]

Much, much more informative, don’t you agree?

Image: detail of photograph by Mundo Resink via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

Here there be opinions!

Generating Secondary World Maps with Pasta

Remember Uncharted Atlas, the online tool to autogenerate fantasy world maps with? If that feels too convoluted or restrictive, there’s also a quick low-tech solution. Tumblr user ohemult describes how to make maps with pasta (and expletives):

Tumblr ohemult Mapping3


(I find that ohemult’s instructions work best if I imagine Samuel L. Jackson reading them as his Pulp Fiction character.)

Visit Tumblr for the full write-up. Found via

Image by ohemult via Tumblr

In Making Stuff occasional feature, we share fun arts and crafts done by us and our fellow geeks and nerds.

Becoming Egyptian

Sarcophagus of Wahibre-em-akhet, via Rijksmuseum van Oudheden (Egypt, possibly Giza, currently Rijksmuseum van Oudheden; basalt; 664-525 BCE)
Sarcophagus of Wahibre-em-akhet via Rijksmuseum van Oudheden (Egypt, possibly Giza, currently Rijksmuseum van Oudheden; basalt; 664-525 BCE)

The sarcophagus of Wahibre-em-akhet, from Egypt in the seventh or sixth centuries BCE, is a typical Egyptian sarcophagus, not for a king but for a man of wealth and status in Egypt’s Twenty-Sixth Dynasty. The Egyptian iconography is easily recognized: the long beard and braided wig of the portrait; the conventional Egyptian ways of depicting eyes, ears, and other features; the winged protective goddesses; the hieroglyphic text. There is nothing about this sarcophagus to suggest its owner was anything other than a native Egyptian, born and bred, from a people who had lived in the Nile valley since time immemorial. Nothing, that is, until you read the hieroglyphic text and find out that Wahibre-em-akhet’s parents were named Alexicles and Zenodote; both are Greek names.

We know nothing else about Wahibre-em-aket or his parents. We can’t say definitively where they came from, where they grew up, what language or languages they spoke, or how they identified themselves in daily life. It seems very likely, though, that we are looking at someone who was born to Greek parents but lived as an Egyptian.

Wahbire-em-akhet’s family probably had connections to Naukratis, a Greek city founded in Egypt with royal permission. The original settlers of Naukratis were Greek mercenaries who had served the Egyptian pharaohs in their war for freedom from the Assyrian empire. Alexicles may have been one of those mercenaries or the descendant of one. The mercenaries and their descendants continued to serve the kings of Egypt and seem to have gradually assimilated into Egyptian culture. One gang of soldiers left graffiti on the temple of Abu Simbel in upper Egypt while on campaign, including a soldier who identified himself as Psammatichus, son of Teocles, another Egyptian-named son of a man with a Greek name.

Whatever role he played, Wahibre-em-akhet must have done well for himself to afford such a fine sarcophagus. Like many other later-generation immigrant communities, the Greeks in Egypt probably found that assimilating to local customs, names, and languages was useful for getting ahead. They were not the first people to do so. We tend to think of Egypt as isolated, even xenophobic, but Egypt was also a powerful and wealthy kingdom that needed foreign trade connections and could afford to supplement its army with mercenaries from abroad. Greeks, Carians, Jews, Nubians, and Libyans are all well documented as traders and soldiers in Egypt. Many other peoples certainly found their way to the Nile valley as well. As they assimilated into the local culture, adopting Egyptian names and presenting themselves according to Egyptian traditions, these peoples become hard to discern in the archaeological record, but the occasional find like Wahibre-em-akhet’s sarcophagus reminds us that they were still there.

Thoughts for writers

Traditional histories have conditioned us to think of ancient cultures as discrete units: this is Greek, that is Egyptian, that over there is Persian, and the other thing in the corner is Etruscan. It’s useful to be reminded that the lived experience has always been more complicated. Wahbire-em-akhet was, in some ways, both Egyptian and Greek. Most likely his parents were, too. They must have faced many of the same challenges and intersections that immigrant families still face today.

People like Wahbire-em-aket and his parents existed in history. They belong in our stories, too. There is nothing new about multiculturalism.

History for Writers looks at how history can be a fiction writer’s most useful tool. From worldbuilding to dialogue, history helps you write. Check out the introduction to History for Writers here.

On First Contact Communication in Arrival

The movie summer and early fall have been rather dry, as has the actual weather here. I’m eagerly awaiting November when Doctor Strange (six weeks to go!) and Arrival (seven weeks!) open a hopefully more thirst-quenching end of the year. And the more I hear about Arrival, the more intriguing it sounds.

Mark Liberman at Language Log was asked to provide a linguist’s perspective on first-encounter communication strategies. His post is both lengthy and enlightening.

RA Olea Flickr Sign Language Friend

Specifically, he answers the question “An alien is standing in front of you, apparently peaceably. What is the first thing you try, in an attempt to communicate with it?”

The meatiest bit is this:

“There’s no guarantee that their senses and their modes of action are going to be a good fit to ours. They might communicate via skin color changes like cuttlefish, except maybe theirs are only visible in the ultraviolet. Or maybe they can modulate and sense electric fields, like electric eels. They might use gestural and postural changes in a body that’s very different from ours, or rapid morse-code-like modulations of sound at a dozen different frequencies independently and simultaneously. Maybe pheremone-like chemical signals are a crucial part of the process.

“Whatever the modalities of communication, it’s quite likely that we won’t be able to imitate them without building some specialized apparatus. And it’s quite possible that it would be hard even to recognize the fact that they’re communicating with one another, before we even get to the point of trying to understand and imitate.

“More likely, the process would be:

(1) Persuade them not to kill us, and vice versa;
(2) Persuade (or coerce) them to let us observe their within-species interactions, or vice versa;
(3) Design and build systems for recording, analyzing, and synthesizing their communicative signals (or wait for them to do the same thing for ours);
(4) Use those systems to engage in a sort of “monolingual demonstration”, and hope that we can come to understand them and communicate with them to some extent.”

According to Liberman, Ted Chiang’s short story “Stories of Your Life” (that the movie is based on) also mentions “in a mild way” a few of these issues:

“[Protagonist, linguist Dr. Louise Banks] needs to use a ‘sound spectrograph’ to analyze the aliens’ utterances, which sound to her ears ‘vaguely like […] a wet dog shaking the water out of its fur’, and she needs recording and playback to communicate in the other direction, since they don’t recognize her attempts to imitate their speech.”

Visit Language Log for more.

On the basis of the Arrival trailers released so far it’s hard to say whether the movie will be focusing on linguistics specifically, or whether the intellectual mystery will be rounded up into a more generic academic exercise. It does look like the script at least attempts to stay with Chiang’s story. Like Liberman, I’m very interested to see how much of the linguistics makes it on screen.

Image: sign language : friend via Flickr (2008; colored pencil on charcoal paper; by R.A. Olea) CC BY 2.0

On, of, and about languages.

New Edition of Alice in Wonderland with Salvador Dalí

In 2015, commemorating the 150th anniversary of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Princeton University Press reprinted a color edition with illustrations by Salvador Dalí.

William Bennet Modern Down the Rabbit Hole DALI1003

Surreal, almost psychedelic, and rarely seen before the reprint, the original gouaches were first published in 1969.

William Bennet Modern The Mock Turtle's Story DALI1011

The color use is amazing, and the surrealist style fits elements of the story. However, I can’t escape the feeling that had I seen these illustrations as a kid, they would’ve given me nightmares.

Found via Colossus and Brain Pickings.

Images: Down the Rabbit Hole and The Mock Turtle’s Story via William Bennett Gallery (1969; heliogravures of original gouaches; by Salvador Dalí)

Out There is an occasional feature highlighting intriguing art, spaces, places, phenomena, flora, and fauna.

Putting Trigger Warnings on my Syllabi

160303booksThe question of whether we, as professors, should include trigger warnings on our course syllabi has been bubbling in academia for a few years now. I’ve been uncertain what to do and my university’s administration has not taken a public position. After wide reading and long thought, I’ve decided to add a content note to my syllabi. Here is how it goes:

This course involves topics that may evoke strong reactions. These topics include war, violence, slave-holding societies, non-consensual sexual activity, and various forms of social inequality, but other topics may come up in the course of class discussion. I will do my best to inform you about what upcoming readings will cover, but it will not always be possible to predict what topics will arise in discussion or what associations may arise for you as you read.

It is your responsibility as a student to complete all assigned coursework and readings and to participate in class discussions. It is my responsibility as your professor to help you overcome any obstacles to doing so.

If you anticipate that some topic may be difficult for you, or if you discover that an assignment provokes a reaction that prevents you from continuing your work as a student, please come see me to discuss it. If a topic arises in class discussion that makes you too uncomfortable to remain in class, you are welcome to leave the room until you feel ready to return. If you need to leave the room during class discussion, please come and see me afterwards when you feel ready to do so. In either case, we will work together to find alternative ways for you to do the coursework.

You are also welcome to seek support and guidance outside of class. Student Counseling Services is at your disposal, as is Campus Spiritual Life. You do not have to discuss difficult emotional subjects with me if you do not wish to, but if I don’t know that something is creating an obstacle to your coursework, I can’t help you find a way around it.

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Labyrinth Released 30 Years Ago

Jareth: “You remind me of the babe.”

Goblin 1: “What babe?”

Jareth: “The babe with the power.”

Goblin 2: “What power?”

Jareth: “Power of voodoo.”

Goblin 3: “Who do?”

Jareth: “You do.”

Goblin 4: “Do what?”

Jareth: “Remind me of the babe.”

Labyrinth Movie

This year marked the 30th anniversary of the release of Labyrinth by director Jim Henson. This past weekend FantomEvents ran some special Labyrinth showings in theaters. We didn’t go due to schedule issues (=work, work, work) but instead watched it at home.

As a geeky kid of the 80s, I have very fond memories of the movie. It’s mostly because of its visuals, but I do like the fantastic lines – great for learning English with – and voice acting as well.

Flickr leeno The Worm from Labyrinth

Sarah: “Did you say ‘Hello’?”

Worm: “No, I said ‘allo’, but that’s close enough.”

(One of my very first tastes of dialectal / regional English!)

If my memory serves, the puppetry effects in Labyrinth are mostly better than in The Dark Crystal, Jim Henson’s previous fantasy movie. (Note to self: Find out if I can rent / stream The Dark Crystal. Local library to the rescue!)

Some of the songs, too, have become long-time favorites, especially “As the World Falls Down” by David Bowie.

Ballroom Scene – Labyrinth – The Jim Henson Company

As a kid, I didn’t really understand how someone could like Bowie’s music, but that one song opened my eyes. (Ears?) I still love it, and the ballroom scene with its floating props.

Bonus find: Stephanie at Make and Tell shares her “the babe with the power” wall art printable.

Stephanie Make and Tell babewiththepower_printable_mockup2

What’s your favorite Labyrinth memory?

Crossposted from the Playfully Grownup Home blog.

Images: Labyrinth DVD case by Eppu Jensen. “The Worm” from Labyrinth by leeno on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0). The babe with the power printable by Stephanie at Make and Tell.

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

Making The Courtesy of the Golden Hall

Here’s a look at how we made yesterdays The Courtesy of the Golden Hall.

The menu

  • Rye porridge
  • Braised beef
  • Roasted vegetables
  • Saffron and cream pancake
  • Apple compote

erikchef1Tolkien gives us only a few hints about the food of Rohan, but they are enough for us to flesh out the picture.

Dinner9 Main2

There are several references to meal, in the sense of coarsely ground flour. Éomer mocks Wormtongue by questioning whether anyone would trust him with a sack of meal (3.6) and Théoden warns the herald of Minas Tirith to have supplies ready for the Rohirrim when they ride to Gondor’s aid, for to travel light and fast they can carry only meal and water enough to last until they reach the battlefield. (5.3) Coarse flour makes poor bread and, significantly, bread is never mentioned in Rohan. Every other people in Middle Earth, from Hobbits to Orcs, has some kind of bread, but not the Rohirrim, which suggests they are making something else with their grain: porridge. Porridge is a staple of many northern European cultures like those that inspired the Rohirrim. The deep, earthy flavors of rye make for a very satisfying porridge to start our dinner.

The herds of Rohan are prominently mentioned, although what exactly they are herds of is never specified. (2.9, 3.2) Since cattle were highly prized across ancient northern Europe, beef seems like the right meat to serve at the royal table. Braising is an excellent way to cook large joints of meat and could be done in a cauldron over a low fire in a mead hall. Root vegetables are also a staple of northern European cuisines and make an good accompaniment to braised beef.

The saffron and cream pancake recipe comes from a Viking source and shows the extent of the trading networks the Vikings were engaged in, connecting them with the distant shores of the Mediterranean where saffron was harvested. It seems an appropriate way to honor the friendship between Rohan and Gondor to suggest that the Rohirrim had access to a few southern luxuries as well. The apple compote we serve with it is based on Anglo-Saxon recipes.

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Dining in Middle Earth: The Courtesy of the Golden Hall

“At the King’s board sat Éomer and the four guests, and there also waiting upon the king was the lady Éowyn. They ate and drank swiftly.”

LotR Dinner9 Main

This month we visit the Golden Hall of Meduseld in Rohan. Our food reflects the northern roots of Tolkien’s Rohirrim, drawing on Scandinavian and Anglo-Saxon traditions.

LotR Dinner9 Starter

We start with a hearty rye porridge, followed by braised beef and roasted vegetables. For dessert, a rich saffron and cream pancake served with apple compote.

LotR Dinner9 Dessert

The table setting is built with multiple colors, layers, and lush textiles. The colors refer to the expansive grasslands of Rohan, and gold-colored or metallic-sheen details add opulence. The dishware turns showier as the meal progresses, moving from a plain white bowl to a plate with brown and green glazing, and ends with a pale teal handblown glass plate on a gold-rimmed white charger.

Dinner9 Runner and Ribbons2

Check out what’s it about in the introduction, or read the how-to!

Images by Eppu Jensen

Geeks eat, too! Second Breakfast is an occasional feature in which we talk about food with geeky connections and maybe make some of our own. Yum!