Walden Grove High School Dance Team Does Infinity War / Endgame

The PAC Dance Team from Walden Grove High School in Sahuarita, Arizona, went above and beyond in their Marvel Homecoming Assembly Dance performance:

“Marvel” Homecoming Assembly Dance by ThePac Walden Grove on YouTube

Based on the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the performance recaps the story of Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame.

You go, kids! 😀

Found via File 770.

Hey, look! We found a thing on the internet! We thought it was cool, and wanted to share it with you.

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Lego Star Wars Droids Play Star Wars Music

What else is there to say about this video? It’s an orchestra of Lego’s programmable Star Wars droid models playing the Star Wars theme on real instruments. What more can you ask for?

“Watch this awesome droid orchestra! – LEGO Star Wars™ BOOST Droid Commander” via LEGO

This project is the work of Sam Battle. Find more of his inventive musical performances at lookmumnocomputer.com.

Hey, look! We found a thing on the internet! We thought it was cool, and wanted to share it with you.

WoW Classic “Not a Bug” List

On their forums, Blizzard shared a list of features that aren’t bugs in the recently re-released Classic version of World of Warcraft. The list has been out since May this year, but not being a special friend of the vanilla rendition I only came across it now.

PC Invasion WoW Classic Logo

Browsing through promptly hurtled me back to reminisce over things we’ve since lost. Oh, boy—some things on the list I couldn’t even remember!

Here are some of the things, not all mentioned on the list, that I absolutely wouldn’t take back:

  • The abysmal creature respawn rates. Sometimes in the later expansions it seems mobs just spawn way too quickly, but I’d rather not go back to the Classic speed, either.
  • Gold accumulation. It was just. So. Slow! (I don’t enjoy the current rate of inflation either, for the record.) And, in connection to that, how difficult it occasionally was to get your armor repaired. Remember the little armor image that was superimposed in the (right?) corner of your screen when you took enough damage? The one that first turned yellow and then red as the damage on each area increased? I actually remember at times having to pick and choose which armor piece to repair, even occasionally taking spare pieces with me to a dungeon to switch to when the pieces I wore got too damaged. At the time I was still new to the game, though, and playing a clothie with another clothie. Not very smart, perhaps, but it did teach me a lot. 🙂
  • Frequent bugging during escort quests. Aaarrgh! Nopety nope!
  • Limited bag space. Need I say more.
  • No tracking available on the minimap, either of quest areas or points of interest. As a visually oriented person and a map lover, I give minimap tracking my highest seal of approval!
  • Non-shared gathering nodes. Remember when ore nodes were only available for whoever got there first? In multi-faction areas it was sometimes impossible to mine on a lower-level toon. (I hate pvp, so I’m so out of luck in some places.)

I’ve come to enjoy the increased player character animation when looting or interacting with quest objects, so that’s nice. The graphical upgrades are also lovely, even if it took me time to get used to some of the new face designs. The new terrain and environmental design I’ve already talked about elsewhere. Finally, a few pragmatic details I love to bits in modern WoW include mass looting and the Flight Master’s Whistle. Wouldn’t change them for the world!

What about you? Chime in with your favorites, features you love to hate, or both.

Image via PC Invasion.

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

Trailer for Sanditon

Emmy Award winning screenwriter Andrew Davies has adapted Jane Austen’s last, unfinished work Sanditon into an 8-episode series. To my knowledge it hasn’t been adapted for the big screen before, so this is rather a big thing!

Here’s the trailer:

Sanditon Preview by Masterpiece PBS on YouTube

Among the big names in the production are Rose Williams as Charlotte Heywood (e.g. in Medici) and Theo James as Sidney Parker (the Divergent movies, The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, among others). Anne Reid as Lady Denham is also a well-known career actor (I mostly remember her from Doctor Who “Smith and Jones”—the Judoon on the moon episode).

I heard through the grapevine that Davies will move entirely away from Austen’s material after the first half of the first episode. Wow, that’s soon! I did already notice a number of character names not found in the book in the IMDB listing. I hope Davies will not go overboard, though; I’ve seen a number of his adaptations, and he can be a bit of a hit or miss for me.

The U.S. release set to 2020. Can’t wait!

Found via Frock Flicks.

This post has been edited to update a removed link to video.

Hey, look! We found a thing on the internet! We thought it was cool, and wanted to share it with you.

You Don’t Want War Elephants

If you’re building an army to conquer the pre-modern world (or a fantasy world something like it), you might be tempted to include war elephants. At first glance, they seem like a great idea. Elephants are large, thick-skinned, strong, and intelligent, with long tusks and powerful trunks. Including them in your army is about as close as the real world gets to having dragons on your side. Well, I’m here to tell you that in most cases, they’re actually not such a great idea. (There are a few exceptions; I’ll get back to those later.)

Not all elephants are trainable. Three species of elephants survive in today’s world: Asian, African bush, and African forest. Asian elephants can be trained, but the African bush and forest elephants cannot. Several other species and/or subspecies of elephants once existed in various parts of Africa and Asia, but they went extinct in antiquity as a result of hunting and habitat loss. Elephants susceptible to domestication have historically been used in North Africa and Southeast Asia for labor, transport, and war.

Elephants do have their uses in war. They have been used as mobile platforms for archers and light artillery. They can also trample and gore enemy soldiers, and use their strength to help demolish the defenses of towns and fortresses under siege. Horses who have not been trained with elephants will not go near them, so war elephants can be good for disrupting enemy cavalry. Off the battlefield, they are good for carrying or dragging supplies and heavy pieces of baggage like siege weapons. Despite these uses, there are a number of serious problems with using elephants in combat.

We may as well start with the moral problem. Elephants do not breed well in captivity, and so most elephants used for labor or war must be captured as calves from the wild and trained into obedience, often using quite brutal methods. It goes without saying that this is a terrible thing to do to any creature, let alone such an intelligent and social animal, but if you’re already building an army for world domination, I assume you’re beyond such niceties as moral scruples, so let’s move on to the practical problems.

One big problem is that elephants are not naturally combative. Apart from males competing for mates, mothers defending their young, and occasional rogue elephants behaving abnormally, an elephant is much more likely to run away from danger than toward it. It takes extensive training to get an elephant to withstand the chaos of a battlefield, and even then it was a common practice in the past to feed war elephants fermented fruit to get them drunk before battle. Getting elephants drunk helps keep them aggressive, but it also makes them harder to control. There is a real risk that a sober elephant facing the clamor and commotion of a battle will turn and run away, or that a drunk one will ignore its driver’s commands and simply go on a rampage. Now, I know what you’re thinking—drunk rampaging elephants sound like an awesome weapon to unleash on your foes, but keep in mind that around half the soldiers on an average battlefield are going to be your own, and there’s no way to be sure that an out of control elephant will do more harm to your opponents than to you.

Another problem with war elephants is the cost. Elephants in the wild may eat up to 300 kilograms of forage per day. In captivity, eating a richer diet, elephants consume around 50 kg of grain and vegetables per day, more if they are doing heavy work. That amounts to at least 18,250 kg per year. Pre-industrial agricultural yields could vary widely with region, climate, and farming techniques, but at best you could expect around 500 kg of grain per hectare of farmland per year. That means you’d need about 36 hectares of land dedicated to feeding just one elephant. 1 square kilometer of farmland could, under the very best conditions, just barely maintain three elephants. If you have a big enough empire with a strong enough agrarian economy, this may sound like it’s worth it, but consider the opportunity cost. The same farmland could also support 100 soldiers for a year, who can be trained in any number of specializations, will (hopefully) not get drunk and turn on your own troops, and can be more useful in most situations than three elephants.

Now there are a few situations in which elephants can offer a real advantage in war. One is when you’re fighting forces who have never encountered them before. To the inexperienced foot soldier, an elephant is a huge, loud, monster with giant tusks and a disturbingly prehensile nose. Few inexperienced armies have the discipline to withstand their first sight of an elephant, and many have been known to run in panic in the face of an elephant charge. After a little experience, though, this advantage wears off. Those who have seen elephants a few times learn how to deal with them, by facing them with a dense hedge of pikes or aiming for their eyes, mouths, and the soles of their feet with javelins. The Carthaginian general Hannibal got one battle’s worth of use out of his elephants before the Romans figured out how to counteract them.

The other situation in which elephants can be useful is among warring peoples who all use and fight with elephants. In this case, since all sides know how difficult and expensive it is to maintain elephant forces, putting on a big display of elephants in the field serves as a show of force, demonstrating the resources and organizing capacity of your army, which may convince your opponents to come to terms rather than risk a battle. War elephants were historically used as battlefield showpieces in this way by the kingdoms of India and Southeast Asia, as well as the Hellenistic kingdoms formed from the breakup of Alexander the Great’s empire. Getting effective use of your elephants in such a case, however, requires a major investment of resources which might be more practically spent elsewhere.

In short, if you are bent on conquering the world, I don’t recommend using war elephants. For the occasional times when they would actually be useful, they aren’t worth the cost. (And brutalizing elephants is horrible.)

Image: “The Padava Brothers Do Battle with the King of Anga” from a manuscript of the Razmnama via Wikimedia (currently Ashmolean Museum, Oxford; 1598; paint on paper; by Mohan, son of Bawari)

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.

Rating: Elementary, Season 2

Sherlock Holmes and Joan Watson are back on the case in New York in season 2 of Elementary. Here’s how we rated this season’s episodes:

  1. “Step Nine” – 5.5
  2. “Solve for X” – 4
  3. “We are Everyone” – 5
  4. “Poison Pen” – 6
  5. “Ancient History” – 6
  6. “An Unnatural Arrangement” – 4.5
  7. “The Marchioness” – 4
  8. “Blood is Thicker” – 6
  9. “On the Line” – 4.5
  10. “Tremors” – 5
  11. “Internal Audit” – 6
  12. “The Diabolical Kind” – 6
  13. “All in the Family” – 7.5
  14. “Dead Clade Walking” – 6
  15. “Corpse de Ballet” – 5.5
  16. “The One Percent Solution” – 4.5
  17. “Ears to You” – 4
  18. “The Hound of the Cancer Cells” – 6.5
  19. “The Many Mouths of Aaron Colvillle” – 8
  20. “No Lack of Void” – 6
  21. “The Man with the Twisted Lip” – 6
  22. “Paint it Black” – 5.5
  23. “Art in the Blood” – 4
  24. “The Grand Experiment” – 3.5

The average for this season is 5.4, which is fine but a bit of a dip from the first season’s 6.5. There are few standout episodes this season, but none that really fall flat, either. It’s mostly a competently handled second season for Holmes and Watson.

This season sees an attempt to introduce arcs and connected stories, all of which more or less work, but few of which are really compelling. The main arc of the season has to do with Sherlock’s brother Mycroft, an interestingly reimagined version of the original lazy, self-indulgent polymath whose brilliant mind was the interconnecting tissue in the late Victorian British government. This version of Myrcoft is a self-indulgent restauranteur who turns out to have a different but equally complicated role in the modern British government. He makes for an interesting character who plays off Sherlock and Joan in surprising ways, but his story lacks payoff. Our lowest-rated episode of the season is the finale, “The Grand Experiment,” at 3.5, in which the truth about Mycroft is revealed, and it doesn’t add up to much.

Other arcs and extended stories this season include the formation and healing of a rift between Sherlock and Detective Bell, the reappearance of Holmes’s former collaborator and self-promoting drunk Inspector Lestrade, and the emergence of Everyone, an anarchic hacker collective who sometimes help with investigations in return for various acts of public humiliation by Sherlock and Joan. Some of these stories work out better than others. Bell and Holmes’s rancorous split isn’t always fun to watch, but it does give Jon Michael Hill, who plays Bell, some rich material to work with. Lestrade is an entertaining buffoon, another interesting take on a classic Holmes character. The hackers of Everyone are a nebulous group who become mostly-unseen recurring side characters providing useful information for Sherlock and Joan and creating amusing opportunities for Sherlock to do ridiculous things in return.

As usual, though, the most rewarding part of Elementary is not any season arc, but the devious crimes Sherlock and Joan get to untangle while Joan grows as a detective in her own right and Sherlock comes to appreciate the value of their partnership. The best episodes this season, the only two that rise above competently average, offer just such cases. “All in the Family,” at 7.5, gives Detective Bell a chance to shine as he uncovers a long-term mafia plot. “The Many Mouths of Aaron Colville,” at 8, presents a curious challenge as bite marks found on recent murder victims seem to implicate a serial killer who died years ago.

Not everything this season works as well as we might hope, but it’s still a solid season full of intriguing cases for Sherlock and Joan.

Image: Joan and Sherlock, from “Ears to You” via IMDb

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

Visual Inspiration: Aztec-Engineered Floating Garden Islands

Did you know that Aztecs created floating garden islands on swamps to feed 200,000+ people? I didn’t before now.

Te Papa Aztec Chinampa Model

An article by Lynette Townsend for the Museum of New Zealand descibes the structure of the chinampas:

“These ingenious creations were built up from the lake bed by piling layers of mud, decaying vegetation and reeds. This was a great way of recycling waste from the capital city Tenochtitlan. Each garden was framed and held together by wooden poles bound by reeds and then anchored to the lake floor with finely pruned willow trees. The Aztecs also dredged mud from the base of the canals which both kept the waterways clear and rejuvenate [sic] the nutrient levels in the gardens.”

Apparently the chinampas were separated by channels, and canoes were used for transport. In addition to food crops and flowers grown, fish and birds drawn to the chinampas were caught for food as well.

Te Papa Aztec Chinampa Model Closeup

What an incredibly smart feature to engineer! It also strikes me as a fantastic (no pun intended), pragmatic thing to adapt into a SFFnal world.

Found via Ultrafacts at Tumblr.

Images: models by artisan collective Te Mahi via Museum of New Zealand / Te Papa Tongarewa.

The Visual Inspiration occasional feature pulls the unusual from our world to inspire design, story-telling, and worldbuilding. If stuff like this already exists, what else could we imagine?

Quotes: Society Works Better Than It Ever Had

Arkady Martine wrote at Tor.com on disaster stories and human behavior, noting a pattern on concentrating on the catastrophic and awful. That, however, has been proven a myth, at least initially:

“Humans do not, under the pressure of an emergency, socially collapse. Rather, they seem to display higher levels of social cohesion, despite what media or government agents might expect… or portray on TV. Humans, after the apocalypse, band together in collectives to help one another—and they do this spontaneously. […]

“Humans all over the world display this behavior after disasters. They display it consistently, no matter what kind of disaster is happening or what culture they come from.

“What really happens after an apocalypse? Society works better than it ever had, for a brief time.” [original emphases]

– Arkady Martine

Yay, us! We did evolve as and still are highly social creatures.

Now, how long this century’s phenomenal technological change takes to alter that and in which ways remains to be seen. I have high hopes of our curiosity and drive to engage with others, however. That may be a bit funny for a huge introvert to say, but there it is. 🙂

Serving exactly what it sounds like, the Quotes feature excerpts other people’s thoughts.

Quotes: Everything in the World Is Beginning to Fail

“No one should be amazed that everything in the world is beginning to fail, since the world itself is already failing and near its end.”

– Cyprian, To Demetrianus 4

(My own translation)

How’s that for a cheery thought to start your week?

We hear a lot of grim takes on the world and its fate these days, but this one is far from recent. This line comes from a letter written by St. Cyprian, bishop of Carthage in the mid-third century CE. Cyprian had plenty of reason to feel gloomy about the state of the world. The Roman Empire was in disarray, in the midst of a long period of civil wars and violence. When the empire did periodically pull itself together, it engaged in repeated persecution of Christians. On top of this, the Mediterranean was in the midst of a widespread epidemic of a deadly infectious disease, possibly smallpox or a hemorrhagic fever similar to Ebola. It’s no wonder that Cyprian’s world felt like it was coming to an end.

I share this quote not to depress you all further, but as a reminder that, however dire our times may seem, they are not unique. The world didn’t end in the third century. The Roman Empire pulled itself back together again, at least for a while. The persecutions were ended, and Christians were allowed to worship in peace. The epidemic passed. None of these things happened quickly or easily. It took an awful lot of hard work and sacrifice from an awful lot of people to bring the Mediterranean world back from the brink, but it happened.

It’s going to take an awful lot of hard work and sacrifice from an awful lot of people to bring today’s world back from the brink, too, but it can be done. Cyprian was wrong about the end of the world. Let’s make sure that today’s direst predictions turn out to be wrong, too.

Trailer for Manikarnika

The story of Rani Lakshmibai, Queen of Jhansi, is not a new one and has been both written and filmed before, but the 2019 movie Manikarnika is the first I’ve heard of her. Apparently she was one of the leaders of the Indian Rebellion of 1857 / the First War of Independence against the British East India Company in northern India after the death of her husband, the Raja of Jhansi.

Manikarnika – The Queen Of Jhansi | Official Trailer | Kangana Ranaut | Releasing 25th January by Zee Studios on YouTube

Phew—the trailer’s even bloodier than the one for Tomiris. (I wonder whether it’s a Game of Thrones effect—the popularity of that bloody show begetting other series with high liquid velocities?) Apart from that, the two trailers and/or stories seem to share a remarkable amount of basic similarities, yet are set thousands of kilometers apart. An interesting coincidence.

On the other hand, Manikarnika looks incredibly gorgeous! According to IMDB, it’s already available—the release date is given as January 25, 2019—and Amazon offers streaming versions in Hindi, Telugu, and Tamil with a selection of subtitles.

The bloodiness makes me really apprehensive, though. I’m in for more humane stories at the moment, but I think I’ll have to keep Manikarnika in mind.

Found via Frock Flicks.

Hey, look! We found a thing on the internet! We thought it was cool, and wanted to share it with you.