Five Years of Co-Geeking

It’s been five years since we started blogging together here at Co-Geeking, and it’s safe to say those are five years we’ll never forget. Join us for a little look back at our highlights from the past year.

Our favorite posts

Erik:

The post I have most enjoyed writing in the past year is The Past is Haunted, a Halloween rumination from last October about how we often connect the sense of hauntedness and the supernatural with the traces of earlier people’s lives, even to the point of sometimes deliberately invoking that sense in artificial ways. It was fun to take the spookiness of the season and think historically about it.

Eppu:

Aah, a tough one, but I’d have to say the post on the reconstructed Staffordshire Helmet. That (plus the March 2020 post on the Essex burial chamber) were little trips to the past for me, since they reminded me of my master’s studies in Finland. Plus, the helmet and the model wearing it make such an amazing photo!

 

Our favorite geeky thing that happened in the past year

Eppu:

The release of the Captain Marvel movie! Obviously, I’m not superpowered in any way (well, perhaps, if I’m very, very, VERY lucky I may be) but the tenacity and persistence that Carol Danvers displays speaks to me a lot. (In Finland, we call the quality sisu, and it’s highly appreciated.) It was a great screen adaptation of a supe origin story. Plus, every scene between Danvers and Fury keeps getting better and better with every viewing; Brie Larson and Samuel L. Jackson play together so well it’s a joy to watch.

Erik:

This is a hard one for me to answer. A lot of the interesting things happening in geekdom right now are on tv (and even more so now that the novel coronavirus is keeping so many of us at home), but the two of us are always late to those parties because we don’t have cable or any streaming services, so we mostly have to wait to buy things on dvd or get them from the library. We’re old-fashioned like that. So, while we are aware of the existence of things like young Yoda and old Picard, we haven’t actually seen them yet.

So my answer is a little different this year. Not long ago I dug out my old collection of Magic: The Gathering cards. I haven’t played in years, and I decided it was finally time to get rid of them. Going through them all brought back so many memories of playing with my friends. I loved to build decks around weird cards or bizarre ideas and see if I could make them work. Often they just flopped in play, but I still had so much fun tinkering around with mechanics and combinations. Those days are behind me now, but I cherish the memories.

On another note, is anyone in the market for an old collection of nothing-special Magic cards?

We look forward to another year with you all.

Image: Holy hand grenade from Monty Python and the Holy Grail via tenor.com

Announcements from your hosts.

Video Mashup Tribute: Danger Zone with X-Wings

Anybody else who grew up in the 1980s and remembers the song “Danger Zone” by Kenny Loggins? Here’s a treat: Jackson McKay mashed it up with X-wing clips from Star Wars movies for a really thrilling video.

Danger Zone: X-Wing Tribute (Ep IV-IX & Rogue One) by Jackson McKay on YouTube

What a blast! 😀

Found via Tor.com.

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

Disruptive Technology: Iron

These days, every new decade seems to bring a new technology that totally upends the way we live our lives, but the ability of new technologies to disrupt societal structures is not new. Many times in history, the development or introduction of a new technology had far-reaching effects on how people lived their lives. One such technology is iron. The development of iron for military purposes—to make stronger weapons and tougher armor—led to plenty of disruption, but iron could have powerful effects even when used for peaceful and mundane purposes.

One place we can see an example of iron’s effect on society is in southern Scandinavia. The iron age began in Denmark around 500 BCE. The changes that came as a result can be seen throughout much of northern Europe, but they have been particularly well studied in Denmark.

Southwestern Denmark is rich in deposits of bog iron, a form of iron ore that is comparatively easy to extract and process. Iron was soon put to use to produce stronger swords, axes, and spearheads, but it was also used to make sturdy blades for agricultural tools such as sickles, scythes, and pruning knives.

The introduction of iron-bladed tools made possible a dramatic change in the agrarian economy. Earlier flint or bronze tools could not hold a cutting edge well enough to effectively cut large quantities of hay or twigs to be stored as fodder for cattle. Accordingly, cattle could only be kept in relatively small numbers to avoid overgrazing the sparse vegetation available through the winter. With iron tools, winter fodder could be cut, dried, and stored in quantity for the winter, allowing large herds of cattle to be kept in denser concentrations. These cattle provided meat and milk as a food source in addition to the grain people were already growing.

Cattle also produce something else: manure. Manure is a rich source of nitrogen for fertilizing fields. With larger herds of cattle producing more manure, exhausted fields could be refertilized without a long period of lying fallow, which increased grain production.

Keeping larger herds of cattle significantly increased the available supply of food, which allowed for population growth. It also, however, changed social relations. Before iron, individual families largely tended their own fields and kept small herds of cattle, producing only enough for their own subsistence. There was little social differentiation between one family and the next because everyone did essentially the same work and there weren’t many opportunities to get richer than your neighbors. With iron came larger cattle herds, which meant that some people had to do the dirty scut work of cutting hay and mucking out stalls, while those who owned the cattle enjoyed extra food to use for trade or creating new social connections through the giving of expensive gifts. The archaeological evidence from iron age settlements in Denmark shows a process of social differentiation, as some families consolidated their economic power and rose to the top while others became dependent workers supporting the new elite.

The availability of economic surplus in the form of grain, cattle, and trade goods also meant that raiding nearby settlements could now be a profitable way of life for those strong enough to get away with it, and so the new cattle-owning elite soon also put iron to work to equip themselves for defense or to launch raids of their own. The agricultural elite became in time a military elite, with farming duties largely handed off to dependent workers. In time, this military elite consolidated its power enough to found royal dynasties commanding wide swaths of land and conducting raiding activities far from home.

These changes did not happen quickly. Unlike the effects of electricity, automobiles, and the Internet in the modern world, the effects of iron in ancient Denmark played out over centuries. The changes came slowly enough that, in lived experience, they probably did not seem all that disruptive. Looking back with the perspective of archaeology and history, though, we can see what enormous social transformations can be traced back to the introduction of stronger tools made of iron.

The most disruptive technologies don’t always come from the sources you expect, nor can we always predict the long-term effects of what seem like simple changes. These observations may seem very modern to us, but they were as true in the past as they are today.

Image: Raw bog iron, photograph by Tomasz Kruan via Wikimedia

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

Representation Chart: Star Wars, Original Trilogy

We all know that the representation of people of different genders and races is imbalanced in popular media, but sometimes putting it into visual form can help make the imbalance clear. Here’s a chart of the Star Wars original trilogy movies (Episode IV: A New Hope, Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, Episode VI: The Return of the Jedi).

Characters included

(Characters are listed in the first movie in which they qualify for inclusion under the rules given below.)

  • Episode IV: A New Hope: Luke Skywalker, Owen, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Tarkin, Princess Leia, Beru
  • Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back: General Rieekan, Admiral Piett, Emperor Palpatine, Lando Calrissian
  • Episode VI: Return of the Jedi:

If the absence of major characters like Darth Vader, Chewbacca, and Yoda seems strange, see below.

Rules

In the interests of clarity, here’s the rules I’m following for who to include and where to place them:

  • I only count characters portrayed by an actor who appears in person on screen in more or less recognizable form (i.e. performances that are entirely CG, prosthetic, puppet, or voice do not count).
  • The judgment of which characters are significant enough to include is unavoidably subjective, but I generally include characters who have on-screen dialogue, who appear in more than one scene, and who are named on-screen (including nicknames, code names, etc.)
  • For human characters that can be reasonably clearly identified, I use the race and gender of the character.
  • For non-human characters or characters whose identity cannot be clearly determined, I use the race and gender of the actor.
  • I use four simplified categories for race and two for gender. Because human variety is much more complicated and diverse than this, there will inevitably be examples that don’t fit. I put such cases where they seem least inappropriate. “White” and “Black” are as conventionally defined in modern Western society. “Asian” means East, Central, or South Asian. “Indigenous” encompasses Native Americans, Polynesians, Indigenous Australians, and other indigenous peoples from around the world.
  • There are many ethnic and gender categories that are relevant to questions of representation that are not covered here. There are also other kinds of diversity that are equally important for representation that are not covered here. A schematic view like this can never be perfect, but it is a place to start.

Corrections and suggestions welcome.

Chart by Erik Jensen

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

Living Vicariously Through Social Media: Cross Foxes

Cross foxes are a color variation of the red fox (like the silver fox, which I have heard of before). They seem to inhabit the more nothern reaches of the Northern hemisphere.

Flickr Humane Society US Cross Fox Father Child

Looks like they can have a variety of fur coloring, from mostly black and grey with only a little red, to almost half and half.

Flickr Robert Kowaluk Cross Fox

What I can’t tell from the photos and texts is how bright the red coat might naturally be—I’ve seen some striking photos with really bright red and deep black. I suspect those may be photoshopped, but of course individual variation is always possible. And, naturally, if you wanted to use cross foxes with saturated red-black coats as inspiration for a fantasy story, no-one’s stopping you! 🙂

Flickr Stephen Brown Cross Fox Closeup

Aren’t they handsome?

Found via Jonathan Webers on Twitter.

Images via Flickr: Father and child by The Humane Society of the United States (CC BY-ND 2.0). Side profile by Robert Kowaluk. Closeup by Stephen Brown.

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

Hospitality Tokens

Ancient societies had a problem that we still find familiar today: how do you know that someone is who they say they are? Within small-scale societies (as discussed here) it’s easy enough; when everyone in your village knows you, or knows someone who knows you, it’s not hard to prove who you are. The difficulty comes when you leave your home community and travel far away.

Guest-friendship (which I wrote about here) was one important way of overcoming the challenges of traveling far from home in a time when it was risky to do so. Guest-friends had an established relationship in which each friend promised to help and support the other. Having a guest-friend in a distant place provided some security for when you were far from home.

But even guest-friends might find it difficult to prove their identity to one another. This sort of relationship existed between people whose communities might be widely separated and who might see each other only very rarely. If someone turned up at your door claiming to be a guest-friend who hadn’t visited in twenty years, how could you be sure that they were really who they said they were and not some thief or imposter trying to bluff their way into your house and hospitality? Since guest-friend relationships were often hereditary, the problem could be even more acute: how could you trust that the person who turned up on your doorstep was actually the grandson of your grandfather’s guest-friend and thus someone to whom you still owed a duty of hospitality?

The solution to this problem came with tesserae hospitales, or hospitality tokens. Typically made of bronze, these tokens were a matched pair, sometimes with holes drilled through them, each one inscribed with the name, ancestry, and origins of one of the pair of guest-friends. By putting the two pieces together, one could verify that they matched. A person carrying such a token could present it for verification by comparison with its other half and thus prove that they had a right to claim hospitality in a particular house.

Here’s an example of one such token, made in Spain, probably in the second or first century BCE. This one is in the shape of a pig and has a few holes drilled through it. The text, written in the local Celtiberian language, gives the identity of the man who first carried it: “Lubos, of the Aliso family, son of Aualos, from Contrebia Belaisca.”

Tesseara hospitalis in the shape of a pig, photograph by Carlosblh via Wikimedia (found Uxama, currently Museo Numantino de Soria; 2nd-1st c. BCE; bronze)

 

Of course, few problems have perfect solutions. Hospitality tokens could, in theory, be lost, stolen, damaged, or copied, but as a way of verifying identity they worked well enough to be used for many centuries in the ancient Mediterranean. Numerous examples have turned up in the archaeological record, and some matching pairs have been found from contexts as widely separated as North Africa and northern Italy.

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

Quotes: Reading Books for Free Didn’t Kill the Publishing Business

By this writing, after the government relaxed some of the covid-19 restrictions / recommendations, some of my native country Finland’s libraries have already opened, and others are preparing to open.

My Finland Kirjasto in Helsinki

“I love a library. The idea of reading books for free didn’t kill the publishing business; on the contrary, it created nations of literate and passionate readers. Shared interests and the impulse to create.”

– David Byrne, musician and author

Judging by my family, friends, and social media bubble, the openings are very welcome, even though at this stage you can’t really spend time in a library yet (they’re only open for picking up materials, not for lounging or programming). Visiting the library is also at the top of my list of things to do after the Stay at Home Advisory is no more!

Stories are such a huge part of our lives, and we like to talk about them regardless of the shape they’re in. What remains to be seen is how moving increasingly towards digital media will affect physical libraries.

Quote attributed to David Byrne at The Guardian, July 17, 2015; found via American Libraries November / December 2015, p. 28.

Image by Eppu Jensen

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

Teaching in a Pandemic 6: We Have Done the Best We Reasonably Could Have Expected

(Previous entries: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5)

And that’s the semester. The deadlines have passed, the grades are turned in, all that’s left to look forward to is celebrating our graduating seniors at a safe distance. This is not the way any of us wanted this semester to end, but I think all of us—my fellow faculty, my students, and the university administration—have done the best we reasonably could have expected.

I was prepared to be lenient in my grading this semester, but I found that (after making some basic structural adjustments to my syllabi, such as dropping some assignments and adjusting the weight of others), I did not need to. My students have continued to turn in work of exceptional quality, despite the challenges of the times. Their papers are just as strong as I could have hoped for in a normal semester, their self-reflections just as thoughtful, their questions just as insightful. I credit this result to the quality of my students and not my skills at teaching online, which are dubious at best.

Not all my students made the transition to online learning gracefully. Across all my classes, only about two thirds of students ever engaged with the discussion questions I posted online. Still, I am treating those discussions as the equivalent of our classroom conversations, and getting two thirds of a class to speak up is not bad even in person. Some of those who didn’t engage in the online discussions still showed through their written work that they had done the reading thoroughly and thoughtfully. There were a few students who just disappeared, but on the whole they were the same students who had mostly disappeared from in-person classes before the outbreak of the pandemic.

The spread of final grades came out about the same as usual: a lot of Bs, a good handful of As, a scattering of Cs and Ds, and a few Fs for those who just never turned in the required work. I know from email exchanges with a few students that some of them have been under enough stress this spring that it was all they could do to manage a passing grade, and I’ve done my best to guide them to what they need to do to get it. For the most part, though, my students have done as well as I would normally have expected of them.

This will be my last update for this spring. We’ll see what the fall holds. I hope there has been something interesting in this view into the mild chaos of teaching in a pandemic. Stay safe and well, everyone.

How It Happens is an occasional feature looking at the inner workings of various creative efforts.

Rating: Castle Season 4

Season 4 of Castle is mostly solid, with a mix of highs and lows. Here’s how we rated the episodes:

  1. “Rise” – 2
  2. “Heroes and Villains” – 9
  3. “Head Case” – 6
  4. “Kick the Ballistics” – 2
  5. “Eye of the Beholder” – 6
  6. “Demons” – 8.5
  7. “Cops and Robbers” – 7.5
  8. “Heartbreak Hotel” – 6
  9. “Kill Shot” – 6
  10. “Cuffed” – 5.5
  11. “Till Death Do Us Part” – 6
  12. “Dial M for Murder” – 5
  13. “An Embarrassment of Bitches” – 6
  14. “The Blue Butterfly” – 4
  15. “Pandora” – 1.5
  16. “Linchpin” – 1.5
  17. “Once Upon a Crime” – 6
  18. “A Dance with Death” – 5.5
  19. “47 Seconds” – 5
  20. “The Limey” – 3
  21. “Headhunters” – 1.5
  22. “Undead Again” – 8
  23. “Always” – 0

The average for this season is 4.8, a bit of a comedown from season 3’s 5.9. Still, this season has a lot to offer. The average is dragged down by a bunch of boring hyped-up drama episodes, but this season still delivers the crime-solving comedy action we come to Castle for.

The bottom of the heap is the finale, “Always,” that we gave a complete 0. This episode is one more step in the long, drawn-out saga of Beckett’s mother and has absolutely nothing to appeal to us. A number of other episodes also hang out near the bottom of the pack, including “Headhunters,” at 1.5, which, despite reuniting Nathan Fillion with an over-the-top Adam Baldwin, spends too much time wallowing in the dysfunction of Castle and Beckett’s relationship. There’s also the bizarre two-parter “Pandora” and “Lincpin,” both at 1.5, which takes the Castle crew into a hard swerve from crime-solving into international intrigue. It’s not something this particular writing/production team does well.

At the top end, though, we have a good set of wacky cases-of-the-week, which are just what we want from Castle. The best is “Heroes and Villains,” at a 9, about do-it-yourself superheroes. Some of the other great episodes this season similarly dig into geeky subcultures, like ghost-hunting in “Demons” (8.5) and zombie LARP in “Undead Again” (8).

Along the way there’s also a good batch of episodes in the mediocre but perfectly serviceable 5-7 range. There’s a lot to like this season, even if there are several episodes well worth skipping.

Image: Beckett and Castle research superheroes, from “Heroes and Villains” via IMDb

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

Gandalf’s Staff-Top as Table Lamp

This shall most definitely pass!

Marco at 3dartem on Etsy makes and sells 3d-printed table lamps featuring the top of Gandalf’s staff from Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies.

Etsy Marco 3dartem Gandalfs Staff 3dPrinted Lamp

If the power supply weren’t 220 V type L, I’d seriously consider buying one. It’s absolutely gorgeous!

(We have no connection, financial or otherwise, with Marco.)

Image by Marco at 3dartem on Etsy

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