Visual Inspiration: Frog Lives up to Its Name

The mossy frog or Vietnamese mossy frog (Theloderma corticale) comes from Southeast Asia. (Apparently it’s known by many other names, too, like Tonkin bug-eyed frog, but that just sounds offputting, doesn’t it?)

Flickr Smithsonian National Zoo Mossy Frog

Not the only animal with camouflage to play dead when threatened, the mossy frog does it cuter than others, if you ask me. Very effectively, too, if the photo below is any indication:

Flickr mamojo Vietnamese Mossy Frog

Just think if your fantasy role-playing game had a party of player characters traveling through a clearing in a wild, overgrown forest dotted with mossy boulders, which suddenly started moving… and turned out to be huge frogs! Or a secondary world story with villagers somewhere in the boonies struggling to catch and cook these abnormally large frogs before they eat the village’s harvest.

As a total side note: while writing this post I learned that one of the synonyms for camouflage is the phrase plain brown wrapper. I’ve no idea how I’ve never come across that before, but now I know it. It’s one of the joys of language learning to me: you never really stop picking up new words and expressions. 🙂

Images: On a stick by Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Rawpixel via Flickr (CC BY 4.0). Camouflaged by mamojo via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

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

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Light Magnifier out of a Spherical Water Bottle

I stumbled upon a Tumblr post by Peter Morwood on non-electric light sources in period and/or fantasy writing and screen adaptations, and found out about a brilliant (no pun intended!) historical lighting aid. It’s simply a spherical water bottle or a glass globe arranged in front of a candle to concentrate the light.

It’s surprisingly effective as a magnifier: placing a candle behind the bottle does diffuse much more light around than placing a candle beside it. Morwood tried it in his kitchen with good results.

Tumblr Peter Morwood Light Magnifier Comparison

The principle works with electric light bulbs, too, as the photo below with a woodcarver shows.

Tumblr Peter Morwood Wood Carver

Similar to for instance burning glasses or reading stones, these light magnifiers are apparently often called lacemaker’s lamps, (glass) focusing lamps, or magnifying globes or condensers. If interested, you can read more e.g. at LaceNews blog post Collecting: Lighting for the Lacemaker.

Morwood even refers to one in Peter Jackson’s movie Fellowship of the Rings:

Tumblr Peter Morwood LotR FotR

Well, what do you know! From the extensive making-of documentaries I already knew how carefully the Weta teams worked on the Lord of the Rings props. This just proves it again. Great job!

Found and images via Peter Morwood on Tumblr.

History for Writers looks at how history can be a fiction writer’s most useful tool from worldbuilding to dialogue.

Living Vicariously Through Social Media: Eagle-Winged Northern Lights

The Astronomy Photographer of the Year contest is hosted by National Maritime Museum, part of the Royal Museums Greenwich in Britain. In 2022, the competition was run for the 14th time. This shortlisted photo by Alexander Stepanenko didn’t win the award for auroae, as astounding as it is:

Colossal Alexander Stepanenko Winged Aurora orig Sm

Stepanenko’s shot was taken in Murmansk, Murmansk Oblast, Russia, and was highly commended by the jury.

Spectacular, isn’t it? As a Finn who grew up two hours south of the Arctic Circle, I’ve seen my share of northern lights, but never this, hm, I guess curvy is the right word. I know they undulate and can therefore make fancier shapes; I’ve only managed to see them fairly linear, though, or curving over quite a large swath of the sky, just like I haven’t seen any purple or yellow ones myself.

Come to think of it, there is a thin lining of white and purple at the right edge of this aurora. Wow! Is it any wonder that natural scenes like these have lead the earlier hominids and humans to think of magic and gods?

Image by Alexander Stepanenko, found via Colossal.

Out There highlights intriguing art, places, phenomena, flora, and fauna.

Mandip Gill and Jodie Whittaker Pushed for Doctor Who Romance

This fall we’ve worked on catching up on Doctor Who, including some reading. Apparently, the romantic signals between Yaz and the Doctor essentially came from the actors, Mandip Gill and Jodie Whittaker, after they saw some fan speculation in social media.

Bleeding Cool Thirteenth Doctor and Yaz

Intriguing! I have often wondered how much say actors typically have over their characters, but I guess there isn’t a typical situation. At least on the basis of movie and series documentaries, it really seems to be up to each individual showrunner / writer / director how much creative control they’re willing to hand over to anyone else.

As I don’t read fan fic of any kind, this development was surprising to me. It was played nicely, though—subtle, not a hammer to the head (like some other stories I could point to).

Anyway; delighted to finally have a female Doctor! I’m looking forward to what writer Russel T. Davies and actor Ncuti Gatwa have in store for the fifteenth Doctor.

Image by BBC via Bleeding Cool

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

First trailer for Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny

The first trailer for Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is out!

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny | Official Trailer by Lucasfilm on YouTube

It’s still hard or impossible to say what the story is about. De-aging Harrison Ford looks impressive, from what we can see. But yay, more archaeology fan fiction with our favorite grumpy professor!

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

Living in the Science-Fictional Now: Flying Cars Are Closer than Ever

Flying cars have been dreamed of as long as cars have been around. If certain projects or companies are to be believed, flying cars will actually become available soon. For certain values of soon, anyway, and for certain values of car.

Current designs are as varied as the propulsion technologies and terminologies: flying cars, hovercars, gyrocopters, passenger drones, quadcopters, VTOL aircraft, eVTOL, maglev cars, personal air vehicles… Whatever you call them, aircraft that look less like airplanes and more like other small personal vehicles do seem be closer than ever to everyday reality.

Klein Vision AirCar in Flight Sm

For example, Volocopter’s air taxis have been demonstrated in Singapore (2019). The Dutch PAL-V Liberty gyroplane has not only test flown (2012) but also been approved for road use in Europe (2022). The AirCar by Klein Vision (pictured above) has completed a test flight between two cities(!) in Slovakia (2021) and received a certificate of airworthiness from the Slovak Transport Authority (2022). Reportedly, recent projects are also ongoing in Turkey and China. And, related to flying cars, a smart city and tourist destination being built in northwestern Saudi Arabia—dubbed Neom—has been planned for rail traffic and air taxis according to some reports.

Now, I’d assume all of the above is predicated on plentiful energy. How P*tin’s attempted extortion of Europe’s energy market (which has wider ripple effects, I’m sure) affects the development of flying cars will remain uncertain for some time yet.

I have to say, if flying cars do become common enough to be relatively easily available, I am tempted to get a pilot’s license (whatever kind might be required)—if I’m not too old by that time. (Planes are too high a hurdle, but small personal vehicles might just do for me.)

As a linguist, though, I’m mostly engaged with the question of a handy everyday name. That, too, is likely to be wrangled over at least as much as the technology side of their development.

Image: AirCar by Klein Vision

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

Sound Sample Played on a Paleolithic Instrument Replica

A group of French researchers published their study of a conch shell from the Upper Paleolithic period based on an assumption that it was used as a musical instrument. The article includes a sound sample gained by blowing into it—the first such sample published.

The conch shell in question, a Charonia lampas—a handsome marine mollusk—was found already in 1931 at the cave of Marsoulas, which is a so-called decorated cave. The shell is dated to roughly 16,000 BCE. And, interestingly, the shell was not only modified—presumably to make it fit a human mouth more easily—but also decorated with traces of colors and engravings.

Science Advances Conch Shell Horn Sm

The color is mostly found in fingerprint-sized and -shaped red dots on the internal surface of the shell. They are similar to motifs present on the cave walls, including a bison covered with a layer of red dots (seen in the background of the image above).

Aren’t the dot decorations fascinating? Apparently, similar conch shells have been used around the world as musical instruments in later periods, with similar modifications. Also, the oldest known flutes discovered thus far come from earlier paleolithic periods, roughly 40,000-20,000 years BCE, so the the concept of horn or flute should have been known. It certainly would make sense, then, that this shell was a horn.

You can hear the sound by downloading an audio file attached to the article.

Fritz, C. et al. “First record of the sound produced by the oldest Upper Paleolithic seashell horn” in Science Advances, Vol 7, Issue 7 (10 February 2021). https://doi.org/10.1126/sciadv.abe9510

Image by G. Tosello via Science Advances

An occasional feature on music and sound-related notions.

Night Elf Balance Druid Transmog Tweak

My main WoW toon these days is my balance druid, so I was surprised to realize I’ve kept her transmog appearance broadly speaking the same for over three years (here she is in a January 2019 post). Time for a final tweak before the end of Shadowlands!

I still like her vest plus shoulder combo (Tribal Vest and Bonechewer Shoulderguards) combined with her purple hair, so when I found a matching weapon (Avowed Arcanist’s Staff) I decided to only fiddle with the rest of the outfit.

WoW Shadowlands Bastion Druid in Reds

For a change, the helmet, gloves and boots are off. Ghostclaw Leggings are one of my favorite designs from the earlier expansions, and the Mighty Girdle goes with them well. Oddly, the Shardhide Leather Bracers make the lower edge of the White Swashbuckler’s Shirt sleeves bulge, as if the shirt had puffy sleeves, so I decided to treat that as intentional.

Here’s the mog viewable in the Wowhead Dressing Room.

Image: World of Warcraft screencap

Of Dice and Dragons talks about games and gaming.

Namor Featurette for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

The U.S. release day for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is tomorrow! To keep the hype up, Marvel has published a short featurette on Namor:

Marvel Studios’ Black Panther: Wakanda Forever | Namor by Marvel Entertainment on YouTube

Looks cool, even if it tells me less than I’d like. (If I ever read any comics with Namor as a kid, I’ve blissfully forgotten.) It does look like Angela Bassett’s Queen Ramonda has a larger part to play in BP:WF. That’s great; I’ve liked her a lot ever since I saw her in Strange Days. (OMG, that was in 1995!)

We two are really busy right now, but if lucky, we might be able to slip in to see BP:WF already today. (For some weird reason, in Finland the release of large international productions often happens a few days before the American one.) Definitely some time during the opening weekend, though!

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

Living Vicariously Through Social Media: Sandy Pyrenees

Now that it’s cold again in the northern hemisphere, it doesn’t feel wrong to post about this phenomemon.

I discovered that in March 2022, storms in Sahara threw a lot of dust into the atmosphere, and winds carried it hundreds of miles away. Here’s a photo from a ski resort in the French Pyrenees, where the slopes were covered with a layer of reddish sand:

Twitter BBC Weather Saharan Dust in Pyrenees

An amazing sight, isn’t it?

Although, as someone who’s grown up using sand and gravel on snow to stop motion, I do have to wonder at one thing: how on earth are you able to ski down these slopes?

(Being the wrong kind of Master of Science, I can only guess it has to do with the skier’s weight pushing the skis below the surface of the snow, therefore escaping the sand friction and still enabling skiing, but I don’t know.)

Image by BBC Weather on Twitter

Out There highlights intriguing art, places, phenomena, flora, and fauna.