Of Course There’s a Full Moon on Halloween in 2020

There’s no shortage of frightening things in 2020. This is the year that gave us a horrible global pandemic and the stressful new routines of physical distancing that come with it, murder hornets, double hurricanes, the worst economic crash since the Great Depression, locust swarms, and the most agonizingly awful US election cycle in my lifetime, to name only a few. With all of these awful things overwhelming our usual means of coping, it’s natural that people will look for ways of blowing off steam.

Holidays that let us shed some of the usual rules of polite society are one way people can get a break from the stresses of life. “Festivals of reversal,” as they are sometimes called, can be a psychological release as we get to leave ourselves behind for a day and become someone else. Halloween is one of the best examples of such a holiday for much of modern US culture, a day when the normal rules are relaxed, when adults get to be childish and children get to take candy from strangers.

This year, Halloween falls on a Saturday. What’s more, that night will have a full moon providing plenty of light for nighttime revels. In an ordinary year, that combination would set us up for some wild shenanigans on Halloween night. I’d be stocking the candy bowl and keeping an eye out for mischievous young hooligans.

But this is no ordinary year. This year, big parties and nighttime rule-breaking are more than just a neighborhood nuisance; they could spread deadly disease, overwhelm already stressed hospital systems, and leave a death toll in their wake. Halloween 2020 presents a concentrated version of the dilemma that has dogged us all year: the things we need most to psychologically endure this crisis—distraction from the reality around us, uninhibited human contact, an escape from stringent social rules—are the very things that prolong the crisis and make it more deadly.

I sympathize a lot with anyone who feels like they need the little vacation from daily life that Halloween offers, but I’m frightened of the consequences. Stay spooky, everyone, but stay safe, too.

Image: Grinning Halloween lantern by Kim Støvring via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Here there be opinions!

How Not to Study Linguistics

The Greek historian Herodotus recounts a tale about a rather dubious experiment in linguistics supposedly carried out by the Egyptian king Psammetichus.

The point of the experiment was to find out what people or nation in the world was the oldest. It was based on the assumption that the oldest culture’s language would be the language that people who had never heard spoken language before would speak. Further, Psammetichus assumed that the invention of this original language could be artificially recreated. The result of these mistaken assumptions is a bit of a comedy of errors. Here’s how Herodotus tells the tale:

When Psammetichus could not find out by inquiry what people were the oldest, he devised the following plan. He took two newborn children at random and gave them to a shepherd to bring up among his flocks, with orders that they be raised in such a way that no one should make any sound in their presence, that they stay in a lonely hut, and that he should regularly bring his goats there so they could drink their fill, and attend to their other needs. He did these things, and Psammetichus commanded him to notify him at once what word first burst forth from the children, once they had left behind the meaningless babble of infants. And it did indeed happen. When the shepherd had been taking care of the children for two years, once when he opened the door of the hut and went in, both of them fell upon him stretching out their hands and crying: “Bekos!” At first, the shepherd took no notice of what he had heard, but when he kept hearing the same word on his repeated visits, he began to pay attention to it. He sent word to the king, and when ordered, brought the children before him. When Psammetichus heard it for himself, he investigated what people called something “bekos,” and from his investigations he learned that it was the Phrygian word for bread. Taking this fact into consideration, the Egyptians acknowledged that the Phrygians are older than they are.

– Herodotus, Histories 2.2

(My own translation)

As should be obvious (and probably was to Herodotus’ audience), the experiment was in fact a failure. When the children exclaimed “bekos” at the shepherd’s arrival, they were not producing an actual word but simply imitating the bleating of his goats, the only sound they had heard another living creature produce. The fact that Psammetichus did not realize this (and had not accounted for it in designing the experiment) makes this whole story a joke at his expense. The punch line of the joke may be a little lost on a modern audience: the Phrygians were a people who lived in inland Anatolia and spoke a language related to Greek. Phrygians were stereotyped by the ancient Greeks as ignorant country bumpkins. For the Egyptians—proud of the antiquity and sophistication of their culture—to be forced to yield the title of “most ancient people” to the Phrygians was a deflation of their cultural pretension.

Although Herodotus claims to have heard this story from Egyptian priests, like more than a few of the stories he tells about Egypt it sounds more Greek than Egyptian. Specifically, it sounds like a Greek joke told at the Egyptians’ expense. Greeks and Egyptians had close and friendly relations in Herodotus’ day, but it was a relationship in which the Greeks were definitely the junior partners. Egyptians liked to celebrate the antiquity and wisdom of their culture, and we can understand if Greeks occasionally got a bit fed up with being looked down on. This story uses language was a way of turning the tables to suggest that not only were the Egyptians not as ancient a culture as they liked to claim, perhaps they were not as wise, either.

On, of, and about languages.

Halloween Tentacle Cupcakes Headcanon into House Stormsong

The newest World of Warcraft expansion, Shadowlands, was supposed to be released next Monday, October 26, 2020, but Blizzard decided to postpone it for an unknown time. Bleah. Well, these Halloween cupcakes do actually fit better with the House Stormsong aesthetic from Battle for Azeroth:

nikki-wills-tikkido-horror-cupcakes-6_0

Visit the tutorial by Nikki Wills at Tikkido to find out how to make yours!

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!

More Silly WoW Battle Pet Names

A while ago Eppu shared some of her best silly names for her battle pets in World of Warcraft. In that same spirit, here are a few of mine. (Be warned: some terrible puns ahead.)

First, let’s start with my Erudite Manafiend, which is name Garkthyn. “What’s so silly about that?” you might be wondering. Well, Grakthyn accompanies my warlock, whose voidwalker is called Grak’thyk. You could say they’ve been through thyk and thyn together. (Don’t worry—it gets worse.)

Male Turkeys (which are the ones who display their fan of tail feathers like this) are called toms, which is all I’m going to say about why mine is named Bombadil.

My Fossilized Hatchling is named Boneyparts. (Yes, that’s a Napoleon reference.)

When there’s something strange in the old barn yard, who ya gonna call? Goatbuster! (Ghastly Kid)

My Lurking Owl Kitten is called Hootenanny, because why not?

The Anubisath Idol stands with its hands poised ready to strike. Why else would I call mine Idol Hands?

Some of my pets are named in Finnish. My Sinister Squashling is named Kauhea Kurpitsa, which is Finnish for “horrible pumpkin.”

Another one is Lentokone, my Ancient Nest Guardian. This pet is a mechanical type that can temporarily turn into a flying type. “Lentokone” is the Finnish word for airplane, but litterally it means “flying machine,” which felt appropriate.

Maybe someday Dark Whelpling will grow up to be another Smaug, but for now it’s just a Smig.

Got any good pet names you want to share?

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

Star Trek: The Next Generation as a Wholesome 90s Sitcom

YouTube user TrainDozer re-imagined Star Trek: The Next Generation as a wholesome 90s sitcom, and the trailer is hilarious:

Data – A 90s Sitcom by TrainDozer on YouTube

The best part is that TrainDozer clearly pulled in material from the gag reels. (My only criticism is that from this trailer, you can’t tell that the series supposedly centers Data. Ohwell!)

Found via File 770.

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

Native American Cosplay of Captain America

Casey (otherwise known as hot.glue.burns on Instagram) made a Native American variant of Captain America’s costume for the 2019 San Diego Comic-Con. And the cosplay is both inventive and gorgeous!

Poster Cosplay in America has copied & pasted some of Casey’s thoughts:

“I originally brainstormed this costume in late 2015, but I really started rolling on production this last year, once I committed to this years SDCC… My main goal was to make a Native American variant of a fan-favorite character. I was immediately drawn to Captain America because of everything he symbolizes as basically the poster boy of a nation. To me it was the perfect parallel. And once I visualized the red and white bone breastplate on my abdomen, I knew this was something I had to see through.

“A lot of old school leather work with the awl! The majority of the armor was made from a base of 6mm EVA foam with 3 oz deer hide glued over it. The pieces were then stitched together with sinew or leather lace. Using this technique allowed me to form curves and build the necessary bulk of the armor pieces while also getting the suede textures I was looking for. And a whole lot of beading!”

Found via Good Stuff Happened Today on Tumblr.

Happy Indigenous Peoples’ Day!

Crossposted from the Playfully Grownup Home blog.

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

A Huron/Wyandot Glengarry Cap

This decorated hat was created by an indigenous North American Huron/Wyandot artisan around 1840. It is made of wool, silk, and moosehair, worked using traditional techniques, but patterned after the Glengarry-style cap of the Scottish highlands and decorated with a Victorian floral motif.

Hats and other decorated objects like this one represent a complex interplay of cultural, artistic, and economic influences. Indigenous artisans from Iroquoian, Wabenaki, and other native nations had long created trade goods intended for exchange with European settlers and adapted to European tastes. In the nineteenth century, indigenous creators took advantage of the growth of a tourist industry around the Great Lakes region to market a broader range of wares combining forms that white customers would recognize and find useful, like this Glengarry cap, with decorative schemes that appealed to Victorian sensibilities while preserving traditional techniques. Such objects were created in a combination of traditional and modern materials, such as moosehair and leather combined with wool, silk, and glass beads.

The creation and sale of these goods—often produced by female artisans—provided both a means of preserving traditional artistic methods and a valuable economic resource to indigenous and First Nations peoples at a time when other opportunities in white-dominated American and Canadian society were hard to find, and indigenous cultures were often suppressed, sometimes violently.

Image: Glengarry-style cap via Metropolitan Museum (Metropolitan Museum, New York; c. 1840; wool, silk, and moosehair; unknown Huron/Wyandot artist)

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

Rating: Deep Space Nine, Season 1

With everything that’s going on this past year, we’ve been looking for comfort rewatching, and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine offers a special kind of comfort. While the show was “dark and gritty” by the standards of the 1990s when it came out, it has a Star-Trekian humanity and optimism that we need right now. 2020 makes us appreciate the message of: “We’re all a little messed up, but that doesn’t mean we can’t work together to make things better. The world’s a little messed up, too, and fixing it isn’t easy, but it is possible.”

Here’s how we rated season 1.

  1. “Emissary” – 8.5
  2. “Past Prologue” – 5
  3. “A Man Alone” – 4
  4. “Babel” – 6
  5. “Captive Pursuit” – 4
  6. “Q-Less” – 1.5
  7. “Dax” – 4.5
  8. “The Passengers” – 5
  9. “Move Along Home” – 2
  10. “The Nagus” – 5.5
  11. “Vortex” – 2
  12. “Battle Lines” – 3
  13. “The Storyteller” – 3
  14. “Progress” – 4
  15. “If Wishes Were Horses” – 3.5
  16. “The Forsaken” – 7
  17. “Dramatis Personae” – 4.5
  18. “Duet” – 9
  19. “In the Hands of the Prophets” – 8.5

It’s a rocky start to the series. Despite a strong opening, a strong closing, and some good episodes along the way, the average episode rating is only a pretty weak 4.8. Much of this season is spent establishing the main cast of characters and the unique place of Bajor and its history with the Cardassians in Star Trek‘s universe. Much of what we love about Deep Space Nine—the ongoing story, the relationships among the characters, the recurring cast of side characters—is still just being built here.

The worst episode of the season is “Q-Less” at 1.5, Next Generation‘s omnipotent pain-in-the-ass Q’s lone appearance in DS9. Clearly intended as a bridge to ease TNG fans into the new series, for established DS9 fans like us it just feels pointless and out of place. The shaggy dog story of “Move Along Home” and “Vortex,” an early attempt to develop Odo’s character that is hampered by a truly abysmal guest performance, both rate pretty low as well, at 2.

At the other end of the scale “Emissary,” the premiere, and the finale “In the Hands of the Prophets” are both standouts, at 8.5. “Emissary” does an excellent job introducing us to the main characters and to the world of the station and Bajor, graced with a powerful performance by Avery Brooks as Commander Sisko, still carrying the trauma of losing his wife Jennifer. “In the Hands of the Prophets” adds a new level of complexity to the Bajoran story and introduces some important new recurring characters. One of the great things in DS9 is its villains: the smug Cardassian Gul Dukat and the sanctimonious Bajoran Vedek (later Kai) Winn could have been flat one-note villains in lesser hands, but Marc Alaimo and Louise Fletcher give them a depth and nuance that holds up against the stellar performances by the main cast.

The quality of the acting shines in the season’s best episode as well: “Duet,” at 9. At its heart, it is a fairly simple story as Major Kira tries to prove that a mild-mannered Cardassian filing clerk is actually a wanted war criminal in disguise. Most of the episode is just two people in a room talking to each other, but every moment of that dialogue crackles with energy. In a modern tv landscape where writers think they have to kill off characters, concoct shocking twists, and splurge on special effects to keep viewers interested, “Duet” is a master class in how you write compelling drama.

Another delight of season 1 is seeing some of our favorite side characters in the early stages of their growth. Garak, the mysterious tailor, is intriguing from his first scene, long before his dark history as a secret agent unfolds. We also see Rom and Nog in the early stages of their transformation from bumbling idiot and conniving miscreant to bumbling sweetheart and upstanding Starfleet officer.

Got any favorite memories from DS9‘s first season? Share in the comments!

Image: Deep Space Nine season 1 cast via IMDb

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

Glimpse of a Huge Library Offsite Facility

Ever wondered where the really big libraries store their collections? The answer is, increasingly, somewhere else.

Offsite storage sounds cumbersome—after all, you’d have to build, buy, or rent the building, possibly convert the structure, and bring in shelving or other storage containers before you can even think about moving the physical items themselves—but it might actually be the most practical solution, especially in case of old institutions built in high-density urban areas. Also, apart from library science, collections care, digitizing, and preservation, setting up a remote storage facility requires knowledge of logistics and warehousing.

Here’s a chance to peek into the Bodleian Book Storage Facility near Swindon, UK. The BSF holds over 12 million items (books, maps, manuscripts, microfilms, periodicals and newspapers) in a warehouse constructed specifically for the library, and at this writing has been in operation for ten years.

Bodleian describes the facility capacity on their website for completed projects thus:

“The Book Storage Facility consists of an eleven-metre tall solid shelving system comprising 31 Very Narrow Aisles (VNA), with seven different bay type configurations to accommodate the different sizes of books and other materials. It also has a capacity equivalent to 153 miles (230 kilometres) of shelf space and a five level multi-tier structure for map storage. To guarantee the books’ preservation for the long-term, volumes are stored in 745,000 bar-coded and specially designed storage trays and boxes that are of archival standard. Floor area of the warehouse equates to 1.6 football pitches, although the high-density shelving provides shelf surface area equivalent to 16.5 football pitches.”

 

Bodleian BSF Shelving

Below is an excerpt from the post written by Daniel Haynes (haynesd) for the Oxford Libraries Graduate Trainees blog:

“The BSF is huge. Its shelves are 11 metres high and over 70 metres long. Before the automatic lights kick in, the narrow aisles seem to converge into darkness. We wore high-visibility jackets to alert staff driving the book-retrieval vehicles to our presence. A cross between a cherry-picker and a forklift, these vehicles are configured to fit exactly between the shelves, allowing staff to retrieve an impressive average of one book per minute.”

Haynes also lists some of the challenges involved:

“Low-use books kept in storage might suddenly become grow in demand and require relocation ‘on-site’, or vice-versa;

Renovation or building work might require temporary storage (in fact, the BSF currently holds several thousand volumes from Cambridge), so could your facility accommodate for that?

Existing space can always be reconfigured to meet new challenges and needs;

Since an off-site facility means books always moving around, could it also offer research facilities? Some libraries are considering specialised reading rooms to avoid transit for fragile or valuable material.”

As I’ve has to wait for a book to arrive from offsite storage to a library for me, I appreciated this glimpse into the backend operations of large library warehouses.

Image via Oxford Libraries Graduate Trainees blog

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

Custom Bookcases with Carvings for a LotR Collection

Now this is a treasure, preciouss! A Finland-based company built these amazing custom bookcases for a collection of figurines and other materials from the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.

FB Puustikki LotR Bookcases

Many (if not all?) of the bookcases also have carved crowns. Here’s the Rohan one:

FB Puustikki LotR Bookcases Rohan

There are also metal shields that function as handles:

FB Puustikki LotR Bookcases Dragon

Puustikki talk about their project a bit on Facebook:

“Finally we’re able to publish photos of these custom made, epic showcases for LOTR and Hobbit figurine collection. Probably the biggest collection in Finland and now it’s also displayed in showcases it deserves! This whole thing is 100% handmade out of solid oak and we wanted to use glass doors to maximize visibility into the cases. Each one of the showcases has distinct features to corresponding races/nations; carvings on the top and a custom made steel handle.

“Height of these wooden marvels is 250cm, so they barely fit into a regular house! [sic]”

 

Puustikki is run by carpenter Jarkko Pilvinen and jeweler Juho Manninen. The makers pull their inspiration from history and historical fantasy. At this writing, their online store includes drinking horns, a picnic table and benches, beds, dragon pegboards, runed coasters, and jewelry, among others.

My goodness! Astounding, aren’t they? Stylistically, a lot of their other wares are not our style at all, but as a maker myself, I really admire and appreciate the consideration and effort that went into all of their designs.

Check out the Puustikki website or Instagram for more.

Images by Jukka Alasaari Photography via Puustikki on Facebook

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