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

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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.

World of Warcraft Classic Is Not For Me

In these waning days of Shadowlands, with nothing much left to do except wait for Dragonflight to come out, I decided to dip my toe into World of Warcraft Classic. I started a Night Elf druid, since that’s what I play as a main in the current game. I didn’t get very far into the game before deciding that this is not for me.

I did enjoy the nostalgia. It brought back warm memories of days long past when I experienced Azeroth for the first time. But I also missed the many, many quality-of-life changes that have come to the game since then. Questgivers didn’t show on my minimap. I couldn’t mouse over a mob and tell if I needed to kill one of them or not. I couldn’t even track all my quests on the screen. The highlight of my evening was getting a six-slot bag drop off a random boar.

The nostalgia was also soured by facing the reality of 18-year-old graphics and zone design. My Night Elf was not a savage and wild descendant of an ancient race but a lumpy sack of potatoes with a mustache. Teldrassil felt like an abandoned strip mall, not a magical world tree.

I know that there are a lot of people who enjoy playing Classic, even those for whom it is the only version of the game they play, and I am deeply, genuinely happy for them. After dealing with years of stonewalling from Blizzard, I’m delighted that they got the game they wanted. It’s just not the game I want in 2022, and I know that now.

All of you Classic players, I salute you and I wish you the very best of adventures, but don’t expect to see me around any time soon.

Image: Screenshot from World of Warcraft Classic

Of Dice and Dragons talks about games and gaming.

What We Hope Dragonflight Learns from Shadowlands

In less than a week we will say farewell to Shadowlands and move on to the next World of Warcraft expansion: Dragonflight. In anticipation, the two of us reflect on what we hope the new expansion learns from the successes and missteps of the old.

Erik: The biggest thing I hope Dragonlifght builds on from Shadowlands is Torghast, specifically the great flexibility the Torghast dungeons had in how many characters they were for and how difficult they were. Torghast was great for us to play together just the two of us or to do solo when we felt like it. The biggest weakness of Torghast was that it had no rewards beyond materials for legendary crafting. My dream is an expansion where every dungeon adjusts to any size group, from one to five (or even more) and scales its difficulty appropriately. What about you?

Eppu: Agreed! (This is literally the first thing I wrote down, too, when drafting my thoughts for this post.) While it’s fantastic to play through a dungeon that’s adapted to your gear level, getting no proper loot sucks.

The other big thing I hope for is convenient and comfortable flight. You had a few more thoughts about that, didn’t you?

Erik: Yeah, I’m excited that we get flying early in Dragonflight. While I haven’t minded the way Blizzard has handled flying in the past few expansions—starting out on the ground and earning flight by playing through the game on one character—I like the idea of flight being unlocked right out of the gate.

At the same time, I’m a little worried that we’re going to see a classic Blizzard overcorrection and they’re going to turn flight from a convenient method of getting around into some overdesigned, unfun “gameplay” like what happened to mission tables in Shadowlands. Are there any features from Shadowlands you’re hoping won’t make a return next expansion?

Eppu: One, and they already took care of that in the new crafting interfaces. I seriously hated the info box for the marks that you can add onto other crafted items. It was so fecking clunky; I’m really glad it’s gone!

I’d also love to see professions improved. These days whenever you have the mats to make something, your character has already leveled past it. You could always craft items for auctioning, of course, but I find additional management like that annoying. It’s not what I come to WoW for. The crafting orders sound like those who want to dink around with auctioning now will have that opportunity. It will remain to be seen whether the rest of us will have anything useful to craft. How about you?

Erik: I’m interested to see what’s going to happen with crafting, too. I’m right with you on that infernal info box on the crafting interface!

As for things I hope don’t come back, the scarcity of anima was a theme in the lore of Shadowlands, but it also affected the gameplay of the expansion too much. I never explored even half of what the covenant sanctums had to offer just because I never had enough anima to do anything. World quests felt unrewarding for the level of time and effort they required. I hope we don’t have the same scarcity-based design in the next expansion.

But enough about the negative. What are you looking forward to the most in Dragonflight? Blizzard keeps blowing me away with the art design of their zones, and Shadowlands was the best yet. I can’t wait to see the art and design in an expansion focused on dragons and elemental powers.

Eppu: You’re right, the anima scarcity wasn’t satisfying at all—haven’t we done the grind for, what, 18 years now? It’s also true that the art has improved a lot since Draenor (if not Pandaria). But I’m not quite sure what you mean by best art design yet. Would you elaborate?

Erik: I think what I’m trying to get at is this: Each of the main zones of Shadowlands has a clear aesthetic that looks pretty simple at first: Bastion is peaceful fields and clear skies, Maldraxxus is carnage and gore; Ardenweald is a dreamy fairy forest; and Revendreth is crumbling gothic ruins. But the longer you spend in each zone, the more you discover. Bastion is less peaceful than it appears, but the dangers are hidden from sight like the forgotten memories of the Kyrian. The very land in Maldraxxus is made of skin and bone and hair, like the corpse of some gigantic creature. Ardenweald is full of swirls and circles, hinting at the cycle of death and rebirth that it serves. In Revendreth different stories about a corrupt elite and the gnawing discontent from below play out at the higher and lower levels of the of the zone. There is a tighter connection between story and design in Shadowlands than we have seen in most previous expansions. (I’d cite Drustvar from Battle for Azeroth as another excellent example.) I hope we see more of that in Dragonflight, zones that are not only beautiful to play through but where the art and the story inform one another so deeply.

Eppu: Yes! It would be great if the story and art supported each other. So far it’s impossible to say, but I’m cautiously optimistic. The expansions certainly have gotten better and better over the years. Incidentally, my all-time favorite is Battle for Azeroth. Do you have a favorite expansion?

Erik: Hard to say, but I think Legion. I enjoyed the class storylines, and we got a whole new kind of Tauren to play! But there are things I’ve loved in every expansion, and I look forward to finding out what those will be in Dragonflight.

Image: Screenshot from World of Warcraft

Of Dice and Dragons talks about games and gaming.

Random Thoughts on Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

Thoughts in no particular order but grouped thematically. Spoiler warnings in effect!

IMDB Wakanda Forever Wright Huerta Underwater

Characters

Erik’s thoughts:

  • Angela Basset as Queen Ramonda gives a devastatingly powerful performance. She conveys so much grief, love, and determination with very spare acting choices. She commands the scene every time she is on screen.
  • One of the things I have always appreciated about the world of Black Panther is how much room it makes for characters to listen, learn, and grow. We saw it with T’Challa and Nakia in the first movie; here Shuri and M’Baku show it best.
  • Another wonderful thing about Black Panther has been how much room the movies make for women to have stories that aren’t about relationships—romantic or familial—with men. T’Challa’s death naturally hangs heavily over Wakanda Forever, but the movie also balances that with incredibly important relationships among women.

Eppu’s thoughts:

  • Tenoch Huerta was great as an all-powerful, unhinged Namor. He rotated through cracked, creepy, companionable, and perhaps even a little lonely. (After all, we didn’t see him connect with anyone else other than Shuri.) The way he tried to physically intimidate Ramonda by leaning way, way, WAY too close during their beach conversation still gives me the chills.
  • LOVED the amount of women again: women with real agency, and lives and goals of their own. Like real people, imagine that! (Well, perhaps not Director de Fontaine—she smells like a future baddie, and a hammy one at that like Rumlow / Crossbones was—but to be fair we didn’t see much of her yet.)
  • I knew to expect tributes to Chadwick Boseman, but wouldn’t have guessed how much there was. And the opening credit where the letters spelling Marvel Studios were all filled with images of T’Challa—that was perfect. The usual Marvel theme would’ve sounded garish, too. RIP.

Story

Eppu’s thoughts:

  • I found that the pacing worked for me; I didn’t feel bored nor overwhelmed. It was really nice that the characters were given time to process, to just sit for a bit instead of rushing headlong at a breakneck speed. (I’ve long loathed the old rule of there-must-be-an-action-scene-every-7-minutes or whatever; that means you don’t have a story strong enough to hold the audience’s attention.)
  • It was really nice that Ramonda and Shuri had a moment when they left their high tech behind and just sat in the bush at a campfire, talking. It felt true—we Finns certainly detach from the city life and go enjoy nature from time to time.

Erik’s thoughts:

  • The movie felt like it was pulled in too may different directions. It was strongest when it stayed focused on Shuri and her relationships with her mother and the memory of her brother. Riri Williams was fun, but felt like a distraction from Shuri’s story and didn’t have enough time or focus to develop on her own. Nakia’s story was underdeveloped. Everett Ross and Director De Fontaine felt like they had wandered onto the wrong set while filming something else.
  • There is a beautiful echoing of T’Challa’s story in Civil War. Like T’Challa before her, Shuri’s early days as Black Panther are driven by grief and anger as she turns outward the rage and self-hatred that she feels for failing to save the life of someone she loved. T’Challa ultimately learned that revenge is self-destructive by watching Tony Stark and Steve Rogers fight. Shuri arrives at the same point after seeing the spirit of Killmonger, fighting Namor, and hearing her mother’s voice one last time.

Visuals

Erik’s thoughts:

  • Talokan is beautifully designed. It doesn’t look like a surface city built underwater but like a place built by and for people who live and think in three dimensions.
  • I love getting to go back to Wakanda and see more of the visual design. From clothing to technology to architecture, there is so much to see, so many layers and textures.

Eppu’s thoughts:

  • Superhero movies have a tendency for really flashy environments, so I was surprised how, well, watery they made the Talokan design. It felt more realistic (like The Abyss) instead of ostentatious (like Aquaman).
  • I loved seeing so much of Mesoamerican designs and colors! Granted, it’s not my strong suit, but it looked authentic enough.

Concepts

Eppu’s thoughts:

  • Shuri’s bucking against the traditions felt completely in character, and her coming round didn’t feel rushed. (For once—in my experience, mainstream movies and tv series have a tendency to rush the reversal, while artsy movies wallow in it.)
  • It was fantastic to have so many languages on screen! I don’t care that I don’t know them all—although it is very neat when I do, don’t get me wrong—because the main thing is it’s showing an international world, not just telling us the characters live in one. (Captain America: The First Avenger, I’m looking at you and the horrible fake German accent you gave poor Hugo Weaving and Toby Jones to do.)
  • The ship battle at the end was a disappointment, given how awesomely it started (the Dora Milaje jumping over the side supported by Jabari). You could argue that the sloppy Wakandan preparation is due to not having had fair fights in a long time, but Shuri at least used to care about the lives of her fellow citizens. It’s like she dragged people off to a suicide mission. Then, when the Wakandans decided to leave, no-one though to look down the sides of the Sea Leopard, or to safeguard their sonic weapon pointing underwater? Smacks of more arrogance.

Erik’s thoughts:

  • There is a long history in pseudoarchaeology circles of using the idea of a lost civilization as a way of denying the creativity of indigenous peoples. In particular, claims that Mesoamerican cultures were founded or taught by visitors from Atlantis are part of a narrative that feeds into white supremacism. I was worried about what we would see in this movie, but I’m happy that they turned that narrative around: Talokan was not a lost civilization from which the Maya drew their culture but a new civilization created by Mayan people themselves in response to the horror of colonization. I’m also glad that the name “Atlantis” was never even mentioned.
  • I wish we had gotten a standalone Talokan movie before this one. If this movie didn’t have to do the work of introducing us to Talokan and Namor, it would have had more time to develop its other elements and characters.
  • We’ve been rewatching some older Marvel movies lately. It’s interesting to see how the end credits scene has evolved from an Easter egg to a marketing ploy for upcoming movies to a chance for comic relief to an integral part of the storytelling.

Nitpicks

Erik’s thoughts:

  • Talokan was really dark. Realistic for a deep underwater city, but frustrating in a visual medium.
  • Ms. CIA bugged Shuri’s kimoyo beads? Really? Where did she get the technology to do that?
  • Why did we never see the Wakandans trying to rip off the Talokanis’ water breathing masks when fighting in air? That seems like such an obvious vulnerability to attack, especially when they’ve already talked about trying to dry out Namor.

Eppu’s thoughts:

  • Just the one stinger? Come on!
  • It seriously rubs me the wrong way how many people mispronounced Namor’s name. Even Shuri did it right after he told her the name’s origins and she had the chance to hear it. Nay, it’s not NAY-more. Na-MOR. (You don’t even have to speak Spanish to get it right; compare to the first vowel and stress in a-LIVE.)
  • Everett Ross and the CIA infighting felt disconnected, yes, but I did appreciate knowing what’s happened to him. Clearly Marvel is laying the groundwork for something here. (Reminds me of that random stinger with one of Zeus’ sons being given a mission of some kind at the end of Thor: Love and Thunder.)

Image via IMDB

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

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.