Ancient Clay Cup Animation

Oh, wow: quite possibly the oldest attempt at animation ever comes from some four thousand years ago. It’s a depiction of a goat jumping up a tree to eat the leaves:

The sequence laid flat looks like this:

Wikimedia Burnt City Iran Clay Cup Reproduction

And here’s a photo of the cup:

Wikimedia Burnt City Iran Clay Cup

Found via The Real Iran on Tumblr. My Tumblr source doesn’t unfortunately give any more info, but it sounds like the cup was found in the Bronze Age site of Shahr-e Sūkhté (or Shahr-e Sukhteh) in Sistan, southeastern Iran.

Just reading the Wikipedia page for Shahr-e Sūkhté makes my imagination run—a large trading route hub with connections to Mesopotamia, Central Asia, and India with rich material culture would make an excellent setting for historical or speculative fiction. (For example, among the archaeological finds from the Burnt City is apparently the world’s first artificial eyeball.)

Finding real-world inspiration like this is when I really wish I was a writer!

Images: Animation via Wikimedia. Reproduction via Wikimedia. Cup photo via Wikimedia (Shahr-e Sūkhté, Iran; late half of 3rd millennium BCE; clay).

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?


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Writing, Reading, Living Different Cultures

I saw a Twitter thread about writing culture by author Joan He, on the face of it about her (or your) own but by extension that of others, and it has plenty of food for thought:

 

As a reader, and specifially a reader of speculative and historical fiction primarily not in my native language, I run into differences in culture a lot. And as a person in a multicultural, multilingual relationship in a strange country where I’m a cultural and linguistic minority, from time to time I find myself slammed against more deep-seated cultural assumptions.

Joan pointed out that culture is a way of thinking, or cognition, or perspective. As an example, I’d like to share two failures of cultural expectations from my personal experience.

Ratatouille Anton Ego Perspective Quote

At a con once, I wanted to get a book signed by an American author. I happened to know from their online presence that the author is an introvert. Even though we were both at a public place where introverted authors and panelists often don a more outgoing persona than they do in private, as another introvert I wanted to make sure I’d be especially considerate. However, quite without intending to I tripped over a distinctly Finnish quirk.

One of the big unspoken assumptions in the Finnish culture is that silence isn’t a negative. (Erik and I have both written about it for instance here, here, and here.) In essence, how I understand it, silence means space, and space means respect to other people.

Accordingly, at the abovementioned autograph session, when it came my turn I said my hellos, presented the author with my book, and waited silently. It wasn’t until the author asked me “Did you read it?” that I realised they expected me to say something else. And I had thought I was being courteous not to burden them with yet another dose of chitchat on a weekend full of being “on” at a busy con. I can’t remember for sure, since it was a kind of a deer in the headlights moment for me, but I think I was able to stutter my way to an exit without actually breaking into a run. In any case, not terribly smooth on my part.

I’ve also had a previously friendly person walk away from me when, in the middle of a presentation, I (I’m guessing “merely”) nodded to them to acknowledge their presence and silently continued to listen to the speaker (I’m guessing instead of starting a conversation with the friendly person). Although it’s been years, I still find that an utterly, completely, and thoroughly puzzling reaction.

Over the years, I’ve built a store of strategies and stock exchanges I can pull out if needed, but it’s been hard to try and perform—for it is essentially a performance—in a way that feels unnatural and at times even rude to me. Even after 10+ years, I still can’t bring myself to commit to it wholeheartedly. I suspect I’ll always be the odd, quiet one in Anglo-American contexts, but that’s my background and temperament.

So: yes, cultural assumptions and perspectives are difficult to convey, whether in writing or otherwise. Adding surface details to a fictional culture is easy, and it can be a fantastic tool for both creating distance from the everyday world and deepening the invented one. I love seeing glimpses of the practicalities that fictional characters deal with; I would find—and have found—stories seriously lacking without them. Never, though, should the surface glitter be where invention on the part of author ends; that is as unsatisfying as a lack of external cultural markers.

Being a truly exceptional author has, for me, come to mean not only the ability to create layered, nuanced worlds (or convey the complexities of everyday life in historical fiction). In addition, skilled authors I enjoy the most are able to avoid massive infodumps and to suggest underlying cultural values subtly, as inseparable part of narration and dialogue. And that’s a very challenging thing to do. It sometimes takes me more than one read-through to feel I’m beginning to understand a story. Then again, worthwhile things often are the most difficult ones.

Image via The Autodidactic Hacker

In Live and Active Cultures we talk about cultures and cultural differences.

Global Medieval Sourcebook Brings More Manuscripts Online

Stanford University’s Global Medieval Sourcebook (GMS) now brings English versions of previously untranslated Middle Ages literature to everyone’s fingertips for free.

Global Medieval Sourcebook The Gosling

The open access, open source teaching and research tool offers manipulable scans of the manuscripts alongside transcribed texts in their original language and in new English translations. Also a brief introduction for each text is included, providing a commentary on the text’s cultural context and transmission history, its content, and the scholarly conversation around it.

The texts come from Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and Asia between the years 600 and 1600. The current selection of languages is impressive: Old and Middle High German, Middle Low German, Medieval Dutch, Old and Middle French, Old and Middle English, Medieval Italian, Medieval Latin, Old Spanish (including Aljamiado), Medieval Hungarian, Chinese, Arabic, and Persian.

Texts are searchable by genre, author, period, language, and keyword. The GMS also includes a few audio files of specialists reading the texts in their original language.

Sounds like a fascinating resource! I’m especially intrigued by the audio files, since that’s not a typical resource in medieval text databases. Stanford seems just to be getting started, however, since at this writing only some dozen or so texts are included in the sourcebook. I also encountered some glitches, hopefully to be fixed shortly.

Image: The Gosling / daz genselin from British Library MS Harley 4399 f.37 via Global Medieval Sourcebook / Stanford University (Middle High German, c. 13th, illuminated manuscript)

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

Rosetta Stone Online in 3D

The British Museum has made a 3D-scan of the Rosetta Stone and released it for exploration, download, and sharing. The model is available at the museum’s Sketchfab site:

Sketchfab British Museum Rosetta Stone Screencap
Screencap of the Rosetta Stone 3D model by the British Museum at Sketchfab

I just love the effort museums and libraries are making to bring their collections online. Providing 3D models is another step in making the collections relevant to the 21st century life.

Visit The British Museum at Sketchfab for additional 3D models—over 200 at this writing!

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

Disney’s Hercules Made into a Dress Mimicking Ancient Greek Pottery

Hercules and Hercules: Hero to Zero, Disney’s animated stories based on the Heracles myth, are now available to wear. Sort of.

HotTopic Hercules Dress1
Disney Hercules Pottery Dress from HotTopic

“You’ve probably heard of Disney’s Hercules… he’s kind of a big deal. This fun pottery montage design dress includes Hercules performing various feats of strength. The pottery banner reads ‘From Zero to Hero’ around the skirt.”

HotTopic Hercules Dress2
Disney Hercules Pottery Dress from HotTopic

I don’t typically care for merchandise based on superheroes or animated characters. This dress is kinda neat, though, as far as the print design goes. The material, however, disappoints: 95% polyester and 5% spandex. Wearing what’s essentially a plastic bag has no appeal to me at all.

Found via Fashionably Geek.

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

How to Helsinki: Shopping in Finland

Worldcon is in Helsinki this year. As a Finnish-American couple, we are very excited about this! In the coming months, we’d like to offer some practical advice about visiting Finland to our fellow fans who are considering going to the event but haven’t had experience with Finland and Finns before.

Eppu here. Shopping in Finland has changed quite a bit in my lifetime. For most of its history, Finland was a poor relative to and fought over by Sweden and Russia. After the second World War, though, and especially after 1970s, Finland has changed drastically and is now one of the most stable, orderly, and prosperous countries in Europe. Nowadays you can find pretty much the same things in Helsinki as you would in any other Western European capitol—spiced with the Finnish flavor, of course.

Shop at Suomenlinna by Jennifer Woodard Maderazo on Flickr
Shop at Suomenlinna island fortress by Jennifer Woodard Maderazo

Like Erik mentioned already (HTH: Eating in Helsinki), 1- and 2-cent euro coins are not used in Finland. While legal tender, shopkeepers might nevertheless decline accepting the coins. Everything is instead rounded up or down to the nearest 5 cent number. (If you’re a coin collector and want a full set, there are 1- and 2-cent coins to buy.)

Perhaps a shock to visitors from outside the EU is the high sales tax or value-added tax (VAT; in Finnish, arvonlisävero or ALV). EU member states are required to collect VAT, but each state is free to set its own rate. Currently in Finland, VAT is 24% for general items, but there are lowered rates of 14% for food and restaurant services (excluding alcohol and tobacco) and 10% for books, medicines, and transportation or cultural event tickets, among others.

Marking the tax may also differ from what you’re used to. After I moved to the U.S., having to do calculus to find out the final purchase prices was an annoyance to me. In Finland, all prices already include any applicable taxes; what you see on the price tag is what you pay.

People living permanently outside the EU or Norway may be able to make VAT-free purchases, but note that retailers are not obligated to offer tax free shopping. If they do, there’s often a sticker at the door or at registers, and a number of requirements apply. See Tax-free sales to travellers in Finland for more.

Shop Window by Ian Kennedy on Flickr Cropped
Shop window from the Design District Helsinki, detail, by Ian Kennedy

There’s a movement to start charging a small fee on plastic shopping bags in stores, and some chains have already started, but as of this writing no consensus exists. It’s perhaps best to bring your own foldable totes or prepare to pay for bags.

If you’re planning on buying electronics or DVDs, note that Finnish DVDs are region 2, and electric sockets and plugs are Europlug type C or the grounded Schuko type F.

 

A few recommendations

Books

kirjakauppa – kirja ‘book’ + kauppa ‘store’

The biggest book store chains are Akateeminen Kirjakauppa and Suomalainen Kirjakauppa (NB. no English site; store locations listed here). Used books can be found in various antikvariaatti or antikvaarinen kirjakauppa.

Stockmann Book Department by IdeasAlchemist on Flickr
Stockmann Book Department by IdeasAlchemist

Moomins

The iconic Moomin (Muumi) troll family created by Tove Jansson can nowadays be found in many stores and on a great variety of items. Official Moomin merchandise can be found at Moomin Shops, the most centrally located of which is inside the Forum shopping center (link to a map); there’s also a shop at the Helsinki-Vantaa airport.

Moomins by Mike Burns on Flickr
Moomins on dishware by Mike Burns

Design & Fashion

Some of the world’s most imitated and admired designers and architects come from Finland. From Eero Aarnio’s Ball Chair (The Prisoner tv series, Men in Black II) to the Marimekko Unikko poppy pattern (worn by Jackie Onassis) to a new generation of designers, the Finnish style tends towards modern, understated clean lines. Merchandise from design houses and individual designers are often showcased in the Stockmann Helsinki city center department store during the summer season.

Fiskars shopping by Visit Finland on Flickr
Fiskars shopping by Visit Finland

Vintage & Second-Hand

Open-air markets and market halls are good places for finding vintage and second-hand items, including older design. The non-profit Fida and UFF chains sell primarily second-hand clothes. Flea markets—kirpputori or kirppis—may also work.

Window shopping 2 by kallu on Flickr
Window shopping #2 in Kallio, Helsinki, by /kallu

Handmade

Handmade wares vary from high design to mom-and-pop operators. Both types can often be found at a tori (an open-air market) or kauppahalli (market hall), or the former in various souvenir and/or design shops. One hot spot (though touristy) is the south side of Senaatintori (Senate Square; link to a map)—walk along Unioninkatu, Sofiankatu, Katariinankatu, or Helenankatu towards Kauppatori (Market Square) and the harbor.

Hand made by Freeariello on Flickr
A hand made seller at Kauppatori in Helsinki by Freeariello

Some links:

Images: Shop at Suomenlinna by Jennifer Woodard Maderazo on Flickr (CC BY 2.0); Shop window cropped from a photo by Ian Kennedy on Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0); Stockmann Book Department by IdeasAlchemist on Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); Moomins by Mike Burns on Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); Fiskars shopping by Visit Finland on Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0); Window shopping #2 by /kallu on Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); Hand made by Freeariello on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND-2.0)

In Live and Active Cultures we talk about cultures and cultural differences.

Spot-on Hobbit-Style House in Scotland

Reddit user KahlumG shared photos of an amazing hobbit-style house built by their uncle outside of Tomich, Scotland.

Hobbit House1 EWTn6if
Look completely like it could be from Bree, right?

The inside looks as appropriate as the outside.

Hobbit House2 3n9V7lU

Hobbit House3 eaQp2fD

And—and I almost can’t believe it, it’s so perfect—the house has an outbuilding with its own water wheel!

Hobbit House4 ht4lINL

Kudos! Visit the imgur gallery for many more photos.

Images: kahlum1986 on imgur

Edited to correct an inaccuracy.

In Here is an occasional feature highlighting geeky spaces created by our fellow geeks all over the world.


Western Asian Science Fictional Art

Omar Gilani is an illustrator, designer, and concept artist currently based in Pakistan. Not all of his art has sci-fi elements, but the pieces that do are amazing. Take a look:

Omar Gilani 2
Omar Gilani
Omar Gilani 5
Omar Gilani

The engineer-turned-artist takes inspiration from everyday life and combines traditional drawing with digitally created elements.

Omar Gilani sits4
Omar Gilani
Omar Gilani maybe3
Omar Gilani

I am very sorry I found out about his work only a day(!) after the Hugo nomination period closed. Well, hopefully he’ll continue producing genre art so I can nominate him next year.

Found via Islam and Science Fiction.

Crossposted from the Playfully Grownup Home blog.

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

5,000-Year-Old Beer Comes Alive

How would you like to make beer and get college credit for it? Students at Stanford got to do just that. Their final project for Professor Li Liu’s course Archaeology of Food: Production, Consumption and Ritual involved practical experiments with ancient brewing techniques and materials. The oldest “recipe” they tried is 5,000 years old:

“Liu, together with doctoral candidate Jiajing Wang and a group of other experts, discovered the 5,000-year-old beer recipe by studying the residue on the inner walls of pottery vessels found in an excavated site in northeast China. The research, which was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, provided the earliest evidence of beer production in China so far.”

The materials for the ancient Chinese beer contained millet, barley, Job’s tears (Chinese pearl barley), and traces of yam and lily root parts. The students tried other combinations as well. Watch a short video explaining the experiments:

Stanford students recreate 5,000-year-old Chinese beer recipe by Stanford

Professor Liu’s research also shows it’s possible that barley (a very popular beer grain even today) may have been introduced to China from western Asia hundreds of years before previously thought and specifically for brewing instead of a food crop.

Fascinating! It shows that as long as we have records—or material remnants, not just written word—there have been people interested in the minutiae of food and food production. I for one am grateful to be able to enjoy the fruits of such a long history of delicious experiments.

This post has been edited.

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!

Scandi-Style Stormtrooper Sweaters

A speed-knitter and a Star Wars fan? There might still be time to make one of these awesome stormtrooper sweaters for Rogue One opening!

Etsy NatelaDaturaDesign Stormtrooper Sweater
NatelaDaturaDesign on Etsy

Both the instant download patterns and finished knits are by Natela Astakhova at NatelaDaturaDesign on Etsy. Just glancing at it, my eye read the pattern as your generic Scandinavian circular yoke sweater, then I did a double take. As I already said, awesome!

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