28 August 2011

Water, Water Everywhere . . . Well Once, Anyway

Astronomers find largest water reservoir ever,
12 billion years in the past 

Ok, call me kooky but this headline has me chuckling maniacally this morning.  I mean, first our hopes are raised to this insane height:  
Humanity is SAVED! 
Texas is saved! 
Las Vegas can use all the water it wants FOREVER! 
I can leave the water running when I brush my teeth!!  
And then, our dreams are dashed so utterly and completely:  
Like, you mean we need a Time Machine?
Is this some kind of Cosmic Joke? 

It is from an article was written by Matt Ford in Ars Technica. Here's the scoop:

"Using a pair of sub-millimeter wavelength telescopes, two teams of astronomers have discovered the largest reservoir of water ever found in the Universe. The water-containing cloud was found near quasar APM 08279+5255, some 12 billion light years from Earth; this means that the radiation seen today from this quasar was emitted when the universe was a scant 1.6 billion years old."

24 August 2011

A Trekkie, I Do Confess It

I am so old school when it comes to matters of Star Trek. I like the original series best, prefer some of the older novels (Diane Duane*, Diane Carey**, Margaret Wander Bonano***, and Janet Kagan****), and thought the reboot movie with two Spocks and the destruction of the entire previous timeline/storyline to be entertaining as a movie but total do-do when it comes to the Start Trek mythology proper.

But while I may be old school, I am always ready to be amused. A Tumblr blog called Spock is Not Impressed takes a single idea - Photoshopping this one image of Mr. Spock - and runs with it.  I've been wanting to learn Photoshop - this may be my motivation for doing so! 

All above images from Spock is Not Impressed


* Diane Duane is, to my mind, the best writer of the ST novels.  She crafts her sentences well and has a keen ear for affect and a keen eye in description.  Her first ST novel, The Wounded Sky captures the crisp yet affectionate comaraderie of the Enterprise crew and the wonderment of Space that we 1960s NASA babies still cherish. 

Her more extensive series -- Rihannsu: The Bloodwing Voyages --  takes as its jumping off point a TV episode moment of espionage by Kirk and Spock.  Duane demonstrates her writerly craftiness well: the Romulans ("Rihannsu" as they call themselves) maintain a strong code of honor and nobility similar to that of the Ancient Romans of Earth.  When writing of them, Duane's language shifts into a more stylized, epic sensibility.  I appreciate writers who have that kind of sensitivity to context and character.

** Diane Carey has a fine, intense way with a ST story.  Some are better than others - in my opinion, of course.  She is prolific, that's fer shur, having written 30 ST novels so far.  That may be why the quality varies.  It's hard to maintain a high tone of story, tone, and writerliness at that pace. 

My 2 favorite of hers are Best Destiny (a tale of Kirk as a smart-ass teen who finally figures it out; life, that is) and Final Frontier (where we meet Kirk's father, George, and see where Kirk gets his integrity gene). 

Ms. Carey doesn't appear to have a website - at least I wasn't able to locate one.  A list of her books is at this wikipedia page.

*** Margaret Wander Bonanno's relationship with the world of ST has been a bit rocky due to Paramount's uneven handling of the ST universe with regards to the authors they hire.  "Play the game our way, get published" seems to have been the Paramount mantra for awhile.  But I think she, like Carey, made the mistake of thinking the ST universe was her own.  I stopped reading her stuff when it seemed to me that her non-ST book The Others was an affair with the Vulcan way - the kind of story referred to in the fan-fic biz as a "Mary Sue."

[from Wikipedia]: "A Mary Sue (sometimes just Sue), in literary criticism and particularly in fanfiction, is a fictional character with overly idealized and hackneyed mannerisms, lacking noteworthy flaws, and primarily functioning as a wish-fulfillment fantasy for the author or reader. It is generally accepted as a character whose positive aspects overwhelm their other traits until they become one-dimensional. While the label "Mary Sue" itself originates from a parody of this type of character, most characters labeled "Mary Sues" by readers are not intended by authors as such. Male Mary Sues are often dubbed "Gary Stu", "Larry Stu", "Marty Stu", or similar names."
I don't mean this as a slam on either author.  If I wrote anything for ST it would be totally a Mary Sue novel!  In its idealized form, the ST Universe is a great and desirable place to be.

Her best ST books - again, in my opinion - are Dwellers in the Crucible and Strangers From the Sky.  In both she captures the deep emotional connections that ST characters often share.

 **** The late Janet Kagan wrote one gorgeous ST novel, Uhura's Song.  Its writing is a tad stilted, and Spock is unlike any Spock I saw in the original series, but the story is fully realized and the story both a romp and a reminder of the ST ethos of the IDIC (Infinite Diversity, Infinite Combinations).  What I especially admire is that she snuck in a believable, non-stereotyped gay character (Rushlight to-Vensre the Bard). It's not stated in the book that he is gay, but Kagan noted this in an online comment I read somewhere (an old NaNoWriMo forum, I think).

If you are totally ST geeking at this point, let me refer you to this Wikipedia article which is a list of all the ST novels published to date.  You're welcome!

23 August 2011

Lookin' Good in Milwaukee

 Oh yeah!  

Baseball fever is upon our household and there is joy throughout the land.  This image and a short story about the utter goofiness of this bunch of guys is at Inside Sports Illustrated here.

20 August 2011

Packages for an Imagined Event: Item 3

Some of the items I received from a project crew member.

Several months before the Summer Wizarding Event I put out a call for cool stuff.  Oddments, baubles, old science tools -- anything that could be imaginatively repurposed as a magical gift package for one of our "new students."

The following packet went to a boychild about age 10.  It was a combination of items received, items found or bought, and items created.

As it happens, I knew the boy in question.  He was the grandson of one of our actors.  So I guessed that he might enjoy a small collection of "adventure tools."

The compass was a cheap find from American Science and Surplus, one of the coolest stores ever!  A quote from their Manifesto page says it all: "American Science & Surplus continues to offer a unique mix of industrial, military and educational items, with an emphasis on science and education. We supply a wide range of unusual and hard to find items (some say bizarre stuff) to the hobbiest, tinkerer, artist, experimenter, home educator, do-it-yourselfer, and bargain hunter." Just reading the item descriptions in their catalog is entertaining.

Sample Product Description from the AS&S catalog: "Gadgeteers, get out your charge card. This is an instrument you absolutely have to own. It reaches down below sofa cushions, inside piggy banks, into fish tanks, and past a gallbladder. Not simultaneously, of course."

We're lucky to have a location here, so I make it a point of "visiting" ever few weeks.  I always find some neat stuff.  The magnifying glass in the above pic also came from AS&S; part of a set of 7 (priced at only $7.95), each different sized and each with its own little cloth drawstring bag. Several of the packages I made up had one of the magnifiers as part of the gift.

The grey rectangle in the stitched case is a fire flint; the kind of thing a backpacker or camper would keep in their stash of critical tools.

The key came from the large collection of keys we amassed for another aspect of the event (info about that is forthcoming in a couple of weeks!).  It looked like the kind of key an intrepid explorer might find useful should a mystery door or lock box be discovered. 

The letter that accompanied this package was from a long-ish ago alum of our School.  I made the old-looking stationery by printing a parchment graphic on both sides of sheet of off-white card stock paper which I then trimmed using a paper cutter.  I used an image I'd found via Google Images (under the search phrase old parchment paper). To make the paper look old (and it to distinguish it from the old letters some of the other kids received as part of their packages), I tweaked its color and contrast using the Picture Tools function of Microsoft Word.

I typed the letter itself using one of the 9 machines I have in my portable typewriter collection.  Here is the transcription.

March 20, 2011

Dear Mr. - - - - - - - ,

I hope this package arrive[sic] in time for N---- 's New Student Orientation Day. We past students always like to send a letter or a little something to the First Years as a kind of Welcome and congratulations thing.

Well I asked for my student name back in February as I knew I would be traveling a lot this year.

My official title is Chief Cartographer of Magical Lands. Fancy way of saying that I make maps! My employer is the cool Muggle company called The National Geographic Society. There are a number of N---- grads working here as well as several from the ------ [Canadian] school.

I am sending along to you my basic Explorer's Kit from my 2nd year class in Cartography Craft. The fireflint came in handy in Potions class too!

Good Luck!
H---- B----
House -----, 1998


The letter was folded -- the name of the child written in mocha-brown ink using a dip pen --  and placed in the wooden box with the items. 

The box itself was a 99-cent Goodwill find.  It had a brand name reverse-embossed on the top which I wanted to disguise somehow.  The solution was a smallish, wooden door knob which I painted with a metallic dark gold, acrylic paint and super-glued to the cover.  Some of the brand name's lettering could be seen still, so I painted a metallic border around the base of the knob and decorated it with small "doots" of silver puffpaint.

Fortunately, there was a small magnet that kept the box from popping open, but to make sure it didn't fall open when the boy opened the heavy postal paper wrapping, I tied a strand of gold-metallic thread around the box to keep it shut.

The end result looked like something a wizardy type made for him/herself with the idea that a non-wizardy person would think it perfectly normal.  With a small door knob on a small box, normal it wasn't!  But that was part of the joke of this package.

* * * * * * * * * * *

The posts describing these imaginary postal packages can be found grouped here under the tag faux package

16 August 2011

Slightly to the Left, Eyes Right

Photo Description: 
"Teresa Truffi, full length portrait of a woman,
slightly to the left, eyes right, 
standing, in theatrical costume,
holding a small bottle."
(Daguerreotypes Collection)

One of the key sets in the Summer Wizarding Event was the Headmaster's Office. We dressed it to look both normal and odd, the idea being that the occupant happened to be a wizard but was also a person of eclectic interests. One small desk prop was a hinged pair of brass frames. I was asked to locate possible images for it. The requester said the images needed to be "similar but different' and a little off kilter. Something that could be printed in sepia-toned ink. So off I went on an Internet hunt! Here's some of what I came up with.

Searching Google Images using the phrase old portraits photography brought a wide range of photos. Lots of baby pics, some rather buxom and forward ladies, and a few good options for our game.

The Daguerreotypes Collection from the Prints and Photographs Online Collection at the Library of Congress had some wonderful personalities, fey and intriguing. It is impossible not to wonder about these people; what they were like, how they sounded when they spoke, what they thought funny, what made them sad. Here are a few images from the LoC site:

Edwin Forest

Unidentified Woman in White Shawl

Junius Booth

Unidentified Man and Woman with Child

Unidentified Woman Sewing

The following image is from a collection of daguerreotypes held by the William L. Clements Library at the University of Michigan. The daguerrean (as he titled himself) was Thomas Easterly. This portrait is of more singular interest given its poignant beauty and Easterly's note on the back: "Equal'd by few." The woman is (Anna) Miriam Bailey, the woman Easterly married a year later. 

12 August 2011

Packages for an Imagined Event: Item 2

In addition to each receiving a packet of letters (3 in envelopes, 2 post cards, a couple of junk mail ads, a booklet of faux coupons, and the odd item here or there), each child attending the recent Summer Wizarding Event received a postal package containing some unusual artifacts and a letter.  Here is the description of the making of Package Number Two. 

The post on Package 1, including the list of the criteria used to select and create the items is posted here. A total of 19 packages were made - I'll be posting on each one in the coming weeks.

The wrapped packet was about 4x4 inches square.  The postage stamps were from Australia.

There were two items in this package.  One was a smallish case made from a sea shell.  The edges of the shell had been gilded and a hinge and clasp attached.  (The item had been donated by one of the event crew members.)  The other item was a large glass gem that I found at Jo Ann Fabrics.  The image below is from a different site, but it shows the diamond-cut shape of the gem better than my pic.

The gem I got was multi-colored in deep rich shades with a mirrored base. It was cool: it changed colors when you moved it around! I padded the inside of the shell case using some leftover quilt batting which I cut to fit the shape of the shell.

The box I found at Goodwill seemed an ideal match.  It was covered with purple fabric and had a simple clasp that looked a little like whalebone (but was plastic).  I didn't have to do anything to the exterior; it was unusual enough as it was.  The interior, however, needed some extra padding to that the shell and gem wouldn't rattle around and possibly break. 

So I carefully cut the seam of the lining, and stuffed in a few more pieces of the quilt batting.

The last thing to create was the letter.  I had some small pieces of handmade paper in my paper stash; one was heavyweight and torn.  I wrote the letter to the child using a deep red ink and an Art Deco era Esterbrook dip-less pen.

Text of the Letter:  

Dear E--,

Now that I have graduated from N-----, I think it's time for my spell catcher to go to another student. It took me awhile to learn how to use it, but eventually I did. The spellgem works a little differently for each person, however.  Good luck in figuring out how it will work for you!

Have fun! A----- L-----, from House D----.

The letter was then folded and placed on top of the shell. 

The letter writer noted in the return address she'd wrote on the package wrapping that she was "now back in Australia."

09 August 2011

The Whimsical Engineer

Smartphone Self Control: We know you love your gadgets. Always on, checking your crackberry every 5 minutes. Sometimes it's tough, but there are days they need you to sit down at a meeting and actually pay attention to the quarterly sales forecast. Make it through without checking your smartphone and award yourself this badge.

The above charming item (pic and text) is from a blog I follow called Awkward Engineer.  I don't recall how I found about him, but his humor - which is subtle and sly and, because of that, somehow fierce and joyful - absolutely makes my day every time I stop by.

Here's the Likes and Interests bit from The Awkward Engineer's Facebook page.  I am not an engineer and usually go all wiggy when confronted with numbers, but that last point -- the feeling you get when you understand something in math class -- yeah, I get that.  It's very cool!

05 August 2011

Packages for an Imagined Event: Item 1

Back in April I posted a request for odd objects to be used as items for the kids who attended this Summer's Wizarding Event.  I combined the things I received with various cool "stashes of junque" donated by event crew and my own collection of oddments and baubles. 

The purpose of this magpie behavior was to be able to create unusual and wizardly-like packages for our student attendees to receive via Owl Post on event day.

Each package had to achieve the following goals:
  • The items contained had to be things that could be regarded (or imagined) as magical in some way.
  • The gift package had to suit the child's age (our group went from 8-14 years of age).
  • The package had to have comparable coolness as far as all the other (19 total) packages were concerned (so that no child felt somehow slighted).
  • Each package had to be slightly unique compared to the others (similar was ok, but the overall package had to be a one-and-only experience for the child).
  • Each package contained a personally written letter to the child that talked about the items enclosed.
  • The items had to be enclosed in some funky, exotic, or otherwise not quite everyday box of some kind.
  • The package had to be wrapped for the mail in heavy brown packing paper; tied with some kind of cord or fiber; addressed personally but oddly to each child; and decorated with real postage stamps and cancellation marks.

Here is the first package.  (Throughout this run of posts on the faux packages, I will have covered the name of the students, event characters, and any other identifying information about the event itself at the request of the main planners (who are working to copyright aspects of the event).

Package 1

This item was something donated by my father-in-law, Professor Science.  It was a mathematical toy he picked up in England some 30+ years ago.  The thing itself was a metal, bendable, springy shape called The Octyflex.  It came with a xeroxed sheet of information and illustrations.  With a little computer magic, it became The Octyflexor Spellbinder!

The first thing I did was scan the xeroxed page of illustrations. Then I created an individual graphic of each of the shapes and tinted each a dark red.  Using Microsoft Word, I made a booklet of pages, with two of the illustrations per page. I printed the booklet on an ivory-colored parchment paper.


To make the cover for the booklet, I searched on Google Images using the phrase old book cover. I picked one that looked nicely antique and further aged it by darkening it using the Picture Tools function in Word.  The eye-effect of the center lozenge shape was just a matter or adding an oval shape and a mini-version of one of the octyflex illustrations. The inside cover parchment-look was achieved by printing a parchment graphic on the opposite side of the page. The whole cover was printed on heavy cardstock.

Finally, I gave it a little magical glamor by gently brushing a gold-inked rubber stamp pad over the pages and covers. The pages were "bound" by a triple strand of dark red embroidery thread that I tied around the center along the fold of the booklet.

The idea for the letter for this package was that the spellbinder was the invention of a medieval-era magician and the "letter" was his instructions along with the injunction for the user to do no evil with his creation.

I had images of parchment (located by searching Google Images with the phrase old parchment paper).  Again, using the Picture Tools function of Word, I darkened the image slightly and modified its contrast so that the page looked a little dirty. I printed the image on each side of a single sheet of off-white cardstock (so that the letter would look like a piece of real parchment.)

While that dried, I typed the text.  The first 2 paragraphs were the text of the xeroxed instruction sheet, edited slightly to sound like notes, not game instructions.  The last two paragraphs were ostensibly written by the magician.  I added a touch of Leonardo Da Vinci by using one of the illustration graphics, modified to look like it had been drawn in a rusty-colored chalk.  The idea was that the magician was "proving" that this was his invention by including an original sketch.

After printing the text onto the parchment paper, I let it dry, rubbed a little gold ink onto its surface, tore the edges to roughen them up a bit, and then scrunched it all up to make it look and feel like a worn piece of an ancient scroll.

Text of the last two paragraphs:

I, Seamus Willem O'Kinaire, Wizard 4th Level, Mohr Scola Magica do claim the design and invention of this magical tool and have made this umber pencil image as proof of what I have done. 

Should anyone find this scroll, I ask you to honor my memory and use my creation for good.

The octyflex spellbinder, letter, and booklet went into this box - something I found at Goodwill for all of $1.  In removing the price sticker from the bottom, part of the paper was torn off as well.  So I covered it with a stamped image from my collection of rubber art stamps that I texturized using embossing powder and a heat gun.

And here (below)  is how Package 1 looked before I wrapped it up for posting.  The entire box was approximately 4.5 x 4.5 inches square.

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