That Heavenly Relic

Lysippus’ Hercules was melted for its bronze; so was Bellerophon on his flying horse; the Servant of the Winds was wrenched from her pillar, and all the copper sheathing was stripped from Constantine’s column. The she-wolf of Rome, the ox-head of Pergamon, were thrown into the cauldron for their metals, and Nicetas’ Helen of Troy, that heavenly relic of the Golden Age, was never seen again.

The Venetian Empire, Jan Morris

The People From the Sky

He learned to communicate with them “either by speech or signs,” but no matter what passed between them, the Indians “believe very firmly that I, with these ships and people, came from the sky.” The conviction remained unshakeable, and ubiquitous. Wherever he journeyed, the startled inhabitants “went running from house to house and to the neighboring towns with loud cries of ‘Come! Come! See the people from the sky!’”

Columbus: The Four Voyages, Laurence Bergreen

Native Americans thought Columbus and his ships came from the sky. Let us question our own assumptions about where UAPs originate.

I’m enjoying Yo-Yo Ma’s “Our Common Nature” playlist on Apple Music Classical.

These arches likely don’t support the weight above them, since they are made of small plaster bricks, but I won’t be removing them to find out.

Two miniature medieval buildings that look like parts of a castle.

📷 Photo Challenge: Support. #mbmar

The idea of a vampire was to me absurd. Such things do not happen in criminal practice in England.

The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The spice must flow.

Copy of the book Dune with a container of cinnamon.

📷 Photo Challenge: Spice. #mbmar

What Cook Noticed

In his voyages across the Pacific, Cook had noticed that as far east as Easter Island and as far west as New Zealand and as far north as Hawaii, the people not only looked similar, they spoke only slight variations of the same language. But if they shared a common origin, Cook was hard-pressed to explain how these people managed to scatter themselves across such an immense space. He had seen the natives’ oceangoing outrigger canoes. They were capable of incredible speeds and had, on several occasions, literally sailed circles around his pudgy ships. But if the canoes were fast, they could only sail effectively with the wind, and the trade winds blew from the southeast. Since the Polynesians looked nothing like Native Americans, he reasoned that they must have come from the west. But how did they sail against the trade winds? And exactly where did they originally come from?

Sea of Glory: America’s Voyage of Discovery, The U.S. Exploring Expedition, 1838-1842, Nathaniel Philbrick

The Unwritten Rule

The initial reactions of both leaders had been bellicose. Kennedy had favored an air strike; Khrushchev thought seriously about giving his commanders on Cuba authority to use nuclear weapons. After much agonizing, both were now determined to find a way out that would not involve armed conflict. The problem was that it was practically impossible for them to communicate frankly with one another.

The unwritten rule of Cold War diplomacy—never concede anything—made it very difficult for either side to back down. The question was no longer whether the leaders of the two superpowers wanted war—but whether they had the power to prevent it.

One Minute to Midnight, Michael Dobbs

His most detested vice was the lie, maybe because with the help of the mathematical science he knew the beauty of the Truth too well.

Galileo’s Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith and Love, Dava Sobel

A set of polyhedral dice.

📷 Photo Challenge: Chance. #mbmar

Tiny print outside a camera store that closed decades ago reveals a bygone world. This remains on the wall outside after all these years. “Print densities from gray-card negatives exposed over a 14-stop range. All prints exposed 25 seconds at f/16.”

Graphic showing hanging photo prints and old camera equipment.

📷 Photo Challenge: Tiny. #mbmar

The Blackwing Volume 1138 pencil next to my copy of the novelization of the movie THX-1138, by Ben Bova, which I’ve had since a teenager. I asked Mr. Bova to sign the book when he was guest of honor at Balticon in 2011. It’s a treasured item.

Per caption.

📷 Photo Challenge: Analog. #mbmar

A receding line of columns and streetlights.

📷 Photo Challenge: Portico #mbmar

Versus — Not Verse — Not Even Viz

Let’s go back to pronouncing “vs.” properly.

The abbreviation “vs.” is pronounced “versus.” That is the Latin word for which it is an abbreviation. It is not pronounced “verse,” even though everybody has been pronouncing it that way lately, even sportscasters, such as in “Ravens verse Browns.” I have even seen in writing the word “verse” when it should have been “versus.”

This is a phenomenon of the past couple of years, but it’s not too late. No one has to succumb to verbal trends.

When I was reading MAD magazine as a kid with its comic “Spy vs. Spy,” I pronounced “vs.” in my head as “viz” instead of “versus” because I didn’t know the proper pronunciation or its meaning. Thank goodness I never had an occasion to say it out loud.

We can do this. We can get it right.

Versus. Not verse. Not even viz.

A Hidden Prince

Whether Oxford was born in September or October 1548 to Princess Elizabeth by Thomas Seymour, or in April 1550 to Margery Golding by John de Vere, Earl of Oxford, the shadow of bastardy hung over him.

My own view, which determines the perspective from which I write, is that Oxford was the bastard son of Elizabeth and Seymour, the infant whom rumor declared “miserably destroyed” at birth. Throughout his life, no one knew quite how to treat Oxford. He was alternately deified and demonized, as one would expect of a hidden prince, whose presence promised a bright new future—and blew a hole in his mother’s carefully crafted myth.

Shakespeare’s Lost Kingdom: The True History of Shakespeare and Elizabeth, Charles Beauclerk

(The author contends that Shakespeare was the Earl of Oxford and that Oxford was the bastard son of Queen Elizabeth I.)

“By the dawn’s early light.” Fort McHenry, Flag Day, 2008. (The flag measures 30 feet by 42 feet, a replica of the one that was flying over the fort on Sept. 14, 1814.)

A large United States flag in the process of being raised.

📷 Photo Challenge: Early #mbmar

The road goes ever onward.

A white parking lot line extends over a drainage grate.

📷 Photo Challenge: Road. #mbmar

It took patience to get this shot because clouds kept obscuring the sun (the real one, not the mural one) and I wanted that sunlight and shadow. If one has patience, the sun always rises (barring cosmic catastrophe).

Mural painting of the sun with a face.

📷 Photo Challenge: Patience. #mbmar

Baltimore harbor full of docked ships.

📷 Photo Challenge: Horizon. #mbmar

Sepia tone. An old train car.

📷 Photo Challenge: Connection. #mbmar

Rewrite, yes, but don’t stop to rewrite.

An abandoned department store, devoid of shelves and goods, that seems to go on forever.

📷 Photo Challenge: Shiny. #mbmar

Symptomatic of the Dysfunction

It is symptomatic of the dysfunction within the White House that a break-in Nixon explicitly ordered was shelved while one that he never authorized became a mortal threat to his presidency. Haldeman was proud of his highly disciplined staffing system and paper trail for implementing presidential instructions. But the system broke down when it came to waging war on Nixon’s political enemies. In these cases, orders were issued verbally or in code. Sometimes his instructions were ignored; at other times they were exaggerated. People down the chain of command interpreted his wishes according to their own priorities or pressure from third parties. This is what appears to have happened with Watergate. Nixon’s push for actionable intelligence on the Democrats was transmitted through Haldeman to Magruder (via Haldeman’s aide Gordon Strachan) and from Magruder to Liddy. Another line of communication ran from Nixon to Colson to Hunt, back up to Colson, and down to Magruder and Liddy. A third ran upward from Liddy to Magruder to Mitchell. The result of these competing channels of authority was that a man described by Nixon as “a little nuts” was able to build his own fantasies around the supposed wishes of his superiors. “I mean he just isn’t well screwed on, is he?” Nixon said of Liddy, after learning of his activities in the Watergate. “No, but he was under pressure, apparently, to get more information,” replied Haldeman. “As he got more pressure, he pushed the people harder.”

King Richard, Michael Dobbs

Sepia tone. A boiler is surrounded by a maelstrom of pipes.

📷 Photo Challenge: Gimcrack. #mbmar

A Special Navigation Helmet

In spite of these obvious difficulties, Galileo had designed a special navigation helmet for finding longitude with the Jovian satellites. The headgear—the celatone—has been compared to a brass gas mask in appearance, with a telescope attached to one of the eyeholes. Through the empty eyehole, the observer’s naked eye could locate the steady light of Jupiter in the sky. The telescope afforded the other eye a look at the planet’s moons.

Longitude, Dava Sobel

Currently reading: Wolves by Simon Ings 📚 Not sure about this one, but didn’t want to leave this writer yet after enjoying The Smoke.

Firing a cannon on the U.S.S. Constellation follows strict forms of procedure.

Sailors in period dress stand around a large cannon on a deck of a tallship.

📷 Photo Challenge: Ritual. #mbmar

A Running Narrative in the Perfect Tense

INTERVIEWER: Do you map out your way with any kind of outline or notes before you begin?

BALLARD: Yes, always. With short stories I do a brief synopsis of about a page, and only if I feel the story works as a story, as a dramatic narrative with the right shape and balance to grip the reader’s imagination, do I begin to write it. Even in the Atrocity Exhibition pieces, there are strong stories embedded in the apparent confusion….

In the case of the novels, the synopsis is much longer. For High-Rise, it was about twenty-five thousand words, written in the form of a social worker’s report on the strange events that had taken place in this apartment block, an extended case history. I wish I’d kept it; I think it was better than the novel. In the case of The Unlimited Dream Company, I spent a full year writing a synopsis that was eventually about seventy thousand words long, longer than the eventual novel. In fact, I was cutting down and pruning the synopsis as I wrote the novel. By synopsis I don’t mean a rough draft, but a running narrative in the perfect tense with the dialogue in reported speech, and with an absence of reflective passages and editorializing.

— J.G. Ballard interview with The Paris Review published in 1984 (discovered via Warren Ellis’ blog)

Three squiggles of blue neon.

All these squiggles together emphasize that this mall was built in the ‘80s. 📷 Photo Challenge: Together. #mbmar

A Rampage Through the Inner Solar System

Jupiter is not just the oldest planet orbiting the sun—it’s also the largest. So when the young gas giant went on a rampage through the inner solar system, it shaped the fate of everything in its path. Speeding towards the Sun, Jupiter’s massive gravitational force hurled debris into interstellar space, stunting the growth of would-be planets. Earth might have been doomed had Saturn not pulled Jupiter back. Today, Jupiter resides in the outer solar system, where its gravity bends the paths of asteroids and stokes volcanic activity on its moon Io. But it could one day wreak havoc again.

— PBS, posted summary of “Nova” episode “The Planets: Jupiter”

People walk along a brick-lined sidewalk in Baltimore.

📷 Photo Challenge: Walk. #mbmar

Speaking of the Great Maryland Baking Show…

Bag of King Arthur Baking Company's whole wheat flour.

📷 Photo Challenge: Whole. #mbmar

Watching “Great British Baking Show” to distract from bad back pain. Maybe hot chocolate ganache is good for sore muscles. Not eaten. Spread.

A curving pipe coming out of the ground in a field of grass.

Spring is coming. Soon the steampunk will begin to sprout. 📷 Photo Challenge: Engineering. #mbmar

The Eye-Aching Glimmer

INTERVIEWER: What are your daily working habits like?
BALLARD: Every day, five days a week. Longhand now, it’s less tiring than a typewriter. When I’m writing a novel or story I set myself a target of about seven hundred words a day, sometimes a little more. I do a first draft in longhand, then do a very careful longhand revision of the text, then type out the final manuscript. I used to type first and revise in longhand, but I find that modern fiber-tip pens are less effort than a typewriter. Perhaps I ought to try a seventeenth-century quill. I rewrite a great deal, so the word processor sounds like my dream. My neighbor is a BBC videotape editor and he offered to lend me his, but apart from the eye-aching glimmer, I found that the editing functions are terribly laborious. I’m told that already one can see the difference between fiction composed on the word processor and that on the typewriter. The word processor lends itself to a text that has great polish and clarity on a sentence-by-sentence and paragraph level, but has haywire overall chapter-by-chapter construction, because it’s almost impossible to rifle through and do a quick scan of, say, twenty pages. Or so they say.

— J.G. Ballard interview with The Paris Review published in 1984 (discovered via Warren Ellis’ blog)

Patterned sunlight on walkway tiles.

📷 Photo Challenge: Tile. #mbmar

Costume as a Visual Art

There were outfits of cloth of gold, Florentine velvet, silver tissue, damask and satin, mantles lined with ermine, heavy gold collars with diamonds the size of walnuts suspended from them, ceremonial robes with trains four yards long, and jeweled rings worn on fingers and thumbs. Some clothes were cut in “Hungarian” or “Turkish” fashion, and many had raised embroidery in gold or silver thread. It was an age in which men strutted like peacocks in their finery, although none was finer than the King, who looked upon costume as a visual art.

The Six Wives of Henry VIII, Alison Weir

Snow on a tree with sunshine.

📷 Photo Challenge: Weather. #mbmar

A door of wooden planks and iron fixtures. Address number 1626.

📷 Photo Challenge: Secure. #mbmar

An Alternate History

Charles Thomson was uniquely qualified to write a history of his times. As secretary of the Continental Congress from 1774 to 1789, he had functioned as what one historian has described as the “prime minister” of the Congress….

Soon after his retirement in July 1789, Thomson set to work on a memoir of his tenure as secretary to the Congress, eventually completing a manuscript of more than a thousand pages. But as time went on and the story of the Revolution became enshrined in myth, Thomson realized that his account, titled “Notes of the Intrigues and Severe Altercations or Quarrels in the Congress,” would “contradict all the histories of the great events of the Revolution.” Around 1816 he finally decided that it was not for him “to tear away the veil that hides our weaknesses,” and he destroyed the manuscript. “Let the world admire the supposed wisdom and valor of our great men,” he wrote. “Perhaps they may adopt the qualities that have been ascribed to them, and thus good may be done. I shall not undeceive future generations.”

Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution, Nathaniel Philbrick

Jefferson on Washington

To Jefferson, Washington had been a grand, often distant figure whose grace and aloofness made him a living figure of myth. “He was incapable of fear, meeting personal dangers with the calmest unconcern,” Jefferson wrote long afterward. “Perhaps the strongest feature in his character was prudence, never acting until every circumstance, every consideration was maturely weighed; refraining if he saw a doubt, but, when once decided, going through with his purpose, whatever obstacles opposed.” Jefferson was less impressed with Washington’s intellectual gifts. “His mind was great and powerful, without being of the very first order; his penetration strong, though not so acute as that of a Newton, Bacon, or Locke; and as far as he saw, no judgment was ever sounder. It was slow in operation, being little aided by invention or imagination, but sure in conclusion.”

There were hidden depths. “His temper was naturally irritable and high toned; but reflection and resolution had obtained a firm and habitual ascendency over it,” Jefferson continued. “If ever, however, it broke its bonds, he was most tremendous in his wrath.” Washington was a man, in other words, around whom one was careful.

Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power, Jon Meacham

To Acquire a Quire

“In the Middle Ages, a quire (also called a ‘gathering’) was most often formed of 4 folded sheets of vellum or parchment, i.e. 8 leaves, 16 sides. The term ‘quaternion’ (or sometimes quaternum) designates such a quire. A quire made of a single folded sheet (i.e. 2 leaves, 4 sides) is a ‘bifolium’ (plural ‘bifolia’); a ‘binion’ is a quire of two sheets (i.e. 4 leaves, 8 sides); and a ‘quinion’ is five sheets (10 leaves, 20 sides). This last meaning is preserved in the modern Italian meaning of quire, quinterno di carta.

“The current word ‘quire’ derives from OE ‘quair’ or ‘guaer’, from OF ‘quayer’, ‘cayer’, (cf. modern Fr. cahier), from L. quaternum, ‘by fours’, ‘fourfold’….

“It also became the name for any booklet small enough to be made from a single quire of paper. Simon Winchester, in The Surgeon of Crowthorne, cites a specific number, defining quire as ‘a booklet eight pages thick.’ Several European words for quire keep the meaning of ‘book of paper.’”


John Steinbeck Must Have Used a Selectric

In this interview with John Steinbeck’s son Thomas conducted by the makers of Blackwing pencils, Steinbeck relates what happened when his father’s publisher informed him that his typist died. She had been the only person who could read his handwriting. He couldn’t turn in handwritten manuscripts; he had to get a typewriter.

He says his father bought an IBM that was so loud it rattled the walls. It must have been a Selectric. He mentions the ball the IBM Selectric used, which was a rapidly rotating, replaceable ball that traveled across the page typing the letters instead of keys.

From the video’s transcript:

“So he went out and bought balls in every language. Remember they had the ball? And he got balls in Finnish, and balls in Russian. Just to see what they looked like, you know?

“And just to get it back on his publishers, he one day wrote… sent them… three pages in Russian. Now he couldn’t speak or read Russian, he just used the Russian ball and made all these letters in Russian.

“Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick.

“And shipped it off and said ‘How’s this?”

“And they said, ‘You’re kidding.’”

Filled a stub nib TWSBI Eco Yellow with Noodler’s Baltimore Canyon Blue, as you do.

A State of Chronic Edginess

Writing a novel is one of those modern rites of passage, I think, that lead us from an innocent world of contentment, drunkenness, and good humor, to a state of chronic edginess and the perpetual scanning of bank statements. By the eighteenth book, one has a sense of having bricked oneself into a niche, a roosting place for other people’s pigeons. I wouldn’t recommend it.

— J.G. Ballard in an interview with The Paris Review published in 1984 (discovered via Warren Ellis’ blog)

The Size of the World

Ptolemy’s omissions inadvertently encouraged exploration because he made the world seem smaller and more navigable than it really was. If he had correctly estimated the size of the world, the Age of Discovery might never have occurred.

Over the Edge of the World, Laurence Bergreen

Oh! Double 0 ... Seven!

A man whom Elizabeth called “my philosopher,” [John] Dee inspired the character of Prospero in Shakespeare’s play The Tempest. And he helped to create the British intelligence service….

To enhance his mystique, he signed his letters to Queen Elizabeth with a pair of O’s to indicate watchful eyes, followed by the number 7, believed to be lucky, drawn across the O’s: 007, from which Ian Fleming, a former British intelligence officer turned spy novelist, is said to have taken James Bond’s code number. The spirit of James Bond, combining absolute loyalty to the Crown with a cavalier attitude toward danger, extends back to [Sir Francis] Drake.

In Search of a Kingdom, Laurence Bergreen

A Forked Fork

In 1004, a Byzantine aristocrat named Maria sparked enormous interest in Venice by eating with an ancient Roman double-pronged golden instrument. Touted as the latest word in sophistication, the device became enormously popular, and soon the fork was common throughout the West.

Lost to the West: The Forgotten Byzantine Empire That Rescued Western Civilization, Lars Brownworth

Adventures Were What They Were Being Protected From

Heinlein always had a hard time coming up with ideas for these boys’ books. He had to invent something adventurous that boys would be interested in, without needing excessive background explanations. And it was always a problem to get the boys out from under the thumbs of their adult “protectors,” because adventures were what they were being protected from. Targeted at a general readership, these boys’ books could not use the genre conventions of the science-fiction magazines — but he could use ordinary science.

Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue with His Century, William H. Patterson, Jr.

Finished reading: The Smoke by Simon Ings 📚 Nice to read something that has a style to it again. Comfortably weird. Reminiscent of Ian McDonald’s Terminal Café, but less opaque.

Incoming Transmission: Yog-sothoth

Incoming transmission: Yog-sothoth by Cryo Chamber Collaboration

From Bandcamp:

“A 2 hour dark soundscape album recorded by 20 ambient artists to pay tribute to H.P. Lovecraft. Field recordings from foggy towns to desolate mountains. Deep space drone and crackling amplifiers combine into a black sky devoid of stars.”

Album cover for Yog-sothoth, green with a design in the center.

Looks like Markdown blockquotes get an extra set of quotation marks when put through ActivityPub because Mastodon doesn’t do Markdown. Oh, well.

“To me, in order to make a good American pie you almost have to make it British.”

— Paul Hollywood, “Great British Baking Show”

Oh, snap.

The Essential Features of the Modern Revolt

The ballet contains and illustrates many of the essential features of the modern revolt: the overt hostility to inherited form; the fascination with primitivism and indeed with anything that contradicts the notion of civilization; the emphasis on vitalism as opposed to rationalism; the perception of existence as continuous flux and a series of relations, not as constants and absolutes; the psychological introspection accompanying the rebellion against social convention.

Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age, Modris Eksteins

I had no idea ballet was so subversive.

Finished reading: Bunker Hill: A City, A Siege, A Revolution (The American Revolution Series) by Nathaniel Philbrick. 📚 An eerie amount of detail on the beginning of the American Revolution. I can see the sunlight, the bayonets, the red coats, the river, the bridge.

Carneys, Causeways, and Herepaths

Pilgrim paths, green roads, drove roads, corpse roads, trods, leys, dykes, drongs, sarns, snickets — say the names of paths out loud and at speed and they become a poem or rite — holloways, bostles, shutes, driftways, lichways, ridings, halterpaths, cartways, carneys, causeways, herepaths….

In the Netherlands there are doodwegen and spookwegen — death roads and ghost roads — which converge on medieveal cemeteries…. In Scotlands there are clachan and rathad — cairned paths and shieling paths — and in Japan the slender farm tracks that the poet Basho followed in 1689 when writing his Narrow Road to the Far North.

The Old Ways, Robert Macfarlane

Incoming Transmission: Teliffusion

Incoming transmission: Teliffusion by Concretism.

From Bandcamp: “‘The album is an homage to the obsolete television technology that has faded into history, like the video on an overused Beta SP tape, never to return, but of which whose ghosts still linger.“” — Chris Sharp, aka Concretism

Cover of album Teliffusion featuring a VHS tape motif.

Be Strong and Courageous

On a walk I stumbled upon a sign — a placard, a painting — facing outward in a second-story window of a house, in a back room. On it were the words “Be Strong and Courageous,” with a painting of a lion beside it. There were more words, smaller, under the first, but they were too far away to make out.

Who is the sign for?

Facing outward from a window behind blinds, it is not for the inhabitant to see. From a back room on a second floor, with some words hard to read, it is not much noticeable. It must be for passersby — who happen to look up; who happen to notice — and really just for neighbors walking by or living by, since it is on a side street and only visible if one is leaving.

It’s a good sign to see but hard to see. So I thought I’d place it here too — for those who happen to glance up; who happen to notice.

Incoming Transmission: Interim Report, March 1979

Incoming transmission: Interim Report, March 1979 by Warrington-Runcorn New Town Development Plan. From Bandcamp: The album “is Gordon Chapman Fox’s hymn and homage to the brutalist beauty of Cheshire’s designated new towns of Warrington and Runcorn.”

Album cover showing exteriors of 1970s buildings.

Incoming Transmission: For Concrete and Country

Incoming transmission: For Concrete and Country by Concretism. From Bandcamp: “This album features music inspired by Britain’s Cold War infrastructure and state continuity preparations for nuclear emergencies — both real and imagined. The album takes us on a sonically adventurous journey through microwave tower networks, hardened telephone exchanges and devolved regional governments.”

Album cover showing the surface of what looks to be a geodesic dome.

Giving up on this “Troy” series after 20 minutes. Nice cinematography and constant sun flares cannot make up for complete lack of characterization.

Graphic Design Kamishibai

Discovered through John Coulthart’s feuilleton blog, this post from Spoon & Tamago about a graphic designer’s exploration of kamishibai, which I’d never heard of before, is fascinating.

The kamishibai (literally “paper play”) is a Japanese form of storytelling that involved a narrator using illustrated paper boards to tell stories…. This concept served as the inspiration for graphic designer Katsuhiko Shibuya and his class of students at Joshibi University of Art and Design. The task, however, was to deconstruct fairy tales even further using only graphic symbols.

I find the first one, a telling of Snow White, particularly interesting (I guess because I know the story). The apple is a red circle. The mirror a white circle. The hunter is an arrow within what looks like a hexagram from the I, Ching (six solid lines vertically would be “Earth”). The dwarves are numbers 1 to 7. It’s reminiscent of Picasso’s Bull, exploring how simplified and abstracted an image can become and still hold meaning.

I’m still wondering about the last panel. The Queen and the Hunter gaze at Snow White through the Magic Mirror? The mirror is not depicted elsewhere except in the key. Or is Snow White protected from them within the circle, in a castle of her own? Or both?

A long moving walkway down a tunnel.

Between East and West. 2010.

Can’t believe I successfully set up GitHub to post the things using the GitHub thing. Still confused that I’m “committing” instead of “saving,” but I get it.