Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Alternate Zodiacs

I don't personally believe in the zodiac, but I'm trying to be more tolerant of different religions.

Millions of people worldwide look to the stars to help make decisions and run their lives.  However, many don't know there are different astrological systems from around the world and are depriving themselves of alternative sources of truth.  For those who want to know more about themselves, I've compiled all the major, modern systems below.

Astrological Zodiac
Astrological signs come from ancient Chaldea and is based upon the date of ones' birth.

Practical, prudent
Friendly, humanitarian
Imaginative, sensitive
Adventurous, energetic
Patient, reliable
Adaptable, versatile
Emotional, loving
Generous, warmhearted
Modest, shy
Diplomatic, urbane
Determined, forceful
Optimistic, jovial

Chinese Zodiac
The Chinese Zodiac comes from (you guessed it!) China, and is based on the year of ones' birth.

Popular, inventive
Dependable, calm
Brave, contemplative
Talkative, trustworthy
Healthy, energetic
Bookish, lucky
Popular, cheerful
Artistic, questioning
Funny, problem solvers
Hard workers, talented
Loyal, worried
Studious, brave

Pomaceous Zodiac
The Pomaceous Zodiac comes from the ancient art of determining the genome from various cultivars.

Bright, artistic
Commanding, watery
Selfish, green
Short, hairy-footed
Chubby, feminine
Collector, overblown
Pink Lady
Tart, crunchy
Sweet, inexpensive
Red Delicious
Mushy, flavorless
Dead, haunted
Got the wrong list
Granny Smith
Sour, painful

Ikea Zodiac
You can learn a lot about people by what they do when shopping for cheap furniture.

Favors cheap over quality
Goes there for the food
Kicked out of kids department
Can't find parking
Likes tiny homes
Sits in the carts
Can't follow the arrows
Uses the childcare
Can't assemble squat
Never saw Fight Club
College student
Not smart enough to realize I put this in twice

Geek Zodiac
Science has determined the best way of learning more about a person is to see what that person does as a hobby.

Loves lost causes
Final Fantasy
Named a kid Sephiroth
Why isn't the game called Link?
Raspberry Pi
Covered with solder buns
Burning Man
Part camel
Owns too many tools
Has no self-esteem
Got the wrong list
Babylon 5
Brilliant, discerning
Not a geek

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

On the Star Wars 40th Anniversary

Dear Mr. Lucas,

I'd just turned seven when Star Wars came out, and I was very clear to my parents about one thing: I would not go see it.  Science fiction films weren't my thing.  Now that I'm an adult, I can appreciate 2001, Silent Running, and Westworld, but as a child they left me cold and uncomfortable.  I yearned for something more, but I couldn't find anything and gave up.

So when my parents tried to take me to your film, I dug in my heels and refused to go.

I'm now the father of two boys.  When my eldest was three, I made him his first ice cream.  As he sometimes did with food he didn't recognize, he clamped his mouth shut and turned his head away.  After wheedling and pleading with him to try it ("It's a dessert!"), I finally got some into his mouth.  His face lit up, and he quickly became an ice cream enthusiast.

My parents had the same experience taking me to Star Wars.

Like everyone else, I went nuts over the film.  I saw it over and over again in theaters.  I was obsessed with the toys to the point where my parents used Star Wars action figures as rewards for learning to multiply (I still have the Jawa I got for learning my 7s).

Running out of Star Wars things to spend money on, I dove into the library, tearing it apart for something similar, something more.  I studied science and space travel.  I learned about narrative structure, tension, and character development.  I read about mythology and history.

I began to write.

And now I'm a science fiction author.

Sometimes, when I write, I realize how much your work affected me.  I try to make my worlds varied and mysterious.  I create fights in the framework you created for the duel between Vader and Kenobi.  I see characters, action, and dialogue all differently because of your movies.

So, thank you for Star Wars, Mr. Lucas.  Your work changed my life.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

47th Birthday, Part 5: Blacksmithing

Dorath grinned. His eyes went to Taran's belt.  "You carry a fair blade," he said. "It will be mine."

"Dallben my master gave me this blade, the first that was truly mine and the first of my manhood.  The one I love girded it on me with her own hands. No, Dorath, I do not bargain with my sword."

Dorath threw back his head and laughed.

Taran Wanderer by Lloyd Alexander

Update: After four weeks of blogging about how hard it was to find the school and how sweaty I was, I'm finally going to tell you about the actual blacksmithing part of blacksmithing class.

Quick Precis: Blacksmithing involves hitting things very hard.

The class I took was three hours a day for a week.  During that time, I created (in order) a hook to hang coats on, a letter opener, a spoon and a two-pronged fork.  Each day, the teacher demonstrated making each piece.

He also had these examples so you could see all the steps.
I grabbed a piece of metal and started hammering.

Note the sexy shoe covers.
 And hammering.

Note the sexy humpback.
 And hammering and hammering and...

At some point, I got the hook into a hook shape.  I had to twist it, but twisted it the wrong number of times, so the hook was on the wrong side.  I then twisted back, ending with this weird wave in the middle.
I meant to do that.
Next I had to brush the scale off.  Scale is a thin, flaky layer of impurities that works its way to the surface when you heat metal.  You have to brush it off while it's hot, so it's important to wear the eye shields.  You really don't want to get flakes of yellow-hot metal in your eyes.

After the scale is removed, you have to take it over to a bucket of vegetable oil and dip it in and take it out quickly.  That way, you bake in a protective layer of oil so it won't rust.  If you do it right, you pull out a flaming piece of metal that looks good on your blog.  If you do it wrong, if you drop it into the bucket, you have to bake it on the edge of your furnace, which looks bad on your blog.  Guess which I did.

At the end of the day, I ended up with this twisted, awkward, hook thingy you might put on a wall if you wanted to make sure nobody hung a coat in your house ever again.

On the positive side, I got to reenact a scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark:
"You don't need that. I'll tell you everything."
"Oh, yes. I know you will."
Day two was a letter opener made from rebar.  Scary thing I learned about rebar: it can be made of anything as long as it has a minimum strength.  Most of it comes from foreign countries which accept our castoff lead, make the rebar, and send it back.  The reason we made letter openers instead of knives?  You didn't want lead in your food.

Anyway, my reason for taking a blacksmithing class was to make a sword.  As a letter opener was as close to a sword as I was going to get, I made mine a bit larger than my classmates'.

My cosplay: Captain Hammer from Dr. Horrible, fused with Leonardo from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, wearing Michaelangelo's headband, after forty years of  a sedentary lifestyle.
 Just kidding.  That was one the teachers did for fun.  Here's my letter opener.

 Fun quiz: What's this?

Is it the Loch Ness Monster?

No, it's the end of my letter opener (my camera can't focus that close up).  I made the metal too thin and it curled over.  Now I can open folded envelopes.

[Hevydd, the blacksmith's] eye fell on Taran's empty scabbard.  "Once, it would seem you bore a blade."

"Once I did," Taran answered. "But it is long gone, and now I journey weaponless."

"Then you shall make a sword," commanded Hevydd.

The blade he shaped seemed to him ugly, dinted, and scarred, without the fair proportions of the old one, and he would have cast it aside had not the smith ordered him to finish it.

He flung out a burly arm toward a wooden block in a corner of the forge. "Strike hard," Hevydd commanded.  "The flat, the edge, and the point."

Taran strode to the block and raised the sword.  Doing his best to shatter the ungraceful weapon, he brought it down with all his strength. The blade rang like a bell.  The block split in two.

"Now," said Hevydd quietly, "that's a blade worth bearing."

"It's not a noble weapon, and thus it suits me all the more," Taran laughed.

Taran Wanderer by Lloyd Alexander

I spent the next two days making a spoon.  Spoons are wider on one end, so you have to do something called "upsetting."  ("And it's very upsetting," the teacher said.) You put the metal perpendicular to the anvil and hammer on the top to squish it down like hitting a nail.  It's a pretty complicated process to do right. Within a couple minutes you have to:
  1. Get the metal out of the furnace with big tongs.
  2. Switch to a pair of tiny tongs so you can hold it by the end.
  3. Dip it in water up to a very specific point so only the end is malleable.
  4. Switch back to the big tongs, holding it in the middle.
  5. Put it on the anvil and hammer the shit out of it.
  6. Adjust the shape of the end so it won't squish in the wrong direction next time.
When you finally get the metal to about the right thickness (about 20-30 repetitions), you hammer it perfectly flat with hours of careful work.  Or you just let the teacher hit it with the autohammer.  Guess which I did.

Then you shape it some more, quenching as you go.

Taking care not to drop it to the bottom of the very deep bucket of water.
Then you quench your hand because you weren't paying attention to how hot metal can be when it's not glowing.
Teacher: Leave it in there a long time. Sometimes there's still hot metal burning you from the inside.
Here's my finished spoon.
Works pretty well if you only eat a tiny amount of soup.
Meanwhile, figuring I had extra time (ha), I got to work making my son a dragon as a toy.

The teacher put in rivet in to hold the wings in place.
The final day we made the fork, which was cool because I got to latch it to the anvil and whack it with a fucking axe to split the two tines. I was falling behind (I still had to finish my spoon, dragon, and letter opener).  This was as far as I got with the fork.

A lost verse from The Mikado describes making convicted gluttons eat with this fork.
On the last day, the teacher (ignoring how poorly my work ended up) told me what I'd cover in Blacksmithing 2.  After Blacksmithing 2, I'd be able to take Bladesmithing .  After Bladesmithing, I could make a sword.

I really wanted to make a sword, but looking at my finished projects, I decided to stop.  Everything I made was lumpy, awkward, black and pitted.  Although, having a lumpy, black sword with a straight, shiny edge would be really cool.


With a mocking laugh Dorath raised his weapon, and Taran saw the blade that once had been his own glint sharply as Dorath swung it down with all his strength.  Taran saw his death upon him and flung up his sword in a last attempt to ward against the blow.

The blades met with a grating, ringing clash.  Taran's weapon shuddered in his hand, the shock threw him to earth.  Yet his blade held.  The sword of Dorath shattered on it.

Taran Wanderer by Lloyd Alexander

Thursday, June 1, 2017

47th Birthday, Part 4 - Sweat

I shatter Swords and splinter spears;
None stands to Shieldbreaker.
My point's the fount of orphans' tears,
My edge the widowmaker.
The First Book of Swords by Fred Saberhagen

Recap: I took a blacksmithing class.  After getting there waaaay too early and wandering through a dangerous neighborhood looking for Pokemon, I was ready to begin.

There's one thing they don't tell you about blacksmithing when you get started: you sweat a lot.  Yeah, yeah, I know you're thinking you understand sweat.  You've run marathons. You've spent a week in Death Valley.  You taught your kid how to drive a car.

The face of Hell.
This is a blacksmithing furnace.  It burns at several thousand degrees.  You can only open it this far before the heat sets fire to your face.  No, that's not a joke.

Crucible's blacksmithing classroom has three of them going.  Sure, there's a fan, but it doesn't do much when you spend several hours right next to one of the furnaces.
Lord Vulcan, patron god of freaking heavy tools.
This is a rack of blacksmithing tools. Notice most of them are enormous fucking hammers.

I feel a strong urge to drop this on Wile E. Coyote.
Blacksmithing involves a great deal of whacking the hell out of things that don't like being whacked.  So, by the end of class, the teacher will come over to you and say things like "Put your whole body into it!" or "You need to hit it really hard!" or "Get up off the ground!  You still have two unbroken fingers."

So, you wear protective gear:

  • To protect your eyes from the flying bits of burning metal, you wear eye shields.
  • To protect your hand from the heat from the furnace, you wear a glove.  (Just one glove; it's for your tongs hand so you can shake it off when your skin starts to burn.)
  • To protect your feet from burning metal turning your nylon shoes into flaming plastic death traps, you wear these pieces of heavy cloth like spats.
  • To keep the sweat out of your eyes, you wear a fluorescent headband.
  • To keep your undies from turning into a wading pool, you stick a washcloth between your buttcheeks.

Let me reiterate: In blacksmithing, you stand next to several blisteringly hot furnaces, while exercising until your muscles fail, while blanketed in extra clothing.  After three hours, you look like Samwise Gamgee at the end of The Return of the King.

So, yeah, you don't know from sweaty.

One day a photographer came in and took pictures of everyone in the class but me.  I can't imagine why.  I look dead sexy.
Perhaps it was the smell of my buttcheek towel around my neck.