July 28th, 2017
The way in which headless flatworms recover their sight provides important clues about the evolution of animal eyes.

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posted by [syndicated profile] snopes_feed at 05:01pm on 28/07/2017

Posted by Associated Press

Coke Zero will be renamed Coke Zero Sugar in August 2017 -- the company says people didn’t always understand that Coke Zero’s name means it has no calories.
oursin: (lolyeats)

Or, things falling apart, Dept of.

Nothing (so far) major, but this last couple of days has seen my iPod keel over and refuse to charge, and my printer decide that it doesn't like printing from the bottom tray, it will tell me there is a paper-jam and grind to a halt, even if there is not, actually, a paper-jam. This first manifested itself when I was trying to print out a paper to referee, which I finally achieved, but at an input of time and annoyance that made me feel that I had better put the thing aside for judgement until I was in a more equanimitous mood.

So I have at least replaced the iPod, which I could do by ordering online and collecting from the local Argos, a trip I was able to combine with a trip to Financial Institution of which I have heretofore complained extensively, where I was actually able to close the account and walk away. Also, since I was going to Argos, bought a proper file box to replace the cardboard box that I have been keeping documentation in.

Usual faff of setting up the iPod - downloading latest software, my playlists having to be reconstructed, etc etc, but is done, more or less.

And, in order not to be entirely negative, one of the other things I had on my schedule for today was finding a book in the maelstrom for editorial revision purposes, and I did, in fact, find it.

Also, have been asked to go and be a meedja consultant on a historical drama.

Plus, TV doco I am in (apparently) has a preview to which I have been invited next month.

forestofglory: E. H. Shepard drawing of Christopher Robin reading a book to Pooh (Default)
posted by [personal profile] forestofglory at 11:15am on 28/07/2017 under
So I've read bunch of short fiction recently including some things I would like to recommend.

"Beauty, Glory, Thrift" by Alison Tam The 1st of Book Smugglers new short fiction season "Gods and Monsters" Don't want to say too much about this because I enjoyed to slow reveal.

"Children of Thorns, Children of Water"by Aliette de Bodard Short story set in the Dominion of the Fallen world. Kind of dark but also features baking.

"Whatever Knight Comes" by Ryan Row Interesting take on fairy tale tropes.
posted by [syndicated profile] slatestarcodex_feed at 05:52pm on 28/07/2017

Posted by Scott Alexander

My recent move has already paid off in terms of increased access to the Bay Area intellectual milieu, by which I mean wacky outlandish hypotheses about completely random stuff. The other day a few people (including Ben Hoffman of Compass Rose) tried to convince me that Pharaoh Djoser was the inspiration for the god Osiris and the Biblical Joseph. This sort of thing is relevant to my interests, so I spent way too long looking into it and figured I ought to write down what I found.

The short summary is that the connection between Djoser and Osiris is probably meaningless, but there’s a very small chance there might be some tiny distant scrap of a connection to Joseph.

Djoser, who ruled Egypt around 2680 BC, was a pretty impressive guy. Egypt had been unified by one of his predecessors a few generations before, but they’d let it get un-unified again, and Djoser’s father was the one who reunified it. Djoser inherited a kingdom of newfound peace and plenty – and made the most of it, starting lots of impressive infrastructure and religious projects. His chief minister Imhotep was famous in his own right as a polymath who invented medicine and engineering (he may also have been the first person to use columns in architecture). He was later deified for his accomplishments. Djoser and Imhotep cooperated to build the first pyramid, the Step Pyramid at Saqqara.

Osiris was a legendary god whose worship was first recorded around 2400 BC. The legends say he was a wise and benevolent Pharaoh of Egypt in some unspecified distant past before being killed by his brother Set. One thing led to another, and he eventually ended up as the god of death and resurrection and the underworld. Scholars have long debated the exact origins of the Osiris cult, and tend to attribute it to some historical memory of something or other but disagree viciously over the details.

The argument I heard for Djoser inspiring Osiris hinges on a couple of points (there may be others I didn’t get). First, the times sort of match up – this legend of the wise king Osiris first appears just a century or two after Djoser died. second, Djoser was a big fan of an Egyptian symbol called the ‘djed’, a weird column shape thing. Djoser included djeds all over the step pyramid he and Imhotep built together, and may have kind of had an obsession with the thing (and why shouldn’t he? – if I helped invent the column, I’d talk about it a lot too). Meanwhile, the djed is traditionally considered the symbol of the Egyptian god Osiris. And third, if you’re going to deify a pharaoh into the god of death and resurrection, the beloved and powerful ruler who invented the first pyramid sounds like a pretty good candidate.

I think this argument is probably wrong. For one thing, although nobody can prove Osiris existed before the death of Djoser, everybody suspects that he did. In The Origins Of Osiris And His Cult, Egyptologist John Griffiths appeals to some early inscriptions that might name Osiris, and concludes that

There is a strong likelihood that the cult of Osiris began in or before the First Dynasty in connection with the royal funerals at Abydos, [although] archaeological evidence hitherto does not tangibly date the cult ot an era before the Fifth Dynasty

A common consensus is that he began as a local deity of the city of Busiris and (as mentioned above) the necropolis at Abydos. Djoser has no connection to either city, and in fact was the first king not to be buried at Abydos. His building a pyramid is less impressive than it sounds; all the Egyptian rulers were into building big tombs, and he just took it to the next level.

Djoser liked djeds, but so djid lots of Egyptians. They were popular long before Djoser and remained popular long after him; among their many fans may have been such pharaohs as eg Djedkara, Djedkheperu, Djedkherura, and Djedhotepre. The djed started out as a general fertility symbol, later became a symbol of the god Ptah, and only became fully associated with Osiris a thousand years after Djoser’s djeath. This makes it hard to argue Osiris got associated with the djed because of some cultural memory of Djoser.

This is kind of weak evidence against the theory – a speculation that Osiris is older than he looks, a little bit of confusion around when Osiris became associated with his sacred symbol. But it was a weak theory to begin with, so weak counterevidence convinces me.

So let’s get to the more interesting claim – that Djoser inspired the Biblical Joseph.

This comes from a monument called the Famine Stele, written two thousand years after Djoser’s death but telling a legend that had grown up around him. According to the stele, in the time of Djoser there were seven years of famine. Djoser asks his chief minister Imhotep for help. Imhotep investigates and finds that the problem is related to the god Khnum. He prays to Khnum and offers to worship him better, and Khnum appears to him in a dream and says that okay, he’ll make the crops grow again. Djoser and Imhotep repair Khnum’s temple, the famine ends, and everyone lives happily ever after.

The parallels to the Joseph story are pretty apparent. A seven year long famine. A Pharaoh who begs his chief minister to do something about it. A dream that provides the solution. Sure, the crocodile-and/or-ram-headed god Khnum gets left out of the Biblical account, but that sounds like just the sort of thing the Hebrews would conveniently forget.

There are some other differences, of course. The Joseph story involves seven years of plenty before the famine; the Imhotep story doesn’t. Joseph gains his chief ministerial position because of the famine incident; Imhotep is already in charge when the famine begins. God gives Joseph a rational planning strategy; Imhotep uses divine intervention directly. But isn’t there still a suspicious core of similarity here?

Creationists think so. They get really excited about this connection since it seems to link the Bible to a verified historical event (for values of “verified” equal to “someone made a stele about it two thousand years later, and in fact after the Bible itself was written”). Back during the presidential campaign, Ben Carson got soundly mocked for saying the pyramids were silos for storing grain. Everyone attributed this to his warped fundamentalist Christian view of history, but nobody thought to ask why fundamentalist Christians seized on this falsehood in particular. The answer is: if the pyramids were grain silos, then the link between Joseph (whom the Bible says built grain silos) and Imhotep (whom Egyptian records say built pyramids) becomes even more compelling.

Awkwardly for the creationists, this doesn’t even match their own hokey Biblical history. There are various different Biblical chronologies, but they mostly date Joseph around 1900 – 2000 BC – too late to be Imhotep, who lived closer to 2600. Also, don’t tell anyone, but the Bible is probably false.

Atheists have a better option available – they can claim that the Egyptian legend of Imhotep inspired the Israelite legend of Joseph. This is the strategy taken by a Ha’aretz article, which first roundly mocks any identification of Imhotep with Joseph, saying that this makes no sense and is totally stupid, and then adds:

There is a consensus among the majority of biblical scholars that the Joseph story dates, at the earliest, to the 7th century BCE, namely 2700 years ago. Many Judahites were residing in the Nile Delta at the time, as proven among other things, by the existence of a replica of the Jewish First Temple in Jerusalem on the island of Elephantine. It seems these Judahites may have been behind the adoption of the Imhotep tale as an Israelite story.

It doesn’t cite which scholars it’s talking about, or explain why they suddenly backtracked from their “there is no connection between Joseph and Imhotep shut up you morons”, but the overall point seems pretty plausible. Remember, the 7th century would have been just a few centuries before the Famine Stele was written, and the Djoser/Imhotep famine legend might have been popular in Egypt around this time. It sounds just barely possible that some Jews might have rewritten it with an Israelite protagonist the same way a bunch of pagan goddesses and even the Buddha ended up as Christian saints.

(or, for that matter, the Egyptians could have rewritten the Bible story with an Egyptian protagonist, although it seems less likely for cultural transmission to go that direction given the two cultures’ relative sizes.)

Or maybe none of that happened. Wikipedia’s article on the Famine Stele points out that a seven-year famine was a weirdly common motif all across the Ancient Near East, citing eg the Epic of Gilgamesh:

Anu said to great Ishtar, ‘If I do what you desire there will be seven years of drought throughout Uruk when corn will be seedless husks. Have you saved grain enough for the people and grass for the cattle? Ishtar replied. ‘I have saved grain for the people, grass for the cattle; for seven years o£ seedless husks, there is grain and there is grass enough.’

I don’t know if all of this derives from the same proto-Near-Eastern source, or whether seven year famines are just sort of a natural kind (compare all the different cultures that have something like “may your reign last a thousand years!”). But it warns us against leaping into accepting this too quickly. This is especially true in the context of atheists’ haste to believe things like “Christ is just a retelling of the Osiris myth!” or “What if Moses was really just Akhenaten” that later turn out to not really make that much sense. Part of the lesson I wanted to teach with Unsong is that this sort of thing is too easy, and therefore we need to increase our guard. I don’t know how to weight this, but maybe say there’s like a 30% chance

As a perfect example, here’s a completely insane work of Biblical apologetics claiming that a totally different pharaoh associated with djeds corresponded to the Biblical Joseph.

fellinara: (Jedi Order)
posted by [personal profile] fellinara at 01:53pm on 28/07/2017
Hi Everyone! I'm pretty new to bullet journalling and am looking at getting a Leuchttrum 1917 journal. Amazon has them on Prime for just shy of $20. I'm currently using a small temp bullet journal for August to get an idea on what spreads and collections will work for me and which ones are not really. I see that these journals/notebooks (also Moleskine and a few other brands)use a system of type of journal(??) such as A5, A6, etc. New to the bullet journal movement, I am not entirely sure what that means. I figured if anyone knows, it will be here.

Mood:: 'artistic' artistic
the_gneech: (Default)
Pictured: An Easy-to-Moderate Encounter
Pictured: An Easy-to-Moderate Encounter

One issue I've encountered with the Storm King's Thunder game is power inflation. It was already an issue during the Keep On the Borderlands phase, but it has reached new heights. We've got a party of six fifth-level characters, who are off-and-on supported by a (CR 7) stone giant NPC, plus any other NPCs who happen to be along for the ride (Lord Alden and Harold, in the current scenario, are both effectively CR 1).

This is a party that punches well above its weight. My best guess, based on running the "encounter difficulty by XP budget" math, is that they are roughly on-par with a 10th level "typical" party. The problem with that, however, is that CR 10+ creatures have abilities and defenses that lower-level characters, even these powerhouses, might not have the resources to overcome.

But then again, they might. D&D has never done "boss fights" well, and that's still true of 5E. Put this party in a big empty room with a behir (CR 11), and my money would still be on the party unless the behir had access to lair or legendary actions. [personal profile] laurie_robey would probably get swallowed whole at least once, tho.

(In some ways, this is a feature, not a bug. If you put a giant boss at the bottom of a dungeon, where the PCs have had to fight their way to get to it and are down on resources, the fact that the boss is gimped by the party's number advantage is a hidden way to make the fight winnable while still feeling epic.)

The current thought on encounter design for D&D is that in any given encounter you should have at least three monsters against a regular party, plus one monster for each party member beyond four. So against a party of six, at least five monsters. Against a party of nine(!), at least eight monsters.

This is rapidly becoming a very crowded 30' x 50' dungeon room. ¬.¬

The good news is, 5E is so much faster than the past three editions that there's not that much overhead from having all these mass combats. "These two attack Rina. These four attack Togar. The ones attacking Rina need 10 or better, the ones attacking Togar need 16 or better." (Dice clatter.) The DMG has a chart for mob attacks that boils even that down to "If they need a 15, every fourth monster hits," but we have not (yet) had a fight so large that I felt it was worth looking it up.

Just taking the average damage from each mook attack, something I was dubious of at first, really makes this go even smoother. "You're hit twice, take ten points of damage." Easy peasy. The +/- 3 points of damage either way from rolling dice every time is not missed, although I still roll the damage individually for monster criticals, adding just that touch of spice roughly once or twice per game session.

The other issue, though, is 5E's strange fixation on not having monsters over CR 3 if at all possible. In the last session, Sheala took out a dozen enemies with a single fireball because they couldn't survive half damage even if they made their saves. You can start stacking your monster ranks with reskinned knights, veterans, gladiators, and bandit captains to buff them up a bit, or create 3.5-style "mob" versions of lower level foes, and there are some third party supplements for the purpose. But the players might rightfully wonder why the orcs last week couldn't withstand a fireball and the ones this week can, unless you introduce a story element of Bigger, Badder Orcs (say, a new strain bred by an evil wizard wearing shimmering rainbow robes).

There is an upside to having a party that can take a licking and keep on ticking– I can just put whatever I want and makes sense into the scenario and not be worried that they can't handle it. But the real problem is things that should be dangerous becoming trivial. The "svartjaw" in the last session was a reskinned wyvern, a CR 6 brute, and they just melted it like butter before a blowtorch. Players love and want to win, but if they don't feel like they had to at least work for it a little, it feels cheap, and will become boring fast.

5E's much-touted Bounded Accuracy is meant to address this very issue, but when you pile on a huge party like this, you flip the script. Suddenly the carefully-balanced math and action economy that is supposed to allow monsters to remain a threat across wider levels, is exactly what enables the party to just stomp all over everything.

There is also the Monty Haul problem, where the party's ability to take on outsized challenges leads to them racking up high level treasure and XP, which in turn enables them to level up even faster in a geometric spiral. Dividing the encounter XP by six, seven, or nine as appropriate helps here, and I have complete control over how much wealth the party has access to simply by decided what's out there, but it is still something I need to watch.

(As a side note, I do love that 5E is built on the assumption of class/race abilities only, decoupling magic items from character progression. I have always looked askance at "numerical progression" items from the first time I saw a +1 sword in my Moldvay Boxed Set with chits instead of dice. My completely perfect world would mostly leave out treasure too– when did you ever see Frodo and Sam count gold pieces? But I fear that would force a little too much of my own preferred playstyle onto the rest of the group, and certainly "local duke offers 500 gp for bandit slaying" is a handy wrench in the narrative toolbox.)

None of these challenges are insurmountable, and compared to the "I hate my life!" slog of prepping higher-level 3.x/PF these are perfectly-acceptable problems to have. They're just things I'm noticing about how the current game is going. Every campaign is different!

-The Gneech
location: Ginger Court
Mood:: 'nerdy' nerdy
mrissa: (Default)
posted by [personal profile] mrissa at 12:28pm on 28/07/2017 under

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux. You can comment here or there.

So it was a month ago that I was talking on Twitter about my love of book lists, and my friend Macey said that she wanted a list of older epic fantasies with women protagonists. Her standards for “older” are not at all stringent–she mentioned Sarah Zettel’s Isavalta series (good call!), the last of which was published in 2007, so we’re talking about things that were not published five minutes ago, not things from the 1930s necessarily. And I don’t know about Macey, but my standards for what is epic fantasy–well, they move around a lot. I think that “is it epic enough” is approximately the most boring argument we could have on this topic. So basically I was going to make this list of books with female protags, not taking place in this world, published before the last ten years.

Yeah. So. That list ended up way shorter than I expected. Way, way shorter. Epic is not my sub-genre, but still, yikes. And if you think that having a woman or a girl at the head of the book doesn’t change things, I’m going to have to disagree. And if it doesn’t, well, why don’t we? If it doesn’t change anything, why didn’t more people flip that coin differently?

So here are some. I’m sure I’m forgetting some. Some are squeaking in on technicalities (that is, just barely not this world, just barely before 2007, etc.). Some are favorites, some are things I have meant to reread and just have not gotten around to so I honestly can’t say how they look to me in this millennium, just that they exist and I have meant to look at them again. But here’s what I can do:

Lois McMaster Bujold, The Spirit Ring
Pamela Dean, The Dubious Hills
Naomi Kritzer, Fires of the Faithful and Turning the Storm
Megan Lindholm, Harpy’s Flight and The Reindeer People (if I recall correctly–have not reread in ages)
Robin McKinley, The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown
Elizabeth Moon, The Deed of Paksennarion (again, have not reread in ages)
Garth Nix, Sabriel, Lirael, and Abhorsen
Tamora Pierce, oh so many things, how many of us my age and younger did her work show that we could do it our own way (which didn’t even have to be hers)
Jo Walton, The King’s Peace and The King’s Name
Patricia C. Wrede, much of the Lyra series and much of the Enchanted Forest series

If your book or your favorite book is not on this list, check to see that it is 1) fantasy that 2) has a female protagonist and 3) does not take place in this world and was 4) published in or before 2007. If it meets those criteria? Please comment adding it to this list! If it is science fiction! If it has a whole bunch of protagonists of various genders! If it was published in 2012! If it takes place in this world! Then what a worthy book it very well might be, but this is not the list for it.

Note that Macey didn’t ask for female authors particularly this time around, just for female protagonists–and noticing that Garth Nix was the only one I could find off the top of my head was also a bit startling. Please tell me some more men who have written women protags in that time frame and genre and expand the list for me!

james_davis_nicoll: (Default)
selenak: (Branagh by Dear_Prudence)
posted by [personal profile] selenak at 06:27pm on 28/07/2017 under , ,
...and I don't mean the latest attempt to repeal the ACA, because that particular sparing came through hard work by people who made phonecalls, Senators Murkowski and Collins putting people before party and McCain proving he has a sense for cliffhangers and drama.

No, I just discovered that back in ye early 90s when the first three Bernie Gunther novels were published, successful and thus considered for movie versions, the two actors in consideration for the leading role were Klaus Maria Brandauer (wrong accent and wrong size, but could see him having pulled it off, acting-wise)... and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Thank the universe for small favours the world was spared that one. Nowadays, HBO has aquired the rights to the novels and Tom Hanks wants to executive produce (though again, thank you, universe, for favours, he's too old to play Bernie Gunther now except for the late 50s settings. Also, he's wrong for the part. Nothing against Tom Hanks in principle, but not in this role, at any age.

Since I believe in constructive criticism: I can see Max Riemelt (Wolfgang on Sense8) as Bernie Gunther, and since after the wrap-up movie (yay!), there will be no more Sense8, he's available. Advantages: actually German, actually from Berlin, actually the right age for Bernie Gunther in the 1930s when the series starts (and it's easier to age someone up than to age him down, especially if that actor has to play action scenes), and fluent in English which I assume (since HBO is producing) the series will be shot in. Also, he can do sardonic and increasingly self loathing.

(if it has to be an international movie star, Michael Fassbender would also do.)

(Going to actors who don't speak German and aren't at least half-German: Kenneth Branagh would be good for older Bernie, but just would not be believable anymore for a man in his 30s.)

Meanwhile, have two fanfic links in two different fandoms:

Spider-man: Homecoming:

Just a kid: Both a prequel and a fleshing out to and of canon - covers Peter from Ben's death to the movie. Great voices for all the other suspects, too.

Babylon 5:

The Book of the Dead: in which the Centauri afterlife turns out to be far different than what Londo had expected. Also features a great G'Kar, Timov and Vir!
Mood:: 'calm' calm
location: Bamberg
the_rck: (Default)
posted by [personal profile] the_rck at 12:48pm on 28/07/2017 under , , , , ,
I tried increasing the humidity on my c-PAP last night, and it turned out to be a mistake. I slept about two hours then got up to use the bathroom. At that point, I started sneezing uncontrollably, and my nose started running. I wasn't able to put the c-PAP back on and didn't sleep much the rest of the night because of the problems breathing (which are pretty much the same problems I had when I took the humidity down to 3). I guess 4 is where I need to be. It's not ideal, and still gives me some problems, but...

I'm probably going to lie down after I post this. I'm debating whether to try sleeping on the couch or to go in and join Scott in the bedroom. I've got about three hours before Cordelia gets home. If I sleep that long and am on the couch, I'll be where she can find me. If I'm in the bedroom, not so much.

Cordelia has stated that this working all day thing is hard but that she likes working with the little kids (five and six year olds). They all apparently think she's quite old, that fourteen isn't possible because it's too close to their ages.

I still haven't heard if my stepfather will be able to get treatment for his eye next week. I'm not sure that my mother will even think to tell me, so I should call this weekend and ask. I also want to find out if she'd like me to sit with her during the procedure (I might even be able to drag Cordelia along).

I'm hoping to cook a turkey breast in the instant pot tonight. I kind of suspect that it's not thawed all the way through yet, however, so it may have to wait another day or two. I have no idea what Scott will eat in that case. All we've got, leftover-wise, is the lentil soup that probably made Scott sick (He had hives, so there was some sort of allergen in there).

I'm making progress on my Captive Audience story, but I have a central motivation plot hole that I have to fill in somehow. There aren't any comments at all on the beta post for the exchange, so I can't go that route.
July 29th, 2017
liv: alternating calligraphed and modern letters (letters)
posted by [personal profile] liv at 05:24pm on 29/07/2017 under ,
I don't have much to say about a song from the year you were born but I don't like going away from the weekend leaving scary stuff at the top of my journal. I am not enough of a muso to be able to immediately name something other than what was in the charts, and the charts for my birth year seem to be quite uninspiring. I got briefly excited about some Electric Light Orchestra stuff, but it turns out to have been released the year before and was still in the charts the year of my birth.

So about the only song I have positive feelings about is Take a chance on me by ABBA. This reminds me of a coach trip when I was a teenager, when the only music we had was one mixtape someone had thought to bring, that was played over and over on the coach's sound system. I can't imagine now going on a several day trip and only having a dozen songs to play. But anyway, this was one, and it reminds me of good times not quite 20 years after it was actually released. I'm a bit sick of it now because it sorts first in the alphabet in my digital collection and for a while I was using a music player that wasn't very good at shuffle and always started with the first track. But hey, it's cute and poppy and you might not have heard it as much too often as I have.

video embed )
Mood:: 'tired' tired
location: Keele University, Staffordshire, England


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