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the various and sundry creations of sylvus tarn


cropOh man, the linkies have been piling up. Time to clear ’em out:

  • NPR on 9 ways to get healthier in 2024. Yeah, this stuff is catnip to me;)
  • Deep dive into the mechanical innards of a pinball machine; and part II specifically about the logic;
  • handsome origame stars —besides being beautiful gift decorations, I wonder if they could somehow be used in trying to draw five pointed stars, which is pretty difficult to do accurately.
  • Ugh, how could someone use a prayer breakfast to urge death to others? So inhumane, and unchristian.
  • Tom Wolfe was a conservative? Yeah, I guess. The article doesn't even mention the book I read, The Painted Word, which was his sarcastic take on the abstract expressionists (especially Jackson Pollack), but it was clear he didn't think much of either the artists from that movement or their patrons. I read it for a freshman seminar, and found it intriguing...but my own disdain was rather coloured by the fact that my jam—commercial art 100 years old—was terribly out of fashion, and I resented that. I'd like to think things have gotten better; at the very least I feel like there's more ways to experience art, albeit not nearly enough societal support—that was a problem in the 80s, and remains one now, 4 decades later.
  • Eater's fave recipes from 2023.
  • Via FTB This American Life chronicles the disintegration of a state GOP party.
  • Journalist on living with long covid.
  • this study seeks to better understand how cytokine storms (which I gather can happen in relation to pre-eclampsia, frex), deadly attacks on the body by its own immune system and are still poorly understood.
  • A reviewer's take on three iterations of Astro Boy (from the point of view of watching dubbed English versions)...I stumbled across this because of a list of recced netflix offerings, including this re-imagining on a famous Astro Boy story arc, Pluto. But I guess you can watch that without seeing any of the original versions...?
  • Fella takes down the latest iteration of ‘but we need marriage because two parents are better!’ tomes, which seems to be a perennial favourite, especially of conservatives. As someone who is part of a two parent household, sure, yeah, 2 parents (or even more...though Kearney doesn't promote polyamoury) makes things easier, but I'd argue that providing moms more resources are the real key to household health and happiness, and what's more, if the mom isn't stressed out working three jobs, she might have enough time and energy to scout a good person to help her co-parent (the same goes for dads too, of course, but men as a rule have more resources to offer their children.)
  • Yesterday, I mentioned Abigail Nussbaum's take on The Marvels. Today I have a link to her recced 2023 reading list, mostly because I was pleased to see Naomi Novik's Scholomance trilogy made the cut —even though Nussbaum was initially dubious “Hogwarts but evil, oh, groan” (because she has taste) whereas my response is, oh, cool, Hogwarts really is kinda evil, let's run with that...I've read and enjoyed the first book, (as well as many of Novik’s other works) so I guess I'll have to track the other two down. Goody!

And here's the final giftwrap for the foreseeable future!


cropWell, here's a blast from the past: a gift decorated in 2010, dug out of the archives at the end of 2017, with the page finally finished and posted in 2024.

It's still a bit early for spring cleaning, but finding old stuff like this to slot in makes me far happier than it should, cuz I'm weird.

Enjoy, or not, as it pleases you;)


cropOriginally I was gonna do something else for the rest of the week, but decided to round out the gift decoration theme with some older gifts that I never got around to featuring.

Meanwhile, two reviewers who wanted to like the latest Marvel superhero film but couldn't really, had things to say about it that's stuck with me, so here we go.

Scalzi has a column about The Marvels, the one with the three Ms. Marvels, I guess, for which his teal deer is, I'm a bona fide nerd, but even so this is braiding of IP is getting waaaaaaay complicated, like it's actual work. Meanwhile Abigail Nussbaum, says the film is entertaining enough, but...nobody's talking about it.

I haven't seen the film in question, though on its face—a superhero movie featuring three women—it's a good fit, but alas, I'm no longer doing movie theatres much, not only because of the masking—especially now, when COVID (and, one presumes, RSV as well) are climbing rapidly, as they do this time of year—but because I simply no longer have friends who want to see this sort of thing. (They're all going for more challenging stuff, like Poor Things, which they flatly said were too violent for me, though I'd love the costuming, and, it sounds like? the story, which I gather is a possibly? feminist update on Frankenstein? An awful lot of interesting content falls into this category, unfortunately....)

As a completist, however, I have to admit the idea that I would miss so many of the in-universe references would be dismaying. (Cuz there's no way I could get them all, not least of which a lot of this stuff is on Disney TV.) I mean, I notice that for some of the anime I watch people who catch refs to classic series definitely notice those homages, and it absolutely adds to their enjoyment. I mean, if half the point of your show is to satirize the medium, then it's gonna look stupid and annoying if that goes entirely over your head. (Yes, I read crunchyroll comments...)

Superhero films have been dominating (US) tentpoles for years, and as a sf&f fan, I've rather enjoyed them, despite the big underlying thematic issue, which is “super” heroes need souped up villains to make the story entertaining; and your ordinary folk get ground into dust as a consequence. (Of course, one could argue they do anyway during vicious struggles, as anyone living in a war zone could tell you.)

It occurs to me that if we have other kinds of action-packed stories—say, war or cop dramas, to cite two classic examples—they'll definitely be geared to adults, i.e. R rated, which is to say bloody and violent; (some of) the superhero films, at least, do present themselves as older-children friendly, so the violence isn't quite as sickening. I do wonder what is wrong with me, that even a cartoon like, say, Blue Eye Samurai, which is gorgeous, but again, so violent it's really hard to watch, that everyone else can enjoy this stuff and say, oh, the effects are good, or hey, it's just a story, or whatever, while I'm over here, closing my eyes in a desperate effort not to be squicked out.

Anyway. Today's giftwrap has a medieval flair. Enjoy;)


cropToday wraps up the final post in the 2023 winter holiday giftwrap series, and it's neatly packaged into an index (mostly cuz I stumbled across an older collection, and went, oh, yeah, that's how you do multiple tag collections...



cropBesides the engaging characters, compelling plotlines, beautiful art and effective scores, one reason I like Ancient Magus Bride and Frieren: Beyond Journey's End is that the characters tend to speak calmly, in normal tones; for someone attempting to practice their 日本語、this makes things easier.

Well, in line with trying to find good things in the New Year, I found another good candidate in Crunchyroll's 2024 lineup that's even better on the practise-Japanese front: A Sign of Affection/ゆびさきと恋々, which is a slice-of-life/romance about a Deaf college student who meets a cute polyglot, who, being fluent in three languages already, along with studying two more, is perfectly positioned to add sign language to his arsenal. (With a cute girl no less;)

Because the protagonist communicates with her hearing friends and family via text, this means I can not only practise spoken Japanese, but written too.(1) Moreover, the art is gorgeous, particularly the character designs, which are outstanding, and though the story is very simple, it's nicely done, at least judging from the one episode I've seen: frex, 雪, (Yuki) is literally named ‘Snow’, and one way the anime tries to get hearing viewers to have a sense of her silent world is using the metaphor of silently falling snow, along with good sound design.

I've been fascinated with 日本語 since 4th grade, because, even printed (never mind calligraphed) it was such a fascinatingly graphically beautiful language; and as I've slowly (very s-l-o-w-l-y) learnt the language, its differences have also intrigued me: Japanese has quite different grammar than English; but I always thought if you really wanted to explore a mind-bendingly different language, sign language would be a good choice: besides finding the gestures beautiful (as an artist who draws people, plants and animals, I find human hands very attractive with endlessly possibilities in pose) its grammar allows for simultaneous words: someone signing can (& will) imply the quality of a word (i.e. adjective, red ball, or adverb, swiftly run) at the same time, because of having two hands, plus facial and postural cues.

I'm not at all deaf—my hearing has tested normal—but my ability to parse sounds, especially in noisy environments, is so bad that I can't really “do” loud parties or bars, and, needless to say, my ability to properly identify, let alone reproduce Japanese phonemes (morae, if you want to get technical about it) is also lousy. —I think it would be awesome if sign language was common, because it would be helpful for all kinds of people, not just the Deaf, just as curb cuts are great for cyclists, delivery people, etc.—not just wheelchair users.

Naturally, the characters in this series speak JSL rather than ASL, though from my pov they're equally cool:) So there you go, a fun find, especially for language lovers:)

Oh, and here's a bonus gift to go with the 12 days series.

(1)There are still way too many kanji I don't recognize, but I realized, no, she didn't actually text anything besides ‘thank you’, as opposed to the ‘thank you for taking me to the train station’ as shown in the English translation. Because the former is basically a politeness marker for ending the conversation (in either language), it explains why he's a bit disappointed: he wants to keep communicating with her; the translator probably added the bit about the train station because USians might not realize why they're separating in the middle of nowhere, as opposed to her house...it's not obvious that they're at the station, even though they first met on a train, because that's so much a part of Tokyo life that the show just clipped it.

Personally, I would expect anime fans to realize they're separating at a (subway) station and left out the explanatory text, but that's a decision that could be argued either way...the point for me is that I can look at the original and, on rare occasions, go, oh, I would've done that differently. Anytime this happens I'm happy because it implies some level of understanding of the original;)

I still can't read kindergarten level texts, though, siiiiiiighhhhh.


cropToday's Epiphany, the 12th Day of Christmas, and I really wanted something upbeat and special, something that's celebratory to get the bad taste of the Jan 6 insurrection out of my mind...and as it happens, I think I found it, this article about researchers working with people who have dementia to create interactive robots for them.

Dementia is scary to me, more so even than cancer: I watched my inlaws, my father-in-law in particular, suffer from this condition, and his life, if I had to characterize it, was profoundly dull.

Grey, the way depression is grey.

There's been a certain level of (US) mockery heaped upon (Japanese) robots designed to help the ill and old, but I like this take better. One observation the author makes that struck me is that Japanese robots tend to be friendly (such as Astro Boy) whereas Western ones are combative (the Terminator). I kind of wonder whether this comes out of the fact that Japanese culture (however attenuated by modern technology) sees itself as a part of a harmonious whole with nature—with creation—whereas Westerners in general (& Christians in particular) think of nature as subservient, something to be dominated—a more combative attitude that then extends to our own “creations”, humaniform robots, which because of our psychology, live in a half-world between people and tools.

Nevertheless, creating a talking companion, or even an interactive tool that vibrates or changes colour in response to tactile cues, that is “nice” rather than creepy is a tremendously difficult task; and the inputs of patients? clients? those with dementia are absolutely critical, and I very much like this collaborative approach.

The other thing about the article is that it celebrates the humanity of people suffering this condition, finding joy and indeed some level of hope for their lives, which—to be honest—are mostly written off at this point.

So I s'pose it's appropriate that after a number of wrappings with a severely limited palette, today's—the 12th's—is bursting with colour.