Sunday, December 9, 2012

Apocalypse Kits – It’s Not Just About Zombies, Maya, and Alien Attacks

Avoid being a post-disaster casualty by being a little prepared and having some common sense.

 I follow a practical blog called The 72 Hour Kit, which was created under the concept that in the case of a natural disaster and the like, that it would take about 72 hours for emergency help to arrive and that you must be self-sufficient for that time.  He went further to create not only home kits, but car kits and personal walk-around kits for urban travel, hiking and the like.  It’s all very practical and levelheaded.  Most of these kit contents are common items available everywhere and might be necessary for immediate survival up to 72 hours.  This isn’t hard-core survivalist junk, it’s just common sense.

UPDATE August 2014 -- The blog I mentioned above, The 72 Hour Kit, hasn't posted in two years, so it's a bad sign that the zombies got him after all.  But take cheer, there are many more practical preparedness sites out there. 

 Along that line and with all the babbling about imminent zombie apocalypse, Mayan apocalypse, nature rebelling, tidal waves, Planet X striking our Earth, and the like has gotten me thinking a bit.  Mind you, I survived Hurricane Camille, Hurricane Katrina along with a number of smaller hurricanes over the years.  I have also gotten to enjoy a wild fire, sand storms, earth quakes and 20 years in the military as well as a few urban riots and the like, but at least learned a bit along the way.  Needless to say, I do have stuff set aside for expected emergencies such as hurricanes, extended power outages, Cthulhu rising from the sea, and that sort of stuff.  Anybody living along the Gulf Coast with any sense has evacuation routs set up, extra food and water during hurricane season as well as tools and repair materials for a month or two of living in difficult situations.  Been there done that.
 Now on to fun-filled fantasy.  Back in the mid 1970s we did a lot of role playing games and set up some that were vaguely reality based.  For example we started a campaign with only the items that you personally own.  Let’s say a crank professor friend from the university of ours has a time travel machine and wants us to go back for a few minutes into the past.  Well you take a few goodies for maybe a day’s lark back into time and guess what … you don’t get picked up.  Uh, oh, and all you have is the junk in your back pack.  Honesty here is important for game play to make sure that the players would actually have all the stuff that they would put in their back pack, which would be their emergency kit.  Hey, all you brought was a case of Twinkies and a stuffed bear?  

 Along with that scenario was a zombie scenario based in our own town.  To narrow it down, everybody made it to the closed mall and hope they locked out all the zombies, maybe.  In any case, we used the local mall, which we were all familiar with as the source of what might be found.  The fun part was that everybody knew exactly what was in the food court, in the Sears hardware department and the like, so there was no need to dig up a supplement.  We had lots of fun potting zombies there in the mall in the 1970s.  It was a simple game to set up and the context was one that everybody got. You guessed it, we used the paradigm of Dawn of the Dead (1978) as out lead-in.  We got started in no time and had a great few evenings role playing, while using local terrain and the local mall for a background.  Next time you need a cheap, fast, and easy scenario, just pull that one out folks!  You could narrow the scope down a bit and just do a single house in Night of the Living Dead (1968) style, but if you are going to have a zombie apocalypse, have a big one! 

Anyway, seriously folks, catastrophe can happen in an instant from a 30 car pile up, to a toxic spill from a truck or train, to a power plant going up, not to mention tsunami, ice storms, hurricanes and the like.  Try to have your self together a little at least.  In all the cases where I was in a major hurricane or earthquake, etc, everybody pulled together and strangers helped strangers.  But you just can’t sit back and expect everybody else to help you, try to do a little yourself.

For those of you interested in zombies, can view my earlier blog entry called The Logical Zombie.
Additional useful links:

UPDATE 14 DECEMBER 2012 -- Today NASA was so sure that the world wouldn't end that they released a new video on YouTube today (seven days before) called "Sciencecasts, Why the World Didn't End Yesterday", scheduled the day after the so called "Mayan Apocalypse".  NASA didn't explain why there was an early release, maybe they wanted to put in their two cents before it all ended.  Anyway, click on the link to see a rather limp video with mediocre computer generated narration voice (so bad it had to have subtitles) -- give me H.A.L. anytime. 

Just put on your tinfoil hat and hope for the best.

Monday, December 3, 2012

A Christmas List of Books 2012

A mere suggestion of possible reads for those of you who want something different, stimulating, and would probably want to pass on to others to read.

Two ideas slammed into each other this morning while I was doodling around on the internet; a recent post from the blog of Propnomicon decrying the low level of immersive detective games and the same morning, turned up an old post on io9 about the Ten Science Fiction Novels You Pretend to Have Read.  Actually I had already read 7 of the 10 and might read two additional on the list.

This has lead me to make a list of books as possible Christmas presents for those who are a bit more advance than the average and while needing a bit of a challenge, don’t want to be beat over the head with an overblown pompous, “must read” book that is never finished and is laced with punishment in every page.  You know, like a Pynchon book, Finnegan’s Wake, Dhalgren, and other books that cry out for courageous souls to cry out, “Hey look, the king ain’t got no clothes”.

Instead I created an eclectic list, off the top off my head, of books that:  (1) I have read, (2) enjoyed, (3) found stimulating, (4) would want to read again and, (5) recommend to others.  I tried to keep the list short and books that should be available commonly.  These aren’t trophy books with names dropped to impress your friends, they are good reads.  Not all of them are science fiction or fantasy and one of them isn’t even fiction, but all are readable, challenging, and worth the time.  They are a group of off-the-beaten-path books and authors, that I have enjoyed over the years and think you will also.

Here are eleven authors with books that I have recommended in no particular order, with myself manfully trying to recommend only one book or per author, but failing miserably in a few cases.

Collected Fictions, (1999) Jorge Luis Borges

Foucault’s Pendulum, (1989 in English) Umberto Eco

Winter’s Tale, (1983) Mark Helprin

Dictionary of the Khazars, (1988 in English) Milorad Pavic

Little, Big, (1981) John Crowley

The King in Yellow, (1895) Robert W. Chambers

A Canticle for Leibowitz, (1950) Walter J. Miller, Jr.

Shadow of the Torturer, The Claw of the Colciliator, The Sword of the Lictor, Citadel of the Autarch  – (written between 1980-1983) all part of the four part Book of the New Sun Series by Gene Wolfe.  I might also suggest the ghost story Peace (1976)

Breaking the Maya Code, (1992) Michael D. Coe

My Name is Red (1998) Orhan Pamuk, also recommend The Black Book (1994) and sequel The New Life (1997)

The King’s Indian: Stories and Tales (1974), John Gardner, he also wrote the better known books, Grendel and The Sunlight Dialogs, all well worth the read

A Wild Sheep Chase (1990), Haruki Murakami, also recommended are:  Dance, Dance, Dance, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (1995), Hard-Boiled Wonderland and The End of the World (1985), and Kafka On The Shore (2002)

So endeth my list as I am going to quit while I am still ahead.  These quirky, unusual, and insightful tales I recommend as good reads and I make no apologies for any time wasted, tired eyes or lost nights’ sleep.  As for myself, I am going to get a copy of Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson to read and maybe I’ll add it to my recommended list for next year.

Friday, November 30, 2012

INDIANA JONES PROP SALE – The Holy Grail of Props Sold

Christistie’s had a prop sale this past Thursday, 29 November 2012 that would make a prop collector pass out. 

I have always loved movie props and couldn’t afford to get into the action when Forrest Ackerman’s magnificent collection of classic movie props were auctioned off a few years back.  Up until now, I had thought that sale was the ultimate “cat’s meow” of collecting, until now.


In the Christie’s auction catalogue of Pop Culture on pages 68 and 69 were several movie props that were calculated to make movie fans and prop collectors pass out with envy.  They had on auction Indiana Jones’ whip from Raiders of the Lost Ark!  If that wasn’t enough, they also had items from The Last Crusade such as the grail diary and the holy grail.  These are some of the most beloved Indy props around.  About the only few things they didn’t have was Indy’s hat, jacket, and map case.  As for me, I am waiting for the Raider’s prop of the ark of the covenant to show up at auction.


The prices realized were $32,000 for the whip $30,000 grail diary prop $19,000 for the holy grail prop.  I follow prop making sites and prop collecting sites such as Propnomicon and even seen a few well made grail diaries and the like but to own the original screen used prop … priceless.


Friday, November 9, 2012

Military Folding Bicycles and Curiosities

Historical cycles for Neo-Victorian Steampunk Revivalists and historians of the industrial revolution.

I have always like the history of early military bicycles, which for me started years back with reading an article about the U.S. Army’s flirtation with military bicycles and also with a series of pre WWI Dutch photogravures I purchased of a machine gun unit that used bicycles to transport and deploy their weapon.   Add to that an interest in inventions such as the folding bike and we’re off to the races.  There is no point in me “reinventing the wheel” so to speak, so I’ve decided to just post some of the photos and links I have found for others who share an interest in military history, invention, and bicycles. 

For an excellent overview of Victorian military bicycling costume, which is perfect for you military minded steampunkers, click the following link. has some excellent information including an amazing folding penny farthing along with a lot of good period illustrations of other early folding bikes and is perhaps one of the clearest and best sites on the subject in a single post.

Don’t forget to check out the BSA & military bicycle museum site, which as a page about military folders.  I really recommend it.

There are a couple of books that I keep seeing referenced, The Bicycle in Wartime: An Illustrated History by Jim Fitzpatrick and It's in the bag: A History of Portable Cycles in the UK, by Tony Hadland; I haven’t read them, but pass the titles along for others to read. 

Wikipedia has the inevitable article
Also try the online bicycle museum site
 Here is an article about the previously mentioned U.S. Army bicycle tests.  I didn’t mention previously that it was performed by Buffalo Soldiers.  And an article about the 25th Infantry Bicycle Corps and their coast-to-coast journey to prove the bicycle was an asset to military movement and logistics.  and
 An interesting sidelight on the subject of inventions is this chainless shaft drive bicycle that seems to offer possibilities for fresh innovation.
 I hope these articles have piqued your interest in military and folding bikes, somewhat and that you continue follow links to find more information.

Update January 2015 -- I have turned up some sequential photos, circa WWI showing a mounted trooper and his bicycle.  It shows him riding, dismounted, firing, carrying his bike, folding it up and then putting it on his back to carry it.  It's actually a pretty impressive way to get mounted infantry around in modern Europe.
 A good deal stranger is the motorized tricycle with a maxim gun mounted on the front.  You can't get more steampunk than that, unless it had a steam engine rather than an early internal combustion engine.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

William Hope Hodgson and the H. P. Lovecraft Connection

Horror and fantasy before the Great War unleashed its own horror

Lovecraft was a voracious reader and one author that clearly had an influence on young Lovecraft was the works of William Hope Hodgson whose books all date to before WWI.  Hodgson had a fascinating and varied career as a sailor, bodybuilder, personal coach, poet, author, and military member.  In fact, he died in WWI in April 1918 at Ypres.  Had he lived, who knows what other books he would have written.  As it is, he was a great influence to readers and writers.

These works were always scarce, hard to find and not sought out much by the average reader.  I first read The Boats of the Glen Carrig, and House on the Borderland when Ballentine published the Adult Fantasy Series, bringing back into print important and rare books of influence in the genres of Science Fiction, fantasy, and horror at an affordable price.  I read The Night Land somewhat later.  Long before Project Gutenberg, these editions were the only way an average person could read these scarce tomes.  In fact, if you follow the link, there is a list of published works that are a primer of horror and fantasy.  Now with the internet and on-line book finders such as, it is possible to turn up had to find books. 

I posted this blog entry to interest new readers to Hodgson or Lovecraft and to provide a rudimentary introduction to some of Hodgson’s works.  I am by no means a Lovecraft or Hodgson scholar and the advanced reader won’t find much here that he/she hasn’t already found out about this fascinating author.  Really this has been a trip down memory lane for me and if nothing else, the blog reader will find a few links of interest and some free downloadable books.  You just can’t beat free these days.

H. P Lovecraft had a bit to say about Hodgson’s The Boats of the Glen Carrig in his essay Supernatural Horror in Literature  (1927):

"In The Boats of the Glen Carrig (1907) we are shown a variety of malign marvels and accursed unknown lands as encountered by the survivors of a sunken ship. The brooding menace in the earlier parts of the book is impossible to surpass, though a letdown in the direction of ordinary romance and adventure occurs toward the end. An inaccurate and pseudo-romantic attempt to reproduce eighteenth-century prose detracts from the general effect, but the really profound nautical erudition everywhere displayed is a compensating factor."

The Night Land (1912) is a much longer and more ambitious book, that seems to presage Lovecraft’s Dreamlands.  Lovecraft absorbed much in his reading and little escaped his eye, filing away information like a computer for later inquiry or incorporation.  The House on the Borderland (1908) is perhaps the best known of Hodgson’s works to the modern reader, and one can see elements in Dreams in the Witch House.  China MiĆ©ville traces the origin of "the tentacle" as an object of horror in H. P. Lovcraft in the book, The Boats of the Glen Carrig, about ships trapped Devil’s Triangle of the Sargasso Sea in  his 2009 essay, The Tentacles.

Lovecraft’s early milieu is one that needs study to understand how genres of fantasy & horror evolved and then much later fused with elements of science fiction and reading the books that Lovecraft read can help our understanding of that time. The influences on the Cthulhu Mythos is varied and deserves study and our attention.  Interest in Hodgson’s works are now at an all time high and editions are more plentiful and easier to find.   However, you need not go out of pocket because Project Gutenberg has these  Hodgson novels available for free download:

The House on the Borderland
The Boats of the Glen Carrig
As well as two other novels
Carnacki, The Ghost Finder
And a short story by Hodgson from another source  The Fifth Message from the Tideless Sea
Lovecraft’s Supernautal Horror in Literature download

Additional links of interest

Undoubtedly I have missed some obvious links and observations, but this little bit should be enough to entice and send an inquiring mind off into the aether of the internet for more information and stories.  Happy hunting and happy reading.

Monday, October 22, 2012

TREPAN, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Insanity

Trepanation has always held a fascination as a medical oddity practice since the dawn of time.  Very early man practiced cutting holes in the skulls of “patients” and some of them survived to go back and have several more holes cut.

The exact reason why trepanation began in great antiquity is not known.  Anthropologists theorize it may have been shamanistic as much as medical.  Opening the skulls may have let evil sprits out, which may have been manifested as headaches, or perceived demonic possession, perhaps mental illness.  The point is that it must have been survivable and worked in some cases for it to be added to the list of medical/witch doctor treatments.

Trepanation continued to be practiced well out of the Paleolithic and into the Neolithic era and on into the Bronze Age, up to the present time.  The reasons may have changed, but the basic techniques have not:  you cut a hole in a person’s skull to gain a benefit for the patient.  Whether it is medical, spiritual, shamanistic or psychic, the practice continues to this day.

The original tools were sharp stone tools such as flint or obsidian cutters.  Anesthesia didn’t exist until the middle 19th century so trepanation was just one operation among others, such as amputation, that had to be done while the patient was able to feel pain.  The tools evolved from stone to bronze to iron to surgical steel and the forms of the tools took on a specific look for the very specific task of head boring.  Elaborate trepanation tools in cases were available to surgeons and many sets still exist and are collected today.

Outside of the shamanistic reasons for cutting holes in people’s heads, there are very real reasons for modern surgeons to perform this operation, such as preparation for brain surgery, relief of pressure and the like.  The present term for such an operation is craniotomy rather than the old-fashioned trepanation with its negative connotations.

There still continues to be a folk medicine movement involving trepanation for psychic or pseudo-science reasons.  I was rather surprised to find that there is a strong movement for non-medical trepanation and even for self-trepanation.  

All of you folks who enjoy an occasional horror movie or play the H. P. Lovecraft inspired role playing game, Call of Cthulhu, might find the information and links of some use in the Arkham Sanitarium.  For those few of you who are contemplating trepanation at home for fun and profit, keep up your medical insurance payments, you’ll need it.

The bottom line is:  Kids, don’t try this at home!