Game Review: Overlord

Sep. 22nd, 2017 12:07 am
green_knight: (Skyrim)
[personal profile] green_knight
[expanded from the review I posted on Steam]

Review and Discussion )


Bonus review-let: Forced.

Forced, Gamification of Games, Player vs. Designer )

So, yeah. I am learning something about gaming, game design, or myself from every game I play, and I am glad I seem to have broken through the mountain of shame (OMG, so much stuff I've never played, best never look at them) and guilt (OMG, so much wasted money). I no longer feel compelled to 'give every game a fair chance' just because I once spent money on it. (Frequently, in bundle deals, I did not even set out to buy all of the games.)

Overall, I spend less than £5/month on games and, overall, I enjoy gaming. I'm not going to get the same amount of fun out of every game, but if I can average a couple of hours of fun for every £5 I pay, that's actually not bad value for money.

The Good Place: Season 2, Episode 1

Sep. 21st, 2017 12:32 pm
rachelmanija: (Default)
[personal profile] rachelmanija
Absolutely fantastic. Do not click on cut unless you've already seen it. The whole series is streaming on nbc.com.

Read more... )
yhlee: snowflake (StoryNexus: snowflake)
[personal profile] yhlee
[Note: I used Cheris and Jedao as my playtest characters when working on Winterstrike, a StoryNexus game I wrote for Failbetter Games.]

"I can't believe you didn't think it was worth telling me that we're living inside a game," Jedao was saying.

Cheris sighed. "I didn't tell you," she said, "because you wouldn't be able to shut up about it, and it's hard being a good playtest character when someone keeps ranting." cut for Ninefox spoilers, I guess? )

Oh dearie me, this guy's got form

Sep. 21st, 2017 08:41 pm
oursin: Cod with aghast expression (kepler codfish)
[personal profile] oursin

Back in 2008, Gandhian pilgrimage that ended at Calais.

And his present (surely it is the same guy) simple life agenda has crossed my horizon heretofore.

My dearios, I give you I live a healthier life now I’m free of the trappings of modernity.

O, lucky old you, a healthy bloke with sufficient resources to undertake this project and pontificate about it. You are not just lucky to be 'born without any serious long-term health issues' - this is due to various factors including maternal nutrition and antenatal care, vaccination against common childhood diseases (even if he didn't get these, and I bet he did, he would have benefitted from herd immunity), i.e. the benefits of modern medicine and sanitation.

Also, I have no time whatsoever for anyone who dismisses other people's experiences of pain: there is a man who, we must suppose, never sat an exam while doubled over with period pain, or suffered a migraine. Not at all rare conditions. Your body is not 'always aiming for balance and health'.

And we observe that he has had a vasectomy... because one of my questions (among the many stimulated by the thought of all the technological advances that have made women's lives so much less arduous, which I remarked on when his bogosity first impinged upon my aghast gaze), wot abaht contraception?

Perhaps we might introduce him to the notion that being regularly flogged with a large codfish is a cure for pretentious woowoo?

(And do we think that his simple austere life is 'more work for other people', like the process that gets his handwritten ms - written on tree bark in berry juice, we wonder? - from his simple cabin in the woods to the Guardian website?)

(no subject)

Sep. 21st, 2017 08:49 am
oursin: Brush the Wandering Hedgehog by the fire (Default)
[personal profile] oursin
Happy birthday, [personal profile] italiceyeball!
the_comfortable_courtesan: image of a fan c. 1810 (Default)
[personal profile] the_comfortable_courtesan

Maurice, though by now clothed, and in his right mind, lay on the bed with an arm across his eyes. This really would not do.

Once was something that could happen. Twice was – cause for perturbation. It was no longer the gratification of a passing inclination.

Why had MacDonald kissed him before leaving? Lightly, affectionately, as if they were devoted lovers facing a brief parting? It made no sense at all.

He heard several fellows come up the stairs: one, from the tittering, was Chumbell, and one – oh dear, that was Basil’s great honking laugh – and that voice that had so recently been whispering in his ear, soft words that he dared say were Scots for he did not understand them, only that from the tone, they were endearments and not the filth that some fellows liked to talk at such times – saying, oh, sure they will show the things to English milords for a little recompense – what, you have never been so far as Naples –

Basil was saying something about his desire to go to Greece - though Maurice confided that Basil liked his comforts entirely too much to undertake such a journey – and MacDonald remarked upon the very notable Greek influences in the Two Sicilies.

Oh, he would become a prime favourite in the club at the rate he was going, damn his eyes.

- you have not seen the Bexbury Bequest at the Museum? Sure, 'tis not on open display, save for a chaste vase or so, but 'tis entire possible for those of the cognoscenti to go examine the late Marquess’ very fine collections.

Chumbell was quite squeaking with excitement.

And then they were standing by the large canvas on the corridor wall just outside the door, and Chumbell murmuring about accuracy and Basil making claims for the need to make a telling composition - would they never go so that he might escape?

At length he heard them – after a deal of expatiation on various paintings – go back down the stairs. He stood up, tidied himself, smoothed down his hair yet again, and peeped out of the door to ensure that there were no onlookers.

He descended the stairs and nearly ran into Sir Stockwell. Ah, Allard, he said – he always manifested the very good ton of addressing Maurice as quite his equal, and not a fellow that he had once been wont to have for a guinea a time, when they were both younger. Come and take port with me.

Maurice had been greatly looking forward to a glass of gin – port was just not the same – but did not protest.

They went into Sir Stockwell’s private office. There was port already on the table. He motioned Maurice into a chair.

Well, he said, I am most exceeding grateful that we have prevailed upon MacDonald to join our number –

Maurice sipped his port and raised his eyebrows.

- but I confide Sir Hartley was quite right that 'twould have been premature to invite him any earlier, 'twas the proper thing to respect his mourning for Lord Raxdell. I was a little concerned about how Saythingport might vote –

Not Colonel Adams?

Adams will think any fellow that can argue about Alexander’s Greeks that settled among the Afghans and discourse on Hindu religion is a fine fellow. But I brought Saythingport to see the prudence of having a fellow so noted for sounding out mysteries among us – for sometimes we have matters we should desire to investigate but can hardly employ some private inquiry agent. I was very careful to choose an occasion when Mysell-Monting could not join us.

Maurice smiled and said he was surprised that Sir Stockwell had not joined the Diplomatic rather than the Admiralty.

But indeed, went on Sir Stockwell, I had a most particular concern of my own. He cleared his throat. I daresay, he said, that my wife will be coming to be dressed by you again, following this scandal of the silly women that were beguiled by an imposter that was neither French nor even a real dressmaker –

I should naturally be delighted, said Maurice, though I confide that she will go wherever Lady Trembourne does, and she, alas, is no patron of mine.

Frightful woman, said Sir Stockwell, if she were my wife – but that fool Trembourne quite grovels at her feet – but does my wife come to your establishment –

(Surely Sir Stockwell was not leading up to being granted very favourable terms when the bills for dressing his lady were made up?)

- I am in some suspicion that she has taken a lover. While she is at least so discreet in the matter that I have no definite knowledge as yet, is it so I should very much like to know who he is. Should not like her beguiled by some seducing rogue or brought into scandal. For indeed one would very much dislike to have to come to a crim.con. action.

Does you entire credit, said Maurice. Even does she not come to me, I daresay there may be ladies in the secret that may be persuaded to a little gossip.

Excellent, my dear fellow. He clapped Maurice heartily on the shoulder. Fellows such as we are well-advized to keep beforehand of matters.

Next morn, Maurice called in Miss Coggin to ask had they ever dressed Lady Sarah Channery, for his memory failed him in the matter.

Miss Coggin gave a loud and vulgar snort, and said, I daresay you would hardly have noticed her, for she ever came with Lady Trembourne, and even though she is better-born, one would have supposed her some poor relation or hired companion. And she is somewhat of the same style of looks –

Ah yes, now I recollect. Never required use of the discreet chamber?

Indeed not. A pathetic creature.

Maurice went to look over the books to see what further information on her patronage he might glean, and was about the task when he heard somebody mounting the back stairway with the clunking of a cane.

He looked out of the doorway. Biddy! he cried, jumping up and going to extend his arm to aid her ascent. Kissing her upon the cheek when she was panting at the top, he said, but sure we did not expect a visit from you. Here, come sit down and I will send for tea.

Biddy sat wheezing for a little while, and then said, came up to lay flowers on dear Thomasina’s grave, and do a little shopping for such matters as Worthing cannot provide. And I went take tea yesterday with dear Tibby, and sure I had heard nothing down by the seaside of this trouble you had been having.

Fie, did not wish bother you with it, the imposture is discovered, we have a deal of business on hand as a result –

I see what it is, you were ever a good thoughtful boy, did not want me to worry, bore it all on your own shoulders -

Did not so, he protested, opened the matter to Lady Bexbury –

There’s my clever boy!

- that quite entirely came at the imposture. But indeed, he said, sitting down and handing her a cup of tea, know not how I might have contrived without her intervention.

Has ever been a good friend to us, said Biddy. And her kindness to dear Thomasina – why, 'twas not even, la, can you no longer work I will go find some almshouse where you may reside so that you need not go upon the parish, no, 'twas keep her in the household among familiar faces, able advize Sophy, the best of everything. She dabbed at her eyes with a lacy handkerchief. O, sure she had savings put by, but in her state of health –

She had a good friend in you, said Maurice. And now, are you here, I should desire open to you some of my thoughts for the gowns for the coming Season, and the ladies that are coming here.

Biddy protested that sure, she was quite out of Town and knowledge of the latest styles, but Maurice confided that even did she not read scandal, she read the pages in the papers on matters of fashion more religiously than her Bible.

sovay: (Rotwang)
[personal profile] sovay
Erev Rosh Hashanah: I misplace the keys to my parents' house and cannot help with the cooking as early in the afternoon as planned, but my brother and his family turn out to have been laid low by some opportunistic bug (the preschool year has started) and don't make it for dinner after all; my father drives their roast chicken and their challah and their honeycake out to them in the evening. We eat ours after I light orange taper candles that technically belong to Halloween because that's what's in the house. The chicken is brined and stuffed with lemon halves and fresh rosemary; the huge round challah with honey drizzled lightly over its egg-washed crust is from Mamaleh's; the honeycakes are homemade and the twice-baked potatoes were introduced by [personal profile] spatch and me. I know it is not precisely the customary use of the Shechecheyanu, but I find it useful to have a prayer thank you, God, that we've made it this far. The year starts anyway, ready or not. I'd rather recognize it as it goes by. L'shanah tovah, all.

[ObMeme]

Sep. 20th, 2017 05:27 pm
yhlee: I am a cilantro writer (cilantro photo) (cilantro writer)
[personal profile] yhlee
By way of [personal profile] thistleingrey, because I need a break. On the bright side, I finished a short story today. :D

Read more... )

art accountability

Sep. 20th, 2017 04:19 pm
yhlee: wax seal (Default)
[personal profile] yhlee
Sunday's sketch of the Dragon while we were getting food:


(Dammit, I like life drawing, even if I'm too n00b to be good at it. Joe says I have been getting better since I started a few years back though.)

Pen: Pelikan M205 Aqumarine (F nib)
Ink: Diamine Eclipse

Moving on from heads to eyes and lips? )

I haven't gotten back to Ctrl+Paint because life has been busy, but yesterday my art accountability was working on a Thing in Photoshop, mainly blocking in values.

This Week in Nazi-Punching

Sep. 20th, 2017 04:15 pm
jimhines: (Snoopy Writing)
[personal profile] jimhines

A video of a Nazi in Seattle getting punched and knocked out has been making the rounds. Responses range from satisfaction and celebration to the predictable cries of “So much for the tolerant left” and the related “Violence makes us as bad as them and plays right into their hands.”

A few things to consider…

1. According to one witness, the punch happened after the Nazi called a man an “ape” and threw a banana at him. With the disclaimer that I’m not a lawyer, that sounds like assault to me. I’m guessing Assault in the Fourth Degree. In other words, the punching was a response to an assault by the Nazi.

The witness who talks about the banana-throwing also says he was high on THC. I haven’t seen anyone disputing his account, but I haven’t seen corroboration, either.

2.Remember when George Zimmerman murdered Trayvon Martin, and people like Geraldo Rivera said it was because Martin was wearing a hoodie, and that made Martin a potentially dangerous “suspicious character”? Utter bullshit, I know. But if our legal system let Zimmerman plead self-defense, saying he was afraid because Martin was wearing a hoodie, doesn’t that same argument apply against someone wearing a fucking swastika?

We’re talking about a symbol that announces, “I support genocide of those who aren’t white, aren’t straight, aren’t able-bodied…”

3. Buzzfeed presents this as anti-fascists tracking a Neo-Nazi to beat him up. While antifa Twitter appears to have been talking about this guy, there’s no evidence that the punch was thrown by someone who’s part of that movement. And even if he was, the guy didn’t throw a punch until after the Nazi committed assault (see point #1).

Those Tweets quoted on Buzzfeed also suggest the Nazi was armed, which could add to the self-defense argument in point #2.

Is Nazi-punching right? Is it legal? As any role-player will tell you, there’s a difference between whether something is lawful and whether it’s good.

The “victim” has every right to press charges. But for some reason, he didn’t want to talk to police about the incident.

Was punching this guy a good thing? I mean, there’s a difference between comic books and real life. The Nazi was standing in front of some sort of tile wall. He could have struck his head on the corner after being punched, or when he fell to the ground. In other words, there’s a chance–albeit probably a slim one–that this could have killed him.

My country and culture glorify violence. I’d much rather avoid violence when possible. I think most rational people would. But there are times it’s necessary to fight, to choose to defend yourself and others. I think it’s important to understand the potential consequences of that choice.

Multiple accounts agree this man was harassing people on the bus, and later on the street. He was a self-proclaimed Nazi. Police say they received calls that he was instigating fights, and it sounds like he escalated from verbal harassment to physical assault … at which point another man put him down, halting any further escalation.

I don’t know exactly what I would have done in that situation, but I see nothing to make me condemn or second-guess this man’s choice in the face of a dangerous Nazi.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

Wednesday went underground*

Sep. 20th, 2017 09:19 pm
oursin: Photograph of small impressionistic metal figurine seated reading a book (Reader)
[personal profile] oursin

What I read

Finished Boys will be Boys, which was still very familiar although it is many years since I last read it. Wonder if Turner would really have liked to be writing something a bit more serious about matters of popular culture; and would have liked to be nerdish in the archives of the publishing companies, because there are sometimes wistful asides about the mysteries that might be solved thereby. Pretty sure this is where the very youthful [personal profile] oursin first acquired that apprehension that each generation disses upon what the young of next are consuming (whether print or radio or more latterly other media) as A Road to Ruin (I wish I could locate my copy of his Roads to Ruin).

Also finished The Witch of Syracuse: worked well, did not have that sense one so oft has when scattered short stories on a character/s are brought together of 'fix-up', but that it worked as a narrative arc. Also thought it worked well on the historical contingencies, nature of the deities, etc. (Very unfluffy Hellenic/Punic goddesses.)

Being somewhat smitten with travel angst, read various short things, comfort re-reads, etc.

Did read the novella Suradanna and the Sea by Rebecca Fraimow (2016): very good, even though I couldn't remember why or when I'd downloaded it.

On the go

Finally began Victoria Bates, Sexual Forensics in Victorian and Edwardian England: Age, Crime and Consent in the Courts (2015) - very good so far.

Also currently in medias res, Patricia McKillip, Kingfisher (2017) - very good, but my bar for riffing on/mashing up Arthuriana is set very high with Naomi Mitchison's To the Chapel Perilous.

Up Next

Dunno.

*Among other sights seen today, Rynek Underground.

jemck: rune logo from The Thief's Gamble (Default)
[personal profile] jemck


As someone who’s been reading SF for over forty years now, I’m fascinated by the different ways life on Mars has been portrayed over the decades. My earliest encounters were through books like Robert Heinlein’s Red Planet, H.G Wells’s The War of the Worlds, and in my early teens, C.S. Lewis’s Out of the Silent Planet. Alongside such fiction, I remember reading about Mariner 4 in my grandfather’s National Geographic magazines. So I already knew that real scientific discoveries meant these enthralling stories were impossible. That didn’t matter. Mars fascinated me.

That’s still true today, as books on my shelves by Alastair Reynolds, Andy Weir and James Corey attest. The film of The Martian and the TV adaptation of The Expanse series are merely the latest depictions of Mars that I’ve enjoyed on screen, from Flash Gordon through Doctor Who to Babylon 5. I’m still reading National Geographic, and any articles I see elsewhere discussing the real practicalities of sustaining human life on our near neighbour. Then there’s the ongoing exploration of Mars by the Opportunity rover. Go robots!

So now I want to write my own story set on Mars. It’s the ideal setting for me to explore a notion that’s been coming together in my imagination thanks to several recent popular-science articles that I’ve read. The last piece I needed was the invitation to write a new story featuring the Ur Bar, the eternal, time-travelling tavern from the ZNB anthology ‘After Hours’.

So now all I need is this year’s ZNB anthologies Kickstarter to fund. At the time of writing, we’ve got a week to go, and we’re just over two-thirds funded, so there’s $6333 still needed. Do take a look, if you haven’t done so already, and flag the project up to friends who might be interested. There are three anthologies to choose from, and to consider submitting something to, if you’re a writer yourself. You can get involved for as little as $7.

If you’re really keen, there’s a tuckerisation up for grabs. Do you fancy giving your own, or someone else’s, name to my story’s protagonist?

(no subject)

Sep. 20th, 2017 08:45 am
oursin: Brush the Wandering Hedgehog by the fire (Default)
[personal profile] oursin
Happy birthdsy, [personal profile] sharpiefan!
the_comfortable_courtesan: image of a fan c. 1810 (Default)
[personal profile] the_comfortable_courtesan

Of course Sandy had heard of the certain club. There had been that matter of the comedic actor Elias Winch, Miss Richardson’s uncle, whose perilous proceedings at public places of resort had entirely ceased once he had joined. And when it seemed that Sir Hartley Zellen, a very useful man in the Commons, might join their reforming set, it had been ascertained that he was entire discreet in indulging the urges of his disposition as a member of that club.

But it had been Clorinda who had acquired intelligence of the place. There had been no approaches during the years with Gervase.

So while he returned a civil reply to Sir Hartley’s discreet overture, he was not sure what he might do about the matter.

Is it not, he asked Clorinda, a bordello?

Why, I apprehend that there are arrangements whereby fellows may gratify their urges, but 'tis also, I confide, a place where fellows of the disposition may gather and feel they may breathe a little more freely than they may do in general society. And I daresay there is some matter of being able to assist does one of their number encounter difficulties, for there are fellows that command considerable interest among 'em. And perchance there are fellows that are not in the happy situation that you had and may not live together openly, but find it a place where they need not disguise their affections.

Indeed we were most uncommon fortunate, he said in sombre tones. But, dearest sibyl, is it foolish and sentimental in me to ask, what would Gervase say?

Clorinda smiled at him. Not in the least, dear Sandy. But I think he would wish that you did not become an entire recluse, went about in Society; and I think he would consider that your presence would be of entire benefit to the club, that must indeed be a thought of theirs as well. You are known a clever and well-thought-of fellow such I am sure they would greatly desire among their number.

Would that I had a fan about me that I might smack you with it as an arrant flatterer!

But is it not entirely so? You are still greatly valued among our political set for the acuity of your judgements, indeed there have been mutterings from Sir Barton and Lords Abertylld and Vinwich that sure you should stand for Parliament yourself.

Sandy shuddered. I think I prefer to be an eminence gris.

Or eminence rouge! Sure that better suits you, I confide. She sighed. Whereas do you not think that Susannah Wallace would show extreme well as an MP?

Without a doubt, but that in the present state of society, I fear men would not listen to her, however sound her arguments.

They both sighed.

He felt curiously agitated about the prospect of attending: there was some matter of an initiation to be undergone, and then, a deal of fellows, no doubt, that, apart from Sir Hartley, he did not know.

Do you think I am dressed entirely suitable? he asked Clorinda.

She glanced up at him. Sure, she said in a distracted fashion, these working-parties to make clothes for the orphans might answer, if only the ladies that express themselves with great enthusiasm at the prospect would ever come to 'em and work. What, my dear? Oh, indeed, you look an entire well-dressed philosopher, and I would suppose they do not expect a gentleman of fashion.

Clorinda! Please to look at me properly and tell me is anything out of order.

La, o bello scozzese, you are in a taking over this business, my dear. They have already passed you for membership –

There is some ceremony -

Swearing tremendous oaths I daresay. Mayhap somewhat like unto the Freemasons, not that I know aught about 'em. Is not The Magic Flute give out to be about masons?

You seem in somewhat of a taking yourself, o silly creature, you seem considerable distracted.

Clorinda sighed and shook her head. I think Sir Vernon is going propose to me again. Sure I should not have supposed that an occasional agreeable romp was merely all he desired.

Sandy snorted. Why, I suppose he has been about a very diplomatic wooing, to lure you into concessions step by step –

Alas, I think you have the right of it. But, my dear, you look entire well. I have told Nick to bring the carriage round for you, and then bring it back to convey me to Sir Vernon’s dinner party.

So he went off in fine style to the extremely discreet doorway where one scrutinized him through the peephole before admitting him, and he was conducted at once to a small room where he was met by and introduced to Sir Stockwell Channery, Lord Saythingport, Terence Offerton, and Mr Chumbell. They read him over the conditions of membership and the horrid warnings as to the fate of any that breached discretion, but there was no ritual to the matter and while he was required to take an oath, no-one made him swear upon a Bible.

They then all heartily wrung his hand and desired him to enjoy the amenities of the establishment.

Chumbell, that was positively bouncing up and down, put his arm through Sandy’s and said, perchance they might go take a little sherry and discourse of classics?

Oh, come, Chumbell, said Offerton, taking Sandy’s other arm, there will be time enough for that, let the fellow find his feet a little first. Though he then went on to remark on the very fine billiard-table provided for members.

Indeed it was an excellent fine club – splendid comfortable public rooms, attentive footmen, a well-provided supper-table – and more familiar faces than he had anticipated. Tom Tressillian the actor; Colonel Adams, that had given such a fine lecture to the antiquarians on certain Hindu antiquities of Bengal; Sir Hartley, of course –

Is that music? he asked.

Why, must be Herr Hahn favours us upon his flute, cried Offerton.

Well: Franz Hahn; 'twas no surprise when he came to think of it.

And, in the room where Hahn was playing, standing under a painting of a faun, that was probably a Linsleigh, and undoubtedly one for which he had modelled, Maurice Allard, looking at him with a little lift of his chin and an air of having as much right as anyone to be there: surely the case. He was dressed entirely sober, but one did not spend two decades and more in the company of such a noted arbiter of style as Gervase, that had achieved the approbation of Brummell himself, without garnering some apprehension of what fine tailoring looked like. And how it might set off a fellow’s looks…

Franz Hahn put down his flute with great care, came up and shook Sandy by the hand, murmured that he heard Lady Bexbury was likely to resume her soirées? and gave a civil response to Sandy’s enquiries after his family. Did he know everybody? Perchance he had not met Allard?

Naturally, said Sandy, as Franz Hahn made the introduction, Lady Bexbury has spoken of him, declares she would be an entire dowd without him.

'Tis ever a pleasure, said Maurice, to have the dressing of Lady Bexbury.

At which moment came up Colonel Adams, with recollections of the very interesting questions Mr MacDonald had raised at his lecture, and wondering if he would some time care to come look at his little private collection of Hindu antiquities?

Sandy made some civil reply and was very glad of the glass of wine he found in his hand. He looked about the room and said, I confide that painting is a Linsleigh?

The most of the paintings are, said Offerton. He added, with a wink, there are some particular fine ones on the upper floor – is Basil here the e’en?

Maurice shrugged. Have not seen him.

Offerton went on, you may go look at 'em – of course, do not enter any chamber that has the door closed, but is the door open you may look in.

Mayhap later, said Sandy, a little overwhelmed at the warmth of his reception – the icy gaze in those black eyes was quite salutory refreshing by comparison.

After supper, feeling in need of a few moment’s solitude, he said that he would go look at the paintings, no need to accompany him.

Some few of the doors were already closed, but there were paintings along the corridor, and he peeped inside the first open door he came to. The chamber was empty, though well-furnished, and he examined the painting, rather glad that he was alone, for he could still, he found, be brought to the blush.

There was a faint noise: he looked up, and saw Maurice Allard, in the act of closing the door.

He was about to say that he supposed that they could both maintain a reasonable cool civility to one another in public – for it looked as though that was the concern that Allard wished to disclose – and their eyes met, their gazes locked. And – oh, they had not exorcized that carnal urging, that furor, after all.

Some while later – sure these chambers were very well provided for their purpose – Maurice looked up and said, that was not what I intended.

I did not think it was. Will it be noted?

I am like to doubt it, providing we do not go downstairs together.

Well, I shall go down first, and say how very taken I was by the paintings, is that really the time, sure one might have supposed oneself frolicking with Dionysus in Ancient Greece – and then I shall go ask Chumbell about whether he considers them an accurate portrayal –

Do you do this sort of thing very often?

Seldom, said Sandy, but have long had the acquaintance of an entire mistress of the art of making people see what she wants them to see.

Maurice scowled at him. It was - endearing. Sandy kissed him and began to dress.

Using only the Brat Pack

Sep. 20th, 2017 01:07 am
james_davis_nicoll: (Default)
[personal profile] james_davis_nicoll
Cast a 1980s New Teen Titans film....
james_davis_nicoll: (Default)
[personal profile] james_davis_nicoll
It occurs to me I haven't looked at the Heavy Gear rules in a long time....
pameladean: (Default)
[personal profile] pameladean

This is very long and detailed, so I’m going to try to put in a cut tag.

All right, I can't get that to work, not if it was ever so. I'm sorry.

 

On Tuesday Raphael and I went to Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge. The forecast was for a sunny, almost windless day with a high of 87. The air quality was moderate. I complained about this the day before and Raphael asked if I'd prefer not to go. But Sherburne is actually a good place to go on a less than perfect day, because there's a seven-mile wildlife drive with stopping points for viewing whoever happens to be around; also a tiny oak savanna (1/10-mile loop) trail and a prairie trail with an oak grove in the middle with a bench (1/2-mile loop). And it's September; hiking season will be over at some point.

We got a late start but arrived with about five hours of daylight ahead of us. Sherburne is near Sand Dunes National Forest, and its soil is also sandy. It's a lightly rolling landscape full of marshes, pools, and prairie, broken by lines and clumps of trees. You drive through a short stretch of mature restored prairie to reach the actual wildlife drive. It was awash in blooming goldenrod and blue and white asters and rich brown grasses.

 We stopped at the Oak Savanna Trail and had a sandwich, read the list of plants presently blooming (six kinds of goldenrod, four kinds of white aster, two kinds of blue aster, rough blazing star, and boneset) and then walked out on the tiny boardwalk. We examined what looked like an abandoned bald eagle's nest through one of the spotting scopes provided, and then started looking at spreadwings (yet another kind of damselfly) in the tall grass that the boardwalk runs through.

 Here is an image of a spreadwing that one might see in Minnesota, though I don’t know if that’s what we did see.

 http://museum.unl.edu/research/entomology/Odonata/lere.html

 A flicker of motion in the distance caught my attention, and I looked up to see three sandhill cranes landing across the prairie near the road we'd come on. "A family," said Raphael, looking through the binoculars. "See the juvenile?" I did see the juvenile, which did not have all its red in yet but was almost as large as its parents. The cranes started walking through the grass, not unlike herons stalking through shallow water; occasionally they would bend their long necks down and poke around in the grass roots, and occasionally one of them would make a sharp dart and come up with food and swallow it.

It was hard to decide whether the cranes were more awesome through binoculars or just as tall shapes against the pale road and prairie, bending and straightening, wandering apart and together again. If you didn't look through binoculars you could also see meadowhawks darting around, the spreadwings rising to catch tiny insects and settling again to eat them, the unexpected wind shaking the oak leaves and the grass and the asters. From time to time a darner moved across the larger prairie, veering after prey or just powering along.

At last a truck came fairly fast along the road, raising a cloud of dust, and the cranes paused, considered, opened their huge wings and rose up, gawky but graceful, and flew away low over the grasses. We went back to looking at smaller wildlife

I was trying to spot a spreadwing through the binoculars when I saw what looked like an animated tangle of brown grass. I said to Raphael, “There’s some kind of mantis there!” and when Raphael expressed astonishment, I added, “It’s very stick-y,” which allowed Raphael to come up with the actual name: It was a stick insect. It took a few moments for me to describe its location and for Raphael to see it, and then I had trouble finding it again through the binoculars, but it was busy clambering around against the wind, so we did both get a good look at it. It was only the second stick insect I’d seen in Minnesota. The other was at Wild River State Park. That one was much larger and was rummaging around in a pile of leaves at the edge of the parking lot. This one was fascinating because its camouflage was so great, and yet it did have to move around, so you could differentiate it from the grass if you worked at it.

We’d arrived in the deep of the afternoon when smaller birds are quiet. We heard a few goldfinches murmuring, and a phoebe carrying on, and a chickadee. We left the boardwalk, admiring the asters waving in the non-foreseen but welcome breeze, and walked around the oak savanna loop. The little oak saplings tangled among the other shrubbery were already starting to turn red. White asters poked their flowerheads through leaves belonging to other plants, to startling effect. Autumn meadowhawks floated and hovered and darted, snatching up gnats from the clouds around them. We had seen a monarch butterfly in the asters while we were eating our lunch, and also a dark-phase swallowtail wandering over the grass; now we saw a painted lady butterfly.

We made an attempt to leave, but a darner landed on a drooping dead branch of an oak tree right in front of the car. The sun was behind it and we couldn’t get a good look without tramping heedlessly into the prairie, so we didn’t, but its silhouette was lovely against the brilliant sky.

 We drove on, past tall browning and reddening grasses, clumps of goldenrod, clouds of asters. Darners flew up from the sides of the road and zoomed away. We found at the turning that the refuge had reversed the direction of the wildlife drive since we were there last, which was momentarily confusing; but we found our way, and stopped at the Prairie Trail. I pointed out some thoroughly spent plants of spotted horsemint. We’d seen it in bloom, if you can call it that, at William O’Brien. It’s a very weird-looking plant. Here’s a photo:

 https://www.minnesotawildflowers.info/flower/spotted-horsemint

 This observation continued my inability to accurately provide the names of things; I’d just called it horsemint and Raphael reminded me that that particular weird plant was spotted horsemint. There are other horsemints, but they don’t look so strange. As we stood looking over the rise and fall of the little prairie, with folds of alder and sumac, and lines and whorls of different grasses and goldenrod, all truly starred with the blue and white asters, I said that I loved how big the sky was at Sherburne. Raphael noted that it was a slate-blue just now; we assumed that was the haze of the wildfire smoke all the way from the west coast, a somber reminder of far too many things.

 We took the grassy path, startling small grasshoppers out of our way and stirring up meadowhawks from the tall plants and shrubs. We saw a monarch; we saw a painted lady. Passing through a little grove of young alders, on almost every tip of the dead trees intermingled with the living there was a meadowhawk perched. They swept upwards, snatched a gnat or fly, landed to eat again. Raphael showed me how to identify a female autumn meadowhawk: they have a definite bulge just below the thorax, which was easy to see against the sky. Darners zipped past from time to time. If it was a green darner we could usually tell even from just a glance. The others were mosaic darners, but harder to identify in passing.

 I think it was as we approached the oak grove that we started seriously trying to identify the grasses. We’d known big bluestem, aka turkey-tail, for years. After seeing it labelled repeatedly here and there, I could pick out the charming clumps of little bluestem, just knee-high, with their pale fluffy flowers lined up and catching the light. We’d looked at an informational sign at the trailhead, but its drawings of Indian grass and switch grass didn’t look right. Raphael pulled up the photo of the sign about grasses at the visitor center at Wild River, which had struck both of us at the time as much more informative than other attempts to depict native grasses; and we could suddenly identify Indian grass after all. It has a long, narrow rich brown seed head with varying degrees of spikiness; some are quite streamlined and others are tufty and look as if they need combing. And we felt more confident about the switch grass with its airy spreading seed heads.

 Raphael pointed out a beetle on the path, maybe a Virginia leatherwing, and then realized that it looked like a moth. A little research when we reached the oak grove and sat down showed that it was a net-winged beetle, and the entry even mentioned that it looked quite a bit like a leatherwing.

 The bench we were sitting on was made from boards of recycled plastic. At some point Raphael had had enough sitting and went ahead a little way just to see what was there. I’d noticed when I sat down that there were verses from the Bible printed on the back of the bench in some kind of marker. On the left was the passage from Matthew that begins, “Come unto me you who are weary and heavy-laden,” and on the right the passage from John that begins, “For God so loved the world.” These might have been written in different hands. But the passage in the middle was definitely in a different hand, and began, “We had two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high powered blotter acid, a salt shaker half full of cocaine.” The ending of the passage was a bit smeared and I couldn’t read all of it, but at the bottom the name “hunter s. thompson” was clear enough. I followed Raphael and relayed the beginning of the passage. “Hunter s. thompson!” said Raphael, going back to the bench with me. “It’s from <i>Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas</i>.” Raphael looked this up too, and showed me the unsmeared passage on the cellphone.

 Giggling a bit, we went on our way. We were now well around the loop and into the straight stretch back to the car. From the other side I’d pointed out a lovely layering of grasses, goldenrod, a narrow cleft of willow scrub, and a candy-red line of sumac. Now we came to the sumac from the other side. On the path in front of us was a butterfly. “What is that?” said Raphael. “It’s a Red Admiral,” I said confidently, but it wasn’t. It was another Painted Lady. Raphael consolingly told me that they were both Vanessa, very closely related, but the Red Admiral is very common in Minnesota and I was chagrined that I’d misidentified something else as that.

 We came to a little stretch of boardwalk over a marshy area. On a shrub was a shimmery amber-tinged odonate. I pointed it out to Raphael. It turned out to be another autumn meadowhawk, though it looked as if it ought to be an Eastern Amberwing, or at least a Band-Winged Meadowhawk. It had perched on a bit of red-stemmed dogwood, just to be extra-cooperative. We went on through the cattails and willow, past a minute patch of open water and up onto the grassy path again. Raphael pointed out that where the path climbed back out of the tiny marsh there was a nice view over the rest of the open water and the winding marsh with more willow, and cattails, and a shrub we should have known but didn’t. (I briefly misidentified it as more red-stemmed dogwood, because it was my day to misidentify everything; but it had deep purple stems and leaves just starting to turn reddish.)

 On our right for the end of our walk was the brilliant sumac and the cleft of alder saplings, all their leaves fluttering and twinkling in the wind and sunlight; on the left a long slope of prairie grasses interrupted by goldenrod and asters. More darners sailed by. The sky had lost its smoky cast and was a fine late-summer deep blue. We came back to the car and Raphael began to drive away, but I exclaimed at the sight of a big clump of stiff goldenrod covered with pollinators. We didn’t get out, but looked our fill from the car. Big bumblebees, a Ctenucha moth, beetles, ambush bugs. Once Raphael started reading it, I had to edit this entry to correct the Ctenucha moth's name and type, so have another link, since they are very handsome:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ctenucha_virginica
 
There’s one more trail you can actually walk along, near the end of the wildlife drive, but there was a sign at the beginning saying that it was flooded. Before that we drove past long stretches of marsh, open water, and rolling prairie, all patched with clumps of trees. From time to time there would be a wider spot in the road, sometimes a formal space big enough for three or four cars, with a bench or two, or a platform over a low spot with spotting scopes and some informational signs about the wildlife; others just a metal platform with railings, where you could stand and look over the water. We tentatively identified the spot where we’d once common moorhens, which are not so common that we weren’t deeply excited. We’ve also seen muskrats and various ducks in these locations, and once there was a gigantic cloud of mosaic darners all brown and yellow – I seem to recall that some of them were lance-tipped darners, but I may be wrong. This time we heard water birds making a ruckus, but couldn’t see them. Darners came by in about the density that they had been all the while. Over one platform we saw what turned out to be a northern harrier; these guys have an amazing acrobatic flight, and they’re reddish on the underside and bluish on the back. I excitedly called this one a kestrel, which would be smaller and have the colors reversed: bluish on the underside and red on the back. We also very clearly saw a nighthawk with its white wing bars, though the sun was still up.

 We also saw some cedar waxwings fly-catching from a tree with a dead top, and heard a yellow warbler.

 At last we came to a stretch of water, islands, and snags so large that it had two separate viewing-spots. From the first we saw several groups of large white birds. I thought the first were swans, but they were white pelicans. There were also some swans, however. We came finally around a curve of the gravel road to an observation station in a little oak grove, overlooking the far side of this large sheet of water. This is where most of the dead trees are, and here, to our delight, we saw as we’ve seen before several times a very large number of cormorants. The sun was setting by then, off to our right. The sky was pink and the water reflected it. Many cormorants were roosting already, but some were still coming out of the water; they would land on a branch, sometimes settling and sometimes glancing off several different trees before finding one that suited them, or one in which the other cormorants accepted them. It was hard to be sure. Then they would spread their wings out to dry, looking as if they were practicing to be bats for Halloween.

 We found the swans and pelicans we’d seen from the other viewing station, though it was getting pretty dark by then. Cormorants still flew up into the trees and spread their wings. Through binoculars you could see the ones that had folded their wings now preening their breast feathers. Some of them had pale necks and brown fronts rather than being entirely black. I mentioned this to Raphael, who looked it up in Sibley and confirmed that those were juvenile cormorants.

 It was getting quite dark by then and the mosquitoes were starting to think about biting us in earnest. We drove past two more pools; beside one two groups of people we’d seen pass earlier, a third car I didn’t recognize from before, and a man using a wheelchair were standing and gesticulating. We pulled up and got out. The water and trees were lovely in the twilight, but we didn’t see any wildlife. The solitary man went away in his wheelchair, the unfamiliar car left, and we followed, watching the varied texture of the grass and flowers fade away into the dark.

 

Pamela

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