Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Christmas list

I've been away on vacation (and then catching up from vacation) so I haven't made a new post in a while.  The last post I made was a PALEONTOLOGY aside, which I do somewhat infrequently.  I still don't have anything gamer or fantasy or sci-fi literature related to post right now, but I glanced at my blog stats and for some odd reason, I saw that a few posts were the most visited over the last week that I had completely forgotten about, including a Christmas list that I made in the fall of 2012.  I have no idea why this particular post has gotten a little bit of attention lately, but it was fun to read it.  At the time, I mostly wanted a bunch of hiking gear.  I've mostly gotten since then all of the hiking gear I need (although if you also read my hiking blog, you'll know that I need to replace a few items that have gone missing) since I've started up the hobby of mountain backpacking again since making that post.  However, not all of the gear that I have is actually the gear that I really want; it's just what I happen to have.  And of course not everything that I'd put on a Christmas wishlist is hiking gear.  Although I made that post in latish November, why not?  I'll put up a wishlist as a placeholder until such time as I can get together the wherewithal to make a more topical post again.

I've got a lot of pent-up demand for some guns (and enough ammo to feed them for a fair bit.)  I really want a new pistol, revolver, rifle and shotgun; one of each of the basics.  I've kinda targeted Smith & Wesson's M&P line as an easy place to start.  The R8 is a .357 Magnum revolver that retails for about $1,300 or so.  A bit on the pricey side for a starting revolver, but not bad.  The C9 is a basic, compact 9mm pisol, which sells for less than $600, on the other hand.  The Browning Hi Power Mark III would be another option, although it's almost twice as much money.  For a little over $700, you can get a M&P15 Sport II; a derivative of the AR-15 template.  This one uses 5.56mm NATO ammo, a readily available caliber.  I thought about a .22 (in part because they're cheaper) but I'm going with that one on my wishlist for now.  Finally, for about $700, I can pick up a Browning 12 Ga BPS Stalker to get myself a shotgun too.

Even though Browning is (now) owned by a European parent company, both Browning and Smith & Wesson are still good old fashioned American companies with American manufacturing centers.  If I didn't care about that, I'd probably focus on a SIG Sauer P226 for the pistol, at least.  Maybe I'd also look at a FAL for the rifle, although I do like having a good AR-15.

Hiking Gear
Including hiking clothing.  I'd like to replace all of my hiking clothing with gear that has long-term permethrin treatment already built in (as opposed to the kind that is easy to buy which only lasts for about half a dozen washes at best.)  This Guidewear Shirt is perfect, for example.  Cabela's seems to be having a bit of a problem with IDF pants that they have in catalog right now, so I'd probably turn to Railriders to get some of the pants I'd want.  I'd love to upgrade my pack to an ULA Circuit (one of the two camo patterns, naturally) and I'd love to update my tent to the Cabela's XPG Ultralite.  But neither of those are super important; I actually am relatively happy with both the tent and the pack that I currently have.  And I actually do have to replace my SteriPEN because I seem to somehow have lost the one that I had.  That's what I get for lending out my backpacking gear to my kids as they go on Scout campouts and whatnot; some of it ends up not coming back or ending up who-knows-where.  And I'd like one of these days to get a nice Garmin handheld navigation set, like the Montana 610.  But in the meantime, I'm happy doing the old-school map and compass routine.  The last "luxury" I'd like is a new camera dedicated to backpacking.  I'd like it to be small, lightweight, and relatively cheap, but still coming in with decent reviews.  The Fujifilm XQ2 seems to fit the bill.  The final bit of gear that I'd like to upgrade is my sleeping pad, although the stuff I'd like to have, like the Therm-A-Rest NeoAir XTherm is awfully pricey.  It's hard to justify when foam pads are only $10-20... plus I already have three of them.

I've also lost both of the rain covers I had for packs, although I'm tempted to abandon worrying about either and just use a trash bag as an inside liner for rain protection.  And my sandals had a big blowout and I had to toss them, so I need something else to cross streams in.  I'm thinking of picking up some crocs because they're super lightweight, but they're not as cheap as I had thought that they were.  They are on sale at Cabela's for only $25, though.  It's a real pain to find out what price they really are on Amazon, because they're listed with a very broad range, and then it turns out you don't know what they really or what it costs without checking manually every single size and color combination.  Blech.  In any case, I am not finding that in my size they come any cheaper than that Cabela's sale.  On the other hand, for $29.99 I can pick them up at Kohls or Wal-Mart and try them on and have them in hand; probably worth the extra $5.  If anyone else knows of a cheaper source of Crocs (or other very lightweight and cheap close-toed sandal-type shoe) feel free to post in the comments!

Thursday, August 11, 2016


If you're into dinosaurs and paleontology, you'll doubtless already know all about Kulindadromeus zabaikalicus, a recently (2014) described primitive Neornithischian from Siberian fossil sites in the Ukureskaya formation.  I've been trying to narrow down exactly when this formation tracks to, but so far all that I've been able to find is that it's somewhere between the Bajocian and the Tithonian; a period of almost 20 million years that covers 6 ages of the Middle and Late Jurassic; although at least one source states that the find is "probably" from the older portion of that rather large window.  The dating of the formation in general is poorly understood, but as a type comparison, Kulindadromeus comes out cladistically as extremely closely related to other basal Neornithischians such as Othnielosaurus from the late Jurassic Morrison Formation of western USA, or Hexinlusaurus of Middle Jurassic China.  This would place it as a very primitive member of the odds and ends group of what are usually classified as hypsilophodontids; some studies even have these primitive members outside of Ornithopoda altogether, and even outside of Cerapoda.

In any case, it's about as far as can be from the bird-ancestry therapod lineages where most of the feathered dinosaurs have so far been discovered.  When there were suggestive discoveries such as possible feather-like plumes on Tianyulong or Psittacosaurus, I was saying back in 2009 that I'd have bet a "hypsilophodontid" with feathers would be the clincher, assuming one turned up that was well and truly feathery.  Kulindadromeus is that specimen.  The following image carefully crafts what it was discovered with on integument impressions.

Anyway, as I said back in 2009 while describing Tianyulong, the implications of finding feathered Ornithischians that have homologous integument to therapods is, of course, that it means such a feature had to have been ancestral to all dinosaurs.  Boom.  Most specialists also recognize that these type of proto-feathers appear to be homologous with pycnofibers on pterosaurs, meaning that it is actually ancestral to all Ornithodirans.  At least.

Of course, I've also talked about the beta keratin genomic studies of alligator scales that suggest that they may also be homologous as a structure (even if they are not in appearance).  All it would take now is the discovery of a protofeather integument to be found on a small, gracile suchid of some sort, like Hesperosuchus or Terrestrisuchus to push what this tantalizing hint may be pointing at: that the evolution of protofeathers may go back all the way to the base of Archosauria.  At least.  Given other anatomic details that suggest warm-bloodedness may have been common in Suchia prior to the actual crocodiles and co. losing it so they could be better semi-aquatic ambush predators, that's not even very far-fetched really.

But let's not get too far ahead of ourselves quite yet...

Friday, August 05, 2016

Totems of the Dead race/culture calques

Although the Totems of the Dead setting isn't entirely humanocentric, it mostly is.  The Feral Ones and the Skinwalkers are the exceptions; and they're mostly human, just touched with a bit of the supernatural (not unlike how I did it in DARK•HERITAGE to be honest.)  Because my MAMMOTH LORDS is based on a very similar premise (actually, almost the identical premise, plus Ice Age animals) I thought it might be fun to see what they did, and then compare it to my own "calques."

For those who don't remember me using it before, or who are otherwise unfamiliar with the term, calque is a linguistic word that refers to borrowing a phrase or from one language into another, but "translating" it rather than it simply being a loanword, which is borrowed as is without translation.  For example, in English, when we refer to Kindergarten, that is a loanword from German.  If it were a calque, we'd call it "kids' garden" or something similar, because that's what it means in German.  In Tom Shippey's wonderful book The Road to Middle-earth, he describes that Tolkien (both Shippey and Tolkien are linguists) used the concept to "calque" or translate, actual historical cultures into a fantasy milieu, so that the Rohirrim are, in fact, horse-riding Anglo-Saxons of the Anglo-Saxon period of English history—but slapped smack-dab into Middle-earth as allies of Gondor.

Robert E. Howard had already "calqued" (although naturally he didn't use that word) a number of cultures together to create the Hyborian Age; in fact, the Hyborian Age is just a big cobbled together patchwork quilt of calqued historical cultures.  For example, the Aquilonians are essentially the Carolingians, the Nemedians are the Byzantines, the Aesir and Vanir are the Vikings, the Cimmerians are the Gaels (both Scottish and Irish) his Stygia is ancient Egypt, etc.  Games Workshop also calqued the Old World in many ways; Bretonnia is medieval France, the Empire is the Holy Roman Empire, Tilea is Renaissance Italy, Estalia is an immediately post-Reconquista Spain, and you can easily imagine exactly what places like Norsca, Ind, Cathay, and Araby, for instance, are meant to be calques of.

Anyway, the races of Totems of the Dead correspond more direclty with what I'm doing with MAMMOTH LORDS because in both cases, they take a Hyborian Model and apply it to the New World at the time of the Viking settlement.  Totems actually does more than I did, because it's a slightly bigger, more expansive and varied setting than I am likely to develop—but not by much.  Anyway, we've got:

Amizani: Amazons.  I'm not sure why Amazons are associated with the New World, but Warhammer did it too.  They're a completely fictional thing taken from vague reference by Herodotus to what are most likely Sarmatian women.  I don't see any reason to have New World Amazons, so I have no corresponding group in MAMMOTH LORDS.

Arctic Tribesmen:  Eskimos, basically.  I'm using Inutos—a name borrowed from Lovecraft which obviously is similar to Inuit, to represent them.

Atlantean: In Totems, Atlanteans are not dissimilar to how they are presented in Howard's earlier Kull stories, although they still have a memory of the high civilization that they've left behind.  In fact, Atlanteans here are seen as refugees from political turmoil; Atlantis itself hasn't sunk yet and the threat of Atlantean invasion is one of the main conflicts of the setting.  In MAMMOTH LORDS Atlantis has already sunk, but it was a wicked, decadent place, and the Atlantean colonies on the southeast of the New World are meant to be more like the Black Numenoreans with even more black sorcery than they are any historical group.

Bantanu:  This name is very close to the actual group Bantu, and as such, it refers to an African colonization of the New World which is ahistorical, of course, in real life.  Totems also has the Bantanu as possessing a high culture that is largely dissimilar to anything that ever really happened in sub-Saharan Africa, but I suppose you could see them as similar to the Mali or Songhai Empires, but more "utopianized" in terms of art and refined civilizational features.  Which is, of course, a little bit ironic since those were Mande and Nilo-Saharic cultures, not Niger-Congo cultures, like the Bantu.  Whatever.  I have no corresponding group in MAMMOTH LORDS.

Buffalo Plains Tribesmen:  Referring of course to the Plains Indians, of various ethno-linguistic persuasions, but all of whom had a very similar economy and social and material culture, like the Sioux, the Blackfoot, the Comanche, etc.  I've got two names for them in my setting: Tatonkans and Nakota.  In theory, there should be many tribes that are only loosely affiliated, if at all, by similar life-style, but I doubt I really need to come up with names for all of them.

Desert Tribesmen: Refer to the cliff dwelling Pueblo indians like the Hopi and the Zuni.  I also include them, and have offered up the names Kayenta and Azani.

Eagle Coast Tribesmen: This refers to the Pacific Northwest coast indians; you know, the tribes that made the famous totem poles of Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and Vancouver.  I hadn't really given much thought to the PNW as a region that I was likely to use, so I don't have any corresponding group. Instead, I'll actually have "Muans"—Ainu-like people who represent the remnants of Kennewick Man-style pre-Indians.  From the other lost continent of Mu, of course.  Maybe they'll be responsible for Easter Island like heads too.

Eastern Woodlands Tribesmen:  For Totems, they went with the probably rather expedient lumping of the Algonquin and Iroquois groups as eastern woodlands tribesmen.  I've elected to keep them separate, because the ethnic and political tension between the Iroquois confederation and the more loosely (but also more numerous and spread through greater geographical area is an important dynamic of the Colonial period of America, and therefore what we actually know something concrete about.  The Ojowe and Saunak are the MAMMOTH LORDS calque of the Algonquins, and the Mowawk and Wendat are my Iroquois.

Grandfather Mountains Tribesmen: The Totems map of the continent only has one bit, young, craggy western mountain range, so it kinda applies to the Rockies combined with the Sierra Nevada and Cascades together; the Great Basin and American Southwest area that is intermontaine in real life is merely east of the Grandfather Range here.  In real life, the tribes associated with the mountains are usually the same tribes that are associated with the plains nearby—which was ecologically much more productive and fertile anyway.  I don't know who these guys are supposed to be a calque of, or if they're even a calque of anyone at all.

Ruskar:  Although the Russian settlement of parts of America, especially Alaska, post-dates the timing of the setting considerably (to the extent that it represents a "real" time to any degree) Totems has gone ahead and added what are essentially Cossack-style steppe barbarians to the setting.  It's actually a pretty fun idea.  I don't have them, but my "Vikings" have a number of other nations that are along for the ride—nations that were historically associated to some degree with the Vikings, like the Anglo-Saxons, the Gaelic guys, and the Rus Norse-Slavic syncretic culture.  I've got the Haestings, Angl-Saxons, and the Gaidhel, similar to Hiberno-Norse and Scottish.  Although initially dragged along in the shadow of the "Vikings", they've now arrived in sufficient numbers to have their own enclaves and whatnot.

Shenese: There is a lot of evidence to suggest that there may have been a limited Chinese presence on the West coast, which is what the Shenese represent.  I had that idea too, although I called them Fusangites, i.e., from Fusang, the Chinese name for what is believed to be a North American colony.  As with the pseudo-Vikings, my pseudo-Chinese colony is more of an established entity, and not merely an ephemeral beachhead.

Skadian: The Vikings of Totems.  I use Vendels as my name, with the alternate name of Norsmenn.  In Totems, they are posited to be three different subraces; the Oesir, the Einheir, and the Sea Wolves.  The first two are comparable to REH's split between the Aesir and the Vanir while the Sea Wolves are a more overtly piratical group.  I'm only going to go with one variety of pseudo-Vikings, but because I have pseudo-Anglo-Saxons and pseudo-Scots along for the ride, that gives me enough variety.

Southern Empire Tribesmen: The inhabitants of either Maztlani (pseudo-Aztecs) or Yuarcoan (pseudo-Incan) empires.  My setting doesn't go that far south.

Spirit Plateau Tribesmen:  I'm not exactly sure what these guys represent.  I'm not 100% sure what the Spirit Plateau represents (the Columbia Plateau, maybe?)  They seem to be Plains Indians but separated by religious tradition or something.  Needless to say, I have no real analog in my setting.

I also have an Arctic population that may be kinda sorta like Great Perm, except that I don't really know much about them.  I'll make them more or less a Finnish-Lapplander hybrid, call them Kvens, and make them refugees of Zobna, with their new land called Lomar (shout-out to HPL, yo.)

I doubt that they'll be major players in the New World, but I do have a handful of other Old World calques that may or may not make cameo appearances: pseudo-Turko-Mongols called Komans, pseudo-Byzantines called Komnenians (for whom some of the Vendels may have served as Varangian Guards) and pseudo-slav/cossacks called Kayazy.  And I might have Cahokians; mound-builder types, although I'm actually mostly thinking that they'd have been enslaved and culturally swamped by Atlanteans on the southeast Gulf Coast area.