Obdormio.com Unwasted Hours

30 April, 2012

Elegy for Øre

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

As of tomorrow, the 50 øre coin is no longer legal tender in Norway.

50 øre coin

Not to scale.

The Norwegian krone is divided into 100 øre, but the 50 øre coin is the last physical representation of this. It’ll still be possible, as far as I know, to pay a bill at the bank with a sum including øre, but when using cash, the concept is effectively gone.

And I can see why, much as I am a nostalgic fart trapped in my own rosy vision of the past. I never use the damn things myself. Tiny little coins taking up place in my wallet, to be ditched at the first possible opportunity, which is rarely when making a purchase. Most of them probably ended up in various charity collections, cheap-ass as that is. A coin that doesn’t circulate is a waste, and getting rid of it makes sense. Even so, it feels a bit like we’re losing something, with the øre disappearing.

I am just old enough to remember the 10 øre coin, which was discontinued when I was six. My grandmother had an old tin piggy bank which consisted of two halves joined at the middle; to open it you pulled the whole thing apart. That thing was filled to the rim with 10 øre coins, stored up over time as that coin, too, ceased to have a use in circulation. As a child, i would empty them all into a big pile and then reassemble the pig and put them all back in one by one.

In hindsight, perhaps my parents should have had me tested.

Anyway, the point is, I have a lot of nostalgia tied up in the øre, and now it’s disappearing. There’s something about the phrase “kroner og øre” that fills me with the same kind of pleasure as the term “pound sterling”. Not just “pounds”, mind you, it needs the “sterling”. It is nostalgia, but somehow not just nostalgia. I don’t know how to explain it. It hits just the right spots in my brain.

Yeah, I probably won’t miss the coin. It’s a stupid coin, you cannot buy anything with it. But I’ll miss the concept of the øre as a tangible thing.

26 April, 2012

Link: The Book of Atrus

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

Not too long ago, I went on a bit of a Myst binge in my posts here. The dominant feedback, both here and elsewhere, was a puzzled “huh?” Not wanting to turn completely into a Myst blog, I decided to hold off on posting this thing, just to give you some breathing space, but now it’s time to bring it out before the iron cools completely.

I came across this because of those previous posts, in a way; having Myst on my brain led me to look up again the old forums and websites I once frequented, and on one of them, I found a link to this. And it is glorious.

The Book of Atrus

The Book of Atrus is the first of the three Myst novels. This is a fan making a comic adaptation of that story. For those of you who don’t know Myst, and don’t yet feel like playing old games or investing time in the novels themselves, this might just be the perfect entry point to the series. The comic started not long ago, so there isn’t a huge archive to read up on yet, meaning you can get in on it now and then follow along as it updates.

Now, this is unofficial fan works – almost fan fiction. The comic has already departed from the novel in some particulars, which is only natural in an adaptation, and will probably make the story its own. I won’t get into the details of Myst’s complex relationship with canonicity, because it would frankly be nonsensical for someone not into the series, but suffice it to say that making changes for the sake of artistic license is well and truly entrenched in the series as a whole, and so the comic joins neatly into the tradition of the official publications.

It’s been a long, long time since I read The Book of Atrus, but reading through this comic – something I did three times in a row when I first found it – made me want to dig it out from the shelves again. Like I said, the comic is still in the early stages – the story of a young boy and his grandmother living alone in the desert – but I remember the general shape of what comes later and I am greatly looking forwards to it. On the basis of both the quality of the comic so far, and of the source material, I have no compunctions about recommending it. If you were at all interested by my previous Myst ravings, go read it.

23 April, 2012

The Queen of Air and Darkness

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

Well, midnight is fast approaching, my self-imposed deadline looming, and I’ve got nothing. I’ve been racking my brain all day trying to come up with something decent to write, and gotten nowhere. I guess I’m just tuckered out right now.

In lieu of my own words, let me point you to someone else’s. I’m not what you’d call well-versed in poetry, but I do enjoy the occasional bit of rhyme and meter. The other day I stumbled on to a short collection of poems by A. E. Housman, and found I quite liked them. See, i was curious where Jim Butcher got the title for Queen Mab in the Dresden Files, the Queen of Air and Darkness. Looking it up, I discovered it was the name of one of the books in The Once and Future King – a book I actually own, but haven’t read yet. That book, in turn, got the name from a Houseman poem, found in the collection Last Poems.

Her strong enchantments failing,
Her towers of fear in wreck,
Her limbecks dried of poisons
And the knife at her neck,

The Queen of air and darkness
Begins to shrill and cry,
‘O young man, O my slayer,
To-morrow you shall die.’

O Queen of air and darkness,
I think ’tis truth you say,
And I shall die to-morrow;
But you will die to-day.

Yup, this is the sort of poetry I like. I also quite liked this one, which I think is a bit more representative, what with being about war and how dumb it is to die for your country:

Oh stay at home, my lad, and plough
The land and not the sea,
And leave the soldiers at their drill,
And all about the idle hill
Shepherd your sheep with me.

Oh stay with company and mirth
And daylight and the air;
Too full already is the grave
Of fellows that were good and brave
And died because they were.

So yeah. Go read some poetry.

19 April, 2012

Words, Words, Words: Siren

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

Picture a siren.

Now, chances are that you’re imagining one of these two things:

"The Siren" by John William Waterhouse

Possibly more mermaidish.

Fire engine siren.

Probably also involving an auditory dimension.

Those are certainly the two things I associate with the word “siren”: Pretty women luring Greek sailors to their deaths, and loud noise makers heralding the arrival of emergency services. Because this is the way my mind works, I suddenly started wondering yesterday how that word came to mean both.

I mean, obviously the mythological sirens came first, but how did the concept of evil temptress women singing an irresistibly beautiful song develop into the word for obnoxious and penetrating howls of hideous noise? Speculating wildly, it might have something to do with the idea of a sound that cannot be ignored, that demands attention and reaction, but that seems a bit high concept for a common word.

Of course, words change meanings in weird ways all the time, and diving into the etymologies of  the most innocent terms can lead to some amusing discoveries, but this one seems so strange to me because we still have the original meaning with us. Maybe it’s not the everyday usage, but I think most people will have heard of the sirens Odysseus escaped. Time for some cursory research.

The sirens of mythology, which incidentally are the main “Siren” article on wikipedia, were female creatures with hypnotic voices who got their jollies by tricking sailors into wrecking their ships. As in the painting above, they then presumably had a good laugh while the sailors drowned. They’re often depicted as mermaids or other sea-dwelling creatures, but in the original tale they were women living on an island, not in the sea itself.

What of the noisy siren, then? Where did that get its name? Wikipedia’s article, this time under “Siren (noisemaker)” claims that the first sirens were used as musical instruments, and the first model to be given the name, from 1819, got it because it “could produce sound under water, suggesting a link with the sirens of Greek mythology”. Ah, see, now it all makes sense. It was made for music, and the mythological sirens made music. The noisy version must have come much later. As for the underwater part, it would hardly be the first time something was named based on a misunderstanding of source material.

The Online Etymology Dictionary (what, you haven’t added that as a custom search in your browser?) says that the first recorded use of “siren” to mean “device that makes a warning sound” comes in 1879, sixty years after the instrument version, so it apparently took people a while to realise that this maybe wasn’t the best sound to listen to for fun. Or maybe it was?


16 April, 2012

Five of a Thing: D&D Monsters

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

One of the things I like about D&D is the ridiculous number of monsters it has accumulated. There are whole pages dedicated to some of the sillier critters the game has now left behind. There are still some really weird ones in the mix, but I think most of them have some cool feature at this point. Leafing through my 4th edition Monster Manuals, I certainly find plenty to love. So here’s five of them. I’m not even going to say these are favourites, they’re simply five monsters I think are cool.

5 – Rust Monster

Way, way back, when I read my first D&D book (a red one), I remember this monster being in it. I think it was encountered in the solo adventure in that book, and it might even have rusted away my weapon. Or maybe I’ve invented that whole memory. Either way, the rust monster is such an unashamedly obvious “screw you” to the players, I can’t help but love it. It’s a monster specifically designed to destroy you stuff!

4 – Owlbear

Yeah, that’s right, I said owlbear, the poster boy for ridiculous combinations of creatures. This isn’t so much for what the owlbear currently is, as for what it could be. Look at these things, and tell me this creature that leaves people with no other recourse than to draw comparison to killers of land and air can’t be terrifying.

3 – Aboleths

A.K.A evil fish. Huge amphibians that come from the cuthulu-esque Far Realm, swimming in unknowable patterns beneath subterranean seas, spewing an incomprehensible hate throughout their surroundings. I have a weakness for that sort of Lovecraft-inspired monster, I guess.

2 –  Rakshasas

Humanoid big cats. What makes these cool are their backstory. There’s a player race called Devas (neither of these have much to do with the thigns they’ve taken their names from, just as an aside) which are basically angelic spirits who have decided to hang around in the world and fight evil. Every time they die, they reincarnate in a new body. Unless they’ve turned to the dark side, in which case they become rakshasas, compelled by their new nature to continue a life of depravity and violence. Good concept. A+.

1 – Weavers

To be honest, what I’m really responding to here is the look. While the concept of a people who claim they existed in the previous universe and work endlessly to end the current one to restore their own is pretty cool, what really sells it is the image of a slender six-armed creature with no mouth. I don’t know what it is, but picturing these things move in my head makes me love them. They’d be all graceful and calm and never make a sound, and then just throw an opponent through a wall. Awesome.

Honourable mention goes to the destrachan, which is a raptor with sonar. I repeat, it is a raptor with sonar.

My head is in a bit of a D&D space right now. Maybe I’ll write more about that later. For now, them’s the monsters.

12 April, 2012

The Fighting Temeraire

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

His Majesty’s Dragon, the first book in the Temeraire series, opens with a British ship capturing a French one in 1805, and finding a dragon egg in its hold. This is not extraordinary – in the alternate history of this series, dragons have been domesticated in Europe since the Romans – but it is a great good fortune, as England has a dearth of dragons compared to other European powers, and France especially. Unfortunately, the egg is ready to hatch. The ship, naturally, carries no trained aviators, so it falls to the crew of sailors to attempt to harness the dragon, lest it become feral and of no use. The problem is that a dragon bonds with a rider for life, and the man who succeeds with the harnessing will be forced to leave the relatively respectable Navy for a life in the much more maligned Aerial Corps.

I have greatly enjoyed the Temeraire books since I first discovered them about a year ago. They are a delightful mix of  Hornblower-esque military fiction and fantasy. All of the stories are enjoyable – the lifelong sailor adapting to life as an aviator, the ongoing war with Napoleon and the sacrifices needed to win it, the continual discovery of the full extent of the dragon Temeraire’s abilities, Temeraire’s slow, slow campaign for dragon rights, and best of all the friendship that develops between the dragon and the rider. It’s a thing of beauty, I tells ya!

I also really like the world the books are set in. The presence of dragons all over the world – except in Australia, obviously, ’cause Australia’s always got to be different, hasn’t it, with its freaking koalas and platypuses and poison everythings – has resulted in a pretty different history from our own, at least outside Europe. Luckily, the author seems eager to show it off, and several of the books involve long journeys to various corners of the globe, giving us a good view of it. I haven’t read the most recent book yet, but I understand it involves a visit to the Inca empire, which with dragons was able to withstand Spanish incursion, and I’m greatly looking forwards to it.

As with the Dresden files, I have primarily listened to these as audiobooks, which I can heartily recommend. Simon Vance has a great voice for this sort of period piece, and he manages to make all the characters sound different enough that there is no problem following along.

The books aren’t very long, nor too heavy reading, so I have found them perfect for quick and very enjoyable reads in between larger projects. And come on, it’s the Napoleonic wars with dragons! How can you not love that?

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