Daily Finds 2023


I heard this song recently but had no idea what a shellback was.

The Shellback Song - Peggy Seeger & Ewan MacColl (YouTube link)

Wikipedia handily told me it's a sailor who has participated in a line-crossing ceremony after crossing the equator for the first time. Royal Museums Greenwich describes some more family-friendly line-crossing ceremonies here and here including ceremonies for cruise ship tourists, but the Wikipedia page has some more weird and brutal details.

Charles Darwin had to go through the ceremony but got away with little more than a ducking:

We have crossed the Equator, & I have undergone the disagreeable operation of being shaved. About 9 oclock this morning we poor “griffins” [inexperienced sailors], two & thirty in number, were put altogether on the lower deck. — The hatchways were battened down, so we were in the dark & very hot. — Presently four of Neptunes constables came to us, & one by one led us up on deck. — I was the first & escaped easily: I nevertheless found this watery ordeal sufficiently disagreeable. — Before coming up, the constable blindfolded me & thus lead along, buckets of water were thundered all around; I was then placed on a plank, which could be easily tilted up into a large bath of water. — They then lathered my face & mouth with pitch and paint, & scraped some of it off with a piece of roughened iron hoop. —a signal being given I was tilted head over heels into the water, where two men received me & ducked me. —at last, glad enough, I escaped. — most of the others were treated much worse, dirty mixtures being put in their mouths & rubbed on their faces. — .”


More random things!

I've been listening to Hello from the Magic Tavern, which is a fantasy-themed improv comedy podcast. I've tried to get into TTRPG shows like Critical Role and Rude Tales of Magic but I always end up dropping them when they get real storylines and drama. I find all that sort of thing (people straight-facedly pretending to be traumatised goblins and so on) embarrassing to watch. I'm way too susceptible to second-hand cringe. The Magic Tavern episodes I've listened to stick to straight-up comedy and there's not much of a storyline so it's easy to skip episodes that don't grab you.

This 1991 Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine edition has an editorial at the beginning where Asimov describes his lunch with Gorbachev. Just a cool thing to read. I also like The SF Editor's Lament on page 56 which complains about hackneyed SF plots similar to the "Stories I never want to read again" page I put up recently. Some of the hackneyed plots are still going strong today ("rich people buy all the air!"), some of them are very much of the time ("vampires with AIDS").

I enjoyed this video about recreating a lost piece of pixel art: Four-Byte Burger by Ahoy (YouTube link)


Random stuff I want to plug:

Search Party on BBC iPlayer or HBO Max. I never see people talking about this show. Basically, imagine the Always Sunny gang getting involved in a murder mystery. The series get increasingly absurd and satirical but there are still plenty of fun plot twists to be had. And all the series posters are cool.

Fret Science on YouTube. Why does every other guitar instructor want you to learn a huge pile of mystical shapes for chords and scales? Are they mad or stupid? Fret Science just tells you how the damn instrument works and lets you get on with it.

Paul Davids on YouTube. Yes he's promoting his guitar course in this video, but it gives an overview of what you can do with an acoustic guitar and how, which is something I think is missing from most instructional courses and books. He has lots of free videos with tips, neat chords, advice about how to arrange songs, and how you can take something basic and make it sound good.

GMB Elements fitness course - it's February. You probably already tried to do some yoga videos or something and gave up. I like this course because it has only a few movements that you can get very familiar with, the instructions are clear and tell you what parts of the body to focus on, it includes a warmup and cooldown, and needs no equipment (and I mean REALLY no equipment, not the usual "no equipment... except a yoga mat, yoga block, weights, a bench, and a workout space the size of Australia" BS). Also, crawling around on the floor pretending to be an animal is a very Neocities vibe. You get long timers where you're free to perform the movement, re-check the instructions, take breaks, and experiment freely rather than trying to follow an instructor flying between poses. I found the progression a little too fast and never got anywhere near some variations since I have the arm strength of a toddler, but you can always repeat sessions. It is $95 though. They have some free videos and articles on their main site.

And finally... you know how when you wake up in the middle of the night with a genius idea and write it down, it always turns out to be nonsense? I dreamed a joke that is only semi-nonsense. Please enjoy.

Q: What did the Russian drag queen take with her on holiday to Krakow?

A: A Ru-Pol dictionary!

Please direct your Fringe Festival invites to my neocities page...


Today just a random thing I think about all the time. This is an excerpt from Delany's Driftglass. Several men are hunting fish underwater with ropes and spears.

There was a sudden confusion of lights below. The spear had been shot!

The fish, long as a tall and short man together, rose through the ropes. He turned out to sea, trailing his pursuers. But others waited there, tried to loop him. Once I had flung those ropes, treated with tar and lime to dissolve the slime of the fish's body and hold to the beast. The looped ropes caught, and by the movement of the flares, I saw them jerked from their paths. The fish turned, rose again, this time toward me.

He pulled around when one line ran out (and somewhere on the surface the prow of a boat doffed deep) but turned back and came on.

Isn't "doffed deep" exactly the sound of the prow going under the waves and coming up again? This is the kind of small detail in writing that makes me want to get up and shout and excitedly show the book to someone else even though I know they won't be interested or know what the hell I'm talking about. Maybe someone reading this knows what the hell I'm talking about.

The start of The Star Pit, the first story in Driftglass, is so pleasing to read that I go back to it far more frequently than I reread the rest of the story. The children have built a large terrarium of plants and creatures on the beach of an alien planet.

The kids would run out before dawn and belly down naked in the cool sand with their chins on the backs of their hands and stare in the half-dark till the red mill wheel of Sigma lifted over the bloody sea. The sand was maroon then, and the flowers of the crystal plants looked like rubies in the dim light of the giant sun. Up the beach the jungle would begin to whisper while somewhere an ani-wort would start warbling. The kids would giggle and poke each other and crowd closer.

Then Sigma-prime, the second member of the binary, would flare like thermite on the water, and crimson clouds would bleach from coral, through peach, to foam. The kids, half on top of each other now, lay like a pile of copper ingots with sun streaks in their hair-- even on little Antoni, my oldest, whose hair was black and curly like bubbling oil (like his mother's), the down on the small of his two-year-old back was a white haze across the copper if you looked that close to see.

More children came to squat and lean on their knees, or kneel with their noses an inch from the walls, to watch, like young magicians, as things were born, grew, matured, and other things were born. Enchanted at their own construction, they stared at the miracles in their live museum.

To quote the meme... I want to go to there... someday when I'm older and richer I want to have a home near a beach and watch the sunrise!


I finished reading Through a Window by Jane Goodall. This is a followup to In the Shadow of Man, published 19 years later. Personally I have an instinctive horror of apes and monkeys (some sort of uncanny valley effect, I guess) but I like reading about them - as long as I don't have to see them! Anyway, here are some notes I made from this book:

A chimp's mother is incredibly important. Uncaring or unskilled mothers tend to lose their infants or raise chimps who can't cope with stress. Skilled chimp mothers coddle their infants. They hug them close when the infant throws a tantrum, respond quickly to their cries, carry them across rough terrain, attack others who scare their infants, and keep them close during danger. Some really tolerant mothers will even let their chldren still climb into their sleeping nest with them when they're too old for it. Unskilled mothers ignore their infants crying and don't always remember to gather their babies before setting off. Mother-child bonds are lifelong, especially for daughters, who stay close to their mothers throughout their life and tend to inherit their mother's parenting skills. (Goodall describes one deranged mother-daughter pair who went around violently stealing other chimps' infants and eating them. Weird.)

Alpha male chimps get there by a combination of social skills, persistence, and displaying skill. They don't need to the biggest or strongest. The more social bonds they form, the more chimps will back them up during a fight. The more impressive their displaying skills are (including the use of props like branches, rocks, and noisy human rubbish like tin cans), the more intimidating and impressive they'll be to other chimps. Goodall describes a young chimp who has some rather embarrassing display failures like failing to rip up a young tree, spending ages trying to do it, and then realising the tree is too big to display with and having to awkwardly abandon the whole thing. We've all been there...

Male chimps try to ensure paternity by taking female chimps on 'honeymoons' away from other males. Males will get aggressive if a female is reluctant to follow them, but the females have worked out their own counter to this: being incredibly annoying. The female will stop to feed every few minutes, forcing the male to wait. This ensures that they barely get any distance from the main group and makes the male so frustrated that he gives up.

I would love a virtual life game that makes you feel like a researcher observing a community like this. (Doing it in real life would be interesting, but I'm not sure I'd want to spend thirty years on it.) Creatures comes close, but their social interactions are minimal since they can't recognise other individuals. I actually think Dwarf Fortress gets most of the way there. I still have to check out the Steam version!


In the last month I've been learning to play the guitar. I wanted to buy a smaller guitar that's easier to pick up and play than a dreadnought, so I ended up researching various random things about guitars.

Did you know: