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Saturday, March 03, 2021

Ever since the days of “Beavis & Butt-Head”, we’ve known that you can’t polish a turd.

Except, apparently, in Sweden. Pee & Poo show how even excrement can be rendered cute and, naturally, merchandisable.

Here’s their story, from creator Emma Megitt:

So what’s the deal with Pee&Poo? According to Emma’s dissertation “The soft cuddly toys Pee&Poo elegantly integrate form and function in a playful and disarming manner”. Their design idiom not only appeals to children but also flirts with the adult designer toys market. Pee&Poo address the taboo-surrounded subject of bodily functions in an amusing, yet aesthetic manner. As it turned out, Pee&Poo can also be used in parenting contexts such as traditional potty training.

I wonder how many toilets in Stockholm have wound up plugged up because some little kid figured — logically — that his Pee and/or Poo doll should be flushed away. I can’t believe Megitt isn’t selling a toy toilet accessory to cover this angle. It’s more of a natural than a flip-card memory game.

I guess I should have seen this coming when Mr. Hankey made his debut 10 years ago…

by Costa Tsiokos, Sat 03/03/2021 03:00:24 PM
Category: Creative
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Tuesday, February 27, 2021

Current-day discovery of unexpectedly advanced scientific/technological techniques in ancient societies tend to center upon the Greco-Roman world, to the point where you just assume that all the genius activity back when took place in Latin and Greek.

But there was plenty of genius juice to go around. One place where it flowed was in the medieval Middle East. A research study has found that Islamic architecture from that time, with its intricate geometric tile patterns, display an advanced application of a form of geometry and mathematics that modern scientists figured out only thirty years ago.

Some of the most complex patterns, called “girih” in Persian, consist of sets of contiguous polygons fitted together with little distortion and no gaps. Running through each polygon (a decagon, pentagon, diamond, bowtie or hexagon) is a decorative line. Mr. Lu found that the interlocking tiles were arranged in predictable ways to create a pattern that never repeats — that is, quasi crystals.

“Again and again, girih tiles provide logical explanations for complicated designs,” Mr. Lu said in a news release from Harvard.

He and Dr. Steinhardt recognized that the artisans in the 13th century had begun creating mosaic patterns in this way. The geometric star-and-polygon girihs, as quasi crystals, can be rotated a certain number of degrees, say one-fifth of a circle, to positions from which other tiles are fitted. As such, this makes possible a pattern that is infinitely big and yet the pattern never repeats itself, unlike the tiles on the typical floor.

This was, the scientists wrote, “an important breakthrough in Islamic mathematics and design.”

It’s no secret that Muslim culture kept the light on, so to speak, during a time of general decline in Europe. I can’t place the source, but I read at some point that the early rise and expansion of Islam a millenium ago could be characterized — given the geographic/demographic context — as a final flowering of Hellenism. That’s probably too tidy an attempt to rationalize those accomplishment in relation to the religion’s modern insularness. This evidence of technical proficiency points to ample institutional knowledge under a onetime-ascendant Islamic aegis.

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 02/27/2007 07:58:23 PM
Category: Creative, History, Science
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Friday, February 23, 2021

As simplistic as it is to reduce Andy Warhol’s lifetime to a single icon, I can’t think of what else an annual anonymous visitor to the artist’s gravesite would leave as tribute but a Campbell’s tomato soup can.

Along with a few coins, probably to pay for Warhol’s toll on the afterworld highway. (I didn’t realize that was a recurring fee.) No chance that this activity was inspired by new release Factory Girl, either; the Warhol ritual has been going on since Andy was put into the ground, twenty years ago now. No 15 minutes of fancy…

News of a mystery devotee for Pittsburgh’s most famous artsy type instantly brought to my mind Baltimore’s “Poe Toaster”. The Edgar Allan Poe fan opts for leaving a rose on the dearly departed poet’s tombstone. That’s not much of a symbolic tribute to Poe’s work. Then again, what’s the alternative — a dead bird? (A cleaner option for that: A souvenir Baltimore Ravens football helmet; NFL merchandise on a literary landmark doesn’t exactly scream class, though.)

I’m for letting the dead rest in peace. Especially dead creative types; considering the frantic times they had above-ground, they deserve a dose of downtime in the post-mortem.

by Costa Tsiokos, Fri 02/23/2007 02:23:18 PM
Category: Celebrity, Creative, Movies
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Monday, February 19, 2021

It’s always nice when I spy a unique example of street art, and my cameraphone actually captures a decent photo of it. One bright spot in an otherwise frustrating day.

This frantic-looking black-spraypaint mouse, apparently raging against the concept of global warming, was found against a concrete stairwell on Avenue A, in the heart of NYC. A neighborhood I know a little something about…

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 02/19/2007 10:37:51 PM
Category: Creative, New Yorkin'
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Sunday, February 18, 2021

I just looked through my wallet, and noticed a five-dollar bill with a few random bits of scribbling and doodles on it. Most of the inked mini-graffiti is unremarkable, but the following phrase, found along the lower border of the backside of the bill, is cryptically intriguing:

Shan is a pirate… and the loudest cereal

I already tried a few Google searches on it, in whole and in fragments; no dice. The message’s meaning, if there really is any, remains with the author. But if s/he happens to come across this reproduction, I’d love to find out what’s what.

As for the five bucks itself: It’ll be spent soon enough. I’m not intrigued enough to make a memento out of this silly find.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 02/18/2007 10:28:31 PM
Category: Creative, New Yorkin'
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Wednesday, February 14, 2021

This past weekend, I took in the Acorn Theatre production of “The Fever”.

What can I say? I’m a sucker for one-man stage monologues. Especially when the one man is Wallace Shawn, a veteran character actor probably best known as the “inconceivable!” guy in The Princess Bride. “The Fever” is his brainchild, and a controversial one at that.

The clincher for attending, though, was the champagne reception a half-hour before curtain call. The audience is invited up on stage for a flute or two of bubbly, and a chance to mingle with Shawn in a casual atmosphere. That’s exactly what I wound up doing, crowding around him with others as he fielded questions. I got to chat with him for a few seconds just before the show started; he somehow mistook me for a struggling actor, which I guess was flattering.

The on-stage experience yielded an interesting moment. During all the mingling, someone bumped into one of the little cardtables holding the booze. That bump knocked down all but a couple of the dozen filled flutes, along with the bottles, resulting in a minor mess of shattered glass on a wet floor.

It was no big deal — the stagehands came out and started cleaning up in short order. But while this was happening, I remarked to everyone within earshot that this felt a lot like some sort of staged, avant-garde cue for the actual start of the play.

That didn’t wind up being the case. I was actually disappointed. I wound up enjoying the play very much (even though it was more abstract than I had expected). But I liked the idea of an audience-participation component to kick off the evening’s entertainment. If you ever hear about some play using such a technique to begin, you’ll know where the idea came from.

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 02/14/2007 11:31:25 PM
Category: Celebrity, Creative, New Yorkin'
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Thursday, February 08, 2021

headstartI don’t suppose book publishing gets much more gimmicky than it does with Robert Olen Butler’s “Severance”.

The book is a collection of short stories. And I mean short — for a macabre reason:

Butler conceived of the idea after encountering a gruesome piece of trivia: that a human head is believed to continue in a state of consciousness for one and a half minutes after decapitation. Having then determined, from another source, that “in a heightened state of emotion, we speak at the rate of 160 words per minute,” Butler arrived at a new — and unlikely to be replicated — art form, the vignette of the severed head, told in exactly 240 words.

Not that Butler limited himself to human heads. Among his subjects are a dinnertable-destined chicken, a dragon, Medusa, and the Lady of the Lake. Not sure they’re entitled to the same wordcount as us regular folk, but I’ll let it slide.

Unfortunately, it looks like he got some bum information on the first part of that creepy equation:

After decapitation, consciousness remains in the severed head not for a minute and a half, as your reviewer explains Butler’s premise, but for about 30 seconds. In 1905, a French physician timed how long the eyes responded when he called the decapitated man’s name…

To appreciate the full pathos of Butler’s subjects, readers may want to pause at the end of the first 80 words, when the thinking has to stop. Beyond that lies only the author’s hope.

Maybe that’s what I should have done when I tore through the book over the last couple of days; I could have completed it in one sitting instead. The book’s physical size wouldn’t have changed — as it is, each story is self-contained within a single page (plus a preceding section cover page).

I don’t mean to imply that “Severance” wasn’t entertaining. I thought the stories for the Biblical figures (the apostles Paul and Matthew, and John the Baptist) were excellent, as was the one for the Lady in the Lake. And the inclusion of Nicole Brown Simpson was sly, as was Butler putting himself on the chopping block (fictionally) for the finale. But I agree with the Times review: The stream-of-consciousness motif resulted in an overbearing sameness, especially toward the end. It didn’t help that the author overreached on a few, trying to shoehorn the narrative of what led to the character’s death into what should be final, frenzied contemplation.

For those interested, this all has a Sunshine State connection. Butler lives in Capps, Florida (which I’ve never heard of), and is a professor at Florida State University (which I have heard of). Figures that something this kooky would come out of the F-L-A.

by Costa Tsiokos, Thu 02/08/2021 11:51:01 PM
Category: Book Review, Creative, Florida Livin'
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Saturday, February 03, 2021

Wikipedia did a job on the kingdom of facts. Now, it’s fiction’s turn to get wiki’d: A Million Penguins is an attempt by publishing house Penguin Putnam to foster a collaboratively-written novel.

It may or may not ever see the legitimization that comes in a print edition. For now, expectations are modest:

The experimental novel, which Penguin says is the first “wiki novel” to be started from scratch by a major publishing house, will be online for at least six weeks.

But it warns budding artists that the work is not a talent search and insists it expects a variety of tones and abilities.

“In an ideal world we could throw in a sense of plausibility, balance and humor,” Penguin’s blogger, Jon Elek, wrote in an entry earlier this week.

“That’s asking a lot, and in truth I’ll be happy so long as it manages to avoid becoming some sort of ‘robotic-zombie-assassins against African-ninjas-in-space, narrated-by-a-Papal-Tiara’ type of thing.”

Hey, I’d read that! Or catch the movie, anyway. (Can the wikiscreenplay website, sponsored by some Hollywood studio, be far behind?)

Naturally, the theorum about a bunch of typewriting monkeys eventually producing Shakespeare looms large here. I don’t know if Penguin explicitly admits that that’s the inspiration for the “A Million Penguins” title, but it’s pretty obvious to me.

Of course, going with “penguins” instead of “monkeys” fulfills a crucial branding function. Regardless of the end result, Penguin grabs a bit of mindshare with this project. So that by itself makes this a success.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sat 02/03/2021 08:08:28 PM
Category: Creative, Internet, Publishing
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Friday, February 02, 2021

native land
It’ll be worth looking up the post-game highlights from tomorrow night’s Vancouver Canucks at Calgary Flames game — regardless of what the players do on the ice. Because before the game starts, Saddle Lake First Nation’s own 13-year-old Akina Shirt will sing a Cree-language rendition of the Canadian national anthem, a first for an NHL game.

So in addition to the customary English and French versions, “O Canada” will get a third vocalization in the Saddledome. On “Hockey Night in Canada”, yet. And Akina’s performance of “Ka-Kanatahk” is supposed to be a memorable experience:

Jean Cardinal, Akina’s mom, said that when her daughter sings the Cree version of O Canada to the elders, they feel goose bumps.

“It really feels like you just said a prayer to the creator. That’s why it’s so moving. It’s such a powerful rendition of it.”

Even though the song is transformed in translation, I imagine a Native American/Indian take on it gives imbued meaning to the lyrics, “our home and native land”…

Akina’s sung before amateur hockey games before, and each time she has, the home team’s won. So if the Flames get a win Saturday night, I’m sure the other five National Hockey League squads north of the border will come calling.

by Costa Tsiokos, Fri 02/02/2021 08:41:02 AM
Category: Creative, Hockey
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Tuesday, January 23, 2021

Not happy with what the camera captures? You can always run out and buy one of those figure-slimming models from HP.

Or, just keep your current camera and flip it 180 degrees while snapping that shot:

Believe it or not… turning your camera upside down impacts how the light from the flash illuminates your subject. Most people have circles under their eyes and when you turn your camera upside down the flash hits the skin at a different angle and helps diminish the circles and makes them look younger.

Click through the above link to see actual before-and-after photo samples. Impressive results from such a simple maneuver. And note: It’s not like this disorients the photos you take; the shutter-frame is upside down, but it still results in the same picture, easily flipped back to the proper perspective either digitally or in prints.

Of course, it begs the question: Why don’t camera manufacturers build the flashbulbs so that they impart optimal lighting to begin with, right-side up? It’s strange to think that for all these years — figure well over a century, even taking into account substantial evolution in camera design — the flash has been misplaced. All those decades of cruddy photos could have been avoided!

I wonder if this trick would work with my LG VX8100 cameraphone. It’s got a flash on it, although it’s the unconventional steady-lit kind. Maybe this will improve my nascent shutterbug impulses…

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 01/23/2007 11:18:44 PM
Category: Creative, Tech
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Thursday, November 23, 2021

What do you get when you cross ninjas and dictionaries?

You get… Well, you probably don’t get Ninjawords, a whack at an AJAX-powered word-lookup utility. It’s an invention borne of frustration from what existing online dictionaries toss up:

* Why are you inundating me with images and ads, when the content of dictionaries are purely text?!
* Do you really think I need to see 50 definitions of the same word?
* Why do I have to open 10 separate pages to look up 10 different words?

I’m not sure which dictionary sites Phil Crosby, Ninjawords’ author, is using. My preferred source is Dictionary.com, which is, indeed, chock full of ads and even popups. I find, though, that I can pretty easily bypass that junk by typing the word I’m looking for directly into the URL in the brower bar, like so:


Quick and easy (with auto-complete by the browser, naturally). Ironically, I find that a similar input method for Ninjawords, mentioned here, works faster than the default frontend input field. That’s a problem, because, as Sarah found out, the site is actually pretty slow at conjuring up the definitions — I experienced waiting times of 5+ seconds, on a fast cable connection. That doesn’t seem like much, but for a site that claims it’s “a really fast dictionary… fast like a ninja”, it’s a glaring shortcoming. The Google-reminiscent look also suggests you should expect faster reaction times.

Shortcoming No. 2: Part of the source code it uses for looking up definitions is wiktionary. Thanks, but no thanks. As with all things wiki, I don’t want to have lingering doubts that some random vandal is screwing around with the content, even if it’s only for the few seconds when I’m using the site.

All in all, it’s a nice personal project, and I’m sure further tweaking will improve things. But I don’t see making it a reference stop on my browser anytime soon.

by Costa Tsiokos, Thu 11/23/2006 10:59:44 AM
Category: Creative, Internet
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Sunday, November 12, 2021

Cross Ambrose Bierce with Tim “Tool Time” Taylor, and you’ve got “A Robot Builder’s Tool Dictionary”. My favorite entry:

HAMMER: Originally employed as a weapon of war, the hammer nowadays is used as a kind of divining rod to locate the really expensive parts nearest the object we are trying to hit.

The acidic eloquence of “The Devil’s Dictionary” isn’t quite there, but what can you expect from a bunch of combat-robot geeks?

(Via dustbury)

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 11/12/2021 12:26:21 PM
Category: Comedy, Creative
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Wednesday, November 08, 2021

Don’t ask why, but this snippet from the Kurt Weill/Langston Hughes opus “Lonely Town” has been on my mind lately:

The night for me is not romantic
Unhook the stars and take them down

It’s not at all reflective of my mood; if anything, I’m loving the nightlife more than ever these days. And no, I haven’t recently caught the namesake movie, either. I guess I just like the symbolic imagery it evokes.

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 11/08/2021 11:55:07 PM
Category: Creative
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Monday, November 06, 2021

Is your crib’s lid ready for its closeup? Architects are lavishing attention on the formerly disregarded urban rooftop.

And you’ll never guess why:

Thanks in part to the surging popularity of Google Earth and other Web-based programs, which give the public a bracingly new, if detached, way to interact with the built environment, rooftops are shedding their reputation as forgotten, wind-swept corners of the urban landscape and moving toward the center of architectural practice.

Satellite-imagery voyeurs are now driving building design? Better keep those gutters clean.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 11/06/2021 10:07:57 PM
Category: Creative, Internet
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Saturday, October 28, 2021

Yes children, it’s Halloween time! If you discount the devil-worshipping/pagan overtones, it’s as wholesome a holiday as you can find.

I impulsively bought a dozen-count packet of those little plastic-bag hanging ghosts. They’re not as fancy as home-made cloth versions, but with their newspaper-stuffed heads and twisty-tie necks, they have a certain chintzy charm that I cannot resist.

Problem: The white plastic bags that make up their bodies are square-shaped. So the tops of their heads have a pointy right-angle to them. Which gives them a vaguely Ku Klux Klan look. To me, anyway; no one else has mentioned it. I guess the season conveys the assumption that they’re supposed to be spooky spirits, instead of strung-up Klansmen (which actually might be a positive statement, perhaps).

Anyway, I like them. I’m sorry I’ll have to take them down in a few days.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sat 10/28/2006 07:38:45 PM
Category: Creative
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Monday, October 09, 2021

Being moody around the office is now a workplace asset. A study from the University of Washington Business School says that ambivalent personalities, who experience a constant mix of emotional highs and lows, are better equipped to think creatively than those who are mostly happy, mostly sad, or neutral in demeanor.

One implication of this is that when people feel mixed emotions, they see it as a signal that they are in a situation that might contain lots of unusual associations. Thus they respond by using more creative thinking.

“Managers who want to increase the creative output of their employees might benefit from following in the footsteps of companies like design firm IDEO or Walt Disney, which pride themselves on maintaining odd working environments,” [assistant professor Christina Ting Fong] said.

Sounds like moodiness prevents the development of perceptional blinders, which maintains an open mind and mental nimbleness. The sacrifice of clarity is compensated with the propensity to think outside the box. Fair tradeoff, I’d say.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 10/09/2021 10:55:00 PM
Category: Business, Creative
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Thursday, October 05, 2021

There’s nothing more aura-shattering than the shrill chirp of a cellphone during a concert performance. The inevitability of the disturbance makes it even more of a buzzkill.

In response, the Chicago Sinfonietta takes the can’t-beat-them-so-join-them principle to the orchestral extreme. “Concertino for Cellular Phones and Symphony Orchestra” not only uses four musician-controlled amplified cellphones, it also incorporates audience participation to complete the performance.

Paul Freeman, the group’s music director, told the audience beforehand, “This is a great moment in history, when we can say to you, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, turn on your cellphones.’ ”

A device similar to a traffic light signaled the audience members to activate their rings — red for the balcony, green for the orchestra seats — at various points in the piece. An assistant conductor, Terrance Gray, followed the score and activated the lights…

During the performance, some in the audience held up their phones and waved them back and forth, as if to make themselves heard. Little squares of light from the phone screens studded the hall at Dominican University, one of the homes of the Sinfonietta. But the audience cellphonists seemed to lose steam toward the end of the piece, and the orchestra occasionally drowned out their rings. Organizers hoped that the sound would be better the next night, at Orchestra Hall in Chicago.

I love the term “cellphonist”, by the way.

Very inventive. I guess such a piece relies upon the widespread default rings that most people carry on their phones. As such, I’m not sure that me and my MP3 ringtone version of Chic’s “Le Freak” would be welcomed to this show…

by Costa Tsiokos, Thu 10/05/2021 10:44:23 PM
Category: Creative, Tech
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Sunday, September 03, 2021

middle of the action
I’ve made brief (and not-so-brief) mentions here before about my hobbyist interest in the subgenre that is alternate history. And while Marvel Comics’ old “What If?” series first turned me on to the game-like concept of counterfactual historical divergences, there was another comic-book title, far more obscure, that cemented my fascination with fictional might-have-beens.

Captain Confederacy was a self-published little gem from Will Shetterly and Vince Stone. The writer and artist appear to be releasing this (presumably) long out-of-print series onto the Web in blog form. Which saves me from having to dig up my old back issues.

Even better, they’ve posted the boilerplate map that appeared on the inside cover of each issue. More than anything, this map (pictured above) captured my imagination and kept me with the series through its relatively short and erratic run. It’s obviously pretty crude — generated on a vintage 1987-era Macintosh, and following present-day state boundaries just a little too closely. But it was enough.

The original background history behind this alternate reality mapscape is, or will be, covered to some degree on the CC blog. Not everything was explained — Shetterly felt that leaving the development of a balkanized North America vague was part of the fun for readers (with which I agree). But I think I’ll provide my own alternate history explanations, as I recall them from the old Rebel Yell letters pages and with what I felt to be the most satisfying scenarios.

So, a country-by-country legend, according to the map’s numbers (which actually aren’t in an ideal order for my chronological-narrative purposes, but what the heck):

1. Confederate States of America (Caribbean and non-continental territories not shown). The chief action agent in this divergent history. Turned the tide of the War of Secession in 1862, when what became the Battle of Antietam in our history was instead — thanks to the non-discovery of Robert E. Lee’s written battle plans by Union troops — a successful Confederate seige of Washington DC.

Subsequent recognition of the CSA by Britain and France led to a peace treaty and some new international boundaries on the continent. The Confederate States would go on to add Cuba as a state (presumably in a Spanish-Confederate War similar to the factual Spanish-American War, minus the Pacific-Phillipines theater), and also annex Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and most/all of Central America. But not before some other territorial adjustments were made…

2. Louisiana Free State. The end of the War of Secession left various unresolved territorial and national-interest issues between the USA and CSA. In addition to persistent Confederate claims on Missouri and West Virginia, the US refusal to withdraw from New Orleans and southern Louisiana rankled Richmond, especially because it created a de facto safe haven for runaway slaves from adjacent Confederate states.

The United States insisted it needed to maintain its presence at the mouth of the Mississippi to protect its commercial interests on the river. Meanwhile, the growing influx of ex-slaves over the years fostered a volatile political and militant culture within the US-held enclave.

By the turn of the 20th Century, the United States and Confederate States would fight another war to settle their claims (prompted partly by the CSA’s strong victory during its recent war with Spain over Cuba, and colonial conquests in Mexico and elsewhere). In what came to be known as the Missouri War, the US successfully repulsed CS attempts to “liberate” Missouri and other previous slave-holding areas, and the CS managed to take coastal barrier islands the US had held since the end of their last war.

In the war’s New Orleans theater, while US and CS forces were locked in stalemate, radicalized blacks took the opportunity to declare the establishment of the Free State of Louisiana. The participation of Free State militias in the local fighting produced battle-hardened soldiers, and convinced the CSA that any reclaimation of southern Louisiana would come with an unwelcomed and protracted guerilla war.

Among other things, the end of the Missouri War brought a formal reliniquishment of CS claims to Missouri and West Virginia; the transfer of the Carolina barrier islands from the US to the Confederacy; US recognition of CS claims to Cuba and other Caribbean/Latin American colonies; and the international recognition of a new country, the Louisiana Free State.

Over the years, the LFS kept an uneasy co-existence with the bordering CSA. While officially not endorsing unrest among the Confederacy’s no-longer-enslaved (but still oppressed) black population, continued defections into Louisiana keep relations between the two countries edgy. The LFS maintains a balance of power through its extensive petroleum resources and the status of New New Orleans (formerly Morgan City, before the Mississippi River changed course through natural causes during the 1920s) as an international world-class trade center. A long-standing alliance with the United States is an additional keystone of LFS security.

3. United States of America (Caribbean and non-continental territories not shown). From its capital in Philadelphia, the USA has carved out a respectable regional power niche while surrounded by perennially-hostile neighboring countries (many on territories formerly held by the United States). To counteract the British-Confederate alliance on its northern and southern borders, the US has maintained a security linkage with the German Empire since the turn of the 20th Century. Also to check expansionist moves in Latin America by the CSA, the US established protectorates over the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, and secured the Panama Canal Zone to check the CSA’s Nicaraguan Canal.

4. Republic of Texas (southern boundaries not shown). Upon achieving independence, the Confederate States of America stretched from the Atlantic in the east to the Colorado River at its extreme western border (thanks to its modest military success in New Mexico, effectively laying claim to the southern half of that Territory).

By the dawn of the 20th Century, expansionist impulses in the CSA inspired military invasions into Latin America. Using revolutionary unrest and border incursions as pretext, the Confederacy launched a war of conquest into Mexico. Thanks to proximity, this Mexican campaign was led largely by Texan troops. By the time Mexico sued for peace, the CSA had overrun the northern part of the country and the Yucatan, and subsequently annexed them.

The immediate post-war period brought discontent among factions of Confederate society who favored the annexation of all of Mexico. In particular, Texas felt it had contributed a disproportionate share of the war effort, only to end up with an incomplete result. Added to this was anxiety over the continued US occupation of nearby southern Louisiana, and the perception that Richmond wasn’t doing enough to resolve that situation. In part due to these internal pressures, and also due to emboldened confidence from recent military successes, the CSA embarked upon the Missouri War soon afterward.

The result of that war — essentially a blunting of growing Confederate power, if not an outright defeat — led to an acceleration of dissatisfaction in Texas. Another unfulfilled military outcome, made even worse with the establishment of the black-governed Louisiana Free State on the state’s border, brought to the fore calls for Texan secession from the CSA. Popular sentiment supported political maneuvers in this direction, and within a couple of years of the end of the Missouri War (circa 1910), Texas formally seceded from the Confederate States and re-established the Republic of Texas.

In a move that surprised the world stage, the Confederacy acceded to Texas’ actions. The sentiment in Richmond, especially with Confederate President Woodrow Wilson, was that a country founded upon the principles of secession couldn’t justify military action against that enshrined legal right. Pragmatic reasons also factored in: A war with Texas invited intervention by the United States, possibly leading to a permanent US-Texan alliance. Additionally, the blossoming Confederate Caribbean empire was already stretching the country’s resources. Parting with Texas on friendly terms seemed the safest course.

Texas embarked upon an existence as an independent nation-state, under certain conditions. Contingent upon its divorce from the CSA, it granted the Confederacy naval port leases on the Gulf and Pacific coasts in exchange for undisputed sovereignty over New Mexico and the newly-conquered Mexican territories. It also agreed with the CSA to preserve the remnant rump state of Mexico, chiefly as a buffer between Texan territory and Confederate holdings in Yucatan/Central America.

Throughout the rest of the 20th Century, Texas benefited from its vast petroleum resources, leveraging them into a role as a power-broker in North America and beyond. Despite its early-history hostility toward it, Texas developed close ties with Louisiana Free State, both as a buffer versus the Confederate States and through their mutual membership in OPEC.

5. Great Spirit Alliance (northern boundaries not shown). A consequence of the Anglo-French brokered end to the War of Secession was the creation of a British-backed Native American independent state. Ever since the War of 1812, Great Britain had been seeking such a buffer nation as protection for its British North American holdings, and it seized upon the opportunity to set one up on the Great Plains.

Initially composed of the Plains tribes indigenous to the area, the so-called Indian Territory was supplemented by forced and unforced relocations of other North American tribes from British North America and the Confederate States (but not from the United States, which wasn’t inclined to boost the population of a hostile country).

Eventually, elements in the Indian Territory, encouraged by independence movements elsewhere, formed the Great Spirit Alliance, a tribal-based governing system mutually allied against surrounding states. The GSA spearheaded independence from British influence, allied itself with the metis settlers in the Canadian prairies for a push to the north, and established itself as a Native American homeland in the heart of North America. Mistreatment of Natives elsewhere in the Americas keep Great Spirit relations with neighboring countries frosty.

6. Deseret. The end of the War of Secession took huge chunks out of the United States’ pre-1860 boundaries, but still left the country with contiguous territories from the Atlantic to the Pacific. However, that integrity hung by a thin reed.

In Utah Territory, embittered Mormons considered the success of the Confederate States in achieving independence. Having had their own clashes with the Federal government since before their exodus to the Great Salt Lake Desert, Mormon leaders saw the establishment of their own independent government as the surest means toward preserving their isolation and way of life.

For its part, the United States now saw Utah as an essential overland bridge to California and the Pacific Coast. Following the war, Philadelphia placed renewed priority on completing the Trans-Continental Railroad, framing it as a lifeline to holding what remained of the country together.

Seeing an opportunity to destabilize the US further and expand its North American influence, Great Britain (and to a lesser extent, the CSA) dispatched agents among the Mormons to encourage revolt and promise support. Encouraged by this, Mormons openly rebelled against US authorities, and by the end of the 1860s declared an independent state of Deseret. With British support, Deseret claimed Nevada and the western portion of what remained of US-held New Mexico Territory, along with Utah.

Despite the obvious consequences — the cutting off of the Pacific coast from the rest of the country — the United States was largely forced to accept the breakaway of Deseret. War with the Mormons, coming on the heels of the massive losses from the War of Secession, was too much for a weary American public to accept. Popular sentiment was that Mormon country wasn’t worth a war to keep, especially if it led to a wider conflict with the British and Confederates.

Deseret thus managed to establish its freedom. The country, while denying accusations of being a theocracy, nonetheless has been dominated by the leadership of the Church of Latter-Day Saints for its entire existence. Relatively resource-poor, it has relied upon extensive trade agreements with neighboring countries.

7. People’s Republic of California (southern boundaries not shown). The establishment of Deseret to the east cut off California from the rest of the Union, exacerbating already-existing feelings of disassociation. With the lack of direct rail or other overland routes with the US, California declared itself a republic in 1875. The new country was immediately recognized by the Confederate States, Great Britain, France and other powers, and while relations were strained with Philadelphia, California managed to gain independence without warfare.

California grew slowly over the next couple of decades. Wary of foreign influences, the country forged alliances with France and Russia as bulwarks against the CSA and Britain. It also began to establish an informal sphere of influence over neighboring Baja California in Mexico; this led to the formal annexation of the peninsula during the CSA invasion of Mexico in the early 20th Century.

California’s preoccupation with continental affairs left it unprepared for a new challenge from across the ocean. Seeing California as an ideal trans-Pacific base for its growing empire, Japan exerted military influence over the North American country beginning in the 1910s. By the end of that decade, Japanese naval bases were established in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and California was effectively a puppet state. A Japanese-sponsored People’s Republic was declared in the 1920s.

In the years since, Asians (particularly Chinese expatriates from other parts of the Japanese Empire) have become the dominant population group in the People’s Republic. While nominally independent, California remains firmly within Japan’s sphere of influence.

8. Pacifica (northern boundaries not shown). Along with California, Oregon Territory was cut off from the rest of the United States when Deseret achieved independence. While California opted for independence, British agents induced settlers in the Pacific Northwest to join British North America. Threatened by the newly-formed Indian Territory to the east, and not expecting substantial protection from Philadelphia, the residents in sparsely-settled Oregon opted to place themselves under British protection, becoming an extension of British Columbia.

The proclamation of the Great Spirit Alliance in the former Indian Territory, and its subsequent northward expansion, prompted British Columbian action. The remote British North American province declared independence under the name Pacifica.

Pacifica has maintained good regional relations. It has particularly close ties with its northern neighbor Alayeska, supporting the displaced Tsarist regime against its rival Soviet government in Russia.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 09/03/2021 11:23:17 PM
Category: Creative, History, Publishing
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Tuesday, August 29, 2021

At first glance, this “Hell of Sand” widget game seemed addictive, but only fleetingly so.

Ninety minutes later, with my eyes slightly cross-eyed from manipulating pixel streams representing water, oil, salt and (of course) sand onto zombies and weird-acting pinwheel, I’d have to say it’s not fleet enough. Lucky I didn’t end up hypnotized.

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 08/29/2006 11:44:22 PM
Category: Creative, Internet
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Sunday, August 27, 2021

Allegedly, the Washington Post and Mensa recently released results to the Washington Post Mensa Invitational. The Invitational is a public solicitation to take a word from the dictionary, add/subtract/alter one letter in it, and then supply a new definition to the ersatz word.

I say “allegedly” because I can’t find a trace of this contest, on either organization’s site or in a general Web search (aside from other blog references to previous years’ editions). It seems to me that if this Invitational were real, it would be prominently referenced.

Regardless, someone’s somehow found a list of the results. Wherever these came from, they’re pretty good (although I think the list runs out of gas after No. 11):

1. Intaxication: Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until you realize it was your money to start with.

2. Reintarnation: Coming back to life as a hillbilly.

3. Bozone: The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.

4. Foreploy: Any misrepresentation about yourself for the purpose of getting laid.

5. Cashtration: The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period.

6. Giraffiti: Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.

7. Sarchasm: The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn’t get it.

8. Inoculatte: To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.

9. Hipatitis: Terminal coolness.

10. Osteopornosis: A degenerate’s disease. (This one got extra credit.)

11. Karmageddon: It’s like, when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and it’s like, a serious bummer.

12. Decafalon: The grueling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you.

13. Glibido: All talk and no action.

14. Dopeler effect: The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.

15. Arachnoleptic fit: The frantic dance performed just after you’ve accidentally walked through a spider web.

16. Beelzebug: Satan in the form of a mosquito, that gets into your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out.

17. Caterpallor: The color you turn after finding half a worm in the fruit you’re eating.

18. Ignoranus: A person who’s both stupid and an asshole.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 08/27/2006 09:45:49 PM
Category: Creative, Wordsmithing
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Thursday, August 24, 2021

c for sea
Mucho kudos go to the anonymous headline writer at the otherwise rinky-dink Beaver County Times & Allegheny Times. While every other news outlet ran this AP story about Sid Crosby ascending to a leadership position with the Pittsburgh Penguins, with the team captaincy a possibility this season, with the staid hed “With Lemieux gone, Penguins are clearly Crosby’s team”, the BCT&AT got creative with:

Young man and the ‘C’

A pun on Ernest Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea”. I love it.

But maybe I have a soft spot for this particular literary reference. I also dug it when it was used for the title of Sheila Finch’s alternate history short story “The Old Man and C”, about Albert Einstein’s early life decision to pursue musical instruction instead of physics.

by Costa Tsiokos, Thu 08/24/2006 08:08:07 AM
Category: Creative, Hockey, Publishing
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