Saturday, November 28, 2020

Gaming For A Purpose

Sorghaghtani Beki
The latest Endangered Alphabets Kickstarter campaign launched on November 12, and was funded at its initial level (USD 20,000) on November 22. This is a record for us (I say "us" because I'm proud to have been involved with Tim Brookes's several projects almost since their beginning) and has prompted a "stretch goal" of USD 30,000 to be raised in the next twelve days.

For a complete description, see the page "ULUS: A Game to Save a Culture" on Kickstarter, watch Tim's video, and do please pledge if you can. And if you're interested in the history of the Endangered Alphabets projects, see these posts here on the Farm: The Thank You All Exhibition; The Atlas of Endangered Alphabets; 100 Words for a Children's Endangered-Language DictionaryThe Right to Read, The Right to Write.

I'm particularly excited about ULUS: Legends of the Nomads, a game designed to help promote the survival of the Mongolian language,  script,  and culture--not only because I am the proud mother of a professional game designer (both table top and digital), but because games are so useful in helping people understand other people. This is not true, of course, of all games, which is why I continue to have conversations about the nature and content of modern, especially video, gaming with MSGG (my son the game guy)--as I have with former students during my days teaching game designers in my former life. One of the first posts on the Farm, back in 2007 (Virtual Unreality) contained a critique and a discussion with a gamer of a game called Bioshock, which seemed horrific to me at the time--but after the conversation I came around. A little.

At any rate, my affection for tabletop games is problematic, since I don't play them very often. I love the idea of them, but I'm such a terrible loser that nobody will play with me. Nevertheless, I've backed half a dozen Kickstarter campaigns for games that I took to my humanities classes for a quarterly game day to show students how learning about art and culture made really cool games possible. The students always enjoyed the wide variety of games based on Egyptians or the Maya or archaeology or even art historical topics and games adapted from ancient versions. Early art work and design images for ULUS promise to blow most of these out of the water in terms of graphics alone. I'm actually looking forward to engaging The Beloved Spouse in a few rounds of ULUS, because I suspect that I might actually enjoy playing something this thoughtfully produced.

I can't help but think that ULUS would have provided a much-needed look into stories and images based not on The Usual Suspects, and it will certainly provide an initial point of contact for most of us in the West with Mongolian history, folklore, and language through which a further, deeper understanding can be begin. For a description of the importance of this project to Mongolian cultural survival, see "Why Is Mongolian Script and Calligraphy so Important to the Mongolian Identity?"

Tim Brookes's creative energy and devotion to the very important causes he has supported offers me some real hope that a better, more inclusive, and more historically conscious future is possible. 


Image credits: both of these examples of the artwork for ULUS came from Tim Brookes. Sorghagtani Beki was known as "The directing spirit of the House of Tolui" for helping to establish the Mongol line under her son.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Searching for Quiet in a Very Noisy World

My Child Groom turned sixty three a week ago, and we celebrated a bit in advance by taking Porco and the animals out to Lake Benbrook for a few days of P and Q. We're pretty obviously not the only ones to think of this, because most of the state parks we looked at were booked up. And since he had been eager to try an Army Corps of Engineers site I checked at Benbrook (where his forest ranger sister had once worked, and which is only a couple of hours away) and found our desired window open. So, taking about two weeks to get Porco in shape to travel again, we ventured forth. This was our first trip since the pre-plague January visit to Palmetto.

The park was well-occupied, but not packed. The fact that we arrived on a Monday didn't make occupation much sparser, since many families--even in this science-denying state--are home with their kids and probably anxious to get them out before things really close down again. There was a family camped across the road in tents, but most of our other near neighbors seemed to be older couples like us. One such were full-timers in a big rig with a toad (See? I'm even learning the lingo!). They were on their way back east, but liked USACoE sites and thus were parked at Benbrook for a few days.

What was really nice, besides getting away from the local traffic noise and the next-door pool pump, was that even though the kids were noisy for a bit, the rest of the stay was blessedly quiet. And we heard no traffic at all (even though this lake is only ten miles away from Fort Worth). Very loud jet noise went over a couple of times, from the nearby Naval air station, but that only lasted long enough to scare the bejeeziz out of Molly and send her into hiding. 


We were camped quite near the boat ramp at the South Holiday section of the park, which made for easy walks along the shore. When I finally got the Eos SLR out (forgetting that I had a zoom lens I could have used), I managed to shoot a few bird photos, inspired by one of my favorite Skywatch Friday contributors, Rosyfinch Ramblings. I don't see awfully well these days, and tend to miss stuff I shouldn't, but I did turn around at one point quickly enough to see a couple of herons (one white and one blue) take off from tree stumps near the shore.

The Great Blue then took up residence on the railing of the pier next to the dock, and stayed there making rude noises for a while. 

After it fell silent again, I soaked up the quietude for a bit before I turned back to the campsite. On my way back, a murder of blackbirds started going at it, including crows, grackles, and a few turkey vultures. The grackles seemed to be upset about something, and after I'd taken the photo, I noticed what it was: a bald eagle! 

The eagle flew off and things quieted down, so I headed back to camp and to my hammock to read. The sun was coming out and the temperature was mild enough to be able to enjoy lying in dappled sun and shade for a couple of hours. 

There were also bluebird boxes around, but I didn't see one (box or bird) until we were leaving. Had I realized that there was a box attached to a "Slow" sign on the entry road near our site, I'd have parked myself there for as long as it took. Maybe next time. And there probably will be, now that the Beloved Spouse has expanded our exit gate and it's much easier to get Porco out of the yard, and now that we know where the best spots are at this particular park. We also took advantage of a wide equestrian trail for a hike, but it's littered with trees from floods and not particularly well groomed. I managed to trip and scuff myself up a bit, but with no lasting damage. There's a bird blind not too far in, so next time we'll be better prepared to spend some time waiting for wildlife to saunter by. Nylah certainly enjoyed her many walks, and even got to see some deer on one midday stroll.

It's good to know that even fairly close-by there are places we can go to regain a measure of sanity. The next week is going to be a tough one, and I'm glad we had some time to decompress before election anxiety sets in full force. Regardless of the outcome, the Plague isn't going away around here, and we're glad to find even a short-term change of landscape to help us make it through.

Mask up, Folks, and be safe. And happy Skywatch Friday

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Here There Be Dragons


When I took this photo a couple of weeks ago, I was in the midst of my morning-in-the-garden-with-Molly Qigong practice, so the actual pareidolic "moment" got a bit fuzzy. It was somewhat more solid and dragony before I got the phone out of my pocket, got the photo app up, and actually shot it. But I think it's still pretty suggestive of the hot, fire-breathing critters that have found their way into so many human fantasies.
In fact, I had been considering a post on heat, in order to pull away for a bit from my rantings on things political and pandemical, but a front stormed through last Sunday night. Since then, the 100F temperatures have scooted down to the low nineties, the humidity has dropped, and we haven't even had the air con on for the last three days. Mind you, we're not your typical denizens of north Texas, since we only have four window units (there are thirty windows), and keep the thermostats at around 75F. At this very moment (1:15 pm CDT) it's only 89F and the ceiling fans (and one of two attic fans) are doing their jobs quite nicely for us all. Large Hairy Dog included.

So, I can't bitch too much about the heat. I've even been doing some put-off cooking projects (making ricotta and moussaka from stuff the co-op delivered last week--fresh cream-on-top milk and "exotic" eggplants). Last night I made a very nice pasta dish that was linked to Melissa Clark's New York Times recipe for fresh ricotta, and tomorrow will use up the rest to make a berry tart. Tonight we get leftovers from last night and a use-up-the-lettuces salad, because tomorrow is also delivery day from the co-op.
The same "farmlet" that provided the eggplants is now making baba ghanoush, which I ordered, so we'll be snacking on that for a bit, too. It's probably time to make some pita out of the Barton Springs Mill flour I've been squirreling away.

What I didn't realize about the consequences of buying from seasonal producers is the pressure to get it all used up before it spoils. Hence the cooking frenzy. But as I get used to the regularity of the delivery, the reduced need to hit Costco for anything but wine and San Pelligrino, and the occasional order to Whole Foods, my creative juices have been flowing (ahem), and my Culinaria board on Pinterest is getting a lot more use. 

Anyway. Back to the dragons.

Just the other day we had another visit from our friendly neighborhood Neon Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula croceipennis), an annual occurrence, at what seems to be mating time. The piece of rebar stuck in next to Molly's pond is really there to support a bit of Astilbe that comes up in the spring and needs support.

But it also seems to provide a nice resting spot for the male, who seems to spend most of his time trying to get the female (who's usually hanging about in the Inland Sea Oats patch next to the former fire pit/now watering hole) to pay attention. The image below was taken just about a year ago, when I did manage to get a closer-up image.

I suppose I should include the dragonfly sightings in my Phenology 101 collections from now on. It might help make up for some of the phenomena that aren't showing up.

It is rather reassuring that some of our wildlife is doing well enough to come back for a visit. The scarcity of bats and fireflies is troubling, but we've actually benefited from some of the environmental incursions occurring just to our south. A new housing/retail complex next to the highway "necessitated" the cutting down of a rather nice little suburban forest, which, in turn, de-homed several hawk families.  So, of late we're being treated to hawk vs. crow skirmishes and wonderful aerial ballets whenever the thermals provide the opportunity for raptor frolics. 

Sunday's storm inflicted some serious damage to the scraggly old elm tree growing on the property line with our next-door neighbor. A huge limb broke off on her side of her fence, and proceeded to bounce off her garage roof into our yard, where it took out a large swath of sea oats and knocked off some of the Virginia creeper that helps to mask the offensive fence.

But things could have been worse. The patch hit hardest was where we should someday have a greenhouse; had it actually been in place, there would have been serious damage--although since it won't be a glass house (due to the abundance of aging pecan trees nearby) at least it wouldn't have shattered spectacularly and rendered the whole place unusable. Sometimes procrastination (this time brought on by our reluctance to visit the retailer who handles the greenhouse we want during the Plague) has its benefits.

The Beloved Spouse was able to take care of our side of the fence and the limb is now in bits on one of the strategically located woodpiles, ready to house whatever critters decide to use it for living space.

The weather and the somewhat hopeful DNC broadcasts have lightened our moods a bit, although I'm sure the next atrocity and/or heat wave is just around the corner. Nonetheless, I thought it prudent to take this opportunity to post something appropriate for Skywatch Friday and spend the next couple of days seeing what other folk looking skyward are finding. 

Stay safe and be well. And happy Skywatch Friday.