31 August 2008

Engrish of the New Mirrennium

Engrish.com has had a total makeover! About time, too. It wasn't exactly one of the most modern looking sites around. Most importantly, perhaps, they now have RSS feeds!

If you don't know Engrish.com, you've missed some of the most hilarious photos known to mankind.

30 August 2008

Astrology, Just Once More

Ok, I hope this'll be the last post about astrology for a while, but I need to reach some kind of conclusion on this topic.

The more I consider the selection of planets to use, the more I'm starting to feel that the simple set of seven classical planets is all I need. I think this is partly because I'd been studying traditional occult philosophy for a good while before I really started looking into astrology, and the concept of the seven planets is such a crucial part of traditional occultism that forcing additional planets into the scheme seems both difficult and unnecessary. The qabalistic Tree of Life has been a very useful tool for me in understanding various symbol structures, and I'm sure it'll be a great help in understanding the astrological implications of the planets as well. While one could try to reconcile the new planets with this scheme, there's really very little new that they could bring to it, and the usual interpretations of the newer planets often seem to overlap with those of the traditional planets (or at least the way that I've come to see the traditional planets).

To add a little spice into the mix I might use the north and south nodes of the moon. These are fairly traditional, and were used at least in medieval and renaissance astrology, so they fit in fairly well with the traditional occult scheme. (And I think they would fit in nicely with the qabalistic scheme as representatives of Daath, although I don't know if others have made that association.) The Arabian parts and other additional points I don't think I'll need (apart from the ascendant and midheaven, of course).

If I use fewer bodies, there will be fewer aspects as well. Because of this, I think I might use fairly large orbs, say 10° for most of the main aspects. I might also include semi-sextile and quincunx aspects I hadn't earlier considered using.

I don't think I discussed the choice of zodiac yet. As you might now, the traditional zodiac of astrology is based on the orbit of the Earth, not on actual constellations, which have moved since the times when astrology was created. This has led to the creation of the so-called sidereal zodiac which matches better with the actual constellations. For a while I was a little torn between the two systems, but then I thought, what's the most important cycle in the life of most creatures? The year of course, the cycle of the four seasons, of mating and harvest etc. So it seems right to me that astrology is linked to the rhythm of the sun, the rhythm of life, and not some endlessly distant stars. The Zodiac signs are symbols created by Man. Perhaps they were originally inspired by constellations that existed when they were created, but they are not really linked to them.

Ok, I think this'll wrap up this discussion for now. What's needed now is just, well, experience. Whether I'll stick to this scheme or add something to it remains to be seen.

28 August 2008

Silly News and Even More Astrology

A news item at BBC: Arrow fired through family's cat. The fact that someone would shoot an arrow at a living creature (excepting the need to feed) is disturbing enough. But what I find most disturbing in this article is that someone is actually capable of calling their pet Marmite.

Carrying on from my previous post: at the moment I'm leaning towards leaving out all the asteroids apart from Ceres. There should be some grounds for including a particular object in a chart, and, frankly, most of the asteroids just don't stand out enough, astronomically speaking. If I were to include them, what about all the other similar objects? Ceres, as said, is now classified as a dwarf planet, like Pluto, and is also the closest of the dwarf planets, so there seem to be sufficient grounds for including it if one is to include Pluto as well. If I include the lunar north node, but leave out Lilith, which, frankly, is not that widely used and a little hard to interpret as well, that gives me 12 objects, which seems like a fitting number considering there are 12 signs and 12 houses as well.

A third question I forgot to mention in my previous post is the size of the aspect orbs. Honestly, I haven't seen two sources yet that would agree on them. So... I'll just have to pick average numbers that seem reasonable...

27 August 2008

While We're on the Topic of Astrology...

While I'm on the topic of astrology, I'll take a moment to write a little about some of the difficult questions that a wannabe astrologer must resolve. This is one of those posts that is more about me getting things straight in my head than anything else... I'm not really keen on following any particular school of thought. In issues like this I'm more inclined to go with my gut, since I don't really believe that there is any ultimate truth for spiritual issues, but that they rather connect to a deeper, personal side of us. Spirituality is subjective. What is true for one person may not be for another, yet that does not make it less true for the first person.

While the principles of (western) astrology are pretty much the same for all astrologers, there's a myriad of details that they differ on. The most obvious question is, what objects should actually be included in a chart? In olden days there were only seven known planets (moving objects in the sky, which include the sun and moon), but today we know of several more planets and other orbiting bodies, like asteroids. In addition to these there are many mathematically derived points often used in horoscopes, which can be treated like planets even though they don't actually represent any real heavenly body.

As I said above, I like to follow my gut and go for a more personal, subjective interpretation of these issues. A multitude of abstract, mathematical elements doesn't really appeal to me. I'd prefer to focus on actual heavenly bodies. But this is not necessarily because the objects are really "there", but rather because planets and asteroids are commonly names after mythological characters, and the nature of the mythological archetypes they represent is very useful when approaching astrology in a subjective, psychological way. Of the more abstract entities, the ones I might consider using are the lunar nodes (because they are widely used and traditional) and possibly Lilith, mostly because she's named after a mythological character (even if not from classical myth).

Of the actual heavenly bodies I'd like to emphasize the seven classical planets. But that doesn't necessarily mean discarding later discoveries. These would obviously include the outer planets (Uranus, Neptune and Pluto). Pluto of course is now classified as a dwarf planet, but in astrological terms that makes no difference. If, however, I include three minor objects, I might as well include others. Ceres is also a dwarf planet, so it's a likely candidate. Eris, another dwarf planet, might also be, but it's even farther than Pluto and has a very long orbit, plus it's not supported by Astrolog, my current choice of astrology software (same goes for the fourth currently known dwarf planet, Makemake). The asteroids Pallas, Vesta, Juno and Chiron are also used by many astrologers. Apart from Chiron, all these additional objects are named after goddesses, which would add much needed female energy to the mix, as the traditional planets, apart from Venus, are all named after male characters.

Of course one cannot use every possible object, so one has to have some criteria to make choices by. Of the asteroids, Pallas and Vesta are the largest, and thus strong candidates. There are, however, several asteroids larger than Juno. I surmise that Juno is often used alongside these others because, with them, it was one of the first to be found. But is tradition the most important criteria? We're only speaking of a difference of about 40 years here. Chiron is also often used, even though it was discovered much later and is smaller than Juno. Chiron, however, represents a very different group of bodies with many eccentricities, which may make its inclusion justified. Also, I must say that Chiron in my chart is in a very interesting position, which makes me reluctant to scrap it just based on its size. But I might just scrap Juno...

Another important question is which house system to use. Placidus is the most widely used, but it is problematic. Apart from being overly complicated, in my opinion, it doesn't work above the arctic circle, and any system that doesn't work for the entire planet seems fundamentally flawed to me. The Porphyry system, in all its simplicity, seems like the strongest candidate for me at the moment.

Well, this has grown into a really long post. I think that'll do for now. I'm not aware of any of my friends having a passion for astrology, but naturally feedback is always welcome.

25 August 2008

This Is What Comes Out of Being a Hippie Nerd

It's funny how very different, but equally geeky, interests sometimes come together. I spent a lot of time last weekend setting up an environment for producing PDF natal charts (i.e. horoscopes) with LaTeX.

The first step was to get Astrolog working on my Mac. Astrolog is an old, but powerful command line astrology tool. Because of its age, it doesn't work on Mac OS X out of the box. I had to manually compile it after making a few changes to the makefile and sources. Google was a big help in getting it to work. I had to leave out X support, but I can live without it.

Next I discovered a LaTeX package for typesetting nice looking wheel charts, called horoscop. I think I actually first run into it while googling for info on how to get Astrolog to work on a Mac. What's more, the package is made by Matt Skala, the author of Bonobo Conspiracy! It uses Astrolog (or alternately Swiss Ephemeris) to calculate data for the charts.

Of course there were more obstacles to overcome. To get the most out of horoscop, I needed to install a font for astrological symbols. Installing fonts for TeX, if you've never done it before, is not entirely unlike trying to reach Mt Doom through a maze of orc-infested mountains. It involves copying certain files into the right places, editing certain configs and running certain commands. The problem was finding the right places for the files and the right config to edit, but in the end I had a working font.

Now I could proceed to work on a LaTeX template to draw a good looking chart with all the information I want. This took a lot of tweaking and learning about the features of the package. I'm pretty happy with the version I have now.

Astrology is a fairly recent interest for me, I've only been looking into it since last spring, more or less. Honestly, I've barely gotten started, and I've got a long way to go before I'd try to interpret anyone's birth chart.

I find astrology fascinating. No, I don't really literally believe that arbitrary positions of distant rocks or balls of gas affect peoples' lives. Like with Tarot, the symbols communicate with one's subconscious. It's the process of interpretation that really counts, not what is interpreted. And of course it also gives me an excuse to satisfy the nerd in me by playing around with LaTeX and other cool software.

23 August 2008

Oh My Frakkin' Gods

Finally saw season three of Battlestar Galactica, and the ending, once again, blew me away... What can I say. This stuff is more addictive than heroin. I don't know how I can wait for season four to come out on DVD.

Some might say, just download it. But it's just not the same. Even if there weren't any ethical issues, downloading such a huge amount of video is a tedious task, and I have limited disk space to begin with.

19 August 2008

Blogger Spoiling the Suspension of Disbelief

It was just brought to my attention that when viewing a feed for the H5P blog, the words 'by Ben' can be seen in posts. This obviously doesn't do any good for the suspension of disbelief. I've removed the signature from the layout of the blog itself, but I haven't seen any option to do so for feeds...

This is bad thinking on Blogger's part. People may well write to more than one blog, so it would make a lot of sense to allow people to change their display names without changing accounts. It should be a pretty simple feature to implement, too. But alas, there is no such feature.

Creating a new account and switching to it each time I want to post to H5P seems a little too tedious to me. So there's very little I can do, it seems. Which is a pity, as feeds are a very convenient way to follow sites like this that aren't (or at least won't always be) updated on a very regular basis.

18 August 2008

Hoshi Five Points Special Tactics Team

Ok, I've pasted links to this here and at Facebook over the past few days, but I don't know if anyone's picked up on them. I guess I might as well go official. (Not that that's likely to attract many more readers, but what the heck...)

Hoshi Five Points Special Tactics Team is a new experiment of mine. It's a fictional blog that chronicles, from the point of view of the main characters, the adventures of an independently operating team of special operatives investigating the more out-of-the-ordinary threats to mankind. Influences come from superhero stories, anime shows and the like.

I've just gotten started, and the future of the project remains unseen. I'll try to keep it up for a while at least, but I'm sure that posts won't always be as frequent as they've been in the first few days. But of course that's the whole point of blogs. You can write just a little at a time and only when you feel like it...

I'm sure I'm not the first to write a fictional blog, but I don't really recall running into many, at least not themed quite like this one... Anyways, I'm doing this just for the fun of it, and I hope someone at least'll have fun reading it.

17 August 2008

Copylefting

I believe copyleft is a Good Idea. 'Copyleft', obviously a pun on 'copyright', is a term that refers to the concept that material placed under an open license should remain open. In practice this means that a licence for open source software or other open material should contain a clause that forbids the use of the material in question if resulting materials are not also released under an open license.

I think this makes a lot of sense. If you create something and release it to a community, you don't really want to see some money-grabbing corporation take it, improve it and release it commercially without making their improvements available to you or other interested parties. Sharing, and improvement via sharing, is the whole point of the open source ideology.

The little creations on my site aren't really interesting or big enough for the licences used to make any difference, but I still like to do things right and in accordance to ideals I believe in. My RPG settings have been under a Creative Commons license, but thus far under a version that restricted commercial use but weren't copyleft. While this would also prevent the above scenario from taking place, it's not commercial use that's really the issue. It's sharing and benefiting everyone through that sharing. So I've changed the Creative Commons licences I've used to 'Share Alike' versions and scrapped the 'Noncommercial' requirement.

16 August 2008

H5P

Take a look at this new blog.

12 August 2008

If You Take the Music Out of a Soundtrack Album, What's Left?

I'm just listening to the CSI soundtrack. This is, sadly, very typical of how many soundtracks are these days. It's mostly tracks by various artists whose music has (I assume) been featured in the show, and just two tracks of John M. Keane's actual original music for the series.

There are way too many soundtracks like this these days. The Buffy soundtracks are good examples. Many action movie soundtracks are the same. Many of the songs on the albums aren't actually bad (I've even found several artists that have become big favourites of mine through the Buffy albums), but when I listen to a soundtrack I'd like to hear music that really represents the sound and feel of that show or movie, i.e. original music composed for it, not a collection of random pop songs, even if they perform an important function in a particular scene of that production. (Sheesh, how's that for a long sentence.)

I love the atmospheric, electronic music Keane's made for CSI. It fits in the show perfectly. I think it'd work well as background music for some RPG session, as well. But I only have ten minutes of it to listen to. What's the sense in that?

11 August 2008

Dark Floors

Finally managed to see the Lordi movie, Dark Floors. And I liked it lots. Any Silent Hill fan would, I think. Honestly, this movie would've almost been more convincing as a Silent Hill movie than the so-called Silent Hill movie. Anyways, great visuals, great atmosphere, and even a few surprising twists. Some of the actors could have been more natural, but they managed to do the job. It was a surprise seeing Philip Bretherton (Alistair in As Time Goes By) in the movie.

I like horror movies that are eerie and surreal. Atmosphere is always much more important than violence. And I like being left a little puzzled at the end, as well. Straightforward happy endings don't belong in horror movies. The eeriness should remain, well into the night at least.

9 August 2008

Fandom Again

It's Ropecon weekend. Ropecon is the biggest roleplaying (and cards, miniatures etc.) convention in Finland. I was there just for Saturday, and spent most of it behind the Finnish Tolkien Society stand selling badges and stuff. Much of the time was spent in hysterics considering ways to cook elves and making up new (mostly rude) badge texts, among other things.

Ropecon. First of all, 15€ for a single day pass? Extortion. Second, I think I'm getting too old for this sort of thing. It's fun enough being social and I actually enjoy sitting behind a counter, as long as I have good company (like I did today), but I don't have the energy these days to spend an entire weekend there, nights included, and could find little interest in the program, or playing games (at least with strangers).

I'm sorry though that I once again missed Finncon, Finland's biggest science fiction convention. I was in Nilsiä, like I often am around the time it takes place, and the journey there would have been too arduous and expensive. That's my social life for this year then, I guess...

7 August 2008

What's With All the Roadkill?

I'm back in Helsinki.

I'm rarely satisfied with the results of my time spent in the country. I always have big plans, every year I'm going to write a lot and work on other creative projects, or just read, even. Well, at least this year I can blame the weather. It was one of the worst July's I can remember. When it wasn't raining, it was cold. Honestly, I haven't worn shorts even once this summer.

And then there are all the little chores you have to keep on doing. There's the woodshed to fill. Berries to pick. Lawn to mow. Even if you do just a couple of hours of work, the drain combined with the gloomy weather is likely to kill all the will and energy you may have had for creative work.

And there seemed to be lots of roadkill on the way home. More than I've noticed before. What's up with that?

5 August 2008

Dr. Horrible's Return

Just a little pointer: Joss Whedon's internet production masterpiece Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog is apparently viewable online again. I don't know how long it will remain so, originally it was supposed to be online for less than a week. So watch it if you haven't seen it yet. Now.

1 August 2008

What Is This Thing Unix, Anyway?

This carries on from my previous post. I don't think anyone that might stumble upon my blog (if indeed anyone does) will really be interested in this stuff, but what the heck.

I have a MacBook. The operating system it runs is called Mac OS X. But I don't really think of myself as a Mac OS user. I'd rather identify myself as a Unix user. It might come as a shock to some old-school Mac users that the modern Mac OS is, in fact, a UNIX® system. The graphical user interface is so, well, Mac that a casual user might not even be aware that beneath the surface lies a powerful core operating system, the roots of which go at least as far back as 1970.

So what exactly is Unix, anyway? There's no one official Unix or one official user interface to Unix, like there is for Windows. The Unix system branched quite early on into many operating systems developed by different commercial and academic groups, and also spawned clone systems like GNU/Linux. The design philosophy of all the competing Unices has remained very similar, though, and the systems are quite compatible with each other (there are certain standards that all certified Unix systems must comply with, and which non-certified, so called Unix-like systems, like GNU/Linux systems, generally also comply with). The command prompt, the place where hardcore Unix users are most at home, is the portion that has probably remained the most constant (from a user point of view).

But in the modern world few of us are happy with just a text console. The vast majority of software today is graphical. Now, most of the various Unix systems have adopted a version of the X window system as their graphical interface. This makes porting software from one Unix to another fairly easy. Mac OS X, however, has it's own graphical interface, although it is possible to install an X server as well and run X applications side by side with regular Mac apps. There's nothing wrong with the Mac OS X interface as such. Quite the contrary, it is a very usable system and looks good too. However, there exists a certain dualism that separates the graphical environment and the Unix core, as I mentioned in my previous post. Much of this is to do with the way Mac OS X handles most native applications, which are distributed as ready to use bundles. The binaries and support files are contained within a single app package and not in the usual Unix file hierarchy. This means you can't easily run OS X apps in the normal Unix fashion, using just the application's name as a command at the command prompt.

So how can we make Mac OS X act and feel more like a real Unix, which it's supposed to be? Reclaiming the command prompt is pretty much the only way. There are a few simple commands that make life in a terminal window much more pleasant. The 'open' command is crucial. This is the bridge between the command prompt and OS X's app bundles. Since Linux and other Unix systems don't usually have a similar command (as you can run the application using it's name), it is easy for a newcomer to OS X to miss it. I did, for too long. You can also use Quick Look from the command prompt with a little tool called 'qlmanage', which is handy, though not as crucial as 'open'. MacPorts is an important tool and source of Unix software, even if it's software selection isn't complete and many ports are outdated versions. Obviously you'll want a proper text editor, like Emacs or vim. (If you use an app bundle version, make sure you make it the default app for plain text files. That way you should be able to open it with the 'open -t' command, even with files without a '.txt' extension.)

I still haven't figured out if it is possible to get Finder to see Unix system folders and hidden files. While in most cases it's more convenient to browse and manage them in a terminal, it would still be nice. Any ideas? Any more ideas about better approaching OS X in a Unix fashion are also appreciated, if anyone with experience of such things actually happened to read this.

Well, this grew into another really long post with no real purpose. Mostly I guess I'm just organizing thoughts that have been going through my mind during the past week, not really expecting anyone else to be interested in this.