State of the Blog: October

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hello

This month didn’t exactly go according to plan, because I lost most of a week to illness (I’m fine now, don’t worry; I had a bad fever for a while and spent a lot of time hobbling between my couch and my bed, calling down dire imprecations upon the eternal forces of disease that assail the mortal form) and then had to catch up on real-world work. Which, well, people seem to like it when I talk about my research, so – I’ve been hanging out a lot in the X-ray lab at my university’s geology department, preparing the ancient glass samples I brought back from Caesarea Maritima over the summer for chemical analysis. Each piece gets ground up in an agate ball mill to create a fine powder, I wear a sort of gas mask thing so I don’t get silicosis from breathing in glass dust for hours, then we mix a tiny bit of powder from each sample with a lithium borate flux and melt it down so it turns back into glass, but now it’s a nice neat disc of glass with no air bubbles. Also all the discs are a sort of faint brownish colour, whereas most of the glass I started with is blue-green; I think that’s probably the result of iron in the glass being oxidised from Fe (II) to Fe (III) in the fusion process. Then we zap those discs with X-rays, 10 at a time, each batch for one day, and the pattern of absorption and re-emission of the different wavelengths shows the elemental composition of the sample. Very exciting in principle; some of the thrill gets taken out a bit by the fact that it takes weeks. I’m interested mainly to see whether these window glass samples I’ve taken are different in composition from what’s typical for Roman vessel glass, and also whether there’s any clear variation over the lifetime of the site.

So that’s what I’m doing.

Anyway, I wanted to have an article on Team Rainbow Rocket done by now, and it isn’t, but I am working on it and it should be good to go in another couple of days. We’re running out of time before Sword and Shield come out, and I have preordered one so I will be starting the game pretty much immediately, which I have never actually done before (honestly I think the whole idea of needing to have the game on launch day is a bit weird, but I suppose as someone who produces #content on the #internet I should keep up to date). I’ll try to get something else out between now and then, probably on the Alolan forms, and then once I start the games I’ll produce some kind of “first impressions” series along the lines of what I did for Alpha Sapphire. And… oh god… then the Pokémon reviews will start. And then they will continue until I die. And then once my remaining mortal servants have succeeded in reanimating my shattered body and conjuring my soul back from beyond the veil, maybe we can get on with literally anything else.

Things I have done this month include rambling about Socrates, talking about Galarian Ponyta and Fairy-type life force, rating the moons of the solar system according to rigorous scientific standards, writing two articles for PokéJungle, trying to explain Mimikyu, and continuing my… interactive fan-fic(?) “A Pokémon Trainer Is You!“. Some upcoming questions from readers include: what I would be doing if I weren’t a classicist, how I decide between Pokémon game versions, and what are some of the weirdest of Pokémon’s worldbuilding inconsistencies.

As always, thank you to my Patreon donors whose generosity pays the upkeep of this site, and whose dark will animates the mystic artifices that sustain my wretched material form: Don’t Call Me Bradley, James Crooks, hugh_donnetono, Esserise and Hamish Fyfe. The fact that anyone is willing to donate anything at all as thanks for my ridiculous work is a continuing source of joy and spiritual fulfilment, so thank you! If anyone else out there thinks that my brand of nonsense is deserving of a little monthly tip, please consider taking a look at my Patreon page.

I think that’s everything! The tension is building! Excitement is in the air! The doom of worlds approaches day by day! Help!

Pluto is a Planet asks:

In light of the discovery of 20 new moons around Saturn, I’d like to know what is your favourite moon in the solar system and why?

Do people have favourite moons?  Is that a thing?

Actually (and this is true, I posted about it on Facebook), my immediate reaction to learning about the extra twenty moons was “well, that’s just showing off.”  You only need one, don’t you?  What is a moon even for?  It does the tides, it gives you something nice to look at during the night, and it helps you keep track of the months of the year.  I mean, think, for goodness’ sake, how complicated the calendar would be on Jupiter. How complicated horoscopes must be.  Seventy-nine moons, not one of which can give you a neat twelve-month year.  There is something to be said for Kiviuq, one of the moons of Saturn, which can give you a very nice twenty-four-month year of about a thousand Saturnian solar days (about 450 Earth days) per month.  The only problem with that is that Kiviuq is about the size of Malta and basically indistinguishable from dozens of other lumps of rock orbiting Saturn that insist on being called “moons.”  And that’s another thing, Saturn – you haven’t got “eighty-two moons,” you’ve got seven moons and seventy-something pet rocks; you’re the planetary equivalent of a crazy cat lady (and, frankly, I’m being generous by counting Mimas, but I’ll give that to you because it looks like a Death Star).  Mars we have to forgive because it hasn’t got a proper moon, but when you pull this kind of $#!t, Saturn, it’s embarrassing.

Anyway, I guess the answer to this question really depends on what you want out of a moon. Like, Europa, Titan and Enceladus are arguably the most useful because they’re the most likely to be able to support life, and Enceladus is also by some definitions the brightest moon in the solar system, but Io is made of volcanoes, which is fµ¢£ing metal, and Triton has ice volcanoes, which doesn’t even make sense. Callisto is definitely the prettiest one, Rhea might have its own rings, which is cute in a “look, I’m just like dad!” sort of way, and… well, Miranda is just super fµ¢£ed up, so if nothing else you kinda have to admire its confidence. Ariel, Oberon and Titania are “meh” at best, although I will admit that Umbriel has a nice sort of dark-and-mysterious quality. Iapetus has the whole “yin-yang” thing, which is gimmicky but okay. Ganymede is coasting on its size and should try harder. Our moon is… fine. It is a classic moon, acceptable-to-good in all relevant parameters. It is not seriously in the running for Best Moon. Phobos is a potato and Deimos is a fµ¢£ed-up potato, and while potatoes are fantastic, a potato is not a fµ¢£ing moon. Charon… well, look, I know how you feel about this because it’s in the name you used, but Charon and Pluto are, like, co-moons, if anything. They’re doing their own thing. They’re fine. They don’t need our judgement. I can respect that.

This has been my objective, fact-based and unquestionable rating of moons. You are welcome.

Herald of Opera asks:

It just occurred to me… with a name like “Great Thinker” and our primary source being the Atlantis guy talking him up, how sure are we that Socrates actually existed?

So… we’re pretty sure he existed, because Plato is our main source but not the only one who talks about him.  After his death,  we also have philosophical texts written about him by Xenophon, another of his students.  More importantly, while he was alive and long before Plato started writing philosophy (possibly even before Plato was born), Socrates was parodied by Aristophanes in his comedy, the Clouds, so it’s pretty definite that he wasn’t just completely made up in hindsight by Plato.  There are comments in some of Plato’s dialogues suggesting that he was trying to undo the play’s effect on Socrates’ reputation.  Also, although the events of the dialogues are fictionalised (with the exception of the Apology and maybe parts of the Phaedo), almost all the characters in them are real people, attested in other historical texts like Thucydides’ Peloponnesian War or Xenophon’s Hellenica, whose positions in the philosophical debates reflect their real reputations and life stories.  It would be… weird, put it that way, for Plato to construct such an elaborate fiction of a guy who never existed, tie it into the lives of so many other people, many of whom were Plato’s own friends, acquaintances and relatives (several of them dead by the time Plato started writing, most of them not peacefully), and give him a backstory deeply woven into the traumatic events of the Peloponnesian War.  If nothing else, I suspect it would have been in very bad taste.

Continue reading “Herald of Opera asks:”

Vaguely Curious asks:

Hi! Don’t feel any pressure to answer this if you don’t want (I know it’s a bit more personal than most of your questions), but if you don’t mind answering… Are you and Jim the Editor boyfriends? O:
(For context, I know you’re gay [I am too, so it made me so happy when I first saw you mention that], but I don’t know if it’s come up on the blog whether he is, nor if you’re an item.)
Again, sorry if this is too personal or awkward! I’m just curious, ahah.

I don’t think this is the first time it’s come up, but it’s definitely been a while.  Anyway, I can kinda see how people might get that impression, but with apologies to anyone who’s been shipping us – no, Jim and I are not a couple; he’s straight, and lives on a different continent.  We became friends in our last year of high school and studied classics together at university, after which we both went overseas to do our PhDs: me to the US, him to the UK.  He actually just handed in his thesis recently (US PhDs take a lot longer; I still have a couple of years to go), so you could start calling him Dr. Jim the Editor, if you like.  Also, by sheer coincidence (and we only found out about this when he met my parents), Jim’s dad, who is an anaesthesiologist specialising in epidurals, was one of the doctors present when I was born.

Jim the Editor is literally the editor – he proofreads pretty much everything I post here.  This blog was also actually his idea in the first place; we had a lot of friends who used to play Pokémon and thought they might get a kick out of my addled raving about them newfangled gen-V Pokeymans.  I suspect he and I will battle to the death upon the corpse of a fading star at the end of time, when the last words of the gods have faded from memory, but until then, he’s my best friend, and that’s a constant I’m glad to have in my life.

Team Hufflepuff asks:

What are your thoughts on the Harry Potter books/films?

Well, I grew up with the books (I remember Deathly Hallows being released in my last year of high school, and trolling everyone in my Latin class by yelling out “Voldemort is Harry’s father!”), but I haven’t read them in a while.  I think I only saw the first three movies in cinemas, but I’ve watched the rest on my somewhat regular 15-hour trans-Pacific flights to visit my family in New Zealand (I watch a lot of movies on planes).  They’re not super-important to me as, like, formative inspirational building blocks of my developing psyche, but I always enjoyed the books, and they’re part of the general late 90s/early 00s cultural milieu that shaped a lot of people in my age group, same as Pokémon was.

I have taken the Pottermore sorting hat quiz – the definitive quiz, which bears the imprimatur of the Sainted Rowling – a number of times, and have historically been borderline Hufflepuff/Ravenclaw, but my year in Greece may have made me more adventurous and strengthened my convictions, and my most recent result was actually Gryffindor, which was something of a surprise to me.

Intersections with this blog’s normal schtick are of course rare, but you might be interested in an article I wrote shortly after the advent of Pokémon Go, in which I discussed the philosophies of the three competing teams and attempted to link them to (among other things) the values of the Hogwarts houses.

Also, I think that Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (the first one; I haven’t seen the second) is a really solid live-action Pokémon movie, and is the standard against which Detective Pikachu should be judged.

VikingBoyBilly asks:

Something’s been on my mind for a long time since I stopped lurking, but I need to say how I feel.

In our long argument about Odysseus, you ended it with “i know what I’m talking about; so there.”

No, you didn’t, because if you did, you wouldn’t have been a misanthrope. Reading mythology is what made me fall in love with humans, and it’s unsettling that you never acknowledged the irony of being a misanthropic archaeologist. The lessons the Oddessey taught me is that life is a journey full challenges and misery, but by keeping your wits and the strength to continue, you can reach your goals. Oddysseus’s goal was to reunite with the wife an son that he loved, and it’s so cynical to think he enjoyed having sex with women that kept him stranded on those islands, and it doesn’t mesh thematically when these are supposed to be a series of hardships. The optimist in me believes this was something to be overcome, either as a temptation like the lotus fruits and sirens, or a situation to get out of like the cyclops. His devotion and loyalty to his crew, his homeland, and family are values I live by, and I don’t like that being tarnished by accusations that he’s a scummy womanizer. I could just be satisfied with my own opinions and not be bothered by what anyone else thinks, but you know what the internet does to us.

I also was put off by your use of the vague buzz-word “western civilization.” It’s nonsensical to anyone with an understanding of geography, and condescending, as if any other civilization doesn’t count (and because I think an archaeologist/anthropologist would only use such a simplification of jargon when talking to a layman). Funny how people angry with the state of the world will defend “western civilization” as the best thing that ever happened.

I hope your outlook of your own species has changed since then, and if you want to reply non-publicly, my email is [REDACTED]

[This is what Billy is referring to – linking to the Tumblr version of the original question-and-answer post rather than the WordPress version because that’s where the relevant comment thread is, but I might actually move it over here for posterity’s sake]

Continue reading “VikingBoyBilly asks:”