Friday, 11 July 2014

Dark Souls: Epic Narration





This. By far one of the best lore videos for Dark Souls. The writing and flow is just superb.

Once done be sure to listen to this awesome soundtrack  of Artorias, the Abysswalker.




Thursday, 10 July 2014

Prologue

Note: This is merely a first draft, so excuse its potential sloppiness. With that, hopefully I can get this project off to a good start.

She worked in the Old Baths.  The olive green pools were always filled with patrons from all across Semerium during the day; men and women of high blood and birth. The smell of rancid sweat and fragrant oils coalesced to form a sweet, sickly smell. Great flues blew palls of steam from the houses into the cool spring air. It was such a strange scene, an eerie juxtaposition of chaos and peace, rowdy shouts and mirthful laughter and the clatter of glass breaking interspersed with moments of quiet contemplation. The floors were polished marble, fickle and slippery. Flickering candles cast dancing shadows of leering dragons from the walls. Mocking. Judging. You will never be a dragon. Pity you, hatchling. Their brass heads snorted billowing steam from lead conduits, hidden from view, that ran along their length. But cold. Why was it always so cold. The steam that rolled over her body felt like tenebrous wisps of smoke, devoid of the warmth of life. Conniving eyes seemed to pierce her thoughts everywhere she went.

It was always the same. Their names changed, but their purpose was the same. Only men and women of status, noble as they were, could waste their lives on such debauched pleasantries. The rest, all the other good for nothings, starved and died like the dogs on the wharves.

When she was free of her duties in the depths of the night, she would make her way to the top floor and just gaze balefully at the city beyond, spread out like a sprawling canvas. The shingles from a thousand roofs reflected the starlight from above, twinkling with a playful gaze. To the south, the Styrox River fed into the Bay of Many, along with it dozens of ships bound east. In the distance, the silhouette of Mawgar Palace loomed above the surrounding buildings, casting its eternal shadow into the gloom. She remembered how when she first came here, years ago, she gazed in wonder at the bright and gaudy decorations, a riot of colour and senses, exotic dancers from foreign lands.

But it was all a fa├žade now. She had grown up. Places, like people, had a habit of lying to you. She had learnt this, step by painful step.

She missed home. She missed it so much.

                                          ***************************************

Obeying wasn't that hard. So easy to remember. You just have to do what Lady Rishe says. Obey our patrons like a good girl. Serve them tea. Scrub them. Rub their bodies with fragrant oils. Let them touch you. Undress you if they please.

She would slowly get used to it, she told herself. People who were dead inside forget slights against them so easily. The first time she voiced her opinion, grand lady Rishe had struck her till she bled all over.  Back to being a good girl then. Forget their gazes. Turn your heart to lightening our guests.

She approached the East wing, a small pot of scented oil under one arm and creamy silk towels  under the other. The smallest bath-house, reserved for the wealthy among the wealthy. Her guests were in the Warm Bath, and she had to prepare for their massage.

Three highborn men sat in the pool of green water at the centre of the room, sharing a jest amongst themselves. She recognized the lead man, a plump man of forty with a handlebar moustache as Cretar Cromm, cousin of the viceroy. She averted her gaze away from them and glanced upward. A mosaic of armoured figures at war with each other covered the entire ceiling. She set her towels down, next to the pool.

"Come here, girl."

 She looked at him. His clean shaven face bore an enigmatic nature, with slanted brows and a curved jaw. His slit like mouth was twisted in a nearly imperceptible leer. His cheeks were dull grey, as if carved of dying flesh. His  deep-set blue eyes watched her as a lion watches its prey.

"More warm water for you, my lord?"

"Fine lady, what could warm me more than the comfort of your touch? Join me."

"My lord, I would love nothing more than to comfort you for your stay, and what better way than an anointment of the sacred oils to ease you?" she forced a smile, noticing that the other two men had fallen silent. "Please come to the antechamber once you are finished, my lord."

"Oh, no, we wont be needing that." He began smiling in return. "Put the pot down and sit here. I command it, fine woman."

 There was no way she could disobey the command of an honored guest. She couldn't. Lady Rishe would strike her again.

She stepped into the pool and sat beside him, still smiling.

He drew closer to her and began stroking her hair, ever so gently. "What's your name, girl?"

"Ranili, sir," she lied. "My lord, this is not appropriate-"

 "A fitting name," he whispered into her ear, while running his hand under her robe. "Let me show you the grace a lord is capable of bestowing upon good, obedient subjects, especially girls your age.
She stiffened. Don't fight back. Show dis-interest.

His lips began caressing her neck and shoulder. He rubbed his nose on her ear and smelt her "So sweet. Like ambrosia.........that's what I name you. Ambrosia, nectar of the gods."

 She pushed away from him, gently "My lord, please, there are things I must do-"

"Shhhh, child, " he hushed. "You are such a beauty, girl," he moved his other arm against the side of her neck, pushing her back against the pool.

"Exarch Jormen, this is neither the time nor the place," said the third man.

Jormen. That was his name. She made a mental note. You will be the first

Jormen shot his companion a stiffening look "This is a place of pleasure. Tis a shame if the girls are not part of it, are they?"

"As you will, my lord."

 His hand reached below.

Tears were now brimming in her eyes. "Stop it." She was no longer reacting mindfully but began struggling against his advances. But he was strong. Too strong.

"Stop squirming, girl." He breathed. "Be good, and your lord will reward you," he ripped her dress. She screamed.

He grabbed her hair and smashed her head on the side, stunning her. Then he spun her around and wrapped his arm around her neck.

By the gods, no. She fought back as hard as she could, ramming her elbows to his side to no avail. He pushed her face down on the side of the pool and brought his face next to hers. His hot breath felt like that of a demon.
She felt his cold tongue slide up her cheek and bit back a scream. 

"Exarch. Primador Yakov requests your presence immediately." A man stood at the entrance.

Slowly, ever so slowly, his grip released. She coughed and dragged herself out of the pool.

"Would you be so kind as to pass my deferential apologies to the Primador? This house is most uncatering to my tastes, to much misfortune. We will meet in my solar."

She grabbed her flowery robe on her way out and stifled her tears.

This was a place for a proper girl, Lady Rishe always chided. Fight the cold, do as you are told, and you wont be sold.

Good girl, she told herself, good girl and she fell to her knees in great sobs. The pain in her heart twisted, like a knife edge.

 Escape. I must escape. 


Note: The prologue is meant to be a little perturbing and meant to show what kind of world our protagonist lives in. I welcome any criticism you may have as I am new at this. NEEDS MORE EDITING

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Historical Perceptions of the Age of the Earth

 This might be an ongoing series, depending on my inclination.


  Before evolution, the first dangerous idea, was of course deep time. Espoused by geologist James Hutton and further developed by Charles Lyell, they claim it was this heretical thought that gave Darwin the springboard to formulate his theory of evolution by natural selection. What's ironic is that, the earliest discoverers of deep time were actually opposed to evolution.



William "Strata" Smith
First, a little background if you may. The field of geology was expanding enormously throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. People were digging up fossils of extinct animals that, at the time, were utterly bizzare and alien. The public was being wowed by tales of monsters, from the skulls of noble mammoths found in the frozen wastes to  demonic plesiosaurs which were purportedly agents of Satan. Enter William "Strata" Smith, the father of English geology. He observed that, while working on railways, how well sorted fossils were from one layer to another, hence earning him his namesake.  Using this fact alone, he went on to plot the first geological map of entire Britain. A very remarkable feat indeed, especially considering he worked alone without any modern equipment.
What he never realized was that his valiant efforts would change the perceptions of the world we live in forever.
 Geologists began pondering the observations from the fossil record. What did this mean? When did these creatures live? If they were brought aboard Noah's Ark, why have none survived to this day? Most importantly, why were they so well sorted, from layer to layer? How could Noah's flood sort the fossils with such precision?

Bear in mind the notion of a global flood had already taken a beating almost a century ago, during the exploration of the Americas. Naturalists (many whom were also members of the clergy) struggled to explain a) the enormous diversity of animal life, particularly in the Amazon basin b) the origin of native Americans.
A particularly salient (and mildly amusing) question posed by Sir Thomas Browne was in this quote:

"How America abounded with Beasts of prey and noxious Animals, yet contained not in that necessary Creature, a Horse, is very strange"

In which he ponders why, if native American Indians were descendants of Noah who dispersed at Babel, why did they decide to bring rattlesnakes, but forgot the horses? Another pressing problem was that Genesis only described the creation of one land, so to speak. Yet enormous continents existed that were completely separated from the rest of Europe.


But I digress. As you can see, the idea of a global flood and a young clockwork Earth was being increasingly challenged by the fossil record. Remember, this was long before James Hutton's ideas became popular and Charles Lyell first published his book, the Principles of Geology.

Jean-Baptiste Lamarck
Then in 1809, heresy! Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, French war veteran turned naturalist, published his book Philosophie Zoologique, in which he proposed that organisms slowly evolved over time. His foundation for the mechanism by which the change occurred was the theory of inherited traits, which postulated that organisms changed over time with "use or disuse" of their innate organs and passed down these traits to their offspring. He was way off the mark, but his theory actually has some basis in reality.

Lamarckism went against everything the Christian church taught, so enter brilliant distinguished scientist, Georges Cuvier, founder of modern anatomy. A man of wanton erudition, he had already come to realize a vast number of species in the fossil record were extinct. He noted the degree to which fossils were sorted according to strata, and was the first to recognize that elephant fossils found near Paris were distinct from living elephants we see today, or even the skulls of Siberian mammoths, and hence categorized them under a distinct species, the mastodon. He was the first to identify fossils found in South America belonged to a giant sloth, now known as Megatherium. And hence, he came up with the theory of catastrophism. Earth, he argued, had underwent a series of divine creations, succeeded by catastrophes which resulted in extinction events. The global flood, occurring about 4000-5000 years ago, was simply the most recent of them, he argued. In doing so, he utterly dismissed evolution and affirmed the theory of divine creation.

Cuvier's ideas were monumental. It helped found the modern field of palaeontology and formulate the idea of extinction events.

  Lamarck soon fell out of favour. In fact, after Lamarck died, penniless, Cuvier wrote a eulogy to him. Although at first glance, it seems to be honouring Lamarck's contributions to natural history, Stephen Jay Gould noted that Cuvier was subtly denigrating Lamarck.


The Cenozoic Age of Mammals. Image from
 http://www.peabodystore.com/images/posters/mammalposter.jpg


However, Cuvier's ideas on species' fixity and repeated catastrophes opened the idea that the Earth was far older than 6000 years, contrary the Ussher-Lightfoot chronology. Many theologians still struggled with this issue and eventually came up with the "gap" theory which  explained there was a vast period of time which separated the events of Genesis 1 and Genesis 2. That way, a global flood and a young age of Man's existence was still tenable. Nevertheless, even this idea would be challenged in the future.

Conclusion: As you can see, even the most ardent opponents of evolution advocated an ancient Earth. The innate sorting, the striking differences in anatomy of fossils were vital in proving that our Earth is far older than the official date of creation. Joel Duff of the Natural Historian has an excellent series on 19th century scientists as well.

See them here:

The Earth on Show

William Buckland Grappling With Deep Time

Kirkdale Cave Hyena Den: A Challenge to a Young Earth

Mary Anning: Plesiosaurs, Pterosaurs and the Age of Reptiles

Highly recommended!


Next up: the geology of James Hutton and Charles Lyell, and the Reverend William Buckland's admission of error.




Saturday, 5 July 2014

Something else....

I have been thinking intensely over the past few months.

Bear with me for a moment. You see plot lines for stories constantly weave through my head, like a restless maelstrom demanding placation. One plotline in particular, struck me in the solar plexus and held me for months. So much so that it is demanding to be written, as much a failure it may become in the future.

I can see the characters, the men and women in the play,  giving the breath of life to the world I designed, how they look like, how they behave, their hopes and dreams and fears. I just cant, for the life of me, remember their names and the places they reside in.

Perhaps, if I can finally muster the strength, I will periodically post drafts of my ongoing project to this blog.

A few hints.

Its going to be a fantasy series with interspersed with "high" and "low" elements so to speak. I will try to focus on several characters, maye a false protagonist or two. I drew some inspiration from "A Song of Ice and Fire" as well as some other novels I ve read. Even Dark Souls may come into play.
Ultimately though, the plot came to my mind while I was in a massive bout of depression last year, so one would expect lots of tragedy. I sure hope my characters can survive through it.

Either way, I hope to continually post updates here, time to time alongside my science blogposts.
Hope you all enjoy!

Bio Geo (part 2)

If you have the time (or money), please visit these awesome places!

Part 1 of this series is here.

Mount Roraima

Image courtesy of http://masspictures.net/mount-roraima-venezuelabrazilguyana/



South America has no shortage of wonders (see the Cano Cristales River in Colombia or the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia) but for now lets look at its sprawling mesas.  A sight to behold indeed. The image on the left is a helicopter photo of Mount Roraima, the highest tepui (isolated table mountain) in South America. Part of a chain of table mountains known as the Pakairama chain, which stretches across 3 nations: Brazil, Venezuela and Guyana. 

The tepui are the remains of an ancient, Pre-Cambrian plateau, once part of the super-continent known as Gondwanaland, uplifted by tectonic activity and slowly eroded over untold eons, leaving these spectacular vistas of roiling clouds and waterfalls higher than anywhere else on Earth. 

 As you can see, the table mountains are isolated landforms, meaning of course, species that resemble no other can thrive in these geographically unique places. As my previous post pointed out, geographical isolation of small, isolated locales of a sample population leads to peripatric speciation. Lets take a closer look at Mount Roraima. 


Young Heliamphora nutans, red pitcher plants endemic
to South American mesas
This is just one of several species of pitcher plants on Roraima.  Most of the plateau is bare sandstone, and rainfall continuously washes soil off the edges of its sheer 400m high cliff edges.

What does that mean? Well, because of the nutrient-poor ground, many of the plants have taken on carnivorous traits. Pitcher plants abound on top of this massive table mountain.

Image courtesy of National Geographic video here
   

 Also pictured : the Roraima bush toad. I wont spoil too much, but just watch the linked video here to see how it escapes a  hungry tarantula. Just a few of the unique species on Roraima.

In truth though, the plateau isnt as isolated as one would like to think: species from the plains below have occasionally been found on top. Even endemic species have been estimated to diverge from the ancestral population only a few million years ago, which is far younger than the age of the plateau itself.

Why would this be? My hypothesis is that birds may occasionally capture prey from the lowlands and bring them to nesting grounds on the cliff surface. The living species are escaped specimens. Perhaps, but there doesnt seem to be conclusive proof. Furthermore, there is actually a steep ramp to one side.

A caveat for aspiring visitors though: its not easy to get to the top, although thankfully, you dont need to scale the sheer cliff face with rope. There is a track on one side of the cliff face to the top.
See more info here.

Socotra Island

This might seem like trees from another planet, but they are actually from an island on Earth.
Behold, the dragon's blood tree, its scientific name which is dracaena cinnabari, found nowhere else in the world but Socotra. So called because of the crimson sap harvested from their trunks, prized during the Middle ages, the unique, crown shape is a form of adaptation mechanism for survival in dry climate - the crown shape provides an "umbrella" to reduce water loss in the hot and dry climate.

What is unique about Socotra is that it is not a volcanic island. Located in the Indian Ocean, closest to Somalia, but under Yemeni jurisdiction, tectonic activity detached it from mainland Africa during the aforementioned Pliocene, from about 2.6 - 5 million years ago. What researchers believe is that this species went extinct on the mainland but the island's relative isolation prevented it from being out-competed or driven to extinction by fundamental shifts in climate. In fact, almost a third of all flora and fauna on Socotra Island is found nowhere else on Earth!




 Another unique species found nowhere else on Earth is this cucumber tree, Dendrosicyos socotranus, related to the cucumbers we eat. (Note that another species of tree, the Averrhoa bilimbi is also known as cucumber tree but is in no way related to the agricultural ground cucumber.)

Just a few of the unique species here. As for endemic birds, I ll let pictures and attached links tell you all you need to know. Read this for starters.


Conclusion

As one can see, biogeography provides evidence for evolution via the process of natural selection. This post is a little sketchy on the details, nevertheless I will provide more info in the future.
Enjoy!



Socotra golden-winged grosbeak







 

Socotra warbler