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Andrew B. Watt
15 April 2009 @ 05:47 pm
I'm starting up a new website for my podcast, called The Ancient History Podcast.  It will also be the home for a new blog that's going to be specifically about my teaching career and the work I do as an educator, called Orpheus Pondering.

Both will be at my website, Gravity's Grace.

I'm not sure how much I'm going to be posting here in the future.  I'm not writing much poetry, and I am sufficiently unclear about how long LiveJournal is likely to be around, and who owns the copyrights on my material, that I think it likely that most of my postings will be to one of the three sites listed above.  I hope you'll show up and comment occasionally, especially if you're a teacher;  I don't know how much game-related stuff will appear there, but Gravity's Grace will definitely be my professional site for the foreseeable future.

Thanks.
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Andrew B. Watt
07 April 2009 @ 07:54 pm
Tonight on the way home from dinner, two students engaged me in conversation.  They had heard this morning about the missile test of North Korea, and both were New Yorkers... was their city safe? Were their families safe?  Could they expect to have a home to go home to in the event of an attack?

We spoke about some of the issues involved: the size of a potential nuclear weapon, the size of the retaliation from America, the size of the American military force in South Korea, the reasons why North Korea might want nuclear weapons.  Question led to question: what is the the size of the American army relative to China' army? What's the Yalu River? What happened during the Korean War?  Who did we fight then?  How many missing men are there from the Korean War?  So a lot of those guys must have been World War II veterans? Who was Douglas MacArthur? Was this the same Truman as President Truman? If a nuclear bomb hit here, what would happen?  Does the U.S. take over territory?  So a bunch of pineapple farmers overthrew the Hawaiian government??

When I first came to teach, I did this sort of thing all the time; I'd have deep conversations with kids that consisted mostly of questions at first, and then gradually became kids and me answering questions together, and then became kids contributing as equals to a conversation that could go pretty deep.  It feels like those conversations have gotten rarer over the years, though, and the last class that really cared about that sort of conversation about to graduate.  I'm not really sure how I feel about that.  I'm also not sure what's been different about what I did then to engender such talk, against what I do now.  It's a puzzlement.

Today in class I made a map of a typical manor in medieval Europe.  One of my students poses with the picture.

Blake with manor diagram
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Andrew B. Watt
05 April 2009 @ 11:43 pm
So there's a new browser available, called Flock.  I'm experimenting with it, and so far I like it a lot.  It integrates blogging (yes, it handles LiveJournal), photo-sharing (works with photobucket and flickr), and social media (handles tribe.net and facebook).  It even handles social bookmarking like Delicious and Digg and suchlike, all integrated into the same system.  News, such as from NPR and the New York Times, is also integrated, which means you can drag-and-drop news stories and send them to people on Facebook automatically.  You can also drop pictures from your Flickr feed into blog entries the same way, just as I've done with the attached photo of the Sunwheel at UMASS-Amherst.  All of these features are integrated into the main browser system, and you can create bookmarks and favorites list.  It also is capable of learning whether a new site is a news-oriented site and ask whether it should grab the RSS feed, or whether it's web2.0 social media, and it should integrate your friends/co-users into your learning network.  I am, quite frankly, impressed.  I am so impressed that I am suspiciously looking around for some serious negative to using this software. Does anyone know of one?
photo.jpg by you.
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Andrew B. Watt
05 April 2009 @ 10:43 am

photo.jpg
Originally uploaded by anselm23.
The ancient Romans celebrated a six-day festival in honor of Magna Mater, the great mother. I've taken this as an earth-day kind of celebration, and I make a point of making bread by hand on the first day of her festival. Usually I make a small braided loaf for me and my house, and two larger loaves to give away. I try to make bread 2-3 times during this festival, and then again later in the month for the festival of Ceres.

This is the standard Yeasted Bread recipe from the Tassajara Bread Book. It's really eay to make bread, and everyone should do it regularly, if you're not allergic to gluten or have celiac disease.
 
 
 
Andrew B. Watt
03 March 2009 @ 05:37 pm
There is a clear difference between schools and libraries. This difference is obvious and real across private-public boundaries, across age groups, across time and across space...


 This guy is onto something specific and real.  There is a real agenda in schools, I think, and I wonder how to make schools more like libraries.  One thing, I think, is that there needs to be more access to real books.  Hmm.
 
 
 
Andrew B. Watt
26 February 2009 @ 11:48 pm

Dwarven Kingdom
Originally uploaded by anselm23.
So, as a gamer, I'm always interested in building new locations or settings for games. Moria, the dwarven kingdom in LORD OF THE RINGS, kind of sets the standard for dwarven ways. Yet given their interactions with the surface, compared with other earth-resident races, it always seemed to me that the dwarven kingdom belonged in a cleft in the rock.

Here, I've used Picknik's tools to label the map with some of the regions or territories within the Dwarven kingdom of Westcleft, a surface-dwelling dwarven princedom on the western slopes of the Fogtooth Mountains.

The original picture is of a cleft in a sand-covered snowbank in the school parking lot. I wish there'd been some greenery, but no such luck.

The photo on Flickr has roll-over notes with additional ideas for what happens in each place or region. I don't have a good sense of scale yet, but I'm figuring it's a day's march between Three Road City and Black Rock Tower. So it's really more of a city-state than a principality or kingdom.
 
 
 
Andrew B. Watt
26 February 2009 @ 11:02 pm


I wonder what kids will write in their journals and media sources today? How long will it take before they are believed?
 
 
 
Andrew B. Watt
23 February 2009 @ 09:41 pm

Islamic tile pattern
Originally uploaded by anselm23.
This one photo in my Flickr feed was viewed over a thousand times today. I think it must have been some sort of a bot, because I can't imagine that many people being interested in such a photo. Still, it was pretty incredible to go from under 100 views of my photos yesterday to almost 2000 today. Enjoy the image!
 
 
 
Andrew B. Watt
16 February 2009 @ 01:53 pm
 There's a famous story involving the Persian philosopher and fool-figure, Mullah Nasrudin.  One day, he was watching the Sultan of Baghdad tame a new horse.  Suddenly, the Sultan was flung from the back of a new wild stallion brought to his stables from Bactria (modern-day Afghanistan).  The horse was wild and uncontrollable. Nasrudin began laughing because the Sultan was covered in dirt and manure.  

Angrily, the Sultan rose to his feet and ordered his bodyguards to arrest Nasrudin.  "Why are you laughing at me?" the Sultan asked.  "Because I was flung from my horse?"

"No," said Nasrudin the fool. "Because you are trying so hard to tame the horse in a single day, and failing.  You should stick to what you are good at, not breaking horses."

The Sultan grew red-faced. "I suppose," he said, "that you could do better?"

"Oh yes," said Nasrudin, and he grew boastful.  "I could tame that horse," and here he snapped his fingers, "like that! But better than that... because of my great wisdom, if I had a year.... well, I could teach that stallion to talk!"

The Sultan smiled an evil smile. "In that case," said the Sultan, "you may have a year. In a year, I expect this beast to be a trained, talking war-horse.  And if not, I shall take his head, and yours, and mount them both on spikes above my gate for insolence!" And the Sultan stomped away.

Nasrudin's followers wept, and tore at their beards.  They urged Nasrudin to come with them, and escape!  But Nasrudin only went into the paddock with the wild horse, and picked a handful of sweet grass, and tried to get the horse to eat it.  Again and again, the horse only ran away, or kicked at him.  This went on for months.   Finally, one of Nasrudin's disciples asked him, "Master, why do you not run away? The horse is dangerous, and the Sultan is even more dangerous.  Why not give up this mad pursuit?"

Nasrudin shrugged. "Ah, my disciple, how little you know!   I lot can change in a year.  The Sultan could die of old age, or an assassin's knife. He could be strangled in his harem by a jealous concubine.  I could die, of disease or age.  I might feel an urge to make the <i>hajj</i> and go to Mecca, and even the Sultan could not refuse me that.  I could be laid low by a wasting sickness, or there could be a palace coup, or the Mongols may invade."

"But, master" said the student in a doubtful voice, "that does not explain why you persist, day after day, in trying to tame this dangerous and wild stallion."

Nasrudin smiled, "Oh, that.  Well, a lot can happen in a year.  It may even be that I shall succeed in teaching the horse to talk."

 
 
 
Andrew B. Watt
11 February 2009 @ 08:52 pm

Tree of life.
Originally uploaded by anselm23.
I'm more than moderately interested in magic, both from a fantasy "hey watch me throw this Fireball" point of view, and from the perspective of the historical curiosity of the Hermetic movement from the late 1500s up into the early part of the 20th century and even today.

One of the more common features of this movement is, of course, the Qabalistic Tree of Life, composed of ten Sephirah (sing. Sephiroth) and the pathways that join them. It is simultaneously a map of the cosmos, a map of the human being, and a map of the relationships between them.

So. All very high-falutin' stuff, and there's a copy of the Tree of Life diagram in almost every historical book on magic ever published; there's frequently a similar diagram in almost every gaming supplement on magic ever published, too. The diagram is always the same, so frequently the same size and with the same geometrical relationships present that one has to assume that the book editors plagiarized the diagram from each other, eventually even ripping off the ur-creator of the Tree of Life, who was probably just dicking around with the 14th century equivalent of Adobe PageMaker. "Ooooh! Look at me! I drew a 'magical' symbol! Hey... I wonder how many other charlatans I can get to copy my drawing as legitimate magic? Hmmmm?"

So as I was reading a book on geometry and sacred forms (among other things), it came as a great surprise to me to discover that this form is in fact based on a set of precise mathematical and geometric relationships. The reason this diagram always looks like this is that it's based on an underlying set of geometric principles, which are themselves derived from Islamic and Jewish tiling patterns (such as I've already drawn and posted here).

So, if you want to draw your own Tree of Life, here's how:

1) Draw a straight line.

2) Start at one end, and draw a circle with the centerpoint at one end of the line.

3) Draw a new circle, using the intersection point of the previous circle's circumference with the straight line as the center of the new circle.

4) Repeat step (3), three more times.

You should now have a straight line bisecting four circles, each of whose circumference touches the circumference of the next circle. the places where the circle circumferences intersect each other are the center points of the sephiroth. Only one point doesn't have a sephirah, but if you've seen this image enough, you'll be able to figure out where it should be absent.

There are other related pictures showing the drawing in progress over on Flickr.