Posts Tagged ‘reference’

Equine Joy Fest?

Oh, the things one runs across while researching.  Consider the title of this act, which would not play today but was popular 100 years ago: Fink’s Mules, billed as “the World’s Equine Joy Fest.”

Apparently as performers they were very polite and considerate.

Place Name Generators

While I’m at it, here are some place name generators. Largely I use the Ever-changing Book of Names, if I can’t come up with something on my own, but this is a handy set of online resources.

Nine French Boys has a lot of generators that are pretty decent. Scroll down the page for their placenames.

The Random Town Name Generator is a very, very funny page full of faux science. It also happens to generate plausible British town names. has a nice mix of non-English place name generators. These will all sound plausibly Egyptian, Japanese, or Canadian without actually being any of those. It also has some fantasy ones based on Tolkien. I tend to avoid those because he’s got fairly specific and recognizable naming conventions that can sound generically fantasy.

The USA Place name generator gives you actual locations in the US, complete with map coordinates, pulled from the 1990 census.

Dire Press has both character names and place names. These will all capture the feel of a foreign country without getting bogged down in reality.

Planet Name Generator In addition to names, this also gives you things like Length of Day and type of Gravity.

Random Town Name A simple generator for making one faux British town name at a time.

Suburban Name Generator Need a housing development? Go here.

Character name sources

There are times when I’m writing and I’ll give a character a name that feels good, then realize that I’ve got two other characters whose name sounds just like that or looks too similar on the page.  Like I had a story with Josie and Jodie.  Not okay. It’s confusing for the reader.  So when I need to change a name or am just plain stumped, I’ll turn to my handy list of name generators and references.

My favorite is Behind the Name which is good when I want a name to start with a specific letter and to be from a specific ethnic tradition. They have a surname list too.

Ever Changing Book of Names Best name generator EVER. It’s downloadable software that comes with a whole bunch of preprogrammed “chapters” of name categories. But what makes it so good is that you can set up your own rules. So, if you have an alien or fantasy race and want their names to conform to gender specific conventions, you can have male and female chapters for that race. You can limit what sounds they can use. It’s a really, really handy piece of software.

Language Construction Kit Though not a name generator, I highly recommend this website for ways in which to think about constructed languages and how those would affect naming conventions.

Random Name Generator “The random name generator uses data from the US Census to randomly generate male and female names.” You can set the level of obscurity, which is handy.

Surnames from Old English Sometimes, you just need Old English last names, you know?

Fake Name Generator This generates names based on country of origin and ethnic group. It also generates street addresses, emails and phone numbers.

20/20’s list of 20 “Whitest” and “Blackest” Names Interesting list for looking at preconceptions of names.  I’ll be honest, I cheat sometimes and use names that come loaded with preconceptions to build a quick picture in the readers mind.  For example, I have a character named Scott Huang which builds a fast picture of someone who is likely Chinese-American.  That buys me time to put off describing him.  I haven’t picked any names off these lists but I find it very interesting to look at.

List of most commons surnames by country of origin. It’s wikipedia, but it’s handy for when you want the equivalent of “Smith” in Estonia. [1. That would be Sepp]

There are a lot of other sources out there, but these are the ones that I tend to use most.

A brief history of Italian cheese

My cousin runs a wonderful online shop called EyeItalia where she blogs about life in Italy as well as has gorgeous gift items. This week’s entry is on Italian cheeses. It’s full of enticing details that a) make me hungry and b) will probably turn up in a story. Check this out and then swing over to read the whole thing.

Sheepskin Apron for Making Sheep’s Milk Cheese
Andrea was a shepherd who made cheese in a small Tuscan hamlet close to my home.  We crossed paths one day on his way to the public fountain and I immediately knew that he made sheep’s cheese: he wore the animal’s unmistakable smell. Handsome, fit, blue-eyed and intent on his chore, he also wore a sheepskin apron with the wool side towards his body and when asked if he made cheese, he simply nodded and motioned for me to follow him.

La Ricotta: 5 PM Daily Ritual

In a dark corner of his cavernous barn, a huge copper cauldron sat on a blazing fire. He was using the whey remaining from making pecorino, boiling it and making “la ricotta”…the re-cooked, final product of the cheese-making process. Stirring constantly, Andrea gradually scooped the clumps of ricotta as they formed and floated in the boiling liquid, and then placed them in little baskets to strain, compacting ever so gently. Dipping a big ladle directly into the pot, he spooned out a soft, warm, delicious taste for me to try. In the next fifteen minutes a handful of locals trickled into the barn, their spoons and bowls from home in hand, ready for today’s batch: a 5 PM ritual that had happened everyday for as long as anyone could remember.

A Basic Introduction to Maya Mythology on The Nebula Awards

One of the things I’ve been enjoying at the new Nebula site are the guest bloggers. This week’s is Aliette de Bodard with an excellent post called, A Basic Introduction to Maya Mythology.

Similar to my previous article on Aztec mythology, this article is intended as an introduction into some basic ideas of Maya religion and mythology. I’ve appended a list of the sources I used at the end, should you be interested in finding out more.

Unlike their Aztec neighbours, the Mayas were hardly newcomers to Mesoamerica. Maya presence in Guatemala and the Yucatan peninsula dates back to at least 1000 BC, and the last Maya kingdoms conquered by the Spanish were Tayasal and Zacpeten in 1697. Today, there are about six million Mayas in Central America–some of whom still live according to ancient traditions.

It’s well worth reading, plus has a great source list at the end.

If You’re Just Joining Us: Interview with Nutritional Anthropologist, Deborah Duchon, from Good Eats

One of my favorite podcasts is Jon Armstrong’s If You’re Just Joining Us . This episode he interviews Deborah Duchon, a nutritional anthropologist and it is utterly fascinating stuff. I highly recommend this episode.

Deborah Duchon is a noted nutritional anthropologist, teacher, author and speaker, best known for her work on the hit TV show, Good Eats. She served as director of the Nutrition Education for New Americans Project at Georgia State University, in Atlanta. These days, she is studying the exotic origins of everyday foods, by investigating their un-domesticated beginnings and working forward to the present day.

Deborah and I talked about onions, Hmong refugees, black night-shade, potatoes, theater, and women in anthropology.


Papier-mache is one of the oldest forms for creating puppets and so a lot of people think that there must be something better out there. Actually, there are very few contenders. Done well, papier-mache is light, strong, fast, and non-toxic. I know, we’ve all had the experience of the lumpy paste, and corners that stick up and a thing that requires years of sanding to even resemble smooth. It doesn’t have to be that way. I’ll show you a technique that will only need three layers and can be danced on.


The first thing to do is make sure you’re working with that right stuff.

  • Wheat-based wallpaper paste. Why wheat? It has glucose in it, which binds with the cellulose in paper making a much stiffer and stronger wall, so you need fewer layers.
  • Brown paper bags & other paper. The important thing here is that you don’t use newspaper. The fibers are short and it has no structural integrity of its on. Mostly it’s used as a counting layer. You do need paper that’s two different colors so you can tell what areas you’ve papier-mache and what you haven’t. I use either leftover printer paper (recycling) or scrap pages out of my sketchpad. As long as it’s not the same color as the bags, a similar weight, and it is uncoated it will work.
  • Tissue paper. Yes I do mean Kleenex or toilet paper. We will use this to separate the paper from the form. Regardless of whether you are doing direct papier-mache or working into a mold you don’t want it to stick when it’s dry.
  • Plaster mold (optional) If you know how to make a plaster mold it is easier and faster to work into a negative than to papier-mache directly on the form.


  1. Mix your wallpaper paste in a shallow container like a pie-plate (anything will work this is easiest). Make a small batch. (Trust me, you will appreciate having to stop and wash your hands to make more.) Cover the bottom of the pan with cool water. Shake a SMALL amount of the paste onto the water. Add more if you need to for the right consistency. I use the Zen method of mixing till it feels right, which for me is like cream of wheat or a melted milkshake.
  2. Tear the paper into 6″ pieces (approximately). Don’t cut it. You want a soft edge on the paper so it will adhere better and more smoothly to the other pieces.  If you’re using heavy paper, like paper bags, put the pieces in a bucket of water to soak. (Printer paper with disintegrate if you do that, so, um, don’t.) This is much like the stage where you soak fabric before dying it. It helps the pores open up and absorb the paste better. It also makes the paper more pliable for going around corner. And finally, it makes the paper swell slightly. As it dries you get a tighter bond with fewer air bubbles.
  3. Layer of tissue in moldPlace the dry tissue paper in the mold (or on your form). After it is covered with a single layer, sprinkle it with water. I’ve splurged on art tissue before and it doesn’t work as well as facial tissue because, well, facial tissue is designed to withstand snot. It holds up better.
  4. Pick up a piece of brown paper bag and touch the bottom of it to the wallpaper paste so that when you pick it up it’s got maybe two inches covered with paste. (The biggest mistake folks make is to use too much paste). Smear it on both sides of the paper and crumple the piece. We’re trying to break up the fibers in the paper and work the paste into it. All techniques do this it’s just faster to do it with a large piece than lots of small pieces. What you want is for the paste to work inside rather than sitting on the surface.
  5. First layer of paperTear off a piece and place it in the mold or on the form. In a mold this is the layer that will be seen so it’s the only one that has to be neat. (On a form the last layer is the visible one so all layers have to be neat. You’ll just repeat all steps except six). Make sure that the piece is small enough that it doesn’t form wrinkles. Start in the center and work out. Overlap the pieces, pressing to remove airbubbles. When you get to the edge of the mold or form, go outside by at least an inch. You’ll need this to grab hold of when it’s time to take the papier-mache out.
  6. Second layer of paperMOLDS ONLY. After the whole layer is covered in brown. Get another piece of the bag, wet it in paste, and crumple it as before. Wad it up and shove it tightly into the detail areas. For instance, if you’ve got a nose, push it as far into the nose and nostrils as you can. What will happen is that the detailed areas will suddenly have ten layers of mache and the surface is smoother so your next layer will go faster.For this photo, I switched to white paper for my second layer and did the wads of paper with the brown so that it was easy for you to see.
  7. Final layer of paperRepeat steps 4-6 with the other paper, when it’s covered go back to the brown bag. Do this until you have between three to five layers. IMPORTANT do it while the layers are wet. They adhere better and you will have fewer airbubbles.
    Your final layer will be with whatever your first layer was. I only do three layers. You can see how much smoother the details are on this one than on the first layer.
  8. Let it dry. Put it the sun. Be patient, you can put it in front of a space heater or bake it (250 degrees) but you risk the layers drying at different rates. I have to admit that in the winter I usually force it dry, because I’m not patient.
    What works really well, if you can find it, is an old standing hair dryer. It circulates the air and helps the thing dry evenly and pretty darn fast. The biggest challenge. If the top layer dries before the bottom layer — the one touching the plaster — then it will seal the moisture in and slow the bottom layer’s dry time. Make sense?
  9. Pulled from moldIt will reach a stage we call leathery. It’s still flexible, but it’s dry, like leather. This is the best time to pull it out. Be careful, if it’s too early and you see wrinkles happening, don’t do it. It’s better to wait until its completely dry.
  10. Peel off what tissue paper you can and the rest smooth down with the paste.
  11. TrimmedTrim the edges and then wrap them in papier-mache to keep them from peeling up.

You have to take some care with that first layer, but after that the subsequent layers go really, really fast. I can usually crank a single part mold out in forty-five minutes to an hour. It’s a pretty good ratio and the materials are dirt cheap.

I’ve dropped puppets from the second floor, hurled them against walls, and even stood on papier-mached pieces. Done right, the durability is surprising. The detail, going into a mold is pretty crisp, too. As a testament to that, here is the finished face of the wood witch.

Woodwitch face

Center for Puppetry Arts, virtual museum

This is an amazing resource. The Center for Puppetry Arts, where I intered lo these many years ago, has opened a virtual puppetry museum which has 91% of their collection online. I can’t tell you what an amazing thing this is. I remember spending hours in the museum when I was there. It didn’t matter how often I went in, I always found something new to look out.

DO THE MATH by Scott Westerfeld

Scott Westerfeld does the math on the economy of the U.S. under Republican vs. Democrat control.

Since World War II the Democrats have been overwhelmingly better at running the economy. Hands down, case closed, beyond any statistical doubt. They’ve borrowed less money, created more wealth and opportunity, and left the next generation in better shape.

Now these are bold claims, and maybe you’re shaking your head. But let’s look at the numbers.

And he then goes on to break down the numbers in ways that even innumerate folks like myself can follow. It’s interesting reading and well worth the gander.

Linguistics and Anthropology in SF and Fantasy

I’ve been reading Juliette Wade’s blog for some time now. She’s a linguist and anthropologist who also writes SF. Her insights in to culture are well-written and uniformly insightful. I look forward to her posts.

Today’s post is called, .Don’t make them all the same and deals with different approaches to creating multi-cultural fantasy characters.

Here’s a teaser.

The other thing is, don’t make every character from a particular alien or racial group exactly the same. This is what I’ve earlier referred to as “running true to type.” It’s fun to have a group of people from different races, whether that be elves, dwarves and humans, Braxana and Azeans (thanks to C.S. Friedman) or the people of Sendaria, Arendia, Nyissa etc. (thanks to David Eddings). But if the belief systems of these people are entirely uncontested, uniform across the race or alien group, the story won’t have all the dimension it could.

There are two ways to approach this. One is from the character direction, making sure that your characters are three-dimensional and have motives and inner conflicts and all those important things. That’s certainly true of the characters from the authors I’ve mentioned. The other is to think directly about the character’s relationship to the social group they belong to.

Check it out.

Track your cycle

Gentlemen, you might want to skip this entry, I’m talking about girl things.

For the past couple of months, I’ve been using Mon.thly.Info, which is a web-based tool that tracks your cycle. I am totally in love with it. Not only does it offer places for you to record things like when things start, it also predicts when your next period is going to start, when you’re likely to ovulate, and tells you things like how much of a variation you have in your cycle. Plus, it sends you reminder emails if you need them. It is very, very simple to use and so far is more reliable than when I was keeping track of things via the calendar. Check it out.

SpaceX puts privately developed rocket into Space

According to Wired Science SpaceX successfully put their Falcon 1 rocket into space.

SpaceX has made history. Its privately developed rocket has made it into space.

After three failed launches, the company founded by Elon Musk worked all of the bugs out of their Falcon 1 launch vehicles.

The entire spectacle was broadcast live from Kwajalein Atoll in the South Pacific. Cameras mounted on the spacecraft showed our planet shrinking in the distance and the empty first stage engine falling back to Earth.

I just watched the footage and I’ll tell you it’s a pretty inspiring thing.