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Lyle Zapato

Coiffure Octopus

Lyle Zapato | 2011-01-26.7860 LMT | Retro | Fashion

Mr. Punch's Designs After Nature. Great sensation for the aquarium -- Coiffure Octopus.

From the April 19, 1873 issue of Punch.

As innocent this may seem, the fashion of wearing one's hair in the form of an octopus -- popular among the London elite of the 1870s -- would later develop into the wide-spread use of taxidermied octopuses as decoration for hats, that would in turn lead to excessive poaching of the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus, helping to bring about that species' endangerment.

Lyle Zapato

Cephalopods: An Order With A Future

Lyle Zapato | 2011-01-22.6770 LMT | Nature | General Paranoia

In his essay, "The Extinction of Man", from the collection Certain Personal Matters (1897), H. G. Wells contemplates the necessary transience of Humanity in the Earth's spotlight and who will replace us when our 15-millenia are up, noting that we would be doomed should the cephalopods make a concerted effort:

Then, again, the order of the Cephalopods, to which belong the cuttle-fish and the octopus (sacred to Victor Hugo), may be, for all we can say to the contrary, an order with a future. Their kindred, the Gastropods, have, in the case of the snail and slug, learnt the trick of air-breathing. And not improbably there are even now genera of this order that have escaped the naturalist, or even well-known genera whose possibilities in growth and dietary are still unknown. Suppose some day a specimen of a new species is caught off the coast of Kent. It excites remark at a Royal Society soirée, engenders a Science Note or so, " A Huge Octopus!" and in the next year or so three or four other specimens come to hand, and the thing becomes familiar. "Probably a new and larger variety of Octopus so-and-so, hitherto supposed to be tropical," says Professor Gargoyle, and thinks he has disposed of it. Then conceive some mysterious boating accidents and deaths while bathing. A large animal of this kind coming into a region of frequent wrecks might so easily acquire a preferential taste for human nutriment, just as the Colorado beetle acquired a new taste for the common potato and gave up its old food-plants some years ago. Then perhaps a school or pack or flock of Octopus gigas would be found busy picking the sailors off a stranded ship, and then in the course of a few score years it might begin to stroll up the beaches and batten on excursionists. Soon it would be a common feature of the watering-places -- possibly at last commoner than excursionists. Suppose such a creature were to appear -- and it is, we repeat, a possibility, if perhaps a remote one -- how could it be fought against? Something might be done by torpedoes; but, so far as our past knowledge goes, man has no means of seriously diminishing the numbers of any animal of the most rudimentary intelligence that made its fastness in the sea.

This passage was probably the inspiration for the "Umbrella Beasts" of Lester & Pratt's "The Octopus Cycle", especially since their nature-finds-a-way-via-killer-whales solution to Humanity's octopus problem seemed a bit cribbed from the ending of Wells' War of the Worlds.

As V. A. Firsoff speculated, land octopuses, especially those that adapt to the challenging environment of the trees -- as opposed to merely hanging around beaches, snacking on sunbathers as Wells imagines -- may indeed have a bright future, perhaps even taking their place among the spacefaring species of the Cosmos. If Wells is right about the danger of them supplanting us, it would be wise to stay in their good graces. Erecting monuments in their honor couldn't hurt.

Lyle Zapato

The Trail Of The Octopus

Lyle Zapato | 2011-01-20.5300 LMT | Retro | Entertainment

The Trail of the Octopus (1919)

Here's the first reel of The Trail of the Octopus, a pulpy serial photoplay from 1919. Watch as Carter Holmes (Ben Wilson), master criminologist, and Ruth Stanhope (Neva Gerber), niece of Dr. Reid Stanhope, the discover of the Sacred Talisman of Set (a.k.a. the Devil's Trademark), are drawn inexorably into the clutches of a sinister land octopus (who sadly is only symbolic of the plot and makes no appearance outside of the intro and an advert where he grabs the whole cast):

The 15-part serial follows Holmes and Ruth as they must track down nine daggers that will unlock a rock vault in which Dr. Stanhope hid the Sacred Talisman, which they want to destroy to stop a shadowy conspiracy of cultists and racist stereotypes from attempting to kill Ruth. From a review:

The producers [at first can't] seem to decide on whom they wanted the main villain to be. First it's a group of devil worshipers and their female leader, then we find out she works for this other guy, then we find out he is an agent for this other Arabic bad guy who lives in "the orient." Well that guy in the orient actually works for yet another guy over in the orient, who is a Fu Manchu knockoff. Perhaps he really is the final leader of all the bad guys? There is also a mysterious masked man known as Monsieur X who pops up in the story every so often, but he's someone else completely. Whew!

Serial Squadron, who are in the process of transferring the films to DVD from the only known prints, have a project overview. You'll have to wait until Spring to buy the DVD set if you want to see the semi-complete serial (episode 9 is lost). Here are some posters for the episodes:

The Trail of the Octopus, episode 9 The Trail of the Octopus, episode 10 The Trail of the Octopus, episode 15

Lyle Zapato

Pacific Northwest (Christmas) Tree Octopus

Lyle Zapato | 2010-12-22.7450 LMT | Art | Crafts
Lyle Zapato

Nicharongorong: Tree Octopuses of Micronesia

Lyle Zapato | 2010-11-18.5710 LMT | Nature

My post on the tree octopuses of Polynesia contains a bit of sloppy geography; Palau and the Caroline Islands are actually in Micronesia, not Polynesia (I got the Cook Islands right, though). I'll rectify that slight against the good people and cephalopods of Micronesia with this post focusing on Micronesian tree octopuses.

Read more...

Lyle Zapato

Review: Spooky Washington

Lyle Zapato | 2010-10-24.8380 LMT | Cascadia | Sasquatch Issues | Paraterrestrials | Entertainment
Spooky Washington by S.E. Schlosser

Spooky Washington: Tales of Hauntings, Strange Happenings, and Other Local Lore is part of the Spooky series by S.E. Schlosser, which collects Schlosser's retellings of ghost stories and folklore from around North America. This entry is all about the Cascadian prefecture of Washington. There are 26 short stories in total -- all assigned to a particular town, city, county, mountain, region, etc. -- and each is illustrated with a scratchboard drawing by Paul G. Hoffman.

The book is divided into two parts. The first part, "Ghost Stories", is obviously all about ghosts. In general I don't find ghosts all that interesting (so-called "spectral phenomena" are usually just psychotronically induced hallucinations caused by malfunctioning mind-control devices or standing resonance waves -- deflector beanies will keep them from bothering you), so I wasn't that captivated by these stories. Your mileage may vary. (Spoilers ahead, but these all contain well-worn ghost-story tropes you'll see coming a mile away.)

Read more...

Lyle Zapato

"The Octopus Cycle"

Lyle Zapato | 2010-10-22.2795 LMT | Entertainment | Retro
Lyle Zapato

Airship Troopers: Volcanic Dinosaur Island of Doom

Lyle Zapato | 2010-10-09.8400 LMT | Entertainment | Fonts | Lost Worlds
'Airship Troopers' cover

If you're in the mood for some old-school roleplay gaming in a pulp-adventure milieu set between 1900 and 1940, why not try Airship Troopers: Volcanic Dinosaur Island of Doom by Oliver Parkhurst, the first release of the Zeppelin Age line. (NB: The publisher, Heliograph, sent me a free copy because they used my font, Duarte Juramento, for some of the illustration labels.)

As the name implies, the game centers around airships and exotic island locations (I assume future installments of the promised Zeppelin Age series will have airships in other scenarios). I'm not an RPG player so I can't comment too much on Heliograph's DECO System: it uses dice; is run by a Director; has Moxie Checks when your character takes damage; awards Pavlov Points to reinforce entertaining roleplay; and defines characters by Trademarks, Motivations, and Hooks.

While in our reality Zeppelins were never that successful, Airship Troopers imagines a world where they are a major form of transportation. The difference that makes this reality possible is Monarch Airways, owned by wealthy and forward-thinking Ozma Tippitarius, whose mysterious sources of funding and helium keep the airship industry aloft and thriving. The titular Airship Troopers handle Monarch security and are able to deploy from airships thanks to Rocketeer-style rocket-packs called Firebirds. Well, they actually deploy thanks to gravity; the Firebirds let them get back.

Besides the Monarch backstory, there's lots of interesting info on real Zeppelin history, technology, and operations, including a Zeppelin Owner's Operation Manual (or Z.O.O.M.). While your Zeppelin can fly for days without fear of crashing, maintaining neutral buoyancy isn't as easy as one might suspect. If you deploy personnel or cargo, you loose their weight and must compensate by venting gas, of which you only have a limited supply. If they return, you must then drop water ballast, which again is limited. Going up and down relatively quickly also means expending gas and ballast. Unless your engines are running on Blau gas, using fuel decreases weight and requires gas venting. Environmental conditions can affect the effectiveness of the gas, requiring adjustments to the gas/ballast ratio. Balancing these two resources without running too low on either to safely control the ship necessitates skill and experience.

To explain the day-to-day operations of Zeppelins, the book introduces Monarch Airways' experimental testbed, the MAA Zenobia, which was retrofitted from the real-life R-80. Included are a blueprint, walkthrough, and descriptions of crew duties.

Being transportation, airships aren't very useful unless you have somewhere to go. Where you choose to take your airship in your game is up to you, and the book's outline of the DECO system and airship info can serve to build any Zeppelin Age adventure you want. But as you've guessed from the sub-title and Chris Appel's cover art, Parkhurst has some ideas of where your Zeppelin should be headed.

Welcome to the Volcanic Dinosaur Island of Doom (or just the Island)!

The Island is an environment filled with pulpy goodness for your Airship Troopers to explore and be killed by. And yes, there are dinosaurs. You could even play as a dinosaur; the character section suggests Uncommon Descriptions that include not only a Wonderdog (à la Rin-Tin-Tin) but a Wondersaur (T. Rex-Tin-Tin?), and there's a Wondersaur named Sandy described in an example adventure in the Director's section.

All the pulp staples are here: lost cities, mad scientists, gangsters, jungle girls, Neanderthals, giant arthropods, man-eating plants, weird fungi, Nazis, the Red menace. Of course, not everything listed has to be on your game's version of the Island. They're all just suggestions. The example adventure provides character/creature stats for a number of them, but it's easy to create your own.

Of particular interest to my readers, the Island is potentially home to a menagerie of terrestrial cephalopods: lakeside croctopus, giant elephantopus of the grasslands (reminiscent of the Umbrella Beasts from "The Octopus Cycle", as seen on this pulp cover [UPDATE: more about it here]), cave-dwelling stalactopus and stalagmopus, airfaring zeptopus, and naturally forest-dwelling treetopus. Since there's already Wondersaurs, perhaps you'll consider playing as a plucky arboreal Wonderpus sidekick. Also, the mixture of tree octopuses and dinosaurs means this will happen.

Lyle Zapato

What Really Happened To The Dinosaurs

Lyle Zapato | 2010-05-26.4840 LMT | Art | Nature

Tree octopus eating a velociraptor
"Ocean Invasion #1: Octopus arborealus" by Daniel D. Brown.
(Posters available.)

Non-aquatic cephalopods are notoriously under-represented, if not completely absent, in the fossil record since they are mostly composed of soft-tissue and, unlike their aquatic counterparts, live in environments without a constant rain of fine sediment and ubiquitous muddy ground necessary for soft-tissue fossilization.

Given this explanation for a lack of fossil evidence, it cannot be ruled out that the scenario depicted above -- predation by giant octopuses newly colonizing an above-water world unprepared for their arrival -- is what really doomed the dinosaurs to extinction. Only those dinosaurs that were able to rise above the now-deadly trees -- birds -- survived the transition to a post-tree-octopus environment.

Lyle Zapato

Baltimore Kinetic Sculpture Race

Lyle Zapato | 2010-04-29.9520 LMT | Announcement | Art | Crafts

The Baltimore Kinetic Sculpture Race is an annual event where Kinetinauts race amphibious, human-powered art-vehicles to victory and glory.

This year has a very special entrant (from the Spectator's Guide):

Veke Versa Boat is from the Jemicy School of Baltimore and is dedicated to providing habitat for the endangered, elusive, and apocryphal tree octopus.

(I'm assuming they were forced to add "apocryphal" in the guide description by the shadowy, anti-Cascadian forces pulling the strings of the race -- note the special Belgian waffle breakfast held on a balcony overseeing the opening ceremonies mentioned prominently in the guide and on the official site.)

Jemicy seems to have a cephalopod theme going this year, as their four other entries are named Squid Man, Kraken, Cabrena Octopus, & Calamari. All five are competing for an ACE award, the most challenging, rule-encumbered level of competition in the race.

No photos yet. I'll add some links in an update after the race. Good luck Team Jemicy.

UPDATE 2010-05-03: Jemicy's Veke Versa Boat won the Engineering award! Here's a photo of it without its head cropped off:

Jemicy's Veke Versa Boat

By the color and demeanor of the octopus, it looks as if they modeled it after Thujoctopus pilosa, not O. paxarbolis. Nevertheless, anything that raises awareness of arboreal cephalopods is certainly worthy of note.