January Links Post

Things I’ve done

Things my friends have done

Things strangers have done

  • Posted a marvellous Victorian experiment in cross-dressing, where for scientific reasons gentlemen discovered that corsets are a right bastard to bend in. As someone who spent New Year’s Eve having to rely on their friend for all shoe-tying and bag-raising needs I can wholeheartedly concur, although despite the belief of the male participant in this experiment, it is possible to both eat and drink in one. Kind of.
  • Wrote a very accessible post about temperature and negative temperatures, using Warren Buffett, Scrooge McDuck, and the Dalai Lama as examples in an analogy. I’m not the brightest when it comes to understanding physics (it wasn’t really taught in my school) but this makes rational sense to me so I’d say it’s a pretty good piece of science journalism.
  • Worked out how Vestal Virgins must have done their hair. In case you felt the need to recreate it.

What Is The Difference Between An Angler Fish and a Viperfish?

I get a surprising amount of misdirected traffic to this blog (because Google is imperfect) from people searching for variations on the title. I’ve never actually posted about that, beyond a vaguely humorous post where I renamed a load of deep sea fish to help a friend remember which one was which.

There are the odd collection of search terms that lead people here which make me feel moderately bad for the searchers not getting what they want and ending up on my unhelpful blog, so in the interests of making life easier for people I thought I’d make a post about it anyway (I am less likely to fulfil people’s needs for a summary of Michelangelo’s Rebellious Slave, or a dissection of how the word “disinclination” is used in Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, because I find the idea of people copy-pasting their homework answers a bit distasteful).

From Wikipedia:

Anglerfishes are members of the teleostorder Lophiiformes (pron.:/ˌlɒfəˈfɔrmz/).[1] They are bony fishes named for their characteristic mode of predation, wherein a fleshy growth from the fish’s head (the esca or illicium) acts as a lure; this is considered analogous to angling.

Some anglerfishes are pelagic (live in the open water), while others are benthic (bottom-dwelling). Some live in the deep sea (e.g., Ceratiidae) and others on the continental shelf (e.g., the frogfishes Antennariidae and the monkfish/goosefish Lophiidae). They occur worldwide. Pelagic forms are most laterally (sideways) compressed whereas the benthic forms are often extremely dorsoventrally compressed (depressed) often with large upward pointing mouths.

In summary: “anglerfish” covers a number of species, and are generally quite lumpy-looking, squat things with dangling lures intended to attract prey, like an angler (or fisher, but I think we can agree that “fisherfish” would be confusing: apart from anything else if you say it out loud it sounds like “fissure fish” and that would be some sort of blind white thing scavenging in the ecosystem associated with a sea floor vent). To identify a fish as a potential anglerfish, it must be in possession of some sort of growth that acts as lure, whether bioluminescent or not.

Another characteristic associated with anglerfish in general, although it is characteristic of the Ceratioid group (Ceratiidae), is the unusual mating method of a diminutive male attaching himself to a passing female and becoming part of her body, nourished by her blood stream, rather like a parasite. In retain for literally becoming an appendage to his missus – who may have several other males attached – she has a ready supply of sperm for when she spawns, and her eggs can be immediately fertilised without her having to find a male somewhere in the vast darkness of the deep ocean.

From Wikipedia again:

viperfish is a saltwater fish in the genus Chauliodus, with long, needle-like teeth and hinged lower jaws. They grow to lengths of 30 to 60 cm (12 – 24 inches).[2] Viperfish stay near lower depths (250–5,000 feet) in the daytime and shallow at night. Viperfish mainly stay in tropical and temperate waters. It is one of the fiercest predators in the very deep part of the sea and is believed to attack its prey by luring the victim close to itself with a light producing organ. This organ is called a photophore and is located on the end of its dorsal spine. It flashes this natural light on and off while at the same time moving the dorsal spine around like a fishing rod and hanging completely still in the water, and also uses the voluntary natural light producing organ to communicate to its potential mates and rivals. Viperfish vary in color between green, silver and black. It uses its fang-like teeth to immobilize its prey, and would not be able to close its mouth because of their length if it were not able to curve them behind its head. The first vertebra behind the head of the viperfish is known to absorb the shock of its attacks, which are mainly targeted against dragonfish and other small creatures. They are able to undergo long periods with scarcely any food.

While anglerfish as a word covers an entire order of fish (ie, several genus and species), the term “viperfish” applies to a specific genus, and is much more narrowly applied. As this illustration of C. danae demonstrates, rather than being bulky and compressed like the majority of anglerfish species, the viperfish is typically elongated:

Chauliodus danae

Anglerfish and viperfish should be easy to distinguish between upon sight: to help keep them straight in your head, remember that a viper is a term used for some types of poisonous snake, and that the viperfish is long and thin, like a snake. Anglerfishes use lures, like anglers.

Taxonomic tree:

For the sake of not confusing people further by talking about “Genus” and “Order” and so on, I’m just going to take a moment to talk about how living things are classified. Dividing up the enormous variety of lifeforms on our planet requires a system of classification that determines which lifeforms are more closely related to each other and which are less alike, and this helps us to track potential evolutionary paths and to determine whether medications and poisons that work on some will work on others.

Taxonomy (the classification of life) is usually displayed as a tree, with “subspecies” as the smallest twigs and “Kingdom” as the largest branches. It can also be thought of as nesting boxes, with small “subspecies” boxes – the most specialised differentiation between genetic groups – nestling inside the overarching “species” definition, which in turn fits (with other species) inside the “genus” definition.

The order of classification officially begins with kingdom, which separates out plants from animals, and whatever the fuck fungus is from plants and animals, and three separate domains of micro-organisms/single-celled life forms. The next most specialised taxonomic rank is phylum (plural: phyla), which is confusing as balls but separates out a lot of weird shit like round worms and slightly less weird shit like molluscs (snails and squid and so on) from each other, and from arthropoda (crabs, spiders, insects, etc), and from chordata, which is the phylum which interests us here. Chordata contains the subphylum (kind of like a smaller phylum but not specialised enough for the next step down) vertebrata which as the similarity to “vertebrae” should suggest, contains all backboned animals including people (mammals) and birds and fish and so on. The next step down is class, which in the case of this post would be the superclass (contains several classes) “Osteichthyes“, or “bony fish”. Within a class there are ordersC. danae above, for example, belongs to the order Stomiiformes, whereas “anglerfish” comprise an order of their own, Lophiiformes. After order comes family, which contains a number of genii (plural of genus) that are similar, and each genus contains one or more species: the genus Chauliodus, or “viperfish”, contains nine species of viperfish.

Both the order of anglerfish and the order Stomiiformes, which contains the family Stomiidae, which contains the genus Chauliodus, commonly known as “viperfish” are members of the class Osteichthyes, or bony fish, but they are not similar enough to be grouped together at more intimate levels than that. For comparison, the class “Aves” contains all birds, making the viperfish and any given anglerfish genus about as closely connected as an ostrich and a hummingbird or a penguin and a chicken.

For ease of visualisation, have this handy chart from Wikipedia:

taxonomic ranks

Book Release: The Curious Case of the Firecrotch

In addition to writing slightly more serious speculative and uncategorisable fiction and the odd story about niche sports under the name you see on the masthead, I occasionally put out much more frivolous nonsense under the name Melissa Snowdon. The Melissa Snowdon ID is largely just a matter of being tidy: the writing I do under that header is usually written at my friends via GChat and for the primary purpose of entertaining them and me rather than because I have a burning yen to produce a piece of art. Consequently the work is usually ridiculous and contains a far higher ratio of sex scenes to plot than anything else I write.

This time I’ve got together with a dear friend, confederate, and hideous enabler who decided she was going to take this “nom de plume” business very seriously and has assigned herself the moniker “Dionysia Hill“; in order to push home the fact that this particular novella is pure pulp trash, a detective pastiche that involves very little in the way of real crime-solving and is mostly an excuse to write self-indulgently about hangovers and pretty boys, I decided to make the cover for this one a homage to a lot of incredi-bad gay pulp novels of the 70s.

Clicking on this will take you to the UK Kindle listing

Wilberforce Kemp is a private detective. He’s not especially good at it, and he has a drink-chugging demon to keep fed, but he’s a private detective all the same and that means when a beautiful red-head comes into his decaying office and pays him to dig up a missing boyfriend, it’s his job to find the guy… even if he kinda wants the red-head all to himself. In a case that will bring him elbow-to-elbow with all the low-lives he’s been drinking to avoid, Wil Kemp is up to his neck in trouble all over again.

This pastiche of the hard-boiled detective trope brings romance and sarcasm a-plenty.

Because I didn’t enrol this one in the Kindle Select programme yet (and thus cannot have “give this away for free” days), I’ve also made it available as a print book for those of you who prefer hard copies of your reading materials/don’t have eReaders. If you have a non-Kindle eReader, contact me and chuck me $0.99 (the price on the Kindle site), and I can send you a copy as an .epub or .pdf or, providing I can find a suitable converter, any common eReader format you like.

Happy reading! I promise there will be a less silly book out sooner or later but in the meantime why not try this? It’s only a dollar.

Art Post: Watercolour shadows.

I don’t even have the excuse of finishing a rewrites section today, I wrote a small handful of paragraphs and then went to Greenwich for what ended up being the primary purpose of “finding a toilet” (I did eat some duck as well, and I bought a book). Snow everywhere, which continues to be a strange experience: London wearing white like London has any business implying purity. Fittingly it’s rather like someone chucking a sheet over all the usual horrors and pretending nothing’s down there for the duration: London is still grubby and grim underneath. And I did manage to find a toilet, a set of Victorian-looking conveniences under the street. And Greenwich train station was established in 1838. Did you know that? NOW YOU DO.

In my continuing attempts to avoid productivity, then:

I had a lot of fun with layers, colours, and light sources with this, and I’m really pleased that I’ve finally got the hang of watercolour-style shadows like what my mate Gillian’s been doing for years and years (my mate Gillian is a proper artist and set-dresser and once foolishly did a comic with me, I am just an occasional dabbler in Photoshop and horrible sketchy pen drawings).

Sometimes, internet, I just want to draw pretty pictures of pretty men.

Art Post: Doodling

I almost managed to nail some rewrites yesterday and rather than actually finish what I was doing I decided to stay up half the night messing around with Photoshop:



And that, as they say, is that. I did quite enjoy working on the shadows with cool colours, something I was originally taught to do by my father when I was a small child and have spent most of my drawing life not doing for some reason, despite it cropping up repeatedly in tutorials. Cool colours for deeper shadows! Or in this case, pale cool colours to give you shadows without too much darkness! Amazing.

100 Works of Art: (Visual) The Dying Slave, Michelangelo

For an overview of the nature of this series of posts, please read the first in the series (and familiarise yourself with my thrilling thoughts on “Black Virtue” by Matta).

19. The dying slave, Michelangelo (1513-1516)

Being an uneducated oaf whose artistic interests sprang up primarily on the basis of whims, I’d very little knowledge of Michelangelo outside of the odd Renaissance documentary until I came upon this piece at  le Louvre. It was 2005, and I was in Paris on holiday with a friend over Christmas, for the primary purpose of eating a lot of food and failing to master the French tongue any better at 23 than I had when I was 11: later in the same exhausting day we would find ourselves lost amid Iranian Antiquities, lose our collective heads, and rush through that venerable collection of works bellowing “SORTIE” frantically as our fellow-tourists lobbed small children into our path and lucky bastards who hadn’t suffered a loss of direction poured spitefully out into the winter air purely to taunt us.

I remember doing several circuits of this statue and saying something faux-sarcastic about ponces, as was the tradition of the era, but the image – ridiculously sensual and completely inappropriate for the subject matter – remained in my mind. I ended up including it as the starting point of a short story in a (now out-of-print) short story collection, and doodled an illustration of the main character sardonically aping the pose of the famous statue.

The Dying Slave, Michelangelo
The Dying Slave, Michelangelo

For all the seriousness of the subject matter there is something very comical about his pose. It looks almost more like a sluggish playboy waking in the afternoon and having a first decadent stretch before continuing his debaucheries. There’s little about this handsome devil to suggest that he’s in the throes of mortality; much like the St Sebastian pictures I’ve talked about before, it seems more as if he’s enjoying whatever suffering’s been inflicted on him, and unlike Sebastian (a free man and former captain of the Praetorian Guard) there’s a little less chance that he can convince himself he’s doing it for the glory of God.

What Michelangelo intended in this piece, which was originally for the tomb of Pope Julius II (an overseas aggressor, supporter of the arts, and papal cockblocker of the Borgias), is not entirely certain. I assume it serves some cod-allegorical purpose, although as with a lot of Michelangelo’s work I rather suspect that it was a combination of “maybe if I suppress my desires into religion hard enough I’ll stop having these pesky erections” and “I am still going to have a lot of naked men on everything that’s perfectly okay”.

For myself what I enjoy about the statue is that completely inappropriate, lascivious or luxuriant response to the apparent footfalls of the grim reaper: instead of having a panic or resigning himself with serenity to his fate, instead of railing against the cruelty of morality or  the injustice that has led him to die a slave, the statue has adopted what I’ve thought of for a while as the Drag Approach To Suffering, which is: life is hell, death is agony, I’m going to look fabulous and flirt with it.

Whatever swoon of misery is supposed to be coming across in the drooping eyelids of a slave about to be freed into (one hopes) the kingdom of Heaven, what more solidly comes over is the idea that he’s giving the spectre of perpetual cold and eternal sleep the saucy come-on. There is always something attractive to me in the kind of perversity that embraces death with not only open arms but a subtle self-stroking of the stomach (as here) or a nod and a wink and licking the lips. Regardless of whether it speaks of weaponised sexuality or just of a different approach to bravado, I’m fond of it, and this statue can definitely be interpreted that way.

100 Works of Art: (Visual) Two Girls (lovers), Egon Schiele

The 100 Works of Art series of blog posts is less a conventional series of reviews/analyses and more a distillation of personal relationships with the pieces in question; for further explanation please see the first of the posts.

18. Two Girls (Lovers), Egon Schiele, 1911

While the Edwardian period produced some fantastic literature and the strange last limping days between fin de siècle and the “death of innocence” embodied by the brutal birth of industrialised warfare and the subsequent destruction of cultural eras and millions of people across Europe and the Middle East produce in hindsight a very real melancholy, in terms of visual art I have always been rather unfond of it.

Egon Schiele enjoys popularity at present with a particular subset of hipsters, but this painting specifically has wormed past my defenses by being my first exposure to the artist and coming to me in grand company.

As with most people, I find that music and visual art are splendid accompaniments to each other, and especially with classical music it’s often possible to find a painting which almost precisely embodies the feelings evoked by a piece. Quite often this is because the artist painted the work after being inspired by the music, or the composer created their masterwork off the back of inspiration gleaned from the painting. Two Girls, by contrast, came to me with a collection of new music which a very dear friend of mine had compiled for me one Christmas in lieu of a card: it was used as the inlay on the CD cover. She’d gone to a lot of effort in selecting the songs, and many of them have gone on to become favourites of mine. The painting’s title became the album title, and the image itself is now inextricably linked to both the compilation and to the generosity of spirit and passion for the arts I always associate with the friend in question.

Two Girls (lovers), Egon Schiele, 1911

Aside from the associations there is a charm in both the colours in this picture and the implied grubbiness of it. After centuries of women who are gleaming pale cathedrals to feminine purity it is quite nice to look at a couple of ladies with presumably dirty bums.

In terms of colour, the warm palette and deep bloody colours of their clothes have a strange dual effect: to my mind it has connotations of something darker and dirtier, to go with the grubbiness of their skin. The women are a pool of darkness with spots of (unclean) light, flipped-up skirts forming an near-halo. For all that it is rather graphic in what it depicts – and the partially-clothed depiction is somehow more emphatic about the sexuality of it than nudity would be – there is more to be found in implication than in depiction.

As with Asobimasho, there is a horizontal line through this picture, above which it is a simple portrait of two women sleeping, and below which it is a frank and slightly voyeuristic depiction of sexual activity. I find frequently that images in which two extremes of propriety, morality, or beliefs are represented in one continuous picture catch my fancy.

Embroidery Part 2: The Finished Product.

After much swearing, stabbing myself with a needle, and a lot of documentaries (the most recent batch included the siege of Malta in WW2, the history of the Tank Corps in the British Army, a brief history of mankind’s aesthetic and social relationship with gold-the-colour… all brought to me by the glory and wonder that is BBC4’s dedication to pouring completely useless information into my brain so that I never have to watch narrative television again), I finally got to the end of my embroidery project, if not the end of the whole shirt transformation project.

Wonky, but proud, which adequately describes the Des Anges clan.

Having decided in a bout of “no, outside is an awful place” that I wasn’t going to get grey floss for the helmet, I finally managed to thread a decent-sized needle with the metallic floss, which you will recall from the last post about this is my bête noire (along with symmetry) and did the details in gold and filled the rest in with black floss. This seems like a perfectly acceptable (if swanky) approach to decorative armour, even if the shirt fabric was feeling the strain so much that it was turning into fluff by the time I’d finished poking holes in it. The metallic edging on the shield was an innovation chiefly derived from me trying to do something with my hands while I made up my mind about the helmet.

The angel’s body I filled in slightly more quickly and thickly than the legs and face, by doubling up the machine thread, and the lettering on the scroll had to be tidied up by using more gold single fibres to tie back pieces of itself that were overlapping the letters.

It’s even positioned correctly!

The main fears (that it would prove too heavy and go through the fabric altogether, that I’d positioned it in the wrong place, and that it was going to be such a shambles that I’d ruined the shirt) proved unfounded, but the bloody thing does have a nice ring of dirt around it from my hands at the edge of the embroidery ring, so that’s going to need more attention than just the damp cloth I’ve given it above to remove the creases.

The next step is BEADING and BLOODY STRIPES down the back, just because. And because I have rewrites to avoid doing.

Jewellery Post: One Lonely William Morris Pendant

Click on image for listing

18 inch / 46 centimetre brass cross chain necklace with coppertone closure and brass frame, glass cabochon and genuine William Morris pattern paper purchased at the William Morris Museum in Walthamstow.

William Morris was a genius designer well ahead of his time, and his intricate repeating patterns adorned the walls, furniture, and floors of Victorian homes across England. Why not let a fraction of his genius adorn your neck, too?