Paper Astrolabe – Primary Sources

I love astrolabes. I have already made two (though I lost the first one) and own a beautiful brass one that was a gift of some wonderful friends. They are fascinating, beautiful instruments.

I am planning to begin making some to enter into A&S competitions for the SCA. So the first step is to find some primary sources, some astrolabes that I would like to emulate.

So, here are two examples that I really like.

  1. Manuscript Astrolabe, by Hans Herghamer, 1492


This is housed at the Museum of the History of Science in Oxford. It was found tucked in the cover of a copy of Astrolabium by Johannes Angelus, which was a book of tables of astronomical calculations and horoscope examples. I like to think the owner was into astrology, and made his own astrolabe to see what the current state of the sky was and the book as a reference for what that meant. I’m not sure if I’m going to try and color the one I make yet, but this is really pretty, but still simple, so I may give it a try.

2. Beinecke MS 558


This manuscript is a collection of various manuscripts, put together in the 16th century. It includes info about the astrolabe, horoscopes, and a map of England. I like how this looks 3D, and includes something like a navicula under the rete. It’s an odd thing to include here, since it would be awkward to actually hold the book up and use it to site a star. Anyway, this is probably the level of instrument I would be reproducing.

I would like also to follow a period set of instructions, but so far the books I’ve found have not been in English, or are incredibly expensive. I think the one I would prefer would be Hartmann’s Praktica, if I can find it at a good price.

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The Wild Evolution of Klingons

So you have probably seen the new Star Trek: Discovery trailer. If not, got ahead and watch it, and then come back.

I’m not going to discuss what I think the show will be like, or how much I want to be excited but can’t bring myself to do it because there really hasn’t been much great to be excited about in Star Trek since Voyager ended. Really, I’m just going to focus on the Klingons.

Most people agree that the original series Klingons were rather racist in their depiction, so the new version of them that appeared in the movies was not surprising. There was an obvious attempt to make them deeper, and different in appearance than just darker people. There was even a wonderful joking explanation of the change given in a DS9 episode, “Trials and Tribble-ations” which everyone should watch, if you even remotely like Tribbles.

But it seems like ever since then, Klingons have been revamped for every new iteration. In Enterprise, set before TOS, the kept the newer Klingon look. Though most fans preferred the less racist version, they could have dome something to make them look more like the TOS versions while still giving them the rich culture we see later. Really, which of the following three do you think does the least amount of cultural appropriation?


Then there was the reboot. Which, to be honest, I don’t consider Trek. Not really. The first movie was fun, but the following films were just OK. The cast is fantastic, but they don’t feel like my old Trek. And the Klingons? What was going on there? I only vaguely remember them showing up in that film, and wondering what they were, and being surprised to find out they were Klingons.

And now Discovery. What are these things? And why did they feel the need to change them again? Maybe the reboot could get away with it. Maybe. But this is years before that timeline starts. I mean, I guess they kind of look like the reboot ones? Mixed with the familiar ones? Sort of?


The changes are so unnecessary. They simply end up taking away the identity we as Trek fans are used to for what a Klingon is. We know what they are, and are eager to see the first years of contact with them. (Also I really think they are missing the chance to tell the story of the Romulan War.) I was very much wishing that we were going to get the film about the Axanar, which looked fantastic and dramatic and dealt with Klingons like Klingons. There are actors that have been playing Klingons for ages, know the language, and have the whole thing down. We liked those guys. Why are they being taken away?

Well, I may give it a chance. I’ll see. But I may be done being disappointed with the new Star Trek. Just leave me to my Netflix reruns.

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How to Make an Astrolabe in 1502

I think I’m going to be looking at this site quite a bit soon. I had not yet found a full description of how to construct an astrolabe from the period of history that the SCA covers. Now I have fully scanned pages!

I have the materials to acid etch one of these, and that’s the plan. Now that I can document the construction, I have no more excuses.

Well, maybe that most of my stuff is boxed and buried in the garage. But not for too much longer!

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Commedia dell’Arte a la Antonio Fava

Last week I had the distinct privilege of being part of a class intense workshop taught by Antonio Fava, whose family has been part of this fascinating form of theater for generations. I have been part of a small, amateur Commedia troupe before, and struggled trying to get the hang of this art form. We tried several different kinds of plays and techniques, but I don’t feel that it really clicked for me.

Fava made it click. I cannot begin to share with you all that I learned in this workshop, but I will share some highlights. I am hoping to stir my troupe up again, so I will try and update you as that moves along.

I learned that the term arte, which most people translate for this form of theater as simply art, was actually something closer to guild. They were forming a professional group of actors for the first time, and wanted to be clear that they meant it to be a profession.

The basis for every Commedia storyline is the Lovers (innamorati). These characters are always beautiful, always intelligent, born to privilege, and cannot conceive of anything else. And rather than kill themselves for love, they are prone to madness. If ever their ideal of beauty, their beloved, is forced to marry someone else, they go insane which can lead to some hilarity. It is there job to be the plot for the play.

The Servants (zanni) are there to be a help to whoever asks them. Even if they are asked to do opposing things. They also try, in their simple way, to come up with plans to help. They are simple, hungry, afraid, and completely innocent. They provide most of what people think of as Commedia, like slapstick comedy and low humor.

The Old Men (vecci) exist to create obstacles for the lovers. They do not do this out of malice, but a desire to provide for their children. They have the memory of having been all of the other character types in their past lives, and try to do them, but with stiff backs and knees. They do sometimes try to get something for themselves, but usually accept that they can no longer have such things by the end.

The Adventurers (Capitano and Signora) are intruders. They are there to stir things up, but are not natives. They are new and exciting, or at least, are pretending to be. They are definitely out for themselves, but again, not in a terrible way. They end up getting what they truly deserve, which is somewhat less than what they were shooting for.

Each character type has their own specific movements, derived from the mindset of that character. Everything that you perform must stem from that mindset.

Everything must be precise, and clear, and communicated to the audience multiple times. You would be surprised how willing an audience is to follow the rules you set on the stage, if you remain precisely within those rules, and communicate it well.

I learned so much more, and I also purchased Fava’s book. I look forward to exploring this theater form in more depth.

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Thélème at Penn – Medieval Manuscript Presentations

This promises to be an enlightening event. Several presenters, including yours truly, will be talking about medieval manuscripts, or things we have learned from those books. Some of them will be on display as well, since this event will take place at the Kislak Center for special collections, rare books and manuscripts at Van Pelt Library, part of the University of Pennsylvania.

I will have a poster on astrolabes, and will be presenting on interactive books. I think its fascinating that without modern technology, there were things that functioned as computers for the storage or processing of information. Just dials on a page, but they could do so much. So if you would like to find out more, join us!

For more information check out the event website here.

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Frostgrave First Impressions

So I got to play my first game of Frostgrave yesterday, and I was very impressed. I have tried a few other skirmish miniature games (mostly Malifaux 2e, and a few d10 based home brewed games) and this was by far the easiest to understand and play. Even with six players the whole game lasted about 4 hours, which was a good length. We were all eager to make sure we made off with our treasure.

I think that this brings up my favorite point about this game. The main goal is not to defeat your opponent, but to get the most treasures and get out. This drives everything from the way you build your crew, the spells that you choose, and how you play.

Your crew consists of a Wizard, an Apprentice, and soldiers. The soldiers are basically there to protect your magic users, as their cannot really fight off the monsters you will encounter by themselves. Basically they are monster bait. While they fight off creatures your wizard and apprentice snag treasure and run.

The mechanics are all based on a d20 roll against a target number for spell casting, or against an opposed roll if fighting, so you can focus more on how you are moving around the table rather than making sure you understand the mechanics.

Another fun benefit is that this is meant to be played as a campaign. Your wizard gains experience and loot after each game, which advances them to learn more spells and have better abilities as you move forward.

The setting is creative as well, with 10 different types of magic that all feel and work differently, giving each crew a separate flavor. I played the Illusionists in my game, which can do things like invisibility, transposing with other models, or luring or repelling opponents by taking a different appearance. Other types include Chronomancers, Necromancers, Sigilists, and Enchanters.

North Star is offering a full line of miniatures for the game, and some are really pretty cool looking. I like the Summoner the best, I think. Though if I decide to get involved in this one I may pick out some Bones miniatures that fit instead, since the other groups don’t appeal to me as much.

All that said I think it would be fun to play as an RPG as well, though I think my days of running RPGs are done. It’s a good deal of work and never comes out as well as I would like.

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Baconian Cipher JavaScript

So I’ve been making an attempt to learn more coding and programming. I have completed a short course on CSS, which was much easier than I expected. So I moved on to JavaScript, hopeful and excited that I would learn that quickly as well.

And then I remembered that my brain doesn’t do logic very well. So this one is not going quit so quickly. But I am still working, and I cooked up a little project as practice.

So I present the Baconian Cipher Generator. This page will either code a message for you, or decode a message that you receive if it follows the rules of a cipher created by Sir Francis Bacon in 1605. It’s not a complicated code, but it did have two steps, and it took me a little while to get it working. But there it is.

Hopefully I will finish that class soon and move on to WordPress, since that seems to be another very marketable skill to have.

As a side note, it seems that there are thoughts that the Voynich manuscript uses a similar cipher. Check out the discussion here.

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