The Living Magick Tarot Challenge: December 2010

You may recall that last month I started “The Living Magick Tarot Challenge”, where I use Living Magick’s awesome “Tarot Learning Cards” to finally learn the tarot and chronicle my progress monthly. November had a very strong start and I felt confident that by the end of December I would have the Major Arcana down cold, and would be well on my way to knowing the entire suit of Cups from the Minor Arcana. Yep, that was the plan.

Well, we might as well call this update what it is, bull crap. I have loads of excuses and no results. My illness from November is still a problem in December. My husband has spent the better part of December sick on our sofa. My work situation got pretty crazy in December. And of course, there were the holidays. Not only did I fail to maintain even the slightest bit of discipline with using Living Magick’s “Tarot Learning Cards”, I just fell off the wagon entirely and didn’t even touch the cards the entire month of December.

So why on Earth am I writing this update when I have nothing to share? Essentially to keep me honest. I could sit here and lie and odds are good no one would ever realize I hadn’t learned anything, but what’s the point in that? I dropped the ball. I suck. And now I’m moving on.

The holidays are over. My health, although still shaky, is certainly manageable for the moment. The husband is out of sick days to use for work. And my overall work load has become something I have much greater control over. Enough about December and all its failings, and on to January! We’ll talk about this again soon, I promise.

A Letter: Part Seven (The Wikileaks Edition)

Hasn’t Wikileaks made things interesting lately? I’m serious. The recent “dumping” of diplomatic cables gives the average American news viewer/reader the intrigue of politics from the perspective of 13 year-old girls gossiping in the bathroom. If I had known being a catty bitch made you a decent diplomat I would have definitely pursued it as a career option. Alas, I’m merely a catty bitch with a website, shall we proceed?

Personally, I was on the underwhelmed side as the media started sifting through the giant mass of diplomatic cables released on Wikileaks; but buried within those releases little nuggets of a pet project of mine started popping up. That’s right folks, Zimbabwe made Wikileaks! This has got to be the equivalent of having Weird Al Yankovic spoof you; you know you’ve arrived.

There is the whimsical “Warthogs delay US ambassador’s arrival in Zimbabwe”, which explains that Charles Ray was delayed in taking his post as ambassador in 2009 due to a plane in the Harare airport hitting warthogs and destroying lights on the runway. However, this amusing anecdote is shadowed with dread by stating, “Passengers on the Air Zim flight were stuck in the plane for about two hours; security authorities forced passengers to surrender any photographic evidence of the crash before they were allowed to leave.” Heaven forbid the rest of the world sees that a plane hit a warthog. Hakuna matata indeed.

Diplomatic cables from 2009 give conflicting insights into President Robert Mugabe. European Union officials describe him as “physically fit, mentally sharp, and charming”, but later in the year Ambassador Ray (having taken his post despite the nefarious warthog conspiracy) described Mugabe as frail, stating, “Mugabe appears uncomfortable when seated – he slouches and frequently turns his body as if to find a better position, and then sits straight up and speaks in a louder voice for a few seconds before lapsing back into the barely audible soft voice.”

The previously mentioned EU delegation all referenced a certain event that occurred during their meeting with Mugabe, “During the delegation’s meeting with Mugabe, a strong, young man entered with a bowl and pitcher of water on a silver tray. He knelt in front of Mugabe, who made a show of washing his hands with this subservient man at his feet.” John Clancy, spokesman for the EU Trade Commission, surmised “it showed that Mugabe has lost the plot of normal human interaction and the responsibility of leaders toward their people.”

Most interesting is learning that in 2007 a group of exiled Zimbabwean businessmen had been plotting a bloodless coup to remove Robert Mugabe as president. Keep in mind folks Archbishop Desmond Tutu told the BBC in 2008 that he “urged the international community to intervene in Zimbabwe – by force if necessary.” Have you seen an interview with Archbishop Desmond Tutu? If you can make this adorable, kindly, little man of God want to put a bullet in you, you’re being a very naughty president. Sadly, this “bloodless coup” being discussed in 2007 is pretty much the power sharing agreement that came to pass with Robert Mugabe as President and Morgan Tsvangirai as Prime Minister. I think my most recent letter regarding Zimbabwe sums up how well that has worked out. Of course, former US ambassador to Zimbabwe Christopher Dell didn’t have a lot of faith in Tsvangirai to begin with, so go figure.

What’s funny about all of this is that it’s just a preamble to my announcement that I got a letter from K Nokku of the Asylum Policy and Correspondence Team in Croydon, Surrey. Yes! A letter from Britain in response to the letters I sent in October regarding Britain’s plan to resume enforced returns of Zimbabweans who failed to gain asylum in the country. You can read my letter here, but to sum up I sent a note saying, huh?


The letter itself is unremarkable. It essentially quoted parts of the press releases back to me and at no point addressed any of the valid points I felt I had raised. That said, I got a response. A response that appears to have been personally typed. A response that is longer than a postcard. A response that came in its very own enveloped post marked Great Britain. In other words, much like it is with television, Britain has surpassed the quality of what I’ve seen in the United States. Congratulations K Nokku! I’d say I tip my hat to you sir, but I don’t know if K is male or female. I guess this probably means we won’t be Facebook friends.

The Favorite Things Post

Buffet readers from last year may remember that around the winter holidays I did “12 Days of Blogging” where I counted down my 12 favorite blogs of the year. With 2010 coming to a close I find myself again wanting to do some sort of fun, end of the year thing, but I feel like doing “12 Days of Blogging” again would be stale. I have instead decided that as a farewell salute to Oprah who is ending her freakishly long running talk show I would do “Rebecca’s Favorite Things”. There will be no cars given away, no iPads tucked under your seat, but there will be links! You’ll get a link! And you’ll get a link! Everybody gets a link!

The first thing I want to share is that I still LOVE, LOVE all the blogs I highlighted in last year’s “12 Days of Blogging”. I’m not going to list them all here again, why do that when you can just read last year’s post? All the blogs listed are free reading, so start reading them!

Speaking of free, on November 15th a new Girl Talk album was released. You may remember Girl Talk from my “Rethinking the Remix” article back in July of this year. Girl Talk’s new album “All Day” is fan-freakin’-tastic! High quality remixers just hear things differently from the rest of us. How else can I explain a smile inducing, rump shaking album that features a mind blowing mash up of over 350 different songs? Tempted to check it out? You can download the album free at the Illegal Art website.

Although not free, I’d like to bring attention to a book that I’ve been wanting to share with you but just haven’t managed to get a proper write up done. If you haven’t done so already, buy yourself a copy of “Witchcraft on a Shoestring: Practicing the Craft without Breaking Your Budget” by Deborah Blake. Readers know that I have myself a big ol’ girl crush on author Deborah Blake, but hey, even THE Donald Michael Kraig gave this book a tip of the hat in the comments section of my interview with him! Besides it being written by Deborah Blake, why else do I like this book you ask? Because despite its name, you don’t need to be a Witch to get a lot from this book.

I do not practice Witchcraft but I found this book full of great ideas that need not have anything to do with religious and/or magical practices. The coolest thing is there are 45 feast dishes for $10 or less! I want to try them all! Once my health is better I’ve got to start with the rum cake recipe! Yum! Hidden like little gems within the “witchy” text are great ideas for anyone! For instance, in the “Use This, Not That” chapter Blake suggests that instead of buying an expensive chalice for ritual you could buy an inexpensive glass goblet and a few markers that are made to be permanent on glass to decorate it. As a drinker, who is friends with drinkers, this is a great, affordable gift idea! She also talks about how to make your own candles, a fun Yule wreath project that could easily be suited to any family and friends occasion and more! And hey, The Magical Buffet gets an actual mention in the book! Am I blushing?

Back to free, assuming you have good internet access, there is Hulu. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Hulu, here’s the skinny from their website, Hulu is an online video service that offers a selection of hit shows, clips, movies, and more at Hulu.com. Hulu’s selection of premium programming is provided by more than 225 leading content companies, including FOX, NBC Universal, ABC, Lionsgate, MGM, National Geographic, Paramount, A&E Television Networks, PBS, and Warner Bros. Television Group.” Now they don’t offer EVERYTHING, and many of the shows on there have expiration dates where they disappear, but for the price of watching a few very short commercials you can expand your viewing at no cost.

And lastly, not to get overly sentimental, but one of my very favorite things is you. Yes, you who is reading this article. The greatest gift I get is seeing people enjoy the work I do on The Magical Buffet, and better than once a year, it’s a gift I receive generally two or three times a week! We still don’t spend a single dollar on marketing so all the readers we have are thanks to you spreading the word. And hey, if you’ve been enjoying what you read here, do me a solid and email the link to The Magical Buffet to others who you think would enjoy it too. Thanks!

Shepherd’s Pie with Dawn Hunt

By Dawn Hunt

Readers may remember that back in October I went to the wonderful Celebrate Samhain event in Peterborough, NH. While there I caught the end of Dawn Hunt’s presentation “Kitchen Witch Workshop”, and regretted not being there from the beginning. However, I started pondering what, if anything, I wanted to do to acknowledge the approaching Yule and Christmas season. Last year the totally awesome Alice Diehl wrote about holiday horror films, but sadly, I don’t think that niche has expanded enough in the passing year to address the subject matter again. Then I remembered Dawn Hunt, and the fact that I love food, and thus my cunning plan of obtaining a seasonal article and a new recipe came to fruition!

Winter. The cold nights keep us in our homes toasty warm on the sofa with a mug of hot chocolate and as the wind howls on our window panes. A fire in the hearth and our favorite holiday music in the air reminds us of childhood traditions. Somehow we all have a calling to the Kitchen to stir, bake, melt, sauté and roast. We wait all year long for December; when we can indulge in sweets, savories and our “only-during-the-holiday’s” and “handed-down-for-generations” recipes. Even though seasonal cooking is a must in my sacred Kitchen it seems to hold a bit more magic during the dark time leading up to and through Yule.

So how does a Kitchen Witch celebrate the “Most Wonderful Time of the Year”? Because Kitchen Witchery encompasses so many different forms of food magic there is no end to the wonders holiday cooking can bring to your home. Whether you want to tap into the innate magical properties of the food, use it as a symbol or just amp up the spiritual nutrition of your recipes with positive and joyful intentions, the possibilities are endless.

Family traditions play a huge roll during the holidays. So many of my family’s old Christmas traditions and recipes have made their way into my holiday season that the season would not feel complete without them. Think about your holiday traditions and your favorite childhood memories from this cold season of joy. What do you see in your mind’s eye? I see my family scrunch around my grandmother’s too-small dining room table. I am sitting at the card table that has been deemed “the Kids table” and the smell of fresh tomato sauce wafting through the air laced with the hint of roasted ham that will be the second course. I can remember how decorating the sugar cookies was my favorite part (and still is) of the cookie baking process no matter how much my hands hurt from squeezing the pastry bag full of colorful icing. The memory of my father-in-law smiling as he took a bite of the very first Christmas Eve dinner I made for the family sticks out in my mind as one of the happiest I have. All of these moments revolve around food, cooking and the dinner table.

The preparing and sharing of food is such a wonderful way to bring people together. By putting your intentions in the food, or using simple spell, or seasonal recipes you can share a bit of your craft with your loved ones. For someone like me, who was raised in a very traditional Italian Catholic family and now celebrates both the joyous celebration of the Winter Solstice as well as the Christmas holiday season, creating a meal or a dish to share I can bring a bit of my Yule celebration to Christmas dinner and enjoy the spirit of both holidays with my family. My mother always asks me to bring a salad for Christmas dinner. I know this does not sound very impressive. I mean really, who is thinking about salad when there are so many other decadent choices around the table. But my father, who is vehemently against anything green or healthy, gobbles up and goes back for seconds on my Winter Salad. Does he know that I am crumbling the gorgonzola cheese over the greens as a sympathetic magic spell to symbolize the blankets of snow that cover the green earth? Or that the cranberries hold protective powers to keep him safe through the winter months? No, but I do. And sharing a magical meal with the ones I love is the best gift I can give.

Holiday recipes range from cookies to pies to the secret herbs and spices that the turkey is cooked in. But what about all those meals leading up to the big feast of celebration. For me, the holiday food is not just for the one day but starting just after Thanksgiving. The air is cold and the need to make soups and roasts and sweet breads pretty much consumes me! This year, immediately following our first out of state Thanksgiving I just could not wait to begin the cozy nights of Winter. The tree went up and with it all the glitter, lights and ornaments that our kitties will spend the next month trying to bat off their branches. Pine scented candles were lit and I donned my ritual apron with a stag and a sun drawn on it as I prepared the first feast of the holiday season: Shepherd’s Pie.

Shepherd’s Pie is a traditional food that is great for many cold month celebrations; particularly during the festivities of Yule. This is my twist on it that will be featured in my upcoming compilation cookbook with Christopher Penczak and the Temple of Witchcraft: “Tastes of the Temple” published by Copper Cauldron Publishing. It serves 4-6 really nicely so it is ideal for gatherings and celebrations. Remember as you are cooking it that the potatoes have grounding and rooting energy. Envision being connected with the Earth and picture yourself fully grounded as you peel and mash the potatoes. Also, tap into the wisdom energy of the sage when you are putting it in the meat mixture. Sage will help you focus on answers to questions you might have. Share this hearty dish on a cold night or after a long day of hanging lights and shoveling snow. Let its warmth hug you, and your family, from the inside.

Filling
2 lbs lean ground beef/bison or lamb (or any combination of these)
1 large onion chopped fine
2 carrots diced
1 cup frozen peas
3 cloves garlic minced
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour (gluten free flour may be substituted)
1 cup beef broth
1 15oz can chopped tomatoes
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 table spoon chopped fresh sage (or 2 tsp dried)
1 table spoon chopped fresh rosemary (or 2 tsp dried)

Potato topping
4-5 large potatoes peeled and cut into chunks
2 (or to taste) table spoons butter or margarine
¼ cup milk (more if potatoes are too thick or lumpy)
2oz cream cheese
2 tablespoons sour cream
1 tablespoon parsley
Salt and pepper to taste

In a large pot, boil the potatoes until tender. Meanwhile preheat oven to 400.

While potatoes are cooking place meat in a large sauce pan or very large skillet. Cook, stirring until meat has browned and is cooked though. Add the onions, carrots, and garlic. Continue cooking about 10 minutes or until onions have softened. Stir in flour, beef broth, tomatoes, Worcestershire sauce and herbs. Simmer about 25- 30 minutes until thickened. By this time the potatoes should be ready to be mashed. Drain potatoes and add margarine, milk, cream cheese, sour cream, parsley salt and pepper. Mash until potatoes are creamy and smooth, add more milk as necessary. Set aside. When meat mixture is done cooking remove to oven safe baking pan. A large pan such as you might use for lasagna will do the trick. Spoon the mashed potatoes gently on top of the meat mixture and smooth with the back side of a large spoon. Be sure to spread the potatoes so that no meat mixture is visible from the top. Place pan on a cookie sheet or aluminum foil (to prevent spilling in the oven) in the oven and cook for about 30 minutes or until potatoes are golden brown.

About Dawn:
Dawn Hunt is the owner/president of Cucina Aurora Kitchen Witchery. Her products include everything from Herb and Energy infused olive oils to cooking tools. Her self-published cookbook has sold more than 250 copies in 6 months. She is currently working on a compilation Cookbook with Christopher Penczak and the Temple of Witchcraft called “Tastes of the Temple” due out in 2011. She teaches classes on Kitchen Witchery, Food Magic, and Seasonal Cooking on the East Coast. To find out more information, to purchase products, or for booking visit www.CucinaAurora.com.

10 Questions with Dr. Bob Curran

1. I love your latest book “Man-Made Monsters: A Field Guide to Golems, Patchwork Soldiers, Homunculi, and Other Created Creatures”. I was amazed to find so many different types of “created creatures”! Were you surprised to learn what a vast topic this was?

I suppose the answer to this question is both yes and no. I was well aware that the notion of “created creatures” was prevalent in both folklore and history but I suppose I hadn’t realized just how prevalent. When I was asked to write the book by the publisher, I initially had of course in the back of my mind, the idea of Frankenstein and so forth but as I thought more about it, other ideas began to pop up – the Golem, homunculi etc. Maybe we’ve become so used to the idea of Frankenstein, mainly through popular culture, that a lot of these other ideas get pushed to the side – but they’re still there. The idea of being able to create life for them selves, independent of any Supreme Bring, seems to have intrigued our ancestors down the years and this has manifested itself through the folklore and traditions of groups and civilizations in the past. So it’s not really surprising that the topic is an extremely vast.

2. Your book is a reasonable, respectable 185 pages. With such an interesting and diverse topic to discuss, was it hard to not end up writing a gigantic tomb? Did a lot need to be cut throughout the editing process?

This of course leads on from my first point. Because the idea of life-creation is so fundamental to us, it has generated a great deal of speculation – scientific, literary and folkloric – all as you rightly say very diverse in both scope and nature. Therefore, when I was researching the topic I came up with a massive amount of information and I think, if I had not been limited, I could have written a book which was twice as long. Before I finally submitted it to the publisher I had to go through a fairly rigorous editing process which cut out some rather interesting material which unfortunately had to be sacrificed. And of course I should pay tribute to my publishing editor, Gina, who did a first class job as ever. There’s always the possibility of another book in order to use the edited material you know!

3. In discussing probably the most iconic of man-made monsters, Dr. Frankenstein’s monster, you tell the tale of Giovanni Aldini, Mr. Pass, and George Foster, and how their story may have influenced and informed Mary Shelley when writing “Frankenstein”. It’s such a fascinating tale, have you considered turning your section about the trio into a screen play?

I’m glad you found the story of Giovani Aldini, the tragic George Foster and the mysterious Mr. Pass – possibly one of the influences for Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” – so fascinating. I found it so myself, possibly because of the colorful characters and the development of the story itself. In fact I would agree with you that there is the basis there for a novel or a film – all the elements are in place. I think there have been a couple of drama-documentaries made for television but they were very short and perhaps didn’t do full justice to the subject. But yes, turning the section into a screenplay is certainly an idea worth thinking about. Judging by the response I’ve received from some of the readers it would certainly be a hit.

4. When doing research for “Man-Made Monsters”, were you surprised to find so many stories of created creatures linked to religions?

Not really. One of the most fundamental questions which man has faced down the centuries is “Who or what created me?” or much broader terms “How did life – both human and animal – come about?” For many people the answer was linked to some sort of supernatural belief. This has often been linked into the idea of a Creator Being which usually forms the basis of religious ideology. Thus in, say, Judaism and Christianity, the idea that man was created by God “from the dust of the earth” is taken as a fundamental principle and is still accepted by many people today. The question then arises – “Can man also create beings – with or without the help of a Supreme Being?” . The answer in some circles seems to have been “yes” but not as perfectly as those which the Supreme Being had created. This of course led to the fear that the beings so created would be monsters. But the root of that belief and fear lay in a religious perception and I don’t really think that the idea of life-creation can be easily disentangled from religion.

5. Do you think there is something to learn about humanity by studying our history and fascination with creating life outside of the natural order?

I certainly think that there’s something to be learned by studying these legends and beliefs which is why I think I write about them. All these old legends – not just those about the creation of life outside the natural order but also those about vampires, werewolves and other terrors – address very fundamental questions and provide an interpretation of the world which out ancestors used with the information that they had available to them. In this respect, these old stories and legends are in many respects as important as the actual historical documentation that has come down to us because they provide an insight into the thought processes of former times. This is what I try to explore in my books and I think the question is not “Do these things exist or have they happened?” but “Why do we want to believe in them or that they happened?” Many of these so-called “horrors” have continued to fascinate us both in books and film for many, many years. I think if we explore further into any of these subjects, it tells us a bit more about ourselves.

6. Out of the diverse bunch of man-made monsters you discuss in your book, which one is your favorite and why?

I don’t think I have a particular favorite since all of these beings interest me. Of course, I was intrigued by the myth of Frankenstein, simply because it’s so culturally known and I had read Mary Shelly’s iconic book many years ago. As well as that I’d watched all the old Frankenstein black and white films , and it had always intrigued me. But then I was also interested in the Golem and in the works of the early alchemists. And as I dug more deeply, researching the book, I came across more and more interesting things – ancient mechanisms and mechanical beings for example – and as I looked at them, the more my interest grew. So I suppose asking me to choose between them is like asking me to choose between my children – all have their own differences and fascinations so it’s really impossible for me to pick. If I was actually forced to, I would perhaps say Frankenstein, mainly because of the interesting story of Giovanni Aldini, but I’m not really sure.

7. One of my favorite creatures discussed in your book is the Golem. Can you tell my readers a little bit about them?

The Golem springs from Jewish tradition and folklore. Once again it addresses the question – “Can Humanity itself create life?” – which taxed certain of the early Hebrew thinkers. The answer was that Mankind might be able to create life but that it would do so imperfectly. Even God, it was suggested, had created an imperfect prototype – Adam Kadmon – before He actually created Adam. The Golem was a large man-like figure which was created out of clay but had only a limited intelligence. It could only be created by the holiest rabbis, using a formula which had been learned directly from God Himself, through the secret Book of Creation (the Sefer Yetzirah). Part of the formula was to write the word or a number of signs (aleph) emet (meaning “truth”) on its forehead or on a clay tablet which was placed under the figure’s tongue and this would bring it to life. In some cases the word was supposedly written in the rabbis own blood. However, it should be stressed that the word alone would not give life but the accompanying rituals and observances. In order to destroy the Golem, the first aleph was removed leaving met (meaning “dirt” or “inert matter”) whereupon the Golem would crumble and return to dust. A number of extremely holy rabbis allegedly created Golems but not one was really able to control them properly. The most famous Golem was said to have been created by Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel, the Maharal of Prague (c1520- 1609). The creature was created at a time of great Jewish persecutions by Christians in Prague by Rudolph II, King of Bohemia and Holy Roman Emperor and was designed to protect the Jewish community. However, the Golem became too powerful and began to develop a consciousness of its own (as some of them were said to have done) and began to attack the Christian quarter of the city, killing many Christians there. The Marharal was forced to confront the creature on the steps of what is now the Old New Synagogue in Prague. According to one version of the tale, Rabbi Loew tricked the Golem into either bowing down or opening its mouth to sing Psalm 92 (which was being sung when the Golem arrived) and removing the clay tablet. However the Golem did not return to dust but rather remained inert and was stored in the geniza (a place where religious documents are kept) of the synagogue. It is supposedly there to this day. There are many stories around it such as one that in World War II it attacked Nazi soldiers who were going to destroy the synagogue. Indeed today the Chief Rabbi of Prague, Karel Sidon, receives hundreds to requests to visit the geniza of the Old New Synagogue to see if the Golem is there – all of which are refused. However, the Golem is still a figure of Jewish folklore and one which I, like yourself, found particularly intriguing.

8. Swamp Thing: Alex Olsen, Alec Holland, or an elemental entity that mistakenly thinks it’s Alec Holland?

Like yourself, perhaps, I was a fan of DC Comics – I still maintain a great interest in them – and picked up on the Swamp Thing in the early days. I haven’t been following it recently though, although I think it’s still going in various forms. It’s an intriguing entity because it looks at a number of issues. As you quite rightly point out, there were all sorts of entities which were believed in many cultures to lives in the various swamps and marshes of several countries. So it could be places in one of those categories. There were, however, too creatures which lived particularly in parts of America during the 1800s which were said to be the spawn of swamp creatures and runaway slaves. Some were said to be genetic mutations caused by inbreeding amongst settlers in the deep swamplands. Such beings were supposedly prevalent in the Louisiana and Florida swamps and were supposed to attack travelers who came through their area. Later, as cultural referents changed, these became the supposed results of scientific/genetic experimentation which are said to be still there. Even in places such as Michigan and in the Kirtland area of Cleveland, Ohio we find legends of the “Melon Heads” which are said to be the result of experimentation . So these elements also feature in the idea of the Swamp Thing. When we first talked about Man Made Monsters, I talked with the publisher about including such things, even Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde but it was agreed that we would keep it to easily identifiable creatures for this book. But you never know, there may be another book on the subject further along the line and then I may get round to tackling the iconic image of Dr. Alec Holland.

9. What’s your next project my readers can look forward to?

We’re looking at a number of options at the moment. This year I’ve produced about four or five books – some in America, some elsewhere and in a number of languages – and I’m taking a little bit of a breather in the run-down to Christmas and take a bit of time with my family. I’m also doing some comic work – I used to work scripting comics – and book design, so I’m not really idle. But I’m still talking about a new book, particularly with New Page, but I don’t want to say too much as the ideas are still being considered. But one thing I will say – here will be a new book out next year and I think I will be part of an anthology which is coming out from New Page. I’ve been asked to contribute and the contribution is already written. So watch this space!

10. Parting shot! Ask us here at The Magical Buffet any one question.

O.K. Is there really a Santa Claus?

Absolutely, because I believe in justice, mercy, and duty.

Perhaps I should explain, my answer is informed from my reading of “The Hogfather” by Terry Pratchett. In it Death and his granddaughter Susan work together to save the Hogfather or else the sun would not rise. Pratchett’s Death (who speaks all in capital letters) starts:

      WHAT WOULD HAVE HAPPENED IF YOU HADN’T SAVED HIM?
      “Yes! The sun would have risen just the same, yes?”
      NO.
      “Oh come on. You can’t expect me to believe that. It’s an astronomical fact.”
      THE SUN WOULD NOT HAVE RISEN.
      She turned on him.
      “It’s been a long night, Grandfather! I’m tired and I need a bath! I don’t need this silliness!”
      THE SUN WOULD NOT HAVE RISEN.
      “Really? Then what would have happened, pray?”
      A MERE BALL OF FLAMING GAS WOULD HAVE ILLUMINATED THE WORLD.
      They walked in silence for a moment.
      “Ah,” said Susan dully. “Trickery with words. I would have thought you’d have been more literal-minded than that.”
      I AM NOTHING IF NOT LITERAL-MINDED. TRICKERY WITH WORDS IS WHERE HUMANS LIVE.
      “All right,” said Susan. “I’m not stupid. You’re saying humans need…fantasies to make life bearable.”
      REALLY? AS IF IT WAS SOME KIND OF PINK PILL? NO. HUMANS NEED FANTASY TO BE HUMAN. TO BE THE PLACE WHERE FALLING ANGEL MEETS THE RISING APE.
      “Tooth fairies? Hogfathers? Little – “
      YES. AS PRACTICE. YOU HAVE TO START OUT LEARNING TO BELIEVE THE LITTLE LIES.
      “So we can believe the big ones?”
      YES. JUSTICE. MERCY. DUTY. THAT SORT OF THING.
      “They’re not the same at all!”
      YOU THINK SO? THEN TAKE THE UNIVERSE AND GRIND IT DOWN TO THE FINEST POWDER AND SIEVE IT THROUGH THE FINEST SIEVE AND THEN SHOW ME ONE ATOM OF JUSTICE, ONE MOLECULE OF MERCY. AND YET – Death waved a hand. AND YET YOU ACT AS IF THERE IS SOME IDEAL ORDER IN THE UNIVERSE BY WHICH IT MAY BE JUDGED.
      “Yes, but people have got to believe that, or what’s the point – “
      MY POINT EXACTLY.

So yes Dr. Curran, there absolutely really is a Santa Claus.

About Dr. Curran:
Dr. Bob Curran was born and raised in a remote mountain area of County Down in Northern Ireland. Leaving school at 14, he worked in a number of jobs including gravedigger, lorry driver, professional musician, journalist, and even as a scripter of comics. He traveled extensively in many countries before returning home to settle down and work in the Civil Service. Later, he went to University where he obtained degrees in education, history, and educational psychology, whereupon graduating as a teacher.

Although he still teaches, much of his work is now regarding community development within Northern Ireland. In this capacity, he acts as a consultant to a number of cultural bodies within the Province. He deals with cross‐border matters with the Irish Republic, working for the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland.

Sitting on a number of cultural committees, Curran has also worked directly as a governmental advisor and as a consultant to several bodies which have been set up by other governments. He also acts as a consultant to a number of tourism companies, giving lectures and conducting tours on many topics of local and national Irish history.

As a writer, Curran has been extremely prolific and has approximately 38 books to his name mainly on the subjects of history and culture. In addition, he has a number of works published in other languages including Japanese, Italian, French, Portuguese (Brazil), Spanish (Spain and Mexico), German, Urdu and Latvian. He has also served as a contributor and consultant to various radio and television programs both for private companies and national networks.

Married and with a young family, Curran continues to live in Northern Ireland on the picturesque North Derry coast, not far from the celebrated Giant’s Causeway.

To see all of his work available from New Page Books, visit their website.

NNYPRS Tech Council: TOD

By Brian Leighton

This past October I attended the 2nd Annual Northern New York Paranormal Expo put together by the City of Plattsburgh and the Northern New York Paranormal Research Society. While there I fell in love with TOD, the adorable Terrestrial Optical Droid new to the NNYPRS. After reading my article about the event, Brian Leighton who has been writing about paranormal research technology for The Magical Buffet, jumped to the obvious conclusion that I would want a whole article devoted to TOD. He was right.

From a box of junk comes our newest team member.

One of the great things about being a geek, I mean head of the NNYPRS Tech Council, is that friends and family give me all kinds of stuff that they don’t need any more. Sometimes what I get is pure junk, but sometimes I hit the jackpot!!! This was the case recently when my brother, preparing for an out of state move, decided to get rid of some of his stuff. I ended up with two big plastic totes of stuff that makes geeks like me drool, among them was an interesting toy.

It’s called SPYKEE and it is a remote controlled robot. We have nicknamed him TOD, it stands for Terrestrial Optical Droid, He is named after a former team member whose sole desire on an investigation was to climb into attics and crawlspaces so that he could get a thrill. TOD is outfitted with a camera, microphone, and I control it with my laptop or my android based phone. Now aside from the fact that I am a big kid and this thing is cool, this is a very practical tool for our paranormal team. We often get claims of noises in areas that my 6’3″ 350lb frame can’t fit in. That is where TOD comes into play, I have modified him to make him more compact and he now carries a more powerful light to see in the dark. So now when we get a report of a noise in a crawlspace or attic, I can run him into the area and transmit noises through him to track his exact location. Once I get to the correct area, I can use the camera to see if there are any loose pipes, animal droppings or nests and then take pictures to show the client. Now TOD has a few other tricks up his sleeves…well he doesn’t have arms anymore. He also carries a microphone so I can actually monitor an area and run an EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomenon) session with no human presence. He also has an alarm setting so that if the camera detects any movement he sends an alarm to me through my laptop or phone.

That is one of the great things we do at the Tech Council, we turn things that people don’t want into tools that people don’t expect. Like most of my tools TOD is getting upgrades very soon. His next upgrade is a better quality camera and I am currently putting together the parts to make that camera pan and tilt so that I can get a better view of my surroundings. Those are some of the newest tools (toys) that we are developing within the Tech Council.

Some of the other tools we are currently working on – a Hydrophone made form an old buzzer and a 35mm film case, an underwater camera made from an old web camera and clear housing. Both of these are being tested for our Champy investigation we are going to do on Lake Champlain this summer.

If you’re interested in finding out more about our group visit us at www.nnyprs.com. And if you are interested in attending one of our Investigative seminars in Albany, NY then send me an email at Brian@nnyprs.com.

Brian following TOD's adventures on his laptop.

About Brian Leighton:
Brian Is the NNYPRS Team Leader and head of the Tech Council. You can contact him at Brian@nnyprs.com with any question or comments.

Geek Month in Review: November 2010

By JB Sanders

All things geeky in November. Or at least, all things geeky that I read about and remembered to jot down.

Holographic Displays — now with more ethernet!
Remember Star Wars? And all those holographic conversations? Well, coming to a computer near you — soon!

Trivia: the word “hogel” refers to a holographic pixel.

Twenty Thousand Terabytes Under the Mountain
Want the ultimate in data security? How about a Swiss nuclear-proof bunker in the Alps? Take a tour of the facility with Wired.

Come for the Qubits, Stay for the Resonators
Lots of research being done on creating a quantum computer, by IBM and various academic laboratories around the world. The article is pretty dry until it gets to the part where they start talking about qubits and resonators, when it becomes a gold mine of (apparently) technobabble terms for a computational device that not many people completely understand. Bonus: picture of a four qubit chip.

Batman, On the Road
Used to be, traveling players put on shows with painted canvases, wooden props and fancy costumes. These days, it’s all pyrotechnics, animatronics, giant TV screens and stunts. Of course, when it’s Batman as the subject matter, you just have to go that extra mile.

Here There Be RPG’ers
I just love me some maps. This is a beauty sent in by a faithful reader (Hi, Matt!). It shows all the RPG-related forums online, in good-old-fashioned hex-map format, where 1 hex equals 1000 members, and then organized into vaguely related islands. My favorite RPG country? The Sunken Ruins of Usenet (an ancient empire).

Just Print Another Head
The article is about how 3D printers may soon run into the same intellectual property rights problems that computers, photocopiers and VCR’s did in earlier decades. Only this time, of course, it might be patent holders rather than copyright holders you have to worry about. And there is no “fair use” in US patent law.

It’s also a great quickie overview of the various 3D printers out there, with movies showing them off. There’s the RepRap, a 3D printer you can build yourself for just a few hundred dollars that can also print most of the parts it needs to build another copy of itself. That’s right — build one and print the rest!

Don’t know what 3D printers are? Go here.

How to Outdo Your Neighbors’ Light Displays
That string of lights? So last century. The glowing plastic Santa? Done. How about if the entire building is lit up and with far more than just 1000 tiny bulbs? Check out this “Light artist” who uses projectors and the facade of the building itself to create some seriously cool displays.

Beauty is NOT in the Eye of the Beholder
No, apparently it’s something your good genes made possible. Really! Also, this TED presentation has some great hand-drawn animation to help the narration along.

How Close Are We to Dick Tracy Watches? Pretty Damned Close.

So, it’s just a funky plastic-and-metal wrist-watch thing that you can put an iPod Nano into and pop onto your wrist, yes. But think about the future. Apple has already got forward-facing cameras on it’s iPod Touch. How long before these things have cameras and wireless? Not too many years now. Of course, Dick Tracey couldn’t play music on his wrist-TV, either.

Barefoot Shoes
I don’t know if these count as Geeky or not, but they are definitely WEIRD. These are plastic, articulated shoes that have little special bits for all your individual toes. They’re molded to your feat. So the theory is that they’re like going barefoot, but with protection for your feet.

Print Your Own Roads
Here’s a video of a machine that lays a cobblestone (cobblestone!) road much like a printer puts down the printed page. Well, mostly. In this case, the “printhead” is provided by 3 guys putting the paving stones in the right places as the machine lays the road, but still — very cool.

Read by the Light of the … Trees?
Scientists have found a way to use gold nano-particles to make tree leaves bioluminescent. Interesting, but what if you turned that into a large-scale civic project to replace street lights with trees that GLOW?

Here is the science.

Here is the mind-bending thought experiment.

Fishing in a Manhattan Basement
It’s a surrealist picture of an actual life event: in a stream bubbling through the basement of a building in Manhattan, this guy caught a fish. It’s a bit like a scene from an unlikely urban fantasy novel.

Tim Burton’s Stainboy
Collaborative story-writing the Twitter way. Tim Burton started a short story with a tweet, and is inviting other people to contribute to it, 140 characters at a time.

Package Care
Which of the big three shippers (UPS, FedEx, USPS) handles packages the nicest? Popular Mechanics decided to do a few little tests and shipped live testing equipment in a package.

The UK Geek Calendar
Sort of a pin-up calendar of UK geekdom. And by pin-up, I mean photographic portraits (all fully clothed, thankfully).

What’s That From??
Ever wonder where a particularly funny quote came from? I do, all the time. Now there’s a website which caters to my particular memory-loss. Suzbin will take a quote and tell you what movie it appeared in, what time-code the quote happened at and give you a link to the Netflix copy of the movie. How’s that for service?

Warm Up the DeLorean!
It’s a fully articulated scale model of the time-traveling DeLorean from Back to the Future. PLUS it’s a 500GB external drive. The amusing thing here is that it’s designed to work with Apple’s Time Machine program (which does back-ups automatically to an external drive).

About John:
John’s a geek from way back. He’s been floating between various computer-related jobs for years, until he settled into doing tech support in higher ed. Now he rules the Macs on campus with an iron hand (really, it’s on his desk).

Geek Credentials:
RPG: Blue box D&D, lead minis, been to GenCon in Milwaukee.
Computer: TRS-80 Color Computer, Amiga 1000, UNIX system w/reel-to-reel backup tape
Card games: bought Magic cards at GenCon in 1993
Science: Met Phil Plait, got time on a mainframe for astronomy project in 1983
His Blog: http://glenandtyler.blogspot.com

Cruisin’ with Dr. Boozin’: Part Two

Welcome back to “Cruisin’ with Dr. Boozin'”! Last week we talked about Sparkling Mojitos and Caipirinhas. However this week is where all the action is, this week we dive into Rum Swizzle versus Dark and Stormy and at last reveal why these articles have been titled “Cruisin’ with Dr. Boozin'”! Let’s get to it, shall we?

First let me talk about the Rum Swizzle. It’s a sweet and tangy fruit punch with rum, essentially. Wikipedia lists the ingredients as dark rum, lime juice, pineapple juice, and Falernum. Remember Falernum from “Making Zombies“? I used Wikipedia’s listing because it’s as good as any. When dealing with fruit juice rum cocktails you’ll find dozens of different ratios using a variety of different ingredients and they will all be called Rum Swizzles. What you need to know is that they are darn tasty. It’s also worth mentioning that speaking with people in Bermuda about Rum Swizzles is a great way to get in good with the locals. The woman who sold me my box of Rum Swizzle mix and other assorted tourist sundries eyes lit up when discussing Rum Swizzles with me and my husband. To the point where a line formed behind us and she just didn’t care. Bermudans are a Rum Swizzle loving people my friend. God bless them all.

However, if you’re looking to be viewed as a certified bad ass, a 100% non-annoying tourist, by bartenders and locals alike, you’ve got to order yourself up a Dark and Stormy. You may recall that on this year’s International Talk Like a Pirate Day I shared with everyone my favorite Dark and Stormy recipe. The Dark and Stormy got a lot of love that day from readers. The comment that I truly love came from Katherine, who pointed out that technically you need to use Gosling’s Black Seal rum to make a legitimate Dark and Stormy. I loved that one of my readers knew that! Well I am here to tell you that the recipe I provided makes one tasty, tasty cocktail, but having had a chance to reacquaint myself with the drink as made by Caribbean bartenders I can tell you, I got it wrong.

How was it wrong? It is really about ratios. The bartenders I dealt with used Gosling’s Black Seal rum and Gosling’s Ginger beer to make Dark and Stormies. Upon returning home from Bermuda I experimented and yes, Gosling’s Black Seal rum and Gosling’s Ginger beer or Barritts Bermuda Stone Ginger beer make the “truest” Dark and Stormy, but I still got solid results using my original pairing of Reed’s Ginger beer and Castillo Spiced Puerto Rican rum. The difference is, get rid of the pint glass and get yourself a 10 ounce-ish “juice” glass or tumbler. Fill said tumbler with ice, fill with ginger beer until near the top, then slowly pour a shot of your favorite rum on top to make it pretty. Although pretty you’ll want to stir it before drinking. If you care less about pretty, pour the shot in first and top it off with ginger beer, then it mixes itself for you.

Here’s the deal though folks, according to many (like Wikipedia) there is a debate about what drink is the “official” drink of Bermuda. Is it the Rum Swizzle or the Dark and Stormy? I’m not an expert, but pound for pound, or more appropriately, glass for glass, the amount of respect bestowed upon yours truly for ordering up a Dark and Stormy far out weighed the affection I was shown for a Rum Swizzle. The first night that we all went to the jazz bar on the ship I sat down and ordered a Dark and Stormy. The bartender gave me an impressed nod. When my parents joined us I ordered another Dark and Stormy my father did as well. My second Dark and Stormy showed up two degrees darker than my father’s. The down side perhaps of getting a bartender’s respect. After they left and I ordered a third one when some friends of ours joined us, the bartender said we were “cruisin’ with doctor boozin'” now. Oddly enough, on a different night there, with a different bartender, we were told we were “cruisin’ with doctor boozin'”. I guess a lot of bartenders have PhDs. Who knew?

As far as I’m concerned, the Dark and Stormy will always be the big winner. Look at it here. That’s a sexy looking drink. No sissy looking umbrellas or fruit skewers. The Dark and Stormy, if not the “official” drink of Bermuda, it’s certainly the official drink of Rebecca.

A sexy, sexy Dark and Stormy

Playing Dreidel

Here it is, Hanukkah time again. Last year I shared with all of you my collection of menorahs, and sadly, that appears to be the last time Judaism was featured on The Magical Buffet. Fortunately this year I have something fun to share with all of you for the 2010 Hanukkah season…..my little dreidel collection!

A dreidel is a four sided spinning top that has a different Hebrew character on each side. It’s a game traditionally played during Hanukkah. Players start with an equal number of tokens, these can be pennies, candy, whatever. At the beginning of each round every player puts a token in the pot. Any time the pot is empty or only has one token left every one should pitch in another token. Each player takes a turn spinning the top, the dreidel, and depending on what symbol comes up determines what happens.

If you get Gimmel; you get everything in the pot.

Gimmel

If you get Hey; you get half of the pot.

Hey (Or is it Hay?)

If you get Shin; you add a token to the pot.

Shin

If you get Nun; nothing happens.

Nun

The game is over once the pot is empty.

Even as I child, each year my father would have to write down the Hebrew characters and what they meant with regards to the game. Thus it should surprise no one that I had to look up how to play to write this little article. It’s been years, many years, since I’ve played dreidel but I’ve never gotten rid of the dreidels I’ve received as gifts from family. Much like the menorahs I keep, they’re just so beautiful and so varied I’ve kept them all these years.

Happy Hanukkah!