Medieval Bathing Link Round Up – watch out there’s nudity!

I knew almost nothing about how people in pre-modern Europe took baths at the start of yesterday and then fell down a rabbit hole and learned all sorts of things.

So to start:

  • Obviously, I knew the Romans had communal baths and England even has a town named after the fact (Manchester*)
  • Jewish and Islamic cultures had there own things going on with baths and bathing.
  • Russia, Finland and Scandinavia had a whole bunch of other things going on with saunas.
  • Yes, there are blogs about medieval baths.

This article seems to be a very good overview of baths and bathing

“The use of couple bathing as a romantic prelude to coition is demonstrated in 14th through 16th century illustrations. Legal history suggests that ordinary public bath-houses were often segregated by gender, or different times or days were restricted for each gender. Private bath-rooms in castles, such as the one at Leeds, could often accommodate multiple bathers as well.”

Running through this is history are several contrasting themes:

  • Baths as a source of cleanliness and the association of cleanliness with virtue and health.
  • Baths as a recreational activity, a luxury and a source of luxury.
  • Baths as sexy.
  • Baths as not-at-all sexy as you had to have your bath by yourself in clothes and with cold water.
  • Baths as social activities.
  • Baths as a dangerous source of disease (not without cause because people mingling but often based on spurious theories).

Fair to say that the messages around baths and bathing were a bit mixed for much of European history.

I don’t know how well sourced some of these claims are so please do your own due diligence. However, I liked this snippet:

“Meanwhile, the Anglo-Saxons believed that the Vikings were overly concerned with cleanliness since they took a bath once a week.”

And this snippet with accompanying picture:

“In her book Clean: A History of Personal Hygiene and Purity Virginia Smith explains,”By the fifteenth-century, bath feasting in many town bathhouses seems to have been as common as going out to a restaurant was to become four centuries later. German bath etchings from the fifteenth century often feature the town bathhouse, with a long row of bathing couples eating a meal naked in bathtubs, often several to a tub, with other couples seen smiling in beds in the mid-distance.””


The Wikipedia article has a broad survey of public bathing

This post is another broad overview:

“King Henry III even had a special room for the purpose of washing his hair.”

And here we get an overview that includes brushing your teeth:

*[OK not Manchester but it is funnier if it is Manchester]

Speaking of Fantastical Drawings…

Has the secret of the Voynich Manuscript been revealed! No, probably not. See here for background

The Guardian article relates to a claim in the foreword of a new facsimile edition of the infamously inscrutable book.

“Pointing to the fact that the pictures show only nude women and no men, Skinner told the Guardian: “The only place you see women like that bathing together in Europe at that time was in the purification baths that have been used by Orthodox Jews for the last 2,000 years.”

He believes the drawings were of an invention designed by the mysterious author that aimed to ensure an efficient supply of clean water to a mikvah. “I think there is no other explanation for what they are: it is either rank fantasy by the author – which doesn’t really fit with the medical, herbal and cosmological sections of the manuscript – or it is a mikvah,” he said.”

Here is an example of one of the women bathing images:


I’m not saying that the original author couldn’t have been both Italian and Jewish. Italian is not unlikely given the book’s history and learned Jewish doctors were writing books in fifteenth-century Italy. It’s as good as guess as any. However, the idea that the pictures must represent something the original author must have seen doesn’t hold water. While the detailed plant images suggest drawings of real (but perhaps unusual) plants, the various ‘women bathing’ images are very inventive:


[more here ]

The work overall is very visually imaginative, so while it isn’t impossible the author was inspired by ritual baths, “women having a bath” wouldn’t be the hardest thing to imagine for the author without having a particular inspiration – particularly compared with women having a bath in convoluted, quasi-organic contraptions that spill around the whole page.

Maybe the author just liked the idea of having baths with other women or just liked imagining women naked having baths in really freaky plumbing. Either way, the author clearly had an extraordinary visual imagination (if not always the best drawing skills).


Interactive Map!

Sadly, I can’t make an interactive map on the blog because of the way WordPress works. However, over in my more tinkering friendly workshop…

That was a fun exercise – basically, it uses Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) and Javascript. The SVG is exported from the graphic program I made the original map in but I can access each layer programmatically. Learning is fun! Nerdy learning is funner! Nerdy learning with graphics is funnest!

Speaking of fun – Paul Weimer has written a defence of fantasy maps (or at least a defence of the good ones)

Revisiting the Map of Middle Earth

So I’m back on a map kick it seems.

I thought I’d look at the most classic of fantasy maps again but from a different perspective. Part of the problem and the attraction of Tolkien’s original map is the additional detail and a sense of a bigger explorable world. What happens if we strip that away and while we are at it making the right-angle problem a bit worse?


Continue reading “Revisiting the Map of Middle Earth”

Some Fantasy Map Links Round Up Thing

This article by Alex Acks at is nearly a month old now but I did mean to post a link to it because it is is very good: The article looks specifically at the iconic map of Middle Earth by J.R.R.Tolkien. (Also read this previous column which is less specifically about maps but more about geography )

More recently Alex Acks has written a more general set of geomorphological issues with fantasy maps in the provocatively titled I Don’t Like Fantasy Maps

A broader discussion of maps in fantasy literature appeared mid-August at Longreads here by Adrian Duab (and also links to Alex Acks’s article)

And chasing links in that article will take you to the website home of a fun Twitter account that generates plausible looking fictional maps Worth checking out other things there including the original Deserts of the West and the Emoji Map generator. Also, a write up on Martin O’Leary’s map bots at National Geographic 

Going back to 2015 a more manual way of making less dodgy fantasy maps: 

While I’m here and heading back further in time:

Wired article on Jonathan Roberts 2013

And his blog on how to draw fantasy maps

A different Jonathan – Jonathan Crowe – with a 2013 article on another problem with fantasy maps: they are anachronistic and follow modern sensibility of maps rather than according to the pseudo-medieval settings of the books

A collection of notable fantasy maps from io9 in 2013

And last but not least a how-to from i09 in 2015

[ETA This article by Sarah Gailey about her map of alt-history Louisianna for River of Teeth  ]

[ETA Paul Weimer has a new post partly in response to Alex Acks’s post ]

[ETA Fantasy city generator ]



Worldcon Report from Timothy the Talking Cat

Worldcon Report from Timothy the Talking Cat: From the pen of Timothy the Talking Cat

Worldcon! The great science fiction gathering of the tribes! Of course, the many quasi-Stalinist squirrel lovers that now make up the membership of this formerly grand institution probably would have little time for a free-thinking, freedom loving feline like my self! But let not the stupid heads and silly bills of the world limit my adventures! Truly, it is like a vocation, nay! a calling for me to take the message of brilliantly editing science fiction of a kind only a hyper-intelligent 12 sigma IQ can do is manifestly what a cat once hailed as the new new new new Heinlein and a veritable maestro of the written word who treats grammar like the mouse-like plaything of an apex predator and cares NOT A FIG about those who moan and whine about overly verbose sentences as if I somehow can’t keep a train of thought together in one grammatical unit. It is the critics who don’t get me – I fully comprehend their dark souls in a way they never can.

I set to packing: fame my calling and Worldcon my destination! Enter Mr I-Hate-Freedom with his stupid questions.

What you doing? Asks Camshaft Flugelhorn. Packing for Worldcon – I explain with disdain because I would not remain in this terrain as I made plain (see: poetry – no word form have I not mastered).

“I think,” which he plainly doesn’t do very well which is why it is such a big deal when he manages it, “that was the other week.”

“No,” I replied with the deep abiding confidence of an alpha-male, “I think it is this week. Are you trying to say I don’t know how to read a calendar?” I gave a derisory sniff and returned to my packing.

“I think we both recall you shouting ‘FAKE NEWS’ at February 29, 2016, for at least two weeks.” said my Stalinistic interrogator, incapable of knowing how the truly free-spirited person is – untamed by STATE SPONSORED manipulation and artificial constructs like so-called “leap years”.

I sat on the bed next to the pile of half frozen fish fingers I was packing into my Louis Vuitton clutch purse and looked up at the dim-witted fool who was under the misguided impression that this was his bedroom. I explained to him how, aside from the fact that Worldcon needs my presence, that I also fully expected to win a Hugo Award for Best Cat Who Edited Something. Oh, Camtrak Freightrain then goes into denial spouting off all sorts of nonsense: there’s no such award he says, the nominees have already been published he says, the award ceremony already happened and it was in the news and everything he says – like that proves anything these days with the lying media spinning all sorts of wild stories. I patiently explained to the poor, poor intellectually limited creature about the role of write-in candidates, jury nullification and how, if you write your name in capitals like this -TIMOTHY THE TALKING CAT – then you get to win all the lawsuits and not pay taxes. “You’d have to start earning some money to pay taxes,” mumbled Camphor Flushwipe sarcastically, knowing he was beaten by a higher intellect.

There are seven stages of denial. I think the last one is grief. The first stage is stupid arguments about calendars. Even though he should have known he was beaten, we went straight to the infamous second stage of denial: pointing at a map and shouting about Finland.

“Hell’s Inky!” shouted Camisole Fellover.

“Is it? Is it the souls of bad squid? Or is it an ironic punishment for evil journalists?” I was intrigued by this sudden shift into descriptions of the afterlife.

“No, I said Hell Sinky.” He replied using a tone that implied that I rather than he was the exasperating one. “It is the capital city!”

“Sinky is the capital of Hell?” I said saidingly.

“No, Dis is the capital of Hell (according to Dante). Helsinki is the Capital of Finland” he replied dimwittedly and yet also pedantically.

“This is the capital of hell?” I asked, holding up a crumbling fish stick becoming confused by his irrational chain of thought.

“No this is just some kind of hell on earth for me. Look I get why you are trying to run away but you are just putting off the inevitable.”

I stared at the poor fool whose brain was clearly atrophying from reading far too many social-justice message fiction books about feminist zombie computer people being lesbians in space (or who knows what because really I can’t be doing with all that). A cat has to have standards and mine included a minimum number of space battles and vampires per book.

Then he hits himself on the forehead. This is how he gets ideas. He hits himself and that jolts the vestigial neutrons that otherwise just keep him breathing and they form an idea and then he explains it. Sometimes when I need him to think of something I hit his forehead but it doesn’t work when I do it – he just says “ouch” or “Go away Timothy I’m trying to sleep.”

THEN he gets this kind of sneaky look on his face and says “Hmmmmm maybe you SHOULD go to Worldcon after all…”

Well if that isn’t suspicious I don’t know what is, so I say: “Only if I get to meet Jim C Hines.” Why you may ask? Well, that was just the first terrible leftist author name I could think of who is the sort of terrible leftist author who would hang out at Worldcon.

“OK but there are two conditions. One you have to get into this special Worldcon travel pet carrier box – it is the only way to get to Finland because of um, Santa Claus controlling the airspace and he has, um, a fear of cats so I’ll have to put this dark cover over the box. Two, I have to make some phone calls first.”

Well, that was the first bit of good news I had had all day. Bless his feeble heart, he had coincidentally organised a special cat box that was perfect for taking me to Worldcon! Hoorah!

Cambodia Fenestrator bumbled off presumably to talk to the travel agent, airline and Hugo Award ceremony committee, while I hastily finished my packing.

Worldcon here I come!

The journey was surprisingly short and uneventful, almost as if we had travelled to just the next town over while strapped to a moped.

When the cover was taken off and I was released from the box, I got my first glimpse of the convention hall. It was disappointedly small. A few chairs around the side, an odd stand of dog food to one corner and posters for some weird new movies on the walls.

“Is Your Dog Overweight?” asked one poster – I’m not a big fan of dog movies but maybe that was an interesting premise. Another poster was all about terrible parasites that are planning to attack “your pets”. I felt worried for my pet human – I think he’d find that movie too scary. Less interesting was a poster for a movie that was just about dental hygiene in dogs – borrrringgg. When will Hollywood realise that films about teeth and dental decay are JUST NOT WHAT MODERN AUDIENCES WANT – we want action and big loud noises. I feel we need more films by Michael Bay but with cats in them: mainly space cats. The space cats could fight space vampires but then team up because the space vampires and the space cats realise just how cool they both are and then they are all friends and they just blow up planets for laughs. That would be the best. I’ve written to Mr Bay to tell him that but he must have lost my address because he didn’t write back.

Did I mention the convention hall smelled a bit of dog pee and disinfectant?

“Ah, there is the book signing!” I said as I spied a human sitting behind a desk, “Take me hither to meet Mr Jim C Hines!” for it was he – although he looked less beardy than I imagined and actually looked more like a receptionist and also wore a badge saying “Josh – Practice Receptionist”. I guess he must sometimes practise being a receptionist as a kind of method acting thing that big time authors do.

“Good morning. How can I help you?” said Jim C Hines to Camestros of all people – ignoring me for the time being. I guess he was too nervous to speak to me directly at first – my reputation proceeds me.

“Hi, erm, I rang ahead…you know about the um…thing and the other thing…” said Camestros cryptically. I think he was a bit star struck to meet a real live big shot science fiction author.

“Greetings Mr Hines, I know you are a big fan of my work. I’m here to sign your book.” I explained in a professional manner. Sure, he might not be writing the kind of books I’d like right now but I think with the help of the skilled editor I could help this fledgeling writer become a true great. My formula is simple: more explosions and maybe dinosaurs and vampires. These are the key qualities of great fiction.

“Hello, little kitty. Did you hurt your tail?” said Jim C Hines in a tone of voice that frankly I found unprofessional but is what modern publishing has come to. I turned to Camchatka Filofax to express my concern only to see him wide eyed and holding up a sign saying “PLAY ALONG!”. Frankly, the ways of human kind are a mystery to me.

“Oh, yes…sorry, you are that patient, I mean visitor and I am…” Jim C Hines paused to look at his computer which was displaying an email booking system of some kind, “um…famous author Jim C Hines.” He seemed somewhat unsure of this – maybe the whole roleplaying thing had got to him. I had to admire his dedication to his craft to immerse himself so deeply in his role.

“The um,…special panel on Cat Injuries in Military Science Fiction in Space, will be in room 3 just as soon as they are finished vaccinating a poodle,” said Jim C Hines, using some kind of millennial jargon for something or other – I don’t know, young people these days.

To my surprise, a short while later, a poodle did emerge from room 7 with a stupid goofy look on its face. I hissed at it and it flinched which makes me now the apex predator of the convention hall FOREVER. Camestros carried me in.

Again, I was disappointed with how small the room was for a major convention. There was only just enough room for me, Cam and a single speaker: “Dr Samantha” who was some kind of expert on cat injuries. A lot of the time she spoke from her notes, which oddly Cam had brought with him. Surprisingly the only attendee was me (oh and Camestros but he had to come because I was finding it hard to walk the past few days). Cam explained that everybody else at Worldcon was at a different session on Being Super Leftwing In Space – which was disappointing but not surprising!

Dr Samantha’s presentation was very good. Near the end, she asked for a volunteer from the audience but it had to be:

  1.  a cat
  2.  with a hind quarters and tail injury…
  3.  …as if an approximately 1-tonne reptiloid creature had kicked the cat up the bum in a fit of anger

Well lucky for her that I was in the audience!

So Dr Samantha showed us all how a Space Marine Medic might treat such an injury if it happened in space and the brave Space Marine Cat had inadvertently angered some kind of Triceratops-like alien who had then kicked the cat over a fence using its substantial and very stompy feet.

I did hurt a bit though because coincidentally I had sustained injuries not dissimilar to the ones Dr Samantha was talking about only the other week. Of course, Mr Nanny State has been trying to make me go to a veterinary clinic for days but I don’t hold with such quackery. No way am I going to go one of those butcher’s shops.

A few Space Marine pain killers later and I was feeling tip-top but a little tired!

I woke up the next day feeling suitably refreshed. I’ve decided to keep these bandages on for the time being as a memento of my time at Worldcon.

Overall, despite the tiny facilities and the persistent smell of dog pee, I had a great time. Well done Worldcon! Looking forward to next year when the theme is apparently “Annual Worming”.

Spotting Fakery?

I previously pointed to an article on people manipulating Amazon rankings for their books, today there is a bigger brouhaha on whether somebody has manipulated the New York Time bestseller list: The method used (if true) isn’t new and political books have been prone to this approach before i.e. buy lots of the book from the right bookshops and head up the rankings.

One thing new to me from those articles was this site: It claims to be a site that will analyse reviews on sites like Amazon and Yelp and then rate the reviews in terms of how “fake” they seem to be. The mechanism looks at reviewers and review content and looks for relations with other reviews, and also rates reviewers who only ever give positive reviews lower. Now, I don’t know if their methods are sound or reliable, so take the rest of this with a pinch of salt for the time being.

Time to plug some things into their machine but what! Steve J No-Relation Wright has very bravely volunteered to start reading Vox Day’s epic fantasy book because it was available for $0 ( ) and so why not see what Fakespot has to say about “Throne of Bones”


Ouch…but to some extent, we already know that the comment section of Vox’s blog is full of willing volunteers ready to do sycophanting stuff and/or trolling/griefing at Vox’s request. Arguably those are genuine reviews, just that they are hard to distinguish between click-farm fakery. Think of it as a kind of Turing Test, which his right-wing minions repeatedly fail by acting like…well, minions.

How reliable is this? There’s no easy way to tell. As a side-by-side experiment I put in Castalia’s attempt at spoiler campaign versus the mainstream SF book they were trying to spoil:

Ironically, the reviews that Vox complains about, probably improve the Fakespot rating of the reviews – i.e. many negative reviews from people will make the rating of the quality of the reviews better. I also don’t see a way in general of Fakespot distinguishing between fake NEGATIVE reviews -i.e. showing that the poor ratings of a book aren’t genuine.

[A note of caution: the site doesn’t re-analyse automatically so the analysis you get may be out of date. The initial ratings for those two books were different but changed when I clicked the option to re-analyse]

I also don’t see a way in general of Fakespot distinguishing between fake NEGATIVE reviews -i.e. showing that the poor ratings of a book aren’t genuine. The basic report seems to assume that fake reviews are for the purpose of the seller artificially boosting a book rather than somebody maliciously trying to make a book look bad.


Binary Tree Maze

I’ve been playing with mazes because they are fun. In the workshop, I made a maze maker in Javascript that uses a very simple binary tree algorithm (see ). This is a very easy algorithm to implement but it doesn’t generate very interesting mazes but they are good enough for a playing area in a Pacman like game. I added some symmetry and I quite liked the results visually with the first version of walls/background I’d made.


And some more – the second with a different skin I’d made:

maze02 maze03

Feel free to have a play here

Because it uses the HTML5 Canvas the resulting maze is an image you can click on and download as if it hadn’t just been made by a script.