Wordly Wise

pibloktoq (piblokto) – Arctic hysteria.

Symptoms can include intense hysteria (screaming, uncontrolled wild behavior), depression, coprophagia, insensitivity to extreme cold (such as running around in the snow naked), echolalia (senseless repetition of overheard words) and more. This condition is most often seen in Eskimo women. This culture-bound syndrome is possibly linked to vitamin A toxicity (hypervitaminosis A).*

It also refers to a disease in dogs (where I first encountered it, courtesy of A Dog’s History of America). Peary says:

Aside from rheumatism and bronchial troubles, the Eskimos are fairly healthy; but the adults are subject to a peculiar nervous affection which they call piblokto–a form of hysteria. I have never known a child to have piblokto; but some one among the adult Eskimos would have an attack every day or two, and one day there were five cases. The immediate cause of this affection is hard to trace, though sometimes it seems to be the result of a brooding over absent or dead relatives, or a fear of the future. The manifestations of this disorder are somewhat startling.

The patient, usually a woman, begins to scream and tear off and destroy her clothing. If on the ship, she will walk up and down the deck, screaming and gesticulating, and generally in a state of nudity, though the thermometer may be in the minus forties. As the intensity of the attack increases, she will sometimes leap over the rail upon the ice, running perhaps half a mile. The attack may last a few minutes, an hour, or even more, and some sufferers become so wild that they would continue running about on the ice perfectly naked until they froze to death, if they were not forcibly brought back.

When an Eskimo is attacked with piblokto indoors, nobody pays much attention, unless the sufferer should reach for a knife or attempt to injure some one. The attack usually ends in a fit of weeping, and when the patient quiets down, the eyes are bloodshot, the pulse high, and the whole body trembles for an hour or so afterward.

The well-known madness among the Eskimo dogs is also called piblokto. Though it does not seem to be infectious, its manifestations are similar to those of hydrophobia. Dogs suffering from piblokto are usually shot, but they are often eaten by the Eskimos.*

Postgranioglacial thoughts

  • Living off the grid is a fine thing if you are set up for it. In a house designed for steady electrical input? High stress situation. ~7000W generator, here I come.
  • Generator placement – garage or basement? Neither! With today’s quieter engines, locating the generator in one’s bedroom is now feasible! The other obvious location – the kitchen – is already tight because you’ve brought the gas BBQ in (haven’t you?).
  • Why was this storm so much worse in terms of outages than the ice storm of 1998? Did NH just get hit harder this time? I’ll never forget the pictures of high-tension towers in Quebec and upstate New York crumpled and folded – the next summer, the Design Student and I took a trip to Montreal and the tree damage was apparent everywhere. This time, the ice accumulation was lighter – here on the coast – but the numbers of houses w/o power was up by a factor of four. I’m going to keep an eye on post mortems and not rely too much on anecdote.

Ice storm

I (and many others) am dealing with the aftermath of our recent ice storm. Power is still out – lines are down in at least 3 places along the road I live on. The wood stove has been keeping the house in the mid-50’s, and I’ve been doing a lot of reading by wind-up flashlight. It’s impossible to get any sense of when or in what order service will be restored from Public Service of NH; across the river, Central Maine Power has a goal of all customers back on by midnight tomorrow. I’d love to hear a similar county by county set of goals from PSNH…

Three links

From E, a link to Bungalow in a Box – nice little cottages suitable for a variety of things. I’m thinking on a ridge overlooking salt marsh up in Pembroke (ME).


Via Bruce Sterling, some marvelous haecking.

Rhinoceros was used to create 3D interpretations of the sketches of Ernst Haeckel, a prominent German biologist, naturalist, and philosopher. The articulation of micro-surfaces related to the biological function of the organism was of particular importance in my work.


My favorite part about the piece is that a viewers understanding changes dramatically based on distance.  From 10′ away, ones perceptual resolution is relatively low, thus the object appears as a chaotic mass.  From 5′ away, directional variations and a density patterns emerge.  From 2′ away, one can identify continuous lines tracing through the geometry and order becomes increasingly apparent.


Finally (and saving best for last), this post on BB clued me to a new book by Klea McKenna.

The late psychedelic pioneer and ethnobotanist Terence McKenna was also an avid naturalist. His favorite specimens were his butterflies, more than two thousand of them netted in Indonesia and Columbia while McKenna was running from the law after a hashish bust forty years ago. Now, McKenna’s daughter Klea has photographed the collection and created an interactive gallery and limited edition artist book with the material.

More info about the book here – it looks fascinating. From McKenna’s web site:

Mangrove and tadpole update

The mangrove project has a brief update here.

The A. bassleri tadpoles continue to grow. They are eating well (understatement); I’m feeding Frogbites and Cyclopeeze. My hope is that the Cyclopeeze will provide enough xanthins to allow good coloration – fingers crossed. The older ones have yellow moustaches, but no sign of hind legs yet.


I have to agree with Dale Dougherty (guestblogging over at BB) – nothing enhances a Christmas tree like a loop of model/toy train track (model NEQ toy, but either one works). The comment thread on Dale’s post was a good one – among other things, I may try to make a pilgrimage down to the Tech Model Railroad Club sometime. The big discovery in the comments, though, was finding Tim Warris’ blog.

A good rule of thumb – in my opinion – is that edges and interfaces are where interesting things tend to happen. It’s true in the woods and it’s true when you’re talking transportation. Ships and trains are cool by themselves, off running along, but bring the two of them together and stick a Hulett unloader (I know – off topic) in the middle and things get very interesting.


Both Tim and I have a copy of Where Rails Meet the Sea, a book largely about car ferry operations – rolling boxcars, etc., on and off ferries and barges. Tim is modelling the CNJ Bronx Terminal – a yard in about an acre with no connection to other trackage except via car float. Not only is the yard tiny, it is also quite complex. Check out one section that Tim has fabricated – no, you are not going to find switches like this at a hobby shop:

Definitely worth keeping an eye on and he’s going to be (sort of) in the area with the layout in January.


While we’re on the topic of interesting track work, I’m going to dredge up an oldie but goody – Austrian trickster-collective monochrom‘s Turing Train Terminal. Yes, a Turing machine implemented in model trains. The abstract:

Scale trains have existed for almost as long as their archetypes, which were developed for the purposes of traffic, transportation and trade. Economy and commerce have also been the underlying motivations for the invention of computers, calculators and artificial brains.

Allowing ourselves to fleetingly believe in an earlier historical miscalculation that “… Computers in the future may have only 1,000 vacuum tubes and perhaps weigh 1 1/2 tons.” (Popular Mechanics, March 1949), we decided to put some hundred tons of scaled steel together in order to build these calculating protozoa. The operating system of this reckoning worm is the ultimate universal calculator, the Turingmachine, and is able to calculate whatever is capable of being calculated. One just would have to continue building to see where this may lead…

I’m still digesting the paper this layout is based on (here – warning, PDF) – being a woodsman of very little brain, it make take a couple more passes – but what’s not to like?