Hephaestus's Blog

Word of the Month: Lapis Lazuli
May 16, 2016, 18:55
Filed under: Words of the Months

Etymology: Middle Latin lapis lazuli, ‘stone of Lajward’, from  lapis ‘stone’ + lazuili, genitive of lazulum, from Arabic lazaward; lazaward itself being derived from Lajward, a location in Western Asia where the stone was found.

Definition: A blue gemstone, composed of the mineral lazurite, along with calcite, pyrite, sodalite, and traces of others.

Lapis lazuli has been used in sculpture and jewelry for millennia. One of the most famous lapis lazuli objects is the funeral mask of Tutankhamen, with lapis lazuli inlays in the eyes and beard.

In addition to its use as a gemstone, lapis lazuli, powdered to make the pigment ultramarine, has been used in countless paintings; in addition, the word ‘azure’ comes from the same root as lapis lazuli.

Phrase of the Month: Et Cetera
March 3, 2016, 18:41
Filed under: Words of the Months

Etymology:  ‘[F]rom Latin et cetera, literally “and the others,” from et “and” + neuter plural of ceterus “the other, [the] other part, that which remains.”‘ -Online Etymology Dictionary

Definition: And the rest; and so on.

Commonly abbreviated as etc. or &c.

This phrase is one of the many Latin elements which permeate our language. Its usage, however, renders it distinctly prosaic and easily overlooked.

I don’t have anything else to say about this phrase.

See you later!

Please let me know if there are any words you would like featured by commenting on this post.

Word of the Month: Merlin
January 7, 2016, 18:39
Filed under: Words of the Months

Etymology: Probably from Anglo-French merilun, contracted from Old French esmerillon, ‘small hawk’.

Definition: Falco columbarius, a species of small falcon.

The merlin is native to much of the Northern hemisphere. Its summer range includes much of Canada, Russia, Scandinavia, and parts of the British Isles. Its winter range includes southern Japan, Mexico & the U.S., much of Europe, the Caribbean, other parts of the British Isles, and southeast China.

The wizard Merlin, surprisingly, is not named for the bird; Merlinus is a Latinisation of the Welsh Myrddin(pronounced approximately merthin [with th voiced]).

There is a claim, which I cannot verify at this time, that Geoffrey of Monmouth chose Merlinus over Merdinus (apparently a more conventional Latin rendering) to avoid association with the scatological merde.

Word of the Month: Noel
December 31, 2015, 20:51
Filed under: Words of the Months

Etymology: From Old French Noel, meaning ‘Christmas’ or ‘the Christmas season’; itself from Latin Natalis, short for natalis dies, or ‘birthday’.

Definition: Christmas, Christmastide, etc. Also a given name (masculine; feminine is Noelle) traditionally given to those born at Christmastime.

Some people with the name Noel include Noël Coward, a 20th-century British playwright and songwriter, a French and a New Caledonian politician both named Marie-Noëlle, and (Noel) Paul Stookey of Peter, Paul and Mary.

I don’t have much else to say about this word, so to close out this post and the year, click here to hear me play the Christmas carol ‘The First Noël’ (on the recorder, because my flute’s being overhauled).

Please let me know if there are any words you would like featured by commenting on this post.

We Are All Baby Factories… and We Can Be More
December 7, 2015, 20:10
Filed under: Uncategorized

Consider this: All human life, at its simplest, revolves around one goal: To make more humans who can then repeat the process to achieve the same goal. Everything else is simply added on.

This has more implications. It means that every romance story ever written, every love song, every love poem, everyone who ever wasted away  or made grave mistakes or achieved great things for love, is a side effect of this process.


However, as a simple look around you will demonstrate, there is more to human life, and to humanity, than that.

Each of us, as a conscious being, has- in addition to the simple need to make life, and the basic needs of existence- likes, dislikes, aesthetics, creativity, animosity, generosity, pride, ambition, and a simple need to be entertained. If these, and other qualities too numerous to name, are allowed to flourish, then we can achieve great things and small things, good things and bad things, and everything in between.



A device for helping society to cope with the essential fact that we are humans, and thus, baby factories.

Secret Box
November 16, 2015, 21:35
Filed under: Uncategorized

On October 25, I found a small box made of Legos under a radiator.


This box had been there for over four years. According to a slip of paper stored inside, I made and closed the box on April 7, 2011. Some time after that, I moved it from my radiator to my parents’, where it stayed until this October.


The box and its contents.

Inside the box were these items:

Clockwise from upper left: The labels from a bottle of San Pellegrino (which may still be on my shelf); paper with the date of sealing; some thread; a balsa card painted gold; part of an orange zip tie; some of my hair; Vontromp the Lego guy.

As for why I did this, it’s a little complicated. I have done this sort of thing at least twice before, and when I made this box, I distinctly remember that I wanted to forget about it before I found it again. That only partially worked; I remembered the box’s exsistence, and three of the things inside (Vontromp, the gold card, and the date slip), but I forgot the exact date of sealing, all the other contents, and its eventual location.

Hephaestus Makes: Warhammer of Zillyhoo
November 11, 2015, 09:20
Filed under: Hephaestus Makes

So there’s this webcomic called Homestuck. It’s a massive, ~8,000-page, rambling story about teens, aliens, video games, and the fate of existence itself.  But enough about that; if I go down that train of thought, I’ll never get back.

One of the countless facets of the story is fantastical, often ridiculous, and occasionally legendary weaponry. One of those weapons is the Warhammer of Zillyhoo.

This is what it looks like.

So one day in October, I decided that I wanted to make this thing.


Most of the hammer is made of this stuff called floral foam. It’s a stiff plastic foam material, which can be easily carved, sawed and glued. Everything except for the blue box in the front, the handle and the star are made from this stuff, covered completely by a synthetic spackling paste.

The horn-shaped parts were made by cutting foam cones into segments, then gluing them back together at an angle and chipping and filing the edges into a curve. I used dowel rods to reinforce the sections.

I made the central block by cutting a large cube down to size. Then, I cut a channel into it by first making two vertical cuts, then chopping out the excess with a spade bit. I used the same spade bit to drill holes for the reinforcement.


This should give you some sense of the chaos in which I worked.

To give the hammer some internal strength, I used PVC pipe running through the block into the head and tail, with the handle made from the same and emerging from the bottom of the block.

Then, it was time for spackling.


The spackling behaved rather like a very sticky, smelly frosting when wet, and is slightly flexible when dry. This gives the spackling-covered surfaces some resiliency.

For the big block at the front end, I used 1/8″ plywood to make a box. This is so thin that I had to have blocks of wood inside the box in order to screw it together. To attach it to the rest of the hammer, I used what is called a pipe floor flange, which can screw on to a pipe fitting. A length of pipe emerging from the block went into the fitting.


PVC fitting- floor flange- block- plywood.

I actually screwed up and made the pipe section too short, so that we had to buy a couple more fittings and stick them together to get sufficient length. My dad actually did a lot of that himself, as I was busy at the time.


Next step: Painting. I used Craft Smart acrylic paints in red, orange, yellow, blue, purple and white (for lightening colours). The green paint was Galleria artists’ paint, which required twice as many coats to get right.


This is the only image I have of painting in progress. Sorry.

After all the painting was finished, I wrapped the PVC handle in coloured duct tape.

The final step was simply coating the entire painted surface in glossy Mod Podge to give it a nice shine.


There she is. Forged in fire by the smiths of Pipplemop, commissioned by the sage Lord of the Wozzinjay Fiefdom in the Realm of the Snargly Fruzmigbubbins… Just kidding; I made it myself.

In total, the hammer weighs 2.210 kilograms, or about 4 pounds ten ounces, or 0.34 stone. In length it is 63 cm head to tail and 80 cm top to handle tip. The head is approximately 20 cm wide. The materials cost around sixty dollars, and it probably took around twenty hours of work to make.

Let me know in the comments what you think of this project, and if you have any technical questions I will be happy to answer them.

Word of the Month: Contrafactum
November 5, 2015, 12:00
Filed under: Words of the Months

Etymology: circa 16th cent,; direct from New Latin contrafactum, neuter past participle of contrafacere, meaning to counterfeit, created from contra- (against) prefix and facere, to do. According to Merriam-Webster, contrafacere is a translation of Middle French contrefaire.

Definition: A song created by combining new words with a previously used tune.

Wow, this is another weird etymology, isn’t it? It’s not every day you find a word borrowed from a Latin translation of French.

Traditionally, the term was mostly applied to religious or liturgical music with secular words added. However, the definition has broadened to the point where we can apply it to songs where both the words and music are of a secular nature.

Some contrafacta you may know include:

The Star-Spangled Banner (Music To Anacreon in Heav’n, 1700s; words The Defence of Fort M’Henry, 1814)

My Country ‘Tis of Thee (Music God Save the Queen [King], prior to 1744; words 1831) (The tune may be even older, but it’s very hard to tell).

The Russian National Anthem (Music State Anthem of the USSR, prior to 1944; words 2000) (The first ever Russian anthem was a contrafactum on God Save the Queen).

`Two famous Christmas carol contrafacta are Hark, the Herald Angels Sing (Music Festgesang Cantata, 1840, words even older, dating to 1754 in their current form), and perhaps the most famous contrafactum in English poetry, What Child is This to the tune of Greensleeves.

Note that contrafactum and contrafact are not identical; a contrafact is a jazz term meaning a melody written on a borrowed harmonic structure (no words necessary).

Please let me know if there are any words you would like featured in the comments below.

Are We Simulated?
October 22, 2015, 14:57
Filed under: Uncategorized

Imagine this: Your entire world, along with everyone you know, everyone you’ve ever met, everything you’ve ever heard of, and you yourself, is a computer simulation. Nothing is real; it is all virtual reality created out of bits and bytes.

This scenario is one that has been considered many times, by many people, since the invention of the computer. As I see it, there are two main variations of the idea. I’ll call them the anthropic and the solipsistic.

The basic premise of the anthropic version is this: a sufficiently advanced civilization, or if you want to be cynical about it, a super-kid with a supercomputer, is simulating the entirety of our civilization and possibly our universe, along with everything and everyone in it. (The odds that the entire Universe is being simulated are extremely low, simply because it is impossible to build a computer powerful enough. As in, it would be bigger than the Universe and require more energy than exists).

On the other hand, the solipsistic version of the concept is that the entire simulation, or at least some part of it, is being run for your benefit, and you have some sort of existence beyond the simulation On a large scale, this is The Matrix. (I think… I haven’t actually seen it yet).

Most people, on first thinking of this, feel some sort of existential horror. I know I did. However, after some consideration, I have come to a rather comforting conclusion:

It doesn’t matter if reality is real or not, it’s what you do with it that counts.

Whether your actions, or mine, have any actual concrete impact is moot, if we consider them to be worthwhile, they are. We create our own meaning for our lives, and it is our duty to live our lives according to that meaning. In a simulated reality, the goals of life are the same, whatever they may be. Objective reality is not necessary for a meaningful existence, any more than fame and fortune.

Word of the Month: Precarious
October 15, 2015, 11:00
Filed under: Words of the Months

Etymology: From Latin precarius, ‘obtained through request or prayer’.

Definition: Uncertain, risky.

*deep breath*

This is a weird one. The word precarious entered English in the seventeenth century as a legal term. Something was precarious if it was held by the favour or consent of another. Somehow, over time, the meaning of the word shifted. As a position, or the ownership of a thing, being dependent on the caprice of another person is necessarily risky, the word came to mean ‘risky’. (In fact, my first instinct in that last sentence was to use ‘precarious’ instead of ‘risky’).

I decided to investigate this on a whim because a YouTuber I watched, Kurtjmac, was musing on where this word came from. It turned out to be a great deal more exciting than I anticipated.

Please let me know if there are any words you would like featured by commenting on this post.