The Tékumel Foundation

News about the World of Tékumel® – the creation of Prof. M.A.R. Barker

Archive for the month “August, 2013”

Journey to the Naqsái Lands

22 Fésru 2371

Dawn arrived and all was clear, except the water which was full of seaweed and vegetation. I don’t know if this is the dangerous kind or not. I went down to the mess for breakfast and saw that Davé, the Keténgku worshipper who joined us at Ngéshtu Head was there. He was reading, so I didn’t disturb him.

The day passed without incident.

Journey to the Naqsái Lands

21 Fésru 2371

I’d heard there was a temple of Thúmis on this island, so I rose early and took my servants into the town. The weather was damp and cloudy. It was quite a hike since the temple was located at the top of the peak. When we got there we found that it was a simple pavilion, covered in vines and surrounded by fragrant tetél flowers. We sat on a garden bench, grateful for a rest. Presently we were met by an old woman who said she was the caretaker. I complemented her on how she maintained such a beautiful garden. It must not be easy at her age, especially since it looked as though there are few to help her in her work here. After resting and chatting for a bit, I gave her 5 káitars as a donation to the temple. She was very grateful and considered it a generous sum, although back in Jakálla it would be almost an insult.

We both heard voices and she ushered us into her little hut just beyond the pavillion. I didn’t understand the language, but I assumed that it was Mu’ugalavyáni. The men looked in the window and spoke to the old woman. The old woman understood them and said that I was a worshipper at the temple. It turned out that they were scouts watching for a ship that was supposed to arrive soon. They were on patrol and would return every kíren until the ship arrived. I was afraid of what they might do to us or the temple, but fortunately they were not as bad as I have heard the Mu’ugalavyáni can be. They tossed some of their coins in the window and left.

I needed to meet the ship’s officers back in town at the Tsolyáni commandant’s office, but I was afraid for the old woman and her beautiful little temple. She assured me that the Mu’ugalavyáni have no interest in her or vandalism. She did warn me that they do have agents in the marketplace and that even the harbourmaster is suspect.

When we got back to the town I realised that reaching the Tsolyáni commandant’s building would take far too long. Instead I headed straight to the ship and told the captain what I’d learned. He sent people off to assemble all the officers and I was sent down to the refectory to gather anyone I can find there. We had a brief meeting in the captain’s quarters where I repeated my story about the Mu’ugalavyáni and how they expected a ship any moment. The last of the fresh water had just been loaded. We made plans to sail immediately. The plan was to head south of Ssámris in order to avoid any Mu’ugalavyáni that might come from the north.

We set sail without incident.

Arogái told me that there was nothing worthwhile in the marketplace. Even the fruit was bad. So, I missed nothing.

Three kíren before sunset ships were sighted north of us. We were headed west now. Everything was tense and quiet. A couple more ships were sighted, so we turned the ship farther south to avoid any ships from Ssámris. The cook and his hands brought food up to the deck so that everyone could be on watch. It was a spiced mush, actually quite good.

Everything was intense and rather exciting. The night was clear and we were able to navigate easily by watching the planets. I took the first watch as navigator so Arogái could go below decks and get some rest. Soon we heard a peculiar hooting noise. The captain looked very worried. He spotted a Hlúss ship to the north-west. We bore to the south-west and were told not to stray from out course.

Journey to the Naqsái Lands

20 Fésru 2371

We are passing the shores of Penóm. Even from this distance it is noisome and the insects are annoying. Yellowish mud stains the sea here. It’s carried down to the sea by the rivers and is filling in the shore. There are no diligent barges and dredging here. Eventually this place will become mudflats and this awful landscape will extend even further. From here we can see a fog of insects hovering over the shore. The cook has told the captain that some of our food has begun to spoil already.

Later in the day the weather changed as we turned toward Ngéshtu Head. The sea is getting choppy. The Head rises up looking like a grey mountain in the dusk. There is much yelling and confusion, probably because the ship’s boy assigned to the crow’s nest fell asleep again. I’m sure Chatán will assign him to the marines at the next opportunity.

After dark we pulled in to the island off Ngéshtu Head. I can see trim white buildings lining the harbour. A light rain is falling. The Shén climb over the side and secure the ship so the harbourmaster can come aboard. He told us that the tide will come in at mid-morning and that he intended to spend the night on the ship.

We also have another passenger now. His name is Tikkúna, and he is a hunter in the employ of Prince Rareshqálla. He is accompanied by two servants and has much luggage and weaponry. Ssurgásh, the Shén who works as the ship’s supercargo will be busy tomorrow supervising the loading and unloading of supplies.

We learn that Laigás, Heméktu, and Ssámris are held by the Mu’ugalavyáni. There have been uprisings and their hold is tenuous.

Journey to the Naqsái Lands

18 Fésru 2371

The captain decided that every  morning at dawn he will meet with Arogái and me.

We were still in the delta area of the river. By mid-afternoon we finally caught sight of the open sea. The sky is a beautiful blue, so much brighter than in Jakálla. We turned starboard and headed along the coast. At dusk we turned to the west. As the moons rose, the captain showed me how to use them for navigating at night.

19 Fésru 2371

At dawn we had our meeting and a lesson from the captain. Today we learned how to turn the ship by trimming and moving the sails. During his lecture, the captain noticed Chatán, the first mate fishing off the stern. There was some commotion because he’d caught something. The captain ordered him to cut his line because it had snagged a type of algae that would climb the line and dissolve any human that it contacted. The captain warned us all that any fish in these waters were dangerous and that all the edible fish schooled closer to the shore. Chatán was very disappointed.

Later in the day there was discussion as to whether we should stop in Penóm. The captain wanted to avoid it, but Chatán had a reason that he wanted to put in there. By all accounts it is a dreadful place full of stench and insects and disease. It was decided to pass Penóm and head on to Ngéshtu Head where we will take on fresh water and supplies.

Journey to the Naqsái Lands

17 Fésru 2371

I returned to the ship early and was called in to a meeting. There was some commotion last night and a crew member was murdered. It was not known who did it or why. Our commander feels that the ship needs a proper blessing before we head out and so an effort was made to secure the services of a priest of Chegárra. As we waited I met with the navigator and the captain, Vakuláz, a Livyáni who knows these waters well. We will go out the channel and around Point Kuné and then head towards Penóm. From there we will make for Ngéshtu Head and on to Ssámris We arranged for more meetings to discuss navigation.

We continued to wait for the blessing. I offered my services, but the blessings of Lord Thúmis are apparently not appropriate for this situation. Finally around mid-morning an elderly gentleman appeared. He was an uncle of the first mate.

While the ritual was underway an officer of the Omnipotent Azure Legion approached. We were all interviewed about last night’s murder. He was also looking for a dangerous Livyáni woman who is a famous thief.

Just before mid-day we finally cast off. By late afternoon we were into the channel. Small boats came up beside us to sell last minute goods, foodstuffs, and water. Our navigator, Arogái, was disappointed when he could not find a vendor selling his favourite type of melon.

We continued down the channel. There are dredging barges cleaning the harbour and channel of all the silt brought down from the river, keeping this clear was an endless task. We also saw the black Shén ships and many small boats that guide and tow the larger ships in and out of the harbour. We sailed on through the night.

Journey to the Naqsái Lands

I was sorting through some of the papers I brought with me from the US, and one of the items I came across was a notebook I used for recording the Thursday Night game in Phil’s basement. Back around the summer of 2001  we went on a voyage headed towards the Southern Continent. My notes are incomplete, but they do tell the story of the voyage from Jakálla to the Naqsái lands beginning in the year 2371.  It’s written from the point of view of my character, so if any of the other gamers at that time want to chime in with their perspective, it would be both fun and interesting.

The adventure will be serialised both on the Tékumel Facebook page and on the blog. It’s not a very long adventure, but needless to say there will be new bits of source material in the story. I hope that it might also be an interesting resource for your own games.

~ Giovanna Fregni



My name is Atín híSsankóral and this is the record of the voyage I am to undertake.

15 Fésru 2371 in the reign of our Emperor Mirusíya, may he be ever glorious.

I was told by my temple that I am to accompany an expedition to explore the Southern Continent. I am unsure as to why I have been assigned this duty. I was born a Tsolyáni citizen and have never left her borders. Perhaps one higher in the Temple of Thúmis has seen that I have talents that would be of use to our temple and that of the expedition. I know that I am young, but I have studied well and am observant. I have never been at sea, although I have enjoyed travelling up and down the great Missúma River.

I have said my goodbyes to all at the Amber Cloak Clanhouse here in Jakálla. My bags are packed and my servants will deliver them to the ship this afternoon.

16 Fésru 2371

Our ship is a large one, a two masted tnék called the Kháng Miréng. It has a symbol of Cheggára above the lantern at the rear of the ship. I have met the officers of the crew and feel comfortable in their company. Our commander is a Molkár of the Golden Sphere. His name is Mridék híTukkólel. He is of high clan, Golden Sunburst and worships the god Cheggára, as does his cousin, Chatán, who is the first mate. Our navigator is Arogái híTuplágte, a pleasant man from The Might of Gánga clan who worships the god Hnálla. My job is to assist him in navigation and record keeping. I will be sharing a cabin with him and the quartermaster. I learned that we are on a trading mission, and also to explore for Prince Rareshqálla.

I’ve also met Zagár híMrékka. He is a merchant looking to expand his trade in the south. There is also a Shén on board. I have often seen them on the streets of Jakálla, but have never had the opportunity to meet one. I feel constantly curious and hope to learn more about these creatures.

In the afternoon I returned to my temple and received the blessings of one of the higher priests. Since I will be gone a long time away from my home and country, I decided to spend one last night there. I welcomed the priest’s company as he did mine.

Our ship leaves on the tide at midmorning. I was given a gift of fragrant tetél flowers.

Electronic Tekumel Part Two

I left off the previous post with a promise to talk about data recovery of Apple ][ diskettes. Here’s that story:

I was able to lend the Foundation a Platinum //e with two working Unidisk drives. This is a late-model Apple ][, with 128K of memory and integrated 80-column card. I also tricked it out with the crucial component: an Apple Super Serial card, which I’ve put into Slot 2.

There’s a magnificent program called ADTPro, which is designed for exactly this sort of recovery project. On the Apple ][ side, it is a straightforward program to either read a block from disk, or read a block of memory from either a serial, ethernet (yes, there are Apple ][ ethernet cards; a few (rare) from Back In The Day, and some modern ones as well), or cassette audio interface, and then write that block to diskette. On the modern-computer side, it’s a Java program that does
the same thing: reads blocks of data from disk and pushes them over the wire, or receives blocks of data from the wire and puts them onto the disk.

We are of course going to be using this in its read-a-physical-diskette-and-transfer-it-over-the-wire mode. Serial is the best combination, as Apple ][ Ethernet interfaces are not cheap.

While most modern computers don’t come with RS-232 ports anymore, a USB-to-RS232C converter is about twenty bucks at Micro Center. Finding drivers for modern Macs is a little more problematic, but there’s an open-source PL-2313 driver that works fine (the Prolific PL-2313 seems to be the USBRS232 economy chipset of choice). As it happens, the Foundation’s laptop is a Windows 7 machine, and of course all these converters come with Windows drivers. Linux support, as always, is comprehensive and unproblematic.

So that’s the hardware needed: Apple ][, Super Serial Card, and a USB-to-RS232C serial converted. The software is ADTPro. After some initial experimentation, we were able to start transferring disk images. Early results suggest that about 60% of the disks are recoverable, which isn’t too bad for 30-year-old media. Our goal is to work with the actual diskettes as little as possible: to the degree we can extract data from them and then work with the extracted copy, that’s what we want to do, in order to reduce, as much as possible, the damage that reading the diskettes inevitably will do.

Somewhat strangely, Professor Barker’s documents seemed to have a much better recovery rate than those diskettes containing programs. Some of this may be that those programs are copy-protected, and therefore not amenable to the simple track-by-track copying that ADTPro does.

However, there is certainly enough to keep us all busy for quite some time just working with the disk images we are able to transfer. Once we have the disk images, our work isn’t yet done. I donated a Virtual II limited license to the Foundation, so we can fire up a virtual Apple //e and mount the disk images and use them. This may be necessary as we find documents in strange binary formats. If it becomes necessary, we can try a number of other recovery options–the Asimov Apple II Archives contain a vast collection of Apple II software of, admittedly, dubious legality. Armed with disk manipulation utilities and (almost certainly) the program that produced this data in the first place, we should be able to work with the data either under emulation or on the Apple //e itself.

However, the bulk of what we’ve recovered so far are just text files. Inspection reveals some word processing formatting codes, but for the most part, the contents are just ASCII text. For these cases, it obviously will be a great deal faster to simply extract the files without having to go through an emulator to view or “print” them (one suggestion was to install a printer driver that simply printed to a local file from the emulator). A little Googling suggested a solution.

AppleCommander is an Open Source java program designed to allow manipulation of a wide variety of Apple ][ diskette images. While it doesn’t have an “extract everything” mode, it turned out to be very easy to write a little perl wrapper to determine the diskette format and retrieve a listing, and then extract each file. I did a little bit of file-type association to append an appropriate suffix to each file name, and a little bit of filename mangling to make the files easier to work
with in a Unix context. As it stands, the wrapper can work with DOS 3.3 or ProDOS images, and knows about text, Applesoft BASIC, and Integer BASIC files (everything else just gets extracted as unmodified binary).

This tool will enable the Tekumel Foundation to quickly extract the word processing documents that represent much of Professor Barker’s Tekumel work. Future enhancements may include a converter to interpret the formatting codes and transform the raw text into cleanly-formatted documents.

However, even the capabilities we have now will enable us to (most importantly) get what data we can onto media with a longer shelf life, and (secondarily, but still significantly) fairly easily prepare text files so that Tekumel scholars can have access to some of the pre-publication stages of various Tekumel documents.

Asimov Apple II Archives:

Electronic Tekumel Part One

Editor’s Note: The following guest post is by Adam Thornton, a Tekumel fan from St. Louis with a particularly valuable background and skill set. When I encountered Adam at GaryCon III, I began talking with him about the conundrum of Prof. Barker’s electronic data. Adam expressed interest in helping us out, and in mid-July he was able to visit the Twin Cities. The following is his analysis of the situation – Victor Raymond PhD

When Professor Barker died, he left what a kindly chronicler might call a “robust collection of personal effects,” and what a less biased observer might call “a jumble” or perhaps “an unholy mess”.

The members of the Tekumel Foundation have done yeoman’s work in terms of sorting out the Tekumel from the probably-not-Tekumel stuff. Among the as-yet-uncategorized items, however, are multiple boxes full of floppy disks. Most of these have some sort of written label on them. Other than that their contents are a complete mystery to the Tekumel Foundation.

Victor Raymond had mentioned the existence of this trove to me back in 2012, and I had made loose plans to assist the Foundation with data recovery. This past Saturday (July 20, 2013), I was able to spend a few hours at the Foundation attempting two things: first, to put together a setup that would allow data to be extracted from the disk archives, and second, to teach Bob Alberti how to do that extraction, since he’s going to be present far more frequently than I am.

The diskettes appear to span the late 1970s to the late 1990s; in general, the 5-1/4″ diskettes are Apple ][ diskettes (all the ones I have so far found are DOS 3.3 rather than ProDOS), and the 3-1/2″ diskettes are Macintosh (so far I’ve found 800K HFS floppies rather than 400K MFS). I only examined a small fraction of the disks. The earliest I found was a (sadly not readable) 13-sector Apple DOS 3.2.1 master disk, which I’ve never seen in the wild before–it’s dated 1979.

There are also at least a few Zip disks. I don’t think I have a Zip drive; if any readers out there have one that’s been gathering dust for a couple decades, we sure could use it. Please get in touch with Victor or Bob if you have one the Foundation could borrow.

It obviously is going to be a fairly major undertaking to rescue the data from these disks. Time is not our friend here–floppies do not age particularly well, and it is evident that the box in which the 5-1/4″ diskettes were kept was water-damaged at some point. Fortunately, the diskettes themselves were in plastic cases inside that box and appear largely undamaged.

There are therefore two categories of disks we can do something about. The 3-1/2″ disks are actually pretty easy–I have lent the Foundation a a PowerMac 6150, which has the following lovely characteristics:
1) New enough to have a functional (although super-painfully-slow) Ethernet interface and TCP/IP stack (running Mac OS 8.6.1)
2) Old enough to have a floppy drive compatible all the way back to 400K MFS or ProDOS 8/16 3.5″ disks, but new enough to have a HD floppy drive (and the appropriate extension) so it can read 1.4 MB DOS disks as well.
3) Has one of those 9-pin-DIN to RJ-11 adapters to run Appletalk over phone wire if that should be useful.

It turns out that modern Macs aren’t actually happy with Appletalk-over-TCP/IP to that vintage OS, but MacSSH has a built-in (cleartext) FTP server, so (although we may have to reset file types, if we care) it’s actually quite easy to get files off the floppy disks and over the wire to a more modern machine.

That leaves the Apple ][ diskettes. In the next post, I’ll talk about the tools and techniques we will use to recover data from those diskettes, which are generally from 34 to 25 years old.

Asimov Apple II Archives:

Editor’s note: Part Two of “Electronic Tekumel” will appear in one week.

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