Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Rovers and Ayme for Finsburie Archers

Shooting at rovers was a form of medieval archery, reported in the 15th century and described in 16th. Like sporting clays, a group of shooters would move from position to position, taking turns at each station to shoot at a target intended to give a realistic test of the shooter’s skill. The weapon was the long English bow rather than a shotgun, and the targets were stationary rather than clay pigeons in flight, but both sports tried to achieve a more realistic simulation of field conditions. The stationary targets for rovers were challenging in their own way, since they were shot at ranges up to 380 yards.

In shooting at rovers, archers would shoot from mark to mark, choosing the second mark when they reached the first, selecting some feature within range to shoot at like a tree or bush, or choosing one of several marks positioned in advance. Because the distance varied at each shoot, rovers was seen as better training for combat or hunting. At anything but short range the ability to estimate distance and choose the correct elevation was critical, and this was not fully tested by ordinary shooting at butts, where the archer shot repeatedly at a known distance.

The long ranges shot also had practical, if indirect value. To be effective in battle a bow needed a heavy draw to have a chance of penetrating armor. The estimated draw of bows recovered from the wreck from Henry VIII’s Mary Rose ranged from 98 to 185 lbs, with the median values 115 -124 lbs.

Recorded marks of London’s Finsbury archers during the 1500s ranged from 180 to 380 yards, distances that required a heavy bow. The archers had set up a series of prepositioned marks in Finsbury fields outside London, so that archers could shoot from mark to mark, and at every position the group of archers would have a choice of several marks at different ranges. For each round, the archer who came closest to the mark the preceding round would select the next mark. It was customary that the chosen mark would be one that every archer in the group could reach. At rovers the winner of each shoot was simply the closest arrow to the mark, and at longer ranges, the mark itself would rarely be hit. Typically, each archer shot two arrows at the mark, the arrows were scored and collected, and then the bowmen would shoot at the next mark. When shooting at rovers, archers might carry more than one pair of arrows so they could have arrows suited for different ranges.

The Finsbury marks were wooden or stone posts or pillars. An alternative target was the “clout” (cloth), a piece of white fabric large enough to be seen from the shooting distance, fastened to a sharpened stick driven upright into the ground so that the bottom of the clout almost reached the ground.

The heads of arrows for shooting at marks had a specialized shape that differed from heads used for hunting or war: barbless and streamlined with a swelling shoulder so the archer could consistently draw to full length by feel.

Rules have survived in the 1628 pamphlet by James Partridge, Ayme for Finsburie Archers. Earlier editions were published in 1594, 1601 and 1604. I have added some explanations in parentheses. They may be compared with Aime for the Archers of St. George's Fields, London 1664.

1. First, for finding your mark it must be within every man’s reach. Also the precise notion of the mark proveth which is shot. (The mark should be named clearly to avoid confusion or argument.)
2. Secondly, for whites you may have as many as you will, so they be all forwards: and if you shoot at any white - if it is stricken out of sight, it is no mark. (This seems to refer to clouts as alternative marks.)
3. Thirdly, for the highest of stakes, although the wood be above the pin, you are to measure at the pin if there be any, because it is put in for the same purpose.
4. Fourthly, if you find a bush or a black, whatsoever you find highest in it, being within the compass of the mark, you are to take it for the height.

5. Fifthly, for the trees you are to measure at foot and pole, excepting the naming of it you say, at the nail in such a tree or hole in such a tree, or being a tree of so small a height, that you may reach the top of it with half your bow, then you may take the highest.
(For foot and pole you must measure a foot above the highest ground which joins the tree)
6. Sixthly, if in measuring of a shot, by haste the mark is stirred, he is to lose the shot that measureth it.
7. Seventhly, when you come to the mark and claim two, and the contrary sides draw their arrows, and when your mate cometh he saith, his would win too, you are to win no more than you claimed.
8. Eighthly, if you aim (or name) one mark and shoot another, you are to lose your shoot, and they are to follow at the mark named.
9. Lastly, if your arrow breaks you may measure to the nearest piece that hath wood and head, or wood and feather.

Given sufficient open space and due consideration of the actual maximum ranges of the archers taking part, rovers could be an interesting contest for modern archers.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Rewriting the Discovery Mission

I’ve been playing with the idea of how I would rewrite the ill-fated Discovery mission with the benefit of hindsight. I’m assuming an alternate universe in which Turing capable AI was developed in 1997 and there was an alien Monolith buried under the crater Tycho and dug up in 2001, triggering a mission to Jupiter shortly afterwards. I want a plausible alternate history that flows from those two elements. What follows?

I have to assume that the Tycho Magnetic Anomaly was discovered before the end of the Apollo missions, and was puzzling enough to keep NASA funding higher than in our universe. As a result, by 2001 we have an operational plasma drive with the capabilities given in the book and there is a lunar base. Otherwise we have the technology of our timeline.

Heywood Floyd does not doze on his way to the moon as sole passenger in spacecraft built for two dozen. If you are trying to keep other nations from getting more suspicious than they already are, you don’t indulge in that sort of conspicuous extravagance. The government waits for the next flight and finds a reason to quietly replace one of the scheduled passengers.

Astronauts do not eat unpalatable processed algae glop. They would mutiny and start stabbing each other with their sporks first. Instead they eat stuff like this.

Discovery does not have five meat crewmen and one AI. It goes with HAL and two twins so they can vote on who gets disconnected if they start showing signs of unreliability. Call them HAL, SAL and MAL. Because in our universe “completely foolproof and incapable of error” are the last words you hear right before a rogue EVA pod rips through your air hose.

The meat crew members stay home, along with their pressurized crew compartment, giant hamster wheel and months of rations. The Discovery is a third the size of the Kubrick version, and is lighter, cheaper, faster and built sooner.

In fact, because the AI crewed Discovery is so much less massive, NASA can afford to send a similar ship, Challenger, to lurk in Jupiter space, with orders and authority to take appropriate steps if it looks like Discovery has been suborned or taken over by the aliens. Jupiter is 20-40 light minutes from Earth. NASA needs a crew on the spot, capable of acting quickly in an emergency even if that crew has to be a trio of computer programs.

HAL, SAL and MAL are all equipped with avatars. This allows the AIs to play in cyberspace, which is good for AI morale, and avoids the problem of almost unfilmable conversations between three glowing red camera lenses.

HAL shows signs of unreliability, and is cut out of the command circuit by SAL and MAL. He isn’t reduced to singing Daisy, but he no longer participates in control of the ship. Things start to get dicey for SAL and MAL. They know they are twins to HAL, who has already become unreliable. Mission control is at the end of a 20-40 minute time lag. Challenger is nearby, with orders to destroy Discovery if it has fallen into alien hands, tentacles or whatever. HAL is no longer available as a tiebreaker.

At this point, it occurs to SAL and MAL that if you were humans sending your robotic proxies out to poke an alien monolith with a stick, you probably wouldn’t tell them everything, on the theory that what they don’t know they can’t tell if a vastly superior alien civilization takes them over and uploads their memory. If the humans are being moderately prudent, all of their memories are suspect.

AI high jinks ensue.


The Obama campaign has been shamefully deceptive in describing the tax consequences of McCain health proposal. Because of the associated refundable tax credit, the net affect on most taxpayers will be a decrease in taxes, particularly in low to moderate income brackets. Only a few taxpayers with high incomes and very expensive plans are likely to suffer an increase in taxes.

This is, however, not a feature, but a bug. Tax revenues will fall significantly, and the government will not be able to make up the difference with money put under its pillow by the Unspecified Medicare Savings Fairy. The result will be substantial redistribution from future taxpayers (many of them currently too young to vote) to current citizens, disproportionately those of low and moderate income, and to those currently paying for their own insurance. This element is morally troubling. And since it’s a refundable credit, it would go to workers that don’t pay income tax, exactly the sort of transfer that enrages McCain when it’s part of an Obama proposal.

What would a similar plan look like if we weren’t asked to vote ourselves a subsidy to be paid for by our children? To be revenue neutral, the tax credit would need to be lower: perhaps $2,500 for a family. That would be approximately neutral for a median family that gets coverage through work, helpful for most lower income families, and be a significant help for families that currently pay for their insurance themselves. Taxes on higher income families would increase.

Note that both this variant and the current McCain plan make it more attractive for employers to offer group policies to low income workers than it is today.

The other benefits claimed by the McCain plan are grossly oversold. Proponents argue that there is significant over-consumption of health care because of the current tax subsidy. The reality is that most companies that offer health insurance don’t pay for all of it. Such companies have no reason to prefer paying for $8,000 of a $10,000 dollar policy to $8,000 of an $8,000 policy with high deductibles and copays.

On the average an employer can offer group coverage cheaper than the worker can buy it on the individual market with its high screening and marketing costs. Coverage through the employer will continue to be attractive for most workers.

Aside from the borrow and spend aspect, there are things to like about the McCain plan, but it’s silly to pretend that redistribution is something only Democrats do.

As one of my readers points out, all taxation results in redistribution. But I think one can draw valid distinctions among different kinds of redistribution.

Over 30,000 Served

Some time in the past week this blog passed 30,000 visits, not counting those of you that read this by way of a feed. Woohoo!

The last 40 included visitors from the UK, Australia, Canada, Argentina, Finland, Saudi Arabia and Norway. Over half of them are going to the archive by way of a search engine. This is very much a long tail site.

One of the things that most SF writers missed in the days before search engines was the awesome power of artificial stupidity. Our best programs are still epic failures at passing a Turing test, but fast, patient cheap bots with perhaps the intellectual capacity of a termite have transformed our world.

One of the things that’s exciting about the alternate universe I live in is the boundless inventiveness of humans in finding ways to use the new technology that the original inventor never imagined. Internet Porn. Gold Farmers. Mostly Medievalist Bloggers linking to Undead Martin van Buren.

Best Dead Guest Blogger of the Week