Monday, December 31, 2012

Meyer 1560

A translation of Joachim Meyer's 1560 fighting manual has been published by a member of the Meyer Freifechter Guild.

Addition translations and articles are available at their site. My thanks to Hugh Knight for finding this.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Monday, December 24, 2012

The Governess of Morpork

Walk wide of Susan Sto-Helit
A governess second to none
If you're under the bed
Or naughty undead
It's probably safest to run.

Walk wide of Susan Sto-Helit
Her poker is scary and long
If you bump in the night
Best stay out of her sight
Because frightening children is wrong.

Walk wide of Susan Sto-Helit
Her grandad's a difficult one
If you stay on to fight
And leave on the light

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Update: Brian Price, the Misnamed Chivalry Bookshelf and the Authors. Also, Vadi.

It is well to know that of all the books still sold by Brian Price/Chivalry Bookshelf, all of the authors, with two exceptions, continue to have legal issues with Brian Price. To the best of my knowledge, none of them have been paid all the royalties they were entitled to under contract, and frequently they never received any royalties at all. None of them have received unsold copies as restitution.

In particular, while several former Chivalry Bookshelf authors have now recovered remaining unsold copies in partial restitution for unpaid royalties, Price has failed to settle with Luca Porzio and Gregory Mele, editors of Vadi's Arte Gladiatoria Dimicandi. This is an excellent edition, but I strongly advise against buying it new from any retailer. None of what you pay will reach the authors at this time.

Used copies currently seem to be reasonably available.

Price is also currently selling works by Hand, Greer, Preto, Rector and Wagner. To the best of my knowledge, all of these authors assert that royalties have ranged from nonexistent to almost nonexistent, and several have asserted that they revoke any right of Price to sell their intellectual property.

A recurring pattern is that these authors overwhelmingly live outside the United States, and so find it particularly difficult to defend their legal rights.

There are only two exceptions to this pattern. One is Brian Price himself. The second is Dr. Bengt Thordeman, who suffers the additional handicap of being dead.

Please, if you have any doubts of this, contact the authors.

Friday, December 07, 2012

In Service of the Duke

In Service of the Duke is a splendid facsimile and translation of a 15th century fighting manual created by Paulus Kal. This large format volume is 15.6 by 13.2 inches, allowing the pages  of the manuscript to be reproduced at the original size. Full color images show techniques for mounted armored combat, armored combat between a mounted man and a man on foot, armored combat between spear and spear, sword and spear, sword and sword, sword and dagger, dagger and dagger, and pollaxe vs pollaxe. Unarmored combat is shown between men armed with clubs and dueling shields, and between a man and a woman, with the man in a pit to make the combat more equal.

Additional pages on unarmored combat cover sword and buckler, longsword, messer, dagger and wrestling. The images are either uncaptioned or give a terse description of the technique.

Besides illustrating combat technique, the images show many variations of the armor of the period, not all of which have survived to the present in physical form.

The reproduction of the manuscript is followed by analysis that relates each leaf to related images and text from other fighting manuals of the period.

This is a deluxe recreation of a luxurious medieval artifact

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Former Chivalry Bookshelf Titles Now Being Sold by Authors

Several books formerly sold by the misnamed Chivalry Bookshelf are now being sold by the authors exclusively through Freelance Academy Press. I own copies of the ones by Tobler and Muhlberger and recommend them.

Here are some reviews:

Deeds of Arms, by Steven Muhlberger
In Service of the Duke, by Christian Tobler
Secrets of German Medieval Swordsmanship: Sigmund Ringeck's Commentaries on Liechtenauer, by Christian Tobler

This is good news!

Sunday, December 02, 2012


vij balistis de vicibus quarum j de baleigne cum j hasepe de novo apparatu

Compotus of Roger de Horncliffe, from 8 Feb. 1 Ed. III. to Mich, 4 Ed. III. in Ministers' Accounts, Bamburgh, V2 1-4 Ed. III. P.R.O.  (1328-29) 

une arbalète à tour, et un tour, et une arbalète de deux pieds et un haussepied.

An ordinance made for the manner in which men will be distributed in the defense of the Castle of Bioule, 1346

2 croichez de fer, 2 baudriez et 2 haucepiez pour tendre lesd. arbalestes.

Inventory of the Movables of the Castle of Vieux-Chateau, 16 August 1370

Item onze garrotz ferrez. Item vignt et quatre garrotz non ferrez; dous haucepiez garniz, dont les sièges sont ou haut du chastel.....Item, un haucepié garni, près la chambre Olivier Dinet.

Inventory of the Castle of l'Hermine, 23 January 1400
Item un haulcepié à tendre arbalestes et un tour à viz
Inventory of the Castle of Blois, 1421
From the above it appears that the haussepied was an engine for spanning large crossbows, mounted on a  frame, but distinguished from the tour, tour à viz, or vice, which seems to have been a screw and handle engine. I conclude from that that it was a frame-mounted windlass like those shown in the 1316 Carlisle charter and Walter de Milimete's 1326 MS.
Such a machine could easily span a two-foot crossbow that otherwise required a man to use the force of both legs while seated on the ground, with the crossbow on the frame at table height. I believe this was the source of the name.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Weapons at Bamburgh Castle: 1328-29

…unius aketon nullius valoris, v. bacinettis nullius valoris, vij balistis de vicibus quarum j de baleigne cum j hasepe de novo apparatu, xij balistis unius pedis de novo apparatu, j cista, iiij bukettis plenis de quarellis pro predictis vj balistis, j arcu, v garbis sagittarum, vij costis pro arcubus, xij costis pro balistis unius pedis quarum iiij nullius valoris, ij costis pro balistis de vicibus, x balistis unius pedis nullius valoris, j teler sine nuce pro balista de vicibus, xxxv quarellis pro springald de novo apparatu, xxviij quarellis pro springaldo sine pennis quarum iiij sine capite, xlvj torches cere in una cista, 1 tortie et xxvj broches cere in una alia cista, xv baudreis quorum iiij sine clavibus, …

Compotus of Roger de Horncliffe, from 8 Feb. 1 Ed. III. to Mich, 4 Ed. III. in Ministers' Accounts, Bamburgh, V2 1-4 Ed. III. P.R.O. .

…one aketon of no value, five bassinets of no value; seven screw crossbows, one of them of whalebone, with one new hasepe, 12 new one foot crossbows, one chest and four buckets full of quarrels for the aforesaid 6 crossbows, one bow, five sheaves of arrows; seven staves for bows; twelve prods for one-foot crossbows, four of them of no value; two prods for screw crossbows,  10 one-foot crossbows of no value; one tiller without a nut for a screw crossbow, 35 new springald quarrels, twenty-eight unfeathered quarrels for a springald, four of them without heads; forty-six wax torches in one chest, and fifty torches and thirty-six wax tapers in another chest; fifteen belts (for spanning crossbows), four of them without hooks…

Translation: Will Mclean 2012

Inventory of the Castle of Montgomery: 1301

Transcriptum indenture inter dominum W de Leyburn recipientem et dominum Bogonem de Knoville liberantem Castrum Montis Gomeri.

Memorandum quod die Lune proxima post festum sancti Luce Evangeliste anno regni Regis domini E. xxix° Bogo de Knoville liberavit domino Willelmo de Leyburn Castrum de Monte Gomeri cum omnibus rebus in eodem contentis, videlicet cum tribus prisonis de Scotia1 per dominum Regem ibidem prius missis. Liberavit etiam eidem xiij galeas parvi valoris,  xxviij capellos ferri parvi valoris, xx. balistas lesas et x. milia quarellorum pro balistis unius pedis, et j miliare quarellorum pro balistis duorum pedum iij bandrellos pro balistis duorum pedum, et ij viceas pro balistis extendendis. Item liberavit eidem iij balistas cornuas ad viceas integras et unam lesam, et iij balistis cornuas ad ij pedes, & duas ad unam pedem de dono domini Bogonis ad opus Principis. Item xij targias et iij. scuta parvi valoris, et unum incudem et j martellum et ij  sufflettos parvi valoris.  Item liberavit eidem iij par cooptorum ferri et ij testeras ferri et v. loricas1 cum capite et v. sine capite de veteri opere cum pluribus defectibus. Item j molam ad manum sine hoper, j ollam eneam, et j craticulam, xvj. par firgearum  et iij cathenas ad pontes trahendas. Item de ornamentis Capelle liberavit eidem unum par vestimentorum integrum cum corporalial iij manutergia debilia et terciam partem unius antiphonalis et terciam partem unius gradate et unum cofrum predictis ornamentis imponendis, et ij. cruettos et unam pixidem' et unam campanam pendentem in capella, et iiij"r cistas cum coopturis et iij sine coopturis et Iij dolia vacua.

Transcript of an indenture between lord W. de Leybum receiver and lord Bogo de Knoville deliverer of the Castle of Montgomery.

Be it remembered that on Monday next after the festival of Saint Luke the Evangelist in the 29th year of the reign of our Lord King Edward, Bogo de Knoville delivered to Lord William of Leyburn the Castle ot Montgomery with all things contained in the same, namely with three prisoners of Scotland previously sent there by our Lord the King. He also delivered to him 13 helmets of little value, 28 kettle hats of little value, 20 damaged crossbows and 10,000 quarrels for crossbows of one foot, and 1,000 quarrels for crossbows of 2 feet, 3 bandrellos for crossbows of two feet and two screws for spanning the crossbows. Also he delivered to the same 3 complete horn crossbows with screws and 1 damaged, and 3 horn crossbows for 2 feet and 2 for one foot of the gift of Lord Bogo for the use of the Prince. Also 12 targes and 3 shields of little value and 1 anvil and 1 hammer and 2 pair of bellows of little value. Also he delivered to the same 3 pairs of iron (horse) coverings and 2 iron testiers and 5 hauberks with headpiece, and 5 without headpiece of old work with many defects. Also 1 hand mill without a hopper, one brass pot and one grill, 16 pair firgearum and 3 chains for drawbridges.

Also of chapel ornaments he delivered to the same one whole pair of vestments with a corporal, 3 worn towels  and the third part of an antiphonal and the third part of a gradual, and one chest receive these ornaments, and two cruets and one pix and one bell hanging in the chapel and 4 chests with covers and 3 without covers and 3 empty casks. [Oct. 23rd, 1301]

Bandrellos: probably belts with hooks for spanning crossbows, related to the French baudrier.
Testier: head protection for a horse
Screw: In this context a machine with a screw and handle for spanning a crossbow
Firgearum: Unknown

Cott. MS. Brit. Mus. Vitellius C. x. fo. 154.  Translation by Will McLean, 2012

Excerpta historica, or, Illustrations of English history. 1833. London: Bentley. p.22

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Sir John Smythe: Unreliable Narrator

Smythe in his 1590 Certain Discourses, gives a detailed account of a combat during the siege of Thérouanne in 1513, in which an English supply convoy was ambushed by a French force "which did farre exceed the English in number", The English drew their "carriages into a conuenient forme" with archers both filling the gaps between the carts and "in the two open places of the carriages before and behind" so that the French "were that day repulsed and ouerthtrowne by the excellencie of Archers", and "one of their chief Captaines, called Monsieur de Plessis lifting up his sword to strike, was with an arrowe shot in the arme hole through his gusset of maile, and there slain" Smythe names as a source a certain "old English Gentleman yet aliue...Master Caudwell that was there present"

Old indeed. If Master Caudwell was only eighteen at the time of the battle, he would have been 95 by the time Smythe published his Discourses.

Smythe seems to have conflated three different incidents.

In June of 1513, according to Hall's Chronicle, an English convoy was overrun and looted by French light horsemen, with 30 English archers and eight English gentleman killed. The French lost 87 horses and "diverse" Frenchmen.

In August of 1513, a cavalry skirmish near Guinegate, also called "The Battle of the Spurs" ended in a French route. The French captain Jacques de la Palice was captured.

In 1429, an English supply convoy was attacked by superior French forces near Vouvray. Forming a defensive circle of wagons the English defeated the attack in what would later be called the Battle of the Herrings

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Skirmish During the Siege of Therouanne: 1513

Upon the Mundaie beeyng the xxvii. daie of June xxiiii. Cartes charged with victaill, wer by the Garrison of Caleis conduited to Guisnes, and ther the Crewe of the castle and toune of Guisnes with three C. foote men, under the conduite of sir Edward Belknappe, al beyng in nombre iiii. C. lx. men, set furthe to conduite the saied victailes to tharmie liyng before Tirwyn, and so thei passed to Arde. And while the Carters passed the toune, the horsemen fel a drinkyng in the waie, and the foote men wer al out of ordre. The duke of Vandosme capitain generall of Picardie, which laie in a bushement in the forest side of Guysnes with viii. C. light horsemen, toke his advauntage and set on the victailers, the Carters perceivyng that losed their horses and fledd to the toune, whiche was but a myle of and left their Cartes. Sir Nicholas Vaux capitain of Guysnes did al he could, to bryng the foote men in an ordre: but the Frenchmen set on so quickly that thei could not set theim in ordre, the horsmen of Guysnes whiche wer but onely xxiiii. toke their speres and joyned with the Frenchemen: the Archers of Englande whyche passed not lx. shot manfully, and a noble capitain called Baltier Delien and diverse other, but the Frenchemen wer so many in nombre and in good ordre, that thei slew viii. gentlemen of the Garrison of Guysnes, and xxx. Archers slain and many hurte, and so thei distrussed the victailes, and caused sir Nicholas Vaux, and sir Edward Belknappe to flie toward Guisnes. This misaventure fell by tariyng of the horsmen and breaking of array, for if tharchers had taried together it had happened otherwise, for the fewe Archers that held together, slewe and hurt diverse Frenchemen: For on the felde laie lxxxvii. great horse which never went thence, by the which it appered that the Frenchemenne went not quite a waie without losse. 

Hall, Edward, and Charles Whibley. 1904. Henry VIII. London: T.C. & E.C. Jack.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Crossbows of Horn, 1236

Re.r. De balistis.—Mandatum est H. Giffard', constabulario Turris London', quod de balistis regis que sunt in custodia sua habere faciat Amauro de Sancto Amando quatuor balistas de cornu ad duos pedes et decem balistas de ligno ad unum pedem ponendas in castris nostris Heref' et Sancti Briavelli. Teste rege apud Windes', xv. die Aprilis.

Great Britain. 1892. Calendar of the close rolls preserved in the Public Record Office. London: H.M. Stationery Office.  p. 258

The Duke of Orleans' Crossbows at Blois: 1418 and 1421

A 1418 inventory of the Castle of Blois describes 14 crossbows, 11 of wood and the rest unspecified. A 1421 inventory counts 27, 10 of wood, three of steel and the rest unspecified.

Revue des sociétés Savantes des Departments. 1900. pp 312-314

Crossbows in the Bastille 1436

Item, two crossbows of steel
Item, eight crossbows of wood, complete, of which three are large, called haussepiez
Item, five engines of wood for spanning crossbows, of which three are complete and the others not
Itam, five iron windlasses, both large and small, for spanning crossbows

Bournon, Fernand. 1893. La Bastille. Histoire et description des bâtiments.--Administration.--Régime de la prison.--Événements historiques. Paris: Imprimerie nationale.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Crossbows of the Dukes of Burgundy

 The dukes of Burgundy seem to have made a major technological shift in the 1440s. According to the records below, from 1362 to 1445 in cases where the material of the bow was identified they owned or bought 552 crossbows with wooden bows, and 195 composite bows of corne. From 1446, when they first began to acquire steel crossbows, to 1485, they owned or bought 197 crossbows with wooden bows, and 1,422 with steel bows.

Garnier, Joseph. 1895. L'artillerie des ducs de Bourgogne: d'après les documents conservés aux archives de la Côte-d'Or. Paris: H. Champion.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Medieval Elephants

I just had to share these charming, ferocious, trumpet snouted elephants from Royal 16 G VII - Les Anciennes Hystoires Rommaines, 1375-1400. 

As Fiore might say:
I am the mighty elephant, I'm wrinkled, grey and large
I bear a castle on my back, as massive as a barge
I am the noble elephant, I do not bend my knees
I am the mighty elephant, I trumpet when I sneeze

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Crossbows at Tournoël and Marlborough: 1213 and 1215

Guy de Dampierre 
Inventaire du château de Tournoël 
Lettre adressée au roi Philippe-Auguste le 12 décembre 1213 

Guy de Dampierre au roi. 
Votre Sérénité connaîtra que Gualeran de Corbelles et Robert m’ont livré, dans le château de Tournoël : 11 arbalètes de corne, 7 arbalètes à ettrif, 3 arbalètes à deux pieds, une arbalète à tour, 10 arbalètes en bois, 8 casques, 2 cuirasses, 10 écus [boucliers allongés], deux targes [autre espèce de bouclier], 4 coffres de carreaux [flèches], ettrifs et autres traits, 2 tours à arbalètes, 2 crocs, 2 pelotes de fil, 100 livres de cire, 4 setiers de sel, 12 porcs salés, 19 setiers de froment vieux, 4 haches, 3 tarrières, 1 serpe, 6 pilons et 1 mortier de cuivre, 6 marteaux, 2 câbles, 6 couvertures, 2 coussinets, 53 setiers de froment nouveau, 10 setiers et 1 émine de fèves, 1 tonneau de vin et 13 muids, 3 setiers de fèves vieilles, 2 moles dans la tour, des tonneaux à contenir 100 muids de vin et 3 cuves. 

Source Texte retranscrit dans : Hippolyte Gomot, Histoire du château féodal de Tournoël, 1881, p. 33-34.

Crossbows at Marlborough in 1215: "balistae ad turnum...balistae ad unum pedem...balistae; corneae; ad unum duos pedes," 

Rot. Pat. 16 John.
British Archaeological Association, Archaeological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Royal Archaeological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, and Royal Archaeological Institute (Great Britain). 1844. The Archaeological journal. London: Longman, Rrown [sic] Green, and Longman. Volume 15.

By 1213, we see both the the stirruped crossbow spanned with one foot in the stirrup (ettrif) and a belt hook, or croc,  and the heavy crossbow spanned by a windlass or screw, or tour/turnum.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Crossbows with Stirrups

An early crossbow without a stirrup, 1194-1196. Note the long draw.

Crossbow with a stirrup, 1225-1250.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Militarie instructions for the Cavallrie, 1632

His arms were a close casque or headpiece; gorget, breast pistoll-proof (as all the cuirasse in every piece of it), and caliver-proof (by reason of the placcate), the back pouldrons, vanbraces, two gauntlets, tassets, cuissets, culets, or guard de rein, all fitting to his body; a good sword (which was to be very stiffe, cutting, and sharp-pointed), with a girdle, and hangers so fastened upon his cuirass as he might easily draw it; a buffe coat, with long skirts, to wear between his armour and his cloathes ; his lance, either after the wonted manner, or (as Walhausen hath it) after the manner of a pike, only somewhat thicker at the butt end, the head of it either to be three-edged, or otherwise, like a pike head, made strong and sharpe, the length to be about eighteen foot, it being otherwise of little effect either against infantine or cavallarie; within two foot of the butt end to be bored through, and through it a thong of strong leather to be put, to fasten it to the right arm, for the surer holding and better managing thereof. On the outside of his right stirrop to have a socket of leather fastened thereunto, to place the butt end of his lance therein. His saddle to be handsome, made with advantage, fit for the rider to keep firm against the violence of a shock; thereat he should have one, if not two, pistolls, of sufficient bore and length, with keys and cartouches; also he must have flaske and cartouche-box, and all appurtenances fitting.
...again, is to be armed at all points, and accoated with a buffe coat under his arms, like the lance; his horse not inferior in stature or strength, though not so swift. He must have two cases, with good fire-locks; pistolls hanging at his saddell, having the barrell of eighteen inches long, and the bore of twenty bullets in the pound (or twenty-four, rowling in); a good sword, stiffe, and sharp-pointed, like the lancier. This sort of cavalarie is of late invention: for, when the lanciers proved hard to be gotten, first, by reason of their horses, which must be very good, and exceeding well exercised; secondly, by reason their pay was abated through scarcity of money; thirdly, and principally, because of the scarcitie of such as were practised and exercised to the use of the lance, it being a thing of much labour and industry to learn; the cuirassier was invented only by discharging the lancier of his lance. He is to have a boy and a nagge, as is otherwise said, to carry his spare arms and oat sacke, and to get him forage. His saddle and bit must be strong, and be made after the best manner. He is also to wear a scarfe, as hath been showed, chapter 20. He is to have his bridle made with a chain, to prevente cutting; and he must be very careful to have all his furniture strong and usefull.
The harquebusier was first invented in France, at the time of the warres of Piedmont; whom Melzo and Basta would have either not armed (though they confesse themselves contradicted therein by others), or but slightly (only with a head-piece and breast), and those but some few of the foremost. But the printed edict of the States of the United Provinces expressly commandeth that every harquebusier be armed with an open casque, gorget, back and breast, of the horseman's furniture; and captain Bingham, in his 'Low Country Exercise," appointeth him a cuirasse, pistoll-proof. Moreover, by the late orders rendered in by the council of warre, the harquebusier (besides a good buffe coate) is to have the back and breast of the cuirassier's arming more than pistoll-proofe, the head-piece, &c. For offensive arms, he must have the harquebuse of two foot and a half long (the bore of seventeen bullets in the pound, rowling in), hanging on a belt by a swivel, a flaske, and touch-box and pistolls, like the cuirassiers, (as some writers have it). His horse (according to the same edict of the States) should not be under fifteen hands high, being swift and well managed. The carabinier is to be mounted on a middling guelding, and to have a good buffe coat, a carbine or petronell (the barrel two foot and a half long, the bullet twenty-four in the pound, rowling in), hanging as the harquebusse, a sword, girdle, and hangers, flaske and touch-box, as the harquebusier.
The dragoni is of two kinds, pike and musket. The pike is to have a thong of leather, about the middle of the pike, for the more commodious carrying of it. The musketier is to have a strap or belt fastened to the stock thereof, almost from the one end to the other, by which (being on horseback) he hangeth it at his back, keeping his burning match and the bridle in the left hand. His horse is of the least price, the use thereof being but to expedite his march, alighting to do his service.
Cruso, John. 1632. Militarie instructions for the Cavallrie

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Presentation by Beatrice Nutz on the Lengberg Finds

On the blog Genevieve's Journeys.

Two Foot Crossbows

Arbalètes à deux pieds frequently appear in medieval inventories from the 13th century on, often contrasted with the arbalète à une pied. The one foot variety is presumably the familiar sort spanned from a standing position with one foot in a stirrup at the front of the stock. Some have suggested that the two foot crossbows are spanned with a wider stirrup for two feet. There are two objects to this theory. First the biomechanics are very poor. Second, there is no surviving bow that looks like that, and no examples in medieval iconography.

Robert MacPherson has suggested a far more plausible theory: that they were spanned while seated on the ground with a belt hook on the string and both feet on the prod, as though performing a short leg press. That makes a lot more sense.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

La Noue: Lancers vs. Reiters 1587

Whereupon I will say that although the squadrons of spears  do give a gallant charge, yet it can work no great effect, for at the outset it killeth none, yea it is a miracle if any be slain with the spear. Only it may wound some horses, and as for the shock it is many time of small force, where the perfect Reiter do never discharge their pistols but in joining and striking at hand, they wound, aiming always either at the face or at the thigh. The second rank also shooteth off so the forefront of the men-at-arms squadron is at the first meeting half overthrown and maimed. Although the first rank may with their spears do some hurt, especially to the horses, yet the other ranks following cannot do so,  at the least  the second and third, but are driven to cast away their spears and to help themselves with their swords. Herein we are to consider two things which experience hath confirmed. The one that the Reiter is never so dangerous as when they be mingled with the enemy, for then be they all fire. The other, that two squadrons meeting, they have scarce discharged the second pistol but either the one or the other turneth away. For they contesteth no longer as the Romans did against other nations, who oftentimes kept the field fighting two hours face to face before either party turned back. By all the afore-said reasons, I am driven to avow that a squadron of pistols doing their duties shall break a squadron of spears.

La Noue, François de, Edward Aggas, Thomas Orwin, and Thomas Cadman. 1587. The politicke and militarie discourses of the Lord de la Novve. Whereunto are adioyned certaine obseruations of the same author, of things happened during the three late ciuill warres of France. London: Printed for T. C[adman] and E.A[ggas] by T. Orwin. 

Williams: Lancers vs Reiters, 1590

Considering the resolute charge done with the might of their horses, the Launtiers are more terrible and make a farre better shew either in Muster or Battaile. For example, when the Almaines, during the time they carried Launces, carried a farre greater reputation than the do now being pistolers named Rutters. The most Chiefes of Souldiers of accompt are armed at the proofe of the pistol. If the leaders commaund their troupes to spoyle horses, the Launces are more sure, for divers pistols faile to go off: if charged it shakes in a man's hand so that often it touches neither man nor horse; if the charge bee too little it pierceth nothing to speak of. True it is, being pickt and chosen, the pistoliers murther more… but I was often in their companie when they ran away, three from one Launtier in great troupes and small… Without doubt, the Pistol discharged hard by, well charged, and with judgement, murthers more than the Launce; out of a hundred pistoliers, twentie nor scarce tenne at the most do neither charge pistol nor enter a squadron as they should, but commonlie and lightly always they discharge their pistols eight and five score off, and so wheele about: at which turnes the Launtiers charge then in the sides, be they well conducted… The Launtiers have or ought to have one pistol at the least.

Williams, Sir Roger. Briefe Discourse on Warre, 1590 p 50

Fourquevaux on Bows and Crossbows

Amongft other weapons leaft accuffomed, are the Bowe and the Croffebowe, which are two weapons that may do very good feruice against vnarmed men, or thofe that are ill armed, fpecially in wet weather, when the Harquebufier lofeth his feafon. And were it fo that the archers and croffebow men could carry about them their prouifion for their bowes and crossebowes, as eafily as y Harquebufiers may do theirs for their Harquebuffes I would commend them before the Harquebuffe, as well for their readineffe in fhooting, which is mutch more quicker, as alfo for the fureneffe of their fhot, which is almost never in vayne. And although the Harquebufier may fhoote further, notwithftanding the Archer and Croffebow man will kill a C, or CC, pafes off, afwell as the Harquebufier: and fometime the harneffe, except it be the better, can not hold out: and the vttermoft the remedy is that they fhould be brought as neere before they do fhoote as poffibly they may, and if it were fo handled, there would be more flaine by their fhot, then by twice as many Harquebufiers, and this I will prooue by one Croffebow man that was in Thurin, when as the Lord Marfhall of Annibault was Gouernour there, who, as I haue vnderftood, in fiue or fixe fkirmifhes, did kill and hurt more of our enemyes, then fiue or fixe of the beft Harquebufiers did, during the whole time of the fiege.

(1589 Translation of his Instructions sur le faict de la Guerre extraictes des livres de Polybe, Frontin, Vegèce, Cornazan, Machiavelle (Paris: Michel Vascosan, 1548)

Spanning a Crossbow from the Belt

When a belt hook is used to span a crossbow, the power of the bow is limited by the strength of the bowman's leg. The biographer of Pero Niño, the 15th century Castilian knight, says that he "used to bend the strongest crossbows from the girdle".

While leg pressing twice your body weight is considered a  good performance for a man in reasonably good condition some gifted athletes can exceed twice that. Dan Kendra holds the leg press record at Florida State University at over five times his body weight.

Bending a crossbow from the belt uses only one leg, so about half the weight of a leg press. On the other hand, a leg press is horizontal, and spanning a crossbow is pushing downward, somewhat aided by gravity.

Being able to belt span crossbows that everyone else needed a windlass or cranequin for would have been a useful and impressive skill to have.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Combat at the Barriers, Paris, 1514

First six foins with hand spears, and after that eight strokes to the most advantage if the spears so long held, and after that twelve strokes with sword......

At this tornay the Dolphyn was hurt in the hande, so that he coulde not performe hys chalenge at the barriers and put one of his ayde in his rome, the nexte daye after began the fight at the barriers and because the Dolphin was not present, the duke of Suffolke and the lorde Marques Dorsett that daye began the feld, and toke the barriers with speres in hand abydyng all commers. The Dolphin brought a man secretly, which in all the court of Fraunce was the tallest and the strongest man, & he as an Almayne and put him in the place of another person to haue had ye doke of Suffolke rebuked. The same great Almnyne came to the barres fyersly with face hyd, because he would not be knowen, and bare his spere to the duke of Suffolke with all his strength, and the duke him receiued, and for all his strength put hym by strong strokes from the barriers, and with the but ende of the spere strake the Almaine that he staggared, but for al that the Almayne strake strongly and hardly at the duke, and the iudges suffered many mo strokes to be foughten then were appoincted, but when they saw the Almayne rele & staggar, then they let fall the rayle betwene them. The lorde Marques Dorsett at the same time, euen at the same barre fought with a gentleman of Fraunce that he lost his spere, and in maner with drewe: When the rayle was let fall, these two noble men put vp their vysers & toke ayer, &; then they tooke swerdes with poynet & edges abated, and came to the barriers, and ye Almayne foughte sore with the duke, which imagened that he was a person set on for the nonce but ye duke by pure strength tooke hym about the necke, and pomeled so aboute the hed that the blood yssued out of his nose, & then they were departed, and the Almayne was conueyed by the Dolphyn lest he should be knowen. These twoo noble men of Englande that daye fought valiantly diuerse feates, and the Frenchmen likewise nobly them defended but it happened the lord Marques one time to put for his aide his youngest brother called the Lorde Edward Grey of the age of. xix. yere, and to hym was put a gentleman of Fraunce of greate stature and strength to thentente to plucke hym ouer the barres, but yet the younge Lorde was of suche strength, powre and pollecy, that he so stroke his aduersarie that he disarmed hym, al the face bare.

Hall, Edward. 1965. Hall's chronicle containing the history of England, during the reign of Henry the Fourth, and the succeeding monarchs, to the end of the reign of Henry the Eighth, in which are particularly described the manners and customs of those periods ; carefully collated with the ed. of 1548 and 1550. New York: AMS Press. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

A Deed of Arms by Claude de Salins at Vincelles: 1512

The Seventh Chapter: and it is prohibited for one to take another by the bagpipe hold, or otherwise. Or to pull another from the saddle, or take away their sword. But you are ordered that it will be a combat done and performed by sword against sword, and not otherwise.

Jehan de Byes vs Claude de Vaudray: Pas de la Dame Sauvage, 1470

During their mounted combat:
...and the battle was fought so close that they fought with swords and gauntlets. And know well that I saw him strike the entrepreneur many blows with the pommel of his sword.
La Marche, Olivier de, and Bernard Prost. 1872. Traites du duel judiciaire, relations de pas d'armes et tournois, publies par Bernard Prost. Paris: L. Willem.  p. 82

Monday, November 05, 2012

The Hedgehog's Not For Burning

Apparently hedgehogs like to crawl into unlit bonfires. Bear this in mind on Guy Fawkes Day. This message brought to you by the British Hedgehog Preservation Society.

Living Well Is the Best Revenge

I can't remember when I first heard the phrase, but this election finally made me look up who first wrote it. So that's one good thing coming out of the election

George Herbert, 1593-1633. Poet, priest, and a cheerful, saintly man. Izaak Walton wrote his biography. He also wrote:

He who cannot forgive breaks the bridge over which he himself must pass.
Woe be to him that reads but one book

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Latest from Planet Fox

Fox News seems to be broadcasting from their own alternate universe. It's impossible to blame this on the Liberal Mainstream Media, because not even the Wall Street Journal is backing up the Fox version of reality.
But according to multiple people on the ground that night, the Blue Mountain Security manager, who was in charge of the local force hired to guard the consulate perimeter, made calls on both two-way radios and cell phones to colleagues in Benghazi warning of problems at least an hour earlier.
And yet the Blue Mountain employees at the "consulate", actually a mission, say they were not informed.
Fox News was told there were not only armed drones that monitor Libyan chemical weapon sites in the area, but also F-18's, AC-130 aircraft and even helicopters that could have been dispatched in a timely fashion.
And yet the U.S. Air Force continues to believe that their fleet of AC-130s is still deployed at airfields in Florida and New Mexico, rather a long way from Libya.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Worthy of Pulitzer, But Not in a Good Way

On October 26th, Fox News' Jennifer Griffin published serious allegations by anonymous sources about the Benghazi attacks:
Fox News has learned from sources who were on the ground in Benghazi that an urgent request from the CIA annex for military back-up during the attack on the U.S. consulate and subsequent attack several hours later on the annex itself was denied by the CIA chain of command -- who also told the CIA operators twice to "stand down" rather than help the ambassador's team when shots were heard at approximately 9:40 p.m. in Benghazi on Sept. 11. 

Former Navy SEAL Tyrone Woods was part of a small team who was at the CIA annex about a mile from the U.S. consulate where Ambassador Chris Stevens and his team came under attack. When he and others heard the shots fired, they informed their higher-ups at the annex to tell them what they were hearing and requested permission to go to the consulate and help out. They were told to "stand down," according to sources familiar with the exchange. Soon after, they were again told to "stand down." 

Woods and at least two others ignored those orders and made their way to the consulate which at that point was on fire. ….They could not find the ambassador and returned to the CIA annex at about midnight

At that point, they called again for military support and help because they were taking fire at the CIA safe house, or annex. …The security officer had a laser on the target that was firing and repeatedly requested back-up support from a Spectre gunship, which is commonly used by U.S. Special Operations forces to provide support to Special Operations teams on the ground involved in intense firefights… 

According to sources on the ground during the attack, the special operator on the roof of the CIA annex had visual contact and a laser pointing at the Libyan mortar team that was targeting the CIA annex. The operators were calling in coordinates of where the Libyan forces were firing from. 
In this interview, Jennifer Griffin added that the the CIA team left the annex to go to the consulate at 10:30, on foot.

I've  italicized the allegations unconfirmed by any other news organization and flatly denied in detail by the CIA and Pentagon.

The story isn't Watergate, it's the Maine.  Fox is following the model of the yellow press on the eve of the Spanish-American War, with sensationalist, inflammatory stories based on false rumors.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Ayn Rand's Anthem

For me, suspension of disbelief failed when the hero found the long abandoned Frank Lloyd Wright house and the roof didn’t leak.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Instructive Ignorance of Fox's Benghazi Sources

Fox's recent story on the Benghazi attacks has given the right wing blogosphere a case of the vapors, but I think it is misleading, both through omission and through its heavy reliance on unreliable anonymous sources.
Former Navy SEAL Tyrone Woods was part of a small team who was at the CIA annex about a mile from the U.S. consulate where Ambassador Chris Stevens and his team came under attack. When he and others heard the shots fired, they informed their higher-ups at the annex to tell them what they were hearing and requested permission to go to the consulate and help out. They were told to "stand down," according to sources familiar with the exchange. Soon after, they were again told to "stand down." 
Now who were the sources? They couldn't be the security team itself or its superiors, because none of the sources the author used knew how many men went to the "consulate" (actually a mission), later. The security team and its superiors would know this. It seems quite likely that the sources were giving a second hand account of the exchange. In this interview, Jennifer Griffin says that according to one of her sources the security team went to the mission on foot, but the State Department and several eyewitnesses agree that they drove.
Woods and at least two others ignored those orders and made their way to the consulate which at that point was on fire.
The initial stand down order should not be controversial. There seem to have been about 150 militants attacking the mission, so the six man team could have accomplished nothing useful until sufficient friendly Libyan forces, who quickly engaged the militants, arrived, and they would have risked much by a premature drive into the Benghazi night. I also doubt that Woods was grossly insubordinate: he probably received a later order to go to the mission that the sources didn't know about.

By a bit before 11 p.m. local time, about an hour after the attack began, the security team was able to enter the mission. By then Sean Smith was dead and Ambassador Stevens, who could not be found, was dying. The team returned to the annex with Smith's body and the five surviving Americans from the mission, coming under fire as they left. Fighting at the mission was over about 11:30.

The annex came under fire around midnight: quite possibly the militants followed the security team back to the annex.
At that point, they called again for military support and help because they were taking fire at the CIA safe house, or annex. The request was denied.
The source here, if correctly reported, seems to be wrong, disingenuous or both. An unarmed predator drone, already in the air elsewhere over Libya, was dispatched towards Benghazi around this time. Predators are built for endurance rather than speed. It was probably operating against holdouts from the old regime in western Libya. It would arrive for the final hours of the fighting.  A team of reinforcements from Tripoli must also have been dispatched around this time to arrive at Benghazi airport by 2 p.m. Technically,  they might have been security contractors rather than military, but they were sufficiently heavily armed that the Libyan that escorted them to the annex thought they were Marines.  Support and help was sent. By the time it arrived around 3 a.m. the first annex firefight had died out and things were quite if tense.

Around 4 a.m. there was another brief but intense firefight, lasting about a quarter of an hour, and two Americans were killed by a mortar round. Fox claims:
In fact, at least one member of the team was on the roof of the annex manning a heavy machine gun when mortars were fired at the CIA compound. The security officer had a laser on the target that was firing and repeatedly requested back-up support from a Spectre gunship, which is commonly used by U.S. Special Operations forces to provide support to Special Operations teams on the ground involved in intense firefights.
Given the sources' lack of first hand knowledge about the security team, their claim that support was denied when reinforcements were actually sent in time to be present for the final firefight, and the failure of anyone in Benghazi  to notice a four engine turboprop droning overhead, this is probably a distortion of what actually happened. It seems more plausible that a security officer had a laser target designator, was prepared to use, and asked for air support. However, even if dispatched at that time, the firefight would have been over long before it reached Libyan airspace.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Dragon Splashes Down

A Dragon capsule splashed down today at 3:22 EDT, successfully completing its first operational mission. It carried nearly 1,700 pounds of cargo back from space, the most by any spacecraft since the last Shuttle mission and more than seven times the maximum Soyuz can return. No other nation and no other spacecraft now in service can do this. SpaceX claims the capsule is capable of bringing back up to 6,600 pounds.

This also brings us a step closer to a manned version.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Celestial Spheres

About five kilometers above sea level, we reach the limits of the Settlersphere, the highest permanent human settlement.

The Personsphere is currently defined by the orbit of the International Space Station, 330 to 410 kilometers above sea  level. It has been continuously occupied since November 2, 2,000. Aboard this enormous spacecraft humans live and play the flute.

The Profitsphere stretches to about 35,786 km above sea level. Within this zone unsentimental corporations can make a profit selling services to individuals and corporations: satellite communications, remote sensing and space tourism. It actually reaches a bit further than geostationary orbit: the Russians have found that Molniya orbits with an apogee of up to 40,000 kms have some advantages for serving northern latitudes.

Further out is the Landersphere, which currently reaches to Mars. Within it we have two operational rovers on the surface of an alien world, poking and prodding and sending back photographs.

Further still is the Inner Proxysphere, where we have inserted orbiters  to observe the worlds below over the course of many years. It reaches out to Saturn and down into the Sun's gravity well as far as Mercury. In Mars orbit we have a flotilla at work.

Finally, there is the Outer Proxysphere. Voyager 1 and 2 completed their flybys of the outer planets decades ago. They now fall outwards towards the stars. They will faithfully observe and report back as long as their power lasts. Voyager 1 is now over 18 billion kilometers from the sun.

The New Horizons spacecraft crossed the orbit of Uranus in March of 2011. It will fly by Pluto and follow the Voyagers outward.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Hunger Games Barbie

Because nobody says dystopian like Barbie. She's like a reverse Perky Pat.

"Bloodbaths are hard."

The 1% in Medieval England

England's income tax of 1436 identified 2,184 laymen with incomes from land, annuities or office of 20 pounds or more. This was apparently something of an undercount, missing some households and underestimating some incomes.

With about 500 monastic houses with incomes of 20 pounds or more and 8-9,000 parishes, the number of prelates, church officials and holders of the richest benefices with equivalent effective incomes probably came to almost as many.

Some merchants and craftsmen would have incomes of 20 pounds or more from their business that would not have been subject to the 1436 tax. London's 25 alderman were taxed as the same rate as knights banneret in the 1379 poll tax, and in the 15th century they had an explicit property qualification of at least a thousand pounds, which, if all invested in trade might yield an income of at least a hundred pounds a year. If the merchants had a similar income distribution to the landowners, there could have been about 230 London merchants with incomes of 20 pounds a year or more. However, merchants also liked to invest in real estate, and 87 London merchants were assessed as having lands and rents of twenty pounds or more in 1436, so they would already have been counted in the laymen above, leaving 146 families with less or no real estate with incomes of 20 pounds or more.

Given London's preeminence in population and wealth, the total number throughout England might have been three times that, or about 450.

Allowing for some undercounting in the 1436 tax, that comes to a total of about 5,000 households, a bit more or less than 1%, depending on which estimate of England's population you choose.

Two things are striking about the results of this exercise. First, medieval England was a much poorer society than today's. 20 pounds supported the lifestyle of a landed squire, a fortunate estate by contemporary standards, but not a lavish one by ours. Second, the primary sources of income for the wealthy were very different from today: inherited land, the church, and the law, with trade and manufacturing a relatively small part of the total.

Thursday, October 18, 2012


AutoDoc by ~WillMcLean on deviantART

Yet another Star Saga Illustration.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Knights and Warhorses, by Andrew Ayton

This has rich information on horse values, primarily in the armies of Edward III, and how they changed over time. In the 1360s, most warhorses were valued at between 5 pounds and 20 marks (13.3 pounds). The archers'  hackneys were frequently valued at a pound each. This represents a significant reduction in the proportion of high quality horses since Edward's earlier campaigns in France, probably as the English men-at-arms reacted to their own increasing tendency to fight dismounted.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Saturday, October 06, 2012


Today buckram is a stiff cloth, usually cotton but sometimes linen or poly-cotton blend.

Medieval bokeram or bougran seems to have been something different. It was often supple enough to use for flags, banners and pennons:

..X pièces de bougueran dont furent fais lesdiz petiz penonceaulx (Comptes Lille L., t.1, 1413-1415, 95).

In ij ulnis de bukram emp. pro j baner, 2 s. 2 d. (c1400) Mem.Ripon in Sur.Soc.81 132:

Bokeram for penouns..v 3erdis and a half of grene bokeram, iij s. (1426-7) Rec.St.Mary at Hill 64:

It was also suitable for lining clothing:

[Lined with] sendale, bokerames, samytes.  (1351) Riley Mem.Lond. 267:

To bey apese of blak bukram for to lyn with a gown for me. (1463) Paston 4.76:

...IX pièces de bougrains pour doubler les robbes de camelot (Comptes roi René A., t.2, 1478, 82)

It was also used for coat armor and jousting arrays:

j. cote d’arme de bocram Cardiff Records 58

...les princes joustoient en parures de drap de laine, de bougran (LA MARCHE, Mém., I, c.1470, 268).

It was listed among toilles, which seem to have been cloths of vegetable fiber, typically linen, but including cotton and hemp. The Dictionnaire du Moyen Français defines it as linen cloth.

. . ...toutes autres toilles tainctes comme bougrans, futaines de toutes sortes, sarges et sayettes (LA VIGNE, V.N., p.1495, 262

It was usually, but not always, colored: black, green, blue, red, yellow, and purple:

Þe queade riche þet zuo ofte ham ssredeþ ase of to zofte bougeren and of to moche of pris pourpre. (1340) Ayenb.(Arun 57) 258

xx virgarum de nigro bokeram pr. x s. (1409-12) in Gras Eng.Cust.Syst. 688

j silour de blewe bokram, cum quertons de eodem. (1415-1416) Will York in Sur.Soc.4 382

...XX aulnes de bougran bleu (Comptes roi René A., t.2, 1453, 8)

But sometimes it was white or uncolored:

Item, une autre coultepointe de bougran, blanche, pointée bien menuement, et à plusieurs bestes de poincture de mesmes. (
Invent. mobilier Ch. V, L., 1379, 392). Couvertures d'autel. Premièrement : Une vieille couverture de veluiau, pallée de roys rouges et vers, et est doublée de bougran qui est destaint. (Invent. mobilier Ch. V, L., 1379-1391, 151)

If bokeram was typically a colored cloth, probably linen or another vegetable fiber, how do we reconcile this with the difficulty medieval dyers had in producing colorfast tints on linen? Perhaps the the frequent use of bokeram as a lining fabric is part of the answer: in this application it would have little exposure to direct sunlight.

It was also used as hangings within churches, where direct sunlight may have been less threatening, as well as vestments:

i white cloth for the high auter, with a crosse of blew bokeram. (1447) HMC Rep.3 App. 316

...toute la nef de l'eglise estoit toute parée de soye et de boucran aux armes de monseigneur de Bourgoingne (LA MARCHE, Mém., III, c.1470, 62)

Albæ viii de serico..alba una de bukeram, cum parura brodata. a1300(1222) Reg.S.Osmund in RS 78.2 132

It was also used for beds and bed canopies:

Y wol she have a wurstede hangyng and bed of blak bokeram. (1444) Will Daubeney in Som.RS 19 341

A bed of burdealexander..a spavore of blew bukreme. (a1500) RHS ser.3.6 264

Here are the entries in the Dictionnaire du Moyen Français, The Anglo-Norman Dictionary, and the Middle English Dictionary

Propellant Depots: A Better Way

NewSpace Watch reports a new paper that argues for the advantages of propellant depots and commercial launch for big deep space missions like visits to NEOs.
Commercial launch with propellant depot architectures significantly improves the extensibility and mission payload capability by providing a robust framework for all foreseen missions in the next 30 years. Adding to commercial launches every few months provides experienced and focused workforce to improve safety, operational learning for reduced costs and higher launch reliability, reduce launch costs depending on the government/industry business model.

The depot framework allows multiple competitors for propellant delivery that is low-risk, hands-off way for international partners to contribute because it is not in the critical “mission” path and provides redundant alternatives available if critical launch failure occurs. The architecture provides reduced critical path mission complexity (Automated Rendezvous and Docking events, number of unique elements), provides additional mission flexibility by variable propellant load.

Commonality with COTS/commercial/DoD vehicles will allow sharing of fixed costs between programs and “right-sized” vehicle for ISS, thus stimulate US and international commercial launch industry. Development risk is reduced by eliminating four space elements including the major Earth-to-orbit launch vehicle and solar electric propulsion transfer vehicle, large mass margins with current and proposed launch systems, and the Cryogenic Propellant Storage and Transfer in-space technology demonstration program.

Why Science Fiction Usually Gets the Future Wrong

1. Optimistic Bias. If poorly understood new or projected technology will let you tell the story you want to if it works really, really well, it's tremendously tempting to write using that assumption. Look at Jules Verne with electricity or Heinlein and nuclear thermal rockets. They both assumed the technology would work vastly better than it actually does.

2. Dystopian Bias. In Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior the hero takes part in thrilling high speed car chases and is threatened by colorfully dressed crossbow wielding marauders. In Mad Max at Burning Man the hero is threatened by chapped lips and sunburn. Which movie is easier to pitch? And yet the second one is the future we got.

3. Lazy Analogy. Tanks will be like ships with treads. Rockets will be like ships with tailfins. Robots will be like metal people. Spaceships will be like airplanes. Thinking through all the ways the analogy is imperfect is hard work.

4. The Unknown Unknowns. Integrated circuits and the Internet have dated a lot of SF written before their appearance.

5. Futurism Is Hard. Even if you know about television, you may fail to predict its impact on politics or live theater.

6. They're Not Even Trying. Frequently the author isn't trying to predict the future: they're trying to entertain with a ripping yarn, or comment on the present by dialing it to eleven, or tell an illuminating parable about the human condition. Some of the best SF falls into these categories. As Le Guin says: "I tell lies for a living."

Sunday, September 30, 2012

An Ancient Streambed on Mars

More evidence from Curiosity of when Mars was wet.

Lizard Astronaut Reading

Lizard Astronaut Reading by ~WillMcLean on deviantART

Iranian News Agency Prints Onion Story as Fact: Onion Responds by Twisting Knife

The Iranian news agency carried an Onion parody as fact. The Onion rose to the opportunity:
The Onion story was later modified to include the line “For more on this story: Please visit our Iranian subsidiary organization.”

The Onion styles itself as “America’s finest news source” and yesterday its editor Will Tracy released a statement in which he said his site “freely shares content with Fars and commends the journalists at Iran’s Finest News Source on their superb reportage”.

Look, an Amphisbaena!

A family in South Carolina found a snake with a head at each end.

I say we clone it so we can breed them and put the amphisbaena back in the bestiaries.

After Electricity

Revolution is a recent TV show based on two premises: a) electricity suddenly stops working for any sort of Human technology, and b) nobody is smart enough to think of using a bicycle. Or a steam engine. Or a lot of other things.

This is a sad waste. Picking only one of the above would have been much more interesting.

Imagine a) without b). You get a complicated steampunky world that has suffered an enormous economic and cultural disaster, and probably immense loss of life in the aftermath of the Fail. Apple, Google, the Hoover dam and this blog are reduced to scrap in a moment.

But everyone with a bicycle that hasn't used it lately starts pumping up the tires. Diesels still work, unless they have electronic controls or an electric starter. Gas turbines still work, ditto. Also, steam.

15 years later, factories are still retooling, because everything powered by electricity had to be replaced by something else: the line shafts of pre-electrification industry,  pneumatic or hydraulic tools, small diesels, or something else.

Also, every factory that made electric motors, or gasoline engines, or integrated circuits, or batteries, needed to switch to producing something else.

Most U.S. locomotives were Diesel-electric or electric, and replacing them with or retrofitting them as Diesel-hydraulics is a titanic task, so old steam locomotives have been pulled of of excursion railroads and pulled out of museums to fill the gap.

Cars, new or retrofitted, are Diesels with gaslamp headlights.

Chains of optical telegraphs using heliographs by day and Aldis lamps by night, frequently sited atop former cell towers, are expensive, silenced by bad weather and blocked by oceans. Most long distance communication is by mailplane.

Mechanical computers use punch cards and paper tapes.

It's a strange hybrid of 19th, 20th and 21st century technology: a poorer and less productive world than our own, but not medievaloid.

And at least it's been good for the newspaper industry.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

"All those moments will be lost in time... like tears in rain..."

Mozart's sister-in-law,  Josepha Hofer, was the first Queen of the Night in the Magic Flute. Apparently she was very successful in the demanding role, until she retired from it at age 43. I understand and can well believe it is a taxing role best suited to the stamina of youth. The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians says: "According to contemporary reports, she commanded a very high tessitura but had a rough edge to her voice and lacked stage presence." So we know something about how she sounded, but if you can re-imagine her voice from that you have a better imagination than I do. For practical purposes her voice is gone, like tears in the rain.

The magnificent Diana Damrau made her debut as the Queen of the Night in 1998: she retired the role in 2007, although she still sings other parts. Queens of the Night have short careers, like the professional athletes they are. But thanks to exciting new Human time-binding technology, we can not only record sight and sound, but also distribute and enjoy it with increasing ease.

I can still remember a time, not so long ago, when if you wanted to see a film or video of an opera that had happened in the past, you had to wait until your local movie theater or television decided to run it, and then you had to watch it before it went away, and these opportunities could be decades apart.

"These are the days of miracle and wonder."

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Living in the Future: Hula Cam at Burning Man

They seem to be having fun. In the future in which we now live,  the desert is not nearly so dystopian as the Mad Max movies suggested.

It Gets Better

I like the country I live in better than the one I was born in. It's the same country, 55 years later. In 1957 there was no Civil Rights Act of 1964 or Voting Rights Act of 1965. Displays of contempt for our flag were punishable by law. In most states you needed to prove adultery or abandonment to get a divorce. Your employer could discriminate against you because you were pregnant. Cigarettes were sold without warning labels. Young men could be conscripted. The Interstate Commerce Commission enforced cartels in railroads and trucking. The top marginal federal income tax rate was 91%. The government had greater power to restrict free speech. And domestic violence was a sitcom punchline. Neither The Democratic nor the Republican party of today, for the most part, wants to go back to that. No matter who wins in November, it could be worse, and once was.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Government Benefits

Matt Yglesias makes an important point. Getting a direct payment from the government is a significant benefit to the individual that gets it. But many of the most valuable government benefits aren't direct payments. They are things like an enormous retroactive extension of monopolies on intellectual property, or an overly broad patent granted for rounded corners, or protective tariffs to make sure domestic sugar farmers can have bigger profits. This are things that a true pro-market party would try hard to change. Not to mention tax preferences that discriminate in favor of hedge fund managers compared to other labor, or home owners versus renters, or people who get health insurance as part of their compensation compared to those that pay for it individually. Now, the Platonic ideal of the Republican Party does want to eliminate preferential laws that cater to rent seeking, reduce preferential tax treatment to broaden the tax base, and reduce the deficit. The actual incarnate Republican Party that has a majority in the House of Representatives, not so much. In fairness, incarnate Republicans that try to actually enact the platform of the Platonic ideal of the Republican Party tend to be brutally savaged by the electorate, who are unsympathetic to the idea that any of the above changes should have any negative impact on any individual that they can imagine feeling any sense of kinship with. And the concentrated interests that receive benefits like excessive long copyright terms or preferential treatment of carried interest will defend them with passionate intensity.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Medieval Helmet Padding

From at least the 14th century on, when we first have examples of surviving padding, helmet padding worked as both padding and a suspension system.

Thickness varied, with field helmets sacrificing padding thickness for comfort during long wear, and helmets for jousting and other specialized combats where the helmet would only be worn for a short time making the opposite choice. Even so, padding for the skull as thick as a modern potholder was probably at the upper end of the scale.

Typically, the crown of the helmet padding was divided into 4-10 segments laced together at the top to provide an adjustable fit. The lacing could pass through eyelets at the top of each segment, or between the inner and outer layer at the sides of the top of each segment

The robustness of the cloth used seems to have ranged from no heavier than a work shirt to significantly lighter than painter's canvas.

Rows of quilting could be either horizontal or vertical, converging like lines of longitude at the top of the helmet. The effigy of Philip the Bold of Burgundy at Dijon is one example of the latter system, and Churburg bascinet #15 is a surviving example. Alternatively, there could be a vertical line of stitching at the middle of each crown segment with parallel lines of stitching on either side. Lines of horizontal stitching seem to have frequently been about a finger's breadth apart. Some were stitched both horizontally and vertically.

The quilting stitches could present a continuous row of stitches visible on the inside of the lining, stitches visible on the inside separated by a gap of similar length, or very short widely separated stitches visible on the inside of the lining.

Here is a good detailed view of the lining of a sallet at Leeds.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Lincoln on Mars

Curiosity took a Lincoln penny to Mars. This was in part a tribute to the practice of geologists including a penny in photographs of rock samples to give a sense of scale.

And now a Lincoln penny serves as part of a calibration target for Curiosity's cameras.

But not just any penny. This one is from 1909, the first year of issue for the Lincoln penny, and still bearing the initials of the designer of that handsome coin, removed before the end of the first year of full production.

When Teddy Roosevelt was determined that even the smallest denomination coin issued by the United States should be an admirable piece of work.

And someone in the project made sure that the coin that went to Mars was from the first year of issue for the Lincoln penny, and still bearing the designer's initials.

So a familiar mundane object that is also a fine portrait in relief of one of the United States' greatest presidents, and an expression of our values, is on Mars, where we can see that it is now flecked with particles of Martian dust.

Robot Dressage

What's more fun than a high stepping equine robot? Two high stepping equine robots! (appearing at 1:19)

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Where's the Kaboom?

Here. Once Curiosity was safe on the Martian surface, the cable it was lowered on was severed, and the descent stage was programmed to fly away to the northwest of the landing site, selected because this took it away from the locations of greatest interest to NASA. It hit the surface about 650 meters from Curiosity, traveling at about 160 Kilometers an hour, probably with significant residual Hydrazine rocket fuel still in its tanks.

It was probably something of a Michael Bay moment, with a dramatic fireball and the descent stage scattered into pieces not much larger than a foot in diameter.

Saturday, September 08, 2012


Curiosity's backshell and parachute on the Martian surface, seen from orbit. That is an impressively capable camera! I wonder how long it will take the parachute to fade and tatter.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012