The Technology of our Ancestors

Another recumbent rider who also blogs on WordPress recently wrote about the pros and cons of using ancient technology in preference to modern.  He makes a good point, and he was careful to moderate it with the phrase “a rule of thumb.”  He wrote, “I have developed a rule of thumb when evaluating if a health claim is true or not; If early humans did it, then it is good, otherwise it is bad.”

I didn’t want to instigate a long, drawn-out argument on his blog about this – mostly because I have no real argument – but I believe the subject does beg discussion, and this blog has been cooking in my mind for a couple of days now.

I have some of the same philosophies about life, though the rules are more complex.  I make every effort to buy local organic produce, for instance, and there are lots of farms here about, but coffee doesn’t grow in northern California, so there’s an exception right there.  And we aren’t giving up our computers.

Some of you know that I’m active in the Society for Creative Anachronisms, and that I have long studied the arts of the sword and the bow.  However, if a crazed rapist were to break into the house, you know I’d reach for the Smith & Wesson.  Even the most enthusiastic SCA-er will remind you that it’s “The middle ages as they should have been.”  Like, no Plague, we wear eye-glasses, and if you try to take away women’s suffrage, we’ll kill you with your own sword.

And, of course, there are some of us who simply wouldn’t be alive today if it wasn’t for 21st Century medicine.

So, can we agree that some modern solutions are better than bronze age ones?

Let’s take a closer look at some ancestral solutions, though.   The first question we have to ask is, “Which ancestors?”  The ones from pre-electric 19th century, or shall we go back as far as Australopithecus?  I’m not running around naked on the African savannah for anybody.  The original blog was about shoes, and the earliest known shoes are from bronze-age Mesopotamia.  That’s still a long ways to go back.

Difficult to pick, huh?

There is a popular television show on NBC called Revolution, and the major premise is that the entire world has been plunged into a permanent black out because all of the electricity has been turned off.  Remember that scene from The Day the Earth Stood Still? (The superb 1951 version, not the bastardized 2008 one.)  Well, it’s not 1951 anymore, and the consequences are even more dire.  Suddenly, we’re back to 19th Century agrarian communities.

Revolution is escapist post-apocalypse fantasy, though certainly not as much so as the book Dies the Fire (one of my absolute fave books, by the way!) Have you ever worked a farm using 19th Century technology?  I have.  It’s fun for about a week.  After that it’s just hard work, and lots of it.  And quite frankly, I don’t believe the current world’s population could be fed that way.

So, where do I stand on this issue?  Well, like almost everything else, it depends on the details.

More musings on this at another time.

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Archery Fever

It started with The Hunger Games, and fortunately the movie was so well hyped that we had plenty of warning.  We all remember what happened when Lord of the Rings and Robin Hood were released.

Archery fever.

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This is about a third of the people who showed up one Sunday for our archery public outreach

On the first and third Sunday of every month (except December and January), we invite the public to join us for a morning of archery instruction.  They come from all walks of life, with a heavy emphasis on families.  For a five dollar donation, we put a bow in their hand and an arrow in the other.  We check them for left-right eye dominance, we show them how to load the bow, how to stand, how to draw and many of the other minutiae of archery.

On an average day, we’ll see about thirty or forty people, with an even mix of ages and genders.

Then we noticed an increase in teenage girls, and one of the instructors told the rest of us about the books by Susanne Collins.

“This is going to get ugly,” somebody said, though we all smiled.  Like any other addicts, we love to get more newbies.

No sooner did we adjust to the increase caused by The Hunger Games then we were hit with fans of The Avengers.  Then, the final blow, Brave.

We split our normal three hour session into two sessions of one and half hours, bought more equipment and convinced more members to help out with instruction.

And we still had to turn people away.  I hate turning people away.  People started showing up forty minutes early in order to be insured a spot.  Our scorekeeper showed up to register people and give them numbers.

Yes, it’s a lot of work, but it’s a labor of love.  We get a kick out of it when newbies finally put it all together and start hitting the target more than they miss.

Then we bring out The Balloons. Balloons have a magical quality.  You would be amazed at how much a student’s aim improves when there’s a balloon out there, laughing at you with every miss.  Yes, balloons can laugh.  Put one on a target next time you go to the range, and you’ll hear its shrill, mocking laughter every time an arrow doesn’t end its inflated existence.

Finally, it’s noon, and all the students leave and the instructors meet in the clubhouse for the after-action debriefing.  We talk about the students who shined the students who nearly shot their parents, the students who asked about club membership.

We know that Archery Fever will eventually burn itself out, even if the sport at the London Olympics it does enjoy a brief renaissance of popularity.  Eventually, we’ll be able to go back to sane Sundays, when only thirty or forty people show up.

Then somebody – I don’t remember who – mentioned that there’s a new television show this fall which has received a lot of publicity and seems to be very popular.  Revolution. A world with no electricity, and the inhabitants revert to archery.

“We’re doomed,” somebody said with a laugh.

House of Ghosts

ImageChristopher R. Mihm’s new retro-horror movie, House of Ghosts, is now available.  It’s a flashback to the horror movies of old, written, directed and filmed in the same manner, as the B science fiction/horror movies we saw at the drive-in cinemas.

Due to the magic of modern technology, though, you can watch the movie voiced in Esperanto.  And if you do, please look for my name in the credits as one of the translators.

I also helped translate Mihm’s earlier work, Attack of the Moon Zombies, but this one was more difficult as we were asked to give translations that had the same number of syllables as the original English so that the English speaking actors didn’t look like they had some pre-existing brain trauma.  A major difference between the two languages is that English is awash with single syllable words, and Esperanto has very few.  We did a lot of verbal abbreviations.  It was a challenging task, but I think we came through!

I’m not going to give you a synopsis or review. I’m sure you’ll be able to easily predict most of the story line.  The value of the movie is in the presentation.

Zombie Apocalypse – Archers on the Run!

I watched a movie on the SyFy Channel yesterday titled Zombie Apocalypse.  I feel like I need to justify this.  I caught the flu and was feeling miserable and wanted something on television that didn’t require too much cerebral effort while I laid on the sofa like a sick puppy.  So I turned on the SyFy Channel and was treated to a marathon of zombie movies.

Though a lifelong science fiction fan and admitted trekkie, I am not a connoisseur of zombie movies, or even of horror movies in general.  I can’t pretend to be an expert giving a review.  I can only give you my impressions of the movie as viewed from my feverish stupor.

This movie has the feel of something that would be produced by a high school student production.  It’s what you’d expect if the English class wrote the script (and not even the honors English class) and the extras were made up of fellow classmates and the family and friends of the production crew; if the make-up was done by the cosmetology students from the community college; if somebody who is good with a Mac did the special effects; if they borrowed a lot of the props and probably built a few in the machine shop, and filmed the scenes in deserted backlots in Toronto.  Somehow, they talked a Hollywood B-lister, Ving Rhames, into starring.  The production budget was raised from a PTA bake sale.

The story follows a group of survivors across the country, trying to make it to the island of Catalina off the coast of California.  Along the way, they kill a lot of zombies, some of them get turned into zombies, and some of them just get eaten.  Oddly, they keep killing the same zombies, though I suspect this had more to do with a lack of extras than the re-spawning abilities of the undead. They do eventually encounter some kewl zombie zoo animals.

The acting isn’t horrible.  It’s what you’d expect from a community theatre.  There is some dialogue designed to get you interested in the characters, but it was written by somebody with the emotional repertoire of a teenager.  The gory fight scenes, which follow one right after the other, fill in where a more expensive movie would have drama.

That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy the movie.  I was entertained, though sometimes not in the way the film makers wanted me to be.

So why am I talking about a zombie movie?

There were archers!!  Well, sort of.

Some of the survivors were the school archery team of some university (I didn’t catch the name) and their coach.  And, on the screen, their arrows went exactly where they were supposed to.

Allow me to clear my throat here.

I know that the budget was near zero.  But is it too much to ask that they find a real archer who could give the actors a half-hour lesson on how to shoot?  Or lacking that, isn’t there some professional responsibility on the part of the actors to say, “Hey, if I’m going to shoot a bow on screen, I’d better look like I know what I’m doing.”

It was painful to watch these actors playing competitive college archers, demonstrate that they hadn’t held a bow in their lives until five minutes before filming started.

The scenes which show them loosing arrows are almost comedic.   I tried to find online photos of these scenes, but the produces wisely kept them off the internet.  Ironically, there was a bit of dialogue where one survivor asks the other, “Why bows?”

“Because all the ammunition was already taken.  The sports stores still had archery equipment.”

“That’s because almost nobody knows how to shoot a bow!”

Zombie Apocalypse was followed by Resident Evil: Apocalypse (see the connection here?) which I could stomach until the scene where, knowing that the dead once again walked the earth, they decide to take a short cut through the graveyard.

I don’t believe I’ll ever develop a taste for zombie movies.

Star Trek: eXtreme

(Spoiler Alert: Eva, this means you.)

In spite of the plot holes big enough to fly a starship through, the newest Star Trek movie, which basically re-invents the franchise, is a fun romp through Federation space.  The movie was intended to bring the 1960’s idea into the 21st Century, thereby attracting a whole new younger audience.  There was even a tag line, This is not your father’s Star Trek.

To that extent the movie was successful.  J. J. Abrams achieved this by ramping up the pace of the movie to warp speed.  The action, the space battles, the bar fights, the incredible stunts and even the jokes come at the audience in rapid fire phaser blasts.  It gets slightly repetitive, though, as Kirk seems to spend half the movie hanging by his finger nails from one precipice or another.

Abrams also achieved his goal by performing a frontal lobotomy on the philosophical side of Star Trek.  One of the hallmarks of the original show is that the crew slowed down enough to discuss the ethics of what they were doing.   Abrams could have gone a long ways towards keeping the original audience of the show by deleting just one of those cliff-hanging scenes and replacing it with a philosophical discussion on the ethics of time travel or some other aspect of the plot.

So while the movie is faster and more fun than most of the previous 10, it’s also dumber.  This is exemplified by Kirk’s cheating of the Kobiyoshi Maru exercise.  I always imagined this event to be something much more clever, and we are, in fact, advised that Kirk is “genius level” by Captain Pike.  But instead of something clever, we get “in your face.”  Instead of intelligence, we get self-absorbed belligerence.

And for this, it is implied that Kirk deserves, and indeed expects, to be promoted from cadet to commander of the fleet’s flagship.  Kirk is rewarded for jumping first without thinking about it at all.

That’s not the Starfleet I came to know and love.  My children’s generation is welcome to it.

Pre-Review: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

We are all salivating like Pavlov’s pooch in eager anticipation of the new Indiana Jones movie.  However, concerns are raised.  What if it’s another dog like the second move, Temple of Doom?

To assuage my fears, I did what any typical 21st Century American does — I went to Yahoo movies and checked out what the critics have to say.

We all know that, even if the current movie is horrible, there’s nothing that the critics can say to warn us away from seeing it.  If we liked the first movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark, we’re going to be standing in line for this one, praying to the cinema gods that it doesn’t follow in the grand tradition of Phantom Menace.  We are going to give it the $10-per-seat benefit of the doubt in spite of Lucas’ track record in these matters.

The critics listed at Yahoo were mixed on the subject.  Some liked it and gave it an A, and others thought it was the worst thing to date for these movie makers, but still gave it a C.

The kicker, though, was that the people who disliked Kingdom of the Crystal Skull liked Temple of Doom.

Wait: these people actually liked Temple of Doom?

Hmm.  Sounds like Kingdom will be a winner in my book!