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.

More on Zombies and Traditional Archery

I still can’t believe that I got into this conversation about zombies and archery. Both topics are trending right now, due in part to a spat of movies featuring heroic archers – Liongate’s The Hunger Games, Pixar’s Brave, and Marvel Comic’s The Avengers. There is, perhaps, some synergistic effects from the London Olympics. You would not believe the circus that our Sunday Public Outreach has become at San Francisco Archers. It has become so popular that we have had to, sadly, turn people away.  There was even talk of giving people pagers and taking reservations. However, the current archery fever will eventually burn out, as it always does.  The typical teenager’s attention will be occupied by the next Hollywood topic du jour, and our Outreach sessions will return to sanity.

As to the popularity of zombies – who knows? They must appeal to some dark corner of our cultural mindset.  I’ve often thought of them as a metaphor for mindless consumerism.  

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Norman Reedus as survivor Daryl Dixon on AMC’s The Walking Dead.

So, have you seen AMC’s series The Walking Dead? Based on the graphic novel of the same name, the show follows a small group of survivors of a zombie apocalypse in Georgia, USA. One of the characters, Daryl Dixon, uses a crossbow to both hunt for dinner and to off zombies. In the universe of The Walking Dead, the only way to kill a zombie is to destroy the brain. Don’t think to much on this, just go with it.

I let myself get involved in an online discssion on this topic, and a user who identified himself or herself as a bowhunter commented that the character should use a compound bow, because the rate of fire is much faster.

I agreed, and added that a recurve has an even faster rate of fire, and hitting something the size of a human head from 30 yards (27 m) was a piece of cake, with decreasing probability from there.  

To which the bowhunter gave a surprisingly angry response. “You’re not going to be able to hit somebody in the head using traditional archery at 30 yards!”

Huh? I briefly considered posting this person’s internet ID on the SCA archery forums and other traditional archery sites, but that would be just mean.  

I believe most compound shooters vastly underestimate the value of traditional archery. Many become addicted to the gadgets, and simply wouldn’t have the first idea of how to aim a traditional recurve or longbow, and they simply have not seen good traditional archery.

So, I’m thinking: Why not make a video? Set up a course at the archery range using those styrofoam wig-thingies that look like robot heads, and then invite my trad-shooting friends to show off their skills? Unmarked yardage. Maybe I can even set up a few to move like zombies. I need to think about this some more.

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.

The Archers’ Moon

You can find online or in any of several almanacs the names of the moons.  There is nothing official about these, though many authors will make the bold statement, “Native Americans call this the ____ moon.”  As if all the various native American tribes got together at some pre-columbian astronomical conference to give names to the moons.  Other authors will at least give locality to the tribes, saying, “Tribes in the Northwest called this the ___ moon.”  Considering the plethora of languages and cultures of the tribes in the “Northwest” and lack of written history, I take all of this with a grain of salt, but I’m not an anthropologist.

The names of the moons tend to be seasonal – like the Harvest Moon, though many lack a certain coolness.  For instance, I don’t care at all for the Worm Moon.

My beloved and I have created our own set of names for the moons.  For instance, we call the moon in late June the “Strawberry Moon” and celebrate the full moon be coming up with creative ways to eat our favorite summer  fruit.  We borrowed from some of the more standard names, like the aforementioned Harvest Moon.  This year, we are combining it with a cheese making party.

While admiring the full moon in May 2010, which we currently call the Full Flower Moon (borrowed from the Farmers’ Almanac), it occurred to me that any full moon which happens in late May or early June takes place in the constellation Sagittarius.  The celestial archer.

Sagittarius

I think this is a great idea for the name of a moon!  The Archers’ Moon!  Anybody who knows me, or has read one or two of my previous posts knows that this is a favorite topic of my blogs.  Specifically, traditional archery. How more traditional than the ancient zodiac?! Here it is, my favorite sport, immortalized in the heavens.  And it’s just as official as any of the other names of the moons.  That is, not at all.  But it’s personally relevant.

Hope everybody enjoys the Strawberry Moon on June 26th!

Popularity of Archery still on the increase after theatrical release of Robin Hood.

Newbie archers at the SF Archers Public Outreach program, June 6, 2010

It was decided yesterday that the San Francisco Archers Public Outreach program needs new equipment.  This topic has been cussed and discussed before, but yesterday was the clincher as we had to turn a dozen people away because we ran out of loaner equipment and arrows.  The photograph shows about 1/3 of the crowd that showed up, even on a cool foggy morning.  Fortunately, is was a crowd of mostly adults who listened to instructions well, because the four of us instructors would have gone running away screaming if it had been an equal number of kids.

I mentioned in a previous post the reasons I think  a poor economy is good for archery.  Basically, it’s a lot cheaper than golf.  We have also noticed a trend in the popularity of the sport which follows the release of any popular movie which features archers.  The recent release of  Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood, starring Russell Crowe, is an excellent example.  This is a very adult version of Hood, and so we got a lot of adults at outreach.  But you should have seen all the kids who showed up after the release of The Lord of the Rings.

Of course, it’s relatively easy to get a group of strangers to show up to try archery once.  We measure the success of our efforts by the number of people who continue to show up after the novelty of it wears off, and they realize that they can’t become expert archers in a single morning’s practice.  We know we have them hooked when they ask, “So, how much does it cost for a good bow?”  We get as excited as any drug dealer.

There are easily half a dozen very good archery ranges in the San Francisco Bay Area, and I explained to two women from San José that they could probably find one closer to where they live.  They don’t have to drive all the way to Pacifica to enjoy the sport.  They responded, “But you guys take care of us.”  That had me walking on air for several hours.

There tend to be two kinds of potential archers who show up: The technophiles who start drooling at the sight of the latest Matthews hunting compound, and those who are attracted to the sexy lines of the recurve or the earthy simplicity of the longbow.   The second group takes more attention because, quite frankly, it’s easier to become competent with a modern compound than a recurve or longbow.  For the second group, who are probably getting frustrated with their lack of accuracy, we make an effort to complement their form and point out their improvements.  There is very little in the way of instant gratification in traditional archery.

At the end of three hours, we did a thorough search for lost arrows, put the equipment away, and sat down to discuss our successes and failures.  We gotta get more equipment!

Rancho Neblina 2009 – Foam on the Range.

The weekend of September 26 and 27, 2009, gave us the 9th Annual Rancho Neblina Traditional Rendezvous.  Sixty-three 3D foam animal targets at unmarked distances on three separate courses set on a 600+ acre cattle ranch near Petaluma, California.  The cows were not pleased with having to share their fields with 200 bipeds. In spite of promises for cooler weather, the temperatures reached 100° F (38° C) on both days, and the heat took its human toll as some archers passed out or dropped from the competition.

You can find pictures of the event here.

I didn’t do well.  This is a major league disappointment after spending all year training for this event, and then to have it all fall apart.  A friend commented, “You can hit all the difficult targets!  What is it with the easy ones?”

Indeed, it seemed like I couldn’t miss the difficult targets, including one I call The Carousel of Doom.

But when it came to getting the easy ones, some madness possessed my arrows and sent them on strange and unexplainable trajectories, without regard to how much I tried to slow down and concentrate on aiming.

Ah well, it’s all practice, eh?

Next year.

Update September 30, 2009 –– I left the competition site before the awards ceremony because allergies were starting to flare, and I had already used my limit of anti-histamines.  I left thinking that I had placed poorly.  A friend sent me a message on Facebook, “You came in second!!” While this certainly made me feel better, my thoughts were, “Okay, other people performed worse than I did.  That doesn’t mean I performed well.”

We are always our own worst critic, aren’t we?