Thursday, August 20, 2015

Tent Toggles



At top is one of the toggles on my pavilion. They started as commercial 1.5” toggles, with a central groove for the tie that attaches them to the canvas added on a lathe by the tentmaker, Robert MacPherson. They both attach the walls to the roof and close the door openings, a solution that is both authentic and quicker and easier than fabric ties.

The next to photos are toggles from a surviving 17th century tent from the armory at Graz.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Mallomar SF

Mallomar SF has a superficial shell of crunchy hard science, but when you bite into it’s full of fluffy, gooey magical science and bad science.

Take Heinlein’s The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, which I loved when I was twelve. Heinlein lovingly calculates the kinetic energy of the lunar bombardment, while completely omitting the amount of energy lost as the projectiles go through the atmosphere. Or the glaringly obvious heat signature of the second catapult’s radiator.

Or the economic absurdity of growing wheat in lunar caves with fossil ice for export to Earth. That’s pretty silly even before the ice starts running out.

Given the presumption of competitive fusion power, that would would be hopelessly more expensive than, for example, growing wheat underneath Antartica.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Tables: Ludus Anglicorum, Imperial and Provincial























A clearer image of the illustration is reproduced here.

The English Game
There are many games of tables with dice, the first being the long game, which is the English Game. It is common here, and is played as follows: he who sits on .am. side has 15 men on .&. point, and he who sits on the .n&. side has 15 men on .a. point. They play with three dice or with two, the third throw being always counted as a 6. He who sits on .am. side moves all his men placed on .&. through the pages .&t., .sn., .mg. and into the page .fa. and then bears them off.

He who sits on .n&. side moves all his men placed on .a. through the pages .af., .gm., .ns. and into the page .t&. and then bears them off. And he who first bears off all his men wins.

And note that he who sits on .am. side can secure any point from .mg. and .fa., except the .a. point, that is occupied by two or more opposing men, and when there is only one, he can take it. If an opposing man is undoubled, he can take it by moving with one or two dice, then the captured man has to return in .t&., and reenter with a 6 in .t., or with a 5 in .u., or with a 4 in .x., or with a 3 in .y, or with a 2 in .z., or with a 1 in .&., if these points are not occupied by his own men nor doubled by his opponent ones. And his opponent cannot play until he has reentered the captured man.

And note that in this play it is good to secure the .g. and .f. points. With three dice, the third one being always a 6 ; securing the .g. point prevents the opponent from crossing the bar with a 6. Also note that you can bring all the men you want on doubled points; from these doubled points, you can also hit the undoubled, and make them return in the table where they were placed at the beginning of the game.

Thus he who sits on .n&. side can secure any point in .ns. and .t&. except the .&. point that is occupied by two or more opposing men and when there will be only one, he can hit it. And, if an opposing man is undoubled, then he can hit it by moving with one or two dice. And then this captured man returns in .fa., and reenter with a 6 in .f., with a 5 in .e., with a 4 in .d., with a 3 in .c., with a 2 in .b., with a 1 in .a., if these points are not occupied by his own men nor doubled by the opponent ones. And the opponent cannot play until he has reentered the captured man.

Also note that in this play it is good to secure the .s. and .t. points, for the same reason mentioned above. And as soon as he who sits on .n&. side brings all his men in .t&., he bears them off as follows: if some men are on .t., they are born off with a 6 or an equivalent combination i.e 4-2, 3-3, 5-1, the points on .u. are born off with a 5 or its equivalent 4-1, 3-2, or with a 6 if there is no men on .t.; the points on .x. are born off with a 4 or its equivalent i.e 3-1, 2-2 or with a 6 or a 5 if there is no man in .t. nor in .u.; and if these men are in .y., they are born off with a 3 or its equivalent 2-1 or with a 6, 5 or 4 if there is no men in .t. nor in .u. nor in .x.; and if some men are in .z., there are born off with a 2 or with 1-1 or with 6, 5, 4, 3 if there is no man in .t. nor in .u. nor in .x. nor in .y.; and if some men are in .&., they are born off with a 1 or with 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 if there is no man in .u. nor in .x. nor in .y. nor in .z. Thus he who sits on .am. side bears his men in .fa., and he who bears his men off first wins.

He who sits on .n&. side has a great mastery of the game if he manages to secure .n. .o. .p. .q. .r. points, the .s. point being open, and if he forces his opponent to bring up eight men to .a., and to have one man on .t., another on .u., another on .x., another on .y., another on .z., another on .&. and also a seventh man not reentered yet ; and this victory is called lympoldyng.

Moreover if his opponent fills the whole .t&. page and also the .s. point, this victory is not called limpolding but lurching. He who sits on .n&. side must be careful to secure .n. .o. .p. .q. .r. points, the .s. point being opened, to allow the opponent to go into .mg. By moving one or even two of his own, he secures the .s. point and his opponent cannot cross all his men, which must be brought into .mg. and placed in .a. Then the .t. .v. .x. .y. .z. points are occupied by his opponent. The .s. point being opened, as his opponent can go into .mg., his opponent brings up to eight men in .a. Closing the .s. point forces his opponent to fill with his men the points .t. .u. .x. .y. .z, and two opposing men stay in .&. By releasing the .s. point, you take the opposing man in .t. and he takes you back with a 6, which always is the third assumed throw. You come back to .fa., .ns., until his opponent is forced to evacuate his second man from the .&. point, thus there is only one man in .&. and the remaining points .t. .u. .x. .y. .z. are occupied by one man, and then you take his seventh undoubled man and the opponent is limpolded.

There is a method of playing without dice where throws are chosen at will. But he who has the advantage of starting wins if he plays well, he first choses 6-6-5 to make two men cross outside the table where they are; at first move, he always can secure a point and take an opposing man that must come back and his opponent will lose the second die.

There is a third method of playing where one choses two dice and his opponent gives him 6 for the third throw, or, if he throws his dice, his opponent gives him a third throw.

Imperial
There is another game of tables called Imperial, and is played as follows. He who sits on the .n&. side has his men in three piles, i.e five on .p., the other third on .s. and the other third on .t. And he who sits on the .am. side has in the same way his men on .k. .g. .f. And he who sits on the .n&. side brings all his men on .&. then he wins. And his opponent wins if he brings them on .a. And this game is played with three dice.

Provincial
There is another game of tables called Provincial similar to Imperial except the starting position where all the men of one side are on .g. and .f.

BL Royal 13 A XVIII, ff 158r-160r. Transcribed in Fiske, Willard, and Horatio S. White. 1905. Chess in Iceland and in Icelandic literature, with historical notes on other table-games. Florence: Florentine Typographical Society. Transcription reproduced here. Translation copyright Will McLean 2015.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Seveneves

In Neal Stephenson’s 2015 novel, the Human Race does its best to deal with an oncoming planetary catastrophe, a 5,000 year bombardment of Earth. Most of the page count is spent on a desperate effort to preserve a fraction of humanity off the Earth’s surface in space. We are repeatedly forced to follow the Gimli Philosophy of Risk Management: "Certainty of death, small chance of success... What are we waiting for?” Because when those are the options, the answer is obvious. You play the cards you are dealt as well as you can, and if you lose you go down fighting.

Stephenson does a pretty good job of sticking to known science, with, he admits, a few places where he wrote himself into a corner. It follows that settling space with today’s technology is shown as the kind of desperate enterprise that is only attempted because an unknown Agent destroys the fricking Moon. And the settlers barely survive by the skin of their teeth, passing through the narrowest of genetic bottlenecks after terrible casualties.

Early on, the alert reader will notice Stephenson introducing Checkov’s Survival Plans B and C. 5,000 years later he takes them down off the wall. Because, even for this planetary catastrophe settling space isn’t the only option, or necessarily the best one.

It isn’t explicitly stated, but is logical to assume that there were other iterations of Plan B, and Sonar Taxlaw’s people are just the one that we meet before the end of the book.

Also, Sonar Taxlaw is the best character name since Leelo Dallas Multipass.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Heinlein’s Double Star Could Not Win a Hugo Today

Because the science is rubbish, and we know it. This is a real problem for contemporary hard SF: the universe is not nearly as hospitable to space travel as we once thought, and it’s a lot harder to write about robust human settlement beyond Earth without cheating on the science than we thought in the 1950s.

OATH TO BE TAKEN BY THE FREEMEN OF THE MERCERS’ COMPANY: early 15th Century.

In the Company's records this oath occurs immediately after a curious calendar, written in 15th century hand, and before a list of "Brethren received and incorporated in the time of Rici Attynchin and John Cutlere wardens" in 3 Henry VI., (1424-5).

FIDELITAS.
I shall trewe man be to God o'r Lady Seynt Marie Seynt Mychell th'archangell patrone of the Gylde and to the Fraternite of the Mercers Yremongers and Goldsmythes & Cappers w'in the Towne and Fraunches of Shrowesbury I shall also Trewe man be to the king our liege lorde and to his heyres kyngys and his lawes and mynystars of the same Truly obs've and obey And ov' this I shall be obedyent to my wardens and their sumpneys obey and kepe I shall be trewe and ffeythfull to the Combrethern of the Gylde aforeseyd and ther co'ncell kepe All lawdable and lefull actes and composic'ons made or to be made w*in the Seide Gylde truly obeye p'forme and kepe aft' my reason and power I shall be contributare bere yelde and paye all man' ordynare charges cestes and contribucons aftur my power as any other master occupyer or combrother of the seid Gylde shall happen to doe and bere: Soe helpe me God and halidame and by the Boke.

Hibbert, Francis Aidan. 1891. The influence and development of English gilds: as illustrated by the history of the craft gilds of Shrewsbury. Cambridge: University Press.

Here are two adaptations of the oath to the creation of a Companion of the Order of the Laurel within the Society for Creative Anachronism

I shall true man be to God, our Lady Saint Mary, Saint Michael the archangel patron of the Order and to the Fraternity of the Laurel. I shall also True man be to the king our liege lord and to his heirs kings and his laws and ministers of the same Truly observe and obey. I shall be true and faithful to the Companions of the Order aforesaid and their council keep, All laudable and lawful acts and compositions made or to be made within the Said Order truly obey perform and keep after my reason and power. I shall perform all manner of obligations of the Order after my power as any other master occupier or companion of the Order shall happen to do and bear: So help me God and halidom and by the Book.

Alternative:
 I shall true man be to God, our Lady Saint Mary, Saint Michael the archangel patron of the Order and to the Fraternity of the Laurel. I shall also True man be to the Crown of the East and to their heirs and their laws and ministers of the same Truly observe and obey. I shall be true and faithful to the Companions of the Order aforesaid and their council keep, All laudable and lawful acts and compositions made or to be made within the Said Order truly obey perform and keep after my reason and power. I shall perform all manner of obligations of the Order after my power as any other master occupier or companion of the Order shall happen to do and bear: So help me God and halidom and by the Book

Saturday, August 01, 2015

The Cut of Henry VIII's Tents.

Inventories of Henry VIII's tents reveal some of the details of their construction. In the 1547 inventory descriptions of "round houses" or pavilions note the number of gores in the roof and bredes or breadths in the wall. For the round tents there are regularly twice as many gores in the roof as breadths in the walls. The same construction survives on a 17th c. pavilion preserved at Basel.

Using less than the full width of the fabric for the gores would bring the diagonal edge of the gores closer to the straight angle of the warp threads, and make the gores less likely to stretch. On the Basel pavilion the difference in width between  the wall segments and roof gores was disguised by false seams dividing the wall segments. Design drawings of Henry's pavilions, pieced from contrasting fabrics,  similarly disguised the difference in width between wall segments and roof gores, presumably by matching  a wall segment with a pair of roof gores in the same color.

Tresauntes, straight covered passageways to connect tents, were without gores, with two breadths of fabric in the walls for each breadth in the roof. This is consistent with each breadth of roof fabric covering both sides of the roof without requiring a seam at the ridge line. Tresaunte roofs could be two to 16 breadths long.

Hales and kitchens had straight sides and gores forming semicircular ends to the roof at each ends, with the number of roof breadths and gores enumerated for each tent.

Cross houses, dormyes, and galleries with a half round had straight sides and a semicircular roof of gores at one end, and connected to another tent at the other end. Again, the number of gores and and roof breadths was enumerated for each tent.

"The kinges bigger Lodginge of Canvas garnyshed with small braunches of blew bokeram" was  complex with a great hall, six round houses, five tresauntes, and four galleries all with walls 7.5 feet deep (presumably the slant height) as well as two timber houses.

The kings lesser lodgings of canvas garnished with great branch of blue buckram consisted of three halls, three round houses, 13 tresauntes and a porch, also all with walls 7.5 feet deep.

Some of the smaller tents:

From the king's lesser lodgings:

Three halls of 8 breadths apiece in the roof, 17 gores every end (possibly an error, a similar hall from the same lodgings lent to the Earl of Warwick the same year had 16 gores per end) 4 yards deep, 32 depths in the walls 2.5 yards deep.

Two round houses of 50 gores apiece 6 3/4 yards deep in the roof, 25 breadths in the walls of every of them, 2.5 yards deep. with roses of red saie in the top inside and outside.

Two tresauntes of two breadths apiece in the roof 2 1/4 yards deep, 4 breadths in the walls every of them of 2.5 yards deep.

Listed elsewhere: a kitchen of Vitry canvas 5 breadths in the roof 14 points in every end 3.5 yards deep 24 breadths in the walls two yards deep.

Based on the roof slopes shown in the design drawings, these dimensions are consistent with canvas breadths about a yard wide.

Other necessaries associated with the tents included 66 vanes of ironwork painted and gilded with the kings arms and badges, sacks of leather lined with canvas for the dry and safe keeping of the rich hangings, two fire hearths, 1,000 wood buttons for tents, 40 ridge plates, 80 plain plates and 15 joints for ridge trees with their bolts and rivets.


The Inventory of King Henry VIII: The Transcript (Vol. 1), ed. David Starkey (London, 1998)

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Just City, by Jo Walton

Athena, Apollo, time travel, Socrates, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, Marsilio Ficino and robot ethics.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Size of New Horizons

New Horizons is often described as the size of a grand piano. Somehow it pleases me to come from a culture that calibrates the size of spacecraft in musical instruments.

Friday, July 10, 2015

On Pluto's Doorstep

New Horizons has entered Pluto's Hill Sphere, the space where Pluto's gravity dominates that of the Sun. Pluto and Charon are starting to look like actual places rather than discs covered with low resolution blotches. And it gets better. The closest approach will be July 14th.

New Horizons will streak through Pluto space at 13.8 km/sec. It left Earth faster than any other spacecraft, and it took almost 9 1/2 years to get there. Next stop, deeper into the Kuiper Belt.

These are the days of miracle and wonder.

What to expect when you're expecting a flyby.