Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Gulf Wars XV: Photos from the Field Battle

Lady Ysabel de Saincte-Croix has sent me some of her pictures from the Rapier Field Battle at Gulf Wars XV.

She also sent along a few more pictures from the Rose Tourney, both of Capitan Ricarte Berenguer Halcon de Catalonia (known as "Hawk") and myself approaching my doom against the bearer of the Iron Ring of Gleann Abhan.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Free Plugs for SCA Supplies

I've expanded the SCA Links list in the sidebar to include some vendors who have provided me with consistently good products and service for my SCA equipment needs. Gipsy Peddler is a popular clothing vendor that makes doublets and gusset shirts that are legal for fencing in every kingdom to the best of my knowledge. Revival Enterprises sold me a particularly nice set of gloves that are serving me very well so far, and the very lovely lady in the picture also dances quite well (which is a serious prejudicial factor for me). Ageless Fashions sold me a very spiffy new doublet which will hopefully show up in some pictures here before long.

If you're looking to get into the SCA, particularly with a late period (1500's) persona and an interest in fencing, these vendors can definitely help you out.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Hoodia Gordonii: Fact or Fiction?

It’s interesting to see what ads will end up on your screen as you browse the internet. An ad for Hoodia Gordonii ended up on my sitemeter page when I was reviewing to see where my visitors were coming from this week. Hoodia is apparently a “Miracle Cactus” that reduces your appetite, helping you to lose weight.

Does it work? Well just listen to this little piece of anecdotal “evidence” that is sure to convince you…

“The San Bushmen of the Kalahari, one of the world's oldest and most primitive tribes, have been eating the Hoodia plant for thousands of years, to stave off hunger during long hunting trips.”

How does this mean that it actually helps suppress appetite? Eating almost anything that’s non-toxic would help the San Bushman stave off hunger during long treks through the desert; special appetite suppressant qualities aren’t required.

Does this plant do any more than just help fill your stomach? Is there any legitimate evidence that Hoodia capsules are more effective at suppressing appetite than a placebo of, say, cellulose? Well, let me direct your attention to the fine print…

“Please Note: The statements contained on this site have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.”

Not exactly a sterling recommendation.

This particular gimmick product may have some merit, though. I was able to find a study result on PubMed that indicates that one of the compounds in Hoodia actually does have appetite suppressant properties.

“…third ventricle (i.c.v.) administration of P57, which reduces subsequent 24-h food intake by 40-60%, also increases ATP content in hypothalamic slice punches removed at 24 h following the i.c.v. injections.”

Granted, they’re talking about injecting this stuff directly into the brains of mice, but the fact that it does have a significant effect on subsequent food intake does suggest that the compound is an effective appetite suppressant.

What the study shows is that nerve cells in the hypothalamus of the brain have an increase in ATP content after being exposed to the P57 compound from Hoodia. ATP is the “ready fuel” for cellular activity (as opposed to sugars, which need to be converted to ATP before they’re ready to use), so a generous supply of ATP in the hypothalamus gland of the brain might logically convince you that you don’t need to eat anything for a while.

So Hoodia capsules aren’t necessarily a scam, assuming they contain effective concentrations of the active ingredient at a reasonable price. I think it’s important to show that legitimate products will actually survive the exercise of some critical thinking skills and a search for some credible evidence. Hoodia isn’t effective because it has the endorsement of San Bushmen; it’s effective because the chemicals it contains actually do reduce your appetite, a claim that science can test and show to be true.

News articles:

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Gulf Wars XV: Ready to Rumble

Yes! At last we have freed the digital camera from the tangled mass of belongings stuffed into the van at the end of Gulf Wars, and I have downloaded its contents. Alas, battery trouble kept us from getting everything that we might have wanted to display on our own camera, so I will yet need to acquire some photos from Lady Ysabel and Lady Francesca before my picture collection is complete, but I can at least share some highlights of the war.

We spent our Monday at the war setting up camp, a thoroughly exhausting affair which kept us from doing much of anything that day. I did manage to put on my slob garb to go down to the main hall for dancing Monday night, but I didn't take the camera with me. That waited until Tuesday, the night of the Meridien Ball. Naturally we took the camera to that ball, as I was the host. Furthermore, my beautiful Lady Fjorleif provided the refreshments, which you can see on the table to the left, including the tray of truffles which I helped make myself (seen at right). I can only hope the dancers enjoyed this aspect of the ball, since I was far too preoccupied announcing dances and otherwise organizing the activities to monitor the depletion and replenishment of the snack bar.

Alas, our camera's batteries died before my lady could take more than one short film clip of the dancing itself. I do, however, have a link to the movie of the dancers doing the Korobushka (18 MB AVI file).

I do however have a marvelous segue from dancing to fencing, because one of our musicians for the ball was the lovely Lady Stephanie (seen at left), who I also faced on the fencing field. Lady Stephanie plays the vielle, a precursor to the modern viol, and she's a pleasure to watch as well as to hear. Furthermore, she's deadly quick and accurate with a rapier, apparently an extra benefit of bow work on the vielle. She's also not shy about making you feel guilty for ever winning a fencing bout against her, so steel your souls rapier men of the Knowne World.

Now that we're on the subject of fencing, we'll move forward to Thursday morning of the war and the Ansteorran Ladies of the Rose Sponsored Tournament. The principle of this tournament is that each Lady of the Rose (any Lady who has been Queen of one of the realms of the Knowne World at least once) may sponsor two rapier fighters for the tournament. As I have done for the past three years, I represented Duchess Katrina of Iron Mountain. Various other Countesses and Duchesses from around the Knowne World also sponsored fighters for the tourney, and the Queen of Ansteorra sponsored any fighters present who didn't already have a sponsor. Alas, there lies my one complaint with the tournament. Meaning no disrespect to Her Majesty of Ansteorra, I believe that sponsoring every fighter who bothers to show up somehow defeats the purpose of showing the necessary chivalry and courtesy to earn a Rose's favor. I understand that Her Majesty didn't want anyone to feel left out, but I think this is a tournament in which some people should be left out to preserve the feeling of exclusivity that it has traditionally had. You don't have to be a good fencer to enter, but you do need to be sufficiently gracious to earn a Lady's favor. That said, I didn't meet any uncouth fencers during my four rounds in the tournament.

As luck would have it, I drew Don Silvane for my first round fight. Why I always draw someone essentially untouchable for my first round I'll never know.

All I can say for myself about this bout was that I at least made him work for it, and that I remembered to properly call my tip cut as he and I agreed to do before the bout (he tip cut me on the chest, causing me to forfeit my right arm). This turned out to be my longest bout of the day, and I ended up leaving the field alive but armless. I fought two subsequent rounds against relative newcomers, and the bearer of the Iron Ring of Gleann Abhann finally slew me in the fourth round. Alas, the camera had no battery power left by this point, so I shall have to obtain some of the pictures that Lady Francesca took and post them at a later date.

Bright and early Friday morning, I rose and armored myself for the Ravine Battle. Upon my arrival at the field, I discovered that the number of fighters on the Meridies and Gleann Abhann side of the field was substantially smaller than the number of fighters on the Ansteorra and Trimaris side. In fact, I think the contingent from our Northshield allies outnumbered the combined fighters from Meridies and Glean Abhann. This did not bode well, although we raised our spirits by considering it to be a "target rich environment".

For those not familiar with the Ravine Battle, it's essentially a game of Capture the Flag (or Capture the Three Flags, in this instance). In the middle of the field are three flags with banners for both sides; the objective is to reach the flags and raise your own banner. Thanks to an ingenious little pulley-and-weight system developed by Lord Tormod (I think), the flags automatically fall to "neutral" if there's no one holding the rope to keep one side's flag raised. Fighters killed in the line of the battle can walk back to a staging area at their end of the ravine to be "resurrected" as reinforcements. The battle continues for half an hour or so, and marshals stationed around the field with digital cameras take pictures of the flag poles at approximately five-minute intervals. At the end of the battle, the marshals count the flags showing for each side in the pictures, and whichever side had the most flags raised in the pictures wins the battle.

As it happens, counting the flags in the pictures wasn't really necessary, since Meridies and Gleann Abhann never raised a flag for the entire battle as far as I know. We certainly never had one up after the first five minutes, as there were two enemy fighters in queue waiting to fill gaps for every Ansteorran or Trimarin fighter we "killed". Indeed, I pretty much gave up trying to actually reach a flag after fifteen minutes and started looking for ways to keep the other sides' fighters from getting bored. We formed up in spearheads trying to break holes deep enough through the enemy lines to actually reach a flag and raise it if only for a moment. I was often the point of one of the spearheads, and I actually made it through the front line a couple of times, but I never made it all the way to a flag.

Despite it being a forgone conclusion (or possibly because it was a forgone conclusion), this was actually the nicest and most fun Ravine Battle I've ever participated in at Gulf Wars. In past years there have been a lot of hard shots during the battle and some hard feelings after, but this year everyone killed me nicely, and I had a great time.

Saturday morning saw a reversal of fortunes for the Ansteorrans and Trimarins. The Kingdom of the Middle turned against their former allies, and the Ansteorran-Trimarin numerical advantage evaporated for the Open Field Battle. This is not a resurrection battle; any fighter "killed" on the field is out for the rest of the battle, which ends when only one side's fighters are left on the field. The winner of the Field is the winner of two out of three battles, and our side won the first two in fairly rapid succession. I personally died almost immediately in the first battle, but I lasted most of the way through the second.

The Field battle was not as nice as the Ravine battle, partly because a light rain started toward the end of the first fight, making the field a bit slick, but probably more because the evening of the sides made tensions a bit higher. The worst things I saw, though, occurred in the "friendship" battle fought after the war point was decided. I saw one fighter chasing another backwards toward the field pavilion, the retreating fighter obviously having serious trouble maintaining his balance; the retreating fighter actually fell as he got close to the pavilion and very nearly hit his head on an iron tent stake (a nearby lady fighter jumped in to catch his head before he hit). I'm sorry, but this is a game not a real fight; it's stupid and negligent to press someone who is obviously dangerously off balance; we almost had a very serious injury on the field that day. End of brief rant.

Alas, I'm all out of pictures, but I did attend a very nice ball hosted by Rose Eriksdottir on Saturday night. It was an extremely pleasant end to a very busy week, and I'm looking forward to exhausting myself again next year (when I expect to be Dance Master for the War, so there!).

I should have more pictures in a future post. Ciao.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Back from the Wars

Yes, I have returned safely from Gulf Wars, and a very fine time we had. The Kingdom of Gleann Abhan put on an excellent war, in spite of having to recover from a major hurricane. I might add the Kingdom of Ansteorra (essentially Texas) knocked everyone else silly with volunteer points and attendance, in spite of having their own hurricane (the oft-forgotten Hurricane Rita) to recover from. As Larry -- the owner of King's Arrow Ranch -- said, "It's nice to look at all this craziness and be able to say things are getting back to normal."

Alas, my camera hasn't been unpacked yet, so the full war report will have to wait a day or so.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

En Route to Gulf Wars XV

I'll be writing very little this week, as I am already on the way to Gulf Wars. Over the weekend, we're staying with my sister-in-law in South Alabama, and on Monday we'll have a relatively short drive over to Lumberton, Mississippi to get to the event itself. I was going to put up some pictures of my niece, but I seem to be having some issues posting images with my sister's web browser. Maybe tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The Kegging

As a few of you may know, I will be away in the Kingdom of Gleann Abhann for Gulf Wars next week. If I have the presence of mind to carry my camera about the site with me, I shall endeavor to have some good pictures upon my return. I will be running the Meridien Dance Revel again this year on Tuesday night, and my good Lady Fjorleif has volunteered to prepare some refreshments for the revel. One of these will be a ginger ale, which you can see being siphoned into a cornelius keg at right. That's the kind of keg that soda companies used to deliver their concentrates to restaurants before they switched to disposable plastic bags-in-a box.

This beverage will be much like any other ginger ale you might find in the grocery: sweet, fizzy, and non-alcoholic. Unlike some of the common brands, however, the gingery potency of this concoction may take your breath away.

As I can't resist the urge to mix my hobbies, I took the liberty of turning a screen capture from World of Warcraft into a keg label. I realize that you can't really see the label in this picture, but it's Grimbor taking a deep drink from a mug of Dwarven Stout. It seems like a moderately appropriate picture for any sort of keg. Of course, we didn't stop at ginger ale for this event.

No, we brewed up some of the real thing. At left, you see five gallons of Amber Ale draining into another cornelius keg. This brew is a donation to the Meridien Social on Wednesday night.

For those interested, it contains six pounds of spray-dried amber malt extract and four ounces of Cascade hops (two ounces for boiling and two ounces for finishing).

The nice thing about a keg system is that you don't have to add priming sugar and wait another two weeks for the beer to carbonate. You just hook the keg up to a compressed CO2 tank and keep the pressure on it for day or so to carbonate the contents. Naturally this keg also got a label; after all, I don't want my keg to get lost at the event.

Now all we need to do is finish loading the van and trailer. We started that process before the kegging, while we still had some light. The hecticness will continue until our departure Friday, after work. We'll visit my sister-in-law in south Alabama for a couple of days before heading on over to Gulf Wars on Monday.

Evolution and the Second Law

Creationists have long tried to claim that the Second Law of Thermodynamics contradicts the Theory of Evolution. That’s to be expected, since Creationists generally don’t bother to learn anything about thermodynamics before making the claim. The Intelligent Design crowd has generally tried to look more scientifically savvy, but one of their lead proponents, William Dembski, has recently linked to a thermodynamics-based anti-evolution argument by Granville Sewell.

The anti-evolution argument goes something like this: The Second Law of Thermodynamics says that no process exists which can cause the entropy of a system to decrease. Since entropy is chaos, this law means that the chaos of a system can’t decrease. If the chaos can’t decrease, the order can’t increase. If no natural process can increase the order of a system, the process of evolution can’t account for the increase in the order and complexity of living organisms over time. Evolution is destroyed! God created life! Hallelujah!

Rubbish, because that’s not what the Second Law of Thermodynamics says. Technically, it says that no process can exist that only moves heat from a cool place to a warm place. The expanded definition is that the entropy of a closed system can never decrease.

There’s that word – “entropy” – again, but what does it mean? Entropy is energy that the system can no longer use in its process. The simplest example of entropy is waste heat. If you spin a wheel, it slows down because friction at the axle turns the kinetic energy of the wheel into heat. The wheel eventually slows down and stops as all of its kinetic energy becomes entropy.

Note that entropy is waste energy – not “chaos”. Once you understand this simple concept, you can see why the thermodynamics argument against evolution is baseless. A living being is not a closed system, so it can easily get rid of entropy just by radiating waste heat. At the same time, it takes in new energy – in the form of food – to run its processes. That’s why scientists say it matters that living beings are open systems, as is the entire ecosystem. There is absolutely nothing in thermodynamics that prevents evolution from happening; if it did, real scientists would have killed the Theory of Evolution decades ago.

Granville Sewell – and, by extension, William Dembski – is just another charlatan trying to trick an uninformed public with lies about thermodynamics.

Credits go out to Jason Rosenhouse for drawing my attention to the joint foolishness of Dembski and Sewell and to Mike Wong for succinctly explaining why the Second Law argument against the Theory of Evolution is either ignorance or deliberate deception.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Bad Devices? Or Bad Instructions?

Reuters has a story about how half of all product returns aren’t caused by a defect in the product. Unless you call making the product incomprehensible a defect.
A wave of versatile electronics gadgets has flooded the market in recent years, ranging from MP3 players and home cinema sets to media centers and wireless audio systems, but consumers still find it hard to install and use them.
According to the article, product developers and company managers are often unaware of the problem.

I find this study amusing because I work as a technical writer. It’s my job to try to write instructions for using various products, mostly programs acquired by the company I work for and customized in-house. I have to create the document that translates the designer’s idea into the customer’s action. Sometimes that’s easier said than done. I think designers operate from an “easy to build and maintain” mindset, while customers would prefer that they think more in “easy to setup and use” terms. Of course, using the product seems easy to the developers, but why shouldn’t it? They designed it! They know everything about it!

I get frustrated because I usually don’t get a call until the development phase of the project is over. I’m supposed to write instructions for the finished product. The problem is that I never got a chance to see the product early in the development process, when I could have suggested ways to make the product easier to use (which would, of course, make the instructions easier to write).

If more company’s would bring their technical writers into the project earlier, I suspect that customer frustration with the product would be less of a problem.

Monday, March 06, 2006

WoW: Low on Quests

I found a pretty large chunk of time with which to play World of Warcraft over the weekend, and managed to wrap up quite a few quests. So many, in fact, that Gullveig and Dagran are rather short on quests to complete.

All of Dagran's remaining quests are Deadmines quests, so I'll soon be refining my knowledge of that dungeon. Escorting the Defias Traitor (a preliminary quest for the Deadmines) is usually pretty easy if you do it at a busy hour of the day. At such a peak time, there are usually so many players lurking near the entrance to the Deadmines trying to form groups that the Defias Looters and other threats to the Traitor are usually all dead when you escort him through.

Gullveig took a second trip through Blackfathom Deeps and wrapped up both of her quests there. That party was a very efficient monster-killing machine. Gullveig switched rolls pretty frequently, playing healer, tank, blaster, or backstabber according to the situation.

She also completed the last of the Astranaar quests and the last Charred Vale quest, including the long trek south to the far end of the Barrens and through Thousand Needles just to talk to one Druid at the edge of Feralas. She's got a quest in Darkshore still -- The Tower of Althalaxx -- but the warlocks in there are still a bit over her head. I guess she'll be cruising around looking for more quest givers next time I'm on.

That should bore everyone who has no idea what I'm talking about. Next post I'll try to discuss something with more universal appeal, like the kegging of beer for Gulf Wars.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

WoW: What's Happening?

Having nothing more pressing to write about at the moment, I thought I'd pop up a gratuitous World of Warcraft picture and give an update on my activities. Grimbor (seen in the picture) has reached level 32. He's wandering the world looking for interesting animals to tame so he can learn their abilities. He just made his first trip overseas.

Dagran has reached level 18 and is about to start on the Deadmines quests.

Gullveig is level 26 and still meandering about Ashenvale.

My Horde characters have been languishing quite a bit, lately. I can get more interaction done with my Alliance characters, and they're all members of the same guild, so it's easier to find help if I need it.