Monday, July 31, 2006


I went to my high school class reunion over the weekend. Those who know me can figure out which; those who can’t figure it out don’t need to know.

I had a good time talking with some old friends and shamelessly flirting with ladies that I was too shy to approach way back then. Some silliness you just have to grow out of, I guess.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that a few of my old classmates actually live near me now. I’ve already taken steps to get in touch with them and lure them down the dark path to the SCA. We’ll see how well that works.

Yes, we did take pictures. I have not looked through them to decide which are fit for public display here at the Saga. Time will tell...

Friday, July 28, 2006

Final Video Installment

Last of the batch of videos from last practice...

We're looking at making a lot more videos of various SCA activities, demonstrating practical things like drills and such. Look for new stuff next week.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Italian Rapier Parries

Among the other videos taken at our last practice was this demonstration of the basic parries of Ridolfo Capo Ferro, a fencing master who published an instructional manual -- Gran Simulacro dell'Arte e dell'Uso della Scherma -- in 1610.

In addition, Lady Ysable demonstrate the four basic guard positions of Camillo Agrippa: Prima, Secund, Terza, and Quarta.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Fencing Practice Videos

I wasn't actually present for fencing practice on Sunday, but one of our new members video recorded some of the activities, which I'm perfectly all right showing anyway. This first one shows the fighters rotating in a "bear pit", which is really a game of "king of the hill": whoever wins the duel keeps the field. This can actually get very tiring if you're having a good day.

There are a couple more videos, but this is the first time I've tried to embed a Youtube video, and I want to see how it works before I do more. Besides, releasing these slowly gives me blog material for three more days without effort. How can I resist that?

Friday, July 21, 2006

A Good Dance Practice

I had a pretty well-attended dance practice last night, with seven real students and one unfortunate eleven-year-old who got dragged along. I'm sure she didn't suffer any grievous harm from the experience, though.

As I had two brand new students, I tried to keep things simple, which usually means a lot of English Country. I'm finding New Boe Peep to be a good beginner dance, since it's about as simple an English Country Dance as you can get. From there, we proceeded to the somewhat more complicated but ubiquitous Black Nag.

Of course, there's a lot more to Renaissance dancing than English Country (which is, to be honest, outside the SCA period, anyway), so I also taught a few other styles of dance. For 15th-century Italian, we learned the easy and common Petite Riens; for 16th-century Italian, Ballo del Fiore; and from the Inns of Court, the Black Alman. Put together, these are actually a pretty good grounding in SCA dance.

I can only hope to have such a good class next month.

Haunting Evidence Indeed

As a follow-up to my earlier article on the Court TV program Haunting Evidence, the Amazing Randi reveals evidence that the show's producers are feeding information to their psychics before taping the shows. Imagine that...

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

In Search of... Atlantis

Do a web search for "Atlantis" and you'll find a lot of dubious claims about this legendary island civilization. The story of Atlantis, as most people know it, comes from the writings of the Greek philosopher Plato. According to his writings, Atlantis existed about 9,000 years before Plato himself wrote. The people of Atlantis were an advanced and prosperous civilization who grew too arrogant and were eventually destroyed by the gods. He describes their island city in some detail, describing a sophisticated canal system and multi-story buildings with indoor plumbing. The story of Atlantis was supposedly brought to Greece by another philosopher named Solon, who learned it in Egypt.

Assorted psychics and other supernaturalists have tried to attach themselves to the Atlantis legend, including Ramtha-channeler JZ Knight. They've made wild claims about the achievements of the Atlantean civilization and claimed to have located the city everywhere from the Indian Ocean to shallows of the Carribean Sea. Some have even postulated an entire continent in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, now sunk beneath the waves. Needless to say, none of their expeditions to these places have turned up anything substantial.

You'd think with all the woo surrounding the story of Atlantis that scientists would want nothing to do with it, but scientists actually studied this story fairly seriously. They've looked for an ancient civilization that fits Plato's description and predates him, preferably located where its tragic tale might have found its way to Greece. Their search resulted the History Channel program called Lost Worlds: Atlantis, which I found myself watching a few nights ago.

Modern scientists have traced "Atlantis" to the Santorini island group which lies north of Crete. Crete itself contains ruins of the Minoan civilization, which was far more advanced than any of its Mediterranean contemporaries, at least in the field of architecture. The Minoans built a multi-story palace at Knossos on the northern coast of Crete that included earthquake-resistant reinforcements and indoor plumbing. They seem to have accomplished many of the "wonders" that Plato describes in his tale of the doomed city. The Minoan civilization fell at about the time of the Thera eruption in 1500-1600 BCE.

Thera is one of the islands in the Santorini group, but it was not the center of the eruption. Thera is just one of several islands that form a ring-shape in the Aegean sea. All of these islands, save one, are part of the rim of a volcano. The central island, Nea Kamini, is the top of the caldera of the volcano. Nea Kamini is a young island that has formed since the Thera eruption. It's quite likely, however, that a similar island existed before the Thera eruption. If "Atlantis" was on this volcanic island, then it truly would have been obliterated in the Thera eruption, since that island would have been the center of the largest volcanic explosion in human history.

Modern archaeologists did not rely on channelling the spirits of dead Atlantean citizens to locate the lost city. They did the hard work of digging out artifacts, dating them, tracing their origins, fact checking against Egyptian records, identifying new sites, digging more, and analyzing their finds to determine that the Minoans had colonized the Santorini islands in the second millenium BCE. They dug through thirty feet and more of volcanic ash and pumice to find the ruins of a Minoan city on Thera. Real science has done more to determine what truth might lie behind Plato's tale of Atlantis than any channeler, dowser, or other psychic has ever done.

If the full truth of the tale of Atlantis is ever going to be found, it's going to be found by scientists, not psychics.

A $60.00 Value for Just $19.99

How often have you heard a similar statement? This one came from a commercial for a Stick Up Bulb. Apparently they expect you to believe that they're selling a $60 product (or package of products, usually) for a third of its value.

I call cattle-excrement. If they're selling these battery-powered, portable light fixtures for $19.99, they're worth no more than $19.99. They can claim any value they like, I suppose, but the true value of something is what a buyer will pay for it, and they obviously don't expect anyone to really pay $60 for their package of two "Stick Up Bulb" light fixtures and one credit-card-sized, limited-use reading light. If they did, they'd be charging $60, not $19.99 (plus tax and shipping).

The makers of the "Stick Up Bulb" are hardly the only salesmen to use this tactic, of course. They're just the one that caught my eye when I felt the need to write an article for this week's Skeptic Circle.

Does anyone really fall for that ridiculous advertising ploy?

Friday, July 14, 2006

Irony Alert

Sometimes our President says the most amusing things.
President Bush put democracy centre-stage ahead of a big-power summit, telling beleaguered Russian rights activists on Friday he would relay their concerns to President Vladimir Putin.
--Yahoo News

Apparently when the President of Russia starts grabbing power for himself at every opportunity while the friendly Parliament acts as little more than a rubber stamp for his orders, it's a threat to democracy in the nation. Can we think of any other world leaders who are behaving similarly?

Thursday, July 06, 2006

We Definitely Live in the Country

I have two amusing pictures to share that were taken today. First, a picture of a regular visitor we get out here at the farm.

This deer has been coming around frequently to taunt our dogs. She will walk right up the fence and has even jumped the fence to lead the dogs on a merry chase around the field or, as often as not, to chase them around the field. I don't pretend to know what's going on in this animal's mind. Maybe it just amuses her. It's not like our dogs are terribly threatening. The smallest, seen in the picture, is actually the bravest of our three.

Later in the day, while I was at work, my lady wife took the following picture in our garden.

Honestly, I'm surprised my wife got close enough to take the picture. She absolutely detests things with eight legs, but she still found this big spider carrying her offspring on her back to be interesting enough to go get the camera.

And on an unrelated note. The 38th Skeptics Circle has been posted.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Better than Biodiesel?

My good lady wife found a website yesterday that described a simple chemical formula that you could use to fuel a diesel vehicle for just 46 cents per gallon. No, really! Here's the money quote...
DSE has developed a revolutionary method for producing an inexpensive, high performance fuel that can power ANY DIESEL ENGINE and the cost to you is only 46¢ per gallon!
The example we're using is Diesel Secret Energy, but they're not the only ones marketing such a product. Supposedly, adding a bottle of the company's compound to an appropriate amount of vegetable oil will cause a chemical reaction that produces a liquid fuel that works just as well as biodiesel at only a fraction of the cost, requiring no hazardous chemicals or costly equipment. Apart from the low cost of production, they provide additional reasons to use DSE instead of making biodiesel.
The reasons why you should NOT undertake the manufacture of Bio-diesel are apparent from the dangers of Methanol alone. Add to that the higher expense of manufacture, difficulties in obtaining and safely storing methanol and lye, and the need to dispose of the waste by-product glycerin, and you can quickly see why we make NO comparison to Bio-diesel.

In fact, the only fair comparison to Bio-diesel with our fuel is it's performance and stability. Both fuels are stable and have performance characteristics virtually identical to petroleum diesel. Both are good for the environment. Both add more lubrication to your injection pump than petroleum diesel and will decrease the need for maintenance.
And let's not forget that you can use it to make home heating oil, too.

Sound too good to be true? New Energy Report seems to think so...
A primary complaint about DSE is not even about its product. Veteran posters (and biodiesel users) to the many biodiesel forums found across the internet complain that DSE is simply selling a product that chemically thins waste vegetable oil through a process that is freely available to the public with just a minimum of internet research.
Yes, you can mix it with vegetable oil and get a fuel that will run your diesel engine for a while. Just don't use it in any engine you plan to keep very long.

This product is based on the simple fact that diesel engines are very "robust"; they'll run on just about anything that will flow through the fuel lines and burn. That's why they'll run on straight vegetable oil. They won't necessarily run very well, though, and bad fuel mixes will damage the engine, especially with prolonged use. Vegetable oil, for instance, won't actually hurt the engine while it's running, but it will gum up the parts horribly if allowed to cool in the engine. DSE appears likely to cause a different kind of damage...
The general consensus of those who are "in the know" is that DSE stands to "coke" up the fuel injectors pretty quickly, which will cause a domino effect in the engine, which could, in turn, render the engine useless.
And the safety angle?
Two of the main active ingredients in DSE were found to be xylene and naphthalene, the latter of which is commonly used in mothballs. Xylene, while less dangerous than methanol, is still a dangerous chemical, and equally stringent safety precautions should be taken while working with it.
So the classic skeptic line remains a good one: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Change in the Wind

Today marked my last day as a contract technical writer at HCA. I've known this was coming for a while, since I'm leaving of my own free will to accept a full-time position at another company, but it's still weird clearing out your desk and knowing you'll probably never go there again.