Monday, April 30, 2012

Machines for the Mechanically uninclined(or lazy)

Mechanical competence isn't within my realm of experience. I know one end of a screwdriver from the other, but I have had very little actual practice getting my hands dirty. I am not a gear-head and when automotive mechanics tell me something, I just have to take their word for it (rather than fake understanding and offer banal banter). I would like to remedy this glaring failing upon my part but lack the time or energy. Or even the resources. Maybe I just have a case of the dumb. One of my favorite shows is Mythbusters. They so well combine entertainment with education. I know just enough to get a glimmer of what they're doing, while remaining ignorant enough to make them seem a Cabal of Magicians Extraordinaire. They combine a working knowledge of physics, chemistry and mechanical know-how to engineer their way past problems presented with myths (rocket cars, the myriad uses of duct tape and steam-powered machine guns). And then they invent problems to solve, usually with explosives. Yes, the Mythbusters love to make things go boom. Really, if you haven't seen the show, you're missing out. They make science cool. God Damn, why couldn't they have existed when I was in Jr High and High School? All we had back then was reruns of MacGyver and the A-Team. Cool enough for the 80s I suppose, but they were totally lacking a Kari Byron* stand-in. *Dear Kari Byron, I know that you're married and have kids, but you're still a Geek Sex Goddess as far as I am concerned. Well, this is a post-apocalyptic skills blog, so where does this bring me? Wishing desperately to emulate my heroes I suppose. I think I've mentioned the importance of engineering and a grasp of physics and the like in past posts. If I haven't, then I've thought about doing so. When I do get around to those topics, you can bet that I will drone on endlessly about the Mythbusters. Fair warning. They blow shit up. But around 50 posts over the course of 2 years, It's difficult to keep track of what I've done. I have been for the last few years assembling a library of books that may be helpful in the chaotic end times. Mostly this is a research library for my zombie books. Also, I look forward to the day when I can go out and kick it Thoreau-school and get my Self-reliance on. But I tend to get volumes on subjects that I'm interested, and my interests are both broad and shallow. I'm like a child in a room full of sparkley objects. Book review time! I found the book Basic Machines and How They Work on the Amazon. I was of course scouring their stock for more possible additions to the library. It went onto the wishlist directly, though I put off ordering for months. But anyhow, I have returned to this fascinating field. Sort of. And for me, this book seemed a great choice to get going. I feel that I was right in the decision to finally pick it up. I've not been disappointed in the least. Basic Machines makes a decent Wannabe Mythbuster primer. It was written by the Navy for their ranks of enlisted sailors. You don't need to know advance math to work the equations and the book walks you through them step by step. Good for me, as math wasn't my strong point. I wasn't bad at it, but I was lazy(still am) and didn't have the ambition or curiosity back then to stretch in that direction. Guess this is why I majored in Art and History in college and avoided the hard sciences. The author starts out with those basic machines that I know and recognize from my days in elementary school as a small child. The lever, wheel, wedge, screw and so forth. How they can be used to make work easier – in real world applications so that anyone may understand. With plenty of illustrations for even the thickest grunt to comprehend. There are 13 chapters, ranging from the previously mentioned first one on Levers all the way up through Internal Combustion Engines and Power Trains(12 and 13 respectively). You will know more on the operation of Block and Tackle than you thought possible. I haven't finished the book, so maybe my praise is premature. But, I doubt it. I have skimmed the later passages and dropped in to read blocks of text. I really look forward to finishing the rest of the volume. The only gripe I have is with the cover. Three interlocking gears. It seems to me that trying to operate them would make the mechanism lock up. But maybe I can't visualize it properly. Thank you Naval Department for this excellent work. So much knowledge for so cheap.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Swords, not words!

I like swords, and have since I was a kid. I think I've voiced that sentiment before. HeMan was my hero and he packed a magic sword. As was Luke Skywalker. Ninjas? They're all about swords. My childhood was awash in swords. We used to take those pointed sticks that are used as construction markers and pretend that they were swords. I had a sizable armory of various stick when it came down to it. I am still amazed that we never got hurt.

Swords and giant transformable robots. You can guess, Voltron – a giant transformable robot who packed a sword - was my childhood obsession for a couple of years after hearing the older kids talk about it.

In high school I “Collected Knives” - This should be read as “I bought whatever shitty and cheap knives came my way. And I really wanted to by a ninja sword for a bunch of eyars. I still have part of my collection. It makes me sad.

One of my burning desires as a youth was to get my hands on my very own sword. I never did get around to buying a sword, as by the time I had the money there were more important things to buy, and I also learned that the swords I could afford weren't worth spending the money on(do not, ever, buy a sword that is made of stainless steel. Wall hanging fantasy pieces are just that).

This being said, I have never myself owned a sword. I am a failure as an adult. I have money. I still like swords. I enjoy watching the Cold Steel Demo videos over on youtube. (look them up if you haven't seen them, they feature a large dude cleaving household with swords – all set to heavy guitar riffs). You would think that somewhere along the way I'd have been willing to drop a couple hundred dollars to secure myself a passable length of sharpened steel.

When the apocalypse comes, I'm hoping it'll be one that features swords. Maybe against zombies, or perhaps a nuclear scoured wasteland roamed by Sir Patrick Swayze Knight Errant.

This all brings us to the point, an addition to my Post Apocalyptic Survival library.

The Beginner's Guide to the Long Sword. I found this volume in the local library when searching out European Martial arts. I had watched a documentary on the perception of swords in our society on Netflix and re-discovered a flicker of interest in swords. Especially the aspect of actually learning to use a sword as a weapon. Learning the martial art rather than just joining a re-creationist society. Eff Theater, I'm about the practical.

Anyhow, I borrowed the aforementioned book and then acquired a personal copy to add to the library on a permanent basis.

The book covers the European Longsword, commonly called a Bastard Sword. The blade is around 3 feet long and is balanced to use with one hand and a shield, but the handle is also long enough to grip with two hands for further leverage and striking power. The top third of the blade is sharpened, while the remainder is left dull. This combination allows the wielder to take a hold of the blade for either powerful thrusts or to use the cross-guard as a hammer/bludgeon(especially useful against foes in plate-armor). Goto the wiki page for details about the weapon and its history.

Here is a slim and straight-forward volume that is heavily illustrated (with photographs, a picture is worth a thousand words) for ease of use. The language is easy and clear. The author is a seasoned martial artist with 20 years of experience. He covers the history of the sword as well as a list of gear for aspiring blade-masters.

The one down-side I think is that he doesn't cover the full range of the weapon. Mostly he focuses on using the blade and leaves aside strikes with the hilt and pommel. But then, it is a book for beginners and a fairly good introduction to the subject I think.

I've yet to put the new-found knowledge to use. I lack anyone to practice with and the energy to go out and find a group. I think that the book would be a good place to start learning how to use the sword. Most people are on about the same level when it comes to martial arts. They have a good idea which part of the weapon to hold and which is the sharp end. Assuming a lack of time-travel to ye old Midvealy times where the use of this class of weaponry is well know, I think that the book will be an excellent primer for technique. After which skill can be forged with practice and experience.

Now all I need is a sword.