28 September 2008

Siege of Glengary

I know that it's autumn when I go to the Siege of Glengary.

Glengary is an annual interkingdom SCA event between the Shire of Sylvan Glen in Aethelmearc, and the Barony of Highland Foorde in Atlantia. I first attended in 2005, and annually ever since. It's a terrific event, with heavy weapons, thrown weapons, archery, fencing, youth combat, arts & science, bardic, and silent auctions. They provide meals throughout, including Friday night and Sunday morning. You can tent if you like, or stay in the dormitory of the 4-H camp. Hot showers! Bardic circles! Bunk beds!

Glengary has been a very good event for me over the years I have attended. In 2005, at Siege X, I won the bardic competition with a performance of my song, The Ballad of Estrella 5. In 2006, at Siege XI, I won the bardic competition again, performing my poem Bothersome Beasts and Marauding Monsters. In 2007, at Siege XII, HRM Queen Rowan of Atlantia attended, and was so pleased by the musical backdrop I provided for the event that she awarded me the Silver Nautilus. And finding that I had been part of the Society for 22 years, and feeling I had been overlooked, she gave me my Award of Arms.

But HRM Rowan said one more thing: "Keep doing it!" And so, by ROYAL COMMAND, I have chosen to spend most of my time at every event playing music. This has caused me to fall in with a faire company, the Bright Hills Performing Arts Guild Extraordinaire! Siege XIII was no exception, and we gathered enough other musicians around us to create some rather extraordinary, if simple, polyphony. "Dona Nobis Pacem" sounds GREAT with 2 harps, alto and tenor recorder, and drum!

And once again, of course, I entered the bardic competition. I find in general that in competitions where the winner is selected by popular acclaim, and the performers of similar talent, the one who can be HEARD by the back of the hall is the one to be chosen. I have never had a problem with reaching the back of the hall! And so I told the story of Orpheus and his descent to the Underworld to reclaim his bride, Eurydice, complete with appropriate songs.

I heard the overwhelming applause for my main competitor, one Lady Margarita, a local bard of Sylvan Glen. But those running the competition could not judge between us. "Was there any question?" I asked. But they asked for the acclaim of the populace again, first for me...and then for Lady Margarita.

I interrupted, "My lord, why embarrass me? I bow to the lady!" And kissing her hand, I conceded the contest, to subdued calls of "Well played!"

Lady Margarita claimed the prize, a leather-bound journal with an embossed cover--and I knew what to do next!

"My lady!" I cried, "I must speak! May I see the journal?" And taking the journal, I said, "It is as I feared! My lady, an acquaintance of mine had such a journal--you must take great care, lest you suffer the same fate!" And with that introduction, I launched into Under The Gripping Beast, by Cat Faber.

Perhaps I didn't win the competition. But I got more compliments than I can remember, on both my Orpheus and Gripping Beast. And I got the last word ;-)

I count that as a win.

23 September 2008

Book Review: Ten Acres Enough

When I think of homesteading, I think of self-reliance and independence. My dream is to do it all myself, unrealistic as that may be. I'm NOT thinking about truck farming, on any scale.

Your dreams may differ. Certainly Edmund Morris' did! In about 1853, at the age of 49, he sold his business in the city, and moved with wife and six (!) children to a New Jersey farm of 11 acres. There he successfully built a profitable enterprise, selling fruit and vegetables to suppliers in New York City and Philadelphia. He even managed to turn a small profit in his FIRST year, which he admits was due more to a stroke of luck than anything else.

Although the dollar values are all clearly outdated (I was multiplying everything by 100 in my head throughout the book), his methods seem reasonably sound.
  • He knew his market, and grew for sale what the market demanded.
  • He provided quality product, not quantity.
  • He practiced preventative maintenance.
  • He lived frugally and economically, for which he completely credits his wife's management.
  • He bought the best tools he could afford, and cared for them properly.
  • He constantly worked to replenish the land, with compost, manure, lime and ash.
  • He stuck with what worked, but also experimented with new things.
  • He didn't pay any attention to what the neighbors thought, but was also happy to learn from their successes.
One passage I found interesting was his account of a German farmer who had started from nothing to build a successful farm (Chapter 19). Morris relates how this farmer had collected the contents of the family "water closet" to use in manuring the fields, which reminded me of "The Humanure Handbook" by Joseph Jenkins, available in print or online at josephjenkins.com

By 1857, Morris was well-established, and was economically unworried when the Civil War ("the late slaveholders' rebellion") broke out.

There are lots of lessons to be found in this book. Maybe I need to expand my dream.

"Ten Acres Enough", Edmund Morris, 1864, is in print and available through Amazon and other bookstores, or online at dozens of locations. I saw it first at http://www.soilandhealth.org/, but also at http://www.archive.org/details/tenacresenoughpr00morrrich, where you can download a complete PDF from the 1905 printing.

21 September 2008

Science Fiction Cover Art

As you might have noticed from my "What I'm Reading", I've been zooming through David Drake novels, in particular the Leary-Mundy series. I'm on "Some Golden Harbor" now, and there was something about the book that bothered me. It wasn't the writing or the story, and it took me a while to figure it out.

It was the cover.

I was sure I had seen the girl before. And I couldn't place her.

I've only read the first three books in the series on the Baen Free Library, and I haven't paid much attention to the covers. And the cover of the 4th book in the series, "The Way To Glory", although drawn by the same artist, Stephen Hickman, used different models. Who was she?

Well, I've got it figured out.

It's Podkayne of Mars.

Stephen Hickman did the Baen cover for Podkayne back in 1994. And 12 years later, he did the Baen cover for "Some Golden Harbor". All I can say is that she has certainly aged well--she doesn't look a day older.

She hasn't even changed clothes. The beret, the turtleneck, the scarf tying back the hair, the hairstyle--it's all the same.

What's even funnier is the similarity in composition of the covers. Planets floating in the background, with a spaceship zooming by in the middle distance, and the protagonists in the foreground. I do think that 12 years has improved the execution of the subject.

I'm amused by the fact that I was able to identify two covers by the same artist, 12 years apart, from two studies of the same model. I'm even more amused that he USED two studies of the same model. It reminds me of all the Darrell Sweet covers that had EXACTLY the same model, with the same expression on his face. I think it was Darrell.

17 September 2008

Book Review: Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do

In Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do, Peter McWilliams asserts that the government has no authority and no right to enact or enforce legislation against "consensual crimes". In the course of his argument, he points out that
  • The prisons are overflowing with these "criminals";
  • The courts are overflowing with these "criminals";
  • The police are overworked apprehending these "criminals";
  • The governmental budgets are overdrawn pursuing these "criminals".
And, in fact, he argues, there is a distinct lack of agreement over whether some of these "crimes" are crimes at all. For example, during World War II, U.S. farmers were ENCOURAGED to grow hemp, to the extent that hemp farmers and their sons (!) were EXEMPT from the draft.

McWilliams takes a distinctly libertarian position: If what I do hurts someone else, it should be illegal. If it hurts only me, then it "ain't nobody's business if I do!"

This book, along with ALL of Peter McWilliams' books, is available at his website, http://www.mcwilliams.com.

15 September 2008

Chalice of the Sun God

This past weekend, I was at the Chalice Of The Sun God event, in the Barony of Ponte Alto. It was held at the Prince William Forest Park Camp 1, where I was ensconced in Cabin D2, if anyone cares.

This is a beautiful site, with two drawbacks:
  • First, it's not pet-friendly. Sadie couldn't come.
  • Second, you can't drive your car to the cabins, not even to unload. I was parked over 400 yards away, and had to walk over 2 miles just to get the car unloaded.
The theme of the event was "Persephone's Story", and the bardic and Arts&Science competitions were required to relate, however loosely, to this theme. I was a member of the "All-Stars" bardic competition team--the Bright Hills Performing Arts Guild, Extraordinaire (PAGE). Our presentation was an original short play, with music, based on the story of Orpheus.

Persephone, you recall, was "kidnapped" while out gathering flowers by the god of the Underworld, Hades, and taken to reign as his queen. (It's actually more complicated than that--Persephone was the ORIGINAL queen of the Underworld, and Hades got tacked on later in mythology, but we digress.) As Queen, she had a great deal of influence over Hades.

Then came Eurydice. She was the bride of Orpheus, greatest of all human bards, who died an untimely death at the fangs of a serpent. Orpheus, in despair, descended to the Underworld, charmed his way into the very throne room of Hades with his music, and begged for Eurydice to be returned to him.

Persephone's heart was softened by Orpheus' plea, and interceded on his behalf with Hades. The request was granted--but Orpheus could not speak to Eurydice, or look at her, until they both had left the Underworld completely behind. Having no other choice, Orpheus accepted the challenge, and began to sing a beautiful song, trying to entice Eurydice's shade to follow him up to the sunlight.

But once he reached the Overworld, in his hope, he turned too soon, and saw Eurydice before she left the gloom. She sighed his name in farewell, and was drawn back down to Hades halls.

Poor Orpheus. Poor Eurydice.

For our little production, I played Orpheus and wrote two songs: Orpheus' plea to Hades and Persephone, and Orpheus' song to entice Eurydice.

The performance went VERY well. Our first round took us through the plea of Orpheus, and won our position in the second round, where we were challenging the incumbent Chalice Champions. The second round included the restrictions Hades imposed, and the journey back to the lighted world (all in BLAZING sunlight and 100% humidity). We were in multilayered costumes--it's a wonder we didn't faint dead away.


Pictures (not mine, or you wouldn't see me in them) are at http://belfebe.smugmug.com/gallery/5969113_Xe2LT/1/372440324_NPXbq

I'm sweating and tuning my harp on Page 6; some photos of the second act are on Page 10.

We'll be back next year to defend our title!

Gas Mileage

It's really quite simple.

If you want high gas mileage, you buy a small, light car with a small, light engine. This is true across the entire spectrum of automobiles, from the SmartCar and the hybrids to the Hummer. If the car and engine are small and light, the car is a high-gas-mileage wonder.

But not wonderful enough.

I have a problem with hybrids being described as "alternative" fuel vehicles. They're not. They burn gas, just like my car. The gas runs the engine, which drives the wheels and charges the battery to provide electrical assistance when you need an extra shot of power: pulling away from the stop light, or passing on a grade. They DO get good gas mileage, though. Why? THEY HAVE SMALL ENGINES.

That will change somewhat when plug-in hybrids become common. Then the hybrids really WILL have an alternate fuel: coal, water, uranium, wind, sunshine--all the ways we create electricity. But because of the state of battery technology, they will still need the gas engine, because battery power doesn't have the range. For now.

So let's look at the numbers. The Toyota Prius hybrid is the top of the heap at 46 MPG. Next the Honda Civic hybrid at 42 and Nissan Altima hybrid at 34.

Color me unimpressed. My 11-year old 1998 Saturn SL1, with seating for 5, 140K miles, STILL GETS 35 MPG in my day-to-day driving. How does it do it? IT HAS A 96HP ENGINE.

I think it's ridiculous that I could get that kind of performance USED in 1999, but can't buy it today new. Not EVEN from Saturn.

After all, good gas mileage is like sex: it's not how fast you get there, IT'S HOW LONG YOU LAST! ;-)

12 September 2008

Glacier Photos

More of my photos from my family reunion in Glacier National Park can be found at http://picasaweb.google.com/simple.prudence. Enjoy!