Monday, June 30, 2008


A tremendously sweet Chaplinesque robot romantic comedy. One appreciation here.

Friday, June 13, 2008

14th c. Robots II

If you like 14th c. robots (and who doesn’t?) Chaucer’s Squire’s Tale gives us not only a brass robot horse controlled by turning a pin in its ear, but both a satire of the kind of SF where the cool technology and sense-of-wonder marvels completely overwhelm the thin plot and weak characters and of the kind of fanboy who thinks it’s like the coolest story ever, dude.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

14th c. Robots

Steve Muhlberger has an interesting post on 14th c. robots, particularly a mechanical angel that greeted Richard II for his coronation in London in 1377. Much as I’d like to imagine the Tik-Tok Angel of London, clockwork seems unlikely in the context. The contrivance had to perform on cue and the moment of Richard’s arrival was unpredictable, so a puppet seems more likely than a clockwork automaton.

So I will try not to imagine Evangelion Genesis Ricardus, in which a team of moody dysfunctional anime adolescents, led by young Richard II, pilot giant clockwork automata in defense of the underground 14th c. complex of New Troy-3 from various alien menaces, periodically ducking behind gigantic mantlets to be rewound at the waterwheel-powered winding stations.

Instead I will cherish Froissart’s Horloge Amoureuse, in which a ticking clock becomes an extended metaphor for measured and enduring love. There’s something tremendously sweet about how Froissart handled this: first the wide-eyed curiosity at the wheels and foliot and whole complex mechanism, then the immediate impulse to turn it into a love-allegory.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Horloge Amoureuse, by Jean Froissart

The clock is, if considered truly,
An instrument very fair and very notable,
And it is also agreeable and profitable;
For night and day it teaches us the hours
By the subtilty which it comprises
In the absence even of the sun:
On which account we should the more prize its construction,
Which the other instruments do not do,
However they may be made by art and by compass;
Therefore I hold him for valiant and wise
Who first found the use of it,
When by his sense he began and made
A thing so noble and of such great profit.

I will now talk of the state of the clock:
The first wheel which lodges there
Is the mother, and the commencement,
Which makes all the other movements move,
Of which the clock has the command and method:
Therefore this first wheel may indeed
Signify very fitly
The true desire which possesses the heart of man.

The weight well accords to the beauty.
Pleasure is shown by the cord
So fitly that it cannot be said better:
For, just as the counterpoise draws
The cord to it, and the cord drawn,
When the cord is well drawn to the right,
Draws to it, and makes it go
When otherwise it would not move;
Thus Beauty draws to itself, and awakens
The pleasure of the heart.

And, because this first wheel
Has the regulation and mode of moving
By virtue of the weight which the lead gives,
Hence, according to this, it is wholly regulated,
The lead draws it, and it advances again;
And because it would go without regularity,
And too hastily, and without measure,
If it had nothing which from its gaining
Might withdraw it and bring it back,
And regulate it by its right rule;
For this purpose there was arranged by proper art
A second wheel, and so added,
Which retards it, and makes it move
Regularly and by true measure to be seen
By virtue of the foliot also,
Which continually moves it thus,
One hour to the right and then the other to the left.
Nor ought it nor can it remain at rest,
For by it is this wheel kept in order,
And by true measure retarded.

After this it is proper to speak of the dial,
And this dial is the diurnal wheel,
Which, in one natural day only,
Just as the sun makes a single circuit
Round the earth in a natural day.
On this dial, of which the merits are great,
Are described the 24 hours,
Therefore it bears 24 pins
Which cause the little bells to ring;
For they make the spring relax,
Which makes the singing-wheel heard,
And moves them very regularly,
To show the hours more clearly.
And this dial also turns and wheels round
By virtue of that mother wheel,
Of which I have told you the property,
By the aid of a little spindle
Which passes direct from the one to the other;
Thus does it move regularly and well.

Next we must say what thing is lodged
In the third part of the clock;
It is the last movement which regulates
The striking so that it may strike.
Now you must know how this is done:
By two wheels this work is perfected:
This first wheel carries with it
A counterpoise, by which it turns,
And which makes it move, as I understand it,
When the spring is brought up to the proper point.
And the second is the singing-wheel;
This has an object very manifest,
That of touching the little bells,
Whereby night and day the hours above mentioned
Are rung, be it summer or winter,
As is proper, by different songs.

And because this clock cannot
Go of itself, nor move at all,
If there is not some one to keep and take care of it;
Therefore it must have to keep it in order
A clocksmith, who, early and late,
Diligently attends to it and regulates it,
Draws up the weights again, and sets them to their duty,
And thus makes them move regularly;
Moderates and regulates the wheels,
And puts them in order so as to strike.

Moreover the clocksmith sets
The foliot, which ceases not,
The spindle, and all the pins.
And the wheel which all the little bells
Of the hours which in the dial are
To ring have a very certain order.
But though the spring may be wound up,
Still, as I understand, can very well
The clocksmith, when he has leisure for it,
Every time it pleases him,
Make the little bells ring
Without putting the above mentioned hours out of order.

Translation W. H. Smyth 1851

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

A Note to Readers of my Feed

From time to time I will blog satire. As a service to my readers, such posts include the label “We don’t need no steenkin’ footnotes” to avoid confusion. If someone put the Islamofascist Green Shirts or Zombie John Chandos in their history paper after they found out about them on the internet, I’d feel bad about it. A little bit, anyway. The Livejournal feed doesn’t include the labels, alas. But if you suspect that I might be pulling your leg, then go directly to the blog. Because it’s always April 1st somewhere, and never more than a light year away.

Sequel to The Hobbit

Peter Jackson plans to film The Hobbit and a sequel. The sequel will be a stretch, because Tolkien did not actually write a lot of details about what happened between when The Hobbit ended and The Lord of the Rings began.

Here are some of the rumored possibilities:

An Underground River Runs Through It. Gollum goes trout fishing with Smeagol. In the dark. For 90 minutes.

Hobbiton Pie. Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin come of age in this gross-out comedy. Allyson Hannigan wears a curly-haired wig and plays a girl-hobbit, with one of those typical girl-hobbit vegetation names. Like Willow.

When Aragorn Met Arwen. In this romantic comedy a friendship grows over the course of fifty years. At first, Aragorn thinks that males and females can’t really be friends, because sex always gets in the way. Especially telepathic long-distance elf sex. Arwen disagrees. About once a decade, she cries on his shoulder about her breakup with yet another elf that is only mentioned in the appendixes. Arwen’s changing hairstyles signal the passage of time: for example, in the 2970s she wears a feathered Farrah Fawcet flip. Aragorn worries about his mortality. Arwen doesn’t, because of her sunny disposition and the fact that she isn’t actually mortal. Arwen does worry that her biological clock is ticking: she’ll be 3,000 in only a couple of centuries. She fakes an orgasm in the Rivendell feast hall. “I’ll have what she’s having” is translated into Elvish for the big screen, and back into English for the subtitles.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Recreating a Tourney using King René’s Rules

Here’s what the Company of St. Michael has evolved over several iterations to adapt his rules to foot combat in the Society for Creative Anachronism.

After any telling blow, retreat to your end of the lists, cry your cry, and return to the fray. Do not act out amputations. The melee may start with an exchange of spear-thrusts, after which everyone switches to weapons no more than six feet long: a sword, pollaxe or short spear.

René’s rules assumed the combatants would batter each other with blunt weapons, and if a combatant was temporarily stunned his retainers would protect him until he recovered. Standard SCA rules in which the man struck pretended he was crippled or killed were not appropriate. After our first recreation we omitted the armored retainers who protected their master in René’s rules: under the adapted rules they didn’t have a lot to do or scope to enjoy themselves. (In the original, this was irrelevant: they were paid to do their job, not to have fun).

We often fight this over the barrier. Barriers didn’t become part of friendly deeds of arms until around 1500, rather later than René’s rules. However, barriers do allow good control of the melee with minimal need for marshaling. We’ve found that if some combatants have long spears at the barriers and the others don’t the others can feel like helpless targets as the spearmen poke them from a safe distance on the other side of the barriers. Sword and shield at the barrier tends to be an uninteresting fight, and I would discourage that choice if the combatant is able to use one of the other options.

Since we fight on foot we faced a fundamental choice. Should we use contemporary foot combat conventions while using as much of René’s format as made sense, or should we follow as many of his rules as possible even if they lose their purpose in the absence of horses? We eventually chose the first, and so allowed the typical weapons of foot combat. Thrusts were only rarely prohibited in contemporary foot combat so we allowed them.

If we were following the second course the weapons would be single handed swords or maces used without shields, and thrusting and blows below the waist would be prohibited.

The knight or squire of honor provides a useful way to call local holds as needed without interrupting the general combat.