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Writing (2)

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988
zornhau
05-22-2006
04:53 AM ET (US)
I think Charlie started a Discuss Writing 3.
But while I have your attention, I'm interested in your writing process, ifyou can spare the time to share: e.g. Do you work from outlines? How many good words can you produce a day?
987
S.M. Stirling
05-21-2006
08:42 PM ET (US)
Has everyone died? 8-).
986
S.M. Stirling
04-17-2006
07:11 PM ET (US)
"I don't want to get shot by arrows, but regarding a previous subthread here about gerontology and demographics:"

-- interesting article, but things are moving fast. He quotes India's TFR as 3.1, but according to the just-released CIA World Factbook, it's down to 2.73 as of 2006. Pakistan is falling rapidly, too. Other countries:

Tunisia: 1.74
Algeria: 1.89
Iran: 1.8
Turkey: 1.92
Jordan: 2.63
Morocco: 2.67

The whole belt between Morocco and the Bay of Bengal seems to be well into the demographic transition, and a lot of those countries are not only poor, but economically stagnant or dependent (like Iran) on a wasting resource which will run out fairly soon.

If China's going to have problems by 2025, what will happen when Algeria or Iran hit the same demographic cliff, but with the oil running out and damn-all to replace it as an income stream?
985
Jonathan Vos Post
04-17-2006
01:30 PM ET (US)
I don't want to get shot by arrows, but regarding a previous subthread here about gerontology and demographics:

Growing Old the Hard Way: China, Russia, India
By Nicholas Eberstadt
Nicholas Eberstadt holds the Henry Wendt chair in political economy at the American Enterprise Institute. This essay extends and updates a study from the 2005/2006 edition of the World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Report.
[Hoover Institution]

"Over the past decade and a half, the phenomenon of population aging in the 'traditional' or already affluent oecd societies has become a topic of sustained policy analysis and concern.1 The reasons for this growing attention — and apprehension — are clear enough."

"By such metrics as median age or proportion of total population above the age of 65, virtually every developed society today is more elderly than practically any human society ever surveyed before the year 1950 — and every single currently developed society is slated to experience considerable further population aging in the decades immediately ahead. In all of the affluent oecd societies, the proportion of what is customarily called the 'retirement age population' (65 years of age or older) will steadily swell, with the most rapid expansion occurring among those aged 80 or more. Simultaneously, the ratio of people of 'working age' (the cohort, by arbitrary though not entirely unreasonable custom, designated at 15–64 years) to those of retirement age will relentlessly shrink — and within the working age grouping, more youthful adults will account for a steadily dwindling share of overall manpower."

"Whether these impending revolutionary transformations of national population structure actually constitute a crisis for the economies and societies in the industrialized world is — let us emphasize — still a matter of dispute...."
984
Jonathan Vos Post
04-07-2006
04:51 PM ET (US)
Mr. Stross makes an important point. Editors, publishers, and even the executives in the transnational media conglomerates who own book and magazine publishers, are aware of a positive correlation between awards and sales. Thus, when a SFWA member votes for a Nebula Award (usually wanting to see the text first, online if not as a marketing hardcopy freebie); or a paying Worldcon member votes for a Hugo, (hopefully based on seeing the work); there is implicitly a vote as well for non-DRM easily accessed digital versions of the nominated text.

This is imperfect, as it is well-known that awards have considerable logrolling and backscratching and popularity issues, but that won't be solved before the Singularity. In essence, if we, the technocratic elite remember that our award votes are also a means of exerting indirect economic incentives on the ever-more-concentrated media owners to respect writers and readers alike with rational policy, I'd like to believe that we are pushing things in the right direction.

As to popularity, the perfect expression of the unsolvable problem was given by someone about the Tony Awards (for best Broadway shows): First, you vote for yourself (if nominated); second, you vote against your enemies; third you vote for your friends; fourth, if there are any votes left, you vote your conscience.
983
Charlie StrossPerson was signed in when posted
04-07-2006
02:02 PM ET (US)
Not until and unless the situation clarifies itself. It is my understanding that there is still an ongoing debate within Tor and the parent company, and Tor's management -- at the highest level -- are aware of the undesirability of DRM on ebooks (from a sales point of view), but they've now got to convince a whole bunch of other folks of the same thing.

I'd draw your attention, though, to the availability of 60% of this year's Hugo nominated novels -- soon to be 80%, if a certain British editor wasn't on jury service this week and therefore unale to sign off on it -- as un-DRM'd ebooks to eligible Hugo voters as a sign of the way things are going.
982
Robotech_Master
04-07-2006
12:35 PM ET (US)
I see the conversation has wandered far afield from the "Charlie Stross books on Webscriptions" blog entry that it began as a discussion of.

I was just wondering whether there would be any more blog entries forthcoming based on the disappointing fact that Tor's parent corporation has shut the whole thing down.
981
S.M. Stirling
04-05-2006
12:21 AM ET (US)
"I must admit to a knee-jerk reaction thanks to the traditional English portrayal of the longbow as an uber-proletariat-Feudal-oppressor-slayer: sturdy working Englishmen taking down effete French knights etc."

-- as is usually the case with stereotypes, there's a fair bit of truth to this, though the cause and effect links are not straightforward. Conan Doyle's picture of the times is romanticized, but there's a solid element of fact to "The White Company".

Serfdom decayed faster in England than France, and the landowners seem to have trusted the peasantry much more.

French armies were dominated in terms of numbers by men-at-arms and the next most important elments were urban militias and foreign mercenaries. The ruling classes weren't prepared to let the rural lower orders get their hands on effective weapons, particularly in an era before standing armies, when they'd be keeping them in their own homes.

By contrast, in English armies men-at-arms were fairly small minorities. The numerically dominant element was bowmen recruited from the upper reaches of the peasantry, what were increasingly referred to as "yeomen".

This got more so over time. Edward III's armies were usually about 50% bowmen; Henry V's were 80% archers. The Crown made continuous efforts to see that every substantial peasant kept a longbow and practiced with it.

Longbowmen (outlaws aside) rarely came from the really poor. They tended to be the sons of relatively well-to-do tenant farmers who were also employers of labor themselves, and some were from the lower fringes of the gentry. You needed some money and some leisure to master the weapon.

This showed up in an archer's wages; 6p a day was _good_ money in the 1400's, three or four times what even a well-paid laborer like a plowman made.

On 6p a day you could make the price of a bushel of oats or a sheep per week. The very best longbows cost 3 shillings sixpence each -- only a little over a week's wages -- and a riding horse of the type a mounted archer used would cost him only a month's pay. If you didn't blue the lot on whores, dice and drink you could actually save money on pay like that, and that's not counting loot.

Note also that there was only one large peasant revolt in England in this period, as opposed to dozens in France, and that the one in England wasn't some convulsive volcano from the depths (which the Jacquerie _was_) but instead a relatively orderly affair with direct political aims -- abolition of the head-tax, a change in the King's ministers, elimination of surviving feudal dues, clarification of the status of copyholders, and so forth.

Those aren't the demands of starvlings; they're the complaints of the aspiring lower middle class. The "Jacques", over in France, had a more straightforward approach; they just wanted to kill all the landowners.

Nor could the English revolt simply be put down by fire and slaughter the way most French uprisings were -- indeed, the rebels marched right into London and took it, relatively unopposed.

The yeomanry-in-arms was too formidable; these were the same people who'd killed huge numbers of the chivalry of France, and who were the core of English armies. Everyone knew it, including themselves.
980
zornhau
04-04-2006
04:47 AM ET (US)
>Note also that the men-at-arms advanced in
>a sort of shuffling crouch... etc

That was the basis of my own interpretation: most of the French casualties were caused hand-to-hand, but only because of the tactical effect of the longbow.

You're right, though, shear volume of arrows and patchy plate armour has to account for a good few casualties.

I still don't think the longbow is as decisive as people make out. It's an important weapon, and part of the 1300s military revolution, but very much just one weapon in the armoury.

For example, at Shrewsbury, 12 years earlier, longbows seem to have killed a lot of men, but even so, the battle turned on close-quarters combat. IIRC it was the same for most of the Wars of the Roses battles: Barnet had the mother of all melees, Tewkesbury was settled by the clash of battles, as was Bosworth.

I shall now have to collect examples and get back to you.

(I must admit to a knee-jerk reaction thanks to the traditional English portrayal of the longbow as an uber-proletariat-Feudal-oppressor-slayer: sturdy working Englishmen taking down effete French knights etc.)

Thanks for the metalurgy piece. Isn't it time you had your own blog?
979
S.M. Stirling
04-03-2006
06:40 PM ET (US)
In fact, well-made modern replica armor is better than the best medieval models.

The quality of medieval steel was extremely variable because of the blister-and-hammering process used to produce it from wrought iron. The larger the piece, the worse the quality control problems.

They could't control the carbon content of large flat pieces of metal, and also there were a lot of slag intrusions in the iron to begin with, which hammering couldn't get out.

The carbon content in turn strongly affects how the metal will respond to quenching and tempering and other heat-treating methods of hardening it and reducing brittleness.

Consistently good steel required crucible casting, a technique unknown outside India in medieval times and rare there; it wasn't introduced into Europe until the 18th century, and then only used for edge tools and springs.

Really consistent face-hardened armor was a rarity, the product of a combination of high skill by the armorer and a rare batch of really good materials.

Ordinary export-quality Milanese plate which has been tested varies from quite good face-hardened steel to what's effectively soft wrought iron. Sometimes a single breastplate will vary that much from spot to spot.

It was much easier to get good quality in a _small_ piece of steel; a sword, a lancehead, or an arrowhead.

In terms of design and construction late-medieval European plate armor was about the ultimate in pre-gunpowder protection, but the quality of the materials left much to be desired.
978
S.M. Stirling
04-03-2006
06:13 PM ET (US)
Note also that the men-at-arms advanced in a sort of shuffling crouch with their faces down towards the ground, so that they presented the tops of their helms and the shoulders of their armor to the storm of arrows rather than their faces and throats.

Imagine doing this for a mile over glutinous mud while wearing 70 pounds of steel, and having someone beating on you with a ball-peen hammer all the way... 8-).
977
zornhau
04-03-2006
06:09 PM ET (US)
That's what I would have said prior to reading the Deeds of Don Pero Nino.
Some alternative possibilities:

-Longbow forced the French off their horses, forced them to march through mud into a cramped front where they were cut down in hand-to-hand combat.
-Modern replica armour isn't as good as the best Medieval kit + modern bodkin heads are better than the originals.

Before discussing this further, I'll have to revisit some of the plate vs longbow battles... I see you've added another post, but I'll let this stand for now.
976
S.M. Stirling
04-03-2006
06:04 PM ET (US)
Note that we're talking about "arrowstorms", not individual sniping, in battles like Agincourt. In fact, the evidence suggests that the archers fired volleys on the word of command, "wholly together" in contemporary useage, rather like musketeers later. Except that their weapons had a higher rate of fire and didn't generate clouds of smoke.

A longbowman could shoot an arrow every four seconds or so; call it 15 a minute, a rate of fire similar to that of a breech-loading rifle. Maximum effective range was about 300 yards. At that range dropping shots hit with about 75% of the arrow's initial velocity -- arrows are very ballistically efficient. As the range closed, the archers shifted to direct fire. They stood in a four-deep "harrow" formation, staggered so they didn't mask each other.

And the English armies had elaborate logistical arrangements to collect massive numbers of arrows in England (including orders to pluck every goose in the country of its wingfeathers and send them to the armories), to take them along, and to shuttle them forward to the firing line during battles. That's what a lot of the 'varlets' and 'boys' were doing -- rushing bundles of arrows from the baggage train to the bowmen. Standard practice seems to have been to take two spare bows and several hundred arrows per archer.

At Agincourt there were about 8000 archers according to Curry (rather more than in previous accounts).

That's 2000 arrows a second, 120,000 in a minute, and well over half a million in the time it took the dismounted French men-at-arms to cross the killing ground, a mile of muddy plowed field which had just been rained on.

The target was the 6-8000 men of the French vanguard; their rear, including their crossbowmen, never engaged. They just buggered off after they saw the slaughter of the first echelon, which included most of the higher nobility and leaders.

The French came in a dense column 30 men deep; hence probably 200-300 men across, call it 500 yards of front and 40 or 50 yards deep, 2000 square yards in all.

That's initially, but later they got more densely packed as they crowded away from the archers on the flanks, and the chroniclers record that the ones in the middle couldn't even raise their arms.

That's a target too big to miss, even with 'dropping' fire at long range. So every man at arms would be hit, on average, between 40 and 80 times.

That's 40-80 hits per man by heavy 3 or 4-ounce arrows with hardened-steel bodkin points, travelling at 150-200 fps.

Given the law of averages, some must have been "overkilled" and some lucky; the ones on the outside of the formation in particular would get hit more often and the ones on the inside less.

A substantial number did make it to the English standards, but they were so exhausted, wounded and demoralized that they were easy meat.

It's not surprising that 5000 or more ended up dead, tho' many of those were prisoners killed on Henry's order; however, a lot of those were badly wounded already.

The experience must have had a lot in common with marching forward into machine-gun fire.
975
S.M. Stirling
04-03-2006
05:41 PM ET (US)
"I'm particularly interested because I have come across accounts of 1400s plate simply shrugging off longbow arrows."

-- that would make the defeat of a French army largely composed of armored men-at-arms by an English army 80% of whom were archers sort of strange, wouldn't it?

See THE GREAT WARBOW by Strickland and Hardy. Testing with replica bows based on the "Mary Rose" examples and carefully duplicated sections of medieval armor has shown:

a) chain mail was very little protection against longbow arrows; not much better than leather.

b) plate was much better, but not invulnerable.

If an arrow hit at an angle, the smooth surfaces of the breastplate, tassets or helm would "glance" it off; the arrow would skip away, and often break.

At 90 degrees, the arrow would penetrate the breastplate (the strongest part of the armor) about half the time, and about half the penetrations would result in serious/incapacitating wounds.

Penetrations went up at close range.

Hits on the joints and weak spots of the armor (armpit, groin, joints, visor, neck) almost always penetrated and almost always did major damage.
974
zornhau
04-02-2006
09:02 AM ET (US)
Thanks. Then author's name rings a bell.

I'm particularly interested because I have come across accounts of 1400s plate simply shrugging off longbow arrows.

I wonder whether the French body count at Agincourt can be explained by variations in armour quality and shear volume of arrows, and what proportion of kills resulted from arrows. Hmmmm....
973
S.M. Stirling
03-30-2006
10:03 PM ET (US)
Interesting book: AGINCOURT: A NEW HISTORY, by Anne Curry.

A nifty synthesis of the documentary and archaeological evidence with some new stuff; eg., reconstruction of medieval longbows using data from the "Mary Rose" samples.

(Which, btw, show that longbows had much heavier draw-weights than was previously supposed -- minimum 80lbs, maximum over 154lbs, averaging 100lbs+. Easily capable of penetrating even the best Milanese plate armor at close range.)

The really striking thing about the battle is that 70 years into the Hundred Years War, the French had learned nothing.

The _English_ had changed their methods -- more archers relative to other troop types, better formations, using mobile stakes as a barrier to cavalry, better siege train, more methodical strategy.

The French made exactly the same mistakes their grandfathers and great-grandfathers had against Edward III and the Black Prince.

They formed up, tried a cavalry charge against the English archers, which of course got shot to pieces, then marched thousands of men-at-arms in full plate into a V-shaped field flanked by longbowmen, with the upper nobility forcing their way to the front and the crossbowmen and suchlike rabble so far to the rear that they never got to take part at all.

The armored elite of France then slogged over a mile of thick, glutinous mud towards the tiny band of their social equals around Henry V's banners.

The 8000 English longbowmen shot more than a half a million arrows at them -- the French were packed 30 deep. Thousands of arrows every second, at a massed target too big to miss.

The demoralized remnant who made it to the English front line were so exhausted that some of them had their own weapons taken away and used to kill them, and so densely packed (to get away from the volleys of arrows slashing at their flanks) that the ones in the center couldn't even raise their arms.

Score: French dead over 5000, so many they had to be tumbled into a mass grave. English around 102.

The French were very lucky that they were just too big for England to really hold -- it was like a weasel trying to devour a cow. They certainly didn't win by being quick on the uptake.
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