Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Perception, Alien Autopsy and Yeti Footprints.

                Today’s blog is about perception. I have touched on this subject once or twice before since how you process information is a useful survival and self-defence skill. What you perceive can often be influenced by what you want to see, expect to see or are expected to see.

                Back in the mid 1990s a video claiming to be the autopsy of an alien was broadcast. Last year I came across an article written at that time by a writer who had attended a press screening of the video. Although he was writing for a science fiction publication the writer was sceptical and suggested that a telephone visible in the film was too modern for the date claimed for the film. This latter statement made me find a copy of the film and sit down to watch it.

                One of the claims I had heard made for this film was that the men performing the autopsy seemed very efficient, professional and were evidently doctors, coroners or scientists. Watching the film my impression was quite the opposite!

                Anyone with even a minimal level of medical training would use a Y incision to open the thorax of a humanoid. Instead in the video a clumsy cross is cut in the torso and organs fished out. No attempt is made to film the inside of the torso and the relative positions of the organs before they are removed. One of the “doctors” attempts to open the skull and to access this area he peels the scalp upwards and flops it over the alien’s face. The rather awkward action shows that the “doctor” has never before performed this action, nor has he ever given any thought whatever as to what would be the best way to accomplish this. Not only is it obvious to me the two “doctors” have no knowledge of medicine it seems very unlikely they are hunters or butchers or any other profession used to handling animal carcasses.

                The makers of the alien autopsy video have now admitted that it was faked. While some people choose to believe they have been made to lie about falsifying it the actions of the “doctors” in the video speak pretty clearly. And yet, many people claimed the conduct of the “doctors” in the video was evidence of its authenticity!

                Below is another famous mystery, the footprint of a yeti found by an Everest expedition. Spend a couple of minutes studying this photo and see if you can work out what is “wrong” about it.

               If you look carefully you can see the footprint is curved on its left side, suggesting that if this is a primate foot it is from the right foot. The largest toe impression, however, is on the right of the foot print. Either yetis have a very odd way of distributing their weight when walking or they have their big toes or insteps on the outside of their feet!

                Is there an animal in Tibet that has a large toe on the outside of its foot. Yes, bears have this feature. Another interesting thing about bear tracks is at certain walking speeds the front and rear pawprints often overlap, creating what appears to look a bit like an elongated human or primate footprint! If you look across the centre of this footprint there appears to be what might be a second set of toe impressions, supporting the idea that this might be a pawprint placed close to another.

                The perception of these things is something to reflect on. Humans are most interested in humans so they perceive a vaguely human shaped track as being from a hommid, ignoring large discrepancies as the big toe being on the wrong side!
 The Books



Monday, 8 December 2014

Goodbye to two longtime travelling companions.

            Many years ago I purchased a pair of boots from a shop in Camden called “Outdoor Emporium”. They were a pair of black Hi-tech Magnums and according to the label inside they had been constructed in Vietnam in 1999. They were an interesting design since they were rather like Vietnam Jungle boots in design. The bottom section of them was leather while the upper part was bulked nylon. The cuff of the boot had a suede-like material. I don’t recall exactly when I brought the boots, but it would have been before the old Wembley stadium was demolished in 2003. I had originally met the proprietor of Outdoor Emporium at Wembley market and had ended up helping on his stall, so I can recall I had a good view of the famous twin towers of the old stadium.

            Initially I only wore the boots occasionally. My podiatrist one day advised me that given the problems with my feet and ankles I should wear something with more ankle support so I then began to wear the Hi-tech Magnums all of the time. These boots are around fifteen years old. They have been worn constantly for at least eight years and perhaps as much as thirteen or fourteen years. The soles show a little wear but still have good tread on them after countless miles of London pavement. Finally a crack in the leather upper is beginning to go all the way through so in January I will buy a new pair. It is quite possible that they would have lasted me a few years more if I had been a little more diligent with polishing them more often.

            I am pleased to see that these boots still seem to be in production. Hopefully my new pair will enjoy a similar lease of life.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Deer and Detergents.


A friend of mine mentioned the other day that deer can see into the ultra-violet range. Naturally I did some research myself to confirm this, and found this interesting article.

I learnt that deer can see in colour, but not very well at the red end of the spectrum, which is why red and orange clothing can be used for deer hunting. (Bird hunting is another matter. Birds tend to have very good colour vision in general).


The UV sensitivity of deer vision has some interesting implications. Many laundry detergents include whitening agents that reflect UV-light. In short, what to our primate eyes may be a nicely camouflaged jacket may look distinctive and out of place to a deer. I suspect as this information becomes more widely known some clever company will market a detergent especially for hunters. If you are going to use this as an excuse not to wash your favourite hunting coat remember deer have a very good sense of smell too!

The discussion of laundry soaps reminded me of this statement made about US Woodland pattern camouflage garments:-

“… When they are brand new this pattern choice isn’t bad. With daily (duty, military) use and washing the pattern starts a light graying process and doesn’t stop until they are lightened and useless for their intended purpose. With that said some of the woodland fatigues do start to "brown out" and that is a good thing when it happens. With normal civilian wash and wear this seems to happen more often. With most military personnel we notice the graying on a larger more pronounced scale.”

            If this observation is accurate a likely explanation is in the laundering process. Civilian owned garments are less likely to be washed by industrial laundries.

            As many of you may be aware, the US Army has had considerable problems with its ACUPAT camouflage. Supposedly this pattern is a mix of grey, sage and tan. Most garments you see in use seem to appear to be various shades of grey and dirty white with very little contrast between the elements. Is it possible, perhaps, that some of the problems are a result of the Army’s laundering system? Worth investigating.
 The Books


Friday, 14 November 2014

Umbrella Fighting : All the Links.

           I have just acquired a new umbrella for my girlfriend and joked that she could read my "How to poke people with a brolly" blog. With that in mind today's blog will gather the links about self-defence with an umbrella together in one place.

Part One Fencing Parries with an umbrella.

Part One and a bit An Interlude.

Part Two Swagger stick techniques.

Part Three Commanding the blade or brolly.

Part Four Offensive techniques.

Vigny on Umbrellas.
Light-hearted article from 1897

The Books



Thursday, 30 October 2014

Direction Finding by the Moon.

                The other night I was looking at the crescent moon. Many readers of this blog are doubtless familiar with how to find direction from the moon, but some will not be, so indulge me for a moment. By drawing an imaginary line between the horns of the crescent and extending it down to the horizon the approximate position of south can be estimated if in the northern hemisphere, or north if you are in the southern hemisphere.

                Idly I wondered if the angle of this line had any relationship to the latitude of the observer. I recalled there was something about navigating by moon in the Japanese Manual of Night Movements.

“Although it is difficult to determine direction by the position of the moon, the latter has the advantage of being recognizable even on nights when all the stars cannot be seen. The moon crosses the meridian about noon on the first lunar day, and it moves about fifty minutes behind the sun every day. Therefore, if the age of the moon be known, the approximate passing of the meridian can be easily computed. Its approximate age can be computed from the shape of its bright portion.”

Not really that helpful! Something may have been lost in the translation. Most websites I looked at had no answer but eventually I found this interesting paper and found the answer is “no”.
I later confirmed my latitude was 51 degrees so an angle of either 51 or 39 would have been expected if the hypothesis had been correct. The range of angles the terminator can be at as it approaches and passes meridian will vary with latitude, however, but this has very little application to practical emergency navigation.


An alternate method for direction finding by the moon involves remembering that the sun sets in the west and rises in the east. If the moon is up in the early part of the night, or in the evening before the sun has gone down the illuminated side will be the western. If the moon is observed in the latter part of the night or in the morning then the eastern side will be illuminated. In this context “latter” and “early part” of the night are defined in relation to the median point of the night, also known as Solar Midnight. In other words, the middle of the period of darkness rather than the chronological “midnight”, 12:00am or 0000hrs on the clock. This is more of a secondary method since if you can see the light and dark parts of the moon you can use the terminator method to find north or south. I suppose you could make a crude estimate of the time by establishing where south or north is located and then observing which side of the moon was illuminated.

You can also estimate direction from the moon using the shadow tip method. This is often illustrated using the sun but the principle is exactly the same using the moon. Place an object such as a stick in the ground so that it casts a shadow. Mark the tip of the shadow. Wait for at least fifteen minutes so the shadow has time to move. Mark the tip of the shadow’s new position. A line drawn between these two points will run east-west. The first point you marked will always be west, the second east. Easy for me to remember since my name is “West” so “West comes first!”. Both the moon and the sun move from east to west and in the northern hemisphere they are always in the southern half of the sky so shadows cast have varying degrees of northward orientation. A line perpendicular to the east-west line will be north-south and the shadow will be in the direction of the pole of the hemisphere that you are in.

The advantage of the shadow tip method is that you can use it when there is a full moon and you could not use the terminator method. In the daytime you can use the shadow tip method when the exact position of the sun cannot be seen because of clouds, so long as there is enough light to throw a shadow.

 The Books


Friday, 24 October 2014

Christmas Creep - it begins again, already!

                A recent topic of some discussion on the internet was the Christmas tree in Paris that is widely regarded as looking like a butt plug. Most of us, however, missed the real issue, which is why is a Christmas tree of any form is being erected in early October?

                I was in a restaurant with my girlfriend this Sunday. They had a Christmas tree of beer cans in the window. It was the twelfth of October! Last year I wrote on the topic of Christmas Creep and predicted that it may start even earlier this year. Already a TV station boasts that they will be broadcasting 24 hour Christmas movies. I so hate being right!

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Movement in Armour.

                A common piece of Victorian whimsy was that the knight in armour needed a crane to haul him up into his saddle. In reality a suit of plate armour might weigh around 20-25kgs. This is actually less weight than that of the equipment that a modern soldier or firefighter might carry. Certainly I have carried rucksacs of this weight when necessary. The weight of a suit of armour would have been better distributed than that of a modern pack.

            Many years ago I read about the feats of a knight called “Jean le Maingre” (ca. 1366–1421), aka “MarĂ©chal Boucicault”. Wearing armour he could climb up the underside of a ladder only using his hands.

“Boucicaut or Jean de Meingre marechal de France who commanded the vanguard of the French army at Azincourt in 1415 and was there made prisoner and died in England in 1421 used to go up on the lower side of a ladder leaning against a wall without touching it with his feet but only by jumping with both his hands together from one bar to the other and that he would do armed with a steel coat and having taken off the armour with one hand alone he could ascend several bars and these things are true and by many other hard exercises of such sort he so hardened his body that his equal was hardly to be found….

…….Boucicaut at one time used to accustom himself to leap in armour on the back of a horse and often he would walk or long distances to give him long breath and enable him to bear fatigue. He also used to strike for a long time with an axe heavy hammer to harden his arms and hands and to accustom himself to raise his arms readily. By following such exercises he strengthened his body so greatly that in his time there was no gentleman to compare with him. He could throw a somerset completely armed except his basnet and would dance when armed with a steel coat In full armour and without putting a foot in the stirrup he would jump on the back of a war horse. He would also jump from the ground astride on the shoulders of a big man or a tall horse without other help than a hold of the sleeve of a man's jerkin. Holding with one hand by the pommel of a saddle placed on a high horse and with the other grasping the mane a little below the ears he would from the ground jump through his arms to the other side of the horse and he would ascend between two side walls of plaster at the distance of a fathom from each other and by the force alone of his arms and legs without other aid without falling either going up or coming down."
Extracted from his Life pour servir a I Histoire de France

An introductory course of modern gymnastic exercises

 By George Roland

            Boucicaut was obviously an exceptional individual but it is evident that the wearing of armour was much less restrictive than many people assume. Most of us have seen medieval illustrations that show armoured fighters ascending ladders during an assault on castle walls. Illustrations also exist of knights mounting their horses without need for assistance.

            A friend of mine sent me this video which shows two re-enactors performing various movements in armour. Bear in mind that these gentlemen do not wear armour as often as a medieval fighter would have, yet still can move around freely.

            Here are some additional videos I found.

The Books


Wednesday, 24 September 2014

More on Backups!

                Last night as I got home a particular song came on my iPod. I decided I wanted to listen to this song, so found it in the files of my computer. I was using the windows music app, which is kind of poor but at least does not take ten minutes to open like iTunes. Usually I have this app randomly playing tracks from my entire music files. Asking for a specific track seemed to confuse it. While attempting to get it to play other tracks again the computer shut down. It restarted, immediately shut down and then restarted again. Obviously something had gone wrong so when it offered me the option to “refresh” without any danger to my losing my files, I clicked “yes”.

                Apparently, “refresh” actually means “we will delete all of the programs you have ever personally installed, including the upgrade from Win 8 to Win 8.1”. We will also delete your system restore points too so you cannot undo this!


                On this blog I have often spoken about the need for backups in life. All of my files were safely stored on an external HDD. It seems most of my programs were not. I have a list of over twenty programs that will need to be reinstalled on the computer. Some of them will be difficult to source. Some will need me to relocate registration codes. Some will come with a host of pointless programs that will try and install toolbars or change my search preferences. Some may no longer be available or the current version lacks features that I found most useful on the old one. Win 8.1 will not install until I have installed a host of updates, a process that has failed at least once so far. I am probably looking at at least several nights of work just getting my computer back up to scratch.

                My advice in this blog is to make a copy of the installer application for all of your favourite programs and place them in a folder on your backup drive(s).

 The Books


Monday, 8 September 2014

Your best survival tool : Science.

            The other night someone I know began an vehement rant on the evils of science. As is often the case the problem with this is that they actually had little idea on what science really is and were using “science” when they meant big business, industry, government, the pharmaceutical industry and so forth. I was once required to take a University course on the “Sociology of science” that in practice was a vehicle for some very-hazy left wing concepts and it was obvious most of the tutors had no idea of what science actually was. When they said “science” they always actually meant “industry” or “technology” or “corporate practice”. Ironically their example of “an alternative approach to science” was one of the best examples of structured scientific investigation I had then come across. Apparently it was “alternative” since Chinese “barefoot” doctors had done the work, which seems somewhat racist and condescending!
            For a number of reasons I chose not to argue the issue the other night but it still meant a big chunk of our limited time together was wasted and soured.
            What is science? This is something that many people are unclear on and certain factions deliberately attempt to obscure. The Wikipedia page does a reasonable job at explaining this. Science is a tool. It is one of the most useful tools that you may ever use if you master it. Like any other tool it is neither inherently good nor bad. Science, or rather its products can be used either for good or bad. That is a choice of the user, not science.
           Science is a tool for finding answers. The processes we usually use to achieve this are observation and systematic experimentation. Is an answer gained by science inherently true? Not necessarily! Science tends to give us the most likely answer based on the available data.

           I used to tell my students the fable of the blind men and the elephant as an example of why you had to take multiple observations of a thing and examine it from different angles. If you were examining an event that was a sine wave there is a chance your sample interval matched the frequency and you got the same reading every time, leading you to conclude from the available evidence that the event was a straight line.

            I once heard about a medieval monk who built a flying machine and jumped from the watchtower of an abbey. He broke both legs. I remember this because he is a clear example of someone who is an inventor but not scientific. If he had been scientific he might have tried his machine with a dummy first, or tried from progressively increasing lesser heights.
           The accuracy of a scientific answer depends on the available data. This is why some scientific “truths” become less reliable as new and  additional information becomes available. Science has inherent in it the principle of Fallibilism. It does not say “this is the answer” but “this is the most probable answer, based on the data we have”. If I had something in my pocket and it goes missing the most probable answer is that it fell out. This may not be the actual reason. Someone might have picked my pocket or the item disappeared through a quantum wormhole! I have no evidence to support the latter ideas so the most probably explanation is that I lost it. If someone produces security camera footage of my pocket being picked then we have new evidence and our theory of what has happened is modified.

            Science is a tool for problem solving. One of the greatest fictional examples of a scientist is Sherlock Holmes, who wisely tells us "Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth." I’d replace “truth” with “most likely explanation” but this quote nicely illustrates that to use science effectively you must be both open-minded and sceptical.

           Scientists are human and thus subject to human weaknesses and failings. Dogma and conservatism sometimes find their way into the scientific community. Occasionally a new finding or idea gets held back because of who proposes it or its potential effect on the reputation of the originator of the theory it displaces. Some ideas do not gain acceptance until the scientist who proposed the current theory has died!

            That scientists cannot explain something does not mean that they ignore it or reject it. It should be a spur to investigate further and attempt new approaches. Science applies to everything. Some fields such as alternative therapy and parapsychology are ignored by conventional scientists yet these are exactly the fields where good science can be used to sort the wheat from the chaff and the bogus from the genuine. Scientific investigation of acupuncture discovered it stimulates endorphin production. The observations and experiments of a scientist discovered many incidences of hauntings can be attributed to infrasound. Radiations other than light were only discovered in the 19th century when we developed means to measure them or observe their interactions. Who knows what else we may discover or disprove once we have the tools?
           True science only rejects what it can disprove, not what it cannot prove.

           Sometimes you find insight in unusual places. The entertaining movie “Frankenweenie” says some interesting things about science.

Mr. Rzykruski: “They like what science gives them, but not the questions, no. Not the questions that science asks.”
            Science is neutral and will sometimes lead us to answers and conclusions that we do not want. This is where science sometimes clashes with some religions. Many religions have dogma, truths you are required to accept as immutable and absolute. Any evidence that may disprove the absolute nature of such ideas must be ignored and rejected. Some religions like to portray science as an alternative belief system or set of dogma but it is not. It is a device for testing assumptions.
           I often wonder if the poor teaching of science I have observed in recent years is because those able to think logically and systematically are poorer consumers. If you are better equipped to see through bullshit it is harder for advertisers, politicians and other controllers.

            Can the knowledge that science produces be exploited for bad purposes? Yes, it can. Any knowledge can be exploited but that produced by science is the most likely to be used since it is verified. Man may use his knowledge to do wrong but science can also be used to prove that such actions have harmful consequences.

The Books




Saturday, 6 September 2014

More on Foot Wrappings!

                My girlfriend contacted me yesterday inviting me to meet her in a large shopping centre for a coffee. When I arrived the cunning trap was soon sprung! Turns out she needs new boots for work. We found a nice pair of ankle boots at a reasonable price. My girlfriend wanted to wear the boots so she swapped her sandals for her new acquisitions. She mentioned that she ought to buy some socks but she was hungry so we went for something to eat.

                The meal took longer than expected and by the time we had finished it was dark and the local shops had closed. We headed for a pub where my lady had to meet someone and after a little walking she complained about one of the new boots rubbing against her bare feet.

                Given the problems I have with my feet there was no way I could give her my socks. I began to look around for alternate solutions. I had a bandanna in my pocket, still knotted from when I had recently used it as an emergency head covering on an unexpectedly sunny day. Remembering my research on foot wrappings a year ago I offered it to her. She wrapped it around her ankle so that it covered the potential blister.

                We walked to the pub and several times my lady told me “this bandanna is really comfortable!” For the rest of the night her feet gave her no problems as she was running around socializing and dancing.

                I am going to have to dig out a couple of suitable bits of cloth and give the foot wrappings a try!

Monday, 1 September 2014

Knife Defense Video.

                A friend sent me this video for comment. It rather echoes the my recent posts on Silver and his comment that “with this weapon there are no grips and no wards”.

                For the most part this video is better than many I see. Knives are poor defensive weapons but they are good counter-offensive weapons. My main criticism of this video is that the knife user makes no attempt to use his other hand when his knife hand is grabbed. He could strike, switch his knife to his other hand or a number of other techniques, many of which are detailed in my book.

                When watching videos such as this it is a good idea to consider both sides. You are intended to identify with the figure on the left but also consider what you might do if you were the guy on the right.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Get Training -Push a Wheelchair!

                I spent this Saturday on Hampstead Heath. My girlfriend’s father was visiting from Brazil and she had decided to take him for a day out in the park.

                Communications due to a defective phone meant there was a problem with the rendezvous point. I ended up walking several kilometres through the park and was just about to give up and leave when I spotted a man sitting in a wheel chair. It has been about five years since I saw her father and in that time he has lost his beard and I have grown one, so I wasn’t certain it was him and he did not initially recognise me. It was quite possible I was about to approach some other one legged man who would be mystified as to why a stranger was greeting him in bad Portuguese!

                Things worked out OK and against the odds the three of us managed to spend a pleasant few hours in one of the largest parks in London. As you may gather from the previous paragraphs my girlfriend’s father has lost a leg and in a wheelchair.  Some of the paths in Hampstead Heath are quite steep, even if you have the blessing of both legs. They are quite rough too and at one point we had to stop and tighten the screws on his wheelchair that were working loose. Yet another use for the Swiss Army Knife and Leatherman Squirt I always carry!

              My girlfriend’s father mainly likes to propel himself but he needed help on some slopes. I will admit that my lady did most of the pushing but I did a few stints myself. The handles are set rather low so pushing was difficult for someone of my height and I was feeling it in my back and hip joints. While I was pushing I was passed by a number of cyclists and joggers, so the thought occurred to me:-

“If people want to exercise, why not do something constructive with it?”

This idea is admittedly half-formed, but might there not be some kind of charity event or program that unites athletes and running enthusiasts with wheelchair bound citizens? Not sure how to organize or publicise such an idea, but thought I would throw it out and see if someone comes up with something.


Thursday, 24 July 2014

George Silver's Dagger and Knife Fighting.


            In my recent book review of “Slash and Thrust” the knife fighting instructions of George Silver were mentioned. It is only logical that today’s blog is about these. Silver’s chapter on knife/dagger fighting is very brief, but very informative.

To make things easier for readers who do not have English as a first language, or those that just have trouble with archaic English I have used a version of the text rendered in a more modern form taken from this site. My own comments and clarifications in green.

Chapter 15
Of the single dagger fight against the like weapon
1. First know that to this weapon there belongs no wards or grips but against such a one as is foolhardy & will suffer himself to have a full stab in the face or body or hazard the giving of another, then against him you may use your left hand in throwing him aside or strike up his heels after you have stabbed him.

            Here Silver tells us that the single dagger cannot be used to parry/block (“ward”), nor is it advisable to try and grapple or hold (“grip”) a knife armed foe. To attempt this is to invite an injury. “your left hand in throwing him aside” seems to suggest striking with the free hand. “strike up his heels” is interpreted by some analysts as a low kick to unbalance the foe.

2. In this dagger fight, you must use continual motion so shall he not be able to put you to the close or grip, because your continual motion disappoints him of his true place, & the more fierce he is in running in, the sooner he gains you the place, whereby he is wounded, & you not anything the rather endangered.

            “place” is used by Silver to mean a position or location from which you can strike an enemy without needing to step forward.

3. The manner of handling your continual motion is this, keep out of distance & strike or thrust at his hand, arm, face or body, that shall press upon you, & if he defends blow or thrust with his dagger make your blow or thrust at his hand.

4. If he comes in with his left leg forwards or with the right, do you strike at that part as soon as it shall be within reach, remembering that you use continual motion in your progression & regression according to your twofold governors.
A Twofold Mind (“Twyfold mynd”) is Silver’s term for the mental state that allows you to be prepared to fly back (retreat) as you advance and vice versa.
5. Although the dagger fight is thought a very dangerous fight by reason of the shortness & singleness thereof, yet the fight thereof being handled as is aforesaid, is as safe & as defensive as the fight of any other weapon, this ends my brief instructions.

                For more information on self-defence, see my books.