Sunday, 22 June 2014

Broccoli and Celery really are Horrible. It is Genetic!

                Decades ago President George Bush (senior) commented that he did not like broccoli. The provoked a massive media circus with outraged protests from broccoli growers. Bush seemed somewhat bewildered by this response. “I just don’t like the taste!”. Decades later, his son uses his position to forward his opinion that he dislikes gay marriage. He probably got off lighter than his father!

                The difference between gay marriage and broccoli is that no one has tried to force me to try gay marriage or homosexuality. Broccoli, on the other hand...My aunt gave me a cook book where nearly every recipe uses broccoli. In between the recipes are articles on the miraculous powers of broccoli. Even my nice Chinese take-away sneaks it into my order occasionally. My mother, typically just resorted to threats and bullying, but I held firm.

                It is OK to dislike broccoli! You are in fact in a majority! Broccoli is one of those foods where how it tastes depends on genetic factors. Broccoli contains compounds such as PTC (phenylthiocarbamide). Some people can barely taste them while other people find them repulsive. What is interesting is that the majority of the population can taste them. 70% of the world population can taste (and dislikes!) these compounds. In different regions this varies from 59-75%.

          Let me emphasise that this is a genetic thing. Two people can eat the same thing but it will taste totally different to each. Two people can eat the same thing from the same plate and one will think “oh, that is nice” and the other will think “yuck!”. For the majority of the population, they will not like it!

          Celery seems to be another genetically determined taste. Some people talk about “pleasant nutty flavour” while to others it seems metallic. Celery is an ingredient in Marmite and notably even the advertising slogan of this product is “You will either love it or hate it”.

          If you like broccoli and celery, go ahead and eat it. But understand that most of the human race is not tasting the same as you are. If you are going to use these ingredients in a dinner, it is just good manners to find out if your guests are tolerant of them. The chances are they are not! If you are selling food commercially, avoid these things, most of your customers will want to! Stop sneaking it into our food, it is just wasting food and money! Stop forcing it on children, they probably have good reasons not to eat it. To them, it really does taste that bad!
Good Hosts do not serve Broccoli!

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Double Crossbows

                As I noted two posts back, crossbows are a rich subject. I had not intended to post so much on them, but I keep coming across interesting stuff. A good example is the following device (the bolt is pointing down).

                For more detailed information see these forum posts by its fabricator.
                The following device  ("Twinbow II") appears to use similar principles.  

Special Forces Crossbows

                While locating illustrations for my previous blog post I came across some intriguing images. Some were of Special Forces units with crossbows. Also there were statements that a wide variety of Chinese units use crossbows, including their traffic police. Possibly “traffic police” in China covers a wider range of duties than the translation of their title suggests. Slovenians, Croatians, Spain, Greece, Serbia and Turkey are all fielding crossbows, some of them having been used in action. Trying to get some more concrete information on these modern uses of the crossbow has proved elusive. Plenty of opinion and conjecture out on the web, much of it with obvious errors.

                Some personal thoughts along these lines:-

                Contrary to what is often claimed, crossbows and bows are not silent. It is more accurate to say they are quieter than firearms. There is not muzzle blast and no supersonic crack. Bows and Crossbows do store quite a bit of energy, however, and when this is released some of this is as sound. If a bow is loosed from a location close to you you will be able to hear it and may locate the shooter.

                Bows do have recoil. Some people seem to thing recoil is something to do with the explosion of gunpowder. If a bow projects a bolt of one or two ounces at a hundred or more feet per second there is going to be a kick. Incidentally, that is why the railguns Arnie shoots in “Eraser” would have been a handful. Basic physics means a high velocity projectile expelled from a weapon will create recoil whether it is projected by gunpowder or electro-magnetism.  

                In medieval times it has been authenticated that there were crossbows with ranges in excess of 350 yards. Some siege crossbows could reach 450-500 yards and had draw weights of thousands of pounds. Most modern crossbows have draw weights of around 150 pounds. Even with high tech design and materials it is unlikely they are effective at more than 200 yards, probably less. Even compared to a subsonic bullet a crossbow bolt is considerably slower with means more curved trajectory, greater susceptibility to wind effects and longer time of flight to target. All of these will affect the practical effective range.

                Both bullets and crossbow bolts kill by penetration and blood loss. The impact of a bullet often has a stunning effect that allows these more lethal mechanism to have time to take effect. This is rarely seen with an arrow or bolt. This means someone shot with a crossbow may cry out, raise the alarm or trigger a bomb before hit kill or subdues them. This is assuming the bolt has not been treated with a poison or tranquilizer.  

                Many of the bolts shown in these photos are simple ogival points as are used for target shooting. While such bolts are sometimes marketed as being for hunting they are very poorly suited to for this purpose. One of the advantages of a bolt is that it can mount an edged head that can cut through soft body armour and webbing equipment.

                What are these modern crossbows being used for. A popular theory is “sentry removal” but there are a number of objections to how practical this is. The shooter would have to get relatively close and have a good estimation of range to allow for the ballistics of the bolt. To produce an instant, quiet kill the number of suitable targets is also limited. Special forces units have access to suppressed firearms including specialist weapons such as those produced by JD Jones. Such weapons are easier to carry than a bulky crossbow and offer a number of advantages including a quick follow-up shot when needed. As an aside, it seems incredible that any competent military force still fields solitary sentries!

                Line throwing has been mentioned as an application of crossbows, which makes some sense. A related application is to project a grapple that can be pulled back through the undergrowth to trigger tripwires. A similar system is in use using a grapple launched from the muzzle of a rifle like a rifle grenade. The grapple setting off any explosives does counter the argument that using the crossbow is more stealthy! Given that the line on the grapple must be relatively robust one wonders if alternate projection systems such as Atlatl might be just as effective at casting the grapple a similar distance.

                Perhaps the most interesting suggestion for using as crossbow is the idea that a hit from a crossbow will not set off any explosives the target may be carrying or wearing. Of course, the lack of incapacitation becomes a factor here too so the bolt probably needs to be combined with a fast acting (possibly lethal) does of tranquilizer or similar agent.

Attack, Avoid, Survive: Essential Principles of Self Defence

Available in Handy A5 and US Trade Formats.
A5 Edition.
US Trade Edition.


Sunday, 15 June 2014

Survival Crossbows and Simple Triggers

                I came across this yesterday, which I suspect many of my readers will be interested in.

                The maker refers to it as “Vietcong” but such weapons were more often associated with the Montagnards. I particularly like the clip used to hold the bolt in place. The trigger mechanism was new to me. It is simply a piece of wood carved into a T shape and dropped through a slot in the stock. This site gives you a better view.

                The video below is more detailed, even if the final product is less elegant.

                I provide some information about field-made crossbows in my book, although obviously I can only deal briefly with such a rich subject. One of the advantages of the crossbow is that the bolts are considerably easier to fabricate than conventional arrows. Conventional arrows need to deal with the Archer’s Paradox  so are more sophisticated devices than you might at first expect. Head weight, flexibility of the shaft and bow power all need to be balanced. A crossbow bolt is a simpler device, but not without its nuances. Have a read of Payne-Gallwey’s “The Crossbow” for the finer points of bow and bolt design.

                Another very simple trigger mechanism you can make in the field is used on crossbows from the Congo. A notch is cut for the string and a hole bored down through this. A peg, attached to a lever is positioned so that it will push the string up out of the notch. This can be made out in the photo below. On some examples the trigger lever is formed by simply splitting the stock down its grain for a distance.

The Books


Saturday, 14 June 2014

Vietnam Cammo Ring.

            A few years ago I read about an interesting strategy of the Viet Cong and NVA to avoid discovery by enemy aircraft.  Foot soldiers would wear frameworks on their backs upon which local vegetation was arranged. When an enemy aircraft was spotted or heard the soldiers would drop to the ground and remain still. At a distance they would resemble a scattering of bushes.
            I think in the original description these frameworks were described as using chickenwire, although I now suspect I may be mistaken. I rather imagined them as looking like men carrying coracles.

            I have not been able to find any photos of a Vietnamese camouflage frame using a chicken wire. I did, however, come across this design, which is more compact and probably lighter and more practical. To quote this website that offers them for re-enactors:
            “The outer ring measures about 12" in diameter and the inner about 6". A sturdy bamboo cross bar stabilizes the frame. The secret of the rig is that each of the rings is actually a set of two rings bound together. Twigs and foliage are pulled through the spaces in between and can be affixed at any angle (the design allows 360 degrees to work with) This negates the need for tying or otherwise securing the foliage as the double ring system tightly secures the camouflage. The camo-ring attaches to web gear by means of cloth ties on either side”

           The ring can either be tied to webbing or to a backpack. The video below shows a version made with wire and duct tape. I guess you could use some chicken wire on it too!

Friday, 13 June 2014


As it is friday I will continue the tradition of covering a more eccentric topic.

              Regular blog readers will know that I am fond of Kephart's book "Camping and Woodcraft". At the same time I acquired my copy I also acquired another great book:- “Jackknife Cookery” by James Austin Wilder. The first part is about cooking while later sections divert into tips on camping, scouting, self-reliance and survival. The book is a little gem so if you encounter a copy buy it!

On page 167 the author describes an alternative to Morse code which he claims is easier to remember. Once you understand the principle you can sit down and write it out in a few minutes. The author makes no claims that this is his own invention so its origin is unknown.

 The alphabet is written down in four columns of seven letters. As an aide memoire the first row is AHOV -which looks like "ahoy". Last line is GNU, like the animal. DKRY looks a bit like “Dictionary” spelt wrong.

Once you have this matrix you then number the letters from 11 to 2222 using only 1s and 2s.



































































           Skinny 1s represent dots, fatter 2s represent dashes. If signalling with a flag then “Dot is Right!” (She is that sort of woman). Wilder does not say if this is the signaler’s or the observer’s right, however. (People need to use Port and Starboard more in everyday speech!).

            S.O.S would therefore be : “.--. -. .--.”

            Obviously this code has its drawbacks, the most obvious being that virtually no one will be familiar with it! Many of the most commonly used letters use four characters while less used ones use less, so an alternate arrangement could be constructed.

            A friend of mine has a love of alternate writing systems and the like, so this blog is for him. This signaling code is an interesting idea and deserves being recorded somewhere on the internet.