The longbow and English supremacy on the battlefields

I recently sat and watched the new “Amazing Spiderman” movie. In my early teens I was an avid reader and collector of the Marvel comics and Spiderman was my all time favourite.

As I watched him swing from his webs, it reminded me a little of Tarzan and it occurred to me that it was a bit of a backward step in evolution. After all, if we descended from apes, then somewhere in our genes is that ability to swing from rope to tree, etc, though we have forgotten how and our modern lives no longer build up the required muscles.

What has this to do with the English Longbow, you may be thinking? Well, it is about building a set of muscles from an early age and maintaining them.

Back in the 12th century, the Welsh developed these Longbows that enabled them to kick English butts in battle. We adopted them as our own and for several centuries, until the invention of cannons, they made us almost unbeatable across Europe.

The longbow was a formidable weapon. It could pierce a knights armour plating from 200 yards. Previously the knights had been almost invincible to arrows, requiring hand to hand combat with other similarly dressed knights, slogging at each other with massive broadswords. And knights were noblemen, in comparative short supply.

There was a catch though. A Longbowman had to begin training at the age of 7 and continued practising, every day, for the rest of the lives. Only in this way, could they build up and maintain the required set of muscles in the arms and shoulders to give them the strength to draw the arrow back. The build of the muscles must have given them a lobsided appearance in normal life. And it wasn’t just brute strength either. To consider themselves a longbowman, they had to let loose 10 arrows per minute. Quite a feat. I would be able to draw the arrow back in the bow once!

The next time you see someone and they appear a little lobsided, consider for a second, that perhaps their distant ancestors defended this little island from the rest of Europe.



The thing


Decisions, decisions

I am torn.


Do I go right or left. If I make the wrong choice, I will suffer for months, no years, it could be painful to get through.

I am, of course, talking of my choice of mobile phone.

Contracts typically run for two years these days. A scandalous length of time. And I have been waiting, and waiting, in anticipation of this day.

But, I like my little blackberry device and was planning to wait to see how Blackberry 10 turns out at the end of January. They have built up a certain amount of loyalty with me. I love having a full keyboard, this blog post is written on one. And I have a matching Playbook tablet.

And yet I find myself tempted to jump ship, to upgrade now, to a new and pretty 4G device. Not to Apple’s walled garden. There is something about iPhone that just does not sit right with me. Perhaps it is the way Apple tightly define what you can and cannot do. And I like messing with settings and suchlike, being able to try different things and understand the impact they have.

The temptress is Android. To Jelly Bean no less (that’s versions 4.1 to us mortals). Two devices are on my radar. Both Samsung. The S3 and the Note2. A nice shiny, early xmas present to myself. The Note 2 especially draws my attention. It is effectively tablet and phone combined. And with the stylus I could perhaps completely ditch pen and notepad.

So very tempting. My precious!

But could I live with the immense size of the thing. And the little bits of Android quirkiness. And no physical keyboard. These are all critical elements of the decision process.

I suspect I will procrastinate. I love technology. And occasionally fall for the marketing hype. But I don’t like parting with my cash either. And on my staff plan, my company will pay a sizable chunk towards the cost of the phone, for such high end monsters as these, I would have to stump up a size-able amount of cash too.

What do you think? So should I upgrade? Or wait it out? What is your phone of choice?

Now then lad

I’m a reader. Even as a young lad, wherever we went, I normally had a book with me. We went to an airshow once and I don’t know whether it was boredom at the planes, or simply that it was a nice summers day and the current book was particularly rivetting, but I didn’t actually see much of the display. As my mum commented, I had my head stuck in a book as usual, which normally meant I was away on an adventure, somewhere far away.

My old man wasn’t much of a reader at the time. The bloke next door taught me to play chess and when we moved I needed a new sparring partner. Dad kept promising to learn the game, he didn’t though, so in my wisdom and youthful optimism, I bought him a “Teach yourself chess” book for his birthday. He never did read it, nor learn the game. Shame really.

In his old age, he has acquired a taste of a bit of reading though. Early this week, he brought down “Now then lad”, by PC Mike Pannett, something he thoroughly recommended. He wasn’t wrong. Over the last few days, I’ve started and finished it. Humurous and engaging, real life tales of a local bobby, told in a self depreceating manner about life as a PC in our very only North Yorkshire. 

If you get the chance, give it a whirl. I will be looking out for more tales from the author.

Slow down

Last night my wife ran a bath for me. I was just finishing some work and wanted to have a relaxing, wind down and a bit of a soak. As I was getting in, my mind was still on whatever bit of work I had been dealing with, some programming challenge that I was thinking through. The water was hot, too hot, the type of temperature my wife likes her bath to be.

“Bloody hell” I realised about at the point when I was almost fully in. “That’s way too hot” I gasped and ran the cold in. I had slowly eased myself in without my brain registering the heat until it was too late, I was already full committed as it were.

Later, I was out walking somewhere. Normally, I walk pretty quick, I have always been the sort of person in a hurry. Whether walking, working, writing, everything is full on, intense, focused and done with the optimum methods in mind.

I forced myself to slow down, to walk with a a measured pace. I started to think about the phrase “Live every day like it was your last”. Maybe because Dad had been round earlier, and it is a miracle he is still alive almost a decade after his heart attack and triple bypass operation. If I lived every day like my last, we would be broke tomorrow!

Occasionally I have thoughts like this though. I realise that I am working too hard, moving too fast, my eyes and thoughts focused on the destination, not really appreciating the journey itself.

We all get like that I suspect. Life just happens to us. Stuff gets thrown at us. We deal with it. We rush around, particularly with the pace of modern life, and this doesn’t give us time to appreciate the things around us.

So take a moment today. Pause what you are doing. It will still be there when you hit play again. Look and think about the things around you. Take a little time to appreciate them.

A surveillance society

For some years, I have enjoyed photography as a hobby. Mainly landscapes, the odd wedding usually done under duress as a “favour” and occasionally securing back stage passes to local gigs and events. I was involved in local photography groups and for a few years functioned as an admin for a local group.

As part of all that, I became aware of police misusing powers that were enacted under the terrorism acts to prevent people from taking photographs in public places. Predominantly around buildings and such. Stop and Search powers were used to intimidate people who were just trying to enjoy a hobby they were passionate about. They were probably as far away from being terrorists as people could possibly be. Similar powers have been misused by various state bodies, including councils to ensure you are using wheelie bins correctly. These things show up in the press from time to time.

This led me to reading a number of articles and a few books on the subject. We are increasingly becoming a surveillance society.

There must be checks and balances in any democratic society. The police need to be able to do their job effectively, no one can argue that. But what about when it erodes your freedoms and civil liberties? How much are we willing to give up to feel safe and secure? The media plays its part of creating a state of fear too.

So today, we come to the police commissioner elections. One topic on the agenda is accountability. Another is whether some of the police roles ought to be outsourced.

Personally, I believe you outsource a solution, not a problem. It has to be an extremely well defined or simple function to successfully outsource something. Policing does not fall into this category. Do you remember the group 4 cock ups when they took over the transport of prisoners?

Take a look at your local election. And cast your vote. That is what democracy is about. If you don’t, then do not whinge later when these things infringe on your own civil liberties.

Beta testing

My app has gone into beta testing with the team. Wooohooo! Yet, I must confess, I feel a little trepidation.

Beta testing is a curious term and comes from the concept of alpha (first round tests) and beta (second round tests). So my alpha testing was predominantly done by myself and a colleague who has been working closely with me on the overall project, she is not technical at all, which in alot of ways was a good thing. This beta testing is being done by people who have seen screenshots and short walkthroughs but never had the opportunity to use it for themselves.

Terminology, acronyms and buzz words. They litter our world, but make things easier to understand in some ways, by conceptualising things into a single word or phrase.

Take Software Engineering. From one who has spent a fair amount of my life writing bespoke applications  I disagree with this one, writing code is as much an art form as a type of engineering. There is beauty, elegance and logic in those lines of code. There are rules too, but they way something is crafted and carefully knitted together can be an artistic creation.

Marketing loves buzz words. “The cloud”. It is a fair description, but not a new concept. Hosting stuff on the interweb has been around for easily over a decade.

But back to my app. I still have a major piece of functionality left to implement. It needs to sync its local data with SharePoint. And time is passing quickly, launch is not that far away. Tick tock, tick tock!

Responses from the team have been encouraging – amazing, awesome and stunning are all terms that have been bandied around this week. That is, until it falls over in a big heap due to a bug. It has taken many months and countless long days to get to this point. And while it may be over 11,000 lines of code and growing, it is just a beginning. It provides a basis for building something better. Something revolutionary for the wider team.

On the spot

I must be getting old. I am certainly feeling it.

Fairly early on Friday night I felt zonked, worn out, and ill, so I told my wife I was going to have a lie down for an hour. This was at 8pm. I woke for the toilet around 12.30am, then again around 2.30, when I went down, read for an hour, then went back to bed!

How much sleep does a grown man need? Saturday was a lazy day, with nothing much happening other than popping out to an auto place for some paint. The police van I passed didn’t seem to appreciate my overtaking them and decided to follow me all the way to Halfords on a local retail park. I like to think of it as my own, personal, police escort.

Sunday Mum came around with my nephew. Actually he is my nephew’s son, so I guess that makes him my great nephew and my mum his great grandma. He is about 6 years old and full of beans. A typical little boy. I was outside, painting the VHT paint on my exhaust when he came out and announced he was cold.

I told him to jump up and down and run on the spot. So he did. Until his little face was red and he was all out of breath. And no longer feeling cold. Aren’t kids easy to please? Bless him.

He wanted to sit on the bike, so I let him climb on and he proceeded to ride it around on the spot, making lots of vrroooommmming noises. He tells me he is going to have a baby sister. Not a brother, he is quite convinced that he doesn’t need nor want another brother. That’ll be three kids then, each with a different Dad.

He has had a tough time really. His mum and Dad split up, she got back with an ex who was violent, social services were already involved, the kids where taken away and went to live with her parents, then her sister. Finally, she got rid of the violent boyfriend, now she has the kids back, a new boyfriend and it seems she is pregnant.

I am hoping this one turns out to be a) much nicer and b) more of a constant for them.

Kids are resilient. And I don’t agree with molly coddling them. But they need a safe and secure environment too, with decent role models.