Monday, June 27, 2016

Lithic Reduction

I have one slim lead on the Holocircuit; the MOSFET I got may not have the right specs. I have a different -- better-tested in actual circuits -- one to try. I wish I could do all the calculations myself, but at the current extent of my electronics knowledge I'm basically doing this by cookbook. As long as I don't descend all the way to cargo cult...

The new instrument is here and looks good. I am actually a little disappointed. In that I put on new strings, checked the bridge height, tuned it, and did some practice bowing...and had no problems. I didn't break a string or drop a bridge, the pegs are all holding fine, and the very first time I touched rosined bow to the strings I got a clean tone. I was prepared for all sorts of difficulties. None of them showed up.

Maybe this was the Thomastik Alphayue's that made it this clean? Well...I do have a little work yet in string separation!

In any case, I actually expected I'd pick up bowing fast. I figure, if I can learn how to hold the tools for a wood lathe in a couple hours, I can pick up how to hold a bow. The part that I'm a lot less sanguine about is fingering. This is my first fretless instrument, and I'm really unsure if I've got the ears to manage it.

(I'm also thinking my collarbone is really going to prefer if I stop trying to be traditional and go and get a proper shoulder rest).

And no progress to speak of on the next Tomb Raider/SG1 chapter. I've been casting a research net in the general direction of North American neolithic, plus a little Mesoamerica and a side of Assyria up through to the Ottoman's.

But I've been thinking about flint knapping. And that led to an image, which opens up a very different approach to the flawed Tomb Raider (2013) story. I really like those moments where a Checkov's skill comes up; where the protagonist is backed into a corner, but it turns out to be a very familiar corner. And they give a thin smile, and say to themselves, "You're on my home ground now."

I really like the image of Lara Croft -- as the young student shipwrecked on Yamatai -- making herself a stone knife, or spear, or arrow points. This is divergent from the idea of wilderness survival skills. What I'm linking to here is the idea of experimental archaeology.

Oddly enough, the flint knapping community (the chance is that there are more people knocking flakes off stone today than had been doing so at any particular moment in neolithic times) doesn't really appear to be conscious of their activity as neolithic per se. They are more likely to characterize it as an art of indigenous people, to the extent that one popular tool/method is referred to as an "Ishi Stick" (after The Last of His Tribe himself).

(The flint knappers also don't see it as a "dead" technology. To them, there is a continuum between faithful recreation of what they sometimes refer to as aboriginal tools to modern hunting, wilderness survival, and general crafts.)

Experimental archaeology gets into all sorts of things, including the monumental; transporting a stone Moai from Rapa Nui using nothing but ropes and volunteers, erecting a (small) pyramid, and of course crossing the Pacific on a balsa-wood raft. It is stretching things a little to expect Miss Random Grad Student to have gotten so deep into the practical neolithic reconstruction that she could knock out a nice biface in a couple of hours.

But it's a cool conceit, and that counts for a lot in writing. And I've harped on this before. Lara Croft has always spent a chunk of her adventures finding the secret passage or starting the ancient water wheel in order to progress, and the (generally not experienced as such by the player) implication is that her knowledge of ancient cultures is what lets her do this.

So here's an island that's a rabbit warren of mouldering old temples and shrines, with all sorts of hidden secrets, and here's someone who understands what it is she's looking at; who can read the glyph pointing to a debris-hidden doorway, or understands the purpose of a deadfall. A lot more interesting, I think, than her magically developing the entirely orthogonal skill-set of firing off WWII era sub-machine guns and gunning her way through the opposition.

Perhaps this doesn't look a lot like Yamatai. But what it does look like, if you played it right, is that moment where the scared but determined young woman, fleeing from the men pursuing her, realizes just where she is and how her specialized skills can be of use. And smiles. "I'm an archaeologist, boys," she says softly to herself. "And now you are on my home ground."

(Of course it's no cakewalk. There are reversals. And there are plenty of places where those skills aren't what she needs. Because one of the best things you can do to your characters is throw them into a situation where they are uncomfortable. That's why I'm aiming in my fanfic, across the distance of at least another four chapters, Jack O'Neill separated from the usual engineer types like Samantha Carter and having to try to fix a complicated machine all by himself. "What do I look like," he grouses, "MacGuyver?" But with that said, there is such a satisfying moment when your character gets to demonstrate why they are the best at what they do.)

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