I realized that tumblr is a good platform for broadcasting things and for collecting snippets of projects. At the moment, I seem to be posting photos from my travels and quotes from the anarchist quote book project I’m vaguely working on.
About a month ago, my friend Madigan and I started working on the construction of kikko armor. Kikko is a form of japanese armor that uses hexagons of leather or steel that are chained together or sewn to a backing.
I first hit upon the idea because I was complaining about how western brigandine and similar armors seem to work… they use rectangles, which of course means that, no matter how you lay them out, you will have angles at which a blade could strike you and find space between the plates. “Much smarter to use hexagons,” I said, and when I turned to google, I was not the least bit surprised that I wasn’t the first person to think of this.
Anyhow, our kikko has been made of hot-water-hardened horsehide (mistakenly called “boiled leather” by some) plates, chained together by 16ga blackened stainless steel. (butted rings.)
an in-progress sheet of kikko armor.
Step by step:
take your vegetable-tanned, 8oz or so leather. Soak it in room-temperature (not cold) water for 10 minutes, roughly. Then immerse it in 180-degree-farhenheit water for 45 seconds or so (the timing matters a lot, and needs experimenting. We settled on 45 seconds). Take it out and put it between a rock and a hard place. You want two flat, non-water-permeable surfaces. (Cardboard did not work so well for us, it sucks the oils out of the leather or something weird like that.) What we did that worked best was put it on a plastic countertop and put a marble cutting board on top, then stacked heavy books on top of that. The water makes the leather pliable, and the hot water fuses the fibers of the leather, making it much, much tougher, but a bit brittle once dried. We left the leather under pressure for about 15-20 minutes. It takes awhile to dry, but will stay pretty flat after being pressed for 15 minutes.
It’s easiest to cut the leather while it’s wet, but it’s not essential that you do so. We made two sizes of hexagons. One was a regular hexagon with .75″ sides, one was a twice-as-tall one with 1.5″ tall sides and .75″ other sides. I designed a template on a computer, because our hand-drawn ones were not as regular as we’d hoped. If anyone asks, I’ll post a pdf of it in the comments. We traced the hexagons onto thin cardboard from a cereal box or beer box, then one of us drew as many hexagons onto the piece of leather as we were able to fit while the other cut them out using a boxcutter.
We stained the plates with USMC black leather stain. I want to try natural dyes sometime too. But as it was, I followed the instructions on the box, one coat of leather stain and one coat of sealant. I sealed the back too, to avoid mold.
We punched holes in them. We used a small sheet-metal punch on some and a pin vice drill on others. The vice took longer but had more control. Figuring out the spacing was tricky, and getting the spacing as regular as possible helps a lot.
We chained them together using a barely-modifiedjapanese 6-1 chainmail pattern. The rings we used, which fit well, are 1/4″ 16ga.
closeup of kikko armor
Lessons learned so far:
make sure you dry the leather out before you put it into a plastic bag in your van or backpack for two weeks, or you’ll have moldy leather. If your leather does get moldy before you stain and seal it, use white vinegar to kill it, then dry it out and make sure the mold seems gone before you stain and seal it.
So far, kikko is pretty cool. Even more labor-intensive than straight chainmail, and probably not as strong, but it’s significantly lighter while still staying flexible and pretty tough. We’re making a skirt out of it first, then I’ll probably try some greaves with the plates sewn or riveted to a backing of unhardened leather.
inside Being the Explorations #6, pictures of Finland.
inside Being the Explorations #6, Utah.
I just approved the proof copy of Being the Explorations #6, my second full-size photo book in this series. (The last one was Being the Explorations #5, which covers all of my wandering in 2011). I’m enormously proud of these books. They’re definitely the closest thing to a journal that I keep. The most recent book includes lots of my photos from 2010, 2008, 2002, and 1999-2000. I’ll put the whole thing up for free download when the book gets back from the printer.
Cory Doctorow lets you download his novels for free, right off his website. Which is how I read his last novel, For the Win–which I also highly recommend. So when I saw his newest young adult novel, Pirate Cinema, in hardcover, I bought it. I set down to read it, and was blown away.
Most of what I loved about it falls into the realm of spoilers, but I’ll leave those out. The book takes place in a near-future London only the tiniest bit more dystopian than what we have now, and it’s about a young runaway who finds camaraderie, love, dumpster-diving, and meaningful ways to apply his talents to direct action social change.
Cory Doctorow has an amazing talent for making socially-useful fiction. And in this case, he’s written an immersive book that shows quite clearly the ways that legal and illegal activism work hand-in-hand. Of course, I personally found the direct action campaign more entertaining than the lobbying, but that’s how I feel in real life as well.
I’ve always known Cory to be a fellow-traveler to the anarchists, but we’re also given a bit of the limelight here: one of the central characters of the book works at Dancing Emma’s, an anarchist bookstore named after Emma Goldman (and, well, named after the real Red Emma’s in Baltimore). It’s not an anarchist novel, but it’s a novel that realistically portrays us as essential elements in social struggle.
And while the book takes the point of view of a straight male, it subverts the protagonist’s dominance, showing how he learns to be part of a team. I found the women characters to be strong and central to the story, and the way the book presented homosexuality to its young readers to be admirable.
But it’s also just an engaging book, a “stay up till 4am to finish it” kind of book. And a book I highly recommend.
I never had any large respect for good spelling. That is my feeling yet. Before the spelling-book came with its arbitrary forms, men unconsciously revealed shades of their characters and also added enlightening shades of expression to what they wrote by their spelling, and so it is possible that the spelling-book has been a doubtful benevolence to us.
-Mark Twain, in his autobiography
I’m not a grammar nazi, I’m a grammar punk. English doesn’t have rules. That’s part of why it’s beautiful. But clarity in writing is something to be desired.
I grew up in a grammar-friendly environment. My dad is a technical writer with a keen eye for ambiguous sentences and my public school education got me into editing (yearbook and literary magazine) reasonably early.
Once, when I was eleven or twelve let’s guess, I was at a nearby school for my mom’s dance recital, and all of the printed-out signs were in both english and spanish. I wasn’t very bright, apparently, because I went to my mom the next day and said “don’t people have to learn english when they move to America?” My mom, bless her, got angry and told me that the US doesn’t have a national language, and that that is a good thing. I hadn’t realized that before. But goddam was she ever right.
Years later, I was learning to write, and I sent an article about an action we had done to the Earth First! Journal. (The action was pretty cool… we blockaded a company’s doors at lunch with thrown-out christmas trees to symbolize the forests they were responsible for clearcutting.) In my article, I used the serial comma. (The serial comma is the comma between the second-to-last item in a list and the last item in the list.) The Earth First! Journal edited the comma out. I wrote them a polite-but-firm-but-wrong email explaining that the serial comma was intentional. They wrote back to say that they edited their paper with the AP styleguide and thusly they did not use the serial comma. I hadn’t realized there wasn’t a right and wrong way to write english before that point.
I have to admit, I’ve spent some time as a grammar nazi. I was an advocate, nay a partisan, for the serial comma and for a certain set of rules to define comma use and the like. Sure, I had my indulgences–like the antiquated use of commas after an emdashed parenthetical aside–, but I was fighting for the rules.
Which made me a terrible anarchist.
By a regular grammar nazi’s guidelines, I was already unforgivably a grammar punk. I advocate they/their as a singular pronoun, eschewing s/he and his/hers. I have been consciously avoiding capitalizing the names of countries and languages for years. I kind of like “grey” better than “gray” but I want to keep using american rather than british punctuation standards. (And I tend to get along well with people who also have fierce opinions about such things.)
But I’ll not put down my gun (red pen?) just yet. There’s still a war on. I’m not switching teams entirely, either. I’m not a grammar nazi, I’m a grammar punk. And like a proper punk, I will be fighting against the oppressors.
I used to think that I was too stupid to read the dense philosophical texts and translations that some of my more academically-minded anarchist friends bandied around. I had to fight my way through, sentence by sentence, to uncover meaning. And then, one day, I was copyediting Revolt and Crisis in Greece, an excellent collection of essays by the Greek group Occupied London. And I ran across an essay I expected to turn into the mire and gibberish insurrectionist/philosophical texts often become. But instead, it was… it was good. “Oh,” said the epiphany in my head, “this is what all of those other essays were trying but failed to do.”
If you believe your ideas are advancing human understandings of philosophy and politics, you’d better be damn sure your writing is up to it before you expect the rest of us to go along with it. Academic literature isn’t just dense. Density is necessary sometimes. Some ideas are fucking complex. I even understand the need for specialized vocabulary. Or the idea that in order to read book X, you might have to have read book Y (though if you ask me, the author of book X is being damn lazy). But a lot (not all) of academic literature is just plain badly-written, full of sentences that don’t express what they are intended to express. Ambiguous writing.
The point of grammar is clarity. If a sentence is understood, it is properly formed. If it is not, it has failed. I don’t care if your sentence is technically correct. What matters is whether or not it carries its meaning. Some guidelines exist to help us communicate, but they are not chains. Let no one wield them against us as such.
As Scroobius Pip says:
“thou shalt spell the word “Pheonix” p-h-e-o-n-i-x, and not p-h-o-e-n-i-x, regardless of what it says in the Oxford English Dictionary.”
May we all be so brave.
The first time I got my photo taken directly onto tin was at Idapalooza by an old friend I hadn’t seen in years, Dinah DiNova. Years later, when I decided to take up the task myself, she gave me advice I think of probably every time I mess up a plate. Her advice? “Don’t try. It’s incredibly hard and it will take over your life.”
Too late, I’m obsessed. But I’m also absolutely and stunningly in love with Dinah’s work. She’s raising money to finish her project tin, sin & kinship, a multi-year documentation of queers and hobos and anarchists and all the other loveliest people in the US. $100 for a one of a kind 8×10 tintype by her is an absolute steal, too.
Steampunk is, in part at least, a re-envisioning of humanity’s interaction with the things that we make and how we make them. It’s a non-luddite critique of technology that says “Hey, you’re doing it wrong” without trying to eschew technology outright. And that critique is sorely, sorely needed, now more than ever.
We live in a civilization built on an insane and compulsive relationship with technology. Industrialized production creates objects and hopes for demand instead of making things as they are needed or desired. This is backwards and dangerous. It overtaxes our resources—hell, it treats the Earth and all the wonders within it as “resources” instead of beautiful and unique things—and is directly responsible for desertification, global warming, deforestation, mass extinction, mountaintop removal, and any number of grievous crimes against the natural world. It’s economically insane, too. It’s led us to the place where our economy requires growth in order to remain stable. And by producing without regard for demand, we’re stuck with boom-and-bust cycles that drive all but the richest among us further into poverty.
And you know what else? It’s boring. Monoculture is banal. Not only do all the cars look more or less the same, we’re all only using cars to get around. People talk about flying cars sometimes but all I want is to get across the country on a zeppelin powered by passive solar technology. Is that so much to ask?