Archive for the ‘Articles’ Category

For some time now, I’ve wanted to find a simple, effective way to get some exercise at work. While one could sacrifice lunch hours, try to squeeze showers in, and do other such shenanigans, I didn’t think this was a great solution. The harder it is to exercise, the easier it is to quit, and thereby remain flabby.

One could also bring in equipment and keep it nearby. The issue with this is that most exercise equipment is big, bulky, and not friendly to the cubicle spaces so many of us work in. For me, I have an open-backed cube that’s about the size of a prison cell, and is generally filled with computer bric-a-brac. I couldn’t really have a barbell in there.

I did, however, have a kettlebell kicking around. Hmm…

Kettlebells are very compact, and they have a flat bottom, so they don’t roll around. They’re a solid workout tool, and don’t require a lot of changing weights. You can just up the intensity by choosing harder exercises or doing longer sets.

Thus, I came to my current plan. I have the 24 kilo ‘bell. I’m going to be doing snatch, clean, and press exercises with it in the afternoons between telephone calls and projects.

To begin, I started with five sets of five reps on each exercise. Each week, I’ll increase one rep per set, until I get to 5 sets of ten for each hand in each exercise. If that feels comfortable, I’ll jump to the 28 kilo bell, going back to 5 reps per set. I figured this out, and if I can keep this ascending scale going, I’ll be doing 48 kilo lifts in less than a year.

Now, this doesn’t count in the minor injuries, sore joints, time away, and plain-old stick points, but it’ll be an interesting journey. I’m about to switch up to seven reps on Friday this week (three exercises a week is what I’m feeling comfortable with, as more tends to give me a sore elbow).

Anyhow, that’s what’s going on. Cannonball in the cube.

More details to follow.

Writer’s Guide to Bows, Part Four

Posted: February 13, 2013 in Archery, Articles

Last time, I put forward a list of terms and definitions. This time, we’ll bat cleanup and see if I can leave you with a fair understanding of archery, such that you can portray it convincingly in your stories.

If there is one thing that I can stress before the end of this series, it’s that nothing I can say will teach you as much as actually trying out archery. Do yourself a favor and go down to your local archery club. Chances are, they’ll have a bow to rent and an instructor who can give you a few pointers. If you’re not lucky enough to be near a place like that, it’s possible a friend or relative might have a bow you can try.

Failing that, there’s always my article about how to shoot an arrow on this site. CLICK HERE to check that out, as it goes through a step-by-step process of a typical target shot with a bow. If you’re a little handy, you can also build your own bow out of PVC pipe. I have an article about that, as well. CLICK HERE to check it out.

Finally, if you want to see some footage of bows being shot by yours truly, please look in the Videos section of this site, and you’ll find me shooting a variety of different bows in all manner of ways.


Last time, we talked about the usage of bows as both hunting tools and weapons of war. This time, I’ll be discussing terminology. As I wrote this one, it became clear that I’d need at least one more segment for the “thoughts” element of the series, so this one turned into an extended list of terms and ideas.


Riser: The fixed portion in the middle of the bow, where the bow’s grip area is located. On a traditional longbow or flat bow, these grips are often very simple. They may be bare wood or have leather, fur, or cloth wrapping.

Limbs: The bending portions of a bow. If, at rest (unstrung) the limbs are bent away from the direction they’ll be moving in use, this is called a reflex or recurve, recurve being a much more pronounced bend. The reflex is usually applied by steaming wooden limbs and pressing them into a form. It should be noted that any excess weight added to a bow’s limbs decreases efficiency. The highly ornate bow designs that are sometimes seen in fantasy art are unrealistic. Some of those designs would likely not function at all in practice. Functional bows are fairly plain.

Limb Tips: At the point where notches are cut into the limbs, such that the string is retained, you have the limb tip. Because this area is subject to a lot of stress, it sometimes reinforced. Animal horn, antler, or even bone can be used to reinforce this area.

Arrow Shelf: Primitive bows do not have this feature, instead using the archer’s knuckle to hold the arrow steady. If an arrow shelf is cut into the bow, it serves to be a channel where the arrow travels. Arrow shelves serve a few purposes. One is normalizing the point at which the arrow sits, rather than using the hand, which can be variable. The other is to protect the knuckle from the fletching, which can cut skin as it passes at speed.

Nocking Point: In order to fit the arrow to the string (nock the arrow) at the same point each time, archers often affix a small demarcation point at the middle of the string. This is most frequently done by tying a small amount of thread onto the string at the place which will put the arrow at the appropriate orientation with the riser of the bow. An archer can tune the arrow flight by raising or lowering this nocking point. When they find the best position, they can drop a dab of glue onto this string loop to hold it in place.

Brace Height: When a bow is strung, there is a measurable amount of space between the string and the lowest point of the grip. This measurement is called brace height. To string a bow is also called “bracing the bow”. In longbow history, an appropriate brace height was called a “fistmele”. To test this, make the “thumbs up” sign and place the bottom of your fist into the deepest part of the bow grip. If the string is touching or slightly above your extended thumb, you have sufficient brace height. Different bow designs require more or less brace height to shoot their best. In most cases, a recurved design requires a higher brace height than a longbow.


In the first segment, we talked about how bows operate and the materials they’re made from. This time, we’ll dig into how they have been used through history.

The bow as a tool:

As humans, we need tools to get many things done in the world. From the first heavy stone that let us smash open a seed pod and get something to eat, we’ve been coming up with stuff to help us out. The bow occurs in almost all historical cultures, and its most familiar role is that of a hunting tool. After all, we might fight from time to time, but eating is mandatory.

The most primitive cultures found that a spear was successful at hunting game, provided that you could get near enough to throw and hit it. Even we modern folk, with our lack of skill at basic survival, can grasp how to make a spear. Find a stick, sharpen the end or affix something sharp to it, and boom, you’re ready to go. As a tool or a weapon, it’s about as simple and effective as you can get.

Spears, though, have pretty limited range, as well as having a logical limit to the amount of them that can be carried around. Many game animals are wary and difficult to approach. The kind of animal that will actively attack you or fail to run away, such that you can fight it with spear in hand..well, that type of animal is probably not the kind of beast you want to tangle with in order to get through the day.

Enter the bow. With a simple bow, even a very light one, it’s possible to hunt small game like rabbits and ground birds effectively. With a bow of greater power, hunting larger animals becomes viable. The Native Americans used a variety of bow designs, some of them quite intricate, to hunt with. Even an animal as large as a bison could be hunted successfully, if a good strategy was employed.


It occurred to me recently that many people who write historical or fantasy stories could benefit from some information about how bows actually work, as well as how to speak knowledgeably about them. This series of articles is the result.

Part I: How bows work and what they’re made of

A bow is a fairly simple machine. In essence, it is a spring with a string attached.You may also hear them termed “a bent stick and a string,” which is not altogether incorrect for most types of bows.

The bow itself can be broken down into two distinct elements. The first is called the Riser. The riser is the part of the bow where the grip is taken. In most types of bows, this element is rigid, and does not flex during the action of the shot. Some longbows “flex through the handle”, but even those only deflect a few degrees within the span of the bow grip.

The active part of the bow, the element that flexes during the shot, is the limb. There are two limbs, and they are usually symmetrical in resistance and dimension. Some bow designs, specifically the Japanese Yumi, are quite asymmetrical. Modern theory dictates that a bow’s limbs should be within certain tolerances in terms of degree of flexion during the shot, but archaic or primitive designs would often diverge from this.

When a bow is strung, the material of the limbs is put under pressure. This is often called “preload.” As the bow is drawn back, this load increases. With a bow of traditional design, the draw weight should increase at somewhere between two and three pounds per inch. Any limb design has a finite amount of flexibility, however, and as they reach that point, the draw weight will climb rapidly. This is termed “stacking”. Stacking is generally to be avoided, as it tends to put extra stress on both the bow and the archer.


By Patrick M. Tracy

As summer approaches, a familiar refrain rings through the halls of offices, school rooms, and workplaces everywhere. “I need to lose some weight,” says Bill. “I’ve got to cut down on the candy,” says Alice. Maureen looks in the mirror and chides herself about getting back into the gym. These are the things that our resolutions at New Year’s, on a momentous birthday, or just when we can’t fit into our “chubby pants” anymore are made of.


How to Shoot an Arrow:

Posted: April 21, 2012 in Archery, Articles

By Patrick M. Tracy

For thousands of years, the ability to fashion and use a bow and arrow served as one of mankind’s most valuable skills. Whole civilizations were founded upon and preserved by their skill at archery. While our age of technological innovations has given us tools of far greater power and complexity, the allure of archery remains. Physics and geometry can explain the mechanics of an arrow’s flight, but they cannot do more than hint at the wonder of loosing an arrow and watching it fly to the target.

Many people have never held a bow or experienced the enjoyment (and sometimes tribulation) of trying to hit the bull’s eye. Outwardly, it is a very simple motion. One simply draws the bow back and releases, sending the arrow on its way. Beneath the surface, however, a lot is going on. Let me take you through the sequence of events.

1) Take your stance. In target archery, you generally stand perpendicular to the target, such that a line drawn from you to the target would go across the middle of your feet. If you raise the arm that will hold the bow and point your finger, you should be pointing at the target. Depending upon an archer’s body dimensions and flexibility, she may want to rotate her back foot slightly in order to “open” her stance, thus making it more comfortable to get her bow arm into position.