[FoRK] Wicked cool wind-powered robot / kinetic sculpture

Dave Long < dave.long at bluewin.ch > on > Thu Nov 23 03:10:33 PST 2006

> Here we steer horses with reins.

Here we direct horses with legs and seat.  I'll explain better what 
that entails over the course of this email.[0]

"Steering" is something one needs to do with systems that don't take 
any feedback on their own, and involves a constant input of 
adjustments.  (think of the Κυβερνήτης, the steersman.  I don't have 
much experience under sail, but I do recall that leaving the tiller 
tends to lead to trouble sooner rather than later[1])

When one has a system that processes its own feedback, however, the 
problem reduces to a simpler one, that of "directing".  A horse, for 
example, knows where it intends to go.  It may also have a firm or a 
hazy grasp of where you intend to go.  One only needs to provide input 
when those intents have diverged, and only enough input to bring them 
back into alignment.

> Only if you're riding Western saddle. If you use English Saddle (no
> pommel, longer, buckled  stirrups etc) then you tend to steer using 
> your
> knees and you only wheel with the reins.

In my limited experience[2] english riding actually leans more heavily 
on direct reining than western.  Consider the spade bits that vaquero 
bridle horses went in -- one wouldn't get very far pulling on a horse's 
head with one of those in its mouth.

Hardware alone doesn't explain the difference -- much of it has to do 
with how much work one intends to get done while mounted.  Most english 
events emphasize having both hands on the reins, and do not require the 
rider to do anything other than ride while mounted[3].  Most western 
events require one (or even two) free hands, and so one must use 
different indicators for direction.[4]

This naturally leads to an emphasis on "neck-reining", as reflected in 
the curb bits and loose reins of the western horse.  But even this is a 
bit of a misnomer: if you have a horse that neck reins well, try riding 
as if you had the reins in your hand, but leaving the reins on the 
horn.  You may have to exaggerate at first, but you may also be 
pleasantly surprised to find that the horse understands your cues 
almost as well as with the reins, and that is why I say that the horse 
is a DWIM platform, in a way that cars are not, as what goes on between 
its ears is more important than the pieces of leather. [5]

> Sometimes technology changes nothing. Some folks steer
> their cars with their knees while using the cell phone
> with one hand and shaving(or applying makeup) with the
> other.

In this case technology has changed much[6] and (for the narrow 
purposes of this discussion) for the worse.  Driving while 
incapacitated, whether due to inattention or inebriation, is dangerous 
precisely because one needs to steer an automobile.

A car goes wherever its wheels point -- which is a function of the 
steering wheel position -- and it does so regardless of whether there 
is a car-eating plastic sack in the way, open road, a tree, or even a 
cliff.  Fail to provide the appropriate feedback, and one gets into 
trouble sooner rather than later.

A horse, on the other hand, has a vested interest in getting home 
safely.  (and if it requires something with thumbs to throw hay, has a 
vested interest in getting you home safely as well)  Furthermore, 
"home" is a direction in which the average horse needs very little 
encouragement to go.  I wonder whether drunk driving is problematic 
only because the technology of getting home from the bar has changed 
faster than the culture of having one for the road[7].


:: :: ::

[0] I have known horses that almost needed to be steered.  My 
condolences if that is the quality of the stock you've experienced.  
(like with certain executive positions, the life of a dude string horse 
seems to positively select against paying any attention to the clients) 
  If you were in the market, I could give you some pointers to good 
stock in AB.

[1] "sooner" and "later" being relative to point of sail -- hence, 
"gentlemen sail downwind".

[2] only since getting to Switzerland have I been riding in western 
saddles.  It is true that one doesn't have the close contact with a 
western saddle that one does with an english, but although the horses 
may have been trained with different cues, they all respond to the 
natural aids of seat and legs.  My wife started western, and as a girl 
occasionally rode her horses without a bridle.  So, yes, the saddle 
affects communication (one speaks perhaps with different accents), but 
not the basic content of that communication.

[3] even english recognizes that one must let the horse have its head 
when it's concentrating on its work.  Over fences, say, or when there's 
Snowy River-fancy riding to be done.  Australian stockmen ride in 
english saddles, yet:

> Through the stringybarks and saplings, on the rough and broken ground,
> Down the hillside at a racing pace he went;
> And he never drew the bridle till he landed safe and sound,
> At the bottom of that terrible descent.

[4] the two schools converge after the basic levels of english.  The 
ideal of quiet hands in english means that one may use the reins just 
as much as an input, providing feedback on what the horse is doing with 
its head (the auditory path has a finer time resolution than the visual 
-- and the haptic even more so), than as an output, for directing 

[5] ponying horses is also good practice, for three reasons: it is it 
equine equivalent of pair programming, it saves a great deal of labor, 
and it clearly demonstrates how well one can convey ones intentions to 
a horse without hands, without even legs, but only with voice and a 
lead rope.

[6] technological misunderstanding cuts both ways across the 
equine-vehicular divide.  One of my favorite stories is from the Irvine 
Ranch, before it was a subdivision.  Cars were new, and the Irvines had 
just acquired one for the ranch.  One of the uncles never quite figured 
out the newfangled technology, and so to stop the car, he just pointed 
it straight uphill and let it stall out -- which is a technique used to 
deal with runaway horses, and, thanks to the low torque of cars, 
coincidentally works just as well for them.

[7] you gulf coasters will have to tell me whether daiquiri buckets are 
still available at the drive-through: "why sure you can drink and 
drive, you just can't drive drunk"

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