Thursday, 2 May 2019

Building a Castle: The Bailey


The bailey or ward in a fortification is a courtyard enclosed by a curtain wall. In particular, an early type of European castle was known as a motte-and-bailey. Castles can have more than one bailey. Their layout depends both on the local topography and the level of fortification technology employed, ranging from simple enclosures to elaborate concentric defences.

Chepstow Castle (carneycastle.com)
Baileys can be arranged in sequence along a hill (as in a spur castle), giving an upper bailey and lower bailey. They can also be nested one inside the other, as in a concentric castle, giving an outer bailey and inner bailey. Chepstow Castle, built on a limestone ridge above the River Wye, has three baileys which were added over time along the ridge, rather than inside one another.

Saturday, 27 April 2019

Research: Mosquitoes


(getty images)
There is no doubt that mosquitoes are a serious threat to mankind. Their bite carries not only malaria but a host of other diseases, such as malaria, yellow fever, Chikungunya, West Nile virus, dengue fever, filariasis, Zika virus and other arboviruses. Mosquitoes kill more people than any other animal: over 700,000 each year, many of them children.

The book A Brief History of the Future suggests that in the next 50 years millions of infertile male mosquitoes would be released to reduce the population, and therefore drastically reduce the incidence of mosquito-borne diseases.

In addition, by replacing the disease-causing organisms injected by their bites with antivirals, mosquitoes can be used to actually immunise the people they bite against an array of diseases. Thus turning them from killers into life-savers.

It's a great idea, but can it become a reality?

Friday, 26 April 2019

Building a Castle: Concentric Castles


When a child draws a picture of a castle, it tends to be a single building. But castles comprise several buildings, and usually two rings of walls. The value of concentric defences was known long before castles existed, in tribal hill forts. The word ‘concentric’ is a little misleading, as the walls were not circular, merely surrounding the site of the castle.
Belvoir Castle, Jerusalem
The first dateable concentric castle was Belvoir Castle in the crusader kingdom of Jerusalem. It was built by Gilbert of Assailly, Grand Master of the Knights Hospitaller, started in 1168. It was built on a high plateau about 20km south of the Sea of Galilea. It overlooks the River Jordan 500m below and was so high and inaccessible that the Muslims called it an eagle’s nest or home of the moon.

Saturday, 20 April 2019

Research: Global Warming


Credit: kwest shutterstock
By 2071 A Brief History of the Future suggests that the global temperature had risen by one degree and Greenland's glaciers were collapsing. Sea level had risen by half a metre and many countries were building flood defences and floating homes.
Coastal erosion at Hemsby UK (BBC)
In the real world, in the UK today, local councils are already planning coastal defences in some places and to leave the coast to erode in others. We have seen dramatic pictures on the news of houses topping over eroded cliffs.

Thursday, 18 April 2019

Building a Castle: Curtain Wall Defences


The curtain wall was the main defence of the castle, but it wasn't just a wall, it contained defences of its own.

Crenellations
Tower of London
The most obvious are the crenellations, the up-and-down parts on top of the wall. They were named after the gaps from which bowmen could shoot, called crenels. The raised parts, providing cover for the bowmen, were called merlons. The wall walks behind the crenellations provided a high vantage point for lookouts and from which to fire on attackers.

Saturday, 13 April 2019

Research: First Mars Colony


A Brief History of the Future by Charles Joynton suggests that the first mission to Mars was sent in 2071. One of the biggest challenges in trying to establish a colony there is the extreme weather conditions. The film The Martian starring Matt Damon illustrated well the extremes of temperature and the dust storms.

An article on the USA Today website by NASA expert Ashley May list four main obstacles to humans living on Mars:
  • We have to land
  • We would need to blast off from Mars
  • We would need to wear spacesuits -- all the time
  • We'd have to get used to dust storms

Thursday, 11 April 2019

Building a Castle: The Curtain Wall


Harlech Castle
The fortifications surrounding the castle were called the enceinte, and the curtain wall was a key part of this. The shape of the walls depended on the site, with many castles built on hilltops, cliffs or rocky promontories. Harlech Castle was built on a near-vertical cliff, making it impregnable from every angle.
Swansea Castle from Castle Bailey Street
The area inside the wall was called the bailey. There is a street in Swansea that runs today in front of the castle ruins, called Castle Bailey Street. The ruins are the remains of the 'New Castle' built in a corner of the old castle which was damaged by Welsh attacks, and towers had been sold to raise money. Castle Bailey Street used to run across the bailey of the much larger original castle.

Sunday, 31 March 2019

Research: A I Doctors



As I work my way through the book A Brief History of the Future we revisit medicine. I wrote recently about Regenerative Medicine and now the book proposes Artificial Intelligence Doctors. As with many of the other topics, I found development is already in progress.

The website of the British Medical Journal has an article on the debate about the viability of A I in diagnosis and treatment.
Machines that can learn and correct themselves already perform better than doctors at some tasks, says Jörg Goldhahn, but Vanessa Rampton and Giatgen A Spinas maintain that machines will never be able to replicate the inter-relational quality of the therapeutic nature of the doctor-patient relationship.

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

Building a Castle: Defences


Castles had gatehouses to protect the entrance, which was the weakest point. The gatehouse itself had lots of defences.

Drawbridge
Since the castle was surrounded by a ditch or moat, a bridge was needed across the gap. There were three types of drawbridge.

The simplest type was the best known, the lifting bridge which pivoted at one end in the gateway, lifted by chains. The chains passed through slots in the wall to windlasses in the gatehouse. The disadvantage with this was the time it took to raise the drawbridge if there was an attack.

Monday, 18 March 2019

Research: Mission to Mars


Before I began looking at A Brief History of the Future by Charles Joynson, I was reading Robert Zubrin’s book Entering Space, subtitled Creating a Spacefaring Civilization. I wrote a couple of posts on what he said about Mars, Mars Direct and The Mars Society.

Now A Brief History of the Future has got to speaking of Mars too. A mission was launched in 2071.

Isolation

To keep the astronauts from feeling isolated on the ten-month mission to Mars, they set up a connection so that:
… anyone on Earth with a webcam and internet access could ask an astronaut, cosmonaut or taikonaut a question, leave words of encouragement or make useful suggestions. Insults or negative comments were screened out by AIs and the travellers spent much of their time each day answering questions with a camera bot following them as they spoke and worked.

Monday, 11 March 2019

Building a Castle: Defensive Towers


Caerphilly Castle
Early castles had walkways along the top of the walls on the inside, but it was soon realised that towers provided much better defences. Not only did they stick out from the walls, providing better angles to shoot attackers, but arrow slits or loops were built in at each floor level to enable archers to shoot without getting shot at.

Initially towers were open on the inside, but later the back was built and provided extra accommodation. Towers were rectangular or hexagonal, but master masons found round towers more stable, especially since a major technique in attacking a castle was to undermine the walls or towers. Providing more defences was no good if the towers could be undermined and toppled. Some castles had D-shaped towers built onto the existing walls.

Saturday, 9 March 2019

Research: Internet

A Brief History of the Future makes a very interesting proposition regarding the future of the Internet. Already we are feeling overwhelmed by the vast amount of information available. He suggests that:

In the 2070s the Internet of computers changed from a World Wide Web of information to the R Net of relevant knowledge. This meant that people were fed information triggered by position, direction, occupation and requirement. All this information was delivered through AR glasses and voice activated AIs. Most websites disappeared and activation engines appeared to replace search engines.
There are already applications which access GPS and give you information relevant to your location, and map applications can track your position as you travel. Company servers hold databases of information relevant to your occupation. But how do you specify your requirements except through a search engine?

The answer is voice and image searches.

Monday, 4 March 2019

Building a Castle: Mortar


Once you have the stone to build your castle, you need mortar to fix it together. As well as the quarrymen and stonecutters for the stone, you need mortar makers to prepare the mortar and mason layers to put the walls together using trowel, plumb line and mason's level.

Mortar was made from lime, sand and water, using different proportions depending on the quality of the materials. They kept the recipes secret and passed them down from father to son. Just as they used three different types of stone (see last week), they used three types of mortar: a flexible type for arches and vaults, a fine type for facing walls, and a coarse type for the rubble core of the walls. This last type can take hundreds of years to set, to allow for the stones to settle over time. Archaeologists have found mortar in the centre of some castle walls that is still not set, centuries after it was mixed.

Sunday, 3 March 2019

Research: Bioengineering


A Brief History of the Future suggests that in 2070 bioluminescent lichens using DNA from squid were grown on buildings to provide lighting when the street lights failed, and other engineered bacteria and algae were used to provide power.

So I Googled it, and most of what I found was too technical for someone with no science background to understand, but I did get these examples:
  • Already bioengineering is producing fuel from algae to use instead of petrol.

Wednesday, 27 February 2019

Building a Castle: Gatehouses


Chepstow Castle
The most vulnerable point in a castle's defences was the gate. No need to smash down the walls or climb over them if you can capture the gate. Some castles were built with a tower gatehouse, but  in about 1190 William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke, remodelled Chepstow Castle based on his extensive experience fighting in France and the Crusades, and had the gatehouse built with twin towers.
Arrow loop or slit
The towers stand forward of the arched gateway and had defensive arrow loops on two levels. The gateway passage also has a machicolation slot – an opening in the roof for dropping missiles. There were also two portcullises with a pair of gates between. This was a pioneering design – the first in England and Wales with rounded twin gate towers.

Monday, 25 February 2019

Research: Self Driving Cars


Jurvetson Google driverless car
Research has been conducted in cars that drive themselves since the 1920s. The Google driverless car project has a fleet of cars that have already driven over 2 million miles. Already certain states in America have passed legislation allowing driverless cars on public roads.

When driverless cars become the norm it could mean the end of traffic jams and accidents. Traffic would move at a constant speed and proximity sensors would ensure they didn't crash. But it would only take one human driver or careless pedestrian to cause chaos.

Thursday, 21 February 2019

Building a Castle: Stone


The most obvious material needed for building a castle is stone, but not just any stone and not all the same kind either. The best stone was dressed and used around windows and doors and for special features. The general stone was for the walls, and even the offcuts and poorer quality stones were used to infill between the double walls and for paths. Nothing was wasted.
treadwheel crane
The huge quantities of stone required posed another problem - how to shift it. Unless the castle was located near a source of stone, it had to be transported, sometimes over long distances, by carts and barges. It also had to be moved around the site, requiring pulleys and winches to lift the stones as the structures grew.


Monday, 18 February 2019

Research: End of War


The next development predicted in A Brief History of the Future is an amalgamation of smell detection, infrared, AI and micro drones, designed to put an end to war and terrorism. As usual, I Googled all these to see how close we are.
  • Smell detection is already a fact, used particularly in factories. 
  • Infrared cameras have been around for a while.
  • AI or something approaching it is in development in lots of different areas.
  • Micro drones are already on the market, but with cameras or just for flying. 

Friday, 15 February 2019

Building a Castle: Ditches, Moats and Tunnels


In many castles, the ditch was a pre-existing topographical feature, but in some it had to be laboriously dug out by teams of serfs or soldiers. Elsewhere, some lords used lakes or rivers as natural water defences, while others employed earthworks experts or water engineers to create and fill their moat. (The Medieval Castle Haynes Manual)
The site was chosen with these things in mind and would often be on a hilltop or promontory to provide defences, but consideration was also given to the availability of resources: stone and trees for building materials and food and water for the workmen and eventually for the castle’s inhabitants.

The Guédelon project was sited in an abandoned quarry in miles of oak woodland, so the stone and timber they needed was right there. They also brought in water diviners who found water only 6 metres down, so they were able to dig wells.

Thursday, 14 February 2019

Research: Regenerative Medicine


The book A Brief History of the Future predicts that by 2060 regenerative medicine had developed such that organs and limbs could be regrown, like a lizard grows a new tail.

I use regeneration in my Flight of the Kestrel books, but not to that extent. The Medical Officer uses a regeneration ray to speed up the healing process. He has a handheld device for smaller injuries and a canopy for full body treatment. But this can't heal everything. The First Officer, Nate Parks, has an injury to his shoulder that can't be repaired, which is an important part of his back story. I even wrote a short story about it, which is not yet generally available.

Monday, 4 February 2019

Building a Castle: Outer Fortifications

Ever since man stopped wandering and settled in one place, defences were needed. The simplest defence of a settlement was a fence or palisade. Then a ditch and embankment were added. This was exactly the same with castles. The buildings surrounding the castle gatehouse were likewise surrounded by a wall and ditch, making the barbican.
Motte-and-bailey castle showing outer palisade and ditch (castlesworld)

Sunday, 3 February 2019

Research: Electric Cars

In the book A Brief History of the Future by Charles Joynson the next topic is electric cars. This surprised me because electric cars have been around since at least 2008 and this book was published in 2016. As concerns grow about vehicle emissions and oil resources, electric cars become more and more feasible.

The problem has been the battery: the amount of charge it could hold and the weight of it. The bigger the battery, the more charge it holds, but the more it weighs. The two all-time best selling electric cars, the Nissan Leaf and the Tesla Model S, have EPA-rated ranges reaching up to 151 mi (243 km) and 335 mi (539 km) respectively, according to Wikipedia.
Nissan Leaf electric car

Friday, 1 February 2019

Building a Castle: The Evolution of a Castle

 The earliest castles were made from timber and earthworks, known as motte-and-bailey castles. The motte is a mound, either a convenient hill or a man-made one, with a defensive barrier and a tower (the keep) on top. The bailey is the area next to the motte enclosed by a fence and a ditch. Inside the bailey were the living quarters, hall, chapel, kitchens, stables and other buildings. If the castle was attacked everyone would withdraw from the bailey into the tower on the hill, which was more easily defended.
Motte-and-bailey castle (castlesworld)

Saturday, 26 January 2019

Research: Handheld DNA Sequencing

In my science research, I’m looking at the book A Brief History of the Future, and seeing what the author predicts to be developed first. By 2046 he predicts there will be handheld devices for DNA sequencing.

So I Googled it, and just like last week, found technology had already caught up with it.

It’s called a MinION, which reminds me of the little yellow creatures in the Despicable Me films, but maybe it’s pronounced differently. The device, made by Oxford Nanopore, is a little bigger than a mobile phone and can sequence much longer strands of DNA.

Friday, 25 January 2019

Building a Castle: The Master Mason

The man in charge of the work of building a castle was the master mason. He would design the castle and liaise with the future owner. Sometimes he would build a small 3D wooden model to show the lord what was possible. Then he was in charge of the building project itself.
Modern model of Dynefwr Castle

Thursday, 24 January 2019

Research: Augmented Reality Glasses



I don’t know if you saw the Hulu and Channel 4 TV series The First, about the team of astronauts who were going to be the first humans on Mars. In that, they used special glasses to watch videos and make video calls.


I mentioned in a previous post that I have been reading the book A Brief History of the Future. One of the early developments suggested in there is augmented reality glasses. This is what it says:

Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Building a Castle

The most obvious legacy of the Medieval period in the UK and France is the castle. They are everywhere, mostly in varying states of ruin. I have written previously about why you should visit castles and how to go about it. I also did a series on my local castles (Gower has a lot of castles), including Why visit a castle? and How to visit a castle. But I recently bought the Haynes manual of the castle, which looks at the construction and use of the castle, and I thought it would be fun to do a series on that.

The Medieval Castle Haynes manual

Saturday, 12 January 2019

Research: Neural Implants

A Brief History of the Future

One of the books I’m reading for my science fiction research has the huge title of A Brief History of the Future, the Third Millennium and Human Colonization of the Solar System: The Terraforming of Mars and Venus (HHcSS Book 1). The first innovation he suggests is mobile phone technology implanted in the brain. People will be able to make calls and send messages directly from one brain to another. It sounds like a good idea, so I Googled it to find out how feasible it is today.

Friday, 11 January 2019

Apologies and News

NaNoWriMo

As you can see, I haven't been keeping up my usual blogging programme. In November I took part in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) to write the first draft of the next Kestrel novel. Lots of things fell by the wayside in order to get that done, so December was spent catching up.

2018-11-14 15.24.52

On top of that my husband and I, who are both disabled, both had health issues (which are still going on). There were some family issues to deal with too, not all bad: our daughter had her third son in November and now has three children under four. We try to help out where we can. She lives less than half an hour away and we have the two older boys on separate afternoons each week. They are a delight but very tiring, as you can imagine.

So rather than scrape up any old blog post I waited until I could write something worthwhile. It's taken longer than I expected, as I had end-of-year and New Year stuff to do, but here I am. For my history fans I am writing a series on the construction of a castle, and for my science fiction fans I will be continuing with the series about my science research.

There will also be news of my books:

Conquest cover 3

  • There is now a permafree history book The Conquest of Wales, which is free on all retailers including Amazon.

  • I am planning some research on possible topics for my next history book.

  • I am going to see if Kindle Print will produce my print history books, which will greatly simplify sales, but as the books don't have a spine it may not be possible.

  • My latest science fiction novel (produced in NaNoWriMo) is with two readers who are going to critique it and think about how to expand it to novel length, as the first draft is too short.

Stowaway cover

  • I'm still working on short stories about the back story of some of the Kestrel crew. There are three at the moment but only one is available: Stowaway is permafree on all retailers.

  • I've signed up for a marketing course which I also have to find time for. Time to study and time to implement what I learn.

  • And I haven't done anything with my poetry for ages.

So as you can see, I'm going to be busy. I hope you will stay with me, enjoy my blog posts, and watch out for news. You can even sign up for my mailing list and get free books and advance news.

Ann Marie Thomas head shot (80x90) (300dpi) Web GravatarAnn Marie Thomas is the author of four medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, and book two Alien Secrets, are out now. Follow her at http://eepurl.com/bbOsyz