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)