Monday, 14 September 2020

How Does a Ray Gun Work?

When you're writing a novel set in the real world you sometimes have to stop and research something. What's the procedure at the police station when you get arrested? How does the control panel work in a power station? Any number of things you need to get right.


But what about a novel set in a science fiction world (or a fantasy world, but anything could happen once you introduce magic)? There is much you have to invent, on top of the characters and the plot. I have no background in science so I find it particularly difficult with machinery of any kind, to make it sound plausible. How does a ray gun work? Or a plasma rifle or laser pistol? What's the difference anyway?

Wednesday, 26 August 2020

History Illustrations: The Battle of Boroughbridge

The barons' rebellion that went so well in bringing Edward II to heel (see Order of Banishment post), did not last. The king looked for an opportunity to get back at them and when the queen was refused entry to Leeds Castle he seized the opportunity to declare everyone who opposed him to be traitors went to war against them. As soon as Edward could he recalled the two Hugh Despensers, father and son, back from exile and they were soon up to their scheming again. Hugh the Younger in particular wanted revenge on those who had him banished.

Monday, 10 August 2020

Research: Expert Systems

Today, many people have simple robots in their homes that can vacuum their carpets. There are also robot security guards patrolling buildings at night, robot guides, and robot factory workers. In 2006, it was estimated that there were 950,000 industrial robots and 3,540,000 service robots working in homes and buildings. But in the coming decades, the field of robotics may blossom in several directions. But these robots won’t look like the ones of science fiction.

The greatest impact may be felt in what are called expert systems, software programs that have encoded in them the wisdom and experience of a human being… [O]ne day, we may talk to the internet on our wall screens and converse with the friendly face of a robodoc or robolawyer. (Physics of the Future by Michiu Kaku p.77)

Tuesday, 21 July 2020

History Illustrations: Order of Banishment


Edward II was a weak king, who paid too much attention to his favourite companions, Hugh le Despenser the Younger and his father the Elder. Eventually the barons lost patience with him and rebelled. When the barons first rebelled against Edward, they won.


Saturday, 11 July 2020

Moore’s Law


I recently bought a copy of Physics of the Future by Michio Kaku and I discovered Moore’s Law. Simply stated it is that computer power doubles about every eighteen months to two years. It’s not a law of physics, just an observation from history. Kaku gives a neat little summary of development so far:
Vacuum computer Harwell Dektron

Thursday, 25 June 2020

History Illustrations: Alina’s Wedding


My medieval history books are illustrated with beautiful line drawings by a very talented artist, Carrie Francis. I thought it would be good to do a series to show them to you and tell the part of the story they illustrate.

William de Braose, the Lord of Gower, was given the wardship of John de Mowbray. John's father, the 1st Baron de Mowbray of Lincolnshire, died before his son reached his majority (age 21). So William was entrusted with bringing him up and teaching him to be a knight and a lord.

Tuesday, 9 June 2020

Research: Collecting Asteroids


According to A Brief History of the Future in 2343 work began on collecting asteroids for water ice:
Ideas had been proposed as far back as the 20th century about using lasers to melt portions of asteroids and focusing the gas to drive them through space. Therefore experimental laser tugs were sent to the Asteroid Belt to bring water ice back to the Moon. The only modification that was made to the three-hundred-year-old design was that a funnel was used to direct the outgoing gases. This meant that the lump could be directed more accurately to its destination without causing too much mass loss.
To my surprise, when I researched this topic I found very little on the internet about collecting asteroids made of water ice. I found an article on Popular Mechanic about why it matters that there's so much water in the asteroid belt, but not actually about harvesting asteroids. It seems a lot of the water isn't in frozen form, but embedded in minerals within the rock.