Tuesday, 19 November 2019

Building a Castle: Chapels and Vaulted Ceilings


Every castle had a chapel as the Church was an integral part of daily life. But originally the chapel was set up in a modest chamber. As time went on the chapel became more ornate, sometimes with a crypt to celebrate the lord's ancestors, and became part of his display of status and wealth. From the 11th century onward, the chapels were specially built and often had vaulted ceilings, which were beautiful to look at but very difficult to build.
Oystermouth Castle Chapel
In some castles the chapel was built into the gatehouse or one of the corner towers, in others it was part of the keep. It was usually on the topmost floor so that nothing came between it and heaven. Some castles had two chapels, a larger one for the general castle community and a smaller one for the lord's private use, usually near his quarters.

Saturday, 16 November 2019

Research: Gene Editing


We have talked before about DNA and the advances in DNA mapping, but this time the topic is altering DNA, particularly when it is defective.
Wikipedia says:
Genome editing, or genome engineering, or gene editing, is a type of genetic engineering in which DNA is inserted, deleted, modified or replaced in the genome of a living organism. Unlike early genetic engineering techniques that randomly inserts genetic material into a host genome, genome editing targets the insertions to site specific locations.

Thursday, 14 November 2019

Building a Castle: Flooring


The size of a Great Hall was limited by the length of beams the carpenters could get from available trees, for the roof and the floor. Some great towers were built with in internal crosswall which enabled each side to be roofed and floored independently. Upper floors were supported by pillars in the rooms beneath.
Joist holes Chepstow Castle
Masons and carpenters worked closely together. In ruined castles today you can see the joist sockets in the walls for the supporting beams. The walls were built to the right height and the joists put in place. Then the walls were continued, building them around the joists. In some cases there was also a spine beam running at right angles.

Tuesday, 12 November 2019

Research: Faster-than-light Travel


Most science fiction relies on some kind of faster-than-light travel to enable their stories to take place. If space travel took hundreds of years, we wouldn’t have a story. But physics has proven it’s impossible to travel faster than light.

I don’t understand the science, but according to Cosmos Magazine:
THE FASTER SOMETHING TRAVELS, THE MORE MASSIVE IT GETS, AND THE MORE TIME SLOWS – UNTIL YOU FINALLY REACH THE SPEED OF LIGHT, AT WHICH POINT TIME STOPS ALTOGETHER.
It’s all based on the special theory of relativity. If you want the science, Wikipedia has a long article about it. But regardless of science, we science fiction writers have to have a way for spaceships to get about. The most well known is Star Trek’s warp drive, also found in Isaac Azimov’s I, Robot.

Warp Drive

Saturday, 9 November 2019

Building a Castle: Hearths and Tiles


It may seem a strange combination to write about hearths and tiles in the same post, but once hearths moved away from the centre of the Great Hall to fireplaces against the walls, they needed to be lined with tiles. It was far easier to replace damaged tiles than to rebuild a wall damaged by the heat of the fire.
Fireplace Tattershall Castle showing tiles in the back
Central hearths remained popular for many years, even though they must have filled the hall with smoke. Some master masons incorporated flues into the top of the windows in an attempt to draw out the smoke. It was the way they had always done it, to gather around the central fire.

Saturday, 2 November 2019

Research: Extinction


Extinction is defined as the death of the last living member of a species, but a species may lose its ability to breed and sustain itself a long time before that.
DNA map
A Brief History of the Future gives a date of 2134 as when fifteen percent of all the species on Earth became extinct but the modern estimate is fifty percent will be gone as early as 2050. Most extinctions are caused by man destroying habitats, particularly through large scale deforestation.

Wednesday, 23 October 2019

Building a Castle: The Great Hall


We looked last week at the construction of the roof of the Great Hall, so it's a good point at which to consider the building itself. This was the centre of castle life. In early medieval times the entire household ate and slept together here, and even when other rooms were added to separate the ranks it was still used for business, greeting visitors, and eating.
Great Hall Tamworth Castle
The size and architectural features made a bold statement of the lord's power and status, including the size and number of windows and the decorative embellishments. The windows may be large and with decorative carving, a fire burned in the centre of the room, and the walls may be plastered and decorated with painted designs.


Tuesday, 22 October 2019

Research: Population


According to A Brief History of the Future
It was in 2134 that the birth and death rates equalised and the world’s population started to decline from its 13.4 billion peak. The great fear of the previous one hundred and fifty years had been increasing population; from this point forward the fear was of population decline.
So as I have been doing, I researched population growth. The Our World in Data website article Future Population Growth by Max Roser is a preliminary collection of relevant data with some great charts.

Friday, 18 October 2019

Building a Castle: Timber and Tiled Roofs


The Great Hall, containing the main accommodation as well as the hall, was a real statement about the level of comfort the castle provided for the lord and his guests.In Guédelon the Great Hall is directly across from the gatehouse, making an impact on new arrivals.
Guédelon Castle Great Hall
Because wood rots over time, there is little evidence of how the roofs were constructed, apart from the slope on the gable ends of castle ruins. So the carpenters had a huge challenge to work out how to build the roof using only techniques and tools available in medieval times.

Tuesday, 15 October 2019

Research: Nuclear Fusion


The nuclear power plants which supply most of our electricity work by nuclear fission, splitting atoms and releasing energy. But they also release radioactivity and create dangerous waste materials. 

The sun works by nuclear fusion, forcing atoms together to create new atoms and energy. The fuel needed is much more easily obtained and the process is clean and non polluting.

There’s a detailed article on Wikipedia about nuclear fusion that explains it very well.

Friday, 11 October 2019

Building a Castle: Domestic Comforts


According to The Medieval Castle Haynes Manual by Charles Phillips:
Aside from providing a roof over the head and protection from both the elements and enemies without, the best and more comfortable noble accommodation was fitted with a latrine – and sometimes with running water. Some rooms were also equipped with their own mural fireplaces for heating, and candlestick holders set in the walls, bringing both warmth and light into what could otherwise be a dark, chilly place.
Wells and Cisterns


Most castles had a well and some had cisterns – an area for collecting rainwater. Running water was provided by either an extension of the well head to an upper floor so that water could be drawn and emptied into a tank, or by a cistern on a tower roof.

Saturday, 5 October 2019

Research: Alternatives To Plastic


The horror of what indestructible plastic is doing to our world is everywhere today. I don’t want to jump on the bandwagon, but the book I am using to fuel my research, A Brief History of the Future, mentions chitin as being found to be a practical alternative to plastic. I thought I would check it out.

What Is Chitin?

Chitin is similar to keratin, which is what our hair and fingernails are made of. It is found in the shells of shellfish, in insects and fungi. It turns out that chitin is the second most abundant biopolymer on Earth. The most abundant biopolymer is cellulose, which is found in trees and plants.

Friday, 4 October 2019

Building a Castle: Private Rooms and Guest Accommodation


Even in a stone castle many of the buildings were wooden. But the Lord and his family and honoured guests would have private rooms built into the towers, gatehouse or above the great hall. Everyone else slept in the great hall, on benches if they were lucky or on the floor.

Providing well-appointed accommodation for noble and royal visitors was a statement of power and status. Whereas the rest of the castle was purely functional, the private rooms had fine dressed stone around the ornate windows (those that looked onto the courtyard which were not vulnerable from outside), doors and ceilings.

Sunday, 29 September 2019

Research: Nanorobotics


A Brief History of the Future  suggests that by 2114 most humans in the developed world had nanoscale machine parts inside their bodies to keep them healthy. They were injected when disease was detected and removed when the job was done by collecting them with magnets and sucking them out with syringes.

The idea of robots so tiny they can be put inside the human body and repair it from within has long been the stuff of science fiction. In fact Wikipedia has an article on it. But how close are we to making it a reality?

Monday, 23 September 2019

Building a Castle: Rib Vaults


The castle towers, especially circular or polygonal towers, could have magnificent vaulted ceilings, particularly in the lord’s chambers. Later builders devised methods for long vaulted ceilings in churches. At Guédelon the great tower has a cross-rib vault which required skill to create.
Notre Dame de Paris
Master mason Florian Renucci and his teams of masons and carpenters achieved one of their greatest feats in planning, carving, constructing and fitting the the cross-rib vault. And remember, part of the brief in building Guédelon was to use only the tools and methods used in medieval times.

Saturday, 21 September 2019

Research: Asteroid Mining


With Earth’s resources running short, asteroid mining seems on first examination to be a great idea. But is it science fiction or an actual possibility?
(Source thenextweb.com)
Asteroids are lumps of rock and rubble floating in space. The asteroid belt orbits the sun between Mars and Jupiter and is estimated to contain 150 million large asteroids. There are also over 20,000 Near Earth Asteroids (NEAs), which effectively bring the asteroids to us instead of us having to get all the way out to the main asteroid belt.

The book A Brief History of the Future suggests asteroid mining as a reality, but that is only supposition. There are enormous challenges to overcome and vast amounts of money required before we can tap into this vast store of resources. But maybe it is the only way forward, since experts estimate the Earth’s resources with run out in 50-60 years.

Monday, 16 September 2019

Building a Castle: Blacksmiths


We have already looked at master masons earlier in this series. Another vital craftsman was the blacksmith. 
Blacksmith at Guédelon
He too was a free man. His forge would have been in the castle bailey during war and in the local village during peacetime. He would have been in the centre of the building site during castle building. He made hinges and locks of course but his most important function was making and maintaining all the tools.

Sunday, 15 September 2019

Research: Moon Base in Lava Tubes


The next topic suggested by A Brief History of the Future is the idea of a moon base underground.
On the Moon, a permanent base was set up in lava tubes close to the South Pole. Here they had light for their solar power arrays and frozen ice to supply the base with water. Being underground protected them from the temperature extremes on the surface and the airtight tunnels meant that residents needed neither suits nor helmets.
To my surprise, this is exactly what NASA and other space organisations are planning.
Lava Beds National Monument, California

Saturday, 14 September 2019

Building a Castle: Tower Keeps


As we saw last week, a shell keep offered all round protection for the most important buildings in the castle, but the buildings themselves were cold and draughty and the wood was subject to rot. Later castles, especially those on a level site or a rocky outcrop that could take the weight, had a stone tower keep so the important buildings were stone.
The White Tower, Tower of London
These great towers were a symbol of the lord's power and status, both to the local population and other lords.

Monday, 9 September 2019

Research: Artificial Lenses



I wrote a while ago about Augmented Reality Glasses and where we are today in developing them. Charles Joynson, the author of A Brief History of the Future,  suggests that once the glasses are a reality, they will develop intraocular lenses (inside the eye) to do the same.

I was surprised to find that artificial lenses for normal sight are already in use. When a cataract is removed, an artificial lens is put in its place. 

Saturday, 7 September 2019

Building a Castle: The Shell Keep


If you are one of the aristocracy and your headquarters are on a man-made hill behind a wooden palisade, you're going to be looking for something better, especially if it has burned down once or twice. The answer is to use stone.

The first keeps were a stone wall enclosing the top of the motte in a motte and bailey castle. The Normans were afraid the man-made motte was not strong enough to support a stone building, but a shell keep spread the weight and allowed the buildings inside to be made of wood. All the most important rooms, particularly the lord's chamber, were built inside. Should the outer walls be breached, attackers had another wall between them and their goal. And a much bigger one.

Sunday, 1 September 2019

Research: Blood Transfusions


As Wikipedia says,
If your body does not have enough of one of the components of blood, you may develop serious life-threatening complications.
  • Red blood cells carry oxygen through your body to your heart and brain. Adequate oxygen is very important to maintain life.
  • Platelets help to prevent or control bleeding due to low platelet count.
  • Plasma and cryoprecipitate, replacement coagulation factors, also help to prevent or control bleeding.
Blood donors are asked many questions about their health, behaviour, and travel history in order to ensure that the blood supply is as safe as it can be. Only people who pass the survey are allowed to donate. Donated blood is tested according to national guidelines. If there is any question that the blood is not safe, it is thrown away.

Tuesday, 27 August 2019

Building a Castle: Guedelon


We have been looking week by week at how castles were built in medieval times. For reference I am using the Haynes Manual of The Medieval Castle which chronicles the creation of a medieval-style castle at Guédelon in France, using only medieval tools and methods.

I thought it would be good to pause and have a look at this actual castle. The picture below is a photo of two pages in the book - that's why it's crooked!

Guédelon Castle under construction

Saturday, 24 August 2019

Research: Climate Change and the First Great Walking


Global warming and climate change are buzz words today. Despite what President Trump says, it is a present reality. Temperatures today are 0.74 °C (1.33 °F) higher than 150 years ago. Many scientists say that in the next 100–200 years, temperatures might be up to 6 °C (11 °F) higher than they were before the effects of global warming were discovered.
(shutterstock)
Ocean acidification threatens damage to coral reefs, fisheries, protected species, and other natural resources of value to society. Greenhouse gases absorb and emit some of the outgoing energy radiated from Earth's surface, causing that heat to be retained in the lower atmosphere.

The challenge is to try to limit the extent and mitigate the effects.



Monday, 19 August 2019

Waterloo Uncovered


At the Chalke Valley History Festival I visited the stand of an organisation called Waterloo Uncovered. I was drawn there by the men in the uniforms of the period, since before medieval Gower I was fascinated by the Peninsula War, which culminated in the famous Battle of Waterloo. The war covered most of Spain and Portugal and into Belgium and France, between Napoleon and Wellington.


But this is not just about the history. Hougoumont Château in Belgium was the scene of some of the fiercest fighting in one of the most decisive battles in history. Waterloo Uncovered are casting new light on what actually happened there, through a project that brings together professional archaeologists, serving soldiers and veterans.

Yes, soldiers and veterans doing archaeology!



Monday, 12 August 2019

Speech Recognition


Before my blogging was rudely interrupted by falling down the stairs, I was working my way through a book called A Brief History of the Future by Charles Joynson. I was looking at the developments he predicted and seeing where we have got to today.

He says that by 2093 speech recognition
was far quicker and more accurate than ever before. This meant that the very last keyboards were recycled and speech became the standard way to communicate with computers. Throat microphones also became common and more sensitive, which meant that they could detect and understand speech without it being audible to others.

Monday, 29 July 2019

Storm Area 51


Because my second Kestrel novel is called Alien Secrets, I set up a Google Alert for the title to capture any mentions. The last week or so it has been alerting me to the viral spread of Storm Area 51.
Area 51 (Image Getty)
Area 51 is a secret US base in Nevada used for weapons research and testing, but widely believed to contain aliens and their weapons and craft that have been captured since the 1950s. Well, not so secret now, but heavily guarded and access restricted. The military claim that several UFO sightings in the area were test flights of spy planes under development.

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Chalke Valley History Festival


Well, it's been over 5 weeks since my last post, as my recovery from the fall was complicated by bursitis in my hip, but my husband and I have just had a week's holiday and feel much better for it. I've got a lot to catch up on, but I'm getting back to work.

We've been to the Chalke Valley History Festival near Salisbury, and what a fabulous time we've had at this festival I didn't even know existed until a couple of months ago! This was the ninth year of the festival and there's nothing else like it, certainly in the UK. Huge marquees, lots of quality speakers, bookshop, good range of food stalls, History Tellers, living history and lots more. In addition the volunteers and staff were so friendly and helpful. It made a big difference.

We nearly cancelled the holiday after my fall and the ensuing complications, but I was able to use a mobility scooter free for the first three days. I'm so glad we were able to go, not just because of the quality of the event but because we both so needed a break. The only drawback was that although we stayed only 12 miles away, it was through narrow country lanes with few road signs, and the local council closed the roads in the evening for roadworks, making the journey back twice as far.

In spite of that we had a great time. There wasn't anything about my Medieval period this week, but we did have Anglo Saxons and the Black Death, which come before and afterwards. Both very interesting talks. Did you know the Black Death came into England via Weymouth, and once you showed symptoms you were dead in three days? As much as 70% of the population died and it ended serfdom, because the only way land owners could get the work done was to pay.

I recommend anyone who can get there next year should go. Entry is free Monday to Friday, you only pay for the talks if you want them. There is an entrance fee at the weekend but if you pay for a talk, you get in free. We're definitely going next year.

Ann 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





Saturday, 25 May 2019

Slipping Down Stairs


I thought you must be wondering where I’ve gone, as there have been no posts for a couple of weeks. The reason is that I slipped down the stairs at home and sprained my ankle and broke my wrist. Luckily the stroke-affected side, otherwise I wouldn’t have a working hand at all, but that’s about the only good thing about it.

I thought the shock of the fall had aggravated my arthritis, which it may have done, but the pain in my right hip has been getting steadily worse, so I went to the doctor yesterday. It turns out that I sprained the ligaments round my hip when I fell, and my attempts at getting back to exercise and walking have only aggravated it. So I’m on extra pain killers and rest for the next ten days.

You would think with all the extra time on my hands I could get lots of writing done, but I’m afraid it doesn’t work like that. It’s very hard to be creative when you’re in pain. So I have been trying to work on the business side and plan how to serve my readers better and how to nurture new ones.

I’m sure things will get back to normal soon and you’ll see some changes for the better. If you have any suggestions or requests, please get in touch.


Ann 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

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.