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Thursday, 31 July 2014

Pretty Vacant - The Sex Pistols




I had heard so much outrage about the Sex Pistols but never really got to see them until this clip came onto the TV during a Top of the Pops show. I was gobsmacked at first. Not impressed at all. My thoughts were more like, "Is that it?" However, after the dust settled I found that in some strange way, the band was compelling. I was never a fan but I did like the rebellious tones of the time. Today they are remembered fondly by us happy grandparents that were once wannabe teenage rebels. I was 16 when this song came out and it reminds me of being sixteen again.

The Skids - Retro British New Wave 1970s




I remember when these bands were coming out two a penny when I left school in 1977. It was a fun few years up to the early eighties when the bands seemed to develop and change. It was a sort of metamorphosis of Brit Rock and was very enjoyable at the time. It was a sort of punk rock/new wave time that went on to develop into new versions of SKA, Reggie, New Romantics and others. 

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

The Shape of Snakes - My Goodreads Review - Retro Brit

This is my favourite Minette Walters story. I could not put the book down and liked the main character who decides to get to the bottom of a murder she witnessed many years ago. This story had it all. I was thinking I had worked out the murderer, but wow! I was wrong. Smashing story and would highly recommend.

This page turner will have you gripped from the first page as we are offered all sorts of worthy and vile characters who made this murder victim's life terrible. Our victim is a black lady who suffers from tourettes syndrome. At the time of her murder, the crime is unsolved until over a decade later. A neighbour who discovered the dying woman decides to investigate the mystery herself. 

It is done in a way that is totally believable and not like an amateur sleuth story. Our lady has some insight and leads from the past that she decides to dig up. It is a sort of skeleton in her cupboard and she cannot let it lie any longer. We go on this journey with our champion character as she begins to unravel secrets of the past by visiting many who lived in the street where the crime took place.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Ancient Roman Post Card

(1) Tumblr



An old Roman sketch in a museum in London. This was found among many things. It is a lighthouse. The Romans built many of these around the coast of Britain. There were a few at Dover - the Roman gateway into Ancient Britain.

By Hadrian's wall, archaeologists found a treasure trove of 'what seemed' like post cards. On each of these square papers, like the image, there were writings of various things.

It gave an insight to what life was like for the Roman communities that manned the the great wall. It is possible that this post card was among such finds, though most had writing concerning orders or messages about duties upon the wall.


Redcoat - My Goodreads review.

Historical story set during the American War of Independence. Our heroes and baddies are: an ordinary British soldier, a feisty American rebel lady and a villain who is a ruthless and ambitious American loyalist serving in the British Army. Perhaps slightly more for a British audience because we (the reader) look at things from a more British perspective. I think an American might find it a little apologetic from a Brit point of view, as well as making the rascal a redcoat loyalist American. However, it was still enjoyable. I would recommend it to people who enjoy the history of the American War of Independence.

I liked our ordinary British soldier who came across as the reluctant hero caught up in a conflict he can't understand. A bit pantomime goodie and baddie angle, but still give it a go. 

Sunday, 27 July 2014

ESA Looking for People to go to Mars. Are You Such a Person?

Astrobiology Magazine has a great article on the European Space Agency looking to recruit people for a mission to Mars. They want to send a manned mission to search for biological evidence that Mars once had life.

They feel there may be a wealth of archaeological information to be had that robotic explorers are unable to search for.

The people chosen to participate will have to be sociologically evaluated. Because they will be on board a two year round trip.

This is a big ask upon any individual - the waiting time in a small space capsule while it made such a journey is very daunting to say the least. Once there, the work begins in earnest, but the depressing thought of an equally long journey back must be horrendous. For the complete article; click the link below.

Volunteer for Mars | Astrobiology Magazine



Imagine Driving this Aston Martin to the Supermarket Car Park at the Weekend!

What an absolute dream machine, but if I had one, I'd be too terrified about parking it anywhere, when I took it for a spin. The vehicle is gorgeous and I'm totally in love with it. Some cars are just too wonderful to be true and wonderfully impractical for the every day Joe like me. Still I would not mind being a little decadent for a day or two. I would have the James Bond theme tune going as I drove this Aston Martin about. 


http://www.arch2o.com/aston-martin-cc100-speedster/


Homage to Catalonia - Retro Brit Review - Goodreads

George Orwell is an enigma to me - a very great one. I just get engrossed in anything he has written. He has the ability to be depressing, defeatist, morose - yet I can't put down anything he writes. 

I've have never known anyone as compelling as this man was. This is another tale of his soul searching exploits during the Spanish Civil War. 

I think this is the pinnacle of his life time's endeavour. A real life sacrifice for an alternative way of equal living via socialism. It is destroyed here in Homage to Catalonia.

This is the journey, through his remarkable life, where I believe he realised equality can't work, especially trying to fight in the anarchist's brigade during this terrible civil war in Spain. It is as though his whole point of view changed. He still had the same questions, but before this book, he had a glimmer of hope for a new alternative. After this, the glimmer died. There were no answers he could find.

Then great books like Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty Four came. Orwell's works are a stage through the journey of his deep thinking life. Sometimes via essays, auto biographical or fiction. This man is truly brilliant and you can see the development of his thinking if you read his publications in order. Homage to Catalonia is a very important book - a very important book indeed.

Improved Quality of Life through an Advanced Prosthesis




I was looking at a a robotic company called DARPA. This group are making advancements in many fields concerning robotics or cybernetics. In this YouTube clip we see a man with a prosthetic limb. The technology is obviously in its infancy, but what encouragement. Funding can to make this a more beneficial thing for people who lose limbs. We've imagined such things in the past through t.v. science fiction, but now we are looking at reality. In the above clip we see a man using his prosthetic arm to pick up eggs from a carton and replace them in another. He manages to do this, but not with the confidence and ability of a normal organic limb. However, advancements in the future will surely come about.





Could An Army Be Replaced with Robots Instead of Human Soldiers?

Sometimes the pace of advancement is so rapid, I can't keep up with it. It never fails to excite and dazzle me. These new innovations concerning robotic soldiers are just the tip of the ice berg. This is another article from EEEA Spectrum - a leading magazine/blog online where all sorts of grand ideas can be found. What if all these robots went rouge or some mad dictator got hold of them? It does have shades of Terminator about it all. I'm sure we'll develop ways of combating these robots too, or a new type of combating science will evolve for such a thing. Counter measures bring about counter, counter measures and so the ever expanding circle continues.


U.S. Army Considers Replacing Thousands of Soldiers With Robots


Photo: Boston Dynamics
Boston Dynamics designed the LS3 "robot mules" to help soldiers carry heavy loads.

Last week at the Army Aviation Symposium, in Arlington, Va., a U.S. Army officer announced that the Army is looking to slim down its personnel numbers and adopt more robots over the coming years. The biggest surprise, though, is the scale of the downsizing the Army might aim for.
At the current rate, the Army is expected to shrink from 540,000 people down to 420,000 by 2019. But at last week's event, Gen. Robert Cone, head of the Army's Training and Doctrine Command, offered some surprising details about the slim-down plans. As Defense News put it, he "quietly dropped a bomb," saying the Army is studying the possibility of reducing the size of a brigade from 4,000 soldiers to 3,000 in the coming years. To keep things just as effective while reducing manpower, the Army will bring in more unmanned power, in the form of robots. From the Defense News story:
“I’ve got clear guidance to think about what if you could robotically perform some of the tasks in terms of maneuverability, in terms of the future of the force,” he said, adding that he also has “clear guidance to rethink” the size of the nine-man infantry squad.
“When you see the success, frankly, that the Navy has had in terms of lowering the numbers of people on ships, are there functions in the brigade that we could automate—robots or manned/unmanned teaming—and lower the number of people that are involved given the fact that people are our major cost,” he said.
The thing to keep in mind about initiatives like this is that the army personnel who are actually flying airplanes or shooting guns or disarming bombs don'tmake up the majority of the army. There's a concept called tooth-to-tail ratio, which is the ratio of soldiers directly involved in fighting missions (tooth) to those involved in supporting activities (tail). A typical ratio is about 1/3 tooth to 2/3 tail, which means that you're spending a lot of resources on logistics, supplies, and other efforts to support the actual combat operations. According to Gen. Cole, the Army sees that as an opportunity to become more efficient. "Maybe it’s one-half to one-half," he said. "The point is you get to keep more tooth, more folks that actually conduct operations on the ground and less supporting structure."
And one way of becoming more efficient is by using support robots—a trend we're seeing not only in the Army but other U.S. armed forces as well. Robots will likely include autonomous vehicles that can transport supplies,autonomous aircraft that can transport supplies, and other autonomous robots that can transport supplies (like the LS3 "robot mule," pictured above). As you may have noticed, there's a theme here, but most of those support robot programs are in the early stages and whether they'll prove effective, only time will tell.





European Space Agency's Idea for a Quadcopter on Martian Surface

The most ludicrous way of getting a robot to the surface of Mars is maybe stuffing it inside a giant inflatable bouncy ball and dropping it from a parachute. And that is only slightly more ludicrous than attaching it to a rocket-powered hovercrane (a rocket-powered hovercrane!!!) and thenlowering it to the ground with some sort of ridiculous cable contraption.
So, the bar is very high for finding ludicrous ways of getting robots to the surface of Mars, and the European Space Agency (ESA) has taken on the challenge with a quadcopter that can safely drop a rover down onto the Martian surface while hovering.

This is a combination of navigation software and hardware (GPS plus inertial systems, followed by vision-based navigation, a laser range finder, and a barometer), and visual hazard avoidance: the quadcopter is actively avoiding perceived obstacles (big pointy rocks and such) to find a nice, clear, flat, happy place to set down its rover cargo, using a 5-meter-long bridle.
You can think of this system as a combination of NASA's Morpheus lander, which has autonomous obstacle avoidance for landing site selection:

And this system from Japan, which is designed to deploy small rovers into (or next to) volcanoes:

Now, no matter what the ESA says in its press release, we don't want you to get the idea that this thing is now ready to fly off to Mars, rover in tow. There's a reason that NASA went with rockets and not rotors. I mean, there are probably lots of reasons, but one of them is that Mars doesn't have much atmosphere: the pressure at "sea level" on Mars (which is the average radius of the planet, Mars not currently being in possession of any seas) is about one-hundredth the atmospheric pressure at sea level on Earth.
And since things like helicopters depend on thrusting air downward to keep themselves up, you're going to need some ludicrously long blades (or a huge number of small ones) to physically move enough atmosphere to remain airborne. The reduced gravity (a little over a third of that on Earth) will help substantially, but it's still not a proven approach. This page from Georgia Techprovides more detail on how bad of an idea this is, and suggests flapping wings as a substitute (although I think it's research from 2001-ish).
What's most relevant here is the software that the team developed to navigate and detect hazards, because it can (presumably) be adapted to other flying platforms, like rocket cranes, or something more exotic, like maybe something based on a balloon. Or an anti-gravity hovership. The ESA has those, right?

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Titus Groan - My Review from Goodreads.


I loved this story set in a fantasy world, almost like a prehistoric England trapped in a vast crumbling castle of nooks and crannies, where everyone has minor functions to serve the household of the vast Castle estate of Gormanghast.


We have Steerpike, our conniving and wretched youngster who learns how to immerse himself into the fabric of the castle's day to day running, gate crashing into the time held and futile traditions of the decadent society. Flay the head servant to the Earl and Countess of Groan, Swelter the repulsive bully and head cook of the castle.



Then there are the envious twins and Nanny Slag the devoted servant to the young infant and future Earl of Groan - not to mention Doctor Prunsqualer and his ropey old spinster sister, who is prone to all sorts of flattery from the scheming young Steerpike.

The climatic confrontation between Flay and Swelter is a fabulous duel with all the atmospheric trimmings. I loved every page of this story.



This is the first book of a trilogy and it is a glorious read. I would recommend this to anyone.




Friday, 25 July 2014


This was my favorite John Wyndham story until The Midwich Cuckoos. The Chrysalids is a story set in a dystopian future around a coastal area of Canada (I think) The people struggle to live in a post apocalyptic world. They have regressed back in time and live like the old Pilgrim Fathers of America. They farm and ride about on horses and are deeply religious. The society is of an extreme christian and fundamental belief. They indoctrinate all that God sent tribulation because the old people were evil and made atomic bombs and machines - things that were abominations.

When babies are born, they are strictly examined to make sure there is no mutation upon the infant's anatomy. If there is, the child is taken to the fringes away from the Good lands. Here the mutant infant, if it survives, is brought up by the Outcast mutants.


Into this fundamental Christian society, a group of infants slip through the net. They are not normal but have no physical defects. Yet they are telepathic. It is something they must keep secret or risk being outcast and sent to the Fringes among the mutants where the girls are wickedly sterilised before being sent away.


It is a moving and very clever story with some great and very tense moments. I can't think why it has never been made into a film.

NASA Discover Planet that is 1.4 Earth Size




A new planet has been discovered by NASA scientists. A distant Earth type planet around 1.4 times that of Earth. This labels the planet a super Earth type. Read Mars online article in full by clicking link below.



Thursday, 24 July 2014

Encounter with Tiber - Goodreads - Retro Brit Review.

I found it a little slow at first, but as the story moved on, I became hooked. To the degree that I was turning the pages with great interest and found the book a very enjoyable read that I did not want to end.

Buzz Aldrin, one of manned space flight's pioneers, has helped create a stunning, possibly prophetic novel of the future of space exploration. A radio beacon from an unknown world leads an astronaut to disaster on the Moon -- and his son far beyond that as he searches for the key to the mystery of Tiber, a civilization who left artifacts in the solar system some 9,000 years ago, with sufficient impact on human affairs to explain some odd references in the Bible. The villains of the book are not the aliens, but the benighted politicians with the minds of accountants who won't fund the necessary scientific derring-do to save the world -- apparently an affliction which alien astronauts also have to bear.

Science Fiction Book Covers - 2nd









Judge Dredd of 2000 AD

9p - Earth money. I remember my old school friend Philip Sullivan laughing his head off at the front page of 2000 AD - a comic that was; 'IN ORBIT EVERY MONDAY.'

I would always be buying comics as a youngster. The Dandy and the Beano were among my favourites. Also there was other names like; Beezer, Topper, Cor and Knockout. 

I used to read them avidly as a kid. They were my little world were I would often escape to, upstairs in my bedroom out of sight and mind. Out they would come - my growing array of wonderful British comics. 

As I started going to secondary (high) school. I began reading the endless war stories that were out - like; Commando, Battle, Warlord and Victor. 

I remember the German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt complaining on the BBC news, next to our Prime Minister James Callaghan, about these comic strips that were staunchly dedicated to loving our war heroes and demonising anything German or Japanese. 

It was the seventies and as a kid growing up through the sixties and seventies, the war was still very prevalent.  

Then along came a new one called 2000 AD - 9p - Earth Money and Philip Sullivan laughing. I remember reading one of the strips about this futuristic policeman called Judge Dredd. Wow! was this guy the complete works. He diced with death about 10 times a day and would sentence his criminals on the spot. What with all the Mary Whitehouse things going on at the time, I thought the strip would get banned. They banned the American Civil war cards of the sixties because they were blood thirsty.

The strip that Philip and I was reading was about a villainous assassin with a huge great F*#K OFF rifle that fired a plasma burst or ray. It engulfed the victim in a ball of heat that made them scream "Yeaaaaah' and then there would be a pile of ashes and a smouldering skull and bones. 

Our victims were Judges riding their huge motorbikes through the dystopian city of the future somewhere in America. Of course Judge Dredd is called in track down the serial marksman. I thought it was great. There were other comic strips too, but most of all I remember the infamous Judge Dredd.

It is hard to believe how successful the comic strip became with two movies portraying the character and countless graphic novels too. I would not have thought the character would have last as long as it has, exceeding the years 2000 AD by far. The year 2000 seemed a long way off back in the mid seventies to a 14 year old.




Super Heroes - No National Insurance Payments - Welfare Benifit - No One Escapes.


"And they said I was not entitled to any Jobseeker's or housing benifit at all," moaned Batman. "I've got a large automobile to run."

"Yeah same here,"replied Flash. "I'm down to my last pair of running boots."

"I'm supposed to do 16 job applications a week," replied Superman. "I've had my benifit capped."

"Who's turn to buy the White Lightening Cider?" They all asked in unison.

Welcome to the real world fellas!

Retro Brit Review of The Midwich Cuckoos - Goodreads.

I enjoyed this book so much and John Wyndhsam's gripping style of writing is at its pinnacle in this novel. I could not put it down. I have enjoyed many of John Wyndham's superb science fiction stories - The Chrysalids, and The Day of the Triffids among others. All great, but this - The Midwich Cuckoos is the best of all in my opinion.



Goodreads | Photos of The Midwich Cuckoos - ACTUAL Cover of Book






Goodreads Retro Brit's review of The Fetterman Massacre

This is a splendid piece of up close history with notes taken from interviews and records with people concerned with the actual event. The whole affair leading up to the ghastly conclusion is well documented and presented in fine detail. At times the reader feels like he is actually there in the untamed western frontier.



Goodreads | Colin Powell (Leigh-on-Sea, The United Kingdom)'s review of The Fetterman Massacre





Goodreads Retro Brit's review of Duncton Wood



Goodreads | Colin Powell (Leigh-on-Sea, The United Kingdom)'s review of Duncton Wood



Smashing little story that i read when it first came out. There have been follow up stories since though I have not read these. Duncton Wood is the first of the mole society stories. It is on a par with Watership Down where our mole friends are given the way of human communication. It is a wonderful world to enter into with superb characters. There is a pretend civilization and we are taken on a journey of biblical wonder in this mole world. Very enjoyable and a peach of a read. 

A summer afternoon in the garden or on holiday; go for this story. I would highly recommend it.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Tagging Bees (TXCHNOLOGIST magazine article)

Taken from :
http://txchnologist.com/post/92641625085/rfid-tags-show-elite-bees-are-made-not-born-by

Some bees in a hive have a right to complain. Researchers studying individual foraging behavior found that a minority group of elite colony members work much harder than others. 
By attaching tiny radio frequency identification tags to the backs of bees, University of Illinois scientists realized that 20 percent of bees that leave the nest to forage account for 50 percent of the total food brought back.
“We found that some bees are working very, very hard – as we would have expected,” said lead researcher Gene Robinson, who heads the university’s Institute for Genomic Biology. “But then we found some other bees that were not working as hard as the others.”
Read more and check out the video below.
Robinson said previous research had uncovered elite foraging corps in other social insects.
"Workers in many eusocial insect species show a phenomenon sometimes referred to as ‘elitism’, in which a small proportion of individual workers engaged in a task perform a disproportionately large fraction of the work achieved by the colony as a whole," they write in an article published in the journal Animal Behavior. “This phenomenon has not been well studied for foraging behaviour in honeybees (Apis mellifera) because detailed observational studies of foraging activity have been limited by the difficulty of successfully tracking large numbers of individual workers.”
The thought had been that the difference between the great and the average was genetic. But tracking so many busy bees’ comings and goings from a number of colonies revealed that elites arose because of environmental and social factors. After elite bees were taken out of a colony, others increased their work to pick up the slack.
"Other bees upped their game considerably," Robinson said, "and started acting in the way we would have described for the elite bees."
The UI team report that a new crop of elite workers filled the void by increasing their activity level almost five-fold within 24 hours after removing the elite foragers. They hypothesize that there may be colony-level regulation of elite foraging behavior and that the majority that work less hard serve as a ready reserve when elites die.
"In beekeeping there’s something called the wisdom of the hive, when you can’t really explain what’s going on but the hive does something…that looks like intelligence," said Paul Tenczar, a citizen scientist who developed the bee tagging technique and conducted the research. "The wisdom of the hive has responded by making new elite bees as needed."



Read entire article Here

http://txchnologist.com/post/92641625085/rfid-tags-show-elite-bees-are-made-not-born-by


Sunday, 20 July 2014

Old Science Fiction Book Covers.









I would walk around book stores and dream in the science fiction section. I would imagine I could travel in space and visit some of these worlds depicted in the cover images. Sometimes the covers bore no reflection of the story and some did, like the good old War of the Worlds. 

I just love anything that provides the fantasy of escape from the world I live in. I'm not complaining, my life is great. I just sometimes think escaping into these books is wonderful. The images on the front cover are compelling. They make me pick up the book and read the synopsis.


Horrid and Ghastly Things We Do To Each Other.


Just a few generations back, most of our grandparents had to witness such death and carnage. Here are two British soldiers removing the corpse of an enemy soldier from his tank in North Africa 1942. To know that one must do this kind of thing to someone else or it may be done to you? To clear up the terrible carnage afterwards is something I would never want to do. I'm sure the soldiers in the photo never wanted to either. As kids we would ask the older generation if they killed anyone in the war. Some often said probably and did not want to dwell on such things. I worked in the GPO/Royal Mail from the late seventies into the early eighties. All the Postal workers from mid fifties to retirement age had lived through and took part in WWII. They came from all theaters of the war - land, sea, and air.

One old veteran that I knew in the Post Office, named Joe Lewis said he was in a Sherman tank. They were nicknamed 'Tommy Cookers' by the enemy. Joe said he witnessed soldiers in other Sherman tanks jumping out as human torches, while he was terrified that his tank would be next. Most soldiers on all sides were scarred by some of the horrendous things that happened around them.

An old seaman spoke of leaving a ship in Alexandria and being posted to another vessel. Then he heard the one that he left was sunk in battle. Many of his old mates were all gone.

My grandfather was in the docks of London and he told me he had to remove dead personnel from ships when they came into dock, plus the bombing of the docks during the Blitz and clearing up the carnage afterwards.

Of course this was going on all over the world and in many countries. Whole generations that witnessed such terror of the world at war.


  

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Racialism and the Confederate Soldier Who had a Black Slave as his Servant During American Civil War


I was surfing through the online Historical Times, looking at many splendid photographs of bygone times. Then I came upon various pictures during the American Civil War and was confounded by this photograph.

A Confederate solder named Andrew Chandler poses with his slave who is named Silas Chandler. This young black man was forced (or maybe) believed he was doing something right. It is mind boggling to me. He is actually made to support someone who is trying to keep all black people in a society of slavery.

I believe the young man had no choice in the matter and he would have suffered brutal retribution, of some kind, for not participating. However, I wonder also if both these men might have lived in a world that we cannot perceive. A world that was totally unthinkable to them, though not for the same reasons for each individual. 

The white one may have had an apathetic acceptance of divine right, while the black man may have thought it all helpless in a different apathetic way. This was their world and it was the way of things. Radical change was undreamed of. How did these two very different viewpoints think?

I'm white, as I'm sure any reader might guess. As a white I often have a romantic image of the grey coats from westerns. I know they were not the hard done by rebels, but we like stories of unbreakable rebel spirit. We think of them as gallant losers. When I look at this picture, it often makes me think that American history has two different presentations of her remarkable history.

The Hollywood one and the real one. Sadly, in that order. When I look at the Black man's face; I imagine a quite and reserved man who seems resigned to the way of things. Then I look at the young white man's face and there seems to be a confident look that has total belief in the cause he is championing.

It is a very compelling photo indeed and to the white me, it captures a mixture of feelings and emotions. One of them guilt! I still think of the grays as the champion underdogs, fighting against great odds. I always seem to dismiss the deeper side of the Confederate cause which this picture brings, so wickedly, to the fore.

I feel sorry for the pair of them and the world they lived in, but I'm not perfect, and we are all prejudice and tribal. We just think the others are wrong and we are right. The world is still a very muddled place. I hope, however, it is a little better than the world these two men lived in.


Friday, 18 July 2014

U.K. wants commercial spaceport by 2018 | sen.com

Wow! Our own British Space Port by 2018. That's not small potatoes. Lets hope the government keeps on the ball with this one.







Click link below SEN (Space Exploration News)



U.K. wants commercial spaceport by 2018 | sen.com





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Tuesday, 15 July 2014

A Dog Walk Looking for Owls



They were every where but far away. The camera was going mad but only a few shots were worthy of blogging.


I first see an owl box by the barn and across the river. As I watched I could see a number of young fledgling owls flying about the roof and some stacked wooden crates. One even landed upon its nest box platform and starred right back at me. The two pictures above are of an adult hunting. I think it was one of the parents.



Then another fledgling came into view. There was a third further down the roof but it was out of shot when magnified and focused.