Last Orders On RMS Titanic

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28 March 2019. On 14-15 April 1912 RMS Titanic vanished near the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. Over the next few weeks I look at the ‘Event Cascade’ of reasons why.

When people ask the question, “What sank Titanic?” at first sight, the answer is obvious. It hit an iceberg – how complicated can it be? But that simplistic answer masks deeper and more substantive question: Why did Titanic sink so quickly?

It is a mistake to regard Titanic as somehow primitive.  She was the most modern ship of her day, in a world that relied on its steam trade to maintain communications between Europe and America in the same way that today we rely on aviation. Titanic incorporated the latest technological innovations of the age to help ensure its safety. For example, it was the first ship to have sealable, watertight bulkheads with electrically operated doors that could be closed from the bridge at a moment’s notice. The hull was made of steel and was held together in the middle three-fifths of the ship’s length by steel rivets. She carried the latest Marconi wireless equipment, with a 5000 W transmitter that gave it a range of five hundred kilometres.

On the face of it the human factors were stacked in Titanic’s favour too. She had the most experienced crew of the entire White Star line on board for her maiden voyage, who were commanded by the White Star line’s most experienced captain, Capt E. J. Smith, the Commodore of the Line.

It is also worth noting that the North Atlantic run was very far from being an unknown quantity in the Edwardian era. It was as busy as the air route between Europe and America is today, and the chances of seeing a fellow ship en route were as high as an air traveller seeing a fellow aircraft today.

But the simple truth is that against all odds and expectations, including those of the ship’s designers, Lord Pirie, of the Harland and Wolff shipyard, and Thomas Andrews of the White Star line itself, Titanic sank as fast and completely as a stone, less than three hours after she had hit the iceberg. If she had stayed afloat a little longer then rescue ships could have got to her and tragedy been averted.

This is the real question of the Titanic mystery: How could a 46,000 ton ship sink so quickly? The answer is to be found within the science behind Titanic’s construction.

Watch this space for my trilogy of Titanic articles, coming soon.

The Future of Cities is Smart

23 March 2019 Just finishing off an article on sustainable cities. At its simplest this means a city that produced its own power, recycles its own waste and grows its own food. To imagine this properly we have to let go of a lot of preconceptions.

An essential ingredient to these sustainable cities will be AIs to make sure all the systems runs smoothly and correctly interact with each other.

All of which brought back memories of James Blish’s CITIES IN FLIGHT series where the cities, despite having an veneer of human control, were actually controlled by the City Fathers – giant AIs which over the millenia have accumulated a fantastic weight of wisdom and which are tasked with maintaining the safety of the city and its inhabitants at all costs.

Are we taking the first steps down that road already?

Synthetic Souls and Silicon Brains

21 March 2019. I am currently wrestling with an old problem and finding out that the huge literature that I assumed must exist – doesn’t.

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Some years ago I was debating the difference between brain and mind with my friend and colleague Professor Steve Simpson (now Head of Zoology at the University of Sydney). We both agreed that mind was almost certainly an ’emergent’ product of the number of neurons in the brain and the number of potential connections that they can make. Technically this phenomenon is known as exaptation – a term coined by Steve Gould and Richard Lewontin to describe structures that arise in the body as a by-product of more orthodox adaptive processes.

My literature research has done nothing to change my mind, but to date two inescapable facts seem to be emerging. First, very few people seem to be tackling this problem and until we get an answer AI is still a pipe dream. Two, there is a qualitative divide between a superfast computer – even one that uses machine learning algorithms such as Deep Blue which beat Gary Kasparov (once) at chess – and a machine that thinks.

And as for soul, my working definition is that the soul is the sum of altruistic tendencies of the mind and their interaction. And no, the soul does not persist after death – how can it if the brain has stopped functioning?

I’m leaving this page open for comments and would welcome reasoned argument.

Richard’s eStore

17 March 2019 As you can see I’ve made progress with my eStore. My next step is to collect my stories into three series of titles, THE RESTLESS SCIENTIST (Scientific and Medical Essays),  TALES OF SCIENCE AND IMAGINATION (Thank you Edgar Allen Poe for inspiring the title! These are my slightly freaky-deaky science short stories), and KATZ ARE MY KRYPTONITE (my homage to the most civilised animal taxon on this planet – the cats).

There will be about six chapters to each title and as I write more these stories and essays will be showcased on the site and then collected into a new title. That way you don’t find yourself buying the same essay or story twice. While I’ve been testing the system I’ve been using pdf’s of single stories but I’m  now moving to MOBI format where you can read my stuff on Kindles, Tablets or Phones. There will be artwork with each story, I have taken out a subscription with Shutterstock and use some of their images as the basis for my own creations.

There may even be audio books down steam.

I am experimenting here of course. In the old days I used to go the agent/publisher route but in the digital age that takes too long. Also, you don’t have two sets of editors to pay obiesance to before your readers even get to read what you were trying to say.

So please support me by buying my books. Ultimately, no doubt, I shall do a version for Amazon but not just yet – let’s see how far we get with this model.

eStore Now Working

16 March 2019 I love computers – they save so much time…

Anyway, after a fair amount of hassle I am delighted to announce that my eStore is open for business and all is working well.  It links straight to PayPal so you have all the peace-of-mind that confers. Once your funds have cleared you will automatically be emailed the download link. 

I will be populating the BUY  RICHARD’S WRITING  page with essays and stories over the next few days.

Please support me – so far I have paid for everything out of my own funds and a bit of help – you buying my writing – will help me keep the site going.

Any problems please email me at


14 March 2019 My essay THE SECRET LIFE OF WEATHER STATIONS now available for download on the Buy Richard’s Writing page. 

‘You don’t see them often now but in my youth they were very common, especially around airfields of which their was no shortage in Britain following the Second World War. A tidy sward of grass mowed to millimetric perfection and so flat it made the average bowling green look like the foothills of the Andes. In the middle a white box with slats, to one side a thick copper pipe sticking out of the ground, a small mesh work tower surmounted by rotating cups and crowned by a arrow with a vane at one end.

By and large this lawned area is quiet. the peace broken only by the drowsy drone of bees. The smell of clover hangs thick and sweet upon the air. But just occasionally the peace is shattered by the distant roar of an aircraft engine under full power and for a second the whiff of kerosene can be tasted on the air. Eventually the roar will be supplanted by the scream of jet turbines but even then the stations remained. Tended by quiet men in baggy slacks and sleeveless cardigans, always with a tie, a notebook and a preoccupied look. For
these were the weather men and the sward of grass they tended was
home to the local weather station…’