Britain’s most powerful steam locomotive finally looks like an engine

Has it really been ten years since Tornado first hit Britain’s rails in her grey undercoat?  I know that Tornado has been around a while but I forgot that I had only just finished Secondary School by the time she was unveiled.

Tornado (1)

Having driven the illustrious machine myself, I can confirm that the dedication and workmanship that has gone into her has resulted in a fine engine indeed.  Grasping the regulator and reverser both feel as solid as the controls of an industrial lathe, and actually driving her was something of a fusion between a delicate responsiveness to the controls and the feeling of “okay, we’re moving…  now what?” that comes with driving such a large and powerful machine.  Her first runs at Great Central Railway were expected contain at least a handful of teething troubles, but her time there ended with a test train of eleven coaches and a “dead” diesel, which assuming the coaches are Mk.1s amounts to a load of around 450-600 Tonnes, with 2,000 Horsepower produced and not a hiccup in sight.  It even has USB Charging Ports!

Tornado Cab (3)

With all of this in mind, it becomes clear as to why I have been so utterly stoked to see No.2007 Prince of Wales finally begin to look like the titan of the rails she was designed to be.  With a child’s imagination, the simple presence of both the boiler and driving wheels is enough to envision her as a complete locomotive.  Needless to say, Britain’s most powerful steam locomotive deserves a team with this level of pedigree behind her, especially considering that with the hitherto unimaginable standards offered by modern metallurgy and manufacturing techniques, it is entirely possible that Prince of Wales could raise the high bar of tractive effort set by her peers in the P2 Class.

This has got me thinking recently about the state of Britain’s Engineering Sector, and even though I currently only have the perspective of a mere technician – so not a “real Engineer” I suppose – I believe there is a lot of potential for the nation.  A lot of our expertise plays a major role in projects around the globe, such as capitalising upon the engineering success of the Crossrail initiative to export the talent and experience gained for the metro systems of other cities such as Sydney in Australia.  But where is the nation to gain and generate that expertise in the first place?

The simple answer is in ambitious engineering projects.  New Build Steam lists 22 projects under construction as of the time of writing, with a further four being New Build Diesels.  An unimaginable prospect when Railway Preservation was simply an initiative to rescue engines from scrapyards too lazy to cut the damn things up as soon as they arrived, which just goes to show just how popular and successful Heritage Railways have become.  And these, as well as Crossrail, are not alone in supporting the theory that Engineering isn’t dead in this country.  The recent Farnborough Airshow has seen the reveal of Project Tempest, a sixth-generation fighter aircraft that aims to revive the combat aircraft industry that suffered a major blow with the demise of the TSR.2, leaving the English Electric Lightning as the only home-grown supersonic combat aircraft to see service with the Royal Air Force.

The unveiling of the Tempest is probably the most significant of these, given that unlike the aforementioned heritage projects that preserve the past, and Crossrail that meets current demands, it’s an ambitious defence project aimed at meeting future needs.  Specifically, those of defence.  I’ve said before that Trade is the bloodstream of Civilisation, and in order to keep that blood from becoming diseased and having it’s nutrients stolen by pathogens, a strong immune system is needed.  If British industry can pull this project off, then not only can we sustain the base of knowledge required to remain relevant, but the future of the fifth largest economy in the world by GDP will be assured.

My thoughts on Paranormal Phenomena

When it comes to the subject of ghosts, two groups seem to be grabbing all the headlines:  The first group is the believers, a group that contains those who claim to be able to communicate with the dead, the latter often ending up on cheesy reality-style programs where they’re occasionally trolled by their own crew members; the second group mostly consists of sceptical people telling the first group to grow up.

The current state of Paranormal Research

Given that the state of Paranormal Research is at the same stage now as the state of Medicine was in the 1600s, this isn’t exactly a surprise.  All those theories that currently seem quaint and amusing to our modern ears – bad smells, too much sea air, too little work, too much work – that were once used to explain Scurvy were taken with grave seriousness by the believers of the day, often in spite of a lack of concrete results.  There is also the truism that holds to this day that people in positions of prestige like to believe things which serve their interests, or at least make their trials and/or moral quandaries seem a little easier to live with.

Stir in a few attention-starved scammers manipulating photos causing runaway press sensationalism, and ending in a bathetic “it was fake” revelation, and you have a recipe for contempt of the subject.

Thankfully, there are some of those in the sceptic camp who are willing to investigate.  These people seem to date back to the mid 1740s when a theologian by the name of Emanuel Swedenborg began to have visions that shook his blind faith in Christianity.  These included visions of his home in Stockholm being threatened by fire whilst he was at a dinner party 250 miles away.  Needless to say, he had burned his bridges with the church by the time he died in 1772, but he had laid the foundation for others to advance the field, such as those who founded the Society for Psychical Research in 1881.  Today, the same principles of exhausting all possible explanations befitting current theories before announcing a discovery are upheld, albeit with modern tools such as EMF Meters, Motion Detectors and EVP Recorders.  One of the main theories for feelings of unease is Infrasound, low-frequency sounds just below our range of hearing that match the resonant frequency of our internal organs.

Have I encountered any evidence?

I’ve heard it said that before the advent of the internet, people didn’t even talk about their paranormal experiences for fear of being earmarked for Broadmoor.  There have been times which I might term “near-misses”, where I thought I saw something but they have either dissipated before I could observe them or my mind was playing tricks.  So, nothing I can say that has reached “I know what I saw that night” levels.  This in no way prevents me from being deeply fascinated with the concept of life after death, and the implications it has for our understanding of good and evil.

Undeniably, the rise of sites like Reddit, Youtube and other places where people can upload their experiences has done a great deal to shatter the stigma of occupying a haunted property, and numerous Youtube channels read these stories out to great effect:  Lazy Masquerade, Unit #522, Be. Busta and Lets Read! are just a few that I regularly listen to.  With any luck, over time the paranormal will be further ingrained into the mainstream conciousness and paranormal investigators will therefore find it easier to obtain funding.

So, long story short, I keep an open mind

So in summary, my opinions on the paranormal can be summed up in the opening of Extreme Ghost Stories, a tragically-short ITV series from 2006 that is well worth a watch.

Throughout history, ever culture and age has told stories of hauntings, visitations from beyond the grave. Whatever your beliefs, what cannot be denied is that the living are outnumbered by the dead.

The tales you are about to witness are created from first-hand accounts; they portray the experiences of people who had no more reason to believe in ghosts than you. Is it possible that beyond our understanding there exists a darker world?

Therefore mark me down as an open-minded Sceptic:  Given the frequency, accuracy and diversity of accounts, I’m inclined to think that a darker world could indeed exist…

The Tiny House: A rustic solution to Britain’s Housing Crisis?

Rustic red Tiny House in Valley.

If living in my one-bedroom flat in Bracknell taught me anything, it is that I don’t actually need a lot of space to be content.  Admittedly, when I’m at someone else’s house I often think about how many of the rooms I won’t use, and indeed, what kind of model railway can I stuff into them.  It’s almost a reflex reaction at this point, albeit a rather fanciful and materialistic one.  But the simple fact is that all I really need is a Bedroom, Living Room, Kitchen and Bathroom, and I’m a happy bunny.  But there was one spectre I simply could not escape from:  Living Costs.

The British Housing Situation

It’s no secret that Britain’s housing system is under strain.  Her Majesty’s Government released a white paper back in February 2017 whose figures make for some startling reading:

  • Britain may be a small country compared to it’s land mass, but it’s not like Japan; Only 11 percent of land in the whole country has been built on, and unlike Japan, there isn’t an annoying abundance of mountains, or a need for scarce arable land, to inhibit housebuilding and drive habitation towards the coasts.  I have seen this fact for myself as an avid train-traveller all over the country.
  • An interesting financial phenomenon has emerged in the 21st Century; as house prices keep going up, it has become commonplace for houses to earn more for their owners than the national average wage:  2015 saw house prices in the South-East rise by £29,000 on average, while wages averaged out at £24,542.
  • By 2020, the Council of Mortgage Lenders predicts that only a quarter of people in their 30s will be homeowners, in stark contrast to more than 50% of retirees.

Given that my income of just shy of £20K can only just afford me a £500/month bedsit (the flat was a temporary arrangement between family, and cost me about the same), whilst still allowing me the disposable income to run the shenanigans detailed on this blog and on Flickr, it’s hard to argue with the report’s grasp on reality.  To make matters worse, mortgage lenders are currently bearish, with the end result being that the very most I could secure from them was ~£83,000; this is even considering that the mortgage repayments, even at the beginning, were only half my rent!

Just recently, though, that did get me thinking:  Could a cozy, two-bedroomed tiny house be built for that kind of budget?  And if so, would it be worth the bother?

Just before we begin, have you heard of Help-to-Buy?

Yes, I have heard of this scheme from the Government, which does seem to be made for the hour, and with hearts in the right place.  Essentially, it is a range of financial options designed to ease the burden of the rising cost of home ownership.

I’ll be using the Equity Loan as an example, as I assume this will be the standard way for homeowners to approach the prospect of buying a house.  You take out a mortgage for 75% of the value of the home, so for a £200k property this will be £150k, with a 5% deposit of £10k; the Government will step in and provide a £40k loan for the house, making up the remaining 20% of the value.

The main idea behind the concept is to allow you to present a 25% initial deposit to the mortgage lender, as opposed to a mere 5%, giving homebuyers access to more competitive interest rates.  The Government loan is also Interest-Free for the first five years, which is just as well since that is the time when the greatest amount of principal is owed, leading to the highest interest payments.  Money Saving Expert has a page which cuts through the legalese provided by official government documents and gives a layman’s explanation; find it here.

While this is a decent attempt to put housing within reach of those of more modest means, it is still only a bandage solution to the wound:  The fact that there isn’t enough houses to meet demand, which causes the high prices in the first place.  If things carry on as they are, house prices will continue to rise on account of scarcity, pleasing homeowners and house-flippers, but leaving many first-time buyers out in the cold; isn’t it time we took matters into our own hands?  Petitioning the Government to end the housebuilding drought is a good long-term solution, but for those who are willing to brave the splinters and red tape, read on.

Why build a Tiny House?

The name Tiny House may imply a downgrade to some people, particularly those set on living in Chelsea, as though they are “settling” for an inferior product.  While square-footage is an obvious compromise, I’d like to present you some more subtle reasons for taking on a Tiny House project, based upon a little preliminary research on the subject:

Incorporate cutting-edge energy-saving technologies into your property

Houses are built to last.  Those words sounded more than a little brain-dead coming out of my mouth, but it’s true.  With this in mind, it should become obvious that adding modern developments to older properties is difficult, often impractical, and possibly illegal if it is a listed building.

With future developments such as DC home circuitry, thin and lightweight insulation materials and efficient, cheap solar energy set to become commonplace, future-proofing the design of your house is a lot simpler when the wires are being installed in the first place, as opposed to already buried in the walls.

More space in your house for the things you love

Most homes are designed for separate furniture units to provide the bulk of the storage, presumably to allow for maximum flexibility in configuring rooms.  But ask yourself this:  When have you ever encountered someone who switched out all the furniture of one room into another, and vice-versa?  I myself have never seen that happen.  On the few occasions that I’ve seen people move bedrooms, the furniture usually stays where it is with the stuff being moved between storage solutions, because it’s such an abject arse to shift all those heavy, wooden constructions across the house.

With this in mind, building a Tiny House gives many opportunities to build storage into the walls, specialized furniture and, for the creative, even the ceiling and floors.  It educates the builder in economizing and inventing to make the most out of spaces that most others would consider unworkable.

 

You’ll be able to live in comparable comfort for significantly less money, and reduce your impact on Mother Earth

Tiny House living is chiefly about eliminating waste, and getting back to the essence of what comfortable living is about.

Leaving aside the costs of your chosen site, many companies offer fully-built, habitable homes on wheels for around £25,000, and about half of that for a barebones shell.  That’s a far cry from the ~£185,000 average cost of a house in 2016, and it’s even less than the average amount of student debt!  A little look at Rightmove reveals that a small parcel of land to live ‘off-the-grid’ on can be had for as little as £10,000 but realistically, we can probably expect to pay ~£25,000.  Even so, the mortgage figure of £83,000 that I got still leaves a contingency of £33,000 for legal and logistical costs.

As for the environment, Tiny Houses are small spaces, which in turn require smaller heating devices which heat that space up quicker, saving energy.  In addition, the emergence of water-efficient washing facilities, as well as composting toilets, enable water to be supplied via a 40-gallon tank like those used in caravans, which can be made to last a day or two especially if the showers can recirculate their water supply.  Waste water, known as ‘Grey Water’, can either be piped into a Septic Tank or drained into a suitable patch of ground.  Gas bottles are typically used for the appropriate appliances, but with efficient electric heating of both the home and water supply the use of fossil fuels can be dispensed with entirely.

Potential Planning Issues

Attention:  This is not Legal Advice in any way, shape or form.  Seek a qualified professional for concrete legal counsel if you plan to build or buy a Tiny House yourself.

This is where the red tape rears it’s ugly head.  Not being a legal professional, I’ll do my best to dredge up solutions which apply across the UK at the time of writing.  This is by no means an exhaustive list and if anyone has an additional solution I would love to hear about it in the comments below.

When wouldn’t you need Planning Permission?

Tiny ECO Homes UK, a company which specialises in constructing custom mobile tiny houses, states these conditions for doing without planning permission on it’s website:

  • Locationas long as the tiny home on wheels is within the ‘curtilage’ of a house – this means the driveway or garden, for example.
  • Type: the tiny house must conform to the legal definition of a ‘caravan’ under the Caravans Sites and Control of Development Acts 1960 and other associated regulations.  Three tests are applied to the home: 1) construction test, 2) mobility test, 3) size test.

Essentially, as long as the building functions as a caravan (durable enough to withstand the stresses of the road, can fit under bridges, etc.), and is parked upon an existing residence or caravan park, you should be okay.

The Four/Ten Year Rules

This is an odd one, and not one for those of us with a nervous disposition.  Apparently there are these rules regarding what is effectively tactical Squatting.

If you park a caravan, or build a house, in an unnoticed part of the woods, and no complaints reach the local council for a certain period of time (four years for buildings, ten years for caravans), the dwelling attains a legal status and a ‘certificate of lawfulness’ can be sought.  I’d assume woodland would be the ideal place to do this, given the visual concealment as well as attenuation of sounds through the trees.

I’d say that nervous people should stay away from this gambit, mostly because even if at 1 minute to midnight someone filed a complaint, that would see you turned out onto the streets, with your lovely new home demolished.  Good relations with your neighbours are a must.

Design Ideas

And now we leave the dry practicality stuff behind, and move onto the fun part!  What kind of tweaks and techniques can you apply to create more space within less square footage?

Bedroom
  • Many Tiny Houses install their beds in a loft area above the main living space.  This raises some privacy issues should a spouse and/or children come along, but it’s a workable compromise.
  • Murphy Beds – A brand name for a folding bed, which is a piece of furniture which only sees use for perhaps 10-12 hours out of a 24 hour day, so why not retake that space for the active half of the day?
  • Combine the functions of the Living Room with the Bedroom.  This can be done either way, either by sleeping in a convertible bed in the Living Room, or by moving the TV and entertainment near the bed.
Living Room
  • Seating can be built around windows – a combination of natural light and comfortable seating make for an ideal reading space.
  • Place plenty of storage options in seats – the space underneath chairs can readily be used even if the chair moves around often, provided that the drawer underneath is secure enough.
  • Build shallow drawers into shelving – Ideal for small items such as car keys, jewellery and journals.
Kitchen
  • Mini Oven with Hob – The size of a standard microwave, these units can comfortably cook enough food for one person, and with the addition of the hob units on top, they can take care of a family, with the oven cooking the meat and the hobs preparing the vegetables.  They can also run off of standard 13A 240V sockets, unlike many regular-sized ovens which require their own fuse.
  • Use folding dining furniture – How many of us are content to eat at the TV, the PC, or just on the sofa?  Collapse the additional furniture until guests come along.
  • Build the kitchen prep storage, utensils and surfaces into a roll-out unit that retracts under a dining surface when not in use.
Bathroom
  • Commode Chair – Commonly associated with incontinence in this day and age, but the combination of toilet and seat could prove handy whilst brushing your teeth, drying off, and can also have a sink built in for further space efficiency.  Franklin D. Roosevelt had one in his armoured railway carriage, the ‘Ferdinand Magellan’.
  • Install a Composting Toilet – Exactly what it says on the tin, breaks down excrements into a fraction of it’s original volume by creating the ideal conditions for the right micro-organisms to thrive.  Provided that these units are offered adequate airflow, and that the solid waste is kept reasonably dry (not mixed with urine), these toilets are quite liveable and require no mains water supply.  Composting Toilets are doubly handy when used in conjunction with a vegetable patch.
  • Bathtub built into the floor – This is more of an option for those permanent Tiny Builds, and needs no introduction.
  • Bathtub built into a Sofa – A brilliant idea I saw mentioned in this article on GoDownsize, and could probably solve the above issue for a tiny house on wheels!
Miscellaneous ideas
  • Build atop a basement – this is obviously for the more permanent Tiny House, but if there are height restrictions that measure from ground level, a basement could be a desirable American import; it doubles the available space inside the house without adding to it’s external bulk, and it contributes to stability.
  • Take advantage of natural energy sources through design of the house – One such way is to place a wall of bricks where sunlight will warm them during the day, and then the bricks will release the heat throughout the night, reducing workload on the heating system.
  • Model Railway around the bed – okay, this is a personal one, but indulge me here 😉 Just make sure buildings and scenery are protected from stray feet!

In summation

In terms of history, it seems that the Tiny House Movement was inevitable.  Post-war prosperity in the United States fuelled the drive for bigger, more prestigious houses and greater amounts of material goods, as the country suffered very little wartime damage and was until recently making a mint off of the loans helping the Europeans get back on their feet; and with America being at the top of the world, this soon became the template for the aspirations of cultures all over Western Europe and many places besides.  As such, it is fitting that such a counter-cultural movement would originate from the United States.

You can probably tell that I’m quite enthusiastic about the prospects of the Tiny House Movement.  I’m no Communist or Anarchist by any stretch of those words, but I, like many others, can see the writing on the wall:  We cannot keep clamouring for more without consequences.  For too long Western Culture has been buoyed by easy credit, used to create unsustainable appearances of prestige which do nothing for society but pass debt onto your next-of-kin.  The cultural issues behind all of this are far too extensive for this post, but the point is that the Tiny House Movement signals a positive change in direction, towards living within your means and caring for your surroundings.

I would highly recommend looking into Tiny Houses, even if you already own a home; there is a phenomenal amount of creativity in extracting the maximum amount of use out of the minimum amount of space, and beyond that, there is a highly positive message of how less really can mean more.

A Book Recommendation: Prisoners of Geography

For the past few weeks I’ve been reading Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall.  I can confidently say that this is one of the many examples of the wealth of information and accounts of people’s lives that Amazon Kindle offers, often for very little money.  This one caught my eye when I was browsing for WW2 stories mostly because it reminded me of the many times in history that armies have been destroyed by the ground they were supposed to be taking:  Stalingrad, Hannibal’s march on Rome through the Alps, and the Battle of Agincourt.  Consider this a mini review of sorts.

A basic synopsis of the theory from an amateur

Geography counts for a lot in politics, a lot more than we’d like to think it does in this age of the internet.  As trade builds a nation’s wealth, and thus it’s power, the ability to move goods freely and profitably contributes more than anything to standards of living.  An example of a lack of this is showcased in the final episode of Season 2 of The Grand Tour, where a trip to transport fresh fish 200 miles inland became a living nightmare, even to the member of the team who was sensible enough to adopt four-wheel drive.  As a nation’s wealth rises, so does the quality of it’s infrastructure.

The lifeblood of civilisation is trade, and the immune system is the military clout to protect that trade from plunderers; this is why the 9/11 attacks struck both the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, as a symbolic message of “Death to America” from Al Qaeda.  It’s also why the Roman Empire ended close to the border of modern-day Scotland, as the mountainous terrain north of Hadrian’s Wall would have severely impeded logistics and supply, making any progress by the army, and thus enforcement of Roman Political Will, essentially impossible.

Indeed, the reason why the US ended up policing the world is largely due to how it was blessed with bountiful energy and natural resources, access to the two greatest oceans on the planet, and a safe distance from the catastrophic damage wrought by World War Two.  Imagine a scenario where Russia and the rest of the world was turned 90° from the western end of the country in a clockwise direction (Google Earth really helps); rather than languishing in the northern hemisphere, it’s landscape enrobed in ice far from the warming influence of the Gulf Stream, we could instead see two nations separated by a band of rainforest.  Both of these nations could well be serious challengers to America on the international stage, and that’s before we consider how Antarctica could become an ascendant power.  Economic conditions in either state may never have become bad enough for an October Revolution to happen at all.

Interestingly, Western Europe is now in the same predicament as Russia is in our world, contending with an icy landscape.  Great Britain, rather than be the birthplace of the industrial revolution, would probably enjoy a similar population density to the island of Svalbard.

Why should I read this book?

Why did Russia gun for the Crimea, and how did they justify this manoeuvre that both stunned and confused the West?  Why should Israel worry about Syria more than Jordan, with it’s British-trained armed forces?  What was the deal with that Song Class Submarine surfacing amidst a US Navy Carrier Battle Group?

If you’ve ever wanted to know about the driving forces behind these operations, or why certain political moves can make all the sense in the world to the average voter, yet never be attempted by politicians, this book is a great place to start.  In spite of all of our technological advancements, geography can break the loftiest of economic ambitions by making them too costly to sustain.  And since money and power are basically joined at the hip, understanding the geographic effect on the economies of nations is vital to determining whether that terrifying story of how Russia might be considering an invasion of Western Europe, based on some sketchy intelligence reports leaked to the press, is actually feasible or not.  Spoiler alert, it’s very unlikely to happen 😉

Link to the Book on Amazon.co.uk

Restoring an Icon of Ground Attack: Hawker Typhoon RB396

1945 Hawker Typhoon MR-U MP197 No 245 Sqn - Hasegawa

What would you do given the chance to own any WW2 warbird you wished?  Ignore the fact that you would have to sink around £80,000 per annum, or three times the UK average salary in 2017, to keep a Spitfire in the air, according to the Goodwood website.  That’s assuming that you treat it angelically and have no accidents!

Most people would say “Spitfire!” without thinking.  I know my friends would.  You might consider it strange that I would in fact say “Typhoon”.  I can see the incredulous looks from Joe Public even as I type this.

A little history

Conceived as a replacement to Hawker’s own Hurricane, and aiming to take the performance crown from Supermarine’s Spitfire, this pugnacious predator of the skies above Normandy very nearly became stillborn.

The aircraft was built on a lot of advanced – and unproven – technology.  It’s Napier Sabre engine was a gargantuan, one-tonne sleeve-valve design with 24 cylinders.  The Hispano 20mm Cannons had only just been trialled in a single Spitfire squadron during the Battle of Britain, resulting in a dismal appraisal of the new weapon; admittedly the Spitfires had only two owing to their thin wings while the Typhoon could sport four, but tales of the cannon shaking itself to pieces when firing would have been fresh in the minds of the Air Ministry at this point.  As if this wasn’t dire enough, the tail had a habit of tearing itself from the aircraft, and even the later strengthening didn’t fully solve the problem.

Nevertheless, Britain found it’s Spitfire Mk.V aircraft outclassed by the Focke-Wulf Fw 190 in it’s “tip-and-run” raids on the south coast, and the Typhoon with it’s 24-cylinder monstrosity put paid to the “run” part of that plan.  It seemed the real danger in these missions was being shot down by Spitfire Mk.XIIs or the AA Gunners, which lead to the iconic D-Day invasion stripes to aid recognition.

Post D-Day, however, was when the Typhoon firmly stamped it’s mark into the history books.  The ferocious Sabre engine and the thick, strong wings ensuring a strong, stable platform for a pair of 1,000lb bombs, or an octet of 60lb RP-3 rockets.  Historians have come to doubt the true effectiveness of the Typhoon as an offensive weapon, specifically how many armoured vehicles were actually destroyed, but the sheer terror of coming under attack was enough to make tankers abandon otherwise serviceable vehicles.  Small wonder that Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander and future US President, was quick to specifically praise the Typhoon for it’s work in the Falaise Pocket.

A Muscle Car for the skies

With all of these things in mind, it shouldn’t be too hard to explain why I’d prefer a Typhoon to a Spitfire, Mustang, Bf 109, and probably anything else.  As can be inferred from it’s service record, the Typhoon came into it’s own at low altitude, where all the fun is.  Consider this footage of a Concorde flight at Mach 2.0 and 57,000ft:

Given that Air Traffic Control aims to keep planes as far apart as possible, there isn’t really much to scream past, not even clouds.  Even twice the speed of sound feels leisurely and relaxing as a result, increased cabin noise and burning-hot windows notwithstanding.  Now compare this to footage of Reno Air Race competitor “Precious Metal”:

This is the view from a machine that regularly exceeds 400mph at treetop height.  A real mover, in other words.  While the Typhoon probably won’t be quite so speedy, she’ll be sure to entertain both her pilot and onlookers on the ground with a similar turn of velocity.

Brutalism – Warbird Edition

A brutal appearance only really works on certain things; the postwar Brutalist Movement from the 1950’s to the mid 70’s ushered in an slew of hideous, imposing buildings which replaced many more elegant designs.  A notable example, and a personal pet hate of mine, is London Euston station.  With architectural butchery like this replacing many of our destroyed buildings, can we say we really won the war?

Casting aside the crimes against human habitation that our fling with bare concrete wrought on our cities, we can all appreciate the thuggish looks of the Typhoon.  The radiator which gives a ‘Square-Jawed’ look to the nose.  The protruding cannons.  The massive fuselage that reminds pilots of stepping aboard a ship, rather than climbing into an aircraft.  There is no doubt, before even starting the engine, that you are in for one hell of a ride.

Closing Remarks

I consider it a crime of history that no flying examples of the Typhoon exist, considering it’s staggering contribution to the art of Close Air Support; many of the concepts pioneered in WW2 still hold true today, just with guided munitions and drones instead of dumb munitions and gunsights.  Don’t forget a healthy dose of balls.

On that note, I extend my thanks to the sterling work of the Hawker Typhoon RB396 group.  As a result of all their volunteer efforts, each day brings us one step closer to witnessing the majesty of this beast up close and personal.  To hear the high-pitched thrum of the Sabre Engine, and watch it’s airframe gyrate through the sky at low level, is going to be a day I’ll treasure forever.

Links

Hawker Typhoon RB396 Main Website

Hawker Typhoon RB396 Facebook Page

Hawker Typhoon RB396 Twitter

A little light fun with Lordi

Title says it all, this is one of their numbers from their most recent album, Monstereophonic (Theaterror vs. Demonarchy):

In case you weren’t convinced of how enjoyably silly and over-the-top these guys are, here’s some other choice lyrics:

  • “Hang yourself up high on the hooks!  The more skin rips, the better it looks!”
  • “The Devil is a loser, and he’s my BITCH!  For better and for worse, and you don’t care which!”
  • “Sometimes I feel fucked-up in the head…  That’s when I want to see all children DEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAD!!!”

This band has been with us since they stole the Eurovision Song Contest in 2006, and their most recent album was released in 2016.  Frankly, in a world where some mainstream chart-toppers don’t last weeks in the spotlight, that’s amazing.

Have Video Games come of age?

Illustrious film critic Roger Ebert once claimed that video games cannot be art, gaining a little infamy in the process. He later backed up his statement by saying that no generation alive today would ever experience video gaming as an artform (The later article is dated 2007, oddly, although it surely relates to the earlier article from 2010).

It’s a pity the Girder Gibbon blog didn’t exist at this time, then there would have been quite a few hits in it for me. His comments generated a firestorm which could charitably be described as “passionate” on the part of gamers worldwide, some backing him up, and others lambasting him as a buffoon.

This really is one of those debates that may never be truly settled. With this in mind, I’d like to add my own material to the debate and keep that pot boiling.

My stance on Art

Wikipedia defines Art as “a diverse range of human activities in creating visual, auditory or performing artefacts (artworks), expressing the author’s imaginative or technical skill, intended to be appreciated for their beauty or emotional power”. At risk of sounding like one of the “art can be anything” crowd, that does sound like there’s always going to be some white noise when it comes to what can, and can’t, qualify. Consider this:

A canvas pastel painted with a colour gradient, an example of abstract art.

To me, this simply looks like someone was practising colour gradients with some pastel crayons, tending towards cooler shades. Those who spent their formative years in a desert environment may detect a mirage, feel the heat of the sun on the back of their neck, and recall the moisture retreating from their throats as they desperately search for water. Our experiences colour a lot of what we see in the world, whether we like to admit it or not.

That said, should one try to build a tower without a stable and rooted foundation, he has no right to be surprised when it keels over in a way neatly mirroring the flight path of his own hubris. And so it goes with all art: There must be clearly-defined rules.

We all humans all run on more-or-less the same hardware, deep down. Regardless of how our neurons have grown and branched out in our brains, or how much muscle we have built up, or how many scars we have through combat or otherwise, we all respond to stimuli in broadly-similar ways, as we have throughout all of history since Neanderthals were phased out and we all became Homo Sapiens Sapiens. This can perhaps be a good thing since we would have no appreciation of Stone Age cave paintings, Shakespeare, or even works as recent as the novels of Charles Dickens were this not true; as our very perceptions mutated into unrecognisable forms through the ages, these examinations of the human condition would come undone, no progress in our understanding of ourselves could be made, and we would quite possibly have never progressed in other, more tangible fields either.

That’s not to say that our means of expression undergo no refinement or retrograde over time, as Charles Dickens wrote with all the idioms and literary conventions of the Victorian Period. Having read through Great Expectations recently, without an English Teacher holding my hand, I can tell you that often-times you may only have a vague understanding of what is really going on, extrapolated using your knowledge of contemporary English to try and piece together the meaning of the archaic English. Nevertheless, as a story about an indigent boy who comes upon a fortune, loses it all in a reckless pursuit of an unworthy beau but comes to learn to honour his roots and work ethic, it has many lessons to offer the current generation.  This is especially so for those who fantasize about winning the lottery or “the sex tape that made their career”.

How about some case studies?

Rather than churn out a multi-thousand-word diatribe about how not to be a reactionary nitwit, or how Ebert cannot possibly be right, here are three games that I have personally played and how their mechanics, plotlines and settings can teach us a lot about what we might do under similarly extreme circumstances. Incidentally…

Spoilers Ahead!

Now I have a good get-out clause, let’s continue.

Spec Ops: The Line

Spec Ops: The Line

Credit to Joshua Livingston on Flickr under CC 2.0 License

Mechanically speaking, this is your standard Gears of War rip-off cover shooter, which next to mobile games is probably the last kind of game you’d expect to deliver genuine profundity.

That still above would be instantly recognizable for anyone who completed the game, as it is the critical turning point where Walker begins to mentally unravel, and experience auditory hallucinations as his mind attempts to dissociate the results of his actions from his aims. Hardly surprising when you’ve just burned a trainload of civilians to the bone.

What really hammers this scene home, though, is how the game creates a sense of doubt within the player. Up until this point the 33rd Battalion, your antagonists in the game, have been shown to have succumbed to a form of collective cabin fever, using barbaric means to keep the civilians in order. You also see soldiers who have individually lost their marbles, charging you with their combat knives for no other reason than because, shit, might as well stab a few bastards before you die. You have come to assume that they are all beyond any hope of redemption.

Suddenly, you come across some soldiers of the 33rd who, get this, might have good intentions. Soldiers who remembered their duty to keep those under them safe from harm. Civilians who at least had a few reasons to trust the Americans.

And you shelled them.

You melted them down like they were pig iron.

There goes any last hope of good relations towards the Americans…

Dishonored 2

Dishonored 2 Super-Resolution 2017.01.11 - 21.44.24.64

Probably my favourite series of games yet, Dishonored is, at it’s core, about power.

Observe other people playing this game, and you get solid proof of the old maxim “You can tell everything about a person’s character by how he treats those who can do nothing for them”.  Then again, can you really blame them for going berserk when the methods of execution include summoning a pool of devouring rats, linking the spirits of foes such that a mercy kill ends up being suicidal and, more recently, telefragging an enemy with Displace.

This would be fun in it’s own right, but what really gives weight to the use of these powers is the Chaos mechanic; too much bloodshed and terror on the streets will affect how the world around you conducts it’s business, with the population more likely to resort to cheating their friends, if only as part of their survival instinct.  Living conditions for the people get worse as the local militias employ brutality more freely, and vermin such as Bloodflies and Weepers become more prevalent due to societal disorder resulting in people becoming more vulnerable to disease.

Getting the good ending is more than just doing things right, it’s about doing the right thing.  The best way to explain that is to listen to how your character talks about their environment and their plans in Dishonored 2; resorting to berserker tactics and plowing your way through guard after guard, witch after witch, results in Emily/Corvo talking in increasingly bloodthirsty terms, ending with them referring to taking back the throne as “unrolling a red carpet of blood”.  Contrast this with a nuanced, controlled application of force, using your powers for maximum effect with a minimum of collateral damage, which ends up with your character talking of earning their right to rule by serving those who need you.

Perhaps that was what the title was about:  One ends up losing their honour via some conspiracy, and then it’s up to the player whether to earn it back, or to just own their predicament and lash out at anyone who stands in their way.

Far Cry 2

Far Cry 2 Gameplay

Credit to mrwynd on Flickr under CC 2.0 License

Quite easily the most depressing title to bear the Far Cry name, being a stark illustration of the plight of certain Sub-Saharan African nations.

Conceived at a time when brown was the dominant colour all across the FPS spectrum, Far Cry 2 was one of the few that could wear it well. The whole game is permeated with a sense of futility and despair, from the utterly interchangeable warring factions to the armed jeeps that chase you down on sight, presumably because the driver was pissed off he couldn’t find any diamonds in the teeth of the people he slaughtered that day.

Indeed, you were inserted into this malaise to kill an arms dealer known as the Jackal, “the bastard that armed both sides” as your character put it in the loading screens.  And yet he is probably the closest thing you have to a true ally out here, seeing as he passes up multiple opportunities to do you in, sets you up for career opportunities with key players in the factions, and generally seems to look out for you a lot better than any of your buddies from the bar.  Some bastard he turned out to be.

This of course culminates in an attempt to destroy the endemic anarchy and corruption of the nameless nation, with a plan to decapitate both factions whilst allowing a mass exodus of civilians to cross the border unhindered.  Both of you are destined to die.  You’d think that something so extreme as losing what may well be half a country’s population in a few short hours might prompt some kind of change, right?  Wrong.  Although it saw an attempt at an interim coalition government formed from the remnants of the two factions, the mercenaries are going to have a steady line of work for decades to come.

I’ve never known a game to get a message of hopelessness across so well.

Spitfire, Mustang, Me 109: The Standard Diet with a twist!

From what I understand, in the world of R/C Aviation there is what is known as the standard warbird diet, a trio of planes on which most commercial R/C Aircraft are based; the Spitfire for the RAF, the Mustang from a time when the US Air Force was still a part of the Army, and for those who like the dark side, the Bf 109.

Admittedly, the way I know about this is from occasionally buying a copy of RCM&E or RC Model World from ‘Smiths in adulthood.  I used to go up to Horsell Common near Woking with my father to meet up with a model flying club that flew there, when I was around 11 or so; this was a time when .40 2-stroke glow engines were the standard powerplant, NiMH was the dominant battery technology, and owning a brushless motor was but a distant dream – the motors alone costing more than an engine, fuel tank and associated hardware put together, leave alone the Speed Controller.  I spent many hours training for an A Certificate, or a qualification to fly unsupervised.  Alas, I flopped at my solo flight and, being immature, I packed it in.

But you know what it’s like, you’re just walking around your flat one day, some synapses get crossed in your brain and you’ve just gotta talk about an idea that’s flown straight into your noggin.  What did I think of this time?  Well, I was wondering about those who might like the idea of flying a model of one of these three illustrious planes, but still wanted to turn heads at their club.

To this end, I’d like to introduce you to three interesting variants of each that you may not already know about.  Hopefully you’ll enjoy this list as much as I did researching it, even if it did serve to highlight how much I miss model flying.

Spitfire

The Spitfire Floatplane

One for those with a lake near them.  This really is one of those ideas which initially seems like sacrilege, mutating the perfect, elegant lines of a Spit to fit ugly, bloated floats under each wing.

But it worked, apparently.  Five aircraft were so modified; a single Mk.1, three Mk.Vb aircraft which saw limited use at the Great Bitter Lake in Egypt, and a single Mk.IX intended for the pacific.  Handling wise, the only defects seemed to be a tendency to waddle on their floats, and of course the fact that the fighter would glide like a duck with angel wing.

Speaking of performance, the Mk.Vb examples clearly took a hit in this regard, with a top speed of 324mph (521km/h) at 19,500ft (5,943m), a climb rate of 2,450ft/min at 15,500ft (12.45m/s at 4,724m), and a service ceiling of 33,400ft (10,180m).  Compared to it’s unencumbered basis, a clean Spitfire Mk.Vb, the maximum speed loses 47mph (75km/h), climb rate is reduced by 800ft/min (4.05m/s), and the service ceiling being surprisingly unaffected at only 1600ft (488m) below the standard model.  Then again, given that these planes were intended to harass lightly-armed transport aircraft, the lack of performance may have proven a non-issue.  Unless they were bounced by Fw 190s.

In the event, enemy advances put paid to Allied plans in the case of the first four, while the capture of airstrips closer to Japan killed the ambitions of the Mk.IX.  Perhaps you could have some missions of your own, and vindicate the unlucky pilots who never got a chance to see what their planes were made of?

The Spiteful

It was said that the some of the penultimate marks of Spitfire, the Mk.22 and Mk.23, were so radically-altered from the original Mk.1 that it was briefly considered renaming them Victor and Valiant respectively.  In the case of the Spiteful, it was an all-new laminar flow wing, no doubt inspired by the Mustang, that finally persuaded Supermarine to follow through with the renaming.

This single innovation, in the case of the Spiteful F Mk.16,  granted an additional 40mph over the Spitfire Mk.24 despite using a significantly thicker aerofoil; so much so in fact that it allowed the Supermarine team to cure one of the Spit’s most lethal design features, as the undercarriage was of a modern wide-track pattern, rather than the precarious narrow-track pattern so maligned by Seafire pilots in particular.

It should be noted, however, that R. J. Mitchell’s true genius lay in how his elliptical wing gave great handling at both low and high speeds, especially compared to the Bf 109 with it’s much higher wing loading.  Sydney Camm clearly grasped this as his answer to the Seafang (naval Spiteful), the Hawker Sea Fury, used a semi-elliptical laminar flow wing.  The Spiteful/Seafang did not inherit the stellar pedigree of their predecessors, as stall characteristics, while not abysmal, were noticeably inferior to that of the Sea Fury.  Few things are worse for an aircraft than the curse of being compared to a forebear with the calibre of the illustrious Spitfire.

So, worthy successor, or evolutionary dead-end?  Well, build one, and I’ll let you be the judge.

The “Messerspit”

I am so glad this exists.

Try to imagine the spawn of an illicit liason between a Spitfire Mk.V and a Bf 110G, and you wouldn’t be far off the mark.  A Daimler-Benz 605A Inverted-Vee Engine was seamlessly grafted onto the airframe of a Spitfire Mk Vb, resulting in an alien yet oddly gorgeous profile.  Not so much “Achtung, Spitfire!” as “Ja, das ist Spitfire, ich sage dir!”.

Whilst weighing more-or-less the same as a Mk.V, the DB 605A gave the machine some 150hp more than the original Merlin 45, added over 5000ft to the service ceiling, whilst allowing this professional hackjob to retain the Spitfire’s legendary handling.  No doubt the inverted engine also permitted a much better view on takeoff due to the cowling sloping downwards.  The fact that pilots at Echterdingen would queue up to fly this thing both in and out of hours says a lot about what a cocktail this engine and aircraft turned out to be!

I’m sure the only downside to building a plane like this would be constant arguments with self-righteous armchairs as to whether the prototype existed or not!

Mustang

The P-51H Mustang

Construction-wise, this one should be as simple as it gets.  Apart from the various weight-reducing measures to the equipment such as smaller and simplified undercarriage units, all that changed on the airframe was a longer fuselage, taller vertical tail unit and a more streamlined radiator.  The pilot’s position was also raised to improve ground visibility.

This of course makes it easy to discount this variant.  Indeed, during the Korean war, the P-51H Mustangs languished in reserve squadrons while their proven P-51D forebears saw all the action.  This doesn’t change the fact that the P-51H ranks among the fastest piston-engined fighters ever to see service, with a top speed of 472mph at 21,200ft (760km/h at 6,500m), a good 34mph (55km/h) advantage over the P-51D.

Fancy a hot-rod Mustang that isn’t a racer?  Welcome.

The Ski Mustang

This oddity in the Mustang stable is even more odd when you consider it’s intended role.  Even in 1944, as US forces in the Pacific were gearing up to invade Iwo Jima and Okinawa, preparations were well underway for D-Day, and the North African Campaign was well and truly concluded, military planners in the USAAF saw a need for a fighter that could take off from unprepared forward airstrips.

A somewhat crude ski apparatus was fitted in place of the undercarriage wheels on a P-51A-1-NA, with the main skis taking the place of the two fuselage .50 machine guns when retracted.  A somewhat springy-looking tail ski replaced the tailwheel.  The only forfeits that were made were a 390lb (180kg) increase in weight, and a boost to the hydraulic system from 1,000psi to 1,200psi.

Performance was fairly decent, even by the standards of 1944 when this machine was tested.  Take-off performance allowed use of fields as short as 1,000ft (300m).  Speed was reduced by 18mph (29km/h), but with it’s basis achieving close to 400mph as early as 1940, this probably wouldn’t have amounted to much of a handicap, especially when compared to the dramatic drag increase imparted by a conversion to floats with the Spitfire example above.

This conversion makes little sense with the power of hindsight, with the development of drop tanks for the P-51D as well as the capture of the aforementioned Pacific islands effectively killing any niche the Ski Mustang might need to fill.  Nevertheless, it seems that for anyone who experiences the ravages of snowy weather on a regular basis at their flying field, not only is this machine a rare example of an early Mustang, but also one that can operate from grounds where wheels are impractical.

The Cavalier Mustang

This one refers to a number of conversions of military-surplus P-51D Mustangs for both civilian and military purposes.  The fact that the US Air National Guard equipped Mustangs in front-line service until 1957 is a sure testament to the soundness of the design.  Around this time, a visionary by the name of David Lindsay formed Trans Florida Aviation Inc. with the aim of converting the Mustangs into the civil aviation equivalent of supercars for the executives of the period.

Let’s start with the civilian models.  Sparkling low altitude performance?  Check.  Two plush seats and a fuselage baggage hold?  Practical.  Up to 2,500 miles range?  Tourtastic!  Just the thought of taking a world tour in a tamed warbird is the stuff of dreams for someone like me.  Alas, for those who are not one-percenters, X-Plane or Flight Sim X will have to do…

Ten years after the success of the civilian model, further military conversions were ordered by the US Government for the export market.  While not technically Cavalier Mustangs, but refurbished P-51s, let’s include them anyway for variety’s sake.  They found their way into the air arms of nations such as Bolivia, El Salvador and Indonesia.  They found their niche operating Close Air Support and Counter-Insurgency missions, where the lack of creature comforts compared to the executive models was largely offset by the abundance of hardpoints.  The traits that made the P-51D such a superlative strafer when returning from bomber escort missions no doubt came into their own here:

So we have an aircraft which was initially designed for British requirements with an American engine, mated with a British engine to suit American requirements, serving a long and exemplary career in the latter condition, with a handful finding new lives as executive hotrods and ground attackers.  That’s one hell of a resumé.

Bf 109

The Bf 109H

A high altitude fighter which looks like a slapdash attempt to fix the narrow track of the undercarriage by inserting additional wing panels inboard of the original wings, The Bf 109H fared about as well in action as you might expect.

A response to the failure of both the Me 209 (Bayerische Flugzeugwerke, which lent it’s initials to the Bf 109 and Bf 110, had changed to Messerschmitt entirely by this time) and the Me 155 to produce a satisfactory high altitude fighter for the Luftwaffe, The Bf 109H was eventually only used for armed reconnaissance missions operating from Guyancourt near Paris.  Only a handful of sorties were flown over England and France before the craft were scrapped due to wing flutter problems, the most noteworthy being an attempt to photograph the French coast from Cherbourg to Ouistreham, to observe the D-Day landings in the days afterwards; depressingly, the target altitude of 49,200ft (15,000m) proved to be just beyond what this machine could pull off.

A simple modification to the Bf 109F has the power to radically alter the appearance of such an iconic aircraft, even if it’s not for the best.  Just make sure you cure the wing flutter.

The Bf 109TL

I’m not sure Germany’s first jet fighter would’ve made the impact that it did, if it looked like this…

Conceived as a hedge against the failure of the Me 262, much like the Short Sperrin was against the failure of the V Bomber force, the Bf 109TL was said to potentially have had better performance than the 262 due to it’s slimmer fuselage, which was salvaged from the Me 409 project (curiously, this was originally known as the Me 155, mentioned above, which then became the Bv 155 under Blohm und Voss, then finally came back to Messerschmitt!).  Just two months after it was proposed to the RLM, around March 1943, it was decided to concentrate on the Me 262 which had been conceived even before the war began.  Most likely because adapting the Me 409 components to jet power proved more difficult than originally envisaged, while the Me 262 had been designed from the outset for the unique demands of turbines.

As you can see, this one really was a flash-in-the-pan affair.  If anything this debacle characterised a lot of what was wrong with German strategy during World War Two.  As any cursory browse of Luft46 proves, Germany continued to produce too many designs for wildly optimistic specifications, even as they barely had enough war material to keep up production of their existing warplanes.  Contrast this to the Allies, who concentrated on refining production methods and making their warplanes versatile to make the most out of existing R&D, and simply out-produce the Third Reich.

Then again, later marks of the Gloster Meteor would prove that straight-winged jet fighters could crack 600mph (960km/h), although the Me 262 would be immortalized as the aircraft that kickstarted research into swept wing technology by it’s fearsome, shark-like looks alone, even if the wing sweep was too slight to be effective.

Perhaps a flyoff between this and an Me 262 is in order?

The Avia S-199

And finally, the runt of the litter.

Czechoslovak pilots of the time gave this machine the very apt name Mezek, or Mule, and not without reason.  If there was ever a tale in aviation of “not all engines are created equal”, there is none finer, as a shortage of appropriate fighter engines forced the substitution of bomber engines instead.

Fighter powerplants require crisp, rapid pitch response on the part of the propeller, to keep up with rapid changes in speed encountered in a dogfight as well as accelerate the aircraft quickly.  Bombers, on the other hand, are more partial to chunky, paddle-bladed propellers designed for maximum static thrust, greater lifting capacity, shorter take-offs and better climb performance; the torque-effect generated by such a massive prop will be acting on a much heavier airframe, too, numbing it’s effect and keeping it under control.

Combine the monstrous torque with the infamous narrow-track undercarriage and inexperienced Israeli pilots and you have a recipe for a horrendous service record.  Of a total of 23 planes delivered for the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, only six were operational midway through the war in October.  If you’re convinced that this earns it the more appropriate moniker of Ass, can’t say I blame you.

So, do you think you can handle the torque overload for an authentic flight experience, or would you prefer to play it safe and retain the looks but with a sensible powerplant?

Big Cats vs Generals: The case for taking action with limited capabilities and resources

Tiger glaring at the camera in the snow.

People who view my twitter bio may be confused when I describe myself as a tiger, and then follow it with “I’m overweight, overcomplicated and I run out of puff a few blocks from my house”.

I assume a greater percentage of you are not World War Two buffs and thus take that to mean the big cat, Panthera Tigris.  The Bengal Subspecies can weigh up to 235kg (518lb), as the heaviest of all living big cats, though to compare their muscles to my chubster physique is a bit sleazy to say the least; they also have complex, albeit solitary, social lives, and are notoriously short on stamina, relying on ambush tactics to catch their prey.

Compare this to the roving bunker that is the Tiger I, the PzKpfw VI Ausf.E.  Well, at 57 tonnes it pushed the limits of 1940s transmission technology beyond breaking point, cost a phenomenal SIX times as much as a Sherman (and three times as much as it’s lighter contemporary, the Panther), and taking six times as many skilled man-hours to produce, too; as for stamina, let’s say that miles/gallon can only be expressed as a fraction, unless you invert it to gallons/mile in which case the value is 2.75, or enough to take the Dodge Viper SRT over 41 miles!  I don’t think a tank has ever been named so appropriately.

This was supposed to be about taking action, why are we talking about tigers?

No prizes for guessing which side eventually won World War Two; hot tip:  It wasn’t the side which had to arse about for an hour fitting special tracks to each tank to keep them within the European railway loading gauge.  Meanwhile, a typical railway flatcar could carry two typically-configured Shermans, with no special preparations.  Logistics counts for a lot more in wars than people often realize, but that’s another story.

I wanted to focus on the individual tanks themselves, and how their qualities reflect two types of people:  The aforementioned Tiger, and the under-appreciated Sherman.  This is a duo which is fiercely debated by modern historians, of both the professional and armchair variety, so allow me to introduce a humanizing touch.

The Tigers:  Potent, yet unreliable

Timothy Ferriss, in his hit book The 4-Hour Work Week, details a challenge he posed to twenty students at Princeton University that involved the chance for a round-trip ticket to anywhere in the world, in exchange for them writing to three famous (supposedly “unreachable”) people – anyone from Stephen Fry to Vladimir Putin and all kinds people in between – to gain a reply to at least one of three questions.

Probably one of the easiest ways to expand one’s global dominion by one nation, or several at once, ever presented to anyone.  How many do you suppose took up the challenge?

Not one.

Essentially, these students, who studied and ground their way into the 11th* most prestigious university on the face of the earth, effectively “broke down” (mechanically speaking) before ever getting to the front.  Admittedly, in the real world the Tiger I would not have shied away from a confrontation with a bunch of Shermans, believing that it could suffer the humiliation of being trounced by a Panther, but the result was the same – none of the students brought their educational prowess to bear due to a failure in another part of the machinery.

Firepower up the wazoo, and no trigger finger.

from Chapter 4 of The 4 Hour Work Week, System Reset

The Shermans:  Unready, yet willing and fully enabled

“Big Issue!  Big Issue!”

Live in just about any city in the UK, and you’ll doubtless have heard this chant.  The Big Issue is the world’s most widely-circulated street newspaper, reaching over 80,000 people in 2017.

I can describe to you a man who at age 45, when this paper was co-founded by him, had had a childhood on the streets, punctuated by spells in prison in which he gave himself a rudimentary education.  With this alone he had created a small business dealing with printing and publishing.  Tell me, would you be shocked if you learned that most people called him “Lord”?

It certainly came as a shock to me.  Most people in Britain know the House of Lords as the house of landed gentry, aristocracy and wealthy capitalists.

John Bird is a man who not only made something out of some atrocious circumstances, but his success has also made a mockery of many of the paths available through what we call “Higher Education”.  Consider how many of those who pursue Law Degrees end up tending bars and working in call centres due to a lack of barrister positions.  Also consider what kind of positive social impact most of those who get into the law profession actually get to produce, given that for every lawyer who fights for a father’s right to see his kids, there is another lawyer helping with his character assassination; well, okay, I guess you can count the cheeky git who hiked the Pharma Bro’s law fees by 5,000%, after he did the same for life-saving HIV drugs!

I ought to interject with another example, Sir Isaac Newton.  This was a man who went from swinging a fully-laden bucket of water around on a rope, for the amusement of his peers at school, no less, to laying the foundations of classical physics.

The Lesson

Action may not always bring happiness, but there is no happiness without action.

Benjamin Disraeli – former British Prime Minister

I guess the lesson here is essentially the same as the one I posited for those who voted Remain after the EU Referendum of 2015.  Work from where you are.

The Tigers of this world are the ones who are blessed with formidable resources, both financial and educational.  They can take on anyone in the field, and come out without so much as a scratch.  An enviable position, but keep in mind that to make something out of big resources requires a big commitment and a bigger payoff.  Assuming one’s father provided a six-figure income into the childhood household, it will be expected that the son/daughter will do the same to maintain the status of their family name.

As for the Shermans, things may not look so rosy for them at first, given that most will write them off from the word go.  Success depends upon them outmanoeuvring the larger competitors, using their street smarts and entrepreneurial spirit to exploit opportunities which are would be rejected by, for instance, the shareholders that large corporations are often beholden to.  The street smarts will also come in handy when it comes to living frugally, which is an unexpected trait common to millionaires.

So you see, while it is easy to assume someone else has it better than yourself, keep in mind that unambiguous gains do not exist in nature.  Life is more a matter of finding which downsides you can most comfortably live with, while maximising the upsides that matter to you.

 

*As of 2016.