Monday, November 07, 2005

Friday, November 04, 2005

Finished work for tonight *yawns*

Please note the timestamp on this post. It's after half past eleven, and I've been working at my B23 coursework assignment for four hours solid now. I think I've put in about nine hours on this one in total ... and I'm less than halfway through.

I've had larger assignments before, but usually it's obvious from the outset that they're big. This one was deceptive. We're creating a Data Flow Diagram for a business, and the scenario is only a couple of sides of A4 ... a fairly straightforward description of what goes on. Our task is to break down the processes and data flows in this business until it has reached an atomic level.

When you start with the context diagram, this looks easy, because so much material can be shoved outside the system and forgotten about, except in terms of data sources and sinks. But each time you go down a level into more detail, you find even more detail being generated by the detail you just levelled out ... make any sense? The size and scope of the assignment is increasing exponentially. Work generates more work. At the moment I have seven sheets of paper covered in data flows, and I've only got down to Level One (there are theoretically three or four levels).

Problem is, I received this assignment ages ago, but put it off because I thought it would be easy. Now the deadline is approaching ... fast. Must work faster!

No more tonight, though. I'll sort out Level Two tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Uni is about expanding your horizons

At its most basic, university is about earning a degree--but it's really much more than that. At its most dynamic, life at uni is about expanding your horizons, trying out new things, meeting new people. And although it's a stereotype, students really do drink a fair amount of alcohol (surprise, surprise!).

Some of the people on my corridor drink Stella lager to the exclusion of everything else, and it's a common sight to see the kitchen choked with piles of empty bottles in the mornings. I personally don't like lager, both because of ts flavour and the fact that it seems to make people aggressive when drunk.

In my time here so far, I have compiled a list of my favourite drinks, all of which are British beers. I've tried spirits of various sorts, but I don't like the way that you can get totally sozzled from drinking relatively little. There's nowt deceptive about an honest pint. :-)

Anyway, here is the list:

1. Theakston's Old Peculier (spelt CORRECTLY!). A legendary ale brewed in Yorkshire, this is the definitive pint for fellwalkers everywhere, being the most popular drink at the Old Dungeon Ghyll in Great Langdale. Strong enough to make you happy after only a couple of pints, but not strong enough to knock you flat before the night is over.

2. Adnams Broadside. High alcohol content, full of flavour, and widely available in my native Suffolk ... what more could you want?? (Some people think it tastes like alcoholic treacle, but they're heretics!)

3. Adnams Explorer. This is a new one I tried this afternoon at the Blue Bar with Graeme and co., and despite having a lower alcohol content than the top two, it tastes delicious.

4. Marston's Pedigree. Good stuff ... a nice aftertaste. Very much like the Old Peculier.

5. Adnams Suffolk Strong Bitter. Not as good as the others, but it ranks over the Guinness because it's brewed by Adnams. :-)

6. Guinness Original. This one is "interesting". Has an aftertaste of liquorice, which takes some getting used to. I don't think I could stomach multiple pints of this!

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Stop press: Amazing new Cobra Mist resources

I have discovered a superb new online resource for information about Project Cobra Mist. Cobra Mist is the factual basis for Cold Witness, and was a gigantic over-the-horizon radar array constructed on the East Coast of Suffolk in the '60s. The premise for Cold Witness is that the original radar transmitter, capable of generating a 10MW beam, was modified into a very crude radio beam weapon. It is possible that the USA's Strategic Defence Initiative was inspired by this discovery ... after all, both the USAF and NSA had a hand in running Cobra Mist.

This is an aerial photo of the facility in 1972, and gives a good idea of the awesome scale of the transmitter array. The distance from the blockhouse (upper left) to the switching matrix (bottom right) is over half a mile.

This is an incredibly valuable shot: the entrance to the facility itself! A legendary setting in the book, this is the first time I've actually seen a picture of it!

All I can say about this one is WOW. It's a photo of the main corridor leading to the transmitter linear-amplifier chambers, and it looks exactly as I imagined it. Typically spartan and metallic, windowless, very much reminiscent of the Cold War.

Apparently this is a small "faraday screened room", protected by strips of berylium copper as a shield against RF sources. This is incredibly significant because it PROVES that A) The array, and possibly the transmitting gear, was powerful enough to interfere with electronics; B) The engineers who designed the place were aware of this fact. I'm excited about this because although I've long suspected that the blockhouse contained shielded areas, I'd never been able to find any evidence. This opens up all kinds of possibilities for the rewrite.

Here's a close-up of the door into the shielded room. Just look at those beefy copper door seals!

All photos belong to "WW2 and Cold War History in Britain", and can be viewed at a larger size and in their original context at Orford Ness: A Place Apart.

I would also like to draw your attention to this quote:

"... it may be that the true effectiveness of the setup was much greater. A lot of data is still classified on this matter. It should also be borne in mind that at the time this site was abandoned as Cobra Mist, there were missile treaties on the table. This would not be the first, or last, time that US technology was to be used as a bargaining point."

This is highly significant. The official story is that Cobra Mist was abandoned due to massive technical problems stemming from a mysterious interference signal, but it is hinted here that perhaps the US promised to dismantle Cobra Mist in return for a consession from Russia or China. This is backed up by the fact that missile treaties were "on the table" at the time.

And take a look at this:

"There is evidence of special security arrangements to protect the intelligence gathered, such as isolated mains power circuits, doors with special locking arrangements and so on. This was a heavily staffed, highly secure operation."

I love being proved right! The facility looks fairly low-security from the outside--as my last proofreader mentioned when I showed him pics--but I've always had reason to believe that the designers put a lot of effort into security. The fact that they kept the security low-key stems from the fact that they didn't want to arouse the suspicion of the locals ... and THAT is one of the key underpinnings of the story of Project Cold Witness.

It's so nice to actually have evidence to support my theories, instead of the usual mish-mash of rumour and conjecture.

Monday, October 31, 2005


Now that I have your attention, I will display the happy tidings.

+ I have decided to start working on Project Cold Witness again (!!!!!).

+ No, I really have.

+ This isn't a Halloween joke.

Basically, it's that time of year once more. I went for a walk through Rendlesham Forest yesterday, and despite the garish new "UFO TRAIL" signs that the Forestry Commission have plastered all over the place, it brought back memories of the original research I did for the project, hunting for the supposed landing sites, mapping out the exits for the USAF base, and watching the Orfordness lighthouse blinking on the horizon on a cold winter's night.

I've had enough of worldbuilding for novels I will never write. I've had enough of my jeering conscience and the knowledge that I haven't written anything "serious" for over a year. In my view, despite its imperfections in the current draft, Cold Witness is the finest thing I have ever worked on and it deserves to be completed.

So, despite the increasing workload from coursework, I am making myself a promise to do some work to PCW every week, no matter how little I manage to get done.

There are many problems with the current iteration of PCW (number 5), mostly consisting of inconsistencies or jarring subplots. The plan is to completely rebuild the book from the ground up, and that means departing somewhat from "true events". Although a big portion of PCW's strength is its close affinity to historical fact, I have accepted that to create a good story I have to make more compromises than I already have.

The thing I'm most excited about is some of the prewriting I did for Project Silent Falcon about ten months ago. Recently it occurred to me that, instead of spreading all my great ideas over two or even three projects, why not put all my best efforts into PCW? That includes the Cold Lightning project team, CLARS armed response squad, and the expanded universe relating to psychotronysis, entity manipulation, and psytron R&D in Britain. All this will enable me to build up a far richer backstory for PCW than I was capable of before.

I'm brimming with enthusiasm again, justified enthusiasm this time, and that's a feeling I've missed. As soon as I've finished my homework for tonight, I shall begin! Wish me luck!

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Why I'm addicted to the Lake District

At the suggestion of Joel, here is an extract of an email I sent him the other day. I think it helps to explain the real reasons why I love escaping to the hills so much.

The way I see it, living in Norwich for the past month has dulled
something in me.  That's why I need to escape home for the weekends,
to remember what it's like to be under the trees or walking along the
wide empty coast.  And that's why returning to the mountains was such
a relief.  The transition from safe city existence to the wild beauty
of Langdale was a profoundly exhiliarating one.  Back in the place
where I consider myself to be truly free, I felt I could relax and
breathe out.  There is a tremendous feeling of freedom and simplicity
in the Lakes.  With everything I needed in my pack, I felt I could go
wherever I wanted to, climb to my favourite summits, try out new

At the back of my mind, there was the desire not to go back.  I wanted
to stay for at least a week.  Going back was so depressing because I
was leaving my freedom behind, and returning to the place where
everything is ordinary, where nothing stirs the imagination.  I was
going back to lectures, coursework, deadlines, and the dreary
flatlands of Norfolk.

I have adjusted as much as I'm able to adjust, but already I'm missing
the freedom of the hills.  To me, the Lake District has come to
represent an escape:  it doesn't matter what you're escaping from,
it's a place where you can go to forget about things and just enjoy
life.  A.Wainwright, legendary guidebook writer, once said:  "For a
man trying to get a persistent worry out of his mind, the summit of
Haystacks is a wonderful cure."  I've found that to be true of the
entire area.

For me, it isn't so much that there are particular worries ... it's
just that living in the city puts a constant, almost undetectable
stress on me, which is only really noticed when that stress is
relieved.  Arriving in Langdale put a big smile back on my face.

And it wasn't just the mountains.  It was the little things, like
noticing that they still haven't replaced the bridge over Mickleden
Beck.  Or walking past the cornershop in Elterwater where we bought
postcards six years ago.  Or seeing a bloke bouldering just behind his
house in Chapel Stile (now that's freedom for you!)  Every twist and
turn in the road brings back good memories.

Sorry for the soliloquy, but that lot had to find an outlet somewhere ... :-)

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Things are going better than I thought!

The programming module is becoming more challenging as the weeks go past. Last week I was unable to complete one section, and I'm fairly sure I had information missing from one of the other questions. This week's assignment is about five pages long--for the questions alone!--and is even more difficult, but difficult in a good way. Programming is something I inherently understand due to years of dabbling; all I'm finding hard is the new concepts and syntax that come with Java.

However, I am definitely doing well. I got the marks back for the Week 3 coursework (two weeks ago) ... and I got 100%! That's the first time I've got 100% for anything in years. Probably since the early days of my GCSEs.

The good thing is that a certain number of my best pieces of coursework contribute towards my final semester grade, and the less good ones are discarded. So, even if I didn't do as well last week, I still have one *perfect* assignment under my belt.

100%! Suddenly the course as a whole doesn't seem quite so unrealistic anymore. I can do this!