Monday, 31 May 2010

The driving force of British motorsport

The driving force of British motorsport

A wide-ranging article from the B.B.C. which serves as a nice reminder that Britain is still a world-leader in the field of motorsport, having been one of the founders of the sport. If you ever get the chance to visit the old Brooklands track (and this coming weekend's Double Twelve would be the perfect opportunity) I urge you to do so, for it is drenched in history and full of pioneering automobiles and racing memorabilia; well worth the trip.

Britain has a strong presence in every form of motorsport around the world. Not least in Formula 1, where we have produced the two most recent World Champions and have - as the article mentions - ¾ of all current F1 teams based in this country including some of the top runners. We even have competitive drivers in the likes of the American IndyCar formula.

Once again we see the British flair for engineering and innovation put to good use in an industry that is continually advancing and coming up with new ideas and inventions that will one day find their way on to the cars that the general public can buy. It is heartening to see that, even in these times of economic and supposedly environmental crises, the motorsport industry is riding out a rough patch, looking ahead and going from strength to strength.

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Work starts in £15m plan to get Concorde flying




Work starts in £15m plan to get Concorde flying

One of the greatest Anglo-French engineering projects ever built, the Concorde deserves a place in aviation history and could rightly be argued to have died before its time. Certainly that is the feeling of those involved in trying to get an Air France example airworthy again in time for the 2012 Olympics. I wish them the very best of luck; hopefully as the aircraft in question is, I believe, one of the last to be taken out of service and still in comparatively good condition this should not be impossible. The least we can do for this astonishing aeroplane is to have one flying, albeit in a heritage capacity, so that future generations can enjoy seeing this beautiful machine where it belongs - in the air.

I have been lucky enough to see the Concorde airborne twice before it was retired and both times have been magical, memorable experiences. There are very few machines that can match the majesty and otherworldliness of Concorde and I consider it to be one of the greatest technical achievements Britain, or indeed the world, has ever seen. I hope to be able to see her flying a third time, and many more besides, from 2012 onwards.

Friday, 28 May 2010

Adventurer crosses English Channel using helium balloons

Adventurer crosses English Channel using helium balloons

This is just the kind of eccentric bit of fun that brings a smile to my face and so deserves its place on this blog. People have crossed the Channel in aeroplanes, in amphibious cars and on rocket-powered wings, so why not on a chair tied to a few dozen helium-filled balloons? I know what the fellow means when he talks about imagining floating away beneath a bunch of balloons - who hasn't dreamt of such a thing? - but top marks to him for making it a reality in such a memorable manner. It must have been a unique experience.

One also mustn't forget the dangers inherent in all forms of ballooning, which were no doubt magnified several-fold for this fellow, sitting precariously beneath all those balloons. On a small chair, at the mercy of the wind, suspended by dozens of balloons that could deflate or become untethered and land him in the drink; behind the humorous appearance there was much planning and scientific theory. But it's paid off handsomely and the fellow will be rightly remembered for his unusual way of crossing the Ditch. Well done that man!

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Britain can become a world leader in technology, but it will need a cultural change

Britain can become a world leader in technology, but it will need a cultural change

It's not very often I link to an opinion piece but something about this guest column by renowned inventor and industrialist James Dyson (he of vacuum cleaner fame) struck a chord and so I thought I would share it.

There are many out there who are somewhat dismissive of Dyson, not least because of his company having outsourced manufacturing to the Far East at the expense of the British factory, but whatever you may think about Dyson's business practices there is much truth in what he says here. I too have often looked back at the likes of Whittle, Cockerell and Gresley amongst others and marvelled at their various ideas and inventions and then wondered why such innovation is not more actively encouraged today. Certainly we have many great engineers and inventors out there such as Dyson himself, Trevor Bayliss and Richard Noble, but is enough being done to make the country aware of their contribution, to celebrate their achivements and hopefully to inspire the next generation? Mr Dyson makes an interesting point.

Aircraft sets hypersonic record at six times the speed of sound



Another story of mankind's continued attempts to push the boundaries of known science and technology, this time with the successful testing of the Boeing X-51A scramjet. It might not look like much at the moment, but contained within that missile-like shell is the potential future of hypersonic flight. If you thought Concorde was fast at twice the speed of sound, try and imagine something three times as fast! London to Sydney in little more than 2 hours, for example. Of course this is only the first flight of the first of its kind and we're talking years, probably decades of development before any real practical use my be arrived at. But just to read about this successful test and to know that there are people out there tirelessly working to "push the envelope", to strive for further advancements in technology and ability, is thrilling stuff. It shows that there is still so much for us to achieve and discover and that once again the human imagination seemingly knows no bounds.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Arthur Conan Doyle's debut 'to make £400,000'

Arthur Conan Doyle's debut 'to make £400,000'

Some of you may have noticed that my blogger name is a nod towards this man's greatest creation (and this story in particular, one of my favourites), so I was interested to read of this first edition coming up for auction. Alas I cannot stretch to £400k, so I will just have to make do with my Illustrated Strand Collections facsimile. No matter!
Once again we see the rarity value of such an item increase the price. Only two signed copies in existence and a fascinating historical insight into this enduring character's creation and first appearance. It is bound to be of interest to the moneyed Holmesian. Whether it will truly make as much as predicted we shall have to see, but there is no doubting its value as an item of cultural significance. Whoever it ends up with and however much they pay for it, I have no doubt that it will be in safe hands and fully appreciated.

Footage shows world's first mobile phone

Footage shows world's first mobile phone

EVE'S WIRELESS



A delightful article here, proving that there truly is "nothing new under the sun". Although I really dislike the pervasiveness and myriad unpleasant aspects of the modern mobile telephone, this historic precedent is wonderful in so many ways that I can't help but admire it. How better things might be today if people had to wrap a wire around a fire hydrant and carry an umbrella as an aerial before they could use their mobiles!

Dambusters mission recreated in Peak District

Dambusters mission recreated in Peak District

An interesting little piece here to do with the famous Dambusters raid of 1943. Fascinating to see these Blades chaps recreate the run using modern GPS and whatnot, knowing that the original pilots of 617 Squadron had nothing more advanced than a compass and a ruler to work with! It just reinforces the amazing skill the crews of the Lancasters displayed that night; not forgetting they were flying in the dark, only feet above the water, under heavy fire in large, unwieldy bombers. Such feats will live in the hearts of men forever. I shall look forward to seeing the documentary mentioned as being shown in the autumn (I had no idea that actor Martin Shaw could fly as well - is there anything the fellow cannot turn his hand to?!). In the meantime I feel an urge to watch the 1955 film coming on - I highly recommend it, if you haven't seen it (or even if you have!).

Sunday, 23 May 2010

World's most expensive stamp sold

World's most expensive stamp sold

The second brief update to a previous story - as mentioned, the world's most expensive stamp has found a new owner at auction. Slightly disappointing, although not surprising, not to know how much it went for although at those kind of prices it's almost academic. A lot of these high-end collectors are rather secretive about this sort of thing, which is not unusual. By the tone of the article it may be that the stamp did not do as well as might have been expected, but c.£1.3 million is not to be sniffed at! I'm sure the winning bidder will be quite happy with his new acquisition, however much was paid for it.

Lawnmower cuts through land speed record

Lawnmower cuts through land speed record

This is the first of two short posts that will just update a couple of recent stories highlighted by this blog. I've covered this one in enough detail, I think, not to dwell on it too much more. However, congratulations to Project Runningblade who have successfully claimed the lawnmower land speed record for Great Britain! Not content with 86mph, they went out the next day and raised it again - to almost 88mph. Next stop - 100mph! Good luck chaps! Here is some rather scary footage of the run.

Monday, 17 May 2010

London's 'new Routemaster' design unveiled

London's 'new Routemaster' design unveiled
Since they were first announced in July 2008 I've been following with interest the plans for a new London bus design to replace the current crop of anodyne double-deckers and unloved bendy buses and pick up the mantle left by the iconic Routemaster.
The winning design has now been chosen and I am pleased to say I rather like it. Modern, forward-thinking, but with just the right amount of retro design cues and useful features from buses of old. The charmingly-curved "beetle back" is present, complete with an open platform so once again passengers can hop on off easily. There are in fact three sets of doors and two staircases, so access should not be a problem. A fuel-efficient hybrid drive train and a bright, airy interior complete the attractive picture. More detail here.
If all goes to plan the first of these new buses should be on the roads of London in time for the 2012 Olympics, giving us a new symbol for London and Great Britain in the 21st Century.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

World's most expensive stamp expected to sell for up to £5 million

World's most expensive stamp expected to sell for up to £5 million



I've touched before on the high prices paid at auction for unusual coins and beautiful, rare motor cars - both of which are of interest to me - and now it is the turn of stamps, another of my hobbies.

Here we have what is believed to be the world's most expensive stamp, about to go up for auction. Like coins, cigarette cards and other such ephemera much of the value is derived from a mistake made during the item's production, which is then quickly rectified - adding to the rarity of the original piece. In this case a stamp that should have been a greenish-blue is instead yellow. The error was a one-off and only affected a few stamps, so the number of wrong-colour stamps produced, whilst currently unknown, is likely to be a small one. Thus, when one comes up for sale it commands a high price as it is something that should never have existed and so appeals to the collector.

It also has, again like so many such pieces, a fascinating history that will only serve to endear it even more to collectors. Personally I expect this example to easily make its estimate and perhaps even exceed it, such is the continued interest and investment potential of stamps today.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Last Ziegfeld Folly dies aged 106

Last Ziegfeld Folly dies aged 106

Not exactly a jolly headline in and of itself, but the story of the life contained within is a truly remarkable one that deserves to be remembered.

Everyone will have at some time seen old black-and-white footage of a line of leggy dancing girls dressed to the nines and high-kicking to the likes of songs by Irving Berlin, with performers like Eddie Cantor and Fanny Brice. It is a form of entertainment that is sadly seldom seen these days, and with the passing of the last Ziegfeld Folly and the breaking of the last link to that time, that era has well and truly passed into history.

Nevertheless we can look back and marvel at this amazing life and look back at the glamorous girls who entertained millions of people during those golden years of the 1920s and 1930s, of which Doris Eaton was the last survivor.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Vintage Bugatti supercar sold for record-breaking $30m

Vintage Bugatti supercar sold for record-breaking $30m

One of the most beautiful cars ever built (in my humble opinion - and you are all welcome to suggest others that could be considered for that title), this Bugatti has just smashed the record for the most expensive car ever sold at auction, previously held by a 1957 Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa which went for $12.2m last year. It is generally agreed that only one other vehicle could possibly command a higher premium and that is the Mercedes-Benz 300SLR '722', as driven by Sir Stirling Moss in the 1955 Mille Miglia. That car is owned by Mercedes-Benz, however, so is unlikely to come up for auction any time soon, if ever.

Only two of these gorgeous Bugattis remain, the other being the one in the picture which is owned by Ralph Lauren, and this rarity no doubt has had a major influence on the price that was paid. Even so, such a delightful design could almost be said to be worth the money - if $80m can be paid for a Van Gogh painting, why not $30m for a Bugatti "canvas" that some might argue is just as exquisite in its own way? Either way, it is nice to see such a fine motor car bought by the Mullin Automotive Museum, so that it may be displayed and enjoyed by all and sundry instead of being hidden away in a private collection.

Sir Isaac Newton's apple tree sample to defy gravity

Sir Isaac Newton's apple tree sample to defy gravity

A pleasing combination of events in this article, as several milestones in human advancement are honoured in a fitting manner. A small surviving part of an incredibly important scientific discovery, carried into space - where the very force it helped Newton to realise does not exert itself - by another Englishman on one of the last Shuttle flights before the fleet is retired. A perfect embodiment of the Theory of Gravity and a delightful way to celebrate the 350th anniversary of the Royal Society, a Britisher in space and one of the last flights of the Shuttle. I'm sure Sir Isaac would approve!

Monday, 3 May 2010

Blackberry 'predicted a century ago' by pioneering physicist Nikola Tesla

Blackberry 'predicted a century ago' by pioneering physicist Nikola Tesla

To those of a physics or engineering bent, the name Nikola Tesla is a well-known and illustrious one. To even attempt to provide a biography of the man within the confines of this humble blog would be to do him an injustice, so I will leave it to you, dear reader, to find out more about him should you so wish.

Suffice to say that, as this story proves, he was a man ahead of his time. Like so many scientists and writers of the period, such as Thomas Edison, H. G. Wells and Jules Verne, they postulated machines and ideas that were totally beyond the technology that was only just becoming available then. This is the mark of a true inventor - the ability to see beyond what is currently possible and to create new technologies that move things on to the next level.

At a time when wireless telegraphy was at its height, and the telephone a relatively new invention, Tesla was already looking ahead to the next stage. Whether he could have foreseen the debilitating dependency many people have nowadays on these Blackberrys and similar devices, or the other adverse effects on society that these machines often engender, is another matter. From a scientific point of view, however, Mr Tesla's prediction is worthy of high comment.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Spitfire flies to mark 25th restoration anniversary

Spitfire flies to mark 25th restoration anniversary



A well-known (in aviation circles, at least) airworthy Spitfire, the Mk. IX known as the "Grace Spitfire", celebrates an important milestone in its life in this report from the B.B.C. It is lovely to see one man's dream realised and to have such a delightful machine, an important part of our history, still able to be flown and enjoyed by a whole new generation. Even the sad fact that the original restorer is no longer with us is balanced by the fact that his memory and his hopes for this aircraft are honoured every time it takes to the air. A charming story of one family and one machine's journey together over a quarter of a century and beyond, not to mention the value of having such an aircraft still flying and kept so for many years to come.

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