Unique chess set made using fourteen different woods

This chess set has been made using fourteen different woods; including mahogany, walnut, flamey birch, spalted hornbeam, zebrawood and douglas fir.

The board is made of 1cm thick pieces of mahogany and sycamore, with a plywood substrate. Rows one and eight are raised up 2cm. Rows two and seven are raised 1cm. The case is made of flamey birch and has been treated with diluted tung oil to bring out the figuring.

The 'dark' pieces have been made using six different woods.

Rook - douglas fir treated with diluted tung oil.

Knight - zebrano [aka zebrawood].

Bishop - walnut.

King and Queen - oak treated with diluted tung oil.

Pawns - body is ebony, head is dyed beech.

The pieces have been designed according to their direction of travel. A rook can move forwards, backward or side to side.  A knight can move one square forwards, backward or side to side plus one square diagonally. A bishop can move diagonally.

The king and queen can move in any direction. Their direction of travel has been indicated by their bases, rather than by the shape of the piece.

The 'light' pieces have also been made using six different woods.
Rook - maple.

Knight - lime.

Bishop - cherry

King and Queen - spalted hornbeam.

Pawns - body is ash, head is beech.

When this world is not enough.

The story below appeared in a science fiction magazine in 1964. It is set in a future in which technology enables people to ‘live’ in their own virtual worlds. This  prescient story was written more than twenty years before the first online virtual world appeared.

Faster internet connections and better graphics cards have produced rapid developments in virtual worlds and there are now many Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPG) available online. They have millions of users and their own economies. At the moment the interface to these worlds is primitive, often just a screen, speakers and a mouse/keyboard combination to control a avatar. Even so, they can be very compelling and many people find life in their virtual worlds more interesting and exciting than life in the real world.

What will happen when these games become more immersive and it is hard to distinguish between real life and virtual life, except that virtual life is better?

“There was a brisk little wind up here, flipping the white silk of his trousers like flags against his body, ruffling his hair. Two thousand feet down past the dangling tips of his shoes, he could see the mountains spread out, wave after brilliant green wave. The palace was only a hollow square of ivory, tiny enough to squash between thumb and forefinger. He closed his eyes, drank the air with his body, feeling alive all the way to the tips of his fingers and toes.

He yawned, stretched with pleasure. It was good to get up here sometimes, away from all that marble and red velvet, the fountains, the girls in their gauzy pants . . . There was something about this floating, this complete solitude and peace.

An insect voice said apologetically, "Pardon me, sir."

He opened his eyes, looked around. There it was, the one he called the "bug footman," three inches of slender body, a face half human, half insect, wings a blur—flying as hard as it could to stay in one place.

"You're early," he said.

"No, sir. It's time for your vacation."

"That's all I hear from you—time for my vacation."

"It's good for you, sir."

"Well, no doubt you're right."

"I'm sure I'm right, sir."

"O.K. Get lost."

The creature made a face at him, then veered away on the wind and diminished to a drifting speck of light. Gary Mitchell watched it until it was lost against the sun¬lit green background. Then he tilted lazily in the air, closed his eyes and waited for the change. He knew to the second when it would happen. "Bing," he said lazily, and felt the world contract suddenly around him. The wind was gone; mountains and sky were gone. He was breathing a more lifeless air. Even the darkness behind his eyelids was a different colour.

He moved cautiously, feeling the padded couch under him. He opened his eyes. There was the same old room, looking so tiny and quaint that he snorted with amusement. It was always the same, no matter how often he came back to it. That struck him so funny that he rolled over, closing his eyes again, shaken with silent laughter.

After a minute he lay back, emptying his lungs with a grunt, then breathing deeply through his nostrils. He felt good, even though his body ached a little. He sat up and stared at the hacks of his hands with amused affection. Same old hands!

He yawned hard enough to crack the cartilage in his jaw, then grinned and heaved himself up out of the hollow half-egg-shape of the couch. Wires and tubing trailed from him in all directions. He pulled the cap off his head, breaking it free of the tiny plastic sockets in his skull. He dropped it; let it swing at the end of its cable. He unfastened the monitoring instruments from his chest, pulled off the rest of his gear, and strode naked across the room.

There was a click from the master clock on the control board, and Mitchell heard the water begin to hiss in the bathroom. "Suppose I don't want a shower?" he asked the clock. But he did; all according to routine.”

Later Mitchell attends a dinner party. One of the other guests is an attractive young woman, but Mitchell is not interested. His friend remonstrate with him.

Price swung his legs off the relaxer, put his elbows on his knees. "All right, what about this? You've got it made, haven't you—you can spend half your time in a world where everything is just the way you like it. You don't need that sweet kid that walked out of here half an hour ago—you've got twenty better-looking than her. So why get married, why raise a family? Just tell me this—what's going to happen to the world if the brightest guys in it drop out of the baby-making business? What happens to the next generation?"

"I can answer that one, too."


Mitchell lifted his beer can in salute, staring at Price over the shiny top. "The hell with them," he said.

Old map covers

All these map covers were drawn by Ellis Martin for OS maps published in the 1920s. Click on the map tag for more examples.

'The 1920s and 30s saw the rise of the British tourist industry when, for the first time, ordinary working-class people had enough weekend leisure time to leave their smoky factory towns for a couple of days, and take to the country with its fresh, invigorating air.

It was the beginning of the cycling crazes and the hiking boom, and railway excursions, and - for those who could afford it - days out in the car.

All over the country, map-makers were producing maps of the most attractive areas, and walkers, cyclists and motorists were buying them in their millions. Fierce competition raged between these map-makers until the Ordnance Survey engaged an artist called ELLIS MARTIN to design eye-catching covers for its maps. From then on, the Ordnance Survey led the maket and Martin's superb period designs for OS map covers are now collectors' pieces.
'  J P Browne   Map Cover Art

For other examples of finely drawn commercial art this links to a post I did on cigarette cards.


A Micronesian knuckleduster I obtained a few years ago from either Truk [now Chuuk] or Pohnpei.

The body is about 255mm long [10 inches] and carved from wood. Not sure about the spikes.  Not metal, maybe fish teeth.

A modern reproduction of a nasty close quarters weapon.

Fake news

If the news in any way involves Trump, no matter how remotely, the New York Times, Washington Post and the UK's Guardian are sure to put the story on their front pages. Some may do special supplements.

The BBC will run the story ad nauseam on both the TV and radio. Presented by the usual lickspittles and with interviews with lecturers from 3rd rate universities who can be depended upon to say the right things.

BTW - does anybody remember this earlier example of fake news?

Restoring the Nile Clumps

To commemorate Nelson's victory

In August 1798 a British fleet under Rear-Admiral Horatio Nelson inflicted a crushing defeat on a French fleet moored in Aboukir Bay, Egypt. The French lost fourteen ships and had 1700 seamen killed. The Battle of the Nile cut Napoleons Egyptian expedition off from France, and removed the threat to Britain’s position in India. It was one of the British Navy’s greatest triumphs.

To commemorate the victory Charles Douglas, 6th Marquess of Queensberry, planted clumps of beech trees on his estate near Amesbury in the south of England. Each clump of about 200 beech trees marked the position of a British or French ship at a particular moment in the battle. These woods are called the Nile Clumps. The trees are to the north-west of Amesbury, on either side of that stretch of the A303 that lies between the  A345 and the A344.  The site is quite close to Stonehenge.

The two fleets still sail across the Downs, but in a sadly depleted state. Beeches last about 200 years and many of the original trees have died or are dying. Some clumps were lost when the A303 was built. Others have been destroyed by farmers.

First restoration 

In 1990 The Amesbury Rotary Club replanted one clump as part of National Tree Week.  This was so successful that they got more funding and eventually replanted a total of fourteen clumps. An article in the UK's Weekend Telegraph newspaper of the 20th June 1998 described the replanting project. See the end of this post for a copy of the article.

On  Thursday 11th Apr 2002 the Amesbury Journal,  reported that

"Trees planted on the outskirts of Amesbury more than 200 years ago to commemorate Nelson's victory at the Battle of the Nile are now under the protection of a preservation order.

The order was confirmed by Salisbury district council this week, following a lengthy process to ensure the Nile Clumps, as the trees are called, are given the profile and protection that their history demands.
Each clump of trees represents the strategic position of English and French ships at the height of the epic 1798 battle."

 In July 2008 I visited the site and took some photographs. I also visited the Information Centre in Amesbury Library and they provided me with the map below. I talked to Tony Lester-Card who was the organizer of the first restoration of the clumps.


The map [author and date unknown] shows the location of 26 'ships'.  Seven of these are marked as having being 'lost' over the years and nineteen as remaining. It does not show the five clumps which were lost when the A303 was built.

Marked as lost on map

Mercure 74  [F] 

Timolean 74  [F]

Guerrier 74  [F]

Conquerant  74  [F]

Audacious 74  [B]

Zealous 74  [B] 

Culloden 74  [B]

Marked as surviving on map

Majestic 74  [B]  - on aerial photo

Bellerphon 74  [B]  - on aerial photo

Alexander 74  [B]  -  on aerial photo

Orion 74  [B]

Swiftsure 74  [B]  - on aerial photo

Defence 74   [B]  - on aerial photo

Theseus 74  [B]

Goliath 74  [B] - on aerial photo

Minoteur 74  [B]  - on aerial photo

Vanguard 74  [B]  - on aerial photo

l'Aquilon 74  [F]  - on aerial photo

Spartiate 74  [F]  - on aerial photo

Heureux 74  [F]  - on aerial photo

Tonante 80  [F]  - on aerial photo

l'Orient 120  [F]   - on aerial photo

Franklin 80  [F]  - on aerial photo

l'Artemisie 36  Frigate  [F]

Serieuse  36  Frigate  [F]

Peuple Souverain 74  [F]  - on aerial photo

I examined an aerial photograph [from Google Maps] and could only find fifteen 'ships' remaining.  I think they are the ones I have indicated in the list above. It appears that in the period between the map being prepared and the photograph being taken a further four 'ships' have been lost.

The Nile Clumps in 2008

I took these photographs in July 2008.

Several of the clumps.


The Franklin clump

You can see that only a few of the Franklin's original beeches remain.  You can also see the new trees that were planted by the Rotary Club of Amesbury.


The Franklin's clump has been protected by fencing


If you look closely at this  photograph, and the one above, you can see that some of the new plantings have succeeded, but others do not appear to have made it out of their plastic tubes


Another view of the Franklin Clum


Preserving the Nile Clumps
What do we need to do to preserve the Nile Clumps?

1.  Plant trees
There were 31 ships present at the Battle of the Nile.  The British had fourteen ships of the line. The French had thirteen ships of the line and four frigates.  I would like to see clumps for all 31 ships, made up as follows.

The fifteen clumps visible in the aerial photograph.
The four clumps marked as surviving on the map but not visible in the aerial photograph.
The seven clumps marked as missing on the map.
The five clumps lost when the A303 was widened [representing the Leander 50 [B], Mutine [B], Genereux 74 [F], Guillaume Tell 80 [F] and the French frigate Justice of 40 guns. I identified these ships by comparing the list above with a list of the ships present at the battle.

Tony Lester-Card estimated that there were 70-90 beeches in each clump. If we take the higher figure and assume that all the clumps had to be replanted the exercise would involve planting no more than 2790 trees [plus a number of maples and hawthorn].  This is trivial compared to the Trafalgar Project which involves creating a series of woods across the UK, with each wood representing a ship that was present at the Battle of Trafalgar. The Victory Wood in Kent will consist of 100,000 trees.

2.   Convert the surounding land to grassland
Most of the restored trees are on Countess Farm owned by The National Trust  and farmed by Neil Morrison. At the moment the land around the clumps is being farmed. This obstructs access to the surviving clumps and  makes it difficult to replant the lost 'ships'. The National Trust  is planning to let some of it revert to grassland.  It needs to acquire the remaining land and convert it to grassland.

3   Manage the Nile Clumps estate
The Nile Clumps estate needs to be established to maintain the clumps, create access and provide information and interpretation. The National Trust seems to be the ideal people to do this. They have all the necessary skills and are well established in the area.

Update - 27th April 2009

The London Daily Mail has an article about the site and it notes that the National Trust has launched a campaign to promote the memorial as a tourist attraction for visitors to Salisbury Plain. Though, nonsensically, the journalist claims that the Clumps were 'discovered' on Google Earth.

I hope the next step will be to re-plant some trees and restore the missing clumps. The National Trust  have applied for planning permission to carry out work on some of the clumps. It may be necessary to acquire other land by compulsory purchase. It obviously cannot remain in agricultural use if the site is to be developed. Ideally, the site should be returned to grassland and the public given full access to wander.

The Daily Mail article also mentions

"This is not the only wooded tribute to the Battle of the Nile. On the former Swarland Estate near Alnwick, Northumberland, a line of trees takes the shape of the coastline of the Nile delta. Other trees appear to be in the positions of the British and French fleet."

These are Davison's Woods. You can read about them here.  I visited them a few years ago and they are in an even more neglected condition than the Nile Clumps. An obelisk had been restored, but the woods had not




 Telegraph article


Rotary Club document

Ship positions

The positioning of the Clumps is supposed to be based on Dodd's map of the battle.


I wonder if the Clumps are positioned according to Dodd's map.  The Duke of Queensberry was a retired admiral and I would suppose he would have spoken to several naval officers who had been at the battle. I would not be surprised if he drew up his map according to their recollections. It has been suggested by a local historian that Captain Thomas Masterman Hardy supervised the planting of the clumps.  

Related posts

Search this site on 'naval' for other posts on the Nile Clumps and other naval woods.

The IPFS file system

"IPFS is a decentralized network where users make files available among each other. If a website uses IPFS, it is served by a “swarm” of people, much like BitTorrent users do when a file is shared.

The advantage of this system is that websites can become completely decentralized. If a website or other resource is hosted with IPFS, it remains accessible as long as the computer of one user who “pinned” it remains online.

The advantages of IPFS are clear. It allows archivists, content creators, researchers, and many others to distribute large volumes of data over the Internet. It’s censorship resistant and not vulnerable to regular hosting outages.

It’s also a perfect match for ‘pirate’ sites. The decentralized nature makes IPFS sites virtually impossible to shut down."


A visit to Catrine

Catrine in Ayreshire used to be a cotton milling town. The mill was one of those built by the Glasgow entrpreneur David Dale and partners [see this post].

Catrine was a tiny village until 1787 when Dale and Claude Alexander built the Catrine Cotton Works. There was soon over 1600 people in the town, many from the Highlands, and most employed directly by the works, or dependent on it.

The works closed in 1968 and little now remains  apart from some of the workers housing and the reservoirs [called the Voes] that were built to ensure a constant supply to the mills giant water wheel.

In the photograph below the Voes are in the top right hand corner. The large building just below is a bonded warehouse.

The mills 
Mill Square as it was 
Mill Square as it is now 
One of the mill reservoirs 

Unlike New Lanark, which remains pretty much as it was in Dale's day, there is little  left to see in Catrine.  Apart from three information boards in Mill Square there is little to indicate that the town was once part of Scotland's industrial revolution.

Snippet - Shoogly Peg

A Scottish idiom. Shoogly means loose.

Usage - Your jacket is on a shoogly peg.

Literal meaning - your jacket is on a loose coat hook.

Actual meaning: your job in insecure.

The order of adjectives

"Adjectives in English absolutely have to be in this order: opinion-size-age-shape-colour-origin-material-purpose Noun.

So you can have a lovely little old rectangular green French silver whittling knife. But if you mess with that word order in the slightest you’ll sound like a maniac.

It’s an odd thing that every English speaker uses that list, but almost none of us could write it out. And as size comes before colour, green great dragons can’t exist."

Vicars Close

Vicars Close with Wells Cathedral at the end of the close [and part of our spiral arm of the Milky Way galaxy above].

Who has most of the wealth? Is it the 1%?

The research arm of the Swiss bank Credit Suisse publishes an annual Global Wealth Report. You can download copies of the report from here.

The report is about household wealth and contains comparative data for a number of different countries. Credit Suisse define household wealth as follows -

"Net worth, or "wealth," is defined as the value of financial assets plus real assets (principally housing) owned by households, minus their debts. This corresponds to the balance sheet that a household might draw up, listing the items which are owned, and their net value if sold. Private pension fund assets are included, but not entitlements to state pensions. Human capital is excluded altogether, along with assets and debts owned by the state (which cannot easily be assigned to individuals).

All the values are in US dollars

These are the mean and median wealth values for eleven countries.

Table 1

Note the big differences between the mean and median values.

The mean [aka arithmetic mean or average] values are calculated by adding the wealth of all the households in a country and then dividing by the number of households.

The median is the middle value in a ranked table of the wealth of that countries households. For example, the median wealth in the USA is $61,667. That means that half of US households have wealth of less than $61,667. That is a lot less than the median values for the UK, Canada and many others.

An Example of Mean v Median

The mean value of 31 in table 2 has been calculated by adding the five values together and dividing by 5.

The median value of 19 in table  has been calculated by ranking incomes from highest to lowest and then taking the value that is in the middle of the list.

Table 2

The mean is distorted by the first value in the table. The mean wealth value for the USA is distorted by the wealth of its billionaires.

If we return to the household wealth figures calculated by Credit Suisse and sort the list by average household wealth [table 3] Switzerland is first and India eleventh. The USA is third.

Table 3

If we sort the list by median household wealth [table 4] Australia is first and India eleventh. The USA is seventh. Though the average wealth in the USA is 403,974 the median household wealth is only 61,667.

Canada has a lower mean than the USA but has a much higher median of 106,342 [not so many billionaires].

Table 4

Inequality causes the differences between mean and median wealth. If a country has some very, very rich people and lots of relatively poor people [e.g. the USA] then there will be a big difference between the mean and median values for wealth. In table 5 the countries have been ranked according to the ratio between mean and median [mean/median]. That puts Australia in the top position and the USA in tenth position.


The BBC website has an article about the wealth of the 1% in different countries. It has the following two charts.

The article provides an interpretation of the values in the charts. For example, the first chart shows that the French think that the 1% own 56% of the national wealth when they actually own 23%.

The second chart appears to show that the French think that their 1% should own no more than 27%. Does that mean that they think that the 1% should be increasing their  share of national wealth?

The article suggests that "that’s the completely wrong interpretation. ....what they’re really saying is that the very wealthy should have about half what they currently have." That would be about 12% of French national wealth.

1977 Nuclear Bomb Effects Computer

This handy tool can  be used to estimate your chances of acquiring a broken skull, glass fragments in your eyes and/or a severe lung haemorrhage in the event of a nuclear incident nearby.

If the US arms industry continues to promote arms sales by prodding the Russian bear you may need one sooner than you think.