BBC NEWS | Election 2005 | Election 2005 | Which party is winning the air war?: “On the first full day of campaigning, Mr Blair and Mr Howard both opted for virtually identical helicopters – variations on the Sikorsky S-76, which is also used by the Royal Family.

Mr Howard opted for the more modern S-76C, while Mr Blair was in the older, but more powerful S-76B. Both have roughly the same top speeds and range.”

Genius. Bang goes the Battle Bus. Apparently, Charlie is flying a carbon-neutral jet as he can’t afford a chopper.

Been playing Ubisoft’s Silent Hunter an undue amount the last few days, a superlative submarine simulator for WWII. I was hunting a small merchantman out of Dover, having happened across it on the way to my patrol zone off East Anglia, when the seas started getting stormy. We almost lost the ship in the storm, but when everything subsided and the crew took their slickers off, we were right on its tail. We quickly dived before it had a chance to notice us, and upped the periscope, locking it onto the target. (Funny how in even virtual war people start becoming objects.)


I ordered the knackered crew into the torpedo room (we only had three torpedoes left of the maximum five, and I needed the team working at maximum efficiency to avoid wasting them) and started working out on the notepad, the angle, gyro settings (these early torpedoes are full of clockwork, so you can put a curve on them, and make them explode at a set time and distance). Then I let one go, and fired the second one off a few seconds later. Just before they were due to impact, we started surfacing, and I tracked the bubbles with my binoculars and the UZO, as they surfaced closer and closer to the boat, which hadn’t noticed our rise from the depths. The first torpedo was a dud, but the second, the second erupted in a wave of wet metal and fire, right next to the ship. The boat listed, tried speeding up, and then started sinking stern first. Soon all there was left were cargo boxes floating on the waves.

Of course, with one torpedo left I wasn’t a match for the armed trawler that happened across the area a few hours later, so had to flee, underwater, then pegged it hell for leather all the way back to Wilhelmshaven.

At no point did I remember I was in a computer game.

The pope, I couldn’t care less about.

Though if you do, you should read Robert Silverberg’s short story “Good News From The Vatican”, which you can download here, and is available in bookshops here. I’ll even lend it out if you ask nice. It’s about a random group sat in a café outside the Vatican, waiting for the white puff of smoke – the twist being they’re divided over the papacy and whether a robot should really be one of the candidates…

This is the morning everyone has waited for, when at last the robot cardinal is to be elected Pope. There can no longer be any doubt of the outcome. The conclave has been deadlocked for many days between the obstinate advocates of Cardinal Asciuga of Milan and Cardinal Carcifo of Genoa, and word has gone out that a compromise is in the making. All factions now are agreed on the selection of the robot. This morning I read in Osservatore Romano that the Vatican computer itself has taken a hand in the deliberations. The computer has been strongly urging the candidacy of the robot. I suppose we should not be surprised by this loyalty among machines. Nor should we let it distress us. We absolutely must not let it distress us.

“Every era gets the Pope it deserves,” Bishop FitzPatrick observed somewhat gloomily today at breakfast. “The proper Pope for our times is a robot, certainly. At some future date it may be desirable for the Pope to be a whale, an automobile, a cat, a mountain.” Bishop FitzPatrick stands well over two meters in height and his normal facial expression is a morbid, mournful one. Thus it is impossible for us to determine whether any particular pronouncement of his reflects existential despair or placid acceptance. Many years ago he was a star player for the Holy Cross championship basketball team. He has come to Rome to do research for a biography of St. Marcellus the Righteous.

We have been watching the unfolding drama of the papal election from an outdoor cafe several blocks from the Square of St. Peter‘s. For all of us, this has been an unexpected dividend of our holiday in Rome; the previous Pope was reputed to be in good health and there was no reason to suspect that a successor would have to be chosen for him this summer.

Silent Hunter III

Four days out of Frankfurt, and we’re tracking a small merchantman heading for Niemejgen. We were cruising towards out our target sector just off Dover when we spotted it, and we’ve taken a lengthy detour to chase it down. Silent Hunter lets you speed up time, so this has only taken ten tense minutes or so. The weather’s stormy and it’s nighttime when we catch up with it, just off the coast of Holland. We submerge to get closer and, though we almost lose sight of it, we manage to swing round to get abeam of it. Increased reality settings in the game make controlling the submarine more and more complicated until 100% reality means you’ll probably need training in advanced geometry and engineering to even get the unterseeboat out of the harbour, let along fire a torpedo like we’re doing. Rapid jotted notes on the ingame notepad gives us the gyro settings and we release the first torpedo into the side of the tiny cargoship, with a follow-up a ten seconds later, in case our calculations are wrong. The first torpedo hits the hull and bounces off. (Duds are frequent.) Just before the second torpedo hits, the first explodes crippling the ship despite the distance. The second ploughs into the centre of the ship, explodes and the ship lists, cracks in two, and the two halves sink into the stormy waves.

Conclusion From the ridiculous