Month: November 2018

Ah ha!

There’s been a lot of good stuff on the telly over the years.

Of course, there’s also been a hell of a lot of dross.

And sometimes, the good stuff can get lost in the dross.

And sometimes, even when I’ve heard good reviews of programmes, I find that I just don’t get round to watching them.

It was like that with The Office: heard so much about it, but somehow just never bothered.

Until I was working up in Glasgow for several months and found myself desperately searching for box sets to watch in my free time. A friend lent me a DVD of Gervais’ mockumentary series and I was hooked.

Likewise, I was searching through Netflix the other day, trying to find some half-hour comedy programmes to watch, when I found the section entitled “Critically Acclaimed Witty British and European Comedies”.  Or something like that. And there, nestled in amongst the likes of Black Adder and Fawlty Towers was “I’m Alan Partridge”.

Made eleven years ago, how had I missed this particular gem? It’s just brilliant! And Steve Coogan is a bloody genius.

I know there’s plenty of other stuff out there that I’ve missed, so if either of you have any suggestions…

Nerd Heaven

Yesterday, Harry and I visited the National Museum of Computing, in Bletchley Park.

I was in nerd heaven, I tell you!

Firstly, we saw the Bombe: developed by Alan Turing and Gordon Welchman during WW2.  I did my best to explain to Harry, the principle behind its workings. I don’t think my explanation (with my limited knowledge) was much good, but he seemed to get the idea.

Then we saw Colossus: the world’s first programmable computer.  Built to decode messages from the Lorenz machine that was used to encode German High Command messages (named Tunny by the British codebreakers).

 

In the Mainframe room we were astonished at the size of the machines. Hard drives the size of refridgerators filled the room, each with a capacity smaller than today’s memory sticks! That big circular disk bottom right… I think that was 8K or something stupid like that.

A lot of it was made by ICL – International Computers Limited – a British computer company from way back, that I’d completely forgotten about.

 

This is a piece of memory – core memory, as it was known. Look at the size of it! And this wasn’t a prototype or anything, this was actually in use back in the day, plugged into mainframe computers.

Consisting of just 20K of memory: about 400,000 times less than the memory in a modern, cheap mobile phone. And each tiny little core was threaded onto the wires by hand. Jeez.

But then, as we wandered around, I started to see stuff that I recognised, like the Sinclair ZX81 – my very first computer; programmable calculators from the likes of Olivetti and Sharp and Texas Instruments; and the once ubiquitous BBC Micro, where I showed Harry what used to be everybody’s first attempt at programming in BASIC:

10 PRINT “Hello World”

20 GOTO 10

RUN

We then played the original version of Mario Kart on an old Atari. With it’s blocky 8-bit graphics and unusual controller, I thought I might be able to beat him. But, he thrashed me. As usual.

It was a great way to spend a few hours though and we both thoroughly enjoyed it.

Well, I know Harry enjoyed it, but for me, well, I was in nostalgic nirvana.

Nostalgia ain’t what it was

Yesterday, I made another visit to Bletchley Park.

This time, Amelia came along too. “I doubt you’ll be interested”, I said, but she assured me that she would.

The very first thing she was interested in was the cafeteria. “I’m hungry”, she said, the moment we arrived and she clapped eyes on the scones and Danish pastries. So we stopped – before we’d even started – and had something to eat and drink.

The first place we visited was the National Radio Centre. Although I’d been there just a couple of weeks ago, I felt it worth another visit.  Excitedly, I showed her some radio sets of old and explained the transition from valves to transistors.
Enthusiastically, I demonstrated how amateur radio satellites are used.

“Meh.”

Outside, as we walked to Hut 11a to see the Bombe exhibition, she said “You loved it in that radio room, didn’t you? You’re such a nerd!”

I took it as a compliment.

After 11a and 11, we went to Hut 8, which was where Alan Turing did much of his work. The photo above is of his ‘office’. I was struck by the starkness of it.  At work, we are given ergonomically designed, comfy chairs to sit on and are advised to get up and take a break for ten minutes every hour.  Turing’s office chair is a far cry from what we have today and I’m sure he spent hour upon hour sitting at his desk, without a break. I’m also willing to bet that he didn’t complain about it once! Different breed, back then.

Amelia was getting really bored by now and as I dragged her over to Hut 6, she started complaining of being hungry again. “Tough” I said, as I pushed her through the old wooden door.  Again, many of the offices had been recreated, to look as they would have done in the 1940’s and suddenly something caught Amelia’s interest. It was a telephone; an old fashioned telephone, in black bakelite, with a rotary dial. “Do you know what that is?” I asked. She nodded, “Of course I do”, she said, “It’s a telephone.”

“Do you know how to use it?” This time she shook her head and so I showed her how to put your finger into the correct hole and then pull the dial round until it hit the finger-stop.  She said that she’d seen people doing this on the telly, but hadn’t actually understood how doing that was dialing a number, until now.

I suddenly felt very old.

Time caught up with us and so we left the hut, picked Harry up from his maths class and headed home.

She tells me that she doesn’t want to come back with me next week.

I’m glad.

 

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