Category: Family (page 1 of 3)

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.

 

Date Night

Instead of going straight home from work, last night, I took a detour into the Leisure Park  (formally known as Wally World, but it’s been revamped and is a great improvement) at Hemel Hempstead, where I met up with the current Mrs Masher.

 

We went to the pictures.

On our own.

Sans kids.

It was great!

We saw the Queen/Freddie Mercury biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody.

Wow! I loved every minute of it. Great film.  And it was quite possibly the cinema audience with the highest average age, that we have ever sat in.

After that, we nipped over to Nando’s… which was a peri-peri good idea, as the place was half empty and we got fed very quickly indeed.

A speedy drive home up the M1  was made even quicker, by the fact that I had Bohemian Rhapsody turned up to 11. “BISMILLAH NO!” I shouted at the wife as I shot past her, breaking the speed limit ever so slightly.

Back home, the kids had already gone to bed, and so we settled in front of the telly for half an hour, to watch one of the funniest episodes yet of our current favourite comedy: Cuckoo, before hitting the sack.

As Thursday’s go, it was most excellent.

Cloth Ears

I arrived home from work yesterday evening and Harry said “You had a phone call earlier, from the local mental centre.

“The where?”

The local mental centre

Having very recently done a course on mental health, my mind immediately turned to that. But, I didn’t remember giving them my home phone number. “You sure it was for me”? I asked.

Yeah. They asked for you by name.”

This had me a bit flummoxed. Also, I didn’t know the town even had a ‘local mental centre’… although I’m sure it must have, somewhere.

Intrigued, I pulled up the Recent Callers list on the phone and googled the number.

And I now have an appointment booked.

At the Luton Dental Centre.

Je suis revenu

Not that you’d know I’d been away.

But I have.

I’ve been down to the South of France to spend a week with the family. They are all still down there and won’t be home till the weekend.

But I am now back at home… scratching my mosquito bites.

How was your holiday, I hear you ask?

Well, it was OK. A bit too hot, maybe, but I kept out of the sun as much as I could.

To be honest, I was getting a bit bored after a while.

I always do.

Fortunately, we had a hire car, so we went out a few times. The picture above was taken on my phone, as we walked back to the car, after a hard day’s Geocaching.

My flights on SleazyJet were uneventful, save for the delays. But I was pleased to see that we had a pilot with a sense of humour on the flight home last night:

“For those of you on the left-hand side of the plane: if you look out of your windows you will see a lovely cloudless view of London. You won’t get a better view than that. And for those of you on the right-hand side of the plane… if you look to your left, you’ll see the heads of the people on the left-hand side of the plane, enjoying a wonderful view of London. I’m afraid you won’t get a better view than that.”

I had a window seat on the left-hand side and it was indeed a fantastic view. Being nighttime though, I didn’t recognise any of it.

Upon landing, I was disappointed to find that the free shuttle-bus to the train station, now costs £2.30.

I was annoyed even further when, having purchased my train ticket, I found that the gates were open at either end and I could have ridden for free.

And the final twenty-minute walk home from the station stretched to nearly double that, because my carry-on bag weighed more than twice as much as it had when I originally packed it – carrying most of Mrs M’s clothes as well, due to her needing to make space in her suitcase for all the extra stuff she’d bought out there.

But anyway, I’m back now and the dog is pleased to see me and the temperature is more comfortable and the bed… well, there’s nothing like your own bed, is there?

Now, where did I put that bite cream…?

Jammy bastard

When I am at work. I will have porage as a mid morning snack – as I have mentioned here before.

But at home – as I am today – I’m quite keen on tea and toast.

With jam.

And – as everyone knows – the best jam to have on toast, is apricot.

You are all probably also aware that the best apricot jam in the world, is made by my sister-in-law.

Unfortunately, she has run out, but this pot of French apricot conserve, is actually a pretty good substitute.

Wakey Wakey!

This is our alarm clock. It’s probably about 15 years old or more, but still going strong.

The good thing about it, is that it has two alarms: one for me and one for the current Mrs Masher.

The first alarm is mine and goes off at 5am, with a very annoying Beep Beep, Beep Beep… If I’m not awake before it goes off – which I usually am – then I tend to wake as soon as that first Beep Beep, goes off. No snoozing: straight up and out of bed.

Because I’m annoying like that.

The second alarm is for Mrs M. It’s the local radio station and it’s pretty loud. She will sleep through the first five minutes of it and then doze for another five before finally dragging herself out of bed.

Unbelievably though, I’ve known her to sleep right through it before now.

Walkies!

These are my walking boots.

They really were made for walking.

And I walk in them everyday, when I take the dog out.

They’re a bit heavy, but so VERY comfortable – now that I’ve broken them in.

But, I’m not the only one who loves my boots (or beewwts as they are known elsewhere).

Saber adores them because, when she sees me pick them up, she knows it’s THAT time.

Lost without it

This is my Swiss Army knife.

Well, one of them.

This is the larger of the two that I own.

The smaller one doesn’t have quite so many appendages, but it practically lives on my person. I carry it everywhere and it is always handy to have.  As it is always upon me though, I sometimes forget I have it… which is why it annoyingly got confiscated at Gatwick airport, a couple of years ago. Still, it made for a good gift the following Father’s Day.

Its bigger brother (featured above), lives on my desk and – again – is invaluable.

So much so, that a couple of years ago, I gave one to my Dad for Father’s Day, in the hope he would also find it as useful.

He did, and like me he carried it everywhere… which is why he had it confiscated at Heathrow Airport.

You can probably guess what he got for Father’s Day this year.

You get what you pay for

This is the calculator that I use at work.  I took it out of my desk drawer specifically for this photo. And I wrote SHELLOIL on it, because it would have been infantile to have written BOOBS… and – contrary to popular opinion – I am a grown up.

I bought this calculator… actually, I didn’t – my parents bought me this calculator to do my college exams with.  I remember going into Dixon’s with my mum, and I remember her wincing at the price when I picked out the one that I wanted.

But, I’ve always been one to look after things and so this calculator – though it’s somewhere around 38 years old – still works perfectly. And it even still has the original instruction manual, tucked into its imitation leather, plastic wallet.

It got me through my electronics exams.

It got me through my Radio Amateur’s exam.

It even got me through the mathematical questions they suddenly threw at me, at my job interview for the GPO/British Telecom.

OK, yes, I’ve had to change the batteries and clean up the PCB, but on the whole, mum, I think I got your money’s worth.

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